Stand amazed, ye heavens!

See th'Eternal Son of GOD
A Mortal Son of Man,
Dwelling in an Earthly Clod
Whom Heaven cannot contain!
Stand amaz'd ye Heavens at This!
See the LORD of Earth and Skies
Humbled to the Dust He is,
And in a Manger lies!
-- Charles Wesley



Of all the things I am thankful for, spiritual blessings rank highest.  I used to be "dead in my trespasses and sins," according to God.  But now check out what Ephesians says is mine in Christ.  And this is just a sampling.  Wow.
All this can be yours, too.
And the best is yet to be.  Amen, come Lord Jesus!


Oh, Sweet Construction-Free Peace!

The interstate is just a couple stone's throw from A Considerable Speck, and it's undergoing a massive revamp: four more lanes, all new interchanges, etc.  It will be oh-so-wonderful when it's finished.  But for the next 18 months or so: delays, detours, dust—and noise.  (My alliteration skills fail me.)

And so this song by Nicky Mehta came to mind the other night as I lay awake, trying not to listen to the grating sounds of highway construction.  (Pun intended.)

Oh, sweet peace, never have you fallen upon this town...
I cannot rest... at least until the darkness is quiet for a while.

How convenient that my friend (at least in the world of Facebook), Don Shorock, taped the winsome trio The Wailin' Jennys performing the song.  I attended this beautiful concert, so if you hear an earnest though slightly off-key alto on the sing-along chorus—well, I'll let you put two and two together.

Peace or no peace, my home is in heaven anyway.  Jesus said He's preparing a place for me before I get there, so there'll be no construction hubbub on those streets of gold once I arrive, thank you very much.  I've been keeping a mental list, and I think "No Construction" makes Reason #1,742 that I am glad to be glory bound.  Amen?


Labor Day? Never again.

The gospel encourages me to rest in my righteous standing with God, a standing which Christ Himself has accomplished and always maintains for me.*

I never have to do a moment's labor to gain or maintain my justified status before God!**

Freed from the burden of such a task, I now can put my energies into enjoying God, pursuing holiness, and ministering God's amazing grace to others.

* Romans 5:1-2  Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.
** I John 2:1-2  ...And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins...

A Gospel Primer For Christians, Milton Vincent


What a Spectacle

I have been told I have my father's eyes.  Thanks to the (somewhat absurd) American fashion cycle, I can now have my father's glasses, too.


A Considerable Speck

This past week marked exactly one year since I moved into my Provo duplex.  To celebrate, here are a few photos of my home, affectionately called A Considerable Speck (a nod to Robert Frost's poem).  This little place is a "good and perfect gift from the Father of Heavenly Lights."  Come on a virtual tour of the first floor.  (And then come for a real honest-to-goodness visit!)
My cozy kitchen, where many a box of Mac and Cheese meets its demise.  Laundry niche behind the red curtain.
The patio window looks out to a small private patio and lawn.  And beyond those, an unkempt lot with an apple tree, several cats and an abandoned car or two—reminds me of West Virginia for some reason.
Robert Plant hanging out with some wall decs I designed in the background.   (Anyone who achieves the otherworldly experience of singing harmony with Alison Krauss deserves to have a florum named after him, I think.)
More plants that have somehow survived my "care" and also escaped my propensity for naming inanimate objects. Also notice the thrift store vinyl jackets which make very cost-effective decs.  Move over, Martha Stewart.
I'm a firm believer that pillows make a room.  I haven't found Scriptural backing for this yet, but it's gotta be in there somewhere.
A close-up of my new curtains.  Is it just me or does the design look Tolkien-ish?  I could see this flower gently waving in the warm breezes that blow through Rivendell...
I am quite fond of my piano, odd-ball knob or no.  Before it came to A Considerable Speck, it belonged successively to three dear friends, believers here in Utah.  My heart warms to think of the many hymns played and sung around it.  And that picture on the right gets more compliments than anything else I have, making it fully worth the one buck I spent on it at a dollar store in Beckley, West Virginia.  Score.  I do love a good road picture/song/poem.
Any P.D.Q. Bach fans out there?  This "Black Forest Bluegrass"
album cover tickles my funny bone.  As P.D.Q. himself would say: "It's got that certain je ne sais quoi."
I found these fantastic book ends at a yard sale a few weeks ago.  This one's name is Gog and the other's is Magog, a nod to L.M. Montgomery's Anne of the Island.  Sometimes we bookish sorts overdo it on the "nods".


A Picture Is Worth Four Posts

It took me four posts to document my travel saga but it took artist Christoph Niemann just a few doodles for his.  If you have flown much, you will certainly identify, and laugh at the accuracy of his clever drawings.  See them here.  My personal favorite is the 9:57am "poppyseed" entry.  That's me times 10, thanks to these braces, which, since you asked, will be coming off in November and then bring on the poppyseed, sister!


Grace to You

Grace.  It was my grandma's name.  It's what my name means.  It has been the subject of I-don't-know-how-many sermons, lectures and songs I've heard over the years, growing up in the church and attending Bible college.  Even so, when it comes to understanding God's grace for me, I've just begun to scratch the surface.  I have settled all too often for a shallow, defeated, quasi-Christianity instead of embracing the fullness of His grace.  Thanks to Pastor Milton Vincent for bringing this deficiency to my attention in a most thoughtful and heartfelt manner, during the recent Utah/Idaho BMW (Biblical Ministries Worldwide) Field Retreat.  And thanks to Laura Story for writing and recording this sincere, reflective song—which I've found myself adding to just about every playlist I've built for KEYY since the Retreat.  Her song solidifies in my mind and heart much of what Pastor Milton spoke of, and I hope it rings true for you, too.

Good stuff, huh?

Will you let me do something for you?  I want to purchase an mp3 and send it to you, so you can listen to Laura Story's "Grace" whenever you need a reminder of the incredible riches of God's grace for you.  Just get me your email address somehow, if I don't already have it, and I'll "gift" the song to you on iTunes.  Leave a comment, or go the more secure route and email me (k c l a r k 3 4 @ y a h o o . c o m).



Farewell to my pickle-eating, bike-riding, piano-playing, deep-thinking, often-laughing, imaginatively-cooking roomie, Becca.  It's been a great summer.


Good, Better, Best: Three Reviews of New Media

I am a sucker for tear-jerker storybook animals like Lassie and Black Beauty and Misty of Chincoteague.  Therefore, I was disappointed when Blind Hope: An Unwanted Dog and the Woman She Rescued did not quite turn out to be the moving pet story I thought it would be.  Mostly, it's the true story of a young woman emerging from a destructive past and slowly realizing what following Christ is all about.  The neglected Australian shepherd Laurie adopts aids her in learning authenticity, trust, joy and hope.  I found the writing style distracting, as needless dialogue and awkward narrative make the story seem a bit forced.  I ended up skim-reading parts.  Still, there are nuggets of truth and heartwarming anecdotes any dog-lover will enjoy.  And yes, I did cry when the dog died.  Except she didn't die.  Oh, you'll just have to read it yourself to know what I mean.  Keep reading to learn how to get a free copy.  (This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.  You can purchase it here.)

I'm fairly certain Phil Vischer, of VeggieTales fame, has more creativity in his pinky toe than the rest of us 7 billion inhabitants of Earth possess collectively.  Don't you love it when someone with a God-given talent uses it to build up the kingdom?  That's reason number one why I was excited to hear of the release of Phil's "What's In the Bible?" DVD series in March.  The other reason: we've got heaps of bibliology-illiterate folks sitting in our churches these days.  Many Christians aren't prepared to intelligently defend their faith and the Book on which their faith is (or should be) founded.  I have a hunch that's partly because when they (we) were kids, they learned Bible stories without really learning the Bible.  What is the Bible?  How did we get it?  Why is it organized the way it is?  Is it meant to be taken literally?  What does the word "bible" even mean, for goodness' sake?  These are some of the questions Phil Vischer sets out to answer for kids, using a delightful cast of puppets, catchy songs, high-quality production, and lots of humor.  I love, love, love the concept.  After hearing glowing reviews, I purchased the first (of three, so far) DVD ($14.99), including two 25-minute episodes: "What Is the Bible?" and "Who Wrote the Bible?"  I laughed and learned and I tapped my toes to the music.  Yes, I would love to add my glowing review to the rest.  However, some unsatisfactory tiptoeing around controversial issues gives me serious reservations.  The most disturbing is how the narrative of creation in Genesis chapter 1 is left open to interpretation.  According to Phil, it's a matter of opinion whether or not God created the world in six literal, 24-hour days.  He even invokes the worn-out and illogical argument: "with the Lord a day is like a thousand years" (2 Peter 3:8).  (For an excellent 2-minute rebuttal, listen to this.)  Alas, if only there were some way to edit out these moments of wishy-washy theology, I would heartily endorse "What's In the Bible?" DVDs.

And now we come to a product I can endorse, yea even urge you to purchase.   In fact, it deserves a post all its own.  It deserves a blog all its own.  Shoot, it deserves an internet all its own.  It is "Counting Stars", singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson's July 27 release.  I am still digesting these 13 songs of a Christ-follower's struggle and peace, longing and fulfillment, transgression and redemption.  Andrew's music always moves me deeply and this is perhaps his most intimate collection yet.  Give me a little more time to absorb.  For now, I'll simply quote Jonathan Rogers: "These songs aren’t safe. They hunker down and wrestle around, and they come up limping. The hope they express is hard-won."  Hard-won hope; authentic, unshakeable hope: that's the album in a nutshell.  You will not regret purchasing it.

Thanks to the good folks at WaterBrook Multnomah, I have a free copy of Blind Hope to give away.  For your chance to win, leave a comment recommending a book/movie/album you've recently read/watched/heard.


Chuckles: A Fable

Chuckles the Chocolate Lab knows that the sun's UV (ultraviolet) radiation has been linked to:
1.  Cataracts, a clouding of the eye's lens, eventually necessitating surgical removal,
2.  Cancer in the delicate skin around the eyes (melanoma),
3.  Macular degeneration (according to some studies), resulting in loss of vision in the center of the visual field,
... and several other types of eye damage.

So Chuckles doesn't leave home without his sunglasses, especially in the summer.  When he purchased them, he made sure the lenses block 100% UVA/UVB.  He was savvy enough to decline sunglasses with plastic lenses, even though they were tinted very dark; he knows it's the glass and polycarbonate lenses that protect his eyes.  Furthermore, Chuckles was careful to select a pair with large, close-fitting lenses—and not just because they're fashionable.  He realizes UV radiation poses a hazard to his eyes.

Chuckles knows it's no laughing matter.

(This thinly-veiled admonition brought to you by your friendly virtual optician.)


All the travel headaches were worth it in the end.  I had a pleasant ten days visiting family, as these photos attest.  Featured characters in this little slideshow are my folks, my brother and his wife, my nephew and niece, paternal grandparents and maternal extended family.  The building project was a storage shed for my brother's yard.  And the background music?  One of my favorite cuts from Tom, my traveling buddy.  It's called "First Winter"; he plays both acoustic guitar and mandolin on it, and I believe he wrote the music as well.


Part IV: Emotional Baggage

(Read Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here.)

2:45am  Tom and I have split a bag of Twizzlers, found a quiet corner, and made every effort to fall asleep in these terribly rigid chairs.  No luck.  What to do, what to do?  Why, deliberate the American political scene, of course.  That and generational gaps, the Apostle Paul, dog breeds and mandolin flat-picking technique.  Later, we pull out our laptops and he transfers a bunch of music files to mine—songs he has written and recorded.  And so, despite less-than-ideal circumstances, the wee hours of the morning are pleasantly spent in Denver International Airport.

4:45am  My folks are in Central time and should be be up by now.  (This may be the first time in the history of the world that I am awake earlier than they.)  I call home and announce I am headed to Omaha in six hours; could they meet me there?  Or should I try to fly directly to Minnesota (we had been planning to drive there from Kansas in two days)?  Or attempt to fly standby to Wichita?  Ever calm and analytical, Dad states, "There are no good options here."  He decides on a plan I hadn't even thought of: he and mom will drive the six hours to Denver and pick me up.  Note to self: nice Christmas presents for the folks this year.  Maybe a cruise?  A jar of cashews is definitely not going to cut it after this.

5:00am  It's time for Tom to find his gate.  I walk him there and we shake hands with, "Take care, God bless."  I wish I were better at goodbyes.  It's only been twelve hours since we met, but I'll miss Tom.

5:45am  I sit with a $3 scone and a $3 hot chocolate (Starbucks was the only food vendor open this early) beside the customer service desk in the United Airlines wing of the terminal.  It is insanely cold down here.  At least customer service will be open in fifteen minutes; then I can cancel my ticket to Omaha and get some help finding my checked baggage.

6:10am  I know I was rudely told last night that customer service would open at 6:00am, but here I stand shivering in front of an empty desk, with no airline agents in sight.  There are a few other travelers around, sitting hunched up against the arctic air that blows incessantly from overhead ducts.  Those who don't have coats are wrapped in newspapers.  I have neither.  It's June, for crying out loud, but I promise myself I will never fly without a sweater again.  If I survive hypothermia today, that is.

6:20am  It's killing me to just sit here doing nothing.  I imagine my suitcase full of clothes and gifts and presentation materials being loaded onto an Omaha-bound plane in the quiet Denver dawn.  Ugh, the last thing I need right now is a lost suitcase.  I pull out my computer, locate United's website, and place a call to their  24-hour customer service number.  What follows is a thirty-minute exercise in futility.  English is not this woman's first or even second language.  Maybe fourteenth?  It doesn't help that there's all kinds of static.  (Me: "Can you locate my baggage?"  Her: "Num thalit wintrup feenwally.")  Finally she calls in her supervisor.  "Sorry," he tells me.  "Your baggage destination is Wichita and there's nothing we can do to stop it."  Then he assures me that United will deliver my suitcase to my parents' home... for a fee.  This is not a satisfactory answer.  I hang up.

7:05am  Someone arrives at the customer service desk.  A very sour-looking someone wearing a sweater layered over a turtleneck (shouldn't that be a clue to the climate control people at DIA?).  But it takes her all of twenty seconds to reroute my suitcase to the Denver baggage claim.  No unintelligible responses, no fees—that's my kind of customer service, sour or not.  Now there is nothing to do but find the baggage claim and wait.

9:00am  I have been sitting by the baggage carousel for an hour and a half, slowly growing more apprehensive.  My suitcase could be on its way to Wichita or Omaha, or it could be lost in the labyrinth of Denver International Airport baggage conveyor belts...

9:20am  A big black suitcase with an Expedia ID tag tumbles out onto the carousel.  Mine!  I admit I got teary eyed.  It felt like a measure of sanity and control was returned to me along with that suitcase.  The first thing I do is pull out a sweater... still trying to thaw out.  Now for more waiting.

12:00pm  I figure this is the very earliest my parents could arrive from Kansas, so I put away my book, my laptop and my iPod and begin to pace.  Remember, they have no cell phone, so we're hoping to just run into each other in the expansive baggage claim area of this terminal.

12:45pm  Still pacing.  I catch a glimpse of red plaid out of the corner of my eye.  It's French Guy!  He looks rough, but then I probably do, too.  I try to make eye contact and give a sympathetic look, but he is too distracted by his plight to notice me.  Bless his heart, I wonder if he'll ever reach Europe.

1:15pm  I finally spot my mom walking toward me.  She sees me about the same time and it's like one of those slow motion movies where two people run toward each other with arms wide open.  No matter how old I get, I still believe my parents can make everything okay.  The nightmare is coming to an end.  We climb in the car and head east.

8:15pm  Home sweet home!  Only 22 hours behind schedule.  Shower, bed, sleep, oh! blessed sleep.  Thank You, Lord, for safety, for blessings amid the bumps, for self-sacrificial parents, for always being in control.

Postscript:  There was no toaster from United; it was a $150 voucher.  A nice gesture... not that I'm eager to fly again anytime soon.


Part III: A Tale of Two Vending Machines

(Read Part I here and Part II here.)

9:45pm  My bladder is about to burst.  I finally give in and use the airplane restroom.  It is every bit as foul as I fear.  I stumble back to my seat and force myself to think on roses, mountain breezes and the innocent laughter of small children until the nausea passes.

10:00pm  Begin the taxi to takeoff.  We'll try to arrive in Denver between storm fronts.

10:20pm  Still taxiing.  Just when I begin to wonder if we are in fact driving this plane all the way to Denver, the captain announces that right before we were cleared for takeoff, the wind reversed directions and we had to taxi to the opposite end of the airport to get on the other runway.  A few of us bravely attempt a chuckle at this news.

11:15pm  We're in a holding pattern over stormy Denver for the second time, waiting for clearance to land.  Fuel is low.  Spirits are even lower.

11:30pm  Landing in Denver?  Not gonna happen, cap'n.  Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's back to Grand Junction we go!  I can't decide whether to laugh or cry, so I just turn and ask Tom if he's ever played a bouzouki.  He has not, but the question leads into a fascinating discussion of instrumentation and alternate tunings.

12:00am  (Saturday)  Landing again in Grand Junction.  I have nothing against this pleasant, outdoorsy little town at the foot of the Rockies—but I do not want to see it for the second time in three hours.  This is beginning to seem surreal, like I'll never get home.

12:10am  We are allowed to deplane.  It feels glorious to step into the fresh night air (no thunderstorms here!) and walk inside the tiny airport.  The last time most of us ate was twelve hours ago; we swarm the lone vending machine.  When a passenger discovers one-half of her Little Debbie covered in green mold, the rest of us think better of it and ignore our grumbling tummies.

12:30am  Back on the airplane, it is announced that the aircraft has taken on the very maximum fuel load.  We'll circle Denver as looooong as we gotta!  Flight attendants, in a sudden gesture of generosity, pass baskets of small pretzels packages and bottles of water.  It is amazing how a half-day of mind-numbing, meal-less waiting can change one's perspective about the otherwise-laughable airline "food service."  I take the pretzels meekly, gratefully; I savor ever bite.

1:00am  We have landed!  In Denver!  A mere nine hours tardy.  As we taxi, a flight attendant announces a website url, where we will find a gift from United Airlines, a "token of appreciation for your extended patience."  My seatmate, Tom, grumbles, "They'll probably give us—what?—a toaster?  I don't want a toaster, I want to go home."  It's a good-natured sort of grumble; I laugh.  Everything is much more cheerful with the Rockies to the west.

1:15am  Inside the Denver airport, we are greeted with the news: customer service closed fifteen minutes ago.  Tom and I frantically search for a desk still open.  Our search pays off: one agent is just beginning to leave.  We all but grovel at her feet, pleading for help to rebook our long-ago missed flights.  She reluctantly agrees.  But I am not out of the woods, not by a long shot—there are no seats open to Wichita for two days!  Kansas City?  Not there, either.  I wrack my brain for the next-closest airport.  Omaha? I ask in a small voice.

1:45am  I clutch a ticket to Omaha; Tom has one to Pittsburgh.  We throw mold-caution to the wind and go in search of a celebratory vending machine snack.  A fellow stranded traveler helps us hunt one down in a forlorn niche of the terminal.  Tom treats me to a package of Twizzlers.  We step around the scattered bodies of fitfully-sleeping travelers and find a couple of empty seats, confident that this nightmare is nearly over.  Not quite...

Next: Part IV, including a reunion with French Guy (see Part I), a farewell to Tom, and a panicked search for a suitcase.  (I promise—no, I hope—it will be the overdue conclusion of this drawn-out travel saga.  This thing is like the Energizer Bunny or the Democrats' spending: it just won't stop.)


Grand Parade, Provo-style

Here's another taste of Provo culture for you out-of-staters.  The following clips are from today's Freedom Festival grand parade.  Yes, those are LDS (Mormon) missionaries being cheered on by the crowd.  To be fair, people applauded almost as loudly for every military veteran who passed.  The second clip shows a float depicting the Salt Lake City Temple and some Mormon pioneers.


Happy 3rd of July!

Only in Utah do we celebrate the 4th of July on the 3rd of July when Independence Day falls on a Sunday!  (The LDS Church teaches that Sunday is the sabbath and thus "our attention is on doing the Lord’s will and not continuing to work nor indulge our carnal appetites for recreation and loafing.")  Provo's Freedom Festival is one of the biggest patriotic celebrations in the nation, and its Stadium of Fire event hosts the largest stadium fireworks display.  Patti staked out a spot on the BYU campus earlier in the evening so we had a great view of the fireworks, except for an inconvenient tree branch.  Gabe and Zeke, the boys of my co-laborers Josh and Christina Harding, are my fireworks-watching buddies here.  (Note: I am not impressed by my own voice in the video's background.  Good thing I'm not on the radio or anything.)
Happy Independence Day!  Thank you to all our veterans, and may God shed His grace on America.


Part II: Denver Bound! Sort of.

(Read Part I here.)

7:30pm  Flight 6296 to Denver finally boards.  Everything is déjà vu as we find our seats, stow our carry-ons, buckle up.  My seatmate and I greet each other with a second "hello."  If we have to do this a third time it will be very awkward indeed.

7:50pm  Take-off!  Movement!  The feeling of lifting off the ground and going somewhere!

8:00pm  My seatmate takes out a book to read.  I am intrigued by the title—something about the psychological effects of music.  When I inquire, Tom says he is a casual musician.  He plays guitar and mandolin in some local bands back in Pittsburgh.  Though he has always played rock, the last few years Tom's been exploring acoustic music: Celtic, Americana, even classical.  It is not often I get the pleasure of discussing the resurgence of American roots music; I put away my own book in favor of the conversation.

9:00pm  The captain announces we're landing... in Grand Junction?  There are thunderstorms in Denver and when we tried to land, we were diverted.  Denver is on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, Grand Junction on the west.  We have essentially taken two steps forward and one step back.

9:10pm  We land at the poky Grand Junction, Colorado airport, along with a couple other diverted planes.  Passengers are not allowed to deplane as we refuel and wait for weather to clear around Denver. 

9:20pm  Tom asks what I studied in college.  From past experience, I fear that when I say "Bible and Theology," he will either give an awkward "Oh.  I see," and immediately change the subject, or poke me with an elbow and say knowingly, "Oh, so you're a preacher!"  Nevertheless, I answer his question, and Tom's enthusiastic response astounds me: "That's perfect!  I've been wanting someone to explain the Bible to me."

Suddenly, I am not tired anymore.  I don't care if I never see Denver or feel circulation in the lower half of my body again.  This is the beginning of an hours-long off-and-on conversation with Tom about Bible history, church denominations and individual spirituality.  I am all too happy to share with him my trust in the death and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ, to pay my sin debt, guarantee my home in heaven and give me joy and victory in the meanwhile.

Tom soaks it all up.  He, as it turns out, has placed his own faith in Christ for salvation, but he has never been encouraged to grow in his walk with God.  He has been attending a certain denomination since childhood that is heavy on tradition but light on Bible teaching.  "What I don't get," he shakes his head, "is why my priest never opens up a Bible and just reads from it, or tells us to read it.  I mean, isn't Christianity all about the Bible?"  Yes, it absolutely is, I affirm.  "Maybe..." he says slowly, "Maybe I need to look for another church."  I love it when the Holy Spirit makes a realization "click" for someone without my having to spell it out!  We talk about what to look for in a good church, about the centricity of accurate, practical and compassionate preaching of God's word.  He has a buddy, he tells me, who has told him the same things.  (Hurrah for Philadelphia-Christian-Guy who was faithful to speak truth in love to his friend!)  Praying: "Wow, Lord.  You have given me something much better than an on-time flight.  You have dropped right in my lap a chance to share my faith and encourage another believer.  You are good and all Your ways are good."

Coming up next: Part III, including more thwarted travel plans and the afore-promised and all-important bag of pretzels.


Part I: United We Wait

Most people have a horror story to tell about air travel.  Until a couple weeks ago, I had none.  But June 11 (and 12) took me through an outrageous string of events while trying to travel a mere 2 states away.  This is the first installment of my attempt to chronicle the bumps and blessings of that very long, very bizarre experience.

1:00pm  Kind friends drop me off at Salt Lake City International Airport.  I bid them a cheerful goodbye, blissfully ignorant of the tumultuous 32 hours ahead of me.

2:20pm  I board United flight 6296 to Denver.  Still planning to be in Wichita, Kansas by 7:30pm and at my folks' house by 10:00.

3:10pm  Still sitting at the gate.  The captain announces that the hydraulic is leaking into the engine and this aircraft is not air-worthy.  We 60-or-so passengers deplane and return to our gate in the airport.  Praying: "Father, thank You for protecting us from a mechanical breakdown in the air.  But, um, I'd really like to get home."  (If nothing else, I am a candid pray-er.)

3:15pm  I call my parents with the news, catching them just before leaving on the 2.5-hour drive to Wichita.  They have no cell phone.  They would have gone all the way to the airport before finding out I am still sitting in Salt Lake.  Praying: "Thank You for sparing Mom and Dad a wasted trip.  Now isn't there a Bible verse You could show them about the necessity of cell phones?"

3:25pm  I begin to wait in line for the customer service desk by the gate.  A Frenchman in an incongruous red plaid jacket is in front of me; he's trying to get to Europe for business.  A Denver guy is behind me.  He complains that he might be late to watching the Rockies trounce the Twins in Denver.  I try to act sympathetic even though I was raised a Minnesota fan.

4:00pm  Still waiting in line, and no closer to the desk.  Commenting on the relatively peaceful passengers, despite United's lack of action or answers, French Guy says, "People are so nice here.  In France, we would have had a revolution by now."  I tell him, "A revolution sounds good.  You lead us.  I've got tweezers, and we'll find somebody who smuggled in a fingernail clipper or two."  He declines and edges away from me.  Later I realize I could probably have been arrested if someone reported me for saying that.  Praying: "Thanks, God, for protecting me from my own stupidity."

4:30pm  I decide to try checking out of the secure area and getting help at the ticket counter.  When I arrive, the line seems slightly shorter there, so I stay.

5:15pm  This line is not moving, either.  Like not at all.  I read my book while standing.

6:05pm  I agonize over the decision whether to stay in this line or return to the original one at the gate.  I do not want to miss any announcements at the gate, so I go through security again and head back to the gate.  The TSA agent says, "Oh, weren't you through here a few hours ago...?"  I force a smile and nod.

6:15pm  United announces that they have "found another aircraft" for Flight 6296.  What, an airplane was hiding?  A jet had been overlooked like a misplaced penny?  Right-o.  There is no announcement of when the aircraft will arrive and when we will board.  It is 7:15 Central; I should be buckling up for a smooth landing in Wichita.

6:45pm  W-a-i-t-i-n-g.  Haven't eaten since noon, but nervous to leave the gate area and miss the flight when the plane finally arrives.  Praying: "Lord, I have no idea what's going on, but You're in control.  Open my eyes to opportunities to please You even though this pretty much stinks."  I knew He'd do it, but I'm still amazed at the extent.

Coming up next... Part II, including the opportunity God gave me, more bumps and blessings, and a bag of pretzels.


What Heroes Wear (or, The Death of Cynicism)

His name is Joseph Woodruff and he spends his days wearing a navy vest, standing behind a ticket counter for Frontier Airlines in Kansas City International Airport.  And he is my hero.

I was trying to get back to Utah on Monday.  The plan: parents drop me off in Kansas City on their way home from Minnesota to Kansas; fly to Salt Lake City after a short layover in Denver; be home and taking a long hot shower by 9:00 that evening.  It was going to be a quick, hassle-free trip.  Also, braces are fun and Obama cuts taxes.

My flight to Denver had been delayed.  I was going to miss my connection to Salt Lake City.  I would have to spend the night either in Kansas City or Denver, and hope to reach Utah some time the next day.  Or I could fly standby with no guarantee of ever getting home.  Joseph informed me of these unpleasant facts in a sympathetic tone.  None of these options would get me back in time for work the next morning.  Besides, I was travel-weary and frustrated and homesick.

Joseph read my mind.  "You just want to get home.  I'll tell you what, we're going to beat the system and get you there."  He tapped away on his keyboard.  He scribbled notes.  He made phone calls.  He muttered and grunted and scratched his head.  For forty minutes.

Once he glanced up and said, "Don't give up hope.  I'm determined to be your hero."  Hero?  Previous experience (which I shall relate elsewhere) with air travel personnel had rendered me a cynic.  But when he casually propped up a foot after making this statement, it was a black cowboy boot that stuck out under his uniform slacks.  That changed everything.  Everyone knows that heroes wear cowboy boots.  Hope was revived.

He tapped some more at his computer.  The sound had a lulling effect.  By now I had been standing in one spot for almost an hour; I was tired and my legs were stiff.  I imagined myself swooning across the stainless steel luggage scale.  Joseph Woodruff would reach out his tanned, notably ringless hands and catch me.  He would fan my face with a ticket stub and say, "Forget your flight.  I'll drive you to Utah.  We'll take my white truck with the horse trailer.  A palomino for each of us.  I've always wanted to see the West.  We'll read Tennyson by moonlight, the sky a diamond-studded velvet canvas stretching over the rugged mountaintop where we lie—"

Reality check.  It was a perfectly plausible scenario until that last word.  No man who wears cowboy boots knows the correct usage of "lie" versus "lay."  (If you are the exception to this rule, and single, and at least moderately wealthy, please contact me immediately.)

No swoons or palominos or impeccable verb conjugation took place after all.  But something even better did: after an hour, I walked away with a ticket to get home to Utah yet that night, via another airline.

I don't know how he did it, but he beat the system.  He broke all the unwritten laws of airline "customer service": he truly served a customer with patience, determination, humor and humanity, at the cost of his own company's profit.  I am a cynic no longer.  Joseph Woodruff, you are my hero.  I kneel to kiss the pointy toes of your cowboy boots.


Can You Believe I Live Here? A Photo Essay

One of my all-time favorite posts is "I Can't Believe I Work Here: A Photo Essay," from a couple years ago.  I had a blast putting that together.  Well, here's a sequel.  Not quite so humorous, but every bit as extraordinary as purple walls and caving ceilings--to those outside Utah, that is.  Those of you who have spent some time here will not be surprised at all, though you may find cause to think again about something you've grown accustomed to seeing.

It's always hard to describe to "outsiders" how dominant the LDS (Mormon) culture is here in the Provo area.  Where words fail, pictures may succeed.  So, on a recent bargain-hunting excursion to Savers thrift store, I happened to have my camera along, and on the spur of the moment decided to capture some images from Mormonland.  Here's what I came up with.

1.  Decorative stack of books, including three of the four considered inspired Scripture by the LDS Church.  A nice touch to any mantlepiece in Utah Valley.
2.  A couple quintessential wall decorations for any Mormon family: a picture of a temple (the Jordan River Utah Temple is my best guess), and a child's mirror framed with, "I am a child of God and he loves me."

3.  A popular portrait print of the Prophet Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS Church.

4.  And then there are the kindly faces of the modern-day prophets.
5.  "Strong Testimonies Are Reachable"!  Incidentally, I just typed "testimony" in the Google search bar of my browser and 9 of the top 10 phrases that came up were references to the LDS usage of the term.  It's a very Mormonish word.  Also, notice the Halloween decoration.  Halloween is The Holiday here; bigger than Easter and Thanksgiving put together, maybe even on the same plane as Christmas.

6.  A framed verse from Doctrine and Covenants (or "D&C" if you're in the know), complete with hand pressed wildflowers.
7.  "'Choose the Right'--it's more than a hymn title, more than a slogan.  It's the only path to happiness.  L. Tom Perry."  He's an apostle in the LDS Church, and "choose the right" is a popular motto, especially among youth.  "CTR" appears on rings, ties, bumper stickers, you name it.  I'll admit, it's a whole lot easier to rattle off than "WWJD?" but pretty sure Allen Iverson isn't sporting a CTR wristband.

8.  And since we're on an acronym kick, here are a couple LDS DVDs, OK?  The bottom one is from aging Mormon boy band Jericho Road.  If nothing else, they win cool band name points.
9.  And lastly... there were plenty of Mormon Tabernacle Choir (or Mo-Tab) tapes, CDs and records to be found.  But I selected this one because of its ironic placement on top of a Weird Al cassette-- never know what you'll find at a thrift store!  Although in Utah Valley, there are some pretty safe guesses, and as you can see, they all have to do with Mormonism.


Of Starchy Tubers

Sweet potatoes and yams are two different things.

This is the sort of thing an ignorant Midwesterner learns when eating lunch with Kentucky friends at an Applebee's where the manager recognizes them as fellow Southerners and wastes no time in bringing out a slice of decadent sweet potato pie he crafted himself.

Yams are more red and less stringy.  The best sweet potato pie is actually made out of yams; who woulda thunk it?  Next those Southerners will tell me that shoofly pie does not contain shoes and flies.


Cowley's Poem; Christ's Passion

How shall I grasp this boundless thing?
What shall I play? what shall I sing?
I'll sing the mighty riddle of mysterious love,
Which neither wretched men below, nor blessed spirits above
With all their comments can explain;
How all the Whole World's Life to die did not disdain.

From "Christ's Passion" by Abraham Cowley (1618-1667)


Viewing the Cross from Mount Moriah

Is there a more gripping story than Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah?

Read Genesis 22.  Though the narrative comes across very matter-of-fact, these fourteen verses document one of the most horrifying stories in all of Scripture.  Horrifying and beautiful—and staggering in its implications.  There are compelling lessons to be drawn from it on faith and obedience, for starters.

In the context of this Easter season, however, the ancient account takes on deeper meaning. Watch this video, listen to this song... and ponder: a Father "who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all" (Romans 8:32).

So I ask again: is there a more gripping story than Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah?

Yes; it is that of God the Father and God the Son on Mount Golgotha.

(What's the big deal about Jesus dying on the cross?  Watch this video.)


Sunday Drive

I took a lovely Sunday afternoon drive, around Utah Lake.  Here are a couple of the sweeping vistas I enjoyed.  You win a special prize if you can spot the "Y" on the mountain side above Provo and BYU, in the first photo.  It's white so it blends in with the snow, but don't be fooled.  (Click each photo to zoom in and get the full panorama.)



Post-Health Care Reform Resolutions

Love, love, love this.

Post-Health Care Reform Resolutions (from George Grant, via Chris Fabry).

1.  Pray more. 1 Thessalonians 5:17
2.  Listen first. James 1:19
3.  Work harder. Colossians 3:23
4.  Serve others. Galatians 6:9
5.  Defend life. Proverbs 24:11-12
6.  Grumble less. James 5:9
7.  Do justice. Amos 5:24
8.  Love mercy. Micah 6:8
9.  Walk humbly. Proverbs 15:33
10.  Rejoice always. 1 Thessalonians 5:16
11.  Trust Jesus. Revelation 19:6


Care if I share about health care and health share?

There is one good thing about the health care bill passed yesterday.  Yes, you read that correctly.  No, I've not gone stark raving mad.  And no, tomorrow I'm not going to announce that purple bunnies populate Saturn.  As hard as it is to believe, hear me out on this one.

There is a built-in protection for people like me, as explained here:
The health care bill that was passed Sunday night by the U.S. House of Representatives, often referred to as the Senate bill, contains a provision that exempts members of health care sharing ministries from the bill’s requirement for individuals to purchase health insurance. This is the bill that is awaiting the President’s signature. We are continuing to watch the reconciliation process, an effort to make changes to the Senate bill after the President signs it, for anything that would take away this exemption. Please be in prayer.  --Samaritan Ministries email "Health care bill update," 3/22/10.
The "House version" didn't contain this provision, and for a while it looked like I would be forced to purchase health insurance against my will.  Thankfully, the Senate bill—as it stands now—will allow me to continue uninsured, as a member of Samaritan Ministries Christian Health Care Newsletter program.

A former post tells a bit about why I chose to terminate my health insurance and go the "sharing" way instead.  If you are a born-again Christian, I urge you to prayerfully consider doing likewise.

Virtues of a health care sharing ministry include:
>>  Low deductibles and low monthly cost.  Mine are $300 and $120, respectively.
>>  You and you only decide where to get the best care.
>>  No such thing as "out-of-network."  Every provider loves self-pays!
>>  Many providers cut costs and grant discounts when they learn you are part of such a refreshingly non-bureaucratic way of paying your bills.
>>  Shares go directly to meet another's needs.  I heard today that $1 out of every $4 paid by an insured patient simply funds the bureaucracy of his insurance company.
>>  No (unintentional) funding of unbiblical behavior.  Every member of CHCN pledges to and provides references for Christian conduct: no smoking, immorality; limited or no alcohol.
>>  No (unintentional) funding of bad corporate sponsorships.  Did you know, for example, Aetna, Cigna and Blue Cross Blue Shield all proudly underwrite, with their members' dollars, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce?
>>  Besides receiving checks for your medical expenses directly from other members, you receive cards and personal notes.  No insurance company does that.
>>  There's no medicine like the prayers of hundreds of other believers for you by name.

Remember, I write this as 1) a Christian striving to live biblically and 2) a worker in the the health care industry; but not as a person with any health needs (yet—thank God) beyond the occasional minor sickness or superficial injury, and not as someone whose employer provides insurance benefits.

Maybe it's not for everyone.  Maybe there are situations when Christians should legitimately choose an independent health insurance policy instead of health care sharing.  I can't think of any.  But I invite feedback as we navigate this scary world of 21st century American health care together.


Euphonium and I

I just returned from a concert by the Utah Premiere Brass, titled, "UPB Goes West."  As gallant as "The Magnificent Seven" theme was, and as toe-tapping as Copland's "Hoedown," it was the hauntingly sweet euphonium solo on "Shenandoah" that stole my heart.  So what's a girl to do when she suddenly finds herself in love with a conical-bore brass instrument? Why, write a poem, of course.

(It's better if you read it aloud.)

Euphonium, euphoria--
Oh hallelujah, gloria!

Euphonium, you fill me up,
You floor me then you soar me up.

Euphonium, euphoria--
Oh hallelujah, gloria!

Euphonium, you for me hum;
You've blown me one, you own me some.

Euphonium, euphoria--
Oh hallelujah, gloria!


Killer Questions

My antenna is always up for ways and means to engage people of another worldview in meaningful, non-confrontational conversation.  In case yours is too, I thought I would pass along a terrific resource from Jeff Myers of Bryan College and Summit Ministries, by way of Sue Bohlin at Probe Ministries.

Four "killer questions" to help anyone think critically:
What do you mean by that?  (In other words, define your terms.)
Where do you get your information?
How do you know that's true?
What if you're wrong?

To understand how these questions work, read Sue's excellent article here.

My hunch is that these four "killer questions" have the potential to revolutionize how you interact with someone from another belief system.  What I wouldn't have done to have them in my arsenal four years ago when moving to Utah!  Like Sue wrote, "Sometimes, the kindest thing we can do for people is gently shake up their presuppositions and invite them to think."

Note #1: Probe Ministries has an outstanding 12-minute podcast, in case you're not able to catch the program on KEYY weekdays 4:25 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. (MST).
Note #2: Researching her article led me to discover not only is Sue Bohlin a great writer/thinker/speaker, but a calligrapher to boot.  Feast your eyes on some of her beautiful work here.


MaKe iT COuNT, #3: Southwest Goes South

For the first two MaKe iT COuNT posts, I highlighted a couple ideas for "buycotts", businesses that deserve your patronage.  From what I've seen, they are shining examples of positive, moral corporate sponsorship.  The good news: there are more like them (stay tuned)!  The bad news: there are plenty of immoral corporate sponsorships out there, too.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU do a good job of hiding their underwriters, but the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce proudly display a long list on their website.

Levi Strauss & Co... PepsiCo... Hilton... Marriott...  I was not surprised to find these, given their abysmal track record on upholding traditional American values.

But I was very disappointed to discover Southwest Airlines listed as well.  Turns out, they have a whole "Gay Travel" page, boasting "We are proud to support, celebrate & serve the GLBT community [...] by featuring wonderful gay-friendly destinations, events, and special offers [...]"

Boycott?  I'm not sure.  Think twice?  Definitely.

Where/how/when you spend--or don't spend--your money matters. MaKe iT COuNT.


In Memoriam

In memoriam of the 52,008,665 American persons aborted since 1973,
the smiles they never brought,
the love they never received nor gave,
the cures for diseases they never discovered,
the social justice and humanity they never fought for,
the books they never wrote,
the masterpieces they never painted,
the inherent value of their lives never recognized,
their God-given potential never realized.


MaKe iT COuNT, #2: Nifty Thrift

You can support local charities, positively affect the environment and save money--all in a trip to your local thrift store.

Mine is Savers of Orem.  When I shop there (often), a portion of what I spend supports the Friends of National Multiple Sclerosis Society of Utah.  That's good.  Reducing solid waste?  Great.  Finding a mint-condition Paul Simon LP for 75¢?  Now that's what I'm talking about.

Bonus: you can empty your closet's contents and fill it up again at the same place.  Last I checked, you can't leave a box of sweaters at Old Navy's back door before buying a new one.

Where/how/when you spend your money matters. MaKe iT COuNT.


MaKe iT COuNT, #1: May Your Lobbys Increase

Kudos to arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby for ads like this one, placed in hundreds of newspapers every Christmas, Easter and Independence Day since 1997.

Lend a hearty "amen" to the message of their ads by shopping your local Hobby Lobby. Or shop online the next time you need holiday decs, picture frames or scrapbook supplies.

Where/how/when you spend your money matters. MaKe iT COuNT.