How Great the Goodness of God (Three Great Goods)

At church a while back the Sunday School lesson was called How Great the Goodness of God. I think it covered one of the first ways God is so great, but it got me thinking about others:

1. God has perfect love

A concept that is pretty hard to understand. Feeling true love from my parents (I seriously lucked out in that department), I get it on some level. Finding the love of my life helped me understand a little bit more. Having a baby seriously leveled me up in understanding unconditional love. But when I think about God, love is overwhelmingly the characteristic I think of.

My grandpa used to tell this story that feels almost too special to share on the internet (but I'll share what I can). He was sick with cancer, so sick doctors asked him if he wanted to die at home or at the hospital. The family had a big fast for him, with lots of prayers and a special blessing (I was 2 at the time, not super helpful, I'm sure). And he was healed. Like 100% of his cancer was gone in a matter of days, doctors were scratching their heads healed. But healing isn't the memorable part, though he did live another 25 years. He recounts this experience he had praying so sincerely (with the gravity someone being sent home to die can only muster) and feeling an intense and all-consuming love. In the last years of my grandpa's life he told a lot of the same stories on repeat so I heard the experience regularly and even in his recounting of it, I could feel the reality my grandpa was feeling even in recounting the experience and felt an extension of that love every time I heard the story. I've heard other similar brushes with death (or life, as it were) or touches with heaven that recount similar explosions of love.

2. God has perfect understanding

Meaning we don't have to explain ourselves so much. Nor do we need to judge or make excuses for anyone else. God knows are hearts, He knows our personal experiences, our losses and fears, our greatest joys. He knows when we've acted out of weakness and when we're doing our best, and when we know better and are justifying things to ourselves.

The great lesson from all this understanding is not that God is planning a big fat 'Gotcha!' when it comes to judgment, or that there is any chance of God sneering at us, rubbing our faults in our noses, but rather that all this understanding adds up to complete and total mercy. We've got a listening ear when we are going through hard things that no one gets, and a generous and loving perspective when we just really kind of suck at life.

Research shows that what drives shame and furthermore what drives the downward spiral of sadness and poor decision-making is a lack of connection with others. We're hard-wired to feel connected and when we feel alone and misunderstood, we go haywire and bad feels worse. God's perfect understanding is an antidote to this lack of connection. It is our tether to our self-worth and inherent value.

3. God is perfectly beautiful

He has created beauty, including imperfections. I understand why people don't get into religion. I get why people don't believe in my religion, but I look at the world around me and the experience of human life and it is impossible for me to not believe in a higher power. It's not the science of how humans work that makes me believe, it's poetry and sunrises and best friends and intimacy and music and intuition and all these things that make us human. There is a lot of ugliness and hate in the world (feels like especially so lately), but in thinking about that ugliness, I've been drawn toward all these sparks of beauty. In them I feel God.


3 Ways to Enjoy German Christmas Markets

A couple months ago Trish told me she and her best friend Pat wanted to watch Jamie and could Porter and I go out of town for a week or so? Yes, my mother-in-law is the best person on the planet, and yes I realize how lucky I am.

Throw in the stand-by connection and the world was very seriously our oyster. I went to the Christmas market in Prague like 10 years ago and it was so magical. I has been on my mind lately, so we Googled 'Best Christmas Markets in Germany', picked a couple and hoped there would be space on the plane (there was). 

1. Big town
We chose Cologne for its proximity to Frankfurt (the airport we had to fly into), and that it boasted six different Christmas Markets AND an unreal cathedral. The cathedral was, in fact, unreal. Very Pillars of the Earth and Gothic looking. We stayed in a simple, but very adorable little inn that everyone kept taking pictures of. (Sidenote: They did not have shampoo. I did not pack shampoo, nor did I buy shampoo. My hair did not appreciate any of this.)

The train lets you out right by the cathedral, which is right by the river, and the cutest parts of the town (and most of the Christmas Markets), so we didn't venture far from that area. We arrived on a Thursday morning and thought it was a bit crowded until we saw what Friday and Saturday looked like. Shoulder to shoulder packed, everywhere. It was insane. Sure, vendors came from all over Europe (most notable/delicious, a Nougaterie (fresh nougat maker) from France and sausage maker from southern Italy). There were candles and wood carvings and adorable German things everywhere. Cheap brats and hashbrowns with applesauce and people lingering and being generally festive. Pretzels for days. It was awesome. One market had an ice rink with a portion dedicated to what looked like ice bocce. In another town we barely stopped in (Mainz), there was a nativity pyramid a full story high.

2. Small town

After Cologne we stayed just one night in a town called Cochem, which is in the Mosel Valley (the wine region) and spend an afternoon in Koblenz, where the Mosel and Rhine converge. We took the train along the Rhine while listening to Rick Steve's Best of the Rhine, which was a play by play of cute towns and castle along our way. The Christmas Market in Cochem was much smaller (though I did end up buying most of my stuff there... because choices are too much for me), but the town was adorable and quaint and the perfect opposite to Cologne's busyness. Added bonus, the town had its very own castle, where there was a live nativity.

3 Religious

Porter and I noted that we both had the idea that Germany is very secular, along with much of Europe. Maybe it's just that the Christmas spirit is especially difficult to dampen, but I was surprised at how religious many places felt. Even among the shops, there was a lot of care taken to display religious items well. During the live nativity, there were several times where the group broke out into Christmas hymns. It all felt very much like worship and not just tradition. 

Of course we were total geeks about FaceTiming with Jamie. The connection was awful but it was encouraging to see him having such a good time at Auntie Pat and Unc Floyd's house.

Isn't my Porter handsome?


Three thoughts on waste

We've been in major house project mode lately. Our bathroom was finished a few days before Christmas and now we are diving deep into weatherization (and by we, I really mean Porter. He's the muscle behind most projects, which I am whole-heartedly grateful to him for). A few months ago we did an Energy Assessment, offered at a steep discount due to Anacortes' participation on the Community Energy Challenge. A guy came out for FIVE HOURS and tested every nook and cranny of our house using lasers and infrared and a giant fan hooked up to the the door to tell us where all the house leaks are. He suited up in a hazmat suit for the crawlspace (see below). Our house is more than 100 years old, so there was no surprise that there's a lot of leaks. Also, it's freezing outside, and often very cold and drafty inside so the report was 16 pages of validation for me wanted to keep the heat on. (I married a heat miser, did you know?)

So last week Porter ripped out all the insulation in the attic in preparation for blowing cellulose, which is more eco-friendly and has a higher warmth per inch factor. We borrowed a truck from a friend in the ward (I use friend loosely. I barely know her, but I ran into her at the gas station the night before, mentioned I was looking for a truck, and she offered hers. We're friends now.), and I made several trips to the dump, which led me to two observations:

1. Going to the Dump is weirdly fun.
Maybe it's because I don't do a lot of full body physical labor in my day-to-day life, but jumping up and down on insulation batts to make them fit, then chucking them out into a pile is enjoyable. I wasn't dumping anything stinky or gross, which I'm sure helped (I did have gloves and a face mask to keep the glass shards from getting me too bad...). It was like the summer I sold firewood out of a truck at a campground at Snoqualmie Pass. There's just something rugged and physical about it that feels good.

2. Experiencing the Dump is super depressing.
I'd been to the Bellevue Transfer Station before, and that's a different kind of depressing. There, you dump your stuff into a hole and it smells awful. At my local dump, it's just a giant warehouse, and they have you back in a make a pile, so there are a dozen trucks all at different angles in the open warehouse. You can see all the stuff out in piles and bags on bags on bags. What's worse, I made two trips, maybe one hour apart, and between the first and second trips, the entire warehouse had been cleared and there were all new piles of garbage. And a garbage plow waiting in the wings ready to clear again. SO MUCH CRAP! And this is a tiiny fraction of the waste made by my community, county, state, country, WORLD. Mountains (or rather, deep, toxic holes) full of garbage just rotting and stinking and getting into water and soil and acid rain... I'm not recycling evangelist, but going to the dump is getting me there.

Then on Friday, we blew insulation, which looks like a big machine on our front porch loading up and breaking up blocks of cellulose fiber, which are piped up through a tube into the attic, where Porter was holding the hose. Cellulose insulation - in blocks it looks like cement, once blown it looks like volcanic ash - what it's made of is predominantly post-consumer waste material. I guess it's mostly newspaper, but I definitely ID'd the following: a plastic Safeway shopping bag, a blue Stamp Out Hunger (NALC) food drive bag, and Victoria's Secret tissue paper (it's a very distinctive shade of pink). It was surprisingly cool and inspiring to see the same type of stuff I recycle used to make my house warmer.

And it IS warmer! Noticeably so. Porter and I worried that we'd spend all this time and money insulating the attic and we'd wonder about the difference. NOT SO. Immediately it feels warmer.

Just a few big projects to go...