Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Like Hugging a Tree

I recently commented on a friend's wonderful post about her father. As happy as I was for her, I must confess there welled up within me a terrible sadness. My dad died in August 1989. (8-9-89) There is no opportunity for resolution for us, but there is great motivation to be sure that no other chapter in my life ends that way. I wrote this back in 2002.

Like Hugging a Tree

My dad was born and raised in Canada. He moved to this country when he was sixteen. Not much is known about his childhood. Supposedly he was born a twin, but the twin did not survive, nor did the record of his existence. Dad was small enough to sleep in a drawer when he was an infant.

I have pictures that show him with a dog. He almost looks happy. He was made to play the piano, but hated it. They were too poor to have horses, so Dad rode cows for entertainment.

The pictures of when Dad and Mom were dating were of friends at the beach and around sharp cars. Dad was always surrounded by women. Recently my eighteen-year-old daughter described him as a “stud.” I guess he was.

Dad was devoted to his work. For as long as I was around Dad worked for Columbia Gas. He had no education beyond a quarter of college where he flunked Chemistry and never went back. This didn’t hold him back much. He moved up the ranks to some vice president position, or perhaps he was an assistant to a vice president. My memory is little fuzzy, because by then I was out of the house and married, focusing on my own family.

When I was in late elementary school Dad started traveling for the company. It wasn’t all the time, but it seemed to be increasing. Mom took a part-time job at the local library for about a year then. By the time I hit junior high school Dad began to travel weekly. He would leave on Mondays and be back Friday afternoons. I didn’t see him much on the weekend because I started having my own life. When I was home his nose was in a paper or on his chest, taking a nap.

Dad wasn’t very mechanically inclined. He didn’t repair things. He didn’t tinker. He loved his lawn to look nice and would spend a lot of time ridding it of weeds and making sure it was greener than anyone else’s around.

When I was in High School Dad developed a crafty side. He began making pine cone wreathes. He took orders for varying sizes. I don’t know where or when he developed this interest, but he was good at it. This hobby of sorts (and source of extra income) afforded an activity for Dad and I to work on together. As far as I can remember, he only asked for my help. We would go to different places (like the cemetery across the highway) and pick up the cones. I enjoyed doing that with him. Sometimes we wouldn’t find much of anything and just ride our bikes around.

Dad was the one to teach me to drive. Really, I think of my two parents, he was just the braver to ride with me. He was always telling me how he felt I was going to drive into the ditch. He also taught me to parallel park. He started with broomsticks in cinder blocks. When that was mastered he upped the ante a bit by first parking his work car in front of me and then at the rear. Fear motivated me to learn quickly. I could just see me creaming his car. I passed that part of the test with flying colors.

The women all seemed to love Dad. At parties, when I could sneak a peak (we were always banished to our bedrooms or the basement), I would see them hanging on him and laughing too loudly at his jokes and antics. He was always drinking and liked to see other people drink. When I was in college and my parents lived in Pennsylvania, Dad was in a car accident and charged with a DUI. As I remember the story, he played golf with the judge and pretty much got out of any fine or trouble.

Dad loved to golf. That was one of the things he and my husband had in common. My mom’s sister and brother-in-law had bought a house in a town in Arizona that was a retirement community known for its golf courses. Mom took up golf and they would go out together. They traveled a lot in those last few years of his life, but always looked forward to retiring in Green Valley.

Cancer killed my father. Or was it pride? Cancer was discovered in his bladder and rather than going through an ostomy surgery and having an external bag, Dad opted to go with chemotherapy and radiation. This afforded him about an extra year through remission. The cancer returned and with a vengeance, attacking his lungs and his brain.

In July 1989, Dad had a severe seizure. I went to visit. He was pretty incoherent. He had lost so much weight he didn’t look much like my dad. One brief moment on that visit Dad seemed to come out of the fog to give me wonderful advice and encouragement. Then just quickly as it lifted the darkness descended. He was gone six weeks later.

For all his flirtatiousness with other women, I don’t remember much tenderness or affection at home. He would kiss Mom and I would occasionally see them hug. But they never really seemed happy while I was home. The pictures of their travels seem to show them as cozy couple, smiling for the camera, in embraces that hinted at love and affection.

I remember giving hugs and kisses, at night, leaving for outings, or going away to college. Hugging my dad was like hugging a tree: stiff and totally unreturned, leaving me feeling empty and alone. I guess that’s why I’ve kept a tape of one our last conversations for all these years. When Dad called to say that the cancer had returned in May of 1989, I pushed the record button on the answering machine. In that conversation where he described only having months to live, my dad told me that he loved me. I have not only a piece of his voice, I have the words and they are precious to me.

Was it because of his upbringing? The alcohol? Or some other secret he took with him into death’s dark abyss that caused him to withhold gentle and warm embraces from me? I wonder. All I know is this, whether I am giving or receiving, no one will ever say hugging me is like hugging a tree. We all need tenderness, and affection. The world is too cold and hostile a place to send a child without the assurance of your love and encouragement. Make sure you really hug your child today!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dance Dreams

The class went well. At least Nelson said it did and I’m still getting positive feedback. I ran out of time and didn’t get to finish the lesson. We ran over and the choir was late for warm up, which I heard about from the director (oops…giggle). They seemed to enjoy picking out their Potato Heads. Oddly enough, there were some leftover. And sadly, the Potato Head t-shirt I ordered to where while I taught arrived today in the mail (that’s me: day late and a dollar short). I’m going to take it with me on the bus trip later this week.

Did I mention I’m going on a bus trip? Things have been so hectic, I guess I forgot. Our class takes a bus trip each fall. Last year we went to Gettysburg and Hershey PA. This year we’re running through Nashville and some Native American sites of interest (I’ll put the exact places in later when I can pull up my itinerary) and then on down to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. I’m excited. Nelson doesn’t have any time off so I’ll be rooming with an older woman from the class. She’s a dear and I really enjoy her zeal for life. The challenge will be slowing down and talking loud. She’s extremely hard of hearing. It should prove interesting and fun! “)

This past weekend I was sucked in to an all weekend marathon. I watched at least some of every episode of “So You Think You Can Dance.” I loved it. My family just shook their heads at me—I’m used to that! (big giggles) Last night the final results were on the show from 11PM to midnight. I had been watching in bed but I started to fall asleep. The last thing I wanted to do was fall asleep and not see who won after watching all those episodes. So I went down to watch in the living room. I ate a snack even though I wasn’t hungry, hoping it would keep me awake. Wouldn’t you know it: I fell asleep!!! I was so disoriented I almost went to bed. But then the show came back on and I was able to watch them announce that person I wanted to win actually won!

I was thinking about the whole dance thing. I wanted to dance so badly when I was little. I would spin in my black patent leather Mary Janes dreaming I was a great prima ballerina. I remember wishing I could fly. This weekend as I watched the dancers, that’s what it sometimes seemed like they were doing, flying. Their leaps took them from the ground and it was as if they were suspended in air forever. It’s funny. As I’m sitting here at my desk, I can almost feel that soaring desire within.

I was amazed as I watched some of the expressions and movements. I don’t know how you are, but I know that for me I have always been too inhibited to find the freedom to move like that. They could make their bodies move in ways that I absolutely know my body is not wired and therefore never capable of achieving—certainly not now but probably not even then. They controlled their bodies. I have never felt.

And then there’s the whole passion thing. Have I ever wanted anything that badly? I feel like such a little kid writing that. But if I were a kid at least I would have my life ahead of me to pursue something. I’m fifty. So much time wasted. Okay, not wasted, but not focused.

I teach a unit in transitional class that invites the participants to dream about what they really want and then begin to think of how to bring those plans to fruition. It’s much easier to teach a principle than to apply it and live it sometimes.

Perhaps that’s what I’ll plan to do on this bus trip…dream a little…maybe even a lot.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Or options.
I'm not always good at either.
The Potato Heads arrived and now I have to choose which lesson I'm going to do. I'm leaning hard towards the Potato Heads.

Edit:They're getting the Potato Heads tomorrow. I can't wait. Honestly, it makes me smile to just think about it now. No wait, that's not a smile...it's a full blown giggle.

Back when I was involved in full-time church ministry and preaching on a regular basis, the daughter of one my friends shared this interesting thought with my friend. She told her mom that she thought I could make a sermon illustration out of a booger. I never did, but it's a thought that has sure stuck with me (all pun intended...giggles)

I just delight in being able to take information and present it in fresh and memorable (or remember-able) ways.

So tomorrow everyone in class gets a Mr. Potato Head. It's been an expensive lesson, but worth every penny to me!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Beyond Mediocrity

I went to the fair yesterday. This was the first time I’ve been to the fair in over 10 years. The last 3 years I haven’t been allowed due to probation/supervision requirements. It was tons of fun!!!

I had forgotten how much I loved fair food. I didn’t go way overboard, but I enjoyed a gyro, deep fried oreos (because I was “coerced” into sharing…), cinnamon toasted pecans, and lemon shake ups. Oh, my!

In the afternoon I ducked out of work for a short while to film Asher’s first foot race. Last year Beth entered him in the diaper (crawling) derby. He didn’t do well then and he was a hoot this year, too! He took off and then turned around and ran back to the start line and beyond. Realizing he was going the wrong way he turned around and headed toward the finish line. But he stopped about half way and began turning in circles. All this time he still could have won because none of the other children in his heat had finished. After about three circles one little child found the finish line. Asher was probably more pleased with the rubber ball he got for just being in the race. I got the whole thing on video and Nelson said I did a pretty good job capturing the it!

We went back to the fair after Nelson and I got off work. We went with Beth, Ron, and Asher. Nelson played the role of indulger. He purchased an unlimited ride pass for Asher. I wish I could have bottled the joy in that child’s face. He loved every ride! It was just the best stuff ever.

This weekend I get to teach our Sunday school class. I wasn’t able to get my Potato Heads quick enough. I did win two lots of them on ebay. So that lesson will wait until next month and that’s okay. Instead, I will be doing the lesson on material from “Experiencing God.” In addition to presenting the seven realities of experiencing God I’m going to use a bit of information from a lecture I do on moving beyond mediocrity. Last week when I taught the class a new format unfolded as I taught and I let the class know what a neat thing it was. I’m going to take the information and cast it into a spiritual sense. We’re going to examine why we settle for mediocrity in our spiritual life. I believe the answer to mediocrity (or at least one of them) is passion. Here’s the bare bones of the chart that goes with that portion of the lecture:

(no self) Aimlessness, going through the motions
(self) Mediocrity, settling, staying comfortable and in the familiar
(selfish) Success, typically about money or achieving and acquiring
(selfless) Excellence, passion

Many go through life aimlessly and rarely get anywhere (positive, anyway). Many more get some direction and move into mediocrity but stay there because they are comfortable staying with what is familiar. While the first group has no awareness of who they are (no self) the second group does have some awareness, but don’t take the opportunities to improve themselves. If people develop goals and begin to achieve they find a road to success that they hadn’t realized possible. Now if things go well here, I believe people will move into the next level. If they get stuck in the loop of achieving and acquiring the focus stays on self and can shift into a new form of mediocrity.

What it takes to move to excellence is passion. With passion comes a focus on others that results in selflessness. At this point I use the illustration of Olympic athletes. They are driven to levels of excellence not typically for self gain but for country. (I know that’s not true for everyone, and if pushed too far any illustration can break down. Just consider the spirit of the illustration.)

That discussion then will lead me to ask the class to consider where they may be on the chart, and more specifically, where they may be spiritually. As a segue from that into Blackaby’s material I’m going to use a quote by Stephen Covey:

When you study the lives of all great achievers--those who have had the greatest influence on others, those who have made things happen--you will find a pattern. Through their persistent efforts and inner struggle, they have greatly expanded their four native human intelligences or capacities. The highest manifestations of these four intelligences are: for mental, vision; for the physical, discipline; for the emotional, passion; for the spiritual, conscience. These manifestations also represent our highest means of expressing our voice.

Stephen Covey (1932 - )
Source: The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Page: 65

We’ll see how it goes. I feel good about it. I must confess though, I was looking forward to the Potato Heads. Later for him…and for you! “)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On Prisoners and Freedom

Luke gives us a picture of Jesus’ early preaching/teaching ministry. In it Jesus appears to be clearly stating his purpose as he unfolds the words of the prophet. We find it in Luke 4:16-21:

16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed, 1
9to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."[a]
20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (NIV)

The phrase that grabbed my attention was in verse 18. Jesus tells them in verse 21 that today that scripture is fulfilled in their hearing, so it seems to me that he is saying that God sent him to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.

I remember when I met with my lawyer for the first time. He cautioned me in my zeal to be honest. He recounted that many believers who found themselves on the wrong side of the law, who thought that by telling the truth they would be set free from their consequences. I don’t find that in scripture. My understanding of many texts throughout the Bible portrays a loving God who doesn’t remove the consequences (just take a look at David who lost his son) but who promises to walk with us through the consequences even to restoration (see Micah 7: I will be patient as the Lord punishes me, for I have sinned against him…The Lord will bring me out of my darkness into the light and I will see his righteousness.).

What then is this freedom of which Jesus spoke and the prophet wrote? Let me first begin by pointing out how important this message must have been both to the heart of God and the ministry of Jesus: this is his first recorded message. Position is a powerful indicator of the importance of a topic. This passage is heart and soul to everything that Jesus would be about.

With that in mind, I believe that the message was to the prisoners. Unfortunately, as with many of the things that Jesus taught, I believe that it was highly likely that Jesus was misunderstood. To a people who had known captivity and injustice this was a message of physical and national redemption. I don’t, however, believe that was the emphasis Jesus wanted to make. I believe that the freedom was not so much freedom from something as much as it was freedom within it. There would not be the removal of consequences, but there definitely was promised the grace to endure and actually be able to count it all joy.

I’m finding that one of the toughest places for a prisoner to find freedom is freedom from judgment. No matter how much time one has done in jail or prison or on paper, there will be those who feel it is never enough. And that leads me to the second audience for Jesus’ message: those who have never broken the law.

I remember the interview I had for my present position. One of the board members asked me when I had experienced restoration. In part, it depends on where I am. With my family, it feels complete. Among my closest friends it is complete. But it is in the church where I still struggle to feel forgiveness. It is in the church where I feel the oppressiveness of judgment. It is in the church where I feel the least free.

Now, please let me hasten to say that there are pockets of loving, accepting, and forgiving people in the church. They have ministered abundant grace to my aching heart and reached out in love and forgiveness. But this experience has not been across the board. And quite honestly, I don’t expect it to be. That’s why I believe that Jesus’ message is twofold. First, I can’t wait to find freedom from my circumstances. There will be people who feel totally justified in their daily role of judge and jury (and sometimes executioner). I have to accept them and accept the freedom in my circumstances that Jesus offers.

But I also believe that Jesus is challenging those who have stood in judgment and continued to hold crime against a person, never allowing for repentance or restoration. His challenge is that they should bring freedom to the prisoner as well. If a person expresses genuine remorse and repentance, restoration should follow.

Jesus’ words are life-giving to those who have been through poverty, prison, illness, and oppression, but the joy is short-lived if we aren’t lovingly restoring the wayward back into life and fellowship. Remember, it isn’t much further into His ministry that Jesus makes it quite clear that with the same measure of mercy and forgiveness we offer to others we ourselves will be judged.

(This is just a start…but I wanted to put the thoughts out there.)
More thoughts...

Let's consider a few biblical examples. Let's start with Paul, or Saul as he was still known. He is a murderer and an all out zealot to squelch this new band of believers. God has other plans and there on the Damascus road Saul experiences God in a whole new way. His life will never be the same. The problem was: who does he tell and how? No one is going to believe him. How will he ever experience the full freedom of following Christ and answering his calling if he constantly is judged for who he was? What if Barnabas had never stood up for him and in doing so set him free to serve?

Saturday, September 08, 2007


I just watched a special on Bravo. It was a reunion of the Biggest Losers. I like the show. As I sat there though, it really got me thinking. I've put on some of the weight I took off. I was motivated in a new way to get back to eating healthy. I'm thankful I never lost the motivation to exercise. If I had I know I'd be right back where I started.

In two and a half weeks I'll be starting a weight management class at Curves. I'm going to be doing the plan 100%! My goal is to lose at least 15 pounds during the 7 weeks of class.

I work with highly unmotivated people. Sometimes I feel like a cheerleader, cheering on a team that gave up trying long ago. They aren't inspired to change because their mantra is: why bother? Things aren't ever going to be better.

Oh, there are a few that have risen beyond that. They have chosen to move beyond their self-defeating behaviors. They are such a joy to work with and I give them my all.

But what about the rest? How do I reach them? It's just not in me to give up.

So, I have a question for you, my readers. What motivates you? What causes you to set goals and then reach for them? What keeps you going when you'd rather give up? When no one else is watching what is that thing, that thought, that kick in the butt to get you moving?

Thanks for the input! Y'all are just the best!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Teaching this Quarter

For the third lesson of my four this quarter I will be drawing info from Blackaby's Experiencing God. This book was very important to the healing process in the last church I pastored. Here are the basic themes:

SEVEN REALITIES OF EXPERIENCING GODFrom Experiencing GodBy Henry T. Blackaby and Claude V. King
1. God is always at work around you.
2. God pursues a continuing love relationship with you that is real and personal.
3. God invites you to become involved with Him in His work.
4. God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes, and His ways.
5. God’s invitation for you to work with Him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action.
6. You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.
7. You come to know God by experience as you obey Him and He accomplishes His work through you.

This week I looked at (from Buchanan's book "Your God is Too Safe") moving from "borderland" (the place of comfort, familiar, and complacency) to the "holy wild." The key or answer being surrender.

In my next lesson I'm going to focus on how we are or aren't using the gifts God has given us. My key verse is 1 Corinthians 12:18 and the idea that God has put us right were he wants us and our gifts and the mix of the gifts around us are all on purpose.

Then looking at Blackaby's seven themes we're going to discuss that realm of holy wild and living and experiencing God.

Finally, my last lesson will tie the OT and NT together by looking at how well we "wait on God." I will look at a passage in Habakuk 2 and tie that into the rich but often ignored tradition of Advent.

I'm so excited about this.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Spud Lessons

Class went so incredibly well. Saturday evening, I did something I rarely do: I started to go over the lesson with Nelson. I never rehearse. I didn't rehearse my sermons. I do the research. I prepare. And I get up there and deliver.

As I was sharing my lesson with Nelson, I was reading a big long piece I was using as an illustration (my entry entitled "Autopilot). I looked up at him and his brow was all furrowed. Much as he would like to deny it, he was frowning big time. I realized, based on his feedback that I'm a much better extemporaneous speaker than reader of information, that I needed to adjust what I was going to be doing.

I ended up depending very little on my notes. I gave the gist of the autopilot piece and I actually ran out of time. That was one of my biggest fears: that I would run out of material long before I ran out of time. I know, it's hard to imagine me running out of things to say...

The feedback I got was very positive.

So now I'm on to the next lesson. I won't get to teach again until September 23. I'm going to use a wonderful illustration from Bob Benson entitled "The Urn." It's a satirical pieces about the strife between denominations I'm using 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27:
12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles,[e] some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.[f]
14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?
18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”
22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, 24 while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.
27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. (New Living Translation)

I'm going to use Mr. Potato Head as a hands on illustration. At the very least everyone will be going home with a piece of a Mr. Potato Head to remind them of their place in the body. I've been shopping the Internet and what I would really like to do is purchase enough Potato Head kids that everyone in the class would go home with one. (There are about 50 in our class.) I found a t-shirt and a sweatshirt for sale on EBay with Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head on them. I'm getting one and I'll wear it when I teach. I love visuals and I love giving something to the class to tangibly remind them of the lesson.

Well, it's late and I think it's about time for potato head dreams. Sweet ones to you!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Lovely Morning

It has been a wonderful morning. Nelson got to go in early for overtime, so I was up at 4:10 braiding his hair. After that I fell right back into bed and slept soundly until 7:30 when I popped up and dressed to go work out. I had a good hard workout at Curves. On the way home I grabbed two coffees: one for me (hazelnut, of course) and one for Beth (she likes hers without girlie flavors). Then I came home, made a fried egg sandwich, and made my way to the wicker on the front porch. Ahhhhhhh.

I have decided a few things this morning.
1. I am ready for fall. I am not into the extreme seasons any longer. I love the warming up and cooling down of spring and fall. I value being able to sit on the porch or the yard swing and enjoy mellow moments that the cold snowy days of winter and hot humid days of summer just don’t offer. It makes me sad when I see the leaves on the ground, but I will focus more on their autumn glory of their final hurrah.

2. I love looking at houses. But not just the structures. I love to notice the ways in which people declare that they are living there. When I was coming home from Curves I noticed a couple houses that had cars in their drives, but that was about the only indication that anyone lived there. There were no flowers, or personal touches around the outside of the house. The windows were treated with mini-blinds so there weren’t even curtains to admire. I drove a couple blocks and noticed a couple more of the “naked” houses, but also the lived ones. And I started thinking about what it means to be “at home.” By that I mean, what does it mean to be comfortable, present, and living in your shell?

3. Working at Curves has caused me to do something more in 6 months than probably all the 6 previous years combined. Ok, that might be a wee bit of an exaggeration, but wearing shorts and capris to workout in and work in leaves one’s nubby little legs out—not a pretty sight! (giggles) It’s funny: I really like the smooth clean-shaven feel.

4. I love the farmer’s market. Our town has market gathering on both Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Today I went by myself. I perused the produce and ended up buying two pints of cherry tomatoes, two pints of the biggest sandwich tomatoes, and a flower arrangement of different colored zinnias. I didn’t think twice on the tomatoes, but actually struggled at the thought of spending three dollars on the flowers for myself. It seemed so odd to me that I wouldn’t think twice if I was spending the money on flowers for someone else, but really struggled to spend it on me. Silly. I drove home the three blocks, pleased with my purchased. Reveling in the beauty of the day. Our neighbors appear are a young couple with a mom living with them. Mom was out back sitting on their patio furniture, which is right next to the fence between our yards. She commented on how pretty the flowers were. I walked right over to the fence and gave her the flowers. She was so surprised, she was speechless. I love doing that. “)

Well, I don’t know what else the day will hold, but I intend to enjoy it! Hope you can, too!