Friday, January 17, 2014

Your Kid's the Reason My Kid's Homeschooled

She had a fresh kill and two little cubs. And he never saw it coming.

This grizzly bear mama was feeding her cubs and herself when a bigger, hungrier male grizzly smelled food. Right before he did, she had taken her cubs to a safe place in the trees. And as the big male approached, WHAMO!, Mama came barreling out from the woods, charging and snarling. The male, slightly taken aback, snarled in return. But he didn't even stand a chance. She was swinging and biting and snarling, and he was backing away, despite his hunger.

He backed off temporarily, but he was apparently dumber than he looked because he came back. This time, he was standing on his hind legs. But she was having none of it. Again, he was taken aback by her sheer ferocity. And, finally, he was cowed into retreat.

Smart bear.

I'm trying to keep it dim and quiet at bedtime while I nurse the baby to sleep, so reading is out. But I can watch nature documentaries, which I find fascinating. And that's when I saw this bear account. I was mesmerized, and no small fan of that mama grizzly.

What kind of fool comes between a mama and her young?

The next scene was of a mother hippopotamus. She was leading her baby into the common area of the lake when a bull charged them both. I was thinking of the bear.
"Good luck with that, pal" I snarked.

But I was wrong.

The mother hippo turned and ran (or swam, actually). And the baby was in tow.
I was riveted...and appalled. What was this mother thinking? At the very least, she had made a tactical error, placing the baby--rather than herself--between her and harm's way. She was either afraid, or she was just thinking about herself. Either way, she was wrong. And guess what? The bull got the baby, and the baby died. Like we didn't see that coming.

Stupid hippo.

This has been a week for neighborhood kids, not in a good way. In fact, we've had weeks like this before. The issue is quite simple: I have a zero tolerance policy for bullying. And kids who bully my kids learn that in no uncertain terms. Probably comes from my seventh grade year, when I was bullied. I was small and mousy then. And sometimes I itch for a Back to the Future moment. Boy howdy, would things go differently. *cough*bringit*cough*

But I digress. I just include that so you don't get me confused with Ann Voskamp. I get that a lot.

So a couple days ago, a neighbor (I'd really like to call him Hell-boy, but we'll call him Eddie Haskell), and his little friend (who has more outfits than a Barbie doll, so we'll call her Princess Fru Fru) knocked on the door and asked if the kids could play. I should know to monitor these situations. But I didn't. And the seven year old and the four year old walked right into it. Wasn't long before the four year old was crying. Seems Eddie Haskell had hit him. Twice. With a stick.


I march into the backyard to find that both Eddie Haskell and Princess Fru Fru have escaped faster than Houdini. Back in I go for wound care. Then I hear them back in my yard. Unbelievable! Grrrrr. Back out.
"Go home," I tell them. "You're not welcome when you're mean."

That's when I interview the seven year old a little more closely.
Oh. They hide from you?
Oh. Pinky promises and secrets?
By now, my spidey senses are tingling.
No more playing with the Hellions (that's the plural form of Eddie Haskell and Princess Fru Fru.)
The seven year old is crestfallen. My heart rate is elevated.

Next day, the doorbell rings. Seems Eddie and Fru have thicker skulls than I originally thought.
I let the seven year old go out again. Seems I have a thicker skull than I originally thought.
Next thing I know, they are ringing the doorbell accusing the seven year old of something.
Oh dear.
I find her, and it's true. She took something of Fru's.
Why??? I ask.
Because she's being mean. More hiding and more silent treatments.
Give Fru her things, I say.
To the hellions: Leave. Now.

I find the seven year old on her bed crying. I'm kneeling beside her and brushing her hair back.
I'm so sorry (for acting like the stupid hippo mama).
We have to love them. I wonder: does it have less impact when I say it through clenched teeth?

And, wonder of wonders, I look out my front window to see Hell-b-, I mean, Eddie and Fru having a snack together...on my lawn chairs. You've got to be kidding me.
I fling open my front door.
Leave, I say, with that flick of the monarch's wrist to his peons.
(Oh seriously.) I enunciate s l o w l y so they can understand.
They're stupefied. As if they can't figure me out.

Bad kids, at least at that age, are bad because they have bad parents. Either the parents are apathetic--which is shameful--or they are ignorant--which is at least understandable. It's not like children come with a manual. But that's no reason for my kids to be collateral damage. I wonder what Eddie's mom would say if I told her the truth:
Your kid's the reason my kid's homeschooled.

I don't ever want to look like a hippo mama, letting my kids dangle unprotected in that big, bad world.
One day, they'll be old enough and equipped enough to take it on.
But this is not that day.

This is the day that I'll be known as the Meanest Lady On the Street.
And I'm good with that.
I'm really, really good with that.

Grizzly Mama.
It's not just a job;
it's an adventure.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

When God Says 'No'

Dear Lord, Please let the lump in my mom's breast be benign.


What do we do when God says no to our fervent prayers? It feels like I've been denied something really important. This isn't trivial; this is cancer, for goodness sake. I could stomp my foot and demand to know why. But I have more faith in God's providence than that. I trust that all that He does is for our good and His glory. Oh, I can ask why. But I should be prepared for silence. God often works in silence.

I'm reading The Good News We Almost Forgot, a book about the Heidelberg Catechism by Kevin DeYoung.  I love the Heidelberg Catechism. There is something comforting and sweet about it,  as catechisms go. As I read this morning, I was thinking of my mom. I was thinking of our phone call last night, when she told me she does have breast cancer. She'll have to have surgery. She'll have to have radiation.

My gorgeous, graying, godly mom.
What in the world?
This is not supposed to happen.

Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?
God's providence is His almighty and ever present power whereby, as if by His hand, He still upholds Heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed all things come not by chance but by His fatherly hand. 
(Lord's Day 10, Q and A 27, Heidelberg Catechism)

See what I mean about being comforting? See why I love it so? Whereas the Westminster Catechism is the plumb line you want to clonk Osteen over the head with (well, I can't speak for you; I know I want to clo--oh, never mind), the Heidelberg Catechism is a soft pillow where the weary pilgrim can lay his head.

I was thinking of my mom as I read question 27, of the cancer and the radiation and the effects. I was comforted by this reminder that God doesn't merely allow things to happen to His own, as if He is a passive bystander; He brings them by His own hand because He is active in His creation and in His Church.
For our good.
For His glory.

And then Alex called.

She had to get her visa renewed to stay the remaining three months in Israel. We knew that going into this. We knew that she and her friends would have to re-up at the halfway point so they could stay the whole time. Two days ago, they made the trek to Jordan in order to re-enter Israel and renew the visas.

They enjoyed Petra and the Jordanian people and drank in more middle-eastern hospitality. They rode camels and went parasailing.

But don't all go to the same application window, they were told. It would look suspicious.
So two women went to one window; Alex went to the other.
Sounds like a plan.

Until the visa agent decided she didn't like Alex.
She doesn't want Alex in her country.
And she gave her seven days to get out.
The other women got their new three-month visas on the spot.
Alex got one week.

Nothing is random.
Brett and I have been talking about that this week.
God does not sleep; He doesn't slumber.
He never lets anyone else take Creation's wheel.
And He doesn't share His glory with another.

How do open theists get out of bed every morning serving their weak little god? 
Anti-depressants, I guess. 

So this dream-big adventure of Alex's may be coming to an early close. Scuttling home to stay in the good graces of the international community? That was not part of the plan. It was supposed to last for three more months. She was supposed to keep learning Hebrew and befriending the locals and walking where Jesus walked. She was supposed to keep meeting new people on her team from all over the world and serving people from all over the world. There was more to do, more to see, more to minister.

Nothing is random.
Not visa agents or application windows.
Not well-intentioned advice.
Not breast lumps.
Not cancer.

All prayers get answered. Can I really charge my Creator-Redeemer with deafness, as if He's a doddering old man? or hardness, as if He's a tyrant?
It's just that sometimes God says no.
That's not random. That's sovereignty.
Too, sometimes things just come to us without our even seeing them coming.
Those, as well, are not random.
They are God's providence.

We have often heard, DeYoung reminds us, that God is our Father, which is true, but we don't always remember that the opposite is true: your Father is God.

Do we trust our Father with the what-just-happened-here's?
The aborted dreams and the I-didn't-see-that-coming's?
Those no's dressed in Divine Silence,
even if we asked nicely.

Q. How does the knowledge of God's creation and providence help us?
A. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from His love. All creatures are so completely in His hands that without His will they can neither move nor be moved. 
(Lord's Day 10, Q and A 28, Heidelberg Catechism)

You can accuse me of being a theology nerd.
But it is times precisely like this, that what I believe about God anchors me.
Sometimes God brings us to the brink of danger--like cancer.
Sometimes God brings us through disappointment--like interrupted adventures.
But He always brings us through His plan.

Today, this pilgrim is going to lay her weary head on the downy Heidelberg Pillow,
'Cause while God is the Author of Calamity,
He also happens to be my Dad.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

In Which I Rant Against Digital Books; My 2013 Reading List

Barnes and Noble is threatening to close its brick and mortar stores. Kindle and Nook are quickly becoming a normal device in the average American home. In fact, if you google the topic, all of the articles will tell you which one is more popular. No longer is anyone addressing whether they should be popular.

I am grieving the death of books. By 'book', I don't mean a collection of words, sentences, and ideas that someone has accumulated and given a title. I mean the physical object which is paper, lined with words, and bound by a cover. Books are dying. People now read from a tablet the size of my palm, back lit, and stored in their purse or backpack.

What is this? Fahrenheit 451?  Let me tell you what we lose when we lose books. In the best, best, best argument against digital books, Brandon Booth says this:
It is my duty to curate, and comment in, a library for my children. It will be their joy to pour over those pages, absorbing their content and psychoanalyzing my margin notes. Paper books are a legacy; digital books are a commodity. (emphasis mine)
This time, I sniff in disdain.
Disdain of digitals and nooks and kindles.

What are we doing when we buy digital books? We are making a plan for the intellectual malnourishment of our children. We are setting them up to see books merely as sources of information. We are depriving them of how we interacted with our own books.

I don't know about you, but I read with a pencil. And I write in my books. I agree and I argue and I snark and I underline and I laugh. And it's all in my handwriting. My passion is even caught by how hard I bear down on the page. When someone asks me to borrow a book, my first private thought is, "Hm. I wonder what I wrote in the margins of that one." I kid you not. And I hand books to people with this disclaimer: Read my margin notes at your own risk.

Get that in a digital book? Make me laugh. I think not.
So, I'll continue my crusade against digital books. And the world will continue to call me a Luddite.
And I'll continue not to give a flying fig.

What follows is this past year's reading list. There was gold there, like To Kill a Mockingbird. If you want to spend time with courage, integrity, and heroism, you need to read this one. And then read it again; I do. Penelope Wilcock continued to write like the best classic authors with The Hardest Thing to Do and The Hour Before Dawn.

There was dross, like The Secret Life of Bees, 302 pages I'll never get back. This one just solidifies in my mind why reading a best seller is usually a waste of time. Best sellers are merely what most of culture finds valuable. And I want to be like 'most of culture' because...why??? No more best sellers for me, thanks.

There were books I read because I should, like The Federalist Papers. I admit it; this was a painful read. It's way too long and verbose. But...I was amazed at how many times I referred my kids back to it when the question, "Why do we do this?" would come up in a civic context.

There were phenomenal books that challenged me to be a better exegete, like Graeme Goldsworthy's Gospel books. But I think the book that tops my list this year, the one that held me riveted and amazed, the one that I keep thinking about, long after I have finished it, is The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton.

Good or bad, I read them all in paper. And if I owned it, chances are I probably wrote in it, too! Or at least underlined things and wrote exclamation points in the margins. ;)

Without further ado, the 55 books on my 2013 list:

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung
From the Library of CS Lewis by James Stuart Bell
Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers
The Scarlet Pimpernel (again) by Baroness Orczy
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home by Derek Thomas
Hoping for Something Better by Nancy Guthrie
Gospel by JD Greear
The Tutor's Daughter by Julia Klassen
Reformation, Yesterday Today Tomorrow by Carl Trueman
G.O.S.P.E.L. by DA Horton
Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay
Chestnut King (again) by ND Wilson
The Hardest Thing to Do by Penelope Wilcock
Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling
House of Dark Shadows by Ron Liparulo
Disciplines of a Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes
Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge
Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy
At the Back of the North Wind by George Macdonald
To Kill a Mockingbird (again) by Harper Lee
The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of... by Sam Kean
Gospel and Wisdom by Graeme Goldsworthy
The Elusive Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder
Five Red Herrings by Dorothy Sayers
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
Favorite Father Brown Stories by GK Chesterton
Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age by Maggie Jackson
Midwives by Chris Bohjalian
Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton
Emma Brown by Clare Boylan
Gospel and Revelation by Graeme Goldsworthy
The Cross and Christian Ministry by DA Carson
Walden Two by BF Skinner
Darwin on Trial by Phillip Johnson
The Yanks are Coming by Albert Marrin
Standing on the Promises (again) by Douglas Wilson
Cheaper by the Dozen (again) by Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
Apostate by Kevin Swanson
Children of the Great Depression by Russell Freedman
Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Shoulder the Sky by Anne Perry
Law and Liberty by RJ Rushdoony
Jane and His Lordship's Legacy by Stephanie Barron
Angel on the Square by Gloria Whelan
The Promised One by Nancy Guthrie
Lost World of Genesis One by John H. Walton
The Hour Before Dawn by Penelope Wilcock
Radical Womanhood by Carolyn McCulley
Second Mayflower by Kevin Swanson
The Holy Spirit: His Gifts and Power by John Owen
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Everyday Prayers by Scotty Smith

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Feasting Like Fezziwig

Today is January 2. The holidays are officially over. Today, the holly on the banister will come down, as will my Christmas village and the creche. But today, I'm reminiscing about the past month and the notion of feasting. Just a few days ago, as Brett and I were taking our walk, he asked me, "So, what do you think is the reason for the season?" It's not just a fair question for we believers to ask one another; it's a good one.

Because Jesus is the reason for the season,
said no scripture ever.

So, it's a good idea for those of us who take a high view of scripture to get back to the why of this season that literally takes over our culture from the day after Halloween and lasts for two solid months. What are we doing...and why are we doing it?

"I've been thinking about that," I answered Brett. "And, honestly, I don't think we have the same approach as anyone I know. Anyone, that is, except Fezziwig."

On Christmas Eve, our children set out milk and cookies for You-Know-Who.
Some time after they have been tucked in, all snug in their beds, they hear jingle bells outside, as Brett does laps in the dark around our house. And we hear their gasps of delight and surprise.
The next morning, they awaken to a tree covered with candy canes left by the jolly old elf himself, and surrounded by gifts.

For our family, Christmas is about feasting. And by that, I don't mean eating. I mean food, yes, but I also mean family and music and merriment; I mean gifts and magic and jolly extravagance. The rest of the year is quite frugal. We don't take our kids to the movies; we don't buy them cool clothes; we don't go to amusement parks. Pennies are things we pinch and meals are practical. But Christmas is the time when we get them stuff they don't need but maybe they want, when we have butterhorns and desserts, when there is a steady supply of good wine, sparkling apple cider, and wassail. Christmas is the time when school work halts, and we ease up a bit on the normal rules of bedtime or screen time. At Christmas time, we do less bookkeeping and more game playing.

For feasting overflows the dinner table, and wraps its warmth around fellowship and family, as well. And that is what this holiday time is to us. When it comes to the holiday season, we're like A Christmas Carol's old Fezziwig:

There were more dances, and there were forfeits and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and the Boiled, when the fiddler...struck up 'Sir Roger de Coverley'. Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig.
When the clock struck eleven, this domestic ball broke up. Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side of the door, and shaking hands with every person individually, as he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas.
It's an idea straight out of the Old Testament. And it was the way that God instituted for his people to remember Passover and Purim. Old Testament feasting involved family, travel, spending money, and celebration.  And it came, by the way, as a command from God. Do it...or else.

And yet...
How interesting that, while the Jews observed lasting ordinances to hold feasts and remember their deliverance from Pharaoh or from Xerxes, there was no mandate to commemorate the Incarnation. Surely, this visitation from heaven is far more momentous, more climactic than an earthly rescue from an earthly tyrant!

(But back around 360 AD, Constantine decided we needed a feast. So he created Christmas. And now, as we humans are wont to do, we saddle a good intention with rules:
Keep it religious. And, for heaven's sake, no elves!
Do it...or else, said God.
Oh wait.)

I think perhaps we need to ask ourselves, not what the reason for the season is, but why God never mandated 'a season' in the first place.
Perhaps this once-for-all ransom of a broken creation and a chosen people...
Perhaps this invasion of the mundane by the supremely holy...
Perhaps God With Us to the end of time...
is simply too much glory to be contained in one feast.

Perhaps we don't observe the Incarnation with a feast because the Incarnation is our very foundation, and we observe it with our lives. And all the joy and the freedom and the forgiveness that spills over from the Incarnation is what gives us a reason to be merry all year long.
"It is finished," observes pastor/author Scotty Smith, the final words of Jesus on the Cross, are the first words of our freedom.

And so on that foundation, we build every day of our lives.
But once in a while, that foundation gives us the freedom to be old Fezziwig for the day, to dream the magic of childhood, to raise a glass, to feast extravagantly.

The Incarnation is the reason for our Comfort and Joy.
But it is too vast to capture in a Day.

My family resists the notion that there is something inherently holy about one day of the year. All of God's acts are marvelous and glorious. And they should be remembered all the days of our lives. Every day, we should be telling our children how amazing God is and how deserving of our praise He is. And even as I muse about this, I can see how I fail at this.

Likewise, my family resists the notion that there is something inherently evil about one day of the year. Playing with our children on their level--with stockings and elves and reindeer--is so much more gratifying than sniffing at them for being, and wanting to be, children.  Eating food we do not eat the rest of the year, staying up late, being extravagant is a freedom which should not be frowned upon by pursed-lipped, dour faced, puritanical believers. If there is any people who have less reason to be pursed-lipped, dour faced, and puritanical, it is the redeemed of the Lord!

Today, we'll box up the decorations because the season is over, and it's time to get back to the more serious side of life. I've got to hit the books and get ready for school to start again next week. Brett's got to finish some end of year finance things. The children need to get back to a more sensible sleep routine.

But we'll not treat the Incarnation like it's something we take out of the attic once a year. No, the Incarnation is the good news that stays with us through feast and frugality.

And when the season returns, we'll carry on with our feasting traditions.
We'll hang our stockings by the chimney with care.
We'll champagne-toast each other on New Year's Eve.
And we 'll work really hard at passing on merry traditions to our children.
Joy is our birthright as Children of God.
And my hope is that when people see my family at Christmas time, they see us overflowing with festive joy,
kind of like old Fezziwig.

Of all the days in all the year that I'm familiar with,
There's only one that's really fun, December the 25th.
Ask anyone called Robinson or Brown or Jones or Smith
Their favorite day and they will say, December the 25th.
At times we're glad to see the backs of all our kin and kith,
But there's one date we celebrate, December the 25th.
At times our friends may seem devoid of wit and pith,
But all of us are humorous, December the 25th.
If there's one day in history that's more than any myth,
Beyond a doubt, one day stands out, December the 25th.
I don't hear any arguments, so let me say forthwith,
I wish that every day could be December the 25th.
December the 25th, m'dears, December the 25th!
The dearest day in all the year,
December the 25th!*

*(December the 25th, 1970, Leslie Bricusse, from the musical, Scrooge)