Saturday, January 17, 2009

windows of the soul

I'm just starting Ken Gire's book, Windows of the Soul. At first glance, it's a little more touchy-feely than a book I'd normally pick up. But the first chapter begins with an arresting Normal Rockwell portrait, Girl in the Mirror. There's a young girl sitting before a mirror propped on the floor, her mother's lipstick opened beside her, her doll askew on the floor as if she'd been dropped suddenly and forgotten, a magazine opened on her lap turned to a picture of Jane Russell. 

The girl is poised on the precipice of adolescence, not yet a woman but still a girl. And of course I can't help but think of my two daughters and how fast this world wants to grow them up. In two months, Audrey will eight. She's still very much a girl, living imaginatively with her dolls who, day to day, break their legs or arms or get colds and fevers. For Christmas, her absolutely favorite gift (besides the ice-skating lessons) was the $7 pair of doll glasses for her American Girl, and now she swears Elizabeth looks nothing like herself without her glasses.

She reads Anne of Green Gables and loves learning and repeating the eccentric words Anne employs with relish. "Camille, you are SO exasperating!" Her newest word, from the pages of The Little Princess, which we're reading together as a family, is "amiability." "Mrs. Dospoy (who is her teacher) is amiability," Audrey declares proudly. Well, good try.

Yesterday, Nathan said something theologically profound. His mind is amazing, how he teases out the implications of what I teach him and say. He wasn't excited about a family coming over to play - the boys are older, and he admitted to feeling intimidated by that. I explained that he needed to be friendly and warm, greeting them at the door by name when they came over. "But I can't do that," he said. Yes, you can, I insisted, especially with God's help. So we prayed together, he asking God to help him be friendly when they came over. Here's where it gets good. 

I ask him again, "So, do you think you can be friendly when they get here now?" 
"What do you mean? We just prayed about it." 
"Well, if I can't, it's going to be God's fault now."

Out of the mouths of babes. . .

I'll close with quote from the Gire book. 
"Windows of the soul is a way of seeing that begins with respect. The way we show respect is to give it a second look, a look not of the eyes but of the heart. But so often we don't give something a second look because we don't think there is anything there to see.
To respect something is to understand that there is something there to see, that it is not all surface, that something lies beneath the surface, something that has the power to change the way we think or feel, something that may prove so profound a revelation as to change not only how we look at our lives but how we live them.
Jesus lived His life that way, seeing beyond the pictures of the widow at Nain and the woman at the well, of the tax collector in the tree and the thief on the cross, of the rich man and Lazarus."

By God's grace, here's to a new day of seeing and of respecting the work of God in our midst.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Spiritual Warfare

Another great Sabbath, full of time with family and with God's people. I cried unexpectedly talking with one woman from church this afternoon. She's been through hell and back: her marriage fell apart when her husband, a respectable lay leader at the church, revealed his pornography addiction and infidelities with countless prostitutes and other women. Early on the morning of what would be the most painful day of her life, a woman knocked at her door. 

"I was praying today in my closet and God sent me to tell you that Satan is on assignment to destroy your family today."

Her husband abandoned her and her two kids later that evening.

Weeks later, she was listening to Tony Evans on the radio. He was preaching about spiritual warfare. "Satan wants to destroy and kill the people of God." In a matter of seconds, her car hit a tree and flipped over. Miraculously, she was unhurt, and as she climbed out of her car, a woman approached her. "Satan tried to kill you, but God saved your life." She repeated this three times and disappeared.

My acquaintance from church is a woman who's fought battles I can hardly imagine and who's come to the other side of the pain and stands to say that God is still good. Hers was such a powerful testimony and a vivid reminder of what we're learning about in church, that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil.

Monday, January 5, 2009


We're healthy again, thank God. It's Monday morning, and the reality of real life is hitting. The kids are back to school, Ryan's back to work, and I'm back to doing the day to day all by myself. There's a dull dread and anxiety about the routine, and yet I'm sure it will be good for us all. I sometimes find myself in an unexplained inertia on vacation. It was no less true this time - I told Ryan I felt like I'd caught a spiritual cold. With sick babies and the responsibilities of the holidays, I wasn't making time for reading the Bible and praying. The last several days have been better, and the difference is palpable.

Over the past couple of days, Ryan and I have been listening to a series of lectures given at a local church by a Wheaton College communications prof, Dr. Read Mercer Schuchardt. He studied under Neil Postman at NYU, and I guess his official area of expertise is what he calls, "media ecology," that is, the effects of media on our environment.

In many ways, he levels the age-old criticisms against media and technology that we've all likely heard. It isolates us, for one. But there's more to it than it. He talks about the pathologizing of our culture and its direct correlation with new technologies. Whereas we tend to think of these pathologies (e.g. depression) as "abnormal" responses, he talks of them as "normal responses to abnormal stimuli." What gives the most weight to his talk, I think, is his personal lifestyle choices: he does not own a t.v., personal computer, cell phone, or iPod. He doesn't facebook, text, blog, etc. His choices are what he would call his Christian resistance to culture.

He does not prescribe his choices for everyone, but he does challenge each of us to consider the following questions as we use our technologies.

1. Does this technology attract or repel relationships? 
2. Will it enrich my "present presence," or my ability to be fully here now?
3. Will it embody and incarnate me or disembody and disincarnate me?
4. Will it allow me to hear the still small voice of God or will it only contribute to the distracting din of cultural noise?
5. Will it increase true religion, that is, the care for widows and orphans?
6. Will it increase or decrease my attachment to and corruption by the world?

For the first time, I think, I've started to see how some of my use of technology has become a substitute for real relationships and even an avoidance of people. And his point is well-taken: the gospel message was incarnated, and that's got to mean something.

My first steps in response to the lectures were to give back the first season of West Wing we'd borrowed from friends and make phone calls last night rather than emailing.

We'll see what's to come.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

4:51 a.m. Andrew's crying, and he's crying hard. Fortunately, there's no fear of waking Colin. (We moved him into the office last night after another coughing/vomiting episode.  He's reacting to the antibiotic the doctor gave him, and now in addition to coughing his brains out, he's puking his guts up. Lovely.)

5:10 I make a bottle and arm myself with Tylenol. I'll try the Tylenol first. If that doesn't work, go for the milk.

5:25 I'm rocking Andrew in my arms. He jerks a few times, settles comfortably in my shoulder. I pray.

5:40. I try laying Andrew down to no avail. I give in and give him the bottle. 

6 a.m. Resolve to begin this day and pray some more.

I admit to feeling jipped. It's Christmas Eve, right? Isn't that supposed to guarantee a little reprieve from the day to day toughness of life? Doesn't God feel I deserve this? And there's that ugly word in our American vocabulary, "deserve." Talk about sending you into a spiritual tail spin.

I realize how much I label "suffering" is more likely "inconvenience." And I'm not so convinced that God's in the business of making sure that my life is as convenient as possible. Are my prayers going anywhere in days like these when my true intent is really, "God, make this day go smoothly," rather than, "God, make me more like Jesus,"? 

And then I'm reassured. God hears me, not because I pray right but because of the blood of Jesus.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Back by popular demand

Not quite. But thank you to some of my friends who've asked where I've been. I'm back. Well, no guarantees. I guess that's how it goes when you're the mother of five, two of whom have been sick for the better part of a month. The twins seem to have inherited my asthma genes. And so it goes that our days begin far too early with coughing, crying babies and slip away in the haze of breathing treatments. 

The holidays have wreaked near havoc on our already over-extended lives. First, Thanksgiving. Hours researching recipes for the PERFECT bird. For the first time, we hosted Ryan's family here at our house, and to be honest, all I had to shoot for was avoiding the annual call to the fire department. The turkey went in the oven around 9:30 a.m. with a shout out to the kids, "Pray for the BIRD!" The Lord does still answer prayer.

Christmas is three days away, and this entire month, we've been enjoying our traditional Advent readings, though it's never as picturesque as you imagine it will be. We're either both juggling babies on our laps, or one of us has disappeared upstairs for the bedtime routine of diapers and bottles. No matter the distractions, the kids look forward to reading every day. Even Camille, notorious for her inattention during family Bible reading, has virtually memorized every page, that is, with the exception of her answer to Ryan's question tonight. "To whom was Mary betrothed?" "I know!" Camille's hand shoots up. "The ANGEL!"

I'm hoping for some quiet moments in the days to come: to retreat from the relentless fatigue and anxiety of all there is to do to prepare for Christmas and to respond to the humility and grace of the Christmas story.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election night

The votes are cast, and Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States. It's 11:30 p.m., and I should have been in bed long ago. The outcome is hardly surprising, and I could have read the results in tomorrow's headlines. But there is something historic about tonight, and I had to feel a part of it. It's a night I'll look forward to telling my children and grandchildren about.

Obama's speech tonight resounded with hope, and like many of those who gathered at Grant Park, my face was wet with tears. No matter what we think of Barack Obama, we can remember the words of another black man, a pastor from a generation ago whose personal faith in Jesus inspired a dream. That we've elected a black man to the highest political office signals something profoundly good for America. 

I didn't vote for Barack Obama. And neither did I vote for John McCain. The arguments matter little now. What matters is the future. 

Monday, November 3, 2008

Moral Clarity

In the New York Times yesterday, there was an opinion piece entitled, "What I Will Miss About President Bush." Six people contributed, and the one that stood out most to me was the piece by Ari Fleischer, the White House Press Secretary from 2001 to 2003.  "Mr. Bush saw the presidency as the place to call the American people to big challenges - in morally clear terms. As his spokesman, I knew that many people would be uncomfortable with how easily he made such moral judgments. I also knew that many Americans welcomed his tough, direct and unambiguous moral clarity."

All day yesterday, I let those two words, "moral clarity," turn over in my mind. Ryan and I had a conversation on a walk yesterday afternoon about a difficult situation he has to handle at work. Someone has lied and doesn't want Ryan ratting him out. Ryan's integrity, maybe in a small way, is nonetheless on the line. We talked about moral clarity, this ability to see right from wrong and stand on moral principles.

I don't know how often we can expect moral clarity from our Presidents. I wish it could be so, but it seems that the political game is played by compromise and concession. But one thing I do know is that I, a follower of Jesus Christ, must be a voice for moral clarity. And probably even more importantly, I've got to be teaching our kids these clear categories of right and wrong.