Monday, 26 November 2007

The Freedom in Confession

It has been interesting reading the blog of a sister these past months. Writing things out is therapeutic in some ways. And, perhaps more importantly, there is a sense of healing and freedom in being honest about our true thoughts and feelings.

The healing power of confession has mostly been a Roman Catholic ritual. With Jesus as our High Priest, it doesn't require a human go-between to bring forgiveness. But still, I think it has been good for millions of people to confess to a person.

In church this Sunday, the PostSecret books were mentioned, along with a few samples. I had never heard of the book. So it was news for me. People have sent in anonymous postcards revealing secrets in their lives. They are honest. And getting some of those secrets out may prevent a suicide or two.

The books and web site are definitely not from a Christian perspective. But they reveal the huge need and, to some extent, real life of many. Without the intervention of God, we are a sinful lot with some wicked secrets. And yes, the Christians have secrets too.

One movie I have enjoyed over the years is Secrets and Lies. It is rated 94% (extremely high) at Rotten Tomatoes And I believe it was nominated for at least one Academy Award. The story is about a family secret that has gone on for years. Check it out some time. The movie could be a good introduction to a discussion.

As a webmaster and writer, I have seen some of the "other side" of the Web. Site visitors have come from Google searches with phrases like "never good enough", "unmet emotional needs", "emotional affair pastor", "Christian and depression", "relationship apathy", "how to stop an affair", "unfulfilling marriage", "my husband does not respect me", "unappreciated spouse", "what I do is never good enough", and many, many, more. It is all anonymous. And most likely, some of these people searching for answers and hope have never shared their situation with another person, including their spouse. I am thankful my writing has offered some hope for many. But I admit going through the search terms can be very heavy as I see the great need.

Is it time for us to confess to someone? Will we be good and trustworthy listeners?

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Playing the Cards You Are Dealt

One of the joys of our family Thanksgiving celebration is playing table games together. This year we played an old favorite, Sequence, and a new card game 3-13.

I only play card games a few times per year these days. As kids, we played quite often. One common theme in nearly all card and dice games is that success is a combination of skill and random chance, or some might call it "luck".

Because of the random factor, long-term enjoyment of these games may require not taking too much credit or blame for your success in any particular game. Even the most experienced players have turns when their options and chances for victory are extremely limited. And the beginners sometimes get a good hand or roll of the dice that makes victory quite easy.

Life can be that way too. And perhaps that is why these games are popular. Parts of our lives reflect our skill and choices. Other things are beyond our control, but not beyond God's control. Whatever hand we are dealt, we need to adapt and try to make the best of it.

Life may not seem fair at times. Some of the success stories, depending on how you define "success", are due to skill and wise choices. Sometimes they were dealt an easy hand with life experiences and relationships that were conducive to doing well. On the other side, not every person lacking in some way got into that situation entirely by bad choices. We have to be careful in our judgments of people, both positive and negative. Even in the most foolish of choices, most people choose what seems best at the time.

Most of us are dealt a mixed bag of circumstances and life situations. For me, some parts of my life have been a struggle. But I have had an easy "hand" in the areas of health and intelligence and some great spiritual teachers over the years. I severely lack in areas where others excel and have it easy - and perhaps vice versa. We have a great variety of personalities and sets of circumstances. We each have a unique story.

Whatever hand you are dealt, I hope you can choose to make the best of it. We cannot change the past. But we can make choices today and in the future. Give thanks for those parts of your life that have been relatively easy. And don't forget to thank God and any individuals that helped you along the way.

For any immediate family reading this, I am thankful for you and that a large family has consistently gotten along pretty well all these years. In that area, we got an easy "hand".

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Thanksgiving Exercise - Flash Movie

A few years ago I created a little interactive Flash movie related to Thanksgiving. For me it is good to periodically spend a little introspective time. This exercise looks at our attitude of gratitude, or sometimes a lack of it, in various areas of our life.

It is not a test. You may find it helpful. Printing or sharing the results is entirely optional. But it could be used to help others pray for you. Use the Print link on the Flash movie rather than your browser's printing for best results.

I have the thankfulness movie on a few different sites. Here is one:

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Celebrate Spamersity

This year I got to experience some truly unique Minnesotan things at the State Fair. The Sausage Sisters (keep it clean) were back with a Norwegian type of sausage that included lefse, if I remember right. I did like their Puff Daddy and Thai One On from previous years more though.

I was entertained by the Spamettes singing several songs about Spam. The Spam Curds were pretty good too.

People love to make fun of Spam - as millions of cans are sold each year. Many people doing the teasing haven't even tasted this variation of ham.

Besides the humor and musical talent, one of the things I enjoyed about hearing the Spamettes was that they sang with joy and pride - even as the product is perennially misunderstood and ridiculed.

So it's just a can of ham... But what about us? Many of us have been misunderstood, teased, and ridiculed. It can really hurt. Our life experiences have a big influence in how we can handle these situations. Do the opinions of others accurately describe, and perhaps determine, our identity? From where or from whom does our identity come?

What is our view of ourselves? Often it is very similar to the way we think God views us. How do you think God views you?

He is firm and righteous, yes, but also patient and merciful. He loves us with a passion and wants what is best for us, which may include saying "No" or "Not yet". And most of all he wants a loving, intimate relationship with him where we are partners with him in his mission.

Once we are in a right relationship with God, the Holy Spirit helps us not only have a right view of God, but also a right view of ourselves - who we are and who we can be. The words of others still matter a little bit. And they can still hurt some. But there is both power and peace when we can ignore the opinions of others and focus on how God sees us. That is whose opinion matters.

Be who you are. Nobody else can do it better. Whether you feel you are somewhat average or feel very special, be assured you were created for a special role in God's plans that only you can fill. If you are a rather unique creation coming out of Southern Minnesota or some other place, celebrate your uniqueness. Celebrate diversity. Celebrate Spamersity!

Even Me - GNFI Meeting

I attended a great teaching Saturday night sponsored by Good News for Israel. The man gave new insight into the role of the lamb, passover, the priests, and much more. Much Jewish symbolism is used in the Bible to describe Jesus. Good News for Israel is one organization helping Christians understand their Jewish roots. It adds depth to the meaning of many things in the Bible.

I enjoyed the official presentation. Enjoyed may not be the right word. It was enjoyable, but also very meaningful. Perhaps the strongest statements came after the presentation. The presenter told a bit of his personal story. After a background of drugs and prison and other things, God was now using him in mighty and unique ways to impact thousands.

There are some pastors and ministry leaders that are quite proudful. But the vast majority I know are quite humble. They are thankful for the accomplishments. But they are very aware of their own struggles and shortcomings.

These ministry leaders join me in feeling humbled and sometimes a bit overwhelmed by the thought that God is using "even me".

A couple of posts ago I mentioned God's desire to work through those who are available to serve his purposes. God can use you to impact eternity. After all, despite all my failures and shortcomings, God is using even me.

Dragon Boats in Saint Paul

For the past several years as I looked through Minnesota events, the dragon boat races in Grand Marais looked intriguing. I haven't been able to get up there yet though.

Dragon boat racing is popular and very competitive in some parts of the world. It may even be a demonstration sport at the Olympics in China. Here in the States, it is growing quickly in popularity. Quite often the races are linked with a charity fundraiser.

The boats are essentially long canoes holding 21 people with most paddlers sitting two-wide. In many cases the teams are corporate teams contributing and advertising at the same time.

Dragon Boat race in Saint Paul

This year I found out about a race nearby in Saint Paul. Along with the races, there were Asian music groups and miscellaneous entertainment with an ethnic twist.

The essence of dragon boat racing is learning to work together well as a team. A super stud with power and speed could try to compete on his own. But, like many other things in the world, it really does require a team to accomplish the mission, crossing the finish line quickly, in this case.

Perhaps you have seen a need or a potential worthy mission. It may look overwhelming, just as handling one of these long boats alone could be quite frustrating. But perhaps if you got a team of like-minded people to help, you actually could complete this mission and make a difference in the world. There may be others just waiting for an opportunity to help with skills or other resources.

We are not limited to what we can do alone. Join others or invite others to join you. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you can accomplish.

Dare to dream. Take steps forward. Watch with anticipation to see what is possible.

Summer and Fall 2007- Real Life

Numerous studies have shown that people these days, and especially young people, are looking for people to be "real". They are sick of the slick corporate-speak filtered through PR departments. The Clue Train Manifesto way back in 1999 made this clear.

The slick sermon rarely connects with people in the pew. And for me, I like the movies that connect with my emotions, and perhaps my brain as well. I don't need another superficial message with little relevance to my real life journey.

One of the beauties and one of the very risky hazards of blogs is that people tend to write with minimal editing. Pretty or not, personal blogs are usually real and genuine. And at least some people appreciate that. But, as a writer, it isn't always clear what I should share. Some people genuinely want to really know how my life has been the past months.

Here is a taste of real life:

God continues to bless me. Beyond circumstances, the greatest miracles are often ones of perspective and attitude. Only God can help some of those. In the midst of some "interesting" circumstances, I still overall have peace, joy, and hope for the future. I feel loved by God and there are still a few individuals showing care. And, to the best of my knowledge, God has kept me healthy through the years I could not afford any health insurance.

I am thankful for some steady work with a construction manufacturer that is adapting well to the housing market. Even though I have yet to discover a Christian there, I have some good people on my team and throughout our office. I have had a just-right mixture of challenges and successes. The commute is long and the pay isn't what I had hoped for, but I feel blessed.

In many things in life, as you go on to something new, you are leaving other things behind. In some ways, the past months have been a time of mourning dealing with business disappointments and watching some business and ministry hopes getting reshuffled.

I found out about getting this long-term work the day before the foreclosure sheriff's sale. It was too late then. Like many others, I will be kicked out of my house in the coming weeks. Due to some other circumstances I may write about later, my take-home pay has not been enough to build up a good rent deposit. We have been watching The Pursuit of Happyness during lunch at work the last couple days. I can relate to many of the struggles of the characters with divorce and homelessness. It is a chilly time of year here in Minnesota. But camping or sleeping in my car are real possibilities for a period of time in December. You just adapt and move forward.

Even though I was making very good progress on catching up with the gas bill, gas was cut off. So we have not had a furnace or hot water for a couple months, so far. I do have a couple of small space heaters though. There is a major water leak also that I could not afford to fix. So even cold water is only turned on for a half-hour or so each morning. That has been true since May. Like millions of other people in the world, we can survive heating up water on the stove. And to have any running water in the house is a luxury many people only dream of.

I haven't been able to afford garbage or recycleables collection since February. It isn't quite as bad as it might sound. If you rinse food containers well, smell is minimized. If you can't afford to buy much, there is less garbage too. I buy gas and groceries and not much else. Adapt and move on.

And, oh yeah, with the water leaks in the basement, I also get to breathe in a fair amount of mold. Somehow God has kept us reasonably healthy through it all. Did I mention the big hole in the roof chewed by squirrels? And the garage door opener quit this summer too. I am thankful I have a garage. Are we having fun yet?

In a previous post I mentioned my computer having some time-consuming issues that kept progress on any projects to a minimum for many weeks. A month or so ago my 1995 vintage computer mostly died. It will not start up. It is the only computer compatible with my old scanner. So, until I can afford to buy a scanner, I need that computer for both client projects and personal needs.

The long commute and trying circumstances have left me just feeling tired many nights. It has been a challenge to enthusiastically spend more time with the computer in the evenings and weekends. But, right or wrong, I have mostly felt okay with some relaxing time too.

Paying bills has been hard enough this Fall. But I also had $600 in fraudulent charges against my checking account with someone paying their T-Mobile bill with my checking account number. I eventually got the money back. I am hoping a stranger was the guilty party. Because of the fraud, I had to open a new account and shuffle direct-deposit and other things that delayed receiving paychecks by several days.

Even though I had suspected it, I found out for sure in the past week that over $50,000 I had paid in surplus child support that could have gone for my son's college fund was instead spent by his mother on temporary pleasures. I am not saying anything negative about her here. She is proud of how she spent the money. I wasn't totally surprised. But still, it was disappointing.

Through this fun adventure, ideally a person would have a group of supportive people around them. I have been part of a small group through church that met weekly for seven years. The group that could have been supportive, instead kicked me out of the group a couple of months ago. The only reason given was that one person did not like something I said years ago. That is the only explanation I got. A couple of phrases come to mind: "And they will know they are Christians by the love they have for one another." And the old Don Henley lyrics seem appropriate too. "Kick 'em when they're up. Kick 'em when they're down." I will need to write about that episode some time in the future. Some of it reflects the culture of the church. If I do write about it, my intent is not to bash anyone, but to help other churches avoid the same thing.

I have been attending another church in Saint Paul. I certainly miss some of the people and things from the church I attended for nearly seven years. But at this new church the pastor was humble and they have a genuine heart for the nations (in the pulpit, not just people in the pews). Just to keep things interesting, the great senior pastor at this new church recently retired and other staff are resigning to make way for a new pastor and staff yet to be determined. So the church is in transition as well.

With the small group and church changes, many of my relationships have changed drastically with a few new ones beginning. Through the Internet, I am still able to get good teaching and encouragement to persevere in ministry. Sure, it's strangers. But I'll take what I can get.

And there are additional challenges I could write about too. But this is a start.

I am not getting bored. And the struggles with attitudes and perspectives are very trying at times. I don't always choose wisely. But God is patient and merciful with me.

I feel God still has some great plans for me. And I have some specific web applications waiting to be created by me this coming year. Until God is finished with his plans for me, I will survive one way or another. Keep looking forward...

Overflow and Stewardship - I Must Create!

"I must create!"

That is the phrase an acquaintance of mine used to describe herself. And I totally understand. For me, it is not just a want or preference. I can tell when I have gone too long without creative outlet in words and other media. I must create, or at least write, periodically.

We have each been given physical capabilities, both at birth and learned over time. We have unique personalities. We have skill tendencies we seem to have from birth, enhanced through experience. Some are natural leaders. Others are great followers. We need both! Athletic and mechanical talent are easy for some. Others are great at giving care and showing compassion. Some are great communicators. Some love to help. And I could go on. God intentionally created a variety of people.

On top of those natural and God-given abilities, we have a variety of spiritual gifts available for committed Christians. They often correlate with "natural" abilities. But they expand capabilities - sometimes in dramatic ways.

We each have 24 hours per day. And we each have some measure of purchasing and investment capabilities. And the big question is "What are we doing with what we have been given?" There will be a test at the end. Are we spending time, talent, and money primarily on ourselves? Are we making the world a better place? Are we impacting lives? For the Christians, will there be more people, and ethnic people groups, in heaven in part because of how we use what God has given us? What will be our legacy? Are we investing in things that will last - for eternity?

The phrase "Use it or lose it." comes to mind. It is true of our physical body and our minds. But it also true with things like spiritual gifts. There are many people with ability. But God tends to work through those people with availability. Those are a rarer find.

As God gives, the intention most often is to use us as a channel to accomplish his purposes. Like Abraham, we are blessed to be a blessing. And the risk is that if there is no flow out from us, some of that flow to us will also stop, just like the Dead Sea that has no outlet.

I realize not everyone will appreciate or understand all I write, especially those not yet believers. But I must start writing again... I need to let things flow.

Blogger MIA - 2007

The acronym MIA is probably dating me. But as a blogger I have been missing in action.

Even though I have very few readers at this time, I recognize that writing on the web is very public. So there are some unique concerns.

The primary reason I stopped writing was that I have had plenty of things on my To Do list, including requests from others, mostly unpaid. I am not sure if they will appreciate it if I spend some moments writing when I could be working on things for them.

Whether or not that concern is legitimate, I don't know. And I admit there could be a bit of fear or pride mixed in there too. But healthy or not, it was a concern of mine.

Secondly, my computer was unavailable for most of July and August due to maintenance and repair issues.

So that's my story. And I might stick to it. :-)

The next article will talk more about the need to write again.

And then there is the troubling question of how to handle some writing topics that are big in my life. I haven't been one to shy away from controversy if it might help some people. Stay tuned...