Thursday, January 26, 2012

gotta love 3

Yesterday Easton told Grandma excitedly, "I'm going to be Daddy's age this year!"

He is growing up fast, but we hope not that fast! I have to say . . . I will miss 3. It's one of the best ages ever. Easton is learning so much about the world around him, trying out new words, initiating friendships, reciting Bible verses, trying to read and write, and making all of us laugh a lot.

Here are a few of our favorites from the past week:

Easton, to me, while I was applying lotion to my face: "When I was your age, I used that lotion, too." He must be gradually getting younger. Danny brought Easton's pants to the bathroom and set them on some drawers. Easton piped up cheerfully, "Hey, I said put them on the stool!" Danny said, "No you didn't. You didn't even mention stool." Easton conceded, "Oh. Well, I didn't know that when I was your age."
(Logic comes later, I think, which is why these days we're hearing lots of "becauses" in the wrong places.)

On another occasion he decided to measure himself. Using his fingers to estimate, he 'hopped' them up his entire body and back down again, counting. Then he announced the result: "I'm 19!" I asked him, "19 what?" He said joyfully, "19 feet!"

It's nice having such a tall boy when there might be monsters in the basement. Once he reassured me by saying, "There's no bad guys, just plain guys."

Probably my favorite thing to overhear is when he says, "Eliana, would you like to share a friendship with me?" He likes to reiterate this on a daily basis, and remind his sisters that "sharing a friendship means being nice to each other." Three-way friendships are a little more tricky, but this morning they were happily sailing on the couch together as a threesome—a great start to the day. Easton's teachers report that he is very good about "sharing friendships" with all of his classmates at school. Excellent.

His impulse for friendship and encouragement extends to adults, too. One of my classmates is his "best friend." Recently, out of the blue, he told me kindly, "Mom, I like you just the way you are." To which I replied, "I like you just the way you are, too, Easton!" And how couldn't I? This kid is adorable.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


This is some of the best news I've heard all month.
It's the amount of money given by people just like you for our church's Advent Conspiracy.
There are so many needs in the world. Can a hundred grand really make a difference?
What will this $133,556 actually do?

  • It will actually dig wells for people who have no clean water to drink (there are 900 million people like this in the world today).
  • It will actually rescue slaves from brothels in Asia and bring perpetrators of violent crime to justice in Africa. It will provide care for families who have been forced to make bricks without pay, and teach them how to start their own businesses.
  • It will actually show the love of God for those who are just barely hanging on to hope.

Last week I wrote about the value of grief. I said, "Grief puts us in touch with what really matters, and with the state of our own soul." Shortly after writing those words, I read these:

"When Paul said not 'to grieve like . . . [those] who have no hope' (1 Thessalonians 4:13), he was reassuring us that the sorrow we experience in this world is mingled with the solid hope that sorrow won't have the last word."

Carolyn Custis James is the writer behind this, and she goes on to add this suprising statement, "I think . . . perhaps the difference between how we and the world sorrow is that we sorrow more, not less, and in our sorrowing we are entering in some mysterious way into God's sorrow. We grieve individual loses, estrangements, prodigals, broken-down lives, the shattered dream; he grieves a world of losses, a world of shattered dreams. We suffer the blinding ache of a parent over a prodigal child; he feels the same ache for a prodigal planet. His is the distress of a master craftsman over a masterpiece destroyed — for the way things are is not the way he meant for them to be. As we grow in our likeness to Jesus, we will be gripped by the same sorrow over what is wrong in this world and over our part in it, and we too will weep" (Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women, 142–43, emphasis mine).

$113,556 is not the answer to all the world's problems, but it begins to address some of them. Best of all, it indicates that the church is waking up, is grieved by injustice, and is finding ways to be part of the solution.

Now that's good news.

Monday, January 16, 2012


This, as I now know, is the section of the Dewey Classification System assigned to the Ten Commandments. I suspect I'll be hanging out here a great deal in the next 29 months or so. In fact, if I go missing, you might want to check here first.

A few observations:
  • Wheaton's president has written a book on the Ten Commandments. That's good to know.
  • My topic is ridiculously easy to locate in the table of contents. Most of the books in this section are organized -- you guessed it! -- with a chapter for each of the Commandments. Nice.
  • The location of these books is a bit of a mystery. Wikipedia tells me that the 200's are devoted to Religion, and the 241's to . . . "Christian Moral Theology." What, may I ask, are the Ten Commandments doing in the "Christian" section? Do Jews not write about them?
  • This led to the discovery of another section, also devoted to the Ten Commandments, but this time more appropriately placed on the Old Testament shelves. To my surprise, this section also includes Christian (not just Jewish) reflection on the Ten Commandments. Perhaps it comes down to a coin toss. So, if you can't find me in 241.52, check 222.16.

A quick search in our library catalog for books that are tagged "Ten Commandments" brought up no less than 5,857 items. If my blood pressure just went up, now you know why. I guess I have my work cut out for me!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

good grief

What's so good about grief?

Last Sunday we heard a sermon by Marshall Shelley (VP of Christianity Today) about what it means to be FULLY ALIVE, to have the kind of life that Jesus was talking about in John 10:10, an abundant life. He listed 5 things that characterize someone who is truly alive: praise, lament, confession, forgiveness, repentance. I found his list thought provoking. Why didn't success make his list? Or even service? How many of us would assume that happiness is the key to feeling alive? Don't confession and repentance feel like death? When we face our own ugly sin, isn't it depressing? Lament especially struck a chord with me.

According to Marshall, lament is key. He defined it as being "aware of and disturbed by what's wrong in this world." In order to be fully alive, we need to have a grip on reality. We praise God for the ways we see him working in the world, and we grieve that which is just not right.

I spent a couple of hours last night excavating my inbox. The pile of emails had grown to over 600, and I was tempted to just delete them all and start fresh. I am so, so glad I didn't. Buried in the pile were two priceless treasures -- Christmas letters from two courageous women who spent Christmas alone this year. Both lost their husbands to cancer within the past 5 years. Life has forced them down roads they didn't want to take. Awkward questions have stared them in the face. Who are you now? What will you do with your life? What these two Christmas letters had in common was honesty. They offered a window into a soul that has tasted the bitterness of grief. That window is a gift. Those of us on the outside need to know, want to know, where the journey has taken our friends. We want to know because we love them, and also because grief is a road we will all walk someday if we haven't already. Walking it is part of life -- true, abundant life.

Grief over untimely death is one kind of lament. Another kind of lament weeps over life that is less than what God intends. Injustice, bondage, rebellion, chronic pain, unforgiveness, exploitation, spiritual apathy. Are you grieved by a world where this is reality? Grief puts us in touch with what really matters, and with the state of our own soul.

Ezekiel records an obscure vision about a man who is told, "Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it." (Eze 9:4 NIV) God is looking for people who are disturbed by what is not right. Jerusalem, like our world today, was filled with bloodshed and injustice. Some people saw this and were grieved over the sins of their nation. Others complained that God wasn't doing anything about it because he didn't care. They refused to see their own guilt.

Are we marked by grief? Are we alive enough to lament what is wrong in the world? Abundant life does not deny the pain, but enters into it fully, clinging to the goodness of God we cannot always see. I, for one, am thankful for friends who take me with them into their lament, so I can really live.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

growing spiritually in 2012

Here are a couple of ideas to nourish your faith this year:
  • Gordon-Conwell Charlotte has put together an e-devotional in celebration of their 20th anniversary. I was asked to be one of the contributors. If you'd like to sign up to receive short weekly devotionals this year by e-mail, click here to register. One of the devotionals you read will be mine!
  • Would you like to join our family in memorizing scripture in 2012? A good friend of ours challenged us to tackle one verse each week this year. He's choosing the verses. Read about the "Righteousness Challenge" here. It's not too late to start. Catch-up/review weeks are scheduled throughout the year, and the first verse was very simple: Psalm 119:11. Even Easton (age 3) and Emma (age 6) are learning the verses, so you can't say it's too hard! We practice at breakfast and dinner together, but you can do whatever works for you.
What are you planning to do to grow in 2012?

    Tuesday, January 10, 2012

    first day of classes

    After a thoroughly delightful week of "vacation" spent in my study carrel (studying whatever I wanted to study with no pressing deadlines!), the semester has officially begun. Now I have the joy of reading what others feel I ought to read (thankfully they all have good taste). All of my classes meet on Tuesdays, all in the same building. Here's the line-up:

    Intro to Doctoral Studies (January only) - Dr. Daniel Block
    Theological Hermeneutics (February through April) - Dr. Daniel Treier
    Exegesis of Ezekiel - Dr. Daniel Block
    Ancient Near Eastern Backgrounds - Dr. John Walton

    You might have seen Dr. Walton's name before . . . on the IVP Bible Background Commentary (Old Testament), the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (5 vols), the Genesis commentary in the NIV Application Commentary Series, The Lost World of Genesis One, or even, perhaps, on the Tiny Tots Jesus Story Book. He wrote Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament as a course textbook for this class, and so far, it is just the thing I needed. It is such a privilege to learn from a respected expert in the field. Dr. Walton and his wife love to show hospitality to students, and I'll be in their home for the second time later this month.

    I have another 6,000+ pages to read this semester, and believe it or not, I'm looking forward to all of it. I also have 2 papers to write, a number of book reviews and shorter essays, and one major hurdle to clear: my proposal defense. On April 11, I will present and defend my dissertation proposal. All of the PhD faculty will be present to ask questions about my proposal and point out areas of weakness. When I have revised the proposal to their satisfaction, I then have approval to begin working on my dissertation (a 300-page scholarly contribution to the field). I have a rough draft of the proposal already, which was part of my application last year. This weekend I plan to give it a thorough revision.

    In exchange for the generous scholarship provided by Mina Marie Johnson through the school, I am also working 8-10 hrs/week as a research assistant for Dr. Block. Several publishing projects are on the front burner this month, and I'm learning what must happen behind the scenes for a book to make it in print. There's nothing glamorous about compiling an index, but many people will use it who are looking for help to understand the scriptures. Even this tedious work is a ministry to people I will never meet, a way of introducing the world to the work of my mentor.

    Yes, my hands are full . . . and so is my heart. What a joy to be in this place at this time for this purpose!

    Monday, January 2, 2012

    red ink and the golden rule

    I've never been one to welcome critique. Let's face it. Who likes to be told they're wrong? I much prefer to be celebrated, applauded, and given a pat-on-the-back for a job-well-done.

    But something's changing.

    I've attended three dissertation defenses since my arrival at Wheaton. There is nothing quite like it in real life. (Except perhaps American Idol?) The student "on trial" sits up front at a table angled to face all the other students and professors who have come to see them suffer, including their own supervisor. They also face another table where two examiners are seated, one from Wheaton, one from another institution, whose job for the next two hours is to find every conceivable problem with the dissertation. They question methodology. They challenge ideas. They criticize sources. They quibble over wording. They puzzle over problems. The audience must be completely silent while the student scrambles to find words to justify what they've done. If the student survives this frontal attack they are awarded the degree for which they have long labored . . . A PhD.  If they do not . . .? A much sadder story. There are no "second chances" here.

    Afterwards students gather in the hallway as the fate of their colleague is decided. The experience is hard on everyone's nerves. All of us are plagued by one ominous thought, "That will be me someday. Someday soon." We scramble back to our study carrels, sobered and determined to work harder.

    This is one reason I have a new attitude towards critique. If someone will take the time to read my work and find the problems now, I have a better chance of surviving my defense. Charitable-yet-critical readers are hard to find. Anybody can read a paper and say, "That was great! Well done!" It takes a lot more time and energy to read it closely, find the holes, and offer substantive feedback that will make it a better project.

    One of the things I love about Wheaton is the sense of community. We are in this together. Papers, ideas, and unfinished dissertation chapters often get passed around and discussed. Sometimes this takes place formally in a colloquium. Often it takes place around the lunch table. We are learning to do for each other what we would love to have done for us, and in this context, that involves red ink.

    Sunday, January 1, 2012

    the clincher

    If you've been following my blog since 2010, then you may remember a post I wrote last December about the global slave trade. It's a problem that's not going away anytime soon, but there is a groundswell of discontent over this issue -- women and men who are not only concerned, but courageous enough to do something about it. When the church that we've been visiting announced their plan to conspire together to spend less and give more this Christmas, and that 90% of the Advent offering would go to International Justice Mission, we knew we were ready to make this church our home. We attended an IJM film screening in December where we learned more about the work that IJM is doing to free slaves around the world. As the speaker reminded us, a video doesn't free slaves, but it does make us aware of the extent of the problem.

    In the darkest and most secluded corners of our cities, 27 million people are still being held against their will. A full 80% of them are women and girls. They are forced to work for little or no pay. Most of what they are made to do would turn your stomach. It turns mine. And they can't escape . . . unless someone from the outside breaks into their world to rescue them.

    Kinda like what Jesus did for us.

    10,000 slaves are being held in the greater Chicago area. Most of them have been trafficked here from other countries. They don't speak our language, don't know where they are, and wouldn't know where to turn for help even if they could escape. The only Americans they've ever met are . . . shall we say . . . not very safe. Some of these precious women are locked up right here in Wheaton, Illinois, a town some say is the heart and soul of Evangelical Christianity, with a church on every street corner and one of the foremost Christian liberal arts institutions in the world. What can be done?

    International Justice Mission is working around the clock and around the world to break into the dark corners of the world and rescue slaves. Rescue operations are risky and expensive. They require careful planning and strong relationships with law enforcement and legal personnel. Once men and women are freed the job is not over. They need trauma counseling, job training, a safe place to live where they can learn to trust again.

    IJM provides this after-care for rescued slaves. And they work to bring perpetrators to justice. All the while they pray. They pray that the kingdom of God would be established, that hidden things would come to light, that the lost would be found, and that the people of God would rise up and take action.

    A blog post doesn't free slaves, but perhaps it raises awareness. Knowing about the problem is the first step to doing something about it. You might be interested to know that IJM has an outstanding reputation in the way that they handle funds. Ministry Watch includes IJM on their top 30 ministries for 2011, calling them a "shining light" for financial accountability.

    We learned two very exciting things at the IJM film screening in December. Both offer hope in the face of a global epidemic that can quickly seem overwhelming. (1) College students around the country are helping to end slavery in their own cities by helping police identify businesses where "employees" may be at risk. A bit of surveillance can indicate whether women who work at a massage parlor go home at night, or if employees are foreigners who never seem to stay very long. There are relatively easy ways to get involved and make a difference in your own community. (2) IJM is learning that they do not need to prosecute every perpetrator in order to achieve dramatic results. In Cebu, Philippines, they have worked together with law enforcement to end child prostitution. The high-profile arrest and prosecution of just a few slave owners has led to something like an 86% reduction in the availability of children for sex. Slave owners do what they do because they can get away with it. When they begin to realize that there is great risk involved in exploiting people, they quickly find other ways to make money.

    How many slaves will be freed in 2012? That depends very much on what you and I decide to do about it.

    God's Big Plan for 2012

    What does God have in store for 2012?

    Eliana (age 10 - 1/2) assured me this morning that whatever it is, it won't be derailed by a few hairs sticking out on one side (as hers were). It went something like this:

    Mom: Eliana, let me fix these hairs a minute. They're parted on the wrong side.
    Eliana: Mom, it's no big deal!
    Mom: It is a big deal, relatively speaking.
    Eliana: It's not going to ruin God's big plan or anything!

    I suppose she's right! So what is His plan?

    Each of us is invited to be part of writing His story for this year. His sovereignty allows each of us to participate in our own unique way. What role is He asking YOU to play?