Wednesday, February 27, 2013

just one year

my second chapter in progress
They say the first year goes by quickly, and that it should be cherished. (By this I'm pretty sure Carter's means that you should go ahead and buy lots of darling outfits for your baby, because they'll only be that little for a short time—a clever marketing gimmick!) It's true. Time flies.

But I hope this year does not. Danny informed me yesterday that I have exactly one year before my dissertation defense draft is due (click here if you need a refresher on what that is). I'm shooting for a defense date of April 11, 2014. That means it's time to buckle up and buckle down!

my second chapter ... finally done!
A Wheaton dissertation must be no more than 100,000 words (roughly 300 pages). I've written over 40,000 words so far (about 130 pages). Last week I turned in my second of four main chapters. Today I'm revising my first chapter. Next week I'll dive into my third.

I'm still taking one PhD Seminar and studying Ugaritic, but in two months I'll be ABD, with nothing standing between me and the deadline. Eliana (11), who doesn't miss a trick, has begun telling her friends they can call me Dr. Imes.

Easton celebrates progress!
Meanwhile, I'm chipping away at my comprehensive reading list, and the kids are cheering me on every step of the way. After I turned in my second chapter, Danny and the kids picked me up from the library and whisked me away to Olive Garden to celebrate. I had barely opened the van door when Easton (4) asked cheerfully, "Mom, are you done with your PhD?"

Not yet, buddy. But I'm getting closer!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Waiting Place

Are you in The Waiting Place?

Waiting for healing
Waiting for test results
Waiting for a tax refund
Waiting for clear direction
Waiting for interest rates to go up
Waiting for the phone to ring with a job offer
Waiting for a pregnancy test to turn out positive
Waiting for good news from graduate admissions
Waiting for me to write another blog post (sorry to keep you waiting!)

I've never been good at waiting. When God doled out patience I was nowhere in sight. In fact, I remember my grandma giving me an embroidered wall-hanging when I turned 9 or 10. It had a pretty little girl in a pink dress, surrounded by flowers. Across the top these words were carefully stitched: "Patience is a Virtue." Ouch. Apparently it was already obvious that I was allergic to The Waiting Place.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), we live in an age that has radically minimized waiting and radically transformed the way we wait. Anything I want to order on Amazon shows up on my doorstep in 2 days. We don't stand in line doing nothing, we text or check Facebook. Our kids don't look out the car windows, they watch DVD's. We don't wait for food, we don't wait for news, we don't wait for election results. It's all ours in a matter of seconds. (Which is why I like blogging. I can say what's on my mind and immediately everyone on the planet can hear about it. Aren't you glad about that?)

But even with all these technological advances, we still have to wait for the hard things. And I'm afraid we're so unaccustomed to waiting that it's become even harder for our generation.

Dr. Seuss describes The Waiting Place in Oh, the Places You'll Go!, and as usual he can make it all rhyme beautifully.

"The Waiting Place" in Dr. Seuss' Oh, the Places You'll Go!

"Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting."

But Dr. Seuss is dead wrong about something (am I allowed to say that?). He expresses what most of us feel about The Waiting Place, calling it "a most useless place." And it's not true.

Waiting is good for us.

Even when (especially when) we don't like it.

Waiting reminds us that we are not in control. We do not pull the levers on the great machine of life. We are not the source of new life, good health, clear thinking, or vocational satisfaction. We are small.

And what we do with our smallness is important.

We can kick and scream, whine and complain, worry and stress. Or we can learn to live in a place of faith, hope, and love. We can admit that we need God. The Waiting Place brings out our most selfish selves. It is prime time to let him transform us so that we can listen longer, think more clearly, care more deeply, and share more freely. That doesn't make it easy, but it does make it useful.

And so, for all my waiting friends . . . you know who you are . . . I am waiting with you. And trusting God to work it all out for his glory. May He answer quickly . . . but not so quickly that we miss the good gifts He has for us in The Waiting Place.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

raising world-changers

One of the deepest joys of parenting is planting seeds that will one day blossom and grow. Children have their whole lives ahead of them. We play a huge role in shaping their dreams. Kids want to know that they can make a difference in the world. As one friend put it, they need to start thinking now about how to "add value" to their communities, rather than waiting for a lucky break.

My favorite way to plant seeds is by reading. Stories are a wonderful medium for bonding. Snuggled together on the couch, we can travel the whole world, meeting people from other cultures and seeing places unlike our own. We can travel back in time and experience history in living color.

Emma (age 7) and I just finished a trip to Calabar, now known as Nigeria, where we followed the barefoot steps of a courageous and stubborn woman from Scotland—Mary Slessor. Mary dared to go where no white man had gone before. With God's help she single-handedly transformed a region and brought peace between warring tribes. It was the perfect story to inspire my own courageous and stubborn 7-year-old. She announced this week that she plans to be a missionary, too, and will bring an end to modern-day slavery.

I was not much older than Emma when I caught the vision for world missions. Sitting in the church basement, eating African stew with my fingers, I watched a slide show of life in Sierra Leone, West Africa, and heard stories about the need for missionaries. I distinctly remember thinking, "Unlike all these grown-ups in the room, who have jobs and houses and obligations in the U.S. to keep them from going, I'm available. I don't have other plans. I could be a missionary." That evening in the church basement has been shaping the choices I've made ever since. It has given me the courage to walk the "road less traveled" time and time again.

Our kids need heroes (and I don't mean the overpaid, self-centered kind who have extraordinary talents). They need to know that the world is bigger than themselves. They need to know the big challenges facing their generation: human trafficking, abortion-on-demand, poverty, pollution, deficit spending, alcoholism and other addictions. And they need to know that every single person can make a difference—if he or she is willing to dream. Missionary biographies are one of the best ways I know to capture their young imaginations with a vision of brave and selfless service in the name of Jesus.

Not sure where to start? I've created a page listing some of our all-time favorite children's books. Click here or on the "Best Kids Books" link in the side column of my blog. Not all the books are missionary stories, but many of them will take you around the world, introducing your kids to cultures unlike their own. At the very least, the cultural sensitivity they develop will go a long way toward helping them get along with their peers in our increasingly multi-cultural world.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tuesday Tidbit: Augustine on parenting

Ok, so Augustine wasn't talking about parenting. He was talking about the role of civil authorities in maintaining a just society. But you have to admit the parallels are striking! Here are his wise words for the day:

"It is a matter of great importance what intention a man has in showing leniency. Just as it is sometimes a mercy to punish, so it may be cruelty to pardon." (Augustine, Letter 153, section 17, [p. 126 of From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought, edited by O'Donovan and O'Donovan])
Chew on that one for a while.

Parents sometimes operate as if they ought to spare their children from any and all hurt -- including punishment. We pick up their toys, do the chores they've left undone, and never get around to giving them the punishments we threaten, all because we don't want them to become discouraged or (worse yet!) to dislike us. Eventually we wonder why we can't get them to do anything at all.

The truth is, our kids need to experience real life if they are going to become well-adjusted adults. In real life, people don't clean up your messes. In real life, people don't do your chores. In real life, painful consequences follow bad decisions. If we spare them all this when they are young, they'll spend the rest of their lives thinking that they've been dealt an unfair hand. They'll continue to act like children long into their adult years, thinking that the world owes them something. We see it all the time, and it's not pretty, is it?

Knowing when and how to show mercy is one of the mysteries of parenting. But Augustine is right: mercy and pardon are not the same thing. As the author of Hebrews reminds us,
"Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11 NRSV)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Augustine on Intellectual Honesty

I love what Augustine has to say about the pursuit of knowledge:
"All or almost all of us men love to call or consider our suspicions knowledge, since we are influenced by the credible evidence of circumstances; yet some credible things are false, just as some incredible ones are true." Augustine, Letter 153, section 22, (Page 128 of From Irenaus to Grotius: A Sourcebook for Christian Political Thought, edited by O'Donovan and O'Donovan)
Part of being intellectually honest is recognizing our own tendency to believe what we think we should believe. Academia is full of pressure to believe only what passes the test of "reason," and the church can sometimes push in the opposite direction, viewing intellectual pursuits with suspicion.

Neither approach is healthy.

Life and truth cannot be reduced to reason, just as parenting cannot be reduced to a list of rules. On the other hand, the pursuit of knowledge need not be seen as a threat to faith. If "all truth is God's truth" then He must take delight in our knowing more of His creative work so that we can worship him more fully.

We must go forward with open hands and open minds -- willing to reconsider what we think we know, and expecting that the answers may well be surprising.