Friday, February 27, 2009

Aunt Vicki's Coming! Aunt Vicki's Coming!

Keith's sister Vicki is coming to visit this weekend. Actually, she's been going by Victoria more often for the last few years, but I don't know if I'll ever get used to that. She's always Vicki to me.

Anyway, we're cleaning and figuring out what to do with her while she's here. Vic's an easy houseguest. No pressure to impress or please or entertain. She already said she would be happy to just hang around the house relaxing and reading. But since it's her first visit here, we figure we need to show her the basics of our new home, so we're trying to establish what the basics are.

She'll see our new house, of course, and our new furniture (although the girls' new beds are supposed to be delivered tomorrow morning and probably won't be put together before she leaves). She'll go to church with us Sunday morning before she leaves, so she'll have the Sunnybrook experience.

She made a point of trying to be here during one of Eastin's basketball games so she could see her play. That's the kind of aunt she is. :) We'll also find some time to take her to our neighbor Pam's purse and jewelry shop: The Jewelry Lady. The minute I walked in there, I thought of Keith's sisters.

We'll drive her up to Le Mars to see Keith's office, to go through the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Museum (ooh, ahh) and to get some ice cream at the Blue Bunny ice cream parlor. It really does taste better at the parlor. And they offer some of their specialty items there, items that Keith and his food service division sell to restaurants but that you can't get in the grocery stores. Yum, yum. I'd better be down my one pound for the week tomorrow morning.

And the girls will want to take her to their new favorite restaurant: Hu Hot. A Mongolian grill just around the corner from our house. Way too close, because I love it as much as the girls. And an all-you-can-eat Mongolian grill is not good for the diet.

All in all, I'm looking forward to a nice weekend. If only it were a bit warmer. That prediction I made about snow on our property until March 1st? Well, I think the last bit of snow on our front lawn melted JUST in time for more snow to fall yesterday. If it weren't so cold out, I really wouldn't mind though. The roads are clear . . and the hills and valleys are actually very beautiful with a light blanket of white.

Yes, friends, there are hills and valleys in Sioux City. Lots of them! You really need to come out and visit. We'll take you to Hu Hot . . and the Jewelry Lady . . and feed you some great ice cream!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Un-VBS

Sunnybrook Church doesn't do VBS. It does something called "Skill School". It sounds like VBS on steroids.

Last year, over 700 kids from the area came to Skill School. This year, they're hoping to accommodate over 1000 -- they don't want to have to turn anyone away. Phenomenal.

I asked the Children's Ministry Director (Ms. Laurie) about it last night. They offer "clinics" in various topics (sports, crafts, hobbies, etc.) -- over 100 different clinics. Each kid (K-5) signs up for two -- the clinics are about 45 minutes long each day (Monday through Thursday). There's a large group session at the beginning and end of the morning, with a series of some kind of dramas, which basically is presenting the gospel in an entertaining way, apparently (they have videos on the website of last year's). And in between clinic sessions, the kids are in small groups with a leader to discuss the concepts presented in the large group sessions.

Then they end the whole thing Thursday evening with a huge outdoor carnival-like event -- with a giant water slide going down the hill at the side of the church and everything. Free food, free everything, open to anyone wanting to come. Wow.

The administrative and organizational requirements of an event like this are beyond conceiving. Ms. Laurie said it was already in place when she came to the church (it literally made her jaw drop to watch it happen) and has just grown exponentially in the three years she's been here. I can't wait to see it.

And I knew I had to have some part in it. Obviously, this takes hundreds of volunteers to pull off. As we were talking last night, I casually asked if they had a drama clinic, assuming there would be (I mean they have several soccer clinics, at least one for each age group). Nope. No one doing a drama clinic. Unbelievable.

So, now I guess I'm doing a drama clinic for Skill School in . . . yeesh, I don't even know when. Sometime in June, I think? It should be interesting. As anyone knows who has tried to get me to work in VBS before, my usual response is, "I'll do ANYTHING -- as long as you don't put me in a room with a bunch of kids all morning long for a week." I'm not a big crowd person -- I'm not a kid person -- I have a low tolerance for chaos -- I'm a control freak -- all in all, VBS is not for me. But I believe in the impact it can have, so I try to do what I can do to help . . without coming to a point of wanting to kill someone before the end of the week.

Laurie assures me that I won't have to deal with chaos and large crowds as a clinic leader. If so, I'm good. And it will be nice to get back into something really creative again.

But a thousand kids. A THOUSAND!!! I just can't imagine it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Seasonal Musings

Happy Ash Wednesday, everyone! Ahem . . well, actually . . I guess it isn't supposed to be a happy thing . .

Having grown up Southern Baptist, I never celebrated Lent. In fact, I don't remember it even being mentioned at my church. I heard about friends at school giving up things for Lent, so occasionally I did so, too, just to be fashionable. Not until we joined the Methodist church in NJ did I ever give much thought, really, to the season (or even refer to it as a "season").

I have, a few times over the years, given up something for Lent, just kind of for the sake of having the genuine "Lenten experience". It has often been a meaningful exercise. I can see the value of it. But I can also see how it can become a dry ritual, done merely for the sake of being religious . . . or fashionable.

I just read on my friend Sherrill's blog that she decided this year, instead of giving up something for Lent, she's going to add something for Lent. She's going to make a point of blogging every day, to sort of record her "journey" preparing to celebrate Easter. I thought that was an interesting take on it all.

Part of me feels about Lent (and Advent, another one we never did in my church) the way Jehovah's Witnesses feel about all holidays (at least, the way my Jehovah's Witness students I used to teach described it to me). I should always be in a mindset of remembering the sacrifice of Christ. Setting aside a certain time that I'm supposed to do it kind of minimalizes its importance for every day. But then Christ said at the Last Supper, "Do this in remembrance of me." God knows us better than we do. I guess he feels we need some rituals in our lives to keep us focused.

I'm still trying to decide if I'm going to mark the Lenten season in any particular way this year. (Yes, I know -- it's a little late to be thinking about this . . . ) I'd be curious to hear what the rest of you are doing. Actually, I kind of think that before I set about marking the season, I need to have a better idea of its purpose.

So, fill me in, friends! Why do you "do" Lent?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Just How Angry Is My God?

We're studying the Colonial times, so Leslie and I are reading Jonathan Edwards. One of the advantages of homeschooling is I can actually talk about the Puritan religion and its influence on the period in an accurate and meaningful way. Specifically, we're reading "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". Wow. It's seriously intense. No wonder the Puritans have such a bad reputation.

"The God that holds you over the pit of Hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked . . . you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours."

Yikes. I hate to say it, because I know there's a lot to respect and admire in Jonathan Edwards, but just reading this brings to mind a certain abominable preacher in Kansas who carries signs saying "God hates fags." (God doesn't hate fags. If he did, he would hate Fred Phelps no less. He would even hate Mother Theresa.)

The Puritans definitely swung to an extreme in their faith practice -- a lopsided emphasis on the sinfulness of man and the wrath of God. A mistaken focus on proving our righteousness through our sinless behavior. As if we could.

However, the "postmodern" church has swung to the other extreme. We seem to have forgotten that human beings are inherently sinful. We started believing the mis-informed notions of "experts" like Carl Rogers who told us that we're all goodness and perfection at birth and only get messed up by our life experiences, particularly the mistreatment of our parents. We believe in the myth of the innocence of childhood, that our natural state of being is one of rightness. We're afraid to tell people that sin is natural to them -- that they are sinners. I mean, it's such a turn-off. They won't come back to church anymore if we tell them that.

But it seems to me that the church does a grave disservice to the unbelieving world by neglecting to tell them that they are sinners. We seek to be so seeker-friendly that we forget to give them what they're really seeking -- the truth. My philosopher friend Eileen said once, "The church has to be careful that we don't try to attract the unbeliever by simply offering him his own idol of choice dressed in Christian garb." Amen.

We can't have any kind of meaningful relationship with God if we don't have a correct view of our sinfulness. How can we understand the greatness of God if we don't recognize the smallness of us? How can we appreciate the sacrifice of Christ if we don't comprehend the horrific depths of our sin? How can we fathom the unconditional love of God (and love him for it in return) if we aren't painfully aware of how hopelessly undeserving we are of that love -- which is why he gives it unconditionally?

No, we needn't scare the masses with visions of the Almighty dangling us over the flames of hell bellowing "Muaa ha ha ha!!" Nor do we need to parade around with hateful slogans on home-made signs. But we need to be honest. We need to speak truth. With love and humility.

And maybe that starts when we are honest with ourselves. "My name is Gwen, and I am a sinner."

"Hi, Gwen!"

Some Updates and Elaborations . .

Re: "The Sleep Saga" -- I called around the various medical facilities in the area looking for a sleep specialist and got a list, but they all require a referral from a primary care physician. So I called my neighbor and got a recommendation for a primary care physician -- with whom I have an appointment in a week or so -- but they need my records from my last doctor. So I called my family doctor in NJ to have my records forwarded to them, and they need a written confirmation of that request. And the saga continues. Somebody tell me how putting the government in charge of the health industry is going to make this any better . . .

Re: "Parenting with Disney" -- For those who were interested, the new Miley Cyrus song is called "The Climb". I think you can YouTube it (is that a verb now?). The video is pretty much the same old schlomp, but I like the song.

Re: "Trying to Fit In" -- I was visiting with one of those also-a-recent-transplant friends the other day and she confirmed my observations. A friend invited her to a swim party with a bunch of other moms last summer. They all politely introduced themselves, and then fell into their own conversations and left her sitting there alone. So strange. She also told me at roller skating last Friday that she was talking to a mom who just moved here from Texas in December who also said, "It seems like the friendliest people I've met are the people who aren't from here." So, it's not just me.

However, I don't want to disparage all of Siouxland women. That coffee shop lady at Macbeth the other night engaged me in conversation right away. And I had a nice conversation at the roller skating rink with a couple of ladies who seemed to actually be interested in me and my life (or at least how I teach writing to my kids . . that's a start).

Re: "It's a Good Day" -- Eastin made her second basket in a game yesterday. It was actually pretty funny. When her teammate threw the ball in to her from the sidelines, everyone else -- on both teams -- was confused and at the wrong side of the court. She had a straight shot to dribble right up to the basket and shoot. Although, from the look on her face, you could tell that they had her doubting herself about it, too . . why is everybody over there?

Re: "Desperately Praying Parent" -- Leslie's small group at Middle School JAM is doing a sleepover this Friday night. Leslie is not only going, but is excited about going. When I pointed out to her that Friday's the day her aunt is coming to visit, she quickly asked, "I'm still going to the sleepover, aren't I?" This is good.

Re: "Remembering the Sabbath" -- Sunnybrook is about to change its Sunday morning worship schedule again. Three services (actually six, since in each time slot they do two services), at 8:30, 10:00, and 11:30. So now our routine will be disrupted again. This church needs a bigger sanctuary. Or they need to do a church plant and divide up. I always wondered why people reject that choice so quickly.

Re: "Sin and Annihilation" -- It occurred to me after I wrote this that some of my friends may be a little disturbed by what I had to say. Let me clarify that I was doing some thinking out loud there. Just trying to find the connections in all the different strands God seemed to be bringing to my mind at the time. Thus, all the "hmmmmmmmm"s.

Re: "My Idol of Choice" -- Still struggling with these issues . . . still listening to God on this one . . . still happy to hear comments from others . . . more to follow, I'm sure.

How's that for a shameless attempt to get all you new folks to go back and read my old blogs? :)

Friday, February 20, 2009

All the World's a Stage . . At Least a Reasonable Chunk of Siouxland Is

So, I went to the theater again last night. Different theater. In fact, it has occurred to me that Siouxland has a good number of theater opportunities around here.

I already mentioned the Sioux City Community Theater where Leslie and I saw Holes. The girls and I are going to see Mulan Jr. there tomorrow night. And there was the Lamb Productions Theater where I saw Doubt. Excellent show. And of course, the grand Orpheum Theater that has its Broadway series (this coming week is Bye Bye Birdie, but I think I'm going to pass on that).

But I saw an article in the paper this weekend that reminded me there are two colleges in town. Last night, I saw Macbeth at Morningside College. It was a commendable performance (a tough play to do) -- well worth the $5 ticket and a couple hours of my time. Briar Cliff University also has a theater department. They're doing a Bertolt Brecht play in April. I imagine I'll be attending that one alone as well--doesn't sound like anything Keith or any of my friends would find entertaining.

And then, the woman I sat by at Macbeth last night (very nice lady . . apparently runs the coffee shop on campus there) reminded me that there's supposed to be a neat little theater in LeMars, the town where Blue Bunny is. They're doing a show called "The Marriage Counselor" next week. Might have to check that out. Apparently, they perform in an old renovated post office . . . that ought to be interesting enough to see in itself.

I've also been talking to some people about getting together some kind of drama program for the homeschoolers here in Sioux City. They've done some stuff in the past; they just need someone to head it up, I guess. So here I go again. The more we talk, however, the more excited I'm getting about it.

Now, if I could just fly Jo Robinson out here every week to come with me to all these shows, I'd be set. :)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Candy Land is Heaven, Of Course"

I've shared here before about one of my favorite writers, Andree Seu. She wrote a wonderful blog this morning making an analogy with the game Candyland. I love it:

Seu also writes a column in nearly every issue of World Magazine, and she has three books out that are compilations of these columns. I love her.

I'm going to make Andree fans out of some of you yet. :)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Parenting with Disney

I was checking all my friends' blogs this morning, as I do every morning. (Get up, get dressed, wake the girls, weigh myself, let the dog out, pour the mini-wheats and OJ, read emails/Facebook/blogs -- I am all about routine.) One of my friends has a blog titled "The Other Side". Every time I see that, I hear Miley Cyrus, aka Hannah Montana, singing in my head for the next hour: "The other side . . the other side . . the other side of me . ."

This annoys me because that's one of my least favorite of her songs. But it also appalls me how ingrained Disney Channel tunes are in my psyche. I had a friend once who believed that McDonald's was Satanic because her baby reacted to the golden arches before she was even able to digest a french fry. Well, Disney's got it all over Micky D's. If I allowed it, my kids could be saturated in Disney from the moment they wake up to Hannah Montana on the radio until they go to sleep at night in their High School Musical pj's.

As I said, s-s-s-satanic.

However, I remember my pride one particular Halloween when Leslie was a young thing. Keith went with her to pick up her friend next door to go trick-or-treating. He greeted Danielle by saying, "Oh! You're Sleeping Beauty!" Danielle's mom was amazed that Keith could distinguish his Disney princesses. Of course he could. Sleeping Beauty wears a pink dress -- blond hair, worn down around her shoulders.

At work, about the same time, Keith and some colleagues were discussing a new woman who someone said looked just like the girl in Aladdin. Keith nodded knowingly and said, "Jasmine." The other guys cracked up -- they thought it was hysterical that he actually knew the name of the girl in Aladdin! Well, of course, he did. He had two daughters under 8.

That's something that has always made me proud of Keith. He pays attention to his daughters' world. If it's important to his girls, it's important to him. That's one characteristic of a good daddy. Contrast this with my father . . who was truly a great man in many, many ways -- but I'm not sure he would have recognized most of my good friends if he saw them on the street, much less have accurately called them by name.

So, maybe it's OK that I hum Disney tunes in my head all day. At least I know what my kids are watching and listening to. And to be honest, Miley Cyrus is pretty good, and getting better all the time (LOVED her new song they premiered last night).

And at least we're past the stage of Teletubbies. And the Big Comfy Couch. And the Wiggles. Ew. Creepy . . .

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Trying to Fit In

One of my biggest surprises -- and disappointments -- about Iowa so far is how clique-ish the people seem to be. I really wasn't expecting that. When I moved to New Jersey, people were rather closed off. A handful of people (like my next-door neighbor) made an effort to pull me into a group, which made the difference. But I expected that when I moved to New Jersey -- that's what people are supposed to be like in New Jersey. In the Midwest, we're friendly! I know -- I'm from the Midwest!

I'm wondering if I got spoiled by my homeschool co-op. That was one of the most friendly, open-armed group of women I've known. There was such a family atmosphere there. When someone new joined, we made a point of trying to get to know them and their children . . to match their kids up with others their ages to be friends . . to understand their backgrounds and their needs and their gifts they had to offer the group . . to find a place where they fit in. I think I got the impression that that was just what homeschoolers were like.

Contrast that with my first experiences with the homeschool support group here. Now, granted, this is a support group and not a co-op, which is different. And there are about 100 families in the group, so you're just not going to get to know everyone.

But let me describe my second "Moms Night Out" meeting with the group here. It was Tuesday night of Thanksgiving week, so attendance was very low. I came in and saw a table with only two women at it and sat there, thinking that would be an easy small group for me to melt into for the night. The two women glanced at me and smiled . . and continued their conversation. I waited for an opportune moment to gently step in and introduce myself, and they kindly introduced themselves. I mentioned that I'd only been in Sioux City for a month or so and still didn't really know anyone. They smiled and said, "Welcome!" . . . and went back to their conversation.

It was so strange to me. They didn't ask about me, my family, why I moved here, how long I've homeschooled, nothing. I, again, tried to find times to gently "weasel" into their conversation (which was obviously not a private one as they were speaking loud enough for anyone at the table to hear) and ask questions about their own families, etc. -- which they occasionally reciprocated with a polite question back at me . . . and then they turned back to their conversation.

Now, I hate to judge these two. Maybe they were tired and worn and needed an evening to just relax and visit with a good friend. I've been there. But the thing is, this seems to be the pattern with most of these women. We go to the homeschool PE activity every Friday afternoon, and very rarely does anyone approach me to make my acquaintance. Other than the next-door neighbor who brought us a goody-bag the day we moved in, I think I've initiated nearly every friendship I've made here.

It's just odd to me to look at these women who know I'm new, who see me sitting alone . . and they immediately go over to a friend (the same friend I see them with every week) and sit to talk to them. And if I go over to try to join into the conversation, there's no fitting me into the discussion . . no explaining to me what they're talking about . . no asking about me and my situation to engage me . . I mean, they don't glare at me or turn their backs (I did get that once in NJ), but there's just no effort to pull me in.

Of the handful of women I've gotten to know best here, half of them have just moved here themselves.

I remember the first year or so in NJ wondering about the unique characteristics of the people I had met. Is it because this is New Jersey? Is it because it's wealthy, materialistic Voorhees? Is it because they're Catholic, or Methodist, or just not "Bible Belt"? Now I'm wondering about the clique-y people here. Is it because they're farmers? Is it because they're conservative? Is it because this is Iowa?

Or maybe it's me. Hmm. Nah, couldn't be. :)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

It's a Good Day.

Let's start with the basketball game. Eastin's. She's number 23. Yeah, that's Michael Jordan's number. Uh huh. The man's got nuthin' on my girl.

You remember that she's never played basketball in her life before she started in this league a month ago. But she was hot today! Grabbing at the ball, getting rebounds (or at least going for them aggressively), dribbling down the court (although still with her eyes focused on the ball the whole time) . . and to everyone's joy, making her first basket ever during a game!!! Yeah!!! The coach and her family were on their feet, hands in the air, wahoo-ing to beat the band!

Then, there was the after-game party. Eastin invited her team over for pizza and Valentine's snacks. Only half the team could be here, but they had a great time. A big relief for me, because, as I think I've mentioned before, I'm not a great hostess or much of an entertainer. But the girls all seemed to hit it off and entertained themselves pretty well. A successful endeavor.

And then, there was the scale this morning. In my efforts to lose weight again, I have been limiting my sweets intake to Saturdays only -- and then only if I've lost at least one full pound since the last Saturday. I was not expecting to have met my goal this morning, and I was going to be completely BUMMED to go through a Valentine's Day without any kind of sweets (actually, to be honest, I'd already decided to eat something anyway, as a V Day gift to myself). But wonder of wonders . . I found myself down 1.7 pounds this morning! Another wahoo!! Now I can enjoy my cupcake and chocolate with no guilt.

Yet another small cause for rejoicing: Keith was able to put our new coat racks on the wall by the door going out to the garage this morning -- so we can get rid of the busted-up old floor-standing coat rack that takes up half the entryway from the garage and keeps falling over from the weight of our winter coats. Glory, hallelujah.

And WHAT'S MORE . . I get to go out on a date night with my husband on Valentine's Day!

Oh, yeah. It's a good day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sin . . and Annihilation

I've been reading lately from the book of Numbers (a reading-thru-the-Bible thing -- I knew you were wondering why Numbers, of all things). This is the uncomfortable part of the Bible. Where God tells the Israelites to annihilate the Canaanites. Totally. In fact, in their first battle, they spare the Midianite women and He says, "Hello? Did you hear me? I said to kill them all!"

This is the stuff that atheists point to and say, "Yeah -- that's a loving God." And it is troubling. But as I'm reading it, I have other thoughts floating through my head that mingle with these stories and . . well, somehow, I think they all head somewhere . . .

- I was remembering a deep discussion with a friend in 9th grade. We were talking about some radically Pentecostal friends of hers who believed that women cutting their hair was a sin -- as was wearing pants, or makeup. What we wondered was, if this woman genuinely believed that cutting her hair was a sin . . and then she cut her hair . . had she sinned? She'd deliberately chosen to defy God. Isn't that the essence of sin? Is sin the behavior, or the rebellious attitude behind the behavior? Hmmmmm

- The story of Balaam is right before this in Numbers. (Check it out -- a donkey talks. Really.) I've read it before, but not thoroughly. What I noticed this time is that Balaam, the "prophet" for the Midianites, claims to be speaking the words of the LORD. That's LORD, in all caps, meaning Yahweh, Jehovah, the Israelite God. Apparently, the Midianites weren't innocent, ignorant heathens. Apparently, they knew Jehovah. In fact, they even got a specific clear warning from Him through Balaam to leave the Israelites alone -- a warning that even Balaam ignored. Hmmmmmm

- I wrote a skit last summer about a person looking down a terrifying path that God clearly wants her to take, and deciding she can't do it. Her faith just isn't strong enough. And she expects God to walk away from her, because she failed Him. But He doesn't. He understands. He wishes she would go, because He has blessing waiting for her there, but if she decides not to, that isn't going to destroy their relationship. He knows her heart. She's not acting out of rebellion, but out of weakness. "He knows we are dust . . ." Hmmmmmm

- The first part of the Sermon on the Mount is all about "you have heard it said" that this action is sin, "but I say to you" that the attitude of the heart that leads to that action is the sin. The Pharisees kept every piddly part of the law, but Jesus said you wouldn't enter the kingdom of heaven unless you were MORE righteous than that. Unless your heart attitude was right. Hmmmmm

- I told you I'm squirming through Anne Lamott's book. I'm not sure why -- I think because she claims to be a Christian, to have given her life to Jesus, and yet she . . . well, she still sins. A lot. I don't know why that bothers me -- as if I don't sin. A lot. I guess I think of my sins as small, hidden, tucked-away ones that are easily excused, while hers are big, blatant, before-the-world ones that will "harm her testimony". Ick. I sound like such a Baptist right now. And I don't mean that affectionately.

I'm not sure where I'm headed with this. It's just that they all seem connected somehow. Sin isn't cutting your hair, or being a wimp, or sacrificing your child on an altar. Sin is deciding to be your own god -- and if you've decided that, good or bad behavior doesn't matter anymore. You're a sinner. You may be a good sinner, who's loved and respected in your community and seems to live a charmed life, but you're still a sinner. You may be a bad sinner, who reeks havoc on the lives of others and suffers the consequences of your own actions -- but you're a sinner because of your heart.

And only God knows the heart. Only God knows when He has been permanently rejected as your deity of choice. Only God knows when the rebellious heart of an entire nation -- or group of nations -- has passed the point of no return.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Good Story

I'm reading a book called Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott, at the recommendation of a friend. I'm about halfway through, and I'm still trying to decide what I think of it. I've heard Lamott described as the female Donald Miller (no . . actually it was that Donald Miller is the male Anne Lamott), and I really like Blue Like Jazz (although I didn't care for Searching for God . . quite as much), so I went in with high hopes.

One thing I do like about it --and that I liked about Miller's Jazz: their stories are fascinating. I mean, their personal spiritual stories, particularly of how they came to know God and Christ. Neither of them are conventional Christians, and some of what they have to say about their current walks and faith make me squirm a little (I may be writing more about that later), but they are walking, talking testimonies of the fact that there is a God and He is in the life-changing business.

Keith and I have, in the past, bemoaned the fact that we have boring testimonies. I mean, we grew up in the church . . . we were good kids . . . we've always known Jesus at some level . . . you know? There isn't any dramatic moment we can point to and say, "Look how messed up my life was, and how Jesus came and fixed it all! Hallelujah! To God be the glory!" It's kind of a bummer.

Now, I'm not saying I would have changed anything in my life, that I wish I'd been a druggie or something for the sake of spicing up my story. But it seems that a Christian -- ANY Christian -- really should be able to point to specific episodes in their lives that they know are evidence that God was at work.

Pastor Jeff M. talked about that today (gotta distinguish him from the "real" Pastor Jeff in Voorhees!). About caring about the spiritual lives of others, without being an obnoxious, overbearing Bible-thumper. He talked about sharing your story. And I nodded and said "Amen" (well, I said it inside anyway). That's right. That's what people need to hear. Your story. What God has done for you.

Unfortunately, I think there's too many of us (us, meaning the general church-going world of believers) that, sadly, couldn't come up with a specific, genuine, significant story of what God has done for us if our lives depended on it. And I think that's because we live pretty wimpy Christian lives. We don't really expect God to do great things for us, so we don't put ourselves in a position where He has anything great to do. Occasionally, things come up beyond our control: cancer, accidents, job layoffs, etc. But even then, I think we try so much to handle it ourselves, we don't see the hand of God when it is there.

Our God is too small. No, He isn't. We just don't recognize His Bigness and act on it. I mean, if we all really believed , really believed, that God is exactly who He says He is -- ALL-knowing, ALL-powerful, ALL-loving -- what difference would that make in our lives? How much more boldly would we live?

Bold. I like that word. Make me bold, Lord.

The Sexy Post -- Not For the Kids

Keith has noted (as have I) the dramatic reduction in comments to my blog posts lately. I just figured everyone was busy, or out of the habit of checking their friends' blogs on a regular basis. Keith, however, suggests that I need more sex and violence in my blog.

O-o-okee dokee then.

It has occurred to me lately that as I've aged (ooh, that sounds ugly), my idea of what is sexy has changed, too. I look now at the celebrities I used to drool over -- Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt -- and I'm much less than enthusiastic. Mainly because most of them have all but imploded before the world or proven themselves to be jerks. Sad, sad.

Also, I've been getting in touch, via Facebook, with a lot of friends I haven't seen since '86 . . or '83 . . or even '80. And I look at these guys' profile pictures and think, "NOO! That CAN'T be him!" But then as I get used to seeing them, I think they don't look bad at all. In fact, in many cases, they look better!

So here's a list of stuff that I find sexy these days that I never thought sexy before.

Gray hair. Absolutely. My husband's family sometimes teases him about his grays and hints about hair coloring. I always emphatically tell him to ignore them. I like his gray hair. I think it makes him look distinguished.

Wrinkles. Not huge folds across your face, but the crinkles around the eyes and mouth when a guy smiles -- again, quite distinguished.

A bit of extra weight. Again, not folds and folds of fat. And I don't have anything against a fit body, obviously. But a lot of guys look better with some extra fat in select spots to smooth the angularity of their faces and bodies. A bit of a belly does not detract from a man's sexiness. What does detract . . . self-absorption and pride in washboard abs. Yawn.

Baldness. When it is worn well. There are some sexy bald men out there. (Of course, I do note that my husband has a full head of hair still -- as does his father twenty years his senior -- so I don't expect to have to deal with this one.)

Facial hair. This isn't necessarily a factor of growing old, but I didn't use to care that much for it. I mean, some guys really benefitted from some hair on the face, but many really did not. I have much more of a fondness for a fuzzy face these days. Keith stopped shaving the month he was between jobs this summer, and I loved it. Especially because it came out all salt-and-peppery. I wished he could have kept it. But he thought it might not be a good idea to start a new job looking that much different than he did at interviews . . . said maybe he'll try to grow it again later, after they're convinced they want him no matter what he looks like.

Charm. OK, charm has always been sexy, but now even more so. Guys really don't have to be good-looking for a woman to find him attractive. Sexiness is complicated for a woman -- as is sex itself. (Poor guys -- you gotta feel for them.)

Having said all that, I still contend that I married the sexiest man around. And I don't just say that because he reads my blogs and pays my mortgage. :) Love you, hon!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

I Hate Shopping

Really. I mean, I know this calls my gender into question, but I really hate shopping. At least, shopping for non-consumables, such as clothes, furniture, etc. And the fact that I had to drive to Omaha this morning and spend all afternoon doing such shopping should bring pity into all of your hearts.

We need new furniture for our living room. What we have in here now, we bought for our first house about 18 years ago. It's really worn out. It has needed replacing for quite a while. So, we trekked down to Nebraska Furniture Mart to see what they had.

Good heavens! You've never seen a massive collection of furniture like that. It was overwhelming. It made my head swim and ache.

We had a pretty good idea of what we wanted going in, so at least we were able to eliminate a good 7/8 of what they had. But still, the stuff that we didn't eliminate all started to look the same . . . it all melted together in my mind . . . I couldn't distinguish one from another, or anything there from what we'd already looked at here . . . it started to seem like a completely pointless exercise. This is when I usually say, "Whatever," and do eeny meeny miney mo.

But there was one set we saw that was different, and that I really liked. Great big pillows for the back cushions and more pillows for leaning on. It was soft, cushy, and cozy. Nothing trendy or fashionable ("Home Beautiful" magazine will not be featuring our living room), just comfortable and roomy. That's what we wanted. Unfortunately, it was a much darker color than I wanted, but Keith thinks it will work fine. I'll trust him. I am no good at visualizing such things (which is one reason I hate shopping).

So, we have new living room furniture arriving in a couple weeks, and a couple new beds for the girls. They fell in love with these bunk beds -- bed on top, futon on the bottom. We decided that those are actually pretty practical for them. They need better seating in their rooms anyway. And how handy for sleepovers!

Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of it. I also needed a new winter coat. I don't even remember how old my current one is -- although I know the zipper broke when I was pregnant with Eastin, so that gives you a clue. Leslie and I went in to Burlington Coat Factory (don't have that in Siouxland) to find me a new one. There was nothing . . I repeat, nothing, that I liked. And if there had been, I wouldn't have been able to find it because there were too many coats. Sigh. I finally settled on something I think I can live with and rushed out as quickly as I could.

I hate shopping. I hate making purchases that will somehow be a reflection of me to everyone who sees it. "The clothes make the man (or woman)", they say. Please no! Don't look at what I wear -- or sit on or display on my mantle and walls -- and assume anything about me! I don't know how to express myself that way. You'll get me all wrong!

Words. I need words to communicate. That's what words are for.

And don't tell me to start wearing T-shirts with stupid sayings on them. I hate those. Ugh.


I had a most enjoyable evening out at the theater last night. All alone, but still enjoyable. I saw Doubt, A Parable at the Lamb Productions Theater (sounds like it should be a Christian theater or something, but it isn't). They bill themselves as the only professional theater company in the region, but I'm not exactly sure what that means. I know that I've never seen notices for auditions for any of their productions. They have a school -- maybe you have to get involved with their school to get noticed by them and put in productions. Whatever.

But it was an excellent show. An excellent play and and excellent production. Their theater is in an old elementary school building and is quite small, which surprised me. But for this production, it worked really well to be so intimately close to the actors.

The crux of the show is the suspicions that this nun, who principals a school, has about the local priest having an inappropriate relationship with a boy in the school. It's a fascinating play, because you vacillate back and forth through the whole thing about whether she's right or not -- and even about whether you want her to be right or not.

But the most thought-provoking part of it for me was the character of the nun, Sister Aloysius. She's tough, hard, legalistic, and fiercely protective of these kids, even to the point of accepting excommunication if that's what it takes. At least, you think that some of the time -- some of the time, you wonder if she just doesn't have some kind of axe to grind with this guy, or if she's become too suspicious and cynical and lost any sense of love and compassion . . . or if that kind of cynicism and coldness is a "necessary evil" in a sinful world.

She says a couple times in the play something to the effect that, one has to turn away from God when one turns to face evil. Hmmm. The first time she says it, it's almost a side-note, just said in passing. The second time has much more significance.

I feel like I want to see the play over again -- a few more times -- to decide what I really think of it. Or more specifically, what I really think of her. I know the big "mystery" of the play is whether the priest has sinned or not. But I'm more concerned with whether Sister Aloysius has sinned or not. If she has genuinely turned away from God -- even temporarily -- and if that was really as necessary as she said. And if I am more like her than I want to admit, Pharisee that I am.

I hope not. She can't be right that facing evil requires turning away from God. Surely, the only way to rightly deal with evil is to see it through God's eyes. How to accomplish that -- that's the big question.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Yeah . . I'm a Junkie . .

An update on the Nyquil episode:

Keith found out at a dinner last night why they card people buying Nyquil. It is a major ingredient in the making of meth. (Forgive my ignorance if everyone else knew that -- I'm not up on my illegal drug manufacturing techniques.) So, they're not checking me for my age; they're tracking me for frequency of purchase. Interesting . . and considering that Nyquil is the only thing that seems to put me to sleep anymore, I may need to watch myself. The feds will come after me and search the basement for a lab. (Good luck to them. The basement's a wreck. There may be a meth lab down there for all I know.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Trusting My Gut

One of the toughest things for me as a parent these days is following my instincts. Take our mornings, for instance. Say, this morning.

The girls have been getting out of bed later and later every morning. Our standing rule has been, school starts at 9. They have chores to get done before school starts -- as long as those chores get done before 9, it doesn't matter what time they get up. Up until now, that has always seemed very reasonable and simple--nothing they could argue.

But my gut has been telling me that part of the reason they're lethargic and cranky and bickering during the day has to do with the fact that they sleep so late in the morning. I know that I get that way when I sleep late. When I'm up at a good hour and get my morning work done with time to spare, I feel pulled together and ready for the day. When I sleep late, I feel like I'm always behind, all day long (even if technically, I'm not--I still feel that way).

So, I told both girls last night that they were expected to be out of bed by 7:30 -- soon after their dad came in to say goodbye before leaving for work. And I knew I'd be fighting them about it this morning.

"Why do I have to get up?" "But I'll get my chores done!"

And the problem is, I have no answer to give them other than, "because I said so." It's just that my gut tells me this is what they need. Maybe I'm wrong, but I at least want a chance to find out. So, then I feel like an ogre, demanding behavior of them that I can't give a reason for, and succumbing to the "I'm the mom" argument to justify it.

Makes me cranky and whiny about it all, too.

OK, so there's another tough thing for me as a parent these days: consistency. Persistence. Stick-to-my-guns-edness. Whatever you call it. Confidence. I'm confident that getting an earlier start to their day will help in a lot of other areas in our family, so I'm going to make it happen whether I can articulate the reason for it or not.

I think.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Remembering the Sabbath

When I was growing up, there was much more emphasis (at least in my circle) on keeping the Sabbath Day "holy". We went to church in the morning and evening. My parents spent the afternoon reading the newspaper and napping -- no housework, no grading school papers, no gardening, no shopping unless absolutely necessary. It wasn't that they were legalistic about it, exactly; that's just how we spent the day.

But it always struck me as odd that on Sunday--our day of rest--Mom would make the biggest, nicest dinner of the week. Usually a pot roast (apparently a Southern Baptist thing?). Even though it was just Dad, me and her. Tell me -- what is restful about that?

Of course, that thought didn't occur to me while she was doing it . . . only many years later when I was wife of my own household and felt obligated to do it as well. I occasionally made an effort, but with just me and Keith -- plus one or two small children who wouldn't eat anything prepared for a "nice" dinner -- it seemed kind of pointless.

Our last few years in NJ, I started a new routine for our family: Sunday lunch is the time to eat up the leftovers from the week. (This was handy, because I did my weekly grocery shopping on Sunday nights -- the slowest time of the week for grocery stores, especially during football season, especially when the Eagles were playing well.) Now, that was restful. Pull out the Tupperware, open it up, put out paper plates. Everyone piles their own meal on a plate and heats it themselves.

But since we've been here, we have a new routine. We eat out after church every Sunday. I realize this is not a unique concept -- scores of preachers time their sermons so the congregation can get to the restaurants before the Presbyterians (or Methodists . . or Baptists . . insert rival denomination here). But it was new for us. Partly because we're cheap and don't eat out much unless it's a date night or fast food (reference my early post about my husband being a good money manager). But also because eating out was something of a no-no when I was growing up, too. Maybe you didn't have to work when you ate out, but somebody did. (Interestingly, the only Sunday lunches I remember eating out were on Mother's Day. Hmm!!)

I'm really enjoying eating out for Sunday lunch. I like trying different restaurants each week. I like visiting with the family about the church service without a TV nearby to distract us.

But I still revert to my parents' Sunday afternoon habits. I nap. I read. I learned long ago that I genuinely need one day a week to rest -- to do nothing, at least nothing that has to be done. There were Sundays in Jersey when I went to an afternoon matinee of a show, because that was the only time I could get there . . or we would get some shopping done, because that was the only available time to do it . . but I always regretted it later in the week. I desperately need that down time. When I have it, my batteries get regenerated for the upcoming week. When I don't, they don't.

So, God knew what He was doing when He gave us one day out of seven to rest. Really . . . I need to remember more often that His ideas are always better than mine.