March 31, 2012

One Orange Cat

In December (2011) we adopted an adorable orange kitten - mostly for J, but we all love her.  Saffron joined us and was so cute and snuggly we could hardly contain ourselves.
 So tiny & cute!

In January she managed to do something that I didn't think cats could do - she fell and broke her leg.  Requiring surgery, and lots of extra TLC and work for J.
 Bad haircut!
Isn't she pitiful with her cone and having to be caged?

So fast forward to the end of March.  Saffron is now 6 months old and full of personality... or perhaps just attitude.  She has 2 speeds, FAST and OFF.  She is either going full-tilt tearing around the house into everything or she is flopped someplace sleeping.  She seems to take little notice of us unless she wants a lap to lie on or food. 

 Saffron LOVES the heat vent

She tackles Grace whenever she finds the opportunity - which to a civilized fluffy cat is dreadfully undignified and results in somersaults and hissing in the youngster's direction.  Sometimes it will result in Saffron being pinned down and forcibly bathed by Grace in seeming punishment for such disrespectful actions.  It's pretty funny to watch them.
But they do seem to love one another and we often find them curled up on the bed or on top of the little kitty-condo.

Everything is a toy to Saffy.  She loves to bat around anything that she can find, running, crashing into things and making a racket generally.  She loves to play in plastic bags & boxes.  Sits in front of my computer monitor and bats at the cursor as it moves across the screen.  Over & under, in & out, up & down - she is a very busy kitty! 

6 months old
We love this crazy orange cat.

March 29, 2012

Chapter 2: A Word to Live...and Die By

Trying a different format for this chapter.  First I will write out the questions from the reader's guide, then I will share my notes for those questions.  

   1. A terrifying nightmare in which Ann dreams she is dying of cancer becomes a catalyst that helps her realize how much she really wants to live.  How do you generally respond to your dreams?  Do you write them down and ponder them, or do you not pay much attention to them?  If you have ever had a dream or nightmare you felt was especially significant, describe the dream and the impact it had on you.
   2.  Ann describes three ways we can experience life: as empty nothingness, as fully alive, and as a life in between (p. 27).  As you reflect back over the years, briefly describe a time you experienced life in each of these three ways.  Where do you think you are in experiencing life right now & why?  
   3. Studying the word eucharisteo helped Ann to identify "holy joy" as the "more" she had been seeking (p 32).  What do you think might be the key to unlocking your desire for a fuller life right where you are and in the midst of your ordinary days?
   4. The author recalls stories from Jesus' life that illustrate the power of eucharisteo, of thanksgiving; The Last Supper, the raising of Lazarus, the condemnation of Korazin and Bethsaida (pp 34-37).  When considering the context of these stories, we discover that Jesus is within ours of his own death, is grieved by the death of a dear friend, and is rejected by entire towns that experienced his miracles.
  • Why do you think Jesus chooses to offer thanks at such times
  • How does Jesus' use of gratitude in difficult circumstances inform or challenge your view of what it means to give thanks to God?
   5. Together, allow a moment of silence to identify a few of the difficulties you face right now.  When everyone is ready, discuss these questions:
  • What thoughts or emotions come to mind when you think about expressing thanks in the context of your difficulties?
  • "He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God" (Psalm 50:23).  What would it mean for you to make a sacrificial thank offering in the midst of your current challenges?  How do you imagine God could use your sacrifice of gratitude to deliver you, to help you enter into a full life?
My Notes:
1. Dreams - reaction varies - a nightmare usually causes me to pray hard when I wake, though sometimes I also reach out for Steve if the subject of the nightmare is harm to the kids or to him.  Other dreams I sometimes ponder for meaning.  Generally I don't put a lot of weight into dreams, but see the benefit of being aware of what my brain may be focusing on in sleep - if there is something of deep concern, etc.
2.  Empty:  The years of loss due to miscarriage & infant death - terrifying nothingness.  The years of constant moving - searching for something to fill a void - would be years of in-between probably.  Now is my time of full - growing - life!  Embracing my roles of wife, mother & friend.  Finding newness in things as gifts, joys ~ even in the hard & scary things.  God is showing me how real He is in my looking, watching & seeing... and even more in my obedient following of Him daily.
3.  This was the beginning - the turning point.  Looking for the gifts.  With much reading of scripture then came a better grasp of grace (reading Grace for the Good Girl helped with that also) - living the love - as the loved.  There is amazing freedom there and that brings me such joy!  Then came the realization of the need to live my faith horizontally as well as vertically (David Platt's book Radical spoke to me here as did the book of Isaiah and Jesus' teaching from the gospels & the book of James).  There is a huge element of being a Christian - a true follower of Christ - that requires us to live our faith outwardly in a horizontal direction - first for me to my family (Steve & the kids) and then to the members of our church family and into the community & world at large.  Like ripples in a pond.  Ever widening circles of love & influence for God's glory.
4.  Re-reading these passages of scripture was eye-opening for me.  Perhaps they were meant as a demonstration for us - that in the face of the awful, the unthinkable, the unbearable pains of life - we are to thank God for whatever it is that the situation must be for His glory to manifest.  For His purpose - even if we can't know or understand right in the moment.  Perhaps if we can be truly thankful for things - we become the miracle?  Thinking here of people at funerals whose faith is steadfast and they rejoice in the gain (seeing Christ) of the loved one instead of wallowing in their own loss.  When grace is poured into us - we are filled by Jesus' love - this is the full life.
5.  I have no notes for this one... I'm not sure how to interpret the 'sacrificial' part...  Or maybe I already answered part of this is the notes for question 4.

March 27, 2012

Psalm 73

A Psalm of Asaph.

 Truly God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
    and find no fault in them.[a]
11 And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
    and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
    I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I discerned their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
    O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward you.
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25  Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26  My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
    you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    that I may tell of all your works.

March 11, 2012

Finishing Chapter 1

Sorry to have been so long getting back to finish this chapter.

Readers Guide Question: Ann describes how the death of her sister "tears a hole in the canvas of the world" (p. 16) and later writes, "I wonder... if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop... might actually become a places to see.  To see through to God" (p. 22).  Is this a metaphor you find intriguing, comforting, or disturbing?  How do you understand it in light of your own experiences of loss?

My notes: I find the metaphor both intriguing and somewhat comforting.  I often think lately that our 'comfortable' American life has insulated us and isolated us from God.  A very dear friend, (who has served as a missionary in a very poor country), once told me that living in a third-world country makes God more real - in a way that He isn't here to us in the States.  In a place of utter lack - you trust God and see Him more clearly simply because He is all there is.  When our lives are torn open - He is the one who is real.  There in the deepest pain - even when we sometimes refuse to know that He is there.  Perhaps - it is in the torn places that we can see because God seems nearer when we don't have barriers of other comforts & distraction?
RG Question: The author's narrative is rich with vivid phrasing and evocative imagery.  What lines or descriptions stand out for you?  Why do you find them to be powerful?
My notes: p 16 "Do we ever think of this busted-up place as the result of us ingrates, unsatisfied, we who punctured it all with a bite? The fruit's poison has infected the whole of humanity.  Me. I say no to what He's given."
p 21 "...raw and real, stripped of any theological cliche, my exposed, serrated howl to the throne room."  snip "And I see.  At least a bit more. When we find ourselves groping along, famished for more, we can choose."
This is me... admitting honest & real.   Laying myself open to the reality of how far I fall short of the Sunday morning smile - how much I need Jesus every single day.  How I desperately need his grace pouring - thundering down on me most days.  And how I can choose - choose to live this life, choose to see the grace each day.
And the thesis of the entire book
p 23 "A dare to an emptier, fuller life."  Take the dare... journey with me as I explore the truths God has given me through Ann's book.

Blessings on the journey~

March 4, 2012

Blogging a Bible Study

Today I am home from church sick with a chest-cold and B is also sick with a cold/fever.  We've done the OJ, toast and a game of monopoly so far...
Now he's under 3 blankets on the couch with a Star Wars video and I'm having coffee in front of the computer and trying to figure out a way to make this morning count for something worthwhile.
So I decided that I'll start a few posts from the new study I'm doing with a great bunch of ladies at our church.  We meet every other Monday and are going to work through Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts together.  I stumbled across a reader's guide for the book that has some questions that I'm trying to go through each time we meet.  So far I've been a flop at actually getting all the way through all the notes I take and scriptures that God has shown me in the process, so perhaps putting them here in my corner of cyber-space will make up for that failing in group.

So to begin.... Chapter 1  "an emptier, fuller life"

Page 13: But these aren't things you need to say anyways.  Like all beliefs, you simply live them.
Page 14: I look in the mirror, and if I'm fearlessly blunt  - what I have, who I am, where I am, how I am, what I've got - this simply isn't enough.
Page 15: Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren't satisfied in God and what He gives.  We hunger for something more, something other. 
Page 16: If I'm ruthlessly honest, I may have said yes to God, yes to Christianity, but really, I have lived the no.
These are just a few of the lines I high-lighted in the first pages of the chapter... words that struck a chord deep in me and I could identify.  Shamefully... but true.  I first read Ann's book when it came out early in 2011, and since that time God has taught me much and I am beyond grateful to feel that there is some small measure of progress.  If that is not too bold to admit - but I don't say that with any pride, only with humble thanksgiving that He has counted me worth the time and effort to change my heart, my mind, my life.

Readers Guide Question:  "Quote from above pg 16"  What do you think Ann means by this?  Has this ever been true for you?  If you feel comfortable doing so, describe the experience.
My notes:  I think Ann means she has lived as if God is not a good God - that he lets us down or leaves us to twist in the winds of sorrow & pain.  Even aside from the times in my life when I was living far from my faith - 'back-slidden' to use the churchy words for it - I admit that there have been times when I have struggled with holding to God's goodness in the face of difficulty.  Miscarriage, infant death, then divorce, custody struggles, serious medical issues for my oldest child and then ongoing educational struggles for him.  But on the other side of all those things... I can see how faithful God was even when I was holding Him at arms length.  I was living as if He had taken a vacation from watching over me - but I was the one moving away from Him.
How often are we willing to be so "ruthless" with ourselves?  Honesty is HARD at times ... especially when we feel we are questioning God or even act like we are pounding our fists against His chest in our frustration ... or arrogance?   Behaving like children?  Yet the grace pours - our hearts (our storms) can be calmed by the One who calmed the waves - if we make that choice - to let Him... to SEE Him.

Page 17: "His secret purpose framed from the very beginning [is] to bring us to our full glory." (1 Corinthians 2:7 NEB)
Page 21:"Just that maybe... maybe you don't want to change the story, because you don't know what a different ending holds."  snip "Maybe... I guess... it's accepting there are things we simply don't understand.  But He does."

Readers Guide Question: During their forty years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites survived on a daily diet of manna (Exodus 16).  It is a baffling substance whose name literally means, "What is it?" - but they eat it, are nourished by it, and even seem to like the taste of it (p. 22).  The author makes a connection between manna and the troubling mysteries of our own lives.  How do you respond to the idea that our questions and the things we don't yet understand may actually be sources of spiritual nourishment?  What do you think it might mean, in practical terms, to "eat the mystery."?
My notes: Ephesians 1:6-10 seemed to speak loudly here for me.  Right now - we are only seeing glimpses - we see grace - we have moments when we 'almost' grasp something that pulls us to Christ or perhaps we just cling desperate because we feel like we are blinded by a situation or circumstance - yet we know there are promises in scripture (Romans 8 - right?) that tell us we are safe in Christ.  So in Ephesians 1, verses 9-10 say: "making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."  This is the mystery - how all this ... the brokenness of the whole world - of hearts & homes - the wounded - and the beautiful... the glorious creation, the laughter, the love - all of it, the grace of a moment and a lifetime.  We cling simply because we must at times - what is the alternative really?  Do we believe we have any more/better control if we reject Christ?  Then it really would be empty beyond redemption and hope... In Christ we have the hope and assurance that at some point - perhaps only in heaven - we will KNOW the mystery.

I'm going to stop here for now... this is way longer than I thought it'd be!  Breaking it up should make for a bit easier reading, and typing! 

March 2, 2012

Snow and other weirdness

These are photos from my front yard this morning... crazy!  I was NOT looking for a snowstorm this week, in fact, I have a catalog for garden seeds on my nightstand right now and had begun entertaining thoughts of attempting to grow things again this summer. *sigh*  In time I suppose... all this white stuff has to melt soon.. right?
It has been sort of a weird week here in a few ways - not just because of the crazy snow.
Steve and I celebrated our 16th year of wedded wonderful-ness on the 29th of February.  We only have an actual day on the calendar once in 4 years, so this was big.  Normally I would be spoiled with some amazing present from this incredible man who loves me so much, this year we have had some other family financial obligations that trumped frivolous expressions of love (like kitten leg surgery and a new car engine).  I guess this is what happens to old married people. :-)   It is all good - our family come first always and I already have more than enough of everything... I am most blessed among women.
We spent the day together as a family - made it a school holiday for the kids and enjoyed a nice day.  We even had a lovely dinner out together while the kids were at youth group.  I don't remember the last time we sat in a mostly empty restaurant and just talked for an hour after dinner.  It was really great.  Of course the fact that it was a Wednesday off of normal life, and then we had the snowstorm come through and messed up our 'normal' again on Thursday sort of has me all off-kilter now.

Most of the weirdness has been internal for me - emotional & spiritual - as I'm struggling to find some answers and direction with some heavy things in my life. I long desperately to be useful for God... to have my heart broken for the things that break His heart... to serve & love the way Jesus does (and did during his ministry).  To not just have a vertical faith - but to live my faith horizontally.  I want to be a conduit for God's grace in this broken world.

I'm reading a few books at the moment and two of them are about trusting God.  One is for my regular ladies bible study group on Monday nights and the other is part of a daily devotional series I bought through Vision Forum.  Both are excellent.
Today in the devotional book, the author shared 3 scriptures that really struck me.

"Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.  He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." ~Deuteronomy 8:2-3

I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.  ~ Job 42:2

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. ~James 5:11
And then during my regular prayer time and scripture reading I came across this one:
I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself,
    that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Correct me, O Lord, but in justice;
    not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing. ~Jeremiah 10:23-24

I know God is trying to teach me some hard things... and I know that I am often slow to hear/learn.  I'm very grateful for His infinite mercy & amazing patience with me as I struggle to sort out lessons, truth and direction.  I pray from the depths of my heart for wisdom, discernment and clarity.  I trust Him and know that he has a Sovereign plan.  I long to be part of His Kingdom work in my everyday and anxiously await more and more of Him being poured into my heart/soul/mind so that I might be more like Jesus.

Blessings on the journey~