Saturday, August 4, 2012

My Brush with Dance

            In a Secret Place devotional, Norma Vera writes about attending a dance recital where a toddler—not part of the class—danced in the aisle throughout the event, oblivious to everything but the music. 

            Reading that reminded me of my own brush(es) with dance.

            One December, a bunch of us packed a borrowed church van—which by the way, had no heat—and drove to Philly for a performance of the Young Messiah. The "Hallelujah Chorus" overwhelmed me as a dancer, garbed in layers of floaty white, twirled to the joyful music. I wanted to be that woman, unreservedly worshiping God.

            Several years later at a women’s conference, I leaped at the opportunity to participate in a worship dance class. Our instructor taught us simple motions to accompany a powerful, encouraging song. (Simple, but unfamiliar to my muscles. I could barely walk or move my arms afterward.) On Sunday morning I experienced my Young Messiah moment as we danced to the Lord in the worship service. 

            Pure joy.

            People don’t dance in my church. If we did, someone would call 9-1-1. So I’d not repeated that experience until I left the United States with my students and my co-chaperones.

            In a Jamaican church, I encountered the dancing grannies. One especially looked like an old-fashioned, reserved grandmotherly type with her graying hair and conservative dark green skirt and jacket. But when the music started, watch out! Those grannies pulled as out of our seats, and soon we were all awkwardly dancing in the aisles. No way could we match their moves, though. Not even the seventeen-year-olds.

            I’ve danced in that same Jamaican church three times now (and Grandma always wears the same dark green suit), but when I’m stateside I worship in a stately (spelled b-o-r-i-n-g) fashion. 

            However, a few years ago, Donna Bridge of Kingdom Kidz taught me to use puppets in a ministry team. To my surprise, my puppets are not at all reserved in expressing their praise to God. They clap, lift their hands, and dance exuberantly…while behind the curtain I tap my feet and move to the music. 

Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Psalm 142:7, NIV

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Amazing Apostle

Reading comic books as a child, I learned the source of Superman’s strength: He was born on the planet Krypton which orbited a red sun. When he came to Earth, our yellow sun gave him superpowers. I followed his adventures on our black and white television as George Reeves flew around in ill-fitting leotards, and years later in Technicolor on the big screen as Christopher Reeve sported a more expensive and better tailored costume.
As a teen, I discovered Spiderman comics. Though an ordinary human, Peter Parker gained amazing strength when a radioactive spider bit him. I watched his animated series with my younger brother—it might have been in color, but we still had a black and white TV—and the catchy theme song still bounces around in my brain:
Spiderman, Spiderman, friendly neighborhood Spiderman…
Is he strong? Listen, Bud. He’s got radioactive blood…
Good rhyming poetry sticks with a person.
Of course I saw the Tobey Maguire movies, and I plan to see the newest incarnation of the Amazing Spiderman, starring Andrew Garfield. (Who is he?)
I also admire heroes other than those in comic books. I enjoy reading the apostles’ adventures in Acts. I marvel at Paul, who seems to be a New Testament superhero.
What gave Paul the power to preach and plant churches, heal the sick and raise the dead, survive shipwrecks and beatings, and write for the bestselling book of all time?
More astounding than the sun’s color or a spider’s venom, Paul’s strength came from his weakness.
At first Paul struggled against a limitation, which he called “a thorn in the flesh,” until Jesus assured him, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9, NLT).” Paul described that power as the force that raised Christ from the grave—talk about superpowers!—and Paul declared it’s available to every believer (Ephesians 1:19 – 20).
With Christ’s muscle, instead of reading about superheroes, I can be one. And so can you. What heroic deeds are scheduled for today? Listen to a friend. Smile at a stranger. Meet a need. Love an enemy. Keep my mouth shut. The Bible is bursting with ideas for superheroes.
But let’s just wear our regular clothes, okay?

“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty.  Zechariah 4:6, NIV

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Anniversary, Blog!

Today is the one year (plus one day) anniversary of my blog. In a shamefully lazy (but hopefully clever) move, I am re-posting my first ever blog post, "July 4th means never having to say your highness." Since last Independence Day, we've experienced one more British royal spectacle, the diamond anniversary of the queen. While I enjoyed watching the adoring Brits responding to the queen's little hand wave on the telly, I still have to say, "Uh, no." As Russell Brand says, we're getting ready to elect a new king here in America, and as flawed as the process and the two candidates are, I think we'll stick with them for the foreseeable future.

(a summer rerun)

With William and Kate on our side of the pond, the media rushes to remind us of the proper way to address royalty. “Your Majesty” has fallen out of style, so begin with “Your Royal Highness” and drop back to a respectful Ma’am or Sir.

Uh, no.

Methinks we fought a war about this a couple of hundred years ago. Unlike Canada and more than four dozen other nations, we severed our ties with British royalty when John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, signed his name large enough for King George to read without his spectacles.

Now we’re just friends with Britain. Good friends. Very good friends that saved their, um, tushies during two world wars.

So if you run into Willie and Kate, you have my permission to address them as equals:  

Hey youse guys!
How are youinz doing?

Or whatever passes for friendly in your corner of these independent United States of America.

Happy 4th of July. May all your princesses be Disney.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Waddle Time

            The childhood me was painfully thin. Mom would tear up watching me walk off to school, my legs like two pick-up sticks in my colored tights. When I was in junior high, Mom promised me a new wardrobe if I added to my 85 pounds. She dragged me to a doctor, who prescribed an iron tonic with a not surprisingly rusted flavor. My brother suggested if the potion worked, Mom should buy the doctor a new wardrobe.
            A decade later, newly married and on the Pill, my girth swelled to 105 pounds, giving a snug fit to my previously loose size 4 1/2 engagement ring.
            Penny was even skinnier than I, proudly possessing several extra inches of height. She looked more classy than emaciated, owing to her stylish hairdo, impeccable southern girl makeup, and chic wardrobe. She worked as a secretary, while I manned a desk in acquisitions in the same seminary library in the mid 1970s. We were earning our PhT—Putting Hubby Through.
            Each evening by the time she’d worked eight hours, retrieved her adorable toddler from day care, and fixed supper for her good-looking husband (southern girls don’t cook; they fix meals), she had no appetite. She told me her husband would urge her, “Eat a little! It’s good!” as he appreciatively wolfed down his meal.
            All the other library wives worried as Penny remained skinnier than I. But Penny had a vision for the future.
            “Someday, Roberta,” she told me, a faraway look in her eyes and a smile playing on her thin lips, “years from now, we’ll run into each other somewhere. And we’ll both be so fat that we’ll waddle toward each other…”
            “And bounce off each other when we embrace…” I added hopefully.
            “And we’ll go out for lunch. And we’ll have to sit at a table…”
            “Because we won’t be able to fit in a booth!” I encouraged her.
            We continued to fantasize about our future as plus-size women: Comfortably cushioned laps for grandchildren. Elastic waistbands. Bras that were functional rather than decorative.
            Decades have passed, and I haven’t yet run into Penny. However, now that four pregnancies and menopause have run over me, I am living her dream.
            It’s waddle time.
            My celery stalk figure has morphed into the dreaded apple, complete with visceral fat. Visceral! What does that even mean? It means my abdominal organs are cushioned with blobs of fat, giving me the appearance of late second trimester pregnancy, although my last baby just turned twenty-two. The dictionary rudely suggests “visceral” exudes “coarse, base, earthy, or crude emotions.”
            Well, you would, too, if you had to look in the mirror and see that.
            On the other hand, pear-shaped women carry subcutaneous fat on their hips, derrieres, and thighs. Subcutaneous—do you hear the “cute” in “sub-cute-aneous”? These women are praised in rap songs about “booty.” What’s more, their cute fat poses few health threats, while my visceral fat has me shopping for a plus-size coffin.
            To postpone my demise and guarantee my survivors won’t have to hire extra pallbearers, I’ve begun the Pare-Your-Apple-to-the-Core diet and fitness plan. A medical doctor, whose qualifications include publishing a book and selling it to my local library, promises losing two inches from my waistline will decrease my risk of death from heart attack and stroke, improve my mood, and bring peace to the Middle East.
            What waistline?
            This doctor—whose book jacket photo reveals she is neither an apple nor a pear, but a string bean—discourages weighing portions and counting calories. Instead, she divides proteins, carbs, and fats into Elite, Better, Good, and Wasted Calories. My life is now an all-you-can-eat-Elite-food buffet. Drench those legumes with tofu dressing!
            I’m having a bit of trouble mastering these categories, since my previous experience classifying foods was limited to milk vs. dark chocolate. Whole wheat toast is Elite…unless you put Good jelly on it, and then it’s Better…I think.
            The great thing is, this diet allows me to eat whatever I want one day each week. So, while I used to make poor choices every day, now I only get Wasted on Sundays.
            As I stir vanilla soy milk into my coffee, I nostalgically remember my half and half addiction…just last week. (I’m wearing a patch.) I raise my mug to Penny, who was even skinnier than I.
            If you run into her, let her know her fat friend is looking for her.

            (Thank you, Linda Au, humor writer, for your helpful edits. Penny is a fictitious name for a real woman...a very skinny real woman.)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

What I said at graduation…sort of

          Every year at graduation, the class adviser offers some thoughts on her time with her students. It was my turn this year. This is the transcript that I kinda, sorta followed. To protect their privacy, my students’ names have become initials.
          Pastor Jones, Mr. Wilhelm, school board members, faculty members, honored guests…let’s see, did I leave anyone out? Oh, yeah…Class of 2012, Daughters of the Seventh Millennium.
          It has been an honor to serve as the class adviser and homeroom teacher of these young women for the last four years. It has been an honor…and a headache. They have both disappointed and dazzled me. I have been both proud of them and peeved with them.
          They’ve caused me to lose my temper, but never my talent for alliteration.
          I guess what I’m trying to say is, they have become like daughters to me. They know things about me that my own family doesn’t know. They know my philosophy and worldview. They know I’m pro life, pro Israel, and pro vocabulary. They know that I believe following Jesus is no guarantee that you’ll be inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time, but without Jesus I couldn’t get out of bed in this morning.
          Why do they know all this? Two words:  captive audience, just like all of you today. We’ve discussed many sensitive topics, and would have discussed more if my classroom had a door.
          These girls and I have shared many experiences and ideas. They got me to read Twilight and The Hunger Games, and I got them to read Tolstoy and drink tea while clenching a sugar cube in their teeth like Russians. We all became fans of Lois Lowry’s trilogy.
          J and E and I went to Bucknell University to hear the author of Infidel and Nomad, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim with a price on her head. We combined that serious event with dinner at a diner where the really cute waiter worked.
          When we went to Camp Susque, I read bedtime stories to my daughters. When we went to Jamaica, my puppet Joey Manzoni stalked them and made rude remarks. At Christmas time, we feverishly decorated our room, and won the decorating contest four years in a row.
          I share a special bond with L because she and I are both founding members of the puppet team. We learned something new together and became internationally known puppeteers when we went to Jamaica. The other girls thought we were crazy…until they started doing the Ten Commandment Boogie.
          M and I share a love of writing and we both participated in National Novel Writing Month. Because she is a writer, M’s brain has formed strange pathways. Many of you know that my students draw pictures on their tests and quizzes for bonus points. When M was in Old Testament Tour 2, she drew pictures of the prophet Elijah battling the vampire Edward Cullen. She always used a red pen to add blood to the picture.
          I’m not worried about M’s love for Koreans, because the largest Presbyterian church in the world is in Seoul, South Korea. In Christ, there is neither American nor Korean. I think Paul said something like that.
          And then there’s E2, who joined our little family later. I am glad she did. She has blessed me with laughter and joy. And last year she hand-lettered all of our formal invitations in her beautiful handwriting. Wherever she is on November 20, I will come and protect her from the haters who participate in Kick a Ginger Day.
          These five girls are in my heart and I think I am in their hearts as well. When they leave, part of them will remain with me, and part of me will go with them. Not in a creepy, science fiction or new age religion kind of way, but in love.
          When the girls chose their class verse four years ago, they chose a verse that celebrated their all girl class. It comes at the end of Proverbs 31, a chapter that describes a talented, intelligent, creative, organized, strong, confident, compassionate women. Verse 10 asks the question, “Who can find a virtuous woman?” and the remainder of the chapter describes her.
          My friend Rosalee Richards got tired of being a lawyer and went to theological seminary and studied Hebrew and became a Hebrew professor. She told me something startling about the Hebrew adjective that KJV translates as virtuous, NASB translates as excellent, and NIV translates as noble. Rosalee told me that when the same Hebrew word is masculine, it translates as warrior.
          I like that. Who can find a warrior woman? One who will struggle to do what is right, to live with purpose, to care about others? One who will put on the armor of God and battle in prayer against the darkness?
          I think my daughters can become warrior women. I’ve been watching you for over 700 days, give or take some excused and unexcused absences, and I see in you the beginnings of warrior women. You are already strong from soccer and zumba.
          You will have to take responsibility for your own spiritual lives. There will be no more required chapels and homeroom devotions and Bible classes. You won’t be surrounded by friends and teachers who believe as you do. Count on being surrounded by people who believe what we studied in Cults and World Religions or who believe nothing.
          The NIV renders our verse, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting.” It would be pointless to admonish you not to be charming and beautiful. You can’t help it. Even in scripture, there’s a place for that. If Esther had not been charming and beautiful, she would have never become queen. But Esther had to decide whether to live off her charm and beauty or to become a warrior woman. Because she chose bravely, she saved God’s chosen people. She saved the messianic line. She made it possible for Jesus to come.
          Your choices may never be that monumental, but they will affect your little world negatively or positively. So choose to be the warrior, and if you mess up, don’t be afraid. Just get up tomorrow and choose again. 
          Remember you leave this place surrounded by the love and prayers of your teachers and indwelt by the Spirit of God.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Get your own highlighters

             In the realm of vocabulary, I decided a few years ago to color code the parts of speech, so that when students do “Completing the Sentence,” they can look through six nouns or ten adjectives or four verbs instead of choosing between all twenty words. Do you get what I’m saying? I go down through the list of sentences and say, “Numbers 1,2, 5, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 17, 19, and 20 are all orange,” meaning they’re adjectives. 

            Most units are overloaded with adjectives.

            So, yeah, adjectives are orange, obviously, orange being so bold and flamboyant. (Sorry that looks red.) Verbs are green, active like growing things. Nouns are blue because they just sit there. What are the actual lyrics to the vocabulary the song I keep hearing in my head? Blue, blue, my nouns are blue…The occasional adverb is pink.

            My boss thinks I coddle the kids. They should be able to determine which part of speech is needed from the context of the sentence. He’s right, but the books look so pretty when they’re color coded. (I know “pretty” is a lame and unspecific adjective, but if it’s good enough for Christian fiction Empress Karen Kingsbury, it’s more than good enough for me.) Actually, “pretty” isn’t good enough; the books look festive, like a never-ending vocabulary fiesta.

            I just wish the kids would get their own highlighters. They’re listed as a required supply  every year, but someone is always borrowing mine. Coddling, I know.

            I also use highlighters in Bible class. When we study the Gospels, we color code the Gospel of Mark. Every student receives a copy of Mark in the New King James Version adapted from I take out all those section headings that alert readers to what they’re going to read and what to think about it. I cruelly make the students read the passage and tell me what it’s about. 

            Feeding the Five Thousand. Duh. Read Mark 6:30 -44 and you’re going to realize that Jesus fed five thousand men with five loaves of bread and two fish. Not even sophomores need Thomas Nelson to tell them that.

            So when we read Mark, we highlight miracles orange, parables blue, teachings green, and events yellow. Old Testament quotes or allusions become pink. Geographical locations are underlined

            This works great unless someone is thinking about vocabulary while highlighting Mark. Could get messy.

            Yes, I know there are rainbow study Bibles already out there. You can buy them from But what fun is that? Somebody else has already decided what each verse is about. William C. Lincoln, my former Bible professor, would not like that, not one little bit. 

            I also use highlighters at home, and that’s really where this blog started. I was in the psalms this morning, a place I hide when life doesn’t seem to work. David ben Jesse seemed also to have a frequently malfunctioning life, so I always appreciate what he wrote. 

            Today I read Psalm 86 and it occurred to me that for every problem I have, God has a complementary quality or solution. You know, like complementary angles, one of those few things that remain with me from Geometry. I made two columns in my journal—me and God—and started listing things.

            Then I thought, “Highlighters!” 

            So here I am, electronically highlighting Psalm 86 (NIV, 1984) from There’s nothing particularly deep about my method and this is a rough draft. It just helps me see who God is, what qualities he offers, what he does to heal my frequently messed up mind and spirit.

            I invite you to try it. Just get your own highlighters. 

Psalm 86

A prayer of David.

yellow = me                blue = God

Hear, O Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am devoted to you.
    You are my God; save your servant
    who trusts in you.
Have mercy on me, O Lord,
    for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant,
    for to you, O Lord,
    I lift up my soul.
You are forgiving and good, O Lord,
    abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, O Lord;
    listen to my cry for mercy.
In the day of my trouble I will call to you,
    for you will answer me.
Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord;
    no deeds can compare with yours.
All the nations you have made
    will come and worship before you, O Lord;
    they will bring glory to your name.
10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
    you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.
12 I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart;
    I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your love toward me;
    you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.
14 The arrogant are attacking me, O God;
    a band of ruthless men seeks my life—
    men without regard for you.
15 But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
    slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and have mercy on me;
    grant your strength to your servant
    and save the son of your maidservant.
17 Give me a sign of your goodness,
    that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,
    for you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

            Did I mention I also highlight the weekly lunch menu before I tack it to the bulletin board?