Sunday, December 30, 2018

Word of the Year 2018

Over the last few years I've seen people adopting a word; their personal focus or theme for the upcoming year. I never participated, not because I didn't find it interesting but because I found it too interesting.

Had I adopted a word for myself I would have had it tattooed on my body, stenciled on my walls, made it the screen saver AND wallpaper on ALL my devices. I would have made a totally unrealistic and unachievable list of goals and tasks which would embed and reinforce said theme in to my psyche for the rest of my days.

When I see articles on choosing a word, I hide.

Well, I used to until last year.

In the final months of 2017 I kept seeing a certain word pop up. I'd see it in books, articles, and posts. I'd hear it in sermons, interviews, and conversations It showed up in a crossword puzzle! This word came up enough that I finally took notice. I felt the Spirit's prompt that it was going to be my theme for the year.

The word? Vulnerable.

Now when I think of the word vulnerable, it's on an emotional level - accessible, open and even exposed to possible hurt. In fact, I began 2018 with a CS Lewis quote "To love is to be vulnerable".

God had other ideas.

At 12:01 am on January 1, 2018 I crawled in to bed to read. I looked up and saw a wet spot above my bedroom closet and window frame. Apparently there was an ice dam on the roof that caused a leak in my attic which worked it's way down to my bedroom. This wasn't a total surprise since this was happening all over town, caused by the massive snowfall (4 feet) that occurred Christmas day.

And so I began 2018 calling the insurance company and finding contractors to remove the ice dam and dry out my walls. Large loud heated fans were set up in my bedroom and attic, where a large portion of the plaster wall was removed to allow better access. Did I mention that the fans were loud? I like to sleep with the droning sound of a fan, but not these fans, so I slept on the recliner for a few days.

Then there was a bit of a thaw where all the ice on the roofs started to fell. This brought down electrical wires all over town. And gutters, too. And the gutters broke things on their trip down. Things like branches, and my fence, and my back porch window. And naturally, power was lost.




Within a few hours the electric company was putting wires back up and restoring power all over my neighborhood.

Except my house.

When they got to my wires they said they couldn't put them back up because they were worn and they appeared to be original to the house.

 My house was built in 1916.

Now I had to find an electrician to update the wires from the pole to the house, and replace the electrical box, which was also dreadfully outdated. I was without power for five days. With temperatures below freezing, the dogs and I had to relocate - me to my friend, Brenda's, and the dogs to a local kennel. I live in a row house so I get some residual heat from the neighbors on either side of me so there was no additional damage from the cold. I did, however, lose all the food in my refrigerator.

Then, my dryer and microwave stopped working, and I smelled gas from my stove. It took a few days, but I was able to track down a repairman who was able to repair the dryer, but the microwave and stove needed replaced.

My definition of vulnerable started to grow.

In April, Erie had a not so freek-ish but not all that common ice storm. The evening of April 14 I let the dogs out in the yard for "last call". After they performed the required tasks I opened the screen door to let them back in, only Lucy wanted to continue dancing in the freezing rain. I, dressed in pajamas and slippers, had to go out in to the dark yard to drag her back in. As Lucy entered the house, I slipped on the icy steps and fell backwards on to the cement walkway, landing on my
hand first, and then my butt.

I quickly assessed myself for damage and noted some pain in my left wrist and a bend that hadn't been there before. After a few moments of denial  ("It's just badly bruised. I'll ice it. No, it's probably dislocated. I'll find someone to help me get it back in place.") the painful truth hit me like....well, a hand coming in to hard contact with a piece of cement! My wrist was broken. After a circuitous call for assistance (thank you Brenda & Jim, Bekah & Jeff, and finally Fran) I was transported to the Emergency Room where they confirmed my diagnosis.


I sported this bright pink cast for four weeks, followed by a rigid brace (in basic black) for another four weeks. I was fortunate it was my non-dominant left hand that was affected, but I was surprised by how much I actually needed my left hand. I had neither the grip or strength to perform basic tasks like squeezing toothpaste on to my toothbrush, or blow dry my hair. One needs two hands to pull up one's pants or put on a bra (thank you Laura D for the handy hint on how to accomplish this one-handed). Cooking was physically challenging (the orthopedic surgeon's advice - ditch the cast iron and get aluminum pans).

 Everything took longer to do, if I could do it all. I was physically vulnerable.

 Once my wrist was freed from two months' confinement, I was looking forward to resuming my old life only to discover I'd lost a lot of strength and flexibility from the immobility and disuse. I faced three months of twice a week physical therapy which I had to fit in to my already tight schedule. Life was exhausting.

In June, on my way home from work one night, I zoned out at the wheel as I was turning in to a gas station. I hit a curb, blew a tire,  and bent a rim. Car repairs make me feel especially vulnerable.

The remainder of 2018 was (thankfully) uneventful, though there is still one day remaining! Before looking ahead to 2019 and putting My Year of Living Vulnerably behind me, I've been reflecting on the events of 2018.

First, I was wondering why I'd limited my definition of vulnerable to the emotional in the first place. I've concluded it's because I've always been relatively safe and protected. I've always had a warm home, ample food, supportive and loving family and friends. Even during times of unemployment I had some income that covered my expenses. I just presumed these would always be there. But as these events demonstrate, none of what we have can be taken for granted. We live as we do by the grace of God. Our homes, our health, our constitutional rights and form of government can all disappear at His will. As Job said (and he had some pretty extensive experience with vulnerability) "the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away" (Job 1:21).

Then I wondered what was the result of all this? What was accomplished through all these events? I recalled a FB discussion I had back in May about the "power of positive thinking". The other party had posted a meme quoting someone saying we make our own heaven and hell by our attitude. When I disagreed, she said my good reaction to my broken wrist supported her thoughts. Here is part of my response:

My broken arm is a good example. I’ve mentioned to you my many serious bouts with depression. I’m an emotional person. This broken wrist along with everything else that’s happened this year should have sent me in a downward spiral. It hasn’t. Not because of a “good attitude” or saccharin affirmations or the power of positive thinking but because of the power of God through the Gospel.

Joy and suffering are not mutually exclusive. Joy is not a peppy “joy joy joy joy down in my heart” camp tune. Joy is faithful optimism that God will make all things right some day, even if that day doesn’t come until the day I die. Joy is what Paul felt...in prison. Joy is what Jesus felt...in Gethsemane as he cried and sweated blood. Joy is what I’m feeling now...with an ice pack on my hurting hand wondering how I’m going to get laundry done.

Joy is not a choice. Obedience is the choice I made even when it’s made no sense or meant denying my own desires. Joy is fruit of the Spirit.

What was accomplished was a greater sense of God's sovereignty and a deeper joy; genuine joy. Joy comes from submitting to God, trusting His plans are good and perfect. Submitting makes one vulnerable, exposed.

All things considered, I feel the year was a good one, but I'm looking forward to putting it behind me! And I've chosen a word for 2019. That word is prayerful. Because when you're in a vulnerable position, you tend to cry out to God more. I won't have it tattooed on my body, though. I hope by the end of the year it's tattooed on my heart and soul.










Saturday, December 22, 2018

Scripture to Meditate On

Periodically, my Pastor sends out to our congregation a thought he had on a particular portion of Scripture (he also posts them to his blog here). He's retiring next year so in his honor I'm posting some things I thought as I meditated on Psalm 144 today.

"Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me." Ps 144:1-2

There's a progression of protection here. Fortress to stronghold to shield... As I read this I imagined a conversation between a child and parent.

Child: What if a monster attacks me when I'm in the yard?
Parent: Just run inside the house. I'll protect you.
Child: What if the monster breaks in to the house?
Parent: We can lock ourselves in your bedroom.
Child: What if the monster bangs on the door until it breaks?
Parent: We'll hold up our shields and go to battle against it.
Child: What if it knocks the shield out of my hand?
Parent: I'll jump on it and beat it up and save you!

Our LORD is not just our trainer, but an active participant in the battle. In fact, he gave his life so we might live. Jesus didn't first give his life at the cross. He began the sacrifice 33 years prior when he laid aside his royal privilege to become man. Jesus voluntarily surrendered his dignity to become a baby who messed his diapers, and relied on others to feed and protect him. The very One who spoke creation in to being lowered himself to become a child who had to learn to talk.

I don't ever recall seeing a cross on a Christmas card or a manger on an Easter card. Maybe they should be.








Saturday, November 17, 2018

I'm Baaack

It's been a while since I last blogged. It's not that I had writer's block or haven't written anything. I have hundreds of scraps of paper scribbled with all sorts of thoughts and ideas. I just never got around to publishing them here. 

But I'm feelin' the creative urges and plan on putting more out here.

In the meantime, here is a book review I sent out to my church family a few weeks ago.

Book Reviews
Yes, you read correctly. Book reviewS, plural. I've read (listened to, as well) a number of books that I thought would interest you all, but I've neglected writing reviews. I won't overwhelm you with all of them at once, but the two I will present here are by the same author, on basically the same topic, presented in the same format.  

They are Things Not Seen: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of TrustingGod's Promises and Not By Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking byFaith, both by Jon Bloom, co-founder and president of DesiringGod.org. Both books have 30+ short chapters presenting reenactments of various persons from Biblical history displaying trust and faith, or learning how to do so.

The pattern of each book is the same. Bloom presents a biblical passage, reenacts the narrative, and then explains how this person demonstrated trust or faith. In these portrayals, Bloom is faithful to the biblical story but fills in some of the blanks with church history, and artistic license, where appropriate.

Some of those presented were the more popular, better-known person like Abraham and Paul. But he also takes on lesser know characters, as well. In a chapter on disappointment, Bloom presents Joseph Barsabbas, the disciple NOT chosen to replace Judas. According to Church tradition, Joseph Barsabbas became Bishop of Eleutheropolis, where he died a martyr (NOTE: I listened to the audio versions so I had to source this from Wikipedia. There was no way I could remember Eleuth...whatever). In Bloom's story, the time is set during JB's tenure as Bishop, where he is counseling a young charge on how to deal with disappointment, as he had had to do when Matthias was chosen over him. In another chapter he takes on the after-story of the Woman at the Well, who in Eastern church tradition was a woman named Photine. 

There were a few reasons why I enjoyed these books. First, using biblical instead of more contemporary examples, we're reminded these men and women of old were real people, feeling and experiencing some of the same things we encounter. At a time when people are saying the Word is not relative to today, this type of handling shows otherwise.

Next, observing the manner is which the author handles and presents the Word gives us ideas on how we can do the same in our own reading. He asks questions of the text (hmmm...I've heard that somewhere before) like "whatever happened to Joseph Barsabbas?" and starts digging in to church history - or Wikipedia. He added color commentary, without straying from Biblical truth, by imagining what the various characters felt or thought; for example,after a day of fishing the disciples probably felt tired, sweaty, stinky, and maybe even grouchy. Reading the Word in this manner is more than just taking in information; it brings Scripture to life and allows the Spirit to transform us by renewing our minds!

As I mentioned before, I listened to the audio version of this book (free on the Hoopla app through the Erie County Library. If you need more info about Hoopla, let me know). Jon Bloom narrated his own book and did a good job of it. For non-fiction books, I usually enjoy it hen the author reads their own work. They best know the inflection and emphasis they intended. Though there are a lot of chapters, they are short and self-contained, so you can read them over time. I also thought these would be great for kids, maybe as young as five. There's nothing that would harm or scare a younger child if they happened to be in the room, but they probably wouldn't get much from them.




Saturday, April 21, 2018

Qavah

Qavah
 
Wait expectantly?
I’ve been waiting
On pins and needles
For decades.
 
How many years
Did Sarah wait?
How many times
Did Hannah plead her case?
 
I’ve been waiting.

On pins and needles.

For decades.
 
The pins feel sharper now. 
The needles pierce my heart
To the point of shedding blood.
 
But you already know what that’s like,
Don’t you?
Being pierced,
Shedding blood.
 
So, I’ll wait some more
On painful pins and needles.
On You will I wait
For You to keep Your promise.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Memories


Running reminds me I can do difficult things.

-Marie Krueger-Miller

Monday, January 01, 2018

Helpless

"It's hard for the saints to believe they are helpless if preachers continually tell them 'Here are four things you need to apply to your life', and expect them to do it." - Rev H Leon Ben-Ezra

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Book Review: Nailed It by Anne Kennedy

A Book Review:
NAILED IT – 365 Sarcastic Devotions for Angry or Worn-Out People
by Anne Kennedy

I first discovered Anne Kennedy via Twitter.  Someone retweeted a tweet of hers that I found interesting, so I started following her.  Following her led me to her blog, which I also found interesting and edifying.  Following her blog led me to her book, this devotional. 

Though I’d found her tweets and blog posts thought provoking, I wasn’t sure about actually investing money in her work, especially a devotional.  There’s a certain vulnerability I give myself over to when reading a devotional versus a commentary or study book.  I don’t read them intellectually or critically but…devotionally. And so I worry my theology could be led astray. But I couldn’t resist the title or the cover. It depicts a woman, Jael from the Book of Judges, holding a mallet and a bloody spike. My warped sense of humor won out!

Anne Carlson Kennedy is an Anglican minister, wife of an Anglican pastor, and home-schooling mother of six, so her understanding of scripture and worn-out people is astute. She self-describes herself as sarcastic, but I only found her mildly so (which could be revealing my own level of sarcasm).

This not a typical devotional book, as I have found typical devotional books.  It is not filled with saccharine messages or trite moral teachings. Though seminary educated, Kennedy’s devotions are not academic lessons, either. Her writing displays scriptural and spiritual insight while her personal examples leave room for the Spirit to stimulate readers’ own personal application.  No cookie cutter answers are offered. What Kennedy describes as sarcastic and angry I call “real”. Her tone and style are a cross between Ann Voskamp and Dorothy Parker.

An excerpt from Day 331 (November 27) – I Cor 5:6 “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?”
                A little sin goes a long way. It wraps itself around everything. It moves through the whole batch of dough leaving no single part unaffected. There isn’t any way to get rid of it. The people of Israel were supposed to get rid of all the leaven out of their houses before the Passover feast. They had to wash everything and scrub everything and clean and clean, almost to the point of exhaustion. They could satisfy themselves that no leaven was in the house. But what about the air? There can be invisible airborne leaven. I know this because of once trying to make sourdough bread.
                So with sin. A little goes a long way, and you can’t ever completely get rid of it. So why, this being the case, and its power being so immense and destructive, would you go out and find it and bring it in? Because it makes life taste better? Because you think you will overpower it with the good that you dredge up from somewhere inside you? Or maybe through the Spirit. Maybe you will overcome sin through the Spirit.
                No. Don’t think so highly of yourself and your abilities. Flee from sin. Confess your sins. Call out to Jesus for help. You can’t do anything at all without him.  Only blood will wash away the stain of the leaven.


This is a devotional that will allow the Spirit to prick your conscience, encourage your heart, and let you know your LORD and God better. And that’s really what a good devotional is supposed to do.