Sunday, April 29, 2007

Mary McLeod Bethune

While I was studying education in graduate school, I was inspired by a biography of an influential educator at the turn of the twenty-first century. Mary McLeod Bethune was one of seventeen children born to former slaves. By her late twenties, she had worked diligently to found the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls. She attributed much in her life to thanksgiving. She wrote:

I believe that the thanksgiving which is continually in my heart and upon my lips is the source of my power and growth in personality development. Any time, any place, I can hear myself saying, "Father, I thank Thee," or "Thank Thee, Father"... This is definitely a part of my spirit. To be sure, I have seen trouble, I have had difficulty; the way has not been easy, but I have thanked God and said, "Glory Hallelujah!"

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Foundation of Belief

[A] shaking of so-called faith, has been of endless service to many, chiefly by exposing the insecurity of all foundations of belief, save that which is discovered in digging with the spade of obedience. Well indeed is it for all honest souls to be thus shaken, who have been building upon doctrines concerning Christ, upon faith, upon experiences, upon anything but Christ himself and his spirit to all who obey him and so revealing the Father.

- George MacDonald (italics mine): Paul Faber, Surgeon

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Building a Foundation

Letters from the Attic

I pulled out an old file cabinet from the attic this week. It was filled with old stories I had written in elementary school, newspaper clippings, certificates and art projects. It took a moment of sorting, though, to locate what I was hoping to find - two overflowing files brimming with correspondences dating back in time, five or six years.

I started reading through these letters and found myself sometimes amused (my long correspondence with a history major trying to awkwardly prove that chemistry was a more noble collegiate pursuit), sometimes reminiscent (my initial conversation with my college roommate where she asked me what my bike was like), sometimes joyous (wedding invitations for weddings that have long since come and gone) and most often a little overwhelmed at the voluminous intensity with which I wrote when I was seventeen years old. As I reflected on the great depth to which I pursued correspondences on such subjects as the interpretation of the Scriptures in the context of the church relative to the individual, I began to remember the consuming feeling of being a young adult and thinking, "I have to figure so much out." Perhaps this feeling was most heightened in my college ethics class where new scenarios for difficult moral application seemed to come to light at escalating rates, demanding, with each new dilemma, new lines of thinking.

And yet today, in reading through these old correspondences, I feel grateful to recognize that these times of intense contemplation and thought have passed. Certainly the recognition of this passing is not because I think that I have figured everything out; I obviously have not. And I haven't devalued the life of the intellect; ideas have tremendous consequences in the living of life.

I think, though, that rest has come through trust. Trust, not in my intellect, not in my thinking, but in the realization that I will know God's will and truth as I obey Him. It would have sounded like such a simple idea to my seventeen-year old pen, but it is amazing how much clarity trust brings. I believe it was G.K. Chesterton who said, "The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious and everything else becomes lucid."

My Favorite Sounds

A baby laughing
The wind blowing the leaves on the trees
An airplane flying overhead
Birds chirping
Running creek water
A rhythmic drier
Rain on the roof
The old John Deere B chugging in the field
A bale landing on the rugged floor of the old hay wagons
The word "Abba" by which the adopted call upon the Father

A Spring Prayer

Thank you, God, for your tender mercies that help us to grow. Thank you for loving me so steadily like the gentle rain that slowly softens the hardened spring soil and molds it and shapes it so that it may bring forth a harvest.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Birthday Season Kicks Off!

Rebecca celebrated her birthday this weekend with a cooking theme. After decorating aprons, making cream puffs and cupcakes with her girlfriends, she had a birthday treasure hunt.

When you live at a construction site, some particularly unusual hiding places exist!

Thankful People

"Thankful people have a view of life that begins somewhere deep in their souls, and outside circumstances just can't mar their joy. To them, life is a wonderful continuous dream come true. All of life is blessed, and they see themselves as being in a continual feast." - Debi Pearl

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Excavating Begins

The sun finally decided to shine again. Even things that are brown and gray look more beautiful when the sun shines. Even construction sites.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Though the Waters Rise

The pictures below depict a little creek that runs through our small town. None of us quite remember flood waters that have risen as high as they have today.

If the LORD had not been on our side—
let Israel say-
if the LORD had not been on our side
when men attacked us,
when their anger flared against us,
they would have swallowed us alive;
the flood would have engulfed us,
the torrent would have swept over us,
the raging waters
would have swept us away.

Praise be to the LORD,
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
out of the fowler's snare;
the snare has been broken,
and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 124)

The Vehicle of Occupation

Though the long-time farmer of Bentley Farm, Henry, passed away three years ago, his impact on our lives is not quickly forgotten. We remember Henry as we are mindful of the new changes in the Bentley landscape. The roads through the woods have become more defined, the old alfalfa field has a brand new crop of grapevines, the old milkbarn has been thoroughly removed and even the stately maple and cherry trees that graced the side of our own house have been cleared. It is easy to let our hopes for the future of Bentley Farm become all dominating and important, but thinking of Henry has helped us to remember that some things are more important than land, crops, trees and buildings.

Namely, Henry cared a lot about people. While no one tended to the Bentley fields like Henry, all would agree that the spot of real tenderness in his heart was for us. Working the land was not, to Henry, an end in itself. Henry's life as a farmer was a vehicle for relationships.

All of us could recount numerous memories of the outworkings of his care. Henry never stooped to the demands of efficiency. Unhurried, he always took the time necessary to patiently teach us children to drive the staples into the fence post without bending them or to lever the rocks from the field with the help of a fulcrum. Never did ears exist that were so receptive to the chatter and questions of children. Never would one so readily cease their work to lean upon their hoe and cheerfully greet a passerby.

I have so many favorite mental pictures of Henry. Somehow all of them involve me talking and Henry listening as though I was the most eloquent of statesmen.

And so we think of Henry in these times, grateful to be recipients of his loving and gracious ways. We hope that we can take a lesson from Henry and find that our occupations and the land around us are only vehicles for building caring relationships.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Thinking Upon Mary

There are times when a delightful hope lays hold of one so strongly, that all prayers and thoughts seem laden with the cumbersome longing for fulfillment. To the wearied soul, yielding in despair seems the enviable option when compared to laboring in prayer and hope. As I was finding myself placed in such a scenario this week, I subsequently found myself longing for clarity, "How shall I pray?"

The answer came after my last student left my classroom on Friday and I was searching for the strength to calculate my third quarter grades. In tiredness, my thoughts drifted away from chemistry grades and turned to Mary, the Mother of the Lord. Here, in reflection, was a woman who faced an uncertain future, who certainly hoped for many good things. Her response to God's work in her future was refreshingly simple and exactly the prayer that my lips needed to utter: Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy word.

How beautifully Mary's prayer incorporates the peacefulness of surrender and the determination of hope. What could be more hopeful than a life lived in accord with God's word? Who could be more yielded than the handmaid of the Lord?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Construction Preparations

While the BFG has recently been focused on the new construction projects of the Hudson Valley Development Group down Bentley Lane, quite a bit of activity has been brewing on our humble acre. Grandma's planned arrival (hopefully in the autumn of this year) has made our little homestead bustle with activity. The old oxen fence line has been removed, the small garden bed that I planted flowers in as a child has been destroyed, the flat stones that formed the walkway from the lane to the house have been sacrificed for dirt, the tiny spring flowers that line the bank up the hill disappeared with the removal of the stone wall, and half of the deck has been deconstructed. Construction sites are not picturesque landscapes. But we are hopeful as we await the new and all that it brings to us...especially our Grandma Farmer.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Above All Thank You's

Jesus Christ, I think upon your sacrifice
You became nothing, poured out to death

I tend to say, "thank you" a lot. It seems to me a small, but simple way of acknowledging the good will of another toward me. But last night while attending a Good Friday Prayer Vigil in an upper room with Nate and other students from Princeton, I wished for another word for "thank you."

Many times I've wondered at your gift of life
And I'm in that place once again

I needed a word that would convey to "thank you" what "agape" conveys to love. I wanted a word that could express a gratitude that would never be equalled or excelled.

Once again I look upon that cross where you died
I'm humbled by your mercy and I'm broken inside

Yet no such word could be found. And if such a word could be composed, it would only be the humblest offering of thanksgiving for the love of Calvary. If there was nothing else in life that one could find to rejoice in, nothing left to satisfy the thirst for fulfillment, this enjoyment of the richest love of God would be more than enough.

Thank you for the cross, thank you for the cross
Thank you for the cross, my friend

(Lyrics by Matt Redman)

Easter Celebrations

The family joined Nathaniel for an Easter celebration in Princeton today. After church we toured the Princeton battlefield and walked along the banks of the Delaware and Raritan Canal. It was fitting and good to be a family for this day of joyful reflection on Him who has conquered death and is forevermore alive. Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

When All Has Been Given

This was written in compassion for those who have planted the seeds of love and truth, wisdom and care in one deeply loved and have harvested only the affliction of rejection.

When all has been given
All the love, all the care, all of the hope
All of the forbearance, all of the sharing the burden of pain
All of the deepest desires for a wellspring of life
All of the faith for life anew
All of the listening, all of the pain heard about hope had and now gone

When all has been given
And not all received
Not received because of all of the hurt
That has hardened a heart toward all of the love
Manifested through the love of all that has been given

When all has been given
And the time for giving has ceased
Ceased because of all of the hurt
That could not receive all of the love

When all has been given
And we look into the painful mirror of the past and see
What could have been said, what love could have done
So that the mirror of the past was not plagued
By the horror of what is now the present

When all has been given
And not all received
And the time for giving has ceased
And we look into the mirror and see the pain of the past
All that can be done is to see that

When all has been given
It is God that places a blanket of grace
Over the past of the acts of love given
That were not received
And over the past of the acts of love withheld
That were never given

When all has been given
And the blanket of God’s grace tucked in
The past is restored and the present is set free
Because the infinitude of God stretches over
The acts of love withheld
That were never given
And transforms
The acts of love given
That were never received

When all has been given
Grace gives the rest

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Waiting for May Flowers

April showers have come to us and it is sometimes tricky to find interesting things to do while the waters pour from the sky. At least today, however, we were quite successful with discovering fun pastimes. By far and above, the most recommended piece of advice on a rainy day is to go outside. The type of rain gear that you don doesn't matter too much because, no matter how you dress, the bottom line is that you will get wet. But when that is part of the fun, you begin to not mind that sloshy feeling.

Puddles and kids both seem to enjoy each other.

Wet wave.

And when you're warm and dry and sitting inside, why not pull out a big mirror and try a photography trick?

Extended legs.

If you want to pretend that you are a twin, grab a doll and dress her up to match your outfit.

And if you are in the mood for a good laugh, try a new exercise routine. Rebecca and I gave pilates (thanks, Uncle Jim, for the suggestion!) a very noble attempt.

Our first attempt at pilates. We laughed much!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Getting Things Backward

As I was recently eating dinner with a group of teachers in the San Francisco Bay area, the conversation turned to religion. This particular conversation tended to engage my observation more than my participation. As the conversation turned to consideration of Jesus, the purpose of his life was soon discussed. "Jesus came because God just wanted to know what it was like to be human," was the idea proposed. Several people nodded in agreement. Another added, "It's kind of like if you were playing dolls and you decided to become one of those dolls just to see what it was like."

While I was somewhat surprised that there was a fairly confident agreement that Jesus was somehow God, I couldn't help but think that it's easy to get things backward. As much as it is incredible that God humbled himself to take on the form of man and experience life as a man, God's purpose in coming was far more meaningful than that.

In fact, I believe it would be more accurate to say that Jesus came because we needed to know what it is like to be God. Not that we could be God, but that we could once again be His children. Jesus showed us what we had been, what Adam had been created to be: simply one who does the Father's will.