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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Autumn Appreciation

Am I the only one who thinks that pasta tastes better in October?  There is something distinctly autumnal about Italian food.  The reds and browns of the sauces and meats, the warm, cozy smell of the melted cheese, and the paradoxically full sensation of all those empty carbs settling after the meal....I was on an anti-inflammatory diet for 9 months.  So I'm allowed to enjoy a bowl of baked ziti every now and then.  :)  Pasta is like the solid-food equivalent of a cup of raspberry chai.  And raspberry chai is like a cup of Christmas anticipation.  And every good reader knows that anticipation is better than the real thing.  It isn't the actual day of Christmas that makes the season so enjoyable.  It's everything that leads up to it.  Woah...sorry.  This post is about the things to enjoy about fall. It's not time for Christmas posts yet. As a celebration of the one year anniversary of this blog (which happens next month....) I thought this would be a perfect time to make my Autumn Appreciation List.  Every day, I have a 15-20 minute drive to the school where I'm completing my teaching internship, and the scenery is ravishing.  While I write this post, hurricane Sandy is tearing up the coast and doing a lot of unexpected things, like dumping frigid Atlantic water all over the colors making them run with seasonal intensity.  So instead of a Rembrandt, I'm enjoying a Monet.  It's kind of nice.
Here are ten things to appreciate before the Christmas season starts (Which is, of course, the day after Thanksgiving.)

1. Tri-colored trees and other versicolor marvels.  
My favorite tree this fall is in the field behind the module where my desk is at school.  Divided into perfect thirds, the top is a bursting flame of red, the middle smolders deep orange, and the lower third glints brilliant yellow.  One tree.  Three colors.  A complete destruction of my immature theory that types of trees turn specific colors.  The glorious disrobing of the trees to reveal their charming festival garb.  

2. Walks to feed the ducks at the end of the street eventually leading to the playground and ending in hot chocolate.  For obvious reasons.

3. The smell of burning and dead leaves.  Because that is the sort of smell that anticipates Christmas.

4. Chai.  Especially raspberry.

5. Thick blanket, cup of tea, and Island of the World by Michael O'Brien.

6. Socks and sweatshirts.  (Mostly on Saturday)

7.  Finally, the freedom to begin cycling through my collection of scarves for every outfit.

8. Candy corn. (If it's SO bad for you, then why does it taste so good!???)    

9. The old Disney version of "Robin Hood."  (Who-da-lally, who-da-lally, golly what a day!)

10. Rain with wind like in the book, "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day."  

Sunday, September 30, 2012

This Time Last Year

For not having written here in almost two months, I should start this post with an apology.  However, I'm not going to do that because I'm not actually sorry that I haven't posted anything since July.  Life is surprising and the flexibility of having your own blog includes the freedom to refrain from posting.  

Still, a lot has happened in the past 8 weeks.  Since my last post I have touched four continents, visited two countries, completed two classes, ended employment at a daycare and started a 10-week student teaching program at a classical Christian school.  Not necessarily in that order.  Theoretically, I have a lot to write about, but I'm a slow thinker and honestly, I've been so overwhelmed by these recent experiences that I haven't been able to pen my thoughts.  (This post has nothing to do with the notable work of God that has been the last 8 weeks....if you want to hear about that, you will have to wait for another post which may or may not be written in the future or else email me.  I'm happy to oblige to some heart-to-heart talks.  Also, I would love to hear what God is teaching you too!)

I find myself at the end of September with a panic in my writing hand.  So I return to the computer for an outlet.  September is, hands down, my favorite month.  It's a month of seasonal transitions, also the month that my parents were married, and the month that I was saved at the age of 15.  And I was just thinking how fascinating it is to look back on where I've been and what God is doing in my life.  Most people tend to do this during the New Year.  My mom never goes to bed after ringing in the new year without saying, "I wonder where we'll be this time next year."  I tend to do my reminiscing during the fall.  I don't know why.  

So here it is: This time last year I was at school in Wisconsin stumbling from class to class with a nearly-paralyzed right hand.  In my free time, I was frantically looking for tickets online to get a flight to New Hampshire to see a specialist who would hopefully tell me that I wasn't dying of a strange malady.  And if I was, I reason to hope that she had a magic cure for that strange malady.  In plan B, I was going to go home and write my will. The girls who lived on my hall that semester remember coming in to use the microwave and tiptoeing around my sleeping self.  They also remember the day I packed up and said tearful goodbyes to a group of ladies that had come to mean a lot to me. That was this time last year.  It was submitting to a trial and letting God lay me flat.
This year, by the grace of God, I'm healthy (excepting a cold that I probably picked up on my recent travels) and about to busy with teaching 7-10th grade English to some of the brightest students on the peninsula.  I haven't had a "migraine" since February, my hand only twitches if I consume intense amounts of sugar (which I try very hard not to do), and I can't remember the last time I wrestled with the impressive list of symptoms that sent me home last fall.   

I don't want to belabor the point....but I just can't stop praising God.  He didn't have to heal me.  I had lyme for 10 years....and I just still think it's a big deal that in less than a year God freed me from it.  Still, there is one thing more incredible than that, I have been a Christian for 7 years this month.  I had been lost for 15 years...and He didn't have to save me.  I'm studying Romans and one of the things that Paul reminds his reader of is the fact that God doesn't owe anything to anyone.  In fact, the gospel is set up in such a way to emphasize that very point.  This is of grace.  I didn't earn it and God didn't owe it.  He just gave it.  So while I'm rejoicing in my freedom from the physical bondage of the borrelia bacteria, I don't want to forget my freedom from the death of sin.  I'm free and alive in Jesus Christ!  Glory to God!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Algebra: A Caricature

24 April 2012

Yesterday I visited the math room
of my Alma mater.
Odd that strangers study 
with the phantoms of my former classmates.
The teacher is not gone,
kindly algebra-enthusiast
who wears the patient scars of years,
indelible chalk stains on her hands
and streaking through her hair
and drawing abstract art on
her loose, long sleeves.
She is forever
the proverbial professor
(not a little odd)
teaching in that room
with one eternal ticking clock
old when I was there- and frozen
In this room
where I bent over figures
with one orange calculator
twisting my being into 
mental acrobatics
not intended ever for mere mortals-
where I learned
frustration, anger, and the very rare
but precious
A million middle school emotions
mounting the hypotenuse
and cresting at the most acute of points
to slip down the straight edge 
at long last crashing
into the right angle.
A million is a rational number
unlike the end of Pi,
the favorite pleasure
of the dear professor
who marvels daily over
endless mysterious of manipulated sums.
I wonder
now that I recognize
as the abstract algorithms 
of the universe
which were chalked before me every day
the dust choking me
believing it was nonsense
or else cruelty-
now that I realize 
that beauty and pain
are reciprocals
of one another
I wish to thank her
for the exercise 
of Truth.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Landmark Moment

Ten years ago I was an active 12-year-old who was passionate about playing basketball and reading whatever I could get my hands on.  Actually, I guess I was passionate about anything that posed a challenge.  However, my relatively healthy childhood was about to take a drastic turn for the worse.  What I didn't realize as I practiced layups and free throws and devoured every book at the library was that a bacteria (known scientifically as borrelia and commonly as lyme) was just beginning its conquest inside my body.  It started as unexplained knee pain and developed into accompanying headaches and unusual skin rashes.  The doctors were at a loss to know how to help me.  "You'll outgrow all of this."  I heard it so many times.

So, instead of slowing down, I pushed through the pain and continued doing whatever I wanted to do ignoring the need for rest and good stewardship of my physical self.  My already stubborn personality became hard as flint in the face of medical difficulty.  The past four years revealed more disturbing symptoms.  My roommates from Northland explain it better than I can since they watched me digress.  Twitching, numbness, and near-paralysis of my right side coupled with consistent heart arrhythmia sent me back to the doctor for brain scans in search of tumors and nerve problems.  Eventually, after hearing "we can find nothing wrong with you" for about 8 years, I began to believe (as was insinuated a few times by medical professionals) that it was all in my head.

So I continued to push through the now-daily pain and severe headache attacks in order to make attempts at completing my college education.  Senior year arrived.  Uncertainty characterized my mental state.  New symptoms popped up here and there and I began to forget simple things and was failing to communicate verbally.  Was I going to lose my mind as well as my body to some psychological weirdness?  "Lord, if You want me to serve you plan to heal me?  Or do You plan to glorify Yourself through my pain for the rest of my life?  How can I be strong enough to bear the responsibilities You've given me on top of this debilitation of my body?" Just when I thought I could take it no more, just when all the questions became too heavy to carry around anymore there was that life-changing phone call...and then a trip to New Hampshire, a visit with a lyme specialist, an overwhelming revelation of problems, and a decision to halt the school work to come home and heal.

The journey of lyme began when I was 12.  The healing began when I was 21.  After 9 months of a strict diet, plenty of rest, and some natural medicines I give Him all the glory when I say, the Lord has healed me!  I am writing this post having just returned from seeing the specialist again...I've been pronounced lyme-free!!!  I can't believe how far the Lord has brought me from the stubborn, strong-willed and very sick young woman, to a healthy,deeply humbled Christian.  I know now that my own strength is nothing and His is more than sufficient.  By His grace, I stand in a strength not my own.  While I am still wrestling with a virus that usually accompanies lyme disease and is responsible for the swelling in my brain, this last stronghold of disease in my body will likely be taken care of within the month as I continue to strive for a healthy diet and lifestyle.  I also have some minor, permanent nerve damage.  A nerve in my right hand will likely twitch occasionally until the day I die.  But it will serve as a reminder to me that my strength is not my own and that I was once humbled that I might be lifted up.

Having lyme and healing from it was a necessary trial for me (1Pet.1) that I hope continues to make me more like Christ.  In the meantime, I am praising Him for healing!  While I was busy trying to "make it" through school, the Lord was holding out His hand of healing.  I just had to submit.  TO GOD BE THE GLORY!

My meditation in light of all this: Psalm 30

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.
Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O LORD,
you made my mountain stand strong;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
To you, O LORD, I cry,
and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
“What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me!
O LORD, be my helper!”
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
(Psalm 30 ESV)

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Pen and the Sword age old the pen mightier than the sword?
Well, if you're a regular reader of this scattered thought-collection called a blog, you'll probably be able to guess my answer.  I would boldly assert that the pen has controlled the sword many more times than the sword has controlled the pen...hmm...history is fascinating.  Anyway, one of my 3-year-olds said something rather profound about this today.  I couldn't resist sharing it here.
We were discussing King David.  His battles, his strength, his slaying of Goliath...I mentioned to the kids that David wasn't just a warrior.  He wrote too.  And he didn't write just any old random thoughts.  He was a poet!  The kids were scratching their heads by I checked to see if some of my brightest kids would know.  "What is a poet?"
Some wrong answers were given and some confused looks went around the room before Alyson's hand shot up.  "I know, Ms. Emily!"

"What is a poet, Alyson?"

"A poet is someone who saves the kingdom!"

While I had to backtrack and redefine the word for everyone so that we could move on with the lesson and a larger vocabulary, I think Alyson had a point.  There is no such thing as "just a story," "just a movie," or "just a poem."  When it comes to the diffusion of ideas and words into condensed form a man wields a power greater than that of a steel blade.  If he is a worthy poet, a poet in love with Truth more than with poetry....he might save the kingdom.  On the flip side, he might destroy it.
In the words of Andrew Fletcher, "If a man were permitted to write the ballads of a nation, he need not care who writes its laws."
That is a testament to the power of poetry.  Let us take heed to the wisdom that came from the mouth of a little one.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Must Hear

Thanks to Nicole Miller who recommended that I listen to David Platt's T4G message.  If you haven't read it or heard it, take the time to do it.
"Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions."  A link to the transcribed message:
And the audio:

Old Thoughts

Thoughts from the first week of May (finally posted):

God has used certain passages of His Word at specific points in my life.  So much so that I often associate a certain year with a certain passage and when I read that section, I remember the work God did in my life during that time.  Does that resonate with anybody else?  

Some examples:
John 15 is from high school and so it was influential the year I came to know the Lord.  And freshman year of college was a lot of 2 Corinthians 3-7 on the blessings and pains of ministry and the glories of Christ being worth all that pain.  And then John 17...eternal life is knowing Christ!  Then, I spent the entirety of Sophomore year in Psalm 139 conquering some serious fears and also learning how Genesis-Revelation worked a year! Junior year was Revelation 4-5...God is worthy to be worshiped and His work on the cross secures the future when I will SEE Him!  This year has been the book of Isaiah (wow!) and trips in Galatians, and a long soak in Psalm 27, and a stroll through Philippians, the combined effect of which is to inflame me with the gospel!  Praise God who uses His Word to work change in His people!

Claimed- Philippians Meditation

From a fleshly standpoint, I don't like the idea of being owned.  Popular adolescent literature belabors this point until it has become almost cliche.  Part of it is cultural.  I'm American.  I make my own choices.  I work my own way.  I can be a self-made woman (so the lie goes).  I think there's a bit of merit in a measure of individuality.  But not the way I worship it sometimes.  Not to the degree my generation has set it up for idolatry.  
My brother cut his hand pretty badly a few weeks ago and I had to rush him to urgent care.  When we got there, I found myself in the waiting room where the Disney channel was blaring so loudly I could hardly think.  So, I settled in for a few hours of analyzing.  The lie of individualism was being paraded across the screen.  Self-absorption wasn't just allowed, but encouraged.  "I have to do what's best for me."  And " about being with people who make you feel happy!"  There's always room, of course, for some sort of romantic attachment as long as it's on your terms, with all perks and no commitment.  And family is important as long as you get to define it however you want.  Nothing about submitting to what God gave you and where He put you and learning to love the family you have.  All of that takes work and it doesn't always feel good.  So naturally those sort of decisions aren't "right."  
I'm not sure if the Church buys into these lies sometimes.  I think we're prone to it.  But as far as I can tell (and I am no authority on the subject by any means) there appears to be a trend with local churches emphasizing community and fellowship. That's exciting.  Because anytime I'm with brothers and sisters I start to get outside myself.  The Lord starts using the Word through those people to show me where I have serious sin issues.  And to encourage me to live in the gospel.  And I start to get burdened to pray for those people.  I start wanting to give up time and energy and stuff for those people...digging into the dirt of their lives and being a force of encouragement and rebuke.  That's called love.  And as God uses the Word to change me, He uses the Body to keep me accountable for that change and I get to the play that same role in the lives of my brothers and sisters.  It's a great's God's idea!  
Anyway, all of that leads up to this....I've been studying Philippians.  SO much there!  Peace coming through prayer which is the practice of God's presence...Paul's radically redefined value system which places highest priority on knowing is Christ and dying is actually gain so we have a lot to look forward to....and the idea that "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" which is not so much a mantra to be thrown at children afraid of the deep end of the swimming pool as much as it is a confident statement that living in Christ equips me to bear any weight, burden, pressure, need, or circumstance because He is much I want to wrap myself in and be changed by for the glory of God!  But the biggest and most recent slam of conviction has come from chapter 3 verse 12.  Paul has just listed his earthly accomplishments and called them "rubbish."  He sets the entire sum of his earthly identity next to knowing Christ and says, "There is no comparison!"  He talks about wanting to share in Christ's suffering (!) becoming like Him in His death (!!) all for the sake of knowing Him...because knowing Him is the equivalent of eternal life!  And just as I start to get discouraged that I can't have that mindset perfectly....or I'm about to get swept away with the excitement of it instead of honestly assessing if I do indeed have that mindset, Paul threw me a lifeline with verse 12.  
"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own."  
And here's where it comes down to hard Truth for me.  I'm owned.  I have a Master.  It's no longer just me doing my own thing...for which I'm extremely thankful because as it turns out, doing my own thing led to Hell.  Instead I'm a slave of grace.  I've been claimed by a Savior.  There is security in that.  And responsibility to respond to that ownership.  Paul revels in this value!  Owned by Christ who is SO worthy of ALL my life....I must press on to make Him mine too.  He already owns all of me, so I in turn try to own all of Him.  I think it's changing my prayers.  Instead of praying, "Jesus have all of me!"  I want to recognize that He already has all of me...the problem is me failing to own Him.  I need to recognize more and more that "to live is Christ."  I'm already claimed.  Am I claiming Him?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Milton's Two Cents

Paradise Lost...if you're hungry after reading this, go feast on the whole work.  Otherwise, enjoy the snack of a few profound statements from our friend, Milton.  Just realize that it won't be the same without the full richness of the context.  Paradise Lost is the epic to end all epics.  It is hard to read this for class because it's so intense.  It would be a little bit like spending an afternoon sitting by the ocean...and then being told that you're going to be given a test to assess your experience by the sea. just shouldn't be done!  But the work should be studied...hahaha...impossible to have both.  I submit to the study of it...but look forward to savoring it for years to come without having to analyze it for a grade.  :)

Paradise Lost

On the value of thankfulness as a concept: "...a grateful mind by owing owes not but still pays, at once indebted and discharged."

Satan's view of reality (and eerily similar to mine when I am not walking with the Lord...): "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."

Satan's realization of what he has lost (emphasis on the nature of goodness):  "All good to me is lost."  (Wow...what a statement of finality and severance from God...the source of all good!)

Satan's theory of what would happen if it were possible for him to repent and regain the glories of Heaven: "ease would recant vows made in pain."  (He knows that he wouldn't stay in Heaven even if given the chance because submission disgusts him utterly and that is the only posture Heaven knows.)

On the one forbidden tree in Eden: "Knowledge of good bought dear by knowing ill."

On the complementary relationship between Adam and Eve: "For contemplation he and valor formed, For softness she and sweet attractive grace, he for God only, she for God in him."

On the place of physical labor in Eden: "Man hath his daily work of body or mind appointed which declares his dignity."

Eve's view of submission to Adam as her head: "God is thy law, thou mine; to know no more is woman's happiest knowledge and her praise."

On the innocence of Adam and Eve they were commanded by the angel Gabriel: "Know to know no more." (In other words, know enough to be content with what you  know.  Knowing more is death itself.)

Adam on the proper place for delight as well as labor in Eden: "...smiles from reason flow...  For not to irksome toil, but to delight He made us and delight to reason joined."

Adam's rationale for letting Eve work by herself for a while: "Short retirement urges sweet return."

Milton on the wife's role in marriage: "Safest and seemliest by her husband stays, who guards her or with her the worst endures."

On fleeing temptation: "Trial will come unsought."

The scene when Adam and Eve separate, leaving Eve vulnerable to deception: "Thus saying, from her husband's hand her hand soft she withdrew...her long and ardent look his eyes pursued, Delighted yet desiring more her stay."

The position of Satan and his motives for tempting Eve: " what [pleasure] is in destroying, other joy to me is lost."

Milton emphasizes beauty over reason in relationship to the innocence and simplicity of Eden.  Therefore, it is marked that when Satan guides Eve to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he "makes intricate seem straight."  He strips the complexity away and reasons her into sinning.  Complexity as reason for worship...???  Hm...there are several academic papers in there if necessary....and even more joy-of-writing papers I'm sure...

As Eve eats the fruit: "Greedily she engorged without restraint and knew not eating death." (both that she was eating death and the death was eating

After Eve eats the fruit: "Earth felt the wound."

Adam's conscious decision to choose Eve over God: "So forcible within my heart I feel the bond of nature draw me to my own, my own in thee, for what thou art is mine.  Our state cannot be severed, we are one.  One flesh, to lose thee were to lose myself."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

For Adam

Today, my "little" brother turns 21.  I can't believe it!  I've always said that Adam is a "hamlet-type" and it's true.  Unpredictable and rather moody, his varied days of storm clouds and sunshine usually set the tone in our family.  He's just that kind of guy.  And I love every bit of him!  I wrote this poem for him a few months ago.  Adam himself isn't much for poetry and when he read it, he got this little grin, repeated the last line, grunted "huh," and then walked away.  :)  Which I think translates into, "I really appreciate that."  However, I was told by a poet that I greatly respect that this poem is just "okay."  I know it's nothing phenomenal, but it does communicate the complexity of my relationship with Adam...which is something of a moving target.  We have long, intense conversations and fellowship.  And then we won't really talk for a month...and we live in the same house.  Kinda crazy.  But Adam has taught me a lot about critical thinking and big goals and writing (he's an amazing writer!) and forgiveness.  Adam makes me laugh harder than anyone else.  He also can make me angrier than anyone else.  But we have similar personalities and seem to understand each other really well.  We are connected in a way that I cannot explain and our loyalties run pretty deep.  So...for whatever its worth...Happy Birthday to the funnest little brother ever!  I wish you many more years of writing and thinking... and I look forward to what God will do with those big dreams of yours.  :)

For Adam

Talking with you is
taking a step off the porch
into our usual wilderness.
Sometimes the grass is still wet
and I throw myself down in the dew
to soak my soul
and think your thoughts
to walk away soggy and simple and brisk.
Some days every step stings-
dry stalks destroying my socks
and slicing the skin on my feet
(acerbic the blood of our battles
bending footprints between the trees)
But evenings still meet us in meadows
to drink your big dreams with our tea
where your stars will sparkle and
glimmer and spark to grow
fire in free, thirsty spirits.

They always told us that we were like twins
too much together to notice.
But they were wrong!
So wrong!  I know.
We've always resided in your realm.
You tolerate no tyranny. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Awareness and Praise

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month.

And I want you to be aware.  Not because I have Lyme, but because yesterday I got one of the most exciting phone calls I've ever answered.  My dear friend and sister in the gospel was calling to tell me that she is Lyme free.  After 8 months of fighting the disease by undergoing  rigorous treatment, Liana is finally healed!  I praise God for this!

Why is this so exciting?

First of all, Liana was the human instrument God used to reveal to us that I was dealing with an advanced case of Lyme.  Looking back at some health records, we now believe that I've had an active case for 10 years.  If God had not put Liana in my life at just the right time, I would still be very sick, and I'd probably be paralyzed on the right side of my body.  Seeing the Lord's healing hand have victory over this vicious disease in her gives me hope for my own battle with it.

But more importantly, I rejoice because Liana's sickness and healing has brought great glory to God.  She has wrestled spiritually with the implications of illness and the Lord has been sanctifying her.  God is teaching her so much about His faithfulness in this necessary trial, and her response has been one of submission and obedience.  Now that she is free, He is being glorified in her praise and thanksgiving.  Liana has been a gospel-centered friend to me in my physical and spiritual weakness, and she constantly turns my gaze back to Christ when I am discouraged. Ultimately, we are learning together to remember that we are merely servants.  Our health belongs to the Giver of Life.  He has the right to give and take away.  May He be glorified!  

Today is a victory for the Healer of Diseases (Psalm 103:3).

Many health professionals will tell you that once you have Lyme, you have it for life.  I'm here to make you aware that we serve a God who reigns over the mysterious world of microbes.  He can and does heal people, even people with Lyme!

I am celebrating Lyme Awareness Month by praising God!  

Friday, April 6, 2012

Passover Gospel

In the beginning God
created the Heavens and the Earth
and the Word was with
and the Word was
and God saw everything
that He had made
and behold
it was very
For without the shedding of blood
of a Lamb
without blemish or spot
There is no remission of sins.
And when He saw the blood
the Angel of the Lord
passed over
the Temple curtain was torn
it is eternally
The Word is
For the dwelling place of God is with men
and Death and Hell were cast into the Lake of Fire
There will be no more tears nor crying
for the Old Things are passed away
making all things new.
Even so, Messiah,

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Students Teaching Teachers

Taking Educational Psychology online has been a challenge.  It's been a class of extreme pros and cons.  The con is that I have to do a lot of reading from a large, flimsy textbook.  The pro?  I get to write a LOT!  Recently, I had to explain in a few sentences what I learn from my students.  For those who keep an eye out for quotations from the daycare where I'm currently employed, here's a paragraph.  

My current job situation involves 4 and 5-year-olds twice a week and 8 and 9-year-olds five times a week.  Something that I continually learn from both age groups is the ability to see past the obvious and into the inexplicable complexity of a person.  It's interesting, because most people think of higher-order thinking skills as being an adult capability.  But in some ways, by emphasizing the analytical, we lose a sense of the subjective poetry of life that thrives in the beautiful chaos of childhood.  When a 3K-er explains that he wishes rain were candy falling from the sky, a 4-year-old informs me that his mom was a cowgirl...tomorrow, a 5K-er tells me that I "smell like rainbows," and a 3rd-grader explains the sidewalk squares in terms of the United States map, I remember that life isn't all algorithms and formulas.  There is a magic in the ordinary that I forget to notice.  My students teach me to see it.  Their boats of thought bump into mine and splash creativity all over me.  They teach me that each person in my life (whether I view their presence as negative or positive) is an irreplaceable gift, a chance to see the world in a way that I never would have otherwise.  Their perspective is infinitely valuable because they are seeing with eyes that haven't been pushed into a narrow rut.  I love that.  And some days, it's the only reason I get out of bed to go to work.  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Of Glory

She worshiped misconceptions
thrust upon her by
the lifelong prophecy that she
"will do great things for God."
And has imagined
all this time
building castles
for that coming Kingdom.
it shocks
and falls as Negative
at first
when her Lord
her into caverns
deep within the earth
where seemingly alone
she wrestles with the weight
of what must have been and
Yet for good
All this is done
That all men might say not
"She did great things for Him."
"Great things for her were done."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Sort of Final Word on Music

One of the most heated debates in Christianity of the last decade is in the area of music.  Maybe I'm wrong in pronouncing it a dead issue for me.  But it's not something I struggle with anymore.

Why?  I just don't think it's a life or death issue.  

I have some obvious nevers. I'll never try to find a heavy metal album and burn it on my computer.  I get enough headaches from the natural stress of working at a daycare, so I don't need to plug in for pain.  I can hear the screams of the countless lost human souls that bump into me every day.  So I don't need to go to a screamo concert to hear them cry our for purpose.  Plus, I like to nourish my soul on hearty food.  So my usual music selections are more conventional and refreshing.  

I know that worship music is the big deal and in some ways, glory is at stake.
For my readers who have passionate convictions about music on either side, I really can sympathize.  I've landed on every possible extreme since 5th grade.  In junior high, I made a vow to high church legalism. Mostly, I felt pretty good about my standards and felt like God was pretty impressed too. But it was no easy road to keep my rules which limited me to hymns and soundtracks and Irish music (which has always been my favorite).  I got to a point where I would feel guilty about accidentally listening to (and sometimes even enjoying) secular music played in stores.  That kind of thing jeopardized my relationship with God in my system.  In my high school years I turned "rebel" and started looking for more "worldly" music.  I obsessed over Josh Groban--which, oddly, didn't seem to bother the anti-CCM people I knew.  But, I also started getting interested in Casting Crowns and Jeremy Camp.  Sometimes, I felt so great about my music choices because I really saw God glorified in the words of these singers. Other times, I felt guilty because people told me that a certain beat was a sin or certain musical instruments were wrong to use.  But, of course, it was all based on my emotions and fear of man.  People would throw their opinions at me like spaghetti in a food fight. The result? Well, I made a mess of trying to please people and feel good about myself.  Nobody ever bothered to calmly explain why they thought the way they did about music or concede that they might be wrong.  Music seemed like a very fundamental issue.  So why did I know people who really loved God and disagreed about music? In recent years, God has been gracious to allow me to study the Bible more and know some people who talked me through different aspects of the debate.  
So I ended up with a few thoughts that are now a loose guide for how I think about music.  It's not something I would die for.  It's just where I stand. It's my current last word on music and I'm willing and ready for God to continue teaching me in this area as I become more like Him.

I've come down on a few non-negotiables.

First of all, motive is absolutely key. It's not everything (by that I mean that it is possible to have right motives and make a wrong decision), but it is key.  My goal in music must be to make God look glorious as He is!  This theme runs the entire length of Scripture along with a prevailing emphasis on the heart.  If emotion or attention or the praise of man is the motive for worship, I'm not worshiping God, I'm worshiping myself.  However, motive can be wrong or right no matter what your style of music. You can be worshiping yourself even if you're only singing songs written by Fannie Crosby.  Side Note:  One of my greatest frustrations with fundamental circles is the idea that emotional worship is wrong.  Emotion should not be squelched...controlled, maybe, but not squelched.  Read Exodus, Deuteronomy, 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, Chronicles, and Psalms and circle how many times the people raise their hands, clap, and should loudly in worship!  They were worshiping a real God and maybe we need to be reminded of who He is.  Deep feeling springs from deep thought. If I'm thinking deeply about God and I feel deeply because of it, amen! God made emotions. They reveal what we value and if I value God, I am bound to feel excited, somber, exuberant, joyful, sorrowful, etc. because of Him.  The cross is an intense experience, and if it doesn't ever touch us we need to do an assessment.  

Secondly, music should be thoughtful.  This thought is all about living above the triviality. Western culture eats triviality for breakfast and that's why were are so mind-sick. Music should be rich with meaning. Psalm 47:7 says, "For God is King over all the earth, sing praises with understanding."  This is my only issue with some CCM.  Repetitive, fluffy songs don't promote thoughtful worship.  But then, neither do some of the hymns written in the 1970's.  Some of those flowery words really don't mean anything to a new generation of believers. What do we do?  Be honest with where we are.  Select music meaningfully. Not because "we've always sung that song" and not because "everybody else is singing that song."  We should love theologically rich songs and appreciate the poetry of good music.  (Here I insert a thanks to my friends who introduced me to the textually excellent music of Andrew Peterson as well as that of Keith and Kristen Getty.)

Thirdly, John 4:24 says that God should be worshiped in spirit and in truth. I am not qualified to go into detail on the meaning of this passage. My main point here is the TRUTH part.  I'm disturbed sometimes by the bold statements of popular Christian music.  A few I've heard recently on the radio, "God help me to believe that I'm someone worth dying for." Followed shortly by, "You can't love anyone if you can't love yourself."  I don't apologize when I call out these songwriters for buying into the lies of popular psychology.  Romans says that Christ died for us when we were still sinners.  There wasn't anything worthy about us.  And as we all know, the one who lays down his life is the one who finds it. You love others by dying to yourself, not loving yourself.  Our music, especially our worship music should be rooted completely in the truth of God's Word.  Singing a lie and calling it Christian music is even more dangerous than the blatant lies of secular culture.  

On worship music, we could all use a lot more humility.  We're just dirty, rotten sinners trying to tell our Savior how thankful we are for the cross.  That's worship. It's brokenness that sings in painful joy.  It's a right perspective of who we are in light of who He is.  I think that right perspective can be achieved with an organ as well as with an electric guitar.  So it's probably a good idea to put down the bombs and sing with one another in anticipation of worshiping Him together in His new kingdom someday.  

So how does this apply to secular music?  Admittedly, a lack of truth is the foremost danger of secular music. 
As an example, allow me to split some hairs and step on some toes (as well as use some  A few years ago, a song from the Narnia soundtrack became really popular.  Titled "The Call," the song itself was a sweeping, catchy melody with emotionally engaging wordplay.  I enjoyed it, but I struggled with the implications of the wording.  I'm picky enough about philosophy that the first lines gnawed like a flea on my mental skin.  "It started out as a feeling and then grew into a hope, which then turned into a quiet thought, which then turned into a quiet word. And then that word grew louder and louder until it was a battle cry."  Why is this so troubling to me?  Because the song operates on the assumption that feeling leads to thought which leads to action.  I heartily disagree. Scripture affirms (Luke 6:45) the eloquently worded statement of my theology teacher from college, "What you feed the mind will fuel the affections and fix the will." Regina Spektor's interesting song makes me think I have to have a vague feeling before I can do anything worthy.  

That said, it is not necessary to make a wholesale rejection of secular music in order to enjoy the good stuff.  (To add another cliche, that would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.) Plenty of secular music speaks to the commonality of human existence, and by nature of our image-bearing qualities this music (sometimes even against the writer's will) brings glory to God.  Celebrating cultures, history, marriage, special holidays, etc. are part of the God-given human experience.  All truth really is God's truth.  My motive in enjoying secular music is the same. I wish to see something about God that I didn't see before and there are a lot of places I can catch a glimpse of His goodness. (We do this with our reading all the time...we read good, secular books to get a better idea of our world and of our God.)  Sometimes, I am so narrow in how I see Him and I think He can only be found musically in the hymnal.  No way! He is much bigger than that.  We find him primarily and perfectly revealed in His Son, Jesus and in His revealed Word, the Bible.  But He is all over His world.  Plainly in literature, He is in the brilliance of Shakespeare, the lyricism of Milton, the conversational fiction of Lewis, even the colloquialism of Alcott, and the mythology of Homer. And we are quick to attribute this beauty to our God, and rightly so.  Did those writers have it all right?  Nope.  But they were image-bearers and for that reason, they unwittingly reflect the Creator in some way.  I think of music this way too.  I am not afraid to say that Yanni's piano playing fills me with an indescribable longing for an unnamed, transcendent something.  For some reason, Latino music makes me laugh.  I relax to Beethoven and control my 4-year-olds at daycare with Tchaiovsky.  Owl City makes me think and then sort of wrinkle my brow in enjoyable confusion.  When I'm doing dishes, I sing along with Acapella.  Andy McKee plays guitar with a passion that inspires me to write. Five for Fighting performs a song that makes me weep for how I waste my time.  Christopher Cross wrote a song about sailing that connects me in a million ways to my childhood, my mom, and the sea.  And then there's a short list of love songs that perfectly illustrate my parents love story.  There's a place for all of it in the grand sphere of earthlings small existence.  And as all good things come from above, I think we can be thankful for it and give glory to God.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Collins's Contribution

Panem.  It's the future United States: a semi-Roman world in which the government owns just about everything and makes a yearly reaping from its crop of citizens.  The "reaping" is a perverted holiday of sorts which consists of the political tyrants manipulating the 12 districts of Panem into willingly giving up a total of 24 children (two per district) between the ages of 12 and 18.  These tributes are given the privilege of fighting to the death in a natural arena.  Only one comes out alive.  What is the purpose?  Apparently, it has a lot of entertainment value and the mind-sick government finds it a convenient way to control society.  A bloodthirsty society.
Such is the idea behind Suzanne Collin's new book "The Hunger Games."  How did I enjoy the book?  Not at all.  Better to ask me what I think about it since I have only negative emotional reactions to it.  Hm.  Good question.  It had a jolly good bit of potential.  With all the sensory reactions of a book like Scott Westerfeld's series "Uglies," Collins created a fascinating (if disturbing) platform for taking her audience to a higher intellectual plain.  There's that same oppressive regime with the plastic smiles and the sinister overlords, the longing for something outside of that oppression.  Everything in Katniss's world is empty calories and frustration with the absolute dictatorship thinly veiled as benevolence (nobody is fooled, of course).  Adolescents love that "good rebel" theme, and it can lead to some spectacular critical thinking.  But that's not all. Hunger Games has the sameaddictive intensity of "The Most Dangerous Game," a short story after which having had read to me I had a smashing migraine headache just from the stress of it.  For most readers, the experience landed them in that wonderful world between the chapters: "I need to know!  I can't live if I don't know!  Oh, I don't want to know! I can't live if I know!"  And since I just put the Collins's work down a mere half hour ago, I'm still reeling.  I didn't sleep last night and the Stress Relief Tea I've just downed is only now beginning to take effect.  The premise is meant to anger the reader and it was highly successful in that regard.  I feel the same tension after reading "The Lottery" as a college freshman.  Except this time the feelings are deeper and longer lasting. The dead have names and stories.  It is the blood of mere children that washes the ground of Panem without being avenged.  And the fact that it was children killed...I'm really bothered by that.  As I should be.  

In spite of these potentially noble beginnings, the book elicited nothing but hatred from me.  And I don't use the word lightly.  I hate it so much that I'm breaking my usual self-inflicted obligation and will not be finishing the series.  Why?  I think Collins was off base.  In a big way.  She broke a serious code of ethics in the writing of the first book, and so I don't think I can stomach the other two.  (I've checked online to find the rest of the story and it is on those summaries that I base any critique on the rest of the trilogy.)

First of all, the violence in the book is excessive.  Good writers (which I don't claim to be) have a lot of tools in their belts to make a jarring impact.  Violence is the one I least respect especially in its excessive use and MOST especially where it concerns children...and so many children!  The death toll of the first book in the trilogy pushes 30 people and over half of those are kids.  So, Collins, you can play on the God-given instinct to flee from disturbing images of death.  Fine.  Just know, it's an easy, thoughtless, and highly-questionable way to get an emotional response.  Which is just about all we are left with at the end of the first book.  A lot of emotions.  Not a lot of thinking.  And if Collins intended to build an intellectual response on the carnage of the first book (as I think the second and third try to eek out something of a purpose to all the blood shed), she should have kept it within the bounds of one cover.  Not extended it into another volume.  Better yet, weave the strength of your argument through the story.  (Because while I think it's fine to read just for fun, "The Hunger Games" is not the material that I would give my kids with confidence that it's just fun.  You don't address serious topics like this in that manner.)  I'm not saying that she shouldn't deal with death.  But the detailed descriptions of the suffering of one character after another is a dangerous way to write.  It can either deaden your audience to pain and teach them to crave adrenaline, or it can stab the reader so many times that he or she can't take it anymore.  Your readership is then limited to the few that consume violence rather than ideas.
Collins actually fails to display excellent writing.  She builds her story on very poor character development.  For one example, Katniss is supposed to be the "rebel" but her thoughts are not consistent with clear right/wrong ideals.  Instead, the reader has to project these traditional distinctions on to Katniss's character just to be able to accept her as the heroine.  The development of Peeta is also rather weak.  Is he strong and intelligent?  Or is he just love-sick?  The audience knows very little about him, except that he is kind and in love, very much in love with Katniss.  (He's my favorite character, by the way...another wasted bundle of potential.)  But he's still insubstantial except where he contrasts Katniss.  I won't add here my rant about the gratuitous, pointless, selfish romance story that adds thick layers of sexual tension.  (Arg!)  Instead of creating neat characters and then writing as a way of causing those created characters to interact, Katniss and Peeta change their entire personalities as a way to compensate for the weak plot line.  They don't change in ways consistent with the complexities of human behavior either.  They just wobble around on a line between romance and danger.  And we don't get to see who they really are.  
Essentially, my biggest complaint about the books is that the author uses the tactics of the government she claims to disagree with.  The State is using the death of children merely for entertainment and control purposes.  Collins is using the death of children merely for entertainment and audience control.  It's actually nauseating.  Not to mention the fact that her big finish to the Game was an eerie and disappointing pack of genetically-altered wolves...made from the dead bodies of the kids that were killed in the Game.  Really?  She couldn't think of anything more organic?   or at least less barbaric?
In the end, I think Collins's story had a lot of potential.  But I wish she had been more responsible with those ideas.
My prediction?  The Hunger Games will eventually be shelved with the rest of sensational adolescent literature along with every book written in the past five years with a vampire starring as the hero.  "Hunger Games" will have its intense impact and when all the hype is over, I hope people will turn to more worthy works.
My advice?  If you're looking for something that addresses the same stuff with comparable energy and without all the blood,  go for Lois Lowry's "The Giver."  The emotional impact is stirred by the intellectual complexity.  The way it should be.   

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Early Morning Laughter

God has blessed me with a part-time job at a Christian daycare.  While I'm not very good at communicating with little kids, it's something I want to get better at.  So I practice.  Every day.  And some days I succeed.  Other days...well, it might have been better for me to have stayed home.  But every job is like that.  And I'm finding out that working at a daycare is more than a job.  It's a stewardship.  I don't shuffle papers around and file reports all day.  I take care of little people...and I feel the weight of that responsibility.  They are souls that need shepherding and they are looking to me for some of that.  

Mostly, I just work in the afternoons.  I take care of the snack room and then play with (and discipline) the kids for a few hours until their parents pick them up.  But on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I cover a 6:30 to 8 AM shift.  This one is interesting.  It's an hour that I don't normally use to converse with adults...much less children who require longer explanations since they assume nothing normal.  It's funny.  I don't think I'm a hyper-logical person.  But I guess I do function within the confines of an orderly universe.  Some kids just don't.  And their comments are a little past my ability to comprehend at 6:30AM.  Here is an example of one such conversation...

Child: Why are you wearing that necklace? (it has a charm on it in the shape of a bird)
Me: Because I like birds.
Child: No you don't like birds.  Do you like fast birds?
Me: Um...yes.
Child: Slow birds?
Me: Yes.
Child: Big birds?
Me: Yes.
Child: Little birds?
Me: Yes.
Child: If a bird is hurt, will you help it fly again?
Me: I don't know how to help birds.  I'm not a veterinarian.
Child: Yes, you do.  You just have to pick it up.  It will fly.  Do veterinarians wear hats?
Me: I guess sometimes they do.
Child: Then my mom is a veterinarian.
Me: I thought your mom was an the police force..?
Child: No.  My mom wears hats.  My mom was a cowgirl, tomorrow. Where did you get that pencil?
Me: My friend bought if for me.
Child: No she didn't.
Me: Yes she did.
Child: No.
Me: Her name is Zoe.  And she did buy me this pencil.
Child: You don't like Zoe.
Me: Yes, I do.
Child: What is her name?
Me: Her name is Zoe.  And she bought me this pencil!
Child: I had a bad dream last night.  So my mommy let me sleep in her room.
Me: Oh.  We're you scared?
Child: Yes. But then she made me leave.  She said I was talking too much.
Me: Do you think you talk too much?
Child: Yes!
Me: Why?

On one occasion I asked a boy why he had just done something that he clearly knew was against the rules.  His response: "Because I'm awesome!"  
I had to restrain myself from laughing until I was by myself.  The truth is, that answer won't work in the real world.  But it is pretty hilarious.  

I'm told that being with children is healing.  I think it's true.  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

"...for my love is of Christ."

The following anecdote was written a few years ago (and recently revised.)  I'm posting it in fulfillment of a promise to Zoe (sister of the groom in the story).  Also, it makes a nice follow up post to the last one on singleness.  It's another long one.  (I'm finding it impossible to keep posts very apologies.)

The Photographer’s Daughter
                My parents own a small photography business.  And like all our growing up experiences, this business affected my brothers and me in ways I didn’t come to realize until much later.  Dad’s dream always involved being a wedding photographer and Mom went to great lengths to help him achieve it.  The work started out more of a hobby than a profitable investment, since it only took up a few nights a week and two or three weekends a month in the summer.  Dad never did learn to charge enough for his services and took financial pity on poor couples just starting out.  Still, the money was enough to supplement both full-time incomes and paid for my brothers and me to stay in a Christian school.  Somehow we always managed to save just enough to buy food for my growing brothers to inhale. 
                Needless to say weddings became a common occurrence for our family.  Before I entered junior high school, I had seen enough pictures to have an extensive list of ideas.  Colors, flower types, seating arrangements, music options; soon I had accrued myriad suggestions that I put into the mental box marked ‘wedding paraphernalia’ and shoved into an often-visited corner of my mind.  Unfortunately, the extensive experience with weddings became something of an over-exposure.  By my  17th year, I was a rather jaded young lady when it came to weddings.  Beautiful weddings, like paperback romance novels, were a dime a dozen and most of them ended in divorce.  In the 15 years that my dad worked as a photographer not many of the couples he photographed remained married.  Of those that divorced in later years, over half of them were coming to dad asking for services for their second or third marriage.   That means that we could count on one hand the number of first-time and lasting marriages we had witnessed in 15 years.
                If my view seems rather cynical you must understand that I was attending ceremonies celebrating the marriages of people I did not know.  Though occasionally Mom and Dad shot a friend’s wedding, the vast majority were ceremonies of people I had never met before.  To make matters more impersonal, the tiny bit of information that I learned about their love stories were riddled with late-night bar scenes and living arrangements that tainted the beauty of a physical relationship as it was meant to be.  These sin-laced stories were a big factor in my disillusioned attitude toward marriage in general.  I just didn’t see a lot of them retaining the beauty of the wedding day.
                  Perhaps the biggest discrepancy I found with these weddings goes back to my idea of the dress.  Like all little girls, I had dreamed about the dress since I was old enough to walk.  The bride always wore white, that was a given.  And before I reached my teen years, I had seen enough bridal portraits to know exactly what I wanted my own wedding dress to look like (of course, as a nine- or ten-year-old the dress seemed vastly more important than the groom.)  At first, my childhood dreams were enforced by the scenes I witnessed, a fairy- land of sparkles and ruffles and lace.  The bride became a princess and would float down the aisle in a dreamy haze of purest silk to meet her forever true love.  They sealed the deal with a kiss and then everybody partied!  But I was in for a rude awakening.  Somebody, probably Mom, informed me that most of the brides were not first-time brides and those that were had lived with their fiancĂ©es for a year or two before the wedding.  When I was old enough to understand the full implications of it, I was shocked and appalled.  Brides still insisted on wearing white, regardless of what went on before they were married.  I thought of it as a shameful misuse of the symbolic white gown.  I felt somehow deceived…offended.  Like I had been ripped off.  Maybe it’s not a rational emotion, but it’s true.  I had a deep sense that Justice and Beauty were being marred.  It gnawed at me every time I critiqued another bridal portrait.  How dare these brides steal the emblem meant for those who waited and honored God with purity?  Of course, most of these brides weren’t believers so it simply wasn’t a consideration for them.  Love began to look a lot more like lust.
                Since I could do nothing to change it, the custom of the dress was a small irritant next to the second trial of being the photographer’s daughter.  It was this problem that perhaps  first incited in me the self-conscious emotions that besiege most pre-teen American girls.  Until we were old enough to stay home alone, Mom and Dad had either to find a babysitter, or tote us along to the weddings they photographed.  Since we had just moved a few months earlier and because our money didn’t come from overflowing coffers, my brothers and I usually had to find something suitable to wear and trudge along with them.  This produced a new kind of awkward feeling.  New, because my parents have always lived as normal, down-to-earth people. Aaron, Adam, and I generally felt at home wherever we were because our parents had taught us to be personable, friendly.  Also, my naturally talkative personality had rescued us from many uncomfortable situations before.  But weddings, I found, created an entirely different setting.                
                When we arrived I always felt like an uninvited stranger knocking on the door of the wrong house (probably because I was, in fact, an uninvited, though not necessarily ill-received, stranger).  Generally, we were welcomed warmly by the host or hostess (since Mom and Dad always asked if we could come before showing up with us at the door.)  Still, only so much can be done to make a stranger feel welcome at an occasion as intimate as a wedding.  Aaron, Adam, and I learned to love big weddings where we could hide in the crowd and pretend we were invisible, while still trying to enjoy a slice of stale wedding cake with that horrible crusty frosting that I’ve since come to detest.  Much more stressful were smaller weddings where we would huddle together in a remote corner and watch fancily- (and often times scantily-) clad people get drunk while my parents documented the traditions of the evening.  Those traditions proved to be another wedding-facet that was quite taxing for us.  We never knew proper etiquette.  (They don’t write books on how to behave as an uninvited wedding guest.) I was always unsure whether to join those shoving for a chance to catch the bouquet  (I was often encouraged to, though I learned to position myself far from prime catching locations.)  Should we clap when everyone else did or was that a privilege reserved for the invited guests?  I felt wrong refraining but I didn’t feel right fully participating either.   The frustrations of it were endless.
                Occasionally, interesting people would engage the three of us in conversation, but their attempts at making things seem more relaxed only served to highlight the fact that we were, indeed, rather ill at ease.  Most of the time we kept to ourselves, ate just enough to survive and not enough to seem rude, and threw longing looks at my parents who would encourage us with smiles and gestured countdowns of hours left before we could go home.  We waited obediently, if sometimes impatiently, and hoped we had gotten our punch from the right punch bowl. 
                Even as a girl the sparkle and glitz of weddings very quickly faded leaving only the torture of bored hours on the sidelines trying in vain to focus on whatever reading material I had managed to smuggle out of the house.  As unobservant as I tried to be, I realized quickly that the existence of a ‘Perfect Wedding’ was about as common as a worthily-worn white bridal gown.  Something always seemed to glitch the plans.  The mother of the bride found fault with the mother of the groom.  A recently disowned cousin showed up without invitation.  The bride was, more often than not, a selfish spotlight-hog and if one thing could be depended on, it was the lateness of the limo.  I started learning to see the plastic under the table cloths, the metal bars under the trellis, and the wires that held the flowers together.  Again I felt cheated.  It wasn’t magic!  There’s no such thing as “Happily Ever After!”
                I guess for all those reasons and many more, the first ‘real’ wedding I attended had a remarkable impact on me.    I call it my first real wedding because it was the first time I attended a wedding of somebody that I really knew and loved.  The groom, Nick, was a family friend of ours.  He was a close friend of my brother’s and our families had grown close over the past 8 years or so.  When we were introduced to Karyn before their engagement we loved her immediately.  I’ll never forget the moment that I found out about their plans to be married.  Nick had taken her for a romantic walk on the beach.  As they collected shells, he found one with two sides and a hinge.  With a swift, secretive move he slipped the ring inside the shell and exclaimed,
                “Here’s a pretty one, Karyn!”  When she took it from his hand, the ring fell out just as Nick fell to his knees to beg for her hand.  I remember my heart skipping a beat when I heard the story.  It was simple, sweet.  No expensive restaurant, no frills, no fake pretenses.  She was truly surprised, he was truly creative.  It was just Nick and Karyn, completely in love.   
                I also remember the day we got their wedding invitation.  This time, it was personal.  My name was actually on the envelope!  They apparently wanted me there!  Finally!  I could eat wedding mints without feeling guilty and I could sit in the ceremony without that odd sense of waiting to be caught. 
                The day finally came and we piled in for the hour ride to the church.  The familiar photography equipment packed out the back of the van, but it felt different this time.  I cared about how this day went.  I was involved in what happened even though I wasn’t even part of the selected bridesmaids.  I had an even better position!  I was an invited guest!  I determined to keep my eyes wide open, soak it all in.  Maybe, just maybe, some of that sparkle would be there.  The magic I had stopped believing in as a teenager.  I was not to be disappointed! 
                This being my first real wedding, it was probably for the best that it was so traditional.  From the candles, to the order of service, to the reception, these people didn’t miss a beat.  Karyn’s dress was tailored with promises and dreams.  Sequins, crinoline, brocade flowers - she looked like an angel.  I smiled to myself when the groom arrived with his groomsman.  I’d seen a lot of grooms, but few as sharp and noble as Nick.  But he hadn’t escaped pre-wedding jitters!  He dashed around in his tux, looking alternately sick with happiness and nervousness.  He could hardly stand still and his friends laughed good-naturedly while trying to help him bear it.
                Like other weddings, I had to wait a very long time for everything to really begin.  Being the photographer’s daughter meant that I was there about three hours early.  I read and sat and walked around and waited and slept and read.  It was hopeless to try to make myself useful since people were always designated to take care of whatever might have been forgotten.  I was thankful that it was a church wedding.  (Outside weddings have fewer comfortable sleeping places.)  I waited, wondering if it was all going to be too good to be true.
It wasn’t a perfect wedding by any means.  Tension mounted when one of the bridesmaid’s dresses popped a zipper and had to be fixed about half an hour before time to go down the aisle.  Things were further delayed when Nick’s grandparents were late.   But despite these hiccups the ceremony turned out to be the most wonderful thing I’d ever seen. 
Tears welled up in my eyes when the music started.  Karyn had chosen two songs:  a traditional wedding song and The Prayer (a love song popularized by Josh Groban).  Both were sung by long-time friends with meaning and emotion.  The candle lighting synchronized perfectly.  The attendants marched in. The room fell absolutely silent.  Every corner and crack seemed to be waiting…
                 Then the moment of moments when Karyn graced the back of the auditorium and began her regal stride toward the arch where Nick stood waiting.  It was at that moment that I found the culmination of enchantment.  The world stopped for the couple as their eyes met in a tender yet glowing joy.  Nick’s face lit up like a star and tears filled his eyes.  Karyn glanced at her parents, then down the aisle at the friends and family gathered to witness this day.  Then she settled her gaze on Nick and he won her full attention from that moment until the end. 
                The glory of God was present there.  And I learned a serious lesson about marriage.  The beauty of the wedding wasn’t in the decorations.  It wasn’t in the flowers or the plans or even the music.  Much to my surprise, it wasn’t even the properly pictured purity of the stunning white gown Karyn wore ( though it did thrill my heart to see the couple marry for love instead of lust.)  It was in the bride and groom and ultimately, the source of their love.  I knew them and loved them, and they knew and loved God.  That’s what made it so special.
                I had never seen two people so happy just to be together, to belong to one another.   Karyn didn’t scream when things went wrong.  People weren’t fighting over plans.  Nobody threw things and nobody got drunk.  It was all reality and sincerity adorned with grace. And the loveliness of it floored me.  As they held hands and darted for the getaway car through a maze of bubbles, friends, and family, I felt like I had just finished a really good book…”and they all lived happily ever after.”  For maybe the first time, I saw a wedding for what it was.  Not the momentous occasion that sealed love.  But the public declaration of a commitment to continue a love already sealed.  It wasn’t so much the day of the wedding.  Like any other day, July 11th came and went.  But these two were forever united before God as a testimony to His grace and a picture of His glory. 
                Nick and Karyn ended their vows with these words:  “I will love you forever, for my love is of Christ.”  That’s what brought tears to my eyes,  True Love- Sacrifice- Commitment.  I was stricken with the realization that it wasn’t magic.  It was so much more than magic, it was divine.  

And that’s how the photographer’s daughter learned the truth about weddings.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Some Honesty

I should clarify, before I begin that I am generally content with being single.  Like all young women, I do struggle occasionally with loneliness and an unfulfilled desire to be married.  However, I am finding that God's grace is more than sufficient for this.  It's not a greater trial than any other and I take it as a sign that God is working in me.  To desire marriage is to desire a good thing!  To long for that lifetime love is in some ways longing for Eden.  But I'm not always wildly excited to be married. In fact, I find boyfriendlessness to be rather freeing most of the time.  Again, not to say that I never want to marry, I just really enjoy the liberty of deciding how to spend my time and the spontaneity that singleness allows.  I mean, most married women don't decide to fly up to Alaska to work camp for a summer just a few weeks before it happens.  Most married women can't drop everything to drive over to the house of a friend in need or suddenly start writing when the need takes over.  I'm still under my parents and I value their guidance and advice; but for the most part, I'm at the point that I generally make my own schedule and my own decisions.  Honestly, it's just fun.  I like the journey.

But I've been burdened lately.  Most of my good friends are seriously dating, engaged, or married.  And that's fun too.  I get to watch their relationships bloom into lasting love; I get to sing at their weddings and help them set up their new lives.  Now, I'm even getting to hold a few of their newborns.  It's a little weird, but I'm getting used to it.  (Babies are so cute!)  The burden comes from the conversations I have with other single girls.  They feel misunderstood and in some cases, mistreated.  Well-meaning people say hurtful things that can make it hard to be young and single in the church sometimes.  I know that most of these comments are meant to help and the speakers don't have any idea that they just started a ball rolling that will probably end in discontent and loneliness. So as a (very) single young woman, I thought of a few ways that the church family can intentionally help single ladies in their struggle.

1. Be very careful about setting people up on dates.  I've heard it before.  "You'd be perfect for each other!  Just wait and see!"  Again, I know that people really do mean well.  But there really is no way to know if your manipulation of circumstances won't end up to be more awkward and lonely for either one or both of the people involved.  I'm not saying DON'T set people up.  I'm saying, be sensitive and careful.  Assume nothing.  Don't make plans for people or set traps.  (Being taken off guard with that sort of thing can seem like an insult.)  Always ask and notice if the girl you're asking is really comfortable with it or just trying to be nice.  Don't make her feel obligated.  She may be prayerfully considering it, but your pressure could be unwelcome.

2. Don't try to explain God's will.  Recently, I had to leave college and come home for health reasons.  Someone remarked to my mom that God was obviously doing this because my husband wasn't at Northland yet.  But when I got back to school, he'd certainly be there and I'd certainly start dating.  These comments are neither edifying nor true.  Another friend told me that she once had to sit out for several semester.  People were very free with their myriad opinions about God's plans for her.  Some included wild theories about God needing to remove her from school because the wrong guy had a crush on her and He obviously needed to remove her from this potential danger.  Let's get back to our theology.  God is in control of all things.  But beyond what He has revealed in the Word, there is no way to know God's ultimate plan for a specific person.  My being home at this time could have NOTHING to do with marriage.  There's a good chance that He just has a lot of work to do to sanctify me and things to teach me that require me to be home.  The fact is, even saying things like "your time is coming...just wait...he's right around the next corner" doesn't help.  That isn't necessarily true.  God may very well want her to be single until He calls her home and it's better for her to learn to be content with Jesus than it is for her to live for a day that might not be coming in His will for her.  The bottom line?  It's not ours to try to figure it out, just to follow.  Don't make it harder than it is.

3. NEVER imply that contentment is the magic key to the door of marriage.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard this one!  "As soon as you are content, God will bring him along!"  Not only is this not true, it reveals a very dangerous view of God.  Sure, contentment is one thing that God may use prolonged singleness to accomplish in the submitted believer.  But contentment (or any other virtue) is not the price for a boyfriend.  "Contentment"  motivated by an expectation for God to hand you a husband isn't true contentment.  It may happen that soon after you come to accept your singleness, you get married.  That doesn't make it a magic formula.  God isn't a magic genie and he doesn't owe you a husband or any other blessing for that matter.  The fact is, that He is so much more fulfilling than any human can be.  And contentment isn't a one-time achievement.  It's part of the journey of the Christian life.  Single girls are going to struggle with that from time to time.  Accept it.  Know that a lot of discontent women got married and are still discontent.  A lot of content women got married and are now discontent.  There are a lot of content people who aren't married.  And a lot of content women get married and stay content.  WHY?  Because contentment has nothing to do with marriage.  It has everything to do with where you place your security.  God gives blessing to unworthy people because of His grace.  He's just that kind of amazing, good God.  He also withholds very good blessings from people that we would consider worthy. Trying to relate the sin of discontentment to the reason for a person's singleness is like saying that as soon as you buy some syrup then pancakes will appear on the table.  It doesn't make sense in logic and it doesn't work in God's nature.

4. Don't try to tell her why she's still single.  This is an often made mistake and one of the most harmful. Girls get really insecure if guys haven't showed interest in them and if they reach 20 without having dated, chances are that they've already made a list in their heads to explain why.  "I'm too fat."  "I'm not pretty enough."  "I'm too talkative." "I'm not talkative enough." Even "compliments" don't excuse people from trying to "help." Saying things like, "you're too picky" or "you're too smart" is far from considerate.  The fact is that godly girls date because it's God's plan.  Godly girls are single when it's God's plan for them to be single.  Godly marriages happens when God wants it to happen and not a moment before.  Your opinion or approval have no bearing on His plans.

5. Be careful about how you talk about your relationship in her presence.  Some people might not agree with me on this one.  To clarify, I'm not saying hide your engagement pictures.  I'm not saying don't mention the name of the man for whom God is forming love in your heart.  In fact, it is an encouragement to me every time a friend starts dating! I thank God that He still puts people together and I like watching and learning from my dating friends.  I just want to make the point that a lot of dating/engaged girls get into a bragging mode that becomes a stumbling block for single girls in particular.  Those sweet nothings that he whispers into your ear were meant for your ear, not hers.  When you blabber on for hours about your intense love for so and so, it can be difficult for your single friend to relate to your emotional high and she may start to feel estranged from you because of your consuming need to talk about this guy.  One of the friendships that has been a blessing in my life had a defining moment at Thanksgiving this past year.  This friend had started dating only the week before.  She came to visit at a particularly low point for me when I was very sick.  During the course of her visit, she had several opportunities to talk about this new and exciting change in her life.  But not once did she mention her new relationship.  She asked how I was feeling.  She told me funny stories and told me about books she'd be reading.  But she was extremely sensitive to my vulnerable spiritual condition.  She discerned that I was probably already dealing with the emotional struggle of being sick and isolated from my friends.  And she set out to encourage me instead of discuss her new boyfriend.  That is love!  That is self-death!  If this has ever been shown to you, you can understand why it really spoke to me.  It's that kind of maturity and restraint I'm talking about.  (By the way, since that visit, she has shared with me about this special man and I've even had the chance to meet him.  The impression she made on me during that visit was such an encouragement and proof that her focus was on Christ that meeting him was one of the most pleasant boyfriend-meeting situations I've experienced yet.)

6. ENCOURAGE!  Lastly, give single girls opportunities to serve!  Involve them in Bible studies.  Invite them over and treat them like sisters.  Give them hugs.  Teach them new recipes.  Be interested in their passions and help them cultivate those passions for God's glory.  Distract them from their loneliness with the love of Jesus.  Basically, disciple them.  That's what single girls need, just like married girls do.  They need to be prepared for marriage, but more than that they need to be nurtured in the Word of God for the glory of God.  It's not ultimately about marriage.  It's about loving Jesus.  Don't pity them or feel sorry for them.  And don't give them the chance to have pity parties either.  Help them enjoy their singleness and reclaim it for the fullness of LIVING in Christ!

Hopefully, that was edifying.  It wasn't meant to be negative towards the kind attempts of people to comfort those who don't know your married joy.  Let God work and let your single friends enjoy their singleness with your support and love.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Great Subtraction: The Travel Mug

Convenience is such  a double-edged sword.  In one way, convenience makes for time saving.  And everybody loves to save time.  Time that you don't use to wash dishes, you can use to relax with family. (At least that's what all those dish-washer liquid commercials seem to imply.)  But at the same time, we lose something in convenience too.  In a society drowning in consumerism, we are cursed with the add syndrome.  Add sugar.  Add water.  Add frills, lace, and bows.  Add another song to your itunes.  Add a friend online.  Add information.  It has to be personalized.  Add another app.  Another job.  Another flavor to your soda.  Another deal.  Another shopping center.  Another membership.  Another email.  Add, add, add, add, ADD!  (No wonder kids have attention deficit disorder...or ADD.)  But I'm starting to think that all our multiplication has added up to subtraction.  The world can't just add exponentially without losing something.  And maybe what we've gained is less valuable than what we've lost.  We've subtracted solitude almost completely.  Contemplation is a lost art.  Silence is non-existent.  Contentment was tossed in the same garbage bin as conversations that go beyond trivialities.  Maybe we've even lost our identity.  (Or did we hand it over?)  It's something that gamers and headphone addicts miss out on completely.  They've added virtual entertainment and lost the sound of the rain on the roof and the feeling of the wind on their faces.  They've traded the smell of the sea and the sound of the surf for the treble of unreality.  The loss is tragic.

And here I come to my greatest complaint which is symbolic of the problem.  The travel mug.  
Tea is not a drink, it is an experience.  (A lot of coffee drinkers feel the same way about tea's cousin.) However, we should look at the historical purpose for afternoon tea.  It is reported that the queens of Britain took tea in the afternoons for several reasons.  
First, out of hunger.  (A lot of people can't get from lunch to dinner without a little something.) 
Second, to relax.  (Seriously, afternoon royal obligations can be strenuous.) 
Lastly, to converse.  (Many British friendships were formed around tea.)  
And England wasn't the only country to form important relationships around tea.  One proverb from a people group in Pakistan was made famous by a recent book entitled Three Cups of Tea.  "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger.  The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest.  The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family." 
Obviously, for most of the world, tea has important implications.  It's not just a drink.

So what's my point?  The travel mug has ruined all that.  Take afternoon tea and strip it of its leisure and conversation.  Smash the delicate teacups and rip up the table cloth.  Take the tea and pour it quickly into an insulated mug, tea spilling everywhere while you rush out the door.  It's just not the same.  Yes, we get to drink our tea wherever we are.  Yes, we get to enjoy whatever hot drink we want even if we are riding the subway to some unknown destination.  But if that's the case, let's not say that we are having tea.  Let's just say that we are drinking it.  

And if I invite you for tea, as I love to do, then let me set out my nice teacups and some flowers.  Let's sit down on the sunny side of the kitchen and talk.  Let's have tea.  Let's reject the subtraction of afternoon tea from culture.  Take tea by yourself if you wish...reclaim something of your British heritage.  (If you have no British heritage than reclaim something of mine.  Or chances are, that whatever culture you were from had or has a tea ritual...many countries do.)  Take tea daily, twice a day, three times.  And in some ways this will make us stronger people.  We will resist the urge to fill our hours with sound and our days with movement.  We will practice breathing and letting the silence consume us with peace.  We will become better listeners, because we will hear the clock ticking (and we will smile at it, knowing that it is no longer dominating us for a least a few moments every day.)  We will hear the birds singing or the rain or the wind or the world around us, apart from us, undriven by us, unaffected by our presence, unaltered by our brashness.  And in these silences, we will make room for thoughts and often, for thoughts of God.  I sometimes see my morning teatime as a conversation with God.  But of course, I didn't invite Him.  He invited me.  They are lovely hours that we spend in quiet.  Sometimes there are tears. Sometimes, laughter.  Always, I leave those times with a sigh and a feeling of utter completeness.  And that's not an app that can be downloaded.
So, trash your travel mug, friends.  You're invited to tea.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Follow Up

Lewis would have said that the modern BBC Sherlock is a classic example of what a modern (here postmodern) mind looks like.  He is all fact and no meaning.  Here, finally, I rest my case.

“...His world is all fact and no meaning.
And in a period when factual realism is dominant we shall find people deliberately inducing upon themselves this doglike mind. A man who has experienced love from within will deliverately go about to inspect it analytically from outside and regard the results of this analysis as truer than his experience.
The extreme limit of this self-binding is seen in those who, like the rest of us, have consciousness, yet go about to study the human organism as if they did not know it was conscious. As long as this deliberate refusal to understand things from above, even where such understanding is possible, continues, it is idle to talk of any final victory over materialism.
The critique of every experience from below, the voluntary ignoring of meaning and concentration on fact, will always have the same plausibility. There will always be evidence, and every month fresh evidence, to show that religion is only psychological, justice only self-protection, politics only economics, love only lust, and thought itself only cerebral biochemistry.”
–C. S. Lewis, “Transposition,” in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses(New York: HarperCollins, 1949/2001), 114-5.