Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Power of Memory

“Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.”
L.M. Montgomery, The Story Girl


                Autumn is nearly upon us. It has always been my favorite season, and as a teacher I mark time by my Septembers. For the past two years, one of my back-to -school bulletin boards has been an introduction to my life, so that my students can get a glimpse of who I am, and the things that have brought me here. The caption is THIS IS MY STORY…SO FAR.WHAT’S YOURS? A second caption reads, LET GOD BE THE AUTHOR OF YOUR STORY. This is meaningful for me, because as I look back, as the time rushes on more quickly each year, I see very clearly that He has been writing my story all along. That’s why memory is so powerful, I think. God has put into us the ability, not to merely recall, but to somehow be there. To be transported back to a moment and feel what we felt then, hear the sounds, the voices. The older I get, the more it seems to happen…and the more I remember.

                I am there in that kitchen in an Indiana farmhouse. It is a freezing winter night and my parents are getting ready to go to church because Mom has an extra practice with the children’s choir she leads. It is a few days before Christmas .My grandparents are with us for the holidays. Pappy is trying to tell an off-color joke, and Nonny is attempting to stop him. This proves futile-despite her interruptions,he makes it to the punch line.”He says you’re gonna die!”  I have not been listening to the joke and I am only five, but I laugh because my mother and siblings are laughing. Dad is, too, but he’s doing that thing where he shakes his head slowly from side to side, eyes closed, trying desperately to pretend he is displeased while in reality he is two seconds from laughing, too. My mother has given it up completely and is nearly in hysterics. Nonny is scandalized. “Oh, LAMAR!”  The talk then evolves into how many days it is until Christmas and who is getting the hat and scarf set with the Westville High School logo and how much that costs. (“It’s ONLY five bucks.”)  Mom and Dad head out into the snow and I watch my grandma mixing up the cookie dough and I snitch some when I think she isn’t looking, but she sees and rewards me with a big spoonful. I can taste its buttery sweetness. I am there.

                I am six.We are visiting friends in New Jersey. They have a big Great Dane named Athena, whom I adore. I am curled up against her on the rug in front of a roaring fire, and I slide off into sleep as the murmur of familiar voices drifts over me. The next day, the adults are off somewhere and I am watching the housekeeper as she washes dishes. I offer to help dry, like I do at home now that I am six. “No, baby,” she says. “I do the work I gets paid to do.”  Then she asks me a question. “Do you like black people?”  This is not a question I really understand, although it would most definitely have been a legitimate one to ask a little Southern-born white girl in 1972. But I have been taught to love everybody and skin color has never really been discussed as far as I can recall. I consider the question. To be honest, there are no black people in the Midwestern town where I live. This housekeeper is the first  African-American I have actually had the opportunity to know, and I do like her very much. So I answer the only way I can. “Yes, ma’am. I like all people.”  This must be an acceptable answer, for she grins broadly and gives me a peppermint.

                I am eight now. I am in Mrs.Cooper’s third-grade classroom in Texas…or maybe it’s Mrs.Edkins’s  fourth-grade classroom,at Spanish Fort School and I am nine…those memories tend to merge for me, those two supremely magical teachers, one black, one white, both with a passion for teaching and for literature.  It is their voices I hear when I read the “Little House” books, unless I am hearing the voice of my mother. It is a splendid harmony. My head is down on my desk. It is just after lunch and I have eaten my tuna sandwich and my Oreos and the clock is ticking slowly. I am imagining myself as Laura, running with my dog Jack across the prairie. At home I put on a long dress and pretend to be Laura. My dog Misty makes a satisfactory Jack. And then it is Halloween, and I am in my Laura costume.My sister has braided my hair and dotted my face with mascara freckles. I stand in line with Heidi and Holly and Matt and the other neighborhood kids to get served some “Witches’ Brew” punch from a cauldron. Our neighbor does this every year. Another neighbor, who is also our bus driver, gives out homemade cookies.We never get our candy X-rayed at the police station. We know everybody.

                Back to age seven and the chicken pox.Itching like crazy, I have been instructed not to scratch.It is miserable. Even the inside of my mouth itches. I am wearing one of my dad’s soft old T-shirts. I get out of bed and roll around on the carpet to try to relieve the itching. I am in the big bed in Mom and Dad’s room because I am sick. “Jeff’s Collie” is on. Mom brings me a tuna sandwich and chocolate chip cookies and again says I must not scratch. I’m not scratching, I’m rolling. She gives me the Mom Look and I stop. I nibble my sandwich and taste the mayonnaise. I look out the window at the bare branches of the February trees against the sky and for once wish to be at school. Dad comes home with a fairy tale book, grape popsicles, and a three-color pen. I love these three-color pens that he brings us from his office. I draw cartoon dogs and stick people. The next day he brings me markers in five different colors. They are the permanent kind because the washable kind has not yet been invented. They smell strong, like they might be combustible. They also bleed through the thin typing paper. I don’t care. I draw and draw.

                First grade classroom. Listening lesson from a recorded monotone voice. “Pick up your blue crayon. Circle the picture that goes with the sentence. ‘It is time for lunch’.”  Bored, I circle the picture of the clock with my fat blue crayon. I look at the clock. I am suddenly out in the snow fort in the backyard, and this time I am exploring Alaska with Misty, now turned into a faithful sled dog .The cold stings and bites and my mittens are icy. That stupid stocking cap is getting in my way, but I know I will strike gold soon. And then I am floating on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and I am eleven and the sky is vast above me.  I find shells along the shore, some intact, some broken. I keep them all. I watch the sandpipers as they run along the beach leaving tiny tracks in their wake. I eat a tuna sandwich that has grit in it. The sun is hot. I am in a café in New Orleans and we are having a powdered sugar fight that began by accident, and my mom is pretending to be angry at my dad because she now has sugar all over her black pants. 

                Under a tree with a book, I am so absorbed that I don’t even notice the banana popsicle melting in my hand. It is a summer day and the mosquitoes are buzzing and occasionally a dragonfly flits by. Misty is lying beside me, panting, little drops falling from her tongue. But I am Bilbo Baggins and I am headed for the Lonely Mountain, where Smaug lies in wait. Mom calls me for supper and I go and eat hamburger-pizza popover, my favorite, but I feel as though I have just awakened from a dream.  Now my brother is telling one of his dumb jokes and we are at a campsite somewhere in Georgia, eating Dinty Moore Beef Stew cooked over a Coleman stove. My brother has taken the Old Maid card from my deck and he won’t tell where he hid it, so I color with my new crayons that Mom got me just for the trip. The coloring book is the Munsters and I am coloring Herman green. Then I play with my Colorforms-Miss Cookie’s Moon Kitchen-and then we are in the car again, on our way to the family reunion and Uncle Julian’s boiled peanuts. Before I know it, it is Christmastime and we are at the tree farm with seven different opinions about which tree to get. At home Dad wrestles it into the stand and we decorate it and it is sparkling and beautiful. And then I am sixteen and I am at my friend’s house, spinning out record after record on the turntable, Pink Floyd and Styx and Pat Benatar, and the music of my world fills every corner of the room.Then I am here again, back in this house, the voices of my husband and children rising and falling on this Saturday morning. I sip my cup of green tea. I am infused with the power of memory, touched by it, blessed by it.

                Memory is not just vague pictures in my mind. Perhaps it is the writer’s gift, but for me memory is a state of being. And so nothing is ever really lost to me-not places or people or pets. I can go back and be there, watching my granddaddy jump around and sing “Dance With Me,Henry” while my Southern Baptist grandma pretends to be horrified. I can see the gray farmhouse and hear the soft lowing of the cows in the pasture at twilight,and watch the sun sink slowly and magnificently. I can sit there on the corral fence and lovingly stroke the nose and mane of my sorrel pony, and I can breathe in that horsey smell that is like no other smell in the world, and when I watch my daughter with her sorrel colt I can smile because I am there, in all the places I love with all the people and animals I have ever loved. It’s all here, a million little points of brilliant light.

                                                It is the power of memory.

“And the moral of the story is that you don’t remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.”
John Green

Monday, July 29, 2013

Everything Nice

“Aunt Alexandra was fanatical on the subject of my attire. I could not possibly hope to be a lady if I wore breeches; when I said I could do nothing in a dress, she said I wasn't supposed to be doing things that required pants. Aunt Alexandra's vision of my deportment involved playing with small stoves, tea sets, and wearing the Add-A-Pearl necklace she gave me when I was born; furthermore, I should be a ray of sunshine in my father's lonely life." ~ To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

            Poor misunderstood Scout. It’s no wonder that I related to her so much when I was a child. Little girls might be made of sugar and spice, but when God was mixing my DNA, He threw in some salt and vinegar. The fourth girl and youngest child, with three older sisters and an older brother, I was not a girly-girl, but I wasn’t as bold and adventuresome as my sister Jackie, so I didn’t exactly fit the tomboy mold either. She got hurt a lot; I only got hurt once in awhile, like when I face-planted in the driveway after running my bike into the side of my mom’s car. I took more risks than I should have as far as riding my bike with no hands and exploring places I wasn’t supposed to go, but I never swung out across the road on a rope when a car was approaching. I wasn’t afraid of bugs or snakes or any animals at all, other than bats and roaches. I wasn’t afraid of swimming in deep water after taking swimming lessons at age eight, but I was terrified of heights and the dark and all of the weird monsters and aliens I read about.

            I liked a lot of things that were not considered “girly”, such as mud and dinosaurs and Hardy Boys books. I was never good at sports and hated P.E. at school, but I did play baseball and kickball and sometimes even tackle football with my friends from the neighborhood. In fact, one day when I was ten, my mom looked out the window just in time to see me going down, clutching a football, with a swarm of boys on top of me. She shrieked in horror and I was dragged into the house and treated to a lecture on why this was now inappropriate because I had Become a Woman several months before. I was not at all thrilled with the early onset of puberty and was bored with all of the trendy teen-angst books that the girls at school were passing around. I thought Nancy Drew was an idiot and preferred Trixie Belden, and my role model in Little Women was not  prim and proper Meg, snotty Amy, or shrinking violet Beth, but , of course, the volatile and unpredictable Jo.

            Two of my best friends, Heidi and Holly, lived across the street and were always wanting to paint my nails and do my hair. We had fun together and I realize now that I pretty much always got my way because I was terribly bossy. I would deign to play Barbies as long as I got to make up the stories, which generally involved transforming Barbie into someone else, like Laura Ingalls. Great tragedies and disasters inevitably ensued. Once, Barbie and Ken’s plane crashed on a desert island and they had to survive by any means necessary, which ultimately included cannibalizing the other passengers. I was always trying to shock Heidi and Holly but they were such good sports that they went along with my bizarre imagination and seemed quite fascinated. I also dragged them along on various bicycling adventures, many of which did not end well. Imagine being eleven years old and being chased by two vicious dogs and a gun-toting old lady. Heidi lost her shoes that day-both of them-as we frantically pedaled away.

            I once did an experiment to see if I could grow my own maggots in a pile of rancid dog food. It worked quite well, leaving my parents wondering why there was a sudden fly infestation around the back porch. Then there was my pottery project. My fourth-grade teacher instilled in me a love for Alabama history, and I decided that I wanted to use the red clay in the backyard to make pots like the Choctaws did. They turned out okay, but they cracked so much when they dried that I couldn’t paint them. This was fine with my mother, since I had already ruined two pairs of pants and several shirts with the clay. I also loved to collect critters-turtles, lizards, caterpillars, ants, the occasional grass snake-and this required a lot of crawling around on the ground. Jeans were a must, but I insisted on the boy jeans for many years.I didn’t think it was fair that jeans for large little boys were called “Huskies”, but jeans for large little girls were called “Chubbies”. I thought husky was a nicer word. My mother did not understand this logic at all, but she got me the jeans I wanted.

            My logic extended to my reading of literature. If Flicka made a miraculous recovery and she and Ken lived happily ever after, then why did Gabilan in The Red Pony have to die?  If Rascal the Raccoon was set free in the wilderness and survived to father many generations of little Rascals, then why did Bertie in The Year of the Raccoon end up as “a battered body in a box”?  Wilbur the Pig was not slaughtered, yet the pig in A Day No Pigs Would Die was-in graphic detail. So why was the book called that? At seven, I had not quite grasped the concept of irony. Imagine my disappointment when I learned, after many years of weeping copiously over the demise of Jack the Faithful Old Bulldog in the “Little House” books, that in real life he was given away when the Ingalls family settled at Plum Creek! Or my shock and anger when I read the real story of the Sager orphans, which was nothing at all as depicted in On to Oregon. It was a long time before I came to understand what “inspired by actual events” meant.

            According to my family, I was speaking fluently at thirteen months and reading fluently at three years. Since I don’t remember not reading, the latter is doubtless true, but I wonder about the former. Most experts in child development say that the facial muscles have not matured enough before about fifteen months for a child to say more than a few words-although they acknowledge that in rare cases, children begin speaking in clear sentences earlier than that. Thus, if my family is remembering accurately, it is merely one more freakish thing about me. It also explains why I thought kindergarten was stupid. I did not voice this opinion at school-in fact, I rarely spoke at school-but at home I was very vocal in my disdain for formal education. I wonder to this day if I would have benefited from “unschooling”, but on this point my parents were firm-I had to go to school. In retrospect, they were probably right. I would have been too weird to function had I not been forced into social situations.

            My own kids have some of the same struggles I did, but they handle them with greater grace and humor. Despite their exceptional intelligence, they are friendly and sociable and relate well to their peers. To be fair, by the time I was eight or nine, I was reasonably socially adept, but I always got along better with boys than with girls, even in high school. Nevertheless, I had plenty of friends of both genders and, while not particularly “popular”, I was not a complete social outcast. I learned not to always blurt out the sardonic, witty comments that popped into my head a hundred times a day, and, by God’s grace and under the loving instruction of my parents, the compassion that I had for others blossomed despite the bullying and cruelty that I often faced.

            I still find the world a confusing place at times, and I wonder where I fit. I still seek acceptance even though I know in my heart that I am accepted and maybe even lovable. I read and write to try to make sense of things that seem backwards, sideways, and upside down. I still am the little not-quite-tomboy in the Husky jeans seeking the caterpillar than will eventually transform into a butterfly. I am a combination of all the things that made my parents as well as some things uniquely mine. I am sugar, spice, vinegar, salt, and maybe a little nutmeg. I am not everything nice, but neither am I everything terrible.  God creates us each from a recipe that makes us a little different, while at the same time we all have the desires and qualities that make us the same in our humanity. That’s the beauty of His design.Unity-and diversity. What a lovely collage we are.

“The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.”
Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry





Monday, July 1, 2013




(esp. of change or action) Relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.
Radical is derived from the Latin word radix meaning "root", referring to the need for perpetual re-orientation towards the root truths of Christian discipleship. (Wikipedia)
There is a lot of talk these days about “radical Christianity”.  Sometimes this is interpreted and/or carried out as fanaticism. Some think that it means you must abandon everything you have, forsaking everyone and everything that is comfortable and familiar-and it can include that. My belief is that to follow Christ the way that we are called to follow Him is indeed radical by definition, because the call is to change the fundamental nature of something-in this case, to change the world. To be radical Christians means to return to the roots of our faith. I’m not talking about necessarily returning to the roots of our family’s faith, although I was indeed raised in a Christian home. I am talking about a return to the roots of Christianity as a whole, trying to do what Jesus actually told us to do.
I guess it can be open to interpretation, this whole business of following Jesus, and of course we are all given different gifts and tasks. But I think that the basic ideas of loving one’s neighbor, being in the world but not of it, turning the other cheek, helping the poor, and allowing God to be the judge hold true for anyone who claims Christianity. Where we go with these basic tenets depends on where God sends us and whom He sends us. I have some friends who are selling and giving away most of their possessions and going to live and work in Haiti. To leave it all behind and go take care of some kids in an orphanage –that’s radical. They have faced criticism from people who just don’t understand. No one has to understand. It is a call from God. I have learned over the years that we become utterly miserable when we ignore the call ,no matter what it is. No matter how strange it seems. And we are indeed in good company.
Consider Noah, building a huge boat because water was going to fall from the sky and flood the earth. Do you suppose he got laughed at and mocked much? Consider Abraham, abandoning all that was familiar to go-where? He had no clue, but he went. Moses, after an encounter with God in the form of a burning bush in the desert, went to face the powerful and wicked Pharaoh. He ultimately took on the task of leading several million people out of slavery “to a land flowing with milk and honey”. A Promised Land that he had never seen. Radical? Oh, yes. And the Apostles, standing up to beating and torture, singing while imprisoned and in chains, refusing to back down. Jesus Himself, defying the legalistic leaders of His time to reach out to those who were the most despised and rejected. Jesus, making the ultimate sacrifice for a world that largely refused to acknowledge Him. Radical-and real-love.
Going beyond the Bible, we have heroes throughout history and in our world today. Martin Luther. William Wilberforce. Corrie ten Boom. Mother Teresa. Jim Elliot. Martin Luther King. Billy Graham.And those who may not be famous, but who are willing to give all. Think of the people you know-your parents, perhaps, or grandparents. Teachers. Pastors. Youth leaders. Those who are willing to sacrifice for the good of others, no matter the cost, no matter if anybody even notices or expresses gratitude. To be radical is to understand that it is not about ourselves. To be radical is also to endure being called crazy, sometimes.
It was crazy, some say, to adopt three kids at once, the oldest eleven, the youngest five, all with baggage and problems that we did not fully realize at the time. I have days and times, like today, like these past few weeks, when I ask myself if it was actually crazy. I ask myself if it really mattered. And then I have to ask if we could have done any differently, and the answer is no. It wasn’t as if we had a choice, not really. Not when we knew it was a call from God. We could not ignore it any more than we could ignore the call to be teachers, which is, I suppose, another thing that could be called radical. Anything that is designed to change the world is radical. I ask myself how “sane” it was for my father to give his last ten dollars to a homeless family when he had no job. How “sane” is it to go and live among the poverty-stricken and diseased people of Calcutta? How “rational” is it go to Haiti after an earthquake, or to Oklahoma after a series of devastating tornadoes? Does it make any sense to give your expensive coat, the one your kids gave you for Christmas, to some stranger who is cold, and then keep on handing out food and blankets in your shirtsleeves in thirty-degree weather?  Is there any logic to going into strip clubs and hand out gift bags to the women, gift bags with tags attached that say, “We love you just the way you are” and invite them to church? What if they come in scantily clad, with tattoos and piercings and stuff, and you are the one who encouraged them to come? What will people think?
“What will people think” is probably the worst reason for doing or not doing something. I’m really glad, for my own sake as well as everyone else’s, that Jesus was never motivated by that. I am truly grateful that He did not forsake God’s will and go count out mint leaves with the Pharisees. (Keep nine, give one away, and you are fulfilling the Law. It’s the Magic Formula from God Boxes, Limited.) If my daughter Alyssa chose her friends based solely on what her classmates thought, she would have missed out on some really great relationships with some truly fantastic people. If we only do things based on popular opinion, I doubt we’ll do a whole lot that is worthwhile, in the eternal sense. To put your last five dollars in the church offering plate when your bank account is empty and payday is three days off is a bit nutty, and it’s not necessarily something God always tells us to do, but if He does, we should listen. We have no way of knowing what that homeless man is going to do with the fifty dollar bill that we hand him-but God does. It then becomes a matter between that fellow and God. We have done what we believed God was prompting us to do.
God has not called everyone to do some Grand Big Thing. We aren’t all supposed to go be missionaries to Africa, or start a homeless shelter, or become evangelists. Those are indeed wonderful callings, worthy of notice. But God notices it all. To follow Him, to love and forgive others, to obey Him when He tells us to do something, no matter how odd it seems to others, is “radical” indeed. Every small act can be far-reaching. To use that old cliché, it really is like ripples in a pond. When people ask you why you are doing this-whatever “this” is-if your reason is because God said to, then tell them. You will get some raised eyebrows, some shakes of the head, some laughter and mocking at your foolishness. But you will also get, at least sometimes, “Really? Tell me more.” Those are the times that make it worthwhile.
Be radical. It will change the world.
“For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” –Philippians 1:21

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Strong Hands

To lead them with strong hands
To stand up when they can't
Don't want to leave them hungry for love
Chasing things that I could give up

I'll show them I'm willing to fight
And give them the best of my life
So we can call this our home
Lead me 'cause I can't do this alone.

-Sanctus Real

            What do you do when you plan a beach day and you wake up to a hissing sound from the water heater and you empty out the closet and find everything soaked from a leaky pipe? Well, if you are my husband, you patch the pipe, clean up the water, leave the rest of the mess for the next day, and take your family to the Chinese restaurant for lunch and then to the beach for an awesome afternoon. Not that this was accomplished without some shouting from everyone and a bit-just a bit-of whining from the kids. Not that the mess is going to be fun to deal with in a little while, or that we are thrilled that we will have to throw out the majority of books and games that were in that closet. But we did have a great afternoon, and I was honestly relieved that it was only a leaky pipe, since we have had to have plumbing repairs done quite recently AND had to replace the ancient washer and dryer which both gave up the ghost on the same day. Tough times don’t have to be altogether bad times.

            While we were at the beach, we found a live sand dollar. None of us had ever seen a live one before. Of course we put it back after looking at it, because you can buy dead, dried sand dollars at any local souvenir shop. We also played with hundreds of harmless, beautiful little jellyfish, the nearly transparent kind. As my husband was holding one of these small treasures in his large hands, I looked at his hands and thought about how they have the power to destroy. He could have easily crushed those tiny creatures. He chooses gentleness. He chooses to be kinder than is required or necessary. He is meek. The definition of meekness is not weakness; it is “power under control”. This pretty much sums up my Freddie, the man who could not kill a moth when he felt her heart beating, but also the man who I know could kill a lion if his family was in danger. The man who does what he has to do to keep this fragile little ship afloat, including a second job teaching online classes. In this economy, a third income is often necessary, especially for people with kids. I am glad his second job can be accomplished via the laptop in the living room, because we can be together.

            A father’s presence is important. A recent study showed that well over half of high-achieving students have involved fathers. I know many single moms who do a fantastic job, but it just must be so much harder on their own. I cannot imagine trying to do this whole parenting thing without my husband. I know that I was probably much more obedient to my mother than I would have been had I not had the shadow of my father looming over me, even when he had to be away on a business trip. My own kids are the same. They kind of disregard me, because moms just nag you and go psycho on you, but they generally do what they are told anyhow because Dad will be upset and disappointed if they don’t. My husband is the kind of dad you just don’t want to disappoint-not because he is mean, but because he is genuinely hurt and surprised when the kids don’t do what they are told. He is also good at making the consequences fit the crime and is reasonable about it, whereas I am the one to try to dole out some ridiculously exaggerate thing like, “You can’t go anywhere again, EVER, for the REST OF YOUR LIFE!” Yeah, they take that seriously.

            On the way home yesterday, we passed, for the thousandth time, the spear hunting museum. I don’t know why there is a spear hunting museum in our county, but there is. Hardly anyone goes there, for even we Lower Alabamians who are fierce about our right to bear arms are kind of horrified by the idea of looking at dead animals that were killed for no reason whatsoever. There are certain ethics involved here. There is rumored to be an elephant in the museum, murdered before killing elephants became illegal .Whether this is actually true or not, most people I know would agree that there is nothing manly about killing animals with a spear just so you can stuff them and brag about it. As we were passing the museum, my girls commented on how much fun it would be to hear their dad question the spear hunter dude as to his logical reasons for slaughtering animals and causing them undue pain and suffering. My husband grew up around guns and hunting and fishing and has no problem with killing animals for food (although he personally chooses not to), or killing vermin that invade his home (as humanely as possible), or gently releasing a suffering creature from its pain, or shooting, say, a rabid dog or some other dangerous animal that is attacking or threatening human beings. All of this is Biblical and right, but in all cases should be done with a minimum of pain inflicted on the animal. That’s called good stewardship. Deliberate destruction or torture or neglect of God’s creatures, or any kind of pointless, random act that harms an animal, is shameful and probably even sinful. This is what my husband, a man of God, has taught his children.

            He has also taught them this-to be kind and compassionate to everyone, and treat them with dignity and respect. You don’t have to like them or agree with them or anything, but there is nothing to lose in being nice and gracious to people. He has taught them that when you get frustrated with the guy on the phone who is just doing his job working for the cable company, you have to back off and realize that he is not the one who is actually responsible for the fact that the cable company is lousy and doesn’t follow through. Then you have to apologize and tell him that you know it’s not his fault. And when the waitress in the restaurant is doing her very best even though the people in the kitchen haven’t done what they are supposed to do and they are shorthanded because of poor management, you smile at the waitress and thank her for her efforts and give her the most decent tip you can afford, because her job is not easy. You don’t make fun of people because they talk funny or aren’t very smart or can’t run fast or look different from you, and you don’t go around being self-righteous just because other people sin different from you. Be humble. Be brave in the face of adversity and get up every day with the attitude that you are going to do what you have to do and it’s going to be okay because God is going before you and stands beside you.

            My husband has strong hands and a strong heart. As a teacher, he impacts many students every day of his life, often without even realizing it. As a husband and father, he is superb. He is loving. He is tough when he needs to be. He is funny and he is tender. There is no subject that the kids feel uncomfortable discussing with him, and he turns every small outing into an adventure and a learning experience. When he messes up, he acknowledges it and asks forgiveness. He isn’t perfect because nobody is, but I would say he qualifies for the Dads’ Hall of Fame. He looks to God for answers because he knows that he cannot do this on his own. He listens and he loves. He leads his family with strong hands.

            Happy Fathers’ Day, Fredzy My Love!!!
This is our resolution
Our answer to the call
We will love our wives and children
We refuse to let them fall

We will reignite the passion
That we buried deep inside
May the watchers become warriors
Let the men of God arise.-Casting Crowns

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God

“‘Cause I am a sinner
If its not one thing its another
Caught up in words
Tangled in lies
You are the Savior
And you take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful

-Leslie Jordan

                In 1741 Jonathan Edwards delivered a sermon which was to become famous and would also contribute to the Great Awakening, a short-lived revival which swept across the nation. Thousands were converted-or were they? In my opinion, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was effective in converting a few, bringing some back, and frightening many. “Over the summer of 1735, religious fervor took a dark turn. A number of New Englanders were shaken by the revivals but not converted, and became convinced of their inexorable damnation. Edwards wrote that "multitudes" felt urged—presumably by Satan—to take their own lives. At least two people committed suicide in the depths of their spiritual distress, one from Edwards's own congregation—his uncle Joseph Hawley II. It is not known if any others took their own lives, but the "suicide craze" effectively ended the first wave of revival, except in some parts of Connecticut.” –George Marsden

                As a piece of literature, Edwards’ sermon has merit. As a sermon, it has little, as far as I am concerned. Edwards meant well, and the extreme always makes an impression. There are lots of well-meaning people in the world who teach wrong theology.

                The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given, and the longer the stream is stop’d, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose. ‘Tis true, that judgment against your evil works has not been executed hitherto; the floods of God’s vengeance have been with-held; but your guilt in the mean time is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are continually rising and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God that holds the waters back that are unwilling to be stopped, and press hard to go forward; if God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.” –Edwards

            Lovely, isn’t it? It does not sound at all like the loving God, the Abba Father whom I worship and serve. God is not angry with us. He is grieved at times, but He made His peace with mankind when Jesus came, and the debt was settled at the Cross. Yes, there always have been and always will be consequences for sin. When we do the wrong thing it has a negative effect on others as well as ourselves. We live in a fallen world where bad things happen. But God is not angry with us.

            I have tried to figure out where some of the strange ideas people have regarding The Rules actually originated, and I have to say that a lot of blame must be placed on the Puritans. If you were having fun, you were sinning. You had to dress a certain way, act a certain way, speak a certain way, and think a certain way. Holidays were by and large not celebrated, and heaven forbid that anyone play cards or dance or read anything that wasn’t religious. It was a pretty grim life, and the people were ruled by fear. This, however, has not changed for many Christians. They view Christianity as a religion, which it was never intended to be, rather than a relationship with a Father who loves His children and wants to give them good things.

            “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince: and yet ’tis nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment: ‘Tis to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffer’d to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep: and there is no other reason to be given why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up: There is no other reason to be given why you han’t gone to hell since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship: Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you don’t this very moment drop down into hell.” –Edwards

            Loathsome? Abhors? Wrath? Abominable? These are not the words I believe God uses to describe us or how He feels about us. He LOVES us!! He sees us as BEAUTIFUL, regardless of the fact that we are indeed sinners. We are broken. We are indeed wretched, in and of ourselves, but He is not dangling us over a fiery pit-although admittedly we often dangle ourselves there. Not only can He “bear” to have us in His sight, but we are the apple of His eye. He wants us to talk to Him, to petition Him, to praise Him, to thank Him, to love Him. He wants us to be His children and His friends. Jonathan Edwards was misguided-but he was not alone. Even now, it is not uncommon for Christians to be told that bad things happen to us, like, say, infertility, because of unconfessed sin. Or maybe our child gets sick or our air conditioner breaks or our dog gets hit by a car-because we haven’t been tithing. This formulaic approach is utter nonsense. It is an attempt to figure out how to work the “system” and get God into a box so that we can understand how to make Him do what we want.

            The Bible says that God rains down blessings on the just and the unjust. It’s in there. God does not work according to any kind of twelve-step plan. Those ideas are man-made and have little to do with God. We should live in obedience to Him and seek His will and follow His precepts as far as we are able, but we will stumble and no one can keep the Law. It is an ideal and a pattern and an example, but it is impossible for humanity to achieve. If it wasn’t, there would have been no need for Jesus. Jesus-the friend of sinners. The One who also set an example of love and mercy and grace. The One who told everyone to drop their rocks and go on home, because He was the only one qualified to judge or condemn the woman taken in adultery.And then-oh and then, what did He say to her? “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” It’s beautiful, and all the more so because we ARE that woman. God shows us mercy every day, and he doesn’t just “put up” with us, but DELIGHTS in us! We are not abhorrent to Him. He looks and He loves and He pities. He wants to dance with us every day, to the Song of All Songs.

            We are not sinners in the hands of an angry God. We are sinners in the hands of a LOVING God. “Come, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Notice that He promises rest, but He doesn’t promise perfection. He promises to stay, but not to always prevent those trials which may very well be mercies in disguise. He promises pleasures forevermore, the goodness of God in the land of the living, mercies that are new every morning, living water, treasures in Heaven, and greater glory. All we have to do is choose to receive His grace. It’s a heck of a good deal.

            I hope you will join in the dance with the Divine.

Yes living, dying let me bring
My strength my Solace from the Spring
That he who lives to be my king
Once died to be my Savior

That he would leave his place on high
And come for sinful man to die
You called it strange, so once did I
Before I knew my Savior.

-Aaron Schust

Monday, June 3, 2013

Shadows and Deserts

“It's not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.”
Stephen Fry

                One of my students told me several weeks ago that she admires me for being real. I was grateful for the compliment, as I am pathetically grateful for any word of encouragement. I dislike public praise intensely but that doesn’t mean I have less of a need than anyone else for occasional validation. I am not overly fond of large crowds of people; I prefer small groups and one-on-one conversations. That does not mean that I want to live in isolation. I often cannot attend get-togethers for various reasons including transportation issues or other commitments, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be invited. By nature I am somewhat introverted, although I no longer consider myself shy. I love people and I want to have friends, although I am not a Joiner who has a need to belong to lots of organizations or go running from event to event. Some people do and that’s fine; it’s just not me. My husband is my best friend and I honestly prefer his company to anyone else’s. That may be weird, and it’s also probably weird that as a general rule I am more comfortable around men than women and more comfortable around older people and young adults than those nearer my own age. I am not sure why any of these things are, they just ARE.

                I probably shouldn’t overanalyze myself. My dad used to tell me that being shy was a prideful thing because it means that you think people notice you a lot more than they actually do. He was right. I mean, probably a dozen people actually read this blog and twenty-five percent of those are related to me. I don’t really write it for other people as much as I do for myself anyway, although if what I write helps or inspires others, so much the better.  To quote Eeyore, “Thanks for noticing me.”  Writing is one of my “mad intensities” as is reading. There is something in me that causes me to love the things I love with a great passion- writing, reading, teaching, God, my family, my friends, animals. Over the years I have traded one obsession for another as a result of an addictive personality or OCD or whatever name experts want to give it. But in talking to artists, writers, musicians, and so on I realize that this is all part of a creative mind and personality. It’s weird, yes, but it’s not crazy or anything.

                I have to be extremely careful not to drive myself and other s insane. I try not to expect too much from people lest I drain them completely. I am very, very cautious about giving away too much of myself to others. I know I can give it all to God and He can bear it in a way that human beings cannot. When I was younger I had impossible standards for others which were only a reflection of the standards I had for myself. Ultimately, I broke. I have broken many times since, but not irrevocably. I still sometimes expect too much from family and friends-expect them to understand what cannot possibly be understood, expect them to never hurt me or let me down in any way. That is not fair. What I really try to do is accept others the way I want to be accepted. I try to be for my students that person who will listen and care and not judge, and will see the potential in them and not ever simply write them off.

“If you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.”
Jodi Picoult

                I have never been able to quite “blend in.”  If you are different, it’s just not possible. Now, of course, my very large size makes it more difficult than before. I used to wear grays and browns and blacks hoping that it would make me sort of disappear, but when I realized a few years ago that it wasn’t working anyway, I decided to start wearing what I like, including the bright colors that are supposed to be a no-no for middle-aged stout ladies. And people do sometimes stare and giggle, and students make fun of me behind my back, or sometimes pretty much right in my face, and I just ignore it. I hate my fat, but I LIKE my clothes and my hair, and I have as much right to wear pretty things as skinny people do. Take that, Abercrombie and Fitch. And by the way, to those who whisper, “She’s gonna break that chair,” just know that I have never broken a chair. I have fallen out of a few, due to sheer clumsiness, but I have never broken one. I am smart enough to figure out where I can and cannot sit, just as I am smart enough to know when people are making fun of me.

                I’m trying to be real here, as real as I have ever been. What I loved about working with very young children was that there was no judgment, just smiling acceptance and trust. Teenagers aren’t so kind-well, some of them are-but the great irony is that they say they hate hypocrisy and legalism but they themselves condemn one another and everyone else on the basis of appearances and other surface-level junk. I choose to love them in spite of this, because the reality is that inside, they are terribly insecure and many of them have suffered great pain. Most of the kids I teach are good-hearted and compassionate, but a few have let bitterness take root and grow and because of this they seem to take great pleasure in hurting others. I myself was extremely arrogant as a teenager, setting myself above others and saying that I was smarter than almost anyone else and I did not stop at sometimes saying cruel things. I thought it would lessen my own pain, but it actually made me feel worse which was why I didn’t do it very often. I think that’s true of most people. Maybe I am being idealistic, but I think that deep down, very few people are actually so mean that they don’t feel at least some guilt about their unkind behavior.

                I try to think about what is the “Christian” response to being mistreated, made fun of, left out, etc. I try to recall the Golden Rule. I remind myself that I am a child of the King and that no one else’s opinion actually matters. But all of these are the same old platitudes which, even though true, can sometimes ring hollow when you’ve been dealing with the same crap over and over for forty-two years. I leave the first five years of my life out of it because before I went to school, no one told me that I was fat, and no one told me I was weird except my siblings who were pretty weird themselves. But I find myself in this great dilemma now because every time anything happens, I get the idea that no one likes me and I logically know this to be very untrue. Then I go from that to doubting every ability, every relationship, every aspect of my life and personality.  I get to self-analyzing and using this blog that most people don’t even read to vent the fact that everyone knows-the world is a cruel place.

                It is a cruel place indeed, sinful and fallen. I try to also see the beauty that is in it and most of the time I succeed because God’s grace and glory cannot be denied. I have been blessed so far beyond what I deserve that at times it overwhelms me. Why, then, do I let the pain and fear and worry overshadow the goodness of God in the land of the living, without which we would all surely despair? Sometimes I feel as if I am totally alone..and yet:

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

                Tolkien was right. The Shadow is only a small and passing thing. The enemy would like for us to think it is more, that it is bigger and more powerful than it really is. My reality is that there are students who do not like or respect me, but there are more who do. There are people who have utter contempt for me and for everyone in general, but there are people who care. There are days that are bad and days that are good, times when nothing seems to go right and everything is a desert, and then the streams and rivers are filled with good rain and it’s all okay again. This is just life-the world and the way things are-the way things have been since the day sin and death entered Creation. There are no easy answers .I keep seeking and seeking and I find only glimpses of Truth and sparks of Divine. The moments of clarity are rare but lovely. The times of refreshing are fulfilling. And if for a season I must retreat into my books and be sustained by prayer, then so be it.  I have to stay real but I also have to stay sane. To trust in that light and beauty beyond the Shadow is all I have, all any of us have. It is all that matters, in the long run. Trust…and hope.


“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now
mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Going Deeper

“I do believe in God. That seems to offend people more than almost anything else. I think they would find it…well that is my limited experience, that they have more of a problem with me believing in God than they would have if I was an unrepentant atheist.”  J.K. Rowling

          Before I begin, let me make a few things perfectly clear. First, just because I myself read-and allow my own children to read-particular books or watch particular movies, does not mean that I would have my students read or watch them. Every book I assign in my English classes is on the recommended reading list endorsed by ACSI-the Association of Christian Schools International-and, because this list was compiled by Christians who had actually READ the books and knew what they were doing, it includes not only works like The Scarlet Letter and Pilgrim’s Progress, but also the often-banned To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, Huckleberry Finn, The Diary of Anne Frank, Animal Farm, and Of Mice and Men. In order to be educated, one must have read certain books, period. The compliers of the list understood that. Secondly, I have never assigned a book that I have not myself read and I am always careful to explain the purpose behind each book, the author’s background, and the historical context of both the novel itself and the time period in which the author was writing. I teach EVERYTHING through the lens of Christianity, and there is much richness to be found in, I venture to say, the majority of classic literature and probably half of modern literature. Finally, I have been working on this blog entry for several weeks in response to a couple of incidents/comments that I have either overheard or that affected me or my kids in some way. I have done my homework, as the diligent student of life that I am. My conclusion: I want to keep going deeper, and I want my kids to go deeper, and this may involve sometimes reading or watching things that some might find offensive.

          Everyone pretty much agrees that an educated person needs to have been exposed to Shakespeare, the Bible, and Greek mythology. Even most atheists say this. Why? Because these three works, in the literary sense, are at the heart of ALL literature. In order to understand everything else, there must be a frame of reference. As a Christian parent and educator, I believe-and teach-that the Bible is the source of all truth, and that all truth is God’s truth. Everything else that we read and watch and even experience points back to this Source. This does not mean, however, that other things cannot supplement, enhance, and enlighten the truth of Scripture-even things with which we do not agree.

          If you want to talk about book banning, consider this: nearly everything has been banned, or boycotted, or complained about by somebody, somewhere, at some time. Do you realize that the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder has been banned in some circles as being “too traditional”, “disturbing in its depiction of family relationships” and, of course, “sexist”? Yep. Now, in the light of the twenty-first century, and equal rights and all of that, I can see how it might be interpreted that way. After all, Ma cooked and cleaned and took care of the kids while Pa went out and worked. That’s the way it was then, in the 1880’s. It’s what people did. And I, for one, have a great deal of respect for Ma.  Have you ever tried to lift one of the irons that was used at that time? I have. I couldn’t do it. Neither could any of the moms who were with us on the field trip to the Heritage Museum, and we all agreed that Ma, along with her frontier woman counterparts, was one tough lady. I love the Little House series and the values that it depicts, with hard work and faith and family at the core. I also love the charming, completely unrealistic works of Louisa May Alcott. Alcott was deeply offended by the works of Mark Twain, stating that his books were “unwholesome for our young lads and lasses”. Ironically, Alcott’s family was not what many would consider “Christian” and had some ideas which would later get Walt Whitman, among others, in a whole lot of trouble with the” Christian” community. To me, when Huckleberry Finn tears up the letter that will doom his friend Jim to a continued life of slavery and mutters, “All right, then, I’ll GO to hell,” it is one of the most profound statements in all of literature-and Alcott, along with much of the country, took it entirely out of context. Those who have screamed down through the centuries that this incredible, beautiful story about true compassion versus the cruelty of bigots and hypocrites have not ever read it-or at least have not understood it. Therein lies the problem.

          The much-maligned Harry Potter series is every bit as Christian as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. I say this having read every book and watched every movie and carefully researching Rowling and her intent. She IS a Christian; she has so stated time and time again. Google it yourself. She is NOT a Wiccan, despite rumors to the contrary. Honestly, though, a writer being Christian is not the sole criteria on which I base my reading choices. George Orwell was not a Christian as far as I know, nor was William Golding, nor John Steinbeck. Twain, Poe, and Hawthorne are a bit murkier. Twain’s condemnation of hypocrisy was not necessarily a condemnation of all Christians; Poe was an utterly miserable individual who begged God’s mercy at the end of his life; and Hawthorne was horrified by the actions of the Puritans, especially when he learned that one of his own ancestors was a judge during the Salem Witch Trials and was responsible for the deaths of innocent people. All things considered, the bitterness of these three writers was perfectly understandable, even if it wasn’t right. And if I read ONLY specifically Christian books by Christian authors, there would be precious little left to read.

          Now I am REALLY going to step on some toes, because my experience with much of Christian entertainment has been that it is formulaic, unrealistic fluff. Enjoyable and encouraging, yes, but still way too simple. I call it “Christianity Lite”. At the end there’s a great payoff, like in the movie Facing the Giants. I realize that it was meant to show the ultimate of what God can do, but He doesn’t always work like that. In fact, He usually doesn’t, and so people who are “turned on” to Christianity by these kinds of promises often end up running the other way, heartbroken and disillusioned. The only promises, ever, were that hard times WOULD come and that he would never leave us or forsake us. There are not now nor have there ever been any easy answers. I prefer things like Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and John Ramsey’s The Other Side of Suffering, which depict real Christians who have gone through very real and terrible tragedy and their only testimony is that God is still good in spite of it all. As far as fiction goes, I like to go deep into the works of the great writers, Christian or not, and explore themes of good versus evil and darkness versus light and the pitfalls of pride. Books about Amish girls who get shunned by their communities and then find true love and happiness at the end are nice, and I have read many of them, but not because I was seeking any deep meaning. They were just for fun. Les Miserables, on the other hand, shows the best and worst of humanity and the miracle of true redemption. I like that better.

          I am not saying that I read absolutely anything. Obviously I avoid things that I know may cause me to stumble or are just trash, and when we researched Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and realized that he is blatantly, intentionally anti-God, and had a goal in mind of turning CHILDREN against God, we chose to stop reading. However, I cannot make that decision for anyone else or condemn them for choosing to read the series. Maybe they will find something in them that I have not found, but when students ask me about them I give my opinion and explain why I feel that way. Likewise, when Raina expressed a desire to read Twilight, because everybody else was (which is never a good reason to do something anyway) we sat down with her and explained that actually, we would prefer that she read Dracula and get the REAL lowdown on vampires first. We had her research the Twilight series for herself, and I had read the first book and could honestly say that it was poorly written and I didn’t like it. Ultimately, Raina decided for herself to pass on those. This was about four years ago, and I would probably let her read them now if she wanted to, but she doesn’t because she knows there are better things out there.

          In our research on Harry Potter, we found nothing that particularly bothered us and, in fact, as we delved into the books and movies as a family, we found much to talk about. As far as people getting all uptight about the “spells” in the book, I hope they don’t think that saying a bunch of Latin words would actually cause anything to happen, like someone being turned into a toad or growing a pig’s tail. That’s silly. If you look up Biblical definitions of witchcraft and magic, you will find something far different and far more sinister than that. True witchcraft, as so well depicted in Macbeth , involves mental manipulation and control. Shakespeare just threw in the cauldrons and broomsticks for fun, as the Elizabethan audiences liked that sort of thing.

          Sometimes I will change my mind about a book or movie, like Life of Pi. I read it a few years ago and totally hated it, but then after talking with a student about her take on it, I am going to give it another go. I am open-minded enough to do that, to think maybe I misjudged. I have been known to do that. I like books and movies that challenge me and deepen my faith, and sometimes they may be things with which I disagree. Then, you see, I have to think about why I disagree, and is my disagreement based on God’s truth, or my own opinion? It’s actually a lot of fun. More people should try it. J.K. Rowling says that she has never had a child come up to her and say, “I really want to become a witch since reading your books.” This is probably because kids understand that the books are not “about” witchcraft. The magical world is simply the backdrop against which the beauty and terror of the story is played out, like Middle Earth or Narnia.

          I will not say what I think about the way some people misuse and misinterpret the Bible for their own selfish motives. That’s a whole other topic for another time, but I will say that I have seen it for myself and it’s not pretty. It’s fairly disgusting and I think it grieves God far more than my daughter reading The Caster Chronicles does. My sixteen-year-old is grounded enough in her faith to handle this series just fine, thank you, and although she is only halfway through the first book, Beautiful Creatures, she is already seeing how the struggle between good and evil, the choice between darkness and light, is going down in the little Southern town of Gatlin. What she will get, I trust, is the message that I got-that we DO always have a choice, even when people tell us otherwise. We do not have to settle for a doomed destiny; we CAN fight the darkness. This is an important message for my kids. They are also getting it, by the way, from our viewing of the excellent miniseries The Bible, lest any should think we leave Scripture out of things. We don’t. It is the center of all that we do, say, watch, and read. It is the frame of reference to which we always return. So don’t judge me because I allowed my fourteen-year-old to watch Les Miserables. Yes, there were some rough scenes, but she handled it. At the end of the film she said, “Why are people even worried about that? Why would you want to miss that movie because of ONE scene?” (The scene in question, by the way, was in the movie to show just how decadent and wicked some people are. My child GOT that.)

          In the long run, you have to just trust that if you are raising your children with certain values, they will make the right choices. They don’t, always, but when my kids fall short it won’t be because they read the Harry Potter books. I do not anticipate them going out there with wands and trying to cast spells on people. They already know to avoid things like Ouija boards and Tarot cards simply because it might open a door they don’t want to open, but reading about fantasy magic does not fall into the same category . If they have questions, they ask. When we play the often misunderstood Dungeons and Dragons (the board game version), they know that we are playing a game, a pretend game where we fight evil and triumph over it. Should I not allow them to play MarioKart because it might promote reckless driving?  How about that book, Black Beauty? Aren’t talking animals Satanic or something? And just FYI-the song “Puff the Magic Dragon” was never about anything other than a dragon and a little boy, and you can ruin nearly anything if your overanalyze it.

          Christians have got to stop being so fearful. To read about an idea or think about an idea is not the same as embracing it. To allow an opinion to be expressed is not the same thing as agreeing with it. Already, my kids disagree with me about a few things and they are free to do so. They understand and cherish and practice the essentials , like loving God and acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Savior and trying to follow Him and seek and submit to His will. They also do those things like loving their neighbor and showing compassion to those in need, and reading The Caster Chronicles or Harry Potter isn’t going to change that. They are not in the least confused about what is real and what is not, and they laugh at “scary” movies as though they are watching a comedy. They fear not, for they know that they are safe in the arms of Jesus no matter what. Yes, we have made mistakes as parents and will make more, but I am confident that my children know what they believe and why. I don’t think allowing my teenagers to read and watch certain things makes me a bad or irresponsible parent. It would, however, be irresponsible to forbid and condemn absolutely everything and not tell them which things can actually be backed up by Scripture and which are matters of opinion. My hope and prayer is that, by allowing them to question and explore, they will not have to find out the hard way that, while drinking a glass of wine is not a sin, getting drunk and getting behind the wheel of a car is not only sinful, but very stupid. Or that, while gambling may not be expressly forbidden in Scripture, it is not good stewardship and it is not trusting God for what you need and it can be extremely destructive. Listening to the Beatles won’t hurt them, but having premarital sex will. Let’s not major on the minors, folks. Let’s be real with our kids.

          Let’s “keep the main thing, the main thing.” 

“I go to church myself, …I don't take any responsibility for the lunatic fringes of my own religion."-J.K.Rowling