Five New Things I didn’t know I liked until this week:

1. Spider Rolls at Shanghai Bistro. Sounds weird, has crab shell in it, and looks a little like something you’d find under a log—but yum.

2. “Tens,” a card game that Carley taught me at the Youth Group Lock-In. I lost, of course (evidently luck is an important factor). Fun, though.

3. Bye Bye Birdie. Chi Hi did a great job last weekend putting on this musical, which, surprisingly, has nothing to do with birds. Kyla was fantastic as “Short Chorus Girl.”

4. The book of Hebrews. When the Sunday morning Bible study group decided to read this in-depth for the spring, I was less than thrilled. But it’s growing on me. 4:16 is my favorite verse so far: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

5. Giving Ellie a bath. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still traumatic for both of us. But she manages to be so cute when she stands in the tub, alternately glaring at me and looking indignant. Plus her fur’s all soft and fluffy afterward.

What new things did you find this week?

It’s been a long week for me—lots of meetings, lots of work to do, lots of looming deadlines.

It didn’t help that I was still recovering from being up all night last Friday for the youth group Lock-In (it was a lot of fun, but apparently I’m not as young as I thought I was). Then I briefly lost my credit card, the hot water stopped working in the shower, I had a wicked headache for 2 days, I didn’t realize I was out of dog food and had to give Ellie cheese for breakfast…

So. I’m happy it’s the weekend. And I’m happy to dig out some of my old standbys, the songs that always help cheer me up after a long week. Here’s 5 of them, in no particular order (and I think I’ve even managed to upload/link them correctly here):

1. Old Joe Clark by Mike Snider String Band. I ran into this guy a few times when I was living in Nashville—and now he’s a regular on the Grand Ole Opry. Naturally I think I should get some credit for this.

2. My Baby Loves A Bunch Of Authors by Moxy Früvous. My BFF in high school, Joy, gave me the CD of this independent Canadian group several years ago. I’ve never heard them anywhere else—but it always makes me laugh that the “Authors” song is my favorite and Joy is now an English teacher.

3. Gentle Arms Of Eden by Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer. I use this song with my college students when we talk about Goddess traditions and Earth-based religions. It refers to evolution and a female divine spirit—but don’t let that distract you from the prettiness of the song. For me, it’s a reminder that whatever name you use for God, he/she/they loves us, and we feel best when we find our way home to him/her/them.

4. Suds In The Bucket by Sara Evans. Come to think of it, there’re quite a few female country artists with great songs that help put me in a good mood.

5. No Other Love by Rush of Fools. The Christian band from last fall’s Youth Convo rocks out. And who doesn’t like a good kazoo?

So, what song makes you feel better after a long week?

We sinned in Confirmation class.

Got your attention, huh?

Yeah, I mean we talked about the topic of sin last week—but I also think it’s accurate to say that all of us probably sinned at some point during the hour, too.

I know I, for one, thought a few unkind things when Pastor Scott threw a dart—literally, a needle-sharp projectile—at the dartboard when I was standing next to it.

I mean, right next to it. I could have been impaled.

It was, however, a good way to make sure I never forget the point (get it, point?).

The word “sin,” he explained, actually means “to miss the mark.” Out of alignment. Skewed. Out of joint. Off. He demonstrated this by sending a dart sailing right past the dartboard. (Seriously, the guy has terrible aim. I’m lucky to be alive.)

The reason that sin is a problem, I think, is that it gets in the way of our relationship with God. It’s not that there’s some magic “should” list out there and we’re horrible if we break a rule on it. And it’s not that God’s up there keeping score on all the bad things we do.

Rather, God wants to be in a relationship with us. And when we sin, it gets between us and God. It gets in the way of that really good relationship. It causes us to “miss the mark” in a big way—to miss the whole point of living in right connection with God.

Jesus shows us how to live like that. One of his fancy names, Immanuel, means “God with us.” Not “God judging us” or “God counting our sins” or “God telling us what to do”—just with us. That’s the most perfect kind of relationship we can have: knowing that God is with us.

And that’s something worth aiming for.

This week on 5 Things Friday: I’m trying to embrace winter. Especially with record-low temperatures expected this weekend…

5 Things I Love About Winter

1. Snow outlining the bare branches of trees.

2. The adorable way Ellie pounces on random snow clumps and then gets snowflakes all over her nose.

3. Wearing sweaters.

4. Building a roaring fire in the fireplace. (Come to think of it, I really should move to a house that has a fireplace.)

5. Secretly laughing at non-Wisconsinites who think that 40 degrees is “bitterly cold.” (Seriously. Someone from Alabama once said this to me.)

Have a great wintry weekend, everybody!

I’m fighting a wicked head cold.

Of course, by “fighting” I mean, mostly, “curling up on the couch and feeling sorry for myself.”

I am not a good patient.

Oh sure, I’m following all the rules: plenty of fluids, rest, Advil, hot tea with honey. I even broke out the Vick’s Vapo-Rub tonight. It stinks but it works.

I know it’s just a cold. I know it will go away, as my friend Patty says, “in 7 days to a week.” I know I just have to hang on until the rhinovirus moves on to another host or wears itself out or does whatever it is that rhinoviruses do.

(Calling it a rhinovirus somehow makes it sound fierce. As in, no wonder I didn’t get much done today except sleep and watch Law & Order—hello, I have a rhinovirus.)

Still, this minor cold is nothing compared to the hanging-in-there times that people suffer every day: cancer, accidents, grief, war. I wish these times weren’t a part of life.

And yet, in the midst of this minor cold, I’ve been reminded about two things: first, God is there, even when it feels like we’re just hanging on, and second, hanging on is easier when we lean on other people.

I woke up this morning and, through my congestion and whining, thought about my to-do list: “Let’s see: 1) try to stay alive. 2)… Nope, just one is enough for now.” I asked God for the grace to get through the day.

Then I called my sister, who convinced me it was OK to stay home from work. She fed me soup and made me take a nap. Ellie the dog sensed something was wrong; she curled up close to me on the bed and kept me warm. (It wasn’t completely selfless: I believe she also needed a nap.)

I know it’s just a minor cold that will go away soon, but I needed both God’s grace and the support of other people (and one furry dog) to hang in there today. I hope I can remember this in more difficult times. And I hope God will use me to help other people hang in there, too, when they need it.

And I hope the effects of this Vapo-Rub are worth the smell.

I got the idea for Five Things Friday from my sister’s blog, http://running4cupcakes.com/

My Five Favorite Ice Cream Toppings

  1. Caramel
  2. Strawberries
  3. Pecans
  4. Hot Fudge
  5. Rice Krispies (seriously—the crunch is great!)

Happy Friday, everyone!

On Friday I visited my uncle, who’s been in the hospital for a few weeks because of a bad fall. He was pretty beat up and also pretty out of it, what with all the pain meds and everything. He’d sleep for a while and then wake up and not know where he was and try to pull out his IV and other tubes.

He was awake for quite a while on Friday, and kind of in and out of it. I was standing next to the bed when he came to again, and he started to get quite agitated—confused, not sure where he was or what was happening to him. I was just standing there when he suddenly reached for my hand and held it. It seemed to calm him; he settled down and eventually drifted back to sleep, still holding on to my hand.

Ironically, just the day before I had been reading Isaiah 42: “I am the LORD…I have taken you by the hand and kept you” (v. 6).

Is it possible that, by holding his hand, I represented God’s peace to my uncle in that moment? It seems odd to think so: After all, I wasn’t trying to minister to him or actively pray for him or do any “preachy” things—I was quite literally just standing there. And yet, is it possible that God made use of me even when I wasn’t doing anything? It’s a humbling thought.

What I do know is this: God is there, standing right by our bedside, so to speak, whether we’re in the hospital or having a bad day or just needing a hug. God is continually reaching out a hand to us; all we have to do is grab hold of it—and trust that God is already holding on tight.

Ellie and I headed up to the lake this afternoon. I had promised Dad I would water the sod that he recently laid down around the house. And while I was dragging the hoses around, Ellie was having the time of her life.

She loves to run around in the woods — only this was more like zooming, from one end of the peninsula to the other and then back again.

She chased squirrels. She herded the golden retriever from next door. She explored the shoreline. She dipped a paw in the water and then looked at me indignantly like, “Did YOU know how cold that is?” Then she raced off again.

At one point I realized I hadn’t seen her in a while, so I called for her and she came rocketing out of the swamp like a 50-pound, furry bullet and skidded to a stop in front of me. “What?” she seemed to say. “I have things to sniff, do you mind?” And away she went.

Ellie runs just for the sheer joy of running. It’s what she was made for — and she’s happiest when’s she doing what she was made for.

What are we made for? What will give us sheer joy?

“You have shown me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy.” – Psalm 16:11

“If you understand, things are just as they are. If you do not understand, things are just as they are.”  

Hmmm.

This Zen proverb has been up on my fridge for a few years now — and yet I still don’t, ahem, understand it. Or, rather, I don’t understand why it’s so hard for us as humans to accept the things we do not understand.

Perhaps the point of it all isn’t to understand. Perhaps the point is just to live the abundant life that Jesus promises us (John 10:10). Perhaps our joy really starts to become complete (John 15:11) when we stop fighting to understand God’s love and instead embrace it.

To put this proverb another way: “If you believe it, God loves you. If you don’t believe it, God loves you.”

I am sitting here eating a delicious raspberry muffin. The reason I am eating a muffin at work instead of cereal at home is because I overslept this morning and didn’t have time for breakfast as I was rushing out the door. Then I couldn’t find a parking space and had to settle for a spot several blocks away. It was a rough morning.

But THEN, as I was hiking to work, I came across a woman walking three border collies. I stopped and said hello and they sniffed me and let me pet them (the dogs, not the woman). “I have one just like you at home,” I told the first one, who had stapled her head to my leg so I could scratch her ears. She wagged her tail in response.

It reminded me of the first time I saw Ellie, terribly thin with her fur all matted, but so happy to say hello. It was love at first sniff as she wagged her tail and, I swear, smiled at me through her boogered-up eyes. It was like she was saying, “It’s been a rough year, but life is still good. Let’s play.”

So let’s play.