Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Thought

Imagine if the U.S. government gave a certain tea company a monopoly over all the tea business in America, enabling that company to sell tea cheaper, and also ruining all the other tea businesses. Would Americans protest? No, we would probably just buy the cheaper tea. But in 1773, people were very different. When their government did the same thing, they not only refused to buy the cheaper tea, but they dumped it in the ocean!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

March Newsletter

From Laura, 11 … On Friday we’re going on a campout!! We are planning to leave after breakfast that day and come home after lunch on Sunday. I’m just so excited I can’t wait till Thursday to pack! I made my own tent, and am bringing dishes to cook most of my own food over the fire! The tent is made out of an old tarp, certain sticks, and two paint drop clothes that are for a rain fly. I’m going to get up early, while all is quiet, before anyone else, and read all by myself. I will probably be able to see the sun rise and feel the early morning mist.

From Becca, 13 … I have been starting to sing harmony. It wasn’t easy at first, but I am getting better. I look in the hymnal to see what song we are singing that evening and learn the alto part for it. Then I stumble along while we sing it. I am helped because Anna sings alto too most of the time. Laura has started singing tenor an octave high, so when Anna, Laura, Seth, and I sing, we can have all four parts. One time we were all in the shed in pouring rain, so we sang hymns with harmony. That was a lot of fun.

From Seth, 16 … Many of you may know that some of us play bluegrass instruments. Well, a few days ago we were playing music for some neighbors down the street, and we really didn’t stay together well or sound very nice. We have since decided to start practicing regularly together. This will hopefully make my guitar-playing more useful and versatile. Before, I just practiced by myself, which didn’t force me to keep good rhythm or coordinate with other instruments or singing. Practicing together should help with those things.

From Anna, 20 … Spring is finally here! This was a very unusual winter for us. In the almost eleven years we’ve lived in Houston, we’ve had snow four times, and two of those were this year! We had the coldest temperature we’ve ever had here (19˚) and it has stayed cold for longer. Just last week it got down to the 30’s one night! Now, though, we are enjoying all the beauties of spring here on our new property. The trees all have brand-new baby leaves, several of the plants that died back during our winter freeze are coming back to life, our vegetable garden is growing and looking healthy, and flowers are blooming.

From John, 25 … Last weekend I made a quick trip to central Texas. I drove to San Antonio Friday evening for the San Antonio Folk Dance Festival, an event which began that evening and continued through Sunday. The highlight of the festival is a concert on Saturday evening which features ethnic dance groups from around Texas and Louisiana. The Houston International Folk Dancers did an eight-minute piece which I directed and choreographed.

I left San Antonio early Sunday morning to go to church in Austin. It was a family-integrated church similar in many ways to our church here in Houston. It was wonderful to be in another city and feel right at home with the brothers and sisters there. I stayed overnight with some good friends who go to that church, and came home Monday morning.

About Ray, Katie, and Peter … Spring gardening, extending regular hospitality, and raising Peter keep Ray and Katie well occupied at home these days. Ray recently acquired a bicycle. He used to be quite an avid bicyclist, so he has enjoyed getting back into it. Peter continues to get more coordinated. He grabs everything in sight! Katie is currently thinking through all the factors related to taking a baby camping for the first time as they prepare for our spring campout.

From Judith … This house has presented us with many challenges over the past year and a half, but it has been worth it. Everyone enjoys both the large lot (partly wooded and partly like a park), and the neighborhood. With the large lots there is more vegetation, less concrete and pavement, and fewer houses. The trees are abundant and mature. It’s particularly delightful right now with the cool weather and almost no mosquitoes! Also, the floor plan is working very well for us (except for having a split kitchen which will be resolved when we get the sinks put into the main kitchen and can move our preparation area out of the apartment kitchenette).

From Gerald … We are blessed to have several fruit trees that were planted by those who lived here before us. Happily, most seem to have made it through our cold (by Houston standards) winter. The only one that is not showing signs of life is the key lime tree. We are sorry to have lost it. We enjoyed having fresh limes last fall. But all the others have new leaves and the peach and plums have already blossomed. The other fruit trees that we have identified are orange, tangerine, lemon, loquat, pomegranate, persimmon and two types of fig. Even the fig that Seth propagated last season by air-layering is leafing out. The new life that comes with spring is a reminder of the new life that is ours in Christ for those who believe and repent. How fitting it is to reflect on that as we celebrate His resurrection.

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

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Birthday Cake That Nearly Brought Out The Fire Department

This is the cake that nearly brought out the fire department. It was spilling out of the pans and burning on the bottom of the oven. Before we knew it, the smoke alarm was going off and the living room was filling with smoke! We have a security system that calls the fire department if you don't turn the fire alarm off in twenty seconds. So the security company was called, but we called them back fast enough to keep the fire department from coming.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thoughts on Turning Twenty

In one week from today, I will be turning twenty.

This is rather an interesting birthday for me. You see, way back when I had just turned ten, there was a couple in our church that was getting married. The bride was twenty, and I remember thinking, “Twenty would be a good age to get married at!” (Mama was twenty when she got married, and although I don’t remember that having anything to do with this thought, I suppose it might have been related.) From my perspective as a ten-year-old, twenty seemed so old and mature. Past the teens, the twenty-year-old was surely an adult in every sense of the word, ready to take on all kinds of responsibilities.

Twenty still sounded good all the way through my early teens, but sometime when I was about seventeen, I suddenly realized that twenty was close. REALLY close. Three years wasn’t that long. Then I turned eighteen, and two years was looking extremely short.

Now, I was never assuming that I would get married at twenty. I just figured that it could happen, and I should be ready by then. As twenty got closer and closer, though, the thought of getting married at that age was overwhelming at times. Some days I just felt hopelessly unprepared. Other days it seemed like there was so much to accomplish during my single years and there wouldn’t be nearly enough time. Occasionally the idea of being married was incomprehensible, and other times I was excited and hoping that I would get married at twenty.

And now? As I sit here, staring twenty in the face, I think my primary feeling is one of excitement. The thought of getting married in the near future (and no, there’s not something that I’m hiding from you), while still overwhelming at times, no longer frightens me. The desire to partner for life with a godly man who is seeking to serve God and advance His kingdom and to raise a family for God’s glory is strong. I earnestly hope that God has that in my future, yet it’s not because I don’t find my role now satisfying, productive, and important. I’m still excited to see what God brings my way in this next year, even if it’s not marriage.

My other feeling at this point is a sense of urgency. Whenever I get married, whether it’s ten months from now or ten years, I want to be able to look back over my unmarried years without regrets. I want to be able to say that I used my time well-- used it to bless those around me and to grow in every way—spiritually, intellectually, and in practical skills. Even if I’m ready to get married now, I hope to be even more ready whenever I do. I hope to be more like Christ, walking in greater godliness. I hope to have a better understanding of God’s Word, and of my place in God’s world.

Maybe I’ll be married in a year. Maybe I’ll be writing another post like this as I turn thirty. I have no way of knowing, but I do know that God is faithful, that His timing is perfect, and His sovereignty complete.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Meters of Hymnody

I love hymns. This is partly just an outgrowth of my love for singing and music in general, but it's also because of the theological and musical richness of so many hymns. There are so many gems among the old hymns of the last few hundred years.

One thing that fascinates me about hymns is the way they're put together and the way the words and the music interact. The key to understanding this is understanding meter.

The words to a hymn are simply poetry. Like any poetry, most hymns have stanzas, lines, meter, and a rhyme scheme, like this:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer's praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of his grace.

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad,
The honors of thy Name.

Jesus the Name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
'Tis music in the sinner's ears,
'Tis life, and health, and peace.

He breaks the pow'r of cancelled sin,
He sets the pris'ner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

Now, if you were to look this up in your hymnal, somewhere on the page you will probably see the letters "C.M." If you don't, you'll probably see the tune name (Azmon), which you can then look up in the metrical index in the back, and there it ought to say "C.M." Now, "C.M." is short for "common meter" which means that each stanza has four lines: the first and third lines each have eight syllables, and the second and fourth lines each have six. Go ahead and count them if you like! This is abbreviated like this: 8. 6. 8. 6.

Here's what you can do with this: these words can be sung to any other tune in common meter. So, if you love the words to this hymn, but you don't care for the tune, you can sing them to some other tune that you like. Probably the most well-known tune in common meter is "Amazing Grace." Try it!

This can be useful in other ways as well. Suppose you're leafing through your hymnal one day and you come across a song with wonderful, deep, meaningful lyrics, but you don't know the tune and you don't have the time, or inclination, or ability to learn it. Check the meter of the song, and then you can look that meter up in your metrical index to see if there are any tunes you know with the same meter.

You'll notice in the metrical index that some meters are much more common than others. There are two besides C.M. which are so common that they've been given special names: long meter, or L.M, which is 8. 8. 8. 8. and short meter, or S.M, which is 6. 6. 8. 6. You don't have to remember those numbers; if you need to know them, just find a song in that meter and count syllables. Sometimes you'll see a meter like this: 8. 7. 8. 7. D. The "D." stands for double, and that means that the pattern is repeated. In this case, that means that each stanza of the song has eight lines instead of four. Some songs have irregular meters, or meters that are very unusual, like 8. 9. 8. 8. 9. 8. 6. 6. 4. 8. 8. Those are songs for which you will probably not be able to find alternate tunes.

There's something else you can do with meter, and that's what inspired this post in the first place. Remember how the words of a hymn are just poetry? Well, if you find a poem somewhere that you really like and want to sing, you can use meter to find a tune that fits it. Take this one, for example, that Pastor Voddie found recently:

The Joyful Sound of the Gospel

by Ralph Erskine (1685-1752)

They ought, who royal grace's heralds be,
To trumpet loud salvation full and free;
Nor safely can, to humour mortal pride,
In silence evangelic myst'ries hide.

The revelation of the gospel flower,
Is still the organ framed of saving power:
Most justly then are legal Minds condemn'd,
That of the glorious gospel are asham'd;

For this the divine arm, and only this,
The power of God unto salvation is.
For therein is reveal'd to screen from wrath,
The righteousness of God from faith to faith,

The happy change-in guilty sinners' case
They owe to free displays of sovereign grace:
Whose joyful tidings of amazing love,
The ministration of the Spirit prove:

The glorious vent the gospel news express,
Of God's free grace, through Christ's full righteousness,
Is Heaven's gay chariot where the Spirit bides,
And in his conquering power triumphant rides

First, count the syllables. This particular poem/hymn has ten syllables in each line, so the meter is 10. 10. 10. 10. The hymnal I'm using has ten tunes with this meter. You can either just pick one of these tunes and learn the words and the tune together, or you can look for a tune that you already know. Personally, I tend to strongly associate a tune with the words that I first learned it with, so I would probably choose a tune that I don't already know. Among those tunes with this meter, there were three that I knew: "Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart," "Abide with Me," and "Faith of our Fathers."

One last note: Even if a tune is the correct meter for your words, it may not fit perfectly. That's because there's really more to meter than just the number of syllables. Individual words get accented differently, and tunes have different patterns of rising and falling, so even if the words technically fit, they may not feel natural in a particular tune.

Happy singing!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hat For Sale!

This adorable hand-knit hat is now for sale! There is even a jingle bell hidden inside the ball at the end of the tassle! $17

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Get Your Fair Share!

We got a letter in the mail yesterday from the US Census Bureau, saying that the census form will be arriving shortly.

The letter contained no vital information, but was simply for the purpose of motivating us to actually fill out the form:

"Your response is important. Results from the 2010 Census will be used to help each community get its fair share of government funds for highways, schools, health facilities, and many other programs you and your neighbors need. Without a complete, accurate census, your community may not receive its fair share."

There are at least three problems with this. Firstly, the letter doesn't even mention the real, valid purpose for the census (determining representation). Secondly, it implies that the government knows everything we need, and can and will provide it.

Worst of all, the letter assumes that one of the best ways to motivate the average American citizen to do something is to suggest that if he doesn't he might not get his "fair share" of government handouts. Unfortunately, that's probably true.

Just in case you wondered about the mindset that led to our trillions of dollars of national debt...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Moving on to Countertops

We continue to make progress on the kitchen.

More cabinets in place and ready to be put in place.
Measuring for the countertops.

The plans.

It was really neat to see the countertops in place, even though they're not finished and installed yet, since it pulled together the cabinets and let us see how it would look. For the first time, we could stand in the kitchen and get a feel for how open and spacious it will be.

Cutting the sink holes.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Happy Birthday, Seth!

We celebrated Seth's 17th birthday earlier this week. He decided to have us try making chicken-fried steak for his birthday dinner. We'd never made it before, but it turned out well and was delicious.
It has been a blessing to see Seth mature over these last few years into a young man who seeks to follow and serve God. No longer just my "little" brother, he has become one of my best friends as well!

Friday, March 5, 2010

To Be A Knight

(I wrote this story for Vision Forum's Provision and Protection essay contest. Even though I didn't win, I thought some of you might be interested in reading it. You can read the winning entries here.)

Eben had never felt so discouraged. It had been another seemingly fruitless day of training. Despite his six years at Dunhavar Castle, he never seemed to improve, no matter how hard he tried.

He lowered himself to the ground and leaned back against the castle wall, soaking up the warmth. He stared across the lake, recalling the day that had led to his wanting to be a knight in the first place.

It had been a sunny day like this. He was helping his father clean the fish that they had caught earlier that morning, while his mother was down at the lakeside fetching water. Suddenly they heard a terrible roar and his mother’s scream.

He would never forget the horror of that moment. A giant sea serpent towered over his mother. Instantly his father ran forward, calling as he did, “Eben! Run for help!” He had run with all his might to find help, but by the time he returned with a few neighbors, there was no trace left of his parents. The only evidence of the serpent was the unnatural movement of the water as it departed.

That day he had resolved to find a way to fight the dangers that left people with anguish like his own. His father had often told him that God had a purpose for everyone, but as Eben thought about the menial tasks he spent his days performing, he wondered about God’s purpose.

As he looked across the lake, he suddenly frowned. There was something strange about the way the water was moving.

He leapt to his feet and ran to the edge of the rise on which the castle was built. Down by the shore were some women watching the children who were wading in the shallows.

He sprinted down the slope toward the beach. “Fly!” he cried. “There is great danger!”

One of the women looked up in surprise. “Eben? What are you talking of?”

He ran past. “Fly! It is death to remain! Fly!”

The women had never seen him so agitated. Some of them grumbled a bit, but they began gathering the children and heading quickly back to the castle. Eben stood on the beach, scanning the water anxiously as the last of the children were coming ashore. Serah, the young daughter of King Wilmar, was last to come. As they ran toward him, Serah tripped and fell headlong on the sand. Eben leapt forward and lifted her.

All at once, the lake erupted. The head of the great sea serpent reared up in the air far above Eben’s head. Its bulbous eyes flanked a mouth filled with pointed teeth the length of a man’s hand. The row of spikes on its back culminated in a great horn on its snout. Its body was covered with thick, leathery scales which shone as the water ran off them. It let out a deafening roar.

Eben set Serah on her feet. “Run!” he screamed. Eben drew his sword, feeling, as he did so, that it would be useless. He was certain that he did not have the strength or skill to fight this foe. He only hoped that he would be enough of a distraction to allow the women and children to reach safety. This was the beast that had killed his parents. This was the beast that had formed his resolve to fight for the defenseless, and he would do so, hopeless or not.

The serpent was motionless for a moment, its cries filling Eben with dread. It lowered its head quickly and lunged toward Eben, its mighty horn aimed for his chest, its mouth partly open with a hiss. Eben attempted to plunge his sword into the creature’s mouth, but instead struck its tough hide. For a moment he was actually leaning against the serpent’s head, but then it swung its head violently, flinging Eben through the air and knocking his sword away. He landed on his back, the impact completely taking his breath away. He struggled to breathe, his eyes closed, waiting for the death blow.

Instead, he heard an unearthly scream of rage. He finally managed to take a deep breath and open his eyes. There was an arrow deep in the monster’s eye. King Wilmar was at the top of the bank with four of his knights. As he looked, two more arrows were released. One bounced harmlessly off the monster’s hide, but the other struck the same eye once again.

The serpent’s rage was terrible to behold. It came farther out of the water, great folds of its snakelike body flopping across the beach. It would reach the slope in half a minute more. Suddenly Eben noticed a great gash running under the serpent’s belly, an old wound that was only partly healed. The knights on the slope hadn’t yet noticed it. Without a second thought, Eben picked up the largest stone he could and heaved it at the serpent’s side. With tremendous speed the creature turned on him. He dove to the ground to avoid the horn which was once more headed for him.

The risk was not in vain. The knights had seen the weak spot and attacked before the serpent could finish Eben once and for all. With one last scream the serpent reared its head, writhed violently, and lay still.

No one moved or spoke for a long moment. Nearly everyone in the castle began to come out and survey the scene of the fight and the body of the great monster.

The king and his knights climbed the slope, followed at a short distance by Eben, who had stopped to pick up his battered sword.

Serah ran to her father the moment he reached the top. He picked her up, and she threw her arms around his neck. “I was so frightened,” she whispered, “but that man kept the monster from hurting me.”

“I thank God you’re safe, my daughter,” he whispered back.

“Eben!” he called as he lowered Serah back to the ground. “Come here!” When Eben had come the king looked at him for a moment. “Kneel!” he said. Eben wondered, but obeyed at once. “Do you swear to uphold the Law of God, and the laws of this land, so far as the latter are in accordance with the former?” asked the king.

Eben recognized at once the first question in the ceremony of knighthood. “My king!” he said, looking up. “I am not worthy! I’ve done nothing! It was not I who killed the beast!”

“Eben,” said the king firmly, “you have protected those around you and aided your fellow warriors, even to the point of risking your own life. This is of great value, to God and to me. It is enough.”

Eben bowed his head. “I do.”

“Do you swear to use your sword to defend the helpless and not for your own gain?”

“I do.”

“Then I hereby grant you all the privileges and exhort you to all the responsibilities of knighthood.” King Wilmar drew his own sword and struck Eben’s shoulder with the flat of the blade.

“Rise, Sir Eben!”

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Overnight Company

Ray was on a business trip last weekend, so Katie and Peter came and spent the night with us. We enjoyed getting some extra time with them, and they approved of the guest bed!