31 December 2007

January's Glimpses

Some of you have noticed the sign-up to your right (or is it left--I still haven't figured out my right from my left) for my new ezine, Glimpses. A monthly publication delivered right to your email (see? I can do salesman! or woman, rather), this ezine shares glimpses of Christ in His people's stories, in art, and in the Church.

This month, I interviewed Jen Kliewer, who with her husband and little girl lives in Philadelphia, sharing in the poverty of their neighborhood and sharing Christ's love with the people around them. I also have a painting by artist Christina Kieffer that portrays the fight between the spirit and the flesh, and a short devotional on what it means to be the Body of Christ, one of my favorite metaphors for the Church.

The ezine is free, and when you sign-up you'll receive a copy of "Reel Studies: A Study Tool for Bible Stories," a resource designed to guide you in your study of Bible stories. It includes a look at structure, characters, setting, and imagery.

Beginning in February, there'll be a free giveaway every month, and I have some great gifts lined up for you!

In the meantime, I have some things on my heart I've been praying through. Today I have to clean house for our shindig tonight, but tomorrow I hope to share what's going on.

29 December 2007

Movies and Theology - Sweeney Todd

It's disturbing. It's evil.
It's meant to be.
You like horror? Thrillers? Try your hand at this one.
Of course, the music in the movie lacks the talent of a stage version.
To read my review of the movie (no spoilers), go here.
To join in the discussion that looks at theological themes (some spoilers), go here.

28 December 2007

The Last Day of Christmas

I admit it. I'm a clinger. Change doesn't bother me. I like new things. But letting go of old ones, that's a different story.
So I cling to Christmas.
I mourn it's passing. Yesterday I watched half a dozen Christmas movies with my family. Today I'll bake a few more cookies (for my New Year's Eve Party--if you're in the Dallas area, stop on by!) and watch one more Christmas movie.
It doesn't feel like Christmas anymore. How can that be? A month of carols and decorations and stories and snap! It's over with the stroke of midnight.
Christmas to me isn't about the day. It's the season. The season of lights and joy and peace. The season that we now use to remember the birth of the greatest King. The season we find holly and jolly.
Today the last of my family leaves. We had a house full o' people. It was great. Air mattresses were brought out. Sofas slept on. Every room filled. We played games and drank wassail and ate more cookies and pie than any human should eat. I discovered that the heavy roasting pan I received as a wedding present and hadn't had an opportunity to use until now is too big for my oven. Dishes broke. Stains remain. But that's okay. I can remember each time I see the stain.
Tomorrow life goes back to normal. Not that normal is bad. I like life (life likes me, life and I fairly fully agree...).
But normal isn't Christmas.
So farewell thee well, Ghost of Christmas past. We lift a cup in your honor.

20 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

The wrapping began two days ago. The cookie baking began yesterday. The cleaning begins today. I'm gearing up for days of holly jolly joy! (Have you guessed by now that I'm in love with the Christmas season? After all, it's the most wonderful time of the year.)
Today will probably be my last day with you until after Christmas. But cheer up, friends! Grab a cup of eggnog, dream by the fire, and let it snow. Santa Claus is coming to town!
I'll see you next week. In the meantime, I leave you with a few more Christmas facts:

  • Gift-giving can also be traced back to Roman times. Romans exchanged gifts, giving coins for prosperity, pastries for happiness, and lamps to light the journey through life. They also made gifts of small dolls for children and candles for adults. Macy’s began staying open until midnight on Christmas Eve in 1867 to accommodate the custom and in 1874 began their Christmas window displays.
  • We have Sir Cole to thank for the Christmas card frenzy. In 1843, too busy to wish individual greetings to his friends, he commissioned artist John Calcott Horsley for the illustration. The card was inscribed with, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year To You.” Three years later, Christmas cards became a phenomenon in the States.
  • European countries in the Middle Ages viewed Christmas as a time for superstition and auguries. On Christmas Eve, animals had the ability to talk—an annual function usually associated with overcoming their oppression—and water became wine. In France, chanting the genealogy of Christ during Midnight Mass revealed treasure. In Norway, the Norse gods made war on Christmas, coming in lightening and thunder and dragging away unlucky citizens. If a southern Slav girl wanted to know what kind of husband she would have, she would cover her table on Christmas Eve with a loaf of bread, a plate, a knife, a spoon, and a fork before going to bed. At midnight, the spirit of her future husband would appear and throw the knife at her. If it did not injure her, she would get a good husband and a happy life. If it hurt her, she would die early. Similarly, a young man would go to the church naked on Christmas Eve and sift ashes. His future bride would appear and pull him three times by the nose (could this be where Santa got his red nose?). These days, we merely tell horror stories of coal left in stockings and set out milk, cookies, and carrots to ensure a favorable visit. Do they leave out fortune cookies for Santa in China?

And some fun Christmas facts about me:

  • Favorite Christmas movies I've seen this season: White Christmas, Christmas Vacation, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Frosty
  • Christmas movies I've seen for the first time this season: Holiday in Handcuffs (didn't expect to like this one, but I did!), Fred Claus, Jingle All the Way, Deck the Halls, and a slew of cheesy ones made for TV
  • Favorite Christmas movies I have yet to see: White Christmas (my absolute favorite, so I watch it a handful of times), Miracle on 34th Street (only the old version for me), The Santa Claus, Home Alone, The Year without a Santa Claus (I'm Mr. White Christmas, I'm Mr. Snow, I'm Mister Icicle, I'm Mister Ten Below), and if I must, It's a Wonderful Life
  • Christmas movies you couldn't pay me to watch again: A Christmas Story (I don't the brew-ha-ha over this one), and a couple of the made-for-TV ones I saw this year
  • Activities I plan on enjoying before I see you next: making cut-out snowflakes, pasting together Frosty on construction paper (hey, I live in Texas--we don't have snow), going to see Sweeney Todd in the theater, eating way too much, opening presents, playing in the pile of discarded wrapping paper with my niece and my parents' dog

Merry Christmas!

18 December 2007


If you can watch this without laughing, than like the Burgermeister Meisterburger, you have broken your funny bone.
Got this from the Escape Adulthood blog.

Deck the Halls

On those boughs of holly--

Mistletoe is a symbol of peace and joy and signifies friendship and goodwill. Mistletoe was considered sacred by the Norse Scandinavians, the Druids, and the Native North Americans.
In Norse theology, when Balder, the sun god, was killed by the evil spirit Loki with an arrow shaped from a mistletoe, Balder’s mother, Frigga, wept tears of white berries, which brought him back to life. Frigga blessed the plant and bestowed a kiss on all that passed beneath it.
Druids used mistletoe as protection against ghosts, witches, and goblins, placing them over doorways, in a child’s cradle, and by the first cow calving after the New Year to protect the entire herd. Whenever enemies met under mistletoe in the forest, they had to lay down their weapons for a day. Every year, the priests cut the mistletoe from the oak tree with a golden sickle. The people would wear sprigs of holly in their hair when they went to watch.
During the Saturnalia festival, Romans used holly to honor Saturn. They gave holly wreaths decorated with images of Saturn. To avoid persecution, the early Christians decked their halls with boughs of holly. Eventually, this custom transformed from a pagan tradition to a Christian symbol of Christmas. The thorns of the mistletoe came to represent Christ’s crown.
In the 18th century, kissing under the mistletoe came to mean a promise of marriage. If a young woman stood under the mistletoe, she couldn’t be refused a kiss, although that kiss could represent anything from romance to friendship. If a girl remained unkissed, it was believed that she would not marry the coming year.

17 December 2007

Christmas Cinquain

Ode to Hans

Verdant, Jolly
Living, Dancing Delight
Celebrating, Joy, Peace, Life

Mid-month Every Month at PENSIEVE
Want this button?

14 December 2007

Another Hero

Christmas facts about me:

White Christmas is my favorite Christmas movie.
I didn't know Silent Night was a Christmas carol until I was eight or nine, maybe older. My mom sang it to me every night, every night, even in June. I still get sleepy when I hear it.
Rudolph is my Christmas hero. I think you know why.
But my second hero, maybe you don't know that one:

I put together that clip for a Christmas brunch I'm speaking at tomorrow.

Sorry about the quality. Blogger wouldn't upload it (after an hour of waiting, I gave up), so I downsized it to get it up there. But you get the idea.

My Favorite Christmas Memory

The details are fuzzy as any old memory goes. The story comes like a pop-up book for a toddler: pictures emerge here and there but the lines and paragraphs don't make sense.
I was four, maybe five, and that year I learned that giving is more fun than receiving.
Her name was Deidre. She had been in the hospital for a long time for something chronic like heart problems, not a quick fix like appendicitis. Maybe we knew her through church or one of my parents' workplaces.
"We're going to take Deidre some presents," Mom said. "Why don't you pick something out for her?"
I hadn't met Deidre before. What would she like? A doll? A stuffed Snoopy? Could she play with a shopping cart in the hospital?
A book! Who doesn't like books?
I chose one of my favorites, 'Twas the Night before Christmas. My dad read it every Christmas Eve after Luke 2, right before we set out the cookies, milk, and carrot. My dad's a great reader: he does expressions. Not even a mouse!
Okay, and I had two copies of it.
It was a Golden Book edition with that gold binding and a red cover (they've since changed the cover). Mom and I wrapped it in red Christmas paper with Santa Claus laughing with that bowlful of jelly in replica. He had his finger to his nose.
At the hospital, I sat on a hard chair with my legs swinging in a long hallway. Maybe it wasn't long, but it seemed so at the time. The walls were made of cinderblocks painted cream. I breathed in the dry, isopropryll air and waited.
The waiting was the best part, I think. Holding the gift, knowing God was using me to bring joy in a little girl's Christmas. She was my age, and she would read one of my favorite books.
I don't remember what she looked like, but I was shy. What if she didn't like my gift? What should I say to her?
And then it was over, and we returned to our lives. As always, my dad read Luke 2 and 'Twas the Night before Christmas. I didn't hear about Deidre again, or if I did, I don't remember. I don't know what happened to her. I don't know if she liked my gift.
But I never forgot her. Every Christmas, I wonder if Deidre likes that story.

13 December 2007

Translating Translations

I'm going out on a limb today, but I have to say it, though I know of several people who won't agree with me and won't like that I'm saying it. All I can say is "even among misfits you're a misfit" (misfit not meaning the critique group but a broader definition).
Here goes.
I just don't get all the to-do over the ESV Bible translation. I'm not saying it's a bad translation, but what's all the hype about?
It's tauted as a brand new version! solves all translation problems! but it's an update on the RSV. It's only about 5% different from the RSV, and most of that is thees and thous. Oh, yes, everyone points to the passage in Isaiah that changes "young woman" into "virgin," but even that isn't a big deal. After all, the Hebrew term means both and in the immediate context, it did mean young woman even if Matthew used the nuance "virgin."
Also, from what I've read, it seems that the translators take a verbal inspiration view of the Bible. Verbal inspiration means God inspired every word of the Bible. I take a dynamic inspiration view of the text, which means that God inspired the message, the ideas, the story, and the human authors put it in their own words.
Sometimes, when you try to stick too closely to "word by word" translation, you not only have a wooden translation, you lose some of the message because idioms aren't understood.
Now, I do like the literary study esv bible, but that doesn't have anything to do with the translation itself, just how it's packaged.
After all, I did my thesis on story structure in the Bible. That's what draws me to these rich Old Testament stories. That's what makes me look at each gospel on its own merit, its own structure and plot, it's own message, rather than try and synchronize the events.
The other amusing thing: some of the translators that ate the TNIV for lunch for using gender inclusive language then used gender inclusive language for the ESV.
Don't get me wrong--I think gender inclusive is good. It's the original intention, kind of like how we saw "man" sometimes to mean humanity. (Now, there are times that the masculine should be kept, like "son of man" in Daniel and Ezekiel instead of "son of mortal" or something because Jesus later picked up the term for Himself and it was loaded with meaning. Well, I guess son of mankind would work for both, but you get my point--I like when it's translated "brothers and sisters" when Jesus addresses a mixed audience kind of thing.)
Let me reiterate that I don't think the ESV is a bad translation. I just wonder if the big deal is more because of the names tauting it. Celebraty-ism now intruding in translations?
Well, I so-and-so said I should use this Bible, or I use the same Bible that this person uses.
Of course, we can only have these discussions because of the plethora of translations in English. Guess you can't have these discussions with Swahili bibles.

Jefe, what is a plethora?
Why, El Guapo?
Well, you told me I have a plethora. And I just would like to know if you know what a plethora is. I would not like to think that a person would tell someone he has a plethora, and then find out that that person has *no idea* what it means to have a plethora.
Forgive me, El Guapo. I know that I, Jefe, do not have your superior intellect and education. But could it be that once again, you are angry at something else, and are looking to take it out on me?

12 December 2007

Sometimes Misfits Belong

In September 2006, I introduced the concept about being a misfit. I told you that Rudolph was one of my favorite Christmas shows because I could relate.
I'm a misfit.
A dentist elf, a toy bird who swims instead of flies, a prospector searching for a peppermint mine, a reindeer with a shiny, red nose.
Why don't I fit it in?
This past Sunday night, we watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer again. The old sympathies arose for Rudolph and Hermey, who, "even among misfits you're a misfit!" (another truism for me!)
But I caught something else. In the end, after the Abomidable has been conquered and Rudolph's family saved, after Santa asks, "Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?" there's another line I'd missed before.
"Sometimes even misfits belong."
Because I belong now.
I like what's said in that statement: you may still be a misfit, a dentist elf, a reindeer with a shiny nose, a Charlie-in-the-Box, but you can belong too.
Back in April, Chris and I started visiting this church. It's an Anglican church. Chris and I both came from years of Bible church communities, so why an Anglican church?
We visited because good friends of ours go there.
We kept visiting because we liked what we saw.
We liked the evangelical theology and the liturgy with the weekly emphasis on the Eucharist and the focus on serving both the community and the world.
In September, we became members. I cried. I cried because for the first time in a long time I could say, "I love my church." I cried because I belonged.
I have friends here. I'm involved here--I started a book club and I'll be teaching a Bible study in the spring and I'll be serving a local community orphanage with my church. On Sunday mornings, I want to get up and go to church. I can't wait to worship God, to see friends.
I'm sharing this because it's come full circle. This blog is not just about my struggles. It's about my joys.
And sometimes even misfits belong.

11 December 2007

Feed the World Through a Game

I found this through Robin today. You play a word game and for every word you get right, they donate 20 grains of rice through the United Nations. They partner with poverty.com.
Now 20 grains may not be very much, but if a lot of people start playing, that could add up to a lot of rice.
Need a five minute break from work? You know what to do.

10 December 2007

O Tannenbaum

The tree came to the United States with German immigrants. The Puritans, however, deemed it pagan mockery of the sacred event of Christmas. In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts outlawed any observance of Christmas outside of church services, including Christmas trees, carols, and gifts. Schools in Boston remained open on Christmas day through 1870, sometimes expelling students who stayed home on December 25th. In 1871, a Cleveland minister almost lost his job for allowing a tree in his church.
German and Irish immigrants overcame the disapproval of the pilgrims. A farmer dragged two ox sleds of evergreens into New York City in 1851 and sold them all, creating the first tree market. Ralph E. Morris invented the electric Christmas lights in 1895, making the world a safer place. By 1900, one in five families in North America had Christmas trees, and by 1920, the Christmas tree was nationally recognized as a symbol of Christmas. F.W. Woolworth brought the glass ornament tradition to the U.S. from Germany in 1890, completing the transformation. As early as 1874, Macy’s began their window displays with Christmas themes, and since 1923, the White House has had a Christmas tree on the front lawn every year.

Forum Discussion

New forum question on Incarnating Christ:

I've talked before about sweatshop labor--not shopping at stores that employ sweatshop labor (you can look up your favorite store at Responsible Shopper), being involved in organizations such as International Justice Mission which actively fight sweatshops and slavery, that kind of thing.I hate sweatshop labor. I hate places that force overtime (especially unpaid), that take advantage of people (especially women and children), that sexually and/or physically abuse.
But let's look at the question and implications.
Some organizations make attempts to keep their factories clean. For example, Gap has surprise inspections. However, I read an article that said that factories in India (where Gap makes their clothing) have hiding places to stash kids when that inspector walks in the door. The article said, if you're using a factory in India, there's gonna be corruption.Which brings me to my question.
But if we stop using India and places like that, doesn't that do more damage by pulling away a source of economy from a hurting country?
I'm not saying let's turn a blind eye, but is the answer to stop all production?
Maybe it is. As a statement. Get your act together.

Go here to put your two cents in.

We Have No Bananas Today

I'm shifting things a bit.
In January, I'm going to be launching a new ezine. Stay tuned for more on that because the first 100 people to sign-up will receive a little something extra for free (the ezine will be free as well, by the way). I'm telling you this now because I've decided to reclaim my blog for more fun stuff and put what I've been posting as "Mentor Monday" into the montly ezine instead.
Here's a sneakpeek: every month, there will be glimpses into people's stories (interviews and tidbits of cool people in the world who are incarnating Christ's love to the hurting), glimpses into beauty (where you'll find paintings, sculptures, poetry, and flash fiction), and glimpses into the Church (a section that looks at the metaphors, purpose, and life of the Church). And every so often, there'll be some fun free give-aways!
Is it ezeen? or ezin (with a long i)?

07 December 2007

Cool Announcement #2

Visit Intersection

It's like I'm addicted.
But seriously, these social networks or online communities or whatever you want to call them are awesome!
So I've created one for art and theology called Intersection (http://intersection.ning.com).
Here's what I dream: people will upload their photography, poetry, pictures of their paintings (and I know some of you are photographers, poets, and painters). We'll discuss issues like how to get involved in the film world or writing techniques or brushstrokes or how to we handle this Golden Compass movie or what we think should or shouldn't be acceptable in Christian publishing or what should standards be? or how do we strive for greatness? or talk about different genres, like speculative Christian fiction and horror movies and folk music. We'll post film and book and music reviews. We'll upload a favorite song to discuss or just to share. We'll create interest groups, like book clubs or punk music fans or Duchamp lovers.
This is better than Mastercard.

06 December 2007

On Words and Writing

I admit it. Everyday in my email comes Merriam-Webster's word of the day.* Not that I actually learn and use these words. But it's fun to get them.
Today's word: locofoco.
Okay--who cares what this actually means? Just saying the word brings a smile to my face.
For those of you who care: "a member of the Democratic party in the United States."
Can you use that in a sentence, please?

Remember how I talked about one of the greatest things about writing was getting away with stealing? I get to be a pirate!
Here's another great thing: when you're a writer, it's okay to hear voices in your head. In fact, it's encouraged.
I love being a writer.

*The story behind Merriam-Webster. There once was a librarian Merriam (little known fact: the song Marian from Music Man was pilfered from Merriam and Webster). Always her nose in a book. One day, she looked up to see the basketball great Webster hiding in a corner. Figuring he must be up to no good because anytime a jock hid in her library it was no good, she approached him.
But no! He was reading! Actually reading!
"Don't tell no one," he whispered, "But I love words."
They met in that corner everyday for seven months.
Until Webster's parents discovered them.
"For shame!" the parents said (together, because they talked in chorus often). "A librarian!" The parents grabbed the book away from Webster (again together, because the acted in chorus often), and shipped him on a bus to Indiana, because that's where all basketball players go.
"You will be one of the greats!" they said.
Poor Merriam. Her kindred spirit gone. Picking up the book discarded by Webster's parents, she hugged it to her.
Epiphany! The lightbulb flashed! They wouldn't be separated. They would find a way!
Though those were the days preceding email, she employed something called a pen and paper (you can look these items up in the dictionary or an encyclopedia). Back and forth, Merriam and Webster wrote letters collecting words.
One day, Webster met a guy named Britannica.
"Britannica, old boy," Webster said. "Will you marry my love and I?"
"And me," Britannica said.
"No, just the two of us."
Over the phone, Britannica pronounced them husband and wife.
They never saw each other again, Merriam and Webster, but they are forever bound (hee-hee, get it? bound?).

Coda: By the way, this is what's known as ternary.

05 December 2007

On Genres

If Jane Austen were writing today, would she be considered chick lit?

04 December 2007

Cool Announcement #1

Visit Incarnating Christ

Okay, I was going to hold this off a little longer, but I can't help myself. I'm too excited.
I've created a new online social group called "Incarnating Christ" for those who are passionate about incarnating Christ's love to the hurting. To become a member is free. Simply go to http://incarnatingchrist.ning.com/ and follow the steps.
Wondering what it is? Here are some possibilities:

  1. Discuss on the forums theological and practical questions for ministry, including questions like how can I get involved when I live in suburbia? or how should I get my children involved in inner city ministry when it's not "safe"? or what does it mean when Christ told the rich young ruler to give away all he had?
  2. Connect with missionaries overseas. Heather Jamison has uploaded a great video with some of the people in her life in Africa. I have to admit. The beauty of it made me cry.
  3. Share (upload) songs and videos that inspire you.
  4. Create local/church groups to keep each other up-to-date with what's going on in the area.
  5. Share ideas for getting involved locally and globally.
  6. Encourage each other when frustrated.
  7. Write blog posts on a particular event.
  8. Pray for each other.

The possibilities are endless! It's different than Blogger or MySpace because there are so many more options. Go check it out!

I'll have cool announcement #2 up in the next day or two.

Christmas Traditions--The Makings of a Tree

’Tis the season…to buy the gifts, to send out Christmas cards, to decorate the tree, to bake cookies with red and green sugar, to hang mistletoe and holly. How did we get into this mess?
Decorating the tree comes from a long line of winter solstice practices. The Egyptians, Romans, Druids, and Scandinavians each used evergreens in their celebrations as a symbol of triumph over life and to ward off evil spirits. During the Roman festival of Saturnalia, mistletoe, holly, and evergreens were twisted into wreaths, hung on doorways, and wrapped throughout the house. To prevent persecution, Christians decked their own halls. Eventually, the pagan meaning faded away. The thorns in mistletoe instead represented Christ’s crown and the evergreen Christ’s life.
Rumor has it that Luther brought the tree inside and, inspired during an evening stroll by the moonlight shimmering on the snow-dusted tree boughs, donned the tree with candles for his children. The first documented decorated Christmas tree as we know it, however, wasn’t until 1605, after Luther’s time. Before then, Central Europeans hung the fir tree upside down.
Stay tuned to find out how it fared in the U.S.!

03 December 2007

Published Articles

Three new articles coming out, for those of you interested:

  • A creative nonfiction piece, "My Scarlet Letter" in Three One Six: A Journal of Christian Thinking. Also in this issue are articles by blogging buddies Mike Duran, Erin Teske, and Sandra Glahn.
  • "Spiritual Disciplines: Practicing Daily Scales," which looks at practical ways to intertwine spiritual disciplines in your life. This article will be in the Spring '08 issue of Just Between Us, a magazine for women in professional or lay leadership.
  • "'Tis the Season": a look at the origin of some of our Christmas traditions in fwd Magazine, a quarterly magazine put out by my church.

Tomorrow, I'll give you a sneak peek into some of those fun Christmas origins.

Mentor Monday--Art for the Poor

I met Brenda Gribbin at a women's retreat. She led a breakout session on using art in prayer. It was an amazing class, but even more amazing was this woman standing in front of me. I realized that this was the woman behind so much of the art I had seen at our church. Brenda uses her art to work through her prayers, reflect her relationship with Christ, and raise money for the needy. Often, she sells pieces and donates the money to Real Options (a ministry for pregnant women) or Buckner (a ministry for orphans both in the States and around the world). She's also been known to donate her art to churches.
It's an interesting perspective on how to intertwine our art and our passion for the oppressed.
If you're in a rush, scroll through to the last question about using your art, and read Brenda's final comment!

Brenda, what is your inspiration for your art?
When I started formal art training (in my 40's) my goal was to find a way to glorify God without painting Calvary or praying hands all the time. I learned that the best way to do that is to develop the gift He has given me. To work at my art as though EVERY painting were for Him...paint for an Audience of One. My inspiration ultimately returns to my purpose...to worship God. Sometimes inspiration comes from words that burn an image in my brain...it's so clear, I can't believe others can't see it on my forehead. (Right now, I have Isaiah 6 screaming to get on canvas.) Often, I'm working out a technical "what if" and a series of abstract paintings comes running out. Once the urgency takes over, I work fast. I consider myself a "drawer" rather than a "painter" because my art is born quickly, like sketches...even if the image has been incubating for months. It's as if I have a message to deliver and nothing will do, but that it is explained quickly and with a lot of strong language (color, line, etc.) I believe God has a purpose for this gift, and it is my responsibility to use it to usher others into His presence. I am absolutely intrigued by the powerful beauty of tiny things in nature. I could do an entire wall of azalea petals and not get bored...but they would have to be magenta pink!

What drew you to Real Options and Buckner ministries?
It's that responsibility thing again, but there's a LOT of joy behind it. So many children and young people deserve better than what their struggling and misdirected parents can provide. No one should make life decisions when they feel painted into a corner. Everyone, every child of God, should have the opportunity to know Him and experience the abundant life He designed for them. I think these organizations are well positioned to be effective ministers of God's love, and I want to be a part of that.

How are you involved in these ministries?
I went to Russia with Buckner in 2002 to deliver shoes to orphanages in St. Petersburg, and absolutely fell in love with those kids. I've been involved with shoe drives, taking volunteers to the warehouse to sort shoes and humanitarian supplies and other efforts for Buckner over the years, but nothing compares with meeting the kids. I leave December 8th for Peru, part of a 25-person team delivering Christmas gift boxes to kids in Lima and Arequipa. I am so blessed to be able to go where many others cannot...to love the children some others will not. Real Options is a new involvement for me, but something that has tugged on my heart for several years. God blessed a recent fund raising project I did for Real Options, and I'm anxious to see what He has in store for me with this ministry.

What made you realize that you could use your art to support the ministries?
Five months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I went to New Orleans with a "muck out" team. Before the trip, I felt a strong call to do a painting for the church we were working with. Since I had never met them or seen their worship space, I spent a lot of time in prayer over this project. At one point, I literally got on my face before God, asking Him to speak through me. The result was a painting that will probably not receive wide recognition or even be long-lived...but it was significant to the members of that church, and spoke to their own struggle and promise for the future. I saw what God could do with the gift He had given me...use it to encourage others in their walk. I knew then that I could take my prayer life and offer it to others as image...a visual encouragement.

If others want to use their art/creativity/craft in ministry, what are some things that you suggest?
I believe God has given us the "creative" tool to speak to Him...to help us sort out what He is leading us toward. Be genuine. Don't look for specific results, but anticipate miracles. It must be for His glory, and not ours. If you find a way to clear the clutter out of your mind enough to understand how much God loves you and wants to bring light into your darkness, share it with others! Sing out!

Anything you want to add, Brenda?
I am uncomfortable in my current walk...challenged to speak out and step up to things I never would have dreamed of in the past. I give all the credit to the Lord, because I KNOW what a mess I made of things when I tried to do it my way. I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to share the Gospel in fresh ways...ways that catch the doubtful unaware. I pray God continues to push me into new territory for His sake.

Thanks for taking this time with us. How true that God often calls us to something uncomfortable! But that's how we best grow and shine His glory.

30 November 2007

Today's Inspiration

You'd think I was Snow White.
I couldn’t resist. The weather was perfect. With my cream of wheat lunch, my water, and a book, I went into our backyard and settled in a chair. At some point--who knows how long it had been?--it occurred to me that there was a lot of noise and scurrying around going on. I glanced up from my book. My backyard teemed with birds hopping here and flying there and squirrels dashing and jumping to branches so distant, it looked like they flew. It must’ve been the pecans falling. A dash of red caught my eye. A bird, mostly grey with a red head (immediately endearing him to me) hugged a tree (that tree-hugger), knocking his beak in places, climbing up a bit more, inspecting, knocking again. He reminded me of a shopper looking for the perfect pumpkin.
And it hit me: a veritable woodpecker!
Most of the birds were shades of brown and grey, although a few had a dull orange chest. They searched behind our wood pile, amongst the trees, beneath the fire bowl. I felt for a moment transported to some cabin in the woods, and it made me want to sing (well, what doesn’t, really?).
After a while, I looked back down at my book. There, crawling over the top, was a caterpillar with a blue and green pattern on his back, fuzzies sticking up on end like he had just had a scare. A fellow booklover, I knew immediately, because he gravitated toward the words, pausing over an especially delectable one before moving on.

Book Thoughts--Feeling for Bones by Bethany Pierce

This book is about a teenaged girl struggling with anorexia while her family struggles to survive after he father's been fired.

Olivia grew up as a pastor's kid until her father was fired. Now, her father, is disillusioned by the church, her mother is trying to keep a semblence of a happy home on a budget and growing tired of her husband's unemployment, and her sister runs away feeling neglected. And to make things worse, they've been planted in the middle of a small town, and you know what people say about small towns!

Olivia's walls are papered with magazine cutouts of beautiful women--women she desperately desires to model, and women with whom she'll never be able to compete.

But's it's not just about body image, for even when Olivia realizes that her eating habits are a disorder, it's not so easy to fix. Still, every night she counts the calories and fat grams and makes sure everything fits into the food pyramid. The counting soothes her and gives her a sense of control in a helpless situation.

New beginnings. That's what it's really about.

This book is excellently written with real characters that get up and walk around us. While I wouldn't use the word "quirky", each characters has their own quirks that makes you think, "That's just crazy enough to be true!" Pierce gets inside Olivia's head and creates a cast of sympathetic and flawed characters.

It has one of the best conversion scenes I've seen, although I think for me there was still a sense of, wow, so everything's just fixed now? at the end.

Lessons as a writer: watch catch words. Pierce made a habit out of "retorted." Olivia and her sister often retorted, and it began to get on my nerves.

Also, Olivia's narration sometimes felt pedantic. "This is how I felt. This is what I was thinking." I knew that already because Pierce did an excellent job of showing that, so I didn't need that, and those parts sludged for me.

But a good book. If you like Lisa Samson, I think you'll like this book.

28 November 2007

His Name Is Hans

Sorry, Erin, no pictures on my garden this time, but to make up for it, I've got pictures of my new baby.
We picked up Hans on Saturday. He was a bit uptight. Who could blame him? The poor guy's been uprooted from his home in a tragic circumstance, taken from all who love him and whom he loves, and brought down to Texas. (I feel your pain, buddy.) We took him home, let him relax in a warm place with a glass of brandy (actually, it was a glass of sugar water).
Sunday, he let his hair down, and we gave him new clothes. He's right at home now, happy and shining.
Meet Hans.

And for a little more Christmas cheer, here are a few other pics of my living room:

Yes, I have three trees in my living room. Yes, that one is completely red (with red lights). And, yes, I also have a tree in my bedroom. That tree has a legacy, though. You see, once upon a time, when my parents married, my mother's parents' neighbor, Rose, gave her old tree to my parents. Sometime in college, my parents passed it on to me. I call her Rose in honor of her original owner. Rose (the tree, not the neighbor) is three and a half? four? feet tall with white lights wrapped around each branch (of which there aren't many).
Oh, and yes, that's my computer on the chair next to the fireplace. With all these trees, why lock myself up in the office to work? Almost everything in my living room is packed away in a closet to make room for the Christmas paraphernalia. Gotta love it. I like to think of it as the snowmen--excuse me, snowpeople--ward of the insane asylum.
Throughout the month, I'll share some fun Christmas tidbits with you.

26 November 2007

Mentor Monday

My Thanksgiving holiday was stuffed with people, food, and decking my halls. Oh, how I love the decorations. Yes, I'm a saccarine sucker when it comes to these things.
We got our Christmas tree--Hans is his name. He's donned with blue lights and ornaments. But more on that later this week.
Today, I'd like to introduce you to Maria.
Maria received her masters at Dallas Theological Seminary and works in Dallas at a ministry called Buckner Community Outreach. Born in Mexico, her family moved to Chicago when she was a child. Years later, she ended up at seminary. I'll let her tell you the rest of the story.
Folks, if you're in a rush, please, at least scan down to the question where she tells you about her favorite part of her job.

Maria, tell us a little bit about your ministry.

I oversee a Buckner community outreach program in the Vickery Meadow community of North Dallas. This community which has a 3 mile radius is one of the most dense communities and has struggled with crime and poverty. We have after school programs for children 6-18 and see about 85 children everyday. We support the children's families by offering their parents classes in ESL, computers, parenting, and marriage. I personally see a lot of famiiles in crisis and help them access the help and support they need. The children participate in lots of awesome activities and are able to be exposed to much that they would normally not be able to. We work closely with local churches and help them engage in this community. Currently about 80-100 people from this community are attending Park Cities Baptist Church. This church sends a shuttle every Sunday.

What brought you to Buckner specifically? Was there an "ah-ha" moment or was it a journey? Were they any inadequacies/past experiences/obstacles that you had to overcome to get there?

I started working at Buckner my last year at DTS. I was looking for an internship and at the same time was looking for a church to serve and really plug into. It was very creative how God answered that prayer. My job at Buckner served as my internship and I worked full time. God led me here because of a need for an internship but now I see that this is what God has called me to do. God led me to Park Cities Baptist Church and I am a member there. My two worlds merged together. I have the privilige of worshipping with the children and families I serve in Vickery Meadow. I love seeing my kids in the halls of the church and have seen some of them be baptized.

My biggest obstacles has been in overcoming my insecurities, past hang-ups and prejudices and needing to develop a different way of seeing myself. When I first came to seminary I went to pursue a counseling degree. God led me in a different direction and I never thought I could do what I am doing now. I look at myself and wonder how I got here but at the same time can see how God had been preparing me for my ministry all of my life. It all makes sense to me now. My background is very similar to the children that I serve and I have had to let God minister and heal me so that I can offer the same hope and comfort to these kids. Yet, I can tell them that God helped me to overcome all obstacles and he will do the same for them. With God nothing is hopeless or impossible.

What is your favorite part or what you do?

I love praying. I pray with the children when they are hurting and I see God filling them with his presence and that changes them. I have seen countless number of children with huge burdens on their shoulders and I have seen God lift those burdens. I then see them light and free, the way children should be.

I also pray for needs in the program or for families and God provides abundantly every time.

What do you feel is your biggest battle?

My biggest battle I guess is pride. When things go well and God is at work I want to take the credit and glory instead of Him. Then I think it is me doing all the good and I stop depending on Him. Also, when things go well you receive attention and praise and then my motive in what I do is to receive more of it instead of serving Christ. In order to serve others I have to continually be more like Christ and that means sanctification. This process is often very painful and at timesI don't want to keep going. But the only way for God to continue to use me is to continue to cleanse me. Ouch!

How can readers support this ministry if they feel led?

We have many volunteer needs, especially people who want to tutor and mentor kids. We have lots of awesome volunteers who share their talents with the kids such as playing an instrument, sports, or knitting. By doing this you might help a child discover and develop a talent that they did not know they have. This changes their life. We need people to invest in youth.

Maria, thanks for sharing and for your time. Hearing about your ministry excites me. I have recently taken up the habit of knitting and am working on scarves to donate to a local ministry, but maybe it would be more fun to make the scarves with them. What a great idea!

20 November 2007

The Theology of Gardening

Back in the spring, I told you about my new garden. Well, it was time for some fall planting.
I'm new at this whole gardening thing. In other words, I have no idea what I'm doing. Good thing my mom's brilliant with these things. Last week, I spent a few days in their neck of the woods (and I mean that literally), and helped my mom do some of her gardening. Very instructive. For example, I learned that pansies and snap dragons are winter flowers.
So home again, home again this weekend and time to work on my miniature garden (which never feels miniature when you're working on it).
I think I like gardening. Besides getting to sink your hands into dirt (or, in Texas, clay, which passes for dirt), you have time to think, pray, and sing (yes, out loud--don't worry; the neighbors have known for a while about the conditions of my mind). And it struck me. God's work in me is a lot like gardening.
The process spanned three days. My process, that is, not God's. Although wouldn't it be nice?
Saturday, I bought all the supplies with the intention of planting in the afternoon. Except we needed to run this errand and that errand. Okay, so no gardening done Saturday. Still, supplies were bought.
Sunday, after an afternoon nap that went longer than planned, I got out there. Alas, our big trees (which I adore, so this is not a complaint, mind you) had stripped their leaves all over our front yard, including in my garden. You'd think they were five (or my husband) leaving (leafing? I know, I know) their clothes all over the floor. Sheesh. So I spent most of my time on Sunday clearing out the leaves and the acorns and the pecans, knowing that in another week, I'll have to go back there and clear it out again.
Which brings me to astute observation number one: does God get tired of clearing out my old dredge, knowing He's going to have to do it again? And again. And again.
I also had to pull out the summer flowers--the vinias and the zinnias (I sound like Dr. Seuss) and the daisies. I hated doing it. They still thrived with the weather being what it has been (spring-like). But I knew (or rather, my mother knew and told me) that they wouldn't last much longer. They wouldn't make it through the next season. So I pulled them out and cut back the potato vine and the honeysuckle. The potato vine and honeysuckle look like they've had a crew cut.
Astute observation number two: does it make God sad to pull out things that seem beautiful in our lives but that He knows won't last? He has to pull out the old sometimes to make room for the new. Does He ever not want to dig out some flowers in our lives? Or prune, even though He knows that's what'll allow us to thrive later?
Sunday was also my day of pain. The sun had set, and the light dimmed, although I didn't realize it because I was busy at work and busy chatting on the phone with a friend. My mom had given me an agorapantha plant (which I'm spelling wrong, but I can't find how to actually spell it), and I took a knife to it to cut it into at least two plants. Suddenly, sting, sting. I looked down at my knees to see a colony of red ants attacking. I could almost hear the trumpet: Charge! I ran into the house, peeling off my pants as I went (hoping the neighbors weren't watching).
"Fire ants! Fire ants!" I yelled and dashed into the shower.
Now, if you live or have lived in Texas, you know the two bains of gardening here are the aforementioned clay (which is not conducive to growing living things other than roly polies) and fire ants. Fire ants inflict much pain. Later, that pain becomes a maddening itch (although I'll contend it's not as bad as fleas).
Needless to say, I was done gardening for the day. The following day, when I returned to the garden, I found the knife sticking out of the agorapantha like an abandoned crime scene.
Astute observation three: does God's gardening in my life sometimes inflict pain upon Him? Besides even the pain He endured on the cross? Does He hurt when I lash out, not liking having a knife stuck in me one bit and sending out my army of fire ants?
Finally, we're at Monday. The final day (sort of) of my gardening process. Monday was my fun (as opposed to all claims in the song). The ground was prepped, and I came armed with a drum of ant killer. Before planting the seasonal pansies and snap dragons and dianthus, though, I dug holes for my bulbs--tulip, daffodil, and hyacinth. I don't remember what I put where or what colors I bought. Which means that come spring (hopefully), I'll have a fun surprise waiting for me. But it'll be a long, long wait through the cold (or occasionally chilly days here in Texas).
Astute observation number--what number are we on?: I don't want to wait. I've been through all this pain, this pruning and clearing and digging, and I want the pretty now. But maybe come spring, I'll have a fun surprise waiting for me. I wonder, is God ever pleasantly surprised by what comes up? (Scratch that last question. I'm not in the mood to debate omniscience and sovereignty and free will.)
After the bulbs, I put in my winter plants. This was the easiest step and the most immediately gratifying. Voila! Beautifulness on my front lawn. I went running yesterday and stood first for a couple of minutes in front of my house, admiring my work. I like making things beautiful, in music, in writing, in knitting, in gardening. That's not to deny the darkness of it, the tension without which resolve and release in music means nothing, the conflict that makes the plot in writing, the cramped hands in knitting, the tight hamstrings and fire ant bites in gardening. But in the end, it's beautiful, and I like being a part of that.
I suspect that God enjoys making things beautiful. After all, He's Creator. We get it from him (I learned it by watching you, alright?).

19 November 2007

Christmas Wish List

Oh, how I'd love to have one of these babies. You guys need to check this out. Easy on the eyes. Hundreds of books without having to pack a dozen because you never know what mood you'll be in.
Too bad it's so expensive or else it would be on my Christmas list (the real one).
I wonder how long it'll be before our local libraries will have books available for the Kindle.

18 November 2007

Mentor Monday

Today I'm going to tell you about two very special people: my parents.
My parents aren't the type who would cause you to immediately conjur up trendy social justice pictures. They're more covert in their care for the least of these.
They like to take care of people. Particularly people in the fringes of society.
Exhibit one: a teenage boy showed up at a local homeless shelter. I don't remember how, although my parents could tell you. Filled with Christ-like compassion, they took him into their home and treated him like their own son. There were frustrations, of course--there always are in these situations--but my parents loved him through it until it was time for him to move on.
You know, I debated telling you the end of that story. I'd like to tell you that he is now an upstanding member of society, on his way to being a pastor or congressman or something of the like. After all, these are "Mentor" Mondays. They're supposed to encourage you to follow the examples of these people in caring for the hurt, and wouldn't it be easier to care for the hurt if you knew, I mean absolutely knew that your efforts wouldn't be in vain? But life isn't always Hollywood. Sometimes we labor in what feels like futile effort. I'll tell you what I know: God works your efforts for good in your life, and we don't always know the end of the story. In this case, though my parents fought the ish in this boy's life, he returned to some yuckiness. Today, his life doesn't look pretty. But it's not the end of his life, now is it? We don't know how God'll use my parents demonstration of love someday.
Okay, enough of that. Moving on.
Exhibit two: a young, single, pregnant woman showed up at their church. This woman--a girl, really--has little, but has a desire to know God. My parents show her God every week. She doesn't have a car, so my mom picks her up for church, though it's out of the way, and drives her to other places. They've helped get her situated. They've welcomed this woman's family.
I could share other exhibits, about how their church has reached out through the youth group to the outcast teenagers. My parents have been there for that. About how they're involved with the local homeless shelter. About the hospital visits they've made time after time after time. About the times they brought home someone to share our Thanksgiving meal so that no one would be alone.
Caring for the hurt, for the orphans and widows and homeless starts in your own community. It often means setting aside your own preferences. It often doesn't have some big pay-off, for our reward is in heaven. It's often messy, bringing people into your life. Sometimes you won't like it.
Enough preaching now. I'm convicting myself.

Book Thoughts--The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

(Note: I stopped calling these "reviews" because let's be honest, I'm no professional critic. I'm a reader who likes certain things and doesn't like other things, and I'm a writer who tries to learn from each book I read. So here are my thoughts.)
This book is lush. A rainforest of words. Especially after reading The Road. The Memory Keeper's Daughter tells a heartbreaking story, and Edwards writes flawed but loveable characters—I hurt for all of them, including the one who caused all the pain. I knew why he did what he did. When the other characters in the book saw him as something of the antagonist, I wanted to tell him, “You’re forgiven.” And nothing in the book is simple or pat. The author develops messy characters and a messy situation, and she doesn’t cop out at the end. There’s hope and redemption, but it’s not easy.
Things that bugged me: repetition. Did the author think I’ve forgotten the situation or a particular memory or how so-and-so deals with it in the space of a few pages? Because of this, the book occasionally felt maudlin.
Also, the male character had a penchant for describing things like a woman. Now, I understand that later he becomes a photographer (don’t worry—that doesn’t ruin anything about the book), so perhaps he’s more visual, and I like when she associates his descriptions to the lighting and shadow he becomes obsessed with in his photography or when it’s akin to the rocks he collects or bones he studies as a doctor. But, seriously, especially in the beginning, using too many words and color choices and hair styles and clothing trends. If she set it up, perhaps he worked in a department store to help ends meet or he followed the clothing industry as part of his way to hide from his past, but she doesn’t, so it doesn’t fit. He comes from backwoods and then becomes a doctor.
In the end, I liked the book. It deals with issues such as the mentally ill and quality of life and how secrets affect relationships.

17 November 2007

Lost Love

He hadn't spoken to me in eleven years.
We met in January seventeen years ago. I don't remember it being cold, but it must've been because I wore my oversize coat. I was in eighth grade and patches of clubs and honors littered the sleeves of my jacket. It was a week or so after Christmas, and I was mourning the loss of a family member--a car accident on Christmas day.
Dozens filled the room I walked into, but he picked me out straight away. Before I knew it, he was on my shoulder. He was no bigger than the palm of my hand.
It was a match.
He purred all the way through his flea bath, through the massive hair dryer that fluffed him, through the car ride to his new home. We named him Oreo. I don't know why, seeing as how he is all black, but Oreo fit, and Oreo stuck.
Oreo was born on October 31st, the lady at the shelter told us. A black cat born on Halloween. Throw in a broken mirror and an open umbrella, and we'd be set for life.
When we got home, we gave him the dish that belonged to Nonny before he died on Christmas day. Before Nonny, it belonged to Buttons.
Oreo slept in my bed--often under the covers. He sat on my lap when we watched TV, but when I left for college over eleven years ago, Oreo couldn't forgive me.
He greeted me with hisses and a twitch of his tail. If I came too close, I walked away with scratches up and down my arms.
I spent the last few days at my parents' house, where Oreo lives. He doesn't leave their bedroom now. He's grouchy and old and crotchedy. He's a curmudgeon. He and the dog don't get along. In my parents' bedroom seeing the new furniture layout, Oreo came out from under the bed and meowed. Like I have so many times before, I held out my hand for him to come sniff.
He did.
And then he stretched out in front of me, inviting me to scratch his belly.
He purred.
After over eleven years, Oreo and I reconciled.

14 November 2007

Movies and Theology--The Mission

Perhaps everyone in the free world has seen this but me, but I can’t resist a few comments. Excellent, excellent movie. Superb acting with Jeremy Irons, Robert DeNiro, and Liam Nielson. And the area is beautiful--the dangerous but gorgeous falls reflecting the love and calling of God. (Side note: not too long ago, a missions conference was held there as a tribute to the Jesuit's work.)

It’s the story about western civilization in Brazil. Spanish and Portuguese settle in Brazil. At the time, it was Spanish territory, though originally populated by the natives. The Portuguese government supports slave trade. The Spanish doesn’t, although the settlers freely engage in it with their Portuguese neighbors. The Jesuit missions stand between the natives, who are being captured and sold, and the westerners, who are doing the capturing and selling. The Jesuits may not have done everything right—they taught the natives to sing western music (beautifully so) instead of teaching them to praise God with their own music, and their Catholic theology imposed penance for forgiveness. However, they set up plantations that belonged to the natives so that the money made from the plantations went back into the natives’ communities. The Jesuits sheltered the natives from the unmerciful mercenaries. And they incarnated Christ’s love through martyrdom, art, and teaching. Through their lives, in other words.
The movie picks up when the boundary lines are redrawn putting the Jesuit missions in Portuguese territory. The Portuguese don’t like this. Neither do the Spanish. Jesuit missions prevent slave trade, and their plantations combat with plantations that put money into western pockets. The question is: will the Church support the government or not? The pope sends a cardinal to evaluate the situation. In truth, the cardinal comes to persuade the Jesuits to close their missions.
What I love about this movie: in the midst of cruelty, in the midst of the failures of the Catholic Church to protect and serve and love, the Jesuits shine as an example of people committed to loving the Lord and loving their neighbor. It’s beautiful to see a group of priests, each fighting in different ways, standing firm in their beliefs and to see the transformation in their lives because of it.
It's ironic, seeing this movie at this time in my life. The Jesuit priests stood firm, fighting for the people not knowing what would happen to them, not knowing if God would protect their lives or if the tribe would survive or remain steadfast in Christ. Still, the stood. No guarantee exists to tell me, yes, if you keep working hard, God will use your writing and speaking in this way. All I can do is stand firm.
One thing that bugged me in the movie--the music was beautiful, but the main tune reflected a twentieth century sound rather than fitting in chronologically.
If you haven’t seen this movie, put it on your Netflix or Blockbuster account. You need to.

12 November 2007

A Jug of Milk

I'm one of those who cry over spilled milk. So do you mind if I open the top and pour out my frustration and hurt and confusion all over the countertop?

Maybe I shouldn't be telling you this, but I'm not good with finding that line of where you should stop, so I'm going to tell you anyways.

I don't know what I'm doing. And I don't know where I'm going. Don't get me wrong, I have a to-do list the length of Santa's naughty or nice list, but as far as what I should do next? Yeah, I'm lost.

You see, I feel like I've gone no where. I feel like I turned onto the path I thought God wanted me to take and drove, drove, drove, but in the end, isn't that the same tree I've passed now twenty times?

I've been here before, asking for affirmation and receiving only silence.


Jeanne Guyon says, "Will you worship God when He's far away?" (so I shouldn't have put that in quotes since I'm paraphrasing...)

People say, "If you're far from God, guess who moved." Maybe sometimes that's true, but not always. Did Job move? Habbakuk?

Speaking of Job, why didn't the author give us a timeline? How long did he wait in his sackcloth before God met him? A few days? A week? A year? Do I need to don burlap?

Or Habbakuk, waiting, waiting, waiting at that post. And then God gave him a yucky answer.

Yes, yucky.

I don't like who I am right now, all messy and teary and Mara.

My sister-in-law told me last night how she watched Stranger than Fiction the other day and thought of me, of course. The DVD has those extras, as most DVDs do, you know, including an interview with Emma Thompson. Emma said something about writers being depressed.

"And I thought, 'But Heather's not depressed!'" she told me.

How did I pull that off? I must be a better actor than I thought I was.

If I've been here before, shouldn't I know how to handle this? When you walk through these doors that you thought God opened for you only to find an empty room and all the furniture's been moved, and, look, black mold creeps up the door frame.

So then I think, well, maybe I should go get a Ph.D. But then where would I be? Another degree that got me no where.

Or maybe we should start thinking about having kids. But then I hide in the closet trembling and barely breathing--oh! shh! shh!--until the idea leaves.

Remember that lesson I related about the fire burning bright? I said I want to be the kind of Christian that smolders and radiates heat. Now my flames don't lick as high in the sky, and I wonder, are the coals at least hotter? Could you toast a marshmallow? Because the night air's chilly.

Mentor Monday--Heather Jamison

Heather is a missionary in Kenya along with her husband, Brian, and their kids. They have been involved with church plants, setting up church training, establishing primary schools and water wells, working with an orphanage, and engaged with AIDS/HIV victims.
That's a busy day.
I asked Heather to share her struggle in her ministry. I've learned one thing about missionaries: they're everyday people with everyday struggles and doubts who have chosen to follow God's calling anyway. Thankfully, Heather is willing to open up about her struggle and doubt.
I'll let her say the rest...

Today was our 7th anniversary in Africa. We arrived here, sight unseen, on November 5th, 2000. I still remember landing and being certain that I would surely die the second I stepped foot on African soil and breathed African air.
I had seen CNN. I knew what Africa was like.

I crammed my little 5 year old Jordan’s anti-malaria pill down his throat as we taxied to the gate. He spit most of it back up which assured me that he, too, would probably be dead before week’s end.

Um, I’m not exaggerating.

When I say that I had EVERY fear in the world about coming here, well - - - I can’t say it any more clearly than that. But even though I didn’t want to come here nor would I choose to stay here should God give me the green light to turn this work over to someone else and head back to the States (um God???), I can definitely say that I have seen a side of God here that I never expected to see. Not because I didn’t complain. Nor whine. I did. I remember one person who used to support us (she was actually our largest personal or church supporter at that time by far since we came here on a shoe-string budget) who wrote to us after we were here a year and said that I should stop whining because I wasn’t making the name “missionary” look good. That person no longer supports us here. But, thankfully, God does. Not that God likes for us to complain - He doesn’t. He says not to do it. But God is patient, forgiving and gracious with us and He takes our doubt and complaints and during those, He teaches us contentment, peace, surrender, discipline and diligence - but mostly He teaches us His faithfulness. He teaches us His forgiveness. I still complain. I admit it. I wish I didn’t. But I do. I still get scared silly. Illness scares me. Danger (thugs, roads, Africa) scares me. The threat of disease scares me. Lots of things scare me. Making a wrong decision scares me. Choosing to partner with a wrong person scares me. But hopefully my fears and complaints are less than when I first came 7 years ago. And they are now coupled with a hopeful assurance that God will walk me through them to teach me something and to make me stronger and more humble.

Thank you, Heather. I pray that God continues to work in and through you.
You can visit their family website or Heather's blog (doesn't she have a great name, folks?).
If you're interested in the ministry she does with the orphanage, go to their website, Adopt-a-Legacy, and find out how you can help provide basic needs for a child and education.

One more thing--in case you haven't noticed, I'm horrible at titles. I can sit down and write prose for hours and hours, but ask me to come up with a couple words in a title and I'm paralyzed. If you have any suggestions for an alternative to "Mentor Monday" I'd love to hear them. Leave them in the comments. Thanks!

10 November 2007

Blog Tour--Sandra Glahn

My friend and mentor, Sandra Glahn, has a new book on the shelves, Informed Consent, a novel.

Informed Consent tells the story about a doctor and researcher, Jeffrey Cramer, who has discovered a possible cure for AIDS. The media loves him. But guilt from accidents that wreak havoc on the lives of those he loves plaques him and spurs him toward work, taking him away from his family. When another accident? sabotage? brings about horrible results with his cure, the media and the hospital turns against him. Now his own son's life hangs in the balance. Dare he use the cure to save his son's life, even if it means unethical medical practices?

The writings propels you forward, forward, forward in the action, and deep into the character's psyche. Sandi doesn't waste a single word. Each scene spins with meaning.

Nothing is simple. Even when characters make decisions that you know are wrong, you don't question the character. Sandi doesn't give you predictable or easy answers. Flaws pepper the pages, yet these characters aren't pure evil. They are you and me trying out to figure out truth in this messy world.

I had the opportunity to ask Sandi a few questions regarding this book:

This book brings up the question of AIDS, opening up discussions for how we, as Christians, can and should handle it. You've mentioned before that the church in Africa is doing a better job with it than the church in the States. As you know, my heart is to incarnate Christ's love to the hurting and hopefully inspire others to do the same. What are some practical ways that we can incarnate Christ's love to those who have contracted the virus both in our country and in other countries?
. Pray. Really. Fervently.
. Care for widows and orphans. Send money monthly through an aid organization such as Samaritan's Purse earmarked for HIV/AIDS orphans/widows.
. Sponsor someone you can grow to know. Link up with an HIV/AIDS-impacted family via http://www.adoptalegacy.com/ (Heather Jamison's ministry). Sponsoring a family through a ministry such as hers helps put a face on AIDS, and research shows we only give to that through which we feel we can truly make a difference.
[My note: Heather Jamison will be guest blogging on Monday for our Mentor Monday--come back to find out how she deals with everyday struggles in her ministry.]
. Lend to the poor. You can do so through kiva.org (secular) or ALARM (http://www.alarminc.org/) (Christian), which work through locals to help families start small businesses to help with the economic impact of the pandemic. You get all your money back with the satisfaction that you've invested in what lasts.
. Get informed. Watch the Frontline "The Age of AIDS" show online (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/aids/) or get it on Netflix. It will provide you with a terrific history of the disease, what we know about it, and even how the faith community has responded (good and bad). You can also check out a related website: World Vision's info on AIDS.
. Volunteer. In every city you can find ways to volunteer. For example, in Dallas we have the AIDS Outreach Center, which at the moment needs a librarian and someone to coordinate events. http://www.aoc.org/volunteers.asp
Your writing is tight. In fact, Nicole at Into the Fire linked your writing to your journalism background. How do you see that backround influencing your fiction? How has it gotten in the way?
Thanks. Actually, it was the other way around. When I was a journalist, I kept using narrative structure. I'd develop setting, characterization, narration, plot... Journalist Jon Franklin won a couple Pulitzers applying narrative elements to his journalism, so that told me readers like story structure. Writing as a journalist I had to put the least important stuff at the end in case it got lopped off due to space limitations. As a narrative writer, I try to "come full circle" at the end, but the story's ruined if the last few paragraphs get chopped off. I like writing fiction much more than writing for the print market!
Speaking of influences, what/who are some of your influences?
Author(s)? Madeleine L'Engle. Lief Enger. Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Mentor(s)? Reg Grant at Dallas Seminary. My many editors in publishing houses.
Historical Church figure(s)? Julian of Norwich; Margaret Fell Fox; Dorothy Sayers
One of the strengths mentioned numerous times in reviews is your research. I can't imagine coming up with a cure in biomeds and having it sound legitimate! Can you share with us some of your researching methods and secrets?
The first secret is to hire a doc as a consultant! Actually, I've coauthored four non-fiction books in the medical field--two on infertility, one on marital intimacy, and one on contraception. So I kind of knew my way around medical journals and sites or I never would have attempted it. I also had a nasty fall two years ago and had two major surgeries as a result. (For a while I had a hospital bed at home.) So I kept notes on sights, sounds, smells, and procedures down to the tinkling of the plebotomist's vials at 4:30 AM!
Thanks, Sandi! Love your book!
To learn more about Sandi, her ministry, and her writing, visit her website: Aspire2
or her blog: Aspire2Blog

09 November 2007

Movies and Theology--The Departed

Chris and I finally rented this movie the other day.
First, let me say that this movies was excellently done: the writing, the dialogue, the directing, the editing, the cinamatography, the acting, the soundtrack--oh, the soundtrack. I must tell you about the soundtrack: at times ironic, at times in your face, but the best thing about it was when they would stop...and that stop would step up the tension. Great job with the music.
And look at the cast: Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg (who, although always Marky Mark in my mind, is innumerably better at acting than he was at singing--kudos for finding your calling, Mark), Leonardo DiCaprio (who's acting recalled his Basketball Diary and What's Eating Gilbert Grape? days), oh, who else? oh, of course, Matt Damon, who just gets better and better with each movie, I think, and Alec Baldwin, who seemed a bit odd in this role, no that's not right. His role seemed a bit odd. Too naive, I thought.
The movie is about the crime war: mafia v. the cops.
Except no one knows who is who.
Who's good and who's not. Who's fighting violence and who's feeding it.
There's not much room for God in the streets.
This movie is a study on evil, the manifestations of evil, the devastation of evil, and how evil affects humanity in different ways. Under good-boy haircuts linger dark hearts. In the facade of hitman is a man struggling to do good and tormented by what surrounds him.
Redemption? No. There isn't any. Without God, what redemption can there be?
Justice. In a manner, yes. I'll leave you to decide that.
Pain? Mess? Yes. There always is when evil's involved.
For those looking to rent it--beware of language and blood. Lots of both.

07 November 2007

Don Music writes the Alphabet Song - Classic Sesame Street

This one's dedicated to Erin. She nailed it.
This is exactly how I feel when writing, both music and novels. There's always something just out of reach.
And yes, lots of banging.
And I agree, Erin, Rowlf is way too cool for this.
By the way, you have to turn your volume up for this one.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life for Me

I've always had a weakness for mafia and pirates. Maybe because I'm from Jersey and have a love affair with the ocean? Who knows.
But the truth is, I'm a thief. It's true. It's why I carry this little Nancy Drew notebook around with me. I'm casing the joint. I hear a snippet of conversation here or witness a child antic there, and it's gone. It's mine. I stash it away in my Nancy Drew notebook.
That's what writers do. They steal. I steal personality quirks and funny lines and crazy accidents. You may one day pick up a book of mine and think, "Hey, that looks familiar. Where have I heard that line before? Oh, yeah! I said it!"
It may happen.
My friend, Ang, knows this. I swear she has a shortcut key for the word, "Dibs." We'll be on an IM chat and someone will have this great line and before any of us can type lol or something to that affect, she's typed "Dibs!" Once, I beat her. But then I forgot to write it down, and now I've forgotten my dibbed line.
Writing is like hunting for buried treasure, if you ask me. During the rough draft, you look for the X marks the spot. Some people use a map. Others have a compass like the one in Pirates of the Caribbean that points you to your heart's desire, even if you don't know where that is.
Then you find the spot, and you start digging. Digging for theme and metaphors and character arcs.
Until you hit something hard. You heave it up, lift the lid, and thrust your hands into a chest full of gold coins and diamond necklaces and ruby earrings. The treasure slips through your fingers.
And then you have lots of money!
Okay, so maybe you rarely get lots of money. But you do have a treasure.
So be on the watch! I'm huntin' for buried treasure, matey! (And don't mind stealing supply on the way.)

06 November 2007

Interviews that Teach*

*(sounds like one of those commercials that's supposed to inspire you to teach or become a Big Brother--not the 1984 type--doesn't it?)

At some point in my blogging life, I started following the interviews at Novel Journey. The other day (code for maybe yesterday, maybe six months ago), they did an interview of Dean Koontz. I should've posted a link then, but I forgot to, and let's be honest, most of you read Novel Journey. But for those of you who don't, whether you're a reader or writer, you might want to read his interview. I learned more from this than I did the couple of conferences I've been to.

Maybe I'll Go Traveling for a Year*

Yesterday was a bad day. I'm not afraid to tell you that. And part of that bad day came about because of my writing.

I didn't like it.

What am I doing? I thought and almost deleted the file (which wouldn't have been nearly as satisfying as burning the manuscript--heck, maybe I'll print a couple of pages for burning purposes).

You see, I've been on my second rough draft, I'm calling it, of this novel. At first, I loved it. Now, I wonder, what am I doing? (If other writers have these moments, feel free to chime in now.)

I cried.

Which is no surprise. I'm a cryer, and not for the town (although if that position's open...).

But two things have acted as a pick-me-up (outside of Whole Foods).

1. A cool front came in last night. Yesterday was a gorgeous day. For late spring. But it's November. And today I have my crisp fall day with some color on the trees.

2. (And this one's the best): my friend, Erin, that creative cat who I've bragged about before, sent me one of her Coffee Cuffs. Oh, my, this thing is cool. You see, my friend knows that I love bright colors. So she gave me bright colors--yellow and blue and orange with fun patterns like swirlies (I love swirlies) and stars and glitter. She knows that I love fun imaginative stuff, so she gave me a picture of a chicken and a cow in a purple car. She knows that I love red, so she gave me a reversible side with all red and even more swirlies! And, to top it all off, my friend knows that I love fun yarn, so she put a fringe of pink and turquoise and black crazy fun yarn.

I love my friend.

So today, inspired by my creative cat friend and my Coffee Cuff, I went to Starbucks for my favorite drink--pumpkin spice misto.

I love pumpkin spice.

And now I'm feeling good.

Want to see this crazy cool cuff?

To buy your own Coffee Cuff (and you should, you know), go to Erin's Etsy shop--she has a slew of great ones, including Christmas styles. Come to think about it, these would make great stocking stuffers.

*Fifty points if you can tell me the song from which these lyrics come

05 November 2007

Fun Fact

Normally, I'd have a Mentor Monday post for you. However, a couple of things fell through. In the absence of today's mentor, I leave you with this:

Quite a bit a go, I told you about my love for Whole Foods. I'm a Whole Foods evangelist, I told you. If you're having a bad day, go to Whole Foods for a pick-me-up.

One more confirmation that I belong at that store: While shopping there, "Walk Like an Egyptian" came on the speakers (reason enough, but wait! there's more!). Of course, you can't hear that song and not dance. So there I was, pushing my cart, dancing down the aisles. I turn the corner, and low and behold, I spy another dancer! I smile, we nod to each other, we fellow dancers. Then a couple turns into our aisle, and they too dance to the song while pushing their cart.

What can I say, folks? It was meant to be.

02 November 2007

Crazy Creative Cleverness

For the weekend, I'll leave you with what's inspiring me these days, living-, writing-, and laughing-wise...

  1. Sweeney Todd music: are you surprised? I'm gearing for the movie release in December and the musical coming to Dallas in January (hint, hint, Chris). The music is complex in its themes and its revelation of relationships through the characters' interaction in song, their harmony and disharmony. The story (and when the movie comes out, I'll do one of my movie and theology posts, which I haven't done in a while) is about a villian, who we all know is the hero of his own story. But this villian, a barber who goes on a murderous rampage, generates compassion when you find out his story, and you wonder, is he really the villian or the hero (or anti-hero)? And it's an excellent commentary on life and the detachment that's been going on since the Industrial Revolution (and dare I say Internet Revolution?). And if you don't laugh at "Try a Little Priest," then there's something wrong with you. Okay, enough about that one.

  2. Pushing Daisies, the TV show. Have you seen this one? It's different from anything I've seen. I love the characters, the humor, and the color. I mean literally the color. Bright, vivid, and hopeful, as are the characters, come to think about it. Excellent writing.

  3. The Memory Keeper's Daughter, my current read.

  4. Lush writing. After The Road, which was minimalistic, the words and sentences feel like a feast on which to gorge myself. I love words. Okay, so no laughs here. But good story thus far. Good complicated characters. I love Caroline. And Al. I love Al.

  5. My Mardi Gras yarn. That's not the technical name, but it's what I'm calling it because of the colors and the flashy gold weaved throughout. It's rich in texture with several strands weaved throughout--furry, glittery, and colorful. It inspired to make my own yarn. No, not by shearing sheep or picking cotton, but by buying different supplies--thin cotton thread which I'll knot like those 80s friendship bracelets with beads, furry "Elf Eyelash" yarn, and a strand of thin, gold, ribbon. Knotting the cotton and tying in the beads will take a long time since I have to do this with very, very long strands. I won't get started for a month or so because of some other Christmas knitting projects I need to do first. A secret dream--that I'll be able to someday sell these crazy, off-beat, gypsy scarves and wraps. I have a lot to learn. After I learn more about knitting, I'd like to take on embroidery. Hobby Lobby has these great embroidery patterns: Moroccan, modern, Indian. Love them. Someday, I'll put them on my jeans and then I'll start putting them on my crazy scarves and wraps. But that's a long time from now.
  6. "The Velveteen Rabbit": how egotistical is it to say that your own writing inspires you and makes you laugh? This is a short story I wrote and am revising to submit to journals (it's a quirky piece written in 1st person--any journal suggestions?), and I can't help but like it. I think, personally, it's one of my best short stories, not that I've written many of them, but this one does something unusual, and I let the stream of consciousness flow. Yes, yes, I crack myself up.
    Oh, and because of this story (not my story but the children's book, which, if you ask me, is traumatic), I've never been able to get rid of any stuffed animals, and trust me, there have been lots. Finally, I gave away a garbage bag or two to charity hoping another child could love them. But Big Foot, who's been a close friend since before I was born, he stays with me.

I'll leave you with those five. What's inspiring you these days?

01 November 2007

The Gods Must Be Crazy

Remember that diatribe I wrote last Friday? Well, the Napoleon Dynamite gods decided to exact their revenge.
After a lovely weekend of camping, where the only chirping was that of birds rather than phones, where blinking was at the awe and majesty of creation and the Creator God, not computer screens. It was beautiful.
Then we came home.
And I needed my Internet.
But I had no Internet. Nor did we have TV.
Verizon equipment had gone kaput.
Did I rejoice and embrace this as an extended vacation, as an opportunity to write senza interruption? Oh, no. Figuring out the problem was a faulty router, not the lines coming into the house, I rerouted and rewired and risked electrocution (so that last one may be a bit of an exaggeration) to continue streaming cable until a new router box could be sent. I had to work in the living room, the room with the working hard line of Internet.
We now have a new router. And after some fighting, arguing, reasoning, and finally pleading, it began to work. I'm back in my office, which I cleaned and fancied up with pictures, getting my Internet wireless.
"Yes, I love technology."
It made me consider: would I, could I give it up? To live a life of handwritten first drafts and not being able to speak to my best friend a thousand miles away and to spend my mornings gardening instead of blogging?
To be honest, I just don't know.
I think I do love technology. As long as it's not in my way.

29 October 2007

Camping 101

What I learned from camping:

  1. It's best to spoil yourself when camping: steak and salmon for dinners and the like. It helps if you pack a Master Chef with you for just such an occasion. This is why I take my husband with me.

  2. Coffee tastes better percolated outside.

  3. Full moons are just as bright as the dawn.

  4. Also bring with you a pyro. They make the best campfires (um, my husband again).

  5. Watching a lake shimmer in the sun is better than DVR.

  6. Fires are hypnotic.

  7. If lit on fire, marshmallows are excellent carriers of fire and can easily ignite other items such as sweatshirts and chairs.

  8. The only time hot dogs taste good is cooked on an open fire.

  9. You get a lot of exercise just doing everyday things, like walking up to the bathrooms, taking out the trash, and hiking, so packing things like chips, hot chocolate, and the makings for s'mores is okay.

  10. I can get dressed laying down.

  11. At night, that walk up to the bathrooms can't be bothered with. Squatting behind the tent is fine. Pack toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

  12. No matter how clean the showers are and if they get hot water, nothing will feel so good as a steamy shower in your own bathroom when you get home (followed by a good night's sleep in your bed rather than an air mattress that you suspect is losing air).

  13. The Creator God must really love us to give us these trees and water and deer nibbling by and yellow and blue and orange butterflies fluttering this way and that and grasshoppers playing along the path.

  14. For the last one, you'll have to go to the Misfit blog. I will tell you this: it has to do with fire.