Friday, December 31, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
At a certain time of the day, if you look out a window, you can see both what’s outside the window and your reflection in the glass.
It’s like New Year’s. That certain time you reflect on the previous year’s journey as well as look forward to what’s on the other side of the midnight veil.
In my reflection, I went back and reread the Dry Ground posts from a year ago, a series called Take Aim (click to read).
What good intentions had I!
Among other things, I said in 2010 I wanted to enter writing contests in an effort to get published and volunteer at the crisis pregnancy center in Knoxville. Noble, worthy, well-intentioned aspirations for a new year!
Uh… taking inventory here… I …um… entered one contest and volunteered for about a month.
Oh, I’ve got excuses. For example, we moved away from Knoxville, so not volunteering wasn’t really my fault.
Funny how my first thought is fault, an attempt to soothe the guilty pangs accompanied with not accomplishing my goals.
So, what about the writing contest thing? Well, no excuses to be had. I just didn’t do it.
And these were just two goals I'd written down. Much of what I'd thought or hoped or wished or intended 2010 to be, it was not for one reason or the other.
Does this make me a failure? How does it affect my thoughts for 2011?
It’s a possibility, but in all probability, I’d end up in this exact spot next December.
Here’s what I’m thinking.
Goals are good. Even good intentions are good. Follow through is even better.
Grading myself on these things is superfluous. How I see me is superfluous. How I think others see me is the same fluff. The only mind that matters is God’s.
And here’s what He thinks.
He loves me. He made me unique, even down to the rhythm of my heartbeat. He showed me that I’m worth dying for. He wishes I would stop striving, beating myself up and expecting perfection from my imperfect self and instead depend on Him for everything, even the accomplishment (or not) of my goals.
He sees the entire fabric of my life, not just the strand of thread I can see that I’m standing on right now, and He knows the path of that thread as it weaves through time.
He knew we’d leave Knoxville at the same time I was declaring my intentions to volunteer. He knew that I’d get a job that leaves little time for pursuing my publishing dream. He also knows me, knows I’m on the shy side, have a knack for procrastination, and can only concentrate on so much at one time.
Look, I could lament that certain markers were not obtained this past year. I could obsess about the differences in the DID THAT column and the MISSED THAT column. I could tally up the marks and determine whether I’m super awesome or an epic fail. I could.
I could ask myself, what I did do this year, did I do it for God’s glory?
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” 1 Corinthians 10:31-33
This tells me that whatever I do, it should be for the good of many, not just my own good. That’s what gives God glory.
And that’s what I should carry with me to the other side of the windowpane. I do hope to improve in this over the course of the next year – but only by God’s grace. Otherwise, I’m back to measuring up to a false standard my flesh and pride have erected in place of God’s acceptance through Christ’s sacrifice.
Whatever I do in 2011, may I do it to His glory.
Happy New Year, Dry Ground friends!
Monday, December 27, 2010
A new year inspires hope of possibilities, change for the better, the hope of life.
And that’s what made me think of this next movie, one I’ll bet most of you missed.
It’s called Bella, and it’s an independent film released in 2006. Although it won many awards in its narrow sphere of influence, it wasn’t widely released, so the opportunity to see it was also limited.
Bella is a beautiful drama directed by Mexican filmmaker, Alejandro Gomez Monteverde. Nope, I hadn’t heard of him either. But when his film started winning awards, I noticed. And I’m glad I looked into this story.
It’s a simple plot. Jose works at his brother’s restaurant, somewhat half-heartedly. He’s not disrespectful. It’s just obvious he’s seen things in life that have affected him a little deeper than misplaced napkins and the special of the day, some of the things his brother can’t stop fussing loudly about.
When one girl, Nina, doesn’t show up for work, Jose ignores his brother’s rants and leaves to find out the reason.
As the story unfolds, Nina’s situation is revealed (unplanned pregnancy), which leads to uncovering Jose’s past also (involvement in an accidental death). While their stories don’t have anything to do with each other, they place each in a perfect place to help the other.
Bella tackles a handful of tough issues with such beauty and grace while remaining in the real world of ugly hurts and mistakes, making it relatable and believable. In doing so, it teaches valuable life lessons about sin, repentance, forgiveness, redemption, compassion, charity, relationships, and doing the right thing when tragedy tempts toward giving in to the wrong.
What I love most about this film, though, is its stance on the sanctity of life (perfect for January - the official Sanctity of Life month!). The message is clear, it’s potent, and it’s a picture of love.
In typical indie fashion, Bella runs a little slow. It requires thinking and paying attention as it’s told with precision and tact, taking its time. But the pace is for good purpose, and completely worth the watch.
This celebration of life seems to me a perfect way to ring in a new year, a story of hope, of real lives with real issues, but also with real answers.
If you get the chance, I hope you check out Bella.
How about making the last week of 2010 a good one?
Thanks for starting your week out with me here on Dry Ground!
Friday, December 24, 2010
Merry Christmas, Dry Ground friends.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Not exactly a Christmas-y subject, huh?
Well, yea. But I’ve been thinking.
Actually, more like my imagination has been providing me picture-clear images.
Not exactly of hair balls, per se, but it’s the closest comparison.
Let me explain.
As a writer, I picture scenes and scenarios almost like a movie playing in my mind’s eye. That technique or tendency or whatever you call it dominates my prayer life and relationship with God as well – I picture Him holding my hand or drying my tears or laughing with (or at) me. I see wings covering me, I imagine a strong tower, I watch as a tender physician tends my wounds (physical or otherwise).
Well, lately, when I get grumpy or critical or angry, I picture a man, not old or young, sitting in a chair like a throne but made of humble wood, not encrusted with gold or jewels. I am sitting at His feet, venting.
Jesus and I are having a heart-to-heart, no-holds-barred conversation.
After letting me spew whatever icky-ness is in my heart, He holds out His hand, raises His eyebrows, and smiles.
I know what He wants, but at first I scowl. I don’t want to give up my ire.
He shrugs, though His hand remains extended. He waits.
Finally, like prying the Ring from Smeagol’s hand, I reach out and give Him whatever it is I’ve been complaining about – a worry, a stress, a disappointment, a hurt, a judgment… so many different things.
Anyway, whatever “it” is, it takes the form of a ball. A hairball – a nasty, stringy, lumpy glob of dark mess. I don’t know why I see it that way. But really, that’s what I picture. My sin in the form of a hairball.
Why would I want to keep it?
Why is surrendering it so difficult?
Why He wants it, I’ll never fully comprehend.
Still, He takes it, enclosing His hand around it, causing it to vanish.
The problem I'm dealing with doesn't vanish. But the blindness that comes from harboring bad feelings about it does.
Because I understand that once I hand it over, that’s it. I’m agreeing to stop worrying, obsessing, grumbling, complaining, harboring, holding the grudge. As soon as He takes it, it’s in His hands. I'll let Him take care of it, His way.
Somehow, after I picture this transaction, I feel better. Lighter. Unburdened. Ready to move on. I’m breathing easier. And no matter how I felt before, and most of the time it’s very low and yucky, after I feel cleansed, purified, and at peace.
I’m sharing this now because often during the holidays, when families are thrown together in tight quarters while others are left alone and hurting, the furthest thing from our minds is the Prince of Peace whose birthday we’re supposed to be celebrating. To make that a little easier, to experience that peace, I suggest handing over your hairballs.
Holding a grudge? Forgive.
Paranoid? Choose to trust.
Hurt? Let God apply His balm.
And once you do, that’s it. Let it go. Let it vanish inside the Hand of Jesus.
My prayer is that you allow Peace to embrace you this Christmas.
Three days, Dry Ground friends!
Monday, December 20, 2010
One thing I like the most about Christmas is the music.
Today’s movie pick has some of the best arrangements of Christmas songs I’ve ever heard. So not only do I recommend this movie, I also suggest its soundtrack.
It’s The Preacher’s Wife from 1996 starring Denzel Washington, Courtney B. Vance and Whitney Houston (like I said, sweet music).
The story highlights a preacher, played by Vance, and his wife, Houston, feeling some stress in their marriage, which only increases during the busy Christmas season. Misunderstandings, disappointments and miscommunications fester leaving both at the end of their ropes. Prayers are sent Heavenward.
Just about that time, almost as if in response to the prayers (hint, hint), a mysterious person, Washington, shows up, befriending the family. His innocent interference at first seems detrimental, but ends up being just the ticket the preacher and his wife need to get back to a healthier relationship.
Besides the amazing music (the score by Hans Zimmer was good enough to be nominated for a Best Music Oscar), I like this movie for its family values, the importance placed on fighting for a marriage’s survival, and the inspirational influence on the characters. In fact, in the songs as least, they aren’t shy with the name of Jesus, singing “Christ” and “Jesus” – as if He actually belongs in Christmas. J
It’s a feel-good story perfect for this time of year.
A bonus is that The Preacher’s Wife is remake of sorts, based on a classic film starring Cary Grant in Denzel’s role. That one’s called The Bishop’s Wife, released in 1947, also starring Loretta Young and David Niven. Though music isn’t a factor in this version, Grant’s comedic timing and charm make it worth a watch. As it happens, TCM is airing The Bishop’s Wife on Christmas Eve at 8pm (EST) if you want to check it out.
I’ll have you know, it was difficult to choose which song from The Preacher’s Wife to share with you because they are all so soulful, worshipful, rocking, and awesome (some even make me cry – quite the feat). So I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to the one I did post here. (For another, see the sidebar – ‘Lovin’ those Lyrics’)
And as you do, reflect on the Reason for the Season.
Five more days!
Love you, Dry Ground Friends!
Friday, December 17, 2010
Are you ready for this one? I've been jamming this week, to many songs, but this one is just right to jump start your weekend. Hope you have fun with it.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Look, I’ll be honest, I’ve been so busy and too tired to be inspired about much. Christmastime is indeed a blessed season, but one also stuffed fatter than the dinner goose. I haven’t even put up the tree yet! And I’ve got guests coming!
Anyway, one word keeps coming up in the midst of the chaos – perspective.
One way to look at it is – things could be better, things could be worse.
But another way to look at it is summed up in the old saying (maybe you’ve heard it) – something about walking a mile in another person’s shoes.
Especially when we’re busy or tired or stressed, it is extremely difficult to see anything from anyone else’s perspective but our own. Our little personal world demands attention like a hungry toddler. Allowing compassion or forgiveness or forbearance or mercy into our action/reactions takes monumental effort.
But how many work squabbles, home hang ups, family gathering guffaws or random offenses be avoided if we took the time to look at the other side of the coin?
No, it doesn’t matter if the other person won’t do the same.
You do it.
And pray for God to show you the root of the conflict.
Mean, annoying, gruff hum-bugs most likely live a difficult life. Could be a rough marital relationship, a sick kid, a financial crisis, a failed dream, a keen disappointment, a sore tooth. And while unpleasant to weather on a daily basis, the sunshine might break if you are the one offering a smile, a kind word, or an attitude of grace instead of offense.
The issue doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, though. Another way to look at perspective is that everyone has one, and you can be sure that it is not the same one you have. Even if it’s similar, it won’t be the same. It’s like those cases you hear about eye-witnesses seeing the exact same event, and describing it in complete opposite terms. The unique life I’ve lived up until this very second throws its entire weight into my perspective, and that can’t be the exact same as anyone else on the planet. So when I am confronted with that different perspective, I need to, at the very least, take it into consideration.
I’m not saying we have to agree with everyone’s opinion just because they are looking at something from their unique perspective. But I am saying that in considering it, you’ll understand that person better, you’ll leave getting offended off the table, and you’ll find more room in your heart to extend forgiveness and grace.
As an example, let’s think of Jesus’ perspective when He stepped off His kingly throne and out of Heaven to put on flesh, become a man, and not only a human man but that in the form of a helpless child.
Stunning, if you ask me. And something I should absolutely ponder during this holiday season.
God bless, Dry Ground friends. Get that shopping done… only 10 days left!
Monday, December 13, 2010
I’ve not met too many people who share my fondness for dry, 19th Century, English novels.
Well, I don’t think they’re dry.
Jane Austen, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Makepeace Thackeray, the Bronte sisters, Lewis Carroll, Henry James. Yes, they used a lot of words, but they used them masterfully, and the stories have lasted decades.
Well, one of those wordy authors wrote one of the most well-known, modern-day Christmas story ever told – Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843.
One reason it’s so well-known is that it’s been interpreted into film so many times, beginning almost at the same time the medium of film did. The Muppets even did a version in 1992 – that is awesome. But it’s not my favorite version.
I was in fourth grade when George C. Scott starred in a 1984 television version of A Christmas Carol. This production is crafted so well, it would have won Oscars galore had it been a movie. Being television, Scott did garner an Emmy nomination, but didn’t win. Still, I doubt that made any difference to him – he famously did not show up to accept the Oscar he did win for Patton (another classic, fabulous performance, indeed.)
Anyway, many have attempted to portray the iconic character, Ebenezer Scrooge, and many have done him justice. But none like Mr. Scott.
He grumbles, scowls, crinkles his eyes, barks, quivers and cowers with such conviction, surely even Charles Dickens applauds.
Aside from Scott’s performance, I love the story because it’s one of second chances, repentance, and best of all, redemption.
Have you seen it? Recently?
Though this version of A Christmas Carol is well-known, many of us haven’t had a chance to or taken the time to watch it.
It would be a good one to see this season as we celebrate the birth of Redemption.
Or you could catch the Muppet one. It’s good too. J
It’d be criminal if I didn’t also recommend checking out Scott’s other awesome performances including the aforementioned Patton, Rescuers Down Under in which he voices the evil poacher McLeach, and my personal favorite Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. His priceless General “Buck” Turgidson cracks me UP and shows Scott’s remarkable sense of humor and comedic timing, a refreshing change since so many of his known characters are gruff and grumpy.
But you can get to those after Christmas. Only 12 more days!
Have a great week, Dry Ground friends!
Friday, December 10, 2010
Today, I share a song. One that makes me smile, even when I'm grumpy.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
I love soaking in the sunshine.
I love wearing flip flops in the winter.
I love to run on the treadmill every day.
I love to write novels, short stories and inspirational anecdotes.
I love to watch obscure classic films.
But I haven’t been doing the things I love lately.
Well, a move, a new job, new responsibilities, a new routine – it all fills the hours and leaves me mentally and physically exhausted.
I’ve tried fitting my loves into the new schedule, but I just haven’t figured it out yet.
So I’ve had to set a few things on the back burner.
At first, I felt mad. Not outwardly – I usually don’t throw angry temper tantrums out loud. No, my mad was under the skin, an irritating simmer of disappointment.
After mad, I got sad. I mourned for the pristine, perfect, not to mention spoiled, schedule I’ve enjoyed in the recent past that included all of my loves. I even wondered if these loves were gone from my life permanently. I actually thought, maybe this is how life goes from now on.
I put that consideration on the back burner too. I didn’t want to contemplate that possibility at all.
But the thought reemerged as I gazed out at the frozen wonderland I now live in.
For being such a sun-worshipper, I’ve adjusted to my new climate surprisingly well. I even kind of… like… it. *gasp*
This past weekend showed me that as we jogged a ways up a closed road that leads from Red Lodge, MT to Yellowstone National Park. It was gorgeous – and if you didn’t see on my FB page – we saw two moose!! That wouldn’t have happened in any other environment or climate.
Though it was a good time, I wouldn’t want to live in snow-covered tundra all the time. It occurred to me that I’m glad winter is just a season.
That’s when it clicked.
I’m in a season of life too. And like the snow, I can’t exactly predict when it will change.
I can appreciate it while it lasts.
I can trust God knows the desires of my heart and sees what I have warming on the back burner. (Psalm 37:4)
I can accept that life’s seasons are constantly changing and flowing and fluxing.
I can have hope that winter leads to spring, and spring births summer, and summer fades to autumn.
It’s an awesome, essential cycle that produces growth.
As King Solomon iterates in Ecclesiastes (Chp.13), some seasons are tougher than others.
There’s a time to plant and to uproot. There’s a time to mourn and a time to dance. There’s a time to be born and a time to die.
But seasons, at their very nature, lead to the next. We can be encouraged that each season, especially the tough ones, will bloom into another one.
The only seed we can sow that will lead to a dead end (literally) is sin. The grave can swallow you into a permanent season of death and no more growth will ever happen again.
You trust Christ. Then you can say with the redeemed, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55)
Tough times? It’s a season. This, too, shall pass.
Love you, Dry Ground friends! Be blessed!
Monday, December 6, 2010
A while back, since I believed myself a well-read person, I decided I’d better read something written by John Grisham since I had yet to do so. I’d seen several movies, and I enjoy a good courtroom drama, but I hadn’t read him.
I went to the library and looked over the stacks. To get just a taste, I selected the thinnest book I could find.
That book was Skipping Christmas.
Needless to say, it wasn’t a good courtroom drama. But I’ll always be glad I picked it.
A quick read, Skipping Christmas is a great story about a mid-life couple boycotting all the hubbub of Christmas madness for principle’s sake, mainly because their only daughter is grown and gone on a humanitarian trip to South America. Instead, the Kranks determine to go on a cruise.
Seems like a simple choice, to skip Christmas, but they encounter much amusing opposition. Still, they hold out until they find out that their daughter decides to come home on short notice.
Their last-minute scurry to get Christmas together before she gets home (and discovers what they’ve been up to) is LOL-funny.
Now, books have made me smile, made my heart flutter, and I have shed a few tears at the conclusion of certain touching stories, but I’ve never laughed so much reading a book as I did reading Skipping Christmas.
So, why, you might ask, am I talking about this book when this is a post on movies?
Well, in 2004, they put this Grisham novel to film, and it starred funny tool-man Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis. They called it Christmas with the Kranks and it follows the story fairly well. Though it doesn’t top the book in expression of humor, it does offer an entertaining, comedic take on the holidays, family, traditions and why we do what we do. Sometime during this Christmas season, treat yourself to a few laughs and watch Christmas with the Kranks and/or read Skipping Christmas by John Grisham.
Only 19 days left until the Big Day! How’s the shopping coming?
Have a great week, Dry Ground friends!
Friday, December 3, 2010
It’s been a stressful week.
Nothing devastating, but several disappointments pock-marked the fabric of my existence.
Unfortunately, many of the frustrations could have been avoided if other people had done things differently.
I think my tongue is shorter from biting it so much.
Though I wanted to be perfectly forgiving and gracious, I had serious irritation issues, which I really struggled with.
I was… angry.
I don’t like to be angry. It feels icky. Heavy. Gut-churning. Hopeless. Like something vital inside is broken.
But I don’t like it when people are mad at me either. Feels the same way. And I’m not perfect, so I should dispense grace in the same flowing fashion by which I would like to receive it. Right?
Well, yes. But…
That angry tortured me with yes, buts and if onlys until I thought steam might actually explode from my ears!
Yes, I should forgive, but I put my neck on the line.
If only so-in-so did their job, I wouldn’t have egg on my face.
Yes, everyone screws up, but this is major and takes the cake.
If only I’d been in charge, I could have fixed this before it broke.
On and on… even knowing how arrogant all those angry excuses sounded.
What do you do in those moments? (I hope I’m not the only one facing such dichotomies of character!)
Here’s how the wrinkles in my emotional state smoothed out.
#1 – I think the saying Time heals all wounds was created for situations like this. Once the initial disappointment passes, I discover that I’m still breathing and most likely life goes on. A harmful word or deed is like a gigantic wave – it crashes into you, might knock you off your feet and leave you feeling gritty and drenched, but rarely does it actually drown you.
#2 – Another popular saying applied to my recent inner turmoil – everything happens for a reason, which is basically the secularized version of “Everything works for the good of those who love Christ…” (Rom. 8:28) It’s not that the action or consequence is good, it’s that Christ is the Redeemer and makes all things, even bad things, new.
#3 – Communication really does span gulches and build bridges. I’m not a confrontation fan, and the downside to that is if I’m mad about something I stew when really I should go ahead and spew – get it out, talk it out, work it out. Although it was unpleasant at the time, constructive communication propelled me to a place of understanding and grace.
#4 - I wasn’t feeling it, but I clung to the principle that Christ forgave me, I forgive others. Bottom line. Even if it takes time. Even if I have to crucify my pride (which is usually the case) or concede a point or swallow the consequences. Make the decision and do it. No more yes, buts.
Be forgiving. Release those who have offended or hurt you. Be blessed. Be free.
Happy Weekend, Dry Ground friends!
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
For the past week or so, I’ve been making observations about community. The benefits of commonalities, and those of diversity.
It occurred to me that the movie that epitomizes this concept is obvious…
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
I could make the mistake of assuming you’ve seen this movie since it was so popular a few years ago (wow, 2001, nearly a decade already!). But then again, fantasy epics that are hours long don’t really appeal to everyone.
Allow me to suggest, this one might just be for everyone.
Nine creatures from vastly different worlds answer the call to go on a quest to battle evil. Their personalities clash, their backgrounds differ like night and day, and their habits grate on every nerve. But they have a common goal, one that hinges on life and death. As the journey continues, as they face hardships and dangers and successes together, as they discover each other’s strengths and abilities, they grow closer and closer, stronger and stronger against the wicked force they resist.
Need I dissect the comparisons to our walk of faith?
I believe, like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings narratives are an allegory to the Christian walk. While it is complex and involved and sometimes difficult to interpret, it paints a perfect picture of Christian brotherhood from which we all can garner valuable lessons.
So, sometime in the next few months, when it’s cold outside and perhaps you’re snowed in, I encourage you to take the time to watch this fabulously filmed version of one of literature’s most amazing works, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Happy Monday, Dry Ground friends. Are you listening to Christmas music yet? J
Friday, November 26, 2010
I trust everyone thoroughly enjoyed a blessed Thanksgiving and the tryptophan coma that followed dinner. I know I did.
On Monday, I highlighted the movie You Can’t Take It With You, commenting on the sense of community the theme inspires. While I admire the acceptance of diversity creating such a unique and inviting community, that’s only one side of the coin. Because community thrives on commonalities as its foundation.
For example, I work for a zoo now, and as a rule, zoos are strict conservationists. Not only do they love animals, but they are also concerned about issues such as recycling.
While I’ve always respected and appreciated animals, I’ve never been on the leading edge of recycling. Yes, I see its value, but my conscious didn’t usually speak up about throwing a Diet Coke can away in the wrong bin or stuffing another plastic bag into the trashcan.
Now, I work in a community of recycling-conscious individuals. Therefore, I am keenly aware of their eyes watching what I do with that can, or what I drink water out of, or whether I reuse a plastic bag or not.
Really, it’s good for me. I mean, fanaticism isn’t good for anyone, but I can be mindful of my habits and adjust accordingly.
As I walked the extra few steps to the aluminum can recycling bin to toss my empty Diet Coke can the other day, I marveled at the principle of community. I’m much more likely to think “recycle that can” because I work in an environment where that is a high priority.
The same principle applies to communities of faith.
The more I participate in a fellowship of faith, the more I will act on the values we share.
Going to church has slipped a rung or two on the ladder of importance in modern times, for many reasons. Sometimes, finding the right church is like getting half way through Goldielocks and the Three Bears – too hot, too cold – haven’t found just right quite yet. Other times, past experiences have wounded people beyond foreseeable repair, so they’re reluctant to put themselves out there anymore, to trust any body of Believers. Whatever the reason, one rationale covers them all, and I’ve heard it a thousand times: Well, I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian, do I?
Well, no. Of course not.
But it’s important.
Well, because when we participate in a community, we tend to adopt and act upon shared values. Our faith increases because we are around other people of faith.
Does recycling save the planet? I’m sorry, no, I don’t think it does. Is it a good habit, make me a better steward of what I have? Improve quality of life? Yes, most definitely.
Does going to church save me? Nope. I know it doesn’t. However, it’s a good habit, helps me become a better steward of what God has birthed in me, and drastically improves my quality of life. Hands down, it’s a valuable thing to do – which, incidentally, is why God asks that we do it. (Heb. 10:24-25)
I, of all people, know how difficult it is to find a church. Moving 11 times in 15 years – yea, I’ve done my share of searching – sometimes finding, sometimes not. But being a part of some fellowship of faith is crucial.
Where do you spend time? Who do you spend time with? What community holds your priorities? It makes a difference.
Here’s to surviving Black Friday, and I hope you have a great weekend!
Thanks for spending part of your Friday with me here on Dry Ground.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
A few profound thoughts on Thanksgiving from the experts…
“God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say, ‘thank you’?” William A. Ward
“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Meister Eckhart
“O Lord that lends me life, Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.” William Shakespeare
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” John F. Kennedy
“Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.” W.J. Cameron
“Remember God’s bounty in the year. String the pearls of His favor. Hide the dark parts, except so far as they are breaking out in light!” Henry Ward Beecher
“Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man, it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow.” Edward Sandford Martin
“Thou hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more – a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.” George Herbert
“Thanksgiving comes to us out of the prehistoric dimness, universal to all ages and all faiths. At whatever straws we must grasp, there is always a time for gratitude and a new beginnings.” J. Robert Moskin
“On Thanksgiving Day, we acknowledge our dependence.” William Jennings Bryan
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie
God Bless you, my Dry Ground friends. I am certainly thankful for you!
Monday, November 22, 2010
One of the best filmmakers of all time, Frank Capra, directed this week’s film recommendation.
Maybe you don’t know that name, or perhaps it does sound familiar but you can’t put a film title to it, but I’ll bet you’ve seen his work at least once – It’s a Wonderful Life?
While I could recommend that movie with all enthusiasm, as well as several others I’ve seen credited to Mr. Capra, the one I’d like to highlight this week hit theatres in 1938, starring Lionel Barrymore, Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart and many other recognizable faces.
It is You Can’t Take It With You.
For those of you wary of the classics, let me warn you that at first glance, this film appears nauseatingly cheesy – an easy label for most Capra films, actually.
However, if given a chance, You Can’t Take It With You will entertain, inspire, and touch your funny bone as well as your heart.
Patriarch, Grandpa Martin Vanderhof, acted by the great Lionel Barrymore, heads up an eccentric household. His flighty daughter is an amateur mystery writer, one of his granddaughters is an inspiring ballerina (sort of), the grandson-in-law hammers out sweet tunes on the xylophone, and the son-in-law makes fireworks in the basement. Most of this is happening at the same time, all of the time.
If I lived in a house like that, my brain would curdle with the chaos.
But Mr. Vanderhof takes it all in stride and ease. In fact, he’s so laid back, he’s not even that concerned about paying taxes, which he makes a point of never doing.
The main plot point, though, revolves around his other granddaughter Alice, played by Jean Arthur, who has fallen in love with her banker boss, Jimmy Stewart’s Tony Kirby, who reciprocates her affections. But would Tony’s rich parents approve?
A lot goes on in this movie, a comedy of errors of sorts. But underneath the clamor and chaos, several really good points emerge.
My favorite of them all is the importance of community. A certain kind of community, though, in which while sharing certain commonalities, the thing that makes everyone click are individualities and the absolute acceptance of each unique individual.
See, Alice encounters problems with Tony’s family partially because shame concerning her unconventional relatives seeps into her thoughts in light of the Kirby’s social status. I don’t think she means to feel that way, but the world’s pressures can be overwhelming. Resolution to her problems doesn’t start until she stops comparing and starts accepting.
The individuality emphasized here does not, however, advocate an anything goes policy. Decency still applies. Kindness and love are promoted and practiced. And respect for everyone, not the least of whom is God Almighty.
Like other Capra films, like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and Arsenic and Old Lace, You Can’t Take It With You is an up-beat take on serious issues spotlighting courageous, faithful, patriotic characters who will inspire. The laughs are an extra bonus.
If you’d like to check out You Can’t Take It With You, TCM is showing it this Thursday, November 25th at 11:30AM (EST). Really, I can’t think of a better show than this to watch Thanksgiving Day.
Mr. Vanderof offers a couple of well-put prayers that sum up the attitude displayed in this movie. I’d like to wrap up today quoting one of them:
Well, Sir, here we are again. We’ve been getting along pretty good for quite a while now – we’re certainly much obliged. Remember all we ask is just to go along the way we are, keep our health; as far as anything else is concerned, we leave that up to you. Thank You.
Be blessed, Dry Ground friends!
Friday, November 19, 2010
I learn things watching my favorite TV shows.
For example, on NCIS LA last week, they highlighted a new piece of technology that reads human heartbeats, kind of like a thermal imaging scan.
I did a little research. Low and behold, it’s a real device.
Here’s the other thing I learned.
Each person has a unique heartbeat signature, like fingerprints.
Stands to reason, but I’d never thought about it. Now that I have, though, it makes total sense, besides the fact that it is way cool!
Gives me a new take on 1 Samuel 16:7 when Samuel was searching Israel for the one God had chosen to be the next king. God told him, “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
On one hand, the Lord looks at my heart and knows my motivations, attitudes, secrets, sins, feelings, hopes, fears… everything stored in the “heart” in a figurative, soulful sense.
But on the other hand, an added bonus if you ask me, is that when the Lord looks at my heart, He knows it’s me because its very beat is unique. In a concrete, physical sense, He sees me.
And that translates in my mind to love.
Have a blessed weekend, Dry Ground friends!
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
As a lover of story, I not only want to know what happens next, I’m in a hurry to know what happens next.
One of the most powerful story telling tools is that daunting, often maddening, cliff-hanging phrase – to be continued.
Arrrrrrggggg! You mean, I have to wait to find out?
Writers sit back and snicker, “Yep… and there’s nothing you can do about it!”
But none of us get so mad that we don’t tune in whenever the next installment is available.
I’ve found that life throws similar speed bumps into the road, those hairpin curves marked by signs that read: To Be Continued.
In other words… we have to wait to find out what happens next.
It may come as a surprise to us that God is never in a hurry.
From our perspective, danger or a specific need or want may seem absolutely imminent. We worry, fret, rip out our hair, cry and complain, maybe even raise a fist to God demanding to know why He doesn’t hurry up!
The great thing is that God is always on time.
And that timing is almost always much, much longer than our perspective can fathom.
You see… He sees that big picture. He knows that in a short amount of time, He might grow a squash. But given time, He could grow an oak.*
If you keep encountering “to be continued” in life’s pursuits, be patient. God’s got grand plans for you!
Thanks for spending a part of your Wednesday with me here on Dry Ground!
*AH Strong concept in The Green Letters, pg. 14
Monday, November 15, 2010
This past weekend’s TCM experiment for my Daniel and I was The Cincinnati Kid starring Steve McQueen.
There’s no denying McQueen is the man’s man to end all man’s men, no less so in this New Orleans poker game nail-biter closely resembling a Western gun slinging standoff.
While I’m glad I watched it if only to be reminded why McQueen was such a star, it is not the movie that I’m highlighting today.
But it reminded me of the one I do recommend.
I realize, and you will too soon enough, that I take quite the risk naming these two movies in the same literary breath and that I might be fighting an already lost battle suggesting this of all movies.
Because… it’s a musical.
What on earth, you might say to yourself, do Steve McQueen and a classic musical have in common?
Well, because the movie, Guys and Dolls, is about gamblers.
Now, The Cincinnati Kid has a stark message – pride goes before the fall.
Guys and Dolls incorporates that message, but so many more in this story of high stakes.
As a rule, I like musicals. But what drew me to this one was the cast. Frank Sinatra – who can’t stand to listen to his voice for a bar or two? Jean Simmons – the classic actress, not the 70s rocker who likes to wear makeup… who spells his name differently anyway. And the biggest draw (for me) of all – Marlon Brando.
Yes, Marlon Brando sings in this film.
But let me get to the plot.
The local craps game organizer, Nathan Detroit (played by Sinatra), is supposed to be setting up a secret (not to mention illegal) game, but the heat, namely Inspector Brannigan, is on his case. He needs $1,000 to secure a location, but he doesn’t have it. But high rollers are in town, and he’ll face unrecoverable shame and humiliation if he doesn’t find a place to host the game. So, being the opportunistic gambler that he is, he attempts to lure one of the high rollers, Sky Masterson (played by Brando) into a sucker bet that will provide him with the money he needs.
At first, it doesn’t work because Sky is no fool.
But then… they start talking about women. J
Nathan succeeds in his quest when Sky accepts the bet that he can take any woman Nathan names to Cuba with him for dinner on a whim. Nathan names Sister Sarah Brown (played by Simmons), the leader of the local chapter of Save a Soul Mission.
As you might imagine, this opens up a whole other can of worms.
But I love how this story proceeds. Both parties, Sky the Gambler and Sister Sarah the pious missionary, discover much about each other, but more importantly much about themselves.
I like how they respect the place of religion in life at the same time pointing out common flaws in how we religious folks live out that life. When the mechanics of religion become a higher priority than relationship, the masks we all wear dissolve revealing the flesh hiding behind them. And the world will be the first to point out the discrepancies. This movie, though, does not use those discrepancies to discredit the religion. Because the Truth wins out when all the other barriers are removed.
This is not a religious film. Yet, many principles shine through in the midst of entertaining songs, a touching love story, witty dialogue and classic actors delighting us with top-notch performances.
Another reason to watch this film – Marlon Brando singing Luck Be a Lady. That’s right. Not Sinatra, who made the song famous on the stages of Las Vegas. Brando sings it in Guys and Dolls. Wow. Super impressive.
Let the men have the man’s man McQueen. I’ll take a crooning Brando any day.
Hope the start of your week is fantastic! Thanks for spending time here on Dry Ground!
Friday, November 12, 2010
I’m a big fan of movie sound tracks.
Big shocker, I know.
I had a string of them playing through Pandora at work the other day.
I love how I can hear a tune, and know what movie it goes to.
Last of the Mohicans.
Okay, maybe my ear is keener to these because I’m such a movie nerd. But how about …
Chariots of Fire.
A larger percentage of people are probably more familiar with these iconic melodies. Hearing them immediately brings to mind a specific story, even specific images.
So, if your life is a melody, what story does it bring to mind?
When people hear your song, what images pop up?
I want people to hear God’s story whenever they are listening to me.
Yea, I get off key every once in a while. Okay, a lot. Usually when I take over the notes.
I sound best when I let God be the conductor, composer, and master musician.
Here’s to beautiful music!
Happy Weekend, Dry Ground friends.
(photo by photobucket.com)
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Who would have predicted the Dallas Cowboys, with their fancy new stadium and celebrated quarterback, would be having such a horrible season?
Of eight games, they’ve won only one this season! That’s like… the Detroit Lions… or worse than the Lions, actually. *cringe*
If you're a Cowboy's fan - I’m not - but if you are, it’s got to be a disappointment.
But lives go on. After all, it's just another season.
For someone else, though, it means life changes completely. The head coach, Wade Phillips, was fired on Monday because of the sinking season.
In the world of football, we all saw this coming.
Whether the losing season is due to bad coaching or bad playing, or a combination of the two, or none of the above – maybe it’s the excelling of the other teams – whatever the case may be, the top man, the head, is the one who always gets the ax.
What a huge amount of pressure to live under.
Especially when we all grow up under the cliché “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play that counts.”
Tell that to Wade Phillips.
Look, I don’t know that much about football. Ask my friend Jonathan Moore if Phillips really deserved to get fired or not.
My thought on the whole episode is this:
I’m so glad my life is not based at all on whether I win or lose.
I think I spent a lot of my childhood believing God considered me exactly like Jerry Jones looks at his head coaches – as long as I’m having a winning season – more wins than losses – more goods than bads – then I still have a job as Child of God. But if I get on a losing streak – watch out! The ax will be hovering overhead!
How blessed I am to know that that’s as far from the truth as I could get.
I go through life – wining some, losing some. The great thing, the tally in each column makes no difference to my Perfect Lover, Jesus, because the winning part has already been taken care of – 2000+ years ago on a hill called Calvary.
We get so bogged down fighting battles when what we should be doing is rejoicing that the battle is already won. We can’t do anything to make the win more of a win, and we sure can’t do anything to cause that win to become a loss.
We only lose when we refuse to depend 100% on the Victor.
While I feel a little bad for Wade Phillips losing his job, I hope he knows that life is not lost just because the Cowboys are suffering a losing season.
And I hope you know that as far as eternity is concerned, winning depends only on choosing the right team. The One who’s already Won.
Happy Wednesday, Dry Ground friends!
(photo by Yours Truly! J )
Monday, November 8, 2010
Recently, director Michael Mann's 1992 film, The Last of the Mohicans, released on BluRay.
Perfect opportunity to watch it again.
It surprises me to recall that this movie garnered only one Oscar nomination, for sound of all things.
It surprises me that so many people have never watched this movie, or even heard of it!
Thus, today, I remind those of you who have seen it, and highlight for those of you who haven’t, that this film is indeed worth your time.
The Last of the Mohicans is a classic novel written by James Fenimore Cooper in 1826 about the conflict between American Colonials and the British on one side, and the French and Native Americans on the other. However, the story is not primarily political. That’s only the backdrop to a beautiful and poignant love story.
I admit that I’ve not read the novel (yet). So I do not know how it differs from the movie. Right now, though, that doesn’t matter, because the movie based on the book has enough to offer on its own.
Nathaniel Hawkeye, played by the amazing Daniel Day-Lewis, is an orphaned American colonial raised by Mohican Native Americans. Cora, brought to life by Madeleine Stowe, is the proper English daughter of the British colonel. Their vastly different worlds collide when they are both caught in the crossfire of the war. A particular Huron, Magua, seeks revenge for the British attack and slaying of his village and family, targeting Cora and her sister to fulfill his bloodlust. But Nathaniel and his two Mohican relatives interfere, rescuing the English sisters and their escort, Major Heyward, and agree to guide them through the wilderness to the fort where their father fights against a French siege. Somewhere between bullets flying and Indian war parties tracking their every move, Nathaniel and Cora fall in love. The outcome in such dire circumstances, though, is critically uncertain.
I could spout about the cinematography, acting, and score, which are all superb, but it’ll sound like a typical review.
What I like most about this movie is that it makes me think of the cosmic romance between Jesus, the perfect and eternal Lover, and his beloved – us.
Cora faces the wilderness, a harsh, dangerous world that is leagues away from what she is used to. Death pursues her, and she has no defense. If Hawkeye hadn’t shown up to rescue her, she’d have died. From that point on, though he protects her from a lot, they still face dangers and trials. And at one point, he has to leave in order to protect her best. During that scene, he implores her to stay alive, and promises that he will find her. (Gives me chills every time.)
Although God never leaves us, life gets tough enough to make us feel alone and maybe even unloved. But God allows us to endure hard times to increase our faith, to give us an opportunity to trust and choose Him no matter what we face. During that scene under the waterfall when Hawkeye tells Cora that he’ll find her, I picture Jesus gripping my shoulders and imploring me to trust Him, to hold on to faith, to know that He’s holding on to me, to believe that no matter how dire my circumstances seem, He finds me and draws me out of the fire.
Other moments throughout the movie, such as when Nathaniel offers his life in exchange for Cora’s, conjure pictures of my perfect Lover and how recklessly and completely He loves me.
Hope you get the chance to watch (or re-watch) The Last of the Mohicans.
Happy Monday, Dry Ground friends!
Friday, November 5, 2010
As you may know, hiking is one of my Daniel’s and my favorite pastimes. We’ve been blessed to live in many places offering majestic hiking spots, and Billings is no exception. Practically in our back yard is a fantastic 3-mile round trip hike along The Rims, which overlooks the entire Billings valley. We’ve made a habit of getting up there any time the weather is at all nice enough to be out, and we’ve been blessed with a prolonged Autumn with temperatures in the 60s, even into November. Amazing.
For as many hikes as my Daniel and I have been on, we’ve gotten away with few accidents. A slip here, a wrong step there, a too-close brush against a sharp branch, but nothing causing permanent damage or even any major inconveniences.
I’m thankful to say that hasn’t changed.
But… a couple days ago, I did take a spill during our run/hike. I have a few souvenirs from that fall. A scraped up knee, forearm and hand.
Still, though, nothing terrible. Yes, it stung like a whole hive of bees when I poured peroxide down my leg, but compared to what could have been, a minor inconvenience at worst.
When things like this happen, I try to take the time to thank God for protecting me from what could have happened. My Daniel said that when he turned to see me going down, my head just missed a rock.
So, I just wanted to say “thank you, Lord” publicly, because He sure has been good to me – during our hikes as well as in every other area of my life.
This weekend, take the time think of all the ways He’s been good to you.
(photos by Yours Truly J )
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
While I did my part facilitating the nearly 6,000 people visiting the zoo this past weekend for Howl-o-Ween, ZooMT’s trick-or-treat event, I made several observations.
This is the one that stood out.
Do any of these kids really expect a trick?
Last Friday evening, my Daniel and I enjoyed watching the classic It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, in which Charlie Brown ends up with a sack full of rocks after a night of trick-or-treating.
Do kids these days, or any days from the past for that matter, really expect anything other than a treat when going door-to-door?
Of course not. It’d be a stroke of cruelty to pass out rocks to the kids in your neighborhood. I mean, even those who distribute dental floss are suspicious in my book!
It got me thinking…
Do we “trick or treat” with God when we pray? Do we knock on His celestial door, hold out our orange plastic jack-o-lanterns, lean back with a cringe terrified that He might possibly hand us out a trick?
Or are we like the typical kid who believes with all his heart that he’s getting a treat in his bucket?
My point is this…
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” Romans 8:28
God is not cruel. He does not hand out tricks. We can depend on Him to hand out treats, every time. He works everything that even seems like a trick to turn into a treat. We can trust Him, even when we feel like we’re dragging around a sack of rocks.
Life gets us down and throws punches at us, all the while the enemy whispers in our ears that God is not good and that we should always expect tricks from Him.
Don’t listen to that lie! Even when life has body slammed you… again… maybe for the ump-teenth time.
OK, easier said than done.
What do you do if that lying whisper becomes a roar?
Here are a couple suggestions that have helped me.
No matter the circumstances, give thanks.
Actively maintain the belief that God is good, so give Him praise.
Be patient. Not every day is going to be a “good” day, but every day contributes to ultimate good.
Keep believing, like those kids, that by the end of the night, your bucket will be full of treats.
Be blessed, Dry Ground friends!
Monday, November 1, 2010
So, I’ve been picking the classics so far on these special Mondays, purely by chance, I assure you. But this week, I decided to highlight a movie from our current century, same decade even.
In 2007, the indie world gave us a little nugget called Lars and the Real Girl staring Ryan Gosling. Few people watched this in the theatres, which I understand, but it’s a shame because I discovered it to be one of my favorite movies.
I understand because the premise sounds whacked and maybe even a little bit bizarre. But I decided to watch it anyway, out of pure curiosity, and I was so glad I did.
It’s about a seemingly normal, uninteresting young man, Lars. He has a job, he goes to church, he lives in the garage next to his brother and pregnant sister-in-law’s house. Although he operates in society, he isn’t really social. He has some nuances that make him come across as odd. Likable, just odd.
His sister-in-law worries about him being lonely, constantly badgering him to come to dinner. His co-workers needle him in attempts to draw him out. There’s even a sweet girl at work who likes him. But Lars sees the world differently. He’s careful, cautious, tentative, apparently because of losses in his past.
A combination of it all gives him an idea.
He orders a blow-up, sex doll off the Internet.
Of course, this shocks everyone. But it’s not what they think… or you think.
Lars is under the delusion that this doll is a real girl, Bianca, his new missionary girlfriend who is also handicapped, thus needs pushed around in a wheelchair. It’s completely and totally innocent.
Okay, so the premise is weird.
What’s touching about it to me is that so Lars can work through the issues he has, even though they don’t understand, the whole town goes along with his delusion. They greet Bianca, they take her on “girl” dates, they have her volunteer at the hospital and at the elementary school, they even give her a job modeling at a dress shop (you know, like the mannequin in the window!).
I like this movie because it is an example of community, of serving a fellow human being out of love and compassion instead of writing them off as weird or crazy. It’s too easy to ignore or ridicule people different than us, especially those with social challenges. We don’t have time, or we don’t understand, or we’re too uncomfortable to give people the attention or respect they deserve. We judge by the world’s standards too often, and too many souls fall through the cracks when it wouldn’t take that much out of our own routines to really help change a life.
Lars and the Real Girl is not action-packed. You probably won’t laugh until you cry. It’s based on an idea that might weird you out at first. But it’s smart. It drives a good point straight to the heart. And by the end, you’ll believe with Lars that Bianca is a real girl.
Happy Monday, Dry Ground friends. Be blessed!
Friday, October 29, 2010
I don’t mind sharing… I’m 36 years old.
Well, 18 years ago, when I was 18 years old, I met my Daniel.
It was Halloween night, I was a freshman in college. My cousin was visiting me for the weekend. So for fun, we dressed up like black kitty cats, makeup and all, and took candy to the student center to give out to whomever we might encounter.
Well, my Daniel worked at the student center.
The rest, they say, is history. J
I am so thankful for that night, and every high and low since then, this second half of my life thus far.
Have a safe and happy Halloween weekend, Dry Ground friends!