Seasons

TrueTone colors give way

to technicolor and neon

that fades past time bleached

into sepia tones

and finally black and white
with occasional wan water color tint

A lilac sunset the only reminder

of the pencil green shading to come


Book Review of Simonetta Carr’s Martin Luther

luthercoverIt’s been years since I have reviewed a book, but for Simonetta Carr I will break my blogging silence. There are two factors that have changed in my life since I posted my review of Carr’s biography of Knox. First, I have been homeschooling for three years, and secondly, I now have two avid readers, instead of three non-readers.

The first has informed how truly rare these books are. Trying to find a church history curriculum for elementary students has not been difficult. It has been impossible. Carr’s biographies are hands down the best elementary church biography resource available. I appreciated her work two years ago. I treasure it now.

Secondly, I now have two more avid readers living in my house. It is one thing to love a book as a read aloud to children. It is entirely another to have one’s nine year old announce at supper, “Did you know the doors to the Wittenberg cathedral burned in a big fire?” Both the nine year old mackerdoodle and seven year old cheesedoodle were able to read and comprehend the material, while the text is engaging enough for adults to study and enjoy. One can suspect the readability of material, but only real world reading by real world children can prove it.

Now, the story of Martin Luther is a tricky one to tell, especially to children. There is so much more than nailing theses, and much of the things we think we know about Luther aren’t true. Carr’s biography is faithful to the true story of Martin Luther. She includes the well known elements of his life, like the thunderstorm commitment to monasticism, and his nailing 95 theses to a door, and his statement to the Diet of Worms (excluding the oft quoted, but historically inaccurate “here I am, I can do no other.”). She also includes the peasant’s revolt,  the death of two of his children, and his treatise against the Jews later in his life. These elements of Martin Luther’s life are all presented in a gentle way, appropriate for children, while still being faithful to the subject.

Like in her biography of Knox, Carr humanizes Martin Luther. With Knox she made sympathetic an often vilified man. With Luther she makes ordinary a man who has been made so much larger than life. This is, interestingly, more difficult. Luther was a larger than life character. He used large and dramatic language. He had large and dramatic emotions. His life was a large and dramatic one. It is easy to forget that in the midst of that he was a father, husband, and teacher. Simonetta Carr brings that Luther to life. Carr’s other biographies serve as a sort of introduction to faithful men and women in church history that have been forgotten or misrepresented in our modern time. Her biography of Luther serves, instead, as an anchor amidst the hype that surrounds the name “Luther.”

However, to truly appreciate what drove Martin Luther, and some of the events in his life, I think some of that bigness needs to find a place in the story. As I mentioned in my review of Luther on the Christian Life, one of the driving forces in Luther’s theology was the idea of Anfechtungen, or emotional distress that pushes us always to our need for Christ. Luther’s struggle to direct and master his emotions in biblical ways is instructional, even for children. However, no biographer can include the details that every reader believes to be most important. The lack of that aspect of Luther’s life does not diminish this work.

Finally, in reviewing past biographies, I have been remiss not to mention the excellent illustrations contained in each of the books of the series. There is joy in a beautiful book, and this entire series is beautiful, from binding, to font choice, to illustrations. Troy Howell’s work is truly excellent.

 

I received no compensation for this post. I was provided an hard-cover edition for the purpose of review. I was not required to provide a positive one. I keep a disclosure statement here.


Some Thoughts on Silence and the First Commandment

Despite my promise almost a year ago to blog more, I clearly haven’t done that. I have a lot of thoughts – more questions than answers, more re-examining ideas than firm convictions these days. I have been asking the question “why do I believe that?” and seeking the answers in the scriptures and the writings of old dead men who knew far more than I do. In all of this, I have maintained an ambivalence to documenting even the common elements of my life, without really knowing why I couldn’t put fingers to keys.

Recently, however, I have found some clarification in the Westminster Larger Catechism. Like the Shorter, the Larger Catechism studies the Ten Commandments in depth, as a guide for holy living. In question 105 What sins are forbidden in the First commandment, I was struck by two points in a litany of ways in which we place other gods before our True God. The answer includes: “using unlawful means, and trusting in lawful means;” and “ . . . corrupt, blind, and indiscreet zeal;“.

I have been guilty of corrupt, blind, and indiscreet zeal in my life. I once described myself on this very blog as having a theology of mustard. I wasn’t really exaggerating. There have been a lot of things in my life that weren’t necessarily idols, until I began to pursue them with the zeal for which I should pursue the things of God. I have approached everything from mustard and coffee to literature and politics with corrupt, blind, indiscreet zeal, while too often approaching my Creator with lukewarm indifference. That corrupted zeal was also applied, far too often, to blogging and writing. That corrupted zeal would be the definition of false worship was convicting in a particular way, because the reason I had originally been reading the Larger catechism was not to learn more about how I could serve my God. Instead, I had turned to it in a corrupted zeal to prove someone else wrong. My heart was reflected back to me, even as it steeped in violation of the law of God.

Within that realization, however, came another. The things that define my life at the moment – being a homeschooling pastor’s wife – are the subject of much blind and indiscreet zeal themselves, and the subject of much “trusting in lawful means.” I am silent on those points, both in person and online, largely because I don’t want two issues of circumstance to define who I am. I am casting about for a larger definition of myself, and coming up with things that don’t fit so neatly into a blog post. I am weary of corrupted zeal both in myself and in the cyber culture of  blogs and bloggers, and that weariness has led to silence.

I have decided to spend some more time with the Larger catechism, seeking truth, not vindication. In the mean time I am dwelling on Ecclesiastes 5:2

“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”


A Needed Adjustment in Perspective

On Friday we had a speech evaluation for the Cheesedoodle. Getting help for school aged children is more difficult here, but the therapist who has been seeing the Snickerdoodle had agreed to evaluate Cheesedoodle in order to give me tools to help him continue with his speech development. Her words to me at the end of it were an amazing answer to prayer.

She said, “If I didn’t know his history, I would have told you he has no speech issues. He is in the normal spectrum for speech development for a 6 year old.”

“But people still don’t always understand him!” I said.

She leaned across the table, and looked into my mothering soul and said, “He is small for his age, and he is six. People are expecting him to tell them about baseball, or hockey, or his pet dog. They are not expecting him to explain static electricity to them. He is just fine. Keep doing what you are doing. He is an amazing boy.”

So I can hear the chorus of praises from across the continent as people who have prayed for and loved my little boy. This is such a great thing to hear, after all the work and the struggles. It was also exactly what I need to hear at the end of this second full year of home schooling. “He’s fine. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

The truth is, I have spent the last two years feeling ill equipped and unprepared for these uncharted educational waters. I spent three years freaking out about Moriah’s birthday and cut-off dates for school and getting her in the right place. Now we’re homeschooling, where the grades don’t matter. Half of her friends don’t even know what grade they’re in, and no one cares. She’s fine. We’re going to keep  doing what we’re doing.

On the way home, the snickerdoodle was in the back seat singing, “2+2 is 4, 3+3 is 6, 4+4 is 8, 5+5 is ten, 6+6 is Idon’tknow, 7+7 is Idon’tknow, . . . ” She just turned five. I can’t freak out about the “I don’t know”s, when the sane realization is She’s fine. Just keep doing what we’re doing.

In the midst of the weight and lack of definition of homeschooling, it was really nice to have a neutral, non-homeschooling party reassure me that my kids are doing fine, and we should keep doing what we are doing.

 


Just What Am I Doing Here, Exactly?

IMGP6952We have embarked upon a new adventure. In October we acquired two female rabbits. They are sister New Zealand Whites whom my daughters named “Snowstorm” and “Rosie.” Snowstorm and Rosie were acquired for the sole purpose of procreation. With this in mind, we brought a California buck back from Ontario in February. The Cheesedoodle had the privilege of naming the “boy rabbit” and chose Timothy, because his ears are the color of timothy grass. Within 48 hours of his taking up residence in our budding rabbitry, Timothy managed to meet the does. This was a full month earlier than we had planned to introduce them, but as is the way with rabbits, we now have a litter on the way.

It is amazing what the internet can teach a person! I learned to palpate a rabbit two weeks ago to positively identify that Snowstorm was pregnant. Being a rank novice at the trick, I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to how many kits she may be carrying, but there is something in there, and her slightly swelling frame and rapidly slowing energy continues to confirm it. I enter the pen to feed and water them, and I feel like the midwife, visiting her patient. I stroke her gently, and sympathize with her. I check the nest to make sure Rosie hasn’t been disturbing it. I have banished the children from the rabbit pen for this week. My cover story is that I don’t want Snowstorm getting nervous and eating the kits. More true, is that I really want to be the first to see the tiny, new, bald, blind infant rabbits. I feel as if they are my patients.

In direct contrast to this, however, Rosie literally runs to a corner and backs herself into it whenever Timothy comes within a whisker’s twitch of her. It’s all very well to personify a rabbit when one is sympathizing with her gestation (short though it may be), but the reality of animal nature versus human nature sure comes to bear when I hear myself say, “Listen Rosie, if you don’t do this thing, we’re going to have to eat you and replace you. I can’t afford a freeloader.” The words are true, but they are not as comforting a fit as the rabbit midwife persona.

Further complicating matters, I have been engaged in a battle of wits with Timothy. As sweet and poetic as his name is, Houdini would have been a better moniker. For three days he has been literally leaping from his pen. When we added another eight inches to the pen walls, he still managed to leap from it. I could never see how he was managing the wild leap. Like all slight of paw artists, he was carefully to conceal his tricks. However, I became convinced he was actually climbing the chicken wire walls. This evening I placed a large smooth board over the portion of chicken wire he appeared to be climbing. While I had my back turned, I heard the frantic scrabble of Timothy’s claws against it. When I turned around, he was still in his cage, baffled and thwarted. I dropped to my knees, placing my nose inches from the remaining chicken wire and said, “Oh yeah? Oh yeah? Who’s the alpha rabbit NOW?!”

It was at this moment that I realized I may have gone further down this rabbit hole than I thought.

 


Reflections on the Death of My Mother

Jonathan has been preaching through Genesis in the evening service and a few weeks ago Genesis 46:4 stood out to me.

“I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

Our modern world thinks so rarely of the task of closing the eyes of the dead, but it struck me that one of the great promises God granted to Jacob was the promise that his long-thought-dead son would be the one to close his eyes. The intimacy and beauty of that care touched me in a bitter sweet way. I realized that living roughly 1400 km (850 miles) from my parents and 5000 km (3000 miles) from Jonathan’s parents meant that we would likely not have that moment, real or symbolic, of closing our parents’ eyes in death. Three weeks later we received a completely unexpected phone call that my mother was dying of a brain bleed, and there was no way to make it to her side in time to say good bye. The Lord had so graciously prepared me for the situation I could not have known I would face.

There were so many moments of kindness in the journey. Our church session was quick to encourage Jonathan to travel with me instead of sending me alone. Our church congregation, my sister’s congregation (also in our presbytery) and the other churches of our presbytery, and my father’s church all expressed their care and love for us in so many ways. The funeral service was full with people from almost every part of my mother’s life, except her Australia years. We received flowers and phone calls and literally hundreds of emails and Facebook messages with such kind and genuine memories of my mother. The Lord was kind to sustain us, even when we were struck with the stomach flu the night before the funeral.

memorialfrontNow, after seven hectic, but blessed, days of funeral preparations, we are back home, and the chronic nature of grief is becoming real to me. I had not realized how many times every day I think “I must remember that for Mom.” or “Mom would love that story.” or “Take a picture of that for Mom.” I had often joked about hearing my mother’s voice in my head. Don’t we all do that? But I hadn’t realized how very often the every day tasks in my life incorporated a memory of something my mother said, or taught me, or loved, or hated. There are so many irrational moments like seeing my Scrabble board and suddenly feeling overwhelming sense of guilt that I hadn’t replaced the J as I promised her I would before her next visit. There are those gut wrenching moments like being the only member of the family who could disable her Facebook account. There is the reality, as I sit blogging, that I was always certain, no matter what I wrote, my Mom would read it. There is that sense of sadness that I carry with me, inside my chest, without really being able to express it.

My mother loved the Lord and was loved by Him. Her struggles with her health, her body, and her mind are now gone, and she is worshiping in a peace and joy she never knew here. I do not grieve as one with no hope, nor do I grieve as the one who knows the Lord and is certain their loved one did not. However, I do grieve. I grieve in the confidence that the Lord’s promises are true and that my mother is resting in the arms of our Savior just as my first child is. Still, I grieve.  I grieve because I miss my mother. I grieve because I don’t think my youngest daughter will remember her Nana. I grieve because death is the result of sin and corruption in God’s good creation.

People ask me how I am, and I answer “I am doing well. The Lord is sustaining.” It is true. It is not a mindless platitude or the socially expected statement from a minister’s wife. The Lord is kind and is sustaining me in my sadness, just as he prepared my heart for it weeks ago. Blessed is the name of the Lord.


EIGHTEEN!

Favorite number. I don’t get it. Numbers are functional. Asking for a favorite number is like asking what my favorite gasoline is, or my favorite nail, or screw, or spark plug. My favorite is the one I need at the moment that is close to hand. They serve a function, not a fancy. My only favorite number is “Free,” which doesn’t count as a number.

My youngest daughter, however, has a favorite number. At first I thought it was just the biggest number she could think of. This summer when we were renovating the kitchen, she walked into the dining room, and surveyed my carefully laid underlay with screws every four inches, and said, “Whoa. There must be eighteen screws in there.” At the time it felt more like 1800, so I wasn’t amused. When discussing future family sizes, she often announces that she will have eighteen babies. (Reminded, of course, by her fertility challenged mother that one doesn’t always get to pick.)

We became aware, however, that it went beyond big. Sometimes it was funny, like when Jonathan was counting to twenty for hide and seek with the children. He got to eighteen, and heard, from inside a closet, “Yay! Eighteen.” Other times it was inappropriate, like when Jonathan was reading Judges 20 in family worship. “Eighteen thousand men of Benjamin fell, all of them men of valor.” “Yay! Eighteen.” Sometimes it is useful, like when the other kids get 20 minutes of screen time, but she negotiates 18. She can even set the timer herself, because she knows 18. Although one time she set it for 18 hours and 18 minutes. Two eighteens are better than one.

Last week I had the blessing of driving to Fredericton with only the snickerdoodle. On the way home we slowed down at the 218 kilometer mark so she could see it and say “Yay! Eighteen.” When we passed exit 188, she said, “It’s an eighteen and a broken eighteen.” The entire family has begun looking for eighteens just because it makes our youngest say, “Yay! Eighteen.” Eighteen has become her thing. When the older children get eighteen as an answer in their math problems, they call her over and show it to her. When they find something with 18 written on it, they automatically assign it to their youngest sister.

When my mackerdoodle was the same age that the snickerdoodle is now, I was often quoting her to people and listening to her little quirks. The two youngest children have speech issues. The oldest got to be the only one speaking for a long time. I don’t have those same moments with my youngest. I am catechizing and teaching spelling and reading and grammar and math. I am drawing maps for history and experiments for science. I am answering a thousand questions an hour, and only a fraction of those come from my almost five year old. The cuteness gets lost in the mist of daily doings.

I am always aware of the tension between what must be done and what must be noticed, because it is so fleeting. I didn’t realize that my mackerdoodle had been aware of that same tension. Earlier this week she had been doing nine times tables, so the number 18 was making regular appearances on her work. The snickerdoodle would stop every thing to come and see every single 18. On the last problem, the mackerdoodle looked into my face and said, “One day she isn’t going to say ‘yay. eighteen.’ any more. One day it will just be another number again. Please write it down so we don’t forget.”

From now on eighteen will remind me not only of my wonderful third child and her child like wonder at the things we barely even notice, but also of the growing maturity in my oldest who doesn’t want to forget the days her little sister said, “YAY! EIGHTEEN.”