Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Gifts Returned

I sit on the sun-warmed pier and watch these two blond-haired, blue-eyed boys gathering rocks on the lake's edge and throwing them into the murky water. I have often looked at them and wondered what I did to deserve such beautiful, funny, sweet children. It only takes a moment for me to realize that I did nothing. I do not deserve them. They are gifts.

On days like Saturday, where Calvin contradicted every comment that came out of my mouth and Hobbes quickly picked up on his brother's whiny mood and joined right in, I still know somewhere in my core that they are precious. As soon as they are asleep, no matter how bad the day has been, I look at their small bodies and wonder how I have managed to be angry at so fragile a thing. They are gifts.

I cannot hold them too tightly. He who gave them to me knows better than I how to care for them. But I do not want to let go. It is my greatest battle. They are mine. I bore them. I feed and dress and comfort them. But they are not mine, not really. Because I cannot always be there to care for them, I have to entrust them to Someone who can, and I have to teach them to trust in Him. They are gifts. And the only proper way to receive them is with open hands. But that is so very, very hard to do.

I have been thinking about this giving back this week, as the blood flows and a gift that had barely begun to be mine is returned to the Giver. I do not want to give it up, but I am trying to be willing. But what if he asked it of one of these two, the ones I already know, the packages I have opened to find something more beautiful and creative and joyful than I ever could have imagined? I don't know. How did he do it?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Methuselah and Other Best-Loved Children's Stories

I'll be back soon with more substantive posts, including one about observing Easter weekend on the road. I have a lot on my plate right now and need some time to rest. In the meantime, you're always up for a Calvin story, aren't you?

Calvin is really into numbers lately, I mean REALLY into numbers. He is in a constant question asking stage, and almost all of his questions have to do with numbers, ages, weights, sizes, addition, and subtraction. Here is a typical string of questions. Imagine my (not-so) patient answers in between.

"What is 700 plus 700?...What is 99 minus, take away 72?...How big will I be when I am 27?...Will I be bigger than this house?...Will I be too big?...Will I live to be 27?...Why do you hope I will live that long?...Why do you love me?...What is 55 plus 55?...Will I live to be 110?...Why not?...I don't want to die before Jesus comes back, will I?"

Now imagine that all day long, over and over and over again. If you have toddlers or preschoolers, you understand.

Anyway, one day recently, in the midst of these questions, Calvin asked me if there was anything in the Bible about people's ages. I picked up a Bible and began reading Genesis 5, thinking he would quickly get bored and go play. I should have known better. The kid was enthralled.

"Wow, 912 years! That's a LOT!"

I have since had to read that passage at least three times. Don't get me wrong, I am all about Calvin learning from Scripture and being excited about the Bible, but I am struggling vainly to see what he can possible learn from this passage, other than some complicated arithmetic. Now what will we be onto next? Some of Matthew's "begats"? A little Levitical law? Measurements for the building of the temple? Really, who needs Noah's ark or David and Goliath when you have Methuselah.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Best News Of All

It has been an exhausting weekend on so many levels. We made a whirlwind trip to Atlanta this weekend for a wedding arriving home at 2:00 am so that we could be in our home church Easter morning. I am ready for bed, but I didn't want today to go by without posting my favorite Easter sermon. This is the Good News! This is grace, love, hope, peace, joy, forgiveness, life! This is what I needed to hear today, every day, but especially today. Let us enjoy the feast.

Alleluia! He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

The Easter sermon of John Chrysostom (circa 400 AD)
Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Monday, March 17, 2008

It's Such a Good Feeling

We have a dilemma in our house. I have already written multiple times about how much Calvin loves Cars. Unfortunately, this love has become an obsession. We have pajamas, placemats, eating utensils, sippy cups, action figures, books...You get the picture. Since my husband and I are both against product tie-ins in general and against the way our culture teaches children to be consumers so early, I am not sure how this happened. We just didn't let our principles and our actions line up, and we didn't let grandparents know about those principles. It happened so quickly, and it was so easy to buy Calvin a Cars item just to see the big smile on his face.

Now we have a decision to make. Hobbes is becoming obsessed with Thomas, and I already bought him a Thomas train (just the one car) for his birthday. We do allow our children to watch a bit of TV (lately more than I should be), and I don't mind my kids knowing about Thomas or Lightning McQueen or other age appropriate characters. But I think we need to break them, and me, of this tendency to become consumers of our favorite characters. More than that, we want their imaginations to be fueled by truly good stories and by the freedom to make up their own worlds. I am not sure how to change our home to foster this sort of environment without seeming cruel for taking away the boys' favorite toys and videos.

I was thinking of all of this today when the boys and I sat down to watch Mr. Roger's Neighboorhood. We actually watch this show more than any of the others, and today, I realized one more reason that I love Mr.Rogers so much. (I'll happily elaborate on all of the other reasons for you if you wish.) He took a ride on a trolley today and then started talking about his little trolley that he uses for make-believe. He said that children often ask him where they can get a trolley like his, and he tells them to make one -- NOT to call this number or go to this web address or go to your local Wal-Mart. No, he said to make one. He then proceeded to show the children how he might make one using a cardboard box, markers, and paper.

What a remarkably unusual moment in children's television that was, even twenty or so years after it was filmed. Mr. Rogers is as refreshingly counter-cultural today as he was when I was a child, perhaps even more. Watching that show always leaves me and the boys with such a good feeling, a very good feeling...

Now, I'd love to hear your advice on this area of product tie-ins and what we can do to change course in our home before we are overrun with Lightning McQueens. I wouldn't mind knowing how to break the news to Calvin that Mr. Rogers passed away some years ago, either.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Two-Headed Mommy and Other Deep Thoughts

More Calvinisms for your enjoyment:

In the car today...

"Mommy, can you read me Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist?"

"No, honey, I have to drive. I can't look at the book and at the road at the same time."

"But if you had two heads you could."

At lunch today, during a discussion of having the Holy Spirit inside of us...

"Can the Holy Spirit eat the bread in my tummy?"

Daddy's respone: "Hmm...Calvin, that's a hard question for Daddy to answer."

Mommy's response: "You'll have to ask Pastor D that one at church on Sunday."
(Have fun, D!)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Hello, my name is TwoSquare, and I'm a compulsive book finisher.

Congratulations to Kerry at A Ten O'Clock Scholar, winner of my "100 Books I Love" giveaway. Her name was drawn at random, and I am so happy to send my new bloggy friend the book of her choice from my list. Thanks to all of you for the amazing suggestions, some of which have been on my must-read list for a while and others I have never heard of. I'm excited to get reading.

In the spirit of Lent, a confession and a plea for help:
I have a problem. I am a compulsive book finisher. If I start a book, I have to finish it, no matter how terrible it is. I have this book that has been holding me up on other reading forever. It's really an interesting read, but it is so depressing that I have trouble getting through it very quickly. I have taken multiple breaks from it to read other books, but my pile of books to read is growing larger at an alarming rate while I barely seem to make a dent in this book. I have tried to just let it go. At one point I even lost it at my in-laws' house and didn't try too hard to find it. It has since returned to haunt me. I always laugh at my husband's ability to be in the middle of about a dozen books on as many subjects and rarely finish more than one of them. I'm starting to think he's onto something.

Why am I writing this? I don't know. Perhaps I am hoping I'm not the only one out there who has this problem...I mean, this gift. Perhaps I want someone to tell me it's okay to just let the book go. Perhaps I am looking for advice on how to get through a hard read quickly so that I can get onto other things. Honestly, I don't think I can just leave the book unfinished. It will probably haunt me to my grave. I mean, you're talking to the teenager who read every book she was assigned in high school cover to cover, even that horrible Red Badge of Courage. Oh, and college? I read every piece of literature put in front of me, good or bad, even if it meant skipping a night of beer and good music. I am just that way. I can think of one book that I didn't finish in the past ten years, and it was a piece of fluffy, fun fiction. Anything that at least tries to take itself seriously I feel required to finish.

Now you know. Can you help?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Graces Undeserved and Shared

Just two days left to get in on my awesome book giveaway! Don't forget to tell your friends!

My dear friend, Em, recently wrote a post about God giving "alleluias" on her Lent. (For those of you aren't part of a liturgical, Christian tradition, we don't use the word "alleluia" in our worship during Lent, the most somber part of the church year.) It does seem to me that, as I focus on repentance and discipline during this season, God's graces are being displayed everywhere. Even in a somber season of reflection, His mercies and love are abundant and joyous. Perhaps it is the exceptionally warm weather. Spring is coming early here, with daffodils and crocuses in full bloom, trees with buds preparing to open up, and flowering bushes displaying their brilliant colors. Perhaps it is the rain, so much rain, soaking the earth of our town, which has seen so little rain over the past year. It is not enough to fill the lakes to the top, but it is a start. Those things are a glimpse of the new life coming with Easter.

But there is more. As I think about my sinfulness, as I fast and pray, as I meditate on Christ's sufferings, what I see are His graces. Other than our family fast, my Lenten observances have been sporadic at best. When I do take time to meditate on the cross, however, I am not burdened by my failures, simply filled with gratitude at His unfailing love. I can never do enough or be enough, that is what grace is all about. His gifts are so abundant.

And so I give thanks. Thanks for sweet time cuddling in bed with my boys last night until we all fell asleep. Thanks for a husband who took the boys to their beds and let me stay asleep. Thanks for the smell of warm Lenten pretzels baking on a rainy day and for fun lunch conversations with my boys while we eat our homemade creations. Thanks for sweet Hobbes, falling asleep in my arms even though he isn't really a baby any more. Thanks for Calvin, who is learning to obey and be kind and even occupy himself so mommy has a few minutes of quiet time. Thanks for so many things.

And thanks to my new Anglican, blogging mommy friend, Kerry, who so kindly passed this award along to me, for my posts on saving the Appalachian mountains.

So I pass it along, to five others for whose purposeful words I am so grateful.

To Em, who blogs with the purpose of listening to God rather than forcing her own opinions or ideas on the world. Her posts are truly refreshing.

To Farrah, who shares so well her unique perspective on motherhood, the sufferings that God has walked her through, and her passion for keeping children and mothers close. (Her slings are also fabulous, by the way!)

To BlueMountainMama, who fights for our mountains so much more than I. And who also has lovely photos and posts that will make you want to visit Appalachia.

To Missy, who, so far as I can tell, seems to do everything with a quiet and purposeful heart, creating beauty in a simple, everyday life.

To Wonders for Oyarsa, who is seeking to read the Bible as God's great story, and doing a fantastic job bringing us along as he blogs about it.

Check out these lovely blogs, and may you find the graces around every corner in your ordinary, amazing life!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Calvin's Prayer

Don't miss my amazing book giveaway and my 100th post!

I just had to write this down somewhere to remember it. Calvin asked to pray at prayer time tonight, and he said the longest prayer he has ever said on his own. We have been working on "Create in Me a Clean Heart" as one of our Lenten songs, so some of Psalm 51 ended up in his prayer. All in all, it seems to be a pretty good prayer for Lent, if a little bold. Better bold than timid, I suppose.

"Dear God,
Thank you for all the wonderful things you've done. Don't take your Holy Spirit from me, forever and ever. And you have to forgive me for all of the bad things I've done. Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen."


Monday, March 3, 2008

100 Books I Love-A Giveaway

I finally made it! This is my 100th post, and since you are still reading, I assume I occasionally have something interesting to share. Most people tend to do a "100 Things About Me" list for this post, but I know that I would be too tempted to edit that to make you think I am cool. Instead, I offer you a much more insightful list. I figure you are what you read, so I am listing 100 of my favorite books in order to let you get to know me a bit better. After all, I am a literature nerd to my core.

The books are in no particular order, and they are not even necessarily my 100 favorites. I did make the list in the order it came to me (or in the order it was stacked on my bookshelf), so my favorites tend to be toward the top. You'll see there is very little contemporary fiction. I figure I have enough classics to catch up on, and if current best sellers are still around in 15 or 20 years, I'll read them. There are also some authors I definitely want to add once I have read them, including Wendell Berry and Graham Greene, to name just two. No more explanations, I'll let you analyze it yourself.

I hear you. You're asking, "Where's the giveaway, already?" Read to the end of the list (or skip ahead) to find out.

One Hundred Books I Love
FYI, I had all of these titles in italics, and the format was messed up. I am not about to go back and change all 100. English nerds (like me), get over it.

1. The Bible (ESV)
2. The Bible (KJV)
3. Absalom, Absalom –William Faulkner
4. Look Homeward, Angel –Thomas Wolfe
5. A Lesson Before Dying –Ernest J. Gaines
6. To Kill a Mockingbird –Harper lee
7. The Complete Stories –Flannery O’Connor
8. Canterbury Tales –Chaucer
9. Light in August –William Faulkner
10. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek –Annie Dillard
11. The Cost of Discipleship –Dietrich Bonhoeffer
12. Mere Christianity –C.S. Lewis
13. The Silmarillion –J.R.R.Tolkein
14. The Chronicles of Narnia –C.S.Lewis
15. Lord of the Rings -Tolkein
16. The Hobbit -Tolkein
17. The Song of Roland -unknown
18. Wild Swans –Jung Chang
19. Beloved –Toni Morrison
20. Prodigal Summer –Barbara Kingsolver
21. The Poisonwood Bible -Kingsolver
22. A Child’s Garden of Verses –Robert Louis Stevenson
23. God’s Smuggler –John and Elizabeth Sherrill
24. The Complete Works of Shakespeare
25. The Mitford Series –Jan Karon
26. The Big Stone Gap Series –Adriana Trigiani
27. Great with Child –Debra Reinstra
28. The Little House Series -Laura Ingalls Wilder
29. Killers of the Dream –Lillian Smith
30. Jane Eyre –Charlotte Bronte
31. The New Testament and the People of God –N.T. Wright
32. The Challenge of Jesus -Wright
33. Open Heart, Open Home -Karen Mains
34. Shadow of the Almighty –Elisabeth Elliot
35. A Severe Mercy -Sheldon Vanauken
36. The Making of a Leader –J.Robert Clinton
37. Girl Meets God-Lauren Winner
38. East of Eden -John Steinbeck
39. Candide -Voltaire
40. Les Miserables –Victor Hugo
41. The Brothers Karamazov –Fydor Dostoevsky
42. Crime and Punishment -Dostoevsky
43. My Antonia -Willa Cather
44. Gilead –Marilynne Robinson
45. Christy –Catherine Marshall
46. A Wrinkle in Time –Madeleine L’Engle
47. Middlemarch –George Eliot
48. Ordering Your Private World –Gordon Macdonald
49. Making Sunday Special –Karen Mains
50. Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret –Howard and Geraldine Taylor
51. Where the Wild Things Are –Maurice Sendak
52. Perelandra –C.S. Lewis
53. Surprised by Joy -Lewis
54. Orthodoxy –G.K. Chesterton
55. poetry by Tennyson
56. Cry, The Beloved Country –Alan Paton
57. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places –Eugene Peterson
58. Swallows and Amazons –Arthur Ransome
59. Cold Mountain –Charles Frazier
60. The Unvanquished –William Faulkner
61. Practice of the Presence of God –Brother Lawrence
62. River Town –Peter Hessler
63. By Searching –Isobel Kuhn
64. The Complete Calvin and Hobbes –Bill Watterson
65. When I Was Young in the Mountains –Cynthia Rylant
66. A Theology of Reading –Alan Jacobs
67. Kristin Lavransdatter –Sigrid Undset
68. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase –Joan Aiken and Pat Marriot
69. Charlotte’s Web –E.B. White
70. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle -Avi
71. Les Pensees -Pascal
72. Foolishness to the Greeks –Lesslie Newbigin
73. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle –Barbara Kingsolver
74. Queen of the Big Time –Adriana Trigiani
75. The Moviegoer –Walker Percy
76. Great Expectations –Charles Dickens
77. The Moon is Down –John Steinbeck
78. Mind of the Maker –Dorothy Sayers
79. As I Lay Dying –William Faulkner
80. poetry of Robert Browning
81. The Mother Tongue –Bill Bryson
82. Jesus in Beijing –David Aikman
83. Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe -Poe
84. Nathanial Hawthorne’s short stories
85. Poetics -Aristotle
86. The Secret Garden –Francis Hodgson Burnett
87. Winnie the Pooh –A.A.Milne
88. The House at Pooh Corner -Milne
89. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture –InterVaristy Press
90. Knowing God –J.I. Packer
91. Let the Nations Be Glad –John Piper
92. Pride and Prejudice –Jane Austen
93. Mudhouse Sabbath –Lauren Winner
94. C.S. Lewis Letters to Children –Lyle Dorsett
95. Till We Have Faces –C.S. Lewis
96. Thirteen Moons –Charles Frazier
97. Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds –Cynthia Rylant
98. On Stories –C.S. Lewis
99. The Misfit –Larry Lewis, M.M.

"Where is number 100?" you may ask. This is where the giveaway kicks in. Leave me a comment recommending a book that you think would complete this list. Submissions will be open until midnight Saturday, March 8. I will draw a name out of a hat on Sunday. The lucky winner gets the book of his/her choice on this list, provided it is in print and I can find a copy for $15 or less. Feel free to let others know about the giveaway.

Well, go ahead, already. Tell me what I have to read!