Friday, December 31, 2010

Year-End Reminder

Last night, a friend of mine invited me to Denny's. For breakfast. At 11pm.

Now, I've never been a leave-the-house-at-11pm kind of girl. Not for anything. And I can't tell you the last time I went to Denny's. We used to go after showchoir performances in high school. At first, my husband vetoed the excursion. But it sounded fun! And I've been missing my friend! And I never get to do anything spontaneous like that! So I made my puppy dog face, and my sweet husband let me go.

I hadn't seen my pal in a while, so she and I had a lot of catching up to do. One of the first things we talked about was church. She hasn't been going because of a new job that conflicts. She's been feeling a little lost in her spiritual walk lately, possibly as a result of skipping church.

At the tail end of this part of the conversation, we talked about my back. She'd read on Facebook that my husband took me ballroom dancing and we'd signed up for lessons. Totally my husband's idea, if you can believe it! He's super.  :)  Anyway, she wondered how I got through that with my back and the leg pain I'd been having. I cocked my head to the side to look at her and said, "Don't you know? I'm healed!"

She stared at me for a moment. She didn't quite know what to say.

So I told her the whole story of my back and how God showed up when I needed him so I had the confidence to pray for healing. Then one morning I woke up with no pain, nothing. And it hasn't come back. And God is awesome. She was amazed!

But that's when it really got amazing.

Not five minutes after we'd finished that part of the conversation, a group walked in. Three girls, three guys. The girls had long hair piled high, long dresses. You know? I never remember what denominations do all that, so I don't want to guess. But they were dressed up like they'd just been somewhere kind of fancy. The guys all had three-piece, pinstripe suits on. They looked sharp!

So they came in and they talked to the hostess for a moment. Then the three girls went over to the hostess podium and started singing this:



They sang (in perfect three-part harmony, mind you) the chorus and the verse about "He healed my body, told me to run on."

At midnight. To a half-empty Denny's. And we all clapped along.

After they were done, my pal looked at me like I'd set the whole thing up. I said, "See? God shows up!" At midnight. At Denny's.

No joke. He really does.

I don't know what this year has been like for you. Maybe it's been really crummy and you've been waiting for God to show up and rescue you. Don't lose hope. Pray with confidence, and he'll show up. I'm not going to lie—it'll be on his timing. And he's going to do things his way. But he will show up. In this coming year, have a renewed confidence in God. I sure do.

Happy New Year! Stay safe!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Orchids and Onions

I'm a big fan of making phone calls.

As someone who used to work in customer service, I know how important it is that a customer finds his or her experience with a company satisfactory. Companies provide a service; if they don't provide that service in an acceptable manner, they should know about it. Likewise, if you have a good experience, you should tell someone about it.

I read an article once calling these letters/calls "orchids" and "onions." Orchids are the complimentary letters and onions are the stinkers, obviously. This lady got in the habit of making calls or writing letters both when service was exemplary and when service was lousy.

To tell you the truth, I'm on hold with Office Depot right now. It's an onion. That's what prompted this post. Yesterday's e-mail to the AMC Theater? Also an onion. 

Sometimes onions yield results. Defective products get replaced. Coupons are sent because they want you to use their products again. Once I bought a pair of Champion yoga pants at Target that started unraveling on day one. String everywhere! I called Champion and told them how much I usually love their products and how disappointed I was with the quality of this particular pair of pants. They sent me a check for the full amount of the pants and apologized profusely. My e-mail to AMC Theaters yesterday got a lousy response, though. It was essentially, "Sorry about your frustration. Here's a link to our holiday pricing policies. Better luck next time." Boo, AMC.

Still on hold with Office Depot, by the way.

Not every call is an onion, of course. Once I called Excedrin just to rave about Excedrin Migraine. That stuff is da bomb. I told them it was better than the prescription stuff I was taking for my migraines at the time and that it's pretty much the best stuff on earth (sorry, Snapple). They sent me coupons for free Excedrin products. When I've had an exemplary experience with someone at a store, I'll call the manager when I get home to let them know how great their employee was. Everyone likes a pat on the back once in a while. I used to work in retail, and I felt so great when I helped a customer find something obscure. I felt even better when they'd tell my manager how knowledgeable and friendly I was. I made a call to Sears yesterday, in fact, to compliment a woman who went above and beyond to help us find what we were looking for. The manager was happy to get the call and seemed genuinely excited to give one of his employees a "high five," as he said.

And I'm still on hold with Office Depot. Going on 25 minutes now.

I try to make as many orchid calls as I do onions. I try to seek out opportunities to tell people and companies what they've done well. It ensures that they'll do more of the same, since someone clearly noticed.

Office Depot finally got back to me—and essentially told me nothing and resolved nothing. Annoying. I do believe they'll get this in writing now. Double onion time!

Do you let companies know when they're doing a great (or not-so-great) job?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

God's Popcorn Wouldn't Be $8, Either

I'm so mad! Yesterday, my husband and I planned our whole day around a 4:35pm matinee screening of The King's Speech with Colin Firth. I love Colin Firth. Mr. Darcy. *sigh*

But that's neither here nor there.

Anyway, we planned our whole day around this. We sent our son off with the in-laws for the rest of the day and were so excited to spend some time together. We got to the theater to buy our matinee tickets, only to be charged full evening price! What, what? I asked the kid behind the counter, and he said that they moved the matinee time up from 6pm to 4pm "for the holidays."

Oh, yes. Happy holidays! Here's some price gouging for you!

Their website indicated no such thing (it was an AMC, by the way, in case you want to be mad at them, too). It should have had a big masthead announcing, "We're trying to ruin your Christmas vacation by charging you more for your family outing!" Rather than pay the inflated price, my husband and I left. We'll show them; we're going to the first showing this morning because it's only $5. Ha-HA!

This isn't the first time I've said this: I don't like surprises. It's not so much that I wouldn't have paid the ticket price. It was within our budget, I guess. It was that I had a certain expectation and it was pulled out from under me. I like to know what's going on, and I don't like things to change without prior notification.

This is the nice thing about being a Christian.

It's all laid out for you. Everything you have to do is right there in the Bible. The only surprise is when Jesus will return, but we know it's coming. It'll be a pleasant surprise, I'm sure. But I have all the rules, I have all the rewards—everything!—laid out for me. It's rather nice.

I've had Jehovah's Witnesses come to the house before, and while they were very kind ladies and we had a great conversation, I felt really bad for them. They believe that Jesus' death allowed just enough grace for them to work for their salvation, not earn the whole thing at once. This is why they go door-to-door; they have to earn their salvation. They don't know how much work will earn it, so they just have to do as much as possible.

It's full of uncertainty. It's impossible. You can't work it off. That's why Jesus died for us. He paid a debt we couldn't possibly have paid ourselves.

Any time I feel unsure of my salvation—when those moments of doubt creep in—I just remember that God is certain. He doesn't change like shifting shadows. He won't pull the rug out from under me. Jesus paid my ransom in full; all I have to do is believe that and live my life according to that great sacrifice. God is solid, as is his Word. No surprises.

If only he ran movie theaters, right?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Rachelmas

I had a lot of time to think on Christmas.

My pancreas attacked me. Again. I suppose it was the hearty Christmas Eve dinner at Grandma's that did it. Stupid pancreas.

We had plans to spend Christmas Day with my husband's family. First with his grandmother, then at his parents' house. But I was in pain. And quite sick. And I wasn't going. But my husband's grandmother is 93, so I don't want her to miss an opportunity to see our son, her only great-grandchild. I urged my husband to go to the Christmas luncheon with Grandma and we'd reschedule with his parents.

So they went. For five hours.

That's not really an unreasonable amount of time for that trip. Two hours of that is travel time (an hour each way). Add in lunch and present-opening for eight people, and it's just enough time to get everything done.

But it felt like forever.

I was OK at first. I ate some Jell-O. I caught up on some TV. But my spirit sank and sank. Christmas! All by myself! What fun is that? So lonely! So sad!

After about an hour of this mess, a thought occurred to me: It's Christmas. It's not Rachelmas. It doesn't revolve around me. It's not only Christmas if I'm having a good time. It doesn't really matter if I'm by myself or around my family. The meaning is the same. God's gift is the same. What I'm really supposed to be celebrating is the same. I can be grateful for the birth of Christ by myself. Actually, it might be better that way. I have more time to think and reflect and pray and praise. This should be the best Christmas ever! 

But it wasn't.

Despite that valiant effort at being positive, I was still a Grumpy Gus when my husband got home. Perhaps it was low blood sugar from eating nothing but a little Jell-O all day, but I was cranky. No amount of Christmas cheer could replace my cranky pants with happy slacks.

Why not? Why isn't God enough? He does so much for me, but I can't even pretend to be pleased at the thought of spending Christmas alone with him? He gives me plenty of gifts—better than even the best one I got this year (an adorable set of PJs from my mind-reading husband). Yet I'm so ungrateful. So unworthy. Such a brat.

Would God have been enough for you this Christmas?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

That is all. Why are you on the computer? Go spend time with your loved ones!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Little Drummer Boy

I don't like that song. It's always been one of my least favorite Christmas carols, what with all the "rum-pa-pum-pum"-ing. I don't like to sing along to it. I find it redundant. It's really at the bottom of the list. I mean, I prefer "Mele Kalikimaka." That tells you where "The Little Drummer Boy" falls.

In the car today, I heard Bob Seger singing "The Little Drummer Boy." Bob Seger. Like, "Old Time Rock & Roll" Bob Seger. Singing "The Little Drummer Boy."

Strange.

But I actually listened to the song. Not because I have any particular affinity for Bob Seger; I just wanted to hear how he sang it. I actually listened to the lyrics and realized something interesting:

The Little Drummer Boy didn't just play; he played his best.

Now, this doesn't move the song up much in my esteem. It's still an annoying song. But I suddenly have an appreciation for that kid that I didn't have before. He realized that it wasn't just about the playing. There are two components here:

1. The kid presented something with which he'd been gifted.
2. The kid did it to the best of his ability.

God provides us all with different gifts. I've blogged before about how I sometimes wish my gift was singing. Everyone's got unique gifts. Everyone has something to offer. Talents and abilities are just as much an offering to God as a monetary tithe. Use what you've got! Find a place to serve in the church! Give back what you've been given! There's always a place for you and what you can do; you just have to ask around till you find it.

One of our church's core values is, "Excellence is evident in all things." Nothing is worse than someone doing something in the name of God and doing it terribly.

Well, there are probably worse things. But this is pretty bad.

Too often people think, "Well, only church people are going to see this. It's good enough." Putting in the minimum amount of effort doesn't reflect well on you. Fortunately, it can't make God look bad—he stays awesome regardless—but it can make his believers look pretty silly. It's also not a great way to point people to God. Who wants to be part of a mediocre group?

So as this year ends and a new year begins, think about what your contribution is and if you're doing it to the best of your ability. I know I have some areas in which I need to improve. I need to stop procrastinating on things God's placed on my heart and use the gifts he's given me well and in a timely fashion.

How about you?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Neither Here Nor There

I love movies and TV shows set in other time periods. Like Mad Men in all its 1960s splendor. Gone With the Wind and the Antebellum south. Shakespeare in Love and Elizabeth, set in the 1500s. Anything involving Jane Austen.

I always wonder what it would have been like back then. What I would have been like back then. I mean, given my family history, I probably wouldn't have been much. As far as I know, my family's never been one with oodles of money. I imagine myself in a beautiful Regency home in a Jane Austen novel—and then realize that I'd probably be the chamber maid and not a suitable match for anyone. *sigh* A girl can dream.

More than what my station would have been like, I often think about what my mindset might have been. I've always been pretty straight-laced, so the 60s most likely wouldn't have found me as a hippie or the like. But what would my ideas on civil rights have been? I'd like to think I'd have been on the side of equality, but maybe I'd have been a scared sheep who was afraid to talk about it or confront the injustices of the time. Difficult to say, really.

While it's interesting to think about what might have been, the reality is that I'm here. Now. I could have been born any other time in any other place, but this is where I'm supposed to be. It's fun to think of where I might fit in those other worlds, but where do I fit in this world? This reality? The present?

I'm not sure I think of that often enough. My place in the world. How I'm supposed to make a difference. I'm not a chamber maid; I'm, well, me. I do, in fact, care about social injustice; am I doing enough to confront it?

Just things to think about.

Do you think about your possible past? What about your possible future?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Keeping It on the DL

I love attention. I love being recognized for things I do well. It's possibly why I like to act; being on stage is exhilarating and rewarding. Because of this, I find it nearly impossible to keep my mouth shut when I do something good.

I want to shout it from the rooftops! I want to have someone pat me on the back! I want to be told I did a good job! "Oh, Rachel! What a compassionate person you are! Mother Theresa has nothing on you!"

Yes, well. Not how I'm supposed to do it.

I used to get my hair done at a salon downtown. I've since stopped going because it's crummy to find parking. Plus I've found stylists closer to home that are just as good and considerably cheaper.

But that's neither here nor there.

What I liked about going downtown was that there were always a few homeless people along my walking route. Not that I like that there are homeless people. I mean—um—hmph. I mean that there was always someone to whom I could show a kindness. Every time I went downtown, I'd buy someone lunch. There are some sandwich and pizza shops right off the Circle, so I'd ask them if I could get them lunch. If I could, I'd stay with them for a little while and chat. If I was in a hurry, I'd ask them what I could pray for. It felt good.

But what felt better: I didn't tell anyone. I didn't even tell my husband. He'd ask what a charge on my credit card was, and I'd say, "I can't tell you." He knew that probably meant my bleeding heart had done something charitable, but he also knew I didn't want to talk about it.

Why all the secrecy?

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:1-4)

The only reason I share it now is because the cat was out of the bag a few years ago. We went to a marriage conference downtown with some friends of ours, and on our lunch break, I stopped to buy someone lunch. Our friends wondered where I'd disappeared to, so my husband told them what I was doing (he'd apparently figured it out). So people knew. I also use it as a suggestion when people tell me they don't want to give homeless people money or whatever. Then when they find a reason to protest that suggestion, I say, "Well, I've done it, and there's no reason for you to feel that way."

So that's the one thing that's gotten out. I've tried very hard to keep anything else under wraps. That way, God gets the glory, not me. It becomes, "Thank you, God!" not "Thank you, Rachel!"  My job here is to point people to God, not use God to point people to me. God has given me the gift of compassion; I'm supposed to use it. But that doesn't mean I have to tell people I'm using it. I want it to be between God and the person I'm helping.

But it's so hard. I have to constantly say to myself, "The glory is for God! The glory is for God! My reward later will be so much better than someone telling me 'Good job!' now!" It's seriously the only thing that keeps me from running my big mouth.

What say you? Or do you say anything at all?

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Short Play by Rachel: On the Ice

A Short Play by Rachel


On the Ice

Scene opens on RACHEL and HUSBAND walking toward a banquet hall. The parking lot appears to be a solid sheet of ice. RACHEL and HUSBAND are nearly to the door when they notice a cute little elderly couple having trouble on the ice. RACHEL comes to the rescue.

RACHEL:            It sure is slick out here! Are you OK?

CUTE ELDERLY WOMAN:          (yells loudly) Well, no! It's ice!

RACHEL:            (unsure of what to say next) Oh. Well, yes. Can I help you?

LESS CUTE ELDERLY WOMAN:          Yes! 

She fumbles with her purse as she tries to take RACHEL'S hand.

RACHEL:           Let me get that for you. (takes purse)

There is a glare from LESS CUTE ELDERLY WOMAN; then they begin to walk.

RACHEL:           You'd think they'd salt this or something.

CRANKY ELDERLY WOMAN:          This is ridiculous!

RACHEL:            I agree!

REALLY CRANKY ELDERLY WOMAN:          I'm going to talk to someone about this!

She snatches her purse away from RACHEL as they reach dry ground. 

RACHEL:            Well, looks like we're out of the ice. Have a great evening!

RIDICULOUSLY CRANKY ELDERLY WOMAN:          If I don't die on this ice!

RACHEL and HUSBAND give each other a look. They then spend the rest of the evening shouting at each other, "Well, no! It's ice!" and cracking up.

END SCENE.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Being Nice to Celebrities

I love entertainment stuff. Music, movies, television. I'm not opening-night-at-the-theater girl anymore (because babysitters are wicked expensive, yo), but I still really enjoy all of it.

Last year at Christmas, I snagged a great Christmas gift for myself on Amazon.com: a whole year of Entertainment Weekly for only $10. No. Joke. It's a weekly! My other weekly magazine (appropriately entitled The Week, a frowned-upon-by-real-journalists digest of weekly events) is like $60—more than $1 an issue! That's crazy beans! I need to renew...

So I was reading my latest issue the other day, and it's got an interview with Reese Witherspoon. She's a lovely gal, and the interviewer asks her if she ever Googles herself. She said the first stuff that comes up is always bad; how she's looking old and ugly, or how she's untalented.

Boo, Internet. Boo.

She's Reese Witherspoon! Even when she's 100, she's going to be gorgeous. I just don't understand why people have be so mean to celebrities. I mean, if someone like Reese gets comments about looking unattractive, what hope is there for the rest of us? 

Plus there's always the assumption that celebrities always have people around them telling them how great they are. I'm not sure that's true. It must be hard to know that people are around you for you and not for what you can do for them. That's a bummer. So trying to find true friends who do love you for who you are—while all the time the nasty Internet bloggers and shows like TMZ are doing their best to make celebs look bad—must be crummy. Double bummer!

Maybe I should start a blog that only says nice things about celebrities. Just for fun. And just to put something positive out there instead of something negative. I'm sure I'd fall to the bottom of the search engine, but it might be findable! Heck, even if you Google "lazy Christian" I don't show up till page three. Hmph. The Internet is too big. And too mean.

What positive things are you putting out there? If you're a blogger (as a lot of people who read my blog are), are you putting more good things out there than bad? 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Routiney

Don't worry; turns out I'm still myself. After I wrote that fig tree post and said I was all routiney, I promptly stopped my routine. Haven't read a word in the Word since. That's, like, five days. And still three if you don't count the weekend (which I don't, which is weird because they're still days I could be reading).

Still me. Still lazy.

Does anyone else still operate on school schedules? I still think in school years. Summers feel different than—than not summer. I always expect my husband to be home more during the summer, but apparently most people have to "work" or something. Weekends are olly-olly-oxen-free. Even from Bible reading.

Mind you, I don't have any school-age kids. I've been out of school for quite some time (although I did go back to work on a master's a few years ago). But somehow I'm still stuck on that schedule, that routine.

Only took me years. And years. And years.

How long does it take to make a routine? I've heard that if you do something consistently for two weeks, it becomes a habit. Two months and it becomes a routine. Something like that. How do you break a routine, though? If I don't do it, do I un-routine it? Because I've been not doing school—in any way, shape, or form—for at least two years now. Not taking classes, not teaching. And still, my brain is school calendar-ed.

It seems that bad habits are harder to break than good habits are to make. 

I have lots of tricks for starting routines. I've got tips that involve setting timers for prayer and Bible reading. I can get on the right track for weeks—months, even!—and then it takes just one or two days to completely ruin everything. Then it's doubly hard to get my act together again.

*sigh* Does anyone else have tips or tricks? Dude! Share! Don't bogart the help!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Persistence

On Friday, I swapped some babysitting with a friend of mine. Her daughter came over for the morning while she visited with a friend, and my son went to her house for the evening so my husband and I could have a date.

Free babysitting is the best kind of babysitting.

My son and her daughter play all the time. We see them every other week at MOPS, and we also try to get together once in a while to hang out. They seem to play well together.

But not this time.

In her defense, my friend's daughter wasn't feeling great. She had a bit of a cold. She'd never been at my house without her mom before. I totally get it.

My son would try to show her something and she'd run the other direction. If he got up on the couch to sit by her, she'd get down. I felt so bad; he was trying so hard! I know sometimes kids play near each other and it counts as playing with each other, but it wasn't like that. My son was trying desperately to play with her. What amazed me is that he never gave up. She snubbed him repeatedly and his spirit never changed. He was always willing to try, even when she rejected him.

I don't feel that way. If someone rejects me once, I'm so sore about it that I'll barely talk to them. I've always been like that. There's a picture of me at Disney World crying near Mickey Mouse. My grandparents said, "Remember? You were scared of Mickey!" Seriously? That's what they thought? I'll tell you exactly what happened: Mickey hugged all the other kids and he didn't hug me. I walked away crying.

I was six. It hasn't gotten any better.

A lot of people have this fear of rejection. It prevents us to talking from people we don't know or talking about important things with people we do know. When we talk to people about faith and they respond poorly, I wonder if they're rejecting God or rejecting us. Feels like us. It's probably God.

I wish I had the persistence my son has!

Friday, December 10, 2010

That Poor Fig Tree

You're going to be so disappointed in me. I'm actually getting into a routine. As soon as my son goes down for his afternoon nap, I read my Bible (I'm using The Daily Message) and then I blog. The one I'm writing right now you'll get tomorrow morning. And then I watch TV or play video games for the duration of his nap. But at least I'm reading my Bible first!

It's like I'm disciplined or something. Blecch.

One thing I like about The Daily Message is that it skips around a little bit. The first chunk was out of Genesis, and now I'm reading in Mark. Keeps a person from getting burned out on the heaviness of the OT. Smart!

So I just read the part in Mark where Jesus walks by a figless fig tree, gets irritated with it for not having figs (even though they were out of season!), and curses that poor tree. It withers! It'll never have fruit again ever!


I'm not sure I understand this story.

Did Jesus wake up on the wrong side of the cot? Did his feet hurt from all that walking? Does he get grumpy when he's hungry? My husband does. It's miserable.

But I digress.

I find all of these explanations unlikely. Maybe he knew it would pay off in a future discussion. When he walked by later with the disciples and the tree was dead, they were all surprised. Jesus told them that they can do even more than that—even move mountains—through fervent, powerful prayer.

I believe that.

But the other thing that springs to my mind is that the tree wasn't bearing fruit, so Jesus said, "Forget it. You're not living up to your potential. I'm disappointed. If you're not going to bear fruit now, forget ever bearing fruit. I'm going to take that away from you."

*gulp*

Am I bearing fruit? Because if I'm not, it takes no more than a nod from God to prevent me from ever bearing fruit. Am I being productive? Are the Fruits of the Spirit evident in my life? Let's see...

Love:  Hmm. You think this would be the easy one. It's not. There are people I'm still learning to love. It's slow going on that front right now. That's probably a no.

Joy:  It comes and goes. I've been in a funk lately, so that's certainly not me being joyful. No.

Peace:  Again, it comes and goes. I have to do a whole lot of praying to achieve a little bit of peace, it seems. I assume that if I truly have peace, I don't have to pray so hard for it. *sigh* No again.

Patience:  I'm getting better and better at this. Having a toddler is finally a plus! Woohoo! I got one!

Kindness:  Being compassionate is one of my top spiritual gifts, and I use it like crazy. Much to the chagrin of my wallet sometimes. I got two!

Goodness:  What does this one even mean? Is this similar to kindness? That's a maybe. Man! I thought I was on a roll.

Faithfulness:  I'm committed to God. I even blog about him. Like he needs my little blog to get the word out, but I hope he thinks it's interesting. I'm going to count this one. But, wait—do I actually tell enough people about him? I mean, really share the Gospel? Debatable. How committed could I be if I'm not doing that? Never mind. This one's a maybe. At best.

Gentleness:  Yeah, this one is a struggle. I can be a little brash at times. No, you don't need to provide examples. Another no.

Self-Control:  I'm working on it! Didn't I just tell you I was getting into a routine and reading my Bible every day? That totally counts! I'm nearly disciplined! I rescind my earlier, "Blecch!"

Nine fruits and I've got four in the "no" pile, three in the "yes" pile, and two in the "maybe" pile. And I don't think the "maybe" pile errs on the side of "yes," honestly. That's not a majority leaning toward "yes," then.

I think I'm that stupid fig tree.

So now what? What do I do about this? What will I do about this? Do I just pray about those things and hope God will give them to me? Or will he give me opportunities to show them? Ugh. It seems like that's what he does anytime I ask for patience. He presents something that tries my patience.

I don't want to wither. I'd better get on the stick.

Are you the fig tree, too?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

You Are Missed

Get ready; this one's kind of sappy.

I have a friend who is adopting a baby boy from Ethiopia. I'm so excited for her family! They're preparing a place for him in their home, making room for him in their lives and in their hearts. It's incredible that God placed in their heart the desire to love a child a world away and bring him into their home. What a gift!

At the same time, I feel so sad for her right now. She knows his name. She's seen his face. And she has to spend this joyful holiday season without him in her arms. She has to endure the ache of separation that only a parent can understand. I'm away from my son for a few hours and I feel a hole in my heart. She has to wait months to meet and embrace her son. It would be unbearable! She's such a strong lady. I can't wait until the day she holds her son for the first time.

I wonder if God feels that way about us. He loves everyone down here. And I do mean everyone. We're so separate from him; he can't hold us or hug us. And for the people who don't know him or don't acknowledge him, that chasm is even wider. At this time of year that celebrates his greatest gift to us, his creation, there are those that don't turn to him at all. Not even to say thank you or, "Hey, I know you're up there." I know that grieves him. Like a parent missing a child. 

Talk to God today. Tell him you love him. Embrace him with your words of affection. Show him your love with your compassion and your actions. Don't let his heart break. He misses you. Like a parent.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Yule Log Faith

We have a fireplace. It's not a big one. Mostly decorative. Doesn't put out a lot of heat. The doors are lousy and don't always work right. Still, I love to make fires in the fireplace!

My husband does not.

On Christmas morning, he'd much rather turn on the fake yule log our local TV station airs than start a real one. Actually, I do most of the fires. I was, after all, a Girl Scout. I'm pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. But the yule log wins out. It's not as pretty as the fire my small, impractical fireplace can produce. And the 1970s instrumental Christmas music loop that comes with it is pretty rough.



Blecch. Nothing beats a real fire. The color, the sound, the smell, the warmth. If we didn't have a fireplace, sure, the one on TV would suffice. But we do have a real fireplace. We even have some firewood in the garage, some wood shavings and pine cones to get it started, and one of those sticky fire starter bricks (just in case). We have everything we need to get a fire burning, but we don't often make one.

It's too much work. It takes forever to get started. I'll get dirty. The hearth will get dirty. Sometimes a little smoke escapes into the house and makes it smell weird. All the tools are in the garage so our son doesn't touch them, so I have to go out to the cold garage to retrieve them. Someone has to clean out the ashes. We have to make sure it's out before we go to bed.

Excuses, excuses.

I have the same list of excuses for my faith. I have all the tools I need to be a passionate, fiery Christian; I just lack the will to do it. There are plenty of excuses. I'll have to change how I'm living. I'll actually have to read my Bible. I'll have to interact with other people and be compassionate and share God with them. I'll need to pray and that means taking time out of my preferred activities. I'll have to serve at church. I'll have to love people I barely like most days. I'll have to live out my faith all week long, not just on Sundays. That's too exhausting.

Excuses, excuses. 

I have the TV yule log version of faith sometimes. There's a visual, but there's no heat. And there's nothing like the real thing—a real faith that burns for God. The people I know who are fiery for God are awesome. I always think, "I'd like to have that! I want to be like that!"

And then I settle for less. I settle for the TV fire instead of a real one. Lame!

Are you a real fire or the TV yule log? 


P.S. - If you're looking for something to ignite your faith, Margaret Feinberg is having a sale on her books every day this week! Check out her blog to see what today's deals are!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Perfect Snickerdoodles

No, this isn't a recipe blog. No, snickerdoodles don't have some sort of Christmas story behind them. Just so you know, I'm very protective of my favorite recipes, but I've decided to share this one. I'm so nice! Actually, it's a recipe I got from a blog called The Divine Dinner Party. It's only fair to share when it wasn't mine to begin with.

I love snickerdoodles. They're my favorite kind of cookie. My stepmom didn't let me help her with a lot of cooking or baking, but I got to help her with snickerdoodles once. And she always puts a red hot in the middle, so that's how I make mine. Here's the recipe:

Ingredients:
1/2. C. butter, softened
1/2 C. lard or shortening
1 1/2 C. granulated sugar
2 lg. eggs
2 3/4 C. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
Cinnamon Imperials (Red Hots candy)

For Cinnamon Sugar Topping:
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
3 tsp. cinnamon

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cream the butter, shortening, sugar, and eggs in a large mixing bowl.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, and cream of tartar.

3. Dumped mixed dry ingredients into butter-sugar mixture. Stir until combined.

4. Roll dough into balls (the size depends on how big you want your cookies—I use a small ice cream scoop-style dropper).

5. Roll balls in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Don’t wimp out—be sure to coat generously! They should look BROWN they're so coated in cinnamon-sugar!

6. Place on ungreased baking sheet and flatten the dough slightly with your hand or the bottom of a glass. Gently press one Cinnamon Imperial into the center of each cookie (so it stays but isn't buried). Bake 7-9 minutes, until soft but set. Don’t overcook! They should be chewy in the middle when cool.

7. Leave on pan for two minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool. 

Snickerdoodletastic!


Tips:
- Yes, use butter AND shortening. Helps with the texture. I've never used lard, just Crisco. Where does one even find lard? Blecch.
- YES, use cream of tartar. You'll be disappointed with any snickerdoodle recipe that doesn't include it. Trust me, I've tried them all. 
- The cinnamon-sugar coating helps keep the cookies from sticking to the pan, but you can always use parchment paper or a Silpat liner for easy clean up.
- Remember to press them down or these cookies won't spread out. You'll have little cookie balls instead of cookies. And don't squish them or they'll spread out way too much. I've learned from experience on both counts. Be gentle!
- You don't have to add the Imperials, but I think they look festive. And I eat all the way around the Imperial and have that bite last. Fun!

Happy baking! Let me know if you try them!

Monday, December 6, 2010

You Can't Say He Doesn't Listen

Let's back up a few years. Like, two and a half. To 2008. My husband and I were talking about trying for our first kid. We agreed upon a start date. And that scared me to death. How could I consciously make the decision to change our lives—my life—so drastically? I was afraid I'd chicken out, so in my secret conversations with God, I asked him to please let our first child be a surprise.

And he was. We weren't trying. I was on birth control. I now have a two-year-old son who's perfectly wonderful in every way (except, you know, the toddler way once in a while).  It was the first time I realized that God heard me and helped me.

Now let's fast-forward to my recent back surgery issues. I was supposed to have my second back surgery on November 12 of this year (my first surgery was in May 2008—while I was pregnant with my son). I was so scared. Terrified. I asked God to take the fear away. He gave me (well, he allowed me to have, I guess) pancreatitis, which—wait for it—required my surgery to be cancelled.

The fear was lifted. The cause of my pancreatitis is still a mystery to the several doctors who have been trying to figure it out. It's not a mystery to me.

After my surgery was cancelled, it was rescheduled for December 6 (that's today). We prayed for healing. We prayed for a miraculous healing that would allow me to forgo surgery. Now, I don't typically pray for something as bold as healing, but I felt a renewed confidence due to how God responded to the fear I brought to him when I was supposed to have surgery in November. I thought, "He clearly listens. He clearly responds. I can ask him for this."

So I did.

And you know what? He listened. He responded.

I can't tell you whether or not my disc has healed itself completely or evaporated or what. I don't have x-ray vision. But I can tell you that I have zero pain (outside of the stiffness I've had since my first surgery in 2008), and the numbness in my left leg (the red flag that started this whole surgery debacle) is gone. Gone! I feel better than I have in a really long time. I cancelled my surgery altogether.

I'd say that all I did was pray, but really it was that I prayed with confidence. I prayed in faith that my God is bigger than my pain and my physical problems. He made me; he can certainly fix me.

And he did. And I'm glad. You can't say he doesn't listen. He's heard me. A lot.

And I'm not having surgery today. Yay, God!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sermon Smackdown!

I really enjoy a good sermon. I really sleep through bad ones. Kidding!

Today, the pastor who spoke really smacked me over the head. So now I'm going to share the smackdown with you. You're welcome. And I'm sorry. And as soon as it's posted, I'll share the link for the podcast.

He spoke about sharing God with your family (and closest friends). That is so hard. I worry about what they're going to think of me. If they'll ever talk to me again. If I do more harm than good.

But this morning, the pastor said, "For a moment, picture someone you love in Hell. Understand that you can make the difference. It's a pass/fail test here."

Ouch.

First, we should be really excited about sharing God—like it's good news that's just bursting to get out. 

Do you feel like that? I don't. I wish I did. I'm more excited to tell you what happened in the last episode of Gilmore Girls I watched than to tell you about what God's done for me. God's done a lot. Why am I not more excited?

Second, when we talk to other people about Christ, we have to understand that God's right there with us. He's giving us confidence and helping to plant a seed in the other person's heart. We're not doing this alone.

Oh, but how lonely it can feel! Rachel vs. the World. Rachel vs. All Her Previous Failures.

Third, when we are weak, God is strong. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. In the process of sharing, if the sharee says, "Yeah, but you do this and I've seen you do that. Some Christian!" that's OK. I'm not perfect, but my failures don't make God's grace any less sufficient or him any less perfect. It really just makes God look good that he's willing to take in someone as lousy as I am and stick with me even though I mess up all. the. time. Don't worry about your hypocrisy; it doesn't make God any less awesome, and God is really what's on the table here.

I worry about this. I've had people call me out on things that I'd rather not acknowledge. "Oh, you saw that, huh? Oops! My bad!" Plus when you're sharing with close friends and family, odds are they've seen you at your very worst. My family and friends certainly have. Ugh. I try my best not to be a hypocrite and live like I'd tell others to live, but I'm human. I mess up. It's crummy. I'm crummy. Why do people have to notice that?

Finally (and this wasn't really in the sermon), for any not-so-saved people who might be reading this, know that when a Christian shares God with you, there's nothing in it for us. We're not sharing God with you because we get a bonus when we get to Heaven. We don't get extra stuff for showing you who God is. We're not saved on commission. It's just that you're loved and we want to see you in Heaven when we get there. Don't get irritated; feel loved. For serious.

And there's today's sermon smackdown for you. Thoughts?

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Short Play by Rachel: Conscious Sedation

A Short Play by Rachel


Conscious Sedation


Scene opens on RACHEL and HUSBAND in a small hospital room. RACHEL has just undergone an outpatient procedure and the anesthesia has not yet worn off. She begins a conversation with HUSBAND.

RACHEL:            What did you do while I was in there?

HUSBAND:          I read some.

RACHEL:            Which book did you read?

HUSBAND:          The American history one.

RACHEL:           That's a good one. You need to finish Devil in the White City.

There is a short pause; then:

RACHEL:           Did you get any reading done?

HUSBAND:          (trying not to laugh)  Yes.

RACHEL:            Which one did you read?

HUSBAND:          The American history one.

RACHEL:            That's a good one. You need to finish Devil in the White City. You never finished it.

HUSBAND:          Nope, I didn't.

There is a short pause; then:

RACHEL:            Was there a TV in the room you were in?

HUSBAND:          Yep. I watched a little.

RACHEL:            Did you watch the History Channel?

HUSBAND:          No, I found the Big Ten Network.

RACHEL:            Oh. But it's a weekday. There's probably nothing good on. Women's basketball. Lacrosse. Field hockey...

RACHEL proceeds to name several more obscure sports. Then:

RACHEL:            Did you get any reading done?


END SCENE.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Gospel According to John Hughes

First of all, it's late. I couldn't sleep, so I'm up watching Pretty in Pink. And, yes, this viewing was inspired by an episode of Gilmore Girls. It's just one pop culture reference after another here, folks.

If you've never seen Pretty in Pink, the basic idea is that a girl from the poor side of town falls in love with a guy from the rich side of town, and their respective sides do whatever they can to pull them apart. Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Jon Cryer. Written by John Hughes. Classic.

What strikes me is how aware the kids are that someone is richer or poorer than they are. I don't recall thinking about that when I was growing up. From what I can recall, the town I grew up in didn't really have a rich side or a poor side—it was all kind of the same. Most everyone lived in a similarly sized bungalow. Everyone was about in the middle or just below. That's my perception now, anyway. But, again, I never really thought about it back then. Just assumed everyone was about the same.

I find this is true in other areas. Age is one of them. I assume everyone I hang out with is just about my age. Unless they're noticeably older or younger (and I mean it has to be really noticeable), everyone is probably 31, just like me, or not far from it. And when it comes to money, you really can't tell how much money someone has these days. They could live in a giant house and be way over their head in debt, or they could be living conservatively and be sitting on a goldmine. What good does it do me to try to figure that out, anyway?

Is it that I don't care? Or is it that I'm oblivious? Granted, I'm not always the most perceptive person in the world. I don't notice the obvious sometimes. But, honestly, I think I'm just not looking.

This can be both a blessing and a curse. I've avoided feeling a lot of prejudices that other people might feel just because I'm not actively looking for differences between myself and other people. However, I may miss some things I should be noticing—things that would afford me opportunities to show compassion or kindness.

The one area I do notice—and wish I didn't—is the area of accomplishments. Things people have done in their lives. I mean, I think I have a pretty nice life, but should I have more done by now? I've never really been a career gal. It's not like there's some benchmark I set years ago that I haven't reached. What's funny is the effect celebrities can have on me. When I find out a celebrity is my age, that really surprises me. I think, "They're my age and look at all they've accomplished! I should have done more!"

Really? Britney Spears is two years younger than me. She's accomplished a lot, but—really? Is that what I'd want for myself? All that drama? No, thanks.

Hebrews 12:1 says that I'm supposed to throw off the sin that holds me back and run the race that was set for me. For me. Not for anyone else. I think comparison can certainly be a sin if it leads to envy and greed. I need to set my eyes on God and compare myself to the standards he's set, not any other standards.

Easier said than done. But it's my job to try. That's the real benchmark I need to set for myself: How am I living up to God's expectations? I can't worry about what anyone else is doing. Everyone's calling is different, and everyone's spiritual walk is different. But am I running my race or just looking at everyone else's? How am I responding to God and the calling he's put on my heart? What would I accomplish if I wasn't so busy gawking at what everyone else has accomplished?

Thank you, Pretty in Pink, for raising these deep philosophical questions.

(But, really, Andrew McCarthy's hair at the prom is awful. That's always bugged me. I want to go back to 1986 and give him a comb. Just sayin'.)