Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in Review - The Final Chapter

It's getting late on New Year's Eve and my eyes are starting to get heavy.  I'm fighting to keep my eyes open for the ball drop, but we'll have to see if I can make it or not.  In the mean time, let's take a look at the final few resolutions and how I did with them in the year 2010.

8. Journal at least twice each week.  Believe it or not, this actually happened most weeks in some guise.  For the first half of the year, I was journaling constantly.  I took some time earlier today to scan some of those entries and am thankful that they are not meant for public consumption!  In May, however, I turned my attention to blogging.  The rest of the year became a mix of public blogs and private journal entries.  I am thrilled with the outcome and I'm looking forward to more blogging in the coming year.....I just hope you find my random discourses as entertaining to read as I do.

9.  Complete one cross-stitch project.  I am so close to accomplishing this goal but will sadly fall short of completing it before the year 2010 comes to a close.  If December had not been such a hectic month and I had gotten just one more day of quality stitching in, I would have made it.  Much of today has been spent frantically back stitching the current piece, but my eyes just became too heavy to continue.  Although I have not been stitching all year, I have realized again how relaxing the repetitive process is to me.  I hope that I will seize opportunities for needlework in the coming year once again.

10.  Read 52 books.  This is the second year this goal has been on the table and once again I missed the goal significantly.  Sadly, I didn't make any improvement on the total of 38 books that I read in 2009.  The grand total for 2010 comes to 29 books read.  This is yet another resolution that will reappear in 2011.  One of these years, I'll meet that goal.  For those of you interested, here is the list of books I read during the year. (Parenthetical dates indicate when they were completed.)

1.  Redefining Children's Ministry in the 21st Century:  A Call for Radical Change - Becky Fischer (1/5/10)
2.  The Concubine's Daughter - Pai Kit Fai (1/15/10)*****
3.  The Unmotivated Child:  Helping Your Underachiever Become a Successful Student - Natalie Rathvon (1/21/10)
4.  The Rest of Her Life - Laura Moriarty (2/4/10)
5.  Basketball Jones - E. Lynn Harris (2/9/10)
6.  Still Alice - Lisa Genova (2/24/10)
7.  The Magician's Nephew - C. S. Lewis (2/28/10)
8.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis (3/5/10)
9.  House Rules - Jodi Picoult (3/18/10)*****
10. The Horse and His Boy - C.S. Lewis (3/27/10)
11.  Deeper Water - Robert Whitlow (4/5/10)
12.  Higher Hope - Robert Whitlow (5/6/10)
13.  Look Again - Lisa Scottoline (5/25/10) *****
14.  The Hiding Place - Corrie Ten Boom (5/30/10)
15.  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer (6/2/10)
16.  Greater Love - Robert Whitlow (6/13/10)
17.  The Unlikely Disciple:  A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University - Kevin Roose (6/24/10)
18.  Broken on the Back Row - Sandy Patty (7/13/10)
19.  Home Safe - Elizabeth Berg (7/20/10)
20.  The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender (8/2/10)
21.  American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld (9/30/10) *****
22.  Every Last One - Anna Quindlen (10/9/10)
23.  The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown (11/10/10)
24.  The Tenth Circle - Jodi Picoult (11/21/10)
25.  The Choice - Nicholas Sparks (12/10/10) *****
26.  The Perfect Christmas - Debbie Macomber (12/18/10)
27.  Cast of Characters  - Max Lucado (12/22/10)
28.  The Real Mary:  Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus - Scot McKnight (12/26/10)
29.  My Name is Mary Sutter - Robin Oliveira (12/31/10)

2010 is now officially in the history books.  I have been blessed beyond measure.  I have been forsaken by some who called me friend.  I have learned lessons about my own strength and character.  I have no regrets, but I do look forward to the New Year and all the possibilities that it brings with it.  I pray that you have a healthy, prosperous, blessed 2011!


Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 in Review - Part 2

Tonight, I want to look at the last of the spiritual resolutions that I made for the year and begin looking at some of my personal goals. 

4.  Read through the entire Bible.  Sadly, I must admit that I have never accomplished this task in a single year.  I don't become frustrated where you would expect -- in the Laws and the prophets -- since I find these passages fascinating.  Where I struggle is when I hit the familiar stories that I've heard since childhood.  I find myself getting bored when I know what is coming next.

I've tried so many different approaches to reading the text that I now struggle to find one that I think might work.  I have stumbled upon one that I plan to use in 2011.  It's published by Discipleship Journal and has only 25 selections each month;  the absent days in the schedule allow for the inevitable period of getting behind in the reading.  I'm not trying to study Scripture with this approach;  I simply want to get a good overview of how things are put together.  I am really praying that 2011 will be the year that I finally do this and stop feeling guilty about it.

5.  Travel to one U.S. city I have never visited.  There were no problems accomplishing this one.  In addition to my normal visits to Houston and Los Angeles, 2010 also took me to three new cities -- Honolulu, Branson (Missouri), and Frankfort (Kentucky).  Obviously, I loved my time on the island and treasured getting to explore its landscape with a dear Pepperdine friend, Tiff.  I think we even saw a rare red whale that had gotten washed ashore.....or maybe memory is fading! 

Branson was a berg that I had always avoided.  I pictured a place filled with geriatric patients on walkers listening to lots of country music.  What I discovered is that Branson is a charming little place that has something for everyone.  The food was great and I thoroughly enjoyed the Chinese Acrobats show.  I'm already scheming to see if I can escape for another weekend soon.

Frankfort was a business trip - one of three job interviews I had in 2010 - so I didn't get as much time to explore as I would have liked.  However, I was fascinated by the city and hope to get back there as well when it's not quite as cold so I can walk the historic downtown area at a leisurely pace.

6.  Schedule one event each week for my personal enjoyment.  This was more difficult that I thought it would be.  Holding three part-time jobs makes a balanced schedule an impossibility at times.  I will gladly admit, though, that I did a much better job of taking care of myself this year than I have in the past.  I consciously found time to attend movies, operas, plays, and readings as well as frequently scheduling mini-vacations throughout the year. 

I plan to keep this resolution for another year, but with some modification.  Movie nights at home can suffice (thank you, Netflix!) as well as quiet afternoons in the park, bookstore, or library.  What I learned is that by attempting to define "personal events" I had backed myself into a corner and made what was supposed to be relaxing another source of pressure.  Lesson learned!

7.  Lose 20 pounds.  Most of you know that I have struggled with my weight for most of my life.  I've never considered myself morbidly obese, but carried enough extra weight that I didn't feel good and battled low self-esteem as a result of my body image.  Weight Watchers was not something I enjoyed necessarily, but I accomplished the goal and lost 20 pounds early in the year. 

Sadly, life happens and focus shifts.  As life became more frantic and my parents grew less disciplined in their weight loss efforts, we all resorted to old habits and regained some of the weight.  I'm not back to my heaviest, but some of the clothes that I bought to reward myself for losing the weight are beginning to feel a bit tighter.  That means that January 2 will be the beginning of another round of Weight Watchers.  I'm expecting more success this time since I know I can lose the weight.  Now I just have to determine in my mind that I am going to finish what I started. 

That's if for tonight.  Tomorrow night I'll take a look at the final 3 resolutions......and we'll ALL find out if I finish the novel I'm reading right now and the cross-stitch project that is in the hoop.  (Always so dramatic....I'll do ANYTHING to keep my loyal readers in suspense, won't I?)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 in Review - Part I

As the year draws to a close, many are reflecting over their experiences, successes, failures, and blessings.  Others are looking forwarding to the new year and all the possibilities that it holds.  I'm no different and I decided to take you on the journey of reflection with me.

I have always enjoyed New Year's Resolutions.  Like many people, my resolutions were often left in the dust by mid-February each year.  Last year, a very wise friend told me to change my view of resolutions and see them as "dreams with deadlines."  Additionally, he challenged me to divide my life into various arenas (spiritual, professional, etc) and come up with a set of resolutions for each.  By realizing that these were nothing more than dreams, they never became a source of guilt or stress;  rather, my resolutions for 2010 served as guiding goals to keep me on track.  Each morning, I have seen this list of 10 resolutions taped to the mirror in my bedroom.  Over the next few days, I will reflect on my experiences in each area and let you know how I did with each of my resolutions.

Without further ado, here are the 10 resolutions that guided my actions during the year 2010.
  1. Submit an article for journal publication.
  2. Perform a chamber recital.
  3. Complete 4 Bible studies/ministry studies.
  4. Read through the entire Bible.
  5. Travel to one U.S. city I have never visited.
  6. Schedule one event each week for my personal enjoyment/relaxation.
  7. Lose 20 pounds.
  8. Journal at least twice each week.
  9. Complete one cross-stitch project.
  10. Read 52 books (the equivalent of one per week).
Before we begin, I will freely admit that I did NOT accomplish all of my goals that I laid out in my resolutions.  I am very proud to say, however, that I did take steps toward accomplishing each of these to some degree.  Let's begin by taking a look at each resolution individually and seeing how things turned out.

1.  Submit an article for journal publication.  Right away, we come to a resolution that did not get accomplished this year.  I have several drafts of various papers written, but nothing quite went the direction I intended or I ended up in territory about which I was unqualified to authoritatively speak.  I have learned more about the process and the timetable that I need to follow in order to complete an article.

On a side note, however, the pursuit of journal publication shifted slightly in the summer to establishing a blog about music.  My blog Collaborations is still rather young and has faced some difficult times (especially as the fall semester came to a close), but I have been very pleased with the positive feedback I have received from respected colleagues in the field.  I anticipate that 2011 will see a heavy emphasis in the return of quality blogging in my resolution list.

2.  Perform a chamber recital.  It may be appropriate to call 2010 the year of the recital for me.  I presented a total of 7 recitals this year in 5 states.  In addition to the classical recitals, I also served as musical director of Crittenden Youth Theater's Spring production of Pinocchio.  Not to be left out, my church job had its fair share of performances this year as well -- including a very successful Kidz Music Camp using the musical Livin' Inside Out in an Upside World and the adult choral production of The Reason for Christmas

Of all of the performing, three engagements stand out in my mind.  In May, I traveled to Houston, Texas to collaborate for the first time with clarinetist Jere Douglas.  Jere has become a valued friend and colleague;  I look forward to our next musical endeavor together in May, 2011.

I have directed Kidz Music Camp for several years now and feel very confident in my ability to produce a quality show while ensuring that the students have a good time.  This year's show was probably my favorite experience ever.  The students were joyful, the music and choreography was fun, and the ministry was authentic and of eternal significance.  There can be no greater combination.

Finally, the last recital of the year with Marty Bishop in Jonesboro ranks as one of the best musical experiences of the year.  As I mentioned in my review of the recital over on Collaborations, Marty is a gifted musician who doesn't forget the value of friendship and kindness.  The music was good;  the experience of making music was enjoyable -- the perfect way to end the year's music making.

3.  Complete 4 Bible studies/ministry studies.  I missed the goal a bit here, but I completed 3 of them.  The year began with an online study of Christian Education Philosophy.  I completed the study, but don't anticipate doing another online class anytime soon.  The other participants were not terribly active in the discussion, so I was left to my own resources much of the time.

The other Bible studies that I completed were very personal and spoke directly to me at crucial times of the year.  My mother and I formed a "small group" (if you can call it that with only 2 participants!) in our home and completed two of Beth Moore's studies:  Esther and Daniel.  Yes, I am fully aware that these studies were intended for a female audience, but I cannot begin to express how mightily these Bible studies spoke truth and challenges into my heart.  Of these two, my favorite was Daniel hands down!  Mom got a few weeks behind due to some eye infections so I'm still getting to review and digest this challenging material. 

The Bible study bug has bitten hard in the Freeman family.  We are already planning our next "small group" study beginning in February and are adding a few more members to our circle.  We'll be starting out with another Beth Moore study:  Jesus, the One and Only.  I'm already getting excited to dive into the depths of the life of Christ early in the new year.  (If you're interested in how we are pulling off the family small group without breaking the bank, let me know.....I'll be happy to share.)

Tomorrow, I'll pick up with resolution #4 on my list......

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Story of Four Global Positioning Systems

Christmas morning was great here in cold Arkansas although we did have a humorous situation in the midst of the joy.  Let me see if I can paint the picture clearly for you.

Christmas shopping falls exclusively to me most of the time.  Holiday trips to the mall begin with my mother.  I attempt to find gift options for her to give to everyone on her list.  Needless to say, this can become rather difficult each year as I end up showing her the item that I was planning on giving.....and she takes it.  At first, this was very frustrating.  Now I know it's inevitable and just means that I will have a shopping adventure later in the season.

This year things turned out a little differently though.  For the Thanksgiving holidays, my parents and I traveled to Conroe, Texas with my brother and his wife to visit family.  Since I was teaching a Monday evening class, I wasn't able to leave until late that evening.  My brother and parents left early Monday morning.  To insure that they would have some clear directions, I suggested that Dad take his GPS with him.

When I arrive in Conroe on Tuesday, Mom tells me that she already knows what she is giving my brother and his wife for Christmas -- a GPS.  After the surprise wore off (Mom NEVER comes up with gift ideas) I realized that this was actually a great idea.  Mom continued to tell how O'Neal and Patsy had commented that they would like to have GPS in their cars.  Dad off-handedly commented that we might want to give the GPS to them before Christmas to make sure they didn't buy them for themselves.  Black Friday rolls around, I find a great deal online for the navigation systems, and the items ship.

Fast forward to Christmas morning.  Mom and I have been cooking much of the morning and Mom is dressing for the day when my brother arrives.  One of the first bits of conversation reveals that O'Neal had received a GPS for Christmas from Patsy.  I grin and drop my head, knowing what is about to happen.  Of course, everyone laughs and begins to ask if I bought one for them as well.  By this point, Oneal's daughter crawls across the floor to whisper that she is giving her dad a navigation system as well. 

Once Mom rejoins the festivities, we exchange gifts with my brother and his family.  The laughter and glimmering eyes as O'Neal and Patsy open their second and third GPS's of the day were priceless.  By the time they receive the fourth, we are contemplating opening a retail store specializing in these navigational devices! 

In all the years that we have exchanged gifts, this has NEVER happened before in my family.  The comedy continued on Christmas evening after everyone had left.  Mom sat on the couch making plans for next Christmas.....trying to come up with a gift-giving plan that will insure this doesn't happen again....and to keep the fun alive.  "O what a tangled web we weave....."

I'm still celebrating the holidays, so I'll continue to close with a jolly "Merry Christmas!"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cast of Characters by Max Lucado

Have you ever felt as though you were unable to do anything right?  Ever wondered if God made a mistake when He created you.....not sure that you REALLY had a purpose for being?  I suspect that if we are honest, we have all struggled with these questions at some point in our lives.  It can be incredibly frustrating when we feel as though we are nothing more than common....and that sometimes feels like a stretch.  In his book Cast of Characters, New York Times best-selling author Max Lucado explores the impact that some common people have had on their world when they came in contact with their powerful God. 

Many of the chapter titles read like a hall of fame of Scripture:  Matthew, Lazarus, Moses, Joseph, David, and Esther.  By exploring the lives of these common characters at their points of exhibiting great human frailty, doubt, fear, and crises of faith, Lucado teaches that no one is worthless when they willingly place their lives in the hands of a loving God.  Consider the implications of this powerful paragraph from the book's concluding chapter:

     The reassuring lesson is clear.  God used (and uses!) people to change the world.  People!  Not saints or superhumans or geniuses, but people.  Crooks, creeps, lovers, and liars -- he uses them all.  And what they may lack in perfection, God makes up for in love. (Lucado, 220)
As you begin to make your resolutions for the New Year and dream of how things can be different, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Cast of Characters and allow your Heavenly Father to remind you of what He can do in the lives of common people like you and me who place themselves willingly in the hands of an uncommon God.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Yesterday, I finally took the time to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and must admit that I was thoroughly impressed.  The acting was quite good, the effects were amazing (as usual in this series), and the plot was very true to C.S. Lewis' beloved book.  As you might expect, my mind immediately went to the implications for any parents and children who might see the film.  Here are a few of my thoughts and suggestions for taking the learning further.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader follows Lucy and Edmund as they return to Narnia again to meet up with Prince Caspian.  Sailing in pursuit of seven missing lords, the children face temptations of greed, rebellion to authority, and jealousy.  When reading Lewis' book, it was difficult to clearly see the connection between these temptations and children;  in the movie, the reality of these temptations in the lives of children is crystal clear.  A young child will understand and relate to Edmund's desire to be in charge and Lucy's wish to be as pretty as her big sister.

A few of the underlying themes are not quite as clear, but open some valuable doors for parents to enter into dialogue with their children.  First (and possibly most importantly) is the concept of spiritual warfare.  In the film, a green mist reeks havoc on the people of Narnia and appears each time an evil force is at work.  As our heroes delve deeper into realms of darkness, the mist carries with it their greatest fears and reminders of past failures.  The children attempt to combat the mist within their own logic and positive thoughts;  unfortunately they are powerless against the mist.  It is only when Edmund uses the Sword of Aslan that the children are released from the power of the mist and the darkness is driven away.  As I left the theater, I was impressed by the powerful visual image presented of the truth contained in Ephesians 6:12  -- "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."  Our children need to be aware of the presence of evil forces that come against them and that their only defense is with the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  (Ephesians 6:16-17)

A second important story line surrounds Eustace, the cousin of Lucy and Edmund.  Eustace stumbles upon a treasure and places a golden band upon his arm.  Without knowing it, Eustace has found a dragon's treasure;  the consequence of taking the riches is turning into a dragon.  While in the form of a dragon, Eustace is helpful but continually desires to return to his former state.  It is not until Eustace realizes his own frailty and has a personal encounter with Aslan that he is released from the form of a dragon.  This subplot can be used with younger children to introduce the idea of salvation changing us from the inside out.  Eustace's attitude and heart change on the inside long before he is changed on the outside.  For older children, consider discussing the concepts of spiritual bondage and deliverance, regeneration, or the importance of solitude (devotion). 

I am interested to see where the Narnia series goes next.  At the end of the film, Reepicheep passes into the Land of Aslan (Heaven) and both Lucy and Edmund are told that they will not be able to return to Narnia.  It will be interesting to see if the films maintain their commercial success without the presence of the four Pevensie children.  It is my hope that Caspian and Eustace will be able to entice audiences to return to the land of Narnia for future installments.  The teaching opportunities and the quality entertainment are something I hope to see continue through the entire seven books of the series.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

'Tis the Season for Baking

It's been too long since we've talked and I have missed you so much.  Rather than going into a lengthy explanation, I think I will just dive back into the writing.

In my family, the holidays are all about spending time together.  For my mom and me, our time is spent in the kitchen baking all sorts of goodies.  (And we wonder why we all have weight issues!  That's a completely different discussion and something to explore AFTER Christmas.)

Baking is a chance for us to remember treasured memories and make new memories together.  Here are some photos of our recent adventures in the kitchen.

My earliest memories in the kitchen with Mom revolved around cookies.  Traditionally we would bake M&M cookies or chocolate chips.  They were yummy, but not always very pretty.  Several years ago, we bought a cookie shooter from a friend;  this year, we decided to finally open the box and try the gadget out.  For a first try, I think they turned out pretty cute!  Some of the templates were more difficult to use than others (that explains why we have Christmas umbrellas on the plate!).  The cookie is a butter cookie;  nice and firm to hold the shape, but a little lacking in flavor.  Later this week, we're going to try a sugar cookie dough in the shooter to see what we end up with.

Candy making has become my department.  Having perfected my version of cherry divinity, I decided to try my hand at peanut brittle this year.  The recipe was surprisingly easy and wasn't a lot of hassle.  The great thing is that the peanuts didn't scorch, the brittle isn't so hard that you nearly break your teeth when biting, and it's delicious.  My parents and I have nearly eaten all of it;  requests have already been made to make more next week before Christmas!  Definitely a keeper of a recipe.

Since we spend so much time in the kitchen, Mom and I wanted to have some Christmas decorations there as well.  I put the pictures here for two reasons.  I think they turned out cute and I want a memory of my gumdrop tree.  My fingers are STILL sore from shoving all those blasted toothpicks into the Styrofoam tree.  Not sure that I'll make another one of those for some time.  Oh yeah....someone forgot to tell me that NO ONE in my family eats candy canes anymore.....something about acid reflux disease. 

Last, but not least, the elusive Red Velvet Cake.  This was a holiday tradition during my childhood visits to Texas.  The cake is associated with good memories and has become one of my favorite holiday treats.  Several years ago, Mom and I tried our hand at making the cake and it turned out amazingly.  Sadly, the weather was unusually warm and there was no room for the cake in the the cream cheese icing went sour!  Since then, this cake has become our annual search for the Holy Grail.  You see, we were foolish and didn't earmark the recipe we enjoyed so much (a common trend in our house);  now each year is a search for the perfect recipe.  This one turned out fine, but doesn't have any cocoa in it.....and it is definitely missing the added kick of flavor.  Oh well, that just means we have to make another one next year!

Hope you are all enjoying your holidays and making memories with your friends and family that will last for years to come.