Sunday, April 1, 2018

Breaking Cover-a book review

Michelle grew up in a conservative family in a little town in central Florida.  National Geographic magazines at a neighbor's house piqued her interest in cultures far different from her own.  From missionaries who visited her country church and through student-led mission trips, she also encountered foreign language and countries. Following her passion for foreign cultures, she pursued a master's degree in Arab Studies and a political science degree.

Michelle's love for the Middle East started when she met and married, Joseph Assad, who was born in Egypt. Almost on a whim, or as Michele says, she heeded a deep urging from God, she is led to a send a resume to the CIA. Joseph and she both become agents and the book describes the grueling assignments they serve in Iraq and other war zone countries, of which she still does not have the freedom to disclose the location. Besides living close to danger, another obstacle was being a woman.

Her CIA training helped prepare her in some close calls. Cut off from family and friends because of the secretive missions, she battled loneliness and the nature of the work was wearing and difficult. After ten years in the CIA, God's directed them to leave.  A door opened for them to work as freelance security consultants. Michelle felt a call to tell her story.

Perhaps one of the most significant stories in the book for me was the last adventure Michelle shares about the rescue she and Joseph led for Syrian and Iraqi Christians displaced by ISIS invasion.  The story showcases their passion and love for suffering believers and their honed skills through experience and training that gave them the tenacity and wisdom to accomplish the mission. 

I enjoyed reading the book, but had trouble with Michelle's style of writing that felt self-serving at times; yet she also gives credit to God for the advantages that have unfolded in her life. 

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Happy 90th, Daddy!

And even when I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not abandon me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, your power to all who are to come.  Ps. 71:18

What  a privilege to celebrate my Dad's 90th birthday last month!  Planning began months before as I and my siblings live miles apart and our collaboration would be by text and emails.  Immediate family members were invited by mail and we secured a group gathering room in the retirement complex where my dad and Lena live.

Sister-in-law Libby lives an hour away from the folks so she was able to make the food arrangements.  Our step-siblings who live in the community were, also, eager to help with food and planning.

A niece who specializes in parties and special events came up with the décor for the cake. Dad has always been a "fix-it" man.  His workshop in the basement of the home where I grew up, was constantly a buzz with saw and hammer.  I can still feel, see and smell the fluffy sawdust that blanketed the floor of his workspace.  His early retirement years were filled with crafting furniture that he sold to orders from friends and family.  When he and Lena moved into their current apartment, he claimed a spot in the communal workshop in their building. He wondered how it would be to share tools with others who might not value order and maintenance as he did, but the arrangement seems to be working for him, and he still produces beautiful pieces of woodwork. He continues his title of Fix-it Man among the residents of his community.  Have a walker that needs new wheels or repair?  Take it to Omar. Dad even invested in a walker he can loan out while his customer is waiting for the repairs to be made.

Back to the cake. Jaime found a toy tool set and arranged them on the icing.  How clever and befitting!

The celebration weekend arrived! Last minute plans took shape as siblings and in-laws from out of town converged in Virginia.  Non-planning visiting and activities added extra sweetness to the time together. Dad was excited to say the least!

The appointed evening found us ready with balloons swaying on the tables, old time pictures and a slideshow, and a spread of pizza choices, salads and drinks. As we finished eating, introductions were made and Dad's children shared memories of growing up and Dad's involvement in our lives.  (You can read the memories I collected from grandchildren and a brother who couldn't attend the party and my own reflections here)  An open sharing time allowed others to express their appreciation for my father.  Two of his step-kids shared the good things he has added to their family, even naming him the most gracious man they have ever known.  As our time ended, Dad was asked what hymn he would like us all to sing.  We topped off the evening with a satisfying rendition of What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

Dad, I hope you were blessed as much as we were and we pray for many more years for you of good health and enjoyment of life.  I know you look forward to the next life ahead whenever God deems it should be.  But for now, we love our times together and appreciate your strength, wisdom and the love you give our family.

We love you, Daddy.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Book Review-Sex and the Single Girl

Sex and the Single Girl is  written for a personal Bible Study for single women by authors who are well qualified to write on this topic.  They use many personal stories from women they've counseled or from women who have sent them inquiries about  sexuality.

The study progresses through understanding God's total forgiveness and how to stand against the enemy who would like women to hide in shame and guilt, to the ultimate place of finding intimacy with God. 

Week three study is about Sexuality and Your Character.  Four questions are addressed.
-Do I believe God's intentions for me are good?
-What do I want most out of life, happiness or holiness?
-What is God's purpose in allowing me to face sexual struggle?
-What is worship? And how is sexual integrity an act of worship?

Week 4 is a study on Sexual Boundaries.  The authors admit there are gray areas  that the Bible doesn't specifically address, for instance, masturbation. In these areas, women are encouraged to pray about the actions, invite God into the struggle and believe He will help them make good choices based on what they know about Him and His design for sexuality and whether it is beneficial for them or for others in their lives.

Day 5 of each study chapter ends with a Putting it All Together section.  Here are truths that the reader is encouraged to rate from 1-5 in how powerful this truth is in their life.

This is a great book for those serious about discovering God's perspective on sexual morality and how it differs from the culture we are living in. Some of the sections are published in gold ink for emphasis, which I found hard to read. The message of the book isn't new, but it's shared with lots of grace.  It's not about keeping rules, but getting to know the God who gave us sexuality and His design for it in our lives.

"God has invited you to do this study...not because He wants you to "clean up" your sex life...God wants a relationship with you.  He offers you complete freedom in forgiveness and the power to live with a new identity." p. 139

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Tasting Goodness

It’s beauty lingered. The colors stretched rosy, dream sickle fingers towards me. I tasted this awesomeness of morning and automatically whispered a response of praise to the Creator.  Oh taste and see that the Lord is good! Ps. 34:8  

Bible Study night group finds us scrutinizing the book of I Peter. Writing to saints in a society that wasn’t friendly to Christians, brings out the fatherly comfort of this apostle, along with practical reminders to his listeners of their privilege in the unseen kingdom of God and how to respond to their present day realities. 

After citing the many attributes of their heavenly inheritance and the power of the Living Word of God, he commands that they desire the pure­ spiritual milk­­ of the Word--since they’ve tasted that the Lord is good.  Whether young or old in the faith, this is common diet for all of us.  So where am I tasting God’s goodness that’s drawing me back for more of this drink that is organic and pure, loaded with preservatives of the good kind? For it preserves my life and my desires from rotting and spoiling away.

I taste it in creation-the sunrise, the tiny birds at my feeder, the moon, the amaryllis flowering on the dining room floor.  “Come and see my wonders”, they beckon.

Summer youth church camp packed in a week of inspiring messages around the campfire, while the darkness of night kept its close distance along the boundaries of the glowing light. His goodness never felt closer and I’d leave determined to carry His presence into the routine of life away from camp.

Answers to my prayers ooze goodness.  Hearing how others have tasted God’s goodness increases my appetite.

Growing up in a home where that pure spiritual milk was always in abundance, I tasted daily of its goodness and saw its benefits of comfort, instruction and hope in the lives of my parents. The Bible became familiar and made many deposits of truth and wisdom into my life account that has allowed never ending withdraws.

Will I share this goodness with others?  Will they taste it because I offer it? Matthew Henry, Bible commentary writer, points out that we can hear, smell and see from a distance, but the sense of taste requires closeness. Am I willing to be close to those who may not know there is goodness available?

She was watching the solar eclipse last summer.  She told the reporter is was an awesome experience and that she had felt very emotional.  She didn’t know why it affected her that way.  Did someone tell her that she had just tasted of God’s goodness and that she could have plenty more from where that came from? 

You’re a good, good Father,
That’s who you are,
And I’m loved by you,
That’s who I am.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Thank you, Aunt Ida!

She was almost 92 years old.  Her life was over now and we were gathered together to remember her and celebrate the difference she had made in our lives.  I was asked to share some memories of this aunt.  Because we had not lived in the same community after I had left home for college my memories were mostly of her during my childhood and youth.

I spoke about her delight in bringing humor to our lives by the funny readings or poems she would regale us with in her PA Dutch accent.  Many reunions or other family events featured Aunt Ida playing a trick on someone with a game she asked us to play.  For instance, she'd pick out five or six of us to stand in a row.  She'd let us in on the "punchline" and how to participate and then she'd choose the one she wanted to fool to come up and meet us, The Fly Family.  He/she would be asked to shake hands with each of us, while Aunt Ida made the introductions.  "Meet Papa Fly, Mama Fly, Brother Fly, Sister Fly"-the family could be small or large depending on how long Ida wanted to drag this out. The last family member in line was always named "Ler Her Fly".  Of course, this last introduction included not just a handshake but a burst of water in the face, from the small glass in Let Her Fly's other hand that had been hidden behind her back. (Where have all those trickster games gone to?  They were very interactive and entertaining for the participants as well as the audience).
It was interesting to hear from others at the funeral, how even in Ida's senior years, she'd taken on the role of  "bus trip entertainer" with her stories and poems.

This aunt never missed sharing a gift on our birthdays and Christmas. As kids, we treasured her yard sale finds, not knowing until years later that receiving partially used coloring books or toys was not the norm for everyone. After we moved away from home, she would send checks.  Christmas money came with careful instructions for how to split the money with my husband and children.  Even after my kids had moved out, I made sure they received their $5 from Aunt Ida.

Ida's life created a safe place of extended family for me.  Her Christian lifestyle and the way she cared for Grammy after Popop died were good examples to me.  When I would visit from IN, she and Grammy welcomed us with a home-cooked meal.  Then Ida would show us the latest crazy-patterned quilt she was making and take us upstairs to the spare room where an array of bargain sale items were stashed, waiting for the annual yard sale in town where she could sell them and make a profit.  She and Grammy might sing with us while Ida accompanied on the accordion. We can still hear their Dutchy voices belting out the melody, whenever we sing a favorite carol they usually sang at Christmas.

Aunt Ida was the aunt who never married, the spinster.  When she was 73 she took the bold step of marrying a man in his early nineties. Somehow God had not brought along the right man for her until her twilight years.  They enjoyed married life for three years until Paul died.

As the pastor shared Ida's life's story, it was a beautiful panorama of a woman who had served others well.  She could be a bit sassy and yet, she preferred to be behind the scenes helping others.  She had volunteered in a mental health facility, was a nanny for a family, lived in with another family who had a special needs child, and had worked in a home for displaced children.

I came away from the memorial with a greater awareness of  how the little things matter.  Choosing to live each day with integrity and righteousness and serving others, adds up to making a difference to those who know you. We each have a unique contribution to make to the lives of family, friends and acquaintances we are a part of. No matter how mundane life may feel or how little we feel appreciated, our faithfulness to do life as best we know how and to keep giving ourselves away, to lose our lives for Jesus' sake, is guaranteed to reap benefits here and in the life to come.

Thank you, God, for creating an Aunt Ida and for placing me in her family. Take my life and what feels so little and insignificant at times and use it to give others encouragement and hope.  Love through me more and more so others will be drawn to you.  Thank you for creating each of us for your enjoyment and for your purposes and plans.  May I never give in to the lie that my life is my own, and that what I do doesn't impact or concern anyone but me.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Thanksgiving Praises

Our Thanksgiving With Grandkids
(Check out Noah's Dinosaur Roar-front row)

Another Thanksgiving is past. The house is again quiet and I feel the bigness. Jodi and family of five left Monday morning the same time I pulled out for work.  Josh and family of five had left the day before. The quietness greets me as I come home from work.  Touches of toddler decorations linger over the house. Two lego race car drivers, their crudely made vehicles, sitting side by side on the dining room table, look ready to speed away. An orange birthday balloon is nestling in the peace plant on the floor.  Its airhead buddies of other colors bobble in place on the carpet close by.

A mountain of sheets and towels lie in front of the washer. A menagerie of plastic cups spreads across the kitchen counter, each one marked with a name. The refrigerator holds enough leftovers that I will not need to cook this week. Where bustle had reigned, now there is stillness.

We're working on the cleanup gradually; each remnant remaining of the family visit reminding us of the new treasures we carry in our memory. It was a rich time of having fun and sharing thoughts and doing life side-by-side for a few days.

Like playing card games and starting Monopoly (who ever finishes that game?!).  Shopping on Black Friday, not seriously, but just out to experience the adrenaline of this once-a-year craziness. Eating out at our favorite places.  Celebrating Dominic's 7th birthday. Playing Scrabble with Jodi and Josh. Taking Jill, Elle and Brayden, with Jodi, out for coffee and hot pretzels. Taking walks and taking pictures with Emanuel's expertise. And counting on Kira to post it all on FaceTime and Snap Chat where I could later download the pictures I missed taking.

Like this conversation with almost three-year-old Noah:
"Yes, Noah?"
"I love you."
"I love you, too, Noah.

Like Ian 9, playing games with the adults and doing well. Like Nana picking up fashion tips from the teen grand kids.

Thanksgiving Day was perfect.  The meal went smoothly thanks to preparing most of the dishes ahead of time, roasting the turkey the week before and heating everything up in the oven just before we sat down to eat.  Daughter-in-law, Kristina, brought mashed potatoes, Jodi helped bake the pies the day before and Papa worked hard to create a spacious place in the garage where all nineteen of us could eat at the same table and file through a yummy food buffet lined up on his work tables. What a moment of pride and emotion as I paused before eating to read aloud Psalms 100 and Kevin, to offer thanks to our good Father, for family and provision.  Kevin's parents represented the oldest generation among us and were a reminder of the legacy others from previous generations have entrusted to us. May we diligently continue to pass along the reality and truth of the God who woos each of us to his love and intimacy and makes it possible to live forgiven and whole because of the sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ.  Indeed Thanksgiving day is everyday! (Thankfully, only a few of them involve cooking for a crowd :)  The rest of the holiday provided time for Dan, Kristina, Aubrey, Shawn and Rebecca to join the families staying in-house and get in on some games, visiting and playing with cousins.

Thank you to the families who traveled long distances to be here. "We missed you"s to the families who couldn't come.  And thank you to everyone for being our wonderful, beautiful family.  You are loved!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Hello Fresh Reviewed and Tips I've Learned

-Gardening tip
I had a bumper crop of garden this year.  The weather gave rain when needed and the grass stayed green well into the hot of summer. The green beans kept producing; I had more than I needed to freeze and a larger 4th picking than 1st picking.  No insect bore into the zucchini plant's main trunk and not a single tomato leaf was lost to the big ugly green tomato worms.

The basil grew three feet tall. While the tops were going to seed, I struggled to remember to snip off leaves for cooking.  I'd be in a hurry and not want to take the time to go out to the bed and get some, or it never entered my mind to add it to the dish I was making. One day I brought in more basil from the garden then I needed and decided to stick the extra stem in a shallow bowl of water by the stove.  Voilà!  No turning black or looking wilty.  I used it in my eggs in the morning.  It worked well in the fried zucchini, on top of the store bought pizza and in more creative places than I had thought to put it before.

-Fashion Tip
Always on the look out for ways to save money or be thrifty, I now buy my own nail polish and take it to the salon when I get a pedicure.  They use my bottle and  I can take it back home and do touch-up jobs to keep my toes looking good longer.

-Cooking in Vogue
How fun!  A friend gave me a free offer to Hello Fresh.  Their ads had beckoned me to try their convenience and imitate their lovely photos of food fare. I had never succumbed to the temptation, but now I had the opportunity to check out this spoil-me way of dining.

The big brown box was sitting on the porch the day it was scheduled to come.  Not knowing exactly what time of day it arrived, I wondered how well the meat survived a warmer than usual day in October. I eagerly slashed the packaging tape, opened the box and found two plastic wrapped large sheets of flexible insulation surrounding the inside contents.  My meal plan promised enough food for 3 meals for 2 people. Each meal's ingredients were in a separate bag, except for the meat.  Under the 3 meal bags was a flat cookie sheet size freezer ice pack. Under the ice pack was 3 packages of meat, exactly portioned for the recipe it went with. Under the meat, was a matching ice pack, followed by the bottom sheet of insulation.

Here's my review on the experience.

Thumbs Up to the freshness of the food, the ease of having each recipe's ingredients parceled out in the exact amounts and ready to use, the clear and easy to follow recipe instructions and how tasty everything was. It was fun to try-at least once.
Thumbs Down to the large carbon footprint this service leaves. If I allowed shipments to come weekly, which is the default frequency, I'd soon have enough insulation layers to make a mattress! And I wonder how many landfills are in overload with unfrozen ice packs rippling like white giant amebas.  My sandwich recipe ingredients included a cute little glass jar of just enough mayo to coat two buns.  And the lettuce greens came with an even cuter tiny glass jar of balsamic vinegar.  Let's count the ways I can clog the landfill. Any wonder the price is high for this convenience? Probably half of the cost is in the packaging.

Anyone else want to weigh in on a food service like this?  Does anyone use one on a weekly basis?
I'd love to get your feedback.