Friday, October 9, 2009

Guy Questions.



Are you in a relationship?  Or are you seeking to be?  When you meet someone you're attracted to, it's sometimes hard to be discerning.  Here I've put together a list of questions that might be useful to ask yourself before engaging in a committed relationship.  It is by no means exhaustive, but please take from it what you can.  It's written to girls, but hopefully guys can benefit from it as well.

--Does he let you talk?  Or does he monopolize the conversation?

--What are the things he compliments you on?

--Does he take leadership in your relationship?  Does he help make your relationship Christ-centered?

--How does he spend his spare time?

--How does he handle money?  Does he tithe?  Budget?  Is he a saver?  Spender?

--Has he set specific (and realistic) goals for himself?  (His future?)

--How does he treat other girls he comes in contact with?

--What are his views on TV/movies?  Is this a big part of his life?

--How do other guys react to him?

--How does he speak of his parents?  Does he respect their advice?  Would he ask them for it?

--How does he react to a disappointment?

--Does he give in easily to peer pressure?

--How are his personal grooming/hygiene habits?  Does he spend too much time?  Too little?

--Is he employed (or actively seeking to be)?

--What kinds of things does he laugh at?

--Do his eyes wander during your conversations?

--Does often look at/comment on other girls?

--Has he ever pressured you to do something you weren't comfortable with?

--Is he chivalrous?

--Is he willing to admit it when he's made a mistake?  (Is he willing to apologize?)

--Is he truthful?

--Has he been in past relationships?  What contributed to the breakup?

--Does he keep a daily schedule?

--Is he usually early?  Late?  On time?

--Does he have higher standards (or expectations) for you than for himself?

--Does he walk the talk?

--Does he make time to invest in the lives of others?  (Helping the elderly; mentoring/befriending a child.)

--Does he spend excess time, mindlessly surfing the Internet?

--Does he deny himself anything?  (What?  And why?)

--What is his attitude towards children?  Does he ignore them?  Have no patience with them?

--What is he most passionate about?

--Do you find it more difficult to follow Christ when you're with him?

--Does he follow through with his resolutions?  Or is he always apologizing and doing it again?

--Does he have any addicting habits?  Does he drink?  Smoke?  How much?  What for?

--Is he a people-pleaser?

--Does he adjust standards to his benefit in a given situation?  Does he change standards/behavior depending on which group of friends he's with?

--Is he bold about his faith?

--How does he prioritize?  What (in all honesty) kinds of things are at the top of his list?

--Does he go into debt easily?  What are his views on borrowing?

--Are there things about him you absolutely could NOT live with?

--In what ways (and to what extent) does he commit to a life of purity, propriety, and circumspect behavior?

--Is he an attention-getter?  A show-off?

--Is he only happy when he has an audience?

--Does he try to justify wrong behavior?

--How does he speak of/treat your parents?  Siblings?

--Does he have more female friends than male friends?

--Is he flirtatious?  How does he regard flirting?  Is it something he intentionally guards against?

--Does he set aside a specific time to pray/read/study his Bible every day?

--Does he pray with you?

--Does he love God more than he loves you?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Finally Home.

I love piano music. I always have. Not piano music enhanced by strings or brass or percussion, necessarily. Just piano music.

When I sit down to write each day, I'll automatically flip through my iTunes player, in search of a few good songs to put in a playlist. When I've selected them, I'll put the playlist on repeat and get to work. Some music is just really conducive to writing. Some music? Not so much.

There's a new song on iTunes that I'm really excited about. You probably haven't heard of the artist (this is about to change) but his music is excellent. The artist's name is Theo MacMillan. The song? Finally Home.

Raw talent is a rare thing to come by these days. I'm not kidding when I say that it takes a while to sell me on new music. But true talent? I notice. I fell in love with Finally Home for that very reason. (In fact, I've had it on repeat for the past hour that I've been writing.) The guy's got talent.

Finally Home is a simple, yet complex, piano ballad. Soft and reflective at times -- dramatic and sweeping at others. It has a clean and meditative quality -- and while it's sober in places, it's also incredibly fun. Just when you think you can predict the next twist, it rolls in a completely different direction.

If a song is worth a thousand words (and this one is -- at least) it must also be worth listening to. But don't just take my word for it. Visit your iTunes store and look up Finally Home by Theo MacMillan. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Towns.

Once upon a time, there lived two couples—both in search of the perfect place to live. As they entered their first prospective town, they came across an old man, whittling on his doorstep.

“What kind of town is this?” they asked the man. “Is it a nice place to live? What are the people like?”

He set down the wood he was whittling and squinted up at them. “That depends,” he said. “What kind of town are you moving from? What were those people like?”

“Oh, the people back there in our old town were terrible. All they ever did was gossip and complain. And they were constantly nosing into our business! I can’t wait to move and be rid of all of them.”

The old man studied them for a moment before picking up his project again. “I think you’ll find this town to be exactly the same,” he said.

Not long afterwards, the second couple approached the old man’s doorstep—their questions almost identical to the first couple’s: “What kind of town is this? Is it a nice place to live? What are the people like?”

“That depends,” the old man replied. “What kind of town are you moving from?”

“Oh, the people there were wonderful. You’ll never meet a more kind and loving bunch of people. They invested so much into our lives. We can hardly bear to leave them when we move.”

“Actually,” the old man said. “I think you’ll find this town to be astonishingly similar. It may take a week or two to get warmed up, but you’ll find these people to be quite open and good-hearted and loving too.”


* * * *

You know, I love this story, no matter how many times I’ve heard it (and its many variations) before. It really hits home! It’s hard to admit (but often quite true) that the people around us reflect our attitudes right back at us.

What kind of town do you live in?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Creativity.


I’ve always loved crafts. When I was a kid, I’d go on these massive craft-making stints. I’d churn out hand-stitched quilt squares in startling quantities (one set of squares in particular were designed as part of a potential money-making scheme that never quite got off the ground) or cross-stitched pillows or wall samplers. You name it; I’ve probably tried it—or wanted to try it.


Later, throughout my teen years, I’d pick up a project here and there, but my creativity was mainly limited to my writing projects and blog projects. Occasionally, I found a cross-stitch project to contend with. Yet eventually, that passion almost flickered out.


Or so I thought. Maybe these things never truly die: they just get buried? I’m beginning to think so.


This past weekend, I was in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There are some really neat fabric stores up there and I just so happened to be visiting one. Directly inside the door was a massive bin of leather scraps priced at a dollar a piece. For some reason, I couldn’t walk past it. In fact, I spent the next forty-five minutes digging through the bin, examining the leather: the texture, the color, the scent, the resiliency. I didn’t know why, but I suddenly really, really wanted to begin a project that involved leather.


I thought of wallets. But that seemed too complicated. After all, I’d never worked with leather before. At all. And wallets would likely involve a lot of complicated cutting and stitching. Then I thought of a belt or a gun holster or a knife pouch for one of the little guys in my life. Nothing seemed quite right, though. I was getting disappointed. I needed this leather for something. I was convinced of it!


Then, it jumped out at me: a particularly unique piece of leather—deep ochre, with lots of texture. Soft, yet firm, on the inside, and wrinkled and serious on the outside. And in that moment, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. With all of it.


Journals! And suddenly, each new piece of leather represented a different kind of journal. One would be small and neatly bound—convenient for jotting down quick notes or adding up a grocery bill. Another would be large and buckle-bound with creased pages and match-burned edges. Another would be soft and blue—flexible—and just the right size to slide into a purse or carry alongside another book for note-taking.


I limited myself to six unique pieces of leather. Each with plenty of character and potential. Then, I spent the next day or two reading about leather crafting and the different tools I would need to attempt such a project as book-binding.

Then, there was the issue of paper. I didn’t want to fill my neatly-bound journals with just any old cardstock. My first thought was rice paper. It was fun to work with and fairly easy to push an upholstery needle through. But it was rather prohibitively expensive for such a fly-by-night project—probably not the best choice until I was actually more experienced in the art of leather-working.


Then I thought, “Why not make my own paper?”


So. That’s where my project stands. As I type, I have about a pound of clean, white cotton boiling on the stove. Tomorrow, I’ll add a solution of sodium hydroxide to the mix. That will (theoretically) make the fibers of the cotton break down and separate more easily (it will also remove any residual dirt or possible staining in the fabric). Within three or four hours of boiling in the caustic soda solution, I should be able to transfer the boiled fiber to a blender and mix it down to an even pulp.


I’m making my own frame for sifting the pulp. The frame is simple: about 13” by 10” (about 3” high) with a screen stapled firmly across one side. When the pulp is ready, I’ll fill the bathtub with several gallons of water and then blend in the cotton pulp (and whatever other fibrous material I get up the courage to stir in to give it more texture—silk? Mulberry bark? I can’t decide).


Once the pulp is blended into the water, I’ll slide the screened frame into the mix, shake it out beneath the surface so that the pulp falls in evenly, and then draw it upwards. While the water sifts out through the bottom, I’ll press a piece of felt (or another absorbent material) over the top of the wet paper, to press out any excess liquid. Then, I’ll flip the freshly-pressed sheet out of paper out onto another piece of felt and continue stacking each subsequent sheet between the felt until the pulp is finally diminished.


I still can’t decide which final-drying process to attempt. I’ll probably opt for the air-dry, then iron-over-foil method. We’ll see. Or maybe I’ll try a different drying method for each journal in turn.


I forgot how exciting it was to embark on a new project like this! I think the urge to shape and create is inborn in all of us. After all, we are made in the image of our God—and He is the ultimate Creator. He gave us the ability to imagine and dream and finally, construct.


Of course, He was always able to look at His creations and call them “good”. Who knows, in a few days, I may very well be kneeling beside the bathtub, crying my eyes out because I forgot to plug the drain before dumping my valuable pulp into the mix or something.


Let’s hope not!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Generations.

Both Joshua grandparents and all the grandchildren were gathered around the dinner table tonight. Pop-Pop, at age 80, held little Jonathan, aged 13 months. 79 years between them. So much life; so much experience.

It was a lighthearted time. Not a time for reflection or for pondering the future. Instead, a time of laughter and celebration -- mainly of Jonathan's new little life. At our ego-inducing insistence, he ran through his entire repertoire of tricks: from his two-fingered snapping, to his collection of creative animal noises (not many 13-month-olds can switch off between and a wolf and a tiger like he can. We made him keenly aware of that fact by our enthusiastic applause.).

In the midst of the excitement and hilarity, however, I still managed to notice something I hadn't noticed before. I am not a separate entity from my extended family. Not just by means of my appearance either. (I'm beginning to look more and more like both sides of my extended family.) But somehow, I've also inherited mannerisms, methods, pet peeves. The list is almost endless.

Okay. For one thing, my grandmother keeps her house really clean. I hadn't noticed that before. Why? Probably because I got the "clean bug" from my mom's side of the family too. I grew up in a clean house. My surroundings have always been painfully clean. Clean and neat. This time, I noticed it. And was thankful.

My grandmother is also a workaholic. (So are all my grandparents, actually. And my parents.  In the best possible way.) She has this reputation for making massively-massive meals with several main dishes. (Think at least six here.) She'll have three or four on the tables, along with sides, when everyone is first seated for prayer. But after the "amen," she's up and bustling again.

I'm positive -- she doesn't touch her plate until everyone's had fourths at least. She cooks, she serves, she refills dishes, she serves again.

During dinner, I leaned over to my sister and whispered, "I think we come by it honestly," and she laughed.

So, it's finally happening. I'm beginning to see reflections of myself in the vast array of family spread out before me. Growing up (and throughout my teen years), I assured myself that I loved my family, but I was very different from them. I would never be like any of them when I grew up. Yet, somehow, at the end of the day, (when I'm mostly grown up--or doesn't that ever truly happen?) I'm not so very unlike them at all.

And, on top of it all, somehow, I'm kind of really thankful for all they've given me.

I think I've taken the whole Godly heritage thing for granted. Both of my grandfathers were pastors. Which, by default, meant that both of my parents were PKs. I was steeped! Like, seriously steeped. I was the kid who prayed the prayer at five years old and was memorizing entire chapters of the Bible before I was out of elementary school.

I knew the right things to say. I knew the gospel. I knew how to lead someone to the Lord. When I was five, I used to hand out New Testaments to the other kids my age and tell them how to "ask Jesus into their hearts". I knew the routine. No one could dispute it.

As I grew older, however, I realized that my family had something different from what I had. There was heart behind the things that they did. They didn't do the things they did because of how they looked, or how it made other people feel, or what it gave them in return. They did it because they loved the Lord.

I was like one of those people who tell the "Well, I talked to a guy who knew the woman who delivered papers to the person who used to be the foot surgeon of Bill Clinton's neighbor when Bill was five."

I was constructing "wow" stories for how I was best buddies with Jesus, but somehow, when it all spilled out, it wasn't so impressive after all. Anyone listening could tell in an instant that there was no reality behind it. For sure, nothing tangible.

My family changed that.

Grandpa Joshua loves the Lord with all his heart, soul, strength and mind. Everything, somehow, is an object lesson -- an arrow pointing back to Christ. The oddest and most frustrating of circumstances remind him of hymns that he will sing with the utmost abandon. Through all kinds of trials, he has remained staunchly committed to the Lord and to the people he serves. That's an example I can trust. That's an example I can try to follow.

And Grandpa Owens.... He is the most impressive example of a man who has learned to die to self. (That I know to this day. Really.) Not only did he father, nurture, and disciple 9 children (without thinking of his own needs), but he was always a man of high and self-forsaking conviction. Saying "no" to himself and his own desires was something he did--not because it was easy (when is that ever easy?)--but because he knew it was what his Lord required of him if he were to lead a Godward life. You'll never hear him indulge in careless joking or sarcasm or unprofitable conversation. His desire is that the Lord's will would be made evident in every aspect of his being. Nothing in his life, conversation, character, or conduct has ever led me to believe otherwise.

And so, I am blessed. I have a Godly heritage. I am reaping the things that my grandparents and their grandparents have sowed. Excellent things.

Did I have any say in the matter? No.

Do I deserve it? I couldn't. Not in a thousand lifetimes.

And yet, the Lord was pleased to grant it to me. Why? Maybe because I have a responsibility to my children and to the generation that will come after them. I don't take that responsibility lightly.

And maybe--just maybe--someday, I'll be that 80-year-old grandparent, rocking my little grandchild on my lap and another granddaughter, sitting across the table will be reflecting on her life.

And maybe--just maybe--she'll write a blog post like this.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Excuses.

Do you make excuses for yourself?

I do. Kind of a lot.

The other day, I was out somewhere. There was someone I knew I should talk to—or at least say "hi" to. And I didn't. "I didn't have the time." "They were busy talking to so-and-so." "It wouldn't make any difference to them whether I did or not."

Regardless, I didn't do it.

I'm becoming a firm believer in calling things by their name. Instead of convenient masks like, "They were busy," how about, "I didn't want to," or, "I just don't like them"? The more honest I am with myself, the more uncomfortable I am likely to be with my shortcomings. And the more likely I am to change.

What do you make excuses about? And, more importantly, what are you going to do about it?