Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Short Lesson in History

By Jeff Mateer
General Counsel for Liberty Institute

My lovely wife, D’Ann Mateer, asked me to share my thoughts on the right to life. She rejected my first submission, claiming that it was too much of a history lesson and that it lacked personal experience.

My first response to her is, of course, anything that I would write would contain a history lesson. I’m a constitutional lawyer, who believes a large part of our problems today result from the failure of judges, law professors, and lawyers to strictly interpret the actual text of the Constitution given the original intent of the Framers.

My second response is I’m a lawyer and a man. I don’t share personal experiences, at least not for free.

Nevertheless, taking appropriate note of her suggestions, here goes my revised submission.

When I hear the words “right to life” what do I think of? Immediately, my thoughts turn to the current debate over abortion. I also mull over the controversy concerning euthanasia and other end of life issues.

The phrase “right to life”, however, is not a creation of the 20th or 21st century. It has its origin in the Declaration of Independence. Two hundred and thirty four (234) years ago, our nation’s founding fathers declared the self-evident truth that “all men . . . are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The founders unequivocally recognized that God granted all mankind basic moral rights that include, at the forefront, the right to life.

Our Founding Fathers’ recognition of these unalienable rights was not new, even in 1776. Instead, their recognition was grounded upon established English common law and ultimately God’s law. As recognized by founding father John Dickinson, “[o]ur liberties do not come from charters; for these are only the declaration of pre-existing rights. They do not depend on parchments or seals, but come from the king of kings and the Lord of all the earth.”

For centuries, our law consistently protected the rights of the unborn, the infirm and the elderly. As founding father James Wilson (who would sign both the Declaration and the Constitution and would become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice in 1789) observed, “[w]ith consistency, beautiful and undeviating, human life from its commencement to its close, is protected by the common law.”

Regrettably, things are different today. We have forgotten our history, centuries of common law, and in the end, our God.

In 1973, seven unelected judges determined that, despite hundreds of years of contrary precedent, the unborn had no right to life. Since that time, 52 million innocent lives have been taken. This past year over 1 million lives were terminated. Today alone, in abortion mills through out the country, 2,739 babies will be killed.

For over the past 30 years, we seem to be living in a society that does not honor life, but instead promotes a culture of death. The unborn, the old, the imperfect are often seen as expendable instead of having a right to life—including a right to impact our lives in ways that might make us uncomfortable. Or might even require some sacrifice on our part.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we can also rejoice knowing that He came to save us from death and to grant us true life. God’s word expressly tells us that while the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy (sounds a lot like today’s culture of death), Jesus came so that we might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) Simply put, we have freedom and a right to life today only through the death and resurrection of our Savior and Lord.

So as we celebrate freedom this weekend, let’s remember that our freedom includes a right to life—physically and spiritually— as we stop to thank the One who created life in His image. Let’s also pausing to remember that the battle for the right to life and the protection of the unborn, the infirm and elderly continues.

How can we celebrate life this 4th of July?

P.S. For my lovely wife: “Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.” And my personal experience in writing this post tells me blogging is hard work.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Napoleon Dynamite, God, and a Celtic Bird

AKA: Gina's Rejected Tenative Doctoral Thesis
by Gina Welborn
with enhancing tips provided by Matt Welborn, esq.

In the beginning (which those bound by time would define as the fall of 1999) was a Word document, and the Word document was with Gina (okay, on her computer for those bound by technicalities), and the Word document was...well, blank. That was also a good description of Gina's mind. Not to be one dismayed by such high obstacles, Gina managed (as she always does) to put words to monitor and produced--a month or so later--her first fiction manuscript. And Gina saw what she'd written and said, "This sucketh."

Actually, in addition to having a blank mind, she was also delusional because she didn't realize what she'd written sucketh until several years later. Sometimes being having "magical thinking" (as ACFW publicity director Angie Breidenbach calls it) is rather nice. Don't tell Angie Gina said that.

Creator. According to Merriam-Webster, it means "one that creates usually by bringing something new or original into being; especially capitalized: GOD.

Uggh. Doncha hate it when a word uses the word to define the word?

One of the most powerful sentences in the world was created 234 years ago. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Matt: Now what?
Gina: I don’t know. I’m blank again.
Matt: Now that’s a drag. Wait, I can’t say now twice. That’s redundant.
Gina: Sucks to be you.
Matt: Mom, that’s mean.
Gina: I can’t type “mom, that’s mean.” You’re dulling my blog post. Think of something more creative, more transistional.

In a day and age when society—and the public school system—does all it can to diminish the spiritual core of our founding fathers, the truth can be found in our Declaration of Independence.

We…the fifty-six men who signed the document.

Hold these truths to be self-evident…instinctive knowledge.

All men are created equal…all of mankind has these rights.

That they are endowed by their Creator…that God gave each of us these rights.

What are these rights? Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The right to live. The right to be free. The right to strive for our dreams, goals, aspirations, ownership of land, time to play video games, to beat up our siblings, to climb trees, to knit when we’re 96 years old, and to eat cake with lots and lots of icing.

“I majored in Bible in college. I went to the seminary and I majored in the only thing they teach there: the professional ministry. When I graduated, I realized that I could speak Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and the only thing on earth I was qualified for was to be the pope. But someone else had the job.” –Anonymous Pastor, Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola

Okay, so that reminds me (Gina) of a guy I went to church with years ago who wanted to be a youth pastor. He went to seminary, got edumacated, earned a nice shiny diploma, and couldn’t get hired anywhere. Why? He had the head knowledge, even the heart knowledge, but he had no youth pastor skills.

Napoleon Dynamite: Well, nobody's going to go out with *me*!
Pedro: Have you asked anybody yet?
Napoleon Dynamite: No, but who would? I don't even have any good skills.
Pedro: What do you mean?
Napoleon Dynamite: You know, like nunchuku skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills... Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.
Pedro: Aren't you pretty good at drawing, like animals and warriors and stuff?
Napoleon Dynamite: Yes... probably the best that I know of.
Pedro: Just draw a picture of the girl you want to take out... and give it to her for like a gift or something.
Napoleon Dynamite: That's a pretty good idea. [referring to the dance] Who are you gonna ask?
Pedro: That girl over there.
Napoleon Dynamite: Summer Wheatly? How the heck are you gonna do that?
Pedro: Build her a cake or something.
Pedro: Do you think people will vote for me?
Napoleon Dynamite: Heck yes! I'd vote for you.
Pedro: Like what are my skills?
Napoleon Dynamite: Well, you have a sweet bike. And you're really good at hooking up with chicks. Plus you're like the only guy at school who has a mustache.

(rough transition here)

Far too many times we excuse away the pursuit of our dreams because we look at our lives and think, “I don’t even have any good skills.”

The truth is every one of us has skills. From there to here, from here to there, abilities are everywhere. Some have one skill, some have two skills, some have red skills, some have blue skills. Good skills, bad skills, shark skills, plaid skills. Oh, the things we can think up...if only we try.

"A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals." ~Larry Bird

(less rough transition here)

Our Creator gave each of us talents that are natural—inherent. During our family movie night recently, we watched X-Men 3: The Last Stand. Jean Gray was had the inherent talent to be a class 5 mutant--the most powerful level of mutants. Only Professor Xavier put a mental block on those abilities because he knew Jean didn’t have the ability to control her skill. Or he feared she didn't. Because she never had a chance to hone her skills at a younger age, she ended up killing the man she loved and the man who thought he was helping her. Plus she lost her beauty when she went Phoenix-psycho. Word to the the wise, learn from Jean because Elizabeth Arden Prevage can lessen aging but not correct manical wrinkles.

Don't assume that possessing a skill means that skill makes you the Larry Bird of 1980s basketball. Whatever our natually skill (both developed and unrealized), to utilize them to the fullest, we have to find a something strong and stable to hone them.

We must develop those skills. Scripture teaches that the Word of God is a double-edged sword that sharpens us--our skills--to be prepared for good work.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. ~2 Timothy 3:16-17

Matt: Mom,I’m out of creative juice.
Gina: Really?
Matt: I know how to end this, though.
Gina, risking being redundant again: Really?
Matt: Live long and prosper.

Serious Question of the Day: What skills do you have and how has God honed them over the years for you to do good work with them?

Non-Serious Question of the Day: What character in a movie or book or tv show is most like you. Or if you could be a character in a movie or a book or a tv show, who would you be?

Monday, June 28, 2010

We Declare Our Independence

Granny here, to talk about Pilgrim collars and burning bras.

No, really. There’ s a connection. I love history. I will find a connection if it kills me.

When Kevin Bacon's six degrees of separation won't work, I rely on Henry the VIII of England.

In sixteenth century Europe, on the heels of the Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation, country after country broke with the Roman Catholic church over the rights of the common man to pray directly to God and read the bible rather than depend on the church’s appointed leadership to act as go-between. Only Spain and Italy held on to their ties with Rome. Henry, who cared little for religious freedom and more about having his own way, created the Church of England. Sometimes it leaned toward Catholic traditions, sometimes toward the Protestants.

Woe to anyone in England who didn’t follow Henry’s whims, and they changed more often than his wives!

One neighborhood congregation in northern England became a very strong dissenting church, and led a Separatist movement. The Church of England had no tolerance for this--breaking their laws was punishable by death. Burning at the stake for example. That was a fine example of Christian love, eh?

One leader of the Separatists, William Bradford wrote that each church should have the right to choose its own pastor, discipline its own members, and control its actions and officers by a vote of its members. Crazy stuff!

Eventually these “pilgrims” as Bradford called them in his writings, moved to Holland for its friendlier religious climate. Friendly, yes, but the Englishmen feared losing their identity in Dutch culture .(Okay. here’s where those pilgrim collars come in. Do you remember that painting called The Dutch Masters?). If you paid any attention in school--besides making Thanksgiving turkey drawings by tracing your hand--you hopefully know the pilgrims arranged for transport and sponsorship with a trading company whereby they would go to the New World and send back whatever they could produce from its land for a period of seven years.

They were so desperate for freedom they were willing to become indentured slaves to find it. Freedom comes at a cost.

Fast forward one hundred and seventy some tough-getting-by-in-a-new-world years to the first Continental Congress and the pretty little city of Philadelphia. Please don't be surprised that the colonies all had widely differing ideas on rights, loyalties, trade and laws.

Sadly, liberty for European settlers brought disease, destruction and loss of freedom for the native peoples. Like many, my home sits on land once enjoyed as Iroquois village. I don't forget that, but that's for another post.

The first Continental Congress didn’t seriously consider major change until after British retaliation for the Boston Tea Party put Boston under siege. And even at that, southern colonies weren’t sure they wanted to get involved in a problem ‘up north’. Northern colonies did not agree to the use of slave labor. See where I'm going?

Birthing a new nation would bring loss of life, loss of family ties, loss of essential supplies. I’m amazed even now they ever found enough to agree upon and the party politics, closed door discussions, and openly hostile name calling…wait a minute, Congress not getting along? I guess we shouldn't expect things to have changed.

So what about the bras?

I’m getting to that.

Despite all the problems and failings of the United States, nearly four hundred years after the Pilgrims arrived, this country still stands for liberty and freedom. We are always stretching the ideas of personal rights versus the rights of a community, a state, a nation.

But we are quick to stand in support of liberty around the world. We ain't perfect, eh? but I'm proud to be an American and yes the Lee Greenwood song plays in my head every time I get all patriotic and emotional.

As a young woman during the sixties and seventies, I recall a wave of rebellion and civil disobedience that rattled this country in a way probably not seen since the 1850 and '60s. I learned that the Ku Klux Klan still existed, and I watched replays of college students lie dying on the Kent State campus; I heard reports of radical rebellion in streets of small towns to millions gathering in our nation’s capital.

Bra burners? Never saw it in person. No. And, I never could see where that was going. Did I miss a crucial change in public opinion and new laws passed on that issue (bra wearing, that is...)?

You can bet I am way too cheap to burn any piece of clothing. And hey, you don't want to burn nylon or polyester. Goes up like POOF!

Of course, I’m thinking a new law giving me the freedom to drive

down the street and not see some guy’s boxers or briefs because his pants are below his buttocks WOULD BE NICE.

But I will say that I do appreciate anyone standing up for something they believe in, whether I agree or not, and I'm thankful of the blessing of living in a country where we have the option of civil, orderly disobedience. We can speak out against our leaders and vote our conscience. Thanks to Henry the Eighth's selfishness and the courage of that Separatist church, our country was founded first on religious freedom. Don’t let those freedoms fail.

I believe that the division of church and state does not mean one can tell the other what to do, but that they are to remain as two strong legs to stand on. When one is chipped away, the strength of the other is at jeopardy.

Let's talk history or liberty or, oh, I suppose politics, if you want. Do you think we have enough liberty in the United States? or not enough? Who should draw that line?

If you consider yourself a fan of history, a fan of liberty, or you just like a superb mini-series now and then, I hope you've had or will have the pleasure to watch HBO's JOHN ADAMS. I can't recommend it enough.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sons and Daughters of LIberty

by Debra E. Marvin

I live in a nation born under the banner of liberty.
My dictionary says it is the ‘state of being free’. I've been thinking about it a lot this week, as I prepared for this week's theme.

The subject of liberty is such an important part of God’s desire for us, we twice find these words in Scripture:

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”
Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (In the fourth chapter of Luke, Jesus returns to Nazareth and on the Sabbath, reads aloud from the book of Isaiah. God wants us to not just experience liberty but to live in it.)

For some, liberty can be frightening. It makes them responsible for their actions rather than putting the blame on someone else.
Escape from despised jobs, horrible relationships, prison walls (literal or figurative) does not automatically release someone into a perfect life, especially when they cling to emotional ‘chains’ of their own making.

Do you know someone who can’t let go of fear, anger, resentment or entitlement? Or even defeatist attitudes and self-pity? Do you hang on to the past, rather than embrace a future full of promise? Your liberty has been bought with a price; live in it!

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom. (Galations 5)

The New Testament authors often referred to themselves as bondservants of Christ.
Isn’t that a contradiction?
A bondservant is a slave. Where is the freedom there? Bondservants labored without wages to repay a debt. Under the law, a bondservant’s term was complete at seven years when he was allowed to go free.

But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever. (Exodus 21)

We owed a debt we could not pay. Our Lord Jesus Christ freed us from that debt, gave us liberty from sin, liberty from death through his own sacrifice paying a debt he did not owe. Believers have been given the ultimate liberty and so we choose to serve not ourselves but our Master.

Jesus said, "I tell you most solemnly that anyone who chooses a life of sin is trapped in a dead-end life and is, in fact, a slave. A slave is a transient, who can't come and go at will. The Son, though, has an established position, the run of the house. So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through.” (John 8)

Thank you Father God for the gifts of liberty I enjoy: forgiven sins, a new start everyday, freedom of living in a free land. Let me not take them for granted.

'dove' photo courtesy of alicepopkorn/flickr

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Next Week: We hold these truths . . .

Now that we have all those vacation memories behind us, the ladies of Inkwell Inspirations have decided to celebrate our upcoming national birthday with some thoughts on those ideals declared back in 1776. Remember, we like to take a theme and str-e-t-ch it!

Did you miss Susan Diane Johnson's book review earlier today? Well, scroll on down and check it out!


Sunday Devotional - Debra E. Marvin

Monday "Declare Your Independence" - Granny

Tuesday "Endowed by our Creator" - Gina Welborn

Wednesday "Right to Life" by our special guest, Attorney Jeff Mateer

Thursday "Right to Liberty" Lisa Karon Richardson

Friday "The Pursuit of Happiness" Dina Sleiman

Saturday Book Review - Anita Mae Draper spotlights "Ozark Wedding"

Healer by Linda Windsor

by Suzie Johnson

What happens when the Hunted rescues the Hunter?
Brenna of Gowrys has been hunted by Ronan O’Byrne’s clan since she was an infant. In a cruel twist of fate, Ronan—as a young boy—witnessed the tragic deaths of both Brenna’s parents. His entire life was spent on hunts and raids as his father searched for the girl who grew up to be called a witch and Wolf Woman. To find Brenna of Gowrys would be to end the curse they believe Brenna’s mother placed on the O’Byrne clan with her dying breath.

The first book in the Brides of Alba series, Healer is set in Arthurian Scotland, an era which I’ve never read. In fact, all I knew about King Arthur I learned from two movies: Disney’s Sword in the Stone, and Excalibur. I’m almost ashamed to admit this, since I’m such a lover of history. But it’s true. There are a few historical eras and geographical places where my knowledge is quite limited. This is one of them.
Lucky for me, author Linda Windsor had the foresight to add a history lesson in her book. I don’t mean the usual historical facts weaved through a story. I mean a foreword and an afterward. In fact, her explanation of the era and the Arthurian history was quite extensive and as fascinating as the book itself. The understanding she gave me only enhanced my enjoyment of the book. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I will say that King Arthur’s connection to the lineage of Christ was most surprising. I highly recommend reading these facts before reading the book. But be sure to stop before you get to the teaser for the next book. You’ll want to save that until you’ve finished this book.
Once I read the history, and absorbed it, I settled in for a nice long read, and this book didn’t disappoint. Healer is what I would consider a “big” book. Epic. A book to be savored over time instead of devoured in one sitting. At times I went back and reread passages. Not because I was lost or confused, but because I wanted to soak up the details. I didn’t want to rush through the book because I simply didn’t want it to end.
When Brenna and her wolf, Faol, rescue Ronan from near death, she doesn’t realize he’s her mortal enemy, son of the man who brutally murdered her father, part of the enemy clan who has terrorized her own kinsmen, the enemy clan she’s spent her life hiding from because they want her dead. But even had she known his identity, Brenna still would have nursed Ronan back to health, because she is a healer.
Settle in for an absorbing conflict-filled tale. You’ll be richly rewarded. The wealth of Linda Windsor’s research is evident in the pages, of this most excellent and highly recommended book.

Visit Linda Windsor's website at:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Jews Don't Camp

By Diane Burke

Because we all had young families and moved into our neighborhood around the same time, it wasn’t surprising that the families on my cul-de-sac became fast friends. We did everything together--- yard parties, pool parties, barbeques. Some of us decorated our homes with Christmas lights and others with Menorah’s but we’d gather together, sing both Christian and Jewish songs and just be happy to celebrate our holidays/holy days together.

So when I explained my intent to organize a neighborhood white water rafting trip to my friend, Millie, I was surprised when she refused. The conversation went something like this:

Millie: Jews don’t camp.

Me: What? It isn’t camping Millie. It’s just going to be a family float trip down the Lehigh River. We’re going to carpool up to the Poconos. We’ll be on the water about four hours. There’ll be guides with us to show us what to do. Then we’ll have a hay ride back to headquarters and a barbeque. It’ll be fun.

Millie: You can call it what you want. If it entails water, bugs, dirt, mosquitoes or anything else outdoors than it’s camping. Jews don’t camp. We shop. We eat in fine restaurants. We shop some more. But we don’t camp…or float…or whatever you call it.

After a long conversation, I finally convinced Millie that she needed to come and we’d have a great time.

The morning of the trip everyone gathered in front of my home. My eyes widened and I almost laughed out loud (but refrained) when Millie, Larry and their two children arrived. Millie and Larry, both a bit heavy set, wore fisherman caps, black horn rimmed glasses with an elastic cord taped to their head holding the glasses in place, loud plaid cotton shirts and contrasting Bermuda shorts revealing the whitest legs I have ever seen. Millie hadn’t lied to me about not liking to be outdoors much.

As we loaded our families in the car pools, Millie murmured, “Hope you know what you’re doing. I’m telling you we don’t camp.”

The couple hour caravan to our destination flew by. We arrived at headquarters, signed our safety releases, picked up our life vests and prepared to board an old yellow school bus taking us through the woods to the river.

Millie (standing outside the bus with the release in her hands): This says they’re not responsible if I die.

Me: Millie. Sign the paper. It’s just a formality. No one’s going to die.

Millie: They say they aren’t responsible for broken bones or head injuries.

Me: (laughing) Millie, just sign the paper and get on the bus. I’ve already been on this trip a couple of times. It’s not dangerous. You’re going to have a good time. Now come on, everyone’s already on board.

When we arrived, each family had to carry their raft over their heads and down a small slope to the river. Millie and Larry stumbled over sticks and brush but made it to the bottom in one piece.

“Sure feels like camping,” Millie muttered as she passed by.

The instructors lined us up and gave us very explicit instructions on how to navigate the waters, how to paddle as a team, what to do if we fell overboard and what to do if we got stuck on a rock. Then we walked into the water and climbed into our rafts.

Instantly, Larry fell on the slippery rocks, lost hold of their raft and Millie and her two children started to float away. My husband and I helped Larry to his feet and back into his raft. Millie glared but remained silent. And we were off.

When we reached our first batch of white water, I knew I should have listened to Millie. Larry fell out of the boat---again. My husband and I pulled him out of the water and into our raft (while it was spinning wildly out of control in the current I might add because we weren’t able to man the oars and rescue Larry at the same time.) Millie and her two children were madly trying to paddle their raft as the white water swept them down river.

Ten-year-old Richard fell out of Millie’s raft.

Chaos ensued. The guides were blowing their whistles, yelling commands, and several rafts were in hot pursuit of the boy (Who by the way had listened to the instructions perfectly and was headed downstream feet first, on his back and clinging to his life preserver). When he disappeared from sight around a bend, my son started to cry and begged to get out of our raft and ride with one of the guides.

The current continued to sweep all of us downstream amid the sounds of yelling and crying and whistles as the guides demanded we all row to shore the first sign of still water.

As we rounded the bend we passed Millie. Her raft was stuck on a rock and the last I saw her she was on one end of her raft, her daughter was on the other, and they were both bouncing as instructed to try and bounce their way back into the current.

Still water straight ahead. Thank you, Lord.

Within minutes (although I must admit it felt like an eternity), the guides had rescued Richard---who thought the whole thing was awesome and wanted to do it again---and had all the other families on land standing on top of a small ridge for a head count.

Everyone was safe and accounted for...except Millie. I grabbed her twelve-year-old daughter and asked, “Jocelyn, where’s your mother?”

She replied, “I don’t know. I kept saying bounce mommy, bounce. And then suddenly the raft was back in the water and I started to row but when I looked over my shoulder, mommy was gone.”

Before I could panic, laughter started to spread amid the forty people on the hill. I turned my head and there was Millie---floating on her stomach despite the life jacket. She’d ripped her bathing suit on one of the rocks. She mooned the group as she, still caught in the current, went sailing by---with another raft filled with six young, muscled guides paddling in hot pursuit.

As I stared in horror and disbelief at the scenario in front of me, I watched the men row up beside her, reach down and pull her out of the water—into the raft---where the propulsion of her body in space knocked over two of the guides to their backs with Millie landing smack dab on top of them. Unable to row until they could get from beneath her, their raft traveled in circles like tea cups on a Mad Hatter ride with the current.

The trained guides soon had everything under control. They rowed to shore and had even provided a towel for Millie to wrap around her waist to preserve some sense of modesty.

My heart was in my throat and all I could pray was “Oh God, Oh God” as she spotted me on the rise and walked straight for me. When she was less than a foot away I kept saying, “I’m sorry. Oh Millie, I’m so sorry.” She looked me right in the eye and said, “I told you Jews don’t camp.”

One of the guides climbed into Millie’s raft and stayed with them the rest of the trip. There were no more incidents and the rest of the afternoon became the fun it was intended to be.

I expected Millie to be angry. I expected her to hate me for the rest of her life.

I was wrong again.

Millie told me it had been the most exciting thing that had ever happened to her. She joked about how it had been humiliating in some ways but memorable in so many others. After all, how many women could claim to shoot the rapids on top of several muscled, handsome male guides. And claim it she did. Because Millie became a neighborhood celebrity. Every barbeque and party for years afterwards had Millie retell the tale from her point of view to howls of laughter.

I learned a lot from Millie that year. She presented herself with grace and humility in the face of major stress and humiliation. She taught me how to take a horrible situation and turn it into a laugh for years to come. And she taught me that maybe Jews don’t camp---but they make the very best friends.

Have you ever tried white water rafting? Would you like to?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

When a Vacation Exceeds Your Expectations

Jen AlLee

Okay, I know we're supposed to be sharing about vacations gone wrong, but I have a confession to make: I can't recall ever going on a truly bad vacation. Maybe it's because I don't get away very often. In any case, since I didn't have a horror story to contribute, I thought I'd share the most opulent, over-the-top vacation I ever accidentally fell into.

Back in 2002, my husband, Marcus, entered an online contest for a three night stay at a luxury suite at the Las Vegas Hilton. He entered me, too, but neglected to tell me about it. So when I got a call from a woman saying I'd won, I thought she was a telemarketer and almost hung up on her. After lots of confusion on my part, the patient woman finally convinced me that I had indeed won the grand prize.

We expected to be staying in something on par with Embassy Suites, so we brought along Billy's godparents, Chuck and Leigh. Our first clue that we were wrong was when we were directed to the VIP elevator. The golden-doored, velvet-roped, VIP elevator, which only goes to one place: all the way up to the Verona Sky Villa. When Elvis played at the Hilton, I imagine this was the suite he stayed in. At 15,888 square feet, it's bigger than most people's homes. Now it's reserved for whales (the term for super-high rollers), those with enough money to pay for their stay ($15,000 a night), or simple contest winners like us.

Come on, take the tour with me...

This is the first thing you saw when you opened the front door.
We called it The Stallion Room, but it's really the grand foyer.
You're only seeing half of it here. There's another horse and another set of stairs on
the other side. Papa Chuck is the dude behind the horse.

This is part of the living area. Marcus is sitting in front of a
fireplace that could double as a spare bedroom. When we
were walking through the villa for the first time, 
Leigh and I couldn't stop laughing.
Every time we turned a corner there was another room,
or a statue, or workout equipment, or a telescope...

Here's Marcus and a then ten-year-old Billy sitting by one of the
many indoor spas. Everything you see outside the window
is part of the same suite. The whole thing circles around a cool
outdoor sitting area and pool.

Billy enjoyed playing bartender. He made us some
lovely glasses of Sprite, Dr. Pepper, and Coke
garnished with lemon twists, cherries, and little toothpicks.

Billy and Grandma Leigh tinkle the ivories
on the grand piano.

One of the many murals. They were everywhere... on the
walls, the ceilings... You name it, it had a mural on it.

Last but not least, this was our bedroom.
There were three bedrooms in the place, and all
were just as fancy as this one.

We had three days of fun in the kind of excessive gaudiness that we'll never experience again. One of the funniest things was watching Billy play with his green plastic army men on the inlaid marble floor. At one point, Leigh said something about how fancy it all was, and Billy replied, "But it's not very homey. Heaven is going to be much better." That's a paraphrase, but it's true to the spirit of his remark. And he was right. It was a cool thing to visit, but I wouldn't want to live that way. Still, what a blessing that God gave us a little taste of the "high life"!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Checking into the Heartburn Hotel

by Susanne "Please No Bedbugs" Dietze

Growing up, my family didn't go on “destination vacations,” unless by "destination" you mean Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Every summer, we’d fold into the sedan and make a cross-country road trip to Tennessee.

In ye olden days before the internet, we’d drive until Dad decided it was time to stop. Mom would pull out the AAA guidebook and figure out what sort of lodging was available in the next town. One thing she always looked for was a place with a pool. My brother and I could swim off our pent-up energy and leave my Dad a full hour to unwind in the hotel room.
Motel SignImage by bobthemtnbiker via Flickr

On our Tennessee-bound trip when I was eleven years old, we checked into a chain hotel in Kansas (not the places depicted in the photos, by the way, which I'm sure are perfectly nice). Even at age eleven, I was something of a motel connoisseur and I remember thinking that this place looked promising. With its brick fa├žade, in-house restaurant and well-appointed lobby, I had a hunch that this motel was the kind that offered freebies, like HBO and cute little shampoo bottles.

I was right about the toiletries. And the HBO. But we had another freebie in our room. Something foul-smelling and elusive. After dinner, I found the source of the stench behind the trash can. I’ll just say that the room’s previous occupants had a pet – a small dog, I’d say – and the poor thing hadn’t felt well.

The pet’s present was the first of several gifts we didn’t want or need. There was a bit of a problem with the faucet. The way the room smelled and, truth be told, felt when we touched things, we weren’t sure anybody had cleaned in there since the Carter Administration. Needless to say, nobody was in a charitable mood by this time. My brother and I got into a bit of trouble for being too silly. So while our parents were occupied with the "dog issue" (as we came to call the incident), my brother suggested we watch TV until we could swim.

Nowadays, many hotel televisions are set to an automatic “home channel” when they’re turned on. The screen serves as a directory to local channels and pay-per view options. But back then, just like my home TV, hotel televisions had no such channel (or in my case, a safeguard). They came on set to whatever channel the room’s previous occupants had watched.

The dog-owners must have been watching HBO. With a pop of light and a crackle of static the television came to life, and behold! Naked people tap dancing. Ok, not totally naked. They were wearing top hats. Before I could say “eww,” my mom hopped up and hit the power switch.

“We’re going to the pool!”

Pool and SkyImage by Patrick Powers via Flickr

At least it smelled better out there. The air was thick with an industrial dose of chlorine. Relying on the skill I’d honed in years of YMCA training, I decided to swim laps. I was probably thinking how cool I looked when I freestyled smack into another kid. (I am that graceful still.) I apologized and dog-paddled --my head completely out of the water, the better to see where I was going -- back to the steps.

Though it seems silly now, swimming into someone almost did me in. The act seemed symbolic of me and my awkward place in the universe. I was just out of a difficult period where I’d switched schools. Now it was time to switch back to the old district for junior high, and I expected to start the coming year as I’d ended the previous one, self-conscious and clueless.

Not that I was a total pessimist, but I figured that being self-conscious and clueless was just the way of the world for me. I was the sort of kid who swam into people and got stuck in embarrassingly gross hotel rooms. At that moment, I loathed Kansas, the hotel, and myself.

I was thinking that the stinky room was preferable to hanging around the pool when someone said hello. I turned. It was the girl I swam into. Big-eyed, dark-haired, and pretty, she wore a red bathing suit. She smiled and invited me to swim with her.

I was impressed by this girl in the red suit – Susan, she said. She was confident. She had a cool Oklahoma accent. She could swim in a straight line.

We messed around in the water for a while, and the sun was setting when one of our moms called us out of the pool.

“Do you like to write letters?” Susan asked me.

Did I like to write letters? Boy howdy, I did. So Susan and I agreed to be pen pals.

I knew better than to get my hopes up. People become pen pals all the time. But I gave Susan the number of my smelly hotel room and she phoned me within the hour to exchange addresses.

I went to sleep that night with all thoughts of the stinky room (and thankfully, the naked dancers on HBO) displaced by a sense of awe at the turn of events. I’m still amazed when I think about meeting Susan because that Kansas hotel, nasty as it was, was used by God as a vehicle to give me an unexpected gem of a gift.

I’m not going to tell you how many years it’s been since I swam into Susan, but we still write to each other. She has been a constant in my life for ages, through the awkward days of junior high; through boyfriends and AP exams; through college roommates, church searches, and frustrating bosses; through joys, losses, and disappointments. We’ve visited in person (though it’s been far too long since we’ve seen one another).

Susan is a gift of God that keeps on blessing me. Over the years, she’s given me encouragement and made me laugh.

But in that Kansas swimming pool, God didn't just give me the gift of a friend. He also used Susan to teach me a valuable lesson, one which I’ve tried to pass on to my own kids. With a smile and a kind word, you can change the course of a person’s day. Maybe even the rest of her life.

Susan’s smile sure changed mine.

Serious Question: Have you ever experienced a kind word or gesture that changed your day?

Not-so-serious Question: Have you ever stayed in a horrible hotel, one where your socks turned black or the neighbors blared the TV?

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Camping? Maybe Not.

by D'Ann Mateer

I’ve been camping exactly one time in my life.


It all started with a Lucy and Ethel moment, my best friend taking the Lucy role.

“Hey, you know what we could do?” she said. “We could go camping!”

We’d been lamenting our lack of money and time to go on vacation with our little ones. And I do mean little. At the time, her boys were 4, 2, and 6 months. My daughter was 3 and my son 18 months. We each took our meager stack of vacation cash and went to the sporting goods store where we purchased camping equipment for our families.

I’ll admit, I was wary from the beginning. After all, I’m not an outdoorsy girl in any sense of the word. And my husband isn’t an outdoor guy, either. But Lucy can convince Ethel that even the craziest of schemes will work out in the end, can’t she? So we loaded up and headed for a state park about an hour from our houses.

Oh—have I mentioned yet that I was 8 ½ months pregnant with my third child???

I can’t remember how we managed to get all set up, but we did. I mostly sat in the chair since I couldn’t bend down very far. The first day (or ½ day by the time we got there) was fairly uneventful, although keeping my I-have-to-touch-everything three-year-old out of the fire was a bit stressful. But the real fun started during the night. My friend’s two-year-old began coughing. A croupy cough. Fortunately we had picked a campsite near bathroom facility with showers. Since sleeping on the ground at 8 ½ months prego isn’t a pleasant experience, I was happy to accompany my friend and her baby to the showers. We sat in the dressing area letting the steam from the hot water soothe his chesty cough.

The next day, of course, we were exhausted. But things weren’t too horrible—until early that afternoon. That’s when the storm rolled in. And I do mean storm. Churning black clouds. Huge gusts of wind. Fortunately, the guys started loading the car as the rain began to spit. By the time we’d shoved everything, including the children, into the cars, rain fell by the bucket load. Then the hail began. So we headed home. Wet. Dirty. Tired.

Almost sixteen years later, I still hold to my mantra:

Camping + 8 ½ months pregnant + Texas weather = I’m never doing that again!

So what about you? Is there a vacation experience you refuse to repeat under any circumstances? Have you ever planned a trip where EVERYTHING went wrong? 

Monday, June 21, 2010


Grey. If our vacation to Philadelphia had a color—and a feeling—it would be grey.

A weekend in the historic city seemed like a good idea. My kids would take their first airplane ride. We would visit my sister-in-law. Tour the Liberty Bell. Catch a Phillies game.

What do they say about the best-laid plans?

First, the weather. We experienced a string of rainy July days. The hotel sofa beckoned, but with two young children and no Disney Channel, relaxing in the room with a stack of books proved unrealistic. So we stood outside the Liberty Bell in the rain. We walked the historic areas in the rain. And we visited the King of Prussia mall many times. . .one of the few bright spots for me.

At least it didn’t rain in the mall.

Visiting my sister-in-law was another bright spot. One evening she prepared a lovely dinner for us. Unfortunately, dinner congealed while we wandered around Philadelphia, lost. We were often lost in Philly. In the car. On the trains. Walking. The city map made no sense to this Michigander family.

On one ‘lost’ adventure, my husband stopped at a red light. Sadly, the truck behind us did not stop. The impact stunned me. When I turned to take stock of my children, they stared back, unharmed. “Mom, I still have to go to the bathroom,” my son whispered. He’d been asking for half an hour, but since we drove in an uncertain part of town, I’d begged him to wait half a dozen times already.

Post-accident mental fog crept in. Getting my son to the bathroom became the Most Important Thing in the Universe. While my husband called the rental car company, I left with our kids to fulfill my quest.

We hustled past store after store, each posting a “No restroom” sign. Rounding a corner, I spotted a medical clinic. We rushed in. A kind-looking man and woman approached. The man said, “You can’t be here unless you’re a client. Everything here is confidential. . .we don’t. . .you shouldn’t. . .”

They cast nervous glances at my children.


That kind of clinic.

My son whimpered. A swell of panic overtook me. My words tumbled, “We were just in a car accident we’re from Michigan we don’t know anyone here my son is going to wet his pants can you please let us use your bathroom we won’t—”

They hurried us down the hallway, their faces full of sympathy. While my son used the facilities, I stared at framed pictures of Jesus. God bless those Christians for taking care of their clients—and overwrought travelers.

Bad vacations have turning points—the moment you know things will improve, or the moment you wish you’d never come. The car accident was our Philadelphia Waterloo. The next morning, we packed, ecstatic at the prospect of going home. Amazingly, we managed not to get lost on the way to the airport.

Did I mention my insane fear of flying? No? Well, while we waited for the flight home, I employed every trick known to paranoid flyer: I recited the reassuring statistics on airline fatalities. Distracted myself with magazines. And of course, prayed.

I managed to stay calm until the airline agent made an announcement: due to thunderstorms, our flight was delayed. The delay stretched into the afternoon. When we finally boarded at dinnertime, I prayed for a smooth flight.

Thank God, it was smooth. I know because I watched our plane navigate every thunderhead between Pennsylvania and Michigan, my forehead pressed to the airplane window and my eyes a wide, petrified brown.

I feel sorry for the poor flight attendant who poured my diet soda. She heard the pilot say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re waiting for a line of thunderstorms to pass. We’ll circle Detroit and let you know when we’re clear to land.” I heard the pilot say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the thunderstorms over Detroit will surely cause your untimely death, since I have no idea how to land in these conditions. Rest in peace.” The flight attendant must have passed by six times to check on me, the trembling lady trying to act brave for her kids but death-gripping the armrests.

After landing, I resisted the impulse to kiss the airport carpet. On the drive home, we tried not to discuss the Vacation of Grey. But, feeling distraught, I opened that can o’worms: “You know, if we would have driven to Philadelphia like I suggested, we would have been home an hour ago.”

My husband’s response was downtrodden. . .you might even say colorless. But as we pulled into our subdivision, the clouds parted, revealing a beautiful sunset ablaze in the kind of rich, vibrant colors only God’s imagination can conjure.
We shook our heads and laughed. After the stress and uncertainty, God provided the perfect, sun-drenched ending to a grey, rain-drenched vacation.

And we felt a new appreciation for home, sweet home.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

He's My Abba

by Niki Turner

Many of us have strained, difficult, or estranged relationships with our earthly fathers that taint our perception of God as our Father in heaven. But I don't want today's post to be about our earthly fathers, or the earthly fathers of our children and grandchildren, good, bad, or neutral. For just a few moments, I want you to turn all your attention to your heavenly Father.

We're so casual with the term these days it's easy to forget what a shocker it was to the Jews when Jesus called upon Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as his Father, and ours. In Christ, we have been adopted into the family of God, made members of His household. He IS our Father, and we are his children. 
"For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God," Romans 5:15-16
God is the perfect daddy. Whatever you imagine as the ideal, perfect father, God fulfills your dream plus a whole lot more. He's perfect, and in His eyes, through the blood of Jesus, so are you.

For a long time my mental image of God was of an old man, seated on a throne with white hair and a stern expression. He seemed remote and unapproachable, in spite of the fact the Word says we can come boldly to Him, like little children.

"Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:16

One day in my prayer time, I cried out to God to heal some hurts, some wounds in my heart I knew no one else could repair. As I prayed, I found myself calling upon Him as Papa God. Strange. I never called my own father "papa." Dad, Daddy, Father... never Papa.

Jesus called God Abba when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Abba is not just a '70s band, it's a Hebrew term of endearment for a father (like our daddy or papa, or if you are a Little House on the Prairie fan, Pa). It was an intimate term reserved for those who knew their father personally and knew they were loved in return.

From that day on, God has been my Papa God in my personal prayer time. The term creates a difference for me mentally and emotionally between my earthly Dad and my heavenly Father. I can love, honor, and respect my earthly father for all he has done in my life, without confusing the role God my Father in heaven holds. That simple term of endearment changed my prayer life, and my relationship with God, for the better. This Father's Day, I offer my Papa God my highest praise and thanksgiving!

Do you call on Him as Father? Abba? Daddy? Papa?


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