Blogging from A-Z – God, politics and the Ten Commandments

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “G.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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The Ten Commandments

I’m about to say something that might be considered sacrilege in some parts (including these here parts I live in – namely, the Bible Belt):

I don’t think erecting a Ten Commandments monument on government property is a great idea.

But Arkansas is headed there.

State Senate Bill 939, passed last week by the Senate and the House and sent to Gov. Asa Hutchinson for his signature, will allow for the placement of a stone monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Arkansas Capitol.

“There are many historical monuments around the Capitol, and we’re just giving room to another one that has significant historical value,” said state Rep. Kim Hammer, as quoted in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. (Hammer is one of the bill’s 42 sponsors.)

I think that’s an oversimplification of the issue, and I think, as Christians talking about public issues, we tend to do that – oversimplify things – in an effort to make all things seem equal. But sometimes it means we want things to be equal for us.

Have we thought this through?

All things being equal, I’d agree with the state lawmakers who want the monument in public. I am a Christian who practices her faith daily (or at least I try to), and I believe that God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on two stone tablets, lo those many centuries ago. I’d even agree that the Commandments have “significant historical value,” as Hammer stated.

And I even agree with what SB939 states: everything from “The courts of the United States of America and of various 29 states frequently cite the Ten Commandments in published decisions” to “God has ordained civil government.” But I’m not sure that this …

“The placement of the monument under this section shall not be construed to mean that the State of Arkansas favors any particular religion or denomination over others.”

… is enough to convince the naysayers – or me.

Because not all things are equal, and not everyone in the good ol’ U S of A is a Christian. And significant historical value? I have to wonder if that was truly the sponsors’ motive. Hammer’s justification seems disingenuous. That’s usually the type of argument we come up with when we think our real argument will fall flat.

And maybe if the monument had been placed a century ago, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. But it wasn’t, and we are.

So, as Christians, when we use an argument like “significant historical value” as a way to justify our position but what we really mean is that we want you to shut up and get out of our way, we lose an opportunity to connect, to really engage, with those we purport to want to reach with the Good News of the gospel. In fact, we shut the door in their faces.

I believe Christians are commanded to preach the Good News, and one of those ways is public declaration of our faith without shame or apology. But when it comes to displays of our beliefs on public property, I think we’re opening a can of worms we may not want opened.

moon_full_sky
photo courtesy of all-free-download.com

Our country was founded on the basis of religious freedom for everyone.

So if Christians place a Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds, what’s to stop a Muslim, a Hindu, a Wiccan, an atheist or anyone else whose beliefs with which I differ from placing a monument on that same state government property?

Nothing, in my opinion. Except maybe a passel of lawsuits and a bunch of acrimony. And a lot of lost time, money and goodwill. A bunch of slammed doors.

Is that what we want?

Is that what we as followers of Jesus Christ are looking for? To win some argument so that “our” form of government can dictate how others believe?

Like we could even come close to doing that. (As those liberals are fond of saying 🙂 you can’t legislate morality.)

I am all for defending religious liberty, but I’m also all for common sense.

I believe that each time we argue about a religious display on government property, or some other religious “liberty” that, in reality, is a way to force our beliefs down someone else’s throat, we’re placing one more wedge between “us” (Christ followers) and “them” (those we purport to try to reach with the Good News). Sometimes I think we just want to win.

But if we set up this monument, I think the best we can hope for is a tie.

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I feel the need to add a few personal thoughts:
  • I was extremely nervous about posting this. I’m not sure who will read it, and I am not looking to offend anyone or stir up a fight. I’ve always tried to stay away from controversial topics on this blog, so this is the first time I’ve written anything like this. (So, a little anxious.)
  • I could be wrong. Everything I stated above is my opinion, though, and I’m blessed to live in a country where stating an opinion is allowed.
  • I’m willing to change my mind if someone makes a persuasive counter-argument. Although I’ve made some definite statements on one side of the issue, there are a few topics I feel more strongly about than this one and am willing to argue more vehemently about. This one isn’t a hill I’m willing to die on.
  • I welcome others’ opinions. I really do. If you agree or disagree with my views on this topic, please feel free to post a comment. I ask only one thing: BE POLITE AND RESPECTFUL. I respect your right to disagree with me; please respect everyone else’s right to do the same.
  • I’m married to an atheist, who’s also a fellow “former journalist,” and I trust his judgment. I asked him to read this before I published it – not so he’d agree with me but so that he could tell me whether my writing contained gaps in logic. (I’m not a professional debater, folks; I’m just a gal with opinions.)
  • I prayed about this before posting. I can do nothing without the power of prayer to back me up.
  • Thank you for reading.

For further reading on this topic:

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Tomorrow: H is for home.

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Book review: ‘Altar Ego’ by Craig Groeschel

As books tend to do, Altar Ego: Becoming Who God Says You Are by Craig Groeschel came at just the right time for me. When I received an email from the publisher describing the book, I had begun a time of seeking: God, what do you have in store for me? How are you looking to mold and shape me so that I can carry out Your mission? What is my part in Your plan to make Your name great among the nations?

In part, the publisher’s blurb said: “Discover how to trade in your broken ego and unleash your altar ego to become a living sacrifice. Once we know our true identity and are growing in our Christ-like character, then we can behave accordingly, with bold behavior, bold prayers, bold words, and bold obedience.”

My ego (pride, holier-than-thou attitude, judgmental spirit) tends to get in the way of a lot of things, but fortunately God has been working on it through the years. (He has a big job!) So this book was one more step toward my being molded in His image.

The book has three parts:

  • Part 1: Sacrificing Your False Self for Your Sacred Identity in Christ.
  • Part 2: Sacrificing Cultural Relativity for Eternal Values.
  • Part 3: Sacrificing Self-Justification for Passionate Obedience.

Part 1, while completely relevant, seemed like yet one more recitation of things I already knew: “You are God’s masterpiece,” “You are God’s ambassador,” etc. I appreciated the lessons but didn’t get as much out of it as I did the two other parts.

Even Part 2 was more or less a rehash of a lesson on proper living (things my ego tells me I already have a handle on!). So, again, relevant but not as compelling as Part 3.

I highlighted many passages in all three parts of the book, so it would be unfair to say that only the last section spoke to me.

But finally, in Part 3, the author gets to the meat I’m interested in chewing on: “Bold Behavior,” “Bold prayers,” “Bold words,” “Bold obedience.”

And, while I’ve heard over and over that we are to be bold for Christ (if you don’t believe me, read the Book of Acts – 28 chapters of boldness), it’s a lesson I can hear every day and not get enough of.

By nature, I’m an introvert, and I used to be excruciatingly, painfully, embarrassingly shy. I would beg God silently to send people to me – rather than me to them – to be my friends, to pay attention to me (even though I hated being in the spotlight!). I had a screwed-up idea of how human interaction is supposed to work, especially for one who claims Christ as Lord and Savior, someone who’s supposed to share the Good News with everyone.

At some point, I realized that I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and do some work. I started allowing God to put me in situations where I was uncomfortable, where I would be forced to put myself out there, meeting people, talking to them, actually interacting. In other words, being vulnerable. To be honest, I still don’t like it, but I’ve gotten used to it and now seek out situations where my human-interaction muscle can stretch and grow stronger, little by little. It’s a circle: As I step out, my faith grows. As my faith grows, I’m more willing to step out.

So the section of Altar Ego on boldness really hit home with me. Like I said, nothing too new – although said in a new way with illustrations unique to the author – but a challenge to continue building on the foundation God has laid for my life.

My life is not my own. I want to lay it on God’s altar, and I must – every day, every hour, every minute. Only He knows the perfect plan for my life, and yours. Let’s allow Him to lay it out for us, and then grab His hand as He leads us on the great adventure.

Let us be bold.

“ ‘And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness” (Acts 3:29-31, NLT).

This review is part of my agreement with Thomas Nelson through its BookSneeze project. It allows me to get free books in exchange for my honest review, whether I like the books or not. To learn more, click here.

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Books, books and more books

I’m ready to admit it.

I suffer from attention deficit disorder. If I wasn’t certain of it before, I am now. Technology has propelled me toward this official self-diagnosis.

Evidence?

My book collection not only clutters my house; it’s beginning to clutter my electronic bookshelf.

When we finally sold our house in North Little Rock a year ago, we made a small profit and indulged in some techy stuff. Two days before my birthday, I got a smart phone. A few weeks later we got an iPad, and a couple of months after that we got a new laptop. All Apple products (yes, we’re “Mac snobs” and have been for years).

All these electronic devices now “sync” with one another. That’s a good thing and a bad thing.

One good thing is apps.

Another good thing is the Cloud.

When you have three complementary electronic gadgets, all from the same brand, apps and clouds can be a lovely thing.

It means you can load up with BOOKS. And read them anywhere.

Have I mentioned that I LOVE BOOKS? Not lately, but, yes, I have mentioned it. Unfortunately a bunch of Suzy & Spice got wiped out a few months ago, so some of my book-loving references have gone away. Poor you. Because some of them were book reviews. About books I got FREE just for writing reviews about them. (One really cool thing about that is that a couple of these books’ authors posted thank-you comments at Suzy & Spice. And another one saw my previous reviews and wrote me a letter asking me to review her new book. So I did.)

But back to the book clutter.

Bruce Oakley and I (I’ve begun calling him “Bruce Oakley” since he got his own Facebook page; if you FB much, you’ll understand) … well, we love books.

This can be a dangerous thing.

Our house in North Little Rock, the one we sold because we moved to Batesville, had wall-to-wall built-in bookcases in three rooms. It’s basically what sold us on the house 13 years ago, especially for Bruce Oakley, who never met a book he wanted to give away.

That’s not entirely true; he has managed to part with several items from our vast collection before and since we moved from a 2,600-square-foot house to a 1,740-square-foot house.

But, golly, do we still have lots of books! We even have boxes of them that we still haven’t unpacked 2½ years after moving.

I’m working on that. Got it down to just a couple of boxes now. Cookbooks, classic books, running books, gardening books, financial stewardship books, you name it. Books, books, books.

If you’re a true book lover, you understand how hard it is to part with a book – or to pass up a free book on a give-away table. (Many of our books were acquired when we worked for “the state’s largest newspaper” – books from the food editor’s table, or the religion editor’s table, sometimes even the travel editor’s table [even though I don’t really enjoy reading “travel” books]. Heck, we even got some of the books from the book editor’s table! Imagine that.)

We’ve acquired a couple more bookcases in the past several months. We have one still in the box – we’re still trying to decide where to squeeze it in (we bought the bookcase for my mom, but she changed her mind and we decided to keep it). We recently hung shelves in the office/sewing room to store non-book items so we could be a little more organized. This has meant some of the boxes on the floor under the table in that room have been emptied onto the bookshelves and other things have taken their place. (Sounds contradictory and counterproductive, but organizing clutter is a process, people!)

A work in progress. Still working on unpacking, sorting … and reading.

Nevertheless, we have given away a few dozen books in the past couple of years. I’ve donated several to our “church library,” which doesn’t really exist except for a small collection of books that I donated in the hopes of someday having a real church library. Our church here Batesville is a lot smaller than our church in North Little Rock, and I realize that when and if I decide to push for a “real church library,” I no doubt will be elected its first librarian. (Be careful what you wish for.) And we sent a bunch to a friend’s son who’s in the Peace Corps in Rwanda. He lives in a house with no electricity and has to read books with a headlamp. Does that make you more fully appreciate your books, your good lighting and your ability to read? I hope so. It does me.

But back to the electronic techno-gadget-thingie stuff.

Paring down our collection of physical books has been a good thing, spacewise, but now … I have discovered ebook readers! (Discovered is not so much the word as now have access to, on all my cool electronic devices.)

And what’s even better (or worse, depending on your perspective) is that you can obtain books with “1-Click” ordering, and many of these ebooks are FREE!

Did I mention that I love FREE?

And here’s where the ADD admission comes in: Just like with my physical stack of books and magazines on the nightstand, and on the floor by the bed (and in the tote bag I carry to work every day), I have a virtual stack of books that is beginning to pile up in my electronic cloud. (A cloud means you can access the same stuff from different devices by being signed in using the same username and password. It even remembers where you are in your book, magazine or newspaper so that when you’re on a road trip with your iPad, say, you can pick up where you left off reading on your laptop back home in your cozy chair. A virtual bookmark.)

But here’s the really embarrassing part: The reason there’s such a pile is that I start a book and don’t necessarily finish it right away. Right away meaning within the next couple of years. And then I pick up a different kind of book and don’t finish it, either.

Here’s an example, and why it can be so embarrassing: A friend and former colleague of mine from 20 years ago wrote a novel that has been quite well received. It has gotten some really, really good reviews. Right after (or maybe right before) it hit bookstores two years ago, I mentioned it to Bruce, who emailed my author friend and said he’d like to buy an autographed copy for me for our anniversary.

Well … my friend wouldn’t let Bruce pay for the book, promptly shipping us a copy along with a note saying it was good to reconnect after losing touch.

I emailed him to say thanks, and that since he wouldn’t let Bruce pay for the book, we donated $25 to Heifer International in his honor. And then we got to talking about the past few years.

Some history: He and I worked together at a newspaper in California. He was my supervisor, and I was the first babysitter of his first child. I really liked his wife, and in fact I still have a photo on my wall of her standing next to me, both of us smiling as I proudly hold their new baby girl. I house-sat for him and his wife for a week (someday I’ll tell you about having to crawl through their doggie door when the garage-door key wouldn’t work). I swam in their pool, loved on their pets and ate dinner with them once or twice. That was pretty much the extent of our socializing. (It’s hard to socialize with someone you work with when you’re both on the evening shift and have different nights off.) We were friends but not BFF’s, you know what I mean?

So when I moved away, and then he moved back to Seattle, we gradually became the kind of friends who only exchange Christmas cards, except that I am terrible at sending Christmas cards. It was kind of one-sided. I enjoyed seeing the kids age as the years passed, but it wasn’t enough to prompt me to get off my duff and actually send them a card.

One year I noticed that the Christmas cards were signed with only his and the kids’ names. No wife’s name. And since it’s not the sort of thing you write back about and say, “What, did you get divorced or something?” I simply wondered what had happened.

A few years later the cards stopped coming. Can’t say I blame him, I thought. I never send them a card.

So it was one of those wish we hadn’t lost touch kinds of things. Someone you really like and admire but no longer know much about.

And when we started emailing two years ago, my friend shared some of what had happened in the intervening years. Yes, they had split up. She moved away, and later was killed. To honor his privacy, and since I haven’t read all the book-publicity interviews to know how much he has shared publicly, I won’t say more than that.

But he told me that’s where the book came from. This experience of losing this woman he had loved, the mother of his children.

The book’s main character is a teenage boy who has lost his twin brother, so the circumstances are different, but you can still feel the pain and grief as my friend fictionalizes this horrific and life-altering thing that happened to his family.

The book is really, really good (except for the occasional foul language, which offends me on one level but remains true to the teenage character).

And two years later, I still have not finished reading it.

Yes, embarrassing.

But let me defend myself just a little. For the past four years, I’ve been in school at night while working full time during the day. Because of Bruce’s disease, I’m now the main breadwinner. I was trying to get a second degree because of my midlife career change, which happened out of necessity (it allowed us to move to Batesville, where the job opportunities are far fewer).

I was crazy half the time, trying to keep up with it all. This past spring, I decided not to return to school in the fall. I regret that I couldn’t finish what I started, but it was the right decision for my family.

And I’m just now catching up with my life. And my books.

In the spirit of decluttering our house, I was overjoyed to be able to start obtaining virtual books. I have a couple of snob friends – or really just one snob friend who has several snob Facebook friends – who wouldn’t be caught dead with an electronic book reader. They are old-school when it comes to books. They prefer to read them the old-fashioned way – on paper.

Too bad for them. There are so many advantages to ebooks. (Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the list today.)

And then, a few weeks ago, while I was jogging with a couple of friends, one of them mentioned a book she got from Inspired Reads, a service that offers free (did I mention I love free?) and very inexpensive books for your Kindle. Well, I was all over that. I found the website, signed up for the daily emails and began amassing my collection of books for Kindle. (Did you know you can download a free Kindle app and not have to purchase the actual Kindle device? So then you can download free Kindle books! I also have iBooks, but the Inspired Reads selections are for the Kindle.)

And the books you can download (free!) aren’t just stupid, crappy books that no one wants to read. There are some good, thoughtful reads out there. They’re “the best Christian Kindle Books on a Budget.”

In the Inspired Reads daily email, you first have to wade through the list of Christian fiction, most of which doesn’t really light my fire, but then you get to the non-fiction, which has some good titles. You should check it out. Most days I just skim the list and delete the email because, even though they’re free, I simply don’t need to download every single free book out there. When I said I had begun “amassing my collection,” I didn’t mean that quite as literally as it sounds. I’m building my electronic library slowly, trying to be selective while also taking advantage of some of the books I otherwise would pass up. Because they’re FREE.

And I know of another great way to get free books.

If you’re a blogger, check out BookSneeze, another site with Christian books. BookSneeze will send you a book (physical or electronic) just for agreeing to review it on your blog and post the review on a book-related website (such as Christianbook.com or Amazon.com). I’ve obtained several free books from BookSneeze, and most of them are really good. Book Sneeze doesn’t require you to write a positive review – just your honest opinion.

So … back to the ADD thing again. (See what I mean?) I start reading a book, life gets busy, I stop reading the book, and I pick up a different book and start reading that one. Then life gets busy and the cycle starts all over. I have several unread books, just waiting to be loved.

But I’m turning over a new leaf, so to speak. I’m not going to start reading any new ones until the previous pile is finished.

Notice I didn’t say I would stop obtaining new books, just reading new ones. After all, who can pass up a free ebook?

I should be finished with Adios Nirvana within the next week.

Or so.

What books are on your nightstand and piled next to the bed? What books do you need to finish before adding more to your stash? Tell me, tell me!

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Truth, ultimately

I have a confession: I’m a fake.

Or maybe I’m just a flake.

I have spent years building the courage to write, to make it public, to be authentic – to put myself out there.

It’s not easy. I want people to like me, to think I’m perfect.

Then again, I don’t. (Want people to think I’m perfect, that is.)

God has spent years teaching me how to be OK with imperfection, in myself and others (He’s still working with me on that, and I have a feeling He’ll have job security for many years to come).

I’ve written a blog for about 4 1/2 years, getting (I hope) more transparent, vulnerable and honest (some might say too honest at times) with the passage of time and the chiseling of my character.

One of the enemy’s best weapons against me has been comparison. I most often compare myself not to the One who created me – the only appropriate standard by which to measure myself – but to other people. I even compare myself to my former, sometimes better, self. I’d like to think everything about me has grown better with age and wisdom, but that’s only if I don’t look in the mirror. (Wrinkles, saggy skin, blemishes … did I mention wrinkles?)

And getting my identity from what I do rather than who I am in Christ is always dangerous.

So the writing thing … it’s a big deal for me. The more I write, the less anxious I am about it, especially when it comes to mundane topics, such as my latest healthy-muffin recipe or what running shoes I just bought. On the other hand, the topic of my “journey to fitness” gives me butterflies sometimes; it means I am accountable to you, the reader. But “going public” with my precise weight last year was one of those scary things I knew I had to do, not only to help myself but to (I hope) encourage and inspire other women who struggle with similar issues.

When I write about spiritual things – and, who am I kidding, everything I write has a spiritual basis – I’m a little more apprehensive. After all, my writing, as I have mentioned recently, has a more “pedestrian” nature than that of others with whom I compare myself. (Just being able to end a sentence with a preposition is a challenge for this former copy editor!)

And I have some blogger girlfriends (and a blogger husband) who write more eloquently and elegantly than I. Most of the blogger girlfriends write about spiritual stuff, and many of them express themselves way better than I do.

For me, that is just one more form of intimidation in The World According to Suzy.

I haven’t written much about my past as a depressed, lonely, angry girl with low self-esteem. Maybe it’s that I don’t want to dwell too much on a life that seems so far distant now – a life that God has rescued me from but which I tend to want to revisit at odd and uncomfortable times, especially when I think He’s not looking.

When I was in college and part of a group then known as the Baptist Student Union (now Baptist Collegiate Ministry), I was around a lot of other young people who had a heart for missions and other types of ministry. As a young woman who wanted to follow Christ wholeheartedly, I found those people – especially the females – intimidating.

Even though I didn’t sense God’s call to formal ministry (seminary, followed by a church staff position, etc.), I thought those young women were more spiritual than I was. I thought they had some inside party line to God and that I had somehow missed the signal.

I thought it was all me.

I was comparing my own spiritual journey with others’. My path seemed to be taking me to the “secular” world rather than the vaunted world of “ministry.”

I now realize that God has always called me to ministry and missions; it’s just that it looks different for me than it does for others. He didn’t make me a carbon copy of Janae or Dianne or Stephanie, or Angela or Annette or Betsy. He made me me. He gave me the unique skills, talents, desires, hopes and dreams of a girl who one day would grow into the knowledge that she doesn’t have to please one person on this planet as long as she pleases Him.

Over the years, the confidence has grown, not because I have anything to boast about but, as one friend quoted in a recent post (citing one of my very favorite scriptures):

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV).

I want my heavenly Father to use my weaknesses. I need to be vulnerable. I need to be OK that she is a better cook or he is a better writer or that I will never run a 7-minute mile, no matter how much I train and how hard I try. But another woman – the one who just passed me in the 5K, the one who weighs 50 pounds less and has mascara that stays put even when she sweats – will win the medal and she is beautiful and worthy of a huge cheer while whizzing past me (if I can catch my breath long enough to do it). I can look at others’ skills and talents and be OK with the ones He gave me, knowing that they are a gift to be used for His kingdom work.

Just as importantly, I need to be OK that He forgives me even when I cannot understand why He would forgive the same sin over and over … and over. Once I have given my sin to Him and know that He has forgiven me – at the highest price He could pay – refusing to forgive myself is a form of selfishness and ungratefulness.

And even when I ramble and put people to sleep and I veer off the subject to such a degree that I annoy even myself, it merely shows that I am human. And I eventually get back to the point.

Yes, I do have a point:

My point is Truth. Truth comes from being vulnerable, honest and open, and ultimately it comes from God.

This evening I received a Facebook message from my college friend Janae. She started a blog recently and wanted me to share it with others in the hope that it might be an encouragement – to minister to you and me and our friends.

Janae was one of those college women who intimated me. Back then, I knew she was going to do “great things for God.” And she has, only she wouldn’t look at it that way. She would say she’s simply letting Him use her in His grand scheme to redeem the world and that she’s just a small part of that plan. (Wouldn’t you, Janae?)

So after spending an hour or so reading through all her blog posts, I can confidently say that I wholeheartedly want you to read her blog. And if you like hers better than mine, well, then it’s the Lord speaking to you through her in a way that I can’t. I speak to those I speak to, and that’s OK. We both want to bring God’s ultimate Truth to those willing to listen.

Read Janae’s blog and be blessed, dear friend.

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Book review: ‘Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me’

I don’t know where to start.

I just finished reading Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir … of Sorts by Ian Morgan Cron.

Maybe the jacket blurb from the archbishop of Canterbury (!) will help: “This is neither a simple memoir of hurt endured, nor a tidy story of reconciliation and resolution. It is – rather like Augustine’s Confessions – a testimony to the unfinished business of grace.”

Ian Cron grew up with an alcoholic father, a reality that shapes his life to this day. At age 16, he discovered the surreal truth that his father was a member of the CIA. When he wasn’t unemployed.

This is not a typical memoir.

Having grown up in a family of teetotalers, I can’t exactly relate to Cron’s harrowing, sometimes bizarre tales, but he has a way of telling the story that puts the reader in his shoes. Each sentence puts us closer to understanding – and feeling – his pain.

Ever since I began reading the book, I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe his writing style. Understated hilarity. Reverently irreverent. Dry witted. Brutally honest, no doubt, but in a gentle way. (Can you be brutal and gentle in the same breath?)

Cron is Anne Lamott for the clean-mouthed crowd. No F-bombs, no I-hate-Republicans rants. Just honest – and real.

Cron finds grace in the simple yet profound truths of life and makes them, yes, hilarious in an understated way (maybe that’s the definition of a dry wit). At times I laughed out loud, many times I chuckled, sometimes I merely smiled.

“The music at St. Paul’s [Episcopal Church] won me over as well. I’d never been in a church where people sang with so much enthusiasm. Catholics don’t sing – we murmur, then look surprised if a melody emerges.”

The simple. And the profound:

“I can see the couch from the kitchen. I stop cutting parsley and remember that [my mother] taught me how to ride the Dragon Coaster and what to do when you’re flung into the mouth of whatever it is you think will kill you. Throw up your arms and laugh until you come out the other side. That lesson has saved my life once or twice.”

I’m no good at writing book reviews. I just know when I like a book, or when I love a book – this one, for example – and I enthusiastically tell my friends they should read it. Some books fit into a niche, useful for a particular segment of the population; this one doesn’t fit into a neat category. It is for everyone looking for grace.

Aren’t we all?

This review is part of my agreement with BookSneeze. The publisher sends me a free book, and I agree to post a review of it on my blog and one other online publication. No pressure is put on me to write a positive review – just an honest one. (Click here to learn how you can get in on this sweet deal.)

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Book review: ‘On This Day in Christian History’ by Robert J. Morgan

As some of you know, Bruce and I have been trying to sell our house in North Little Rock for nearly a year (May 8 is the anniversary of our “coming home” to Batesville). It has been a long wait, and we’re still waiting, hoping and praying.

If you knew me several years ago, you know I used to be pretty impatient. I like to think I have improved, with God’s help and a recognition of my problem. Still, when things like two mortgages, medical bills and a spouse living on disability income are a daily reality, I sometimes forget my “gift of the spirit” and get mighty impatient with God’s timing.

That’s why I’m thankful for the book On This Day in Christian History: 365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories about Saints, Martyrs, and Heroes by Robert J. Morgan.

Today I was reading this book at lunchtime in my car (my “quiet place”), and the entry about Paul – probably the greatest evangelist of all time – hit me hard. Paul talked a lot about patience and accepting and learning from the obstacles of life – and he certainly had his share of hardship. This particular story talks about his shipwreck on Malta on his way to Rome after a two-year imprisonment in Caesarea.

If anyone had cause to be impatient, it was Paul. His utmost goal was to proclaim “Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). God blessed him for that, but man did everything in his power to stop him, delay him, discourage him, obstruct him and in all other ways try to keep him from proclaiming the Good News. Yet he persevered.

Paul has taught me a lot about patience. One of my favorite verses is Philippians 4:11: “… I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” This line has stuck with me since I was in my 20s (or maybe even my teens), although I have not always acted accordingly.

Paul is an inspiration to me, and, as the book points out:

“It was not in due time – but in divine time – that Paul reached Rome. His nerves held steady in the storm. His spirit remained patient in delay.

“He knew how to wait on his God.”

On This Day in Christian History is full of such stories, although you may not have heard of many of the people featured, or at least know much about them. Most of them are not “Bible characters” but mere historical figures whose names were in many ways obscure. Some were martyrs, some not, but all were heroes of the faith.

If you need the courage to persevere amid trials, pick up this book and be inspired (or check the church library, where I plan to donate my copy).

This review is part of my agreement with BookSneeze. The publisher sends me a free book, and I agree to post a review of it on my blog and one other online publication. No pressure is put on me to write a positive review – just an honest one. (Click here to learn how you can get in on this sweet deal.)

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The slow train to sanity – or is it a runaway train?

Friends, you don’t know how hard it is for me to be sitting here writing this rather than strapping on my seatbelt and pointing the car back toward North Little Rock. It’s 7:45 a.m. as I sit down to write this, and if I left now I could be there by 9:15 (Saturday’s Insane Statement No. 1).

If you’ve read Thursday night’s post (which hit the Internet just before midnight, another sign of my weakened mental condition), you know that I have been battling an “insanity pod” – trying to bring some measure of balance back to my life (if I ever possessed any such thing) – by eliminating things from my schedule, even those things that make me seem even more insane for skipping.

You see, Beth Moore is speaking at Verizon Arena in NLR this weekend, and I had bought my ticket several weeks ago, as soon as I heard about the event.

Beth Moore is, in my opinion, the best women’s Bible study teacher – dare I say women’s teacher, period – of our generation. (Oprah might think she herself is the best teacher of women, but Oprah would be wrong; she may mention “Jesus” every once in a while, but it’s not the same Jesus that Beth Moore talks about.)

I had been looking forward to seeing Beth (yeah, we’re on a first-name basis) live for so long it was killing me. My church here in Batesville had hosted one of her Living Proof Live global simulcasts last summer, and it was amazing (of course). We ladies talked that day of wishing we could attend a live Beth Moore event (several in the gathering that day already had). So when I heard the announcement about this weekend’s event, I wasted no time in registering.

In case you’re unfamiliar with her, in women’s Christian circles the name “Beth Moore” is like the name “Billy Graham” is to the world at large. Most church women you meet, young or old, are gonna know her name and have attended at least one of her Bible studies. Men don’t necessarily “get” her, but women love her.

I became familiar with Beth perhaps 10 years ago when “my other Fellowship” – Fellowship Bible Church of North Little Rock – did one of her studies, Living Free. With the first study, I was hooked. Fellowship North has since hosted many Beth Moore Bible studies, and I could name you my favorites, but I’ll save that for a later conversation.

I believe Beth is so popular for many reasons, but here are the main ones:

  • Her depth of insight into human nature and human character, partly because of where God has brought her from personally.
  • Her depth of study of the Scriptures, including the history of biblical terminology and concepts.
  • Her willingness to share the ugliness of her past with those she teaches. By the same token, she is willing to share the ugliness of her present with us. While there is a temptation to paint her as a saint, she would be the first to tell you she isn’t. She is a sinner saved by grace, just like the rest of us who have called on the name of Jesus for salvation. And we all have ugliness that makes us need Jesus on a minute-by-minute basis. (If you don’t think you do, you’re in denial and we should talk.)
  • She makes the Bible come alive. Her sanguine personality is a big part of that, but I think the more profound reasons are 1) the digging she does into the historical texts, through exhaustive research and study; 2) the fact that she has struggled with so many of the same issues we all struggle with, and then some; and 3) she loves Jesus from the depths of her soul.

It’s that last part that resonates with so many. Beth Moore loves Jesus. If you doubt it, just listen to her for 60 seconds and you’ll likely hear her say it, in so many words. It oozes out her pores.

So I am sitting here on Saturday morning wishing I were back at Verizon Arena, listening to awesome praise music and drinking in Part 2 of her message.

I was there last night for Part 1, knowing I was coming home afterward instead of spending the night with the rest of our group. It killed me to leave, but I was so tired by that point (mentally and physically) it was the only rational thing to do. Or so I thought.

Here is where I confess, and what brings me to tears: My decision not to stay to the end of the conference was based on human logic, not prayerful consideration.

What’s ironic is that human logic is what brought me to this place of imbalance in the first place. Not giving God the time of day, most days, is where my train began running off the tracks.

But let me back up a few days:

Wednesday night I was writing a Suzy & Spice blog post and getting ready to edit the church’s Connect+Scripture blog post before finishing our tax return so I could know how much money we needed to borrow to pay the IRS (our bill is big this year, for a variety of reasons, hence the delay in filing). My mother knocked on the door; she had just gotten out of church and thought she’d swing by to see us.

I didn’t even have time to talk to her. I sort of talked to her, but I was doing “computer things” the whole time she was here. She didn’t stay long, and I felt so guilty. I apologized then, and again the next day, and again yesterday. I also told her to read Thursday’s blog post, which I wrote as a result of this encounter. Or I should say the encounter was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

For it was then that I realized, for sure, that something had to give. And the fact that my mother was the one I had “given up” did not make me happy. When something has to give, your family should not even be on the list.

Mom  and the rest of my family have been the ones to suffer from my imbalanced life for a long time.

My rational self is the one that says things like “I have to go to school because of A, B and C” (those reasons are for another post) or “When we sell the North Little Rock house, X, Y and Z will change and I will have more time” or “I committed to this, and I can’t quit.”

My tendency to overcommit is what will end up killing me someday, if my family doesn’t murder me first.

So in Thursday’s post I talked about the insanity of imbalance. I mentioned needing to take things off my calendar, even things that were seemingly important. (I was thinking specifically of the Beth Moore event.)

My human logic said, “Girl, you’re going to die, or alienate your family, or get fired from your job if you don’t start whittling down your to-do list.”

So the calendar items started dropping like flies, even the one event I had waited so long for. I almost skipped it entirely, but I knew I had to go at least for part of the weekend.

There is another (also stress-related) reason I decided to experience only half of the weekend, and telling you would reveal an unflattering part of me that I’m not ready to share this morning – partly because it’s a long story; you need background info before you judge me too harshly 🙂 and this post is too long already!

A huge irony of this story is that Beth Moore talked about excellence last night – how we need to order our schedules and commitments wisely because “we cannot do a thousand things to the glory of God.” That sentence almost made me weep. It also prompted Kristi to reach across another friend, grab my arm and ask, “Did she consult with you before she wrote this?” (or words to that effect).

Beth’s challenge to us last night was to figure out what God has called us to do (“adopt a succinct life goal”), acquire the appropriate tools to fulfill it (Bible commentaries and concordances, for instance), “endure the hard for the sake of the good” (I’ll expand on that later) and embrace community. (Kristi has been instructed to take good notes for me today so I can hear the rest of the message.)

In the next few days, I’ll share more of what I learned last night, but here’s the challenge I want to leave you to ponder with me, for as long as it takes to discover the answer:

“What would it take to be excellent at what God has called you to do?”

Please share your thoughts by posting a comment.

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Connect with Scripture

Friends,

My church has begun a read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, and we’re blogging about it every weekday. We include links to the day’s passages at BibleGateway.com, and you are welcome to read along, view the day’s commentary (by church members – just laypeople like you and me, plus the pastor once every couple of weeks) and even leave a comment sharing your thoughts, asking a question or issuing a challenge.

It has been rewarding to participate in this community-building exercise, and doing it together keeps us accountable to reading the Bible each day. And can’t we all use a little bit of encouragement in that area every once in a while?

If your interest is piqued, click on Connect+Scripture to join us. I believe you will be inspired.

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Merry Christmas to all

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 (New Living Translation)

Today is a day for families … and for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind.

If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, please get in touch with me (at stoakley [at] swbell [dot] net) or someone you know who can tell you how you may invite Him into your life, or click here and read how and why you should make this most important decision.

Or if you already understand your need, you may simply pray this prayer:

“Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.”

If you just prayed that prayer, know that heaven is having a party in your honor! And I would like to know about it, too. Please post a comment or e-mail me privately to let me know.

Merry Christmas, and welcome to the family.

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