Smoked Meat
  "Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire..." -- Exodus 12:8

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Global Warming in Action

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Better Country

[I shared the following at my Grandma's funeral this past week. She passed away at the age of 94; and though she is much-missed, I am thankful for a life well-lived.]

When asked to share my memories and thoughts about Grandma, I sat down and tried to write as many things as I could, to try to distill the essence of who she was, and what she meant to all of us. Which isn't easy to do for such a remarkable woman. A devoted wife. A loving mom. A proud grandparent of 19 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

Grandma was a consummate traveler--a true adventurer at heart. And when I remember her, I can't help but think of the places she loved. And how these locations each shine their own light on the remarkable woman that she was.

First is North Dakota, where she was born in 1913, and where she breathed her last. Life on the plains wasn't easy in the early 20th century, without electricity or running water. When we would visit in the summer sometimes, us grandkids would giggle about the two-seated outhouse on the farm. At least until we had to use it.

The time she spent in North Dakota made her tough, resiliant, and tenacious. She wasn't afraid of hard work. Her family didn't have much, so they had to make do. She learned to be thrifty. Grandma LOVED garage sales: a trait she passed on to both of her daughters. A trait that I didn't always appreciate growing up, riding around in the back of the station wagon on Saturday mornings. But if you ever saw her eyes light up as she described a bargain she'd found, you couldn't help but catch some of her enthusiasm. She even bought a house at a garage sale once. So it is probably fitting, that my last memory of her is from this past May, when she drove down to Ankeny with mom to visit our own sale. Even though she wasn't strong enough to get out of the van for stops, that didn't keep her from enjoying garage sales. Just riding along was enough. She was a tough lady.

Then there is Florida, where she and Grandpa loved to spend the winter. She like to call herself a "snowbird", and it is understandable considering how much she hated the cold. She was always looking out for us grandkids, making sure we were dressed warm enough--even if it was 70 degrees and sunny. Our winter-time treks to the "sunshine state" are treasured memories.

Florida reminds me of her hospitality. It didn't matter if we rolled in at 10:00 at night. There was always a welcoming hug and then a spread of food on the table within minutes of arriving. And when you awoke the next morning, it was to the crackle of bacon, and her quiet preparations as she made a breakfast fit for a king.

She seldom went to the beach (it was too cold), but that didn't keep her from packing us a feast of salami sandwiches, Bugels, and Shasta pop. Late at night, we would play cards. Pinochle was their favorite, and she was a competitor who didn't like to lose, scolding Grandpa when he overbid a hand and snagged her as his partner.

You can't remember Grandma without thinking about Norway, where she spent much of her childhood years, and returned to numerous times throughout her lifetime. She had a quiet, reserved personality. But all you had to do to get her talking was ask her about Norway, and watch her face light up with animated expression. She loved to tell stories of growing up in the "land of the midnight sun". She was adventurous, and loved the ocean, and deep-sea fishing.

And she learned to cook, attending culinary school for a year. Who can forget her homemade lefse or kringla? Or all the Christmas cookies with hard-to-pronounce names like "krumkake" or "futtigman"? The "cinnamon and sugar rice" with a walnut waiting for the winner of the Marzipan pig. Or her special egg-nog? (NOT Norwegian) She appreciated her history and culture, and was always looking for ways to pass it along to her children and grandchildren. She was strong and independent, and just a bit stubborn too--a Norwegian, through-and-through.

And of course there is Iowa, where she moved with the rest of the family when Cleo retired from Swift and Co. in Chicago. She traded shopping on Michigan Ave. for rural life on the farm, never missing a beat. Adell, Greg, and Lois got married and started having kids. Lots of kids. And she always made each one feel special, with a birthday card each year. $1 for each year of your age, signed "Mor Mor" and "Mor Far"--another Norwegian touch.

Iowa also makes me think of the last 10 years or so, when she moved in with my parents after Grandpa died. She was such an unselfish person. Always gracious, never wanting to be a burden or be in the way. If you offered her your chair, she was quick to tell you to stay put. She loved the "Home and Garden" channel--especially anything to do with remodeling. But if you were watching golf or football, she would watch right along with you. She was a true servant, always putting others ahead of herself. When I think of Iowa, I think about the heritage she leaves behind. Of her example as a committed wife, loving mom, and caring Grandma. Of her legacy of family and faithfulness.

Grandma was the consummate traveler, and now she has taken her final trip--to a place better than North Dakota or Florida. More exciting than Norway. More peaceful than Iowa. A place you won’t find in her stack of “National Geographic” magazines.

Hebrews chapter 11 gives us an insight into this final journey when it talks about another life-long traveler, Abraham. He was called to leave his homeland and to wander the wilderness in tents. Why? Because he was "looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God."

When death arrives, sorrow can make us lose sight of the better country that is ahead. Whether we die at 14 or 94, life is fleeting--a mist that appears and then vanishes. And death doesn't seem like something to be hopeful for.

But Hebrews 11 says: "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them."

Abraham had a hope that was greater than this life, for a home that would last. And we can share that hope, if we reach out for the life offered to us by Jesus. We can share that hope if we believe in His death on a cross that brings forgiveness from sin. If we believe in His resurrection that gives assurance of a future life beyond the grave.

Grandma always looked forward to Sundays. Even though her age kept her inside, she would put on one of her nicer outfits and eagerly await her favorite preacher on TV--John Hagee. It was a highlight of her week, to hear the Scriptures preached. Her faith caused her to look beyond the frailty of this life, to count herself among the aliens and strangers of earth.

If we are looking forward to the better country, then every joy and happiness we find now is just a sampling of what awaits. Every satisfaction is just a little taste of the banquet that will be spread before us.

If we are looking forward to the better country, then every sorrow--even death--is a bittersweet reminder of the city with strong foundations, where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

If we are looking forward to the better country, then we too are travelers, like Grandma. Waiting patiently for our meeting with our Saviour, and for that great reunion with the travelers who have gone before us.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Rain, rain go away...

So it's been raining for like the last week here in Iowa. Lots of big thunderstorms dropping rain in buckets. Houses flooded, basements taking on water (not ours, fortunately).

And the forecast? Yikes.

Friday, April 04, 2008

A Truism on Snow

"What is heralded in December is scorned in April."

Were the snowflakes that fell yesterday pretty? I suppose, but that doesn't mean I liked seeing them. This feels like the longest winter ever, and I don't think I've ever been more ready for spring. The good news? Things are looking up, with a high of 65 predicted tomorrow.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Wise Saying...

Some of you will sympathize with this quote:

"People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one." - Leo J. Burke

Thursday, January 03, 2008

10 Questions for a New Year

Don Whitney (author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life) has put together 10 questions to ask yourself at the start of a New Year. Lauren and I spent a little time New Year's Eve talking about these together, so I thought I'd pass them along.

1. What's one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

2. What's the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?

3. What's the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

8. What's the most important way you will, by God's grace, try to make this year different from last year?

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Year's Resolution

I'm trying to keep things simple this year, with just one resolution: to read through the Bible in a year. I've only done it once--the year before I started my freshman year at Emmaus.

Here's the plan I've settled on (click link to view as PDF). Here's what I like about it:

1. Simplicity. You're reading in just one book at a time, along with a chapter from Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Isaiah.

2. Variety. It alternates between the Old and New testaments, so you don't get bogged down.

3. Days off. There are only 24 readings per month, which gives you days for the inevitable catch-up when you fall behind.

4. Printable. It is nicely formatted (with check-boxes) to fit on just one sheet of paper (both sides). Plus, if you lose it you can just print off another one.

Anyone else want to share their resolutions for the new year?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Three Albums

I was tagged to post three albums that I recommend you buy if you don’t already have them. Two disclaimers though. First, I don't buy music very often. Maybe two albums a year. My audio listening is much more geared towards podcasts/preaching. Secondly, this is just stuff that I have enjoyed lately. All-time favorites is a completely different list.

(1) What You Don't Know, by Don Chaffer.

Don Chaffer (and Waterdeep by association) is one of my very favorite artists. Don is a good musician, but an even better storyteller and wordsmith. He excels at using common stories to convey more universal truths. He also doesn't shy away from pointing out the brokenness of this life, but then points back to redemption and the hope found in the cross.

The first half of this is electric, but I usually skip these tracks because to me, Don's lyrics shine brightest with just an acoustic guitar as their companion. This is also true of earlier albums like "You Were At the Time for Love" and "To Chase Away the Birds". The sweet spot on "What You Don't Know" comes right in the middle, with:

People go by Like a Flame
John Henry, Where'd You Go
Against the Window Pane
What You Don't Know

Here's a lyric from "Against the Window Pane" that is a good example of the kind of writing I enjoy from Don:
Jesus was a lover. He had a fire in His eyes
That could burn away excuses, cremate your alibis.
He had a gaze that would expose to you all the subtle lies
That your soul permits your heart to tell concerning all that it denies.

(2) Brushfire Fairytales, by Jack Johnson.

Just a great folk-guitar album. Jack's laid-back acoustic riffs are catchy, and he does a terrific job combining them with memorable melodies. This isn't a recent album (2002), so maybe it shouldn't qualify for this list. But I still think it is Jack's best work. And like a comfortable pair of sneakers, it gets more comfortable with time.

(3) Mars Hill Music, assorted artists.

This isn't really an album. It is the widely-eclectic music found on the Mars Hill podcast and website. The quality of the recordings isn't great. The musicians aren't polished. And the style ranges from weird to traditional. Yet there are some hidden gems to be found, particularly in some of their updated renditions of old favorites. Here are a few I've enjoyed (free downloads if you want to listen):

I'll Fly Away
Nothing But the Blood

If you want to blog your own three recommendations of albums-to-buy, then consider yourself tagged.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

My "One Sentence" Journal

I started an experiment of sorts this past May.

I had read somewhere on the web (where else?) about an idea for a journal that intrigued me. There are many of us who like the concept of keeping a record of our lives, something to look back on and see what was happening at a certain point. But the execution of this task, though well-intentioned, is too much to keep up with. Life is busy, and when two or three days sneak by without a word written, our momentum vanishes and the endeavor is abandoned all-together.

So when I stumbled across the idea for a one-sentence-per-day journal, it sparked my interest. Every day, you write one (and only one) thought. Something that captures an event, a memory, or just the routines of life. Since this only takes a minute or two, there's no excuse not to do it. That doesn't mean you never forget, but when you do, catchup is easy. Needless to say, I'm still doing this. There's something addictive about it, and I like the idea that five years from now, I can see what I was doing on October 25, 2007. It's a way to "number our days" and realize that God is doing something every day.

I use Google Notebook, which is a widget on my personalized Google homepage. A real notebook works fine too. The key is having something that is close-at-hand and in a place where you won't forget to do it. It needs to be a part of your daily routine.

Here are a few examples from the past few months:

June 1, 2007. An uneventful Friday evening.

July 17, 2007. We made a trip to the library for baby-name books, then we got serious and picked one out...we think.

August 25, 2007. After a futile trip to the hospital in the morning, we did yardwork and planted mums before we were called back to Mercy to be induced.

September 2, 2007. The annual fantasy football draft at Kyle's house: I brought smoked pork loin, and drafted Joseph Addai with the #6 pick.

If you like the idea, give it a try. You might be surprised at how attainable a daily journal can be, and I think you'll be rewarded by the results over time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Three Years Ago

"The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the Lord." (Proverbs 18:22)

I'm posting the above verse to commemorate the third anniversary of the day I asked Lauren to be my wife. Solomon knew what he was talking about.

For those who haven't heard the story, here it is. My sister Marcie and cousin Abby had agreed to be my accomplices. So as Lauren and I strolled the mall, they busied themselves stringing lights and placing candles around my house. My plan was to eat somewhere nice, like P.F. Changs. But we were too hungry to wait for an hour plus, so we chose the next best thing: Wendy's.

As our meal of bacon cheeseburgers and frosties wound down, I made a strategic phone call from the bathroom to alert the girls we were on our way. They made their exit, Lauren was surprised, and everything else went according to plan. Except for one detail.

As I knelt down to place the ring on my new fiance's finger, I rested my elbow on the table. And as she said "Yes" and moved to give me a kiss, I noticed a strangely warm sensation. I dismissed it for a moment, not wanting to interrupt the romantic mood. But as we kissed, I detected the faint smell of smoke and realized that my sweater had caught fire from a tea-candle next to my arm. I jumped to my feet and doused the flame, but not before it had a left a hole two inches across.

There was an awkward pause, and we both laughed about it. I've never caught fire before, so it's hard to believe it would happen at that particular moment. Oh well. I guess when you find a treasure, a burnt sweater is no big deal.