Monday, June 19, 2006

Old School

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.
-Abigail Adams, 1780

There's something so dispirited... so sad, I think, to a school that no longer fosters learning... that no longer welcomes new ideas and lessons and hobbies.

I was standing in the knitting aisle of Hobby Lobby when a woman close by startled me with a question.

"Which size needles would you use for this?" she asked, holding up a picture of a knitted baby bag.

Surprised, I answered her, to which she replied, "Thank you. I'm just learning to knit, and still don't know all the rules."

There was nothing spectacular about that brief exchange- save for the fact that the woman couldn't have been a day younger than 80. Really. And there she was, learning to knit.

She's my hero. I don't know that woman's name, but she's my hero. I get the feeling she's a true Renaissance woman. She has something I aspire to: a unappeasable desire to learn - an insatiable yearning to do - that apparently hasn't relented with age or time.

It's strange how we all graduate from school, start jobs (or families), and figure that our days of intensive learning are over. After all, we have diplomas on the wall... see? Or we've potty-trained kids and done half their homework for years... see? No, that's not the type of learning I mean. I'm talking about the type of education... the type of knowledge... that rounds-out your list of abilities. That shoots your capable-quotient to the moon.

What are we good at? Lots of different things. Maybe you can drive a stick shift. (I can't.) Or maybe you can speak French fluently. (I'm still working on my English.) Or maybe you make jewelry. Or cabinets. Or really great jazz. (I can't, can't, and don't.) Good for you. Your personal resume is varied already. But... isn't there more? Isn't there something... beyond what you can do now... that would delight you? Thrill you? Fulfill you?

I'd love to learn to make great chili. I'd love to learn to dance. (Right now, I do a great Elaine from Seinfeld.) I'd love to learn Italian... and how to properly fold a fitted sheet. I want to conquer the violin... the guitar... the art of gift-giving. I want to discover the beauty of all our national parks. I want to learn to string Christmas lights without losing my temper. I want to make the best Peach Salsa in the world. I need to re-learn beloved songs from my childhood and save them up for my kids.

I know. Call me old school. Diagnose me with Adult ADD. Whatever. There are just so many things out there to learn. There's so much out there to explore - to seek 'for with ardor and attend to with diligence'.

This abandoned school off a lonely Kansas road troubled me somehow. I took a picture of it to remind myself to keep learning. To remind myself of the 80-year old knitting student.

After all - there's something so dispirited... so sad, I think, to a person who no longer fosters learning... who no longer welcomes new ideas and lessons and hobbies....

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Battle of Pea Ridge

From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. -Psalm 61:2-3

The view from atop the Pea Ridge National Military Park is breathtaking. I took it in (along with my handsome tour guide) over the weekend. It was an experience I'll never forget.

Pea Ridge was the site of an 1862 Civil War battle that saved Missouri for the Union. It's one of the most well-preserved battlefields in this country, and looking across the site you can easily imagine how bitter and beastly and bloody the battle must have been. Beyond this picture, the footing in some parts is treacherous. Where I stood, rocks jut out of the side of the moutain like daggers. I would hesitate to hike the site where I snapped this picture; I certainly wouldn't want to do battle there.

And yet they did. On this ground, men aimed their cannons and lost their lives to see a cause fought and won. For some of them it was their final battle. For others, it was one of many, and they went on to cry their battle cries from every end of the country.

I can't imagine what a Civil War battle must have been like. I really can't. It's hard enough to wrap my mind around some of the daily battles I fight. After all, it seems like we have our hands full waging our everyday battles. First we take on the enemies we can see. We battle against deadlines. Laundry. Bills. Kids. And then at the end of the day - when the gunsmoke clears and everyone puts down their weapons for the night - we battle the enemies we can't see. We fight loneliness. Defeat. Exhaustion. Desperation.

It's not just you. It's all of us. Some days it seems we've set up camp in the middle of Pea Ridge. And some weeks it feels we're unwilling and untrained soldiers caught in a bitter, beastly, and bloody battle.

But it's okay. It is. It will all be okay. Even though our hearts grow faint, there's always a place - there's always a Rock - that is higher than the battlefield on which we're encamped.

And as you can see from the picture, even the worst of battles don't last forever.

Oh! sometimes how long seems the day,
And sometimes how weary my feet!
But toiling in life’s dusty way,
The Rock’s bless├Ęd shadow, how sweet!
O then to the Rock let me fly
To the Rock that is higher than I
O then to the Rock let me fly
To the Rock that is higher than I!
-Erastus Johnson, 1871

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Summer Sissies

It's a sure sign of summer if the chair gets up when you do. - Walter Winchell

Ah, summer. Within the next calendar week we'll be heralding summer's blazing return.

Or... well... you might be. Not me. I'll have my faced smushed up against the air conditioning vents in my Jeep, staring in shocked wonderment at the precious elderly gentlemen who still mow their lawns in long sleeves and slacks. Tell me, how did society function before all these "modern" barber shops had air conditioning?

A guy I'm seeing mentioned that it would be awfully fun to romp around Eureka Springs this Saturday. I immediately agreed. It will be fun. Fun, but hot. Surely he'll be understanding when the makeup runs and people start smelling, right?

Gosh. Listen to me. When did summer become the enemy?

You know, the older you get, the less fun summer seems to be. Case in point: our infamous summer family reunion is now held indoors because... well, everyone's getting old. Suddenly the elderly pass out. The kids get sunburned and develop carcinoma. The mayonnaise in the macaroni salad poisons everyone. Gosh... I remember the good old days when family members weren't ancient and a sunburn peeled and went away and Great-Aunt Bidge's mayonnaise macaroni salad didn't kill any of the cousins.

You know what's happened? We're all turning into summer sissies.

Remember when you were a kid? Hot weather meant summer vacation, and I'll bet you spent quite a bit of it outside, right? I did. My mom wouldn't let me stay indoors and watch TV much. Of course, we didn't have 1,500 channels and all these video games and MP3 players. Heck no. We made mud pies and stirred them with sticks.

And remember our other archaic ways of playing? Sure, we rode bikes and girl-talked, but we didn't have GPS bike helmets or camera cell phones. And if our parents needed to find us when we were riding bikes or girl-talking, they went outside and yelled. Or they called Janie's mom and Bobby's mom and Sandy's mom (on rotary phones) until they found us.

Oh, yeah, we went swimming, but most of us splashed around in a public pool or a questionably-sanitary body of water. Only "paranoid" and "overprotective" moms made you use sunscreen. The rest let you burn to a crisp, then covered you with slimy aloe vera leaves and made you sit still. (We looked like leech-covered brats, I'm sure.)

And remember when you finally did go inside after playing in that hot summer sun? Our mothers didn't then cram us in an SUV and buy us iced lattes or Maggie Moo's frozen custard. Oh no. We froze grape Koolaid in ice cube trays and waited 3 days for a "popsicle".

Oh gosh. Now that I think of it, this isn't good. This isn't good at all. I've forsaken my first love (summer vacation) and become quite the summer sissie. Maybe I should freeze grape Koolaid and spend as much of this summer as possible out in the heat.

Yeah, I guess I could.

Of course, there is that beautiful verse in Ecclesiastes 3.... What does it say? There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven....

Wait. That's better. Maybe the season for activities like mud pie making and bike racing and grape Koolaid-freezing is over. Maybe this is a time for summer sissies.

I'll go with that, anyway.

Happy summer 2006, everyone... summer sissy or not! -Brin

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Contrast of Thoughts and Ways

'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,' declares the Lord.
'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.' -Isaiah 55:8-9

I took this picture (as I do all the pictures on this blog), and was struck by the contrast between the sky and the ground - between the heavens and the earth. I stood there looking. Thinking....

We've all considered and debated some big stuff here lately. We've urged and argued and accused and I think it's great. It's made us think. It's forced us to put on paper what we believe. It's compelled us to draw our lines and choose our allies.

But maybe, just maybe, I think it's gotten away from us that at the end of the day, most of our thoughts are just that: our thoughts.

I don't have the answers. I don't. I'm more than willing to admit that I'm just another curious Christian relying on faith - hoping for knowledge - depending on the words printed in my Bible. I don't have a clear idea of how God works things - in this "reality" or the next. Oh no, folks. I don't have the answers.

But I'm willing to bet you don't have all of them, either.

Why? Why would I not bet any of my dollars - much less my bottom one - on either of our opinions?

Because. Because we're both just people. And at the end of the day, we just have our people thoughts and our people faith.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not disparaging your thoughts. Or your ways. Or your good intentions. After all, I know many of you reading this are very well educated. I know still others of you have invaluable life experience... the things under your belt are things I'll never do... or see... or have under my own belt. Most of you have read far more than I have. You've worked more. You've lived more. No, please - I mean no disrespect. Like I said, I don't have all the answers. But neither do you.

Only God does.

Someone asked me yesterday if God would readily welcome a Christian who'd permanently turned his or her back on God. I don't have the answer. My thoughts are not His thoughts.

A guy I dated in college was conflicted over predestination. Does God choose us, or do we choose God? I didn't have the answer. Neither did he. His (God's) ways are higher than our ways.

How - a friend asked recently - could God allow those who've never heard of Him to spend eternity outside His presence? I couldn't answer. I didn't have the answer. Do you? After all, His ways are so much higher than our ways, and His thoughts our thoughts.

Of course, it does say in Amos that God can (and does) choose to let us in on some things. Amos 4:13 says, He who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals His thoughts to man, He who turns dawn to darkness, and treads the high places of earth - the Lord God Almighty is His name.

It's there. I believe it. I believe God reveals His thoughts to man. But still, will I bet my bottom dollar that I'm a lucky recipient of divine revelations? No sir. No ma'am.

Yeah. Lest I get bogged down in my own opinions and my own intentions, let me be among the first to say that I don't have answers. Like you, I can only split open the Word of God and try to call it like I (as a person) see it.

But hey. Maybe we'll all be standing around together someday when the deep mysteries are revealed. I hope we are. And maybe I'll be alongside you when we're struck by the contrast between the heavens and the earth.

Don't worry. You'll recognize me instantly. I'll be the one standing there looking... Thinking....

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Field of Schemes

I overheard a farmer yesterday talking about this year's corn crop. Apparently the USDA is forecasting that 8 million fewer bushels of corn will be harvested this year than last. The guy was distressed. He thought he'd come out ahead by taking a government payout instead of growing a little corn, but with the price of corn pushed higher due to a smaller supply, he bargained wrong.

Ah, yes, Robert Burns, you were right: The best laid schemes of Mice and Men oft DO go awry.

Blowing by some corn fields on my way out of town, I began thinking about some of my own 'best laid schemes'. Many, of course, did go terribly awry. I guess we've all experienced that at some point though, haven't we? Relationships are a gamble and sometimes the house wins. Money is a cruel master and most always calls your bluff. Dreams are risky bets and seem to cash out only the persistent... or the lucky.

Or do they?

I love the story of Joseph. (In Genesis. In the Bible.) The guy was a dreamer. He was also his father's favorite son. His brothers (understandably) resented that display of favoritism, so they did what any of us would do - they came up with a scheme to sell Joseph to a caravan of gypsies and tell their father a wild animal must have eaten him. The scheme worked. Joseph was not a "lucky" guy.

But he was an incurable dreamer in for a few rollercoaster years. He went from being the top aide of an Egyptian government official to a top prisoner in the king's pokey. (All because Joseph's boss had a scheming, cheating wife who wouldn't leave him alone.) And just when it seemed like things would look up for Joseph, his world would collapse around him.

But finally, he made it. He ended up the governor of Egypt. Seriously. And wouldn't you know that his scheming, bitter brothers ended up unknowingly petitioning Joseph to bail them out of a famine. Turns out their fields didn't produce enough to see them out of a corn and grain shortage. Thankfully though, God used their nasty scheme (as Joseph later told them), "to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance". (Genesis 45:7)

It's ironic how our fields of dreams often collide with fields of schemes to produce one interesting life. And hey, if you're like my farmer and settled for a payout when you could have been growing corn, don't worry. Robert Burns isn't right all the time. Just look at Joseph.

There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere. - Jane Austen

Friday, June 9, 2006

Bridled Belief

It was Mark Twain who said, "In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second hand, and without examination."

It's true, I think.

In the last 24 hours, I've gotten emails and phone calls and comments over the last blog. I'm honestly a little amazed by the response. But above all the information and opinions I've taken in over the last day, I'm struck by one thing: it seems most people's beliefs are so curbed - so bridled - by what they've been told. They're bridled by the ramblings of a fifth grade Sunday School teacher. Or hearsay they've borrowed from an old book... or pastor... or old boyfriend. And still others are relying on regurgitated philosophies from elderly college professors and parents. These people are wielding their beliefs like borrowed crutches - like hand-me-down props they pull out only when they're having a hard time standing on their own.

I'm shocked. I'm shocked at the number of grown adults who don't know what they believe. Who lean on passed-down ideals. Gosh, you might as well be a horse on a bridle, because when you depend on the knowledge (or lack of) of others, then their ideas and opinions - well, they're steering you, honey. And the sad thing is you can't even turn around and see what you've allowed yourself to be saddled with.

Seriously. Beliefs - spiritual or political - are not inherited. They're not bequeathed. You're not a Baptist because your parents were. Somewhere along the way you kept going to that church, too. Do you know why? And you don't vote Democrat because your grandmother loved Lyndon Johnson and believed Republicans would steal her social security and then beat her with a rubber hose. No, you chose which candidate you liked. Do you know why? There are two kinds of beliefs, I think: the ones you should hold and the ones you were sold.

The Bible has a few cents worth, too. Proverbs 14:15 says that "a simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps". I didn't say that, the Bible did.

Point is, I don't care what your folks believe. I don't care why your grandma brainwashed you into voting for Democrats. I don't care if you agree with me or argue with me until we're both blue in the face. (I welcome the debate, by the way!) I do care, however, that you show up with some beliefs you can proudly call your own.

So please, next time you email me comments, tell me what YOU think. Let Nana and your fifth grade teacher and your creepy ex-boyfriend speak their beliefs for themselves.

Besides, if you don’t believe for yourself, who will?

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Spit and the Siloam


(WARNING: The following blog contains opinions that will be offensive to some audiences. Reader caution is advised.)

Spit and the Siloam I get. But I don't understand the concept of a mud wrap. I just don't.

While in Dallas recently, I stopped at a salon for a pedicure. A well-dressed woman soon glided in and announced she was there for her mud wrap. I watched as she paid $75 - plus a tip - to be slathered in cool mud and then rinsed off - all within 45 minutes. Good grief. I would have dug a hole in the backyard of Freeman House, turned on the water hose, and let her stay all day for $10. Of course, I don't have Dead Sea mud, and I doubt my backyard mud "detoxifies". But whatever.

Yeah, the concept of a mud wrap is lost on me. As I was sitting in the salon, I started thinking about mud. About mud being slathered in weird places in the name of relaxation and/or healing. I began to wish I owned part of the Ninnescah River (seen here). It's shallow and muddy and I could sell tickets to well-dressed, gliding women in search of $75 mud wraps. I could serve smoothies on the shore, and could retire by 30.

Then I thought of that story in John. You remember... the one where Jesus heals the blind guy with near-Dead Sea mud?

As He (Jesus) went along, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." Having said this, He spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. "Go," He told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam." So the man went and washed and came home seeing. - John 9: 1-3, 6-7

Now this kind of mud wrap I understand! But not the salon ones. To me, they make about as much sense as this whole Positive Confession/"Name-It-and-Claim-It" movement that's sweeping some churches today.

Yeah. Speaking of muddy, murky, shallow things - I'm tired of hearing that if only we believed enough, or spoke enough positive things, we wouldn't be sick. Or poor. Or in 2004 Hyundais. (Why should we be when God obviously wants EVERYONE who's smart enough to claim a 2007 Lincoln to drive a 2007 Lincoln?) I'm tired of television evangelists and authors shouting at us to "speak it as though it were". I, for one, think it's bordering on ridiculous. I'm not God. I'm made in His image, but I'm not God. I won't pretend that my words - even backed by the sincerest of faith - can manipulate a holy and awesome God into granting my every desire and whim. He is an omnipotent deliverer, not a divine genie. I mean, our blind, mud-wrap guy was obviously blind because God had a bigger plan for his life. He could have walked (or stumbled) around all day "speaking" himself into 20/20 vision... "claiming" that he could see... but until he was touched by Jesus, our blind guy was just that - blind. Words didn't heal this guy. Positive confessions didn't restore his sight. A visit from the Omnipotent Deliverer did.

Yeah, so I'm not a wealthy TV evangelist. Or a seminary graduate. I don't have any degrees in theology. And I don't drive a 2007 Lincoln. I'm just the girl who sits in mud-wrapping salons reading about Spit and the Siloam.

And as long as you guys got me talking mud wraps, I think I've decided that Freeman House will be offering them next spring for a nominal fee. And if the Positive Confessors can't speak enough rain to make a mud pit, we'll turn on the water hose.

It's no spit and the Siloam, but it's a start....

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Trees

I used to want to live in a tree.

I love trees. I love oaks and maples and magnolias and even the ones I don't know the names of. Trees are great. Fruit trees, climbing trees, Christmas trees... seriously, bet you can't think of one bad tree. Right? Thought so.

I'm the oldest of five children, and the zillions of trees on our property were my biggest allies in the war waged against my three younger brothers. When they broke my birthday figurine collection? "Here, Rich... this is a persimmon tree," I remember saying. "They aren't ripe yet, but you can have the biggest one if you want." (His lips were puckered for a week.)

When they tattled? "What do you mean there's something prickly in your bed? What... are you afraid of a few dozen sweet gum balls?" (There were pinecones under there too, I think.)

When they outed me for my role in the 4-wheeler/smash-into-the-front-of-the-house incident? "Oh... that baseball card collection? Last time I saw those dumb cards they were hanging in the oak tree by Grandmother's house." (Really... who likes A-Rod now anyway?)

And when I just needed to beat the crowd? I'd hide in or near a tree. No one could see me. I was invisible.

Ah, yes. Trees come in handy. I mean, it's even in the Bible. Remember Zacchaeus? (The "wee little man"?) Back then, he was called a small-in-stature tax collector. Today, we'd call him a short IRS agent. Regardless, squatty Zacchaeus... well, you remember the story:

"He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see Him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." - Luke 19:3-5, NIV

I heard a sermon on this story once. The preacher made a big deal of the fact that Jesus wanted to hang out with Zacchaeus - that Jesus reached out to the short IRS agent. I think that's something, but it's never been the part of the story that's stood out to me. No, what I love most about this story is that Jesus... well, again:

"When Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, come down...."

He called him by name. Jesus said Zacchaeus' name. Apparently the two had never been introduced, since the story begins with the disclaimer that Zacchaeus "wanted to see who Jesus was". And yet, although they'd never been introduced, when Jesus reached the spot where Zacchaeus was perched, he looked up and called him by name. Jesus already knew him.

I might not know you. And I don't know if you're even curious about who Jesus is. But I do know this: no matter where you've been hiding, Jesus already knows your name. Even if you've never been introduced, Jesus knows who you are. You're not invisible. You're not anonymous. Not to Jesus. And when you're ready to climb down - off your wealth, off your rebellion, off your pride, off your education, off your priorities, off the tree-of-your-own-making, Jesus will be there waiting.

I love trees. But I've learned they're no place to live. Not when there's so much waiting for you on the ground.

Saturday, June 3, 2006

Shower Bunny

The Lord is good to all;
He has compassion on all He has made.
-Psalm 145:9

I was taking a shower this morning when I saw something out of the corner of my eye.

(Now, before I go any further, I should probably explain that I currently shower outside. And wait... I should probably also explain that I currently shower outside because I don't have an indoor shower. I don't have an indoor shower because my 1880s house is being renovated. Sure, I have a high-speed wireless internet server. I have state-of-the-art laundry facilites. I have a 1700-volume library. But I don't have an indoor bathtub. What I do have is an expensive massaging showerhead that's connected to outdoor plumbing alongside the wall of a sitting room off my bedroom. Therefore, I shower in the backyard. Hopefully my days of simultaneous showering/tanning are numbered.)

Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah... backyard showering. And I kept seeing something out of the corner of my eye. I was starting to get paranoid - every time I'd glance over my shoulder... nothing. But every time I turned back to face the massaging showerhead... there it was again! What in the world??

And then I turned around just in time. I saw it. (Him?) The little bunny. I think it was trying to sneak/scamper across the yard and under my house, only the shower and I were between him and safety.

He froze. I froze. We both stood staring at each other, afraid to make the next move. Slowly, I turned off the shower and sneaked backwards toward the house. Once inside, I exhaled and looked out the window. He was still there. He hadn't flinched.

I ran for my camera which, along with an R2 pen, hardly ever leaves my immediate possession. (Old reporter in me, I guess.) I hurried back. He was still in the exact same spot. Had he died standing up?

CLICK CLICK. I snapped his picture. Then very softly, I told him I was very sorry for flooding his front porch and promised I was going inside for good. He actually moved, which I took as non-verbal confirmation that we had an understanding. And I guess we did, because once I went inside, he hesitated and hopped past the shower and under my house.

It's strange to be showering in backyards with bunnies. Strange and humbling, too. I mean, here we are - all creatures of our God and King - sloshing in the same water and sleeping under the same sky. And all of us so dependent... so dependent, and so inextricably tied to our Maker.

Yes, going without an indoor bathtub is tough. I'll be glad when it's over. But it's been good in a strange and humbling way. It's reminded me that the Lord is good to all, and has compassion on all He has made.

What a good God.

Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
-Francis of Assisi

Friday, June 2, 2006

God's Loving Reach


"I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God,
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. "
Romans 8:38-39

It is impossible to go beyond God's loving reach.

It doesn't matter if you die tonight or live another 100 years.
Nothing will separate you from the love of God.

It doesn't matter if you won the guardian angel lottery
or feel like you are amusement for a host of demons.
Nothing will separate you from the love of God.

That stuff in your past... it doesn't matter. The stuff you're facing now... it doesn't matter.
The stuff you'll face tomorrow... that doesn't matter either.
Nothing will separate you from the love of God.

It doesn't matter how high or how low you go - physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
Travel to the earth's core or travel to the highest heavens.
Settle into a dark depression or settle into a life of joy.
Run from God or run after God- it doesn't matter.
Nothing will separate you from the love of God.

It doesn't matter what else - in all of creation - comes your way. Death... Failure... Loneliness... Ridicule... Hunger... Divorce... Unemployment... Desperation... Abuse... Bankruptcy... Illness... none of it matters. You know why? Because.
Because nothing will separate you from the love of God.

It is impossible to go beyond God's loving reach.
(And I, for one, could stand to hear that today. - Brin)