The World According to Tiff Sniff

Meandering ponderings and wonderings on the state of things.

Church Signs, part deux

The one I saw today actually made me smile. It read: You think it's hot here.....

At the time, the thermometer in my car showed the outside temp as 97 degrees. Yikes!

On a more serious note (?), I went to the free concert Jars of Clay put on at Shopryland. Actually, one of the local Christian radio stations put it on, but Jars played. If you've never seen them perform, you really should. They are a lot of fun. When "Flood" came out, back in the day, I went to see them play Dancin' in the District. WRLT used to put it on, and get bands you actually wanted to see. And it was free. It was awesome.

I didn't know any of their songs other than "Flood", and in fact didn't realize they were, in fact, a Christian band until that night. But Riverfront was packed, full of young people dancing and jumping and enjoying the music. The coolest moment, of course, was when it started pouring rain just as they started "Flood", and they had to stop to cover some of the equipment before playing the song. It was so cool, there just aren't words. I went out and bought their CD the next day, and have gone through at least three copies of it since.

But I think my favorite Jars of Clay memory comes from a different time and place. Most of you know that in college I had a roommate and close friend who was really sick. Mentally, physically, she had some real problems, and no health insurance to pay for treatment. It was hell. The four of us who lived together that year spent hundreds of hours trying to come up with money to get her into a hospital, trying to find a treatment facility with a scholarship she could use. A couple of times she got into a place for a day or two, but never for long enough to get well.

I'm sorry to say that I've lost touch with her, this amazing woman who had survived so much, and who was studying to be a social worker - to go into the painful places she had lived and reach out to others, to keep other young girls from making her mistakes. Her life story is powerful. I wish I knew where and how she was now.

During that year, she struggled with her faith a lot, and all of us roommates struggled right along with her. It was so hard, so hard, to watch her suffering, to pray for some sort of help or relief, and to be denied again and again and again. In fact, after that year, it was a long time before I had enough emotion in me to really cry. I'm talking months. Those of you who know me well know what a change that is for me.

But I have good memories of that time. During that year my faith really became my own. As my friend and I talked about God, who He is and whether He is and how we can know, I had to dig deep and search why I believe.

Even now, I'm not very good at verbalizing it. My faith seems to be based largely on experience. Not miracles per se, although I did see my sister survive her infancy and become the cute little pre-med she is today. But moments of absolute certainty that I was not alone, times when the joy or peace or comfort I felt had no explanation. I have been completely alone, and never felt so loved. I have been in the middle of a crowd of worshipping people and felt and seen nothing but Him. I can't tell you exactly why; if we could quantify our faith, and put it into exact terms, I think it would no longer be faith, just facts.

There were nights we would sit and read Psalms and just bawl together, at the pain of our broken lives, and at the same time the joy of God's promise of peace someday, somewhere. Psalm 63 became my constant mantra: "Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you." It became okay that life sucked so bad, because God's perfect love was always there. That verse has gotten me through many, many bad days.

So what does all of this have to do with Jars of Clay? Just that my friend used to come home from college with me a lot. We would always listen to their first CD, titled "Jars of Clay". We wouldn't even talk, each of us lost in our own thoughts or prayer, but would set the CD player on repeat. Driving across some of the ugliest Arkansas landscapes, I would be moved to tears by the way every song seemed to be so relevant to my life right then. We would usually listen to "Worlds Apart" several times, and those words still have such power to me: (With apologies to Jars of Clay)

More and more I need you now,
I owe you more each passing hour
the battle between grace and pride
I gave up not so long ago
So steal my heart and take the pain
and wash my feet and cleanse my pride
take the selfish, take the weak,
and all the things I cannot hide
take the beauty, take my tears
my sin-soaked heart, God, make it yours
take my world all apart
take it now, take it now
and serve the ones that I despise
speak the words I can't deny
watch the world I used to love
fall to dust and blow away
I look beyond the empty cross
forgetting what my life has cost
so wipe away the crimson stains
and dull the nails that still remain
steal my heart and take the pain
take the selfish, take the weak
and all the things I cannot hide
take the beauty, take my tears
take my world apart, take my world apart
I pray, I pray, I pray
take my world apart

So Sheks, wherever you are, I hope you are happy and content. I hope you have found what you are called to do, because I know you will touch lives the way you still touch mine. I love you and pray for you, and hope to meet you again someday.

Land of 1000 spammers

So I tried an experiment, and let my bulk mailbox fill up until it hit 1000 messages. After 8 days, I got to 1032 messages. That's an average of 129 per day. And this is my account I don't use for online purchases and registrations. Sigh.

For the beauty of the Earth

I love Tennessee in the summertime. The leafy green trees, the cool green and blue of hills and ridges in the distance. The humidity is so thick you can see it: during the day, everything looks a little bit hazy. At night, when the air cools slightly, tendrils of fog hide in the tops of trees and between steep slopes. Lightning bugs glow and dance like the precursers to the arrival of some mythical forest creature, all light and grace. The lingering scents of skunk and honeysuckle and magnolia trace everywhere I go. The sounds of church softball, children laughing, dogs playing, and music are everywhere in this city of life and family. I really do love it, and am so grateful to be home.

But somewhere inside, my core longs to resonate with the thunder of waves crashing on the California beaches, ending their long journey from Asia with a thud I feel in my belly. To walk along the sand, the hard crust giving way just as I leave each step. To stand in the cold, cold surf until my feet and ankles go numb, laughing at the dolphins doing somersaults around each other just offshore. To face head-on the wind that wraps my hair around my head and makes my eyes water. To spread my arms and stand on my toes and feel that if I just knew how to let go, I, too, could fly off toward the setting sun like the gulls singing and circling over head.

God's creation is amazing, and I have never been anywhere I could not find beauty. That is a true gift, and evidence of His love.


Okay, I promised to post the thoughts that have been running around in my head since reading waiterrant's post, so here they are. If you didn't read my last post, take the time to read the article linked there, first, or some of this won't make sense. At least it will have more of an impact.

All my life I've heard about compassion, and I have a pretty good understanding of what it means. Thanks to my high school Latin, I know that it literally means "to feel with" someone. In other words, to take their pain and suffering on as your own. We usually express this in kind acts, words, prayers, and so on. Very easy to do, right? Well, sometimes.

The Coulstons come and talk about their ministry in Kenya? I'm broken inside, moved to give a little more, and consume a little less myself, for a time, anyway. A loved one is hurt or sick? I can pray, send a card, visit, or send donuts. When someone you love unconditionally is in pain, it's hard not to be moved, and to be spurred into action. People suffering on the other side of the world, and friends and family we hold dear are easy to love this way.

But what about the in-betweens? In the waiter's story, it seems that he thought the poor girl, Maria, missed out on compassion. For the most part, she probably did. But as she lay there dying, she knew someone was trying to help her, to ease her suffering, and his compassion toward her probably put her at ease in her last few minutes, even if he couldn't alleviate her thirst. It's the rest of the time that gets to me.

Most of us don't deal with AIDS patients every day, but some of us do. Like the nurse, it's easy to become conditioned to the suffering around us every day, all the time. In that situation, it seems particularly heinous, because we now have all seen what AIDS can do. So we are indignant that she could sit there and be so uncaring.

But how often are we the same way? I work in the juvenile court mostly, and no case there ever has a happy ending, not really. If your family is solid and in good shape, you'll never set foot in there. No, the people I see every day are from broken relationships. Short sexual encounters that resulted in an unwanted pregnancy? Now you're in child support court, having to be ordered to help buy your kid food to eat. I see, every day, cases of abuse, neglect, hatred, apathy, and all sorts of other things no child should ever experience, especially from a parent. Already I can feel myself becoming hardened to it. I'm beginning to take these child support cases in stride, which is great for my confidence and productivity, but do these men pick up on that? Do they think I'm cavalier toward them? I think I am. I'm not taking it as seriously as I once did. I'm still keeping them out of jail, which is my ultimate goal either way, but I think I've lost some of my compassion.

How do we avoid the burnout? Caring for people is hard work, when they don't appreciate it. When your kindness isn't acknowledged, when no matter how hard you work, more broken people pour into your life, when life isn't fair, and good people die and nasty people prosper, how do you keep from losing your emotion? How do you keep your caring side from shutting down in defense?

The other extreme is the priest's reaction, and I think we succumb to it as often as we become desensitized. The priest, when faced with a hard situation, walked away. Now, I'm not one to call doubt onto his choice; he very obviously took it seriously, and I'm sure it was the right decision for him. What hit me was that I often use those feelings as an excuse to avoid hard things, hurtful situations. I'm not sure that's any better than becoming insensitive to those situations.

This is an issue I'll be struggling with as long as I'm on this Earth, unless I decide to go the heartless-lazy-bitch path, which I pray I never do. I know as long as I am communing with God and His people, my heart will have a better chance of staying soft.

In the end, I'm glad that this story has made me think. Compassion is something we all "get", and is not something I've ever thought I would struggle to understand. But it is a concept that is difficult in application, and the waiter opened my eyes to that fact in a new way, so I am grateful for him.

I pray, in the end, that he will find peace with the God who showed him such horrors at a young age; I can see from the story, and his regular blogs, that he does have grace and compassion still, and I hope that I can learn to always do likewise.

Thoughts on what it means to "minister" to others

One of the blogs I read regularly is Waiter Rant. It's relatively famous, so you may already read it, too. The man who writes it is a waiter at an Italian restaurant in NYC, and he writes mostly about his job - the rude customers, annoying co-workers, etc. But he also often finds a way to relate his everyday experiences to the deeper part of himself.

Please go read today's post. It is incredibly moving. I won't say anything else about it, because it speaks for itself, other than to let you know it relates to his time spent training for ministry.

I'd love to hear what you think about it. I'll post my thoughts tomorrow or the next day.

I Have Arrived

Okay, well, not really, but someone thinks I'm kind of interesting.

Nashville is Talking is a project run by our local ABC affiliate. (I've added their link to my list.) It's a blog about local news and events, with links to interesting Nashville blogs. Apparently I got added to their blogroll a few weeks ago. Thanks, Brittney!


I'm feeling better about my place in life today; by unfortunate contrast, two of my closest friends are going through personal crises. But they are both wonderful people who have been incredibly supportive of me during my career struggles. One of the best things about the church community is the network of friends and family who provide support. I know I wouldn't have made it through the last year unscathed without these two women, and I hope they come out of their down time feeling the same way about me.

I was talking to a friend in another state last week, and he pointed out that much of what I am doing with my down time right now, especially planning for our trip to England in October, I would not be able to do during a regular work day. So although it's been extremely discouraging for me at times, it has given me opportunities I wouldn't have had otherwise. It's all about learning to make the most of what you have, I guess. Someday I'll figure out how to make an English cottage or an Italian villa out of it.

Church Signs

On my drive to and from Nashville, I pass two churches with message boards. Each one gives me much amusement with its witicisms. Here are some of my recent favorites:
1. "The world has many choices. Heaven has two. Which is yours?"
2. "Often trouble starts out as fun." (I want to go to that church, don't you?)
3. "A clean conscience makes a soft pillow."
4. "Exercise daily. Walk with God."
And my personal fave, which was just put up today:
5. "Be a fisher of men: You catch them, God will clean them."

Thoughts on a Friday

So I went to see the new Batman movie last night. First of all, I feel the need to express my deep admiration and lust, oops, I mean love, for Christian Bale. The man is an amazing actor, and looks great in black vinyl, to boot. But I thought the movie was very well done. It's more grown up than those other Batman movies, and does a good job of explaining Bruce Wayne's journey.

Like any good superhero story, the movie spends a good deal of its time exploring themes of justice, revenge, right and wrong. Since this is something we've discussed lately in our lifegroup, I really responded to the way the movie dealt with them.

Okay, I'm not going to "spoil" anything, but I am going to talk about some of the early plot, so quit reading now if you don't want to know. Although, it's kind of like "Titanic" or "Revenge of the Sith" - you know how it's going to end and where the story goes from here.

Anyway, a large part of the movie is spent on Wayne's childhood, before his parents die, and his adolescence, after they die but before he becomes Batman. His father is an intriguing character. He is the wealthiest man in Gotham, and extremely influential. Although he lives in an elegant manor, he has a heart for, of all things, charity and service. He works as a doctor, but lives off of the family business, which he leaves to itself. He explains to Bruce that he feels the need to do what he can to make the lives of others better.

After he and his wife are killed, Bruce tailspins. First of all, he blames himself for their deaths. Plus, he has a deep hatred and desire for revenge. Against who, though? He disappears, and ends up in a situation that suggests he is trying for revenge against himself, although he claims to want "justice" against the criminal element.

He encounters a person with a view of justice that is, I think, very typical and human. To him, justice involves the eradication of the people that commit crime. An eye for an eye, making things fair, etc. Usually, this would involve execution or incapacitation, because he has no faith in courts.

Another character provides a different interpretation - justice involves eradicating the crime itself, through prevention and mercy. In other words, if we want to make the world a just place, where people treat each other fairly and act rightly, then we start at the beginning. Instead of looking at it from the tail end, and using punishment, we should at least try to also look at it from the front end - providing people with education, opportunity, and compassion, so that they do not make the decision to act out of desperation or having given up on anything better.

"Justice: The act or practice of giving to others what is their due." That means meting out punishment, right? What does it mean to give others their due?

As Christians, we are quick to throw ourselves on God's mercy. We know that we don't want to get what we are due. Why, then, do we often insist that others should get what's coming to them? Is it possible that, although we are all broken, we are all due a chance to better ourselves? The best form of crime prevention is not deterrence, but education and opportunity. How does that inform the way I live? Doesn't it demand a more active and public involvement in the lives of those around me? Doesn't it require my time and energy, and not just my check in the offering plate on Sunday?

Anyway, I highly recommend the movie. Batman/Bruce Wayne comes to his own conclusions about what justice entails and demands, and it's an entertaining ride. But I would encourage a deeper look at this particular story. I think there is a huge lesson to learn from it.

The End is Near

This morning, I had the unfortunate experience of turning "The View" on just in time to see Paul Anka perform a big-band arrangement of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana. I may never recover.

Musical Genius

My new favorite show is "Hit Me Baby One More Time". I watched the first two episodes tonight. I didn't mean to. I was just going to watch a little bit of the first one, but I got hooked.

First of all, it's just fun to watch these people sing their songs again. You know they're loving every minute of it. And they're all still really good. I got goosebumps when Cece Peniston started singing "Finally". Even though I never really cared for the tune. The woman can just belt it out.

And I think the right people won both episodes. The way the show works, each of five artists performs their one biggest hit, then come back later and cover a more recent song. At the end, the audience votes for which one they like best, and money is donated to the charity of that artist's choice.

I think the right cover song is the key. After all "867-5309" will always be an awesome song. "My Sharona" still rocks. But the Knack covering Jett's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl"? Meh. Yeah, it's cool to see just how much influence they've had, but it's nothing new for them. Same thing for Haddaway doing "Toxic" and Flock of Seagulls covering Ryan Cabrera. And The Waitresses singing Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why" as a poser punk tune? No, no, no, no, and no.

But Arrested Development ("Tennessee") doing "Heaven" by Los Lonely Boys? Inspiring. Vanilla Ice rapping "Survivor" by Destiny's Child was refreshing. The artists who reached outside of the genre that made them famous and brought a song back with them won. Well, those that didn't try to punctuate a poetic love song with a harsh rock rhythm.

Anyway, it's a fun show, and I'm happy to watch it until the OC comes back in the fall.

Where is everyone, you ask?

Wondering why your city seems a little slow this weekend? Wonder what you're missing? Wonder no more.

The CMA Music Festival Formerly Known As Fan Fair and Bonnaroo are both happening this weekend, here in middle Tennessee. Together they will draw approximately 250,000 people to within 100 miles of me.

I'm going home to do my best not to have to step outside until Monday. The 95 degree heat should help discourage any thoughts I might have about getting out.

And just for the record, Chris Thile himself is avoiding the crowds with me today at our favorite little coffee shop.

Happy National Donut Day! Okay, so it was Saturday, but all the fun was today at the Donut Den. Prizes, a decorate-your-own-donut station, and even the ICEE bear stopped by for a visit. Go enjoy a pastry for me!

Me Maw

I got some really sad news today. The woman who was like a third grandmother to me just died. She had been in poor health for several years, so it wasn't a surprise, but I'm still so sad to know she's gone.

Her name was Sallye, but our family, as well as hers, called her Me Maw. She was one of the Donut Den's first and longest-lasting employees. She was known around town as the Donut Lady. When I was young, I spent most days in the store, for at least a couple of hours, so Me Maw was a huge part of my growing up. One of my favorite memories is of watching her decorate cakes. We used to sell cakes, way back in the day. The woman could work magic with icing. She could make the most fun clowns, and beautiful roses, which were my favorite. She would take my finger and make a little rosebud on my fingertip for me to eat. Is it any wonder I love her so much?

As I grew older, she was just as caring. She and her husband, George, would have us out for cookouts at their farm in Nolensville. George would fire up the tractor and give us hay rides in the wagon. The few summers our family ran a fireworks stand, Sallye and George came and worked almost every day. She was just as wonderful selling fireworks as donuts.

The last time I saw her was just a few weeks ago, right before I quit working at the Den. She and George were on their way to a seniors' event at their church, and stopped in to get donuts to take. She wasn't feeling well enough to get out, but I ran outside to talk with her for just a few minutes. I'm so glad they came by that day, so that I got to see her that one last time.

She always had something kind to say, and something funny. She was a wonderful Christian lady with a giving and gracious heart. I will miss her, but I know she is Home now, and just as happy as always. Goodbye, Me Maw!

Celebrity Dreams V

Last night I dreamed that I ran into Ewan McGregor and his family (wife and a couple of kids). He had his Obi Wan hair and full beard, and I didn't recognize him at first. Once I did, I told him I liked the last movie, and that I think, out of all 6 Star Wars movies, his light saber fights are the best. He said thank you and went on his way.

Previous Dreams

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