Lauren and Mikaela--identical twins living on opposite coasts--blog about the story of life and their adventures in faith.

3.30.2010

Vignettes of a Symphony

It was almost four years ago, an amber-lit Monday evening, and Mikaela and I were impossibly early to the rehearsal. I was sixteen, a violin slung over my back, rehearsing for the first time with the Southwest Washington Symphony. That night I watched people chatting and slapping each other on the back with laughter—people who had known each other for twenty or forty years and played together for the same, and I wondered if I would ever get to know them. It’s been four years, but my twenty-two introductions of that night are starting to blossom into people that I smile and chat with in Fred Meyer’s, make music with once a week, and will be playing another concert with on April 9 (see sidebar for more info).

There was the Doctor, whom I met that first night while waiting nervously for Papa to pick us up. The place was beginning to be deserted, and this sweet old man toted his cello over to where Mikaela and I stood. “Do you have a ride?” he asked, and then waited gallantly with us almost ten minutes until Papa arrived (we didn’t yet have the pick-up time down to a science). During that ten minutes, I discovered that he was one of the founders of the symphony forty years earlier: he played trombone, but when he learned the cello he had to have a place to play, so he and some others started up the symphony. Then they had to have a place to perform, so they did the logical thing and refurbished the vintage theater in town. But of course! Every middle-aged man should start a symphony and a theater in his lifetime. We said good night when our suburban pulled up to the curb, but over the years I’ve discovered other interesting facts about the Doctor: he also experiments with creating new varieties of rhododendrons on his vast acreage. “It takes about seven years from seed before they flower, though, so I create the variety and then have to wait years before I can even see what it looks like,” he told me. A dear man, from his always-handy handkerchief to his small cello and black bow-hair, everything is just perfectly him!

And then there’s the Lady, as we used to call her before we discovered her real name. In the days before we discovered her name, we also had some misconceptions about her. For example, we somehow had the idea that she was strict. Mama was trying to get through the back door of the concert hall to see us, but a man warned her, “No, I just tried, and the Lady is guarding the door, so you can’t get in. Here’s how I’ll smuggle you in, though…” (-: An honorary member, the Lady doesn’t even play an instrument, but she recently won a statewide award for “Friend of Music in Washington State.” Her daughter plays in the symphony, and the Lady comes faithfully to every single rehearsal and concert with a smile of delight as she listens to the music and busily crochets fabulous creations.

Not all the symphony members are older—there are a few kids our age, but they usually cycle through before going off to college. One, a young man with well-gelled hair whom I had known for years since playing with him in a youth symphony, told me he couldn’t wait to get out of our town—he would never want to live here. I looked around at all the lovely people, instruments in hand, and couldn’t help feeling he was so focused he was blind: he didn’t know what he was missing!

The Mayor (currently a city council member) was a man I talked with frequently, without even being aware of this title, and when I discovered it, my eyes widened just a little. It’s handy, however, having a direct line to the Mayor every week, as evidenced by those who would voice concerns to him during the break. Once, the stand partner of the Concertmaster was gone, and the Concertmaster invited the Mayor to move up and sit with him. Despite the fact that the Mayor had played in the symphony since its founding, he shook his head vehemently and whispered, only half-jokingly, “No—I’m too afraid!” So, brave Mikaela took the spot instead. Speaking of the Concertmaster, he’s a lovely man, impeccable violinist, and just happens to be a gastroenterologist. Mmmhmm, that’s what I said. It took him quite a while to be able to tell Mikaela and I apart, and he would noticeably pause and say, “Um, the, uh, [insert last name here] Sisters…” Something with bangs finally did the trick, and he either fakes it really well now, or really can tell us apart, but I’ll never quite be sure which!

The Conductor is another man you really must meet. Always clad in some shade of black, grey, or purple, he is one of the rare breed of conductors who can actually sing the instruments’ parts beautifully (for all conductors try, but only a few succeed). French horn missing? No problem, Conductor sings away. Just last week he came to rehearsal a bit stiff, however, and revealed a huge white bandage around his middle. “So,” he says, by way of explanation, “I was conducting a 140-woman choir in Spokane last week, and they couldn’t all see me. So I stood on a chair, but they still couldn’t quite see me. So I stacked a chair on top of a chair, and that was perfect…until the end of the concert when I tipped my weight forward, crashed down, and the chairs toppled over on top of me.” He rubbed his bruised ribs with a grimace and promised to do a lot of conducting with his pinky finger. In pain halfway through the rehearsal, he pulled up a stool for himself when a wise-cracking bass player shouted: “No! Please don’t stand on the stool!”

With all these wonderful people, how could you not have fun? We naturally split into groups, sort of like Facebook except with real people, not virtual pictures. The baldheaded men always have an alliance and a running joke. The strings and winds, of course, tend not to associate with each other, for who could imagine such a thing? And the Concertmaster is always the most popular man of the day, with a circle of people wondering about bowings, sectionals, dress code, call time, parking, comp tickets, and too much more.

So there you have it: Vignettes of a Symphony. Which, when you come right down to it, is really just an Anne Shirley-esque way of saying: Confessions of a People Watcher. But in my mind, these vignettes are also etched in the sepia picture I once saw, one that was taken in the founding year. Each of these people were about forty years younger, with less gray in their hair and wisdom in their eyes, wearing circle skirts, cat-eye glasses, and slick suits; the men sported sleek, glossy hair, and the women a bouffant. The Doctor and the Mayor and many others I could mention were all standing tall, instruments in hand, smiles adorning each face in a familiar “is-this-the-last-one?” expression, their vignettes captured forever by camera.

Picture Credit

3.26.2010

Stop and Smell the Fake Roses

Our family has a strange tradition. Once or twice a year, on very special occasions, we go to our favorite Chinese restaurant in town, the only one to receive our patronage. We all sit around the huge round table, delight in the ambience, and then someone inevitably grabs the glass vase with the solitary neon, glittery, fabric rose in it. In a move about as cheesy as it gets, we cast furtive glances around the room to make sure no one is watching and then pass the flower around and sniff it. Upon sniffing, of course, we must loudly proclaim how beautiful it smells. And then, to make up for this tradition, we stuff ourselves with Chinese food. We laugh at this because it is so absurd that such a grotesque fake flower could in any way bring the admiration we pretend. But get me started on my top-ten list of fakes, and I won't even waste time pretending they smell good. For example, astro turf is maddening. Who in their right mind dreamed up fake grass, and who wants their yard to sprout prickly, shiny, plastic? It’s just wrong. And, while we’re on the subject, another fake that annoys me are beautiful hardback books that give you a tingling sensation up and down your back and make you salivate just at the thought of reading it, only to reveal upon your opening of the cover: “Abridged.” Major letdown. Henry Phillips, the man who pretended friendship to William Tyndale only to betray him to the death always has made my blood boil. Fake chocolate, 10 inch long fake nails that clack against the keyboard, fake smiles. Fake people.

No, I don’t have an issue with the Bionic Woman, but people who say one thing to your face and then turn around and do another are as annoying as getting an ice-cold glass of water with lemon only to take a long sip and discover the cup was dirty. Take Representative Stupak for instance. Or don’t, if you want to keep your blood pressure reasonably low. Jesus, I believe, agrees with this disgust at fakeness. Heading His list of fakes was the Pharisees: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:27-28)”

The problem, though, is that I notice and am so annoyed by other people’s inconsistencies and whitewashed tombs, but I am comfortable with my own, even as they are glaringly obvious to those around me. How maddening it must be to them when I put up a fake front, save certain conversations for certain groups, and wear certain clothes in certain settings. Where, then, is the line which divides politeness from fakeness? Where is the barrier between tact and hypocrisy? At what point does simply avoiding a conflict change to simply avoiding the subject? Ralph Waldo Emerson put it pithily: “Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins.”

Hypocrisy is changing your words and actions depending on the people who are with you. I’ve always been a get-to-the-point kind of person, and small talk secretly irritates me, for I wish we could sidestep all that and dig deep with things we really care about. But is our conversation with a non-Christian going to be the same as it is with a Christian? By necessity, it will be somewhat different, and there is certainly no point in bringing up useless peripheral subjects that will only cause conflict. But why should we praise Christ in one breath to the fellow believer and then discuss the merits of Daylight Savings Time with the non-believer? If anything, we should be more desperate to share the praises of Christ with the non-believer, for he is Hell-bound. Jesus knew that Judas was a fake, but He didn’t blink at teaching him the same things He taught his devoted disciples. And, for some reason, I have a feeling that John kept his camel’s hair outfit on no matter who he went to see. No pinstriped tuxes for him!

Hypocrisy, however, can also be saying the right things all the time but never following through with your actions. Jesus gave the parable of the two sons in Matthew 21 in which one son said he would not obey, but he did. The other promised to obey, but he did not. The only one that really obeyed, then, was the one who did, not just said. For this reason, Jesus said, tax collectors and harlots would enter the kingdom of God before the Pharisees. Why? Because Jesus values action more than all the fake genteel speech in the world, and the tax collectors and harlots actually put Christ’s commands into action, while all the Pharisees did was make small-talk among themselves about obeying, all the while their heart motives were wrong. At the time, this was hypocrisy at its best, but we Christians have since perfected the art of saying one thing while doing another to such an extent that we hardly know we are doing it.

Words without action are fake. Adjusting my actions, words, and appearance that are in line with Scripture to avoid embarrassment or discomfort is taking them out of line with Scripture, and it is also fake. It is entering the grounds of astro turf, making myself prickly, shiny, and plastic. It is molding myself in the image of others, rather than maintaining the image of Christ and encouraging others to do so as well. And that fakeness is about as disgusting as American cheese or a silver-plated ring that turns black.

3.23.2010

Keep the Change

Is anyone as sick of the health care bill as I am? Little wonder—Obama first unveiled his plan back in 2007—the “good old days.” Thus, I realize, I have been hearing the monotonous drum roll of President Obama’s “one-beat-wonder” for three years now. My response has run the full gamut of emotions, from confident scoffing, to bitter distaste, to annoyance, to wide-eyed disbelief, to nervous pleading, to depression, and then—always then—back to the recollection that my God is guiding President Obama to accomplish His sovereign will.

But as this bill is signed into law today—as the Democrats succeed on the century-old mission they have been chasing like a hound after a raccoon—it is much too easy to squint one hundred years into my beloved country’s future and see no future at all. I begin to feel like the Separatists in England, though that is just my dramatic inclination, since American Christians have yet to experience any persecution like the Pilgrims faced. Yet, I still feel an irresistible urge to separate from this runaway Toyota with the “off switch” jammed “on”. A lunar colony looks pretty inviting right now…any takers?

I begin to think like the brave benevolent Oskar on Schindler’s List after he rescues countless Jews from Hitler’s regime—“I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don't know. If I'd just... I could have got more….If I'd made more money... I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I'd just...”

And his friend replies, “There will be generations because of what you did.”

“I didn't do enough!”
“You did so much.”

“…I could have gotten one more person... and I didn't! And I... I didn't! I could have done more.”

This was the biggest pro-choice advancement since Roe v. Wade, and I witnessed it. I always did wonder—did those living through Roe v. Wade feel the outrage of the future millions who would die? Did those watching Roosevelt establish socialized programs realize the long-lasting repercussions? Did those cheering on the first income tax—paid only by less than 1% of the population—grasp the horrible precedent it established? And then I shudder to consider that I do not even begin to comprehend the echoes that will still be heard centuries from now stemming from the horrid beat of today’s drum.

I look back at Oskar, hunched over by his own guilt, and think that he did more than could be expected from one man. Will the harsh analysis of future history books say that of me? Of my generation? Did I do enough? I blogged. I debated. I prayed. I informed others. I emailed my representative over and over and over. There were times, though, I was too discouraged to email. I never did get through by phone. I didn’t march or protest publically. And I certainly could have prayed more.

But through the tears, the guilt, the foreboding, and the sick nauseous feeling that has stayed with me this week, I sit here and sip my tea. I am not too distressed to drink or eat or laugh or live. So do not comfort me, because I know that the distress I do feel will dissipate in time. I will not always feel so helpless, betrayed, and defeated. I say with Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice:

“Who should suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it.”
“You must not be too severe upon yourself,” replied Elizabeth.

“You may well warn me against such an evil. Human nature is so prone to fall into it! No, Lizzy, let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough.”

“Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore?....And I said, ‘this is my anguish; but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the works of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old….Who is so great a God as our God? You are the God who does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the peoples (Psalms 77:7, 8, 10, 11, 13b, and 14).”

3.19.2010

To Be More Safe

I have been reading through The Federalist Papers for some time now, and I have discovered them to be surprisingly compelling and pertinent. I find myself quoting them often: “Well, Alexander Hamilton said…” until those around me must be tired indeed of the Federalist Papers trump card! But one of my all-time favorite quotes from these papers comes from the 8th one. Alexander Hamilton observed, “Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct….To be more safe, [nations] at length, become willing to run the risk of being less free.” Oh the uproar he must have aroused! The American people above all others are the most jealous of their liberty, and yet Hamilton dared suggest that the one thing that could entice them to sacrifice that liberty was safety?

How right he was.

In the Civil War, we remained safe, but liberty began to crumble.
In the Depression, we pulled out of it, but only with the sacrifice of liberty.
And now, we may overcome the problematic health-care system, but at the cost of our last shreds of liberty. Yes, the American people hold onto their precious liberty until it will cost them their safety. We hold onto it until standing up for liberty costs our shelter, our food, or our very lives, and then we turn and walk away, leaving liberty on the chopping block.

“To be more safe, we become willing to run the risk of being less free.”
Christians do this, too.

In the moment when we silently stand before an unbeliever who has just said something that perfectly opens the door for a witnessing opportunity, we sacrifice our freedom in Christ for our comfort level and choose safety over liberty when we keep our mouths shut.

In the moment when we realize that God is asking us to do that, and we turn the other way, Jonah-like, choosing safety again over freedom, we put ourselves in bondage to Satan, all for the sake of the elusive safety and security.
In the moment when someone is being falsely accused, derided, or embarrassed, and we choose the safety of our reputations over the freedom that comes from doing right, we are fulfilling Alexander Hamilton’s words.

Liberty, you see, is a convoluted and misunderstood concept. We think that having liberty is having safety, but often having liberty is being put behind bars or shunned. And often, having safety of the kind America has is the surest way to becoming vulnerable and defenseless.

We think that liberty is something the government gives us, but it is really something that God gives us.
We think that dying for the sake of liberty is honorable, but we will not even stand up for the sake of liberty.
We think that liberty is a privilege for which we will mourn if it disappears, but it is really a responsibility for the disappearance of which we will forever be accountable. Benjamin Franklin said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Insert here truth and conviction with a helping of sarcasm: "Therefore thus says the LORD: 'You have not obeyed Me in proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and every one to his neighbor. Behold, I proclaim liberty to you,' says the LORD--'to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine! And I will deliver you to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth. (Jeremiah 34:17)”

What to do then if we are to avoid God's liberty to judgment? Alexander Hamilton challenged his people that “This is an idea not superficial or futile, but solid and weighty. It deserves the most serious and mature consideration of every prudent and honest man of whatever party.”
Paul challenged his readers to “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)”

I challenge you to confess the sin of the “comfort zone,” for it is usually a cover for apathy. I challenge you to dig deep and ask, “Is my safety more important to me than my liberty?” I challenge you to imagine what your stance would have been in the War for Independence, when men spurned safety for the sake of liberty in Christ and government. And I challenge you to choose today that you will spurn safety for the sake of liberty: “Give me liberty, or give me death!”


Picture Credit

3.16.2010

I Didn't Buy My Ticket Out of Egypt

This semester in college, I have been taking the course “God: His Word and Character I.” As I’ve read through one or more books of the Old Testament plus thirty chapters of Psalms every single week and taken notes on God’s character and authority throughout, I have grown so much. Reading Scripture in such an extensive manner gives me a wonderfully panoramic perspective, as if all along I had been looking through a microscope at a glowing orb, and now I step back and see a beautiful sunrise in all its vivid glory.

As I read Deuteronomy, especially, I just wept. God taught me what He was teaching the Israelites, and that was precious. When the Israelites’ sons asked them “What is the meaning of the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments which the LORD our God has commanded you? (Deuteronomy 6:20b),” God commanded the Israelites to tell them that they had been slaves to Pharaoh—as you and I were slaves to sin—and that the Lord defeated Egypt—as Jesus defeated sin—and that God led them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and amidst many miracles—just as God led me out of my old life and into a miraculous new life with Christ.

Recounting such miraculous history is good for my proud heart, because I tend to glory in the Promised Land and forget my humble beginnings as a slave. I like to remember verse six of Deuteronomy 7: “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.” But I often forget verses seven and eight: “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

And now we get to the part where I really began to cry. “Do not think in your heart, after the LORD your God has cast them out before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land’; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out from before you. It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore understand that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people. (Deuteronomy 9:4-6).”

Let me tell you—this Promised Land is a glorious thing. But as I bathe in milk and honey, stuff myself with grapes, and commune with God Almighty, I start to think that I’ve always been honey-scented, that I’ve always had this much vivacity, that I’ve always been this satisfied. In fact, with my milk-white skin, my honey-scented hair, my grape-red mouth, and my loving God, I start to think that I look pretty good. Who wouldn’t love me? Who wouldn’t want to save me—the poor, poor victim—from slavery? God may have saved me, but why wouldn’t He have saved me? Beautiful, lovely, gorgeous, me!

And then I read Deuteronomy 9:4-6. And I cry. Because, all of a sudden, a picture that I try to forget flashes through my mind. It is a sepia-toned depiction of the old me—cloudy eyes, body caked in mud and refuse, a gaunt figure with bones protruding, and matted, wolfish hair. The stench is so strong, I can smell it through the photograph. The attitude is so rebellious, I can detect it in the clench of my fingers, the purse of my lips, and the blackness of my eyes. And suddenly, I remember just how unlovable I was. I remember how I said to God, “Keep your manna! I had it good before you came! I ate—I drank—I made merry!” (see Numbers 11:5-6). I remember that God didn’t save me because of my madonna-like qualities. When everyone else pinched their noses, curled their lips, and turned their backs, God came and bathed me, dressed me, fed me, gave me joy, and gave me a lifelong mission to bring Him glory.

I live in the Promised Land now, but if you ask me, I’ll be quick to recount for you my days in Egypt. They were awful, sad, and despicable—but they bring that much more glory to my God.


Picture Credit
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

3.12.2010

24 Hours

"This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Psalm 118:24
6:20 My alarm rings an hour later than normal, for we had a late night the night before with a delightful cello quartet concert, and this week is the ominous, yearly, and much-dreaded "Shut Down" at Papa’s mill, meaning he works twelve hour days...so our usual morning family devotions are on hold for this week. But with the alarm, my very typical untypical day begins.
6:22 I roll out of bed, wiping the sand from my eyes.
6:23 I yawn and turn on my light.
6:24-6:45 My morning routine taken care of, I spend some quiet time with the Lord.
6:45 The phone rings and, perplexed, I run to get it. I’m not expecting a call until 7:30 from Mrs. D., a dear woman who is acting as “mentor” in a college class. Sure enough, though, it is her on the phone, but the early call is better for my schedule anyways.
6:50-8:51 I call Mrs. D. back on our phone so it doesn’t use up her minutes, and for two hours we discuss the character of God as seen in Psalms 1-30, and the authority of God’s Word as seen in that same passage and the book of Joshua. This class is very intense, but I am learning so much, and getting to learn from a woman like Mrs. D., who is passionate about God’s Word, is such a delight! Joshua is such a wonderful book, too--a veritable guidebook to victory in the Christian life.
8:51-9:30 I grab breakfast of yummy fresh bran muffins and a shower…this morning is going by way too fast!
9:30-10:30 I get in my piano practice—if we didn’t schedule people on the piano, it would be in use all day long! I get contrary motion scales and other theory exercises out of the way and work on my memory on Mozart’s Fantasy in D. Yes! I think I finally have the whole thing memorized!
10:30-11:30 I clean the kitchen and get ready for my day.
11:30-12 I sneak onto the piano once more for just a wee bit more practicing! (-:
12-12:30 We eat lunch—grilled cheese and top ramen. How’s that for gourmet? But it’s the kool-aid and the homemade anise cookies at the end that make the meal!
12:30-1:10 We scramble around, cleaning the kitchen, gathering books, shoes and coats—it’s rush hour at our house with preparations underway to leave for piano lessons.
1:17 Mikaela, Melanie, Susanna, Micah and I are off, and only a few minutes late! All of us girls take lessons, and Micah is along for the ride today because, with Papa’s strange schedule this week, we are going to have to take him to cello lessons after our piano lessons.
1:30-2:00 Being the nice sister I am, I agree to go on an errand to the library for Melanie during her lesson. Our library is a wonder—a beautiful brick structure built in the early 1920s, with a beautiful clock tower and three delicious stories of books. I check out a few things for Melanie and the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which several people have been harassing and even bribing us to watch but we just haven’t yet. I seem to check it out every time I go to the library, and every time, we just can’t find the time to watch it. Maybe it’s the Providence of God? (-: I also check out an old favorite of a book—Freckles.
2:00-2:15 I find myself with a few spare minutes, and I’ve been curious lately to see how my parallel parking skills are, since I haven’t actually had to parallel park since my driver’s test a few years ago. I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but I pull off onto a few side streets and practice some parallel parking! I nail three out of the four attempts, so I’m happy to discover that parallel parking must be like riding a bike—you never forget. But you never stop worrying about forgetting, either. A few minutes later, when I remembered that I would have to report this incident to you all, I fleetingly thought about simply leaving a blank space of fifteen minutes in my day…but I decided it would be edifying to you all to encourage you to persevere in your routine parallel parking check-ups. Or something like that.
2:15-4:10 I’m back at Mr. K.’s—our piano teacher—and spend the time during my sisters’ lessons doing schoolwork. During my lesson, I play on his turn-of-the-century Steinway grand piano, and it is delightful!
4:10-5:00 We take Micah to his cello lesson. His teacher’s German Shepherd jumps up on the fence to greet Micah, because last week we were early and Micah had time to lovingly scratch behind the dog’s ears. She watches in disbelief as Micah hauls his cello right past her without so much as a "Hey, girl, how are you?"!
5-5:30 We dash home and eat dinner--a smorgasbord of leftovers. Jonah discovers huge candy bars in the “prize box” and is excited until Mama tells him he can only have a particular section. A few minutes later, he brings the candy bar to Mama: “Can you show me a particular section?”
5:30-6 In less time than it takes to tell, the kitchen is cleaned, piano books are put away, shoes are once again found, and we are almost ready to leave for prayer meeting.
6:05 We were supposed to leave five minutes ago, but Papa is upstairs printing something, Jonah is desperately looking for his shoes (so apparently not all the shoes were found), and I’m cleaning out the sinks.
6:13 We’re finally on our way! Mikaela stayed home because her cold is only getting worse, and she decided that it would be better to get some rest. In the car, we chat about the day and I tell Papa about the hilarious cello concert the night before (in particular, this song).
6:30-7:45 Prayer meeting! Everyone is attired in heavy coats and gloves, for the thermostat in our church needs to be changed if we want heat on prayer meeting nights. Oh well, it keeps us lively and awake! One of my piano students, a little five year old, sees me and is excited—“Hey, that’s my piano teacher! Hey, Miss Lauren!” I grin at him, delighted at his exuberance, and we share some smiles. We sing some beautiful songs of worship to get our hearts focused on Christ (and enjoy hearing the cooing of a one year old as she lifts her voice with us!), and then share prayer requests. Then, we enter into a time of heartfelt prayer, worship, and intercession. This time is always so refreshing to me, and I come away energized and encouraged! At the close, we watch a short video from one of the missionaries we support.
7:45-8:15 Our church can never get together without fellowshipping! We chat for a while on every topic imaginable, and then head out into the cold night! We actually got some snow the day before, although it didn’t stick, so our weather right now is quite chilly!
8:15-8:50 We drive home, listening to Dave Ramsey on the way.
8:50-10:30 I do some school, unwind, and get ready for bed. Then, lights out, and Wednesday, March 10, 2010 is over! I hope your day was as action-packed, encouraging, and profitable as mine was! Until the next ringing of the alarm clock...

3.09.2010

Biblio Files

This weekend involved many highlights, from scrapbooking to gardening classes with Mama to the premier of a song by a new composer (and friend) to spending a lovely few days with our friend, Sarah. Sadly, I have no pictures to prove the weekend's existence, so I decided to focus on one small, short aspect of our time: Powell's Books. Seeing as the name alone strikes me speechless, allow me to copy their own description from the website:

Powell's City of Books is a book lover's paradise, the largest used and new bookstore in the world. Located in downtown Portland, Oregon and occupying an entire city block, the City stocks more than a million new and used books. Nine color coded rooms house over 3,500 different sections, offering something for every interest, including an incredible selection of out-of-print and hard-to-find titles.

The City's Rare Book Room gathers autographed first editions and other collectible volumes for readers in search of a one-of-a-kind treasure.

Every day at our buyers' counter in the Orange Room, we purchase thousands of used books from the public. Powell's purchases special collections, libraries, and bookstore inventories as well.

A few facts about the City of Books:

  • 68,000 square feet packed with books
  • we buy 3,000 used books over the counter every day
  • approximately 3,000 people walk in and buy something every day
  • another 3,000 people just browse and drink coffee
  • our parking garage provides space for 40 cars (ok, so there are bigger parking garages)
  • we stock 122 major subject areas and more than 3,500 subsections
  • you'll find more than 1,000,000 volumes on our shelves
  • approximately 80,000 book lovers browse the City's shelves every day, in Portland and via the Internet. So is our mother ship the world's largest bookstore? Hey, it may be bigger than your whole town.




While we were there, we eagerly picked up one find: Spring Came on Forever by Bess Streeter Aldrich who wrote one of my favorite books of all time, A Lantern in Her Hand. We looked at slim paperbacks of poetry by Christian poet Christina Rossetti (for the record, there is a disproportionately large amount of cute people in the poetry aisles). We searched for E.P. Roe, a rarely read author in the 21st century whom we discovered from our grandmother's book collection (start with Opening a Chestnut Burr if you want to try him). We also drooled over Gene Stratton Porter, Margaret Sidney (of The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew fame), marvelous editions of The Last of the Mohicans, centuries-old books by Saint Augustine, and gorgeous antique books in French (we couldn't read a word, but they were beautiful!).


Many years ago, we bought a book we had never heard of (What Katy Did, written in the 19th century by Susan Coolidge) at Powell's. After reading the book, though, we knew it was going to be a staple on our bookshelf. Coolidge unravels the tale of a rambunctious, awkward, quick-tempered girl who is the oldest of six motherless children (their father and aunt tend to the bunch). Katy loves her siblings and sincerely wants to guide them, encourage them, and be patient with them, but her own unthinking self always seems to get the better of her noble desires. Through a series of devastating events, however, Katy grows up and learns how to be best friends with her own siblings.

If some of these favorite authors and books are ones that you have yet to read, I highly encourage you to check them out! You may not be blessed to live near Powell's, but where there's a bibliophile, there's a way!

3.05.2010

For the Love of a Swirly Dress

This article is in long response to the suggestions of many of you that we write something on modesty, beauty, and style! Enjoy!

I must have been around ten years old when I bought my coloring book of Civil War Fashions. It was full of pen and ink drawings of huge dresses taken straight from the fashion books of the day, and it was a treasure trove to me. As I intricately and painstakingly colored in each dress, I vowed to myself that when I was a grown woman I would wear these sorts of dresses every day. I don’t. I have a closet very full of decidedly modern jean skirts and tops, but I’ve still found unexpected allies in my love for beautiful dresses along the way. There was the girl, dressed in a very trendy outfit, who shocked me by declaring that she wished we could all just wear hoop skirts and huge fluffy dresses. There was the middle-aged woman, never before seen in a dress, who wore a new one to a concert and declared that she just has to give a dress the “swirl” test before she can buy it. And who can forget Anne of Green Gables, a classic tomboy in her own right, who pined for a dress with puffed sleeves and nearly cried over it when Matthew gave it to her. Just what did God put in us girls that makes us giggle with delight to put on a beautiful dress? I don’t know how He did it, but He gave each and every one of us the love of beauty.

Sadly, although my “allies” in the love of beauty are prevalent, so is the twisting of that beauty. In fact, this perversion of beauty is not a new thing, for even several hundred years ago one can find dresses with twenty yards of fabric for the skirt and practically none for the top. This is downright sin and does little more than peddle a woman's body for all to gawk at. God created women to love how He made us and to love beauty (for He is the epitome of beauty!), but beautiful above all pretty dresses is a modest one: feminine, “swirly”, but covering. This is truly beautiful! John Piper addresses the purpose and Garden-of-Eden-origin of clothes poignantly in his article "The Rebellion of Nudity and the Meaning of Clothing":
“Our clothes are a witness both to our past and present failure and to our future glory. They testify to the chasm between what we are and what we should be. And they testify to God’s merciful intention to bridge that chasm through Jesus Christ and his death for our sins.”

If our clothes are a witness and testimony created by God, then my morning clothing choices are way more important than I ever before thought! They can send the message that I recognize mankind’s sin and lost innocence and that I need to be covered both by clothing and Christ’s blood. However, they can also send the opposite message—one of rebellion, sensuality, and cheapness. So how is it even possible to make the right choice of clothing that will both fulfill the tall order God gave it and fulfill the love of beauty God gave us?

I have made many mistakes in clothing choices, but my first and foremost safeguard is to always talk to my father. When I was about fourteen or fifteen, we had some very long and serious discussions on this topic—laying down the ground rules in black and white about what Papa considers modest and wants to see his four daughters wearing. There was a time when it was incredibly hard, when all I could see were all the godly young women around me wearing what I knew I shouldn’t wear. There were times (and still are times!) when I would arrive at an event and instantly start comparing myself to others and feeling out-of-place. My wise mother, however, brought me back to what is important when she asked me to list all the godly young women who do wear modest, yet beautiful clothing. They were my heroes and my example! Now I feel the importance of being that example for those girls who are coming up behind me—what an awesome responsibility we have even in something as simple as our attire!

Talking to my father about modesty is essential because he has the unique insight of a man. I had one particular skirt in my closet that my dad agreed that I could wear, but every time I wore it, he would comment on it. This was, of course, one of my favorite skirts, and to my eyes it was simply feminine and beautiful. To him, however, it appeared as something completely different, because God has wired him differently! So one day, I decided that the skirt simply wasn't worth it, and I just needed to submit. So now the skirt resides in the back of my closet, presumably gathering a good collection of dust. Whenever I’m ordering some clothes online and have the slightest doubt about whether something is appropriate or not, I ask Papa to come in and give his verdict. By now I have a pretty good idea of what he likes and what he doesn’t, and I try to honor that, not because he is some sort of domineering man who wants his children dressed in uniform, but because I know he loves me and wants to protect me.

So modesty is my first criteria in picking out what to wear, but the second is that I love it and feel beautiful and feminine in it! For example, I’m not really a jumper kind of a girl, so, although they’re lovely on other girls, I rarely wear one. However, a jean skirt, cardigan, paisley scarf, and boots is my idea of a beautiful outfit. And I definitely can’t wait to break out my summer skirts, flip-flops and white blouses! So develop your own sense of style and don’t buy something that you aren’t going to love.

Beautiful modesty, unfortunately, is becoming a lost art. We were recently on a hunt for modest dresses, and we searched for hours and hours before we even found candidates! This one was too short, this one too low of a neck, this one too dowdy, this one too expensive….We live in a society where it is fashionable to show skin and desirable for men to stare at you. We live in a culture where women demean themselves in the name of style, flaunting their bodies and becoming objects of sensuality. Sir Cecil Beaton pithily described mini-skirts in one of my favorite quotes: “Never in the history of fashion has so little material been raised so high to reveal so much that needs to be covered so badly.”

So how do I find clothing that meets these high standards God has? I sew a lot, even altering patterns to make the neckline higher or lower the hemline. I tailor a lot, adding panels in the neckline to storebought clothes, putting in a ruffle at the bottom, or even sewing up the side seams to make it fit better. If you don't know how to sew, find an older lady in your area who is willing to give you lessons! That's is a huge part of how I learned! I also frequent sales: JJill (begin rabbit trail--my alltime, absolute favorite clothing store! [matched only by Anthropologie which is way too expensive for me]--end rabbit trail :-), Christopher & Banks, Coldwater Creek, and Eddie Bauer will often have great online sales on modest clothing if you time it right! And, believe it or not, ebay is a great resource for buying these name brand clothes at a huge discount. Know your body measurements and proceed by those, rather than by a nebulous size number. Finally, camisoles are my best friend. (-:

With these things in mind, let us now reject what the world would push on us and be I Timothy 2:9 women: “In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing.” If we settle for anything less, Beneth Peters Jones points out that “we rob God of the fulfillment of His perfect plan, we rob other women of an inspirational, gracious touch and example, we rob the men around us of the opportunity to exercise the protective, gentlemanly considerations native to their masculinity, and we rob ourselves of the beauty possible only in conformity to divine will.[i]

Will you join me as new allies? Let us not rob God and others any longer, but rather bless those around us by our commitment to beauty, style, and modesty. Let us no longer step out in the world looking like the world; let us step out looking like God’s princesses. Let us cast aside the rags of immodesty and adorn ourselves with grace, dignity, and modesty, for we are the temples of the living God.


[i] Jones, Beneth Peters. In the Best Possible Light. Page 20.

Picture Credit

3.02.2010

The Death of Jack

Many years ago, John--though everybody called him Jack--was born into a Christian home. As he grew, his parents took care to take him to church every Sunday. Jack would listen—sometimes attentively, sometimes not-so-attentively, as little boys are prone to distraction—and something deep inside of him would respond to his pastor’s message. Conviction. Instead of acting on that conviction, though, he made deals with God. As little Jack grew into big Jack, he found new ways to postpone any decision. He didn’t like his pastor—he would proceed when this pastor left. However, a new pastor made no difference in Jack’s life, because—as most deals with God end up proving—he had no intention of fulfilling his end of the bargain anyways.

Soon, neither “sinner accountable to a just God” nor “sinner saved by grace” nor “Christian” nor simply “sinner” seemed to be a title to Jack’s liking, so he chose another one—agnostic. Of course, such a presumptuous label as that, which he wore proudly as if it was the college degree he never needed, required constant explanation. He was intellectually honest, because he believed that one could neither prove nor disprove God’s existence. True honesty, though, would have meant acknowledging that he was living in denial of God’s existence. So his father and mother, agonizing over what went wrong, prayed for their son.

One day, Jack met a pretty, vivacious woman at work--Beth. As they talked and got to know each other, they fell in love. But the pretty lady had also been raised in a Christian home, so Jack had some convincing to do. Soon, though, she called a friend and relative over who deeply cared for her—my mother—to announce that she too was an agnostic. "Did God exist? Who knows! Who cares? God is in all of us, after all. There is no one Supreme Being…no accountability…no hell…maybe not even a heaven!" And Mama, agonizing over what went wrong, prayed for the pretty lady.

They got married, though, and made a good life for themselves. Jack got a wonderful job in computers, they had two sons, and they found a house. Ten years passed—and Mama prayed, and Papa prayed, and Lauren prayed, and I prayed, and Melanie prayed, and Susanna prayed, and Micah prayed, and Jonah prayed. We prayed for Jack—without knowing that he even knew of Christ from his childhood. We prayed for Beth—knowing that she knew! And we prayed for their sons—hoping that they knew.

After a decade of marriage, though, their world collapsed. Jack left his family for someone else, leaving a devastated wife, and two sons who struggled to fill their father’s shoes. He didn’t contact us at all, of course—we lived in two separate worlds. And to his wife and his sons, he was hardly better, coming up with excuses for not paying child support or not spending time with his own children. Meanwhile, we kept praying. But we focused on Beth and her children. We never saw Jack. We rarely thought of him. From our human perspective, if there was any hope for anyone, it would be for our own relative, who had grown up in the things of the Lord. We prayed for Jack when God brought him to our minds, but you know the old saying--"out of sight, out of mind." Our lack of faith kept him a little less present in our prayers than he used to be.

Several years passed in this manner, until last Monday when Jack suddenly reached out to Mama on Facebook. This action took us all by shock. But that shock was dwarfed by what we felt as Mama accepted his invitation and scrolled through his wall. Littered with Scripture and a few disparaging remarks about the present liberal administration, Jack's wall reflected nothing of the person we knew. “Is this the same Jack?” Papa asked, voicing all of our thoughts. We didn’t let ourselves hope too much, though. It was obvious that he was no longer agnostic, but just what had happened? So Mama messaged him: “Jack, have you become a Christian?”

And he replied with exclamation points and unmistakable joy that last year he could not deny the Lord anymore, and he gave his life over to Jesus. The old Jack was gone and dead, and he requested that we call him “John” to symbolize his new identity in Christ. My family and I sat in utter disbelief when we read those words. Beth? Yes. Her sons? Yes. But Jack? John! If there was anyone, in our weak faith, that we did not expect to come to the Lord, it was Jack. But here is Jack—er, John—today—praising the Lord, fathering his sons, witnessing to his family, and preparing for baptism.

“My heart stands in awe of Your word (Psalms 119:161b),” for You, oh God have been faithful when I lacked faith. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear (Isaiah 59:1)!” Friends, have faith! “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2).” We serve an awesome, sovereign God Who makes the impossible possible. “…Men always ought to pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1b).” It is God Who has done this great thing, and I haven’t been able to stop smiling for a week! If you would, please pray with me for Beth and her sons that they too would come to know Jesus Christ as their Saviour. “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; with my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations (Psalms 89:1).” Praise the Lord!




Please note that, while I have changed the names in this story, "Jack" did indeed change his name to reflect his new life in Christ.
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