Friday, February 28, 2014

Sunsets and Grace

Sometimes I'm prepared for a sunset, sometimes I'm not. From the deck of Cedar Lodge at Warm Beach Camp I have witnessed a thousand sunsets, each one glorious. Driving in the early evening, whether on the freeway or in the farmlands, along the beach or facing the mountains, I have seen the expanse of the sky glow with the setting of the sun.

But there are other times when the sunset catches me completely by surprise. Maybe I look up from the sink when I am in the midst of dinner preparation and see hues of pink and mauve, a little yellow and orange in the clouds and I can't peel my eyes away. There have even been times when I have stepped out of the grocery store and been so struck by the splendor of the evening sky that I have called home to alert my family of the beauty awaiting them if they will just stop to look.

My attention is riveted to the sky and I am awestruck by the intensity of it all. I cannot see a sunset without being completely dazzled by it.

Christ comes to us throughout the day, drawing us to Himself, reminding us of His love and His nearness, inviting us to come to Him. He may use a sunset or some other experience to get our attention. Or He may just move us by His Spirit through His Word or a song in our mind or the recognition of our own weakness. We may be looking for Him, or He may just show up and take our breath away.

It is easy enough to dwell on one's own inadequacies rather than Christ's sufficiency. And when that is my attitude I do not respond well when He draws near. As if it were up to me to be good enough for God! Insufficient -- that is what we are. But He knows that, because He made us! And He comes offering grace.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Twenty-five Years Ago

We were married at 1:00 on February 25, 1989, twenty-five years ago. Our church, Seattle First Free Methodist, had a large, bright sanctuary with a marvelous organ and a gifted organist. JoAnn Stremler is the kind of musician who could capture music in her heart and release it from her hands and feet, sending it into your very soul.

From the day we got engaged I began collecting music that I wanted for our wedding. Some pieces would be played by JoAnn, others would be sung by my siblings.

I invite you to pour yourself a cup of tea and crank up the volume for a time and listen to other people's renditions of some of the music from our wedding.

 This one was a trio sung by Tim, Ted and Peach:

Monday, February 24, 2014

Blog Post 1000!

We're celebrating two anniversaries this week, one thousand blog posts today and 25 years of marriage tomorrow.

I love blogging, but if I had to choose between the two, I'd go with the marriage -- every time!

Today, however, we'll celebrate blogging. I blog about family, friends, food, fun and lots of other things. So I'm linking you to favorite posts from several categories I touch upon in my writing. Ready? Here goes:

Family -- Honor Thy Parents, about my wonderful dad and mom

Humor -- Speaking of Holes, a conversation around our dinner table

Whimsical -- Piano Concert, a story about amazing piano playing

Poem -- Ode to Summer as She Ends, bidding last summer good-bye

Devotional -- When God Makes a Way, celebrating God's provision

Hymn of the Month -- Revive Us Again, a prayer as meaningful today as it was when it was written in the 1800s

Yes You Can -- Sarah's Shoe Drive, about a nurse in a psych hospital who wanted to be sure their patients had shoes when it was time to be discharged

Photos -- Kalaloch Trip, Part 2, our winter trip to the beach

Travel -- Go North Young Man! (Old Man, Middle-Aged Woman, Family With Small Children...), photos and places to visit in Skagit and Whatcom counties

Recipe -- Snow on the Mountain, our favorite party meal

Book Review -- A Passion for the Impossible, the story of Lillias Trotter, missionary to Algeria

Stories about People -- The Hat Sisters, some lovely senior citizens with a lot of spunk

Friday, February 21, 2014

We Have a Winner!

The Great Northwest Glass Quest in Stanwood and Camano Island is in its last weekend. It's an annual event, lasting ten days, where merchants hide clue balls in their business or at a public park and folks go from business to park looking for a clue ball. The finder is entitled to a beautiful handblown glass ball, identified with the year and the number of the ball. It's quite a big deal, and I'd love to have one of the beautiful balls. But I am not an avid enough hunter to set aside several hours and drive many miles, nor have I yet develop a sharp enough eye to guarantee that I will eventually win a ball.

I get distracted when I go hunting. I go to stores that are not on the list. While looking for the clue ball in an establishment I am just as likely to pay more attention to the merchandise and have to retrace my steps to see if I looked right at the clue ball and saw only the lovely scarf beside it. I am, I realize, exactly the kind of person the creators of this quest had in mind when they came up with this game.

There were several places at the east end of downtown Stanwood that I wanted to explore today. I went down the north side of the street and was heading down the south side with only two businesses left -- A Guilded Gallery and Snow Goose Bookstore -- before going home. I stepped inside the art gallery; my hand was still on the door knob when I heard a loud cry, "I found it! I found the clue ball! I can't believe it! I found it!!" I was disappointed, yet I couldn't help smiling. Around the corner, clutching a small clear plastic clue ball wrapped in a red knit covering, stepped Barbara, the ecstatic winner. "Finally, I found a ball!" she announced. 

I talked to Barbara later. She's been trying to find a ball for years. She has just the spot for it, on the shelf in front of her Picasso piece or her work by Pissaro. She said that the ball she selected was the perfect colors for her room. 

Until today, I'd never seen a clue ball. I didn't know that they might be camouflaged, as the one in the red knit covering was, and I'd certainly never been around when someone found it. Let me tell you, it was worth it just to be there and hear how excited Barbara was to win!

One of these years it just might be me!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bye-Bye, You Big Bug-a-Boo

Good sense tells me it would be better not to post this blog, and maybe not even to write it. But if you read it here you will know that I have turned a deaf ear to good sense and am letting you in on a journey I have begun.

Among the bug-a-boos of life, dealing with stuff is the one most likely to lay me low. Never mind all the reasons -- and there are many. I simply have not found a way to get my house in order.

Some of you will have no idea what I am talking about because it comes so naturally to you, and you have my permission to quit reading now if you'd like. I have envied you and hidden my stuff from you when you've come over. Somehow, though, that doesn't seem too healthy, nor does it resolve my problem. So I am taking action. I am going to share my progress with you, not so that you can see what a mess I am, but to encourage others who might have a similar issue, and to help keep myself accountable.

It's mostly the paper work that gets me. It's been piling up for years as there have been extraordinary amounts of forms, reports, information and just plain junk that have come into our home. I lack proper systems for dealing with it all, so one of my first goals is to figure out appropriate systems.

I am not doing this alone. Perhaps that is one of the biggest mistakes we make, to tackle a project for which we are not well equipped on our own. There are times when we need to think something out with another person (or persons) so that we can see the project with fresh eyes.

I have two people. One is helping me get started and will be available if I need her for counsel along the way.

The other is my accountability partner, Glenda. We've been friends for 40 years and we love and trust one another. She has her own project that she is working on and we'll be in touch on a weekly basis, sharing our progress, our disappointments and successes, and maybe a scripture for the week.

OK, so here's what I'm going to do. I plan to turn this room into an office. Those boxes are full of tax records, medical and school reports, paper supplies, and past and current paper work to be finished, filed, or shredded. All of our son's books, toys and games are still in the room that he moved out of a couple of years ago. The room needs a thorough make-over. I'm excited and I'm nervous. But I am ready.

If you are still reading this, I suspect you somehow identify with the need to get a part of your life in order. So here is a look into how I am approaching this massive, potentially overwhelming project that has taunted me for years.

1. I have brought it to the Lord. My worth is not gauged by how well I can organize my stuff. He loves me, pure and simple. He created me with gifts and strengths, but organizing stuff was not one of them. I have accepted that.

2. I have found people to help me, one with expertise in this area and one to cheer me on.

3. I am making a plan*.

4. I am breaking it down into doable tasks.

5. I am going to put one foot in front of the other until I have come to the end of this journey.

6. Then I'm going to celebrate! I've already invited Glenda over for tea in my new office on Monday, June 2. It's a date I don't plan to break.

* * * * * * *

*My plan includes making a mind map to help me think through what I need to do to see my vision for a new office a reality. I'll share it later. In the meantime, here's a link to 11 free mind mapping apps that you might want to check out.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Mid-Day Conversation

Mid-day -- hot, lonely, safe. It's when you go to the well if you are a woman with a reputation. If you go in the cool of the evening, when the other women are there, you may encounter your lover's wife or hear the comments people hiss as you pass or feel the daggers hurled from their eyes. You endure the heat so you do not have to endure the crowd.

But this day, as you approach, you see a man at the well, a thirsty man who asks you for a drink. He looks straight at you, in a way no one has ever done before. He lets you ask your questions. And then he offers you water, living water. To avoid the well forever would be fine with you.

As this stranger tells you things about yourself that you have never revealed to him, you step closer. Somehow he knows you. Is it possible he came to the well today because he knew you'd be there?

This is the thing: we go through life hiding our secrets that everyone knows, yet no one really knows us. We avoid the water cooler, the Bible study, the places where we might be exposed. Our tidy lives belie the pain and hopelessness which are our constant companions.We go to the well at mid-day so as not to be noticed.

And just when we least expect it, He is there. He looks straight at us -- is that love we see in His eyes?  He listens to our questions, our confusion, anger and shame. And then He offers us water, living water. Somehow He knows us and everything we ever did.

Just when we least expect it, we find ourselves in the presence of Jesus.

I don't know if you are like that woman, or if someone you know and love is like her -- cloaked in a self-protective veil, hiding in the shadows, lonely, needy, and doomed to remain that way for the rest of your life. Jesus knows who you are, where you are, and how much you long for living water. You may not even know, but He does. And He wants to meet you at the well.

Take hope today for yourself or that person you care about who comes to the well at mid-day. Jesus is already there, and He offers you living water.

* * * * * * *

You can read this story in the Bible in John 4:1-42. And if you'd like to see a wonderful monologue based on the story of the Woman at the Well, click here.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Valentines Special

It was our first Valentine's Day since we'd met, and less than two weeks till our wedding. Tom had hung out with my parents many times and I'd gone to New York for his parents' 50th Anniversary celebration, but our parents had yet to meet each other. Since Tom's folks had arrived early for the wedding, we decided Valentine's Day would be the big night our parents would finally meet.

We chose to take them to Black Angus in Lynnwood. Hearts, love, joining families, and steak -- what could be better!

When we pulled into the parking lot we could hardly find an empty spot, and inside a large crowd hovered around the door. We asked for a table. "Do you have a reservation?" the hostess asked.

Well, no, not officially. We'd just planned to eat there. Wasn't that enough?

Evidently not. We could wait for an hour or so for a table, but that didn't seem like a good icebreaker for the parents. We decided to search out an alternate plan.

We drove around town for a while, stopping here and there to check out local restaurants. It wasn't looking good. Finally we stopped at a hotel with a dining room. Would it be possible to get a table for six?

No problem, we were told, but the room is quite full tonight and the tables would have to be pushed up against the wall. Would you mind to eat facing the wall?

The point of my story is not to remind you of the wisdom of making dinner reservations. We blew it, plain and simple, and we learned our lesson. 'Nough said!

What I really want to convey is what good sports our parents were and how everyone got along so well and honestly liked one another. There we all sat, facing the wall, laughing and chatting and eating our second-choice dinner. It was a festive and memorable occasion.

And eleven days later we all walked down the aisle and became a new family.

I'd call that Valentine's Dinner a great success!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Boys in the Boat

I cried when I finished reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. For days I'd been getting to know nine rugged college boys from the University of Washington who had met on the dock of Lake Washington and had survived the grueling tryouts for the freshman rowing team. I had followed their college career and ridden in the boat with them as they participated in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. I had watched them come together as a team, individuals who had finally learned to trust one another and become one. And now it was time to tell them good-bye.

I was in the middle of the book when the Seattle Seahawks won the Superbowl, and now, as I close the cover, the Sochi Olympics have just begun. What a perfect time to have been reading The Boys in the Boat.

Daniel James Brown wasn't born until 15 years after the USA sent the Washington Huskies to the Berlin Olympics, but reading his account is like hearing the story firsthand. Through his narrative we meet Joe Rantz, a boy whose struggles through his youth forced him to manage for himself, cutting trees, fishing, and any kind of manual work he could find. One summer he swung from a harness at Grand Coulee, chipping away at the granite mountains to prepare for the building of Coulee Dam. 

From the enigmatic Al Ulbrickson, head coach at the University of Washington, to George Pocock, master rowing shell builder, to Royal Brougham, sports reporter for the Seattle Post Intelligencer, to the other team members, we meet a wonderful slate of colorful characters. Even the brief introductions of minor players leave the reader wishing to have known them in person.

The story of the ultimate triumph of these young men, surviving in the face of unbelievable obstacles, is told with dignity and grace. Brown brings the macro-view of the struggle of the human spirit together with the global view of world events to give the reader that You-Were-There perspective. 

Each race, each stroke during a race, became my own as the words on the page translated to sights, sounds, smells, and my own aching muscles and racing heartbeat. But it wasn't just the story of the boys in the Husky Clipper. It is also the story of Germany's overarching scheme to present a squeaky clean image to the world through the 1936 Olympics. While Hitler and his team orchestrated every detail of the Olympics to convince the world of Germany's greatness, nine boys in a boat gave everything they had and showed what true greatness is.

My hat is off to Daniel James Brown, a masterful storyteller, for bringing this story to life!

Monday, February 10, 2014

19 Tips for Keeping Our Neighborhoods Safe

Rick Hawkins, Stanwood's Chief of Police, was our guest the other night at a meeting of our Home Owners Association. He came to introduce us to Neighborhood Watch, a national program that encourages folks to keep an eye on their neighborhoods, and to give us some tips on how to keep our community safe.

Communities that start a Neighborhood Watch meet, like we did last week, with the police chief for an overview of the program. A Neighborhood Captain is selected and volunteers are recruited. These folks gets some training in how to be alert to concerns and when/how to respond to needs.

Seattle has a similar program called Block Watch, and this information is from their website:
Block Watch really just organizes and extends what you are probably already doing on an informal basis. We tend to know and watch out for our closest neighbors, but a group of neighbors at one end of the block who are doing this may not know the group of neighbors at the other end of the block. Organizing a Block Watch makes this attitude of watchfulness more systematic, and provides a block map or contact list with neighbors' names, telephone numbers and emails that can be used in case of emergency.
But it's not just the captain and the volunteers that have a responsibility for keeping our communities safe. We all do. Chief Hawkins called it "hardening the target," making it difficult for outsiders to cause trouble in our neighborhoods. Here are 19 tips that he gave that we can all put into practice:

1. Identify the serial numbers on your belongings -- TV, computer, etc. Record the serial numbers along with photos of your property and store them on a thumb drive.
2. Install dead bolts on your doors.
3. Keep a rod in the bottom track of your sliding glass door or opt for a bar than swings from the door frame for greater security.
4. Use a security system. You can pay for a service or install a system you purchase. Be sure the cameras are located where they can detect faces (too high and all you will see is someone's hoody!). Some systems include a smart phone app and will alert you, wherever you are, when any suspicious activity on your property is suspected.
5. Keep your porch light on and the doors locked.
6. Trim your bushes away from windows and doors.
7. Be sure your cars are locked when they are in your driveway.
8. Use a security lock when your car in parked.
9. Report any break-ins, even if nothing was taken. It gives the police a sense of what is happening in the community.
10. Keep your eyes open for people behaving strangely in the neighborhood.
11. Pay attention to details -- i.e., color and license number of unfamiliar cars in the neighbors' driveways. You never know when that information will be helpful.
12. If you suspect domestic violence, report it to the police.
13. When someone comes to your home selling a product or a service, ask to see their permit which they are required to get from the city.
14. Talk to your neighbors; break down barriers.
15. Work as a neighborhood. Designate a neighborhood clean-up day. Host a block party.
16. Attend the National Night Out in the summer.
17. Friend your local police department on Facebook.
18. Check out the your local police department's website to learn what you can do to promote community safety. If you live in Stanwood, click on Stanwood Police Department.
19. Begin a Neighborhood Watch where you live.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ten Biblical Truths for Losing Fear

We may think our generation has a corner on fear, but fear has always been a part of people's life experience.  The first mention of fear in the Bible is found in Genesis 3:10, when Adam is explaining to God why he was hiding from Him: I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.  When sin entered the world, so did fear.

If fear is a bear stalking you, if it is staring you in the face, or if it has you in its jaws this very moment, take a few minutes to read Haven Today's remedy, "Ten Biblical Truths for Losing Fear," or listen to Charles Morris' message by the same title.

1. Don’t worry about the future. God is sovereign and He knows your needs and He is your Father. Live today.

Matthew 6:32-34
“For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Philippians 4:19
19 And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
2. Don’t worry about changing what you cannot change. You can’t save yourself or anyone else. But, Jesus is a great Savior. He has added an eternity of days to your life. He can save anyone and any situation. Pray and expect.

Luke 18:26,27
26 And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?” 27But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”

John 11:25,26
2 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
3. Don’t be burdened with the things your have to do as if you had to do them in your own strength. The Lord is a very present help. Abide in Him.

John 15:5
5”I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

Isaiah 46:3,4
“I, yes, I alone am He who blots away your sins for my sake, and I will never think of them again.  I will be your God through all your lifetime, even when your hair is white with age.  I love you and I will care for you; I’ll carry you along and be your Savior.” (TLB)

4. Don’t worry about finding the Lord. He has already found you. You have all of Him and everything that belongs to Him is yours. Rejoice and praise.

Luke 15:4-6
4”What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’”

II Peter 1:3
3As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through
the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,

5. Don’t worry about the things of this world. They are passing away. The Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom. Give yourself away.

Philippians 3:7,8
7But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ

Colossians 1:12-14
12Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
6. Don’t live with a sense of dread and fear. His love surrounds you and defines your life. Lift up your head.

Psalm 3:3
3But You, O LORD, are a shield for me,
My glory and the One who lifts up my head.

Ephesians 3:17-19
17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

7. Don’t be afraid that He hasn’t heard your prayers. He always hears and answers prayer without fail. Ask and be carefree.

John 16:24
24“Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
Philippians 4:6,7
6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

 8. Don’t be afraid that your past mistakes, sins, and failures will determine your future. Your sins are forgiven and He works all things together for good. Leave your past regrets behind and head for the glorious future.

Romans 8:1
1There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not
walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

I Timothy 1:15-17
15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the
world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. 17Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

 9. Don’t be intimidated by Satan’s accusations, the world’s hostility, the power of sin or even death. The Lord has defeated them all. Make Jesus your Lord. Answer to him.

Colossians 2:15
15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

John 16:33
33”These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

10. Don’t be hesitant to follow the Lord because of your weaknesses and inadequacies. God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. Be bold and move out for the Kingdom.

II Corinthians 12:9
9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

II Corinthians 2:14
Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Hymn of the Month -- Cornerstone

Old Hymns Made New -- That's the theme of my Hymn of the Month posts this year. I love the old hymns -- or maybe you already knew that -- and I have been sad to see them disappearing from the church. Their power is in their theology and their strong statements of faith. God is lifted up, His faithfulness celebrated, and our hope in Him alone affirmed. To silence the hymns is to diminish the worship of God's people.

But they are making a comeback! Some are being sung just as they were originally written while others are being introduced to a new generation with an updated tune and a contemporary bridge.

For those who thought that hymns had died, be encouraged. Hymns are alive and are being sung in churches and on the radio, proclaiming the old, old story in a new way! Let's celebrate the grace of God expressed through music in 2014 as each month we share an old hymn made new!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Want to Improve your Prayer Life?

Pryer is one of the biggest challenges of my walk with Christ. I love to pray and I believe it is our privilege to bring our concerns to the Lord through prayer, yet sometimes it baffles me beyond belief! I can't say I've ever been at complete peace with the whole prayer thing.

Last July I uncovered a book in my library called A 12-Month Guide to Better Prayer. It offers messages on prayer by great preachers and mystics of the past. R.A. Torrey, who died in 1928, is the closest to our contemporary; Francois Fenelon and Madame Jeanne Guyon, both born in the mid-1600s are the oldest of the writers. I have tried to spend one month on each chapter, reading, re-reading, searching the scriptures presented in the chapter, and meditating over the material given.

It is the most meaningful study of prayer that I have ever been involved in.

Listen to this sampling of the powerful truths from the pens of these faithful servants of God:

The only limits to prayer are the promises of God and His ability to fulfill those promises... Alas! how the unbelief of men has limited the power of God to work through prayer!.. When God's promises and man's praying are united by faith, then nothing shall be impossible. - E.M. Bounds

Prayer is the natural out-gushing of a soul in communion with Jesus. Just as the leaf and the fruit will come out of the vine without any conscious effort on the part of the branch but simply because of its living union with the stem, so prayer buds and blossoms and produces fruit out of souls abiding in Jesus. - Charles H Spurgeon

The Spirit prays within us for those very things which the Spirit Himself wills to give us. - Francois Fenelon and Madame Jeanne Guyon

Let us, therefore, in our requests both for others and for ourselves, come to Him with a humble boldness, confiding in His power and goodness. - Matthew Henry

Do you feel frustrated in your praying? Do you want to experience the power and the joy of reaching God's heart through prayer? I encourage you to embark on a study that will set you free to pray with new understanding. Study prayer directly from the scripture or choose one of the myriad books written on the subject.

Ask the Lord to guide you. He will give you a passion for prayer and widen your world in amazing ways as you allow Him to stir you to pray. I can say that because that is what He is doing in my life! You won't be sorry for the investment.