Monday, January 31, 2011

Multitude Monday, Take 191

Thanking God this week for...

1260. a free CPR class at the local hospital
1261. opportunity to see my old midwife
1262. opportunities to run errands by myself
1263. Yukon Gold baked potatoes
1264. Jude's grinning and cooing at Daddy's face on Skype

1265. snow on the ground
1266. perfect timing while grandparents were here, so I could take Elijah out to play in it
1267. green sleds
1268. snow angels
1269. "a stick that was just right for smacking a snow-covered tree"

1270. interaction with the two adorable boys who live behind us, and their mom
1271. their sweet, shy smiles
1272. rosy cheeks
1273. mittened hands
1274. the way snow reflects sunlight

1275. nursing getting less painful
1276. Elijah's not being a "darter"
1277. Jude's happy, content temperament
1278. a visit from Elijah's old speech therapist
1279. the font Optima

1280. grace to avoid sugar, grains, dairy in hopes of conquering yeast
1281. transparency among women about our struggles
1282. a visit from an old friend
1283. long hug from Steve after several days apart
1284. Elijah's first time in Sunday school

1285. the heroic woman who serves sacrificially by teaching the three-year-olds
1286. Indelible Grace's song "I Asked the Lord"
1287. the satisfaction of filling up a journal and starting a new one

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Invisible Hand: Internet Price Comparisons

My newest favorite thing on the internet is Invisible Hand. It's an add-on for Firefox (also available for all the major browsers...but seriously, you should be using me, I was an IE holdout for the longest time) that does price comparisons for you.

When you're looking at a product available for purchase (on participating websites--but Amazon is a participating website and I start the majority of my shopping there), a thin bar shows up at the top of the screen saying either, "Save [percentage]! This item is [dollar amount] cheaper on [other website]" or "This is the lowest price." You can then click directly through to the competing retailer's site, or click a button showing other prices with those websites' shipping rates.

It rocks.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

MMM: What Am I Seeking?

Elijah and I are still plugging away at our memory work this month! He's got his first two verses down pat, but we're still working on number three, Proverbs 3:5. I'm about 80 percent of the way through John 1. Over the weekend I worked on verse 38:

"Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, 'What are you seeking?'"

I wondered if I dared ask myself the same question as I follow Jesus: What am I seeking? Am I following Him merely because I think He can/will give me what my heart is really after?

Shamefully, too often, yes. O Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Cause my heart to long for You alone. Make me a faithful follower of Jesus, not in pursuit of what nice things or experiences He can give me, but in pursuit of Him--a follower who is seeking HIM, who wants nothing more than to know You and love You and bring glory to Your name.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Multitude Monday, Take 190

Thanking God this week for...

1223. boys sleeping late
1224. Elijah's tenderheartedness
1225. time to catch up with a dear friend
1226. the grace, wisdom, growth, beauty I have seen in her life over the last year
1227. her new courtship

1228. memories of that time in my relationship with Steve
1229. God's mercy in spite of our mistakes
1230. news that another of Steve's cousins is pregnant
1231. time to snuggle Jude while he sleeps
1232. confessions, sins brought into the light

1233. a rearranged living room and dining room
1234. Elijah, Jude, Clifford and me in the rocking chair reading library books
1235. being so patient with me
1236. being slow to anger
1237. friends over for dinner and prayer

1238. grace to get up early
1239. crockpot pumpkin oatmeal that leaves the house smelling glorious first thing
1240. a Savior who beckons me to come empty-handed and washes me in His blood
1241. sweet receptionist at the chiropractor who is glad to care for my boys when I have to bring them along
1242. Steve's parents here for a few days

1243. Grandma playing Lincoln Logs with Elijah
1244. Grandpa snuggling with Elijah in the papasan chair
1245. Grandma getting giggles from Jude
1246. Grandpa mudding and sanding drywall upstairs
1247. little boys around a table at a third birthday party

1248. faces and hands covered with blue icing and chocolate crumbs
1249. freshly ground honey-roasted-peanut butter
1250. Skype with a handsome husband
1251. his having to travel for work being a rare thing
1252. free Papa John's pizza

1253. tennis balls bouncing the rhythm of drying clothes
1254. electric blankets
1255. grace to persevere through painful (again) nursing
1256. Ann Voskamp's book
1257. teaching me gratitude and cultivating more

1258. showing me the blindness
1259. helping me see

Friday, January 21, 2011


After thinking about the word "hem" in Psalm 139:5, I decided to look up the Hebrew and go deeper. And I was taken aback by what I found. Strong's definition of the word:
"to cramp, confine (in many applications, literally and figuratively, formative or hostile)"
I proceeded to look up the other Old Testament uses of the word and found that nearly every other instance was translated "besiege." The English word "besiege" means:
"beset or surround with armed forces for the purpose of compelling to surrender"
And Wikipedia had this to say about a siege:
"military blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by attrition [wearing down to the point of collapse due to loss of resources] or assault...Sieges involve surrounding the target and blocking the reinforcement or escape of troops or provision of supplies."
Well. That's a little different than a neatly sewn hem and my nice little thoughts about not unraveling...

I wondered: In what ways does God surround me and force me to give up, compel me to surrender? Not just in the beginning, when He captured my heart and redeemed me, but now?

I remembered a study on Hosea I did in college with some precious friends. We learned about how God, in His severe mercy, stripped Israel of all her resources, led her into the wilderness, naked and that He could allure her. Even, "Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall around her, so that she cannot find her paths" (Hosea 2:6). Ouch.

She was running after false gods, betraying Him with other lovers--so He simply, in a perfect, harmonious balance of justice and mercy, sped up the inevitable disillusionment and disappointment and loss that would result when those gods couldn't ultimately deliver. And then He showed her in that wilderness that He alone could deliver, provide, delight.

And so He besieges me. He sees me playing the whore, running everywhere but to Him, and He puts up the walls. He surrounds me. He blocks supplies from getting in when they would reinforce my trust in idols; He blocks me from escaping and seeking refuge elsewhere. He merely asks that I surrender.

Instead, to my shame, I often squirm and complain that I feel cramped and confined. I throw myself against the fence.

But the truth is that despite the word's range of definition, in this application, God cannot be "hostile"--because I am in Christ. Christ drank fully the cup of God's wrath; there is no wrath or hostility left for me, only love and grace. Therefore this siege must be "formative," an act of that same severe mercy that Hosea recorded. God wants to shape me into the image of His Son. So He hems me in, behind and before.

And when *I* am tempted to be hostile, or to accuse Him of hostility, I read the second half of the verse: "and lay your hand upon me." I trust that this is not a fist to crush me, but a hand of protection, of comfort and reassurance. It is the hand that was pierced by a nail on a cross. It tells me that He has confined me, besieged me, for my good and for His glory. It invites me to see this wall not as a fence that cramps my style, keeps me from better places, keeps good things out--but as a hem that keeps my life from unraveling and falling apart. His hand prompts me to declare again, to preach to my unbelieving self,

"The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance" (Psalm 16:6).

And so I thank Him. I thank Him that when I was dead in my sin and hostile to Him, He besieged me with His love and compelled me to surrender, conquered my wayward heart. I thank Him that I continue to be surrounded by Him, by His steadfast love and boundless grace. I thank Him for the hem, the wall, the fence that protects me from wandering off with idols and keeps me securely in His hand. I thank Him for ordaining the circumstances of my life, even when I think I would rather have different ones, in the way that He knows is the very best for me. I thank Him for His sovereignty, His power, His wisdom and His love.

"Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it" (Psalm 139:6).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hemmed In

"You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me" (Psalm 139:5).

What does it mean to be "hemmed in" by God? A hem is sewn into fabric to keep it from unraveling, fraying, losing shape and falling apart. A hem makes a garment exactly the right length.

As I reflected on this verse a few weeks ago, my mind went to "In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them" (Psalm 139:16), and then to Psalm 16:5-6 - "The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance."

God has hemmed me into this day. The mistakes of the past are secured behind me, covered by Christ's blood. The unknowns of the future are secured before me, resting in His trustworthy, sovereign hands. I have only to live today, here. Today is a day He formed for me before I was even born--and even better, His hand is on me today!

He has sewn up the boundary lines so that this day doesn't have to unravel, so that I need not have frayed nerves, so that I don't fall apart. He has expertly tailored this day--the right length, the right shape. I have only to trust Him in this; to cling to the hand that is upon me, that upholds me; to praise Him for His sovereign, faithful care; to thank Him for the present and realize that He is Present.

[see also: hemmed = besieged]

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MMM: Just Running Through

I don't really have a whole lot to report this week as far as memory work goes. I didn't spend any time on John 1 over the weekend, since we were with friends the whole time. So I'm behind where I could be, but I think I can still finish the chapter this month. Narrative is much easier and the two-verse-a-day pace seems to be working.

This is the part where I stop and say, if you are on Ann Voskamp's plan of two verses a month for Colossians in a year...don't be impressed with me, please. As I told a friend recently, I think there's a lot to be said for slow and steady (think tortoise and hare!). A fast and furious January pace works for me when I'm extra motivated, but there's so much benefit in lingering longer on smaller chunks and really letting them seep into your soul. However fast or slow you're memorizing, you're memorizing the Word of God! And that's the point.

Also, a faster pace works well for John--at least this part of John--because there are lots of verses that aren't particularly meaningful for extended meditation. I mean, I had a hard time turning "(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, 'Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ nor Elijah nor the Prophet?'" (John 1:24-25) into a reflective prayer.

This morning I discovered the joys of multi-tasking--pressed for time, I decided to do the first part of today's memory work (the out-loud repetitions) while getting my minutes in for an exercise challenge I'm also doing this month with some friends. It's hard to talk while you're running on an elliptical, but it was great to kill two birds with one stone. I guess you could say it gives a new layer of meaning to "run through your memory work"...OK, that was a terrible pun.

Elijah also got a little off track with our weekend travels, and his second memory verse (Matthew 6:24a) didn't come quite as quickly as Genesis 1:1. I think he's got it now, though, so yesterday morning we started on number three, Proverbs 3:5 - the familiar "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding."

How's your memory work going this month? Keep pressing on!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Multitude Monday, Take 189

We spent the weekend with some of my very favorite people in the world--Diane, who mentored me for two summers when I worked for Kingdom Building Ministries; her husband David, who gets along famously with Steve; and their three delightful children (plus a Chinese exchange student)! After arriving home late last night, exhausted but filled by the blessings of sweet fellowship (and WHY didn't I take a single picture?!), I'm feeling grateful to God for...

1204. the fact that He has both our families in Tennessee for this season
1205. an audiobook to make the car trip pass more quickly
1206. big dinner table filled with good food and surrounded by people I love
1207. the way Steve and David have hit it off and enjoy each other
1208. the privilege of seeing fourteen-year-old Micah grow up from the little six-year-old I used to babysit into a handsome, godly young man

1209. getting to celebrate Micah's birthday while we were there
1210. XinXin (almost 9) and HanYing (almost 7) performing songs from Wicked
1211. their patience with Elijah and inclusion of him
1212. the hours of enjoyment a few glow-sticks can provide
1213. games of Settlers of Catan and all the expansions

1214. more games--old favorites (Ma Jiang) and new ones (Agricola)
1215. late night conversations and early morning conversations and middle-of-the-day discussions on theology and musicals and everything in between
1216. time with Diane at Barnes & Noble while the guys watched the kids
1217. the privilege of knowing her deeply and learning and growing alongside her
1218. Jude taking a bottle so well for Steve while I was gone

1219. Steve's ability to see and articulate the gospel from the Old Testament
1220. flipping back through their guestbook and remembering past visits
1221. planning the next one as we said goodbye
1222. kindred spirits

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

MMM: I Am Not the Christ

Who's joining us in memorization this month? And how is it going?

First up, Elijah's progress report :) After working on Luke 2:1-14, these little one-verse bites are cake for him. He's got Genesis 1:1, no problem. This week we're working on Matthew 6:24a - "No one can serve two masters." One added bonus to working on these verses with him is that it gives me an easy jumping off point for talking about the Lord with him. I've tried to spend some time explaining what the verses mean--though I know it's over his head, he may be absorbing more than I realize, and I need the practice!

As for me, I've got the prologue--John 1:1-18--down. I've missed a couple of days but I think I can still finish the first chapter by the end of this month. I'm continuing my practice of journaling/praying through each day's verses, in addition to the out-loud repetitions, as I think it helps me go deeper and really reflect on the words rather than just rushing through a cerebral memorization exercise.

This morning I worked on v. 19-20: "And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." I noticed that while we tend to identify ourselves in positive terms, here, the most important part of John's identity is what he is NOT: I am not the Christ. Such adamance here--confessed, did not deny, confessed--making it absolutely clear that this is not the Messiah. And in emphasizing this, it heightens expectation that there IS someone coming who fills this role.

I wondered how I can and should echo John's testimony: I am not the Christ...

I am not the Christ. I am the mother. My job is not to save my children, to transform their hearts through the perfect discipline methods and make them follow Jesus. I am simply a tool in His hands to point them to Him, whom they need more than they need me.

I am not the Christ. I am the wife. My role is not to change my husband, but to respect and encourage and pray for him, trusting that God wants him to grow in Christlikeness even more than I do and knows how best to make that happen.

I am not the Christ. I cannot save myself. I cannot at any moment, before or after regeneration, earn God's favor and acceptance. I cannot change my own heart; I cannot walk in perfect obedience; I cannot make myself holy enough to enter His presence. My hope is not in my willpower, my knowledge, my success.

But I *have* a Savior, thanks be to God! There IS a Christ--Jesus the Christ--and He came for me! He had and deserved God's favor, and bestowed it on me. He sent His Spirit to breathe life into my dead soul and replaced my heart of stone with a heart of flesh. He walked in perfect obedience, and imputes that righteousness to me. He sits at the right hand of God and invites me to come boldly to the throne of grace. I am NOT the Christ--my hope is in the true Christ, Jesus the One and Only.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Multitude Monday, Take 188

Thanking God this week for...

1171. the gift of sight
1172. hilarious games of hide and seek with Elijah

1173. the exercise challenge some friends from church started
1174. conviction from the Holy Spirit about priorities, motivation, etc.
1175. hunger for God

1176. grace to get up early
1177. Ann's book comes out a week from tomorrow!
1178. Amazon gift card from my in-laws, to load my Kindle with new books
1179. white world outside
1180. long-overdue emails--sent and received

1181. requests to cuddle
1182. cuddle time with babies too small to request it
1183. awesome naps for babies and toddlers and mamas
1184. Elijah's rapidly growing proficiency at building Lincoln Log houses

1185. the charming way they sometimes list to one side

1186. grace to remember that Jude will not be little forever
1187. being warmly welcomed at my first Nashville Babywearers meeting
1188. time to shop alone while Steve cared for the boys
1189. the fact that our last name has six letters, making a frame for a recent gift easy to find
1190. vibrant jewel-toned purple and blue colors

1191. salads
1192. broken furnace fixed for $20, thanks to...
1193. an incredibly handy husband, who immediately diagnosed the problem, lit the furnace by hand with a propane torch the following morning, and bought a part that afternoon
1194. wiping felt peanut butter out of Elijah's hair and felt jelly out of my own
1195. not having to wipe real food out of his hair or mine

1196. sweet clementines
1197. Elijah's big brown eyes and impish grin sweetly asking for one
1198. the satisfaction of rocking Jude and watching his eyelids droop and finally close

1199. much, much needed prayer and talking time with a friend
1200. her listening ear and encouragement

1201. freedom to be completely real and honest with her
1202. His being ready and waiting to spend time with me whenever I decide I'm interested
1203. His pursuing me over and over, even when I reject Him and run after false gods instead

Friday, January 07, 2011

2010: The Year in Nonfiction

As a rule, I read a whole lot more nonfiction than fiction (though that hasn't been the case over the last two months). And I start a whole lot more nonfiction than I ever manage to finish. And I buy a whole lot more nonfiction than I ever manage to start. Alas...

The books I managed to get all the way through last year:

Counterfeit Gods – Tim Keller *****
Classic profound Keller. This book would have been more revolutionary to me if I hadn’t already read David Powlison’s article “Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair,” which Keller cites as a major influence. Still, Keller has a gift for illuminating Christ in Old Testament stories in ways I’ve never seen before.

Same Kind of Different as Me - Ron Hall & Denver Moore) *****
I started this on a Thursday afternoon and finished it Saturday at 2AM. It was nothing like I expected, but I loved it. Said “wow” out loud probably a dozen times through the first half, then sobbed my way through the last third. Powerful, stunning.

Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church – Philip Yancey ***/****
It's been too long since I read this one to remember exactly how I'd rate it. Some provocative quotes and thoughtful perspectives.

Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community – Chester & Timmis *****
I fell in love with this one in the first three pages. It's a challenging (sometimes impossible-feeling) manifesto for a different kind of church.

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda
– Romeo Dallaire ****
Tragic, maddening, horrifying, important. This first-person account of the commander of UN peacekeeping in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide details the apathy and incompetence of the other nations who failed to step in and stop the madness when they could have. It made me hungry to read more and to understand how and why we turned our backs on these desperate people...and determined not to ignore Africa.

Christless Christianity – Michael Horton ****
Excellent (though depressing) indictment of the modern church and defense for why I beat the gospel drum relentlessly around here. This book had a negative, even depressing tone, which was warranted--here, Horton simply identifies the massive problem; in the sequel, The Gospel-Driven Life (which I've yet to read, though we own it), I believe he suggests solutions. It got a bit repetitive toward the end, but was definitely worthwhile.

Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands – Paul David Tripp *****
This textbook for my counseling class was so packed with rich truth that I will need to revisit it. My only complaint was that it was long on examples from the author's formal counseling experience and short on examples to help the average churchgoer (like me) minister to others in informal settings. Still, lots of practical advice about applying the gospel to people's struggles.

The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth – Henci Goer *****
If there's one book I'd recommend to pregnant women, it would be this one. Goer skillfully analyzes dozens of studies related to various choices and common practices surrounding childbirth—and illustrates why you shouldn't just take your doctor's word for it or go along with the accepted way of “this is how we've always done it,” but rather think through “routine” obstetrical practices and consider what's really best for you and your baby.

When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself - Corbett and Fikkert*****
Hard, hard book. It caused me to completely rethink my understanding of poverty and my attempts to alleviate poverty. And it challenged me to take action, not simply think.

War of Words – Paul Tripp ****
This would have gotten five stars if it hadn't just felt like a repeat of other articles and lectures for my class. It's an excellent manual for understanding how problems in relationships need to be addressed not simply with communication techniques, but with examination of the heart.

Christ Centered Childbirth – Kelly Townsend **
I didn't have to read very much of this book before it became obvious that it was self-published. And in this case, the fact that no major publishing house picked it up speaks volumes. It struck me as cheesy and poorly edited. I skimmed quickly.

A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter – Miriam Rockness ***
This biography didn't really grab me. It wasn't bad--and Lilias Trotter is indeed a very admirable woman--but I just felt kind of "meh" about it. Some great, inspiring quotes, but mostly I finished it for the sake of finishing it and not because I couldn't put it down.

Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of Rest – Ed Welch *****
Compassionate yet truth-filled book that provided so much encouragement and ammunition for me in the fight against fear and anxiety.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures
– Anne Fadiman *****
A compelling, provocative exploration of anthropology, medicine, religion, parenting, and dozens of other topics that Fadiman weaves together in a heartbreaking story about a sick child. This book really challenged me to think and question my assumptions.

Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disability and the Lessons of Grace – Greg Lucas*****
I discovered Greg Lucas's blog a while back and was blown away by his perspectives on God and life as learned through parenting a profoundly disabled child. I was thrilled to find his book for Kindle. I was expecting the book to be a thorough memoir, but it wasn't; instead it was a very short book of "lessons of grace" with illustrative stories. Still I loved it--humbling and beautiful.

The Mission of Motherhood – Sally Clarkson****
It's hard to review this one since I read it over the course of several months. I found it wonderfully inspiring and copied down pages of quotes...but also found it a bit overwhelming and discouraging, too. Still, Clarkson is winsome and passionate and she paints a beautiful, if intimidating, picture of a mother's calling.

I dipped into several other books last year and plan to come back to many of them, including:
Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann
Whiter than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy - Paul David Tripp
Everyday Talk - John Younts
Calm My Anxious Heart - Linda Dillow
The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made - Mark Dever

I also read significant portions of two books I didn't manage to finish:

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era - James McPherson
I picked this one up after an awkward conversation with some Southern friends in which this Yankee girl stuck her foot in her mouth :) I wanted to better understand the South's perspective on the "War Between the States," and this is supposed to be the definitive, balanced book on the subject. I didn't realize it was going to be 800 pages. OY. I persevered through 557 of them before I stopped being able to renew it at the library and gave up. And to be honest I still didn't come away from the book understanding how the war was much different than what I was taught in school in the North. I might pick it back up this year...we'll see.

Childbirth Without Fear - Grantly Dick-Read
I finally gave up on this one. I found it insulting. Every time I picked it up I just kept saying, "he is so full of crap!" Nothing like a man telling women that childbirth doesn't hurt if you're doing it right. Ugh.

So that's the roundup of what I read last year. What was your favorite nonfiction read in 2010?

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Honest Truth About Me

I sent a letter with our Christmas cards this year, something I haven't done in a while. I enjoy reading others' letters, yet "this is what our family did this year" letters can so often sound braggy or cheesy. So I tried to write a letter that would emphasize God's grace to us and our gratitude for undeserved blessings.

After a brief paragraph about Steve's job change (he's leaving his mechanical engineer position and becoming a "Continuous Improvement Specialist" at work), it was time to sum up my own life. I wrote:
I have the privilege of caring for our kids and home full time, a gift for which I am admittedly not always thankful enough. But as many wise women have said, though the days may be long sometimes, the years are short! When all is said and done, I am so glad for the opportunity to devote my time and energy to my family, and it seems there is no end to the lessons God has for me to learn in this season of motherhood and the work He is doing in my heart. I try to keep writing, primarily through my blog (in fits and spurts), and have also loved taking a couple of distance education classes through the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.
Once the letters were printed, I started second-guessing my honesty. Everything I wrote was true...but did I really want to say it all, to scores of friends and family?

As I stopped to think about why I was hesitating, I realized that it was fear of man. I feared that the ambitious women who have outside-the-home careers would read that paragraph and think that I am wasting my life, my talents--that "I try to keep writing, primarily through my blog" would sound to them like a pathetic excuse for no longer exercising my mind and using my gifts. And I feared that the women who are over the moon about motherhood and aspire to nothing else besides the glorious calling of staying home would read that paragraph and judge me for not unconditionally loving it, would think me a terrible mother.

Pretty ugly, huh? Oh, how I need deliverance from the idol of man's opinions. I'm reminded of Milton Vincent's wise words on the subject, which I blogged about last spring. The truth is, I *am* wasting my gifts. And the truth is, I *am* a terrible mother. But that's not the worst about me: I am also an idolater, an adulterer. I am so unfaithful to my God, so full of wickedness, in fact, that the only way for my sin to be atoned for was for God's Son to hang on a cross. And that was a public display for all the world to see--so why should I fear that people might find out lesser wrongs I have done? The worst about me has already been broadcast far and wide. I must believe that *that* is truly the worst about me--my offenses against a holy God, not merely the bad impressions others have or the ways I fail on a strictly human level.

And then I must dwell on the good news. I am a lazy, wasteful squanderer; I am a terrible, inadequate mother; I am an idolater and an adulterer...BUT I have a glorious Savior! He has removed these sins from me as far as the east is from the west. He knows the gory details of the very worst about me--and loves me anyway. He has pulled me from the pit and adopted me as His child. And He is committed to cleansing all the remaining evil from my heart and making me like Christ.

By His grace, I can grow in using my gifts for His glory as this season of life allows. By His grace, I can be a loving and godly mother and point my children to Him. And whatever I am doing, however I am failing, I can make Him look great and satisfying and glorious when I freely, humbly admit my weakness and depend on His mercy and strength.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Merry Christmas Happy New Year from the Kannels

I put most of my Christmas cards in the mail on December 30. Nice, huh? I had a few excuses: a newborn in the house; a hard time getting good pictures; having to wait on the photo cards to arrive after the pictures had been uploaded and ordered. But I also figured, a January card is kind of better anyway. I mean, in December you're *expecting* cards in the mail. You find them in your mailbox more days than not. But a personal card in January, now *that's* a fun mail surprise. Right? Right?
Here's our best attempt at a family photo this year, taken with a tripod and a remote. Elijah is impossibly uncooperative with family photos these days, so I chose the one in which he had the least dumb look on his face and used a card design that featured multiple photos so I could also include a photo in which he looked cute :)

I love the look on Jude's face in this shot: Um, guys? You're letting him hold me upright like this, all by himself? You're going to make this quick, right?

Elijah has fallen prey to an old, old trick--and I have turned into my father. "Don't smile! Don't crack! Don't you dare smile!" I *hated* when Dad did that to me. I smiled every.single.time. So does Elijah.

And my sweet baby started smiling more just in time for me to capture it on film for the cards!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

2010: The Year in Fiction

I thought I read more books this year than I actually did. I guess that's because two-thirds of the novels I read this year were read in the last two months--all on my new Kindle. Love that thing, especially for reading while nursing or while running on the elliptical!

I spent most of the time before Jude's birth reading nonfiction; for a few months there, it was nothing but counseling books and childbirth-related books. But after Jude was born, and Steve got me a "thanks for having my baby" present, I dove into the world of fiction again, and thoroughly enjoyed the last four books I read.

I can see that the Kindle is going to be really good for my goal of reading more classic books. In fact, it turns out that five of the six novels I read were written more than 50 years ago. Most of the old classics are available free for Kindle because the copyright has expired, so I'm extra motivated to download them instead of having to drop the cash for a contemporary novel. I'm also super excited that Amazon recently enabled lending for the Kindle! So if you have a Kindle, we can lend books back and forth. Can't wait to try that with my mom.

Without further ado, the novels I read in 2010. My rating system:
***** - Loved it. Excellent, would read it again.
**** - Liked it. Very good, would recommend.
*** - It was okay.
** - Didn't really like it.
* - Ugh, this was terrible.

The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton****
I often feel stupid when I read classics. I also felt like I did this one an injustice by breezing through it, rather than studying it in a lit class with people who could tease out the profound themes that seemed to float just above my head. Still, after a slow start, I ended up intrigued and absorbed by this book—clearly Wharton is gifted and able to tell a story that's much more dense than simply an engaging plotline.

Perelandra – C.S. Lewis****
Lewis is brilliant as usual. I'm not typically into the fantasy genre, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one for the second time (had to reread it to substitute-teach for a homeschool co-op last winter). The beautiful way he describes a different world and the provocative statements that come out of characters' mouths illuminate familiar thoughts and theology in surprising, elegant ways.

Bleak House – Charles Dickens*****
Loved this. It was the only Dickens I've read other than Great Expectations in freshman HS English, and I was apprehensive, especially given the size. But I loved the characterization especially. I'd like to go back and read this one again to pick up all the things I missed early on in the story.

A.D. Chronicles #9: Ninth Witness – Bodie and Brock Thoene*****
One of the main characters was a little boy named Jude! That made me smile. This series continues to frustrate me with the diminishing length of each book for the same price...but continues to delight me with the writing. This fictionalization of Luke 2:41-52, Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to Jerusalem as a young boy and leaving him there, had many surprising twists--a very different perspective on Jesus "being about His Father's business." It was completely unexpected, but so fitting and satisfying.

The Jungle – Upton Sinclair****
I've been curious to read this ever since hearing about it in American History in high school. It was appalling, disgusting, heartbreaking--not only the descriptions of the meatpacking plants, but the story of the Lithuanian immigrant family who found their dreams crushed instead of fulfilled in America. Compelling, but the last few chapters were dissatisfying—I wasn't expecting it to turn into a Socialism manifesto at the end.

Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen****
Austen doesn't disappoint. This isn't one I'd reread, like Pride and Prejudice, but I still enjoyed the characterization and the satisfying romance.

What was the best novel you read last year? What should I add to my list for 2011?

Monday, January 03, 2011

Mega Memory Month: Starting at the Beginning

I'm off and running this morning in my memorization work, and thankful to Ann Kroeker for hosting Mega Memory Month again this year!

I'm also excited that MMM will have a new participant in 2011: three-year-old Elijah :) After discovering how easy it is for him to memorize at this stage of his life, when his little brain is a sponge, I've decided it's high time for us to start working on Desiring God's Foundation Verses: "strategically chosen Bible verses for children preschool through age five. The pack includes 76 verses designed to lay a firm scriptural foundation of basic Biblical truth that will pave the way for faith response."

The introduction to the Foundation Verses reads:
Children are never too young to begin memorizing Bible verses! Since we want them to learn to love the Word of God, we should start Bible memory at the earliest opportunity. Although their minds may not understand every word, our prayer is that their spirits will be touched. As their life experiences add to their understanding, these verses will come to mean even more to them. ...These verses have been chosen for the basic truths they contain. Along with prayer and interaction, they will provide a solid foundation for spiritual understanding. By the time your child has memorized them, a lifelong habit of memorization will be started and a foundation for faith will be laid.
So Elijah and I began this morning with Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." My Mega Memory Month goal for him is to establish a habit of working on one verse per week, and by the end of this year to have the first 50 verses memorized. Even if he can't actually recite all fifty in December, I trust that to have worked on them and memorized them temporarily will still be fruitful.

My goal for myself is a bit bigger...and honestly, a bit ridiculous-sounding. But Mega Memory Month gives me a lot of motivation and momentum--I'm not nearly so diligent about memorization when I'm on my own!--so I want to take advantage of the opportunity and aim high.

Almost all of my memorization work in the past has been in Paul's epistles and in Psalms. I decided it was time to dig into the Gospels--specifically, the book of John. I am by no means foolish or arrogant enough to believe that I can memorize the entire book of John in a year, or even two! But that's what I'm setting my long-term sights on. I hope to start at the beginning, meditating on and memorizing John's Gospel straight through, as the Apostle wrote it.

My goal at this point is to finish John 1 this month, and to get through chapter 8 by the end of 2011--which puts me on a three-year plan. Given that it took me ten months to memorize Ephesians, that's pushing it. But I'll never know what I can do until I try, right? Because memorization, by God's grace, comes so easily to me, I want to work to be a good steward of that gift. So I'm going to stretch myself and see what happens. I figure narrative will be a lot easier than Paul's letters. And I know no matter how far I get, every word of the Word that I hide in my heart will be beneficial.

So Elijah began this morning with "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," and I began with "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." My prayer for both of us, and for you (won't you join us, however big or small your project?) is that God will sustain and increase our hunger for His Word and nourish our souls with these Words of Life. I pray that He'll help us to work hard and be disciplined, that He'll open our eyes to see wonderful things in His Word, and that His Spirit will give us understanding as we memorize.

And then I'm asking: Lord, transform me. Don't let this be merely a mental exercise or even temporary emotional heartstring-tugging. Let it be life-changing. Let me encounter Jesus here, and not be the same. Make me more like Him as I get to know Him better. Fill me to overflowing with these life-giving words of grace and truth.

Head over to Ann's blog to sign up for Mega Memory Month, and check out the following posts for tips and inspiration:

Multitude Monday, Take 187

Though I've not managed to put up a Multitude Monday post for a couple of weeks now, I've been continuing to scribble lists of gifts in my journal. There are far too many to copy here, so this morning as I get back into the gratitude groove, I'll narrow my focus. After quite a bit of time away these last couple of months (between Jude's birth and extended visits to Ohio for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I think we've missed more Sundays than we've been there), I was especially glad to be worshipping with our church yesterday. This morning I find myself thanking God for...

1156. ugly moments in motherhood on Sunday mornings, reminding me how desperately I need the gospel
1157. songs of the saints--the ones that are my style and the ones that aren't, all filled with rich gospel truths
1158. men who read Scripture to us and speak passionately about it
1159. covenant membership
1160. a fantastic mothers' room, and the people who continue to work hard to make it comfortable and helpful

1161. the way our pastor preached Christ so beautifully from the story of Gideon in Judges 6--made me "wow" out loud
1162. broken crackers, a vivid representation of Christ's broken body
1163. tiny cups of juice, reminding me that I don't have to drink even that tiny a sip of the cup of His wrath, because Christ drained that cup to the dregs
1164. zuppa toscana and mac & cheese and meatballs and chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, and other foods that make up a love feast each week
1165. filling and sweet fellowship with brothers and sisters around the lunch table

1166. the question "How are you doing?" asked with a look and a tone that said, "No, how are you REALLY doing--I've prayed for you and I want an honest answer; I care."
1167. chocolate birthday cake, made by one of the fabulous cooks in our church for every.single.member's birthday
1168. babies, babies everywhere--the last baby of "hurricane season" arriving safely last week
1169. hospitality offered and received
1170. the knowledge that all this is a dim, dim reflection of the fellowship I will enjoy with my brothers and sisters worldwide when we are face to face with Him