Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ten sentences to carry you through a year.

These got me through the past year.  I'm sure I'll be pulling them out in the year to come.  Maybe they will help someone else, too.

1.  It will be OK.

2.  Paper towels are very absorbent.

3.  It's only water.

4.  It's not a life.

5.  I will choose to forgive.

6.  To live is Christ, to die is gain.  (Philippians 1:21)

7.  God is always with me; he promises never to leave me or forsake me.

8.  This is my Father's world.  (from the song)

9.  You can have the whole world; give me Jesus.   (from the song)

10.  Nothing is impossible for God.  (Luke 1:37)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Our Christmas letter

I finally got a Christmas letter written.
I never used to send cards to the people "in town"
-- cards were a way to keep up
with loved ones who were far away.
Since we've moved, then,
my address list just increased exponentially.
In my present condition,
I'm not quite up to getting it all sorted out.
So please accept these cyber-greetings
and know that we love you,
and we hope that your Christmas
is exactly as special as it should be.
Merry Christmas from the Carpenters!

We live in Illinois now!  No disrespect to central New York, but we love the Midwest. Even though we’re a ways south of Minnesota (south being a very good direction to be from Minnesota), there is something comforting, familiar and appealing about the weather, the sky and the landscape.

How did we get here? Well, last January Shawn left his career of 19.5 years at Sonnet Software and took a position with Delcross Technologies in Champaign, IL.  

 Shawn, in his new Delcross logo shirt.

That same January, I resigned from my job of 6 months at Faith Heritage School, teaching secondary English.  Shawn set up an office in the basement, and I set about trying to get our house ready to sell.  

Delcross was kind enough to allow us to stay in Syracuse until the end of the school year, when David would graduate from Syracuse University and Jonathan would graduate from Liverpool High School.

Shannon’s life remained relatively stable this past year, as she continued forward in her PhD program in organic chemistry at Yale.   

She passed her orals and was granted a Master’s degree in May, shortly after the time David was playing his senior recital to cap off the music degree he earned in saxophone at Syracuse.

I was diagnosed with Lupus, which was actually a relief after not knowing what was wrong with me for so long.  They put me on a daily medication (an anti-malaria drug! ha!) which has helped tremendously with much of the pain I was experiencing.

Over the spring, David chose to go to Duke’s medical school.  I love everything about Duke except that their team is called the Blue Devils.

David and Jon’s graduations both went off nicely...

 David at his Syracuse University graduation.

 Jon, just after graduating from Liverpool High School

...and our house sold quickly, so then it was time to move.

Moving is not my favorite, but we survived and are thankful to be here now, basically unscathed.  On the heels of the move, David went off to Duke 
David in his white coat

and shortly thereafter, Jon began his first year of college, pursuing Biblical Studies at Grove City College...
 Saying goodbye to your youngest child is rough.

...along with Laura who is now in her senior year there, completing a dual degree in Elementary and Special Education.   

Shawn and I were left alone in a new place, all our kids “back east,” in states that border the Atlantic (CT, NC and PA).

In October, Laura became engaged to Matthew Mucha, and we praise God for this fine young Christian man who will marry our precious daughter in July 2014.
 The actual proposal...

 And a little later, so you can see what their faces look like.

I’ve had some health challenges and a couple of surgical procedures, but I can see the mercy of God’s timing in bringing these events while I was in a life season with no responsibilities and no children at home.

Last night as we went to bed, I told Shawn that I was sorry about how little “Christmas” I’ve been able to do.  He said, “Don’t worry.  You have all the Christmas you need, right in your heart!”  He may have been joking, but he was right.

 Here is a picture of our Christmas tree 
from last year, when we had a Christmas tree.
As I recall, that one went up late, too...
so there is still hope!


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Kitchen design

We are not enamored of the kitchen in our new house.

We are trying to work on redesigning it.

I have looked at countless pictures of kitchen online, and I have come to one conclusion.  White and black kitchens are not my favorite.  They sometimes look pretty, but they do not look like kitchens that I would enjoy cooking and eating in.

Food is the purpose of a kitchen--creating food and consuming food.  Kitchens are the heart of a home, where family gathers and snacks and laughs.  White and black (and gray, which also seems popular) are not colors that I associate with warmth, happiness, food, family or comfort.

But brown.  Brown.  Now there is a color that makes one think of food.  Everything delicious is brown.  Chocolate, for starters.  Roast chicken.  Cinnamon rolls.  Gravy.  Coffee with cream.  Tea with (or without) cream.  Gingerbread men.  Roast beef.  The crust on a perfect loaf of homemade bread.  The crust on a perfect apple pie.  The crust on creme brulee.  Baked beans.  Pumpernickel.  Oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins.  Pancakes with maple syrup.  Toast.  Pecans.  Chocolate chip cookies.  Brownies.  Bacon.  All of the most delicious things to eat are in shades of brown.  I am not making this up.

So I will have a brown kitchen.  I hope.  If I do it right.  It will have accents of cream and pale butter-yellow, because butter is delicious, too, with pretty much everything.

I may be out of style.  I may have no fashion sense whatsoever.  Still, I know what I like and what I do not like.

I hate that aqua color, the one so many people love.  It's a personal thing, a mental association, a carry-over from early traumatization at swimming lessons and the color of public swimming pools.  I recoil whenever I see this color featured in someone's design project.  I recognize that it's just me, and I'm thankful that nobody can make me use that color in my house.

I really do not care for cold, stark looking white kitchens, and I really hate them when they have black granite counter tops and lots of stainless steel.  Black granite is not my favorite; the only reason I'd ever use it is if I needed to for resale on a home I was leaving.

I don't much care for green, either.  Often I think I like green.  Then I live in it for a month or two, and I'm ready to run away.  Actually, I love green, but I think it belongs on leaves, outside the windows.  A beautiful leafy view is my ideal.  So yes, I like green plants, trees, foliage.  I don't care for green paint, whether or not it matches the foliage.  Unlike aqua, though, green doesn't make me recoil.  I can think that I like it... it's just after I use it that I find out I don't.  But I am old now and have been tricked enough times that I don't think I'll make the green mistake again.

Red is my favorite color.  Like brown, it is the color of many delicious things to eat: cherries, strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, barbecue sauce, marinara sauce...  However, I am not big on red in my kitchen design, unless it were a red brick kitchen fireplace.  Which it will not be.  I did see a red brick floor, but I couldn't feel it, and I'm not going to do it.  (I rarely wear red, either, but I enjoy things like red handbags, shoes and phones.)

Yes, we will have a brown kitchen, brown and tan and butterscotch and granola.

Boy, oh boy, do I hope I get it right.

Friday, December 13, 2013

One of the worst sermons I ever heard

Yesterday my daughter Laura walked away from a car wreck with her life intact.

I'd been thinking about her that morning and even lifting her in my prayers, but not her safety.  I was praying about her upcoming wedding.  The phone rang, and it was her, and I expected her to be calling about something wedding related, or maybe to check up on me and see how I was doing after my surgery.  As I listened to her slightly shaky voice on the other end of the line, it took me a minute to comprehend that she was telling me she had just escaped death.

She is alive, and I am so, so very thankful.  She was riding in a car, and the driver lost control on a slushy patch of road.  They were in fairly heavy traffic, but the hand of God miraculously guided them across the road without making contact with any other cars.  The back of the car on the driver's side smashed into a tree and ricocheted into a house, bruising some siding.  There was no blood, and there were no broken bones.  The mother of one of their friends from college drove past and stopped to help, praying with them, offering them her car to rest in while they waited for the police, eventually delivering them back to school.

The thing I keep coming back to is this:  I had no idea what was happening, and yet, God preserved her.  God preserved my daughter's life.

Which reminds me of one of the worst sermons I've ever heard.

It was at a church we used to attend, at a conference that had been rather widely publicized.  The preacher was a guest speaker, a flashy character with lots of accolades and a long biography of achievements.  I will not name names because it is not my purpose to slander anyone, but it is my purpose to point out that a person's fame and the number of websites on which his name appears do not guarantee that he will teach you the truth.  So watch out.

I sat in the crowd next to my husband, the room abuzz with excitement in the anticipation of hearing from such a renowned preacher.  He stepped up onto the podium and began to growl with stylistic oratorial panache into the microphone.  He said, "God does NOTHING  except in RESPONSE to PRAYER."

"That's not right!" I whispered to my husband.  He said, "Shhhh."

The preacher repeated, louder, "God does NOTHING!!!  Except in response to prayer."

I started to squirm in my seat.  My husband held me down.  I writhed and protested, and my husband hushed me.  The preacher went on, and on, and on.  His sermon was about how it is up to us to pray and make things happen, and if people are not coming to the Lord, then it is our fault for not doing enough, and particularly for not praying enough because, as he interjected every 3-4 minutes (think, "I have a dream..."):  "God does NOTHING!!!!! Except in RESPONSE to PRAYER."  He grew hoarse, and foamy saliva flew from the corners of his mouth as he shouted, and the people sat, apparently drinking it up, while my husband held me down.

Seriously.  Seriously.  It pains me to type such blasphemy, even when I am quoting it and attributing it to this man.

I wanted to say, "Whose prayers do you think God was responding to when He created the heavens and the earth?"

This is what the Lord says--your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb;
I am the Lord.
who has made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself.
Isaiah 44:24 (NIV)

I wanted to say, "Have you ever read the end of Job, where God spoke out of the whirlwind?"

Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me if you understand.
Job 38:2-4 (NIV)

Whose prayers was God responding to when He raised Jesus from the dead?  As far as I can tell, all Jesus' followers had given up in despair.  Some had even returned to their former vocations.  All of them were tremendously surprised at the resurrection, and it took some of them awhile to come around to believing that it had actually happened.  They were not on their knees asking the Lord to bring Jesus back from the dead.  God just did it.

If God did not create the universe in response to prayer, and if He did not raise Jesus from the dead in response to prayer, why on earth would we doubt that He could do anything else except in response to prayer?  This statement is utterly unscriptural.  Good oratory, maybe.  Flashy and guilt-inducing.  But certainly not Biblical.

God said things like this:

I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient time what is still to come.
I say: my purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.
Isaiah 46:10 (NIV)

I have no need of a bull from your stall
    or of goats from your pens,
for every animal of the forest is mine,
    and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
    and the creatures in the fields are mine. 
If I were hungry I would not tell you,
    for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
Psalm 50:9-12 (NIV)  

That certainly does not sound to me like a God who is limited in what He can do because of what I pray for or fail to pray for. 

Now, if you want to preach a sermon on the fact that God answers prayer, then by all means do so.  God clearly answers prayer, and there is much scriptural proof to back it up.

But just because you can build a solid case for the fact that God answers prayer, it does not logically follow that God would limit Himself to ONLY answering prayers and would refuse to take action if someone failed to pray about something.  THIS IS NOT LOGICAL!  And it is not right.

In fact, I would call it defamation of the character of God.

Suppose my daughter had died in that accident yesterday, and one day I got to heaven and asked God about it.  Do you think He would say, "It's really too bad.  I would have liked to save your daughter that day, but unfortunately, you didn't pray and ask me to, so my hands were tied."

BAH!  I am so glad I do not serve a mamby-pamby god like that.

So that was one of the worst sermons I ever heard in my life.  It is similar to another bad sermon topic that I have heard, even more often.  It goes along the lines of this:

 "You need to tell your friends and family about Jesus.  Because if you don't, they will go to hell and it will be your fault.  How are you going to feel on that last day, when God judges the world, and you see all those unsaved friends and acquaintances of yours filing off to hell?  The Lord will be standing there to welcome you into heaven, and you and He will look over together at those miserable hell-bound souls, and then He will look at you with tears in His eyes and you will realize how much more you should have done."

That's nothing more than unbiblical manipulation.

When I read my Bible, it says that when I get to heaven, God's going to be happy, and I'm going to be thrilled, and there will be great rejoicing and singing and worshiping.  In fact, if there are any tears on my face, He's going to wipe them off (Revelation 21:4).  He's not going to throw me onto one last, eternal guilt trip.  There is no guilt in heaven!

I am not saying this to absolve myself of responsibility to be obedient to the Lord.  Certainly we must live holy and obedient lives, as the Bible tells us to.  Ephesians 2:10 tells us that He created us to do good works which He prepared in advance for us to do, and I'm sure that many of those good works have much to do with bringing people who were previously lost into the Kingdom of God.  We are not free to cloister ourselves away from the lost and sit at home watching Billy Graham on TV.  Our lives must be a fragrant, holy offering that helps people see the beauty of the Lord... not a harsh, condemning force that drives them away from Him.

At the same time, it is God who chooses and calls and draws His people to Himself.
Ephesians 1:4-5 -- He chooses
Romans 8:29-30 -- He calls
John 6:44 -- He draws

God does it all.  All of it.  It is all because of Him.  I would venture to say that we may not even be able to pray unless He, by His Holy Spirit, moves us to pray in the first place.  GOD DOES EVERYTHING.

How in the world could that preacher man have dared to say, "God does NOTHING!!! Except in response to prayer."  How could he have dared?

Well.  Finally got that off my chest, about seven years later.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I did write today...

I wrote today, 
but I thought it belonged over on 
so that's where I put it.

Here's a link if you're interested.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Hamartia is the tragic or fatal flaw in a hero that leads to his downfall.

I learned this last year when I was trying to teach English to 7th, 9th and 10th graders.  I also learned about Gilgamesh, which I had never read before, having been an English major with classes only in British and American literature, and one class of Russian literature.  I mostly took creative writing workshops, as many as possible. 

I was a terrible English teacher.  It was a good experience; it put to rest forever my regrets over not having completed a degree in education.  There was a time when I would visit my kids' schools on back-to-school night and walk through the halls thinking, "This feels so good.  So familiar.  This is where I belong."  But when I became a teacher all I could remember is how I was the mother who cried on the first day of school, every year, and I was the mother who stomped her feet and complained every day for the last two weeks of school in June, saying, "When is this going to be over already?  When can we get on to summer vacation?"  I lived for summer vacation, for days with no alarm clocks, no buses to catch and no homework projects to complete.  How could I ever have thought I would like being a teacher?

I am rambling.

Hamartia has probably come to mind because I am recuperating from surgery, an intensely boring endeavor, and I have nothing to do but lie in bed, staring out the uncovered arch at the top of my bedroom window at the clear blue winter sky, smelling the stench of my healing body which is alternately too hot or too cold under the rumpled sheets and blankets on my bed.  I read a little and get tired.  I poke at my phone, but it is quiet because the rest of the world is busy with Christmas and year-end budgets and finals.  I feel like the only person in the world with nothing to do except force liquids and remember my pain pills.  It is a real high point when I take a shower.  I save this triumph for afternoon.

It's so strange to have no Christmas concerts to go to, no Christmas party invitations, no choir cantatas or church Christmas pageants to work on, no kids digging through the costume box in the basement for the Santa hat.  I miss everything.  But I suppose, really, it was an ideal year to have this surgery.  When you think about it.

With so much time on my hands--or maybe I should say on my back, as that is how I lie, carefully symmetrical, hoping that everything will fall into its proper new location as the healing goes forward--with so much time, I tend to think.  I am sorry, but there really is not much else to do.  Thinking too much can be a dangerous occupation, or perhaps it is beneficial.

I've been thinking about my flaws.  Hence, hamartia; not that I am a hero, or even a heroine.  And I hope and pray that by the grace of God my flaws will not lead to my eventual downfall, that He will save me as He promises in Jude 24-25.

One of my flaws is in method of communication, especially in the role of mother. 

Being a mother is such a huge, overwhelming responsibility.  These people come into your life, and you are responsible for them, their bodies, their minds and their souls.  More than anything, you want them to know Jesus, and to go to heaven, and to avoid sin and its dire consequences.  But you also want them to be healthy and happy and free from trials and troubles, well fed and well clothed, things that sometimes don't mesh perfectly with your goals for them to be holy and God-focused.  Imperfect as a mother is, she wants the best for her children, ferociously sometimes.  If something is wrong in one of her children's lives, she lies awake all night beseeching God to intervene, and she spends her daylight hours trying do something, anything, racking her brain, combing the internet, making phone calls, whatever she can do.

In the crucible of excessive caring, a mother can go too far.  My own mother, not so many years ago, stood in front of us in her kitchen, a tiny woman with stooped shoulders and perfect back-combed hair.  She said to my sister and me, "I was so hard on you kids. Too hard, I know.  But you have to understand.  I wanted so badly for you to be good people." Her eyes were blurry.  We are not an emotional family.  We do not cry or hug much.  I wanted to tell her, "I know.  I didn't understand then, but I know now.  I have kids of my own.  It's ok.  I know."  But it seemed kinder to smile and joke a little, to offer some levity, to say, "And look at how great we turned out!" while deftly changing the subject.

My problem is in serving up truth too harshly.  You would think that by now, with the youngest 18, I would have figured out that truth can't be received if you present it badly.  It's like vegetables.  Straight up, they can gag you, but if you get the right cheese sauce and crouton topping, everybody loves them.  One of my children, the one who likes vegetables plain and disdains nutritionally deficient sauces, has inherited my trait of blasting people over the head with truth without regard for their feelings.  "It's the truth after all.  You should be thankful for the truth; you  need to know the truth.  I wouldn't be bothering to tell you the truth if I didn't love you."  This may seem sensible to the speaker of the truth, but the person receiving it is almost always too traumatized to swallow.  I have some of those kinds of kids, too.

Ephesians 4:15 tells us to speak the truth in love.  There is not one, prescripted, correct way to do this. We should make every effort to be gentle and kind (something I cannot claim to have mastered).  Still, sometimes the truth hurts, and there will be no way to avoid pain altogether, but because of love, something must be said.  Sometimes you can be soft, and sometimes you need to be tough.  There is such a thing as tough love.  It all requires so much wisdom, and many of us are out there flailing around, erring on one side or the other. 

My hang up is: what do you do if you speak the truth harshly, and damage your child?  As the mother, the parent, the responsible one, what do you do?  How do you apologize for your delivery without deconstructing the truth along with it?

I remember more than once going to my children and saying, "I am so sorry I lost my temper like that.  I was mean, and scary, and I should not have yelled so angrily.  But I do need you to know that what you did was wrong.  Even though I responded in a bad way, you still need to learn not to do that thing I got so upset about."  I would say this, and they would look at me, and nod with teary eyes, and I never knew if we were getting anywhere at all.  Did they just hear it as "I'm sorry, but...?"  Was it, indeed, a fatal flaw?

The trouble with life is that you don't get a practice run.  You just get plopped down in the middle of reality, and you have to make your best go of it.

That is what makes the grace of God so precious.  Fatal means deathly; a fatal flaw is a flaw that leads to death.  But Jesus came to give us life and grace.  I cannot count the times, as a younger mother, I ran to my bedroom and threw myself face-first on my bed, weeping, asking Jesus to cover over my tragic errors in child rearing with His perfect grace.

"...as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  ~Romans 5:21 (ESV)

There is no hamartia where there is hope.  And there is always hope in Jesus.

Monday, December 9, 2013

More about forgiveness

I keep coming back to write on forgiveness.

This is not because I am good at forgiveness, accomplished at it.  On the contrary, it is because forgiveness is hard, and I find myself struggling to master it again and again.

I wrote old posts on forgiveness here and here.  I've also touched on it in other places, like here.  You see, I keep having to go back.

An article showed up in my sidebar which was about confession and forgiveness.  You can read it by following this link.  I read it and thought about it.  Please read it and tell me if you agree with what I thought.

I think it is easy to forgive when a person confesses and apologizes the way this article describes a good confession.  If someone comes to me with that kind of humility and sorrow and desire to make things right, it is practically impossible not to forgive.

But.  Most people don't say they are sorry that way.  Most people do what he talks about in #2 of the Seven A's of Confession.  They say, "I'm sorry but..."  This "but" can water down or wipe out the apology in a myriad of ways.  It can justify the thing they did: "I'm sorry, but you just didn't understand my motivation, and I'm sure if you did, you would agree that I really don't need to apologize the way you think I do."  It can even throw the origin of the incident onto the shoulders of the hurt one:  "I'm sorry, but I would not have done it if you were not such a bad person, pushing me into it in the first place."

Most apologies are imperfect and incomplete.  Some of them are imaginary, the ones where someone claims to have said he was sorry when he didn't (and he does not offer to say it again, because it was your responsibility to notice it the first time, buried though it was in words other than "I'm sorry," and surrounded by accusation and anger).

In the article, the writer says a profound thing.  He says, "Full confessions enable full reconciliation."

This is so true.  When a person confesses as described in the Seven A's of Confessions, when he avoids qualifying his apology, bravely admits specifically what he did wrong, when he exhibits compassion and concern for your feelings and acknowledges that he understands how he hurt you, and when he proceeds to demonstrate a change of heart through a change of behavior, full reconciliation can easily flow forth.

It is sad to me that so many people would rather grasp threads of something that they think preserves their pride instead of seeking to reach reconciliation.  Sometimes I think people get the idea that, "If I don't admit I did it, then I didn't really do it, and I am not such a bad person then."  The opposite is true, of course.  Everyone knows that the hurt is there, and it is only when the hurt is acknowledged and confessed that it can truly fade away.  In every other case it remains a shadow, sometimes a soft shadow, sometimes a harsh one, but a shadow over the relationship that can only fully disappear in the light of a full confession.

So how does one forgive in the meantime?  Because one must forgive, or be eaten away by the weight of unforgiveness.

One forgives and one hopes.  One works consciously to avoid bearing a grudge, despite the shadow that exists.  One purposes to behave well, graciously, despite the shadows.  And one prays for the full restoration that will come if ever a true confession is offered.  One smiles when one does not feel like smiling, and one gives when one does not feel like giving.  One remembers one's own failings and is humble-hearted towards the offender.

We must recognize that we cannot control the restoration part of forgiveness.  Even God does not restore His relationship with fallen man without fallen man's confession of sin.

Restoration comes after confession.  Forgiveness is the hope that restoration will happen and the constant, unconditional willingness to respond to a confession with grace, with thanks, with love, if ever the confession is offered.

This is how God forgives us, and it is how we must forgive one another.  It is not easy, but it is good.

[note: I use the singular pronoun "he" in my writing not to allude to any specific person, but because I was raised on good old-fashioned grammar and cannot bring myself to substitute "they" where a singular pronoun is indicated.  I could have alternated "he" with "she" to be politically correct, but I find that distracting and cumbersome.]

Saturday, December 7, 2013

a little surgery for Christmas.

It seems that everyone is writing about Christmas, how they do Christmas, what their special traditions are, what makes their Christmases special.

I am so bad at Christmas that my third child's favorite holiday is the Fourth of July.

This year, on December 5, when everyone else was putting the final sparkly touches on their Christmas trees and printing up their Christmas letters, I went to the hospital and had my womb cut out.

The doctor told me, "The Christmas tree and the decorations and all that... you just let somebody else take care of all that this year."  Except.  There isn't anybody else.  I mean, there's Shawn, and I love him, but he can't do Christmas by himself while holding down a job and taking care of me.  Seriously.  I am one pain of a patient.  I whine like a three-year-old.  "I don't want to eat.  I'm not comfortable.  I don't know if I took my pain medicine or not.  I don't like this... it's not my favorite."  Poor Shawn.

And there really is not anybody else.  We don't belong to the community yet, and our children have all moved away.  I think I know where the boxes of decorations are since the move, but I don't know what to do about it.

Shawn went to an abbreviated portion of his company Christmas party tonight, and then to the store to procure necessities, while I stayed home in bed and watched the sky get dark. There are points in life when a person feels very alone.

BUT.  Shannon says she's going to come home and make Christmas cookies, so the pastries will be excellent.

I thought I might get a chance to do some good writing while I rested and healed, but I'm finding my attitude very lacking. 

Nevertheless, we will have a tree and cookies by December 25.  And we might even leave the tree up until almost the end of January.  That's usually how I do it, anyway.