Tag Archives: Christmas

oh oswald

Oh Oswald.

I love how Oswald Chambers always has just the words I need to hear.

It’s really not him, it’s God and the Holy Spirit using the daily bits of wisdom to speak to my heart.

April 29th’s entry is about gracious uncertainty, and boy, did I need to hear (or in this case, read) it.

“Our natural inclination is to be so precise – trying always to forecast accurately what will happen next – that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing,” Chambers writes.

Though I don’t consider myself a scheduled, detailed person and my Myers’ Briggs personality has me as a “P,” I like to dream and plan for the future. Forget about today and this week, let’s think about what could happen in six months or a year. Or two years. To-do lists? I usually get bored writing them and start actually working.

I do like to sit and think about the future and dream about what if I were in a certain circumstance. I love daydreaming.

“Our common sense says, “Well, what if I were in that circumstance?” We cannot presume to see ourselves in any circumstance in which we have never been.”

I know I’ve exasperated my parents with “what if’s” and my excessive need to think and plan for the future. Sometimes I focus so much on this I get lost in the present.”What if I don’t get into Baylor, what if I don’t get the writing job I want overseas, what if …”

My questions now are, what do I do after this three-year assignment? What if I come back right away, what if I stay in the US, and if I stay, will I be able to come back? What if I chose the wrong seminary?

The questions are endless and typically end up with me overwhelmed and exasperated.

“We think that we must reach some predetermined goal, but that is not the nature of the spiritual life. The nature of the spiritual life is that we are uncertain in our certainty.”

I’m the type of person who likes surprises, but when it comes to planning the rest of my life, I like to have clues. For example, if I could just know that going back for seminary is what I need to do, I could be patient with everything else being revealed later.

But, as Chambers says, the nature of our spiritual life is uncertainty.

“To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring,” Chambers writes.

Yikes. I think I’ve been taking certainty into my own hands. I want to know what tomorrow will bring, now.

“This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation.”

I love this line. Breathless expectation. I don’t want sighs and sadness in my life. I want to take hold of the breathless expectation Chambers writes about. It’s like a kid that’s so ecstatic for Christmas morning they sometimes forget to breathe.

Life is a divine adventure and I fear I’m so worried about the future I am missing the adventure with all my sighing. God, I want to live in breathless expectation. I don’t want to schedule out my future and schedule you out of it.

“We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and to the task He has placed closest to us,  He begins to fill our lives with surprises.”

I’m even more in love with those two sentences. I cling so tightly to life and the future that I’m not joyfully doing or completing the tasks closest to me. Right now, the tasks I feel God has placed in my life are my job as a writer and social marketer and the ministry in the red light district.

The tighter I cling, the less God is in these tasks and the fruit of them isn’t juicy. Who likes dried, juice-less fruit? Hopefully you didn’t say, “Me!”

I obsess over my writing. I cling to the words in Microsoft Word. Writing is what I’ve wanted to do since I was 12. I want so badly to succeed. I want to do justice to the stories of the men and women who follow God in the midst of persecution most of us can only imagine.

I want to see souls freed from bondage in the red light district. I want them to know Jesus like I do. I want to be a better friend to them.

I take these burdens upon myself and it’s a burden I cannot bear alone.

The beauty is, I don’t need to.

I’ve placed them before God before, but I somehow seem to keep picking up my offering off of the altar.

“When we become simply a promoter or a defender of a particular belief, something within us dies. That is not believing God – it is only believing  our belief about Him.”

Chambers continues, “If our certainty us only in our beliefs, we develop a sense of self-righteousness, become overly critical, and are limited by the view that our beliefs are complete and settled.”

As Chambers so beautifully put it, once we abandon ourselves to Him, “He begins to fill our lives with surprises.”

I love surprises. My parents started a tradition where on Christmas Eve, after we were asleep, they’d leave a small present under the mini trees in our bedrooms. I loved waking up to find what it was. I loved running out to the tree to see the presents they’d placed out under the bigger tree.

I want my life to be filled with godly surprises. I’ve been clinging to certainty too long.

“We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next.”

I don’t know where I’ll be after I head back to the U.S. this October. I don’t know the next step in my life.

“But when we have the right relationship with God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy,” Chambers writes.

I do know that I am going to focus on my relationship with God and I’m looking forward to the spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.

“Leave everything to Him and it will be gloriously and graciously uncertain how He will come in – but you can be certain that He will come. Remain faithful to Him.”

Yes sir, I think I shall.

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Yes, Virginia, there is a God

“Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.”

As I sat on my balcony this morning, sipping my gingerbread coffee and sampling my scrambled eggs, I realized I couldn’t see the mountain that’s just a few miles from my apartment. The mountain, except for mornings like this, is always visible and is my landmark in Chiang Mai.

I woke up to mist, rain and clouds. The rain is what obscured the mountain from my perch. Do I doubt that the mountain is there, just because I can’t see it right now?

No.

This mountain has been a stalwart in my life. From when we first moved to Chiang Mai when I was a 10 year old who wore jumpers and side ponytails, to my 17-year-old self who wore Soffe shorts and Grace International School athletic gear and finally, to my 23-year-old self who wears wrinkly shirts and flip flops, the mountain has been a reminder of God’s majesty. I’ve learned a lot about the Lord from this mountain.

Virgina O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Sun, asking if Santa Claus existed. Her friends told her he didn’t exist. The only place he seemed to exist was in and on “Miracle on 34th Street.” Virginia had never seen Santa, so how was she to know he existed?

I’ve heard many people say, how do I know God is real? I have never seen him.

“VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see,” Francis Pharcellus Church, the editor of the New York Sun, wrote.

“They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge,” Church continued.

Skepticism has taken the place of a child-like faith.

I couldn’t see the mountain this morning. Yet, it is there. I’ve had mornings when I sit and gaze at the mountain, feeling so close to God. I’ve had great times spent in the Word gazing at the mountain. It’s easy to believe when everything is spelled out, when we are having a mountain-top experience.

When the rain comes, when life isn’t as clear and spelled out, it’s harder. But the rain is needed, just as the earth needs rain to grow and flourish, so also do we need rain.

Rain nourishes. It isn’t always pleasant. Times of growth in our life, where we are stretched and when hard lessons come, help us become more like our Creator. They are for our good. The mountain is still there in these times of growth, during rainy seasons. God is still there during hard times. He may feel farther away than He did when you were on the mountain top, but He is so close, He is always there, as a strength and support.

He’s proved this is all of our lives, if we are willing to be honest. We choose to ignore the mountains sometimes, or forget they are there. But they are there. You can’t pretend the Himalayas aren’t there. You may forget, but they’ve been there much longer than you have. Just as the mountains have always been in our world, since God created them, God has always been there. He wants to have a relationship with you.

“Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see,” Church wrote.

Isn’t that true though? The most real things in this world are things we cannot see.

“Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”

Yes, Virginia, there is a God. He exists because He IS love, generosity and devotion. These qualities exist in our lives to give our lives its highest beauty and joy.

“Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

God lives forever, ten times ten thousand years from now, God exists, and makes glad the hearts of children, men and women. Let’s remember that this Christmas. He is the reason for the season after all.

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When Hope Dies

The hooves were frostbitten. The horse lay on its side. Two of the horse’s legs rested suspended, thick and brittle from the freezing, North Dakota winds that claimed its life. A frozen expression of forlornness and depression remained on the horse’s face. Forever cemented.

It is 5 a.m., December 25, 1924. The sun had begun to rise on this Christmas morning.

“Annabelle. Poor Annabelle,” Theodore Smalley said. This horse was what connected Annabelle Neill to her mother, who is in heaven.

All the neighbors agreed. The horse seemed to have an ethereal disposition. Annabelle claimed she could hear, smell and sense her mother’s presence in every fiber and hair of the Palomino. The Palomino was not a workhorse. She was the prettiest horse any of the neighbors had every laid eyes on.

The horse had become a source of hope in the sad, monotonous lives of the ranchers. Now, hope is dead. Nothing beautiful remained in the impossibly flat plains. What happens when hope dies?

Benjamin Cartwright simply stared at the horse. Cartwright was the practical one. He grew up on the farm. Ranching and farming were in his blood. There was no denying that. Cartwright had an underlying disdain for the poet-in-remission, Theodore Smalley. Who needs poetry? He had said as much to Smalley when he first moved to Bottineau, North Dakota.

He knew better than to breach a question like that again. Smalley used words he didn’t understand.

Smalley had come to Bottineau to “rediscover” his pen for poetry. He had hoped he would find inspiration amongst the farmers and ranchers who lived outside the sleepy town. What Smalley didn’t like to think about was the current depression in the stock markets didn’t leave much need or want for poets or poetry. His creative ideas were squelched and bankrupt along with what seemed to be a nation-wide depression.

Instead of renewal, he found frostbite and drudgery. Life in North Dakota is hard. The majority of time is spent indoors because it is simply too cold to do otherwise. Not quite what he was expecting, Smalley would remark to anyone who would lend an ear. Yet, he remained optimistic.

The minutes of gaping at the horse and the impossible task before them seemed like eons to Smalley.

“I suppose it is too heavy for us to lift?” he said. He started to roll up his sleeves, but was reminded why this was not a good idea when the sub-zero winds froze the blond hairs on his arm.

Cartwright did not answer. Of course it was too heavy. Anyone with any common sense would know that.

His wife was expecting their first. He worried for Sarah. Night and day he worried. After Rachel Neill died, he worried. The baby boy had survived, and he knew what a difficulty Joseph had loving the boy, taking care of Annabelle and running a farm. He sensed a small measure of hurt whenever he saw Joseph looking at Samuel. Samuel had taken Rachel’s life.

There was a doctor in Bottineau, but that was 50 miles away. In winter, snow prevented the doctor from leaving the town.

It was Christmas morning. Joseph had asked Benjamin and Theodore to move the horse before Annabelle could see.

Joseph must have forgotten to take in Polly, the Palomino, on Christmas Eve. Cartwright could only imagine the agony Joseph was feeling.

“Come on,” Cartwright said. “We’ll get two of my horses and a cart.”

He turned and walked away.

“But, but how will we lift Polly?” Smalley said.

Smalley was forced to follow Cartwright’s lead when no reply came.

When they returned with Cartwright’s two sturdiest horses and a low-lying wagon, it was snowing. It was a flour-in-a-sifter snow, but it could turn into a bag of flour unsifted very quickly.

Cartwright tied a thick, coarse rope around the nape of Polly’s neck and another around her midsection. The rope was tied to a yoke that rested on Lucky and Jude’s shoulders.

“What are we doing?” Smalley asked.

Cartwright’s annoyance deepened. He could be helping me, he thought, instead of standing idly.

“Lucky and Jude are going to pull Polly onto this wagon. Once we’ve got her on the bed, then they’ll pull the wagon.”

Smalley was puzzled.

“Couldn’t we tie the rope to her legs?” he asked.

“Her legs are frozen. They’ll break under force,” Cartwright said.

Life in North Dakota was so bare-boned, so ugly. The reality of the situation seemed to catch up with the poet. This wasn’t anything like Boston. His circle of poet-friends would be appalled with everyday life in North Dakota.

They spent their days sipping imported Earl Grey and eating scones and philosophizing, romanticizing and spouting off epithets. Hours were spent spouting off lines of iambic pentameter. No one in North Dakota knows what iambic pentameter is. His idea of going back to grassroots wasn’t going as he planned.

“Well, are you going to help?” Cartwright said.

Cartwright and Smalley, with a good deal of trouble and cracking of vertebrae, managed to get Polly onto the wagon bed. When they made it back to the Cartwright farm, Sarah was waiting with shovel in hand.

“What are you doing outside in this weather, Sarah?” Cartwright said. “The baby, think of the baby.”

Sarah looked down and the fresh grave she had dug. It is harder to unearth frozen ground. It had taken more energy than she would admit to Benjamin. She knew how much he worried.

“Polly needs a place to rest,” Sarah said. “Annabelle will find out, and she will need a place to come grieve and mourn.”

Cartwright and Smalley lowered Polly into her final resting place in the hard, arctic soil.

“Is there room in poetry for Polly?” Cartwright asked.

“What?” Smalley said. Smalley had never heard Benjamin mention poetry, much less in this tone.

“Do you suppose,” Cartwright said, “you can write poetry about Polly?”

A pregnant pause followed.

“I, I suppose, one could endeavor, to write some poetry,” Smalley said. The thought of writing about a dead horse had never occurred to him. He was looking for something cheery, abstract and flowery to write about. He had never thought of writing about death, sadness and dreariness. Where was the nobility in writing about death?

He couldn’t seem to find anything noteworthy to write about since coming to Bottineau.

Life, hope and death—or the death of hope.

Maybe poetry isn’t about cataloging the revolutionary ideals and abstract principles. Maybe poetry can also be about the hardships and the unfairness of life. Maybe poetry is about hope.

What happens when hope dies?

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An august August

I can’t believe the month of August is almost over.

It’s weird how time flies when you become an adult. When you’re a child, time goes by so slowly. It seems like Christmas will never come and you’ll forever be in the fourth grade.

I think it’s when college hits that time starts its time warp. Does anyone know how to stop a time warp? Does sticking bubble gum in it work? Or what if you were to yell really loudly, “SLOW DOWN A BIT, WILL YA?”

I guess that’s why God tells us to make the most of every moment.

August is my favorite month. This is why I am alarmed that it’s almost over. Now I have to wait a whole ‘nother year for it to come again.

The origin of my favoritism could possibly be from my birthday. (It’s in August) When I think of August, I think of wistful days spent in green grass and afternoons in the summer sun.

I also think of August Gloop in the 1971 “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” Yeah, he was the boy in the Oompa Loompa song who fell into the chocolate river.

Hmm, that was a bit of a Debbie Downer throw-in. Sorry about that.

August also is just fun to say too. It’s fun to say in Thai too — “Singha khom.”

Time never slows down, so I hear, it only gets faster. This scares me because I don’t want to waste a day. I don’t want to watch days float past me like Russian racehorses on a clay track. I want to be a part of the race. While I’d like to think I am, many a time I think I take the lazy spectator approach to life.

It seems like only yesterday that I was walking across Fountain Mall at Baylor heading to the journalism building. A few days ago I sipped Dr Pepper floats. A few weeks ago I was a nervous freshman.

It’s crazy how time flies huh?

Treasure the past, savor the present and hope for the future.

That’s all I can say.

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treasures in teak houses

*I wrote this while in college. I’ve edited it some and added a few elements.

Childhood is now a silhouette, masked by adulthood. It comes back, my childhood, that is, quite often. It sometimes feels as if I’m living in a world of un-lockable memories. Well, they aren’t really un-lockable. I’ll be driving down Chiang Mai’s “super highway” and a memory will play before my eyes, like it was in real time. Just as quickly as the memory came, it leaves.

Allow me to relive a memory of my first home in Thailand.

It was a beautiful, Thai teak house.

Our first house is now a distant memory even though I now pass by the road leading to the green gate that encloses our former sanctuary.

Thai houses are covered in windows to combat the tropical weather. Central air and heat do not exist in Thailand. Heat is never artificially needed because heat composes every season. Window-covered houses are wonderful because of the amount of light they allow. I will never get used to the lack of windows in American houses.

Wood is an essential part of houses in Thailand. Wood floors, furniture and beds are staples.

Our kitchen in that house remains one of the largest I have ever seen.

There are no such things as garages in Thailand. Each home had a “carport.” Come to think of it, that sounds awfully like a Star Trek invention. Carport? Taking off somewhere? Not quite sure…

Our yard seemed as if it came from a child’s dream. Taylor and I romped daily  in the vast green expanse bordered by  mango and jackfruit. The yard truly  was mini-botanical garden — complete with tropical flowers. I wore frangipanis in my hair as my accessory of choice.

We held Christmas pageant in that yard. Mary was pregnant with a basketball. And the crew, a motley one at that, are now all adults.

I can’t tell you how many different worlds I traveled to in that yard. Imagination limitless, I sometimes lived in an alternate reality. Having just seen the movie, Inception, I would have imagined myself superior to the architect, Ariadne, in my ability to sculpt alternate realities.

My imagination never failing, I would get “in character” and try to trick Taylor into thinking I was a villain, or Zorro. It didn’t really work, but it upset him to no end.

We shared the yard with our cats. It started out with four–then they had babies. I believe we had 12 at one time.

One time, several of the kittens decided to climb in the gas canister. Someone turned on the gas stove and we found then blackened and with whiskers singed. These same kittens I dressed in doll clothes and kept my closet as a ward for. This closet cause the death of one of the kittens.

My room was huge. I had two double beds and a chest with a mirror that I would sing Testify to Love and Backstreet Boys’ songs in front of.

I played with my American Girl dolls, paper dolls, Polly Pockets, Pound Purries and Petshop animals on these wood floors.

On the wood floors in the den I watched Cartoon Nework. On those floors I received my first CDs.

My parents gave me a classical CD one Christmas and an extended family member gave me a WOW CD. That was the beginning of the WOW obsession and my love of music. I didn’t appreciate the classical CD then, but now I wish I had it.

There is something about listening to classical music that aids you in writing. I don’t know what, because I am just discovering this.

Does music make memories surface? Is it music that enlivens the writer?Do we have a way with words, or do words have a way with us?

We lived in four houses in Chiang Mai and I still think of that house with a sense of nostalgia.

This memory surfaced as I sat in my apartment in Waco, Texas, and listened to Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninoff.

I’m now sitting in my own apartment in Chiang Mai. It’s concrete, not teak, and I’m an adult now. Before, I’d banish the thought of ever becoming or calling myself an adult. But it has come. It’s the weekend before my 23rd birthday. I’m not sure how I got this old.

I do know that memories are funny things — they surface without a whole lot of notice. Memories surface for a reason and a season.

I also now know what treasures teak houses hold.

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