Saturday, July 31, 2010

To Read or Not to Read

I am grappling right now with the question of how much reading I should do. Apart from the Bible what amount of other reading is right for me?

As a child I read only what I had to for school. Thankfully, as a young adult, Gerald awakened me to the joy of reading. God used many books and articles, along with speakers, in our early years together to shape and direct us in every area of our lives. God continues to work on us, though not as much through written material.

I’ve been exposed to a huge amount of wisdom over the years. As I have embraced and put into practice even a fraction of it, I have experienced fullness and satisfaction as a follower of Christ. So, how much more reading should I do, especially since I haven’t applied but a small portion of what I’ve learned so far? I don’t want to be so bogged down with reading about the Christian life that I don’t have time to live it.

The early Christians didn’t have shelves and shelves of Christian books to read, yet they grew and matured and stood as beacons in a dark world with the gospel spreading like fire. Is it really so hard to understand the gospel and to live the Christian life, that we need to constantly be reading large amounts of material, in addition to the Bible, to get it figured out? Ongoing immersion in God’s Word should be enough.

Certainly we have times of greater need than other times for increased intake from other Christians – such as when we are determining our course in church life, marriage, parenting, education, career, etc. I just happen to currently be in season when my focus is on carrying out what God has already given me to do. I don’t need more input right now in order to move forward.

Of course, balance is called for here. As I write, I’m in the middle of two books, but moving at a snail’s pace. I continue to value reading. Not only that, but Gerald and I will always strongly encourage our children to be lifelong readers. We also readily recommend books to others as we see needs.

So, for now, my reading is rather minimal, but I’ll just take it a day at a time. I’ll strive for balance as I consider my responsibilities and strive to be alert to needs that may call for increased reading.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Introducing... Sunflower Cards!

Laura has begun selling hand-made greeting cards.  You can see what she's currently offering for sale here:

http://www.sunflowercards.blogspot.com/

Saturday, July 24, 2010

July Newsletter

From Laura, 11 … During the past week or so, I have been starting a card-making business. First I made business cards and now I am making greeting cards to display. I like making cards, but I’m not very good with notes, so this is fun for me. The purpose of the business is basically to make some money off of a hobby I enjoy.

From Becca, 13 … One really fun part of our trip was going up Trail Ridge, which is a very high road in the mountains. It was cloudy, which made it seem like another world. We were quite impressed with the phenomenon of seeing absolutely nothing except white out the windows. At one place it was cloudy, very cold, and there was only tundra and rocks on the ground. It had an eerie feel. At another place there was snow! We made snow balls and threw them high up in the air.

From Seth, 17 … One of the highlights for me of our recent trip to Colorado was a hike John and I took to the top of the Twin Sisters mountain. We started very early in the morning, so we were able to see the incredible transition from night to day. When we started, the sky was brimming with stars, the Milky Way was faintly glowing above us, and darkness was all around. As the day progressed, the light became grayer, and trees and mountains gradually emerged from the darkness. Near the last of the switchbacks, we caught a glimpse of the sun just as it rose above the horizon. The horizon blazed pink, and warm orange and pink hues cast shadows as we walked the trail. When we reached the summit, the sun continued to travel across the empty blue sky. The color faded from the sky, and the sun shone in all the brilliance of day. Watching day arrive in all its glory made me think of this phrase from the song “In Christ Alone,” describing Christ rising from the dead: “Then bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave he rose again.” I appreciate the imagery in the song quite a bit more now!

From Anna, 20 … On our way to Colorado this year, we stopped and spent a day at Palo Duro Canyon, near Amarillo, Texas, a place where we’d never been before. Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the country, after the Grand Canyon. Palo Duro has a lot more plant life in it than the Grand Canyon, so its overall appearance is much greener. It was overcast in the morning the day we were there, but it cleared up around lunchtime, so we were able to see the canyon in both types of light. It was beautiful. It was fascinating to see how the same layers of rock appeared at the same height and in the same order all over the canyon. It was easy to see how the canyon had been carved out of the layers that had already been there.

From John, 25 … This morning at breakfast, we were talking about the place pleasurable activities and recreation should have in our lives. Often, for me at least, it's hard to find a balance between two extremes. On the one hand, all of our time is the Lord's, and we as stewards should make the most of it. On the other hand, sometimes we feel like we need a break--some time to acquiesce to our own desires. It is true that we should serve the Lord with all of our time, but our minds and bodies need rest and an occasional change of pace. Yet even in those times of rest and recreation, we remain Christ's servants, so we should be careful to use our time in a way that brings health to our minds and bodies, strengthens our relationships with our friends and family, and advances the kingdom of God.

About Ray, Katie, and Peter … Ray had his first house-purchase closing this week. Unfortunately he was unable to attend due to bank delays, which resulted in the new closing date conflicting with his flight to Washington for a friend’s wedding. Nevertheless, it was an exciting step. He has had good activity with some people wanting to list and others looking to lease. Peter is getting busier with crawling and stronger with climbing. He is eating a fair bit of solid food now.

From Judith … This year’s trip to Colorado felt different. As we suspected, the loss of Gerald’s dad was quite pronounced on this first visit in their home without him (apart from April just after he died). In time I’m sure I will stop expecting him to step into the room at any moment. I really noticed his absence at the table each meal. He was so much a part of our family time in Colorado. Also different, we added in a few days at a YMCA camp just outside of Estes Park, Colorado. My sister, her daughters, and their two children, as well as our mothers, Katie’s family, and Gerald’s sister and brother-in-law, joined us. What a blessing to be able to gather amidst such beauty.

From Gerald … I really like living in Houston, but it was still refreshing to spend a bit over a week in Colorado. It has been a while since we have been in the mountains. It was good to have a chance to relax, do some hiking, visit with family, and re-connect with some friends. It was also a bit cooler. That was nice.

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

Editor’s note: We have posted pictures from our vacation here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book Review: Ashes of Our Joy

Ashes of Our Joy is the second book in The Epic of Karolan series, by Ari Heinze. (I reviewed the first book, Bright against the Storm, here.)

 Ashes of Our Joy tells the gripping story of the war for which Karolan was preparing in Bright against the Storm. In my review of the first book, I said:

 “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.”

 In Ashes of our Joy, all that is celebrated in Bright against the Storm comes under attack. The main characters find themselves betrayed by treachery and pitted in a desperate battle for all that they have ever held dear.

 Several themes emerge.

 One is choices. Life is always full of choices, but in times of great trial, those choices become more important and more difficult. Will the young, newly-wed miner escape with his beloved so that their love might blossom in safety instead of staying to fight for his country and countrymen? Will the old woman remain by her husband’s side, even though it means death? Will the quiet shepherd who abhors violence go to war to protect the peace that he loves so dearly?

 Another is the complexity and humanity of every person. The war is not recorded in terms of the villainous invaders versus the righteous defenders. We see individuals on both sides, in all their humanity. Even the most wicked men experience moments of regret, and even the most righteous men experience moments of doubt or weakness.

 Another theme: the greatest battles are not always fought with outside enemies. Sometimes the greatest battles are those fought against doubt, despair, or fear. These battles are not always won by those who seem the strongest. A man who is not the greatest warrior may still have great strength.

 Lastly, Ashes of Our Joy explores what happens when, despite a person’s greatest efforts, his world, with all its hopes, dreams, and joys, comes crashing down around him. What then?

 Bright against the Storm displayed the contrast between the hope of the believer and the hopelessness of the unbeliever to a degree, but that contrast is even starker in Ashes of Our Joy. When all that a believer has worked for seems to have been in vain, he can still trust that God has a plan, and that He can bring good out of even the most horrible circumstances. Knowing that, the believer will seek to do what he can to serve God and to bring healing to the world around him. Even if all he can do is pray, he will do that. Though despair may overtake him at times, it has no lasting power over his heart and soul.

 The unbeliever has none of this assurance. What is lost to him, is lost forever. There is no hope of good coming from it. There is no trust in the hand of God governing events. The only possible responses are despair, bitterness, or revenge.

 Ashes of Our Joy combines excellent storytelling, compelling characters, suspenseful action, and honest insight to make a story that is both enjoyable and thought-provoking.


To learn more, or purchase the books, see Ari Heinze's website:

http://hopewriter.com/Karolan.html

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Toad In My Shoe

Today I had the frightening experience of discovering a big fat toad in my shoe. It makes sense that he would take refuge in my shoe because my shoes were on our covered porch and it was rainy. Here is a picture of it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Trip to Colorado

On our way up to Colorado, we stopped and spent a day at Palo Duro Canyon, which is the second largest canyon in the country, after the Grand Canyon. It had a lot more vegetation growing in it than the Grand Canyon, which made it greener. The earth was mostly reddish, but there were layers of purple, yellow, cream, and gray dirt as well. It was very interesting to see the same layers in different places all over the canyon.

When we arrived, it was overcast, but it cleared up around lunch time. That allowed us to see the canyon in different levels of light, which was neat.

From our van, we saw this tarantula walking across the road! We spotted this cave from quite a distance away, and we didn't realize how big it was till we were right up inside of it. It didn't look like it would last forever. The sides were just hard-packed dirt, and there were already some holes in the ceiling.

Looking down from the cave.

After lunch, Papa, John, Seth, Becca, and I went on a hike to a rock formation called The Lighthouse. We all hiked up to the flat part between the two towers.


The view from between the two towers.

Seth and John climbed up to the top of the shorter tower, which had a sloped part on one side. It was way up there!

Our time in Colorado was spent visiting family, catching up with a few friends whom we hadn't seen in several years, and working on some projects with family.
Aunt Karen with the hat Becca made for her.

Peter trying out Grandmother's pool.

When Grandpa passed away this spring, he had some unfinished batches of wine in progress. My aunt and uncle did some research and figured out what was supposed to happen with them next, so while we were all there they went to work and bottled the wine.

We spent two nights at a YMCA park up in the mountains with several other family members. Our first day up there, we drove over Trail Ridge, a mountain pass that goes up to 12,000 feet. It was cloudy for much of our drive, but we did have some very nice views.

Texans in snow country!

The clouds shifted quickly-- just a few minutes after we arrived at this overlook, we couldn't see the mountains at all.

We saw several of these marmots.


On our second day we spent a lot of our time visiting and just enjoying the scenery, but we also did various activities, like miniature golf.

Ray, John, Seth, and I went mountain biking.

video



After dinner, we went over to the rec room to play ping-pong.



That evening there was a Creole/Cajun music concert. Interestingly enough, the group actually originated in southern Illinois, where there is a large French Creole population. The man on the left has a wearable washboard-- it's just a bent piece of metal with shoulder straps!

The next morning, Seth and John went on a sunrise hike up Twin Sisters Peak. The rest of us chose not to get up at three in the morning and hike eight miles before breakfast-- but we all enjoyed the pictures!

At the top.

The dark shadow in this picture is the shadow of the mountain they were on.



The rest of our family, plus Ray, went on a less strenuous hike later that morning.
A view on the way up.

From the top, we could see the whole park.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Greetings!

We have arrived safely in Fort Collins. Along the way we stopped in Palo Duro Canyon. We saw a black widow, two live tarantulas, and some interesting animal tracks in some fresh and smooth mud. In the morning the sky was cloudy, so we got to see the sun break through the clouds, presenting some fascinating patterns of light and shadow. Yesterday we visited with some old friends in Pueblo, CO and had an encouraging time of fellowship with them. Here is a quote one of them shared with us; it relates to Becca's journaling essay. "Thoughts tend to disentangle themselves when passing over the lips and through pencil tips." That evening we drove north along I-25 to Fort Collins. It was glorious to be able to see the sun set over the mountains to our west. Farewell for now!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Why You Should Keep a Journal

In our family there is an activity we children do regularly as part of our schoolwork that gives us good writing skills, helps us to reflect on occurrences, and provides a record of our lives! This productive and beneficial practice is journaling.

Building good writing skills is one benefit of journaling. Our mother checks our journals for errors in spelling, grammar, handwriting, and composition. Being able to express what has happened and what we think about it in a neat, understandable way is an essential skill. As Francis Bacon says, “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready one, and writing an exact one.”

Journaling helps me to process and reflect on occurrences in my life. The following is what some of my brothers and sisters had to say when asked for one thing they appreciated about journaling. Laura says, “Journaling helps me to think about and analyze things that have happened in my life.” Seth says, “It helps me to process events and articulate myself.” Anna says this, “Inscribing the vicissitudes and felicitous events of one’s existence in legible form is beneficial both for the retention of memories concerning them and for the articulation of one’s every cerebral, rational, and emotional reaction toward such happenings.”

But I think the most important aspect of journaling is the record it provides. Looking back on this record, you are reminded of your experiences and your thoughts about them that you would have otherwise forgotten. As Katie says, “It's nice to be able to look back on dates and other details, but having my thoughts and emotional responses preserved is even more special (although sometimes embarrassing).”

In addition, if you journal for some time you are able to see changes in the way you write and in your perspective on life. Katie says, “It more easily lets you see the Lord working in your life. You can see how prayers were answered, how things you were worried about worked out, and how you've changed and learned lessons over time.”

This record can also be valuable to your children and grandchildren. By knowing your story they are able to learn from the good and bad in your life and to see how God has worked in your life. “Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you,” says the Bible. How are your descendants to remember their family history if you do not tell them and how are you to remember well enough to tell them if you do not have a record?

So, I think journaling is an educational, enjoyable, and valuable practice and I am glad we are required to do it.