29 September 2014

Every Small Creature Pointing to our Immense Creator

We've lived here more than a year now, but we're still seeing new and exciting things right outside our front door.  Or at least within a couple miles of it, which is usually how far our feet will take us on a given walk.

These little sand buildings often wander horizontally across the ground's surface, but they also ascend vertically, whether on the dirt walking path or sometimes even on a parking lot.  This one was three or four inches high.

I don't know what kind of bug makes them, but I'm always careful to watch out, lest I should step on one and break up somebody's home.

When I take time to notice nature's small details, I can't help but think of how great our God is, for creating all these creatures.  Think, even for just a moment, about what kind of mind can not only grasp and understand every detail in the universe, but also make every detail of the universe out of nothing.

This belief, too, is an act of faith.

Paul knew we'd be challenged to believe in a Creator God, so he wrote you and me right into the faith hall of fame, just as a reminder:  "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear."  Hebrews 11:2

Jesus Himself knew we'd lose the fervor of our faith as soon as we forgot that He--the Word, who was with God from the beginning, who was God, by whom all things were made (see John 1)--created all things, so He told John to give that last-in-the-list lukewarm church His Creator credentials:

"And unto the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God..."

He goes on to tell His church how to turn their lives around, how to have open eyes, how to have true riches in Him, how simple it is to just open the door and invite the God of the universe inside the heart, to fellowship with and be changed by this God who made us all in the first place.

As I began refocusing my prayer life, I started seeing some other areas that need refocusing in my heart.  This week, I'll be especially intentional about opening the door and spending suppers, so to speak, with the One who created everything and who can keep creating good things even in me.

Anyone with me?

24 September 2014

When it Rains

The streets here are designed to handle a good storm.  Little ditches everywhere direct the water exactly where it needs to go, so that it drains into a canal that has depth to hold a lot more water than usual.

Of course when the flash flood warning hit, we made sure to go out in it to see how bad it would really get.  The car made a few interesting noises, but otherwise enjoyed the adventure as much as we did.

None of the peppers in their pots were actually floating away, so we weren't to worried about them.  But that floating idea sounded like fun, so we decided our inner tubes were a better vehicle for the streets that day than our car.

The neighborhood children were all out on their bikes, a few parents were out taking photos, and there we were.  Mature, educated adults, wading down the river-street to where it was just deep enough to go floating.

Which was great fun, by the way.  Never waste a good flash flood warning, you know.

22 September 2014

Refocusing my Prayer Life

The beginning of the school year tends to be one of my favorite times to evaluate my routines, tossing out the ones that don't work so well, re-establishing the ones that do, and generally tweaking my life to be ready for the year ahead.

I guess you could call it my New Year's resolution season.  I know for normal people that comes in January, but by then I feel like I had better be in a good working system or the whole first semester might be a disaster

This fall, which feels suspiciously like a hot northwest July to me, my schedule has filled out nicely, and while I'm loving my growing family of piano students, I needed to refine how I do mornings.  

In particular I wanted to find a way to make sure my morning devotional time would neither be too delayed (as I rush around to help my husband get out the door) or rushed (as I realize what time it is after I've gotten him out the door).

My prayer time especially took the brunt of the rushing-through-this-so-I-could-move-on.

For years, I wrote my prayers down in a prayer journal.  I've gotten away from that, partly because it takes so much time to get through everything I'd like to say, and partly because it started to feel strange to have such intimate, just-between-me-and-Jesus thoughts written out on paper, where someone could find them and read them sometime.

This fall as I evaluated why I was so often trying to make such an important part of my day go by as quickly as possible, I knew journaling wasn't the answer, so as I thought and prayed about it, I made myself a couple of new rules to slow myself down and drink in more of the blessings of an active prayer life.

Rule 1:  Fold my hands, close my eyes, and actually pray on my knees.

I understand that God hears and answers prayer no matter where we are, and no matter what position we choose.  However, I too often found an excuse to pray while I was doing some kind of chore, and my brain refused to focus on either the chore or the praying in a meaningful way.  So I've been getting back to early childhood, forcing myself to still, and praying the old fashioned way.

And you know what?

It has helped tremendously.  Closed eyes don't notice the stack of paperwork on the table.  Folded hands don't itch to start putting seedlings in new pots.  Bended knees don't trot over to the kitchen sink to take care of a few dishes.

In the focused quiet, my soul finds more rest in God, greater peace in trusting to Him the things on my heart.

Rule 2:  If I'm not on my knees, I am allowed to pray while I go for a walk in the fresh air.

My husband does this on a regular basis.  He'll go for an extra long walk sometimes, just taking the time to breathe the fresh air and talk to the Lord about everything.  I'm learning to follow that example.

That fifty-minute walking route proves a great chunk of time to talk to Jesus more in depth about things.  Seeing flowers blooming, hearing birds singing, and soaking in the sunlight remind me how He's in control of everything, and how I can trust Him with the things on my heart.

What are your favorite ways to focus your prayer life?

19 September 2014

Boundless Love

White, Ellen G.  Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, p.225

15 September 2014

What Physical Healing has to do with the Gospel

My thoughts followed the disciples through their preaching journeys, when Jesus sent them out two by two with power.  Power to preach.  Power to heal.  Power to cast out devils.

I wondered why power to heal physical diseases needed to go along with the preaching.  

Casting out demons seemed an obvious necessity, to make room for Jesus and the Holy Spirit, of course.  But physical healing?

Healthy people think more clearly, so perhaps the gift of health would clear the way for people to understand the gospel.

The sick made well would perhaps feel so grateful that they would respond to the gospel call.

Sick people made instantly healthy people would recognize the hand of power, and exercise faith in God's power to restore them spiritually, too.

All those seemed like good reasons, but I couldn't shake the thought that there might be a reason even more foundational than those.  As I thought some more, and asked God to give me wisdom to understand His Word, something more did indeed return to my mind--something I remembered reading years ago.

"Satan has the power of disease and death, and in every age the curse has been more visible, and the power of Satan more plainly seen."  White, Ellen G.  Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, p. 69.

Clearly Satan had power over demons, which needed to be cast out.  But if he also exercised power over disease?  Ah, here was a hint.

I thought about another story I'd been studying and typing earlier in the day.  People were accusing Jesus of being possessed with the devil, and exercising Satan's authority.  

I'd been struck by that story for several days, actually, thinking about the underlying assumptions of such an accusation.  If they really believed he was casting out devils by Beelzebub, I thought, they could truly only believe one of two things.  

On the one hand, they might have believed that the devil was indeed more powerful than anyone or anything else in the universe; without his permission no one could tell the demons what to do.  It's a sobering thought, yet sometimes I think we fall prey to it just like they may have.

On the other hand, even if they really did believe God had power over Satan, they certainly didn't believe Jesus came from God.

Either way, Jesus answered their murmurings in parables.  Can a kingdom or a house stand if it is divided against itself?  Of course not.  Furthermore,

"No man can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his goods."  Mark 3:27

I can't help but think Jesus is talking about Himself here.  It's as if He's saying, Sure, Satan has some measure of strength.  But I am here to bind him up, and spoil his goods.  Trust in Me.  I Am not only strong.  I Am strongest.

Therefore, because of that power Satan had over disease and death, part of binding up Satan and spoiling his goods needed to be physical healing.  

Then the difficult question remains:  If Jesus bound up Satan, why do [I, my loved ones, my friends], as Christians, still suffer diseases?

I'm not talking about the common cold.  I'm talking about serious, life-altering (if not life-threatening) illnesses. Illnesses that bring untold daily suffering in the lives of dedicated Christian people.

Shouldn't they experience healing like whole towns did in Jesus' day?

I don't know the answer to the question.

I do know I can trust Jesus, who through His victory on the cross bought back power over death and disease.

I do know the devil knows he couldn't prevail against Jesus in the war in heaven, and he knows he only has a short time left before his final end.  (See Revelation 12.)

Thus while even I myself still suffer things I don't have answers for, I am the more resolved to turn my health, and the health of my friends and family, over to Jesus.  I invite Him to bind up Satan's power over my life, and spoil that old serpent's power over disease.

And after I've done that?

I can rest in the arms of my Savior, who I've chosen to be the chairman of the board of my health.  Whether I or friends or family experience immediate healing or not, I can trust Him to work out everything for His glory and my salvation. 

I know He's gaining the victory in this whole huge war against evil, and I can trust Him to prevail in the battlefield of my own life.  Spiritually, physically, mentally, in every way imaginable.

10 September 2014

Customer Service

Dear Sibelius Support Techs,

Thanks to you both, from the bottom of my heart, for spending nearly an hour each on my problem yesterday.  I know it's your job, and you probably get paid by the hour, but still.  Thanks. 

You didn't have to be nice about it, but you were.  It didn't turn out to be an easy fix, and I'm sure you could have chosen to be frustrated instead.

Thanks for trying everything until it worked.  Thanks, first guy, for trying to call back when we got cut off.  Thanks, second guy, for picking up seamlessly from where the first guy left off, and carrying it through to completion.

When my husband came home?  And found out you were at that very moment putting the finishing touches on his most beloved and necessary specialized computer program?  And he realized he'd be able to use it again right away?

He was overwhelmed by a flood of relief.

I know I said thanks on the phone, but since we all call you when we're already frustrated, maybe you don't hear it often enough.  I just wanted you to know, on the day after when everything is working well and we're up and running again, I haven't forgotten.  

I'm still grateful for everything you've done.

That Lady who Took up a Ton of Your Time Yesterday

08 September 2014

Another Black Swallowtail Butterfly

All summer long, we've left three or four little green chrysalises in a big glass jar on the back patio.  On the first day of school, a butterfly came out of one of them!  She was a little camera shy, but another butterfly emerged yesterday, and I was able to capture him while his wings were still a bit ruffled, before they were even ready for flight.

Four months ago, our caterpillars made their first chrysalises.  We had read that sometimes the butterflies will "overwinter" for sometimes several months, we thought we'd see just how long that would take.  In our case, it would really be "oversummering", since I suppose the butterflies wait to emerge until the heat has passed.

Two chrysalises remain--I'll have to let you know when they hatch!

04 September 2014

Eggplants, Tomatoes, and Sunrises

Almost exactly a year ago, I dropped my husband off at his new job and went straight down to the car repair shop.  During the next week or so, I took him to school in a rental car, and spent the day looking at rental ads (for houses, not other cars), trying to find a place to live.

One of the things I remember distinctly from those early-morning drives were the breathtaking sunrises I enjoyed out my rental car window.  

Since we get more rain this month than most other months of the year here, there are often dramatic cloud formations on the eastern horizon, and the light has a new show every morning.  I'm loving the chance to enjoy them again, this year from my back yard or my morning walk.

We've had quite a few more pollinators in our garden lately; however, I still pollinate the eggplant flowers every day, just to be sure.  We wouldn't want to miss out on any of our promised fruits if the pollinators happen to take a day off.  And as you know, we have several ways we love to eat eggplant (which don't include eggplant Parmesan!).

We've been eating Japanese White Eggs in relative abundance.  We've had one Rosa Bianca so far, with more blossoms on the way, and our first Aswad Eggplant flower bloomed today.

I can't say how nice it was to come home after summer breaks to a few established plants like these, especially in comparison to starting everything in the garden from scratch when we moved in last fall.

We were perhaps inordinately pleased with ourselves to have started our tomato seeds a full six weeks before we did last year.  Oh, how high our hopes for them have been climbing!  

This time, we've transplanted them up to three-inch pots to help them get a bit bigger and more prepared for life in the garden plot before putting them out permanently.  It won't be long now before they'll be ready to venture out into the wide world.

We've planted three plants each of four varieties:  Amish Paste, Bonny Best, Ingegnoli Gigante Liscio, and Big Yellow Zebra.  Our seeds are a couple of years old, and the last two varieties I don't see available through Baker Creek anymore.  Nonetheless, we'll grow them while our seeds last, and perhaps attempt to save some (even though they might cross pollinate a little in our small space).

(I'm not compensated at all for these links to seeds--just thought you might enjoy knowing which varieties we're growing right now.)

01 September 2014

Onward, No Matter How Dark the Path

I'm not one to sit down at the piano to learn a new piece and get downright angry at a composer.

No, not even when it's hard, or when I can't seem to find a good fingering, or when I mess it up ten times in a row.

Oh, but that day, I could hardly take it, and I was boiling mad at Marilyn Ham (a composer and arranger whose sacred music for piano, by the way, is some of my absolute favorite to play).

Mind you, I loved the idea of combining "The Battle Belongs to the Lord", which talks about the how our battles are really the Lord's battles to fight, with "Onward, Christian Soldiers".  I loved the switch from the intensely anxious minor-key verse when the heavenly army enters the land to the full and triumphant major-key chorus when we soldiers glorify the Lord of our army.

I just couldn't handle the transition to "Onward, Christian Soldiers" that kept it in a sad, mournful, plodding minor key.

And I won't lie, I was downright angry.  

Who puts this triumphant hymn of faith in a sad, despondent key?  If not even THIS hymn can be an encouraging battle cry anymore, what else is really left?  Where is hope if it can't be here?

Why I didn't just stop right there and choose a new piece to learn instead, I'm really not sure.  But I kept playing, plodding through this mournful Christian soldier's march until the tears flowed.

Because wasn't I on that very day feeling the weight and weariness of how sometimes the Christian walk just isn't easy, and feels the farthest thing from victorious?  Hadn't I just been wondering what in the world I was doing where I was, discouraged yet knowing somehow I was exactly where I should be, unable to discern a purpose in it all?

Somehow, though, even in my own life that didn't seem very glorious right then, by God's grace, I hadn't given up on the march.  I was still putting one foot in front of the other, hoping, praying, asking God to strengthen my faith until the light could shine just a bit brighter.

That minor key hung on in the music longer than I thought I could bear, but when that major key finish finally arrived for the very last verse, in fullest chords across the entire keyboard, my hope revived and the tears kept flowing for a new reason.  

I felt encouraged, strengthened, knowing the composer who at first made me so mad I could scream knew how to paint a sound scape of my life, with the promise of a brighter day ahead just beyond the next page.

I didn't have to pretend everything was glorious when it wasn't.  I just had to keep going.

My day of anger at the piano was a long time ago.  When I got that piece out again this fall, to freshen it up in my fingers, I was in a different place, a brighter place.

Still, I couldn't help but get a little teary eyed at the thought of how many people around me face those minor-key, discouraging marches right now.  And I whisper it softly, as if they could hear--

You're not alone.  It doesn't have to be a bright path to be the right path.  Victories won through hard battle are sweetest.  There's light up ahead.  Just hold tight to Jesus' hand, and keep walking, just keep walking through your dark valley.  We're almost home now.  He's coming soon for you and me, but meanwhile?  If you keep your eyes open, you'll often see a little bright flower beside your path to cheer your weary heart.