Saturday, December 31, 2011

self control: an introduction

Pilates.  Everyone is doing it, so I plop in a DVD and give it a go.  I like the nice-and-slow for this 40-something body.  Not complicated like step aerobics, in which I attempted to do myself bodily harm by trying to move my feet onto the step and twist and turn and down again too fast -me in the mirror faced one direction while everyone else in the class was facing the other.  I can do Pilates in my living room, and it seems to cause as much pain the next day as did step aerobics, so I don’t feel I’m cheating myself out of exercise.  Mari Windsor, with her cheerful smile coming from her already-toned body saying, “Stretch –a little farther, a little farther.  For me it’s never enough.”  The exercises are always the same on the DVD, day after day, but one day my hands get closer to toes than they did the day before.  This week I can stretch a little farther than last week, which makes me want to try to stretch even farther.

A slow stretch into strength and flexibility and abs to be proud of.  “Contrology” is the word Joseph Pilates coined to describe the mind controlling the movements of the muscles.

So many areas in my life out of control.  Too much television.  Too much sugar.  Too many words to the wrong people at the wrong time.  Not enough house cleaning.  Not enough attention to people.  Not enough vegetables.  Spending out of control.  Lack of discipline to make a meal every night.  Lack of self control everywhere. 

Everyone feels it.  Everyone lacks the control and talks about the lack every day.  Guilt because of not accomplishing what should have been accomplished -again.  Guilt because of doing what should not have been done –again.  Apologizing to God.  Apologizing to people.  Guilt everywhere.

And with the guilt come attempts.  Monday morning diets.  New Year resolutions.  I’m not going to speak like that to my kids ever again.  I’m only going to be on Facebook for five minutes at a time.  I’m not going to buy anymore of those.  I’m going to finish my list.  Valiant attempts to change, to gain self control. 

Followed most often by failure. 

And with failure comes hopelessness.  I’ll never be able to control what I eat.  I’ll never control what I say.  I'll never control how I speak.  I’ll never.  I’ll never. 

And with the I’ll never comes why try.  Why try again?

But one day I did try.  I stretched a little farther, a little farther.  And this time it worked.  And because it worked I was able to stretch farther the next time.

And because it worked I’m writing it down for you.

Nice and slow.  I encourage you to stretch, just a little bit at first but then a little farther.  Contrology. 

The secrets are in the Bible.  Good news:  In the Christ-filled life we are able to achieve a toned life.

Follow my blog this year as I write a few times a week about living a self-controlled life.  Not because I've achieved it but because I finally have hope that I can. 

Friday, December 30, 2011


It was sixth grade, and I had to make a bug collection for science class -a miserable assignment for a book nerd who generally avoided nature.  I managed to collect the bugs, but you will not believe what they traveled to school in after I asked dad to help me with the display.

All the bugs were laid out on velvet-covered Styrofoam encased in a hand-built, wooden case that had been sanded, varnished, and glossed.  There was a lid with hinges and a latch to close it -and inlaid glass so you could view the bugs without opening the door.  Dad's idea of helping me with my science project.

Every time I ask God for help I get the same thing.

Way more than I asked for.
Way better than I imagined.

Over the top.   

Genesis 1:31.  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


On December 24 my aunt and my mom both finished.  Each one held a tattered-edged, read-the-Bible-through Bible.  They read day 365 and closed the book with a smile.  I felt a longing and a determination rise up in me.

Earlier in the month mom had asked if I wanted anything special for Christmas, and I asked for a read-the-Bible through Bible.  There had been a few times in the year when I had seen these ladies slip away from the crowd and open theirs.  I want that.  I opened the 365-day Bible Christmas morning and held it in my hand.  Again I feel the longing and determination.  How could I be a different person next Christmas if I were to completely read through this book?

I cheated and started early, assuming that somewhere along the line this year I would have a bad day and not get the book cracked open.  Now only 364 days to go. 

I read Matthew 1:5.  The middle of a list –all the moms and grandmas and great grandmas and great-greats in the line of Jesus.  “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.”

Boaz was a good man.  Attentive, compassionate, merciful.  A redeemer.  All we see is his tender care of a woman.

And only one word describes how he knew to treat a woman that way. 


What if my only fame some day is my name in a list.  And what if my entire life is only described by the influence I have had on the life of someone else?

And I know it’s this 364 days-left-to-read that will shape how my name reads on the page some day.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


I started playing the piano for church when I was in sixth grade. (I wasn't very good. The pastor's wife often gaspingly requested that I slow down my playing so the congregation could breathe occasionally.) I was always really nervous to get up and play the piano, even though I loved playing. My hands would turn to ice and get all sweaty. I sat next to dad every Sunday, and before I would get up to play he would grab my hands, put them in between his, and gently rub them until they warmed up. He could read my anxiety.

I woke up with anxiety this morning. My little girl leaves the nest this year. Is she ready? Am I ready? Will there be money to send her? Work hasn’t been so great lately. Will we be really short on meeting budget in January? Responsibilities press in -need to clean house, need to write lesson plans for teaching, need to take down Christmas decorations. So many need-to’s.

Hands turn to ice and get all sweaty.

The promises of God reach over. Callused from years of working. They grab my cold, anxious thoughts and start to rub. Warm and strong. Calming.

Psalm 139:5-6. “You hem me in –behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me…”

Monday, December 26, 2011


I watched my sister-in-law try to unpackage a toy for her daughter on Christmas Eve. It took her 15 minutes to get the large play horse ready for play. It was tethered to the box it came in. The mane was secured in plastic. The saddle and bridle were secured with plastic. Every little accessory was secured in plastic. I watched her curly-headed daughter hover through the entire process -anxiously waiting until she could hold that beautiful horse. She was never more than a foot away from her mom the entire time. Watching. Hands eager to touch and play. So close but unable to enjoy it yet.

Genesis 1:2. The earth was formless and void. The Spirit of God hovered over the surface waters. Trembling. So close, yet the word had not yet been spoken for things to be.

Hovering. This word in Hebrew also means to have a feeling of tender love, to cherish. The Spirit of God trembled over the surface of the waters, ready to love. Anxious for the people to exist. Like a mother who touches her belly in the ninth month, imagining the face of the child she
loves but hasn’t seen yet. Ready to hold him in her arms. So close yet unable to enjoy the love yet.

A new year approaches, and I picture the Spirit hovering over my life -trembling with a feeling of tender love, ready to speak the word of creation on my coming 365 days. What is He anxious to do in me… through me. I look into the dark and formless void of 2012 and hope. Speak, Lord.
Say the word that will bring light and life and green, growing things in my new year.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

two places

There are now 12 people gathered in this house for the holidays. Every nook has someone
sleeping in it. I wake up early, as is my habit, and lay in bed for an hour enjoying the quiet. Soon the house will be people everywhere, laughing, cooking, relaxing, sitting in front of the fireplace, wrapping last minute Christmas presents, football game on the television, little girls running around the house. A peaceful chaos.

As I lay in the dark and stillness of the morning, I begin to pray. Thinking of a few Bible verses
I’ve been memorizing. Talking to God about what I hope for next year. Wondering if what I want to do lines up with what He needs me to do. Thanking Him for a warm house and cozy bed
when it’s -10 degrees outside.

Faces appear in my mind, people God has brought into my life in the last several months. A woman alone trying to recover from cancer. A young man staying in our home on the weekends.
A high school student who is having a hard time. My daughter who will leave for college when
the calendar turns to 2012. My son who I need to let grow up. My husband who will preach the Christmas sermon tomorrow. The album of faces is thick. So many people whose lives intersect with mine, and their difficulties and challenges weigh on my mind and heart. What can I possibly be or do that will make a difference in their lives? I pray about that. Lord, how can I love them all?

There are two places my life toggles between:

The quiet hours of prayer. Asking God to give me a bigger heart. Confessing my impatience and lack of understanding and weakness in caring for people. Lifting up each name and all their burdens. Casting those cares on the Lord. Filling up my own soul with the presence of God.

The busy hours. People everywhere I turn. Trying to love. Giving a hug. Listening. Overlooking faults. A word of counsel. Putting down my tasks to be with someone. Looking for the right
words to give. Seeing the hurts of so many.

It was the life Jesus lived. People - toggle to solitude - toggle to people - toggle to solitude -toggle to people. The one requires the other.

Friday, December 23, 2011

the cloud

Here we are in the van driving to Wyoming, the smell of Cheetos and sandwiches hanging in the air. Caleb has loaded podcasts for our listening entertainment, so we hear two guys talk about the future of the internet. They start discussing "the cloud", which is a new concept to me, but I guess there's an internet cloud out there that does stuff for us (I hope that jargon isn't too highly technical for you.) For example, Caleb buys a song on iTunes from his iPod, and the cloud automatically sends the song to his computer at home. Jayme's a little freaked out and is making plans to move to a primitive country. I say ominously. "The Cloud will find you there, Jayme."

But it makes me think of prayer. If we can comprehend a man-made cloud that acts on our behalf, is it impossible to imagine there is an invisible God who sees us, hears us, and who can act when we talk to Him?

With the cloud, the end user doesn't need to understand the workers of everything that provided the service to him. He just knows stuff got done.

We have such confidence in the internet. We go to it with great expectation, and the majority of us do not care or even want to know how it allw orks. The end result is all that matters.

What a great image to take with us when we pray. We don't have to see. We don't have to understand how it's all being worked out. For those of us who love God and who are living for His purpose, we only need to know the end result is always going to be for our good.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


We packed the van last night. I hate packing for Christmas vacation, because everything takes up so much room. Gifts quadruple in size with tissue paper, boxes, and bows. I think of how much easier it will be to pack on the return trip when everything has been stripped down to just what it really is.

This time of year wearies me. Christmas quadruples in size with all of the wrapping. Parties, cards, gifts, sweets, surprises –enjoyable things individually, but combined they make my soul tired.

On Christmas morning we will fill large garbage sacks with paper, boxes, and bows. It all goes to the dump. And each person will tuck away the treasure he has received.

I am ready to slowly loosen the tape and pull away all that is external about Christmas.

Let me hold in my hand the gift itself.

Give me Jesus.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


It’s a few days from Christmas, and I’m sitting in front of my computer trying to write profound words about giving and living for others. I watched my very favorite story yesterday, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and I was tempted to quote Marley about the chains we forge in life and how man is meant to walk the earth and help his fellow man.

But the truth is, I overheard my husband talking to my dad on the phone last night. When he
hung up I said, “What did dad want?” Matt said, “I can’t say.”

And all of a sudden my inner 6-year-old was showing, as I jumped up and down in the kitchen. “Why can’t you say? Why can’t you say? Is it something for me?” He would only smile. And I hugged him and said, “I love getting presents.”

I love getting presents more than most young children do. I try to put on an outer maturity of
selflessness, but when no one is looking I’m under the tree to see how many presents have my name on them.

We should focus on getting at Christmas. For God so loved the world that we get Jesus. We get joy. We get love. We get peace. We get a spirit of self control. We get grace. We get mercy. We get forgiveness. We get help. We get company.

And like gradeschool children who compare gifts after the holidays, maybe all the good we do our fellowman during the year is nothing more than bragging it up.

“Let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows Me.” Jeremiah 9:24.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Dear Grandma,

Thank you…
for homemade pizza and Lawrence Welk on Saturday nights.
for sneaking us squirt guns.
for using a warm washrag to wash dinner off my face.
for every new dress hung for me on the sewing room door.
for pulling out tap shoes and the accordion in the kitchen.
for teaching me to find something to compliment about every garage sale customer.
for graham crackers dipped in whole milk before bed.
for endless games of Chinese Checkers.
for giving me a fun report card on my sewing lessons.
for the bowl of cut-up fruit you always had on the kitchen table.
for teaching me to put a touch of “The Ritz” on everything.
for hosting the search and rescue for my hamster in your house.
for the new robe every Christmas.

Thank you…
for showing me how to tell God thank you for every single good thing that happens in a day. A
parking spot. A squirrel in the tree. A word from a stranger. You disciplined me to thank God for everything, and this from a woman who survived the depression, survived being left by a
husband, survived caring for and losing a second husband, survived poverty. You could have been a bitter, angry old lady, but you chose a soul of gratitude instead. Thank you.


the shop

Dad’s retired now, and every weekday morning he goes down to the NAPA auto parts store. I think he’s personally responsible to make fresh coffee there every day. It’s a guy’s version of a tete-a-tete at Starbucks.

Dad has a huge workshop behind the house. He originally built it with the intent of making his own airplane, but at some point that must have become unfeasible. It’s a sweet shop. Expensive machines that do stuff line the walls. (If you’re a guy reading this, I apologize. You probably wish I could give you details, except I just don’t care.) From several places along the ceiling there are drop-down air hoses. That’s pretty cool, probably.

Dad can fix anything. He has an engineer’s brain, but he also has a creative flare that allows
him to come at problems from a different direction than anyone else.

So dad brings home strays from NAPA the way a little kid brings home stray animals off the street. They all have something broken that needs fixed, and no one has the part or everyone says it’s beyond repair. But dad says, “Well, let’s have a look at it.” And before you know it he has created a new part from scratch and the thing is fixed.

It’s the truth of Christmas. As the angel Gabriel told Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Imagineering. I love Disney for the gift of that word.

I don’t think we can be Christians without a child-sized imagination.

Last weekend I watched my mother-in-law and her sister walk among Alzheimer patients at the
nursing home, talking to each resident with the most tender love and cheerfulness I have ever seen. Some residents drool and can only make unintelligible sounds. Some stare, seemingly lifeless. What an imagination it takes to picture these end-stage Alzheimer patients as people.

Peter Pan. He only had to regain his imagination. “You’re doing it, Peter!” And Neverland displayed all of its color and delight.

Like a boring adult I see the people in my world only as who they are at that tick of the clock.


Jesus looked at people and saw what they could be.


What an imagination Jesus had, to picture me, in the magic of His mind’s eye, as someone who could one day be holy.

At a time of year when imagination is most in demand, to believe in santa and elves and a North
Pole, may I have an equally wild imagination to picture who a person could be through the power of Christ.

the drill

Tornadoes are a real threat in Texas. Once I was eating in the cafeteria, and a tornado came up
unexpectedly. It touched down on the baseball field directly behind the cafeteria, and then it went over where we were eating, without damaging anything, only to touch down again in a nearby parking lot. I went to music class after lunch, and someone came in and whispered in the professor’s ear. “Field trip!” she said. Our entire class tromped over to the parking lot, to see that the tornado had picked up a car, turned it upside down, and placed it back down in between two cars, without a scratch to either of the cars beside it. It’s hard to imagine wind with this kind of power.

So the next year, when the announcement came over the intercom in the dorm that there was a tornado warning, I wisely followed the seasoned Texans to an interior hallway with no windows. We waited there for quite a while until the danger had passed.

The week before Christmas is not unlike a tornado. Traffic is swirling, wrapping debris is flying everywhere, whole families are picked up from normal routine and placed back down in parties and concerts and malls. Faster and faster it goes, until it feels like it could suck you out of the ground by the roots.

Yesterday I found myself pulled by the immense force of Christmas expectations, with anxiety
rising as I thought of all that needed to be done, so I found an inside room with no windows. Several times yesterday I pulled away. I picked up a book that talks about giving thanks to God in every moment, and I read for a little while when I could have been attacking the list.
An inner room of worship.

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe.” Proverbs 18:10.

Friday, December 16, 2011

empty roll

I used the last of the toilet paper yesterday. (I’m not sure what you were expecting to read.) Probably since the beginning of toilet paper, which, according to Wikipedia, was used first by the Chinese in 6th century AD, there has been conflict within the user of the last square about
whether to replace the roll or leave it for the next guy to do. I actually stared at the empty roll and wondered, if I were to replace it, if the next person in the bathroom would give thought to appreciate my action.

Do small acts of service have significance?

A few nights ago my husband and I grabbed oranges and sat down on the couch together. He got his peeled quickly and then unexpectedly handed it to me in trade for the unpeeled. It was like getting a box of chocolates from an admirer.

God came down to earth and took the form of a servant. In the Bible we read about
Jesus’ great acts of service –forgiveness, healing, raising people from the dead. I wish we could see the small acts. John said there just wasn’t enough paper in the world to write it all down, but I wish there were just one chapter in one gospel that talked about the small acts.

Maybe, without being asked, Jesus cleaned up the tools at the end of a day of carpentry. Maybe He helped His mom carry a heavy basket of produce. Maybe He offered to get the firewood while the disciples rested.

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” I wonder if that
begins with changing the toilet paper roll.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

not a fun game

I was a choir nerd in high school. You know what I mean. I lived in my world, and the jocks lived in theirs -never the two shall meet. Then a cheerleader joined choir, and we got to know each other.
It was the Friday of a big football game, and the whole school filed to the gym for a pep assembly. The cheerleaders got up to do the normal, embarrass-the-jocks game, except my new cheerleader friend thought it would be fun to include me. Mor-ti-fied by hearing my name called, I went down to the gym floor and lined up with the populars.
The bat game.
Put your head on the bat and spin around 15 times and then try to walk across the gym. (Are you not moaning in agony for me as I tell this story? It's making my stomach hurt just remembering.)
I'm feeling that same feeling again today, vulnerable and exposed. Have you ever been going along just fine and then all of a sudden you feel like you just took 15 turns around a bat in front of a room full of people? I don't know why I feel that way today.
After the assembly, one friend walked by me in the hallway and gave me a look of compassion -no words, just a look that let me know he understood how I felt and that he cared. That look helped me breathe again.
What stabilizes us when we are hit by a wave of insecurity? We need a friend. Someone who gets us.
Hebrews 12:2.
"Fix your eyes on Jesus..."

trainer level

I have a treadmill in the basement, but I approach it differently than the rest of my family. They all have this ridiculous desire to push themselves, to set a higher goal each time just to see if they can reach it. Matt's always telling me how close he came to breaking his record from the last time. Whatever. The only thing I care about is if I can sit down with my jeans buttoned. Please tell me exactly the least amount of exercise I can do and still keep a decent figure for a 40-something woman.
I did realize recently, however, that on Personal Trainer I and II workouts I was barely breaking a sweat anymore, so I asked Matt to give me a husbandly mandate to bump it up to level III. As much as I didn't want to, I realized it was time to push it a little harder. I did it. Hated it. But I suppose my abs will thank me later.
My relationship with God is pretty solid, but I have this feeling I've gotten pretty comfortable at I and II. It's impressive enough to toss around in a conversation, but I know I'm hardly breaking a sweat anymore at those levels.
On the Personal Trainer Workouts the treadmill gives me three little beeps to let me know the incline and speed are about ready to change. I'm getting those little beeps from the Holy Spirit in my soul right now. I feel like I'm bracing myself, getting focused to make sure my footing is solid, because it's time to bump it up to a new level.
Christmas festivities are happening all around me, but on the inside I'm trying to prepare myself. 2012 -level III. Ugh.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


It was my first semester in college, and I was heading into finals with my first-ever F. Zoology was just a step beyond the reach of my brain. It was written and taught in the foreign language of science, and I just couldn't comprehend it.

I was going to school on a full scholarship that demanded a certain GPA be maintained. I was paralyzed with fear, wondering what would happen to my scholarship if I were to fail this class. Worse than imagining losing my scholarship was the stomach-knotting worry of what my dad would say when he heard I was failing.

I finally worked up the courage to dial the numbers home. I talked to dad and told him of the coming doom.

He heard me out and calmly replied, "So?"


"So?" I said.

"So? Tell me the worst possible outcome of this situation" he said.

"I could go on academic probation."


"I'll have to retake the class. It's a required class."


"I might lose my scholarship."


(I found a tutor and passed that class with a C+.)
God is not flustered by our crises.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

hands together

I played the piano in the Alzheimer wing at the nursing home today, a little music while the residents were being set up to be fed. I tried not to take it personally when one woman started crying while I was playing (I didn't think I was that rusty) or when the woman to my left started snoring. Tough crowd. But one woman was very coherent, and they wheeled her up close to the piano. She had a huge smile the entire time I played. After every song she clapped and told me how beautiful the music was. She was frustrated when she would try to clap, though.
"I just can't clap very loud. I wish I could clap louder." I looked at her fingers twisted from arthritis.
"You're clapping loudly enough" I said.
She said, "Not for the way I feel, though."
My body and mind are well. My feelings for the Lord go deep. Am I clapping as hard as I can?

best law ever

Two Christmases ago Matt gave me a gift certificate to shop for a little black dress. We spent a few hours looking online and finally landed on a simple little velvet number. The gift came with the promise of a date, so when it arrived in the mail we planned a Friday night, and Matt took me to an expensive restaurant. Linen tablecloths, shrimp on ice, glasses that don't require a lid or a straw. It was nice, really nice. I loved the low lighting and the lengthy time to talk and dream about everything in life. Life is busy and often routine. It's so good to pull away and have special time with Matt.
I love commandment number four. "Be careful to dedicate the Sabbath day, as the Lord your God has commanded you." On Sunday morning I dress to the hilt in my soul and meet God in low lighting, with a cup of coffee in one hand and my Bible in the other. The one day I make no to-do list. Permission not to make the bed. Laundry can wait for tomorrow. Time to talk -about some of the frustrating things, some of the fun things. Time for a little bit of dreaming. Remembering how much I enjoy God's company.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


I'm obsessed with makeover shows. My current favorite is Restaurant Impossible. This massive, drill-sargent-of-a-chef goes into failing restaurants to turn them around. The restaurant owners are in debt, with no customers coming in, and they all have in common hopeless defeat and weariness. Makeover shows all follow the same line -a brutal confrontation with the truth of the failure, massive upheaval and destruction of the old, restructuring and rebuilding, panic (can we do this in time?), followed by The Reveal. In 24 hours the restaurant staff is re-trained, the restaurant gutted and remodeled, the owner's perspective changed, and the food made perfect. And when I cry at The Reveal every time it's because inside I'm jumping up and down- "So it is possible!" Anyone who is in Christ is madeover. The old is brutally confronted and torn out. Everything is made new. You can open your eyes now.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

paralyzed by joy

It was a warm summer night and the end of my week-long visit to Matt in Montana. I was so ticked. Twelve hours I drove from Wyoming to visit him, with sure confidence of receiving an engagement ring during the week. My hopes were crushed during an afternoon stroll through a pawn shop, though, when we casually looked at wedding rings and he said, "When I get you a ring it won't look like that." Hmmph. On our last night together he took me for dinner, but the poor man had yet to learn the ways of a woman who has waited too long to eat. Not knowing my engagement ring was tucked in his pocket, I made him stop at a gas station to get me a snack. Now he was ticked. Despite that rough start to our evening, at the top of a ski slope overlooking the Flathead Valley, he proposed.
And then I was useless. After three eternally long years of dating I finally had a ring. And I couldn't see anything else. I went back to work at the grocery store in Wyoming and scanned soup --aah, my ring --scanned broccoli --aah, my ring --scanned deli meat ---aah, my ring. When you finally get what you've always wanted it makes you smile when you shouldn't be smiling.
It's happening more frequently. Bouts of incapacitating joy. It comes immediately after I've done something that I know makes God happy. And that makes me happy. Bill Hybels says it's "sensing God's smile on your life" when you've been obedient. In the last 24 hours I somehow managed to do several things in a row that I know are exactly what pleases God. And I was useless all day. I kept finding myself staring off into space, reliving my moments of obedience, the same way I stared at my engagement ring and tried to relive over and over the moment when Matt opened the little velvet box.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I was riding so fast, with the neighbor boy, Johnny, on his bike right beside me.

"Race ya," he said.

I don't remember if I was winning. I do remember when my front wheel hit the end of the pavement and the beginning of the gravel. The handlebars stopped, but I didn't.

It was my first experience having the wind knocked out of me. The next thing I knew I was in dad's arms, and he was carrying me back to the house.

"Are you gonna die?" he said.

"Yes" I sobbed.

That laugh -the one where his eyes crinkle in the corners and his head tips back just a little. "No, you ain't gonna die."

He put me down gently on the couch and patched me up.

When we get hurt, God's perspective is different than ours.

Justin Bieber

We were watching some of Michael Buble's Christmas special tonight (don't judge me), and he brought out Justin Bieber near the end of the program. Matt said, "Look at those girls". Weeping. Reaching out -hoping he would touch their hands. And I remembered a particular someone who felt the same way about Shaun Cassidy (google it). Every girl longs for the same thing -to receive a look from the guy. I told my husband it's his long, lingering, I-only-see-you look from across the room that still stops my heart after 20 years. And it's what I've found in my relationship with God. His look. His attention. What every girl longs for.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I just had a traumatic 24 hours. I went to a baby shower, and one of the hostesses didn't show up. It wasn't like her to forget something like that, and she lives out of town, so a few of our number went to see if maybe she had gotten stuck on snowy roads. When they got to her house her cars were there. Her purse and all of the shower food she was supposed to bring were there, but she was gone. My stomach tightened. After a search of the house and its perimeter, we finally called the sheriff. After a few intense hours she finally walked in the door of her home. She and some friends had gone to get a Christmas tree. Their car had gotten stuck, and it had taken them six hours to finally get themselves free and get out of the woods. My whole body felt the relief when I heard her voice, and I went and had a good cry. Thank God she was okay. The next morning I woke up and was going to put the finishing touches on a 12-week Bible study guide I had been writing for our church. I had spent weeks writing it, almost a dozen hours just editing it, and I was ready to send it in to the church office for publishing. I opened up the document to find a blank screen. Nothing. I searched for a long time but still couldn't find it. I had a physical response to the loss and started shaking. I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. After half an hour of shock I went to the computer again and was able to recover the document. Once again I had a good cry of relief. I'm praying God will grant me that same visceral reaction when I meet people who are lost without Him.

Monday, December 5, 2011

more than required

Because we're a pastor's family, Christmas Eve is a work night. We're usually involved in the Christmas Eve services and don't get to enjoy each other until later that evening. Last year was different. The church decided to provide a meal, in between the two evening services, for those who were working in the services in some capacity. When our family walked into the room for dinner we had a wonderful experience. The couple who cooked the meal had made a taco buffet, but they had covered the plastic tables with white linen. The tortillas were made from scratch. The guacamole was homemade. They kept hot churros coming. There was a huge bucket full of ice and fun-flavored bottled soda. What I had thought would be a quick meal in between services turned into a party for my family. Instead of being apart on Christmas Eve we ended up together around a beautiful table with fun food. Because the couple who provided dinner was so thoughtful to create a special meal with finishing touches, our family was given the gift of laughing and relaxing together at a time when we weren't expecting it. I think about the tasks God has given me. What if I push myself to do a little more and a little better than what I've been asked to do? What difference will I make in people's lives if I add finishing touches to every task God gives me?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

if it still works

When Grandma passed away a few years ago, I helped go through her things. I came across something that caused me to pause and stare for a long time. I can't get it out of my mind. It was a cardboard, gallon-sized ice cream bucket. From the time I was young I saw that paper bucket sitting in a corner of a room being used as a garbage can. It saw decades of use. Why didn't she buy a new one? As I stared at the bucket I walked down the aisle of Target in my minding, mentally shopping for a beautiful new garbage can for Grandma. Why didn't she replace that bucket with something pretty? And then I wondered why I feel the need to replace everything with something new.

Friday, December 2, 2011

before you shop...

Today I played some Christmas carols on the piano for a senior-adult luncheon. Before I got up to play they had a time for people to share what they remembered as their favorite Christmas gift. One elderly man took the microphone and said, "An orange." He said when he was young an orange was a very rare treat. As he spoke he got choked up and had to stop for a second. His Sunday School was giving an orange for anyone who memorized a Bible verse. He tearfully described earning that delicious orange and slowly savoring every bite. When he was done eating the orange, he put the peel on the furnace so it would dry, and then he chewed on the peel. He said, "We just don't know how rich we are in this country."


I grew up in Wyoming and went to college in Texas. I often had painful bouts of homesickness. I remember once letting tears slip during a Rocky movie because it was filmed in the Tetons. A guy next to me fed me kleenex all the way through it. Another time I was crying so loudly my friend could hear me from another room. Later that day I came in to find she had hole punched so much white paper it completely covered my bed. She said, "Look -it snowed! Don't be homesick!" One day I was particularly struggling with missing the physical touch from home -having dad hold my hand in church, hugs, sitting by mom on the couch while we watched a movie. I was walking from the school post office back to my dorm, and I was calling out in my heart to God. "Lord, I miss being touched. What I wouldn't give for a hug from one of my parents right now." Just a few seconds later I looked up to see a friend walking toward me. She stopped right in front of me and said, "You look like you need a hug." Right there in the middle of the street she gave me a long squeeze. I'm convinced God cares about the loneliness of my soul.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

three words forward, two words back

Language is to me like a large pizza is to my 14-year-old son. When I was growing up I read books until I had headaches. On trips mom would bring a Reader's Digest and would turn "It Pays to Increase Your Word Power" into a family competition (which she always won). Part of the decor in our living room was a dictionary. In conversation, if a word came up that caused us to argue the pronunciation or the meaning, one of my parents would grab the dictionary to prove who was correct. In college I took a linguistics class that I found way too exciting. I loved the lesson on tongue placement for each letter. Who cares about that? One of my favorite Christmas gifts was a 20-pound set of Greek and Hebrew dictionaries. So why is it that I'm so good with words, but I said something completely insensitive to my friend last night? Why can I spell salpingo-oophorectomy (medical transcription!), but I can shoot off an email that tears somebody down? The Bible says every word of God is flawless. His words are light and life and sustenance. It really would pay to increase my word power.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

standing room only

I grew up playing the piano, and my favorite Christian composer/performer was Dino. I owned every piano book and cassette tape (I know) he ever created. Dozens of hours I spent at the piano trying to perfect his extremely difficult pieces. I even won a high school talent contest with one of them! Stars of Tomorrow in Lander, Wyoming -perhaps you've heard of it? When I was in college in Texas I heard he was going to be performing at a local church, so I immediately got tickets and couldn't wait for that night. When I arrived it was to a packed house. Every seat was full, and it was standing room only. I didn't even care. I was so excited to hear him perform, even if I could barely see him from the back. Just before the concert began there was a change, though. Someone came to the back and spoke to a few of us who were standing. He said, "Follow me. I have a seat for you." I followed -all the way down the aisle. ALL the way down the aisle. Up the stairs. Onto the stage. Into a choir chair. And I sat. Close enough to Dino I could have reached out and added a duet part as he performed. When I think of that night what I remember is that I got so close. My experience is the same with God. I slink into the back with forgiveness as my ticket, sliding down the wall and sitting on the floor in the darkness. It's okay if I can't even seen him -I'm happy just to be in the same room. But then an escort to the stage and not just to watch but to join in duet. Ridiculous and so wonderful it makes me want to laugh out loud when I think about it. So close.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

strange gift

I wake up almost every morning remembering the things I did wrong from the day before. They wait in line and present themselves to me one at a time. This morning it was my attitude at a meeting. Why wasn't I more humble? Why didn't I acknowledge someone else's idea with more respect? Why did I push so hard to be heard? My first feeling in the morning is usually remorse, and my first prayer in the morning is usually, "Sorry, Lord." Several years ago I found my guilt growing to an unbearable place. I wondered if I was becoming a more horrid person every day. Then I had an experience when I was driving in my car, and I felt God say to me that I was not becoming a more sinful, horrid person. I was just becoming more aware of my sin the closer I got to Him. God is so perfect, and as I get to know Him better I see myself more clearly in comparison. John MacArthur says, "Guilt is a gift of God." I will never enjoy thinking of my shortcomings, but I'm learning that to become the person God wants me to be I have to be willing to look at the dirt before He and I can begin to clean it out of my life. I'm glad He cares.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday comes.

I feel like all I do is wish for it to be another day than this one. If only it were Friday. If only it were Saturday. On Monday morning I need someone to give me spirit fingers and a cheer. You can do it! You can get out of bed! You can start your work-out routine again! You can do the 57 things on your to-do list! You can do five loads of laundry! But alas, there is no cheerleader. (Alas -used to express sadness, misery over loss, compassion, or apprehension of danger or evil.) When I open the Bible, though, it says the fruit of having God's Spirit bunking with mine is joy. Joy on a Monday? Instead of reaching out trying to grasp the weekend, I'm reaching out to grab joy today. I think all I have to do is believe the Spirit can make it exist out of the nothingness that is Monday. Wait a minute -maybe there is a cheer...leader. (I promise I won't say "Spirit fingers".)


When I was a young woman I went home one Christmas. Dad told me to get in the truck, and we went downtown to buy a present for mom. We went to a store that had a little bit of everything -pretty glass, perfume, decorations, jewelry, etc. As we were looking for a gift for mom, dad said, "What do you want for Christmas?" I said, "I think mom has already bought all my presents." He said, "That's not what I asked." I was standing in front of a jewelry case, so I jokingly looked down and said, "How about that emerald ring? Of course, if you get me the ring, I should have the matching earrings, too." We both laughed and went on with our shopping. A few decades later I still wear those emeralds. Spoiled child. This week my dad asked me what I want for Christmas. By experience I know He gets annoyed if I ask for something too small. Jesus said that if not-so-perfect dads know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will our Father in heaven give His Spirit to those who ask Him? Spoiled. Might as well get used to it and start asking big.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

out of style

When I was growing up there was a woman at church who had a bee-hive hairdo, wore no make-up, and always dressed in an A-line skirt. As a teenager my aunt from Denver fed me the latest fashions (I was the first in town to wear leg warmers!), so I always felt sorry for this lady with the bee-hive hairdo. As a teenager I loved the Lord, hungered to understand the Bible, cared about missionaries, and enjoyed going to church. I was the weird one. The other teens my age at church didn't care about those things. While they tipped back in their chairs in Sunday school, I was bent over my Bible, straining to take in every word the teacher said. The woman with the bee-hive hairdo understood me. She often would see my loneliness and lack of fitting in, and quietly she would say, "Don't you worry about them. You're the one who cares about the right things." I just got a Christmas letter from her today, and I was thinking about how often she encouraged me toward being whom I am today -a pastor's wife who loves the Lord, hungers to understand the Bible, cares about missionaries, and enjoys going to church. Who cares about style.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday

Is the best part of Thanksgiving day the stack of sales fliers? I heard Target's doorbuster bins were empty by early this morning. I personally made a valient attemt to push a cart through Wal-Mart at 8:00 a.m. to get a great deal on shotgun shells for Matt. As we left my mother-in-law's home last night, after eating Thanksgiving dinner, they bid my husband and our son to be safe when hunting the next day. I said, "Really? They're just going hunting in the woods and you wish them safety, but you say nothing to a person who has committed to find a parking place at Wal-Mart on Black Friday?" Several years ago I found myself approaching Christmas like Black Friday -gearing up for the perfect season and hurrying to get to whatever would make me feel good inside the fastest. The Christmas season began to feel like getting to Target and finding the doorbusters gone -nothing but an empty bin. My feelings reached a crisis one year when I sat down at a Christmas Eve worship service and could barely breathe. I was exhausted from baking, decorating, shopping, baking, parties, wrapping, Christmas letter writing, baking, -trying not to forget a tradition or a gift. My shoulders were tense, and I just wanted to go home and collapse into bed. Worship? By evening on Thanksgiving day there were people lined up outside of Best Buy, willing to spend hours in the cold for a sale on the latest technology. I want more than Best Buy has to offer.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


I guess last weekend was huge in the world of football. I didn't even know who was playing, if that tells you anything. I was awakened by loud cheering from the guys downstairs and was so annoyed, but then I got on Facebook the next day and every other post was about the football game. Maybe I should have tried to care more. (Sorry for yelling at you, guys!) It was interesting to listen to people talk about the games for a few days. Some people are die-hard fans and will stick with their team no matter what the outcome. Some people swing their cheering to whichever team is in the lead at the moment. I was thinking about my plans versus God's plans. Sometimes my plans are in the lead. Sometimes in the toilet. If I swing my heart's allegiance over to God's plans, will I ever not be celebrating?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I dated two guys before I met Matt. The first was when I was in high school, and I was going to marry him. Then I found out in fourth period that he had asked my good friend to the dance. Those two are married now. I dated another guy in college and was going to marry him. Then he stood on the steps to my dorm and broke up with me. My heart was broken both times, and I wondered why God said no to those guys for me. I graduated from college and applied for a teaching position in a school district that had over 200 teacher positions open. They turned me down. This week I just received my second rejection as a writer. I had imagined myself showing my parents the publication with my name in print, but I guess not this time. This weekend I was at our church Thanksgiving dinner, and I was trying to help a 7-year-old girl find her way back to her seat. She was completely turned around in the room, and all the tables looked the same to her. She started to go one way and I yelled, "cold! colder!" So she turned and started to head in the direction of her table, and I said, "warm! warmer!" I'm starting to listen for the "cold!"

Monday, November 21, 2011

losing sarcasm

She made an adorable scarf out of old pizza restaurant curtains. I sewed a beautiful pocket once -only to lift up the skirt and find the pocket hanging from the hem. She cooks mouthwatering, beautiful meals. I once put a salad in the freezer to chill it after it had sat in a hot car. (Who knew lettuce would turn black like that.) She fashioned a kitchen island out of an old cupboard, with an antique door covered in tile for the countertop. I once painted a wall the color of toothpaste. I used to respond to her latest creations with biting sarcasm -the only words I could think of that would make me feel better about myself. I've tried something new in the last several months, though -admitting that she's beyond amazing at the things I'm not amazing at. Admiration seems to be a good replacement for envy.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

flatbread living

A few summers ago my daughter and I discovered a recipe book called Flatbreads and Flavors. The authors traveled all over the world and compiled flatbread recipes. I was surprised at the ingredients when I experimented making South American tortillas, Indian chapati, and Middle Eastern pita bread. Flour, water, oil, salt. Mix it together, let it sit, roll out a ball of dough, and cook it for a few minutes on a hot skillet. A while ago I read an article about an older couple that passed away. They were simple farmers in a small town. She owned two dresses. When they died many people were shocked as they started receiving money from the estate. This couple who had lived such a quiet, minimal life had been storing up money to give away to people who needed it. I having been turning a slow, full circle -looking at area of my life to see where I could live on few and basic ingredients.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

weight bench repurposed

Matt bought a bench a few years ago so he could lift weights. It seems to be the perfect accessory to my unfinished basement -goes perfectly with the cement floor, lack of trim, and uncovered lightbulbs. I pretend it's a beautiful coffee table sitting in front of our 18-year-old couch. The bench sits a foot behind my computer chair, which is where I spend many hours a day as I do medical transcription and other sundry writing. Quite a while ago I was sitting at the computer, and my soul was deeply moved about something. I felt a desperate need to go to my knees in prayer about it, and as I swiveled in my chair the most natural place to go was to the weight bench. There I was on the hard cement floor, knees bent, arms resting on the bench, pouring my heart out to God. Since then Matt has gotten a membership at the local gym, so now the bench is all mine, and I have officially christened it as my prayer bench. It may not be lovely to you, but in my imagination it is placed right at the base of some stairs, and when I look up, in place of the couch is the throne of God. I pray, and He listens. My favorite spot in the house.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

living with insomnia

Today I was remembering Billy Graham's biography (a book so thick it took me months to get through it!). He grew up on a dairy farm, and he talked about getting up around 3:00 a.m. to milk cows every day, going to school, coming home and milking cows, and then doing homework late into the evening. He felt like that constant lack of sleep growing up prepared him for his strenuous life as a world-traveling evangelist, which allowed for little rest. I get so discouraged not getting enough sleep, especially in the afternoon when I'm halfway through the day and still have halfway to go. It seems impossible to keep going sometimes. But my perspective changes in recalling Billy Graham's experience. Is it possible these sleepness nights are building in me a perseverance I will need in service to the Lord in the future? I'm going to work to allow that hopeful thought to change my reaction to staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

not a crutch

I dreamed I got shot last night. (Perhaps one should not watch a graphic documentary on the Vietnam conflict immediately before bed.) I laid there completely weak and unable to move. All I could say was, "I've been hit." (Oh my goodness, I'm so dramatic even in my sleep!) Someone covered me with a blanket, and I remember waiting for an ambulance. Some people say Christianity is a crutch, but I've often thought -no. It's no crutch. It's a stretcher. People who can stand up and bear weight on their own with a crutch don't need a Savior. Christianity is for people who are flat on their backs and who can do nothing to help themselves except to whisper a weak, "God, help me." In Psalm 50:15 God says, "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me." Parenting, marriage, friendships, finances, getting out of bed in the morning -there are so many times when all I can do from a prone position is to call out to God as medic. He stands ready to rescue every time, on the field. My Hero.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

in case of fire

A house two streets behind us burned to the ground yesterday. I can't stop thinking about it. What if I were to lose every possession in an afternoon? Matt raised the question, "What would you miss?" He looked up at his moose mount -can't replace something like that. I held up a spoon. It's plastic, and part of the handle is melted from when I forgot and left it sitting on a hot skillet. It was a wedding gift, though, and I've used it almost every day for 20 years. I would be sad to go to the drawer and not find that old spoon. I picture the burned house, look at the spoon, picture the burned house. Jesus' words stand in front of me -don't store up stuff for yourself that can be in your drawer in the morning and in an ash pile in the afternoon. Store up for yourself things that will still be there when the emergency vehicles have finally left. I once met a woman from Africa who moved to Canada to be a professor at a seminary. She put all of her personal belongings on a barge to cross the ocean. En route the barge sank, and she lost every possession she owned except what was in her suitcase. As she told me this her eyes lit up, and she said, "Best thing that ever happened to me!" She found freedom from stuff, and now she just owns the basics for life. Is it possible to find freedom from stuff before the barge sinks or the fire sirens wail? Maybe the question Matt should have asked was, "If our house burned, what would we still have?"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

sucking air

I'm the most unathletic person on the planet, maybe in the entire galaxy. I have watched sports, though, kind of. My attention span is short, and I usually care more about the cute little kid playing in the bleachers or about the color of the team uniform, but I have tried to watch for the sake of my family. One thing I've learned when watching basketball is that the players get sideaches. (Nerdy book readers like me rarely get sideaches.) When my kids were playing I remember my husband telling them to take advantage of any seconds in the game when play has stopped, to raise their hands up in the air and breathe deeply. Taking in oxygen can help ease the cramps. That's my favorite trick for life now. Sometimes I'm cramping over, sucking for air, but the game doesn't stop for me to recover. I have to take advantage of every second to raise my hands up and gulp in deep breaths, especially when I know the clock is going to keep going and I can't get to the bench for a longer rest. It's an art to stay in it but to reach for God for a quick draught of oxygen.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

living with insomnia

Thank you, Captain America. (SPOILER ALERT!) My favorite spot in the movie is when he's being pummeled by the bad guy and says, "I can do this all day." But we know it's not because of his ripped body that he's able to endure it. It's because when he was weak he determined to persevere through pain. And that's what I was thinking of when I woke up at 1:00 this morning and was awake until after 5:00. James 1 tells us to consider it pure joy when we face trials of various kinds, i.e., insomnia (Christy's addition). I know insomnia is a test of faith that will develop perseverance in me, and knowing there is purpose in my suffering gives me joy (mixed with a little bit of slumber party stomach). If I can persevere through a night of laying awake for hours, God's truth assures me that somewhere down the road I will be able to face more difficult trials with steel in my eyes and say, "I can do this all day."

Monday, November 7, 2011


When Matt and I celebrated our 20th anniversary a few months ago, we decided to add some excitement to our marriage by doing something new. We determined to become coffee snobs. Armed with a 4-cup, $2 garage sale coffee pot and a small, budget-appropriate container of Folgers we began enjoying what my grandma would refer to as a "morning cuppa". Soon after our snobbery began, we were gifted with a bag of straight-from-Hawaii Kona blend. Carmel coconut. If I believed in the ancient Egyptian practice of burying a dead person with items he could enjoy in the afterlife, I would request my next of kin please sprinkle that Kona blend around my body in my coffin. It was that good. Recently we were given a Coulter Coffee bag of breakfast blend coffee, and I believe they somehow condensed a flannel quilt and crackling fire in the bag, because the taste is just that warm. When my friend was praying out loud at church last night, she referred to Job 23:12 -Job treasured the words of God more than his necessary food. But when she prayed she said, "Lord, help us to love your words more than food -even more than our morning coffee." I'm curious -did anyone hear me audibly gasp, or did I just do that internally? What the heck? Do I love God's words more than my morning cuppa? Do I? I picture myself slowly wrapping my fingers around the hot mug, sniffing deeply, talking to the coffee, "Please coffee, do something amazing and help me be awake and functioning." Do I love God's words more than coffee?

Friday, November 4, 2011

least explored date locations

In the early years of marriage we lived hand-to-mouth, so our favorite date was to the book store in the mall. They let you just walk in there for free! We enjoyed pictures of savory foods and traveled to exotic lands. I enjoyed some chick book blurbs, and Matt enjoyed some suspense novel blurbs. You know what they say, "A couple that reads blurbs together..."
Then the children were old enough for us to leave them at home, and we discovered the dump! Kids never beg to go to the dump with you. And so we have relished many intimate talks while holding our noses and swatting flies. The dump is a 10-minute drive away, just the two of us.
Now we've been married 20 years, and listen up all you young married kids. It doesn't get any better than our Friday Taco Bell lunch dates. Long, lingering glances over a hot sauce packet -all for $7.00 and free drink refills! And they play 80s music on the radio. Picture us swaying together over a burrito (SUPREME burrito -Matt's no cheapskate) to Michael Jackson. Thriller!
Those special nights with me in a little black dress and Matt wearing Polo while we enjoy shrimp cocktail and linen table cloths don't seem to happen as often as we would like, but I would say we're an impatient couple, unwilling to wait for the perfect night to enjoy being together. I think somewhere along the way we decided romance would be where we could find it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

National Geographic

I love the human interest stories in National Geographic, but some of the photographs hang permanently on the walls of my mind -the woman who leaves her young children to spend eight hours every day walking to get a jerry can of dirty water -the homeless boys huffing paint to ease the pain of hunger -the elderly woman dividing a pile of rice to last her a week -the 14 people sharing a one-room apartment -the family standing in a foot of flood in their home cooking dinner -the family with no heat and ice on their inside living room wall. A world perspective forces my heart to its knees in thankfulness to God for what He gives my family every day.

Monday, October 31, 2011

a better mirror

I have this beautiful dress my mom bought me several years ago. It's a little form fitting, though, and for the last three winters I've pulled it over my head and then pulled it right back off after looking in the mirror at my 40-something mommy pooch -yuck. This winter I pulled it out and gave it another try since I've been working out. Well, mommy pooch is still there, but I decided to give it a go. Church only lasted for a couple of hours, and I thought surely I could suck it in for that long! I was standing in the church hallway by myself, taking a break from sucking it in, when a mom walked through the door holding the hand of her adorable daughter who was maybe three years old. I was admiring the beauty of this child as she walked by me, when all of a sudden she turned her head back to me and said, "Cute skirt!" Her comment seemed to make my abs feel smaller. Maybe I'll just skip the mirror next Sunday.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

powerful spiritual words

Almost 10 years ago insomnia introduced itself to me. I used to sleep solid all night, and then one day I woke up early, really early, and couldn't go back to sleep. It became a regular part of my life.
For a few years I writhed and cried and moaned and called out to God in the night, begging Him to help me go back to sleep. Angry and frustrated, I added emotional misery to physical fatigue.
One night I changed my response to being awake.
I still go through cycles of insomnia (got about four hours of sleep last night), but now instead of groping for a pair of boxing gloves to have it out with God, I have two words -okay, Lord. If He's not taking the insomnia from me (which I know He can), then He must be offering it to me.
I lay in bed and pray now, but it's not an angry lashing out -it's a service to people who weigh on my heart -a strange wee-hour vigil I keep, praying for people who are hurting or who need courage, praying for my kids and my husband, praying for those who are in need and those who grieve.
Okay, Lord.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

To my daughter

Dear Jayme, this blog exists because you believe in me. You promised me if I would write you would read it. See how all grown up I am that I created this all by myself? Thanks for always encouraging me to follow my dreams.
(Um, that seems a little backward -like you should be writing those kinds of things to me. But we all know you're the mature one in the house.)