Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Little New Year's Thought

Radio in the car on Christmas eve: "In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world..."
Me: "I'd guess that Caesar's census was about as obnoxious then as Obamacare is now."
Caleb: "Probably worse..."

But think what God did through that obnoxious census. Don't underestimate what He might do in and under our own national annoyances. 

Happy New Year wishes to all!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Good Parenting Advice

"We evangelize children through the years by confronting them with the Gospel. Let them live with people whom Christ has saved, people who live Christ-centered lives. Let the children never question the power of God to change men and women. Let them hear the stories of God and Jesus in which people were saved.  Let them hear the stories of the church in mission. Let them experience failure, that they may realize that man cannot save himself.  Let them ask God for forgiveness, that they may experience the answer to their faith in God. The life of a child in a Christian home may be full of blessings such as Jesus declared in His Sermon on the Mount, full of discouraging sinning experiences, full of forgiveness, full of promises from God, and full of pulls of the Holy Spirit to take the narrow way. All these are leading the child on toward God."

- from Christian Education in the Home by Alta Mae Erb, 1963

Monday, October 21, 2013

That Masculine Strength

Here's a delightful tidbit of Lewis from the last book in his space trilogy - That Hideous Strength. The Director's words to the doubting, searching Jane gave me a fresh perspective on how my girl's life has been drastically changing as I've married a man and am now preparing to have a boy child. Maleness and femaleness are much deeper than biology and we oughtn't to run from what God intended these realities to do in our lives. 

Here's the Director's response to the unhappily married Jane, who is realizing, with some disturbance, that masculinity is not the primitive and barbarian thing she once thought it to be:
"There is no escape [from being invaded by the masculine]. If it were a virginal rejection of the male, He would allow it. Such souls can bypass the male and go on to meet something far more masculine, higher up, to which they must make a yet deeper surrender.  But your trouble has been what the old poets called Daungier. We call it Pride. You are offended by the masculine itself: the loud, irruptive, possessive thing - the gold lion, the bearded bull - which breaks through hedges and scatters the little kingdom of your primness as the dwarfs scattered the carefully made bed. The male you could have escaped, for it exists only on the biological level.  But the masculine none of us can escape.  What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it..."
I love these words - not only for how they give me a healthy perspective on my own life, but also for how they fly like a fresh wind in the face of current reasoning about the legitimacy of homosexuality. I'm not like Jane in that I'm quite happy to be married to a real masculine person. But words that can pull one person from disapproval to appreciation, can also move another person from vague appreciation to hearty appreciation, and that's what they did for me.

The conversation continues:
"...You had better agree with your adversary quickly."
"You mean I shall have to become a Christian?" said Jane.
"It looks like it," said the Director.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Lean Hard

I have mixed feelings about my copy of the classic devotional, Streams in the Desert. Sometimes it hits the heart of things just right, and sometimes it seems to totally miss the point of an obscurely considered text. But I've plugged away at it, and am sometimes rewarded with treasures like this poem - the kind of piece that you read and suddenly have urges to plaster on every flat surface because it's too good to not think about all the time. It's really just a call to prayer, but sometimes we need to be told to pray in ways that remind us what exactly that is, and why the duty is our most precious privilege.

Child of my love, lean heard
And let me feel the pressure of thy care;
I know thy burden, child, I shaped it;
Poised it in Mine Own hand; made no proportion
In its weight to thine unaided strength,
For even as I laid it on, I said,
"I shall be near, and while she leans on Me,
This burden shall be Mine, not hers;
So shall I keep My child within the circling arms
Of My Own love." Here lay it down, nor fear
To impose it on a shoulder which upholds
The government of worlds. Yet closer come:
Thou art not near enought. I would embrace thy care;
So I might feel My child reposing on my breast.
Thou lovest Me? I knew it. Doubt not then;
But loving Me, lean hard.

- from Streams in the Desert by L. B. Cowman

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Under the Rainbow

Have you seen the banner for the Gay Pride movement?

It's nearly a dumb question, because nearly no one hasn't seen the signature rainbow flag - in college dorm windows, on bumper stickers, on television news reports, etc. I've seen plenty of them, and noticed another on a bumper sticker this morning as I was walking up Liberty Street. I've always gotten the message the movement is trying to send with their colorful stripes - "We like diversity and we accept everyone and it's a big happy party".

But this morning, for some reason, the flag on that bumper sticker sent me a different message.
It's a rainbow.
The rainbow is a sign of God's covenant mercy and patience with man's perversity:

"... the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22 ESV)
When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh." (Genesis 9:14-15 ESV)

Isn't it amazing? That a movement seeking to promote a lifestyle that goes against what God created them to be, a movement marching proudly into the last frontiers of man's heart that "is evil from his youth", should do so under the banner of God's patiently withheld judgment?

This morning the gay pride bumper sticker with its bright rainbow colors said to me, "God is patient with you - sinners, both homosexual and 'straight'- not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance." It said, "We are a nation under judgment - but oh, of what a patient and merciful God". Incredible that rebels against a good King should march under the sign of His longsuffering. But we cannot wave the sign of God's promised mercy in His face as we disobey Him forever. The Lord is not a God to be mocked, but to be glorified for both his patience and his justice.

"For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 
(2 Peter 3:5-13 ESV)

Someday, people who marched under the rainbow flag will stand with others who abhorred that striped banner - both worshiping before the rainbow-encircled throne, glorifying God for His mercy, for they have all been washed and sanctified and justified by the blood of the Son of God. But that will only happen if God's mercy leads them to repentance here.  Think of it next time you see a rainbow flag.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What I Thought of Harry Potter

I've heard of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling for years, in contexts of widely-varying opinion. Many praised them highly. Many judged them severely. I just ignored them, having better things to do - until I realized that, as they were becoming somewhat of a 'classic', the boy child we are expecting might want to read them someday. I felt a need to see for myself what this much-loved wizard boy story was made of. So I read the first book in the series - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I felt that reading one book entirely was sufficient to form my judgment of the spirit and quality of the series, if not sufficient to make a comprehensive literary judgment of Rowling's plot.

Since the Harry Potter books are frequently lumped with the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis as well-crafted magic literature for children, I found myself comparing and contrasting Harry Potter's world with Lewis's Narnia as I read. The differences were striking, especially at points where the story elements seemed most similar. While my critique is not a thorough comparison/contrast between the two series (I haven't read the one entirely, after all), I have made a few comparisons throughout. My critique is mainly a criticism, since I was largely displeased with the spirit of the book, but I think each of the criticisms are significant.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was not a chore to read. Rowling knows how to craft a good story. The plot skeleton of the first book is actually similar to many classic kid's adventure/ mystery stories, but the clever layers of fantastical elements - goblins, flying brooms, wands, spells, etc. -  over the classic plot make it uniquely fascinating. Harry Potter himself is very ordinary, human and likable for being so extraordinary, and in my opinion, his boyish, courageous character is the chief appeal of the book.

Rowling seems to have attempted to portray in Harry Potter the classic battle between good and evil that parents and educators love to find in children's books. However, I believe the book is a marked failure in this respect. There is a definite evil - referred to as the 'dark side', but the good opposing is not defined biblically, as is Lewis's good against evil in the Narnia series. Narnia's 'good magic' is a holy power, used in submission to authority, and is made of entirely different 'stuff' than the 'bad magic' of the evil side.  The 'good guys' use of magic in Harry Potter is sometimes just as self-directed and unsubmissive to authority as that of the 'dark side'.  Characters repeatedly take supernatural matters into their own hands and use magic to do what they want -which is specifically what Scripture condemns when it forbids witchcraft and sorcery. (1 Chron 10:13, 1 Sam 15:23)  The Pevensie children in the Narnia series learned to love and submit to Aslan's magic - it was not given to them to use as they pleased, but only worked rightly when they obeyed him.  Harry Potter's magic skills are his own and echo every sinful child's desire to be able to do what they please and be their own authority. Potter's lovable, courageous character does not atone for this flaw to make him a hero I would set before my children. "To obey is better than sacrifice" seems to be the last lesson on Rowling's mind.

Hogwarts, the school where Potter learns wizardry is populated not only by students and professors (some of whom are witches), but by ghosts (are they good or evil?) and a demonic creature called Peeves who is simply allowed to exist there. I was impressed by a sense of the unholy as I followed Harry Potter and his friends through the halls of Hogwarts. Imaginary beings that children are taught to regard as evil are portrayed as tolerable, sensible authority figures, or normal (though irritating) companions. I couldn't help but think that the old hag killed by the brave Narnians in the mound of Prince Caspian would have probably been a respected professor at Hogwarts.  In the Narnia books, witches, ghosts and other ugly/demonic spirit-like creatures are always on the dark side, but the lines between holy and unholy in Harry Potter are muddy. Defining good vs. evil as 'brave and generous vs. selfish and cruel' is nice, but not sufficient if there is no  'pure and obedient vs. impure and disobedient'. It is the good and evil of humanism, but not of Scripture.

Another major flaw I found in the characters of Harry Potter was their un-rebuked sinful attitudes. Obviously, no children's book is good with polly-plum-perfect characters, but the hero's flaws need to be seen as flaws and not as acceptable qualities. Lying to authorities to get out of trouble, repeatedly breaking rules for one's own ends, and maintaining hateful, vengeful attitudes towards troublesome people are sins Potter and his friends commit in their heroic adventures, but these are all seen as normal young people's behavior, atoned for by the good they end up achieving in the end. Again, Harry Potter's version of "To obey is better than sacrifice" is "To sacrifice is better than to obey", and the story is constructed in such a way that it works. There is no sober, holy Aslan to confront Harry with his heart at the end, but only the prospect of Harry's summer holiday, rich with opportunities to torment his beastly cousin with newly-learned magic skills.

A last criticism of Harry Potter is one that seems less important, but is still weighty - that is the emphasis on ugliness rather than beauty. Humorous, droll, awe-inspiring or creepy descriptions of ugliness or weirdness fill the pages, but descriptions of genuine beauty are sparse and mostly limited to descriptions of the wizard's grand buildings or meals. Glimpses of appreciation for natural beauty, which are usually sprinkled throughout good children's books, are remarkably absent in the first volume of the Harry Potter series. This is merely a reflection of the growing focus on ugliness in children's literature as a whole, and the accompanying avoidance of real, heart-touching beauty. Ugliness can be funny or exciting or scary. It doesn't demand the observer to grow up. Real beauty demands our sobriety It makes one mindful of God and holiness. Lewis knew how to express beauty to children in his Narnia series. Rowling seems to write for children who don't care about that stuff anymore. Power, thrills and action, humor and horror - yes, but beauty and holiness - no. We're more comfortable with ghosts and goblins, actually.

So why is this book popular? My prudish-sounding answer is that it appeals to sinful human nature, especially that of young people. We all desire to be better than other people, to have special powers that others don't have, to be admired and intelligent, and to do what we want and be heroes in the end, without needing to repent of our sinful desires. Harry Potter lets us live in a world with a boy like that, and watch him succeed despite great opposition. It's a fun escape, but unlike better book-journeys, it is not an exalting one. It left me just as base, greedy and earthy as when I picked it up, but with just enough inspiration to heroism to feel good.

I did reap one benefit from this book though. I was able to critically compare myself throughout the book to Hermione, Potter's annoyingly task-driven, nosy, mothery and overbearing fellow student. The evening after finishing it, I stopped myself mid-nag in a conversation with my husband (who has also read Harry Potter) and apologized for being Hermione. It made him laugh and I was glad I read the book.

That evening, however, our Bible reading was Psalm 101. That finalized my decision that I wouldn't choose to read any more Harry Potter books or recommend them to my children. Read it. Holiness is more important than entertainment. I won't deny I was entertained by Harry Potter, but I need holiness more, and thankfully there are other places (like Narnia) to find a bit of both.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Oh Luther, How Good of You

I have determined to finish reading Martin Luther's The Bondage of the Will before the arrival of firstborn son - mostly because 'It's now or never' (kind of), but also because I believe that somehow it will make me a better mama. Good theology is good for most things. So in those rare moments when mental clarity and need for couch-time collide, I pick it up. This morning, I lighted on a section that was worth the whole book to me. Luther was explaining what it means that all men "fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
"Now, he who glories in God is he who knows for sure that God looks on him with favour, and deigns to regard him kindly, so that what he does is pleasing in God's sight, and what does not please God is borne with and pardoned....This is the glory of those who have faith in God. To those that are without it belongs confusion of face, rather than glory, in God's presence. But Paul here says that men are wholly devoid of this glory. And experience proves that they are."
"And if this glory is wanting, so that a man's conscience dare not say with sure confidence: 'this pleases God,', it is certain that he does not please God! For as he believes, so is he... For it is precisely the sin of unbelief to doubt the favour of God, inasmuch as God would have His favour believed in with the fullest certainty of faith."
The difference between a believer and an unbeliever is that that the one has a Mediator - Christ Jesus - by which he is confident of God's constant loving favour, and the other does not. If I believe that Jesus Christ is a sufficient Mediator and yet do not believe that  I am entirely within the favour of God because of Him, I have not yet believed savingly. I start giving God glory when I believe that because Christ has died, He may be pleased with me, and because He has declared Himself ready to be so, He is.

I guess that's the gospel, isn't it? Sometimes it's most awesome when it kind of creeps up on you in a drawn-out theological argument and then explodes in your face like a pinata full of better things than candy.

Thanks for beating the pinata till the candy came out, Martin Luther. God gave you one of the best hammers. I can't wait to give some of this stuff to baby.

(Also, thank you J.I. Packer and O.R. Robertson for translating this stupendous book into English.)

Monday, July 15, 2013

What Happened to Margalo - Part 4

[You may recall from the last chapter that the Summer family was watching a fierce storm. The story continues.]

A small brown sparrow, caught in the wet gusts of wind found herself being blown hopelessly farther from her shelter in the eaves of Mr. Groves barn. Her name was Margalo, and she had come from New York city to the countryside several months before, where she had befriended Mr. Grove’s pigeons who invited her to stay with them. This morning Margalo had gone out before the storm to visit her friend Cosette the mourning dove, who lived in a snug little clump of white pines near the river. Cosette was nesting and had sat comfortably on her single egg in its sparse nest of twigs while she and Margalo conversed. They had exchanged bits of poetry (they were both proficient poets) and Margalo had brought a tidy bunch of grass seed stalks as a gift for her friend. Cosette was very grateful for these, as she  had been sitting on her egg and was able to go out less and less in recent days.
“I do believe - though of course not meaning to alarm you” Cosette had said in her meek, cooing voice, “that there is a hawk in our – our vicinity. I espied him swooping low above the tops of the pines yesterday afternoon, as the sun sank below the western horizon,
‘cov’ring the land,
with bountiful hand,
in tinctures of amber from regions sublime’.

Cosette paused, savouring this new poetic utterance and continued. “And I do believe, not discounting the ‘tinctures of amber’  in the air, that it was a red-tailed hawk. Oh dear!”
“Oh dear,” echoed Margalo. Then she had looked at the sky and said, “Oh dear!” again, for dark clouds had begun to roll the light out of the sky. “I really must return to Mr. Grove’s barn without delay!”
“Do be careful, my cherished friend!” Cosette had said mournfully, as Margalo fluttered her wings with a final “Goodbye” and rose through the whispering pine branches into the damp, darkening air. The wind had begun to blow in fierce gusts before Margalo had gotten very far, driving her from her course, and then the rain had begun, making her way even more obscure. Now, Margalo did not know where she was. The Grove’s farm was nowhere in sight. She could see, however, the wide gray river in the distance, hazy and tossing in the rain, and knew that she must get her bearings and a proper command of her now soggy wings before she got too close to it. Rivers were nice to follow when flying north or south, or to perch in twiggy tree branches above the water where it flowed quietly. But the river was not quiet now, and if Margalo could not find a landing place, her weary, wet wings would give out - and she must not be above the rushing, deep river if that happened.

Margalo realized that she was rapidly approaching a large spruce tree. It was waving its shaggy wet branches in the wind and looked like a formidable giant, but Margalo knew that inside the spruce tree there would be shelter and some degree of dryness, so she made a desperate effort to fly toward it. Fortunately, the tree was in the general direction of the wind, so the desperate effort was not very desperate after all, and soon Margalo was resting safely within the prickly gray green boughs where only a few drops of rain plopped through now and then.  She fluffed out her sodden feathers and huddled close to the trunk, where, lulled by the darkness and gentle swaying of the spruce tree, she fell asleep.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

That They May Come

"Ah ! it is such a thrice blessed thing to have a praying mother; a mother who does not merely say in set form 'and speech. " Go to Christ, my child," but in her daily life, full of sweet experience of all that is involved in it, says, " Come to Him !"" 

-  The Percys by Elizabeth Prentiss, 

Let it be so with me.

(Read the little-known gem, The Percys by Elizabeth Prentiss here . Both parents and children will gain riches from this delightful and edifying family story by the author of Stepping Heavenward.)

Monday, May 13, 2013

So Helped

This morning, I was told of my true condition, and found in it nothing but cause for joy.

"Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
      Believer, never was any creature so weak as you
For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words
      but never was any creature so helped as you.
And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, for the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
      and never was any creature so prayed for as you.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose
      Never was any creature so loved as you
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
      and never had any creature such a sweet destiny as yours
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified, he also glorified."
    Believer, never was any creature so secure as you.
Romans 8:26-30, ESV

Do you remember this, believer -  that you are so helped, prayed for, loved, and secured by Jesus Christ? Sometimes in my weakness I forget, and sometimes the first help He sends is causing me to simply remember. Never was any creature so helped as I.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Medicine Cabinet Favorite Feature - Bentonite Clay

Here's a medicine cabinet essential that you probably won't find at your local pharmacy: bentonite clay.

This finely-textured clay powder has a variety of applications that I have discovered since I began using it, so as I marveled at yet another discovery of its healing potency, I decided I should write about it! Bentonite clay, also known as montmorillonite (which mineral forms the bulk of the clay) has more uses than I have even tried, but I wanted to share those that I have found to be remarkable in simplicity and effectiveness.

1. Tummy-Rescue. Whether it's a case of nervous quease, stomach flu, or mild food-poisoning, a mixture of bentonite clay in water can dramatically reduce stomach upset. The clay's extremely absorbent particles soak up toxic stomach contents like a sponge, calming the upset and cleaning up the digestive tract as it passes through. I have found that even if I feel nauseous and unable to eat anything, I am able to get down the smooth and tasteless mud, alternating swallows with gulps of water, and the calming effect is not long in coming The clay can be mixed with a little raw apple cider vinegar as well as water for a smoother texture and added digestive help. It is important to drink sufficient water when consuming clay, since it will clog your system if it is consumed too dry. Making a paste rather than swallowing the powder in capsules, ensures that the powder is moistened, but should be accompanied with additional water. Also, if you are on life-sustaining medications, bentonite clay may also remove these from your system, so use caution in such cases. Ideally, wait at least an hour - before or after taking bentonite clay - to eat or take supplements. But if that greasy pork just gave you a turn 2 minutes ago, don't worry about waiting - gulp down some bentonite mud for quick relief.

2. Rash-rescue. From a reaction to an antibiotic and yeast infection, I had a persistent, painful rash, and after trying many remedies like aloe, essential oils, baking soda, etc. I decided to try bentonite clay. This remedy was messy and not simple, because it required being muddy for 20-30 minutes and then showering to remove the mud after it had dried - but it worked better than anything else. For smaller rashes, bug bites or poison ivy, a thick paste of bentonite clay mixed with water may be spread over the infected area and wrapped with a clean cotton cloth overnight and taped shut The smooth mud soothes the itching initially and keeps it from being scratched or irritated, and then pulls the toxins out of the skin as it dries. Remove the mud in the morning and/or when it is dry. There may be some extra redness and itching when the mud is removed, since the skin is reacting to toxins being pulled through the surface, so make sure to rinse thoroughly with soap and water. During cold weather, mix the clay with warm water to enhance the soothing effect.

3. Acne-rescue. Bentonite clay is great for pulling clogged grease out of your pores and helping breakouts to heal in double-time. Simply slather the mud over your washed face and wait for it to dry, then wash off thoroughly. (You may want to remove some with a paper towel and discard to avoid clogging your sink drain) A bad case of pimples might look initially worse, because the pulling clay will bring them to a head. In that case, apply pure aloe vera gel to aid healing (or your favorite natural skin moisturizing product) and then repeat the clay mask process the next day. You will notice much smoother skin with smaller pores, and acne healing and fading quickly.

4. Cut rescue. If I get a cut on my much-used hands - even a tiny one - it is likely to fester and get red and sore and cause all sorts of irritation.  Simply sprinkling a pinch of bentonite clay powder onto the damp skin of the wounded area after cleaning it, and then covering it with a bandage helps to keep the cut dry and free of infection. This is good to do after a shower or before going to bed. I am doing this right now with a nasty knuckle cut from a grater and am amazed at how nicely it is healing. I initially applied the clay in paste form, but the powder on damp skin seems to work better for healing. However, a thick clump of clay paste applied initially to a heavily-bleeding cut will help to staunch the blood flow and act as a barrier to bacteria.

This one item can take the place of the Pepto-Bismol, medicated acne treatments, anti-itch creams and triple-antibiotic ointment in your medicine cabinet. Besides, its non-toxic, chemical-free and you don't have to worry about your kids drinking it. (Spilling it would be another matter)

Other notes: 
Bentonite clay needs to be stored in a non-metallic and non-plastic container, since either of those substances have elements that will be absorbed into the clay and detract from its purifying properties. Ideally, store in glass containers and scoop and mix with a wooden or ceramic utensil.

I am not a doctor, so talk with yours about medical advice.

I like to buy bentonite clay from Best Bentonite. This has the most affordable price and shipping rates. Bulk Herb Stores also sells a quality bentonite clay, if you are planning a larger herb order. (Minimum $99 purchase for free shipping).

Activated charcoal has similar detoxifying properties to bentonite clay, but I have found charcoal to be somewhat harsher on my system when taken internally (sore mouth, stomach cramps) and much more messy when used externally (black dust puffs everywhere when it dries), so I recommend clay over charcoal.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

What Happened to Margalo - Part 3

On Sunday morning the Summer’s awoke to an odd goldy-gray half light glowing at the windows. Mr. Summer pulled up the blinds and declared that there was a storm brewing if he’d ever seen one. Leona who loved thunderstorms, had climbed up the leg of Mr. Summer’s trousers to sit on the window sill and was gazing intently at the sky. “A storm is a beautiful thing, a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful thing!” she chanted while turning cartwheels along the windowsill.
Mother turned from the stove where she presided over two sizzling pans of eggs and sausages. “Oh, Leona, dear - don’t! You’ll fall!”she exclaimed. Leona landed her final cartwheel, scampered to her father’s hand on the windowsill and ascended to his shoulder by way of his his shirt sleeve for a better view out the window.
“A storm,” said Mr. Summer, “is a beautiful thing when you are looking out on it from a safe place.  It is not always beautiful when you are caught in it.” He pointed out the window. “That sparrow up there, hurrying across the sky, might not think the storm so beautiful unless he finds a suitable shelter.”
Ralph was still in his room, watching the morning stand-off between the sun and the storm clouds from his window. The storm clouds glowered, dark and threatening in the west. The sun glared back from the east, shooting yellow rays of light over the housetops and treetops and bruising the storm clouds blue and green. The trees and buildings pointed their long black shadows at the clouds and stood very still while the wind waited its turn to begin blowing.  It was a solemn moment. Ralph wondered what the river looked like right now. But then Dad called from the bottom of the stairs, “Breakfast, Ralph!”
At breakfast, Ralph talked about his encounter with Ned and Eric the evening before. “I never know just what to do when things like that happen,” he said. “I’m not a ranger, or a police officer, or their parents, but sometimes it just seems like someone needs to do something or say something and there’s no one else to do it.”
“I’d just like to see them try to throw things at me!” squeaked Leona, waving her toothpick fork above her head.
“There would be no question of what to do then, Leona” said Dad, with a troubled expression on his face. “Ralph, I think you did well. It’s always tricky to know when to talk to people about what they are doing. Pray for wisdom.”
The thunderstorm began during church. Ralph had heard it rumbling outside during the sermon. When church let out, people hurried to their cars as large drops of rain began to go splat on the ground, leaving wet marks as big as nickels. Leona wanted to play her favorite game, Dodge the Raindrops, but Mrs. Summer was afraid someone would step on her in the general hurry to the cars, so Leona contented herself with looking on from the security of Mrs. Summer’s handbag.  (Mrs. Summer had sewn into her handbag a special pocket for Leona that was positioned at the just the right distance from the top so Leona’s head could reach above the top when she stood. It had a pleated bottom with a tiny padded board that she could stand or lie down on, and Leona liked it quite well.)
By the time the Summers got home, the full scale splattering had begun. The storm was on. Rain drops attacked the ground like bullets from a million rain guns, thunder rumbled and lightning flashed.  Ralph hoped the storm would blow over by the afternoon so he could take the Merry Marmot out on the river.  But it did not. The thunder rolled away to the east, frightening all the boats off the river, and leaving the Summer’s home behind, but the rain poured on and on.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Don't Forget

This morning I awoke to one of those days - those days when everything looks like it has a gray film over it and your body feels like someone inserted several yards of cheap twine into your skeletal system and several rocks in your digestive system to boot, when you are peeved at everything that is non-ideal and constantly realize you are quite non-ideal yourself. I read in my morning devotions of the Lord coming in the dark clouds and prayed "Lord, help us to see you in shadows" and then proceeded with my day in the unstructured and jelly-like fashion in which it had begun.

The main item on today's to-do list was to file our taxes. ASAP. I had little idea of what I was getting into - I figured a few hours and completion before hubby left for school. It was a dreaded task, but I figured tax filing to be an appropriate use of a day in which I already felt like a half-drowned crab and did not hope to accomplish much else useful. So to the task!

Several hours later, with the question of where in the world Schedule C was for my self-employment taxes, and how I could file "married filing jointly" with this and that confusion, the crab was nearly drowned and slipping out of its shell.
Hubby would come and gently put a hand on my shoulder and I would flinch violently and start half crying. Hubby was tender-hearted and kind and said he was very sorry it was so hard, but he had to study his Latin and really appreciated my doing this for him. I attested to my willingness to trade my task for his.
I said I wanted something to bite. He suggested a carrot. I grimaced.
I was through almost the entire project on one tax filing site, but knew that one piece of info was not correct. I didn't know how to fix it and so couldn't consent to the final declaration that I was not committing 'perjury'. Therefore, it was necessary to go to another tax filing site and start ALLL OVER AGAIN. Whoopee. More tedious info-huntings. Oh, where was hubby's 2011 AGI? He had left for school and work - oh, and I forgot to send his apple to hold him till he finished work at 8pm...What a day. This is what it felt like to be a carnal Christian. A woman with PMS doing taxes.

And then I realized a sore negligence - How many times in this wretched process had I lifted my heart, even ever-so briefly, to Heaven and said "Lord, help me!" The Lord had promised His grace to be sufficient for every need, yet I had never asked him for it. Carnal Christian indeed. I had been acting like a crab of the mud rather than a child of the King, and sadly dishonored his Majesty by so doing. A brief break for tea and Elizabeth Prentiss had given me back my senses and brought me to this realization. I prayed, "Lord, help me, help us, with this. We need you."

A chat from hubby. He had found his AGI online. I proceeded to finish the process with a calm, cheerful heart, wondering still at my past folly. How could I have forgotten?

The throne of grace is always open. It is not just for fire, death and cancer. It is for taxes, tummyaches, and burnt toast - not to make them go away, but to help us honor the Savior in them. How many times have I dishonored the Lord in the little things? Grace is there to help me bear the fruit of love, joy and peace, and I should not let these depart from me with the potato slice that departed the cutting board to unknown regions below. I may feel like a crab, but I am not a crab. I am a child of God. It takes humility to see that I am not just a wretch, but a redeemed wretch who mustn't be wretched anymore, but boldly enjoy the benefits bestowed by a reconciled God - and ask for more of them, and use them, as if there were no end to them - because there isn't.

Friday, January 18, 2013

What Happened to Margalo, Chapter Two

Here is the next chapter of what happened to Margalo, in which the reader gains no further information about what happened to Margalo.

Ralph and his family lived in a little town by the Susquehanna River. The river was a grand and exciting place and Ralph loved to go down to its banks whenever he had time to spare. Sometimes he would take his boat, the Merry Marmot, tied to a long string, and set her sailing in the swirling gray water of the river. Sometimes he would take Leona, who loved to ride the boat on fresh, breezy days when small brisk waves would send the Merry Marmot hopping along their little crests. Sometimes Ralph would just take himself to the river, and sit on a log or stump near the river bank  and watch the current flowing with broad and stately power, while the clouds looked down sedately from their fluffy height. He liked to look at the islands in the middle of the river when the day was clear and imagine what lived on them. He knew that white egrets, starlings and sparrows sometimes sheltered there. He liked to imagine that pirates did also. The state police patrolling the nearby city would never allow pirates on the river, and he never saw any pirate ships, but that made imagining that they were there all the more interesting.

If there were no pirate boats, there were still plenty of other boats buzzing past on the river, casting up shiny curls of water in their wakes and making the river edges go slap-slap-slap against the mud. Ralph liked to watch the fast ones – and the slow ones too. It was easier to read the names on the slow ones. He kept a list of the boat  names he saw on the river and he knew all of the familiar ones by heart. Every Sunday afternoon in summer, the Watson’s would go out on their Silver Schooner with different groups of friends. One time, Ralph had seen them with a family of six children on board, and all the children had waved at him, floating the Merry Marmot near the bank. He had waved back.
Now the sun was dropping low in the west as Ralph hopped off the edge of the last street at the edge of town and ran down the gravelly dirt slope to the river bank. Sunsets were later in the day now as spring stretched its larger, warmer days across the country, and Ralph enjoyed being able to go down to the river after supper once again. It was a still and quiet Saturday evening with hardly a ripple showing on the river. The gentle swell from a distant speedboat waved the surface momentarily and was gone. A flock of starlings was rising over the mirror-like surface of the water, curling upward, flashing black against hazy gold sky, then swooping downward to scatter themselves over a tree top on one of the river islands. Ralph could hear their squeaking chatter floating over the water. It was beautiful to watch the starlings in flight - sometimes hundreds of them would fly in a group, all pointing in the same direction, turning, dipping, rising and falling in perfect unity as if they were tied together by invisible strings. How did they know?
The sound of boys laughing echoed off of the buildings along the street above the river. It was not the nicest laughter - it sounded as if mischief were underway. Ralph heard the sound of feet running with the laughter nearer.
“Yiy! - almost got that one” shouted one.
“Almost? You missed by ten feet, at least” the other shouted back.
The running stopped and Ralph turned to see the two boys, several yards off, bending in the gravel bank to look for stones. He knew what they were doing - throwing stones at birds and squirrels again. The boys lived on the next block and had recently taken a fancy to testing their throwing abilities on wild animals . It was, perhaps, a good test of aim and skill, but they showed no pity to the few creatures they managed to hit down, leaving them to a crippled life or a slow death and it made Ralph angry to see them at it again. He couldn’t do anything about it just now, so he kept quiet and watched. Another group of starlings was heading out of town toward the river island and the boys began to throw stones, one after another, from their collected arsenals of gravel. The birds rose higher as they saw the stones flying toward them, but one tumbled back in the air, hit by a stone. It tried to fly on, limply, but coasted ever lower and lower until it fell helplessly in the river, flapping its wings and sending sorrowful little splashes outward. Ralph jumped up, wishing he could help the poor creature, but it was too far out in the deep water. He turned to the boys who were hooting and punching each other in the arms, and walked toward them. “What are you doing?” he said, trying to be calm. “You just ruined that bird’s life for no good reason.”
The boys looked at each other and laughed. “Ooh, it’s Mr. Forest Ranger, out to save the little animals.”
“You didn’t answer my question” Ralph replied, starting to feel hot by his ears.
“We’re practicing our aim” said one of them. “Moving targets, you know.”
“Don’t you think you’re going to answer to God for what you did with his animals?” Ralph said, his heart pounding. “I’d call that cruelty. You didn’t need that bird - just killed it for your own fun and made it suffer.”
“Whoa - okay, guy,” said the other boy. “It was just a starling.”
“I know,” said Ralph. “But it’s the principle of the thing. You know, principles are important. By the way, my name is Ralph.” He put out his hand.
“Ned” said the taller one, slowly reaching out to shake hands. The shorter, freckled one, shoved his hands in his pockets, “I’m Eric” he said.
“Glad to meet you,” said Ralph. “I like birds and animals, but I like people too. No hard feelings?”
“Sure” they said, looking rather relieved and turned to leave.
“See ya round” Ralph called after them.
Then they were gone, leaving Ralph to watch the sunset, which had by now dimmed to a dull yellowish gray, with only a hint of gold where the sun sat behind the clouds at the horizon. The starlings had begun to grow quiet and the smooth, shining river glowed like damp silver under the darkening sky. Tomorrow, Ralph thought, there would be rain.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What Happened to Margalo, Chapter One

Several weeks (or has it been months?) ago, I posted about my intention to write a children's book. I had bright aspirations of hiding it away until it came forth as a brilliant children's masterpiece and then publishing it  complete with lovely pencil illustrations. However, my aspirations have narrowed down to the meager goal of   completing a good story that comes to a good end. I might still try to publish it (though I don't know if the business of Stuart Little and others like him being in the story will pose some copyright hindrances), but a work of genius it is not, and therefore need not be secreted away until that time. I am going to begin posting the story on here in semi-regular installments for what I hope will be the enjoyment of my readers. I also welcome constructive criticism.

Without further comment, here is Chapter One of What Happened to Margalo

Tap-tap-tap. Ralph Summer stood at his father’s work table in the cool, dim basement carefully hammering the last nail into his birdhouse. The afternoon sunlight  cast a broad beam through the window well above him, and in the light, bits of stirred-up sawdust danced on their way to the floor. Ralph always wondered, when he saw the dust floating in the light, if the other 1300 cubic feet of air space in the basement (he had calculated it one time) also swirled with specks that you couldn’t see without the sunshine, or if really all the dust pieces flew to rays of sun just so they could dance in it. One could never really be sure about such things. He had tried once surprising the dust in the corner with a flashlight, and there they all were – the little specks twirling about in its beam. But perhaps they all came to it, as to the sunlight, and laid down again when he turned it off.  It would have to be a mystery. He turned back to his work. Tap, tap, tap until the silvery nail head came even with the grainy wood, and running a thumb across, you could scarcely feel the bump to tell you it was there – that was how you knew a nail was in good.
It was Saturday, and Ralph loved to spend his Saturdays building things. Several weeks ago, he had completed a boat, and it had taken him six Saturdays to finish. Now he was building a birdhouse from instructions that he had found in a book from the library. He had put in the last nail – there had been twenty-six tiny nails in all – four connecting each side wall to the floor, three connecting each of the roof panels to the walls, four connecting – well, anyway, it had been a good deal of nailing and he was satisfied that it was done. His little sister Leona had helped him count and line up the nails, and was now carrying an extra nail back to the open box of nails on the work table. Now, Leona, it must be explained, was not a normal little sister. She was quite, well -- miniature. Since her birth three years before, Leona had grown only half an inch, and now was two and three-quarters of an inch in height. She looked a bit like a mouse, some thought, but Ralph (whom you would consider a rather normal boy) was sure she was not a mouse, as she hadn’t any tail, except a little furry bit as short as a teddy bear’s tail, which Ralph had seen when she was born. He never saw it now because she kept it modestly concealed under the miniature doll’s dresses she wore. Now Leona was standing on tip-toe on top of the workbench to peer into the bird house opening. “May I go in?” she asked in her clear, tiny voice.
“Sure,” Ralph replied. "The glue isn't quite dry yet, but it's safe." He offered Leona his hand and lifted her to the entrance. Leona neatly dropped into the birdhouse feet first and disappeared. “Sit tight” said Ralph, as he turned the bird house so that the light from the window shone into the hole.
“Oh!” he heard Leona exclaim. “How pretty. I think I will just sit here for a bit”. Ralph began to clean up. He placed the hammer head on its pegs, put the wood glue bottle on the shelf next to the crinkly curled up caulk bottles and crusty, dusty cans of leftover paint, and he put the nail boxes on the shelf below the glue. Then he swept the sawdust from the work table into the trusty orange dustpan that always hung with its accompanying brush on a nail under the work table and brushed the dust into the trash bin.
Leona was coming out of the bird house. He saw her tiny brown forefeet appear once more in the opening, and soon her pink nose and bright eyes followed, and she hopped to the work table before Ralph could offer his hand. “Very nicely done,” she said, briskly wiping the sawdust from her paws. “I wouldn’t mind living in it myself, except that it would be hard to get my bed through the hole.”
“The birds are very clever about their beds” said Ralph. “They bring them into their house piece by piece and build it inside - thick twigs and thin grass, scraps of thread, dry leaves, dog’s fur and lost feathers- all sorts of things they bring to stack and weave together for their nests. Nearly the whole house can be stuffed with the accumulated materials, and the eggs and babies rest in a nice soft bed.”
Ralph walked over the to the old wooden high chair under the window-well. The high chair had been his when he was a baby, and now was kept in the basement to be handy for when the his grown married cousins, or the Hildens from church came for dinner and needed a high chair for their baby. But right now, its patient wood tray was holding the library book, lying open to “How to Build a House for Bluebirds and Sparrows” The birdhouse was ready to be painted, if he followed the instructions in the book from the library, but Ralph didn’t want to paint it. “ Why would a bird want to live in a painted house?” he said.
“It wouldn’t” said Leona. “If I were a bird, I would want to build a nest where no one would notice me, so my eggs would be safe.”
“Well, I’ve never seen a robin with a painted nest, or a woodpecker with a painted hole in an oak tree. A bird house should look natural, so the birds will know it’s a safe place to live.” said Ralph decidedly. 
He looked at his finished bird house, sitting new and empty on the work table and wondered what bird might find it and want to live in it. The world was such a large and beautiful place, full of shady trees and shadowy bushes, and tall grasses, and snug dry eaves and all manner of places for sensible birds to raise a family. Would one of them think his new little bird house a suitable home? He hoped so.