Friday, April 25, 2008
I decided to take a couple of hours off from everything and go to the zoo after teaching my English lessons yesterday. I was hoping to get to see the new polar bear cub, Wilbaer, but he only comes out between 11 and 3. The good part of that is that tickets are discounted after 4 PM! I had a wonderful long walk in the beautiful springtime weather (at last!) and got to see some of his neighbors.
I'm not sure I really want to try to see him again - on busy days, there is up to a two-hour wait. And when you get to the viewing area, you are only allowed to watch for 5 minutes before they move you on to let the next group of people observe. Can you imagine? And, of course, there's no guarantee that he'll do anything cute or photogenic during those 5 minutes either! LOL
I couldn't help but thinking about the crowds that gathered to see Jesus when he was here among us - but if you waited two hours for him, even five minutes of hearing what he had to say would have been enough to change your life forever. In fact, even touching the hem of his garment as he walked by was enough to heal at least one woman. None of our modern attractions can compare!
I really enjoyed the zoo visit - and I realized I've really been needing this kind of down time lately. I want to make plans for a prayer getaway soon.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
This is a long one - it's about sleep from a Biblical standpoint. I wanted to post it here because getting enough sleep has been an ongoing struggle for me the past year or two. I translated this article from the German. If you don't have time to read the whole article, scroll down to the list of 11 Tips and Thoughts!
Sleep: Return to God’s Embrace…the Value of a Daily Sabbath
By Heinrich Christian Rust, Aufatmen 1/2008
The Fallow Land of Slumber
“You look really old today! Aren’t you feeling well?” Only good friends are so direct, but others may be thinking the same thing. Sometimes we apologize by saying, “I didn’t sleep well last night.” We know that a bad night often leads to a stressful “morning after.” Not only parents with babies and small children have difficulty sleeping. The number of cases of sleeplessness continues to increase. There are more than 88 different types of sleep-related illnesses. Many people suffer from insomnia. A person can be said to have insomnia when they regularly need more than 30 minutes to get to sleep and when they are getting less than 5 hours of sleep a night. Stress, fears, other illnesses or pain can be the causes. Seven out of ten persons who were surveyed in doctors’ waiting rooms said they suffered from some kind of sleep disorder.
People are also sleeping less in general these days. The average is 7 hours and eight minutes – an hour less than 20 years ago. Our modern culture has made the nighttime into daytime – and we are “hung over” – we no longer have time to sleep.
Doctors and chronobiologists have come to the conclusion that people who sleep poorly and too little are confusing their bodies’ inner rhythm, resulting in damage to their metabolism. For example, people who don’t get enough sleep are 3.5 times more likely to be overweight. Lack of sleep makes you fat. Lack of sleep can also make you stupid, because the ability of the brain to perform properly is also affected. Diseases are more common. The neurophysiologist Peter Spork says, “Those who don’t sleep enough get old faster.”
Many of us are not aware of these things – or there are other reasons why we choose to live in a state of awake-ness rather than lie around in the “fallow land of slumber.” Think of all the things we can get done while others are sleeping! According to our culture and philosophy of life, doing is more important than resting.
But this is exactly the point where Christians need to pay attention – the philosophy of life that is our Judaeo-Christian heritage is characterized by a strong emphasis on the value of the Sabbath, the value of rest. All forms of life that reflect God’s character ought to incorporate this shining expression of the Sabbath. I want to learn to live in this Sabbath way. With sleep, God has prescribed a daily Sabbath for me! Unfortunately, I am often more concerned with the pro-active side of my relationship to God than with the receptive, restful side. But this second side is just as important as the other.
God Gives in Sleep
The tendency to manipulate the “time bandit” of sleep has grown out of the philosophy of life that says that doing is more important than resting. This neglect of sleep is characterized by a lack of knowledge about the meaning of sleep Many people believe that sleep’s main purpose is the regeneration of the body; it’s a kind of unavoidable, energy-saving measure. But sleep is more than that.
At the end of 1951, Nathaniel Kleitmann and Eugene Aserinky of the University of Chicago made some interesting discoveries while studying people at sleep. During certain phases, strong movements of the eyeballs under the lids were noticeable – the REM (rapid eye movement) phases. Their observations led to increased research on the subject of sleep, which has developed steadily over the last 50 years. Today we know that essential processes of our human existence play themselves out during sleep; it has been proven that our brains are working hard during sleep.
For Christians, it’s important to realize that God is just as close to us in sleep as he is when we’re awake. God’s answer to our striving to press more and more into our lives – that are already fully packed – could possibly be: “All that you are doing is in vain, my friend! It’s not worth it!” We read more in Psalm 127: Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Unless the Lord keeps the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is useless for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for he gives his beloved sleep.”
In his book on sleep, the neurophysiologist Peter Spork speaks of his amazement in finding that sleep researchers, chrono-biologists and neurologists always have the same reaction when asked about the true meaning of sleep: “We have to confess that we don’t know.” Along with their shoulder-shrugging, they also offer a long list of interesting suppositions. But how are we to react as Christians?
1. Gift of the Creator: Honoring God
Sleep is not something annoying, something that just is part of being human, but a genuine gift of God: something of the rhythm of life, the rest of the Sabbath, that we can experience on a daily basis. Sleep is not some mistake of creation, not an expression of man’s sinfulness, rather an expression of the fact that we belong to our Creator God and that we are dependent on him.
In the Bible, the gift of sleep is seen as a sign that a person is close to God – even though he or she may not be as active as in the waking state. Siegmund Freud said that sleep is “the return of the person to the womb.” That might be true from the psychoanalytic standpoint. Theologically, it’s more a return to lap of the Father God. Both images have to do with safety and security – although, paradoxically, we are quite vulnerable in sleep. In a state of sleep we are like infants in our inability to look out for and protect ourselves. We are dependent on someone else to protect us. Sleep is a state of creaturely existence that clearly points out our origin and our dependency on God. When I accept that, I am honoring my Creator. Sleep is, then, a gift that teaches me to see myself as being under God’s protection.
2. Letting Go of Fear: Trusting God
Psalm 127 connects the gift of sleep to the basic attitude of trusting God. In sleep, it is revealed whether a person trusts God or not. Sleep is honest. Here we can see if our worries are stronger than our trust in God – because everything is in vain if God is not the center and the point of return for us in all our striving and doing. In the biblical wisdom writings, we can also read about the good gift of sleep that is characterized by trust in God: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths…Do not be afraid of sudden fear, nor of the desolation of the wicked when it comes. For the Lord shall be your confidence and shall keep your foot from being taken.” (Proverbs 3:5 and 24-26)
3. Experiencing Rest: Receiving God’s Power
When I sleep, I’m not just lying around uselessly: Rather, my body and brain are taking care of an endless number of tasks. Sleep is a share of the creative rest that is possible with God and that comes from God. It is a receiving process that is characterized by a different kind of process than conscious action. In sleep we tank new energy and bring order to the many impressions and pictures of our lives – we “sort ourselves out” anew.
Sleep research has shown that our brains are operating at full speed during sleep. For this reason, a person at sleep requires as much energy as one who is awake. Alan Hobson, a sleep researcher at the Boston University says it well: “Sleep is of the brain, by the brain, and for the brain.”
During sleep, our memory is consolidated. With the help of dreams, we permanently filter out the things that are important for our lives. If this doesn’t take place, we can practically die under the flood of information – our brains could suffer a collapse. The many impressions we take in each day – pictures, encounters, feelings – are first stored in a kind of temporary memory. At night, the sorting and evaluation processes take place – a wonderful design of the Creator. The Holy Spirit wants to help us in this sorting process. Even at night, he is leading us.
During this process, the good and bad experiences are observed. Some things are so painful that they are laid to the side at first and are processed in dreaming. This is another gift of God. During this creative resting process we don’t have to confront and deal everything in a state of active consciousness. Rather, we process these experiences, that we couldn’t otherwise handle, in an almost playful way.
Finally, the regulation of my inner state of mind takes place during this creative rest period. Sometimes we go to sleep feeling emotions of grief, pain, or in other moods – but during sleep, things are ordered in a new way. We might even receive direction and impulses for our lives from the Spirit of God that can help us to experience the next period of our lives with more clarity, light and awareness. Sometimes a good night’s sleep with good dreams is more valuable than a health spa visit with a schedule full of special treatments. When we sleep, we are regenerated – we receive new strength from our Creator. Isn’t it wonderful that God gifts us with this daily Sabbath? I know that I, for one, love to sleep!
Sabbath: 11 Tips and Thoughts
1. Keep the Sabbath commandment. It’s not the letter of the law rather the spirit which we need to take into account and live out practically.
2. The Sabbath brings rhythm into our lives – also by giving us time to look back and think over what we’ve experienced.
3. It takes trust to take a break from the hectic pace of everyday life and the mountains of duties and tasks that we confront each day. God is taking care of things. God is sufficient. God has the uppermost priority. Do I trust him?
4. Strive for a good mixture: look for spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical nourishment that really help me to unwind.
5. Sleep is another part of God’s good rhythm for my life – a little Sabbath every day. Sleep, rest and really doing nothing are part of the Sabbath idea.
6. Sabbath can also be a time of restful enjoyment. What can I enjoy during this time of rest? What do I want to do? Do I really enjoy it?
7. Combine the Sabbath with my best way of encountering God whether it be an intellectual activity, in the outdoors enjoying nature, in relationship with others, etc.
8. Don’t let Sunday become a day of planned overtime: Working for money and as one’s usual routine is different from an activity that brings variety and creativity to your life.
9. Sunday is family day – and rightfully so. But I’m a part of the family, too. What is my part of the Sabbath – how do I experience it personally?
10. To what extent do church activities nourish us, to what extent do they cause us stress? Churches are dependent on committed workers – including me. But we need a good mixture of tension and release. Maybe every Sunday is not my Sunday to be engaged in church activity.
11. Neglecting the Sabbath results in symptoms such as irritability, slower thinking processes, lack of concentration, despair, a spirit of weariness, fear, self-pity, the desire to give up on everything. Rest is the answer!
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The Spark Class Team of April 15-21 is celebrating our one year "Sparkiversary" beginning today. As team leader (by default, as our other leaders are no longer active), I decided to post mini-challenges for each day of the "class reunion" week. Today's challenge is to update our Spark pages - new photos, new blog posts, revised profile, goals, etc. We've also revived the Total Team Weight Loss thread and are hoping to pass the 1000 pounds mark by the end of the week. At last count, we were up to 892, so it's looking good! I hope we get more posts, or I'll have to lose the 108 pounds myself - and I don't think I'd look very good weighing only 22 pounds.
I actually joined Spark on the 21st of April, 2007 myself - just under the wire. I look back on a fantastic journey and am looking forward to hearing how other team members have been doing. Although it's going to be a busy week at church and the language school, I also want to reflect on what I've learned during the past year, and take some time to look at the next steps to take toward reaching new goals.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
The race on Sunday is off for me. The other music leader at church emailed me to ask if I would fill in and lead for him this Sunday. I'll run 5K in the afternoon "just for fun" but racing will have to wait for another day. Fortunately, there will be plenty of other opportunities. It's just that this one was so close by and the timing seemed right. God had other plans :) And besides, I didn't have anything to wear ;)
By the way, I've added some more of my dad's paintings to my photo gallery - I had been meaning to do that for awhile, then someone gave me a little nudge - thanks, Elli!
Sunday, April 06, 2008
I had three interesting and challenging conversations this week. I love it when God arranges divine appointments! The first was at the language school on Wednesday. I teach a regular group in the evening and only one of the 4 members showed up - one was ill, one away on a business trip, and one just didn't make it for some reason. Still thinking that the last fellow (who often comes late) might show up, I made small talk with Gina for awhile. I mentioned something about baking a cake for the Alpha course at my church the next evening. She picked up on that and mentioned that she's been attending a home group meeting on Tuesdays. It turns out that she's a new Christian! We ended up having a great time of sharing. I was able to share some verses with her and to encourage her in her walk. Our talk lasted the whole lesson time, although I made some moves to get back to the subject material, feeling it was my responsibility as her paid instructor. But she was happy to continue with talk about church, the Brian Doerksen CD she's been listening too, what her husband thinks of her new-found interests, etc.
The second conversation was Friday at the gym. I was having a really frustrating workout. I was really tired to begin with, but wanted to get in at least a half hour on the treadmill. My mp3 player battery died, so I stopped the machine and went to the locker room to get a fresh battery. That battery turned out not to be so fresh, so I went back for battery number 3 which also proved to be dead. Ugh. Tired as I was, this was all very frustrating. At the same time, I realized it was silly to let a little battery rob me of the joy of completing a good workout. So, instead of quitting and going home, I finished my run and then went to the locker room to enjoy a nice hot shower. As I was getting dressed, there was a little red-haired woman talking on her cell phone in a Scottish accent. She kept trying to end the conversation with the person on the other end of the line because she was trying to get into her workout clothes and go to a class. When she finally ended the call, I joked that I was hoping she'd keep talking because I like hearing the accent. Mind you, I don't often speak to people in the locker room at the gym. People are not so openly sociable here as they might be at a gym in the US. It would be great to have a workout buddy, tho - and we ended our chat by saying that we hoped to run into each other again. You know, if I had given up and gone home early, I wouldn't have met Anna!
Conversation number 3 was with another private student, at the language school on Saturday. This was my first lesson with this man who has lived in Germany most of his adult life but was born in Palestine. Again, it wasn't my directing the conversation, but he spent most of the last hour discussing the political situation in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It's obviously a matter very near his heart. As he shared and explained, I mostly just listened, asked a few questions, and prayed silently - how do I respond to his comments and concerns as an American but more importantly as a Christian? The situation in the near East is so complex, and though I've read a lot about it, it's a different matter knowing what to say when you're confronted with someone who's lived with the conflict his whole life. We still have 9 lessons together, so I'm praying for other opportunities to learn more and to speak some words of God's truth into his life.
You know the fellow I mentioned who didn't show up to my Wednesday class? He's an orthodox Jew, an immigrant to Germany from Russia. What an amazing conversation THAT would be, if the two of them were to get together!
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