I am currently reading the autobiography of Helen Keller. I am barely 100 pages in and I have already become enthralled with the world and life of this remarkable woman who lost both her hearing and sight at the age of 18 months (due to illness).
Before language had been fully developed in her mind, she was thrust into a world where her only means of interpreting the stuff of life would be her sense of touch, taste, smell and imagination. She couldn't see the love in her parents eyes or hear their words of affection. Their identity in her life became an amalgam of how they smelled, what they did for her and exposed her to, and how they touched her. She had no way of expressing her needs and wants other than crude pantomime, and she had no way of contemplating anything that wasn't concretely observable through her remaining senses. Talk about a dark existence.
Enter Ann Sullivan, the woman Helen would come to affectionately call "Teacher." When Ann first met Helen (almost age 7), she brought her a doll as a gift. In the days ahead as Ann tried to break through the darkness in Helen's mind by teaching her language by spelling out words in her hand using the manual alphabet, Helen would, understandably, become frustrated and angry. In one moment of particular frustration, she took out her aggression on the doll: "I became impatient at her repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the floor. I was keenly delighted when I felt the fragments of the broken doll at my feet. Neither sorrow nor regret followed my passionate outburst. I had not loved the doll. In the still, dark world in which I lived there was no strong sentiment of tenderness.”
On that same day as God would have it, Helen had a breakthrough. Ann took her outside to the well on her family's property and poured the cool well water over her cupped hands and then spelled the word W-A-T-E-R into her palm. "Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.”
While this story in and of itself is truly amazing and wonderful, it is what happened next in Helen's account that captured my attention even more. When they came back to the house after her encounter with w-a-t-e-r, this is what she recounts: "On entering the door, I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears, for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”
How remarkable this is to me! It wasn't until the light shined into Helen's dark world through the gift of language that she was able to step outside of her own self-centered existence to grieve over the ramifications of her actions. The doll immediately became, not just "one more thing in a dark world to be touched and examined," but rather "a gift" from someone who cared enough about her to work with her through her frustrations to help her get to a place where the light could shine.
Perspective is a gift. How many things in our lives do we (literally, or figuratively with our words) "dash upon the floor" in frustration all because we lack the perspective?
This is how Helen describes the end of that blessed day in her book: "It would have been difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my bed at the close of that eventful day and lived over the joys it had brought me, and for the first time longed for a new day to come.”
Perspective. Light. Grace. Living Water. The Word. These are the things that brought Helen Keller out of darkness, out of that unfeeling place and into a state of mind that could make a blind and deaf child joyful and thoroughly excited about the days ahead. Because of the love of God, the best teacher of all, these things still have this power and always will.
The words of Jesus from John 7:38, "He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" NASB
So life has been pretty serious lately (with wildfires and health care rulings and such) and the Facebook status updates and Tweets have been sobering too. Thought I'd revisit some funnier times and some of the updates my friends have posted that made me smile. Enjoy! (Again, identities have been removed to protect the hilariously innocent.)
1. "I always keep several Get Well cards on the mantle. That way, if unexpected guests arrive they will think I've been too sick to clean."
2. "Theology buffs, HELP!!! My eight year old wants to know if Adam had a belly button."
3. "In all seriousness, my daughter just asked me, 'Do these pants make my ring look good?'"
4. "I think my body image would be considerably improved if I lived in Buffalo and not in Southern California."
5. "Mom just complained about her tummy being fat. Dad suggested exercise. It was nice knowing him."
6. "T-shirt I saw at a swim meet recently said, 'Dear God, If I have only one day left to live, let me live it at a swim meet. Those things last forever.'"
7. "Don't grow up. It's a trap!!!"
8. "Who set the thermostat to 'hell?'
9. "'Wow I'm really enjoying this 100+ degree weather,' said no one, ever."
10. "When a stranger on an elevator pushes the buttons before my kids can, I fear for that person's life. Elevator buttons are sacred to children."
Words are powerful. Spoken words can be even more powerful. There is something about hearing yourself say something out loud that makes it stick, for better or worse.
As I have been starting this "Couch To 5K" training program, I have found one of the most impactful things I can do while I am jogging and growing weary is to say out loud, "I WILL NOT QUIT!" (Thankfully I jog early in the mornings and no one is around to hear me act like a crazy person.) It seems that I could say, "I will not quit" silently in my head one hundred times and it wouldn't have the same impact as saying it once, out loud, with conviction.
This makes me think. What behaviors, habits, attitudes have I been trying to change unsuccessfully that I haven't actually voiced? In addiction counseling their mantra is that the first step is "admitting that you have a problem." I'm thinking that first step gets you a whole lot farther down the road to recovery when you admit it OUT LOUD. And not just to hear yourself talk. I've said plenty of things out loud that had little to no impact on my attitude or actions... but my reasons for saying those things were off. It wasn't humble confession, it was attention-seeking. If attention seeking is our motivation, then it ain't gonna work.
Of course, there will be times when no matter what I say out loud and no matter how much conviction I muster, I'm going to fail. God is the only one whose Word always accomplishes what he intends it to, whose Word "never returns void." It makes sense then, to make our words match His Word, doesn't it.
Isaiah 55:11 - "So is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." NIV
I do not normally (ever) write about particularly controversial things on my blog. I just write about what I'm thinking about. Sometimes it is funny, sometimes it is spiritual, sometimes it is introspective. Well, right now I happen to be thinking about something that is controversial. It happens on occasion. I've sat here and debated whether or not to write down my thoughts, and finally decided that I should. Not to make a point. Not to become a lightening rod for opinions and criticism. Just to continue doing what I've always done...write what I happen to be thinking about at any given moment. So here goes.
Just down the road from us in Bellefonte, PA, a jury is currently deliberating and preparing to come to a verdict in the trial of former Penn State football coach,Jerry Sandusky who has been accused of many different crimes related to inappropriate sexual contact with multiple young boys over the course of several years. This case has drawn intense national media attention. As reporters and news outlets are each trying to come up with a different angle on the case, and gain more readers in the process, articles are emerging on the periphery that have nothing to do with Jerry Sandusky or his accusers. They are focusing, instead, on pedophilia. Analyzing it, dissecting it, puting it out there for the world to consider and talk about. Tonight I read one such article on CNN.com. Here is the link: http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/21/opinion/cantor-pedophila-sandusky/index.html?hpt=hp_t3
The article asks two questions: 1. Are people born pedophiles? and 2. Do pedophiles deserve sympathy? First, the article defines a pedophile as someone who has a sexual attraction toward children. The author distinguishes a pedophile from a child molester by stating that not every pedophile acts on their urges and actually molests a child. Scientific evidence is then given that points to the possibility that people can be born with a bent toward being sexually attracted toward children. Thus, the question the author poses, "If people are born this way, should we feel sorry for them?"
I've been thinking about the greater questions that this conversation brings to the surface and I wanted to jot down my thoughts here as I process them. I am not a theologian. I am not a doctor. I am not a geneticist. I am the sum total of the thoughts, experiences, knowledge, and faith that God has blessed me with. It is from this humble place that I offer these observations:
1. As I read the Bible, I read of a God who has created us in His image, knitting us together in our mother's womb. I read of a God who does not make mistakes and has no regrets.
2. This fact does not mean that our physical bodies are "perfect" in the way that we define perfection. As simple human beings who, apart from faith, have only this world as a frame of reference and only other human beings to compare ourselves to - we define perfection as that which is most desirable to the most people. God is not limited by this world and thus does not define perfection in that way.
3. We do not understand when someone is born blind, or deaf, or autistic, or with a physical malformation. We see these things as disabilities, and at times we question a God who could allow someone to suffer such "imperfection," undeservedly.
4. As science continues to delve into the area of genetics and attempts to separate out that which is nature versus that which is nurture, more and more physical and psychological "imperfections" are believed to have been hardwired into people before they were born.
5. As a person of the Christian faith, I must choose to compare myself, not to those around me, but rather to Jesus Christ alone. The Bible tells me that none of us is perfect. Nope, not even one. Not because of our "flawed" God-given physical bodies or psyches, but because of what we've chosen to act on, sinfully. We do not know what proclivities were hard-wired into Jesus' physical DNA while he was on Earth. We do know that the Bible says he was tempted in EVERY WAY but was without sin. Every. Way. Whatever his tendencies were, he never acted on them sinfully. He is our gold standard, not each other, but the one who walked this Earth and was tempted but did not sin. Jesus, when tempted, returned to scripture and prayer, and he never acted on any temptation. We are to do the same, with His help. These tendencies toward sin, these imperfections, can actually drive us right into the arms of the one and only Savior of the world, and that is where we have belonged all along.
6. Should we feel sorry for the pedophile? No. But not because he/she is repulsive and undeserving of our sympathy. We shouldn't feel sorry for him/her for two reasons: 1. Because we are no better, and 2. Because he/she is NOT WITHOUT HOPE. We should feel grateful that God has designed each and every one of us to need a Savior, to be faced with our flawed tendencies so that we seek out His help. Otherwise, we would never turn to Him, and the truth is that He is the center of the universe. Not you, and not me. He is what life is all about and living our lives thinking and acting otherwise is foolish.
7. Who should we feel sorry for then? I believe we should feel sorry for those who think they have it all together. Who believe they have no need of a Savior. Who have looked at their own flawed tendencies, whatever they may be (pride, drunkenness, lying, rage, laziness, sexual deviancy, passivity, etc.) and rather than humbly putting faith in Christ to save them from themselves, they determine to just give into their instincts and define their own morality, choosing to make themselves the center of the universe and elevating themselves to the place of god in their own minds. He/She is to be most pitied, and prayed for.
And that's what I think about that.
I just finished the first week of a training program that is supposed to get me off the couch and running a 5K (3.1 miles) in nine short weeks. The first week involves a 25 minute workout that alternates 60 seconds of jogging with 90 seconds of walking, three times per week. As the program progresses, walking time will decrease and jogging time will increase. Yikes!
In the spirit of not taking myself or this very minor accomplishment too seriously, here are the top five things I learned prior to 7am today during my 25 minutes of jog/walking:
1. Ants, apparently, get up earlier than I do and are tougher than I am. As I was stretching at the track before my workout, I noticed little bits of "stuff" moving slowly on the ground beneath my feet. I realized they were hundreds of tiny ants carrying food-stuffs many times their body weight to an unknown location. They reminded me that I have a hard enough time carrying my own body weight. Show offs.
2. An idea of blogging about a Taylor Swift song and relating it to a deep spiritual truth, is probably the runner's high talking. Mid-way through my jog/walk, I actually had this "brilliant" idea to somehow relate Taylor's single "Our Song" to my relationship with God. Those endorphins can create CRAZY TALK in your brain, I tell ya. Beware!
3. The only place it is acceptable for me to wear spandex shorts is at the track at 6:00am when no one else is around. I think I burned more calories constantly adjusting those crazy shorts to keep them from sliding down or riding up than I did while actually jogging/walking. Thank God for long, baggy t-shirts.
4. Getting spiritual while exercising is for the advanced, not the amateur. Toward the end of my workout, as I finally realized this was going to end (eventually) and wasn't, in fact, going to kill me, I had the bright idea to pray for my friends and family during each of the 90 seconds of walking (praying for myself was all I could manage during the 60 seconds of jogging... more specifically, praying that I'd suck it up and not be a wuss and quit). Sounds reasonable enough, right, except that when I would pray while I walked I would lose track of time and the 90 seconds of blessed walking would go by too fast or I'd feel gipped somehow or I'd go longer than 90 seconds and mess up the rules of the workout plan (I'm nothing if not a rule follower). Bah! #AmateurProblems
5. Having something poking you in your shoe while jogging can make you look insane. If you were hiding behind a tree or sitting in a car somewhere, or were flying overhead in an airplane, or had concealed yourself in some other way this morning, and you had the misfortune of watching my workout while I thought I was all alone - I apologize and I feel I must explain. I HAD SOMETHING IN MY SHOE! All those crazy moves, random kicks and shakes, and the stomping, and toe tapping all while trying to continue moving in a forward direction without falling down, must have made me look a bit off my rocker. Perhaps I am...
Starting on Friday, I will be jogging for 90 seconds and walking for 2 minutes for a total of 25 minutes a day, three times per week. Heaven help me! I'll keep ya posted on the hilarity that ensues and the poignant lessons learned. I know you're on the edge of your seat.
PS - I love the little girl in the picture above. I don't know her, but I love her. I found her on Pinterest. I am not making fun of her, I am making fun of myself... she is, quite obviously, trying to dodge the bubbles that are about to land on her head and that is serious business indeed.
Last night at the Bible study for young adults that we host in our home, we walked through some pretty intense waters together in the pages of Scripture. What we uncovered brought on tears, questions, confusion, and in the end a sense of awe and a challenge for the days ahead. Looking at the Bible intently can have that effect. Scratch that. It SHOULD have that effect. God, may I never read your Word benignly. May I never approach the Bible as though it doesn't have the power to ROCK MY WORLD.
One of the topics that we wrestled with last night was the feeling that at times it feels as if God is asking something of us that we just can't do, not right now, maybe later, maybe when I'm stronger... We faced up to the fact that when God asks something of us, He isn't just putting in a "take it or leave it" suggestion. He knows what He is doing. Better yet, He knows what we are capable of, better than we know ourselves. I remember back to my days as a child when my parents would ask me to do something hard and I would cry and complain and feel abandoned by them as I tried to accomplish what felt like an impossible task, all the while doubting their love, my own abilities, and their true knowledge of my capabilities. In the end, I would discover that they were right. That I was able. That I was stronger than I realized. That they loved me enough to allow me to find that out for myself.
What have you been putting off doing because it seems too hard? Unattainable? Could it be that God is allowing it to continually confront you because He wants you to see what you are capable of through His strength? And not just see it, but then live out the rest of your days with a new, more accurate definition of yourself and your God?
Today I started my morning with a cup of coffee, two slices of whole wheat toast (with butter and grape jelly), and a bowl of watermelon chunks. As I ate and sipped, I pulled up Facebook and read through the thoughts and updates from my friends and family. One friend had posted a link to Ann Voskamp's blog (which I've gotten out of the habit of reading on a regular basis), and I decided to check it out. She poetically (as only Ann can) tells the story of making a trip from her native Canada down to the United States with a van full of her children. When she gets to he U.S. border (after a three hour drive), she realizes she doesn't have passports with her for two of her children. Panic moment. After explaining the situation to the U.S. border patrol agent and asking if there is a way she can turn around, he simply opens the sliding back door of the van and asks the two children directly what their birth dates are. He enters them into his tablet and gives Ann permission to enter the U.S. Stunned, she asks him if she will be able to get back home to Canada without the passports the following week and he tells her, "If they are really Canadian citizens, they can't be denied entry."
This story has spoken to my soul deeply today. I am a citizen of heaven. I am traversing this foreign land for a season, but one day I will come to the gates of heaven, my homeland, and as a true citizen, I cannot be denied entry. This brings tears to my eyes and joy to my soul, and a deep desire to point others to the way that they can gain citizenship as well - not by birth, but by rebirth. Praise Him!
Ann's full blog post: http://www.aholyexperience.com/2012/06/when-you-feel-a-bit-like-you-dont-belong/
1 Peter 2:11 "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in this world, to abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your soul." NIV
Philippians 3:20 "But our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a savior from there; the Lord Jesus Christ." NIV
John 10:29 "My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." ESV
GLIMMER: A dim perception or inkling. To appear faintly or dimly.
A glimmer is a powerful thing. In and of itself, it isn't much, but what it alludes to, the hope that it holds out - that is powerful.
We can go through times of intense difficulty, sorrow, heartache, and hardship if we have a glimmer of something better in the future to hold on to. The truly hard times come when we have put our hope in a glimmer of something that turns out to be artificial and doesn't pan out. The glimmer of a potential relationship that might alleviate loneliness. The glimmer of a potential windfall that will cushion a financial blow. The glimmer of a better job that will provide improved working conditions and a good income. The glimmer of a change of scenery and a fresh start to be provided by a move to new place. What is the saying? "All that glitters is not gold." We could substitute "glimmer" for "glitter" quite easily.
Thankfully, God provides many glimmers here on earth worth holding on to. Examples of his grace and mercy and ultimate deity that will not disappoint us. If we open our eyes to perceive the glimmers of eternal hope that God casts upon the waters of our lives, we will gain strength and courage to continue on the journey. Sometimes we need others to point out the these sparkling reflections when we fail to see them. Sometimes we need to be the ones pointing them out to others.
There is a song by Addison Road entitled, What Do I Know of Holy, that contains a line that brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it or sing it: "Then I caught a glimpse of who You might be. The slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees." God has given me many hints of who He is throughout the pages scripture and of my life story, and in nature. What I need to remember and grasp onto is that the reality of who God is (all powerful, all loving, all knowing, ever present, perfectly holy and just) is magnified a million times over from the glimpses of Him I have perceived. He loves me with absolute purity. He protects me with absolute surety. He knows me with absolute clarity. He is in complete control. When we see glimmers of the eternal attributes of the one true God in our lives and in the world around us, they should bring us to our knees, and we should gain strength and hope no matter what our circumstances. The glimmers of God reflect a perfection we can't even begin to imagine.
So when we are tempted to hang our hats on glimmers of things like relationships, jobs, money or greener pastures, let us learn to quickly reject putting the full weight of our hope on them, and instead refuse to settle for a glimmers of anything less than God's perfect will for our lives and the world. He is the only source of light that endures.
1 Corinthians 13:12 "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." NLT
"The sun comes up, its a new day dawning. Its time to sing Your song again. Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me, Let me be singing when the evening comes."
Today, in the middle of a very busy week, I felt the need to pause and just be thankful for the God who holds our days and nights, weeks and months, years and lives. Each and every day, it seems, I get up thinking that I know what is going to happen that day. I look at my calendar and my schedule and I make a mental decision about how easy or hard that day will be based on my own limited knowledge and expectations. In reality, God is the only one who knows what each day will hold and what we will need to make it through and still be singing when the evening comes. Yet another reason to rise and seek His wisdom and companionship each morning.
"By day the Lord commands His steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life." - Psalm 42:8 ESV
"In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." Psalm 5:3 NIV
This morning I watched a video on YouTube that made me smile and it brought a tear to my eye at the end. The video is at the end of this blog post - it will make you smile too - not sure about the teary-eyed part... guess it depends on your hormone levels, feelings about education, love for kids, compulsion toward social justice, etc. Let's face it, tears are more complicated than smiles.
Any way, this video made me think back to my second grade year. Second grade was the year that my family moved across the country, so I started out in one school and then transferred to another mid-year. I have more memories from 2nd grade (good and bad) than any other year in elementary school. In 2nd grade I...
Turns out, in other countries, just saying that word is hard, let alone spelling it. Enjoy!
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!