Archives for the month of: February, 2014

It’s been a long winter.  Okay, I know I say that every year, but this winter has been a record breaker.  True, it hasn’t been the snowiest, but our number of sub-zero days has been impressive.  The Midwest isn’t alone, either:  winter has hit hard in nearly every corner of our country, and in most of the places in between.  Everyone is weary of winter.  Where is spring?

Despite the continuing Arctic cold, there is hope.  Robins are returning, and the days are noticeably longer.  Such small signs whisper a promise that winter will eventually move along to the southern hemisphere, and warmer weather will rush in to take its turn.  The ice and snow will melt, green shoots will emerge from the thawing ground, flowers will bloom, and gardeners who have been fighting the urge to get out and dig in the dirt will finally be able to plant their seeds and seedlings.  I can already see tulips and daffodils in my mind’s eye!

robins

When we look around, we find that the state of our world can seem like an unrelenting winter.  Evil is rampant, and people are suffering.  War, rebellion, disease, and violence are so pervasive that we run the risk of becoming numb to them.  But movies, games, and television shows are also full of such things, and although many people look to entertainment to escape the unpleasant realities of the world, they might find themselves becoming saturated in them instead.  Where is God?

Despite the chaos and evil in the world, there is hope.  At the local food pantry, volunteers are serving those in need, helping them to feed themselves and their families.  Donors are financially supporting organizations that help people pay their heating bills so they aren’t stuck in a frigid house.  During the snow storm in Atlanta, fast food servers were taking food and other supplies to motorists trapped in their cars, and businesses opened their doors overnight to allow people who couldn’t get home to sleep in a warm safe place.  International aid organizations can help the desperate around the world because enough people give their money to make it happen.  Everywhere you see the evidence of God at work.

Why would I say that the good deeds of people reveal the hand of God?  Some say that the abundance of evil and suffering in the world proves that there is no God or that if there is a God, he obviously doesn’t care about us.  They dismiss altruism, saying that people do good only because it gets them something in return, even if that something is only a warm fuzzy feeling.  But let’s look at human nature for a moment.  We are essentially self-centered.  Our biological imperative is anything that ensures our survival.  As individuals, we should be competing for resources for ourselves and our families; we should be guarding our territories and making sure that our genetic line continues.  Sharing with others outside our families makes sense only as long as it preserves the security of the community we live in and allows us to survive and prosper.  Giving to strangers, especially strangers on the other side of the world, goes completely against human nature.

Let me say that again:  caring for others outside our own families goes against human nature.  So why do we do it?  Because we are so much more than just our own humanity.  Genesis tells us that when God created man, he breathed life into him.  Although our bodies are flesh, the spirit of life in us is divine.  That is what moves us to care for others.  That is what brings us to tears when we see need and suffering.  That is what spurs us to action when we see injustice.  The Spirit of God in us can elevate us above our humanity if we let him.

After a long, cold winter, or a long period of pain or bitterness, our hearts might need some thawing before we’re able to notice and respond to the need all around us.  The good news is that Jesus is a heart specialist.  He is able to thaw a frozen heart or even break and restore a heart of stone.

A winter like this can make us lose hope for spring.  A world like ours can make us abandon hope for God.  But look around:  spring is not far away, and God is already here.

My grand-daughter has begun participating on her school’s archery team. I can’t tell you how proud I am of her! She and her mom began archery skills almost two years ago…when she was just seven. Their biggest enjoyment came from doing something together outside or inside…either at targets in a field or at an archery range.

And I learned a lot about the sport I did not know. There are re-curved bows, crossbows, and “guideless” bows. She has learned how to shoot bows with sights/guides and without. Her form has to be different for each one.

The fact that she wanted to join the school’s team when she was only 8 years old blew me away. She has gone to three competitions so far and scored better each time. This Saturday she will participate in a State of Iowa meet at Johnston High School. Two weeks ago, she participated in the Greater Des Moines Metro meet with over two hundred other kids.

When I saw her picture at her first meet…8 years old…standing between kids who were a good head and shoulders taller…my heart swelled with pride. That takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there where everyone in the stands can see how you do, or don’t do. It’s a solitary sport, even though you are part of a team from your school. You stand there, by yourself, aim the bow all by yourself, use your own strength and steadiness of eye and hand and let the arrow fly.

And she had to shoot FORTY arrows…at targets put out at varying distances. That’s a lot of pulling back against the “pull strength” of your bow string. And a lot of aiming. And a lot of remembering your form and stance. All by yourself.

That takes a lot of guts…fortitude…confidence. And she did it!

taking aim

Her mom did a great job in telling her that first time that the goal was simply to shoot forty arrows. Hitting the target was not the object. Just being able to pull that string and get those arrows down the lane was the goal. We were proud of her simply for doing that.

Also, her mom gave her something she could repeat to herself as she stood on the line, “Back to the Basics: S (stance) T (target) A (anchor) R (release)…STAR.”  And when one round of arrows didn’t quite go where they could have, mom saw her moving her mouth telling herself, “Back to the basics.” Then she turned and planted her feet in the correct stance, and went on from there. What a great thing, to know you know inside yourself what to listen to and succeed!

The Olympics continue this week, and I feel for those athletes who are skiing down a mountain…on their own. Figure skating…on their own. Cross-country skiing…on their own. The luge and skeleton competitors, hurtling down an icy track…on their own.

When I look inside myself, do I think I have to do this thing called “life” on my own? Do I have to pick my goal and plan my path and practice what I’ve chosen…on my own? Thank God, the answer is, “No!”

Life takes guts, no doubt about it. But I am not alone. I have not gotten off on the wrong path and left God somewhere behind me. He is with me every step of the way, and He can give me strength, guidance, a calm spirit and the insight to get me through. I only need to quiet myself and listen.

by Cindy Best

We have many blankets in our family room. In the corner is a basket home for them (as if we actually fold and put them away). No, they’re usually strewn about… on the couch, the green and gold afghan my grandma crocheted for me when I was a senior in high school (its colors a timeless reminder of how I never ended up going to Baylor. Plans change). On the ottoman is a black and orange Valley fleece blanket my mother-in-law made for one of the boys a few years ago. On the floor, an ugly, rough, south-of-the-border blanket I’ve never liked, although it still hangs around. On the beanbag, a grey souvenir blanket we got on an (unseasonably cold) music festival cruise to the Bahamas a few years ago. It makes me smile. These are joined by a half dozen others, various styles and origins, all ready for movie night or a football game or just cuddling up with a book.

I love these blankets. They feel especially good when the cold wind howls outside, but truth be told, we cover up with ’em year-round. It doesn’t matter. Maybe we just find them comforting. Warm. Protective.

photo-1 blankets Angie S

I’m knitting a blanket for Trevor to take with him when he goes to college this fall. (It’s purple, so it’ll work whether he chooses UNI or Truman State.) I figure, if I brought him home from the hospital in a blanket 18 years ago, I might as well send him off in one, too. If he should get homesick, maybe it’ll be the touch of home that brings comfort.

My mom gave me a quilted blanket this past Christmas, made with squares of some of Dad’s shirts that she couldn’t part with after his death two years ago. This quilt is a great remembrance piece. I remember Dad wearing these shirts. I haven’t actually used the blanket yet; it sits folded on top of our cedar chest, with the shirt fronts folded to the inside. I think the day will come when I use it, but for now, maybe I just don’t want the sadness wrapped around me.

Thinking about these blankets got me pondering the intangibles we wrap around ourselves every day… feelings and emotions, our outlook on life, our defense mechanisms. How we face each day depends on what attitude we put around our shoulders when we get out of bed in the morning. We choose our outlook more subconsciously than I might choose a blanket for TV night, but it’s still a choice.

photo-2 blankets Angie S

Many days, I can be all too comfortable wrapping myself in the wrong things. Cynicism. Pride. Some days, I’m smothered by my own self-doubt. Maybe you can relate. God’s Word warns us to resist getting too cozy with these things. There are others. Worry. Fear. An unwillingness to forgive. But just because these might be comfortable and familiar doesn’t mean we have to keep choosing them over and over. They never end up protecting us like we think they will. They just grow heavier over time. Maybe Jesus had something like this in mind when he talked about his yoke being easy and his burden light. I like this translation of Matthew 11:29-30: “I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (The Message.)

Light blankets are my favorite ones. So, in the spirit of the metaphor, I can appreciate this.

What, then, can we drape around us that won’t weigh us down? Here are some ideas from Colossians 3:12-14: “Dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it” (The Message).

Today, may you be wrapped in comfy blankets and, even better, in the lightness of this kind of spirit God has in mind for you.

by Angie Schmitt

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