Saturday, February 28, 2009

the character of horses and humans

Last weekend I got to go to a horse training clinic presented by Clinton Anderson, an Australian trainer who has gained quite a following here in the US. So far in my blog I've talked about most of my major passions in life: my faith, my writing, my family... but I haven't mentioned yet my fascination with horses.

I have been riding horses since I was 10 years old, have owned a horse since I was 22, took a semster long course on horses when I was at Cornell, read the Horse Whisperer when it first came out and Monty Roberts' books (and many, many other horse books, pretty much every one, fiction or non fiction, I could get my hands on...) and yet surprisingly I have only started to really understand them in the past year.

Thanks to Clinton Anderson's training DVDs, and now this clinic, I'm starting to see some "magic" working with my own horses. He teaches all the same techniques I've heard of before; there are many trainers who are able to understand the actions of a horse, but this guy has the unique gift of being to break down, step-by-step, exactly how we humans can interact with a horse to get the horse to UNDERSTAND US.

The clinic started with Clinton working with his own horse in the arena. Without any halter, without touching the horse, he was able to get her to do all sorts of amazing things - side-passing and pirouetting, bowing, even laying down (the performance I saw was even more polished than this older on YouTube).

It was beautiful to see how the horse completely trusted him and seemed to truly enjoy peforming for him. Then he spent 12 hours, over two days, working with green or spoiled horses showing us the steps to take to develop this type of relationship and response.

So, what is the key to this amazing working relationship with a horse? Basically, if a horse respects you and trusts you, he'll do anything for you.

So very very simple, and yet so very, very hard, because isn't that the bottom line in relationships with humans, too? Respect and trust. The basis of a strong marriage, a strong family, as well as a friendship - if the friendship is more than just the casual one. It's also the basis of the ONLY kind of real relationship you can have with God (sorry, all of my blogs come back to either one of two things: writing, or faith).

How do you gain respect and trust? With horses, you don't let them trample all over you. You make them pay attention to you and respond to your cues. The trust comes when they do respond to you correctly, you immediately reward them by "taking the pressure off" and letting them relax.

If only it worked the same way in human relationships! I've learned with my husband that I don't earn his respect by bossing him around and applying pressure! Actually, I earn his repsect by letting him go his own way. The more freedom I give him, the more he is drawn back to me. And that seems to build trust, too, both ways.

But hey, I'm no expert. Too bad they don't have husband training clincis like they do for horses.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Val pals, cloud seeding, dread locks, a good book, and other random things

First of all, writing progress. I got the first two chapters edited. At this rate I will finish editing my book (40 chapters... it's dreadfully long), in 7 years. That puts it into a depressing perspective.

On the bright side though, I just finished reading Anne Lamott's "Plan B: Further Thoughts on Grace." Which is where the "dreadlocks" in the title comes in: here's Anne with her dreadlocks.

More on Plan B later, I have more random things I feel compelled to mention.

My 7 yr old daughter Blaze hand-made over 25 valentines for her classmates and a couple teachers, each painstakingly signed "Will you be my val pal?" That was just too sweet and cute not to share (even if I didn't get one).

Oh, and my four year old, Dreamer, is now requesting that everyone call her by new name, Princess Tinkerbell.

On a slightly less sweet note, I have a friend who went out to our church's Valentines banquet, which was the Friday right before Valentine's Day. Someone asked her and her date, "did you have a nice Valentine's?" and her acerbic reply was "oh, we're not celebrating Valentine's day, we're celebrating Friday the 13th."

And on a downright anti-sweet note, another friend discovered, a company that sells "Valentine candy for the rest of us" - little candy hearts that says things like "aging poorly", "I want half", "parole is up", "dog is cuter", "so, so alone", "dork magnet" and many other charmers.

Last night I heard of the most fascinating job I've yet encountered: a cloud seeder. Yes, really, you too could potentially be employed by a company that contracts with different state governments to seed their clouds so they get more precipitation. Cloud seeding can also be used to suppress hail or at least reduce it, and so insurance companies pay for this service. What are the clouds seeded with? A special type of smoke with silver iodide in it, which serves as cloud condensation or ice nuclei, altering the microphysical processes within the cloud (wikipedia).

I also learned last night (I was at a friend's baby shower), that if your two-year-old is throwing a temper tantrum, throwing his or herself to the floor kicking and screaming, one proven solution is to throw water in their face ("it doesn't hurt them", says an older mom). Hmmmn, I'll have to remember that one.

Another random skip. I have been having an amazing discussion with an old friend from high school who actually read my last blog (wow, I have a reader!) He believes in many Buddhist themes, but is also currently reading C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity" and we've accrued over 10 single spaced pages worth of email correspondence discussing various Buddhist and Christian themes. And that will be another whole blog post, at some later point.

Skip again. I am keeping up with my various challenges this year so far: my Bible read-through (I'm limping through Leviticus, and enjoying Mark) and Beth Moore's verse memorization challenge. This month I am working on a long one:

Romans 11:33-36
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? (check) Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

I also discovered from Beth Moore's blog another wonderful verse:

Malachi 3:16 - Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.

Beth comments on this:

Try to grasp what that Scripture suggests. Every time we boast in the Lord with each other - face-to-face, on the phone, picking the kids up at school, in the women's restroom at church, over email, on the blog - He stops to "listen and hear."

Two different words are described for the attentiveness of His response. God listens. God HEARS. Scripture doesn't waste words. (John 21:25) If it uses several different descriptions to say the same general thing, we need to take notice because that intensity is meant to turn up the volume.

The next sentence indicates that a secretary in the Kingdom of Heaven literally records either the occasion or perhaps the conversation itself on something called "a scroll of remembrance." I don't know about you but over the course of my life time, I want to keep that secretary writing as fast as his hand can fly across that scroll. Even this moment, an historical record is being kept of our communication in His Name.

I had a friend once suggest trying to read all the "3:16" verses in the NT - the most famous of course is John 3:16, For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. I guess there are a lot of other great 3:16 verses, and not just in the NT!

Getting back to challenges... I'm not doing so hot on But I haven't given up.

Finally, a few good quotes from Anne Lamott's "Plan B."

Well, first, Wikipedia fan that I am, I had to look up a little background on Annie:

Anne Lamott (born 10 April 1954, in San Francisco) is a progressive political activist and author of several novels and works of non-fiction. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, her non-fiction works are largely autobiographical, with strong doses of self-deprecating humor. Marked by their transparency, Lamott's writings covered such subjects as alcoholism, single motherhood, and Christianity.

A quote from her, from an interview: "I've heard someone say that our problems aren't the
problem; it's our solutions that are the problem. That tends to be one thing that goes wrong for me: my solutions. That's what I write about spiritually..."

She's also "reverent and irreverent" - it's fun to read her takes on life, but sometimes a little difficult to swallow Scripture and swear words on the same page. Still, here are a few gems that I just loved.

Anne attributes this to her pastor: "Peace is joy at rest, joy is peace on its feet"

A conversation with another Christian friend:

Tom: We remember that God is present whereever people suffer. God's here with us when we're miserable, and God is there in Iraq [war]. The suffering of innocent people draws God close to them. Kids hit by bombs are not abandoned by God.
Anne: Well it sure looks like they were. It sure looks that way to their parents.
Tom: It also looked like Christ had been abandoned on the cross. It looked like a win for the Romans.
Anne: How do we help? How do we not lose our minds?
Tom: You take care of the suffering.
Anne: I can't get to Iraq.
Tom: There are folks who are miserable here.
After we got off the phone, I ate a few birthday chocolates, and I asked God to help me helpful. It was the first time that day that I felt my prayers were sent, and then received, like e-mail. I tried to cooperate with grace.... the problem with God - or at any rate, one of the top five most annoying things about God - is that He or She rarely answers right away. It can take days, weeks. [years] Some people seem to understand this - that life and change take time. Chou En-Lai, when asked "What do you think of the French Revolution?" paused for a moment, then replied, "Too soon to tell."

Anne and I definitely share the belief that chocolate is one of the great comforts of life (God, of course, is the greatest comfort, but chocolate does help, too) More evidence:

The best thing I've heard lately is Christian writer Barbara Johnson's saying that we're Easter people living in a Good Friday world. I don't have the right personality for Good Friday, for the crucifixion: I'd like to skip ahead to the resurrection. In fact, I'd like to skip ahead to the resurrection vision of one of the kids in our Sunday school, who drew a picture of the Easter bunny outside the tomb: everlasting life, and a basket full of chocolates. Now you're talking.

When you pray, you are not starting a conversation from scratch, just remembering to plug back into a conversation that's always in progress.

When God is going to do something wonderful, He always starts with a hardship; when God is going to do something amazing, He always starts with an impossibility.

One secret of life is that the reason life works at all is that not everyone in your tribe is nuts on the same day. Another secret is that laughter is carbonated holiness.

If you want to feel close to Jesus, find the people who are suffering, or whom the world doesn't value.

There is a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, "Why on our hearts, and not in them?" The rabbi answered, "Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your hearts, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside."

You can either practice being right, or being kind.

Next blog: another great book - I've just started it, and already been deeply moved by it. "Having A Mary Heart in A Martha World"

Saturday, February 7, 2009

thinking about how hard the Truth is

I found this quote from C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” than describes the difficulty of truth:

“The Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it doesn’t begin in comfort, it begins in the dismay that I’ve been describing [the problem of sin] and it’s just no good trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay. In religion, as in war and in everything else, comfort is the one thing you can’t get by looking for it. If you’re looking for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you’re looking for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth – only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.”

Last week I had an amazing opportunity to share my faith with one of my co-workers (and friends) at work. He knows I’m a Christian but he never showed any interest the few times in the past that I mentioned my faith – but suddenly, out of the blue, he made this comment “we all have a God-sized void in our hearts that we are always trying to fill with something.” So I asked him what prompted him to say this, and he told me quite a bit about his past experiences and what he believes currently – that there is a God, but he’s not willing to label who God is (Christian or otherwise). And he also had the typical skepticism about church and churchy people. I agreed with him, the truth is not found in church or in any human institution; we are all too flawed, too prone to mistakes and bias. I asked him if he minded if I shared some of my past experiences that brought me to my beliefs? He said sure.

So I shared a very short version of my testimony with him, about how I used to be agnostic and pretty disillusioned about religion, too, but after experiencing a severe depression, I realized how little control I had over my emotions – or over my own life, for that matter. I had been searching for the answers to those eternal questions –

Why am I here?
What is the purpose of my life?
How can I live a fulfilled and meaningful life?

While searching for these answers, I studied different religions. One of my friends challenged me that if I was studying other sacred writings I should also give the Bible I fair shot, too. I told my co-worker how amazing it was – how it still gives me chills – when I was reading the Bible one night and God spoke to me through it. He convinced me who He was and that the Bible was His Word, the Truth.

My friend told me he admired my faith, that he had several other friends who had recounted similar amazing experiences (though they were of different faiths), and he admired them, too. So therefore he wasn’t willing to believe that there was any one religion that has all the truth, or the only truth.

This is one of my areas of lingering weakness and doubt. There are people of other beliefs and faiths that feels as strongly about what they believe as I do; they too have had an amazing experience that changed their lives. They truly and sincerely believe, and try to live their life according to their beliefs with the same striving that I do. It is so HARD to come face to face with that sincerity and say – in what must seem a very arrogant and prejudiced way – “you’re wrong. My faith is the only true faith.”

So there is where I found myself backing off in this conversation with my co-worker. I wasn’t strong enough to firmly say, “Biblical Christianity is the only Truth. I challenge you to read the Bible and ask God to prove that to you,” – as my dear friend D.W. challenged me 15 years ago. I wish I had. I did challenge him to read the Bible, but I could have taken a stronger stand.

I keep thinking about why I failed to stand up for my Jesus, who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to Father but through me.” When I really take time to think about the Gospel, and its complete and utter difference from anything else any other religion has to offer, I am both awed, and ashamed by my inability to take a firm stand in front of others for the One and Only Truth. No other religion tells of a god who decided to become a man to experience the full range of human experience. He experienced firsthand how prone we are to jealousy and anger and selfishness. He experienced firsthand all that we suffer, both from how other people hurt us (scorn, rejection, etc), how we hurt ourselves, and the ultimate pain – seeing our loved ones suffer and die. He experienced all this, he experienced the full range of human cruelty, even to death, when he could have easily escaped it all. And why did he do this? Because he loved us. Because he wanted to redeem us from all the hurt and pain and suffering in this world. Because he wanted to be able to give each of us access to a heavenly realm where we will be free from all tears, from all suffering, forevermore.

Just in case someone might someday read this blog, and that someone is at this point wondering what the Gospel is, it’s these three basic points:

1) all men are sinners. If you believe that you are good person and not a sinner, then consider that you, like most people, believe that you should be treatd right and fair but you probably haven’t always treated others the way you wish to be treated yourself. Or stated another way: we all have something missing in us, we can’t quite find lasting fulfillment or purpose in this life; we’re somehow unable to ever achieve perfection, or even lasting satisfaction with ourselves. Sin is the ultimate cause of all of humanity’s problems. (I can share a theory, based on various verses from Romans chapters 1, 5 and 8, that sin is even the root of the viral pestilences that plague humanity).

2) The solution to both the universal and personal problem of sin is God providing complete forgiveness for sin through His Son Jesus, who died for us as the complete sacrifice for our sin, who was buried, and who rose again on the third day to prove that we, too, can rise again after death and live eternally with Him because He has conquered sin.

3) If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame."

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Nanowrimo explained

Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month, a wonderful, creative, neurotic month where we celebrate, we laugh, we cry, and we manically write until our brains melt out of our heads. We spend all night at the computer screen, and the next day trying to shut off an overactive imagination long enough to accomplish our responsibilities. We struggle with time and energy constraints, over caffeination, sleep deprivation, and sometimes the frustration of a blank space where our thoughts should be. It's the month of frenzied writing. It's the month where we type until our fingers are numb. It's the month we ignore the garish marks of the spell checker telling our inner critic to shout at us. It's the month we push forward with one goal in mind: 50,000 words in 30 days. Which breaks down to roughly 1,667 words a day give or take a few. NaNoWriMo was founded in 1999 as a way to encourage everyone who wants to write a book, to do that very thing.

I first tried Nanowrimo in 2007, hoping it would motivate me to finish my first book. I managed to write 38,000 words, falling short of winning, but absolutely convinced that Nanowrimo was the best thing ever invented for motivating writers. I tried again in 2008 and succeeded, getting just over 50,000 words on my second novel and over half-way through it.

I plan to give Nanowrimo another go in 2009. The rest of the year I work on finishing and editing what I started during November. I have my first novel "complete" - as in, it's a complete story, but it's still not complete yet for publication, requiring a lot of rewriting to make it flow better and develop the characters more. I'm debating this upcoming November whether to continue my word count on the second novel, or start my third.