Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Let's Light It Up!

My baby, Media Writing and Techniques, is being born today. Well, tonight at 6:00 to be precise. I have no idea how many hours I have poured into this baby since December, but now I'm ready to go live. I'm teaching it at one campus, and my boss is teaching it at the other campus simultaneously, so, you know, no pressure there.

Tonight we're studying the basics of writing for media; tone, clarity, and bias (including logical fallacies); and spending a significant portion on media ethics.

The quote for the first night is (all sessions have an E.B. White quote): “I can only assume that your editorial writer tripped over the First Amendment and thought it was the office cat.”

The devotions for tonight (it's a Christian university, so we do a 10-minute devotional at the beginning of class. I've NEVER gotten to do this before!) are: God's Word is Alive and Active in Me, from Hebrews 4:12 "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."

Because it's a media class, of course I'll be showing a lot of various clips of things. I get to show one of my all-time favorites tonight. For some weird reason, it won't let me embed, so you can see it here (it's only 1 1/2 minutes). As Jennie knows, one of the main reasons to teach is so you can share as many Office UK and West Wing clips as possible.

I've got eight students and four hours. I feel a little bit like right before my actual babies were born--nervous yet excited. Right now the trickiest part is separating my head from my Thursday night literature class. Hopefully I'll keep everything straight and not start tossing in facts and quotes from Oscar Wilde. Though a quote from Oscar Wilde could only improve the tone of well, anything.

Let's light this thing up!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Last Day

Last Wednesday was Elaine's last day of Pre-K 4. I can't believe it. Last summer I spent a fair bit of time, working with her on Kipper's Big Alphabet Book and by the end of the summer she still had no idea what any letter or number was. I could show her A fifty times in a row...nothing.

Enter Mrs. H., her pre-K 4 teacher. By the end of this school year, Elaine knows her entire alphabet, capital and lowercase letters. She can spell basic words. She can count to at least 50. And those are just the little things. She has learned and grown so much. She knows about weather and bugs and money. (She can sing a song to the tune of "Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes" that goes "Head, Thorax, Abdomen.") She knows about shells and shapes, pumpkins and penguins. She also knows many Bible verses by heart.

So here Elaine is on Wednesday, saying goodbye to the best pre-K 4 teacher in the world. Mrs. H. read a story about a teacher with a garden (her room is garden-themed) who got a packet of seeds from the principal in the fall. She planted and watered and tended her garden all year long and now the beautiful flowers have grown and are ready to grow. Now it's time for her to put away her tools for awhile until next fall when the principal comes down the hall with a new packet of seeds. She cried while she read it, and I teared up to because I have no more little girls to send to Mrs. H. for tending and growing.

They had all made a big memory book with pictures and journals from their year. (In the previous picture, Elaine is holding Buzzy, the class mascot. Instead of Circle Time, they have Buzzy Time. You're allowed to speak only if you're the one holding Buzzy.)

Even Mrs. H. commented as Elaine said goodbye on how much progress she had made this year. So now...she's ready for kindergarten in the fall.

On Thursday, Lucy had her last day of school. This girl did not have one bad day this year. Not one. Every single day when I would pick her up, I would ask "How was second grade today?" and she would fall back in her seat with a big sigh and say, "AWESOME."

Her teacher, Mrs. S., hugged her goodbye and told her she loved her. We walked to our car, and Lucy kept her head down. I could tell she wasn't feeling great, but before we even got to the parking lot she had burst into tears.

"I don't want to end second grade, Mom," she wailed. "I don't want to not see Mrs. S. every day anymore!"

I reported this later to my brother, and we both just looked at each other. "I know," I told him. "BIZARRE. I don't get it either."

That is a testament to their school--they'd rather go there than have summer vacation. Go figure.

But now it is summer, and I started by getting out a fresh, new, little notebook and writing down a daily plan of what we're going to do. I have a whole drawer full of little notebooks that my mom wrote similar plans for summers long past in. It makes me happy to know there's continuity even if it all falls apart and I'm tearing my hair out by August, at least I started out with a plan.

One of our main rules is almost no computer time, so I'm wrapping this up and getting back to our scheduled summer activities. As I type this, Elaine is sitting next to me, pen in hand, writing her numbers in a notebook and playing dot-to-dot. Can't wait to see what kindergarten brings this girl!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


This is a summary of how we all felt after this weekend. In the interest of full disclosure, shortly before I took this picture, I was right there in the bed with them.

This weekend I went to Living Proof Live while Darren and the girls hung out at a hotel and swam 8+ hours per day. I've pretty much been looking forward to this weekend more than Christmas. I'm not sure I've had a time in my life when I have felt more pulled, torn, weighted down, I don't even know what.

The first night of the conference opened with a video montage of these verses: Psalm 116:1-7 "I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: 'O LORD, save me!' The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you."

Then it ended with this photo (except with "un" in front of the title):
The next morning, the same montage was shown again at the beginning, except with these verses: Hebrews 12:1-2 "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

When I saw that I knew, as Beth said, that God Himself had invited each of us personally to this event. Between Friday and Saturday there were probably 4-5 hours of speaking and 2-3 hours of worship (interspersed), so I will boil it down to the main points Beth had. There wasn't one that did not apply to me personally:

1) God can untangle us when life's about to kill us.
2) God can untangle us when we're tangled up inside.
3) God can untangle us when our motives are in tangles.
4) The Cross has already cut the ropes of entangling sin.
5) Those untangled once can be well tangled again.
6) A grudge can entangle us where we need untangled most.
7) If destruction fails to entangle us, distraction will do its best.
8) God can make a mighty soldier out of anyone willing to get untangled.
9) Whatever tries to tangle with us, tangles with God!

Each point was supported with multiple Scriptures (I had no idea there were so many verses either using the English or the Greek/Hebrew for "entangled"). My absolute favorite part was point 8: God can make a mighty soldier out of anyone willing to get untangled. This was based on 2 Timothy 2:1-4 "Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others. Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tangled up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them."

Then she showed us 1 Peter 3:3 "Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—" The term "arranging" there in the Greek is "empleko," which is the same word used in the 2 Timothy reference "tangled up." It has the inference of intertwining. So Beth called two ladies out of the audience up on stage and did their hair. She had the brushes and the clips and everything. She said she's always wanted to be a hairdresser and have Ms. Beth's House of Hair. The first woman she braided her hair. The second woman she gave a high ponytail (not without a bit of teasing and back-combing first).

In the midst of everyone laughing and cheering, she turned them around so we could see their new hairstyles--then showed us how we can't take godliness and worldliness and braid them together and wear them in our life. To be a good soldier, we need everything pulled back into one God-ponytail. It was so fantastic (though when I tried to explain this awesome illustration and truth to Darren afterwards, he said, "Could this be done using power tools instead?" Definitely a girl thing.)
We closed on Saturday afternoon with a commissioning out of Hebrews 12: 1-2 and a final segment of worship. When we got there Friday night, Beth told us that the purpose of this weekend was not to go away and say, "I'm going to try and be a better Christian," rather to get to the heart of all our various entanglements, gain some clarity, begin to throw them off, fix our eyes on Jesus, and keep running that race.

At the ending, Travis and the worship team cranked up with this one, and if they hadn't, I think I would have had to just do it myself:

All in all, more than I could have even hoped for in this weekend. I feel energized and ready to throw off some entanglements. And throw in a nap here and there, too.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Things Fall Apart...and are put back together

I just finished spring semester at community college, and on May 31 I'll be starting my university class that I call "my baby" as in "my baby is being born on May 31." More on that later, but it's a class I'll not only be teaching for the first time, but I also wrote the curriculum for it.

A week or so ago, while I was putting the finishing touches on that class, I got an email from the university saying that they didn't have anyone to teach a class called "Literature, Life, & Ideas," and would I be interested and oh also, it starts May 19? I think you can pretty much guess what my answer was.

Now I'm furiously preparing for Literature, Life, and Ideas, and the first book I will be teaching this Thursday is Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. And of course during this time, the girls have myriad end-of-the-year activities that I have to prepare them for, then my dad both moved and wound up in intensive care. So in the midst of going back and forth to the hospital and baking treats for Lucy's class and making sure Elaine is dressed as a cat for the Pre-K 4 alphabet parade, I'm running around the world, screeching, "I have to know everything there is to know about Things Fall Apart!" And no, the poetic irony of that title does not escape me.

There is so much I could say about Things Fall Apart--which is a great book and you should read it. It's essentially the story of an African man within a tribe in Nigeria in the late 1800s whose world falls apart with the arrival of white missionaries. The two missionaries (aptly named Mr. Smith and Mr. Brown) pretty much embody all the ugly stereotypes of missionaries and imperialists.

A big part of my job at this particular university, since it's a Christian one, is to teach the students how to respond to...whatever--literature, media, etc.--as a follower of Jesus should. I have a great respect for Mr. Achebe's work and opinion, and I'm not even saying I disagree with it. A lot of ugly things have been done in the name of Christ and through mission work.

My undergraduate degree is actually in missions, so I hope I can bring some of that to the discussion on Thursday. I've had about a thousand thoughts swirling in my head over this book, recent events, and recent conversations I've had, and I hope to sort through a little of that here.

A few years ago, Darren and I read Randy Alcorn's The Treasure Principle together. It's a short, little book that contains 6 keys:
1) God owns everything. I am His money manager.
2) My heart always goes where I put God's money.
3) Heaven, not Earth, is my home.
4) I should live not for the dot but for the line. (Dot is here and now, line is eternity).
5) Giving is the only antidote to materialism.
6) God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.

I think that was a starting point for us to both live and think differently. As we have gone through various financial struggles personally and along with the rest of the U.S. (here in our city, gas was $4.25 a gallon last week. In the suburbs, it was $4.45) there is one underlying truth that I keep learning over and over: We are so rich.

My brother and his wife just returned from visiting her family in the Philippines. They stayed with her family, who own farms and a school, and also at a resort, but the poverty in that country is staggering. As my brother says, "You realize that when Jesus talked about 'the rich man' He really means us."

One organization we have both been involved with for many years is Compassion International. I love this organization for so many reasons, but one of the main ones is that it is not the white people swooping in and imposing their culture and ideas, but is rather an indigenous work.

Darren and I began supporting a little girl in Ecuador a few years after we got married. I think she was 5 when we began sponsoring, now she is 17. Her name is Lizbet. And a few weeks ago, we decided as a family, to sponsor a little girl in the Philippines. Her name is Gleramil. We loved looking through all the pictures and stories on the Compassion site.

We picked Gleramil because she is 8 years old, like Lucy will be in a few weeks, and also because we have a resident Filipina in our family who can give us all sorts of inside scoop. Oh and also because in Gleramil's picture she had ponytails, and Elaine said, "I like that little girl's ponytails."

Last week, we got our first letter from Gleramil's mom. A huge part of Compassion sponsorship is correspondence. As part of their blog community, they encourage us to write letters to our kids every second Friday. The kids can write as often as they want, but they are required to write to us 3-4 times per year, which the center where they attend helps them with.

In this letter we got to find out the names of Gleramil's parents and her siblings (we showed the letter to Chuck and Rome, and I said "Check it out; all the kids' names are combos of the parents' names." They laughed and said that is the Filipino way. Rome and her siblings are all combo names. She got lucky with a pretty name. Some of them...not so much.)

We got to find out Gleramil's favorite color, that she likes to play hide-and-seek, and that her favorite food is chicken joy (that is fried chicken from a popular fast food place called Jolly B--like how American kids like Chicken McNuggets. Rome said, "They serve it with rice," and Chuck said, "Yeah, surprise, surprise.")

Her mom wrote to us: "I am so happy and I am very thankful to you and to God that my child has a sponsor and I'm also thankful she was able to join Compassion. This is a great help to her studies and to us, her parents."

In the area where they live, most adults are unemployed. Those that are employed as day-laborers make an average of $55. A month.

We pray for these kids each day and keep their pictures on our refrigerator, but it's not just us, making a difference in their lives. They are making a huge difference in ours. We have some money we can share, but they give us love and friendship and perspective and prayer. Besides praying for them every day, I ask our adopted girls to pray for their sponsor mom and dad and sisters. We need it.

At our former church, we used to say the Apostles' Creed together every Sunday. I love all the words of that, but especially, "I believe in the holy, catholic church...the communion of saints." When we do missions in a human way, things fall apart. But when we let Jesus have His church, the universal church without walls or borders, it can be a little taste of what eternity will be like.

I will leave you with two things that have rocked my world this last week (also, I would say I spend waaaaay too much time on the Compassion site, but it is so worth it). The first is a blog post you can find here, one of my top 5 favorite blog posts ever. The second is a video you can find here. I just want to give you a glimpse of how things can be and hopefully lift your heart. Advisory (learned from experience): go grab a kleenex before you start reading and/or watching.

Oh, one last thing: Compassion puts together yearly trips where sponsors can visit various countries and meet their kids. I don't know if that dream will ever come true for us, but this year's trip is to the Philippines! It begins May 29. A band of bloggers and a photographer always go on the trips, so they'll be live blogging while they're there. If you're interested, you can follow it here. I wonder if they will meet our girl?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Both Sides of the Story

Here is an article I wrote recently.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

For Mother's Day 2011

(**All quotes taken from Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss.)

On the whole, there is nobody like one’s mother.

Other people will see your faults, but only your mother will have the courage to speak of them.

I do wonder if I shall ever really learn that Mother knows more than I do!

I realize that it is to her I owe that early, deep-seated longing to please the Lord Jesus, which I never remember as having a beginning or an ending, though it did have its fluctuations.

I don’t see how Mother can love me so, after the way I have behaved.

Dear Mother! She has gone now, where she always goes when she feels sad, straight to God. Of course she did not say so, but I know Mother.

Mother made no reply, except by a look which said about a hundred and forty different things.

I wonder if, after all, mothers are not the best friends there are!

Moral—Mothers occasionally know more than their daughters do.

I longed to have my children become old enough to fully appreciate her sanctified character.

I thought no human being was less selfish, more loving than she had been for many years, but the spirit that now took possession of her flowed into her heart and life directly from that great Heart of love, whose depths I had never even begun to sound.

It is a pleasant picture to see her with my little darlings about her, telling the old sweet story she told me so often and making God and Heaven and Christ such blissful realities.

The atmosphere in which we all lived was one which cannot be described; the love for all of us and for every living thing that flowed in Mother’s words and tones passed all knowledge.

My dear mother’s influence is always upon me. To her I owe the habit of flying to God in every emergency and of believing in prayer.

Surely the crown she has won by such a struggle must be brighter than the stars! And this crown she is, even now, while I sit here choked with tears, casting joyfully at the feet of her Savior!

My steadfast aim now is to follow in my mother’s footsteps; to imitate her cheerfulness, her benevolence, her bright inspiring ways, and never to rest till in place of my selfish nature I become as full of Christ’s love as she became.

I miss you, Mom. Happy Mother's Day! Heaven can't come soon enough now that you're there.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Lucy and Mom Day

Earlier this year, both girls begged me for some personal "Mama Time" that they wouldn't have to share with their sister. They share a room and activities and lots of other things, so it's important to me that they get their own special time on their own with Mom and/or Dad.

However, work and the weather have been conspiring against us until this past weekend. I've been waiting a long time to take Lucy to this particular spot, and Saturday was the absolute perfect day to go to The Little Traveler in Geneva. Lucy had never been before and didn't know what to expect.

"I can't really describe it, but I promise you'll like it, " I told her.

We got there right about lunch time, so we headed to the Garden Cafe first.

As we got our Sierra Mists, Lucy lifted her glass, clinked it with mine, and said solemnly, "To Freedom!" (She kills me.)

The cute bathroom:

We visited almost all the rooms--candy shop, gourmet food shop, antiques, china/glassware, flower shop, the Christmas shop (a big hit especially with the many little villages there), the baby shop, stationery, jewelry, and hats.

We stopped at the toy shop twice and handled all the Madame Alexander dolls two or three times. There were Wizard of Oz dolls and Little Women dolls (complete with Amy's Paris wardrobe!), dolls from around the world, and, interestingly, Henry the VIII's wives dolls (with heads intact).

"Who's this one?" Lucy asked, picking up a black-haired doll with Renaissance-style jewelry.

"Lucretia Borgia," I read off the tag (I thought she was supposed to blond?). "She was a poisoner," I added.

"Like, she killed people with poison?" Lucy asked.

"Mmm-hmmm," I said.

She digested that historical tidbit for a moment. "Well, I really like her outfit," she said magnanimously.

We, of course, visited the tea shop, where we got an end-of-the-year gift for Lucy's teacher. They had a special Wedding blend (but it was decaffeinated aka pointless).

After we'd exhausted all the shops, we strolled around town, chatting, taking pictures, and enjoying one of the only nice days of spring we've had here in Illinois.

St Mark's...

Pretty houses and flowers...


This was Lucy's favorite because it was both yellow and had a balcony, her dream house:

I liked this one, and it was for sale! though sadly out of my price range (actually, it's lower than I thought it would be--hard economic times and all). (Also, I'm realizing as I add this picture that it looks a lot like the house we already have. No wonder I like it.)

After our walk, we stopped by A Moveable Feast for dessert and ate it outside on a bench in the sunshine.

We drove home, and Lucy borrowed my phone so she could call Elaine and tell her all about it.

"Didn't we have the best day, Mom?" she sighed when we got home.

Yes, we certainly did!

(Watch for "Elaine and Mom Day" coming soon!)