9.30.2010

The Expanding Universe

Things that expand: elastic, people's waistlines, the national debt.

And the universe. The universe is always expanding. Moving outward. Getting bigger. Pushing away.

Your universe is expanding, too.

One result of getting older is that the number of people you know...or have ever known...keeps expanding. My little son can probably count all his friends on both hands. And maybe a few toes. But pretty soon, fingers and toes won't be sufficient to keep track of his universe.

Every year that you're on planet earth, new people cross your path and enter your life. It's one giant addition problem. Or multiplication, if you consider that "six degrees of separation" theory that people talk about...which has something to do with Kevin Bacon. Or maybe I am getting my theories mixed up.

The little green aliens in Toy Story might say it this way: "Your universe is expanding! We are eternally grateful!" (Love those guys.)

We lose touch with people in our universe, too. Sometimes, (since we're talking space here), people just fall of the face of the earth, although less of that type of thing goes on these days in the facebook era. But even if a friend has been absent from your universe for decades, that doesn't mean they are not a part of your life. They're actually still there. Occupying a part of your history. A part of the story that you both shared together. Their face might not be right there in front of you, but it's clear enough in your mind.

When I was a Brownie back in the day, we used to sing a song that went, "Make new friends, and keep the old...one is silver and the other gold." I sometimes reflect on the salt-of-the-earth people whose universes have intersected with ours over the course of our married life in ministry thus far. So many faces that I don't see anymore, because of time, or distance, or sadly, in some cases, death. There are faces in the present, too. And I know there will be faces in the future who I have not yet met...all composing what the book of Hebrews calls the "cloud of witnesses." And those aren't people in the clouds. It's the crowd of saints who have gone on before, and the crowd that still remains. People in your life who are witnesses to the life of faith. Who root for you to finish well.

Thinking about the faces I love makes me feel rich. Not in dollars. But in a very different kind of richness that surpasses dollars in terms of eternal value. That must be why the old Brownie song referred to friends as silver and gold. You make them. You keep them. They are a treasure to you. It's also why, to this day, people still get lumpy-throated and pull out their cell phone lighters when Michael W. Smith sings, "Friends and friends forever, if the Lord's the Lord of them."

So no matter your age, there is no need to wish to rewind the clock back to the times when your universe was smaller. "Don't long for the good old days - this is not wise," King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 7:10. Every day that you live, your world is expanding as you influence lives and they influence yours. And in that way, the stands are filling up, person by person in that cloud of witnesses. By the time we get to the finish line where Jesus awaits one day and all eyes are on Him, it'll be a sold-out crowd.

We can still hope that the national debt would shrink and our waistlines would get smaller. But not so for my universe and yours. To infinity and beyond, my friends.

9.27.2010

A Tale of Two Castaways

Disclaimer: there will be no serious, thought-provoking application today at the end, if that is what you seek. This post is what it is, take it or leave it.

Shipwrecked on a deserted island, the Swiss Family Robinson designed and constructed their personal treehouse resort. But do you ever wonder why, in the same situation, Tom Hanks went nuts talking to a volleyball in a cave?

The Robinsons never really seem to mind that much that they're shipwrecked. The boys galumph around the island, rounding up wild animals to assist in the construction process and swinging on vines because life is grand. Mom's hair looks fabulous as she steps off the life raft, and when her husband wonders why they had ever left Switzerland in the first place, she just smiles, sitting there in the sand on a deserted island, and tells him they did the right thing. Would you say the same thing to your spouse in such a situation?

Need a life raft strong enough to navigate desperately treacherous waters between the shipwreck and the land? Never fear! Dad and the boys can string one together in no time flat that's able to hold two parents, three strapping young men, and two Great Danes.

The treehouse itself is a sight to behold...a tri-level structure that is a child's dream. Beautifully furnished with things from the wrecked ship, none of which were ruined by water damage, it even has a pump system for purified drinking water. Dad managed to salvage a PIANO from the shipwreck and haul it up into the treehouse for mom's pleasure. With only one key that doesn't work.

Foreshadowing lets us know that, oh, by the way, there might be some pirate action coming later on. But are the Robinsons afraid? Apparently not. They'll be ready for 'em, preparing with the same level of emotional intensity that you would have in getting ready for a snowball fight with some kids from your neighborhood. Just build some coconut bombs and let the youngest boy play with them. Set up a booby trapped bridge that will collapse when you pull the rope, and then laugh with delight when a couple of pirates go tumbling into the water, even though 50 more are still charging you.

But here's the real kicker. When the Robinsons are rescued at the end, mom (whose skin has remained fashionably fair for months) realizes all of a sudden that all they ever wanted is right there in front of them. Pirates, tigers, lizards, deserted island diet, and all. Why leave the Disney treehouse resort? So they happily stay. The end.

WHAT?

Poor old Tom Hanks in Castaway didn't have nearly as sweet of a deal. He didn't have strapping young men to help him. He also didn't have wrecked ship supplies. He was absolutely devastated to be stuck. (See facial expression here.) The Robinsons were living it up, and he was running around in his skivvies trying to spear fish in the water. When you're utterly alone on an island, there's no one who can cut your hair for you or perform dental surgery. There's also no one to talk to, to keep you from going insane. Which is exactly what happened to poor old Tom...whose only friend was his volleyball. Wilson. And as for a life raft? It was all he could do to put together a sorry little excuse for one. Compared to the Robinson's BMW raft, it was like a Yugo. I would venture to say that even Gilligan and the Lost crew in all of their lostness had it better than Tom.

So...I guess in one sense, life is what you make of it. But on the other hand, I think that the big take-way here is that it really helps if Disney is telling your story.

9.23.2010

R.I.P. photo albums…and other things

I’ll just admit it. I have photo album guilt.

My oldest child is six. That fact alone has enormous ramifications. It means that I have six years’ worth of digital photos sitting in folders on my computer. Yes, they are organized there. Yes, they are backed up. But no, they are not displayed in albums, except for my two baby books.

It is the digital age, the age of technology, the information revolution. Blah, blah, I know all that. I have never thought of myself as a luddite, opposed to all the sweeping change around me. Actually, my lack of current photo albums proves that point. I am a Generation X’er. I facebook, twitter, blog, and own at least one device that begins with a lowercase i.

But I confess that I miss opening up a book to look at photos rather than locking my eyes on that ubiquitous screen. I miss turning pages, sitting comfortably, flipping through an album. Scrapbookers aside, who does that anymore? I fear that those old-fashioned albums are dying. And alas, here I am, an active participant in their deaths. I can only hope that books do not await the same fate. I don’t think I could stand reading a whole novel on a screen.

I am aware that there are options. Websites like snapfish will make prints and photobooks for me if I make the effort. Even the local drug stores will make prints from my digital camera. But the thought of sifting through hundreds, maybe thousands, of pictures on my computer is so daunting that I am averse to the task.

The slow death of photo albums points to larger issues. Think about the last time that you wrote a letter. Not a thank-you note or a quick “thinking of you” card and certainly not an e-mail, but a detailed, handwritten letter. I remember spending summers in the mid 90’s apart from my college boyfriend, now husband, and writing letters to each other then. Has it really been that long since I sat down with pen and paper to write a lengthy letter to someone? They are quickly becoming obsolete, if they are not already.

One of my college professors introduced me to the Internet as we know it. How could I have grasped the impact it was to have on our lives back then? Going back much farther, my dad told me what a VCR could do before our family owned one. “You mean I could record TV shows and watch them over and over again?” I asked him. Because no greater prospect existed in my young life at the time.

That tired buzz word change does not really begin to describe what has happened in the last 20 years. I suppose that we are better off than we used to be. How could finding the answers to everything we could ever need at the click of a button be bad? Life is more convenient, business is more efficient, people are more connected. It’s all marvelous. Except for this one little thing…the sad, uncomfortable feeling that I get when I hear the shadowy word obsolete. It’s at times like those when I want the world to stop, please, so that I can get off of it.

Just today, I heard someone saying that his blackberry was a ball and chain. Before the information age, none of us knew what we were missing. Were we that disadvantaged when we lived in the relative ignorance of the past? Probably. But at least we didn’t know it.

In mathematics, the “constant” is the part of the equation that doesn’t change. My memory of algebra is foggy, but I do remember that pi equals 3.14 followed by a string a numbers stretching to infinity. It is a value that is always held constant. Parts of life’s equations are always changing, variables within them alternately increasing and decreasing, depending on how the wind is blowing.

No matter what is ahead for this generation and the next, this truth remains: “I the Lord do not change,” Malachi 3:6 says. It’s a weighty statement, in light of the fact that everything else does change. Seasons. People. Technology. Environments. Interest rates. Time. “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow,” (James 1:17). These days, the shadows are shifting so quickly that it’s difficult to pinpoint the location of the sun.

But no matter. He’s there anyway, the center of the universe, the unchanging Son who casts no shadows at all in this world that is hurtling forward at the speed of progress, while photo albums collect dust. He…and He alone…is the constant.

9.16.2010

Things That Startle

I hate being startled. Barney Fife never seemed to like it very much, either.

You can tease me, you can tickle me, you can tell me jokes that aren't funny, you can talk my ear off. But please. Don't ever hide behind a door waiting to jump out at me. My nervous system will not appreciate you. At least, these days it won't.

When you're a kid, getting startled is kind of fun. Take hide and seek, for instance. When the hider and the seeker finally met face-to-face, it was a deliciously shocking 3 seconds of screaming. Pulling the shower curtain back in a dark bathroom to find some kid hiding behind it...just incredibly hilarious, right?

One time, my cousin and I sat in my room reading a ghost story called "Don't Look Behind You," a story that would make any 10-year-old resolve never to turn around again. I got up to leave the room for a minute, venturing down the hallway, past open doors that were gateways to dark room. Rooms that had never bothered me before - but all of a sudden seemed ultra creepy.

From the darkness somewhere, I heard this nasal, other-worldly voice from somewhere closeby saying, "Don't look behiiiiind you!" That was all it took for my knees to give out. I literally collapsed on the floor, unable to stand up, like one of those chicks in the Friday the 13th movies. Later, we laughed for hours about how she had sat back there in my room, holding her nose while saying the phrase that we had shuddered over minutes earlier. The weird thing is, even though I almost passed out from fright, it was ridiculously fun. Kids love to scare each other.

As you get older, though, it's not so fun. For example: canned biscuits that pop like a gunshot when you peel the paper off are a SICK JOKE. A little warning please, Pillsbury? Like maybe, giant letters that say, "BRACE FOR IMPACT"? Because nobody wants to admit they're scared of biscuits. Yet here I am, doing just that on the world wide web.

Another frequent startle-inducer in our home is the kid-standing-beside-your-bed-staring-at-you-in-the-middle-of-the-night. Parents, you know what I'm talking about. You're asleep, but you just have this sense that someone is closeby...so you pop open your eyes, and there are two little eyes staring back at you. Really close to your face. It's enough to make you hit the roof.

I am alarmed when the phone rings after we've gone to bed. I am alarmed when one of my children lets out an ear-piercing shriek. I am even alarmed when a TV program gets interrupted for a "special report" because it's usually something horrible. Between national security concerns, the sad state of the U.S. economy, and Iran's obsession with nukes, there are an awful lot of startle-inducers around these days besides canned biscuits.

But then there's Psalm 27:1: "The Lord is my light and my salvation - so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?"

And we are also told not to be surprised as the world becomes a more desperate place. Expect it. But expecting it is kind of like seeing someone jump out at you...and you remain nonplussed. Because of this hope....there's a fortress. A light. Salvation. He's the anti startle-inducer. As someone once said, "Nothing has occurred to God." He has made known the end from the beginning, from ancient times what is yet to come (Isaiah 46:10). Nothing, and no one, is beyond his reach. Remember this post from a while back? Do not forget that there are everlasting arms underneath us, come what may in this world.

So I might still jump when the biscuits pop or when some joker jumps out at me. But for the seriously alarming things, the disturbing things, the things that might cause one to quake in their boots...Psalm 27:1 is a great promise to bank on.

One that won't fail like Bear Stearns. Or the wisdom of man. Or even the human heart.

Until next time,

9.14.2010

Housekeeping in the Peanut Gallery

No verbose blog post today...just a little housekeeping issue for the peanut gallery:

If you don't have a Disqus profile already and you want to comment here as a guest, please note that there is an option for you to include a link to your blog. If I am able, I would like to repay the visit when you come here. But I'm finding that with this new system, I can't do that easily unless you point me in the right direction.

If you'd rather not link back to your page, that's fine, too. I just want to make everyone aware of the option.

And hello, iFellowshippers! (If you want a post with a little more oomph than this one, scroll down if you're so inclined.)

Now I'm off to sweep peanut gallery shells from the floor. More to come!

9.09.2010

The 12 Most Recognizable Peanut Gallery Types

My last post was addressed to those of you in the peanut gallery. In vaudeville days, that meant the cheap seats in the house, which usually were occupied by rowdy folk who liked to throw peanuts at the stage. That's where we get the phrase "no comments from the peanut gallery."

In this case, I was not referring to you all as hecklers (let's keep it that way)...but rather, as ever-present commenters of the general sort. Since writing that post, I began to think of the peanut gallery in terms of the blogosphere. Every blogger or blog-reader will generally fit into one of the following categories:

Macadamia Nuts. Highly nutritious. They have the highest amount of beneficial monounsaturated fats of any known nut, and also a good bit of protein, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, calcium, and phosphorous. When you leave the blog of a macadamia nut, you have gained something - an idea, a perspective, a how-to guide - that is nourishing for you.

Walnuts. These are wallflower blog-readers. Blog-stalkers, if you will. They like to lurk, to hang around and read, but you never know they're there. Until the next time you see them, and they say, "Hey! I read your blog!" You people know who you are. I like you guys.

Honey-Roasted Peanuts. A blogger soaked in honey sweetness. Full of goodness, honey-roasted peanuts are always looking for the best, always encouraging, always able to say the right thing in the right way. See 1 Corinthians 13 for a more thorough definition.

Planter's Peanuts. Mr. Peanut, in his famous picture shown here, looks like he's ready to put on a show with a hat and cane. He's dapper, funny, and clever. And like him, Planter's Peanut bloggers are entertainer extraordinaires.

Boiled Peanuts. A bit moody. A bit melancholy. Serious-minded bloggers. They have long ruminated on the deep things of life.

Pistachios. Celebrity bloggers who have good stuff to say and huge followings. There's a shell on the outside...it's kind of a barrier. You don't really get to talk to them.

Spanish Peanuts. Bloggers from Spain. OBVIOUSLY.

Acorns. You know them. I know them. They masquerade as edible nuts. They're the spammers and hackers. If you eat them, you'll choke. And they litter the ground where you will trip all over them if you're not careful.

Chestnuts. Bloggers whose writings aim straight for your heart, right inside your chest. (Get it?) They cause you get a little misty-eyed every time you read their stuff.

Pecans. A Negative Nelly nut, the wrinkly pecan usually has a gripe. Probably due to that bitter flavor they're sporting.

Cashews. You can eat a handful of cashews and be full for hours. So, in turn, cashews like to visit you and gorge themselves on your blog at one sitting. Then they go away and don't come back until they're hungry again.

Sunflower Seeds. Okay, that's not a nut, I know. But they're in the same family of salty snacks, so they get a special nod for the final spot on this list. Sunflower seeds are the opposite of cashews. They're so tiny and quick, that they only have time to visit your blog for an average of 24.5 seconds before they have to move on to the next one.

Now is the point where I will duck while you throw peanuts at me. As a disclaimer, this list was created from a blank mental slate, with no particular names in mind, save for a few walnuts.

Honestly, I very much enjoy hearing from all of you. Because really, I think we're all a little nutty in our own "special" way. Which kind of nut are you? Maybe a combination of assorted nuts? Are there other types nuts that were missed who deserve a mention?

The peanut gallery is now open.

9.07.2010

To all of you in the Peanut Gallery...

(I say that affectionately, of course.)

I have a little announcement for you all, my readers. There's a new way to comment here.

As I have surfed the waters of blogdom these past few months, I have wondered many times why Blogger is so stiff when it comes to commenting. If you wanted to comment on my blog, you needed a Google account...username and password and whatever other hoops you were required to jump through. And then, when you left a comment, I would scratch my head and wonder where I should reply to you. My blog? Your blog? An e-mail? Message in a bottle?

So I would end up doing one or all of the above.

Today I successfully installed the Disqus commenting system on my blog. And actually, it was kind of amazing how it happened...a perfect example of how eerily connected the world is these days.

I was tripping over problems in the installation process, and I was about to give up. So I sent a tweet out into the universe, addressed to no one in particular. "Can anyone tell me why installing Disqus makes all my existing comments disappear?" I asked cyberspace in exasperation. My question echoed. I suppose it really was a message in a bottle. I was hoping a fellow blogger might lend me a hand. And for a while, all I could hear were crickets chirping.

Then...lo and behold...I was pleasantly surprised when techies from Disqus support responded to me by twitter and e-mail to address my problems. To be honest, it was like saying to the universe, "Boy, I wish I had a quarter pounder with cheese," and finding one drop into my lap. I tell the world what I need, and the world responds! Ahhhh, power! No, I'm kidding. Disqus deserves the credit for some pretty great customer service...even though I'm left feeling a little baffled and squeamish about the power of the Internet. I'll save that for another post, and for now I'll just sing, "It's a Small World" to myself.

The reason I chose this new format is because it is a threaded system, so I will be able to respond very easily to your comments. (Try it...you'll see!) And now, you no longer need a Google account to speak up here. All you have to do, the first time, is enter your e-mail address.

So, since this is a test post, who would like to be a guinea pig for me? Comment away, and I'll respond. All peanuts in the gallery are welcome.

9.03.2010

Excuse Me, Your Joy is Showing

Today I witnessed one couple's lack of inhibitions in a public place. And I applauded them.

I was sitting on the edge of the pool, feet dangling in the water, watching my two children who had the Olympic-sized pool to themselves. Two college-aged guys chatted closeby at the lifeguard station, twirling their whistles. Some unrecognizable upbeat music drifted through the speakers.

An elderly couple entered the pool area. She was hobbling on a walker. He had his hand on her back, shuffling along beside her. It seemed they were taking a stroll around the premises. I noticed them, but turned away to watch the children. Seconds later, in my peripheral vision, I sensed one of the lifeguards turning back toward me to get my attention. I glanced up, followed his gaze, and there - across the distance of that large pool - was the elderly couple.

Dancing.

She had put her walker aside. Arms were around each other's waists. Hands were clasped. And they were happily dancing (as best they could) in a little circle to the beat of that strange, funny song echoing through the pool area. In front of my children, the two lifeguards, and me. No inhibitions. No care for what we might think of them. In fact, I am almost certain that they were oblivious to the fact that they had an audience.

This is not them of course, but it looks an awful lot like them. So for the sake of your own mental image, just pretend that it is:


Of course, the five of us on the other side stared. We couldn't stop. The lifeguards were grinning in appreciation. My daughter was giggling. It was perfect moment - like witnessing a scene from one of those Nicholas Sparks movies.

The song concluded. She reached for her walker. Lifeguard #1 began to applaud very slowly. The kind of applause that one starts when they know others will join in, and it speeds up when they do. When the elderly lady realized that we were all clapping for them, she gave a little embarrassed wave and a laugh. And then they hobbled off together, smiling.

Still kicking my feet in the water, I thought of the Beatles' classic "When I'm Sixty-Four." (More like "When I'm Eighty-Four," in this case.) I imagined that sweet couple has a lot of stories of their own - love, pain, highs, lows, arthritis, and a whole history of life that they have shared together. Yet there they were in their twilight years, enjoying one another, an obvious testament to the strength of their love.

There was a time when I thought nothing of dancing spontaneously in front of a crowd...when I was 5. Then once I hit age 11 or 12, I remember getting all self-conscious and reserved in a lot of ways, as many of us do. If anyone should be taking life seriously, it should have been those old folks...doing all they could to make it across the pool deck. But whether it was intentional or not, they allowed some joy to spill over from their hearts. ("Hey, I caught you! I saw your joy showing!" I felt like saying.) And in turn, it spilled over into me.

Next time my cup runs over with joy, I bet I'll remember that couple. I'm not saying I'm going to dance a jig in Target. But I might laugh a little harder. I might sing some Christmas carols in the checkout line this December. I might even lift up my hands in worship and not worry about what people think of me. And if my husband ever asks me to dance beside a swimming pool when we're 84...(or tomorrow)...I'm sure of this...

He will have a willing partner.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

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