Sunday, December 27, 2009

Review of The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

Joan Chittister’s book is her love letter to the liturgical year.  The first few chapters engage the reader in the beauty of spiritual development, guiding us toward a more meaningful relationship with God.  Subsequent chapters outline the various seasons of the liturgical year: Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, and Easter.  She finishes with an overview of why saints days and Marian feasts are observed.

I’m a bit lukewarm on this selection.  The first 30 pages, explaining the role of the liturgical year, seem repetitive.  I wanted her to come to the point and get on with observing the seasons.

The book appears to be searching for an audience.  The author, a Benedictine nun, is careful to make the book less Roman Catholic centered and more inclusive of Protestant and Orthodox traditions, but ends up being somewhat vague and apologetic.

I did find some gems and kept my highlighter handy as I read. I found myself quoting her chapters on Advent and Christmas and I’m sure I’ll reread the sections on Lent and Easter next spring.

I’d recommend this as a supplemental academic work, but not as an introduction for someone not already familiar with the liturgical year.

I am a member of Thomas Nelson's Book Review Blogger program.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent Adventures: Seek Him

“If you seek this
baby Jesus,
seek the Lord 
with all your might,

you will find him
as the shepherds did
as they searched for him
one starry night.”

--Luke Gambill “One Starry Night”

I have a confession to make: I’m a bit of a Christmas crier.  Every time the people of Bedford Falls unite to help George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, I reach for the tissues.  When Linus cues the lights and recites Luke 2:8-14 to the Peanuts gang, hand me a Kleenex.  The Grinch realizes that Christmas isn’t about presents and feasting?    White Christmas’s Wallace and Davis surprise General Waverly with his old unit singing “We’ll Follow the Old Man”?  Start the waterworks.

A couple of weeks ago I subbed in one of the pre-Kindergarden classes while the children rehearsed their song for the musical One Starry Night.  I sat behind the class as those cherubic voices sang about seeking and finding Jesus.  I was in big trouble.  It was either pull myself together or use the only absorbent surface available, my sleeve.

These simple, yet profound lyrics sum up what we’ve been doing this Advent season, seeking Jesus with all our might.  Our search is not in vain, as scripture reminds us:

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29)

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  (Jeremiah 29:13)

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  (Matthew 7:7)

I’m astounded at the simplicity of this message.  God does not demand that we pass a test, or pay a fee, or make ourselves worthy before entering into a relationship with Him.   There’s no fine print, no levels we must reach first.  He assures us that He will be found if we seek Him with our heart and soul...with all our might.

Have you found Him this Christmas?  He’s not hidden away--but ever present. When the shepherds heard the angels’ proclamation they went to Bethlehem as fast as they could to see for themselves what God had revealed to them.  Seek Him this week, as the shepherds did and see for yourself.  

“For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”  (Matthew 7:8)

Shalom y'all

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent Adventures: Joy

Poor little pink candle.  Every Advent season she stands alone among the purple candles, ready for this particular Sunday, in which we celebrate the joy of Christ’s coming.  We should be joyful all season--but especially on this day, the third Sunday of Advent.  The candle waits, but every year she’s passed over.

Evangelical churches, in my experience, don’t know what to make of the pink candle.  For many years running I’ve watched believers approach the church’s Advent wreath with hesitation. They light the first two purple candles--but nobody wants to touch the pink one.  Better to keep doing what we’ve been doing so far--lighting purple candles. So a third purple candle is lit and the pink one is left for last, not by design but by default.

It’s not the fault of the candle lighters.  Contemporary worship tends to shun tradition--and the lighting of the pink candle on the third Sunday is an old tradition.  We simply don’t understand and miss out on an important symbol of the season. It’s too bad.  With our emphasis on praise and worship and the Advent Conspiracy movement, this is a tradition Evangelicals could really embrace.

The third Sunday of Advent is about joy.  Not the “joy of toys” or the “big joy” of “lower prices” that the sales circular promised today.  No, this is the time in Advent in which we celebrate our Lord’s coming and our redemption. This Sunday is Gaudete Sunday--gaudete being Latin for “rejoice”.  It takes its name from the first word of the traditional worship introit, which is taken from Philippians 4:4-6:

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice; let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.

Have no anxiety?  Pray with thanksgiving?  Throw off the shackles of holiday materialism and let others witness your joy in the real Hope of Christmas?  Sign me up!  What a wonderful kick in the pants as deadlines loom and chores pile high.  We need the bright pink candle to remind us, once again, that Christmas is all about the birth of our Savior.

Just as it’s easy to pass over the pink candle on this third Sunday, it’s easy to miss the joy of Advent by doing what we’ve been doing so far.  No matter the deadlines, no matter your circumstances, stop what you're doing and just rejoice:

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.  (Psalm 118:24)

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. (Psalm 51:12)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2)

Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again : Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

Shalom y'all

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Advent Adventures: Praising

Today begins week 2 of our family’s journey through Advent.  The first Sunday in December is a busy one in our church.  The Christmas Cantata is a big production: adult, children, and college choirs, musicians, pipe organ, and handbells (that’s us). The sanctuary glows with white lights and greenery.  Already we’d had 3 morning services of traditional and contemporary praise and worship with carols and communion. 

It was a wonderful, worshipful time, but I knew we’d all be tired by the evening.  It was tempting to shorten our family night--or even move it--but what a loss that would have been.

Tonight’s theme was “concern for others” and our activity was to make cards for people with whom we want to share the joy and love of Jesus during this Advent season.  My 2-year-old son wanted to make a card for a friend at school.  He scribbled a picture, stuck on some stickers, signed his name, and danced around with his card--singing his friend’s name.  My 5-year-old made his best friend “the best card he’s ever seen.”  Bruce and I chose family members who are facing tough illnesses.

The most beautiful part of the evening was the time when we shared when each of us felt close to God this week.  I wasn’t sure that the boys would understand the question, but DW got very excited.  He called out, “We feel close to Jesus when we praise him!”

I reflected on the joy I’d felt this morning as the choir and congregation sang carols and songs of praise--telling and retelling the Christmas story and offering praise to God for the gift of salvation.  Each song was like a present held out to Jesus--”Master, open this one!” At the time I’d wished I could bottle up that closeness to save for later.  My son reminded me that I don’t have to.  Just praising brings me close to my Lord all over again.

I pray this week that I will have a child-like heart, that I will offer praise to Jesus with the full assurance that he is close.  Emmanuel.  God with us. 

Shalom y'all.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Journey Through Advent--The Cypress Times

Speaking of Advent.....

The following article is featured on the front page of  The Cypress Times today.

Journey Through Advent: Our Family's Adventure

I'm hoping to continue the series this season. 

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Advent Adventures: Waiting

Can it really be Thursday already?  We celebrated the first Sunday of Advent 4 days ago and the week is almost over. Feels like I’m in one of those old movies that shows the passing of time by the flipping (and flying) of pages from a daily calendar.  I’m compiling lists and checking things off; making plans and filling my schedule.  Are there enough days to get everything done before Christmas?

On the other hand, my children feel that time is moving too slowly.  Christmas will never get here.

I want time to slow down and wait.  My boys are tired of waiting.

Advent is a season waiting: not the secular-Xmas waiting in line for Black Friday sales and Santa Claus, but of learning to live in the post-Resurrection time of waiting by revisiting those who anticipated Jesus’ birth. We read Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. We remember the stories of Zechariah and Elizabeth, waiting years to conceive a child. We tell the story of Mary and Joseph, waiting for the fulfillment of the angel’s promise.  We recall the story of Simeon and Anna, who waited for decades in the temple courts for the promised redeemer.

Yet, they weren’t characters in a Christmas pageant, waiting offstage for their cues.  They were full flesh-and-blood participants in the life around them: doing laundry, sewing clothes, preparing meals, shopping, repairing, visiting, consoling. They went about their daily tasks, season by season, anticipating the fulfillment of a promise. Their hands were busy, but their hearts and minds were focused.

In her book, The Liturgical Year, Joan Chittister says, “the function of Advent is to remind us what we’re waiting for as we go through life too busy with things that do not matter to remember the things that do.”

I have a million little things to do in the next three weeks.  I pray that, like Zechariah and Mary, Simeon and Anna, I’ll remember the things that matter.  I’ll watch and wait for Jesus, our Messiah.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Plant Good Seeds

Summer was not kind to our yard. An agreement to put down new sod never came to fruition. White grubs attacked the front yard. Weeds ran rampant in the back.  An extra month of Florida's broiling summer temperatures baked the remaining lawn.  If I had a dollar for every dollar weed.....

Still--our grass continues to fight on as I try to remedy problems which have developed over the past few years.  I haven't been able to do much yard work since the birth of our first son.  My boys have only recently allowed me to work on household projects while they amuse themselves.  It's hard to mow and trim with preschoolers clinging to my shirt.  It's been over 5 years since I've been able to help with the yard and it shows.  The condition of my lawn fills me with equal parts despair and determination.

So my heart and mind were primed for a recent sermon illustration.  Pastor told the story of a man who battled crabgrass in his yard, digging it up wherever he found it.  He discovered that he never could get rid of it.  He could dig forever and the crabgrass would spring up somewhere else.  Finally, he asked a lawn expert what to do.  The man told him, "Forget the crabgrass. Plant good seeds."

It took him 3 years of planting and nurturing the good grass, but he looked out one spring and his yard was beautiful.  The crabgrass was on the edges of the yard, trying to get in, but it couldn't. The good grass was too thick. Its roots were too deep.

As I approach this Advent season, it's easy for me to look back over this year and see where I've failed. Resolutions made at the beginning of 2009 were choked out by the weeds of busyness and neglect.  The demands of projects and appointments cling to me, keeping me from tending the garden of my soul.

I could keep digging at these regrets--or I could get busy planting good seeds.  The season of Advent begins next Sunday: the first Sunday of the liturgical year.  Our family will begin a weekly devotional time. I have my "Bible in a year" plan ready.  I've discovered some tips that other busy moms have shared for meditating on God's word during the day--and will share those here. I'm ready to plant good seeds and encourage deep roots. Life's weeds will still be there, but hopefully they won't grow in as far.

Yesterday, I hauled out the spreader and put down the first bag of fertilizer toward reclaiming our yard. We've sprayed for grubs.  I'm preparing to re-sod or re-plug parts of our yard in early spring.  Hopefully one day our lush, green lawn will return. In the meantime, every weed will serve as a physical and spiritual reminder to plant good seeds.

Shalom y'all.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Black Bean and Corn Soup

Fall is here and the weather's finally cool enough to think "soup".  The St. Petersburg Times featured an article on 25 quick recipes that sound easy (and yummy).  I went right for the Black Bean and Corn Soup--healthy and tasty.

Yes--there's a whole jalapeno in there, but the soup is not spicy.  My only complaint was that the soup was a little thin and 1 cup of corn looked a bit lonely.  So I added 2 cups. 

I plan to make this again--with either a little less chicken broth or more black beans.

Black Bean and Corn Soup

1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
olive oil
4 cups chicken broth
2 cans drained black beans
1 tsp cumin
1 cup frozen corn kernels (I used 2 cups)
sour cream (optional)

1-  Saute onion, jalapeno, and garlic in olive oil.
2-  Add chicken broth, black beans, and cumin.
3-  Simmer for 10 minutes.
4-  Puree soup and return to pan.
5-  Add frozen corn and heat through.
6-  Serve with sour cream.

Working my way through some new recipes.  I'll be sure to share the good ones.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Getting Ready to Get Ready

Christmas is coming. That means the Advent season is upon us in just a few weeks.  With 2 kids in the house quiet time is a rare commodity.  But I don't want to miss Christmas in a flurry of Thanksgiving cooking-shepherd costume making-cookie baking-gift wrapping hyperactivity.

So now I'm getting ready to get ready to observe the Advent season again.

Advent is the four week period prior to Christmas in which we celebrate the birth of Christ and anticipate His second coming. The word "Advent" comes from the Latin "adventus" which means "coming" or "arrival". Advent is a time of reflection, confession and preparation.  In our household we light candles on each of the Sundays of Advent as we reflect on a different Advent theme. Our Advent wreath contains 4 candles: 3 purple and 1 pink. [More on that later.] The wreath surrounds a white candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve.

I've been shopping for candles, much easier to come by in previous years.  Where are the purple and pink votives this year? (!)

I'm also digging through our seasonal devotions and looking for one to do with my family--and possibly our Sunday School class.

November 29, 2009 is the first Sunday of Advent.

Don't miss the Messiah this year. It's time to get ready.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Book Review: Kabul24 by Henry O. Arnold and Ben Pearson

In August 2001 the Taliban kidnapped Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer after a gathering in an Afghan home where they’d been invited as guests, then betrayed by their hosts.  For the next 48 hours, the Taliban unleashed their fury on the offices of Shelter Now International (SNI) imprisoning a total of eight western aid workers and sixteen of their Afghan colleagues.  The harrowing 105-day ordeal of the Kabul24 was just beginning.

Henry O. Arnold and Ben Pearson present the real story behind the CNN headlines.   Told primarily through the experiences of Georg Taubmann, director of the Kabul branch of SNI, the authors recount the hostages’ betrayal, increasingly hellish imprisonment, and miraculous escape.  

I stayed up reading Kabul24 late into the night.  This story fascinates with its details regarding the cultural and political climate in Afghanistan during the dictatorship of the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies. It inspires as the hostages support each other and live out their faith: sharing food and medicine with their fellow prisoners, refusing to harm anyone to gain their release, composing songs of praise in the midst of deplorable conditions.

A movie, based on their story, is available for purchase at

Monday, September 21, 2009

My Howling Heart - Monday Manna

"Monday Manna," is hosted by Joanne Sher at An Open Book.  Visit her blog for links to more meditations on Exodus 14:14.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Right now life is going pretty smoothly. Today anyway.  Yet, when I'm knee-deep in troubles I have to remind myself that, over and over again, scripture tells me to "Fear not."  Moses and the Israelites knew a thing or two about fear and the context for today’s verse is found in the Exodus narrative. Passover joy has turned to terror.  The Israelites are backed up against the sea. As Pharaoh’s chariots close in, Moses tells the Israelites--

The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.  [Exodus 14:14 NIV]
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My Howling Heart

Forgive me Lord for freaking out
When I turn my face toward trouble and my back on blessing
I see attackers closing in and miss the waters opening up
My secret heart fears that you will not fulfill the promises you made to me 
In my captivity

Forgive me Lord for complaining
When I slap at your face in the wilderness
I grieve familiar shackles; flinch from fresh freedom
When I fight with you; when my fight is not with you 
You fight for me

Forgive me Lord for moving
My mouth
My lips
My tongue
Quiet my howling heart and turn my feet toward the promised land
As chariots tumble in the sea

Friday, September 18, 2009

One of the Good Guys

It's a conversation I'd hoped we'd be able to avoid until he was older.  But television commercials, playground talk, and the natural curiosity of a 4-year-old forced my hand.  Last week we began addressing one of the mysteries of life.

Is Anakin Skywalker a good guy or a bad guy?

When I was a kid (and I love saying that) life was simpler.  Darth Vader was bad. Period.  Sure, Luke ultimately saved him from the Emperor and they were reunited as a redeemed father and son.  But Vader was the villain.

Then along came episodes 1-3.  We see Anakin grow from a cute little boy into a lovesick teenager into a vengeful Jedi.  He's the hero--albeit a doomed one-- and Anakin doesn't become Vader until the very end of chapter 3.  As an adult I can appreciate the epic story cycle. I understand the complexities of character and the symbolism of fall and redemption.

D doesn't care about complexity and he hasn't seen any of the movies. He just wants to know where Anakin stands. When it comes time to play pretend with his buddies, he wants to play one of the good guys.

I pray that both of my sons always want to be the good guys.  I love their gentle hearts and desire to do good and be the heroes.

So last week, I punted.  Anakin starts out good, but he turns into a bad guy later.  We moved on to Obi-wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo. Safe territory.

Satisfied for now, D's moved on to Transformers, a show that debuted after I'd graduated from high school.  I guess that's a subject we'll study together.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Jesus Book by Stephen Elkins; ill. by Claudine Gevry

Who is Jesus?
What did he do?
Where did he live?
Why did he die on a cross for me?

Author Stephen Elkins created The Jesus Book "to help teach children about the life of Christ and how to enter into a life-long relationship with him." Gevry's whimsical illustrations lovingly portray Jesus as a man who laughed and cried, while Elkins explores Jesus' humanity and divinity.

Elkins has done his homework. The text is comprehensive, introducing prophecy and theology in a manner that's simple enough for primary grade children to understand. The section entitled, "What Jesus Did" explores Jesus' power over nature, sin, life, and death. The section on "What Jesus Taught" introduces the Lord's prayer, the Golden Rule, and the Great Commission.

Yet it's not simplistic. Elkins's explanations of "ministry," "baptism," and "God's kingdom" are deep enough to inspire parents to use this book to refine their own understanding as they learn along with their children.

The Jesus Book is designed for families to read together. My two preschool children have commandeered the accompanying CD, which contains children singing classic hymns, scripture, and songs about Jesus. As they grow older we'll work into the lessons in the text using it to supplement and support scripture.

This is a delightful book and a great addition to our family bookshelf.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Throwing Rocks

I never realized how rocky the Appalachian mountains were until this week. My boys have hoisted heavy rocks, climbed boulders, and pocketed pebbles. However, their favorite thing to do with rocks is throw them: into the woods, off a ledge, down the slope, into the water. They can't get enough of this.

I was thinking last night about stone throwing in the Bible. David felled Goliath with a stone (at least my guys don't have slingshots--yet). Jesus saved the adulteress from the mob in the Temple, saying "Let him who is without sin among you, cast the first stone." A mob stoned Stephen, while Saul/Paul watched.

Our rock throwing adventures brought to mind something else: a service I attended a few years ago at a local messianic synagogue. Tashlich is a ceremony carried out on the afternoon of Rosh HaShannah or on the following day. Tashlich means "you will cast away" and during the service we symbolically cast off our sins. After a time of reflection and preparation we walked down to Tampa Bay, picking up small stones along the way.* We collected stones to symbolize sins. It was humbling to pocket each stone and feel the weight increase with each new addition. After a time of prayer and repentance we threw our stones into the bay--casting them off as far as we could throw. Those rocks were gone, never coming back, you couldn't have retrieved them from the bottom of the bay if you tried. My pockets felt empty and light.

As we threw our rocks, we remembered that God is faithful to forgive sins, that Jesus (Yeshua) died for our sins, and we meditated on the text for Tashlich: Micah 7:18-20.

Who is a God like You,
Pardoning iniquity
And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?

He does not retain His anger forever,
Because He delights
in mercy.
19 He will again have compassion on us,
And will subdue our iniquities.

You will cast all our
Into the depths of the sea.

20 You will give truth to Jacob
And mercy to Abraham,
Which You have sworn to our fathers
From days of old.

In all the times of confession, in all the worship services I've ever attended, I don't think I've ever felt as forgiven as I did on the shores of Tampa Bay. So much of our Protestant worship is abstract and emotional. It took the weight and feel of throwing rocks to really imprint one of the basic tenets of our faith.

Vacation's almost over. I'll be thinking about this on our final few rock-throwing days--thanking God and praising His holy name.

Shalom y'all.
*Traditionally bread crumbs are cast into the water, or pockets emptied of lint, but some congregations use stones instead.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Flat Tire on the Shoulder of Life

Our Sunday drive didn't go quite as we'd planned. We were cruising through a construction zone, northbound on I-95, preparing for a quick stop in Brunswick, GA. The boys happily watched Kung Fu Panda on the portable DVD. The snacks were holding out. We only had about an hour to go to our destination--a hotel where we could spend the rest of the afternoon swimming and resting after the first leg of our trip.

We were making excellent time.


BW quickly threaded our minivan through the phalanx of barrels dividing the highway from the shoulder. I got out and looked at the back right tire. No problem there. I turned around and saw our flattened, shredded, smoking right front tire. Somewhere we'd picked up a large nail.

As I spoke with the AAA agent I realized that we were in probably the safest spot we could be in, given our situation: a construction barrier behind us, barrels to the side, a wide shoulder, and the mile marker and exit marker just ahead. We praised God for gently placing our damaged minivan in a barrel-sheltered cove.

A half hour later Joe arrived in his company pickup truck. He had all the necessary tools. He followed us to a gas station to add air to our spare tire. He shepherded us toward the local Sears. He even called me back to make sure we were OK.

3 1/2 hours later our newly aligned vehicle sported 4 new tires and we were on our way. We even made it to Savannah with time to swim. As we continued along the northbound lanes we both noticed that, for many miles, there was no safe place to pull off the road. Had our flat occured elsewhere, my family would have been in danger. Further, Brunswick was the only city where a major retailer was open on Sunday--for 80 miles in either direction. We'd stopped in the only place where our car could be fixed that day.

Skeptics might say that if God were really looking out for us, we'd never have had a flat tire. I disagree.

Nowhere in Scripture are we promised that this world will be easy. Our lives don't always go according to our plans. Unexpected nails flatten us with illness, job loss, death of loved ones, pain, heartache. But we serve a mighty God. When dangers surround and threaten us, he shelters us in the palm of his hand as he ministers and changes us.

I pray that I remember this the next time I'm stuck on the shoulder of life.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Escaping the Dragons' Clutches

August in Florida, did I mention how hot it gets?

Seems the only sensible thing to do is leave. We've joined the Florida summer exodus to the North Carolina mountains. It's 72 degrees outside and should get down into the low 50's tonight.

Broil away you dragons. I know you'll be waiting for me to return.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Dragons of August

The dragons of August have firmly coiled themselves around Florida. Their fiery breath steals the air from my lungs when I step outside to get the morning paper. By noon, their forked tongues have licked all the pavements, turning a barefoot stroll into hopping over hot coals. Their weapons are heat, humidity, and hurricanes. My only defense is air conditioning, the technology that makes bearing Florida summers possible.

August is not for the faint of heart. It stares at me from the calendar, daring me to face it one more time. Run errands early. Drink plenty of fluids. Stay indoors after lunch. Wait for the welcome rumble of afternoon thunder and cooling rains. Venture out cautiously after dinner.

If I survive the standoff, sometime in late September, I'll be rewarded with the first cool tease of (still) far away winter: a refreshing breeze.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Google News

This just in from John Winder of The Cypress Times:

"The Cypress Times is now ranked in the top 2.6% of Worldwide Websites.

The Cypress Times is now ranked in the top 1.2% of all U.S. Websites

In addition to that great bit of news, here's another -

The Cypress Times has been accepted by Google News as a daily news source. In the next few weeks Google (#1 Website in the World) will begin using articles from The Cypress Times in "Google News"."

Congratulations to John and to all the other contributors at TCT.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Win for My Brother

Last Tour-related post for this year. We've turned our TV off and it's quiet once again. Or what passes for quiet in our house.

We had a nice, teachable moment for DW this past weekend. Though he still can't figure out what all the fuss is about--he knows what "bicycle race" means: somebody wins, somebody loses, and at some point you get to ride fast.

We watched Frank and Andy Schleck race with the leaders this year. They're brothers from Luxembourg and are very close on and off the track. Though big brother Frank has worn the yellow jersey in past years, younger brother Andy was competing for this year's overall lead. Andy also wore the white jersey--best young rider. The Schleck brothers are expert climbers and excel at mountain stages. On the climb up the Col de la Colombiere, Frank paced Andy up the steep mountain. Frank set such a quick tempo they left almost everyone else behind. Andy stayed on Frank's wheel until the closing kilometers when he took over the lead to give Frank a rest. At the finish line, Andy let his brother pass him and cross the line in first place.

Andy let his brother win to thank him for all his hard work on the mountain. But they shared the victory.

The lessons weren't lost on big brother DW. Brothers work together. Brothers help each other. Brothers share. And it's good to step aside and let your brother win. Big brother Frank won the stage; little brother Andy kept his 2nd place overall lead and white jersey prize. At the finish line they both cheered. After the race--a big hug.

Thank you, Shleck brothers.

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! -- Psalm 133:1

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mountaintop Finish, Mountaintop Beginning

We've reached that point in July where I've watched so much cycling that I start dreaming about cycling--with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin providing commentary. Long mountain stages lately, with me alongside the rider in the Polka Dot Jersey. Yep, me and Franco Pellizotti, the King of the Mountains. Franco doesn't have much to say.

As I'm writing this at midnight, it's early morning in France on the biggest mountain stage of the Tour--Mont Ventoux. For much of the tour the teams have worked together. Teammates have looked out for each other--whether pacing their leader up a climb or leading their fast man into the sprint at the finish. On Mont Ventoux many riders will have to face the mountain alone. Experienced riders, like Lance Armstrong and George Hincape, don't fear the mountain. They know what's coming. The new guys are a bit anxious. They all want to make it to the top, which is said to resemble the moon: barren and rocky, high altitudes robbing the air of oxygen.

It's difficult to climb to the top of the mountain.

There are 13 pages of results for "mountain" at Scripture compares God to a mighty mountain; the mountains bow to him; he can hurl a mountain into the sea. But I only found 1 mountaintop finish--Moses' death on Mt. Nebo.

Often the mountain is only a beginning:
Mt. Ararat
Mt. Sinai
The temptation of Jesus
The Mount of Transfiguration
The Great Commission

What's your mountain? Is it a difficult climb that drains your strength and leaves you breathless as you claw your way to the top? Or is it a challenge to grow closer to God who meets you on the mountain and reveals himself to you?

Shalom, y'all

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Y? Because we like you

Instead of a Wii, we joined the Y this summer. I needed to get us out of the sun for swim lessons and try to get our toddler into the pool as well. Little did I know how much I'd enjoy it.

They ran a sale on coupons to work with a personal trainer. So I bought a series and enrolled myself in my own "fitness camp."

Boy was I out of shape. You'd think with all the chasing, dressing, and playing with my boys that I'd be down a dress size.

They started a "Stars and Stripes Challenge" in early July. I signed up and received a paper flag, which is posted on the fitness center windows. For each 1/2 hour of cardio I receive a star. For each hour of strength training I receive a stripe. The goal is to fill in the flag by mid-August--50 stars and 13 stripes. You do the math.

So I've been trying some different classes this summer--finding ways to earn stars and stripes. Here's a tour.

Strength training with my trainer:
Good--I can lift heavier weights after a month; I look like I know what I'm doing (more or less)
Bad--She won't let me cheat

Cardio machines:
Good--I can go 20 minutes on the Arc Trainer; I can run on a treadmill for 2 minutes (that's 2 minutes more than last month)
Bad--Sweat; gallons of sweat; buckets of sweat

Light and Lively
Good--Aerobic exercise to oldies while burning lots of calories
Bad--Trying to keep up with women 20 years older than I am

Good--Tons of fun exercising to Latin music; dancing out all my stress
Bad--I have a serious craving for Cuban food when we're done

NIA (nee-ah)
Good--What's not to love? Non-Impact aerobics (nia) with a combination of dance, martial arts, and Yoga. It's the most fun of all the classes.
Bad--Getting over the "I look ridiculous" feeling while swimming around the room in kind of a modern dance/Isadora Duncan way. They put mats over the windows- otherwise we'd attract quite an audience

Best of all? While I'm doing this, my kids get 2 hours in the playroom, playing games and climbing through the tunnels. Maybe someday I'll be able to keep up.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Domestique: The Strong Servant

And speaking of the Tour de France....

A couple of years ago Versus did a feature on the domestiques, the men who spend the Tour supporting a fellow team member in his quest for glory. Although we usually only hear the names of individuals, this competition is a team sport and a strong (or weak) team makes a difference in whether or not the team leaders reach their goals. As talented as he is, even Lance Armstrong could not have won 7 tours without the help of his team.

I wrote this article for one of the FaithWriters challenges and just updated it for 2009. It's posted this week at The Cypress Times.

Domestique: The Strong Servant

(If you like it, please click on the green up arrow under "rate this article".)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Vive le Tour

As temperatures begin to soar and the reality of summer sets in, my husband and I anticipate a three week celebration of cycling's premier event. We're talkin' Tour de France.

Several years ago (was it 7 or 8?) we tuned into a cycling race to see this fellow named Lance Armstrong compete with the US Postal team. Neither one of us are cyclists, but he likes racing and I like scenery. Within a few nights we were hooked. Maybe even a little nuts.

We haven't missed a year since then. For three weeks, we're couch potatoes, recording it on our DVR so we don't miss a thing. We even watch it on vacation. When he was a baby, we actually set DW's bedtime so that we could watch the Tour. I used to keep it on all day--Paul Sherwin and Phil Liggett's British accents providing a soothing backdrop to my fussy babies. We even experience a post-race letdown. After the excitement of July, August seems long, hot and boring.

So excuse me for a few weeks, I hear the road calling.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Independence Day

Happy birthday, U.S.A. Have a safe and happy 4th of July.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

No Sweat?

While slogging my way through a 20 minute elliptical workout this week (gasp) I glanced up at the row of television monitors secured to the wall of the YMCA. Amongst the scrolling headlines endlessly detailing Michael Jackson's latest post-mortem madness (enough already) I spotted something even weirder.

A list of the "Sweatiest Cities in the U.S."

Tampa was ranked #9: apparently just a bit sweatier than Orlando (10), but not quite as sweaty as Miami (7). Phoenix was #1.

Yeah, no kidding.

Turns out the list (produced by Old Spice) is "a projection of the average amount of sweat a person would produce during the months of June, July, and August...based on the average temperature of a city."

So if you visit Florida this summer, be forewarned. The Secret's out and we're in need of some Dry Ideas of any Degree. We're Sure. It's anything but Arrid here.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Acting on Impulse

Vacation Bible School ran its high energy course through our church last week. It’s a big production with over 100 volunteers (including those who set up and take down). Attendance hovered around 250 singing, dancing, chattering children from age 3 through 5th grade. This year’s theme, Crocodile Dock, somehow combined down home Southern swamp fun with Moses and the Passover story.

We five crew leaders led our combined group of 27 primary grade children through the daily stations of Bible, snack, video lesson with Chadder Chipmunk, crafts, and games. Our main tasks: guide the way, answer questions, and keep the group together.

My crew included one child with, um, well let’s just call them problems with impulse control. Loose communion cup holder in the pew? Kick that baby right off there. Feel like wrestling? Take down in the chapel. See something you want? Go after it. He agonized over waiting even one minute for something he wanted right now. Since this is my 2nd year shepherding this particular child I knew that somewhere in the midst of his chaotic mind, the gospel was taking root. Praise God.

Throughout the Exodus story we see Moses and the Israelites acting on impulse. Lose your temper? Kill the Egyptian overseer. (Ex. 2:12) Lose patience? Make a golden calf. (Ex. 32) Angry with the people? Can’t wait for God? Strike the rock at Meribah. Twice for good measure. (Num. 20) Our curriculum didn’t cover these stories, but I was reminded of them as the week wore on. Our sinful human nature doesn’t want to wait. We want it and we want it now.

This week I’m reading through the book of Proverbs. It’s a 31-chapter book on controlling our impulsive nature.

Watch your temper.

Hold your tongue.

Seek wisdom.

Wait on God.

Be patient.

Be still.


True in Moses’ time. True in Solomon’s time. True today.

Shalom, y’all.

Monday, June 29, 2009

High Temperatures

I looked at the month of June with some trepidation. How would we fill the time vacated by school and library and all our usual activities?

No problem.

Our new YMCA membership keeps us on the go with swim lessons and workouts for mommy--something to do nearly every weekday.

Then we caught The Virus.

Seems this nasty bug was going all around town. I was the first casualty. Then my DH. Then #1 son. Sore throat and a general achy feeling. I was down one weekend but nobody seemed to mind watching a little more TV and playing indoors. A few days respite then my son had it and ran a fever for many unnerving days.

By the end it all we had grown tired of endless viewings of "Go, Diego, Go!" The train set was getting a little boring (except for some excitement when an engine was hurled at my face by a bored 2-year-old). We hadn't been cooped up for that long since.....the last time someone ran a long fever.

Outside, we were having an unusually hot mid-June with a heat wave that took the breath out of even the most hardy Floridians. Cabin fever coupled with the threat of heat stroke while going out to get the morning paper. What fun!

We're all better now--and after a terrific week of Vacation Bible School--thankful to get back into our old routine.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Pro Tree Published

Exciting news in the household this week--my husband's iPhone/iTouch application was released for sale on Thursday at the Apple App Store.  For months we've been sharing time on the computer: some nights I write and edit my stuff, some nights he programs and edits his projects.

Finally, the fruit of his labors went to Apple and his app was approved.

It's called Pro Tree and it's a reaction time game that simulates the "Christmas Tree" that drag racers use at the start of a race. Racers want to hit the gas pedal at the same time as the lights go green. Leave the starting line too early and you get a red foul light. Leave too late and you get left behind.

Pro Tree measures reaction time using fingers instead of a gas pedal. So we've been tapping (or shaking) our iTouches, testing his game for months.  I finally got to where I could beat him--causing all manner of testosterone-fueled disbelief. (Due to 2 very active boys, I have a fast reaction time--and excellent peripheral vision.)

My contribution was to help write the description and directions, which I treated like a job. I researched drag racing competition rules and categories. I struggled with editing my husband's notes so that even a novice (me) could follow the directions. I tweaked the final product with a smattering of alliteration, deliberate hard consonants, and a touch of psychology. 

This was a fascinating process, frustrating for him at times, but I'm so proud of him for persevering.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A Date with a Calendar

Now that school’s out, we don’t have the thrice weekly routine of getting ready and heading out to preschool. My boys are feeling a little lost.  Regular activities defined their days during the school year.  They felt secure knowing that Monday meant school and gymnastics and Wednesday meant library and church. Summer is a little more freewheeling and I’m not one for scheduling every minute of the day. So we needed something to help us keep track of our time.

Enter the kids’ calendar.

DLTK is a fantastic website, with printable coloring sheets and activities for young children, including some excellent Bible activities.  DLTK’s calendar page  allows us to customize a monthly calendar by theme and language. It’s simple. Choose the month, year, title image and click create.   We’re using the summer calendar theme and selected a sand castle for June.

Each morning we look at the calendar and place a sticker in the square for the day.  We talk about the name of the month, the day of the week and what we’re going to do.  I added in our regular weekly activities with color-coded symbols (cross for church, wavy blue line for swim).  We’re using our calendar to count down to much anticipated events like Vacation Bible School and family vacation.

As a bonus, we’re reviewing math skills by counting to 30 (or 31) and repeating the names of the days of the week. By the end of August, we’ll all be ready for preschool to begin again.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Like Hot Fudge on a Cool Day

And I thought yesterday couldn't get any better. 

I got to exercise.  My children calmly entertained themselves and let me get a little housework done. And we visited the most delightful playground I've ever seen. (Honestly, it would take days to go on all the slides and climbers, not to mention the new "splash pad" with motion-activated water jets. I love this town.)

To top it all off--Pat, from Pat's Porch--gave me the "Your Blog is Fabulous" award.  Many thanks, Pat.

What a wonderful way to kick off the summer! 

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Shiny New Coin

I'm continually surprised and delighted when I read or hear a passage of Rabbinic writing that illuminates scripture for me.  Pastor Miller paraphrased a saying from the Talmud in today's sermon and it shed some light on a passage I wrote about for Monday Manna awhile back.

"For if a man mints many coins from one mould, they are all alike, but the Holy One, blessed be He, fashioned all men in the mould of the first man, and not one resembles the other..."  (Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin 38a)
Every Roman emperor minted coins bearing his own image.  During the minting process, each coin was stamped so that the resulting coins would all look alike. 

God created Adam in His image and has been minting new men and women ever since.  Though there may be some close resemblances between family members, no two of us are exactly alike.  There are no limits to the number and diversity of "coins" that God can create.  Thus God displayed his supremacy over the rulers of the earth.

So when Jesus pointed at the coin and said "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" (Mark 12:17), his audience might have been familiar with some other rabbi's teachings. Every coin belonged to Caesar, but God put his own divine stamp on us.

I like the thought of God minting me like a shiny new coin, stamping me with his hand, and assigning me value.

Shalom, y'all.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Remembering Today

Remembering those who died in service to our country...

In Flanders Fields 

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) 

Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.