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the gentle slope

Sunday afternoon, I had come home from church after spending several hours there singing, listening, praying, taking notes, flipping through the pages of my Bible, fellowshipping and attending a lunch meeting. I plopped onto my bed and surveyed my bedspread. Sundays usually find my bed in disarray because I clean primarily on Mondays. A pile of clean laundry perched on one corner, a stack of books where my second pillow should be. I’ve spent too many years sharing a full-sized mattress to ever learn to sleep in the middle, so the other side of my bed always seems to turn into extra storage during the week.

I glanced around at the books that had been left there. The Eleanor Estes book I’m reading aloud to Jubilee, a book on illustrating children’s books, The Christian Writer’s Market Guide from 2011 (which is, as I suspected, quite useless now) and my Bible. I remembered how my class that morning had inspired me to read scripture to myself more often. I’m taking a class on The Creation Issue and our teacher referenced some scriptures I had certainly never considered, much less meditated on. I also remembered how I’d had trouble coming up with a prayer request during our small group time. Was it that there were too many to choose from or that I hadn’t thought much about prayer at all recently?

I should really stop and pray right now. I thought. Not only did I feel that I should, but I knew it would be beneficial to me.  I was just about to stop and grab a pen and open my journal to write out a prayer when I remembered something I needed to do on my computer. It was terribly important that I check my Elance account just then. While I was doing that, I remembered that someone had sent me a message on Facebook I had never responded to. I opened up Facebook on another tab and quickly responded to the note. Wow—how did I already get this many notifications? I proceeded to click on each one and “like” or comment accordingly.

I was suddenly feeling very inspired to chime in on an interesting thread I saw going about writing. I put in my two cents with prolific ease. What was it I was going to blog about? I perused my search history to try to remember. Ah yes! My reading challenge. I wanted to pick up the pace now that June was upon me. I reached for the book on illustration.

Wait a second, wasn’t there something I was going to do?

Now, I don’t know a lot about spiritual warfare other than it exists. I don’t have a theological argument for how The Enemy works or what tools he uses. What I do know is that I suddenly come up with lots of “good” things to do right as I’m about to do the only really vital thing I can do: communicate with The Creator.

In C. S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters, a demonic character writes:

Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…

In my experience, Satan does not ever, ever tell me what he’s up to or where I’m headed. When I’m tempted, it comes in the form of half-truths and justifications. I am most often drawn away from God by being distracted with “good.” A good thing to do, a good place to go, a good thought to entertain, a good movie to plop down in front of. It is a very safe road to hell indeed to continually find more and more good things to distract you from the only source of Good we’ve ever known.

At another point in the book, the demon remarks:

It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.

Our hearts are already full of sin and impurity. You don’t have to teach a baby to scream or hit or be possessive or show favoritism. It’s our nature! What is against our nature is to go back to the way we were in The Garden of Eden before the serpent slithered onto the scene. To go back to those thought patterns and actions and culture is to swim upstream. We have to consciously open our spiritual eyes and see God all around us. This sometimes feels like opening one’s eyes underwater, unnatural and highly intimidating. Eyes are so vulnerable, we’d sometimes rather be blind than expose them to the truth.

We have to consciously shut out the impure thoughts and ask God to take them far away. We have to consciously take in the Bible, God’s letter to us, and “hide it” in our hearts. Much of the Bible is unpleasant, confusing, demanding, even gory and erotic. I’m not sure what sort of person, not seeing the living value of it, would choose to read it over and over again as Christians do.

We have to pray in private, knowing that God is always with us, and daily open our eyes under the sea, come sand come salt, and allow God to show us new things. We have to silence our sinful thoughts which want to walk us gently and comfortable into Hell or, in the case of a Christian, into a dormant state of no production or communication, and forcibly open the door for The Holy Spirit. A strange new visitor who does everything backward. Instead of retaliation, submission. Instead of gain, loss. Instead of taking, giving. Instead of hate, love.

EP-come sand come salt

Instead of life and then death, death and then life! You have to retrain your mind to see things backwards and upside down, but when you do, you’ll see things clearer than ever. You’ll realize that the first time you were born, you were born upside down and you’ve been walking around upside down ever since. The real life, the real reality, is the other way around and you must allow yourself to be righted before you can walk that life.

When He [God] talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever. –The Screwtape Letters

You know that you should not sin, but do you know that you should not give, should not go to church, should not smile at a passerby, should not evangelize, should not read Christian literature, should not do a good deed until you have realized that all of that is but clanging symbols without a connection to and a relationship with the source of all that is good? Put down your book, blog, conversation. Put down your list, your calling even. Put it all down and pick up your eyes. Look up to Zion and ask yourself, am I trudging uphill toward a glorious peak, or slowly and comfortable sliding down the gentle slope?

a month since meggie

EP phoebe and meggie in my bed

It’s been a month since Meggie left, a month since I penned a teary letter to her. The adoption process is hardly moving. It reminds me of a spider, dragging it’s prey up a wall. If you’ve ever witnessed these efforts, you know what I mean. If not, I’ll just tell you it involves a lot of struggle, a lot of falling to the ground and starting over, a lot of patience on the part of the spider as well as the paralyzed victim.

To tell you we miss her would be redundant, but life goes on. As a matter of fact, amidst the absence of our baby sister and the wintry weather and the constant stress of trying to build a house with our bare hands while still keeping our “real” jobs, things have been quite joyful. I spoke briefly with a good friend on Sunday with whom I’d really like to catch up, and I found myself wanting to grab lunch with her just so I could reassure that I am quite happy and content in this season.

I appear to be getting singler and singler, which is apparently the most prevalent cause of discontentment in young women today, but I am also becoming wiser and wiser, stronger and stronger, less and less susceptible to every passing wind and therefore, in generally better spirits. As much as I loved being very young, it’s kind of a relief to just be “young” now. Growing up is hard work.

To conclude the personal update, I love writing more than ever and I am rekindling my love of visual art. The desire to create visual art is perhaps just as strong as the desire to write, but the craft is much more difficult for me. I’ve been writing in my journal and preparing this and that for various blogs and sketching and piddling with watercolors. I think I need to share more of my illustrations, but it still makes me uncomfortable. It’s taken me long enough to become confident as a writer. Sharing a sketch is like starting all over again in first grade.

What I will do with these thoughts and words and lines and dots, I am not sure. I am praying diligently and practicing, and I think that’s obedience for this season.

Another thing that has kept me busy and happy is The Serve Team. This team was started by the college ministry I’m involved in last semester. The idea is that a group of students gathers each week and goes and meets the physical needs of those in our church community, primarily senior adults. I really look forward to this throughout the week. We do anything they need help with: pull weeds, wash windows, vacuum, make repairs, trim trees, organize, move furniture, etc. The best part is getting to know the older generation, hearing their stories and gaining wisdom from them. They’re also typically sweet and appreciate, so we all leave on a high.

I woke up a couple of weeks ago with an idea in my head and the leaders in our church were kind enough to bring it to life. On Sunday, about seventy widows received a Valentine’s rose after church. It was a memorable time for me.

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My older sister and her husband have now been living with us for almost eight months. Everyone has been a trooper, squeezing in and making due with the little room and privacy we have to offer. The men in the family are literally building the house by hand, so it isn’t any wonder it’s taking a…while. They all toil at it in their minimum spare time, and it slowly makes progress. It does look like a house now…just not a very warm, safe or comfy house.

I leave you with an recent excerpt from my journal and a promise to come back again soon to write more:

“My world is swirling with robins. The extremely low temperatures have graced us with a massive migration of birds. Jays, sparrows, juncos, doves, cardinals, wrens, titmice, crows, chickadees and more, soar and dive across every window’s view. This seemingly long Winter will soon melt away and Spring will be here in full force. I am looking very much forward to sunshine and wildflowers and cheerful, uncomplicated clothes. However, I also have appreciated this frosty, feathery season.”


the myth of the macho man

macho man

Once upon a time God created the earth and he needed someone to destroy it, so he created man.

Or so you would think the story goes by listening to the conversations I overhear between guys. Now, I don’t want to be a man-hater in this post. I have some excellent men in my life and I am sure there are many more in this world I’ve yet to meet. My dad, brothers, brother-in-law, cousins, friends from church and that handful of guys who have always read my blog and followed me on Twitter much to my confusion (hi guys!) are all wonderful.

Even the guys that this post is about are really great guys. They go to church, they treat their girlfriends right, they tell their mamas that they love ‘em. They’re good ol’ boys (as my grandpa would say) and yet they seem to have a very skewed view of manhood. I am not going to try to define manhood (I’m hardly the person for that job!) but I don’t feel unqualified to write this post. All I am going to do is to quote scripture and voice my opinion on what I appreciate (and what I don’t) in the behavior of male acquaintances.

With those disclaimers (refresher: I don’t hate men and this stereotype does not apply to all males, amen!) I give you The Macho Manifesto:

1. All male Christians should be macho, because otherwise, they’re feminine/untrue to how God made them. Boys will be boys, or should be anyway.

2. To be macho is to be wild, undomesticated, loud, rough, sloppy, hungry, dangerous and most importantly: destructive (to the glory of God.)

3. Appropriate Macho activities include but are not limited to: playing sports, watching sports, getting involved in borderline illegal activity and killing animals.

I am not saying that men should not be manly or that sports are evil or that I want to marry someone whose favorite activities are manicures and yoga. That’s not the point at all. The point is that somehow throughout time, men have been fed a lie. A lie that tells them that to be a real man and to be attractive to women, they must stomp through life with no concern for the wake of damage that follows behind them. This is not true. Scripture does not back it up and I can personally testify that this is not attractive to my Godly female friends or myself. This is not merely a matter of preference, but of ethics. Preferences are things like blue eyes or a great singing voice. This is an issue of men taking an unethical view of creation and thinking that it should be, not only acceptable in the Christian life, but the pinnacle of Godly manhood. Here is why I disagree:

1.   All of creation belongs to God. He takes no pleasure in death.

 I don’t like the idea of hunting if the goal is simply to domineer oneself over an animal. God made it clear that we have dominion over all of creation, we don’t need to trap and kill to prove that. Sitting in a tree house throwing corn out for deer day after day and then shooting them with a scoped rifle is hardly hunting. If you enjoy being in nature, observing animals, camping, tracking, etc. be my guest, but there is no reason for these kinds of activities to end in death. I can’t imagine that Jesus, who came to conquer death, would want us to find any pleasure in death, even the death of an animal.

Using dead animals as trophies doesn’t impress me. As a matter of fact, it lessens my respect of a man. If a man thinks that his worth is based on how many little animals he can conquer and mount, he has a very sick view of the purpose and power of the human spirit.

2. Abusing or killing animals does not make you a stronger man, but a weaker bully.

In scripture, The Holy Spirit is represented as a dove because doves are a spectacle of purity and grace. Today, dove hunting is a huge sport. How does killing a tiny bird make you more of a man? One of my favorite passages of scripture is Matthew 10:28-30,

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.”

If God’s eye is really on a sparrow, why don’t we hesitate to take its small life?

Cruelty to animals is not manly, but rather childish. Remember that God let a donkey speak out against his abusive master! He also commanded that his people not muzzle an ox that was treading out the grain. (Numbers 22:28, Deuteronomy 25:4.)

Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, writes in Proverbs 12:10: “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.”

3. Scripture is adamant that man is to care for creation.

As you might’ve guessed, the beginning of this post was a parody of the true creation story. In reality, Genesis reads like so:

“…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:7-8, 15)

The literal translation from the Hebrew is that man was to “serve and protect” the natural earth. I also believe that we are to use the earth. It is subject to mankind, but it is also a gift. If someone gives you a gift, they want you to use it, not stow it away in some glass case. But neither do they want you to abuse it, destroy it or desecrate it in anyway. When we take what we need from the earth and give back to it as well, we are using the gift. When we take pleasure in the destruction of nature (be it animals, plants, the atmosphere) we are abusing our gift from God.

4. God honors creation and protection, condemns destruction and violence.

Without getting into a discussion of war, I think we can all agree that God calls us away from violence into a life of peace. He tells fathers to love their wives as Christ loves the church, giving of himself for her. He says that greater love has no man than this that he gives up his own life for a friend. He tells us not to provoke our children to anger, but to be gentle with children. He tells us to forget “an eye for an eye” and to instead turn the other cheek. Proverbs 3:31 warns,

“Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways.”

5. Jesus wasn’t macho

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I’m about to make a case for some sweet, girlish version of Jesus that just goes around patting people’s hands and smelling flowers. That is far from the Jesus I’ve read about and known. However, despite the fact that Jesus was no wuss (He understood better than any of us the power of The Spirit) he was actually nothing like the man described by The Macho Manifesto above. He did not take pleasure in pain or death. He was gentle to women and children. He spoke against violence and pride. So if men aren’t supposed to be “macho,” what does scripture say man is to strive for? Well, first and foremost, we should all (regardless of sex) strive to emulate Christ. When scripture gives us requirements for men who want to lead in church, we hear descriptions like, “of good repute, wise, not drunkards, honest, dignified, gentle, self-controlled” etc. In other words, Gaston would not qualify.

Though I think scripture speaks pretty well for itself, I leave you with the words from a great novel:

 “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

To Kill a Mockingbird

the right education

meagan peckover: guest writerMeagan Peckover comes from a family of six people, a lovebird, two dogs and seven ducks. She lives in the place where trees grow greenest and m range tall, in a little yellow farmhouse in the midst of a valley. Sh loves to read for long hours, and always roots for the under dog. She is currently writing a novel for young adults, and is waiting to begin her senior year in homeschool this fall.

 Today I am proud and pleased to introduce you to one of my favorite writers, dearest friends and most faithful pen-pals. Please give a warm welcome to Meagan Peckover!

I read Aristotle’s Ethics when I was a freshman in high school. It was assigned, I didn’t go out of my way to read it, and I didn’t really understand it when I did. But the very act of reading, or listening, or recording, is often enough to let some glimmer of truth within the story shine through. I didn’t catch all of Aristotle’s meanings, but I saw this one sentence that spoke volumes, and wrote it down. It is from Book 2, Chapter 3:

“Hence we ought to have been brought up in a particular way from our youth, as Plato says, so as both to delight in and be pained by the things we ought; for this is the right education.”

I’ve tried to phrase why we should not become numb time and time again, but there it was, said better than I ever could. Writers, especially, do not become numb. If you are numb, if you don’t feel, if you do not care, you are a bad writer. Some people have been criticized for putting themselves too much into the story, for letting their beliefs speak too loudly, and I think, Isn’t that what a story’s for? Jesus spoke in parables. Fairytales were written to instruct. Aesop wrote fables to teach morals. When I write, I write because I think that the best way to ever speak of God’s love is in a story, whether that be fiction or nonfiction, historical or fantasy or sci-fi, it all has a place.

Aristotle knew even back then that the most beautiful people, the most intelligent, creative, imaginative people are the ones who have not seen the world’s horrors, turned their backs and said, “I can do nothing, thus I will feel nothing.” The people who change the world, the ones who write the best books and paint the most exquisite paintings and do the most heroic deeds, they are the ones who see, and who feel; they mourn for those who go unmourned, they have compassion on the compassionless, they look at the sick and the bleeding and the dying and they see a person. These people have had the right education: they are pained by the things they ought to be pained by.

Let your writing teach you, let it be painful, and let it be joyful. Writing is something you’re born with. I think that somewhere, deep in the womb where it is warm and dark, God puts a tiny seed in our tiny heads. And I think that this seed grows into a magnificent gift that drops more seeds, tinier seeds, seeds that sprout into homes or books or gardens or prayers. One of the seeds that grew out of my head was a character, a girl, named Eden. I don’t know all about her yet, but she wrote this, and I think it sums up what I’m trying to say.

I used to dream about people. Not people I knew, just everyday sorts of people, the ones that you pass in the street or in the grocery store or order coffee from. When I was awake I would stand in the middle of a crowded room and just look at everyone, all of them going about their lives and living in a way that I never could. They would live a life that I never knew, and there is a mystery in that. I wonder if anyone ever thought the same about me. I wonder if anyone ever looked at me and thought, Now there’s a girl with a life to lead; she’s going places. I wonder if anyone ever thought that. I remember passing people, looking at their faces, trying to imagine how they saw themselves, and I would think, She has no idea how beautiful she is. He has no idea that every step he takes is a miracle. It was sad, sort of, thinking that other people couldn’t see what I saw.

It sounds silly when it’s written out, like I walk around with butterflies in my hair and stars in my eyes, and I can’t see that some people are made prettier than others, and some people are made more talented than others. It’s not that, really. I understand that we aren’t all equal across the board. It’s just that-everyone has their own spectacular beauty hidden right inside them, and they don’t even know it. I think sometimes that we just have to wait and find out what that is, but other times, I wonder if maybe our beauty is for this world at all. Maybe there are some people who won’t discover how spectacular they are until they move on past death.

Please, go out in the world, and do not be numb, but find the beauty that is tucked in every person on God’s earth. You writers, feel the sting of the hungry and the fatherless and the widows. Do not let them turn you to ice. Writing is God’s gift to use, to help us make more sense of this broken world, and how it is being redeemed.

-Meagan Peckover

good times: photos

Dear You,
My last post was a little drab. No apologies here, just telling it like it is. Sometimes life is drab. But sometimes it can be positively blissful. Let’s focus on those times tonight, shall we?

The darling Eliza Love is a great friend of ours. Ten months ago she moved eight hours away.
It was sad. We cried. But she was kind enough to spend her Spring Break with us!

For a moment, all was right in the world…
Stepping out.

Eliza and I. And rootbeer. I repeat: ROOTbeer.
Good times outside with Mr. Lizardio

I’m never going to get over that nose.

Or those lashes. 

Can you guess who’s hiding in the hammock?

Yup. We’re pretty obsessive about photographing this chick.

She’s quite thoughtful when it comes to birthdays.
Springtime yard work! Now that we’ve actually gotten rain, we have to mow again!
Isn’t Sam just the cutest?
Feelin’ manly.

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