Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Beach houses

This will be interesting only to my immediate family.

We first began going to the beach in about 2002, I think.  We had a pastor at that time who spoke often in his sermons about Ocean Isle Beach.  It sounded good, so we gave it a try.  I think Jon was six, Laura was nine, David was eleven and Shannon was twelve, or thereabout.  That seems right.  We stayed in an oceanfront home called Fisher's Wharf on the corner of Raeford.  We arrived as the sun was setting, to a magical sky full of amazing pastel colors.  The children ran around the decking to the front of the house and out the boardwalk to the ocean where they sank directly into the foaming ocean waves, in their clothes, and Shannon called out, "Mom!  How did you find this place?"  It was a very comfortable house; I slept to the roar of the ocean like I'd never slept on vacation before in my life.  We enjoyed the beach, which was very full of shells.  I'd bought a guidebook about North Carolina, and it spoke of Sunset Beach, 20 minutes to the southwest.  We drove over to check it out one afternoon, and loved the fine white sand and the quiet atmosphere.  We decided to try that island if we ever came again.  Our house on Ocean Isle had everything we needed except good knives.  After we got home, I bought a special knife for taking on beach vacations.  Mama gotta cook.

Our next beach vacation was in April of 2005, I'm pretty sure.  We went to a house on Sunset Beach called Amazing Grace.  It was on the extreme eastern end of the island (more extreme then than now, as that end has since been further developed).  It was a two-story turreted house, and the windows surrounding the sitting room off the master bedroom gave a circular view around the end of the island from ocean to channel to bay.  We were delighted to discover that pink sunrises awoke us each morning, with lovely views right from the bed!  That house also came with an impressive supply of toys for the kids to take to the beach.  It was a good week.

We went back again in August of that same year (2005).  Our house was called Southern Comfort, which I did not approve of.  It was a classic beach house floor plan with living/dining/kitchen down the middle and two bedrooms and a bathroom on either side.  I remember lots of white wicker and high, vaulted ceilings with ceiling fans.  It was a second row house, just across the street from the Fifth Street beach access.  It's been rebuilt, or at least renamed (renaming could only have been an improvement).  That was the year we bought an inflatable raft and the kids navigated the channel to visit Ocean Isle.  It was also the year when Shawn and I spent evenings walking along the shore under a full moon at high tide.

I think we went right back again in 2006.  That would have been the April when Shannon was a junior, David was in ninth grade, Laura was in eighth grade, and Jon was in fifth.  I think that is right?  That time we went in April and it was cold. We stayed in a lovely home on the back bay on the east end called Conch Out, and I think it may have been my favorite vacation.  David had his saxophone.  There was a crab trap and a floating dock to the bay where we could set the trap and catch crabs.  Jon made friends with the people next door.  Our friend TJ drove up from SC to visit us.

It seems like in those days we meant to go to the beach every other year, and then to Minnesota on the alternating years.  But then we started going to the beach in April and to Minnesota over the summer.  Maybe this is accurate?  We'd gone to Maine when Jonny was two (1997) and it was freezing.  Then we went to Cape Cod in about 2000.  That was even colder than Maine (it was one of those summerless years).  We flew all the way to California and explored the Pacific coast from Pasadena to San Diego in February of 2001, but that was cold too (at least we had a heated pool at our San Diego hotel).  Finally, we found the Brunswick Beaches of NC, which even when they are cold in April are not as cold as Maine in June.  In August the water is like a bath, and even I can walk straight in.

Anyway, that 2006 vacation in Conch Out was the last beach vacation we took as a whole family.  It was a good one, full of sweet azaleas and bitter sunscreen.  Little did I know that we wouldn't have the whole tribe together at the beach again.  Well, perhaps some day we will, but it hasn't happened yet.

April 2008 we went back, this time to the west end of the Sunset Beach, near Bird Island and the marsh.  We stayed in an amazing home called Tranquility Base.  It was on 40th Street and had double decks overlooking the marsh and the sunsets.  Everything about the house was fabulous, from the decorating, to the kitchen equipment, to the large soaking tub in the master bathroom, to the sunset views.  They even provided kayaks, although the marsh was low and we didn't have much luck using them. The only drawback (besides that it was cold) was that Shannon wasn't with us; she was in college, and her spring break was different from everyone else's.  David and Laura got sunburned studying for AP exams on one of the roof decks.  It was a fabulously beautiful house, and I remember Laura saying, "If their beach house is this nice, can you imagine what their regular house is like?"  This house is no longer available to renters.  I think one of the most memorable things about that vacation was the trip back up north to New York.  Spring was full blown in North Carolina, with spring green leaves spreading gentle shade over colorful bulb flowers everywhere.  As we headed north, the flowers disappeared and the leaves got smaller and smaller, until finally we reached the land of bare branches.  It began to snow, and we arrived home to a blizzard and a snow day school cancellation that Monday.

In the summer of 2009, we went to Texas to see Shawn's paternal grandmother, whom the children had never met.  We did the Riverwalk in San Antonio, visited the Alamo and swam in the gulf around Port Aransas.   This was our last family vacation, and it was one to remember forever.

August 2010 we went back to Sunset Beach.  That summer we stayed on Fifth Street, towards the east end of the island, farther back from the ocean than we'd ever stayed before.  We used the money we saved on the house rental to rent a vacation package that gave us a grill, a beach wagon, four beach chairs and an umbrella.

It turned out to be a fabulous way to do things.  The house was called Carpenters' Cottage, and it was really cute.  The background colors were neutral and light, the bedspreads were eye-poppingly bright and beachy, the furniture was comfortable and the kitchen was very nicely equipped.  We took David, Laura, Jon and a friend of Laura's, and much Boom-o was played.  It was a great vacation until Thursday, when Shawn received an email that threatened a ferocious lawsuit against the boss at his previous company.  This event put a major damper on our memories of an otherwise lovely vacation.

Nevertheless, we went back for another round in August 2011.  We tried the same strategy: rent a house farther from the beach, and spend the savings on a grill and beach gear.  The house in 2011 was called Three Sisters, which was ironic because we had three children, but only one sister: David, Laura and Jon.

Although we missed Shannon immensely, we had a magical, beautiful time together in this well maintained and equipped pink house.  It was not the fanciest house we've stayed in, but it was one of the most comfortable and livable houses; I loved it.  It was the first time we stayed in a pink house, and every time I came "home" to it, I had a little thrill that this pink house was mine for the week.  The kids got along well, Laura was happy because she had her own bathroom, and the waves were warm and wonderful.  I think this was the year Jon bought his first skim board and learned to use it.  Friday, as I was beginning to think about packing up to leave, I opened my computer and found a message from my niece Abby, saying that my father had suffered a heart attack, but that he was okay.  So that vacation had a less than ideal ending too, although it was a blessing that we did have immediate confirmation that all was well.  Shawn and Jon and I headed to Minnesota to see my parents after dropping Laura off at college, so we got an extra trip that summer.

August 2012, we set forth again.  This time, we took a houseful: our youth pastor, his wife and their two little children, and a friend of David's, as well as David and Jon (Laura had already gone back to college by the time we went).  That year, we got a house called Sand In My Shoes.  It actually had a sort of separate apartment upstairs, with a kitchenette and everything, so our youth pastor's family could have some semblance of privacy.  I'd always wanted to have the joy of watching little children discover the beach, and it was exciting and rewarding to practice up on some grandma skills.  That was a busy vacation because, besides having extra people along, I was trying to prepare for my job teaching English at a Christian school (the vacation had been planned long before the job offer came along), and this was totally overwhelming to me.  I don't have many clear memories of this vacation, but I had an impression of other people playing a lot of Settlers of Catan and watching Batman movies late at night.

The summer of 2013, we moved from New York to Illinois.  We did not have a vacation.  The summer of 2014, Laura got married and we did not have a vacation that year, either, unless you count the trip to Ohio for the wedding.

Last summer, 2015, we went to the beach for two whole weeks!  The house was called Beach Time.  It was, perhaps, the shabbiest house we had ever rented, although it provided everything we needed, even boogie boards.  The kitchen was decent except for the knives (and I had to go to Walmart and buy a pan to bake chicken in).  We didn't rent a beach package because the price had more than doubled, and being there two weeks made the cost ridiculously prohibitive, but they did furnish a charcoal grill with the property.  It was a super vacation, despite the shabbiness, and you can read about it in my August 2015 logs, if you wish.  We had Shannon and Jon for the first week, and then our friends Ann and Walter joined us when Shannon left, for the second week.

Most recently, we stayed oceanfront on Sunset Beach for the very first time, about a week ago (April 2016), in a house called Dune Our Thing.  This sounds fancier than it was.  It was a pet friendly oceanfront rental, and it was affordable, so that should give you some idea.  It may have been even shabbier than Beach Time from last summer; at any rate, the washer and dryer were rustier.  I quite enjoyed the "art" on the walls in this house, and I got used to the bright colors after a few days, and began to feel fondly about them.  We took Schubert, and spent some time just the two of us and our little brown dog (who was not much enamored of the beach).  We might have gotten lonely for family, but David and a friend of his joined us for a number of days, so that was a blessing.  Shawn had a blast setting up a ham radio and contacting many people in many places, from Uruguay to the United Arab Emirates to Russia and Ireland to Australia and back to Cary, NC!

So that is our history, to date, of beach vacation rentals.

To recap:

August 2002, Fisher's Wharf, OIB
April 2005, Amazing Grace, SB
August 2005, Southern Comfort, SB
April 2006, Conch Out, SB
April 2008, Tranquility Base, SB
August 2010, Carpenters' Cottage, SB
August 2011, Three Sisters, SB
August 2012, Sand in My Shoes, SB
August 2015, Beach Time, SB
April 2016, Dune our Thing, SB

Ten vacations, ten houses, ten sets of precious memories.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Sometimes I wonder

I think about the year sometimes.

There is such a pattern to the years of life.  Although every year is different in many ways, every year is also the same in many ways.

I've been thinking about it since my last post, where I began to discuss the solstices and equinoxes.

Building off what I started to discover in that last post, here's the deal:

Christmas is clearly a celebration of the Winter Solstice.  Actually, it is a celebration of the passing of the Winter Solstice.  I know this, because my birthday is December 22, and that is the actual Winter Solstice, the shortest, darkest, coldest day of the year.  Christmas comes three days later, and New Year's a full week after that.  Clearly, God planted Christmas at the turning point, when days start to grow longer instead of shorter.  I once sang in a Christmas cantata called, "Hope Has Come."  I often think how astoundingly correct that title was.  The advent of hope.  The turning of the tide.  The incarnation of the Savior.  The beginning of the end of sin's dark rule over humanity.  I am sure that this is divine purpose, and not coincidence.

One cannot help but notice that Easter happens near the Spring Equinox. At Easter time, we find ourselves rejoicing that the days are not only getting longer, but that the hours of the day have shifted to provide more light than dark during their 24 hours.  I think this is God's way of using nature to reflect what He is doing in the process of history.  After Jesus died and rose again, the human race received a clear pathway to glory.  Just as Jesus' birth turned things from ever-increasing darkness and doom to ever-increasing light and hope, Jesus' death and resurrection sealed the promise of the victory of good over evil.

And yet, there are promises to come.  There will be the fullness of the Lord, in all His glory, dwelling with His people, face to face.  There will be an end to all that is sad, disappointing, destructive, hurtful and dangerous.  There will be beauty and light and life everlasting, perfect redemption, perfect bodies, perfect personalities, perfect community, perfect joy.

This was paradise in Eden; this was how Creation stood at the outset.  Then sin crept in; decay began and begat death.  Pride, selfishness and unbelief led to disobedience, which led to shame and separation from God, which led to the increase of sin and the shading out of God's image in the world.  I'm not sure where this all falls in relation to the rhythms of a year and the Fall Equinox.  The Fall (the theological fall into sin, not autumn) must have preceded the Fall Equinox, because it was the Fall that ushered sin into the world and began the deterioration at the very beginning, when we first lost paradise.  The Fall Equinox comes later in the cycle and would symbolize Satan's expanding rule as prince of the earth, his growing power.

That entire half of the year, when darkness starts to grow following the Summer Solstice, and continues to grow until it threatens to overtake the light at the Winter Solstice (perhaps nearly does so in some polar climes), that half of the year symbolizes the period of human history between the Fall of Man and the Birth of Christ.

The birth of Christ changes the direction, reshapes the trajectory.  The birth of Christ leads to His crucifixion and resurrection, and the swell of life-giving light into lives that will accept it.

The Winter Solstice leads to the Spring Equinox.

And then the Summer Solstice.

My favorite.

I have to believe that the Summer Solstice symbolizes the Second Coming of Christ, the completion of the New Heavens and the New Earth.  The first creation broke and moved towards darkness and decay, but the New Creation will be perfect and last forever, eternally.

The Summer Solstice forever.

I cannot wait.

Except for the people who still need to put their faith in Jesus before He comes.  For them I can wait.  But oh, may they hear and believe.  Open their eyes and their hearts, Lord Jesus.

And then, please come soon.

He who testifies to these things says,  
“Surely I am coming soon.” 
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
~Revelation 22:20 (ESV)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Position and direction

When we are at the beach, we start to track the tides.  Nearly always, a tide chart is affixed to the side of the refrigerator.

Low tide is when the beach strand is at its widest.  Often, the wind seems gentler at low tide.  Tide pools form in the low depressions, where trapped water warms in the sun and small children splash contentedly with their buckets and shovels, or sometimes just lie on their bellies absorbing sand into their swim suits.

At high tide, the beach is often wild and loud, the waves reaching high up towards the dunes.  Beach gear left unattended may be swept out to sea by the ever encroaching water.  You have to shout to your companions to be heard, and the water can slap you down or knock you over if you aren't careful.

My kids used to enjoy high tide, because it was more exciting.  However, most people like low tide best.  If you want to have a good time riding the waves on a boogie board, you want to go out sometime after the tide has begun to come back in from low tide, as it ramps up to high tide power.

Here we have our first example of position and direction.  You are at a position with high tide or low tide, but (as in my example) if you want to have a good time on your boogie board, it is not so much about your position at high or low tide; it is about whether the tide is coming in or going out.  Boogie boarding goes better when the tide is coming in, when the direction of the tide is inward.

I've noticed this same phenomenon with the seasons of the year.  I track the solstices and equinoxes like a fiend in my old age.  My favorite is the summer solstice.  I love long days, warm weather and lots of light (I've fantasized about owning a home in southern Argentina where I could go to spend November through March).  I love the summer solstice, but I love the spring equinox nearly as much, because it marks our victory of coming once again into that part of the year when days are longer than nights.  The summer solstice is the position I aim for, but the spring equinox tells me we're heading towards it and making good progress.

Even the winter solstice has a good side, if you consider it as a direction rather than a  position.  Immediately after the winter solstice, days start to get longer rather than shorter, which is quite a victory in its own right.  The lengthening of the days always adds an extra measure of satisfaction to my feeling of having survived the holidays after the year turns over to a brand new January 1.

The only point in the year that I decidedly dislike is the fall equinox, the time when nights begin to be longer than days, which I also associate with the start of the school year and Halloween.  Ugh.  But God is gracious in that He set things up so that preparations for His Son's birthday party begin to brighten that quarter of the year with candles and strings of sparkly lights which hold us over, amidst many precious gatherings of families and friends, until the days start to get longer once again.

What I'm trying to say is this: it's not just about where you are... it's about where you are headed.  If your goal is to reach Chicago, and you are just an hour east of Chicago, you are pretty close to your goal.  However, if your route is headed east, and you continue in that direction, you will not reach Chicago, no matter how near you may have been.  (Well, not unless you go around the entire earth, but that would take a very long time, and you'd have to figure out how to cross oceans.)

I could draw a lot of conclusions about life from this, but I am tired, so I hope you will ponder the idea and come up with some conclusions of your own.  Suffice it for me to say that the journey of life is never static.  You are always going in one direction or another, and sometimes you even have to take three left turns to make a right.  Sometimes you have to get through a winter before a spring thaw brings a spark of hope back into your heart.

Just keep track of where you are, and where you need to be, and keep plugging away, because life will surprise you most of the time, but God has a plan.

The tides come in, the tides go out.

Monday, April 18, 2016

North Carolina April

I'm in a shabby, garishly bright beach house, sitting on the sofa with my drowsy dog next to me.  We never took the dog to the beach before, but here we are tasting of the "dog-friendly" variety of accommodations.

It is, however, ocean-front.  It's growing on me.  There is a lot to be said for three large sliding glass doors facing dunes, palm trees, and the ocean on the horizon.  There's something magical about waking up and walking down a wide, sunlit hallway to a bright space with views of sunshine speckling up from the ocean beyond, glittering like diamonds across the deep blue beneath the flat line that seems to indicate the end of the world in the distance.  Beyond a jungled growth of beachy flora, it is just far enough away to feel deceptively safe.

April at the beach is very different from August.  The heavy haze of August heat is absent, leaving colors clearer and light sharper.  The azaleas bloom delightfully.  New houses spring up on stilts here and there, smelling of lumber and sawdust.  A work crew replaces the wooden decking of beach accesses.  Sunrise arrives crisp and fresh, and you need a hoodie, or even a jacket, when you take Mr. Schubert out for his morning constitutional.

There is also a large ham radio antenna, central in the view from  my window.  This would be more disturbing were it not the temporary antenna that my dear husband himself brought along to try to contact Europe across the Atlantic.  Perhaps he will be successful.

I see a large red and white boat floating by.

We went for a walk along the seashore earlier today.  It was almost warm enough.  A shocking number of people had gathered around the pier to enjoy low tide. Shawn and I held hands, walked in the sunshine, and discovered that the tide pools were warm enough to wade in, warmer than the air.  Walking eastward was considerably warmer than walking westward.

The drive down was long.  Long drives get harder for me as I age.  At one point, the stiffness in my back, the numbness in my feet, the pain in my neck and the seemingly endlessness of the road made me feel sick on many levels.  I asked myself the infernal question that keeps coming back to haunt me, "Why do all my children have to be so far away from me?"

I remembered that I've written that sometimes I hate interstates.  That evening on the road, Jesus gently enlightened me that I ought not hate the thing that gets me to where I am going, difficult though the journey may be.

The interstate is not the problem.  The distance is the problem.  The interstate exists so that the distance can be crossed.  Someone has gone ahead of me and built roads, paved them, raised them into bridges that cross rivers and streams, forged on-ramps and off-ramps.

I need to be thankful, thankful for roads.  Sometimes I want what I want, and I want it now.  I want to pray and get a miracle, kaboom.  But when we pray for a flower or a fruit tree, God may answer by handing us a seed and a trowel.  When we pray for place and community, God may provide a donkey, a map and a path (I'm speaking metaphorically, but I trust that you can think of a situation in your life that fits the analogy).  Of course God can do miracles, but He set up the Universe to work in certain ways because He knows that process can be as important as product.  I think it is safe to point out that He doesn't seem to circumvent the process particularly often.  This calls for patience and endurance.  It also calls for a heart of gratitude and eyes to recognize the active presence of God in slow growth and long journeys.

After Jesus opened my eyes to this truth, the sun began to sink behind us.  We were driving southeast, between Knoxville, TN and Asheville, NC.  Beautiful mountainous country.  The spring growth was out in its early glory, light green leaves, white and purple blossoms, foliage both delicate and brilliant, expanding along the mountainsides.  As the late, deeply slanted rays of sunlight shone from behind us onto the delicate pastel colors adorning the curves of the road ahead of us, the earth seemed like some other planet.  Vibrant yellow-green treetops glowed, almost pulsed, in front of luminous pink clouds that radiated against a backdrop of soft lavender sky.  If a painter had painted the scene exactly as it appeared, viewers of his painting would probably think his imagination had run away with him, into some sort of saccharine fantasy.  But it was all real.  Pastel, glowing, illuminated by the fading light of the lingering end of day.  If we had rolled the car windows down to breathe the air, I think it would have smelled like dew and apple blossoms.

There is a theme that I am picking up in WWII literature, a theme of hope because of a field of flowers, a blue sky, a bird or a butterfly that flutters back and forth across the barbed wire fences that separate a death camp from the freedom beyond.  Even in this desperately broken world, there is always a remnant of beauty, because God is eternal.

North Carolina in April is much more than a remnant of beauty.  It is a reminder that a road can end at the beach, and that light and joy await those who trust in the Lord.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The problem with Christianity

The problem with Christianity
as far as I can tell
is this:

Christianity requires repentance.

Yes, to be a Christian, you must repent.  To repent is to admit that you have been doing something wrong, and that you need to change your direction.  To repent is to tell God that you are sorry that you have been demanding your own way and spurning His way.

To repent is to come to the place where you understand and admit that you do not, yourself, have the right to define right from wrong, to judge the goodness of the Lord, or to insist on an agenda of your own choosing.

To repent is to humble yourself, to let go of your prideful attitudes, to admit that God knows more than a mere mortal, to let God be God--the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe, to accept your place under His hand.

Yes, this is the problem with Christianity, because this is not what we want to do.

We do not want to be wrong; we want to be right.

We do not want to take God's direction for our lives.  Like two-year-olds, we shout out, "I can do it by myself!"  Like two-year-olds, we are often incapable of making good decisions without guidance, but like two-year-olds, we spit and shake our fists at the One who has already done everything to help us.

Pride entwines our hearts and chokes out repentance.

Pride is much more insidious than we realize.  We all know people who appear prideful:  They dress in expensive clothing and brag loudly about their accomplishments, their awards, their salaries, their vacations.  They smile patronizingly at those they consider beneath them (which is everyone).  They act as though they are doing you a huge favor if they acknowledge your presence, lower themselves to have a conversation with you or take time to attend your event.  These are the most transparently prideful among us, and we may think that we are not prideful if we are not like them, but we could be very mistaken.

There is a second tier of pridefulness.  These people can spot pride fifty miles away.  They sniff it out like bloodhounds and stalk their quarry until they corner it, at which time they chew it to bloody bits.  The problem is, all the time they are tracking other people's pride, their own pride is welling up inside of them like a putrid spring.  It takes one to know one, as the saying goes.  Of course they are prideful; how else would they have the arrogant courage to critique the pride of those around them?  More's the pity, because although they mistakenly believe that they are rooting out pride in others, they are actually inciting their victims to build thick walls around their lives that seal in pride and create an environment where it will fester and swell.

This is the third tier of pridefulness: those who have been hurt by other prideful people, and thus respond with their own brand of pride:  "Who are you to say that to me?"  and  "I have the right to do what I want to do.  Not you, not anybody, not even God can tell me how I have to live!"  These people may not feel good about themselves at all.  They may be plagued by low self-esteem, depression and even despair.  But they grab on to one thing and will not let go:  "I am the captain of my own soul!"  (They even have literature to back them up.)

How then does the human soul have any hope at all?

How can anybody ever become a Christian?

Only by grace.

The grace of God brings us to a place where we understand that we need Him, that there are deep fissures in our souls that only He can heal.  Sometimes it requires very painful trials to bring us to this understanding.  These painful trials are also grace, because they are the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

John 16:8 tells us that God sends the Holy Spirit into the world to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.

Because Jesus died, the Holy Spirit is now loosed in the world, comforting and empowering believers, and also opening the eyes of people who do not yet believe, enabling them to see what is true and to learn to hate sin and love righteousness.  Learning to hate sin and love righteousness, this is repentance.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit.  This is the work of God.

"No one can come to me unless the Father draws him," Jesus said in John 6:44.

The problem with Christianity is that humanity is contaminated with crippling pride from the very beginning when Adam claimed the right to gain the knowledge of evil.  We are all prideful.  We are all stained with this sin of wanting our own way, convinced that we ourselves know the best way.

~Isaiah 53:6 (ESV)
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

There you have it: the problem, and the solution.

We are prideful, 
     but Jesus came to us in humility.
We wanted our own way, 
     but Jesus prayed on the eve of His crucifixion, "Father, not my will, but Yours." 
We cannot come to Jesus because we are dead in our sins,
     but Jesus came to us and died in our place.
We cannot reach out to the Lord, 
     but He reaches out to us and draws us to Himself.
His gift.
His grace.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. 
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
~Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)

Monday, April 4, 2016

We interrupt this blog . . .

to bring you an update on available Malshi* puppies.

I have become apprised of two baby Malshis who are available and ready for adoption.

This is a little male, who was 12 weeks a week or so ago.  Oh my heart.  I love his face.
We would name him Gershwin.  To go with Schubert.  Get it?  
Schu-schu and Shwinny.  Hahahahahaha!  I want him!

Alternatively, there is this little girl puppy who just turned 8 weeks.  
Shawn thinks she is cuter than Gershwin,
but he is not a fan of getting another dog just yet (not just yet).
We would name her Bizet (Bee-ZAY), which also goes nicely with Schubert.
Bi-bi and Bu-bu.  I am cackling with delight!

Oh doggies!
Can you even believe that God makes such wonderful, beautiful, marvelous things as little doggies?

*Malshis are a cross between Maltese and Shih-tzu.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Practical ways to grow in faith

Most of the time, growing in faith results from suffering trials.

The Bible addresses this in James 1 ("Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds because the testing of your faith produces perseverance..."), in Romans 5 ("We glory in our sufferings because suffering produces perseverance, character and hope..."), and in 1 Peter 1 ("You greatly rejoice though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials to prove the genuineness of your faith...").

This is not my favorite truth, yet it does seem to be true.  Birdsong, blue skies and comfortably full bank accounts produce complacency.  Sickness, strife and scarcity drive us to our knees before the Lord.  We call out to Him; He answers.  We see His hand and thank Him; our faith grows.

We come into this world with hard hearts, with expectations that we are entitled to great blessings, with presumption that we ourselves know what is best for our lives.  We come selfishly focused on our own egos, grasping, hoarding, bossing and justifying our every move.  Most of us are pretty nasty creatures, without any natural inclination to make sacrifices for the good of others (with the possible exception of our children, but even then we want their benefit for our benefit and not apart from it).

God has to wring the self-idolatry out of us, and in most cases, this requires trials that cause us to suffer.  Suffering brings us to the end of ourselves, and coming to the end of ourselves is often what must happen before we become willing to look up to the Lord.  "Not my will, but Thine," Jesus prayed in the garden.  He prayed it before He suffered, because He was the only sinless, selfless man ever to live.  We generally only pray this after we have suffered.

Suffering is the primary way in which God's children grow in faith. However, there are two ways for us to grow in faith without having external suffering thrust upon us.  We can grow in faith when we observe the Lord's Sabbath.  We can also grow in faith when we tithe.

Observing the Sabbath and tithing are very closely connected.  In the first, you are giving to the Lord from the firstfruits of your time.  In the second, you are giving to the Lord from the firstfruits of your income.  In both instances, you are offering something to the Lord that it may not make sense to give Him, and you are trusting Him to make it up and supply what you need in the end.

The Sabbath is a day of rest that we offer to the Lord because He asks us to.  It is one of seven days, a day to set aside as holy to the Lord, a day to cultivate a thankful heart, a day to refrain from the business of providing for ourselves.  It is a teacher trusting God with her lesson plans, even if she doesn't chart them out on Sunday afternoon.  It is a businessman turning off his phone for a day, ignoring the email, and trusting God that the necessary deals will come through anyway.  It is a student putting away his textbooks for the day and trusting the Lord with the results of his exam.  It is a farmer parking his combine on Sunday and trusting that God will help him bring in the harvest on Monday, even if rain is predicted (that must be the hardest one of all to follow through, because all the others can--and should--work ahead, but the farmer is truly at the mercy of the weather).

Honoring the Sabbath makes little logical sense.  Why would you set aside an entire day of the week when you could be productive?  God asks us to do this so we will remember that He is our Creator and Provider.  He delights to honor His children when they do this thing to honor Him.  If you fellowship in Christian circles, ask around and you will hear wonderful stories about how God has cared for His own when they have honored His Sabbath Day in situations where it seemed like a risk to do so.  God comes through.  Honoring the Sabbath Day is a practical step we can take, on our own, when we desire to grow in faith.

Similarly, tithing makes little sense.  Why would you give ten percent of your money to "the Lord's work"?  Why would you do this off the top, before you even know what emergencies will come up before your next paycheck?

People who tithe will tell you that it makes no sense, but the Lord provides.  Even when the budget on paper won't balance, somehow when we honor God with the firstfruits of our money, He makes sure that we have enough.  Sometimes it seems that while tithing, people have less emergency expenses, while when they fail to tithe, the expenses come like gangbusters and drain savings like a hole in a pocket.  Sometimes it is even more mysterious than that.  When we trust the Lord with our finances and tithe, He meets our needs in amazing ways that lead us to rejoice and multiply our faith.

As Christians, we need to be growing in faith.  Anything that is alive must either grow or atrophy, and our spiritual wellness must not be allowed to atrophy.  God loves us too much to ignore us and leave us in complacency, so He consistently brings us faith exercises, or trials, to strengthen our spiritual muscles.  However, we can work with Him on this and take some proactive steps of our own to increase our faith.  Honoring the Sabbath and tithing are two things we can do from our own initiative to help our faith become stronger.

Has God shown Himself faithful to you, and thus strengthened your faith, when you have honored Him through the Sabbath or tithing?  Please share about it if He has.