Sunday, August 30, 2009

Out Of These Ashes

Our time spent on earth is a journey. Sometimes we get to travel on a path of life where there is beauty and sometimes we have to travel through the valley of the shadow of death where we are covered with ashes. I've been covered in ashes today as I've shared the heartache of rejection that one I love has had to endure yet again. I knew Steven Curtis Chapman had a new album coming out soon called "Beauty Will Rise" so I looked to see if a performance of the song by that title had made it to YouTube. While not a great quality, there is one and watching Steven and his son, Will, making music together out of the very tragedy that gave them the song humbled and encouraged my heart. "Out of these ashes, beauty will rise for we know joy is coming in the morning". May it be so.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

One More Thing...

In case you were wondering, Christmas is 4 months from today!

In The Air Again

This will be my view late tomorrow morning as I head to Atlanta for a long weekend. Between reward points (thanks, AirTran) and cheap fares, I'm heading south for a multi-purpose visit. I'll get to cheer for Matthew as he coaches a couple of fastpitch softball games for Harrison, visit with a few friends, and be part of the post-reunion committee meeting on Saturday evening. But it won't be all fun...I have to figure out how to reduce the contents of a large storage unit into a small one so we can cut that cost in half.

Check back as the week progresses for updates and pictures of what is hopefully a fun several days. A lot of things have been happening in our family in recent days, so I'll catch you up with us as well. For now, I must pack so I can get more than a few hours of sleep. Next post, Lord willing, will be from a cozy guest room in Acworth.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Beauty Will Rise

This is the name and the cover of Steven Curtis Chapman's new album coming out November 3rd. An explanation of the picture can be found on his manager's blog for those who are interested in knowing more about it.

The reason I'm sharing it with you is because this seems to be the message God is trying to get across to me right now. First, it was that He really is good; even if life circumstances seem to declare otherwise. Then this picture of life and beauty rising from the devastation of death and destruction came across my path.

When Jesus first began His ministry, He introduced Himself by quoting these words in part from Isaiah 61:1-3: "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord...has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair."

Beauty instead of ashes. Gladness instead of mourning. Praise instead of despair. It's true whether I believe it or not. Lord, help my unbelief.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is God Good?

I have something on my mind and to discuss it presents the risk of offending some if I don't express myself well. Bear with me and hopefully, that will not be the case.

Here's the deal - lately it seems like everytime I turn around I've been hearing the phrase, "God is good". Of course, that is true and I wouldn't argue that for a minute. What I've noticed, however, is that those words have been added at the end of a statement of something "good" that has happened. And that's what got me to thinking.....

If I really believe that God is good, then why haven't you heard these words from me? "Tiffany can't find a job...God is good". "I live away from all of my friends and family...God is good". "Another Christian marriage bit the dust...God is good". I could go on, but you get the point. As I pondered this glaring reality in my life, I realized that I don't think that way because I let the enemy remove my focus from God and onto myself. What's going on in my life and the lives of those I love becomes my focus which in turn gives life circumstances a greater value than who God is.

Should we take the time to look at what He says about Himself and what makes Him good, life becomes clear again. Here are a few things I was reminded of when I actually did so:

Colossians 1:16 - "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -all things have been created through Him and for Him."

2 Corinthians 5:21 - "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

Deuteronomy 31:6 - ..."for the Lord your God is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you."

Notice that it doesn't say that we'll be happy. We're promised a lot of other things like love, joy, peace, and eternal life, but never once are we guaranteed happiness. God has graciously invited us to be part of His story and it really and truly isn't about us.

Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in today, whether "good" or "bad", my prayer is that we don't become as those that God spoke of in Ezekiel, "who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear."

And the answer to the question posed at the beginning? I think Mr. Beaver's words to Lucy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe say it best: "Safe?...'course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Smile From Kit

"There are two means of refuge from the misery of life - music and cats." ~ Albert Schweitzer

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lazy Sundays

I hope this finds you winding down the weekend in relaxed form as life begins to settle into a routine for a lot of us. We're back to Sunday morning church since we began Sunday services about a month ago. Hamp and I like that so much better and it also provides an opportunity for the perfect naptime - Sunday afternoons. We currently have a listening ear to the television wondering if Tiger can pull out yet another win (he didn't) and are hopeful of another Braves win tonight against the Phillies.

This past Thursday, the Baltimore Ravens opened their preseason at home and we got to go to the game. While pro football shaped my entire childhood due to my dad's radio job, I actually haven't been a fan as an adult. I think that might have changed after Thursday night. We had already discovered after Tiffany and Michael moved to Boston that northerners love their pro football teams. But I was totally unprepared for the city wide display of support for the Ravens. We walked to the stadium after taking the water taxi to the Inner Harbor and that route takes you past Camden Yards. Notice the crowd of people as they head to the football game with baseball officially in the background in the city of Baltimore.

The Ravens went to the playoffs last year and as this season begins, the hopes are high for a repeat performance. If fan support is any indication, it will be a great year and hopefully a helpful way to get through the colder winter that gets closer with each passing day.

On Friday night, I went to Little Italy in downtown Baltimore with some ladies from church for the summer movie series. They show a movie on the side of a building and the community gathers together to watch and enjoy the yummy food available from the family restaurants surrounding the area. It was a lot of fun and something you need to come share with us next year.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of my part-time work at the church office. I'm looking forward to being forced into more of a planned schedule and also having an opportunity to expand my world a bit in the area. Sadly, I won't be getting paid for now...unless some of you want to help support Gallery Church in Baltimore. :) It's a good fit for all involved but I'll have to be a little more creative as I plan future travels.

Time to get ready to hopefully cheer the Braves on to a win, but with the rain delay I might not make it 'til the last out tonight since I have to go to work tomorrow. Wow...that's something I haven't said for a while.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

With Hope

Many years ago, in response to the tragic loss of a friend's young daughter, Steven Curtis Chapman wrote the song, "With Hope". The family actually had a recording of their little girl singing "Jesus Loves Me" and he used part of that for the beginning of his song. Every time I hear it, my eyes fill with tears even as my heart resonates with the truth of God's hope the words proclaim.

Most of you probably already know this, but Steven and his wife, Mary Beth, lost their youngest daughter, Maria, a little over a year ago to a tragic accident. As God promised He would do, He has faithfully carried them thus far and is bringing beauty out of the ashes of loss and grief. Part of the healing has come with the recent opening of Maria's Big House of Hope in Luoyang, China for special needs orphans. I have followed their orphan ministry for years and wanted to give you an opportunity to see for yourselves the amazing work God is doing through His people on behalf of those who can't speak for themselves. Take some time to view the site and should you be interested, there's a link where you can find out how to become a sponsor and join in this amazing work.

Life often doesn't turn out the way we planned and all of us at some point will face trials and heartache. While I'm sure he never dreamed the words would be prophetic for his own family, the truth in Steven Curtis Chapman's song, "With Hope"", can be an anchor for us wherever we might find ourselves today.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Slow Week

Well, it's mid-week and it looks like our extreme heat has come and gone for now. It was pretty brutal outside Monday and yesterday, but the temperature has fallen and the rain chances have increased. I'm very thankful for air conditioning and being able to stay mostly indoors and cool. The downside, however, is that my social self has gotten very lonely and I'm reminded at every turn that this is not life as I knew it. I haven't reached the depths of despair that Anne of Green Gables was so apt to fall into, but I suspect I'm not far from it. The good news for Kit is that I've had plenty of time to focus on her. We've played a few games of "catch the light" and I've joined her once or twice as she's napped, but I stay on the furniture when she decides to sleep behind it.

I've made myself go walk in the mornings and that always helps me refocus on God and the amazing world He has made which then reminds me how much He cares about me too. I suppose in the deepest part of my heart, I really am OK, but I do miss family and friends and life. I guess as everybody heads back to school, I'll keep plugging away at the life lessons I know God is teaching me. I just wish there was a shortcut sometimes.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Summer In The City

I think the Lovin' Spoonful got it right with their hit song back in the summer of '66:

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn't it a pity
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city

All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

Summer has reminded us that while parts of the country are heading back to school, she has sole possession of the seasonal calendar for another month and a half. Currently our temperature is in the low 90's and tomorrow the predicted high is 98. Thankfully, this extreme is only supposed to last for a couple of days.

I don't have anything to specifically talk about today, so I'll just give you a little peek into what's rattling around in my head.

~I'm thankful for modern inventions like which allows me to watch/listen to the Braves on my computer. They're trying to win the series against the Dodgers this afternoon which would be a huge boost to their playoff hopes. If you lived in Atlanta in the early 90's and experienced worst to first, you know that it's never over until the fat lady sings. (I wonder who came up with that phrase...and why?)

~This marks my 100th blog entry since beginning it last October. Congratulate yourself if you're reading it! After watching the new movie "Julie and Julia" and seeing how cooking and blogging saved Julie Powell from a slow death by cubicle, you just never know if you're part of history by reading it. :) OK, so probably not since I'm not nearly as interesting and entertaining as she is, but a girl can dream, right? If you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend it.

~It's time for school to start for my friends and family in GA and I find myself feeling a little left out to not be there. While I made the correct choice to leave when I did, I still miss the excitement and possibility that each new year brings. There's just something fresh about new beginnings that the school year provides for students and staff alike. So while I can't be there in person, know that I'm asking God to bless you with an amazing year.

~I haven't mentioned anything about our kids for a while, so I thought I'd give you a quick update. First, they're all 3 dating someone which has made living away from them harder for this mom's heart. But I also recognize God's perfect timing for everyone and most of the time am content with letting Him take care of us all without trying to help. Tiffany still needs a job and is trying not to panic. She loves living in Orlando and should you want to see how she and Nikki are doing, you can check out their blogs. Matthew begins his 5th year of teaching tomorrow and will be helping coach the varsity fastpitch softball team again this fall. He's missed having his family around but spent the summer traveling and visiting everyone. Michael has had a busy summer taking Hebrew 1 and 2 so he could stay on track to graduate next spring. It's hard to believe he's at that point already and it will be exciting to see what God has for him as he looks to the future and what's next.

~Hamp and I will soon have to decide whether we're going to stay in our current apartment for another year or look for one with two bathrooms. We like the area we live in but it's expensive and we want to be wise in our choices. We knew moving here that we were making a minimum of a two year commitment and while I miss "home" often, we're where we're supposed to be for now. We want to fully live wherever God has us and are still learning what that looks like.

Well, the Braves just won the game 8-2 so I've done my part in pulling them through to victory. It's time to end this rambling and move on to other chores. Thanks for reading and remember that it's OK to let me know occasionally that you do!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Happy Half Birthday, Tiffany!

Today is Tiffany's half birthday and yes, she celebrates joyously every year. I have to take the credit (blame?) for this fact. One day when she was 2 or 3 years old, a friendly grandmother type lady in the grocery store asked her how old she was. (Side note - things like that don't happen in today's world, but it used to all the time.) As she held up her little fingers to make whatever age she was, I realized she had passed the half-year point and so I made the casual statement that she was now 2 1/2 or 3 1/2, whichever it was. Being the first born overachiever that all first borns are destined to be, she never forgot that you can reach the half birthday part of a year.

For many years, it was just an acknowledgement of the fact that August 7th was her half birthday. I don't remember when, but at some point she began to treat herself to ice cream or some other little remembrance and by adulthood full blown celebrations began to occur. She's made cupcakes and shared them with co-workers, she's had half birthday cakes presented to her, and more than one birthday card has had half of itself sacrificed for the occasion.

If you don't know Tiffany, you might think she's just terribly self-absorbed to indulge in such a public display of self recognition. But if you do know her, you have been blessed by the childlike wonder and joy in which she so enthusiastically lives life and which has been sorely missing much of the last three years or so. Seeing her bloom again as God heals the broken places in her heart makes me smile and even though I can't be with her today, I can still be part of the celebration. So, Tiffany, here's to a wonderful half birthday and may you and your sisters share lots of love and laughter today!

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17 NIV

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I Live In Baltimore

Yes, I know...I've been living in Baltimore for 5 months now but I still find those words to be some of the most defining of my life. Said with surprise, "I live in Baltimore!" or in astonishment, "I live in Baltimore?", they catch me off guard occasionally. And there really is no punctuation to express the sadness those words sometimes bring when family and friends feel so far away. I think I've experienced all of those this week as I've had to start thinking about the logistics of gathering together as a family for the holidays when the five of us live in four different states with as much as 1300 miles separating some of us. With sincere apologies to Atlanta and Delta, this has become the symbol of our family's connection:

I have become quite adept at searching for inexpensive flights and after much planning, we now have plans to spend Thanksgiving together in Orlando with Tiffany. Their apartment complex has a fully furnished rental apartment that's cheaper than most hotel rooms so we can cook together and watch Georgia Tech beat Georgia for the second year in a row. (The trash talking has begun!!)

It's still hard for me to not have a family home anymore, but I know God is up to some interesting things in all of our lives and this time apart is good for us. I don't always remember that or like it, but He's used His people and His Word this week to remind me that it's true. Now I just need to figure out how to get us all to Georgia for Christmas!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Last But Not Least

Well, I didn't really think I'd get all of these done today, but I told you it's been a relaxing day. :) ESPN decided to televise the Braves/Dodgers game so we've had the TV on while we just chilled and did some computer work this evening.

Here's the question for the night - what is wrong with this picture?

The answer is two-fold; first, the socks are red and second, they belong to this uniform that John Smoltz is now wearing.

The Orioles game we went to with John and Grant on Friday night was against the Boston Red Sox and John Smoltz was the scheduled pitcher for them. I thought it was rather fitting that displaced Atlanta fans were watching a displaced Atlanta pitcher and we did our part to cheer him on to his second victory of the season. We enjoyed taking the water taxi to the Inner Harbor and then we walked the rest of the way to Camden Yards.

Smoltz and the Red Sox were down one run at the end of the 6th inning and it looked like he might be heading for his 5th loss. But in the top of the 7th, Youklis hit a towering 2 run homer that put them ahead for good which guaranteed Smoltz's win.

We left the game before it was over since John and Grant were planning to leave really early Saturday morning. Doing so let us beat the crowd back to the Inner Harbor area so we were able to ride the water taxi home as well. I love riding it at night and seeing all the lights reflected on the water.

This is what Fells Point looks like as the water taxi approaches the stop and it's the first time I've been able to get a good shot.

We had a great visit and we enjoyed getting to spend some extended time with Grant. It's kinda sad that it took us moving far away to realize how important spending time with family and friends really is. If those you love are nearby, take advantage of the ease in which you can get together because it might not always stay that way.

Thanks, John and Grant for sharing your vacation time with us and hopefully we'll see you again sooner rather than later!

We Will Never Forget

I am a baby boomer, but have often not really felt like one. My age group is on the waning end of that fabled generation and there are several things I feel like I missed out on. Understanding the Vietnam War is one of them. I'm embarrassed to admit I still don't know a lot of the facts and circumstances that led to the war, but I do know that the number of classmates from my recent high school reunion would have been lessened considerably had we been just a few years older.

The Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, was intentionally designed to be a scar in the meticulously kept landscape in which it is located. I remember when the design contest was going on for the creation of the memorial and a 21 year old Harvard girl won. She chose black granite as the material for the memorial to be made from so that as we stared at the engraved names, our reflection would look back reminding us of the ultimate price that was paid for our freedom.

As memorials go, at first glance it's not that impressive. But then you realize that each one of the 58,000+ names represents someone's son, husband, father, brother, or friend. Each time I've gone, there's been at least one older man standing soberly in front of a section looking at a specific name with a lost look in his eyes as he remembers things he probably wishes he couldn't. This past Thursday was no exception. As John, Grant, and I were walking slowly down the sidewalk, we heard a lady ask a man who had just taken a picture of a name with his phone if that was the only person he had known from the war. He looked startled that she'd asked him such a question and then he immediately replied, "Oh, God, no...I wish." As we passed him, he began to move forward and with a big sigh and a heavy step, he muttered under his breath again, "I wish."

At that moment I realized how much I have taken my country's freedom for granted. Being Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, or even right or wrong didn't matter. What matters is that men and women have either gone when their country sent them or chosen voluntarily to defend their country so that the rest of us can live in freedom and mostly without the fear they never quit living in. If you know someone who has served us in this way, take time to thank them today. If you can no longer thank them on this earth because they paid the ultimate price, then call their family and thank them. Maybe keeping a face before us instead of just a statistic or a name on a piece of rock will remind us that however sick our country might be, we have been blessed and we don't ever need to forget that.

And for the record, Joey, thank you for your selfless serving on my behalf and I'm very thankful that I can see you without having to go to a memorial in Washington, DC.

Catching Up

Quiet Sunday afternoons - is there anything better? It's been a busy week with my brother and nephew's visit, but it was a good week. We went to DC on Thursday, the Orioles game on Friday, and then they decided to leave around 1:00 a.m. after the game when we realized they wouldn't get much sleep anyway. I definitely don't recover as quickly from crazy things like staying up half the night anymore, so yesterday and today have seen us going to see the new Harry Potter movie and napping after church this morning.

I actually have a couple of things I wanted to highlight from the past few days, so rather than have one really long entry, I decided to create a few shorter ones. If you're a regular reader, check back a little more often because I probably won't do them all at once.

John and Grant got here Wednesday afternoon and as I said we went to DC on Thursday. It looks like that will be a frequent trip as we have visitors, so I'm trying to figure out the best way to see the most sites in one day. We decided to invest in the $27 Tourmobile bus tour and it was worth every penny. You can get off and on at various stops and stay as long as you want at each location with new buses arriving every few minutes. Rather than walking about 5 or 6 miles, we reduced it down to about 2 or 3 which is far less taxing on the feet.

This is John and Grant at Penn Station in Baltimore as we're waiting for the train to take us to DC. If you come to visit, it's much cheaper to go there during the week because Maryland has a commuter train that runs throughout the day. I'd much rather have the train take me straight to Union Station in DC and not have to fight the traffic and try to find a place to park in the city. Besides, most of our visitors are suburbanites and it's just more fun to take the train!

All of the tour buses have a stop at Union Station and from there you begin the route that will take you to the monuments and memorials.

We ran out of time to see the Jefferson Memorial and the Roosevelt Memorial which are both located somewhat out of the way from the mall area. Because we took the bus tour, we were able to go to Arlington Cemetery which I'll tell you more about in the next entry. If it's been a while since you've been to our nation's capital, I would encourage you to take advantage of us living nearby and plan a visit. More to come soon!