Friday, September 27, 2013

Five for Friday

Today I'd like to share five items I have recently been enjoying listening to.  I hope you will enjoy them as well.

1. I recently completed listening to the Librivox version of Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  There are such wonderful characters and plot twists in Dickens that I am always willing to put up with his occasionally annoying wordiness and repetition.  And this is a really fun story. I enjoyed it while sewing.

2. After completing the Dickens, I began listening to The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams, also from Librivox, during my sewing time.  I love his beautiful language and fascinating history so far, though I am only several chapters in. He is the great-grandson and grandson of presidents, and knew all the political and intellectual world of the Eastern seaboard at a pivotal time in history.  He writes about the changes from the 18th to 19th centuries, and his word play often makes me smile.


3. Before bedtime, Dave usually reads to me: first from Spurgeon, then from some fun novel or other.  We just finished Orson Scott Card's Earth Afire. We had listened to the first book in this series, Earth Unaware, on a recent trip.  The third book in the series is not yet out, and we likely need to wait at least a year for the end of the story-- always a bit frustrating.  These are the prequel novels to the Ender series.  We enjoyed the stories here, but were a bit dismayed by the writing.  Mr. Card had a co-author here, and I wonder if that was partially responsible, or if there is a rush to have these books out before the Ender's Game movie arrives.  Whatever the case, these are classic Card stories that are compelling, told in less-than-perfect grammar and prose that sometimes disappoint.  They have been enjoyable stories nonetheless.

4. I have also started the new online course from Hillsdale College on Economics.  This is apologetically free-market, Austrian economics, presented by the college president, Larry Arnn, and economics professor Gary Wolfram.  I have only listened to the introductory lecture by Dr. Arnn so far, but it is interesting.  When I was teaching more, I signed up for several of these courses, but didn't have the time to complete them.  Hopefully I can do more of that in this year of rest.


5.  I have also recently found and been enjoying The Briefing, a daily podcast of news and cultural analysis from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler.  I have signed up to receive an e-mail when a new podcast comes out, and I tend to listen to this 20-minute-or-so podcast as I begin the day. I find Dr. Mohler's take on things biblical, refreshing, gracious, and balanced.

What have you been listening to or reading, Gentle Reader?  Any recommendations you want to send my way?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The power of myth

And no, I have not been reading Joseph Campbell.  Instead I have been pondering the power of the moral imagination, and revisiting one of my favorite books about classical education.

We live in an age of technology and interpersonal disconnect.  We live in a time when our cultural literacy (as Hirsch would call it) is practically nil, and children grow up with dark "realistic" or dystopian literature and have never elevated their eyes to what is noble, so are incapable of articulating  noble dreams. Many live alienated, harsh lives, where early pregnancy takes the place of love, and gangs replace families. I am reminded of the imprisonment of the human soul in minds that are ignorant and uneducated (as Dalrymple would say.) And I sigh at that heart-breaking reality. After reading a recent article about young adult fiction, and watching part of a provocative Fontline show, I have been pondering the importance of good literature and well-formed moral imagination. And here are some wise words from David Hicks on the subject:

A good myth, like a good map, enables the wanderer to survive, perhaps even flourish, in the wilderness.  To this end, classical education, like Hebrew education, carefully preserves the best myths within its tradition and insists that each new generation of students learns these myths, imprisoning them in their hearts....
...[O]ne's chances of survival in a wilderness are greater when one is not alone...Myths provide each member of society with something to dignify and lend coherence to his life, as well as something of quality he can share with the other members of his community.
~David V. Hicks, Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education, pp.29-30

A sense of shared cultural literacy leads to some coherence in the culture, and fuels the moral imagination of a child.  It is a gift we can give our children and our students, Gentle Reader.

Monday, September 23, 2013

One of those days

This has been one of those days. I'm sure you have had them. I woke up with a weary, aching body. My first bit of news was the unexpected death of a friend.  That was followed by the eminent death of a friend's mother.  That was all before I got dressed. And that is when I wrote an e-mail to my dear husband and asked if I could please die before he does.  The sweet man said he would happily grant my request if it was in his power to do so.

Then I dragged my sorry body around my exercise routine at the Y, feeling worse than I did the first time I ever worked out there. At the Y, I ran into a long-time friend whose husband has some serious health issues, and came home to find an e-mail about a newly prodigal child of dear friends, and another friend having disappointments in her cancer battle. 

It's just one of those days. And on these sorts of days, our spirits can be brought very low indeed.  But then I remembered last night's Spurgeon, and reminded myself of the truth:

“When my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.”

~Psalm 61:2

Most of us know what it is to be overwhelmed in heart; emptied as when a man wipeth a dish and turneth it upside down; submerged and thrown on our beam ends like a vessel mastered by the storm. Discoveries of inward corruption will do this, if the Lord permits the great deep of our depravity to become troubled and cast up mire and dirt. Disappointments and heart-breaks will do this when billow after billow rolls over us, and we are like a broken shell hurled to and fro by the surf. Blessed be God, at such seasons we are not without an all-sufficient solace, our God is the harbour of weather-beaten sails, the hospice of forlorn pilgrims. Higher than we are is he, his mercy higher than our sins, his love higher than our thoughts. It is pitiful to see men putting their trust in something lower than themselves; but our confidence is fixed upon an exceeding high and glorious Lord. A Rock he is since he changes not, and a high Rock, because the tempests which overwhelm us roll far beneath at his feet; he is not disturbed by them, but rules them at his will. If we get under the shelter of this lofty Rock we may defy the hurricane; all is calm under the lee of that towering cliff. Alas! such is the confusion in which the troubled mind is often cast, that we need piloting to this divine shelter. Hence the prayer of the text. O Lord, our God, by thy Holy Spirit, teach us the way of faith, lead us into thy rest. The wind blows us out to sea, the helm answers not to our puny hand; thou, thou alone canst steer us over the bar between yon sunken rocks, safe into the fair haven. How dependent we are upon thee—we need thee to bring us to thee. To be wisely directed and steered into safety and peace is thy gift, and thine alone. This night be pleased to deal well with thy servants. 

I am praying to be safely piloted to that Rock, Gentle Reader.  Won't you join me?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thursday thought: Ordinary

I have been blessed to sit under good, biblical, expository preaching in my home church for many years.  As my pastor has worked through the scriptures, several themes have emerged that have touched me profoundly.  One such theme is the idea of the God of the Universe being a God of the ordinary, and working through ordinary people and ordinary means for the most part to bring about His extraordinary plan.

I have sometimes wondered if the contemporary church's proclivity to follow the world in its love of celebrity is caused largely by our dismissing the ordinary means and works of grace.  I have been in that group where my ho-hum testimony of God's quiet, gentle faithfulness in my family and my life has been seen as suspect because I could not point to a time and date or dramatic event for my conversion.  I wonder if our love of great preacher-personalities, national conferences, and contemporary Christian music personalities is nothing more than the church following after the world.

I have struggled in this period of my life-- when I am fighting disease and needing to retreat from activity-- with God's purpose for me.  I must admit that I have asked God if He didn't have something better and bigger for me to do than rest in my chair in the afternoon. Or make dinner for my husband.  Or teach two students how to write. Or care for aging parents.  Or pray. The fact that I ask that question might tell me much about the idols of my heart.

Ordinary acts of service and obedience are perhaps the big acts, not the little ones.  They may not be noteworthy, but they do the tough work of building a Christian character. May we be brave enough, Gentle Reader, to be faithful in the little things.

I have found the series of discussions at the White Horse Inn on all things "ordinary" found here to be helpful.  You will find the podcasts posted in the upper right-hand corner.  Look for the word "ordinary" in the title.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ithaca

Ithaca by Constantine P. Cavafy

When you set out for Ithaka
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy -
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn't anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn't deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you'll have understood what these Ithakas mean.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Walking by faith and not by sight...


Last week was a week of blessing as well as a week of reminders of the curse.  I spent time with my dear brother and sister-in-law, and with dear friends who have served the Lord in the midst of great suffering and trial for many years.  We battled the rain of a century, and watched as God transformed the year from summer to fall yet again.  I struggled with increasing my meds, and have been reminded of God's amazing care.

Between us, Dave and I have three cancer fights and more behind us: stage 4 melanoma for Dave in multiple recurrences, and two stage 1 breast cancers for me, along with my current auto-immune disease in my eyes. People tell us that we have been an inspiration to them as they watch us depend on God, and I am glad that God has allowed that to happen.  But please, Gentle Reader, understand that this is only a manifestation of God's marvelous work.  In our weakness, His strength is made clear. What inspires people is what God has accomplished, and it it is amazing to us as well. God promises to work all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose.  And we see Him doing that in our lives.  But with C. S. Lewis, we must sometimes wonder, not whether what God plans is good, but how painful it will be.

I have been reminded this week that often the "good plan" that my heavenly Father has for my life is a painful thing, and that if I am to remain true to Christ, I have to hold on to the fact that walking by faith and not by sight is part of what Christ requires of His followers.  What looks painful and wearisome to me is actually producing good things in me, by God's grace.  He sees better than I do, and plans all things well. And I may not see it, or understand how it can be, but I can trust that it is, because I can trust Him.

As we both face a new week, Gentle Reader, may we do so in faith.



Friday, September 13, 2013

Five for Friday


Today I offer five things that happen in a high-plains arid climate zone (less than 18 inches of precip annually) when between 2.5 and 3.5 inches of rain in less than twelve hours.
  1. Roof leaks happen.  The Southwest sun bakes everything. It destroys roofing material and everything else like nobody's business.  And we can go for 10 or 20 years without this kind of soaking rain.  So when it finally comes, it finds all those baked, dried, shrivelled areas, and makes its way inside.  Our roof, Dave's roof at work, a friend's roof up in Los Alamos, and my parent's roof down in Rio Rancho are all leaking this morning.
  2. Your skin feels amazing.  After years of single-digit humidity in the dry seasons and 20-30% humidity in the wet seasons, 12 straight hours of 100% humidty makes your face feel 10 years younger, and all those itchy places are less itchy!
  3. Water flows fast, and carries the dried and dessicated top layer of stuff with it.  This is particularly true in burn scars.  In the areas near us where forest fires have burned last summer or in recent summers, walls of water come washing down the canyons and arroyos, depositing lots of material.  We have several roads closed around us because of the debris the water has carried across and deposited on top of the roads.
  4. Things flood because the baked earth can't absorb the water fast enough. The Senior Center a few blocks from us is flooded.  The paths and arroyos are flooded.  Bandelier National Monument is flooded and closed. 
  5. We praise God for the answer to our prayers for rain.  While it brings headaches and messes, we have been in a sustained drought for many years.  This deluge will help not just water everything, but refill some portion of our aquifers and reservoirs.  In the end, it is a very good thing, and God is gracious to send it our way.  That being said, we still appreciate your prayers, Gentle Reader.  And please pray for those north of us who are getting the worst of it.  They have a similar climate and conditions in Colorado, and the rains are even heavier there.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

The eyes have it

Yesterday I completed my latest eye specialist appointment at UNM in Albuquerque.  I had an OCT, an FA, and an ICG, a regular eye test, an eye exam, blood work, and several hours in waiting rooms.  The best part of the day was sitting around with my sweet husband, which always helps the day go faster. 

And the end result?  Well, the eyes have it still. We have made some progress in fighting my birdshot, but not enough.  The progress shows the drugs (cellcept and cyclosporine) have had some effect, so we now tweak the doses.  I am already at my highest dose of the cellecept.  So we will take up the cyclosporine- hopefully we will increase my 200 mgh/day dose by 25 mg a day over several weeks until I get up to 300 mg/day. 

God is good to make these drugs have an effect, and to allow me to tolerate them fairly well so far.  I appreciate your prayers in the past and the future, Gentle Readers.  I would love to push this disease into remission, remove the cataract in my right eye, and be able to see better again.  But all this is in the Lord's hands, and I am trying to leave it there and trust Him for my sight as well as my future.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Thursday thought: Juxtaposition

Have you ever had one of those moments, Gentle Reader, when you learn of someone's suffering, and realize you never thought to be thankful that God had not required you to walk that road? Or been startled from your own navel-gazing by someone who has real problems?  It is the juxtaposition of that other life with mine that shocks me back to reality. I have often found that God, in His providential goodness to me, interrupts me on my merry way to remind me of all I ought to be grateful for, and to keep me from self-pity.

Last Monday I was enjoying my parents and my sister and her family in a relaxed day of playing games and grilling.  On that same day, Allison was ending her race in this world and entering eternity.  Allison was a cyber-friend.  We were "introduced" by a friend-of-a-friend via our blogs, and we had corresponded a few times as we encouraged one another in the virtual world.  We have prayed for Allison daily for some time.

Tonight, after a full day, and with my heart prone to wander towards worry and self-pity, I wandered over to her blog for the first time in a week or so. And while her death was not unexpected, her loss felt real and raw, ad took my breath away.  And I never even met her.  But she was my sister in Christ, and an object of my prayer.  She leaves behind a loving husband and three small children, while I look forward to a third grandchild.  What a juxtaposition our lives are.  And I am less inclined to self-pity tonight because of her. God walked with her on that hard and heavy road.  Surely He can walk with me on mine.

Allison fought a valiant fight, with her family and friends supporting her.  I don't want my life to be in juxtaposition to that-- a life lived safely and timidly without trust in God.  I want to stand in solidarity with her, and the great clouds of witnesses that have gone before us and been preserved by God to the end.

Thank you, Lord, for Allison;s life and witness.  And thank you for making the juxtaposition of our lives intersect for my good and Your glory.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A new grandchild on the way

It is with great delight that we share with you, Gentle Reader, the fact that we are soon to receive into our family another grandchild.  Tim and Nikki are expecting a new little one, due to enter the world in April.  We appreciate your prayers for healthy Mom and Baby, and a safe, timely entry into the world.  We congratulate Tim and Nikki and Emma, and praise God from whom all blessings flow. We are VERY excited!