"The LORD will always guide you and provide good things to eat when you are in the desert. He will make you healthy. You will be like a garden that has plenty of water or like a stream that never runs dry." Isaiah 58:10-12

30 June 2009

Freedom is not Free

"Freedom is Not Free." I heard this saying months ago when my mother gave me a blanket that she'd gotten from somewhere (mayber the Vietnam Veterans group?) that she thought my cat Tobias might like to use as a bed.

Despite the manner in which the idea came to me, it has continued to be extremely thought-provoking, especially in this time of the war in Iraq and the various smaller conflicts that are raging around the world.

I think it's also appropriate that I recently completed reading "No Atheists in Foxholes: Reflections and Prayers from the Front," by Patrick McLaughlin. The author is a Navy chaplain who served for three years as the pastor at Camp David and then did two tours of duty in Iraq. His book - which consists of short stories recounting experiences and things that God taught him, as well as prayers that he wrote while in Iraq - really made me think.

While I do recognize that my freedom here in America was earned by the blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices of our ancestors, how often do I really stop to think about the sacrifices still being made by our men and women in the armed forces today?

As we approach Independence Day, I am reminded of the need for me to not only thank our soldiers for the many sacrifices they make, but also to consistently pray for their mental and physical health, courage, wisdom and safe return home to their families.

29 June 2009

On Hornets, Spiders and Other Things That Crawl or Fly in the Dark

In my last post I was waxing eloquent (or trying to) on the theme of protecting the creatures in our neighborhoods. I want to mention here that there are a couple of exceptions that I make to that protection policy. Namely, these are critters that have a direct possibility/probability of causing physical harm to me or my cat companions.

This past weekend a couple of wonderful friends from my lifegroup at church came over to help me convert a border of cinder blocks around my well housing and herb garden into a much nicer looking wall. The unknown individual who originally placed the blocks had laid them on their sides so that the holes were on top and made convenient depositories for leaves, dirt and debris, as well as homes for a host of small, creepy-crawly critters.

Our first task in creating the wall was to clean out all of the accumulated debris and critters in the holes, before we could fill them with cement and lay the paving stones on top. Now, I had previously seen a variety of creatures in that spot and was especially concerned about the 4-5 black widow spiders I had found. I didn't want to be working in the herb garden and have an unpleasant surprise meeting with one of those!

Well, as we began to clean out holes and move stones we began to find more and more spiders. We found at least four helpful wolf spiders and let them go their way (after all, they eat unpleasant critters like cockroaches). We got a nasty shock, though when we started finding the black widows. All totalled, by the time the project was finished, we had found and killed at least 20 black widows in a 4' x 15' space! The largest we found had a thorax nearly as big as a dime!

While I DO believe in taking care of all of God's creatures and I'm sure that He had a reason for creating black widows, I must say that I had absolutely NO problem with dispatching those in my herb garden!

All of God's Creatures in the Garden

One of the greatest blessings and challenges that God gives us is, I believe, the animals who share our lives and our world. This includes every creature from the dolphins and octopi that live our oceans to the snakes and raccoons in the forest to the cats, dogs, hamsters and fish that live in our homes. Sometimes I think that we spend too much time thinking about ourselves and not enough time thanking God for the creatures He gave us as companions in our world.

When we do think about the animals, it's usually on a global "Save the Whales" scale, rather than a local "save the turtles in our woods" scale. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the large-scale campaigns to protect the various species of the world. I also think, however, that we need to remember to be thankful for and protect the creatures that live in our own communities, near and in our homes.

One of my feline companions, Tobias, reminds me of this on a daily basis. One of his favorite activities to do upon first waking up in the morning is to sit on the head of my bed and watch the animals in our backyard and garden. He is the one that first alerted me to the fact that we have not only songbirds and squirrels that visit, but also a family of rabbits, chipmunks and even some mice. We don't often see the chipmunks or mice, but he and I enjoy sitting on the bed and watching the rabbits have their breakfast or supper. More than one friend has asked me why I don't try to kill the rabbits or at least chase them away.

My answer is twofold: First, I have too much fun watching them, marvelling at their beauty and laughing at their antics. Two, why should I chase them away when God put plenty of grass and other plants in my yard for all of us to share?

07 May 2009

On Motherhood

The day has finally arrived. Another graduation. It's hard to believe that in a few short hours I will be saying "goodbye" to some fine young people, possibly for the last time. As much as I might like to think otherwise, I realize that I will probably never see some of them again.

It's a strange, bittersweet feeling. Strange, because these are not actually my children and yet I feel almost as if they were. For anyone who is an older single person in the field of education, you will probably understand this feeling.

Yesterday I was in a local store looking at greeting cards and was confronted with the "Mother's Day" selection. I realized, with some sense of regret, that I will probably never receive a Mother's Day card nor hear someone call me Mom. Of course, God may change that and allow me to be a mother some day, but I'm choosing not to dwell or count on it.

One of the greatest things about being an educator in an academic setting is that I have many wonderful opportunities to impact the lives of other people's children. I have come to care tremendously for the students that the Lord brings into my world and I'm thankful that I have the chance to teach them and help mold and prepare them for the larger world. I get to teach them how to do research for their projects and papers, rejoice with them when they do well and exhort them to greater effort and higher goals. I get to listen to their struggles and lend them a sympathetic ear and to cheer for them when they excel.

Not long ago, I was startled when one young international lady said to me, "You remind me of my mom." At first I was a bit put off, because I was feeling "old", then I realized what a compliment that was! Motherhood is, in many ways, a state of mind; one that involves encouragment, exhortation, sacrifice, love, commitment and imparting strong moral and biblical values. It is also a choice

Yes, I may not ever have biological children of my own. When I look around me, though, and see all the wonderful young people who are in my life, in my library and often in my house, I realize that I have been given the blessing of being, in many ways, a surrogate "mother" to many children. I am among women truly blessed.

05 May 2009

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

As we approach the end of the semester, I have been talking with a number of students about their plans for the summer and the future. A number of my "regulars" in the library are graduating this week. Over the past few days many of them have made comments about seeing the "light at the end of the tunnel." They are glad to be finished with their studies and excited about their future. Although I must admit that I will miss them very much, I can't help but feel excited for them.

How well I remember the excitement I felt when I was at the same point in life! It's a complex feeling of accomplishment, nostalgia, excitement, relief and a little trepidation all rolled into a glowing ball that seems to fill every atom of your being and ooze out your pores! At the time, I believed that I'd never really feel that way again.

I was right. There truly is nothing exactly like the feeling that I experienced upon graduating from college with my B.A. and preparing to face the world for the first time, in many respects, as that wonderous and empowered being -- an adult.

I was also wrong. Over the years since that day I have experienced a number of major milestones in the journey of my life, including: starting graduate school, finishing graduate school, moving to another country, working in another country, moving back to the U.S. after an absence of several years, starting grad school again and graduating for a third time. Through all of these, God has blessed me with His presence and with new and equally exciting experiences.

Each milestone had its own "ups" and "downs" and its own blessings. Each one has served to remind me that the longer I follow God and the more I trust in Him, the better life will be. Just like the foothills and mountains in which I now love, every mountain and valley, every twist in the road of life brings new beautiful scenery. All I have to do is look up from the road and enjoy it.

It reminds me of the first stanza of a poem by Robert Browning:
"Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
the last of life for which the first was made.

Our times are in his hand
who saith, 'A whole I planned,
youth shows but half;
Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!'"

"Rabbi Ben Ezra" http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/295.html

22 April 2009

Unexpected Blessings

You know how you can be going along in life with everything proceeding smoothly and then, suddenly, you have one of those days of "unexpecteds"? Well, Monday was a day of "unexpecteds" for me. Or, more precisely, Monday evening was. I went in to work at the normal time and was planning to attend a meeting at a local church over my supper break.

This was a meeting of a mission team that is going to Romania in May. One of my colleagues is the leader of the team and had previously invited me to attend another meeting to teach the group a bit about Romanian culture and language. When he asked me to come to the second meeting I was quite pleased to do so and promptly wrote it on my calendar.

Monday afternoon I made sure to print enough copies of a handout that I'd prepared and, when the time came, I hurried out of the building towards my car. It was then that I encountered the first "unexpected." A scattering of raindrops spangled the exterior of my car and, almost before my brain could process the fact that it had rained, my breath was taken away by the sight of an enormous, brilliant and absolutely gorgeous rainbow spanning the sky over the foothills in front of me! To the left, it stood out against a backdrop of dark clouds and to the right it shone out against a bright blue sky with a couple of fluffy-looking cumulus clouds. Wow!

Naturally, I paused to snap a couple of pix with my phone camera, then hopped in my car and zoomed off to my meeting. Upon arriving at the church I experienced the next "unexpected" when there was nobody there! I waited for a few minutes and then, deciding that I must have made a mistake in the date or time (I discovered later that they'd changed the location and forgot to tell me), I headed back to campus. I must admit that I was a bit frustrated, but I wasn't sure whether to direct that at myself or my colleague.

It was on the way back to campus that I received the third "unexpected." I remembered that our men's football (soccer) team was playing a scrimmage match and realized that I would pass right by the stadium. I decided to turn in and stop there for a few minutes. So... in one evening I experienced:

* the unexpected blessing of a beautiful rainbow
* the unexpected disappointment of a missed meeting
* the unexpected blessing of a few minutes to watch a football match

Ain't God great?!? That evening was a good reminder to me of how often the Lord blesses me in unexpected ways .... Now if I can just keep remembering that!

09 April 2009

Excellent Reading

One of the cardinal philosophies by which I try to live my life is the idea that you'll never get anywhere or achieve anything worthwhile in life if you don't set goals for yourself.

I try to begin each year by setting at least a few goals for myself and then work to achieve them throughout the seasons. I also sometimes set other goals as I go along. I mean, we all know that life doesn't always go the way we planned, right? That's one of the things I like about life in general and life as a Christian, in particular. God doesn't let us get bored! Sometimes He makes it very clear to us that there are things we need to work on or things we need to accomplish.

I must admit that I don't always like those goals, nor do I always find the striving towards them to be a pleasant experience. Nevertheless, I know that I can trust Him that they are good and necessary goals.

There are other times when I set goals for myself and trust that the Lord will let me know if it's ok to proceed with them or if I need to redirect.

Okaaay, you say, "So what are these goals of yours for 2009?" Well, some of them are pretty personal and things I don't need to share, but some are fair game.

One of my goals for 2009 is to read at least 120 books. They can be of any genre and my "To be Read" list continues to grow (I think the last total is 132), but I am making progress.

Book number 37 for the year was an excellent one titled "The Cellist of Sarajevo," by Steven Galloway. I would highly recommend this to anyone who has any interest in world history, current events, international politics or any other related topic. Galloway has written an outstanding historical fiction account based on events during the siege of Sarajevo in 1991-92.

This book made me want to read more about Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the war and all of the various people groups involved. I feel like it gave me a small glimpse into the lives of several individuals living under those horrible conditions and the sacrifices they made.

I was saddened to learn this morning that Vedran Smailovic, the Sarajevan cellist whose actions were part of the inspiration for the novel, is apparently very angry about the book. From what I read on TimesOnline, I'm not certain whether he's angry because of the attention that the book is getting and bringing to him in his quiet home/life in Ireland, because Galloway didn't seek him out and consult him before writing the book or because the author hasn't offered him a share in the royalties.

Galloway has responded that, while Smailovic and his actions were obviously the inspiration for the character of the cellist (who has no name in the book), the story of his actions was common knowledge arround the world. He also says that he merely used the story that he had heard as a starting inspiration and that he also interviewed more than 25 other people and utilized a wide variety of resources in his research for the book.

While I can understand that the seige, the war and the trials that Mr. Smailovic experienced must have been very painful and that it would be very unpleasant to be reminded of them, I have to say that I think Mr. Galloway's book is doing a good job of waking some people up and educating them about those same experiences. Does it really convey the horror and turmoil of that time? No. No words on a page can ever accurately describe man's inhumanity to man or the horror of many things that we experience. What those words can do, however, is awaken more of us from our apathy and make us aware that things like that have happened and are happening and, hopefully, inspire us to take action to keep them from happening in the future.

TimesOnline story: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article4083037.ece

06 April 2009

New Music musing

The state of modern music in the U.S. and the world has been a continued source of consideration and concern in the garden of my life in recent days, weeks and months. It seems that every time I turn on the radio (or at least every other time) I am reminded of the paucity of originality and thought in popular music of the 21st century.

Now, it's not that I think music is totally going down the tube in recent history. It does seem to me, however, that there is a plethora of semi-talented groups and individuals in the U.S. who have gained popularity in America and the world but have very little musical ability and even less originality. We have been deluged with pop-star-wannabes who all sound the same and whose lyrics have 1.)absolutely no sensible meaning, 2.)a fluffy semi-sensible one, or 3.) an extremely worldly and unhealthy one.

Fortunately or unfortunately, music is truly a universal language and it spreads from country to country rapidly, especially through the internet. It's also one of the media that people around the world use to develop their image or perception of different countries and cultures. I have found myself wondering lately about the accuracy of the images that we are portraying to the rest of the world through our music. If you listen to the popular music from your home country, is it really presenting to the rest of the world the image of your country and people that you want others to have? If so, that's good for you. If not, what are you going to do about it?

Recently, I was chatting with a Romanian friend and student about all things Romanian and the topic turned to music. Both of us are quite familiar with a wide range of contemporary Romanian music groups. Some of them have, unfortunately, succumbed to the craze for empty, nonsensical, or fluffy lyrics. My friend recommended to me several Romanian musicians and groups and I decided to go online and try them out. I was VERY pleasantly surprised. I'm not going to mention all of them here, but you may see them pop up in future posts. One that I found very noteworthy is Adi Gliga. Even if you don't understand Romanian, I'd recommend that you give him a listen on YouTube. His songs are very interesting from both a music and lyrics standpoint. Some have English translations, too! Even if you don't understand Romanian, give him a shot. I'm sure glad that I did!