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RSSBack Issue: April, 2011

My Reflection part 2


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I had a dream a few weeks ago that I know was about this journey. I was back in my childhood home, and I struggle to recall the details, but this was the first time in years I’ve dreamed of the place and the first time in my dreams I was there as an adult and feeling in control.

Standing in that room where I had longed for beauty, it was daylight and I looked about the mess and had ideas: I could conquer this! The rough wood I planned to paint a lovely blue, just like the French gate in Marseilles. And curtains! With lovely ruffles! Cupboards could neatly enclose the old open-faced shelves nailed to the wall and much could be done for beauty. I was not afraid.

Then the most curious thing. I looked below me through an opening in the floor, and kneeling with utter surprise discovered another dwelling of such beauty and majesty–fine marbled floors, a stately curving staircase leading to greater rooms and even an indoor pool. (Or was it utter surprise? Dreams are so difficult to gauge, that realm where even the most bizarre is not astonishing.)

Why was I living in this shack when under my very feet was a mansion?

Nearly as soon as my eyes took in the beauty of those impressive quarters, I heard a wind gaining strength in the distance, knowing instinctively the gales were headed my way. Suddenly, the door to the mansion below flew open and I was filled with old terror. There at the doorstep lay a girl, a waif, as if blown in by the east wind. Was this a picture of myself, was I afraid of entering into the beauty? Fear and beauty cannot live together, just as disorder and beauty cannot.

The girl stood up, revealing a pack on her back. The knap-sacked stray with long straight brown locks, unkempt with the wind, walked almost defiantly into the entry of the great mansion, and I was afraid, feeling that she did not belong here, threatened by her very presence. Was she a symbol of every fear that threatens to undo me, a whole suitcase full of anxiety?

Just today I had another perspective. I may be living in a mansion but not really living. I may have at my disposal all the riches of Heaven and be ignoring them, or just peering at them through the cracks, perhaps relegating myself to a corner. Why, oh why, would a child of God behave this way?

Such thoughts found home in me today as I walked into the guest room of my real-life house, now clean. But this room had sat a mess for months, a living specter of misorder within a mansion. Not until yesterday when the floors were cleared of shambles and every carpet tuft free of box and burden did I understand: if I exercise discipline and look closely at what I already have, I may discover that I am indeed equipped for every good work.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinithians 9:8

I’m growing in strength and beauty, but still I journey, and have miles to go before I sleep.

********

My Reflection in the Dirty Pane Glass, Part 1

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How to Draw a Self-Portrait (and some wisdom from the child)


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Little L's self portrait

I think my boy here could give some art lessons on self-portraiture {and life}.

1. Know how many freckles adorn your face and love them all. {Or, love every unique mark the Lord has blessed upon your countenance, and love that you are wonderfully made.}

2. Realize how far your ears really stick out. {Or, be aware of your faults, your weaknesses, your differences, and make them as darn cute as possible.}

3. Make your eyes brighter than they really are. {Or, know that the eyes are the gate to the soul, and work to let all the love of God pour out through them and smile through them, too, and so bless those who look upon you.}

4. Draw yourself happy. {Or, remember that a cheerful heart is good medicine, and the joy of the Lord is your strength, so do not grieve.}

Thank you, Little L. for the art lesson.

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My Reflection in the Dirty Pane Glass


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my old house in Cochise AZ

When nightfall turned windows into mirrors, I used to look into one of the dusty old frames on the east wall and stare hard, willing the glass to produce a beautiful me, praying to God to let me see myself as I would someday be; beautiful.

The night-darkened window cast back a grainy romantic picture, and waved by the layers of dirt and oil, I could imagine in the shadows. I imagined a beautiful, grown-up girl in a pretty house.

I had to call my sister to ask her if we had a mirror. I remembered a small, round one that my dad used for shaving, but Heather would know the details. Yes, we had a mirror, she said. It was as I thought except I hadn’t considered that my chest would tighten and my breath catch as I tried to remember. The east wall, why was I standing there, what job was to be done along that wall? Nothing, Heather said, it was a tiny space between the front door and the refrigerator and I would have had to stand on my tiptoes to see myself in the window, but I must have done it many times, this I do remember. I did have a job in that cramped spot, that of baring my heart to God begging for beauty.

The prayers to be beautiful were constant. Poverty can feel ugly, and I felt the depths of it. I remember the day in Sunday School when the teacher asked us children to raise a hand if we knew someone more poor than ourselves. Apparently we were to pray for that unfortunate soul. I knew no one with less than myself, but raised my hand anyway, thinking that maybe the Cartmells had it worse but knowing deep they really didn’t, not missing the furtive glances my way. Why would a teacher ask such a thing? And there was my teacher at the elementary school who went round the class after Christmas asking each child to share what he received. I lied and made up gifts and everyone knew I lied. I vowed to never ask a child that question.

I could have been a child-leper, calling out ahead in a thin voice of shame, “Unclean, unclean.” Our shack made of corrugated iron and rough wood, dirt thick on the floor, a crude hole in the floor with a pipe for water serving as sink, and always undone~this, this was my shame and ugliness.

Long I’ve considered my childhood but just now have discovered something. What frightful thing I couldn’t put my finger on I’ve now marked. It wasn’t just that we lived in extreme poverty, that my mom was unstable, that my dad was the town drunk, neglectful and abusive, though these are frightful things. It was the disorder and the chaos and the filth.

Always dirty clothes, dirty dishes, junk strewn about, boxes stacked with items long-forgotten by all but the mice, piles of old construction materials in the side room anchored in the dirt, and how could I have ever expected to feel beautiful? Being raised in such a chaotic mess I wore it every day as my garment and I felt ugly.

I was haunted for years after I left my home in Arizona, too afraid to look deeply for the reason, afraid my memory was hiding something sinister. I was terrorized at night in my dreams and it was always that place, the mess, the demons of disorder that thrashed to get me. The nightmares were me as child straining under shame to make order and quickly present an unsullied home to a soon approaching visitor. Never was that mission accomplished before I woke in a black panic.

Beauty is ordered by God. I longed for it like the deer pants for water. It was not my vanity. God set the universe in order, and the stars that sailed bright by my window each night were exactly in their place, and the sun followed his path across the sky in a manifest pattern as if on some invisible line, and absolutely everything in all creation is meant to be ordered and this is beauty.

Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the Lord of hosts is His name: “If this fixed order departs from before Me,” declares the Lord, “then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.” Jeremiah 31:35-36

I’ve heard several people throughout my life share of growing up in poverty but never quite knowing how poor they really were. The common thread was that without exception these people came from loving families where there was a rhythm to life that included breakfast, lunch, and dinner, evening family time, whatever kind of order that particular family possessed. Their clothes were clean even if threadbare and simple, their tummies were filled even if with rice and beans every day. And that is beautiful.

I’m so grateful for the Arizona desert. Were it not for the mountains He called up, the stars He appointed to their place, the surety of the rising and the setting of the sun, the rhythm of seasons, I would have had no order and no beauty. I cannot express the comfort of seeing stars align into the Big and Little Dippers and Orion’s Belt, without fail. Though no trace of order could be found inside that rundown shack on Havasu Way in Cochise County, Arizona, all the beauty and sequence of the universe was beckoning me from outside–and so I lived outside as much as possible.

chopping fruit in my kitchenGod answered my prayer. He eventually took me out of that place, and through a journey too much to recount, I’m a beautiful, grown-up girl in a pretty house, more beautiful than I could have imagined in that darkened window. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” These words from 1 Corinthians 13:12 are doubly meaningful.

Though He is far from done with me, God is steadily teaching me how to carefully arrange my home and my family life, and I am called to teach my children so they too can find beauty in the order, and whether rich or poor in dollars, they will be rich in beauty.

To appoint to them that mourn in Zion, to give to them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. Isaiah 61:3

our happy home
[My new home full of light and love and laughter; and yes, that is my old home at the beginning of this post.]

{to be continued…I will share a most curious dream I had after I began this post last week.}

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Hario, et cetera.


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Ethiopia Sidamo prepared Hario style by Sisters Coffee Company made my morning, the best coffee I’ve had. Ever. I loved that Winfield (owner) made it special for me, and with each slow drip I loved seeing him greet everyone that walked in the door like the old friends they were. I loved chatting with my girlfriend in the corner, the Jesus Saves sticker on the fridge behind the counter, the wide wood floor planks and full stone fireplace; I would move to Sisters just for this.

Slow, small, intimate.

Julia spends the night tonight. Even grown-up girls need sleep-overs. Last time we stayed up late and cried together over Bonhoeffer. Tonight we’ll probably cry over Pride and Prejudice.

Friendship is precious.

I spent the better part of my day trying to find a mobile dog groomer for a photo-shoot I’m helping coordinate. Ten attempts and still no luck; all booked for weeks. If you are out of work, I have a serious suggestion for a niche market you should pursue.

I hope to spend the next week contemplating several threads of grace: His Presence, my purpose; His gift, my gain; His reality, my redemption.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn


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Kenneth Grahame’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn chapter from The Wind in the Willows is just gorgeous, sheer magic. First published in England in 1908, this classic talking-animal book includes lovable characters like Mole, Rat, Mr. Toad, Mr. Badger, and right there in the middle, seemingly out of place, is the piper at the gates of dawn. While the piper appears as the ancient Greek god Pan, you dear reader have the prerogative to make him what you will. I make him Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn opens with Rat and Mole setting off at night down river to search for Little Portly, the misadventurous and now missing young son of Otter. Presently, with dawn approaching, Rat becomes entranced by a distant, clear piping.

sahalie falls area, copyright diaryof1.com

O, Mole! the beauty of it! The merry bubble and joy, the thin, clear, happy call of the distant piping! Such music I never dreamed of, and the call in it is stronger even than the music is sweet! Row on Mole, row! For the music and call must be for us.

The call? I bring to the reading of The Piper all that I believe, and while the god Pan is pure pagan myth, I extract the goodness, for every good thing comes from God. And so I hear the call as from Him who created all things, and even His creation calls out to us.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Isaiah 55:12

Rat and Mole continue on until they come to a small island fringed with willow and silver birch and alder, and it is here, whispers Rat, “in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him.” And find Him they do, and what a glorious picture of what it may be like to stand before God in all his holiness.

tiny island on the mckenzie river

Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror–indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy–but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend. and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.

When finally the pair have the courage to raise their heads, they see a creature described clearly as that ancient demigod with the pipes, the legs and horns of a goat, that god of shepherds and flocks, of mountain wilds and music. And they call him Friend and Helper, and there sleeping beneath his watch is the round little otter. Then Mole and Rat, breathless and filled with love, “bowed their heads and did worship.”

Did you see our Friend, Jesus?

Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:12

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

Did you see our Helper?

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. John 14:26

The Vision vanished and then Mole and Rat and even Little Portly forget. The gift of forgetfulness was bestowed upon them, lest they dwell only on that most beautiful moment, the memory of it overshadowing all the rest of life and spoiling it. Even this was familiar to me, and I thought of Jesus transfigured.

the children looking

The account described in the gospels (Matthew 17:1-13, Luke 9:18-36) comes to mind, in which Christ reveals his glory to some of his disciples, and Moses and Elijah appear. Peter reminds me here of Grahame’s Rat in his request that Jesus allow him to put up shelters there on the mountain for them–he clearly never wants this out-of-the-world experience to end! But it must. It’s not an earthly possibility to live as if in Heaven. We must wait, lest our world lose all color and purpose.

There are times for not forgetting, to be sure. Israel is warned again and again to not forget the goodness of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:11, Psalm 78:11). But the point I draw here in The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is that it’s impossible to look upon the full glory of the Lord and remain there until we ourselves are glorified in that eternal state. (Romans 8:17-19). Paul says that God “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see.” (I Timothy 6:16.)

Have you ever woken from a beautiful dream only to forget it? Have you grasped a deepest truth only to lose it? The Piper at the Gates of Dawn ends this way. Rat has finally understood it all and is about to share it with the wondering Mole.

Ah! now they return again, and this time full and clear! This time, at last, it is the real, the unmistakable thing, simple–passionate–perfect—-’

`Well, let’s have it, then,’ said the Mole, after he had waited patiently for a few minutes, half-dozing in the hot sun.

But no answer came. He looked, and understood the silence. With a smile of much happiness on his face, and something of a listening look still lingering there, the weary Rat was fast asleep.

edge of deschutes river

After I read the chapter to the children, I asked them about the piping creature. “He’s like God,” and “He’s like Aslan,” were some responses. Though C.S. Lewis’ Aslan is so much more developed and clearly a Christ-type, Graham’s piper is still so revealing of the character of God, and, to borrow Rat’s words, it was very surprising and splendid and beautiful.

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