Sunday, December 11, 2011

NaNoWriMo Winner in 2012!

     You may remember that last year I wrote a novel which I have worked all year to complete, but I still haven't managed it. The word count is around 85,000 words, but it hasn't been resolved to my satisfaction. I probably know the reason why, as another author put it: "I put everything I know into my first novel." I'm sure I did too. There are many characters and ideas to work out before I'm through, so it will take a while!

     But I'll continue working on it, though a few characters and situations may disappear  before it's finished. I apologize to anyone who has asked me where to get a copy as there just isn't one!

     This year I began writing a new novel. To be a winner on NaNoWriMo, you must write 50,000 words in the month of November. I wrote about 52,000 words, which wasn't as easy as it sounds because I was sick with the worst cold in my life (or the flu) and was in bed much of the time. Another situation was that Lisa and her family had a disaster at their house and moved in with me the end of September. They've decided to sell their house and are moving in here until they can decide what their next move will be. They have a townhouse in Murfreesboro which may come in handy the next few months. We have no idea how things will work out, and  it's hard on everyone to be in limbo.

     I talk about because I want to encourage anyone who has ever thought about writing to think about joining the millions of people who take the plunge every November. You have a whole year to think about it, it's absolutely free, and you get a copy (sometimes 5 copies) of your novel from Create Space ( when you finish it in June. But you must complete it by the end of June to get the copies.  

     AND even if you don't write 50,000 words, the exercise will surprise you the way it pushes you along while you're writing words you never dreamed were in your head. Or, in the case of some people, they've had a novel in their head all their lives practically, but just haven't put it on paper. I was so resistant that it took Lisa, Quinlyn, and Donna to talk me into even trying. I kept saying that I had nothing to write about. And that may still be true, but I came up with ideas and I've enjoyed the process. Quinlyn chose to write 20,000 words and was successful (at 14 years old, she can choose how many words she wants to write above 1,500 or so). She's turning into a wonderfully expressive novelist herself. 

     And I will  say that writing this novel is an exercise which allows all of us  to  experiment and surprise ourselves with what we can do when we put our thoughts and ideas into words on a page. One of the best suggestions I've heard is to write about what you know. We can all do that, can't we? My novel isn't necessarily about what I know, except that I know how people  respond to life, which is what our lives are mostly about--responding to things that happen to us. The fun part is that you get to choose how each character responds to what happens. And one more thing is that if you allow your novel to do so, it will mostly write itself. My novel has turned into something I never intended it to be--one character a murderer and another a spy ? How could that be??? I find it hard to believe myself!  

     I know most of you are busy with holiday decorating and gift buying, but keep Writing A Novel on your list as a possibility for next year. And to anyone out there who gives it a try, I congratulate you because (as would say) you're already a winner!

Have a great week~


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Listening to Books from ~

To bring you up to date on my recent excuses for not writing a blog, I'll begin by saying that I've spent the month of August dealing with a lot of pain and  I'm finding it difficult to make my mind cooperate in any kind of concentrated work. I was forced to go to bed and take pain medicine while waiting for the antibiotics to work on the infection. I tell you this to say that I lay quietly, moving as little as possible for days. And the result was that I spent some pleasant hours listening to books from on my iPod (a red one generously given to me by three of my grandsons, thank you very much).

I'm a big fan of John Buchan's hero Richard Hannay, and having read all the novels involving  this character, I wanted to hear them read. I loved them all over again. You may remember Buchan's first novel with Hannay titled "The Thirty-Nine Steps." There was a recent re-make by BBC which I loved, though many didn't. Richard Hannay also appeared in "Greenmantle," "Mr. Standfast," "The Three Hostages," and "The Island of Sheep." All of these books are adventures that have a steady energetic movement which carries you from one scene to the next smoothly and quickly. I love them! But let me warn you that if you don't enjoy books from a earlier time period, look them over before reading--or listening--as the case may be. I've just read a blog about John Buchan where the writer likes his books, but finds him too pro-war and at times inauthentic in regard to the characters.

Today I finished listening to over 26 hours of  "Wives and Daughters" by Elizabeth Gaskell. To my mind, it must be the most beautifully written novel in our language. I was attached to all the characters,  and all of them--especially the main characters--will remain in my heart. I will probably listen to "Cousin Phyllis" by the same author next, but it was written before "Wives & Daughters" and is much shorter and--from what I've read about it--isn't nearly so lovely. So I may simply wait awhile to get over  my disappointment at having the latest book end.
 I'm also looking at some Charles Dickens and books by the Bronte sisters. For now, it's hard to think of "supplanting" my latest novel even with such fascinating books. But since I must move on, one of these may be a good choice.   

I like murder mysteries by Agatha Christie, but have only listened to "The Pale Horse" because they have mostly been portrayed so well on Masterpiece Theatre. And I listened to one of P. D. James's mysteries: "The Skull Beneath the Skin," which I liked except for the ending--a very unsatisfactory one. I believe it was one of her earlier books, and I'll probably try one of her later ones. I decided to listen to it because the heroine is a young woman who inherits a detective agency which is her means of earning her living. Come to think of it,  these books were made into movies for BBC as well, and I remember that some of them are much better than the others. Not that there were a bunch, but there were several.
Another one of my favorite writers is Carol Drinkwater, who wrote several books about her olive farm. I only got one of her books from as I hadn't finished reading it and wanted to hear what she had to say in "Return to the Olive Farm." It's mostly an indictment of our stewardship of the we don't do a good job in preserving our sources of food even. The disappearance of bees, for instance, is one of her main worries. Our long-term use of pesticides has given humanity a kind of  "drinking the kool aid" scenario--slower, but just as sure. But does anyone listen? Not enough to stop what's happening to our food supply and water. Carol herself reads her books, and she's a lively narrator, so I enjoy listening to her. Her life has been--and still is--an interesting one, and she tells her stories with enthusiasm and humor.
I've listened to several other books from, but will stop talking about my list and hope you'll make one of your own. There is a world of books to be read and listened to which can make you think in a way you've never thought before. And books that will make you a better person! I hope we're all interested in becoming more, better, brighter, etc.  I'm so glad to have an iPod! It's even better than I thought it would be, and that's saying a lot. I don't think everyone is as audibly inclined as I am, but everyone might enjoy trying out this way of getting through a book. I love it!
Have a good weekend!


Monday, August 1, 2011

Carrot & Seed Salad ~

Good Monday morning! I'm still working on my novel, so that is taking most of my mental discipline for writing. I've written a little over 80,000 words, but I'm not so much adding to it as making it better. But I want to keep in touch with all of you, so when I found this recipe for what sounds like a delicious carrot salad, I decided to share it with you. It's out of the cookbook "Breakfast, Lunch, Tea" by Rose Carrarini of Rose Bakery, which is a restaurant in Paris, France. At the beginning of the book is Rose's passionate philosophy: "Life is improved by great food and great food can be achieved by everyone." The publisher, Phaidon, adds: "Simplicity, freshness and the ability to choose the right things to cook are the keys to success and, with Rose's guidance and recipes, perfection and pleasure are easily attainable." So I say that since it's so hot almost everywhere,  and in many areas very humid, it seems the perfect dish to add to an entre this summer. It's a very simple and easy recipe that I hope you'll enjoy making for your family.
About this particular salad, Rose says: "Any carrot salad has to be my favourite, but ever since the day when my assistant, Alice, suggested we use sunflower seeds as well as herbs, we have never looked back. I can't decide whether I prefer sunflower or pumpkin seeds, so the recipe gives both. Try either, and make up your own mind."
Serves 6

1 cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon sunflower or canola oil (optional)
pinch of salt
8 medium carrots, grated
1 handful chopped chives

For the dressing:
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
About 3 tablespoons sunflower oil or olive oil
Preheat the over to 350 degrees F, and, if you wish, mix the seeds with the oil.

Season the seeds with the salt, spread them evenly on a baking pan and bake for approximately
15 minutes till they are lightly roasted and crisp, turning frequently. Set aside to cool.

Place the carrots in a serving bowl.                                        

To make the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, salt, pepper and sugar in a bowl, then
whisk in the oil. Check the seasoning--you may need more salt, sugar or lemon juice.

Pour the dressing over the carrots and mix well.

Sprinkle with the chives and the cooled seeds.

Have a wonderful week everybody! And stay cool!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gravestones & Significance ~

Play the harp well, sing many a song, so that you will be remembered. Isaiah 23:16
Can you believe we're moving into the last week of July? I can't! I had a birthday on the 20th and it was a very good one. I love that my birthday comes somewhere in the middle of Le Tour de France. Another year has passed and what do I have to show for it? The most imposing part of the year is influenced by the fact that I decided to write a novel in November of 2010. And I'm still working on the details. I even added a character last week--not a main character, but a character to be woven in and brought to life. This has been my concentration when I write, so I've neglected my blogs for many months. I wish I were more prolific, but with all the other things going on in my life, I'm just not. And now that I'm more comfortable with the fact that I'm a writer, I read someone else's work and realize how I fall short of their beautifully written prose. But there is one thing for sure--my writing is my own and no one can take that away. It keeps me going on days when I lose heart about the whole project! I really do appreciate all the encouragement I get from you all.

Today I'm going to summarize the last chapter in Meeting God in Quiet Places: The Cotswold Parables by F. LaGard Smith. Like coming to the end of July,  we've come to the end of the book with Chapter 31. And this last chapter gives us something to think about in regard to our lives. The question is: What will you leave behind when you die? Have you had a significant impact on your world? Have you influenced lives? Have you changed lives? Hmmm...LaGard gives us some thoughts to contemplate today which remind us why we're here. Actually, the graveyard says it all.

The Cotswolds receive many organized groups of ramblers every year, and part of the route they take is through a graveyard filled with ancient gravestones dating back to the 1700's. Some of the gravestones  have little epitaphs which tell the story of the one buried there. Others now appear blank because the words once engraved there have been washed away by time. But the lesson for all of us is clear: whether great or small, they are all on equal footing now.

We're familiar with the urgency of the great--their insistence on having precedence because their work is important to the lives of everyone else. The rest of us must give way and be thankful that someone cares enough to do the work we cannot do. And in England, the class system has always meant that the divide between master and servant was much greater than we'll ever know. But when we look at their graves all these years later, we may ask: Did it matter that one was a master and the other a servant? All the important tasks which the master carried out are trampled under the feet of rambling visitors just as often as the chores of the servant. You'll remember that the wisest man who ever lived was Solomon, who said: "Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.... There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow."

And it was Solomon who concluded that life is meaningless! No matter how special we think we are, generations to come will not remember us. No one will care that we ever lived. As Solomon said: "For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!"
OUCH! I don't like to think about myself  like that. I want to be remembered. And I'm looking for some way to lengthen that memory. To accomplish that, I must leave behind something of significance...a legacy that says I helped to create a better world. I suppose I take wife, mother, and teacher for granted. But they aren't to be dismissed. "The hand that rocks the cradle..." and all that. The fact that we raise and teach our children the best we can  is of significance.
Significance is most often added to our lives in small ways. And in so many small ways, our own legacy is associated with those who went before us and gave us guidance and support. What lasts of our lives--our legacy--is the influence we have in changing the lives of others.

Think of the apostles who spent their lives preaching the gospel--the good news brought to the world by Christ. Peter was a powerful preacher, giving his life in service to the early church. But who told Peter about Christ? It was his brother Andrew. It was Andrew who made a significant difference in Peter's life and in the lives of countless thousands, including you and me!
But we can go back even further for the young evangelist Timothy, who also spread the gospel. The scripture says that his faith "first lived in his grandmother Lois and in his mother Eunice." The influence of mothers and grandmothers is so important in the lives of all of us. And not forgetting that fathers play a big part in bringing up children. There is no greater significance in this world than bringing up your children "in the training and instruction of the Lord." We are all interested in our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren having good lives, aren't we?
LaGard says: "Changed lives are our greatest legacy. Changed lives are the gifts that truly keep on giving, generation after generation. No matter how seemingly insignificant our own lives, we achieve significance through the lives that we touch for good. And never are our lives more significant than when the lives we touch are brought to know Christ. For at that point lives are not simply changed, but transformed!"
Take a few minutes to remember those in your past who made a difference by touching your life. If possible, let them know that you recognize their significance in your life and how much you appreciate it. And look around you to see if there is someone in your life right now whose life you are changing or could change. Because of you, someone could take a different path. And not just a different path, but a higher one! 

Give some thought to your legacy and have a great Sunday!


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Grasping the Nettles of Commitment ~ Part 2

Tender-handed stroke a nettle,
And it stings you for your pains;
Grasp it like a man of mettle,
And it soft as silk remains.

My new motto is "Better late than never." But I hope everyone had a happy 4th of July! I was happy because I got out of the house and visited with family. It's been a long haul with the smoke-laden skies of New Mexico, but it's better now. There is often a haze and poor air quality, but it isn't oppressive like it was at first.
This is the second half of a valuable lesson for us from Chapter 30 of Meeting God in Quiet Places: The Cotswold Parables by F. LaGard Smith. In the second part of the lesson, LaGard wants us to understand what the parable is saying about our own reluctance to surrender to God. Why are we so hesitant? Because we're afraid it's going to hurt!

LaGard says: "Most of us flounder about, wanting to be fully committed followers of Jesus--thinking about it, coming close--yet never quite getting to the point where we are willing to "grasp the nettle"--to give ourselves wholly to God. To empty ourselves totally of self-will and self-direction. To surrender completely to Christ."

We're afraid of the unknown, asking serious questions about what it would mean:
1) What would my life be like if I really gave my life over to God?
2) What would my family think of me?
3)  How would it affect my job or career?
4) What would it cost me financially?
5) With all this at risk, do I really want to "grasp the nettle" of full surrender?

Remember the story of the rich young man who asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life? He had obeyed all the commandments, though probably without much sacrifice. But when Jesus asked him about giving up all his possessions, his heart couldn't make the complete surrender that was required. Ask yourself about your own willingness to surrender. What treasures in your life are you unwilling to give up for God? Are you holding on to something at all cost?                                        

The prophet Joel tells us that we aren't alone in deciding whether to surrender to God. He says: "Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision." And what he's really saying is that most of us go through an entire lifetime in the valley of indecision. We just can't decide whether to surrender to God--or NOT!

The prophet Elijah was on a mountaintop when he asked the people of God to choose between the one true God and Baal. The verse says: "Elijah went before the people and said, 'How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.' But the people said nothing." NOTHING! Saying nothing is saying everything. It says that we haven't given up self to trust in God's leading.

Another man who chose God was Joshua when he said: "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." Joshua's surrender to God was a matter of life and death. And then there was Moses, who said to the children of Israel: "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life...." Moses was pleading with the Israelites to cling to the God of their salvation--to surrender all for Him.

But no one "grasped the nettle" like Jesus did. Jesus had no possessions to give up like the rich young man who wanted to inherit eternal life. But Jesus knew that surrender to God doesn't lead to death, it leads to life. Sweating drops of blood, His agony was apparent when He prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me." And then He said, "Yet not my will, but yours be done." Not even death was too great a sacrifice. Jesus' surrender was complete because He knew there is freedom in submission. And there is liberation in wholehearted, unwavering commitment!

Can we begin to say like Jesus, "Not my will, but yours"? Are our eyes fixed on Jesus who endured the cross for us? LaGard says: "Through his complete surrender on the cross, Jesus has already grasped the nettle for us. He has taken away the sting of death. All we need to do is to put our hand in his--to feel the softness of his love and never let go!"

It's wonderful to me that we have a choice...we can make the decision or's up to us whether we surrender to God and live our lives through the love of Christ. Stresses and strains make it hard for us to give up our stubborn control, but you can be sure that it will make life more worthwhile in every way.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend!


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Grasping the Nettles of Commitment ~

Serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  Deuteronomy 10:12
Nettles are the subject today from Meeting God in Quiet Places: The Cotswold Parables by F. LaGard Smith--the way nettles can represent more than a wild weed which stings. LaGard says that nettles can remind you that not everything in the English countryside is cozy and inviting. Nettles may look like a harmless green plant, but they can be very painful when you brush them on your walk. You may remember the old adage to "grasp the nettle" and get on with it. Do you have the courage--the boldness--to do the right thing even when it's going to be costly? When you know the pain is going to linger with you for hours? It is said that if you grasp the nettles quickly and firmly, it won't hurt. How many of you want to try out that expression, to see whether grasping the nettle will end up in a lot of pain?

Surrendering to God can have the same sense of grasping the nettle--a painful experience. And that pain creates hesitancy on our part. You may be hesitant to surrender your personal pleasures and lifestyle to accept a faith that seems onerous and burdensome. You wonder whether knowing God is worth the sacrifice. On the other hand, you may have that comfortable feeling of one who has walked with God for many years--church on Sundays, Bible study during the week, and keeping your nose clean, which means that you can live pretty much like everyone else. But what does Jesus say about that attitude?

This quotation from Jesus says a lot about half-hearted discipleship; you must either surrender to him all the way or just quit pretending: "He who is not with me is against me." And remember the scathing rebuke given to the Laodiceans: "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither cold nor hot--I am about to spit you out of my mouth." Holding onto God with one hand and the world with the other doesn't work. Jesus said: "No one can serve two masters." And Joshua said, "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve!" It's all about commitment, isn't it? And our job is to think about just how committed we are--not just getting by, not just biding our time, not just seeming to be a Christian, but truly committed to faithful lives of service and dedication to God. .
This is enough for you to chew on today. I'll give you more on how to surrender to God as many others have done. There are some good examples for all of us to follow. But no one has ever grasped the nettle as completely as Jesus did. More on what it means for us to grasp the nettle next time.

Have a wonderful Sunday!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Joy to the World ~

And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
Matthew 1:21                      

It's a beautiful morning here, but it's going to be hot! I don't mind as long as the smoke stays away. We've been blessed that even though our air quality hasn't been good some days, the fires are not giving us the angst that I first anticipated. I'm actually going out to lunch today. It's my first day out of the house in about a month. Thankfully, I have Los Poblanos Organic Farm to deliver food to my door. I'm very thankful that the situation didn't get any worse here.
A quick update on the novel writing: I'm going through the manuscript slowly with the idea of taking out all the extra words I tend to put into my writing. And though I hate to admit it, I went through earlier and took out the contractions, only to realize that it was stiff and stilted, and so I'm putting them back. Please let me say that the books by Ken Follett, which I talked about in my last blog, are not fit for moral consumption. I just hadn't read enough reviews to share that at the time.
And one more thing to share with you are excerpts from The Intimate Jesus by F. LaGard Smith. I began reading this book a few days ago, and have been struck by the power of the gospels once again. Because we are in constant earshot of bad news and the way of the world, it's easy to forget how blessed we are. So here's an excerpt from a chapter on JOY with the hope that it affects you the same way it did me--opening my eyes anew to the blessings and  JOY we have in Christ. Listen to LaGard:
Jesus' birth is also the fulfillment of a promise and a reminder that, even in our lives, God is faithful who has promised. When he promises us eternal life, we can rest assured that he has indeed prepared a place for us in the world to come. When he promises us a life of joy and peace on this earth, we can rest assured that, even in the rough times, there is in Christ a peace that passes all understanding.                                
The Christian who does not feel joy daily in his or her own life has missed the message of Jesus' birth. The carols we sing about his birth mean little if they do not bring into our lives the joy of reconciliation with God. And the celebration of the angels has a hollow ring if we fail to find joy in the living of life each day and in the simple sharing with our friends.
For those who DO know the true meaning of joy, life takes on purpose spiced with pleasure. How about us? Has happiness run its course in our lives? What a wonderful opportunity to embrace a little child and bring him into our hearts! Great joy awaits those who do.
I felt like putting these words in all caps, but I restrained myself. And, of course, what that means is that I needed this message. Perhaps it will lift you too.
Have a great week!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Gently Down the Stream ~

You may be wondering where I've been or what I've been doing. Mostly I've been working on the novel that I thought was finished. Almost the same day that I said I was finished, I realized that I had a good basis for a novel. I had written about 53,000 words moving toward the first deadline for NaNoWriMo. Then I was given time to get it right by editing and subtracting those odd sentences you can't believe you wrote in the first place. This added another 25,000 words and once again I thought it was complete. But as I moved my mind into other areas of life again, I began to see that I needed more depth to the story that I was writing. So I'm working to tell a deeper story, so that readers can have more understanding of the main character at least.

At one point, I looked at novels by other writers and some of my favorites are in first person. I decided that my novel should also be in first person. First person makes it so "in the now" and personal. So I proceeded to change all the pronouns and tenses in the novel. And first person sounded wonderful for the first three chapters, but not for most of it. As I read through again, I recognized my voice very much like the one on this blog! So I spent a few days changing it all back to third person. Now remember that at this point, I have almost 78,000 words! The best part of this process was seeing that I had too many words in many cases, and that changing the phrase into two words instead of three made a big difference in the awkwardness of reading it.  All in all, it created a better-flowing paragraph.
Having accomplished that chore, I was gratified once more in thinking it was finished--complete. But as I was looking around for a movie to watch on Netflix streaming, I saw one movie on my list from some time ago: The Pillars of the Earth. Netflix didn't think I'd like it all that much, but it had a medieval theme and I wanted to see if I liked it. After watching the first part--there are about 8 parts--I realized that I had heard of the author of the book from which the movie was made. His name is Ken Follett and he has a website, which I looked at. As it turns out, Follett's book had been published in 1989 and was still selling 100,000 copies a year. In talking about the book, he said he had taken 3 years to write it with lots and lots of research being done. His book contained 400,000 words. He thought he would never finish it. And he had a sequel which he wrote a couple of years after this one which is also very long. Can you see where I'm going with this?
My 78,000 words suddenly seemed insignificant. Couldn't I do better than that? Couldn't I put some depth into my novel? But my novel isn't supposed to be all that's for girls and young women. Well, don't I owe them more than fluff? So the blush of writing a novel that began last November continues to haunt my days and nights, while I decide what I want to do with my novel. You asked what I've been doing, and this is my reply. I'll try to give you some blogs along the way.

I hope you're having a good week!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cricket & the Bible ~ Understanding ~ Part 2

Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it. Proverbs 16:22

We're in the 28th chapter of Meeting God in Quiet Places: the Cotswold Parables by F. LaGard Smith, and the question we want to considerer is: What activates the transition between reading or hearing the gospel and actually becoming a person of faith?

What does that have to do with cricket? Cricket has rules that are so difficult for us to understand that we simply don't enjoy the game. For most Americans, the rules and even the actual playing of the game--where the same player may be at bat for hours and the game may go on for days--leave our emotions cold. But that isn't the way cricket fans see the game. As one lifelong cricket fan said, "Cricket is a contemplative game which has inspired poetry, art, and music." That was an eye-opening statement for LaGard, who realized that there must be more to the game than simply understanding the rules. Surely there is something about the spirit of the game that is very special. 

The word that strikes a cord between Christianity and cricket is contemplative. In fact, LaGard says that this may be the key to the mysterious process of transforming someone who has biblical knowledge into a person with genuine, enthusiastic faith! In other words, we don't want to simply know about God technically, we want to know God personally. LaGard says: "There is so much more to appreciate about our faith, so much more to feel and to be! What is it that instills the passion? What is it about Christian faith that becomes obsessive? What is it that would cause a person to live for its teaching and die for its truths?" Can you believe that it's the working of the Holy Spirit?
No, the Holy Spirit isn't a magic wand to be waved, so that we suddenly burst into a fiery faith. Nor does the Holy Spirit overwhelm us and turn us into miracle workers. And being filled with the Holy Spirit doesn't help us find an open parking space or "hit for six" in a game of cricket! So what does the Holy Spirit do to make God come alive in our hearts? LaGard explains: "He awakens us! He stirs us! He enlightens us! If faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, it is the Holy Spirit who makes sure we actually hear the truths that transform." 

But reading or hearing the Word of God is only the first step in our learning process. It's the Holy Spirit's role to say: "Wake up and catch what God is saying to you through His Word!" He awakens us and stirs us to seek God with intensity. And because knowledge alone isn't enough, the Holy Spirit enlightens us like a good teacher. As a law professor, LaGard says he aspired to be the good teacher that Jesus spoke of when He said, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." And that is exactly what the Holy Spirit does.

Most of us have re-read a familiar scripture which we've studied many times before, but this particular time a new understanding was gained--a light was switched on in our mind. Could it be that the Holy Spirit actively reached out to make sure we got the intended message--perhaps for a particular need? The Holy Spirit could well have blessed us with enlightened eyes. Not a new revelation, but an understanding of "the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints." The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of openness to receive and understand God's revelation for our own individual lives. 

This kind of enlightenment makes God real to us; His love is no longer an abstract concept, but gives us motivation to serve others, to sacrifice for others, and to live a morally pure life, just as Christ did. When we're enlightened through the Word, our passion is kindled and transforms us. And at this point, having God in our lives begins to make a difference.                 
Being enlightened means that we no longer just follow the rules as in a cricket match. Our victory is not simply in a game, but is victory over sin, over insurmountable circumstance, even over death! But our most important victory is over disbelief. When we ask God to help our unbelief, God transforms us from spectators into participants. How it happens exactly remains a mystery. But for people watching our lives, let us hope that the Holy Spirit can use our transformed lives as a means of illuminating them as well.  
This lesson will not only give you something to think about for the moment, but will remind us all that contemplating spiritual truths is the most important thing we can do to make the world a better place for ourselves and others.



Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cricket & the Bible ~ Understanding

Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it. Proverbs 16:22

In my Bible blog yesterday, I talked about hope as a necessary element in living a faithful life. And clearly, the way to keep our hope alive is by having the Holy Spirit living within us. In Chapter 28 of Meeting God in Quiet Places: the Cotswold Parables  by F. LaGard Smith, the point is made that understanding is the key to our enlightenment through the Holy Spirit.

This parable is taken from the popular game of cricket, which is played, watched and loved by most of the British people. In fact, the game of cricket gets much more attention from the British people on Sunday than does any worship service, in spite of the fact that its rules of engagement are obscure to most Americans. The obsessive fever of the Brits for cricket comes closest to our obsession for baseball, but at least we understand the rules of baseball and know why we're excited. The fact that we don't understand the rules of cricket is probably the biggest reason we don't enjoy watching it. And through this analogy, we can see that when we don't understand the Bible, we find it impossible to know God.  

So you may well ask the question: What would it take to know God? And you may feel that understanding the rules of engagement with God are as muddied in your mind as the rules for cricket.  It isn't hard to see that many people find it difficult to appreciate the worship of a God they've never seen; a God who can create a universe, but who later takes human form and is killed on a rude cross by the very creatures He's created. Like cricket, the rules of engagement involving propitiation, reconciliation, and salvation may sound like a foreign language to the uninitiated. And so do all those scriptures telling us that to live we have to die, that to receive we must give, that to love God we may have to "hate" our own families! Nonsensical verbiage or profound truths? The game of cricket could NOT be this difficult to understand! 
Of course, reading the Bible--which is considered the Christian's rule book--is very helpful in gaining understanding about God. But in spite of this view of the Bible, please remember that it is much more than a rule book! LaGard says: "Far surpassing any such comparison, the Bible is meant to reveal to us nothing less than the wonder of God and the mystery of faith!" And the apostle Paul says in Romans: "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." That sounds simple enough until we hear Paul say that "the mystery of godliness is great!" In other words, two people can read the same Bible--one turns to God in faith and the other turns away in doubt and skepticism. We have to figure out the answer to this question: What activates the transition between reading or hearing the gospel and actually becoming a person of faith? 

The important point of the parable will be explained in tomorrow's post. For now, contemplate the questions proposed here to see where your own understanding lies. 
Have a great weekend!


Thursday, April 14, 2011

White Bread for One...or More ~

It's white bread for one unless I have company, of course. I'm saying it's for one because I make this recipe into 4 small loaves of bread. I haven't made bread in a while, but after buying some whole wheat bread made by the bakery in Albertson's, I realized that I'm just wanting some homemade bread to eat--the ultimate comfort food. I'm sure I've given this recipe to you before because it's my favorite white bread recipe from the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook. The picture on the left is the bread I made today right out of the oven. For supper, I had a bowl of homemade vegetable soup and the bread. Below is the dough rising in the bowl.

I was talking on the phone when I decided to make some bread today, and I thought it wouldn't be possible because I saw that I was out of milk. But determined to find a way, I began looking through my cookbook. And that's when I saw that the recipe called for water, not milk, but with a half cup of powdered milk if you wanted to add it--and I did. That was new for me, as well as using bread flour rather than all-purpose flour. I've used bread flour in some other bread recipes, but not this one. I enjoy doing something different so I can anticipate the result coming out of the oven. And this is no different...I expect it to work out, but baking can take on a life of its own and turn into a fiasco. But not usually!

The soup was made yesterday when I realized I had vegetables from Los Poblanos Organic Farm that were going to ruin if I didn't use them. I first sauteed two big white onions and garlic in olive oil, added lots of carrots, chicken broth, canned diced tomatoes, kale, cabbage, and a can of white beans. I prefer the white kidney beans because their taste and texture is cleaner and not so pasty, but most of them have additives that I don't want to eat, so I didn't find any to use this time. And I've learned from trying the olive oil on orange slices that Colavita extra virgin olive oil has a very "soft" taste and not that heavy green taste that so many of the extra virgin olive oils have. I use a cheaper olive oil to cook with, but to add to my soup after it's in the bowl and for sprinkling on fresh orange slices, I'll be buying the Colavita. I love soup and I love bread, so I really enjoyed my supper tonight.
For dessert there were cooked apples left from yesterday when I saw a bag of yellow and red apples Lisa had given me on Sunday. Again, it was a matter of cooking them or losing them. They are very good with a little cinnamon mixed in. I don't have a picture of them though. I took many of my bread, so that's what's on here! This bread seemed somewhat soft and not as tasty as I remembered, but it may be because I've been eating whole wheat bread. I talked to Kelly today, and she said that adding powdered milk can make the dough softer. So that's the answer to my riddle. 
I'm contemplating a mini Zojrushi bread machine, which makes a half loaf of bread. Paula, her husband, Jim, and their sons, Jon & Phillip, gave me money for Christmas and birthday. So I've about decided that I would love to have this bread machine to make tasty bread all the time. All thoughts on the subject will be appreciated. I've read endless reviews which assure me that I'll love it! 

And for anyone tempted to make this white bread, here's the recipe. And you can always go on the King Arthur Flour website. They have SO many good recipes for bakers.

Walter Sand's
Basic White Bread

2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons sugar or honey
1 tablespoon or packet active dry yeast
1/2 cup dry milk (optional)
2 tablespoons butter, softened, or vegetable oil (or a combination)
6 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon salt (or less if desired)

Making the dough: Pour the warm water into a large mixing bowl. Add and let dissolve the sugar or honey and yeast. When the yeast is bubbling, add the dry milk, softened butter, 5 1/2 cups of flour and the salt. (If you add the salt before adding flour, you'll kill the yeast.) With a large spoon, stir this mixture until it begins to hold together. Pour the remaing 1/2 cup of flour on the surface you intend to use for kneading.

Kneading: Turn the dough out onto the floured board and knead until it begins to feel as if it belongs together, about 3 or 4 minutes, adding only enough flour to keep it from sticking to the board or you. Let it rest while you clean and grease your bowl. Continue kneading the relaxed dough until it feels smooth and springy, another 3 or 4 minutes.

Rising: Form the dough into a nice ball, place it in the greased bowl, turning it so the top is lightly greased also. Cover it and put it where it will be warm and cozy (no drafts). Let this rise until it has doubled (when you can poke your finger in it and the dough doesn't spring back at you).

Shaping: Punch or knock the dough down, turn it out onto your floured board and knead out any stray bubbles. Cut it in half, form 2 loaves and place them in two lightly greased bread pans. (I cut my dough into 4 pieces and form loaves, putting 2 side by side in each pan. See pictures.)

Baking: With either of the following options, the longer baking time produces a crustier bread with a slightly drier interior.
  • Full Rise: Let the loaves rise until they are doubles (about an hour). About 15 minutes before you want to bake the bread, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the loaves in the preheated oven and bake 35 to 40 minutes. This method makes the lightest loaves.
  • Partial Rise: Let the loaves rise for only 30 to 40 minutes. Place them in a cold oven, set the temperature to 400 degrees F for 15 minutes and lower it to 350 degrees F for a further 20 to 25 minutes.
This second method takes a little less time from beginning to end and avoids the possibility of the bread dough rising too far and then collapsing. The bread itself won't be quite as light but it will still be very good.

Fresh homemade bread is well worth the effort if you have the time. Once you learn the basics of breadmaking, you can throw it together and let it rise without your attention. Your family will thank you for this lovely heartfelt contribution to their meals. Have a wonderful Friday!


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lighten Up ~

Impress upon yourself this eternal truth: Most things don't amount to a hill of beans.

Even though I'm working through some situations personally, I wanted to post something on here that might give you inspiration for your own life. I've given you some material from Victoria Moran before, and this essay is "Lighten Up" from her book Fit from Within. You might guess that it's a book about attitudes which serve you well when you want to lose weight or stay skinny. This probably appeals to me because I need to lighten up for sure, but it could be that some of you also yearn for a way to lift your spirits and see the world from a lighter perspective. So here is her essay.

Lighten Up

Lighten up is a lovely metaphor: when you can do it with your attitude, your body is apt to follow. Of course some things are serious. That doesn't mean we have to take everything seriously, especially not ourselves. If someone cuts in front of you in line, you are not obligated to make a moral issue out of it. If there is toilet paper stuck to your shoe, you don't have to be mortified. Try amused instead. If you have a different opinion from someone else, it is probably not imperative that this person understand your point of view, and explaining it for the fifteeneth time will not clarify your position any better than the first fourteen explanations did.

Impress upon yourself this eternal truth: Most things don't amount to a hill of beans. In the majority of endeavors, winning is overated, and in most human interactions one-upping is far less pleasant than two conversing. The arguments, jealousies, and misunderstandings that can make life so unpleasant--and send many an overeater to the nearest microwave--are, for the most part, insignificant. Let them go or "let go and let God."

You don't have to appear brilliant, sophisticated, and on top of things every minute of your life. It's okay to hear the name of a writer or politician or composer and say, "Who's that?" Sincerity is far more appealing than pretense. "I don't know" is a legitimate answer to a host of questions, and "I'm not going to worry about this now" is a legitimate response to a host of troubles. Refusing to fret over what you can do nothing about is closely related to refusing to eat over what you can do nothing about. Do your best to be less distraught when things don't work out the way you'd hoped they would. More often than not, this means that life has something better in store for you anyhow. 

We all know the truth of this essay, but it helps sometimes to refresh our mind and memory about some easy and thoughtful things to raise our attitudes to a higher level. I hope you enjoyed it. 


Friday, April 1, 2011

You and Them ~ Your Social Intelligence

TGIF! It's been a really tough week for me, so I haven't been writing. But this list of ways to improve on your Social Intelligence are appealing ideas from Tony Buzan's HEAD FIRST: 10 Ways to Tap Into Your Natural Genius. I'm only going to give you a small part of his chapter on Social Intelligence. I hope you enjoy contemplating its value to improve your life.

Buzan begins with a definition: "Social Intelligence refers to your ability to use all your other intelligences to relate in a positive way to those most complex of all creatures--other human beings! Social intelligence applies to your one-on-one meetings, to small and large group meetings, and to your ability (in this modern age), to deal sucessfully with the media, if and when you need to."

I'm skipping over to the Brain Workout--Developing Your Social Intelligence. Buzan says: "Your Social Intelligence is one of your most flexible intelligences, and is one of the most rewarding, easy and enjoyable to develop. This Brain Workout is divided into strategies designed to help you improve your social intelligence when meeting people for the first time, for relating to those you know, and finally for ending relationships." Today I'm simply giving you things to do when meeting people for the first time.  

Beginning Relationships

1. Remain Constantly Aware of What a Miracle You and Others Are
This will automatically open up your interest in others and thereby your senses. Others, sensing your appreciation of and interest in them, will automatically become more open to and interested in you, and so the positive loops of your relationships with others will grow.

2. Attend Shows and Plays
Theater provides you with a stage on which multiple interpersonal relationships are acted out and often commented upon. The theater is therefore a wonderful training ground for you to expand your appreciation of the multiplicity of human relationships, and to incorporate that understanding into your own life. Another good idea is to watch videos/films of the best classic masterpieces.

3. Play Around with Questions 
The Zen question, "Who learns more in a conversation between a wise man and a fool?," is a very useful one to think about!

4. Learn From the Greats
Make a list of the Top Social Communicators of the last century, and more importantly, note down next to each name key words or phrases that support your nomination. Who and Why? What are the skills and characteristics that your Top Communicators share? List them. Now take this list of people and make a Mind Map of their common skills. Decide to develop these skills, one at a time, for yourself.

5. Expand Your Social Horizons
Set yourself the goal of experiencing a wide variety of different social occasions, including festivals, mega-concerts, dances and celebrations of all sorts. Visit other cultures and explore other religions, always taking the role of the "Eager Student," asking to be shown and instructed what to do and how to behave most appropriately on those different occasions. People love to show and share their special knowledge with others, and, as they do so, you will both learn and rapidly develop your Social Intelligence. 

6. Collect People's Stories
From the youngest to the oldest, everyone has a "favorite story"--the tale of unusual, extraordinary, terrifying or magnificient things that uniquely happened to them. Ask them for that story, or stories. What is the most amazing thing they have ever done? What was the funniest thing that they ever experienced? Had they at some time nearly died? Have they ever fought in a war? What was the most ridiculous/stupid thing they ever did? Ask them to tell their tale. Then you tell them yours!

7. Take a Presentation Skills Course
Such a course will encourage you to be your magnificent self, and will give you the opportunity to use many of your other intelligences, especially your Verbal, Sensory, Spatial and Creative Intelligences.

8. Dress to Impress
Make sure that your presentation of yourself in general appeals to the senses and intelligences of others. Your clothes are of particular importance in this context--just think of your reaction to people based on the cleanliness, colors, textures, "tailoredness" and suitability of their clothes. Many studies have been done on "Power Dressing," and they all confirm that in one important way, "Clothes maketh the man...." For the next few days, study the effect that other people's dress has on you, and also the effect it seems to have on the wearers themselves. You will come up with some remarkable findings!

Thinking about your life can certainly change it, so I hope these ideas for doing that will give you a start on making your life a bit better. 

Have a good Friday! I'll be going to Lisa's for pizza and a movie.