God, You Should Write a Book

If You’re really out there somewhere, God, wouldn’t You want us to know it?  I mean, sure, the universe probably didn’t happen by chance, but I’m talking about really knowing You.  What are You thinking?  Why did You create us?  What are You up to now?  What are You going to do next?  I’d sure like to know that stuff.  So why don’t You just write it down so anyone who wants to know can?

Writing a book shouldn’t be that hard for You, God.  Really, if you are the Creator, there’s a lot of power that goes along with that.  I guess You could write one simple little book.  If You didn’t want to do it Yourself, You could get some of Your followers to do it for You.  I bet You could influence them pretty strongly and make sure they wrote exactly what You wanted them to.

Of course, there might be people who won’t like Your book.  They might even try to destroy it.  But I bet You could find a way to preserve Your own words.   And I bet they’d be really hard to discredit, too.  In fact, You could probably make them verifiable.  Of course, people could interpret evidence any way they wanted, and probably not everyone would believe the things You wrote.  But still, if someone was really looking for You, God, I think You should make a way for them to find You.  I think You should write a book.

Maybe You could include in it something about how all this world came to be.  And I would like to know why You allow suffering.  Death isn’t cool, either.  Couldn’t that be remedied?  And what is the meaning of life, anyway?  Is there any difference between me and the animals?  What happens when we die?  And why do I get a guilty conscience?  Say, how can I be guilty unless there is right and wrong?  What’s the standard for that anyway, or are we left to determine right and wrong ourselves?  Are there consequences to our actions?  I’ve got so many questions that need answers.  I’m telling you, I really think You should write a book!

Where is this world headed to?  Is there an ending to the story?  Is the sun going to explode and kill us all? Will we wipe ourselves out?  How can we know peace in the midst of so much uncertainty?  Are You in control, God?  Or did You just set things in motion and let them drift?  I’d really like to know some of this stuff.  Do You even care about our worries and concerns?  Does our future mean anything to You?  Do we  mean anything to You?

Just between you and me, God, I think content like this would constitute a best-seller.  People love information.  And if You have any good things to say, stuff that might instill a measure of hope and peace, people are going to eat it up.  Those are things we desire.  Oh, and love.  God, we long for love.  Think You could put that in your book, too?

I really don’t understand why You didn’t think of this Yourself, God.  I’m sure You’d make a fine Author.  So just think about it.  I really think You should write a book.

Scientific Reasons to Skimp on Housework

Okay, I’m not exactly a scientist, but I’ve come up with some very compelling, logical excuses for my lack of fortitude in the area of housekeeping. You see, I come of hearty Dutch stock, noted for their extreme cleanliness, but I always seem to fall far short of the ideals my mother drilled into me every Saturday morning of my youth. But now I find that dirt is actually HEALTHY.

I reached this conclusion after some research into the causes of Crohn’s disease, which I live with. Crohn’s is in the same family of autoimmune deficiency diseases that includes rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. In these cases, antibodies, instead of fighting outside invaders, actually turn on the body and attack it in various ways. The cause of this mutiny is unknown, but I maintain that the little buggers are bored.

Let me explain.

I fit, exactly, the classic profile of a Crohn’s patient. Typically, we are firstborns, of immaculate housekeepers, from homes with no pets, breastfed only a short time or not at all, and we live in first-world countries. Consider, for a moment, the total lack of germs my body had to fight as a child: with no siblings messing up the place till I was almost three, no dog messing up the place till I was eight, and with mom Cloroxing my messes as quickly as I could make them, my immune system rarely had a job to do. And in America, it simply wasn’t (and isn’t) fashionable to nurse a baby, though we now know nursing is a huge immune-booster. In fact, I learned that in third-world countries – where people live over dirt and under thatch, with all varieties of animals coming and going at will, and where they nurse till age two or three – autoimmune deficiency diseases are virtually UNHEARD of!

So, with my newfound knowledge, I have embarked on a healthy new lifestyle (or rather, I’ve justified my negligence to date). I’ve always had a dog in the house, but now I see all that hair and drool as a beneficial part of our wellness program. I vacuum only enough to keep the dog hair from carrying away our sweaters. I dust every few months. And the kitchen spills, the dirty bathrooms, the soil ground into the tiles by the back door, they’re simply workout opportunities for my kids’ antibodies. Hopefully, this rebellion against my Dutch upbringing will compensate for any genetics my kids inherited from me. And scientific reasoning makes me feel so much better when my mother pops in for a visit.

You are what you read

I’m taking a break from writing. I just can’t seem to get any done in the summer. Instead I’ve taken up a challenge I set for myself last year. I’m reading through Shakespeare’s plays. Pray thee, what for, thou asketh? (Or, to quote my husband, “Why the heck would anyone want to do that?”) Because they are fascinating! Will was quite the humorist in his day. Okay, his tragedies get a little morbid, but his dialogue, once you decipher it, is beautiful, sharp and witty.

When I immerse myself in literature, it’s amazing how my brain begins responding in similar thought patterns. When a story is poetic, I find myself thinking in verse throughout the day. When it is heavy on word pictures, I see similes and metaphors all around me. And when the book is written in old English, I can whip off some pretty great dialogue, as my kids are quick to testify (and complain).

“Mom, the cat puked on the floor.”

“Alas, the vile brigand! Spendeth he the morn in a haze of dewy slumber whilst I bend my back to labor. And lo, when at last such floors shineth as the nooning sun, even as the polished pate of a balding man, whence creeps yon creature of evil intent to spew foul victuals amongst the cleanly tiles. Surely as thou favorest him, wench, as thou value his life, cleaneth up his mess.”

It’s been great fun to watch my kids roll their eyes as they work out the meanings. And when they ask how long till I’m done with Shakespeare, you should see the long-suffering sighs as I tell them, “four plays down, only thirty-four more to go.” I didn’t mention the book is due at the library in fifteen days. Why waste such a classic opportunity?

But alack, whence passeth the numbered weeks, yon volume must journey forth to its dusty abode. And then must I turn my quill again to mine own composition. Whilst time remainth, however, mine offspring shalt suffer much the weary words. 🙂

Sleeping Bear Dunes

“Mom, did God make all this stuff?”

My five-year-old and I were standing on the shore of Lake Michigan this week, looking out over the blue, blue water toward North and South Manitou Islands. To our left rose the yellow, towering sand bluff so famous in Michigan legend. To our right, the emerald shoreline of Sleeping Bear Bay curved in on itself before stretching away to Pyramid Point. Above our heads the sky glowed brilliantly clear, with only an occasional cloud dragging patches of deep green through the water beneath it. The scene took my breath clean away.

“Yes, honey, God made all of it.”

“Wow.”

With that one word, my son captured the wonder, the amazement, the humbleness I felt as we stood on that sandy beach. Our world is filled with such places; mountain valleys, harsh deserts, waterfalls, tundra, quiet forest glades. It stretches my mind to its limits and beyond to consider all the beauty God has created. And I’m absolutely confounded by all the ways we’ve invented to explain it away.

Some, like the old Indian legend of Mishe-Mokwa and her two bear cubs, I dearly love for their story and creativity. Who doesn’t fight a silly tear when the mother bear drives her babies into the lake to escape the forest fire in Wisconsin only to have them drown a few miles from the Michigan shore? Who doesn’t admire her loyalty when she sets herself down on the sandy shore and waits for them until the sand of years covers her up? Who doesn’t rejoice when the Great Spirit raises two islands as a memorial to the cubs’ courage? It’s a beautiful, touching work of fiction that has become part of our Michigan identity. But I don’t know one person who really believes it.

The Big Bang story, on the other hand, has followers so dedicated they’ve passed laws to keep all other ideas out of our schools. It’s simply another legend – a modern one – and not nearly as appealing as the Indians’. I wonder if, in three hundred years, anyone will still believe it.

Intelligent Design hits closer, but it still falls far short of the truth. God has fashioned a huge, beautiful world for us to enjoy. He’s proclaimed his majesty in the heavens. He’s announced his goodness in the seasons. He’s displayed his creativity in the mountains, the forests, the tundra, the Michigan lakeshore. Paul tells us, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (Rom. 1:20).” God has shown himself to us through his creation, and we keep missing it.

But this week, as I stood on that golden shore with the sun pouring down and the sand crunching under my feet, with a few Petosky stones jiggling in my pocket and my son’s hand warm in mine, God’s image was all too plain. And like my son, the only thing I could think to say was:

“Wow!”

Slow Learners

Anybody else have a slow learner in their family? Clinically called a strong-willed child, the words “stubborn,” “aggravating,” and “thoroughly unreasonable” also come to mind. Hokey, pokey! If my four-year-old (I’ll refer to him by his nickname, Little Buck) been born first, he would have been an only child. As it is, we stopped with him.

He’s sweet as can be when life flows along according to his wishes, but the moment it takes an unplanned turn, look out! Kicking, screaming, crying, pouting, banging…he practically BEGS for a beating. But if I applied “The Captain” (our affectionate name for a particular wooden spoon) at every opportunity he handed me, I’d go to jail and he would be dead. He just doesn’t learn the first time around. Or the second. Or the third…

For example, when Buck outgrew toddler food, I began insisting he eat the meals I made for the rest of the family, but Buck has strong opinions of his own. When he balked, I didn’t fight him. Instead, I wrapped up his meal and put it in the fridge. When he got hungry, I’d take it out and set it in front of him. It worked beautifully with my two older, compliant children. Today, they’ll try anything I cook. Not Little Buck. After three days of absolutely refusing to eat, he was lying on his bed, puking, fevered and dehydrated. He just wouldn’t learn! I finally made the kid a peanut butter sandwich and came up with a new stategy. Now if he chooses not to eat, he gets nothing till the next meal, and no snacks for two days. He’s probably healthier for it, because it’s not uncommon for the days to compound till he’s two weeks straight without junk food.

Bedtime is another everlasting struggle. If he goes to bed willingly, he gets a radio turned on and the door open. Enough incentinve? Apparently not, as he screams himself to sleep several times a week closed in a music-free room. You’d think that after being put to bed in the same fashion approximately 1,500 times, Buck would learn he can’t win this one. But, no, every evening is a new challenge.

Then there’s that never-fun lesson of responsibility. One of our house rules is, “if you made the mess, you clean it up,” but after four years, Little Buck still hasn’t learned that rule also applies to him. Bikes, toys, videos, special activities are routinely withheld until Buck has finished his job, but even still there have been a few times he’s held out till the very end of the day, when the rule changes to “if mom has to pick it up, it’s going to get thrown away.” Not once, not twice, but several times Buck has lost treasures forever because of his own stubbornness!

And so life goes on with my strong-willed child. I’m a little grayer, and I have more wrinkles than when my other children were breezing through these same lessons, but I’m comforted by the conviction that my persistence is saving my son from an eventual prison sentence.

Who Was Squanto?

Most folks know of Squanto (Tesquantum) as simply the Native American friend of the Pilgrims, the one who taught them to plant and hunt, who helped assure the bounty they celebrated that first Thanksgiving and mediated peace with the local tribe. But how did this young Indian brave come to speak English so fluently? And why could he understand and relate to the white man so well that he chose to live among them? The answer lies in his not-so-well-known past.

Squanto’s history is rather sketchy and the matter of some debate, pieced together from a variety of memoirs, reports, letters and such, but the story that emerges is remarkable. His name first appears in 1605, when he was kidnapped by an English explorer, along with four others, and brought to England as a novelty. No one can pinpoint his age with any certainty. Perhaps he was a teen.
His activities in England are unrecorded, but it seems he was treated well. He learned the language and was probably used as an information resource and possibly as a guide for other explorations of the New England coast. He certainly knew Captain John Smith, that abrasive hero of the Jamestown colony, as it was Smith who returned him to his native village in 1614.

Shortly after his return, Squanto was again captured, along with several other natives, by one of Smith’s underlings and taken to Spain to be sold as a slave. He was rescued by some monks, with whom he lived for several years, receiving instruction in the Christian faith. He made his way to England, where it appears he was used again as a guide and interpreter, before finally being returned home in 1619.

But tragedy struck his village during his absence. A plague, possibly smallpox, had wiped out his entire village. One year later, the Mayflower landed at the exact spot, and the young man who had spent so many years with Europeans chose to befriend and live among them.

There are some who have seen the hand of God working out the details of the Pilgrims’ welfare long before they chose to cross the ocean, even likening Squanto to Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt only to save his family years later. I tend to agree. Even Squanto, it seems, may have believed it, as his dying wish two years later was that he might “go to the Englishman’s God in heaven.”

Originally posted Nov. 2009

The First Thanksgiving

Everyone has heard the nutshell version of the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving feast with the Indians. Ever wonder what really went on? Let me take you back several hundred years…

England was still feeling the influences of the Renaissance (a European surge of learning and relearning) and the Reformation (a Christian movement to reform the church). More common people were reading, and the printing press made the Bible more readily available – and in English. The Church of England had recently broken away from the tradition and power of the Pope. “Puritans” hoped to purify the church further, and “Separatists,” (our Pilgrims) were the extremists in this movement, creating their own congregations. However, King James, hoping to avoid conflicts among factions, had made the Church of England the only legal church. The Separatists suffered fines, imprisonment, beatings, loss of businesses, even death for their principles, so as a group they chose to leave England.

Holland was extremely tolerant of such matters, so the congregation settled there, but after eleven years their children were becoming “Dutchified.” Hoping to preserve their heritage, they gained permission to settle in Virginia in the New World, not far from Jamestown, the only surviving colony to date.

They procured two ships, but one was deemed unseaworthy, so 102 courageous Pilgrims, less than half of which were actually Separatists, crowded onto the Mayflower, suffered a stormy, six-week autumn passage, and arrived the New World in November of 1620. They missed Virginia by a long shot, landing instead in Massachusetts, where there was no charter or rule of law. Before they disembarked, the settlers agreed on a temporary system of government, written down as the Mayflower Compact, which would serve until a new charter was granted by the King.

Of course November in Massachusetts is an unforgiving time of year. They had little food and no shelter. Already weakened from the difficult crossing, they struggled to build homes in the midst of winter snows. Also, pressured to find fur or timber to pay back their creditors, they explored their surroundings, often becoming drenched and ill on these excursions. Half their number died that winter, starving to death one by one, or giving in to the elements. They were buried at night so the Indians would not know how small their numbers had become. Out of necessity, survivors quickly remarried, and the many orphans were taken into new homes. No one was untouched by tragedy.

Yet their faith endured.

In the spring, nearby Indians made contact with the Pilgrims. An English-speaking brave named Squanto, who has his own remarkable tale, became the Pilgrims’ best friend, teaching them to survive in this new land – how to fish, where to find game, what wild plants were good to eat, how to plant corn. The Pilgrims, with faith that translated into actions, treated the Indians with respect and dignity. English and native forged a friendship that would last a remarkable fifty years.

At the end of this summer, with a wealth of food for winter, Governor Bradford set aside a day to thank God for his provision. Chief Massasoit and some of his men were invited, but NINETY braves showed up. Massasoit had to send them out to hunt for more food. They came back with plenty, and the feast lasted three days.

Usually, that’s the end of the story, but let me tell you just a little more, to further illustrate the remarkable faith of these settlers and the continuing faithfulness of God. The next year, the harvest wasn’t as good. And in late autumn two ships arrived bearing more settlers, including some of the Separatists left in Holland. (It actually took 10 years for them all to get to the New World.) Again, there was hunger, though not as deadly.

The third year, there was a terrible, long drought. The crops were dying, and it looked as if the coming winter would be another starving time for Indians and Pilgrims alike. The Indians performed dances and other rituals to please the Great Spirit, but no rain. At last, Governor Bradford called for a day of fasting and prayer. The whole town assembled outside, with the Indians gathered to watch. For fourteen hours they called on God, and He was faithful! Soon after, clouds darkened the sky, and for three days, a gentle soaking rain revived their crops. That November, they celebrated a second Thanksgiving.

Even this was not the end of their story. Squanto died that year, an unfriendly tribe of Indians threatened war, a townsman created all sorts of trouble with creditors in England, but the Pilgrims endured with a solid and real faith in a solid and real God. This month, as we follow their tradition, may we also follow their example.

Originally posted Nov. 2009