Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy *cough cough* New Year!

Staying home sick at the end of 2008, I've seen a lot on TV about what to do for New Year's Eve and the ringing in of 2009 (one second late, by the way - apparently the Earth is slowing down - whew).

In Austin, they are having something called "First Night" (funny, they did that in Boston too ... what a scam?) where they are burning down a 34 foot tall "resolution" clock. Yes - burn your resolution - no one will know what it was! I personally don't do resolutions - why wait to improve myself once a year? That's the last excuse I need "Aw man, I screwed up, well - there's always next year." Nah, I prefer the "OK, I ate a cheeseburger last night - but today is a new day" approach.

Of course, weight loss is far from my mind considering I haven't really eaten anything real in three days - and just made some rice thinking it would be easy to eat. Ha! Looking at it made me feel sick. So much for that.

On 6th street you can watch a styrafoam (yeah, styrafoam) ball drop. Wee. They're expecting 100,000. I don't know if you've been to 6th before ... but 6th + 100,000 does not sound like my cup of tea. Maybe that's just because this year - I doubt I'll even be awake at midnight tomorrow. I intend to drink my Theraflu and be comatose.

Lastly, there is of course Times Square in New York. I've decided that I'd like to try to go to that someday. Yeah, its crowded, cold, and probably all kinds of miserable - but isn't that "the" New Years Eve? I kinda regret not visiting New York City when I was living so close, so it is definitely on my to-do list - so why not make it New Years? I'm sure there are lots of reasons, we'll see.

For this year - I'll raise my glass of Gatoraide and wish you a Happy New Year! For me, it really just means I have to get used to writing 09 instead of 08 :)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sick, Sick, Sick

So, I haven't blogged in a while and had some good ideas - but I decided to blog about my little trip to WalMart this morning first.

For several years, I hated WalMart. It seems every time I went, something stupid happened - like waiting in line for 30 minutes to buy one $5 item. But when I moved back to Austin, it turns out I was next to a rather nice new WalMart that is never very busy. And I love it, because it is cheaper than even HEB, and I can get in and out with everything I need in one quick trip.

Yesterday I was feeling pretty good. I had gone to a good friend's wedding, and got to see a lot of my friends that I haven't seen in a while (some of them, years!). Weddings aren't the easiest thing in the world for me, but I made it and was having a good time. Last night I watched The Dark Knight (the new Batman) with a friend who was staying with me. I was sneezing quite a bit, but I assumed it was allergies.

Well, I woke up at about 4am with my throat on fire. "This can't be!" I thought to myself. I've had a flu shot, I wash my hands, I take vitamins. Not to mention that after being sick frequently as a kid, and then again as a teacher, I thought I should have built up immunity to almost everything.

I got out my mirror and looked, hoping maybe it was just drainage or sleeping with my mouth open that had made my throat sore. But it was not to be! I had my tonsils taken out when I was 17 - but you'd have thought I still had them the way my throat was red and swollen. Not good!

So after I saw my friend off, I took a shower, which helped. Then I went to WalMart. Now, one thing WalMart does that I generally respect is that they let organizations petition customers outside the door. Some are more annoying than others - but they generally don't bug you more than once. So I went inside for my orange juice, Dayquil, Zicam, soup, and bath salts (nothing beats a Spearamint/Eucaliptus soak when your head is messed up). I zipped through the self-checkout and was on my way.

One of the women sitting outside said her thing, something about giving money to their organization (a local church actually) and I said "Not today." No big deal.

For whatever reason, she got an attitude with me (really effective outreach method by the way) and said "Well, you bought groceries!"

Seriously? I stopped dead in my tracks - "Excuse me?" (what I was really thinking was "excuse you?"). she repeated her sarcastic little quip - "You had money for groceries." Unbelievable. Here I am, sick, actually going outside my grocery budget at the end of the month because I needed some things I wouldn't normally get.

Now, while I'm not a pillar of patience, and I have been known to be a little hot headed (I am a redhead) ... I feel like I did a pretty good job of keeping my cool. Being sick makes me grumpy. I looked at her, and I said "There are two problems here. The first is, you are assuming that because I am not giving you money right now that I am not a charitable person. The second is that I'm sick, and I'm really tempted to come over there and sneeze at you." And I left. Not the most gracious thing I could have done, but I was annoyed!

I know my little loss of patience didn't teach them anything. But really, is their attempted guilt-trip method effective? And does that teach anyone about God's grace? If I were someone looking for a church home, that definitely wouldn't be one I would attend. Next time I'll write a happier blog :) For now, I'm going to snuggle up with some juice and ginger ale, warm soup, a box of Kleenex, a book, and my remote control.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Nightmares - Public Healthcare

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been having an apple with some peanut butter for a when I get hungry again around 10am. Today, however, I decided I need to lay-off the peanut butter – so I came up with something else and it turned out pretty good.

I ended up cutting the core out of the apple, sprinkling Splenda® and cinnamon inside, stuffing it with raisins, and pouring pineapple juice over the whole thing. Popped it in the microwave for 5 minutes – and it was actually pretty good! Yes, I randomly had all those things at work. Don’t ask.

The reason I wanted to give up on the peanut butter for a while was that I kinda think it may be a sometimes culprit in my migraines. Right before I get one, I often have vivid dreams – and I had a crazy one last night. Then again, I had given my over-active imagination more than liquefied legumes as fuel.

Around 7pm last night, my brain boiling under a sunburned scalp and forehead, I decided I need to watch one of the Netflix movies that have been sitting on my DVD player for several weeks. It just so happened to be Saw III … I wasn’t sure if I had seen it or not. My sister-in-law said that if I didn’t remember the pigs, I hadn’t … (boy was she ever right, DI-SGUST-ING).

It takes a lot to scare me, and oddly enough I kinda enjoy the heebie-jeebies. So I turned off all the lights and had a nice glass of warm milk (I heard once that milk will make you dream – but perhaps they just meant sleep) while watching a horror movie all by myself. It helped that one of the main characters is named “Amanda” … though I really don’t think I’m much of anything like her, other than being a little on the emotional side from time to time.

A side note – and I’ll preface this by saying I often find God in places some would accuse me of being a blasphemer for seeing Him in – something about the movie reminded me a little of how we treat God. If you haven’t seen it – this won’t make sense. If you haven’t seen it and plan to – you might want to skip this. And if you haven’t seen it, but never plan to – well, don’t send me nasty-grams – I don’t respond well to that kind of admonition. Towards the end of the movie, John, or Jigsaw, or whatever you want to call him, tells Amanda not to do something. She does it anyways, only to find she was being tested. At some point in one of the flashbacks she had promised him “every cell in her body.” How often do we make such promises to God – then not wait on His will? We hear Him and know what we should do – but we look at the situation and decide that we know better. Yes, it is a weak parallel – God is good and that guy in the movie – well, it’s a horror movie folks. Any route …

So I go to bed after the movie is over, more confused than scared really. I might have had one dream related to the movie because I remember something about some “task” I had to do, but it wasn’t a particularly memorable or scary dream. Then I had a nightmare. In the second dream, Obama had been elected and had come and gone (apparently I was fairly far into the future). I was in a house I didn’t recognize, on the phone with my sister-in-law. Apparently my brother had been diagnosed with something pretty simple, but that the public health policy did not consider an “illness” so he was unable to get medication for it. On the other hand, the public health policy considered it a pre-existing condition and he was now no longer covered for other health issues that may arise. Go figure.

The silver lining is that there was some sort of blueberry cheesecake concoction in the fridge that I was looking into while on the phone. Maybe I was getting ready for a party? Or perhaps my body was just asking me to please eat something besides apples, peanut butter, or soup.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Joys of Singlehood

While I hope not to always be single, I want to take advantage of the time that I have as one. Rather than bemoaning being single, I want to celebrate the good things about being single. I guess a lot of them apply to “single” in the “not-married” sense … rather than to “dating.” I’m sure you’ll get the idea.

Singing and Dancing

As a single with no roommates … I do a lot of singing and dancing I’m not sure anyone wants to see or hear, other than perhaps for its comedy factor. I start my morning belting out alternative rock in the shower … and almost anytime I’m driving – I’m singing. Sometimes I don’t sound half bad – and sometimes I am singing opera falsetto style to songs that definitely are not. My playlist has enough randomness on it to annoy almost anyone. Usually when someone is annoyed they refer to it as either “that loud punk stuff” (which it isn’t, by the way) or that “death metal crap” (ok, I might have one or two that would qualify). In case you are thinking that doesn’t sound like a strange playlist … throw in a couple of movie tunes, and 80s song, and a dash of Cash (as in, Johnny), and I’ll even own up to a theme from a video game. I can annoy anyone.

If I’m playing Rock Band II and get a little into it, as long as I have the patio door closed … nothing to be embarrassed about.

Then there is the dancing. I used to be on drill team, and I can’t hold a broom without twirling it. Cleaning is choreographed around my house – with the local flashback channel playing some old-school happy rap or a little Madonna … you can’t help but dust with panache. Vacuuming is like a waltz, mopping is a little jazzy, and the chrome in my bathroom just flashes.

Accountability

My responsibility is pretty much to God, and me. That’s it. If I want to work overtime – I just stay late. No rearranging dinner (dinner itself is a whole ‘nother story by the way), no making sure someone else hasn’t already made plans for me, and no one’s feelings get hurt.

My schedule is wide open to let God pour himself out through me. Ten years ago if you asked how I’d feel about not having kids at 30 and not planning on having any – I’d say that couldn’t possibly be me. But here I am – and ever so thankful for it. Don’t get me wrong – I love kids. And I honestly love the fact that this way I can impact more than 2 or 3. I can be the awesome aunt, or the cool (if not slightly weird) adult that isn’t someone’s parent, I have the freedom to be open to God touching so many more lives than if I were raising a family of my own. Sure … kids will keep you young … but nobody ever said they had to be my own. And frankly – not feeding anyone, being woken up 10 times every night, not putting them to bed, or arguing with them about their text messaging habits – rocks. God will take care of the nursing home issue I’m sure.

I’ve heard your time described as a pie – and that you have to decide how you are going to divide it up. Without “family” (husband, kids, etc) I can go to God with the whole thing and ask how He’d like to see it sliced.

Emotional Volcano

As a single woman – I get to be emotional almost anytime the mood hits me. If I’m having a quiet day, nobody really bugs me about what is wrong. If I want to spend the evening having a pity party in the bathtub until my fingers and toes are raisins … nobody is going to talk me out of it. And when the mood strikes me laugh uncontrollably at something that just struck me funny – nobody is around to tell me I’m crazy.

I don’t have to talk to anyone before that first cup of coffee when I get up on the wrong side of the bed … and if I wake up exuberant … I’m not bothering anyone.

Meals

I get to eat when I feel like it. I don’t have to worry about someone else being hungry, or wanting an actual meal rather than a bowl of soup. Granted – I also eat leftovers for about two weeks if I decide to cook something. If I want to have a picnic sandwich outside somewhere for dinner – nobody is going to think that is a weird idea. And if I’m not hungry – I just don’t worry about it.

Control

The remote control. It is mine. If I want to watch a week’s worth of The Daily Show and Colbert Report … alternating, starting with Thursday and going back to Monday … I get to. I don’t bother paying for cable. I have Netflix, and if I want to watch a documentary, an independent film, or a crappy horror movie – nobody is gonna question my selection. If I want to give myself an at home facial while watching Formula 1 racing and reading a book – I’m the only one that laughs at me.
The air conditioner … I get to pick the temperature. If I decide I don’t care if it is going to raise my bill to make it cold at night when I sleep – I just do it. If I decide that I don’t care that it is hot, I don’t want the A/C blowing on me – I can turn it off.

And this is when it hits me. A lot of these things … if I’m not compromising or settling … I’m not going to have to give them up even if/when my single status changes. Sure, I’ll have to be more considerate, and being in a relationship takes work … but that doesn’t mean I can’t do a little step-vault-change across the kitchen as I wipe down the countertop while singing Metallica to the sink, or that I have to stop sleeping with a nameless stuffed octopus under one arm.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Torch to Carry

In my spiritual walk, there have been a couple of women who really stand out to me as being instrumental in who I am. My grandmother Jensen - a prayer warrior and a true Lady of God. She prayed for each of us individually every day, and her life shone with a radiance that only comes from one whose face is turned to God 24/7. She passed away in January of 2007, but I know she is with God and take comfort in that. Of course I miss her terribly. Sometimes the smallest thing will bring reality crashing back - like when I think about baking a cake and want to call her for her Divinity Icing recipe (which I always call her for, and write down, and lose) and realize that I can't.

The loss of her prayers is something the entire family shares. But - when I realized that God had brought some of his light home to Him ... that responsibility falls to us. I may never achieve it - but I want to be a Lady like my grandmother.

When I moved back to Austin, I had made a pact with God that I could not do "this" on my own like I had tried to for so long. I grew up going to church, but was at best a hypocrite and at worst a stumbling block. After college, I stopped attending church altogether. I wouldn't say I was angry at God or doubted His existence ... but I was very angry with His church, His people, and really felt He didn't understand what life is like now.

The holy Spirit within me wouldn't let me continue like that. On December 29, 2007 I made a tenuous peace with God while visiting my parents for Christmas break. I was about to graduate from Boston University and had no idea what I was going to do. A year and a half truly on my own had hollowed me out. I had perhaps one close friend in Boston, no church home, but kept myself from getting down by remaining insanely busy. Don't get me wrong - I love the city ... but I was very lonely. And that's when I realized that God wanted me either in or out. My prayers were ineffective because I was picking and choosing what I wanted to believe. My scripture study was misguided and sporadic. And I denied that "iron sharpens iron" and had run from the very people God says we need to prop one another up. So I promised Him that I was turning over a new leaf ... once I knew where I was going, I was going to find a church and get involved - join groups, volunteer, whatever He asked - I would do.

Blessed assurance fell in my lap the next morning, when I got the call offering me my dream job - back home in Texas - that I thought was already out of my reach. In a whirlwind, I packed up my things and moved to Austin.

Behind my apartment, which I picked for its location on a winding road that avoids any interaction with IH-35, there was a church. My gut reaction was that it must be some kind of cult, that surely wouldn't be where I would end up going. I had a different church in mind, where several of my friends had previously gone. But curiosity got the better of me, and I looked up their website.

What I found was a church that loves this town, and that is based on seeking the truth. A church that is accepting - but that isn't afraid to step on toes. A church that values volunteerism and service and isn't pious and judgmental. This was absolutely where God wanted me - and it was practically steps from my front door.

True to my word ... I immediately looked for opportunities to get involved. The first group I joined was a women's Bible study. I wasn't ready for mixed company, and felt that there would be some great wisdom in a mixed-age group. I was already a couple of weeks behind - but the leader, Rita, welcomed me and in no time I felt like family with the group of women. Our fellowship was so sweet that we decided to continue as a book-club during the summer months, before the fall study began.

Rita is an amazing woman of God. I attribute much of my growth and healing in the past 8 months to her and this group of women.

Last night, Rita suddenly passed away due to a stroke. I still feel in shock. My heart is aching for her family and our group, and all whose lives she has touched. At the same time, I feel a joy that she is now face to face with our Saviour. And as with my grandmother, I feel that part of her torch, her light, now falls to me. God's work for her is done ... but I'm still here, so He still has things for me to do.

Rita's encouragement, her loving spirit, her drawn out "Buuuuuuuuut" - keeping us on track and pointing out truths we may have missed, and her wisdom will be missed. Just last week, in our study of the sermon on the mount, a sense of urgency for the lost was brought up. Rita lovingly explained that sometimes that comes with age, with the realization that at any moment any one of us could be gone. In my youth, I still feel invincible and think my friends are too ... these kinds of things don't happen. But they do - and I pray God will teach me the urgency that Rita felt.

Praise God that Rita is truly home now - she will be missed here until we are all reunited someday. Until then, I pray that all of us she touched can sew that seed anew ... Rita you have many treasures in heaven.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Itsy Bitsy Spider

For some reason, unless they are poisonous or making a mess of my house, I don't really mind spiders. Which is kinda big, considering that below waking up in a burning building - roaches and crickets are my phobias.

When I was little, I remember watching jumping spiders climb on the curtains at my grandmother's house in the mornings. They seemed so brave - lurching at anything that moved despite the fact that they were about 1000th its size. They even have little faces - albeit angry faces.

During the earliest years of my life as a driver, I remember always having a "car-spider." It would leave little strips of silk across flat surfaces, but despite my desire that my car be mirror-clean at all times - I didn't really mind. I doubt it was always the same spider, but I'll never forget the little crab spider that lived in and on my Celica. It turns out - I have a car-spider in my Civic too ... though I don't see it very often.

At work, there has been a tiny spider living at my desk. It had to have been a baby at some point. I know that one day I opened a box of paper under our printer and saw teensie little spiders go running everywhere (much to my boss's chagrin, as he is horribly afraid of any spider). It wasn't long after that I started seeing one about the same size around my computer.

Over the last few months, he's slowly been getting bigger. I don't see him daily, but when I do I try to give him a wide berth to run away from any looming notebooks, pens, etc. The past couple of weeks, I haven't really been at my desk as I was doing some work in another building. So today when I went back to do a few things I had nearly forgotten about Tiny.

I decided to clean my desk, and that's when I saw him take off ... up and over the mouse, pausing at the edge of the mousepad, and a mad dash towards the CPU tower. I went about my cleaning and then got to work, assuming he was safe somewhere in the tangle of wires.

At lunch, I decided to check my email and dragged the keyboard toward me. When I picked it up to put it back, there was Tiny's crumpled little body. For some reason it made me profoundly sad to see him like that and know that I just brought his existence to what was probably, for him, a terrifying halt.

Granted, I've been a little touchy and sad today anyways. I know he's just a spider ... but God made that little spider too. Speaking of my uncharacteristically somber mood - I just love my devotional guide. After a rough night and starting the day on the wrong side of the bed, I opened my Bible to the prescribed chapter and verse, Isaiah 45:7 ... "I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.

So while I started the day feeling I was lost in darkness, God says that even that can be used to grow me in Him. What a terrific reminder. I know His light is coming, and that alone helps diffuse the edginess.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Fear of Deer

If you've read anything else I've written, or if you know me, you know that I love to go running in the morning. Believe it or not, I think I may even be addicted!

Part of the allure is the fact that it is so peaceful. I find it easiest to have a really close, open talk with God when I'm up before everyone else. It is much easier for me to focus, and I think nothing makes me feel closer to God than looking up at the star-filled richness of a sky so thickly blue-black that I feel like I can reach up and touch it.

Being Texas - it is also nice that the sun hasn't risen to bake everything to a crispy oven-like warmth. Even the concrete has cooled to a reasonable temperature after 8 or more hours out of its punishing rays.

But I think a small part of the exhilaration is the heebie-jeebies I sometimes get from things unknown and unseen in the dark. I absolutely love to be just a little be scared (and the adrenaline certainly doesn't hamper my running ability). Horror movies rarely can do it for me anymore, even if I watch them alone and in the dark. Granted - Backdraft can scare me to death anytime, but it is a different kind of fear ... not the pulse rushing flood of excitement I'm thinking of.

One of the first mornings I was out running, I saw a coyote. Truth be told, they are a little smaller than your average Labrador retriever, but they have that wild look. At first, my mind responded by offering me places to hide ... "Tree, fence, rock!!" Against the plea of my pounding heart, I instead yelled a tentative "Hey!" to see if coyotes are scared of people or not.

Turns out - he was much more frightened than I was.

What I'm most afraid of those mornings may surprise you. Deer. Yes, I'm a little afraid of Bambi. When I see a decent sized buck, I'm not thinking how gracious and beautiful they are (honestly - I think they are a little skittish and none-too-bright). I'm thinking they are something that makes some nice sausage or chili. I'm thinking that they carry ticks. Especially in the fall ... rutting season ... I'm thinking that they have horns made for tussling and pointy little hooves ... and that my belly is rather soft and unarmored.

Many years ago, back when I was forcing myself to run rather than enjoying it, I remember something that was so surreal it almost seems like it didn't happen. I'm chugging along, dragging my rear through the streets of a small community north of Austin, when eight young bucks cross the road about 50 yards ahead of me. A cacophony of sharp hoofs clattered against the pavement - I almost expected to see a sleigh and a man in a red suit behind them. While I realize that the fact they were traveling together means that they were not, in fact, rutting ... I couldn't help but remember a shredded tree the previous year in my front yard. Gored on the antlers of a deer much like them.

This week, Wednesday I think it was, I was running down the middle of the road (something you shouldn't usually do) and in the woods adjacent I hear something crashing alongside me. I can only assume it is a deer, and with the recent cooler temperatures my mind turns to worry that it could very well be starting to feel the flood of hormones that turns Bambi from a gangly, cute helpless little creature to an armed wildlife creature bent on one purpose.

I never saw what was making the sound, but it must have been haunting me. Thursday morning, sometime early, in that strange period that can't be called waking or sleeping, I had a vivid dream.

In the dream, I am running down the same road, when a deer leaps into the center and skids sideways, turning its head toward me. It lets out an baleful sound - something like a screech and a bellow, the white showing in a ring around its dilated pupils.

All I can do is shake my head, slowly, muttering "I'm not a deer, I'm not a deer!" Thinking somehow that I can persuade him that I am neither his enemy nor his goal. All the while, the stories of people attacked by deer - even killed - flip through my mind old newsreel headlines ... abdomens torn open, ribs bruised and broken, soft human flesh no match for horn and hoof ...

Of course it was only a dream, but I had to swallow panic this morning when I couldn't get the gate open on my way home, sweating and tired. Had a deer happened upon me in that moment - I would have been trapped and virtually helpless!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

No Accident

Sometimes I look up at the night sky, and I’m just blown away by God. It breaks my heart that so many can look at creation and think that it was all a big string of impossible coincidences.


In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus is recorded as having said “With man this is impossible, but with God ALL things are possible.” He was speaking specifically about salvation. But He said ALL things.


While I know this with my head, my heart has been slower to understand. My prayer life has grown dramatically this past year, but some of the things I was praying about I wasn’t really expecting. I was asking God for something knowing that He is able to do it, but assuming it wouldn’t be in His will for me.


The funny thing is, the more you seek God, the more the things you desire become the things He desires in your life. When what you want is something He wants to give you – He is just waiting for you to ask!


I’ve had a lot of answers to prayer lately. I don’t want to discuss all of them, but one hit me today and isn’t easy. I’ve been praying for God to help me see others the way He sees them. Things didn’t change for a while, but today it hit me like a freight train.


A small string of coincidences has brought my vision to a new clarity. Last night I was reading about praying for people who are lost, and then I was hit with a family member losing a friend who is to our knowledge lost. Only God can know that though.


All day I’ve been broken hearted for people who think they are doing ok because they are good people. Some of them are wonderful people – but to God they are still lost. Even standing in line at the grocery store, surrounded by tabloids – I felt my heart towards the lost is changed. Instead of being disgusted by the lifestyles of celebrities, I was saddened by their "I have it all taken care of" attitude that has left God out.


God will answer your prayers. It isn’t always easy – but He gives you the strength for what He has planned for you. Step out in faith and expect the impossible.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricanes and Hunger Pangs

The past few days we've been watching hurricane Ike entering the gulf and trying to predict where it is going to make landfall. I'm starting to think it is following me. I've come to East Texas to visit my family, and am already seeing the affects of the storm in the form of evacuees streaming into town.

Not only that - but it now looks like the storm is coming right this way after making landfall, possibly as a tropical storm. So in town there are lines at the gas stations, and certain items at grocery stores are being sold out. According to the weather channel - power outages are likely. We'll see - but my family has a generator so it isn't really an issue for us.

Perhaps because I grew up with family on the coast, I always marveled at what people think they need for three or four days. Certainly you can be without power for longer than that, but generally even if you are hard hit, you might need food and water for about that long. The fear of possibly being hungry is a powerful thing.

Growing up, I often heard about being "hungry" for God's Word. I guess I just passed it off as a figure of speech or some kind of analogy. Yet during the past year, I've been learning what it means to be hungry to hear from God.

When you think about it, a lot of us really focus on what we eat (speaking of physical food again). We go on diets, we read labels to make sure what we're eating is healthy, and we're picky! If you don't like peas - you aren't likely to buy a can of peas and cook it up as a side.

Yet so often - we fill our minds and our thoughts with things that aren't of God's kingdom. We go days, weeks, months, maybe even years without studying His Word. We aren't careful to set aside time to spend with him - we fill ourselves and our time with things that won't matter in even 5 years, much less beyond this lifetime.

So as the hurricane bears down on the coast - I watch those who have decided what they need to take, and those who want to stay and "protect" their belongings. It makes me think about what I really need - what would I most want to have with me in such a situation. And I'm reminded that when it comes down to it - all I really need is God.

Prayers for those in the path of the storm right now ...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Blessings Like Manna

Have you ever taken one of those spiritual gifts inventories? If you haven't, I'd say it is worth doing. Not only is it interesting, but it helps you see where your abilities are so that you can learn to use them to serve. My church offers a class on service, and I found it very enlightening that serving doesn't mean misery! Once you know your gifts - I suggest reading Boundaries, then you'll be better prepared about when to say "YES" and when (and how) to politely decline. If you are curious about gifts, there are some free surveys that can help give you some insight at the following links:
  • http://www.churchgrowth.org/analysis/intro.php
  • http://mintools.com/spiritual-gifts-test.htm#begin
  • http://old.enewhope.org/spiritualgifts/evaluation.php
What got me started thinking about spiritual gifts was sitting down to write about one of mine. At first it surprised me that one of my strongest spiritual gifts was faith - I never considered myself to have particularly strong faith. But what I've learned over the past several months is that I've lived most of my life as a spiritual baby. I'd start to grow, then I'd slack off into a comfort zone of sorts.

The thing is - both our spiritual gifts and the zeal in our hearts require fuel. Our lives tend to run hot and cold ... like an unattended campfire allowed to simmer to warm ashes overnight, and be rekindled again in the evening. What would it take to keep that fire burning bright? We'd have to keep providing it fuel, and we'd have to keep fanning the flames.

A spiritual high at an event is an amazing thing. I had many of them growing up - camp, Dawson McAllister conferences, mission trips. Places where each day was lived out wholly aware of God and His Word. But then we'd come home, and it would be back to normal. I'd slowly stop reading my Bible, and my prayer life would dwindle to brief cries for help in moments of panic.

So, a spiritual gift, like a musical gift, requires practice. You may be gifted at the violin - but if you never pick it up - no one, including yourself, will be the wiser. So while my gift surprised me - once I started exercising it things started making more sense. I've grown so much more in 2008 than in the rest of my life.

I came to God for some much needed healing, and while I won't say it has been easy - He has come through, just as He promised me. Now I guard my heart like the treasure He says it is. If it is precious to God - it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. His love sustains me and I have faith that His love will not break my heart.

Slowly but surely, I let go my grip on the things in life that I'm afraid will spin out of control - or cease to exist - if I'm not holding them. My faith is growing that God's plans are always, always better than mine. When the voice of discouragement comes I run to God. I cover myself in prayer and His word. I surround myself with His people. My focus is on the things He commands - His work, His opinion. He sifts through me and washes away what is not of Him when I let everything go.

Time and again in the past months, even weeks! Even the past several DAYS! I pray and meditate, and when I'm sure of the direction God is pointing me - I boldly step beyond what I can see. And He has been there! He doesn't just catch me - He lifts me up higher to something I didn't even know was possible.

I'm aware that with growth will come pains, and that the flow of blessings in my life does not go unnoticed by the enemy. But I also know that God will not allow anything to happen that is not part of His plan - and His plan is good.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Everything Changes ... but Everything Stays the Same

Today I went to a part of Austin I don't really frequent ... the Drag. It's not actually at all what it sounds like. In the past, it was a collection of cute little shops (including some great "vintage" clothing shops) and local restaurants along Guadalupe (pronounced "Gwad-a-loop" rather than its Spanish accented origin) across from the University of Texas campus.

Many of the shops I remember are gone. In their place are more typical (as my hairstylist called them, "corporate") businesses. I know that is a trend across the nation - but this is Austin, home of "Keep Austin Weird" (meaning to support local businesses ... at least on the surface). I was sad, because I was going to get my haircut and thought it was a great opportunity to do a little shopping where I probably wouldn't buy anything.

So instead, I walked around campus. Part of me wishes I had brought my camera, but then again - why would I want any pictures of such a place? I went to Texas A&M ... pretty much the opposite of UT in every possible way. In reality - I think they are both great schools, depending on what you are studying - and I openly admit that I'll go for the Longhorns when they aren't playing my Aggies. However, I don't have a particular love of them.

A close friend of mine once said that UT's campus is more beautiful than A&M's ... but I disagree. In fact - I think any state college campus in Texas looks pretty similar. UT does have more statues, but A&M's statues offer you luck on finals for a measly penny.

Like any college campus I've ever visited, there is always construction - things are always changing. While I expected Austin to change while I was gone, I had no idea so much could happen in two years - toll roads, streets you once knew hardly recognizable other than the street sign, and open fields turned to outlet mall and Ikea monstrosities.

There are some places on the Earth, however, that seem to pass the time virtually untouched. I recently went to my stomping grounds in East Texas on a "business" trip. I expected things to have changed, and on one side of town they had grown, but otherwise - everything was exactly the same. It was weird, like being in some kind of bubble of time that had been forgotten in 80s and 90s.

All of this got me thinking how everything here on Earth is mortal. Even down to the clothes I'm wearing and the skin I'm in ... it's all borrowed, and for all that it changes - good and bad - the best is always yet to come.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Computers and headaches

I found out last year that the thankfully rare, but severe headaches I tend to get are - in fact - migraines. For the past few weeks, I've had one trying to come on and it finally got me on Thursday.

The strangest thing about mine is that if I'm really still and quiet - it doesn't hurt. But I see loud noises (and my definition of loud becomes over-sensitive). My sleep is riddled with strange dreams that don't make sense - or at least, that make less sense than the typical nonsense I dream about.

Part of me thinks I might get these in August as some kind of residual "back-to-school" stress. Having been a student and teacher for several years, I used to get stressed towards the end of August. The dreams lead me to think there is a little bit to this.

In one of them, I was waiting in line to register for a dorm ... but they had you standing on such a narrow ledge that you were constantly falling backwards (if you fell off, you had to start at the back of the line again). My arms were full of books and things, so it was pretty difficult to hold on, and the staff weren't exactly being friendly and cooperative.

Another dream had something to do with my computer acting up. If you ask me, a computer is generally a headache as it is. I've been hearing bad things about the latest "security update" from Microsoft, so when it popped up on my computer I told it to wait. I went to back everything up, only to discover that the thing I've been backing them up to is now too small. So the "essential" update I've lived without for several years will have to wait.

When those "Hi, I'm a Mac" - "And I'm a PC" commercials first came out, I didn't like them. I didn't care for the "young hip" guy, and didn't like the portrayal of the PC. Perhaps I was taking it a bit personally.

But lately - they've started making sense. Especially the one where PC is sitting on a throne, and Mac has a helper to help you move your files to your new Mac computer. The last year or so, I've always said next time I need a computer - I'm walking into the Apple store and telling them they have 15 minutes to teach me to use the thing (with its backwards window closing button things) and I'll abandon Microsoft.

Send some prayers to the Gulf Coast this weekend - Gustav sounds like it is going to be bad. I know the coast is more prepared this time, but it is still devastating - especially with it bearing down on areas that are still trying to recover from Katrina almost exactly 3 years ago.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Redneck/Ghetto Food Dehydrator

So tonight after church I decided to embark on a crazy experiment.

This experiment was sparked by yet another experiment which is still underway, which was sparked on a flight.

If you've ever been on a plane, you've seen a copy of the Sky Mall magazine. I'm not sure if it is the proliferation of the internet or my age that has taken away some of its novelty, but it takes a little more to surprise or intrigue me in there these days (though the prices sure do send my eyebrows skyward).

Being an apartment dweller, the most recent thing to pique my interest was the hanging garden. It's basically a plastic stand you put potting soil (not included) in the top of and sand (also not included) in the bottom of that allows you to grow hanging tomatoes with herbs nestled on top.

I really liked the idea of that, but I did not like the $70 price tag. I did a little research, and found that the same effect could be had (in a much more attractive way) by creating a hanging garden out of a regular plastic planting pot. My dad helped me drill a hole in the bottom, which we covered with weed-stop fabric, and make holes for hanging. We filled it with dirt, and planted a roma tomato peeking out the fabric on the bottom, and herbs (oregano and basil) on the top. It is growing like crazy! I don't have any tomatoes yet, but perhaps I wasn't too late to catch the fall tomato season.

Well, I got to thinking - what am I going to do with all these herbs? I have a mint that is going crazy in a pot on my patio as well. A coworker suggested making my own food dehydrator (as I'm a rather frugal person and thought buying a dehydrator was not only expensive, but would take up room).

At first I thought this sounded like it wouldn't work - but as a mentioned it around different people - it turns out a lot have had it work, or have heard of it working. In fact, someone at church tonight said that the method was featured on "Good Eats" by Alton Brown, and I absolutely love that show (come on, it's cooking meets science class! what more could I want?).

So tonight I got the box fan, air filters, and bungie cords. I found a big box fan for 12.97 at Home Depot. The filters were 56 cents each, I used 20x20x1 size. I later found that Alton suggested cellulose if possible, rather than fiberglass. Makes sense - but I don't think the ones I got will stick to the food (plus, the other styles were rather expensive).

I used four plastic cups that were the same size that I happened to have around and laid the fan on its back on top of them. To test this method, I sliced up strawberries and bananas. I laid on filter on top of the fan, and spread out the fruit (leaving the middle, where that center, solid part of the fan is empty in case air flow isn't as good there). I topped it off with a fruitless filter, and strapped them down with the bungie cord.

The fan is currently humming away behind me on the highest setting, and the air is filled with the scent of strawberries and bananas (not bad!).

I figure if it doesn't work - I'll have a back-up fan (I sleep with a fan on) and a couple of sticky filters. I'm not sure how long it will take, but I'll be sure to make a post after I check them in the morning.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Runaway truck!

Sometimes, you're minding your own business and witness something strange.

Without going into too much detail about my work ... my department basically has two facilities which are about a quarter mile or so apart. I'll call them building A and building B. Today my day started, as it typically does, at building A. After lunch, several of us walked to building B (the parking lot there is usually full). So - at the end of the day my car is still at building A. I had to walk back.

Now, the building A facility abuts a warehouse. To walk back to my car, I walk next to a fenced in delivery area of said warehouse. Imagine a small road between two chain-link fences - one containing a warehouse loading area, the other - blocking a sharp, 10 foot drop into a creek.

As I walked by the warehouse, squinting in the sun, I heard someone shouting "WHOA WHOA WHOA STOP!" I look up as boxes start tumbling between a truck and the loading dock it was backed up to. At first, I can't tell why there is a space for the boxes to fall into ... then I realize - the truck is slowly starting to roll forward.

The ground is slightly sloped toward the creek. One of the workers jumps from the dock, and attempts to open the cab of the truck.

It's locked.

Now I'm thinking it may be a while before I get home - picturing the truck barreling through both fences and into the creek. In my mind the fence is dragged across the only entry and exit into the lot where I am parked, not to mention the tow truck or other equipment that will have to come try to pull it out.

Back to the rolling truck "It's locked!" shouts the worker. "You idiot!" shouts a second worker "Stand in front of it!" I'm thinking this is a bad idea, and I'm right. He pushes against the front of the truck and doesn't even slow it down.

A third worker, seems to have his thinking cap on. He picks up a box of paper and starts running. Now, he doesn't look like someone who runs very often, and that box has to be heavy - but he's giving it all he's got. The helpful second worker - who to this point has done nothing but shout from the dock, hops down and is yelling "Hurry!"

I'm starting to worry he isn't going to make it - but finally the worker carrying the box is even with the rear wheel, and impressively throws it - managing to shove the box in front of the wheel without ever putting himself in the line of danger.

The box explodes loudly, but the reams of paper stack against one another and with a clanging the truck comes to a stop.

When I left ten or fifteen minutes later, they were back to business as usual - loading the dropped boxes into the truck. Kinda makes one wonder if this has happened before?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Unbelievably shallow

All week, I've been hearing about the movie "Tropic Thunder." Well, basically all I knew at first is that it is an R-rated comedy by Ben Stiller. Frankly - that's enough to stop me from having any desire to see it. Granted, Ben Stiller has some funny movies - while I wouldn't say I "like" Zoolander - I have to admit it made me laugh. Night at the Museum was terrific! But the last Stiller "comedy" I saw - Heartbreak Kid - had no redeeming qualities. It wasn't funny at all - it just made me and the people I saw it with uncomfortable.

This week, what I've been hearing is protest from groups such as Friends of the Special Olympics for the movie's use of the word retard. Frankly - I'll admit that we called each other that plenty of times and meant nothing in relation to people who truly had special needs. And while I understand these groups asking people not to go see the movie - it is, in fact, a movie. When I have a problem with a movie, I don't go see it, but I don't necessarily try to prevent others from seeing it.

And to be quite honest - I have a problem with some of the words that have been in the news lately as being "offensive." Why is it that we cry out when a word indicating race or intelligence is used in movies, yet words demeaning women are used in most movies, and no one finds any fault in it? Perhaps it is because I'm more personally offended by such words that they get my dander up. But again, this is the United States of America. If someone wants to make or watch a movie full of such derogatory statements, no one is making me go watch it. I guess it is just the fact that it is supposed to be "funny" that really irks me.

To do a little more research, I looked up Tropic Thunder on a Christian website that reviews movies. It really sounds no worse than most of the other recent comedies, and in fact they applaud the fact that it makes fun of Hollywood. So I suppose I'll save my verdict on if I'll ever see this one until someone I know sees it. I'm guessing the fact that I haven't even seen Batman yet - which I want to see - means the likelihood of my ever watching this one pretty low.

While I'm ranting, I have to give my two cents about eHarmony. Some of you probably know I've been on there for a while now. I've been on a few dates, had a good time, but nothing came of it. Which is perfectly fine! However, I am feeling rather done with the whole online dating thing. About half of the people they match me with aren't really members of eHarmony, therefore cannot communicate. Of those left, about half close the match because they are already pursuing another relationship. Why on earth they have an active eHarmony account in that case I do not know - you can easily turn the matching off if you meet someone.

Which leaves the few whose profiles I bother to read. A lot of them seem fed up with the female of our species altogether and are rather self deprecating - not someone ready for a relationship at all. Some of them list "a woman to love" or "the one" as something they can't live without - so I'm afraid they are a little too desperate for the relationship and that who it is with may not be important until they realize it is the wrong one.

The few left with a little confidence, well, I'm not sure how I "match them on 29 levels of compatibility." As well intentioned as the creator of the site may have been, I'm starting to think that his books and the eHarmony system may be a big sell. Of those left, they are either looking for a woman to serve with them, willing to drop everything. Noble intentions - but from my standpoint - I'm almost 30 and I've worked very hard to be where I am. I'm definitely not starting a relationship knowing that if we get married, this guy is going to expect me to just drop it all. If I end up in a relationship and God indicates that's what I'm to do, that is a different story.

And that leaves the incredibly shallow guys. They either say they are Christian, but then nothing in their profile indicates that (especially the fact that some of them mention physical affection being necessary to them - maybe I'm reading too much into that, but that seems inappropriate). Some of them go on and on about serving God, etc ... but in the section that asks what is important to them in another person - well. I don't want to take a direct quote, but I think I saw the shallowest one today.

He said the most important thing he is looking for in woman is that she is attractive. And that he prefers girls (GIRLS, ha) taller than himself (he's 6'). He even mentions this again in his "additional information he wants you to know" section - that he loves girls of "above average height and beauty." He likes for a girl who can get dressed up in heels but who also loves her favorite blue-jeans. Gag me with a fork.

If that one didn't set off all the alarms and red lights and flags ... then my knower is broken.

On a happier note, since my decision to let my eHarmony account expire, I feel a certain freedom. See, I kept saying I was leaving all this dating stuff up to God. Then one morning, in a voice - but not in a voice (if you know what I mean?) God basically said that I say I'm letting go - but that I'm still not trusting Him. And He is so very right. God can work around the fact that I don't meet a lot of date-able single men. And He doesn't need a website to do it.

There's a certain freedom in truly letting go and leaving the really important things up to God. And I know He'll do a better job than I could ever imagine doing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Case of the Mondays

Yesterday was Monday - and boy was it ever! I don't usually feel the blahs on a Monday, but I guess something about too many people in two small of a space at the beginning of the week in the dog days of summer brought them on.

Sometimes a culmination of weird events, tense coworkers, and female hormones can just ruin what started out as a great morning. I added 5 seconds of time spent running to each running section of my morning "run/walk," I didn't leave my coffee sitting on the counter, and my apartment was sparkling clean from a nice scrub over the weekend. As a matter of fact, other than a disposal scare - the weekend was great.

Sunday afternoon I decided to boil some eggs for lunch. After peeling the shell off, I was shoving them into the disposal in order to grind them into oblivion - and my dad always said the shells help clean the blades. As I retracted my hand through the disgusting rubber collar in the drain (you know what I'm talking about) my Aggie ring slipped right off my finger. Now, in some ways this isn't a horrible thing. Like my pants, my rings are getting looser lately - I'm losing weight - great! My precious Aggie ring lying in the disposal, not great!

Wincing, I put my hand back in to feel among the shell and blades for my ring. Even though I live alone, and have never once heard my disposal suddenly start up on its own in the middle of the night - something about having my hand down in there makes me feel panicked. Nevermind that I had been listening to classical music on the radio while cooking, and at this moment a rather allegro piece had started - it's one of those I'm sure you'd recognize, but which I do not know the name of.

The song only ratchets my feeling of urgency up a notch as my fingers probe between blades. When I finally feel the ring, my heart is thudding as if I've just narrowly escape a brush with death! Visions like a horror film have been flashing through my head ... a dark night, a young woman making a snack, and the lights flashing as she lets loose a blood curdling scream - her hand trapped in the disposal. Though I've actually never heard of anyone's hand getting chewed up in a disposal ...

So I'll attribute that weird thing to part of Monday being so Monday. The second weird thing? Spontaneously exploding veggies at lunch. Probably the most unexpected thing I've ever had happen involving food. I had microwaved some formerly frozen mixed vegetables in a Pyrex container - I do it on an almost daily basis. Returning to my desk, I set the bowl down and put the lid loosely on top to wait for it to cool.

A few minutes later, BAM! And not a dash of Essence BAM ... but BAM, hot steam and a couple of snap peas smack my wrist.

My only theory is that as the dish cooled, the lid was sucking down onto the top. It finally sunk far enough that the lip started to roll over, and much like those plastic disks you play with as a kid (you flip them over, they pop up off the table a moment later?) ... it flipped. The lid is a bit concave in shape, where it used to be flat ... so that's what I'm basing this theory on.

The suddenness and strange hilarity of it seemed to break the Monday curse though, and I made it through the day with only one weird teary-eyed moment.

Thank goodness its Tuesday!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lessons from nature

I know we feel closer to God in different ways at different stages of life, but for me - nature has always been where I see, hear, and feel God the most. Jesus Himself uses nature as analogous to our faith and actions in many of His teachings.

In nature I don't find anything artificial or with its own agenda regarding my soul. And there I can truly "be still" and listen to God. Regarding the wonders of His creation are a form of very private worship for me very different, but not replacing, the acts of worship such as singing and serving.

Today - nature has taught me a couple of lessons. The first being about good soil. In the gospel, Jesus teaches about the different types of soil - an analogy for our acceptance of His word, and what we do with it upon hearing. In those with souls like rocks the Word cannot take root, in some souls it springs up quickly - like a fad - and fades because it has no strong roots. Sometimes the world chokes out the growth - the weeds have been allowed to take over.

This brings me to my little lesson today - when I picture weeds choking out a plant, I picture something tall like a goldenrod towering over a bean plant, stealing its sunlight. But that is so obvious - what about the more subtle "weeds?"

I have an ivy I keep in my kitchen. It came from cuttings that my mother gave me. I was very proud of the way it took root and has been growing. Little did I know that the soil was breeding an infestation of what are known as fungus gnats. Their larvae are tiny, the eggs microscopic, the adults are small and plentiful. And annoying! I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out where they were coming from. Taking out the garbage before it was full didn't help. Cleaning the drains in the kitchen didn't help. Then I realized that they seemed most concentrated around my plant.

After doing some research - I found that they are generally harmless - but could be hurting the tender, new-growth roots of my plant. These verses about soil immediately popped into my mind. Like a warning, that just because we are "good soil" - in which God's Word has taken root and grown - subtle destruction can sneak into our lives and prevent further growth - prevent us from producing new seeds. Everything looks fine on the outside - perhaps we are not prone to drunkenness, gambling, stealing - more obvious sins (though these can be hidden as well). But our thought life - the things we think about other people, the things we choose to fill our minds with, jealousy, anger, hatred ... could be rotting us from within.

The plant is outside being treated with a combination fungicide/insecticide. If that doesn't work - I will have to throw it out and start over. Much like God teaches us about rebuking a brother or sister - if they do not change their ways, you must part with them. The infection can easily spread.

So what is the answer to preventing this? Well, nature showed me that too. I've been watching the "Planet Earth" series - it's simply amazing. Words can describe it, and I can't imagine what the real scenes must have looked like out from behind the lens.

The first thoughts they've provoked are those not-quite forgotten dreams of being a wildlife photographer - but also something deeper. Watching the struggles that the animals endure, the way they persevere ... God has given them the tools and the strength they need to overcome mountain passes over 5 miles high, to go for months without food while feeding and protecting their young from winter's cold, traveling hundreds of miles for food and water across parched desert with sand blowing around them.

If they want for nothing - I want for nothing to persevere and keep the health of my soul like that of the good and fertile soil - both the seen, and the unseen. God cares enough about nature to provide for the plants and animals - how much more must He care about me to send His son to die for me? It is not too much for me to handle with His help.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Yog, I'm gonna blog

So - as a writer-in-hiding, you'd think I would have had a blog long ago. But I'm a little wary of bandwagons - so I didn't. That said - so many of my friends share the awesome things about their lives via blogs. It beats email, because I don't send it to you - you come read it if you want. I may not have as much fun as kids and home-remodels to share - but sometimes putting together a sandwich becomes a story for me ;)

Actually - I intended to do this a while back, but then I got rid of my home internet connection. Kinda put a damper on that one.

Long story short - it is 9:30 pm, and though I plan to get up to run at 5 am - here I am.

That's right - I'm getting up to run. As a matter of fact, this will be my third week of doing so. I'm using the term "run" a bit loosely - it's more of a walk/run - but hey, it's a start. I've tried to become a "runner" many times in the past, but things like illness, the heat, lack of time, and pain got in the way.

5am takes care of the heat and most of the other excuses. I slip out of bed and into my clothes without really thinking about it, and next thing you know I'm outside in the quiet morning air. In all honesty - this has become one of my favorite times of day. It is quiet, it is still, and I feel like I'm the only soul in the world awake.

God seems much closer in the morning without all the distractions and noise. I don't wear headphones or anything. I just talk to and listen to God. Part of my route takes me to the top of a hill where I can look out over downtown Austin - the UT tower, the capital, Frost tower. It's amazing that such a decent sized city can seem so quiet and peaceful - but from far enough away at the right time of morning - she is. This view also reminds me to pray for our leaders. Sometimes the wind rushes over me and lifts my hair, and it feels like a hug from God. What better way to start the day?

To take care of the pain, I started seeing a chiropractor. It turns out, I got shooting pains in my leg when I ran in the past because I have sciatica ... a pinched nerve at the base of my spine. Getting that taken care of is doing wonders for me! It was a little rough at first - I had some soreness from the adjustments - but I started noticing little things like the fact that I now have more sensation through my feet and toes than I used to! I didn't even know I'd lost anything!

This past weekend our pastor spoke on self-control - on making our bodies slaves to us rather than the other way around. I knew running was good for my heart, but I never knew it would be so good for my soul. Amazingly enough - I'm already to the point that I say I wouldn't give it up for anything - I actually look forward to the days that I run!

So I'll close there for my first attempt. I have a fun day of taking apart and reassembling a shotgun tomorrow, so I probably should get some sleep.