Monday, June 20, 2016

Pathways by Nina

Sunrise by God, photographed by me
 Waking early in the morning these days, (summer vacation days), I walk down by the lake. It seems so strange to call it simply a lake. I can't see the other side and when I look across the expanse it seems to go on and on forever

Waking and walking early in the morning with my Lord, (although He's not the one sleeping), gives me new life, strength, to get through another day. I listen to praise music, hymns, anything that speaks of God

I walk six days a week nearly five miles round trip. I see only about a dozen or so other folks, who brave the wee early hours to walk, run, sit and write, walk dogs, jump about, sketch, there's a woman who sings in what sounds like Korean. I wonder how many are like me, contemplating life's direction, the next step, or simply the next thing. Still, each new gift of a new day finds me on my same routine. 
Garbage by mankind, pic by me

Walking on Saturday or Monday mornings though I have found to be the worse. The parks would have been visited by partiers, or athletes competing in games; all leaving a little bit of themselves behind, their mark at the park; from the weekend. The garbage cans are full to overflowing and if things could be worse, the fields are littered with plastic water bottles and trash of all sorts. The smells are gagging. There is no going around or away from the smell or the trash - unless you remain at home. The trash is everywhere as well as the stench - to walk around would be too much of a detour. It could be done but too much time would be consumed and accomplishes very little, other than lengthening the walk, as the temperature rises.The garbage containers line the pathway - making it easy for the trash to make it's way into them, but some folks don't care. They throw their trash at the receptacles which sometimes lands on the path and that's the extent of their effort and it sinks! I suppose this is better than leaving the trash where it's made and scattered everywhere - but it is already. 

Scene by God, messed up by mankind. Pic by me
I've considered cleaning things myself - but I would never make it home - it's so much to clean up and thankfully there are park maintenance staff who come eventually to clean - just not at 5:30-6:00 in the morning. So, I walk through the smell and the unsightliness. My goal is set every morning. I have a predetermined course and I won't be deterred, especially on my return trip home. I'm tired, hot, achy and I just want to get home after power walking half my stint. No matter how bad the smell, or how tired I am, my goal, once I reach Montrose Street Harbor, is to get home.

That's the way life seems to be on our way to Heaven. It's exhausting to put it mildly, not to mention smelly and often not so pleasant, but we're not alone in the journey along the pathway, like that poem "Footsteps" suggest; we're carried [a lot] along the way by Jesus. He knows our direction/our goal and if we let Him, (this sounds crazy - 'if we let' the Son of God... But, He is a gentleman like that. He allows us to take the lead if we want to - this is called, free will). However, Jesus can do just that - direct and lead, if we let Him. He walks with us through the stench and unsightliness of life, (God does not always remove the stench and unsightliness, a.k.a. the pain, the hurt-in this too, there is purpose - His purpose). Jesus doesn't turn away or leave us hanging. He goes the distance till the end, all for the purpose of getting us Home - Heaven.

Ginny Owens - "If you Want Me to"

Soli Deo Gloria,

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Moving and Exposure

Moving and Exposure
By Nina Benson
I recently had the task of packing my house of fifteen years and moving. FAST! (A very long, sad story that takes some major unpacking, but, for another time). However, for now it's important to understand that I was under direst!
While, I would not suggest moving under direst circumstances; you do get to see the raw you. The you that you don’t see often; unless you have circumstances that come upon you suddenly, that rips the rose colored glasses that everyone wears, from your eyes, (we all wear them), then you are suddenly thrust, (defined as a sudden or violent lunge… a forceful attack or effort, (it almost sounds like rape – the forceful removal of ones rose colored glasses. It's a taking of innocence and being thrust into a world full of incomprehensible horrors), into the light that EXPOSES everything so clearly. What has happened really has the making for a reality t.v. show. No one could ever write this stuff; let alone live this without God.
The exposure of the light isn't bad, just very painful to the eyes. It's funny and odd; as blind as we are with the rose colored glasses before the light; the truth of the light exposes and makes you see more clearly - in ways you never thought you would or could. 
You see; normally, when moving you have time to plan, tidy as you go along, and then the big day comes, family and friends come. You laugh and joke and pack and you move… And you’re off onto the next big adventure.
But, under direst circumstance, it's a little different. Here are some synonyms for direst that I just couldn’t pass up because they are all so fitting:

1 terrible, dreadful, appalling, frightful, awful, atrocious, grim, alarming; grave, serious, disastrous, calamitous, ruinous, hopeless, irretrievable, wretched, desperate, parlous; formal grievous.
2 urgent, desperate, pressing, crying, sore, grave, serious, extreme, acute, drastic.
3 ominous, gloomy, grim, dismal, unpropitious, inauspicious, unfavorable, pessimistic.
From the New Oxford American Dictionary
To move under such circumstances within a month you don't have time to clean up your act, to laugh or joke and there is no anticipation of a big adventure. There is only the big unknown and everything that was you, is suddenly exposed for all to see.
You find a ton of old stuff that you thought, once upon a time; you'd get to it and decide what to do with it, but when moving so quickly you have to make decisions on a dime, because the next thing is coming to light. I remember reeling from the shear number of decisions I had to make that were so foreign to me. It was overwhelming and I was angry and felt alone - because I was - abandoned.
I didn't want folks to see my boxes, see my need, see my dirt, (especially my dirt), see the stuff that I had always meant to take care day, but didn't. 
Everything was all out there on the proverbial table for everyone to see. It didn't matter to me that everyone else has stuff - this was my stuff that was exposed! And I simply couldn't gather it up fast enough to even try to tidy it... To make sense of it all... To offer some explanation, some reasoning for my decisions or lack thereof, let alone explain others decisions and actions...
Sin is just like this; once it's out in the open
Everyone has sin, but we pretend we don't, (at least, we pretend that our sin is really inconsequential - de minimis). It's all hidden away, packed away, stored in boxes that are way away in some closet that you never go in, let along let others go in; especially the darkest deepest ones... but, when it's all suddenly exposed to the light... When something happens that causes those closet doors, those pad locked drawers, those boxes under the stairs to be yanked out, opened up, torn open - then everyone sees what you have. It's embarrassing, it's ugly, it's frightful... and you will never be the same...
 It's not supposed to be
My Orchid is yet blooming through it all - only God!
When light illuminates the dark - darkness is banished, which is a beautiful thing. 
What was hidden is no longer and has no power. While sin is hidden you must control it. You must do something with it. Sin demands your attention always. 
...But praise God, when His light, breaks into the hidden darkness ... You walk uprightly in the glorious light of your Heavenly Father God. He looks at me, sees me and yet loves me...
Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, June 29, 2015

But It’s NOT Supposed to be RAINING...

By Nina Benson
I was about to get out on my bike and go for early morning bike ride before traffic got busy, then I remembered that I hadn’t taken my morning herbs, (how could I forget my herbs!). Before I even got to my bike, I turned around, closed the garage door and proceeded with my ten minute routine. After my herbs, I remembered I wanted to “reconstitute” some hardened clay and I knew that an hour and a half, (the length of time of my ride), would aid with the process, …. So, what was another five minute delay? I went to the basement, collected the hardened clay in a bucket and was about to go outside to the garden hose… That's when I knew my routine was going to be further interrupted. It was raining.
I checked my weather app first thing this morning and it said NO RAIN for the day! At least not in the morning.
Hubby is back from China and was coming down the stairs and was surprised that I was yet at home. I explained how I returned for my herbs and then remembered the clay in the basement, but was stopped because of the rain. I told him my “” weather app said, "no rain" and even went so far as to show him. I was miffed! He jokingly mused, I guess your “accuweather” app wasn’t so accurate.
But I was on a roll. I showed him the hourly weather predictions and showed him how ALL the little umbrellas were closed until afternoon and that the app even showed a sunny day with light clouds… With his dry tone, “…but your app is wrong, it is raining…” I said in a defeated tone,  ‘But the umbrellas are closed. See how it looks when it’s raining’, I showed him the later predictions for the afternoon. That's when they're open!
“Then honey, go for your bike ride…. Believe your app. It’s not raining”, he said.
‘But isn’t that what we do with much of life’, I said through a disillusioned smile.
Indeed the rain is falling, but I wanted to believe otherwise, because of my routine, my agenda. I wanted to argue my point however blatantly wrong.
This is what we do with sin. We rather believe what isn’t true, what isn’t right, what isn’t of God; so that we can do as we will.
I could have gone out for my bike ride, but I would have gotten wet. Sin usually isn’t that obvious. Sometimes, folks get knee deep or worse, stuck and broken before they realize the truth and suffer the natural consequences of their actions and then they blame God! (Odd: People don’t want anything to do with God when they have free will to do all the sin they please, but point the accusing finger at God when those choices come in for payment. And sinful choices always demand payment due).
Fortunately, God doesn’t leave us knee deep, stuck and broken in our sin. Again we have free will  to turn away from sin and reach out to Jesus for salvation,  healing, redemption, restoration, His love.
You can believe your app or what you know is truth
Soli Deo Gloria

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Air Conditioning is Set so it Keeps Everything the Same

The Air Conditioning is Set so it Keeps Everything the Same 
By Nina Benson

Can the air conditioning be turned off?

That would not be the same.

The silverware - it doesn't have a copyright symbol.

"Copyright means nothing here".

Over my spring break son three and I traveled to China to visit my husband who started out doing missionary work, but ended up with a job/calling. This, in itself is a story of mysteries and divine orchestration, (with tick bites while on a final trip before retirement, with his students, to bee stings, that should have been his last, to cancer scares… See another story…). However, before what I am impressed with leaves me, I would like to do something with it.

China! A vastly huge country. A vastly condensed country! There are as many layers to something that is suppressed, hidden, kept out of reach for so long that the living generations haven't a clue of what they don't have; as there are people. I talk like a presumptuous overbearing American. How dare, I? It's just, no stranger showed me really any kindness, any acknowledgement other than a little boy in an open market named Jonathan. He said hello and smiled. He was not afraid, but seemed to be acting on a dare from goading friends, who stood off at a distance. There was also the eighty-three year old woman at the MTR, train station, Stephen carried her wire scroller down the stairs while I gave her my arm to steady her as she walked slowly down –  the wrong side of the stairs. People who had no time for her and did not heed her request for assistance, huffed and walked around. I and the old woman were annoyances.

I think this interaction is the epitome of what my visit with the people of China was like. Stephen would say,  “it's all in my head”, but there was a general disdain for my existence, so I was ignored, saw through, as if invisible. When undeniably in the face of the Chinese people I was looked down upon – like  how dare you come here. When I wasn't noticed or seen, what I saw were gruff, unhappy, empty people walking like in a trance, as if dead inside. When people were with friends there was very loud talking, some laughter, but momentary. It always died away.

How does a people become so? It's as if someone, somewhere is holding up giant signs saying when to laugh, when it talk, when to speak, otherwise there is the empty, the waiting to be told what to do next. It's as if the people move like the tai chi movements through life  – slow and in sync with a purpose long since forgotten… Mechanical.

The mountains were beautiful and unimpeded from view from billboards. Still, in mainland where there was “urban” development there were very few billboards. This is good. Of course, what does the government give the people to dream for, to hope for. National pride? It does not seem to make for joyful people.

The government in mainland, seems to make attempts at giving the people something that others are thought to have that seem to bring pleasures, like – pizza! Not the place to be if this is what you're looking for. Dough made from something like Bisquick with no sauce and a smattering of cheese with a varied assortment of fillings like, tuna salad! And for the Hawaiian pizza, a fruit that was indescribable, but chewy like rubber. It's the illusion of something that is just out of reach…

However, I think it's the lack of control and dependency that I'm experiencing that also colors my perceptions. There are many positives. The country has a natural beauty that leaves me breathless. The many mountains rising through the morning mist is very majestic. The faces of the children are impish and precocious. Seeing the elderly out and about, moving slowly, but going places, or sometimes doing small necessary jobs. Everyone seems to have a place in this foreign society. Everyone has a job that contributes to the collective. But still there is that nagging emptiness that I see in the eyes of so many.

This thought would not be complete without a mention of Hela-Lou, (I'm sure I've spelled her name wrong). She was a god–send when I was desperate for compassion. Son and I made it to Beijing on our trip home. It was our place of transfer. We were told that our connecting flight had been canceled. No reason. No explanation. Suck it up and take it. I was at the end of my rope as far as adventures go. I was simply happy with the thought of going home… Just to have my bubble burst. Fooled you! Home – just out of reach. Actually, it felt like someone had exploded everything. Once we landed there were the endless lines and the miles we walked carrying at least thirty extra pounds in luggage – each. I was hot and sweaty by the time we went through our last check point and showed our passports for the last time. The young woman was as sensitive to our plight as a dust bunny is to fur balls. She was merely the messenger. But you see, she lacked empathy. She did not see that I was a foreigner in a land where I knew no one. She did not care that I did not speak the language. She hadn't a clue that for several nights I had been awake nearly every hour on the hour. She did not understand that I longed for my home.

I started to cry.

I tried to keep it in, but all the weeks emotion had come to a head and hearing that we would be spending the next 24 hours in limbo was the straw that did it. I walked away from the counter and actually let son contend with the mess. But, there was a younger woman whose flight was also canceled, who was Chinese and as she eventually shared had spent four years in New York and was able to speak some English. She was our advocate. She explained that all was not lost and that we would have lodgings at a hotel with meals. Once at the hotel, she explained about the key card and how it turned on the lights and the time for our meals. She also wrote a note in Chinese for the driver who was to come and get us  in the morning. She explained everything.

She showed us kindness.

The lost of control, unpredictability, and forced dependency when there is no show of empathy is frightening. I felt like I was at the mercy of the airlines. If I foolishly thought I had power, I was stripped of that fast. If I thought I mattered, I was wrong. But, I learned I was not alone. God had shown me goodness and mercy and showed me what faith is, in the face of adversity. Perhaps this is what is lacking in the hearts of the Chinese I had seen. Perhaps they have been made to believe that they have no control and must put their faith in and/or be dependent upon a government that has disappointed them time and time again. Perhaps they never learned that to put ones faith in man is to invite brokenness and need and want for something more – they only know how empty man’s words are and know nothing better at this stage of life. But to have an advocate – one who speaks on their behalf is everything – to not be alone. To have Jesus- our ultimate Advocate, is all one ever needs in this life.

Photo taken by me at Big Buddha

Saturday, February 28, 2015

While Rome Burned...

by Nina Benson
It's Saturday. I started off my morning with exercise. Next, I rewarded myself with a seat at the computer and a cup of coffee. On Saturdays, I catch-up with the news that I’ve only heard snippets of on the radio, on my drive home, Monday through Friday.
I tend to be a researcher when I read the news. I search for several sources on the same news item to get a varied viewpoint, hopefully, eventually getting to the truth, (Truth: something that is definitely not synonymous with the word - news). I had heard that ISIS recruits were in all fifty states and that tagging could be found everywhere. My “research” as it were, led me down into a very dark and very deep rabbit hole – I’ve been down this road before, however, today, like most days, I could not ruminate over the subject.
...But how could I not?
The images, the words, the comments, the other news, the wars everywhere, the assassination in Russia, the governmental take-over of the internet by the FCC… This is to say nothing of my own family life concerns, nor those of my dear friends and colleagues at work and my students…
To give thought and/or participate in that, that matters so little… Still…
I had to put it all aside because I had ten teenagers coming over for an art class. I had to set up for it all… they were coming for 9… The news would have to wait – stop for the moment. (God, if it could ever stop – please let it never start again). I had been up and at it since about 5:30-6am…
The art class came and went and was successful…
I took the last young lady to her next destination at 6pm…
Sigh. I started clearing the table of the cups and cardboard and newspaper. Once it was all cleared, I thought about sitting down and eating a little something, (I forget to do this when I’m “on”). Usually after teaching/engaging youth, for a full day I usually like to turn my mind off and engage in something mindless.
Hmmm… how about putting those Monopoly game pieces from Jewel on the game board.  I had fifteen of them and a couple that I found on the ground… Then it hit me.
Then I remembered the news from this morning.
How could I do something so mindless, so meaningless; when the world is literally burning?
I’ve heard it said, that Nero fiddled while Rome burned, (Or played his cithara since the “fiddle” wasn’t invented)… Could I sit idly by and tear off the sides off Monopoly playing pieces and sort them and hope that I have the winning piece, while the world is so out of control.
The question might be: Well what can you do? At any moment, 24/7; I can pray for God’s mercy. I can beseech the throne room of Heaven and plead for Jesus’ return to come quickly. I can read God’s word and seek out His direction.
...But to be idle in times such as these – God there is so much to do … “The harvest is plentiful…” Let it not be said that I knew what was going on, but did  nothing of any consequence and watched the world burn…
Fear Not…

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Let's Keep It Real

Let’s Keep It Real
By Nina Benson
I have a niece who is known for saying, “I’m just trying to keep it real Aunt T” aka; I’m merely being totally, unabashedly honest so that you get the full picture.
Sometimes in this walk, we need this in-your-face type of honesty, because we tend to sidestep the truth, in an effort to avoid… the pain, or doing what we're supposed to do, or whatever, you fill in the blank…
The other day I had the opportunity to get on my trusty bike because temperatures rose into the 50’s for just the day. I rode for about five miles, enjoying the warmth of the sun and blue skies. I had my headphones on listening to a Christian music station and I was surprised at what I didn’t hear – not one Christmas song; even though it was just one day after Christmas. I thought surely, I would hear some reference to the day that is a pinnacle of the Christian faith – but nothing.
I confess that I am a Christmas Scrooge. Before you get worried – it’s not that I don’t believe in the Miracle – of course I do, however, the commercialism of Christmas is unbearable for me. I don’t know if it’s my advancing years, but I don’t particular enjoy seeing houses decorated with light shows that compete with the lights of Las Vegas with the Star Wars theme playing in the background. I can not stand hearing Silent Night done 101 different ways – from techno to Lil Wayne, to Lady Gaga to Disco to Mickey Mouse, and more… Really? And most folks would agree that starting Christmas in the stores after Halloween is a bit much. This year Christmas and Thanksgiving were tandem in the aisles. I don’t know why someone hasn’t come up with a turkey dressed up like Santa Claus as a centerpiece. Oh yeah, because they can still make twice the money if they keep them separate.

Okay, what’s my point? Christmas is over and everything is slowly disappearing for another year…
But that’s my point - Christmas shouldn’t be disappearing.
For nearly an hour I rode my bike and didn’t hear anything to the reference of the birth of Christ. There are songs that reference the Miracle- the unbelievable Gift of God to a sin sick world, that aren’t the traditional hymns of Christmas; but like Handel’s Messiah, which can be listened and pondered everyday from Christmas to Easter and everyday in between.
We need to consider what is real about Christmas and fall prostrate in awe when we really see what Christmas is about and how it doesn’t simply end the evening of the big family gathering.
Pastor Raj from the Oak Park Chinese Bible Church gave his congregation thoughts to ponder a couple Sundays before Christmas: Mary was real. A frighten young woman, probably barely out of her youth – pregnant under very questionable circumstances. Folks today wouldn’t bat an eye – but, back then she was supposed to be stoned, (I think her mother too). She was pregnant with her first child and was going on a camping trip with her betrothed. A two-three week journey by foot, (the Bible makes no mention of her perched on a donkey, (nice card – but not true). Ladies, you want to go on a walking trip at say, nearly eight plus months pregnant and camp out under the stars. Then there’s Joseph. Good Lord man, you believed what that girl told you? Can you imagine for a second the ridicule he got? How dumb can you be? Scripture mentions no close family, other than Elizabeth, whom was pregnant in her old age, (with John the Baptist). The angel of the Lord told Mary about this miracle and suggested that she go and visit her - to help her, (I think God gave her busy work, to keep her focused on other things – Elizabeth’s pregnancy, rather than the thing that He was handling – He didn’t need Mary fretting about what was going on with her – she needed confirmation and something to keep her mind occupied). Then there’s the place to have the Baby Jesus and those shepherds showing up… The Wise men didn’t show for some time after, (again makes for cute cards but not true to the REAL story). I could go on, but I think you get the picture – the real picture.
Why can’t we keep Christmas REAL 24/7, just like Jesus’ death and resurrection? Why not be a shepherd and share this great news! Jesus is the reason for the season, so let’s keep Him REAL! 
Nichole Norderman - Real
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year