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Carmen Sandiego says hi

August 19, 2015

Perhaps you’ve wondered where I am. Then again, maybe not.  But too bad for you, because I’m going to blather along as if you care, so you might as well get yourself a bowl of popcorn and crack open a cold beverage of your choice, just in case I’ve been saving up my words. We won’t really know that until I get to the end of this post and see what happened in the middle.

A few months ago I became weary of the battle to overcome the creative slump.  It’s been almost 18 months, people.  It was eating too much time and energy, and I ended each day feeling sad and frustrated that the best I had to offer was rarely very good.  Or at least, it was rarely satisfying to me.

I had some honest discussion with myself and God about the things I knew were holding me back, and I posed a lot of questions about things that might be holding me back that I’m not aware of.  I needed to know what direction was in His heart about this.  And I decided that until I heard from Him clearly, I didn’t really have much to say.

I’m still waiting.

The waiting can be hard, but that’s ok.  I don’t believe I’ll be waiting forever.  And if I do end up waiting forever, then I guess it didn’t really matter anyway, eh?

Then there came a Complicating Factor.  I had a bit of a health challenge, which mostly turned out to be nothing but a warning that if I want to maximize my time on this planet to do great exploits with God, then I need to do a better job managing my health.

Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.  I vote yes.

Part of that meant fixing up some stuff let go too long, and that meant entering physical therapy.  That’s right.  I’m back in the hands of the Physical Terrorist who helped rehab my knee after I had it scoped in January of last year  Except this time he’s not working on my knee.

Turns out I have some impinged nerves in my neck/shoulder/arm.  It makes portions of my left arm and hand feel numb, and sometimes painful, and sometimes itchy.  I didn’t make the connection between my arm and my neck at first because I rarely have pain in my neck.  But all those nerves that operate that particular appendage come from your neck.  And I already knew from chiropractic visits that I have some cervical vertebrae that don’t stay in place well.

So now we’re working on getting those nerves released and calmed.  Apparently we do that by brutalizing the tissues they run through to get everything softened and more mobile and pliable.  I haven’t cried or thrown up yet, but I’ve come close.

It’s just a reminder that sometimes pain is a necessary part of healing and growth.  I would rather have corrective pain than destructive pain.

It also turns out that my computer set-up isn’t exactly conducive to keeping my neck and shoulders in the best posture.  Laptop computers are inherently bad for that.  Add in a terrible chair and a desk not made for use with laptops, and you’ve got a recipe for postural disaster. I’m trying out using a portable keyboard with my laptop that in theory puts things at a better angle, but it’s not really helping.  Especially since I can’t really run a mouse with this computer (not enough USB ports) which means I have to keep leaning forward to use the trackpad.

I’m obviously going to have to get creative to figure this one out.

While all of this is happening, I’m gearing up for a return trip to Brazil with Global Awakening. Five weeks from now I’ll be finishing the last of my packing, about to discover just how much useful Portuguese I really learned from DuoLingo.  I’m beyond excited!

So…if you’ve been wondering where in the world is Carmen Sandiego and Sparky, I’ve answered half of that for you.  The rest you’ll have to figure out on your own.  When it comes to Carmen, I saw nothing…I heard nothing…

And I haven’t given up blogging.  The Sparky Nation can rest easy on that one.  You’ll no doubt be hearing from me.

Of course, we all know what a mixed bag that bit of assurance is.

 

A million-dollar smile

July 28, 2015

We here at the Sparky house receive a handful of magazines.  Most are shared interests, like cooking and National Geographic, which I love even though I don’t buy into the idea that my uncle was a monkey, but we also get a couple that are specific to personal interests.  I know you’ll think this is odd, but I really can’t even fathom how there can be enough new information about riding bicycles to publish a new magazine every month, but Mr. Sparky is very excited when his new cycling magazine lands in our mailbox.  Me, I like to peruse Southern Living because even if I don’t get anything else out of the issue, the last page will contain stories and musings by Rick Bragg, and somewhere in the middle Steve Bender, aka The Grumpy Gardener, will offer irreverent information on gardening that is entertaining even when it’s not all that personally useful.

A few days ago my latest copy of Southern Living arrived.  There was a jacket on the magazine telling me that my automatic renewal subscription term was ending but there was nothing I needed to do to renew.  They’d simply send me an invoice.

This is where it got confusing.

According to the information on the magazine jacket, the “Subscription Savings Report” stated my renewal term would be for 26 months.  The cover price would be $59.88 but my price would be $58.00 for a savings of 51%.

Wait, what?

I’m really bad at math, but even I could figure out that something wasn’t quite right here.  Especially when inside the magazine there were little cards advertising 26 issues for $1.35 an issue.  Basically, $36, a 70% savings off the cover price.  I figured the jacket must surely be a misprint.

So I called the customer service number on the jacket and found myself connected to someone in what I’m quite sure was India. The connection was decent if distant, her English was good and she was unfailingly polite, and I’m glad she had a job to provide for her needs, so I tried not to think about the incongruence of a southern American magazine out-sourcing their customer service to a foreign country.

The first thing I found out was that the jacket was not a misprint.  They were indeed offering me, a long-time subscriber, the fabulous rate of $1.88 total off of the two-year cover rate and somehow calling it 51%.  $58 for two years.  I questioned it and the customer service representative asked me to hold for a moment.  She came back and said she was authorized to offer me a rate of $48 for the 2 year subscription.

I asked about the card in my magazine, wondering why I wasn’t eligible for that rate.  She asked me to hold again.  When she came back she took the code from that offer and gave me the two-year subscription for $36.  I accepted that, and she offered the automatic subscription renewal service again.  I reckon they’re hoping I won’t notice the horrible rates the next time.  Heck, I’m wondering how many times in the past I’ve not noticed them.

I guess you can pay $59.88 for two years of a magazine subscription, or you can pay $36.  Or $48.  All for the exact same service and product.

I’m reminded that we often hold things in our lives and assume that those things cost the same for everyone who holds them.  But that’s not really right or fair.  It’s definitely not true.

What does a smile cost a heart that is breaking?  What does confidence cost one who has been deeply disappointed?  What does faithfulness cost a life shattered by betrayal?

Love is expensive.

Joy costs dearly.

Faith requires a reckoning.

Just because it’s inexpensive for one person doesn’t mean that it didn’t cost someone else nearly everything they have.

Selah.

 

 

The politics of policy

July 12, 2015

A small mind is incompatible with a big heart.

-Graham Cooke

It felt like trying to stand still in a hurricane.  All around me there was, and still is, sound and fury—pressure to bend, pressure to choose offense in the name of being a believer, in the name of being an American, in the name of…I don’t even know what.

I was quick to cry out.

“Where ARE You in the middle of this storm?  This doesn’t feel like You.  All the anger, the bitterness, the vitriol, all I’m being told is my responsibility to be in defense of You.  Even when You’re being stern with me, it doesn’t feel like this.”

The Voice did not hesitate.

Stand still.

I stood still and focused hard on being quiet.  The noise around me was deafening, and my heart felt as if it were going to be ripped to shreds in the violent currents around me.

“Tell me what to do,” I begged.  “Tell me what to say.  I want to say what You say.”

Keep watching.

I watched as another storm took shape and pushed its way into the arena, demanding attention and fueling more division.  More voices arose, shaking with rage.  More screams for justice.

I didn’t want to watch anymore.  I wanted to shut my eyes, close my ears, make it all stop.  It was like watching rabid dogs snarling and snapping in the name of Love, fully believing in the righteousness of their cause.  The means were justifying a perceived, but not real, end.  It was excruciating to witness.

Finally, the Voice spoke.

I want you to put people before policy.

I thought about that for a while.  It sounded nice, but was I hearing correctly?  I’ve read the Manual. There’s a lot of policy in there.

“So what am I supposed to do with all the policy that YOU established?  What am I supposed to do with what YOU said? Isn’t the policy still true?”

When I sent Jesus, I elevated people over policy.

Oh.  OH.

I knew this was true.  I have violated the policies more times than I can count.  But because of Jesus, rescuing me became more important than condemning me or punishing me.  There was room for me to grow, to move from my entrenched position as policy-violater to someone with a healed heart that could grasp a higher thought and then behave in a way that reflected well upon the Law-giver.  And the kicker?  He let me hang out with Him and He called me His own before I was healed enough to really grasp the fullness of truth.  He was never intimidated by the process (lengthy and detailed as it was at times) and in retrospect I realize that every person who came into my life to scold, shame, or condemn me wasn’t sent by Him but by the ultimate law-breaker who wants humanity to share his ultimate fate.

Policy condemns those who feel powerless to adhere to it.  It also puffs up those who find portions of it they’ve never struggled with.  Policy, frankly, is impossible.  It is good…but impossible.  Only Jesus has ever managed to do it perfectly, and perfection is the requirement.  Fail one tiny point, and you’ve failed the whole thing.  And failure is death, unless…

Unless Someone is putting people before policy.

Unless someone is listening to stories, tending to wounds, holding fragile hearts.

Unless someone is about healing up the rips and tears and hemorrhaging caverns that make it impossible to see past brokenness to even consider the rightness of policy.

Unless someone is willing to walk with others in the messy process of transformation that allows room for an incomplete revelation of the rightness of policy before completion finally comes.

Because incomplete comes before complete.  Imperfection comes before perfection.  Brokenness comes before wholeness.  And in between the Where We Are and the Where We’ll Be, there is an entire path full of challenge and struggle and joy and change and…life.

I believe what He said to me is good, and not just for the current storms that swirl.  Those storms may batter my roof and walls, but they can’t destroy my foundation.

The power of the policy of His love rescued me.  It looked beyond where I was and saw me perfected, and committed to the process of getting me there.

May I see others with the same eyes.

 

Summer 2015 bonJOY!

July 3, 2015

A few months ago I wrote about the delightful bonJOY box I ordered, the first of its kind.  BonJOY boxes are available quarterly and I decided I definitely wanted to see what the second one held.

BonJOY boxes, in case you don’t remember and you’re also too lazy to click on the link in the paragraph above (hey, I’m not judging!) are little boxes filled with good stuff for good purposes.  In their own words, the bonJOY girls describe their enterprise this way:

We are a quarterly subscription box that features fashion + beauty + living goods from brands who support employment and restoration for women who are survivors of, or at-risk for, trafficking and exploitation.

You gotta admit, that’s pretty darned great.

If you want to know what was in the first box, you really do have to click on the link in the first paragraph.  Right now I’m going to talk about the second box, which was equally as wonderful as the first.

Exciting goodness!

Exciting goodness!

I love how much fun there is before I even dig into the contents.  Pretty colors, a bright reusable envelope filled with information and discount codes…even the paperclip is cute.  It just feels fun and special.

Wanna see what’s really inside?

A box of happy goodness from professional do-gooders.

A box of happy goodness from professional do-gooders.

Here’s the breakdown:

Dahlia earrings from New Creation.  These folks took over a porn shop and have turned it into a Restoration Shoppe that will feature brands and businesses like the ones bonJOY features.  How cool is that?  These cute little peachy earrings retail for $5, and I will almost surely never get to wear them because they are the Sparkette’s favorite color, plus they are little flowers, which is totally her thing.

Hope Mineral Blush x3 from Ferro Cosmetics.  This is a full-sized jar of 100% pure mineral pigment that can be used as blush, eye color, lip color (add it to gloss) or even nail color (add it to clear polish).  Excellent quality.  Ferro Cosmetics supports organizations that support women and children, and they’ve given away thousands of their cosmetics to women’s shelters and taught the women how to use makeup properly to help boost self-esteem and build a sense of self-confidence and independence.  The jar in my box retails for $25, and the Sparkette is not getting that one.

Hello card from Flora Stationary. This is a pretty handmade card that will help support the women in Eastern Europe who made it by providing scholarships/education money.  Flora Stationary empowers women by helping them get an education that will lift them out of poverty.  The card retails for $2.

Bracelet from UNCVRD.  This delicate beauty was designed especially for bonJOY customers.  It is made with beads of apatite and pyrite, and the chain and findings are 14k gold.  It is absolutely breathtaking.  UNCVRD gives 40% of their profits to a local organization in California to fight human trafficking in their own backyard.  The bracelet would retail for $38.

I ordered early and got a fun bonus in my box.  It was a full-sized 15-hour 100% pure mineral eye shadow called Freedom from Ferro Cosmetics.  It would have retailed for $17.

If you add up the retail amounts, you can see that I was in no danger of getting a poor value for my $45 worth of fun tickets I traded in for this happy little box that blessed other people just because I bought it.  No regrets.

If you’d like the autumn box for yourself or someone you love (and you know you do!) you can order here:  boyJOY!   You will get your own box of happy, and you’ll be supporting do-gooders who live by the (not) crazy notion that the money we spend should help make the world a better place, not lead to more oppression and sadness.

There are many ways to be part of the change you want to see in the world.

My favorite three-letter word.

My favorite three-letter word!

 

The Princess Perspective Experience

June 15, 2015

I’ve got some exciting news that pertains to the female portion of the Sparky Nation.  Guys, you are welcome to read because you may have someone with whom you’d like to share this information.  I promise I’m not going to talk about cooking, childbirth, feminine hygiene products, or cats.

‘Round about the beginning of the new year, I agreed to join the lead team of a parachurch women’s ministry called The Princess Perspective.  The Princess Perspective hosts a women’s retreat every autumn, and I was invited in 2014 and decided to go.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the retreat.  After all, it sounds rather frilly and frou-frou, doesn’t it?  And I’m…well, not.

What I discovered is that the emphasis wasn’t about frilly and frou-frou, but about the perspective of a kingdom-minded royal daughter.  It was about how that perspective changes how we think, which in turn changes how we behave.  And that I can jive with.  It’s powerful stuff, and one of my favorite topics.

So now The Princess Perspective Leadership team has a member who is decidedly not frilly or frou-frou.  Although I do like C-A-T-S, but I’ve promised not to talk about that.  For now.

The 2015 retreat will be held Oct.8-10 in Samson, Alabama, which is just over the Florida-Alabama line.  Registration opened today and will be limited to 50 slots, which we expect to fill up quickly.  Local women will be able to drive there; those flying in to Fort Walton Beach airport (VPS) can “purchase” a free ticket for a shuttle ride from the airport to the retreat venue.

I will be one of the speakers for the retreat.  It’s a fun team and I look forward to us all working together to provide a setting where women can be taught, encouraged, and can hear from God in deeply personal and intimate ways.

Consider this your official invitation to the 2015 Princess Perspective Experience.  I can promise you that it’s worth the investment of your time, energy, and money.

Ok, the nuts and bolts…

The early bird price is $99.  The price goes up to $119 on August 1st, but I’ll be surprised if there are any slots left by then.   The price covers two nights of lodging and all meals during the retreat.  You’ll need to bring your own bedding, but if you’re flying in and you need help with that part, just let us know.  There will be a resource table with some great stuff to purchase to take home to keep yourself encouraged and focused, but that’s optional.

There are three ways to register:

-Through The Princess Perspective website.

-Through The Princess Perspective Facebook group.   (“Like” us while you’re there!)

-Directly through Eventbrite   (Search for The Princess Perspective Experience)

I’m happy to answer any questions you may have, so feel free to ask.  I really hope to see some of you there!

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Whatcha lookin’ at?

June 14, 2015

It’s been a quiet week here at Hey Sparky!  I’ve been out of town with limited time for posting, since it’s generally a bad idea to blog while driving. I’m terrible at multitasking anyway. 

My van developed an annoyance on the trip.  It’s a small thing and very fixable, thank goodness.  But somehow the windshield wiper blade on the driver’s side developed a very tiny nick in the rubber.  That means every time the wiper swiped, it left a delightful smeary arc across the windshield.  And guess where that arc was.

Yup.  Right at the driver’s eye level.

And by driver, I mean me.

I like a clean windshield.  Even when it’s not raining, there is a good chance I’ll be using my wipers a couple of times a day just for cleaning my view space.  Fat lotta good that does me when my view is obstructed by a smeary stream of windshield wiper fluid and bug guts.

Vision is a marvelous thing.  We can see all kinds of things without directly looking at them.  That means that I can drive down the highway just fine even though I have a 1/4″ wide arc of smear in front of my eyes.  But it annoys the ever-lovin’ fool out of me to do so, because even when I’m not looking at that smear, I can see it.

I’m back to that basic life truth:  what you focus on, you empower.

I can focus on the big picture and enjoy the view, or I can focus on the annoyance up close and be perpetually bothered and totally miss the gloriousness of the big picture.

I’ll let you think about that a little.

Meanwhile, I need to pester Mr. Sparky for new wiper blades.

 

 

The race for the crown

June 7, 2015

I watched history being made today.  For the first time in 37 years, a horse has won the Triple Crown.

I was a freshman in high school the last time it happened, back in 1978 by a horse named Affirmed.  Today American Pharoah won the Belmont Stakes, confirming that his wins in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness weren’t flukes, and that you should never judge a horse poorly just because his name was misspelled by his owners.

I don’t know much about horse racing.  Except for the Triple Crown races, I don’t follow it.  But I observed something while watching the Preakness this year as the horse ran it through sheets of rain on a field of saturated slop.

Here…you can watch it too.  Notice the horses as they first come from the gate.  Then notice them again as the race finishes, at 2:11.

Did you catch it?  When they all sprang out of the gate they were gorgeous, with coats of beautiful colors.

But at the end of the race, only one horse still looked like that.  American Pharoah, who had never been out of the first place position, was still a rich brown color.  The rest of the field was a nice shade of murky muck, no matter what color their coats actually were.  The further back in the field the horse was, the more heavily it was coated in thrown mud.

I’ve thought about that race many times in the few weeks since it took place, that screen shot at 2:11 burned into my mind.

When you’re first, you set precedent.  But when you follow in someone else’s footsteps, you can’t help but end up wearing some of the dirt they stirred up in their passing.  The field gets worn and messy as more and more folks pass on it.

Scripture talks about generational sin.  For many that looks like a cluster of sin habits that pass through the generations as we end up carrying pet sins that are usually failed attempts at coping with the pain of our ancestor’s pet sins.  Those who seemed to escape the family pet sin often marry into another family with the same or similar pet sin.  It’s like we become magnets for it.

You’ve probably heard phrases like “abused people become abusers” and “hurt people hurt people”.  Nobody grows up intending to become an abuser.  But when you’ve been abused and you carry the pain caused by the abuse, it often ends up being expressed toward someone else in an abusive manner.  It’s the same thing with addictions and extreme relational brokenness.  People who are in pain often make terrible choices that cause others pain, and then those others end up making terrible choices that cause others pain, and so on.

The first person in the line of the mess may not have looked so bad.  But just wait until time and darkness compound all their issues into their generational line.

The good news is that Jesus can clean up any mess.  He never looks at the last straggler in the race and declares him or her too much of a filthy loser to be worth His time and sacrifice.  Thanks to Him, we can run a sweaty, difficult, muddy, bloody, messy race and still cross the finish line spotlessly clean.

In fact, He specializes in that very thing.

 

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