Thursday, July 31, 2008

Golden Days

I have been so busy. When I was in high school I mourned that these were supposed to be the golden days, the friend days of life. Then after high school I had brief moments at parties or Bible studies where I felt sufficiently surrounded by people living life to the fullest and loving God along the way that I thought the goldenness had come. This summer, however, has been purely golden. Friends everywhere have blessed me with lots of fellowship and reconnecting. I've played in the park, counselled at camp, held babies, visited bookstores, stayed up late at homes, gone to Bible studies and prayed outside abortion clinics, watched movies, had brunch, gone to the zoo and the museum, played with little kids and talked with real grown ups (whether we admit it or not). Life has been incredible.

In fact I found myself today, on the drive between one activity and another, buying ingredients for chocolate cheesecake, just marvelling in being me, now. And being perfectly content with that. Never mind tomorrow. I don't have to think about huge things today. Today is for living. Some days I have to give prayer and thought to decisions, but not today.

This is Jack's kind of happiness in the dramatization of CS Lewis' life, Shadowlands. While visiting the Golden Valley, a picture of which hanging in his nursery represented heaven to his childhood, he says "here and now" is his kind of happy. Joy, his bride, goes on to remind him that we live in the Shadowlands, and the pain then is part of the happiness now. I think both are valid kinds of happy, and I love how the movie contrasts the two. The Golden Valley even turns out to be a mistaken translation of a Welsh word, dwr, that means wet but sounds like the German for golden. So our golden happiness can sometimes be the flip side of grey rains.

Speaking of which, something especially wonderful happened this week. I finally purchased the soundtrack to this wonderful movie. The out of print cd has been on my birthday and Christmas wish list for almost a decade. And now I have it, have listened to it with my volume turned as high as I ever play anything, to let the powerful music surge and surround me: choirs and classical themes beautifully calling to mind the emotions and ideas of the movie.

This summer for my devotions I've been back and forth between Genesis and the Psalms. I just finished Genesis last night, and wondered why the stories have to end with people dying. I know they do die, but why do we have to hear about it? And why do we have to be ok that it happens to everyone we know? I like Jacob, spending half of Genesis with him, and then he just dies. In fact he dies with much more pomp and dignity than I can imagine of anyone today. He didn't really do anything that great, like rule a country or win a war, but he was a nobler man than our heroes today, by the time he died. And then Joseph dies. And everyone's story ends.

Psalms is wonderful, though. The ones I've been studying almost answer the question of death. I like Psalms 37, 84, 95, and 106 this summer. God gave each of them specially to me, and they've come in handy. Today I'm enjoying the verse in 84 that says, "When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs, where pools of blessing collect after the rains!" (NLT).

God has been so good to me this summer (obviously, since golden contentment cannot come in a fallen world to a rebellious person without grace). One thing I've noticed is how He's prepared me to enjoy this summer to the fullest. I've been convicted about things that distract me from Him and from the present, or which impair my sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, so He's actually had me on a minimal diet for TV, movies, novels, and Pepsi. Some moments feel empty without putting in a movie, but I'm much better off for having spent time reading, and sharing some parts of my books with my family, or with praying, or spending days with my friends - whole days without coming home. I thank God for my friends.

And I thank God for opportunities to get outside my office and my house and to be active, especially in ministry. Still looking for big options, but delighting in the little ones, these golden days.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


One practical thing I learned at Camp is how to make s'mores without a fire. Since I got home I've tried it twice, mastered the recipe, and decided to share it with you.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.
  2. Tear off strips of aluminum foil about twice as wide as a graham cracker square.
  3. Put two graham cracker squares side by side on each strip.
  4. Add enough milk chocolate (Hershey's bars) to mostly cover one graham cracker square.
  5. Put a large marshmallow on top of the chocolate.
  6. Finish the sandwich by placing the other graham cracker square on top of the marshmallow.
  7. Fold over the foil and roll the edges together so the s'more is completely enclosed.
  8. Place a bunch on a cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes, until marshmallow is soft enough to squish.
  9. Remove from oven and off of pan. Open to cool for a few minutes before eating.
  10. Enjoy.

To God be all glory.

Friday, July 18, 2008

"Follow Me"

I’ve been thinking a lot about simplicity coupled with radical faith. Priests sometimes take a vow of poverty, renouncing worldly goods as Jesus suggested to the rich young man, “Sell all your goods and give the money to the poor.” Since the last day of camp I’ve been thinking of the usual pattern of getting back into the routine of life, or adjusting to the real world. I think that God doesn’t want me to get back into my life. He wants my life to adjust to me and the changes He’s made. This week at church was Vacation Bible School, and before each night our pastor gave a devotional to the volunteers. The one I managed to make was about being doers of the word, not hearers only. So Jesus says not to worry about what we will eat or wear, to take up our cross and follow Him. He says blessed are those who suffer for His sake. What if I was an actual doer of those words? How seriously do I take the words, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend”?

So God has called me, at last, to change. My life has been essentially the same for six years. Now I’m going to do something different – a lot of things different. I’m a different person; I even eat spaghetti and drink tea. But I don’t know exactly what He wants me to do yet. I’m looking, trying to accept that faith is a moment by moment dependence on Him, not a leap into a well-understood long term plan. What I do know is that I need to spend diligent time seeking Him about it: praying and reading the Bible and asking friends to counsel and pray for me.

I think a lot about Abraham. He’s the man who packed up and left Ur, where he’d lived about seventy years with all his family. He left everything and didn’t even know where he was going, except that God would show him the place. Well, he brought his flocks and herds, his wife and slaves, and even his extended family.

If I literally followed Abraham’s example, though, America is not very receptive. Abraham could travel through the land, pitch his tents where no one else’s were, feed his sheep on the grass there, and probably do a bit of hunting for his household as well. In America there are things like licenses, fences, and laws. I don’t have to worry too much about being attacked by a band of thieves or a local city-state’s hyper-vigilant army, but then I must submit to laws.

We actually have some very strange laws. If you are too poor to own or even rent a house, there is no public land on which you are really allowed to camp, not public land on which you can trap or hunt your dinner. In fact if you are too poor to have a house, you can be arrested. GK Chesterton says in his commentary on Matthew 8:20, “For our law has in it a turn of humour or touch of fancy which Nero and Herod never happened to think of, that of actually punishing homeless people for not sleeping at home.”

But Psalm 84:5 says, “Blessed is the man… whose heart is set on pilgrimage.” What does that look like in my life? How can I obey that today?

At least I can shun things that are part of my normal life but not “of faith.” I can pursue the things God describes: righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Jars of Clay’s Oh My God describes one side of this calling, the side that sorrows for the world and sees all the need and brokenness. In their account of how the song came to be, Jars of Clay says, “It takes a long time to kill 5,000 people in a church. Think about being in there with your family as these murders get closer and closer, and to hear the screams. I'm sure those people weren't praying, "God, please help me have a better car, or please increase my land." It was, "God, please stop the hand of our aggressor," and it didn't happen. That prayer wasn't answered for anybody in that church. And this wasn't the military doing this violence; it was their neighbors.”

One of the verses everyone memorized at camp was Romans 8:38-39 (and we talked about verse 35 as well). There are 17 things listed in those verses that cannot separate us from the love of God, things like famine and plague and persecution, death, demons, etc. And it hit me that I was doubting God’s love not for any of those massive earth-shattering things like 5,000 people murdered in a church in Rwanda. My doubt of God’s love for me was when He didn’t give me what I wanted. When my focus is on God’s amazing love, love that even death and things to come cannot quench, the way I pray and the way I live is different.

My brother went to Mexico this month. He was gone for two weeks. In Mexico people live simply. Where he went kids raise themselves, and there is trouble and need – so I’m not saying it’s ideal. But when there is so much need in the world, physical or spiritual, how can we come home and play video games or go shopping at the mall? Another friend spent over a month this summer volunteering at an orphanage in Haiti. Her love for God grew so much there as she was stripped of distractions and dependent on Him for the strength to love and serve others. Her kids needed what even she could not give them.

Some fellow counselors from camp talked about getting back into the real world by buying a new Guitar Hero game. How can we leave camp so unaffected? Do we really have to move to Haiti to live sold out to God?

We’re willing to work. At camp, in Mexico and Haiti, we didn’t just sit around and think spiritual thoughts. And we don’t want to be cloistered away from all non-Christians; that isn’t the point, either. Just we don’t want our ministry to be a section of our lives. We want to sell everything else and make sure that our whole lives are about glorifying God. I don’t just want to have my ministries, of VBS or Awana or Sunday school or youth group. I believe God wants me to invest my life in a lot of people, and not necessarily be a one-note person (at least not at the moment), but there shouldn’t be ministry intermissions. Everything I do should be about my relationship with God, whether it is taking time (as we did at camp) to refresh and refocus our spirits by prayer and Bible reading, or worship, or intentional fellowship for edification.

I guess I’m saying that having a job isn’t wrong. My job isn’t even bad. In the job I have I could do the things I said, and continue a ministry focus without interruption. Those of us in the world with normal jobs can be what another friend calls laborers, people who don’t see ministry as a vocation, but as an approach to life as they go, building the kingdom whether they’re paid or not. But for me God is calling me to a different sort of job right now. I’m looking for one. Requirements are that it be something in which I can move, not just sit at a desk, one where I’m working in community with others, preferably Christians, and where our business or ministry is reaching out to the needs of the world. Any suggestions?

To God be all glory.


Facebook is a genius’ invention for back door communication. Rather than asking a person what is going on in their life, you can:

  • Read their wall, and see what others are saying to them, who the others are, and where they are from.
  • Refresh (F5) Facebook home page (when you’re logged in) constantly in order to track any comments, picture posting, poking that occupies your friends. Oh – one of the best items on this is relationship status. Apparently everyone feels obligated to confess on Facebook exactly how they stand with regards to a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse. I believe the options are “single,” “it’s complicated,” “in a relationship,” and “married.” If your status changes, Facebook is smart enough to tell all your friends, with a broken heart image if you go from being “in a relationship” to “single.” If their significant other is/was on Facebook, Facebook even supplies their name. Of course there is hacking, and teasing, and the disappointment when you think a close friend has started a relationship without telling you.
  • Comment on a photo in which they are tagged. This is very indirect, if you wish. Only those tagged in the photo will be notified, and get the message. Incidentally, if a random friend has something funny, complimentary, or unflattering to say about a photo of you, Facebook will keep you informed.
  • Become friends with their good friends, and observe all their comments on walls and photos.
  • Send them a friend suggestion. Anyone an enterprising matchmaker?

More direct modes of communication via Facebook are:

  • Writing on their wall. I like the public nature of this, so that your conversation is monitored and kept necessarily to the topics and style that can be public.
  • Sending a message. For the friends who never got around to giving you their email for one reason or another, you can look them up on Facebook and send them a message. I believe you can send a message on Facebook whether the person is officially your “friend” or not.
  • Using their contact information listed on their profile to email, IM, or call them.
  • Write a note and tag them in it. Unlike tagging pictures, in my experience tagging is an invitation to read your note.
  • Poke them. In this form of communication, your intentions and specific meaning are ambiguous. Observe their reaction to determine their interpretation, which reveals how they think of you and what they want to think of you.
  • Tag them in a photo. At least this will let them know that 1) you thought of them, 2) you know their name, and 3) you thought their picture worthy of a place in your Facebook photo albums which are generally public, even to people (if there are such) not on Facebook.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • If you change your status on Facebook, everyone can read it.
  • If you post to someone’s wall regarding their status, the wall stays and the status goes away.
  • Applications (Superpoke, movie compatibility, bumper stickers, etc.) will almost always ask you to invite all of your friends, and even have every option imaginable selected as default. Take the time to “unselect” the options you don’t want. Pay attention to which options are mandatory.
  • When editing your profile, if you leave a field blank, it will not appear on your profile. So you can leave blank your politics or religion if you don’t want to get into it.
  • If you care about security, you’ll probably decline displaying your full birth date or address. If you’re paranoid you won’t have any profile picture; you’ll use an assumed name, and you’ll only add friends as “limited profile.” Either way, be careful that you don’t give the same information away on Facebook by writing on someone’s wall or commenting on a photo. Friends may even tag you in photos using your real name. Forgive them. It is hard to remember.
  • Get your parents on. It should up your friend count and makes them look cooler, which definitely helps your reputation. If they never log on, does it really matter?
  • If you are a parent, make your kids add you on Facebook (and Myspace) – and make sure they don’t have an alter-ego they’re really using. Show up every once in a while and comment. Don’t say anything embarrassing. Try something funny like, “Dinner’s ready.” After all, we’re always looking for ways to improve inter-family communication.
  • If you are a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend, especially one officially recognized (by being posted on Facebook), drop by each others’ walls from time to time. Don’t get mushy. Share a link or comment on a photo. Be a part of each others’ lives, even on Facebook. After all, do you want the stalkers to get the wrong impression?
  • Do not spend money on Facebook. Seriously. It’s the thought that counts. Write something on a friend’s wall, or post a funny picture of them. Draw them a picture using paint, and post it. But do something free and thoughtful to show you care.
  • Am I the only person who can’t handle the surge of envy when they read those applications like “top friends” or “voted best friend for advice,” etc.? All because I’m too cool to add those applications and wasn’t an option, so obviously my friends didn’t vote for me? Relax. Be realistic. It’s just Facebook.
  • I’m not as paranoid as the hypothetical person I described above, but I think it’s a good idea if a log out button exists, to use it. doesn’t have one, and every time I am on that website it knows my name. Cookies.
  • Be aware that Facebook has a million options for privacy settings, so some people are less present and visible on Facebook. Deal with it or ask them to change. (I suggested to one such friend that I could cure her fear of stalkers by writing a blog all about her with her name and phone numbers and pictures - but I won't.)
  • Select the options for email notification. Email is my catch-all notification box, and I don’t have to type in any passwords to retrieve it on my home computer. I have Outlook Express set up to sort my emails the way I want, so whenever something important happens to my profile on Facebook, I find out. (I also get blog comment moderation notices). So if you’re worried about getting addicted to Facebook, decide only to get on when you get a notification via email. Do not live on Facebook - or Myspace, Blogger, or Wordpress for that matter.

Facebook is a site for social networking. The more obvious modes of communication are the harder to use on Facebook. Is there a reason for this? Maybe. Never underestimate the power or omnipresence of links. Remember that people can read what you do. Be yourself on Facebook, but be more yourself in real life.

To God be all glory.

Ultimate Octopus

There is a game which I have never played, but for which I am an excellent cheerleader with approximately two games’ experience. Often I get it confused with Frisbee Golf, which is considerably more difficult. It is called Ultimate Frisbee. Those who practice this game have some nice moves and are excellent athletes. Amateurs can apparently have fun. Rules are not difficult to learn. By the end of the first game I watched, I had grasped the majority.

The object (about now you’re wondering what this has to do with an octopus, but let me tell this in my own good time) of the game is to throw the Frisbee across your goal to a teammate who must catch it behind the goal. In fact catching is pretty important in this game. If you drop the Frisbee, the other team receives possession. In sports this is called a turn over. (If my audience was less male, it would be impressed.) If the other team catches a Frisbee, this interception is also a turn over.

When you have the Frisbee, your feet cannot move. You must throw it. The idea is to transfer the Frisbee to one of your teammates, but there is no additional penalty if you fail, beyond a turnover. Defense is to discourage the player with the Frisbee from throwing it to the player nearest you. If they do, make the player fail in his attempt to catch it, or catch it yourself. Remember this.

In Awana there are three or four teams playing the standard games. Teams are laid out on a square or triangle surrounding a circle. As a Game Director for Awana last year, I appreciate the hilarious fun of turning a two-team game into one for three or four teams. Such was also the adventure the Game Directors at Camp undertook with their version of Ultimate Frisbee. At Camp there are three teams (unless Purple wants to play, but they are usually busy photographing, making rules, and tending sprains and scrapes). So the wonderful invention was a triangular field for Ultimate Frisbee, in which each team’s goal was one cut-off corner of the triangle. In case of a dropped “Frisbee,” possession advanced to the next team in a cycle of three, which got a little confusing and I’m not sure – perhaps dishonest. It was definitely a possibility.

As amazing an innovation as turning this simple game into a three-sided carnival was compounded by the substitution of a real dead Octopus for a Frisbee. Let’s review rules. No kicking. No batting. No one person moving the object down the field in their hands. Generally a Frisbee glides gracefully through the air over heads to the next player, occasionally sent off course by a gentle breeze. With an Octopus, its rather different. It is hurled from one player to another, draping tentacles and slimy arms over heads, and covering the face and shoulders of any player unfortunate enough to catch the beast.

I was a junior high counselor at camp. A girl counselor for girl campers. In general girls don’t like dead things, or slimy, or fishy, or smelly. For example, several girls upon finding an Octopus in their hands stood there, staring at the blob, and screaming. They did not throw the mess into the air like a hot potato, or drop it on the ground and run. I think there is a poison in Octopus that takes away rational escape instinct. There was one of my girls who, while she may feel that way, had no trouble setting aside her doubts and attempting to win the game. One of my girls was more hesitant. And the third of my girls did not want to touch the Octopus. A responsibility of being a counselor is to encourage campers to participate in games. Apparently the tactic employed by my male co-counselors was to excel at the game and occasionally allow campers to participate. Don’t get me wrong. To a certain extent this is highly effective. Once proven that Octopus guts do not kill you if you touch them, campers are bolder to try. I had a different gift in encouraging kids to participate. It involved corralling, coaching, and taking them literally by the hand with the reassuring comment, “I don’t want to touch it either. We won’t have to. We’ll play defense.”

Here’s what you do. It is sort of like meeting an angry grizzly bear in a forest. You stand up tall and make yourself as big as possible by waving your arms. In this way you intercept sight lines between team players and you give the impression that whoever is behind you is off limits. An important thing to remember is position. You want to be between the possessor of the *deep breath* Octopus and their teammates or goal. You cannot stand far from the goal. One danger in playing defense is that if the possessor of the Octopus happens to, in spite of all your deterrence, throw the Octopus your way, you might get hit. You might have to move. I recommend moving.

So the game was going great and I had dragged my more reluctant clubbers into a defensive position when the Game Directors changed the rules. Girls got to sit out for a while. Watching, I had to observe that the campers had the hang of the game, and most of them were reluctantly becoming willing to handle the Octopus. But counselors, who in most cases were ten times faster and ten inches taller than campers, were monopolizing the game. Interrupting his enthusiastic refereeing of the game, I pointed this out to a Game Director. At which point the game changed and I rescued myself from further participation. See how smart I am?

By the time only girls were participating in this unique game, all but two or three of those in my charge were eagerly chasing and tossing the Octopus. Still my defensive buddy seemed to have forgotten the importance of position. She wandered in the middle of the field, distant from the action. There’s something to be said for staying far away from the horrible stench of dead Octopus. When you are out of the crowd, though, you are much more vulnerable to detection. In a few years she’ll learn to blend in a little. This year, the Game Director caught her. He had located a wayward bit of Octopus limb, and stuffed it into her hand. Again, the paralyzing of escape instincts took over, and she merely stared at the mushy tissue in her hand. Then she threw it down and ran towards the game, all fear surrendered.

And so my job was accomplished with help from the Game Director, with whom I was prepared to be quite indignant if there were bad results from his tortuous methods. He is a devious man, who will not disappoint in driving you to desperate things. His next move was to call for “only counselors” to play the horrific game, Ultimate Octopus.

You have to understand. There were only four on each team, and the field was huge. We were playing against fast people, real athletes, aggressive people. And I can usually catch, but I can’t throw. Not when surrounded by people. Not some soft, stringy object. But mere defense was no longer an option. Fortunately I’d already mastered a plan for defense when the other team had the Octopus. (Actually to be quite honest, another team, Green, swelled their ranks with high school counselors who were supposed to be elsewhere, and so in the counselor score, Red looked rather bad.) When we had possession, though, we had to score. I postured for the Octopus, trying to communicate that I was open and hesitantly willing. I’m sure my body language was like raising your hand but with a mostly bent elbow, so that if the teacher doesn’t really want to think you have something to say, she doesn’t have to call on you. Then it happened.

My teammates (I did not pay sufficient attention to which teammate that I could futurely attack him/her) threw me the Octopus. And I touched it. I caught it. And I threw it to another teammate, who didn’t catch it because actually I threw it in the direction of all sorts of counselors and caused a turnover in their favor. To be quite honest, at this stage the Octopus had been dropped enough that the only substance actually touching my skin was dirt. But I was brave, and so unsuccessful in my possession that I rid myself of the need to ever touch it again.

The end.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


One of my friends said that at camp she learned "change isn't bad."

I'm a completely different person since camp.

I had friends praying that I would be more outgoing and enthusiastic at camp. God answered abundantly, and I could only sit back and marvel.

But the change is going to be permanent. I'm not saying I'll be good at volleyball, or that I'll cut my hair. But my toenails are red. On a serious note I'm looking at changing all the major points of my life, so be warned. I'm talking to God a lot about it, and mostly my prayers sound like "I don't know." God knows, and He'll clue me in on time.

Sunday I played soccer with friends from church. Tuesday I got up and ran. Confession: I predicted I would make it about two minutes. That was literal, but apparently my brother didn't expect me to really only make it two minutes. So I'm going to get into shape. And I ate a granola bar for the first time ever. I also decided I like spaghetti.

One other thing different is that I'm on camp schedule, which besides including eating breakfast and lots of prayer and Bible reading, also means bed time is at 10:30, which is almost now. Good night.

To God be all glory.

Camp Squares, Flag Poles, and Golf Carts

I've now told this story at least five times, so maybe I can write it.

At camp there is a square around a flag pole. Before each meal we gather at the square, and each team has a line. No one enters the square without permission from the square master. This is a well-guarded tradition. At no time during camp is the square to be violated. Even during free time when no square master is present, people walk around the square.

On Wednesday night, precisely one week ago, the staff fed the counselors ice cream sundaes and got us hyper on funny stories. Then they sent us out into the black night, with the square between us and our cabins. The counselors for the boys took off in one of the staff golf carts, shortening their walk.

And the counselors for the junior high girls, six of us: two from each of the teams, joined hands and stepped toward the square. And a voice behind us startled us. "What are you doing?"

It was just a counselor, left behind by the golf cart crowd. We invited him to join us, and he did, but mostly just on an observation mission. We took a step. We took happy steps. Into the middle of the square went our six-counselor team. And in the center we made a circle and played ring around the rosies.

All fall down. "Your light is on. They'll see you. Your light is on!" The counselor escorting us silly girls observed that my lantern had indeed turned on as we fell. We were all laughing hard, and my eyes were closed, but first I turned it brighter and then got it off. And we finished the run across the square, parted with our escort, and returned to our cabin.

At which point we told stories, laughed, and formed a confidence support group. All of us had been such good campers and we were so good that few of us had ever violated the square. As penance we thought we maybe ought to return the golf cart the guys stole. Or we could return it decorated. Or...

We were blessed with a scathingly brilliant idea. We could fetch the golf cart and leave it in the square for the following morning.

After some deliberation about whether we would be allowed to be counselors ever again, and deciding who ought to drive and whether we could leave our cabin, half of us stayed with the slumbering junior high girls and the other half found the golf cart. And almost drove it into the gazebo and then the flag pole, but we didn't. We parked it right inside the square and ducked under the cover of our cabins for the night.

It was the best adventure. We the support group of the ring around the rosies and golf carts definitely bonded, and all miss each other very much since we left camp on Saturday.

To God be all glory...

... so I don't even feel guilty about relocating a golf cart. In case you wanted to know.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

After Camp

I'm home from Rocky Mountain Honors Camp. God's work wasn't as smashing and poetic as last year, but I am suspecting it may have more lasting impact. So I'll write about the week later.

Meanwhile, I am dreadfully behind in my reading, and though I feel desperately the absence of my friends from camp, I think what I need more is my God. So I'm going to read the Bible and talk to Him a bit. Maybe outside. I'll turn into a camper yet.

To God be all glory.