Saturday, October 27, 2007

No More Deserted Islands!

Are they cute or what????

And She's Off!

Walking at last! 1 really big surgery, 6 weeks in a body cast, 3 weeks of therapy and this little girl is ready to go!!!!!! WAY TO GO!!!!!

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Deserted Island

Imagine you are stranded on a desert island, and you are still a child. You have no way to feed yourself, no way to learn how things work, how to read, how to count or quantify anything. You have no idea how or why you were created. 2 or 3 times a day food appears in front of you, but you have no idea where the food came from, or that anything except that particular food you daily eat exists. Somehow you are wearing clothing, but you're not sure where that came from either. You never know how long you'll be able to wear it as sometimes it just disappears and you're left with nothing.

Occasionally the wind carries sounds to you, sounds of other children having fun, playing and laughing. You never see those children because you are stranded on this island, and those other children are just far enough away that you can only hear, not see them. There is absolutely no future, but, since you are just a child, you don't even realize that. The only thing you really know is that there is a constant ache inside you because you are completely alone.

Then one day, a ship comes to the island. Several people get off the ship, and they come to visit you. They play with you. They sing songs for you. They even go so far as to tell you that you were created for a purpose and that there is a God that loves you. Then they give you a lot of candy, some trinkets, and some socks. The candy tastes great, you like the attention, and, with winter approaching, you're glad to have some extra socks to keep your feet warm, since, obviously, there's no heat on your island.

But then the people get back on their boat and float away. That day, you learned that there was life outside the island. You realized that these people knew and lived that life. They had the means to rescue you, but it never occurred to them that they could.

So, there you are: Still stuck and still lonely. The candy, the trinkets and the socks don't seem so good now. In fact, all they really did was momentarily anesthetize your situation. In the end, you face the same future.

This image first came to my mind three years ago when we were visiting our middle daughter's orphanage in Kazakstan. She came from a city that had 4 baby houses, 6 orphanages and more street children than can be accounted for. The first day we entered her orphanage I was struck by scents (cabbage and bleach -- cooking and cleaning in the orphanage) that I recognized from my oldest daughter's orphanage several years earlier. But something felt different this time. Something was, in fact, wrong, terribly wrong.

Then I realized. I was in a building with between 100-150 babies and toddlers, and yet it was completely silent. I was surrounded by people who lived and moved, but had no being. When we finally saw a group of children, they would all just stand and look at us. There was no eye contact, no facial expressions, and certainly no playing. They would slowly walk, only when prodded to by a caregiver. This lack of life was also evidenced in our daughter, who would shake when we came near her, tense up like an iron pole if we held her, and did not make eye contact with us until weeks later, despite twice daily visits to her.

There was no hope, and these tiny little people, even though they couldn't say that, understood.

The first day we visited, our daughters group was chosen to receive a generous gift from an international ministry. A missionary and several members of her church came. They sang to the children, told them a story, and then each child was given a wrapped shoebox full of candy, small toys, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and sometimes even socks.

The kids opened the boxes, ate some candy and played with the toys, and then the presenters left. I watched as the orphanage staff did exactly what I expected they would: They collected up all the boxes and put the stuff in a communal spot to be administered by them. In most orphanages you don't own anything, not your own candy, not your own clothes and certainly not your own toys, even if those things are given to you as a gift.

That was the day that I had that image of a deserted island. I, in no way, want to slam any philanthropic organizations, and I'm sure that there are situations where those shoe boxes are very useful for ministering. However, at the end of that day, all 12 of those kids, with the exception of my daughter, were still facing a lifetime of institutionalization, loneliness, illiteracy and separation from God. Yes, a little candy brightened their hour, but in the scheme of things, what did it really do, and how will they ever learn about an eternally loving Father when all they experience is someone occasionally popping in and out talking about Him?

This is all coming to mind because I am seeing advertisements everywhere for the Christmas boxes, and while I see the good that can come from them I see a major pitfall. There is such a tendency to throw money and stuff at things to solve problems. Not just within the church, but here in our culture. I see this everyday with my physically handicapped children -- expensive devices, tools, therapies and treatments, etc. Everybody wants to try to fix it with something, when God's trying to work out an even better plan. And, its much easier to do the good deed of filling a shoebox full of dispensable items than it is to sacrifice greatly and listen to what Jesus is calling us to do.

When we were in Ukraine for our last adoption, someone there told us he had a friend who liked to say, "It's time we start taking these children's pictures off our refrigerator and actually start feeding the children from our refrigerators." I loved that idea, because it just encompasses my thoughts so well. We can send our money, even make trips to visit them, but are we willing to invest our lives into theirs? Are we willing to enter into their suffering, like Christ did, and make it part of our lives?

What we found is that when we chose to do that, God made their suffering into something beautiful and, actually, victorious. He has never made it easy, only good. We've had to rearrange our lives, make a lot of sacrifices, and put in a lot more effort than donating money or giving away stuff, but the rewards have been far greater.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Woody Allen Interviews Billy Graham Part 1

A Letter From the President

Okay, maybe not the president, but a president. Today, totally unsolicited, I received a catalogue full of resources to help me keep our country from going down the lu. Considering the number of things in our home that do go down the lu, I thought it might be my civic duty to at least help the country not go there.

Now, I don't listen to Christian Radio that much. In fact, I only listen to it when my children are with me in the car. Then, often, I try not to throw things at the radio when the person speaking (like the nationally renowned pastor who was preaching about the obligations of the rich and told his congregation that the "rich were families like the Kennedys") says something that makes me, well, want to throw something at the radio. There are speakers and shows I enjoy, but that's not the point right now. The point right now is that I am pretty ignorant about the speakers and teachers on the radio.

This catalogue that came today was part of an organization that has a nationally syndicated radio and television shows. I had never heard of the guy before today.

Anyway,there was a letter to me at the beginning, and I've copied it hear with my thoughts inserted.

Dear Friend, (wow! so forward of him!)

Since its incorporation in 1978, ********** has been on the front lines battling to restore the biblical values that have made America great.

Now, let's stop here and pause for a moment. Just what Biblical Values, I wondered? Does he mean an economy that was jump-started by slavery? Voting rights only for men that are land owners? Saying "Under God" in the pledge ? Killing off the natives? Taking land? Segregation? Laws against inter-racial marriage? Laws preventing the immigration of disabled people? I wish he would've been a little more specific than that.

To accomplish this goal, we've produced and distributed hundreds of thousands of training resources to help families like yours to understand and apply the Bible to all areas of life.

Okay, I flipped through the entire magazine at length, and found many areas of life that we're not addressed. Only some of those areas are: Total submission to Christ, Fasting, Prayer, Sacrifice, Mercy, Christianity and the Poor, How to Love the Unlovable, Enviornmental Stewardship ....

In the past three years, we've specifically intensified our efforts, because the enemies of Christ are relentless in their mission to remove everything that's Christian from this nation.

Well, I do agree that the enemy of Christ is working through rebellious people to remove Christianity from not only our nation, but anywhere in the world. I have an inkling that he and I might not see eye-to-eye on just who the enemy is. Also, I don't think the enemy has removed mercy, forgiveness, compassion, faith, hope, unconditional love, joy and peace --- although he has been successful in getting alot of Christians to stop showing those traits towards non-believers.

Government schools are brainwashing our children to become secular humanists.

Wow! Brainwashing! Even the Christian teachers are doing this?

Of the small percentage of children who survive public education, many see their faith shipwrecked on the shores of liberal college campuses.

This is even better, because I survived public school (and while I don't appreciate the effects of the worldview I struggle against because of it, I know I wasn't brainwashed), and I crashed on the shores of a liberal college campus. My faith grew more there (thanks Bill!) than it did at almost any other point of my life. See, by age 18 most people are able to think logically, so if you're in a class where a professor's saying something illogical or stupid, you usually realize it.

Sadly, churches are either paralyzed by an obsession with the "end times" or just too busy with "programs" to confront the culture with the transforming power of the Gospel.

Now, I would be the first person to say that I'm hoping that the end times are soon, but I hardly sit around and think about it. Unless you include the time I pondered whether or not God would offer me the same deal he offered Oral Roberts, in which case I'd do nothing, die and go to heaven. But anyway, I think that this guy looks at the "transforming power of the Gospel" as something that happens when we force people to follow God's rules through legislation. For evidence, I would site the inclusion of Greg L. Bahnsen's "Theonomy in Christian Ethics", which is sold in the catalogue, and very favorably reviewed. I find the Theonomy concept (in essence, my understanding is using Old Testament Law to shape Civil Law -- watch out bald guys!) pretty freaky-scary, but I don't have the time to look into it enough to know for sure. I know it's also a foundation for another organization, Vision Forum, which I have SERIOUS issues with.

Meanwhile, the 2008 election season is fast approaching.

Didn't we all know it would come to this????

Will Christians awaken and unite to advance biblical values in the public arena? Or, will they abandon cultural involvement and stay underground to wait for the Rapture?

I'm pretty sure he means, "Vote Republican". Either way, I'm not planning on hiding underground because I have a 3-year-old that totally over-reacts to bugs, and I couldn't handle being underground with her.

The answers to these questions will decide not only the presidential elections but also the future of our religious liberties, our economy and our national security.

Whoa! And I thought that God decided all that! I mean, I know my vote counts, but I had no idea I could have a sovereign impact!

The letter goes on, but that was the gist of it. While, in all actuality, I'm probably pretty close to this guy on the political spectrum, I can't believe how much civil-religion he's mixed with real Christianity. In the end, obviously, he and I disagree on the fundamental point of how the gospel transforms. I think it transforms individuals who, in turn influence society. He seems to think we need to use it to force society to transform -- even if they reject God.

At the very end of the catalogue, though, was something that totally offended me. It was a "1599 Geneva Family Heirloom Bible in a Beautiful Wood Gift Box" for $200, unless you want to have the Genuine Cow-Hide Limited Edition Family Heirloom Bible for $400. What is the Bible? The Word of God, or a status symbol to display in your living room? I just have to think that that kind of display of materialism hurts the very author of that book.

Oh, well. In the words of the Apostle Paul:
"I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness, but you are already doing that." I Corin 11:1

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fred Lives Here, and He is Not Ashamed.

Our local phone service thinks it's very helpful. "Thinks" is the operative word here.

I've never been happy with the service we get from them, but they have somewhat of a monopoly on our local market, so I've never had much choice. At this point we have our cell phone, phone lines, long distance and Internet through them,and since we don't want cable television (another thing about our family that confounds salesmen) our only high speed Internet access is through our local phone provider.

So, we put everything together in one of their "bundles" and pay a lower amount per month for the "bundle" of services than we would if we bought them separately, or tried to use a different vendor for our cell phone. Its kind of like a supersize combo meal from a fast food restaurant. Far more than any one person needs.

Now, the bundle of services we get include:

Caller id (I'd never pay for this service since I'm either able to answer the phone or not)

Call waiting (I always ignore it anyway because it interrupts my conversations!)

Call return (which I don't get because you can do the same thing by using the caller id display and then pressing "talk")

Voicemail (which is in no way as useful as a good answering machine)

60 minutes of long distance phone coverage

300 cell minutes (I use, maybe 20 minutes on a normal month, about 60 when I'm traveling)

Unlimited text messages (for some reason, I only text message when I'm in Ukraine)

Internet access on my cell phone

Unlimited Internet access (except for the times, many times, their server is down)

Really bad email service that I long ago ditched for gmail because it is completely unreliable (but free!)

There are probably other ones as well, but I don't even use any except the following:
My home phone
Voicemail (since I can't justify buying an answering machine when this is free on my phone!)
Cell phone (for about a total of 20 minutes a month)

Well, today I get an email that they have, surprise, updated my service! And, for what will only take a few minutes I'll get new features that will really make my day special. Well, of course I figured that I would just ignore it, but this special deal came with a threat.

"you MUST set up your new voicemail box between now and midnight of November 13th, or you will be unable to retrieve your new messages."

Great! They're forcing me to comply! So, I went to the website, which led to me a ton of pdf files on their services, and, after great searching, I figured out what I needed to do. Call a number and re-enter my password, unless I wanted to change it. I also had to re-record my greeting and tell them my user name.

I was so annoyed by that time that I told their computer that my name was Fred Flintstone. My oldest daughter was sitting near me doing her schoolwork. Her jaw dropped in great surprise (and somewhat Pharisaical judgement) and she said:

"Mom, you are NOT Fred Flintstone!" Glad she's straight on that!

But, by then it was too late. They were on to creating the voicemail message, and there was no turning back from the web of decrepit lies I was spinning.

I recorded, "You have reached the home of Fred and Wilma Flintstone. Please leave your name and number at the beep." Our fate as a family of Flintstones was signed and sealed (until the day I call back and reprogram it all).

Now, I realize this is stupid. But I was annoyed, and this was a much nicer way to vent than to yell at someone about how stupid it is to bother your customers with "new updated services" that they don't want! However, what I didn't expect was the reaction from my daughter!

I shouldn't have been surprised, though, considering other times when I've been frustrated and we've both reacted the same way. For instance, when she was playing on a playground several weeks ago, she was instantly surrounded by a group of nosey, simple-minded little girls who spent the first few minutes following her everywhere, pointing and gawking. My daughter was born missing, amongst other things, her right arm, and their little cable-TV educated brains just couldn't comprehend that there was only 1 arm on my kid. With each second of gawking and staring, I grew angrier (my daughter was oblivious, of course).

Finally, the lead girl came over to me -- me, mind you, because she didn't have the guts to ask her herself -- and said, "Where did her arm go?"

Now, I wanted to shout, "IT'S NONE OF YOUR #@$%^& BUSINESS!" but I didn't. I had a feeling that wouldn't be too Christ-like. So, instead, I gritted my teeth, looked her straight in the eye and said, "Well, when she was about 3, we went hiking in the woods. Out of nowhere came the largest grizzly bear --- did you know grizzly bears live in Ohio? I didn't either until then -- and started to attack us. She fought the bear and lost her arm , which has been hard. But, boy, you should've seen the bear. Let's just say that he hasn't been doing too much attacking since that day."

The little girls stared at me in horror.

My daughter rolled her eyes at me.

"Mom," she said, "You need to tell them the truth! I was born with one arm."

But by that time, the girls were too busy scanning the nearby woods for bears to hear the rest of the conversation.

I realize that honesty is the best policy, and I truly am an honest person. Although, I do appreciate it when my daughter responds to those questions with one of her own.

"You don't get out much, do you?"

I just don't have the grace that she has. But isn't it better to spin a good yarn (one that they will eventually figure out is not possibly true) than to blow my top at someone for their ignorance -- or in the case of these girls, their parent's and teacher's ignorance?

Anyway, the special features on my phone are : text message notification and zero transfer.

I'm sure my life will flow much easier now.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Orange Juice and the Family Research Council

I started my day out wanting to be a super-charged Christian, so lacking the elegant dress socks, decorated with subtle crosses and ichthus, guaranteed to get my day off on the right foot, I decided to try praying instead. That would have worked rather well, but an 8:30 am soccer game (another blog entry: The Wisdom -- or stupidity-- of 8:30 am Saturday Soccer Games. You probably can guess where I stand on that issue), got in the way and it became rather rushed. After a brief prayer, I read I Corinthians 9, a section entitled "The Rights of An Apostle by my Bible's editors. Well, what ended up happening was that I have been distracted all day by my thoughts about the passage rather than resolving those thoughts during my quiet time. It must be difficult for my family.

"Mom, do you know if we have any more orange juice?"

"Yes, I do, but what I don't know is if I have anything I need to give up in order not hinder the gospel of Christ, or what, exactly, are the best things to give up -- like political involvement, blogging, political freedom, money..."

"Uh... can I have some orange juice?"

So, now is the time that I can think this through.

What I think is interesting is that I have been thinking, alot, lately about the idea of rights and the rights we have as Christians, especially as American Christians. I mean I have the right to freedom of religion, so I don't have to hide my Bibles (and I even own more than 1) or hide from family members that want me arrested for converting to Christianity (although, unbeknownst to me, I may have family members who want me arrested for other offenses). I have the right to freedom of speech, so I can easily say the name of Jesus in public, and even tell other people about my faith in Him. I live in a country that, on the whole, has decided that people with disabilities are valuable and their rights should be protected by law, so I can demand that any public organization admit my children, even if they don't want to due to their disabilities. I have a right to own a gun, even though it may not be in my best interest. I have a right to assemble meetings, even ones that criticize my own government. And, these are just a few of the rights that I have!

But what I've been thinking about lately calls upon the idea that I should be concerned with laying down my rights, just like my life. By this I don't mean that I should not participate in my civic freedom, nor act like it's not important. But, I need to evaluate just how important it is to me. I so appreciate the Christian influence that has given me so many of these freedoms --- as distorted as I think that influence has been of late, and how I believe that so many national "christian" organizations are trying to whitewash American history and paint their own version to propagate their political agendas -- but I digress (You probably just want some orange juice too). Certainly, the idea that all men are created equal, that all men are endowed with certain unalienable rights, and certainly that men should be given the right to choose to serve God (rather than being forced by a government -- thanks a lot to Constantine for coming up with that idea in the first place...of course, you could probably trace that idea back further to ancient Israel...) are tremendous blessings.


It seems like there is a movement to turn those blessings into idols. Take for instance, the Family Research Council. On their website they state the following:

The Family Research Council (FRC) champions marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society.

Well, that's all well and good, but is family and marriage the foundation of civilization? I mean it seems to me that Brigham Young thought that idea and utilized it to the point of polygamy! Honestly, there are probably many different, some good others not, foundations to civilizations. Isn't a better foundation and "wellspring of society" humility before Christ and a willingness to lay one's life down for Him?

You would think, by reading through the website, that the worst thing that could ever happen in our country would be for homosexuals to gain the right to marry. In fact, James Dobson, a member of the council, once referred to it as the "number one" attack against the family. How in the world could anyone think that in light of the divorce rate in this country? Divorce is having a far greater impact on our nation's children and our families! Or think about the rise in attachment disorder in children due to parents leaving them when they're too young and for too long -- all to earn money for a bigger house, a nicer car, and, quite possibly, the right to attend circus camp! I think materialism is a much greater threat to us all. Certainly these issues, if your looking at the size of the attack, impact far many more families than homosexual marriage.

Not that I'm saying these issues are not important, and that I don't agree that it's better for our society to have intact 2 parent (mom and dad) families, but I question the church's role in politically advocating for it. I can't think of a single time that Jesus advocated to change any law of the Roman Empire. I can't , for that matter, think of a time that Paul or any other disciple did (despite the groanings about taxes!).

And, at the root of all the hoopla is the fear that our freedoms that we have will be taken away. There's not concern for the person who is making the choice to live in a homosexual relationship, nor is there even a concern for their children. The concerns center around our right to free speech, our right to determine our own hiring practices, and what they're teaching our children in the schools.

Jesus lived under an oppressive, authoritative government, in a government where the highest leader deemed himself a god. Jesus got in trouble for things he said. Jesus didn't worry about having his rights taken away -- he willingly gave them up when He chose to die.

While I don't think I need to just stop participating in society, never vote or never speak out, I think that I should just be more concerned for the next person than myself and my rights, and should be showing my fellow countrymen at least some of the grace and personal choice that God has granted them. Ultimately, as a Christian, my call is the same: to obey Christ no matter what shapes the civil authority in my life.

"Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law)so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law, I became like one not having the law (Though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." I Corinthians 9: 19-23

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Step Stools vs. Power Chairs

Today I am pondering the wisdom of giving my 3-year-old daughter a 300lb power wheelchair.

We brought our beautiful little girl home from an orphanage almost a year ago, when she was two years old. She's bright, active, overly sensitive, temperamental, opinionated, extremely funny, and unable to bend her arms, lift her arms very high or use her legs to walk.

We knew when we adopted her that she would use a wheelchair. What we didn't know was how expensive they were (we weren't thinking power wheelchair), how large they are, and how soon doctors would recommend we get her one. We had planned to wait until she was a little older, when she needed more independence. Knowing all this beforehand wouldn't have changed anything, because she's our daughter and was from the moment God led us to her. We just have had a different time table than the time table laid out by the local children's hospital.

She's been having a blast crawling and scooting through our house, learning to climb the steps, climbing into and out of boxes. At the orphanage she pretty much sat in her crib or sat on a couch. Here she's got loads of freedom. She's just growing by leaps and bounds, even trying to stand and talking about walking -- something she wasn't supposed to ever be able to do and something I think she'd stop doing if she was going everywhere in her wheelchair.

She loves driving the practice chair through the halls of children's hospital, though. I love watching her maneuver it (not to mention the looks of surprise on the faces of the people she's nearly knocked over...).

However, I keep coming back to the same thought: the hospital is specifically set up to accommodate a child using a huge power wheelchair. The rest of our society is not, not to mention our van nor our house. She can't drive it up to the sink to brush her teeth because there's no space for her to do that. She can't elevate it to reach a cup, because we don't have the space for this chair. She can't use it to access her clothes in her dresser because we don't have space for a lift on our stairs. So, this independence it gives her, what is that? I mean I'm not dropping her off at the mall to go shopping, am I? She can't use it at friends houses, she can't take it into a classroom without endangering her peers. So, when will she use it?

Looking at it from that perspective, it seems ridiculous for us to look at replacing our van with a new one and an expensive lift, all for a tool she won't really use for several years. Yet, if we don't have the van set up, we don't have a place to store it (except the garage) and we simply can't use it at home. I'm not even certain the sidewalk around our neighborhood is in good enough repair for us to use it to take a walk.

Then I look at the cost of this wheelchair -- over $30,000. Today our insurance company denied the request to cover it. We expected this, but what I didn't expect was my reaction to it. I could actually see their point. Basically they told us they couldn't even start to review her file because they didn't' have enough evidence of her disability (arthrogryposis) and there was no evidence that we had tried any other options besides getting her the chair.

Well, truly they're right. From the start I've felt pushed into this by one of her doctors. When children are born in America with this condition apparently they are fitted for power chairs at 18 months (about the time they start walking). So, our daughter is "behind" and every day she goes without the chair she's "missing out".

But I just don't see that. She's crawling everywhere, and is significantly stronger and more flexible than when we adopted her. She's learning to dress her self and to climb onto things. She needs more space for us to put step stools up for her. Then she can climb up to the sink, climb into her bed, climb up onto the couch, etc. And, well, she's not going anywhere without us, so she really doesn't need much independence in public....

I just keep wondering if we aren't making something that's not complicated into something that is. How much intervention does an exceptional child need? I mean, my oldest daughter was never supposed to walk either, and despite living in an orphanage in an impoverished country, with absolutely NO medical intervention, she taught herself how to walk. It was her inability to get around that motivated her to do so in the first place. If she had had a power wheelchair and a perfectly controlled environment would she have walked? I don't know, but I highly doubt it.

So, perhaps I'm just crazy but I'm really beginning to think that what we need is a good orthopedic stroller, a bunch of sturdy step stools and more time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A New Awakening?

It's been a few days since I posted, because I've been busy reading the book Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas. So far, it's been a great book, and a great inspiration to read how Wilberforce was able to change the way a society (and thus pretty much all the civilized world) thought. While slavery still exsists today, Metaxes asserts that Wilberforce, by legally abolishing the slave trade in England , caused people, for the first time in human history, to realize that it's wrong to own another person. It's virtually unthinkable to most of us that humanity could ever have thought it was right in the first place. Yet, according to Metaxas, we have William Wilberforce to thank for that mindset. How amazing would it be to be a person that can impact the world in such a way?!

But, I digress...

What really struck me was Metaxas' brief and simple explanation of the spiritual life of England at the time that Wilberforce was alive (mid 18th century). In response to the ugliness of the Puritans and subsequent wars, violence and divisions in the church, England was running from any kind of serious Christianity.

So, what happened, writes Metaxas, was "The churches of mid-eighteenth-century England all but abandoned orthodox, historical Christianity and now preached a tepid kind of moralism that seemed to present civility and the preservation of the status quo as the summum bonnum." (That's Latin for "the highest good" for all you Latin flunkies out there -- although I always thought it was spelled "summum bonum" so I'm a Latin flunky too).

Just that got me thinking! While we don't have a history of religious wars in this country (unless you count white "Christians" annihilating the native population....), we do have a splintered history with church divisions, national Christian leaders misrepresenting us, slavery, "manifest destiny", prohibition and whatnot that would cause more than a few of the doubtful to run.

And, even now there is so much evidence of trying to preserve the morality of all for the highest good. Think about the arguments against homosexual marriage, keeping the 10 commandments in public buildings, or arguments (often not with gentleness and respect) about the creation/evolution debate. These, along with others, are pushed by many large organizations for the sake of protecting the foundations of our society. Or, perhaps our "present civility and the preservation of the status quo."

Now, I'm not saying that I don't agree with certain arguments, but where do those arguments belong, how should they be stated, and what standard do I expect a person who has not committed their life to Christ to adhere to? Sometimes it feels to me like the statement the church in America makes is less like one of unconditional love and more like the Peanuts gang's teacher, "waaa...waaaa....waaaaa.....waaaaaa". Who wants to listen to that?

But that's not even all! Metaxas goes on to write:

"And so, understandably, people looked less and less to the churches for the ultimate answers to their questions, and a fog of hopelessness and brutal superstitious spiritualism crept over the land."

Whoa! Maybe that explains the Oprah phenomenon, the overabundance of parenting books (for instance "Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guide to Parenting), the national fascination with Dr. Phil.... it goes on.... there's so much "advice" out there, and so much of it is not based on real Biblical truth, that it has brought a "fog of hopelessness" and "superstitious spiritualism" over us. We can't really think straight, and in the meantime the church is worried about electing the "right president" rather than teaching the good news that changes hearts, minds and, ultimately, the world!

But... it gets even better. This is part that I was excited about.

Enter the "Holy Club". John and Charles Wesley, brothers that apparently got along pretty well, and George Whitfield. And, for all you church history flunkies out there (myself included), they were the original Methodists. For years, while at Oxford, they followed a strict moral and methodical life, with lots of public praying. People were making fun of them by calling them Methodists, but I guess the name stuck.

This all went on until the day that Whitefield had his "great awakening", realizing that it was God's mercy, not our piety that saved us. He realized that only Jesus had achieved a totally moral life, and that our only hope for salvation rested in asking Jesus to save us.

Now, a couple hundred years later, that message has been ingrained in us, although we struggle to really believe it. Back then it was such a radical thought that it sparked a revolution throughout England that actually spread to the colonies across the Atlantic (us!)! So, of course this made the Church of England happy! NOT!

Now, all of a sudden, all these sinful, greasy, smelly, poor, broken people were understanding that there was a way out of their hopelessness! So, this revolution grew until it wasn't unheard of for Whitefield to address crowds of 20,000 or more -- not bad for a guy without a microphone! And, he was reaching so many people in America that Benjamin Franklin, after verifying that the crowds were really that big, became his publisher. Not a convert, just a publisher.

So, Metaxas goes on to say, "There was a great fear among those in power, especially ecclesiastical power, that men like Whitefield -- and John and Charles Wesley-- were threatening the social order. The lower classes were being encouraged to think for themselves, to resist the more orderly religion found in most of the Church of England congregations. Blacks and women were finding a place in this new, vibrant form of Christianity and it was all very troubling."

Oh how exciting! To be a part of something troubling! To challenge the social order of the day! To see people with no hope first learn about the hope they have! Or to see hearts change and desire what's pure and noble and good rather than trying to use civil law to force them to! That's so much more exciting than debating the placement of the 10 commandants! Of course, Whitefield wasn't concerned with forcing the prevailing church of the day, or the government,to force people to stop sinning (although he preached the topics of sin and hell very boldly). He focused on spreading some great news to people who needed to hear it.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Dead Finches, Eternally Angry Chickens, and the Problems with Faulty Theology

Today we started our day with a bit of sadness in the house. Salt, our beloved all white zebra finch, went home to the great aviary in the sky. Apparently the house got just a bit too cold for him, and, well, he sang his last song. Actually, he never sang, he just chirped, but that's beside the point.

As we laid him to rest ( I held him over the garbage can, while my husband said, "Ashes to ashes and all that other stuff"), our children stayed in the house and cried over this great loss. When I walked back in, I was immediately confronted.

"Where's Salt?"

"We buried him..." It was true, he was under a bunch of leaves and garbage... in the can.

"Without us?"

We used to hold a memorial service for every pet, and the woods behind our home is like a miniature version of a pet cemetery: 3 hamsters, 4 frogs, 3 hermit crabs, 1 finch and several fish. But, I couldn't live through the great emotions involved in another burial service today (or, if truth be told I just couldn't imagine traipsing all the way back to the woods with 5 kids, 2 of who can't walk, and eulogizing a bird that was smaller than a hissing cockroach (another pet that one of my kids want).

This wasn't the first time the death of a pet has got me in trouble. My children love animals, they love nature and they get very attached to both. So, when their first pet (a hermit crab) died, they were devastated by the loss. More importantly, though, they realized that if a hermit crab could die, then a dog could die... and dogs don't live as long as people. Now there was an unthinkable idea, but that idea birthed the obvious question.

"Mom, do pets go to heaven?"

For years before that question I had planned to be completely honest and sound with my answer "No, pets don't go to heaven. They don't have a soul."

However, when three sets of sad eyes looked at me that day, I said the only thing that came to mind.

"Of course... I mean they don't go to heaven like we do... they just get to be there because God created them and somehow he will redeem his creation.... and they're important to you so they're important to God."

Well, that seemed to solve the problem. Somehow that answer extended to all of creation, and my children had the peace of mind to know that every frog (including the one they told to wait for them outside while they came in for lunch), crab, bird, dog, cricket, and fish would be waiting for them on the great reunion day. It helped us get through many more deaths, and I was pretty pleased with myself.

Until it all came back to haunt me.

Last year, we allowed one of our sons to raise Pekin ducks for a 4-H projects. Pekin ducks are also known as meat ducks. Up to the point where the ducks arrived, it was all about raising meat. However, on the day they marched their little webbed feet into my home they became "cute little duckies". I knew there would be trouble (they were headed, in 3 months, to the meat auction), but I just didn't know what it would be.

It reared its ugly head several days after the auction. We were discussing the fate of sunshine, lightning, lighter and light (yes, I let him name them), when my son said, "Well, we'll see them again in heaven!"

"No we won't," I responded, a bit too quickly, "they're meat."

His eyes widened. "Yes, but God will redeem them!"

Uh oh. I fumbled for words. I believe my husband just laughed.

"Mom, you told us that God will redeem all of his creation that dies. That includes meat. That means will be meeting up with all the chickens we've eaten when we get to heaven."

Okay, not only was I up a creek, but the thought of having to face all those chickens made heaven seem a bit unappealing. Were they waiting for me at the gates, an angry mob, wanting some answers to some serious questions?

At some point, I know that I am going to have to straighten all this out. Even I'm confused by it all.

But until then, I have another problem. I have a little boy who has eaten a lot of meat over the years.... presuming that the chickens were going to heaven.

No matter what you do, your kids are just going to end up in therapy.

Amish Romance Novels and Other Great Perks When You Become a Christian

Today we received our copy of Christian Books Distributors Catalogue.

"Wow," I told my husband, "blog-fodder".

There was a time when I would flip through a CBD catalogue and find a whole lot of books I'd like to read. I guess that was back in the day, because now I mostly flip through it for the entertainment value it provides for me and my family.

So, for the edification and education of my blog readers, here is the low down from the latest in Christian Publishing:

There's been a growing trend in a new type of fiction, and this time I counted a total of 33 Amish romance novels by 4 or 5 different authors. This is so surprising to me, as the Amish don't seem to be a culture too caught up in romance. And, having grown up in North Eastern Ohio where many Amish abide, I must confess that I've never thought that they would even appreciate being the subject of romance novels. That aside, as the catalogue says, if Nellie doesn't decide if those "modern conveniences" like a tractor are Godly, she just may lose Caleb. The drama just doesn't end.

Over the years, people have commented to me how impressed they are with my kids' Bible knowledge.

"What did you do to get them to know it so well?" I've been asked.

"I, uh, read the Bible to them." Novel answer, I know. However, I've learned from CBD,that there really is more than one Bible! Just an incomplete list includes:

NIV True Images, Update Edition, Bible for Girls

Revolution for Teen Guys Bible

NCV Refuel New Testament for Guys (super charged with scripture "under the hood")

NIV 2:53 Boys Bible (boys can grow deeper, smarter and cooler)

The NIV FaithGirlz! Bible (with a section entitled "Oh, I get it!"-- no sexism there!)

The Adventure Bible (Hey! That one sounds fun!)

The NLT Hands-On Bible (perhaps this is a Bible your supposed to apply to life?)

The Discovers Bible (perhaps for explorers? Wonder if Columbus read it...)

The New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, Revised (Revised??? And, I thought my plain old NIV was spirit filled!)

The NKJV New Spirit-Filled Life Bible for Women (come on men -- don't you just want to take a little peek at it?)

The Amplified Bible (It reads louder than the rest).

But the best two are:
The Metal Bible ("one-of-a-kind metal case may resemble a soda can on the outside, but inside is Living Water sure to quench the thirst of any believer.")

The NIV Trimline Bible-in-a-Bag ("For teens and tweens on the go.. this take anywhere Bible is adorable and portable.")

How spoiled (in more than one sense) are we, that we have to actually package our Bibles for entertainment, when believers around the world are sharing 1 plain copy of scripture among many families and some believers haven't even had the entire Word translated into their languages!

But, don't forget, you can't just read the Bible, you have another duty towards it. You must highlight it! So, for a mere $20 you can buy the "Multi-Function Bible Study Pen." My oldest son asked me why you can't just use a regular pen. Perhaps this one has been blessed by a Rabbi or something.

There are also Bible study notepads, sheet magnifiers (set of 4!),Bible marking kits, lap desks and "Tabbies" for marking your place in your Bible. I use my collection of church bulletins -- I call them Bible Clutter.

Aside from the children's toys (a subject that is a whole other blog entry -- or book!), there was one other area that caught my attention: Holy Land Gifts.

For only $185 I can get the Lord's attention with a Yemenite Shofar, unless I want the extra large, in which case I need to pay $236. There were an assortment of rams horns, anointing oil with Scroll, Holy Land Communion Kit ($36), and, my personal favorite, "Scents of the Bible" perfume. From everything I've ever read about hygiene in the Bible, coupled with my experiences of international travel, I would have to say that I don't think that this is a perfume that will flood the markets at the local department stores. If it does, though, I'm in luck because with 7 people in my family, we can really produce a lot of stink -- I mean perfume.

But the final one that confused me was Hebrew Prayer Shawl with the Prayer of Jabez (more on Jabez in another blog). What confused me was not so much the prayer shawl, but the difference in quality. Jabez got the biggest label in the catalogue (probably because he has a best-selling book), but his shawl is only a polyester/nylon blend. Now, Elijah's prayer shawl is wool, of course. As is queen Esther's. However, the Tribe of Levi (I mean, the holy priesthood!), and the Tribe of Judah (from the line of Jesus) get the same fabric as the little thought of line of Issachar: POLYESTER! Where's the logic in that, I ask, where's the logic in that?

Oh, well, at least we're entertained.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thou Shall Not Kill, but Thou Shall Find Great Entertainment Value in Others Doing So

Here is another area of our culture that I don't understand, maybe because I don't want to. Without getting into an argument about "all sins being equal" vs "God judges all sin equally", there is a definite hierarchy of sin in the American church. Some sins are just worse than others, and there doesn't seem to be much Biblical basis for which ones are the worst.

Take, for instance, WalMart (Anyone who has been reading this blog just had to figure that WalMart would eventually come up!). From the start, I've had a problem with WalMart, especially when I hear people calling it a "christian company" and talking about how saintly Sam Walton was. Look at the basis of their first (or at least first from my perspective) national marketing campaign -- "more for less." Does that seem like a Godly principal? Do we really need "more for less"? Is getting "more for less" going to make us more content? Or, is it just going to get us to buy more? Is getting "more for less" going to help us value what we buy, or are we going to start just pitching things when they break and using our stuff with less care because it can be so easily replaced?

I think we all know the answers to those questions.

But, then, when the great Kathy Lee Gifford scandal broke in the 1990s, you would think that the church would stop and say, "Whoa, children are working in abusive sweatshops to make cheap clothing for WalMart. It turns out that someone is paying for our cheap stuff, maybe we shouldn't shop there."

But, no, that didn't really happen. Walmart flourished, Kathy Lee survived, and the church kept shopping at Walmart (except for the few who were convicted that maybe God didn't want us buying cheap stuff at the cost of some one's suffering.). However, last year, many people changed tunes because WalMart, seeing that it had an entirely new market to tap into, decided to support several gay and lesbian organizations. It was the final straw for many. Child abuse, gluttony and poor treatment of employees didn't cause large amounts of the church to stop shopping at Walmart -- homosexuality did.

Well, actually, it started an immense email campaign, because, you can get stuff so cheap at Walmart so we need to be a little gracious before we boycott!

I, personally, have found the problem quite entertaining. The executives at WalMart, I'm sure, could care less what sexual orientation a person has, what their political views are or what religion they practice. Just like they never cared about children in third world countries, or how content America was with what we already had. They just want every body's money. But, now, by reaching a new market (gay and lesbian) they have offended their biggest market (conservative christian). Boy, are they in hot water!

Another hierarchical sin is sex versus violence. If a movie has sex in it, it's bad. If a movie has violence in it (as long as the good guy wins) then it's okay. Outside of God's direct commands to the Israelites in the Old Testament, I see no where in the Bible where redemptive violence is condoned. And, I think we need to remember, if nothing else, that God has a bit of a different perspective on things when He sends in an army to annihilate a culture that refuses to repent and is essentially killing itself and those around it by its own sin than the latest Hollywood writers who justify vigilante violence in the name of "destroying the bad guy." (Or, perhaps, "rooting out evildoers" to quote another famous person...)

Video games are another area. But they're just pixels!

Pixels or not, if something is wrong, then how is it strengthening us by finding entertainment value in it?

Apparently,though, youth pastors across the country disagree with me, as a new popular way to attract teens is to provide the TVs, game stations, and space to play the popular and violent new video game, Halo.

Pastors and church leaders involved in using the game are quick to say that it is a useful tool for trying to reach boys and young men that would never want to go to church. I think that beer, naked girls and pot would attract those boys, too!

Then they should go to the boys and young men -- where they are! Why aren't we showing them the better way? Do these people honestly think that Jesus would have gotten drunk, made disrespectful comments about women or helped prostitutes make more money? Do you think that he aided tax collectors in cheating their charges? Of course not! He found a way to be with the world without imitating the world. No compromise, and no showing cheap imitations.

It's really sad that so many people are willing to settle for only part of the gospel, for only part of the truth, when committing to the whole of what is good, noble, lovely and true brings so much more blessing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Big Car ("Live Big, Drive Little", Says the Woman Looking to Buy a Ford E350 SuperDuty Extended Van)

If there is one thing that has befuddled me more than anything in our culture, it's cars. They are big, expensive items that are supposed to be reliable, but often aren't. I hate cars so much that we only had 1 car for the first 7 years we were married. When we finally decided to purchase a mini-van as a second vehicle, Rob brought the van and car sales man to our house during the test drive. The salesman was beaming.

"What do you think?" He asked. I looked at him, wondering how anyone could manufacture a glow over a bunch of metal, paint, fabric and wire, with a little bit of combustible fluid included. He noticed I wasn't smiling. "Don't you like it?"

"I'm not going to like it." I replied, "It's going to cost me money, eventually it'll break down, and all it does is get me and my kids from point A to point B. I have other, more worthy things, to smile about."

"uh...does that mean you want to buy it?" He looked like he wanted to leave.

We did buy that van. Despite his warnings that we'd soon want to replace it with a bigger one (at which point I really started wondering if car salesmen were included in the "love everyone" I committed myself to when I became a Christian -- I guess so, since tax collectors were.) we planned to keep it until the day it fell apart on some road, or all of our kids moved out. Well, stink, the guy was right, but not for the reasons he thought!

Several weeks ago, at the suggestion of our daughter's physical therapist, we went to a local mobility specialist. We were looking to purchase a van that will accommodate our daughter's 300lb power wheelchair and the rest of our family. I was foolish enough to believe that this guy would be a professional, an educator, willing to teach us what we needed to know in order to buy the proper (and expensive) equipment needed to transport our daughter and her chair. Instead, he was a vulture, I mean car salesman.

We were straightforward about our needs.

"We need a vehicle that will transport us, a minimum of 4 kids, a power wheelchair and have storage space for a manual chair."

"Well," he replied, "Let's look new and then talk." He took us out to the back lot where I saw the largest van I have ever seen. It was so large that it made me shake. It made Stephen King's Christine seem almost pleasant. I could almost feel it sucking the fossil fuel out of the entire city. It was so big... I mean, where would I park this behemoth?

He opened the side doors and I peered in. I was shocked.

"This van only seats 4 people and the wheelchair?" I asked.

"Well, yes. but the back seat folds down into a bed." He responded. I looked at him like he had aliens coming out of his ears. Why would I, traveling with 5 children (2 of whom would be sitting on the roof I guess), need the back seat to fold into a bed?

"Well, when you have yours custom built, we'll add in another bench and another seat belt. Did you see that it has a full size TV?"

"I don't need a TV."

"Sure you do." He was serious! "If you're going to keep this van for 15 years, then you need it to have a TV."

"How does a TV extend a van's longevity?" I didn't think he heard me, but, shucks, he did.

"Well, you don't want your kids to be bored!"

Oh, heavens, no!

"Okay, what does a van like this cost?" I asked. He hemmed and hawed.

"Well, your looking at an extended cab and a double conversion on top--"

"Why double?"

"Well, you don't want your daughter hitting her head on the roof."

"Our daughter weighs 24 lbs and doesn't even sit higher than her wheelchair."

"Well, you don't want her to have to duck her head." Heavens, no, we sure don't.

"So, with the double conversion on top, and all the features you'll need for how long you'll keep the van.... you're looking in the $55,000-60,000 price range."

Now it makes sense! We need the bed in the van because we'll have to sell the house in order to buy the van!

"Okay," both husband and I said, "we'll need to look used."

"Oh....used," he said, "You'll have a 1 in hundred chance of finding what you're looking for. You really need to go custom."

Now, the thing that really gets me is that this guy has a daughter that uses a power wheelchair. He knows exactly how much adaptive equipment costs! How he could stand there, never once listening to what we said we needed, trying to convince us to buy so much more than we needed, without a care to what we could afford is beyond me.

Of course, what he was really dealing with was the fact that most people who want to buy a van really believe those "options" are not options. We saw this when we were selling our old van. It was only 7 years old, in excellent condition, had low mileage, and a great price. But no one wanted it because it didn't' have power windows, locks, rear A.C. or dual sliding doors. It was great at doing what a car is supposed to do : taking a family from point A to point B. However, Americans just aren't looking for that anymore.

So, we're still looking for a van. Despite his warnings that we'd fail, we've been looking for a used version of what we need. So far, we've found 3 possibilities of vans that already have the lift and tie-downs installed (no TV, though and I'm not sure about the bed). And, of course we can buy a used van and used lift and have them converted (all for well under $20,000).

I guess I'll just be dealing with car salesmen for a while. I'm sure they're not all bad. They just don't understand that not everyone wants to define themselves by what they drive, and that there are still some people who understand what a car is supposed to do.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Why I Keep Adopting Children

The other day, my five year old gave me some great insight into my life.

"Mom," she said, "why do some women work?"

Before I could answer, my 8,9 and 10-year-olds jumped in, ready to show their superior knowledge.

"Lots of women work! Sometimes a Dad will stay home with the kids and the mom works!"
"Some women work because they don't have kids to take care of!"
"Some of them work because their kids are grown up."

I pointed out, too, that some women choose to work when they have children still at home.

"Well," she said, "Then why don't you work?"

"I used to work before I had kids, and then I worked part time for years after I had kids. In fact I didn't stop until we adopted you."

"Really..." she replied, thoughtful for several seconds. "So that's why you keep adopting kids! If you keep adopting kids, then you don't ever have to work!"

Monday, October 8, 2007

Oral Roberts Son in Trouble?! Could It Be?!

Many people can remember about 20 years ago when televangelist Oral Roberts created quite a controversy when he took God up on a challenge He issued to him. While reading a novel, claimed Roberts, God appeared to him and told him that he must raise $8 million dollars for his university or, sigh..., be called home to heaven.

Now, here's where things get really weird. Roberts went ahead a raised the money! Am I crazy or what??? If God appeared to me with that offer, I think that I would probably say, "Hey! thanks for the way out of that burden!" and then go lie down on the couch and nap my way to heaven.

But not Roberts. He has a greater work ethic than I, because he went ahead a manipulated people out of their money (wouldn't want to see another believer home with Jesus would we?), and the great bastion of academic excellence, Oral Roberts University, continued.

Well, to quote a famous television character of my childhood, "Sur-prise! Surprise! Surprise!", Oral Roberts University has found itself in a fix again! Apparently his son, Richard Roberts, the president of Oral Roberts University, is facing a lawsuit filed by former professors of his university.

Not to be outdone by his father, Roberts is also claiming that God spoke to him and said, "We live in a litigious society. Anyone can get mad and file a lawsuit against another person whether they have a legitimate case or not. This about intimidation, blackmail and extortion."

Perhaps those concepts are something Roberts is a bit familiar with.

Some of the more bizarre allegations include:

Replacing an employee with an underage male friend of his wife

His wife sending hundreds of text messages (between 1 and 3 am) to "underage males" at the expense of the University

Using the University jet to fly his daughter and friends to Orlando and the Bahamas (a missions trip that cost the ministry over $29,000 and happened to be during spring break)

Using University employees to complete his daughters' homework

The Roberts family has brought in enough money for his wife, a board member of ORU, to spend over $39,000 a year on clothing, and remodel their home (complete with stables -- paid for by the university and ministry) 11 times in the past 14 years.

Now I can see why Oral didn't want to be called home! I mean the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few!!!

What is really amazing here, though, is that this sick materialism and barbaric wielding of power (this lawsuit actually started because Roberts was trying to force some professors to promote a local politician -- allegedly) could continue for as long as it has. How in the world can someone profess to be a follower of a homeless man that claimed to be the son of God and justify such extravagance as "ministry expense"?

But, an even greater question, is "How in the world did this University continue to grow with such leadership?" I mean, how many people who profess Christianity didn't have the sense to see that these people's lives didn't even remotely reflect the teachings of Christ? Have we gotten so far from our understanding of what it is to be a Christian that we can't see something blatantly wrong with a grown woman text messaging multiple teen aged boys through the wee hours of the night? Surely there were people aware! Or weren't there people willing to tell the Roberts family that it's wrong for someone else to do their kids' homework?

How can anyone say they follow Christ and then spend more money on clothing than the average American family earns in yearly income?! Whether or not it's right for a Christian to be wealthy is not the question, but have we become so desensitized to our materialism that such excessive spending doesn't even make us blink? It's not whether or not you have the money that matters to God, but that you remember that the money really still belongs to God!

Oral and Richard Roberts do serve a purpose, though. I think that I can see them as a warning to myself. A warning of what I could easily become if given the chance, and a warning of how easily I can justify my comforts and extravagances. It's easy to judge the Roberts because it's all so outlandish, but the fact of the matter is that even the poorest person reading this blog has more material possessions than 95% of the earth's population. And its really hard to live a life where we don't just fall in love with that comfort.

So, when you think about good old Oral and Richard, you can say two prayers. One for their hearts and one of thanks for the warning that they given.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Deb Takes on the AFL-CIO

Several days ago, a misguided union rep made the mistake of knocking on my front door. Now, since I have committed my life to following the teachings of Christ, I wasn't even tempted (okay, I was tempted) to really corner the guy. I was thankful, though, that I could endure the conversation with my mind clinging to the phrases "gentleness and respect, deb, gentleness and respect".

I didn't tell him about my experiences growing up in the steel valley portion of Ohio. I didn't tell him how the Union boss had the largest house on the private drive I grew up on, and how, mysteriously, he never went to work. I didn't ask him about the Union violence of recent years, the unions misunderstanding of the economy and how free trade works. I didn't explain to him how there's a certain amount of personal responsibility involved in how much money you earn and what benefits your job has. I also didn't explain to him how the union at my husband's work, while not even once advocating for our family, will be able to charge us money for "representing us." I didn't even need to go there because he talked himself into a corner for me!

"Do you care if thousands of Ohioan have health insurance?" he asked me.

Boy, that's a loaded question! Of course I care, and I wondered if the Union boss of my childhood cared about that. I doubt that he had time when he spent most of his time managing his professional boxer.

"Of course I care," I said with a smile.

"Then I need you to sign this petition that will hold politicians accountable."

I paused, truly befuddled, and then replied. "I thought that was why I voted."

"Well," he looked a bit shocked, "voting's helpful, but this petition... it will hold them accountable."

"More than voting?" I questioned. He looked uncomfortable. I took the petition from him and studied it. It wanted my name, address and telephone number.

"You can see," he pointed out," that many of your neighbors have already signed. They want to hold politicians accountable too." There were 3 names on the petition. One had handwriting suspiciously like a child.

"But how does this petition hold them accountable? It looks more like a mailing list to me.... hey, this is a mailing list, isn't it? If I sign this, I'm going to be on the alf-cio's mailing list!" I smiled at him, mostly because I realized that I had gotten his number! (This usually only happens for me long after a conversation has ended and I think, "Aww, if only I had said ________").

"Well... it's not for that, it's to hold the politicians accountable."

"Yes, but we've already been over that. I hold them accountable by the unusual way of voting or not voting for them. You're trying to tell me that this isn't a mailing list for the AFL-CIO? I won't start getting mailings from them if I sign this?"

"I'm not saying that... I'm just saying that if you really care about.... never mind. Have a nice day."

I felt pretty emboldened by this interaction. Perhaps I'll go out and look for Jimmy Hoffa.

Body Cast Dancing

Six weeks is a long time for anyone to be stuck in a body cast. Not just for the kid, but everyone who lives with her! We all get a bit stir crazy at times! And, yes, we really did choreograph this, as sad as that might be.

Circus Camp (or The Overly Entertained Child)

Before I became a parent, I never understood the pressure that parents face as far as filling their kids activities schedule. When our shoe princess daughter was only 3 years old, we discovered that she was outstanding with a soccer ball.

"You need to get her on a peewee team!" Many people told us.

"She's three!" I thought, isn't she just supposed to be playing? Is her ability to control a soccer ball just going to disappear if she doesn't join a team? Can we, with 5 kids to feed, clothe, educate and support, justify the cost of a league, shin guards, ball and cleats for a kid who's just as happy kicking the ball around the backyard? I believe that would be acceptable in many parts of the world, but not, apparently, suburban America!

For activity options for my kids this past summer, there was: drama camp, piano camp, music camp, clay camp, nature camp, farm camp, creek camp, VBS at 7 different churches, basketball camp, football camp, soccer camp.... even circus camp! For a grand total of $840 for 4 kids (incidentally, for that amount of money I could purchase a used instrument for a child and pay for at least 6 months of private lessons, teach 8 or 9 children how to swim, buy at least a 3 year supply of good art supplies for the kids, pay for all 4 of my older kids to join soccer for the next 3 to 4 years, or take our entire family on a short vacation), they could have had "the week of a lifetime". According to some parents, in fact:

* There are few experiences that are better!
* Nothing can help your child's co-ordination like this!
* Completely worth the money!
* No kid should have to miss this!

To think, there was a time when diligent parents were keeping their kids away from the circus! But, being a good suburban parent, I did my part by worrying that missing circus camp might just be the straw that breaks the camel's back in their negotiations with the Harvard admissions team.

I have often felt like I am the only voice yelling in the crowd, "They're kids! They should play outside during the summer!"

But it's not just the activities! Recently we began shopping for a new van to accommodate our daughter's power wheel chair (that blog entry is coming soon!), imagine my disgust when I walked away from our first interaction with a van salesman, unable to make him understand that I don't want a television in my van!

"If you're going to have this van for 15 years, you'll need the television or your kids will get bored."

Oh no!! My kids... bored?? Maybe they would actually have to think!

Children in our culture have come to just expect to be entertained, whether at home, school or even in the car. We have library systems buying video games to "lure" kids in the door, schools taking field trips to the demolition derby (that one I saw on the local news!), and teachers breaking their backs trying to create "hands on" lessons for just about every topic. It would be so great if we could just expect our children to love learning for learning's sake, and not for the entertainment that we attach to it!

A look at children's toys points to the same thing. Most of us would be embarrassed if we totaled up the dollar amount spent on toys -- especially considering how little they play with them. I know that my experience has been that boxes, rocks, dirt, grass, leaves, insects, acorns, walnuts, water and sticks engage the imagination of my children much more so that any Bratz doll could hope to. And yet I've sat through many an organization lecture at various moms groups, and heard all the suggestions. "Rotate your kids toys." "Keep your kids toys sorted by room so it only takes 15 minutes to pick up." "Do a toy swap with your kids friends."

What kind of sickness is this that we don't just realize that our kids have too many toys for their own good!

Not long ago, the kids and I were at a local warehouse store. In the middle of the store was a large, plastic child's playhouse. It was larger than my kitchen, and came with plastic furniture, utensils, dishes, etc. It cost over $3000. The kids were amazed.

"Wow!" One of them said, "Mom, who would be lucky enough to get a toy like this?"

"Someone whose parents have a pretty out-of-whack perspective on life."

Friday, October 5, 2007

Shoe Shopping with a Russian Fashion Sense

Several days ago I went shoe shopping with my daughter, a family proclaimed fashion queen. Like all great women of Russian influence, she knows how to choose a good pair of shoes. My trips to FSU countries have taught me many things, but one of the greatest lessons I have learned is that Americans, in general, have no sense of fashion flair when it comes to shoes.

I'll never forget the time my husband and I were eating at a restaurant in Almaty, Kazakstan with a large group of Kazakhs. As I was eating my lunch, I felt something sharp and pointy hitting my shin. I glanced under the table, presumably to confirm it was my husband's shoe, only to find it was the tip of the shoe of a man that was sitting 2 seats down from me.

Now, HE had some shoes. Black leather dress shoes that came to a point (like witch's shoes) that extended a good foot-and-a-half out from his toes!! Later that weekend, I borrowed my translator's aunt's shoes to wear to an orchestra concert that were similar but only extended about 8 inches past the toes. I realized that these shoes were not only trendy and dangerous, but could possibly be used to correct pigeon-toed walking.

So, I took my daughter, who obviously has this extravagant fashion sense, with me to Payless. She quickly picked out her new shoes. As she has since proven, these are truly versatile and can be worn with anything. In fact, she just wore them several minutes ago in a backyard soccer game!

I didn't fair so well. My first choice was quickly shot down.

"Mom, those look just like your old shoes! Why get new ones?" She's too honest for a 5-year-old.

I tried again.

"Uh, Mom" she was being utterly condescending, "Those look like Daddy's shoes."

So, I had her choose. And, choose she did. Hot pink sequins stiletto heel shoes (with ties that went up the leg!). We left after that, because there was no way I would ever wear those. Ever. Not even to prom in the 80s.

Movies, God and Pop Culture

Just to clarify on my last post.... I'm not against the idea of Christians using media and movies for promoting the gospel. What I question is this:
1) someone having the ability to write/director/star in a movie while leading a congregation AND keeping a healthy relationship with God and family.
2) a church using its resources on making a "major motion picture"
3) emulating the way that Hollywood works at promoting. There is no "who's who" in Christianity (outside of Christ) so I don't quite see self-promotion (like the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing) as a Christ-like attribute.

And, again, I'm questioning this, not saying that it's wrong.

That said, I think that there is a vast difference between what God calls a body of believers to do as His church and what God calls individuals to do for his cause. Christians should be making movies, acting in movies, writing movies and producing movies. Drama, be it the stage or movie theater, has a great impact on the culture. Who better to work within that field than someone who truly has a moral compass and a healthy vision for life? The question is, should the church, as an entity, be doing this.

And, should Christians be trying to emulate a pop culture that is, by and far, a completely emotionally and mentally unhealthy culture? Should children idolize a singer or actor because they're famous? Should we be so influenced by people we don't know?

Take, for instance, Christian radio. Not long ago as I was driving in my car with my children,we were listening to a popular national Christian radio station. I almost spit at the radio when the DJ, speaking of a conference that listeners might win a trip to, said, "It will be a regular who's who of Christianity!".

Does anyone else out there find that comment a bit disturbing? How does that mesh with the idea of losing your life for the sake of Christ? The first shall be last? Humility? Selflessness?

Another example came from a magazine that is dedicated to mothers of preschoolers. Last year there was an article interviewing a prominent all-female singing group that was to be featured at a mothering conference. Several members of the singing group had recently become mothers -- and yet were continuing to travel the country as a performing group.

"We're influencing the generation of girls that will influence our daughters!" said one of the singers. She went on to rave about how her babysitter had taught her young daughter how to pray.

Did it ever occur to them that maybe THEY should be influencing their daughters? I was saddened to see the cheap junk that these ladies had traded for the gifts God had given them. These are certainly not people I would pick to influence my daughters. Is this really a culture we want to emulate?

Just because it's labeled "Christian" doesn't mean it is, and just because something is good, doesn't mean that a church should use it's resources on it.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Americanized Christianity -- Yuck! I want the real thing!

This morning, before the dragons (my children) arose from their slumber, I was finishing my morning quiet time by re-reading "The Calling" by Brother Andrew. There was a passage in the book that really struck me as almost prophetic. It referred to his first book, God's Smuggler, where he shared the story of how He served God by smuggling Bibles to the persecuted Christians behind the Iron Curtain. In it he said,

As grateful as I am for the success of God's Smuggler, one of the reasons for its success bothered me: Almost no one else had been doing what I did. Because I was one of the few people going to these places of great need, somebody wanted to put my story in a book.

But what would have happened if thousands of Christians at that time had been risking imprisonment to go to their suffering brothers and sisters behind the Iron Curtain? Probably a book would never have been written -- the story would have been common knowledge. But the church worldwide would have grown much stronger as a result. How I wish that so many Christians would stand up and go to where God needs them that nobody will want to write a book about it! Then you or I would never be famous, but at least we would be showing the world what real Christianity is. (The Unforgettable Story of the Man Who Discovered the Adventure of The Calling, c1996 Open Doors)

This quote just about sums up how I feel when people tell me how "special" we are because we have adopted children with disabilities. People find the story of our family so compelling for the same reason that so many millions have found Brother Andrew's compelling: its so unusual to hear about people who have really followed where God has tried to lead them -- or have even been able to hear the still, quiet whisper of God's voice over the political and entertainment culture that permeates the church in America.

About a year ago, I was troubled by a movie called "Facing the Giants" that was released by a church. It wasn't just that the movie looked like another flimsy evangelical church attempt at copying what Hollywood does, but it made me wonder, "What in the world is the church doing investing time, money and resources into making a movie?" And, how can an associate pastor have time to pastor a church and write/direct and star in a movie? Wanting to stay just this side of judgmental, I looked at the website. It was filled with pictures and info promoting the "actors" and "directors" and such -- certainly not promoting the gospel. And, of course, the lesson of the movie (which I have to admit I've never seen) seemed to be, "look what God can do for you!"

Is this really the vision that God has for how a church uses its resources? Should I be able to to go to a church's website and view its members acting like Hollywood actors and actresses and promoting themselves? I'm not saying that any of this is wrong, but is it the best?

Just say that that church had taken all those resources and put them into building a community center for their city, or a shelter or a soup kitchen or bought new curriculum for their schools. Then used their acting gifts to organize plays for the community, help with the local school's theatrical productions. Instead of using money for costumes, say it used the money to clothe under privileged children.... maybe they wouldn't be famous, but maybe their community would have a real example of what Christianity is.

However, we're living in a culture where even our Christianity has come to mean how Christ can serve us rather than how we can serve Christ. It's funny, because, as a culture, we are so caught up in ourselves and our stuff, that we instantly assume that it would be more exciting for a church to make a movie than to open a soup kitchen. It's funny because, I know from experience its not true.

The more we seek to serve Christ, and the more we are willing to enter into the sufferings of his creation (something we've been conditioned to run away from!), the closer we are to Him. I've seen this over and over again in our family.

Just over a month ago I sat in Children's Hospital holding my daughter as she sobbed over the losses inherent to her physical disabilities and the pain involved in hip surgery. As I sat on the bed trying my best to hug such a small person who was covered in a body cast and hooked up with all the requisite wires that come after surgery, I felt the peace, presence and sovereignty of God in a way that was almost tangible enough to touch. It's a tiny sacrifice for me to suffer through her losses with her when I compare it to the absolute jewel of experiencing God in such a way.

So, I'm not saying that God isn't in a movie (even one about football -- I mean, come on, FOOTBALL???), but I am saying that you can just talk about God or you can experience Him. But you're not going to experience Him until you choose to listen and follow Him to the place you're needed, and usually that place is not going to be a place where people want your bio and picture on their website. Unless, of course, that's what God calls you to!

I think that one of the things like I like about Brother Andrew is that he describes himself as "dumb dutchman that works for a Jewish carpenter." He understands that it doesn't take "someone special" to do something unselfish (in fact, over the years we've found that our adoptions were the best things that could've happened to us). All it takes is someone to be willing. Someone willing to leave the comfortable and take on the suffering of another. The complete opposite of looking for what God can do for you. The complete opposite of the "pursuit of happiness."

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Monday, October 1, 2007

The KFC Sludge Bucket

When I was a child every summer I attended a Bible camp in northwestern Pennsylvania. It was a idyllically situated between two hills (boys hill and girls hill for propriety's sake) with fields, forests, a swimming pool, chapel and mess hall filling out the land around and between the hills. Each summer I enjoyed nearly every aspect of the week which was filled with not only Bible study but the typical activities and pranks that one finds at a summer camp. I say nearly every aspect because there was one thrice-daily activity that I absolutely hated.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner were eaten at large 10 seater tables in the mess hall. At the end of each meal, every person would pass their plates to the head seat of the table. That person would scrape all the leftovers onto one plate and then stack the remaining plates under his plate. That top plate had to be the most disgusting thing I have ever seen. I remember looking at the gravy smeared potatos, corn and chicken remains (possibly combined with some previously chewed chicken) and thinking, "It looks like its being digested!".

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was watching T.V. one evening and discovered that that very dish is now being served at KFC! But this is the great benefit of having an entire industry committed to advertising. It's not just a plate of leftovers anymore. It's one of KFC's "Famous Bowls". According to the commercial, this "bowl" starts with a "generous" serving of "creamy" mashed potatoes, followed by a layer of corn, and bite sized "crispy" chicken pieces. Unlike the sludge plate of my youth, though, this dish has artifical gravy and cheddar cheese.

"Okay," I convinced myself, "surely this will flop. Certainly not enough of our population will actually pay money and eat that."

But, surely, I was wrong. Now there is not only the the Mashed Potato Sludge Bowl, but also a rice and a biscuit sludge bowl as well!

The sludge bucket is not the only insane thing out there. Check out Campbell's Soup-at-Hand! This is soup that comes in a cup (conveniently sized to fit in your car cup holder) that you drink while on the run. You might even want to try their "velvety potato"! Okay, that's just not natural! What about the chunks?

Or another one of my favorites: Disney Produce (see Attack of the Disney Tomatoes for more info!). As a parent of small children, I can either buy the cheaper fresh fruits and vegetables or I can buy the more expensive ones that come in the Disney bags. Apparently buying the ones in the Disney bags will guarantee that my children will have fun eating the produce. It makes me wonder if Disney's lacing something in the produce, since my children never see the bag that their fresh fruits and veggies come in. Maybe there's a face of Mickey Mouse on the apple skins, kind of the like Virgin Mary on the grilled cheese.

It's absolutely amazing what the food industry can create, and while so many advocacy groups are after McDonalds, KFC and what not, the real issue is that people are buying it! If people didn't buy it, then the companies wouldn't be making it. We're really living in a culture where moms are spending more money to buy Disney apples, people are drinking soup and a bucket full of sludge is considered not only palletable but desirable!