Tuesday, December 27, 2016

On Being Single at Christmas


This year someone asked me if it's hard to be single over the holidays. My answer: "No harder than usual."

As a thirty-eight-year-old never-married, I've experienced my share of single Christmases; and I've found that as with most of life, the situation is sort of a mixed bag.

On Being Single at Christmas

Some Cons and Pros

Con: Sometimes I'm forgotten when it comes to holiday events and parties. Couples and families tend to gravitate toward other couples and families. It's not a complaint. Just a fact. Adult singles -- especially older adult singles -- tend to slip through the cracks.
Pro: Sometimes I'm forgotten when it comes to holiday events and parties. More evenings in to read by twinkle light and focus on Advent? Yes, please.

Con: I don't have a "family update" to mail to friends and family. I suppose I could still do this by myself: just a pic of me accompanied by a list of my recent achievements. But that sounds so awkward and self-serving - not to mention a bit like Facebook. Oh, wait...
Pro: I don't have to write a "family update." You will never catch me complaining about fewer deadlines.

Con: There aren't a lot of presents under the tree. Actually, my "tree" is really just a decorative stack of books swathed in garland and twinkle lights. It doesn't really have an "underneath." But that's a separate issue.
Pro: I don't have to wrap a lot of presents. Wrapping presents takes me forever, and they still turn out looking as if drunk toddlers wrapped them.

Con: There's no one waking me up early to share the wonder of Christmas morning. For me, Christmas morning starts the way every other morning starts. I wake up alone to a dark room, the only sound that of the air conditioner. (Yes, air conditioner. It was 84 here on Christmas day.)
Pro: There's no one waking me up early on Christmas morning! Hooray!

Con: The house is empty. I sip my Christmas Coffee in silence. Bare feet on the tile floor, my only companion the air conditioner ticking gently in the corner.
Pro: The house is empty. I sip my Christmas Coffee in silence. You sing of "Silent Night"? I glory in "Silent Morn"! 

Con: I have to cook the Christmas Bacon myself. Admittedly, this is much easier since I learned to bake it in the oven rather than tediously frying it in a pan and splashing bacon grease across the entire kitchen -- which, since I live in a studio apartment, meant splashing it across my entire home.
Pro: I get to eat all the Christmas Bacon myself! A childhood dream come true.

Con: It's easy to feel forgotten if no one texts or calls me on Christmas. I understand that everyone's busy with their own children and families and that most of the busyness involves tedium (mixing waffles, arbitrating between bickering siblings, and digging out AAA batteries). Reality is probably quite different from what my imagination tells me you're doing: snuggling together in companionable joy under the tree and sipping hot cocoa against a backdrop of red and green bokeh while Christmas music plays softly in the background. Meanwhile, I stand barefoot in my kitchen drinking coffee in the dark with only my air conditioner for company.
Pro: It's easy to take time to let others know they're not forgotten on Christmas. For me, this is what makes singleness work -- on Christmas Day and every other day. As counterintuitive as it might sound, when I turn the lens outward, singleness stops feeling like singleness. It becomes less a state of being and more an avenue through which I can bless others.

Of course, I was only alone for part of Christmas day. My family, friends, and church family blessed me beyond measure with a wonderful, heartfelt celebration complete with food, gifts, games, laughter, and memories. 

I'm very thankful for them and for this season - a season that commemorates the time that our Savior came to earth and lived as a single - not to be ministered to, but to give his life in ministry for others.

* * * * *

Note: This post is a day late because I didn't realize yesterday was Monday. Like most Americans, I experience the week between Christmas and New Year's as an amorphous blob of time with no rhyme or reason.

But fear not! I fully expect to sort things out by next Monday and hit you on 1/2/17 with my 2016 reading retrospective. 

Get excited!

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Most Specific Gifts

People with December birthdays know the drill: our birthdays are so close to Christmas that one celebration just naturally bleeds into the other, often leading to a hodgepodge of birthsmas presents and celebrations.

Unless you're my family, that is. Most years, my family and friends go above and beyond to ensure that my birthday is special and distinct from the seasonal whirl, often turning my birthday into a birth week.

This year they outdid themselves with thoughtful Ruth-centric gifts: books, bacon, coffee, cheese, chocolates, imported packs of Tim Tams, a set of Hogwarts socks (Ravenclaw!), and -- best of all -- my very own framed portrait of Civil War heartthrob Joshua Chamberlain!

Yes, you read that correctly.
At this point, you might be wondering what Chamberlain has to do with anything.

That's just it. A portrait of Chamberlain isn't a generic placeholder gift like a scented candle or a coffee mug. It isn't a gift that just anyone would randomly scratch up.

This is a most specific gift -- a gift that only a friend or loved one would know to give.

Those who know us best give the best gifts.

They know our wants, needs, and desires and are willing to sacrifice time, effort, and funds to satisfy them.

In this way, our loved ones reflect God's love to us.

Better than anyone, he knows our deepest needs. He's always known; and, better still, he's always planned to meet them.

Our greatest need -- the need to be reconciled to him -- he's met in himself. He "took his own medicine," as Dorothy Sayers put it, by becoming human and enduring the Father's wrath poured out on the cross.

During December, we commemorate his birth, a birth infinitely more precious than any other.

The birth of One who is the source of all life, both physical and spiritual.

The One who made posible the real birthday of our lives.

Thee, God, I come from, to thee go,
All day long I like fountain flow
From thy hand out, swayed about
Mote-like in thy mighty glow.


* * * * *
Image attribution:
By Marco Verch (Geschenke in goldenem Papier) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
* * * * *


Monday, December 12, 2016

Grace After Grace


The more we suffer, the greater our capacity to recognize grace in the ordinary.

It's not until we've been truly hungry that we delight in the simplest meal. When we're weary and sore, bedtime comes as the sweetest balm. It's not until we've gone without hot water for an extended period of time that a shower feels like a miracle. Only after we've experienced disaster do we relish the sane quiet of another ordinary day.

This is the alchemy by which our Father converts temporary suffering to long-term joy. And in all ways our example, Christ is the firstfruits.

The Word became flesh
and took up residence among us.
We observed His glory,
the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father,
full of grace and truth...
Indeed, we have all received grace after grace
from His fullness,
for although the law was given through Moses;
grace and truth come through Jesus Christ.
John 1:14, 16-17

* * * *

Monday, December 5, 2016

The 12 Days of Jane Austen Christmas


All together, now:


On the twelfth day of Jane Austen Christmas, my true love gave to me...


*
**
*****
**********

*12 Diving Darcys*

*.....*.........11 Vexing Vicars.........*.....*

*................*.....10 Nosy Neighbors.....*................*

*............9 Putrid Fevers............*

*...........*.......*.......8 Comely Cousins........*......*...........*

*...*......................*7 Silly Sisters*......................*...*

*........6 Figured Dances........*

*............*........5 Locks of Hair!........*............*

....*............4 Grand Estates............*....*

*................*..........*..3 Courtships..*...........*................*

*2 At-Home Plays*
...................................................
and a
Captain 
Wentworth
clone
just for me!


**********************************************

In case you missed it:


**********************************************
Image Attribution:
By Cassandra Austen (1773-1845) - Owned by the Austen family; Kirkham, Margaret. "Portraits". Jane Austen in Context. Ed. Janet Todd. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-521-82644-6., Public Domain, Link

Monday, November 28, 2016

Did You Hear That?

Guest Post by
Bethany Buchanan



In my family, I have the reputation for being able to fall asleep almost anywhere. As a direct result of working a physically demanding job (often literally from sunrise to sunset), I have the ability to doze off in nearly any circumstance.

There was the time I fell asleep at a nephew's birthday party and members of my immediate and extended family took turns taking selfies with my semi-recumbent form on the couch. On more than one occasion, I have dozed off in a chair during a holiday family gathering and awoken to find that my older brother has placed around me and balanced atop my person newspapers, magazines, and other various items from around the room. Another time I put my head down on the dinner table at a Japanese noodle restaurant in downtown Shanghai and slept through the whole meal. (Jet lag may have played a part in that one.) Living in an apartment for seven years, I learned to (mostly) sleep through loud music, drunken revels, and lovers' quarrels taking place in full voice mere feet from my bedroom window. Not to mention all the catnaps I've snatched in tack rooms, waiting rooms, on airport floors, and in airplanes, trains, and subways.

Because of my ability to sleep anywhere and through almost anything, I'm intrigued by the fact that sometimes I pop awake from a dead sleep because of a very small noise. It's as if I have this background software running in my brain that jolts me into consciousness whenever it detects some sound that is out of the ordinary. 

For example, I used to dog-sit a Jack Russell terrier named Nike. Since she was old, she had to go out at least once every night. But to wake me up, she didn't bark or whine or cry. She had this particular way of wheezing that wasn't quite a whine, and she would sit on the floor and stare at me and breathe funny until it woke me up. And somehow, it worked.

The sound of my snowbird roommates arriving home for the winter and closing car doors in the driveway has been enough for a brief interruption of my sleep. The splat of a frog jumping onto a window can drag me into a moment of wakefulness. I once awoke in an immediate panic at the sound of a dog about to throw up. I've popped awake to a state of high alert when I heard the distant sound of tinkling glass at 3:00am. (That's an exciting story for another day.) And just last night I woke up in some confusion at the sound of a cat about to hack up a hairball. (I don't own a cat. Thus the confusion.)

I'm not a neurologist, so I don't know the mechanism that makes the brain work this way. But I do think it's pretty cool. I see it as another example of how we are fearfully and wonderfully made. And I wonder if it's related to the way my brain wakes me up fifteen minutes before my alarm goes off on horse show mornings. 

But I have to do my wondering while I'm doing the dishes or cleaning stalls. Because if I sit down to think about it, I'm bound to fall asleep. 




Monday, November 14, 2016

25 Tasks to Accomplish Before Sharing Your Next Snarky Political Meme



For those insistent on sharing snarky political memes, I have a challenge for you.

25 Tasks to Accomplish Before Sharing Your Next Snarky Political Meme:
  1. Shut off your computer for an hour and spend it outside: take a walk; rake leaves; go for a run; kayak downriver; stand in your driveway and watch the sun set while singing "How Great Thou Art" at top voice; climb a tree and yodel over the fence at the neighbors.
  2. Read the entire Bible. (If you've never read the Bible, start with the Book of John.)
  3. Play a board game with the kids. 
  4. Drive to the nearest ocean and jump in fully clothed.
  5. Download Overdrive; check out an e-book; read it. (Don't have a library card? Get one. Can't get one? Check out Project Gutenburg.)
  6. Tour the American Southwest.
  7. Take up beekeeping. The world needs bees! Also, the world needs selfies of you in a beekeeping suit. Either way, the world wins.
  8. Donate blood. 
  9. Watch "Bob Ross: Beauty is Everywhere" (now streaming on Netflix).
  10. Grab a friend you won't feel like killing and learn to dance the Funky Charleston together. Once you've nailed it, stage a public performance. (Once you've staged a performance, send me video clips.)
  11. Make a new friend. (If he's single, refer him to me.)
  12. Read Dickens. All of it.
  13. Repeat one of your children's made-up knock knock jokes to your friends, neighbors, and colleagues. See how many of them pretend to "get it."
  14. Try to understand why shortalls happened. Then try to understand why they're coming back.
  15. Learn to Lindy Hop.
  16. Invite your church small group over to dinner. Reenact Macbeth's dinner party scene ("Banquo's Ghost Appears"). Don't warn your wife in advance.
  17. See how high you can count in Fibonacci numbers.
  18. Study the official rules of Cricket.
  19. Mentor/disciple a child, teen, young adult, or younger believer.
  20. Memorize the libretto of Mendelssohn's Hymn of Praise...in German. Ditto Mozart's Requiem, except in Latin.
  21. Write a genuine Elizabethan sonnet.
  22. Immerse yourself in fellowship with a local church. Work together to minister to one another and the community: share the Gospel, feed the hungry, counsel the brokenhearted, care for the sick, and serve the poor.
  23. Host a backyard barbecue for your friends and neighbors. Discuss how you can all work together for the good of the neighborhood. 
  24. Commit yourself to living a joyful, productive life--a life in which you prayerfully take responsibility the things that you can control and rest in the sovereignty of God for the things that you can't.
  25. Pray for your elected/appointed leaders: that they grow in wisdom, learn to execute justice, and actively promote peace.
If you've accomplished these challenges and still feel a burning need to share that snarky political meme, go head.

Or share this post instead.

* * * * *

Monday, November 7, 2016

Can We All Stop Dumping on Millennials?



It bothers me to hear so many people dumping on Millennials.

First, let's analyze what makes them so different. 

Most generational differences are a result of over-corrections on the part of the younger generation from the generation that's come before. In that sense, we've actually shaped Millennials.

Think about that. They're partially the way they are because they're over-correcting from our errors. 

Perhaps more Millennials are living at home longer not out of sheer laziness but because of the combined effects of the economic recession and mounting student debt. Perhaps their marriage rates are declining not solely because of an innate selfishness or a desire for unfettered autonomy but because many Millennials are personal victims of the disastrous divorces of the Boomers and Gen-Xers. Perhaps they're less politically engaged because they've witnessed the fundamental failure of politics to meet mankind's deepest needs. Some can't handle conflict and wrestle with deep, opposing ideas because helicopter parents over-protected them for too long, robbing them of vital opportunities to develop these skills.

On the list could go.

Yes, Millennials are over-correcting from the Boomers and Generations X and Y. And sure, some of those over-corrections probably aren't going to work out so well. But the fact remains that there's a reason why Millennials are the way they are.

Let's take some time to consider that before we mindlessly dump on them for their shortcomings.

Also, we need to acknowledge that Millennials might be succeeding in areas where we failed. In many cases, we were weak in certain areas because we were blind to the needs; if we're still blind to these needs, we're probably blind to the value Millennials bring to the table.

Finally, the main reason we need to stop dumping on Millennials is that there's really no room for this sort of behavior in biblically-based relationships--especially within the church. If a younger sister or brother in Christ is well-meaning but misguided (or even, to be fair, completely off-base), it's the responsibility of the elders to provide relationship-based mentoring, quietly and kindly offering one-on-one guidance. We can't do that if we haven't taken time to build relationships with one another; and I can't think of a worse way to lay a foundation for relationships than applying blanket generalizations on the younger generation and mocking them for their shortcomings.

Millennials aren't perfect, but neither is my generation, and neither is yours. 

As James reminds us, we all stumble in many ways.

Instead of dumping on each other for flaws and weaknesses, let's instead encourage each other in Christ as we press toward the mark.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us (Philippians 3:12-17). 
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity (1 Timothy 4:12).
Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).
* * * * * 

Photo Credit: 

By r.f.m II from Colora Maryland, United States (Self-Portrait #26) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 31, 2016

Awards I Could Actually Win


I finished a half marathon yesterday. In the weeks leading up to the race, my nieces and nephews kept asking if I thought I'd "win." Anyone who's finished any sort of race knows that finishing is a win. So getting a participation medal is winning enough for me. More than enough. It's practically a miracle. I'm probably the world's most reluctant athlete, and a solid middle-of-the-pack runner.

But that's fine. 

There are plenty of other awards I could win - if anybody gave out awards for the things I'm actually good at:
  • Drinking more coffee than my doctor recommends
  • Remembering every intricacy of a plot but not the characters' names
  • Planning vacations I can't afford
  • Owning the world's highest unanswered correspondence stack
  • Dreaming about getting up and getting ready for the day and then waking up and realizing I still have to get ready for the day
  • Losing socks
  • Forgetting birthdays
  • Making friends with waiters and waitresses
  • Dithering over punctuation
  • Driving to the wrong destination because I'm busy working on bits of dialogue in my head
  • Writing out detailed shopping lists and leaving them at home
  • Proofreading texts after I send them

Monday, October 24, 2016

Songs Answer Songs: 27 Questions, Who Asked Them, and Who Answered



Question: Birds fly over the rainbow - why can't I? (Judy Garland)
Answer: You can't always get what you want. (The Rolling Stones)

Question: Do you remember when we used to sing sha la la la la la la la la la la dee dah? (Van Morrison)
Answer: Those were the best days of my life! (Bryan Adams)

Question: Does anybody really know what time it is? (Chicago)
Answer: Closing time. (Semisonic)

Question: Why'd you have to go and make things so complicated? (Avril Lavigne)
Answer: If I could turn back time - if I could find a way - I'd take back those words that'll hurt you, and you'd stay. (Cher)

Question: Where'd all the good people go? (Jack Johnson)
Answer: Downtown (Petula Clark)

Question: Do you hear what I hear? (Bing Crosby)
Answer: The sound of silence. (Simon & Garfunkel)

Question: How do you solve a problem like Maria? (Rodgers and Hammerstein)
Answer:  If there was a problem, yo - I'll solve it! (Vanilla Ice)

Question: Isn't she lovely? (Stevie Wonder)
Answer: Yes, indeed! (Ray Charles)

Question: What's love got to do with it? (Tina Turner)
Answer: Love lift us up where we belong. (Joe Cocker)

Question: Are you lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight? Are you sorry we drifted apart? (Elvis)
Answer: I'd rather get 100,000 paper cuts on my face than spend one more minute with you. (Weird Al)

Question: I bet you think this song is about you, don't you - DON'T YOU? (Carly Simon)
Answer: Shut up and dance with me. (Walk the Moon)

Question: Hello, I love you, won't you tell me your name? (The Doors)
Answer: My name is Sue - how do you do! (Johnny Cash)

Question: Won't you be my neighbor? (Fred Rodgers)
Answer: Every single day, every word you say, every game you play, every night you stay - I'll be watching you. (The Police)

Question: How do I breathe without you? (LeeAnn Rimes)
Answer: Nobody said it was easy. (Coldplay)

Question: Where have all the cowboys gone? (Paula Cole)
Answer: ...to Jackson. (Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash)

Question: Do you believe in life after love? (Cher)
Answer: Not a trace of doubt in my mind! (The Monkees)

Question: Should I stay or should I go? (The Clash)
Answer: Bye bye bye! (N Sync)

Question: Who let the dogs out? (Baha Men)
Answer: Elinor Rigby (The Beatles)

Question: When will I be loved? (The Everly Brothers)
Answer: It's going to take some time. (The Carpenters)

Question: Where did our love go? (The Supremes)
Answer: New York, New York! (Frank Sinatra)

Question: Can you feel the love tonight? (Elton John)
Answer: It's such a good vibration! It's such a sweet sensation! (Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch)

Question: What's love got to do with it? (Tina Turner)
Answer: Love will keep us together. (Captain & Tennille)

Question: Do you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain? (Jimmy Buffet)
Answer: Eight days a week! (The Beatles)

Question: How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man? (Bob Dylan)
Answer: I would walk 500 miles. (The Proclaimers)

Question: Where have all the flowers gone? (Peter, Paul, and Mary)
Answer: Africa. (Toto)

Question: What's goin' on? (Marvin Gaye)
Answer: A total eclipse of the heart. (Bonnie Tyler)

Question: Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp? (Barry Mann)
Answer: Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray, South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio, Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, Television, North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe. (Billy Joel)

* * * * *

To answer your question,  
this took me a perfectly reasonable amount of time.

Perfectly. Reasonable.

* * * * *

Thanks to Australian theologian Michael F. Bird
for the inadvertent inspiration:
...when rock star Joan Osborne sings in her mocking and melancholic ballad, "What if God was one of us?" we can answer, "Yes, he was, hallelujah to heaven!" And when Osborne asks, "If God had a name, what would it be?" we can scarcely contain our joy from crying out, "Jesus!" Stirring as Joan Osborne's song is, she can't hold a candle to Charles Wesley who put it much better when he wrote these moving words: "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th'incarnate deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel." 
* * * * *

Photo Credit:
By Kirill Kay (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 17, 2016

My Life According to My Phone


My phone probably knows more about me than any living person. I log my exercise with it, stream podcasts and audio books through it, listen to the radio on it, use it as a map, take notes on current projects with it, store photos on it, track my personal and professional schedules in it, and use it to conduct the bulk of my online social interaction.

As a result, my phone knows me pretty well. 

But does it know me well enough to sound like me?

The Theory

Every time I use my phone's keyboard, I teach it a little more about who I am and how I express myself.
In its most basic form, keyboard prediction uses text that you enter over time to build a custom, local "dictionary" of words and phrases that you've typed repeatedly. It then "scores" those words by the probability you'll use or need it again (LifeHacker).
The upshot of this is that over the past year or two, my phone has become better at predicting what I might say by learning to mimic my thoughts and speech patterns. 

At least, that's the theory.

The Experiment 

To test this theory, I provided a starting point and then let the predictive text function take over. Since my phone offers three options at a time, I just tapped middle choice repeatedly until I'd formed a complete sentence. (Or in some cases, a string of glorious gibberish.)

The Results

Below I've recorded my phone's responses, providing my starting prompt in bold text. I have to say, the results were much more sentence-like than I'd anticipated. 

I started with some basic pronouns just to see where my phone would take them. 
  • I am so excited for the next few weeks, and then we will have a great time.
  • You can download it soon.
  • He was a little more than I have to be.
  • She was like I was.
  • We are not going anywhere tonight.
  • They are not the only thing I can get.
Next I started some random sentences focusing on topics I generally discuss. 
  • Coffee is a great time.
  • This book was the best thing ever.
  • My favorite people have to be in the world.
  • This day is going to be near you tonight. 
  • Going to church with me and my mom is a great day.
  • Traveling with my sister is going on with the idealizing and weird worship of the youthful you.
Then I got ambitious and asked my phone to complete some famous sayings from Benjamin Franklin. 
  • Early to bed and early to get the money.
  • Lost time is never going back home.
  • By failing to prepare, you are not the only one.
  • In this world, nothing can be certain except the last few weeks.
  • Marry in haste, I don't want to.
  • Little strokes fell asleep.
  • The doors of wisdom from you in a bit of time, and where is the best of all of you who are the only thing that I am not?
Then some Shakespeare, because why not.
  • To be or not to be.
  • Double, double-check with you guys.
  • The course of true love never did anything remotely close to the gym.
  • My mistress's eyes are burning up.
  • Love all, trust few, do you want to hang out tonight?
  • If you prick us, do we not have fellowship?
  • Cowards die many times before I go to the hospital.
  • Good night! Good night! Parting is such sweet little boy in the course of human events.
  • Out, out brief candle! Life is but a walking zombie movie with me and my mom.
  • Et tu, Brute? Then we can do it again and again and again.
  • My bounty is as boundless as the first time I've had to go to work with family and friends. 
  • All the world's a stage, and all the time before I leave for work tomorrow morning at the end of the line is busy.
  • It is a tale told by an old man who has been so busy today, so I'm not sure if I can help get her book.
Then some first lines from the Telegraph's list of the 100 Greatest Songs of All Time because I have lost all control.

  • "Wonderful World": I see trees of green beans with you. 
  • "Somebody to Love": Can anybody find me attractive?
  • "Say a Little Prayer": The moment I wake up before I put on my makeup, I read the book and the other one.
  • "Hotel California": On a dark desert highway, cool beans in the world, and the rest is history.
  • "Blowin' in the Wind": How many roads are fine and dandy - you have to work with me.
  • "I Will Survive": At first I was afraid that the other side of the day before the wedding was beautiful.
  • "Hey Jude": Hey, Jude - don't have a nice time.
  • "Dancing Queen": Friday nights and the lights are low, and behold - there is a little bit more work than I thought.
  • "Somewhere Over the Rainbow": Somewhere over the rainbow, cake and ice bucket; and I don't know how long I can stay because I just found out that I have Friday mostly off!
  • "Unchained Melody" Oh my love, my bounty hunter is the best thing ever.
Conclusion

Although my phone's predictive text function does seem to have absorbed some of the major themes of my life (books, work, injuries, superlatives, my mom, weddings, beans), it still doesn't sound like me. At least, not much.

Regarding the major themes themselves, the books, work, mom, superlatives, and wedding topics I can understand. The first four are self-explanatory, and I'm pretty sure the wedding stuff is due to a scene for my third novel that I've been trying to nail down.

The beans? I'm not so sure about those. 

Unless we're talking coffee beans.

* * * * *

Photo Credit: 

By Garry Knight from London, England [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons



Monday, October 10, 2016

Seven Sticky Theological Questions to Ask Ourselves in the Wake of Hurricane Matthew (or Any Tragedy)



Given the relationship between suffering and Christlikeness, is being spared suffering necessarily a good thing? (1 Peter 2:21-25)

Why would the Father ever spare me suffering--especially considering the fact that he did not spare his own Son? (Romans 8:31-32)

Do I secretly believe that the people who weren't spared deserve to suffer in a way that I do not? (Psalm 103:10)

Have I devoted prayer or resources to relieve the suffering of my brothers and sisters who were not spared? (Galatians 6:10)

If I really believe that I live on a fallen planet and that death will usher me immediately into the presence of Yahweh, why am I so relieved to find myself still here? (Philippians 1:20-26)

Am I praising God's name because I escaped suffering or because he is worthy of praise regardless? (Psalm 96)

Would I still be praising his name if I had lost everything? (Job 1:21Job 2:9-10)

* * * * *

Note: 

The linked verses are by no means a complete study of overall Scriptural teaching on any given question. They are, however, a good place to start.

For Further Reading:

CS Lewis: The Problem of Pain
Tim Keller: Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Photo Credits:

By NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using MODIS data from the Land Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE). Caption by Kathryn Hansen. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Barbara Ambrose NOAA/NODC/NCDDC. (NOAA Photo Library: wea02986) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



Friday, October 7, 2016

10 Song Suggestions for Your Hurricane Prep Playlist


Hurricane Matthew rolled over us last night. Thankfully, reports of a potentially-disastrous impact turned out to have been exaggerated. The storm took a little wobble east and saved us a lot of grief.

As you dig yourselves from your blanket forts this morning and survey the downed power lines and frazzled palm trees, please join me in a prayer of thankfulness that worse did not come to worst.

That done, brew some coffee (if you have power) and enjoy this post.

10 Song Suggestions for Your Hurricane Prep Playlist:





















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Photo Credit:
By NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using MODIS data from the Land Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE). Caption by Kathryn Hansen. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 3, 2016

10 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Find Me Intimidating


Yesterday while fellowshipping over lunch with some friends from church, I was surprised when the woman to my left told me that she finds me intimidating. Not sure what to say, I just laughed and told her that considering all the dumb things I do on a regular basis, there's no way anybody should find me intimidating. 

Ever.

Then I came home and slapped together this list. 

10 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Find Me Intimidating: 

Reason 10 - I'm useless at clothes. Almost every good outfit I have is in my closet because someone gave it to me as a gift or went shopping with me, stuck me in a dressing room, and brought me outfits to try on. (You know who you are.) 
Reason 9 - I couldn't ride a bicycle until I was almost ten. Even after I figured out the balance and forward momentum, I still hit trees and parked cars with alarming frequency. During the year that I lived in China as an adult, I bought a bicycle; but after a few weeks of flailing embarrassment, I left it to rust quietly in the stairwell. After an ill-fated trip to the village in the rain during which I tried to pedal home while balancing groceries and holding an umbrella over my head, I gave up entirely. It just seemed safer to walk.
Reason 8 - My niece has given me some undignified nicknames. Since the day I started assisting with the Podlings' schooling, my youngest niece has come up with a wide array of undignified nicknames for me, including (but not limited to) the following:
  • Magic Boy
  • Puppet Stomach
  • Aunt Wolf 
  • Skeleton Head 
  • Fourteen Bottoms 
Reason 7 - My bathing suit is one step away from a Victorian bathing costume. The truth is that I either swim in workout clothes or I wear one of those bathing suits with a skirt attachment. A teenage girl of my acquaintance told me that the only other person she knows who wears bathing suits like mine is her Nanna. So the good news is that eventually I'm going to age into this look. 
Reason 6 - My hair is ridiculous. Something about combining my hair's natural texture with Florida's rampant humidity produces a perfect storm of unpredictability. I've given up trying to control it: at this point, I'm just looking for a style that I can depend on to look the same every day. (I haven't found it yet. As my middle niece commented just last week after I tried a new cut, "Aunt Ruth, I like your hair, but why is it all humped up on one side?" Why indeed, kid. Why indeed.)
Reason 5 - I have issues with spatial awareness. While driving my sister home from church a few years ago, I witnessed an accident. I immediately slammed on the brakes and hit the horn. Bethany, who had been quietly reading a book in the passenger's seat, looked up to behold..... nothing. Two clear lanes of traffic and a sunny sky stared back at us. That's because the accident had happened a few blocks behind us. The fact that I had seen it in the rear-view mirror didn't register with me until after I'd already slammed on the brakes and hit the horn. 
Reason 4 - I needlessly complicate simple processes. A few weekends ago, my sister and I had to move three heavy wooden wardrobes out of a trailer and into a barn with the help of a hand truck with partially-deflated tires. Although we survived, we made several mistakes while moving the first one and nearly crushed ourselves. 
Me: Maybe it would help if we tied the wardrobe doors shut. That way they won't flop open and throw the balance off.
Her: Good call.
Me: Do you have any rope?
Her: Hold please. (Returns carrying a tiny length of twine.)
Me: Um, that's not enough.
Her: Sure it is. (Ties handles shut.)
Me: Oh.
Her: What?
Me: I never would have though of that.
Her: Thought of what? This was your idea.
Me: I mean just tying the handles together.
Her: (Nonplussed) What would you have done?
Me: Looked for enough rope to go all the way around the wardrobe.
Her: LOL.
Me: SHUT UP!
Reason 3 - My literary rejections number in triple digits. Sure, I've published a few things, but I've failed far more times than I've succeeded. It doesn't bother me much because it's the nature of the industry; however, because I don't announce all of my failures, people may develop a lopsided view of my successes. 
Reason 2 - I don't actually know much. Sure, I read a lot of books and can hold forth on a number of topics; but my sphere of knowledge is quite limited. If you attend church with me, you know that almost any time I'm called out with a public question, I have no idea what the answer is. 
Reason 1 - This pic: 


Not only had I spilled food on myself in public (while sporting ridiculous hair), but I also apparently thought it important to commemorate the moment by willing posing for a picture.

That alone should prove that I'm the last person you should find intimidating.

Monday, September 26, 2016

But That's Another Story


The thing about reading is that we only ever see the finished product; therefore, it seems to us that the stories we know and love are the way they are because they were meant to be that way.

But consider this fact: your favorites authors could have taken their stories in vastly different directions. With just a slip of the pen, they could easily have turned comedy to tragedy, tragedy to melodrama, melodrama to horror, or horror to farce.

Observe.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a knife.
"You're a lizard, Harry."  
"Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're the only pope."  
"Beware the brides of March!"  
It was a bright cold day in April, and all the hawks were striking Eugene. 
"Slay it, Sam." 
All children, except one, blow up. 
"I come to marry Caesar, not to praise him." 
"We'll always have parrots." 
"All we have to decide is what to do with the slime that is given to us."
"May divorce be with you." 
"Stay old, Ponyboy."

See? A tiny alteration can work a big change. All the more reason to ensure that when we write, we put exactly the right word in exactly the right place. 

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Photo Attribution:
By User Gflores on en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Monday, September 19, 2016

In Which an Empty Ketchup Bottle Leads to a Spiritual Epiphany


This weekend as I brunched at a favorite local restaurant, I wasn't expecting a spiritual epiphany. 

When our food arrived, I was in the full throes of storytelling (because when am I not). Still rambling, I picked up the plastic ketchup bottle and gave a squeeze. With a woosh and a splurt, it belched a fine spray of pink mist. I shook it. Empty. 

I absently set the bottle aside with my left hand while, still mid-story, I flung my right hand dramatically outward, palm up. At which point an observant member of the staff walked by and thwacked a fresh bottle directly into my outstretched palm. Still talking, I shook the ketchup and flipped open the lid before the reality of what had just happened struck me and I started to laugh.

The timing couldn't have been more perfect if the entire scene had been scripted. 

Still awash in the pleasant glow of food and fellowship when the meal ended, I left the restaurant without my Styrofoam box of leftovers. Not only was I unaware that I had forgotten it, but I was actually a bit alarmed when our server chased me down in the parking lot to hand-deliver it to me. 

As I drove off the lot, I couldn't help but think that apart from confirming everyone's suspicions of my general dippiness, the entire brunch debacle also could serve as an object lesson on prayer.

Scriptures assure us that our Father knows our needs before we ask. In many cases before we've even reached for the empty ketchup bottle, he's already sent a replacement, perfectly timed to thwack into our outstretched palm before we even process the need. 

He also meets needs that we would pray for if we knew they were coming, but don't. I didn't know I would forget my leftovers and therefore didn't ask my server to be sure I took the box home. Nobody asked her to chase me down in the parking lot. Nobody had to. It was an act of grace based on her character and her understanding of my needs. 

All this indicates why we shouldn't consider prayer as simply a time to dictate possible solutions to God. First, we often don't know what we need soon enough to pray for it. Second, even when we are aware of our needs, our "solutions" are often self-serving and short-sighted. We are not, after all, omnipotent.

And yet we're allowed to pray. Despite our shortcomings and our lack of foresight, our Heavenly Father encourages us to communicate with him. 

It's clear that prayer is pivotal to spiritual development, but not because prayer allows us to manipulate outcomes. Prayer is pivotal to spiritual development because through it, we have fellowship with our Creator. As we grow to know and love him, we learn to match our will to his, especially when we conclude each petition as Jesus did in Gethsemane: by honestly expressing our feelings before acknowledging our utter dependence on his sovereign will. As Tim Keller expressed it, we pray with the understanding that God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.

What a wonderful assurance! Because let's face it: we don't always know when the ketchup will be empty, nor do we foresee every time we will leave our leftovers cooling on the table while we skip blithely out to the parking lot.

But he does.

And he will take care of us.

* * * * *
Photo Credit:

By Suzette - www.suzette.nu from Arnhem, Netherlands (Christmas day - Brunch) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, September 12, 2016

10 Ways to Make Mornings Easier



10. Get enough sleep.
9. Invest in a programmable auto-brew coffee maker; rise only when the brew cycle's done.
8. Find an outfit that works and buy five identical sets; roll out of bed with your eyes closed; zombie-walk to the closet; get dressed in the dark.
7. Contract a short-order cook to arrive every morning and serve up hot meals.
6. Establish family rules for acceptable morning communication (volume, content, frequency); severely punish infractions.
5. Locate your car keys the night before. Ditto your wallet, cell phone, umbrella, water bottle, etc.
4. Drink enough water
3. Eat enough fiber.
2. Glue your kids' shoes to their feet.
1. Get up at noon.

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A Little News

Life is busy just now -- in the best way possible. First, I'm coming down to the wire with deadlines on upcoming releases (Over the weekend, I saw the galley for Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder. I'm not going to lie - seeing the ISBN number totally made me tear up.) In addition to those deadlines, my freelance schedule has really taken off, and I'm blessed with almost more work than I can handle. I'm heavily involved with my church family, and I'm training for a half marathon. Then there's the small matter  of friends, my day job, and this business we call life.

You may already have noticed that my blog posts have begun to shrink. While I'll still be posting here every Monday, the length and substance of the posts may be truncated between now and the holidays, at which point my life should settle into more of a groove. At that time, I'll have more time to devote to the full-length essays that make up the majority of the posts on this site.  Until then, I beg your patience with short blurbs and list posts. 

I'm sure you understand. 

Thank you for being such faithful and thoughtful readers. Slowly but surely, your numbers are increasing, and I'm thankful for every addition. 

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Monday, September 5, 2016

If Writers Were Board Games


* * *

Adam Smith / Monopoly
Agatha Christie / Guess Who?
Douglas Adams / Scattergories 
Terry Pratchett / Balderdash
Dorothy L. Sayers / Clue
Ayn Rand / Cards Against Humanity
Truman Capote / Taboo
Chuck Palahniuk / Fluxx
Lewis Carroll / Apples to Apples
Emily Dickinson / Connect 4
Jon Krakauer / Chutes and Ladders
Thor Heyerdahl / Settlers of Catan
Charles Dickens / Life
George Bernard Shaw / Trivial Pursuit
Malcolm Gladwell / Stratego 
Dr. Seuss / Hink Pinks
Jack Kerouac / Ticket to Ride
Edgar Allen Poe / Hangman
Jane Austen / Bridge
Harold Bloom / Cranium
Ben Carson / Operation
Tom Clancy / Battleship
Dan Brown / Liar's Dice
Harper Lee / Rook
Flannery O'Connor / Poker
Nicholas Sparks / Candy Land
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle / Ouiji
Edna St. Vincent Millay / The Dating Game
Victor Hugo / Carcassonne
Walt Whitman / Solitaire
Leo Tolstoy - War
William Shakespeare - Scrabble
Rudyard Kipling - Jumanji 
Stephenie Meyer - Sorry!
Stephen King / Risk

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Something on This List Will Make You Laugh



It's Monday. We need this.

  • Once I accidentally put two pairs of contact lenses in at the same time and thought my eyes were broken.
  • A former student used to give me coffee at Christmas, but wrapped in Victoria's Secret bags so I'd have to carry them home through the halls in the afternoon saying "It's coffee, I promise, it's really just coffee." 
  • One foggy morning on the way to school, I accidentally hit a bird with my car. Feeling sad but thinking little of it throughout the day, I was shocked in the afternoon to discover half a bird stuck to the grille of my car, an ominous smear up the hood, and one lone feather affixed to the antennae. Unfortunately, I'd parked in a prominent spot near the school office, and everyone saw. Even worse, I'd been teaching The Rime of the Ancient Mariner that day. The students watched closely for the next week to see what bad luck would befall. 
  • When my twin nieces were five years old, they were quite concerned that I didn't have a family of my own. I went for a visit and found pictures of little kids cut out from magazines and left on the guest bed. "Those are coupons for you, Aunt Ruth! So you can buy some children!" 
  • On my recent trip to France, I got up in the middle of the night, tripped over a slight ledge in the kitchen, and went sprawling into the living room. When someone in my group asked what that noise was in the middle of the night, I started telling the story (angling for some sympathy) and our waitress overheard and started laughing at me. 
  • During the year that I lived and taught in China (pre-cell-phone days), I'd been downtown all day and was unaware of a problem with our apartment that would leave me locked out for the next few hours. A friend thoughtfully tried to alert me to the issue (and save me a long walk to our apartment on back campus) by leaving me a note attached to a bush at our bus stop. Her: But I left you a note! Didn't you see it? Me: A note? Where? Her: I stuck it in a bush! Me: ...
  • Two years ago, I was taking care of five nieces and nephews while their parents were away. The kids took this as a sign that it was time to pass around the stomach flu. "That's it!" I told them dramatically. "No one else is allowed to throw up!" Twenty minutes later, I threw up. 
  • While on a road trip, a friend and I rented a car with weird bumps on the steering wheel. Later, she admitted that she thought the notches were Braille. On the steering wheel. (Braille. On the steering wheel.)
  • My sister and I once sneaked into a public performance of one of my plays. As the lights came up for the intermission, we heard the lady sitting behind us hiss, "This play is weird."
  • The same sister also once hacked into my cell phone, imitated my voice, and changed my outgoing message to something super long and pretentious, and I didn't notice for like six months. 
  • With Hurricane Gaston spinning around the Atlantic, Florida has been awash with Beauty and the Beast parodies. "No one forms like Gaston / Such a storm like Gaston! / No one plans your home quite to deform like Gaston! / I use plywood in all of my deccccccorrrraaaaattting! / Eyes on the sky for Gaston!" 

If nothing on the list made you laugh, please understand that the list is not defective.

It just means you need more coffee.

Happy Monday, everybody!