Delicious Words & Tears

Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts. 
Jeremiah 15:16
He said to me, “Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you.” Then I ate it, and it was a sweet as honey in my mouth.”
Ezekiel 3:3
Eating God’s Word?  I came across both of these verses in the last year during my read-through-the- Bible endeavor (which has taken me much more than a year!), and they struck me as a powerful image regarding the delicious nourishment of the Bible.  I mentioned the verses to the women of my church on our winter retreat, the theme of which was The Word.  Consume and be well fed by the delicious Word of God.  Nothing is as sweet.  Nothing else can satisfy.  We have food others know not of.
Then, as the Lord seems to always work in themes in my life, I picked up this book recently and unknowingly. I thought a good missionary story would be the perfect way to start the homeschool morning with Kayla this year.

I can’t remember why I even had this book on the shelf, but I think I must have purchased it years ago when I thought it would fit with a world history and geography class we were doing with other local homeschoolers.  We never ended up using it, but I re-discovered it this summer while clearing closets and shelves and making trips to Good Will.

My kids will tell you that I have been dissolved to tears numerous times during “read-aloud” time, (Bronze Bow, anyone? Pilgrim’s Progress? Sigh…) but I really didn’t see it coming this time.

In Search of the Source is about Wycliffe (Bible translators) missionaries in Papua New Guinea. This husband and wife team, along with their small children lived in the jungle among the Folopa people, a tribe with an unwritten language and a previous cannibalistic revenge culture.  The book recounts some of the breakthroughs they had in acquiring the proper translations for certain Bible words, phrases, and stories.  The language acquisition stories and the details of the intimate translation in cooperation with a few of the Folopa men are really fascinating, and the stories of eating jumbo beetles (they “pop” when rolled above the fire flames) and grub worms (stuffed in bamboo and roasted to make a “meat stick”) and going on bat hunts through caves in waist deep water (a river where the dead were once buried) add even more excitement.

They began translation work with Genesis 1 and had difficulty right away with the word “created.”  Then, in Genesis 2, the Folopa men were greatly humbled when they discovered that the women they thought must be a completely different species from them, made only for work and babies, were actually made from their very own flesh.  But is was the translation of Genesis 37-45 that really made a significant impact, as the Hebrew culture of the “favorite son” and the resulting sibling rivalry mirrors their own. They were completely mesmerized by the story.

The missionary wife typed furiously as the translation of the Joseph story was being spoken, and as the words individually appeared on the typewritten page, the men came in closer and closer, watching and reading, refusing to take a break for tea and toast.  When the page was finished, one of the Folopa men took it, put his hand to his throat (a gesture of great seriousness) and said this:

“We are dying of the deliciousness of these words.”

I couldn’t even finish reading that line, because the tears started rolling.  The power and sweetness of God’s Word.  The emotion of reading about another culture’s first response to that beautiful Word.  It was too much to take in.

And the story of Joseph began to not only resonate with their own cultural experience, but also tie in with another story they knew about another Son. The same man who held the typewritten page began to speak again…

” ‘The brother whom they had most greatly offended,’ he said, ‘was in the end the one who had the most power to destroy them.  Yet he passed it over. Instead he became the one who rescued them.’ “

In their revenge culture, this was incredulous, scandalous even, and therefore very powerful. Many had already responded in faith to the message, a message of grace and forgiveness rather than a deserved revenge killing.

So, big tears over written words during read-aloud time again. Nothing new for my homeschool pupils.  I guess the tears are really over the Word who became flesh for me.

He is beautiful. His Word is sweet.

(Jack and Kelly ~ maybe this could be your next read-aloud?)

Books in Tandem, Grace in Abundance

One of the books was free.  It was a give-away at a pastor’s conference that Robert attended.  I think it was the year he came home with such a big stack of free, but really great books, he wondered if he would have to pay extra for his return luggage due to one more bag or extra weight at least. I was just looking for a new book to read sometime last year, and picked it up.  It was John Piper’s Finally Alive.
The other was a recommendation from our friend, Gregory. There are only a few folks who, due my utter stubbornness and resistance-to-all-things-fad-ish, I will actually take up on a book recommendation.  Gregory is one of them. I can trust him to recommend a book that is either very well written or full of exhortation to continue in a life surrendered to Christ ~ or both. So, when he said he thought Robert and I would enjoy Hammer of God by Bo Giertz, I placed an order rather immediately.
Without knowing it at the time, I was being given grace to respond to the Holy Spirit in the choosing of each of these books.  The Lord had plans to use both books in my life ~ even the order in which they were read ~  to teach me of Himself and of myself.
Finally Alive is an entire book on the Christian doctrine of justification. Yes, a whole book on justification. And as boring and geek-y as it sounds, I actually have a handful of friends who would be willing to talk with me about it over tea. (I think that is a miracle.) It centers on Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus and the radical idea of “new birth” presented to Nicodemus ~ a Pharisee, teacher of the Law, and noble, God-honoring man.  And even though Piper includes this disclaimer…

“In view of how disturbing this can be to the tender conscience as well as the hard heart, I want to be very careful.  I do not want to cause tender souls any unnecessary distress. And I do not want to give false hope to those who have confused morality or religion for spiritual life. Pray as you read this book that it will not have either of these destructive effects.” p. 27

…I still came away fairly distressed. (Maybe I forgot to pray as Mr. Piper suggested?)
Is my heart truly regenerate? Did I really receive new life?  Was I born again?  If Nicodemus didn’t understand, do I?  Have I truly been united with Christ?  Do I sincerely “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord?”
Upon investigation of my own heart and its tendencies, I was unconvinced that any of the above had actually happened to me.  Fearful and desperate even. I began begging God to save me, if indeed He had not done so before.  I pleaded with Him to not let me be deceived by my own morality and my first-born, type A, iron will to act righteously and follow all the rules.  There were real tears in my crying out.
And then I picked up Gregory’s book. 
It took me about sixteen tries to get through the first five pages, probably because I always attempted to start it at 10pm, but I finally forged through Swedish names, locales, and high church and denominational references to the heart of the plot ~ or plots, that is.  It’s really three novellas about three different pastors in three different time periods but all in Sweden.
It was the story of the first pastor that affected me profoundly, and helped me to heal from the completely unnecessary fear the first book produced ~ and even warned about.
I’ve never dog-eared and double-dog-eared a book more than this! (Not even Stepping Heavenward. Whoa.)

In the opening scene, a young and fresh out of seminary pastor, is called upon, in the midst of fine dining and a gathering of respected clergy, by an older bishop to travel by carriage and attend to an unsavory and uneducated parishioner on his death bed. This man is not only quite ill, but seemingly also not in his right mind.  The pastor resents having to make the visit, feeling that it is quite beneath his new and now highly educated status.

On the way to the poor man’s house, the man’s brother-in-law, also a peasant, speaks to Savonius, the pastor:

“Pastor, can you tell me how one shall get a deeply distressed soul to believe in the grace of God?” 

“You’ll have to excuse me, Pastor.  I was thinking of Johannes, the man who is sick.  He is in such vexation of spirit that we fear for his sanity.  He has for a long time been under a powerful conviction of sin.  He has always been a godly man in externals and has not neglected the means of grace. But now these agonizings of soul have come upon him.  He sees only his transgressions.  He digs up all that has been forgiven and forgotten in the past thirty years. It is as though the devil had given him a witching glass that causes him to see nothing but hypocrisy and falseness within – and God knows that he sees very keenly, Pastor. It makes one cringe under one’s own wickedness just to hear him.  But grace he cannot see.  He has eyes like a cat to see in the dark, but he is blind to the light.”

(I think I’ve already told you how much I love a book that uses the word “vexation.”)

It was as if the Lord was answering my cries directly in the reading of this relatable account, and I read on with great eagerness at the outcome of this poor man’s (and my) dilemma.  The interesting thing is that the pastor was at a total loss.  He had no words.  He had no theology.  He had no scripture with which to minister to this dying man.  He was completely helpless in the request that he “instruct a converted sinner about the signs of being in the state of grace” and he was fairly incredulous regarding this ridiculous mission. He tried to assure, but Johannes countered him at every turn with a scripture like this:

“Every idle word that men speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment.”

Savonius was no match for the man’s arguments and began to question his own pastoral calling. It didn’t help his ego any when Katrina, a godly neighbor, showed up offer her services. She was kind, yet unruffled and unafraid in the face of the dying man’s spiritual logic.

“Johannes,” said the woman, almost sternly, “answer me this question: Do you really want your heart to be clean?”
“Yes, Katrina. God knows that I want that.”
“Then your repentance is also as true as it can be in a corrupt child of Adam in this world.  Your danger is not that you lack repentance, but that you have been drifting away from faith.
“What then shall I believe, Katrina?”
“You must believe the living Word of God: ‘But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.’ Up to this day you have believed in works and looked at your own heart.  You saw only sin and wretchedness, because God anointed your eyes with the salve of the Spirit to see truth.  Do you have sin in your heart, Johannes?”
“Yes,” answered the sick man timidly, “much sin, altogether too much.”
“Just that should make it clear to you that God has not forsaken you,” said the woman firmly. “Only he can see his sin who has the Holy Spirit.”
“Do you mean to say, Katrina, that it could be a work of God, that my heart is so unclean?”
“Not that your heart is unclean – that is the work of sin – but that you now see it, that is the work of God.”
“But why, then, have I not received a clean heart?”
“That you might learn to love Jesus,” said the woman as calmly as before.

It was this very passage that had me in tears again. Yes, I’ve been given new life.  Yes, my heart is regenerate and yet it is also in the process of regeneration.  Why not completely clean, and fully able to live in accordance with the Spirit at all times?  So that I may learn to love Jesus.  Some will never understand this and even think it a cruel requirement by an egotistical monster of a God. Those are the ones lacking the “rebirth” as of yet.  I understand the need to “learn” Him, and am so grateful He allows such a process in my life.

And I also realize that I was reading the first book without the Gospel framework that was there the entire time…

“I want you to see for yourselves that, even when you fail to love as you ought, Christ’s perfection stands before God in the place of that failure.  And I want you to see that faith in Christ, not love for people, is the way you enjoy that union with Christ” Finally Alive, p. 133

Megan & The Other Baby Book

Recently, I have sent several emails out to people for whom the email was not intended.  This could prove to be a dangerous mistake, but not so here. Twice in the last few months I have sent my students’ Challenge II study schedule for the week not to Megan, the 15 year old homeschooler from Connecticut, but to Megan, the senior at Amherst College who was in my Sunday school class last semester.  Then I sent the schedule out another week to Megan, my real TX/OK friend and blogger over at SortaCrunchy.  Both Megans kindly replied and notified me that I might want to re-send the 10th grade study schedule to the correct Megan.  Guess they already had too much on their plates to write up biology labs, or read British literature novels!
The point here is that I have A LOT of Megans in my Gmail contact list.  And believe me when I tell you ~ they are a pretty incredible bunch of ladies.
Let me introduce you to another one of the many inspiring Megans in my life: 
Megan McGrory Massaro.
I met Megan as a student at The University of Massachusetts and member of my church.  Her journey to Christ involves body piercing, but maybe she’d rather me not go into details. (I couldn’t resist, Meg.) Megan and I would occasionally get together for breakfast, and she, on a regular basis, very graciously volunteered to babysit my small (at that time!) children when I would grocery shop.
Well, now she’s all grown up, and has a handsome husband and beautiful baby girl all her own.  (Robert performed their wedding ceremony at Plymouth Plantation here in MA, and it was so lovely!)  And like everything else Megan has ever done ~ from her college education , to her teaching career, to her writing career, to her faith, Megan has approached this new mommy adventure with a wise and thoughtful passion.
Thankfully, she has also had the courage and inspiration to share it with other new mamas in the form of a book entitled The Other Baby Book.
If you’ve already seen her in my side bar as Going Green in a Pink World, you’ll have some clues about what approach to mothering you’ll be encouraged to embrace in The Other Baby Book ~ a very natural and “attached” one filled with healthy foods, wearing your baby, breastfeeding, cloth diapers, co-sleeping, and lots of play time.
Now, I’m all for this natural approach to parenting ~ have employed much of it in my own parenting through the years, but I had to giggle a little bit when I heard what Megan’s book was all about, because of a letter she wrote in my special 40th birthday gift book.  She recalled a time that she was over at my house when my kids were toddlers and pre-schoolers for the most part. (I just enrolled my first-born in Driver’s Education, so it’s been a while!) I had asked them to stop a certain behavior, or have the consequence of a spanking.  They didn’t stop. I don’t really remember any of this, but evidently I proceeded to tell Megan that I would now have to spank my children!  That’s right, I told the future author of the attachment parenting book that I would be giving my defiant children spankings in front of her! (Or possibly in the next room?? Oh, please let it have been in the next room!)
But I’m thinking that it may NOT have been in the next room, because she then recalled that I hugged them and told them that I loved them. (Whew!)
Anyway, “attachment parenting” advocates typically do not encourage spanking of any sort, of course, and that is where I part ways with many of them.  (See Proverbs.)  I also never slept with my infants, and tended to follow parenting books that encouraged sleeping through the night by putting babies on a feeding and sleeping schedule.  (Yes, the much maligned  Ezzos and Pearls, as well as Ted Tripp and Sally Clarkson.) All three of mine were on this type of schedule, and all slept through the night by the time they were 8 weeks old ~ some earlier. And, for the most part, I would follow their advice all over again.
None of my convictions, though, are reasons not to glean from Megan’s wonderful book about your baby’s first year of life.  I would definitely purchase this book if I was a new mama; the irony just tickled me a bit! I hope you will check out the website and blog, and possibly even contribute to the project with your own experiences and questions.  Oh!  And there’s a giveaway going on over at The Other Baby Book blog that you don’t want to miss!
Thank you, Megan!  You never cease to amaze and inspire me, and what an incredibly loving and gentle atmosphere you are providing for little Annabella.  She will be blessed, and so will many others in reading about your journey and being encouraged by your ideas. 
I will reiterate your own words, because now they are true of YOU:
Keep on keepin’ on, Megan!  You are an inspiration to a generation of young women, affecting lives that are affecting other lives.  Thank you and I love YOU dearly,

Eat, Pray, Love – My Take (My Very Long Take)

(Since I had just finished reading the book, and had no idea there was an upcoming movie, it felt like the movie was made just for my personal entertainment – literally two weeks after finishing the book! My kids, of course, knew there was a movie coming out. “Silly Mom, let me show you the trailer…” Oh! And I have to agree with my friend Megan who said the book is, of course, “infinitely better than the movie.” Honestly, I don’t think I would have even enjoyed the movie had I not read the book.)

Elizabeth Gilbert is not a Christian, and it was refreshing to discover in her book Eat, Pray, Love that she knows it:

“And while I do love that great teacher of peace who was called Jesus, and while I do reserve the right to ask myself in certain trying situations what indeed he would do, I can’t swallow that one fixed rule of Christianity insisting that Christ is the only way to God.” p. 14

I say “refreshing,” because it is frustrating when a person insists they are a Christian, but they refuse to accept this and other very fundamental principles of the Christian faith. And just in case you’re wondering where that fundamental belief comes from, here’s a start…

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. John 14:6

I was thankful for this disclaimer of sorts at the beginning of her book, because it enabled me to continue through the pages and simply enjoy hearing about and learning from her experiences without the anxiety that accompanies a misrepresentation of your faith.

(And now my own disclaimer: This is in no way a complete review of this book – just my own thoughts about and take on a few parts that stood out to me personally.)

Another thing Ms. Gilbert gets right is her summation of the status of the Protestant churches in New England…

“My mother used the church as a headquarters from which to organize good works of volunteer service for the community. But even in that church I don’t remember there being a lot of talking about God. This was New England after all, and the word God tends to make Yankees nervous.” p. 152

Her statements tickled me, because not only do I live right in the middle of that wacky dynamic, but my husband and I were called here to plant a church that actually does talk about God.

And we talk about Jesus, too. (“Horrors!” as my grandmother would say.) He makes ’em really nervous.

By now you probably already know that Eat, Pray, Love is a book about travel writer, Elizabeth Gilbert’s, one year adventure in Italy, India, and Indonesia. She is on somewhat of a spiritual journey after a nasty divorce and hasty, codependent, rebound relationship; a journey of self and god discovery. Recently, I have read a couple of reviews of the book and movie that suggest that Elizabeth Gilbert is nothing but a white, wealthy, self-absorbed narcissist using the beauty and spiritual aspects of each country she visits – aloof to the problems and poverty – to soothe her restless soul. I did not have those strong reactions, but rather could relate in several ways to her inner struggle. But then I, too, am a self-absorbed narcissist at times – longing purely for personal comfort and peace. In reality, I think we all may be. Yes, even the missionary to those foreign lands. And even you, Ms./Mr. Social Justice/World Peace/Human Rights crusader.

When Gilbert described her depression and melancholy temperament, I understood it. Yes, she seemingly has everything one could want – talent, career, money, recognition, public accolades, friends and more, but still she couldn’t shake her companions: “Loneliness and Depression track me down after about ten days in Italy,” she admits. (p. 46) I know that feeling. I’m much better now, but in the last year and a half, I also battled those two guys intensely. One friend I confessed some of my struggle to said, “But I don’t understand. You have the perfect life.” And I knew what she meant: health, home, happy marriage and family, wonderful husband, great kids, fruitful ministry – things my friend didn’t even have at that moment, but still my own tears and sadness prevailed. I guess you could call that self-absorbed, but I am very thankful the few around me who knew of the struggle didn’t accuse me of that. My enemy was doing a pretty good job of it already – which didn’t help things at all. Feeling bad about feeling bad is a very BAD cycle.

“Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night.” Revelation 12: 10

And he is so convincing.

I was amazed, though, that Gilbert and I share the same thoughts on the use of anti-depressants:

“I’d never wanted to be on the medication in the first place. I’d fought taking it for so long, mainly because of a long list of personal objections (e.g. Americans are over-medicated; we don’t know the long-term effects of this stuff yet on the human brain; it’s a crime that even American children are on anti-depressants these days; we are treating symptoms and not the causes of a national mental health emergency…) (p.48)

She does eventually see a psychiatrist and take medication for her depression, but only after she had tried everything else, only when getting sunshine, spending time with good friends, a new haircut and cute dress were not helping anymore, only when she “could not walk another step,” only when she was beginning to be tempted to commit suicide. I think she was both wise and humble in this situation, but even then she “always felt conflicted about it,” and “wanted to be off them as soon as possible.” (p. 51)

Several folks who knew of my struggle suggested the use of anti-depressants, often so forcefully that I began to feel both unwise and immature for deciding to try other things: rest, more focused and extended prayer times, reading Scripture, working through two Bible study workbooks that addressed some of my battles, exercise, healthy foods, better boundaries with time, etc. Also, there were contributing factors – extended family crises, lots of travel/time away from home, and my own sin of unbridled perfectionism among other things. Depression and sadness are God-designed emotional responses to bring about awareness of need or maybe needed change. I have no interest in numbing those natural responses. I’d rather press in to Jesus and allow Him to help me “take on depression like it was the fight of my life…” to use Gilbert’s words. I did decide to see a wonderful, godly Christian counselor who, at age 70, was able to help me get some perspective and make connections to reasons for this depression. She was a gift and just the perfect balance of nurture and truth. (And may I just mention that it seems you can count the number of Christian counselors in New England on one hand. Yes, a miraculous gift – and just 45 minutes from my home.)

Now I feel like a lot of other disclaimers are in order here, (I can almost hear your “buts” and “what ifs”) because I do think there are those who desperately need the medication, but I also think life is hard. Jesus promised it would be hard, (it’s a fallen world) but that He would be our hope. Depression is literally all over the Bible. “Why are you in despair, O my soul?” (Psalm 42) or how about, “We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life…” (I Cor. 1:8) What concerns me is when, Christians especially, are quicker to take the medication than to press in for real help and healing in Christ. I once lived in a place where nearly every Christian minister’s wife or ministry staff woman I knew was on anti-depressants. Something is wrong with that picture.

Larry Crabb is a prominent Christian counselor that many love to hate, but I tend to like him, because I’d much rather (usually!) hear it straight up than sugar-coated. Here’s just one great quote from his book Shattered Dreams that was a great help to me in years past:

“It’s hard to hear, but it is important to know that God is not committed to supporting our ministries, to preventing our divorces, to preserving our health, to straightening out our kids, to providing a livable income, to ending famine, to protecting us from agonizing problems that generate in our souls an experience that feels like death. We cannot count on God to arrange what happens in our lives in ways that will make us feel good.”

“We can count on God to patiently remove all the obstacles to our enjoyment of Him. He is committed to our joy, and we can depend on Him to give us enough of a taste of that joy and enough hope that the best is still ahead to keep us going in spite of how much pain continues to plague our hearts.”

That’s what I want – to not have anything in the way of enjoying Him. Oh, depression and melancholy were and are not fun. More than I have ever let myself before I crave comfort, peace, and ease these days, but I know there are no such things apart from Him.

Whom have I in heaven, but you? And besides you, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever….As for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works. Psalm 73: 25, 26, 28

Recently, a Christian friend wrote to me to see what I thought about Eat, Pray, Love – spiritually speaking. I think she hesitated reading it, because after only a few chapters she said, “I am already realizing what a messy, religious mishmash it is.” Yep. But what to make of Ms. Gilbert’s spiritual experience – especially during her months at an Ashram in India? Because she definitely has an experience in which she describes being “suddenly transported through the portal of the universe and taken to the center of God’s palm.” (p. 198)

Well, if our enemy is “the great accuser” to those diligently seeking the one true God in Jesus Christ, then he is also “the great encourager” or “the great leave-r alone-r” to those who are not. The Christian must be “sober of spirit” and “on the alert,” because our “adversary, the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter5:8) Think of Job, whom Satan was confident would reject God after he was finished with him, or Peter, whom Satan demanded to “sift like wheat.” He did not demand this of, say….. Jezebel or Judas. They were on his team. He could rest in their loyalty to him (though they didn’t even know that’s the team they were on) and go after those who threatened his power and authority on earth.

Missionary friends returning from cultures that engage heavily in the meditative, Buddhist, and other practices which Ms. Gilbert describes, tell of the great oppression and attacks they experience there. Some we know have had to return home because of it – for the safety and health of their families. These Christians are on his territory, and he wants them off. On the other hand, he’s thrilled that millions are devoting themselves to a human guru, to “emptying themselves” through meditation, and to surrounding themselves with little graven images and idols. It pleases him to no end.

And as my husband summed it up, “Satan is cooking up counterfeit experiences left and right.”

But I certainly admired Gibert’s earnestness and devotion to her spiritual practice. And here is where I think many Christians (including myself) are sometimes missing the mark and wondering why they are not experiencing Christ in their daily lives. We are also called to meditate – on truth, on His Word. We are also called to surrender and release – everything to Him and His will. The experiences of peace, forgiveness, grace, and love that Gilbert described having at times are available to Christians all of the time – in even greater abundance, with deeper meaning and truth. We are filled with the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion. What could be better than that? And as Robert mentioned in last week’s sermon, this filling of the Holy Spirit automatically unites us with divinity – the Trinity.

“In that day you shall know that I am in my Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” John 14:20

“That day” being the one in which believers would be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Yes, constant intimacy with the divine is available to us at all times. Unfortunately, we often prevent this intimacy by our own sin and selfishness, by our seeking of other gods; gods more comfortable and less demanding. Ms. Gilbert was in search of this very thing, and she was willing to get it at nearly any cost – denying herself, waking up early, sitting in meditation for hours, etc.

How often do I make myself available to the Holy Spirit in the same manner? It is my desire, though, and the place of healing and hope that I am in need of. So, I have to say that although I think she was misguided and even deceived, she inspired and exhorted me in my own practice of biblical meditation, surrender, faith, and trust – in my devotion to the spiritual practices that allow the Spirit to move within me.

“Devotion is diligence without assurance,” Gilbert declares.

Thankfully, for this perfectionist – diligent in all things small and large – I have assurance.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

“…show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Hebrews 6:11-12

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us…” Hebrews 6: 19-20

At the end of the book, Ms. Gilbert describes an earlier getaway to a remote island on which she rents a beach cabin and vows to not speak at all, to retreat into silence and solitude until something changes inside of her. Reading this experience, I thought she might finally come to realize the Truth that Christians claim, and the gifts of pure love and forgiveness that they experience in Christ. On her ninth day of silence she calls to mind all past life episodes of sadness, anger, and shame. After hours of recall and acknowledging even her worst moments of selfishness and arrogance, she experiences freedom and forgiveness – at least temporarily, she says.

The words she describes as coming from her own heart in that moment are these:
“I love you, I will never leave you, I will always take care of you.”

And this is exactly what the Lord says to His followers…

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” (Jeremaiah 31:3)

The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
(Deut. 31:8)

So yes, that is what God does and is, but there’s just one problem. After all of this was over she states, “I looked into my own heart, at my own goodness, and I saw its capacity….I knew then that this is how God loves us all and receives us all, and that there is no such thing as hell…” (p. 328) She credits herself. She says that her own goodness was always there, and God just gently led her to realize it. And according to her, He does this for everyone, whether or not they credit Him or acknowledge Him for exactly who He is. But it is He that takes upon Himself all of that anger, sadness, and shame – on the cross. It is not our own heart that does that. She understands her need for redemption, but seems to conclude that she is capable of that in and of herself.

So…she doesn’t quite get there. And for me it was a bit agonizing to see God revealing Himself to her so graciously at times, but for her to continue to reject who He is:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
(John 14:6)

God cannot be limited by our comfort level and ideas of political correctness. He is who He is and lovingly demands acceptance as such. Just like if you want to be in relationship with me, I’d like that relationship to be based on who I really am and not someone you create in your own mind – someone who fits better with your ideas and experiences.

So again, I’m thankful that Ms. Gilbert at least acknowledges this fact – that she is not a Christian according to Jesus’ own definition of Himself as God, and the only way to God. Also, I’m comforted by her similar struggle with all things internal and emotional, and I’m spurred on by her devotion to her god. (Just like Barbara Mouser says we ought to be inspired by Jezebel’s!) But I’m still left frustrated at her rejection of God for who He really is, and pray her journey continues to that end.

Krum’s Fun Christmas Read-Alouds

Reading aloud is my favorite thing to do with my kids. We almost always have a book in progress, and Christmas provides some really wonderful material. We even put all of the Christmas books away in the attic with the decorations each year, and you wouldn’t believe the anticipation and nostalgia it provides when the season rolls around again. Our collection grows each year: Barnes and Noble Membership Card + After Christmas Sales = several new additions to the collection each year = one satisfied book addict Mama. (For a few days, at least.)

This year, though, I did indulge and purchase myself a book before Christmas. (It was on sale already!) The cover drew me, and then the author’s bio caused me to be even more curious – mother of four, missionary to Russia for 8 years. It became my “read for 10 minutes before you fall asleep and then forget what you read the next night book.” I did finally finish it, was delighted by it, and decided to share it with the family. I say family, because even Robert has been able to join us for most of the story so far.

Clam chowder, church ladies, marriage, high school football, a church Christmas tea, a ten foot trout, an almost empty nest, surrendered expectations, sacrifice, and the true meaning of Christmas all make The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren a delightful and simple, and yet simply profound book. I found myself relating refreshingly to Marianne as she found herself in angst over the holidays, consumed with making sure her youngest son had a great football season, struggling with her expectations of family and friends, and also the expectations of others toward her.

It’s not Charles Dickens, but it’s a modern and humorous look into one family’s journey through the holidays – just the light, fun, and encouraging read I was in need of!
(By the way, have I told you that I’m related to old Charles? It’s true! My great-grandma, Elsie, was a “Dickens” – in more ways than one! She could tell you how he fit in to the family – a very great uncle to put it simply. She could also tell you how to drink Vodka, smoke like a chimney, and what your horoscope was for that day. Quite a character, my Nana.)

And speaking of fun, yet profound……

“Get away from the baby!” she yelled at Ralph, who was Joseph. And she made the wise men keep their distance.

“The wise men want to honor the Christ Child,” Mother explained, for the tenth time. “They don’t mean to harm him, for heaven’s sake!”

But the wise men didn’t know how things were supposed to be either, and nobody blamed Imogene for shoving them out of the way. You got a feeling that these wise men were going to hustle back to Herod as fast as they could squeal on the baby, out of pure meanness.

They thought about it, too.

Kory had to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson for his final reading assignment for his Challenge I class. A far cry from The Scarlet Letter or Billy Budd, but a nice way to end the semester and enter the Christmas season! After he read it (in about half an hour), I decided it would be good to read this one aloud to everyone again – we’ve read it before.

You simply can’t read this account of an annual church Children’s Christmas Pageant without laughing out loud, and it provides such a wonderful reminder of just who the gospel is for – all of us Herdman ragamuffins – whether we can see it or not.
(A bit of a nudge to the church to acknowledge our own need and our equality with those we deem unseemly and unsightly.)
It’s simply a Christmas must read!

“Hey! Unto you a child is born!”

Book Review Roundup – Calm My Anxious Heart

God….is the blessed controller of all things, the king over all kings and the master of all masters.
1 Timothy 6:15, Phillips

Linda Dillow returns to this version of 1 Timothy 6:15 over and over in her book, Calm My Anxious Heart. I finally read this book after recommending it to several young women – even giving it as a gift – on the recommendation of my friend Deborah. I gave it to one of my sisters and then she gave me a copy! Seems a lot of us are struggling with anxiety, fear, depression, and worry. Will my kids “turn out” ? How will we pay the bills? Does my husband truly love me? How will I make the grade? Will the house sell? Will I ever find a job? Am I attractive? Is God pleased with me? Will the cancer lead to death? And then sometimes we just can’t seem to put a finger on exactly what the source of our anxiety is – we just feel it, and it can consume and debilitate.

Dillow’s simple answer to all of these questions and more is contentment and trust. She uses numerous references to Scripture, personal stories, and stories of women she has worked alongside on the mission field of Eastern Europe. In the beginning of the book her stories discuss contentment in circumstances, in relationships, with self, and with material things. Toward the end of the book she discusses trusting God with the “what ifs,” “if onlys,” and the “whys.” In a chapter entitled “Worry Is Like a Rocking Chair” Dillow asks the question, “Is anxiety a sin?” She then quotes Matthew 6:25-34 in which Jesus says to stop worrying five times! She reminds us that Jesus is calling worry and anxiety a faith problem. She doesn’t leave us feeling guilty over our sin, but rather relates to the reader through her own journey of learning practical and biblical ways of overcoming them. How often do I forget the simple truths of trust, walk by faith, not sight, and cast anxiety on Jesus? This was such a basic, practical, and refreshing book!

Book Review Round-Up – SURPRISE!

So…..I’m running out the door, swim gear in hand, to take my kids and some of their friends to the local pool. Kory is checking the mail and I see the new issue of

Living Without Magazine has arrived. I grab it out of his hands, and throw it in my bag, excited about the new articles and recipes it holds.I swim for a while, (yes, I actually got into an outdoor swimming pool in New England) and then head to the reclining pool chair to read Love and Respect for tonight’s small group at church. After about an hour, I finish and it’s time to round up the kids and head home. I decide to just pull out the magazine and skim through it looking for what I’ll want to come back and read later. Imagine my surprise when I turn to the “Read It” page that always features books of interest to those with food allergies and intolerances and the first book listed is MINE! Kayla was actually reading over my shoulder and said almost immediately, “Mom, there’s your book!”
I really enjoy Living Without and had sent them a review copy almost a year ago when the book first came out, but I definitely was not expecting this! And it was such a nice summary of the story – it made my day! I’m going to try and enlarge this next photo so those of you who don’t get the magazine may be able to read what a wonderful job they did of reviewing it.
So exciting – and so fitting in this week of book reviews here at Gluten Free Krums!

Book Review Round-Up : The Shack

I forgot to mention that Same Kind of Different As Me, the book reviewed below, is non-fiction. It is also on the New York Times Best Seller list, and as you can imagine, the authors have a new full time job in speaking engagements, book signings, etc. I also discovered that this book will be required reading for all incoming freshmen at Abilene Christian University this year where my youngest sister is a graduate student. On September 9, Ron Hall and Denver Moore will speak to the student body there.

I read an article in World Magazine recently highlighting the fact that there are currently 14 “Christian” books on the New York Times Best Seller list. The Shack by William P. Young is one of those books. Written by a never-before-published father of 6, it has quickly become a sensation in some pockets of Christendom, and draws quite a bit of emotion and opinion therein. We were introduced to it by a sweet couple in Oklahoma who described it as a must read.

The book begins three years after the abduction of Mack’s youngest daughter, Missy. The abduction is recalled in detail, though, and proves to be quite disturbing especially for a parent. After three years of struggling with grief, questions about the goodness of God, and just trying to move on with life, Mack receives a note in his mailbox inviting him to the shack, signed “Papa.” The shack is where evidence of his daughter’s murder had been found immediately after her abduction. He decides to go, concluding the possibility that the note is actually from God. (His wife has always called God “Papa.”) Once at the shack, and after raging at God over His seeming aloofness and injustice, Mack meets the Trinity, and spends a long weekend interacting with each person individually and together. God the Father is represented by a large African American woman who can cook a mean breakfast, Jesus, by a Middle Eastern carpenter, and the Holy Spirit as a half human half apparition Asian woman. I have to say that I was taken aback by these representations at first. Isn’t this blasphemous? And honestly, each page either angered me over its questionable theology, or roused me to reverence and tears over its profound truths. In the end, though, I was deeply impacted.

Mack confronts many things over the weekend. He gets to ask the hard questions, see his daughter Missy, put himself in God’s shoes at the judgment, and experience the love and care of the Lord. The part of the book that impacted me the most was in chapter 11 entitled, “Here Come Da Judge.” In it, Mack comes face to face with Lady Wisdom, the judge. In their heated dialogue it is revealed that Mack truly does not believe that God is loving, or can be trusted at all. How could He let his daughter suffer and die like she did? But when he is asked to sit in the seat of judgment, a beautiful ebony desk and chair, he begins to understand God’s love for His children as he’s asked to choose only two of his to spend eternity with God. He refuses, but the judge is relentless in demanding that Mack act as judge. Finally, Mack begs to be the one to be sent to hell and tortured eternally, and the judge responds, “Now you sound like Jesus. You have judged well, Mackenzie… have judged them worthy of love, even if it cost you everything. That is how Jesus loves.” It was in this chapter that I was struck with a new and deeper understanding of the love of God for ME.

The other theme that is central to the book is that of redemption through pain and tragedy. It is depicted by a garden in which eventually, the body of Missy is buried. The garden represents Mack’s soul and out of the resting spot grows the Tree of Life communicating that the most painful things of life can be true places of beauty because of the intimacy with God that grows, and the comfort we receive from Him. This was Robert’s favorite part of the book.

This book is being hailed by some, namely Eugene Peterson (author of The Message), as a modern day Pilgrim’s Progress. That may sound blasphemous to you as well. I don’t tend to enjoy modern day renditions of classics, either. But, this time I pushed through my apprehension and cringing over imperfect parallels, and gleaned a pure message of true love and a deeper understanding of what I believe is God’s true character, not the one I’ve created and work tirelessly and unnecessarily to please.

Book Review Round-Up: Same Kind of Different As Me

I think I meant to post a review once a month when I originally posted the review on Omnivore’s Dilemma, but alas, that has not happened! (Recipes and menus will probably reappear, too – we just haven’t been home much this summer) I have enjoyed several books this year, though, and wanted to share them with you!
My friend Karla gave me this book, by Ron Hall, Denver Moore with Lynne Vincent in January and said it was “profound.” She was right. In a back and forth style, the chapters alternatively tell the life stories of two very different men – one a privileged Texas frat boy turned high end art dealer and his sorority wife; the other a modern day slave on a cotton farm in Louisiana – “enslaved” because he is never able to work off his debt to the owner. One can’t not wear Armani suits, the other can’t read. Their paths cross at a homeless shelter in Ft. Worth, TX. Ron Hall has only arrived there at the urging of his recently faith- filled wife, Debbie, who wants to do something besides shop with Dallas socialites. Debbie’s life has been completely transformed by Christ, even though, at first, she was more reluctant about conversion than her husband. They meet Denver Moore at their weekly appointment to serve meals at the downtown homeless shelter. As Denver is the most distant and seemingly bitter of all the homeless, Debbie is especially drawn to him and urges her husband to be his friend. Though Ron remains somewhat reluctant regarding this new passion of his wife, what follows is true friendship – not the “catch and release” kind that Denver has so often witnessed through the years at the shelter. Sadly, part of their bond is through watching Debbie’s life end after a painful battle with cancer. This book will make you rethink your feelings toward the homeless, inspire you to the transforming power of authentic relationships, and encourage you to not only glorify Christ in life, but also in death.

Ok – I’m going to go ahead and post this even though it was my intention to review all 5 books completed to date. More to come, today, tomorrow…..we’ll see.

All Cows Eat Grass (a.k.a. Book Review #1)

(It is always my goal to read 12 new books a year – one a month, if possible. So, I thought it would motivate me even more to write reviews of each one. I meant to post this in January, but it got so long and involved, that I kept having to leave it in “draft” form and come back to it periodically. February’s book is read as well, but not reviewed. I can’t wait to tell you about it though – we’ll see when that happens!)

Isn’t that how you learned the space notes for the F clef in piano lessons?

All Cows Eat Grass

Turns out it’s not true. Beef cows in America don’t eat grass, they eat corn.

Investigative journalist, Michael Pollan reveals this in his recent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. With fascination I consumed this book during our recent stay in Texas. Food is a big deal in our house. Not only because of having intolerances, but also because simply feeding everyone is such an ongoing effort. 7 breakfasts, lunches, and dinners a week, and countless snacks, food for trips, food for guests, food for church, food for the road, food for the future, shopping for food, cooking the food, cleaning up the food, etc. So, why was I reading a book about food on vacation? The truth is, I couldn’t get enough. It was quite an education in farming, economy, politics, the food industry, and the history of our eating habits.
What Pollan does is partake in 4 different meals. For each one he traces all of the ingredients back to their sources. His first meal is probably the most unsettling. It is a fast food meal from, where else – McDonald’s. Now, I’d already been completely horrified while watching Supersize Me last year, so I knew that the verdict on this meal probably wouldn’t be glowing. Prior to eating this meal with his family, he spent time on a corn farm in Iowa. These 1000’s of acres of corn, he referred to as a monoculture – as opposed to the polyculture of the farmyard with its vegetables, chickens, and cows. Much of the discussion with this farmer had to do with the falling price of corn, the reasoning behind continuing to plant it, and the answers being found in the government’s willingness to subsidize it year after year. Another place Pollan spent time was on a cattle feed lot. He went there to see the living conditions of a young steer he had purchased for the purpose of following it from farm to feedlot to table. What does the feedlot have to do with corn farming? Well, that’s where most of the corn ends up – in cattle feed. By eating corn, the beef industry has shortened the time it takes for a cow to reach a good weight for slaughter. What took 4-5 years decades ago can today be accomplished in about 14 months. Problem is, cattle aren’t designed to eat corn. Back to piano lessons: All Cows (should) Eat Grass. But it’s cheap feed, so they pump in all kinds of antibiotics, enabling the rumen and liver of the cow to tolerate it. The feedlot vet’s answer to the question about returning the cows to grass and space: “I wouldn’t have a job.”

The meal at McDonald’s illustrates our country’s unhealthy addiction to and dependence on corn. Of the 38 ingredients (yes, 38!) in a Chicken McNugget, thirteen of them are derived from corn. Things like modified food starch, corn flour, dextrose, and hydrogenated corn oil. And this is only the beginning! The 32 oz. soda contains 86 grams of high fructose corn syrup as does the Paul Newman’s salad dressing, and the “flavor solution” injected into the chicken that tops the salad. Do you know what corn syrup does to your liver and kidneys?

“Very simply, we subsidize high-fructose corn syrup in this country, but not carrots. While the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, the president is signing farm bills designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, guaranteeing that the cheapest calories in the supermarket will continue to be the unhealthiest.” p. 108

All ingredients for his next meal come from a shopping trip to Whole Foods. “Supermarket Pastoral” is the term Pollan uses for the literary genre found on all packaging of products at Whole Foods – one in which “farm animals live much as they did in the books we read as children.” His all-organic meal consisted of a whole chicken, vegetables including salad, potatoes, kale and asparagus, vanilla ice cream, and fresh blackberries. He then takes the reader with him on a tour of the so-called organic farms from whence they come. His quest is to determine whether organic is truly that – food grown without pesticides and growth hormones, is grass fed and cage free, and actually tastes better and provides more nutrients. His findings are somewhat disheartening for the health and politic conscious Whole Foods shopper. This is mostly due to the fact that the demand for organic food has forced most companies into an industrial model. Earthbound Farm, where the bagged salad came from, began as a roadside farm stand, but as word caught on, and they were approached by companies like Costco, Albertson’s and Wal-Mart, they knew “their days of washing lettuce in the living room and selling at the Monterrey Farmer’s Market were over.” They now operate from over 25,000 acres of farmland in California, pack 2.5 million pounds of lettuce per week in a 200,000 square foot packing facility kept at 36 degrees Fahrenheit around the clock. The fuel required to keep up this type of volume and then truck it to grocery stores across the nation is noteworthy: 57 calories of fossil fuel for 1 calorie of food. The fossil fuel issue comes up again when considering that the asparagus came from Argentina and the blackberries from Mexico.

The organic whole chicken came from Petaluma Farm in California. Here, 20,000 chickens per shed are raised for niche markets: organic, kosher, and Asian. Because the demand for these markets has increased so dramatically (the fastest growing area of the food economy – an $11 billion industry) they, too, have had to industrialize. This means lots of chickens housed together but with “access to the outdoors” per federal rules. Since they are not given antibiotics, the risk of infection is great, so the farmers hope that the chickens don’t actually use the small door that gives them access to grass – “Seldom if ever stepped upon, the chicken house lawn is scrupulously maintained nevertheless, to honor an ideal nobody wants to admit has by now become something of a joke, an empty pastoral conceit.”

So is organic really better? Turns out the answer is yes nutritionally, but possibly no, if organic’s definition in any way includes the idea of a truly natural, seasonal, and local setting.

The third meal that Pollan partakes of was the most fascinating and appealing to me. All components of this meal came from Polyface Farm, where the author actually spent a grueling week baling hay among other unpleasant chores. The farmer, Joel Salatin describes himself as a Christian libertarian, environmentalist. He and his wife homeschooled their children and have “opted out” in his words on industrial everything – especially government. He describes many of his customers at the farm as those who have also “opted out.” His intentions in farming are to stay within God’s design for the land and the animals – “The way I produce a chicken is an extension of my worldview,” says Salatin. He refers to himself as a grass farmer, though he raises cows, chickens, pigs, and vegetables. Grass, though, is the most important commodity on his farm, because it is what the animals eat. The cows eat grass which is what they are designed to eat. Therefore they need no antibiotics and other additives to help them digest a cheap form of feed. The chickens come behind and not only eat the grass, but the larvae, insects, and other substances that give the chickens the proper vitamins and minerals for producing quality eggs and meat. Salatin even constructed a type of “chicken-mobile” – a movable coop, so they can be “free range” yet, monitored. Manure from the cows plus the chicken droppings provide a rich fertilizer for, you guessed it – more grass. Salatin sells his meat and produce locally to residents and restaurants. Chefs in the area are willing to pay extra for the eggs and other produce because of the quality – both taste and texture. Pollan experiences every part of the life of the local and organic farm – even participates in the regularly scheduled slaughtering of chickens, for which people drive from miles around to purchase these delectable and truly organic birds. (He stays under the federal radar here by selling them immediately after butchering, and unpackaged.) Pollan buys a chicken, and other farm produce to create a meal for friends in the area. Upon finishing the meal, all agreed that food never tasted quite so much like food! ( I’m sold – so, guess what the Krumrey children may be getting for Easter this month? Baby chicks and fresh eggs for the coming years!)

Michael Pollan’s final meal is one foraged locally and by himself. He does enlist the help of some acquaintances and food foraging experts, but strives to forage an entire meal with his own two hands. The main course is the first challenge – wild pig. On two separate jaunts, he hunts for the creatures, finally shooting one on the second day’s attempt. He describes his experience, both emotional and physical in great detail – “Walking with a loaded rifle in an unfamiliar forest bristling with the signs of your prey is thrilling. It embarrasses me to write that, but it is true.” In this final section of the book, Pollan also discusses the ethics of both hunting and eating animals. For many pages, I thought he might conclude that vegetarianism is the only way to go, but he doesn’t. After discussing many of the finer points and arguments of the animal rights movement, he then counters those with evidences that the very existence of some animals is dependent on their being eaten – especially domesticated animals, who, for the record became domesticated through an evolutionary process in which they discovered they thrived better coexisting with and being eaten by people. Pollan writes, “If our concern is for the health of nature – rather than, say, the internal consistency of our moral code or the condition of our souls – then eating animals may sometimes be the most ethical thing to do.”

The second most important ingredient of this meal was fungi in the form of wild mushrooms. Here, too, he calls upon experts out of fear of eating the poisonous variety, which can mimmick the edible variety. It was so interesting to me to find out that mushroom foraging is such a secretive and lucrative niche. Pollan describes the unwritten rules and vocabulary of the trade which include being very guarded about the location of your mushroom discoveries – even using GPS to track locations and altitudes. He spends a long day foraging morels in Eldorado National Forest with two other men who forage and sell to restaurants as a hobby and side job. Morels grow most plentifully in burned pine forests, and the men return covered in dirt, but with a crate full of morels which a restaurant would purchase for upwards of $20 per pound.

The final and foraged menu consisted of boar pate’, fettucini with morels, leg and loin of pig, bread made with wild yeast, salad, cherry galette and more. It was quite an undertaking, as one of the author’s self -imposed rules was that he would gather and cook the entire meal himself. His guests included those who helped him in his foraging efforts. Summing up this final meal he states,

“Perhaps the perfect meal is one that’s been fully paid for, that leaves no debt outstanding. This is almost impossible to ever do, which is why I said there was nothing very realistic or applicable about this meal. But as a sometimes thing, as a kind of ritual, a meal that is eaten in full consciousness of what it took to make it is worth preparing every now and again, if only as a way to remind us of the true costs of the things we take for granted.” p. 409

Michael Pollan, in the end, makes no final judgment on how we should eat. I thought I might be the only one who wanted a final verdict, but evidently not. He was asked his opinion so often after writing The Omnivore’s Dilemma, that he’s now written book called In Defense of Food. In it you can read more about his recommendations which follow this simple advice: “Eat food. Not a lot. Mostly Plants” I have not read it, but enjoyed this one so much, that I may have to!