“Be The People” – by Carol M. Swain, Ph.D.

“Be The People – A Call to Reclaim America’s Faith & Promise” – by Carol M. Swain, Ph.D.

I figured it was a risk choosing this book to review – and I was right.  After reading the book, I longed for a feel-good story to pick me up.  There is not much of a feel-good experience reading Carol Swain’s latest book.  Read it anyway.

Her premise for the book is stated early on; that “…this book sounds a rallying cry for my fellow Americans to stand up and reclaim the promises of life liberty, and justice envisioned by our forefathers.”  Carol Swain provides expert, call-it-like-it-is analysis of how America has strayed from its Judeo-Christian roots and from its original purpose as outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.  To aid the reader, the author has included these documents in the appendix to the book.

Dr. Swain compellingly addresses, from a biblical worldview, the issues at the forefront of the nation’s focus including abortion, family matters, immigration and racism.  She is obviously well-studied in the various individuals and organizations that influence policy-makers in America, and she shares with the reader exactly how they have done so.

As I read the book, some ideas I had stubbornly adhered to began to loosen, and I was forced to rethink my position on some issues.  Though the transitions from subject to subject were not always smooth, the meaning and purpose of this book was clear.

This is a must-read book for American Christians – especially for those wanting to understand the roots and foundation of America and our current state in comparison, and those who are willing to step up to the plate and pray for America.

BookSneeze® has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.

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Dragonflies and Rainbows

Return to your rest, my soul,
for the LORD has been good to you. (Psalm 116:7)

Dragonflies and Rainbows

Contentment.  This is my biggest challenge.  For some reason, I find it very hard to be content. In my head, I know that I should be.  But my heart does not follow suit.  It is not exactly restlessness, but more a continual striving.  In some ways this manifests itself in a good way.  I am always learning and want to continue to do so, for instance.  But in many ways, this lack of contentment manifests itself in not so good ways.  In this next week, for instance, I will be driven to want to exceed anything I did last week.  Anything.  Exercise (go longer, further, faster), diet (eat less, eat healthier, etc.), traits (be kinder, gentler, more generous), spiritual growth (pray more, pray harder, fast more, journal more, read more, write more, etc).  It really is like I am on some sort of treadmill that hasn’t been turned off in a very long time!

Many of the things that are associated with my lack of contentment seem to be “big picture” things in my life….there are no short-term solutions.  But the lack of contentment takes a toll in my every day life.  So, today I would just like to have my soul return to rest and perhaps this can be done by thanking God for how good He has been to me, even just today.

I was concerned today because it was damp and cloudy all morning before the walk I scheduled with my friend Connie. And the air was dense with mosquitoes even when I opened the door to go out.  There were three of them there parked on the screen!  So, I drove off to the drug store to get some bug spray – thank you, Lord, for the funds to purchase the very expensive bug repellent.

I got home late from the drugstore and thought it was likely that Connie had already been and left, but I had a message on my phone that she had run late as well – thank you, Lord, for working it out so Connie and I could walk today.

We did not see any mosquitoes as we began our walk, and in fact, hardly any at all for the entire 10 km.  I mentioned to Connie that the day before there were no mosquitoes either, and there always seemed to be a dragonfly in front of me! And in fact, halfway through our walk, in a particularly damp portion of the path, we walked through a whole gathering of dragonflies – it was a magical moment. Thank you, Lord, for the dragonflies that eat the mosquitoes and for the magical moment of being surrounded by dragonflies as if we were surrounded by your protection from harm!

We met many interesting dogs on our trek – two are quite memorable:  Bella – a little maltese mix – beautiful, soft and loving!  The other was Lucy – a miniature poodle.  She was a little skittish, but adorable.  Thank you, Lord, for the enjoyment of meeting people and their pets on our walks – somehow, we feel such a part of the community as we relate to others as we walk.  Paths cross, words are said, stories exchanged and connections are made.

Thank you, Lord, for the strength to walk 10 km two days in a row.  And for inspiring Connie to walk with me and help keep me determined to continue doing so!

Also, this evening ended up redeeming a very bad evening yesterday!  Lord, I thank you for your reassurance and provision.  And as I walked downtown this evening, I saw the most magnificent full rainbow I have ever seen.  Lord, thank you for the reminder that you fix wrongs, redeem the seemingly unreedemable, and fulfill your promises.

I thank you, Lord, for dragonflies and rainbows today!

 

 

Wisdom

Teach us to number our days, 
 that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

Wisdom

I was walking with a friend early this summer and she said to me, “I don’t know about you, but I want to make sure I appreciate every day of this short Edmonton summer!”  Having determined that I would get out and walk while re-experiencing nature this summer, I agreed wholeheartedly.  In that way, I’ve numbered the days. There are only a certain number of days in the summer and it is about half over now.

What about the rest of the year?  Sometimes I think that I have a tendency to just drift through or tolerate the rest of the year to get to summer or vacation or any other good time I have planned.  This little bit of scripture really challenges me to reconsider this approach.

Psalm 90 is a prayer of Moses.  In asking God to teach us to number our days, it seems to me there is a component there of us learning to value the time we have here.  How we spend our time indicates the value we attach to time.  Numbering our days, counting our time, valuing every moment here, etc., speaks to intentionality of living.  But I know in my own life, there have been periods of time where I have just drifted.  Choices arose, but I would not act one way or the other – just let opportunities pass.  As if my days were limitless and these opportunities would arise again.  It sounds so trite, but the reality really is that each day here is a gift of time and I make a choice how to spend it.  Every day counts.

This scripture also intrigues me today because, like the scriptures from yesterday and the day before, the mind and heart are featured.  I’ve read somewhere that the mind is simply the tool that gets information to the heart. I enjoy this excerpt from Psalm 90 that reminds us that wisdom resides in the heart.  So many times, wisdom is portrayed as a “mind” or “brain” thing.  We attribute so much to the brain, and often think of the heart as a mere mechanical device that keeps the body alive.  But I’ve started thinking that perhaps the brain is the more mechanical device and the heart actually seems to interpret information.

It seems to me that our minds may number the days and, in so doing, the value and meaning of our time here is laid upon our hearts.  This is how we can gain a heart of wisdom.

Undivided Heart

Teach me your way, LORD,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.  (Psalm 86:11)

Undivided Heart

As I read the Bible each year, I pray that each day, there is something that strikes me, resonates with me, causes me to reflect, or guides me through my daily life.  I end up with something to ponder and/or respond to on most days.

Yesterday, I thought about what it means to set one’s mind on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Setting one’s mind on something is an intentional act.  I do not believe you can go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem by mistake, or inadvertently. The road is not always an easy road and our natural inclination is to go in the other direction.  Setting the mind on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem seems to me to have an element of commitment to make Godly choices whenever we are presented options (which is many times per day).  In other words, when we are presented with relational choices, financial choices, major decisions, minor decisions, etc., we seek to make the right choice – that is, the choice that God would have us make.  How we respond to choices is often an indication of how we have grown spiritually.

So, I have this idea that having my mind set on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem would require an almost drivenness and dogged determination; a complete focus on the end goal.  I know that the climb is rarely if ever completed in a straight line. For me, it is almost like a pinball machine…..the ball goes up, then comes down, goes up a little further, then comes down again – until it either goes in a “winning” spot, or comes down and slips through the cracks.  I have setbacks.

Today’s excerpt from Psalm 86 is intriguing to me in particular for the psalmist’s request for an undivided heart – this concept is similar in my view, or related at least, to having a mind set on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  But something that is interesting is that according to these readings anyways, WE set the mind, but GOD deals with the heart.  We can determine to do something, but our hearts seem to be a bit wayward at times.  Anyone ever fail a diet?  Or fail to follow through on a New Year’s resolution?  Or fail to quit smoking, drinking, buying, etc.?

I think these psalmists have a point.  We can set our minds, but need an undivided heart to do the right things – and that comes directly from God.

Strength

“What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,
who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,
it will become a place of refreshing springs.
The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.
They will continue to grow stronger,
and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.”  (Psalm 84:5-7)

Strength

Just today, I was talking with a friend over coffee.  We were actually talking about marriage, about which I have no personal experience, but about which I have observed some interesting things.  One of those things came out in our conversation.  It seems that whenever I have seen interviews of older couples or spoken with older couples about what has kept their relationship strong, and even what their fondest memories are of, there is an element in the reply that has to do with struggling together.  Struggling with finances, struggling with choices, struggling with children, struggling in any number of different ways.

Whether single or married, no one gets to Jerusalem on their own.  God designed us for relationships of all kinds.  Relationship with Him, relationships with friends, spouses, children, neighbors, co-workers, etc.  Anyone who has set their mind on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem will meet and experience relationships with others going toward, as well as going away from, that ultimate destination.

Relationships require sacrifice.  To be in relationship with God, a sacrifice of personal desires that would eat up all of our time must be made.  Prayer requires a mind set on Jerusalem and a sacrifice of time.  As other enjoyable distractions are sacrificed, it may seem like a real struggle to begin with, and we may weep internally for the loss we perceive.  But the strength gained through the suffering and loss is invaluable as we move forward.

As we develop relationships with others, in whatever capacity, conflicts arise within those relationships.  Perhaps a husband will want to go back to school and his wife will have to return to work, for instance, and she would rather not. At least one of these two will have to sacrifice their own personal desires in order to move forward in a healthy way.  And as that sacrifice is made, the loss is wept over.  But again, the relationship is strengthened.

As God calls us to give more and more of ourselves away to others, as Christ Himself did, and others see Christ living in us, we grieve the losses over once treasured possessions, years long addictions and habits, distracting activities, pride of accomplishment, etc.  As each one is struggled with, tears are shed. Our “Valley of Weeping” – I fancy that to be our low times when we are shedding tears over our losses – becomes a place of refreshment once the grief is fully experienced and we receive new blessings of strengthened relationships and personal character.

With each sacrifice and/or struggle of whatever sort, though painful and grieved, we become stronger and stronger as we make our way together homeward to see God in Jerusalem.

You’re Beautiful

“I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
  he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
  Their faces are never covered with shame.”
Psalm 34:4-5  (New International Version)

Dear God – You’re Beautiful

“It’s different for you – you’re beautiful!”  Words I never expected to hear from one of my friends.  I was trying to convince her that swimming would be a great activity to get involved in, and she was trying to convince me that she would never get in a bathing suit.  She is probably 10 sizes smaller than me, with a much better shape, and a beautiful face and hair.  I saw not one flaw that should prevent her from feeling awesome in a bathing suit.

Now, when I look in the mirror and I’m in my big girl’s bathing suit, I see the opposite of beauty for sure.  Where does that come from?

Throughout my childhood and young adulthood, I do not recall even thinking I was acceptable looking.  As far as I can remember, I was never told I was pretty or beautiful.  I remember being made fun of in grade school because I had a big butt (that really hasn’t gone away).  Is that the root of my perception that I was plain or even a bit ugly?   Or was it the severe acne that attacked my face through my teen years, warranting doctors digging out the pimples on my face, as well as me having to watch being in the sunlight for all the tetracycline that I was prescribed?

Perhaps it was the fact that my father got me a book that seemed totally out of character for him.  Flashback – believe it or not, I think it was a Catholic young adult romance type of book – wish I remembered the author’s name.  It was about a young lady who was plain, lacked confidence, and resented the popular teens in her high school.  But the football star saw something in her, befriended her, and they dated.  Her insecurities made her react wrong in situations, and he helped her see that it was her own issues that were messing up her relationships with people that would like her if she just accepted them and let them like her.  The fact that this book was given to me messed me up for quite a while – why was I given it?  I wondered if I was being told that I should become religious? Or did I lack confidence because I was plain?  Or was I bitter towards popular people?  What, what, what was the matter with me I wondered?  Why was I being spoken to through a book and not actually addressed?  Was it something that bad that it could not be said?

I wonder if parents realize the meta messages they send their children when they do not communicate clearly.  Of course, it helps to have a responsive child, and I am absolutely positive that that was a challenge for my parents!  “Prickly porcupine” is probably an appropriate description of what they were dealing with in terms of my personality.

Many people I know will not believe this, but it wasn’t until perhaps my late 20’s or early 30’s that I even got the notion that it was possible that I might have at least average good looks.  I remember the event distinctly.  I was sitting at my parents’ kitchen table, doing makeup and hair for a night out on the town.  My mother said to me, “I think you have the prettiest features of all.”  Words I never expected to hear from my mother.

I was pleased for about 10 seconds, and then the thought came to me:  “Am I that bad looking that Mom feels she has to boost my confidence by saying this to me?”  I’m not kidding.  That is exactly what I took away from this experience.  That somehow I conveyed a lack of confidence along with my lack of good looks to the point where my mother had to tell me that I had pretty features.

There are decades of my life where there are almost no pictures of me because I hated my picture and refused to allow people to take one of me.  This changed when I was 41 years old.  I had torn my patella tendon, gone through rehab and started the Body For Life program.  I began to think that my not wanting a picture of me taken was an actual phobia.  I decided I no longer wanted the phobia.  So, every day for 90 days while I was on the program, I had someone take a picture of me in the gym.   I would even ask strangers to snap a shot on whatever piece of equipment I was on at the time.

When I reviewed the pictures taken, it confirmed my suspicion that taking a good picture is a numbers game.  For every 5, 6, or 7 bad pictures, there was a really good picture.  I could live with that.  I had lots of flaws for sure – I was really overweight, still had a big butt, and posture wasn’t great.  But, I started looking at myself differently…seeing not just the bad pictures, but the good pictures, too.

Shortly after completing my first Body For Life program, I visited Edmonton and the Canadian Rockies and it was at that time that I met and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.  As I read the bible, read some Christian literature – like The Purpose Driven Life, and attended church, I began to realize how special I am to God.  Not for looks or for goodness or for anything other than the fact that I was born of God.  I am a part of the tapestry of God’s story.  He made me the way I am – looks, personality, foibles, desires, etc. – for his purposes.  That is, to bring Him glory.

Today, I left the house for my walk with my red Champion biker shorts displaying the cellulite on my thighs, and a sleeveless raggedy tank top displaying flabby arms.   I had stressed out while dressing about what people would see as I walked down the road, and as I closed the door to leave, felt the familiar desire to just stay inside and so not expose myself to anyone else’s view or judgment.

But I realize that every time that desire is conquered, God is glorified.  For it means that I understand that He did not create this world, with its beauty and health giving sunshine, just for supermodels or perfect people.  As much as the Vitamin D from the sunshine is for them, it is also for me.  And as much as it is for me, it is for you.

As I walked today, I wished many people a good morning – I did not notice that anyone glanced at my fat thighs or arms…but so what if they did?  God loves me and perhaps has been merciful to give me those issues as opposed to others I would have a harder time dealing with.  I pray that I continue to develop a better perspective.

I don’t share these things in the hopes of getting sympathetic, “Oh Kathy, you are beautiful” compliments, or reassurances of any kind – I know now that I am okay looking.  I share these things with the hope that anyone else who may have a misguided perception of themselves may benefit from knowing that they are not alone and also from knowing that there is a God who created them, loves them and knows that they are beautiful as well.