Tuesday, November 2, 2010

90 Miles to Havana

In 90 Miles to Havana, Enrique Flores-Galbis narrates the story of a small boy who is sent with his two brothers to a camp outside Miami as part of Operation Pedro Pan, which transported over 14,000 children from Cuba to Miami for parents that could not leave themselves and were afraid that their children might be brainwashed by the new Communist regime or pressed into military service. Though his novel is fiction, it is directly inspired by his personal experience. Like the little boy in the story, Enrique Flores-Galbis had two older brothers, and he left Cuba at age 9 as part of Operation Pedro Pan .

The story is full of exciting and sobering events: the revolution in Cuba, the splitting of families, the danger of a new place, bullies, and the difficult decisions that Julian (the little boy) has to face all by himself. In the beginning of the book, Julian is a little boy who lets his two older brothers think and make decisions for him. (Even though his friend Bebo is teaching him how to think for himself, he rarely uses what he's learned.) In the end, he learns to make his own decisions and to weigh his own motives in trying to determine right and wrong. Throughout the book he encounters characters that teach him about courage and fear (the bully Caballo and his brave friend Tomas), justice and tyranny (the camp cook Dolores), pride and humility (Cuban radio show-host Armando). He learns to season trust with caution, and comes to the conclusion that there can be no price put on human life.

Though this book is clearly written for mid-grade children, these are themes and decisions that many adults ought to hear and weigh in their minds over and over again. Many children will never have to face such extreme situations with such permanent consequences as appear in this book. However, I think it is very valuable for children to develop at an early age a good understanding of courage and justice and humility; that every action and decision has consequences that should be considered beforehand; and that it's valuable to take initiative in making those decisions.

As I'm sure many of these stories are in reality, 90 Miles to Havana is somewhat of a bittersweet tale. The Cubanos have left friends and family behind. They have endured unthinkable hardship and danger. Yet, in the end, the family almost whole again, the American bullies aren't quite so mean as the Cuban ones, and Julian believes that the hard place he built around his heart while on his own will someday melt when his father comes to be with them in Connecticut. 90 Miles to Havana is a book of hard, but hopeful change. It will certainly give you a fast and thought-provoking read.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Children's Book Review: Criss Cross

Set in the 1960s, Criss Cross often mentions "transcendental" type moments of revelation. One of these was in the second chapter, and it made me skeptical that the book would provide any real insight into young minds. Boy was I wrong.

Lynn Rae Perkins is a mastermind at expressing the thoughts--random or organized, specific or theoretical--of young teenagers that are discovering their own personality and friends. Using a variety of forms from prose to haiku, to song lyrics and split screen writing, Perkins' use of words is an illustration itself to the complexity of young minds seeking to find their way through life. Thinking back to my own early teen years (which weren't so long ago) I recognize myself and my own thoughts in this book...not just in one character, but in all of them!

Perkins introduces a fun cast of ordinary teens and follows them through a series of developing events. So flawlessly does she track the mental gyrations of her characters, the reader moves with them through the story, feeling the subtle changes of growing personality, but not realizing it until the characters themselves make the discovery.

There are great themes of friendship, humility, and compassion through it all, along with a classic series of awkward teenage moments and everyday vignettes, humorous because of their accurate detail. Altogether, it makes for an upbeat book, charming in its realism and normalcy. (Why is realism so often not charming?) It reminds us of what we should already know: *most* teens in their coming of age years are (we all hope) in the process of becoming good adults, who enjoy life and take interest in and care for those around them. Though the subject matter is taken on by thousands of authors every year, Perkins approaches her story with a unique style and insight. If you're looking for a quiet, humorous adventure through the minds of several growing teenage friends, have this one close at hand!

Children's Book Review: Shiloh (spoiler alert)

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's book, Shiloh, centers around a boy who discovers a shy and mistreated beagle and his quest to make the dog his own. The book is full of precious moments of love between boy and dog that are sharply contrasted with the tensions in the book, of which there are several. There's the tension between the boy and his parents, who strictly prohibit pets on the reasonable grounds that they cannot afford to feed them or take them to the vet. All their extra funds go to caring for the boy's grandmother. The dog's owner, Judd, causes tension also because he's dishonest, and he's cruel to his dogs. And finally, there's a boatload of tension between the boy and everyone else because he decides to hide the dog and tells innumerable lies to cover it up.

These are excellent themes and questions for children to consider: What is right and wrong? Does it always line up with what the law says? What are the consequences of lying? Does loving something grant you some kind of ownership over it? And what happens when your love for one thing might hurt something else you love?

While Shiloh gives us considerable food for thought on the first four questions and resolves them in the end, the last question remains asked, but unanswered. For the boy and his family end up with the dog, but the family's situation has not changed. The reader is left to wonder, will their grandmother not get all the care she needs? Will the family get enough food? Will they really be able to to take care of the dog? (As far as we know, the book ends with the boy still owing his father money for a doctor's visit when Shiloh was attacked by another dog.)

The story is well told and the characters are painted brilliantly, which earned the book a Newbery Medal in 1992. But with one of the main tensions in the book remaining unresolved in the end, some readers are bound to walk away less than satisfied. We want to be thrilled for the boy, but I, at least, put the book down hoping (rather than being reassured) that the right decision was made and they'd all "live happily ever after." This feeling of unease in the end was compounded by the fact that the boy witnessed his neighbor Judd shoot a dear out of season, and used this information to blackmail Judd into selling him the dog. Even in the boy's mind, he knew he was doing something dishonest that would, in the long run, hurt the dear population in the area. But he was willing to do anything to keep Shiloh... once again asking the question, "What happens when your love for one thing hurts something else?"

Now I like happy endings, but I can be thoroughly satisfied even with a sad ending, as long as the problem that has propelled the book along is resolved in the end. What bothers me here is that a critical tension throughout the story--one that begs for resolution before the end of the story--remains untouched. Not even in the context of dialogue does the boy talk with his parents about their finances or do the parents reassure the boy that they would "make it work." For me then, the book is good and thought provoking, but I wouldn't recommend it for your "must read" children's book list.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An Ebenezer

Five years ago, I woke up in my bed in Alaska, extremely grumpy. The time was drawing near to when I would leave home to go to college--the most enormous change of my life as of then. I kept thinking about my dearest friends and how much I would miss them. I pounded some blues on my piano, then roared into a jaunty tango. As I hit the last cord with a flare, 5 of my best friends burst into the room, yelling "surprise!" (And boy, was I surprised!) They had come to kidnap me for a whole day of fun and fellowship together.

My life changed that day. While the whole thing is very memorable and special to me, the most important thing is that there was a thunderstorm at the end of the day. It's the only thunderstorm that I ever remember happening in Alaska. Usually, if it's going to rain a lot, it just rains gradually for a week! But God gave me a thunderstorm and afterward, a full rainbow. And not just a rainbow, but a double rainbow. Remember what a rainbow is? It's a promise, and a sign in itself of God's faithfulness to his promises. That day, I had complete conviction that God was speaking to me and reminding me in a both gentle and powerful way that He is faithful to keep me no matter what I do or where I go.

Through my first year of college, I memorized the date only on a whim, remembering that it was my favorite day of the last year. But as time went on, I kept wondering what would be happening on July 27 the next year. My freshman year, I changed a lot, partly from college, but also from going on tour as a pianist with the Continental Singers. My life was likely to be much different than I was expecting... and I was beginning to stop expecting (or hoping) for something specific and simply be excited about the surprises God brings along, knowing that everything He gives is awesome and full of purpose and meaning. That day was one of the first days we were having a concert outside. In fact, we were in a campground  in the woods in Germany. But we didn't end up having a concert. The clouds rolled in, and a huge thunderstorm poured down all around us. Fortunately, we were able to get all the equipment into a gazebo area so it wouldn't be damaged. While we waited, listening to the rain, we sang praise songs together and talked--beautiful, relaxing fellowship in the woods....just like the year before! And when the clouds broke (I can still hardly believe it), there was a double rainbow stretching full across the sky! I was so overwhelmed by God's generosity and reassurances, that July 27th has become for me a day of remembering God's faithfulness (whether or not there's a rainbow.)

For example, a couple years ago, it seemed that nothing very special happened on July 27th. My mother and I went to Anchorage together and bought a new microwave. But you see, since the day of July 27 is set aside in my mind as being a day to celebrate God's faithfulness, what could I do but praise God that he gives us so much time and money to be able to afford such wonderful things as microwaves, which are clearly a blessing above and beyond what we need! And now, when I go to visit my parents, I see that new microwave and think of how good God is to us!

Today, I have a whole year of outrageous blessing to look back on and simply gawk at how ridiculously good God is to me. And I had an amazing start to my day around 4:30AM... beginning the day (rather unusually) by being so glad that God gave me as much sleep as he did! Later today I'm going to go pick blackberries... (Blackberries, by the way, will forever make me think of my beautiful and dear friend Andrea, who loves berries and has been generous enough to let me share in her delight whenever we're together. How faithful God is to give us wonderful Christian friends to encourage us through sharing things we love!) And not only do I get to have purple fingers and tongue, but I get to enjoy them with another lovely friend, who will be (come another July 27th) as a sister-in-law to me. How much fun we shall have in celebrating God's goodness to us in giving us godly husbands that love and care for us!

I could list so many things that God has been faithful to provide, but the biggest one that I can think of is how he has consistently provided spiritual encouragement in all different (and often unexpected) quarters. I suppose it's often unexpected because I am now living in Washington DC, and feeling rather out of my element, like a lobster in a pot of boiling water. (considering how hot it is here!) And God has brought dear friends from all corners of the continent to our apartment that say they're "just passing through." But just between you and me, I secretly think that they're really there just to visit me--to encourage me by how faithful God is to give me fellowship with good friends, one way or another. But that's just one of many examples of how God constantly surprises me with wonderful things that I delight in. And all these things help remind me that joy in the Lord is to be found anywhere I look for it...whether in little things like blackberries or big things like a spouse and an air conditioner.

Let me know how God has shown his faithfulness to you, either today, or sometime in the last year!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Under the Surface of The Music Man

There is hardly a more dangerous place to turn off our brains than in front of a television. This is not because we can freely and mindlessly accept attitudes and moral judgments in other areas of life, but rather, we must be more careful in front of a television because it is exactly there that we are inclined to stop thinking. The danger is that all the writers, directors, and producers of everything that goes on television know that the vast majority of America's population sits in front of the tube so they can be entertained without having to think. And they say to themselves (rightly so) that this is the media to use when they want to get a message to the world and change people's minds. Even commercials can be an attack against the principles many people hold dear. They say: "You may not even know you want this, but you need it. You ought to have it. And what's more, you should enjoy it by buying it with someone else's money if you possibly can. Everyone will admire you if you do."

Movies and TV shows are much more subtle. It is so easy to mindlessly enjoy them; to vicariously live and have adventures through the characters on screen. We imagine what it would be like if we were doing and saying the same things with the same consequences. And in this way, modern movies can edge their way into our minds and skew our perception of good and evil, modesty, true love, responsibility, faith, and finances. Old and new movies alike can present dubious images of reality that we are slow to recognize. However, I also think that many movies, new and old, have excellent morals and snapshots of truth that we can learn from should we choose to recognize and think about them.

For example: I recently watched the Music Man, an excellent musical from 1961. While there are many interesting comments throughout the movie on the American Midwest and small town social life, we find more worldview statements in how we see Prof. Harold Hill interact with the town. He is an unabashed con-man, come to sell boys bands and get out before they realize they've been swindled. He is undeniably good at what he does, but the movie paints his intentions as morally reprehensible and dangerous to his well-being. I can't imagine anyone watching the movie wishing that they were in his position. There is also an interesting commentary on mercy and love. For Marian (the librarian) discovered early on that Prof. Hill was a cheat, but decided to keep the information to herself because his influence had made her little brother happy after two years of ashamed lisping silence since their father had died. This was a judgment call on her part, and I'm inclined to think that it was the wrong one--she should have exposed him. But again, with such hardness do we often meet a merciful response to evil...unless it's toward ourselves. In the end, he is redeemed. The band comes and plays, albeit terribly, and the town is satisfied. (I'm sure I don't know why.) At first sight, it might seem that Prof. Hill is redeemed through his own works because many other groups of people in the town realized that he had done many good things for them. But this is not the case. It was ultimately the playing of the band and his care for Marian that made him stay that redeemed him. But he did nothing to help that boy band play and he certainly did nothing to earn Marian's trust and admiration. So, while there is some measure of open disrespect to authority (the comical Mayor Shin) and while one might doubt the wisdom of Marian's decision to trust the professor, we can certainly walk away from the film with the reminder that mercy is always unreasonable and redemption comes through mercy.

If you haven't seen it, watch it! And tell me what worldview statements you see in other areas of the movie.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In Honor of a Birthday

For many years, on this very day
I've celebrated a life I love.
Her heart is merry; it likes to play
And will never give you the shove!
She works quite hard at home and away
Cooking and cleaning and stopping to pray.

She gives God the praise for all her good works
Knowing His grace is sufficient each night.
(She's an early bird--it's one of her quirks
When nighttime comes her strength is more slight.)
But she's kind and generous with all of her time
"People are most important" is  favorite line.

She's worked in my life, I know that for sure
And will be a dear friend 'til Christ comes again.
She taught me to read, knit, cook, and what's more,
Delight in God's world from shore to shore
And meet friends and family with an open door
I know those who know her will say with a grin,
"This woman's your mother!" And I say, "Amen!"

I love you Mama! Thanks for being such a great mother, teacher, and friend. Come see us again soon!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Operation Chili

The day was sunny and bright. The kitchen was clean. Friends were taking me to the store. Everything was in place, and there was nothing that made me suspect that my dinner plans would turn into a full fledged battle between me and... you guessed it, a pot of soup. "A pot of soup?" you say incredulously. Yes indeed. Be not mistaken. A pot of soup is a thing nearly in surmountable. It is a thing of mystery, danger, and excitement. You never know exactly what is at the bottom of it. But I'm getting ahead of myself. This adventure did not start with my making a pot of chili... it started with a phone call.

"Oh hi Desiree'! Sorry I missed your call."
"You're going to be here in about half an hour... and you have directions to the store? Of course. No problem. Just call me when you're getting close and I'll come out and meet you."
"Yep! Bye."

BAM! I thought to myself. I scored big time. Instead of a 2 hour trip to the store to get 2 or 3 bags of groceries and breaking my arms (and sometimes bags) on the walk back; I now acquired for myself one de-lux ride to the store equipped with special extra space for my very own bags, plenty of leg room, and a radio channel that features a couple men that read straight through the Bible. (Unfortunately, they happened to be going through one of the lengthy Old Testament lineages.)

3o minutes later I checked my watch, shrugged my shoulders, and played "Hey Jude" on the piano. 5 minutes after that, I went outside to cut a few of the wildflowers growing by the side of our building. The blue stars add a nice touch of life to one of our bookcases. 5 minutes after that, I twiddled my thumbs.... and right when I was about to be impatient, Desiree' called again and said they were almost here. (I repeated to myself, BAM!)

I don't know what punk company they got their directions from, but I do know one thing. All the roads that don't lead to Rome lead to downtown DC. You might think that's not so bad. After all, it's April first, people are happy about the warm sun and families are picnicking gaily in the parks and everyone is ready to deck the White House with boughs of cherry blossoms. Well actually, because of the Cherry Blossom festival, every road through downtown DC was packed with cars AND pedestrians, neither of which mind they're own traffic lights. I've never hear people curse or honk so much. They should have turned to 107.5 and edified their soul by learning that Jabesh the son of Zoar the son of.....

Oh no! I've heard stories about this. The day and dinner is ruined by the meal resisting consumption. It maneuvers and strikes back at its maker. Well then. I will NOT give in! The chili shall be MINE (and Paul's) and we will consume it before the parking garages start charging $15/hr for late fees. 

My mind was made up. I knew in my heart of hearts that even before we got to the store, my dinner (mostly still on the shelves of the store) was resisting my coming. Well, we made it to the highway which turned out to be the wrong one. Oh well. A mere 15 minutes later, we were speeding our way to Alexandria... to Shoppers... to my dinner.

I was concentrating so fully on the cans of beans and tomatoes that I nearly missed getting a shopping cart. But I didn't fall for that sneaky trick. I turned around, grabbed a cart and headed for the front lines... err, aisles. Without much protest, the beans and tomatoes and other chili ingredients resigned themselves to their fate in my cart, and I managed to go through the store gathering groceries that we'd need for most of the rest of the month. (At a price cheaper than any store within walking distance. BAM!) I got so much food that it didn't matter at all how long I had to wait for my friends to be done shopping. I knew that I wouldn't have been able to buy so much in more than 5 trips walking to the store.

The way back was relatively uneventful, though I had to keep a sharp watch out for the turns and exits to get to our apartment. But I made it back and began to unpack and to start the chili. Oh no! It's happening again. The onions erased themselves from my memory. *sigh* There's not one left! What is chili without onions? Ha. This dinner thinks it has me licked... well I'm not! Chili without onions is actually what I planned all along! Bua-ha-ha-ha-ha....

I opened cans and thew things in the pot right and left feeling like a chef competing on the Food Network. I sauteed the ground beef, drained it and tossed it in. Add some chili powder, cumin, and BBQ sauce... and left it to boil for a little bit while I washed some dishes. (The dish soap had tipped over and made a mess on the counter while I was gone.) It was all coming together nicely. But this was no ordinary, calmly submissive pot of soup, no sir. It wasn't going down without a last ditch effort at wounding my chef's pride. I turned around and the pot was boiling and smelling delectable and inviting. But no... it was boiling a little too vigorously. It was a little too excited about how hot it was getting. I removed it from the stove and started stirring it, groaning inwardly as I felt a few things stuck to the bottom. And then, without warning,. a huge bubble of chili burst all over my left wrist, scalding it and making me cry aloud. I'm so glad they don't tar and feather people anymore, I thought as I held my wrist under some cold water from the faucet and turned off the stove with the other hand. The wall was splatter with chili from the Blissfield picture to the other side of the window. Dear me.

Yes sir, my dinner tried hard to escape me this time, but I had the last word. The pot of chili sat on the stove now, calmly cooling off, and I lifted a spoon into it for a taste. And I smiled a smile of satisfaction that only comes after a hard victory won.

(And for concerned readers, my burned wrist is recovering well underneath a soothing ice pack, balanced just so that I can type at the same time.... oh wait! The back just started leaking... and there's water going everywhere! Uhm....excuse me for just a moment.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chocolate... and more chocolate!

Looks good, doesn't it? Here's what really happened.

The dawn broke. What it broke, I don't know, but if I had been awake at the time, I certainly would have taken it as a warning. Today was destined to be a clumsy day, and everything--even nature--was contributing. Today was the day that I would make Triple Chocolate Biscotti, and the world would be forever changed... or at least the color of my shorts would be.

I followed the instructions, honest! Well... at least I tried more than I usually do, but I had to give up because it was getting too messy. I set my computer on the counter so I could look at the recipe as I went along. I combined some of the liquids and then got out some eggs. I already used my hand mixer, and thought I'd just stick the immersion-blender whisk in the eggs to quickly mix them up. But unfortunately, it only had one setting: Very Very High. And the whisk attachment is just so aerodynamically shaped as to make everything around it fly into the air while it stays firmly in place. It was a fateful moment...(nanosecond, probably). I pressed the button, and instantly, there was egg yolk in my hair, on the counter, oozing over my toes, dripping down the counter, sprawling on my computer keyboard... just about anywhere but in the bowl where they once so peacefully resided. One almost had to laugh it was so comical. However, I was the only one present, and was a little too busy trying to cleanup without spreading the chaos further to stop for a hearty chuckle. I presently ordered my small kitchen to rights and continued with the cooking. It seemed to go well enough for the rest of the  process. Of course, chocolate is always dangerous and one never knows until hours later what single-minded purpose it has been pursing against your own health and sanity.

Blissfully ignorant of the mess I was in (literally) I arranged the plate you see above and prepared myself to enjoy one of the (lesser) fruits of my labors. (My particular cookie was falling apart and not worthy of being in the picture.) I picked it up and tilted my milk, ambitious to cover as much chocolate as possible with its creamy goodness. Ah but friends, Caesar was ambitious. I hadn't taken a single bite of my chocolate creation before I had spilled milk all over our tablecloth, one of our chairs, myself, and the floor. Sighing, I set about cleaning up my second mess.

And then, 2 hours after taking the picture, I looked (for the first time, apparently) down at myself and saw a little bit of chocolate on the bottom corner of my shorts pocket. How odd. I certainly didn't use my pockets while cooking! I flaked it off, and then noticed some more farther up... and more.... and more!!! There was chocolate caked all over the inside of my pocket! Maybe Julius Caesar wasn't ambitious. Maybe he just was clumsy and got in the way. Maybe the circumstances overwhelmed him and became too much for him to handle without making a mess of it. (But Brutus says he was ambitious. And Brutus is an honorable man.)

He seemed to do well ruling while he was alive (filling the general coffers and all that). And the biscotti itself turned out well and delicious. And yet, though the people may mourn and wail, this day buries my noble ambition to cook with three chocolates at one time.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A "Picture Perfect" Post

Ebay is officially amazing. My computer crashed a while ago, and for some time I was unable to download any pictures off my cameras. Then, I thought it would be brilliant to find out how much memory card readers are. BestBuy = $30(+). Ebay = $4.

Hmmmm. Tough choice there.

A week later and with free shipping, my $4 card reader appeared in the mailbox downstairs, and now I can share some of my pictures! Yay.

These are some sights you might see around our Apartment in Arlington.

This is Highway 50. The bridge I'm standing on leads to great and glorious things, like.... the grocery store. And the metro. Boo-yah.

It really is fun to just stand in the sun and watch the cars go by. One day, I decided it would be a good idea to relax and do this for a while. And as I stood leaning over the rail with my head propped in my hands, a van full of large black men rolled to a stop behind me. They opened the sliding door and one of them called out, "Hey. You O.K?" They seemed concerned that I was in the depths of despair and about to fling myself over the edge. Another spoke up and asked, "Yo' boy-fren' treatin' yo' raht?" I laughed and assured them that all was even better than "all right." But they insisted that if such was ever not the case, I was to inform them, and "they would teach him a lesson or two." I believe it to.

I love seeing things with my name on them--even if it IS a fire hydrant!

On the right is part of the Rosslyn skyline. The big apartment building is the Belvedere. That's where we don't live. When looking for apartments, I quickly learned that if I had to be buzzed into the main reception area, it was way out of our league.

It's pretty amazing that when we see this, we know we're getting close to home. This is the Marine Memorial, made from a photograph taking during the US victory on Iwo Jima in WWII. The inscription reads, "Uncommon valor was a common virtue."

Just some fall leaves on the sidewalk near our apartment. Take a guess: do you think I ran through them?

Below are some views from Arlington Cemetary.
This particular view is from the front of Robert E. Lee's house on top of the hill.

And this is his house. Incredible, isn't it?

A view of the older part of the cemetery, before they starting using uniform gravestones;

and below, is one of the roses that grow under a large Grecian colonnade behind Lee's house. They're a lot larger than they look, and there were so many of them, that the air smelled like
perfume! It was a rainy day... and absolutely beautiful!

(Out enjoying a beautiful sunset, walking by the memorial, the cemetery, and the Carillon.)

I hope you enjoyed all these!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Disney Dreams

Aren't dreams fun?

This morning I was dozing in bed and started dreaming that I was back at my home church and an old friend walked in with an army buddy. There was a conference going on, and I was at the "reception desk" so I started trying to stow all their army gear (because apparently they had come straight from the airport?) and trying to get it out of the way. There was a little space behind the desk and another closet/storage room that I put the rest in. He had a small round bundle that looked like a sleeping bag, and when I put it into a large cubby hole, it knocked out a panel that led to a secret passage! Then, it started rolling... down down down into the darkness and out of sight.

I went to get my friend and we ran after his bundle. The air was damp and musty and our shoes kicked up mud and rocks on the wide trail as we ran down. We could barely see two feet in front of us, but there was a dim light coming from an unidentifiable source even though we were clearly underground. Eventually we found the trail ending at a large cavern with a quiet, but wide stream and a small boat beached on the mud. We could see my friend's bundle bobbling along in the stream, so we got in the metal boat and shoved off. We caught the bundle easily enough. But then something began to change. The current got swifter, and the air got colder. Our paddles seemed to do little good against the swift undercurrent that was taking us further and further from our trail and into the darkness. I realized that the small amount of light must have been coming from a tiny hole in the very top of the cavern. But now we were back in a tunnel, on water this time, with darkness getting thicker every moment. I quickly got disoriented between the blackness and the swiftness of our travel and could no longer tell if we were going in circles or travelling along toward a new destination. I began to be convinced that our boat was being controlled by some outside force... for evil or good, I dared not guess.

Soon, light began to gradually creep into the tunnel once again, but this was certainly not the cavern that we had just left. And the rocks ahead and the roaring sounded disconcertingly like either a large waterfall or an enormous machine that would shred us to pieces. Fortunately, in the light we could see that the stream in the tunnel, though deep in the middle was shallow at the sides with dirt and pebbles rising above the level of the water. We threw are strength against the paddles, and by working inch by inch up the side of the stream, we were able to make our way back the way we came.

About 100 yards from the cavern, the powerful drag on our boat stopped, as if someone had suddenly switched off a magnetic field. At the same time, a pair of double doors swung open and light poured into the cavern. Standing in the door was a small rigid figure about two feet tall. We couldn't tell what it was because it was silhouetted in the light, but it was clearly glad to see us. We quickly got out of the boat and approached the light. Who was it? "The Tin Man?!?!" a voice said beside me. (That was Friar Tuck.) Then the life size Tin Man appeared suddenly and scooped up his 2 foot counterpart as he greeted us both affectionately and welcomed us into his abode (that looked oddly like a hobbit's hole.)

And was so shocked and surprised by both the Tin Man and Friar Tuck appearing in my dream that I suddenly awoke and never found out how they rescued us or from what.

But THEN, I was so excited about the Tin Man and Friar Tuck appearing in my dream that I promptly got up and told my husband about it and giggled... all before 7 in the morning! I have a feeling in my bones that this is going to be a magical day.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Unique Job of a Wife

At my church, there is a course of Sunday School classes which includes a discussion of Biblical masculinity and femininity. The last two weeks, this course was finishing up with a panel of men and women answer question about their own personal experiences striving to fulfill their Biblical roles. There were a few things among their answers that really struck me and encouraged my heart to look at my role as a wife as something noble and good.

I came from a background of independence, and from a state that values independence and autonomy much more than social connections or power jobs. Therefore, the idea that men and women have different roles in marriage, although not completely new to me, was somewhat confusing a unpalatable. Some of the books I have read (including the Bible) and some of the discussions that I have participated in with the women at church have completely changed my mind.

The beautiful thing about different roles for men and women is that it is a picture (a dull representation, but there nonetheless) of the relationship of the Godhead. Although the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equally God and equally important, powerful, and containing all the qualities of God; all three fulfill a different role. Similarly, both men and women are created in the image of God. They are not more or less important because of the jobs God gives them (or because of physical appearance or strength.) How beautiful it is that I can relish my role to help, encourage, and respect because, matched with my husbands role to lead, sacrifice, and love, we can become a reflection of the love and unity in the Trinity.

And it's an odd thing that roles are not even about what our best strengths are. There might be times when I'm better at planning out a weekend's events and arranging all the relevant details. But it's my husband's place to ask me to do that. It's good for him to decide what we're going to do as a family and then to ask me to help in the particulars. (And of course, part of deciding can involve asking for my input!) But to have roles that do not necessarily reflect our own strengths is often something of a mystery to people who have been told their whole lives, "do what you're good at." But in this context, it is an opportunity to serve each other lovingly and to trust God that by helping my spouse become better at a skill I might already have, we are becoming more holy and better reflections of who God is. Our marriage should not be about my husband and me both asserting what we're best at, but rather showing God's love and character every way we can.

One of the ladies on the panel to answer questions was also newly married but had been in the workforce for a while (and still is.) When I'm tempted to think that I have a "low-profile" and "unimportant" job as a wife, I remember what she said about a week ago. She was thinking about her job outside the home and realized that if she quits now, she'll be replaced. If she quits in 2 years, she'll still be replaced, no matter how specialized her skills might be. The most difficult and powerful job in the public world could be filled by multiple people. But the job of a wife can only be filled by one person. And if she doesn't fill her role, then the job is left undone. No one else can respect and encourage a husband like a wife. No one else can free his time and thoughts to allow him to do God's work. And no one else can be so clearly an instrument of God's love and grace in his life.

When I see what a valuable job that God has given me to minister to the one person I love most, I can dive into all those "low-profile, unimportant" tasks with the concentration and determination of a brain surgeon! They are important, and they make a difference in God's kingdom, even if I cannot see the immediate results. One of my favorite verses always encourages me when I'm tempted (even in light of all this exciting truth) to wonder if my role as a wife makes any "real" difference. It's found in 1 Corinthians 15:58.

"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Don't Fool Yourself. Trust God.

Isn't it wonderful how we can be encouraged by Christians whom we have never met? I was speaking with a new friend on Sunday, and she was describing a difficulty that another of her friends was going through. At the end of the day, the question he always had to ask himself was, "Will you trust God?"

I have been thinking a lot about trusting God lately in the realm of having children. My husband and I are willing, though perhaps not trying to have kids. The responsibility is enormous and we certainly don't feel prepared to be parents, but I think that we are convinced we will never actually feel prepared. Therefore, I think (which often means worry) all the time about whether or not I might be pregnant. And in the moments of just thinking and not worrying, I have found several things that are extremely comforting to me.

For one, God is always good. He gives his children good gifts, and also the grace to deal with them when they seem like burdens.

For another, the idea that we can actually control conception and birth is a mere illusion. The more I read about natural family planning and about forms of birth control, absolutely NO method is failsafe. There must be well over 10 options that a couple could use to keep from conceiving a child. But absolutely every method has failed... multiple times. Even using "the pill" which often causes women to be infertile for up to twice the amount of time that they take it, some couples have children. This tells me that our yearning for power over this area of our lives is a futile struggle. God is all-powerful, in this area just as He is over the waves and the winds... and we are equally powerless.

I don't think that all forms of birth control are wrong--as long as they are only preventative and 0% abortive. However, I do think that most couple's reasons for using birth control are wrong. Convenience is so common in our society today that we often unconsciously make it an idol. We claim that it's important to have stability and security, when in reality, it's simply inconvenienct to have the responsibility of caring for another human being. It's perfectly reasonable that some use birth control for health reasons, or maybe are not strong enough to survive a birth... or any number of circumstances are possible. But the vast majority of couples dress up convenience, call it wisdom, and say that they simply "don't want kids." But their are two clear problems with this mindset.

The first problem is this: an unwillingness to bear children because it's inconvenient does not submit to God's design for us. There are many who would quibble with this, saying that timing matters and wisdom with finances and quality of life and so on. (These are usually matters of convenience, but are occasionally truly important considerations.) In any case, the Bible is quite clear that bearing children is not only good and one of God's greatest blessings, but is actually His general plan for all couples. I wouldn't at all say that it's His specific plan for couples because some couples cannot have children and He knows those circumstances, uses them, and works through them.

However, there are several passages that indicate that God's intention for a man and wife is to raise children up to serve God. This is a blessing for us, a provision against temptation, and also something that shows God's great glory to the world.

In Genesis 1:27-28, this oft-quoted passage reads, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'" Here it seems that raising children is a part of God's purpose and plan for us from the first day of man's existence. And in Isaiah 54:2, God comforts single ladies, saying that their children will be more numerous than those of the married women. God provides for barren women and comforts them. But this passage shows just how natural and right it is for married couples to have children!

In first Timothy Paul writes of the young widows under Timothy's care. He warns them against enrolling in the church, and against them becoming idle gossips, saying, "I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander." Reading the entire chapter 5 of 1 Timothy, we find Paul addressing widows in particular and the role of the church in caring for them and particular sins to curb. But it's clear through life and history that these things that can be temptations for "young widows" are equally dangerous areas for "young singles."

And finally, in his second chapter, Malachi talks about how God is punishing Judah for coming to his altar expecting blessings when they had been unfaithful to their wives. Malachi 2:13-15 reads, "And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, 'Why does he not?' Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth." This moving passage underscores God's involvement in our marriages. He is witness to the covenant and He makes a man and wife one person with a "portion of the Spirit in their union." And what is God seeking? Godly offspring. This pleases God!

The main points I want to draw from these passages are that God has designed men and women to be in families and to raise children. This is (1) a great blessing for us not to be missed if at all possible. And (2) it is a built-in method for women in particular (who are expected and designed to be the manager inside the house) to avoid the temptations of idleness and gossip. Lastly, (3) God wants us to raise kids that honor Him.

But believe it or not, unwillingness to follow God's plan for marriage is not the only problem with saying, "I don't want kids." (Even if it is "just for now.") In considering the possibility of having children, it is so easy to worry. I think to myself, "Can we afford to take care of children? Can I discipline them well... when I feel so undisciplined in the things that I'm supposed to do? I'm so forgetful--will I be able to make a home for them that is safe?" And on and on and on. And then a little question will rise in me. "Will you trust God?" When I came to realize that we ultimately could not control whether or not we became pregnant, I realized that God could! (and does!) I think of a few encouraging Scripture passages. "God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory." (Phil 4:19) And Matthew 6:31-33 "Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

Saying "I don't want kids right now" for the sole purpose of convenience is to spit at God, saying that He has not or could not earn your trust. It says, "God doesn't know my needs or care about them. He isn't good and He doesn't know best, and it's up to me to look out for my best interest and make the best decisions I can." Don't we know that God's foolishness is wiser than a man's wisdom? Don't we know that God has at his ready grasp unfathomable blessings to bestow? Our best plans for ourselves could not possibly hold a candle to the wonders and excitement and fulfillment to be found in God's plan. Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that we're "preparing" or "waiting for a better time." God's timing is not ours, and it's unpredictable and surprising. Don't be afraid to trust God. He loves us and has always proved himself trustworthy. We can't possibly give Him more trust than He has already earned.

So when I think about the possibility of being pregnant and fear starts to rise in me, I remind myself that God is good all the time. And I say (sometimes aloud to myself), "If God gives us children early, we will love them and praise him for the provision He'll bring. If he never gives them, we will love each other and praise God for His provision that he has already brought and will continue to bring." And what an incredibly comforting thought it is to know that God is in control, and as long as we're willing to receive what He has to give us, we can't possible miss out on the fun adventures to be found in His will!

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Lesson for the Church from America's past

I wrote my senior thesis on American musicals and how they reflected what it means to be "American." The musicals that I concentrated on were those from the 1930s (the earliest talking films) through the 1950s, though I did dabble a little bit in more modern musicals as well; though those were more for contrast to the ideals I found in the earlier films. There was element of Americanism that I was surprised to encounter nearly everywhere in these early musicals. It was surprising because it is not commonly thought of or appreciated in the same way as it was then.

The idea of a community in these musicals is inextricably tied to the idea of independence or individuality. Without going into lots of details and examples, I'll try to summarize the main thrust of what I discovered. Many foreigners come to America, and many little boys and girls grow up in America dreaming of what they want to do or become in the years ahead of them. And America has been known as the place where those dreams can come true if you set your sights strait and go for your goal with indestructible determination. In order to do this, people develop a certain set of skills that will allow them to work for what they want. People would often barter their skills for another's skills or the product of his labor. (For example, someone might mend a smith's fence in return for shoeing his horses... there are endless bartering possibilities.) This is how communities form. They are groups of people with complementary skills that rely on and help each other in a symbiotic relationship that allows each an opportunity to pursue his own personal goals. We need people. We can never do anything completely on our own.

These communities and the strength of the peoples' character is seen often in the towns on the edge of a frontier where there are no factories or big cities. People know each other and understand (sometimes learning the hard way) that they cannot survive if the community fails.

In an age when one can shop for everything online and essentially survive on other people's services and products without ever having to come in contact with them, it can be hard to understand the special power of these American frontier communities. People were held accountable to each other in their work, in their morals, in the raising of their children. No one had the option of shirking their responsibility. And when one worked hard and did well, they not only had the option of helping others, but it was expected and required in a way because the whole community would know that he did not succeed by his own strength alone.

The Christian church needs to understand how vital and powerful is this kind of community. By serving each other faithfully and working hard to develop our skills so that we cannot be accused of taking advantage of people, the church will develop a powerful system of trust, accountability, strength, ingenuity, and fun that will be markedly different from the rest of the word. It will be noticeable especially in modern society, and in our culture in particular, because people are fixated on "getting ahead" at the expense of one's coworkers, "looking out for #1" to the exclusion of all others, and taking all they can while giving as little as possible. Can you imagine a secular community today participating in a barn raising or a husking bee?

These events were not the imaginings of historical fiction authors. And their purpose was not solely to come together and "have fellowship." These were times when people did work together, freely, generously, and knowing that each person would have his turn of needing and contributing to the community help.

Paul talks about Christian communities in 1 Thessalonians and gives us many other instructions elsewhere. Speaking to the entire church of the Thessalonians, Paul says, "Now concerning brotherly love, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one." Later on, he says, "We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

We are to love all of our Christian family, not just those we "click" with. We are to honor all of them, to serve all of them, to be generous and equally available to all of them, and we are to accept criticism from all of them (even those we don't know or understand as well) because we know that they have been chosen by God to live with him for eternity. There will certainly be idle, fainthearted, and weak people in the community. But we cannot simply throw them out saying, "you damage the image of our Christian community... Leave." Rather, it is a further opportunity for a testament to the grace of God to deal with them patiently and to never return evil for evil.... and to always be thankful.

How often do you complain? Do you notice when others complain around you? Do you join in? If you instead expressed your thankfulness and gratitude that your life is what it is, don't you think the people around you would notice and be astonished? Thankfulness, gratitude, contentment. These are rare things in the world today, much rarer than diamonds.

We are commanded to not forsake the fellowship of our Christian brothers and sisters. This is not a call to go bowling every Friday night with a "small group." And it does not mean meeting every Tuesday with the bridge club which is comprised of ladies from church. No. We are called to serve each others' needs, even to consider them as more important than our own. We are to know our Christian brothers and sisters deeply, rejoicing in their victories and sorrowing with them over their failures. One Christian all on his own will struggle and fight with sin a pain and doubts, giving (maybe) a tiny little flicker of a flame to the rest of the world shining just so much much light on the work and glory of God. But a Christian community should be like a roaring fire showing the rest of the world how we work together in love and generosity freely giving and humbly taking, generously bearing with each others' faults and working together to become more like Christ. That is not to say that Christians in a community will not struggle with sin. But the context of Christian accountability, exhortation, and forgiveness will improve a sinner's chance of resisting temptation while it also shows the world a Godly response to sin.

In our minds we can never compare our worldly lot with our neighbors who have rejected Christ without also comparing our eternal lot. We are members of a different world, and we should not read the same things, watch the same movies, laugh in the same way, or even smile or shake a hand with the same attitudes and thoughts as the rest of the world. We are called to be different and we must show the world what this difference is. It does not mean going to Wednesday night Bible study instead of Wednesday night chess club. It means living every moment knowing that someone died so that we could walk and breath and smell with all the excitement of the most rapturous love... And we can do that because we are walking and breathing and smelling (and living!) a new life in the ridiculous love of a God who created the earth and the air and every fragrance there is so that we could enjoy it and praise him for it. And this is how he showed his love for us, that while we were living, ungrateful and hating him for putting us in this beautiful world, he punished his own son for our evil. He loves us that much.

Of course we still struggle with sin, but praise God that our destiny does not lie in our own ability! We have such a great hope. Paul says this at the end of 1 Thessalonians: "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it."

Amen and Amen to that.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

7 Wonderful Things about Yesterday

1. Sleeping well.
You never realize what a wonderful thing sleep is until you go inexplicably without it for several nights in a row. This wasn't exactly my case--I seem to have a bad habit of waking up for two or three hours in the night at a pretty regular interval of 3 days. Sunday night, I slept a hard dreamless sleep. It was the sort of hard sleep that makes your body feel like it weighs 5 times as much as it does, and the pull of gravity would pull you straight through the mattress. And then of course, when you wake up, you realize that you're really much lighter than you felt, and that gives you SO much energy! (it's not the only thing, but it certainly contributes.)

2. Music.
I spent several hours rummaging through piles of music yesterday. Classical, jazz, accompaniments, new and old, pretty much everything you can imagine. The great part about this wasn't exactly all the dust I stirred up, or the backache I got from sitting on the floor for too long. It was wonderful because it's like being surrounded by friends that you love but don't necessarily know well, and it makes me happy to have them around to get to know better! And it's wonderful that it makes me so excited to play piano and learn new music again.

3. Carrots.
Carrots are so ridiculously orange. And crunchy. It is just so awesome. It gives me such a feeling of power and satisfaction to consume their rigid bodies one after another.

4. Smells.
Paul sent me an email as soon as he got to work telling me that the day was beautiful and cloudy and smelled like rain and that I should open all the windows. I looked outside and thought it looked like a pretty boring ordinary day, but when I opened the windows, it did smell like rain! And this was not any ordinary rain smell, it was the rain of spring, with growth and greenness and brown dirt (as opposed to grime dirt, which is much more common here) and newness and life. It was windy too, and warm. The smell filled the apartment and the wind swung the tassel from the open shades back and forth, tapping it against the wall, as if it needed to knock to come in. How wonderful it is that smells can transform your world into something rich and glorious!

5. Vacuum cleaners.
We didn't have a vacuum cleaner for three months. The one we have now is not fancy--I dare say it's nearly as old as I am, and faring much worse. But it works, is space efficient, and cheap. The best thing about it, besides its normal vacuuming function, is that is rids me of the embarrassing compulsion (which I but rarely indulged) to crawl around on my hands and knees picking lint and hairs out of the carpet. It is in moments like those, kneeling on the floor, that one realizes that people compare cleanliness to divinity not because of its moral goodness, but because of the impossibility of achieving it.

6. Anne of Green Gables.
I have recently started reading Anne aloud to Paul, who finally relented and determined that the book was not too girly for him. Last night, we read the part where Anne gets angry with Mrs. Rachel Lynde and has to go apologize. Of course, Anne, endeavoring to revel in every moment of life, glories in her debasement as she apologizes with large words and quivering tones, lying prostrate before Mrs. Rachel. One can't help but laugh at Marilla's instinct to chide Anne for "having apologized too well" on the way home. Though it certainly wasn't the apologizing well that Marilla disapproved of, but of Anne's enjoying it so much. The ingenious descriptions emphasize every detail and draw out every last ounce of humor and irony in the situation. The book is full of good times, and makes many more for those who pick it up.

7. Paul.
He's my husband. And he's the best. It's like winning the lottery (but actually something much much better) every day when he comes home from work. I can't even say how wonderful that is.

Monday, January 25, 2010

March for Life

Every year, there descends upon the capitol a great mass of people to protest the abortion of human babies within a woman's womb. The choice is a matter of the legal killing of a human life, and though many seek to redefine when life truly begins, hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall last Friday to reassert their belief that even unborn children have the "right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

I arrived at the March a little late, getting off the Metro at Capitol South, near the Supreme Court building, which was the destination of the March. Around 2:30, the first people were passing the Supreme Court. The 5 lane road was packed, with people walking on the curb and in the grass all the way from the front of the line at the Supreme Court down to the rear by the Museum of Natural History. There were enough people present to make up the population of a small state. Unfortunately, I only saw one news crew as I "swam upstream" against the current of the march to the end of the line where I met friends from my alma mater. Seeing the vast majority of people in the March, by walking against the flow, I noted that most marchers were younger women, students, and that I've never seen so many strollers in my life. One particularly moving demonstration was a mass of men and women in black carrying a variation of signs that said, "Women DO regret their abortion" and "Men DO regret lost fatherhood." These signs replaced "Women" and "Men" with "I". These men and women were marching with a great burden of regret on their shoulders, bravely declaring that they have done the thing which the hundreds of thousands of people around them (including themselves) were denouncing as morally reprehensible. My heart ached to see the signs and the number of people who have brought this sadness on themselves.

Granted, many of the people and the speakers with megaphones made a point to focus on the recent health care legislation that allows federal funds to be used for abortions. And what few newspapers ran articles about the March for Life focused the issue on health legislation instead of the broader issue at hand. It is ludicrous to think that Right to Life activists will be satisfied with congress dispensing of a bill that uses their money to promote abortions. To loot the people of America by taking their money and giving it to someone else is robbery, which is unconstitutional and immoral on all accounts. But to take our money and give it to someone who would rather kill than face the responsibility of caring for a child is truly horrifying on a whole new level. It is a tough decision for single, pregnant teens to decide to carry their baby through to term. But it is the right decision, and they will find lots of help if they seek it. Another deeply moving sign that I saw as we approached the Supreme Court read, "At the age of 15, my mother left the abortion clinic and chose life." I wonder of the holder of that sign regards his life as more precious and fragile than I have thought of mine, because his mother considered abortion (and because so many 15 year old girls have chosen it in the same situation.)

Americans want "independence" and "freedom." What most people don't realize is that the "freedom" they want is from responsibility, and that irresponsible people are always dependent on something or someone else. "Independence" in the Wild West sense of the word meant being capable of taking care of oneself so well that one could support and help others in need. We need leaders and parents who train their children to be independent, responsible, and honest...to value being debt-free, to love making good commitments, and to cherish our responsibilities because they allow us the freedom to make our own good choices.