Thursday, January 31, 2008

Coffee Talk

I am so thankful for a blessing this season of life affords me: coffee dates with the girls I know and love. I have been especially blessed with a plethora of those lately -- and the sweet, encouraging, rich times they have been.

My friend Annie Meade has been a model to me of making coffee dates with the girls in her life. She willingly gets up at any hour, or stays up until all hours, to meet with the girls who want to talk over a steamy hot latte. Annie's flexibility is probably why she is so marketable in the coffee-date business -- she'll meet me early before work (thus forcing her to be up and ready for work much earlier), or late at night at the end of a long, exhausting week to lend a sympathetic ear to a single girl from small group. She has regular meetings with other girls, where they discuss books they are reading together. One thing I loved about Annie the minute I met her was how she "buys up" all the best bargains for this season of life. Since she and her husband John don't have kids yet, she knows this is the season of life she can be so flexible to meet girls wherever -- and whenever -- they're at!

I've started making coffee dates of my own -- frequently. In fact, the idea of "going to coffee" has come to symbolize to me the very act of sharing in female Christian encouragement (similar to going to lunch, which is a close second). The Lord has been gracious to give me wonderful coffee dates with girls who are ready to share, or open up, or who are so kind to listen to me explain what I learned from a book or my sin of discontentment, and then patiently encourage one another, pointing to Christ and the Gospel. What a beautiful picture of living out the "One Anothers" of Scripture!

I don't say all this to brag. I know there are many things in life that are more easily enjoyed in different seasons. If you are a stay-at-home mom, getting coffee with another girl might pose some challenges right now. You savor that girl time when you can get it! Or, if you are low on cash, you may not be able to afford a whole bunch of trips to Starbucks, so you have to be creative. Regardless of your current season of life, let me challenge you to make the most of it -- don't waste it shooting the breeze, discussing television shows or analyzing the minutiae of your child's everyday life. Instead, engage your girlfriends with deep questions, share time in prayer, confess sin to one another and then build one another up by reminding each other of the gospel and the glory of sin forgiven! Imagine if that were our template for spending time with our Christian sisters! Is this not true fellowship?

That said, who wants a coffee date? I'll put you in my planner.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Thanks guys, I love you, too!

Look at this fun apron I got from the kids at Calvary (my old church). It says "We Love you, Ms. Gretchen" and all the kids signed it. I love it!

Johanna, Miss Janice, I know you guys are behind this! You are too kind. I miss you guys so much. :)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Benzing Drama

The large, widespread Benzing family has known a number of successes on the stage. I guess you could say most of us share a bit of flare for the dramatic. From my dad in his frequently repeating "narrator" roles, to my uncle Matt as Harold Hill back in the day, to the current generation of Benzing actors and actresses (myself just a blip on the screen among them), we must have something in our genes that makes us unafraid to don those costumes and take on the role with abandon (side story -- the speech teacher at my college once used me as an example of someone who had "abandon" in her drama class. I was not in this class. I'm pretty sure it was a compliment.)

None of us have the experience that my cousin Elise Benzing has. She has been in "countless" shows from age 4 to 20, including Annie in Annie, Louisa in the Sound of Music, and her favorite, Alice in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Elise auditioned to be a part of the theatre program at the University of Central Florida when she was 18, and was one of only 12 students accepted. But after 3 semesters and several challenges to her faith, she decided to walk away. It was, as she said, a "Very hard time in life while considering that maybe God didn't want me in the secular theatre world (it is, I've come to realize, a sinful sinful sinful world. Surely not what God intended for it... and God, who used so many parables, must have had wonderful plans for 'storytelling' (theatre)... but it would take a stronger person than me to live for the Lord in that sector of the world). All things work together for good though and this was no exception."

These days, Elise lives with her mom and younger siblings -- playing a great role as an outstanding big sis! She is hoping and saving to go back to school, perhaps to BJU and study in a different field. I just love Elise's transparency and openness! She has a vibrant walk with Christ that is a huge encouragement to me. When I asked her to tell me unique ways God has blessed her, she answered "He has sought me: Luke 15: 4-7. Over and over again, I rebelled against God but he never stopped burdening my heart. I am so thankful that he asks us to know him and believe on him by faith. I am so glad he strengthens us in our afflictions. I am so awed by his mercy and his promises."

Elise also frankly and openly shared with me about her struggle with eating disorders. Her fight has come through counting the words of Scripture as true, dependence on God's grace and at
tacking the sin (she was pointed in telling me that it was not a sickness!). I think Elise is a beautiful girl who has an amazing story to tell, and will continue to bless those in her path her whole life long. She will make an amazing wife for some lucky guy, as well as a mentor for girls who are walking the same path she has walked.

Don't you love my gorgeous cousin?? My life is richer because of her!

Friday, January 25, 2008

He's BAAAAaaaaaaaaack!

Check out what the Fullers sent me in the mail! Now I have a lovely new water bottle AND I get to live close to Paul and Audrea! WOW. Sounds like a great deal to me! Check out their most recent post to hear about their plans to pack it up in Minnesota and come to the sunny warm climate of Louisville (yeah, right! It's freezing here, too!).

I guess the other one is for Josh. Not sure how he feels about that. :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Thoughts on Getting Married

Several of you indicated that I'd piqued your interest in this book I just finished by Candice Watters -- Get Married, What Women Can Do to Help It Happen. I thought it only just to come right back and post about it now that I have finished it off (and before I hand it off to my single friends for their reviews).

I must say, I have to appreciate the counter-cultural message that Watters daringly proposes. She lays the groundwork in her book by removing misconceptions about marriage, and replacing those misconceptions with biblical thinking. These were misconceptions that she herself held as a single woman, working on Capitol Hill to stand up for the rights of families in the country. Deep down, she wanted to be married, but she was repressing that desire, and praying faithlessly about it. Watters points out how the church has adopted society's view of single women, and no longer is a safe zone for single women to talk freely about their hopes and dreams. She pointed out some typical quips that married people use to "comfort" single women, such as pointing out the flaws of marriage (as if that is some sort of comfort), joking about freedom, etc. Her point is clear -- there is absolutely nothing wrong with a godly desire to be married. Furthermore, those desires should be honored by the church, by providing a community in which such a desire might be freely spoken of. Watters challenges single women to talk about their desire to be married without shame! Certainly, it is easier to say nothing and never fail in the eyes of others, right?

Watters provides some practical helps to women who wish to be married. She asks them to take stock of their lives to see if they are living as if they were intending to marry (I got a little tripped up on this one, but I think I got it now). I reflected on her point here, and applied it to my situation -- wishing to be a mother someday. It's true I wish it, but I really don't live like I'm planning on it. In preparation for marriage, Watters recommends digging into a multi-age community in a church, practicing good stewardship with your time and resources, refraining from sexual activity as "good seed" to sow. Watters says "Many women sow bad seed, then pray for good fruit. It's like spending time with friends instead of studying for a test and then asking God to help you pass."

I also liked her honesty about challenging commonly-held over-romanticized ideas of marriage. She dispels the "soul mate" myth (made popular by Kip and LeFawnda, no doubt), and points to false expectations we might dream up by reading too much Christian fiction! I had to laugh when she said "Living up to your wildest romantic fantasies, being your lifelong soul mate, anticipating all your deepest longings and desires, and feeling with you as deeply as Oprah does, well, that's a tall order for someone designed by God to be a husband." Watters presses single women to think about their expectations for a man through the lens of scripture -- what does scripture call men to be? Certainly don't lower our standards, but realign them.

I do commend this book both to single women who hope to be married someday, as well as those married women who have single friends, or work in a singles ministry. I think Watters does a great job instructing the reader to be content, patient, godly and wise, while at the same time bringing this message of hope to those who have been told for so long that their hope is foolish.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

On Marriage

I'm reading this hot-off-the-press new book. I grabbed it from the freebie box that came for our academic buyer because the title astonished me, and he told me I could have it. It's called Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help It Happen.

I was appalled. I still haven't quite recovered. And I am not alone in feeling so. Every girl who has seen this book lying on our desk at home has been like "What in the world is THAT book?". Now that I am halfway through the book, I see that this was the author's intention. Shock us into curiosity. She is not stupid.

At this point, I am withholding my final judgment on its contents, but I am quite provoked in my thoughts about marriage. I am seeing how I have viewed marriage incorrectly, and in my encouragement to my single girlfriends, I have held up a somewhat distorted or incomplete view of marriage. If nothing else, this book is causing me to take a step back and think about what I say to my single friends, how I talk about my marriage and how I talk about their singleness!

In the garden, Adam was in perfect harmony in his relationship with the Creator, yet God said it was not good for him to be alone. Wow. That means statements like "Marriage won't fulfill your loneliness, only God can do that" are sort of stupid. No kidding. No relationship is as fulfilling as your relationship with God -- but does that mean we chuck them?? Obviously not! We don't need friends, parents, siblings, churches, pastors because we have God? NO! God gives those good relationships to us. And he gives spouses to us, too.

I know this is not for everybody. I do believe I have met people who truly have been called to be single. But that can be a sort of cop-out for people who don't want to admit they want to get married, in case they fail (ooooh, I'm treading on rocky ground here, I know!). I know this because I was one of those people! I pretty much put up a wall and said "I'll be single, I don't want to be married" when what I wanted was a guy who liked ME and wasn't scared of ME.

I'll be back with a conclusion of the matter after I polish this book off. In the mean time, I want to really open my mind to biblical thinking on marriage. I am so thankful for my marriage! In a world where jokes about sex, divorce, stupid husbands, etc., abound, I want to say, in all sincerity, that my husband has been the largest gift of grace to me after my salvation. God gave me someone who wasn't intimidated by my strong personality, but didn't want to stamp it out, either. Josh has been my spiritual guidance in many areas, and my teammate in many others. I am so glad God matched me with him!

Here's a little Shakespeare to conclude with:

"God, the best maker of all marriages,
combine your hearts in one".
~Henry V

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Quote for the Day

"A little library, growing every year, is an honorable part of a man's history. It is a man's duty to have books. A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessaries of life. Be certain that your house is adequately and properly furnished -- with books rather than with furniture. Both if you can, but books at any rate."

~Henry Ward Beecher

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Where's Water Bottle?

In response to your gracious and kind consolation over the loss of my dear Water Bottle, I have prepared a bit of a photo montage. I was amazed at how many pictures he managed to sneak into. Ha ha! So please play, if you can -- "Where's Water Bottle"?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Water Bottle, R.I.P.

Two years ago, at Camp OUTT '06, Marcie Wright donated a large number of huge water bottles to a group of hot, thirsty campers and grown-ups. Christen Taylor and I each snagged one for our own use, since the bottles held more than the daily water needed by a person. Christen would fill hers up at the end of the day and leave it in the freezer at Camp OUTT over night so it would be ice cold all day the next day. I was unwilling to part with mine for so long. Some days I would easily drink 2 bottle's worth. Even after Camp OUTT ended, Water Bottle has been my faithful friend. Much like "Mary's Little Lamb", everywhere I went, the Water Bottle was sure to go.

To work, to church (at least for the ride in the car), on ev
ery shopping venture, of course. I lugged him along with me. And lugged was precisely the word for it. This bottle held 76 oz. of good old H2O. Water Bottle made his way to Word of Life camp in New York, to the Night of Magic in Danville, and of course, to live with us in Louisville. (See below holding down the corner of the blanket in Downtown Danville)

Somewhere along the line, though, things began to go wrong with Water Bottle. Perhaps because I dropped him so many times (he got slippery when condensation formed), or because he'd endured the elements so much, Water Bottle got a teeny-tiny crack in one corner. If he was only half full, it made no difference whatsoever, but most of the time he was dripping, dripping, forming a slow circle of water around him, soaking the carpet, the chair, the floor of the car. I wished it wouldn't happen, but most of the time it was still okay. It just meant I had to stow him under my desk where the carpet could take a bit of a soaking, rather than my desktop where he tended to drench my important paperwork.

Josh had something against Water Bottle. It was like a married couple who does not agree on the treatment of a pet (like Anna and Bob with Rogue). He didn't see why Water Bottle needed to go everywhere with us ("I get thirsty" -- the obvious reply. I'm a drinker. I love beverages). Josh disliked Water Bottle's loud breathing (he tended to let out a huge sigh of air when I finished drinking a long drink) and slow whine (when air was squeaking out of the nozzle). He really disliked Water Bottle rolling around the backseat of the car (he was much too big to just hold on your lap). Josh consistently pointed out the slow demise of Water Bottle, which made me more aware that his days were numbered.

And then I did it. I left Water Bottle at my in-laws at Christmas. Yep. That means I have been without him for all these weeks, just drinking from cups. I actually bought a couple of Desanis at work the other day because I couldn't take it.

I think this means Water Bottle's life is over. I am saying goodbye. Here are some things I will really miss:

1. Constant jokes about Water Bottle. I heard some pretty good ones. One time I was at a picnic and a person thought my bottle was the jug for everyone and began pouring out of the mouthpiece into a cup. I was laughing so hard I couldn't stop them (it was a stranger)! Mrs. Schreiner used to say "Gretchen brought the water for everyone!" When Stuart (at work) used to refill the water cooler, he would walk around with the empty jug and say "I just wanted a water bottle like Gretchen's."

2. Complements about Water Bottle. Sometimes these were tied to jokes, and often came from women. At my fitness class, women would gaze admiringly and say "Wow! Do you drink a whole one of those every day?"

3. The really great little flippy cap that covered up the mouthpiece. I cannot believe I never lost it in the time and travels I spent with Water Bottle. Christen's did not have that little cap, so I knew mine was very special. It was so great for keeping the mouthpiece clean! Kids were constantly touching the little cap of the water bottle and saying "Miss Gretchen, your water is so big!" and I was thinking all the time how glad I was that their little fingers were only on the cap!

It is the end of a chapter in my life. Farewell, Water Bottle. I shall never forget you. In fact, I will now be on the outlook for your successor.

Will you raise a glass of H2O to my dear departed friend?

Friday, January 11, 2008

What You Told Me to Read

I was quite happy with the response I got from you all -- telling me what to read. I have been snapping up some of these left and right, and am still on the hunt for others (Julie, you may be getting another order). I thought I'd publish the suggested list here, in case you are like me, and have gone back to check and recheck what had been recommended. Here they are in the order they were given to me:

1. My cousin Rebecca: The Negotiator by Dee Henderson

2. Sarah Caucutt: Lies Women Believe and the Truth that Sets Them Free by Nancy Lee DeMoss

3. Beth Bloom: The Marquis' Secret by George MacDonald (I am very excited about this one, but I hav
e to read The Fisherman's Lady first -- I have it mooched off BookMooch!)

4. Rachel Amunrud: The Robe by Lloyd Douglas -- I was in this play in college! Can I borrow yours, Rach?

5. My sister, Emily: "The Darling" by Anton Chekov -- a short story I found in this collection (Em, you probably don't remember, but we read "The New England Nun" way back in Social Studies Club!

6. Brittany Powell: Four Perfect Pebbles by Lila Perl -- I've got this one on the way from BookMooch, too.

7. Bookpress: The Means of Escape by Penelope Fitzgerald (by the way,
hanks for the D.C. offer -- we just may have to take you up on that!)

8. My Cousin Elise: Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart by John Ensor (Mega Dittos! This is a good one!) and also Emily Ever After by May Vanderbilt and Anne Dayton (breaking the rules on suggesting 2, but oh well.)

9. Donette Winterland: Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock by Andrew Beaujon

10. My Cousin Paul: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

11. Rachel (Todd, I believe? My cousin?): Be a People Person by John Maxwell

12. Morning Rose: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

13. Rachel Wind: The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson

14. Andrea C.: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

15. Jen Murray: The Miracle of Christmas by John MacArthur -- um, Jen, did you know you were recommending the world's hardest book to find? Apparently your little copy is rather valuable!

16. G-Knee Wetzel: The Fruit of Her Hands by Nancy Wilson

17. My Cousin Corrie: The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom -- Major dittos to you! Another one of my favorites!

Thanks for all the contributions, guys! I will be curling up with a book all weekend -- just where I want to be!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New Blog!

Dear friends and fellow readers,

I am so excited to introduce a new blog to which I am contributing -- "The Blue Kangaroo". I set this blog up for my former boss, Julie, who is the owner of the world's cutest bookstore, Blue Kangaroo Books. If you live anywhere near Danville, Illinois, or even travel through those parts from time to time, then you will want to discover this gem! Julie and her staff are friendly, bubbly, and ready to bend over backwards to give you excellent customer service. Jules loves to read, so I thought this blog would be a great outlet for her to write about her own favorite books, as well as trumpet exciting events at the store, advertise sales, interview club members, post pictures, and poll readers.

Right now, we are planning to post every couple days or so. Please stop by the new blog and tell Julie "hi". And if you're in town -- stop by the store to meet Julie in person!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Tell Me What to Read

It's your turn! I'm always telling all of you what I've read and what you simply must read . . . and now I'm turning the tables. You tell me!

I'm making out a list of what I want to read this year. Nothing is set in stone, obviously, but I still have plenty of room for recommendations. No matter the genre, what do you recommend? Here are the rules:

1. You have to already have read it.

2. You can only recommend one book. Clearly, it doesn't have to be the best book of all time, but give me something you really enjoyed, and want me to try.

3. If I pick yours, and write a review of it, I'll give you the credit.

Leave me a comment and tell me what to read!