Monday, December 31, 2012

Still Don't Know

Allow me to apologize now for a possibly useless, rambling post.  It's New Year's Eve, it's a blogging day for me, and I don't know what to write. 

I could skip writing today, but I skipped last Friday when my family was getting together for Christmas.  Hate to skip again.  A routine is of no worth if you don't stick to it.

Still don't know what to write.

The last few years, I wrote New Year's posts about the blessings of the departing year, and hopes and goals for the upcoming year.  I can't make myself do that this time.  2012 was too . . . I don't have the word for it.  A full year.  Full not as in busy, but as in filling.  A year I need to digest more before I can write much about it.


And goals for 2013?  Life is too uncertain right now to make myself set goals for a whole year.  I know, I know -- one needs direction or one wanders.  Goals can always be changed when circumstances change.  But I simply can't make myself think too far ahead these days.  I'm taking life one step at a time.  Everything feels too shaky these days.

No . . . that's not quite an accurate description.  The ground I'm walking on feels solid.  It's just that the path forward is unclear.  I'm Indiana Jones taking that grand Step of Faith in the third movie.  I keep walking -- and my feet keep landing on rock -- but I can't see any of the rock.  I only feel it holding me up.

You want to hear a goal?  Here's my goal for the year: to "keep in step with the Spirit" (Gal 5).  Like stepping into the footprints someone else leaves in the snow ahead of me.  I still don't know where I'm going this year -- no bloody clue.  I just know who has to be leading the way.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Techno Addicts

We're in Kansas for Christmas, at my in-laws.  With hubby's parents, two sisters, one brother-in-law, and two nieces.  As the Blessed Day wound down, my sister-in-law remarked on how the cousins' faces were all aglow:  they were lit up by the laptops and iPads sitting in their laps.

Sigh.  Can you relate?

This same sister-in-law told us how some friends of hers have dealt with their kids' uber-connectedness.  At nine o'clock, everyone in the house turns off their phones and puts them on a shelf.  No texting or phone calls until morning.  In our house, we'd have to put the iPods and laptops away, too, to prevent instant messaging or Facebooking.  I love that idea.  I'm trying to decide if it's worth the battle to try to implement it.

I've been troubled for a long time at my daughters' attachment to technology.  Not that TV, computers, and cell phones are bad things in and of themselves.  But they are too attached.  This is not healthy.

I've realized, however, that I can't simply forbid one thing without helping them figure out what to fill that hole with.  What else can they do with themselves?  It really should be a much easier question to answer than it is.

How about you read a book instead of watching a TV show?

How about having your friends over face-to-face instead of skypeing?

How about playing basketball outside instead of playing sports on the Wii?

How about making dinner, cleaning your room, doing a craft, writing a story . . .

It's not that they don't like any of those activities -- we just allowed them to develop a taste for the lesser things.  Like preferring a Big Mac to filet mignon.  Shame on us.  One of the primary things I would change if I could raise my children again.

So, again, I have to decide how much I'm going to fight this addiction now.  It would be a lot easier if they came to the conclusion that this was unhealthy for them and wanted to change their ways themselves.  Then I'm in the role of Helper rather than Controller.  They're quickly getting too old to be effectively controlled.

The challenges of parenting teenagers.  It's harder to shepherd their hearts than to control their behavior.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Veiled in Flesh the Godhead See

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm in Kansas.  Nothing particular planned today.  Our church in Sioux City has two huge Christmas Eve extravaganzas happening at the Orpheum theater.  I suppose it would be nice to see those.  One disadvantage of always being "home" for the holidays is we are never in town to experience our own church's Christmas Eve services.

Our church in NJ did four services on Christmas Eve -- two "family" services (geared toward kids), and two adult services, including a candlelight service at eleven.  As I said, I never got to go to one, but if the candlelight service was in the spirit of the Advent and Lent services they held every year, I think I would have enjoyed it very much.

I think if I could just choose for myself my own Christmas Eve celebration, it would include a small, meaningful candlelight service at a church where I don't know anyone in particular, so I don't feel a need to be social and can focus on why I'm there.  Focus on what happened on this night (okay, I realize it didn't actually happen on THIS night, but on the night that we are remembering this night).

To focus for a few minutes on the amazing concept of the God of the universe -- creator and sustainer of all there is -- holy and separate from all he has created -- the God of the universe making a conscious choice to give up the privileges of deity for a time and become one of us.  To feel our pains.  To live our struggles.  To be tempted as we are.  To be hungry and cold and lonely and discouraged and abandoned by everyone who was supposed to love him . . .

He CHOSE to bear that pain.  Sometimes, I think I've heard the end of the story so often and take it so for granted that I forget the awesomeness of each moment of the narrative.  And this moment -- this voluntary stepping into the limitations of human existence -- it's a big one.

Recently I had occasion to re-read the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and I was struck again at that famous shortest-verse-in-the-Bible: "Jesus wept."  I think there's so much more significance there that we realize.  Jesus was standing there ready to raise his friend from the dead and end the misery of the mourning loved ones around him.  He knew the end of the story and that it was good -- phenomenally good.  Why did he weep?  He wept because it hurt him to see those he loved in pain.  Even when he knew the pain was going to be short and was going to be worth it, he entered into their pain with them and felt it deeply and it caused him to weep.

May I never lose the wonder of a God loving me enough to voluntarily enter into my life, my walk, my pain.  Hail, the Incarnate Deity.  Thank you, Lord.  Happy birthday.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Honesty

Interesting the way the events of life have lined up these days.  An unexplainable act of evil.  A prediction of the end of the world.  The commemoration of a Savior's birth.  The pains and questions we are each dealing with in our own souls -- I have mine, you have yours.  No coincidences here, I'm sure.

Our immediate instinct after an event like Sandy Hook is to determine to take control of the situation so nothing like this ever happens again.  Take away all the guns -- or arm all the teachers.  Lock away all the mentally and emotionally disturbed -- or integrate them better into society so they heal.  Protect the schools like an army base -- or bring the kids home to homeschool.  Nothing ever actually gets done because we can't ever agree on what needs to be done.  Because deep in our hearts, if we're honest with ourselves (which we rarely are), we know there's nothing that we can do to fix this.

For many of us, our personal pains and questions echo the events of the day and take us even deeper.  We see pain within . . . we see brokenness within . . . we even see evil within, if we're honest enough to face up to it (which we rarely are).  And we are determined to take control of the situation so nothing like this ever happens within us again.  Stay away from people -- or embrace people more.  Put up protection walls -- or open up the heart to others.  Seek knowledge and advice -- or forget what I know and go by my instincts.  Discpline myself -- or indulge myself.  Nothing gets fixed within us because we don't really know how we need to be fixed.  And deep down in our hearts, if we're honest with ourselves (which we rarely are), we know that even if we knew how to fix ourselves, we couldn't or wouldn't be able to do it.

At some point, each of us must come to the horrible realization that we are out of the Garden of Eden and there is no way back.

Many of us never allow ourselves to realize that fact fully.  We psyche ourselves up with the idea of a spark of good within us all, ignoring the selfish motives behind all of our good -- rationalizing our selfish motives as self-actualization and healing, the ultimate virtue in modern life -- explaining away the evils prevalent in the world as "freedom" and "choice" and "nature", which must be inherently good.  We refuse to see how broken the world is, because if this is true, it seems to render our lives as a hopeless, meaningless wallow of futility.

Enter into our hopeless wallow . . . a baby.  A baby called "Christ the Lord" -- that is, the Messiah, the promised one, the one sent to save, who is by his nature Master and Sovereign over all and able to move the universe at large and the human heart at small to bring all things together for his glory and for the good of his people.

A Lord.  A holy, just, omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving Lord.  Exactly what we need, if we're honest with ourselves (which we rarely are).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Testing . . . 1, 2, 3 . . .

My eldest starts final exams today.  I'm also giving my youngest a "final" today to finish her semester.  This isn't necessarily for the purposes of demonstrating what she learned -- I already know what she learned.  It's simply to prepare her for taking finals at "real" school someday.

I have such mixed feelings about testing in schools.  Really, in a lot of ways, it's such a sham.  Most final exams these days are in multiple choice form -- so the teacher can grade it faster, or so results can be easily compared between schools.  But multiple choice tests are a ridiculous way to evaluate someone's knowledge and skills, especially if your concern is how well the student can think.

My Western Civ professor in college had a fascinating system for our exams.  The class period before, Dr. Allan would guide us, as a class, to come up with four essay questions.  In coming up with the questions, we ended up discussing how they could be answered, because we needed to be sure they were sufficiently broad but also sufficiently focused.  We also needed to be sure that they addressed the essential information covered in the class.  That class period was a WONDERFUL review of the material.  Then we went home and prepared ourselves to answer those four questions in detail.  Dr. Allan chose three of the four to put on the test -- we chose two of his three to answer. 

I loved this method of evaluation.  It ensured that I was required to mentally review all the information and find connections and relationships, but in the end, I was allowed to choose the questions I felt most comfortable with to be evaluated on.  I'm using a form of this on my daughter's test today.

A teacher I taught with in Hutchinson had another interesting "test" format.  One class period, his students entered the room and the screen in front was pulled down over the chalkboard.  He explained to them that there was an essay question on the board behind the screen and in a moment, he would show it to them.  Then, he would leave the room for twenty minutes and allow them, as a class, to discuss how to answer the question.  Upon his return, everyone would be required to write their essays, and at the end of the class, he would take them all, choose ONE essay out of the class pile to grade, and every student in the class would get that grade.

Let me tell you:  the smart kids in that class made darn sure that EVERY KID IN THE ROOM knew how to answer that essay question thoroughly.  Was it an effective evaluation method?  Maybe more of an effective teaching method.  Risky . . . I never heard if he got parent complaints, but I can't imagine he didn't.  Fascinating, in any case.

Anywho . . . my daughter takes four finals today, and three tomorrow, each of which counts for 20% of her final grade.  A hoop to jump through, I suppose.  I think she's ready to be done with school and get on with real life . . . whatever that is . . .

Monday, December 17, 2012

Do Not Be Overcome by Evil

My little post last Friday about the sex talk seemed to weaken as the tragedy of the day progressed.  Oh.  There just aren't words for what happened in Connecticut.  I can't even allow myself to think too deeply about what actually happened in that school building -- it overwhelms me.  All I can do is pray.

All the talk about gun control and mental illness and school security is probably appropriate at some point and will need to happen.  But while my hubby and I were listening to the details roll in all day on Friday, we kept listening for people willing to proclaim the truth about this:  it was evil. 

I've mentioned before, I believe, our Bible study teacher from years ago who was a former Satanist.  Full-blown devil-worshipper.  Well acquainted with the forces of darkness.  And he used to tell us complacent, comfortable, cultural Christians in his midst, with great passion, "You just don't understand.  There is Satan.  There is evil." 

No gun restrictions, mental health care, or security measures can stop evil.  That doesn't mean we don't do what we need to do to be wise in those arenas.  But we cannot cure the disease without an accurate diagnosis.

Here's the good news:  the fact that we can recognize evil when it is in our midst reveals that we have an innate knowledge of what is not evil.  The presence of evil gives evidence of the presence of good.  The wonderful quote going around attributed to Mr. Rogers (and who knows, these days, if that attribution is accurate) reminds us that when bad things happen, there are always the good people there, too.  Teachers who give their lives to protect their students.  Firemen who march up the stairs of burning buildings to guide others out.  Policemen who buy boots for barefooted homeless men.

We can never forget, when Evil strikes in the worst way, that Good is there, and Good is stronger, and Good has a name and a battle plan and warriors on the field -- and what's more, the deciding battle has already been won.  As I told my youngest on Friday, Satan is no more than an enraged lame-duck trying to destroy as much as he can before he goes.

"Do not be overcome by evil," scripture tells us, "but overcome evil with good."  We would not be instructed to do this if, in the power of Christ, it were not possible to do.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Three Tips for Talking about the Birds and the Bees

Let me tell you, I have messed up a lot in raising my kids.  I've made some monumental mistakes with them over the years.  Things I swore I'd never do.  Things that make me cringe when I think about them.  It's truly the grace of God that my children aren't more screwed up than they are. 

But it seems that one thing I managed to get relatively right (at least up to now) is the sex talk.  Can't tell you how; just stumbled onto it somehow.  Not that I did everything perfect -- and they're still a little young for me to declare victory in this area -- but I sometimes hear fellow parents talk about how they deal with this topic with their kids and cringe at the mistakes I fear they're making.  I'm tempted to speak up, but I rarely do -- and then I worry that maybe I should have spoken up.

Sex is like fire. When kept under control, it is an amazing, beautiful, valuable gift from God; when allowed to roam out of its appropriate boundaries, it can cause life-altering destruction.  With this in mind, and with much humility on my part, I'd like to point out the most common things I see friends do when discussing sex with their kids that I fear will backfire on them in the long run.


1) Don't wait too long.  I understand the desire to keep your child innocent and protected from the unhealthy sex-saturated culture around them.  But the unfortunate fact is that, as long as you live in that culture (and there's no escaping it completely), the culture will have some say.  You will simply have to broach the subject before you want to.  There's no way around it.

If your children reach the point that they realize there is this wonderful, mysterious thing out there called SEX that everyone else seems to know about and talk about and giggle about, and their parents don't want them to know anything about it . . . you've already lost a battle.  You may not have the honor of being their first source of information on the topic, but you want to be able to quickly follow up on the first -- and you darn well want to be sure you're their primary source of information on the topic, because almost every other source they will stumble upon will be dreadfully misinformed and will not have your child's best interests at heart.


2) Have more than one "talk".  This goes hand-in-hand with number one.  Your child will hear about sex and need some questions answered long before they are ready for the full anatomy and physiology lesson.  Stop thinking about this in terms of THE Sex Talk.  There are many sex talks.  Feel free to give information in dribbles, on an as-needed basis, over the course of many years. 

As your kids get older, look for opportunities to increase their knowledge at a healthy pace.  TV and movies tend to open that door.  Remember: if a particular bit of information is mentioned or hinted at in a show that you know your child's peers are watching, then you should assume that your child's peers know about this and your child is likely to hear about it soon.  Better that they hear about it accurately from you.  In addition, talking about sex in frequent small bits will make taking about sex easier, which leads me to number three . . .


3) RELAX.  I realize for some of you, this is easier said than done, but I'm telling you -- you have to work on this.  Your kids will sense your discomfort, it will make them uncomfortable, and they won't come to you with questions -- and you want them to come to you with questions.  This is NOT a topic you want to leave to the schools and the world.

Yes, sex is a big deal, but that doesn't mean you have to make every sex discussion a big deal.  A quick word in the car on the way home from school in immediate response to a remark from your child will probably be much more effective than stealing away into a private room when you get home to sit face-to-face, hand-in-hand, prepared for profound and deep revelations.  Talking about sex casually does not necessarily encourage an inappropriately casual attitude about sex.  I promise you, their friends talk about it quite casually and talk about it ALL THE TIME (and homeschooled parents, don't think your kids are any different).  Your reticence doesn't give the subject a sense of holiness; it merely gives you the appearance of being repressed and out of touch and, again, an unreliable source of information.  Be accurate, be honest, be sincere . . . but try your best not to be too intense.


So, there you go.  Offered with much humility and with no guarantees -- I mean, every kid's different and I'm no expert.  But now my mind is eased a bit.  Thanks for listening.  :)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Bondservant's Life

When I first received my copy of The Bondservant's Life by John Brenner Chandler to review, I groaned a little inside.  It's huge.  It's heavy-looking -- physically and mentally.  I wasn't sure I was up to reading something like this right then.

I'm not groaning anymore.  It is physically huge and mentally heavy -- in fact, I'll confess I haven't even finished reading it yet.  But that's because I'm chewing slowly on the profound insight and wisdom in this wonderful tome.

This is a big, broad analysis of what is involved in taking on the mantle of "bondservant" of Christ.  It analyzes scripture indepth; it describes ancient covenants and the different covenants in scripture; and ultimately (I see by the table of contents) gets into spiritual warfare.  Maybe it's just where I'm at in my own spiritual walk (many of these themes I've been studying on my own recently, which is why I requested the book), but I am filled to the brim with each chapter I read.

Now, note:  this is not light reading or easy reading.  This isn't one to take to read on the drive home to see family for Christmas.  This is one to plot out a half hour every day starting in the new year to read, meditate over, and pray through.  And I highly recommend doing that.  For the serious believer wanting a serious relationship with Christ, I can't think of anything more beneficial than to truly understand and absorb the principles related here.

Here's where you can get The Bondservant's Life from the publisher.  You can buy it with the Amazon gift card you get in your Christmas stocking.  :)

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from bookcrash.com in exchange for an honest, objective review. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Inbox

So, y'all know I'm into studying the different ways people learn . . . the different ways people think . . . the different ways people approach the world . . . figuring out which of these ways are natural to them and which are learned behaviors . . . which are gifts to build on and which may, essentially, be the result of the Fall and need to be resisted . . .

Which brings me to my husband's email inbox.  I had occasion to see it recently.  You know the little number by the word "Inbox" that tells you how many unread emails are sitting in there waiting for your perusal?  His number was over 12,000.  Seriously.  And remember, those were just the unread ones -- there were more in there that he HAD read.  I nearly fell off the couch.

He explained to me that this particular email account was kind of intended for this purpose (he has another account for his job search emailing, another for his fantasy football communications).  This is the email address he puts on the various forms that you have to fill out where you know your address is going to be sold to people.  And he said it's a waste of time to delete those emails every day; the inbox has no limit to what it will hold, so there's no reason to delete anything.

I asked why he didn't unsubscribe to some of these lists so he didn't get their emails anymore if he had no intention of reading them.  He said something about the unsubscribing process letting the sender know that the email was an active account . . . okay, I'll take his word on that.  But I was still stunned.  I strongly suspect this is a right-brained thing (my right-brained eldest has over a thousand unread emails in her inbox -- mostly FB notifications).

But contrast this with my email behavior.  When I open my email, the first thing I do is hit the little check box on mail I have no intention of reading and delete them.  And if there is someone I keep getting emails from that I don't want, I unsubscribe.  When I know I'm done with the information in an email, I delete it.  Or if I suspect I may want it someday, I move it to a "Save" folder, but it does not remain in my face in the inbox.  I even delete the emails out of Spam almost every day.  If my inbox (or sent box, for that matter) has more than twenty-some emails, I get the urge to purge.  It's clutter.  It stresses me.  It must go.

And yes, I recognize that I'm probably more absurd than he is.

Yet, there's a part of me that thinks that, if hubby were to just manage his emails the way I do for a month, he would see how refreshing it is to not have all that clutter hanging around -- how freeing! -- and he would be motivated then to do it my way.  Mm-hmm.  He probably thinks the same about me.

Ah, well.  Vive la diffĂ©rence.  How boring would life be if we were all the same.

Friday, December 7, 2012

"The World Was Not Worthy of Them."

Hebrews 11: 32-38.  And what more shall I say?  I don't have time to tell about . . .

. . . about every other Old Testament giant of faith, people who put the rest of us wimpy American cultural Christians to shame.

. . . who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised . . . whose weakness was turned to strength, and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies . . .

Through their faith -- their assurance of things they hoped for, their certainty of things not yet seen -- these people were empowered to accomplish great things in the world.  To meet their responsibilities with unexplainable strength and success.  And we -- we struggle to find the strength to give up our donut and Angry Birds obsessions. 

. . . who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword . . . Women received back their dead, raised to life again . . .

But some not only were empowered to accomplish the everyday tasks of their lives in a great way (and that would be awesome enough for me), but were the recipients of miraculous intervention in their lives.  Miracles.  Beyond any natural explanation.  I suspect there are miracles happening around us all the time; we just don't have the eyes of faith to see them.  But I also suspect that most of us never have the opportunity to experience a miracle because we never step out to do bold things that can only succeed if God is behind them.

There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. . . destitute, persecuted and mistreated . . .

And then there are those who submitted themselves to unjust persecution because they were sure of what they hoped for, certain of what they could not yet see.  There are still these giants of faith in our world right now.  Some days, it grieves me so much how we go to great extremes to avoid offending anyone of any other faith in our own or any country of the world -- and yet there are young people being killed by their parents, students being murdered on the road to school, fathers being imprisoned and tortured, only because they proclaim Jesus Christ as their Lord.  And where is the outcry? 

And where is my shame that I am silenced merely by the fear of a disparaging look from my neighbor who suspects I'm a Jesus freak?

The world was not worthy of them.

Indeed.  Not worthy to touch the hem of their garments. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Budgets and Pies

Let's talk budgets.

In our family, I have the responsibility of writing the checks to pay the monthly bills (although I don't actually write many checks anymore -- we pay most things online -- but that's beside the point).  Our biggest check we cut each month is for the mortgage.  And yes, we could certainly have a smaller house and a smaller mortgage payment, but even if we downsized, our mortgage check would still be the largest each month.  A roof over one's head is expensive, period.  And putting a roof over the heads of the family is a basic, primary responsibility that MUST be met.

What I'm getting at is, the fact that our mortgage is the biggest chunk by far out of our monthly bills does not, in and of itself, imply any irresponsible spending on our part.

I bring this up because of a chart posted on FB yesterday by a friend.  It's a pie chart labeled "Discretionary Spending FY 2013", and it shows that military spending constitutes 56.94% of the spending.  That blue military piece of the pie appears to engulf the rest; everything else is a sliver (the next biggest slice is Education at 6.35%).  The unspoken message of this graphic is that our military spending is obscenely out of line because it takes so much of the pie.

And I take serious issue with this message.  Military spending SHOULD take, by far, the biggest chunk of the pie.  Frankly, if we're just talking percentages, I think it should take much more.  Now, I'm not saying there aren't cuts to be made in that department, and if the Republicans are refusing to consider military cuts, that's wrong (I don't know if they are or not -- I'm not following the Fiscal Cliff crisis because my heart simply can't handle that stress right now).

But as I've preached before:  I'm a libertarian-leaning conservative, and I believe there are a few specific, limited duties prescribed for our federal government and of those, the military is one of the most important -- and undoubtedly, the most expensive. There is simply no problem with the relative size of that slice of pie.  If that blue military piece shrinks as a result of upcoming negotiations, I will find THAT to be irresponsible on our government's part.  Reduce the dollar amounts, all of them -- don't just adjust where the money is allocated.  Or if allocation adjustments need to be made, give the largest allocations to the duties specifically prescribed to the federal government in the Constitution, such as the military.

Images are so powerful.  But they can be so deceiving, too.  Let's use our eyes responsibly by engaging our brains as well.  Thank you.