Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Laptop Fast

Last Saturday evening, I opened my laptop and the screen was blank. I restarted it and it was running v-e-r-y, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y . . . slow enough to make me want to throw it against the wall. My husband, being much more rational about such things, took the device in hand Sunday afternoon and began the long, drawn-out process of fixing it. Long story short -- I didn't actually have my laptop back in earnest until this morning. But Kudos to my husband! If I didn't live with someone with his kind of computer knowledge, I would be SO up a creek.

Anyway, the last three days without a laptop have been enlightening. I wasn't totally cut off from the cyberworld -- the girls have a little Netbook, and we have the big computer downstairs in the basement, all of which hook up to the internet. But all my documents and my bookmarks and my life were on my laptop.

I am a woman obsessed. I can't tell you how many times I found myself standing in my family room or kitchen in the last three days, completely lost and unnerved because I couldn't get on my laptop. Okay, "completely lost and unnerved" may be a bit of an exaggeration. But I was certainly at a loss for what to do with myself.

I didn't realize how often I habitually open that laptop and mindlessly click on my emails . . check Facebook . . . play a quick game of Spider Solitaire . . . it's like, after every short interval of real-life activity, I have to recuperate with several minutes of screen time. Ab-so-lute-ly pathetic.

This is a habit I have to break now. It's not like I'm a high-level executive who needs to be connected with a myriad of people at all times or risk financial ruin and professional demise. I'm a middle-aged stay-at-home mom. Yeesh.

So, I'm trying to figure out just how often I REALLY need to check my emails. I'm thinking, three times a day -- morning, lunch, and late afternoon. And how often I REALLY need to check in with Facebook. Well, that's harder, cuz I don't truly need to ever be there. But I'm going to try once in the morning and once in late afternoon.

As I said, I lost all my bookmarks -- blogs I used to frequent, online games I used to play. I decided not to replace them. Maybe if it isn't as easy to click myself there, I won't waste so much time online doing those things. If I find I'm truly missing one of them in my life, I can always find it again and bookmark it. (Already did that for Andree Seu's blog.) But if I can do without, I'll do without.

I feel cleansed. Like I've been through rehab. I'd recommend a three-day computer fast to all of you -- does wonders for getting you back in line with reality.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Allow me to bemoan for a minute the condition of my puppy dog.

He's not really a "puppy" dog anymore. He's almost 16. And he's such an old man, bless his heart.

He has arthritis in his hips, and his hind legs just don't work right anymore. This morning, when I went to get him up, he was lying on the floor of his room, spread-eagle, whining because he couldn't stand up. That happens all too often -- if he's on a slick surface (like much of our main floor), his legs aren't strong enough to resist the slide and keep his belly up off the ground. I have to pick him up and carry him over to the carpet where his feet won't slip.

I expect that doing his "outside business" is going to be an issue before long, because his hind legs have to support a lot of weight in his peeing or pooping positions. It's already a problem in the winter. When it's icy, or the snow is deep, he just can't maneuver himself like he needs to. (Which means we're cleaning up a like of crap in the house -- pun intended.)

He also starts doing this thing with his right hind leg on particularly cold days. Like the foot is injured -- he holds it up and hobbles, stepping on it gingerly when he has to. But that's only when he's outside in the cold snow. Once he's inside the door for ten seconds, his foot's all fine. I'd suspect he was trying to trick me into taking him in out of the cold, but he doesn't seem to be that smart anymore. He forgets from day to day which side the door opens from.

Poor mutt. Love that dog.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Stepping into the Gap

So, a couple posts ago (check it out, if you haven't read it), I wrote about being a conservative. And I said that if I really think the government has no business stepping in to take care of people to the extent that it is doing, then I (and other conservatives) should be prepared to step into the gap myself-- to make the effort to alleviate some of those needs so government intervention isn't necessary.

I'll admit, I haven't done that as much as I should. I've been able to soothe my conscience about the matter by pointing to our charitable giving. Keith and I are faithful tithers. (For those of you who don't know, that means we give ten percent of our income to our church. That's not to brag. We were both taught to do that from an early age and it doesn't even really feel like a sacrifice. We are thrifty folk [read: cheap], and we save a lot -- we've pretty much always lived on significantly less than ninety percent of our income, even when our income was significantly less.)

We give beyond our tithing as well. Keith has commented before, while doing our taxes, that we are apparently in the top . . uh . . well, the top some-very-small-percentage of charitable givers in the country, according to tax records. I always thought that wasn't a commendation for us as much as a condemnation of the rest of the country, because we were there long before Keith was making the kind of money he is now -- and I know how much more we could be giving.

In any case, giving money isn't enough for me anymore. As I said, our charitable giving doesn't even feel like a sacrifice. Frankly, I don't think I personally know anyone who gives to the needy to the point of great personal sacrifice. I wish I did know such a person -- such love might motivate me to that kind of love, too.

I find that what most stands in the way of my "stepping into the gap" is being aware of where the need is. I mean, yeah -- I know there are poor people around. Sick people. Mistreated. Lacking opportunities. But I don't know many of them personally.

The truth is, I live a rather sheltered life. My homes have been in neighborhoods where there was little material need; same with my schools (when we've utilized them) and my churches. This was one reason I appreciated my homeschool co-op in New Jersey. We had a good cross-section of people from many walks of life (although they were all Christian). It occurred to me the first year we were in that group that this was the first time my eldest had known kids who didn't get everything they asked for for Christmas. Kinda pathetic.

So, what I'm wondering is, how do I break out of this bubble? What do I do to meet people who have the kinds of needs I could help with? And I don't necessarily mean meet, like, "Hi! This is Sally, the single mom we're bringing a Thanksgiving meal to through our holiday service project. Enjoy your dinner -- have a good life!" Our church here in Sioux City does a lot of service projects for the community, and that's one of the things I like about it. But number one, those projects sometimes seem like the equivalent of giving a candy bar to a starving child -- it's kind and certainly cheers them, but it doesn't really meet their deepest needs. And number two, those projects are often intentionally set up to be easy, one-time experiences -- no real sacrifice or commitment involved. The "servant" goes away feeling good that they did a good deed -- and the "served" continues their previous life relatively unchanged.

Not what I have in mind.

So, as I said, I want to explore these questions with you all. I'd kind of like to see this blog used as a forum for sharing ideas about how to "step into the gap". Who do you know that does this effectively? Sacrificially? Where do you make the connections needed to make a difference? Tell your stories, and I'll post them here (I'll leave out names, if you want). Let's share the information, motivation and inspiration. I'd love to see more than just myself feeling convicted about this and making a change.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I watched a documentary yesterday called "The Lottery". It's about the Harlem Success charter school; it followed the stories of four families hoping to get chosen in the lottery to get their kids into the school. It also talked about the other failing schools in Harlem and the extreme opposition to the successful charter schools there. In the end, only one of the children was chosen in the lottery, although another one stayed on the wait list and was the last one admitted when others backed out. The whole thing made me cry. So heart-breaking.

I share all this only to explain why I haven't watched this speech that President Obama made yesterday. I seem to be kind of emotional lately, and I'm afraid it'll make me cry. Just the thought of this little girl who was killed last Saturday almost does me in. I have seen sound bites, and I've read quotes. It sounds like it was a good speech.

And it sounds like he was saying was I've been saying all year. Politics has got to stop being so ugly and personal. I know, it's probably always been this way. But this is why so many people hate politics.

I was glad to hear him state emphatically that no person's rhetoric was responsible for the deaths that happened last Saturday. Because that's so clearly true now. I'm kind of tired of hearing Sarah Palin's map with the bull's-eyes on it being touted as hate speech. Sarah Palin or any ugliness coming out of her mouth or her web presences were not at fault here.

That said, I don't like Sarah Palin's rhetoric. I've said this before. I may agree with her general stance on a lot of issues, but I don't want to ever have to vote for her for public office. (Even those issues I agree with her on, I'm not sure I trust her to handle. O'Reilly asked her once about the illegal immigration problem -- her answer was they need to be sent back home. He pushed her, saying, exactly how are we supposed to do that with millions of people? "Well, we don't give them amnesty, that's for sure." So, what DO we do, Mrs. Palin? I was not impressed.)

Palin doesn't talk like a public servant. She doesn't even talk like a pundit. She talks like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin -- all of whom I have a hard time listening to anymore. She ridicules and belittles the other side. I'm less disturbed by what Palin's rhetoric may have brought out in Jared Loughner -- I'm more disturbed by what it brings out in Sarah Palin.

I remember hearing once that if you intend to argue against something, you must argue against the best of that something. Every idea has its strong and weak points. If you only attack the weak areas around the edges of an idea, not only do you look like a wimp, but your attacks are futile. You must address the idea in its strength. Which requires you to have the guts to admit that the idea has some strengths.

And if we're honest, most ideas that have stood the test of time have some strengths, or they'd have died long ago. They may be missing a piece of the picture . . . they may rely on faulty assumptions . . . but somewhere there's a kernel of truth that needs to be acknowledged. It seems to me that those who are unable or unwilling to look for the best in their opponent's position cannot argue against their opponent's position or effectively support their own position.

And they certainly shouldn't be running the country.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Being A Conservative

So, my faithful readers understand that I'm a conservative. I believe in small, limited government. I believe the national government has a few, very limited duties to its citizenry and it's dangerous to allow it to go beyond that.

I understand my liberal friends' contention that the government can be and should be used as a force for good ("promote the general welfare", as the Constitution says), and while I respect that opinion and the optimism it implies, I am less optimistic. Not only does that require somebody somewhere deciding what the "good" is they intend to force on us all, but it requires giving the government a lot of power -- power which one day can be used in the worst kind of way. I think the idea our founding fathers had from the beginning was a good one: government is there not to make our lives better but to ensure that we are free to make our own lives, and the lives of our neighbors, better (the unalienable right of . . not happiness . . but the pursuit of happiness).

Unfortunately, freedom to make your life better is also freedom to sit on your bum and be a bum. Freedom to help your neighbor is also freedom to walk away when he needs you. Freedom to do good is also freedom to decline to do good. And legally, I think there's a difference between choosing to do wrong (which we legislate against) and declining to do good. Legally, you cannot steal someone else's property -- but legally, you're not required to give your coat to a cold man who can't afford one, either. Yes, of course, that is the DECENT thing to do, and society should feel free to scorn and reject those who choose to not behave decently, but I don't think it can legislate them into decent human beings.

All this to say, my conservativism clearly depends to a great degree on decent people choosing to be decent. My liberal friends, not without reason, have little faith in people consistently choosing to be decent, which is why they want the government to take over and make it happen. (I would question why they seem to have such faith in the people who run the government being decent, but that's for another day.)

As a principle, I believe the government should not be insuring that everyone in the country has the health care they need -- churches should be doing that, and private charities, and families, and individuals. Same with caring for the elderly, the poor, and the like.

AND . . I've decided, if I really believe that, I should put my money where my mouth is--and do the decent thing. And I'm inviting my conservative friends to do the same. It's not enough to be against the government stepping into those areas of need . . . we need to step into those areas ourselves so government intervention isn't necessary.

What exactly this looks like in my life (or your life), I don't know. But I think I'd like to use this blog to explore it with you, my friends. I believe the majority of Americans now claim to be conservatives -- and I know that the VAST majority of Americans claim to be Christians. If those of us who claim one or the other of those labels would really act on the principles we say we believe in . . . well, heavens! Just think what kind of world we'd have!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Obedience vs. Compassion

Keith just told me about a recent study he saw which showed that Democrats make more money than Republicans (on average) and Republicans give more to charity than Democrats (far and away). Past studies have shown the same. I mention this not to slam Democrats, but to debunk the impression so many Democrats/Liberals seem to have that Republicans/Conservatives are, for the most part, the greedy rich. Not so, it seems.

What with health care legislation, the Bush tax cuts, mid-term elections and all, this has been an emotional year for me politically. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know the frustration I've felt this year at the classism injected into public policy. I have a couple of very liberal, very outspoken friends on Facebook who have brought this to my attention regularly all year long. I'm particularly perturbed at the attempt to label redistribution policies (and yes, even the honest liberals call them redistribution) as Americans being generous with their wealth and compassionate to the needy.

Let's be real, here, folks. Generosity requires a choice. And compassion requires altruistic feeling. Neither is involved when you're paying your taxes.

A Jewish friend in Jersey once loaned me a book her kids used in Hebrew class or something. One lesson was centered around what they said was a traditional Jewish story. A businessman and a businesswoman were working late in their office building when a distraught woman came in the door and asked if they could spare any change. As she told her story of woe and need, the businesswoman came to sit beside her, listening intently and holding her hand as she tearfully expressed her sorrow over the woman's situation. Meanwhile the businessman gave the woman a glance and went right back to his work. After several minutes, the man packed his things, handed the distressed woman a personal check for $5,000 and wordlessly walked out the door. The businesswoman hugged the lady, offered her final words of comfort, and left the building without giving her anything.

Which of these two businesspeople did the right thing, the book asked? The man. He obeyed the command to give to the poor; the woman did not. Their feelings on the matter were of no consequence.

So, I understand the point the story is making. It's true that far too many of us (emphasis on the first-person us) have all sorts of concern for the needy yet fail to go that next step of acting on our concern. However, the New Testament adds a heart focus to the obedience focus. "If I give all I possess to the poor . . . but do not have love, I gain nothing." This is a both/and situation, not either/or. To take care of the needy without caring about them is not compassion -- it's obedience. Obedience is a commendable virtue in itself, but let's not give it the noble label of compassion.

Giving up your money to meet the needs of another because you are required by law to pay your taxes is merely obedience. Giving up your money to meet the needs of another because you are rewarded with a tax credit is merely economical. Giving up your money to meet the needs of another, not because you are required or rewarded, not because they deserve it or will appreciate or repay it, but simply because the need is there . . . that's love. Now we're approaching the realm of Christlikeness. Our government may call us to pay our taxes; our God calls us to so much more.

And that's what I'm calling my friends to. More to come.....

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Hello 2011!

Last year, I wrote a post for the New Year about the things I wanted to be able to look back on and be happy about when the year was over. And I was so glad I wrote that, because many of them, I actually WAS able to look back on and be happy about! So, I thought I'd do it again. This may not be enlightening to any of you . . . but it's beneficial to me.

Next year, on New Year's morning, when I sitting around in my pjs with the family watching the Rose Bowl Parade (which I hope is what I'm doing), I want to be able to look back on 2011 and be happy at how much healthier I am. I want to have more energy. I want to weigh a little less -- to be consistently wearing a size 10 again would be nice (an 8 would be even better! But I really would be quite content in a 10).

I want to see that the girls have had productive years -- that they have each accomplished significant things with their time. I want to see that they each have increased in their knowledge of themselves and God. I would love it if Leslie has overcome some of her procrastination problems and if Eastin has learned how, with her friends, to be a selfless leader as well as a willing follower, when the occasion calls for it.

I want Keith to still be happy at his job -- and I would love for him to have found a few men that he's developed close, genuine friendships with.

I want our family to have become more "missional" minded. I would love to be able to point back to a list of specific things we have done during the year to meet needs in our community and point people to the God who is the source of all.

If past patterns in my life hold, I expect by the end of this year, I may be starting to feel a bit of burnout in the two drama endeavors in my life, so I want to have found ways to delegate some of the duties that I feel least called to and equipped for, so I can focus my energies where I'm gifted.

I'd like to say I want my sleep problems to be solved. But I've said that for too many New Years now. When I look back on 2011, I want to be able to say that I didn't allow my sleep conditions to affect my life and those around me. That I didn't plague my family with irritability . . . that I was able to maintain order in our home and schedule . . . that I didn't let important deadlines get away from me . . . that I was able to give relationships the energy and focus they need to thrive.

I also want to know that I've been able to touch people's lives somehow through this blog. I mean, if I'm going to write anyway, it may as well be for somebody's mental, emotional or spiritual health beyond my own, right? More on that later . . .

Happy 2011, everyone!