Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why One Lost Sheep May Be Worth So Much

Luke 15:4-7
"What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance."

I will freely admit to not understanding much of the symbolism in the scriptures and of applying my own meanings to them which may or may not be quite what the Savior meant by them, and I always struggled with this scripture. Why would one wandering sheep mean so much to the Shepherd? Why would it's recovery be the cause for more joy than ninety-nine sheep who are obedient and stay with the flock? It always bothered me a bit to think that if I was a faithful "sheep" that I wouldn't matter as much to Jesus.

Then it hit me. The ninety and nine sheep are likely doing what sheep do- contentedly eating and milling about. They have no need to wander further afield because they trust in the security of their shepherd. I think we all seek for that level of peace in knowing that our needs are taken care of and that we have a shepherd who is looking out for us. But...I think the sheep have become complacent. Sure, they follow the shepherd obediently- but is it more automatically than loyally? Do they draw near to their shepherd just to be close to Him, or do they go about doing their own thing, only occasionally checking to make sure someone is still keeping them safe?

The wandering one, on the other hand, has left the safety and security of the flock. It has likely experienced danger, anxiety, and loneliness. When this lost sheep catches sight of the shepherd, won't it's heart leap with joy to see it's caretaker? What can compare to the sense of love it will feel as it is laid upon the shoulders of its savior and brought back to the fellowship and bounty of its flock? I can imagine this "sheep" being so much more devoted to the shepherd- not staying close out of duty or for safety alone, but because this sheep loves the shepherd. Only one who has wandered and then been rescued by the great Shepherd can understand the depth of gratitude and affection that this engenders.

This doesn't make the one wandering sheep any more valuable to the shepherd. Without the obedient sheep there would be no flock for the one to come back to. Without the ninety and nine there would be no good example for the young lambs to follow. But hopefully that "one" will always remember how it felt to be lost, and how much it owes to the Shepherd who found it and brought it home again. And maybe, just maybe, it will teach its own lambs a deeper kind of devotion to the Shepherd. That kind of faithfulness makes it worth a whole lot of rejoicing.

Monday, October 27, 2014

One Step at a Time

My husband and I took advantage of the beautiful fall weather last Saturday and went for a short hike in Fernwood State Forest. As with most of the topography of eastern Ohio, the trail ran up and down hills of varying inclines with just enough level sections in between to be able to catch our breath. Some of the uphill spots gently ascended and we easily hit the plateau before heading downhill again. On others, though, it took a lot more effort to climb to the top. I found that as I was climbing one particularly steep section that it was a lot easier to focus just on the step or two in front of me, rather than keeping an eye on the peak of the hill.

It struck me that sometimes that's how it is in life also. When you're in the midst of a really hard struggle, sometimes it's best to just take one step, one breath at a time. You still need to look up at times to see where the trail is leading, but once you know that you're on the right path, just keep putting one foot in front of the other. To focus on the end of the trail, or even what might be around the next corner, can take precious energy and make the peak seem too far to reach before collapsing. By keeping your focus on what's immediately in front of you, you can put all of your energy where it's needed at that moment.

Rest assured, there will always be plateaus where you can stop for a breather and check where you are on the path; just as there will also be declines that give relief  from the uphill climb but will then require the use of other muscles. As long as you are moving forward you're getting stronger. And at times you can look back and see your progress clearly, and take heart in knowing that if you made it up that hill, surely you can make it up the next one also.

Others may be able to sprint to the top of a hill that we are struggling to make any progress on, and that's okay- because this life isn't a marathon where we're all competing with each other to finish with the best time. It's an individual journey and progress is measured by growth, confidence, and contentment- not by how fast or far we've gone or how many hills we've conquered.

Our journey in this life will always have ups, downs, obstacles, seasons, and change. How we face them and whether or not we find joy in the journey is mostly a matter of perspective and perseverance.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My Latest English Essay: The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Here's my latest essay (suggestions for revision are welcomed!):

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

     Most who have grown up in the “digital age” have missed out on an important and gratifying pleasure that had been used for generations to send greetings, news, or even declarations of undying love. I’m speaking of the venerable written letter. Since the advent of the internet, email, texting and tweeting, the use of the postal service has drastically declined. Most would say that “snail mail” is a thing of the past, a relic doomed for extinction, like the tyrannosaurus rex. I think that the current generation is missing out on the wonder and anticipation of receiving a real handwritten letter in the mail, and that the tradition should be restored.

     “Older” folks will remember the excitement of going to the mailbox in anticipation of receiving a letter. That feeling when you open the box and see an envelope with your name handwritten on it was akin to winning the lottery. Maybe it wasn’t quite as exciting as winning the jackpot, but at least as great as winning $20 on a scratch-off ticket. The delayed gratification of sending a letter to someone and waiting days or weeks for a response not only developed patience but also created an incredible sense of pleasurable anxiety and anticipation. Would today be the day that the reply showed up? Imagine having that to look forward to every day the mail service delivered!

     Receiving a letter was only half of the equation. Once you received such a special and solid proof of someone’s time and attention, it was only right that you sat down as soon as was convenient and wrote a reply. It was similar to today’s exchanging of emails, but much more personal and pleasurable. You could include more than just standard emoticons – nothing was off limits: drawings of hearts, smileys, doodles in the margins, bits of poems, and even a hint of perfume lightly scenting the pages. At Christmas it was customary to include a goofy picture of the family dressed in holiday sweaters or some other equally hideous matching outfits, and at other times of the year snapshots of vacations, celebrations, and yearly school photos could be included.

     To write a “real” letter, you’ll need some supplies. First, gather paper, pen, and an envelope. These can be as simple as a Bic pen, some computer paper and a plain #10 envelope, or as sophisticated as artistic stationery with matching paper and envelope and the latest and most innovative gel pen. In gathering supplies don’t forget the most important piece for getting it to the recipient: the humble postage stamp. These, too, can range from the commonplace USA flag stamp to the whimsical: Disney, flowers, or holiday designs.

     Once you have the supplies together, take a few moments to just sit and think. Ponder what you want to say. This will in a large part be affected by whom you are writing to. Will it be a letter to let Grandma know you loved the sweater she sent you for your birthday? Or a romantic missive to surprise your special someone? A letter can be used to update family or friends on what’s happening in your life, a way to express deep thoughts and emotions that are hard to say verbally, or even a way to let your elected representatives know exactly what you think of how they’re running the country. (Not all letters have to be nice or pleasant.)

     Although proper form is appreciated by those who recognize it, most letter recipients aren’t going to care as much about how you write as they will about the fact that you did write. A letter can say that you really care – enough to take the time to sit down, endure writer’s cramp, and go to the extra effort of sealing an envelope, carefully placing a stamp on it and physically placing it in a mailbox. It’s like an email that’s gone the extra mile. What could demonstrate how much you care more than that?!

     The next question may be: cursive or script? This will likely depend on how well you do either of these. If your cursive looks like a child’s drawing of curly hair on a stick figure (and is just as unclear), then it’s probably best to stick with script lettering. Under no circumstances should you use a printer. Okay, maybe sometimes. Especially for those with arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. Then it can be fun to experiment with different fonts to find one that matches your personality and the tone of your letter. But for the greatest impact on the recipient, handwritten is best.

     Depending on how formal or informal your letter is, you may want to start it with “Dear So-and-So” and add the date (all historic events have their dates recorded – a letter should be no different!) You can start the letter with a simple “Hello, how have you been?” or jump right into the reason for the unusual communication, like “I have great news!” or “I couldn’t let another second pass without expressing my undying devotion to you.” (The latter is likely to produce gags from all but the most romantic, so know your audience and adjust it accordingly. It would not be recommended in a letter to your grandma, no matter how much you love her.)

     After you’ve gotten the letter started, write as much or as little as you like. Even a short “I’ve been thinking of you, hope you’re doing well” will produce a smile. Maybe not as big a smile as a 3 page letter describing the last month of your life, but a smile nonetheless. Unless you are writing in an official capacity, don’t worry about being formal. Be chatty, just like you would if you were having a conversation in person. Your friends and family will “hear” your voice if you write what you’re thinking instead of writing as if it’s a school assignment.

     Once you’ve come to the end of either your words or space on the page, you can end with a simple and impersonal “sincerely,” or opt for something a bit more grandiose like “From your greatest admirer,” or “With deepest appreciation.” It’s usual to then sign your name underneath the closing, although it’s best if you use your “better” signature – you know, the one that people can actually read.

     The last part of writing a letter is addressing the envelope. The postal service has fairly strict guidelines for this, and since they’re the ones you’re trusting to deliver it, it’s a good idea to follow them. Write your return address in the upper left hand corner of the envelope. You can include your name or just the address, or use an address label with cutesy designs. You will then print the recipient’s name near or at the center of the envelope. Make sure to print legibly. The name goes on the first line, then the house number and street name. Skip down one more line to write the city and the capitalized state abbreviation, separated by a comma, and then the zip code. Now’s the time to add the stamp – just place it in the upper right hand corner.

     Seal the envelope, place it in a mailbox, and then eagerly check the mailbox for the next week or two for your own letter. Enjoy the suspense and anticipation of the wait, and don’t forget to keep the process going by quickly sending out another letter in response. 

Just a General Update

My hubby pointed out that it's been awhile since I've blogged, and I agree, so here's an update:

Life has been pleasantly busy lately. David and I are taking three classes together at the local community college and I am enjoying it immensely. We're taking psychology, english comp, and a required "succeeding in college and life" course. It's amazing how much the three of these relate to and complement each other.

I've enjoyed writing some essays for english comp and also put together a powerpoint presentation about Drug Abuse/Addiction for our psych class. The best part of psych class so far has been an assignment to do a personality indicator test. No surprise that I'm an introvert, but it was fun to learn about the other facets of my personality, and scary how accurate the test is! (Wanna try it for yourself? Go to www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp. It's free.) I'm an INTJ, which means I'm "independent, innovative, analytical and purposeful." Only 1.4% of the population have my personality type, which might explain why I've always felt like I didn't fit in!!

I've also started working on putting together the primary program for next month. It's later in the year than usual (I think we did in October for the past 2 years) and I'm stressing about getting it together in time, but I'm sure it'll be good. It's hard for it not to be with kids talking about their testimonies and what they've learned about the gospel.

David and I also joined the gym and started a new diet program in July. So far David has lost 30 pounds and I'm down 18. (Universal law that a guy is going to lose more faster!! Ugh!) I was one of those people who swore I'd never join a gym (go work out with all those other smelly people? Yuck!) but David convinced me (with the help of the demise of my second elliptical machine) and I've found that I really enjoy it. It helps that the gym is literally 5 minutes from the house.

We haven't gotten out to do much else lately. Evenings are hectic with school, gym, and dinner. Some days it feels like we just barely have time to sit down before it's time for bed already. I'm just thankful that we have the opportunity to go back to school and spend so much time together. Good thing David and I like being around each other!

That's the gist of what's been going on in my life lately. Nothing earth-shattering or even exciting by most people's standards, but it's been interesting and enjoyable to me.