Friday, September 29, 2006

At The Tone The Timing Will Be ...

Ah, the timing of things.

Some of you may have noticed this little space disappeared for a day or two. You may have sent me an email to which I didn't respond.

There's a reason for that and it's not that I obliterated my blog or had my server space/domain cancelled due to non-payment - hey, that's happened before.

Rest easy, I wasn't raptured without you.

What's been happening is our little web hosting/design business, The Aspen Group, is going through some shifting - technical stuff - and being the "Philosopher King" of this organization carries the burden of sacrifice. In other words, I've been the guinea pig. That's resulted in the website being up..being email not working, sometimes's sort of a cyber-roller coaster.

Anyway, at this particular moment, it appears the blog is back up and it was simply unfortunate timing that these episodes of digital epilepsy followed a couple of rather gloomy posts regarding my faith.

Rest assured, all is well. My faith is is good, but hectic, and when I have a moment I'll go into brief detail about the somewhat cryptic posts that preceded all this.

At this moment, the timing is not right.

Amy and I are still processing those spiritual things, but we've overcome the hurdles of actually figuring out what happened and why.

We have been blessed with the opportunity to reflect on many things: faith, church, community and how those things work together and occasionally against each other.

Suffice it to say, for the most part, we are at peace - but we have opened our eyes to new possibilities.

I'm being cryptic again...sorry.

We do expect some changes in our lives spiritually, I don't know if they'll be major things or not. I do know we're not going to rush into them based on emotion. To quote a dear friend, "Emotions are not truth tellers."

I'll post more very soon, but right now - to quote Forrest Gump - "That's all I'm going to say about that."

I do have many things to tell you...some of which I think contain actual bits of wisdom.

No journey is easy...but in the end I believe there is a purpose to all things...even the sudden inability to write about what's been on my mind. So perhaps going "404" for a few days has served a higher purpose.

If you have emailed me recently, I didn't receive it and those emails are likely gone forever. My email is still not working. This too is not necessarily a bad thing, it has provided me with another opportunity to settle into the stillness of God.

I'll tell you more about that too...I promise.

When the timing is right...and, in truth, such things are not really up to me...

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Rerun

This was something I wrote and posted in August of 2004. A lot has changed since then. Amy's health has improved dramatically. Doctors were finally able to put a name to some of the ailments she had suffered from for more than a decade. Today she's grown stronger physically, emotionally and spiritually. Our finances are in much better shape, and we've played "host" to any number of people in our "upstairs mission field."

We grow increasingly convinced that we are in God's will in doing so.

We've also committed ourselves to go to Moldova and taken on some exciting business challenges.

Sometimes, it's good to look back and remember how far we've come. Admittedly, sometimes it's painful to realize that what were once large influences in our lives have lost their importance and relevance.

Occasionally though, such pain is very beneficial.

For a variety of reasons, I thought it timely to remind myself of that again.

Donuts And Discipline

For a year or two when I was attending college, I lived across the street from a donut shop. I worked morning radio in college too, so I was an early riser even back then. On an occasional weekend morning I would go to that donut shop and sit with the "old men" who gathered there. Two of these men were World War II veterans who invariably spoke of how the young people of the day (the 1970's) didn't understand what was important in least that's what they spoke about whenever I sat with them. I was an unruly sort in college...long hair, shabbily dressed, and thinking myself unconventional while surrounding myself with folks who were almost exactly the same. It was easy for these men to look at me and see, rightly or wrongly, what they envisioned were the flaws of the next generation of America. It was equally easy for me to overlook their wisdom.

The discussions were always friendly, but quite often they'd end with one or both men reminding me that "discipline" was the key to life.

My thoughts of discipline centered on being swatted on the rear by a high school coach wielding a board, or some other form of punishment. It wasn't until years later - far too many years in fact - that I came to understand what those sages truly meant.

Today I sat down with my Pastor for lunch. Gordon and I have lunched together often, but normally our conversation revolves around sports or writing or the general strange observations we have of the world. Today's lunch was requested by Gordon, "my Pastor", some days ago. He essentially wanted to know how I was doing, and also make certain I knew that he was willing to help me shoulder the burdens in my life. I knew that of Gordon already, but it was good to sit face to face with a dear friend and acknowledge I needed help as he admitted he felt called to help me.

So I vented, and blubbered and rambled. I told him about the amazing number of ways I have seen God at work in the past month and that spiritually I was floored by it all. There are so many things that have happened, in such ways that they defy all explanation except one: God.

I should say that although I am someone who often can interpret a message from God in the smallest incident, I am not what I have referred to as a "wooie Christian" who gives God credit for the everyday happenstances of life. I mean if I'm driving to work and the first few traffic lights I come to are green, I don't pull to the side of the road, fall to my knees and shout praises to the Lord for it. I don't see God in clouds or crystals. That's not my theology or my nature.
I would really almost be more comfortable describing myself as something of an embarrassed believer. I know God is there, I believe in His promise of salvation, but I am not overt in expressing my faith in most circumstances. I believe the best witnesses for Christ are people who live Christ-like lives. I know those are the people I saw and said, "I want to be like them." I don't succeed often enough at being that man...but I'm getting better.

I also told Gordon of my strategy for coping, not only with our recent struggles, but with life and stress in general.

I adopt disciplines.

Lately those disciplines primarily boil down to two: I walk...everyday - to focus my mind off of myself, and in all honesty off Amy, for a little while; and I write...every day - in hopes of giving organization to my thoughts and perhaps find meaning in them.

This is not new. In years past I have adopted many quit smoking, to quit abusing alcohol, and drugs. Those are disciplines I have maintained so long they are now simply my nature.

At one point in the conversation Gordon said something along the lines of, "Considering all you've been dealing with, you seem to be doing remarkably well."

That's when I told him about what also helps me cope, a gift I received long ago...the gift of suffering.

My parents died when I was 14. I suffered. I believe that loss led me down some very dark paths for a very long time...paths that led to more suffering, most all of it self imposed. I have been through hard times, times I did not think I would survive, but I did.

While I may not praise God for an easy commute to work, I will give Him credit for guiding me through those dark times, even when I didn't acknowledge His existence. I also can now recognize that quite possibly God was preparing me for future struggles by giving me this gift....the gift of suffering for it now provides me with something invaluable...perspective.

A tiny glimpse of time...of perhaps God sees it.

I'm certainly not the first to see it...long ago 12 men also saw it. In fact, almost all of them suffered and or died exactly because they saw it, but they knew what they saw was real. They believed...those disciples.

It's real to me too, and I stand before you now pointing to the view.

If you'll take the chance and look with me, you'll see that there is only one thing visible: hope.

...we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. -Romans 5:2-4

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Mortar Of Faith

I've realized that I have been believing in an illusion...for 10 years.

It's been a crushing revelation, and I'm not going to detail it here. Suffice it to say, Amy and I are in pain and it's a lonely place. What I considered, the mortar of our faith has crumbled and caused me to recognize the faults within its very core.

Our faith however is still strong...and we will be stronger still.

God works in beguiling ways. Amidst our grief some true friends called, unaware of what we're dealing with, and asked us to join them this weekend at a quasi-retreat.

A quiet place.

We will go.

It will be good, although it will result in us missing a wedding of the daughter of some very dear friends. Our attendance at that affair might have caused a distraction in any case and so I suppose I can justify it in that way. Our friends will understand...they will be caught up in the wedding whirl.

Change is coming, some of it heartbreaking. Yet, I suspect that God's hand is in some mystical way...leading us closer to Him. As if often the case, it may mean walking away from our comfort zone.

We could use some prayer...for discernment and forgiveness.

I am praying for these things...and listening.

"Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead." - Matthew 4:19

Monday, September 18, 2006

Shell Happened

We're no longer empty nesters. I'm not sure we're ever going to be for very long.

For the past few months, Amy has been befriending a young woman who had been living next door to us. Her name is Shell.

It's one of those quirky things that we've gotten somewhat used to...we sort of knew that Shell would end up in our home, but decided if it was going to happen it God's time.

We met Shell via casual neighbor passing neighbor conversations. We'd often see her waiting outside her home for a taxi to take her to her job and one day we offered to give her a lift to save her the cab fare. She was working at a restaurant right down the road. She was living with her foster mom and her mom's other kids in a rental house.

Shell is 19 years old, but has a long history for such a young life. Not all of it is pleasant, there is a great deal of pain and loneliness. There are scars and sadness. There is also great joy and a wonderful optimistic spirit.

She is a vibrant young woman who is on fire for God, while still early into her journey of faith and sacrifice.

Soon we were giving her rides more often, she'd check with us before calling a cab. It made sense, it was no bother. Amy and she would talk often about how God was working in our lives, and we'd offer some advice here and there. She recently got her G.E.D. and is about to enroll in college, so she's at an exciting crossroads.

A couple of months ago, she moved 8 or 9 miles away, but we'd still give her a ride when she needed, and Amy was in contact with her quite frequently. They've grown very close.

As life would have it, Shell's roommate situation wasn't working out and her job came to an abrupt end. She has another job lined up which will start soon. That position and her future college classes will be only a mile or two away from our home and....well it seems fated to be.

She needs some time to get on her feet, and some space to call her own.

As it happens our "second floor mission field" is empty...we have the space.

We've decided it's time.

God's time.

Spacey Thoughts

A quick note this morning on a blog to watch for the next week or so.

A woman from Texas who ponied up 20 million bucks to ride a Russian rocket to the space station is up up and away.

She's blogging as she goes.

My internet connection keeps crappin' out...but apparently blogging from space is no problem...who knew?

Read her thoughts here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Knock! Knock!

It occurs to me that I should write something here, at the very least to let people know I'm still alive.

I'm alive.

Now that we've crossed that bridge, I'll confess to having little to offer. My work, which I don't blog about, has been extremely frustrating and dominating too much of "life." Amy is encouraging me to let it go, in whatever way I deem best...she's even suggesting quitting which really isn't reasonable, but it is oh so tempting.

We've been doing a lot of positive things. I started work on a Habitat House last weekend...

I'll let you come up with your own caption.

I might suggest that prayers would be well placed for the young family who will eventually live in a house I helped build.

We've started working out at a gym...instead of simply having a gym membership and staying home. Our goal is to build Amy's strength up so she won't be exhausted when we get to Moldova.

Speaking of which, to those of you who have donated to our Moldova mission - thank you.

One contributor had some very pointed, and very pertinent questions about this adventure. I asked her permission to mention some of her thoughts/concerns on the blog since I thought they were substantive and that other folks might have similar feelings.

Since I'm just rambling on about everything, this seems like a good time to follow up and address those thoughts.

Her primary concern was that the mission trip, being ten or eleven days long, wouldn't really accomplish much and, in fact, might be detrimental to the very kids we plan try to help. She didn't say it this way, but it's actually the way I said it when I first heard about such trips, "Are we just paying for someone to go to Moldova, play with orphaned kids, and then abandon them again?"

Again those are my words...hers were much nicer.

Some years back, I played a small part in a multi-church "missions committee" where it seemed like a lot of fun and travel being paid for under the guise of "doing God's work." Although those folks did do some wonderful work, especially in raising awareness upon their return, I was uncomfortable with some of it and eventually let my participation lapse. So I understand that particular uneasy feeling.

Another concern was whether money might be better spent giving directly to the kids/orphanages. This is also a great question and rather than reword things, this is (with some small editing) how I attempted to answer both:

This is an ongoing project. CERI sends missionaries/funds/clothes, etc. year round. They also send a variety of people to work with these kids. We've sent teenagers, a woman in a wheelchair, a nurse, a lawyer, people from all walks of life...and will continue to do so. We will be working while there, helping with everything from cleaning, to building beds, whatever needs to be done. But make no mistake our chief goal is to show these kids they are loved and not forgotten by other people...and by God. The kids don't get to see anything of the outside world, I believe it's important for them to meet people - good people - ask them questions about life and hopefully we can encourage them to pursue their dreams.

There is a CERI organization "on the ground" in Moldova full time. These blessed people have the means, the time, and the talents to work with the kids, teaching them very simple (in our world) skills, like sewing. If a girl can become a seamstress by the time she is 16 and the state "cuts her loose," she can work in Moldova and earn enough to support herself and perhaps even other family members. Otherwise most of these girls end up as prostitutes.

Those full time missionaries work toward the goal of teaching skills with both the boys and the girls...but it's hard work. The full time teams also need "reinforcement" both with manual labor, and emotionally. I hope that we can provide both. Honestly, I'm not sure what to expect in total except the one thing I've been warned repeatedly about: heartbreak.

We too will be tasked with coming back and "spreading the word." This is a life changing trip on multiple levels. We hope to change some young lives, change some hearts back home, and change ourselves to be better at spreading the word about this country and its children.

Our time will indeed be short, but I believe it's important work.

As to whether a contribution directly to the children would be better...I can't quantify such things. If you search your heart and feel a need to give to CERI, give to CERI in whatever way you think is best, it certainly doesn't have to be for this mission trip. CERI is a great organization and can use money, and use it well...not only in Moldova, but worldwide.

Do be assured that Amy and I are still going - with God's help - and we have no plans to "take a jaunt" through Europe along the way. It'll be 25 hours of travel one-way, and I'm not sure you'll be able to convince me to travel any further even by luxury limo after that.

We will go to Moldova, stay in Moldova, work in Moldova and then come home from Moldova.

That's what we feel called to do.

Please know that this trip will be mostly work...and all pray.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Nosing Around Reason

Our dogs are commandment breakers.

To be fair, in seven years or so we've had at best a modicum of success in teaching them things like "sit" or "stay," so to expect them to know, much less understand, the 10 commandments is most likely definitely beyond our training acumen. I'm hoping God will blame us, not them.

In any case, they covet. Not our neighbor's wife - although I'm not sure about their intentions toward our neighbor's dog, Xena - they covet their own food.

Avery, our smallest dog, who's quite possibly the most dominant being in the household - something I don't wish to dwell on - goes to great lengths to protect her food. She doesn't take it off and bury it in some secret location, instead she has this uncanny ability to stack various items, leaves, sticks, stray pieces of paper, and even rocks on top of the food in her bowl.

Let me be clear, Avery doesn't have opposable thumbs, she doesn't even use her paws to accomplish this feat...she uses her nose. It's amazing really. She can flip various debris into her food bowl at a pace that would have Olympic committee members drawing blood samples. In a matter of seconds, she can have her small bowl littered with a pile of stuff which she seemingly thinks will fool any interlopers into believing there's nothing edible within range.

This approach might work if her food were under siege from squirrels, possums, or any of the other creatures who inhabit our back yard. It fails miserably though when it comes to the primary target of her attempted deception...her brother, Winston.

Avery may have an instinctual desire to protect, defend, covet her small portions of kibble, but Winston has a far stronger eat anything that may or may not be edible. This includes leaves, sticks, rocks, newspaper, Avery's food and, of course, my dirty socks.

So while Avery completes her task of engineering kibble concealment, Winston will wait for her to take a few steps away and then make a charge for her bowl.

This usually results in various reactions. Amy and I scream, "No, Winston!" and similar commands which he has become quite adept at ignoring...we might as well be saying, "Sit! Stay!"

Avery, on the other hand, goes on the offensive...sparking a din of growls and barks until we physically intervene by shoving Winston away. The upside is that it usually gets Avery to consume the source of conflict.

It's a ritual we've grown accustomed to, if not amused by.

I should add, that Avery usually manages to nose the protective layers onto her food without getting any remnants of her debris choices on her small snout. She stays clean during this process. One of the few things she does which doesn't result in her white fur taking on a grey tint.

The same can not be said for least not the clean part.

Winston can be a very clean, pretty little dog.

But it's only temporary...believe me.

Winston covets not only Avery's food, but his own as well. Unlike Avery, he doesn't masterfully cover his meager meals through delicate concealment. Frankly, he wouldn't ever leave enough food in his bowl to make that exercise worth the effort. Instead he'll often take one small piece of food and decide that tiny morsel merits saving or stashing away by attempting to bury it, usually in the muddiest spot he can find - which isn't always easy in this land of perpetual drought. The reasoning behind this, like most things Winston does, is beyond my ability to comprehend.

The result, though, is obvious.

First off, Winston works very hard to find an appropriate hiding spot. Then, he too uses his nose. Unlike Avery, he doesn't try to cover the food. Rather, he makes an attempt to bury it. He often becomes frustrated by this process - or he simply forgets what he was doing and why - so he'll end up eating the food that had been intended as buried treasure. We can always tell when Winston's covetous streak appears because he's invariably covered in evidence.

He saunters around wagging his tail with giant globs of ever-hardening mud on his nose.

It's really quite pitiful.

Yet, I suppose there's a lesson here.

I think whenever I've allowed myself to give "things" value they don't deserve, the net result has always been that I've ended up with mud on my face too.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Laborious Daze

I've been busy.

The Sun's been in my eyes.

I have a bad Internet connection.

My keyboard has a broken....

Oh, let's be honest.

I've been lazy and haven't posted anything for a while.

I have found a great time-waster though.

If you remember the old game Tetris - if you're too young to remember Tetris, keep it to yourself - you can really waste some time playing this multi-dimension version on-line.

My apologies in advance if you don't get anything accomplished for the next hour or six.