Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! Yes, I know it’s September, but Happy New Year! Happy 5768! It’s the Jewish New Year, and we’re celebrating the beginning of the year 5768. But it’s 2007! How can it be 5768? Answer—we live in two worlds.

To herald the beginning of the new year, the Jews of the Bible would blow a trumpet. Not a trumpet like we think of, a shiny metal hand-crafted instrument, but the shofar, the ram’s horn. A trumpet is a meticulously crafted, regimented, consistent instrument, but the shofar is wild—it comes from a live animal. Every shofar is different. The shofar produces a different sound, a wild sound. Continue reading “Happy New Year!”

The Gate of Dan

Brian reminded me of this picture, taken in 2006. It was in 1996, however, ten years before, that I first laid eyes on this very special place, the gate of Laish, or Dan, in the far north of Israel, near the Lebanese border. Laish was an ancient Canaanite city more than 4,000 years ago, and Abraham, who was journeying south into the land where God had called him, took his first steps into that land as he walked through the gate I stand before.

Laish was renamed Dan when it was conquered and settled by that Hebrew tribe five hundred years after Abraham lived, after Joshua led Israel into the promised land. From the book of Judges 18:27-29–” they proceeded to Laish, a people tranquil and unsuspecting, and they put them to the sword and burned down the town. There was none to come to the rescue, for it was distant from Sidon… They rebuilt the town and settled there, and they named the town Dan, after their ancestor Dan who was Israel’s son. Originally, however, the name of the town was Laish .” The city flourished under the control of the Hebrew people, but in the two millenia since they were exiled from their land, it had slowly eroded and become a forgotten ruin. Continue reading “The Gate of Dan”

Fully Alive, On Purpose

There is an old Jewish prayer that comes from the Talmud that I have grown to love. It’s a prayer that is reserved for very special days, especially a day one has been looking forward to for a long time. It goes like this:

Blessed art Thou, O Lord,
King of the Universe,
Who has kept us in life
Preserved us from death,
And has allowed us to reach this moment.

What a beautiful thought, what a beautiful prayer. But I think it’s one that should be prayed much more frequently, even every day. For life is a gift, a wonderful gift, that should never be taken for granted. This moment, this very moment, will soon be past and will never return. What you do with this moment matters.

I love this prayer too, from the Amplified Bible: And this I pray: that your love may abound yet more and more and extend to its fullest development in knowledge and all keen insight, so that you may surely learn to sense what is vital, and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value, recognizing the highest and the best, and distinguishing the moral differences. Philippians 1:9-10

Being fully alive means living each moment to its fullest, valuing what has value, and ignoring what doesn’t. I’ve recently discovered a new author I love, Wendell Berry. I read this just tonight in Hannah Coulter. These words leapt from the page.

You think winter will never end, and then, when you don’t expect it, when you have almost forgotten it, warmth comes and a different light. Under the bare trees the wildflowers bloom so thick you can’t walk without stepping on them. The pastures turn green and the leaves come.

You look around presently, and it is summer. It has been dry for a while, maybe, and now it has rained. The world is so full and abundant it is like a pregnant woman carrying a child in one arm and leading another by the hand. Every puddle in the lane is ringed with sipping butterflies that fly up in a flutter when you walk past in the late morning on your way to get the mail.

And then it is fall and the cornfields are ripe and the calves are fat and shiny and the wooded valley sides are beautiful with color. The sun is bright, the air clear, and the shadows dark. There is the feeling of completion and storing up and getting ready.

You have consented to time and it is winter. The country seems bigger, for you can see through the bare trees. There are times when the woods is absolutely still and quiet. The house holds warmth. A wet snow comes in the night and covers the ground and clings to the trees, making the whole world white. For a while in the morning the world is perfect and beautiful. You think you will never forget.

You think you will never forget any of this, you will remember it always just the way it was. But you can’t remember it the way it was. To know it, you have to be living in the presence of it right as it is happening. It can return only by surprise. Speaking of these things tells you that there are no words for them that are equal to them or that can restore them to your mind.

And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment, in this presence.


Whoops, I started out so well, journaling the details of this trip, but something has happened and six days have passed. I will never catch up. OK, I’m over it. It never pays to beat yourself up over stuff like that.

Meteora was a fascinating trip. There can’t be rock formations like these anywhere else in the world, reaching straight up to the sky, hence the name Meteora. God took unique pleasure in forming this place, as he did so many other things he created–whenever I see a really funny fish or a funky plant, I think about the joy he had in creating it. I can imagine God laughing in exultation over each and every new design, saying, “It’s good!”

How wild to imagine these hermit monks who came to this place in central Greece seven hundred years ago, climbing with ropes to the high places, and building themselves nests where they might escape the world and seek God. And then the others who followed a few hundred years later, eventually building as many as twenty four independent monasteries perched in impossible places on the cliffs. I can understand the temptation to escape the messy life we live when we interact with people, but they’re another part of God’s creation, the crowning achievement of all his labor, and part of my growing up in all aspects into Christ is to live among people–working with them, caring for them, loving them, being hurt by them, misunderstanding them as I am also misunderstood by them. Yeah, it’s messy.

But it’s not for me to judge those saints of old….as hard as it is to understand them. They lived their lives in a different time, but I was born for such a time as this.


Driving through Greece turned out to be a blast. Greece is cool. I could live there. The navigation turned out to be easy….the road signs are mostly printed both in Greek and the English transliteration. On the way up, we were following the green route towards Lamia, then Karditsa, Trikala, and finally Kalambaka and Meteora. We drove through small villages in the mountains, a couple of gypsy camps (oh, I don’t want to live in a gypsy camp!).

We had gone to a nice coffeeshop in Athens the day before. It was a chain, looked a lot like a Starbucks, but when we went in and went up to the counter, they said, “Please sit down!” So we did, they brought us water like in a restaurant, a menu, and we ordered! (Cappuccino, of course!)

It was a great cappuccino, served in a heavy china cup and saucer, the way coffee OUGHT to be. We remarked on that, and how crass and American it was to gulp coffee from a paper cup.

Fast foward twenty four hours….we pulled into a gas station off the highway to Meteora, out in the middle of nowhere on a winding mountain road. An attendant came out to fill the tank (wow, remember that?) and I went inside to see if they had a restroom….I saw they had coffee and went up to order us both one.

The guy didn’t speak hardly any English, but when I asked for coffee, he said, “Please sit down!” It was kind of a grimy gas station, and we had a five hour drive, so I said, “No, I’d like to get them to go, please.” He looked at me with surprise, and said “To go?” He understood, though, shrugged his shoulders, and started making coffee.

After a few minutes, he handed me two tall paper cups, meant for sodas. I guess that’s what they had there. I looked around for a lid, and then asked the nice man–again, with some gesturing to get us through the language
barrier. He found some lids, but they were cold drink lids, with the “x” in the top for the straws. He stuck some straws through the lids, and I walked out to the car.

I handed Brian his coffee, he looked at it, and said, “I can’t drink coffee through a straw!” So he took the lid off, and sipped some, started the Opel, and left the parking lot. A few seconds later, we realized the rental car didn’t have drink holders!!!!! What kind of a car doesn’t have drink holders??????

We simultaneously realized how impossible it is to drink coffee from a cup with no lid and at the same time drive a standard transmission car through winding mountain roads when you don’t have a cup holder!!! As we laughed hysterically, drinking the really bad gas station coffee, we decided it was probably only Americans who insisted their cars be manufactured with built in cup holders, because we are the only culture crazy enough to put coffee in a paper cup and try to drink it and drive at the same time. We were both embarrassed when we realized how quickly we had forgot yesterday’s resolve to slow down, enjoy life, and take time to drink good coffee from nice china cups. We wondered about the guy at the gas station, and the good laugh he and the Greeks there drinking coffee must be having at our expense–oh well, we deserved it!

PS–I’ve got two xanga buddies on our Israel trip….they both are blogging faithfully….read their accounts at http://www.xanga.com/libzsonshine /a> and http://www.xanga.com/cotaroba

Another Urban Legend Debunked!

Can a woman really pack everything she needs for a 17 day trip to three countries in one medium-sized suitcase? NO!! Another urban legend bites the dust. I had my bag all packed an hour ago…except I didn’t have everything in it. I had to UNPACK it and start over with a bigger suitcase….oh well, who wants to go on a 17 day trip without your stuff? ha

We’re leaving early in the morning to lead our group of Christians making a pilgrimage to the holy land. No matter how many times I do this, I’m thrilled to once again experience it for the first time through their eyes. We’re going to have great adventures, AND the two of US are leaving a week early! We’re going to climb Mount Sinai and meet with God there at sunrise. Then we’re going to fly to Athens and visit the biblical sites there and in Corinth, and also visit Meteora , a mountainous region where a thousand years ago many monasteries were built into the sides of the cliffs, and are still in use. I’d love to see the Greek isles too, but we had to make a choice, and decided to go forhistory and the Bible.

Thank you Jesus for this awesome blessing!

Book Review: To the Golden Shore

The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson

Adoniram Judson was the first American foreign missionary, who went to Burma as a young man of 21. He lived a fascinating life–the book is as thrilling as a novel, but it’s a true story of a man who dared to do a great thing for God, and will certainly inspire anyone who reads it. I know I was directed by the Lord to this book, and it is still on my mind a few months and several books later.

The book was written in the 1950’s, less than 100 years after Judson’s death, and well researched and detailed. Judson was raised a PK, but lost his faith after going away to college. He became a Deist, to his family’s great horror–his mother and sister wailed and cried, saying “Now you’ve ruined heaven for us, how do you expect us to enjoy ourselves there when we know you’re burning in hell?” I got a kick out of that. A real family! Good religious folks! The concept of Providence is often referred to by Judson throughout his life–the arranging of circumstances by God for His purposes to be accomplished. The story of Providence bringing him back to faith gave me goosebumps–it’s too far-fetched to be good fiction, but it was TRUE!

Adoniram and his young bride of 3 days sailed for Burma, never expecting to see home or family again. She didn’t. They lived lives of great sacrifice, and Adoniram was imprisoned and severely tortured at one time for a period of several months. But there was no hint of a martyr’s complex here–they were happy and fulfilled people.

Adoniram had three wives, the first two died due to the extreme challenges on the mission field. After the death of Nancy, his first wife, and the two children they had together, he went into a severe grief/depression that lasted three years. He actually dug a hole at one point, his own grave, next to theirs, and wanted to crawl into it and die. As I saw the grace of God pull him through the slough of despond and bring him to a deeper, richer experience, I knew that same grace would always be there for me no matter what. He took a second wife who bore him many children, and they were incredibly happy. After many years, she died on the ship taking the family to America–his first return in 33 years.

His third wife was a real surprise–read the book to find out about her!

Adoniram penned these words as he was sailing home to Emily, that third wife, and passed by the place of his first wife’s grave:

I seem to have lived in several worlds; but you are the earthly sun that illuminates my present. My thoughts and affections revolve around you, and cling to your form, and face, and lips. Other luminaries have been extinguished in death. I think of them with mournful delight, and anticipate the time when we shall all shine together as the brightness of the firmament and as the stars forever and ever.

But this book was not a love story particularly–it was a life story. More than anything else, I benefited by seeing that his life was not a snapshot of any particular moment, but a life lived, day by day, to the glory of God. When all was said and done, it was the composite, that made his life such a beautiful success. Adoniram Judson lived a life worth living, a life worthy of the calling with which he’d been called. He fulfilled his destiny. I can’t wait to meet him someday, and I know I will!

RATING: 5 stars * * * * * (I might give all my reviewed books 5 stars, as I will probably only write about those I really like! I will review my best loved books, not in any order, just as I take a notion.)

Ultimate altar call

When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else—something it never entered your head to conceive—comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side.”

–C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

C. S. Lewis is way cool

“The people who keep on asking if they can’t lead a decent life without Christ, don’t know what life is about; if they did they would know that ’a decent life’ is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are really made for. Morality is indispensable; but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear–the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.”


C.S. Lewis, Man or Rabbit?


This stripping off of the flesh is precisely what happened to Eustace during an encounter with Aslan in The Voyager of the Dawn Treader, one of the Narnia books.


First entry! It should be very profound, an introduction to who I am. I have been meaning to do this for a while, but the technology kind of threw me. Okay, that makes me sound like a moron, which is not a very good introduction.

Today was Labor Day, which everyone knows is the end of summer. Last night, Brian and I went on a motorcycle ride, up to Conception Abbey. I can’t believe I’ve never seen it before. It was dark when we got back and we were cold. We were putting the bike in the garage when Gary, our next door neighbor, came in and told us Philip was up at the A’s and that they had called the sheriff because there was a guy who has attended the church who has mental issues parked out in front of our house spray painting his car–they were all walking and he asked them if this was where the pastor lived. He left just before we arrived, and the sheriff arrived a little later. Nothing happened, but we all ended up at A’s eating leftover lasagna. I’m sure some people would be very surprised to learn some of the things you sometimes putup with in the ministry. This morning we found ared “X” had been painted on the street in front of our driveway. We believe there are angels assigned to our house and our kids and our stuff and ourselves!

I walked 4 miles withVickie this morning, then when I came in, Brian said, “Why didn’t you ask me to walk with you?”He was grinning, knowing that I didn’t ask him because I ask all the time, and he always declines. So I said, “I’ll walk with you!” and went ou t and walked another 4 miles. My thighs are tired tonight. Good!

Then I finalized the purchase of my new washer and dryer which is blue, extremely blue! I’m stepping out! I made a trip to the paint store and picked out some new paint for the walls. I’ve been putting this whole thing off for way too long–the agitator is barely moving in the machine, and I bought the dryer used over 20 years ago from someone who bought it used! Like the children of Israel whose shoes didn’t wear out–have you ever thought how much you would hate wearing the same pair of shoes for forty years.

So now I’ve begun….and getting started is always the hardest thing.