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!