Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What does that really mean...

I wish there was a translation of the Bible ... or at least a study bible with lots and lots and lots of notes ... for ex-evangelicals.  Really, I think I might not be the only one to benefit from it.

Here are a few examples that come to mind:

  • Matthew 28:5-6: The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said."  The way that I would wish this were annotated:  It's okay.  I know you are afraid.  Seeing an angel of the Lord can certainly be a moment of fear.  But I am not here to tell you how to feel, now or in the future. I am hear to tell you the very good news that Jesus has risen from the dead.  So, go ahead and have feelings other than joy at that news, if you are still afraid in this moment, because the point is not about how you feel but about your risen Savior.  God understands and wants you to know and remember that, not regulate your feelings.
  • Philippians 4:6-8:  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  The way that I would wish this were annotated:  It's okay.  If you are anxious, tell your anxiety that Jesus, your Savior and Mediator who ever prays for you, is waiting to bring your cares, you worries and fears and anxieties and hopes and dreams all to your Father in heaven.  And while you might still struggle with anxious feelings regarding your circumstances, you can tell those feelings that God doesn't answer prayer on account of the person, on account of your trust or belief, but on account of His Son and has promised to hear you.  So, even in times of struggle and trial, you can add to those struggles the truth that the peace of Christ, His perfect fulfillment of the Law and covering of all your sin, is yours and in your prayers, be they full of hope or doubt, you are reconciled to God, who will always care for you.  He isn't expecting you never to be anxious; He's reminding you that He is ready for your prayers.
  • Galatians 5:19-23: Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions,factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  The way that I would wish this were annotated:  Your flesh is full of sin, sin that will hurt others and yourself, sin you cannot deny or escape.  You will always struggle with it, and your flesh will always lead you to death.  But, in Christ, you are also a new creation, a saint through whom the Holy Spirit will work fruit of the faith you receive from Jesus Christ.  That fruit is also a gift, evidence that you are saved and redeemed and righteous.  You might not see the fruit or understand it.  And my point is not that you are to go out and make yourself fruitful or take spiritual inventories to see if you have fruit in your life, but to rest assured that the Sanctifier is at work in your life, building and sustaining your faith and working His good.


I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

BOC Repentance Passages Notes...

In case you are interested in how my rather ... anxious ... mind works, below are snapshots of my notes on selected passages from the Christian Book of Concord where repentance is mentioned:

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Repentance Homework (Matthew 18)...

[Caveat:  This whole chapter scares and confuses me.  SIGH.]

Well, for one, there is a whole lot of ... stuff ... in this chapter:  rank, stumbling blocks, the 99,  discipline, prayer, and forgiveness.  I do think that it is a perfect example of how I do not know how to read the New Testament.  For this sounds a lot like instructions for living a good Christian life and practically the whole blooming chapter is in red (is Jesus speaking)!  Note that:  Flashing Lights:  Jesus, the new Moses!

Sometimes, when I read stuff like the first shall be last (Mathew 20:16) and Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (verse 4), I think of Isaiah 55:8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.  By that I mean, we really do not think or see or feel or experience life the way that God does.  Not even the way that God-in-the-flesh did/does.  So any comparisons to Him, all of that WWJD stuff, is really footle, or foolish twaddle in value.  But I also think that thinking such does not mean we should not strive to live differently.  Not strive after the new Adam even as we contend with the old Adam.  And, too, this makes me think again how some of the questions the disciples asked reveal their own wrestling with the flesh.  I get, though, that longing to understand something which you do not.

Now, verses 7-10, are really distressing.  Frankly, this is because the part of me that needs to be cut off is my head!  You can live without an eye or a hand, but you cannot live without a head.  Words such as found in this passage seem so Life Application-y, so works righteousness, and therefore so utterly defeating.  Daily I sin.  There is only so much of me I could cut off.

But then you get to verses 12-14, which seem not to be so much about going after a straying sheep (which makes me ask, but who then is tending to all those obedient sheep ... not that sheep are ever really obedient), but back to the very first part of Matthew 18 and the idea of children mattering as much as any learned scholar of the doctrine (or adult for that matter).  It is as if verse 14 is a resounding DO NOT DISMISS THE CHILD WHO HUNGERS OR THIRSTS.  Would then, being so very child like in my fears and confusion, not be so terrible after all ... at least from God's perspective?

I suppose, really, what I am also say is that going from verses 1-14 it seems like there is a bit of wandering when really it might have been a straight path being delineated.

Verses 15 -18.  Man, evangelical and Lutherans alike are quick to point out how we are supposed to be calling out one another's sin and doing so publicly is just fine. Only, how does that fit with what Matthew scribed earlier in chapter 7, verses 3-5: Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.  For that matter, how does the idea of judging sin fit with 1 Corinthians 4:1-5:

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.

See, when I read something as prescriptive or directive or application-ish, I find myself going around in circles, asking how that one bit fits with other bits I know.  And, in the end, the focus is on me and what I do rather than on Jesus and what He has done and does and will do.  But how can you not think how-to-live thoughts when you are reading something like Matthew chapter 18?

As for verse 18, I absolutely do not understand which is a good thing:  binding or loosing.  SIGH.

But, moving on, verses 19-20:  “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”  It seems to me that this is confusing because just because folk agree in prayer about something doesn't mean that that something will take place.  Otherwise, we'd have hearings taking place in hospitals all over the planet.  Or is it that Jesus is speaking to the disciples specifically and all Christians???

Then, there is the rather terrifying final passage, verses 23-35.  You know, you read about how if you do not forgive others, if you treat them horribly, then God will do the same to you.  The measuring stick you use against others will be used against you.  SHUDDER.

I was taught (and most likely blogged about said teaching) that this is really showing folk that if they choose to live by the Law, all of its perfection and severity will be applied to them, not just part.  Really, if you consider the Law, it is terrifying.  At least, it is if you look at it whilst being honest with yourself.  How can anyone keep even one single letter of the Law?  Set aside original sin, set aside the fact that it is not possible for us to not sin, who in the world could say that 100 percent of the time he or she was 100 percent fulfilling every single mote of the Law?  Mother Theresa, for all her mercy and charity, for certain, was not merciful and charitable every minute of her entire life.  Children never are.  Especially those hungry babies.  

[As a baby, I was so frenetic about nursing that I gulped my meal and then promptly threw it up, necessitating my mother having to essentially double nurse, making her exhausted all of the time.  A sinner right from the start.]

So, is this final segment of the chapter a look back at what we are being freed from in the Gospel or is  it, along with most everything else in the chapter, more DOs that we need to add to our list of what constitutes a pious (to use a Lutheran word I still do not understand) life?

And, seriously, here is another chapter that seems as far from repentance as one could possibly be ... or ... is it that this chapter is full of all the things we need to be repentant of??  Pride?  Selfishness?  Judgment?  

Is repentance tied to forgiveness?  
Is forgiveness tied to repentance?  
Is one evidence of the other?  Fruit of the other?  Proof of the other?

Clearly, I am in need of instruction on how these four chapters help one understand repentance.  Clearly, too, my pastor has a very large mountain to climb when it comes to this bit of instruction for this particular sheep.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Which button do I push...

Yesterday, I got stuck in an elevator.  I started to panic, but could not think to use my cell phone.  On the call button, there was an X made with a marker.  I stared at it for a while, wondering if it would work were I to push it.

It took a while for me to notice that the elevator was not moving.  It was the silence that stood out.  No machinery hum.  It took even longer for me to realize that the reason the elevator was not moving was that I had not pushed any buttons.  It took even longer for me to figure out which button to push to get back to the parking lot of my GP's office building.  One disadvantage to being her last patient of the day is the dearth of elevator traffic that would rescue me from my ... forgetting.  SIGH.

I really am serious about wanting to put labels on the buttons of the church elevator:  "church" and "home."

I think I have been greatly discouraged about the doctor appointment I had yesterday to talk about alternatives for the erythromycin since last Monday, if not before.  As if I have been dreading it all week.  Poor Marie. I was a bear for eons after she arrived.  My GP said that she had found a solution, but it turned out that the extended release tablet is not covered by my insurance and, if I win the appeal of coverage, it is already listed as limited availability.  My pharmacist said that she suspected that it was like what I am taking, that it was the end of a production run.  The cash price would be $360 monthly ... completely out of reach for me.  So, I went from hopeful to even more discouraged in a spate of about 30 minutes.  SIGH.

Yesterday, whilst Marie and I were cooking (well, Marie was cooking and I was resting), she talked with me for a bit about my memory.  She said that she had noticed that after about a month, details of things that happened become fuzzy for me.  Then, after another short while, it is as if what has taken place has not happened for me.  She no longer tries to remind me of the things that have not happened for me because reminding does not help me remember.  It really only points out what I am forgetting.

I like that, as we have spent time together, once Marie realized that I did not remember most (if not all) the summer they spent here, she started watching me, in an off-hand sort of manner.  And gauging a timeframe for my memory.  I liked it because I know—standing on the inside looking out—that the blankness is expanding ... or happening more quickly.

I am of two minds about it:  terrified and humorous.

Of the latter, I've oft joked with Becky about it.  Such as ... if she tells me what a gift is that she is sending, it will still be a surprise to me by the time it arrives ... that she should have fun with it, to convince me I had done something I hadn't.  Marie said that she felt badly because I do not remember times when I was distressed at something she did and she does not remind me of that fact, but I replied that she should just focus on what I know, which is that we have wonderful times together.

Of course, I do remember that when Marie is cooking cleanliness is simply not possible!

I talked with my GP about Marie's observation, about the days when I leap up about of bed all worried about being late for work, about no knowing which house is real (the ones in my dreams or the one here in Fort Wayne), about not knowing what day it is, etc.  As a result, I am going to be going to her office every other month now.                  

If I am not working, does it matter that oft do not know where or when I am?

As to the former, I know what I am losing. I know how confused I am.  I know the number of times I've forgotten to feed Amos dinner of late.  And it terrifies me.

I know that even what I write about what I know about faith changes.  Only, to some degree, it is changing because I am no longer content to just pretend that I do know what I do not know.  What I never actually learned.  The thing is, well, I know Mary has been teaching me Gospel things and I would bet good money that I have forgotten things that she has taught me.  SIGH.

A while ago, Mary mentioned that we had been friend for two years now.  Yes, well, for me, we've been friends for about two months.  Maybe.

You know, one of the reasons I was an utter bear on Friday morning was that Amos would not tend to his major business.  Ever since the dreaded grass has reappeared, girding his loins enough to venture out upon it long enough to tend his business has been rather difficult for him.  The Rat Bastard has even, a few times, snuck upstairs to tend to business and then snuck back downstairs with me none the wiser. None the wiser because he did not ask to go outside.  So, I have had to be diligent about ensuring he tends to that major business twice a day, and, if he skips a session out of fear, that he does not come back inside the next timeframe unless his fear has been conquered long enough for business tending.

I had been arguing with Amos outside and was unable to sit on the back steps because they were wet.  He was so nervous with the sounds and such and I had to keep coaxing him back to his business.  Over and over and over again, all the whilst my blood pressure dropping and my heart rate skyrocketing because I was standing too much.  I finally, fearing I was about to faint, put Amos in timeout and raced to the couch to get my feet up and my head down.  In that moment, I desperately wanted Marie to realize what was wrong because I had been outside so long.  And so I snapped at her if she asked me if I was okay.  Of course I am not okay! I shouted in my head.  I disremember what I muttered at her.  But it was not ... pleasant.

Yet, seriously, how can she know that standing is so bad for me when, during our cooking Fridays, I stand more with her than I do the entire rest of the week combined?  How can she know if I spend all my time trying to be fairly normal?  How can she know unless I stop trying to do so much when she is here so that she will still want to be here?  SIGH.

I had told Marie on Thursday (I think) that I was tired and tired and tired.  And I dared to say that I just didn't want to do so many dishes when she came to cook with me.  Being so thoughtful, Marie came up with the idea of her cooking a freezer meal that we could also have as our lunch, along with the freezer meal she had planned to make.  I want her to be able to make good use of her time here, so I thought that was a splendid idea.  As a result, all I did yesterday was some mincing of garlic and the washing of a couple of things.  Mostly, I was a bear for a long while and then I was less of a bear and then I was gratefully sitting down to her meal and gulping down a glass (okay two glasses) of wine.  Yes, the Christmas present wine that I keep forgetting we have to drink.

Marie gave me grace and forgiveness during my bearish moments.  Marie gave me rest and company.  Marie gave me tasty food.  Marie gave me data about my brain.  And Marie gave me some raucous laughter and much normalcy.  To me, that's mercy.

Should I put little labels for myself on the church elevator and see if they stay??

I really do like that Firewood Man brought up that he could see that I don't remember far more than I used to be able to remember.  I really do like that it is okay with him.  I like how he twits me about this and that the whole time he is here, even if I do get a bit exasperated with him.  And I really, really, really like how he understand about the wonder of having luscious, long, GREEN grass waving at me.

I do not like what is happening with my brain.  And I am really, really, really scared that, were I to go back to the daily writhing and innards misery, my utter inability to handle such with even a modicum of maturity or grace or trust or faith will mean that the friends I have made in the past two years ... Firewood Man, Marie, Mary, and Celia ...  will not so much wish to be friends anymore.

May 12th.  May 12th, I will know if the automatic payment for my real estate property taxes is correct.  May 12th, I will know if all the steps I have taken—given that I have failed over and over and over again to find someone who will help me remember to pay my bills—to ensure that at least I have a house over my head and have limited my financial failures to the Internet bill are in place and are working.

Did you know that if you reset your iPhone all the alarms that you have set up daily and throughout the week to remind you to do all the things that need doing, especially taking medication, will be wiped out?  If you are me, you will not notice for a couple of days that your external reminders have ceased.  And you will forget your medication.  And you will forget the watering of the rosemary you've been trying to grow in your solarium since January until it is warm enough for it to survive outside.  And you will forget the feeding of your puppy dog.

Which button do I push?
Did I push it?
How do I know if I did?

At least the reminder I set up for tonight's NASCAR race was in the calendar, not the alarm feature.  No real crashes, but lots of tires (and then cars) on fire.  In my opinion, Goodyear missed the boat on its new tire design.  I mean, a tire that was at least 20 laps short of lasting a fuel window is a failure, but a tire that causes fires when it goes is definitely a disaster.  I would bet that four teams, at least, agree with me.  Of course, after the first fire, even I knew that any lap past 50 on the new tire was a lap playing Russian Roulette.

Yes, I watch NASCAR.  However, I would like to point out that it is probably the last remaining place/event/publicized function where the name of Jesus is used unabashedly in the invocation prayer without fear of retaliation, lawsuit, or job loss.  Is it wrong that it cracked me up when the pastor's ... enthusiasm ... got the crowd cheering before the final Amen??

Having read the book of Nahum, I know that praying for NASCAR races is not in there, but surely in Leviticus, right?  See, I still remember Nahum.  Chapter 1, God is awesome (mighty, powerful, can do anything and everything so fear Him).  Chapter 2, Ninevah is toast.  Chapter 3,  Ninevah is really, really, really toast.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Repentance Homework (Matthew 16)...

Matthew chapter 16.  SIGH.  I am not really understanding this chapter or how it relates to repentance.  I suppose it is a good thing that I have catechesis on Monday?  I have not a single cohort thought as to any sort of summary or overview of the chapter, but I do have lots and lots and lots of questions:

  • What in the world is the sign of Jonah?  Being swallowed by a giant fish? (4)
  • I am not sure why seeking a sign equals an evil and adulterous nation?  I think I remember lots of Old Testament folk wanting signs.
  • Just as the idea of the literal and metaphorical uses of honey in the bible, I am curious about the use of bread, especially thinking about how Jesus is the bread of life.
  • Whilst I understand the notion about leavening, what I find interesting is just how ... dense ... the disciples seem to be.  I cannot imagine the pressures they faced with all the folk longing to be taught and those longing to bring Jesus down.  However, so often, they simply do not understand what he was teaching.  I have heard that this was because His disciples did not yet have the Holy Spirit and I have heard the exact opposite.  I am not sure which is right.  What I do know is that, sometimes, Jesus' disciples come across as ... a tad clueless. (5-12)
  • Why did people think that Jesus was an Old Testament person of faith come back?  Was that something that was cultural or from some reference in the Old Testament? In the Old Testament, when there were folk teaching or prophesying, did people ask who they were come again?  Or, by the time of Jesus' ministry, were there no more prophets?  Was that why folk were puzzled by and flocked to John the Baptist, why he was sent to prepare the way for Jesus?  (13-15)
  • Someone (who ... I cannot remember) recently asked me who Jesus was.  When I answered, that person said my answer was evidence of faith, because I could not speak such without the Holy Spirit. Maybe I am relaying that wrongly or not remembering rightly.  But I get confused because the demons knew who Jesus was ... acknowledged him ... yet they had no faith.
  • I simply cannot read verse 18 without hearing Sandi Patti's voice singing "Upon This Rock." 
  • Why did Jesus tell them not to let others know He was the Christ? (20)
  • Just how quickly was it that Peter went from being the rock upon which the church would be built and being a stumbling block to Jesus?  (21-23)
  • My Bible has a title for this section: the cost of discipleship.  I think that is very clear.  (24-27)
  • I do not really understand what verse 28 is about.  At all: “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

If repentance is contrition and faith, where is the teaching about repentance in this chapter?  Or am I missing something connecting chapter 16 back to chapters 3 and 4?

I really, really, really wish I could erase all the ex-evangelical thoughts that fill my head each time I start reading the Bible ... especially those from the New Testament.  For I could write a nice little post about all the Life Application rebuke in here, all the things I am supposed to be doing to live a life as a good Christian, as a result of reading this chapter.  SIGH.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Waving grass...

Firewood Man came to mow today!

Too bad the grass near the upper sidewalk has not yet recovered from Amos' winter watering.  Can you tell Firewood Man did some stealth fertilizing last week.

Afterward, I lay in the grass for a long while.

And I took some more photos.

My hyacinths are blooming!

I was wondering ... are those blossom buds in the center?  There should be pink blossoms all over this.

Am I not remembering the weeping cherry's cycle wrong?  I thought that the blossoms came first and then the leaves, just like the ornamental magnolia.  However, a few more blossoms appeared.  I admire that I have been rather discouraged about both the forsythia and the weeping cherry not blossoming.  I checked the forsythia again.  Nothing going there.  No burst of yellow loveliness.  SIGH.

Amos, ever vigilant, stayed by my side ... though on the bed edging.

After he finished mowing, Firewood Man went and fetched the wood for the raised herb bed.  I spent the day doing a bit of cooking, so I was not exactly welcoming of the thought of needing to get on top of the sealing of the wood.  But I did.

These still are rather wet (as are the ones on the other side of the car), so I am sure, were I to go check, they would look better.  Less milky and more that permanently wet look of clear stain/sealer.  Tomorrow night I will do the other sides of all the boards.  And, then, on Saturday, I wish to go worm collecting.

Lots of them.

All that root digging showed me how many good earthworms there are in that bed.  So I wish to collect me some before Tim puts the form on Sunday (hopefully).  There will be landscaping cloth and a foot of soil on top of those lovely worms.  I wish for them to be in my herb bed.  So, I wish to try some judicious worm relocation.

The squeamish one.
Worm relocation.

When Tim came back, after working out where to put the boards so that I could work on them, we sat out side and chewed the fat.  What a blessing he is to me!  So kind and so patient and every so willing to help.

Today, though, he broached the subject of my memory.  He said he noted that I was not remembering things he's done in the past.  And that I have become more anxious.  Funny, he treats that in such a blasé manner.  The wind was blowing the magnolia petals all around us and I was reveling in the lush grass.  I told him that I would dig out a picture of the yard to show him how far it had come beneath his magic.  He smiled.  Slowly.  Gently.  "I remember," he said.  Then he added, "I know you don't."

It was ... nice ... talking with him. I wanted to ask him what he remembered. I wanted to ask him what he knows of me. I wanted to ask him about the past couple of years.  But I did not.  Instead, I told him about this fear I have of losing my house.  He immediately asked, "You paid it off, right?"  I nodded.  Then he added, "Then no one can do that."

Sense doesn't always works with fears.

I am living in a dream home—one which Tim is helping me tend.  I am living in a dream house and dreams always go away.  I have those terrible dreams in which those houses are more real to me than this one.  Tim said, "Well, don't dream."  I smiled.  Would that it were possible for me to do that.

He listened while I talked about my fears.  And the grass.  When I told him my favorite day of the mowing week was Day Five, when the grass is long, but not too long, and when the wind blows— He finished for me, "It waves at you."

I am the girl who loves it when her grass waves at her.
And who is terrified all the time.

Some days, I hide it better than others.  This is not one of those days.  Amos knew, I think.  For, today, he spent more time up on my shoulders or ensconced in my lap with his head tucked beneath my chin than not.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

More dweebiness...

So, my letter writing campaign to children so that they could have mail is not going ... well.  SIGH.  I had thought to just give up.  I mean, so few adults even respond to my missives sent via mail.  Face it, I am an anachronistic outlier, who also happens to be a social oaf masquerading as an introverted wall flower hermit.

Then, I thought I would make one final stab at it.  I thought I would try to make cards.  The key is, though, to make free cards.  AND to do so despite the fact that I have not a single artistic brain cell in my head.  AND the only magazines I had to work with—since I have no drawing ability of my own—are ones that are interior design ones.  Just perfect for children, eh?

I looked for images that I could pair with verses, I created a heart from torn pieces of red images, and I made one collage.  The best thing going for me is that I have a set of scissors that make different designs on the edges of the paper.  Of course, they don't work well with magazine paper.  SIGH.

After I got the card images applied to the rather ancient construction paper I have on hand, I worked on choosing verses, typesetting them, printing them, cutting them out, and gluing them to the inside of the card.  With nearly all of my creativity exhausted in the hours and hours and hours of card-making I had done, I fear my microscopic inscriptions might possibly leave something to be desired.  It's the thought that counts, right?

[I bet, if you gave it a thought or two, you could guess at least three of the verses/passages I chose.]

I still have three note cards and two letters that I wish to send out.  One of the letters is a reply to Gitte.  She sent me the most marvelous letter, smudged with hair color and chocolate, written as she went about her day.  Those are the best letters. The ones on scraps of paper or including bulletins or drawings or children's work.  Bits and pieces of the other person's life shared with me.  But these missives will have to wait until the morrow.

This work was exhausting, on top of having spent time weeding in two of the beds outside.  I had to take a nap in-between areas because I clearly am weaker than I was last year.  The fern bed was filled with maple tree seedlings. I must have cleared out more than a hundred of them.  And, I fear, I shall walk out on the more and find more sprouting.  Those darned winds.  I did discover this blessing:

I was absolutely certain that, between the brutal winter and the gutter pipe extension project, I would not have any ferns in the fern bed. I discovered one today.

I also found that the Easter lilies have decided to emerge from the ground.  Clearly, they have a long, long, long way to go before blooming.

Sadly, the weeping cherry tree has primarily gone straight to leaves, with just six blossoms gracing its branches.  The forsythia bush has not a single blossom, having already sprouted most of its leaves.  I suppose the long, long, long winter, with its many warm-ups and re-freezes discombobulated both of those.

While there are still a very good many brown blossoms zapped by the (hopefully) final snow storm of the 2014 winter, clearly a great many undamaged blossoms have opened on the magnolia tree!  The leaves are beginning to fall in what I term my Spring Snow, but I have a few more days of this glory-ing-white display.  None of the tulips have opened, but I do see more tightly closes buds coming up.  Hopefully, they will bloom.  The white daffodils are also remaining unfurled.  I talked to them today, reminding them how appreciated they are.  Perhaps, they will manage to find the strength to bloom.

I weeded the long bed on right side of the back yard.  My neighbor does not weed at all, so I have to fight a continuous battle against the weeds growing through the chain link fence.  The "bed" between her sidewalk and my fence is about six inches.  Six inches of weeds.  Once I was done, I sprayed Round-Up through the fence.  I am not sure if that would be a welcome action.  Surely, though, one would rather have no weeds than lots and lots and lots of weeds.  As I mentioned, later on, I weeded the fern bed.

One final yard note is that the new-ish variegated boxwood bushes that I planted in the front bed after Firewood Man removed those gargantuan bushes, have died.  I am stunned.  I paid top dollar for them, put them in with great soil and fertilizer, and kept them watered.  But they are deader than dead at the moment.  I am not sure when I can replace them ... maybe if I get some birthday money ... and I am not sure if it is better to have dead bushes out front or a totally empty bed.  SIGH.

Have I ever mentioned that Amos becomes really agitated when I weed?  Do you think he knows that it is work I shouldn't be doing?  Or is he simply fearful for my rather close proximity to the dreaded grass?

I also read my next repentance homework assignment, Matthew chapter 16.  However, I want to think about it a bit more and read it a few more times before I try to note my observations.  After all, the word "repent" is not in this chapter at all.  I have yet, though, to check out the other four translations I read in addition to my beloved NASB 1977.  Perhaps I am missing something here.  Something big.  Or small.  Something important.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Repentance Homework (Matthew 4)...

It is strange to be reading and not yet understanding why.  Doing so reminds me of just how many horrid bible studies I had in my evangelical past ... booklets with inane and even asinine questions.  The latter were those which asked what the verses meant to you personally, how you might apply them to your life, what qualities in the text should you emulate (or not), how you can use them to be the light of Christ to others to help lead them to salvation.  SIGH.

So, Matthew 4.

The first part is the temptation of Christ.  Recently, we had a sermon on this, though I am not sure if it was from this Gospel or not.  And, yes, I gave into temptation and looked up the passage in my Gospel harmony.  Again, I find it interesting the absence of John.  I also think that Mark must have been the most terse writer around back then.  He writes in two verses what Matthew explores in 11 and Luke does in 13.

I am not sure what temptation has to do with repentance other than temptation oft leads to the need for repentance, contrition (terror) over the sins with which we struggle and faith in the promise that, even so, we are still forgiven.

[I will say that the glutton in me snickered when I read that Jesus fasted for forty days and nights and then He became hungry.  I would have been hungry about hour four.]

As for the rest, I have many thoughts that add up to nothing, really:

  • In the last chapter, the sum of what I thought you could say about Jesus was to expect the unexpected.  He simply is not what mankind imagined the Son of God would be.  I mean, there are miracles and such, but there is no sense of royalty about Him, no proper understanding of His place in society, I think you could say.  He was not the type of messiah folk imagined.  So, in verse 12, I read that when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He left.  He left not to go rescue or defend the chosen one to herald the Son of God, as one might expect Him to do.  Instead, Jesus left to continue about His business.
  • The writer in me always ... smiles ... that Jesus would tell fishermen He would make them fishers of men.  Words.  God uses words so very perfectly.
  • Verse 17 is the only place where repentance is mentioned:  "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  Actually, I do not really know what the second part means, what it means when Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
  • So, after gathering some disciples, Jesus goes about Galilee teaching, proclaiming the Gospel, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people (verse 23).  To me, to me, I find it significant the distinction between disease and sickness ... for I think Jesus healed the mind as well as the body, the darkness that can bind us.

When I was in graduate school, working on literacy studies, I was struck one day about contextual clues.  Basically, we do not actually read or have to know every word in a sentence in order to understand meaning.  In reading the fiction books I devoured in my non-academic time, I started to notice just how many words that I thought I knew, but could not give a definition if asked.  So, I started a personal dictionary:

On all my books, both fiction and non-fiction, I started keeping sticky notes on the inside cover.  Whenever I came across a word that I could not actually define, I wrote it down.  Later, I copied the word into this journal, looking up and then writing out the definition(s).  I numbered each word and then I also created an alphabetical list on my computer, a printout of which I kept in the back of the journal as an index.  I also started working to incorporate the words that I was learning into my own speech and language.

It might not make sense for someone who is closing in on 36 years of being a child of God, but I have realized that I use words of faith and cannot actually define them.  It is deeper ... more ... than merely the difference between how evangelicals understand a word and how the pure doctrine teaches that word (i.e., salvation and baptism).  It is not really knowing what the words repentance, faith, belief (believing), and trust mean.  Not where I can define them for you.  And, whilst Luther states clearly in the Large Catechism that a person could spend her whole life studying baptism and never fully plumb its depths, this isn't about wanting to know everything.  It is about knowing something.  Something that is true.  Something not told to me, but something taught to me, using Scripture and the Christian Book of Concord.

So, I think the three thoughts left looming largest in my mind after reading the 4th chapter of Matthew are:

  1. What does Christ mean when He said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."?  Is the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God the same?  What does that preposition for mean here?  Is it the definition that means a connection to time or place?  Now is the time repentance can take place because the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Or is it the definition that means a reason or cause?  Because the kingdom of God is at hand repent.  [Remember Mary's Myrtle translation for hosanna in the highest:  You up there in heaven save us now?  I need another translation.]
  2. I find it ... interesting ... that Jesus ministry was not about putting Law on people, but about teaching, proclaiming the Gospel, and healing.  Especially the healing part.  It seems to me that people forget that part, that people stray from that to focus more on do this and do not do that.
  3. What does it mean to proclaim the Gospel?  To announce it officially or publicly?  Can anyone proclaim the Gospel or is it only Jesus who can? Or is it that His proclamation is the one that matter, matters still?  Did the disciples turned apostles proclaim the Gospel or actually really just spread that which already had been proclaimed?

I have actually read Matthew chapter four several times between my last homework post and this one.  For one, I read it on Saturday night whilst I was sitting in the church pew waiting for the vigil to happen.  Because I was there so long, I read chapter four several times and then started just reading through Matthew.  I got to chapter eight.  So, I am torn about jumping ahead now to chapter 16 (my next assignment) or trying to read through from four to 16 for context.  Normally, the literacy studies expert would certainly think that would be the best course of action.  But, since I read things wrong and understand little and can get distracted and distressed, I am leaning toward jumping ahead and focusing on the four chapters by themselves.  After all, it is not as if I can even tell you a single thing about the other chapters I read Saturday night.  I have already forgotten them.  SIGH.

Looking at my word journal, I would think anyone reading my blog would find me pusillanimous and would note my fugacious redoubt of hearing the Living Word, rather that hearing be ever efficacious in obviating the assaults of my foe, puerile

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Shell shock...

Even before Marie told me this bit about the Monday Thursday, Good Friday, and Saturday Vigil services really being one service, I had this very, very, very small ... and daring ... part of me that wanted to go to all three of them.  By, Saturday afternoon, though, I was rather exhausted.

In the early afternoon I tried to sleep some more, but it was as if I did not take the erythromycin.  I am convince, by the way, that that one bottle was not mixed properly or was too old, because after I fetched the last bottle from Target and started a new bottle, my innards became more manageable.  At least until Saturday.  Then I had writing and ensuing plumbing concerns and was feeling rather poorly.

Then, a deep plunge blood sugar crash in the mid afternoon left me shaking and slightly stunned.  It was one of those suddenly-I-know-something-is-terribly-wrong moments that left me staggering to get to the kitchen.  After shoving food hand over fist into my mouth and collapsing on the kitchen floor, I feel a bit of shell shock.  What just happened, with all those fighting-to-survive primal reactions in my body, is overwhelming to me.

But I wanted to go.  And then the migraine started.  SIGH.

I tried very hard to pretend that I did not know I was having a migraine. I have so very much pain in my head every day, nowadays, since the wonkiness in the nerves of the back of my head is now present in those on the side of my head.  I have bent my new glasses so much that if I lean down, they fall straight off my head.  I try and not wear them as much as possible.  Since I have been waking up with headaches each day, I also stopped wearing my sleeping mask and have just laid a cloth napkin over my eyes to block out light.  I basically was not going to have a migraine.

But I did.

The Vigil service was interesting, not so much for the sermon, but for everything else.  I suppose you could say that I did not participate in the first part, the Service of the Light, because I went straight from the car to the pew and did not bother getting a candle from the box.  I did not want the strain of holding it.  I did, however, sing the liturgy of that part of the service.  The next was this rather large swath of readings, with interludes of prayer and singing.  Following that was the Service of Baptism, which left tears streaking down my face.  Then the sermon and the Service of the Sacrament.  As has been my custom of late, I left right after the Agnus Dei.  Watching others receive the Lord's Supper is just too hard for me.

But in the liturgy of the Service of the Sacrament is the Sanctus.  Normally, I hear this from just about 20 folk on Monday night services.  But there had to be at least ten times that number at the Vigil.  I am not sure, really, if merely the additional volume carried what I could not hear before.  But I have never heard the Sanctus sung with such ... hope?  rejoicing??  I am not even sure how I would describe it.  I just had chills racing up and down my body and those darned tears fell again.

For the long service, I lay in the pew and I wore my sunglasses, to minimize the light.  But my head got worse and worse.  When I came home, I still tried to "push through," which is about the worst thing you can do for a migraine.  I gave into the pain and took my medication, then succumbed to needing the big gun pain killer, which means my lower innards will not function for a few days.  The pain was too great, the pain and the nausea and the abject misery, that I had to go head and take the extra medication.

The migraine storm finally passed Sunday, after an incredibly miserable night, and I spent the rest of the day in the rather great shell-shock that follows the assault of pain in the head that affects every part of your being.  I did work hard to rest and try to stay relaxed, so as to avoid a bounce back migraine.  I kept my glasses off and tried not to use my eyes much or have much light around me.  And, of course, I kept up the icepacks on all parts of my head.

On Facebook, today, everyone seems to be posting Easter family photos.  I thought that with such a tiny number of "friends," I would not have to face that family stuff much.  Apparently, though, I am getting all the photos that all my friends "like."  Feeling a bit poorly and downhearted about I posted a photo I took on Easter.

Amos is such a good little nurse.  He squeezed in next to me and modeled resting all the day long.  He was quiet when the migraine pain was so intense and he lay next to me on the kitchen floor.  He seems to know when things are really, really, really bad and adjusts his enthusiasm for draping himself across my person.  Instead, he presses his back against mine or hooks a paw around my arm or squeezes himself in some tight space between me and the side of the GREEN chair.

This morning, once again, I awoke to him sharing my pillow, forehead pressed against mine, paw across my shoulder.

I am really weary and still rather shell shocked.  Sometimes the physical battle within in my body is so great that the absence of it is somewhat of a battle itself.  It is hard to explain, but it is also an experience that I would not wish on anyone else.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Daring to create...

Last November, my friend Mary made a suggestion when I was, yet again, struggling with the approaching holiday season.  Her idea was to make my own traditions, not necessarily having anything to do with Thanksgiving.  In a way, I believe what she was suggesting was that I try to re-make the holidays so that they were for me.  I confess, I laughed off her suggestion with a half-hearted agreement that I could make Thanksgiving a day where I ate all my favorite foods or something.

I thought she was nuts.
Make my own traditions?

I did not grow up with positive family holiday gatherings.  Such is not possible in a family where drugs and alcohol—and the accompanying anger and violence—are present.  Other things, too, tended to happen around the holidays.  So, I struggle ... deeply ... with being a Christian and having much fear and loathing for Christmas and Easter, and a whole lot of loneliness and jealousy of all the talk of family visiting during those holidays and Thanksgiving.

Recently, if you haven't noticed, my longing for Texas, for the culture of my childhood, has reached a near visceral level.  Mostly, I want to be understood.  And so very much of me cannot be understood unless you live or have lived in Texas ... especially Dallas.  Seriously, as this hilarious (and yet poignant if you are a homesick Texan) post points out, the television show "Friday Night Lights" is not an exaggeration of Hollywood.  I really, really, really want to be understood.

In a way, this longing has deepened by this extraordinary mercy that Marie has shown me.  You see, she got the book The Courage to Heal and started reading it.  I make sense to her now.  I can be me and talk about my life and she understands.  I am even more normal and more okay.  SIGH.  I will never be able to tell her just how much this means to me or the unbelievable freedom she has given me in so doing.

Anyway, in my mostly futile attempts to assuage this longing to be understood in my cultural roots (for Texas is a culture unto itself, as well as a part of the South), I found this INCREDIBLE blog filled with sumptuous TexMex recipes.  You might not know this, but I was raised on sour cream and chicken enchiladas.  There's a recipe for them!  Mmmm...  The author is a great writer, too.  And, well, every mention of the restaurant Nifas warms the cockles of my heart.

There is even a recipe for rendering lard.
I announced to Marie that she needs to render lard for us.
She's game!

When I was upset the other night, I spend many hours reading through every post of Homesick Texan's blog.  Granted, most of the recipes I skimmed, but I saved to my bookmarks all the ones I wanted to try.  It was in this time of great anguish and longing that Mary's suggestion came back to me.  Suddenly, I understood what she meant and thought ... perhaps ... I might could follow her advice.

Today, I made Honey Soaked Hot Cross Buns.  What I know of hot cross buns are two things: 1) they are a Good Friday treat (thought also often cooked in Lent) and 2) they are meant to be shared.  In reading the recipe entry, over and over again, I found tears slipping down my cheeks.  I wanted, for a reason I cannot quite identify, this to be my tradition.  Easter.  The worst of all the holidays for me.  I wanted to turn just one part of Easter into something good for me.

But there is that ginormous fear of yeast that I have.

I did not share my desire or Mary's thoughts with Marie when we first discussed cooking together today.  However, I floated the idea of the hot cross buns with her, trying very hard to sound casual as I talked up the honey angle.  She agreed that they might be something good to try and also agreed to bring over some craisins (because I was already going to be changing the recipe).

What I didn't tell her is that, having really only her and Paul as folk to share with, I decided to bring a plate for each of my pastors' family to church tonight.  Yes, I decided to go to a second service this week that still was not the recommended one.  Yes, I wanted to go, even though last night was pretty disastrous for the state of my soul.

I wanted to go because my pastor said it is okay for me to go.
I wanted to go because my pastor said—just not in so many words—it is okay that I have a war inside me.
I wanted to go because I wanted to create my own tradition.

But there is that ginormous fear of yeast that I have.

Well, the whole Lord's Supper anguish last night meant little sleep for me. In the early hours of the morning, I texted Marie and asked her to go ahead and come at 8:30, but to start her freezer cooking without me.  Or rather I said I wanted to sleep until 10:00.  Kind soul that she is, Marie had no problem with that.  Amos did.  He sensed the presence of his beloved Aunt Marie and made trying to get much extra sleep (I was too distressed to sleep until about 4:30 AM) too difficult.  I gave up around 9:30.

We still didn't get started early enough on the buns—we meaning I—to finish them with Marie as my dough coach.  She got me through the yeast bit and the mixing bit and the kneading bit.  However, if you are going to use an old-fashioned recipe that uses honey as your sweetener, you need to be prepared for hours and hours and hours of rising.  I was in a near panic when I realized that Marie and I had never discussed how it is that you punch down dough.

I called every dough maker I know without getting anyone to pick up the phone.
I watched copious You Tube videos.
I bewailed my plight on Facebook.
I vomited.
Then, I punched down the dough, divided it, rewarmed the towel, and let the buns rise again.

Mary and Caryl responded to my Facebook plea, but it was Emily who remembered my need of specificity and taught me about why I needed to do the punching and specifically stated that I did, indeed, want the buns to double again.  You see, the recipe simply said to let rise until doubled (no time directions given) and then to let rise after punching (no size or time directions given).  Emily shows me great mercy in two ways:  1) she likes nearly all of my posts and many of my comments, essentially telling me that it is okay to be me on that fearsome, flawed social media platform and 2) she answers my cooking wailing with specificity, either by comments or private messages.  I no longer have to explain my need for specificity.  She simply gives it.  Great, great, great mercy.

I did not let the buns rise as long the second time round because I was running out of time for my tradition to be established.  But they were mostly doubled so I baked them, I girded my loins and glazed them, I threw them on plates for all parties, marking the ziploc bag "covers" with the pastors' names, and raced out the door.  That is, I dragged my exhausted and still fearful person out the door.  I figured there would be even more folk at tonight's service, so I left 30 minutes early hoping to still snag a handicapped parking spot.

I did.
I did but.
I did but this man saw me trying to balance the cookie sheet I had brought to carry the two plates and my cane and came and took the cookie sheet from me.

I was simultaneously struck dumb with social anxiety and great relief since I would not have to walk into the sanctuary with an empty cookie sheet.  Being a nice young man, he tried to engage me in polite conversation.  Like I said, I was struck dumb.

After he opened the door to the church building for me, I blurted out that I had to use the elevator.  He said that was okay and then asked me what floor I wanted.  Wrong question.  You see, I never can figure out which button to push because the sign is too far away from the buttons.  Too far for me.  I have seriously contemplated putting sticky notes next to the buttons and see how long they last.  Usually, between both elevator rides, all the buttons get pushed ... some more than once.

Being a nice young man, he walked ahead and asked the secretary if she had a key to the pastors' offices and then, at her hesitation, said that I had brought a treat for the pastor.  I was so nervous that that darned verbal vomiting started and I humiliated myself in short order.  However, the keys were fetched, the treats were left, and I was rather delighted to realized that my treats will probably go uncredited.

The service?  Well, I struggled to follow the sermon.  It was a blood bath.  [Pun intended.]  And, to be brutally honest, I really do not care for the choir singing stanzas and such.  Even though I used to sing in the choir (heck, for several years I was the tenor section and the alto section depending on what we were singing), the more I contemplate the Divine Service, the more I dislike the performance factor of choirs singing.

[I really do not belong in the Lutheran church.]

But I did learn two things from the readings.  Yes, I remembered to bring my Bible so I could follow the readings.  Tonight, for the first time that I remember, I discovered that Nicodemus also tended the body of Jesus.  How cool is that!?!  Nicodemus!!  I liked that he brought the herbs/spices so that, even though haste was necessary, the body of Christ could be given a burial in keeping with tradition, that His body could be honored.

The second thing that I learned was that there were three Marys, not two.  Jesus' aunt was there!  Is there no word for aunt in ancient Greek?  I mean, you see Mary Jesus' mother and Mary Magdalene there, but it is hard to also see squeezed in between mention of them is a note that Jesus' mother's sister Mary is also there.

Today, when cooking with Marie, I felt free to speak some more of that poking-fun-at-my-evangelical-past humor with her.  I was worried about how to bake two things and roast a third when I discovered that the main dish for lunch and the buns were to cook at the same temperature. I gleefully announced that that means Jesus loves us.  Marie snickered and asked where that was in the Bible. I told her that when anyone questions something I say is in the Bible ... as a joke ... I declare that it is in Leviticus because no one reads Leviticus.

Marie laughed and asked who reads Micah. I told her Evangelicals do!  We have a praise song from there and it has great Life Application verses.  She then asked who reads Deuteronomy.  I told her Evangelicals do!  Deuteronomy has this great section on choice and we evangelicals are all about choosing God.  So, Marie asked, who reads Nahum.  I confidentially declared that that was a book that Evangelicals do not read ... no Life Application to be found there!  So, she said that oven temperatures matching on two dishes in a needful time being evidence that Jesus loves us must then be in Nahum.

So, while I was waiting for the service to start tonight, I read Nahum.
I read Nahum twice.
I read it slowly and I read it aloud to myself.

After their service, Marie and Paul came by to fetch the freezer food I had finished cooking for her.  I was not planning for them to stay, but I wanted them to try one of the remaining honey soaked hot cross buns left so as to render judgement upon them.  Marie said they were starving.  One thing led to another and those kind folk changed their plans so that we could all eat dinner together.

We ate Taco Bell.
We talked Book of Concord.
I told them what I learned from the readings.

The totally wonderful part—besides them fawning over my hot cross buns—was that Marie also just realized that Nicodemus was at Jesus burial, was there for Him at the end!  I also told Marie and Paul was I learned about Nahum:  chapter 1, God is awesome; chapter 2, Nineveh is toast; and chapter 3 Nineveh is really, really, really toast.  Then I said that I thought Jonah was the Nineveh guy, so I didn't understand why Nahum was having visions about Nineveh.  I said I would Google the matter and get back to them.

They laughed.
I laughed.
It was a good night for me.

So, my Good Friday tradition, should I have more Good Fridays in my future, is to make honey soaked hot cross buns and give them away.  For the Living Word is sweet.  Sweeter than honey.  And Jesus is the bread of life.  Don't you think a tasty culinary metaphor is just about a perfect Myrtle holiday tradition??

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Deviled tortillas...

I snuck into the Maundy Thursday service tonight at church.  Well, I went early so that I could get a handicapped parking space and then tucked myself into the corner of the back pew and set to reading my harmony of the Gospels.  Is it wrong to read in church?

Last week, I asked my pastor if he would explain the services to me.  Mostly, I figured that I would learn about them later, but he took the time to write a very concise, but rather comprehensive overview of what the four services of Easter are.  Or should I say Holy Week?  But that wouldn't include last Sunday, which I did not ask about.  Honestly, I could easily turn his email into a nice little brochure for those, like me, who are so very unfamiliar with the Church calendar and its whys and wherefores.

I also asked for him to pick a service for me—not Easter—to attend.  He suggested the vigil.  And I had planned on going.  Really, up until about 6:24 PM today, I was going on Saturday night.  But I kept thinking about how distressed I am about spiritual things, how confused, and something my pastor wrote me.

You see, I just don't understand how it is that I can crave and long to have the Living Word read to me, fill my ears and  yet be evermore certain about my lack of faith.  Talk about Jesus, and I am there.  Start speaking about how faith looks to, faith trusts, faith believes ... and I become awash in terror.  Where is the faith in my life that looks to, trusts, believes???

My pastor wrote that I should come because a desire to hear the Living Word is faith, even if it is at constant war with unbelief within me.  Am I crazy that reading there is a war within me was comforting?

I still was only going on Saturday, because he has not steered me wrong.  Yet there I was, sitting in the pew.

The service was not one of the five settings.  It started with corporate absolution, one I've not seen before.  There is this long bit that my other pastor changed up some.  That made following what was being said hard, since I did not have a text, but I did note that the changes he made were more Gospel-y.  Then there were the readings.  I felt like a dolt for not bringing my bible, having just the harmony with me because, for once, the readings were not in the bulletin.  There are pew bibles, but I find turing the pages in them near impossible.  So, I tried to do one of the fluency exercises that I used to use on reading remediation clients, echo reading.  As the pastor read, I echoed his words.  I got lost several times, but I tried.  Then a hymn I didn't know.  Then the sermon.

The sermon was about the Lord's Supper in a way I have never heard.  The pastor who is teaching  me was preaching.  I had my notepad ready and wrote down several rather interesting and, to me, astounding things.  But then the last two things he said about the Lord's Supper just terrified me and left me awash with deep, deep, deep sorrow.  Hot tears ran down my face.  Dare I say it felt like my soul was weeping.

One thing that weighed heavily on my mind were all the folk I watched walk into the church.  So many people.  So many people who equally need the care of our pastors.  Before the service started, after a while, I stopped reading and just watched.  Watched and prayed, wondering about them.  Going to the Monday evening services, I do not know anyone at the church.  I have no clear idea of how many people are regular members ... or strays like me.

And then ... at the end of the sermon ... I just ... well, I felt overwhelmed thinking that trying to learn that which so confuses me is not time best served by an undershepherd(s) with such a great flock.  And I felt ... devastated, maybe ... defeated ... or perhaps just plain exhausted by hearing that, really, I am back to square one on the Lord's Supper.

I was so caught off guard.
I came home and sat in the closet with Amos.
Later, I made deviled eggs and beefed up my stock of flour tortillas.

There really are no words for what I heard or what I think or what I feel.  Who would have thought that going to church would change the true color of the sky?

I got a package today.
I should learn to not open boxes that show up on my porch.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Crunching numbers again...

I think I might be the only American actually grateful that the IRS pulled both my 2013 tax payment and the first installment of my 2014 taxes from my bank account yesterday.  I checked many times throughout the wee hours of the morning, before finally falling asleep.  Then, when I got up to change  icepacks, I saw that the transaction had posted around 10:00 AM.  Whew!

I will admit that I was equally worried that the check I had mailed early to the Indiana Department of Revenue had not yet posted.  I have been haunting my checking account several times a day for the past week, looking for that transaction.  Thankfully, the check posted today at 9:46 AM.  Another whew!

Though ... I am fully expecting a protest letter from the IRS regarding having to make such a large payment.  But while my past ... discussions ... with the IRS about things that cropped up were all fruitless, I am confident that the fact that I had no idea that I was going to need to think drastically about finances and decide, at the last minute, to pull a chunk of money out of retirement to pay off my mortgage would make moot any attempt to claim penalties and interest.  After all, I did not actually owe any taxes until December 28th,  and, at that time, I did make a concerted (but failed) attempt to meet my tax obligation when I took the withdrawal.  My tax math stunk.

I am also expecting a letter from Indiana, but only because I have gotten one every year that I have filed taxes here.  That puzzles me since I am using good tax software, but at least I think such a letter will not send me into a panic.  After all, I am intimately acquainted with the folks at the local Indiana tax bureau and have had positive experiences all three times I had to go there.

However, I am very much looking forward to 2015.  All this complicated tax stuff will be over and no one will have any reason to write me letters.  Of course, all the complicated tax stuff will be over because I will be out of any tax bracket.  Onward, Myrtle, in your charge to minimize your living expenses.

I totally forgot about the AC spring maintenance in my goal of reducing that $881 budget line to $750, since I actually pay for all my electrical work in cash.  So, while I did not go over my reduced goal on my credit card, I shall only be ~$43 under in that budget line item.  SIGH.  Next month.  Next month is another opportunity.

Except.  Except for the blasted water bill from flooding my own home.  It will come on the 28th.  For me, the 28th cannot get here soon enough.  I do better if I know. sooner rather than later, just what I have to face.  I am trying not to be all doom-and-gloom about having an except every darned month.  After all, I do not plan on flooding my home again.

One change that I made—under the heading of responsible—is that, this year, I used all of my annual charges on my not-in-use credit cards (to keep them active) for practical things.  Normally, I use the excuse of having to make charges to each of them as a reason for extra trips to Taco Bell.  All of them are empty.  Actually every single card I have is technically empty since I pay off the balance of the one I use each month, using it only for reward points.  But the complicated formula for credit rating means that canceling non-used cards is not actually a good financial move.  Plus, three of the cards are very low fixed-rate cards, which I doubt are even available anymore.  If ever I had to borrow money using a credit card, 4.9% is not that bad of an interest rate.

Anyway, I took care of several things, such as ordering a filter for the refrigerator water line, instead of going to Taco Bell.  And I waited until all the statements would come due next month, so the funds would come out of that which normally would go to my beloved Capital One card.  Being fiscally responsible is not much fun.

I have $2.50 left on my last Taco Bell gift card.  Since it is from Christmas, I think I did a much, much, much better job of not merely blowing through gift cards the way that I used to do so.  A trip to Taco Bell is $2.79, so I am short on that card.  But I added up the quarters in my car ash tray and discovered that there is $5.00 in there.  I decided that since it was parking meter money from when I lived in the DC Metropolitan Area, that money is not really budgeted.  Therefore, I am planning on making it Taco Bell money.

[See?  It is waaaaaaaaay too easy to make specious rationalizations when it comes to budgeting.]

The other day, I read an article (which I cannot find again) about helping friends/relatives who are in financial trouble without spending a dime.  I liked it.  I liked it because the article—though not in so many words—took the stance that it is better to teach a man to fish than to just give him a fish.  The idea is to help the person in financial trouble with budgeting, prioritizing debts to tackle first, strategizing ways to reduce spending, and accountability in sticking to new plans.

Of course, I would add giving copious amounts of encouragement, pointing out financial successes when financial missteps loom large, and reminding the person that change is rarely a straight forward march down a level path, but one of ups and downs and wanderings off the road from time to time.

That's one of the reasons I love the Psalter.  There are many, many, many verses about stumbling and crooked paths.  Many pleas to make a way straight and to hold the psalmist upright.  This is, to me, further evidence that God understands His created, understands life in a fallen world.

Hear my prayer, O LORD,
Give ear to my supplications!
Answer me in Thy faithfulness, in Thy righteousness!
And do not enter into judgment with Thy servant,
For in Thy sight no man living is righteous.
For the enemy has persecuted my soul;
He has crushed my life to the ground;
He has made me dwell in dark places, like those who have long been dead.
Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me;
My heart is appalled within me.

I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all Thy doings;
I muse on the work of Thy hands.
I stretch out my hands to Thee;
My soul longs for Thee, as a parched land. Selah.
Answer me quickly, O LORD, my spirit fails;
Do not hide Thy face from me,
Or I will become like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning;
For I trust in Thee;
Teach me the way in which I should walk;
For to Thee I lift up my soul.
Deliver me, O LORD, from my enemies;
I take refuge in Thee.

Teach me to do Thy will,
For Thou art my God;
Let Thy good Spirit lead me on level ground.
For the sake of Thy name, O LORD, revive me
In Thy righteousness bring my soul out of trouble.
And in Thy lovingkindness, cut off my enemies
And destroy all those who afflict my soul,
For I am Thy servant.

~Psalm 143 (NASB 1977)

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Repentance Homework (Matthew 3)...

I thought I would start working ... seriously ... on the homework for my next catechesis lesson, even though it is still two weeks away.

A Lutheran once pointed out a bible verse about us needing pastors to teach the Scriptures.  I do not remember where it was or if it was one that was clear to me or left me scratching my head in further confusion.  However, I wouldn't mind a bit of ... hints ... about why I am to read what I am to read for my homework.  And, yet, as a teacher, I always held study guides with high distain.  Let the student think on his or her own first.


I already wrote about my thoughts that arose from encountering honey in this reading of John the Baptist.  But those thoughts were nothing about repentance.  I am actually rather ... puzzled as to why read Matthew 3 as a part of preparing to talk about repentance.  So, my thoughts are not much ... coherent, I suppose:

I cheated.  I read Matthew 3 and then promptly looked up the reference in my Harmony of the Gospels.  I found it ... odd ... that John the Baptist is not in the book of John.

In comparing the other three Gospel accounts, I noted that Matthew is the only one that actually mentions repentance in equivalent of verses 11-12 (Marke 1:7-8 and Luke 3:15-18).  In Matthew, John states that he baptizes with water for repentance.  Now, that "for" is noted in the margins as also being "by" or "with," but that does not catch my attention so much as the preposition "for," which is defined as meaning 1) intended to help or benefit someone/something and 2) used for stating the purpose of an object as the first two entries of the MacMillian Dictionary.

I would have thought that the word would have been because, which is used for showing the reason something happens or the reason it is described in a particular way.  That would be the evangelical translation, I think.  Because you have repented, I will baptize you.  The for implies that repentance is a result of the baptism.

For ... laughs ... as I was checking out several translations of Matthew 3:11, I peeked at the amplified version:  11 I indeed baptize you in (with) water because of repentance [that is, because of your changing your minds for the better, heartily amending your ways, with abhorrence of your past sins]. But He Who is coming after me is mightier than I, Whose sandals I am not worthy or fit to take off or carry; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  Yeah, uhm, another way to translate that is Now that you have prayed the Jesus prayer and accepted Him as your Savior and begun your journey of faith, I baptize you for that good work.

SIGH. I have way more evangelical brain cells than Lutheran ones.

Interestingly, both the King James and the English Standard use the preposition unto.  That is an old way of saying to, which would then put the meaning as  I baptize you to repentance.

All that translation mucking about aside, why is it that Matthew is the only what that mentions repentance in that bit of John the Baptist's words to the pharisees and sadducee who had sought him out?

In Matthew 3:14-15 (something that does not appear in the other Gospel accounts), John protests Jesus request to be baptized, noting that Jesus should be baptizing him.  Jesus response is: "Permit it as this time for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."

Well, what does that mean? Is Jesus not already righteous?  Has he not already received repentance?  [That question belies the thoughts I have from the Christian Book of Concord passages on repentance about it being something we receive, too, as opposed to something we do ourselves.]  Or is Jesus saying that since He is flesh He needs to do all that flesh would do, all that man would do?

The references for His response in my NASB 1977 bible are:  Psalm 40:7-8, John 4:34, and John 8:29.  Isn't it kind of curious that the New Testament references are both from the one Gospel that does not share the account of John the Baptist??

Psalm 40: 7-8 is:  Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me; I delight to do Thy will, O my God; Thy Law is within my heart.”  Okay, that just confused me, so I read through the entire Psalm:

I waited patiently for the LORD;
And He inclined to me, and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay;
And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.
And He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God;
Many will see and fear,
And will trust in the LORD.

How blessed is the man who has made the LORD his trust,
And has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood.
Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which Thou hast done,
And Thy thoughts toward us;
There is none to compare with Thee;
If I would declare and speak of them,
They would be too numerous to count.

Sacrifice and meal offerings Thou hast not desired;
My ears Thou hast opened;
Burnt offering and sin offering Thou hast not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me;
I delight to do Thy will, O my God;
Thy Law is within my heart.”

I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great congregation;
Behold, I will not restrain my lips,
O Lord, Thou knowest.
I have not hidden Thy righteousness within my heart;
I have spoken of Thy faithfulness and Thy salvation;
I have not concealed Thy lovingkindness and Thy truth from the great congregation.

Thou, O LORD, wilt not withhold Thy compassion from me;
Thy lovingkindness and Thy truth will continually preserve me.
For evils beyond number have surrounded me;
My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to see;
They are more numerous than the hairs of my head;
And my heart has failed me.

Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me;
Make haste, O LORD, to help me.
Let those be ashamed and humiliated together
Who seek my life to destroy it;
Let those be turned back and dishonored
Who delight in my hurt.
Let those be appalled because of their shame
Who say to me, “Aha, aha!”
Let all who seek Thee rejoice and be glad in Thee;
Let those who love Thy salvation say continually,
“The LORD be magnified!”
Since I am afflicted and needy,
Let the LORD be mindful of me;
Thou art my help and my deliverer;
Do not delay, O my God.

~Psalm 40 (NASB 1977)

Of course, that made me wonder, Is this another "Jesus" psalm my past evangelical teachers didn't know about?  I mean, the "heading" for the psalm is: God Sustains His Servant.  So, you think me, us, man, children of God.  But Christ was His servant, too.

Setting aside my ... confusion as to why Psalm 40:7-8 was noted as a reference, I turned to John.  In 4:34, we read:  Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him to sent Me, and to accomplish His work."  The context is too much for me to ponder now, but feel free to read chapter 4 yourself (and then explain it all to me).  John 8:29 has more of the same, really:  And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do that things that are pleasing to Him.  Well, that sort of joins the first two passages together.  However, why do all three of them serve as references for Matthew 3:15?

In Psalm 40, the words in the scroll of the book it is written of me.  I think of Psalm 139, in reading this, were the psalmist declares, And in Thy book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them (16). Now, the NASB has this nifty little way of capitalizing things that have to do with God.  So, in Psalms 40 and 139, the pronouns (written of me and ordained for me) are not capitalized, leaving me thinking mostly about man.  But, well, the whole bloody Old Testament is about Jesus, about the Promise, about the need for Christ and the long, arduous journey of time and mankind between that first temptation and the resurrection.  So, well, which book?  Which me?

However, all that I just wrote pales in comparison to my wondering about the words Jesus speaks (rather than the references for them):  "Permit it as this time for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."

And, then, back to the first question:  why that preposition (for) and why/how is repentance tied to baptism?

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, April 14, 2014


Never.   Never have I been in as much pain from a weather front as I have been in today.

This was my magnolia tree yesterday.

As you can see, the blooms were opening and the grass in my yard is becoming quite GREEN ... even growing!

This is my magnolia tree tonight.

Because it is SNOWING.

Finding my main floor to be 79 degrees yesterday, I turned on the air-conditioning and ran it all night just to cool down the house.  Around noon, I turned it off.  I turned it off when I was fetching new ice packs and more pain medication, wondering just how much more misery in my joints I could take.

When I saw the snow falling, I just about died.  I called Marie and she, too, was just about dying, having commiserated with someone at the grocery store about the agony of more snow.  At the symphony Saturday night, the long, long, long and very much snow-laden winter was the main topic of conversation.  Mostly, folk were comparing winter mental anguish war stories.

I started weeping when I saw the magnolia tree.  For sure, whatever blooms that were there will all be brown and dying as the snow melts.  And, I suspect, the rest of the buds will not open.  My weeping cherry tree was just starting to show the tiniest bit of white on the bud tips.  The forsythia bush and the crabapple tree both also held buds clearly on the cusp of opening. What will become of them?

Amos was delighted—the Rat Bastard—to see the snow.  He's been ever so fearful of the return of the GREEN grass, and our tending-to-business sessions have been rather contentious of late.  Snow is his beloved friend.

I like snow.
A lot.
Just not so much now.

I have not been able to sleep much last night or today, for I cannot find a comfortable position or enough distance from the misery of my body to drift off.  I wonder.  Will the same happen when it warms up again in just two days?

I am Yours Lord.  Save me!