Friday, January 31, 2014

Schooling that Makes Sense! Wahoo!

When I taught at Hutchinson High School for a few years B.K. (before kids), I spent half my day teaching Honors Sophomore English and the other half of the day in the CAI (Computer-Assisted Instruction) room.

This was a program for at-risk students; they were able to take any of their basic required courses in the CAI room. Most of their work was done on computers (an exciting proposition for kids twenty years ago), working at their own pace, with individualized help from the two teachers in the classroom. It was a great program -- turned around the lives of many kids I knew in there.

But there was one hang-up that always bugged me. You see, some of these kids were quite bright -- a few I would have even called brilliant.  (Does that surprise you? I always said that my honors kids and my at-risk kids had more in common than you would think. The two things that set them apart: parental support and a willingness to play the School Game.)

So, because these bright kids were able to work at their own pace, they could have finished all the requirements for credit in the class early -- some of them, in some classes, could have even done a year's worth of work in a semester. They knew that, so they ended up goofing off a lot while they were in there -- which didn't hurt them any, but it distracted the kids that needed all their class time to get their work done.

We had an idea: we wanted to give these students the option that, once they finished the coursework for that class, they could stop coming to class.  They could get out of school an hour early, or come an hour later. Seriously -- how huge of a motivator would that be for kids like this?  HUGE!

But it was a no-go. State law mandated that to get credit for a course, the student had to spend a minimum amount of time actually sitting in the classroom. It was infuriating to me. (My years at Hutch High were the impetus for my incessant dreaming about the ideal school.)

Fast forward to this morning in the car where my eldest is telling me about her friend's new class at Sioux City East. A very similar concept to my old CAI room. He (a bright 19-year-old senior who basically supports himself and wants to go to college next year) is able to take all of his courses in this classroom. He works at his own pace (in fact, she said he's almost done with English for the year). And . . . he gets to leave every day by 11:30am! 

I can't tell you how excited I am about this!!  Not only am I excited for this boy (really, this is the perfect arrangement to meet his life and educational needs -- he's even been able to take a much-needed second job).  But I am so thrilled that somebody was able to get past the butt-in-seat issue and do something that makes sense for the kids!!  Hallelujah!

This gives me a little bit of hope. Maybe I could work in the public schools again without going postal. Just gotta find the right school.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Three Stories

The Bible is rife with figurative language and imagery. Jesus himself taught in parables much of the time. Last night, at Bible Study Fellowship, I heard three stories -- well, two "examples" and one genuine "parable" -- all of which I have heard before, but they each spoke to me again very vividly.

* When Secret Service agents are taught how to recognize counterfeit money, they do not study examples of counterfeits. They study examples of the real thing -- thoroughly and frequently. They become so familiar with the look of a real twenty-dollar bill that when a fake is presented to them, they recognize it immediately and can identify exactly what is wrong with it.

In the same way, we don't learn to recognize false teaching by studying it for its flaws. What we need to do is immerse ourselves in what we know is true -- thoroughly and frequently. Then when a falsehood is presented to us, we recognize it immediately because it doesn't jive with the truth we already know.

* There is a species of catfish that has essentially lost its eyes. It lives where there is total darkness, and scientists hypothesize that because it has no need for vision, its eyes have practically scabbed over. Now, if it were brought into the light, it wouldn't be able to see anyway.

We, in modern America, live in a very dark world. Sin is rampant and truth is mocked. If we immerse ourselves in that darkness, we are in danger of losing our eyes -- of being unable to see light when it is there. Although we can't avoid living in the world, we must not be OF the world. We must be residents of the Light, and bring that light with us into the darkness when we go there.

And my favorite parable of the evening:

* A young girl had a favorite string of fake pearls that she wore every day and loved with a passion that only little girls can have for their favorite things. One day her beloved father came to her and asked her, "Sweetheart, do you know I love you?"

"Of course I do, Daddy," she replied.

"And do you love me?"

"More than anything, Daddy!"

"Then I need to ask something of you. I need you to give me those pearls."

The girl was very saddened at this request and couldn't imagine why her father would ask her to give up something she loved so much. But she took off the necklace and, after holding it in her little hands for a long time, tearfully gave it to her father and ran to her room. For two days, she mourned the loss of her favorite possession and wondered why her beloved father would take it away.

But then her father came home, pulled her aside with a smile, and pulled out of his coat pocket a string of real pearls -- far more beautiful and far more valuable than the string she had given up to him -- and fastened them around her neck.

Oh, how many fake pearls I am clinging to in my life! How many!!  Christ tells us that those who lose their lives for his sake will find them -- those who willingly give up their treasured fake pearls will get the real thing. Lord, give me eyes to see the falseness of my pearls and a heart to desire what is better.

He who has ears, let him hear.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Just Hang a Caution Sign Around my Neck

You may not know this, but I'm a dancer. Yessiree. I took classical ballet for many years when I was young . . . performed in “The Nutcracker” seven times, among other things, and on pointe, no less. I took dance as an adult in Hutchinson and in Sioux City, adding to my ballet repertoire some tap, jazz, modern . . . graceful as a swan, I am.

Which makes the last few days that much more aggravating.

I injured myself walking into my closet Saturday. I'm not even sure exactly how. I was looking in the bathroom mirror at something and walking toward the closet door; when I got close enough to go through the doorway, I turned my head toward where I was going and ended up whacking the left side of my body on the doorframe. My left hand was raised, for some reason, and so the edge of the door frame hit squarely on the back of my hand, leaving a good bruise. Seriously. I walked into a door frame.

But that's nothing on my earlier stunt. My youngest and the new dog were in the kitchen with me where I was getting some stuff done before lunch. I turned around, and there was the dog at my feet . . . only I didn't see him. I felt him, the fulcrum over which my body tipped as I face-planted on the tile of my kitchen floor. My knee whacked the floor good, and I had to sit with a bag of frozen broccoli on it for a while. No internal injury there, I don't believe, but it's darn painful, and it's gonna look good and ugly for a few weeks, I expect.

And no, the dog was not injured. Thanks for asking.

But even that has nothing on my stunt a couple days before that. I was bringing down the dog's crate from my youngest's bedroom where he has been sleeping (and sleeping well now – again, thanks for asking). Our stairway has a curve to it, and I was carefully manuevering so as to not bump the corners of the crate on the wall.

“Do you need help, Mom?” the daughter asked.

“No, I've got it – thanks,” I replied. Because I did.

Until my foot missed the edge of a step and I went sliding. Or actually, kind of lurching. I sort of fell forward onto the top of the crate – the bottom of which was on my foot (yeah, I'm not sure how that worked either) and the corner of which, or course, went right through the stairway wall I had been so deftly avoiding just seconds before.

Both girls came running, of course. They took the crate, bemoaned the gash in the wall, and worried over me appropriately, asking if I was okay. Yes, I'm fine, I told them. I just need to sit a minute.

I think I passed out. For real. The next thing I remember was my brain feeling like it was swimming and having no idea where I was or what was going on and feeling rather panicky. Seriously, folks – I fell on the stairs, didn't even hurt myself enough to bruise or anything (although I was a little achey for the morning), but I passed out? What's the physiological mechanism behind that?

But yeah – I'm a ballerina. Graceful as a swan when I dance. Just don't stand too close to me when I try to WALK.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Be Strange and Offensive

Early last year, the Southern Baptist Convention installed a man named Russell Moore as the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Convention's public policy arm. It's not because I grew up Southern Baptist that this means anything to me. In fact, it meant nothing to me until I read a magazine article about Moore yesterday.

There were a few things that struck me in this article. One was Moore's belief that his job is twofold: "keeping Christians out of jail, and making sure Christians go to jail for the right reasons if they do." It sounds to me like he is implying that times are coming when Christians will be put in jail for doing the right thing, for following their convictions -- a situation I have predicted is on its way to America. (I may be reading my own perspective into that statement, however.)

Another is his take on the kind of church I grew up in:

The "Mayberry church" -- which Moore also calls an "almost-gospel church" -- is dying in the Bible Belt, he says, and is taking with it a nominal Christianity that wouldn't survive anyway. People who see the church as a spiritual version of the Lions Club will lose any social motivation for attending -- and Moore is fine with that . . .

Wow. I don't know whether to say "Ouch" or "Amen" to that. I say both . . . but the "Amen" is stronger.

An "almost-gospel" church.  Yes, that is an appropriate description of so many churches in America. We know the gospel. We give good lip service to the gospel. But we don't actually live our lives based on the gospel.  We do the hybrid thing: the gospel and church involvement. The gospel and community service.  The gospel and clean living. The gospel and the American dream. As simple as the gospel is, it's unfortunately not easy to stand on alone when we come carrying the baggage of our preconceived notions that we earn our own way through being good enough.

Moore also says that mature believers need to be "training up a new generation of children to know what it is like to live among a people who will see Christianity as very strange." And there is the missing link, I think, in much of the American church's work these days. Whether or not the U.S. has ever been a "Christian nation", the fact is that Christianity has been the default experience for the vast majority of Americans for most of the nation's existence. It is not so anymore, and we don't realize that. We who grew up immersed in this stuff can't step outside of our experience and see that to so much of the country, this is counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, and quite strange.

And as Moore also says, we need to embrace that strangeness, because "the strangeness of Christianity is what saves." It's not about finding the common ground with every other religion in the world and all the other "good" people of the world . . . once we step on common ground, I fear we have stepped off of holy ground. The thing that makes us very different -- and very odd, and even perhaps very offensive -- is the very thing that saves.

The New Testament (and Jesus himself) speaks frequently of "the offense of the cross". I fear that in our efforts to not offend, we have lost what makes us Christians.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sacrifice is its Middle Name

Going through some old stacks of papers in storage a few years ago, I found a two-page essay I wrote in college making a vehement case against homeschooling. Oh, how far I've come since then. And the rest of society has, too. At that time, the vast majority of folks thought homeschooling was wacko. By the time I was considering it for my own daughter fifteen years later, friends I spoke to about it had varying opinions. Some thought it was a great idea; some strongly dissuaded me.

(One neighbor asked me, "Do you really think you can teach better than a professional teacher?" Well, do I think I can teach a class of second-graders better than a professional second-grade teacher can? No. But do I think I can teach my second-grade daughter at home better than a professional second-grade teacher can teach her in a classroom full of second-graders? Absolutely.)

But these days, there are very few out-and-out naysayers. Even diehard public school advocates recognize the success that homeschoolers have had over the years and acknowledge that there are cases where homeschooling is a viable option, maybe even the best option.

Yet, I still meet folks in difficult situations with their children's schooling, situations that seem to scream at them, Bring him home! Take him out of that place! . . . and they hesitate. Some of them more than hesitate -- they flat out refuse to even consider the idea.

I understand. The decision to bring my daughter home was a big one. And there have probably been people out there who have tried homeschooling and regretted it (although I've never met any -- some that decided to send their kid back to school eventually, but they still said the experience at home was a good thing).

But what concerns me is that most of these parents are not keeping their kids in school because they've considered all the options and public school came out on top. Most of them haven't even allowed themselves to seriously consider all the options -- because they're afraid of what they'll find. They're afraid to discover that the thing that's best for their kid is something that they don't want to do. A sacrifice they don't want to make.

Yes, I'm calling them selfish, but don't everybody get all offended. All parents are selfish; we just manifest it in different areas of our family life. People call me out on my selfish ways, and I'm grateful for it (eventually). So, I have no qualms about making the statement here: if your kid needs you to give up some income, career advancement, material things, and free time for a few years to give them the education they need . . . if your kid needs you to step up and try something that sounds difficult and scary to help them grow into who God made them to be . . . well, friends, that's parenting. Parenting is difficult and scary, and sacrifice is its middle name.

A Facebook friend recently posted a meme with a saying that I'd like to have tattooed inside my eyelids so I never forget it: "Great things never came from comfort zones." Parenting doesn't have a comfort zone. Mothers and fathers are always taking risks and stepping out in faith.

I always say, homeschooling is not for everyone. But if the present situation seems unliveable, maybe that's because it's not where you're supposed to be living.

Monday, January 20, 2014

What You Don't Know About Your Emotions

One of the most helpful things I learned in grad school for my counseling degree is how our emotions are primarily physical.

Consider when you “feel angry”. What you are actually feeling is your heart beating faster, your blood pumping to your brain, your senses sharpening, your muscles tensing to react quickly . . . it's the Fight part of the “Fight or Flight” response your body experiences when your senses perceive a threat. It is a physiological thing that your brain gives a label to: Anger. And most of the emotions we feel are similar phenomenons.

At that time, I applied this knowledge to my depression problems, and with much success. I would find myself feeling “a little blue” – low energy, moving and reacting slowly, not thinking quickly or clearly. And because of previous experience, my brain labeled that “feeling” as depression. But the truth was, there were any number of things that could have been causing those physical symptoms in my body (the top suspect, now, being the sleep deprivation I was unaware of at the time).

But my brain told me, “I'm depressed. Why am I depressed?” Well, goodness – if you start looking for reasons in your life to be depressed, you're going to find something. Poor me – I'm so unfulfilled in my life! Poor me – my husband doesn't understand me! Poor me – I had such a difficult childhood! Yeah . . . you'll find something. And then I nursed that little blue feeling into a full-blown depressive episode.

Once I started seeing those feelings as simply physical things -- signals I need to pay attention to but not necessarily reflections of reality -- I was able to keep my depression problems pretty much in check.

I was reminded of these lessons again the first night we had the new dog here last week. I was nervous. A new family member meant changes in our household that I couldn't yet anticipate and didn't know how to deal with. So, I sat there feeling all the typical anxiety symptoms – racing heart, tension, restlessness, mental super-focus on the object of my anxiety. And justifiably so.

But of course, the Enemy took the opportunity to whisper other potential concerns into my ear. What is my daughter going to wear in the school play? What is our other daughter going to do after she graduates? How are these friends of ours doing with their marriage problems? What about that friend in the hospital? What if hubby loses his job? What if one of us gets sick? And on and on . . .

And because my body was already feeling anxiety, my brain attached that anxiety to every one of those other questions and built my little bit of nervousness up to nearly a full-blown panic attack.

Luckily, I had just done my BSF lesson about Peter walking on the water. You know – how he only started to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the waves.

These are only waves, I told myself. Just tense muscles. Just a quickly beating heart. They don't define the reality around me. Just because waves are crashing around me doesn't mean I'm going to sink . . . because I'm not.

Because Jesus is right there in front of me, telling me to walk.  So walk I can . . . and walk I will.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Jekyll and Hyde: More Mutt Adventures

Okay, I promise you all that this is not going to turn into a full-blown pet obsession blog. But I usually write about whatever's on my mind, and right now, my mind is pretty much over-run by this new dog of ours.

I showed you in my last post how this incredibly sweet, mellow, laid-back pooch tore up the wall by the laundry room door when we left him in there overnight. So, we decided he needed to be crated (I can't believe I let the pet store guy talk me out of that the first night -- follow your instincts!!). So, I picked up a crate the next day, and we spent some time during the day getting him used to it. He actually seemed quite comfortable there -- even chose to lay down and rest in there of his own accord.

But at bedtime, he paced in that crate and barked and whined hysterically. After a couple hours, hubby put the crate in the garage, where he continued to bark, but we were able to go to sleep. In the morning, he had torn the pad in the bottom of the crate to pieces.

So I threw that away and cleaned out the crate, and, because we had no other choice, we put him back in there for the hour of time between when hubby had to leave for work and I got home from driving the girls to school.

And here you see the result.

Yes, that's blood where he tried to chew his way out of the crate. He had also managed to move himself, crate and all, a few feet into the room and turn the crate on its side. But when I got him out, he hopped over to wag his tail at me and get a big drink of water, his usual cheerful, contented self.

We should have named this mutt Dr. Jekyll.

After sitting rather stunned for a few minutes and feeling quite discouraged and lost about what to do for this animal, I called a couple vets and got some prescriptions and some advice. Last night we put him in his NEW completely metal crate (no chewing his way out of this one) with a sedative and an Adaptil collar (which emits pheronomes like a nursing mother dog emits).

He barked for about an hour. Hubby put him back in the garage. He barked for another thirty minutes or so . . . and then quiet.

Blessed quiet!

This morning when the youngest got him out of his crate, he was calm and nothing was torn up. Here's hoping this is something of a breakthrough.

Because I don't know if my daughter could take another night of his terrible separation anxiety. He's her dog, and she cried last night listening to him. And I could sympathize. It sent me back to our days with a newborn . . . actually, the first few years, with both girls. I vividly remember sitting outside the door of my crying baby in her crib -- sleep-deprived and crying myself -- and praying, "God, do I go in? Do I stay here? I'm so tired! She's so tired! Five more minutes?  Ten minutes? What do I do? What do I do???"

Such a terrible burden to be responsible for the well-being of a helpless another. I have no illusions that the separation anxiety or bedtime battles with Wheatly are anywhere near over. (And this is why we resisted getting another dog for so long.)

But, as I said, here's hoping this is something of a breakthrough.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Adventures with Wheatly: The First 36 Hours

Ever since our beloved Ostertag died a couple years ago, the girls have been wanting another dog. So, now that our long-impending move is a done deal and we are somewhat settled, we took a trip to the Humane Society to see what we could see.

And look at what we found. Wheatly. A thirty-one pound terrier mix that the woman who runs the shelter found running around the area there on her way to work about a week ago. They estimate he's about two years old, based on his teeth. No tag, no microchip. The five day waiting period for an owner to claim him came and went. So after they fixed him Monday morning, we got to bring him home Monday evening and call him our own.

The adventure started while bringing him home. I don't know if it was the leftover grogginess from his surgery or what, but this boy does not seem to like car rides.  He shivered and whined the whole way -- and with traffic at rush hour, it was a long drive.  I felt so sorry for the poor guy.

Once home, he calmed down some. Ate a good amount of food (they said he hadn't eaten because of the surgery), drank a little, wandered around everywhere exploring. Did his business outside (and a little in the kitchen). Whined off and on still.  But he eventually just collapsed from exhaustion and fell asleep, so we put him in his bed in the laundry room.

About 12:45, I heard him yelp; I listened to see if he needed something, but he was quiet again, so I started to doze off. Until he yelped again 15 minutes later. And we spent a couple hours in that fun routine until he apparently lost interest and fell asleep.

Yesterday morning, he was a different puppy. Lively, energetic, still a bit of a whine in his voice. But the whine disappeared as the day went on. With one daughter home sick from school and me having a lot of computer work to get done, it was kind of lethargic around here, and he eventually chilled out and matched our lethargy. But he hardly left our sides, and by dinnertime, he was dancing with us, and we were seriously in love with this boy.

Hubby came home from his business trip about bedtime to meet the dog . . . and then it was time to start a bedtime routine. This is the part I had been dreading. We put his bed in the laundry room, put a treat in it to entice him (which he would have none of), and then closed the door and left him.  He whined. He pawed the door. And then he starting barking like a mad dog. "Well, it's good to hear that he can bark," hubby said.

And he whined and barked and on and on.  My youngest came down upset, and we assured her that he was okay, this is part of the process -- welcome to parenting. Eventually, hubby and I each took an Ambien and went to sleep.

Until the youngest woke us up at 2am. She heard a loud noise in the laundry room that scared her and she went to check on Wheatly. And here's what we found. Wow. I guess this mutt does not like to sleep alone. Who knew such a seemingly mellow dog had this kind of destruction in him?

So, he has his first vet appointment today, and we are getting a crate. Monday night, I was already thinking we needed a crate for him.  Time to follow my instinct.

But he's still so darn cute . . . !

Monday, January 13, 2014

Settling for What's Natural

Recently, several of my FB friends have been posting links to a blog by a guy named Matt Walsh, posts I enjoy reading but often hesitate to share on my own page because of his tone. Although I usually agree wholeheartedly with what he says, I frequently take issue with the snarky, mean-spirited tone in which he says it.

For instance, he recently responded to a sarcastic, self-aggrandizing critic who wrote trying to explain to him that monogamy isn't natural. His sarcastic, self-aggrandizing response ended with his calling the critic an imbecile.

But the points he made were excellent ones. Of course, monogamy isn't natural, he said. It's above natural. It's supernatural. A healthy monogamous relationship requires us to use the qualities human beings possess that make us something more than the animals.

I had a long conversation yesterday with an old Jersey friend, and one topic that came up is how curious it is that it has become the expected norm -- especially among young people, and even among Christian young people -- to live together before getting married. The argument, I expect (for the Christians at least), is that they know they are going to be getting married -- they're probably already engaged . . . essentially, anyway, if not officially. It just makes so much more sense to live in one place until then. They save money on rent, on gas going to see each other . . . they're going to spend all their time together at one or the other apartment anyway, right? It's just so much more convenient.

And I get this argument. My husband and I had this exact conversation concerning our living arrangements the year we were engaged. We "wasted" money on a dorm room for me when I spent almost all my time at his apartment. It was quite inconvenient.

But here's the thing: who said God calls us to a life that's convenient? To a life that's easy? Or "natural"? In fact, when I read what Jesus tells us, it seems completely the opposite. We're supposed to expect it to be hard -- and to be quite different from what our nature is pulling us toward.

Because in the end, marriage . . . no, let's go further. The Christian life is not about life getting easier. It's not about God making us happy people. It's not even about God making us good people. It's about God making us His people. About fixing the broken relationship between Him and humanity, one person at a time. And being in a right relationship with God requires an accurate and intimate knowledge of who He is and of who we are.

What if the only way we can understand who we are is to be frustrated by our limitations? What if God asks us to do more than we're capable of to show us how far we are from Him? What if He intentionally calls us to a higher life than we can live "naturally" . . . what if He purposefully gives us more than we can handle on our own . . . what if he knowingly puts us in situations where a supernatural, spiritual behavior is required from beings whose spirits are dead, just to reveal our dead spirits to us -- so we turn to Him for new life?

Because ultimately, getting that relationship right is the only way to be really happy.  Or to be good. Or maybe even to be "natural". But even if it made us none of these things in this earthly life, it would still be God's goal, and so we know it's something even better.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Transformational Tomatoes

I know that I have friends (and perhaps other readers I'm unaware of) who are very conscious of where they spend their money. Not only are they concerned about getting the most for their dollar for themselves, but they are concerned that their dollars are making a difference. That the companies they support with their business are behaving responsibly in the world.

Allow me to introduce you to my husband's new company: NatureSweet Tomatoes.

NatureSweet makes the small, little tomatoes that you put on salads -- three varieties of them. When I started telling people who hubby was going to be working for, I couldn't believe how many of them said, "Oh, NatureSweet! That's the ONLY kind of tomato I'll buy." They're not the cheapest tomato in the store, but they're really that much better.

They are grown hydroponically, which means the product is more consistent since they aren't dependent on the ever-changing weather for the right conditions to grow. They're unique in another way. I don't know the technical side of this well enough to do it justice with my description, but their particular product is the result of grafting together (a painstaking process done by hand) two different types of tomato plants: one for its strong root system and another for its sweetness.

Really, some consistently tasty tomatoes here. Folks out there eat these things just by themselves, for an afternoon snack (which I would never have considered trying before). But there's more. Let me tell you the behind-the-scenes stories hubby has learned in the last few months, the stuff that isn't necessarily trumpeted to the public.

The guy who owns NatureSweet is a billionaire from previous business ventures. He had a ranch in Mexico and fell in love with the people there. But his heart broke for them because they lived in such poverty and had no hope of changing that where they were.

So, he went and bought this tomato company and turned it into what is now NatureSweet . . . with the specific goal of providing work for the poor in Mexico. They have five facilities in the Guadalajara area. The workers there make two or three times the going rate for agricultural workers in the area (the website states that 82% of their Mexican workers are paid above the living wage). This means that they have money to spend . . . which brings businesses into the communities . . . which results in increased economic stability for the area. (Again, from the website: home ownership for their Mexican employees increased by 20% in 2012.)

What's more, NatureSweet actively invests in adult education programs for their employees -- from primary school classes on up (and that tells you how low a lot of these people start from). These people are empowered. The grip the local drug dealers have on the community is lessened. And the need to leave home and travel north (legally or illegally) to find a way to make money and support the family is alleviated.

And the owner makes no money on this. All of his profits go back into the company to increase sales, build more facilities, employ more people.

All this to say, when you purchase NatureSweet tomatoes at your grocery store, you are not only getting a high quality product, but you are participating in the transformation of lives and communities.

AND . . . when you talk up NatureSweet tomatoes at the restaurants and club stores you frequent ("Are these NatureSweet tomatoes on your salad? Oh, NatureSweet tomatoes are the best. I'd be much more likely to buy a happy meal for my kiddo if you offered NatureSweet tomatoes as a side option . . . "), you also contribute to the economic future of your humble correspondent and her family.  :) 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Wheat and the Weeds

So, I didn't comment on the Phil Robertson business at the time and probably didn't need to. The whole homosexuality thing is getting tiresome to me because it seems like nobody is truly listening anymore and everyone is judging other people's hearts based on what they want to believe about a person and not on the evidence of a person's life -- from both directions. Unproductive. Going nowhere. Tiresome.

But the fact that people jump on Christians so quickly and assume hatred reveals a sad state of affairs for the church. Jesus said that we would be known by our love, and Lord knows that is not how the church is known these days. We can whine all day that we're being judged wrongly, but we should have expected to be judged wrongly -- we can't control the lenses through which others view us, but we can control what is there to be viewed through those lenses. And we've done a poor job of that over the years.

Last night in BSF, we studied several of Jesus' parables which I was very familiar with, having grown up in Sunday School. A couple spoke to me anew, however -- which is what the Word does, after all, and is why we continue to read it. (These are in Matthew 13, if you want to look them up.)

Jesus talks about a farmer who sows a field of good wheat, but his enemy plants a bunch of weeds in the mix. When his workers tell him about it, they ask if they should go pull up the weeds. "No," he says, "because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters; first collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn."

Several verses later, Jesus tells another story with the same point (a good sign that this is an important point to drive home). It's about fishermen who, when they pull up their net full of fish, have good and bad fish in the mix. So they sit and sort through them, tossing out the bad and keeping the good.

"This is how it will be at the end of the age," Jesus tells us.

Christ didn't always give explicit interpretations of his parables, but he did for both of these -- again, he apparently wanted the message to be quite clear. The harvest and the net represent the "end of the age", he tells us. The wheat and the weeds -- and the good and bad fish -- represent the righteous and the wicked. The harvesters and fishermen are the angels who will do the separating.

Pretty clear, yes?

Important things to note here for the believer and for the unbeliever. The unbeliever needs to see that there will be a separating . . . there will be a time of judgment, of judging who is righteous and who is not . . . and the fate of the weeds and bad fish is not a good one. (That phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth" is Christ's own).

For the believer? Please note, brothers and sisters, that the wheat does not judge the weeds. The good fish do not judge the bad fish. And by judgment, I mean they don't get to decide who belongs in which category. They all grow together.  At the end of the age, it is only the angels who are qualified to sort them out.

Now, understand that this "do not judge" business is usually misused in society today.  It is a different matter to call a sin a sin and encourage those we care about to give up their sin. Jesus did that all the time and tells us to do so as well. But explaining that important and seemingly lost distinction is a post for another day.

For now, I want to learn what God set before me last night to learn. The wheat and the weeds grow together. They are sorted out by angels at the end of the age.

And an angel I am not and can never hope to be. But by God's grace, I will not be a weed.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Drinking in Mexico

I'm back! I wasn't expecting to take this hiatus from blogging, but I had very unreliable internet access while I was in Cozumel last week, so I took a week off.  And because . . . you know . . . I was in Cozumel.

Which was nice, but sounds a little more exciting than it was for us. It was kind of a business trip -- a reward thing for the company's brokers and such, and we got to go along. So, although the weather was lovely and the ocean was nice and we got to golf, get a massage, and take a submarine trip to look at the coral reef, our evenings were spent in long dinners socializing with people. Nice people, but hubby and I aren't social butterflies really (we much preferred our time alone or with just each other).

Mainly, though, I couldn't appreciate the trip as much as many of the others did because I don't Drink. Now, I do drink -- a bit. I can sip a glass of wine with dinner. I discovered that I like pina coladas on this trip (I don't like pineapple or coconut, so I never tried one). But I simply drink . . . on occasion.

But many of these people Drink. Not that anyone got wasted or anything (at least, not while we were around, but we went to bed and others partied on, apparently). But for a good number of these people, alcohol seemed to be their focus for the week.

Example: on New Year's Eve, our evening event was to start at 7pm. When hubby and I got there at about 7:15, only a handful of people were milling around, which we thought was very odd. Turns out, they didn't start serving alcohol until 7:30, so everybody went over to the bar to get drinks until then.

Now, I don't mean to sound judgmental if I do. These people were on vacation, they were away from children and with their significant others (for the most part), and nobody was having to drive anywhere. They seemed to be drinking responsibly, so there's no reason they shouldn't have been drinking -- especially on New Year's Eve. I have no moral issue with what was happening amongst our little group in Mexico last week.

I bring this up merely because this is a cultural thing I really can't relate to: Drinking. Centering your evening's (or afternoon's) activities around the beverage in your hand. I have friends who I know plan their entire weekends around opportunities to consume alcohol. I just don't get that.

Most likely, this is because I've never drunk enough alcohol to even get a buzz.  True fact. I grew up in a Southern Baptist home where alcohol was simply unacceptable. Never drank in college. Never even interested in trying anything alcoholic, really, until I'd been to enough of my husband's business events to start feeling really uncomfortable being the only one in the room with soda in my glass. (One thing I'll say for the people in hubby's more recent companies vs. companies he's worked for in the past: they don't seem to take any notice of what's in your glass. It's been several years since I felt like the oddball church lady at a work event while I sipped my Sprite.)

Maybe if I got good and tipsy once, I'd see the appeal. But I doubt it. I've seen enough people I liked and respected turn into idiots at parties; I have no interest in chancing that. And I've yet to see anyone whose personality improved after the application of significant amounts of alcoholic beverage. It would be very upsetting to me, frankly, to find that I needed the help of inebriation to be an engaging person to others. And if I need the help of inebriation to enjoy the environment I'm in . . . well, I'll go home.

I also don't like the taste of alcohol enough to drink enough of it to affect me. I did like those pina coladas, but after two, I couldn't drink any more. I was desperate for ice water. El agua, por favor!!

So, to sum up, I drink -- occasionally -- but I don't Drink. And I don't expect ever to do so. I still hold to a conclusion I came to during my college years: there is nothing beneficial you get from alcohol which cannot be gotten from another source that is not responsible for the destruction of lives on a regular basis.

Just sayin'.  Cheers. And Happy New Year!