Sunday, December 29, 2013

Another year is dawning

Over the past two to three months, Chuck preached a series he titled "What If...?" The last message, "What If You Were to Die Tonight?" was supposed to take place on 12/8/13, but the ice storms pushed it out two weeks (We had the pleasure of experiencing the Christmas concert during church last week since it also had to be rescheduled, and it was a full house for both services!).

In a sobering way, I think (well, I know) it was providential for this message to be the last one of 2013 and lead us into the new year. Thinking about death - its inevitability, its mystery, its unpredictable nature - brings life into perspective. It makes me think differently about what happened this year, what I'm anxious about in the coming year, and what I hope for in life.

With the impending flip of the calendar into the new year in mind, we also sang a well-chosen hymn that can be a strong prayer for 2014: "Another Year is Dawning."


"Another year is dawning, Dear Father, let it be,
In working or in waiting, Another year with Thee;
Another year of progress, Another year of praise,
Another year of proving Thy presence all the days.

Another year of mercies, Of faithfulness and grace;
Another year of gladness, In the shining of Thy face;
Another year of leaning Upon Thy loving breast;
Another year of trusting, Of quiet, happy rest.

Another year of service, Of witness for Thy love;
Another year of training For holier work above.
Another year is dawning, Dear Father let it be,
On earth or else in heaven, Another year for Thee."

These words stood out to me the most:

  • In working or in waiting...
  • Another year of progress...
  • Another year of leaning...
  • Another year of trusting...
  • Another year of training...

In looking ahead to the coming year, I can see areas of my life that will include each of these - waiting, progress, leaning, trusting, training. And I'm sure there are areas that are not on my radar that will require one or more. 

May I be open to all of these growth opportunities in the coming year. And may you be open to everything the Lord wants to do in your heart and life in 2014.

Friday, December 27, 2013

You've got mail

It's about time I took a few days off from work. Best decision so far? Changing the settings on my phone to see only my personal email instead of "all" email (which included work). I really dislike having "unread" email in my inbox, so it was hard to come to terms with not keeping track of incoming mail and deleting/filing/responding to it in the moment. Even if I planned to only look and not respond, I know myself well enough to know that seeing the content of the emails would stir up thoughts in my mind about what needed to be done when I actually could address some of the emails, and that would take away any sense of freedom over the next few days. Does your mind work like that?

Like I said - best decision.

Yesterday reminded me of what life was like prior to three months ago. I spent a leisurely 3 1/2 hours with a sweet friend at La Madeleine. We caught up on Christmas activities and recent happenings, shed some tears but laughed the tears to shame, and shared prayer requests.

I had TIME. Time to run errands or just browse. Time to linger. Time to not feel rushed. Time to read. Time to clean. Time to cook.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 90:12, "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." I once read a translation that worded the first phrase, "Teach us to make the most of our time..." In our personal lives, we often associate "making the most of our time" as not wasting time, which is typically defined as laziness or sleeping in. In the workplace, not "making the most of your time" may mean laziness or it could actually mean you just couldn't cram enough stuff in a certain amount of time. You could be doing all the right things but just didn't get the project completed in time. Some people may criticize that you didn't work enough hours or that you shouldn't have taken lunch, etc.


But what if we redefined "making the most of our time?" What if it meant resting when our bodies need it and working more reasonable schedules? As a colleague of mine says, "The emails will still be there tomorrow."

Why do I feel like I have to respond to everything as soon as it happens? Honestly? I feel the need to respond real-time for a number of reasons:
  • Yes, it WILL still be there tomorrow, but so will 50 other emails. If I don't resolve it now, it will continue to pile up.
  • In my profession, a lack of response could affect someone's health and wellness, in some cases.
  • I'm a people-pleaser - I want to take care of things as quickly for others as I would like them to be taken care of for me.
  • Everyone thinks their needs are a top priority.
But life is more than work. God created us with five senses so we could enjoy things: see a sunset, smell the flowers, taste chocolate, feel the cool sheets as we slide into bed at night, and hear the morning songs of the birds. If we're working all the time, we can't enjoy these things.

Let's work on finding a better balance - making better use of our time. Work hard and well for the Lord, and then relax and play hard...for the Lord.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Making good use of ice

It's been over two years since the ice storm of 2011 here in the Dallas area. Two years since I moved apartments during one of the coldest winter storms I've ever experienced. The bitter cold of that storm gradually faded, although there are certain things I'll always remember:

  • my car sliding on a sheet of ice on the way to work the next day
  • the heat going out in one apartment while moving into another (yes, my sister and I moved apartments during the ice storm - crazy!)
  • red noses and blue finger tips
  • renewed appreciation for central heating

Now, almost three years later, we just survived "Icemageddon" or "Icepocalypse" 2013, and what a storm! Sheets of ice covering the roads, icicles encapsulating leaves and hanging off gates and roofs, and the icy fingers of the chilling wind poking through jackets and sweaters. In many regards, it was a nuisance of a storm. One or two days of being homebound was tolerable. It gave us all a chance to lounge in our pj's, pad around in thick socks, and eat comfort food.




After two days, though, feelings started to change. My Facebook feed was full of friends who were stir crazy or without power or food. Schools remained closed for a few more days, the highways were treacherous to maneuver on the way to work, and black ice caught both drivers and pedestrians by surprise.

Looking back at the storm, it is easy to think about how frustrating it was and how it inconvenienced many, forced the rescheduling or cancellation of plans, led to hospital visits, and caused heartache for those who lost loved ones. I doubt very few would look back on this storm fondly.

As I walked outside today, the sounds of melting filled my ears. I heard dripping and running water - saw it sliding off trees and buildings. The ice sheets that once covered driveways are now melting into the yards.

And what was once a treacherous, painful, inconvenient ice storm is now a source of nourishment and replenishment.

The analogy filled my heart today as I've experienced my own "ice storm" these past many weeks. How will God use this time to nourish me? To develop character? To grow me into the woman He wants me to be?

When I ask myself these questions, I am less frustrated with the storm and more curious with the outcome. May we be receptive to how He plans to use the ice storms in our lives.

Psalm 90:12


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Take delight

"Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you your heart's desires." Psalm 37:4

At first glance, this verse looks like the solution to any problem. "If I 'delight' in God, He will give me what I want!" Out of context, I think this is how most people interpret the verse - it's how I used to read it. You see the verse on t-shirts and coffee mugs, refrigerator magnets and desk calendars.

In my teens and early twenties, I started to hear a different message - one that didn't make me feel so good at the time. It was explained that when I delight in God, He will remove my desires and give me His desires. The pride and independence in me frowned at the thought. I like my desires, and they're not *bad.* Why can't He grant them? Why did He give them to me if He's not going to fulfill them?

Fast forward to today. God has been hard at work in my life in ways I never imagined. The things I thought I would never do (because I didn't think I would like them or think I would be able to do them), I am doing. There are things I thought I would have done by now - relationships, goals, etc. - that haven't happened yet. And that's okay.

This week, I've heard two messages that focus on Psalm 37:4, and both explained it in a way I feel I've never heard before (or maybe my heart is just finally ready to accept it). When we delight in the Lord above all else, He gives us what become the desires of our hearts. When we set aside what we THINK we want, He gives us what we never realized we wanted and needed.

Louie Giglio gave a humorous example. He grew up in Georgia and never had Mexican food. Ever. Then, he met his wife and tried enchiladas for the first time with her family. Eh. They were okay. He got used to having them when he and Shelly visited her family.

THEN, he discovered nachos - with jalapenos! Again, growing up in Georgia, he was raised on mashed potatoes and fried chicken and other mild/bland foods. The jalapeno was quite a shock! And now? Now, Louie craves nachos. Shelly has to help him not overdo it, especially at night.


So, maybe that is what our journey is like. We have these human desires, good or bad, that are limited because we can't even imagine what God has for us (Ephesians 3:20). When we finally surrender those desires and allow ourselves to completely delight in God, He gives us the gift of His desires for us, and we experience a joy greater than we could have ever imagined. It may awhile to see and appreciate the change (like it took the introduction of enchiladas to open Louie up to the idea of Mexican food), but we reach a point where we cannot imagine our life before we knew the goodness of delighting in the Lord and His desires for us. This is a GOOD word! It's not second-rate.

My prayer is to learn more and more how to delight in God above all else and allow Him to give me the desires of my heart.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The best kind of day

Have you ever heard someone say "Have a blessed day!" in passing?

Yesterday, on my way into work, I overheard a woman greet one of the security guards, and her parting words to him were "Have a blessed day!" I've heard this phrase a number of times in a similar context, but for some reason it really made me pause and reflect.

What exactly does it mean when someone tells you to have a blessed day?
  • Is it a command? "You need to have a blessed day."
  • Is it a prayer? "I'm praying that your day is full of blessings."
  • Is it a superstition? "I think if I tell you to have a blessed day, it will be better than if I didn't."
After thinking through these options, I settled on one that I plan to focus on as we enter the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. When I think of the phrase "Have a blessed day," I am going to interpret it as "Spend this day focused on the God-given blessings in your life."

The Bible is full of messages about how God blesses us. One of the richest chapters about God's blessings is Matthew 5 where we find the Sermon on the Mount.

Among the blessings, Jesus tells the people that God will bless those who realize their need for Him. When we truly reflect on the sin in our lives, it should bring us to our knees as we recognize how badly we need His grace and how good He is to offer it to us. He blessed us by giving His life to free us from sin (Titus 2:14 and John 3:16-17).

He blesses those who work for peace, who are pure, and who show mercy (Matt 5).

God blesses us with spiritual blessings.

When we think about our life in a first world country, blessings should spill from our lips: food, clothing, shelter, electricity, clean water, freedom of religion...comforts, restaurants, cars, jobs, entertainment. What about the things we would more easily recognize if we lived in a third world country: five senses, warm sunlight, cool shadows, genuine smiles, heart-felt hugs, time to reflect, words to articulate feelings and music to fill the gaps?

If we take the time to consider our blessings, every day will be "blessed."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Indian food coma (part 2)

09/14/2013

On my last day in Scotland, we planned to take it easy. I went for a jog in the morning, enjoying the cool temperatures and bright sun.

We set out around noon for Scone Palace (pronounced /ˈskn/), which is located within Lora's shire (read: county). The driveway leading up to the palace rivals that of Glamis: long, winding, and lined with strong, lush trees. The palace gardens were once tended by Lora's current neighbors - a neat connection. The palace itself is currently a primary residence, so the tour took us through just the middle floor. Moreso than the other palaces we visited, this one seemed like a home because of the current family pictures and other memorabilia.

After the tour, Lora settled down with tea and cheesecake while I walked the gardens, playing photographer.




This trip to Scotland continued to confirm in my heart my deep need for quietness and time alone, away from the chaos of everyday life. I treasure so many moments of reflection and prayer these past few days away from the constant demands of work and the logistics of life. I have breathed deeper, smiled more often, and appreciated God's creation more fully.

As my stroll around the gardens came to an end, I found Lora sitting on a bench and joined her to read for awhile.

Around 3:00pm, we packed up and drove to Drummond Castle to explore the gardens. The excursion was planned last-minute after I saw a picture of the garden in a travel book at Lora's house. In the picture, the garden looked immaculately maintained and symmetrical in every sense of the word. After paying the entry fee, we climbed up to a balcony that overlooked the gardens. When I stepped up to the rail, I was speechless.




I have never seen anything like this garden! In a way, it made me think of "Alice in Wonderland." It was incredible. Here I was on the last day of my vacation, thinking we would just pass some time with these two final sites, and I was blown away. I took so many pictures and breathed in such fresh air. I wish I could take you back there with me. You would forget everything else, even if just for a moment.

The trip would not have been complete without the perfect final dinner at Chatni. And so ensued my second Indian food coma, now a firmly established tradition. I ordered Chicken Shiraslik and naan, same as last time. The chicken was smoky and tender, served on a bed of peppers and onions (think Indian fajitas). The naan, covered in melty butter, was about the size of a tricycle wheel...and I savored every bite.

Finally satisfied, we made the final drive home, where I packed my bags, Skyped with Mom and Dad, and prayed for a safe trip home.

Favorites: gardens, flowers, naan

Monday, September 23, 2013

Breath-taking in more ways than one

9/13/2013

Today was filled with unexpected beauty.

Still walking on clouds after visiting Highclere Castle, I knew we were going to two castles today, but I was not expecting what I encountered. Late in the morning, Lora and I traveled to Glamis Castle. This is the castle of the Queen Mother and is located on a sprawling estate. The current Earl lives onsite, and Lora has seen him on the grounds when she's visited in the past.



The tour guide took us through modern and historic rooms in the castle, including a chapel adorned with beautiful paintings representing Jesus and His disciples. There was something royal and yet not stiff-collared about the castle, and it was a lovely visit.

After eating lunch in the castle café (I had a surprisingly delicious bowl of sweet potato and coriander soup - perfect to warm me up on a chilly day.), we set out for Dunnottar Castle, approximately 45 minutes away. The drive was scenic (as is every drive in Scotland), and we passed fields of hay and sheep. The beauty of the landscape is very difficult to put into words. I go back to my analogy of a rainbow of greens, but add texture to that thought. It's just so alive.

When we arrived at Dunnottar, we parked the car and set out to take pictures. Once the ruins were in view, I realized just how breath-taking this visit was going to be. The beauty of the ruins left me speechless.


I felt like a character in "The Lord of the Rings." Now, add to this beauty the fact that we walked down the face of the "mountain" where I took this picture and then walked up the face of the rock Donnattar stands on in order to walk through the ruins. Hence "breath-taking in more ways than one." It was a great workout!

On the side of the castle, there was not much left of the interior, but the various exterior walls left fantastic portals for pictures.



 
What a beautiful way to end the day. On the ride home, I considered all we had seen and realized how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to experience these ancient pieces of history. In America, it's hard to find anything older than 200 years. Here, ancient history is visible all around.
 
Thank You, Lord, for this incredible opportunity.
 
Favorites: Glamis Castle, sweet potato soup, Dunnottar Castle, beauty


Sunday, September 22, 2013

*insert suite from "Downton Abbey"*

9/11/2013

An item has been crossed off my bucket list today.

At 9:00am, we headed to the main house of Rookwood Farm House for breakfast. The owner and her assistant offered us a small, tidy menu, and I decided on cereal with a banana. I asked for the cereal options, and the assistant pointed me to a row of boxes. After selecting bran flakes, I asked her what types of milk she had available.

Pause. Blank stare. Then..."Milk."

I wanted to laugh. It's not that the English don't have some milk options, but clearly the option here was all or nothing. Classic.

After breakfast, we loaded our luggage into the taxi and began the short ride to visit what I consider to be the main character of "Downton Abbey:" Highclere Castle.

As we turned onto the drive leading to the castle, I reached into my purse for my phone, performed a quick search in my music library, pressed play, and the unmistakable, haunting suite from "Downton Abbey" filled the cab. We let out a few excited giggles and then let the tune take over as we approached the enchanting castle.

Once we arrived, Lora and I took a handful of pictures and proceeded to the entrance.

 
The 10:30am tour took us through rooms in the house that appear on the show and other rooms that are not filmed. We viewed the library, the rooms of Lady Grantham, Edith, and Sybil, and the informal dining room. The residence was filled both with pictures of the real life owner's family and of the cast. While we were not allowed to take photos in the castle, I will undoubtedly carry them in my mind's eye for years to come.
 
After the house tour, we raided the gift shop and made our way through the gardens, capturing photos of flowers and the castle along the way. 
 
 
  
Finally, satisfied with our photographs and memories, we called our cabi and began the long journey back to Perth, Scotland: a train ride to Paddington Station, eight hours of killing time over lunch and a good book, and the dreaded final leg of our mega-bust (I mean, Megabus) trip on a 9:30pm-6:00am ride.
 
Favorites: theme music, Highclere Castle, walking where Lady Mary walks, pretty flowers


Friday, September 20, 2013

Home delivery

9/8/2013

It's never a good thing when you stand outside the lavatory on the plane for five minutes before the person occupying it steps out...Good MORNING!

Finally, we landed at London Heathrow, and the connection clock started ticking down. I had an hour and ten minutes to make my connecting flight to Edinburgh. One would think this is plenty of time until you consider:
  • walking half a mile to the terminal shuttle
  • waiting for the shuttle and taking a 10-min ride
  • standing in line and going through the immigration "interview"
  • going through security (again!) and being sent to the "naughty" line
Yes, I was sent to the naughty line. Now, before you think "she's a fairly frequent traveler, what's the deal," hear me out. On a connecting Southwest flight, if you bought a bottle of water after passing through security at the first airport, you can keep it with you when you change planes (because you don't go through security again). My most recent flight was Southwest, so I was not even thinking about the water bottle in my backpack when I had to go through LHR security again. After getting caught, I had to wait for individual clearance, which took me past the initial boarding for my connecting flight (talk about feeling anxious), and I was the last lone traveler through the gate. Whew!

The flight to Edinburgh was a short hop. I met up with my friend Lora at the baggage claim, and we headed for the car. When I stepped out of the terminal, I was met with a crisp, fresh Scottish gift: 60 degrees! Compared to the recent 100-degree-plus days in Texas, it was so refreshing.

We hopped into Lora's Land Rover and made the hour-long scenic drive to her and her husband's home in Perth. Through the car windows, I drank in the rainbow of green that I have come to identify with Scotland - dark green, light green, blue green, sea green, etc. It's all so vibrant and lush.

Lora & Graham's home in Perth

When we arrived at her home, I settled in. The afternoon proceeded with warm oatmeal, visiting over tea, and one of her favorite indulgences: home delivery of her groceries. Lora lives about thirty minutes from the nearest Sainsbury's, so when she discovered that she could order groceries online and have them delivered to her front door, she was sold. This afternoon, he brought them all the way into the kitchen for us!


We organized the groceries, chatted some more in the courtyard outside the steading, and then treated ourselves to an Indian feast of chicken tikka masala and naan.

Barely able to keep my eyes open, I took a two-hour nap before Skyping with my family. Oh, and we not only Skyped, but "Skyped" and "Face-Timed." Sister FT'd with Dad, and he brought her into view on Skype. I am so thankful for technology! It was great to see them, confirm I made it safely, and catch-up on the last day.

Then, I crawled into bed under the heated blanket, lost myself in my book for a few hours, and drifted off to the most peaceful sound: silence.

Favorites: crisp air, rainbow of green, Indian food, thermal/heated blanket, complete silence

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The secret garden and high tea

9/10/2013

I'll have to admit that I got more sleep on the bus than I did on the plane, but I'm not sure about the quality. It took awhile to nod off, and the ride was not very smooth; however, I comforted myself with a few thoughts:
  • I had set my expectations low, envisioning that I might not sleep at all and should focus solely on letting my body rest.
  • Drum corps members sleep on buses and gym floors all the time - I could do this, right?
  • Lady Mary Crawley surely had to experience this but WORSE on an overnight coach service where she could not lie down. If she can do it, I can do it!
Well, we survived! The bus arrived at Victoria Station in London at 8:00am. We cleaned up a bit and grabbed a taxi to Paddington Station where we would meet the train to take us to Newbury, England. Near Paddington, we stepped into a breakfast café and feasted on warm "brown" (aka wheat) toast, fruit, and scrambled eggs. Then, we took the 11:18am train to the lovely town of Newbury, where we had two rooms booked at Rookwood Farm House. The taxi driver who took us from the train station to the farmhouse told me that he once taxied Dame Maggie Smith, and she sat RIGHT WHERE I was sitting <deep breath>.

When we arrived at the farmhouse, I was led to my room and told it was the bridal suite. I didn't bargain for that! When I stepped into the room, I was pleasantly surprised by a romantic little canopy bed, rustic armoire, and windows opened to a cool breeze, inviting me to drink in the gardens surrounding the B&B.

 
Despite the wonderful <insert limited/toss-and-turn/uncomfortable> rest I got on the sleeper bus, the bed looked too inviting to ignore. I took a two-hour at nap and then cleaned up to explore before another adventure: high tea. The gardens outside the farm house were an array of lovely flowers, along with a vine-covered wooden canopy and an attractive, rustic pavilion. I felt as though I was walking through The Secret Garden.





For my first experience with high tea, we strolled down the street to The Vineyard, known beyond Newbury for it's high quality food and service. If you know me well, you know I don't drink caffeine and there must be something more to high tea than tea.

There was.

We started with tea (senza caffeine for me), followed by scones and jam. Then, the waiter delivered two sets of finger sandwiches, each containing: salmon and cream cheese, ham and spicy mustard, tomato, cheese, and turkey. Finally, he brought out the fireworks:

 
 
My favorite treat after the scones was the peach sorbet in the cup made of delicate wood shavings.

Oh, and get THIS! Our waiter told us that he had served Dame Maggie Smith room service when she stayed at the hotel! That second connection basically means I'm next-of-kin, right?

As this was my first high tea experience, Lora charged me with trying high tea at a nice hotel in Dallas sometime to compare. Any interested parties?

The night wound down with a nice, hot shower and curling up with the Kindle, hoping for rest and sweet dreams before a day of excitement as we get lost in the world of Downton Abbey.

Favorites: canopy bed, pretty flowers, napping, scones

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Luxury bus or laughable bus

9/9/2013

Feeling well-rested, I went for a jog in the cool morning air. The drive of Lora and Graham's house is about half a mile, so I grabbed my iPod and hit the trail, listening to music and taking a few scenic shots.
My running trail for the morning.

Train tracks just across the driveway.
It was ideal running weather, and listening to the new, convicting, worship-filled album by Audrey Assad ("Fortunate Fall") guided my thoughts. The combination of music and nature filled my heart with thankfulness and praise. There is no substitute for time along with the Creator...

After a brisk job, Lora and I feasted on quiche and blueberries. Then, I cleaned up and proceeded to wrestle with WiFi until finally connecting. I caught up on email and backed up some pictures on my laptop. We ate lunch and began to pack for our next adventure: a Megabus Sleeper Service to London (The Wheels on the Bus...). This overnight bus service will take us to London, where we'll meet up with a train that will take us to Newbury.

And the final destination?

HIGHCLERE CASTLE!!!

Later, we sat down to warm bowls of creamy tomato soup and ham/cheese panini's before heading down the road to Stanley Mills. At the mills, we toured the four-floor museum, complete with water wheel and cotton processing simulations. Attached to the mills were about thirty flats, which ranged from 130,000 - 450,000 pounds (upwards of $700,000.00), many of which serve as second homes for the wealthy and are only inhabited a few weeks of the year.

Upon returning from the mills, we reevaluated our packing jobs for the trip to Newbury, Lora fixed a quick meal of steak pie, boiled carrots and green beans, and mashed potatoes, and we headed out to meet the Megabus at 10:00pm.

Our plan was to arrive an hour before pickup so we would have our choice of seats and sit as far away from the restrooms as possible. When we stepped into the waiting area to check in, Lora asked if the ticket agent had any tips for us. He pointed to a young guy sitting in a nearby chair, saying he takes the sleeper bus once a week and would be the best resource.

The guy turned out to be Fraser Logan, a professional golfer in the UK and a very nice guy. He gave us some tips about the bus, and most importantly, he prepared us for what turned out to be our reality: a "double bed." Apparently if you book two tickets at the same time, you are assigned to share a double bed, which is essentially two 2 x 4's masked in seat covers and sheets, laid out right next to each other with no space in between. Yep. Now, the really unfortunate thing for Fraser is that he ended up having to share with a stranger one time. There really should be restrictions against this, but at least Lora and I KNOW each other!

Another thing we were not prepared for was the fact that this was a new bus, and a full bus, and the only option was a bed. If you check out the video link above, you'll see options of sitting up or lying down. Nope. We got on the bus and immediately had to lie down. Admittedly, it felt a bit like being in a coffin. Just in case you don't believe me...



So, once we got on, I wrapped up in the blanket provided, molded my ear plugs into my ears, and pulled on my eye mask.

Sweet dreams?

Favorites: Fortunate Fall, jogging, tomato soup & grilled cheese, meeting a pro-golfer

Off on another adventure!

9/7/2013

Final destination: Edinburgh, Scotland


My flight left at 4:55pm, and I was so ready for this trip! I'd settled things at work (as much as anyone can these days when you feel a need to be connected 24/7), packed my bags, and anticipated both adventure and a time to recharge and reflect.

The first leg of the flight was nine hours. I filled the time by watching the movie "42" about Jackie Robinson and making some mental comparisons between it and "The Butler," reading a new book by Dee Henderson (which now has me thoroughly engrossed), sleeping (I actually go about THREE hours, which is an accomplishment for me!), and stretching my mind with a little Sudoku.

Before resting, dinner was served on the plane, and I was pleasantly surprised by a tasty meal of curried chickpeas, rice, and broccoli, a salad, and a whole grain roll. A satisfied tummy, coupled with some new, super-human ear plugs, wins an award for helping me get more sleep than expected.

Lights out!

Favorites: thought-provoking movie, quality ear plugs, yummy plane food

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Living beyond the label

Do you label things?

Labels are helpful when alphabetizing. Labels are good for organizing your pantry or your classroom or your financial files. A label like "stranger" is good when you teach a child about safety. Labels like movie ratings help us determine what type of movie we're getting ourselves into. Labels on prescriptions help keep us safe.


But labels that demean and belittle are unhelpful at best and can be destructive.

We all label people, so let's just get that out on the table. Sometimes we do it unconsciously, merely observing and categorizing: "He's tall. She's got curly hair." However, I think there is a hint of judgment in our labeling most of the time that can keep us from associating with other people, whether out of pride or fear.

I was reminded of the pain our society has inflicted on its people as I watched Lee Daniels' "The Butler" yesterday. I was fortunate to grow up in a home and a school where the color of a person's skin was irrelevant in determining who to associate with. Our little group was such a rainbow of ethnicities and cultural influences, and I loved each precious girl. Watching this movie yesterday...I just don't understand. Truly, I don't see what role the color of someone's skin plays in the content of their character - who they are inside. These types of labels are toxic not only to society as a whole but to the spirit of each person.

I just started going through a study by Max Lucado entitled "Dealing with Difficult People." We all have that person in our lives. I am hopeful that going through this study will equip me to face that person with more love and less impatience. In the first lesson, Max talks about labeling and provides a great definition:
"Labeling is drawing the conclusion before you know the facts. Labeling is the lazy effort of determining the character of the person without knowing the person."

Isn't that true? Labeling IS lazy. It takes the hard work out of relationships and lets you build up walls before making the effort to get to know someone.

The fact is, people label people. If I'm going to be labeled by anything, I want to be labeled by love. John 13:34-35 records Jesus telling his disciples how He wanted them to be labeled:
"...Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."

I am reminded of a song by Christy Nockels entitled "By Our Love." There was a span of time when I listened to this song every morning because it prepared my heart for the day ahead. If we are going to be labeled, let it be by our love.

My goal is to work harder at not labeling people and not letting society's labels stand in my way.

Let them know us by our love.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Happy birthday, Dennis!

To the best manager I've ever had, a loving husband to Katherine and loving father to five wonderful kids, and a man of God who lives his life to serve Him, HAPPY <insert new age, calculated based on the year mentioned below> BIRTHDAY!!!

Favorite memories:
  • Dinner at Jimmy John's in Minneapolis on a business trip when we first discovered our shared faith
  • Waffleology nights of food, fun, fellowship, and faith
  • Favorite travel dinner of yogurt, Twizzlers, and Cracker Jacks
  • Family dinners when I become a Smith for the night
  • Moving the couch out of my apartment


  • Planning the first internship program at NMD in the span of what seemed like a week!
  • Cinnamon, butternut squash, and yogurt (some of our shared favs)




We are all so thankful to share life with you! Here are some other cool but much less noteworthy things that happened in 1963:

  • Gas was 29 cents per gallon (seriously?!) - Today: $3.469
  • Average price of a new car was $3,233.00 - Today: ~$15,000
  • A loaf of bread cost 22 cents - Today: $2.58
  • President John F. Kennedy was assassinated
  • Beatles released "I Wanna Hold Your Hand"
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers "I Have a Dream" speech
  • AT&T introduces touch tone phones
  • Zip codes were implemented in the U.S.
  • Michael Jordan was born on February 17th...and Johnny Depp was born on June 6th :)

So, as you can see, a few other things happened in 1963, but by far the most important was the day of YOUR birth!

Happy birthday, Dennis! I "smith" you!

Allyson

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The bassoon and the Bible

I am a bassoonist.

Upon first read, many of you may wonder if this is an admission to some sort of disease or phobia. Is it a point of view or a recent fad?

No, my friends. It means I play the bassoon. I was first introduced to this extraordinary instrument in 1997 as a wide-eyed fifth grader exploring the instruments I had to choose from for beginning band class (read about this experience and more here). During my first three years of playing, my private lesson teacher assigned me to buy an etude book that, looking back, was way out of my league. Even with a background in piano and choir, I did not understand half of the musical markings in the book, I knew how to finger only a fraction of the notes, and I had little-to-no concept of the musicality such an advanced book required.

Why would she assign this expert level book to me?

Potential.

She believed I had the potential and capacity to learn those markings, fingerings, and the necessary understanding of musicality. She saw beyond my limited skills to what could be. She knew that over the next sixteen years, I would develop the necessary technique on the bassoon to be able to play these challenging studies.

I slaved over the etudes in those early years, employing all sorts of techniques in an effort to just get through them (writing note names above every note in tenor clef sections, etc.).

Milde "50 Concert Studies, Opus 26, Nos. 1-25 Vol. I for Bassoon

As with most things we do not understand or find "too challenging," I decided I didn't like the music in that book. The fact was, I just did not have the experience yet to be able to succeed at playing these pieces or appreciate them for the challenge and beauty they offered.

Fast-forward sixteen years.

The other day, I came back to this etude book. I found that the fingerings that used to plague me now flowed easily. The clef changes didn't phase me a bit. I was able to transition between moods and styles in the etudes as though they were my own. What a difference a few years and a great amount of experience make.

Isn't it like this in our understanding of the Bible, as well? As children, we study the stories that are easy - the ones we can grasp. We avoid the ones that seem to pose more questions than they provide answers or that challenge us in ways we are not yet mature enough or ready to face. Then, as years go by and experiences build our spiritual "muscles," we not only begin to understand these more challenging stories, but we also see the "easy" stories with a different perspective:

  • Noah's ark is about more than saving two of every kind of animal.
  • The Ten Commandments are more than a list of things to do or not to do.
  • Daniel and the lion's den was not just a story about God shutting the mouths of hungry lions.
  • David's victory over Goliath was not the end of his battles.

I wonder how the next sixteen years will shape my understanding of the bassoon and the Bible? 


Sunday, July 21, 2013

What do a basketball player, a musician, and an HR Analyst have in common?

Me.

For those of you who know me well (or those of you who have met me and made an educated guess, based on my not-so-subtle 6'0" frame), I played basketball for a number of years. Recruited in third grade to a team called the Magic by a set of twins with their dad as the coach, I ended up playing ball through my freshman year in high school. I had a blast! The height was my gift, but I had a lot to learn in terms of appropriate aggressiveness and technique.
 


As I approached high school, I experienced a few injuries and then faced the decision of whether to pursue sports, music, or both (I had started playing the bassoon in 6th grade and grown to LOVE it).

My initial goal was to do both. I thought I could handle it. Then, I hit a slump in my playing. Looking back, I realize now that I was trying too hard, viewing basketball as an
objective, all-technique game. I played as though I had to get all the answers right. While trying to play perfectly, I missed out on the flow of it all. Then, I was faced with an injury that, for me, was career-ending.

After undergoing arthroscopic surgery on my now twice-dislocated right shoulder, and as my interest in music had increased and I was applying for the position of drum major as a sophomore, I decided to set aside my high-top shoes and the court and wholeheartedly pursue music.

I had a wonderful musical experience in high school, enjoying years of marching band and concert hall performances. A few band directors, and one in particular, inspired me to pursue music education in college. For those of you music majors out there, you'll "Amen!" with me on this one: music courses in college are SO different from the AP, standardized courses in high school. There is an initial layer of
objectivity in music that must be recognized, honed, and respected, but ultimately music is a realm of subjectivity. The classes challenged me in ways I never expected and forced me out of my oh-so-tidy world of fill-in-the-blank tests. I am so thankful for that experience and grateful that I continue to have the chance to play to this day.
 


My career path ended up taking a new direction, however. I found that my professional interests were more in the world of business, even though my heart was in the music. So, I pursued an MBA in Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management and found my perfect blend of objectivity and subjectivity. HR is a world of precision and ambiguity. There are hard facts and numbers to be dealt with on a daily basis, and then there are people issues to be handled individually while still applying company policy. I use both sides of my brain every day and am constantly challenged.
 
 

Only now can I look back at my experiences and see how they prepared me for this current role. Incredible, isn't it? Who would have thought? I think we all know the Answer to that question...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Do you have time?

If you've read any part of the book of Proverbs, you've seen the word "wisdom" more times than you can count. The book is full of literary devices that support this focus: personification of wisdom as a woman, analogies, and comparison and contrast between the wise and the fool.

Sometimes, I have wondered at the definition of "fool." Does this mean a person who just doesn't get it? Can't get it? Chooses not to get it?

Dr. Michael Easley spoke this morning about the book of Proverbs and gaining wisdom, and he addressed the idea of the fool. He made it clear that the term "fool" is not a definition of capacity but of choice. For example:
  • "Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions." Proverbs 18:2
  • "Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others." Proverbs 12:15
  • "A single rebuke does more for a person of understanding than a hundred lashes on the back of a fool." Proverbs 17:10
Acquiring wisdom is an intentional pursuit and a lifelong process. It takes time. It's not something we can find in a bookstore or online. It's not a degree we can finish in 2-4 years. It's a daily pursuit.

If I were to name a "life verse," it would be Psalm 90:12: "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

I am a time-oriented person. I've learned how to plan the right amount of time for certain things. My top love language is quality time. When you give me your time, that speaks love to me. By the same token, when we spend time with God and the things of God, that shows our love and devotion. We should spend time with Him, in His Word, and with godly people as we seek to gain wisdom.

Society tells us that we don't have enough time to get things done. After all, many shows on tv are "one hour" or "thirty minutes," but they really last a fraction of that time because of commercials, which are themselves short and sweet and have to be super-catchy to grab our attention. Our attention spans grow shorter and shorter as we seek to fit the most into a 6.5-second Vine video or a 140-character tweet. We can't sit and carry a conversation at lunch without checking our phone for updates.

But if we set all of that aside and retrain our minds to focus, we find that we have plenty of time for the important things. So maybe the real question is not "Do you have time?" but "Will you make time?"

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Are you compassionate?

Compassion.

What do you think of when you read this word? Do you think of pity or empathy? Of sitting down with someone and letting them cry on your shoulder? Maybe you think of Compassion International and sponsoring a child in a foreign country. Maybe you think of Jesus.

When I think of compassion, I think of a trait I really want to define me. In fact, at different, pivotal times in my life, I have made this trait a focus of prayer - that I might be a more compassionate and less judgmental person. I think it is something I will have to intentionally pray about throughout my life.

Recently, I was confronted with a lack of compassion at work. The longer I am in the workforce (especially in my current industry), I see a strong sense of entitlement. Instead of employees coming to me with a request, they come with demands. Instead of thanking me for helping them, the response is more one of "Well, that's my right" or "You owed me." This has become so routine that my responses are often merely polite, if not guarded, when typically they would be more friendly and genuine. Sometimes, I find myself putting certain things off because I don't appreciate the way someone asked for my help. How selfish is that?

A sweet, older woman recently asked me for help with something, and I found myself putting off helping her. Besides it being a very busy week, I don't really know why I was reluctant to help. When I got the answer the next day, I sought her out. After explaining what she needed to do, the woman very graciously and effusively thanked me.

I was surprised. I'm not really used to getting a genuine "Thank you" from an employee outside of my team. It felt good...and it felt bad. I realized that I had succumbed to the whole "I'll treat you the way
you treat me" syndrome instead of treating others as Christ would. I've been acting like a child. Instead, I need to remember 1 Peter 3:8-9:
Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it.

Friday, June 21, 2013

He knows me like...

Psalm 139 tells me that God knows everything about me. He knows all of the intimate details of my life and who I am. In a world where you get jobs because of who you know or you're judged by who you know or you rate yourself by how many people you "know" on Facebook, I think we all would say that at the end of the day, we want to be truly known. To be known and to be loved because and even though we are known.

The lyrics to an incredible song called "Known" with Psalm 139 at its heart have painted such indelible pictures in my mind of how God knows me. The song is full of analogies and sometimes we really need analogies to grasp heavenly things.

There are a number of analogies in the Bible that use earthly relationships to help us understand our relationship with God. Here are a few:

He knows me like...



When I think of how I know Him, my thoughts can hardly be put into words because I know my knowledge of Him will never be complete this side of Heaven. I am constantly learning about Him and getting to know Him better.

I know Him like...
  • a bluebird knows the sky (it flies through the sky every day and yet is always seeing something new or flying a different path; it has limitless room to explore the infinite reaches of the sky)
  • a child at the symphony (she knows the melody but has much to learn before she can understand how the harmonies weave together to form a masterpiece)


 

  • an angelfish knows the sea (it swims through the depths of the ocean its whole life but faces open water and endless routes to travel)
He knows me completely, and I have a lifetime to get to know Him. May it be an everyday pursuit. An intentional pursuit. A wholehearted pursuit. To know my Creator...

Saturday, June 1, 2013

My sister, my friend

I have the privilege of sharing a deep friendship with my sister, Angela. It's one of those relationships that confuses people these days. Growing up, we didn't fight like so many sisters do. Being four years apart, we each had our own interests and commitments.

(However, I always wanted to be just like Angela in so many ways. Beyond wanting to follow in her physical, academic, and social footsteps, I even asked "Santa" for glasses and braces one Christmas just so I could be more like her!)


In our school years, we wrote notes to each other on notebook paper with gel pens (you know, the ones where you were cooler the more colors you owned?) I always wished I could figure out how to fold them like she did!

We made up nicknames for boys we had crushes on and made whole days out of shopping at the mall with Mom. We also both played softball and other sports, and Dad was right there with each of us as a formal or informal coach.

Throughout the early years, we got along very well as sisters, and as we moved into high school and college and started to walk different paths of interest (she excelled in drill team, and I pursued music), that is when we really became true friends.

Life started to throw new curves at us, and our conversations evolved from crushes, high school drama, and which college we wanted to attend to our faith, careers, and thoughts of marriage someday.

After college, we did the most logical thing for two single sister-friends: We got an apartment together. It made perfect sense for us. That was five and a half years ago, and I've loved every minute!

Angela is my confidante, my advisor, my encourager, and my listening ear. She laughs with me, prays with me, and cries with me. She comes to my concerts; I go to her movies. We've read the whole Bible together, and we've watched all three seasons of "Downton Abbey" (more than once!). We compromise, we learn, and we grow. We face the future with the assurance of our faith in God and our bond of friendship.

Each year, we celebrate our own special Sister's Day on June 1. Today consisted of time celebrating our friendship, and a delicious meal at Zoe's Kitchen:

                                                                 Chicken Kabobs

                                                                 Chicken Pita Pizza

Will life change our current situation? Yes, someday things will change - our living arrangements, our careers, etc. But I know that our love for each other as sisters and friends will never change, and for that, I am eternally grateful!




Friday, May 24, 2013

Well-acquainted with waiting

The events in Moore, OK this past week hit close to home. My aunt had just moved into a house in Moore, and it was essentially totaled by the devastating EF5 tornado. She was home alone watching television, and her show was not interrupted with a warning. Hit in the head by a few pieces of debris, she did experience a concussion, but praise God there was no internal bleeding.

Thankfully, my cousins live within a few miles of her, so she was able to find refuge in their home the night the tornado hit. My cousin's wife kept us all updated on my aunt's condition and ended the night saying that the biggest challenge they faced was waiting for dawn and waiting to see what was left of the house.

Waiting.

As I tried to wrap my mind around my aunt's new season of waiting (for a night and for many months ahead), my own seasons of waiting shifted in perspective. Yes, they are still meaningful and challenging for me, but when you see someone else's unique season of waiting, it can be comforting to know you're not alone.

My thoughts wandered to Jesus' seasons of waiting. He is well-acquainted with waiting. Growing up, He was waiting for the time to begin His ministry. He learned the trade of a carpenter and then began teaching in the Temple. But He had to wait until He received God's blessing to begin His ministry on earth. What anticipation must He have felt to pursue His calling?

Then, He was ultimately waiting to die. He knew what He was sent to earth to do (Matthew 16:21, Mark 8:31, etc.). What agony must He have felt during that season of waiting? 

And now...even now He is waiting. God is waiting for the right time to move forward with His plan. How comforting is it to know that what He asks of me (to wait on Him), He endures Himself. God can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants, and yet He Himself waits for the right time.

He is there with me in my season(s) of waiting. And so I will wait with courage and faith that He is growing me into who I need to be through the waiting.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The best kind of text

Have you ever received a prayer, specifically prayed for you, in writing? Isn't there something so moving about seeing that prayer and knowing the thought and faith behind it?

I recently received such a prayer via text from a sweet friend of mine. I had asked her earlier in the day for prayer, and she not only responded but allowed me to experience her prayer for me as she prayed it:


This dear friend and I regularly share me encouraging texts of verses and quotes. Of course, we fellowship face-to-face as well, but during a busy day at work or a late night on the weekends, sharing words that inspire and build up via text or social media can not only be experienced in the moment but in the next moment and a moment tomorrow and a moment down the road.

When people ask for prayer, do you demonstrate your faithfulness to pray? Do you call them so you can pray over the phone or pull them away from the crowd to pray together?

I know it can seem intimidating at times, but the Bible says the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Not the complicated or long or eloquent prayer. Not the drawn-out or super-holy or all-inclusive prayer. Not the well-planned or written-out or quotable prayer. 

"Prayer requires more of the heart than of the tongue." ~Adam Clarke

"The value of consistent prayer is not that He will hear us, but that we will hear Him." ~William McGill

As I write, I know I am addressing myself more than anyone else. Sometimes, I find it easier to pray for someone else than to pray for myself. I often rely on the fact that God knows my thoughts before I do, and then I don't take the time to articulate them to Him. Isn't that a selfish view? I'm more focused on myself and my time than on investing in my relationship with Him. Prayer is more about changing me than it is about changing God. It takes a conscious effort - just like our relationships on earth require dedicated, quality time.

My friend's prayer not only encouraged me in my specific time of need, but it encourages me to see how she communicates with the Lord, and it inspires me to strike up that conversation where I left off...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Private (please don't read)

It's more and more rare to meet someone who says they are a private person.

Social media has opened wide the door of self-promotion, TMI, and WTMI (Way.Too.Much.Information). Do you ever have those Jim and Pam moments from The Office when you just wish there was a camera there to capture your "I-can't-believe-they-wrote-that" look?


Somehow, sitting at our computers, looking at lit screens and tapping on plastic keys empowers us to tell all. Some people are all too honest, while others "pen" the life they imagine. I don't think all of us realize the longevity of our digital footprint. It's like a tattoo: You can try to remove it, but there is just no way to make it all disappear.


I remember when I first signed up for FB in 2004, almost a decade ago (wow!). I was so cautious of putting anything on my page. I'm pretty sure I put my name (with a hesitant "click" to submit my last name) and stumbled my way through posting a profile picture. There was no way I would fill out all of those "About Me" questions for the world to see.

And then, things gradually relaxed. More and more people joined FB, posting more and more things. When I saw someone post a few pictures from an event, I decided that was a good idea. Pictures are harmless, right? We all know where that can get people in trouble now, especially with tagging. When I saw someone post answers to the "About Me" questions, I rationalized filling out the template for myself. These sections can be tasteful or not...

As the years went by, more and more personal things were posted: relationship statuses, feelings about other people or work or school, opinions about political and social and religious issues, etc. Then, people started posting very personal and detailed status updates including personal hygiene, arguments and bad feelings, and complaints about how they were being treated.

Instead of chiming in, I decided to back away and focus on a few things: photos, keeping in touch with friends, and sharing (hopefully) encouraging articles and quotes. This evening, I was introduced to a new-to-me author, Emily Freeman. Something about her "voice" resonates with me. Despite being a blogger who discusses her faith and personal life, she has a very respectable sense of privacy in her words. You see into her heart and yet don't feel as though she over-shares.

A recent post of hers inspired my post tonight. In her entry entitled when it's good to keep your art a secret, Emily touches on her journey of learning the balance between over-sharing and right-sharing.
Regarding keeping the details of an upcoming book under wraps for longer than usual, she says, 

"There is a sweetness for me in keeping quiet this time, in holding my art close to my chest for a while, in sitting with my words and ideas in silence month after month before I begin to talk about them, in carrying my questions with a few people before I ask them in front of many."

How much could we learn during the silence, during the quiet moments when we ponder our thoughts and feelings before, if ever, broadcasting them? It's so easy to think something or feel a certain way, pick up your phone, open an app, and tap out a few words that could have lasting consequences. What if, instead, we forced ourselves to wait at least an hour? How many guilty consciences, relationships, and heartaches would be saved?

So, I challenge you: Wait an hour.


 And if you need a distraction, here are a few things you could do in that hour of waiting:

1. Write a thank-you note.
2. Pray.
3. Plan your grocery list.
4. Call your mom.
5. Read a book or magazine.
6. Fix yourself a snack.
7. Go on a walk.
8. Organize your email.
9. Encourage someone.
10. Plan your next service opportunity.

You can get a lot done in an hour! Psalms 90:12