Sunday, March 18, 2018

233: musings turned ramble turned somewheres else

Today I finally got away to a Christian bookstore-turned-coffee shop for a chance at a Spice Chai and some sitting. With the smart phone (aka Facebook, texting, Internet) tucked away in my purse, (and, by God's grace, staying there for the most part) I was able to, finally, devote some time to journaling and trying to pray.

And so I found myself journaling about, what else, singleness.

It's in those moments where I actually pause in life that I seem to wax on about this state.


I think part of it is because in my actual life--in my life as a teacher--every day I fail. Every day, or most every day, I could come home, consider my day, and despair about a myriad of ways I have failed both in Christian character and academically, though mostly in my behavior.

So when I come home in the evening, if I have been able to put aside the cares of the day, if I have dealt with the lingering issues that must be mentally dealt with before having peace, then I have very little desire to stir them all up again by even thinking about them in prayer.

Ok, so this blog post is becoming a processing sounding board. A public journal. Soooooorrrry.

When the moment comes to settle into a dark leather chair with a hot drink in hand on a Saturday morning, when the scene is idyllic, Instagram-worthy, and not at all my usual (I'm not a hot drink person), when I am coming to God Almighty when focused prayer time has become a confusing maze of where do I start and how does one do this, I always, naturally, come back to singleness.

Eh, and maybe it is because another friend got engaged and just posted it on Facebook.

Maybe it is because I have always equated the desire for marriage with hope. And when I come to God in a quiet moment, I come to the One in whom I hope.

Maybe--allow me to get ridiculously metaphysically philosophical, cuz this is the first time I've considered this--maybe, very seldom, I am not praying about marriage at all, but rather a desire for the day when He will make all things beautiful.

There's a book I read eons ago by Ted Dekker (but this wasn't a novel) called The Slumber of Christianity: Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth. Although I don't remember much about it now, I believe that is where I first awakened to this idea of HOPE. That we are created to hope. That hope is so, so powerful.

Of course, the hope that our souls crave is really Heaven.

There is so much about our perception that needs to be corrected. I mean, I was journaling today about wives being submissive and quiet and was thinking about how meekness is strength under control and how women have all this social-emotional strength and, unwittingly, I kinda realized that when we say everything we are thinking--measure, condemn, and demolish a man with our words--that that is not using our strength, that is like a city with no walls where what was meant for good has run amuck!

Perspective. Perception. A tweak here, a tweak there.

Goodness, this is not the blog post I was planning to write. Oh well, I didn't plan what I was going to write anyway.

We have to keep growing. Learning to see things more accurately.

Back to the topic of several paragraphs ago, I do desire marriage, and not for some idealistic, metaphysical, replacement hope for heaven. I have very real reasons to want marriage, and I also have sinful reasons to want marriage, like covetously wanting to join the "I have someone too" club.

But, as C.S. Lewis said, if we find a desire within us that cannot be met here on earth--a fairy tale hope, a dream of a Savior on a white horse, the call to a reality other than this one--maybe it is because we ARE made for somewhere else. Whether single, married, happy, frustrated, we are all mortals seeking a heavenly city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. We have a homeland (Hebrews 11:14).

If you are going to freeze-frame an Instagram-worthy moment of time, believe even more in the beauty of eternity, because actual life in the presence of the I AM is going to be more real, more unimaginable, more beyond-comprehension fulfilling than an unfiltered pic of a coffee cup and a leather seat on a Saturday morning.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

232: this vday

What am I thinking about this Valentines Day?

The Teachers Pay Teachers sale that ends tomorrow, the novel about Luther and Katharina that I'm reading for fun, the busy day behind me.

Ok, what am I thinking about *singleness* this Vday?

I've tried not to think about it much, actually.

But in general (and today too...while washing my hands...while sitting at a stop light...) I've been thinking about this whole idea of "settling." Sometimes I just really want to get married, and I wonder how much I'd be willing to compromise for that end result of having someone to build a life into old age with.

Ok, between my family and my emotions, the likelihood of me actually compromising on much is fairly low. I mean, I think I'd have to be thrown into a marriage with no turn around to actually not critique a prospect within an inch of his humanhood. (we're workin' on this)

But I am intrigued by this idea of marriage being something far less than I have trained my heart to believe. What if...what if marriage is simply two friends who are willing to do whatever it takes to make it to happily ever after to the glory of God? What if it's just two people who really believe they are designed for marriage and are willing to work out the kinks by leaning on each other, good counsel, and the power of the Spirit?

What if it's ok if he sometimes annoys me?

What if it's ok if he's older than my "ideal"?

What if it's ok if we aren't soulmates on every preference?

And what if my "ideal"--the "dream," whichever shade it may be taking at 32 yrs old--is not as important as having a reality? Not ANY reality, and not a close facsimile, but a reality that can become something I will forever be surmising about if I'm not willing to finger it by sheer faith.

No, no Boaz's are lying at my feet begging me to stop being annoyingly picky. I mean, maybe if I got a straight up marriage proposal I might just--

Nope, still too clear headed for that. Too rational. Too governed by freak-out emotions.

Too bad.

Does all of this sound awfully silly?

Tis ok. It's Valentines Day! And honestly, for the most part, I don't know what I'm talking about.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Wrestling bears and Book Review: Graciousness by John Crotts

Ok, so...

Long time no see, btw. :)

At the time I requested this book to review, I was contemplating the strange notion that a guy can be kind without being nice. Or rather, I wanted to learn more about the Biblical category of kindness versus the cultural concept of niceness, because I felt like they must be different, and in getting to know menfolk, I wanted to be able to let go of my need for niceness while still evaluating whether they were the opposite of kindness. Because niceness seems to be more a feminine demand that maybe "we" shouldn't demand of men all the time.

So I thought this book might be JUST THE THING to give me a study on Biblical kindness from a man's perspective. :)


(Yes, I'm turning this into more than a book review, because it's more interesting this way, if not more cumbersome just to get to the review section.)

I'm part of a conservative Christians group on Facebook. And right before I got the e-mail confirmation about this book--with an e-book link to keep me occupied while the paperback was being mailed!--there was a big Calvinist/non-Calvinist eruption online. Actually, there have been several in the last month, most of which I seem to find myself in the middle of, but this one happened simultaneously with my receiving this book.

Background. I am not Calvinist. I believe in God's sovereignty, His foreknowledge, His omniscience, His omnipotence, that He does whatever He pleases. I also believe that He allows men to accept or reject His free gift. I believe that He loves the WHOLE world and that Jesus' substitutional sacrifice is available to all people. I also believe that baptism is a sign to the world by the believer of Who his Master now is. I do not believe that God's calling and promises to Israel in the Old Testament were only to a spiritual "Israel" that then became what we know today as the church. Rather, Romans 9-11, in my viewpoint, is talking about a nation, a group of people, that God will restore when the fullness of the Gentiles is complete. I also believe in a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth at the end of the world.

I know there are lots of nice Reformed believers who do not bend on what they believe--that's a good thing!--but who also do not feel the need to be obnoxious about it. I respect and have learned from Reformed believers because of their passion for Biblical scholarship even as I disagree fairly strongly with their conclusions.

But over the years I have run across a VERY few that feel the need to proclaim from the rooftops something like *dot, dot, dot* Calvinism is the true Biblical theology, the theology Jesus would have preached, that you're either Calvinist or Arminian, and that Arminianism is heresy. And if you want them to calm down on the passionate rhetoric, then you're insecure or being too sensitive or haven't read your Bible. Go, Reformed Theology!

Or at least, that's how the communication trickles into my ear. Whether that is what is meant, I cannot say. And whether or not I may have poked a Calvinist bear a time or two in my lifetime, well...I'm working on self-control.

So that's what I had just experienced when I received this book. I opened up to the first chapter and read, "Many young Christians who discover Reformed theology for the first time enter what has been called the 'cage phase.'. . . They are using their newfound knowledge of the truth like a club to assault those around them who have different understandings of the Bible." The author continues that the "antidote to the truth zealots' harsh tones" is not a lesser love of truth but an application of Biblical graciousness.

What on earth? How did I get a book aimed at instructing Reformed believers on how to be gracious when discussing theology with others? LOL!

So, obviously, this book was not what I was expecting to get, but that's ok.

On to the book review!

The first half of the book is an apologetic for graciousness. It was hard for me to follow the author's organization, and I felt like some of the extrapolation from Scripture was a stretch. Like that Jesus' admonishment to the church at Ephesus in the book of Revelation--that they needed to return to their first love--refers in large part to their love of people. So if they did not repent of acting unloving, He would snuff them out. Interesting and edifying, but I wasn't exactly convinced of this interpretation of that verse.

The second half of the book though got into practical application. Much of the information wasn't new, but it was a good compilation of other sources into one. Actually, what he had to say was very good, very true, and applicable in many scenarios.

My favorite part is when he says that before we try to convince another of some point of theology, we need to first listen. He says that other people will be more open to listening to you if you can well articulate their own point of view back to them. WITHOUT that tinge of criticism that I know I personally am so prone to add when summarizing what someone has just said. People will know that you actually understand them and thus will be more willing to hear your verses combating their view. Yes! This! On Facebook I noticed that no one was asking what non-Reformed believers actually believe. Or why.

The author talks about listening well for the reasons beneath the opposing position. He gives an example of someone who believes you can lose their salvation and has concerns that those who believe in eternal security now have license to sin. Instead of blasting them with eternal security verses, the author suggests you first address the legitimate concern about the license to sin. Because that is the underlying issue for the other person. I love that. It is so applicable in all communication, not just theological debates.

He also writes, "If you merely match passion and volume for passion and volume, coupled with verses against verses, what do you think will be accomplished? Will God be glorified? Will the conversation communicate the love of Christ to the other person?" (chapter 7)

Another good quote--again, applicable to any situation--"Obviously, when everyone is on the same team, or perceives themselves to be on the same team, the potential for a gracious and effective conversation multiplies exponentially. . . . If two people are having a theological discussion, it makes a difference if they posture themselves as enemies or friends." (chapter 7)

We are all on the same team--we are all redeemed, we are all followers of Christ, we all value Scripture as the authoritative Word of God. That is our unifying point. We are not enemies but brothers.

So what is my assessment of this book? I think the practical second half of the book won me over. I think all Reformed seminarians should read this book as part of the curriculum (since Reformed believers are the target audience), but it is also great for anyone who is passionate about theology and wants to grow in communication effectiveness. He makes a good argument for the idea that communication breaks down if we do not practice graciousness.

I also recommend David Powlison's Good & Angry for those who want to delve deeper into the heart motivations of why we are sometimes ungracious.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Book Review: Judah's Wife by Angela Hunt

I LOVED Esther by Angela Hunt, but after Bathsheba I decided to forego any more Angela Hunt books (b/c tmi). But then a family member recommended Egypt's Sister, the first of the new Silent Years series. And then Judah's Wife (about the Maccabees) came up in my Bethany House Publisher's e-mail of books I could potentially read and review and, being that it was around the time of Hanukkah, I thought HEY, I'll ask for the e-book and get started on it while it is still the time of the year when we celebrate the Maccabees! I was excited! I was going to enter into the season!

There was strong characterization in the beginning. A girl brought up with an abusive father is glad to escape but thinks her new husband is secretly waiting for her to let down her guard so he can hurt her. Judah, one of several sons, told by his father it is time to marry and then finds himself lovestruck by the cheese-maker's daughter with no idea of the baggage she will be bringing into their relationship. The setting? The in-between years of the Old and New Testaments when many Jews were assimilating with the culture of the nations. Judah's zealous father leads his family and town to stand up against the invading pagans who would force them to sacrifice to their gods. But when the father dies, he appoints Judah to take his place, and Leah finds herself married to a warrior, a man who strikes down people, a man who is everything she never wanted.

The book offers a play by play of the battles Judah and his brothers lead against invading forces. A couple descriptive battle scenes (with elephants!). A lot of "we went there, hid here, fought them, and won." Several inspiring rallying speeches before and after Judah's father dies--a call to serve the one true God, to defy the idol-worshipping rulers, to trust Him who is not constrained by small numbers.

And Judah and Leah's story stays mostly surface level, in the background.

Their initial conflict is resolved. They finally are happy. But they are like characters passing in the night. Who are they? What do they say when they are at home taking care of their goats? For the reader, the husband-and-wife character development is sacrificed for Judah's battles, and I am left wondering why it is called "Judah's Wife" when I feel like I barely know her.

Neither is there any build-up to a climax. I was waiting for the BIG MOMENT. The goal towards which all this is building. There wasn't one. I'll refrain from giving away the ending. It was really good, if not abrupt, but...

the book was ill-named and so my expectations skewed my perception of the story.

I recommend this book if you want to read about the Maccabees battling the many enemies that came out against them and be inspired by how God delivered them. That part was interesting though slightly monotonous (even the characters mention near the end that they've been doing the same thing in and out with no change to their circumstances). I would not recommend this book if you want to read a character-driven story.

I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, December 1, 2017

231: that Christmas spirit

a gift from a parent
during parent/teacher conferences!
So I picked up some December writing prompts, but my students don't have time to do them this month (we have 2 weeks to learn how to take notes for research papers :O), but I thought, hey, maybe I could do them on my blog. Get those writing muscles exercised some more.
December 1 prompt: I am excited for December because...
Well, December is a crazy month. Like, 2 weeks of school craziness, 1 week out of town, 1 week socializing before BAM! back to SCHOOL with Easter break on the distant horizon. I have two Bible college finals to take in the next two weeks, lessons to plan, presents to buy, just stuff, stuff, stuff.

So what am I excited about? That Christmassy feeling. Captured in movies. Bottled as an essential oil. Dark nights, crisp air, twinkly lights, people bustling and shopping. *cue Christmas music*

A feeling. That's what excites me about December. No wonder there is so much stress this time of year. Planting your expectations on a feeling. Like nailing Jello to the wall. Except usually a chilly evening with some Christmas songs will do the trick. Much more attainable--and enjoyable--than gooey walls. The Christmas spirit.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Book Review: Too Far Down by Mary Connealy

Well...I usually love Mary Connealy, but her latest book, Too Far Down, was a dud for me.

Connealy's genius comes in her action writing. This book spent the first full half inside the characters' heads and in reminisces (retelling) of what happened in all the other Cimmaron Legacy books up to this point. Waaaay too much thinking. Way too much talking! The first half of the book was boring, redundant, and not even especially believable.

Now the second half of the book got fun! The plot finally MOVED, there was at last more action than thought and dialogue, and, yeah, basically things started happening. There was still too much dialogue, ie. Murphy's loooong speeech, Hattie's loooong speech--neither seemed quite believable, but they were at least more interesting.

I'm not sure what made the author change her normal method of writing (the last book in this series was weak too), but I hope she goes back to what makes her older books so great. A little less Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot scratching verbally at the problem and a little more, well, Mary Connealy!

Also, I have a bit of a problem with the last page of the book describing the author. Connealy's books are NOT "romantic comedies about cowboys." At least, not in the American sense of "comedy". At least, I don't think of them as comedies. Enjoyable, but not because they are knee-slappers.

Review for book 2 in this series:

Review for book 1 in this series:

P.S. The Bartered Bride by Tish Davis was a pleasant discovery last weekend after reading Irenaeus and Too Far Down! It too is the third in a series, and now I'm reading the first in the series because The Bartered Bride was such a solid Christian romance.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Book Review: Irenaeus of Lyon

This year we didn't have any plans for Thanksgiving until later in the day, so I took the opportunity to finally read one of my free-in-exchange-for-an-honest-review books that I'm I was supposed to review weeks ago. Oops.

Irenaeus of Lyon by Simonetta Carr is a lovely-looking biography for young readers. My mom and I relaxed on our living room couches and I read to her the 62 landscape-laid pages.

Although definitely meant for readers above my 6-9 yr. old range, Irenaeus is thorough and very clearly written. My mom and I were fascinated by this less well-known brother from early church history. As was the same with the author's biography on Martin Luther that I shared with my class last month, this one is interspersed with Rembrandt-esque original art relating to the story and with photos of statues, ruins, and other relevant depictions of the culture of Irenaeus' day.

The book is very informative not only about Irenaeus but also about early church history and the theological differences of the day. It was edifying and interesting. My favorite part is actually about a disagreement between Polycarp and Anicetus about when Easter should be celebrated. The author says, "In the end, Polycarp and Anicetus couldn't persuade each other but agreed to allow both practices so that the churches could be united." Apparently this unity left an impression on Irenaeus. I was delighted too.

I highly recommend this book, but I think it is more fitting for pre-teens and teens than elementary-age children. The theological content is deep, but also there are descriptions about persecution that, while sensitively handled, are still intense. 5 out of 5 stars!