Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Ear Ticklers!

If you know me, you know I am a music freak.  I listen to a wide variety of tunes and have also recorded a few alt-folk-rock albums of my own.  (Shameless plug: or download them on itunes or Amazon.)
This past year, I listened to a lot of great music and thought I would post my TOP TEN ALBUMS of 2012 on this, the last day of the year.  Some of these albums were released in 2012, but some are ones I discovered in 2012.  I listened to all of them over and over and over - until the tape broke as we used to say in the 80's. (Man, I'm old!)
I listed them below with just a few notes of commentary so you can decide if you might want to check them out yourself.  All of them can be found on or itunes.

Here they are in no particular order...

1) The Republic Tigers - Keep Color
Once you listen to the first song on the album "Buildings and Mountains" you'll be hooked on this sing-along rock group.

Product Details
The Head and the Heart
2) The Head and the Heart - Self Titled
Super wierd album cover (see photo on right), but this folky singer songwriter group will haunt you and enthrall you with their subdued style and heavenly harmonies.

3) Casting Crowns - Come to the Well
There are days I wonder if I would still be a Christian if it wasn't for this group.  This album SPEAKS to me.  "Jesus Friend of Sinners" makes me cry.  Every time.

4) The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
Folk music at its best.  Lots of harmonies, nostalgia and strong lyrics that make you wish you could lay on your back under an oak just out of reach of the warm spring sun.

5) Pinback - Information Retrieved
Where have you been all my life?  This is what I shouted when I discovered this amazing rock group.  Evidently, they have been right down the street in San Diego.  A very unique intricate enveloping sound that keeps me coming back for more.

6)The Wailin' Jennys - Firecracker
These 3 girls make harmony sound easy and bluegrass sound cool.   Is this much talent legal?  And, is this the best name ever for a band or what!?  Very clever ladies, very clever.They would be AWESOME to see live.  Maybe I'll get my chance in 2013?

7) Young the Giant, Self-Titled
OK, I am not too old to enjoy some good pop rock.  I know, I know - their hit song is titled "Cough Syrup" but it goes down really easy.  There's real talent here and just like NyQuil - it's sort of addictive.  I can't stop listening to this album.

8) Crooked Still - Some Strange Country
This obscure band plays bluegrass that would make a West Virginia banjo player proud.  Not to mention fiddles, guitars and harmony... Lyrics so poignant you'll play some songs back to really listen. (Did they just mention the cross?) Beautiful stuff from a group that really should be higher up on the radar.

9) Dwight Yoakam - 3 Pears
Product DetailsI don't know why I like this guy so much. I am not big on "whack-a-doo" country, but Mr. Bakersfield is such a good song-writer, he pulls me in and I find myself humming the tunes on this album all throughout the day.  If you liked his hit "Fast As You" from awhile back, you'll love this album, too.  Ah, sucker...

10)  Maná - Exiliados en la Bahia (Greatest Hits)
All their hits in one place!  Music heaven (Yes, there will be Spanish music in heaven folks! God se habla español. OK, I don't know that for sure, but I can hope!)  This Mexican rock band is a talented as they come and they have such a full, rich, melodic sound that even if you don't speak one word of Spanish you can still fall in love with this group. 

That's it!  Happy listening and Happy New Year!

-Hope Horner
Have you checked out my new Realistic Mystic Podcast?
Twitter:  HopeNote

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Crunchy Knees

I tore my lateral meniscus.  When I was running, I yinged when I should have yanged and did myself in.  Now I can't even walk without pain.
I went to see the Orthopedic Surgeon at Kaiser Permanente last week and he said I may never run again.  When he saw the look of shock in my eyes, he dampened it down a bit and said, "Well, not fore sure, but your knees just might be too crunchy for you to run on.  You might have to look into another sport.  I mean, surgery works for some people, but think about it.  Have you ever watched a marathon?"
I nodded my head.  I had just volunteered to help at one less than a month ago.
"Ever notice how you have a lot of 20 and 30 something year old running, but then the pack thins out once people hit their 40's and 50's?"
I nodded again.
"Well," he said, "after awhile, at some point, you are going to have to give up running."
"Yeah, but I didn't expect it to be at 40!"  I must have looked like I wanted to cry because he patted my knee and said, "I'll do what I can.  Don't worry.  We'll get an MRI and take it from there."
He turned and began to type notes into the computer.  I figured he was probably typing:
Patient has a crunchy knee and is in total denial about getting older.  I prescribe a REALITY CHECK.  STAT!
He finished his notes and began to fill me in on the stretches I could do (yeah right) and a possible Cortisone injection (a needle?!) and other options.  While he was talking, I pictured all the old people I saw running around my neighborhood.  I could see the short Middle Eastern gentleman who always ran in his "dad shorts" you know the white cotton ones with pockets that come down to just above the knees?  He had to be AT LEAST 55.  Then there was the cute balding guy that was so skinny we could run side by side on the sidewalk if we wanted to and still have room for another person. He was at least 50 too.  And I remember seeing people run by in the marathon, I know I did, that had to be old enough to have GREAT grand kids!  OK so there weren't LOTS of them and they looked like they were about to collapse at any moment, but STILL!  C'mon!  I'm only 40!  Crunchy knees?! I'm done running? Already?  I take glucosamine for goodness sake!  And fish oil!  And calcium!  Oh, and Vitamin D!  If I took any more vitamins and supplements, I'd be getting YOUNGER!  I should be CREAMY!  Not CRUNCHY!
After his pep talk and recommendations, the surgeon gave me directions on how to find the pharmacy.  Then, out of the blue he gave me a big hug.  I was taken aback.  I think he felt bad for me.  Or maybe he was hitting on me (I did have one pant leg up) and I should have filled out a form in the nurse's office, but either way, it was nice to get a hug.  I staggered down the hall with my crunchy knee and picked up my pain medication.  On the way, I passed lots and lots of people with crunchy knees, arms, feet, hands, necks and backs.  They leaned on crutches, nurses and family members.  They crunched along slowly and cautiously in lines that led to doctors, physical therapy, and medication that would make them less crunchy, or at least make them feel less crunchy.  I picked up my bottle full of 800 milligrams of magic and thought, "Maybe if I take 1 of these anti-crunch horse pills I'll be able to run through the pain?"
I tried.
You bet I did. And...
No can do.
I like to describe the pain of a meniscus tear this way.  The pain is like an angry mother that yells, no-- screams -  "STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!"  and you must obey.  It is not a nagging pain.  It doesn't shoot or burn or throb.  It is not something you can "run through" or ignore.  It is a pain that demands you to:
I remember  right after I injured myself, I was in so much pain that I could not take ONE STEP MORE. I was hunched over in the street, in tears, about a block from my house.  I tried to take a step.
I tried again with more of a drag-step.
STOP RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
At that point, tired of Mom yelling, I seriously contemplated crawling back USING MY LIPS.  Instead, I dragged my bad leg behind me like a monster in a horror movie, whimpered like a wounded dog, and humped along back to my house where I collapsed on the couch.
Sounds a bit dramatic, but then I talked to others who had torn something or the other in their knee, including their meniscus, and I didn't feel like such a wuss.  They remembered the feeling.  They didn't power through.  They gave in.  They gave me the face that said, "Yeah, that hurts.  Big time. Glad it's you this time."
So it is me this time.
And here is my challenge.  In the midst of my crunchiness, I am trying to pray all the following (and mean it):
1) God, help me to run again.  And if I can't run again, help me to be OK with it.
2) God, help me not to hate the people I see running. Especially the ones who are older than me.
3) Thank you that I am healthy overall.
4)  Thank you that even with a bad knee, I am still healthy enough to ride a bike.  (I have to combine prayer #4 with prayer #2 because riding a bike around town exposes me to so many runners that if I am not careful it can be quite a bitter ride! Cue the music from the Witch's bike ride in the Wizard of Oz.)
3) Yes, God, I believe that you can heal.
4) Thank you for health insurance.
5) Thank you for the doctors and staff at Kaiser. They are SO NICE! Seriously, it's almost scary.
6) Help me to be able to accept that I am getting old and be OK with it.

So, currently I am still walking on a very crunchy knee.  MRI scheduled for this week.  Maybe doctors will be able to get the hitch out of my gate?  Until then, I'll take my pain meds and I would appreciate your prayers.  Oh, and one more thing... I do ask that if you are a runner and over 40, please stay away from my neighborhood at least for the next month of so until my faith is stronger.  Unless you have crunchy knees and are trying to inspire me.

-  Hope A. Horner
Follow on Twitter at HOPENOTE
Check out my NEW Podcast:  Realistic Mystic on iTunes or at the top of this website

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lifting Little Prayers

For some reason, I have this idea that my prayers need to be long and well thought out.  I need to make sure to cover all the prayer requests I know of, and to use the "prayer language" I grew up with which includes a certain way of beginning -- "Dear God" or "Dear Heavenly Father" and then moves on to asking for forgiveness and then quoting Scripture, than Thanksgiving, and then close it all out appropriately with "In Jesus name, Amen."  And I must do this with reverence, with head bowed, usually while seated, and at home or in church. Certainly not while running or driving in my car or working out at the gym.  I could blame my Baptist upbringing on this rigid idea of prayer; that's an easy place to start, but not entirely fair.  There are probably multiple factors.
Lately, I've been trying something different.
I have been praying simple prayers.
Little prayers.

This week my prayers have sounded like this:
"Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief."
"God, this day is yours.  Guide me through it."
"God, give me the words to say or shut me up."
"God, encourage me."
"Lord, help me to be a channel of your grace."

One line and then straight to Amen.

Usually, before I pray, often in the mornings, I think, "OK, I've got to section off a good chunk of time and not be distracted and make sure that I pray for everyone I can remember who is sick or suffering and then also make sure that I pray for my church and for my neighbors and the poor and of course MYSELF, oh goodness, there is a lot to pray for there, where do I even begin..." and by then I am so tangled up and concerned, that I think
I do believe at that point, without sounding like a "Devil see-er"  that the "dark side" or "the evil powers that be" (OK, now I sound like a Sci-Fi fan) - are really hard at work.  I can hear their little gravely, cackling, conniving voices...(Forgive me, I have a vivid imagination)
"Yeah, Hope, why pray? I mean, really!  You didn't give yourself enough time.  And there is so much to remember.  Do it later, or hell, don't do it at all.  God expects more from you.  How can you come to him like this?  For badness sake, your still in your sweatpants?  I mean, look at you?  And you know that half way through your prayer, your mind will wander or the dog will bark and you will just give up.  So really.  Why bother?"
And sometimes those little devils win.
Other times, lately, they haven't.
Because I have been OK with my little prayers.
I pray when I think of it.  Maybe 5 minutes, maybe 5 seconds, maybe 5 words -- sometimes in the morning, sometimes while driving, sometimes spoken only in my head in the middle of a meeting. 
And you know what?
God hears my little prayers.
He has been answering them in miraculous ways.  
He has helped my unbelief.
Guided me.
Shut me up.
Encouraged me.
And given me opportunities to be a channel of his grace.

Now, I'm not saying that long sessions of prayer, or pious prayer is not important.  I'm just saying that I am not there yet.  And I am not going to let my little prayers go "un-lifted" just because I'm not sure they meet "minimum word count" in my own legalistic mind.

I am going to lift these little prayers and lift them often. Maybe someday I'll be ready for heavy lifting, but for now, I'm a lightweight.  The good news is God listens and responds in BIG ways to little prayers made in faith.

-Hope Horner
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bumper Sticker From Hell

I am not kidding you.  A few days ago, I actually saw a bumper sticker that read:

There is no television in heaven.  
But there is a rerun of your life.  Will you want to see it?  
I love you Jesus.

It was in simple black and white.  I think it was home-made.  Let's hope it was a small production run. This bumper sticker made me want to scream.  Or cry.  Or both.
Are you kidding me? I don't even know where to begin with this one.  Actually, I take that back.  I do know where to begin: 
This bumper sticker is from hell.
It will not save a single soul or turn any hearts toward God.  Why?

1)  You just told people there is no television in heaven.  Most Americans would rather watch basic cable in hell, than go to a TV-less heaven.

2)  You just told everyone that their life is being recorded. Great.  All my mistakes played out in slow motion right in front of Moses, Saint Paul and Mother Teresa.  Just send me to hell now before the scene from my college dorm room starts.

3)  You just told people that when we get to heaven we will have to watch videos.  Of other's lives.  Can you imagine how long it will take to get into heaven?! Just think of how much time it will take God, or whoever he delegates this important job to - to pop in every one's VHS tape or DVD or pull up their YouTube video?   It will make getting through customs at LAX on September 11th after a trip to Afghanistan look like a breeze.  I picture myself standing in line fourteen miles out from the Pearly Gates when I hear this announcement come over the heavenly loudspeaker:
"Thank you for waiting. We are currently reviewing the videos of those whose last names start with (automated voice kicks in here) "B." 
Great, Tony Zendejas just decided he'd rather go to hell.

4) Lastly, you just told everyone that you love Jesus.  Really?!? How can you love a Jesus who is evidently recording every one's life so he can play it back in front of them when they arrive in heaven and point out how many times they screwed up?  
"Well, well, well. Will you look at that?"  Jesus stands with his hands on his hips.  Sweat breaks out on my brow.  "What in the world was that all about, Hope? You really blew it.  And we're only up to July of 1985 on the video! I hope you feel really, really guilty.  In fact, Saint Peter can you hit rewind on that?  I'm not sure she feels bad enough yet."
Is that the kind of Jesus you love?
Is that the kind of Jesus anyone wants to love?
Is that the kind of Jesus you should be displaying on your bumper?
Thankfully, that is not the Jesus I know and love.
And this is why this bumper sticker made me angry and sad and shocked and well, almost a traffic hazard on Newhall Ranch Road.  I wanted to get a picture of it.  I couldn't get my phone out of my purse and then a big delivery truck got in the way so I settled for a glance at the driver. She looked to be about my Mom's age, dirty blond hair in a disheveled heap on the top of her head and well, how do I say this....she looked like someone who would own 23 feral cats and cultivate their catnip in a egg carton on the window sill while watching Anne of Green Gables on VIDEO...but still.  Whether she is "all there" or not...
The bumper sticker on her car really is from hell.
Because it honestly makes people prefer hell over heaven.  If they don't know better.  Now, I know Jesus is not recording my life to play it back for me as a a way to castigate me before I enter the pearly gates. He says he has cast my sin as far as the east is from the west and my scarlet colored sin has been cleansed to the color of snow and I take His Word for it. (Psalm 103:12 / Isaiah 1:18) He did it all when he died on the cross and rose again - conquering death, sin and hell.  He took all the sordid, sinful and shameful scenes from my life and hit "Delete."  And when I add a few new scenes now and then, ones that I am not proud of, his death and resurrection covers those too. No recording.  No taping.  No reruns. Jesus does not own a VCR, a DVR or Tevo.
So maybe the bumper sticker should say:
I love you Jesus.
And leave it at that.

-Hope Horner
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote

New "Realistic Mystic" podcast:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Save a Stranded Starfish

You've probably heard this story about the little girl, the beach and a starfish, but just in case you haven't here it is:
A young girl was walking along the beach early one morning. The tide was receding, leaving numerous starfish stranded on the beach. The girl began picking them up and tossing them back into the water.
Engrossed in her task, she didn't notice the crusty old fisherman sitting quietly watching her. He startled her with a gruff, "What are you doing?" to which she smiled and enthusiastically replied, "I'm saving the starfish."
He laughed at her and launched into a scoffing ridicule. "Look ahead of you down the beach," he said, pointing to the seemingly endless expanse of sand and surf. "There are thousands of starfish washed up on this beach. You can't hope to save them all. You're just wasting your time. What you're doing doesn't matter."
She picked up one starfish and looked the fisherman square in the eye: "It matters to this one," and then she tossed the starfish back into the ocean.
Little did she know, a shark was waiting out in the water and with one gulp, swallowed the starfish whole.
OK, maybe you didn't recognize that last line.  Does this ending sound more familiar?
And she tossed it back into the ocean where it hit a rock just below the surface and died instantly.
Or it sank to the bottom of the sea, lived a few more months and then died a natural death, slipping into oblivion.  Just one more dead starfish.
You say that's not the ending you're used to?
Oh, that's right.  The story ends with the little girl throwing the starfish back into the water.  Period. That's it.  And the point of the story is that what the little girl did MATTERED to that ONE starfish.  And the larger point, the life lesson, is that even if we can help only one, it still matters.
Well, I hate to by cynical about this great story.  It's one I really like.  And I'm all for helping people and animals, including starfish, but I thought about this story a little more and I wondered:
What good is it if I help someone in need if they die without knowing God?
What if I help them get over their addiction, help them out of their poverty, soothe their pain, but in the end they die and miss out on salvation?
Isn't it a little bit like tossing a starfish out into the ocean only to have it land in the open mouth of a shark or on a sharp rock?
So they don't die stranded, addicted or miserable, but they die faithless? Hopeless? God-less?
Now, don't get me wrong here.  I am not saying that we shouldn't help people.  I'm not saying leave someone stranded.  I'm also not saying we should only help people just so we can "save" them (i.e. get them to become a Christian). I just mean, isn't the most help -- the best help I can give a stranded fellow human being is to share the eternal hope and peace that comes with knowing and loving God? 
I had to ask myself - Am I relieving others pain by listening, sharing and giving (as I should), and yet allowing them to remain in complete ignorance about the ultimate pain reliever - trust in God?  My helpfulness is good.  God expects me to help the poor, care for widows and orphans and yes, to be kind to dying starfish.  He expects me to show nothing less than LOVE toward others, even those I don't like or agree with!  Remember the Good Samaritan?  I am supposed to stop and help, even go the extra mile.  I should not pass by a stranded starfish.  But do I just toss the poor little fella'  back into the water?  Does the starfish know who created the water?  Does the starfish know, after I leave, that this Creator of the water, the waves, the wind --will ALWAYS be there?  Even if the shark is hungry or the rock is jagged or the waves are rough or the water is deep - He is there.  And He offers more than just a temporary fix, or in this case a temporary "toss."  We may need a hand up, a handout or a healing from an illness.  And yet, there is a bigger, more profound healing we all need, isn't there? We can overcome sickness, but we can also overcome DEATH thanks to what Christ has done.  And when he reaches out his hand and we take it, we get more than a handout, he helps us rise to a new life.  Not just a better life. A new life.  Like being tossed into a whole new ocean - an eternal ocean of grace and peace. 

OK, I'm talking about other stranded starfish. What about me?  I know God.  I love God.  I am a saved starfish, but not a perfect starfish.  Several folks have found me stranded on the beach in dire straights.  I was DONE.  Finished.  And they tossed me back into the water.  I thank God for them.  And I thank God for the gift of salvation I accepted as a child, because it meant when they tossed me back into the water, whether Jaws or a jetty was waiting, I would still be OK.  I would be with God - - whether the end came the instant I hit the water, or many years later.

So I'm all for inspiring stories and I really don't mean to be morbid, but sometimes my brain just takes me places and well, this blog is where I share that journey.  Glad you made it this far.  I'll leave off with this Starfish Prayer:
God, help me when I am stranded, but don't take me off the beach if it is there I learn to depend on you. Remind me that In the water or out, you are my God.  
And Lord, may I share who you are with others, both through my kind acts of charity toward them and in the courageous words you will give me.

- Hope A. Horner
Twitter:  HopeNote  (Look for the little red book icon.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Realistic Mystic?

You may have noticed that I added a new podcast to my website called "The Realistic Mystic."
So what the heck is it?
It's a little bit church, a little bit monastery.
It's a little bit preacher, a little bit monk.
It's a little bit Bible, a little bit journal.
It's a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n roll.  (Wait, a minute that's something else. Wrong podcast, sorry.)
In a nutshell...
The Realistic Mystic features short readings from the written works of C.S. Lewis and Thomas Merton.  I find both these great men of the faith to be challenging and enlightening.  I hope you will, too.  C.S. Lewis focuses a lot on knowing the truth and Merton on experiencing it.  Both perspectives encourage me to think about and to feel my faith.

I'm starting with Lewis and Merton, but plan to branch out.  The two of them have such a depth of material to choose from it seemed like a natural choice.  Plus, they are two of my personal favorites and pretty well known.  I hope you will enjoy listening to their insights and inspirations as well.

I hope to get The Realistic Mystic podcasts out there regularly, so check back often or follow me on Twitter at HopeNote and don't miss a thing. As always, I welcome your input and suggestions and wish you all the best on your faith journey!

Thanks for listening.