Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Better Together: Congratulations Aaron and Natasha!

Every Monday and Wednesday morning I lug my bag of books and papers up the eight steps that lead to Sutherland Hall's shady courtyard at Biola University. If I'm not in a rush, I stop at the base of the steps to breathe in the California morning, and then I lift my eyes to the banner that is stretched across the hall's faded brick face.

The banner is a blown up vintage photo of college kids from Biola's early days: youthful faces beaming down at me, excited to change the world. I'm not sure what year the picture was taken, but it looks like it dates back to the days when my grandpa and grandma were in college.

My grandparents aren't in the photo, but each time I look I half expect to see them, because I know my grandparents walked Biola's halls in the university's early days, eager to change the world. And so some days I look up at the life-sized picture and I imagine my grandma's sweet face smiling down at me and my grandpa's twinkling eyes looking out next to hers, and then I thank God for Biola University, where my playful grandpa fell in love with my brilliant grandma and the two of them decided life would be best if they lived it together.

Their life together turned into life with a lively brood of seven: four boys and three girls. The girls grew into women with sweet faces, and the boys grew into men with twinkling eyes; and when the middle boy left boyhood behind, he fixed his twinkling eyes on Biola University where he enrolled in a class in Sutherland Hall, back when the bricks weren't so faded.

Sutherland Hall is big and musty and perfect for large seminar classes packed full of enthusiastic students. It's also the perfect place for scoping out the hottest chicks in the house. At least it was for my dad.

It was hard for him to miss my mom that first day of class, with her wide green eyes and long, softly curling hair. She was lovely and full of life, and once he saw her he couldn't forget her.

And so he devised a plan to meet her. He sat near enough to her one day that he could scoot out of his row after class and walk out next to her. His timing was impeccable (not surprising; strategery is one of his many strongsuits). He fell into stride with her and said hi and asked her her name and where she was from and was smooth as salt water taffy. But my mom didn't notice his winsome words as much as she noticed the handsome smile wrinkles around his eyes and how much taller he was up close.

That first meeting led to another and another, and those meetings led to a date over pizza where my mom convinced my dad to put down his fork and eat it with his hands. And so they munched and wiped greasy fingers, and learned that they both really loved Jesus and wanted to use their short lives to change the world. Many pizzas later my dad and mom realized they were in love and decided life would be best if they lived it together.

And life together turned into life with a blond brood of four: two girls and two boys. The girls grew into women who want to embody their grandma's sweet spirit, and the boys grew into men with twinkling eyes, and when the oldest boy left boyhood behind, he fixed his twinkling eyes on Biola University, where he decided to run track.

Biola's track team is big and loud and perfect for getting sweaty and fit. It's also perfect for scouting out the hottest chicks on campus. At least it was for my brother.

It was hard for him to miss Natasha that first day on the team, with her bright blue eyes and long dark hair. She was kind, genuine, and full of life, and, as it turns out, really really fast. And once Aaron saw her, he couldn't forget her.

And so he devised a plan to spend a day at the beach with her and two mutual friends (strategery runs in the family). That first "hang out session" (third party presence means it wasn't a "date") they played frisbee and had handstand competitions and raced each other along the water's edge, and Natasha realized Aaron was considerate and sincere and fun, and, as it turns out, really, really fast.

It didn't take long before Natasha and Aaron learned they could talk together just as easily as they could race together, and they spent many evenings outside the Biola dorms digging into God's Word, talking about life, discussing the cool tricks they were learning on Natasha's BMX bike, and figuring out how they could change the world for Jesus. Weeks faded into months, and the months added up to almost two years, and they realized they were in love and decided life would be best if they lived it together.

They don't know what "life together" will look like exactly, but they know they will merge dreams and ministry, hopes and hearts. They will seek and serve Christ together and grow to love Him more dearly as they learn to love each other with His love.

Aaron and Natasha, I pray God fills your future with fresh adventures, unexpected pleasures, developmental challenges, glorious victories, and lots and lots of handstand competitions.

I love you both,

And I am very thankful for Biola University.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Grace Covers This, Too

I just forced down two muffins that were free of gluten, sugar, and dairy. They were also free of flavor even remotely palatable.

Back in my sugar-indulging, cracker-loving days I wouldn't have expected "health nut" muffins like these to taste any better than cardboard, but these days I know better. I know because I have a mom whose ability to whip up tasty concoctions with bizarre ingredients knows no bounds. I know because I've had some minor culinary successes on this journey toward restored health.

Somehow, though, these muffins didn't make the cut (did I accidentally pour strychnine in the batter?). And as I stared down at the ten remaining crispy and deceivingly enticing muffin tops, I wondered how in the world I would manage to eat them all.

Not eating them was an appealing option for about .0789 seconds, until I started calculating what it cost to make them. Six dollars for the pecans, $1 for the gluten-free flour, $1 for the gluten-free oats, $3 for the raw honey, and on and on, until my bank account had taken quite a hit and my shoulders sagged with guilt at the thought of the extravagant waste I'd indulge in by...not eating them.

The day is almost over now. I haven't touched the fluffy taste bud offenders and my shoulders are still sagging with my guilt-laden spirit, and this is not the first time I can't scrape guilt's sticky residue out of the pit of my stomach.

Just the other day guilt paid me a visit when I broke a gorgeous goblet while trying to carefully wash dishes, found an opened can of moldy refried beans at the back of the refrigerator (all my tupperware were otherwise engaged!), forgot to water my flowers, and went three days without washing dishes.

Guilt's frequent assaults have made me realize that, although I easily admit my frail humanity when discussing sin's iron grip, I leave little room for error in my daily, apparently innocuous activities. I forget that I am human—just human—in a fallen world where the slippery soap that makes dirty things shine can also make you drop beautiful goblets; where fridges aren't magic wardrobes—they have backs, and beans often like to chill there behind the bigger, more attention-worthy items; where things that are out of sight often become out of mind, especially when it's 100 degrees outside and all that matters is keeping cool; and where sickness wreaks havoc on weak bodies, making it hard to roll out of bed some mornings, much less do the dishes at night.

I am a fallen human, *Sigh*, in a fallen world, and sometimes I mess up expensive muffins. I wish I were okay with that. I wish I were better at giving myself permission to just be human; that my heart believed my head when it tells me these foibles are expected and trivial, and there is grace sufficient to cover them.

My battle with chronic illness this year is slowly teaching me the sufficiency of God's grace in dark, sometimes desperate seasons. When I struggle to get out bed, cook dinner, and carry on a long conversation; when I wake up to a new ailment or the doctor finds another worn down organ, and when all I want to do is hike a mountain or hit the weights, I try to invite God into that moment, to teach me the sufficiency of his grace.

And he is teaching me. My experience is confirming something the Bible told me long ago: that his grace knows no bounds. It covers my sin and my frail body. It is the thing that sustains my organs and nourishes my soul. It gently shows me the ways I can grow, and assures me that I'm loved in my weakness.

And so I wonder why I don't invite God to show me the sufficiency of his grace when I ruin muffin batter and waste half a can of beans. For surely, if his grace forgives my sin and sustains me in my illness, it can free me from the burden of trying to be a flawless baker, gardener, finance manager, and dish-washer. Surely grace can teach me, slowly slowly, that Jesus died for the law-breakers and the recipe-destroyers—he died for fallen humans, and he's not under the delusion that we're anything else.

There is no guilt under this human-loving grace, and so I'm learning not to compartmentalize grace by living as if it only covered my sin (and I still struggle to believe this). I want to ask God to teach me the sufficiency of his grace when I'm late to work, bounce a check, neglect my chores, waste perfectly good beans, and mess up really expensive muffins. And I think Grace likes being invited into the little things.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thursday Things: The Friday Edition

This first week back to work was full, full, full, and Thursday just flew by before I could finish this post! And so I bring you Thursday things, on a Friday:

1. I took another trip to the library. I couldn't help it. The library and I are like north-south pole magnets that can't be in the same vicinity without— *clank!*—connecting. And it just so happens that I walk by a marvelous library every day at work.

I'm plowing through this pile one cup of decaf tea at a time.

I'm especially loving this and this.

2. The artwork is hung! Thank you to those of you who virtually arranged, rearranged, and did jigs with me. I don't know what I would have done without you. Well, yes I do; I'd still be jigging and the walls would be bare, that's what.

3. Yesterday was my first day back teaching after a glorious summer of rest. It was a full day during which my students and I got to know each other, I cast the vision for the course, and then we engaged in the most thrilling task of going over my syllabus with a fine tooth comb.

The best part of the day was the rousing rendition of Would You Rather that we played.

The verdict? I teach three classes full of would-be rappers, peanut butter sweaters, and belly button pencil sharpeners.

I feel intimately acquainted with them all now.

4. I had lunch this week with Dr. William Lane Craig—or Bill Craig, as he introduced himself—and some other philosophy students.
Dr. Craig is a philosopher most renowned for his work on the Kalam Cosmological argument, and is a respected debater and prolific writer. Not surprisingly, everything I heard him say was substantive and challenging (and often quite witty!), but the most notable thing about him was the aroma of Christ about him. It was a privilege and pleasure getting to meet him and ask him questions. Needless to say, I did not ask him what sort of edible sweat he'd rather produce, and if he's more comfortable rapping or singing opera. He would, however, prefer a belly button that sharpens pencils.

Just kidding.

5. I just discovered that if you spray PAM in the skillet before scrambling eggs it ensures that they won't stick. This has taken my eggs (and skillet-washing) to a whole new level.
Watch out, Betty Crocker; I'm gaining on you.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This Is How We Know

One night last October I slowly moved through my pre-bedtime routine feeling lonely and discouraged. After months of enjoying spiritual refreshment and encouragement, it felt as if busyness, change, and health problems had dried up my insides, leaving them shriveled and brittle.

Anxious to shrug off my despondent thoughts, my mind searched for something to uplift my laden spirit.

I immediately thought of my fiancé, who had blended me blueberry smoothies almost every day we'd seen each other since the onset of my illness five weeks earlier. “An anti-oxidant blast,” he’d say. “We’re going to blast this virus out of your system.”

I felt my soul swell with gratitude for this relationship, this gift from almighty God, and sighed with satisfaction as I asked him, “Why me, Lord? Of all the people in the world, why did you give me this man?”

“Because I want you to know how much I love you.”

His words startled me; I wasn’t expecting him to answer. But his voice like raging waters filled my parched soul.

Almost a year later I am single. The tan line from my engagement ring has faded, but the hopes I had last October—for a life companion and family of my own—have not. I meet them around every bend in the road and see them dance by in every flickering shadow. I feel their poignant prick at my heart daily, sometimes sharp and fierce like a knife plunged into my flesh.

The answer God gave me last October hasn't faded from my heart either.

“Because I want you to know how much I love you.”

I feel his words burn hot like embers, and then I count my recent losses. And as I count I know that God, in his goodness, shows us his love just as much by giving as by taking away. But I can't help but wonder exactly what I mean when I say that there is goodness in the taking.

A few months ago, while bed-ridden and discouraged by my chronic illness, I called the phone number on the back of my computer's external hard drive hoping some techy somewhere could help me set it up. My call was routed to the Dominican Republic where I was helped by a patient Haitian man.

While he and I waited for something to download on my computer I asked him a bit about his life. He described his family, his church, and the day he gave his life to Jesus Christ. Then he told me about the day of the earthquake.

He said he had a nine-year-old little girl who loved Jesus. He said she was full of life but her life was short.

He recounted pulling her limp, cold body out of the earthquake wreckage, and then holding her tiny frame high in the air, his face turned toward the sky as he said, “God is sovereign; he is good; and I will still praise him.”

Like Father Abraham, holding his son up to the altar, this seed of the nations a sacrifice to a good God.

A good God who gives and takes; who gives knowing he will take.

A good God who sometimes, after the taking, gives back: A heaving sigh of relief; tears washed in with laughter; a cry of thanksgiving for a good provision.

But what about when God doesn't return what he's taken?

What can we say of his goodness then?

In my house, whenever we're enjoying particularly fine fare—a bar of swiss chocolate, fresh peach cobbler, a plate of homemade krumkake—my dad is known to pause between bites, food in hand, and say, "Now that is good. That is really good." We always chuckle, and maybe even pass him the rest of the treat, because we know what he means is that whatever he's eating is satisfying and desirable and he'll probably want more.

This is how I have understood goodness.

It is pleasing and welcome.

It doesn’t sear sorrow into our hearts of flesh.

When it became clear that I would need to call off my imminent wedding, my epistemology—or way of knowing what is good and true—was rocked. I found myself wondering how in the world I could know anything with confidence.

I had been so certain God wanted me to date and eventually get engaged to this man. I had recognized his voice, assuring me the budding relationship was his idea. Then I had sensed his leading toward the altar—I had even seen him open doors to provide for our upcoming wedding.

Hadn’t I followed Jesus close enough for long enough to recognize his leading when I saw it? Hadn’t godly friends and even acquaintances marveled at our love story, and blessed our engagement and deemed it God's gracious provision?

I had been so confident; could I have been wrong?

I must have been blinded by emotion, I concluded, reeling from the pain and confusion of the break-up. My hopes and desires must have clouded my thinking, making me believe I had heard God's voice and sensed his leading. Maybe the peace I had was nothing more than the byproduct of hope colliding against hope.

Weeks passed and my doubts snowballed. I revisited old memories, traversing my history to reevaluate every time I thought I had sensed God's direction. What had it felt like? Looked like? On what basis did I ever feel confident I had correctly sensed God's leading?

I felt like I was teetering on the edge of a precipice, about to plummet from my previously sturdy and reliable epistemology into the murky marshes of "not knowing."

Then I had an epiphany.

I realized my problem wasn't my epistemology; it was my assumptions.

I had assumed that God’s goodness wouldn’t allow him to clearly and intentionally guide me to a place of loss and sorrow; that if my life bled into sorrowful shades of gray it was my fault, or the Enemy’s.

In short, I had thought I understood God’s goodness, and had believed that if I held my idea of goodness up to God’s, the two would match.

But when my ring-less hands shakily raised my glowing idea of goodness and placed it alongside God’s, I saw that his Goodness was completely and utterly “other.”

There was no comparison between his and mine.

It was as if I held up a candle to the sunset,

A single note to an orchestral symphony,

A paper doll to a man of flesh.

It was unlike anything my wild imagination could create.

It was the kind of Goodness that smears spit and mud in a man’s eyes to give him eyes that see and heart that lives,

And lets a dear friend Lazarus die young so that he can breathe new life into his rotting body.

A Goodness Who once allowed flippant soldiers to twist nails into the flesh of his only Son so that he could remove the sin twisted into our decaying flesh.

A Goodness who is less concerned about giving us lives we think are good, and instead pours out grace that awakens us to his Goodness.

A Goodness who knows that His glory is our greatest good.

A Goodness that is “other”;

Distinct; Set Apart; Holy.

This goodness that is other has changed the timbre of my days. Now, when deep sadness stirs in my spirit it is accompanied by an unwavering confidence that this sorrowful journey was God’s idea. In his great and holy goodness he gave so that he could take away.  

And he took away so that he could give back. He always gives when he takes, but he gives something “other.”

He dashes hopes so that he can give us a Hope that is stronger than the grave.

He pushes us into valleys of weakness so he can give us his power that sculpted the mountains.

He leads us into deserts of desolation so he can breath Divine consolation into our withered souls.

He removes the Hell from our hearts so he can give us a new Eden.

Because his goodness is not concerned with making bad people good, but dead people alive,

And He is a God whose goodness would make us “other”;

Distinct; set apart; holy.

This week two years ago I toasted to God's goodness with my roommates at the beach. This week one year ago my former fiance and I toasted to God's goodness in the park on our engagement day. Both times I was thanking God for the flickering candle-sized vision of goodness I thought lay in store.

I never dreamed he'd give me a sunset.

This sunset, in all its glory, has temporarily disoriented, burned, and blinded me, and I think this is the nature of holiness. God's holy goodness is not something frail eyes can behold and a dying heart can comprehend. That's why the Apostles Paul and John fell to the ground as though dead when they saw the risen Jesus face to face on the Road to Damascus and the Island of Patmos. But this risen Jesus wants to give us more of his holy and good self because he is our Greatest Good, and so he must give us eyes that can behold his loving face and a heart that lives in him.

But first he must remove our vision of the good life so he can give us his eternal, perfect vision; he must sear the scales off our candle-accustomed eyes and burn the black sin out of our fading hearts. He must make us the kind of creatures whose sturdy souls can delight in his holy goodness. And as he works, our clearing eyes will gradually see and be captivated by the golden light that creeps westward on the enflamed horizon; this radiant light a reminder to our changing hearts that one day we will see a Good and Holy God face to face, and he wants us to be ready for that day. And so he gives, and he takes, and he gives back more than he's taken: he makes us holy.

And this is how we know how much he loves us.

© by scj

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thursday Things: The Last Thursday Before I Go Back to Work

This has been a good week.

1. First, I went to Home Depot and stuffed my trunk with flowers for my back patio.

The white rose on the left is called "Moondance." I'd love to have a moon garden one day. Wouldn't it be splendid to have bed of white flowers all silvery in the moonlight?

The red, orange and yellow rose below is called "Rainbow's End." Aren't they stunning? They make me want to eat starbursts and skittles and lemon drops all at once.

The red and yellow flowers in the right of my trunk are Petunias, and boy did they get the raw end of the deal. The name sure does fall flat next to Moondance and Rainbow's End. If Anne Shirley were here she'd definitely spice things up by renaming them "Elfin Bells" or "Morning Stars," or something equally romantical.

2. After my gardening splurge I propped up some new art I bought, tried to envision it on my walls (especially the giant blank one that stares down at my bed), rearranged it, surveyed the room, rearranged it again, stepped back to get a good view, cocked my head to the left and then to the right, paced the room, rearranged the art again, decided where it should finally go, and did a little jig.

I decided to put the tan pair above my bed.

I think I may put the blue one above my dresser on the right wall. Not sure about that one yet. I think I'm more inclined to return it. I need another pair of eyes. Yes, I definitely need someone else to come arrange, rearrange, and do jigs with me.

3. It hasn't been all gardening and garnishing games here this week though.

We also suffered a death.

Please take a moment of silence to remember our beloved apple tree.

This tree was was home to hundreds of little apples. It was also home to hundreds of little termites, although we didn't know it until three days ago. All we knew was that we would be enjoying homemade apple pie for months to come. Well, the neighbors would. I still haven't figured out how to make a gluten-free, sugar-free apple pie. Any thoughts, Krista?

Anyway, our plans have changed now that the top heavy tree went timber, and we have all been furiously peeling, cutting and baking bushels of fresh apples into enough tasty (and tart) treats to last the semester.

I am drowning in applesauce.

With all the activity, I had to get my rest on each day. I still struggle with pretty bad fatigue as I recuperate from my year of illness, and so I spend a great deal of time resting, sipping tea, and reading. Here are three of the eight books I'm reading right now (and won't finish for a very long time). I've been a bit of a book glutton this week. It's the library's fault. It has more power over me than Disneyland. I get butterflies in my stomach and thrills shooting up my spine each time I step foot inside. And my eyes are way way bigger than my reading stomach.

BTW, did you know there's such a thing as decaf black tea? That is not what you see in the picture, but it is what you will see in future pictures. Because the tea in this picture, although consumed at 10 A.M., had me up several hours past my bedtime doing the jitterbug. I shall never consume it again.

5. Eggs with spinach and salsa is my new PB and J. It's fast, it's cheap (ish), and it's the perfect blend of three flavors. I highly recommend it. Just saute the spinach in salsa and then crack in a few eggs.

6. I am so pooped from all the jitterbugging I did this week, and, because I am caffeine-free today, I am feeling ready to climb in bed.

Sleep tight my friends!

Don't let the bed bugs—or the jitter bug—bite.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bon Voyage, dear Brosef

I just got a voicemail from my little brother reminding me that tomorrow morning he'll hop on a plane by himself and fly five hours to Virginia where he'll go to school and run track.

His voice sounds deep and low in the message—too deep and low for such a little brother. But he's 20 now and he's grown big capable hands, and he's got a thick beard to match the thick curls on his head. His boyish frame has widened into broad, sturdy shoulders, and the boy who helped mom around the house has cultivated a work ethic that proves he's a man.

And how can it be that time passes so quickly?

Because I could have sworn that just the other day I was pressing his outie bellie button pretending it was an elevator button and he was grinning big calling me "sissie" as we scooted up to the 7th floor. And didn't we just dance to the Donut Man in the living room and eat lunch on some old boards nailed to the branches of the evergreen tree out back? And it couldn't have been too long ago that his voice cracked for the first time and his upper lip sprouted the makings of a mustache...

I think I must be getting older too, because I want to weep that he'll be so far away from his Washington home, and I know this means things are changing and they'll never be the same.

And here I am 1,000 miles away from my Washington home and my trembling heart worries that Little Brother will be lonely, that he won't have a ride to church on Sunday, that he'll run out of quarters for the washing machine, that he'll get hungry when the cafeteria isn't open, that he'll meet an east coast girl, that he won't have any clean socks on race day, and that he'll notice his dad's not in the audience for every track meet.

But in the deepest part of my older sister's heart I know that the Little Brother I've watched grow into a man loves Jesus, thinks clearly, acts intentionally, manages his money well, and listens to the advice of wise parents. And so my sisterly worries keep colliding with great excitement him—for the opportunities for growth that change ushers in, for the things he'll learn about himself when he's far from home, and for the fun adventures that lay waiting on the horizon and will one day turn into the sweetest of memories. I can't wait to hear about them.

Little Brother, I think you're too busy trying to stuff a year's worth of living supplies into two suitcases right now to dream about your upcoming year, but you'll have time to dream on the plane tomorrow. In the meantime, here's to hoping you have a year that surpasses your wildest hopes — a year that stretches you intellectually, teaches you to persevere, allows you to experience victory over pain, pushes you into greater intimacy with Jesus, and teaches you the trick of spraying febreeze on the dirty socks you need for that race you're about to go run, and win.

I love you, Brosef!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Hope Has Its Reasons, Part I

Last week I met a Russian Jew named Mike.

Mike is a successful businessman who studied biochemestiry, physics, and law. He comes from a family of Harvard professors and physicists, and he loves a lively intellectual discussion.

After telling me a bit about his wife and daughter, Mike told me his grandparents and great grandparents were killed by Stalin. He said his mom's life has made her tough as nails, and that their family is forever changed by the deaths of the men and women who gave them the gift of life.

Then Mike said he can’t believe in God. He said it doesn’t make sense that a powerful, loving God would sit back while he watched a few weak men extinguish millions and millions of weaker men.

I get it. I get why Mike, in his heart, struggles to believe in the existence of an almighty, good God. And although I have never lived the suffering that Mike’s family has, I think I understand that suffering can be one of the greatest obstacles in our search for God.

But I also know that our hearts can lead us astray, and that our suffering can point and propel us to a God whose goodness and power are evident in the way he invaded and is rewriting our sickening history.

In the midst of a world where tsunamis, genocides, dictators, earthquakes and terrorists etch horror onto the pages of our human story, there is a Hope that doesn’t disappoint.

And that Hope has its reasons.

The next few posts will focus a bit on how to share, with confidence and grace, the reasons for the Hope we have with people like Mike.

I’ll start by talking about reaching the person you’re talking to. Because for some of us, it’s easy for our passion for the truth to turn into a passion for being right, rather than a passion for the soul of the person in front of us.

And for others of us it’s easy to cower in the corner, heart racing, breathing labored as we search for a few feeble words that can somehow sum up the greatest, most beautiful truth in the world.

So how can we share our hope in a way that is winsome and compelling, and assure the person with whom we're talking that we really care about them, and not an agenda?

Here are several ways I have learned to lower a person's defenses as I endeavor to be a speaker of the Truth in love:

1. Get to know the person you're talking to. Show them you care about them as a person by showing interest in the three Rs:

  • Relationships (spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, kids, family)
  • Responsibilities (work, extracurriculars, school)
  • Recreation (hobbies, sports, interests)

(Thanks to my mom for creating and teaching me the three Rs as a girl!)

2. Respect the person you're talking to, even when you disagree with them. Validate their feelings and intentions.

3. Be honest and humble.

  • Admit your limitations: “What I don’t know I won’t pretend to understand.”

4. Find common ground. Don't set yourself apart to the extent that you create a chasm between yourself and the person you're talking to.

  • Avoid going right into "I'm a Christian so I believe...". This immediately ostracizes your reader, and makes the conversation more about your beliefs than the person of Jesus Christ.
5. Identify with the person you're talking to. People tend to trust those with whom they can identify. Appeal to something you and you and your friend can agree on:
  • Shared desires and values
  • Common experiences and beliefs
6. Reveal your motives. You're not trying to pull the wool over their eyes; you've found a Hope greater than life itself, and you want to share it!

7. Ask questions rather than immediately stating your position. Often, asking questions can more clearly make the truth resonate more than simply espousing beliefs. Listen with interest to the answers to your questions, and then engage them.

Come back for some possible atheistic objections and compelling Christian responses in “Hope Has Its Reasons,” Part II.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thursday Things: Curry, Shepherd's Hooks, and Plots and Sloths

1. I'm reading this book:

I'm 100 pages in and I'm enjoying the writing style, but where the plot is concerned I kind of feel like I'm watching a sloth move slooooooowly from the lower part of its branch to the upper part of its branch. Not that I've ever watched a sloth do that, but I can imagine it would be a dull show indeed.

Does anyone know if the plot picks up?

2. This is my new favorite ingredient:

(A larger-than-life image for your viewing pleasure, because I cannot for the life of me figure out how to make it any smaller).

I've had many a curry disaster in my life, but this little guy is the solution to my curry worries. Huh, that has a nice ring to it: "curry worries."

3. Wouldn't it be amazing to get on a soapbox at Speaker's Corner and say something profoundly moving that changes the lives of everyone within ear shot? It's on my bucket list.

4. Speaking of soapboxes, allow me get on my third grade teacher soapbox for a moment, if you will.

I just heard about three young adults who hopped over a guardrail at the top of a 317-foot waterfall in Yosemite, climbed into the wildly swirling rapids, and were swept down the waterfall to their death.

And then I heard about a man who dug a tunnel under the sand at the beach, climbed down into it and suffocated to death when it caved in on him.

Now I'm not going to ask what in the world these people's elementary teachers taught them, because the teacher in me knows it's not the job of the government or private schools to raise our kids.

Instead, I'm wondering where in the dickens these people's parents were when they were growing up.

Because I think these two cases are the epically tragic result of an education that didn't teach kids cause and effect.

IF you jump over a guard rail into the white water at the top of a water fall, THEN you will likely fall to your death.

IF you dig a tunnel under wet crumbly sand, THEN it will probably cave in on you.

I'm not proposing that parents sit down and review cause and effect flash cards with their kids—although that might not be a bad idea. I'm thinking these parents need to encourage their kids to play—and even guide their kids' playtime.

My experience as a third grade teacher taught me that kids aren't gardening (IF you plant and water a seed, THEN a plant will grow), caring for a pet (IF you don't feed your pet rabbit everyday, THEN you will find him dead one morning), or cooking (IF you mix butter, sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla and baking soda, THEN you will have a delicious dough that turns to cookies in the oven).

They're not making mud pies, trying to build a treehouse, making a house for their paper dolls, or constructing lego fortresses.

Instead, kids are throwing farm animals at each other on Facebook, jumping off castle towers in video games (and surviving!), and watching their television idols become sexually involved with their television lovers and ultimately experiencing no emotional, spiritual, or physical consequences.

Yes, what our youth need are some daily, hard-core play sessions.

Okay, stepping off the soapbox now.

5. I am about to attempt to make refined sugar-free chocolate chips to put in my gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free cookies. Pray for me.

Happy Thursday everyone!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Confessions of a Former Carb Queen: Part II

Okay, yesterday I told you I ran into a couple problems in all my carb queen glory.
Odds are you've run into this problem at some point too, because it's probably the most universal of my two problems.
Problem #2: My pants got tight. Real tight. Fortunately I rarely had an occasion to wear them, but when I did I avoided bending over in my skinny jeans—just to preserve their life; and I avoided sitting down in my riding pants—the top snap popped open almost every time I did.

This is not the first time I've dealt with pant dilemmas, and I know it won't be the last. It's one of the many joys of being a woman.

When I was a freshman in college I was totally unprepared for the way that heavy weight lifting with my track team would transform my body. Just two months into a regime of heavy squats and power cleans, my favorite pants split clean and quick up the backside while I was hopping into my dad's SUV. It wasn't one of my finer moments.

I learned soon after that the sprinter/hurdler/jumper girls on my team had two pairs of pants: one for the off-season and one for the in-season, because of the way the lifting in the different seasons changed their bodies.

Alas, my days of blaming tight pants on sweaty hours in the weight room have passed. In fact, while sick in bed I began to rapidly lose muscle mass, and there was no way in the world I'd be able to roll out of bed and move around enough to get my toneage back and shed a few jiggly pounds.

But glory of glories, the necessary diet changes I'd begun to implement for my energy and immune system eventually got my body back to its normal weight, and kept it there. Without any exercise!

Here are a few more energy-boosting and weight-shedding diet tips:

1. The word "diet" comes from the Greek word "diaita," meaning way of living.Unless you have exceptional health problems, the way you eat needs to be something you can do every day for the rest of your life. It needs to be manageable.

If you're on a "Super-Size Me" diet, then you are going to need to make some significant changes and it won't feel manageable, so try to make the changes in doable chunks. Give yourself one thing to change per week, or even month. And give yourself grace. (But do not "sin" because grace abounds!)

2. Remember the "focus on adding rather than subtracting" rule? Once you've made some good additions to your diet, you can begin to focus on gradually taking away some of your more unhealthy options and replacing them with good ones.

When you can, choose God-made over man-made.

Your body will be especially thankful if you use caffeine and sugar sparingly. I know, I know, climbing Mount Everest on your hands sounds easier. And it probably is. But eating refined sugar and drinking coffee will make your adrenals even more fatigued, which will make you so tired you'll want to eat more, which will make your pants tighter, which will make you depressed, which will make you eat more, which will—well, you get the picture.

So give up soda first ("pop" for you northwesterners, and midwesterners). Then replace froo froo lattes with black coffee and a little half and half. Then work on drinking tea instead of coffee once a week. Then work on replacing bad carbs with good carbs. You get the picture.

If you can slowly change your diet and adjust to the accompanying difficulties, you will eventually have more energy than you did when you ate refined sugar and drank loads of coffee.Your pants will fit better too!

3. Some of you may hate exercising, in part, because it makes you so darn hungry all the time. The irony is that exercise can make overeating even more of a temptation!

If you exercise regularly, try to eat in the first thirty minutes after you work out.

I know food is the last thing you want when you're sweaty, panting, and nauseated, but your body is doing its most serious muscle repair work in that thirty-minute window.

In fact, if you can eat the proper ratio of carbs to protein in that window you will be less hungry the rest of the day and you'll feel better for your next workout.

It's like magic.

Here's how you can figure out what you need to eat in that thirty-minute, post-workout window:

To determine how many grams of carbs your body needs, figure out your weight in kilograms(use this converter), and divide your weight in kilograms by three. This is the number of carb grams you need.

Take that last number and divide it in half. That's how many grams of protein you need to eat.

For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, then you weigh 68 kilograms. Divide 68 by 3 and you need 22 grams of carbohydrates. Divide 22 by 2 and you need 11 grams of protein in that window.

4. "An apple a day keeps the doctor a day." It also keeps your pants fitting like they should.

Eat an apple and drink a tall glass of water before lunch and dinner. This will help you to manage portion size, especially since we're often tricked into thinking we're super hungry, when it's water that we need.

Well there you have it, my friends: Some sure-fire ways to feel confident when you zip up those fitted pants, and energized when you realize you need to run to the store to buy them in a smaller size.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Confessions of a Former Carb Queen: Part I

Right around last Valentine's day I turned into a carb queen. No, it wasn't because I had boxes of Sees candies flooding my mailbox—although that would have been nice.

And no, it wasn't because I assuaged singlehood woes with potato chips and a carton of ice cream. Although some rocky road and a chic flick marathon would have been nice, too.

The source of my carb cravings was some seriously severe adrenal fatigue and the second round of mono in six months.

These illnesses sucked up every last ounce of my energy until I couldn't remain in a vertical position for more than five minutes without reaching for some sweet and savory carbs to give me a temporary energy boost.

And while I enjoyed my tasty indulgences for awhile, it wasn't long before I ran into a couple problems in all of my carb-filled glory.

Problem #1: The quick carb fix made me even more exhausted in the long run. Without fail, after every five-minute carb high passed I found myself feeling even sicker, weaker, and more exhausted than before.

I knew something had to change, and so did my doctor, so she ordered me to cut all gluten, refined sugar, and dairy out of my diet.

Goodbye joy and happiness.

Because really, who wants to eat cucumbers and raisins for an afternoon energy boost?

But overall health was more important than a short-term "fix", and so I turned into one of those health nuts that doesn't touch man-made foods, only shops at select grocery stores, and goes everywhere barefoot. Minus the barefoot part. Mostly because I hardly ever went anywhere.

Now don't get me wrong; I've always been a fairly healthy eater. I had to be to run track at a collegiate level for so many years. But I really loved my chocolate, cookies, and the salty, fatty carbs I ate to balance out my low-fat fibrous meals. I'm all about balance.

Not surprisingly, it took about four months of maintaining my new diet before my insatiable chocolate cravings died down, and it took just as long to figure out how to eat in a way that gave my body the nutrients necessary to repair itself on this long journey toward healthy living.

Thankfully I'd been picking up diet tips over the years that helped me to develop a way of eating that's slowly been restoring my body toward health.

I've taken what I've learned and have pieced together some trusty diet guidelines.

Give it a try, or your money back guaranteed!

And don't worry, you don't need to be as extreme as I am, and you sure DON'T need to give up sugar, gluten, and dairy to eat like this.

1. Here's the skinny on Americans: most of us have at least mildly fatigued adrenal glands. This is because our adrenal glands produce our adrenaline, and boy do Americans require a lot of adrenaline. We have fast-paced, action-packed, high-stress days, and don't often give our adrenal glands a reprieve from their adrenaline-producing frenzy. Nor do we feed them with the right fuel.

There are a lot of side-effects to having taxed adrenal glands because they play a role in regulating blood-sugar, monitoring hormones, and aiding the immune system. If you're prone to hypoglycemia, you could have fatigued adrenals.

Enter: good carbs.

Try to supplement your protein and good fats with carbs that won't spike your blood sugar, but will give you steady energy for the entire day. You can check this glycemic index for carbs that won't give you a temporary burst of energy before sending you crashing to the couch mid-afternoon.

Some carbs to avoid when possible:
  • Potatoes
  • Rice (especially white)
  • Corn
  • Chips
  • Crackers

Some of my favorite good carbs:
  • Black beans
  • Oatmeal
  • Apples
Is your heart sinking? Are you wondering if life is worth living without a daily dose of sour cream and onion potato chips?

I feel your pain.

Actually, I felt your pain. It gets better, it really does. Before you know it your body will be craving a handful of almonds and some cucumber with hummus. Bring on the beans, baby!

2. Focus on adding, not taking away from your daily eating routine. Every meal should have a serving of good carbs, protein, and healthy fats. If you're like me, then you don't have a problem getting a serving of carbs in at every meal and will need to work on adding a serving of protein and healthy fat at each meal.

I also try to focus on adding leafy greens to every meal too—even breakfast. It's amazing the energy some dark leafy greens can provide. And it's amazing how much easier it is to add good things to my diet than focus only on taking bad things away. This is an empowering, energizing way to begin changing a lifestyle.

By the way, a serving is about the size of your fist, although your fat serving will be about a tenth of a normal serving.

Back to good fats: I CANNOT sufficiently stress their importance. I know it may seem counter-intuitive to include good fat with each meal, but our body needs the proper ratio of fats, to protein, to carbs to function properly, with high energy.

Try to include one of the following healthy fats with every meal:
  • nuts
  • avocados
  • olive oil
  • fish
I promise you'll feel the difference after awhile!

This is all for today! Come back tomorrow for my carb problem #2 and part II of "Tips From a Former Carb Queen."