Monday, December 19, 2011

Where to Begin

I'm not even sure where to begin.  So much has happened in the last month and a half that I want to write about.

So, I'll start here.

We did move last weekend.  The closing on our new home was very hard and even before we closed we could see that problems with the house were likely ahead.  There were a few that we new about.  What we've found though is much more.  There are little and big problems.

There are so many shows on television about rehabbing houses, fixing up your old house, decorating rooms, finding treasures that one thought was trash...  They make moving look fun, full of work, and doable.  I think they also romanticize and idealize it!  They make us think that different and new is better than what the present is.

I had a lot of time to think about this the past two weeks.

After our pre-closing inspection showed issues, we were a bit jittery.  Our closing did nothing to settle my nerves as the house's owner started telling crazy stories about the neighbors.  I kept my mouth shut and reminded myself that God is sovereign.  He knew and still knows all about the neighbors.  We left our closing without keys--because she didn't have them!  We drove to the house hoping to find them in the mailbox.  Thankfully, they were there.  But, we resolved to have the locks changed before nightfall--not knowing who had keys!

My courage began to fail me.  We drove over to a friend's house and he came back with his son to look over the house with us.  A little while later another friend from church also came over.  The three men, including my husband, discovered multiple issues not discovered in the home inspection (that clearly should have been).  But, I knew we weren't alone.  God was with us and so was our church family.  We have friends now that we can ask for help.

My body, on the other hand, broke down.  I got really sick that night.  The past 30 days had been very stressful.  I finally got to the point where I couldn't go anymore.  It was hard to realize this about myself.  I've always just been able to do what I needed to do.  I've had kind friends warn me before that this would happen.  And they were right.

I woke up Tuesday still sick.  I was overwhelmed by it all--the work to be done before we moved in 4 days later--the work we expected with the addition of a lot of work we didn't expect!  My body forced me to take it slow.  I slowly started moving and by the afternoon was able to paint.  Each day that week held more of the same.  A slow recovery in the morning (which shortened as the week went on) and  then painting.  By the end of the week all 4 bedrooms were painted and the den.

My heart and body flagged, but my husband picked up the ball and kept going.  I was very proud of him and thankful for him.  One afternoon one of my friends came with her son to help paint.  That was such a help!  Friday night came and some friends and their children came and helped us pack up all the dishes the owner had left and unpack our dishes we'd already brought over among other things.  We got the rooms ready to have things moved in!

Saturday arrived and moving day came.  All the last minute preparations...  Four hours after we'd begun everything from the house (or almost everything) was inside our new home.  And the work of unpacking began...

There's so much unsettling that occurs in moving--before, during, and after.  It takes time to pack, move, and unpack.  I think it takes more time to unpack and feel settled than the preparations.  I wanted my children and husband to feel comfortable right away, but that wasn't to happen.  I think, though, that we're surprisingly settled for being here 9 days.  You know when you have that long list of things to do and you don't know if it's ever going to end?  And you don't feel like you're making progress because a new big thing gets added every day?  That's how the last week has felt.  So, we just kept pressing on.  When my husband's spirits flagged, I kept going.  He did it the first week.  It was my turn the second week.  I did get a bad chest cold this week which made it difficult.  

Our pastor spoke yesterday about happiness and joy.  Happiness is very difficult to maintain because life is full of struggle.   Happiness only lasts for a moment.  Seeking happiness is a continual search.  Joy on the other hand is rooted in our faith in Christ and the knowledge of what God did for us on the cross.  There has been a lot of struggle the past two weeks, but I have peace about our home and I know that God is growing us through all of this.  Growth isn't easy or painless.  I keep reminding myself of this!  

So, that's where I'm at.  I'm learning my limits.  I'm thinking about the little blessings that God has for us in this house and tackling the problems one by one with my husband.  I'm learning to be content with everything not fixed.  I'm learning a lot of things right now--or at least trying to!

Psalm 25[a]
    Of David.
 1 In you, LORD my God,
   I put my trust.
 2 I trust in you;
   do not let me be put to shame,
   nor let my enemies triumph over me.
3 No one who hopes in you
   will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
   who are treacherous without cause.
 4 Show me your ways, LORD,
   teach me your paths.
5 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
   for you are God my Savior,
   and my hope is in you all day long.
6 Remember, LORD, your great mercy and love,
   for they are from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth
   and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
   for you, LORD, are good.
 8 Good and upright is the LORD;
   therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
9 He guides the humble in what is right
   and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful
   toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, LORD,
   forgive my iniquity, though it is great.
 12 Who, then, are those who fear the LORD?
   He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.[b]
13 They will spend their days in prosperity,
   and their descendants will inherit the land.
14 The LORD confides in those who fear him;
   he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever on the LORD,
   for only he will release my feet from the snare.
 16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
   for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart
   and free me from my anguish.
18 Look on my affliction and my distress
   and take away all my sins.
19 See how numerous are my enemies
   and how fiercely they hate me!
 20 Guard my life and rescue me;
   do not let me be put to shame,
   for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
   because my hope, LORD,[c] is in you.
 22 Deliver Israel, O God,
   from all their troubles!

Blogging for Fun

When I told my husband about taking a break from blogging, he didn't give the enthusiastic cheer that I thought he would.  Instead he told me, "Well, we'll see how long that lasts.  You may need the outlet in the midst of everything else."  As often happens, he's right in this case.  I've had all these thoughts running around in my head this week, so I'm just going to put some of them down in this post.

Pondering #1
Last week a missionary couple came to visit our church from France where they are serving.  We started talking about books and I recommended several of my favorite books to her.  At first, I didn't articulate why.  After the church service, I realized that it was because each of the books made a deep impression on me.

These were the books:
Love in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker
This book made me realize how Americentric I've been in my world view and why it is important that the U.S. help countries in Africa and why we need to support missionaries there.
The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson
This book brought the Great Depression to life for me and brought to life for me what it means to "do without".
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
I enjoyed The Kite Runner, but this book (though also set in Afghanistan) is a biography rather than a fiction story like Khaled Hosseini's book.  What amazed me about this story was the absence of God.  Yes, the woman survived under the Taliban and took care of her family.

I realized that I recommended these books to her because she is a missionary who visits many churches with her husband to raise financial support.  God used each of these books to help me understand why missions was important by helping me see life from different perspectives without God.  I have assumed that it is difficult at times for missionaries to explain to some Christians why missions matters.

Pondering #2

I was raised to compare myself with others.  In L.A., people judge you by a. your clothes and b. your car.  I remember my dad constantly comparing himself to others, our family to others, and me to others.  My dad did this because it was his way of making himself feel better about who he was--by feeling that he was better than other people.  This thinking has been ingrained in my head.  I have to constantly fight it, but sometimes that thinking creeps in at unexpected moments.  This morning our pastor spoke about how God uses our humiliation so that we can understand others.

One of the deepest humiliations that I've faced in my life has been the condescension of many Army officers and their wives during my husband's time in the military.  Not all officers and their wives treated us this way, but some did.  It felt horrible to have people look down on my husband and sometimes me simply because my husband was enlisted.  It was one of the things I most looked forward to leaving behind when my husband got out of the Army.  This past year, though, I faced this again.  Last night I realized that now when I tell people my husband was in the Army for 8 years I don't say that he was enlisted.  This isn't because I'm not proud of him--I am deeply.  It is because I don't want people to make snap judgments about him or me if they or family members were officers and not enlisted servicemen.  Last night, I had the chance to talk to an officers wife.  Strangely enough I mentioned to her that my husband was in for 8 years and was enlisted.  We went on to have a great discussion about the military culture and the problems the separation of officers and enlisted has created.  It has created a social culture in which officers and their wives often consider themselves better than folks who are enlisted.  What is ironic is that they are often less educated and skilled than the enlisted folks they look down upon.  The other wife and I pondered and she has puzzled as to why this culture is this way.  I told her that I think it all comes back to the desire to feel good about ones self.  If a person compares him or herself to others in a way that makes them look better than the other person, then they feel good--they feel validated.  That's why we compare ourselves.  It's usually because we want to feel better about ourselves by way of pride.  It's a trap.  It's not really true.  We are valuable because God loves us--not because of anything we've done or can do.  We can get caught in social situations and social cultures though that tell us that our value is because of what we do or because of our position.  God used my humiliation to help me connect with the woman I talked to last night--to encourage her and hopefully shed some light on why things are the way they are.

Today though, that comparison thing--well, it crept right back in.  Where I live now, people are not judged by their cars and clothes, but on their houses.  For the past months we've been in the process of buying a home about 20 minutes away from where we lived.  It's closer to our church and near our friends.  We are so excited.  But, I continually have to remind myself that what God is giving us is better than other options.  I should rephrase that.  Most of the time I am content and secure in trusting God in this blessing.  I am very thankful for the home that we are hoping to move into next Saturday.  But, there are times when the lies creep in.  The lie that I have to put another house down--for whatever reason--in order to feel better about the choice we're making with this house.  It is a lie.  The truth is that there is a constant temptation to compare ourselves.  We have to resist.

When we don't, we do damage to ourselves and others by perpetuating the cycle of comparison.

When I don't, I do damage to myself and others by perpetuation the cycle of comparison.

Our pastor said something yesterday in his sermon that struck me.  He said that the bar of others is the easiest one to measure ourselves by.  We compare ourselves to others so that we figure out if we're good enough.

I realized early on when we put the offer in on this house that it was the right house for my family because as much as I love it it is not what our culture sets forth as most important when purchasing a home.  Our culture says bigger is better -- newer is better.  But, what really matters most is what God has for us--not what the world would tell us we should have.

I wrote much of this post two weeks ago.  This morning it holds a little different message for me.  We did move into our new home 9 days ago.  It has been a stressful, work filled 9 days.  There has been so much more work to do than we expected.  I keep reminding myself of the assurances and ways that the Lord confirmed over the past month that this was the house he had for us.  My good friend Jenny asked me if I had started to see the good things that God has for us in this house.  So, I've started to look for them.  Rather than focusing any attention on comparing this house with another, I'm trying to simply see the blessings in this house.

So, those are my incomplete ponderings this morning...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fiction for Middle School Boys

I will admit that I've read all 7 Harry Potter books.  Many people have different opinions on these about whether they want their children to read them.  After discussions with friends, I decided that I would let my children read one each year beginning when they turn 10 or 11.  Harry gets older in the books and the later books include material (how they address magic) and are often scary in ways that I feel aren't appropriate for young readers.  So, that's going to be my approach with these books and my kids.

This week I read a book that made me recall my feelings about Harry Potter.  It reminded me of the books because my husband's reaction to it and what he was concerned about.
The Future Door by Jason Lethcoe
You see my husband has a habit of picking up the books I'm reviewing, flipping them open, and reading a few pages. After he read a snippet from this one, his first question was whether I was going to let our 8 year old daughter read it?  I said I didn't know.  He replied that he didn't want her to read it.  That made me wonder.  So, I sat down to read it.

This book is the story of Griffin Sharpe and his uncle, Rupert Snodgrass and his uncle's time machine.  I never noticed a mention of exactly how old Griffin is in this story.  The picture on the front cover made me think that he was about 9 or 10 years old.  Based on the character's actions and thoughts, I would have thought it much more likely that he was between 13 and 16 years old.  The plot has many twists and turns.  It's a fun story in that aspect.  Griffin and his uncle are likeable.  The twists at the end are quite unbelievable to me, though.  It is a fantastical story, but there were some details (like whether they ate for 25 years and what they ate) missing that kept the story from working well.  

I suspect that this book is like a lot of fiction written for boys in that vein of Harry Potter.  This book, since it is published by Thomas Nelson, is much milder, but there is still a very significant issue that many parents will have concerns about.  Spoiler alert!: There is a discussion at the end about whether someone had to kill another character, who was an evil man.  The conclusion in the book is that there was no other way.  I'm not even sure how I feel about this as an adult.  I grew up as a conscientious objector.  I married someone in the Army and had to come to terms as an adult with the reality that in this sinful world we live in people aren't always willing to talk.  You can't always "talk it out".  But, it's different for an adult to process such a difficult moral issue and for a child to understand it.  Because of this issue alone, I would only recommend this book to middle schoolers.  The problem is that the reading level is really about a 4th or 5th grade level and I don't think the story will be engaging to 7th or 8th graders.  

If you've read any of my other reviews, you will know that I'm a very picky reader when it comes to my children.  I realize that many parents won't have any issues with this book.  I just want to make you aware of my concerns and feelings.  I've heard about 4th and 5th graders reading The Hunger Games, a popular new book.  That book is leap years ahead of this one in terms of the moral issues it tackles and what it exposes the reader to.  That book is YA fiction written for adults, being read by young children.  So, I know this book is very mild compared to what kids could be reading.  

What's the final verdict?  It's fine reading for a middle schooler.  It has some plot problems, but it isn't bad writing.  It isn't especially good writing either, though.  The issue at the end in which Griffin explains that he had to kill a man--that there was no other choice.  That's one you definitely would want to talk to your kids about.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Thomas Nelson Publishing.