The Best of 2012

These are just a few thoughts that I posted over at incourage.me.

There are plenty more bests…perhaps this will be the first of a few installments. Here goes a beginning:

Best Analogy: A sculptor in a pottery village in Hanoi telling us (through a translator) how in his line of work he can’t just have a student to train, he needs a disciple. Sculpting is hard, messy work and takes years to learn. Isn’t this a perfect picture of what disciple of Jesus must be?
(*This man is CLOSE to entering the kingdom! Pray for him!)

Best News: From a Brazilian missionary in East Timor–that she had finally seen villagers coming to Christ after 9 years of serving there. The hard ground was broken.

Best Jeans: Second hand ones I got in a thrift store. Someone had already made them soft and comfortable for me:)

Best Tea: Korean cinammon tea with wolfberries I had in a Korean restaurant (I think it may be this Gugijacha (구기자차, 枸杞子茶) – made from dried wolfberries?)

Best Song; Wake Up by All Sons and Daughters. A nice version here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03YxgFrDreg

Best Kids’ CD: Boom Chicka Boom by Colin Buchanan . This guy is one crazy Aussie! He puts scripture to music in the most amazing ways–the kids do. remember.

Best (most disturbing?) Book: Jia: A Novel of North Korea by Hyejin Kim

Advertisements

Exposed by Donald Miller

I’m up late with a laptop on my lap. I’m back in America visiting my family for a month and there hasn’t been much meaningful conversation going on around here.  I watched the second episode of a Criminal Minds cliffhanger, which I shouldn’t have done…but I just finished reading Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, which has put me in a very strange state of mind. It didn’t help that today I dug up a lot of old memories recorded in scrapbooks and photo albums that are still stored here in my parents’ house.

I didn’t want to read Blue Like Jazz because I had this feeling that everyone else was reading it or had already read it. All the cool people,that is.  I figured I’d read it and then say I’d read it and then tell everyone I met why they didn’t need to read it.

I was disturbed by his writing, so I got out the laptop to look up some conservative reviews about Donald Miller. I didn’t *want* to like his writing, so I thought I’d feel better if I found some experts who could tell me the flaws in his theology or his life or his choice of Bible versions.

I did a web search on “John MacArthur and Donald Miller” –I got a hit and I found what I already knew would be there. You can count on John MacArthur to find and highlight the flaws in this kind of postmodern book.  But I did notice one thing–in his comments about Mark Driscoll “the cussing pastor,” whom Miller refers to in his book, MacArthur states that “His soteriology is exactly right, but that only makes his infatuation with the vulgar aspects of contemporary society more disturbing.”   (see entire article by MacArthur here)

I had no idea what soteriology was, and so…in very post-modern fashion, I did a web search on that too. Simply put, soteriology is the study of doctrines of salvation. Now I love John MacArthur’s commitment to Biblical truth, and you can’t find many people who exegete the scriptures better than him–but, really, did he have to use such a big word to say this guy has it right when it comes to the doctrine of salvation? This is the most critical part of Christianity. The doctrine of salvation through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of belief for followers of Christ. Did he have to use a word that most people don’t know the meaning of to say that this guy really does know what it means to be saved?

MacArthur is like me. He doesn’t want  to agree with these people. He doesn’t even want to admit that their doctrine of salvation is correct, so he hides behind a word that most of us have to look up. But who can blame MacArthur? or me? The postmoderns are so unlike him. These postmodern Christian renegades have such offensive habits. Their churches are so unorthodox. It seems they don’t even try to get it right when it comes to living out a godly life.

But the long and short of it is, Donald Miller is writing to people like me–who grew up in the 70s and 80s and watched a lot of tv. I’m homeschooling my kids. I hope they won’t turn out like me and be almost 40 years old with thousands of commercial jingles and scenes from tv shows and movies stored in my head, which resurface and replay themselves at the strangest moments. Miller is writing to those of us who had to question the externals, had to listen to Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins (or had to look for Christian music that sounded like it)–and, yes, those of us who are overly concerned with being cool.

I have several books by John MacArthur on my bookshelf at home. They look good sitting there. I haven’t read them. I keep intending to get to them…I’m sure they’ll be good for me somehow.  I read Blue Like Jazz in two days. I couldn’t put it down. It had an effect on me at a deep level, despite my determination to find fault with it. It was not what I expected. I didn’t agree with everything in the book. I do think it matters how we speak and act. The music I listen to and the books I read and the movies I watch do influence me. I don’t think I should listen to or read or watch something that causes me to violate the principle found in Philippians 4:8.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

So what is it that Miller writes in this book that strikes a deep chord? What is it that resonates in the heart of this homeschooling, stay-at-home mom who is getting less and less cool the older she gets? It’s the simplest thing. And the most profound thing. It’s what us rigid conservatives often fail so miserably at. It’s Love.

Donald Miller knows he’s a sinner. He knows every other human being who has ever lived or who ever will live, is a sinner. And because he knew that and admitted it, he opened the door to Jesus (I’m sure Mr Miller would hate for me to put it that way, though. It was a complicated conversion.)  He tends to align himself with “liberals” and finds himself often at odds with “conservatives.” I recently heard he said a prayer at the Democratic National Convention–and he didn’t even close his eyes! (The video is here)  In the book, he admits that it’s hard to love conservatives, but he knows he has to, so he’s trying. He admits a lot of things that most of us conservatives keep pharisaically secret. He talks about how his housemates got on his nerves. He confesses to having doubts about his faith while serving as a Christian youth leader. He tells stories about a time when he lived out in the woods with hippies. And he tells about the encounters he had with people at a notoriously liberal college. To put it simply, he lets it all hang out.

I’m not sure if this is exactly what you could call a book review. I can’t decide how many stars I would give this book and I feel like giving it a PG rating (pastoral guidance recommended).  I’m keeping the book but instead of giving it to any of my doubting and/or ultracool friends, I think I’ll just do the thing that I agreed with and know to be right. I’ll keep the LOVE part and throw out the rest.

Late night Reader-Writer Ramblings

Ann Voskamp said that when she has trouble finding things to write about it’s because she hasn’t been reading enough. When I heard that,  I knew that was one of the reasons why I haven’t been writing much. As much as I know the writing is for my healing, my sanity, my introverted way of getting things off my chest, the truth is my days are full of laundry and refereeing boy-fights and pushing through checklists to get to naptime that I really don’t even want to think when the day is over. I usually do some chores in the evening and watch tv if I can stay awake. Reading feels like a luxury to me; being able to read would mean that I had some time left at the end of the day, that I didn’t fall asleep the minute I laid down on the bed at night. I keep thinking things will change–and they will as the children go older– but I don’t want the bad habits to take root and grow like a creeping vine over my soul.

I was reminded of how writing and reading are good for me (and at the same time unearthing many memories) while cleaning out old notes from college classes. I was amazed at some of the things that I read (and apparently comprehended) and wrote. I must have been a lot smarter back then.

Now I just like to watch crime shows.  I asked The Man one night, what it is about crime shows that makes people want to watch them. There are so many of them on tv nowadays and they are highly addictive. He answered, easily, lucidly—“because people like the truth. In these shows, the truth always comes out in the end.”  He was right; I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.

While that may true and deep, the real reason I was watching tv that night was that I didn’t want to think about what an awful mother I had been that evening. I yelled, I jerked, I spanked the most sensitive of my three children. And I couldn’t take it back. All I could do was beg God’s forgiveness, and my son’s forgiveness and pray that God would help me change this horrible way of dealing with my children. No, I don’t want them to be disobedient…but what can I expect with the way I’ve been acting.

I told myself I should pray instead of watch tv that night. I didn’t. But I am trying to do it more now–I really need it. I have been trying to do nice things for the children to let them know I love them but somehow that is hard for me. I am much better at giving orders than I am at giving gifts. I am very demanding but not very endearing.

So I may not be writing much because I am not reading much. And I may not be loving much because I’m not praying much. My friend reminded me last week not to get too busy–that Satan uses that to keep Christians from living a fulfilled life in God. She’s right. Time to make space for the praying and the reading so that the loving and the writing will come.

Back to the US of A–Part 1: Getting here

I knew what I was getting into, but decided that it was worth it. In the end, making the trip halfway around the world with three kids in tow was not as hard as I thought it was going to be. Sleeping and eating meals on the plane with a toddler in my lap was not easy. The prayers of a worried husband and concerned friends covered us, lifted us and got us here with no real problems. I am so grateful for that. My dad and his friend drove to Chicago and picked us up, which made things so much easier once we reached the US of A.

Leaving Chicago behind and heading south meant hours of flat land covered in corn and soybean fields (and in one place, huge windmills).  This 8+ hour drive from Chicago was probably more challenging than the 21 hours in planes and airports. An early lunch at Cracker Barrel helped some. The stark reality was that we were all bone tired. #1 slept much of the time, #2 wasn’t feeling very well (read: extremely whiny), Toddler Girl was clinging to me like plastic wrap and I was ready for a break from taking care of them. My dad and his friend were patient and accommodating on what was probably the most inefficient road trip either of them had ever taken.

After multiple stops for toilet breaks, snacks or petrol, we finally arrived at my hometown and were greeted by my sister’s family, my brother’s family (minus my brother who’d gone back to Missouri to work), my grandmother and my mom–who had dinner, bedrooms, even slippers ready for us.

The boys re-connected with their cousins right away and were out in the backyard, up trees and on the jungle gym in a matter of minutes. It’s always good to see them playing so well with their cousins whom they see so rarely. Toddler Girl took a little longer to get warmed up to these people she only remembered seeing occasionally on a computer screen. She was soon joining in the fun and took an immediate liking to my 90-year-old grandmother!

We had a late dinner, baths and finally we all got to bed around 10:30pm. The boys slept right through until 7:00am. First my phone ringing with a call from Singapore (which I did NOT answer), and then Toddler Girl woke me up at 3 and 4:30am respectively. There was no getting her back to sleep, so we got up, got dressed, had a snack and milk and went outside to get the newspaper, watch the birds feeding, feel the dew and experience the coolness of the early Tennessee morning.

Days for remembering

I needed a day like today after having thoughts like I’ve had the past few weeks. Wasn’t homeschooling supposed to be fun? Weren’t my children supposed to be highly motivated to get the 3Rs done in the morning so that the afternoons would be free for building, drawing, researching, playing and reading? Weren’t we supposed to have more free time than families with school going children? Where are all those lapbooks we should have been making? Where are the photos of the nature walks we should have been taking? Where are the scrapbooks of the museum outings and special classes?

I’ve thought of many reasons (excuses?) why we seem to be trying to keep up with the Joneses (or the Tans, in our case) more than we seem to be doing interesting things in our homeschool. They all seem valid and utterly reasonable…but something in my spirit is still unsettled.

And so we come to today…

I woke early to send #1 son off with a friend to play Gaelic football with other homeschoolers. I let #2 son sleep in to help combat the virus he’s got. I let The Girl sleep in even longer…just because. It was a quiet, reflective start to the day.

Once #2 son was up and going, he began asking me the question that he’s been trying to get the answer to for a few days now–

“Mommy, what’s an atom? And what’s a molecule?”

Today I decided to remember why we are homeschooling.

I switched on the laptop and found a video explaining atoms and molecules and a few others. He watched, he listened, he learned, he went on to another….

“Oh, I want to learn about the structure of molecules now!”

Another video.

“Oh! Two hydrogen and one oxygen–so that’s what H2O means!”

We take a break to get The Girl up and dressed and fed and give vitamins to the sick boy. Then it’s on to the Geology lapbook we never finished. Today we are going to work on it because today is a day to remember why we are homeschooling.

Maybe later it will be time for a video on Gaelic football, and finding Ireland on the map, and discovering why Ireland is split into two parts. I hope I can make the Math a living subject today and that the Chinese language will come alive when they do their assigned homework.

There is a long holiday coming up. When I put the plans together for the rest of this year, I need to remember. It’s time to remember.

Thoughts and Prayer from a Monday

It’s not easy to be grateful at the end of a day like this. It’s easy to be negative and self-condemning…easy to focus on self, on lack, on the piles, the neglected, the should-haves. But I know I need training in gratitude. So as I reflect on this day, I need to turn over the stones of today’s events and see what life lies beneath.

I was up early — that in itself is something I’m very thankful for. Every time I sit down to try to re-evaluate how life is going, I tend to zoom in on what is not going according to my plans or desires. And every time I think about how to improve things, somehow it always boils down to getting up earlier in the mornings. This has been on my mind again. For time with God, for time to exercise, for time with KL before he goes to work…. early morning seems to be the best time.

It’s not happening every day, but today I want to be thankful that I was up early and did have some time musing over Jesus’ arrest and Peter’s denial in John 18. It wasn’t a long in-depth Bible study, but I saw one thing I hadn’t noticed before. Here it is…verse 6:

When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

Fell to the ground? I’ve read this passage so many times and I don’t recall ever noticing this or thinking about it at all. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about my own lack of zeal for Jesus and the gospel…how I’ve let this life with Him, this life meant to be lived for Him deteriorate into getting through the day with as little chaos as possible. There is more, I know there is. There must be. I want to come to Him and just hear Him say who He is and be completely bowled over. I’ve been reading about people who have been knocked off their fleshly feet by His word and have lived their lives burning with the desire to know Him and make Him known. I want to be one of those people. I want Revival. Revive me. Revive us, O Lord.

When Your World(map) comes crashing down

Who was I to presume that mere blutac would hold up the entire world– laminated? It was folly on my part, I admit it. So today when my world (map) came crashing to the floor I made a conscious decision not to despair. There on the wall was a large empty space and I began to ponder the possibilities for this space.

Different maps? (Lord knows I have plenty!)
Better adhesive? (I do love hanging things on walls.)
Something that would make use of that hook that I was concealing behind the world (map)?

This is the kind of mood I was in that Wednesday. No fixed appointments til evening. Questions running through my mind like: So what if we start our homeschool day at 10am….or 11? I like to call those days “creative days” or (shudder) “unschooling days.” But what it really means is I do things I don’t have time to do on normal homeschool days and I follow my creative thoughts as I go around the house rather than follow a plan. And it means I let the kids do pretty much whatever they want (within reason). They get extended time with Legos and Playmobils; I get piles of papers sorted out, inspirational posters hung on the wall, or (rarely) a new dish cooked.

I am trying to learn to embrace these days, which is not easy for a control-freak, task-oriented mother such as myself. I know I can’t have too many days like that or my family would never have clean clothes to wear or clean dishes to eat from.  But I know I can’t wait to do the creative things only when everything else is in perfect order.

So, my world (map) came crashing down today. And plenty of other things didn’t go according to my design. But I will not despair.  I choose to see that as a divine opportunity to do something creative with the empty space left on the wall.