Wisdom

I was reading in Proverbs this morning. I don’t really like the book of Proverbs. Yes, it has a lot of good things to say, common sense things, righteous things, wise things. It’s the delivery I don’t like. I’m a novelist. I like to go into the Old Testament books and read chapter after chapter in the historical stories. I like to pick out themes, judge cause and effect, study characters, ponder creative word pictures, and read up on the cultures in which the stories take place. Proverbs, on the other hand, delivers punch after punch in a short number of verses. It’s too much for me to take in and chew on at once. Too many themes, too many individual thoughts. Too much information. I have to limit the amount I read at one time or I’m completely overwhelmed. So I just read one chapter today.

I must have read chapter 8 twenty times in my life, but I don’t ever recall absorbing verses 22-36. This is Wisdom speaking. The author uses personification to help us get across his point. Wisdom is portrayed as a woman calling out to men from the top of a high hill. Here are some of the points she makes:

The LORD possessed me at the begining of His way,
Before His works of old.
I have been established from everlasting.
From the beginning, before there was ever an earth…
When He prepared the heavens, I was there,
When He drew a circle on the face of the deep,
When He established the clouds above,
When He strengthened the fountains of the deep,
When He assigned to the sea its limit…
When He marked out the foundations of the earth,
Then I was beside Him as a  master craftsman,
And I was daily His delight…

Did you catch what the author is saying here? God created wisdom before he created the heavens and earth. It’s been established from everlasting. And he used this wisdom in the construction of his cosmos. Wow! I mean, I already know from basic science classes that the universe is ordered according to natural laws. The planets orbit in a certain way, allowing us to measure time with accuracy. Elements behave in predictable ways. Everything is structured according to unchanging laws that provide us with a sure, stable reference in which to live. We take many of these laws for granted. The sun will rise. Certain things will float; others will sink. We will not float away into space.

But God also established moral laws. Laws that come with blessing if they are followed and judgement if they are not. The proverbs are filled with warnings about good and evil, of what will happen if we choose one over the other. At the same time, our natural rebellion screams out, “I have my own mind. I want my own way. I’ll make my own choices.” That is happening today. America is full of these objectors. They reject God based on their own reason, their own faulty understanding, their own disbelief. God does give us the freedom to choose as we will, but these are laws. They have sure consequences just like natural laws. If you leap from a cliff, you will hit the ground. If you put a plastic bag over your head, you will die of oxygen deprivation. If you reject God, there will be judgement.

Lots of people today are also crying out, “What kind of God would dictate our behavior? How can he bring judgement on his creation and still be righteous? That sounds pretty hateful and bigotted to me. Who is God to demand our obedience?” But we forget he has a pretty massive claim to authority. He is the creator of all things. He organized the laws. He knows the natural consequences of them. And he must judge disobedience (sin), because to not do so would undermine his own authority.

The proverb ends with Wisdom saying:

Now therefore, listen to me, my children,
For blessed are those who keep my ways…

Blessed is the man who listens to me…
For whoever finds me finds life,
And obtains favor from the LORD;
But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul:
All those who hate me love death.

How Generous Are You?

Hands“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

We’ve all heard that saying. It’s one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. And it’s true. Ask any new parent at Christmas time. There is great joy in giving.

I’ve been trained to give. Give to charity. Give to church. Give to others less fortunate than me. Give to needy children around the world. I’m good at it, and it’s fun when my gifts are well-received. But I’ve found out recently that I’m not very good at the other end.

I’m a little proud. A little independent. I have that mentality that there’s shame in accepting charity. So I’ve not been a very gracious receiver. And that, I’m realizing, is a form of generosity in itself.

Last summer, some missionaries that we’ve supported for years came through town. We were good friends before they left for the mission field and we’ve kept in contact, so we went out for ice cream cones. They expressed a desire to treat us, but knowing how difficult it had been for them to raise support, I refused to let them pay, even when they insisted.

I realized afterwards that I’d unintentionally hurt them. Here we’d been giving to them each month for several years and they finally had the opportunity to reciprocate, to express their appreciation through a simple gift of ice cream. In my foolish pride, I’d stolen away their blessing. I’d hogged it all for myself. It was an uncomfortable lesson, but one I’ve taken to heart.

football

Recently, I was invited to a football game by an old friend. As kids, we had attended different churches and different high schools, but our youth groups held activities together, and we later went to the same university. Our high schools used to play each other, so we had developed a friendly rivalry that continued all through college–until we each married and saw each other far less. Now our kids’ schools compete against each other. After a twenty year hiatus, I’d been invited to attend the game.

When we stepped up to the gate, my friend handed the ticket guy enough money to cover my entrance fee. It felt a little awkward. I was holding five bucks in my hand and standing next in line. But when he handed me a ticket, I accepted it with a smile and thanked him. And he felt good about being able to treat an old friend. I’d learned a lesson about being a gracious receiver.

So how about you? How generous are you at receiving?

Your Value

jesus hugI know I’ve been putting my fair share of “book” posts on here the last few months. It’s never been my intention to turn this into another book blog. (I have enough of those already!) But I’m pretty heavily involved in the writing community, so my thoughts are bound to go in that direction occasionally.

Today I had someone comment on my author Facebook page. She had read The Little Brown Sparrow and let me know she enjoyed it. As I’m in the middle of writing a full length tween novel right now, I hadn’t thought about that little children’s story for quite a while. So I took some time today to see how it’s doing on Amazon. I now have 28 reviews posted! Of course, when it’s free, they’re much easier to collect.

I started reading through the responses and was struck by a common theme. All of these were adult reviewers, and usually they related their desire to read the story to their grandchildren or their Sunday school class. But several times I read that the reviewer himself had been feeling low, and my little story had provided a quick pick-me-up.

It made me think, a childish lesson in self-worth isn’t really a childish lesson at all. Even as adults our value is sometimes called into question, especially if we’ve experienced a tough failure, if we’re chronically ill, if we’re handicapped, or even depressed. An argument, a rebellious child, a hard day–these can all serve to bring us down. But our worth isn’t dependent on us at all. Not on our skills, not on our performance, not on our appearance, not on our health, not on anyone’s opinion. Our worth comes directly from the fact that we are made in the image of God.

So if you’re struggling with self-esteem, with feelings of failure, or just feeling down, remember who made you. Remember who you belong to. Remember you were created with a purpose. Remember you were worth enough to redeem with the blood of the Son of God himself. That’s a pretty great pick-me-up.

Of course, reading The Little Brown Sparrow won’t hurt, either. 🙂

Could the Holocaust Happen Again?

kristallnachtI’ve been reading a good deal about the Rise of Nazi Germany and its connection to the creation of the Jewish state of Israel a decade later. My newest literary journey started with the purchase of Exodus, by Leon Uris through a special BookBub promotion. That book was okay, but it compares unfavorably with the Zion Covenant Series by Brock and Bodie Thoene that I read years ago. So I’m picking my way through the series again. Both are works of historical fiction, but I’ve been looking up the characters and events as I go, investigating into the truth behind the fictionalized accounts. Both have proven extremely accurate. I also picked up the first of Winston Churchill’s Nobel-winning non-fiction series about the Second World War.

Once again I am amazed at Hitler’s diabolical brilliance and his utter contempt for human life. His corrupt policies brought about the death of millions of people. In the Thoene series, I’m just at the account of Kristallnacht, the “spontaneous” reprisals to the murder of a Nazi by a Jew. I’ve found no documentation to verify that Kristallnacht was planned, but it was so meticulously organized and so swiftly executed that few believe otherwise. Even the murder appears contrived, as the victim was suspected of disloyalty within the party. Hitler often played the masses with such schemes, getting exactly the responses he hoped for, from hatred and violence of the German people to fearful appeasement by foreign powers. That fateful night in 1938 violence against Jewish citizens and Jewish property rocked the whole of the Reich. Synagogues were burned, Jewish shops were destroyed and looted, thousands of arrests were made, and many were murdered. It happened decades ago, yet it still makes me cringe. It still makes me weep.

If you’ve looked my blog over at all, you’ll see I have a love and curiosity for things Jewish. They are the people through whom God chose to send his Redeemer. As a Christian, I feel a strong tie to them. They are the tree to which I am “grafted” through faith. Christianity grew up from Jewish origins. I enjoy studying their culture, traditions, and history. I try to understand the scripture through the people to whom it was first revealed. After all, Christ was a Jew ministering to Jews. With such a perspective, I am saddened by the fact that the majority of Jews have missed their own Messiah. And I’m horrified by the way they’ve been treated throughout history, often by evil men who claim Christianity but could in no way have known Christ.

After responding to the holocaust with grief, my second reaction is always wondering if it could ever happen again. I’d like to think not, but men haven’t changed. Perhaps that generation learned a lesson, but new generations arise all the time, minus the wisdom their forebears gained with experience. That’s why history always repeats itself. Sons, like their fathers, are fallen.

So could something of this magnitude happen here in America? We don’t have the same political climate as Germany did after WWI. They were crushed, defeated. They suffered from an overwhelming sense of failure and from severe economic reprisals inflicted on them by the Allies for causing the Great War. They were ripe for Hitler’s picking, for his soothing of their pride and his promises of grandeur and power for the Aryan race. But how did it happen? Quite simply, through the erosion of morality.

John Adams once said democracy can only work for a righteous people. A self-monitoring people. America has ceased to be that. Our government has eroded. Our society has eroded. Our work ethic has eroded. Our schools have eroded. Our families have eroded. Our values have eroded. All because belief in the full authority and infallibility of God’s word has eroded. America is in an immoral state.

Could such violence and intolerance happen here? I’m not predicting an outbreak or a target, but yes, it absolutely could. At our core, Americans are no different than Germans.

zion covenant

exodus

winston churchill

A Look Back

I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been feeling pretty low. Most of the time it’s pretty easy to forget I have Crohn’s. In fact, many of my friends didn’t even know. That’s because I haven’t had a serious bout with it for twenty-one years. But this summer it’s given me some trouble, and I ended up undergoing surgery this week.

This whole episode has gotten me remembering last time I dealt with this. Last time I was eighteen. Last time I was deathly ill. Last time surgery came only after five years of struggling with pain, malnourishment, diarrhea and “accidents” at school, bouts of depression, classmates who (usually unwittingly) made hurtful comments, missed school, missed social events, even missed high school graduation. Last time there were a lot of tears, a lot of questions, a lot of anger, and a few fears.

But last time I also had a section of scripture that came to mean an awful lot to me. It’s Psalm 116:1-9: “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. For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living.”

I’ve done a lot of rereading of those verses lately. God was faithful when I was eighteen. He brought complete healing so my college years were nothing like my high school years. But this last round of Crohn’s got me thinking how faithful he’s been in the twenty-one years since. I’ve gotten married, had three children and, apart from a few years of arthritis (another Crohn’s goodie), enjoyed almost perfect health. As the doctors have been telling me all week, twenty-one years with no bowel trouble is unheard of!

Of course there have been other blessings; those are just the biggies. But the last two decades haven’t been struggle free, either. I’ve dealt with some things I’d never want to travel through again. But looking back, through the good and the bad, God’s been faithful. He’s the bedrock I’ve stood on, I’ve cried on, I’ve danced on. And even as Iran seeks nuclear weapons, as socialism creeps over America, as scientists scream climate disaster, that bedrock isn’t cracking. It’s as solid as ever, and the promises He made are still true.

Twenty-one years ago, Crohn’s was the vehicle God used to first make me aware of his faithfulness, to demonstrate it in a way I couldn’t miss. Sounds ironic, doesn’t it? But it’s true. And this go-round I’ve been wondering if God meant this as reminder, a look back, a refocusing on Him, because that’s definitely what it’s done. Physically, it’s been a walk in the park compared to last time, though my responsibilities are much greater. This challenge hasn’t been more than I can handle, my husband’s been a peach, I have a wealth of friends pitching in, and I’m already on my way back to full health.

God sure is faithful, isn’t he?

So Many New Movies!

So, you’ve probably figured I’m anticipating the release of the new Hunger Games movie on March 23, especially if you’ve read my book blog. I have to share the trailer. UGH!  Doesn’t it just get you when Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place?  It’s a must-see. If you haven’t read the books, DO IT!  

But two more movies have popped up on my radar, both of which also release in March. If you haven’t heard of this one, I encourage you to watch the trailer for October Baby. It looks amazing. I believe it’s put out by the same folks who brought us Fireproof and Courageous. It also starts playing on March 23, 2012.

And finally, the ever-endearing Kirk Cameron has a brand new documentary titled Monumental releasing on March 30. It looks to be a journey to a variety of historical sites important in the creation of America and a look into the Christian foundation on which our nation was built. A foundation that has been forgotten and rewritten. Watch the trailer here. Now pick one of these fabulous films and go see it!

A Little Art

Today, let me begin with a warning: This post contains a good deal of pure, unadulterated bragging. If this does not frighten you, read on…

My good friend Shelly recently asked if I’d be willing to paint a desert mural on her young son’s bedroom wall. I agreed, with a small disclaimer: If I totally botch it, don’t ask me to help repaint the wall. You see, I do have an eye for shape and color, but my only artistic training has been one drawing class in high school.

Here's a head-on view of the corner.

But Shelly had more faith in me than I did, so I spend a Saturday cloistered in her upstairs room, listening to a Michigan football game on the radio. It was by far the most ambitious project I’ve ever attempted, but what came of those seven hours astonished me.

Her room transformed into Arizona!

The door opens agains the big rock on the left.

The colors in the bluffs, the texture in the sky, the distant mountains, the big purpley rocks, the final green details – I love it!

Of course it’s not perfect. I see several things I’d like to fix, particularly the shading in the foremost bluff. (An eight-foot canvas with a corner was a new challenge.) Even so, I turned that ugly brown wall into into a landscape exciting enough for any three-year-old cowboy’s imagination! (I hear Daddy and Grandpa have to routinely back into the big cactus for exaggerated pokes.)

If you stop by Mike and Shelly’s house, go upstairs and check out Caleb’s room!

What’s the Point?

I spent a few days in beautiful Presque Isle last week. It has the pine forest feel of “up north” coupled with the nautical allure of a Lake Huron harbor. As far as I’m concerned, a vacation spot doesn’t get any better.

While I was there, I indulged myself with a little local history, visiting the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Because it was such a busy crossroads for shipping routes, the area is loaded with wrecks. The Marine Santuary has some excellent interactive displays, including a recreated schooner you can walk through. I could have spent another hour or two reading through all the fascinating information, but my kids were getting antsy.

They reengaged, however, when we snorkeled an old ship that went down in Presque Isle’s North Bay. The Cuyahoga was a two-masted schooner that sank in the 1880’s, and its remains now lay in about fifteen feet of water. It was a little eerie diving down to touch something so long dead. My imagination, as you’ve already guessed, was working overtime. As I swam through the exposed ribs, I was thinking about just how long they have been underwater, and how forever death is. One hundred and thirty years is nothing compared to how long it will continue to rest there. But just as these thoughts were making me feel a little morbid, in the shadows under the decking I spotted a school of fish. Life continuing amidst death.

Presque Isle has a good deal of landed history, as well, including two restored lighthouses. Settlers began clearing land and setting up farms and businesses just prior to the Civil War. I took a bike ride to locate and read some of the green State Historic Area signs I had been noticing, and I paused to peek in the windows of the old Kauffman homestead, wishing I had arrived on a day it was open to the public. I also wandered through the Presque Isle Cemetery. A strange habit, I know, but cemeteries are always open, and I enjoy reading the dates on the oldest stones.

As I wandered, I happened to locate John Kauffman’s grave. It was one of the earliest, and not far from the gorgeous flowerbeds growing near the entrance. Again I was struck by the beauty of life continuing after death. The land has been frozen under many snows since Mr. Kauffman went to his rest in 1913, and its been renewed each spring. Life goes on without him, but I wonder what was he was like. What was he remembered for? Did he have any regrets? Did he live out any dreams? He’s been gone a long time, but for a little while, he lived. Did he find a purpose in his life? Did he accomplish it? Because in the end, that’s what really matters.

Visiting Mr. Kauffman made me do some reflecting. My time here is probably approaching the halfway mark, but I’m certain of my purpose, I’m doing my best to accomplish it, and I know the One who will remember it even after I’m gone. That’s pretty satisfying.

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!”

Treasures from my Life in a Sack

Yesterday after church, my family gathered for dinner at my parents’ house, where my mother handed me a brown grocery sack and declared, “I’ve been cleaning. Here’s your life. Take it home.” Inside, I found a wealth of mementos: the plastic “2″ off my birthday cake, report cards dating back to preschool, school projects, certificates of merit and citizenship, greeting cards, pictures I drew for my parents, swimming lesson reports, records of vaccinations, old track photos, a napkin from a birthday party, my graduation announcements, the program for my wedding. It was, indeed, my life in a bag.

Not being the sentimental sort, I’ve already pitched most of it. But I thumbed through the lot last night, and I uncovered three real treasures. First, I found my young author’s book from the second grade. Now that I truly am an author (almost), how fun it is to look back and see how very far I’ve come! And what an amazing visual it will be to share with kids on classroom visits. Similarly, I also found a picture book I wrote and illustrated in seventh grade. I have carefully cut the pages apart, scanned them, and preserved both books in laminate. The greatest treasure, however, is a card I have never seen before, dated eight days after my birth, from a great grandmother I never knew. In an unsteady script, it reads:

“You dear little great grand daughter. Welcome to the tribe and may it be a happy journey through the years as I am about to the end of the journey and trust your life will more than fill in the empty space I am making. With Jesus Christ as your guide, you sure will succeed. Your great grandma, Florence, May 10 – 73

I will be 94 on July 14 -73. God bless all your (unreadable, ventures? endeavors?).”

What a pearl I have found! What power in the written word! Thirty-six years after it was written, the love and faith and emotion bound up in that short note was finally received, and I confess, it brought tears to my eyes and stirred my imagination. Who was my grandmother, I wonder? I’ve never given her more than a passing thought. Suddenly, I wish I’d known her. What was she like? What was her story? Much of it is already lost to time with the passing of my grandfather, her son, but my father is still living. For now, I must content myself with his secondhand memories, but someday in heaven, if she doesn’t come find me first, I’m going to look that sweet lady up.

I have a “brown sack” started for each of my own children, with locks of hair, photos, report cards, and all the rest. Most of it will probably be thrown out with the trash in a few decades. But I hope my words – my stories and letters, my faith and my love – will pass on. Perhaps the ones that come after me will dig through the clutter and find a few treasures of their own.

Originally posted Nov. 2009.