Saturday, October 18, 2014

Thoughts on a Fall Morning

Wow, have I let this poor little blog slip away. I never meant to enter into blog silence, but it sure seems I have. I blame Facebook. That vortex of time wasting has ruined my blogging ability. There are days I wish I'd never given in to the invitation to join it, truth be told, but there's something about it that seems to lead to a no going back once you've been seduced by the siren song. You do know that the sirens in mythology were calling sailors to their own destruction, don't you? All that said, I find myself more and more wanting to tune out the song and turn it off. I am not at all convinced that having a smart phone has been overall a good thing. But ask me if I'm ready to give it up completely.

All that said to say that I miss the old-fashioned blog days a bit. I miss having something to say that took a little more thought than what tends to fill my typical status update these days. I'd like to walk away from momentary and time-wasting repeated scrolling of the news updates and get back to thinking through more regular blog posts. I am not, however, naive enough to make any sort of sweeping promise of a new post here every day for the next 30 days or anything, because I know myself much too well for that. But I do want to come back home and use this space to rejuvenate my writing bug, because I want to pick up my writing projects again and regain what I've lost to the mental energy drain of Facebook and constant connectivity. Ok, that's much more on this topic than I even intended to say when I sat down to write this post. There is a beautiful picture up there in the left corner that I've ignored in order to get these thoughts off my chest, so now, here's the post I meant to write when I sat down:

I have admitted here and elsewhere that I've found living in our new community challenging in some ways. Challenge isn't necessarily bad. It's good to stretch out of my comfort zone and learn to live a little. I didn't say easy, but I did say good. It is good because my good and faithful Redeemer, Lord, Savior, and God has placed our family here for such a time as this and for His glory and for our good. How do I know this? Because we are here. In the midst of a fairly stressful challenge recently, I was able to say to my husband, "You know, if we had not been here, this year, we would not have caught this and dealt with it when we have. Better now than later, and I'm thankful for it." Friends, that is God's grace. I am so thankful that He has brought me to the place where I can view challenges in this way and trust Him with it, realizing I am not 'all that' and that I need Him. How I need Him. We can see His hand and I'm so thankful that we can also trust His heart.

You know I grew up in Florida, and because of this, I had never seen a glorious, full-blown gorgeous Fall until I was in my twenties. I had, of course, read about the leaves changing, and I've always loved the season, but now that I have been able to live in parts of the country that actually experience the turning of the leaves for the past 5 or six years now, I have to confess to you that I never get tired of the beauty of this season. When I walk in my neighborhood full of old trees and drink in the vibrant colors, it just gives me a joy, because what I think every time I see these beautifully breath-taking colors, and what I often tell my kids, is that I am awestruck at our Creator God. He could have just made a functional world for us to live in, but He didn't stop there. No, He made it heart-achingly beautiful, too. What love and kindness He has shown to His creation! Every season, every different topography has an exquisite beauty to it that leads me to sing praise for His creativity and glory. If you have eyes to see and ears to hear it, the heavens declare the glory of God and His creation speaks to us of how glorious He is. Such thoughts ought to turn us to His word so that we can look deeply into this awesome God who would stoop to create such beauty.

And when we do look into His word, we see just how much love He has shown us, sinful, poor, wretched, and blind as we are. Because not only did He create us and design His creation to sustain us and delight us with its beauty, but He stooped to come down and walk among us in the person of Jesus Christ, fulfilling His law on our behalf, which we have broken in so many myriad ways, and He became the sacrifice for sin that our wretched state required, and made the way for us to be reconciled, made clean and right, with Him. He has opened the way for us to enter into the Holy of Holies as we pray, because we no longer have to fear His wrath when we have repented of our sin and placed our trust, our only hope, in Jesus, the way, the truth, and the LIFE.

I received a treasure in the mail yesterday from Truth for Life, Charles Spurgeon's Morning By Morning, and as I read the devotion for this morning, I came across this thought: "Constant wrestling  in prayer with God is sure to make the believer strong - if not happy. The nearest place to the gate of heaven is the throne of heavenly grace. Often alone, you will have plenty of assurance; seldom alone with Jesus, your faith will be shallow, polluted with many doubts and fears and not sparkling with the joy of the Lord. Since the soul-enriching path of prayer is open to the very weakest saint, since no achievements are required, since you are not invited to come because you are an advanced saint but freely invited if you are a saint at all, see to it, dear reader, that you are often in the place of private devotion. Be regularly on your knees, for in this way Elijah drew the rain upon Israel's famished fields." 

I got to thinking, why is prayer so hard? Why do people try to make prayer into something it isn't? How offensive I find it when people talk about 'sending prayers your way' or 'sending positive energy your way' as if prayer is some mystical, ephemeral, indefinable 'energy' we have power to send toward someone. That's offensive and it's foolish.  At least, if you understand what prayer actually is rather than making it some new-agey spirituality positivity thing, that is. Prayer is just us pouring our hearts out to God. Prayer is people who know God talking to Him, worshiping Him, and bringing requests to Him on behalf of people we care about. It isn't mystical energy we send around, and those misunderstandings make me so sad to hear and read. I understand they are written or said by people who mean well, are trying to say something positive and encouraging, and who just don't know the truth, and that makes me sad.  We who are in Christ have an awesome privilege in coming to our Father in prayer, and isn't that, ultimately, much more encouraging? To know that we can talk to the God who created all that is, and we aren't just hoping in some uncaring 'universe' as we try to send 'energy' around? And we have an awesome privilege and responsibility to share the good news of the gospel with our lost friends who only have hope in some 'positive energy' that ultimately has no power at all.  May I be a more vocal sharer of that good news. Days when we are reminded of His glory in such a way as I was when I took that picture ought to remind us to know His word and spend time with Him in prayer.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Where I Am Right Now, Thoughts on Moving and Where We Are Planted This Year

Moving to a new community is always interesting, and each move brings with it challenges, joys, sorrows, and struggles. The community where we are planted for this year is no exception. It is interesting, challenging, but also has some good. One thing that’s added to the mix this year is that the city we live in, in the greater Cleveland area, is, on some measures, one of the most liberal cities in Ohio, maybe even the country. We in our family have been known to call it the USSR of (our city name). It’s definitely the most liberal school system we’ve ever encountered. It is also a totally IB-infused curriculum from elementary to high school throughout the entire school district. Those of you who love that curriculum, please don’t be offended or feel the need to convince me otherwise, I’m glad for those who like it, but that wasn’t actually a draw for us. I wouldn’t choose it for my kids if I’d had a choice. At least we really, really, really love our church, even though it’s kind of a drive to get to it several little cities over.

That said, there are some great things about this community and school system, IB and all. I’ll start with that before I get to my rather short point. First of all, this is probably the most diverse community we’ve ever lived in, and that is a really good thing. I love that my daughter is completely race-blind. She truly wants to befriend anyone that will be her friend, whether black, white, brown, or whatever, we are all descendants of Adam, created in God’s image. I love this for my kids. May their tribe increase. I also think it’s great that they get to meet people who aren't necessarily just like them and don’t think like them. I am very encouraged by the discussions we have at home as they work through what they believe and why they believe it and learn to embrace the faith as their own and also learn to respectfully discuss issues with people who hold very different beliefs. Our Sunday School class is studying the book of Daniel, and last week we discussed the balance between being resolute in our convictions and what we hold to be true, and know to be true, and respectful in how we seek to follow them and talk about them. I found it quite helpful in light of some things we face daily. 

Another thing I like about the schools here is that academically they are quite rigorous, and when I went to the elementary school open house, I liked some of the strategies they shared for how they are teaching math and reading and other things. Musically we could not ask for better education. Both of my boys have top-notch private lesson teachers. And the band totally rocks. 

That said, there is a feel here, for lack of a better word, a kind of smug sense of self-righteous superiority that pervades the atmosphere here that I find a little creepy, and it’s mostly from the IB stuff. First of all, people are NUTS about scores and tests and stuff. One of the first things high school parents ask when they meet me is, “What classes is your son taking?” And there is an underlying arrogance about whose kid is taking the hardest classes. It’s creepy.

Then, another thing that defines our experience here is that there is a group-think mentality I find off-putting, even as they stress characteristics like independence and learning to think critically. However, listening to my older boys talk when they come home from school, there’s a subtle subversiveness to the learning to think thing. It’s great when they learn to think ‘critically’ as long as it matches the teacher’s liberal bent, and as long as their reasoning sounds like good little communists socialists liberals globally aware IB students in the mold approved by the curriculum, but my very conservative, very Christian sons are finding that their contributions aren’t always what the teacher is looking for, and sometimes aren’t very welcome. They haven’t had any outright negativity, but they have been told, “Yes, well, we won’t be going there,” with certain discussion topics. 

Case in point, my high schooler’s text book for Honors English is The Bible As/In Literature. I wasn’t thrilled with that choice, but what I have been thrilled with is listening to the things my son has been telling me as he’s asked me questions and we’ve discussed things and as he’s been sharing in class. He said there is one boy who now asks him, “What do you think about that?” after certain discussions, and he’s able to open up the Bible and show him there is so much more to what they read than the curriculum line they are given in class, which definitely is subversive to our high view of the Bible. That’s been pretty neat to watch. I kind of feel like, if they choose a book like that for a high school class, then they invite the discussion. You use our holy book for your text, don’t get mad if a Christian kid goes deeper with it than you maybe intended. While the Bible is literature, and great literature at that, it is so much more than just literature, too, and if we’re really going to be tolerant, he has just as much right to share his insight as the atheist kids who are so antagonistic to his view. TRUE tolerance implies disagreement. So, all that said, I’m pretty excited to see God working in this situation and how my sons are learning to make a reasoned defense for what they believe. Even when they may not speak up in front of the class or directly to the teacher, other kids notice and they listen to them and even ask them. I’m also planning on giving him the book I’m reading just as soon as I finish it, which is Jesus Unmasked by Todd Friel. After being exposed to the discussions in his English class and the discussions we’ve had at home about those discussions, I’m very excited for him to read Todd Friel’s most excellent look at how all of the Old Testament points to Jesus, finding Jesus in the types and shadows of the Old Testament. The timing of that book coming out is spectacular for our family. My son will get to see how truly awesome the Bible is, how inspired and how much more its message is than what was discussed in class. I pray daily for my children in the midst of all this.

Which leads me on a little rabbit trail. What I see very much here in this community is the classic liberal redefining of tolerance. Tolerance today is not actually tolerance. To be ‘tolerant’ according to the common wisdom of our whacked out culture today means to be totally accepting of everything, and especially of everything that we might be prone to voice any disagreement about, if that makes sense. It means calling evil good and good evil. It means nothing is EVER wrong, unless it’s something that doesn’t mesh in lock-step with the prevailing secularist view. THAT is wrong and intolerant.  These days, calling something wrong is just about the biggest cultural sin you can commit. Problem is, it just doesn’t work. I’m supposed to be totally accepting of homosexuality or evolution, for example, but my view is taboo and ignorant. Tolerance only goes one way in the tolerance-not tolerance camp. TRUE tolerance, however, is acknowledging disagreement, but believing you don’t have to be disrespectful or go to war over the disagreement. TRUE tolerance allows for people to strongly hold their beliefs and convictions, strongly defend them, on all sides, and learn to coexist peacefully in spite of disagreement. That’s when true dialogue can happen, too. A truly tolerant person will not insist on everyone else changing everything they believe or going against their strongly held convictions just to suit them. However, that’s not the culture in which we find ourselves.

So, anyway, back to the point all this was leading up to, last week I went to the elementary school open house, and during the principal’s remarks at the end of the evening, she was discussing the new program they’ve implemented for recess. It used to be, she said, that you would have a group playing football, very competitive, which led to arguing, a group playing kick ball, also very competitive, and then everyone else. Well, now they’ve done away with the football and kickball, because the competitive nature of them was not good, in their opinion, and implemented these non-competitive games that can include everyone. No more bad competitiveness. And it really was presented as if the problem was that being competitive is a bad thing. So, we spend all day teaching these kids group-think, then we don’t ever let them think it’s ever okay to compete at all. We all have to get along, and we can’t ever compete. Being competitive on the recess field is BAD. I think that’s unwise. It’s not bad to be competitive, per se. What about teaching them to be competitive in a sportsmanlike way? Rather than making competitiveness an evil, why not teach how to do it well, and offer the non-competitive games, too, as an alternative for kids who don’t want the more competitive option?

I get that they are trying to crack down on bullying and trying to build team work and cooperation and diversity. Those are admirable goals. I just disagree about how to get there. Teaching the wrong view of tolerance isn’t it - that just breeds a whole new kind of bully, and neither is obliterating any semblance of competitiveness. There needs to be balance. Teach kids to compete as sportsmen, teach real tolerance - the balance between being resolute and respectful, and teach proper competition, and I think we’d have a better mix. Just going around chanting the IB characteristics all day doesn’t make them true, it just makes for a creepy kind of group-think, parrot environment. (Just ask my daughter who came home in tears on Friday because of the ‘mean girls’ (my term) at lunch. Those ‘IB learners’ weren’t acting very ‘open-minded’ or ‘caring’ toward the new girl. My mama bear instinct grizzled up a little as she told me about it and I had to swallow it and talk her through it wisely.)

When I got home from that open house and was telling my husband about all this, it suddenly occurred to me: “Maybe that’s why the high school football team is 1-3 so far this year.” Growing up in the SEC south, this whole being on the always losing team is a new experience for me, I must say. ;-) When you spend their whole elementary school years telling them competitiveness is a bad thing, don’t expect a winning high school team later. Just saying. 

At least the band rocks half-time. :-)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ramblings of a Klutzy Cook

I just made a rather extraordinary mess in my kitchen, and that is saying something considering I am kind of a master at extraordinary kitchen messes and disasters. In my sad history of kitchen messes, this one probably tops it. First, this kitchen in the house we are renting at the moment was truly not designed for someone who cooks much or for a big family. It’s a small kitchen, too small, with almost no counter space whatsoever and really awkward positioning is what I am saying. We live in a house that was built in 1931, and, like all the houses in this neighborhood, it was designed to be a two-family house - with one family living on the entire bottom floor, and the other family on the top two floors, while sharing the basement. Our family currently lives on the top two floors of this wonderfully creaky, nooks-and-crannies house. You can see why I’ve mentioned before how thankful I am for a good downstairs neighbor, yes?

Anyway, I was attempting to salvage the pitiful bananas that were not going to survive one more day on the counter, so I started up a batch of two loaves of banana bread. I won’t attempt to describe what happened when the too-full bowl of batter tipped over, dumping melted butter all over the counter and dripping to the floor. I managed to rescue enough of it to continue baking, but, well, I’m glad my dog likes butter and I hope I got enough of it mopped up before he came running in to lick up the rest or his evening walk may be kind of…..interesting……tonight. I’m thinking I don’t really want to be the dog-walker tonight. :-) 

So, there are two loaves of banana bread just freshly out of the oven, and I am once again reminded that I truly need to start wearing an apron, especially when I spur-of-the-moment decide to bake banana bread while wearing my favorite Cedar Point Snoopy sweatshirt. Did I mention it’s nice and cool out today, finally? Another quirky thing about this house is….no central AC. This Florida girl is NOT used to that. So, I’m enjoying the natural AC today. NICE. Speaking of which, yesterday while driving to pick up my son from high school, I saw a guy waiting to cross the road wearing a heavy winter coat, knit cap, hood, scarf up over his nose and mouth, hunched over with hands in his pockets like it was the blizzard of 2014 or something. It was 62 degrees out. I was just finally feeling cooled off from the stifling, sweltering heat of no AC in my house for the past several hot days. Dude, if you’re that cold now, winter is going to be rough. Or so, I’m constantly being told. I met a new friend the other day, and as we were chatting she asked where I was from originally. I told her I grew up in Florida. She grinned ruefully and said, “You’re really not going to like winter here….” Yes, I hear that a lot. I can only imagine the tundra-like conditions awaiting us here this winter. And my brother-in-law told me once that we won’t see the sun after Labor Day. Turns out he wasn’t actually kidding. Gray and drizzly again today….

But, I digress. Back to my kitchen adventures, while I was cleaning up my colossal, greasy, buttery mess, I was reflecting on how I really wasn’t in the mood for baking today, and maybe I should have just stayed with that thought and let the bananas go rather than get into this this afternoon. So, word to the wise Sweet Tea people in my home, the proper response to this freshly baked banana bread this afternoon will be, “Why, Mother! You made our favorite! This is the most wonderful banana bread in all the world!” Even if it isn’t. :-)

Then I got to wondering if I really and truly had the energy to go on to the next cooking project on my agenda for today……homemade salsa. I really didn’t. But, my 10th-grade son made the comment the other day that for some reason he always craves salsa and chips when he comes home. “Spanish is last period, isn’t it?” I said. Little grin and, “Yes. Yes it is,” he answered. Then he made the comment that he hoped I would make more of my salsa soon because we were almost out and mine is just the best, so much better than the store-bought kind. How can I refuse that? So, salsa is simmering on the stove now, too. And I managed not to make a mess with it. Yet. The day is still young.

Now that I’m done cooking for a bit, I think I’m going to take a break and read a book. I’ve got some good ones going. I just finished True for You, But Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith by Paul Copan. Now I’m reading something purely for fun because my 8th-grader and I were super happy that the seventh book in Margaret Peterson Haddix’s The Missing series, The Revealed, came out this month. It arrived at our house on Wednesday in a little box of happiness from Amazon, and I am reading it and loving it as much as I’ve loved the rest of the series. And, yes, I’m reading it first. Kiddo has to read a lot for school. I do not. I get to read it first. And I can hardly put it down. Next I’m planning to read Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. This one my high school boy had to read for school and he wants me to read it so he can discuss it with me. I love that. I’ve also got Jesus Unmasked by Todd Friel and The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung waiting in the wings. And all of them are real books, not on my Kindle, so I could actually call this a what’s on my nightstand paragraph. The books really are stacked around the house. It’s been a while since I’ve read non-Kindle books. 

So, that’s a glimpse at my Friday. Hope you’re having a good Friday, too. :-)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Finding My Song Again

I may have mentioned a time or two that our family moved this summer. Moved right out of my comfort zone into a new city, that is. We are a military family. We move often. I have gotten somewhat used to this, but you never really get used to moving, I don’t care how often you do it. At least, I don’t. Until I went to college, I lived in the same house in Florida since I was a year old. My parents still live there. 

Moving is listed among those major life change events, and there are certain stresses that go with that, even when you are prepared. We’ve been through several of those recently, what with my husband being away all of last year for Army school, us selling the house we really liked, the kids and I living in a small cavelike apartment while he was gone, then moving immediately when he got home. In fact, once he got ‘home’ the movers came and packed us up. We didn’t get much time to reconnect before we were facing the stress of a major move, not only moving house, but moving to a big city I had never even set foot in before we pulled up in front of the house we rented, sight unseen, ready to move in. I could go on, but suffice to say, it’s been a stressful summer, and it hit me harder than I anticipated. 

One of the reasons this move is harder than some is that we lived in Kentucky for four years and had to leave some close friends who I very much miss today, and we know we are only here for a year, so we will be doing this all again next summer, and mentally it’s really hard to settle in and want to connect with people when you know you won’t be here long. It’s a hard thing to ask your high school sophomore to leave the high school and friends he dearly loves, along with the marching band program that was such a big part of his last two years and all the awesomeness that went with that, knowing we’re going to uproot him again next summer. Poor guy is going to have to be the new kid again next year. But in spite of it all, he’s been attending band camp at his new school this week, and though it’s very different from what he’s used to, I think it is proving to be a good experience for him. He plays the trumpet, and there are 65 trumpets, out of 374 kids on the field! That 65 trumpets is almost as big as all the winds combined in his old school. Wowza. These schools are ginormous. My middle school son was ready to go, but now that he’s seen how HUGE his new middle school is, I think we’re all feeling a little bit antsy as we think about how daunting it feels to be starting there next week. My little daughter, who cried for MONTHS before we left Kentucky, bounced the whole way home from her school open house last night. She can’t wait to start school. I think one of the hardest things about moving is seeing the kids hurting, but it’s such a joy to watch them adjust, and adjust well. God is so kind to us. I really believe He has given them the fortitude they need for all this upheaval, and my aim is for our home to be a safe place in the midst of the storm.

We live in this quirky community just outside Cleveland, OH, that is very diverse and is the weirdest, most difficult place to drive in I’ve encountered yet. Whoever designed the intersections here had to have been high on something. At least, that’s what I’ve been known to say in my more frustrated moments. But, in the midst of having to take my oldest to band camp every day this week and various orientations and venturings out, I’m finally feeling a little bit more competent about driving here. At least I know how to find the schools now, and can get from one to the other. It was a bit iffy there for a while whether I’d ever be able to even leave my driveway. I hate to drive in a normal situation, and here it kind of terrifies me, but I’m coming along. All in all, it is going to be quite an interesting year. We’ve kind of entered bizarro world in a way. We were told that here the cool kids are in the band, and the football games, well, people pretty much come for the band. It’s a very music-centered community. 

Another minor thing I don’t think I’ll ever get used to, having grown up in Florida, is most places have no central AC. We haven’t really needed it most days, but there have been a few hot ones. Wowza. Of course, this means that we all have our windows open, and as the house next door’s windows are seriously only a narrow driveway’s width away, when my neighbor over there watches inane daytime TV all day long and keeps it turned up a little too loud, sometimes I can feel my brain melting. But she doesn’t do that every day. Thankfully. We live on the top two floors of this nifty, creaky, nooks-and-crannies old house, shared with the downstairs neighbor who has the bottom floor. Thankfully, again, she’s friendly and we sometimes go walking together. 

Then again, I hesitate to complain about the heat too much, because people seem to take a perverse joy in warning us just how much snow we can expect this winter. Yeah, that doesn’t make me feel any better about driving.

We have found a great church, one which I knew as soon as I heard that we were moving to Cleveland that I hoped we’d get to attend. I only wish we could have found a house a bit closer, but it’s totally worth the drive to hear such a feast of great Bible teaching and gospel-saturated worship. 

So, I say all that to say that I kind of hit a patch of the blues this summer. Moving is HARD, and as I keep saying, this one’s had its own peculiar challenges. Through it all, I’ve tried to keep positive, but those blues did hit even as I pushed through them. And in the midst of those blues, I lost my song. I still sang at church, because sometimes worship is singing through the blues and offering a sacrifice of praise, but at home and in the car, I lost my desire to sing. I just didn’t feel like it. 

Until today. Today, while driving somewhere, and feeling the most competent I’ve felt yet about driving here, a song came on my iPod, and I just had to sing along. We’ve been introduced to the music of Keith and Kristyn Getty at our new church, and I just had to sing when one of their praise songs came on in the car today. Then it occurred to me, I think the fog is finally lifting, and I have finally found my song again. Thank God, after the past two months of singing through the fog, I finally want to sing again, a song of worship to my King.

Aren’t you glad that we serve a risen Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord, our great High Priest, our Advocate who allows us into the very throne room of God. Aren’t you glad that even when the fog descends, He allows us to praise Him, because of what we KNOW, even when our feelings don’t seem to want to catch up. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Psalm 40:3 
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.

Psalm 96:1
Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!

Psalm 98:1

Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

A Little Summer Stream Of Consciousness to Keep the Blog Alive Another Day

I found a seeded watermelon at the store!! Hooray! We can now teach our kids the joys of spitting watermelon seeds, which should really be a part of every kid's summer, Don’t you think. (Just so you know, the only reason there is not a question mark there where one should be is because that key is not working since a nameless child spilled Gatorade on the keyboard the other day. I’m guessing we will be shopping for a new keyboard shortly.) Besides, seedless watermelons are just NOT as tasty, and there's GOT to be something just WRONG about a seedless watermelon. It's just not natural. :-) So that was a good thing about shopping at my new grocery store yesterday. On the other hand, I looked up and down the canned vegetable and fruit aisle for canned tomatoes and all I could find were a measly few cans of organic which cost a lot more for negligible benefit (DO NOT even start with me on organic vs. regular, please. I don’t buy into all that, and you won’t change my mind, and I shop on a budget, so let’s just agree to disagree before we have the discussion), but I took a can since I needed it to make my homemade salsa which I'd been craving (store bought salsa just does NOT compare. Mine is immensely more tasty, as my husband and children will tell you). Anyway, later I ended up by accident on the 'Italian' aisle, and low and behold, there were shelves and shelves of…..canned tomatoes. Because OF COURSE that's where you would naturally think to look FIRST for canned tomatoes because it's not like you might want them for something OTHER than Italian food, like, say…..salsa, or something. I have yet to find pepperoni in this store, by the way. And, yes, I have checked the Italian aisle, which actually MIGHT make sense. One of the goofy things that makes the nomadic life of an Army family which means moving all the time a pain is you no sooner figure out all your everyday things when you have to go find and figure out new ones in a new place. I REALLY need to find someone to cut my hair. I'm starting to look like the shaggy dog. On the other hand, I had gotten myself into a right blue funk the other day about how I don’t really like it here and can I really live a year here, blah, blah, blah, blah.....when I got a wake up call just by reading my newsfeed. Then I realized I have NOTHING to complain about, shape up, already, and my heart has gotten so heavy for the REAL heartache in the world. I am praying for Iraq, and Israel, and Africa, and so many others who really are suffering. Who am I to complain about the goofed up organizational skills of my local grocery store, for crying out loud. And one really incredibly good thing about where we live is that we have an awesome church we’ve been attending and are moving toward joining. That is a blessing that far outweighs the angst over moving to a new place. This is a church where the Word is opened and read and preached WELL every week, and the Gospel is central to all that happens there. We are encouraged and challenged and that is amazing, and I’m grateful.

So, all told, it’s been an interesting summer round the ol’ Sweet Tea household. I really do intend to start blogging again one day. Until such a time, however, this will have to do, and by the way if you haven't checked it in a while, I've updated my current reading list for 2014, so you can see what I've been reading lately if you're interested in such things. Ciao!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Status Report - July 2014

Blog status reports are usually written at the beginning of the month, but seeing as I seem to have dropped any semblance of regular blog posting for quite some time now, I figure halfway through July isn’t a bad time to pop in for a status report, since so much in my world has changed recently. So, this will be the July 2014 Status Report - ‘Just Moved’ version. my new computer area off the kitchen in my new house in Ohio. Yes, we’ve moved again. Army life, you know. This time we’re only here for a year, so we get to do all this fun again next summer. Woo and hoo.

Reading.The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. It's one I had heard of but never read before, but someone in a book group I belong to on Facebook mentioned reading it and loving it,  so I'm trying it. Like it so far. I also just finished a series by Terri Blackstock that I LOVED. (Last Light, Night Light, True Light, and Dawn's Light). I'm not usually all that fond of Christian fiction, but I really liked this series. I want to read more by that author.

Thankful....most of the unpacking is finished, and we actually got rid of a lot this time around. Goodwill and the half-price bookstore have seen a great deal of my husband over the past two weeks. I’m proud of him for letting go of so many books and things! This move was one of the most difficult yet, since we had the stuff I and the kids lived with last year in the cavelike apartment in Kentucky after we sold the house, the stuff that was in storage for a year after moving from that larger house to a small apartment, and the stuff my husband lived with in his ‘van down by the river’ for his year of Army-Baylor school in Texas all coming here together at once. But we’ve purged better this time than we ever have before, so next move should be a little easier, at least as far as ‘stuff’ goes. have my husband home again, even though that meant we had to uproot and move for a year. It is so right to be together as a family again. Last year was HARD for all of us. Glad it’s behind us. 

Sad, but excited...for my kids who will start new schools here in this city this fall. It’s going to be quite an adventure, that’s for sure, and I’m especially sensitive to how hard it is for my high school son to have to uproot not once, but twice during high school - this summer and next. But all three kids are facing this with remarkable grace. God has truly blessed us in how He is working in their lives, and it’s a joy to watch.

Out of my comfort zone.....with living in this city in the greater Cleveland area. I’m not a city girl at all, but with my husband doing a one year stint on loan from the Army to Cleveland Clinic, we didn’t want a huge commute for him, so we’re learning how to live the city life.  Driving makes me nervous. It’s not really that bad except for the crazy intersections and weird no turn signs. Seriously, there’s one intersection that says no right turn, no left turn, and straight is a confusing road to find. We laugh about that one all the time. “You can’t go left, you can’t go right, and there doesn’t seem to be a straight. Where do I GO???” And the honking. Seriously, people. Honking does not make the light change faster and it doesn’t make the car in front of me go faster, either. Give the guy time to move his foot from the brake to the gas pedal when the light turns. And my husband has introduced us to this thing called riding the train into the city. There’s a station within walking distance of our house. I don’t so much like it, but I’ll do it if he’s with me. And the garage behind our house? We joke that I may be stuck in the house all year because I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to back out of it. It’s a long, narrow driveway, and I’m not the best parker or backer. We’ve also decided our little city state here is a socialist state. If there’s a rule to be made, they’ve thought of it and made it. Don’t, Don’t, Don’t everywhere you look. Wowza. But there is a lot good, too. We live in the top half of this really cool old house, and our neighbor is a nice lady. Good to have a good neighbor if you have to share a creaky old house. This is the first time I’ve ever lived in a house with no central AC. I grew up in Florida, y’all.  But it hasn’t been all that bad. It’s only a year, and we plan on making the best of it, finding lots of neat things to do - the symphony is supposed to be one of the very best, museums, restaurants, shopping, and lots more. They say it snows a lot here in the winter. Oh boy.....

Listing....some of the hard things about moving:
  • Getting over my culture shock and learning my way around
  • Finding a new church. We’ve visited two, but we are pretty much in agreement about where we want to go, I think. When I first heard we were moving to Cleveland, there was one church I really wanted to go to, and now that we’ve visited another good church too, it’s really neat that as my husband and I talked and prayed, though both are good options, the one we really wanted to go to seems to be the one we both are sensing a real peace about going to, even though it’s quite a drive from our house. I have listened to the pastor there for years on podcast and learned so much, that it will be a joy to be able to attend this church for a year with our children.
  • Losing sentimental things along the way. This is kind of a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but as we were emptying a dresser for my husband to use, I realized that a stack of cards I had kept that friends had sent after each miscarriage has gone missing. I know it’s just cards, but they have meaning to me, and I hate to lose them. I’m sure they were in that drawer, but I’m hoping maybe somewhere along the way I put them somewhere else and we will come across them. I don’t rehash those sad memories all the time, but those cards were special to me in the acknowledgement that the loss of those children and the grief we have over them is real and valid, and the kind words shared by my friends at those times are things I treasured.
  • New things. I’ve never been very good with change. I’m getting better, but this one has been harder than some.

Thinking....this may end up being kind of a lonely year, but I want to be constructive with it and do some writing. We drove past a Panera today, and I reallly, really, really miss my special girl friends from Kentucky and our marathon lunches there. You know who you are, and you’re special ladies. I miss y’all, and I’m thankful we were in Kentucky at the same time. 

Thankful...for God’s amazing grace. I know that He is with us, wherever we can go. I know that He has placed our family together and placed us here for this season, and what I want most to do is seek to glorify Him and grow closer to Him throughout this year, and the years to come. And I’m thankful we do have a solid, gospel-preaching, Bible teaching church with which to join ourselves.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Alternative Medicine, Some Thoughts After a Book I Just Finished Reading

As I write this post, I am aware that several of my friends and probably family think I am over thinking this topic, or that I am alarmist or legalistic about it. No one’s said much to me directly, but I know there are people who this think way when I often voice the concerns I have with many practices that would fall under the umbrella of alternative medicine or exercise that are linked to New Thought/New Age/Contemplative/Mindfulness/Vital Energy types of thinking. I assure you, however, my intentions in posting and bringing it up so often are not from a legalistic mindset. I am genuinely concerned that there is a danger involved in these practices that many people who consider themselves to be theologically conservative and evangelical and biblical just do not see or have not adequately investigated. My plea is that if you are interested and involved in yoga, chiropractic, mindfulness or contemplative meditation, alternative medicine of various stripes, holistic worldview - medicine/food/etc., homeopathy, reiki, certain types of massage therapy, and anything that is presented as ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious’, please at least investigate the worldview and assumptions that the practitioners are bringing with them as you participate in them. 

Just because something is said to be ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious’ does NOT mean that it is not, in fact, religious. And it does not mean that it is necessarily wholesome or innocent or harmless. Just because wording is changed from ‘spiritual’ sounding or ‘religious’ sounding terms to make it seem more scientifically bent, does not necessarily mean that the practitioner isn’t influenced spiritually in a way that would and should disturb a Christian participant. As the author of the book I am going to recommend below argues, participating in alternative medicine and activities that are based on certain worldviews and assumptions can change your thinking and religious understandings and attitudes in subtle ways that you might not even recognize for a long time. I do not believe I am just being alarmist or over thinking things. Truly I’m not. 

Christianity is a thinking faith. Think with me for a moment - if a practitioner is taught to seek ‘spiritual guidance’ as they manipulate energy or prescribe activities and ‘medicines’ that IS religious. Not everything that is spiritual comes from a good source. What are you opening yourself up to? Do you know? What spirit guides is that provider contacting and bringing with them? Do you know what the terms being used in your exercise/meditation/holistic medicine, etc. program really mean? Not how you interpret their meaning through your lens, but what is actually meant? If the root is questionable or from a worldview that is not biblical, can the fruit be something you really want yourself open to? 

I know, I know, you love your chiropractor, he’s even a professing Christian. I know, I know, your yoga program is just exercise, you aren’t buying into the spiritual stuff. I know, I know, your ‘natural’ homeopathic medicine works for you. Please, at least do some homework and look into the root of these things. Please at least give this serious, considered investigation. 

I recently listened to an episode of Thinking in Public with Albert Mohler titled, “Are we all syncretists now? - A conversation about evangelical Christianity and alternative medicine with historian Candy Gunther Brown.”  Because the topic deals with something I am increasingly interested and concerned about, I got the book they discussed, The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America by Candy Gunther Brown, for my Kindle and have just finished reading it. Dr. Brown, to the best of my knowledge, is not an evangelical writing from the inside. She is a professor of religious studies writing this from the outside looking in at evangelicals, and she makes a good observation about how astonishing it is that evangelical Christians seem to unquestioningly accept alternative medicine. She also makes a good argument that providers of these forms of medical help and exercise should have an ethical obligation to be upfront with the nature of their interventions so people can make an informed decision about using them. Often providers obscure the religious nature or the worldview assumptions underlying the treatments/programs in order to make them seem more acceptable for people who might otherwise not participate. 

I found this book important, fascinating, and disturbing on some levels, and I highly recommend it to my friends who may use or are thinking about investigating alternative medicine, mindfulness meditation, contemplative spirituality, yoga, holistic medicine, homeopathy, chiropractic, and other complementary and alternative medicine/stress relief/ exercise, etc. Please at least be informed about it. 

I really do not believe I’m being alarmist or legalistic. I’m just saying do your homework and be aware that just because something is called ‘spiritual’ doesn’t mean it isn’t ‘religious,’ and the religious ideas you’re opening yourself to may not be something you want. Just because someone ‘in the know’ assures you it is compatible with Christianity is NO guarantee it is something that it is wise for a serious Christian to join with.