Friday, December 31, 2010

"It is finished!" ...and I am free...

What can I say?
I've been set free.
It's as simple as that.
It's been a long time coming,
but the simplest of truths has finally filled
my thick skull
with peace.

For nearly as long as I've been a Christian I've grappled with the subject of legalism and the Old Covenant Law. I've read so much and heard so many sermons on the subject and all the while the waters have only grown murkier and my confusion greater. I've heard there are those who disregard the Old Testament entirely, seeing it as useless, something we ought not even bother ourselves with. But, to be honest, in all my years in various church settings (from Pentecostal to Reformed Baptist) I've never, ever met anyone who believes that way. No, what I've encountered are a variety of Christians from a variety of traditions all claiming to be "Bible-believing" struggling, generally with all sincerity, to figure out what to do with the Old Testament in light of the New.

What seems to be the nearly universal practice is a combination of cutting and pasting portions or attitudes from the Old Covenant onto the New. The portions cut and locations pasted differ based upon the traditions and opinions of whoever is doing the editing. The messages I've gotten have been mixed and confusing. Some churches, like the Judaizers of old, require their members to incorporate all of the Old Testament regulations, excluding only the ceremonial portions (priesthood, animal sacrifices, festivals, etc.) Others exclude all portions of the Law save its moral prohibitions: the Ten Commandments along with whichever "secondary" restrictions they find they agree with, say, forbidding tattoos for instance. Others by and large disregard the regulations of the Law, with the exception of the Ten Commandments and then substitute their own system of "Christian" law restricting behaviors never restricted under the Old Covenant (drinking alcoholic beverages, social dancing, women wearing pants or working outside the home, and divorce in cases of adultery, to name a few) and converting the New Testament into a new system of super-spiritual laws by which to judge ourselves and one another. Many still teach that the Old Testament system of blessing and cursing applies to believers today. The blessings are for when they do right, the cursings for when they commit sin. Some believe that the Old Testament Law is God's way of governing men and that it should be replicated in civil government (though I've yet to hear anyone seeking to legislate against covetousness...we've got the economy to consider after all). Some believe that just as God sent the Law before He sent the Gospel, that we Christians must bring the Law to bear on people before we can proclaim the Gospel.

At various points in my life I've been subjected to, or even adhered to nearly every one of these teachings, and various combinations of them. Some of them have come very near to destroying my faith. If you've never experienced this confusion I hope you'll consider yourself blessed and forgive my thick-headedness as I reveal to you the simple truth that has transformed my life.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Bedtime Prayer of Sir Thomas Browne

I've just this evening finished reading Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici. You're safe to assume I'll have more to say about that great work here sometime soon. But, as prayer, of late, has become the unplanned focus here (and in my life) I thought I'd share what Browne refers to as "the Dormative I take to bedward; I need no other Laudanum than this to make me sleep; after which I close mine eyes in security, content to take my leave of the Sun, and sleep unto the Resurrection."

image via Wikipedia
The night is come, like to the day,
Depart not Thou, great God, away.
Let not my sins, black as the night,
Eclipse the lustre of Thy light:
Keep still in my Horizon; for to me
The Sun makes not the day, but Thee.
Thou, Whose nature cannot sleep,
On my temples Centry keep;
Guard me 'gainst those watchful foes,
Whose eyes are open while mine close.
Let no dreams my head infest,
But such as Jacob's temples blest.
While I do rest, my Soul advance;
Make my sleep a holy trance;
That I may, my rest being wrought,
Awake into some holy thought;
and with as active vigour run
My course, as doth the nimble Sun.
Sleep is a death; O make me try,
By sleeping, what it is to die;
And as gently lay my head
On my grave, as now my bed.
However I rest, great God, let me
Awake again at last with Thee;
And thus assur'd, behold I lie
Securely, or to awake or die.
These are my drowsie days; in vain
I do not wake to sleep again:
O come that hour, when I shall never
Sleep again, but wake forever.

It seems to me that I recall my dear husband requesting those last two lines as his epitaph.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Prayer For a New Mother

Image via Wikipedia
Prayer For a New Mother
by Dorothy Parker

The things she knew, let her forget again-
The voices in the sky, the fear, the cold,
The gaping shepherds, and the queer old men
Piling their clumsy gifts of foreign gold.

Let her have laughter with her little one;
Teach her the endless, tuneless songs to sing,
Grant her her right to whisper to her son
The foolish names one dare not call a king.

Keep from her dreams the rumble of a crowd,
The smell of rough-cut wood, the trail of red,
The thick and chilly whiteness of the shroud
That wraps the strange new body of the dead.

Ah, let her go, kind Lord, where mothers go
And boast his pretty words and ways, and plan
The proud and happy years that they shall know
Together, when her son is grown a man.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Another round - some new favorite cleaning products

These days I've been almost too busy to think, let alone write. But, since it's what I do for a living, I do find time to clean. Plenty of time. Because I'm not made of money I don't test drive a whole lot of products. I really hate buying things and finding out I've just wasted my hard earned money on junk. But, every so often the planets line up in just such a way that I end up trying something new. Over the last year I've come across a handful of new products I can add to my list of Things I Hope I Won't Ever Have to Do Without. And, to make up for the recent shortage of soul fodder here, I'll dish up my latest recommendations free of charge.*

First off, Orange Pledge.

In my last list of products recommendations I featured Endust. I will not take back what I said. It is a great product. But Orange Pledge has taken its place in my heart. Anyone who's ever asked knows that I can't stand Lemon Pledge. It's waxy and leaves a build-up. So when I took on a new client a few months back who told me her former cleaner used it for her marble counters I was dubious. But then I looked at her counters. Like glass! Beautiful, with the smooth protected feel of a car that's been recently waxed. So, I ran with it. It is not only great for marble and/or granite counters, but, like Endust, it leaves a silky, like-new finish on stainless steel sinks and appliances. And then, of course, you can use it on even the most reflective wood furniture surfaces. (Yes, it is a furniture polish after all.) Add to all this the really pleasant smell and you have a uniquely versatile product for a much more reasonable price than all those specialty products.

My next pick is a big-ticket item. My favorite vacuum cleaner. Now, to be fair, I have not worked with all the other high-end brands and so am not comparing this to those. I'll leave that up to you. I read and searched when it came time to select a new vacuum. For two decades my family used an old 1970's model Hoover. When, in the 90's, it finally went the way of all the earth I thought, "Hoover's always been good to me. Look at how long this old gal worked!" Then off I went to pick up a new Hoover. What I didn't realize is that the vacuum industry, Hoover included, had changed a few things over the years - first and foremost the quality of their vacuums. Apparently they decided that vacuums should be like razors - disposable. I was horribly disappointed and went through three of them in a decade.

Another change that came along while I was still happily dancing with my old Hoover was that remarkable invention known as the "bagless" vacuum. The industry was overrun by them, so I assumed they must be good and I must have one. Goodness knows I always hated having to buy those bags every year or so - a huge inconvenience, right? So I made the switch. Three bagless vacs (of my own, not to mention a dozen or so client vacs) later I realized I'd been duped. (Now, I know many will disagree with me on this. Please don't bother to try to change my mind. I do this for a living. I know from vacuums. If you love your bagless I give you permission to keep on loving it.) I vowed never to own another bagless machine. In case you're interested in my reasons I'll list them.

  • Wimpy - they just aren't as powerful. In a vacuum, sucking is a good thing.
  • Messy - nothing like cleaning a house to a lovely shine then going to empty the vacuum cup and having dust billow up and over all the surfaces within three feet, as well as all over the vacuum. And then there are the filters. They have to be cleaned and/or replaced very frequently. Far more frequently than a bag needs to be replaced.
  • Touchy - I've found almost every bagless I've used to be prone to clogging and overheating. One was so bad that I could never finish a whole house even one time without it overheating.
  • Fragile - Vacuums are very simple mechanical items. A child should be able to take one apart and put it back together easily, possibly even without tools, but at the very least with just a screwdriver. Belts should be easy to replace, and all other routine maintenance - even removing clogs should be simple. This has seldom been the case with any bagless I've owned. I've found many of them will clog in a place that is inaccessible. Another thing is, I have no patience for plastic parts that break. I've gotten really tired of the clips that hold attachments breaking off. I should not have to handle a vacuum with kid gloves.
  • Time wasting - The cup on a bagless has to be emptied at least once, and often several times in the middle of just one vacuum job. My friends, this is ridiculous. Some homes I clean require me to empty it THREE times in one visit - each time scattering more dust. Someone told me once that it was because they pick up more than the ones with the bag, but that is not the case. The truth is, the bag compacts the dirt. A full bag weighs a lot. A full cup weighs next to nothing. In my own home I can vacuum many times, possibly a dozen or more (I've never counted) with one bag. With a bagless I had to empty it twice each time and then clean the cup and the filters. I do not want a cleaning machine than I have to spend 15 minutes cleaning when I'm done using it.
Okay, so I've got a strong opinion. Take it for what it's worth.

Anyway, back to my choice: a Riccar. Two of my clients have vacuums that have lasted more than five years. Believe it or not, this has become the exception, not the rule. Both of them were Riccars. I thought back over the years I've used them and could recall no problems with them, ever. I considered the several hundreds of dollars I've wasted on vacuums over the last decade and did the math. I settled for a mid-priced Riccar. I've used it for a full year before bringing this glowing report.** It has given me no trouble except one clog. And that clog was refreshingly easy to correct. The belt can be changed without tools, though I haven't had to change mine yet. It is wildly powerful. It's cord is very long and nicely flexible. (I hate those stiff vacuum cords.) The attachments are easy to use. After a whole year not a single piece has broken. I'm ridiculously happy with my Riccar vacuum.

Next, I am happy to report I've found something I like even better than my trusty Bio-Clean water spot remover. It's much cheaper and requires much less product to get the job done. Purchased when I was in a pinch and my supplier was closed for an obscure holiday, here it is:

Bruce's GSR, Glass Water Spot & Stain Remover - Heavy Duty Brown.

I tried this the other day on a dingy patch in an otherwise lovely porcelain sink - a patch that even a razor wouldn't scrape off. I was flummoxed. A small smear of this on a scrubby sponge polished it off in a few seconds and left the whole sink looking like new - a thing of beauty. I love when that happens! Bruce's GSR, where have you been all my life?

(As with any product, test in an inconspicuous area first.)

Finally, this may be old news to some of you, but so what. I only just tried my first microfiber cleaning cloth a few weeks ago, and only because they had a 12-pack of them on sale at Cash & Carry for only $7. For that price I figured they were worth trying out. I wasn't even sure, really, what they were for, and I still haven't tried them out on everything yet. I'll say right now, though, that they were worth the money for use as dust cloths alone. A single cloth can dust an entire house, and then some, with no other product necessary. Great for pianos and other highly reflective surfaces as well as cloth surfaces like lampshades. The only downside is that touching them with my bare skin makes my hair stand on end, almost literally. My daughter calls fabrics like this "hangnail material". Perfect description. I'm trying to work past the aversion to the feel of them gradually, wearing gloves when I just can't stand it anymore.  (Tip: do not use fabric softener when washing or drying these cloths. You will defeat the whole purpose.)

So, there's my gift to all of you my friends. I know how much you all enjoy my unsolicited advice!

*Please note, I do not now and never have received any compensation for featuring products on my blog. If I did or ever do, I will let you know.

** UPDATE:  I have now been using this same vacuum for over four years and remain delighted with it!  Go buy yourself a Riccar!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hope is the sweetest gift of all

As I continue sifting, combing, and nit-picking away at several partially written blog entries which I can't seem either to untangle, de-bug, or find the loose ends which need tying up, I thought I'd leave you with some words of hope and comfort, from a book sent to me recently from half a continent away by a dear Christian brother.
"Prayer mirrors the gospel. In the gospel, the Father takes us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of salvation. In prayer, the Father receives us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of help. We look at the inadequacy of our praying and give up, thinking something is wrong with us. God looks at the adequacy of his Son and delights in our sloppy, meandering prayers.....

"We tell ourselves, 'Strong Christians pray a lot. If I were a strong Christian, I'd pray more.' Strong Christians do pray more, but they pray more because they realize how weak they are. They don't try to hide it from themselves. Weakness is the channel that allows them to access grace....

"As we mature as Christians, we see more and more of our sinful natures, but at the same time we see more and more of Jesus. As we see our weaknesses more clearly, we begin to grasp our need for more grace....
"The gospel uses my weakness as the door to God's grace. That is how grace works....
"Less mature Christians have little need to pray. When they look at their hearts (which they rarely do), they seldom see jealousy. They are barely aware of their impatience. Instead, they are frustrated by all the slow people they keep running into. Less mature Christians are quick to give advice. There is no complexity to their worlds because the answers are simple - 'just do what I say, and your life will be easier.' I know all this because the 'they' I've been talking about is actually 'me.' That is what I'm naturally like without Jesus.....
"Surprisingly, mature Christians feel less mature on the inside. When they hear Jesus say, 'Apart from me you can do nothing' (John 15:5), they nod in agreement. They reflect on all the things they've done without Jesus, which have become nothing. Mature Christians are keenly aware that they can't raise their kids. It's a no-brainer. Even if they are perfect parents, they still can't get inside their kid's hearts. That's why strong Christians pray more."
Paul E. Miller - A Praying Life
 Thanks to simplemann for the gift that's teaching me to come to Christ like a little one again.