Thursday, December 27, 2012

our budding artist

Easton (age 4) has only two things on his mind these days: trains and drawing (usually both).

He's going through a drawing explosion, spending hours at a time carefully drawing, coloring, cutting, and sharing his artwork.

When he's not drawing, he's typically talking about the remote control train he's hoping to get for his birthday (in June!).
This is an angry crane cleaning up the mess made by a truck
who spilled logs all over the road. The truck is sad, as you
can see, and a sign has been posted saying "Keep Out!"

This one is a train with a coal car, a boxcar, and a caboose. The sun is
shining and the wind is blowing. As you can see, the boxcar is full of all
kinds of treasures: baby bottles, pacifiers, teddy bears, bows, train tracks,
and remote control trains. What more could anyone need?
Easton: Mom, for my 5-year-old birthday I want a remote control steam engine with battery-powered water squirters on an elevated track.
Mom: Wow, Easton. You've really thought a lot about that!
Easton: Mom, when you go to the store to get my remote control steam engine, make sure it's narrow gauge or G gauge.


Easton: Mom, is my birthday tomorrow?
Mom: No, buddy. It's still 6 months away.
Easton: Oh. Is that a long time?
Mom: Yep. It's like 180 days.
Easton: Wow. That's when I'm gonna get a remote control train. When I turn five!

This multi-media train scene features rubber stamping, pencil
and paint. Easton designed the whole thing himself—a steam
engine on an elevated track with supports, driving at night.
A close up of his creative masterpiece.
Here's Easton's rendition of "California," complete with a tower.
California must be a fun word to say. Easton often says,
 "Mom, I love you all the way to Lake Michigan, and to California,
and to Heaven and back!!!" Now that's a lot of love. I'll take it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

rethinking Santa

I've spent the past 11 years as a parent trying to ward off Santa Claus to keep him from spoiling Christmas.

We avoid Santa wrapping paper, Santa movies, Santa ornaments, Santa decorations, and (heaven forbid) Santa songs.

Instead we put up manger scenes, celebrate Advent, and play Handel's 'Messiah,' and we run interference with our kids, trying to un-teach them everything they're picking up from friends (and teachers!) at school about Santa.

Dutch St. Nicholas and Black Peter (public domain image)
But earlier this month I read an article by a Wheaton prof that got me thinking (yes, reading is generally what changes my mind about things. Are you really that surprised?). St. Nicholas started his career as a real person (not a cartoon or a guy dressed up at the mall). He was a Christian bishop in the 3rd/4th century who had a remarkable reputation. Dr. Michael Graves says this about him: "As time passed, his name and memory were associated with a whole host of good causes: he was said to be a defender of the weak, and especially children; he was a protector of the innocent, of sailors, and of travelers generally." Not only that, but he was a defender of orthodoxy at the council of Nicea!

So, while I'm not ready to bring my children to the mall and have them sit on the lap of a seasonal employee and ask for more stuff, maybe it's time I told them about the real St. Nick. In our violent and me-centered culture, we could all use more heroes. And, if gift-giving is inspired in part by this Christian bishop from so long ago, why not say so? Someone known for his generosity is a good role model to have.

My "conversion" came too late this year to start any new traditions with the kids, but next year we'll have to think about how we can emulate the generosity and kindness of a man who lived so long ago. St. Nicholas will take his place among all the other heroes of the faith, like St. Patrick, St. Augustine, John Calvin, and Amy Carmichael. I'm sorry it took me so long.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

why I'm not on Facebook

It's simple, really. I don't have time.

Doctoral study permeates every minute of my day that family doesn't (except for the few I eek out now and then to blog).

I want to be on Facebook. I love being in the loop. I love connecting with friends and family. I want to know what is happening in people's lives. Networking is what I was born to do.

But right now, I just can't.

A friend of mine has been on Facebook for some time and is now bowing out. Her reasons for leaving Facebook are worth sharing. And, to be honest, I'm glad to know at least one other person on the planet who's not on Facebook.

After graduation, I may join Facebook, at least for a while, just to reconnect with old friends. But for now, if you want to connect, this is the place. Thanks for coming to "hang out"!

Monday, December 17, 2012

cherishing my 7-year-old

This week I am hugging my kids a little closer.
Their innocence is a breath of fresh air in a world of heartbreaking stories.

Emma doesn't know what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary. At least not yet.*

Her eyes are full of the same twinkle and her mouth has the same impish grin as she tries to trick us and tease us and startle us.

Her teacher (God Bless First Grade Teachers!!!) has had her hands full this week trying to teach probability to a kid who insists that "anything is possible with God!"

Teacher: If I put 7 green cubes in this empty bag, and I pull one out, what color will it be?
Emma: Anything is possible! God could change the color of a cube if he wanted to!

Emma tells me that she even crossed out the word "impossible" in the word bank and wrote, "Nothing is impossible with God!"


I'd love to bottle up that faith and save some for later. And figure out how to cultivate classroom manners in the meantime!

But mostly I'm just delighted to have her.


*After I wrote this post Emma came home from Sunday school wondering what happened in Connecticut. It was inevitable, I guess. We told her that 20 children had died. She asked how. I waited until we were alone and explained that a man with a gun had gone into their school and killed them and their teachers. She was sober, but wondered why kids weren't supposed to be talking about it. I explained that grown-ups didn't want kids to be scared to go to school. She said, "I'm not scared. Something like that is very unlikely to happen at [my school]." And she's right. I'm glad her sense of "probability" is better when it comes to real life situations than it is in math class!

Our school district provided a helpful link for how to talk kids about violence. I took its advice yesterday by only answering Emma's questions and not filling in more details. (This is a good rule-of-thumb for talking with kids about sex, too, by the way.) And if you, like me, want to know how to prevent school violence in the first place, check out this thoroughly researched and thoughtfully written article about what triggers mass shootings.

Meanwhile, hug your kids.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

when words fail

Some things defy explanation.
And yet ...
we seek it anyway.
Scouring the news.
Looking for answers.
Wanting to understand.

And hugging our kids close.

It shouldn't have happened.
Not in that neighborhood.
Not in that school.
Not to those kids.
But it did.

Young lives snuffed out
stripped of innocence
robbed of peace.

In a moment, heroes emerged.
All teachers give their lives for their students,
but yesterday,
some gave up their lives,
others risked theirs,
and the whole world stands in awe.

And we feel we must say something.

If the Bible offers us anything for times like this, it is an invitation to speak, to say how we feel.

This is no time for silence.

The Psalms are full of laments.
The Prophets rail against wickedness.
Job faced unspeakable tragedy, too.
He wrestled with undeserved pain in a world gone wrong.
As Gerhard von Rad put it,

  •  "Job saw himself confronted by a theological abyss in which everything that faith was able to say about God was lost" (Old Testament Theology, 1:412).
  •  "In the tremendous tension of his struggle the picture which he has of God threatens to be torn in pieces before his eyes" (1:415). 

And so Job speaks, and speaks, and speaks some more.
He voices his complaints and begs for answers.

Two years ago, at the SBL annual conference in Atlanta, Julia O'Brien spoke to us about the jarring poety of the prophets. She reminded us that "ultimately all of our language about God will fail." But, she insisted, in the face of horror we are invited "not to silence speech but to heap it up, since none of it is adequate in itself."* Just as we can never succeed in wrapping our minds our minds around God, so we can never wrap our minds around evil.

And so we talk and we listen, heaping up speech...
... troubled by a world in which a deranged young adult can so easily access semi-automatic weapons
... amazed by a kindergarten teacher who can read calmly during a massacre
... a principal whose first instinct is to dive into a spray of bullets to save her students
... a janitor who has the presence of mind to dash through the building to alert teachers
... a team of first responders and medical personnel who can sort through the carnage
... and a tearful dad who can face a sea of reporters with courage and extend grace to the family of the one who murdered his precious daughter.

And we wait.
And we pray.
Because that's all we can do.

*quoting an unpublished version of O'Briens paper, entitled "A 'Darke' Theology?" In the first quotation O'Brien is quoting an unpublished paper by Andrew Mein on Ezekiel.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

the story God is writing

Ten years ago today, Danny, Eliana, and I boarded a plane bound for the Philippines, officially moving from "appointee" to "field" status with SIM, an interdenominational church-planting mission. We moved from green and temperate Oregon to the hot and sticky concrete jungle of metro Manila, where we studied Tagalog and learned how to live away from our families and our own culture. The adjustment was difficult, but we came to love mangoes and jeepneys, open markets and the smiling vendors who worked there. New faces became part of our story, and we theirs, as our lives were knit together.

We had no idea that our sojourn in the Philippines would only last 2–1/2 years before SIM would recommend that we relocate to Charlotte, NC, so that Danny could serve in a more strategic role at SIM's international headquarters. He's filled an administrative position for Sports Friends (a ministry of SIM) ever since—tracking funds so that young people around the world can experience the love of Christ through a godly mentor. Charlotte, too, was far from home and family, and some of the cultural differences took us by surprise. We learned to like sweet tea and "barbeque," our neighbors' drawl and our neighbors, period. New chapters in our story included Gordon-Conwell, Good Shepherd UMC, public schools for our kids, and enriching fellowship with other SIM missionaries.

Our next move took us to the Midwest, where winters are cold and days are short, but people are equally friendly. After 18 months in Wheaton we feel right at home. Family is still far away, but we're finding community just the same. Thanks to Skype and email Danny can communicate with teammates in Ethiopia and Thailand, Nigeria and Peru from his attic office. Thanks to this blog, I can keep in touch with a wide circle of friends while I study in the library in preparation for teaching ministry. Our story has become one of anticipation, wondering what doors God will open when my schooling is over and we are free to move again.

Looking back on 10 years of ministry with SIM, our hearts are full of gratitude. We've lived in 10 different homes over these past 10 years, attended 7 different churches and 16 different schools. We've been in 11 countries and 31 states. In each of these places God has blessed us with more friends than we can possibly count whose stories have intersected with our own.

This year for Christmas we're going on a pilgrimage of sorts to see some of those dear friends. We'll get to stop in Charlotte to reconnect with neighbors, friends, and our church family—a special bonus after 18 months away. Our ultimate destination, though, is SIM's retirement community in Florida, where we'll spend Christmas with Phil and Julie Parshall.

Phil and Julie were there 10 years ago at the airport in Manila when our plan landed, waiting in the humid night air for a first glimpse of the eager young family from Oregon who had come to join their work. Their friendly welcome meant so much to us after some 30 hours of travel with a toddler in tow. The Christmas we spent together just a couple of weeks later was the first of many more shared holidays, though none of us knew it at the time. Who could have foreseen that when we left the Philippines Phil and Julie's retirement would soon follow, and they would end up choosing an apartment in Charlotte just over a mile away from us?

We had nearly 6 more happy years together in Charlotte as God continued to interweave our stories. Shortly after we left Charlotte Phil and Julie moved to Florida. This Christmas will be the 6th or 7th we have spent with them. The Parshalls (and so many others) have been part of God's provision for us in these 10 years away from home. As Jesus reassured his disciples,

"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life." Matthew 19:29 NRSV

We don't know what the next 10 years will hold, or who else will walk onto the pages of our story and stay for a while. No one does. But the Author knows what he's doing, and if we let him hold the pen it will turn out beautifully in the end.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

anticipation—the beauty of advent

We opened presents with my parents the day after Thanksgiving. The beautiful thing about gift-giving so early is that it has freed us to anticipate the greatest gift of all—Jesus, our Messiah. Each night after dinner we're putting the next leaf on our Advent Tree (for a free complete set of advent devotions, click on the link to the right that says "Advent Tree Devotions"). The kids love when it's their turn to put a leaf on the tree or read the Scripture passage of the day. In a busy season, any chance to slow down and reflect is something to be cherished.

I adapted these devotions from a book that started with creation and led up to Jesus' resurrection. It's a wider set of Bible stories than most Advent plans include, and that's what I love about it. Jesus' birth is unintelligible without an understanding of the Old Testament. He was the answer to long centuries of anticipation of God's decisive work to redeem his people from sin. Just as we wouldn't give our kids the answers to their homework without letting them first wrestle through the questions, so we should show them why the world needed Jesus before we celebrate his coming.

If you don't have plans for Advent and want to try these, it's not too late! You can make an Advent Tree with a big sheet of paper or posterboard, and add leaves of green construction paper each day. Let your kids draw the pictures on each leaf, or write a key word from the story instead. Or have them draw the pictures on paper circles to hang on your Christmas tree. Make it a family project. And if you do, I'd love to hear how it goes!