Letter Life

I smell of aftershave, from the hands that just finished getting ready for the day.  He just HAD to get this done – had to do it. Not because of duty, but because of love and care. his sponsored children are like all other kids – they don’t ring. When a phone rings, you are notified immediately. Sure, sometimes children ring by crying or yelling, but, in general, the caregiver has to make the move – to hug, to direct, to plan, to prepare the meals, to look ahead, guide, train. But those children don’t ring – he needed to make time to get this vital task done.

(Sometimes, tears fall on me, though I can’t always tell who’s letting them fall.)

It’s insightful, being a letter. there’s a connection, like a lamp plugged into a socket. The pen is what connects his soul to my surface – I read his thoughts, hear his musings. I keep telling him to use a pencil so that he can ease, but he frequently disregards my age-old sage advice.

I travel in any and every direction, over land, over ocean, over desert – in all of my travels, I’m inside something that’s inside something that’s inside something else. Who knows how many “inside something”s I go through. It’s good that I don’t have motion sickness.

But I’ve learned from all the letters before me what the goal is – it’s is to be in someone else’s hand. Knowing the landscape, seeing the sea from 30,000 feet, taking note of all of the faces who carry and care for me – those add nothing to my mission (perhaps it’s more of my purpose than my mission?). My purpose is to reach the child with this message from the sponsor. It’s the faces of those children and families that I need to see. What message? It’s different each time. Many times it’s simple news – a loving reminder, like a breeze on a still, hot day reminding one that, despite the doldrums, life continues to move. At times, it’s not good – a farewell, a sad event, even new s of tragedy.

But these letter are always from one point of view – love for that child and family.

In this busy, hi-tech age, there are still limitations around the globe. Low-tech worlds need to stay connected to hi-tech things using low tech means – and that means is me.

I can’t auto-size my font. If I’m made sloppy, or dropped in a puddle, I can’t be fixed. I have misspellings that don’t have a squiggly ling under them. But I can be made and sent and accessed by pretty much anyone, anywhere, anytime. I am simple. I am a letter.

Signing off

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My 2018 One Word, er, Phrase

Last year was the first time I decided to have a word for the year. It worked out well. I fully understand if it’s not something that you do; 2017 just seemed like a good year for it. This year seems good, too, as something came up in our family over and over last month as a theme, and I decided to carry it make it my watermark for this year.

Use it up.

We have a lot of good and great things. Over the years we’ve just simply gathered things, kept stuff, accumulated items. I’m not sure why – I know lots of people do it. I think it’s because of a poverty mentality, feeling that “If I throw it away I’ll never have another chance.” There are certainly things to think about when there’s extra or interesting stuff – creative (or craftsy) people never know when their craft will need such-and-such; mechanics never know when they’ll need this fastener or that tool; Sunday school teachers never know (or, rather, always know) when they’ll need to re-use or rejuvenate a former lesson. BTW – our family consists of creative people, always thinking of ways to reuse or repurpose things.

Following up on last year’s word of “Why?,” it flows into “Use It Up.” While our creativity, home education, and parenting call for a lot of resources, by investigating our Why, we realized that we are often just simply hoarding with propriety. We aren’t outwardly hoarders – no trash piled up, no garbage hanging around, no newspapers filling boxes that are stacked to the ceiling. But inwardly we are hoarding – we want our stuff around us to make us feel safe and prosperous.

It’s one of those silent and invisible tricks of the soul – we talk against consumerism and materialism and we demonstrate our spiritual growth by getting rid of stuff (either giving to charity or the landfill), yet, internally, we KNOW that we haven’t arrived yet. We still hold on to our “stuff” security blanket. It just happens that no one sees it.

We have learned Why, and we have gotten rid of a lot of extra (things that were treasures, but are now, to us, trash – which may become someone else’s treasure), but now we have a lot of really useful things. And our struggle now is to use it. We hold on to this-and-that because we don’t want it to go away.

How ridiculous is that? Things are made for us to use – that’s their purpose. And yet, here we are, subjected to them. Why is that? (again, back to Why?)

Things are to be used. People are to be loved. Not vice versa. Things are for our enjoyment and use – and they are temporal. Material is transient, the spiritual is transcendent.

Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.””

Luke 12:15 says, “And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

2018 is our year to use up what we’ve been given. Much of life is education of some form – simply growing up to be an adult, learning what food is good to eat, the right exercises for our body type, how to do our best at our job, how to be a better spouse or child…on and on the examples could go. In the process of growing, things need to be used up. Books are to be read (digested?); food needs to be cooked and eaten consistently (ever felt that it’s seems a waste to spend an hour on a meal, only to have it eaten in 5 minutes?); computers need to be used to their fullest and then trashed when you’re done. We just don’t really want to get to that “trashed” or “cooked” or “completed” part – I want stuff to last forever, not having to bother with spending more money and time on something else or the next thing.

But only 2 things last forever – the Word of God, and people. These are the 2 long-lasting entities on which I should spend my time. And in the process, I need to accept that using up temporal resources – time, money, energy – is the way to grow, minister, and live.

(Photo by Oziel Gómez on Unsplash)

In Search of Irene

It’s that time of year – decorations, parties, presents, travels, coordinating with coworkers for time off…and each of those in abundance. During this time of the hope of and increased search for peace, many are busier than ever. And the situation isn’t helped by having to be wary of people stealing your gifts while they’re sitting in your car, or thinking of how to deal with THAT relative at the get-together…or a thousand other things that could go wrong.

 

Our language is infused with idioms dealing with peace – peace and quiet, leave someone in peace, no peace for the wicked, peace offering. Beyond just the words and phrases using the English “peace,” there are other not-so-obvious “peaceful” words. The Pacific Ocean is named because it’s relatively smooth sailing. Irenic efforts seek peaceful reconciliation.  The name Irene means peace; similar to the church father Irenaeus. Shalom is the Hebrew word and concept of peace (though it means much more than just that). Jerusalem means City of Peace (or it could mean Possession of Peace, or Foundation of Peace).

 

Despite this constant desire and search for peace, this world is not peaceful. Peace today seems to be thought of in a couple different ways by the world (meaning, the non-Christian world). One way is a personal tranquil state of being – harmony with other individuals; personal security and safety. The second way is on a group, even a national, level – national safety and security; group rights to prevent bullying; organizations devoted to human rights.

 

The world has the concept partly right – true biblical peace applies to both the individual and group level, and it is a state of tranquility, harmony, and safety. What the world has wrong, though, is that it seeks peace only on a horizontal level, only on a human-to-human level. The Bible’s concept of peace includes a harmonious and tranquil relationship with the Triune God.

 

The world sometimes has the strategy for peace half right – they fight for it. The Bible calls for Christians to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers. “Keeping the peace” means that one doesn’t rock the boat; one doesn’t mess with the establishment – in many cases, things are OK, so one shouldn’t do anything to make it worse (it’s not a matter of making things better, but of keeping the status quo because upheaval and disruption are painful).

 

But the Christian is to, in a certain instances, fight for peace. We are to be at peace, but peaceful is not the same as passive. Jesus brought the sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God), and with that we are to make peace. True biblical peace often entails some kind of confrontation. Confrontation isn’t just simply fighting with someone; it can be as simple as “I’d like to talk about something you said the other day.”

 

The Bible tells us to live a quiet life, so there’s an aspect of being a pacifist (different than a passivist). But that exhortation is prepended with “as far as it depends on you.” Sometimes, we have to struggle for peace. The Holy Spirit gives us power, love, and self-control to deal with otherwise fearful situations (this explains why the non-Christian typically enacts “peace” by using fear-filled tactics).

 

You can win the struggle for peace during the holidays by being the one to choose. An oft-neglected word, which is a compete sentence, is “No.”  (though there’s no requirement to be a jerk about it – search for ’50 Ways to Say No’ and you’ll find plenty of options for saying No without being rude). It’s OK to say No. It’s OK to stay home. It’s OK to opt-out…not just this year, but every year.  If you go to a party, then you be the one who chose to go. If you travel for family, then you be the one who chose to take that invitation. If you don’t go or don’t give, it’s your choice which you made based on your current situation for you and your family.

 

In the end, the biblical idea of peace is that of wholeness. It’s a wholeness of relationship with Christ and wholeness with other people. And just as the Magi in their search for the Holy Child, the search for peace can entail intense preparation and hard work.

We need to spend more time learning from Jesus, the Prince of Peace. This idea is succinctly and emotionally shown in the story of Martha and Mary. It’s not a story pitting spiritual education against “grunt work.” It’s a story of the heart. It’s a story about anxiety vs. tranquility, about etiquette vs. righteousness, about being perturbed vs. being at peace.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Choose and Make a Merry New Year!

Thankful, Even When You’re Not Ready

There’s a phrase that goes, “Already, but not yet.”

When a real war is being fought, there will be a “decisive battle.” At that point, the war has been won, but it won’t really be over until all has been communicated and everyone has gone home. Already, but not yet.

In baseball, if the batting team is down a point or two, and it’s the final bat of the game, with the bases loaded, and the batter hits a home run – the game has been won! But not until everyone actually runs to home base. Already, but not yet.

(Stick with me – this really has to do with thankfulness…)

In the Bible book of Habakkuk, in chapter 3, verses 17-19, we read, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.”

The kingdom of Judah had sinned greatly, and God’s punishment for that sin was to send the Babylonian empire against Judah (here’s some background information, if you want to get into details: https://bible.org/article/introduction-book-habakkuk).

But God, being a good God, was also going to protect His faithful people in the midst of the takeover, would restore Israel, and then would judge Babylon.

In the verses above, before all of the takeover started, Habakkuk was saying to the people, “Already, but not yet.” Peace was on the horizon – just not yet. God has won – you just haven’t seen it yet.

Frederick Douglass – a man who was born a slave around 1817*, but educated himself, escaped slavery, and went on to being famous as an abolitionist, suffragist, preacher, author, editor, and diplomat – had a hard life, but through harder work and reliance on Christ, he trusted that He would free him. First was spiritual freedom, then physical freedom. But there was an arduous time between the two. Already, but not yet.

There are plenty of people today who are undergoing trials – neighbors, those foreign to us, friends and family, coworkers. I suppose one could rightfully assume that everyone you come in contact with has some trial. They may be the next Habakkuk or Frederick, but they may not be. Because all people are made in God’s image, giving people hope is not relegated to the famous and influential, nor just to those who we hope will become so. We only know “now,” and that’s where we have to act.

Those who trust in God also hope in God. Those who hope in God also thank God. Those who know Him know, by faith, that He will bring salvation. Habakkuk gives us the famous verse, “The just shall live by faith.” Habakkuk 2:4, echoed in Romans 1:17.

Because we hope in God, we can, like Habakkuk, thank the triune God for what He hasn’t delivered yet – restoration, salvation, complete reconciliation. We are saved, but not yet; we are whole, but not yet; we are perfected but not yet.

On the practical side of things, for those who have the means, sponsoring children through Compassion International is a great way to spread hope. Those children who are unsponsored lack one or more of the basics of life – clean water, good food, hygiene, clothing…things that those of us with means can easily take for granted. (Here’s a fun video about this: http://www.charlottestories.com/local-charlotte-church-released-christmas-video-thats-going-viral-4-million-views/). Sponsorship provides these things. And you, the sponsor, provide the personal side of things. All of these children have hope, but they may not know who to thank. When you sponsor a child, you’re the immediate one they will thank, yet each one also needs to know that the one they really need to thank, the One who led you to sponsor them, is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

You can let them know that they’ll graduate – just not yet. They’re already stronger – but not yet. They’re already better off than they were – but maybe they don’t see it yet. It’s astounding to think that, through Compassion, my family and I can have a positive, even life-changing, effect on people in other countries! In a simple way, we can help transform others’ lives.

Everyone has, or will have, tough times. We need to work together, to encourage each other, to exhort each other to hang in there, to hope in God, and be thankful for His good gifts, even if He hasn’t sent them yet.

*Because slave birth records weren’t kept (or even made), Frederick’s father was unknown to him, his mother was kept from him often, and she died when he was ten, we don’t know when he was born. Later, he chose February 14 as his birthdate because his mother had called him her little valentine.

My Word for 2017

We all need something to hang on to, right? It could be a routine, a promise, a plan, a ritual  – we just simply need to have a series of lifelines. That’s what gives us hope, and hope is foundational to living.

I’ve got many lifelines, plenty to hang on to. Plenty to do, lots of plans, loads of responsibilities, numerous good things going on. So why have a word? Because this just seems like the year to do it.

I know “word of the year” has been popular for some years, but I’ve had enough to do without adding something else. This just seems like a good year to do something different.

With all that goes on, I’ve been more into action items and daily life. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy what I’ve been doing. I’m all for action and living and enjoying life. Maybe the Word challenge is a way to encapsulate what I’ve been doing and thinking, rather than being something else to do. Maybe this word of the year for 2017 is actually a metamorphosis for last year’s cocooning activity.

My word for 2017 is: Why?

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Over the past year, it has become clear to me that I need to know more about why I’m doing something. Why do I make the rules that I do for my children? Why do I workout? (or, why don’t I workout?) Why do I respond to this-and-that situation in the way that I do? Why eat healthily (yes, it’s “healthily” instead of “healthy” if you wondered, but it’s not a big deal – just anticipating a question about it)? Why do I dress, or dress our kids, the way that I do? It’s also to remind myself about why I work, why I’m married, why we homeschool, etc. It’s in the reminders that I learn even more.

Not everything can be answered with a Why, but far more is made clear when I ask the question and get down to the motive.

It’s not that I’ve been doing things without knowing why – I have been to the best of my ability. But I’ve reached another point in growing up (something we all need to reach at various times throughout life). I’m at the point of refining what I do and what my reasons are for doing them.

The main principle behind this “Why?” refinement is this: Do I do what I do because I fear God? Or because I fear Man? (Matthew 10:28; Psalm 118:6; Proverbs 29:25; Hebrews 13:6)

Case in point: Have I made society’s dress code equivalent to Scripture’s code? Scripture has limited advice on how we dress, and one main point is to dress modestly. This past weekend we all stayed the night somewhere else. One of our younger ones ended up, for Sunday morning, with a dress shirt and…sweat pants. At least the pants were black – a good power color, and the goes everything. I wanted to be upset – how could he chooseTHAT?! Doesn’t the boy have any sense? He doesn’t have fashion sense (he’s like me), but AT LEAST get some decent pants.

But was his action a lack of will? Or was it lack of skill? It was a lack of skill. So what if he doesn’t have matching clothes? Any onlooker can tell he’s dressed modestly. Are my standards biblical? Or am I afraid that someone would say, “Your boy sure doesn’t know how to dress, does he?” Maybe he doesn’t know how to pick matching clothes, but that is not anywhere near a moral failing.

Why do I do things? Why do I think the things that I do? Is godliness my motivation? Is my impetus Christ-likeness? Or is it making sure that people don’t make fun of me or my family?

I want to delve into my motivations so that I can please Christ, not man.

Why am I writing this post? Am I trying to prove to someone that I can do it (wanting “man’s” praise)? No, I’m not. As any writer really wants to do, I’m writing so that I can share my burdens and encourage you, the reader, on to Christ-likeness.

Happy New Year!

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Thoughtful, Thankful, and Tense

Here’s a 2-mt. video about the destruction in Haiti, after Hurricane Matthew’s October 4th  “visitation.”

Though the hurricane occurred two months ago, things there are still precarious due to reconstruction and disease; devastation is not a singular, one-time event.

More below.

 

We should constantly live in a state of tension. At every moment, there’s the realization that things are bad AND that things are good. As we remain aware of things outside of our personal existence, we are consistently in a state of joy AND a state of grief.
While I’m thankful, joyful, and happy for all that I have and the opportunities I’ve been presented, there’s also something like Hurricane Matthew’s devastation in Haiti that is also going on (and ongoing).
Today, while you (and I) are enjoying abundance, take time to pray for, or even give support to, those who are hurting. http://cintl.us/hearthaiti
You can help in a few ways:

  1. Pray. Pray for hope to shine in Haiti. Jesus has a treasure trove of ways to give people hope.
  2. Give a gift to Compassion to help Haiti (yes, #GivingTuesday is over, but giving is always in season):
    http://www.compassion.com/giving-tuesday.htm?referer=519502&utm_source=compassion&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=haiti_2016
  3. Sponsor a Haitian child:
    http://www.compassion.com/sponsor_a_child/child-search-results.htm?cboArea=13%7cCentral+America+and+Caribbean&cboCountry=332%7cHaiti&ageMin=1&ageMax=22

#GivingTuesday #CompassionBloggers

Angeline

There are many times when tragedies turn into greater tragedies. It’s the norm, really.

Please take a couple minutes to watch this video from Compassion International about Angeline. And then continue reading below.

We can become inured to the news: natural disaster W hit the country of X; Y are dead, while another Z are displaced.

This is no different: On October 4th, Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti. Almost 900 are dead, 90% of the west coastal homes were destroyed. But the trouble isn’t over.

We can miss the ensuing days and weeks; those weeks after the day that a tragedy grips the world’s attention. It’s easy to miss what follows – initially, we see the news, pray, provide some support, and then move on.

In the case of Hurricane Matthew’s effect on Haiti, the aftermath partially comes in the form of cholera. The need is still there.

The quick slide back into our daily routine is easy to do: we each have our own lives, and for some, if not many, their own life is hard enough on its own without dealing with or helping others.

To add to the noninclusion of others’ tragedies in our daily lives, within a couple weeks there’s another tragedy. In the meantime, we may have had our own emergencies that require our full attention. Before too long we are used to watching events happen, doing what we can immediately, then getting back to our lives and daily duties BEFORE something else happens.

This is why we need others to help us remember. We need other organizations to keep on top of things. They don’t do it to make people feel guilty for forgetting; they do it to help us remember our responsibility. Those of us who have are responsible for helping those who are in need.

1 Corinthians 13:11 says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Those of us who are grown-ups need to remember or be reminded of our duty to others. Life can be hard, but that doesn’t absolve us of our responsibilities.

You can help in a few ways:

  1. Pray. Pray for hope to shine in Haiti. Jesus has a treasure trove of ways to give people hope.
  2. Give a gift to Compassion to help those like Angeline: http://www.compassion.com/giving-tuesday.htm?referer=519502&utm_source=compassion&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=haiti_2016
  3. Sponsor a Haitian child:
    http://www.compassion.com/sponsor_a_child/child-search-results.htm?cboArea=13%7cCentral+America+and+Caribbean&cboCountry=332%7cHaiti&ageMin=1&ageMax=22

#GivingTuesday #CompassionBloggers

Thank you for staying mindful.