December 31, 2009

Edgar Meyer

Ok, I hate to admit it, but I think I am falling in love with the bass. I know...I have blogged and blogged and blogged about cello (till you are probably sick of hearing me!)...but I have to say there is something wonderfully soothing about the big bass. I just love it's voice!! Ugh! I am still struggling to make it through first position on the cello...and now I am dreaming of getting a bass (actually a cocktail bass or mini-bass -- something a little bigger than cello, but not too big for me).

This love affair with the bass came about after listening to the cd, "Classic Yo Yo". I started listening to it to help with my celloing -- you know -- for inspiration in sticking with the cello. I do love the cello, and I think it will always be my first real love (musically speaking). There is just something about that bass voice that draws me in. I think a lot of it has to do with Edgar Meyer -- oh my goodness -- that man can play the bass!

If you have never listened to a really great bassist, consider checking out Edgar Meyer's website. He is just awesome and makes that instrument play music it is just not supposed to play.

Well...just dreaming here...but maybe some day after I get my cello and really get good at it, I will learn the mini-bass! Ah, that would be so sweet!

School Plans for 2010

I always like to start my fall planning in January. I am not sure why, but perhaps it is because we are half-way through the school year, things are progressing, and the New Year turn brings a lot of promise and hope for a successful end to things. Maybe it is just because I like to plan!

My son will be in 12th grade in the fall. We have spent the majority of our home school efforts trying to get him to graduate. It seems that even back in the beginning, we were focused on this year. Somehow, even back in 5th grade, our thoughts were turned towards graduation, college, and adulthood. Oh, how I wish I could have those days back! How I wish my son were 10 again (and not 16 going on 20!)

Our 11th grade program has turned out well. DS has successfully managed to work his way through the beginnings of Precalculus. I doubt we will finish by May, but even still, he has managed to keep up an "A" average. I am well-pleased with his performance in this difficult class (through Thinkwell.com). His other studies have continued on as usual: AO/HEO Y11 (Modern History and Literature) along with a home-made science course in Geology. His interest in Russian fizzled, after he realized that it wasn't as easy as the first 10 lessons made it out to be. I still have hopes that he might continue on with it, but for now, am satisfied knowing that he has learned enough language to pass entrance requirements for colleges (actually, he has completed 2 levels of Rosetta Stone French, 1 level of RS Spanish, Latin and German). Perhaps he will choose to continue in one of these languages or just say "enough!" His music studies are coming along, although my hopes that he would study Music Composition are waning. I think he is simply not interested in persuing Music at that level. I don't really mind, as I would rather he do something he loved, than something he felt compelled to study. I think he will study music, but now it might be more generalized or directed towards ministry. OK by me -- God has gifted him with a beautiful skill and I am confident that His plan for him is perfect.

So that leads me to thinking about 12th grade and what to do. We have really finished high school, but DS is lacking one English credit. I thought about dual-credit but think English might not be the best subject to tackle at Junior College. Right now, this is my plan (knowing that it will change before next September!):

Bible - continued daily readings along with devotional study books
Math - finish Precalculus (perhaps) or do College Algebra (Thinkwell)
Science - at the CC, more than likely Biology
English - Dr. James Stobaugh's British Literature course
History - Survey of American History (we skipped 1850-1900)
Music - continued study with a professional teacher
Composition - writing the research paper along with more essay work

Electives may be at the CC. DS is very interested in SLR Photography so if we could find an old fashioned course that includes a photo lab, that would be sweet. Other than that, our goal is to get a good score on the ACT test, polish our writing skill, and generally just check off the rest of those nasty little requirements. All in all, we are in very good shape.

Saying Goodbye to 2009

It is hard to believe, but 2009 is almost over! This has been a difficult year for me. It started out with fairly high hopes, hopes of good tidings and great blessing. It diminished into a long haul and a very difficult path.

As I look over the past year, I am confronted with a lot of truth, truth that sometimes hurts and wounds deeply. I am also faced with the fact that my life, at least the life I had planned, hasn't turned out the way it should have or was supposed to be. I am now looking at starting the new year with a single-minded focus and a purpose that solely falls on my shoulders.

This past year I have had to deal with a failing marriage. I blogged about this initially (over at A Simple and Modest Life), but the details were too raw to put into words, and my heart was conflicted over whether or not I really should share details with the world at large. In some ways, blogging or journalling is a very natural and healthly part of dealing with difficult emotions. In other ways, when done in public, it opens you and your emotions up to the scrutiny and criticism of others (whether well-meaning or not). I found out that many who were reading my blog, didn't hold to my views. Many believed that women were directly responsible for making their husbands happy and that any failure for the husband to be happy meant a failure on the wife's part. While this may be true to some extent, especially in the context of Christian marriage (a wife AND husband are to strive together to meet each others needs -- not one for the other or vice versa), it is not always the "pat answer" of why a marriage failed.

In my case, there were many, many, many reasons...none of which had anything to do with my failing to make my husband happy. Well, actually this is not true. This was my husband's original reason for wanting a different kind of marriage (he was not happy, I didn't make him happy...so therefore he wanted something different). But, after several months of intensive crisis counseling, the truth won out. Never in a relationship is it left up to one person to make the other person happy (or anything for that matter). This is unhealthy and is the cause of most marital failures. Relationships are built on trust and on mutual understanding that it is "give and take," a sharing of two people (each giving of themselves sacrificially to love and honor and cherish their partner). However, in some relationships, this mutual understanding is not defined. One person expects the other person to meet his or her needs, all of them, and when this doesn't happen, that person demands more perfection or compliance until the marriage itself cannot continue on.

This was the main issue within my marriage. Unfortunately, I married very young and had no prior experience in relationship. I trusted my husband to be my friend and my companion, and I spent twenty-five years devoting myself to his happiness. When he wasn't happy, I believed that it was my fault. I tried harder, did more, tried to proved my love for him all the more. The more I tried, the more I failed. I didn't understand that what I was doing was not something possible. You can only love so much because that is the role and the limit God has placed on us. Our role is to love as God loves us -- we are not to become god to another person. I don't mean to be sacreligious here, but the truth is that for some people, the love they seek is the love only God can provide. They do not seek it from God, but from other people. I tried my hardest to love someone who needed the Love of God. Though I had believed that he was saved and that he was being loved by God (in the sense of receiving satisfaction from the love of God), I never could quite figure out why my efforts were not enough. It wasn't until this year that the truth shouted out to me, and I was faced with the fact that my husband had sought this "love" from another person.

Learning the truth and then accepting it is difficult, regardless of what kind of truth it is. In my situation, it was devasting to me. My husband, the person I trusted with my entire heart and soul, chose to love another woman. He chose someone other than me. It is was particularly difficult because I believed that I had done everything possible, more than possible, to demonstrate love, fidelity, honor, respect, etc. over the course of our live together. My efforts returned void. In the end, all I received was the consolation prize: "you have been a good friend to me." Yes, a friend who loved at all times (as Proverbs says). I was a friend who stood beside when financial deals went wrong, when sickness arrived, when sadness and depression set in. I was there all along, a good friend, a good companion; but, not a wife (according to my husband).

I am writing this now because I have spent four months in counseling and have just finished my program. For all intents and purposes, my counselor believes I am ready to face the world on my own. I have done my crying, my wailing to the Lord. I have faced reality head on, and with the Lord's provision and steady hand, I am ready to step out on my own. I bear great responsibility and take my role as mother very seriously. I am now responsible for my son, though his dad has promise to remain a part of his life. I don't know how my husband will be responsible for himself and his son (he has never been before). I just know that the Lord has empowered and annointed me with great His Grace, and that while I am saddened at what has taken place, I am also looking up and looking forward to what is next. I cannot explain how I am able to do this, so it is clearly an act of Grace. I actually am able to look forward, to look down the road, and to see possibility. This is truly God at work in my life, and the peace I have in my heart confirms to me, that He is guiding and leading me through these very difficult and troublesome valleys.

My intention for posting this to my blog was to say it publicly: I am legally separating from my husband. The Lord has not given me permission to divorce, so I am seeking legal advice on how to separate ourselves financially, materially, and physically. It is difficult to even speak those words because this is not how I was raised (I was raised to believe marriage was forever). Yet, this is the path the Lord has placed me on, and He is guiding me through it. I am my own person now, I am on my own.

My life is a new book, with pages and pages and pages yet to be written. I am excited in many ways to see what God has in mind for me. I have days when I feel very sad and lonely and depressed, but more and more frequently those days are shorter and shorter. I know in time they will pass, but for now, it is one good day for every bad day.

My prayer for 2010 is that the Lord's precious will will be accomplished in my life. My whole being is devoted to Him, and my life now revolves around doing what He wants -- and not what anyone else wants. My days are His; my years belong to Him. I am wholly and completely surrendered to Him and my hope is firmly placed in God alone. God is so Good -- His mercy endures forever and He alone is worthy to be praised.

December 30, 2009

Angels and those that seek them

About a two dozen years ago, I first met a women who believed in communicating with angels. This was someone I worked with, though not in close proximity (she worked in another building, but for the same company). I had been a Christian for a long while, and was studying through the Book of Romans (a Kay Arthur bible study program), when I first learned of her interest in angels.

I liked this woman, and often would pop into her office to say hello (whenever I was in her building). She was nice, friendly, and very warm and loving towards me. I will never forget her conversation, which at first seemed innocent and then later disturbing. I remember her telling me how she noticed the light that I emmanated. She commented that I had a very bright "aura" around me, and she asked me if I was a "spiritual" person. I said that I was a Christian. At first, she simply nodded her head and said that was nice. But, after a little more conversation, she asked me if I received direction (spiritual guidance) from God. I said no. This was her chance to share her philosophy with me, her way, as she put it. She told me that she had a personal guardian angel who directed her day and gave her advice. She said that as a "spiritual person" and someone with such a strong "aura," I naturally would be available and open to angelic communication. She asked if I was interested in learning how to communicate with angels. I said no.

Interestingly, that was the end of our friendship. This person avoided me from that day on. No more polite and friendly chats, no more warm hugs. Nothing. I was persona non grata in her eyes. I never really grasped the significance of her conversation, well, not until many years later when I had done a further study into New Age practices. I realized then that my "aura" was simply the Light of Christ shining brightly through me. To people who communicate with angels and other spiritual beings, our aura looks attractive to them. It is only when they meet the person of Jesus Christ in our life, that they run and hide. This is because Satan masquerades as an angel of light. His followers also take on this same mask. They "look" like the pure light, the light of God and Christ, but they are simply spoofing naive and self-seeking followers. It is sugar to a long train of ants...honey to the bee or bear. They simply are doling out what seekers are seeking -- light, goodness, charity. Just enough, by the way, to draw them in and pull them away from the truth, the truth of Jesus Christ.

Over the course of years, the name New Age has been diminished. You don't hear as much about it as you did 20 or so years ago. In San Jose, CA (where I lived prior to AZ), New Agers abounded. You could easily find spiritual shops, crystal stores, etc. on almost every corner. If you took a short drive up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains, you could find the mother lode of New Age belief -- all within 45 minutes of metropolitan life. Santa Cruz and the smaller coastal communities were filled with New Agers, spiritualists, mystics, and others who believed in every type of religion and/or non-religion.

Today, we don't really think about these beliefs because a lot of what they teach has been made part of our common culture. Christians have been led astray by the subtle teachings on angels. Christians have been deduced into believing that spiritual things (all) are similiarily Christian things. This is not the case, but many sincere believers have taken on some aspects of New Age philosophy without really even knowing it.

The main problem is a lack of understanding of the Word of God. Christian men and women who do not read their Bibles are the ones most often attacked by Satan. Satan is able to pick a part a Christian's testimony quite nicely when he knows that the Word of God is absent from their heart and mind. He can easily confuse and confound believers with his subtle lies.

The only defense men and women of Christ have today is to read and study the Word of God. They must know what they are dealing with in the spiritual realm so that they can quickly and deftly defy it's intrusion into their lives. How can you know the enemy, if you don't even know what he looks like? Not all followers of Satan wear black robes, kwim? Many are clothed in light, the false light of Satan. Many speak in religious ways, using spiritual words. Many are "wolves in sheep's clothing". You need to know what to look out for before you are confronted with it.

Men and women of the Lord, read your Bible. Begin today or make January 1 your "D-Day". Take it upon yourself to read one chapter of the Word every single day. I have done this for the past three years, and can tell you that there is no better way to defend the armies of Satan than with the Sword of the Spirit (the very Word of God).

Here are some of the ways I have read through my Bible:

  • Use a 365-Day Bible. This is a great way to read through the Bible in one year. Turn to the date and read. It is that easy. Don't worry about doing word studies or things of that nature, just read God's Word. Pray over what you have read and then go about your business. The Holy Spirit of God will use your daily readings and will begin to work in your heart and mind. It is really that easy!
  • Read through one book at a time. This is also a very easy way to read through the Bible. I read one book in the am and one in the pm (OT in the morning, NT at night). I read one chapter each. It took a little longer than using the prepared Bible above, but was just as easy. This method does allow you time for diversionary study -- so word lovers -- do this and take a few extra minutes to look up important words or study a bit more history.
  • Use a reading plan. This is great for people who don't have a prepared book, but still want to read through the Bible in one year. Go to http://www.biblegateway.com for reading plans.

Choose one method and stick to it. If you make reading the Word of God part of your morning or evening routine, you will find that it is really easy to keep at it. I found that reading first thing in the morning was more difficult that reading at night. I have done it both ways, but now find reading before bed best for me. I read my 365-day Bible because it is really the most convenient. I just turn to the correct day and read the Word. I still read from my other Bibles too, but this one book is really the best way to do it. I really need a new 365-Day Bible because mine is all highlighted and underlined and notated!! Whew...still it is nice to read notes from a couple years ago. I am always reminded of how far I have come, simply from reading my Bible every single day. It is the most important thing you can do to prepare your heart and mind, and to ensure that you are focused on the Lord. If your New Years Resolution is to deepen your walk and faith in Jesus, then make sure Bible reading is put at #1.

May the Lord richly bless those who seek to know and understand His Precious Word.

December 29, 2009

Grace Revealed

Have you ever had prophetic dreams? Dreams that actually mean something, and not the ordinary random thoughts and images that seem to pass most nights? I tend to have "vision" type dreams often. Usually, these dreams are significant in that they deal with some issue I am working on in my life at the moment. I might be under stress or struggling to get along with a friend or family member, and my dream will be some similar type of struggle. It might not make any sense at first, but I remember it in detail. Upon reflection, I am able to connect the dots, so to speak, to match up the details. I am able to see that the dream matched reality -- the story it told was an accurate reflection of a current situation.

The key, of course, is what to do with such dreams. Scientists who study dreams tell us that certain types of dreams actually help the brain and body deal with stress. These dreams often occur during non-REM sleep and they help us get a handle on whatever is bothering us. In short, issues that are unresolved in our personal life, often take on a dream like quality when we sleep. Our mind helps us deal with the problem. Sure, these dreams aren't always perfect representations of our actual conflict (sometimes they are so bizzare in their choice of imagery), but the meaning and purpose of them is clear. Our mind wants to help relieve the body of undue stress, and does so by allowing the subconscious free movement when we sleep. Often, we do feel as though we gain some understanding of our conflict after a nights sleep. Perhaps we simply accept the fact that there is unresolved conflict in our life. Or perhaps we are able to see our part in that conflict and then can step up and do the right thing (ask for forgiveness, let a hurt go, see past the conflict to the higher goal of friendship/family or integrity).

In the Bible, the Lord often used dreams, prophetic dreams as a method of communication with His chosen people. You see these dreams most often recorded in the Old Testament, but the New Testament has it's fair share (and some mighty important dream messages to boot). Paul, Peter, and John all saw prophetic messages. Joseph received instruction via a dream. God, it seems, uses dreams at times to communicate some important message to His servants.

Some people believe that such dreams ended with the Apostles, and that since that time God only communicates through His written Word. Perhaps this is so, though for those of us who seem to experience these kinds of dreams regularly, one might have to argue this point. One might have to question whether a limitless God would choose to bind Himself to one solitary mode of communication. Yes, I know...bordering on heresay here. But not really...I am not really suggesting that God speaks in ways outside His Word. I am simply saying that the Holy Spirit of God, the Great Communicator, who interprets the Word for us, can use our sleep time and dreams to help us understand things He wants us to know. I know that there have been a number of times when a particular dream fortold some event. I am not talking about deja vu or anything like that...just that the event itself (known to me) was played out in my mind. It was sort of like a pre-event, a time of practice, something to warm me up, to prepare me. Sometimes I remember these dreams, sometimes I do not. When the real event occurs, I am always left with this feeling as though I have "seen" it before. Not like an actual "reliving of it" as in deja vu, but more like I have been tested on this point before. I cannot really explain it other than to say that I do believe God uses our minds and hearts and the nerve fibers of our beings to help us live our lives in such a way as to honor Him. Our minds offer up powerful testimony to the One who made them -- and God is often the One who brings things up, who causes us to remember (He "re-MINDS" us of things).

Whether or not you believe in dreams is up to you. I happen to dream vividly, and have done so since childhood. My dreams run the gamut from those that do help me deal with uncertain circumstances or difficult feelings (like being afraid or feeling lost or confused) to those that "seem" to help me with events yet to occur. Nothing is perfect, mind you (no pun intended) and it isn't as if I have some "oracle" in my head. It just seems to me that my dreams are pretty real, pretty accurate at times, and often do fullfill a useful purpose (either in helping me to accept something, to understand that I need to do something, or simply to prepare me for something).

God is an AWESOME God and the mind is an awesome thing. I think someday we will all realize just how much God cared about us and that He even used our dreams at times to help us deal with the trials and tribulations of this life.

December 28, 2009

The Beauty of the Lord

Today, as I was praying, the thought popped into my head: "I am beautiful to the Lord." I know, a weird thing to think, but it is what came to my mind. I am not really a beautiful person, you know, from the standpoint of our culture which values a "certain" type of beauty. I have a very angular face, now marked with some wrinkles, and sort of lackluster hair (graying all over, mixed with some color and highlighting). In short, I am no beauty queen. Yet, when I think over the words of Scripture, the truth comes through...I am beautiful to the Lord.

The Lord looks at beauty in a very different way. He does not consider the things of the world or the way the world sees beauty as His standard. His ideal beauty is spoken of in Proverbs 31 and throughout Scripture in the description of godly and holy women. God looks on the inside, on the heart, and sees beauty in purity, in chasteness, and in holy living. These are the characteristics that cause a person to be beautiful to Him.

As I pondered the thought of beauty, I began to think about His creation, and the beauty of the natural world. I love nature, I love walking and hiking and just sitting out in creation. I love to look at birds and other wildlife, I love to garden and grow things, and I love flowers and plants, and even insects. In general, I love the natural world God created. One of the things I love most is the stars. I love to look at the stars, and to look at pictures of the stars we cannot see with the naked eye. I am in awe of Him who created such beautiful imagery in our night sky.

One particular image that I love is that of the Whirlpool Galaxy. I am sure you have seen images of this galaxy (thanks to the Hubble telescope, which recently sent back awesome photos of this distant place.) In the Whirlpool (named for it's shape -- like a whirlpool in a river or stream), God has created a galaxy that surpasses even that of our own. It's beauty and depth and immenseness is unfathomable. It is one galaxy filled with millions of other stars and galaxies. Yes, within it's own boundaries you will find the boundlessness of space -- more stars, more galaxies, more phenomena than our minds can comprehend. It gives such great testimony to the One who has unlimited imagination and creative experience. God the Creator is boundless and unfathomable and has created places that are exactly like Himself. If we take the time to contemplate this fact, we are faced with the reality of a Creator who is unlimited and undefinable, and who possesses the power and ability to create any and all things.

When I look up to the heavens and see the stars and know that they were placed there by His hand, I am comforted to know that my small life is completely and competently cared for as well. My littleness, my "thimble" as our pastor likes to say (in relation to our problems, needs and wants), is so inconsequential in light of His being. He is ABLE to do anything and everything. He is ABLE to create life where there is none. He is ABLE to resolve tension where there is only strife. He is ABLE to bring possibility where there seems to be no hope, no vision, no opportunity. Yes, our God, our Great and Awesome God is ABLE to do all this and more. There is no one like Him. There is no one like Him. There is no one like Him.

Looking forward instead of backwards

Have you ever spent the day looking backwards? I have. I tend to do it a lot, especially when I am depressed or feeling blue or out of sorts. In some ways, it can be a great healer because it allows you to look back on feelings or emotions, situations long past, and see what really was true instead of what you thought was true. In other ways, it can have a negative influence, especially on attitude and willingness to let go of past hurts and disappointments. Sometimes we can use the past to help us uncover truth, to heal hurt, or to restore faith in a person. Sometimes, we can use the past as a crutch, to simply remind us that we "were right and the other person was wrong" or that we didn't really "know" what we were doing when we did such and such. The past is the past. Tomorrow is the future, and today, is all we really have control over (though perhaps we do control our tomorrows in some small ways when we make good choices today!)

I have spent the past several months looking back over my life. Part of this was due to a request by my counselor, who needed me to revisit certain situations and events, in an effort to help her understand me better. Part of this was of my own doing, my own desire to revisit the past to "see" the truth, to acknowledge both the good and the bad, and to learn to let go of the hurt and disappointment I still carry with me. And, part was due to the Lord's prompting, to His wanting to help me discover some nuggets of gold admist all that black coal in my life.

We tend to view negative situations and circumstances that way, like they are black as coal. Dirty, ugly, and worthless. The Lord doesn't always see them as such, in fact, He often sees "gold, silver, and precious stones" admist all that stoney coldness. There is good mixed in with the bad, and the good must be brought up to the surface so it can be taken hold of, valued, and used for His glory. The Bible speaks of this process in the metaphor of the refiner, the smith who works with the metal and purifies it through fire. The dross, the part that is useless and worthless, must be heated up to high temperature before it will "separate" itself from the precious part of the metal. Then the refiner works the metal until it is "clear" or purified or ready as a fine and precious thing.

God, the Holy Spirit, of course, is the refiner in this metaphor. He works in us by helping us through various trials and temptations. He helps us navigate through stormy waters, through the rocky and difficult paths in our life. He works in us and through us to help bring that "dross" up to the surface so it can be drained off. The result is a life that is purified and made ready to be used as a fine and precious thing.

When we look back through our life, if we are careful, we will see this process being repeated over and over again. We may not have seen it initially, while in the midst of the trial or temptation, but we can see it from our rearview mirror (so to speak). We can see it on reflection, that is, if we look carefully and are willing to do so. God, the Holy Spirit, often will remind us of difficult times and help us deal with the outcome, whether it was good or bad, so that we can benefit from His teaching as well as experience His work in our lives. He wants us to be encouraged and to know that even when we don't perform to our best, the process is still at work. The Refiner is doing what He does best -- refining us.

I am in awe of Him when I stop and think of how hard He works in my life and how great He is to carefully walk me through some of life's most difficult and pernicious trials. Many of these paths I would not choose myself, yet I walk on them, because He walks with me and leads me on. I follow Him, I walk beside Him, I am with Him, and I listen to Him. He talks with me and tells me it will be OK, even when it looks bleak to me. He comforts me and assures me that He will hold me tight, He will not let me go, and that together we can do it!

Praise be to God, the Father for His marvelous gifting of the Holy Spirit. He has given me hope when there is none to be found or seen. He has comforted me when I have felt alone and fearful of my next breath. He has sheltered me and given me rest when I have been worn down by the weariness of daily life. He has shown me, time and time again, that His hand never fails, never stops reaching out, never ever leaves my head (for His hand rests upon me). I am His and He is mine, and together we are making our way through this life, one step at a time, and through His great refining process, I am being changed from "glory to glory" and "grace by grace." God's most marvelous gift is the gift of Himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit. God is with us now and will be forever. Amen.

December 27, 2009

God's Goodness Compared to...

Today, our pastor of spiritual formation, gave a powerful message from the Book of John. Our church is teaching through this book (over the course of 20 weeks), and each Sunday has brought a new and fresh perspective to these recorded teachings of Jesus.

Our pastor gave the most wonderful sermon, repleat with a touching and humbling demonstration of servanthood. In the course of her message, she demonstrated the lowliness of Jesus by duplicating His love in washing the disciple's feet. I don't know about you, but I didn't grow up in a church where foot washing was practiced. I am aware of it, know that some conservative churches practice it when they serve communion, and such. But, I have never personally experienced it.

It was so touching to see her wash another person's feet during her message. She never missed a beat, kept on talking throughout the entire process, and the entire congregation was weeping in response. It is something I will never forget -- seeing a person do the very thing Jesus did -- for the very same reason. Sure, I know that those that practice foot washing may treat it casually after a while; but for those of us who do not do it regularly, the mere vision of it being done with humbleness and in servanthood, well, it is an humbling experience.

The thing that struck me most was how her actual demonstration supported Jesus' teaching. Jesus, while washing the disciple's feet, was teaching them His most important command: that they love one another (just as He loved them). Moreover, as she taught through chapter 13-15, this point on loving as the Lord loves us, was driven home in clear and unmistakable language. We are to love one another because Jesus loves us. We are to demonstrate God's love for us by loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, despite this command and it's clear application (and demonstration by our Lord), we often do the very opposite. We do not love one another -- we backbite, we stab, we gossip, we slander, and we emotionally and spiritually wound the church of Jesus Christ. We are not His examples, we are simply self-loving human beings who occassionally remember we are called to live holy and righteous lives.

The thought occurred to me as she was teaching on this subject: do I really love my fellow Christian soliders? Do I sacrifice my time, my attention, my abilities, and my fortune (how ever small it may be) to meet the needs of a fellow believer? How quick am I to look the other way, especially when I don't want to be inconvenienced by their untimely interruption? Often, I must admit it. I prefer to be with myself and with my own needs and wants. I want others to see me first. This is not the example our Lord left for us to follow. We are to seek out others needs and put them infront of our own. How ashamed I felt knowing that I am no better than the disciples who misinterpreted the Lord's humble example of love.

The Lord has graciously provided everything I need. He knows me well, and He knows my needs for today, tomorrow, and on into the future. He knows everything about me: my wants, my desires, my dreams and aspirations. He knows me intimately and He longs for me to know Him the exact same way. He wants me to love Him and to love His other children. He longs for me to be one with Him: in mind, in body, and in spirit. I am to live a life of unity with the brethren, to be caring and compassionate towards them, to humble myself and to serve their needs. He has provided more than enough to cover me with blessing upon blessing, and He asks that I be willing to share my blessings with others. I am to freely and cheerfully give away what He has given to me. There is more --His storehouse never will be empty; His well of life will never run dry.

God's goodness to me is for me to use for others. I am to demonstrate God's goodness to others by giving away the good He has given to me. It is a give-and-take relationship. I receive good from Him; I give good out to others. The GOOD never runs out, never fails, never stops giving. God is Goodness and His desire is to share His Goodness with those He loves.

Loving one another is a great way to demonstrate the Goodness of God. It is not difficult to do so long as you are intimate with the One who gives it to us. If you are far from God, far from relationship with Him, or stuck doing your own thing and feeling empty and worn out -- consider God and consider spending more time with Him. If you are running down, simply come to Him and fill yourself back up. He is the best when it comes to restoration and establishing Good within a person. There is no other way to experience the Goodness of God except to come to Him and to spend time with Him. God is GOOD -- Goodness comes from His hand. If you want some Goodness in your life -- go to the source of all Goodness. Go to God. He will not fail you. He will not refuse you. He will embrace you with His loving arms of forgiveness and He will spread out His Goodness so that you will see it and know that HE IS SO GOOD.

Trusting the Lord

Trusting the Lord is not always as easy as it sounds. I trust the Lord, that is for sure. But, I don't always trust Him the way I should. You see, I trust with human understanding, and not with the kind of Biblical trust He expects of me. Trusting the Lord means that you are "willing" to trust Him. It is not a set thing, like when you say you are going for a walk and you physically walk. God knows that trust is a matter of the heart and the head. He knows that we want to trust Him, but that we don't always or cannot always do it (liking walking). He looks at the heart of the matter, and that is whether or not we are "willing" to trust Him. Being willing is the key to almost everything with the Lord. He asks that we are willing to do something, and if we are, His grace then comes along and helps us to do that very thing. God is so good, in that He knows our weaknesses and limitations, and even despite our wavering attitudes, He still is eager to work with us. Grace is the tool that operates in our stead -- as Paul wrote -- "the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." How true?

Our flesh often answers the call of God -- "yes, Lord, I am willing." But, once put to the test, the flesh will fall by the wayside, give up, give in, and just go home. Our spirit, joined in cooperation with His Spirit, saves the day (not our, but the willingness of ours with His -- it is a lovely miracle of faith). His Grace begins it's work, shoring up the slipping sides of our faith, and before we know it, we are doing the thing He has asked of us. We are doing it, but without much effort. We are moving, we are walking (metaphorically) in the way He has laid out before us.

God's marvelous Grace is something we only know when we see it in action. We know it is there, but we see it and grasp it's significance through His work in us. The more He works in us, the more aware we are of His Grace. The more Grace, the more we grow and become like Him. As we mature in God, we begin to realize that there is nothing God does with us or through us -- without His Grace. His Grace is the moving, the pusher, the lifter, the supporter -- the missing ingridient to all our being. It is the "thing" that sticks to us and enables us to do the things God asks of us. We cannot please God on our own; we cannot do anything apart from His Grace operating through us.

Without His Grace, we have no forgiveness of our sins. Without His Grace, we cannot hope to see God (in Heaven). His Grace is everything and because of it, we are able to have fellowship with Him, enjoy Him now and forever. His Grace, His wonderful Grace. It is truly something to wonder at and to study, and to experience.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
What can we do to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
Brighter than snow you may be today.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who believe!
You that are longing to see His face,
Will you this moment His grace receive?
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

December 26, 2009

The Day After

Merry Christmas -- the day after!

Today is December 26th. In many parts of the world, this day is celebrated almost with as much joy as the previous day, the 25th or Christmas. In my country, we just like to shop (or so says the mall advertizers who put out their "red tag" promotional flyers and tell us we can now get everything cheaper than before Christmas! LOL! My dad thinks we should just wait to celebrate Christmas until it is "over" -- boy, what deals we would get, eh?) I am not sure what our plans are for the day as I am still getting over a head/sinus cold. I feel better and can actually breathe freely today (plus no headache -- hurrah!) It is chilly here this morning, only 35 degrees, which is quite cold for the desert SW. Yesterday we had a lot of frost -- it looked like snow -- or that is what we Phoenicians like to "think" is snow! Actually, most Phoenicians are from the north so they know what snow looks like -- they just prefer this kind. It melts as soon as the sun rises!

My Christmas was very nice, considering the head cold, and the fact that right now things in my life are so uncertain. I spent the day at my parents home, unwrapping gifts and then eating a good old fashioned Ham dinner. It was low-key, but very warm and comforting. My son, Dad and I played RISK -- the old fashioned game of world domination -- though they downplay that "name and pursuit" in the new version (very pc -- it is called "global domination" and they only make reference to it once, on the back of the setup card, by saying something like "old RISK players might want to pursue global domination." I guess in the new millenium "global domination" is a bad thing. Harumph -- what is the point in playing RISK if you cannot hope to sit as WORLD LEADER even if only for a short while in life!! LOL!!)

Still, Christmas was quiet for us. My son got some unexpected gifts (always difficult now that he is 16 and his gift list is short and quite expensive). He got an M-16 airsoft gun (for target shooting in our backyard); some DVDs ("The Dark Knight" and the "Star Wars Prequel Trilogy" set); a new guitar stand and strap (for his growing collection of guitars -- now four -- two electrics, an acoustic and his friends, bass); a nice camera case with lenses (from his dad); a firewire card (from Papa) so that he can import video into his primary computer; and a handful of gift cards from cousins. He pretty well got set this year -- lots of things to plug and play as well as some gift money to spend at the shops today.

In years past, our tree would be cluttered with toys, in all sizes and shapes (oh, those were the days). Now, the packages are smaller, more defined. There are fewer packages (still costing the same or even more), but enough to snap that pretty picture for our memory book.

How I miss the Christmases of the past? How I miss those Christmases I remember as a child? I have very fond memories of my childhood Christmases. My mother was a great Christmas-maker. She always knew exactly what we wanted and she always found a way to get us something unexpected. My mother saved, and saved, and saved. She bought gifts throughout the year and kept them hidden -- how she did that, I will never know? On Christmas morning, there was always an unwrapped "Santa" toy -- one for each one of us. We didn't do "Santa" big time at our home, just enough to make it fun (until we grew out of it). Christmas was always, always about Jesus -- and my parents made sure we always knew why we exchanged gifts each year.

I have tried to instill those same kinds of holiday traditions in my own family. It hasn't been easy. I think with one child, it makes it difficult to teach the importance of gift giving. I have done my best, but there is nothing like having to make a dozen home-made gifts for your siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles (kwim?) each holiday season. You learn an important lesson when you have to be creative in gift-giving. You learn how to read your family well -- you learn what kinds of gifts will touch their heart. The more home-made, the better. The more personal, the more real...the more they are cherished. Hey, getting a new IPOD is great, but getting something handmade by little fingers (with sticky glue and too much glitter -- well, that is priceless!)

Christmas is a time of gift giving and even though so much of our culture focuses on the "gifts" -- the store bought type -- we need to remember why we give gifts in the first place. I am not sure what your explanation is, but this is the one I grew up with:

We give gifts in thanksgiving for the GIFT of ETERNAL LIFE given to us through the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Yes, Jesus is the reason we gift one another gifts. He gave His life so that we could be reconciled to God the Holy Father. Without His sacrificial gift of life, we would remain estranged and unable to even know God. God made a way for us to be redeemed, for our sins which keep us from His Holiness, to be forgiven. Jesus left heaven, came to earth and was born as a baby all those years ago. He grew up, taught of God's plan for the redemption of mankind, and then willingly was crucified on the cross at Calvary so that God's plan could be fullfilled. He didn't stay dead, but he rose to life again on Ressurection Sunday! Jesus overcame death and the penalty of sin (which is death) and through the Ressurection procured eternal salvation for anyone who believes that He is the Son of God.

The Christmas story is really just the first part of the Easter Story. It is His-Story, from creation through to Revelation -- the story of God's plan to redeem His creation -- His creation that chose (by their own volition) to spend their lives outside the perfect will of their Creator. His creation chose self-will and self determination rather than the perfect life God had made for them. As a result of their willingly choosing their own way, they were set out of the perfect place of God's creation and let loose to determine their own end.

The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God decided that was not good enough for Him. He didn't want His creation to spend all of eternity separated from Him, so He made a plan to redeem them. He redeemed mankind through the crushed and crucified body of His only Son, the perfect Lamb, the perfect sinless Lamb of God. In short, God chose Himself as the sacrifice for all of mankind. He redeemed them, forgave them of their sinfulness, and restored them to His perfect peace. God did it all, He did it all because of His great love for us.

Jesus Christ came as a baby; died as a man -- to redeem mankind and to give them peace (reconciliation with God). You no longer have to live as an enemy of God, but can be a friend of His. He made the way for you to become His friend -- all it takes is faith on your part. Are you willing to believe in Jesus? Are you willing to lay aside your own selfish pursuits and self-driven ways to taste the freedom that comes from faith in Jesus Christ? My prayer this day and throughout the coming new year is that your answer will be YES!!

Jesus is the reason for this season! May you be blessed as you consider Him and consider whether or not you really believe that He is the Son of God.

December 21, 2009

The Weariness of Daily Life

I am weary today. I was weary yesterday too. I woke up this morning with a sense of dread, not of "doom and gloom" or with a feeling like something particularly bad was to happen; no, it was more like waking up to the "same old, same old" thing. Life can be difficult, it can be challenging. At times, it can wear us down -- physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually. Life can be a friend or a foe; it just depends on your perspective and your particular circumstance.

I am reminded of a poem I read to my son last week (as part of our Poetry study):

The Hound by Robert Francis

Life the hound
Equivocal
Comes at a bound
Either to rend me
Or to befriend me.
I cannot tell
The hound's intent
Till he has sprung
At my bare hand
With teeth or tongue.
Meanwhile I stand
And wait the event.

Our study last week was on the use of figurative language. I can remember when I first studied poetry in junior high -- I simply could not grasp a metaphor. No matter how the teacher explained it to me, the entire concept of speaking "metaphorically" just escaped me.

I was reading this poem to my son (who also struggles with thinking abstractly) and he didn't get it. I did, boy did I ever get it. This poem is a metaphor for my life right now. As I struggle to deal with some very difficult circumstances, I feel like a person awaiting the onrush of a hound -- bounding at me at full speed. I don't know if the hound will lick my face and hands or if he will attempt to crush me to pieces. All I can do is wait for his arrival and then do what I must: embrace him or defend myself from further attack.

It is a very difficult situation to be in and it is wearying to me. I am tired of waiting. I am tired of watching what appears to be a train coming straight for me -- and me tied down to the tracks. How I wish someone would come to my rescue (O' where is Dudley Dooright when you need him?) How I wish I could walk away and no longer have to face the trials I am presently awaiting.

The only reason I stay put is because the One who has recused me time and time again, tells me to wait. He has promised to rescue me, but I have to wait for His arrival. If I struggle and strain against the ropes holding me down, I will only hurt myself. If I relax and wait for Him to come, then I will escape completely unharmed.

Oh how difficult it is to wait. I want to run away, to escape the onslaught, but I cannot. I must wait. I must wait for the Savior who has saved me from sin, and now is ready to save me from myself (and the circumstances I find myself in). He is the only One who is able to clean up the mess I am in and who can make my sadness into joy. He can turn a very bad situation into something for His glory, something Good, and something Wonderful.

Jesus, Oh Jesus...Come and rescue me today!

December 18, 2009

Coffee with a Good Friend

I went for coffee and a bagel yesterday. A seemingless mundane thing unless you are like me and LOVE Einsteins Bagels and coffee! But my time yesterday was just one of a series of Thursday morning dates -- dates with a very good friend.

It is a wonderful thing to have a good friend. I will admit that I have been shorted in the friend department most of my life. The last time I really had a set of friends, good friends, was when I was a child, growing up on the Southside of Chicago. I had five girlfriends, all of whom I spent every day with, either at school or after school. Those years, from age 8 to 16, were filled with constant companionship. I always had someone to sit with, to talk with, to eat with, to just hang out with...you know...to be friends.

After my move (or my parents move) to Northern California, I found it very difficult to make real friends. I had some friends from youth group, but not like before. My friends from before didn't judge you on your appearance or on your social status. They just liked you because you were you. My friends at my new school were nice, don't get me wrong; but, they were different. I didn't fit in well. I was different, from a different place, and did different things. It is not that I was a social butterfly in Chicago or super popular -- nope -- I wasn't either. I was plain. I was not noticed by the "important" kids. I was noticed by my friends. They knew me and I knew them. There was a connection between us, a friend-connection.

Now that I am grown, I still struggle to make close friends. I have many acquaintances. I have many people who know who I am, but they don't really know me. They do things with me, such as ministry or homeschooling. They don't know my heart or my mind, they just know my hands and face.

How I long for a good friend, just one good friend. Thankfully, the Lord has brought such a person into my life recently. I now have someone who knows me. It is amazing just how good it feels to be known, to really be known, and to know that someone else is willing to sit with you, walk with you, talk with you, and just be with you.

God is so good to provide a friend for me. The funny thing is that I really have two good friends. One is the gal I have coffee and bagels with each week; the other is One who is with me every moment of the day. God is my friend, He is the One who really knows me and knows my heart. I spend my moments with Him and they seem like eternity (He is eternal and time with Him is just like that -- it seems to last forever).

God knew that I needed a real friend, a touchable, hugable, and dependable friend -- someone just to chat with and share a bagel with each week. He brought me such a person and I am thanking Him with my entire being. He knows me, He loves me, and He cares for me.

Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, [once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully. ~1 Peter 5:7

December 17, 2009

Making Beautiful Music

I have been listening to my son play the piano. He is studying pieces from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier (a fugue and a prelude). He just blows me away (my son; not Bach -- well, I like his music too!) on the piano. He is so talented and he plays the piano with such passion and love. It makes me so proud whenever I hear him practice -- as he has really taken the time to study hard, learn this instrument well -- and it shows!

I am hopeful that he will continue to pursue music for his life's work. Right now, he is thinking of studying it in college (he has said as much). He is young still (only 16) and there is much time for his mind to change. However, I think music will be his focus no matter what. He might choose to do something other than piano performance, but I cannot think he will stray too far from music as a whole.

I am so blessed. I grew up in a home filled with music. My father played the organ, my brothers all had a band (guitars, drums, etc.) There was always some kind of music on the radio or record player or being played live down in the garage. It was fun to come home from school and hear the sounds of rock and roll coming out from under the crack in the garage door (I doubt the neighbors were as thrilled -- but heck, I was just a kid and what kid doesn't love that their big brothers have a band!)

I have always had an affinity for music, even if I never thought I could actually play an instrument. I have loved to listen to music (all kinds), and have especially enjoyed learning more classical pieces, thanks to my son's interest in the piano. I am now blessed to play the cello, so I get to look forward to playing more classical pieces as well as some really great folk music.

Music is such a gift -- the Lord loves music and has blessed us with a bounty of talented musicians and composers over the centuries. Just thinking of the men who wrote the majority of the classical music we know and love today makes me take pause. How they could write such beautiful music, in a time when the world was far more difficult and dangerous, and just plain isolated. God is so good to have passed down to us this rich and wonderful legacy -- this ability to play and to enjoy His beautiful music.

December 16, 2009

Cello-ing

More cello thoughts...

I have recently started to play some more difficult pieces of music. I am working through one of Bach's Preludes. It is a familiar tune, a great piece written just for cello (part of his Cello Suite). It is definitely above my playing level, but I am practicing it nonetheless. The more I practice it, the more I am finding some other pieces easier to play. Weird -- working on something harder actually makes playing some pieces easier. Go figure!

My love is still the cello as I can't seem to stop thinking about and listening to cello music. Sigh!

My old cello, a Kay, is really sounding so tin-y (tin plus eee!) I hear the endpin rattle when I play certain notes, and it is driving me nuts. I really, really, really want a better quality cello for Christmas. I don't think I will get one left under the tree this year, but perhaps after the New Year?? Oh, wouldn't that be lover-ly (to quote Eliza Doolittle).

My preference for a new cello has been either the Scott Cao (pronounced Chow) SC750 cello (available online and through Southwest Strings in Tucson) or an Andreas Eastma 605 Master cello (available from Eastman dealers). I have also looked at Stringworks line of Eastern European cellos and like the Soloist II as well as the Kallo Bartok cello (both for advancing cellists).

My heart is now leading me towards a different cello. The Lord seems to prefer another so I am looking at a Georges Michel, which is a French made cello. It is a beautiful cello, but the picture from SW Strings makes it look really blah. I found the actual luthier's website and the varnish is really a lovely golden brown. It is a lovely cello -- supposedly very easy to play and one that has an "aged" sound to it.

This truly is a beautiful cello, one that I would cherish for a life time!

December 15, 2009

Gift Wrapping at the Mall

This is my sixth year to volunteer my time as a gift wrap booth wrapper. The GFWC Paradise Valley Womans club has hosted a gift wrap booth at our local mall for 30 years. All our proceeds go to charity, local and national, though most are used within our community.

I enjoy wrapping gifts and really like to visit with the shoppers. Most are nice, but some are cranky and difficult (ain't life so?) Still it is fun to see what everyone purchased and then wrap and make fancy bows so their gifts look special.

If you happen to be in Phoenix this Christmas season, stop by the Paradise Valley Mall Gift Wrap booth. We are located in front of Sears and will be wrapping right up to store closing on December 24th!

Spending One Day in Etermity

Have you ever thought about what a day in Eternity might look like? I have. I have thought about this a lot lately. To me, Eternity is that endless period when death moves me from the material to the immaterial, from the physical to the spiritual, and from this reality into the next. Eternity for me, is being in the presence of my Lord and Savior. It is all the things spoken of in the Bible -- freedom from pain, sorrow, suffering. It is glorification of my body and soul. It is achieving perfection, once for all (not of my own will or doing, but of His grace). Eternity is endless peace, peace that surrounds and upholds us, peace that says "you are safe, no one will hurt you here."

I have been thinking about this a lot because right now things are not as peaceful at home and in my life as I think they should be. Peace is absent in some ways. In other ways, I have peace -- not of my own self, but of His grace. I have God's peace in my life right now. I have peace with Him (I am reconciled to Him), and I have peace within my soul (telling me that I am a Child of God). I am at peace with my brothers and sisters in Christ (for the most part, as I am encouraged in the Word -- as best as I can make that happen). The peace I am missing is external -- it is the peace that I long for, the peace that I want for my days, my weeks, and my months. I want peace in the world (knowing full well this will not happen until He returns), peace among men (again, not until He comes back), and peace of spirit or goodwill (sigh! I am a broken record this morning!) In short, I want peace in my life, through my life, and then without my life (meaning emanating from me and moving outward to the places I go, I see, and in the things I do).

I have asked for Peace and the Lord has graciously provided it. Peace is defined in a number of ways. There is peace with God (peace brought about through the gift and grace of Salvation); there is peace with men (again, brought about through grace, given out but not always returned). The peace I want will not occur until time ends. I long for this peace and I long for the tranquility of it now. I want my life to settle down, I want to live in full glory of the Lord. I long for Eternity to take place now.

I am reminded of the fact that Jesus told us that the "kingdom of heaven is within us." Now, don't think I am getting New Age here -- I am simply acknowledging that if we have God within us (through the gracing of His Spirit), then in essence we have the kingdom within as well. For where God is, Eternity begins. Somehow our finite minds simply will not let go of the reality of this life. We will not accept that Eternity began the day we confessed our sins to the Lord and graciously received His gift of forgiveness and salvation. We stepped out of this reality and into the Eternal realm the day the Holy Spirit moved in. We have the Spirit of the Living God within us -- therefore -- we have the Eternal within.

WOW! If only I could live with such realization, how might my life change as a result? It is a meaty and weighty thought, but one worthy of consideration. If the Holy Spirit of God lives within me, then truly nothing is impossible for Him. He can change me, change my mind, change my attitudes, and change my pathways. He is more than able (one of my most favorite worship songs is "He is Able"). God is more than able to do what He pleases, He plans, and He purposes in my life. My part is to simply allow Him to do His work in me.

If I spent less time focusing on what I lack, and more time focusing on what I have -- how much more peace would I feel and experience? My guess is a whole heck of a lot. I am game...are you? Are you willing to let God work through your life, to bring about His plans and purposes for you, so that He can receive all the Glory? This is what I want now. I want to experience Eternity, I mean really begin to experience the reality of it now. I am sick and tired of living in the here and now (yes, I know that there are Scriptures that say we must live now and not worry about tomorrow). I am not saying that I am advocating irresponsibility or somehow leaving behind what is real (our families, the church, jobs, etc.) No, I am simply saying that I believe we can experience Eternity now, and that to do so, we must allow God the full rights and authority in our life to bring this experience to pass. Only He can do it; Only He is Able.

God is the author and finisher of our faith. He is the beginning and the end. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is Able, He is Willing, He Will do it. His Word says so and God does what He promises to do.

December 14, 2009

Dealing with difficult discovery

I am in a position where I am having to discover some difficult truths in my life. I am open to the truth, when it is a "good truth". I am not open when it happens to be a "bad truth." I know, you are thinking...isn't all truth good? Yes, this is true. All truth comes from God, and therefore, all truth is good because He is good. I am just adding in my impression of the truth or my feelings upon receipt of the truth...especially when it is difficult or devastating to accept. I am sure you can think of many scenarios when this might be the case: the loss of a loved one suddenly, a child turning to drugs, a marriage broken by infidelity, etc. There are times when the "truth hurts."

I am in one of those times right now. I have been dealing with a particularly difficult issue, one that doesn't seem to want to go away. I have tried to accept it with grace, to acknowledge it, and to let it be; but, this particular truth really hurts.

I am reminded of our Lord and how the truth hurt Him. Yesterday, our pastor preached a sermon about Lazarus' ressurection. You remember the story from John. Lazarus, Jesus' beloved friend, dies. Jesus uses his death for God's glory. Our pastor said something that struck me as funny (not the ha ha ha type, but rather quizzical type). He said that Jesus was angry at death, and was emotionally disturbed at the pain and suffering death brings.

The verse in reference is this one: "Jesus wept."

It is noted as being the shortest verse in the Bible. I always thought it just showed Jesus' compassion towards Mary, Martha and the other mourners. He was moved with compassion for them and for their loss. No doubt this was true, but our Pastor said that it also was because of the truth -- the truth that brought Jesus down from heaven and led him to the cross of Calvary.

Sin brings death. Death is inevitable for us all. We are born and we will die. Eccleisasties says that there is a season to be born and a season to die. Death will overtake us all. No matter how well we live, how healthy, how pure, how fit...we will all die someday.

The issue is Sin and the result of Sin is death. Romans says "the wages of sin is death." In short, sin brings about death. Death to the soul, death to the body, and death to relationships. Sin mars everything it touches, and nothing is left clean, and whole and beautiful as a result.

The interesting part of the sermon was when our Pastor asked us if we were willing to allow our suffering to bring glory to God? Good question. We tend to look at circumstances and situations with ourselves being central to them. We always put ourselves smack-dab into the middle of every single situation. How do I feel about this? How does this affect me? We are always more worried about ourselves than we are about whether or not God receives glory.

I started to think about my own situation, the difficult one I am facing right now, and the thought did cross my mind: am I willing to allow God to receive glory through this circumstance? In truth, yes. I do want Him to be glorified. I am just not sure if I want to give up my rights to "suffering" a little bit (kwim? we all like a little pity party every now and then).

After careful consideration, I decided that I did want God to receive the glory. No matter how difficult the situation or circumstance, I want Him to be worshipped, to be praised, and to receive glory. I know He will deal mercifully with me, He will be gracious to me, and He will annoint my head with oil -- giving me what I need at every moment so I can survive and see my way through the battlefield.

God is so Good to me. I love Him dearly and His Mercy endures forever!

December 13, 2009

New part for cello

My son's music teacher has given me a new sheet for the piece I am to play for Chamber. She has kindly added counts, and has changed some of the notation to make it a little easier for me. She is so AWESOME!

I have really enjoyed playing with her group, even if it is only for this holiday season. I have enjoyed learning new music, actually real music, rather than just fingering exercises. I have even started to play some classical music on my own. Last week, I downloaded an intermediate piece, Dvorak's New World Symphonie, and now can play through it. It is in LARGO (which is good for me -- nice and slow) and is fairly easy to play.

My goal is to become a good cellist. I really want to be able to play any piece of music I like. I would love to be good enough to play with a group or at church. We will see...I am practicing consistently, really paying attention to my fingers and bow, and think I am making progress.

Oh my...I do love the cello!

Ps. Someone wrote on their blog: I am 'obsesso about the cello' and I think that saying fits my mindset perfectly!

December 12, 2009

God's goodness


Today, as I was praying, this thought came to me:

God's goodness is an expression of His love.

My heart has been pierced by the fact of God's goodness. I see His goodness all around me, even in a wicked and evil world. There is so much to see, to experience, to know about God, and the thing He desires most is that we know, we understand, and we perceive his goodness.

His goodness towards us provided a Savior, a Savior who would pay the penalty for our sin, and provide redemption and reconciliation required of a holy and righteous God.

His goodness is seen in His redemptive plan for mankind, but also in His personal will for each of us. God has a plan, His will, for our lives. His will includes knowing Him, experiencing Him, and understanding Him (as we are able, within our limited frame of mind). God's plan for us is to know Him and to love Him.

As I meditate on His goodness, I am struck by how completely God cares for us. He not only provides a Savior so that we can be reconciled to Him; but, He also provides everything we need so that we can know Him, appreciate Him, and desire to spend time with Him.

God is Love and His Goodness is a reflection of that Love.

I am so blessed to be saved, to know God, to experience His Love and Goodness each day. Praise and Honor and Glory be to Him alone.

December 9, 2009

My fingers are really, really sore today...

I have been practicing a lot lately, trying to get my part down in DS's chamber piece, "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24." DS wrote a cello solo along with a pretty difficult part for me to play. Even though the entire part is in 1st position (good for beginners like me), the timing of the piece is what makes it difficult for me to play. My fingers are just not that quick yet. DS's chamber teacher is going to modify it for me -- slightly -- to make it easier to play. I will be very, very happy for her input.

The big issue is my pinkie finger. I never realized that my 3rd and 4th fingers would get such a workout. You would think that 1-4th would get equal treatment, but it seems not to be the case. My two little digits are forming big callouses and right now are a teeny-wheensy bit sore. Oh well... the trials of playing a stringed instrument.

Thinking more on cellos...

My wish list for a cello has changed slightly. I still like the Scott Cao SC750 cello, but am leaning more towards an Andreas Eastman 605 Master cello. It is less expensive (always a plus), but comes with a respected sound. I have read a lot of good comments about it, and think it would make a great cello for me. This is the low-end model in Eastman's Master cello series (for Intermediate/Advanced players). I like the idea of getting a good cello, one that will last me for a few years.

This cello is really pretty (not the best reason to buy one, but hey, color matters to me). It also has a lovely sound. Lindawest.com has a demo of this cello on her website. I really like the balanced performance -- nice highs and lows. I think it will work well for me!

Gotta make sure Santa knows I want a cello for Christmas!

When the days are evil...

I have been reading through the Book of Ephesians, and was struck by how often the Apostle Paul spoke of the days being evil. Apparently, there was evil in his day as well as in our own (rhetorical here -- yes, yes, yes, of course this is true).

The days were very evil during Paul's lifetime. They were harsh and brutish and very short-lived. It was especially difficult on women and children, who had the shortest life expectancy. Most women died in childbirth or died early in life. It was not uncommon for men to marry several times, due to the death of their first, second or even third wife. Children suffered the most, and died in infancy as well as early childhood.

Men, if they were fortunate, lived to be 30 or 40 years of age. Old men, therefore, might have reached 50 or 60. In our day, we expect men and women to live to be 70-80. Some live well into their 90s and even reach the century mark. Much medical advancement, scientific discovery, as well as sanitary living conditions, has made the difference in the life expectancy of men and women.

The funny thing is that even though life was short back in the first century, the days were considered to be evil. There was a lot of nastiness going on. I won't go into detail, but suffice to say that the days were no more evil than our own present era.

It seems that Paul's warning to the church at Ephesus is exactly the warning needed by the modern church. We run into all sorts of temptations, with the devil, our adversary looking to scheme us and trick us and lead us away from the truth of Jesus Christ. Not only are we confronted with the wickedness of the day, but we also must deal with the powers and principalities of darkness who seek and are determined to keep us from knowing the truth, and then living the truth out.

Curiously, this book speaks to us today. I think this is because it is so real. It clearly outlines proper behavior for a born-again believer in Christ Jesus. We are admonished to put off the old man and the old ways of the Gentiles (the way we lived before Christ), and to put on the new man, and the new ways of the Spirit of God. We are told in no uncertain terms that we are to forsake all the ways of the world, all the ways of the wicked, and to run, to run as fast and as far as we can from anything that might enslave us and keep us from walking worthily.

The interesting thing is that many Christians today don't take these admonitions seriously. They think that it is OK to be a party to such behavior. So long as they are not "actively" participating, they are safe. Wrong! The word tells us that we are to not even "name the name of such activity." We are to not even think about it, to carry thoughts of what is forbidden to us.

I tend to see things as black and white, and with me, there is little gray area. A spade is a spade. Paul makes it pretty clear that there are certain behaviors not to be 'seen' in the life of a Christian. There are things we simply are not to do or even be near (in any form or association with). How sad it is that we choose, often, to ignore his warning and live a "mixed message."

I know that this is something I have grappled with for years. How to live a life worthy of the calling of Jesus Christ? It used to seem so difficult to me, I mean, I did want to do it; but somehow that life never really seemed to materialize for me.

The change came when I surrendered my life to Christ and began to embrace His teachings. In Ephesians 4 it says that "Jesus Christ is truth." When I started to read the Word and take it as truth, my life changed. My attitudes, my behavior, my thinking processes -- they all changed. I began to see more clearly that line of demarcation that shouts out: do not go here. I listened to the Holy Spirit as He prompted me and something wonderful resulted -- I simply stopped doing the things that displeased God and started doing those that brought Him glory and honor. Well, I would say that I really didn't do much of anything EXCEPT surrender my will. The Holy Spirit gave me the grace to do it -- He did it through me.

The truth now is that through and by and because of His grace I am able to live the life that Paul exhorts all Christians to live. The key is surrendering of the will. So long as you are content to be in control of your life, to do as you please, you will never please the Lord. However, if you surrender everything to His Lordship, then you will become what He desires, a vessel of good use, light in the darkness. The key is to surrender, the key is to give over control and let the Holy Spirit of God do what He does best -- sanctify the hearts and minds of God's children.

December 7, 2009

In love with the cello

Ok, I will admit it...I am smitten. I have fallen in love with my cello. At first, I just thought it was a passing fancy...I tend to do that with things, especially new things that catch my interest. I have wanted to play the cello for a really long time, but never thought I could do it. I tried viloin once (when my son was in 3rd grade), but it just seemed too difficult for me (plus, I really squeaked and couldn't stand that noise! LOL!)

The cello and me, well we are friends now, and I just am loving it more and more each day. I practice for an hour every day and don't really want to stop (I do because my fingers hurt still). I am improving and learning how to bow nicely and keep even tension on the strings. I have figured out a couple things: 1) keeping my fingers curved and thumb bent produces nice clear notes; equal pressure on the string results in no squeaking/squelching; and relaxing my bow hand makes for smooth sounding strokes. So much to remember...all the while you are trying to read notes, keep time, etc. Ah the joys of music!

I am not really sure what it is about the cello itself, but I think it is just the voice of the instrument. I love the sound it makes, and I love the fact that I can produce that lovely sound too. I am so in love with this instrument, and have decided to really pursue getting good at playing it. When I first started out, my goal was just to play it -- I mean, to hope to play well enough that I didn't drive everyone out of the room. Now, that I have been playing for five months, I really want to play well. My new goal is to be able to play well enough to play at church or part of a small group or orchestra (our church has one). That would BE it for me!! I would love to play well enough to make music with other musicians...oh, yes, that would be wonderful.

For now, I am content to practice, practice, practice and to learn as many new pieces of music as possible. I am enjoying learning to make the cello sing, and that in and of itself, is a feat!

God is so good to me...who'd of thought that at 47 years of age I would be learning to play this beautiful instrument. Not me...but He thought of it and graciously provided a cello for me to learn on and to experience the beauty of making music. He is SO GOOD to me!

December 5, 2009

High School Science

There has been a discussion thread on the AO/HEO support groups about students struggling with the math portion of Chemistry courses. I find it interesting how many parents choose to make their students struggle through these heavy courses simply because they think it will prepare them for college. I don't doubt that college courses are difficult, because they are. However, sometimes a student does BETTER in college then in high school. Sometimes age and maturity are the missing key ingridients to success in these kinds of courses.

I know that this was the case for me. I struggled throughout high school with both math and science courses. I actually enjoyed science...until I had to take Biology and Chemistry. I guess my brain is wired to enjoy Physics and Physical Science more than the other subjects. I went from getting all As in science to Ds and then failing the course. My interest in science also dropped, right along with my grade. I came to fear science, to loathe taking the classes, and generally, avoided all science courses -- simply believing that I was not "science-minded."

In college, I had to take three classes or six-units of general science courses. I struggled in community college (carrying those same erroneous messages over to college) though I found Astronomy and Meterology interesting enough. My grades were average.

Later, when I returned to University, I had to repeat two of the three classes (time delays, changings in acceptable credits for graduation...you know...college policies). I took Geology and Environmental Biology. I earned an A+ and a B+ in both classes. My least favorite course was Biology -- and due to a rather poor instructor -- I probably would have gotten an A in that class too (I was ready to graduate -- so I could tell the difference between a good teacher and one who was just "doing time.") Nonetheless, I actually enjoyed science. I enjoyed these classes AND found that I was good at them.

I have thought about this for a very long time and tried to discover what made the difference for me. I mean, I barely made it through those high school courses, and then ten years later, found college to be far more interesting and enjoyable. My bottom line is this...time and maturity make all the difference.

In college, I was focused and determined to do well in all my courses. I had plans to attend graduate school so every course mattered. I also took pride in my GPA and wanted to do my best (considering that I was paying for it on my own -- no scholarship, no parents, just me and my savings account). I wanted to get a good education, to study for a good career, and as such, I put my mind into my studies. I turned into a straight-A student.

The kicker...it really wasn't that difficult for me, either. In high school, I believed I was a mediocre student. I believed (or was labeled by teachers, counselors, parents...) that I was not a good student. My grades were testimony to that fact. I got B's and C's and therefore I was "average". It didn't matter that I got As in Art or in French or the occassional science or math class -- I was inconsistent in my grades. If I liked the course or the teacher, my grade went up. If I found the class boring, the teacher annoying or difficult (personality-wise), my grades went down. My environment also played a big part. If I took a class in the am, my grades were usually higher. By late afternoon, my grades started to sink with the winter sun (if you live anywhere cold, you know what I mean). Peer pressure was huge -- pressure to fit in, pressure not to be labeled anything. It was tough back then.

College was so very different for me. I wanted to go to college the second time around. The first time, well, that was an extension of high school. My grades reflected my attitude. Well, except for Art -- I got all As in those courses. My mind was not focused. I was torn between what I wanted to study, and what I thought I could become. I suffered from low self-esteem, worried that I was wasting my time studying Art (that was what I was being told at home), and generally, felt that I was a "poor student trying to show off."

Bad messages. Messages left over from early experiences. Messages that told me lies. It took years, time working, I mean really working, to rewrite those messages. The new messages came out like this:

"Carol is a great worker."
"Carol can do practically anything -- she is so smart!"
"Carol is dependable."
"Carol is a great asset to our team."

Yep, spend some time working in a real job and your mind doesn't have time to play back those old messages (well, you can do it...but only if you want to get fired!) The more I worked, the more success I enjoyed. I learned to be a good worker, to be organized, to be structured, to be dependable. I learned that I could complete projects and do them well. I learned COLLEGE STUDY SKILLS through on-the-job training. I learned how to be a focused and determined student, not in class, but in the real world, where the life/death of a company relied on a 100% committment from ALL OF US, and not just me.

When I transferred over to University, I took that sense of committment with me. It worked. I graduated with honors. I did it. I set my goal, and I achieved it.

So what to do with students who struggle through difficult math and science courses while still in high school?

I am of the latter camp that says experience is everything. I have found this to be true in my own life, so I believe it works well in others. You can certainly force a student to work through difficult problems, and I am not saying to avoid them at all costs, but keep in mind the end goal. Your student will have to repeat college level science, and they will use similar texts. It is not the same as it was 20-30 years ago. Most high school texts are no more difficult than the college ones. The main difference -- college texts are condensed down into 1 semester rather than a full year. So your student studying Apologia Biology will do a similar Biology text in college. They just will complete it in one semester's time. The rub, and do keep this in mind, they will not do the entire text in one semester. They will do what the teacher thinks is reasonable to cover in the time allotted.

My .02 cents and then I will end this post is this: if your student is struggling with math and science, do them a favor and find curriculum that is interesting and enjoyable to use. Do not force them to use the hardest texts on the market, simply to "prepare them for college." If you want to drum every ounce of enjoyment out of them...keep on making them spend hours and hours on a subject they do not like, and are slowly (or perhaps quickly) coming to loathe.

December 4, 2009

A Lesson from Jonah

Today, I read the Book of Jonah. It has been a while since I read this little book. It is only four chapters long, a short story sandwiched in between more well-known stories. Yet, despite it's smallness, it contains a very GREAT message.

I am sure you know the story:

Jonah, a Hebrew, is called by God to go to Nivevah and preach God's message of repentance. The Ninevahites are practicing evil, doing what is not right before the Lord, and God sends Jonah, His messenger, to warn them of coming disaster.

Instead of obeying the Lord, Jonah flees from His presence. He heads to Tarshish instead. He pays fare for a ride on a boat, and sometime shortly after boarding, finds himself in the midst of a storm; a Storm of Biblical Proportions. The men are all praying to their gods, but Jonah is sound asleep in the very bottom of the boat. Finally, when all is about to be lost, the men rouse Jonah up, ask him to pray to his God, and the story begins.

Jonah, fleeing from God, is deeply convicted about his actions. He is hiding from God. He has told his shipmates that he is hiding from God. (Funny, how often do we confess our acknowledgement of sin to others BEFORE we actually confess it to the Lord?) Jonah knows that the storm is his fault, and after some prodding, steps up and takes responsibility. He asks to be tossed overboard and the men comply. Off he goes, down into the sea, and the ship and men aboard are saved.

The rest of the story is well-known. God sends a whale to swallow him up, and Jonah remains inside his belly for 3 days and nights. Once Jonah confesses to God, the whale spits him up and sends him out and over to dry land. Jonah picks himself up, goes to Nivevah and preaches God's Word. The people repent, disaster is averted. End of story.

Well, er, not really. The last part of chapter 3 and all of chapter 4 tell the best part of the story. This is the part where Jonah gets angry with God and sulks about it. God, in His great mercy chose not to destroy the people of Ninevah, and Jonah gets mad. Jonah wanted God to wipe them out, to erradicate them from the face of the earth. Why? Perhaps because they were the reason he got stuck inside that big stinky fish? Perhaps. Or perhaps it was righteous indignation on Jonah's part. Perhaps Jonah liked playing god? Perhaps he liked being God's righteous messenger and liked preaching "doom and gloom" to God's people?

I think probably it is a bit of everything: Jonah liked being used by God; he liked preaching God's Word to the people; he liked the power and control he had, especially when the people (including the King) repented. I think Jonah liked it very much, liked the fact that God chased him down, sent a tempest of a storm to rouse him, swallowed him up in a great fish. I think Jonah liked the fact that God really, really, really sought him. I also think that Jonah got a bit puffed up with all this power and authority -- I mean -- it wasn't like Jonah did it on his own. Nope, all this was God at work, in him, through him, by him. It was God from beginning to end, and Jonah, while being used by God, got a little prideful in being part of God's big plan for Ninevah.

As I read through this story, I couldn't help seeing myself in between the lines. How many times have I gotten angry at God for being merciful towards another person? Many. It is not that I want God to "willy nilly" wipe people out, but a good chastisement wouldn't hurt, KWIM? Especially, if that person has hurt me or caused a lot of trouble for me. Yep, a little cow-poking would be OK by me. How many times have I said to the Lord, "Lord, if I were you, I would just X (fill in with your preferred method of torture -- I tend to like the word "fry" so I would fry people) so and so." The Lord, being so gracious to me, always replies: "It is a good thing you are NOT GOD!" Yes, so true! (Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord!)

I must admit that there have been many times when I have been just like Jonah. My pride gets the best of me, and I take glory in the fact that the Lord is using me to do His work. I not only get mad at God, but I also get mad at myself, and at the people God is using me to help. Irked, is probably a better word. I get irked a lot.

The message of Jonah is this:
  • When God tells you to do something, just do it.
  • When God says something to you, don't question His motives (why or what or how or wherefore)
  • Trust Him -- He is God; you are not
  • And, remember that He is gracious towards you. Be gracious towards others -- no matter how stinky or irksome they may be. God's plan for you is very good. God has a good plan for others. Don't play "god" -- let Him do what He wants to do, and if He chooses to use you, so be it. Repeat this mantra: You are God; I am not.

Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish." When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:9 and 4:1)

and

I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. (Jonah 4:2b)

December 3, 2009

Happy Birthday, Grandpa David!

DJ, Grandpa David, Daisy, David Jr. and Me
November 27, 2009

My father-in-law celebrated his 79th birthday on November 27. This photo was taken at the Paradise Valley Community College Fitness Center. Dad goes to the fitness center nearly every day. He "works" out (or so he says!) a bit and then chats with all the regular members and visitors and staff. Dad has been partially paralyzed from stroke now for 16 years, but he still is able to enjoy spending time, visiting, and "working out" with his friends. Mom organized a little birthday celebration for him. There were about 2 to 3 dozen folks who stopped by to wish him happy birthday. We had donuts and lemonade (not the healthiest thing). It was a fun time and we were glad we were able to be there to help wish him well.



The Rock of My Salvation

The LORD liveth; and blessed be my rock;
and let the God of my salvation be exalted.
~Psalm 18:46

Have you ever thought about why the psalmist chose to describe the Lord as his rock, his rock of salvation? For those of us who live in the desert Southwest, we live with a lot of rock. We have rocky mountains and hills surrounding our cities, and we choose to use rock to decorate and landscape our yards, pools, and other natural areas. Rocks work for us -- they don't need water, they don't need to be groomed, and they don't wither and die in the hot, dry sunshine. Rocks are sturdy, they are strong, and they are immovable.

Hmm? Interesting, don't you think? God is often described in the exact same way. He is strong, He is rugged (sturdy, steadfast), and He is immovable (unchangeable). When we are in need, we can cling to the rock for safety (consider being swept to sea and clinging to the last rocky part of the shore). Rocks will not come loose easily, they will not slip away. They can be held onto and in times of deep sorrow, they can be grasped with one's last ounce of energy.

God is our Rock and Refuge. He is our shelter admist the most strongest storms. He is never going to fall away, never going to give way to something else. He can be trusted, He can be held onto, and He can be our stronghold when we feel as though the enemy is taking ground.

Trust in the Lord. Lean on Him. He will not be moved.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
~Proverbs 3:5-6