Friday, 30 December 2011

Looking Forward to 2012

Another year has come and gone and now I'm here to reflect on the end of my teenage years.  This past year has been significant for me in many ways and was filled with both joy and sorrow.  I started the year in a state of discontentment, watched dreams fall to the ground, and came to terms with the idea that God wanted me where I was, even when it meant sacrifice.  I asked a lot of life question, some for which I received answers, or at least some insight.  I watched friends go through the unspeakable pain of losing a child.  I had new opportunities like going to Boston (my first trip on my own), I learned to understand what I have to offer, and I've walked alongside some amazing people who have been both mentors and friends.

Earlier this year, I was informed that I wasn't going to be where I was next year.  The business I worked for the past almost three years closed this week and for a long time I couldn't see past this year.  I knew I would be free to move on and do something else, but I didn't have a clue what that would be.  There were things I knew I wanted to pursue, like studying literature and writing.  I explored post-secondary education and prayed through other options, but it continually became clear they were not God's plan for me at the time. 

Every New Year in my church, we pick up a promise verse and come back the following year to share how that verse worked itself out in our life that year.  My verse for the year was Philippians 4:19: "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."  When I picked that up at the end of 2010, I thought I knew what it would mean for my life.  I was wrong though.  Before long, my income was cut while my expenses increased, but I always had enough.  Then it became evident that I would reach the end of the year unemployed.  Ironic, eh?  But God holds to His promises and I'm not unemployed.  I have a new position in a new field that I'm not qualified for, but I will gain new experience and have opportunities beyond anything I could have dreamed.  God's goodness never ends!

This week also marks the end of my teenage years.  It's kind of hard to believe that it's over and I've spent some time reflecting over the happenings in the last several years of my life.  Do I have regrets?  Yes and no.  I didn't live a "normal" teenage life in terms of education, work and life in general.  I followed a unique path and that I do not regret.  But I do regret not having lived more fully for the Lord, not having pursued holiness in my life more passionately and not having fought more against sin.  There are definitely many things I would erase if I could.

If I was asked to give my readers one piece of counsel from my teen years, it would be this.  Keep a pure mind.  Yes, it's extremely hard and I learned that with great difficulty this past year. I had originally expounded a lot on this, but it didn't fit, so let me just say this.  Sin begins in the mind, and we eventually act on what we think on.  By keeping a pure mind, we will save ourselves, those around us, and our future spouse a lot of pain.  Be careful what you dwell on.

When I look back on this year, it was good, but it could have been better.  I want to aim to make each year better, to grow more, love more and to follow Christ more faithfully.  I can say though that overall I am much happier now than I have been in the past.  Yes, a few chapters have closed in my life but I'm looking forward to new things and I'm excited for what 2012 holds for me.  I would like to wish all my readers a very blessed New Year!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Lies Young Women Believe

A couple months ago, the girls in my youth group started going through the Lies Young Women Believe: And the Truth That Sets Them Free study by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Dannah Gresh.  In all honesty, before we started, I didn't think I needed it.  As it turns out, I didn't realize how badly I did need it.

Lies Young Women Believe examines the 25 most common lies Christian young women believe about God, Satan, themselves, relationships, guys, media, sin and their futures and reveals God's Truth about them.  There's a Companion Guide that goes along with the book, which I would definitely recommend using.  It splits the book into a nine week study and there are study questions and exercises that correspond with what you're reading that week.  They also make good use of colour and graphics so it's visually appealing.  Sure, you may wonder why you need to spend the money on two books (so did I), but it is well worth it.

When I started this study, I knew there were many areas of my life that needed to change, and as much as I wanted the change, I was afraid of the pain that would come with it.  This book doesn't just expose lies we believe; it exposes sin.  It doesn't beat around the bush.  It looks at gritty issues for what they really are.  There were many issues that came up in this study where God was already convicting me.  There were things that He was repeatedly teaching me and were coming up in so many different places, that I just couldn't run from them.  I had to face head-on lies I was believing about sin, purity, authority and media and deal with them.

One of the blessings that came out of this study was simply spending more time in the Word aside from just my morning devotions.  This study wasn't about the book, it was about the Book, and it sent you searching through the scriptures all the time.  It also emphasized memorizing scripture, something I always want to do, but have a hard time sticking with.  A verse came to me last week, that wasn't mentioned in the study, but I feel it kind of sums it up.

Psalm 119:11 (ESV)
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.

I would definitely recommend this book to young women.  If you're around the age of 20+, don't look at it and think you're too old for it, especially if you're still single.  (I kind of did that.)  The issues discussed in the book do still apply to you.  If you're married, you can always look to Lies Women Believe by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. 

For more mature young women, I would also recommend And the Bride Wore White: Seven Secrets to Sexual Purity by Dannah Gresh, which I read a few years ago.  Earlier this year, she also published What Are You Waiting For?: The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex.  I haven't read it in it's entirety, but I have skimmed portions and would recommend it as well to more mature readers. (She speaks frankly about sexual issues.)

As young women, we are called to be examples to the world.  If you want to grow in your relationship with God and be filled with His Truth, this study is a great place to start.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Young Man on Sexual Healing

This young man puts a very important issue into a poem, sharing God's Truth and forgiveness.  He examines the problem of sexual sin, the hurt countless young women face, and the forgiveness Christ offers And no, it's not just for the guys; girls can learn from this as well.  There are many good reasons to wait for God's timing.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

You Want Transparency?

In response to my post yesterday, I was told that transparency trumps significance.  Okay, I can believe that....but only sometimes.  For me, transparency begs the following question: Do we as Christians really want people to be transparent with us?  And how do we respond when they are?

I'm not always transparent with people. (That's an honest, transparent statement.)  I have several reasons for that.  The lighter ones include that I don't think people really want me to be, that they don't really want to hear what's going on in my life, or they don't care.  Other times, I just don't want to talk about it.  Deeper down, I'm not transparent because I'm afraid of being judged, I'm afraid of what people think, I'm afraid of rejection.  Sometimes, I even fail to be transparent with those closest to me, not for fear that they won't love me, but for fear of hurting or disappointing them.

To be honest, I don't always respond well when people are transparent with me.  Some Christians have no problem being open about where they're at, and it's not always in a pretty place.  I'm not sure how to deal with people when they have an ongoing struggle with the same thing and can't get over it. Sometimes, I have damaged relationships, because I couldn't accept a friend's transparency and hurt them instead.  In short, I don't always want to see transparency in others.  Sometimes, I'd much rather believe the mask they put on to hide what I'd rather not see.

When people are transparent with us, how do we respond?  Rather, how should we respond? What do we say when they confess the gross, ugly sin they've been hiding for years?  For starters, if we expect transparency, we have to put on love and cut the judgement.  That doesn't mean we have to be okay with everything.  Love is not okay with sin, but it doesn't join the ranks of the haters either.  Author Kevin Abell has excellent insight on what love really looks like and I hope to share that with you in the future.

For me, I have been able to be transparent with a few people about sin in my life and receive love. No, they didn't tell me I was okay.  Quite the opposite.  But I never felt judged by them.  They asked me straight questions that demanded honest answers.  And that's what I needed at the time.  I needed accountability, as unpleasant as it sometimes was.  Those were the real friends.

You might be among the number who can't stand fakers and people acting like they have it altogether when their life is really a mess.  Or maybe you've been there.  I have.  But before you ask people for transparency, ask yourself whether or not you want it.  And ask yourself how you will respond.  Chances are, the people in your life don't want to be transparent for the same reasons you don't.

Friday, 2 December 2011

How Can I Give....?

I've been searching my brain all week for something to write about, but I feel like I'm coming up empty.  It's not necessarily that I don't have ideas, but they all seem incomplete, it's not the right time, or I'm not sure how to make them work.  I've been mulling over my year end post, like I have down for the past few years, but I have to wait a few weeks to share it.  With other ideas, I just don't know how to bring across what I'm want.

If this blog is ever a disappointment to you, I'm sorry.  I really am.  But I don't want to put out pointless content for the sake of there being something new here for you.  There's enough writers with nothing to say and I don't want to add to the number.  I truly want to offer insight here that would uplift and inspire people, and if I'm not doing that, I don't want to be writing.

I started on a new journey of sorts a couple months ago.  Before this point, I often felt like I didn't have anything to offer, like I had nothing to give, like I didn't make a difference.  It took me walking through a process with a mentor of sorts to see that I did have a difference to make.  But there was still a question pressing on my heart that I had to put before him: "How can I give what I don't have?"  Yes, I recognized I had a difference to make (I do even more now), but I felt like it wasn't real in my own life.  How could I inspire other people to have vision, when my life was directionless, when I wasn't even sure I had one?

He helped me get past that, and many other things and I can't begin to describe in a few words how exciting this journey has been for me.  But it doesn't fix things.  Yes, God has blessed me with wonderful people to help guide me in a very uncertain time in my life, but there's still a lot to work through.  I honestly can't see past this year.  I have most of this next month here planned out, but as soon as 2012 hits, I am almost clueless as to what I will have ahead of me. I know I want to reach people through my writing, but sometimes, I just don't know how to do it.  I don't know what to share with readers.

About a week ago, I told a friend something like "God won't expect you give what you don't have.  He will fill you."  Today I have to remind myself of that.  I have been seeking God in many things recently, and my writing is one of them.  I believe He has shown me in part what He has in mind for me in this area, and it's much bigger than my own ideas.  But then I feel empty. I hit a phase of writer's block, and it doesn't seem possible.  I look at my life, and it seems like something that will never fly.  Ever.

As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of a lesson by a former Sunday school teacher.  He had an interactive way of teaching that made you remember his lessons years later. Even in my youth group, we still talk about the things we remember from years back, things like "start righteousnessing."  I could provide a whole list of things I remember.  I don't remember the exact topic of this lesson, but I remember the key verse he used.

Psalm 81:10 (ESV)
I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

I remember this verse because he used a picture to illustrate it, like he often did.   It was a picture of a nest full of baby birds, with their beaks wide open, waiting to be filled.  If we open up our mouth wide, God will fill it.  If I continue to seek God, and take time to listen to His voice, He will fill me.  He does not expect us to go on empty.  Although this teacher no longer stands and speaks to us on Sunday mornings, his words, his message still rings loud in our lives in many ways.  His impact is not forgotten.

No, I don't know what my life holds.  I don't know how far my words will reach.  I don't always know what my words will be.  But if I ask God, He will fill me.  I don't have to give what I don't have.  If I don't always turn out something significant here every week, be patient with me.  As the Lord leads, it will come.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Aristotle on Virtue

I've been studying a portion of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics in The Great Books Reader.  The selection mainly focuses on virtue, and its meaning.  Here's a portion that stuck out to me.

"Both fear and confidence and appetite and anger and pity and in general pleasure and pain may be felt both too much and too little, and in both cases not well; but to feel them at the right times, with reference to the right objects, towards the right people, with the right motive, and in the right way, is what is both intermediate and best, and this is characteristic of virtue.  Similarly with regard to actions also there is excess, defect, and the intermediate.  Now virtue is concerned with passions and actions, in which excess is a form of failure, and so is defect, while the intermediate is praised and is a form of success; and being praised and being successful are both characteristics of virtue.  Therefore virtue is a kind of mean, since, as we have seen, it aims at what is intermediate."

He goes on to say this a little further:

"But not every action nor every passion admits of a mean; for some have names that already imply badness, e.g. spite, shamelessness, envy, and in the case of actions adultery, theft, murder; for all of these and suchlike things imply by their names that they are themselves bad, and not the excesses or deficiencies of them.  It is not possible, then, ever to be right with regard to them; one must always be wrong." --Both translated by W.D. Ross, 1908

I think Aristotle touched on something significant in these passages.  What do you think?  Is it right?  Is it Biblical?  Please share your thoughts.  Don't just be a passive reader.  Take time to think and let's generate some discussion.

Monday, 21 November 2011

What is Normal Anyway?

"I can't wait for my life to be normal again."  I say that a lot.  Maybe you have too.  For me, that statement is often followed up by "What is normal anyway?"  I have heard others ask the same question.  I have finally come up with an answer to that question.

When we say we want our lives to be "normal" again, we have, whether consciously or unconsciously, created an ideal in our minds about what our life should be like that we're not experiencing at the time.  Oh, and it's usually selfish.  When I say I can't wait for life to be normal again, what I'm actually saying is "I can't wait until I can live for myself again."

I'm recognizing in that time that I'm not in control of my life, and I want to be.  I usually like my life to be predictable, consistent and I don't respond well to curve balls. I want to be able to run my plans, my way, be able to make and stick to my schedule without anybody intruding, and no outside inconveniences.  It means a "normal" day at work that doesn't include rude or demanding customers, damaged products in my shipments to report, annoying phone calls or the endless chore of dusting.  It means I get to have an uninterrupted lunch when I want, I get to leave on time, and go home to a fresh hot supper.

When I'm at home, it means I get to carry out my day as I planned, without any family interruptions, responsibilities or demands outside of what I have previously taken into account.  It means there's not a whole lot of extra activities or events I have to attend that fill up my free time.  That's a brief description.  Basically, "normal" is a life centred around me.  At the root, it's completely selfish.

Normal is nice, but it's not how we are called to live.  Although normal can get boring too.  But in times when I long for normal, I have to remind myself that my life and my time are not my own.  I'm not in control of my life; God is.  I need to give my days to him and be open to whatever else He has for me.  I need to recognize that there may be other needs I'm called to meet that are more important than my own needs or wants.  So do you. We aren't called to settle for the normal.

This leads me to something else I have been thinking about.  When people get to know me, something that many notice is that I think.  I think in a way and about issues that most teenagers don't.  Most people mistake me for being much older than I really am.  Some assure me it's not a bad thing, but it still annoys me.  I guess you could say I'm not "normal" when compared to today's youth culture.  But I think a better word would be "common."  What we see among the youth in our day is common, but I don't think it should ever be normal.  When I see what defines most of "normal" North American teens, I know I never want to be named among them.

As Christians, we aren't called to follow the norm.  We aren't called to live "normal lives" characterized by selfishness, shallow thinking or the accepted lifestyle that defines today's youth.  God has called each and every one of us to something greater, which we should desire to follow after.  He desires for each of us to have a vision that goes beyond the expectations of this world.  He desires for us to give our days and our plans to Him, because His plans for our lives are greater than our own and ultimately a lot more satisfying.

Normal can be nice, but there's more than enough to go around.  Are you willing to let go of it and live an abnormal life, to go above the expectations of this world, to give your plans even for today to God and see what might happen?  It's not always easy but I can guarantee you that it will surprise some people and will bring much more glory to God.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Justin and Christa: Their Story

What would you do if you suffered from a disease for several years, experienced extreme pain and suffering on an almost daily basis, and saw no end or relief in sight?  What would you do if you had to watch your spouse, the person whom you loved more than your own life, spend their days and nights in endless agony?

Most of us wouldn't even want to imagine something like that, but that's Justin and Christa Vanderham's story.  Christa got very sick in New Zealand while attending a Bible school before she met Justin, but nobody could tell her what was wrong with her.  When they did meet and later marry, her symptoms were up and down, and they had no idea what the future held for them.

The beginning of their marriage became marred with constant suffering.  She was sick for over two years before she was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease.  The agony they went through was unspeakable.

This video tells their story over the last several years.  Honestly, it's no picnic.  Some of the footage is very unpleasant and shows the seriousness of what she battles.  But I'm glad I spent over an hour watching it.

I was blown away watching this.  In all honesty, I'm a complete wimp.  I never could have endured what Christa did.  A few years ago I began having some digestive problems, and although I came out very lucky, I think I nearly excelled at the self-pity thing through that ordeal.  Now, I still have to watch what I eat at times, but I'm healthy and realize I was have always been incredibly fortunate.

What amazed me the most was how Justin and Christa's love for each other and for God stayed so strong.  I don't know how many men would have cared for their young brides the way Justin did.  I think I can say Justin knows what it means to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.

Justin writes this on his blog on May 24:

"The stress and anguish of my heart are far too high to even think about food. 24 hours without sleep is common. I go days without realizing that I haven't taken a full breath because of the trauma we find ourselves in. Running up and down the stairs getting drugs, helping her throw up, pouring baths, giving her mouth-to-mouth oxygen, micro-waving heat bags, researching online, and making sad attempts at laundry and dishes is what fills most of my days.
  I am no hero. If this is what being a hero is, I wouldn't recommend it..." (emphasis mine)
I've only had time to scan and read bits and pieces of their blogs, but both Justin and Christa have some great things to say that I look forward to reading more of. 

Next to Justin and Christa's love and their ability to stay strong, I greatly admire the heart and love Christa has for other people.  She had a few good weeks and she was in the kitchen not only cooking dinner for her and her husband, but others who were going through a hard time.  Or she was making cards, writing to people, encouraging others, or giving massages from a hospital bed.  How does one display such care and selflessness in the midst of their own suffering?  God, and His love, is all I can come up with.

Yes, their video is a little long, but if you have time to watch a movie, watch their story instead.  No, it won't make you laugh or leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, but I doubt you'll regret it.  Also, check out their website and Justin and Christa's blogs.  And pray for them that God would continue to bring healing to their lives.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Where Are the Men?

I wrote an article for the girls a couple weeks ago, now this one is for the guys.  Hold on tight!  Some of you may write this post off, and I would understand why. I'm not here to bash men, but to share an article that addresses a common question among women, share my perspective, and hopefully encourage any guys who may end up reading this.

It's "Dude, Where's Your Bride?" by Kevin DeYoung.  I loved this article and not just because it tells the men to be men.  Kevin takes into account both sides of the problem, which is necessary.  I laughed right off at the start where he made that remark about girls reading Just Do Something and thinking he would be sympathetic, because I knew exactly what he was talking about.  I read the book a couple years ago and loved what he had to say on the marriage issue.

Before you go further, please read Kevin's article.  It'll save me some explaining.  It speaks best for itself.  I'm just here to add my thoughts to it. 

I've been reminded often of how lucky I am to be part of a church/youth group with nice guys who respect and look out for the girls.  Not every young woman has that.  But even so, the girls waaaay outnumber the guys.  When people ask me why I'm single (even at my young age), I have a number of answers, but.....I hate to put it this way, (and it's certainly only a small aspect of the issue), but I can count the number of eligible men older than me in my church on one hand.  And there's a lot of girls!!!  I know there are churches who have the opposite problem, but I'm not about to go "church-shopping" in hopes of finding someone.

Even so, the issue does not rest solely on the shoulders of the men, and I think it was very needful for Kevin to address that. Some girls are simply desperate, and well, scare the guys away.  Or they have impossible, fairy-talish standards.  Many of these graduate women that are filling churches aren't pursuing careers because they're feminists, but because they have to find something to do in the meantime.  Kevin addresses this matter more in depth in Just Do Something. Delayed marriage really does complicate education and career decisions for women.  As much as they want to marry and raise a family, they have to find a way to be profitable now.

"If you are single, pray more for the sort of spouse you should be than for the sort of spouse you want."  Yes!  I've realized this more in my own life.  If you want a great man, you have to be a great woman deserving of him!  You can't expect to have it all, and he gets little in return.  Keep praying for that amazing, godly man, but start praying more that God would change you to be that amazing, godly woman deserving of him!  Very often, our idea of marriage during this season of life is totally selfish.  Now's the time to turn it around.

Honestly, Kevin sums up perfectly what girls want in this one paragraph.  Guys, we aren't asking for you to be rich and attain the world's definition of success.  But this is what we are asking for.

"I don’t think young women are expecting Mr. Right to be a corporate executive with two houses, three cars, and a personality like Dale Carnegie. They just want a guy with some substance. A guy with plans. A guy with some intellectual depth. A guy who can winsomely take initiative and lead a conversation. A guy with consistency. A guy who no longer works at his play and plays with his faith. A guy with a little desire to succeed in life. A guy they can imagine providing for a family, praying with the kids at bedtime, mowing the lawn on Saturday, and being eager to take everyone to church on Sunday. Where are the dudes that will grow into men?"

I didn't share this to join the crowd of exulting women shouting "Preach it!  Let 'em have it!"  No, I just wanted to share my brief perspective on both sides of the issue.  I want to encourage the men to rise up and be men and  to share what it is that we as young women wish to see, at the same time acknowledging that we have a lot of work to do to be the wives you deserve.  We don't expect you to be rich, but we want to see you have a vision and godly ambition, being leaders in the church and in the home, to be able to trust you to provide for our children, and we pray that we would be worthy of that. 

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Monday, 24 October 2011

What Do I Do Now?

Life is one big confusing jumble of decisions.  I'm at an exciting transition point right now where I'll be making many in my life in the next few months.  As much as I'm looking forward to it, a part of me doesn't want this season of my life to end.  I feel like I was just starting to get some things figured out.  I was excited about what I was able to do.  And now, depending on what happens in the coming weeks and months, I might not have the time to do those things anymore.

I have only the last little fringe of my teenage years left, and I already wish I had done some things differently.  I already wish I had made more of them.  And I know there are thousands of young people, especially young women, who are walking the same path I did and are discontent.  I want to speak to you specifically today, although I encourage all my readers to go through to the end.

I have come to believe that a part of the reason many Christian young women waste away their single years in discontentment is because they haven't found anything meaningful to do with their time.  Many finish school, with plans of being a homemaker someday, which is great, but then they just sit around waiting for life to happen, waiting for Prince Charming.  They get stuck and start to feel lost during their in-between years and grow very discontent.

That pretty much sums up the last few years of my life.  I'll be honest.  I used to think I would get married young.  Like, by now.  I'm still here, as single as ever.  But I'm happier now.  Yes, I still wonder how soon I will get married.  Probably almost every day.  But I've also started to fear how soon I will get married.  Why?  Because I have discovered something that excites me and I want to pursue that fully!  And I now have the best time of my life to do it, and it is oh, so short.  I don't have enough time to do all I want!

As Christians, we're often told not to follow the feminist expectations of our culture.  I agree.  But I'm also beginning to wonder if our young women are falling into a trap, by following the expectations of the church in some cases.  The church often likes to lay out it's own set of expectations for us.  It may go something like this: finish school, stay at home with your parents while you prepare to be a godly wife and homemaker, get married, have babies and homeschool one big, happy family!  Or go into missions if you're to singleness.  Something like that.  That's great, until you run into a problem.

Becoming a godly woman is an ongoing process.  Although spiritual maturity is important when considering marriage, you don't have to attain a certain degree of perfection first. (I believed that lie for awhile.)  I already know how to cook, bake, clean, do laundry and all those other things that come into managing a household.  What do I do now????  I have to do more than grow spiritually and help Mom keep house.  Well, get a job.  Done.  Life is still more than all that and work.  It won't be the end of discontentment.

I think part of the problem is many young women aren't keeping busy with meaningful pursuits.  They spend so much time thinking about their futures and waiting for life to happen.  The truth is, life is happening, and it's in your hands.  Do something great with it!

Simply put, find something that gets you excited, seek the Lord about it, and then pursue it with all your heart.  I'm talking about something you always long to do, and get super enthusiastic every time you do it or even think about it.  It will be different for everyone.  For me, this has come in the form of studying classics/literature.  I get so excited about it sometimes, I literally squeal.  And I have few people in my life who share my interest in it.

I want to take a moment aside to discuss the issue of education.  Young women in some Christian circles are often discouraged from pursuing further education or preparing for a career, especially if they desire, or are expected to be homemakers.  It doesn't seem practical and sometimes it's simply not affordable.  Very often, you won't even use it later on.  That's exactly why I haven't done it.  But someone once told me you can only teach your children what you know.

Education doesn't have to mean a degree or studying in a formal setting.  Education comes when you're inspired to learn.  You can do that at home.  Determine what you want to study, whether it's as broad as literature, or even just a new skill or computer program, and you can do a lot through books and online resources. That's what I'm doing right now.  I'm learning now what I want to put into my children to raise, teach, and inspire them to be the godly leaders this world needs. It's much easier to learn a lot of that now, than later on when I'm trying to take care of them all.

Girls, find something you love, pray about it, then pursue it with all your heart.  Catch a vision, and follow it.  If you can work part-time to make some money, and help at home and work on your pursuits the other part of the week, that's fantastic.  I have loved being able to do that.  If you want to learn, study.  If you have a special gift or talent, hone it and creatively use that to bless others.  Spend time serving in your church or community.  If you have a burden for the lost, bring the Gospel to them.  If it's for the sick and needy; minister to them.  If you have a burden for slaves and the sex trade, look into volunteering for the International Justice Mission.  If you grieve over abortion, be a voice for those babies.  Search your area for organizations where you can use your time and skills to bless the world and make a difference. 

There is so much we as young women can do with our single years.  They don't have to be wasted in discontentment, waiting for life to happen.  Yes, we still face certain roadblocks, but there's so much we can do more effectively and easily now than when we're raising a family.  We have time and a lot less responsibilities.  There are dreams we can pursue.  We can find purpose and fulfillment now.  Don't wait till it's too late then look back and wish you had done more with this time in your life. You don't have to follow someone else's definition of success.  Just set goals, develop a plan, then follow the desires that God places within your heart.

I could say more, but I will end with something author James L. Rubart wrote last week. I've read something similar before and it's really got me thinking. "At the end of the age I don't think Jesus will say, 'Did you sell a bunch of books?' I think he's more likely to say, 'Did you follow the passion I put inside you with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, no matter the outcome?'"  I want to be able to say "Yes!" to that.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Why Do You Follow Christ?

I have been studying a small portion of The Republic by Plato the past couple weeks.  It was a conversation on the meaning of justice, whether or not justice is a virtue, and whether a just man was happier than an unjust man.  The common belief among man was that injustice was far more profitable than justice, and that the unjust man, being able to do whatsoever he pleases without suffering the consequences was far happier than the just man, especially if he was thought to be unjust.  They believed that although justice was better than injustice, it was grievous and was only to be endured for benefits in the afterlife.  Plato himself, however, believed that man should be just simply for the sake of being just, not for the sake of any reward.

In this conversation, a man named Adeimantus makes an interesting statement regarding man's motivation in pursuing justice:

"Parents and tutors are always telling their sons and their wards that they are to be just; but why? not for the sake of justice, but for the sake of character and reputation; in the hope of obtaining for him who is reputed just some of those offices, marriages, and the like which Glaucon has enumerated among the advantages accruing to the unjust from the reputation of justice."

At first this idea that people are only just because of the rewards that are promised to them seemed to me a selfish idea.  But as I thought about it, I realized this is largely what Christians do.  Many Christians follow Christ simply for the reward at the end, for the promise of heaven when the toils of this life are over.  The Christian life is filled with decisions where we have to deny ourselves what our flesh wants and choose to be obedient to Him.  We often don't do it because we want to, but because of the blessings or rewards we are promised if we do.  And, of course, to avoid death and hell.

Is this a right approach to the Christian life?  Does Christ not deserve to be loved simply for who He is, for the fact that God created us, and He redeemed us from our sin?  Is He not worthy of our love even without all the rewards and blessings He promises?  It should be, but that is not the case in the lives of many Christians.  Many come to Christ initially to escape hell, many continue in the faith for the same, and for the promise of heaven.  I must admit that I myself am guilty in part.

What would happen if the promise of heaven was taken away?  Would we still love and follow our Lord?  Would He not be worthy of our love and devotion either way?  But then I have to wonder, would there have been a point in Christ's death and resurrection if not to grant us eternal life?

I am reminded that Jesus died for us for the sake of a reward.  Jesus Himself "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb. 12:2, ESV)  Christ Himself has His eyes on a reward when He died on the cross.  He came to break the curse of death that sin brought into the world.  He didn't do it simply to save us from our sin, but to restore us to fellowship with our Maker and that we might one day be in His presence, see Him face to face and share in His glory.  So, it seems to me that the reward of heaven was a part of His purpose, but that shouldn't be the only reason we follow Him.

Like justice, following Christ comes with a price.  Yes, He promised us an eternal reward for our faithfulness, but it comes at a cost.  Jesus said so Himself.  Along with the blessings, He promised us trials and tribulations.  Is it worth it?  I believe it is.  We can look around at the unjust of this world, and they may seem happy, they may look like they have it made, but they don't.  I personally don't think it's possible for a man to live his whole life in sin and be truly happy, no matter how well thought of he is, how much recognition and possessions he has.  Deep down, his conscience will condemn him.  And whatever happiness he does have will last only until he dies.

Justice and the Christian life are wonderful.  But both come with a price and a reward.  So, I ask you, why do you follow Christ?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Great Books Reader

Introducing: My New Project!  Well, one of them at least.  It's called The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization and edited by John Mark Reynolds.

Working in the book industry, I often get to discover great titles long before they come out and this was one of them.  So I was eagerly anticipating the release of this book, and it ended up getting delayed by over two months.  Frustrating. 

Now, for a little background on the book.  It was compiled by John Mark Reynolds, founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, the Great Books program at Biola University in California.  I tell ya, there's some universities I wish I could pick up and move here, and Biola is one of them.  Then if tuition paid for itself, I'd be all set.  This liberal arts and biblical studies program is like one of those far distant dreams that will never be realized.

I didn't really know what to expect before I got the book.  I didn't have a chance to preview it before I purchased it.  Being a couple inches thick and weighing nearly three pounds, it's a good-sized book.  It contains excerpts and essays on 30 different classics.  It was designed for those who didn't have the opportunity to study at a university to be introduced to these works.  People like me!  And the best thing is, it examines these works in a Christian context.  In his introduction, Reynolds explains why Christians should be well-read and how to approach the great books.  He explains how to go about studying these excerpts and bringing the ideas in line with God's Word.

I began by reading the selection of The Odyssey by Homer.  After working on it for a couple days, I must admit, I didn't really "get the point."  However, I wasn't ready to give up after that.  Next was an excerpt of The Republic by Plato, which I'm still working on.  Can I say WOW!!??  I got so excited reading it that I could hardly contain my joy.  I think I'm still just in the beginning of this study.  I'm pondering the meaning of justice, why people choose to be just, how we view justice or injustice and so forth.  That may sound boring to you, but there really is something thrilling about reading a work from around 2500 years ago, understanding their view of the world and human nature, and realizing that a lot of ideas really haven't changed!  It's incredibly inspiring!

I have a lot of work ahead of me.  In the coming months, I'll be diving into the likes of Augustine, Dante, Milton, Wesley, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Chesterton and much more.  Oh, then there's my other projects in between all that.  I get excited about all this stuff.  Yes, to get the full benefit, you have to do some tough thinking, but it is so rewarding.

"Readers lead, but the surrounding world does not encourage us to take the time to read.  It has never been easier to get books but never harder to find the quiet needed to study them." --John Mark Reynolds

Proverbs 3:13, 14 (ESV)
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Adam Young: Music and Blog

Today I reveal another one of my secrets.  That is, my enjoyment of Adam Young's music and blog.  Owl City, for those of you who don't recognize the name.  There, I said it.  I don't doubt some of my readers will be surprised at my interest in his genre of music (electro pop), but truth be told, it is just SO MUCH FUN!!!  It has a happiness effect.  Yes, I know there are many starry-eyed girls out there who dream of marrying him, but rest assured, I am NOT one of them.

Adam's music is hard to describe.  It's like he lives in a totally different world.  His imagination is simply incredible!  His lyrics range from fun, romantic, colourful, thoughtful, intense, to just plain cute and sweet!  Sure, half of his lines don't make any sense, but that makes it all the more fun!

I can't remember when I was first introduced to Owl City, but I'm guessing it was likely when "Fireflies" became a hit.  Shortly thereafter, I was surprised to discover that the singer, Adam Young, was a Christian!  The only song on his album "Ocean Eyes" that reflected his faith was "Meteor Shower."  His new album "All Things Bright and Beautiful" reflects his faith much more, which disappointed many of his fans, but I for one loved it.  The most overtly Christian, and probably also my favourite song on his recent album is "Galaxies."  The song is actually about Adam's perspective of the 1986 space shuttle Challenger explosion, and he also has an introduction fitting for it.  He also does a beautiful cover of the hymn "In Christ Alone".  I could write brief commentaries on almost all his songs, but then this would get entirely too long.

I've also been following Adam's blog.  Did I mention he was an excellent writer?  His blog displays his imagination and creativity as much as his music.  Being an extreme introvert, he shared an article a few months back called "10 Myths About Introverts."  Almost everything in that article describes me.  I loved it!  He writes romantic little stories like "I'll See You in My Dreams" and "I'll Follow You" that will make any girl's heart flutter.  He also writes about his trusting God to be bring that special girl into his life.  I was so encouraged by the following words at the end of his article "Sharks Keep Moving":

"Above and beyond all of this, I take great joy and comfort in knowing my Savior has it all blueprinted and planned down to the tiniest detail, and that my job isn’t to blubber and worry about the design — but to hush. To be concerned with the principles of morality, servanthood, discipleship and character, and ultimately, to trust.
For what is faith without trust?"

I've also appreciated his more devotional like posts, where he shares his insights on scripture and also his recent thoughts on John Piper's book Desiring God.  It made me want to read that book again.

Christians have varying thoughts on Owl City, but there's much I have learned and appreciated through him.  I think he sees beauty in this world that we often miss and he knows how to capture it and put it into words.  Sometimes that means it doesn't make any real sense, but it places in me a sense of wonder and awe.  I'm inspired to dream and use my God-given imagination and open my eyes to the beauty around me.  And, well, like I said, it's fun and makes me happy! :)

Monday, 3 October 2011

Courageous Review

I went to see "Courageous" yesterday afternoon.  It was about time.  I had been hearing about this movie for nearly two years and had people asking me about it frequently recently, thinking it was already out on DVD.  I didn't think they would play it in Canada, since none of Sherwood's previous films had so far.  But "Courageous" did come to Canada, and I drove an hour with some friends to see it.  Was it worth it?  Yes!

This story was based around four police officers, who through tragedy, make a resolution to be the men and fathers that God has called them to be.  There's another family involved as well, which I appreciated.  It gave the story more depth.  I also appreciated the fact that the men all had different family backgrounds and their stories ended differently, making it more realistic.  It wasn't a movie about five guys signing a Resolution and it all being smooth sailing thereon in.  It showed it for the tough stuff it really was.  They touched on a lot of different topics in the movie, but I never got the sense that it was too much.  The film also contained a salvation message, but it was worked into the story better than in their previous film.  In "Fireproof", I kind of felt like they stopped the story for a minute to preach a salvation message, which, don't get me wrong, was good, but could have been done better.  Overall, "Courageous" was a good story, filled with action, humour, and tear jerking moments.

I had determined before going to see this movie to pack tissues in my purse.  And sitting in the theatre just before it started, I remembered I had forgotten.  I could have used them.  I was a very emotional movie, but it also contained some great humour and I enjoyed the best, although most painful laugh I had had in a long time.

On the downside, the acting in some scenes was a little weak but it had a good script.  There's nothing worse than watching a low-budget Christian film with bad acting and a bad script.  Also, I found that in some places, the mood changed too abruptly.  I wished at times they would have given us a little more time to enjoy the happy moments.  Probably, one of my greatest disappointments was the fact that they left the "theme song," if you will right until the end of the credits.  Casting Crowns wrote the song "Courageous" for the movie, and it's an excellent song, but many people don't stick around to the end of the credits to actually hear it!  Here are some of my favourite lines of the song that apply to all of us:

"The only way we'll ever stand
Is on our knees with lifted hands"

"In the war of my mind
I will take my stand
In the battle of my heart
And the battle of the hand"

No, this wasn't a movie directed at me.  It was a movie mainly about fathers, but I believe there's something in there for everyone.  I walked away thinking about areas in my own life I need to work on, areas where I need to strive for more honour and godliness.  It made me want to hold out for a godly, courageous man and to be deserving of him.  It made me want to pray more consistently for my future husband, that God would prepare him to be that courageous leader of our home.  Frankly, we all need to be courageous.  We all need to take back the fight in some area of our life.  I know I do. 

If you haven't seen "Courageous", I would encourage you to go see it.  If you don't want to spend the money, wait til it's out on DVD.  It makes a good family movie, although some of the action and themes may be too intense for your young children.  Either way, it's a film we can all benefit from in some way.  Now I'm ready to see Sherwood make a movie for the women.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Christian Singing for Queen?

Marc Martel has finally made the news!  The lead singer of Canadian Christian band Downhere has loads of talent, and I've enjoyed a lot of Downhere's music for several years. (I say a lot because there's next to no artists of whom I can say I like all their music.) The band started at a Bible school in Saskatchewan, brings a unique style to Christian music, and has been active for the past 10 years.

Many fans have thought Marc Martel sounded a lot like Freddie Mercury of Queen, and so now Marc decided to audition for a Queen cover band recently.  His "Somebody to Love" audition went up on Youtube last Tuesday and in one week, it has gotten nearly 3 million views.  I don't listen to Queen, but I must say he sings it very well.  I don't have to hear an original to know that.

Now, as I said, Marc's talent isn't news to me.  He has sung several different styles of music and I was long ago introduced to his cover of the Bohemian Rhapsody on Youtube, which I admit I enjoyed for his talent, not because I care for the style.  He's also done excellent covers of a couple of Keith Green's songs and performed the opera piece "Nessun Dorma".

So, he sings Christian stuff, opera, and songs by Queen.  That's an interesting combination and he's doing it well, in my opinion.  But I'm sure there's a crowd of Christians expressing their disappointment or horror.  How can a Christian sing songs by Queen?  How could that possibly glorify God?  I mean, have you heard some of Freddie's lyrics?  Some may say that listening to it is bad enough, and now he wants to be part of a cover band?

It could be very controversial.  Would I do it or recommend it?  No, I wouldn't and I won't expect you to listen to it. But I appreciate talent when I see it, and through a lot of hard work, Marc has done some amazing stuff with his voice.  I've enjoyed a lot of Downhere's music, and I will continue to do so.  You should check it out.  Some of my favourite songs by them are "Calmer of the Storm", "So Blue", "Great Are You", "Not About Wings", and "Unbelievable".  Enjoy!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

They Don't Believe It Anymore

I've been writing about books a lot lately, so now I'm going to focus a little on music.  I've been noticing a trend in music lately.  Not in Christian music, but rather in "secular music", if you want to use that term.  I don't usually hear a lot, so maybe I'm not a proper judge in the matter, but it seems that there's a lot more songs out there these days about broken relationships than beautiful love songs.  Probably the closest thing to love songs I hear when I go to the mall are sexual. 

Basically, the world doesn't seem to believe anymore that love can last, that marriages can stay together, and it's largely reflected in the world's music.  Yes, I could easily mention a number of songs that do still believe in a sweet, lasting love, but I think heartache may be fast taking over.  Music seems to be stripping away the fairy tale dreams many girls have and forcing a reality check.  Prince Charming doesn't exist and neither does Cinderella.

Taylor Swift's song "Love Story" was followed up by songs like "White Horse" and "Mine".  In "White Horse" she sings:

"I'm not a princess, this ain't a fairytale
I'm not the one you'll sweep off her feet
Lead her up the stairwell
This ain't Hollywood, this is a small town
I was a dreamer before you went and let me down
Now it's too late for you and your white horse to come around."

"Mine" ends much more positively, but near the beginning she says "I was a flight risk with a fear of falling, wondering why we ever bother with love if it never lasts."

Mat Kearney's song "Ships in the Night" echos a similar message:

"Like ships in the night
You keep passing me by
Just wasting time
Trying to prove who's right
And if it all goes crashing into the sea
If it's just you and me
Trying to find the light"

"How many of our parents seem to make it anyway?
We're just fumbling through the gray
Trying to find a heart that's not walking away."

Josh Groban sings a touching song called "War at Home" centred around families.  Yes, there's pain, but in the midst, there's still a willingness to fight.

Yes, these are only very few examples, and the lyrics I provided are only snippets, but a recurring idea in many songs is the fact that the artists haven't seen it work out.  Children grow up seeing their parents' marriages fall apart, their friends marry and the same thing happens.  Girls grow up to believe that guys are only after one thing.  Guys think they have to "conquer" the girls in order to be a man.  So they settle for casual dating or one night stands.  Society really hasn't offered us much hope.

What about the church?  Are Christians offering us hope?  Divorces among Christians are increasing all the time.  Do our young people have reason to believe that a lasting love is possible? 

I'm speaking from a single young woman's perspective.  I'm a dreamer, just like countless other girls who long for a happily ever after ending, but many have tried to crush that dream.  No, I'm not deserving of the man I hope to marry, but I want to be.  No, he won't be perfect, but I admit I do often have that idea.  Yes, I know it takes work and although sometimes I wonder how it's possible, I understand there will be rough spots in the road.  But I know it is possible.  I know we can prepare now for a beautiful future and God-honouring marriage.

No, the world may not believe it's possible anymore.  They may give up on love songs and happily ever after.  But I'm not giving up hope yet.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Jane Eyre: What I Learned

For the past six months, I spent a lot of time reading and studying Jane Eyre.  With being busy and reading other books at the same time, this study got drawn out a lot longer than I would have liked it to, but it was a rewarding six months.  I have shared some of my thoughts on the book on this blog previously, and by clicking the Jane Eyre tag at the bottom of the article, you can see all the other ones. 

While reading, I worked through some of my own thoughts on whether a child's behaviour is justified by her authority's actions, the effectiveness of discipline, love being blind and pondering through some of my favourite conversations and quotes.  I think some of my ideas have changed somewhat by now.  At the end, I worked through two sets of discussion questions related to the plot, characters, issues of feminism, self-respect, social status, Christian morality, salvation, love and marriage. 

One of the biggest challenges at the end was determining Jane's philosophy of God.  Then I had to determine the philosophy of love and marriage for several main characters as well as develop my own.  If any of my readers express a curiosity in it, I might share it in a later post.  I also discussed the importance of marriage, the rules that govern it, and how it impacts society among many other issues.

Literature has so much to offer us.  Having studied one book on my own with a little help, I have determined that the study of the classics is worth it.  Yes, I had to think hard, and there's times I just wanted to skip over things.  But I think we learn best when we are inspired to learn, when we choose to think and answer those tough questions, rather than when we are forced to.

So pick up a classic and be inspired to learn and I'll enjoy Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Service = Greatness

"This is a great key to life: lose your life in service and you will become great.  Do what is right, even when it is difficult, especially when it is difficult.  Do not make the mistake of being a social climber.  Of course you will want to use your knowledge and skills and talents to do great things, but do them because they are right, because they are good, not because they make you look good." --Oliver DeMille, A Thomas Jefferson Education

Luke 22:24-27 (ESV)
"A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.  And he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you.  Rather, let the greatest among you become the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.  For who is greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves?  Is it not the one who reclines at table?  But I am among you as the one who serves." 

Saturday, 3 September 2011

You Tell On Yourself

You tell on yourself by the friends you seek,
By the very manner in which you speak,
By the way you employ your leisure time,
By the use you make of dollar and dime.

You tell what you are by the things you wear,
By the spirit in which your burdens you bear,
By the kind of things at which you laugh,
By the records you play on your phonograph.

You tell what you are by the way you walk,
By the things of which you delight to talk,
By the manner in which you bear defeat,
By so simple a thing as how you eat.

By the books you choose from a well-filled shelf
In these ways and more, you tell on yourself.
So there's really no particle of sense
In an effort to keep up false pretense.
--Author Unknown

Friday, 2 September 2011

Randy Alcorn on Speculative Faith

Randy Alcorn just wrote a two part article for Speculative Faith.  In Part 1, he explains his love for sci-fi and fantasy, how great fiction points to Biblical truth, and why Christians often avoid the genre.  In Part 2, he explains his novelization of the movie Courageous, and how anticipating the New Earth changes our lives.

I haven't read any full-length books by Randy Alcorn, but I greatly appreciated some of the ideas he spoke about in these articles.  I personally enjoy the speculative genre, although I haven't read that much of it yet.  The more I read Speculative Faith, the more I understand why Christians love it.  This is what Alcorn says:

"Is God’s imagination less than that of his image-bearers? Or is the height of human imagination at its best a reflection of the infinite creativity of the divine mind?

When we get excited reading Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy or Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, it’s not our sinfulness that arouses that excitement. It’s our God-given hunger for adventure, for new realms and new beings, for new beauties and new knowledge. God has given us a longing for new worlds."

This kind of made me go "Whoa!! God has an imagination!!"  He thought up the whole universe and spoke it into being.  Out of nothing, He created the stars, planets, and everything we can see and can't see in this world.  He placed us in this crazy drama called Life to be a part of His story.

We, being created in His image, also have an imagination.  Many of the things we enjoy on a daily basis are the product of man's imagination.  We have a desire to create and tell stories because He did it first and put that desire within us! Human beings have created some amazing things, but it's only a small reflection of what God has done.  And the crazy things is, God's not even done yet! He's going to create a new world which will be better than this one.  How awesome isn't that?

I love what Alcorn says in Part 2:

"Are you living with the disappointment of unfulfilled dreams? In Heaven you’ll find their fulfillment! Did poverty, poor health, war, or lack of time prevent you from pursuing an adventure or dream? Did you never get to finish building that boat or painting that picture or writing that book—or reading that pile of books? Good news. On the New Earth you will have a second chance to do what you dreamed of doing—and far more besides."

I really hope that part about the books is true.  This is going to sound extremely vain, but I've wondered about that a lot lately.  I like reading, but I'm no speed reader. I can't finish a full-length book in a few hours like some people can.  I like details and I usually want every single one.

So when I discover a new book, it goes on a list, and I add to that list often.  At this point, I have about 200-300 books I decided at some point I wanted to read, plus tons more if-I-get-to-it books.  And with new stuff always coming out and my slow progress, I'm so afraid I'll never finish in my lifetime and I'll miss out on something great.  And I honestly wonder if maybe I can read them in the next life, where time will no longer be a problem.  Yes, that just sounded really pathetic, but this seriously has been on my mind. (I can almost hear my readers laughing at me right now.)

I have read about 20 books so far this year, but I have spent the last 6 months reading and studying Jane Eyre. I still have the hardest thinking ahead of me and I will have to decide what I believe on some very important issues. I've definitely wondered how fast universities cover this material. At times I'm afraid my brain might break, but I've learned so much, it's been worth it.

At my rate, it looks impossible, but Alcorn has given me a sliver of hope.  I may not be able to cover everything, but with the time I have, I will appreciate the imagination God has given mankind, think, learn, seek great things and pursue the dreams He has put within me.  I don't know what the New Earth will all hold, but I don't think we have reason to wonder if we'll be disappointed.  I think God's imagination has yet to blow us away.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Weird Christians

I finally read a book this week over the course of a few days that I've had my eye on for a couple years.  The cover and title had enough appeal for me to buy it.  It's not a new book, but the message will never grow outdated.

Weird Christians I Have Met by Philip Baker is a book about ten types of weird Christians and a plea for balance in the Christian life.  I like to say that everybody's weird in their own way.  It makes me feel better.  I can't say I would have used the word "weird" in the title of this book.  Most of the people Baker talks about just overemphasize one area of the Christian life and disregard another.

The author gives each of his characters a self-explanatory name and face.  There's End-Time Ed, Pentecostal Pamela, Theological Theo, Demonic Dave, Frank Faith, Backslidden Bob, Gullible Garfield, Judgmental Jill, Prosperity Patricia, and Plastic Pete.  For the not so straight-forward ones, Demonic Dave always thinks the devil made him do it, Frank Faith thinks we just need to have more faith, Gullible Garfield believes every new teaching he hears, and Plastic Pete has to put on a show so everyone thinks his life is good.

Now, most of these characters have some positive qualities, but the negative definitely outweigh them.  Of course, picking up a book like this made me go "Who am I?"  I was feeling pretty good when I got close to the end and hadn't seen much of myself in any of them.  I do have some Judgmental Jill in me, although I'm really working on that.  I thought maybe I'd be the perfectly balanced Christian.  I wish.

I got slapped when it came to Plastic Pete.  I don't like to think of myself as inauthentic, but I can be pretty good at making it look like my life is all good when it's not.  I really appreciated a lot of what the author had to say about Pete, but some of it kind of hurt. A lot of it was true of my life.  You see, Plastic Pete has a really hard time letting people know he has problems in his life and confessing sin.  He can probably identify with the Let's Not Talk About That post I wrote awhile ago.  And part of it, as Philip Baker points out, is the church's fault.

"One of the compounding problems that Pete faces is that many churches encourage his behavior.  Peer pressure or theological persuasion create an atmosphere that is hostile to honesty.  Judgment and disapproval fall quickly on those who admit to struggle, and rather than risk social or religious excommunication, Pete stays quiet."

"Plastic Petes pretend everything is okay when it's not.  They perceive that to admit fault, confess sin, and share problems will only bring intense shame, both from God and from other Christians."

Yep, that's pretty much the way I think.  That's why if you ask me how I'm doing, and I say I'm okay, I'm usually really not.  I just don't want to talk to you about it.  It's hard to believe that the truth sets people free.  It's a tough kind of person to be, not just for others, but for yourself as well.

Lately, I've started getting tired of playing the game, and I'll slowly begin to open up to people and be real.  As much as Christians hate fakers, I think sometimes they fear authenticity.  Sometimes, when Christians start being "real", I get scared and annoyed.  But now I'm starting to sympathize more with them because I have major problems too.

Overall, I really appreciated this book.  It was a light, easy read and made the point quickly.  It identified areas where Christians need more balance, and I think we'd all be a happier bunch if we found it quickly.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Don't Make Me Sick

I mentioned in my last post that I was reading Words by Ginny L. Yttrup.  Don't ask me how to pronounce it.  I don't know.  But I have finished the book.  I didn't want to write about this book.  I wanted to read a book for enjoyment and not have to think and take notes. You'll wonder at my choice in a moment.  I knew I wanted to read this book before it came out.  It sounded so intriguing.  But I must admit though I had my doubts about the painful storyline.

Words is mainly told from two perspectives.  It starts with Kaylee, a ten-year old girl, abandoned by her mother and sexually abused by the boyfriend she left behind with her child.  Yeah, tough stuff.  To escape her horrible reality, she reads and collects words.  Due to the trauma she has endured, though, she stops speaking, so those words remain confined to her mind and paper.

The second perspective is Sierra's, a woman who is holding onto the pain of being responsible for the death of her baby daughter 12 years earlier.  As predicted, their lives connect and they eventually both find freedom in Christ and healing from their past.

Although the plot seemed a little far-fetched at times, I really enjoyed this book because of how the author dealt with such a painful subject.  Many books that deal with similar topics often contain graphic detail and cause your stomach to churn.  I like detail, and sometimes it's necessary, but not too much in these cases.  The most graphic details in the book were related to drug abuse.

How does an author write a book about abuse and effectively connect with the reader without being graphic?  Easy.  Tell the story from the abused child's perspective.  A child who is alone, scared, embarrassed, ashamed, and thinks it's her fault.  A child who refuses to tell anyone, or should I say, write it for anyone.  A child who wonders if she's a whore.  A child who will only elude to what's happening to her and shares with the reader how it affects her.  That tugs at the reader enough without graphic details.

In the back of the book, we also learn that the author wrote this book out of personal experience and now helps women suffering trauma from sexual abuse.  She knows.  She understand what victims suffer and makes her the perfect candidate to write such a story.

I've read some great books and I enjoy detail, but when dealing with such difficult issues, you can do without and still write a great story.  In some cases, details become necessary, but not always.  Writers can connect with me without having to make me sick.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Books and Random Conversations

I had an appointment to go to yesterday morning before heading to work, and as usual, I brought a book along to pass the waiting time.  This time it was a novel called Words by Ginny L. Yttrup, which I will likely write about in the near future.  I was sitting in a large waiting room, all alone, when a man walks in, pauses in front of me, as I'm focused on my book and strikes up a conversation.  "That's something you never see anymore!"

I look up and he explains how long it had been since he had seen a person, especially a young one reading a physical book in a waiting room.  Apparently tablets are becoming a lot more popular than paper.  In the 20 minutes or so that followed, I had discussions with three complete strangers about the direction of the book and music industries, e-readers, cell phones, other technology, teenagers and social etiquette.  I left feeling inspired and filled with joy that carried me through the rest of the day.

I'm amazed at the discovery I just made.  I never would have thought that something so small and seemingly insignificant could lead to something so meaningful.  The book I was reading was of no significance.  It was simply the fact that I was reading a paper book.  Maybe the fact that I was young, dressed for work and looking preppy had more to do with it.  I really don't know.  But a book for me produced an opportunity.

In 20 minutes, I had a chance to share my perspective with individuals much older than myself.  I had a chance to show them that there are teens out there who think differently than the rest of the world.  I had a chance to put a smile on their faces.  I had a chance to share what I've been learning and why I have made some of the decisions I have.  I left feeling not only inspired, but also that what I have to say really does matter.

Here's what I have to tell my readers.  The small, seemingly insignificant things you do matter, even if you'd rather use a Kindle over paper.  Your choices in all areas of life hold the power to impact.  Don't be afraid to be counter cultural. When opportunities present themselves, don't be afraid to share your perspective.  Even if you don't have a chance to share the Gospel, if they can see that your life is different, that you're not following the norm, you never know what kind of seeds you may plant and what fruit they may later produce.

Why do I read physical books?  Because I simply love a physical book.  I prefer to read off of paper than a glaring screen.  Don't get me wrong. I use my computer a lot and make use of the countless online resources available to me.  Although some people have encouraged me to purchase a Kindle, I'm not quite ready for that. Yes, the idea of being able to carry my whole library around in my purse is enticing, but I still love seeing books on a shelf.  Books are meant to be shared.  Technology has provided alternatives for so many things, and I love it, but I'm not quite ready to let go of my books.

Here are a couple of articles I wrote that I used in my conversations yesterday.  Who would have thought the ideas I ponder on my blog could prove to be so useful in everyday life?
Why I Don't Have a Cell Phone
New Trends in Education

Monday, 22 August 2011

Thinking is Hard

"Your exposure to greatness changes you: your ideas are bigger, your dreams wilder, your plans more challenging, your faith more powerful.

The classics can be hard work, and that is exactly what is needed to learn to think.  Thinking is hard; deep thinking is not entertaining or easy.  Thinking is like exercise, it requires consistency and rigor.  Like barbells in a weightlifting room, the classics force us to think.  Not just in a rote memory way, either.  The classics make us struggle, search, ponder, seek, analyze, discover, decide, and reconsider.  As with physical exercise, the exertion leads to pleasing results as we metamorphose and experience the pleasure of doing something wholesome and difficult that changes us for the better."  --Oliver De Mille, A Thomas Jefferson Education

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Boston Trip

Last week, I had the great privilege of visiting Boston and surrounding area.  It was a trip full of a lot of first experiences and jumping out of my comfort zone.  I flew, saw the ocean, and rode subways for the first time and did a host of other things.  I know that's all a little shocking, but it's true.

When I first flew in and went into the city, it was a bit of a culture shock.  Where I live, I'm very unaccustomed to city life, and here I was in a different country, a big city and trying to take in all the things around me.  It was a little overwhelming.  There's vendors on many streets selling food, drinks, produce, pastries, souvenirs and it's almost like walking through a fair or farmer's market in some areas.

The first day I was able to make a far too short visit to the Museum of Fine Arts.  Beautiful!  You don't need a lot of knowledge or interest in art to enjoy a place like that.  A little appreciation for beauty and talent will do.  I came the day after the Chihuly exhibit ended, which was unfortunate, but they still had a few of his pieces on display.  That evening I went to a singles event at a Boston church and heard a professor from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary speak.  I wish I could have wrapped that whole talk up and taken it home with me.  I got to end the night by walking a long way through the city after dark in a torrential downpour.

I saw a lot of things in Boston, but the problem was there was so much to take in, I don't remember it all.  I did see a number of historical sites, the Freedom Trail, the City Hall, the Boston Library, a Steinway store and expensive fashion taste on Newbury Street.  I also climbed Beacon Hill and enjoyed stepping out of the busy city scene and relaxing in the Boston Common and Public Garden.  I feel like I saw a lot, but it was only a tiny portion of the city

For the remaining days of my stay I visited smaller towns in the area, which have some of the coolest shops, art galleries, taffy factories, restaurants, bakeries and more.  These are the kinds of towns I often saw in pictures, but rarely saw for myself.  I was going to bring back postcards, but couldn't find any that did the places justice. 

Last but not least, I got to spend a couple afternoons at the ocean.  The cold, clear water, sun and sand were so refreshing.  I enjoyed boogie boarding, as long as my head stayed above the water.  Salt water tastes nasty. I don't know how anybody could find that taste pleasant.  I saw a lot of jellyfish eggs on one beach, which was pretty neat. 

I even enjoyed the simple pleasure of sitting at the airport with coffee, a giant cookie and a book waiting for my flight home.  Home to heat and humidity I didn't miss at all.  But I loved coming home as well.

There's a random, brief snapshot of my vacation.  Envy me yet?

Monday, 15 August 2011

Careers and Personal Life

I don't know a whole lot about politics or American history, but you don't have to in order to know there's always rivalries.  I usually don't pay much attention to it.  I have no interest in listening to politicians bicker and insult each other.  But 10 Best Political Rivalries in American History did catch my attention.

In several cases, the individuals who were at odds with each other in the political arena had personal problems with each other first.  Burr and Hamilton hated each other and it ended violently.  Such was also the case with Brooks and Sumner.

The problems between VP Richard Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy were also personal, but on a different level.  Nixon's sense of insecurity and inferiority caused him problems in the political arena.  Sure, he had all the credentials, but he came from a poor family whereas he viewed Kennedy as a privileged rich boy.  He didn't think he measured up. Later as president, he had to work to expose the grime in possible opponent Senator Ted Kennedy's life in the 1972 election.  His negative self image affected his political career, causing conflict that may not have been necessary.

What I mostly see in this article is that your personal life and career will always affect each other to some degree.  Politicians who couldn't get along with one another personally couldn't work well together and even caused them to turn to violence.  The way you grow up, view yourself and view others will affect your confidence in your work.  If you don't think you can make yourself look good to the public, you have to try to make someone else look bad to give yourself chance.

As much as some people would like to make a clear distinction between work and personal life, you just can't.  They'll always be at least somewhat connected.  If you lack honesty and integrity at home or in your social life, chances are you may at work as well.  If you have problems at work, you'll bring them home with you. They can never be entirely separated.  And don't think you leave your problems behind when you walk out the door.  They will follow you.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Mikeschair - Someone Worth Dying For

I leave for a vacation next week, but this is what I leave you with in the meantime.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Kids' Social Club

Have you ever listened to or been part of a conversation where a parent has been considering homeschooling?  Concerned individuals of the motion usually aren't concerned about the quality of education the child will receive, although whether their education will later be valid is a good concern that will come up.  The most common question is this: How will your kids learn to socialize?

I tire of hearing this lame question.  Since when is school about socializing?  Unfortunately that's become a very important, if not the most important aspect in today's system, but it shouldn't be.  There are many reasons why parents choose to homeschool, but shouldn't the quality of their education be a primary concern, rather than their social life?

I personally spent 11 mostly miserable years in the public school system and spent two years at home studying through an individual study program.  For the most part, I don't have a lot of good school memories.  Yes, I liked learning and my grades were good, but I was always struggling to fit in.  I often felt like I was near the bottom of the pecking order and many days I just wanted to play sick.  Being smart didn't help either.  Unless you're popular, you're better off being a loser and sitting in the principal's office every week than being a "teacher's pet."  I was more than happy to leave when I did.

How will they learn to socialize?  How do children learn to socialize in public schools?  They learn to form cliques, to shun others, to bite, chew, tear down, and drive the outsiders to depression and thoughts of suicide.  Oh yes, the students listen to countless anti-bullying speeches, but they often seemed pretty fruitless.  Kids learn to stay in touch with the latest trends in our culture, to discover and experiment with drugs, talk dirty and how to have "safe sex" or not so safe. Is that really how you want them to learn to socialize?

The funny this is, as many homeschooled friends as I have, I can't say any of them are anti-social or ill-mannered.  Many of them are much more socially competent than the high school students I knew.  I'm sure there's plenty of bad homeschooled examples.  The fault lies not in the method, but in the parents.  It's up to the parents to teach their children how to socialize and conduct themselves in public.  By getting them involved in church activities, homeschool groups, sports teams, other extracurricular activities and spending time with other young families, they'll get plenty of time with kids their own age.  They don't need a school.

I like how Oliver DeMille examines this issue in A Thomas Jefferson Education.  Although it's not a book about homeschooling, it definitely favours the method over what he calls the conveyor belt method, if done properly.  And according to DeMille, socialization is a lot more than what children are learning in schools.  "The highest level of socialization, the ideal, means the ability to effectively work with people of all backgrounds, stations, and positions, of really caring for them and being able to build and maintain long term, nurturing relationships."

After 11 years on the belt, I never learned to do that.  Let's face it.  The kids' social club doesn't produce good social skills.  Stop giving me that lame objection.  You'll have to come up with something else.  And judging from how many of conversations I've heard, I already have a good idea what it is.  I don't want to hear it anymore.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Let's Not Talk About That

Have you ever been in a Christian meeting or study where the leader has asked if anyone has input or questions and the silence is so thick you're afraid to breathe?  It's hard to believe after what you've just heard nobody has anything to say.  Were they even listening?

They're all doing the same thing you are.  Listening to their heart pound as they turn around that one thought they wouldn't dare ever say out loud.  Everybody's afraid.  Scared about what other people will think.  Embarrassed. Ashamed.

I've noticed something as of late.  I've read or looked at books and endless resources for Christian youth and singles and there are certain issues that are evidently big problems within the church, but I have rarely, if ever, heard them spoken of in person, face to face.  Why is this?

One thing I do know is that we are all humans born with very much the same tendencies.  No problems are new, unique, or limited to certain groups of people.  But there are certain things we shrink away from, avoid and simply hope for the best. 

We all know these problems exist in the world and in the church, but we don't talk about them.  Do we simply hope that our teens or youth don't have problems with these things?  Do we think that our church or group is better than all the rest?  Are we afraid simply because it's uncomfortable and you might have to say words you nearly blush to think about?  Why do we stay quiet about certain issues? 

All people, not just young people, have questions about a whole host of subjects but everyone's afraid.  Afraid to stand out.  Afraid of what people think.  Afraid of being vulnerable.  Afraid of what would happen if anyone knew.  So we protect our questions and secrets, bind them up with chains of steel and ache alone.

I love Tenth Avenue North's song Healing Begins.  But it also often makes me uncomfortable because it's so true and frightening.  In this video journal of the song, lead singer Mike Donehey talks about how confessing something to God is easy, but having to tell someone else freaks us out.  People scare us a lot more than God does. 

The truth is though, keeping things quiet doesn't fix anything.  Knowing something you're doing is wrong doesn't fix anything.  It's only when you start talking about downright scary stuff though that people can find freedom and healing.  And nobody's ready for that.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Christians and Secular Books

Charles Finny once said "I cannot believe that a person who has ever known the love of God can relish a secular novel" and denounced many great writers.  I'm sure many Christians, past and present, share this view.  Charles Colson, however, provides and excellent response to that statement in his book The One Year Devotions for People of Purpose

Many writers of secular books weave profound Christian themes into their works, and interestingly enough, these works have brought people to Christ when the Bible didn't.  This was the case with Louise Cowan, coauthor of Invitation to the Classics.  After reading numerous theological works and the Bible, she did not return to the faith.  It was eventually the works of Shakespeare and The Brothers Karamazov  by Fyodor Dostoyevsky that allowed her to see the truth of the Gospel.  Colson shares another story of a Russian girl who was converted by reading literature when she was not allowed to read the Bible. 

Is it possible that we as Christians have put God in a box, thinking that he only speaks through His Word and His children?  Although this is very often the case, by the above stories we can also see that God works way outside of that.  He can reach the lost through the work of unbelievers, who may not have intended to bring glory to Him whatsoever.  I have found no indication that Dostoyevsky was a Christian, (although he may have been) and God used him to bring souls to Himself.

There is power in story.  I have often found that novels can teach me just as much as a book out of the Spiritual Growth section.  Jesus Himself often used parables to teach people spiritual ideas.  Louise Cowan explained how literature brought her to where she is. "Not until a literary work of art awakened my imaginative faculties could the possibility of a larger context and reason alone engage my mind. . . . I had to be transformed in the way that literature transforms--by story, image, symbol--before I could see the simple truths of the Gospel."

Don't underestimate the power of story and literary works.  They can teach us much about our world and lead others to their Creator.

Friday, 15 July 2011

You're a Genius!

"Greatness isn't the work of a few geniuses, it is the purpose of each of us.  It is why we were born.  Every person you have ever met is a genius.  Every one.  Some of us have chosen not to develop it, but it is there.  It is in us.  All of us.  It is in your spouse.  It is in each of your children.  You live in a world of geniuses.  How can we settle for anything less than the best education?  How can we tell our children that mediocre education will do, when greatness is available?" --Oliver DeMille, A Thomas Jefferson Education

Saturday, 9 July 2011

A New Focus

Yes, I have a new look and a new title!  It's crazy, I know.  I've been thinking of making a change for awhile.  I might still play around with the look yet.  What I wanted was to change my title to better describe the content and focus of this blog.  I would have changed the URL, but wanted my readers to still be able to find me.  Why "Desiring Something Greater"?  What is "something greater"? I don't know exactly.  That's what I'm setting out to find out.

What I do know is that we live in a world satisfied with mediocrity while there is a lot more to be had.  When I say I desire something greater, I'm not talking about the world's definition of great, or even that of many Christians.  I'm not talking about any career, degree, salary or social position.  I'm talking about seeking and living out God's purpose for my life.  He has a great plan for my life, if I yield to it and sacrifice my own plans.  I have desires that others may scoff at, but I believe God has placed them within me.

My biggest fear about this change is that I won't live up to what I write about or what people expect to see in my life.  When I say I desire or seek something greater, I don't claim to know what greatness is, to be great, and I can't even promise that I will one day achieve what I'm after.  I am reminded of Phillippians 3:12 where Paul says "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ has made me his own." (ESV) My desire is simply that I will not settle for what I have or this world's expectations for my life, but to strive after a fulfilled life, even if that means nothing more than living a content and simple life that blesses others.

Some people may look down at my lack of goals or long-term plans.  To those I say I have been unsuccessful in planning my life thus far.  I can't even see a single day transpire the way I plan it.  It's in those times I'm reminded my life is not my own and I'm not in charge.

I have no idea where this blog will go from here or whether this new direction will even be successful.  I will continue to share my thoughts on life, God, books, writing and whatever else I discover.  I believe there's a lot of beauty to discover and much to learn from writers of the past and I intend to make the study of their works a part of my life.  It's what continues to inspire me, something I truly get excited over.  I don't want to shy away from difficult questions but to face them boldly and wrestle with them even if I never receive solid answers.  The apostle Paul told us to be mature in our thinking (1 Cor. 14:20) and to think on whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). This is what I desire to do.

If I never do anything significant with my life, if I never make an notable difference, it will not be for lack of desire.  It will only be because I allowed giants of fear, failure and unbelief rule over me.  This is my stand against them.