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: 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 (], 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.

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 (], 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)

* * * * *


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
Elisabeth Elliot: A Path Through Suffering
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 ( 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:

* * * * *

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. 


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 thought 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.
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.