Thursday, October 30, 2008

Running low on money?

I just read a New York Times article (my source for headlines at least!) -

Stark Signs of a Slowdown, Days Before Election - Less than a week before Americans go to the polls to select a president, a government report released Thursday showed that the economy contracted in the third quarter as consumer spending dipped for the first time in 17 years. (complete article reference below)

While I'm well aware of the many negatives associated with an economic downturn, I found a couple of very bright spots in this news. Before that though - it is mind-boggling to me that we have been spending more and more every quarter for 17 years!!!

I'm just about done reading my college's book of the year, Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte. I also read a bit of another book this morning, Raising Unselfish Kids in a Selfish World by Jill Rigby. Royte lives in NYC and follows every bit of her trash to landfills, recycling, sewer, etc. Great reading actually. Her ultimate solution for the massive amount of waste that we generate is - buy less and use less. Rigby writes about how "me-centric" we have all become, and writes that a solution for living different is to live gladly with what we have, instead of always wanting the latest clothes, house, games, trip, you name it.

Two respectable ladies writing about topics that are dear to my heart - raising unselfish kids and taking care of the world around us. One main conclusion - buying less.

Maybe running low on money will be good for all us - good for building character in me and my kids, and good for our world. Spending less has never sounded so profitable!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My life of luxury

lux⋅u⋅ry 1. a material object, service, etc., conducive to sumptuous living, usually a delicacy, elegance, or refinement of living rather than a necessity

I've been realizing during this past year that I do truly live a life of luxury. Though I live near the very bottom of the middle class, and often want much more than I have for myself and for others, I'm starting to see how the things I claim as "rights" or necessities for myself other Americans aren't quite all that. I need food, clothes, and some shelter. Yet I have all of this, and a lot more.

1. I can have more than one child. If I lived in China, debates on pro-life/choice would be a moot point.
2. My daughters can go to school. In Afghanistan, they might not ever learn to read, let alone make it to college and beyond. Never mind me working outside the home.
3. I have time and space to "build a strong marriage". In many other countries, I might share this same sized house with many, many family members.
4. I can live across the country, and yet see my family every year. Even a hundred fifty years ago, to marry an adventuresome husband might have taken me across the ocean or country forever, never to see my family again.
5. I can vote. Not until 1920 could American women vote, and those who earned us the "right" were beaten, imprisoned, called insane.

I could go on and on. One of my favorite quotes sums up my conclusion -

"O Thou who has given us so much, mercifully grant us one thing more - a thankful heart." George Herbert

What luxurious privilege are YOU thankful for today? I'd love to hear...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Art therapy

"The Peanut Gallery" - I recently hung six clipboards on the wall of our hallway to serve a sort of rotating art gallery. Problem is, lately the girls have been generating about 6-10 pieces of art per person per day, so it can rotate pretty quickly!

Abby's bright watercolors of people (new accomplishment for her - love the long fingers!) are some of my favorites, cheering me up every time I look from my computer to the hall way... It's great to see that what spills out of them in their creative time is bright and colorful.

Scared of what He might do to me

I grew up in a Christian family, and have had faith in God for most moments of my life. I've seen his faithfulness and goodness demonstrated to me over and over. Yet, almost every time that I go to church and sing a song like "May your rule and reign take over me, for I long just to please You...", I have to change the words in my head to something like - "Make me want your rule and reign...". Because I can't honestly "mean" the lyrics otherwise.

Why? Because I am afraid. I am afraid that life with God is going to be a hard (miserable?!) life. It's got potential to be a life of suffering, pain, embarrassment, brutal character formation, giving up all the things that I enjoy to serve a lot at church, and on and on. Some of that is true, and some of that we do to ourselves as we mess up the way that God intended us to live. But I'm beginning to glimpse this year that maybe the big invisible God is not out to make my life miserable like I think.

I tell Abby and Rachel (my little girls) that God is a Big Daddy, even bigger than their own big daddy. (Although I don't always know what to make of God, I know that he's still worth experiencing for my girls...). Oddly, when I think about the scary version of God that I just finished explaining, it doesn't mesh very well with the versions of dads that I experience - my own dad, and John as a dad to our kids.

Asked last night what pleases them or brings them happiness in their kids, this is what those two dads had to say. I've had to shorten their words greatly, because these dads have plenty to say about what their kids do that make them happy. (thanks for sharing to my two favorite guys)

John - "More than anything, seeing them being happy... Seeing Abby being caring, which is who she is. Seeing Rachel being energetic, which is so much of who she is..."

Dad - "The quality of character that each [of you] has demonstrated... Joanna demonstrating caring and a strong moral compass.... Joel's strong sense of loyalty, ability to face difficulties without complaint... Danielle's tenacity, work ethic, strong sense of self..."

Turns out that what dads want for their kids is for them to be joyful in life, to demonstrate character in a variety of situations, to excel at being themselves and bringing joy to others as they do. The "being" stands out more than the "doing". Pain, embarrassment, monotonous chores around the house for the kids - these dads don't get a thrill out of those things for their kids.

In the words of two dads, I find some spoken words that reflect what my God might say to me if He were here. Maybe it might go something like this - "Joanna, when I see you being happy, enjoying your family, out running, baking cookies - it makes me smile. When I see that you care for those around you, your excellence and hard work at home and work, that pleases me..." Those things, I could keep on doing. God, keep convincing me of your love and showing that I do not need to be afraid of life with you.

Ask your dad what makes him happy about his kid. And know that another Big Daddy would probably say the same.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The road that goes nowhere

No, not "the bridge to nowhere" that Sarah Palin kept and then rejected. Not going to get political (today at least!).

I was talking with John last night about his current research project going nowhere. Since our world pretty much consists of "good research" = "getting a PhD finally", it is always very discouraging when work doesn't go well for him (you can guess why, after many years of school!). I wanted to pray, wanted to ask God to help him, but what do you say??? "C'mon God, take care of us!" (Abby said the other day that it wouldn't be very nice to yell at God, I told her, well, I think it's OK, lots of us do it sometimes!).

More often than not, I find my own words in the words of someone else - a song, a book, a quote, a comic. This was no exception. I read this this morning, with cartoons blaring the background:

"Barricade the road that goes Nowhere;
Grace me with your clear revelation." Psalm 119:29

Ha - there's the words I can use to pray (and maybe you too). So I'm with Gov. Palin on this, we don't want that bridge/road that goes to nowhere... God, keep us from spinning our wheels, spending years going down a wrong path. You know the feeling, the frustration and wondering if this is the right road, right?

Maybe God doesn't always give us a yellow brick road to follow, but I'll take a "Bridge out" or "Road closed sign" instead - even if it's initially discouraging.

God, for John, just turn that direction of research into a barricaded dead end if it's going Nowhere, and then show him where to go instead. And for all the others, who are pursuing promotions, new babies, new friends in a brand new city, wisdom from doctors, a meaningful life, barricade what's NOT going to go anywhere, so they find your path with a lightening bolt of revelation.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Better breeding or a walk on the wild side?

What do you need, better breeding or a walk on the wild side?

Visit the grocery store this fall, and you will see big, colorful, sweet apples - and they are in season and therefore cheap! (What's not to love?!) Run with me this morning, and you would jog past many crab apple trees, covered with some of the tiniest apples you could imagine. The wild ones are hardy in their own ways, but would hardly ship well or sell. Their genes haven't been tampered with much. The "well-bred" ones have been improved by many scientists to improve their appearance, taste, size, sturdiness for travel, and resistance to disease. Great qualities to have! Though they've been changed against their will, I'll take an improved apple almost any day.

Now, I'm no plant scientist, but I learned in school that plants are occasionally crossed back with the older, more wild versions. Corn, for example, is sometimes crossed with ancient corn, teosinte, to improve its hardiness. Keeping wild varities wild is critical to maintaining the health of modern varieties, and yet almost all teosinte is endangered or extinct. Wildness is worth preserving too.

So what does all this mean for us? If we stay wild and untamed for our entire lives, we'll never grow to be quite as beautiful, big, or resilient as we could be. On the flip side, if we become too well-bred, too much of what everyone around us wants, we will lose some of our deepest strength and character. We need some cultivating, and we need some wildness. Lately, in my comfortable adult life, I find that I need to inject a bit of the wildness back into my life. But other times, I need to let others press on me and improve me a bit. So here are a couple of prescriptions, depending on where you are at...

For "better breeding" - let others have a small chance to improve your character.
1. Do what she/he said (your husband or wife, your mother-in-law, your friend) - just try their suggestion!
2. Try that activity that your boss suggested (be it a boss in the workplace or just your bossy kid at home).
3. Take a leadership role, instead of just griping. Good leaders are forced to do a lot of listening and caring and adapting to others.

For "a walk on the wild side" - do something uncomfortable!
1. Ask a friend how he/she came to hold a conviction that is quite different from your own. Shut up and listen. Don't even give your side of the issue.
2. Do something you would have before you became a right-wing conservative, or before you wrote off God or church. Vote for a Democrat. Pray.
3. Try something that you're afraid of failing at. Start a blog that might never get read. Start exercising - get out and enjoy a long walk.

For today, I'm going to pick #1 for better breeding and #3 for wildness (by posting right here)!

To all my thoughts, assembled while jogging this morning - Rachel wants to add from the stroller - "Moooom, the wind is freezing me cold!". Above, holding a full-grown "wild" apple and a beautiful one from the store.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On my mind today

Every opportunity lost makes room for many more opportunities gained.

Happiness is a journey, not a destination. (that one I saw around town)

Love is a journey, not a destination. (that's my own twist!)

Give thanks.

Have those been true for you too?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Am I like my dying tomato plant?!

I was looking out the window during lunch today at my beloved (dying) tomato plants, which will soon be wiped out at the instant when the temperature drops below 32F. I thought to myself, "What good are annuals anyway?! Wouldn't it be great if all plants were perennials, coming back on their own, year after year?"

Then the thought struck me - I'm like an annual. So are you. We begin life, tiny and young. We grow up, until we are able to provide fruit to those around us. For my tomato plant, that fruitful period ebbed and flowed from late June to late October. Then death becomes imminent, and in a blink of an eye, we are done. What's left? What's the use?

Well, just like annuals - tomatoes, flowers, or otherwise - our lives are finite. Colorful, very fruitful at times, but finite. But annuals do leave a legacy, and that is their seeds. Annuals do a better job of making seeds than perennials I think (have you ever tried to grow a perennial from a seed?). One bean plant can give me hundreds of seeds (if I didn't eat them all summer!). Each of those store well, and when the conditions are right next summer, can grow, feed us for another season, and then leave their own abundance of seeds. God has created us with relatively short and sometimes rather insignificant lives. I will be sad when my tomato plant dies (this weekend?), and grieve much more when a person's life ends. So what do I do? I live for the season that I was born into - feeding those that I can while I am alive, and leaving many, many seeds for the future.

Rest in peace, my dear tomato plant. I want to be like you when I grow up!

Stop and smell the flowers...

Have you stopped to notice the beauty around you lately? We were out on a walk at the lake and gardens behind our condo complex this week and I couldn't help but notice the flowers as the girls climbed on the rocks. Grabbing my camera (which I missed while John was away last week!), I zoomed in close, and then closer, to capture the beauty and interest of a flower I'd never noticed before. Pinks, yellows, lady beetles (these bite - not nice like lady bugs!), butterflies. It's amazing to see the unique details of each flower, most parts serving an important function. They may attract a certain type of pollinating insect, feed a butterfly, wait for pollen deposits! (I learned this fall that trees can be male or female - and you want to choose carefully, because depending on the tree gender, it may or may not drop stinky fruit or pods on your property). Each flower is beautiful, fully functional and inspirational all at once. Check some out!

"Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields [or your yard!] and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it?... If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers - most of which are never even seen - don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?" Matthew 6: 28-30


About me

This blog is an experiment in writing for me. It seems that my mind overflows with thoughts sometimes, so I'm putting some down "on paper". I want to share the passions, questions, inspirations of my heart with you. Those usually revolve around a few things - my faith, my family (including friends!), my food, and staying fit. Add a lot of outdoor time and some science, and you have a snapshot of me and my heart.

I seek to live life with my whole heart, and as I share my experiences along that journey with you, I hope that you are encouraged to live wholeheartedly too.