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Why?

Why?

Why did Adam Lanza shoot 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut?

Why did he target children with whom he had no known connection?

This question is on every person’s mind and lips in the aftermath.  If we knew WHY, we could perhaps prevent the next tragedy, right?

No one will ever know for sure why he entered Sandy Hook Elementary and killed so many people before he took his own life.  But we can hazard some guesses.

Some will say it’s guns.  But guns have been part of our culture since our country began. And it’s not just assault weapons. Case in point?  Switzerland requires every adult male to have a military-issued assault rifle, and they train them on using it as part of their national militia.  And their gun crime rate is much smaller than ours. So we can’t lay it solely at the feet of the availability of assault weapons, although many people rightfully question whether citizens really *need* unfettered access to weapons that are intended for the sole purpose of killing other humans.

Some will say it’s symptomatic of our broken healthcare system.  But arguably, no healthcare system in the world or history has ever effectively tackled the challenges of mental health.  If somiething was never perfect, it can’t be broken.  Maybe the perfect system has yet to be invented, but we have countless high-functioning autistic members of society, as well as countless who suffer from anxiety, depression and serious mental illness.  Many of whom do not and will never pose a threat to anyone. So it’s not simply the lack of healthcare…which is available, albeit not free.

Some will say that it’s the proliferation of violent video games, movies and rap lyrics that have led us to view killing with jaded eyes.  That issue warrants further exploration, but the same people who champion limiting our Second Amendment right to bear arms are “up in arms” when anyone breathes a word about limiting their First Amendment right to free speech, even though that right was clearly intended to allow us free speech against our rulers; nothing more, nothing less.

Some will say it’s because we’ve removed God from schools and society. It is apparent that turning our backs on godly principles has made us less moral and respectful in the years since we acquiesced to the demands of those who reject Him in their own lives.  However, I’d say God is right where He wishes to be, whether we acknowledge Him or ignore Him or refuse to believe in Him.

We can cast about all we want, and will probably never come to a consensus on an answer to the question of “Why?”

As a society, we cannot shoulder responsibility for Adam Lanza’s actions that dreadful day.  Regardless of what factored into his life and worldview, he alone chose his path.  And we cannot legislate enough rules or laws that will guarantee another person doesn’t follow the same path, whether it’s with guns, bombs, poison gas or any other tool they choose to carry out a horrific plan.

At the same time, as individuals, we cannot continue to ignore our responsibility to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.  If we all followed that simple but oh-so-hard-to-live principle, these issues would vanish without any need for legislation or rules.

Guns would be viewed as a lethal responsibility of those who sell and buy them.

Mental health would become a personal responsibility for everyone, and a family responsibility when an individual is too fractured to make choices for their well-being.  We would have to accept the need for institutions and we would provide humane and dignified treatment of those who need to be in that environment for their safety and ours.

Violent movies, games and songs would wither on the vine because people would simply choose to not buy, look or listen to them. The economic forces would efficiently deal them out of society.

And our children, whether they are 6-week-old fetuses or 6-year-old first graders, would not be harmed by anyone.

So I guess there is an answer to the question, “Why?”  It’s just not an answer that all are willing to hear or accept.

I pray – fervently – that on this eve of the day the world acknowledges that Jesus entered the world, that we would all ask ourselves why we don’t strive harder to live this simple truth?  And why don’t we share the good news of Jesus’ teachings with others?

Happy pondering,
Terry

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An appeal to reason

“Come let us reason together,” says God through his prophet Isaiah. In all matters of faith and conviction, God’s word is the ultimate judge and arbiter of what is right and what is evil. Those who follow His teachings should be able to have thoughtful, loving, reasonable discussions with others, even when we disagree.  After all, it is not our opinions that matter; it’s what God says that counts.  If we can agree on that, then we can reason together.

But we live in a society that has lost sight of the One who created us, and it has caused us to lose our way – we no longer have moral absolutes to guide our path.  Everything – even truth – is relative.  Everything is permissible, and no one is to be judged for their choices.  Even those who believe in God and follow Christ are reluctant to stand on their convictions for fear of having Matthew 7:1 thrown in their face.

If anyone dares to try to invoke legal or religious objections to certain “hot button” issues, there’s little chance of turning to God’s word as the final word on the matter.  Instead, we have virtual or real shouting matches, trying our best to browbeat the other side with our views, or at least win by TKO, delivering the most stinging zingers, and trying to inflict the maximum amount of pain on one another until we finally break away and retreat to our corners, bloodied, bruised, with enmity in our hearts.

Solomon gave us ample warnings of the futility in trying to reason with unreasonable people. As he begins the book of Proverbs, he admonishes us “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

And just a few chapters later, he puts it like this, “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.”

In modern times, we’ve summed up the concept with a of dash humor:


And so for many of us who would like to share our faith with others in this sin-sick world, we hesitate to start the conversation or point out a friend’s transgressions, in part because we’ve seen what can happen and how quickly a relationship can be lost over opinions on faith, or someone’s rejection of it  – whether in total, or just the parts they don’t like.  We often sit on our hands or bite our tongues on certain topics, lest we be branded bigots and haters.  It seems the world has forgotten that you have to love someone in order to care about their welfare, whether physical, emotional or spiritual.  And in fairness to those who prickle up, sometimes Christians have forgotten that love for God and our neighbors should be the only motivator and guide for our speaking up.

The current kerfuffle over Chick-Fil-A is a case study of the depths to which we’ve sunk as a society.  Chick-Fil-A is a company I’ve long admired, in large part for their willingness to close their doors every Sunday and give their employees a day to spend with family.  Those in favor of homosexual marriage are incensed and outraged that a business owner (whose Christian beliefs are well-documented) would dare say that he supports traditional marriage.  To which I would point out two things worth considering:

1. Mr. Cathy never said anything about gays, gay marriage or gay rights in the now-infamous interview. When a Baptist publication asked him for his opinion, he said he was in favor of traditional marriage.  Shocking? Hardly.  Controversial? Only if you were looking for a bone to pick.
2.  Many businesses (Amazon and Target, to name two) are openly in favor of gay marriage and spend some of their corporate earnings to fund gay rights.  Where is the hue and cry over them voicing their personal opinion in the public or using company funds to support either side of this debate?  It’s a decidedly double standard by which we measure ourselves.

Irony of ironies, the group that has pleaded for tolerance for the past several decades has shown anything but when they meet with any level of resistance, even the most loving pleadings for a rational discussion.  Mr. Cathy is apparently not entitled to his opinion on this matter, and neither are the rest of us, unless we are willing to lay aside our religious convictions and view this as a human rights issue on par with racial and gender equality.  And for many Christians, we cannot in good conscience do that.

I hope and pray at some point, we can return to a place where those who hold opposing opinions can reason together, or at least not feel the need to fight to the death over issues that are – for some of us – not open for debate but were settled by a higher authority thousands of years ago.  It is a hallmark of maturity when we can accept that no matter how badly we want something, and no matter how qualified we might think we are, we simply cannot have it.  God’s ways are not our ways, and man’s laws often limit and restrict our abilities to attain happiness, too.  If we can’t debate and discuss matters calmly and rationally, then let’s all just agree to stop before we stoop to name calling and ad hominem attacks.  When we resort to those, we’ve lost the argument. And we’ve lost any chance of persuading anyone to our view.

As for me, I just strive to live peaceably with all, at least to the extent it depends on me, while also trying to live my life according to God’s principles and rules.  I’ll do my best to show love to everyone (even if it means disagreeing – hopefully in a loving and humble way); tend my home and garden…and yes, I will eat some chikin every now and again.

Happy reasoning,
Terry

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I majored in accounting and finance in college.  Similar fields, although disdainful of one another.  Both disciplines drilled into me some basic principles in viewing life through financial and economic terms.  One of the most enduring lessons I learned was the “time value of money.”  At its most basic, it’s why loans have interest applied to them.  Time has value, and that value can be measured in money.

Have you ever considered how we refer to both time and money? We talk about them in similar terms – almost interchangeably.

We spend both, we waste both.  We borrow and lend both, we give and take them.  We make both time and money (so we say), and of course, we always wish we had more of both.  Both are valuable–even precious.  Both are finite (unless you are truly into making money, as in printing your own.)

But the similarities stop when we get to the idea of saving up for the future.  We can save up money.  Not so for time.  So how we spend the time we are given is arguably more important than how we spend our money.  We can make more money – as long as we have more time.  But the inverse is not true – more money won’t buy us more time.

And yet, how much time do we spend worrying about money in some form or fashion?  Taking good care of our personal or business finances is important, but time spent worrying about the future is time we will never get back.

I’ve always loved the sixth chapter of Matthew…maybe because Jesus’ admonitions  are so practical and similar to what his brother James offers us later on (another favorite read of mine.) His remarks about worrying about the future always hit home with me.  I like to think of myself as a planner.  But truth be told, sometimes my forward-looking thoughts are those of a worrier.

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (or a cubit to your height?)  …Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself…Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Happy Monday,
Terry

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Our church promotes our school-age classes at the beginning of June each year.  Simultaneously we launch an all-summer rotational VBS-style program for our Kindergarten through 5th graders.  This is our third year to offer our “Summer Bible Vacation” series, and my third year to take the lead role in coordinating it. All of it. From January to June, a team meets and develops the lessons for each rotation (arts, story, movie, singing, games and  history).  I recruit teachers and guides and hold work days to build sets and prepare for it.  Finally, in late May, we black out our classrooms and transform six rooms into an art studio, bookstore, movie theater, radio station, arcade/game show set and museum/discovery center.

It is like a hurricane: a whirlwind of activity that starts out slow and picks up speed and intensity as you get pulled in deeper.  By the time we launch, I have lived-and-breathed-and dreamed all the minutiae and details imaginable.  Juggling last minute personnel changes, creating and acquiring specified props, costumes and supplies, making sure kids have guides, guides have rosters, the DVD players work, and popcorn bags are on hand and ready.  Got a question?  I willingly put myself in the role of “go-to-girl.”  Why do I do it?  Mainly because it’s fun and gratifying.  I have dim but fun memories of VBS as a kid, and I’m passionate about the importance of grabbing kids’ hearts and minds while they are willing and eager learners, and helping them develop an unshakable faith that God is, was and always will be, and that He has always had this amazing plan that includes each of us.  And so I pour myself into this effort.  In return I get a huge reward from seeing a few words scribbled on paper come to life in the eyes of many talented and creative individuals who volunteer to help.  And hearing kids beg their parents to bring them back for the next lesson.

Unsurprisingly, it is equal parts exhilaration and exhaustion.   The laundry, cooking and cleaning fairy tend to get less reliable as we get closer to the kickoff (lack of supervision, I’m sure); they flat-out go AWOL the last week or two of May.  They reappear in early June, as does my creative muse.

Speaking of which, this coming week I have plans that don’t involve acrylic paint, hot glue guns or construction paper.  These plans entail some TLC work on our front porch seating, sprucing up the back deck patio set and/or painting the upstairs bathroom and adding some storage.  (These are all high-priority projects, so prioritizing them is my first order of business.)  I’m also looking forward to figuring out how to display some new (vintage) Fiestaware I snagged while we were in Oklahoma.  So stay tuned…good things are coming this summer.

But before that starts, I gave myself Sunday afternoon off to do nothing more energetic than water the front plants.  After we got everything launched yesterday morning, it was time for quiet rest for every man and beast in our family.  And I have the pictures to prove it.

It was a much-needed afternoon to do nothing, guilt-free.  I hope your Sunday was just what you needed, too – whether highly productive or laid back and quiet…or even downright lazy.  (And for those of you who know I try to make our Sundays a day of rest from consumerism, I *almost* succeeded.  We needed hamburgers to grill out…and I didn’t realize it until late Saturday night.  So I made a quick pass through Kroger and a promise to myself to plan better for next week.)
Happy Monday,
Terry

P.S., This morning the Pirtle family is preparing to welcome a new baby/grandbaby into this world.  I send my prayers for a safe and easy delivery for mom and baby and congratulations to dad, grandparents, aunts and a super-cute new big sister.

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A seed has many virtues.  It’s tough.  Self-sufficient.  Capable of withstanding a lot and safeguarding its own fragile germ inside. It needs nothing from anything or anyone to maintain itself for a very long time. And it ages well..an ancient seed may look much the same as it did when it was newly formed.  There’s a lot to be said for being a seed, and many people – even Christians – view themselves as self-sufficient and capable of weathering life’s storms and trials without weakening or needing help.  Rugged individualism, autonomy and self-determination are touchstones in our culture.

But until it gives up being a seed, it can’t become anything else.  The life force within that tough coating may remain intact for months, years, decades, even centuries as witnessed by findings of still-viable seeds in ancient civilizations.

Like the seed, only when we are willing to relinquish our tough exterior and dogged self-sufficiency can we become more than just a single seed. Losing that protective coating and becoming  vulnerable is one of the hardest things we’ll ever do.  Our destiny is no longer in our hands. Can we trust the one who made us?  Absolutely.  WILL we open up and trust Him?  Only if we choose to.

Gardeners have all seen a seed in the process of transforming into a plant – pull up a plant after it sprouts and  you’ll often see the remains of what was a seed still providing nourishment as a final sacrifice of self. It is barely recognizable, a vestige of its former self.

Unlike seeds, seedlings are tender and vulnerable.  Once sprouted, a seed can’t un-ring the bell and scurry back inside its safe coating.  Damage or neglect may prove fatal at any stage from here on out.  But with the right combination of sun, water, nutrients and support from the soil, it can become a fruit-bearing plant, and create many more seeds until it eventually dies.  In a few generations, the effect of just one seed giving up itself to become a plant can extrapolate into millions of new seeds, each becoming living, productive plants.

As gardeners, our understanding of the soil and plants forms the very foundation and basis for understanding many of the mysteries of life and hard teachings, like the paradox of the seed, taught by Jesus.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)

We can’t have it both ways – we either live for ourselves or we can die to self and become something more.   There’s no middle ground.

What is your legacy?  Will your story be discovered among other well-preserved seeds in a few hundred years?  Will it have a clearly defined beginning and ending, discrete and disconnected from all the other preserved seeds? Or will you be part of a living legacy, your very being and story intertwined into many others, all because you chose to give up yourself and grow to your full potential?

Happy gardening,
Terry

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Someone on Twitter resurrected a 2009 MSN article that touted many “surprising” benefits to gardening, such as:

It is a spiritual antidote to daily stress of fast-paced living and onslaught of technology, which has led most of us to “attention fatigue” (a polite way of saying we all suffer from a little ADHD, probably due to the constant barrage of stimuli we seek from the internet, our cell phones and televisions.)

The sensory experience of gardening “allows people to connect to this primal state,” says James Jiler, the founder and executive director of Urban GreenWorks

It has been demonstrated that depression and bi-polar disorder symptoms are lessened in sufferers who garden and the reasons may go beyond the therapeutic benefits of being outdoors and taking out our frustrations on weeds or appreciating nature’s beauty.

Digging in the dirt isn’t the same as taking Prozac because humans evolved along with M. vaccae and a host of other friendly bugs, the relative lack of these “old friends” in our current environment has thrown our immune systems out of whack, according to Christopher Lowry, Ph.D., an assistant professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado.

It provides a form of physical exercise that is both gentle and productive, making it easier for most people to stick with, versus other forms of exercise.

“It’s not just exercise for exercise itself, which can become tedious,” says Katherine Brown, the executive director of the Southside Community Land Trust in Providence, R.I.

And it may help reduce the risk of dementia, and stave off its devastating effects.

Two separate studies that followed people in their 60s and 70s for up to 16 years found, respectively, that those who gardened regularly had a 36 percent and 47 percent lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners…

And of course, the benefits of eating freshly picked, homegrown produce can lead to better physical health and nutrition.

But none of this should be surprising to those who are Bible students.  We know that gardening IS the world’s oldest profession.  In the second chapter of Genesis, we see the Lord God took Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  Even after he and Eve were cast from the garden, God commanded Adam to continue gardening, telling him, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

I’ve always loved Kipling’s “The Glory of the Garden” and especially this bit:

Rudyard Kipling Glory of the Garden

Whether your garden consists of a few herbs or plants on a balcony or windowsill, a small plot in a community garden, or you tend a huge old-fashioned farm garden, I hope your efforts bring forth many good things for you this year.

Happy gardening,
Terry

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And here we are, 90 days into 2012. Are you still hanging tight with your resolutions or are you struggling to recall what they were?  (We’ve all experienced that before.)  This year, I’m sticking to my guns better than most years, but as you’ll see there have been some bumps along the way this month.

1. Cultivate a daily prayer life.
My goal last month was to make prayer and Bible reading a priority first thing in the morning.  I’m 1 for 2:  prayer yes, Bible reading, no.

2. Read the Bible through in 2012.
There’s no way to gloss over the fact I’ve completely fallen behind on this.  Truth be told, I haven’t read ANYTHING in the last month – no magazines, no books, no nothing, except online stuff that is directly related to work and blogging.  And every day I fall further behind, I cringe because it means I’m two readings behind.  So instead of trying some marathon make-up reading, I’m dropping back to one reading  a day, and trying Seinfeld’s “don’t-break-the-chain” starting today.  Here’s hoping it works. Stay tuned, update in 30 days.

3. Exercise at least 4 days a week and drop the last 15 pounds I want to lose.
A success!

  • Week one, I managed yoga, pilates and two hours of weights;
  • Week two consisted of a 3-mile run, yoga, pilates and an hour of weights;
  • Week three two four-mile runs and yoga and pilates;
  • This week, three days of running (12 miles total), plus yoga and pilates.

My goal weight is 110. I’m back to 121, which doesn’t sound like much of a stride, until I explain my weight bounced up to 125 early this month, a delayed reaction to last month’s overindulgence in sweets; it prompted an introspective look into my psyche a few days ago.  The running helps; I just need to figure out how to still squeeze in an hour or two of weights a week while maintaining the early morning runs.

4. Get my desk organized and keep it that way.
A qualified success.  I’m still wrestling with the way I deal with incoming mail, but I have a basket to hold it now until I cull out the bills and toss the junk, pretty much once every week to ten days.  My blotter has stayed visible all month.  Woot!

5. Cultivate the fruit of the spirit in my life.
This remains the hardest goal to measure progress against, but I find myself dwelling more on my daily walk with God and looking for ways to encourage others.  I’m thinking that counts as progress. 🙂

So how are your resolutions doing? I came across this photo not too long ago, and it rang true: stop giving up

If you need to start over in April, that’s okay – just commit to making it the last time to start over.

Happy resolving,

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