Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Blessings in Disguise

I have to start off by apologizing for taking such a long break between blogs. I know that’s a no-no, but things have been crazy in every possible way over the last few weeks. But hey – if life didn’t throw me a curve ball every once in awhile I wouldn’t have anything good to write about!

Fortunately some of the craziness has been due to fun stuff. Two weeks ago, we took a long weekend down to Fripp Island, which is off the southernmost tip of South Carolina, just outside of Beaufort. It was the first time we’d taken Bowman, our Greyhound, to the beach, and we had a blast! We had the most fun at Hunting Island, which is one giant state park/nature preserve right outside of Fripp. There is no development on the island, and the beaches are pristine. There is a lighthouse which my husband climbed while I stayed w/ the dog, and a really cool nature trail that goes through the dunes and along a tidal creek. I had never hiked at the beach before, and it was a really neat experience. But I think the best part of the day was the most unexpected.

When you have a unique dog that thinks all people were put on earth to pet him, you tend to end up talking with people you normally wouldn’t. While Ben was climbing the lighthouse, a woman asked if she could pet Bowman, and we struck up a conversation. Eventually her husband wandered up from the beach and Ben finished with the lighthouse, and we all ended up talking together.

They were a nuclear engineer and a teacher, and both were in their mid to late 50’s. They lived in San Diego, and were camping their way across the country. We ended up talking about anything and everything, from the best part about South Carolina to education in America. I was amazed at what an encouragement these random people were to us – they were so wise, and they seemed genuinely interested in who we were and what we were contributing to the world. The conversation ended up lasting about 2 hours, and it was an incredible source of confirmation and affirmation for us.

Religion never came up in our conversation, and I’m not positive if these people were Christians. However, I know that God had to have put them in our path, and that our time with them was definitely a blessing from Him.

It makes me wonder – how many times do I miss out on these kinds of little blessings? I am introverted by nature, and I am a master at being kind and polite as I craftily keep people at a distance. I tend to invest very deeply in my friends and family and pay little attention to casual acquaintances or the world at large. Being overtly friendly just doesn’t come naturally to me, and it’s never been particularly important to me either. But maybe it’s more worthwhile than I thought. You never know when a seemingly insignificant encounter could turn into a lasting blessing.

Monday, May 21, 2007

I'm Still Here

Hi Everyone!

I am still out here - just been busy with work and an impromptu weekend trip for my anniversary. I promise I will have some new posts later this week. Sorry about that!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How Good is TOO Good?

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible, and it always gets me thinking every time I read it. Here’s what’s sticking with me this time:

“Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise – why destroy yourself? Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool – why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.” Ecc. 7:16-18.

Any good Christian will tell you that being overly wicked and foolish will lead to destruction, but how many would tell you that being too righteous would cause the same thing? I never really thought about it much either, but I can see how it’s true.

Being “overrighteous” quickly turns into being self-righteous – which leads to being judgemental, close-minded, and eventually hypocritical. Over time, the message of Christ is perverted and people are driven away from Him instead of toward Him. If there’s anything that will destroy Christianity, it will be Christians themselves.

This verse kind of takes some of the pressure off of trying to be that perfect Christian who never struggles with temptation and never breaks the rules. A Christian life is not about being extremely good or moral; it’s about finding a balance and living a REAL, genuine life with God. And I don’t care who you are – if you’re being real, you’re not being perfect!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Don't Worry, Drink Pepsi!

I LOVE PEPSI!! Even though I have weaned myself down to the diet caffeine-free version, it is still my favorite drink in the world. I enjoy it so much that I will drink it hot, and I don’t mind if it’s flat either. I am so hooked that sometimes a Pepsi advertisement will literally make me salivate.

I came across an old e-mail forward about Pepsi that I hung on to, not because of the e-mail itself, but because of my husband’s reaction to it. The e-mail went as follows:

Don’t buy Pepsi in the new can! Pepsi has a new “patriotic” can coming out with pictures of the Empire State Building and the Pledge of Allegiance on them. However, Pepsi left out two little words on the pledge, “Under God.”

Pepsi said they did not want to offend anyone. If this is true, then we don’t want to offend anyone at the Pepsi corporate office. So if we don’t buy any Pepsi products, they will not be offended when they don’t receive our money that has the words “In God We Trust” on it. HOW FAST CAN YOU FORWARD THIS ONE?

I did forward it, but only to my husband, and with single phrase… “My heart is broken.” How could my beloved Pepsi do such a thing? Feeling my pain, he did some quick research and sent back this response:

Don’t worry! It’s an urban legend perpetuated by ignorant Christians with nothing better to do with their time. If someone had spent the five seconds it takes to forward this and instead did a quick search on dogpile, google, or yahoo you would never have had to undergo this traumatic experience and you would not have wasted 30 seconds of your life! Do I sound sarcastic and testy?!!!! This is exactly why people don’t like Christians – any stupid little e-mail that comes around about God or Jesus gets blown out of proportion. It’s almost as if there is some subconscious thought that goes through most Christians heads “I love God and Jesus – I’m not supposed to have any independent, rational, or logical thought – nor am I expected to be competent – when I got baptized, all of the water flooded my brain cavity and my brains oozed out of my ears, therefore, it must be God’s will for me not to use my brain. This is a long sarcastic way of saying – Don’t Worry, Drink Pepsi!!!!!

You said it, babe!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Who Cares?

There are a couple of blogs I read regularly, and recently one of them reminded me of a question someone asked me a few years ago:

“What if you live your whole life as a Christian, and then when you die you find out that it’s all a lie, and there is no God?”

It’s definitely an interesting scenario to ponder.

If there’s no God, then my soul dies with my body. So it’s not like there will be some part of me that is able to look back on my life after I’m gone and feel embarrassed for getting duped. And I won’t be able to be disappointed about not going to Heaven either, since I won’t be cognizant of anything past my last breath. If there is no God, I’ll never even know it.

The question basically comes down to whether or not my life would have been better if I had not been a Christian. Did my commitment to God hinder my existence or cause me to miss out on anything?

Unimaginable. I have lived both with God and without Him, and there is nothing in this world that could make me go back. My life has been amazingly rich and fulfilling, and I don’t think there’s anything else that could have provided the joy and peace I have found in Christ. You can question Christianity all you want, but my personal experience is mine, and it’s not up for debate. If I have put my faith in something that doesn’t exist, I certainly have been rewarded for it, and I have no regrets.

So back to the original question – what if God turns out to be a sham? My answer was and is, “WHO CARES?”

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

To Drink or Not to Drink?

Whenever I’m traveling on business, (like this week,) I generally end up going out to eat with other people in the evenings or participating in some other social event. Inevitably I run into the same trouble every time – should I join in with everyone else and have a drink?

In general, I’m not much of a drinker. I don’t see anything wrong with it (provided no one is getting out of control,) but it’s just not my speed. I do enjoy having a quiet cocktail with a close group of friends though.

But when I’m doing a work thing, I generally steer clear. Things tend to get magnified when they are retold the next day, and I am especially susceptible to that phenomenon because I am so much younger than most of the rest of my peers. Plus, people tend to make dumb comments like telling the waiter to check my ID, and I can definitely do without that.

However, I wonder if I end up sending a message I don’t intend? Do people think I’m a snob? Also, many of them know I am a Christian – do they think that’s why I don’t drink, and do they think I am judging them because they do? That is the absolute last thing I would want.

I just can’t seem to figure out the middle ground on this one. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Pomp and Circumstance

This past Sunday was Graduate Recognition Day at my church. In typical fashion, the Class of 2007 filed across the stage to receive a gift from the Youth Pastor, while a person off-stage listed the grad’s achievements and future plans.

As I listened to all the big hopes and dreams, I couldn’t help but remember myself at that age. So excited to leave high school behind and head off for the big world of college, and convinced I’d never go home ever again. I was majoring in Sociology, planning to become a Social Worker and change the world by making a difference in the lives of others and helping those who couldn’t help themselves.

Except for the vow never to go home again, my husband had some different ideas. He had decided that he was going to graduate with a 4.0 in Chemical Engineering and go to work at a specific company, where he would work his way up the ladder to eventually become the VP of Research and Development. He was going to get married, have 2.5 kids, and live the whole American Dream.

As you might have guessed, things didn’t turn out like either of us would have planned. My husband did become a Chemical Engineer, but only for a little while, as God called him to become a teacher. The corporate world turned out to be more my speed, and I was the one who ended up on the fast track while my husband gave up money and prestige for the chance to invest in others. A businesswoman with a Sociology degree, and a Chemistry teacher with a Master’s degree in Engineering – makes no sense whatsoever, but that’s God for you.

I think that sometimes God just gives us the “what,” and we assign our own “why.” We get on His path, but then we make assumptions about where it will end up. And if we become too focused on those assumptions, before we know it, we have missed the fork in road we were supposed to take, and we end up driving away from Him despite all our good intentions to follow Him.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will grant you the desires of your heart.” Even if you don’t really know what those desires are yet, and even if they seem impossible, the real way to make your dreams come true is to live a joyful life, knowing that God is in control.

Lately I have been guilty of trying to out-plan God. I can’t see what’s around the next bend, and it’s been driving me crazy. I want to make a PLAN, but really everything is already laid out for me if I just wait for it. I need to delight myself in all the joys of God that are in the here and now, and let the future take care of itself.
So congratulations to all the 2007 Grads. May God always keep you guessing, and may you love every minute of it.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Traveling for Work

Blogging may be sporadic this week, as I will be out of town for work. I might have lots of time in the evenings to post, or I might have none at all – it just depends on what my schedule turns out to be once I get there.

Anyway, I am sitting in the airport waiting for my flight. The terminal is fairly empty, but of course, someone chose to sit down close to me and whip out his cell phone.

If you have traveled at all, you know exactly the kind of guy I’m talking about. Mr. “Look at me – I am wearing nice clothes and I am an important businessman – therefore I have to right to talk as loudly as I want on my cell phone without regard to how annoying I am to other people – I am so much better than you.”

And the thing is, if you eavesdrop on airport cell phone conversations, they are never very important. These guys are not involved in high level negotiations or sealing any important deals – they seem to be on the phone just for the sake of being on the phone and looking cool. The guy beside me just seems to be engaging in some office gossip. Apparently his boss is away in Key West, and there seems to be some speculation as to who he’s with. A very critical conversation I’m sure.

Personally I enjoy having a little quiet time while I wait for my plane. It’s a great time to read, people watch, or write. I know I have left everything in order at the office, and there’s nothing I can accomplish on the phone. Might as well just relax before I get on the plane and wedge myself between the fat guy that smells like cheese and the mom with the snotty crying baby. Oh the joys of travel.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Paint Me A Masterpiece

from the book Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie

In your mind, conjure an image of the Mona Lisa. Visualize that masterpiece's subtleties of hue and tone as clearly as you can.

Next, shift to the image of a paint-by-numbers Mona Lisa. Envision the flat, raw colors meeting hard-edged, one against the other.

Now, let me relate a fantasy about masterpieces, paint by numbers and you. It goes like this:

Before you were born God came to you and said:

Hi there! I just dropped by to wish you luck. And to assure you that you and I will be meeting again soon. Before you know it.

You're heading out on an adventure that will be filled with fascinating experiences. You'll start out as a tiny speck floating in an infinite, dark ocean, quite saturated with nutrients. So you won't have to go looking for food or a job or anything like that. All you'll have to do is float in the darkness.

And grow incredibly. And change miraculously.

You'll sprout arms and legs. And hands and feet. And fingers and toes. As if from nothing, your head will take form. Your nose, your mouth, your eyes and ears will emerge.

As you continue to grow bigger and bigger, you will become aware that this dark oceanic environment of yours--which, when you were tiny, seemed so vast--is now actually cramped and confining. That will lead you to the unavoidable conclusion that you're going to have to move to a bigger place.

After much groping about in the dark, you will find an exit. The mouth of a tunnel. "Too small," you'll decide. "Couldn't possible squeeze through there." But there will be no other apparent way out. So, with primal spunk, you will take on your first "impossible" challenge and enter the tunnel.

In doing so, you will be embarking on a brutal, no-turning-back, physically exhausting, claustrophobic passage that will introduce you to pain and fear and hard physical labor. It will seem to take forever. But mysterious undulations of the tunnel itself will help squirm you through. And, finally, after what will seem like interminable striving, you will break through to a blinding light.

Giant hands will pull you gently, but firmly, into an enormous room. There will be several huge people, called adults, huddling around you, as if to greet you. If it is an old fashioned place, one of these humongous people may hold you upside down by the legs and give you a swat on the backside to get you going. All of this will be what the big people on the otherside call being born. For you, it will be only the first of your new life's many exploits.

God continues: I was wondering, while you're over there on the other side, would you do me a favor? "Sure," you chirp.

Would you take this artist's canvas with you and paint a masterpiece for me? I'd really appreciate that. Beaming, God hands you a pristine canvas. You roll it up, tuck it under your arm and head off on your journey.

Your birth is just as God had predicted, and when you come out of the tunnel into the bright room, some doctor or nurse looks down at you in amazement and gasps: "Look! The little kid's carrying a rolled up artist's canvas!" Knowing that you do not yet have the skills to do anything meaningful with your canvas, the big people take it away from you and give it to society for safekeeping until you have acquired the prescribed skills requisite to the canvas's return.

While society is holding this property of yours, it cannot resist the temptation to unroll the canvas and draw pale blue lines and little blue numbers all over it's virgin surface.

Eventually, the canvas is returned to you, it's rightful owner. However, it now carries the implied message that if you will paint inside the blue lines and follow the instructions of the little blue numbers your life will be a masterpiece. And that is a lie.

For more than 50 years I worked on my paint-by-numbers creation. With uneven, but persistent diligence, I dipped an emaciated paint-by-numbers brush into color no. 1 and painstakingly painted inside each little blue-bordered area marked 1. Then on to 2 and 3 and 4 and so on.

Sometimes, during restive periods of my life, I would paint, say the 12 spaces before the 10 spaces (a token rebellion against overdoses of linearity). More than once, I painted beyond a line and, feeling embarrassed, would try to wipe off the errant color or cover it with another before anyone might notice my lack of perfection.

From time to time, though not often, someone would complement me, unconvincingly, on the progress of my "masterpiece." I would gaze at the richness of others' canvases. Doubt about my own talent for painting gnawed at me. Still, I continued to fill in the little numbered spaces, unaware of, or afraid to look at, any real alternative.

Then there came a time, after half a century of daubing more or less inside the lines, that my days were visited by traumatic events. The dividends of my noxious past came home to roost, and the myth of my life began horrifically to come unglued. I pulled back from my masterpiece-in-the-works and saw it with emerging clarity.

It looked awful. The stifled strokes of paint had nothing to do with me. They did not illustrate who I am or speak of who I could become. I felt duped, cheated, ashamed--anguished that I had wasted so much canvas, so much paint. I was angry that I had been conned into doing so. But that is the past. Passed.

Today, I wield a wider brush--pure ox hide bristle. And I'm swooping it through the sensuous goo of Cadminium yellow, Alzarian Crimson or Ultramarine Blue (not nos. 4, 13 or 8) to create the biggest, brightest, funniest, fiercest damn dragon that I can. Because that has more to do with what's inside me than some prescribed plagiarisms of somebody else's tour de force.

You have a masterpiece inside you too, you know. One unlike any that has ever been created, or ever will be. And remember: If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it. Only you.

Plenty of Selfishness to Go Around

At this point in life, God has still not revealed to me if children are in my future. As I get closer to the big 3–0, this lack of direction has become increasingly troubling for me. I find myself questioning whether it's really that God hasn’t told me to have kids, or if He has, but I don't want to listen to Him because I don’t want to give anything up.

I’ll be the first to admit that my reasons for being unenthusiastic about having children are mostly selfish. I enjoy my freedom and my discretionary income, and I’m not too excited about the bodily wear and tear that results from childbirth. I enjoy being able to invest in my friends and in my church without having to think of a child first. And I have an amazing relationship with my spouse that I don’t want to be changed by anything. I love my life just the way it is.

My husband and I were talking about this issue yesterday, and we realized we were taking for granted that having a child is a selfless thing to do. We started discussing the reasons why people have kids, and decided that selfish motives aren’t exclusive to the childfree.

If you really get down to it, the main reasons people choose to have kids seem to involve PERSONAL fulfillment! Some people want something to love that will unconditionally love them back. Others dream of reliving the joy of their own childhoods, and getting it right where their parents erred. Sadly many people have children in an attempt to fix a failing marriage, which of course never works. But in any case, even though parents certainly make sacrifices to raise their children, they do so in hopes of achieving some sort of greater reward for themselves.

Awhile back, I asked my Dad why he decided to have kids, and he answered by simply saying, “Because I wanted to be a father.” No further explanation, no stupid justifications about contributing to society or leaving a legacy for future generations. He had children because he knew that’s what would make him happy. I wish more people would be that honest.

People who have children aren’t any more special than those who don’t. They’re not on some noble mission, and they’re not martyrs. They’re not more mature or unselfish, and I shouldn’t feel inferior because I haven’t made the same life decisions as them. They have kids, and that makes them happy. I don’t have kids, and I’m very happy too. Simple as that.

I am not a bad person for enjoying my life as it is. I am not any more or less selfish than anyone else in this world, and I shouldn’t have to apologize for my choices just because they differ from the majority. I need to stop doubting myself and just listen to what God is telling me. I guess it’s pretty dumb to doubt that I’m really listening to God, just because I actually like what He’s saying!