Friday, February 27, 2009

Fasting From Clamor

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I’ve heard if the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. During this season of traditional fasting, Ash Wednesday to Easter, I want to fast from junk mail. Sometimes I feel like a tree landed on my home, only it descended in sheets of paper.

Catalogs, credit card applications, political brochures—reams of paper are toted into our home after passing through our mailbox. Perhaps, someone will invent a mailbox with a shredder. Even pricey, I might invest in one.

But junk mail isn’t the only culprit that crowds taxed schedules. Busyness is sometimes self-inflicted when overdoses of entertainment is preferred to productive work or rest. A television, telephone, or a computer has a place in life, but over indulgence can become addictive.

A health and science Web site reports the average household has a television on 6 hours and 47 minutes, and that 66% of families watch television and eat dinner. Annually, a staggering 260 billion hours of TV is watched by Americans.

During Lent many people of faith are fasting, but not all are fasting from food. At the first semester of seminary, a professor asks his students to fast from media for one week. Another professor/mentor recommended that a female student fast from dating for three months. She found that she had time to focus on studies and life direction. She then quarantined herself from dating for an additional three months.

In Lauren F. Winner’s book Mudhouse Sabbath, she tells how she fasted from reading during Lent. Fasting isn’t just denial; it has a purpose. Ms. Winner wrote, “We give up something for Lent to align ourselves with the heart, will, and experience of Jesus.”

Ms. Winner said, “Fasting teaches us that we are not utterly subject to our bodily desires. And in sated and overfed America, fasting reminds us, sharply, of the poor.” Fasting is like walking a tightrope where imbalance is really noticed. For many, denial of self is foreign, but God calls followers to contemplation, meditation, solitude, silence and abstinence, especially in this directive, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Lauren Winner also says about fasting, “It is a necessary tool for rousing us from our day-to-day sleepwalking.” Are we trudging in the trench the world has carved out? Are we in a stupor from cultural demands? Do we feel compelled to answer each time the planet rings our doorbell?

Until Easter, I encourage you to find some way to fast from the clamor. Be quiet. Be still. Know God.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009


As usual, send an email to or comment here for your name to be entered into a drawing for a book The Stained Glass Pickup or A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts.


How do you react when things go awry? I’m asking about those times when small things happen, not the tragic things in life. What if you lock your keys in the car? Or a glass of milk spills?

If you’re breathing, annoyances happen with certain regularity. This past Sunday morning, my very old hair dryer gave up the ghost, and I was rushing to be on time. Showered and dressed, the finishing touch was to style my hair. That’s when the dryer puffed a few feeble breaths and killed over. I didn’t have a spare. Or spare minutes.

I turned on the overhead bathroom heater and stood underneath with a hand towel and style brush, hoping to get my short hair to a level of damp instead of drippy. When my husband checked on my getting-ready-for-church progress, he solved my problem.

He held a small space heater close to my hair and let the heat do its work. The style was a bit askew, but I was very grateful for my short cropped hair and thoughtful husband.

I remember having a conversation with one of my children about living above small aggravations, about how Christians could react. Throughout life, our days will get jiggled. That’s a good name for small annoyances – jiggles. Sometimes jiggles are easily taken in stride, if no other pressures coincide with them. But many times jiggles hop onto our days when the days are already full of confusion, and then we add our own explosion.

Since we can expect jiggles in future days, why not plan how to react. Nearly all of us (you saints excluded) have responded in typical ways: shoving or kicking an object, swearing or grousing.

Better reaction plans involve replacement. Plan what you will do or say next time a jiggle knocks on your day. One thing that works is to decide on a positive statement that can be said instead of venting frustrations. Of course, coworkers might wonder what is going on when a four pound box drops on your foot and you say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” But it’s a superior alternative to hearing a person swear under their breath.

No one can live a perfect life and react with constant pleasantness when the unexpected happens but planning a reaction is very worthwhile, because the plan will work most of the time. Children watch and learn from adults and can become skilled in their reactions when their own jiggles come calling.

Responding to annoyances with scripture phrases from the Psalms is one calming way to address life-hassles. Try saying these words next time a jiggle occurs: “Make your face shine upon your servant” (119:135), “Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble” (119:165). Or perhaps you’d prefer more familiar words that can restore your soul, “He leads me beside quiet waters” (23:2).

Have a good week, and may it be jiggle-free.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Pressure Cookers

As usual, send an email to or comment here for your name to be entered into a drawing for a book The Stained Glass Pickup or A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts.
Happy Valentines Day. This is a photo of a native Texas flower called Turk's Cap. It grows into a large bush if given plenty of room and is covered throughout the spring and summer with eye catching red flowers, petals swirling upward. I have some at my old house and plan to get a start at the new house, too. They're fun and came from a dear writer friend, Morna Smith, who has given me lots of cuttings from native Texas plants.

Love is in the air. Tomorrow is February 14, Valentines Day, and I remembered a gift my sweetheart and I received from relatives before our marriage. An aunt and uncle gave us a pressure cooker, one that will cook a beef stew in about eight minutes and raw vegetables in two to five minutes.

I doubt that many new brides receive pressure cookers these days. I wanted my daughter, who has a young family, to get one to save her time, but she feared the contraption. She’d heard a few horror stories of misuses and mishaps, of dinner sliding down kitchen walls.

The basic parts of a pressurized cooker are a pot, a lid with twist and lock design and a synthetic seal. The lid has a pencil size pointed vent where a weight sits, letting steam periodically escape. Mine has an extra vent. If the pot is forgotten, that vent will open instead of letting the built up steam blow off the lid.

Occasionally a cook wanders away from the kitchen and can’t hear the “jiggle” sound, the dance between the pressured steam and the weight. One friend recalled a day when she soaked beans, put them into her pressure cooker, and then turned the flame on high and walked outside to see about her kiddos. Soon, she was pushing them on their swings, catching them as they used the slide, and pulling weeds from the flowerbed.

While distracted, she heard a big thump inside her home and ran in to see the pressure lid on the floor and beans impaled on the textured sealing. Gravity helped with the cleanup. She refers to the mini-explosion as the day it “rained pinto beans.”

In February, frilly red hearts, chocolate, and roses represent love, but a marriage has a whole lot of plain days when it’s more like a pressure cooker. A marriage is mortgages, Mondays, mini-people, and morning coffee, stirred by a wife and husband with different backgrounds and personalities.

The best Valentines gift to a spouse, parents, children, bosses, and coworkers is to commit the apostle Paul’s love instructions in 1 Corinthians 13 to memory and practice them every day. The positives he mentions are “Love is patient, love is kind.”

Then Paul lists what is absent when love is present: “It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”

Finally, Paul lists the “always” aspects of love, the do and do not results: “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

This Valentines Day, bake cookies, share candy and flowers, or pull out the old pressure cooker and make a special meal for those you love. To add the best ingredient to any relationship, practice perfect love. This, “Love never fails” (13:8).

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Monday, February 09, 2009

January Book Drawing Winner: Mary Ellen C.
As usual, send an email to or comment at for your name to be entered into a drawing for a book The Stained Glass Pickup or A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts.


I know the folk in West Texas thought we were fools. And we resembled the remark.
On a pleasure trip in our pickup truck to the mostly flat side of Texas, I became fascinated with tumbleweeds. Sort of like the first time you see a rare bird. And some of the tumbleweeds did flit close to the earth.
Intrigued, I asked my husband, David, if we could take a load of tumbleweeds home. Earlier, a friend mentioned that they decorated a scrawny tumbleweed for Christmas. That sounded whimsical, like fun.
If I remember correctly, Dave balked just a little about my suggested cargo. After all, he would be driving the load through miles of curious, guffawing onlookers, who surely deemed the weeds debris.
If course tumbleweeds cross the road in front of a low slung sports car, they can scratch paint, damage the undercarriage or grate over hoods. They can even get tangled in moving parts and break air hoses underneath trucks.
On that day when I made my bizarre request, Dave said yes. He kindly caved to my insane want. We stopped along a roadside where a fence had corralled a good number of the cumbersome bushes. A few ranchers and locals did slow their vehicles to gawk as we harvested tumbleweeds.
The Seattle Times, in 2001, reported on weeds whose taproots absorbed radiation on the Hanover Nuclear Reservation, contaminating the plant before they became separated and roving. On a search and destroy mission, crews were sent out to test for “glowing” tumbleweeds.
A variety of plants have the “habit” of breaking away from their roots and traveling. In fact “tumbleweed” doesn’t describe a specific plant but a habit of such plants that separate from their root system and then roll about. When plants separate from their root system, they lose their source of nourishment, air currents have their way with them, and they are blown about by every sort of wind.
I couldn’t think of a creative way to use all my tumbleweeds, so most of them were burned with the fall leaves on a tranquil day. But other folk have found ways to profit from these weeds. The Prairie Tumbleweed Farm in Kansas has turned the Russian thistle, which arrived here in imported grain years ago, into a booming business. Some of their tumbleweeds are four times as big as a person, and they sell them around the world to enhance western movies, theme parks, businesses, and homes. Wedding planners know where to go to authenticate settings for a cowboy to marry a cowgirl.
Asaph the psalmist made a complaint about those who formed an “alliance against you, O God” (83:5), and he further asked, “Make them like tumbleweed, O my God” (vs. 13). Asaph knew that when people move away from their source of goodness that they dry up, that they can do much damage, and that they will be consumed by the harsh elements they’re exposed to as they wander here and there.
For most audiences, the consensus is that tumbleweeds are up to no good. They’ve lost their mooring, their grounding. When they break away from their place of sprouting, that’s when they become wobbly and unstable – that’s when the winds from the north, south, west or east shove them around.
Old western song lyrics describe how a lot of folks live, “Drifting along with a tumbling tumbleweed.” But, I prefer the words and freedom from other psalm lyrics, “I hold fast to your statutes, O LORD . . .. I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” (119:31-32).