Monday, December 28, 2009

But, Lord! What About the Fish?

I recently read the account in Luke 5:1-11 of Jesus calling Peter, James, and John.

"On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, 'Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.' And Simon answered, 'Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.' And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.' For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, 'Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.' And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him."

Peter was a fisherman. He had worked hard all night and caught nothing. Then Jesus came along and gave him a miraculous catch. He may have never in his life caught that many fish!

Then Jesus asked him to leave it all and follow him.

As I read this, I wondered if Peter thought about the fish. Did he look at that huge catch and think of saying to Jesus, "But Lord! You've given us these fish! Don't you mean for us to use them?"

I really don't think that's what he was thinking. Why? Look at Peter's declaration: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."

Peter didn't get it all then-- we see that later (Matt. 16:23)-- but he realized Jesus' power and authority, and his own unworthiness. He recognized that this was someone who was worthy of his devotion and service.

Sometimes Christians today don't get this. Have you ever heard someone say, "God has given me this gift or ability, so He must mean for me to use it"?

We need to be willing to accept that God may give us fish, not to use, but in order that we might walk away and demonstrate to the world that Christ is more important.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An Heirloom

Back in the early seventies, my grandmother's church was having a centennial celebration and they encouraged everyone to wear historical costumes. An elderly lady gave Grandmother a white openwork dress to wear for the occasion. The dress had been this lady's graduation gown, so it was probably 60-65 years old at the time.

Here's a picture of my grandmother and my uncle (Mama's twin brother) at the celebration: Now, 35 years later, my grandmother has given me the dress!

December Newsletter

From Laura, 10 … One thing we do for Christmas is a reenactment of the Christmas story. We use our dress-up to help act it out. Most years we’ve had to use a doll for Jesus. Last year we were hoping we might have a real baby for the reenactment this year! And we did! This is who everyone was: Act 1 (with the shepherds and angels): narrator/Mama, chief angel/Papa, heavenly host/John and Anna, shepherds/Becca, Seth, and me (except Seth switched at the last minute to a sheep), Joseph/Ray, Mary/Katie, and Jesus/Peter. Act 2 (with the wise men and Herod): narrator/Mama, chief priests/Papa and Anna, Herod/John, wise men/Seth and Becca, the family/Ray, Katie, and Peter, and I was Herod’s servant.

From Becca, 13 … For Christmas we had lots of interesting foods. I learned or watched how to make pecan pralines, bacalaitos (Puerto Rican fish fritters), crepes, escargot, and ebleskivers (Danish ball-shaped apple pancakes). We had food from France, Puerto Rico, Denmark, Italy, Mexico, and America.

From Seth, 16 … This year I decided to be slightly adventurous and have escargot for my special Christmas food request. I called around to a few grocery stores in Houston and found a store, Rice Epicurean, that sold snail shells and canned snails for a reasonable price. Best of all, John was working just blocks from the store, so it was very convenient to buy them!

To prepare escargot, you make a garlic/butter/spice mixture, spoon some of into each shell, squish a rubbery, black snail into each shell, and then put some more butter on top of the snails. You then bake the whole concoction, producing an appetizer that tastes nice and buttery, but that leaves a bit to be desired in the visual aesthetics and texture departments.

From Anna, 19 … At the beginning of this month, several of us went to a sacred harp singing. Sacred harp is a style of singing that originated a couple of hundred years ago and was popular among much of the rural U.S. It’s characterized by a rich, four-part harmony. The singing is done in a hollow square, with each part on one side and a song leader in the middle. I was amazed by the richness of the sound! We were singing in an old church with great acoustics, with thirty people singing their hearts out, and the glorious harmony just soared! Someday I want to go to one of the really large singings, with a hundred people.

From John, 25 … For the last year or two I have wondered how best to use my dancing in a productive, God-honoring way. I am a better dancer, director, teacher, and choreographer now than ever before, and my knowledge and experience have grown steadily over the last six years of dancing. Despite this, I have less desire than previously to dance and perform just for the pure enjoyment of the activity.

However, a few new possibilities have materialized recently that have given me new enthusiasm. At folk dance camp over Thanksgiving weekend, I was able to discuss with several people my faith and how it influences my thinking and lifestyle. Hopefully I’ll be able to continue sharing the gospel among my fellow dancers. A local child psychologist has asked me to teach dancing to autistic children, which has great potential to become another platform for ministry to the other staff and parents involved in that program. I’ve also been invited to join a Russian performing group, which would help to sharpen and refine me by working with a younger, more highly-trained ensemble. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to make some supplemental income from my dancing. Stay tuned for that.

About Ray and Katie (by Judith) At this time the Wades are in Washington State with Ray’s family. His family is meeting Peter (2 months old) for the first time. This is also the first time for the Wades to travel out of town with a baby. I’m sure they’re realizing that it is a whole different matter to travel with a baby than to travel as just a couple.

From Judith … Though it does consistently get cold here (30 degrees or so for the lows) in the brief winters, it doesn’t always freeze. This year it did! We had temperatures in the 20s and even got a little bit of snow! (We had just a dusting on our property, but other parts of town got enough for respectably-sized snowmen.) While we were sad to lose some of our plants, particularly our papaya, we have delighted in the rich, vibrant fall hues all over town that followed the freeze. We truly have not seen such color before in Houston during our 11 autumns here so far. Color is important to me, so this has been a special treat for me this year.

From Gerald … Last week I did something I haven’t done in a long time – I made bacalaitos. They are Puerto Rican fish fritters. I made them by dropping pieces of fishy batter into hot oil. When they had cooked a little, they popped up to the surface. Pop, pop, pop! When they stopped bubbling, I took them out, and they were done!

The previous paragraph was written by my ghost writer. I would like to mention that we went Christmas caroling on a Saturday afternoon this year. We thought it would be better to do it during the day instead of after dark since our neighborhood is not well-lit at night. I was concerned that folks might be alarmed to have a group of people at their door after dark. Several houses had no one at home, but at the others, we had a chance to meet some of our new neighbors and they seemed to be blessed by our coming to their door.

Our Love, Gerald, Judith, John, Anna, Seth, Becca, and Laura

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Book Review: Bright Against the Storm

This is a unique novel. It's fantasy, yes, but fantasy which feels very close to home. The world and characters are all fictional, but the characters are all human. You'll not find talking animals or mythical beasts in this novel, but that is not the most important distinction that sets it apart from any other fantasy I've read.

Any author writing fantasy has to decide what to do about the supernatural, and I've read books that take different approaches. Some are heavily allegorical, with elements that mirror God, Jesus, or the creation, but are really just symbolic. Some create a deity with the attributes of God but a different story of the world than that of Scripture. Some just ignore the supernatural, or else have some vague, undefined something.

For me as a Christian, none of these approaches fully ring true. Reading about characters who do what is right because they think it's right, or because it's what is expected of them, or because it satisfies them, or even because it is whatever is desired by whatever supernatural power the author has chosen to use, is simply not the same as reading about characters who are committed to following the commands of God as conveyed in His revealed Word, while recognizing their own unworthiness and rejoicing in the redemption from sin that comes only through the sacrifice of Jesus, the Son of God-- which is exactly what Ari Heinze displays in Bright Against the Storm.

And it works. It works beautifully! I have always loved medieval fantasy, with knights and adventures and swordfights and deeds of bravery and honor and great sacrifice, but in recent times as I have become interested in writing myself, I have had to consider this aspect of fantasy. This is the approach I want to take, and it was so inspiring to see this idea carried out. The religion in this story is not something man-made; it is the true, real, and only satisfying faith in the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who sent His only Son Jesus to earth to redeem His people from their sins. The trappings of today's church are gone, and the Bible goes by a different name, but it's there all the same. We see characters who have devoted their lives to this faith, who still struggle with temptation and weakness, but are yet victorious as Christ works in them. We see them forced by circumstances to depend on God through prayer. We see them showing mercy and love in God's name. We also see the ultimate hopelessness of those who do not believe, who believe that this life is all there is.

Aside from the theological aspects of this book, it's just a really great story. The characters are well-developed. There is action, suspense, mystery, and romance.

Speaking of romance-- there are some beautifully portrayed marriages in this book. This also brings me to one aspect I didn't agree with: There is an engaged couple in which the woman is a believer and the man is not. We see her heartache at her beloved's blindness, but the rightness of her choosing to marry an unbeliever is never questioned. The other aspect I didn't agree with was a circumstance in which there are some people that are testing a character in order to find out if he is true and faithful. To that end, they purposefully place temptation in his path. I found the justification for this questionable.

Despite the fact that this story takes place on the eve of war and that the characters experience pain, danger, doubt, and suffering, I can only think of this book as a celebration: a celebration of justice, loyalty, faithfulness, beauty, courage, selflessness, and love-- both God's love and the love that because of Him is shown forth among His people.

Now I just have to be patient and wait for books two through four...

Learn more or buy the book here:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas!!!

We celebrated Christmas a week early this year due to scheduling factors. We began with Christmas dinner at noon on Saturday. Besides fish fritters... we had salad, egg burritos, and escargot. Every year, each of us is allowed to make one special food request. This year, Seth decided to be adventurous and request escargot. It was... interesting! Personally, I thought the sauce tasted good, but I didn't care for the snail taste or texture.
We took a new family picture...

and then we went out Christmas caroling. We had trouble finding people who were home, but we did connect with a few neighbors that we hadn't met before.

When we got home, we started making ebleskivers, which are ball-shaped Danish apple pancakes. It had been a long time since we'd made them.

They were fun to make, but they would be a lot of work to feed a large group very often!

On Sunday night, we did our annual reenactment of the Christmas story. This year, we had a real baby!

The Magi consult with King Herod.

Here's a picture from our first reenactment! Katie and John have both changed quite a bit since then!

After the reenactment, we had our annual finger-food meal.
After eating, we did some dancing, but unfortunately no one took any pictures!

We hope that you all have a blessed Christmas this week!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Drama on Our Street

On Friday afternoon, I happened to be looking out my bedroom window when a shiny, well-kept pickup stopped at the stop sign near our house. It turned on to our street, and then the driver gunned the engine so hard that he left tire marks and burned rubber. Then, just after it had gone out of my sight, I heard it make impact. The engine stopped abruptly, and I heard branches break.

The truck had gone off the road and hit a tree in the front yard next door. Several neighbors had seen what had happened, so everyone went over to investigate. There were two people in the car, both of whom were men who appeared to be about sixty. Everyone expected to see teenagers, so that was a surprise. They were both conscious but not very coherent. The driver was physically unable to get out of the car, and the passenger's door was blocked by some small trees, so he couldn't have gotten out even if he wanted to. There were no obvious serious injuries-- significant bleeding, mangled limbs, etc.

Several people immediately called 911. It was definitely an interesting experience watching all the emergency personnel arrive and get to work. The first vehicle to arrive was actually a tow truck!
Once the firemen had cut down the trees and bushes against the side of the truck, they had to use the Jaws of Life to remove the door on the passenger side. It was amazing to see them just clip through the metal like it was nothing!

Both passengers were removed on stretchers and were taken away by ambulance. One of them appeared to be going into shock. His face was completely ashen.

We were amazed at the sheer number of vehicles and personnel involved. By the end, there were 13 emergency vehicles: two ambulances, six police cars, two fire trucks, and three auxiliary fire department vehicles. We estimated that there were about twenty emergency workers there. This was even a fairly minor accident-- one vehicle, no fatalities, located on a quiet street. I can only imagine the activity for a multi-car accident on a major highway with fatalities or critical injuries!
Once the passengers had been taken off the scene, they pulled the truck out of the bushes and we could see the damage. That was our first time to see deployed air bags. Interestingly, the tree was barely scratched. Cars seem like such sturdy things until you see them crumpled like foil after meeting a tree.

November Newsletter: Belated Edition

We were putting together our December newsletter when I realized that I never put up November's! So, now you can enjoy some old news (dated November 28), or you can wait and read our December issue this weekend!

From Laura, 10 … On Wednesday we celebrated Thanksgiving. Our grandparents and the Wades were with us for dinner that night. We celebrated it a day early because John was going to be gone from Thursday to Sunday. For the turkey dinner I did part of the rolls and made the topping for the sweet potatoes. The topping had 1 cup of brown sugar, 1 cup of coconut, and melted butter (just a little bit like dessert!). This is everything we had for Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, rolls, gravy, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberries, pumpkin pie, and whipped topping.

From Becca, 13 … I am very happy to be an auntie! I don’t remember when Laura was a baby, so it has been really special to get to be with Peter so often. I had never even seen a baby on the first day of his life. I love to cuddle him and see his wide open eyes stare and stare all around. I like to think of how everyone in the whole wide world started out as a little baby like him and I wonder what he will be like when he grows up. When he is a great big man and I am an old lady I will remember how he was so tiny and how I held him and kissed his head.

From Seth, 16 … Let me share three rather minor, but fairly interesting happenings from this past week.

On Monday we worked late into the night and finished putting siding on our house before having to return our scaffolding. The work went faster than it would have because our crew of three was providentially and happily increased to a crew of five by the arrivals of Ray and a friend from church.

On Wednesday Grandma taught me how to deconstruct our Thanksgiving turkey. Ripping and slicing the meat was fun, and seeing all the body parts I’ve learned about in biology was interesting.

On Thursday we went to the Wades’ house for a bonfire. Our fire was about eight or ten feet tall and six or seven feet wide, so it wasn’t absolutely humongous, but it was still a fairly sizable fire. We burned a fence from John’s house and a lot of Ray’s brush.

From Anna, 19 … We were blessed to be able to attend the wedding of a good friend earlier this month. It was one of the nicest weddings we’ve been to, mostly because of how they made it their own. Everything—the music, the format of the processionals, the dress, the vows, the reception—fit the personalities of the couple perfectly. It made for a very sweet time of sharing in their event.

I’m loving “aunthood”! It has been so long since we’ve had a baby in the family! I’ve been able to spend time with other people’s babies from time to time, but it’s not the same, especially during this newborn stage when they change so fast. As precious as this baby time is, though, I’m excited to see him grow up and mature, and to see what sort of personality he’ll have!

From John, 25 … For the last month I have been blessed to have guests from the Middle East at my house. They are friends, formerly from church, who are visiting the U.S. for a couple of months, and they have been able to stay in my house while they’re in Houston. It’s been lots of fun to see my house become a home, even if only for a short time. Among other things, they’ve built me a fence and cleaned the house top to bottom. I’m very blessed.

About Ray and Katie … (by Judith) Since last month, Ray and Katie have entered a new season of life – that of raising children. Additionally they have just celebrated their first year of marriage. Another bit of news, lesser though it be, is that they just purchased a minivan and plan to sell the little Toyota.

(by Laura) They are delighted to be parents! Peter is very healthy and Katie is doing fine. The breastfeeding is going well also. Peter is quite alert now and his awake time is much more than when he was born.

From Judith … I have become a grandma!! Holding Peter has brought back many sweet memories of my own babies. I always loved putting my face against their soft, smooth heads and cuddling them close to me. Being a grandma is such a lovely thing that I honestly believe I would see if some family would adopt me to be their grandma if I didn’t have grandchildren of my own (expecting Peter to be the first of many), or none living nearby.

Initially, the most fascinating aspect of this new phase of my life was seeing my daughter as a mother. It has been so special seeing her have this little person to care for in every regard! As these first weeks have gone by, I have then also been thoroughly enjoying becoming acquainted with Peter.

From Gerald … Working on the “wall” on Monday was a reminder of how sedentary my normal work is. I did the cutting of the siding while the others measured and nailed. That suited me well because I really do not like working up high. Scaffolds are better than ladders, but I would still rather have my feet securely on the ground. The only problem was that I did a lot of squatting and kneeling; all that up-and-down gave me very sore legs for the next couple of days.

We are very pleased with the improved appearance of the house and look forward to not having it leak whenever we get rain. You can see photos here.

Our Love, Gerald, Judith, John, Anna, Seth, Becca, and Laura

Monday, December 14, 2009

Book Review: Glory, Duty, and the Gold Dome

Last week, I enjoyed reading through Glory, Duty, and the Gold Dome, a new novel by Nathaniel Darnell, published by Vision Forum. Before I tell you why I loved it, I'll just get my one complaint out of the way: the writing was slightly rough in a few places, and there were a handful of proofreading errors. Other than that, I give it my highest recommendation!

The Story

Fourteen-year-old Thomas Richards, son of Georgia State Representative John Richards, serves as his father's legislative aide. When they learn of a young, pregnant, comatose woman whose husband is trying to have her life support terminated, they must choose whether or not to do everything they can to save her life, even in the face of threats, and corruption. Will his efforts cost Representative Richards his campaign for Congress? Will Thomas place more value on the lives of Angela and her baby than on his father's campaign? Will Angela survive? With lots of twists and plenty of action, I found the story so captivating that I finished the entire book in one afternoon! I appreciated Mr. Darnell's ability to explain the technical workings of the legislature without bogging down the story.

The Characters

I love the portayal of manhood in this book. The story is told in first person, with the perspective switching between father and son. Thomas still comes across as the main character, but if the whole story was told from his point of view, it would be very easy for Rep. Richards to come across as being perfect. Instead, the readers are allowed to get inside his head and see his weaknesses and temptations. The result is that we see men who struggle, but still strive to do God's will; who fail, but repent, stand up, and keep going. We also see a beautiful picture of multi-generational father-son discipleship.

Although she doesn't come into the story as much as her husband and son, I really enjoyed Rachel Richards, the wife of Rep. Richards. She's a sterling example of sturdy, dignified femininity.

There are also a handful of side characters that liven up the story and add some comic relief.

The Issues

Mr. Darnell does not shy away from tackling tough, controversial issues. The primary issue at hand has to do with quality of life: does the quality of a life determine the value of the life? There are other issues addressed to various extents as well:

- the blessing of children
- homeschooling
- civil disobedience
- the myth of adolescence
- gun rights
- even the War of Northern Aggression! (commonly known as the Civil War)

All in all, I found Glory, Duty, and the Gold Dome incredibly refreshing. It was refreshing to see a father who was committed to discipling his family, standing up for the weak and helpless, and pursuing God's will even to the point of great personal sacrifice; to see a son who respected and worked alongside his father; to see a family carry out loving ministry; and to see characters who made Scripture the standard for everything they did. It is also refreshing to see an author writing good, solid fiction while tackling the pressing issues of our day in such a way that makes his readers think.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thoughts on Ruth

I was recently reading the book of Ruth. I was struck by what a beautiful story it is of God's providence in bringing people together as He worked to bring about the line of the Messiah.

Also, Boaz taking Ruth, a Moabite, as his wife and bringing her into the house of Israel is a neat picture of the way in which Christ has redeemed the Gentiles and included them in his people.

Besides that, I noticed what a wonderful example Boaz is of hospitality. He went far beyond the requirements of the law concerning gleaners in showing kindness to Ruth. (Ruth 2:14-16) In spite of the fact that Ruth was a foreigner, he commended her for her service to Naomi, (Ruth 2:10-11) and protected and provided for her (Ruth 2:9).

Ruth is also exemplary in many ways. She was loyal (Ruth 1:16-17), helpful (Ruth 2:2), submissive (Ruth 3:5), and loving (Ruth 4:15) to Naomi. She was hard-working (Ruth 2:7, 17). She was humble and grateful for Boaz's kindness (Ruth 2:10,13). Her life was such that she had a reputation as being a worthy woman (Ruth 2:11, 3:11)-- the same term used for the Proverbs 31 woman (Proverbs 31:10)!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Pedersens Plan Christmas

We're sort of odd ducks, which may or not surprise you, depending on how well you know us.

We can't even plan Christmas dinner normally!

This year we decided to determine the main dish by vote.

No big deal, you may be thinking. Somebody suggests a couple of ideas and everyone votes for one, right?

Not quite!

First we wanted to make sure that we considered all the good possibilities, so we allowed 24 hours for everyone to submit nominations. At the end of that time, there were around ten options.

Now, some of us thought that several of the options would be good, but there were some that we really didn't want to have, so we decided to allow everyone to put down two negative votes and two positive votes.

Then we realized that this would give an advantage to those who voted last, because they could just put their negative votes on whatever someone else voted for, rather than on what they really didn't want to have. We solved this by casting secret ballots.

When the votes were collected and counted under the watchful eyes of everyone, we had a runoff between the three or four options that had a positive score. Then we had a runoff between the two highest-scoring items from that vote!

So what are the Pedersens having for Christmas dinner?

Fish fritters!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sacred Harp Singing

On Saturday we went to a sacred harp singing. We'd heard sacred harp before, but this was the first time we'd ever been to a singing.

It was held at a beautiful church that had been built in the twenties. We had gotten the wrong start time and arrived really early, so we had time to wander around and look at the church.

The one downside of this church was that the heater was broken and it was about 50 degrees in there!

We found this chair in a corner. We noticed the hinges on the seat and at first thought that it was some sort of folding chair, but that wasn't it! Can anyone guess what it is?
Sacred harp is a style of singing with four-part harmony-- although it can sound like six parts, since two of the parts are sung by both men and women. It's also known as shape-note singing because of the distinctive shapes of the notes. The shape notes were originally designed to help teach people who couldn't read music learn how to sing.

The singers sit in a hollow square, with each of the parts on one side of the square and the leader in the middle. It's a participatory activity, not a performance.
There were about thirty people at this singing, which we were told is small for a singing. Even so, the sound was amazing! There's just nothing quite like being in the middle of a group that's singing their hearts out, surrounded by all that glorious harmony. It was beautiful!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Snow and Frost!

It snowed on Friday! All you northerners are free to laugh at our enthusiasm for a snow that didn't even stick, but, hey! It doesn't happen often here!

Then that night it got down to about 26 degrees! When we went out the next morning, there was a heavy frost. The grass crunched under our feet!

We even had some itty bitty icicles!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ladder Work

My mother will attest to the fact that I am not a naturally gifted problem solver, but working alone most of the time has helped me improve when it comes to thinking outside the box. Last week, one of my customers told me he needed me to change out some light fixtures, two of which were lantern chandeliers hanging from a 20 1/2' ceiling. Wanting to avoid the time, expense, and hassle of scaffolding, I rented a 14' stepladder, which is the largest stepladder I can handle on my own, and lashed my 20' extension ladder to it. The pictures I came home with were deemed blog-worthy:

The view from the top:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinner Poll Results

Thank you for voting!

stuffing: 5 (23%)

cranberries: 4 (19%)

rolls/biscuits: 3 (14%)
pumpkin pie: 3 (14%)

sweet potatoes: 2 (9%)

turkey: 1 (4%)
mashed potatoes: 1 (4%)
gravy: 1 (4%)
green beans: 1 (4%)