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Archive for December, 2008

The lesson at our church on Sunday was about God’s grace. 

I love (intellectually) the subject of grace and believe it really cannot be taught often or strongly enough.  We need more of it in our world.  We need a better understanding of it in our world.

Evidently what I needed (and still need) was a better connection to it emotionally.

Tom talked about God’s grace and defined it in a very specific way.  (Listen to the entire lesson here if it intrigues you.  It’s well worth the time.)  For his lesson Tom used this working definition of grace.  “Grace is the free unprovoked dispensing of favored (or even most favored) status to one who does not deserve it, with the giver absorbing any cost necessary to provide it.”

Wow.  That’s strong.  And hit me more emotionally than definitions of grace normally do.

Here’s the normal ladder I think of intellectually.

Justice- Getting what you deserve.  I sin and under justice I get God’s wrath and punishment.

Mercy- Not getting the negative thing you deserve.  I sin and under mercy I receive no punishment.

Grace- Getting better than you deserve.  I sin and under grace God does something nice for me.

Even my fairly intellectual definition (at least what I understand and accept on an intellectual level rather than on an emotional or heart level) of grace is pretty unbelievable.  When I sin, when I do “wrong” according to God why on earth would He do something nice for me?  That just doesn’t make sense.  But I can accept that’s just who He is.  I don’t understand it—but honestly there’s a lot about God I don’t understand.  I’ll just add that to the list.

And I see that in my life.  I have blessings (beyond count!) that I don’t deserve.  So that’s a clear, tangible sign of God’s grace. 

Emotionally—that’s a different level.  When I sin He’s not happy with me.  He gets hurt.  He would rather not be around me.  Right?  Because sin separates us from God.  So clearly He’d want to avoid me.  He’d want to put some space between us until I come to Him and beg forgiveness.  Right?  He’s not going to come running to me, throwing His arms around me and say, “Spudsie, you rock!!  Do you know how amazing you are?  You are one of a kind!  There’s no one else on the ENTIRE planet like you.  I love spending time with you.  You are so special to me.  You get ‘most favored’ status.  I love you!”  Right?  He wouldn’t say that.  He wouldn’t want to be near me.  Right?

Well, according to the definition of grace Tom used, that’s exactly what God would do.  He’d run to me and gush.

I sin and deserve separation from God.  I deserve death.  And He comes running to me and loves me.  And tells me about everything I’ve done that’s good. 

Is He unaware of the sin? 

No.  He knows all about it.  But I’m covered by His grace.  By His amazing grace.

At the end of Tom’s lesson on Sunday I was (quite literally) in tears.  And not the dignified quiet weeping of a tear or two running down my face.  Nope.  The full blown, nose running, make-up running, not a tissue in sight kind of tears.  Tom talked about God walking into our group and walking up to us (me) individually and telling us how much He loves us.  Beaming as He looks at us.  Loving us.

And I was in tears because I really, really WANT to believe that God thinks that about me.  (About everyone!)

But I’m not sure I do.  I’m not sure He feels that way about me.

Occasionally I get a glimpse of it.  I feel it for about a millisecond. 

Most of the time I feel as though God is disappointed in me.  That He’s not happy with me.  That He cares for me in spite of who I am, rather than because of who I am.  I feel His judgment so much more than I feel His love and grace. 

Does He love me?  Does he extend His grace to me?

Intellectually?  Yes.  I know that He does.

Emotionally?  I’m not so sure.  How could He?  And why can’t (or don’t ) I feel it?

Mr. Spuds and I have been attending the small group meeting that Tom and his wife are a part of.  (What an awesome group!!!  I’ll have to write more about them later.  For the moment let me just say they astound me!)  And the group was talking about grace—when we’ve received it from others and when we’ve given it.

Mr. Spuds and I talked about this before the small group meeting.  And we really couldn’t come up with examples of when we’ve received grace (based on the working definition Tom used Sunday) or when we’ve extended it.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  We’ve had generosity and mercy extended to us countless times.  And we have extended mercy and generosity to others often.

But grace?  That’s an entirely different level.

At the small group meeting it seemed the conversation kept coming back to examples of “grace” that involved friends and/or family members being generous.  Or showing mercy.  And the group kept referring to those examples as “grace.”

And while the stories were inspirational, I’m not entirely sure they were examples of pure grace.  They were mercy.  Generosity.  Love.  Compassion.  Forgiveness.  All good things.  But not pure grace.

And I wanted to talk about pure grace.  God’s grace.

So I tearfully asked (in front of a group of near strangers) if I was the only one who had a hard time believing the end of Tom’s lesson on Sunday.  Am I the only one who has a hard time feeling God’s grace?  Who pretty much can’t believe that He would come running for me?  That He thinks I rock?  That can’t really feel his grace in my heart?

The group assured me I was not alone.  That it’s hard.

And then Tom started talking again.  (Mr. Spuds has commented that some of the things I say in the small group often resonate with Tom.  He’s not sure if Tom “gets” what I’m saying and struggling with on a deeper level or if I “get” Tom’s lessons on a deeper level…but Mr. Spuds says it’s interesting to watch the connection.) 

Anyway, Tom suggested that maybe we could feel God’s grace more, feel His grace deeper if we spoke it to each other.  If we spoke in first person on God’s behalf.  “Spudsie, you are amazing.  I saw what you wrote today and it blew me away.  You are so loving.  You are so wonderful.  I just want to take your face in my hands and love you.”  Etc.

Tom was talking to me saying these things—as if it were God talking directly to me.

And I couldn’t maintain eye contact.  I just couldn’t.

(Okay, Coach Jim would probably stop me here and try to help me see this a little differently.  So let’s see if I can coach myself through this.)

I chose not to maintain eye contact for fear that my emotions would further overwhelm me.  I chose to look away so I could continue to participate in the group discussion and not dissolve (completely) into a puddle of tears.  I chose to avert my eyes so I could keep some protection (or defenses depending on your point of view) around me. 

But it was more than that. 

I chose to look away, to break eye contact with Tom because I didn’t think I deserved to hear those things from God.  (Or from Tom speaking on God’s behalf.)

And I don’t.

And because of His grace, He wants to say them anyway.  He wants me to hear them.  (He’d probably shout them at me but He knows a raised voice raises all of my defenses, and I’d never hear Him then!  J)

I just don’t think I’m strong enough to hear them.  I don’t want to argue with God.  I don’t want to say, “Yeah….you really don’t know what you’re talking about….I’m not any of that” to the Almighty.  I want to believe Him.

I just don’t know how to choose to hear Him.  I don’t know how to accept it.  To live in His grace.

God’s grace……it’ll mess you up.

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Don’t worry foodies….I’ll get back to the food.  At the moment I don’t have the time (or attention span!) to do justice to the rest of the food.  So I’ll get back to that.

In the meantime, I was reminded today of the reason I “liberate” so many shampoo (and conditioner, and lotion, and bath salts, and bath gel, and soap) bottles from vacation hotels.

I know Doctor.  This puzzles you to no end.  J  I mean, really…..I can afford to pay for a hotel room so clearly I can afford to pay for my own shampoo….right? 

I was reminded this evening it’s not really about being cheap.  (Quit laughing!  It’s not….really! LOL!)  It’s about trying to bring back the memory in a really tangible way.

My life is blessed.  Truly more blessed than I ever expected it would be.  I have been able to enjoy some fantastic vacations in recent years with Mr. Spuds.  Amazing food in Las Vegas, amazing nature (and friends!) in Maine, amazing gardens and cool mountain streams in North Carolina….well, you get the idea.  These vacations have been remarkable indulgences of calm, quiet relaxation for my spirit.  I treasure the experiences and the memories. 

Pictures are one tool I use to help keep the memories fresh and alive.  But sometimes it’s nice to get another sense involved.  When Mr. Spuds and I discover a wine we enjoy on vacation we search high and low back home to find a source for the same wine.  Then whenever we enjoy it the memory of a delightful meal or some fun people watching comes back to life.  We try to do the same thing with different foods—but that can be more challenging since neither one of us is an internationally renowned chef. 

Oddly enough the shampoos (and other assorted bath products) are the same thing.  (Stick with me here Doctor.)  Typically the hotels Mr. Spuds and I “live” in for vacations have pretty distinctive scents in their bath products.  No one else has quite the same scent as the Bellagio, or as the Palazzo, or as the Harborside in Bar Harbor.  They are each wonderful and different.  I try to bring home as many as I can to help keep the memory alive.  It helps add another dimension to my memory—or triggers a different level of memory.  (I’m not sure how the science works….I simply love that it does!)

It’s a rough time at work right now.  (Year end always is.)  Being able to come home and grab one of the eight (yep….count ‘em EIGHT) bottles of Palazzo shampoo and enjoying an overly long, hot shower is fantastic.  Closing my eyes, breathing deeply, inhaling the distinctive lemon verbena-ish scent transports me right back to the opulent bathroom at the Palazzo.  I once again feel as though I’ve been completely relaxed by a massage at the spa and am looking forward to a one-of-a-kind dinner later in the evening.

One deep breath and it all comes flooding back to me.  Ahhhhhhhhh.  Being in the moment…even though the moment is in the past.  (Hmmmmm…that’s not really being in the moment is it?  Okay…..how about this?)  Ahhhhhhhhh.  Reliving a moment of perfection.  Of delight.  Of everything being right with the world. 

It’s amazing what one (ahem…EIGHT) small bottle of shampoo can do isn’t it?

It probably still makes you shake your head Doctor.  And that’s okay.  J  Sometimes being odd (even really odd) serves a purpose.  An odd purpose, but a purpose nonetheless. 

That’s all for now.  My hands are a little dry from the winter weather and I have to go find the hand lotion I “liberated.”

J

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“You, Happier”

Aha!  It’s always good to find out I’m not alone in some of my assessments and judgments. 

All holiday season (well…..at least as long as the commercials have been running) I’ve been annoyed with a specific retailer.  Specifically, I’ve been annoyed with their new tagline.  It started out as amusement, “Well isn’t that funny.  Wonder if they actually believe it?”  And the more it rattled around in my brain the less I was amused.  “Hmmmm…I wonder how many people DO believe it?”

What tagline?

Best Buy’s new holiday tagline, “You, Happier.”

The implication being (at least in my mind) if you buy more stuff from Best Buy you’ll be happier.

Stuff and nonsense! (To quote Mr. Salt from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory)

Buying more won’t make you happier.  Trust me on this.  I know.  (And I’m pretty darn sure that Coach Jim will give me a great big “Amen Spudsie!” on this one.) 

So I shared my thoughts with Mr. Spuds over the weekend.  Repeatedly.  Every time the commercials appeared on the TV.  I think after the 8th time Mr. Spuds was ready to banish me from the room!  LOL!

But it turns out I’m not alone in my opinion!  Mr. Spuds shared a newspaper editorial with me—from our local paper on Saturday.  It was written by Leonard Pitts Jr. (columnist for “The Miami Herald”).  Lo and behold!  An articulate, thinking, intelligent professional writer agrees with me!  (Tho he said it much better than I could have.)  He wrote an editorial about the tragic death of the Wal-Mart worker Jdimytai Damour who was killed by a mob of people storming the doors as the store opened. 

At the end of his article Pitts said what I’ve been thinking ever since I first saw the “You, Happier” tagline.

“Damour died because too many of us have bought, heart and soul, into the great lie of American consumerism: Acquiring stuff will make you whole.  ‘You, Happier,’ is how a sign at my local Best Buy puts it.  As if owning a Jonas Brothers CD, an Iron Man DVD or a Sony HDTV will elevate you to a level of joy otherwise impossible to attain.  Hey, you might be a total loser, might not have a friend, might not have an education, might not have a job, might not have a clue, but it will all be OK as soon as you get that new Canon digital camera, especially if you get it for 50 percent off.

It would be nice to think—I will not hold my breath—that Damour’s death would lead at least some of us to finally see that for the obscene lie it is, to realize that seeking wholeness in consumer goods in as act of emptiness, not joy.

You, Happier?  No.

Just you, with more stuff.”

Pitts rocks!!!!  (Though I must confess that bit about the Canon digital camera hits a little too close to home.  LOL!)

Thank you Leonard Pitts Jr. for giving voice to thoughts I could only sputter about.  Reading your editorial made “me, happier.”  J

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Many of my friends are surprised to learn of my love for Las Vegas.  Clearly I don’t present myself as the party-all-night-until-you-drop kind of potato!  J  But there’s sooooo much more to Las Vegas than the clubs and alcohol.  In a completely unexpected and almost inexplicable way the energy of the city helps relax me.  Aren’t paradoxes wonderful?? 

Mr. Spuds and I both really love having so many amazing restaurants within walking distance.  Really top notch fine-dining places.  All different types of environments—from the formal white table cloths with REAL sliver silverware to the more casual bistros they are simply amazing.  And quite yummy!

We arrived Sunday morning with only 2 dining reservations—we had decided to “go with the flow” for the rest of the meals.  There are ALWAYS about 2 dozen places we want to eat and never have enough time (or money!  LOL) to get to all of them. 

We had lunch reservations Sunday at Table 10 at the Palazzo (where we stayed).  It’s one of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants and had a number of menu items that sounded really tempting to me.  There were a number of appetizers that sounded really tempting (Beer & Parmesan Cheese Soup with pretzel crackers) but I decided to order only an entrée.  But ohhhhhh, what an entrée it was!  Lobster Pot Pie!  From the menu, “Fresh Maine lobster baked in a pastry dome with sweet corn, mushrooms, leeks and spinach in truffle sherry cream.”  It was beyond wonderful.  The flavor of the lobster filled every corner of every bite!  I’m glad I didn’t order an appetizer—I could barely finish the pot pie.  It must have had half a lobster in it.  Wow! 

Mr. Spuds had a Carnitas Po-Boy.  From the menu, “Slow cooked pork carnitas on freshly baked bread with charred tomato BBQ sauce, cole slaw and fried pickles.”  Now, I don’t like pickles…but even I loved the fried pickles here!  The BBQ flavor was amazing.  Yummmmm!

Despite claiming I was far too full for dessert I succumb to the temptation of Banana Cream Cheesecake.  From the menu, “banana cheesecake baked with chocolate cookie crust, whipped cream and peanut butter sauce.”  Droooooooolllllll!  I couldn’t eat it all, but what I did manage to inhale was wonderful!  The peanut butter sauce was the perfect complement to the banana flavor.  Both were light yet completely satisfying.  Soooooo good!

There were a number of items on the menu I had wanted to try—and had hoped to return to Table 10 for lunch on another day.  Unfortunately the service we received at our first lunch was….well….let’s just say it was poor.  We felt as though our server was annoyed we were there.  Sigh.  If I’m paying that much money for lunch I expect the server to do more than barely tolerate me.  I am NOT a demanding guest.  I ask any questions I may have about the food, and occasionally ask for recommendations if I am torn between 2 dishes, but that’s about it.  I don’t send food back unless it is completely inedible or the wrong item.  I don’t snap my fingers and demand service.  I don’t care if service takes a while—I’m on vacation so there’s no need to rush!  I am polite and smile at everyone we meet while dining.  I say please and thank you.  (I wasn’t raised in a barn afterall!)  So it really disappoints me when servers don’t extend the same courtesies to me. 

So based on service Mr. Spuds and I did not return.  We might go back on a future trip and sit at the bar area.  But the poor service really seems to counteract the appeal of the food.  That’s a shame.

Dinner on Sunday night was pretty casual.  We walked over to the Mirage and picked up a sandwich and a dessert from the Carnegie Deli.  If you’ve ever eaten there you know one sandwich easily feeds about 3 people!  I wasn’t too concerned about the sandwich—I was really there for dessert!  Hershey’s 5th Avenue chocolate cream pie.  (Insert the Homer Simpson drooling noise here.)  Yum!!!  Total sugar overload!  I think there was an entire candy bar on top the piece of pie.  It was dessert for Mr. Spuds and me for 2 nights—and we still didn’t finish it all.  (Let’s not talk about the calories!)  Since there was a ton of space in our room at the Palazzo we brought the food back to our room and enjoyed a cheap and good meal while kicking up our feet on the sofas.

Monday for lunch we decided to try Morels.  It’s a French steakhouse and bistro.  We ate outside and enjoyed people watching along with our meal.  Ahhhh…I love Vegas!  Mr. Spuds and I shared the classic cheese fondue.  Perfection!  (And far too much of it!)  At most places that serve fondue they never bring enough bread.  There’s always extra cheese.  This was no exception.  But as soon as someone (not even our server!) noticed our bread was gone they asked if we would like more.  Wha?!  That never happens…how nice!  We declined as we realized we were already too full to eat the rest of our lunch.  LOL!  I had an open face prosciutto and poached eggs sandwich with wilted spinach, brie cheese and egg brioche.  It was huge!  (Note to self- you’re in Vegas now where the portions are even more out of control than normal!)  Mr. Spuds had the prosciutto and wild arugula flatbread—with basil pesto, blue cheese and figs.  Did I mention mine was huge?  Well the flatbread could have fed three people!

All of the food at Morels was wonderful, as was the service!  In fact, it was so good we went back on Tuesday for lunch again.  We had a different server this time (still sitting outside people watching!).  At one point our server from Monday walked by when our current server as at our table.  She recognized us and greeted us—and told our server “Watch out for these two!  They are trouble…grin!”  How cool is that? 

I had the seafood fettuccine, with fresh fish, clams, mussels, shrimp, tomato concasse, basil, all in a garlic white wine sauce.  The seafood was amazingly good and fresh.  I would have preferred a slightly stronger flavor from the white wine sauce—but that’s just me.  Again, the seafood was sooooo fresh!  Mr. Spuds had the fish and chips—which he really enjoyed.  The amazing part of this meal was the cheese we started with.

Our server presented us with a huge page of different cheeses.  You could sample 1, 3 or 5 of them.  I was intrigued.  I love cheese—but don’t really know how to explain what I like.  So I asked our server if he could help me select 3 of them.  He happily agreed.  I told him I really like bleu cheeses.  He asked if I like them more creamy….and I think I interrupted him here.  “Nope….I don’t like wimpy bleu cheeses!  Give me strong flavor any day of the week!”  J  So he recommended a really awesome (and strong!) bleu.   He also recommended 2 others—one with a bite and peppercorns, and a soft yet really flavorful goat cheese.  They were all marvelous!  Another great meal!

We had tickets to see “Mama Mia” at Mandalay Bat Monday night.  (Half priced front row tickets!!)  So after the show we ate at Mr. Spuds favorite bar—the bar at StripSteak.  This is an amazing steak house—but it’s the entrees and desserts that keep drawing us back.  They serve the full menu at the bar, so we typically stop by one evening and sit at the bar and enjoy appetizers, drinks and dessert. 

Hmmmm…..this is getting to be overly long….even for me!  Since I’m home with a migraine (grrrrr…) and it’s taking me a really long time to do this, I think I’m going to stop here for the day.  There’s more food to come (the best was Wednesday night!) and the explanation for the title.  So stay tuned…..when I feel better I’ll share the rest of the food.

Right now I gotta go take a nap.

 

 

 

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(With apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien)

Has everyone heard the saying “The more things change, the more they stay the same?”  That’s a little of how I’ve been feeling over the last few days.  I’ve been feeling bleakness, boredom, confusion, dejection, frustration, lethargy……yeah, that’s right…..I’ve been reading Coach Jim’s list of emotions trying to name some of my emotions hoping against hope that if I can at least give them a name I can help move them along, or move away from them.

Phew!  That was one heck of a long, run-on, grammatically incorrect sentence!  J

Essentially I’m still feeling down in the dumps.  And it’s no fun.  I found myself crying at work for absolutely no reason.  (Or at least no work related reason.)  Trying to write about it has only tempted me to wallow in it more—so I’m not writing about it for now.

Instead I’ve decided to write about fun stuff!!  I know they (whoever “they” are!) say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.  But really, what fun is that?!  I’ve decided to write about my awesome recent trip to Vegas.

What would you (my eight faithful readers ;-)) like to read about?  I’ll give you some topics to choose from.  What intrigues y’all the most?

·         Finding redemption on the casino floor

·         Hands of an angel

·         Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp, Patrick Stewart, George Clooney and Joe Montana!

·         “I can’t eat that!”

·         How many TV sets???

·         Harold and the crumbs (aka Spudsie is incorrigible)

·         How many bottles of hotel shampoo can you pack in a quart Ziploc bag?  (That one’s for you Doctor!  ;-))

Anything strike your fancy?  It was such a fun trip—even with an injury!  Going to Vegas always feels like a great journey—wonderful surprises continually astonish me from unexpected places and ways and people.  Granted it’s not nearly as epic or significant as a Bilbo Baggins journey…….but it’s just as fun to me!  (And it doesn’t involve fire breathing dragons!)

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