A Doxology: Is There Anyone in Heaven?

Praise God–from whom all blessings flow! Praise Him all creatures here below! Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts! Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen. 

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“Doxology” originally referred to either written or verbal expression of praise. Its liturgical use in the high church tradition solidified it in our collective understanding to mean “group song”–specifically, the one above. But The Doxology, so familiar, has built into it the original purpose of praise: anytime, anywhere. “All blessings”: can you number your blessings just today? The last hour? Peaceful moments, sunshine, work, rain and cloudy skies, food you like, small things to look forward to, a place to live, people to love…etc.

“…all creatures here below” doesn’t leave much excuse for us not to praise Him. Everything else already does. Have you ever watch a bird catch updrafts and wheel in the open sky, looking like they’re honestly having fun doing what they were made to do and not think they’re not praising God?

Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord! Psalm 150:6

It’s awfully tempting to despair of late, it seems. When big personalities in Christendom leave the faith, it feels like somehow more than one person. It preys on the minds of the believers. Yet our Father tells us to continue in faith ; we continue on joyfully, in love, in grace, and in confidence in our God rather than people.

Our theology comes from Him; so too, must our doxology.

I am not the first

To observe that the greater the beauty

The more ugly the loss.

The safer the harbor

The more shattering the invasion.

The deeper the trust

The more destructive the deception.

 

–We know these things too well.

–They have been practiced on us.

–We rage to see them practiced on those we love.

–And if we are honest…

–We are terrified of ourselves

–And our propensity to be:

–The Ugliness

–The Invader

–The Destroyer

–And we ask someone, anyone

–To fix the broken.

–To fix us before we break something.

–But they can’t.

–Because they too are at fault.

 

He didn’t just say that He was Coming.

He said, too, that He Is Here.

He said that He Never Leaves.

He called Himself Beginning and End

He must too be all that is between.

So I take the ugliness to Him to fix.

I tell Him about the invaders.

And I leave the destroyers to His care.

Do you have anyone else in Heaven to ask?

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I Don’t Believe in Writer’s Block

I don’t believe in Writer’s Block.

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Perhaps the term came about because of the writer’s innate loneliness; writing is just you, the paper and the ink. When you feel stuck—a word won’t come, you don’t know how the problem is solved—it can feel like a physical force. Since there is no one around to blame for the gosh-awful feeling of not knowing what word comes next, writers invented something called Writer’s Block.

At least actors have the gumption to take responsibility for what paralyzes their limbs, churns their guts, and makes the most experienced Thespians sweat uncontrollably. They call it stage fright. It’s the most honest way of explaining what happens to any artist at times: fear.

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That’s what Writer’s Block is. It’s fear. It tightens your muscles, makes you sweat, and paralyzes you. You find yourself actually scared of the paper; the next word might be the wrong one. You might write the wrong ending; you might make the wrong choice. Of course, fear is always a deceptive sort of thing. “Wrong” writing is always better than none at all; editing can’t happen unless you have something to edit. So when a writer feels blocked—like everything is in a bottleneck—sometimes the best thing to do is pull a John Wayne and “saddle up, anyway.” It’s not as if a writer has suddenly been bereft of their words; it’s just that she has to choose one. Just one. Any one will do. A good writer can take comfort in the fact that they can always come back later and change it, but for now, they rely on the memory their muscles retain from crafting individual letters and basic meanings of words. Craft and artistry can come later; right now, just lay down the foundation, one word at a time.

Perhaps one of the fears we instill within ourselves that keeps us from just…doing it comes from the way we talk about “talent” and “giftedness.” The connotation surrounding these words carries with it the idea that if a person shows an inclination toward a talent, they have (1) a built-in genius, (2) no need to train or observe classical foundations, and (3) that failure is bad…or perhaps it should be worded, that there is little to no room for lack of recognized success.

Of course, not everyone thinks of “giftedness” this way, but enough do, that an inclination toward something that might be called a “talent” can sometimes be terrifying. Children in theatre or sports, for instance, are subjected to ridicule by adults—sometimes parents, sometimes just spectators—as if they were expected to already have mastered their interest. What is really just play, and hardly a career, has been made so morbidly serious, that even as adults we are hardly ready to play at our art and frolic in it. It must be successful; it must be right the first time. There is no room to pretend, and pretend, and pretend some more—otherwise known as editing.

What if we talked about “giftedness” as an inclination to grow in a certain interest? A gifted mathematician would mean, not a person who has a natural genius with numbers, but a person who has a natural ability to expand her curiosity in that medium. A gifted actor would be someone who has the natural liveliness to seek out ways to be more realistic, a drive to be take more classes, to expand their intuition that makes people laugh—instead of letting ourselves believe that it happens without work. A painter or musician would be someone in whom lived an eagerness to study others’ work and a delightedness in trying old ways, and treasure-seeking new ways. What if study of old and new masters wasn’t so much based in the peculiar idea that art can have a CEO and a clear hierarchy of people in charge of the art form itself, but that study might be a way of playing. What if being a writer didn’t mean someone who just wrote books, but someone who was interested in growing their ability with words? The novelist might write a cookbook, write one song in their whole lifetime, collaborate in a graphic novel, and write three screenplays…and then become a journalist or a teacher. Cannot “giftedness” mean many things? The focused artist who hones his craft for his whole life is a rare breed. Perhaps we need more of these, too—people who are unafraid to strap on a backpack and hike forever onward into the wild forests of their art…on, and on, and on, playing all the while.

If we were not afraid, perhaps we would not be so enamored of fame or sudden glory; we would, like a wild bird, simply glory our Creator by doing what He made us to do, and create without fear of man.

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A Little Math for the New School Year

For some of you, the new school year is a mere week away. (Egads!) For some of you, you might have twice as long. Regardless, the summer is fast ending. So for the sake of old times and times yet to come, do a little word problem with me. 

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Imagine that you are a teacher in this room:

There are 30 desks in a classroom. There are 28 students. (You have two desks left over for wiggle room. With me so far?)

10 of the students are not allowed to sit by or talk to a combination of anyone or one person.

8 of them have a learning disability and have special needs and accommodations you are required to give them…which demands special seating in a certain location for all of them. Some of them are among those 10. Some of them refuse the extra help they are given with reading, writing, etc, even though they might really benefit from it. Some of them only will take it from one special adult. So there’s that.

5 of 28 are high ability and need a challenge or they’re bored silly.

3 are identified as high ability and don’t particularly care to try. So they play.

3 are not identified as special needs, legally, but you know they are. You might spend the entire year negotiating paperwork and services for them. However, since there is no paperwork, you cannot put them with the group who gets an aide; the special services “aide” is also sometimes a full-fledged teacher with an utterly unique set of responsibilities, right down to the way the students are tested, including what kind of test it is. He has a mountain of paperwork he has to accomplish per student; it is unfair to ask him to give extra free help to a student for whom he is not responsible. For those 3 fringe kids, if they get help, it’s you (in all that extra time) or a high ability student or strategic group work.

All 28 of them are too close to each other in that space and keep touching, poking, kicking books, each other, and whispering regardless of seating. They’re friends, after all. You want this to be on some level enjoyable. But you also don’t want to be an unheard, decorative bobble-head.

Now remember, you’re the teacher in this room. So your job is to solve this one problem: where do you seat all these students to please (1)parents, (2)special services needs (3)administration, (4) the students themselves, and (5)your own expectations for class?

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I taught this class. All of this was true. This is not uncommon. And pleasing all these people, hard as I tried, was just not possible. The SS teacher (or aide, as the case demanded) and I made do and did our best. So on behalf of my fellow teachers this year, perhaps we can all remember a few things:

The Rest of the Story: Assume that there is much, much more to the story. Students can only retain so much–they’re learning! The version they bring home or bring in from lunch or the hallway is very likely exactly what they honestly understood it to be. But in my experience, because they’re young, still learning, and human (just like you and me…), they often didn’t get all the pieces.

Communication: Has technology made communication better? Well…we certainly have more tools…the key to them is knowing you have them and then using them. If you have a student, use all the resources available for online homework explanations and otherwise when you can. If you’re confused, send an email to the teacher to ask for clarification. Teachers love to clarify issues before they become just that: issues.

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Legal stuff: Please be aware there are many things a teacher cannot do based on word-of-mouth alone, no matter how trustworthy the mouth. She must have the proper paper work or permission, etc. Similarly, a principal (God bless these long-suffering people) must actually have security camera proof or evidence to convict. There will be many injustices and difficulties  in grown-up life; help your students/kiddos respond well to these, now.

Balance and Patience: Meanwhile, teachers at school will do their best to meet students and parents and administration and other teachers halfway. We know that 6-8 classes and associated homework and individual teacher/classroom rules can be confusing for both parents and students, but so are 120 students spread across 7 various classes with homework each night to provide a data stream. We’re all just trying to sanely, sweetly navigate what can be white water rapids for all of us. Can I refer you to the rocket science above? Then there’s one more thing you should know.

Love: Parents and teachers and administration all love these students. It’s true…and it’s easy to forget. Maybe teachers and parents could practice a little more love for each other, too. Maybe. It’s a thought, anyway.

Ya’ll, I Found a Farmer’s Market: Exploring Home

I’ve started a little blog series subtitled “Exploring Home” to get me out of the house a bit. A natural hermit, I would happily stay at home and rarely leave. With this series, I’m getting to know my new home, finding some deals, and doing a little journalism. Thanks for reading!

I’ve been working up the gumption the last few days to go out and find the local farmer’s markets. A temporary tent version is set up downtown on Main every Wednesday and Saturday, but what I wanted was a real, old-fashioned every-day 4-5 month farmer’s market. I wanted garden-warm tomatoes and lettuces, and I wanted squash and zucchini. I found it: L J’s Farm Market. 

Everything I found said there was construction going on right on top of the market; I didn’t know if I could even get to it. But as I started getting near the construction, little signs were posted telling me that customers of L J’s had permission to drive right through the blockades…so I did.

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When I found a parking spot, I felt like I had found my people. If we had a place to hang flowers, I would have been tempted by their beautiful 30%-off pots. But from where I was standing, I didn’t see any tomatoes.

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The produce ended up being inside the little rain forest. I walked away with zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, garlic, beets, and green peppers, all for under $10. Did you catch that? That’s not going to happen at Kroger.

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On the way home, I stopped at the Farmer’s Market in downtown Lapeer. I suspect that it’s a bit more varied on the weekend; this Wednesday, there were only two vegetable booths. Those two booths had wonderful quality, though, and I found a lovely head of garden-fresh Romaine.

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By the time I got home, I was so hungry, I was at the eat-everything-in-sight sort of feeling. I had had to smell tomatoes and garlic in my backseat all the way home–so that’s what I had for lunch–among other things.

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I’ve tried a few different food-related experiments every summer; this summer, I’m trying pickled celery, beets, and possibly cauliflower. But I didn’t want to do that until I could find a good place to get a fair amount. Riced pickled cauliflower is in my future, now.

Happy lunches are here again!

Your Personal Brand Name

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Self-editing, or curating if you will, has become a creative kind of muscle that our culture has become quite accustomed to.

If you take a picture of your awesome salad and Instagram it, you edit it before you post. Maybe you recolor it, or resize, or crop, but especially if it’s just one picture, we often edit our lives before we put them out there. Some of us edit our written words before we post, but let’s be honest: a gob-awful lot of us don’t re-read our genius before we toss it out into the world, typos and all. But somehow, our weird digital connection has allowed millions of us to create our own brands.

Every online presence has a brand.

Maybe you’ve got a Gordon Ramsay sort of brand: offensive, loud, and type A. Maybe you’re a Charlize Theron: let my work speak for itself. Maybe your brand is Foodie: you’re into recipes, that aforementioned salad, or specific food needs. Maybe you’re the Family Brand: just pics of family, and anyone who doesn’t know you doesn’t know which face in those pictures is yours. Maybe your brand is Philosopher (spiritual articles, philosophy, etc), Newsie (you’re always sharing news, fake or otherwise) or the Quote brand. Chances are, you’re a lovely combo. Perhaps the most common brand is the Hourly Update. We know what you’ve done all day—and we all know one. Maybe your brand would clearly become Fitness, the name of your actual company, or maybe Parenthood.

None of this means, of course, that you’ve got a logo or you’re making money on your brand. But just like an author, if someone were to put all your online presence and posts in one place, a pattern would emerge. The more work your biographer had to asses, the more apparent the things that occupy your mind the most would be.

Perhaps like no other time in the history of the world, there is actual data, provided by us, to tell others what occupies our hearts and minds the most.

We can’t hide our pride, or our love of ourselves. When we wish a loved one a happy birthday, often people can’t help but toss in a “I know you’re not perfect” comment. Maybe it kinda feels like we need to acknowledge that truth, but aren’t we really say how great we are for loving this imperfect person? Are long letters to individuals really for them…or are they for all the people we hope will read and like it? If it was for just one person, why not a private message? Or a letter? Why would we even bother to check the “likes” and notifications? What makes us use a SM platform when we might use an interpersonal format?

Maybe we do want to have an open discussion or celebration about one person or idea. Some people know exactly what they’re doing and how to use it well. Unfortunately, if we use SM very much, we openly acknowledge that thoughtful discussion doesn’t always take place here. There a

We are all into marketing, if we’re into posting on social media of any kind. We can’t help it. It’s designed to thrive on the approval of the hive.

So, without checking, do you know your brand?

July 3rd, 2019

Two years ago around this time, I was in the South Dakota Badlands.

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Last year, I was in Taiwan.

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This year finds me in Michigan, and in all three cases, the temperature is the same: toasty. It should be; it’s July, after all. In the Badlands, we were drinking water like no tomorrow, and it still wasn’t enough. In Taiwan, we were eating fruit and drinking water and slathering on aloe every time we got a chance. This year, I’m drinking a pot of coffee as I sit on our little pink couch in Tiny Apartment, wondering at the gifts that our good God has packed into eighteen years.

I have a list of things I want to do today before a long weekend away, but He tells us to stop and be still and marvel in Him; to be thankful—so I am.

Eighteen. How can one number be so big and so small? It’s a testament to the elasticity of time. All that time ago—yesterday, really—we celebrated her last birthday with us. Now, she lives on higher ground, perfected, peaceful, and seeing things we can’t imagine. July 4th and her birthday always run together in my mind. Watermelon cakes and fireworks, presents I made (badly) along with sweet corn from the garden and meals enjoyed outside. Dad always had some amazing surprise planned, it seemed like, and I remember Mom smiling a lot.

We have learned much about our good God in all this short-long time, and I am grateful beyond measure.

Happy birthday, Mom.

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A bit longer than 18 years ago, but she was always beautiful. ❤

 

Making Friends…Breaking Hearts: Exploring Home

Every town has a place for dogs and cats. Somewhere. I’ve missed my cat, you see.

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This is my Sassypants…*sigh*

Sassypants is a wonderful morning-coffee companion and the kind of guy who pretends like he doesn’t want you around but goes looking for you if it gets too quiet. But he’s no house cat; he’s a farm cat, so he stayed on the farm in Indiana to keep the rabbit population down. Marshmallow keeps him some company, though he’s an academic and she mostly speaks nap and snack and snuggle. He’s a big cat, and he’s left a large-ish hole in my heart. So I went to find the local animal shelter and meet some friends.

I shouldn’t have done that.

See, I even knew better. Ten years ago, I met a huge orange tomcat named Buster in an animal shelter in SC. I could feel his purr resonating in my chest at three paces while he rolled ecstatically in his cage. He left a pound of fur all over me and wriggled happily into a hug. He still feels like a great lost love. Today, I met three. I may quietly cry myself to sleep tonight.

The solid black tomcat rolled over on his back for a tummy-rub the minute I opened his cage to say hello. We had a lovely conversation over chin-tickles and paw-massages. Then he stood up on his back legs and planted a friendly paw on my collar-bones and gently head-butted my chin. I experimented. When he was turning happy circles again, I patted my shoulder by way of invitation. He understood and put his paws back on my chest. Smart cat.

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Friendly Stewy. 

I tore myself away to visit a champagne-colored female. I was bending over to inspect what the sign outside her cage said when a polite paw reached through the bars and tapped my head. I looked up to a pair of enormous rust-colored eyes. The paw tapped me on the nose. I knew instinctively that she would not only be an excellent companion for reading, but she would also catalog all of my books for me.

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Meet Sherbert. 

Sad little cries came from the cage next door; I actually hadn’t come to meet kittens. I had come to meet seasoned cats. But the tiny gray fluffy baby was all alone… Her tiny little motor was running before I even picked her up. This was what she wanted. She fit in both of my hands. She rather promptly climbed up on my shoulder and perched there, purring in my ear.

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This is Pinky. 

Egads, what’s a girl to do?? It’s Free Adoption Month at the pet shelter, too.

Tiny Apartment doesn’t allow for pets, which is just as well. The way I’m feeling, we would have gone from zero to three in one afternoon far too easily; probably not kosher. As someone I know and love dearly would say, no bueno. So if you’re in the area and you’re looking for a cat, might I recommend a good place to start?

Then, can I visit you?