Thursday, December 23, 2010

White Christmas

The forecast looks promising for my neck of the woods Saturday.
The meaning of Christmas has changed a lot for me since I was a child, but I can honestly say that one thing has remained the same. My all-time favorite Christmas song has always been White Christmas, performed by the only man who can do it justice: Bing Crosby.
Singers and their remakes come one year and are gone the next, but Bing's voice is timeless. The first to sing it publicly (in 1941), Bing's 1942 recording of White Christmas is the best-selling single of all time.
Take a moment and listen for yourself. Absolutely nothing captures the season better.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Insight from a Four Year Old

WARNING: Toy Story 3 spoiler alert
While watching Toy Story 3 tonight with the kids, one of the toys says, "what a nice bear." My four year old piped up and said, "He's not a nice bear. He's just pretending to be a nice bear, but he's a monster inside."
Holy smoke, I did not expect that sort of insight from my son. Actually, he was quoting a line from later in the movie (as my best friend kindly pointed out), but still...it's amazing what a child can understand about humanity and sin nature.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mad Dentist



Here's the third installment of the dental/tooth cake series. That's a 12-inch ruler at the base of the cake, just to give it some perspective.



Everything is edible, except some strategically placed dowel rods and toothpicks.

Don't you just love the comb over?




Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Empathy

As we cuddled yesterday morning, my four-year-old pinched the inside of my upper arm as hard as he could. I yelped, and he looked at me, surprised. I stuck my bottom lip out, then I said, "That really hurt, buddy." His eyes filled with tears, and he began to cry. Then he apologized for hurting me. I was dumbfounded. Apparently, my sweet son has learned empathy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Literary Vain Repetition

The term vain repetition is often used in certain religious circles, typically in reference to repetitive, ritualistic prayer, based on a comment Jesus made in Matthew 6:7. I’ve decided, though, that vain repetition is the perfect term for a common mistake in writing. Brace yourselves for another of my writing pet peeves.

There are literary techniques that utilize repetition, such as anaphora or alliteration. That's not what this blog entry is about. No, I’m talking about those instances—typically in flowery, poetic prose, though every writer does it, and I have been so very guilty of it myself—where the writer is so enamoured with their own ability to turn a phrase that they can't decide which way they want to say it. So they say it both ways. Or all three.


*Yawn*

(Watch for my example in this paragraph.) Seriously. Do us all a favor and pick one way to say it. I realize all three sentences might be lovely, and your mother or best friend or spouse is highly impressed with your prose prowess, but by the end of your literary muscle flex, your reader is no longer impressed. They're possibly annoyed that you’ve wasted their time repeating yourself, or just amused at what came across as self-absorption. Instead of expecting your reader to plow through your repetition, save your other clever versions of the same sentence for another time. Don't beat a dead horse with your re-invented phrases. Please.

Did you count them? I made the same point at least four different ways in that previous paragraph. Weren’t you impressed? I did feel a bit of pride about the alliteration in that little “prose prowess” ditty. Wasn’t that clever of me?

That is why I call it vain repetition. But you got my point, didn't you? So don't do to your readers what I just did to you. And please, please, heaven-have-mercy please don’t do it in fiction.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pumpkin Dip

Several friends asked for the recipe for this treat, so I got permission to post it from the friend who gave it to me. This dip is absolutely delicious with ginger snaps or molasses cookies.

Pumpkin Dip

2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened*
1 pound (16 ounces) of powdered sugar**
1 16-ounce can of unsweetened pumpkin
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Whisk all ingredients together until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes approximately 80 1-tablespoon servings.

*Try light cream cheese for a healthier option.
**The Libby Pumpkin website has a very similar recipe that only calls for 2 cups of powdered sugar (approximately half of a pound). That might be a good option for those trying to cut back on sugar.

Firsts

I took my children to see the Nutcracker for the first time Wednesday. I'm not sure why, but I tear up every time they experience a first. Their first visit to the movie theater, trip to the zoo, the beach, a football game. Their first time hiking. My daughter's first lost tooth. The first time she read a story for herself. My son's pride in his first drawing.

Getting to see the excitement in their eyes, feel it right along with them. I wouldn't trade their firsts for anything in the world.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Crown


Here's the second in the tooth series of cakes, a 3D crown of a tooth. Everything you see here is edible--it's all cake, buttercream, fondant and sugarpaste.




Friday, December 3, 2010

The Eternal Optimist and the Smooth Talker

I played my sweet six-year-old in checkers tonight. When she was down to her last man, she said, "I'm alone, but that's okay. I can think better alone."

Meanwhile, this morning my four-year-old learned to say, "How you doin'?" in true Joey Tribbiani style.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mike the Molar

A friend who owns a dental lab has asked me to make some tooth-themed cakes for him. Here's the first one. My kids called him Mike the Molar.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Science

"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...'" - Isaac Asimov

Stolen from a friend's facebook status.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Respect Your Contacts

A few months ago, a friend of mine accidentally gave a website access to his entire address book. They harvested the email addresses of all his contacts and then spoofed his email address (made it look like a semi-legit email by putting his email address in the "from" line) and sent us all spam. The friend has since apologized and changed email addresses. But it's too late now, because they already have what they wanted: his contacts. Today spammers spoofed my own email address to send me spam. Grr.

Granted, I'm a fairly intelligent person and could tell from the subject line that the emails from his address were spam, so I did not open them. (It's important not to open spam email, because it confirms for the spammers that they have a legitimate email address.) And I obviously didn't send myself an email with "You can connect with vip singles now" as the subject line. Still, it's annoying to know my email address is now in their spamming loop.

Moral of the story: If you respect your contacts, don't give websites access to your address book.

Lesson #2: Pay attention to the subject line of emails. If it sounds like spam, it is--even if the email address belongs to a friend.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Princess Cake

I was recently commissioned to create a princess cake for a little girl's birthday. She specifically asked for Princess Ariel (Little Mermaid) in a pink dress instead of green tail. This was the outcome.



The small details are what makes something like this so special.







And here she is.



Everything is edible except for the doll herself. The dress is fondant over buttercream.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Giant Cupcake

Here's a giant cupcake I was commissioned to make for a sweet little girl's third birthday.


The cake is french vanilla with buttercream icing. The pink cup is actually white chocolate candy melted and shaped. The flowers and butterflies are fondant and sugarpaste. Everything you see is edible.

I had feared that the candy cup would break or shatter when we sliced it, but it sliced beautifully, giving each person an equal portion of cake, icing and candy cup.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dialogue

Here's a useful tip for my fellow fiction writers, one you probably already know, but let's share it anyway. You never know when you might learn something.

Tip:

Don't dump information on the reader through dialogue. It causes your dialogue to feel sophomoric—forced and unnatural.

Example:

Mary walked into the living room and tossed her keys to her son. "Danny, you can take my black Toyota Camry. But don't wreck it. And I expect you to be home by ten o'clock tonight. And stay away from Mark, the preacher's son. He's a troublemaker."

Here's an improvement:

Mary walked into the living room and tossed her keys to her son. "Danny, you can take my car, but don't wreck it. I expect you to be home by ten o'clock. And stay away from Mark. He's a troublemaker."

Granted, my example won't win any prizes for cleverness, but you get the idea. Put yourself in your character's place. Basically, if the character your character is talking to already knows the information, don't include it. Danny obviously knows the color and make of his mom's car. Undoubtedly, he also knows that Mark is the preacher's son. Find some other way of weaving that information into the story, if it's pertinent.

And while we're on dialogue, take the time to read it out loud. When you think you've got it right, take the next step and read it to your spouse, best friend or, ideally, a critique partner. If you're really brave (or masochistic) have that person read it while you listen.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Remedy for Writer's Block

A few weeks ago, writer's block flared up. I just couldn't find the core from which I needed to write an emotionally charged scene. So I procrastinated. And then I procrastinated a little more.

Then a woman hired me to make some flower arrangements for her. As with my cakes, when I work with flowers, I throw all of my creative energy into it. That got my imagination flowing again, and the words that had evaded me for weeks presented themselves in abundance. Of course, they came in the middle of a project that had a looming deadline, so I could only make quick notes from which to draw later. Surprisingly, that limitation also fed the creativity. Since I couldn't take the time to put the words into type, there was a great deal of room for my mind to further twist and turn and play with the edits.

Long story short, if you have writer's block, pick up something completely unrelated. Finish a scrapbooking or photography project. Paint a room. Finish piecing together a quilt. So something else creative, something that will occupy one part of the mind so the imagination can get moving again. Soon the words will come.

At least, they did for me.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Grace of God

After a discussion today that took me back to my memories of college, I am reminded of three words:

Grace of God.

Many times the things I saw as hindrances, He put in my way as a hedge to protect me.

The roommate the university assigned to me who turned into my closest girlfriend. The class that was too full. The guy who broke my heart. The horrible accident that I wasn't in because of an argument. The church God plugged me into. The best friend who turned into the greatest husband on earth...the list goes on and on.

Joys and disappointments that all turned out to be blessings. Some were obvious from the beginning, while others took a while for me to appreciate. I look back on the accumulation of them, and I see that He truly has caused all things to work together for my good.

Now, if I can keep that perspective going forward...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Worlds Apart

After listening to a song tonight while cleaning her room, my six-year-old daughter told my husband, "I was in here talking to God. Sometimes I just get this feeling that I don't care about all the toys and stuff, and just care about my relationship with you and Mommy and Brother. That song made me think about that."

Lord, guard her heart, keep it soft toward you throughout her life. Give us wisdom as her parents. Help us to maintain a healthy, loving relationship with her as she grows into the beautiful woman you've created her to be.

The song that inspired her words is Worlds Apart by Jars of Clay. Here's a youtube link:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Whole New World

Sunday night my daughter came to my husband with a plumbing DIY book in her hands. "Daddy, can you read this to me?"

It was close to bedtime, so he told her they could look at it together Monday after he got home from work. She didn't wait for him. When he walked in Monday, she was already looking at the book, reading everything in it that she could. Then she moved on to a storybook.

My little girl has found a whole new world—the printed word.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Reading for the First Time

My daughter (6) is on the couch with my son (4). She's reading early readers to him, and they're both loving it.

Reading to Brother

My daughter (6) is on the couch with my son (4). She's reading early readers to him, and they're both loving it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Twenty Years

It was August 31, 1990, the Friday night of Labor Day weekend. My Junior year of high school. The guys on the field were battling one of our rivals, and we were all in good spirits. A quarter or so into the game, I heard sirens on the road that ran behind our school, where the dragway was located. I turned to my friend Sarah and said I heard an ambulance.

"Probably an accident at the race." We could hear engines rev occasionally, but they were usually overpowered by the sounds of the game.

"Gosh, I hope nobody was hurt," I said as the siren wailed down Highway 401 and faded into the distance. I could tell it was moving quickly. I said a quick prayer in my head, then turned my focus back to the game.

I had no way of knowing how completely wrong our assumptions might be. No hint at the precious cargo that ambulance carried past me. No inkling what that siren would come to represent.

A few moments passed, and I spotted my neighbor and her husband at the end of the bleachers, beckoning me. Catherine was a Brit. A petite, sophisticated PhD with a pixie cut, she looked out of place at a late-summer high school football game. She was a great neighbor. I visited her regularly. Granddaddy and I had both shared the love of Jesus Christ with her several times. She was shocked at the concept of intelligent design. She'd never considered anything but evolution.

When my gaze fell on her that night, my heart skipped a beat.

Something was wrong. Badly wrong.

I moved to the end of the bleachers. "Catherine, what are you doing here?"

"Renee, something's happened. You need to come with us."

My heart thudded. Had one of my parents been in an accident? My uncle? Had the house burned down? Granny? My mind raced with possibilities. I asked what was wrong, but they wouldn't tell me. Not there, in a crowd of my peers. I followed them numbly away from the stands and down the hill from the football field to the lower fields that were filled with cars.

My stomach knotted. With the chatter of the crowd and shouts of the game now in the distance, I stopped. "Please tell me what's wrong. I've got to know."

Catherine and her husband glanced at each other. "It's your grandfather. He's had a heart attack."

Oh, God. No. He was my rock. My anchor and foundation. My shelter. The man who made everything okay when it all went wrong. He held the frayed fabric of our family together.

No. She was wrong. She had to be. But the look in her eyes told me the truth.

He was gone.

Just like that. With the siren. My world slid off its axis and into God's hands. My knees buckled with the blow.

I have no idea how they got me to their car and into the back seat. Heartbroken, in a state of shock, I don't remember what I said. It was my youth pastor who told me of my words the next day, and the impact they'd had on Catherine.

"Lord, I know You have a reason. Jesus, You must have a reason."

I do remember thinking it, telling myself more than Him. Trying to assure myself that though every shred of security had just been ripped from me, I would be okay. I had no idea I was saying it out loud.

Somehow, I walked from the driveway to the open front door of my grandparents' home. People were already there. I looked up the steps at our bedrooms. Last time I saw him was when he went to his room that afternoon for a nap. Had I told him I loved him? I couldn't remember. I still can't.

My youth pastor and his mom were there. Other friends showed up too. I was numb, half aware of their presence. Catherine saw me safely to the front door, then stayed outside with her husband.

A few days after the funeral, my pastor told me what I'd said in the car and what Catherine told him: "I don't know what kind of faith this family has, but I want it."

A week or so later, Catherine had to have a pacemaker installed. I went to see her when she got home. She was studying in a Bible in her sunroom when I arrived. She told me she'd accepted Christ a few days before.

And then I knew the reason. If only Granddaddy could have known that his death was part of God's master plan for the neighbor we'd prayed for daily.

Sometimes God lets us glimpse His plan in the midst of our suffering. I think He gives us those moments to strengthen our faith for the times when He knows we can't see it.

It's been twenty years, and I still cry when I remember that night. His death impacted every facet of my life. I know it was God's will for him to go home, but I will never stop missing him.

I love you, Granddaddy. Jesus, thank You for the time I had with him. Thank You for the plan You have for me and the path You have chosen for my life.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Kid Quote

Tonight while talking to Doug, our six year old daughter said, "You and Mommy are the best Mommy and Daddy in the world! But don't tell any other adults that, or it will hurt their feelings."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Little Reminders

My favorite devotional book of all time is the Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones. My husband reads a chapter each night to our children, and it blows me away every time I hear it. I think we all desperately need to be reminded on a daily basis of His "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbeaking, Always and Forever Love."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Funny for the Day

Saw this one posted on facebook, and I have no idea who originated it, but it's now making its way around. It was so hilarious I had to re-post it here. Enjoy!
Truths For Mature Humans
1. I think part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die.
2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.
3. I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.
4. There is great need for a sarcasm font.
5. How are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?
6. Was learning cursive really necessary?
7. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on # 5. I'm pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.
8. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.
9. I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired.
10. Bad decisions make good stories.
11.You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren't going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.
12. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blue Ray? I don't want to have to restart my collection...again.
13.I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that I swear I did not make any changes to.
14. "Do not machine wash or tumble dry" means I will never wash this - ever.
15. I hate when I just miss a call by the last ring (Hello? Hello? ****it!), but when I immediately call back, it rings nine times and goes to voice mail. What did you do after I didn't answer? Drop the phone and run away?
16. I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste.
17. I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.
18. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.
19. I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Lite than Kay.
20. I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Ghetto" routing option.
21. Sometimes, I'll watch a movie that I watched when I was younger and suddenly realize I had no idea what the heck was going on when I first saw it.
22. I would rather try to carry 10 over-loaded plastic bags in each hand than take 2 trips to bring my groceries in.
23. The only time I look forward to a red light is when I'm trying to finish a text.
24. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.
25. How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear or understand a word they said?
26. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers and sisters!
27. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.
28. Is it just me or do high school kids get dumber & dumber every year?
29. There's no worse feeling than that millisecond you're sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far.
30. As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers, but no matter what the mode of transportation, I always hate bicyclists.
31. Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.
32. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, finding their cell phone, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but I'd bet my ass everyone can find and push the snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time,every time !

Kid Quote

While eating a cheeseburger tonight, our little guy pipes up and says, "they use sesame seeds to grow cheeseburgers, right?"

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Two Down

I don't remember her getting into bed with us, but I woke early this morning to my daughter's voice, "Mommy, my tooth came out."
She lost her bottom front right tooth first, a few weeks ago, and the permanent tooth below is now poking clearly out of the gum. Now she's lost the bottom left. I believe that's the same order they came in when she was a baby.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Champagne Grapes

Last August I stumbled across a little gem—technically a cluster of little gems—at the grocery store. Organic champagne grapes.
Any mother will tell you that the quest for healthy snacks never ends. So I snatched up a box and took them home. My then-three-year-old son fell in love with them. Big sister, not so much. But she did declare them better than regular grapes.
I had to agree. These tiny grapes are delicious, sweet, and easy to eat. Plus, they’re so small, I don’t have to worry about little throats getting choked on them.
The drawback: they’re only in season August and the first part of September. So you can imagine my elation when I found them in the produce department at Whole Foods this week. I bought the last two boxes.
Children are finicky, and this year my son isn’t enamored with them anymore, although he says they're okay when the skins don't stick to the roof of his mouth.
I say they're delicious, and I don't even like grapes.

Eager to Learn

I'm so proud of my little guy. He turned four last month, and he begged today to homeschool with his sister. I pulled out Get Ready for the Code, a pre-Explode the Code phonics and handwriting book that I bought for him to begin this fall. He completed the first nine pages, begging for more the entire time. He's holding his little pencil and crayons correctly, trying to color in the lines, x-ing and circling, following directions like a little pro. It is such a blessing when they're eager to learn.
Lord give me the wisdom I need to fan those eager little flames.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Keep Talking

My daughter, who is quite the talker, turned to me just now, ice cream cone in hand, and said, "Mommy, sometimes you have to catch your breath to keep talking."
Sometimes I get tired of the chatter. Sometimes I even ask her and her brother to be quiet for a little while.
But keep talking, honey. Don't ever stop. As much as I want quiet, I want communication with you more.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Colored Pencils

I pulled out some Crayola erasable colored pencils (yes, these really do erase) for my daughter to do her phonics/handwriting today. She had a blast choosing different colors for each answer. The green one to write "frog," the brown one to write "twig," and so on. Suddenly it wasn't a chore anymore. It was fun.

Monday, August 9, 2010

How Extreme is Your Green?

I'm big on feeding my kids organic food, buying local produce and fair trade products when possible, baking my own bread, etc. I do this for the health benefits to my family, but I do also enjoy the fact that such products are better for the environment.
We also tried using compact fluorescent light bulbs exclusively (in every lamp and fixture that was suitable for them), but as you may recall from one of my previous blog posts, that didn't work out so well for us. Not every green option is a perfect fit for every family. After three years, we removed most of them for a number of reasons, but I will note that since going back to incandescents, my daily migraines have become much less of a problem. We still use some CFLs, but not exclusively.
My husband's office is an hour from our home, so he and 15 other employees who live in our town ride a carpool van every day to work. This saves us more than $300 a month in gas and auto wear and tear (our primary reason). It also reduces pollution. There is a fee for the carpool, but the monetary benefits far outweigh it.
I'm also big on recycling. My city has made it easy for me with weekly curbside pickup of recycled goods, so how can I not take full advantage of that convenience? Yet as I sorted through the mail yesterday and found myself standing over the trash can, ripping the bits of cellophane from windowed envelopes (the city says they can't recycle the cellophane), I had to wonder if I'm being a little bit obsessive with this recycling effort.
Do you obsess over green? If so, in what ways? Share your green extremes with me.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Emunah

What exactly is faith? Faith is, for the most part, a convoluted idea. I mean, we know from the book of James that faith isn’t just believing there’s a God (James 2:19-20), but what exactly is it? 
Emunah. That’s the Hebrew word for faith, and its literal translation is “trust-grounded obedience.”
James has a lot to say about faith and works, and how the two go hand-in-hand. I wrote a lengthy entry about that, but I decided it would be best if you just go to James 1 and 2 and read it for yourself. Please do. You'll be blessed.
Bottom line, James says that you must be doers of the word, and not just hearers (James 1:22-25), and that faith without works is as dead as a body without a spirit (James 2:14-26). Keep in mind that James isn’t talking about just any works. In the first half of James 2 (verses 1-13), you see that these "works" are acts of obedience to the Lord’s commandments…the “law” as it is translated here.
This word “law” is the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The Greeks had an advanced legal system, but they didn’t have anything comparable to the Torah. When translating the Septuagint, they selected the Greek word nomia, meaning “an unalterable law,” to represent this complicated Hebrew concept in a way that the Greeks might better understand.
But herein lies the problem. Torah is not law. The Hebrew word torah literally means “God’s teaching and instruction.” Further, its root word is orah, which means “light.”
The Torah is God’s teaching and instruction, given by Him to illuminate the path man should walk.
Jesus is God’s Word made flesh, the Torah incarnate—sent to dwell among us, to bring spiritual light in the darkness (John 1:1-14).
Trust-grounded obedience. Not obeying out of fear of punishment if we don't. Not even out of the desperation that comes with trying to earn His unmerited favor—those things can never be faith. No, there is no striving here. Only resting. This is obedience motivated by trust—in the One who died for us, redeemed us and restored us to Himself. Trust because of His lovingkindness, which births a desire to obey, not to earn anything, but simply because we love Him and want to please Him.
The hardest part of faith isn't the obedience. It's the trust.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

America, the Good Wannabe

This is a response to Spiritual Tramp's blog post, Are We Good:
I enjoyed that post, Scott. I confess, I did not watch the entire speech. I didn't even make it to the 6-minute point you quoted from.
I agree with your statements, for the most part. But I do take issue with a couple things. First, I wasn't there Sunday, but I disagree with that definition of goodness offered by our associate pastor.
The Bible says that praises to God are “good.” The Lord calls each day of the creation “good.” If you do a simple word search for "good" in scripture, you'll get more than 700 returns, and few of them deal with situations of generosity in particular. If you do a search for "goodness," you'll get 48 returns. All but two are about God's goodness. The other two are about the fruit of the Spirit, which is derived not by any of man's endeavors (generosity included), but by the Spirit alone.
They quoted Micah 6:8 Sunday before last, you'll remember:
He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but
to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
According to that passage, justice, kindness and humility are good. Sacrificial generosity is surely a part of that, but it's not the end-all summation of goodness.
Further, there is no such thing as goodness outside of God. Nothing is good apart from Him, and people cannot be good without Him (James 1:17; Psalm 14:1, 53:1). So if you use Scripture as your basis for judging whether or not our nation is good, you'll have to deal with another problem in your post:
You wrote, "God isn’t (and I’d argue shouldn’t be) the center of America’s life."
You are right, God is not the center of America’s life, nor is He at the center of the vast majority of her citizens' lives (whether they claim to be Christ followers or not). And America is not a good nation, accordingly.
Generosity is a beautiful thing. It’s a mitzvah (good deed) commanded by God. His heart is particularly soft toward the orphan, the fatherless, and the widow, and generosity toward them affords us particular blessings, just as exploiting one of them affords us curses. That’s a scriptural fact. But being generous will never make us good. America could feed every starving child, clothe and medicate every destitute and sick individual in our nation and the world. America could spend, spend, spend and give, give, give, and never be good. Goodness belongs to God alone, and it is only manifested through the presence of His Holy Spirit. Everything else is just empty works.
On a related note, that's the problem I have with the liberal or progressive movement in our nation—it's all works with no place for the only One who can make any of our endeavors good or lasting—the very definition of humanism.
My opinion is rooted completely in Scripture. I realize that is seen as a weakness and an offense to many. And I, conversely, see anyone’s efforts at goodness outside of Him as fruitless. C'est la vie.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Teachable

Daughter: "Mommy, can we watch Little Bear? It's really good. It teaches us to be nice and to love and be kind to each other." Pause. "Well, it teaches me that, but it doesn't teach brother that much."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Childhood in My Hand

Not more than an hour after I posted my last entry, my daughter's wiggly tooth came out.
I cannot explain what it feels like to hold a tiny piece of her childhood in my hand.

Wiggly Teeth

Saturday night, after a busy day and a birthday party, my almost-six-year-old daughter came running into the bathroom where I was brushing my teeth. Clothed in her butterfly pull-over towel, glasses off, hair wet, she's still so little, so sweet and innocent. Daddy followed close behind, camera in hand. Tears in her eyes and a smile on her face—a trace of fright swirled in with the excitement about growing up just a little bit more—she announced that one of her teeth was "wiggly."
Those precious baby teeth that I lovingly counted, the arrival of each one anxiously awaited, are now falling out. "Grown up teeth" are on the way. Adding to my list another of those many things you don’t think about being temporal until they’re on their way out the door.
Another milestone reached. The others have passed in a blur.
Where does the time go? Savor every moment.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ultimate Exchange

As my children were eating bunny fruit snacks today, my daughter described the bunnies. Each one was running or jumping, feet outstretched. I thought of the Velveteen Rabbit, and how he wanted back feet with which to run and jump and play. He desperately wanted to be real.
Granted, the Velveteen Rabbit wasn't weighing the odds (a rabbit can live nine years, but most live less than one year in the wild). Still, the profundity struck a chord with me: He was willing to trade immortality of a less stellar sort for the chance to really experience life in all its ephemeral beauty. The ultimate exchange.
Do you struggle with balancing length and preservation of days with the joy of living life to its fullest potential? I want to really live. I want my life to be real. How about you?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Westerns and Fighter Jets

Also known as The Man Who Walked Out on Top Gun
Someone mentioned Clint Eastwood on twitter today. And that made me think of my granddaddy, because he loved a good Western. John Wayne was his all-time favorite, but Eastwood and Jimmy Stewart reruns got a decent share of the airtime on his bedroom television.
I remember in 1986 he came home one evening and informed us that he'd been to the movies. That got our attention. "I saw in the newspaper there was a new movie called Top Gun, so I went to see it."
I'd heard all about Top Gun at school. The other girls regularly swooned over pictures of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer. So I was surprised at this bit of news from the one man left on earth who remained completely and unapologetically unaffected by societal trends. I listened intently as he continued.
"I thought for sure it was going to be a good Western. I even got some popcorn. I went in and sat down, and I'll be d*mned it if wasn't a movie about planes." Then he mumbled about how long it had been since a good Western was last released. "Who gives a d*mn about fighter jets?"
I chuckle every time I think of that. Granny laughed and teased him over it, yet I also remember how keenly his disappointment struck me. Heaven knows, after nearly twenty years, I still miss that man.

Friday, July 16, 2010

When Do You Write?

A fellow blogger and writer, Roxanne Sherwood, posted a fantastic entry about writing when you're away from the computer.
I "write" in the shower, while cleaning the kitchen, and while doing laundry. My favorite place to mentally write is in the grocery store. Be forewarned, this can sometimes trigger strange looks from fellow shoppers. When that happens, I realize (too late, of course) that I'm muttering a dialogue sequence under my breath. But you absolutely must read dialogue aloud to make sure it sounds natural and has the correct rhythm. So looking like a crazy lady is the price you pay for writing while shopping, I suppose.
The point is that you should write, even when you're not at your desk, fingers on the keyboard.
If you'd like a great list of ideas for when you can ponder your current work in progress, Roxanne provides it in her blog post, A Time to Ponder. Check it out, and you might realize you have more writing time available than you first realized.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Battle of Your Life

As a Christian, the greatest battle you will ever fight is one that will endure throughout your entire lifetime: the battle over your thought life. Through the course of years, I have become increasingly aware of this life-and-death war, and the myriad ways it impacts my life and the life of every believer.
I’d like to share a little nugget of truth with you, one that comes straight from Scripture. It was given to me several years ago by a dear friend and brother in Christ who also happens to be a life coach and counselor.
I will post passages in the New American Standard translation, because that’s my personal favorite. Regardless, the original Greek doesn’t change, no matter which English translation you use. And the Greek word we’re going to look at today is noema.
Strong’s Gk #3540: noema – thought, purpose; from Strong’s Gk #3539, noeo – to perceive, think 
Noema only shows up a few times in Scripture—five times in 2 Corinthians, and once in Philippians. Most frequently, this word is translated “mind,” as in these passages (emphasis/bolding mine):
But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.
2 Corinthians 3:14 (NASB)
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4 (NASB)
But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
2 Cor 11:3 (NASB)
Okay, so we see from these three passages that Paul, the person who wrote Corinthians, is deeply concerned with the minds of both believers and non-believers—and specifically with the mind’s susceptibility to being hardened, blinded, and deceived.
In Scripture study there is an important principle, called the “Law of First Mention.” This law basically states that the first place a concept/word is introduced becomes the foundation upon which every other place the concept/word mentioned must be built. 
Noema appears two other times in 2 Corinthians, the first of which happens to be the very first time the word appears in all of Scripture. So if this next verse is the first time noema appears, and if the first time is the foundation for all other times the word is used, why did I wait so long to show this passage to you? Because you needed to see how deeply this word noema is entwined with the thoughts and the mind.
But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
2 Cor. 10:3-5 (NASB)
That word “schemes” is noema. Do you see the connection? Paul is concerned with the mind and the thoughts for a reason: because your mind is where Satan attacks you—relentlessly. He will attack wherever you are weakest, lie and manipulate to convince you of anything other than the truth of who you are in Christ.
Do you doubt it? How about the last time you wrestled with thoughts of inadequacy in your role as a parent or spouse? Or entertained anger and bitterness toward a co-worker, spouse, or in-law? When was the last time you looked in the mirror and heard that old familiar thought that some feature of yourself is ugly, fat, sagging, or otherwise imperfect? How often have you believed that lie that you can’t overcome an alcohol, drug, cigarette, food, or pornography addiction?
Try some of these lies on for size: It’s just too hard. You’ll never beat it. You’re a terrible mother. You’re not a leader. You suck as a husband. You’re too fat. You’re a failure. Your husband no longer wants you. You’ll never get that promotion. You’re not good enough. Go ahead and eat it. What difference does one more hit make? Or one more lie? She’ll never find out. He’s not as smart as you are. Your parents don’t understand you. Your friends don’t really care about you. She just wants to make your life miserable. Just do it. You’ll never change. This is just who you are, and you’ll never change it. You can’t. It’s impossible.
Do any of those feel familiar? Those are just a sampling from Satan’s arsenal of lies and thoughts. And it’s like a downward spiral. One thought leads to another, then another. You soon feel defeated…or energized to just say “screw it.”
What to do? How do you stop this vicious cycle? Welcome to 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (NASB):
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
That word “thought” is the same Greek word noema. Do you take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ? Do you arrest every dark or angry thought, every lie that Satan casts your way? Or do you believe it, listen to it, meditate on it?
Scripture says that we are to renew our minds (Romans 12:2) How do we do this? By washing it daily with the Word of God. Interestingly, in this passage, mind is actually nous (Strong’s Gk #3563): mind, understanding or reason. It’s also translated composure or comprehension. You renew your understanding and your ability to reason every time you delve into God’s Word.
And what happens when you renew your mind? You are better equipped to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. If you dwell on discouraging thoughts, more will come. But if every time Satan and his minions fire one of those flaming missiles (Ephesians 6) your way, you take that thought captive and counter it with God’s truth, you’ll soon find that the mind really is the battlefield.
Here’s the last place in Scripture where you will find the word noema. Be encouraged:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 (NASB)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Peach Throw Pillows

I read on facebook today of a young friend’s college plans. The discussion of on-campus housing and roommate assignments took me back to my own college years.
I attended Peace, a private women’s college, on an academic scholarship. Let’s just say I had some rather discouraging dormitory and roommate experiences. Girls can be quite catty, sometimes downright malicious. It didn't help that I was there on scholarship and most of the others were there on daddy's money. By the end of my first semester, I was ready to escape. So when I transferred the following year to Appalachian State, it took a leap of faith to again put my roommate assignment in the hands of campus housing. Not that I had a choice in the matter—after all, I didn't know any other girls there.
I braced myself for the possibilities. To be sure, I would end up with either a Satanist or a snob, so I reasoned that I would simply spend as little time as possible in my dorm room.
Boy, was I in for a surprise. Campus housing assigned me to Joannis, a short, strawberry-blonde spitfire who hurled peach throw pillows with lightning speed. She’s been my best friend for 17 years now and, without a doubt, will maintain that status for the rest of our lives. What I saw as one small detail, God saw as a way to bless me for a lifetime with a friend who truly is closer than a sister.
You never know when God is in the details.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ganache - Chocolate of the gods

It's true. The stuff is heavenly. Indulgent. Some might say sinful. Plus, it's one of the most addictive foods known to man...or at least, to my man.
I love to pour ganache over a cake iced with cream cheese icing. It cools as it slides down the sides, lending an elegent touch. It's delicious on strawberries and raspberries, too. And although I haven't tried it yet, I'm sure it would be divine on cheesecake. If you let it cool, then whip it with a hand mixer, it makes a decadent cake filling.
My husband's favorite way of eating it is by the spoonful, straight out of the fridge. With that in mind, I sometimes roll it into truffles and coat them in cocoa. They don't ship well, as my literary agent recently discovered, but they sure taste good.
The recipe I developed requires top-secret security clearance, but you can great recipes for ganache online.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Little Einsteins Rocket Cake

Just to mix things up a bit, here's the first cake I ever attempted for my kids' birthdays: Rocket from the Little Einsteins.


I made this cake before I learned how to use fondant, so everything you see—except, of course, the Leo, Annie, June and Quincy toys in front and the cherry lollypop on top—is buttercream. To get buttercream this smooth, I used a little trick from my mentor involving a water misting bottle and an icing blade. Took a long time, but for my first fun/character cake, it turned out okay.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Daddy, Read the Next One

My husband reads our children a chapter each night from The Jesus Storybook Bible. Tonight our son hung on his every word as Daddy read about Jesus' death on the cross. The chapter ended with the stone sealing up the tomb.
Normally, Doug will read one chapter, then the kids will pray together. Then I take over and read a chapter from a children's book (we're currently re-reading Little House on the Prairie), pray over them, and tuck them in. But tonight as Doug closed the devotional book, he asked our son, "Do you know what happened to Jesus next?" Little guy couldn't remember. He begged him, "Daddy, read the next one!" So we forewent the chapter book tonight and continued reading in the devotional.
Thank goodness for the rest of the story.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Toy Story Cake

My little guy's birthday party was yesterday. I created a cake for him based on Toy Story, with Andy's room as the theme. If you've never seen Toy Story, this cake will look like a random, over-loaded hodgepodge of mismatched toys. But if you've seen any of the three movies, you'll understand just how essential the characters are.
My design isn't original (you can find other similar cakes online), but the execution and construction was unique.
The cake is two layers of 9x13 sheet cake, iced with buttercream (chocolate filling), and then covered in fondant. Most folks only use a crumb coat under fondant, but my family doesn't care much for how fondant tastes, so I ice with buttercream or cream cheese icing. That way my husband can just peel the fondant right off. It's the best of both worlds: a cake with the yumminess of buttercream or cream cheese icing combined with the design flexibility and wonders of fondant.
Aside from the toys, which were part of my son's birthday presents, every part of this cake's structure is edible...except a few strategically-placed toothpicks, used as anchors. That's one of the true challenges in cake decorating.
I constructed the headboard from a sheet of matzah, large pretzel sticks and gummy candy balls, all rolled in a fondant/gumpaste mixture. The pillow is a small sliver of cake, again rolled in fondant. The sheets, blanket, rug, and letters are also fondant.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Truest Friend

Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.
- George Washington
I have precious few true friends, with whom I can confide anything, knowing they will not judge or betray. In fact, I can probably count them on my fingers. That small number stands in stark contrast with my "friends" count on Facebook, currently nearing 600. And that's just fine with me.
Association is not the same thing as friendship. In this respect, many social networking sites have become glaring self-contradictions. Marketing on the individual's need for companionship, they've conveniently, perhaps subconsciously, mislabeled all our associations as friends. But is that true? Have the folks on your friends list truly earned the title?
If we're honest, I think we would all have to say we've allowed the word friend to become too commonplace, diluting its value to the point of near-worthlessness. And part of me wishes Facebook would change that label, for the good of society. Don't get me wrong. I value my Facebook friends. But I also know that there's something more precious. Just as our first Commander in Chief said,"True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation."
Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, et al, will only sustain you so far in filling that lonely void of companionship that we all feel, keenly at times. Even true friends can fail us or have their own issues that keep them from always being there when we need a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. There's only one true cure for loneliness. I've found Him. I don't always cultivate my relationship with Him like I should. But He is always there. He will never leave me nor forsake me.
So why do I spend so much time commenting on Facebook statuses and tweeting on Twitter, when the friendship of a lifetime is waiting right here, in my Bible and in prayer?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

How Not to Look Like a Moron

Pay attention, folks, because I'm going to give you a piece of advice that, if heeded, will keep you from looking like a socially inept moron and possibly extend the length of your life (or at least keep it from being cut short). You ready? Good.
You're just absolutely sure that little bump under her top is a pea in the pod. And sure, you think she has a lovely glow that could only mean motherhood. Perhaps you pride yourself on your ability to spot a pregnant belly earlier than anyone else can. Fine. Now listen to me: 
NEVER ever ever ever ask a woman, "when are you due?" Or the more obvious, "are you pregnant?"
I don't care if she looks like a beached whale and you could have sworn you just saw something kick. There is at least a 50% chance that she will NOT be pregnant, and you will have unwittingly told her that she looks...well...pregnant...which translates to fat. And even if she IS pregnant, she'll never be as far along as you think she is, and she won't enjoy thinking she looks as far along as you think she does. Trust me.
And if you think your radar picks up pregnant woman and decide to throw caution to the wind and make this terrible social snafu, and she turns out to (surprise!) not be pregnant, whatever you do, DO NOT follow up with, "are you sure?"
Got that? Excellent! You will probably live a long and fruitful life.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

All I Need?

Lord, I know you're all I have,
but I don't know You well enough
for you to be all I need.
-Dr. Larry Crabb in Finding God
My friend Sam told me this quote probably 10 years ago. It stuck with me, and I have often reflected on the simple, yet profound truth of it.
People fail us. We fail ourselves. But God will never do that. He'll never leave us or forsake us. Do we know Him well enough to trust Him at His word? This is probably my greatest struggle of all: trust. Trust that He'll be there to catch me when I fall. Trust that He'll wipe away the tears, heal the hurts, protect the innocent.
There are really only a few ways to get to know Him this well, and they all require spending time with Him--reading in His word, talking to Him, and spending time with those who reflect His image.
Lord, help me know You well enough.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Broken Collection

The Lord has been excavating my soul of late, unearthing childhood wounds so that He can apply the healing they desperately need. Through this process, He has made me more sensitive to the presence of similar wounds in others.
I have come to the conclusion that we are all broken. Every last one of us. Some are scarred by childhood abuse and neglect, most have self-inflicted wounds, carved by our own choices. The bottom line is that every last one of us is broken in some way by sin.
The Bible says we're all broken. Damaged. Scratched and scarred. Marred and blemished in some way (Rom 3:23). And there's nothing we can do about it. Absolutely nothing.
Then along comes the Lord. For some reason inconceivable to us, He really likes damaged goods.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
-Psalm 34:18
Scripture states this again and again (Ps 147:3), even in prophetic messages about Jesus the Messiah (Is 61:1). Come to think of it, Jesus even said that He came specifically for the broken, not the perfect (Mt 9:12-13, Lk 5:31-32, Mk 2:17)
Barbara Bloom once wrote, “When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”
The Lord is like that. He searches out the damaged pieces. He uses the broken, filling in the fractures with His glory and redemption. What a strange Collector God is. And I'm so glad He found a place in His collection for me.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Birthday Gift

Check out this dialogue from my house this morning. Keep in mind that my daughter is five, and my son is three. I've left out their names to protect them:
Daughter: Mommy, are you 36 today?
Me: Yes!
Daughter: When people get really old, they shrink a little.
Me: That’s true. But I’m not really old.
Son: When you get really old, you die. Are you going to die now, Mommy.
Me: No! I’ve got a long time left to live, Buddy. And so do you.
Daughter: Mommy, do you know Mamaw and Papaw’s neighbor?
Me: Evelyn?
Daughter: Yeah. She’s really old, and she said she shrank a little!
Me: *laughing* Well, I haven’t shrunk any yet. You know, you’re not really old until you’re like 90.
Daughter (I think): Do you die when you’re 90? (or something like that)
Me: Well, some people live to be over 100.
Daughter: Do people live to be a million or a billion? (Stay with me here, it’s about to get amazingly good, I promise.)
Me: No, people don’t live that long. But before the flood, people sometimes lived to be 700-and-some years old.
Son: When will heaven come down?
Me: When Jesus comes back.
Son: Is Jesus here now?
Daughter: No, silly!
Me: He hasn’t come back yet, but He is here. He lives in your heart if you believe in Him. Do you believe in Him, Son?
Son: Yeah.
Me: Do you want to ask Him to live in your heart?
Son: Yeah. Live in my heart, Jesus.
Me: Come here, baby. Do you want to pray and ask Jesus to be your God?
Son (on my lap): Yeah.
Me: Well, let's do that. I can help you pray it.
Son: Okay
Me and Son: Jesus, I know I’ve sinned. I’m not perfect. But you died for me and paid for my sins. Come live in my heart and be my God forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
How awesome was that?? And ON MY BIRTHDAY!! I told him, “Buddy, this is the best present Mommy could ever have gotten, to have you ask Jesus to live in your heart.” He was very pleased.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Robes for Rags

I'm really thankful that the Lord doesn't just leave us to our own demise. He embraces us when we're filthy and willingly trades His robes for our rags, His righteousness for our stench.
So what's the catch? He won't force us to hand them over. He simply and patiently waits, gently prompting but never forcing, until we're ready.
Why don't we hand them over more willingly? Why do we hold onto our junk when we could give it all to Him and walk in complete freedom?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Disillusionment

Years ago my pastor told me that disillusionment is a good thing and not to be avoided, because it means we're being delivered from an illusion. So now, when I feel disillusioned, I try to stop and thank the Lord for delivering me from the deceit. It still hurts, especially when we're feeling disillusioned with a friend or family member...even a long-held dream, but there's freedom if you take the time to find it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

When Faith Wears Thin

A friend mentioned a Twila Paris song on facebook today, and I pulled up a few of her melodies on youtube because I hadn't heard them in a while. I have said many times that there has been a Twila Paris song for every season of my life thus far. Typically, she releases them a year or so before they reach and anchor me. Perhaps her lifewalk with Christ is a few paces ahead of mine. Regardless, her songs are milestones the Lord has often used to encourage and even navigate me on this narrow path. 
Do I Trust You is one of her earliest, and it touched me in a powerful way as a new Christian. Listening to it again today, some 20 years later, I remembered that sweet wonder I had in Him, in all His awesomeness and limitless power and love. And I realized that I have lost a great deal of my joy somewhere along the way.
I know much more of the Word than I did at the age of 16, when I first heard that song. Sadly, I also know more of this world. Some of what I know, I wish I could forget. Life can sometimes wear thin patches in your faith that aren't neatly mended by "doctrine and theology." I think that's why the lines of Do I Trust You struck a chord within me again today. I think you'll understand what I mean if you listen to it, so here's the song, and here are the lyrics.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

When Politics and Worship Intersect

If you read my last blog post, you know that we had a...let's call it interesting...corporate confession at my church Sunday. Here's the text, for those who did not read my last post:
Now is the time for fasting and prayer begging our Father's forgiveness for destroying his creation with our carelessness and greed. We are all guilty. Have mercy on this country, O Lord. Free us from our addiction. Restore your ocean. Amen.
Honestly, I was dumbfounded, and I'm still processing it, four days later. The more I meditate on it and pray about it, the more troubled I feel. I think what concerns me most about this incident was the way it was sprung on the entire congregation in the middle of our service, replacing the confession printed in our bulletin, and incorporated as part of the order of worship, in which everyone in the church was expected (per tradition) to confess it jointly.
I welcome dialogue about political and social issues and have frequently engaged in such discussions over dinner and in small gatherings, and regularly do so on social websites like facebook and twitter. But is a formal worship service the proper venue for introducing such a polarizing political subject to the church? Did anyone ask if this was an appropriate subject for our corporate confession? And who answered? Where is the opportunity for dialogue? In this case, it felt very much like a political agenda was being thrust upon the entire congregation, without regard for the fact that probably half of that congregation disagrees with the conclusions made in the confession at hand. There was no room for dialogue except after the fact, and that seems a little late, for me.
We were informed at the introduction to this confession that a member, moved by current events, penned it. I say bravo for their ability to articulate their raw emotions and opinions concisely and pointedly in what they may well consider a heartfelt prayer to God. But who decided that this confession was appropriate for the entire body?
Does this mean that the rest of the church's members are also at liberty to write confessions for our body, based on what moves us individually, and are free to present these confessions for corporate prayer? Should we expect everyone else in the congregation to share our convictions?
I am aware that our particular body represents a broad spectrum of political and social opinions. Some I personally agree with, and some I don't. But until last Sunday, I never once felt that any particular opinion or agenda was being endorsed by my church. That has suddenly changed.
Before I close, I would like to make clear that I have a great deal of respect for my church's leadership. They have always struck me as the type of leaders who put a great deal of forethought and consideration into every decision. Perhaps that is what makes this incident all the more disconcerting.
I would love to know your thoughts on this.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Politics in the Pews

I go to a church that utilizes corporate confession in our service every Sunday. The confessions are often pulled from the Westminster Confession or the like, and a great deal of thought is put into them. This Sunday's confession was different. Projected on the overhead as usual, it was penned by one of our congregants and accompanied by a picture of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill:
Now is the time for fasting and prayer begging our Father's forgiveness for destroying his creation with our carelessness and greed. We are all guilty. Have mercy on this country, O Lord. Free us from our addiction. Restore your ocean. Amen.
This confession troubled an untold number of our congregation. Some took issue with the fact that corporate confession was being used for something...well...corporate, rather than dealing with our individual sins. However, I had no problem with that. My background includes experience with both corporate and identificational repentance, and I am comfortable with the concept of repenting corporately for the sins of our nation, our culture, our church, and so on. True Christianity is corporate in nature, and that corporate nature is rooted in the Hebrew foundation of our faith. The western Church has individualized our walk with Christ to the point that we've lost sight of the fact that each person is only one cell in the vast body of Christ. So I got it. I think that's the problem. I understood exactly what was going on. We were supposed to be repenting for our sins.
A discussion ensued today on facebook. One friend pointed out that the Gulf catastrophe was rooted in the greed and carelessness of a corporation. But the confession did not say that. We were not led in a prayer of repentance on behalf of British Petroleum. It specifically said, "...our carelessness and greed. We are all guilty. Have mercy on this country, O Lord. Free us from our addiction..."
Whose carelessness and greed? Not BP's...not according to the confession. And that leaves "this country."
Whose addiction? Our country's.
Our greed and addiction to what? Oil.
I've heard the term "oil addiction" in political debates about the environment enough times to recognize the term as a very political one when it appeared, thinly veiled, on our church projector screen Sunday. The chosen wording lended itself heavily to a liberal political interpretation, and I personally don't think the church should make room for politics, either way.
Bottom line: it felt political, and a little icky because of that...I couldn't help but think when I first heard it, "why are we as a body taking sides in environmentalism?"
Will we next repent as a body for global warming? Or let's strike more toward my personal side of the political fence and ask if we're going to repent corporately for the countless lives lost to abortion...that's an even greater travesty in the eyes of God than the Gulf catastrophe, in my opinion...
See where it could go, and how quickly? This is why it felt icky to me.
If the church is going to participate in corporate repentance, I think we should take a close look at WHAT we repent for, and WHY. Does our nation need to repent for using fossil fuels? Is that biblical? Being poor stewards of the Lord's creation, yes, I can see that as a biblical subject for repentance. But oil addiction? How about our addiction to abortion for convenience...or pornography?
Don't get me wrong. I'm horrified by what's happened to our beautiful Gulf, but I disagree with labeling this as a sin that deserves to rest on the conscience of the nation and the church as a whole, when greater (translated: more scripturally proven) sins are effectively being ignored.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cussing Versus Cursing

A Christian friend wrote a blog post today about using foul language or "curse words." You can read his post here. He brought up many interesting points, one of which I'd like to extrapolate on.
My friend wrote that when condemning "salty language," folks often refer to James 3:9:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.
I do agree that the use of foul language should be avoided. I must say, however, that anyone who uses James 3:9 as a reference for the condemnation of foul language is missing the point of this passage entirely. That verse has NOTHING to do with what we've come to call "curse words," or "cuss words." "Cursing" in Scripture is NOT saying d*mn, sh*t or h*ll. In Scripture, cursing is speaking death to yourself or another person.
Which of these two examples do you think is a curse?
a) "Damnit!"
or
b) "John is useless. He'll never amount to anything."
If you said "b," you'd be right.
There are many "Christians" who would never use a "curse word," but who speak death over their kids - telling them they won't amount to anything, or that they're stupid - or criticizing their spouse. They won't "cuss," but they'll run the pastor or their employer into the ground with their gossip. The Hebrew word for gossip is "lashon hara," which really means "evil tongue," and it's considered a form of murder.
They use their tongue to praise God, then turn around and use it to curse those who were made in God's likeness. Yeah, that sounds like James 3:9 to me. That's just the sort of self-righteousness Jesus talked about that amounts to a whitewashed tomb. Really pretty on the outside (no cuss words!), but full of death.
Cursing is something we all do. Try going a day without speaking death - without saying you hate your job, or that you'll never get that promotion. Try not telling your kids that they never listen, or telling your best friend that your husband will never change. Try going a day without saying you'll never lose that last ten pounds.
Each of those things is a curse. Scripture tells us to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:18-20), to bless others and not curse them (Romans 12:14). It tells us that life and death are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
James 1:19 tells us to be slow to speak. That's great advice. A few verses later (1:26), James refers to the person who thinks he is righteous but does not bridle his tongue. He goes on in chapter 3 to compare the tongue to the rudder of a ship, able to steer the whole person to either death or life.
Refraining from words of death or cursing feels like the impossible challenge (believe me, I know this personally...it's a daily struggle for me), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Yes, we're still human and will still fail, even if we are saved by grace and faith in Christ. But in watching every word that proceeds from our mouths, we begin to walk that redemptive lifestyle, to walk out our salvation in a way that will produce good fruit.
So the next time you hear someone use a "cuss word" (or use one yourself) and start to bristle about it, stop and ask yourself when was the last time you truly cursed (in the Biblical sense) - either yourself or someone else. If you're honest with yourself, the truth might be sobering. A stray cuss word seems so trivial in light of what a real curse is and what it can do. What's worse? A cuss word, or a word of ridicule? A word that offends the sensibilities, or a word that wounds the heart? Even secular psychologists understand this very biblical concept. For example, in this short secular article from USAToday, experts discuss the long-term effects that hurtful words from a parent or teacher can have on a child.
I'm a little less concerned now with the use of "cuss words," and a lot more concerned with speaking life and blessing. I want to tell my children that they can be Godly, that they can make a huge difference in this world. I want to make sure that I praise them for acheivements, for choosing to do good, to obey or listen. I want to reinforce the fact that they are a blessing, not because of how they perform, but just because they are. I want to make a point to tell my husband that he's a wonderful husband and provider, and give him concrete examples on a regular basis to build him up. I want to speak life into situations, not death. I might stumble and fall, but I'll get right back up - with Jesus' help - and speak life again.
Would you like to join me?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

When Literature Comes to Life

Yesterday I wrote about our discovery of the ducklings at the park, and how excited my kids were to see what we had read about in The Trumpet of the Swan, by E. B. White.
Well, it gets better.
The same day we went to the park and saw the ducks, we went to Costco. That's really not such a big deal, I know, but my kids are hooked on the free samples, so they were excited. But the real excitement that day wasn't in the store, but in the parking lot. When we drove toward the Costco entrance, we spotted this:

Yes, that is a Canada Goose nesting on an "island" in the parking lot. There is a run-off pond below the Costco parking lot, and several geese have made this location their summer home.
Her mate stood protectively nearby. He hissed at us quite a bit when we stopped our van and took a better look at them. The children were beside themselves with delight at getting to see a goose, the closest thing we have in our area to a swan, nesting just like in our chapter book.
We made a point to drive by and see her several more times. Just a few days ago, we drove by and the nest was abandoned. I got out of the van and took a closer look, and several egg shells were there, but no whole eggs. Apparently, the goslings had hatched.
So we drove to a parking lot that bordered the run-off pond and found the goose family at the water's edge. The geese were alarmed to see humans coming toward them, and they hurried their goslings into the water where they'd be safe from the perceived threat.
The children counted eight goslings altogether.
On our way back to the car, we were confronted by a large goose. He spread his wings and drew close. The children stood behind me, and I extended my arms in what I figured was a similar gesture to his. He closed his wings, eyed me, and backed up. I guess I was a bigger bird than him.
It's amazing what a child can learn about our world through reading. Have you read to your child today?

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Bestest Day

I love it when real life and literature intersect. And they did beautifully last week.
I believe I've mentioned before that I'm currently reading The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White to my children. We had just read about the mother swan building a nest, sitting on the eggs for 35 days, and the cygnets (baby swans) hatching out. The next day when we were leaving a play date at a local park, a beautiful opportunity presented itself in which I could bring that book to life for my children. We passed a pond, and I spotted some ducklings following their mother across the street. I pulled over, got the kids out of the car, and we went for a nature walk.
A couple geese plucked grass next to the pond. When we approached, one postured and flapped his wings to look intimidating toward us, much as the cob (the father swan) did in the chapter book to ward off intruders.
Turtles sunned on a log in the water, and my children quickly learned what it means to be quiet when observing wildlife when the turtles vanished into the water at the sounds of their voices. It took several patient minutes of silent waiting for them to re-emerge for us to get this shot.
And we found the ducklings.
My children were delighted, their little voices shrill with excitement as they watched the little ducks swim in the water, then climb ashore at their mother's summons and huddle together to enjoy the mid-April sunshine.
As we headed home, my daughter declared it one of the bestest days ever. Yes, sweetheart, it certainly was.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Worldview Myopia

I find it ironic how willingly blind humans are to our own faults, while seeing entirely too clearly the shortcomings in others. This worldview myopia affects each of us. No one is immune. Conservatives, liberals and independents. Christians, Jews and Muslims. Protestants and Catholics. Men and women. Heterosexuals and homosexuals. Whites, Blacks, Hispanics. Citizens and illegal immigrants. Any other groups pitted against each other by differing opinions, goals, and beliefs. Every segment of society is guilty. Those most infected with the disease often are in the greatest denial.
I'm not preaching tolerance and "let's all just get along" at all costs. I'm not encouraging relativism and "truth as you see it." I'm just making an observation about myself and everyone around me after reading an interesting thread on Facebook.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Great Way to Learn

I had a very active imagination as a child. Combine that with the fact that I had no siblings and lived in a neighborhood with no other children who liked to play, and I had to entertain myself most of the time. I got very good at it.
Forward thirty years, and I now have two children of my own. With two children, pretend play is still a hit, but it gets even more inventive! Wow, the fun I missed out on without a little brother.
We're currently reading The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White. My daughter ran around all morning, pretending she was Lewis. That meant I didn't hear her voice at all. Anytime I'd ask them a question, she'd get in front of me, huge smile on her face, and nod vigorously and flap her "wings." My three-year-old son was the cob (the father swan) and he ran around flapping his wings, ko-hoh-ing and talking a lot. The area rug in our living room is now a pond, and I'm the mommy swan.
Perhaps the strangest thing I've ever seen them pretend happened after they watched an episode of the BBC documentary Planet Earth. My daughter decided the next morning that she wanted to be the baby caribou that got caught and eaten by the wolf. Little brother, naturally, was the wolf.
I figured that was normal, but she went back to her Baby Caribou act this morning (a month later) before she broke out in her Mute Swan demo. Between those bits, she said she was the fish that hides her babies in her mouth (cichlids).
This is pretty typical of kids, I know. But it tells me they're paying attention when I'm reading those chapters at bedtime or when they're watching educational stuff. Just as much so as when they're watching "Little Einsteins" or "Max and Ruby." And I believe, from my own limited observations, that pretend play helps cement the things they've learned.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Going Green Isn't Always the Greenest Thing to Do

We're fairly health-conscious. I bake my own organic bread, feed us organic whenever possible, cook healthy meals, recycle and try to use environmentally friendly products. So it just made sense to switch to compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs a couple years ago.
But after two years of trying to use CFL's exclusively, I'm done. I have no desire to continue pouring money into extremely expensive bulbs that contain mercury (my kids have knocked over lamps and broken four of them), burn out way before their advertised 25,000 hour life span (I've lost count of how many have become too dim to read by, or even worse just stopped working, after just a few months), melt and smoke and die in the fixtures (this happened three times), and take half an hour to warm up enough to see with (again, lost count). There's NO WAY that these things are more "efficient" with their current design flaws. Maybe in 10 years, after the technology has improved.
For now, it's back to the old reliable: the Edison incandescent that lasts our family an average of two years, doesn't cause toxic environmental contamination or require special cleanup procedures if it gets broken, doesn't cost a fortune, and has beautiful color.
My life is warm again. Ahh...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Yucca, the Kudzu of the Underground

After several years of trying to rid our front flower bed of yucca, I have come to the conclusion that this wretched plant should be officially classified as a nuisance. A demonic garden pest that only the most inexperienced of gardeners would ever attempt to cultivate, it should be erradicated from the face of the earth. Seriously. Let's just raze the entire planet six feet deep to ensure that we get all those nasty tubers that spread like a cancer through otherwise good soil.

I would sacrifice every daylily, coneflower, daisy, shrub and bulb, even my precious little blue anemones to be ridded of it for good. Okay, well maybe I wouldn't go that far. But I am not-very-seriously considering transplanting all my other plants and bringing in some heavy equipment.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Passover Moon

Take a look out your window tonight, and if our sky isn't overcast, you'll see a gorgeous full moon. That's the Passover moon, the moon that shone on Jesus while He prayed in Gethsemane. And that same moon becons us to revisit His sacrifice, to partake in the feast in remembrance of Him.

Chag sameach Pesach!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Said Before...Bears Repeating

"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them." -Thomas Jefferson

I know it's been said before, but this quote from one of our Founding Fathers bears repeating, especially in light of the fact that it has now become something of a fulfilled prophecy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Where are you, Patriots?

“If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.” -Samuel Adams, 1776

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Don't Get Hacked!

My husband is an information security manager, so over the years I have received many lectures about strong passwords. At least three of my friends' twitter accounts have been compromised in the past week, so now is a good time to share with you about how to create a strong password (with a little help from my husband). Here are nine points that, if followed, will ensure you have a strong password.

1. If possible, your password should be a combination of letters, numbers and special characters.
2. Do NOT use a dictionary word or common name.
3. Do NOT use social security numbers, anniversary or birth dates, addresses, etc.
4. Don’t use anything that can be associated with you from other public data.
5. And make sure that your password does not contain part of your username.

Here’s a great example of a phrase turned into a strong password with the use of special characters and numbers:

32$izmyn (32 dollars is mine)

But be careful. Here is an example of a very weak password that the common person would think is strong:

p@$$w0rd

I’ve just spelled “password” with special characters and a number. And I’ve also just typed a password that’s in every hacker’s dictionary.

Acronyms are useful as passwords, especially if you throw in special characters. Take a favorite line from a book or movie and use the first letter of each word, then throw in a few numbers and special characters. For example, let’s take that most famous of all movie lines, from Gone With the Wind: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Here’s an acronym of this phrase:

FMDIDGAD

Okay, so now we have a string of letters that doesn’t appear in hacker dictionaries (until hackers see this blog post and add it, so DON’T use it). Let’s make it stronger by substituting numbers and/or special characters:

FMD1DG@D

Now you have a useful password.

Now, some websites don't allow special characters in their passwords, which always annoys my husband. But in that case, just make sure you use numbers and don't spell out any dictionary words.

6. And don't be mistaken: a firewall is a great thing, but it won't protect you from viruses that you or another family member unknowingly download. Make sure you have antivirus software and updated definitions or subscription. Your computer may have come with it pre-installed when you bought it, but unless you are paying a yearly subscription fee, your computer is not protecting you from the latest viruses—and there are new ones written every day. One friend changed her password when her twitter account was compromised, yet it was hacked again within hours. How did this happen if she changed to a strong password? She had unwittingly downloaded a keystroke logger—a virus or trojan that records your passwords.

7. Be wary of clicking on website links in emails. If a friend sends you an unexpected link via email, twitter, facebook, or even a chat window, check with them first.

8. If possible, put your kids on a separate computer. Kids are notorious for downloading all sorts of extraneous software, which often contains malware. Malware includes viruses, adware, spyware, trojans, key loggers—all the stuff you don't want on the computer you use to manage your finances.

9. One more thing—and this is probably the most important thing of all for protecting your identity—make sure that you keep financial passwords different and separate from ALL OTHER passwords. That way, if your facebook or twitter account is compromised, the hacker can't turn around and use the compromised password to hack into your banking or credit card account.

Friday, February 26, 2010

That Baby Laugh

My son is three and a half, and he still laughs like he did when he was one. You know, that awesome gurgly giggle complete with eyes that disappear into closed half-moon eyelids? It's one of the most joyful sounds and sights on earth, and I still get to enjoy that every day. I have no idea when he'll outgrow it, but I hope not for a long while yet.

Questions from a Five Year Old

Have you ever seen the BBC production Planet Earth? It's stellar in just about every way. And there seems to be no political agenda, which makes it even better. I say "seems" because I don't know that for sure. We're only on disc two of four. But what we've seen so far is excellent, far and away some of the best, most breathtaking images we've ever seen. We occasionally let our children (ages three and five) watch an episode at night. They're always fascinated and have questions. Last night, they witnessed a wildebeest get captured and dragged into the water by an alligator. Our three year old son said "that's sad" and nothing more. It stuck with our oldest a little longer. She got up shortly after bedtime to inform us that she was thinking about alligators coming into their room.
We explained to her that alligators don't live around here, and that even if they did, they can't open the door because they can't stand up or reach the doorknob. And even if they could, the door was locked. She laughed. "Do they eat people?" she asked. Doug and I glanced at each other. Then, skating around the issue, Doug told her about the Crocodile Hunter, who wrestled crocodiles and stuff, complete with his best attempt at Steve Irwin's Australian accent. That got more laughs.
"Can I see him?" she asked.
"Yes. I'll find a video for you on youtube tomorrow after breakfast," I promised.
Cut to this morning. After a bit of hunting, I found some videos, screened them, and showed them to my daughter. Here's the dialogue after she saw several videos of Steve Irwin and a big team of men catching 16-foot crocs.
Daughter: Is he real?
Me: Yes, he was. He studied animals. He worked at a zoo in Australia. (notice my careful use of the past tense here)
Daughter: So he's alive?
Me (stalling): Well...no, he died a few years ago, but it didn't have anything to do with crocodiles (don't want to unearth that fear again).
Daughter: Oh.
A few minutes later:
Daughter: Mommy, did Steve Irwin believe in Jesus?
Me: I don't know.
Daugther: Because if he believed in Jesus, he went to heaven when he died.
Me: That's true.
I wish I was as fearless in my approach to spiritual issues as my daughter is. She might be afraid of alligators at bedtime, but she's not afraid to face the spiritual status of everyone she knows head-on.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation

Forgiveness and Reconciliation. One would think they go hand-in-hand, right? I mean, for you to truly experience reconciliation, forgiveness must be included. But the two are not mutually inclusive. The Lord has recently graced me with this insight, by means of my awesome pastor and an experience I still haven't grown enough to thank Him for just yet.
Forgiveness is letting go of the hurt inflicted on you by another person. You surrender your resentment and bitterness, releasing it and getting out of God's way. Essentially, you forfeit your right to sit in judgment of what they did to you. After all, that is God's position, not ours (Deut. 32:35). In fact, forgiveness is also a commandment. (Matt. 6:14-15; Mark 11:25-26; Luke 6:36-38; Rom. 12:17-21)
But reconciliation is the restoration of harmony and friendship. And that may never happen, even if you're walking in perfect forgiveness toward the offender. And that's okay. Why? Because reconciliation requires acknowledgment on the offender's part and acceptance of responsibility, as well as a commitment to change. Hence the reason why I say that forgiveness does not mean you have to go back for more abuse.
Nearly every time in Scripture where the words reconciliation or reconciled are used, it is in reference to someone being reconciled to God. One notable difference is in Matthew 5:23-24:
Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
That was Jesus speaking, and according to this passage, it is the offender's responsibility to reconcile.
Healthy boundaries are essential in any relationship. And if the offending party does not respect your boundaries and is not willing to seek you out with respect to those boundaries, reconciliation cannot occur. You have every right to establish healthy boundaries. In fact, it is foolishness not to.
You can walk in forgiveness and not experience reconciliation. It is disappointing, of course, and setting boundaries can be very difficult, but sometimes that is the path we must walk.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Long Journey

Last Wednesday our women's prayer group at church discussed how God answers prayer. Of course, we were asked to share a personal example. There are many instances when Father came through for me miraculously, His timing perfect, His provision above and beyond what I could have hoped for. Still other times when He said no, and for years I struggled with accepting His answer, petitioning Him again and again, then years later coming back to His feet to rejoice and thank Him for opening my eyes to see His great mercy and wisdom in saying no. But the example He prompted me to share is one I'm living right now, one where He said wait.
For more than fifteen years, I've been writing a novel. So long, in fact, that I also have written a sequel and scenes, notes and story archs for at least three others. It's turned into an entire series. It's been revised and edited and critiqued so many times I've lost count. Still, in the dark recessess of my back-up hard drive, I have no doubt that the original copy lurks somewhere in all its raw glory. And I've been praying since shortly after its inception about getting this book published.
Umpteen years ago, a writer would submit a manuscript to a publisher, who would then decide whether or not to publish it. Sounds like a simple process, right? Yeah, well, those days are gone. The literary agent has become a clearing house of sorts for publishers that have become inundated with unsolicited manuscripts. Rare is the book that makes it to print without a great agent's representation. In fact, finding an agent has become as daunting, perhaps more so, as finding a publisher was a decade ago.
I don't have the typical novelist's journey. I haven't queried five hundred agents. I don't have an entire room wallpapered with rejection letters. Don't get me wrong. I didn't just pen a novel and put it on a shelf. I majored in English, took college-level creative writing and book editing classes, interned for a local publisher, joined writers' groups and critique groups, and recently attended some writer's conferences. I've been a diligent worker bee (most of the time). But the Lord made it clear to me that the writing was really all that I could control. The rest was in His hands.
At a recent conference I was blessed to meet Jonathan Clements, one of those truly genuine people you meet only once in a while. It was a divine appointment. That's the only way I can explain it. I walked away from that meeting with an amended prayer...not even a prayer so much as a conviction: Lord, that's my agent. That's the one. Jonathan asked for the first three chapters, and I sent them. A few weeks later, his partner, Cari Foulk, asked for the rest of the manuscript.
In the meantime, I ran into discouragement from some surprising places. But the Lord kept speaking wait. That's His favorite four-letter word, by the way. He also said trust Me a lot. It helped that my husband and my best friend echoed Him.
Then last week, I received validation unlike any I've ever received before. I had a phone call with Cari. She liked my manuscript! Just as with my writing journey, I won't put everything she said here because some nuggets are meant for me only. But to cut this short, today they offered me a contract.
I am now represented by Tribe Literary Agency, part of Wheelhouse Literary Group! God's goodness and mercy never cease to amaze me. Why am I always so surprised when He does what He says He'll do? Perhaps it's the waiting.
So tonight at my women's prayer fellowship, I get to share with them an answered part of a fifteen-year-long prayer. One where God said wait, and bit by bit has said yes.