Monday, October 14, 2013

Writing is Like Driving Sheep Down a Road

The way for a person to develop a style is (a) to know exactly what he wants to say, and (b) to be sure he is saying exactly that. The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean. If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him. I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or the right the readers will most certainly go into it. . . 

~C.S. Lewis on "developing a style" of writing, Decision magazine, December 1963

Saturday, September 21, 2013

From the Great Deep to the Great Deep He Goes

T   hen loudly cried the bold Sir Bedivere:
"Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?
Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?
For now I see the true old times are dead,
When every morning brought a noble chance,
And every chance brought out a noble knight.
Such times have been not since the light that led
The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.
But now the whole Round Table is dissolved
Which was an image of the mighty world,
And I, the last, go forth companionless,
And the days darken round me, and the years,
Among new men, strange faces, other minds."

       And slowly answer'd Arthur from the barge:
"The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within himself make pure! but thou,
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
But now farewell. I am going a long way
With these thou seëst—if indeed I go
(For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)—
To the island-valley of Avilion;
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow'd, happy, fair with orchard lawns
And bowery hollows crown'd with summer sea,
Where I will heal me of my grievous wound."

       So said he, and the barge with oar and sail
Moved from the brink, like some full-breasted swan
That, fluting a wild carol ere her death,
Ruffles her pure cold plume, and takes the flood
With swarthy webs. Long stood Sir Bedivere
Revolving many memories, till the hull
Look'd one black dot against the verge of dawn,
And on the mere the wailing died away.

       But when that moan had past for evermore,
The stillness of the dead world's winter dawn
Amazed him, and he groan'd, The King is gone.''
And therewithal came on him the weird rhyme,
"From the great deep to the great deep he goes."

       Whereat he slowly turn'd and slowly clomb
The last hard footstep of that iron crag;
Thence mark'd the black hull moving yet, and cried,
"He passes to be King among the dead,
And after healing of his grievous wound
He comes again; but—if he come no more—
O me, be yon dark Queens in yon black boat,
Who shriek'd and wail'd, the three whereat we gazed
On that high day, when, clothed with living light,
They stood before his throne in silence, friends
Of Arthur, who should help him at his need?"

       Then from the dawn it seem'd there came, but faint
As from beyond the limit of the world,
Like the last echo born of a great cry,
Sounds, as if some fair city were one voice
Around a king returning from his wars.

       Thereat once more he moved about, and clomb
Ev'n to the highest he could climb, and saw,
Straining his eyes beneath an arch of hand,
Or thought he saw, the speck that bare the King,
Down that long water opening on the deep
Somewhere far off, pass on and on, and go
From less to less and vanish into light.
And the new sun rose bringing the new year.

~ Idylls of the King: The Passing of Arthur, Alfred, Lord Tennyson

    Were I to stumble on this blog post, I would most likely do little more than pass a cursory glance at the above text.  At first glance, it seems to be a mass of words, written in an old-fashioned style, about a mythical person, seemingly without any relevance to my own life.  We're busy.  We're bombarded by text.  Articles bookmarked on the internet to revisited at a future date when we have a few moments to truly go in deep (but do we ever return?).  An email from a friend that we put a star next to their name so that we remember to respond when life slows down for a minute (but how many days and weeks go by before that happens?).

   Stop now and read the poetry above, slowly, line by line.  It's beautiful, no?  Who cannot identify with Sir Bedivere, who has seemingly lost his last friend in the world that that enemy that waits in the wings to triumph over us all, Death?  He cries "Whither shall I go?" to his dying friend.  What will I be without you?  Arthur replies, "The old order changeth, yielding place to new."  The old order changes, but it will be replaced by the new.  I am going, but there will be more in this life to comfort you.  Arthur asks his friend to pray for his soul, "More things are wrought with prayer than this world dreams of."  And then, Arthur goes "from less to less and vanish(es) into light."  But it doesn't end there.  The last line gives us hope: "And the new sun rose bringing the new year." 

   Tonight I am grieving.  I am posting this in memorial of a friend who passed away on September 4th, 2013.  His service was today, and I was unable to attend, being halfway around the world.  I was with him the hour he passed from this world unto the next, and I wish I could have been there today to remember him and say goodbye.  As my favorite poet writes, "Every man is a piece of the continent,/ A part of the main./ If a clod be washed away by the sea,/ Europe is the less."  I am, in short, diminished by this man's death.

   Dear Peter, these are words that should be said in life, not death.  You were precious, and wonderful, and loved.  I hate my fallible human memory, as even now, my memories of you begin to grow faint.  You were always a joyous sight to behold; even in death you clung to life with vivacity and life and wit.  The last time I saw you in the hospital, I wanted to kiss you on your worn cheek, as we had always done, but my nerve failed me, and for that I will be forever regretful.  Stupid words, but thank you for your friendship.  Thank you for always being ready with a compliment.  Thank you for the way you endeared yourself to your students.  Thank you for telling me I was beautiful and sharing the moments of your life with me.  Thank you for your songs.  Thank you for dancing with me and seeing my worth.  You are truly a precious being, created in the image of the Living God.  I love you now and will always love you.  Cursed be this memory that will erase, but my heart will always remember.

You will always be remembered.  Go gentle into the night, dear Welshman.  May the good Lord protect you and keep you.  Amen.

Monday, September 2, 2013

There is legitimate guilt that is removed through repentance and restitution, and there is irremediable guilt.  When people say, "I know God forgives me, but I can't forgive myself," they mean that they have failed an idol, whose approval is more important to them than God's.  Idols function like gods in our lives, and so if we make career or parental approval our god and we fail it, then the idol curses us in our hearts for the rest of our lives.  We can't shake the sense of failure.

~Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, p. 149

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

You Say, "I Will Come"

You say, "I will come."
And you do not come.
Now you say, "I will not come."
So I shall expect you.
Have I learned to understand you?

~Lady Otomo No Sakanoe.  Translated from the Japanese by Kenneth Rexroth

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Who Was King Herod?

Herod was not born a Jew.  His mother was the daughter of an Arabian sheik and his father, Antipater, was an Edomite-- a pagan people living in what is now Jordan.  Antipater was a gifted opportunist who backed the right Hasmonian prince in a succession struggle and managed to marry a Hasmonian princess and secure an appointment at court.  Next, he displayed excellent political judgment in backing Julius Caesar in the civil war against Pompey.  For backing Caesar, Antipater obtained the appointment of his twenty-five-year-old son Herod as governor of Galilee.  Soon after taking office Herod suppressed an uprising led by Hezekiah (or Ezekias), and put him and a large number of his followers to death.  Taking "the law into his own hands got him in grave trouble with the Jewish Council in Jerusalem," a conflict with religious Jews that was to continue throughout his life.

   After Caesar was murdered, his assassins Brutus and Cassius took control of the East and demanded funding from the local rulers.  Herod complied but eventually fled to Rome where he somehow gained the favor of Mark Antony and the Second Triumvirate, and they caused the Senate to elect him "King of the Jews."  With this backing, in 37BCE Herod gained the throne of Judea.  To help secure his claim to the throne, he banished his wife and son and then married his teenage niece.

   Herod claimed to be a Jew, but many Jews did not accept him as such.  In an effort to gain support from the more traditional Jews, Herod undertook a massive rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem on a far more magnificent scale.  Later he greatly compromised this achievement by placing a huge golden eagle over the main entrance to the Temple.  This was hotly condemned by leading Pharisees as an idolatrous Roman symbol, and some young zealots smashed it during the night, for which they were arrested and burned to death by order of Herod.

   As king, Herod was empowered to appoint the high priest.  Being cautious about possible rivals, as his first selection he appointed "an obscure Jew from Babylonia."  This infuriated his mother-in-law and eventually Herod withdrew the appointment and gave the job to his mother-in-law's seventeen-year-old son Aristobulus.  Soon after, Herod arranged a bathing party at Jericho, at which he had Aristobulus drowned.  Subsequently, in an effort to overcome their angry opposition, Herod began to appoint Sadducees (the hereditary priestly class) to the high priesthood, each serving a short term and retaining his privileges after leaving office.  This helped in building a base of influential religious supporters.  But they were of little help in shielding him from growing religious antagonism, some of it based on his dreadful family life.

   During his reign, Herod ran through ten wives and not only disinherited his sons from previous marriages, but had at least three of them murdered.  Late in his reign he became very alarmed at the rapidly growing outbreak of messianic hopes and prophecies, and anyone he suspected of being the Messiah he had put to death.  When he became suspicious that his current wife was involved with a group expecting the Messiah, he had her killed too.  Matthew 2:16 claims that, hoping to eliminate Jesus, Herod ordered the death of all the children under the age of two in Bethlehem.  Whether or not this actually happened, it was utterly in character. 

~The Triumph of Christianity, Rodney Stark, 2011

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A New Heart and a New Spirit

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

~Ezekiel 36:25-26

Wham! Pop! Boom!

Here's another photoshoot I did in Dubai for Sephora for MBC Haya Magazine.  The photographer is Tina Patni.
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The Failure of Romantic Love

We look to sex and romance to give us the transcendence and sense of meaning we used to get from faith in God.  Talking about the modern secular person, he [Ernest Becker, author of the Pulitzer-prize winning book The Denial of Death] wrote:
He still needed to feel heroic, to know that his life mattered in the scheme of things.... He still had to merge himself with some higher, self-absorbing meaning, in trust and gratitude.... If he no longer had God, how was he to do this?  One of the first ways that occurred to him, as [Otto] Rank saw, was the "romantic solution.".... The self-glorification that he needed in his innermost nature he now looked for in the love partner.  The love partner becomes the divine ideal within which to fulfill one's life.  All spiritual and moral needs now become focused in one individual.... In one word, the love object is God.... Man reached for a "thou" when the worldview of the great religious community overseen by God died.... After all, what is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to the position of God?  We want redemption-- nothing less.
~Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, p. 28.  Emphasis mine.

   I am currently reading Dr. Timothy Keller's Counterfeit Gods.  John Calvin, the sixteenth century French theologian, wrote “The human heart is a factory of idols... Everyone of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.”  What he means is that instead of worshipping the one true God, we each invent something else to worship-- it's the one thing you think you need that if you lost it, you'd feel like your life would be over.  For a long time, when I was younger, I think I idolized beauty, and specifically my own.  Thankfully, I don't think that's as much a big deal to me anymore.  Rather, my current idol, and boy does it have a grip on my life, is love.  I didn't realize how much I was internalizing it, but I bought every lie that Hollywood (and the occasional fiction novel) had to offer.  If you dig deep down into my mythos, you'll find that I believe (and I wish I could write that word in the past tense) that if I can just find a man to love me, my life will be complete.  Moreover, it'll mean that I'm okay.  That I'm loveable.  Romantic love is my idol.  Of late, I've pinned that romantic love to a particular man, and wow, what a royal mess of things that has made.  It's led to me compromising on values that were important to me, and, as Keller writes (pg. 38), if you put "the weight of all your deepest hopes and longings on the person you are [in love with], you are going to crush him or her with your expectations.  It will distort your life and [his or her] life in a hundred ways."  And that is exactly what happened.  Keller quotes Becker again:
The failure of romantic love as a solution to human problems is so much a part of modern man's frustration.... No human relationship can bear the burden of godhood.... However much we may idealize and idolize him [the love partner], he inevitably reflects earthly decay and imperfection.... After all, what is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to this position?  We want to be rid of our faults, of our feeling of nothingness.  We want to be justified, to know our existence has not been in vain.  We want redemption-- nothing less.  Needless to say, human partners cannot give this.
    In Counterfeit Gods, Keller recounts the story of Jacob from Genesis 29 in the Bible.  Jacob falls in love with the beautiful Rachel, but is tricked into marrying her homely sister Leah instead.  Jacob makes an idol of Rachel and "apocalyptic sex" and Leah makes an idol of Jacob and his love.  Keller writes: 
   We may wonder how Jacob could have been so gullible [his father-in-law switches Leah for Rachel on his wedding day], but Jacob's behavior was that of an addict.  There are many ways that romantic love can function as a kind of drug to help us escape the reality of our lived... Our fears and inner barrenness make love a narcotic, a way to medicate ourselves, and addicts always make foolish, destructive choices.
   That is what had happened to Jacob.  Rachel was not just his wife, but his "savior."  He wanted and needed Rachel so profoundly that he heard and saw only the things he wanted to hear and see.
He continues:
...(T)hen what do we learn from this story?
   We learn that through all of our life there runs a ground note of cosmic disappointment.  You are never going to lead a wise life until you understand that.  Jacob said, "If I can just get Rachel, everything will be okay.  And he goes to bed with the one who he thinks is Rachel, and literally, the Hebrew says, "in the morning, behold, it was Leah" (Genesis 29:25).  One commentator noted about this verse, "This is a miniature of our disillusionment, experienced from Eden onwards."  What does that mean?  With all due respect to this woman (from whom we have much to learn), it means that no matter what we put our hopes in, in the morning, it is always Leah, never Rachel.  Nobody has ever said this better than C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:
Most people, if they have really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world.  There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.  The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy.  I am not now speaking of what would ordinarily be called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers.  I am speaking of the best possible ones.  There was something we have grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality.  I think everyone knows what I mean.  The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us.
   The solution to all of this is to fall in love with Him who can fulfill all of our desires and needs.  It's to fall for the one true bridegroom who has already proven His love to us by dying for us on the cross.  This is the prayer of my heart these days-- that God will remove the idols of my heart and that I will worship the one true God.  I love this quote from Paige Benton Brown: "Can God be any less good to me on the average Tuesday morning than he was on that monumental Friday afternoon when he hung on a cross in my place?"  I'm still working on sacrificing those idols-- and trusting Him to provide for me that which I seek for myself-- and I would do well to remember that monumental Friday afternoon.  On Sunday at church, my pastor (mis)attributed G.K. Chesterton and said, "Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God."  I don't know who actually said that, but I think it's true.  As the song goes, I've been looking for love in all the wrong places.  Or, in the words of Augustine, "Fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te."   You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.  If you're the praying sort, pray that my heart will find it's ultimate satisfaction in God.  I pray the same for you, dear friend.  Place your hope in Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Loving the Unloveable

"Love means loving the unloveable-- or it is no virtue at all."

~G.K. Chesteron, Heretics, 1905

Monday, July 8, 2013

More Water Please

I'm turning 34 on August 1st... yeah, I'm telling you my age.  I've been blessed these 34 years.  My parents are still married (woohoo-- 42 years so far)and I was born and grew up in the country with the world's largest national economy (the United States of America).  Even though my family wasn't always so solidly middle class, it is fair to say that I have never known what it means to truly be in want.  In short, you could say that there is nothing else in this world that I truly need.

I wanted to do something different this year for my birthday.  I have a friend in NYC who started a charity back in 2006 that provides clean drinking water to developing nations.  His story is pretty inspirational-- he went from a partying playboy who had a crisis of conscience to now being the founder and CEO of Charity: Water, which has raised over $40 million and helped 2.5 million people have access to clean drinking water.

Did you know that nearly 800 million people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water?  Did you know that more people die from lack of clean water and sanitation than from all acts of violence combined, including war?

This year for my birthday, instead of presents and well wishes, I want people to donate $34 towards a water project.  Together we can help people less fortunate than ourselves get access to clean drinking water.  Every penny of the money raised will directly fund clean water projects in developing countries. Even better, charity: water will show us exactly which projects we funded once they've been fully completed (which takes about 18 months). That means we'll know the locations and names of the communities we helped.  How cool is that?!?
Click here to make a donation:

I've set the goal for $3,400.  If just 100 people donate $34, we can hit our mark.  So, what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Love and Lust

Mmmm... mocha latte at Book Munch
I'm finishing up the last little bit of packing for my morning flight tomorrow.  It's been a good day in Dubai-- one for me to remember.  This morning I went with my friend Mark to Yohaan and Raahail's house where their mom served up breakfast for fifteen people.  Afterwards we headed to the Emirate of Sharjah (where I unwittingly broke the law by wearing shorts... oops) and rented jet-skis which in my mind is the perfect way to spend my last day here.  Afterwards, I met up with friend Romana and had a lovely salad at Book Munch, which we've been meaning to visit together almost since the day I arrived four months ago.  The evening concluded with a dinner with my dear friends from my weekly Monday Bible study.  We went out for Thai food, and I enjoyed chatting and laughing with these new(er) friends (Jason, Bev, little Sam, Lays, Leo, Maged, Candice, Jimmy, Ellen, Rahel, Romana, and Keren).  It's been a wonderful day.

Romana and me at Book Munch in Jumeirah 2

Now I'm entering receipts into my spreadsheet-- one last act of procrastination (well, this blog entry is as well) before I figure out how to jam those last little sundry items into my overflowing suitcase.  I'm listening to sermons by Tim Keller, and well, I just listened to this one:

It's great.  It's called Love and Lust.  The description reads
The Bible presents a more attractive and comprehensive view of sexuality than is generally understood.  The headings explored in this sermon include the integrity of sex, the challenge of lust and the future of love.
It's good.  It's hard stuff to hear but also so very convicting and also makes me look forward to marriage and what God has in store for me.  I recommend giving it a listen.  If you haven't heard Keller preach before, he's really interesting to listen to and very relatable.  Give him a listen.  And I pray that as you listen to this sermon that God will open your ears to the message and change how you view sex, love, and intimacy.  God has so much more in store for you and me than we can even begin to imagine.  

But, as it is written,“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,    nor the heart of man imagined,what God has prepared for those who love him"                                          1 Corinthians 2:9 

*For those interested in this sermon and other Tim Keller sermons, download the Redeemer Presbyterian Church app from the App Store.  They have a selection of free sermons that you can access (and download) any time you have wifi.  You can also access them in iTunes.  

Friday, June 28, 2013

A True Christian

"A true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience, but war within."

~J.C. Ryle, Holiness

I'm a wee bit frustrated because I was *this* close to being finished with my blog post for Five Things Friday when somehow it all disappeared.  Sigh.  It's after 2am here, so I'm going to call it a night.  I am leaving for your reading pleasure a quote that I read recently and liked.  If you're unclear on what is means, drop me an email and I'll share my take on it.

In the meanwhile, I'm thankful that I have a computer (even if it doesn't always cooperate). I'm thankful for electricity.  I thankful for the can of peanuts by my bed.  I'm thankful for A/C in this hot climate.  I'm thankful for a very good day filled with friends.  I'm thankful for Pastor Dave's teaching on the 46th Psalm.  I'm thankful that my Lord is my refuge and my strength.  I'm thankful for Martin Luther's hymn.  I'm thankful for Carmen's presence in the body of Christ.  I'm thankful for old friends and for new friends.  I'm thankful that you take the time to read my blog.  I'm thankful for all of the amazing thinkers out there whose words have shaped my life thus far.  I am thankful for those who love me in spirit and truth.  I'm thankful for the conviction I feel in my heart.  I'm thankful that I am already forgiven for everything I have done and will do.  I'm thankful that there is nothing I can do that will make God love me more or love me less.  I'm thankful for Jesus Christ who lived the life I should have lived and died the death I should have died so that I might have fellowship with Him.  I am thankful for the Bible-- the most beautiful and spellbinding book I know.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

I Have Chosen You for One Another

“In friendship...we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.

~C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Friday, June 21, 2013

Five Things I'm Thankful For Friday

This week I'm thankful for:

1. Praying Friends.  Thank you to my friends who remember me in their prayers.  And thank you to the mighty God who hears those prayers, prays on my behalf (Romans 8:26), and answers those prayers for my good and His glory.  God be praised!

2. Reminders of God's Faithfulness.  The biggest reminder I get is when people call me to remember.  They point me to scripture and answered prayers to remind me how good He is.  Moreover, I'm reminded of his faithfulness when I begin to count my blessings.  I have my parents and siblings, dear friends, a roof over my head, money in my pocket, food in my belly, brothers and sisters in Christ, an amazing Gospel-focused church, people praying and caring for me, a library of books to read, readers of my blog, internet connection and contact with the outside world, many gifts, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit... the list goes on and on.  He loves me and He is faithful.

3. TGIF.  Fridays are my favorite day of the week, and not for the reason you may suspect.  Here in the Middle East, the weekend is comprised of Friday and Saturday, with Friday being the holy day when religious services are held.  I eagerly look forward to Friday mornings when Redeemer Church of Dubai meets.  I love our time of worship as well as the sermon that is preached each week.  After church, sometimes as many as thirty of us go out to eat, and our day together turns into evening.  I'm thankful for my church and for this day when the saints convene.

4. INFPs.  If you're not familiar the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test don't know what I'm talking about, but basically it's one of sixteen personality types.  I happen to be one, and lately it seems God has been putting a lot of INFPs into my life, which is really fun, because we seem to click really well with each other.  I feel like we 'get' each other and we can talk for hours about many different things.

5. A Violin-playing Friend.  This week and last I was able to get together and play violin with another girl here in Dubai.  We seem to spend as much time talking as playing, but boy is it fun.  She's a professional violinist and a private teacher, which makes me feel majorly inferior, but she's humble and encouraging and sweet.  We played Bartok's Duos for Two Violins and Bach's Concerto for Two Violins.  It's wonderful-- classical music just thrills my soul to listen to and play.  I'm thankful for our burgeoning friendship and for a friend to play music with.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Say Cheese

Instagram shot from yesterday's shoot for Friday Magazine.  It comes out Friday, June 28th.

U Magazine

These are from a shoot I did last month in Amman, Jordan.  I'm sort of so-so about them, but thought I'd share them with you.  The hair, by the way, because you probably can't tell from the photos, was styled into fun 1940's-era victory rolls.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Things I'm Thankful For

I missed last week, so this week I'm giving you ten things I'm thankful for.

This week I'm thankful for:

1. A Violin and a Violin-playing Friend.  When I came to Dubai, I decided to leave my beloved violin behind.  After all, I was only coming for two months (which have now drawn into four), and I needed to use my carry on for a suitcase since after all two months is a long-ish time.  I was thankful when I spied a viola in the room that I'm renting, and I've enjoyed playing that, but it's not really 'my' instrument; I can't read the alto clef very well, and the size of the viola causes my elbow and shoulder to ache.  However, when I discovered my new friend, Danielle, was a (lapsed) professional violinist, the search was on for a violin.  Thankfully, through the magic of Facebook, I now have a violin in my possession, and the two of us plan on getting together this week to play duets. I'm SO excited.

2. Keren's Parents.  Keren is my awesome Panamanian friend, and this week her awesome Panamanian parents are in Dubai visiting.  On Friday after church a few of us went out to eat.  We got to hear Mama and Papa Williams tell their story of how they met (it was so sweet!) and afterwards Señor Williams, a pastor, asked if he could pray for each of the girls that we would find our husbands.  It was such a lovely prayer and I felt exceedingly blessed.

3. Words of Encouragement.  I also feel really blessed when people encourage me with scripture.  Last night my friend Krishan reminded me, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made," (Psalm 139:14) and today I received a lovely email from a new blog reader who says she's praying for me (thank you so much!) and gave me this verse to meditate on: "About Benjamin he said: "Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders."  I love both of these verses and they're great reminders of the truth.

4. The Circle of Life.  I find an odd comfort in life events.  I can't explain it, but as (my) life marches forward, and I have to say goodbye to those who are dear to me, marriages and births encourage me and remind me that life goes on and that there's more ahead.  They are the whispers of a promise-- a promise that one day I will be made new and shall partake in a magnificent wedding ceremony with the God that made me and knows me in my entirety.  Last weekend we surprised Danielle (my violinist friend) with a baby shower and this weekend we threw a bridal shower for Rachel.  It also feels pretty great to be able to bless these ladies with friendship and gifts as they enter into these new phases of life.

5. Discipleship.  For the past few weeks I've been meeting with a woman from my church here in Dubai to discuss how God is working in my life and to examine how God changes people from sinful self-lovers to humble image-bearers.  It's a great work, and a journey that I'm seemingly at the start of (although in truth I know he has been refining me for a long time already).  Leeann and the other godly men and women that God has placed in my life are part of that refining process, and I'm thankful for their admonition, accountability, and encouragement.

6. Work. I am thankful for work-- always thankful that God continues to bless me with work so that I'm not constantly worrying about how I will eat or live.  I realize that even if He didn't give me work that I should not worry because He promises to take care of me.  But, I am really really thankful that I'm working.

7. 1 Samuel.  This week at church we took a break from our series on the book of Ruth to hear a sermon on 1 Samuel 1.  (Our pastor was out of town this week, hence the break from Ruth).  Only a couple of days ago I was reading a blog by a woman who is going through infertility treatments and having a hard time conceiving.  She felt it was her duty to warn women of the dangers of waiting too long to have children.  Sigh.  I read that and even though I already know this stuff, it nigh gave me a panic attack.  There, you see, even when I don't have much to worry about, I find ways to waste my time worrying about things which I have no control over (which, come to think of it, is most things).  So, there on the verge of a meltdown over whether I'll ever get married and will ever have children, I remembered Hannah (and Sarah and Rachel and Leah and Mary...) and how God opened her womb and I remembered that with God anything is possible.  Of course, that doesn't mean He will give me a husband and children, but it does mean that if it's His will, it will happen and without my own striving and contriving.

8. My Emotional Health.  When I first arrived in Dubai in early March, I felt a bit like I'd been chewed up and spit out.  I was not in a good place emotionally.  A couple of days ago, I was home alone after a full day of being largely alone, and instead of feeling sad like I hitherto would have done, I noticed that I was content.  I did some Pilates, went for a swim, played my violin, and read.  It was lovely evening.  It then occurred to me how far I've come.  The following day a lady at church who had first met me the week I arrived commented that I'm a different person now than I was then.  She's not the first to have noticed a difference.  I am thankful that God heard my cries of distress and that he brought me here to this place of healing and recovery.

9. Unexpected Blessings and Gentle Reminders.  Last week I received my first paycheck and included in it was about $1000 from a job done in 2009.  Instead of being thankful, the first instinct of my hardened heart was to be annoyed and put out that these people have held onto my money all of these years without paying me and letting me know about it.  However, after telling the story to my friend, Romana, she gently chided me and reminded me that I should be thankful for this unexpected bounty.  She's absolutely right, of course.  I am thankful for the extra cash, and am even more thankful for her and her reminders to examine my sinful heart.  (She often challenges me, and in the moment, I get defensive and argumentative.  Afterwards though, when I reflect on what she's said, I can see that she's absolutely right and I count it as a blessing to have such a friend who is willing to speak hard truths to me.)

10. Self-discipline.  It's not something I usually have in great quantity, but lately I seem to be on a roll.  I think I've made up my bed every single day I've been here (which probably means I've made my bed here more times than I have in my entire life before this) and I've been really on top of the exercise thing.  It may seem little, but I feel pretty good about it.  I've read that self-discipline is like a muscle-- it can be strengthened, and used over time and can become fatigued and stop working until it recovers.  I'm not sure what's going on with me these days, but it does feel like my self-discipline has grown a little stronger, and for that I am thankful.

One more thing I'm thankful for-- Friends! Carmen, Keren, Rahel, Stacy, Lays, and me

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Blogilates for Beginners

I LOVE Cassey Ho and Blogilates-- she's an energetic pilates instructor who brings her knowledge to the YouTube community with her own YouTube channel.  I discovered her in 2011 when another model told me about her, and I've been hooked ever since.  She's perfect for me because I get to work out in the convenience of my home or in a hotel room when I am traveling, and it usually doesn't require any equipment (haha, last week I substituted wine bottles for dumbbells). 

I always tell people about her, so I thought I'd share this with you.  She's developed a calendar with all of her workouts for beginners-- which is a perfect intro to pilates.  The names of the workouts on the calendar are the names of the videos on YouTube, so you can just search for them, or you can go this link on her page and click on the day to go directly to the videos. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Dogma is the Drama

"The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama. It is the dogma that is the drama—not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death—but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world, lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death. Show that to a heathen, and they may not believe it; but at least they may realize that here is something that a man might be glad to believe.”

~Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Five Things I'm Thankful For Friday

I am not the man I ought to be, I am not the man I wish to be, and I am not the man I hope to be, but by the grace of God, I am not the man I used to be.

~paraphrase of quote from former slave trader and lyricist of Amazing Grace, John Newton

Here are five things I'm thankful for this week:

1. Sanctification.  Philippians 1:6 says, "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you wil bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."  At this very moment, God is at work sanctifying me-- he making me over in His image, transforming me from the inside out.  It's often a painful process as I come face to face with my sin and how it manifests itself in my life, but I'm encouraged too, because God promises that He will change me, and that the end result will be so much better than anything I could possibly imagine.  I can trust that He will do as He's promised, which gives me the strength to persevere.

2. God's Providence.  Theologian and professor D.A. Carson writes, "I do think, though, that it is one of the common features of those who become intimate with Jesus that they think of themselves not as those who love him particularly well those who are particularly well loved by him.  Thus, John, the writer of this Gospel, refers to himself as 'the disciple whom Jesus loved.'"  I wouldn't say that I'm near as confident as John was when he called himself that, but I do feel loved by Jesus.  Ultimately, his love for me is demonstrated by his dying to save me, but I also feel loved by the food he places in my hands, the clothes he places on my back, the shelter he builds over my head, and the friends he blesses me with.  Specifically, I'm thankful that I'm working and making money; I'm thankful to live with the Parks family; I'm thankful for my friends at United Christian Church of Dubai and Redeemer Church of Dubai.  I'm thankful to be sandwiched between two households of people who love God and strive to honor him.  I'm thankful that God has me here at this moment in time for his purposes.

3. People who Speak Truth into my Life.  I'm thankful for the friends I have who love me enough to call me on my sin when they see it.  They see my pride and my unrepentant heart and they lovingly confront me about it.  They also correct the lies that I preach to myself by injecting the truth into my life.  When I am tempted to despair, they remind me of God's faithfulness.  This week, those people were Brinton, Mack and Leeann, Romana, and Krishan.  I'm thankful that they challenge me and help me along the path of sanctification (see #1).

4. The Service of Men in the Church.  Today at church we took communion (which I'm also thankful for-- what a blessing it is to receive that sacrament).  The elders and deacons of the church (all men) gathered at the front of the church to collect the bread and grape juice so that they could distribute it to our sizable congregation.  It just so worked out that on the aisle where I was sitting that the trays were passed by Brian Parks and Mack Stiles.  I've had the honor of staying with both the Parks and Stiles families during my times in Dubai, and I've been blessed beyond measure by these Godly men.  They've housed me, fed me, discipled me, and loved me.  I've seen them love their wives and their children and it has been a powerful experience.  Watching them serve the church by distributing the elements that represent Jesus's body and blood brought tears to my eyes.  Brian and Mack represent many godly men both at this church and at other churches worldwide-- men who strive to follow Paul's injunction, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself of for her."  Their example, as well as the other godly men that God has placed in my life, is an inspiration.  I thank God for them and pray that He continues to bless and sustain them.

5. Nature.  Again this week I was blown away by the rugged beauty of this region.  On Monday, I flew to Amman, Jordan for a shoot, and on Tuesday, I did another dhow cruise in Musandam, Oman.  I saw mountains and goats and blue skies and fish and various gulfs and rolling fields.  It is a delight unto my eyes and I am thankful for my creator God who delights in such beauty. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Five Things I'm Thankful For Friday

"I pray because I can't help myself.  I pray because I'm helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time-- waking and sleeping.  It doesn't change God... it changes me."

~C.S. Lewis

This week I'm thankful for:

1. Reminders of What's Important.  A friend from back home chided me about my own inward-focused self, or less flatteringly, my selfishness.  At a class in church this morning, we discussed a book called When People are Big and God is Small which focuses on this very thing.  Specifically, we talked about how we can grow to "Need other people less and love other people more.  Out of obedience to Christ, and as a response to his love toward you, pursue others in love."  Sometimes I think I'm the most selfish person I know.  I'm thankful that there are people in my life who love me enough to tell me the truth about myself, and I'm thankful that I have God who is ceaselessly refining me in order to make me more like Himself.  I'm also thankful that he continues to open my eyes to my sin so that I can confess it and repent.

2. Prayer.  Of late, God has increasingly been showing me the power of prayer in changing my own heart and attitudes.  I am often malcontent and my heart is envious and angry and lustful.  I struggle with all these sins.  And yet, I am learning that when I go before God with my hard heart and confess to Him, he changes me.  I can't explain the transformation, but a gentleness and softness appears in that place where its very opposite stood before.  I'm thankful for the power of prayer to change the attitudes of my heart.

3. My Brothers in Christ.  Tonight I got to spend the evening in the company of three fellows who all love God.  We had a picnic by the sea as the sun set, and our conversation was entirely edifying.  I'm thankful for the example they set in their servitude to the Lord and their desire to honor Him.  I'm thankful for their love towards others and their humility.  I pray that He will sustain them, go before them, and lead them in the paths of righteousness.

4. Birds.  I don't why but I've been noticing the birds lately-- they keep crossing my path.  This afternoon I noticed beautiful green tropical-looking birds adorning my neighbor's home and then tonight at the beach I watched a trio scamper across the wet sand.  All week long they've popped up in my field of view as little gifts of nature.

5. God's Provision in My Life. I sometimes sight of this fact, but at this very moment, God has me exactly where He wants me.  I am blessed beyond measure to have a roof over my head, food in my belly, the promise of future paychecks, a church that preaches the Gospel, a Christian family to live with who model the Gospel, and people who love me and pray for me.  Selfish sinner that I am, I often lose sight of these facts, but God continues to lead home on the path the leads to Him; he clothes me and feeds me.  I am blessed beyond measure. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Five Things I'm Thankful For Friday

This week I'm thankful for the simple things:

1. I'm thankful that my parents thought learning to swim was an important skill.  I say this because 1. Swimming is one of the chief joys of my life and 2. I think the ability to swim is something that most people who can do it take for granted.  True story: There are lots of nationalities that don't place much importance on learning to swim.  One Indian friend went to the US and ended up at a summer camp where kids were confidently jumping off a pier and swimming in the mountain lake.  Said friend, seeing how easy swimming appeared to be, dived into the frigid waters, and immediately plunged like a rock to the bottom.  Luckily, a lifeguard was on duty to drag him to safety.  Swimming is not something one just knows how to do.  Thank you M & D for taking me to weekly lessons at the YWCA.  I never made it above guppy level, but that's good enough for me.

2.  I'm thankful for my sense of smell.  Dubai is a panoply of smells.  Some are not so pleasant (the dumpsters that seemingly grace every street) while others are quite heavenly (the occasional scent of jasmine that wafts through the air.). Life is meant to be smelled (and touched and seen and tasted).

3.  I'm thankful for being busy.  Work has really been good lately which is great because I generally really enjoy working, presumably it means I'm making money (can't say for sure until I actually get paid), and because it keeps me occupied so that I stay in the moment and don't dwell on things that make me sad (as I am wont to do).

4.  I'm thankful for technology.  My iPad is just about my favorite-ist thing ever.  I use it to message people back home, navigate my way around Dubai, read my Bible, listen to NPR, learn German, memorize poetry... the list goes on and on.  I also love watching movies on my laptop, and using gmail chat to talk to loved ones back home.  I'm thankful for my camera which helps me capture my memories... I'm thankful for it all.  It's made traveling (and keeping in touch) much easier since the days when I first set off by myself for foreign climes in 2003.

5.  I'm thankful for my parents and their commitment to another.  This week my parents celebrated 42 years of marriage together!  I'm proud of them and thankful to have been able to grow up in a stable home with parents who stuck it out for the long haul.  Happy Anniversary, M & D!  Here's to many more!
 photo parents_zps525c3917.jpg
Now and Then: My Parents

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Five Things I'm Thankful For Friday

A few of the things I'm thankful for this week are:

1.  The Weather.  It's been overcast and even a little rainy (which is rare for this region) which has made getting around town and being outside an utter delight.  Shockingly, I've heard English friends complaining about it (it's too much like back home for them), but the alternative is a blazing hot sun accompanied by humidity.  I'll take the the clouds any day.

2.  The Psalms.  We've been studying a new Psalm each week in our small group in preparation for the week's sermon at church.  This week we studied Psalm 73 which deals with being envious of those around us who seem to prosper in spite of wickedness, or perhaps even because of it.  Asaph, the writer of the Psalm, is frustrated by these

3.  The Journey.  It sounds a bit cliche to say, but I'm increasingly thinking of life in terms of walking down a path in a particular direction.  Sometimes I get off the path, or make the wrong turn, or even just stop dead in my tracks, but always I return, or rather, God graciously brings me back.  The Bible often refers to our journey through life as a matter of choosing a path.  (Proverbs 4:14-15 says "Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil.  Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on."). What's neat is that I'm at a stage in my life where I can look and reflect upon where I've come from.  I can see how God has been working in my life and how he continues to work.

4.  New Revelations.  My favorite verse in the Bible is 2 Corinthians 12:9.  'My grace is sufficient is for you...' was a verse that spoke to me when I was trying really hard to please God so that I could earn His love.  I thought I needed to be perfect- always praying, living an exemplary life, devotedly reading my Bible, and so and on, but that striving left me feeling exhausted (not to mention filled with an abominable self-righteousness) and, in spite of it all, I felt hopelessly distant from God.  God spoke those words to me, and what I understood with that simple statement of His grace being sufficient was something along the lines of, "Elise, I lived the life you should have lived and died the death you should have died."  Or, as succinctly put in the verse of the old hymn, "Cast your deadly 'doing' down/ Down at Jesus' feet;/ Stand in Him, in Him alone,/ Gloriously complete."  My strivings were all for naught, but Christ's death is God's grace.  So, 'grace' meant salvation.  Now, 2 Corinthians 12:9 has taken on a new meaning or me.  Lately my struggle has been in not being satisfied in just God and again His answer is 'My grace is sufficient for you.'  It's a powerful revelation-- He is all I need.  This time, grace means that God fulfills all of my needs. He is enough.

5.  Dolphins.  One of the highlights of the week was getting to play with dolphins for a shoot.  They were amazing-- I decided they were the dogs of the sea.  They're so playful and silly and eager to please.  I'm a very lucky girl.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Memento Mori

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May, John William Waterhouse
Get up, get up for shame, the Blooming Morne
Upon her wings presents the god unshorne.
                     See how Aurora throwes her faire
                     Fresh-quilted colours through the aire:
                     Get up, sweet-Slug-a-bed, and see
                     The Dew-bespangling Herbe and Tree.
Each Flower has wept, and bow'd toward the East,
Above an houre since; yet you not drest,
                     Nay! not so much as out of bed?
                     When all the Birds have Mattens seyd,
                     And sung their thankful Hymnes: 'tis sin,
                     Nay, profanation to keep in,
When as a thousand Virgins on this day,
Spring, sooner than the Lark, to fetch in May.

Rise; and put on your Foliage, and be seene
To come forth, like the Spring-time, fresh and greene;
                     And sweet as Flora. Take no care
                     For Jewels for your Gowne, or Haire:
                     Feare not; the leaves will strew
                     Gemms in abundance upon you:
Besides, the childhood of the Day has kept,
Against you come, some Orient Pearls unwept:
                     Come, and receive them while the light
                     Hangs on the Dew-locks of the night:
                     And Titan on the Eastern hill
                     Retires himselfe, or else stands still
Till you come forth. Wash, dresse, be briefe in praying:
Few Beads are best, when once we goe a Maying.

Come, my Corinna, come; and comming, marke
How each field turns a street; each street a Parke
                     Made green, and trimm'd with trees: see how
                     Devotion gives each House a Bough,
                     Or Branch: Each Porch, each doore, ere this,
                     An Arke a Tabernacle is
Made up of white-thorn neatly enterwove;
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
                     Can such delights be in the street,
                     And open fields, and we not see't?
                     Come, we'll abroad; and let's obay
                     The Proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But my Corinna, come, let's goe a Maying.

There's not a budding Boy, or Girle, this day,
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
                     A deale of Youth, ere this, is come
                     Back, and with White-thorn laden home.
                     Some have dispatcht their Cakes and Creame,
                     Before that we have left to dreame:
And some have wept, and woo'd, and plighted Troth,
And chose their Priest, ere we can cast off sloth:
                     Many a green-gown has been given;
                     Many a kisse, both odde and even:
                     Many a glance too has been sent
                     From out the eye, Loves Firmament:
Many a jest told of the Keyes betraying
This night, and Locks pickt, yet w'are not a Maying.

Come, let us goe, while we are in our prime;
And take the harmlesse follie of the time.
                     We shall grow old apace, and die
                     Before we know our liberty.
                     Our life is short; and our dayes run
                     As fast away as do's the Sunne:
And as a vapour, or a drop of raine
Once lost, can ne'r be found againe:
                     So when or you or I are made
                     A fable, song, or fleeting shade;
                     All love, all liking, all delight
                     Lies drown'd with us in endlesse night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying;
Come, my Corinna, come, let's goe a Maying.

~Robert Herrick (1591-1674), Corinna's Going a Maying

   I know, it's a little bit of a longer poem, but it's really quite lovely, and certainly worth the read.  The speaker has gone to fetch Corinna out of bed-- it's spring!  It's May!  Our life is short and our days run as fast away as does the sun.

   I am, of course, posting this because I celebrate May 1st each year as my crowning as May Queen (blogged here and here).  It's a tradition I've honored since I was about sixteen, and all these years later, it's still a day that holds great significance for me.

   I hope you have a lovely May Day.  Take Herrick's advice-- get out of bed, dress quickly, let nature be your adornment, love, live, be merry.  It's a lovely day and we are blessed to be alive.  Carpe Diem.