November 30, 2009

Sunrise Target

I heard the first chime of the alarm and stumbled in the dark of my in-law’s house to the room next door. I shook my peacefully slumbering daughter. “Were you serious about this? We’re leaving in ten minutes.”

Did you ever plan something that seemed like a good/fun/adventurous idea at the time, then once you were in it, realized “Never again!”

At 5:00 a.m., the day after Thanksgiving, I (along with my husband, daughter and niece) entered our first—and probably last—Black Friday experience.

It was my daughter's idea to go in the first place. All the family gathered at my in-laws’ thought she was crazy, but I agreed to join her, as did her cousin and surprisingly my husband as well. We scoured the circulars and picked Target as our first stop. I’m not a morning person and not much of a shopper, but I do love Tar-jhay. Plus, they advertised a keyboard I’d had my eye on for my daughter at 50% off. I figured it’d be fun.

Well…it was lots of things. Fun wasn’t one of them.

Observation #1: Early bird gets the plasma screen. Only the amateurs show up at 5:30 a.m. when the doors open at 5:00 (As we learned later, the real pros started lining up at 2 a.m.) By the time we arrived, the parking lot was completely full. People were already leaving the store, carts overflowing with big ticket items. The place radiated an aura of survival of the fittest.

Observation #2: Be prepared to be completely overwhelmed. I have never seen so many people in a store for any reason. Like ruthless hunters, thousands upon thousands of shoppers filled the aisles, sights laser-focused on prized door-buster kills. The check out line snaked through the ENTIRE store—through housewares…grocery…electronics… boys’…shoes…women’s…and lingerie. I started counting, but eventually gave up at about 250. I guess over 750 people waited in line!

Observation #3: Don’t give up too quickly. I struggled to navigate the aisles as the crush of people, carts and stuff impeded my progress. I finally made it to the music department in search of the keyboard. A shelf tag announced I’d found the right place. A bare spot told me I was too late. Feeling defeated and claustrophobic, I said aloud, “I’ve gotta get out of here!” Problem was I’d lost my family almost as soon as we entered the store.

Eventually I found my daughter and niece. They looked as shell shocked as I felt. As we formulated our exit strategy, my phone rang. “I found the keyboard and am waiting in line,” my husband announced.

“Where’d you find it,” I asked.

“In the boys department. Of course. Why didn’t I think of that? “Can you find me a cart? It’s getting really heavy.”

Observation #4: Be patient and pay it forward. With a deluge of bargain hunters descending upon limited low-price merchandise, the tension was palpable. I sensed we were one cut in line or one snatched item away from total pandemonium. The scene teetered precariously between control and chaos. Thankfully, Target shoppers chose “goodwill toward men” over “win at all costs.” Case in point, while I searched in vain for a cart to bring to my husband, a woman noticed him struggling with the massive box and gave him a cart she’d found sitting empty. Later, he offered to buy her a coffee at Starbucks.

Thankfully the Target staff tipped the balance toward civility by providing excellent crowd control. Rumor had it shoppers didn’t fare so well at the nearby Walmart where reportedly punches were traded and an ambulance was called to the scene!

Observation #5: Make a list. Black Friday is not a time for casual browsing. As soon as I entered the frenetic scene in the store, my brain froze. Besides the keyboard, I couldn’t remember a single thing listed in the sale circular or anything I wanted to buy for Christmas. As I walked around dazed and confused, I noticed several battle-hardened Black Friday vets armed with detailed procurement lists working with focused efficiency.

Observation #6: Recession? What recession? I’m not passing judgment (since I was among the participants) but we are a materialistic bunch…and suckers for a deal—especially on electronics. I have never witnessed such conspicuous consumption in one place at one time. I don’t care what the analysts say, consumer spending is alive and well in America.

Dan's view of the line....after standing in it for about 40 minutes.
With two more turns to go, we're down to the home stretch.

In the end I did Black Friday, got a few good buys and survived to tell about it. But the whole experience left me feeling agitated, stressed…and tired. Do I feel like I got a jump start on Christmas? Not really. Would I do it again? Probably not. I love a bargain as much as the next person, but I’m left scratching my head, asking “Why?” Why lose sleep? Why waste hours waiting in line? Why enter the crush of humanity. And why do we need so much of this stuff in the first place?

I wonder what sociologists make of Black Friday. Or Dave Ramsey. Or Jesus.

November 25, 2009

Better is One Day in Your Courts

“ Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Two years ago I was an avid tennis player and was playing better than ever. My doubles partner and I had incredible on-court chemistry that allowed us to obtain a near perfect winning record—beating many teams with far greater skill. We were known and respected in our tennis circles. I was as successful in the sport as I’ll ever be.

Playing tennis allowed me to have fun, socialize, compete and win—all while the kids were at school. Life was good for this stay-at-home mom.

Then, it wasn’t. In the last match of the season, I stretched to return a low ball and something gave way in my elbow. I lamely and painfully finished the match but knew something was really wrong.

An MRI confirmed the doctor’s initial diagnosis: tennis elbow. Prognosis: take it easy for six weeks. Ninety percent of the cases resolve quickly on their own. I was sure mine would too.

However, six weeks turned into six months. A year later my elbow still hadn’t completely healed. During that time, I searched for a cure. Massage, cortisone shots, physical therapy, braces, electric stimulation and even acupuncture. An orthopedic surgeon said my elbow would likely heal on its own, although it might take several years. Unless the pain was severe or I needed to use my elbow in my work, the doctor didn’t recommend surgery.

Finally I had to tell my partner and the teams that were waiting for me that I wouldn’t be coming back in the foreseeable future. I gave up my spots and told them to move on.

A big part of my life was gone. I was crushed. Other people face far greater struggles than not being able to play tennis, but I mourned the loss. I missed  socializing, playing and being known as a tennis player. I missed the schedule that ordered my days and the security I found in it. I felt lost.
I prayed for healing and guidance. And I started doing what I hadn’t found time to do when I was playing tennis—I started to write. A lot. I started a blog and wrote regularly for my church newsletter. People said my words touched them. I attended a writers’ conference and met kindred spirits. I joined a writers’ group and submitted articles. Eventually, I was published.

Volunteer opportunities opened up to help in a food pantry and soup kitchen. I was available to reach out to friends, share my talents in new ways and spend time with the Lord. I could say “yes” far more than I said “no.”

I’m still adjusting to this new life of mine, but now instead of asking for healing, I pray, “I’m here for you, Lord. Show me where you need me to go. Use me.”

According to the doctors, one day my elbow will heal and I’ll be able to play tennis again. When that day comes, I’ll probably return to the game I still love. But after living a far more God-directed life I don’t think I’ll ever go back to life as it was.

I miss the wins on the tennis court. But, I’d trade them all for the victories I’ve experienced in the courts of the Kingdom of God.

Have you experienced loss, discouragement or a change in plans and are struggling to find direction in your present? God promises that no matter what our circumstances He has a good and perfect plan. Soak in His words of assurance in Psalm 25:4, 37:23, 65:11 and 119:105; Isaiah 30:21; Jeremiah 29:11; and John 10:27.
"In his heart a man plans his course,
but the LORD determines his steps" ~ Proverbs 16:9

November 20, 2009

Thankful Thursday...or Friday

Yep, I did it again. I’m a day late for Thankful Thursday. But since it’s my blog and I get to make the rules, I’m saying it’s all good (It's good to be queen :-) Here’s what I’m thankful for this week:

  1. I’m thankful that my dad and I went out to dinner this week. Just the two of us. We enjoyed a good meal and free flowing conversation…so much so we closed the restaurant. It’s not something we normally do, but I’m so glad we did.

  2. I’ve been feeling crappy for over a week and am thankful I’m going to the doctor today. I’ve self-diagnosed myself with piglet flu (a minor version of swine flu). I’m also thanking God in advance for a super-strength cough medicine that will tame this monster cough.

  3. I’m thankful I go to a mission-minded church. This past weekend we collected 90 Thanksgiving baskets for two local aid organizations. Even given the poor economy, our church family responded generously, giving 10% more baskets than last year.
    On Tuesday, two of my friends and I helped deliver baskets to Interfaith Housing Group, one of the organizations our church was supporting. We were incredibly blessed to meet Interfaith’s coordinator, hear a bit of her remarkable story and learn about the grass-roots organization. Our church was the only one who gave Thanksgiving baskets to Interfaith and as a result 60+ of their client families will now enjoy a delicious, nutritious, home cooked meal on Thanksgiving. Think of all the churches all over the country reaching out in the same way—and how many families will be reached as a result. Remarkable!

  4. I’m keenly aware that life ebbs and flows, especially as a parent, but I’m so thankful my kids are doing well this year in school. Both are thriving in their new schools (middle school and high school), embracing the workload and meeting new friends.

  1. I’m thankful my husband made it home last night from a business trip to Atlanta. After an FAA glitch froze all air travel in the morning, bad weather in Philadelphia added further delays in the evening and a seating snafu left him without a seat, I was happy he arrived home, late and worn out, but safe.

Of course Thanksgiving is next week, so all our thoughts will turn to counting our blessings. I'll consider this a warm-up.

What are you thankful for this week?

"Never walk away from someone who deserves help; your hand is God's hand for that person. Don't tell your neighbor 'Maybe some other time' or 'Try me tomorrow' when the money's right there in your pocket." (Proverbs 3:27-28, MSG)

Visit Truth 4 the Journey for more Thankful Thursday.

November 16, 2009

Book Review: Kabul24

You might say you have faith. But how would you respond if God called you to the mission field…to a country hostile to Christians…like Afghanistan? What if you said yes, and after years of humanitarian work the Taliban destroys it all in minutes…and takes you and your co-workers hostage…and imprisons you in some of the most sqaulid prisons in the country?

Would you drown in a sea of despair? Or would you cling to hope?

Kabul24 tells such a tale. Eight Christian men and women from Western countries and sixteen native Afghanis worked side by side to provide humanitarian aid to Afghan refugees. By feeding, teaching, housing and loving these displaced people, Shelter Now International didn’t preach the gospel, they lived it.

They were peacemakers and problem solvers in a country filled with chaos and conflict. Yet that didn’t matter to the Taliban. In 2001 the Taliban wanted to rid the country of anyone who posed, or seemed to pose, a threat to their rule or Islam. Topping their list was Shelter Now International.

With little warning, the Taliban kidnapped the SNI workers, destroyed their projects, and held them in prisons filled with filth and fear. The SNI Eight, as they called themselves, lived with complete uncertainty about their future. Then the 9/11 attacks occurred and they found themselves behind enemy lines and at the epicenter of the massive Allied bombing raids that followed. Death, at the hands of the Taliban or from Allied bombs, seemed a given.

The SNI Eight lived a daily diet of terror. But in the midst of captivity, they didn’t just survive, they thrived. With an unshakable faith in the sovereign hand of God, they sang, read the Bible, prayed and worshipped in their tiny cells. They lifted each other up and clung to hope that God would deliver them.

Kabul24 is the remarkable true account of faith and hope despite circumstances and likely outcomes. While the writing is clumsy at times, the writers paint a fascinating picture of an Afghanistan you won’t read about in the news and give a fly-on-the-wall look at the Taliban and the Muslim culture—very important insights for the world we live in.

Inspirational, informative and riveting, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Kabul24 and highly recommend it.

November 13, 2009

100% Fat-free Truth

I posted this devotional at Exemplify Online this week.

“Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

With hot coffee in hand I looked for the amenities to make my java light and sweet just the way I like it. Hmm, let’s see…sugar, milk, fat-free half and half. Fat-free half and half?! I scratched my head in confusion. How can this be?

Just as its name suggests, half and half contains two ingredients, milk and cream. Half of one, half of the other. That’s why it’s so creamy and delicious—and fattening. It simply cannot be low fat.
But the impostor creamer looked like half and half, it smelled like half and half, and the package said it actually was half and half.
So it must be. Right?
Well, a close look at the label reveals quite a concoction of ingredients—nonfat milk, corn syrup, cream, artificial color, sodium citrate, dipotassium phosphate, mono & diglycerides, carrageenan, vitamin A palmitate.

This product doesn’t come from a cow, it comes from a chemist.

To add to the confusion, the authentic half and half's packaging now bears the moniker, “Traditional.”  As in old fashioned, out-dated, old school.  As in “Puh-leez, full-fat half and half is so 2005!”

As the food we eat gets further from the earth and closer to the laboratory we must watch for linguistic trickery, false claims and empty promises.  Grocery store shelves overflow with products that masquerade as something they’re not.

The same can be said about spiritual “products” that fill the airwaves, line bookshelves, populate our culture and even invade our churches. They sound like truth and look like truth. They come adorned in respectable packaging and mimic the real thing.

We’re captivated by me-centered, wealth-motivated or comfort-driven messages that offer all of the benefits and none of the pesky drawbacks of Christianity—like submission, obedience and selflessness.  “Puh-leez, meekness is so old-school." Subtly and overtly we're told, "The Bible's great, but it's so old.  We need new thinking for our lives today."

Something nudges our insides and we wonder, How can this be?

Jesus warned us to be on guard for such trickery, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-16) We can be thankful we have a standard that was, is and always will be our pathway to unchanging, eternal truth. When we hold up the impostors to the Word of God, we unmask them for what they are—foolishness, deceit and lies.

Biblical truth may evade our understanding, challenge our preconceived notions and make us squirm but once we’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good, no imitation can satisfy.  And God’s Word isn’t just good for our hearts, it’s naturally 100% fat free.

I wish I could say the same about my favorite coffee creamer!

November 11, 2009

The Insignificance Antidote

The blog’s been quiet lately. The words haven’t been there. The ideas not fully formed. The confidence waning.

The silence has caused me to ask once again, “Why do I blog? Am I wasting my time?”

Do you have any idea how many Christian blogs there are? So many lovely, women (and men) tapping away at their keyboards sharing their hearts, insights, experiences, tips and even recipes.

I don’t do well in crowds. I tend to let the most vocal/entertaining/charming take over while I quietly step away and observe.

There are plenty of bloggers out there far more talented, outgoing and engaging than me. Some attract quite a crowd. I pretend I don’t notice or it doesn’t matter, but I do and it does. Not because it’s a competition (although I’m extremely competitive, so maybe it is), but because I wonder, “Why not me?”

In the blogging venue, in particular, I lose track of what’s important. I take my eyes off Jesus and put them on me. I check, compare, measure how I stack up against others. I tie my value to how many readers/comments/hits/ followers I have. And I think others do it so much better, so why bother.

I wonder, Do I add anything to my little corner of the blogosphere? Do others see God through my words or am I adding to the noise? If I quietly stepped away would anyone even notice?

Typically this is when I’d cue the violins to add background music for a big ol’ pity party. But, I refuse to go there—or send out invitations. But, I stand at the edge of the pit, knowing how easy it is to fall or be pushed in.

I have listened to enough heart-to-heart conversations and observed enough life around me to know that for many of us, our greatest fear is being insignificant. That we don't matter. We fear that at the end of the day our contributions won’t make a difference and if we quietly stepped away few would notice.

The enemy loves this kind of attitude. He schemes for ways to push us to the sidelines so we wallow in doubt, fear, anxiety, jealousy and depression. Because when we’re there, we can’t do much good for the Kingdom. Satan’s done his job.

Well, we have a choice—to struggle in our humanity or reach for the divine.

When Jesus came He didn’t seek out the most popular, charming, attractive or qualified. He went to the sidelines and picked from the cast offs. To them He said, “Come, follow me.” (Matthew 4:19) And when they did, He used them for great things. But let's not forget how much His followers struggled with doubt, fear, rejection, pain, discouragement and much more.

It looks like we’re in good company!

Once again on this writing journey, I’m faced with a choice: to give up because the road’s not filled with applause or press on in the silence.

Why do I blog? Because God’s given me an ability to write and for now it’s one way I can, and I’ve connected with wonderful people—friends—who keep me coming back. I believe God cares more that I’m faithful with the gifts He’s given me than how large my audience is. Because even if I reach just one, isn't that enough?

From time to time I need these wake-up calls to reassess and refocus. I need the reminder that one day I’ll stand before my Maker and account for my life. He'll ask, “What have you done with the talents I entrusted to you?” (Matthew 25:14-30)

Will my answer bring condemnation like the foolish servant who dug a hole and hid his talents out of fear and returned exactly what he'd been given... or applause like the good and faithful servant who doubled what he'd been given?

When we live a life set on multiplying the gifts God's given us surely we've discovered the best insignificance antidote out there.

Lord, I pray as I write, talk and serve that my sole purpose is to make your name famous. Extract me from my need for acceptance, admiration and accomplishment. Help me set my sights on you and you alone.

How are you investing the talents God’s given you? Even the tiniest pebble thrown into a pond ripples far beyond the point of impact.

photo credit:

November 5, 2009

What’s Old is New

Ever since my son was little he’s been banging out the beat of his internal soundtrack on his highchair, the kitchen table, the walls, whatever. When the time came for him to try out to play drums in the school band, we weren’t surprised he made it. “You were made to play the drums,” I told him.

This summer Dan and I took the plunge and bought him a full drum set. Honestly I think playing the drums ranks up at the top of “cool things to know how to do” and the idea of watching my son play in a band makes me giddy.

Although before the band comes the practice. Well…I thought one snare drum was loud. Ha! An entire drumset shakes the house of its foundation! I’m constantly yelling down to the basement, “Are you practicing or just playing as loudly as you can?”

Yesterday was a big day. After weeks of learning rolls and combinations his drum teacher introduced an actual song. As I sat upstairs waiting during his lesson, I wondered what song it might be. Soon the all-too-familiar piano intro from Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll reached my ears and transported me all the way back to 1983.

Filled with nostalgia, I vividly recalled a certain handsome young man sliding across his living room flood clad in an oxford cloth short and tighty-whities, lip synching, dancing and playing air guitar. I chuckled at the memory. Oh, to be young again!

On the drive home I asked my son, “Had you ever heard that song before?”

“Yeah,” he replied.

“Did you know it was popular when I was a kid?” And I explained the iconic scene that remains forever embedded in my youth.

Recognition sparked and he replied, “Yeah, that’s how it was when David Archuleta did it.”

“David Archuleta?!”

“On the Guitar Hero commercial,” he said.

I rolled my eyes and sighed, “Oh, there’s so much I still need to teach you!”

As I evolve in my faith I’m constantly discovering new truths and insights and finding new ways to worship, pray and understand. How easily I forget that while this journey is new to me, I walk the same path as centuries of believers who came before. As the Bible says, “we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1, NLT)

Like with music and art, each generation looks to find Jesus in ways that resonate with their circumstances and experiences. We rediscover, redefine, reinvent—what’s old is new and what’s new is old. We add our voice to the conversation.

Thankfully while our points of view may change with the times, God doesn’t. He's remains the great I Am, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

I imagine visiting with saints of yore—like Oswald Chambers, Martin Luther, St. Augustine and the apostle Paul—and sharing the new things happening in my faith and in my church.

With an eye roll one would say, “That?! We were doing that when I was a youngster back in 300A.D.!

Then they’d chuckle and chime in, “Stick with us kid, there’s so much we need to teach you!”