Lenoir-Rhyne University Visiting Writers Series

Each year Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina invites a series of writers to the campus to speak. All of the events are open and free to the public. Having attended many of these over the past several years, I can attest to the high quality nature of these presentations. The speakers are usually award-winning authors in their genre and share many insightful thoughts and ideas on matters of current events. For those who love to hear from writers in their own words about their writing process make plans now to attend some of the events. Click on the link below to see a list of this year’s participants.

Visiting Writers Series

 

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My Reading Bucket List

Starting in 2006, I began compiling several reading lists that I wanted to challenge myself to complete. In part, this came about because although I had been a huge reader since childhood, I became aware that my reading diet was Vitamin C deficient. That is, I felt like I had not included enough Classics throughout that time spent in the pages of various books. I had decided that one way to remedy that was to read all the Pulitzer Prize Winners, so that was one of the first lists that I put in my bucket. Around that time as well the book 1001 Books to Read Before You Die was published. Even with such a daunting title I decided to toss that one in as well. During my time at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, I took a class in Children’s Literature. This spurred me to add the winners of the Caldecott Medal Award and the Newbery Medal Award. The bucket was beginning to get quite heavy, but I didn’t stop there. Along the way I came across other compiled lists and award designations that interested me as well. In addition, my interest in both history and politics merged together in the great idea to read at least one biography of each of the presidents of the United States of America.

The result is that I now have a total of 1,491 unique titles (I use that designation because in some cases short stories are included on some of the lists) in my Reading Bucket. As of this writing, I have read 108 of the titles on all the combined lists – a mere 7% of the total. Considering I have only been averaging reading 20 books a year for the past several years and still have 1,383 titles left to read, I only need 69 years to complete all the lists. The only problem with that is that at the age of 46 I am quite sure I can not count on living for 69 more years. So, I guess I am going to have to accelerate my pace of reading. Regardless of whether I actually complete this challenge in its entirety, it has been an interesting journey over the past several years. I have read books and authors that I probably never would have encountered otherwise. It would be dishonest to say I have enjoyed every one of the books; in fact, some I had to kind of view as the un-desired vegetable on my dinner plate – the item I had to make myself consume so that I could have my dessert after the meal. But for the most part it has been enlightening, educational, and personally satisfying to make my way through this and I look forward to the other surprises that lie ahead for me.

Here is a link to my Reading Bucket List. I am currently in the process of creating page links to each individual list that highlights my current progress in each one. Check them out, and perhaps you may want to add a couple to your own bucket.

Just Another Voice in the Crowd, Take 2

So, I can safely say my New Years Resolution from the first of the year can be chalked up in the Fail Column on my scorecard of life. I had promised to get back to writing on this blog and doing a better job of updating my reading list, writing book reviews and other things hopefully to be of interest to someone. It is 7 months later and I am just now writing my second post of the year. It is not because I have been lazy. Well, okay some of those days did include me being lazy – but not all of them. I have been doing quite a bit of reading, so there are many potential book reviews that I can (and should and certainly hope to) get around to writing. I have made quite a bit of progress on my personal Reading List Challenges. Yes, challenges as in plural. More to come about those lists in my next post, which I do hope will not take me 7 months to write.

Please read my post from January to get a sense of what I hope to accomplish with this site. And please forgive me for failing as I work on forgiving myself for failing in my prior attempt. Though the reviews will not be included right away, browse around the links to my reading list if you are in search of some books to read. Hopefully, you will find something there to whet your appetite. To see other people’s reviews and conversations about one that looks interesting, I suggest checking  LibraryThing. It is my favorite book-related social media site.

Don’t give up on me yet, as I have not yet given up on my dream of sharing my thoughts, ideas, and views with others. I may never write anything that is life-changing and profound, but I may say something or steer you to some book that may inspire you to your own personal “aha” moment that is life-changing for you. If that happens, then I can put a check mark in the Success Column on my scorecard of life.

Just Another Voice in the Crowd

One of my resolutions for the year 2016 includes trying to revive this stagnant blog. I knew it had been awhile since I had worked with it; but even so, I was surprised to find it had been since 2012 when I last did anything with it. During that period, there were many times I thought about returning to it, but for various reasons never did. However, my biggest stumbling block was the self-doubt that would creep in every time the consideration rose to the forefront of my mind. A little voice in my head would always question, “And what worthwhile thoughts do you think you have to contribute to the world? There are many people out there who possess much more intelligence and insight than you do. Why would anybody want to read what you have to say?”

Why indeed? I am not sure I can answer that question fully. I do know I have a handful of family and friends who are occasionally interested in my point of view on things of import. So, perhaps a few of them will drop in every once in awhile to see what I am talking about. If for no other reason than to make sure I am not talking about them in any insidious manner. Other than that, what do I have to offer a stranger who may stumble into my little corner of the world? Well, as the title of this post states all I have to offer is just another voice in the crowd.

I readily admit I am not the smartest, most well-read, most educated, thoughtful person around. So if you want expert opinions on any of the matters I hope to write about then you should seek out professionals in that particular field. All I have is a love of reading, a desire to write, and a mind that seeks to understand and make sense of this crazy thing called life. If you want to follow me on that journey, then I welcome you aboard. And if you promise to keep things civil I am also eager to hear your voice in the crowd via the comments section.

Changing Views

Many people have a particular season of the year that is their favorite. What I love and appreciate the most is the transitions from one season to the next. By the time fall is nearing I am usually ready for the cooler temperatures it promises. Likewise, when spring begins knocking on the door I am ready to shed the blankets and coats and bask in the more natural warmth provided by the sun. As dry brittle leaves of various shapes and sizes and hues continue to litter my lawn, my focus is less on where they have fallen and instead is looking where they have fallen from. A standing army of skinny skeletal tree limbs stands guard around my home. As I sit working at my desk I can look left out the window and be rewarded with a glimpse of the pond that rests beyond those wooden sentries. As I sit in my living room peering out the back window, I find myself slightly amazed to be visually reminded at how sharp the rise of the hill is that sits on the other side of the creek trickling at the bottom of the small hill that shapes the end of my back yard property.

Of course, both the pond and hill have been in their same place all summer. Yet, I am not afforded a view of either due to the heavy vegetative growth during the summer that shields them from my sight. Part of what I enjoy about fall and winter is this change in scenery that I see as I gaze out my windows. The landscape itself has not changed, instead previously hidden areas have been revealed by the curtain of leaves that has been removed.

My spiritual formation within my Christian faith has its own parallel aspects regarding transitive seasons. Here too, there are periods of beauty and greenery that inspire thoughts of life, vitality, and growth. But, I have also experienced fall-like moments where everything appears bleak, dark, and dying. What was once blooming promises of God’s grace, mercy, and love begin to fall into heaps of dry brittle remnants on the ground where I tread grimly through the days.

It is at these times I have to remind myself to not look down and focus on the things that have fallen. But instead to look up to where they have fallen from. God’s landscape has not changed. Everything that was there before is still there now. His means of renewal and regeneration are not always easily grasped. God does not cause the bleakness and darkness in my life. Yet, he uses these periods for his own good as either a lesson to be learned or a reminder of where our reliance should reside. It is up to me to take something from this varied perspective and changing view.

Soon, I will tire of the view of the pond and hill outside my windows and will be longing for some color to brighten the lay of the land. Fortunately, but not accidentally, this usually occurs around spring time when the world of nature is beginning to awake from its winter’s slumber.

Lessons From The Falls

One of the hardest things watching my Rusty-Pup age has been to see him change from a vibrant young pup who loved to chase rabbits, tennis balls, and his canine friends for hours on end into a doddering old dog who stumbles and falls more frequently every day.  Despite my every effort to accomodate his increasing feebleness – portable steps for the car and ramps for the porch – I too often find myslef cringing as his little spaniel legs give way and he tumbles to the ground.  Yet, what I’ve also found is that even as he nears the end of his time here, this faithful companion who has helped me discover many life lessons throughout his sixteen years still has things to teach me. Observing his ever evolving attitude and reaction to his falls has challenged me to re-examine how I react to my own stumbles along life’s pathway.

Many months ago, when he initally began falling his immediate reaction was to begin flailing around in a desperate attempt to upright himself as quickly as possible.  This desperation seemed to arise from a combination of shock, fear, and shame. Most of the time he was more than capable of pulling himself back up on all four legs.  There were times, though, when he required a little help, a little push from me to help give him some leverage.  As he has aged those times of needing my assistance have become more the norm than the exception.  At the same time, a notable change has taken place in how he handles himself now after he falls.

For one, he has learned how to roll with the falls. He seems to know in an instant whether a particular stumble will result in a full tumble or just a minor trip-up.  When he realizes he is not going to recover he resolutely accepts his fate, and instead of fighting the inevitable he simply goes with it and accepts it with as much grace and ease as he can muster.  Second, once on the ground he no longer flails around trying to immediately get up. Instead, he takes a deep breath and appears to mentally assess his situation.  More often than not he does not even attempt to stand by himself, he has accepted that his little legs are just to weak to recover on their own anymore after such a shock.  So, he lies there patient and content with full faith and knowledge that I am nearby to give him the necessary assistance his predicament requires.  Working together, we get him back on his feet and once again moving toward whatever is his momentary goal.

Fortunately, I am not plagued with the frequent misfortunes of physical falls and tumbles. Less fortunately, I am prone to mental and/or emotional stumbles as I tread my way through life.  There have been a few major falls in my life that have been akin to falling into a large pit, requiring quite a bit of climbing and clawing to get myself back on solid ground with stable legs.  In addition, there have been countless minor ones that still trip me up but from which I find it easier to recover from.

Like Rusty, in the past I reacted to finding myself being down for the count with shock, fear, and even shame.  I too would flail around looking and hoping for the quick fix to bring me back to my feet as fast as possible.  As he has discovered, and I am discovering, this is not always the optimal strategy. It often accomplishes little and at times only aggravates and makes things worse.  The wiser course of action is to take a deep breath, assess where you are, and map out a plan to steadily get back on track. The shock is inevitable.  So too, in many cases, is the fear.  The shame, however, can and should be banished.  I have to remind myself I’m not the first, the last, or the only one to ever encounter such a mishap.  There is no shame in experiencing a malady that is ever present in and among the human collective.

Perhaps the most important lesson I can take from my canine friend and companion is to learn how to rely on others.  When he is able he handles it on his own.  Yet, he has learned to welcome the helping hand when it is necessary.  He allows me the privilege to love him enough to be there to help him at his time of need.  I prefer doing what I can on my own when possible.  That is not inherently a bad position to take at times.  We gain strength of mind and character when we attain some dreams and goals on our own.  Yet, there is also strength in being able to acknowledge when you need help from others.  We have to allow others the opportunity and the privilege to love us enough to help us through our own trials and times of need.

THE INTERPRETATION OF MURDER by Jed Rubenfeld

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed…

A compelling murder mystery that combines the psychology of Freud, musings on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and descriptions of New York at the beginning of the 20th Century. Part of a group entertaining Freud during his first and only visit to America, a young doctor is asked to apply this burgeoning practice of psycho-analysis on a young woman suffering from amnesia who is believed to have been attacked by the murderer of another woman. Not everyone is convinced this new type of therapy is sound medicine as evidenced by an inner plot line that reveals another set of men trying to undermine Freud’s work. Consisting of believable, well fleshed out characters, as well as an adequate but not mind-numbing amount of twist and turns, The Interpretation of Murder is a pleasant and enjoyable read. A few times I was a little perturbed to begin a new chapter hoping for the action of the previous one to be continued only to be met with one of Rubenfeld’s digressive depictions of some part of New York society or architecture. However, they were deftly kept short, informative, and interwove themselves well within the story so I usually became unperturbed very quickly. Overall, would recommend this book to anyone looking for a murder mystery that contains a little depth of inner reflections as well.

Stepping Out on Faith

Following is a link to the copy of the Sunday morning message I delivered on April 29, 2012 at Reeps Grove United Methodist Church in my role as a Lay Speaker filling in for our pastor.

Stepping Out on Faith

TRUE GRIT, by Charles Portis

True Grit by Charles PortisA truly delightful and entertaining book. This adventurous tale of fourteen year old Mattie Ross and her single-minded pursuit to avenge the death of her father is one for the ages and for all ages of readers. On one level, there is a simple straight-forward plot that tells a wonderful story. Yet, there is another level on which Portis offers up observations and commentaries on issues of morality, justice, and human nature. Most are subtly woven into the narrative or dialogue, often with a dry dead-pan humor that left me chuckling out loud. There are, however, a couple of overt passages where Mattie delivers a miniature Sunday School lesson complete with encouragement to look up certain Bible verses which back up her position or ideas.

Despite her pious notions of right and wrong, Mattie shows no compunction in her hiring of the meanest and less than up-standing U.S. Marshal around to accompany her on her trail of vengeance. Narrated and re-told by on older Mattie, the fourteen year old’s voice for the most part dominates the story, simultaneously revealing both a naivete appropriate to her age and wisdom beyond it. Written with language, setting, and characters true to its time and place, i.e. Arkansas and Indian Territory of a post-Civil War West, Portis artfully delivers on themes and issues that are relevant to any time and place.

First published in 1968, this book has since been made into a movie twice, first in 1969 and most recently in 2010. I have yet to see either one, and thus can offer no commentary on the merit of either one. They are both on my to be seen list, however, and I will certainly post an update when that task is complete.

CALEB’S CROSSING by Geraldine Brooks

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine BrooksBrooks once again takes a kernel of historical fact and uses it to unfold a compelling narrative. The kernel in this case is that in 1665 Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. The rest of the book, including Caleb’s friendship with Bethia, the novel’s narrator, flowers from the author’s story-tellying prowess. Caleb and Bethia forge their secret friendship prior to his joining her family’s household to receive educational and religious instruction from her minister father in the settlement of Great Harbor, known today as Martha’s Vineyard. Circumstances then allow her to accompany Caleb and her brother Makepeace to Cambridge where she is able to remain as a sisterly companion and confidant to the young Native American youth trying to make his way in a culture foreign to his upbringing.

It is through their interactions, discussions, and mostly Bethia’s innermost musings that Brooks examines the clash of culture, thought, and religious belief ever-present in the novel. Outwardly, Bethia perserveres in her Puritan rearing while inwardly questioning if the white settler’s ways are in fact superior in every aspect. Similarly, she also struggles within the confines of strict societal norms for women regarding education and the ability to make her own personal choices.

Brooks provides all the right elements for an engaging, wonderful reading experience. The setting is described in rich, illustrious detail, while a well paced plot provides pertinent revelations when and where they are best suited. In addition, she populates the novel with complex, multi-dimensional people who are believable, imperfect and thus fully humanized making them accessible for the reader to connect to. Her dedication to historical research shines through in her attention to detail, both in language and prevailing thoughts and beliefs of the period in question.

As with her other novels, one should not expect a mushy, feel-good story. There is plenty of pain, sorrow, and loss interspersed with moments of love, peace, and contentment. It is the embodiment of life’s journey in all of its trappings. Compelling and creative, Caleb’s Crossing is a journey worth taking.

GIRL READING by Katie Ward

Girl Reading by Katie WardGirl Reading is an imaginative book that demands the attention of an imaginative reader. Spanning the centuries from 1333 to an imagined future of 2060, each self-contained (yet subtly inter-connected) story encapsulates a portrait or a picture of a girl or woman engaged in some fashion with a book or the act of reading. What, why, or even if they are actually reading the book plays a lesser part than the title suggests. Or, perhaps, plays a larger part than the reader may at first recognize. For that is the beauty and magic of this book.

Each story contains quite enough framework and materials for a sturdy, completely whole structure fully capable of standing tall on its own merit.  Yet, simultaneously they each posess the power to expand and open hidden crevices wherein the reader can pour in his or her own musings and suppositions.  While it may be true that any well-written book can do the same, Ward writes in such a way that I found this to be one of the most malleable reading experiences to date. What is said is remarkably rich in its own merit. But, what is not said and just ever so slightly alluded to is limitless.

Ward brings the power of visual art to the written page, with each story a canvas of innumerable interpretations and a narrative prose applied with poetic brush strokes. Connecting not just eras in time, but also diverse classes and stations in life, the filament that binds all these women together may at times seem tenuous, but is in fact ever present. They have nothing in common and yet they have everything in common.

If you are looking for a thought-provoking experience that poses more questions than answers regarding the human experience, this is the perfect book to settle into a quiet corner to engage with, not just read.

PROPHECY- THE FULFILLMENT by Deborah A. Jaeger

A pregnant teenage girl, Jillian, claiming she’s still a virgin. Stephen, a student embarking on his PhD in Theology. Both experiencing odd vision-like dreams. Their lives intersect due to Jillian’s father being Stephen’s mentor in his graduate studies. Though Stephen initially recognizes Jillian as the girl from his vision, he keeps quiet. Later, they both realize and acknowledge that their dreams have been separately preparing the two of them for a shared purpose. Throw in a spate of miraculous healings whose source is traced back to Jillian’s amniotic fluid, and you have the story line of Prophecy – The Fulfillment by Deborah A. Jaeger.

I truly wanted to like this book. I thought the premise of exploring a modern day reaction to a Mary and Joseph scenario would be quite intriguing. And it was to some degree. I think the book posed and attempted to answer what some of the questions and implications of the intersection of current science, religious understanding, and even politics to such an event would be. In this regards, it achieved a certain level of admirable success in exploring issues of faith, doubt, and the gritty details of how people react when their realities are shaken. The fact the book prodded me towards my own self-reflection in this regards gives it a measure of worth. I imagine most, if not all, thoughtful readers would be prodded in this direction as well.
With that said, however, I have to admit there were problems that kept me from fully embracing this book and putting it high on my recommendation list. Simply put, it lacked an editorial polish that could have really helped it shine. There were far too many trite phrases, unrealistic or stilted dialogue, and grammar issues to easily ignore. It read like a really good first or second draft that with a little work could be really great. I don’t pretend to be an expert editor in my own right, yet there were just too many sections that made me cringe that it unfortunately took away from an otherwise good story. My final complaint has to do with the ending, which just didn’t seem to mesh well with the rest of the story. With all the build-up, the narrative account of the actual fulfillment of the prophecy seemed forced, and way too anti-climactic.

To sum up: a decent story with some redeeming qualities, yet lacking finesse. I wouldn’t dissuade others from reading, yet do not feel compelled to actively encourage it either. I am open to trying other books by this author.

2012 Movie Review

Okay, I know the movie has been out for two years so this review is not super relevant and timely.  However, if there are any of you out there who have not seen it, I beg of you to please find some other activity to waste two and a half hours of your life doing. Personally, I think my time would have been better spent sleeping in my recliner with drool dripping from my open mouth.  At least my dog Rusty would have been entertained. If you like enormous special effects and watching the world’s most historic monuments crumble into nothingness, then fine go ahead and watch this movie. If, instead, you prefer movies with some semblance of an original plot and something meaningful to say then please stay away.

The basic premise of the movie is that the predictions espoused by some that the Mayan calendar portents the end of the world in December of 2012 are proved to be real. The Earth’s core begins to over-heat causing major shifting in the tectonic plates and thus, literally upending the whole world.

I went into this movie expecting some predictability and some of your basic disaster movie sub-plots. Estranged family members trying to reconcile at the last moment. Heroic stands by those who can be saved but instead opt to go down with the ship. Impossible death-defying near misses. But, as a viewer I was insulted. A couple near misses are okay. Yes, I’ll suspend my hold on reality long enough to allow those to propel the story along and get my adrenaline pumping.  I cannot, however, be expected to watch 100 “by the skin of their teeth” saves in 30 minutes and still be on board with it.  Additionally, the one token scene where they attempt to answer the existential question of what is humanity and what does it mean to be civilized is just dripping with cheesiness.

It is possible to create a fast-action, special effects driven movie that also engages the viewer in a cerebral manner. Two that come to mind that I have seen recently are Salt and Inception. Perhaps, because I prefer reading to watching movies I expect something different from my viewing experience than hard core movie buffs. Yet, both must rely on plot and character development to be successful. The makers of 2012 seem to have forgotten that and hurriedly threw those two ingredients in the mix at the last moment.

MRS. DALLOWAY by Virginia Woolf

 A story about one day in the ordinary life of an ordinary woman planning a party in 1920s London.  Yet the novel is anything but plain and ordinary.  For the most part, the reader is carried along on a stream of consciousness that meanders from the title character’s mind and into and out of others that she either directly or indirectly comes into contact with during the day.  This makes for a challenging read because the tributaries of differing thought processes are not always clearly defined, and thus I often found myself attributing a particular musing to the wrong character and having to backtrack when it seemed too out of place.  Altough the events themselves occur on a single day in June, the narrative is not hindered by time or space.  Past events are recalled and ruminated upon as they relate to the particular individual’s situation at the time.

Woolf’s intent at the time was to create a piece of work that was different and that did not fit into the traditional model, which incidentally speaks to the type of person Woolf was in her own right in that she did not see herself as a traditional type of woman in her society.  In this aspect, she can claim success.  This book is best appreciated and understood when the time period of the events are kept in mind.  Coming on the heels of World War I, it speaks to the upheaval and uncertainty that many people felt at the time. At heart, Mrs. Dalloway and all those around her are grappling with the questions of self-discovery as they reflect on who they were in the past and who they are now in the present and how the answers to that will affect the future.

I cannot confidently at this time assess my overall opinion to this book.  I confess I struggled through it at times and probably would have abandoned it early on had I not had other factors spurring me on to do so.  One, is that I wanted to read it before re-reading The Hours by Michael Cunningham which was inspired by Mrs. Dalloway. Second, is that I have compiled several different lists of books to be read in the future and this was on one of these lists.  (I will explain these lists in in more detail in an upcoming post.)  So, despite my struggles, tempations to abandon, and the self-inflicted pressure of feeling I had to read the book, by the time I neared the final third of the book I was actually looking forward to picking it up as opposed to dreading it as if it were a chore. The book is deserving of a better effort from me as reader and the English major in me recognizes it as a treasure of gems wating to be mined more in depth than what I did at this point in time.  My second reading of The Hours did in fact ratchet up my own understanding and appreciation for the work. I hope at some point to return to it again and venture out with Clarissa Dalloway as she steps out to buy flowers for her party on a June day in London.

SPECIMEN DAYS by Michael Cunningham

Cunningham attempts to capture the spirit of Walt Whitmans’ work Leaves of Grass in this unique tripartite novel.  Inhabiting the past, present, and future, a separate but related cast of characters revolving around a man, woman, and youg boy exhibit Whitman’s idea that “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”  Each story takes place in New York in different time periods.  The opening story is situated within the period of the Industrial Revolution and looks at humanity’s reaction to this new age of machines.  The middle story, set in the current era, presents a society still dealing with terrorist jitters and explores the dangers of impressionable minds exposed to an irrational group-think mentality.  The final futuristic setting comes full circle in that now we encounter a machine (in the form of a man) musing on the ways of humanity.

This is not a book for the passive reader wanting only to be entertained.  Instead, it demands active engagement.  Having only read through it once as of this writing, I remain intrigued by the work, yet undecided as to my satisfaction with it as a whole.  Parts of it were fascinating, yet others left me unsatisfied and scratching my head in wonder.  Whether that dis-satisfaction arises from the quality of the writing or my inability to connect certain dots is a question that can only be answered following a second reading.

My Waltz Lesson

Saturday night was spent with family and friends at a little place called Sims Barbecue which provides an all-you-can-eat buffet and a night of great bluegrass music complete with plenty of dancing space.  In between the band sessions, they play a few line dances and the ubiqitous Chicken Dance for the children.  Although, from my experience it seems that the adults enjoy the Chicken Dance way more than the children do.  They may say they are only out there showing the little ‘uns how it’s done, but I think that secretly they are just glad to have them for cover and as an excuse to look crazy.

I am not and have never been much of a dancer.  As a child, I quit dance lessons after one class.  It may have been because I saw pictures of other little girls in tutus and decided to get out before anyone decided to wrangle one of those things on me.  I shudder now, thinking how close I came to maybe wearing one of those things.  Subsequently, throughout my pre-teen and teen years I was exposed to short term dancing lessons in various forms.  I learned a little clogging and some square dancing moves along the way.  In my early twenties I danced a few line dances at times when out with friends.  However, by and large if there was a dance floor involved I was usually hugging the sidelines, not unhappily, watching other people dance.

When it comes to rhythm, I can spell it a hundred times better and with much more fluidity than I can produce it. Tending to the shy and introverted spectrum of human nature, I just find it difficult to free myself up to move around without constantly worrying about looking like an idiot.  I know I shouldn’t care about how I look because those on the sidelines watching probably are in the same boat I am and would empathize with me, and those on the dance floor are too busy enjoying themselves to care what kind of moves I have (or more truthfully, don’t have).

So, I was shocked at point to find myself out on the dance floor at one point dancing with a very pleasant and polite, unknown to me, older gentleman.  The band had struck up a waltz and I had pushed mom and dad out on the floor, knowing they can (and often do) dance together.  When first asked by the gentleman to dance I politely declined saying I wasn’t much of a dancer.  But, for some reason as soon as I said it, I felt like that was the wrong answer.  Even more, I felt like that was not the answer God wanted me to give.  So, I relented and told the man, if he would lead the way and show me what to do I would try it.

Was it a disaster?  Yes and No.  Yes, because I kept missing steps, especially when I would try to talk while I danced.  I’m just glad I wasn’t trying to chew a piece of gum as well, who knows what would have happened then.  No, because what did it matter that I kept missing steps? I didn’t hear anyone booing me off the dance floor.  I didn’t hear anyone saying you aren’t good enough to be out here.  I didn’t see anyone laughing and pointing at me.  Even if they had been, I was too focused on the task at hand to notice.  What I did hear is the voice of an experienced, older, wiser dancer calmly say “it’s okay”.  What I did see was his smile when he said it.  What I did feel was him gently taking the lead and helping me find my steps again.

Thank goodness I do not have to see a replay of that dance, because I know I would cringe.  I know it was far from pretty and graceful.  But it was fun and it was enjoyable.  And most important, I was reminded that I don’t have to be perfect at something to take part in it.  I don’t even have to be as good as those around me.  All I have to do is take a step off the sidelines and onto the dance floor and give it a whirl.  Life isn’t always pretty and graceful.  And my attempts to live out my Christian faith are not always pretty and graceful and I often get out of step.  Fortunately for me though, God is holding my hand and leading the dance.  If I focus hard enough on the task at hand I can ignore the naysayers and see and hear and feel only Him.  Smiling, saying “it’s okay,” and gently leading me back into the rhythm that He wants me to follow.

A Cup of Coffee and a Cup of Grace

I enjoy starting off my day with a hot, bold cup of coffee.  It helps wake me up to the world around me and helps me be a little less grumpy throughout the day.  I said less, it does not always mean I won’t have a few grumpy edges.  Also, I love my Keurig single cup coffee maker that I got last year for Christmas.  By inserting a K-cup, which holds just enough coffee grounds for one cup of coffee, into the machine I receive a fresh serving of coffee each time.  No more pots of coffee languishing around growing stale and bitter at the Peeler household anymore.

Last Sunday morning, mom called while I was brewing my cup of coffee.  I noticed when I sat down at my desk that I could see through to the bottom of my black coffee cup.  I thought that was quite odd – usually black coffee in a black cup is not all that transparent.  I started investigating and realized that because of the distraction of talking on the phone I had not inserted a K-cup into the machine.  Now, all I had was a cup of hot sugar water.  Not exactly what I was hoping for and definitely not what I needed to wake me and prepare me for the day ahead.

Along with my cup of caffeine, I also try to start my mornings with a Bible reading and devotion.  I am ashamed to say I am not always as eager to approach this activity.  It’s not so much that I don’t want to do it, it is usually that so many other things are vying for my attention that I am often tempted to put the devotion on hold until later when I have a free moment.  But I have learned that if I don’t start my day with prayer and reflection that free moment never materializes.  There is always something else to do and that quiet time just keeps getting pushed down further on my daily agenda until the day finally runs out.

I have also learned that I pay a price when I allow that to happen.  Those days I am just like that hot cup of water – weak and  lacking in taste and boldness.  By taking a few moments at the start of the day to allow God to speak to me I am allowing him to insert his version of a K-cup into my heart and soul.  He gives me the grace and love I need for that day.  Not just for my needs but for those that I will encounter that day.  I cannot claim that even those days when I am faithful in my devotion time that I always make the right decisions, say the right things, or even share God’s love with those around me like I should.  But I am certainly more apt to do so.  I find it a little easier to be gracious to others because I started the day being reminded that there is one who loves me and who offers me grace for my shortcomings.

Whether or not you are a coffee drinker I suggest starting your day with prayer and reflection.  Drink fully and freely from the Cup of Grace that is offered to you.  Remember, the price has already been paid and there are free refills all day and everyday.

List-o-mania

I’m not sure where it comes from, because I don’t think anyone else in my immediate family suffers from this like I do.  Perhaps another reason to suspect the stork dropped me off at the wrong house, but that is another subject for another day.  Back to my near-manic obsession to categorize and list things.

This has come to light because of my recent work compiling and updating my Reading Lists.  As I combed through the reading lists I knew there should be more books on some of the lists and the problem became how do I recall the lost ones.  The answer: make a list of my favorite authors and then from that list make lists of the books they have written so I can check which have been recorded and which have not.  There was a little anxiety there because even if I recall that I have read the book, I know I can’t recall what year I read the book.  So after a couple of little sit-down discussions with myself I realized that I could deal with having a list of books categorized by the decade in which they had been read, such as the 1980s and 1990s.  Imperfect, but I can now cope with that.

So now, you see the problem I am faced with – one list branches off and creates an unending amount of other lists that must be created to support and finish the first one.  And that is just the list of books already read, there also exists lists of books I want to read in the future.  Is that one I have had my eye on a part of a series?  If so, is it book 1 or book 2?  How will I know?  I’ve got it – I’ll make a list.  For some reason, there is a part of me (perhaps an English major’s curse) that is curious to know how many Pulitzer Prize winning books I have read in my life. You can see where this is going – another list.

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg.  So far I’ve only mentioned books, of course I also own CDs, DVDs, PlayStation games, baseball cards, football cards, all in different stages of cataloging.

Time to sign off now – I need to go make a list of all the lists I need to make.

THE FINAL STORM by Jeff Shaara

Shaara proves again why he should be a top pick on everyone’s list for military reading. He brings a “you are there” feeling to his writing that never once bogs down even while his soldiers are slogging through mud pits, digging foxholes, and facing long rainy nights on alert for the enemy. The Final Storm takes the reader to the Okinawa campaign and the dropping of the atomic bomb in the final stages of WWII. Viewpoints alternate between grunts on the ground and officers on both sides of the campaign. The seamless writing style brings a novelistic feel to the book even while discussing strategies, describing conditions, and explaining mindsets of those involved. Having received this as an unedited advanced free copy as a LibraryThing Early Reviewer book it is now on my list of books to purchase as well as the preceding three in this WWII series.

MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides

The heart of the book is a coming of age story, an individual’s struggle to understand one’s own evolving self-identity. However, it is not a tale told in a straight forward manner, instead it weaves its way through a multi-layered and multi-generation tapestry. Beginning on Mount Olympus and winding its way to Michigan, this story follows the Stephanides family from their Greek heritage to their new American home. Just as the family itself faces difficulties of assimilating into their new world, so too does the narrator Callie face her own troubles assimilating into adulthood. Callie doesn’t understand why she never feels like she fits in with all the other girls, until Callie discovers she is actually a hermaphrodite and thus begins her transformation into Cal.

Middlesex is fascinating, epic in scope, and difficult to categorize as a particular type of book. Eugenides uses rich descriptions of background settings and historical context that transports the reader exactly where he needs to be at that moment of the timeline. The slow reveal of the secret that sets Cal up for his genetic destiny is tantalizing as well. With prose that is lyrical and often mesmerizing, this book is one that invites the reader to return again and again to its pages.

MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER by Robin Oliveira

Great historical novel set during the onset of the Civil War. Mary Sutter is a midwife, as was her mother and her grandmother. Yet she is driven by a greater amibition – to become a physician in a time period in which that was unthinkable for a woman. Against the odds, her mother’s wishes and by sacrificing love and more she follows her dream until she finds the two men who out of necessity begrudgingly take her under their tutelage. Oliveira succeeds in producing a story that reveals both the physical and emotional wounds and scars that the war inflicted not only on the front lines of the battles, but also on the home-front. Vivid and grim descriptions of medical practice in the era highlight the struggles encountered by all. If you are looking for an inspiring story with a strong heroine, then look no further than My Name is Mary Sutter

FALL OF GIANTS by Ken Follett

The first of a trilogy, Fall of Giants follows the lives and events of five families during the events leading up to and through the First World War. These families – American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh – cross paths in intriguing, yet believable as written, ways. This cross-section enables Follett to show the war from multiple perspectives and voices spanning from those higher in the social scale who are on the fringes of influencing decision makers to those on the opposite end who are swept up by forces beyond their control. In most of these cases, Follett successfully creates dynamic and well-rounded individuals that evoke pity, sympathy, and disgust when appropriate. Even with so many voices and story lines, the reader is able to follow the action and plot throughout. This book was a wonderful read for me until the last quarter of the book, which seemed to suddenly became plodding and bordering on the boring. With that said, it was enjoyable enough that I do intend to continue with the series.

Reading List Updates

I am finally making some progress on updating my Reading List pages, although I still have a ways to go.  Either I have lost some copies of some of the years or my dog has eaten them.  I am trying to re-create from memory what I have read during those periods as best as I can.  Will continue to work diligently on this part of the blog site.  Additionally, I have a stack of books here at my elbow that are patiently awaiting a written review.  Those too, are soon to be forthcoming.  Now that school has finished I can re-claim some time for my own projects rather than what is assigned to me.  My hope is that my reading lists and reviews will be a useful tool in helping you find interesting and engaging books that will inspire, educate, or amuse depending on what your heart desires. 

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month.  I know, I know, for most of you the mere suggestion to read a poem sends chills through your body as if icy fingers have gripped your heart.  Flashbacks of high school English teachers flitter through your mind and you instinctively curl up within yourself  hoping, begging, and praying that you won’t be called upon to explain the meaning of a poem.  I get it.  I have even had that same reaction as an English major in college.  Some poems I read still leave me sitting with a blank expression and able to only say Huh? 

However, I have also had the experience of reading poetry that has touched me in a way that I have felt my soul has been embraced.  And I believe anyone and everyone is capable of having that same experience.  Poetry is language, music, and art all rolled into one.  There is something for everyone.  It is perfectly acceptable to not like a particular poem or even a particular poet, all it means is that style is not for you.  But I promise there are poems out there that once found will become your best friend.

I have placed a link on the left side of the page, Poems for Every Occasion that will take you to a website called Poets.org.  It is a great place to wander around and taste-test different poems and poets until you find what satisfies your palate.  I encourage you to face your fears of poetry and please check it out.  Additionally, in the forthcoming days, weeks, and months I hope to share some of my favorite poems with you as well.

Now – Go Read a Poem !

Ash Wednesday Reflection

Part of the Lectionary Reading for Ash Wednesday included Psalm 51.  This psalm is a plea for pardon, forgiveness, and renewal and thus makes it a good prayer with which to begin the season of Lent.  In verse 1 the psalmist asks God to “blot out my transgressions” and in verse 9 to “blot out all my iniquity.”  Other verbs are used throughout the psalm as well, such as wash and cleanse; however, the wording blot out reached out to me and grabbed my attention.  The phrase sill implies doing away with or erasing, yet the process involved is a little different. 

One definition in the dictionary states the meaning as “to dry with an absorbing agent (such as blotting paper).”  In the case of our sins and transgressions Jesus serves as the absorbing agent.  He absorbed our sins and took them as his own to the cross.  God doesn’t require us to pay for our sins.  He does require us to search our hearts, acknowledge our failings, and strive to better follow Christ’s example of holy living.  As Christians, that is to be our focus for the next 40 days as we wend our way to the cross of Good Friday and then ultimately, and triumphantly, to the empty grave of Easter.

Creating a New You

Doubtless, many thoughts on the New Year and resolutions are focused on losing weight (or at least healthier eating) and exercising routines.  And I must confess that I too am planning to get a new start in both of those areas.  These are definitely two important aspects that we should consider and incorporate into our lives.  Yet, the message can’t be repeated enough that it is not the outside of the person that matters the most – it is what is inside that counts.

In Psalm 51:10 David implores, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” 

Predictably, we approach the beginning of a new year with a vision of a new slate, and hope for a fresh start in various aspects of our being.  Like David, we want to start anew with an unsullied past free of past burdens, mistakes, and regrets.  It is appropriate that a popular symbol of the new year is a baby in a diaper.  It’s hard to find anything more pure and sinless than a new baby.  Additionally on the first day of the year, we feel a new charge of energy – a surge of that youthful vigor we remember from our childhood. 

Yet, my exhortation to you this year is to remember this feeling, this hope, this surge of vigor does not have to be relegated only to January 1st of every year.  With David, we can pray for a pure heart and renewed spirit on a daily basis.  Remember every day can be a chance to start over with our failed dreams, missed chances, and words spoken in haste to others.  The sun rises every morning and God waits and stands ready to Forgive, Inspire, and Love.  Take Him up on His offer and then turn and offer the same to others in your life as well.   

Greeting a New Year

I’m sure like many others, I have a love/hate relationship with the idea of making New Year’s Resolutions.  Yes, there is something exciting and fresh about starting anew with a clean slate.  However, along with that comes a lot of pressure and expectation to fulfill the promises you laid out for yourself.  So, with that being said here are my resolutions for 2010:

I resolve to not beat myself up over my mistakes and failures of the previous year.  They are now over and done with and I must move forward.  I will instead only beat myself up over my mistakes and failures of 2010 as the year progresses.  (Hey, if I pretend I’m going to succeed in everything then I’m lying to myself and I don’t think I should start the year off with a lie.)

I resolve to quit yelling, screaming, and cursing at the television set when there is a lying politician and/or a so-called journalist asking idiotic questions.  I will instead calmly change the channel.  I do this if not for the sake of my blood pressure, at least for the sake of my dog’s sanity.  (I’m sorry Rusty, I know I am hard to live with sometimes.)

I resolve to know less about Jon & Kate, Tiger’s mistresses, Sanford’s Argentina lover, and anything else about any celebrity whose actions have no direct bearing on my day to day life.  (Of course, combined with the previous resolution it looks like I might as well resolve to turn the television off completely.)

I resove to send at least one e-mail a week to a Senator or House Member (either federal or state) to voice my opinion on certain matters.  This should be a more constructive and healthy exercise than the afore-mentioned screaming and cursing.

I resolve to spend as many mornings  with a cup of coffee and evenings with a glass of wine as possible relaxing on my new front porch reading a good book or watching the deer and antelope play.  (Okay, maybe just the deer – haven’t seen many antelope here in Cat Square lately.)

I resolve to spend less time wishing I was a writer and more time actually writing.  I’ll never get anything published if I keep it all in my head.  And if I could, I know  none of us want my thoughts to be published unedited and uncensored.

I resolve to spend more time in bible study and prayer.  I have struggled more in school since back-tracking from my plans to go into the ministry and am not sure if the two are directly related or not.  However, if God is still calling me in that direction then He and I have some serious discussions ahead to hash some things out.  It’s not that I have anything against Him directly, but I do have many issues with what is being said and done His name by many church institutions.  If He does want me serving as a mouthpiece for Him and His Word, then I need to work with him to resolve many of my own questions, and He needs to greatly empower and strengthen this weak vessel.

I resolve to tell my loved ones how much I love them as often as I can.  Having worked in the Emergency Department these many years, I know all too well that sometimes that last time you told someone goodbye could very well be the  last goodbye.

Here’s wishing you a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year !!!!

Christmas Eve Reflection

Since the pastor of our church is spending time with his family tonight on Christmas Eve, I volunteered my services to be at the church for a certain time period this evening so that those who needed a brief respite from all the hectic and chaotic stress this time brings could stop in for a spiritual fill-up.  Mom graciously offered to assist me with this as well.  My plan is to have Christmas music playing in the background and just to stay back and let the people spend their time as they see fit in either prayer or meditation.  However, I did write this short piece that I am sharing below in the hope that it will help open their mind and heart to receive whatever message may be awaiting them.

 

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means ‘God with us’.”  Matthew 1:23

 We all struggle with the chore of picking out the right gift for the right person.  Is it what he or she wants?  Is the right size and/or color?  Do they already have it?  Sometimes with certain clothing items you may find a tag that says, “One size fits all” or to decrease the chance of a lawsuit, “One size fits most.”  Oh if only that were true.  If only there was a magical perfect gift that could work for everyone.

 The truth is there is one gift that does fit all.  Regardless of your age, gender, class status, problems, or needs God’s gift to the world of his own Son is that magical perfect gift.

  • Do you need someone you can talk honestly and openly with about your deep dark secrets, your fears, your misgivings, and worries?   Here is a Wonderful Counselor.
  •  Do you feel weak and powerless in some area of your life, unable to take control of a situation?  Here is a Mighty God.
  • Do you need the stability, support structure, comfort, and unconditional love that an earthly family sometimes falls short of providing?  Here is an Everlasting Father (Mother).
  • Do you have strife and discord within your life, whether it be external among others or an internal struggle?  Here is a Prince of Peace.

This Christmas Eve strip away all the bows and wrapping paper that religion (the man-made institution) has dressed the baby Jesus in.  Instead see him as the gift as he was first presented to the world. Immanuel – God with us.  The Creator has become the created to share in all aspects of our life with us.  Our hurts, our sorrows, our joys, our celebrations.  Make an effort to know Him on a personal and intimate level.  Not as the world or even as the church tells you to view Him.  Instead, allow him to reveal Himself to you in the unique way that makes Him the perfect gift for you.

Smoothing Out the Rough Edges

The Old Testament portion of today’s Lectionary Reading includes selected verses from 1 Samuel 17 which recounts the story of David and Goliath. To read the passage in its entirety please click here. There exists a multitude of Sunday School lessons, Bible Study lessons, and Vacation Bible School lessons that focus on this particular story. I know this because I have participated in many of these myself and have encountered this epic battle numerous times. Most of these studies highlight the theme of the Weak overcoming the Strong because they have God on their side.  This is a great lesson to take away from this passage; however, today I want to direct the focus somewhere else in this story.

As David prepares for battle, King Saul adorns him with his own armor including a helmet, a coat of mail, and his sword.  The trouble was, David was not use to such trappings and could not walk with all those things bearing down on him.  So he stripped himself of the heavy armor and instead armed himself with five smooth stones from a nearby stream bed for use in the sling that he carried while he tended his father’s sheep.  David then proceeds to march into battle against the biggest, baddest giant of the Philistine army with a child’s sling and a couple of rocks.  Oh yeah, and complete faith in the Lord to protect him.

As I read this passage yesterday my attention was drawn to the selection of the stones from the stream bed.  David didn’t just pick up five random stones; instead, he carefully chose five particular ones he wanted to take with him.  Picture him as he picks up a stone and perhaps then rolls it between his hands, runs his fingers over the surface, checking for any imperfections that may cripple it in the performance of its duties.  And think of how long it took for that stone to become smooth.  Years and years of sitting in that stream bed as the raging waters during the flood season would rush over it, taking off the rough sharp edges until it became exactly the shape and formation that David needed that day.  One could think that a rock with a sharp edge may have been useful to help inflict damage.  But what David needed was a stone that would fly straight and true so that it would hit its mark.  Any rough edges would have caused wind resistance, thus causing it to stray slightly from its flight pattern.

It was no coincidence that the stone David needed was there at the right time.  Unbeknowst to the stone, God had been preparing it for many years so that He could call it into service at this time for this reason.  And in the same way God prepares each of us the same way.  We aren’t always aware of the shaping and molding that is taking place within us, but rest assured that it is happening.  God is smoothing out our own rough edges and at the right time and the right place he will use us for whatever purpose(s) He has planned.  He needs us to be able to fly straight and true so we too will hit our mark.

So, as you go through this week and whatever joys and troubles it brings, rest in the assurance that God is working in your life even if you don’t see the evidence of it at this time.  If you are troubled and dismayed and feel that you aren’t making a difference, know that God has His own plans in place and works on His own timetable.  We sometimes have to spend time in the river bed with the flood waters rushing over us to help make us who we need to be. 

Back in the Pulpit

Many years ago I become a Certified Lay Speaker with the United Methodist Church.  This meant that I was able to fill in for a Pastor on Sunday morning and lead the worship service.  Although nerve-wracking, is was something I really enjoyed doing.  However, with school and work demanding all my attention I unfortunately let my certification lapse.  I do plan on updating as soon as possible.

On May 31st our Pastor was going to be out of town.  He asked mom to lead the service because she is now a Certified Lay Speaker as well.  Knowing my background he mentioned perhaps I might want to do it instead.  Since it had been years I didn’t feel quite up to doing the whole service, but was willing to deliver the message.  So, that Sunday mom and I did a “tag-team” operation with her taking care of everything else while I delivered the sermon. 

The message I choose to deliver was in a little different format than what most consider a typical sermon.  In fact it was a narrative, a story.  I had written it for a New Testament class I had taken at Gaston College.  The assignment was to take a story from the Gospels and pick out an un-named minor character that was mentioned there.  Then, we were to retell the story from that person’s point of view.  I chose to write mine about a fisherman, a contemporary of James, John, Simon, and Andrew.  This all resulted in 

Remembering D-Day (June 6, 1944)

Final Tribute

I know I am several days late on writing about this.  But the reality is any day is a good day to honor what happened on that day. 

Several years ago Robin and I visited The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford Virginia.  I know Bedford is not a place that usually ranks high on people’s list of places to visit or vacation.  It is a downside that this place is not in a higher profile location.  Yet, it was placed where it is because that town had the largest per capita death rate in the country due to the invasion. 

See this article to learn more about the Bedford Boys:  http://www.roanoke.com/news/nrv/wb/207039.

Although still in the works, this place left a lasting impression on me.  The layout of the memorial and the sculptures do a wonderful job of lending some insight into what happened on that fateful day.  The one area that had the most impact on me was the part known as the Landing  Beach Tableau.  While viewing the sculptures showing soldiers wading through water surrounded by obstacles there are pinging sounds and water splashing around them to simulate the perilous journey they had to endure.  Another inspiring sculpture entitled Scaling the Wall is also a great visual representation of the feats that were asked of the Allied forces that day.  Although I know that in reality I will never truly understand or appreciate the sacrifices made not only there, but throughout the war itself, I left with a greater sense of awe, appreciation, and sense of patriotism than I have ever experienced anywhere else.

Landing Beach Tableau

Wading Soldier

Soldier on the Beach

Scaling the Wall

Please visit the memorial’s website at http://www.dday.org/ and visit the Photo Gallery to see more stunning pictures.

As I said, it is (understandably) located in a somewhat out-of the way place; but, still I encourage you to try to find some time to plan a visit to this unique and remarkable location. In the larger scheme of things it is a small sacrifice in light of what these men had to pay.  Until then, as the article above mentions, the memorial is facing monetary problems at this time, so please consider sending a donation if you are able.  I know money is tight for many now, and I know everyone has their own causes they like to support, so if a donation is not within your reach or is not what you feel led to do, then at the least help me spread the word about this place.  Perhaps in that way someone with the means and ability will be able to help out.

Thank you for whatever you are willing to do regarding this matter.

Recalculating Your Position

For my birthday this past week, I received a GPS Navigation device for my car. It’s a truly great gift and I’m really excited about it, which is only fitting since it is exactly what I asked for. The only downside is that it’s 23 years late in coming. I needed this wonderment when I first got my Driver’s License. I have always been seriously directionally challenged. Being a voracious reader as a youngster had many benefits, but if I could do it over perhaps I would put the book down while in the car and I wouldn’t have had to spend many of my 20’s and early 30’s wondering where in the heck I was and how to get where I needed to be.

At the risk of sounding like an old Virginia Slims ad, “I’ve come a long way baby” since those days of wandering in the wilderness – or actually the highways and byways. I can now read maps (a little) and decipher the Interstate system. That said, my little GPS is still going to be a nice addition for road trips. One thing I really like is how it quickly reevaluates and redraws the route if you stray from the pre-planned directions, whether it be due to a roadblock, traffic, or a willful decision to just do it your own way. A voice announces “Recalculating” and tells you what changes need to be made to reach the original destination.

This technology has been around a good while now, but the principle has been around for ages. God possessed the ability to know the exact location of His children eons before the first man-made satellites were deployed into space. And as far as He is concerned, there is really only one destination – and that is closer and closer to Him. Likewise, He lays out the route turn by turn on how to get there. Inevitably, though, we stray from the pre-planned route, be it a stumbling block or our own pride that causes us to think we know a better way. Either way, the good news is that God still knows the Way to the planned endpoint. And if you will heed the words found in the Psalms that urges us to “Be still and know that I am God” you may even hear a small still voice whispering “Recalculating,” signalling that God is ready to reveal the changes you need to make if you are ready to heed them.

Gospel According to Luke

I must admit I wasn’t overly excited about attending Sunrise Service and Worship Service on Easter Sunday two weeks ago, simply because I was trudging along on four hours of sleep with the cloud of another upcoming 12 hour shift hanging over my head.  Like Peter, James, and John in the garden of Gethsemane with Jesus my physical needs had a stronger hold on me at the time than my spiritual needs did.  Unlike the disciples, I had my mother calling me several times on the phone to make sure I got up.    God had a specific message for me that day and He was going to make sure I didn’t miss it.

With all due respect to Reverend Andrews that message was not delivered during the Sunrise Service.  He did deliver a very meaningful and emotional message in the form of a letter he had received from his own son, who is himself a living testimonial to the saving grace of Jesus.  It was truly appropriate, inspiring and no doubt touched many hearts that morning – mine included.  But it wasn’t the hand-picked message that God had planned for me.

That message instead came during the regular Worship service later that morning.  Again with respect to our minister, it did not come directly from his sermon.  It did originate there, but God instead decided to divert it through another vessel before it reached me.  Pastor Andrews was talking about the events that occured after Jesus’ Resurrection, specifically the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Jesus appears among them and they don’t recognize Him for who he is.  Pastor Andrews related that to the assembled people before him, stating that there were people here who most likely won’t recognize Jesus when He returns and will not be ready to go with Him.

I can relate this because, yes, I was listening to the sermon.  However, I must admit there was a part of me – probably like many others in the congregation – that was somewhere else.  In my case I was trying to calculate what time it was and figure out how much of a nap I could squeeze in before going to work.  It was because of this half-hearted attention that I heard those words but I didn’t really react to them.  That’s when God stepped in and I did react to another’s reaction to them.

I was in the choir so my head was turned to the left to see the preacher.  This gave me a view out of the corner of my eye of the back row where the basses sit.  (The guys who sing low – not the fish, just in case there’s some confusion there.)  Because of this, I could see Luke Johnson sitting there with his dad.  Just like years ago when I taught him in Sunday School he was spending part of the time writing or drawing on either the bulletin or a piece of paper he held in his hand.  However, I know from experience not to mistake his busyness as distractedness.  No matter how occupied he seemed in Sunday School he was always ready to discuss the lesson and answer the discussion questions.  In fact, often to my chagrin he sometimes asked a follow-up that I wasn’t prepared to explain.  Oh yeah, did I mention this was the 2nd and 3rd grade class?

So, returning to that Easter morning. As soon as the pastor made the statement about some people present that wouldn’t know Jesus, I heard Luke utter a sound of surprise and then immediately bowed his head low into his lap, quietly moving his lips.  Luke hadn’t been listening half-heartedly and he understood instantly the ramifications for those people the preacher was talking about.  More importantly, it shook him to the core.  He was visibly bothered by the thought and concerned enough that he felt a conviction to stop right there and pray for those people.  No, I didn’t hear a word he spoke, but from his reactions there was no doubt as to what what he said.  It was at that point that I felt a pang of guilt that I had not reacted in the same manner.  God had used this young man to force me to recognize how selfish and self-centered I could be.  I was more concerned with planning a nap than I was with the fate of the people around me.

Any one who has been privileged to spend any significant time with Luke knows what a special and blessed young man he is.  His participation in the adult choir has been a ministry itself over the years.  From the beginning at a very young age, he sang without shame and with gusto.  Amazingly, he has a wonderful ear for music and sings right on key.  Yet, that isn’t what matters to him, it is the message and the purpose of the song.  On key or not, he would no doubt belt it out anyway.  Even when I know I’m singing in tune, I don’t have the courage to give it my all.

Easter was not the first time I’ve seen Jesus in Luke’s actions or words.  And I dare say it won’t be the last.

Seeing is Not Always Believing

Several months ago after I got off work at 1:00 in the morning, I went by my parent’s house to pick up Rusty, my dog.  He stays with his grandparents while I’m at work so he won’t be lonely.  As I approached the porch, I looked up and around to gaze at the night-time sky.  Rising from the horizon in all areas except from the west was a thick layer of clouds that obscured any view of the stars.  The small clear point on the western horizon stretched upward and outward creating a pie-shaped area in the sky where everything was clear.  The full moon was situated right above my head and slightly to the edge of the pie shining through a thin wispy layer of clouds.  As I craned my neck backwards and stared straight at the moon I experienced an odd and disorienting experience.  The moon appeared to be racing across the sky at an incredible rate of speed. This optical illusion seemed so real that for a second I even began to lose my balance.  Everything within me knew that the moon was not moving that it was in fact the clouds.  But I had to forcefully remind myself to rely on what I knew and not what I thought I was seeing.  I had to depend on the knowledge I had acquired over the years to stay grounded.

In these times of economic, social, and political turmoil it is easy to lose our grounding in our faith.  Many look around and wonder if God is still around and still in control.  There are many valid reasons one could think this.  But, just like my experience that night we have to rely on our years of knowledge and experience and not be fooled by what we see around us.  We have to reach deep within and depend on the promises and the reassurances that God has given us over time.  In my case looking up to the sky caused my dis-orientation.  Yet, in regards to our spiritual needs not looking heavenward will cause our dis-orientation.

I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Happy New Year

I know I promised to post more after exams, but the Christmas frenzy proved to be too much, not to mention I was a little under the weather as well. But now it is a New Year and one of my Resolutions is to stay on track with this project better.Speaking of resolutions, as you all know today is the day most people make promises about all the big changes they will undertake this year. I’m certainly not against resolutions, but I do hope that you keep in mind not to set yourself up for what you may perceive as a failure down the road. Set realistic goals and remember life has a way of intruding on what we may want as our ideal situation. Don’t be afraid to push yourself, but don’t get discouraged over every bump in the road either.

My main resolution this year is in regards to finance. I sorta set up a budget last year, at least to the extent I had a good idea of what all my major bills were and about when they were due. This year I’m going to re-focus on my Cash Spending. It is truly an eye-opening experience to discover where all that money goes in bits and pieces and how easy it is to really add up. If it’s not too embarassing I will share with you later on some examples of my thoughtless, and often wasteful spending.

Another resolution revolves around my daily Bible readings. I must admit I have been negligent in that department for some while. This year my approach is to read the Bible in chronological order. As it is arranged the books are not in order of how things occured, and this can often make things a little confusing if you just start at Genesis and read straight through. So, if you want to share the experience with me I am going to create a Page detailing the daily reading list. As time allows, I hope to share some of my insights or reflections on the readings as well. Classes start back January 12th so I don’t want to make any promises I can’t keep.

Happy New Year and may 2009 bring you Health & Happiness. Remember to cherish the time spent with Family & Friends.