You have to go check out the latest entry on Neil's blog. As most of you know, Neil is our associate pastor and our good friend. He and my husband, Steve, have been "bumping chests" for two years about some golf challenge...you know, one of those testosterone things. Anyway, it all began when they were filming a comic video for church...it was the intro for a sermon on anger. I have been praying for years that my sweet husband would find a way to get involved at church, NEVER dreaming that his "calling" would be our drama ministry....isn't God creative?! Anyway, this video was his big debut and now Neil has it on his blog. The Golf Challenge (apparently Neil "insulted" Steve's home course, Steve said he couldn't break 100 from the back tees, much chest bumping and smack talking ensued, blah, blah, blah) has now been laid down officially and dates are being chosen. In addition to Neil and Steve, at least 3 other guys from our church are involved as participants and spectators. BOYS!!
BTW, isn't my sweetie awfully cute? He is the one in the cart with Neil that keeps saying "Oh My!"
As I have been watching the situation in Israel and Lebanon unfold, like most of you, I have experienced a variety of emotions. I watched the "Meet the Press" episode last week when Newt Gingrich predicted that this was the beginning of World War 3 and felt a chill run up my spine...I wondered if he was right. I wonder what it must be like to be Israel and be surrounded on every side by your enemies and it makes me feel tired. Have those people ever experienced a sense of peace and safety? I felt my eyes well up with tears when I heard that Nazareth, Jesus's hometown, was being bombed. This morning, I watched David Gregory talk to a man in Lebanon about the many children who have been killed and the many more who are lying injured in hospitals throughout the country. Gregory, who I often see on the Today show and other NBC programming, seemed shaken by the report and temporarily seemed to be unable to control the emotion in his voice. I felt tears running down my face as I thought what it must be like to be a mother in Lebanon and Israel right now...praying to God that the men in power would get their act together and end the violence that was threatening the very life of my babies.
There are no easy solutions to a decades long dispute, but I am glad to hear that Condeleeza Rice is headed over there finally. I think we are obligated to put pressure on Israel and Lebanon to find a solution...here is what the Presbyterian Church USA Stated Clerk of the General Assembly Clifton Kirkpatrick said, in part, to President Bush in a letter written on July 14:
We denounce the provocative actions of Hezbollah, and we fully recognize and support Israel’s right to self-defense. However, the disproportionate force being used by the Israeli military against Lebanon has caused the indiscriminate deaths of scores of Lebanese civilians, as well as major damage to Lebanon’s infrastructure. It further escalates the violence, destabilizes an already weak Lebanese government, and, in turn, destabilizes the region.
We urge you to put pressure on all parties to find a diplomatic solution to this crisis. We urge you to work with the United Nations to put pressure on Hezbollah and its supporters to stop attacks on Israel and to return the kidnapped soldiers. And, we urge you to work in partnership with Israel to restrain the disproportionate use of military force.
As Presbyterians, we understand God’s gift of peace to be most profoundly exemplified in the life and ministry of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Christ calls all who profess faith in him to share the gospel message of peace in a broken and insecure world. We believe we are called to build a culture of peace for all of God’s children. We must have the courage to believe that peace is possible and take the steps necessary to achieve this goal (emphasis mine.)
The people of the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, are groaning under the burden of war and desperately desire peace. We implore you to not allow the extremists of the region to dictate the reality and final outcome of this situation. What is needed now is a sane and diplomatic voice, which the United States can provide.
I thought the line that I put in bold was particularly powerful. I think we have given up on the idea that peace is possible...I think we consider a desire, a demand, a goal of peace as being idealistic and naive. I think we have given up on the idea that there can ever be an end to the violence. But, if it were my babies living in a war zone, I would sure be praying that somebody, somewhere would get creative about finding an alternative to bombs.
I just found out that my sister-in-law, Laura, has been secretly blogging since January! She and my brother have two precious little boys, 3 and 5, and she decided that blogging would be a great way to chronicle the day to day fun and frustration of being a stay-home mom of two very active little boys so that my brother could "live" their days with them. Up until now, he was her only reader! Now, of course, the news is traveling like wildfire through the family!
You should know that Laura is brilliant and funny and a great mom and loves Jesus. Did I mention funny? The girls and I spent a couple of days with her, my brother and their boys before we went to Texas and we had a blast. The picture is from our walk around Annapolis. My eldest was in charge of keeping her three year old cousin from falling in the water...you can see that she had her hands full!
I think you will love her stories about the boys...they are precious! Anyway, you can check out her blog right here. I would particularly recommend "Tag in the Bathtub,"In the Closet," and "Need the Cookies." I laughed HARD!!
This is my 100th post! No, I didn't count them. When I log on to check my stats or write a new post, it tells me how many posts I have and how many comments. I have been blogging for 10 months, beginning on September 15th, which would mean an average of around 10 posts per month. On this "historic" occasion, I would like to thank all of you who read my musings, thoughts and occasional rants. It still kind of amazes me that anyone finds this an interesting use of their "web surfing" time! As I said in my initial post, this sometimes seems like a terribly self-indulgent activity, but it has been a tremendous blessing for me all the same. In addition to my writing 100 posts, YOU have written 96 comments and I have been blessed by each and every one of those as well...if you haven't commented before, please do!! I am always surprised to hear who has wandered across this blog and how you got here. I am especially humbled and grateful on those occasions when you tell me that God has used something I have written to bless you in some way. Isn't God creative that He can even use the Internet to connect His people?
Anyway, no great revelations, no great insights, no funny anecdotes...when I realized that I was about to write something for the 100th time, I was just tremendously grateful for those of you who keep coming back on the off chance that I might have something interesting or insightful or amusing to say...even those of you who aren't one of my parents or siblings! If you ever have any ideas for the blog or want to write a "guest" post, let me know!!
I love you...thanks for reading!
We flew home from Texas last night and I finished another great book during the flight. My mom's pastor recommended this author to her and she allowed me a chance to read the book first. Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith by Nora Gallagher is an absolutely beautiful book. She uses the seasons of the church calendar to share her journey of faith during the course of one year; a journey marked both by doubt and revelation. During the course of the book, she uses the voices of her beloved friends in her church community and the words of a number of well-known writers to help articulate her struggles and triumphs in her walk towards God. While I sometimes got bogged down in her stories about the day-to-day life of her parish, I was rewarded over and over again with some incredibly profound insights. Perhaps, as she says, "the road to the sacred is paved with the ordinary."
Here are a few of the lines that touched me:
On the voice of God--"...and we felt that if we just listened hard enough, we could make out the words. That is how it is when I hear God speaking, when I see what could be or even what is, but too dimly to make it out. I can almost hear, I can almost see. I can almost touch the peace proclaimed. Sometime I think that faith is only about increasing peripheral vision, peripheral hearing."
On the story of Jesus turning the water into wine----"What I'm hearing is that we are asked to turn something ordinary, something like water, into something full of life. We are asked to take ourselves--our ordinary souls and bodies--to be a 'living sacrifice', to make of our own ordinariness something fully alive."
On going deeper---"If it can be put into words, what I yearned for was to embody my shaky faith, to feel my faith in my flesh, acted out, incarnate."
On living as a new creation---"drowned to the old life, to insensibility and unconsciousness, and risen into a new life, into compassion, availability, abundance."
On walking with a dying friend---"She needed me to help carry the load. I didn't. That had nothing to do with respecting her autonomy; it was about washing my hands. We pretend to respect the autonomy of people who are sick or dying; in actuality, we hang them out to dry. I see something then, just at the periphery, about faith. I want to remain clean, innocent, above the fray, but faith requires me to get down and dirty, to risk making a mistake for the sake of another, to join in the awful intimacy of her suffering."
On the excessive love of God---"Excess marks the lives of saints and pilgrims. Viewed through the lens of faith, however, these lives reveal this truth: the love of God for us is excessive and deserves, even demands, extravagance in return."
On commitment---" we have a choice in our culture, to have a cultural Christianity or a committed Christianity. A cultural Christianity is a Christianity where you go to a nice church and you take your children to a nice church where you have a liturgy that pleases you without any depth of commitment. A committed Christianity challenges people to cross that bridge from a cultural inclination to a commitment in faith."
On the "least of these" among us---" In our midst is a homeless man without a blanket and shoes too large for his feet. We have organized our lives so that he is hidden from us. He lives, like God, in invisibility. But when we do see him, I think tonight, we keep a rendezvous. In the seeing is a glimpse, a foretaste of the Kingdom; it will be a place where everyone is seen, including us. Here we are together, in Ordinary Time, learning how to see."
Remember last week when I mentioned that the weather here was actually unexpectedly pleasant? Well, it certainly feels like good ole Texas this week. 105 degrees today...it is 9:00 right now and it is still 96. Getting into your car after it has been out in the sun is like getting into an oven. I hear that I may be bringing the weather home with me tomorrow...to all my Virginia friends, I am very sorry!!
I just finished a great book called Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller. I have had it on my Amazon list for a while as one that I wanted to read, but hadn't gotten around to it yet. When I arrived at my mom's house, she had it set out for me to read. She said that she knew I would love it and she was right. She said that as she read it, she often would think to herself "Kelly is going to love this." Going into the book with that knowledge was kind of intriguing...I often thought about which parts "reminded" her of me! Anyway, my mom knows me pretty well and I absolutely loved it.
His writing is, first of all, very honest. One of the things that I really related it to was his struggle with what he called our "self-addiction." I think if we are honest, we all suffer from self-addiction to one degree or another. He suggests that it is our addiction to self that is at the root of our brokenness and that we are unable to cure ourselves by ourselves. I thought this passage was particularly poignant:
For a moment, sitting there above the city, I imagined life outside of narcissism. I wondered how beautiful it might be to think of others as more important than myself. I wondered at how peaceful it might be not to be pestered by that childish voice that wants for pleasure and attention. I wondered what it would be like not to live in a house of mirrors, everywhere I go being reminded of myself.
This passage was found near the beginning of the book, as he is explaining the beginnings of his journey towards a deeper love for Jesus and his confusion about the Christianity that he witnessed around him. I could quote a hundred more wonderful passages along the way, but I really loved this part near the end of the book when he talks about his deepening understanding of Jesus.
I think I realized that if I walked up to His campfire, He would ask me to sit down, and He would ask me my story. He would take the time to listen to my ramblings or my anger until I could calm down, and then He would look me directly in the eye, and He would speak to me; He would tell me the truth, and I would sense in His voice and in the lines of His face that He liked me. He would rebuke me, too, and He would tell me that I have prejudice against very religious people and that I need to deal with that; He would tell me that there are poor people in the world and I need to feed them and that somehow this will make me more happy. I think He would tell me what my gifts are and why I have them, and He would give me ideas on how to use them. I think He would explain to me why my father left, and He would point out very clearly all the ways God has taken care of me throughout the years, all the stuff God protected me from.
I have found that I enjoy books that remind me of truths that I already know but that I may have forgotten temporarily. Miller's musings give voice to doubts that I have had and confirms answers that feel like truth to me. He gets to the heart of our struggle to be "good" and the beauty and simplicity of the answer that is Jesus. He also expresses frustrations that I have also experienced with "religiousity" and those who wound with tools meant to heal. I also appreciate his humility in knowing that none of us have even a fraction of the answers. Here's one last quote on the beauty of the mystery of God:
At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is the feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. I don't think there is any better worship than wonder.
In my family, there are lots of sets of sisters. When they/we are little, we are called "the girls" or the "little girls." My mom has just one sibling, her sister Carol. I have always loved my Aunt Carol and I got to visit with her yesterday as she lives here in Texas. She retired this year after teaching high school English for 25 years. We have always shared a love of reading and books...every time I see her, since I was very little, I have always asked her for a book recommendation and she always comes through with a great title for me. I can't wait to get the one she recommended yesterday! She and my mom, although different in many ways, have always shared a special bond that is unlike their relationship with their other girlfriends...a commitment that goes beyond common interests. There is something unique about those people that have known us our whole lives. Since their parents have died, they are part of a very small club in which they are the only members...they share memories and secrets that their husbands and children and friends can't share. When they were little, they were the little girls. When they were grown, they each had two little girls (in addition to my brother.) One of Carol's "little girls" also came to visit yesterday...now a beautiful, competent mother of 4! In addition to two precious little boys, she also has her own set of "little girls." (This is where we all start singing "The Circle of Life" from the Lion King :-)
So here is the point of all this: yesterday was my baby sister's 39th birthday. For those of you who read this blog regularly, you have heard about my sister before...if you read the comments, you have heard "from" my sister before. Karen is my lifetime best friend, the one who I have laughed and cried with more than any other woman in the world. We shared a room during part of our growing up years and we had a secret bedtime ritual all our own (that we still remember, by the way!) She is a woman of incredible personal strength and courage; she has faced some tough challenges in her life and has come out with her sense of humor and her faith in God intact. She is my hero in many ways and I admire and respect her more and more as I see her in the changing roles that life offers us...mom, wife, auntie, teacher, business woman. I watch my girls together and I pray for them to have the kind of relationship that Karen and I have. Now she has two little girls too (along with my precious nephew, who has been really sick for several days. Please take a minute to pray for his recovery, if you are a praying person.)
So anyway, I had sisters on the brain today...60 something sisters, 30-40 something sisters, pre-teen sisters, and little bitty sisters. So Happy Birthday, baby sister! You are one of God's biggest blessings in my life!
One of my favorite things about vacation is the sense of freedom I get from being away from "work." As a full-time domestic engineer, I sleep where I work. I eat where I work. I relax where I work. When I am at home, I always have this nagging sense of things that I need to do...my closet is a mess, the study needs organizing, the pictures need to be put in albums, the photos on the computer need backing up, the "scary" bowl needs dumping out, the garden needs to be weeded, etc., etc., etc. There is no way that everything is all done ever. The pantry, the girls' closets, the playroom shelves all call to me of things not quite done...projects unfinished.
Don't misunderstand; I am quite capable of ignoring all of those projects when I am at home. In fact, I mostly do ignore them in the business and distraction of life. But they are always there and, truth be told, I often feel guilty about the things left undone...those projects and tasks that I plan to get to "when I have time." But, while I am here, 1300 miles from home, I can't hear them calling. Clearly, they can wait until I return. So here, I read all I want, sleep all I want, visit with my loved ones all I want without the tyranny of the urgent things that are not quite done yet...the project that I really "should" do. No guilt...no sense of being pulled in different directions.
Those of us who choose to make our homes and families our full-time work need to learn to release ourselves from the unattainable goal of perfection...that just like our husbands and friends who work outside of the home, we must allow ourselves the freedom to walk away from the job that is not quite finished. That for today, what is done is enough. Unless I can learn to do that, I can never truly enjoy those "sabbath" moments in my home anymore than my husband can truly find respite and relaxation in his office. Then our homes can be the sanctuaries they are meant to be.
Hmmm, something to think more about....
We are in Texas doing our annual grandparent tour. We are blessed to have my mom and step-dad and my in-laws near one another in the Fort Worth area. We arrived on the 4th and have been with my in-laws so far. My mother-in-law planned a full itinerary for us and we have been having a blast. Right now, my girls and their cousins have a lemonade stand set up on the fringe of my in-law's back yard. Their back yard is on the 9th tee box of a golf course so there is a good deal of built-in business. In case you are in the area, there are some fabulous peanut butter cookies available along with the lemonade. The annual lemonade stand is just one of the many traditions that have developed over the years in our yearly sojourn to the home of our youth.
One of the usual drawbacks to our trip each year is that generally, Texas in July is almost unbearable...sweltering heat that makes us laugh when people in Virginia complain about the summer weather. In Virginia, they start counting days when it gets over 90. In Texas, a forecast of low 90s in July or August is a cold wave. Yet, so far this visit, the weather has been beautiful. We have toured Texas Motor Speedways and gone to a wildlife park called Fossil Rim. In both places, the heat would have generally taken away from the fun. However, this year it has been really nice. We have gone over 100 miles per hour in a special van on the straight away at the speedway and we have had giraffes eat out of our hand at the wildlife park. We have also been to a wonderful show called Granbury Live...a very entertaining musical variety show. We have been to the pool and eaten Mexican food. We have taken naps and read lots of books...I even had a margarita at 3:00 in the afternoon one day! Altogether, it has been a relaxing time with family. At first, I had access to my email, but that doesn't seem to be working now...probably a gift to be a bit disconnected from all that keeps me busy at home!
The other highlight of our trip so far has been our celebration of my in-law's 50th wedding anniversary. To celebrate this incredible milestone, we hired a limo to take us, along with 3 couples whom they have been friends with for years, out for a nice dinner. The limo was one that seated 16 and we had the limo driver give the kids a ride before we left for dinner. We went into Fort Worth for dinner (about a 45 minute ride) and enjoyed an evening full of toasts, memories, laughter and tears. Two of the couples with us have known my in-laws since the late 1950s! The only drawback to the evening was that my sister-in-law was unable to be with us because of the death of her father last week. There wasn't a dry eye at the table when my brother-in-law read the letter that she had sent to share her thoughts in her absence. In this time of throw away marriages, it was truly a blessing to celebrate a couple who had stuck with it for 50 years and still seem to be truly in love with one another. I am one of those lucky individuals who truly adore and enjoy my in-laws...I have known them since I was 16 years old and consider them to be my second parents. Because I met them when I was so young, I firmly believe that their influence has shaped who I am in many ways. I will treasure the memories that we made the night of our celebration and throughout the rest of this week. After a few more days here, we will move over to my parent's home where we have a whole new set of traditions to keep and memories to make. I'll write more then...now, it's probably time for a nap!