Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Baltimore and Paris: A Tale of Two Cities

My 9th grade Bible class prayed for Baltimore yesterday morning. But I hadn't anticipated Baltimore coming up later in English when we discussed A Tale of Two Cities. The comparison was quite appropriate, however.

ToTC takes place during the French Revolution, and Dickens gives us powerful descriptions of the corruption of the French aristocracy and its oppression of the French people. Communities are taxed to the point of starvation. A child is run over and killed without even an apology. Hungry families are told to eat grass. The "Monseigneur" and his class were abominable.

But the uprising of the people becomes even more of an abomination. Thousands beheaded. Their tribunals a travesty of justice. Innocents sent to the guillotine themselves for merely expressing grief over the execution of a loved one. People coming to watch the daily beheadings as entertainment, reveling in the blood running in their streets. Women bringing their knitting to the daily show. A man hopes for a young girl to be named among those to die, because her pretty blond curls will look so nice on the Barber's blade.


By the point where we are in the novel right now, the evils of the aristocracy, unjust as they were, are almost forgotten. The evils done in answer are their equal, if not worse. Yet the Citizens of France claim them to be justified in answer to the injustice done to them.

Just as I heard a black commentator on CNN Monday night tell us that what was happening in Baltimore was not a riot -- this was an uprising, and one perfectly justified in light of the injustices done on the black community.

One good French aristocrat gave up his rights and inheritance, refusing to be a part of the corruption he was born into. He returned to France later during the Revolution, expecting to be accepted as one of the people and hoping to be a force for peace. Instead, he was jailed and sentenced to execution. Once a Marquis, always a Marquis.

I wonder how many of those injured police officers in Baltimore actually participated in the injustice their department is accused of. And if any of them might have tried to stop it. Yet they got a rock to the skull as well.

To me, the most fascinating character of the novel is Dr. Manette. A Bastille prisoner himself, falsely accused and almost destroyed by the evils of the French aristocracy. But he was saved by the love of his daughter, and he is now appalled by the evils of this Revolution. He is loved and admired by the French Citizenry, yet he can not stop the flood of hatred. He can only walk in the midst of it, speaking truth, saving a person here, a person there.

And I recall images of black ministers in suits walking the streets of Baltimore Monday night. Victims themselves, most likely. Saved by love. Speaking truth. Stopping one crime here, another there.

An exact analogy it is not, yet the comparison is valid. Unfortunately, Dickens offers no instructive solution for us. His novel ends with the good guys escaping Paris as it continues to self-destruct. This is not an option for Baltimore. I do find it interesting, however, that even Dickens, who was not a believer, instinctively seemed to understand something about the only real answer to such injustice and hatred. The hero at the end of his novel is a man who voluntarily steps in to be executed in place of another.

There is a reason why the Classics have become Classics. They speak timelessly to the condition of humanity's soul.

Monday, April 27, 2015

My Mom's Review of "A Chorus Line"

I saw something on Facebook about April 16th being the 40th anniversary of the first performance of A Chorus Line. Ah. A Chorus Line. There’s a musical.
The national tour of A Chorus Line came to Wichita sometime when I was 11 or 12. I know because I was still taking ballet, and everyone at the studio was positively raving about this show, which I’d never heard of. The dancing! Oh, the dancing! It was fantastic! You HAVE to see this show!
So, I talked my mother into taking me to see the show. To this day, I’m a little ashamed that I put her through that. Of course, never having heard anything about the show (other than, “The dancing! The dancing!”), I’m not completely to blame. I had no idea the storylines and subject matter and suggestive language we would be subjected to. I remember being afraid to look at my mother until it was all over. The whole time, I was waiting for her to decide this had finally crossed a line and remove me from the premises.
She never did. She didn’t say a whole lot about it, actually. I worked up the guts in the car on the way home to ask her what she thought about the show. “Well,” she hesitated, “I like that it showed a lot of different kind of people living a lot of different kinds of lives.
“And that’s what I didn’t like about it, too.”
My mother. The queen of sweetness and diplomacy.
Now that I’m mature and all, I’d love to ask her more. For one thing, I wonder what she told my dad about the show when we got home. I can’t imagine that she owned up to the real content matter that she had subjected me to, because I’m pretty sure he would have taken me home at intermission and would have thought she should have, too.
I also kind of wonder if she could have articulated even more what she meant by the review she gave me. If she could explain what she liked about the variety of lifestyles shown. Why is that a good thing? It’s not because she enjoyed hearing about all those lifestyles – that, I’m confident, is what she didn’t like about it. But could she articulate what was good about hearing all that?
I’m not sure she could, but I think instinctively she knew that there is benefit to being aware of not just the sin in the world, but of the situations that lead to sin, of the grief and brokenness that comes out of sin. I think there was something in her that understood the dangers of a Christian cocooning and accusing rather than listening and loving.
So much you miss when you lose your mom at 31.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Comma Lessons, for the Comma-Happy

“I’m the comma queen! Help me! I need to know when to stop!” So pleaded a friend of mine this week. So, for the benefit of all my comma-happy readers, allow me to present . . .
The Four Basic Occasions to Use a Comma.
1) To separate items in a series. This one I think we’re all familiar with:
I had pancakes, eggs, bacon, and toast for breakfast this morning.
OR I had pancakes, eggs, bacon and toast for breakfast this morning.
(Note: That comma before the “and” is called the Oxford Comma, and it is optional. I almost always use it because there are times when it is necessary for clarity, so I just make it a habit.)
2) To set off introductory elements in a sentence. This could be a word, a phrase, or a whole clause – anything that comes before the main independent clause of a sentence:
Today, I had pancakes for breakfast.
On Friday, I had pancakes for breakfast.
Whenever I visit my grandma, I have pancakes for breakfast.
If I have time to make them and have all the ingredients on hand, I have pancakes for breakfast.
Susan, I had pancakes for breakfast.
Yes, I had pancakes for breakfast.
You know, I had pancakes for breakfast.
(Note: it is sometimes okay to leave the comma out when the introductory element is only a word, like in my first example. But again, because it often is necessary to have a comma to be clear, I make it a habit to always use one, and I teach my students that, also.)
3) To set off interruptive elements in a sentence. This is anything that interrupts the main clause of the sentence – it could be a word, a phrase, or a clause. The important thing is that it is not necessary to the idea in the main clause; it is “parenthetical” material.
I had pancakes, the food of the gods, for breakfast.
I had pancakes, of course, for breakfast.
I, my dear, had pancakes for breakfast.
I had pancakes, which often give me heartburn, for breakfast.
I had pancakes that my mother made for breakfast. (NOTE: “That my mother made” is NOT set off by commas because it is not parenthetical; it is a necessary idea in the main clause. Sometimes you have to make a judgment call on that, but usually, if you try to put the phrase in parentheses, it becomes clear if it is parenthetical or not.)
I had pancakes for breakfast, the most important meal of the day. (NOTE: “The most important meal of the day” is not actually interrupting the main clause – it’s at the end. But it’s still an “interruptive element”; it’s just placed at the end instead of at the beginning or middle. So it still needs to be set off with commas, although the second comma becomes a period since it’s at the end of the sentence. See more examples to follow.)
I had pancakes for breakfast, Susan.
I had pancakes for breakfast, of course.
4) To join two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction. This is the biggest bugaboo for commas, I think. I actually explained this in great detail in an earlier post (here), so I won’t elaborate too much. The important points are that each clause must be independent (a sentence that would stand on its own and make sense) and the conjunction you use must be a coordinating conjunction (use the acronym FANBOYS to remember the coordinating conjunctions: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So).
I had pancakes for breakfast, and I had waffles for lunch. (CORRECT)
I had pancakes for breakfast, and waffles for lunch. (INCORRECT – “waffles for lunch” is not a sentence that would stand on its own. Take out the comma.)
I had pancakes for breakfast, however I had waffles for lunch. (INCORRECT – “however” is not a coordinating conjunction. It is a conjunctive adverb. Remember FANBOYS.)
I had pancakes for breakfast, I had waffles for lunch. (INCORRECT – this is a comma splice. You can’t join two independent clauses with just a comma. Either change it to a semicolon, or add a coordinating conjunction.)
NOW, there are two caveats here. One, there are occasional, rare situations where a comma would not normally be grammatically correct, but where a sentence is unclear without it.
What the crew does, does affect our voyage.
If it looks like a bizarre mess without a comma, add one for clarity; however, your better choice is to reword the sentence entirely. (Our voyage is affected by what the crew does.)
Two, if you are a good reader, and especially if you read stuff by older authors or by more “poetical” authors, you will see these rules violated all the time. I know I always have to get a grip on myself when I read C.S. Lewis because he uses older punctuation rules, and it unnerves me for a moment. Punctuation rules are conventions, and they change over time.

So, there you are. Go, and punctuate likewise. J

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Driving With No Map

We're nearing the end of our study of the life of Moses in BSF. Last night our teaching leader talked about how we all like to think we'd be more successful and happy if we knew exactly what God had in store for us in our lives. If we knew God's plan for our future, we could prepare for that and be ready.

But, no, probably not. She said if she had known, on her first visit to a BSF class, that she was going to be teaching one someday, she would probably have run for the hills.

She's right. I'm glad I didn't know what was coming up in my life. I would have made stupid decisions that messed everything up.

Lord knows, I never dreamed I would ever be writing and directing plays for students. But if I had, I would have probably tried to take all sorts of classes trying to get better at both skills. I probably would have gotten more involved in theaters, trying to get more experience. I probably would have looked for mentors to attach myself to and learn from. And in the end, the work I do, I would be attributing to my education, experience, and mentors. As it is now, I can only give credit to God, because I have no idea how these plays ever come out as well as they do.

My daughter is very anxious to run into her future, figure out her life calling, get a jump on that today. She so wants to know what God wants her to do with her life so she can immediately start preparing. I keep telling her to chill out on that; God will reveal those things to her in due time. For now, her best preparation is to do the things she loves to do to the best of her ability -- take advantage of the opportunities God places in her lap today.

I had my own Creative Memories business for several years while we lived in New Jersey. As I've already mentioned here, I am SO not a businessperson. I loved making scrapbooks, I loved teaching others how to make them, I loved encouraging others to make the effort to record their life stories . . . but the business side of all this was completely and totally out of my comfort zone. It took a tremendous effort of the will for me to, for example, make business calls -- just thinking of it now makes my hands sweat. I doubt anyone ever knew how hard that was.

But even at the time, I had a feeling that this business venture was merely a means to an end. I always thought that God was using this business to build up certain skills or knowledge in me that He intended to use later for something else.

(Which reminds me of my whining the other day about not wanting to do the work to market my scripts. Sigh! In any case . . . )

No, as much as I always wanted to have a roadmap for where God was going to have me in ten, twenty, thirty years, I'm quite grateful I didn't have that. As uncomfortable as it was sometimes, I'm glad God kept me in suspense, just showing me the next step, one step at a time. Otherwise, I would be taking the glory for it all. My planning. My learning. My doing. My pushing. My knowing. I got myself here. Thank you, God, for making me so capable.

I'm so glad now that I know I'm so incapable. It makes me all the more aware that anything I accomplish is all God's doing. And I'm so much more successful and happy that way.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Northern Friends, Meet the Live Oak

Texas is one weird state. The lack of winter I expected. But I didn’t expect this: fall happens in March in Texas. For real.

Nothing fell in October, but we spent the whole two weeks before Easter raking and bagging the leaves in our yard. Forty-five bags of them. The live oaks drop their leaves in the spring right before they bud new ones.

“Live oak,” by the way, doesn’t mean the opposite of a dead oak. It’s a particular type of oak tree, and they are some of the coolest trees ever. The trunks grow all haywire in fascinating swirls around the yard. Many of them have trunks growing completely to the side, almost perpendicular to the ground after a while – growing toward where they find the most sun, I assume.

And they are HUGE. They must have remarkable root systems to support so much weight all leaning to one side. I look at some of them and think I’d be afraid to hang anything on even the largest of their branches because surely any extra pounds would send that thing crashing to the ground. But no. They stand strong for years and years.

We have several of these amazing trees in our yard. And as I noted before, they dump all of their leaves just in time to celebrate the Resurrection. So weird.

They also dump their pollen right about now. If you’ve never experienced such, it’s a sight. Yellow dusty stuff that covers EVERYTHING and gets people’s allergies all cranked up. We got the pine pollen in New Jersey; here it’s the oak pollen. Craziness.

But it’s not just the yellow gunk. The “flowers” fall off as well, and if I hadn’t already swept one layer of them up once, by now they would be covering our courtyard area (patio, table, chairs, grill, fountain, plus all the actual ground) with nastiness a half inch thick. Good heavens.
See how it's all leaning to one side? Crazy!

They clog up the fountain. I can’t even clean out the fountain until they’re done, so it’s just turned off for now.

And of course, it's been raining. On the positive side, that washed away a lot of yellow nastiness. On the negative side, the dried-up flower nastiness has been too wet to blow away.

I know – I’m whining. The truth is, the trees are beautiful and worth the mess once a year. At least I think so right now. A few more years of this and I may lose some affection for them, however.

Good motivation for me to continue teaching high school students. I’m bound to have a few someday who would love to clean up my yard for “extra credit.” ;)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Resuscitate Or Let It Die?

I have this website that many of you know about. It's a place where I sell my scripts that I've written over the years for church dramas and homeschool dramas. I set it up a couple years ago because I figured, I have all these scripts sitting on my hard drive that I have no current use for, and there has to be SOMEBODY out there who would love to use them.

So, I spent the time one summer to create the website. Acting Out Christian Dramas. You can click there to get to it.

Just the process of creating this site was seriously out of my comfort zone. The research involved! Research is actually one of my least favorite activities. I very much enjoy taking information and doing something with it -- I really hate the process of hunting the information down to begin with. But I had to research places to create websites, sites where I could upload the documents safely, ways for the financial transaction to happen online . . . for some of you, this may all be "duh" kind of stuff. But for me, this was a major learning curve.

And then I went through all the grunt work of actually designing the pages (simple as they are), choosing which scripts, creating free "previews" people could download, uploading various things at various sites . . . oh, good heavens. This was a time-consuming process, both to learn how to do and to execute.

But I got it done. And I was rather proud of myself just for doing it.

As I said, that was about two years ago. In the meantime, I have a Facebook page for the website with about 60 likes. And a decent number of those people are folks I have never heard of -- I don't know how they found the page. I seem to get hits on the website pretty frequently.

But in the end, I've only sold a handful of scripts. I'm pretty sure that's because I do very little to market the site; other than putting out a link once a month on the Facebook page, I don't do anything with this. Frankly, it is quite low on the priority list. It's not that I don't want to sell my scripts. There are just other things more important.

And honestly, I hate marketing just about as much as I hate research. When I had my Creative Memories business, that was the part that weighed on me the most. It's the part I hate about teaching in the classroom. I don't like to have to "sell" myself or my "product." If you want what I have to offer and think it will benefit you, great! Let's talk. But I don't want to have to try to convince you that you need what I have. Ugghhh.

Yes, I know. If I intend to be in the script-selling business, I have to buck up. Marketing is what it takes -- just figure it out. And that's why I'm wondering if I really want to be in the script-selling business. I keep hoping that there will be someone in my life who actually has this skill set and maybe enjoys the selling process who will step in and offer to make this work. That's not happening.

Although my website is free, the site that stores the documents costs me $15 a month. Because of some quirks that happened last month when my credit card got changed, my subscription to that site will be cancelled in five days unless I go give them my new credit card info. I'm trying to decide if I'm just going to let it die a quiet death.

Because I'm just not a business person. But more importantly, I don't know how badly I want to be one.

Monday, April 13, 2015

My Unclean Heart

Create in me a clean heart, O God. So sang the choir yesterday.
A clean heart. Wouldn’t I love to have one. I think part of growing in Christ is becoming aware of how unclean your heart really is.
I’d like to think I teach with a clean heart. But the truth is, I have many ulterior motives. I don’t teach only with a desire to help my students. I teach because I like to be in control of a group of people. I teach because I like attention focused on me at the front of the room. I teach because I like being the one in the room with all the right answers. Yes, I care about my kids a lot, but I have no illusions that I do my job with a clean heart.
When I help friends in need, my heart is not all clean. Yes, I am desperate for the well-being of those I love. But I also enjoy the feeling of being needed and trusted . . . and again, of having all the right answers to fix other people’s problems. I know that’s the case, because I find myself hurt and offended when they call on someone else, when I’m not “in the loop” knowing what’s going on. I feel a tinge of jealousy when someone else’s assistance is more effective than mine, or more desired. As if it’s all about me. Such uncleanliness in my heart.
Even my parenting is not done with a clean heart. Here is probably where I come as close as I will ever get to acting completely in another’s best interests, but Self still ultimately reigns. I want my kids to be healthy, happy, and fulfilled . . . and the truth is that is partly because of the benefits I derive from that. An easier life. A good reputation. Again, that feeling of having been right about things. (Notice a theme here?)
I think part of growing in Christ is becoming aware of how unclean your heart really is, and always was, and always will be, at least in this life. And an even bigger part of growing in Christ is understanding the incomprehensible fact that He chose me as His beloved while I still wallowed in my uncleanliness.
And I think the bulk of growing in Christ is being so awed by the fact that that He chose me anyway that I’m filled with love for the God who loves me so infinitely and so completely.

Because only when I love Him . . . really love Him . . . can He create a clean heart in me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Stop Riding on a Flat Tire

We had a speaker at our teacher meeting yesterday who talked about helping students with "learning difficulties": ADD, dyslexia, sensory processing problems, etc. It was a VERY valuable in-service.

One of the points he made that really stuck with me: those of us who are good teachers tend to find ways to accommodate these difficulties. Like . . . we allow a student extra time to take a test . . . or to have the test read aloud to them . . . or to type an assignment instead of hand-writing it. Ways to help their learning continue despite the problem. All well and good. Except that when they're in the real world, college professors and employers don't make such accommodations. You can't just "accommodate" these learning difficulties for the rest of your life, and why would you if there's a way to fix them?

He equated it to pushing a child on a bicycle that has a flat tire. They may ride that bike like a boss, but once you let go, they will crash. You  push them for a while so they get their bike-riding skills down, but at some point, you also have to stop and fix that flat tire, or your efforts are a waste.

I've realized this for a while in my homeschooling. When my youngest was in kindergarten or so, I subbed in her Sunday School class one week and was able to observe her in a "school" setting. It was fascinating. She knew she had to sit still and be quiet -- and the energy it took for her to do that left her with nothing to absorb anything that the teacher said. It was one or the other: sit quietly or understand the lesson. There was no hope of doing both.

So when we homeschooled, I recognized that I had to work on those two tasks separately. When I had content to teach her (2 + 2 = 4), I let her be up and moving and loud and whatever she needed to do or be. But then we worked on her ability to sit quietly when necessary as a separate skill. I didn't make her do both at once until she was better at both of them.

And by the grace of God, my now almost-fifteen-year-old is quite capable of sitting quietly and learning at the same time. Praise Jesus.

So last night and this morning, I found myself struggling with my own "mental difficulties": I can't control the thoughts that roam through my brain. I want to turn them off to go to sleep . . . and they come back. I want to pray about something specific . . . and other thoughts invade my prayers. I need to think about a lesson I'm writing . . . and thoughts about a different problem disrupt me.

And I remembered that speaker yesterday and considered, maybe instead of just getting annoyed with myself that this keeps happening, and letting my sleep be interrupted, and letting my prayers be disturbed, and letting my work be prolonged and weakened . . . maybe I need to fix that flat tire and teach myself the skill of controlling my thoughts.

I mean, I keep telling my daughter with the anxiety problems that it really is possible to do control one's thoughts. Just because my own uncontrolled mind doesn't dramatically debilitate me as it does others like her doesn't mean it's not worth the effort to fill that gap in my cognitive functioning. Right?

Right. Yeah, I need to look into that seriously. Why keep making accommodations if there is a solution to the problem?

Friday, April 3, 2015


Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

There's a reason we read scriptures over and over. I've read these words of Christ on the cross probably hundreds of times in my life. I heard them. I've spoken them myself, butchering the Hebrew pronunciation, I'm sure. I've pondered the emotion behind them. I've considered the theological significance of them. I know these words.

But last night at church, they spoke to me again in a new way.

My God . . . my God . . . why . . . why have you forsaken me? Why did you call me here, to this place of horror, and then leave me alone? Why won't you come to me? Why?

The Bible has many troubling descriptions of hell -- fire and brimstone and such. But the one thing that is the heart of the nature of that Other Eternal Place is that it involves complete separation from God. And considering that God is the one and only source of all things good (love, beauty, compassion, peace, joy -- ALL THINGS GOOD . . . let the enormity of that sink in), there is nothing worse. Forget fire and brimstone; there is no hell greater than complete separation from all Goodness that exists.

We all have just a taste of that separation now, in life here on earth. Humanity chose, corporately, to live independent of God, and he obliged us to a certain extent. Because he loved us, though, he (like a good parent) left a door open and a light on for us to come back when we choose to do so.

Jesus on the cross, though. This was a different separation. This was more than the normal human ache of loneliness from the divine. He was bearing the burden of humanity's sin as he died, and the Father actually turned away. A complete separation. Jesus went through hell -- the separation from God, the true essence of hell -- while he hung on that cross. And he did it to open that door so that I would never have to experience that.

Were the whole realm of nature mine, 
That were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul . . . my life . . . MY ALL.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Obligatory Fast Food Gig

My eldest has been looking for a job. Kind of. She's had her eye out for places that seemed to be hiring and put her application in at a couple, to no avail. So a couple Sundays ago, when we were picking up a gift card at Freddy's, she saw the "Help Wanted" sign and filled out an application. Two days later, she started training.

And life suddenly changed very quickly.

Here's what I don't get about this job: she never knows exactly when she's going to work. She's given a start time -- like, 11am. But she doesn't know when she gets off. She just gets off when they tell her she can go. That meant that last Saturday, when she started at 11am, they didn't tell her she could go until 8pm.

A nine-hour work day -- that's a long day, to begin with. But more than that, how is she supposed to plan her life around this? How can she make any commitments for activities in the evenings if she has no idea when she gets off work? That particular evening, she had agreed to babysit for a neighbor (agreed to it before she even got the Freddy's job), so she had to get her sister to cover for her until she could get there -- and then she was babysitting for three hours AFTER her nine hours doing fast food.

Is this legit? Do all fast food places run this way? I understand that they have to deal with unreliable workers who will choose to show up or not show up as their mood strikes, but still.

And there's more. The weekly work schedule begins on Thursdays. As of today (Wednesday), she doesn't know when she is scheduled to work beyond just today. We're hoping she finds out the upcoming week's schedule when she goes in at lunch. But again, how is she supposed to plan her life when she doesn't know more than a couple days ahead when she's working? How can she ever agree to babysit for anyone again if she doesn't know if she'll get off work in time? This is Easter weekend -- her boyfriend is flying down for a visit -- and she has NO IDEA when she's free for anything. We may not be able to do any Easter activities together as a family. He may spend all that money to come see her and hardly ever get to see her (a good possibility since she's at the bottom of the totem pole there and most likely to be scheduled on a holiday weekend, I would assume).

I remember a woman on my drama team in Sioux City had the same problem with her job at Chik-Fil-A. We couldn't schedule rehearsals with her more than a week ahead because she didn't know her work schedule. (But at least she knew what time she was getting off!)

This is aggravating. I don't like that kind of unpredictability.

Her first week of training was hard. It's her first "real" job. She was nervous. Her trainer was apparently not a great trainer (even the other workers told her that). And that nine-hour day while she still felt so uncertain about what she was doing really did her in. She came home from babysitting in tears about what a failure she was at this job.

We tried to reassure her -- you're still learning. Think of all the friends you know who have half a brain in their head and still work successfully in fast food. You will get the hang of this. But I felt her pain. I wrote a while back about my unsuccessful two weeks at TCBY when I was her age. It's a terrible feeling when you are given expectations and not given the means to meet those expectations.

But two days ago, somebody from corporate (in Wichita! my hometown!) was in our Freddy's here to observe. And apparently, this man told the manager, "We need more people like this girl here" -- indicating my daughter.

Boo yah! Told you, hon.