Saturday, January 31, 2009

Last Light and More

Imagine life, as we know it, coming to an abrupt halt. No electricity, no cars, no planes, no phones, nothing! That is the basic premise for a set of four novels by Terri Blackstock called, The Restoration Series. I can think of days when the electricity has been down, or the internet didn’t work. I about went nuts. I could hardly function!

When I first started reading the opening novel of this series, I wasn’t sure I liked it. In the first few pages, planes fell out of the sky, the electricity went off, and there wasn’t a car that would start anywhere. People on the highways had to abandon their cars and walk home. I kept thinking, “Could this really happen?” I was a tad bit frightened, to be honest. Of course, it didn’t stop me from reading the entire series.

Terri Blackstock does an amazing job of capturing the reader from the first page. The reason I kept reading was because I wanted to see how people would handle it. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a Pollyanna. I think everyone is always going to do what’s right, and get along. Of course, I do live in the real world and know this isn’t always the case, but I still expect the best of people. As you might guess, this is not the case in these books. People start to steal, kill, hoard food, and anything else they can get their hands on. Everyone is afraid, even in their own homes.

I’m sure by now you are wondering why in the world anyone would spend their time on these novels. Here’s why. They do offer hope. Eventually, the reader starts to see the characters working together to accomplish a common goal. It also made me think. What would I do under the same circumstances? I really like my creature comforts. You know, being warm, being able to see by something other than candlelight, not having to use an outhouse, or dig a well for my water. Would I really give away food knowing that I might not be able to eat the next day?

If you like mysteries, you’ll enjoy these books. Start with Book 1, Last Light, and see what you think. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Investing in the Future

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to attend an event at our church for Kingdom Builders. Kingdom Builders includes all the people at our church who want to invest in advancing the Kingdom of God. I’m not even sure I can put into words the impact that last Saturday’s meeting had on my life.

Our pastor, Rob Ketterling, shared his vision for investing in several youth centers, both locally and internationally. One of the locations he would like us to invest in is a youth center in Russia. I was startled to learn that the average life expectancy of an orphan in Russia is 30 years. They die, primarily, of suicide. The money that we invest would actually go for the purchase of land that will be used for a youth center for the kids to go to after they leave the orphanage. There were tears in my eyes as I watched the video of the Russian orphans, with little hope for their future. I told John later that it was a good thing he wasn’t there or I might have given all of our money away. (Wait a minute! He wasn’t there, what was stopping me? Oh, I remember, knowing that I had to go home again.)

I think some of my tears stemmed from knowing that there are children all over the world with less than we could possibly imagine. After traveling to China and seeing the children who are sent to school in the city for a “better life,” my heart just broke knowing that their parents, wanting the very best for their children, gave up really knowing their kids. And the better life they seek for their children, isn’t always better. In Africa, we saw children living in huts no bigger than 9’ x 9’, without running water, electricity, or anything to warm them in the cold winter months. Seeing these things changes your life. It changes how you view your “needs.”

Last Saturday our pastor shared a Bible verse that I had recently read but didn’t really think much about. The verse from Genesis 21:33 says “Then Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he worshiped the Lord, the Eternal God.” This happened shortly after Sarah gave birth to Isaac, their long awaited son. Pastor Rob explained that what Abraham was really doing was investing in the future. You see, the tamarisk tree is a very slow growing shade tree. Abraham planted it for future generations to enjoy. The tamarisk tree grows so slowly that Abraham would never be able to use it as a shade tree for himself. (Remember, he was already older than dirt by the time Isaac was born.) And that is what our pastor asked us to do – invest in the future generations.

I remember when my kids were little and I’d hear people say things like “I don’t want to pay for a new school, my kids are already grown. They did fine at the old school.” That would really frustrate me. As I write this, our school district is building a new auditorium. Would it have been nice to have that when my kids were there? Absolutely. It would have been way more fun to attend their concerts in an auditorium instead of a gym, but I’m thrilled that the kids coming up behind them will have that opportunity.

I guess my point is, we need to invest in the future generations. Whether you attend River Valley Church or don’t even go to church, you can still make a difference. There are lots of kids, and lots of projects to which we can donate or give of our time. We can’t just shake our heads and hope these kids turn out o.k. We need to invest not just in the kids of our small town or suburb, but in the kids of the inner city, and the kids around the world. It WILL make a difference.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cool Technology Tip

Last month, I discovered one of the coolest technology tips I’ve heard in awhile. We were on our way to Baudette and were planning a stop for dinner in Grand Rapids. For those of you not from around here, Baudette is right next to the end of the earth and Grand Rapids is a little over half way between our house and Baudette. Once you head north out of Grand Rapids there is a drastic change in the scenery. Instead of lots of houses, with a few trees scattered around, you find lots of trees with a few houses stuck in between. But, I digress.

So, we were going to stop for dinner in Grand Rapids and I didn’t really want to go to a typical fast food joint. Our son, Adam, who was riding with us, says “Hey, why don’t you just call Google to find a restaurant?” Wait a minute, isn’t Google a website? How do you call a website? I don’t own one of those fancy phones with internet access.

It turns out there is an 800 number to get information from Google and it’s totally free. I was skeptical at first. I mean, how could this service be free? My cell phone company charges me $1.79 for information calls, why would Google do it for free? Not only that, but once they determine the business you’d like to reach, they’ll connect you, or give you more information. Again, totally free! I actually waited to get our mobile phone bill just to be sure I was giving you accurate information.

The only catch I can see is that this service can only be used to locate a business. If you need to find a friend’s number you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way by calling 411. Of course, the old-fashioned way was actually free, too, but that’s all changed; so I guess technically, it’s the new way with the old number.

Should you want to try this Google service, call 800-466-4411. You’ll get an automated system that works with voice recognition. In other words, you’ll want to tell the kids sitting in the back seat to be quiet or you may soon find yourself connected to Chuck E. Cheese by mistake.

Oh, and dinner at the Sawmill Inn in Grand Rapids was excellent. We’d recommend the “Chicken a la Ritz.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Christmas Sanity Plan – Part 1

At the end of December I blogged about my plan to do Christmas differently in 2009. I decided that the best way to get through Christmas without losing my mind (or causing others to lose theirs) is to do something every month instead of trying to cram it all into November and December. Each month of 2009 I will be blogging about what I am doing in an effort to put some sanity back into my Christmas season. Please join me in this project if you like and share your ideas with me. I’m not really all that creative so I love to hear what others are doing.

My Christmas sanity plan for January is to make a list of all the people I want to bless for Christmas next year. Notice I didn’t say AT Christmas because that would indicate that I was going to buy them all gifts. While I do intend to buy gifts for some, my main goal this year is to do things that are more relational in nature. Think about it; if you really care enough about someone to buy them a gift, wouldn’t you rather spend some time enjoying their company, or providing a service for them that would make their life easier?

I’ve been working on my list. Of course, my kids, my husband, and my family members are on the list. Also on the list are my pastors and their wives. I could write a whole blog on why I like to bless them in some way for Christmas but suffice it to say they are cool people, they work hard, and I love them. And, I have some amazing friends, neighbors, and people that I work with for whom I would like to do something.

Now that I have a list I can start thinking of what I’d like to do for these people. When I think of something I’ll make note of it. Here are a few things I’m considering, plus a few you might want to think about doing:

1. Invite them over for dinner – if it’s someone you’d have over anyway, this idea might not be the best choice, but remember I’m trying to keep it relational. It doesn’t have to be a fancy meal, just a time to have fun together.

2. Send a gift to your favorite mission organization in honor of your friend or family member. Every time my kids do something like this for us it makes me cry. Knowing that a child can eat in Africa, or Thailand, or really anywhere, is about the best gift I can think of when I’m surrounded by all my “stuff” in my warm house on Christmas morning.

3. Help them plant their garden, or buy them some plants for their garden in the spring.

4. Provide a night of babysitting for someone with youg children. Trust me, they could use a night out!

5. Have a tea party for the women in your neighborhood.

6. Create a “batch of cookies” a month club. You bake the cookies and send them off each month to a lucky recipient. This is a great gift idea for a working mom or a college student. Our son is doing this as a gift for his brothers this year.

7. Check out the World Vision website for some great gift ideas. Buying an animal for someone in a third world country is a great way to honor your friend.

8. Create a video for grandparents of their grandchildren doing a play or a musical performance. If you can, add some humor. It’ll make it more fun to watch. (Our children aren’t as cute and compelling as they used to be but I thought I’d throw this idea out for those of you with younger children.)

9. Sponsor a child through Compassion International in honor of someone.

10. Magazine subscriptions are great ideas for your favorite reader.

This list could go on and on. Of course, there are some people I just want to buy a regular gift for, and I’m sure you’ll have people like that on your list. Here’s my advice on that – start now! There are some amazing sales going on right now so why not save money AND get an early start. As you pick up gifts through the year store them in a special spot so you won’t forget you have them. (I’ve done that more than once!) Most importantly, take out your list and write down what you bought and who you plan to give it to. If you find a particularly good sale, pick up a couple extras. You’ll mostly likely forget to put someone on your list right now or you’ll need a hostess gift for next year’s Christmas parties. If all else fails and you can’t find anyone to give it to, either donate it to charity or wrap it up for yourself. You can label it “To………., From a secret admirer.” That’ll stir up some conversation on Christmas morning!

If you want to participate in my Christmas Sanity plan, now is the time to start the list making. More to come next month!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

In Memory

Last Sunday, my mother-in-law, Emily Holte, left this world for one far better. On Friday, we all said our final goodbyes. Grief is a funny thing. It seems like you are just trying to work through saying goodbye to one person, when in effect, what really happens (at least for me) is you are saying goodbye again to everyone you’ve ever lost. A song may be the same as the one that was played at your friend’s funeral, or when you hear the sound of the bugler playing taps you see the flag draped across your grandpa’s casket.

But, it’s not all sad. First off, I know that my mother-in-law is in heaven. What could be better than that? It’s all gain for her. The loss is ours.

My friend emailed me last night and said, “Why do you suppose the word fun is in funeral?” No one really associates funerals with fun but really, they are a very sweet time. You get to see family, and sometimes friends, that you don’t generally see. And, everyone has memories to share. There were some funny stories told this weekend and I simply have to share one with you.

Emily was of German/Irish descent, with all the determination, and a wee bit of stubbornness to go with that heritage. My father-in-law is 100% Norwegian. Together they had seven children. This information is pertinent to the following story. One day, just a year or so ago, Emily was at the grocery store with her oldest daughter, Pat. I don’t know why the topic came up in the grocery store, but it did. Emily looked at her daughter and said, “You know, lots of people ask me if I have a little bit of Norwegian in me and I just tell them, ‘well, I did at least seven times!’”

What I remember most about Emily is that she loved everyone. You never heard her say anything bad about anyone. And she had a wit like no one else. One night this past year she fell during the night as she got out of bed. Unable to get up on her own, she called to my father-in-law, Harold, for help. Harold asked her what she was doing on the floor and her quick response was “well, I’m not playing marbles.”

Emily also loved sweets but, unfortunately, had diabetes so her favorite foods were only allowed on a limited basis. But, as she got older she didn’t really care so much about her diet anymore and the family tried to keep her on track. At a wedding though, she couldn’t be trusted. I remember more than one time finding her sneaking a second piece of cake into a napkin or even into a paper cup to take home for later.

My sister-in-laws took turns caring for Emily in her final days and when it was clear the end was close Fran, the middle sister, decided that Emily should have one of her favorites for what turned out to be her very last meal. Fran brought her a bowl of peppermint ice cream for lunch. Even in a very weak and confused state Emily said, “You know what would taste good on this? A little chocolate sauce.” Emily knew how to make it a party! Even after her death she makes me laugh. I will miss her!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Perfect Job

I am so excited! I have found the perfect job! I’m sure there will be other applicants but in my mind, no one else is as well suited as I am for this particular line of work. And, finding out about this opportunity on what is sure to be remembered as the coldest morning of 2009, is no doubt divine guidance. Here’s the deal. What I would need to do is laze around on an island off the coast of Australia! It’s true! They are really going to pay someone to do this for SIX months! If you don’t believe me, check out this link.

It’s no small pay check either! They are offering the job recipient 150,000 Australian dollars ($105,000 American) for this six months stint. Most everyone is qualified to lie around and soak in the sun but here is what makes the job perfect for me. What they are basically looking for is someone who can promote the island for tourism purposes. Oh, pick me, pick me!

The job candidate should be someone who can:
1. Write – I can do that.
2. Speak and not be shy in front of the camera – Do they know me?
3. Is a good swimmer – it’s been awhile since high school swim team but I can still swim.
4. Likes to snorkel – are you kidding me? In the Great Barrier Reef? I LOVE it!
5. Likes the sun and outdoors – well, under a beach umbrella it’s perfect, unless there are mosquitoes.

There is just ONE small problem. John seems to think that $105,000 isn’t enough to justify us being separated for six months. I tried to explain to him that I could afford to fly him over once a month but he’s just not buying it. Men!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Behind Those Eyes - Book Review

Last September, my friend, Kim, invited readers of her blog to join her in an online Bible study. The book they were using for the study, Behind Those Eyes, sounded interesting so I decided to join. Being new to the whole “online study” idea it took me awhile to get the hang of things. I bought the book late and tried to catch up in what turned out to be some of the busiest days in my life. Let’s just say I was a bit of a failure at keeping up with the whole online thing. But, I did eventually get the book read and I thought I’d tell you about it. If you are new to reading my blog, book reviews are just one of the many services I provide. If you don’t like book reviews, no worries. I’m a slow reader and they don’t come up very often.

The thing I liked about Behind Those Eyes was the “realness.” The author, Lisa Whittle, starts out by talking about how we all wear different masks. We pretend we’re happy when we aren’t, or confident, super spiritual, or perfect. It doesn’t matter who we are pretending to be, the point is that lots of times we are doing just that – pretending. But the truth is that deep inside we are dying. We just want someone to love us for whom we really are.

And guess who that someone might be? The one who loves us JUST the way we are is Jesus Christ. In this book, Lisa shows us how to start recognizing and believing the truth. Once we recognize Christ’s love for us, and allow him to peel off the masks that we have so carefully put on, then, we are free to live the life that He has planned for us.

I would highly recommend this book. If you want to do it with a group, there is even a study guide in the back. Either way, you won’t find it to be a waste of time.

Monday, January 5, 2009

When the Girls Get Together

I spent this morning at a surprise birthday party for my friend, Lisa. There were twelve of us at the party and we all love Lisa very much. Upon first glance, it was like any other birthday party you might attend. We ate, we laughed, Lisa opened gifts, we sang Happy Birthday – all the fun stuff one would associate with a birthday party. But, at one point I was struck by the incredible bond that women have with each other. We were all asked to share something about Lisa that was special to us. One woman shared how Lisa had come to clean her house when she was stuck in bed. Others shared funny stories of adventures they’d had with Lisa. And another shared how much she appreciated Lisa’s willingness to always jump in and get the job done, whatever it is.

But one person shared something that I had never heard before. She said that there are certain endorphins that are released in a woman’s body when she gets together with her girl friends. When these endorphins mix with our estrogen it’s like having a really good therapy session. So, she thanked Lisa for being good therapy!

I’ll be honest here, I didn’t “Google” this information to check its accuracy, because quite honestly, I’m going to choose to believe it’s true, regardless of what I read. I don’t need Google to tell me that getting together with my girlfriends is good for me. I know that when I walk away.

After I heard about this “girlfriend therapy” I sat back for a bit and watched the girlfriends interact with each other, and share their favorite “Lisa” story. And, what I realized was that this was an extraordinary moment. How often do we, as women, take the time to tell a friend how much they mean to us? Or relive a favorite moment of our times with them? Our lives get so busy that we sometimes forget to tell someone what they mean to us. Or, we promise to get together and have lunch and suddenly, five months have passed and nothing is even on the calendar.

I, for one, am going to be more deliberate about getting together with my friends. You see, not only did I feel better when I left the party today, but I actually had physical proof of my improved well-being. On my way home I had to go to the doctor and, as always, they checked my blood pressure. It tends to run on the high side of “normal.” Today, though, it was significantly lower than usual. With proof like that, who needs Google? When I told my husband about my blood pressure he said, “You should go to a birthday party every day.” Is it any wonder why I love him?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Resolutions – Yea or Nay?

I’ve never been big into making New Year’s Resolutions. They always seem to me like another opportunity for failure. I mean, you hear it all the time. People make a resolution to lose weight or exercise more. They go at it strong in January, take a vacation in February, and by March the resolution is completely forgotten, only to be remembered again at their annual check-up. It’s at this point the guilt sets in as, once again, they have failed. Why put myself through that, I ask?

I’m trying to take a new look at resolutions this year. One thing I’ve noticed about myself is that I’m a bit of a visionary. I “see” things that should be done, things I’d like to do, and I dream big. The problem with dreams though is that they are just that – dreams. Until I put “feet” on my dreams they will remain in the dream stage. So, this year, I’ve decided that instead of making resolutions, I’m going to set goals. Somehow setting goals doesn’t seem so frightening.

Now, mind you, I’m not going to share my goals with you because seriously, I still have that fear of failure and I’m just not ready yet to share ALL of my failures with the entire world of blog readers. I can tell you two of them and we’ll see how it goes. One is to blog twice a week. If that doesn’t happen you’ll know I’m just incredibly busy so please allow me some grace.

My other goal is to spend more time getting to know Jesus. The best way I know to do this is through spending time with Him reading my Bible and praying. It doesn’t sound hard but boy do I struggle to get that time in every day. Many people advise having quiet time with the Lord first thing in the morning. Seriously, He does NOT want to spend time with me then. I’m sure He’d prefer I wake up first! I just have to find the right time.

So, what about you? Do you have New Year’s resolutions, I mean goals? Feel free to share them with me. Maybe it’ll spur me on, or encourage others. Even if you don’t share them, write them down. I am always amazed at the power of writing something down. It seems more real AND there is the added bonus of being able to see your goal achieved.

This morning my brother sent this quote by Maria Robinson, "Nobody can go back and start a new beginning but anyone can start today and make a new ending." What "new ending" do you hope to start in 2009? I can’t wait to see what God has in store!