Friday, November 30, 2007

A Big Ugly Dog and Forgiveness

Several years ago, I was the victim of a crime. The event was perpetrated by a dog, but the crime was really the ignorance of its owners. They bought a dog (in a city, where it is statistically likely to have been bred from fighting stock) that was known for its power, strength and aggression, and then they never bothered to put the dog in obedience training. Instead, fairly ignorant of dog behavior, they kept the 80+lb dog in their home, letting it interact with guests and children in their neighborhood.

I met the dog when it was only about 2 or 3 years old, and within seconds of the meeting it ripped my nose and lip nearly off. The owner drove me to the hospital where I had my face pieced back together by a plastic surgeon. I was terrified, my husband was terrified and my children (who stood next to me as the dog attacked) were terrified. I spent the next week drugged in order to cover the pain which was not only in my face but entire body which had bruises, scratches and teeth marks from the dog jumping on me. With that attack, nightmares, a constant sense of shock and fear became ingrained in me.

On the way to the hospital, I could barely talk and I was praying that my lips were still attached to my face. I also begged Jesus to just get me through this ordeal and help me to use it for his glory. I held the towel over my mouth (to catch the blood) and looked at the man who owned the dog.

"I just want you to know that I forgive you for letting this happen." I said, "I understand that things like this can happen and I just want you to know that I forgive you."

He responded with some apologies, and I thought that this was going to be some great thing that God would work for his glory. Well, it was, but not in the way I thought.

The next day the owner and his wife came over to see how I was. I was still drugged and terrified, and I appreciated their concern. But then, the owner said something that made it feel like the attack was happening all over again. He implied it was not his fault or the dog's fault.

"I don't know what happened. I mean I don't want to make this matter smaller than it is or anything, but this he's such a good dog that I just have to think that this was a playful nip that just went too far."

A playful nip that went too far???? I had over 54 stitches in my face!!!

On that day, I couldn't deal with the guy anymore, so I just smiled, told him I appreciated his visit and secretly hoped he would leave.

Several weeks later, though, I got a call from him. He had talked to his vet, and his vet had suggested that the dog (because he was such a great dog -- or perhaps because he helped to make the vet have a successful practice?) not be put down. Instead, they suggested dog therapy.

Yes, I know it's really really really stupid. But what came next was even more incredible.

"See," he told me, "Sometimes a dog can misinterpret your motions and think you are being aggressive. Your body language told our dog you were a threat, so he bite you."

Oh my, I thought, he's really telling me that this attack was my fault! Instead of the victim, I was the instigator!

Let me stop here and explain just what it feels like to have a crime committed against you, to be brutally attacked and then have the perpetrator suavely explain that it was your fault. There was nothing, nothing that could've hit harder. My face was still ripped up. I had a son who was showing symptoms of PTSD, it hurt to move my arms, I was scared to take walks outside, I was scared to go to the park, I was scared of my own dog, I couldn't sleep at night without nightmares .... and he sat there and told me that it was my fault! Even now as I write about it it raises up anger, guilt, fear and shame.

He went on to ask me for my blessing on his idea to forgo terminating the dog and putting it into therapy.

Obviously, I made it sincerely clear that I thought that was a irresponsible idea. Then I hung up the phone, and really let my husband know just how irresponsible and selfish I thought it was!

Over the course of the next few months I really processed all that had happened. I couldn't believe that that guy would value his dog's life over my face, the safety of his neighbors and wife, and all rational thought. That dog could've easily killed one of my children! Thank God it attacked me and not them! But, still, he did value that dog so much more than human life and health! To my knowledge that dog is still alive today. It did help that their home owners insurance (as well as the laws of Ohio) didn't agree that the attack was my fault! And, God did use this to his glory when we were compensated for the attack and able to pay off adoption debt.

However, there was another lesson in it that came to mind again the other day when I was reading in Colossians.

'But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation." Colossians 1:22

I was thinking about what a tremendous gift this is. Christ suffered so much on our behalf, took our punishment for our sins and then just simply forgave us. For those of us that recognize the gift, it is the most wonderful thing. Similar in some ways to how I suffered through the dog attack, taking the brunt of the dog's aggression because of the owner's incompetence in dog behavior, training and handling. Then I forgave him -- something that should've been so freeing to him, and truly given by me as a valuable gift.

But just like the dog owner, there are people who don't recognize the gift. I forgave him. I'm glad I did. I'm glad that I chose to do what Christ wanted me to -- even though it fell on deaf ears. His actions showed that. My forgiveness didn't matter because he was certain that he (or his dog) had done nothing wrong. So, he threw it back in my face, almost to the point of trying to manipulate me with it.

I realized how much that is a picture of how people reject Christ. They take his forgiveness and throw it out. There is no gratitude for the blood that was shed, there is no sensitivity to the losses he faced, and there is no real acceptance of the forgiveness because they believe that they have done nothing wrong. Through this dog attack, I was able to have a tiny understanding of how Jesus feels at this rejection.

That perspective is another way that God redeemed it. Now when I look at the thin scar running across the top of my lip, or when I feel how my left nostril is blocked with scar tissue, it isn't a reminder of how I suffered. It's a reminder of the gift that Christ gave me when He took the punishment for my sin.

I also now understand that nothing, not even all the money an insurance company can throw at you, can replace the lost relationship that happens (even with a mere acquaintance) when a person refuses to accept forgiveness because they refuse to acknowledge the wrong that they've done.

I've wrestled with the question of whether or not I have truly forgiven him. Up until the night of the phone call, I felt that I had. But that phone call was so difficult to get past, that I do still question it. I can honestly say that I don't harass the guy, I don't gossip about him, I haven't made any mean websites about him, I pray for him and his family (especially their safety since they still have the dog), and I don't think mean thoughts about him. I actually don't think about him much at all. I still trust that God can redeem his way of thinking, and that God will righteously judge this incident as He will all others. So, from my human perspective I think I've come as close to forgiveness as I can, and my prayer is that I will continue to live in forgiveness towards him in whatever God calls me to.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Pearl

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. " Matthew 13:45

Years ago I read the novella "The Pearl" by John Steinbeck. Steinbeck has always been one of my favorite authors, which is probably why I never like any other author's descriptions ("Who do they think they are? Steinbeck?? They should stop this feeble attempt at describing the guy's shirt and move on with the plot!") and why all the obscenities I heard in the halls of various inner city schools never phased me when I taught there.

Anyway, like many Steinbeck stories, "The Pearl" focuses on the greediness of human nature. The story is set in a small native village near the sea. The main character, Kino, is a poor fisherman who lives with his common law wife, Juana, in a hut near the sea. He and Juana have an infant son, Coyotito. The story begins with a scorpion sting to Coyotito that sends Kino and Juana to find medical help, help which is refused them because they have no money to pay the doctor.

They take to searching the sea for pearls in hope to find enough to pay the doctor to save the life of their son. Later that morning, Kino finds what he calls, "The Pearl of the World." The pearl, he is certain, will bring lasting comfort and stability, and he can use the money to heal his son, legally marry his wife and provide for his family.

However, his plans to sell the pearl are ruined as none of the buyers in the local town are willing to pay anywhere near what Kino would expect. Juana wants him to sell it anyway, certain that it will bring bad things to their lives if they keep it. Her insights were not just instinct, as not long after finding the pearl, Kino and Juana bring fellow villagers into their hut to see it. They expect their friends and family to be happy for their find. Instead, it aroused in them a desire to own the pearl as well. Not long after finding it, Kino, Coyotito (who had been healed by the doctor) and Juana are, basically, running for their life.

Eventually, they realize that the pearl is not worth the suffering, but by the time Kino realizes that it's too late. Trackers, wanting to obtain the pearl, have followed them to a cave near the ocean. Kino hides both Juana and Coyotito in the cave, and only he plans to surprise the trackers and kill them (he had already killed another person at this point). While he is stalking the trackers, they shoot toward what they thought was a coyote. Kino does kill the three trackers, but returns to the cave to find out that the trackers had killed Coyotito.

So, he found "The Pearl of the World" but it brought him nothing but grief, and cost him what was actually the most valuable thing in his life. That's why I like Steinbeck. He makes me think. He really understood human nature, but sadly, he didn't understand God or grace...

I was thinking about that in light of the "Pearl of Great Value" (Although that name for it makes it sound like one you might find at Sam's Club.)

The Pearl has a totally different kind of value. It has the kind of value that Coyotito had -- the kind of value that is worth getting rid of all you have in order to obtain it. And yet, it's seems like human nature to sacrifice The Pearl for the Pearl of the World, just like Kino did.

So, then, where is the value in The Pearl? It's finding the kingdom of heaven, and then living a life in the kingdom, despite what other kingdoms might surround you. It makes me think of the times that Jesus said, "the Kingdom of God is at hand." and how I think that means that the Kingdom of God is near us, with us, and it's our job to live like it is. I think that must require a different value system than the other kingdoms around us.

So, I've traded worldly kingdoms, for Christ's Kingdom, and I've traded the Pearl of the World for The Pearl. Or, at least I try to live in that mindset. What does that mean on a practical level? Well, I gave up having a big house, new clothes, lots of working computers (we currently have a multitude of awkwardly working computers that are in various stages of repair), money for hobbies (except blogging -- it's free!), having a "career", spending my days with adults, and being paid for all my great insight and advice. At the times when I've made choices to give things up, it seemed really big. But then, once the sacrifice was made and the reward was given, it wasn't such a big deal after all, because of the things that are of value in Christ's Kingdom.

So far, then, I've gained so much, and I'm not even to the heavenly reward part. This has gotten me to ponder what I would have needed to give up in order to obtain "The Pearl of the World". So, without further ado, here is my list of what I would have never had if I had been pursuing the wrong pearl:

1) I wouldn't have the healthy family relationships I now have
2) The words, "Put your leg on" would not be normal to me
3) I wouldn't have had personal experience with both the Ukrainian Secret Police and the Kazkh mafia (no, I'm not a double agent)
4) I wouldn't have seen the miracle of my oldest daughter's recovery from surgery
5) I wouldn't have seen the real miracle of God healing her heart from years of institutional life and bringing her to love Him
6) I wouldn't know all of my children so well that I can recognize them by their footsteps
7) I wouldn't know my neighbors as I do
8) My friends would not be nearly so eclectic
9) I wouldn't know myself as well as I do (even the things I would rather not know about myself!)
10) I wouldn't have a solid purpose with an ever-changing adventure from knowing Jesus

So, when I look at the value of each pearl, I'm totally aware of which one is better, and thankful that Jesus made it possible for me to obtain The Pearl. I also feel a lot of sadness for people who never stop pursuing "The Pearl of the World." They have no idea what they're missing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Our Family is coming up to an anniversary, actually two anniversaries, celebrated on the same day. On Thursday, November 30, 2006 the legal system of Ukraine confirmed what God had ordained from the beginning of time. Our youngest daughter became officially ours.

It was the third time that we have ever gone to court, and we have yet to go to a court where English is spoken! However, with each hearing the same picture is created: A hungry, lonely orphan loses that identity and becomes a beloved member of a family.

The best part of the court hearing is the end, when the judge has finally made their decision, and they say something to the effect of, "From this day forward, you will no longer be named ******** ******, but will now be known as ******** *********. (Sorry for the asterisk, but this is the Internet and I don't want any weirdos knowing my kids' names -- not that you're a weirdo, someone else reading this is a weirdo).

All the same, though, it is such a beautiful picture of what Christ does for us. In one spoken word from a person in authority, our daughter was no longer what she was just minutes earlier. She became a "new creation", in such a similar way that when a person becomes a Christian the old is gone and the record of the old is wiped clean. If you traveled to Ukraine and tried to find any records on our daughter's birth, under her birth name, they wouldn't be there (in theory at least...) because she is no longer that person. She is a new creation. You'd have to look under her new name.

So, we will soon be celebrating our 1 year anniversary of our youngest new creation.

In addition to that anniversary, my husband and I have the unique and dubious honor of celebrating the 1 year anniversary of having a high government official from another country arrested. (There's no cute picture to go with this anniversary).

Every adoptive family is nervous when it's court day. However, last November 30th, we were nervous in a whole new way. Our judge had agreed to hear the case only if we paid her a bribe. The short version of the story is that God provided us a way to not only accomplish the adoption, but to do so legally. Instead of simply paying the bribe, we (mostly our lawyer), co-operated with the secret police. Our lawyer was wired, the money was marked, and the court hearing happened.

As we stood there, answering the judge's questions, I pondered how odd it felt to be holding court with her having absolutely no idea what was to follow. I wondered if it was all worth it, or if it would make any difference. I even wondered if it was really fair, considering the fact that she might be bribing in order to pay someone higher up, or that she wasn't the only one extorting people, she was just the one that was getting caught.

I felt sick to my stomach when she looked me straight in the eyes, smiled at me and said, "It is in the opinion of this court that we are placing this child in very loving and capable hands."

Gulp. I'm really sorry I'm having you arrested, I thought. I felt incredibly guilty.

But then I remembered, she was only saying those things because she thought we had paid her to. There was a crime, and not only we, but our daughter, and many other families and children were the victims. In fact, weeks later an adoption facilitator told me he was pleased with our actions because in some regions the judges were so corrupt that they looked at each child as a price tag. Since no Ukrainians can afford the thousands of dollars to bribe the judge, they cannot adopt a child because the judges hold them off for the foreigners who can pay. This is in an adoption system where the costs should be minimal court fees!

We left the court room and within minutes the building was flooded with secret police. It wasn't long before their presence wasn't secret! We slipped out the door to find a paddy wagon, more police, and a ever growing crowd waiting outside. It was a start to a very long day, one which ended with us barely catching the train back to Kiev (thanks to the quick ride given to us by the police!), and spending the 12-hour train ride shaking our heads, laughing, shaking our heads, and worrying.

When all is said and done, I don't know what effect, if any, this will have on corruption. And, even within my own country I'm often confused about the mixing of church and state. But I do know that God called us to honor the laws of that country, that He provided a way for us to do so, and that I truly hope He never calls us to do something like that again.

On the plus side, when I became a follower of Christ, I never thought that it would include drinking tea or eating pizza with the secret police, driving with them, spending hours (and hours -- remember, it's a slower paced culture than ours!), and hours giving testimony to a regional "procurator" or watching our judge being driven off in a paddy wagon. That's just the thing with God. You never know where you'll end up when you follow him.

And for our daughter, she was never even aware of what was going on. Even now, she's not aware of her pictures in the paper in Ukraine or any of the hullabaloo that has risen from the ensuing court case. But years down the road, we'll be able to tell her the amazing story of her adoption and she'll be able to boast that she's probably the only kid from Ukraine who had a blessing placed on her by the Captain of the Secret Police.

With God the stories are always good.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Church as a Romance

I found that if I'm up for a rather depressing read, George Barna's work is the way to go. So, tonight, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I found myself reading his archives. It actually gives me a lot to be thankful for (for instance, I'm thankful that I'm a part of the mere 15% of born again believers that thinks her relationship with Jesus is the top priority of her life -- or at least tries to live that way).

Anyway, I've been thinking about what a culture of "leavers" we are. Everyone's familiar with the divorce rate (which, according to Barna, is equal between Christians and non-Christians). Add to that the tendency for people to switch jobs every couple years, and to move every few years. My years as a music instructor always showed a lack of understanding about commitment.

"Bobby wants to quite piano."

"Okay, well, this is normal because he's gotten to a new level of difficulty, and it requires a little more thought and attention. Lots of kids like to quite at this point. But if he holds on about a month or so, this level will get more comfortable, and he'll enjoy it much more."

"Oh, well, I don't want to force him."

"Well, if he quits now then the work he's done won't be worth much since he's only studied for a year. But if we can get him to push through for about another year, then his knowledge base is much more transferable."

"Yes, but I just don't want him to be forced and be unhappy."

"Well, we can take him out of the lesson books for a while and let him work on whatever song or piece of music he's interested in."

"Well, I'll ask him what he thinks about it. I hate to make him stick with something that he doesn't want to do anymore."

It would never cease to amaze me. Obviously not every child will study piano through their entire childhood, but it was incredible how many parents would rush out to buy a piano and pay hundreds of dollars for 9 months of worthless lessons, because the kid decides he's doesn't "feel" like playing anymore. Parents would be fine with the child flitting off after a short amount of lessons (and a large amount of spent money) because they didn't want to "harm" their psyche or make them "hate music". I think all that is code for, "they're tired of getting them to practice." But it was still interesting.

What happened to the children who stuck it out through the dry spells? Most still play piano (despite the fact I closed my studio), another instrument or are involved with choirs/musical theater. I am unaware of any child who either hates music or has ended up in therapy because they took piano lessons from me after the thrill was gone. The kids who quit soon after starting? The ones I know about do nothing musical or have a string of unlearned instruments lying in their wake. It seems like such a picture of how Americans view commitment.

If you look at the big picture of commitment, you have what seems to me an interesting backdrop for trying to live out a committed Christian faith. Just how far does our cultural ability to leave something in the blink of an eye effect our daily lives? I'm sure it effects mine much more than I realize.

I was thinking about that in terms of church commitment, especially as of late as I have been following the blog of someone who is converting from Evangelicalism to Catholicism. It's been interesting to follow as the blogger has pledged to be "open" about the conversion, and insists she is, yet she's painting a picture of someone who's making a decision based on some blurry early life experiences and some feelings she's had when entering a catholic church. If anyone comments to the blog with questions or a different point of view she blasts off with an angry rant about how protestants (of which she was one merely a few weeks ago) hate all catholics and are biased,etc. So, there's really not a discussion, but it's got me thinking.

One of the red flags I saw right from the beginning was the authoritative stance that this blogger takes about the protestant church. This comes from years of being a protestant and going to many different churches. I'm thinking, since she became a christian as an adult then she probably has about 20 years or so in the evangelical church. If she has been a part of many churches (what's that 5? 10? 15?), that's not very much time with one church.

But what's really interesting is that she claims that she's happy with her current evangelical church, but God is calling her to convert to Catholicism. She's planning on being a member, or at least attending, both churches. Of course, that makes me wonder how committed someone can be to two churches. Is she going to church for what she can give or what she can get from the church? Obviously a church should be meeting the needs of its members, but also it's up to the members to make sure we are serving each other (ie, she's got some responsibility here, too). What I find interesting here, is that she's been in the current church for something like 3 years -- enough time that the honeymoon is over and the difficult work begins.

So what looks like a claim of authority over the entire Evangelical church, is it really knowledge, or is this someone who has spent her entire Christian life church hopping? Staying while it's new, fun and exciting and then moving on when that rush and newness wears off? I, of course, have no way of knowing, but it got me thinking on a larger scale.

I've met other people who've gone that route (and are often times proud of it), and it has always befuddled me -- people who go to a church for a year or two, and then move onto the next. Back when we first got married, I met a lady who was so proud that she and her husband go to a different church every week. It sounded really draining to me.

Of course, in that case, there was never a commitment, so perhaps it wouldn't be so noticeable. However, if you are a part of the body and you decide to leave, then, well, didn't your local body just lose a liver or a toe or a lung?

Apparently, that doesn't really matter to Christians in America. In a 2006 study, the Barna Group found that, "Only 17% of adults said that "a person’s faith is meant to be developed mainly by involvement in a local church." Even the most devoted church-going groups - such as evangelicals and born again Christians - generally dismissed that notion: only one-third of all evangelicals and one out of five non-evangelical born again adults endorsed the concept. Only one out of every four adults who possesses a biblical worldview (25%) agreed with the centrality of a local church in a person’s spiritual growth."

So, if you look at church as a venue for meeting your needs, and you look at it as something that should be working well for you, then to leave when you feel the nudge is the best thing you can do. What amazes me is that this is so much like the way our culture views romantic relationships: (note, my chart is terrible, but it didn't sound like to fun to figure out how to put a chart in HTML, and since I don't get paid to do this, I don't want to spend my time doing something that's not fun -- how's that for commitment?)

Romantic Relationship Commitment to Church
You Meet You get a flyer or an invite
You go out on dates You go to social events
You begin to talk seriously You start to go to worship
You realize you're in love You are really excited about this church
You get married You join the church
Your honeymoon!!!! The Honeymoon period
Life moves on, honeymoon is over You get more involved, honeymoon ends
The rush is over The rush is over
The feelings stabilize The feelings stabilize
You start to argue (can't be your fault!) You start to get uncomfortable (can't be conviction!)
You divorce for a new person Time to find a new church!

It just seems like there is such a parallel here! Just think about it! It can be really nice to be the new person at a church. There's no history or forgiveness to work through with the people, everyone pays a lot of attention to you (you're the visitor!). You still have blinders on, so you don't see all the inner workings you don't agree with. The teachings are all new because it's new people. It's all fresh and exciting. Like pursuing a new love, or buying a new house or changing jobs....

Then, when the romance ends, and it gets a little boring, or your needs are met, you just move on. God is calling you to move on. It's always a good easy thing to say, "God is calling me to move on." Who can debate that?

There's a different kind of maturity that develops when someone is in the same church for a long time (meaning 15, 20, 30 years), a maturity that is built on humility, practicing forgiveness, watching other people develop spiritually, and also building relationships where God can finally access things past the good face we put on ourselves the first couple years we know someone.

While I do think that there are legitimate reasons for leaving a church, and I do think that God can call a protestant to convert to Catholicism, I think leaving is just to easy for us. Leaving and starting something new is just what we do (Think of the Pilgrims! Yes, I'm the kind of evil American who sits around and ponders "What kind of impact for Christ would they have had if they had stayed and practiced their faith?") And, I think that you don't really start to mature until you hit the point in your commitment where you have to work at the relationship. To quote a wise person (me!): A church is a community, building community involves building relationships, building relationships takes time, time requires staying.

Back to my piano students. I don't know if Barna just always misses our part of the country, but most Christians I know are much more moral, committed and Christ-centered than his studies indicate. And when I ran a piano studio, it was always the Christians who struggled with when their children needed to quit. They were far more concerned that their children learn the nuts and bolts of healthy commitment, and working when something loses its "magical appeal", than they were about making their child unhappy. In fact, I would often have to tell them when it was time to move on.

But, still it almost feels as though leaving something has become the norm.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Education, the Last Great Hope... Or Is It?

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
--Nelson Mandela

Is it ever! The more I read about the early life of Josef (Soso!) Stalin, the more convinced I am that education is a very dangerous weapon, and one that is given much too much credit.

By the time Stalin had reached his second year in seminary, he declared himself an atheist and spent the year battling with the monks. There was one in particular, Father Abashidze (referred to as the "Black Spot" by Stalin), who was constantly watching him, and constantly capturing Stalin's collection of banned books.

According to Simon Sebag Montefiore, "Stalin did not qualify as a priest, but the boarding-school educated him classically -- and influenced him enormously. Black Spot had, perversely, turned Stalin into an atheist Marxist and taught him exactly the repressive tactics --"surveillance, spying, invasion of inner life, violation of feelings," in Stalin's own words -- that he would re-create in his Soviet police state."

So, he became an educated street thug with a classical education and a minor in "repressive tactics." Obviously, Stalin was an accident waiting to happen, but I think it could be well argued that his influence would have never been so great if he had done what his father wanted and grown up to be an uneducated cobbler.

Another example of a weapon-education would be Hamas. I'm fascinated with the founding of Hamas, and their exceptional commitment to education. From my understanding Hamas is not a bunch of street thugs, but a group led by the intellectuals and professionals of Palestine. In fact, the first thing they did when the men were originally ousted from Israel and living in tents on the border of Lebanon, was to start a trade organization in order to obtain books for a library. There was no time to be spent idle, they planned on educating those in the camp with them.

I find the statistics of poverty and literacy interesting as well.

For instance, according to the CIA World Factbook, Bolivia has an 86% literacy rate, yet still has over 64% of the population living beneath the poverty level. Stalin's own birth country, Georgia, boasts a 100% literacy rate but still has approximately 55% of the population living beneath the poverty level. (Kazakhstan claims a 99.5% literacy rate and a 19% poverty rate -- which certainly doesn't jive with what I saw while there. ) Kenya, The Dominican Republic, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Belarus all have literacy rates above 85%, yet also have poverty rates about 55%. (The US has a 99% literacy rate and a 12% poverty rate, FYI). So, somehow, education has not been the answer for these countries , most of whom also face serious environmental issues, human rights issues, and, in some cases violence.

So, when I hear people say, "Education is the answer!" I just have to bite my tongue. Although it sounds good on Oprah, obviously its not that simple.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

An Equalizer Has Arrrived

The playing field has been levelled! Well, maybe not as much as we'd like, because we've learned that even the tiniest change in incline is noticeable in a wheelchair. However, as far as our daughter goes, things are looking much more accessible now.

Before adopting our youngest daughter, I never knew how much controversy could surround something as simple as a wheelchair. All the view points are amazing (this includes what seems like a thousand different perspectives and philosophies about when to introduce a wheelchair and what type to use, what brand, what home environment -- more on that in a different blog!), and can really leave a parent feeling like their head is spinning. Perhaps the biggest contrast though has been between our youngest daughter and our oldest.

As the photo indicates, our oldest daughter loves to stand. She loves to walk even more. Running is her favorite, besides swimming, at least. For her, the past few months using a wheelchair have been like a prison as far as the restrictions go. Part of that is certainly due to the 6 weeks she spent in a body cast. But, also, that is just her perspective. She wants to walk, she wants to run -- a wheelchair, to her is representative of a disability. And a disability is something that she, despite missing an arm and having severely deformed legs and hips does not believe she has. Honestly, though, if life with a disability is as she lives it, then disability is a misnomer and life is just life. I suspect that she's right.

Anyway, for her the idea of using a wheelchair is outrageous and she has worked so diligently on her rehab that she is up and running on her new prosthetic leg much earlier than predicted. Although, a lot of progress, I'm sure, is due to the hand of God directing her and healing her. But, the fact does remain, that if she didn't really want it, it wouldn't be happening as fast as it is.

But then our youngest daughter enters the debate. To her a wheelchair is the single most exciting thing she has ever seen. The very first time she ever tried a wheelchair, it was all she talked about for days. When she'd see one while out in public, she'd squeal with delight:


I'm sure we offended more than one wheelchair user in the past year as her delightful squealing probably made them think, "Man, that family never gets out! Those kids have never seen a real wheelchair!"

But to her, that wheelchair represents freedom. The very night my husband assembled it and set her in, she began wheeling everywhere on the first floor of our home. She was unstoppable chatter for 2 straight days as she learned to maneuver over bumps and corners of her home environment.

"Now, I go to the table!" "Now, I go to the piano!" "Here, I'll throw that away for you!" "I GO!"

Two totally different perspectives! One child sees the wheelchair as a symbol of restraint and one sees the wheelchair as her liberator.

Of course, over the years we have worked with our older daughter to change her attitude. She now knows the proper words about wheelchairs, but I doubt that her heart-attitude has changed. She pushes herself with incredible fortitude in order to avoid something she thinks makes her look disabled. Our hope is that her seeing how it benefits the younger one will, over the years, help her to see just how liberating a wheelchair can be.

In all actuality, though, the wheelchair is really simply a very valuable tool, and a prosthetic leg is the same. Neither thing is what defines a person, and neither (as well as regular old boring walking) is morally or physically superiour. They level the playing field, and both help my daughters run the race set before them.

It's a race they both run with their own unique grace and beauty.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A visit from Homo... I mean Elmo

The other night my husband was waiting in the bathroom doorway while our youngest daughter was finishing up her potty-time. As it was taking a while, he got bored and decided to provide a little entertainment for the moment. So, he stepped out of our daughter's line of vision, and began to talk to her in a very good imitation of Elmo's voice.

Instantly, realizing that the Elmo was at our house and she was stuck going potty, her jaw dropped, and she gasped.

"Hi!" Elmo said from the hallway. "How are you?"

"Hi! Elmo" (Actually, in her cute Russian accent, she calls him "Homo", but for the sake of clarity and any really conservative people reading this, I'll avoid using that.) "You came to my house!"

"Haha! Yes, Elmo did!"

Well, that did it. It might have helped that my husband had an elmo-red shirt on, so in addition to the cute voice, she did see a flash of red. But whatever rational went through her mind, Elmo was alive and well and had visited our home.

10 years ago, it would have stopped there. But, with each child we've added to our family, we've found we take more and more liberty messing with their minds. So, when I found out about Elmo's visit, I asked her.

"Elmo? Here?"

"Yes, mommy. He here! He say, "Hi!"

"Really?" My wheels were already turning. "Maybe Elmo could call you on the phone?"

Without even speaking, the deception was communicated to my husband who quickly slipped into the next room and called her on the cell phone. Obviously, she was thrilled. Unfortunately, we felt guilty.

So, the next day my husband started talking to her in his Elmo voice. She was thrilled and so were we... until we figured out that she hadn't pieced it all together. She was still convinced that Elmo could visit and call. It just so happens that her dad can do a great imitation of Elmo.

I should have realized that she would so quickly become a believer in Elmo. Our oldest daughter, who was adopted when she was just over 3 years old, came home from her orphanage in Ukraine believing in Baba Yaga, the Russian/slavic witch that lives in a hut on fowl's legs and likes to eat children.

Our daughter's rough translation of Baba Yaga into English was, "The Bad Guy Outside My Window Who Wants to Eat Me."

We spent months talking to her about Baba Yaga, trying to convince her the story was made up. But it was to no avail, so finally we gave up and switched tactics. Since she was convinced that Baba Yaga was real, then the issue wasn't that he didn't exist, but that he needed to repent. So, we had what was probably the only child on the continent of North America that was nightly praying for Baba Yaga to repent and give her life to Christ.

I'm not sure if she ever repented, but she did finally stop tormenting our family.

So, I should've known better than to try to trick a three-year-old into believing something. I have no idea what got into us, because we don't "do" Santa or the Easter Bunny because we don't want to lie to our kids. All of them know that I'm the tooth fairy (and a bad one at that -- there's a tooth that's been under a pillow upstairs for 3 days straight now).

I guess I only like deception when it doesn't cost anything, and it gives me a good laugh. Obviously, I have some repenting to do as well. Perhaps I'll have my daughter pray for me.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Not-so-Bitter Adoptive Mom's Wish List

The other day I received an email that linked me to a list of what I thought was a very funny wish list written by a fellow homeschooler. (There is a link to it on the right hand side of the web page.) While I did enjoy the list, I have to admit that homeschooling is the least of our uniqueness that draws attention. So, I decided to write my own list that addressed our family's situation.

The Not-So-Bitter Adoptive Mom's Wish-I-Could-Respond-With-List:

1) Yes, they are all my children, and, yes, they all have the same father. Unless he has something to confess to me.

2) Yes, she is mine even though she's Asian. You might be surprised to know, but when two Anglo-German-Scottish Americans (with just a smidgen of native thrown in) produce children, they occasionally will produce an Asian looking child.

3) No, they don't speak Russian in China. She isn't Chinese. China is only 1 country in Asia. There are many languages. It's a diverse continent. You can learn more about Asia at your local library.

4) No, I'm not a saint. If you knew what I was thinking while you are going on about what a saint I am, you would certainly know that I'm not a saint.

5) No, there is nothing special about me. Who wouldn't want children as beautiful, loving and intelligent as mine? Unless, of course, you're subtly trying to tell me that my children aren't beautiful, loving and intelligent.

6) No, there is nothing to pity here. There are worse things than missing a limb, and you might want to notice (as you go on about what a pity disabilities are ) that my daughter is dancing circles around you and is happy as dog getting its belly rubbed.

7) No, she's not special because of her disabilities. She's special because she's made in the image of God. So are you, but if you don't drop the "special thing" I'm going to start to doubt that.

8) Yes, my children can hear you when you ask personal questions such as "Did her real parents not want her because she' s so messed up?" They're pretty smart (probably smarter than you considering your questions) and it really is lame that you're dropping pretty negative images into their minds.

9) No, you didn't do this adoption thing, and, boy, am I glad. I don't want anybody else to have my kids but me.

10) No, you probably couldn't do this. But there are other things you can do that I wouldn't be caught dead doing but I don't point this out in public. Perhaps I should, and then you wouldn't be so bold as to go on about how "I could never do what you do!"

11) There's nothing wrong with her. I have no idea what you're talking about. She's perfect the way she is.

12) She's missing an ARM?? OH MY! I HAD NO IDEA! I tell ya, these kids just can't keep track of anything!!!!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Little Soso, False Brothers and Two Confused Moms

Well, totally changing gears here, I've finished reading about William Wilberforce and am now reading about a book entitled "Young Stalin." by Simon Sebeg Montefiore. I have no idea why I have such a fascination with reading about the lives of evil dictators, but I guess it does convince me that no matter how many parenting mistakes I make, I am not producing 5 megalomaniac terrorists. On some days, that thought is very comforting.

Anyway, it's interesting to read about Stalin (affectionately -- yes, I guess there is always at least one affectionate person in every body's life-- called Soso) growing up in the Republic of Georgia.

Stalin was born to a mother whom the author often describes as "popular with men". If you couple that with the fact that there were several men who were possible candidates for being his "real" father, you get the idea of who the first confused mom is in this blog entry. His mom, Keke, married a cobbler named Beso. At first Keke and Beso had a pretty decent life, but after losing 2 children to small pox, Beso began to drink and Keke became obsessed about their youngest son, Soso. Their home revolved around him, and as Beso's alcoholism grew worse, the home grew even more violent.

Now, none of that was really a surprise, because no one expected that a man that would systematically starve millions of Ukrainians (among other human rights atrocities) would come from a loving supportive family. But what really threw me for a loop was not just the dysfunction of his family, but the dysfunction of that part of the world!

Stalin grew up in the town of Gori, in the Republic of Georgia. Far from anywhere substantial, Gori had its own sort of power structure (which Stalin's mom seemed to be quite friendly with), and it's own bizarre culture. By bizarre, I refer to two things:

1) "Goreli Fighting Traditions" (town brawls, wrestling, and gang-warfare)
2) Priests that drank alcohol like it was spring water found in a desert, and then participated in the "Goreli Fighting Traditions"

After Beso's first drinking partner died from alcohol, he picked up a new one: their priest. Every day Beso and his priest would get so drunk that Beso couldn't stand, let alone work. Eventually, he was run out of town (making me think that Gori was not too unlike the American West), and all the men got drunk without him.

Now, people make mistakes, and priests become alcoholics. Life happens, I get that. But Beso and his Drinking Priest Friend, weren't the only ones. ALL the priests were getting drunk with the towns people. ALL the priests were fighting with the towns people. And, ALL the priests were creating much more than papers on theology (with the town's women)! All of them!

Here's a description of one festival:

The males in each family, from children upwards, also paraded, drinking wine and singing until night fell, when the real fun began. The "assault of free boxing" -- the sport of krivi -- was a "mass duel with rules"; boys of three wrestled other three-year-olds, then children fought together, then teenagers and finally the men threw themselves into "an incredible battle," by which time the town was completely out of control, a state that lasted into the following day -- even at school, where classes fought classes.

Interesting, isn't it? It puts a whole new spin on "community get together."

"Soso, do you have your mouth guard? We're having a neighborhood cookout tonight! Wouldn't want you to have to have your dental work redone!"

"Yes, mother, I got it. Sure wouldn't want to miss this chance to destroy Egnatashvili's face. Plus, these get togethers are great training for my future career as evil communist leader and thug."

It is just astounding that the spiritual leaders of the day were actually acting as the leaders of such totally and completely barbaric behavior! I understand that they were using the church as a political power structure, and that they were really not committed to their faith, but one would have to think that they would occasionally glance through a Bible and have maybe just the slightest twinge of guilt about decking someone they just baptized a few days earlier!

But, this was the culture they were immersed in, and there was no one, at least to my knowledge, to point out these enormous cultural sins and how it had leaked into the church. So, these citywide brawls-for-fun just became normal.

This, of course, led me to think about what has become normal to me.
This especially because I happened to be reading in Galatians this week, and was thinking about Paul's "false brothers [that] had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves". The teaching those "false brothers" were pushing was a teaching that grew out of the normalcy of the culture. So,I began to wonder what things I take as part of God's truth that isn't, what is part of everyday life to me, but would be odd for someone else, perhaps a Christian in rural China. Would these things I see as normal make her think I was crazy?

Normal for me:

1) Seeing prosthetic limbs lying around the house.
2) Telling someone to "put on your leg and head out the door."
3) Naked 3-year-olds racing around, followed by 10 year-olds horrified by that sight
4) Children debating such things as "disco really was an ancient Greek sport" (perhaps she meant "discus"?)
5) A small plastic dinosaur that was lynched in our front yard tree over a year ago, but who's body hangs there as a grim reminder that those who don't obey their master might have to pay.

Of course, there are other things that have become normal for me as well:

Having a large wardrobe, owning two vehicles, not worrying that we'll run out of food, being warm in winter and comfortable in summer, and knowing that God will be there for me no matter how much I choose to pay attention to Him in a given day.

So, these things that are normal, they aren't all bad, of course, but they start to cloud my thoughts and shade my version of reality. In fact, as Paul writes to the Galatians, "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel -- which is really no gospel at all." I have to admit that for me it is really easy to forget what the gospel is.

What is the gospel that we are trying to proclaim? If I base my answer on the loudest voices I hear coming from the church in America, I would have to say that the answer is:

1) Creationism
2) Marriage and Family
3) Faith and Prosperity
4) Civil Religion

Wow. None of those things can even match with the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, but somehow they always work their way into my life. Especially prosperity, as it it just always seems like life would be better with a little more.

So, I'm left a bit confused (I'm the second Mom in the blog title), but that's not that unusual for me. And, I realize just how unpopular my thoughts probably are, but as Paul said, "If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ."

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Difference One Year Can Make!

One year ago this week, we traveled to Ukraine and met our youngest daughter for the first time. She was living in an orphanage, where she had been, essentially, since her birth. She was quiet, unattached, sad, angry, occasionally willing to show us her real personality.

This is her one year later.....

I think this video says it all!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Stealing Candy from Small Children and Other Crazy Ideas

No, this is not his costume, and we really didn't use photoshop to do this. This is just the kind of crazy I commonly find in my home. While life brings out this kind of craziness in our son, the change in season (perhaps the holiday or moon phases?) brings out a different type of craziness in people all around the world. Reading the paper always points that out

Apparently, yesterday, a fellow Cincinnatian fell to a remarkably low depth. A 21-year-old man helped his cousins steal some kid's Halloween candy.

Nothing like a great role model! (And he is nothing like one!)

What is really amazing is that after they stole the candy, they continued trick-or-treating in the same neighborhood. So, within the evening, the victim pointed the burglars out to the police. Voila! An arrest!

Now this man is facing a felony charge (with a $5000 bail). His lawyer argued that stealing a little bit of candy was hardly cause for a felony. The judge's response was priceless:

"Depends on what kind of candy it is."

I was wondering just how stupid someone would have to be in order to steal candy from a kid, and then to stay in the same neighborhood. Pretty stupid. In fact, I can only think of one other time I have come into contact with this manner of reckless behavior, and I have to wonder, since this happened in Price Hill, if this man is related to a man I lived near in Clifton. It can't be the same man because he's too young. Perhaps its his son.... but either way, it reminded me of a time a long time ago.

It was a nice spring day and as I drank my morning cup of coffee, I sat next to my opened kitchen window. As I sipped, I heard yelling coming from the street. I walked out onto my balcony just in time to see two men arguing.

"Come on!" The first man yelled, "Hit me again! Do it, you know you want to!"

The second man paused, sure it was a trap. Then he looked around, and seeing no set up, walloped the first man in the gut. Man #1 fell to the ground, curled up into the fetal position. He yelled after the second man as he ran off.

"I got you! I sure did! Sure you hit me twice, but that second time, it was in the street, on public property, so now I can tell the police!"

I stood on my porch and pondered the wisdom of that. Deciding there was no wisdom in it, I started back into my apartment. But man #1 saw me and yelled up to me.

"Did you see that!?" Shucks. I did.


"He was mad at me because I never paid last months rent. So, yesterday he told me to leave. I went to work last night and when I came home just now, I found out he burned all my clothes."

I was speechless over this little bit of domestic violence right in my own backyard! Clifton is such an entertaining place to live. I really do miss it.

The man went on.

"So I yelled at him about it and he told me that he burned my clothes 'cause they were supposed to be out of his house by now. I yelled and he yelled, and then he told me to leave. I told him I wouldn't leave because it was my place too. He told me it wasn't my place because I didn't pay any rent. "

"Can you imagine that!" I responded.

"Crazy man!" He replied, " So, he punched me!"

Commiserating with my new friend, I expressed deep moral outrage towards his former roommate. So, he continued his tale. I was glad by then, because this was so good that you can't even make something like this up!

"Well, he did get me, but I knew then what I needed to do! I knew that he could punch me all he wanted in our house, but that if I stepped onto public property and he punched me then the police would come."

"Really?" I was speechless. "Ingenious plan! It looks like he fell for it!"

"He did," the man laughed and then grabbed his side, "I got him."

Suddenly, I heard sirens.

"Police?" I questioned.

"Oh no. That's probably the fire department."

"The fire department?"

"Ya, remember -- he burned my clothes. So, I called the fire department." He smiled triumphantly.

"Yikes, is the house on fire???" I asked, for his house was dangerously close to mine.

"Oh, no, the fire from burning the clothes was out long ago, but I thought the fire department should know about it."

"hhhmmm, well, I better let you go tell your story to the firemen."

"Ya, they'll want to hear all about it, I'm sure."

"Ohh, don't forget to tell them the part about the second punch. It's too important to skip."

At any rate, they did manage to get their situation straightened out, so I'm sure that the 21-year-old who stole candy (on a night where he could get free candy anywhere he wanted) from the little kid will get his straightened out as well.

More Thoughts On Vision Forum (Yes, I Really Will Eventually Drop This)

I think that there are three reasons that I find the products of Vision Forum so very offensive. The three reasons probably should include, but don't, my inability to turn my brain off when I start thinking about something, and my general desire to go against the flow. So, there are really five reasons, but three that are actually justifiable.

1) Inaccurate Portrayal of American History

Honestly, I do love being American! But I also think that honesty is important, and while it's nice and neat to believe that we live in a country that is Christian, or has a "Christian History" it's not right to teach that to our children when it's not the truth. At the point when we start making the myth "christian" we start merging true Christianity with our civic religion of patriotism. There is a lot that is good in our country now, certainly worth defending and certainly worth being proud of, just as there is a lot of the same in our history. I love teaching my children about the underground railroad, D.L. Moody, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and other such great Americans. But that doesn't mean I don't teach them the facts about Indian annihilation, colonization spoken in the name of God but practiced in the name of profit, or an economy built on the back of a vice (tobacco) and slave labor. It also doesn't justify trying to defend or create a religion for the founding fathers, or downplay the role that the Enlightenment had on the formation of our country. In fact, I think it's important that I teach them about the times that the church has been used as a vehicle to move ideology from the state to the people, and the times that the government has used the church to promote it's own agenda. Two examples that jump to my mind are the idea of manifest destiny and adding "under God" to the pledge of allegiance. Manifest destiny was used to justify the stealing of land all across the nation (often under the guise of 'leading savages' to the Lord), and under God was added to the pledge in the 1950s during the McCarthy era when there was a national panic reaction to communism.

The fact is our country is like many, and there are many countries that would like to be like ours. There are many points on which to take pride, and many upon which to hide our face in shame. But for Christians, the great thing is that it isn't all our lineage -- we can lay claim to the history of Christ and how He worked through both the good and the bad, and we can use all the wonderful freedom we now have to bring His kingdom more places. But we can't do that if we are too busy whitewashing the bad in order to preserve a way of life that was never promised to us by God in the first place. When we do that we're acting in the same manner as the people who justified the crusades.

2) It's wrong to center our families around our children.

I love my kids! But my family is not my god. My role as a wife and mother are also not my first and most important role. The most important role in life is as a servant of Christ -- wherever he calls me to be. At this stage in my life, I serve him by raising my children. I'm thankful for this gift, and know that if I do my job well that down the road I'll be unemployed. But, as a servant of Christ, this is good news. Because then He'll have a different, equally important (probably not as challenging, though) job for me. In addition to that, I know that I have other callings right now. I can pursue those callings as I raise my children and I can train my children for life as I bring them along with those callings.

While I hope that my daughters will marry and produce many cute little grandchildren for me to spoil, I want them to know that we don't know what God will call them to do. Perhaps He will call them to a life of celibacy and they'll live in remote jungles of the world administering medical help to natives. Perhaps they'll travel the world as investigative journalists. Perhaps they'll do all that and then marry and have children. Either way, it's my job to teach them that being a servant of Christ means knowing him, communicating with him and following him wherever he leads. That is a lot messier than telling them, "be a good little wife and bake your cookies".

Vision Forum is a pusher of roles. They are a pusher of formulas. I don't want my children, male or female, to be stuck in a formulaic relationship with God that never amounts to them hearing all the zany things He'll call them to do.

3) I don't think that role playing Dolly Madison will help my children learn to lead other children to Christ.

While I do think that there is a time for training, and we do focus our family on Philippians 4:8, I don't think that has to mean what vision forum thinks it means. (To quote The Princess Bride, "I don't think that word means what you think it means!"). If I dressed my kids up in their happy prairie clothes, sent them outback in their "covered wagons" to play prairie, then I think that there never would have been the opportunities that we have had to tell the other children in our neighborhood about Christ -- some of whom had never even heard his name before.

One of the main focuses we have in raising our kids is teaching them how to be in the world but not of it, or how to relate to those in our culture who don't live as we do. That means we must find things that today's children are interested in, but that don't violate Philippians 4:8. I just don't see the following scene:

"Hi Julie, would you like to put this pretty bow in your hair and play Dolly Madison with me?"

"Uhh..." replied Julie, who's mom it took me 2 years to figure out if she was the mom or dad of the family, "I don't know how a bow could make me like a powdered dough nut...."

"Well, let me tell you who Dolly Madison was. You'll be so interested, and then maybe you'll convince your mom to vote Republican."

Okay, I exaggerate. But, still, I don't see today's children relating to the stuff pandered in Vision Forum's catalogues. Yes, they can be used for creative play to teach history, but, man, do I have spend $200 to do that? My kids, on their own volition and with out any cost to me have:

dug for diamonds in our backyard
made our street into the silk road
snagged large numbers of neighborhood kids into playing out "peter and the wolf"
created an underground railroad in our backyard
made our deck into the Solomon islands

And that is just to name a few. Many times, over the years, they have, on their own and for free, created such great play that the neighborhood kids have just joined in. They have also played Justice League, Pokemon,Lord of the Rings, baseball, basketball and soccer. Is this so bad? They even included the girls when they made their first detective agency! And, over the years I can think of at least 5 or 6 children who got to hear about Jesus because their interest was peaked by what we were doing, and many others whose understanding, I hope, was expanded. I'm not willing to sacrifice that kind of fruit for anyone else's ideas of what my kids should be playing.

We can isolate our children so much from the culture that #1) they don't know how to deal with the culture once they are adults and #2) they don't ever relate to the people in the culture and, therefore, are never burdened to love them.

So, when I see what Vision Forum is pushing, it really breaks my heart because I know that there are hundreds, thousands, of children who will never know the love of Christ because the people who know him are not trying to relate to them.

Okay. Now I'm done.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Nope, Not Dolly Madison, but Some Cute Dollies!

Two cute dollies creatively playing in their thrift-store ballerina dresses. Although I do have a suspicion that they would love a nice tea set.

Deb Takes On Vision Forum -- Gasp, and She's a Home Schooler!!!

At what point did Christianity become something the we allow lawyers and other crafty professionals to pander?

I ask myself that question often. I also ask myself, "When did I miss the national evangelical meeting where we all voted James Dobson our spokesman?" But that's a different story.

I ponder the first question often, because, after seeing how the church works in a couple other cultures, I noticed just how much "stuff" we have that we sell as "christian" here. For instance, take a stroll into your local Christian bookstore (likely violating a Sabbath near you!) and you'll most certainly find the product "testamints". While "testamints" have been useful in providing much humorous fodder in our home, it's hard for me to find much value beyond that.

"I used to be angry towards you," I confessed to my husband one evening, "But since I ate this mint that said, "Do not let the sun go down on your anger" my anger has dissolved, and I'm able to forgive you!"

"Well, that's good, because I just ate one that reminded me that, "Its better to live on the corner of a roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife."

Thank the Lord for those good old Testamints! Always wanting to stay just this side of judgemental, I decided that I should think of ways that Testamints might be used for evangelism. So, I thought and thought. But, here's the rub.... when you give someone a mint, there already is a subtle message involved, and it isn't scriptural.

"Bud, you need to clean up your breath!"

So, I'm not sure that testamints would be the route to go when trying to spread the gospel.

Another issue are all the Christian toys.

I'm fond of the "Press and Praise Phone" offered through many Christian distributors. You press a button and it says things like "Praise God!". I find that weird because our real phone NEVER says that! But I'm sure that this phone was created because all the ones from secular stores must say offensive things like, "Hello!" Our children are very confused because our toy phone answers in Russian and says "Kak Dila" which to them sounds like, "Godzilla" -- and he's an evil monster than might cause our children to reject their faith. It's a wonder our family has survived as long as it has! We need to replace our toy phone, and the sooner the better!

For those of us who find "My Little Pony" offensive, never fear because we can buy our children, "Love Ponies". Love Ponies look exactly like their secular counterparts, but they are just much more moral -- somehow, in some way. There are also smaller versions called Praise Ponies and Faith Ponies. Wow, I bet none of them were made in sweatshops in China! I mean I bet they're all Fair Trade Certified! All this is for not, though, as my oldest daughter finds them offensive because they're pink, lavender and fluffy, and nobody, Christian or not, should do that to something as beautiful as a horse.

One that I got bilked on were the Resurrection Eggs. Believe it or not, many years ago, I paid $15 for a carton of plastic Easter eggs that contained: 1 small rock, a tiny plastic donkey, plastic praying hands, a spear shaped eraser, a small strip of white cloth, nothing (to remind me of the empty tomb!), a small metal crown of thorns, a die, small leather strip, a small 1/2 of a wine cup and nails. We do still use those little icons, but I realized after they arrived in the mail that I could've assembled the same things for well under $5. Especially the "nothing" to remind me of the empty tomb!

But here, it starts getting a little creepy. A large national organization called "Vision Forum" has designed many toys necessary to raising moral children.

If you are so inclined, you can choose to buy for your daughter, for about $40 a dress, costumes to pretend to be Dolly Madison or Nan Harper (from the Titanic) for their creative play time. Or, since they are so liberal, you can avoid the American Girl Dolls and buy your daughter the Liberty Doll, The Abigail Doll, The Evangeline Doll or the Fidelia doll. All 4 can be hers for a mere $250! That way, as you teach her to follow the homeless man from Nazareth she can play in a far morally superior way! Once she's done there, she can follow it up with a tea party on her $55 tea set! She can even use her "child's wooden baking set" to bake some cookies to go with the tea. But, make sure,as they play "upper class American" they always say grace first!

Meanwhile, your boys can be out having fun! They can be a cowboy that spends his days killing Indians with his western six shooter, and have outdoor adventures, solve mysteries and even go to a museum! Heaven forbid we encourage little girls to do those things! Have an adventure, I mean, because, obviously killing Indians is a good thing to do!

Yes, I'm sarcastic about this. In their defense, I've emailed Vision Forum several times and asked them the same question: How can you justify advocating spending so much money on a child's plaything when you profess to follow a man who gave up everything -- didn't even have a pillow on which to lay his head?

They have never responded, of course. They know a curmudgeon when they read one, so I'm sure there is no point.

However, I am left really wondering why so many home schooling parents continue to uncritically buy books, toys (how about the "covered wagon" you can purchase for $200?), and videos from an organization that defines itself by trying to moralize products that are morally neutral or gloss over the immoral acts within our national history? Or, has anybody ever noticed that they only publish stuff by themselves (or friends)? Does anybody notice the lack of the name of Jesus in what they pander??? Am I the only person insane enough to think these thoughts? Don't answer that last question. It was rhetorical.

What people like the vision forum and testamint people want is something formulaic. You do A, you honor God and get B. There is a required set of actions that bring a clear return. In the case of Vision Forum, Family is God. There is but one role for a man and but one role for a woman, and to stray from that is heresy. Our stuff, our freedom and our government all come second to that -- worth protecting even more than the right to lay down our lives for God's callings.

Of course, from a marketing standpoint, they've found the cleanest way to sell their products. My ideas are far too messy to market, which is okay with me.

I happen to think that my, and my children's history, is not a wholly American lineage. As I teach my children history, I try to connect them to their real christian heritage, one which certainly includes select Americans and points in American history, but really encompasses the story of the world and how God has worked through humanity, both good and bad, to redeem what was lost in the Garden of Eden. Vision Forum's concept of American history just doesn't jive with that.

To loosely quote John Steinbeck (somewhere in "Travels with Charley"), "If you're American, you're the descendant of a criminal, a convict or a misfit." So, upon reflection, I guess I need to go and ask my mom some questions about our ancestors.