Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Soul of the Diligent

The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing,
But the soul of the diligent is made fat.
Proverbs 13:4

Huh...a fat soul. The idea of a fat soul sets me pondering. I came across it once before this week. In Proverbs 11:25 God tells us the generous man will prosper. There it is, a note in little tiny type, "prosper" means a fat soul. Then again in Proverbs 28:25 the one who trusts in the Lord will have a fat soul. What would it be to have a fat soul?

At church on Sunday mornings, I stand far away from the doughnut table. I forgo the vanilla sugar in my coffee. I count the miles I walk by two's. I am exercising a great deal of discipline in the hopes of losing five, or even, one pound. Then exploding into this January of discipline is the word diligence. Only this is a diligence required to get fat. A roly-poly soul? Apply diligence. And generosity. And trust.

I looked up the word in the back of my Strong's Concordance. Guess what it means? Fat. This is hardly surprising. It's only used 11 times in the Bible, here are three. Once it appears in Deuteronomy when God says His people will eat, and become satisfied and then prosperous (in the NASB). That "prosperous" is the word fat; it comes after they are fully satisfied. Then, God says, they will forget Me.

Isaiah, who spoke beautiful words of Christ, also laid out a lot of ugliness, the just punishment for a fat people who had forgotten God. Isaiah used the word twice. Once to say the sword of the Lord would be "sated with fat." Once to say that after all the slaughter, the dust would become "greasy with fat." (Isaiah 34:6-7) Don't be fooled by the English. The word translated "fat" here is another word. The fat of a fat soul, is translated "sated" and "greasy." A sword, and the dust, fat with the fat of animals. A fat soul isn't just a little plump, it's more like saying it is obese. Completely, fully, totally, embarrassingly over-fed.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Psalm 23:5

Oh, to be a Hebrew scholar! The word for "fat" is in this verse. Can you guess where? Anointed. God has set a table for us. He has laid a feast. He asks us to come; come and eat. This is not subsistence fare. Mathew Henry calls it "enough for ornament and delight." Psalm 133 tells of oil poured out on the head, dripping down the beard, coming down onto the robes of the High Priest, Aaron. Pour out the oil until it drips to the ground. Fill the cup until it is overflowing. Make my soul fat. This is my prayer to God.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sailing By Ash Breeze

Nathaniel Bowditch was 12 the year of 1785 when he was apprenticed to Hodges and Ropes, owners of a ship's chandler shop. He had already been forced to leave school two years before, to work with his father as a cooper. Now, at 12, the latent genius gave up all hopes of studying for Harvard and looked forward to nine years of bookkeeping. The crush of poverty stole his dreams and seemed to consign Nathaniel to a life of the ordinary.

We are reading Carry on Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham, an almost-historical novel. On Nathaniel's first day at the chandlery the voice of the mocker tells Nathaniel he is becalmed, a life full of promise now like a ship at sea without wind for the sails. Then the voice of the wise reminds Nathaniel that when a strong man is becalmed he "sails by ash breeze." A strong man pulls the oars, made of ash, and begins to row. Mr. Bowditch sailed by the ash breeze, after a full day of work, by candlelight, teaching himself algebra, calculus, Latin and French. By the end of his life he had made significant contributions to science and the study of navigation and was offered Chairs at the colleges he had never been able to attend. Carry on Mr. Bowditch is one of my favorite children's chapter books and sailing by ash breeze is the reason for that love.

Here I am, waiting. Waiting for the perfect house, or the perfect garden dirt. Waiting for my children to grow. Waiting for my husband to give me time to pursue my goals. Waiting; becalmed. When becalmed a strong woman sails by ash breeze. I am pulling the oars, setting small goals for myself that rely on no eventualities, only on getting up and rowing. I am focusing this January on being a better wife, a better mom, a better homemaker, a better seeker of God, all around better. I am focusing on self-discipline, nothing new, only improved. Sailing by ash breeze seems a perfect motto.

The mocker tells Nathaniel Bowditch, "nine years is a long time. You'll get mighty tired of sailing by ash breeze." I've been here before: trying to retrain myself, focusing on what's good and right. A lifetime is a long time to be a better person. The question isn't whether I can keep it up through January. The question is, can I learn to make these choices habits? Can I row until God sends the breezes to fill the sails? This morning, laying under the covers, I was "mighty tired," ready for a holiday, after three weeks.

Today was the perfect day to read of sailing by ash breeze.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Together With Hannah

The photographer was the resident six year old - but I like them!

From the crowded, disorganized shelves of the used book store I pulled an old library copy of Thee, Hannah. When I stood at the counter to pay, the owner announced it too old to charge for and gave it to us free, with our other books. I intended Kara to read it by herself. I've already read it twice in my "career." But she asked so sweetly and it's hard to resist De Angeli's illustrations. Then, too, this girl is growing so fast our days of dolls and read-alouds are numbered.

Together we wonder at Friends who say "thee." We admire the simple dresses. We wish aloud for a doll's tea table, just like the one in the book. I think, silently, the bitter-sweet thought: soon there will be nobody to sit at it. Together we're delighted to find another girl who hates to brush her hair, and always looks like a scarecrow in back. Not alone, this is what we love to know.

The best things in life are free. Reading aloud on the couch and books so old no one else will buy them. These are my irresistible pleasures.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I Consider the Heavens

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?...O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth.   Psalm 8:3-4,9
I can't help but marvel when on a dark night I stand on the driveway and look up at the stars. I can't help but marvel and praise our Lord who made the starry host. I can't help but marvel and feel ever so small in this wide world and vast universe.
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  Psalm 19:1-2
 I marvel, but it is a half-witted amazement. When I look at the heavens I can only pick out Orion's belt. I rely on my eight year old, the budding astronomer, for information beyond those three stars in a row. I thought I knew Venus, but when we had an opportunity to look through a telescope, suddenly Venus had moons. Meaning, it wasn't Venus but Jupiter instead.

If I only knew the heavens, just a little bit, my wonder would multiply. Let's pretend that on a sultry May evening I looked up and could trace the outlines of Centaurus, joining even Ptolemy from the Second Century in seeing the centaur in the sky. As long as we're having such fun pretending, we'll pretend I can pick out individual stars within the constellation by their Greek names.  Naming off the Greek alphabet I come at last to Omega Centauri. Here is wonder, indeed!

As I stand on my driveway, head hung back, Omega Centauri appears to be one small star in the sky. But what causes me to marvel is that Omega Centauri is actually a Globular Star Cluster made up of something like 10 million stars. Simply traveling from one side of the star cluster to the other would take 230 light years. The density of stars within these star clusters is ten thousand times greater than the density of stars near the sun. If we lived within a star cluster, the sky would seem to have ten thousand more stars than it does when I stand on the driveway. One small "star," Omega Centauri, turns out to be millions, and is only one of hundreds of known star clusters. And all this is the work of God's fingers. He numbers the stars and calls them each by name; not the ones that twinkle on the driveway, but all the stars in the universe.

Our Lord calls us to know His joy. We run eagerly, thinking His joy is but one small light in the ink black sky. What if His joy is like a star cluster and once discovered there is joy ten thousand times greater? What if His delights number in the tens of millions and even some of those lead deeper into the unsearchable heart of God? What if the heavens are telling the glory of God? And He calls, "Come and enter into the joy of your Master."

You can see a Hubble photo of the Omega Centauri Star Cloud here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

His Work, My Safety

Ann at Holy Experience recently posted What's the Answer to Anxiety? in which she reminded me that John Calvin was no stranger to fear. As I have ever so slowly paged my way through his Institutes only one passage has left a distinct impression, the memory of a particular line.

Calvin was no stranger to fear. He knew real fears, this pastor who could write, "life is in a manner interwoven with death." But Calvin also knew something of imaginary fears, cords wrapped tight around the heart (or else he sat up late in bed, comforting his wife, taking notes).
Then, in what direction soever you turn, all surrounding objects not only may do harm, but almost openly threaten and seem to present immediate death.
Walk along the streets, every tile upon the roof is a source of danger.
Every turn, every tile. Rogue winds and pit bulls and wasp spray beside the bed for intruders. When I confide my secret fears to Bryan late at night, he laughs and holds me tight. As I recently read in C.S. Lewis, perhaps the lover most easily sees the absurd in us.  Imagine my relief when I discovered Calvin, the spiritual giant, had obviously given such careful thought to fear.

Of course, Calvin moved beyond fears to the relief and freedom we have in Christ. We are "confidently committed" to God and His providence. We can be set free from every care.
This, I say, is his comfort, that his heavenly Father so embraces all things under his power - so governs them at will by his nod - so regulates them by his wisdom, that nothing takes place save according to his appointment...
How comes it, I ask, that their confidence never fails, but just that while the world apparently revolves at random, they know that God is everywhere at work, and feel assured that his work will be their safety?
 "Give heed, " Calvin, the pastor, concludes the section. Give heed, my silly little heart, and see God everywhere at work. His work is my safety in a world that is anything but random. Look beyond the glowering skies and see the nod of the Lord who takes pleasure in His people (Psalm 149:4).

*All quotes are from Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book First, Chapter 17, Sections 9 and 10.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Can Do, Can't Do

Arden built with Wedgits this morning while the older kids worked on their math lessons. His self-imposed goal was to complete each of the cards with photos of increasingly difficult structures. Of course, about two thirds of the way through a "meteor shower" struck and after that is was less about accomplishment than about destruction. That's okay. I don't expect him to have an attention span beyond that of any other six year old.

When a new card was turned over, while he contemplated his first action, he would whisper to himself, "Okay, I can do this. I can do this." Then I tested him. I would gently tease that the next card might be too hard. Brimming with confidence every time: "I can do it." I would have hedged. Maybe. Probably. This amazing, confident, self-assurance isn't something he learned from his mother.

I also have an amazingly, confident, ready-take-on-the-world friend. I'll call her Amy. Right down to her email address, her personality is 100 percent consistent. "Amycando." I laughed out loud when she sent the first email. If I were to do something similar mine would read,
I'm tempted to feel sorry for myself. I'm tempted to think thoughts about God creating a useless person, and choosing a useless Christian. But listening to Arden this morning I thought maybe God just made us different. Different the way an optimist and pessimist are different. Or a spender and a saver. Or someone who is goal-oriented and someone who is people oriented. Left-brain, right-brain. You know, it's who we are and God uses all types. What if some of us are can-do people and some of us are can't-do people? Not that we're actually incapable, just when faced with a new problem or challenging situation, we wilt. Anyone else like that out there?

And think how differently these two opposite people would read Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Thoughts on Discipline

I thought about discipline as I was scrubbing the toilet. One task I never choose for enjoyment, though I always appreciate the end product, it is an act of will to begin wiping the dirty sides. Once a week isn't often enough; in a house with children, a clean toilet requires consistency. Discipline.

But the discipline learned by cleaning the toilet has other uses as well. Bent over the toilet I thought about the military. They know a thing or two about discipline. Picture starched underwear. I don't think anyone, at heart, believes there is innate value to a pair of starched undies. Still they ask, how can a man who can't even fold his underwear expect to lead others? It seems a valid question.

This disciplined faithfulness bears fruit in any area requiring discipline. For the New Year I opted (as usual) against resolutions. I thought of goals and came up with a list of new endeavors. Then I stopped myself. What I need isn't an ever expanding to-do list. I need the self-discipline to do well all the things already asked of me. If I can't even keep a clean toilet I don't need to look for anything else to do, I need the foundational lesson. Discipline.

Lest I make the mistake of assuming this discipline applies only to cleaning toilets, or losing weight, or waking up in the morning, God brought this quote to my attention:
"It has been well said that the future is with the disciplined, and that quality has been placed first...for without it the other gifts, however great, will never realize their maximum potential. Only the disciplined person will rise to his highest powers. He is able to lead because he has conquered himself."  - J. Oswald Sanders
I tell myself: no cheap grace that falls back on a claim of God doing it all. I must rejoice in a sovereign who promises "unblameable holiness" by His Spirit and requires my utmost. My utmost amounts to feeble efforts, and half completed promises. He requires discipline that, while utterly reliant on Him, tries again and again and again and again. And again. I wait for Him to move, and my will to fall into place.
"But I discipline my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified."                                I Corinthians 9:27
"...rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ." Colossians 2:5
"On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness;"               I Timothy 4:7b
I'll be working on this until I have disciplined my body and made it my slave. That will be a very long time. So long, in fact, that I can't even type the words without a smile of irony on my face.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Night of Words

I was like a little old lady this weekend. This was my confession when Bryan came home. Every night he was gone I walked the dog, steadied my steaming tea and walked upstairs to bed. It's not that I was tired. I intended to take full advantage of uninterrupted quiet.

I settled under the comforter with my books, my kindle, my knitting, my Bible study and my Bible circled around me. The next three hours were a kind of secret bliss.

When we used to watch TV in the evenings, three hours of reading in bed seemed like the dullest sort of self-discipline. While I knew it was good for me, and I always enjoyed a chapter or two before bed, a silent night of printed words asked too much of me. On those weekends when Bryan was gone, if I read one night, I rewarded myself with a movie the next. But now I have learned to love what I also know to be good.

In the quiet of the night, with a warm cup of tea, the book itself is my reward.

“It is pretty clear that the majority, if they spoke without passion and were fully articulate, would not accuse us of liking the wrong books, but of making such a fuss about any books at all.  We treat as a main ingredient in our well-being something which to them is marginal.  Hence to say simply that they like one thing and we another is to leave out nearly the whole of the facts.” C.S. Lewis

*I found this quote in George Grant's excellent post, A Literary Life.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cheating (Kind Of)

I said I wouldn't start any other crafts until I finished the scarf. But I lied - kind of. This was a quick craft. In typical fashion I underestimated the actual time this would take (not ten minutes, if you're wondering). Still, paper, a hole punch, ribbon and stickers don't take long.

The banner is done, hanging in the front hall. The wall paper came with the house, and like it our not, it's not going anywhere. Over time I've come to grudgingly admire it...a little bit.

I'm making progress on that scarf. Little by little. Nose to the grindstone, and all that.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

An Old Book by Lewis

I checked out an old copy of The Great Divorce from the college library here. I liked the surprise of turning to the back page and seeing the first due date: April 14, 1948. If the stamps don't lie, the book has only been checked out 14 times since then. Not one of the library's more popular titles. I'm sure it deserves more attention. I enjoyed the book for all the obvious reasons, it is authored by Lewis, but I don't like theological confusion. I'm confused enough. A literary imagining of the outskirts of heaven and philosophical speculation about time and choice leaves me uncomfortable. Still, I made note of several passages I liked. By all means read Lewis, but even more, the Word of God.
"...both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all this earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on earth too, will be seen by the damned to have been Hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, 'No future bliss can make up for it,' not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say 'Let me but have this and I'll take the consequences': little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death."
C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Friday, January 13, 2012

These Quiet School Days

 Bryan is out of town. We are waking up each day and doing what we know we must: school work. Sometimes when he leaves we play, proclaim the day a Make and Do Day. Make and Do Days are perfectly valid, but not quite so soon after Christmas break. Now we are quietly doing our duty. A little work here and a little work there yields big results over time.

A board game break after math? Absolutely. Skippity is Arden's new game. I like it more than he does. It's fun! Kind of like Checkers, but you fill the entire colorful board and jump pieces, trying to complete sets with pieces of each color. Then we get back to work. Time for my second cup of coffee and our history read aloud George Washington's World. I always claim the sunny corner of the couch. When we finish Sam looks aghast that I would ask him to write a paper. Two in one week?! He's shocked. We told him that's what we expect. I guess it is the enforcement of it that actually comes as a surprise.

Poor Ally. The rigors of high school require her to miss all the fun. But I can't feel too sorry for a girl who comes down for lunch each day genuinely excited about all she is learning.

Then this afternoon in their free time the three little kids made these animal tree (Styrofoam cup) forts. They're rather clever, but I would have appreciated them more if a fight over the animals didn't immediately follow the completion of the fort. Yup, I am counting down the hours until Bryan is home again.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cabbages and History Books

There is a tedious vacuity on the shelves of the children's section at the public library. I listlessly picked out one book after another, turned the pages then re-shelved it. I started with authors whose last names began with "F" and moved methodically along the shelves to "S."

Are there that many morally objectionable books in the childrens's section? A few, certainly. More commonly the books are cheaply illustrated, or worse, poorly written. There is only subtle variation between the tired, predictable plots. Bear goes to bed. Chipmunk goes to bed. Bear goes to kindergarten. So does chipmunk. Bear makes a new friend. Tractor makes a new friend.  Bear learns to share. Chipmunk shares. Tractor shares. Oh help! Rabbits not only receive a bowl of cabbage soup, they then plant a garden full of cabbages and share with the whole town. Ughh! Our society's moral compass righted by generous servings of cabbage soup, served hot until it is coming out of our nose. (I didn't like that book.)

My finger listlessly trailed the book spines until "H." There I picked out Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek by Deborah Hopkinson. At least, I thought, this is a book about a real person. At least, it doesn't pretend to be what it is not. Right there on the cover I read, "A Tall, Thin Tale." I figured I could live with a tall tale, just not one involving cabbages. (But I have nothing against cabbage.)

After dinner Arden and I sat to read. Abe and his friend try to cross a creek, Abe falls in, his friend fishes him out. This certainly won't be the cornerstone of anyone's history curriculum but the book is based on a tidbit of historical fact. I didn't care for the narrator speaking to the reader, though it was fun to read aloud. I didn't care for the reference to movie soundtracks or the rewritten scene. I did like the illustrations. I did appreciate a children's book that freely admitted, "For that's the thing about history-if you weren't there, you can't know for sure." Some of us are still learning that as adults.

Arden thought we were done. He had already begun preparing the next book. I still had one more page, the one announcing itself as the last page. And the moral. Not more moralizing!
"Listen to your mother and don't go near any swollen creeks."
 If you live, make cabbage soup for the friend who saved you. You'll be a better person. Not in this book.
"A mite weak, perhaps? Like Abe, a bit thin? Then how about this: Remember Austin Gollaher, because what we do matters, even if we don't end up in history books."
That is a moral far more refreshing than coleslaw, and it gives us more to chew on besides.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

January Knitting

Over the summer I pulled all my half finished knitting projects off the needles. I boldly cut my knitting with scissors. I threw it away. I wound leftovers into balls. I put it all in the closet. I shut the door.

Relief, that's what I felt. A deep breath. A freedom from the stress of unfinished work. What little free time I used to have seems to have slowly eroded, and knitting took the hit. Accomplishment might have felt better, but freedom felt good.

My sister in law knit a beautiful scarf this Christmas. While I am a Good-Enough-Girl, she's an admitted perfectionist. Her secret: she doesn't choose many hobbies, but in every chosen area she pursues perfection. This just makes me sigh. How could I choose four out of a thousand interests? I have so many questions to Google I can't even remember them all. Lately I've been considering economics. My former experience? Umm...none. Economics may be a victim of Time-budget cuts.

Or, how can I be a perfectionist when everything I make is fatally flawed? Perfectionism is a path strewn with frustration. Good enough is a safer route. My mom likes to argue that this in itself is perfectionism; but never mind my mom. She's a perfectionist too.

But, the scarf! With my sister in law's hearty encouragement, pattern in hand, I ordered the yarn. I cast on. I ripped off. I'm all the way to row four of my beautiful scarf. It's been three days.

I will,  however, be firm with myself. No more projects until this scarf is done. That is, no more big projects until this scarf is done.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Not a Cake Decorator

"I want a New York City cake."

I guardedly ask what he means. He's somewhat unclear. Vanilla. New York City. Buildings rising toward the sky. We discuss the birthday cake all day.

"I can't do that," I reply. "I can make it flat, like a picture." Because I am no cake decorator.

I mix up The Pioneer Woman's Best Chocolate Sheet Cake. Ever.

"Chocolate?" He asks, disappointed. Yes.

It was a delicious cake. I had it baked and frosted,with my dishes washed in 30 minutes. Easiest cake. Ever.

He peers through the oven window. "Will it puff up?"

"No, it will be flat like a picture."

"Oh, COME ON." Huh...he's passionate about that New York City cake. Helpful siblings plot elaborate schemes for propping up that flat-as-Texas-sheet cake. I remain steadfast. I am no cake decorator.

Later Kara and I were looking for a photo of the New York City skyline (as you'll soon see, it made little difference to the final cake). We came across CakeFiction and watched the slide show of hundreds of perfect cakes, even, yes,  a New York City cake. I feel like a terrible mom. But I can't help it, I am no cake decorator.

As a conciliatory measure I let him exercise his discretion over the sprinkles. And he smiled in the end.

Today at Hobby Lobby I glanced at the sign up sheet for the Wilton Cake Decorating classes. Just a glance. I'm no cake decorator, and I don't want to be one either.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


It turns out that one cause of sheer exhaustion is impending illness. If yesterday was slow, today was slower. We skipped math and read books in the sunshine. 

Kara and I also made time to put photos of her school year on paper we can add to her year end portfolio. It's an activity I usually save for June, but I had free Snapfish photos about to expire. (My brother was astounded - "You're ordering prints!" We're old school here.)

Kara was so excited she gave me a full oral presentation describing her half of the school year three times. The last time I warned her: I wouldn't be listening to all this again. Next time she'd have to do it for Dad. He has no idea what he's in for!

But I love how proud she is of all she has done and seen and experienced this year. Learning is incredibly satisfying.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I'm Tired


Done in.

Tuckered out.

Maybe it was all the stress of Christmas, or the joy. Maybe it was the thousands of miles traveled. Maybe it was late nights. Maybe it is a body that still thinks it is on West Coast time. Maybe it was 15 hours in the car. Maybe it was too much fast food. Or too much time with the kids.

I'm dragging today.

We started school. Laundry was almost caught up, presents were almost put away, and the meal list for the week was made, so we started school. A math book was lost. Brains were slow. By the end of the morning we had finished less than 2 hours of work. I hurried to the orthodontist after lunch, but I had read the calendar wrong. There was no appointment today. We have to go back in the morning to have a broken bracket fixed. And I just sent out my Christmas letters.

People all around me are talking about New Year's resolutions and goal lists for 2012. Groan. I want to go to bed. The ads are full of plastic containers, urging us to keep our resolution of an organized home. I fought just to make myself put away the Christmas ornaments this afternoon.

I'm not depressed, just tired. If that's what vacation has done to me, how can I get up tomorrow morning? Acts 3:19 says:
Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;
 No wonder that was my favorite verse yesterday. I need times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The View From Here

You can just see the Golden Gate Bridge rising above the fog.

Our travels are almost over. It's good to go and good to go home. Right now the idea of home is tantalizing.

The girls and I have spent our vacation free time doing origami. We've been working through YouTube videos by Daily Origami (this is the first lesson). There are 595 videos by Daily Origami. Should keep us busy for a while. We like it so much we might keep it up once we're home.

Next time I post I'll be back in humble Arkansas, and glad to be there.

Happy New Year!