Posts tagged ‘inspiration’

Hope Endures

       Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. Corrie Ten Boom

The anguish of watching a loved one stumble into the snare of addiction can test even a parent’s love. I encountered such a mom recently and was amazed at her fortitude as she described leading her daughter out of that entanglement by letting her face the consequences of incarceration.

Inspired, I wrote to a young acquaintance serving a three-year sentence for drug crimes to assure him that there is hope in all circumstances.

Dear Robert,
I think often of how far away you are from your parents and how difficult it must be when they aren’t able to visit. My heart aches for each of you, but I am reminded that God can weave purpose through 
every tribulation.

A few years ago, a dear friend called me in tears. Her husband had been arrested on a charge of first-degree murder. I was stunned. How could this happen to such fine Christian people? My friend’s disabled husband went on to spend a year in jail awaiting the court date because they couldn’t afford both bail and a lawyer.

During his trial it all became clear: In order to access grant money and gain professional recognition, an overzealous prosecutor had re-opened a cold case that had been declared an accident twenty-five-years earlier.

The case crumbled when the “eye witness” broke down. He’d made up his testimony, he said, because he was terrified by the prosecutor’s relentless badgering. Meanwhile, my friends endured twelve months of crushing worry that the truth might never come to light. Yet through it all this couple remained steadfast in prayer, holding onto the belief that God resurrects good from bad.

Your situation is difficult. But I believe that, through it, God can mold you into the person He meant for you to be. It takes courage to endure, but with the Lord’s help, the impossible becomes possible.

Before God led me home to faith in my late-thirties, I sinned in ways that still bring me pain. But He uses my past mistakes to guide me today. There is great comfort in that side of salvation. I can’t explain it, but I can celebrate it. And when difficulties arise, I’ve learned that I can bear all things when I open myself to His offer of strength.

Please know that your church family supports your efforts to make things right in your life. We look forward to the day when we will welcome you back with open arms. Until then, we hold you in our hearts and prayers and entrust you to the Lord’s open arms for comfort when things get tough.

My friend who was falsely accused of murder witnessed to many during his year of imprisonment, planting the seeds for restoration through faith. That’s God making lemonade out of lemons, and He can sweeten your bitter cup as well.

Yours in Christ

 

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February 20, 2018 at 6:05 pm 2 comments

Rainy Day Unblues

sad moonie

I’m pretty sure my dog doesn’t possess as extensive a vocabulary as I credit her with. Still, I could swear Muňeca just rolled dejected, puppy-sad eyes at me in a look that said, What kind of a day is this when a girl can’t even get in one decent walk, between the cold and the rain and the wind?

I shot her back a cocked-eyebrow look of my own that said, “Just be glad we don’t live in Montana. Missoulans are trudging through ten inches of snow about now.”

Funny thing is, this damp and cloudy day didn’t leave me feeling drained and depressed and wanting to crawl back into bed. There was certainly a time in my life when it would have.

This is not because everything is peachy-keen in my little corner of Texas, either. I don’t have close friends nearby. Nice, younger neighbors, but no long-term confidants. I haven’t set aside enough to ensure my future well-being should an economic ripple interrupt the delivery of monthly Social Security checks. And people I love and thought I could trust inexplicably turned on me after my husband passed away last December.

Then, all last week I wasn’t feeling so hot. But I weathered it with prayer, serenely meditating my way through a string of housebound days that I feared might herald a new normal. I am, after all, approaching a birthday that I can hardly believe has snuck up on me, when I actually—usually—feel decades younger than the number would suggest.

So today the sage’s voice that hunkers down in the left half of my brain whispers to its opposing side, she actually has acquired a little wisdom in the autumn of her life. The wisdom to not beat my head against the brick wall of things over which I have no control. The understanding that a satisfactory life requires my greatest efforts, but also my greatest faith in an entity I cannot see or touch. And the knowledge that none of this rests in my ability to conquer the world but in the omnipotence of a Creator God, who hears my plaints but knows better than I how to resolve them.

Patience. Did I mention that older me is more patient, too? It’s not a trait I taught myself. It came from an active relationship with that Creator. Can’t explain how all of this works because I’m hobbled by the limits of human intelligence. But I can guarantee a good result once the practice of daily contact with Him is established.

Another funny thing? For the first twenty years of my adulthood, I wouldn’t have made that claim. Probably would have laughed at it. Did laugh at it. I’m not laughing any longer. But I am smiling. Even on a dreary, cold, rainy, windy day.

 

November 11, 2017 at 4:36 pm 1 comment

I Know It’s Fiction, But Puh-leeze!

8-18-17 fiction books blog pic

It disturbs me that so many contemporary fiction writers—who apparently don’t actually know any Christians, personally—consistently reach into their drawer of hackneyed stereotypes in order to round out their character lists. (This happens with screenplays, too, of course. But today I’m talking about a failure of imagination in the literary arts.)

What they invariably end up with is the standard, tiresome, pursed-lipped hypocrite who “tsks” and lectures her way through the dialogue and is universally despised by the other reasonable, open-minded types who populate the novel’s pages. This is especially apparent when two other ubiquitous characters, the token gay guy and the unmarried young mother, are introduced, only to be shamed by the Christian fusspot and affectionately accepted by those of nobler disposition.

Sure, there are plenty of obnoxious individuals out there—some of them claiming to be believers, some not. But a lot of the people I hang around with nowadays are Christians, and not one of them fits the unflattering typecasting I encounter in my bedtime reading adventures.

The fact is that we all do bad stuff. Some of us have accepted that fact and some of us haven’t; some of us feel remorse and a desire to overcome our baser inclinations, some have no grasp of those concepts. The Christians I know struggle mightily to reconcile their fondness for—and fear of offending—the particular, unrepentant sinner with their grave concern for his or her spiritual welfare.

This concern is an expression of love, not a judgment. After all, mere mortals didn’t write the rule book. The code for moral living comes from a much higher source. And it certainly wasn’t invented by the annoying, small-minded, holier-than-thou, pleasure-thwarting goody-goodies I come across far too often in the realm of cozy mysteries and mainstream story-telling.

This pigeon-holing trend makes me sad. Yet, like Christo-phobic Saul/Paul who was brought into the Light by a God who sought to turn his evil deeds to good, I was once among the stereotypers. I scoffed at anyone, especially people of faith, who dared to define shalts and shalt-nots in black-and-white terms. Ironically, I also condemned them.

Then I fell in love with an earnest Christian man. Met his delightful, fun-loving family. Saw true faith put into action as selflessness and generosity. Developed friendships with devout people who lived by conviction but were nothing like the disapproving Pharisees I had let myself be convinced they would be. These were kind, forgiving souls who accepted me right where I was—on the cusp of unbelief—and gave me plenty of elbow room to find my way home.

That’s my reality-based experience with Christians. Now, I urge the disseminators of the musty old cliché described above to step into the real world to research their next projects. Could be a revelation!

Meanwhile, back to gritting my teeth through the last few chapters of Murder at the Book Group. Is that Karma I feel nibbling at my derriere?

August 18, 2017 at 5:41 pm 2 comments

Under Texas Skies

            I spent four years in Memphis, Tennessee, in the mid-seventies. It was not a happy experience. A half-inch of snow one January, and the whole city closed down. Then there was the headache-inducing summer humidity.

            Working there, I found the coy, syrupy, Southern belle sweetness of some of my co-workers phony and hard to stomach. Add in the fact that—according to the matriarch at the family-owned building supply company I worked for—I remained “That Yankee Girl in th’ Office” for my entire 44 months of employment, and my discomfort meter got nudged toward its limit.

            By the time I moved back north, I had heard enough racist and sexist references from the locals that I was ready for a frontal lobotomy just to stop the screaming in my head that I didn’t have the chutzpah to level at the guilty parties.

            So, when my husband and I moved from the Minneapolis area in Minnesota to the Dallas area in Texas 18 months ago, I expected to experience full-fledged culture shock. South is south, right? Not so, I quickly learned. We have felt nothing but welcomed since day-one of our time here, and I find myself more in-tune politically, philosophically, and spiritually with my new friends and neighbors than I could have ever hoped to be.

            Having said all that, there are things I don’t like about being here. I don’t like endless summer any more than I liked endless winter. And as much as I whined about having to bundle up head-to-toe every time I set foot out my front door from November through March, it really doesn’t seem like Christmas without a crisp, white blanket of snow covering the front yard.

            I also dislike the idea of “outside dogs.” Sure, they add to one’s sense of security, but aren’t canines social creatures? Don’t they need attention from their owners, even if they have a dog-buddy fenced in out there with them? And don’t the neighbors deserve not to be awakened at 4:00 a.m. because the guard pooch mistook a squirrel for an armed intruder?

            Ummm. The local drivers. They seem to be of two extreme types: the ultra-polite person who wants to wave you through the four-way stop even when it isn’t your turn—dangerous in its own way—and the idiot who screams down the George Bush freeway going 25 miles over the posted 70 m.p.h. limit, cutting between you and that 40-ton semi that you were starting to pass on the left.

            But the things I love about life in Texas far outweigh the things I don’t love. People are exceptionally friendly. They chat with you in line at the checkout counter. They wave and smile from their vehicle as they pass you walking your dog, or they stop weeding the garden to come down and shake hands and chew the fat for a spell.

            Here, we have discovered an abundance of good ol’ common sense, which dares to defy political correctness when rational thinking contradicts conventional wisdom. Closely related is the courage of the faithful. Our two favorite restaurants—one a fast food taco joint, the other a fabulous barbecue establishment—both flash Christian witness in neon red on their roadside signs. We’ve seen similar joyful proclamations other places, too, from the local Chamber of Commerce to the receptionist’s desk at the closing company that handled our house purchase. I feel bolstered on all sides by these unabashed efforts to promote faith; I’m no longer on the defensive within a civic environment hostile to and debasing of my beliefs.

            And the skies. I don’t know the scientific explanation for it, but there is something about the chunk of heaven that hangs over our little corner of  northeast Texas. Almost every sunset is a delight and a surprise, with its ever-changing variety of cloud formations and soul-inspiring natural tints that you want to scoop into a jar like fireflies, and bring back inside with you. Hard to capture in a photograph. Even harder to describe. This glorious daily treat—sometimes delivered at sunrise as well—sits near the top of my list of things to appreciate about our new location, right under being close enough to kids and grandkids to gather together at the slightest excuse for a celebration.

            In fairness to Memphis, I imagine things are different there now. New generations, cleansed of the infectious bigotry and regional snobbery of their predecessors, have no doubt changed the feel of the place. But there’s no way they’ll ever be able to compete with the view of the firmament we are blessed with here in Cattle Country, U.S.A.

            I’ll remind myself of that the next time I’m awakened from a sound sleep by the howling mutt next door. These indescribable sky-views are probably worth that trade-off.

October 28, 2016 at 12:06 am 1 comment

Vroooom and Zoom – There Goes Summer

Freedom_of_SpeechIt’s been over a month since I last wrote anything here, and by golly if we aren’t practically staring autumn in the face already. By the time I publish my observations on days six and seven of our April trip to Mexico, we’ll probably be ankle-deep in our first snow fall of the season – an event we had hoped to miss out on this year before we stepped into the surreal world of selling our house.

It’s all starting to seem like an endless loop of one thing leading to another, this business of upping the curb appeal, bringing the interior up-to-date, listing the property with a realtor, and finding a warmer location we feel comfortable retiring to before 2014 comes to an end – all while simultaneously sorting and clearing fifty-plus years of habitation out of every nook and cranny of my husband’s family homestead.

But one of the rewards of pawing through other people’s decades’ worth of collected memorabilia (and my in-laws were world champion savers, for sure) is that you stumble upon at least one treasure in every string of “what in the world is this?” discoveries.

Below, the transcription of a P.R. piece published circa 1963, in blue ink, on an ivory-colored 6″ by 3-1/2″ card by Coast Federal Savings and Loan Association’s Free Enterprise Department, located at 9th and Hill, Los Angeles 14, California.

Try picturing a contemporary politician being willing to risk offending the low-information contingent of the electorate with such high expectations. And can you even imagine a bank today having the backbone to share such a message, with ranks of waiting-to-be-insulted professional victims lurking around every corner, visions of a lucrative lawsuit dancing in their heads?
Sadly, neither can I. But here, from a slightly more common sense era, the quoted comments of Representative Richard H. Poff, as originally published in the November 3, 1962, issue of the magazine Human Events.

WHAT IS FREE ENTERPRISE
“Basically, the free enterprise system means freedom of the individual. Under the free enterprise system, the individual is free to make something of himself if he has the enterprise to do it. Too many people put too much emphasis on ‘free’ and too little emphasis on ‘enterprise.’

“The difference between a free nation and a slave nation can be very simply stated. In a free nation, the people accept the responsibility for their own welfare; while in a slave nation that responsibility is turned over to the government. Or, to put it another way, meaning the same thing, in a free nation the state gets its right from the people; while in a slave nation, the people get their rights, if any, from the state.”

But wait, as infomercials are fond of insisting; there’s more. Flip the card over and you find these words of wisdom, reprinted from the January 1961 issue of Manage Magazine, and titled

TIME IS RUNNING OUT
“The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations progressed through this sequence:
From Bondage to Spiritual Faith
From Spiritual Faith to Great Courage
From Courage to Liberty
From Liberty to Abundance
From Abundance to Selfishness
From Selfishness to Complacency
From Complacency to Apathy
From Apathy to Dependency
From Dependency back again into Bondage

“In sixteen years our nation will be 200 years old. This cycle is not inevitable…
IT DEPENDS UPON YOU”

Is it just me being paranoid, or have we indeed become far too comfortable with the idea that our rights derive from the government, and far too accepting of the creeping ideology that we answer to government rather than the other way ’round? Is this the selfish complacency of which we were warned, the apathy and dependency predicted about the same time this sturdy old house of mine was being built?

This Labor Day holiday, I hope to stand with the Founders and reclaim the truth that man’s rights come from God, not from an elitist political class which wields the power of the State like a sledge hammer. May the free and the enterprising lead the way out of this bondage and back again into the spiritual faith from which our true liberty derives.

September 2, 2014 at 4:02 pm 2 comments

Susi’s Mexican Adventure – Day Four

placita veggiesMy first name is Sue Anne – two words, no hyphen, no middle name; a challenge to computer forms world-wide. But when I was eight, some younger neighborhood kids dubbed me Susie, a nickname I loved. It was softer, more genial. And it resolved the problem of people calling me “Sue.”

When daughter-in-law Esther translated my English given name to “Susi” – pronounced with double sibilance, like Dr. Seuss, except with a “y” sound at the end – I was charmed by the sound of it whistling off the tip of her tongue. Here in Mexico, it is how I am introduced, and how I introduce myself to others. If only I could slough off this angst and recapture the child-like openness the Spanish version of my name suggests.

I have fallen into a new morning schedule here, with the indoor walking DVD and a few household and personal care routines evolving as necessary. Jason and Esther have moved into the second upstairs bedroom, since her long-vacated, inherited house is in need of repair. I do my bustling before others are about, and then settle into vacation mode with a book or glass of iced lemon water on the patio. This morning, we set out to walk to Esther’s favorite juice bar and land there about 11:30, not yet having eaten and craving a good brunch.

But this is a busy place, literally humming with activity and chatter. The menus, of course, are in Spanish. The wait staff, logically, speaks their native tongue, not mine. I am so hungry I can’t think straight, and the complicated business of having Esther translate my every question and the waiter’s every response makes me dizzy with confusion.

Jason speaks Spanish, as does Jack. They are also less neurotic about what they put into their stomachs, and easily find a menu item that appeals. This is a sandwich shop which specializes in custom-blended drinks of whatever combination the diner selects. More decisions, more anxiety, more need for translation.

I finally blurt out a selection, because everyone else is waiting, then realize I have misspoken. More embarrassment and stomach-clenching tension, as Esther scrambles to cancel my order, and I surrender to the role of famished martyrdom rather than trying to join the group in their enjoyment of a meal.

What a fool I feel. It is the language thing. It is the being off-schedule and not having eaten breakfast thing. It is my torment over being the only one in the party who cannot envision myself living happily in remote San Miguel, with its low taxes, laid-back lifestyle, and virtually perfect climate. It is the cacophonous level of noise surrounding us. All these things come together like a tornado in my gut. I could sob out loud if I weren’t so self-conscious about making even more of a scene than I already have.

Down the stairs. Step outside. Gulp in a few breaths of fresh air, as cars rattle by on the busy thoroughfare outside the restaurant. Dear God, what is wrong with me? Am I four years old, for Pete’s sake? Do other adults have this breath-robbing reaction to alien environments, like a flopping fish having been yanked from familiar waters? I need to eat, and I need not to cause stress for my fellow travelers. Get a grip.

Back inside, I finally sort out my swirling thoughts and manage to convey, through Esther, a new, well-thought-out order to our saintly waiter, who patiently jots down my wishes as if I were a perfectly sane and reasonable new arrival whom he has just set eyes on for the first time.

Within minutes, I am again a part of the chatty group, and my bad behavior has been rewarded with a plate of hot and oozy ham and Swiss quesadilla with avocado and tomato on the side and a blenderful (really; brought right to the table with a tall milkshake glass which it will fill twice) of orange, papaya, strawberry, carrot, and guava fruit, swirled into the most heavenly of smoothies one could imagine. From internal chaos, to blissful ecstasy. The transformative power of panic-driven prayer and a good meal.

La Placita: plaza; piazza; public square; marketplace; shopping area. A fifteen-minute cab ride deposits us across the street from this weekly extravaganza of buying and selling. “Placita Grande” says it better. The place is enormous, and shoppers can fill almost every need here, as they mill around in a scene reminiscent of a Marrakesh Market or Istanbul Bazaar.

It is 80˚ and windy. Dusty air and the smell of frying fish waft in gusty bursts, taunting the nostrils, as a steady din of rapid-fire Spanish, a megaphone-wielding evangelist, and roving musicians compete for the available sound waves. Amidst it all, cheery vendors serve up plates of oil-puddled pizza slices topped with mounds of French fries, accompanied by the ultra-sweet Mexican version of Coke and soon to be followed by a slab of the milky dessert called Pastel de Tres Leches, or perhaps a pillowy, deep-fried sopapilla. It is no wonder that this population, like my own, is experiencing a diabetes epidemic.

As we elbow our way through the dense clusters of humanity, we pass a guitar-playing father and his singing daughter, her eyes, liquid chocolate; her hand timidly offering a Styrofoam cup to receive tokens of appreciation in the form of peso coins, or perhaps even paper, from a “rich” American tourist. More heart-rending is the stooped beggar with one crippled foot splayed out in a brace, his sad, weary stare vacantly searching the distance as he hobbles past mostly unmoved shoppers, eager to get something more tangible than the satisfaction of a generous heart from their next expenditure.

And there is such an abundance of opportunities to expend. Canopied stalls stretch for blocks in both directions, table after table of caps, jewelry, clothing, leather goods, boots and shoes; dietary supplements and folk remedies; fresh fruit, fish, meat, beans, peppers, handmade candies, seasoned roasted nuts, cookies and cakes, farm-grown vegetables, breads, and fruit-laden pastries. Esther buys a baggie of six pickled pig’s feet floating eerily in clear brine along with spices and raw onion rings, and tucks it away from Jason’s view. “He doesn’t like,” she says. (How do we say “simpatico” in Spanish?)

Back to our casita to unpack the day’s purchases, then it’s off on foot to explore the sprawling, ancient Parqué Guadiana. All this walking is good, once you learn to watch your step very carefully and to seek out the most civilized routes. Dinner is a taco salad at a restaurant operated by one of the many Canadian transplants in this ten percent expatriate community, and then back to our rental house to unwind in the flower-scented peace of the courtyard and watch the sun drop beyond the wall into a saffron-colored strata of clouds.

Around 9:00 p.m. my husband and I are puzzled to hear a plaintive voice crying out in the darkened street. “He is selling grilled corn on the cob,” says Esther. “This is very common here.” The mournful sound becomes enchanting with her explanation, a perfect metaphor for this enigmatic place.

June 22, 2014 at 5:12 pm Leave a comment

True Romantics

old booksI was musing here not long ago about the rewards of preserving snippets of the past. Valentine’s Day being a time for sharing the sentimental, and as a sort of post script to that previous piece, I’m sharing another recent experience that left my heart warmed and rewarded.

A few months ago I posted the following ad online:

Early 20th Century Cookbook Collection

Fascinating materials for the food historian or the curious contemporary cook. Eight hardcover books from 1908-1946, plus 14 paperback booklets dated 1906-1950, including 1917’s A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband With Bettina’s Best Recipes; a 1946 edition of Joy of Cooking; a 1950 edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book; the 1944 Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book; The New Jell-o Book of Surprises from 1930; Rumford Southern Recipes, and more. Books range from fair to good condition.

This assortment had belonged to my beloved stepmother, but I was running out of room, and none of my stepsisters were interested in these family items.

With nary a nibble from the Craig’s list crowd, I hatched the bright idea of narrowing my audience to a more select group. The term “Home Economics” is apparently as outdated as my association with college campuses, but I managed to locate and contact the Food Science and Nutrition Department through the University of Minnesota’s home page.

The secretary – excuse me – the administrative assistant there referred me to the Department Head who offered to place a blurb in the staff newsletter. When the Department Head himself thought about my offering, he decided to purchase the set for his wife, as part of her Christmas gift last December. “She tells me she really enjoys reading old cookbooks,” he shared. It was an example of what my stepmother would have called synchronicity.

I delivered the books to said professor in ribbon-tied bundles according to size, and then rushed off to finish my own harried Christmas preparations. He was a very nice, soft-spoken fellow. A genteel individual in the classic sense. I was immediately sorry to have rushed through our exchange so quickly, but soon refocused on more positive thoughts of the holiday to come.

Come January, I found myself speculating over how this kind man’s wife might have received his thoughtful and unique gift, worrying just a tad that it might have been a disappointment to one of them, once in hand. The brown-edged covers of the paperback pamphlets were charming, with their marcel-waved, cherry-faced housewives positively elated over the products of their displayed baking efforts, but some were a bit weary with age. Would that have been a detracting feature?

Driven, cat-like, by a raging sense of curiosity, I decided to inquire.

On Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 12:53 PM I wrote:

Professor:

Good morning. I am the person from whom you purchased the old cook book collection that had come to me through my stepmother and her ancestors. I don’t mean to barge into your busy day, but I have been curious to know if your wife found the assortment to be entertaining and informative, as I did.

A belated happy new year to you and yours.

SAK

At 1:21 on that same date, the professor responded:

She loves them. I will find her at the kitchen table or by the living room fireplace reading them. They are the perfect gift for her. (They have a good home.)
Thank you,

G

On Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 4:41 PM, I replied:

How delightful. Thank you for taking the time to respond. You are a gracious gentleman, and I was pleased to have the chance to meet you.

To which he further responded:

And I enjoyed meeting a person who is obviously very caring – you did not sell the books to the highest bidder but to a person who would value, enjoy and care for them.

My best wishes,

G

The image of this nice man’s wife poring over with interest the contents of a literary time capsule from generations past that my stepmother had cherished brightened my day. Lit up my week. And his generous comments put to rest any lingering concerns about the decision to give the volumes up.

They indeed have a good home. That, in my mind, is a romantic thought: A loving husband valuing treasures from the past, and being tuned in enough to his wife’s passions that he found her the perfect gift.

A match made in heaven, perhaps. Happy Valentine’s Day, all.

February 14, 2014 at 9:31 pm 3 comments

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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

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