Thursday, July 30, 2009

Decision 2009

It's not a presidential election year. But that doesn't mean that the year holds fewer decisions to be made. Instead, the decisions tend to be on a personal level rather than at the national level. Or maybe that's just the case for me.

The posting here came to a grinding halt almost two weeks ago because an opportunity had arrived in my email's In box. That opportunity surprised me just as much as a similar one that came about the same time last year. After all, I thought that last year's opportunity was a one-time thing, especially after hearing this spring that the school had changed the way the students could fulfill their writing requirements.

So it was both exciting and a humbling honor to be asked to teach again. Something I didn't take lightly. In fact, my heart leapt on numerous levels.

Then, the reality of the opportunity set in. And with it, the questions started swirling in my head.

--Was I ready to take on this challenge again?
--Did I have the time to devote to teaching in order to do a good job?
--But more importantly, whether I was ready or had the time, did I feel like this was an opportunity God wanted me to take?

For those who followed my teaching journey last fall, it might surprise you to learn how much I wrestled with this decision. And how much I immediately wanted to accept. Because based on last year, a resounding "no" should have been on the tip of my tongue.

On paper, this opportunity looked better than last year's. But, in the end, I knew that the paper with my "pros" and "cons" couldn't make the decision for me. Neither could my feelings, which changed daily. There was no bright light illuminating the path I should take or the decision I should make.

So I prayed, and I tried to listen.

It was during that time that I realized how hard it is to listen, especially in a crunched time frame, when I haven't made a habit of listening on a regular basis. It's not fun to type that.

Nor was it easy to admit that to a couple of good friends who were praying for my decision. As I lamented about how hard it was to hear and how much I desired to be obedient in making "the right" decision, one of my friends mentioned that maybe the decision wasn't the important part of this whole opportunity. Maybe it was more about seeking God in the process.

I was so focused on the outcome of my decision---and all the planning that would need to be done if I accepted---that I didn't look at the opportunity from that angle. When my friend brought that to my attention, I was able to see how much my relationship with God had changed (for the better) in just a few short days because of a renewed seeking of His will instead of my own.

I ultimately decided to decline the opportunity and then promptly began worrying about what lessons I would miss by not teaching because I learned a lot about myself, God, and life in general through teaching last fall. But I came to the conclusion that such worries boiled down to me trying to put God in a box---thinking that my decision could somehow limit His ability to teach me lessons. As if!

I realized that if God has lessons that He wants me to learn, He is creative enough to instruct me in them. Even if I'm not in the classroom. And if I start to doubt, I can look back on this decisionmaking process as proof that lessons abound everywhere.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Broken Town

When I think about where I live, these are the stats that are fun to hear:

  • Fort Worth is the fastest growing large city (pop. 500,000+) in the U.S. with a population increase of 25% between 2000 and 2007.
  • In 2008, Fort Worth’s population passed the 700,000 mark and is projected to reach over one million by 2030.
  • The DFW metroplex is the second fastest growing metropolitan area in the U.S. with a projected population of 10.1 million by 2040 (in 2000, it was only 5.2 million). [Statistics taken from]

These statistics underscore that I'm not the only one who thinks this is a great place to live. But I also know that this city isn't perfect.

Sad stories headline the news almost every night. I could lull myself into thinking that those stories come only from other parts of the Metroplex, but it simply wouldn't be true. Yet, even hearing individual stories that have taken place in Fort Worth doesn't have the same impact as seeing these statistics:

  • 20,000 refugees from 45 different ethnicities live in Fort Worth.
  • 8,000 people in Fort Worth need nursing home care but are unable to afford it.
  • 4,000-5,000 people are homeless in Tarrant County (61% of those are women and children).
  • At least 17 strip clubs operate in Fort Worth, plus at least one prostitution ring, employing hundreds of women.
  • The Fort Worth Federal Correctional Institution holds 1,815 inmates, plus there are four major jails, one juvenile center, and numerous halfway houses.
  • 1 of every 6 males and 1 of every 4 females in Fort Worth is sexually abused before age 18.
  • 200-300 gangs exist in Fort Worth, which together have 5,000-6,000 members. [Also taken from OneGlory]

When I see the stories tallied up in this format, the brokenness comes to light. And the weight of it is overwhelming. All at once, I want to do something and nothing.

The "something" response is praying and/or giving financially. But then my self-imposed hierarchy of roles kicks in and tells me that these options for helping aren't good enough. Which leads me to the "nothing" response: other people are better equipped to serve and handle this situation, so I can just turn a blind eye to the bad statistics and enjoy the good ones.

But I shouldn't allow my self-imposed hierarchy of roles---that praying or giving financially are not "as good" as other roles like serving---to prevent me from praying and/or giving financially. And I shouldn't allow fear to prevent me from serving if that's the role I feel I'm being led to fill.

The above is easier said than done. So in order to fight the battles outside my front door, I guess I need to begin by conquering the mental battles within.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Blasts from the Past, 5 (Finale a/k/a Finally!)

Thirty years ago, on July 18, 1979, my status as an only child changed forever. A little seven-pound baby sister named Erin arrived. I quickly decided that I no longer liked my name and changed it to "Karen" in order to rhyme with my sister’s name.

My expectations of an immediate playmate were dashed when I realized that she could not write her name at six weeks of age. But Erin more than made up for that in the years that followed by agreeing to be my permanent student each time I announced, "Let’s play school; I’ll be the teacher." Ultimately, I would be the one learning from her.

Growing up, we didn’t share many traits or tastes or anything for that matter. I was always too concerned that Erin would break something as she always seemed to know how to take things apart, even things that weren’t meant to come apart. What I didn’t recognize then was that she was developing a skill, one that would allow her to later teach Mom and me how to use different electronics and to set up anything that is mechanical or technical.

When Erin learned to write, she started inventing recipes and memorializing them on my mother's spare recipe cards. For example, "2 fish, 1 Jiff, bake 10, get out." I don't know that she ever tried to make that protein-packed dish, but I do know that her recipes have come a long way since then. She now makes up recipes that are worth tasting and has a knack for knowing what ingredients to substitute in old, tried-and-true recipes to give them a new taste.

We didn't exactly get along well when we were growing up. We seemed to be complete opposites and couldn't find any common ground. But once I went to college, things changed. It was as if we both raised a white flag and decided to become friends. And since we've been friends, I've learned so much about what a big heart she has and how she goes above and beyond to help people. Even if it's just trying to get toll booth attendants to smile.

I couldn't ask for a better sister or friend. She puts her fear of flying aside to come for visits, she drives me all over this state and other states, she keeps me informed on current events, she prays for me, and she loves me with unconditional love. I'm glad I get to brag on here in honor of her 30th birthday.

So happy birthday, sweet Sister!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Blasts from the Past, 4

During the two years that I've been blogging, I've often wanted to go back and repost some of the earlier posts or put together a sampling of posts that I think represent what "Bluebonnet in the Snow" is all about. And since I haven't done that before, I thought I'd do that today as part of this week's "Blasts from the Past" series.

Let's Start with Semantics (originally posted June 3, 2007)

For those of you who aren’t from Texas, a bluebonnet is a wildflower that appears alongside Texas highways every spring.

For those of you who are from Texas, snow consists of frozen water vapor that falls to the ground in soft, white crystalline flakes.

Normally, these two natural “objects” would not be found together for obvious reasons. But with Texas weather, anything can happen, including having a wintery snowfall in the midst of spring. And that’s exactly what occurred on Easter weekend this year.

But that wasn’t the only odd occurrence this spring. It was around that time that I felt God awakening in me the desire/need/urge to write.

But I didn’t immediately put pen to paper (my preferred way of writing). Instead, I did what comes naturally to me: I questioned God.

“Lord, is this really something that you want me to do? You know I had that idea a few years back to write a book, but I had to scrap that because my motives were wrong. Would you help me do this without making this about me?”

“Lord, you know I write all day long for work and often struggle with getting things to flow and sound right. Have you equipped me to do this? You know that I'm not humorous (or at least not on purpose). And my creativity, while it stuck around a little longer than my flexibility, has long since faded. And I think that most of my best writing was used up during college. So do I really have what it takes to write?”

“Okay, Lord, I’ve been reading all these books and blogs about publishing in the Christian genre, and it isn’t easy. It’s actually a LOT harder than I could have imagined. There’s a marketing aspect involved, and I’m not sure that’s part of my skill set.”

“Lord, it took me 6 tries to be able to get my little blurb accepted to join The Christian Writers’ View. Were you trying to block me or test my perseverance? This isn’t going to be easy, is it?”

As I was struggling through this process, I decided to pray beforehand for once. (I’m really guilty of going into things and asking God to bless my decisions instead of consulting Him ahead of time.) And through those prayers, I realized that it was right to pray beforehand, and at the same time, I realized that no matter how much prayer I put into this, I still might never be published. And I have to be okay with that. I need to accept God’s leading might not be calling me to a life of fame.

So even after all the prayers and questioning, I still felt God tugging on my heart to be obedient and to write. I didn’t get a lot of clear answers to my questions, mostly just reminders. I was reminded that sometimes when things seem so much bigger than me, it is something that God wants me to do in order to require me to lean on Him. (All I have to do is think back to getting my job and how I said after my not-so-great interview that the only way I was going to get the job would be for God to secure it for me.) And sometimes, God strips me of things I depend on (MY creativity, MY abilities, etc.) to allow His creativity and His ability to shine through. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “All writing comes by the grace of God.”

And so, I feel a little like a bluebonnet in the snow. I’m out of my comfort zone. But hopefully I will acclimate quickly and just enjoy the newness, the contrasts, and the opportunity to just hang out for as long as He allows in this world of writing and writers.

14 Inches (originally posted June 3, 2007)

Fourteen inches. That’s all. Sounds like a short enough distance that I could hop on one leg while blindfolded and still make it. But that’s not the leap at issue.

These fourteen inches are from my mind to my heart. And somehow, because of where those inches are located, the distance seems much greater. Just ask the nerves that run between the two organs. Mine are probably a bit weary from the constant battle.

My heart: I feel unseen, unwanted, unchosen.
My mind: Just believe the Truth.
(John 8:32)

My battle isn’t the only one like this. I talked to a friend today whose heart-mind battle looked a lot like mine but with different words. This friend said that family members affirmed that the outcome of a situation was good, but the heart couldn’t grasp that. It was holding onto a history of feelings. And the mind, which wanted to believe that all was well, was not sold on that outcome just yet. It was still allowing the heart to take the reins. And so the fourteen-inch battle was still in full swing.

To get my mind on top of my battle, I need to be willing to reject any feelings that are not consistent with the Truth. And I want to do that. It’s just, I get stuck sometimes with my heart on a different page than my mind. It’s as if my heart has taken my brain hostage, intercepted all the signals from my brain, and is directing the communication. My brain, which is powerful enough to solve calculus problems without any direction from my heart, is having trouble taking back over command central.

They say, “Pick your battles.” But, I’m not sure that I personally ever got a vote on this particular battle that my heart and mind started waging years ago. I’m signing off from the battlegrounds today, but I can’t say it will be the last time that my pesky heart stirs up trouble.

Slaying the Beast (originally posted July 8, 2007)

Have you ever found yourself saying, “If only I had . . .” or “If only so & so would . . . ”? I know I’m guilty of this. There always seems to be that one “thing” that I can’t have or at least that I can’t have YET. And I know I’m not the only one. Some of the “if only’s” that I know my friends are facing right now are as follows:

If only I was debt free.
If only depression/alcoholism didn’t run in our family.
If only we could afford a house.
If only a family member wasn’t battling cancer.
If only we could get pregnant.
If only I didn’t have to work and could stay home with my children.
If only my in-laws treated me better.
If only I had a loving spouse.
If only our marriage would be reconciled.
If only a friend or family member would accept Christ as his/her personal Savior.
If only I could get published.
If only I had time to workout.
If only I could afford to take a vacation.
If only I was pain free.

The “if only” that I’ve had at the top of my personal list lately is “If only I could slay ‘the beast,’” which is the nickname that I’ve given to a project that I’ve been working on for several months now. I had hoped to finish it before I went on vacation, but I just couldn’t wrap it up. Then, my first week back from vacation, I decided to work on some smaller projects in order to prove to myself that I could still do my job, which I had started to question. With those smaller projects behind me, I returned to the beast and told myself that it had to be conquered by tonight.

“The beast” started out to be very straight-forward. There was a lot to read, but I didn’t think it would be nearly as bad as it has been. It had gotten to the point that it was unwieldy and seemed so much bigger than my skill set. I just couldn’t seem to tame it. Until now. A draft is done. It isn’t the page-turner that I’d like for it to be, but it is ready for another set of eyes to pierce through it.

Throughout this time, I’ve been postponing my joy in anticipation of finishing this project. And yet, there’s been so much that I could have been joyful about throughout the process. For instance, I feel like I’ve identified some tasks that were taking me longer than necessary and have found some ways to make those tasks more efficient when I take on the next project. I’ve learned more succinct ways of phrasing things. And, I’ve been reminded daily of how I must depend on God for His help and wisdom.

I see this pattern often in my life. I wait for something big--an "if only"--to happen. I’m content for a while, and then a new “if only” makes its way to the forefront of my mind, and I postpone my joy in anticipation of fulfillment of the new “if only” criterion. It’s like a little child who asks for “just one thing” only to return and ask for another “just one thing” a few moments later because the previous toy or whatever is no longer satisfying.

By doing this, I’m not accepting that right where I am is God’s “Plan A” (as my friend calls it) for my life. I am doubting that this is God’s best for me. That He wants me to be right where I am right now to fulfill His purpose. And that I don’t need to rush things.

I wish that by writing this, I’d somehow be immune to going through another “if only” rollercoaster ride. But I know it’s not that simple. Instead, I’ll need to be on the alert for it and remind myself that the One Thing that my soul is really searching for is available right now; I don’t have to wait for it.

“Enough” by Chris Tomlin

All of You is more than enough for all of me
For every thirst and every need
You satisfy me with Your love
And all I have in You is more than enough

You are my supply
My breath of life
And still more awesome than I know
You are my reward worth living for
And still more awesome than I know

All of You is more than enough for all of me
For every thirst and every need
You satisfy me with Your love
And all I have in You is more than enough

You’re my sacrifice
Of greatest price
And still more awesome than I know
You’re the coming King You are everything
And still more awesome than I know

More than all I want
More than all I need
You are more than enough for me
More than all I know
More than all I can say
You are more than enough for me

If none of those were new to you, let me say thanks for being a loyal reader!

Tomorrow's post will have fresh material, so be sure to stop by and check out the finale for this series.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Blasts from the Past, 3

I wish I was as smart as I was in college. Seriously. When I look back over some of the papers I wrote, I have no idea how I came up with such lofty ideas or how I came up with so many of them for all my different classes.

So today's post is a short paper I wrote during my first year of college. This particular paper jumped out at me because I remembered the meditative part of the assignment (i.e., sitting outside my dorm and listening to the night), but I have no recollection of Annie Dillard's essay or who in the world Soetsu Yanagi is/was. So without further ado, here's "Artificial Eyes" (copyright October 12, 1993 by me).

When the editors of Webster's Third New International Dictionary defined "seeing" as "the act of using one' sense of sight," they obviously had not undergone a meditative experience nor had they read essays about seeing by Annie Dillard or Soetsu Yanagi. After I had completed these activities, "seeing" conjured up a more complex definition: the process of perceiving the artificial obvious through personal and sensual involvement. But how do people do this? Do they need artificial eyes?

In her essay "Sight into Insight," Annie Dillard says that in order to perceive, one must have a love for the object being perceived. To illustrate this idea, she explains that a horse lover can readily draw a detailed picture of any type of horse, even if he or she is not an artist, and those who do not love horses will struggle to come up with more than a stick figure. Another prerequisite for perception is the knowledge that comes from prior experience with the object which one wants to see. One must use this knowledge to create a situation which will allow the artificial obvious (that which is present, but usually overlooked) to be seen. For instance, deer hunters cannot look for the full body of a deer when hunting. Instead, hunters must go to a wooded place, look for hoof prints, listen for the sounds of leaves or branches crackling, and search for patches of white in order to see a deer. Therefore, personal experience and sensual involvement unite to enable one to see an object.

Soetsu Yanagi offers different insight on the subject of seeing in his essay "Seeing and Knowing." Yanagi's essay, which dwells on how to see beauty, presents several views which directly conflict with Dillard's views. Yanagi says, "Seeing is a born faculty . . . ." Yet one who has no experience cannot place what he or she looks at into context. For instance, people seldom remember the events that occurred before their second birthdays because they had little prior experience with which to associate the events and thus no way of forming a memory. As more experience is gained, the ability to see becomes possible. Therefore, Dillard is correct in saying that the ability to see comes from learning and experience. In addition, Yanagi states, "seeing and knowing form an exterior and an interior . . . " and are separate. However, Dillard's example of people who have cataract surgery disproves Yanagi's view. Those who have had no experience with seeing must revert back to their own way of "seeing" things, such as by touching, tasting, etc., even after they regain their sight because the sight of an object does not enable them to recognize the object. Thus, as Dillard proposed, knowing and seeing must work together to provide more knowledge. Yanagi also contends that if a work of art is picked apart by scrutinization, it will crumble because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Dillard, on the other hand, says that only when one searches for the details can the artificial obvious, such as the deer, be discovered. Thus, Dillard's essay, rather than Yanagi's essay, helped me to grasp the concept of seeing, but it was not until I meditated in nature that I fully understood what it meant to really see.

My time of meditation allowed me to view a familiar place in a new light. I felt in touch with nature because I actually heard the crickets, and I felt the wind as it made my hair tickle my ears and my neck. I forced myself to pay close attention to the sights, sounds, and smells of the area, and I became an immediate nature lover. I was able to understand why environmentalists get so excited about saving the earth. Also, this closeness with nature permitted me to release my tensions and to develop an inner peace. Most importantly, though, I realized that unless one consciously perceives the details of life, details do not exist in one's mind. Therefore, I developed a process for seeing the details or artificial obvious all the time.

First, we should strain to see beyond the obvious because the obvious does not give us insight. In order to get beyond the obvious to the artificial obvious, we should create an artificial situation in which we interact with the object to find out what is artificial about the object. Interaction can include past experiences with the article or how the article affects one's self. Once interaction has taken place, we must generalize about the object in relation to its place in the world. Finally, we should look at the object as a new object included in our life. Thus, in order to gain sight of the "artificial obvious," we must go through the steps of private exploration, public or world exploration, and private reflection. The "artificial obvious," then, is a combination of all three elements, which is why it is so difficult to see at first.

The previously described process becomes useful when meeting new people because people are often predisposed to stereotype others based on appearance. For instance, people who do not know me well would never guess that I describe myself as a quilt with many varied pieces which form a uniquely, organized and interesting pattern. Some pieces are instantly noticeable, but others are very subtle and take longer to find and to discover how they fit into the total pattern. Several events in my life have caused temporary stains, but other have become permanent stains. At times the fabric has become torn, but it is usually mended easily and does not affect the overall form. Occasionally, the quilt is compactly folded up and tucked away, but most of the time it is spread out for all to see. Sometimes the quilt is used to comfort those who are cold. However, once those people are warm, it often gets pushed away. It would like to please everyone--those who want to enjoy it from a distance as a wall-hanging and those who want to experience it more personally as a coverlet. Yet, the quilt cannot perform such a feat, so it does its best to please as many people as possible. Some people dislike the first piece of the pattern and decide to move on to other quilts without looking any closer at my quilt. But if everyone would view the quilt's intricacies as unique details, rather than as deterring flaws, his or her views would change because he or she would see the artificial obvious in me.

Seeing the artificial obvious takes love, experience, and knowledge, rather than artificial eyes. Once one is able to truly "see" according to my definition, he or she can find the inner peace that comes from not taking the small details of objects for granted. After all, one will not be able to discover the quilts of life without learning to see the artificial obvious.

If you read all that, you are quite the devoted reader, and I thank you. I hope that there are no questions because I have no answers as I no longer know what all that meant! Class is officially adjourned.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Blasts from the Past, 2

When you look back over your past, what do you regret most? The actions you took or the actions you didn't take? Mark Batterson on pp. 115-16 in his book In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day says this:

All of us have action regrets, but I think our deepest regrets are missed opportunities. Action regrets taste bad, but inaction regrets leave a bitter aftertaste that lasts a lifetime. Inaction regrets haunt us because they leave us asking, "What if?" We wonder how our lives would have been different had we taken the risk or seized the opportunity. What if we had chased the lion instead of running away? Somehow our lives seem incomplete. Failing to take a risk is almost like losing a piece of the jigsaw puzzle of your life. It leaves a gaping hole. When we get to the end of our lives, our greatest regrets will be the missing pieces.

That conviction is backed up by the research of two Cornell social psychologists named Tom Gilovich and Vicki Medvec. Their research found that time is a key factor in what we regret. We usually regret our actions over the short-term. But over the long haul, we tend to regret inactions. Their study found that in an average week, action regrets were slightly greater than inaction regrets---53 percent to 47 percent. But when people look at their lives as a whole, inaction regrets outnumber action regrets 84 percent to 16 percent.

One of my dreams growing up was to get to sing with my cousin Jamie. She is blessed with an amazing voice, one I know could have landed her on Broadway had she pursued that route.

When she made the trek from Indiana to Texas in May 1997, I decided it was now or never. So we planned to sing a duet in my home church.

On the Saturday before our performance, we went to the church and practiced the piece several times. But the next day as we stood before the congregation, my nerves took over and caused my counting to be a little off. In Jamie's words, "I thought you weren't going to come in." I ended up coming in late on my verse and was grateful when Jamie joined me for the chorus.

But when we went and sat down in the congregation, I couldn't focus on the sermon because I was so embarrassed about my performance. I kept replaying it over and over again. After the service, people thanked us for singing, but I didn't take their kind words to heart.

It's now been over twelve years since we sang, and I'm glad that I had the courage to get up in front of the church and sing with Jamie. Had I not done it then, I'm quite sure that my self-consciousness about my unskilled singing voice would keep me from doing it today.

So, in the words of Mark Batterson, "Chase the lion!" Even though it may be a bit embarrassing, it will leave you with fewer regrets than an unchased lion.


P.S. - I highly recommend Mark Batterson's book In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. I could fill an entire week's worth of posts with things I underlined from it. It's worth purchasing so that you can do the same.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Blasts from the Past, 1

One of the best parts about having a personal blog is getting to choose the pictures. And by that, I mean choosing the best pictures of myself, so I can put my best "face" forward. So throughout this blog's history, I've purposely chosen not to post pictures in which my eyes are closed or I'm wearing glasses or where my hair is doing strange things.

But in honor of my "Blasts from the Past" week, I have decided to release some previously private photos. Luckily for me (and for your eyes), the repertoire here at my house goes back only through 1996.

So here's a little glimpse back to November 1996. This shot was taken in Bryan-College Station right before my friend Angela and I headed out to Central Baptist Church.

The hair, oh the hair! In many ways, it speaks for itself. It dwarfs my face and shouts, "I'm from the South where big hair rules!" And the interesting thing in hindsight is that I'm pretty sure I would have considered that to be one of my "good hair" days.

I guess it's all a matter of perspective. Some things may seem good at the time but can be embarrassing later. Other things, while not so great to start with, get better with time. So it's a good idea to stop and reflect from time to time and see where you are at on the spectrum.


(The rest of the story behind the picture: I never made it into the church that day. It was raining, and I fell in the parking lot. Angela left me holding an umbrella and sitting in a puddle while she and my sister went in the church and told an usher that I had fallen. In response, the pastor made an announcement about me being down for the count in the parking lot, and a couple of gentlemen came to my rescue. The one man, who I thinks was a doctor, told me that it didn't look like I would need any stitches for my bloody knee and helped me to my feet because I couldn't bend my leg. Once I was up, Angela, my sister, and I headed back to Angela's apartment where I changed out of my busted pantyhose, cleaned up my knee, and watched the church service on television. Thankfully, I had other subsequent trips to BCS that were much less dangerous and less embarrassing.)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Coming Soon . . . Blasts from the Past

Collage of 2009 Fireworks Photos by Lee Ann of Moore Memories

After seeing all the fireworks over the weekend, I have this urge to post some "blasts from the past." So be sure to check back next week to find out what I'm talking about.

And yes, there will be pictures.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Laziness Unearthed

"Overachiever" is not a word that I would use to describe my lawn and gardening skills. I despise having to go out in the 101-degree heat at 8 p.m. and water the lawn. So much so that I merely put the sprinkler in the middle of the lawn, turn it on high, and let it go for about 40-50 minutes, depending on how long it has been since I last watered the lawn. And the results are . . . well, not so good.

See Exhibit A below. You can almost draw a curved line to trace where the sprinkler, which was placed up near the bushes at the far left, sprayed out toward the street, working hard to cover the most ground for me.

Then, there is the matter of gardening. I honestly tried in this area. I planted 21 little vinca plants the first weekend in June. They got plenty of water. It was just the way they got watered that took its toll: Think multiple storms with 50-60 mile-per-hour winds and pelting rain mixed with a little hail for good measure.

The result is Exhibit B.

I am a tad bit embarrassed about my laziness in maintaining my lawn and flower garden, mostly because they are on display for all to see. It's not as easy to hide that as it can be to hide laziness that creeps into other areas of my life. My stewardship is not photograph-able, neither is my practice (or lack thereof) of spiritual disciplines. And because such matters aren't so easily reviewed, it's easy to let them fall by the wayside.

But thankfully, God has surrounded me with good friends who care enough to hold me accountable and ask me about the important things in life that aren't so easily depicted. In the beginning, I dreaded giving my report, but just knowing I would be asked to give one started to help keep me on track. And throughout the process, my friends were willing to extend grace and encouragement, which helped.

That has worked so well that now I guess I need to get an accountability partner for my lawn and gardening. One who can motivate me to replant flowers in the July heat. I'm thinking that person has his/her work cut out.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

It Hurts To Watch

It hurts to watch.

That thought went through my mind as I watched the awards presentation following the men's Wimbledon final in which Federer defeated Roddick 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14. If those numbers look weird, that's because they are. It was the longest final in the history of Wimbledon. And it didn't turn out the way I wanted.

Andy Roddick had dropped fifteen pounds, had changed his training, and had hired a new coach---all with the hope of winning the title. He hasn't won one since 2003. And with the No. 1-ranked player out of the tournament battling an injury, Roddick was poised to succeed.

But it wouldn't be easy. In order to get to the finals, he first had to play a Brit in the semis who had the whole crowd behind him. Roddick overcame that challenge. And then two days later, he had to face Federer. A man who was going for his fifteenth title and would make history in the process if he won.

So to say that Roddick was an underdog in the finals is a huge understatement. The crowd was pulling for history to be made, just like those in the crowd at the Olympics last year waiting for Phelps to win his eighth gold. But underdog or not, Roddick came to play and to win.

He took the first set. The next two sets had to go to tie-breakers, which Roddick lost. He took the fourth set by a huge margin. And so as the match wore on, it looked like he had the trophy within reach. But then he made a few errors during his service game, and away it went.

Roddick was a gracious loser, giving Federer credit for his win, but the tears couldn't hide Roddick's disappointment. He had done everything that he could have done, he had played with all his heart, and he had still come up short.

It struck me so much because that often happens off the court in the game of life. It's hard to watch people put their all into something and not succeed. Sure, it builds character. But that seems like small consolation at the time. In the moment, the title or trophy seems all important, even though it's often not as long-lived as the character-building lesson.

And though it's the nature of the game to have just one winner, I saw two, just as I often do in the game of life: The one who takes home the trophy, and the other who takes home the lesson. And my hope is that Roddick will take the lessons learned from this final and the confidence gained from knowing that he gave "the best tennis player in the history of the game" a run for his money and turn them into his own trophy moment in the future. Because that's a win-win proposition worth watching for.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thoughts on Freedom

On Friday at noon as I left work, my thoughts raced toward meeting a friend for lunch and spending the weekend watching Wimbledon, gathering with friends for a cookout, and catching a fireworks show. But that was before I saw the motorcycle cop stop in the middle of the crazy four-street intersection, stopping traffic for a funeral procession to pass. Innumerable bikers followed, displaying flags from all over and reminding me that this funeral procession could be taking a soldier to his/her final resting place.

As I sat watching car after car pass through the intersection, I wondered at the occupants' thoughts. This probably wasn't how they had planned to kick off their holiday weekend. If they were anything like me, celebrating the lives of those who have fought for our country's freedom would have been reserved for a small moment of silence, rather than a prolonged service of remembrance. Because the cost of freedom is so hard to grasp, until it hits home. Just like everything else in life, we don't know what a great thing we've had, until it's gone.

I wish I didn't fall into that group. I wish I cherished everything in the present. I wish it didn't take losing someone or something to awaken my appreciation. But I guess if I had to pinpoint the problem for me it would be that I think things will, to some extent, stay the same. And when they don't, the change makes me realize what feelings I had toward the missing person or thing.

But I don't want to have to get to that point with the freedom that this country provides in order to see how priceless the freedom is. The mere thought of being told what job I can have; where I can live; when I can go to the doctor; what, when, and where I can worship, if at all; how many children I can have; and having a million other choices reduced to one, government-made decision should be enough to keep me grateful daily and turn every day into a celebration of independence. Yet, I know that come Monday, I'll get back into the weekly routine, and these thoughts will fade into the background, probably until another American holiday rolls around or until the news informs me that a freedom is on the line, pending in a case before the Supreme Court.

Those are my thoughts on freedom this July 4, but I'd love to hear from you with thoughts on how to keep my scenario from being repeated year after year. Do you make it a habit to pray for soldiers or have something that you do daily or weekly to remind you to give thanks for the freedom you have?