Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thoughts on "The Shack"

I remember when "The Shack," by William P. Young had not been released yet, but it had already received many accolades and endorsements by familiar Christian names. Fast forward several months, and it seemed that several of my friends were really talking it up. Claiming it was "the best book I've ever read..." When I heard that, because I've read quite a lot myself, I figured, this book has to be good.

I managed to borrow a copy from a coworker and took it along on our cruise back in January, figuring it'd be a quick beach read. (Aren't those great?) Well, at one point while reading it very early on, a fellow cruiser asked me, "How do you like it?" I explained I had just started it, but it was okay. She said, "I thought it was challenging..." While she didn't go into detail, as to whether challenging was connoting either positively or negatively, I began to understand her observation. In fact, my summation is, "I felt uneasy..."

Several concepts in the book sent up red flags. Since the book focuses on the Holy Trinity, I'd say as an author, you're already treading into some perilous waters. Anyway, one of the first things that alarmed me was the author depicting God the Father as an overweight African-American woman. (!!!) Jesus was depicted as a young man of Middle Eastern descent, while the Holy Spirit was a wispy Asian woman named Sarayu. Okay, if you can stomach that, several conversations occur between the three of them that seem a little too humanistic for me. These include, "Papa (God) was fully human in Jesus" and "we all submit to each other." Really? Show me some Scripture to back that up, please.

Confession time: I have yet to finish "The Shack," and I know it's practically a cardinal sin to write something off before you've even given it a full chance to redeem itself. It is still lying on my nightstand beneath other books, but I am now fully convinced that I don't need to waste any more time than I already have by completing the last few chapters. I admit, most of my reason by even trying to finish it was because several good friends have praised it so. Now I'm learning to trust and obey when the Holy Spirit sends us red flags. It is to alert us, be on guard, and check everything against Scripture. Discernment is a believer's best friend.

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church does a great job of explaining some of the major heresies of "The Shack." (link courtesy of Voddie Baucham) Please take the time to listen, he truly clarified my thoughts and articulated my uneasiness. What scares me most is how many Christians are fully buying into Young's views about the Trinity. Worse yet, there are seekers and non-believers whose doctrinal understanding will be horribly flawed.

In the book's foreward, Young serving as a conduit for "Mack" the protagonist, writes something to the effect of, "if you don't understand the story, then sorry, it wasn't meant for you."

Agreed; it wasn't meant for me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bygones of a different era

Picture your grandmother's kitchen.

Do you remember any familiar scents? Bread baking in the oven, fresh picked cucumbers, or maybe a chocolate cake waiting for a passerby.

How about utensils? Worn wooden spoons, a dainty pickle fork or two...

It's hard to imagine that a place as universal and timeless as a kitchen could be witness to so many cultural changes. Don't believe me? Kitchen staples wax and wane with the times.

Aprons, once unthinkable to not wear one while preparing pie crusts and mopping the floors, are now coming back in vogue. Newer generations have traded the practicality of some items for sheer fashion or trendiness instead. Aprons have always signified work. I have a vintage apron from the '50s that I still haven't gotten in the practice of always tying it on every time. When you put one on, I think a message is relayed to your brain, "She's serious." This reminds me of Proverbs 31:17, "She girds her loins with strength, and strengthens her arms." The phrase "girding your loins" means to tie up loose fabric or clothes so that you make work more easily, similar to "rolling up your sleeves." Yet again that blessed model of a godly woman found in Proverbs 31 shows she's not afraid to get dirty.

If aprons signify work, then a tray signifies serving. My whole idea for this post came about over the weekend because of a tray I own. I received it as a wedding shower gift from a dear friend, and 99.9% of the time, it rests out of sight on top of our fridge collecting dust. This past weekend however, I used that tray three different times. All three times were carrying some delicious foods to some families from our church. The thought dawned on me that the only time I really use that tray is to transport food to a different place. It suddenly became a powerful symbol of hospitality for me. That simple wooden tray convicted me due to the amount of dust and that I almost forgot that I owned it. I need to serve more. I need to offer hospitality more. Not only that, but a tray can be lovingly used within your own home to serve your husband or children breakfast in bed. That's always a lovely treat :)

Aprons, trays, rolling pins, hostess trollies, tea services, they're all a part of old-fashioned kitchens and hospitality. We could take a lesson from these forgotten treasures, to labor diligently in our kitchens for our families and for those outside our home.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine's Dinner with Dr. Gary Chapman

If you have ever heard of or read the book, "The Five Love Languages" you are familiar with Dr. Gary Chapman's work. He has written a plethora of other marriage/counseling books on different topics. Two other books he's written that I'm interested in are, "The Five Languages of Apology" and "The other side of love" which is based on anger.

Well, I'm a little more than familiar with Dr. Chapman than some since he's a pastor at my church. I've gotten to meet him several times and chat with his lovely wife, Carolyn. Basically, he is the real deal. If you want to hear a godly man preach on a Sunday, he can bring it like no other. I really enjoy him speaking about theology as well as communication needs. And in case his counseling demands dwindled, he'd make a great stand-up comedian as well.

Last night, our church held its annual Valentine's Day dinner, but this time Dr. Chapman was the guest speaker. Not surprising, his theme was on love. But it was not primarily on love in the context of marriage or parenting, but simply living as a loving Christian.

I am ashamed to admit this, but as we left I told my husband, "that whole message was convicting for me."

Based on one of his latest books, "Love as a Way of Life," he went over the seven different facets of love: kindness, courtesy, humility, forgiveness, patience, generosity, and honesty.

Some of those traits are easier to come by than others, but I personally struggle with courtesy (being "friendly-minded"), patience ("forgetting is not a sin"), and generosity ("making time for others").

Last time I heard Dr. Chapman speak, I fortunately had paper and pen to jot down my thoughts. Last night, however I didn't, so I'm going off memory here! Perhaps the things I remembered, were the things the Holy Spirit wanted me to cling to.

Courtesy: Chapman explained that the word courtesy in Greek comes from two words "friendly" and "mind." Thus we treat others like we would our own friends. His examples included allowing someone else to go in front of you at the checkout line, giving up a parking space for someone, offering your seat to an elderly person, etc. I realize that several of these traits are interdependent upon one another....i.e. if I am impatient by nature, I probably will not have a penchant for being courteous...because after all, it's all about me!

Patience: Oooo, how I struggle with this, and how I know our baby will teach me in short order! The way Chapman described it in context of examples almost described grace. Once again, you gotta give someone grace in order to be patient! He gave the example of a husband losing the car keys for the third time in a week, and the wife huffing, "Why can't you just hang it on the key hook?!" And this point he made hit me like a load of bricks: "Forgetting is not a sin." Whoaaa Nelly! Back that thang up... Okay, so I never realized until last night that I practically equate forgetfulness as a sin. Hmmm, where is that Scripture verse anyway? (Oh riiight, there isn't one). Not only should we be patient with others, but patient with ourselves. We are only human after all. And only one perfect Person has ever walked the earth before.

Generosity: I know I could do more for people, so why don't I? It's not merely a financial issue, it's one of time, service, and words. There are people in my life who I love devoting time to like Brent. But there are others which, let's face it, I've been holding back on. (Cue the music "Let your love flow...") Do they not deserve it? If we argue points of merit, then Christ's death for each one of us gives more emphasis on how great His love truly must be. As Christians, we can't settle for doling love out only to those who are kind to us, instead of those who are unkind. We must be generous with everyone.

Dr. Chapman tied all of the seven facets of love into Jesus' words, "'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’" (Matthew 22:37-39) And also, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35) If you asked someone, "What's your idea of a 'Christian?'" What do you think they would say? Love?

Maybe perhaps now you can tell why his talk was convicting for me. May we love others as Christ has truly loved us.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Some highlights of my first cruise

Back in January, my family blessed Brent and I by paying for us to go on a cruise with them and my sister and her husband. The idea of the 6 of us going was exciting, since the niece and nephew are usually present; but this was an adults only trip. :) I've always wanted to go on a cruise, and I'd never been to the Bahamas, so it was a trip of "firsts."

We left historic Charleston, SC on January 17th and boarded Norwegian Cruise Line's "Norwegian Majesty." As a first-time cruiser, I really had no expectations (which I think is a great thing) because I simply enjoyed it for what it was having nothing to compare it to.

After locating our compact room and trying out the vacuum toilets (!), the boat eventually set sail and that's when the trouble began....
I honestly thought I'd be a-okay on a ginormous boat. I have always been a sailing/boating/jetskiing lover, and have never had motion sickness on water. Boy, was it a shock to my system. I was completely incapacitated for the first two days as we sailed for the entire duration. Being pregnant, I began wearing Sea-Bands which have helped me with airplane motion sickness in the past. Thankfully, we randomly ran into a childhood best friend and her family on board. Her mom gave me ginger supplements which seemed to help.

Nevertheless, I cannot tell you how many times I was constantly asked, "Have you taken the ginger pills?" "How do you feel now?" "Maybe if you look out the window...." "How about some fresh air?" Really, I know my family was only concerned, but I was rather content to sleep since that was the only time I had a reprieve. I guess since I hadn't had any morning sickness with the baby, this was some sick joke to make up for it. I tell you, I really feel sympathy for those moms who suffer with it. My trashcan and I became fast friends...literally. :)

The good news was that as soon as we would anchor or dock, I was my normal self again. I got to eat after day two and finally begin enjoying the trip. Our first stop was Great Stirrup Cay. It was gorgeous....

Great Stirrup Cay was quite windy and cool, therefore I never got into the water. What a bummer! But I simply soaked up the view and the amazing teal color of the water. After only a few hours at GSC, everyone was evacuated (!) due to the high winds. The captain was concerned about the tender boats being able to safely get passengers back on board the cruise ship. We left reluctantly, and my time on land was all too fleeting.

We later ended up in Nassau which was much nicer than I had thought it would be. (When we honeymooned in St. Lucia, we quickly became aware of the extreme poverty). Nassau reminded me of Charleston with its pastel buildings paying homage to flamingoes. We walked around the area and went through the famous straw market (which was exactly like St. Lucia). Brent and my father left to go on a snorkeling excursion while I stayed back with my mom. Later that night, we went to a colorful Bahamian restaurant, Cafe Kalik. We feasted on yummy conch fritters (my first time) and coconut shrimp. The place was decorated with lots of Junkanoo (Bahamian Mardi Gras) costumes and masks. Here is one that our waiter created by hand...

We boarded the cruise ship and set sail for Freeport at Grand Bahama Island. There we met Audley, the nicest tour guide ever. He drove us around for 3 hours everywhere on that island. I was amazed at how simple the houses and shops looked. Some were rundown, but most just looked very plain compared to American homes. After getting off of the van and getting ready to board the cruise ship again, Brent noticed that his wedding ring was missing. Believe it or not, it wasn't the first time. And because of that, I honestly had a nonchalant attitude. (I gave up the sentimentality when the original wedding band was swallowed by the Atlantic Ocean a year ago).

Naturally, when we returned to our room, Brent just felt awful about the ring. I suggested we pray about it and ask God to bring it back to us. Now here is the weird/miraculous part... flashback to the day before when Brent went snorkeling...he jokingly told me he'd lost the ring then, and said "Just kidding!" and slipped it back on his finger. Flash forward to after we had prayed... Brent decided to look in his backpack as a last resort, and there it was. Some might say that he never put it back on to begin with, and that's where the ring had been the whole time. But Brent and I say that God brought it back to us, because nothing is impossible with God.

The next day we docked at Cape Canaveral, Florida and took a day-long expedition to the Kennedy Space Center. It was such a great experience, I'd go back there again and give more time to it. We were unable to do everything on a single-day pass. I've never been immersed in space stuff all that much, so it was a real treat learning the science behind everything. Here are some fun pictures... and I betcha didn't know that shuttles zoom around at 17,500 mph!

Those were the happenings off the ship, but we had lots of fun onboard too. There were nightly trivia games which asked absurd questions, song and dance shows, a comedy team that was hilarious. The comedy team, "Blackstreet Boyz," is made up of two guys, Alfred and Seymour. Their show is a mix of hip hop, physical humor, dance, and audience participation. The best part was when my dear mom was chosen from the audience! She got pulled up on stage and they started doing funny pictures with her. At one point, they were using her camera to take the pictures, and Seymour tripped and the camera went flying across the stage, breaking open. I think my whole family's jaws were dropped and in shock. Thankfully, it was a gag because he had switched the cameras...good grief. I especially enjoyed watching audience members get heckled, and some of them weren't even aware of it!

I think one of my favorite parts of the cruise was truly the staff. Yes, the staff. I have never met friendlier or more helpful people anywhere. Most are internationals and do not get to see their families for several months on end. They honestly seemed pleased and satisfied to help you, how often do you come across that attitude? One sweet server even brought me out a plate of crackers and green apple slices to help me feel better. Not only that, she brought me a barf bag. :)
I apologize for the few photos to post (I have more on facebook), but because I wasn't feeling all that well, my camera was the furthest thing on my mind. Thankfully, my family took lots more pictures and even caught me sleeping while seasick on the top deck :-p
The only travel plans for the future as far as I can tell will be to our family's beach house in the summer prior to the baby's arrival.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Me looking slightly pregnant

Might I add these photos were not anticipated! I had been delaying, procrastinating, postponing what have you (for no real reason), for several weeks now, and Brent caught me off guard after we got home from church yesterday.
But, alas, the first pictures have been taken! :-D

Monday, February 2, 2009

How many children is too many?

Last week, the news media was all over the incredible story of a mom giving birth to octuplets! Imagine, all at one time. And apparently, the mom and doctors were only expecting seven. The media loved this story until the revelation came that the mom already had six children.

Immediately, responses from the media and water-cooler talk hailed the now family of 14 children as "stupid," "irresponsible," and "insane." This was my first time through personal conversations that I've heard coworkers reveal their large family bias. I am not unwise to the fact that American society seems to deplore large families, and I'm not referring to families with 3 or 4 children (although to most that is what constitutes a large family). Several of my favorite bloggers have several children...i.e. 8 or more. I guess I've kinda gotten used to that being a large family.

My problem with the majority of criticisms surrounding mega-families is that people don't realize that these children are seen as blessings, not burdens to the parents. Honestly, why does it matter if a family chooses to have God decide their number of children if they desire it so? Most of the time, these families are not living off of the bloated welfare system; their parents are providing for them in a responsible manner. One of my favorite mega-families is the Duggars. I recently read their new book, "The Duggars: 20 and Counting!" Truly inspirational in so many ways.

Big families certainly attract intrigue, considering the average American family has 2.1 kids. It's no wonder that the Duggars' tv show as well as Jon & Kate Plus 8 are getting mainstream attention. Most people, especially parents cannot fathom taking care of a literal classroom of children. Might I add that most parents cannot fathom having well-behaved children.

The title of this post, "How many children is too many?" will not be answered here. It's a rhetorical question that requires serious thought and introspection. I just thought it'd be interesting to weave implications regarding families into the mix.

Here are a couple of links related to families...

Some people believe 2 children should be the maximum.... yet "Worldwide, birthrates have declined by 50% in the past half-century," the groups say. "There are now 59 nations, with 44% of the world's population, with below replacement birthrates." A birthrate of 2.1 is needed to replace current population, but the European Union has a birthrate of just 1.3. By 2030, the group's estimate, Europe is expected to have a shortfall of 20 million workers.

Al Mohler examines the impact of children

One of my favorite bloggers, Jess, looks at the implications of living in a birth-control infatuated society... explains very common stereotypes and misconceptions.

A compilation of large family comebacks :) Q."Do you know what causes that?!" A. "Yes, I do...cold winter nights..."

Another post from Jess on what Scripture reveals about children, moms, and dads.

And this mom of 8 challenges my thinking in "Is eight enough?"....
"To look in each of the faces around our dinner table, to know that we thought we were probably done with the baby thing after 1, then after 2, then after 3...sometimes my heart is in my throat as I think, "What if I had called it quits? You wouldn't be here! I would have missed the amazing miracle of you..."