EIGHTEEN!

Favorite number. I don’t get it. Numbers are functional. Asking for a favorite number is like asking what my favorite gasoline is, or my favorite nail, or screw, or spark plug. My favorite is the one I need at the moment that is close to hand. They serve a function, not a fancy. My only favorite number is “Free,” which doesn’t count as a number.

My youngest daughter, however, has a favorite number. At first I thought it was just the biggest number she could think of. This summer when we were renovating the kitchen, she walked into the dining room, and surveyed my carefully laid underlay with screws every four inches, and said, “Whoa. There must be eighteen screws in there.” At the time it felt more like 1800, so I wasn’t amused. When discussing future family sizes, she often announces that she will have eighteen babies. (Reminded, of course, by her fertility challenged mother that one doesn’t always get to pick.)

We became aware, however, that it went beyond big. Sometimes it was funny, like when Jonathan was counting to twenty for hide and seek with the children. He got to eighteen, and heard, from inside a closet, “Yay! Eighteen.” Other times it was inappropriate, like when Jonathan was reading Judges 20 in family worship. “Eighteen thousand men of Benjamin fell, all of them men of valor.” “Yay! Eighteen.” Sometimes it is useful, like when the other kids get 20 minutes of screen time, but she negotiates 18. She can even set the timer herself, because she knows 18. Although one time she set it for 18 hours and 18 minutes. Two eighteens are better than one.

Last week I had the blessing of driving to Fredericton with only the snickerdoodle. On the way home we slowed down at the 218 kilometer mark so she could see it and say “Yay! Eighteen.” When we passed exit 188, she said, “It’s an eighteen and a broken eighteen.” The entire family has begun looking for eighteens just because it makes our youngest say, “Yay! Eighteen.” Eighteen has become her thing. When the older children get eighteen as an answer in their math problems, they call her over and show it to her. When they find something with 18 written on it, they automatically assign it to their youngest sister.

When my mackerdoodle was the same age that the snickerdoodle is now, I was often quoting her to people and listening to her little quirks. The two youngest children have speech issues. The oldest got to be the only one speaking for a long time. I don’t have those same moments with my youngest. I am catechizing and teaching spelling and reading and grammar and math. I am drawing maps for history and experiments for science. I am answering a thousand questions an hour, and only a fraction of those come from my almost five year old. The cuteness gets lost in the mist of daily doings.

I am always aware of the tension between what must be done and what must be noticed, because it is so fleeting. I didn’t realize that my mackerdoodle had been aware of that same tension. Earlier this week she had been doing nine times tables, so the number 18 was making regular appearances on her work. The snickerdoodle would stop every thing to come and see every single 18. On the last problem, the mackerdoodle looked into my face and said, “One day she isn’t going to say ‘yay. eighteen.’ any more. One day it will just be another number again. Please write it down so we don’t forget.”

From now on eighteen will remind me not only of my wonderful third child and her child like wonder at the things we barely even notice, but also of the growing maturity in my oldest who doesn’t want to forget the days her little sister said, “YAY! EIGHTEEN.”


Entrepreneurship at the Table

Today at lunch the children were talking about opening business. The conversation went roughly as follows:

Cheesedoodle: (boy, 6) “I will open a waffle business, and I will buy waffles, store them in my freezer and eat them.”

Mackerdoodle (girl, 8) “I don’t think you understand how business works.”

They went on to discuss selling things for money and building businesses. To my delight, they all wanted to have businesses beside each other. The Cheesedoodle was insistent that he was going to be in the waffle business. He grasped that he would sell the items, not just eat them, but he would open “a waffle store,” in his words.

The Snickerdoodle who had been listening to this whole conversation, quietly, chimed in with “And I will have a chicken store next door.”

The Mackerdoodle answered, “and I will be in the alley between them selling chicken and waffles.”

Everyone laughed, but the Snickerdoodle wasn’t finished.

“I will sell chicken, and I will be open on Tuesday,” she announced.

“Only on Tuesday?” we asked.

“Yes. And my words on my restaurant will say, ‘gravy on every table’,” she finished, decisively.

Of all the business ideas discussed in my house, I think that one would have a chance.


In Which I Call Todd Pruitt an Angry Conservative (on purpose) and Prove Carl Trueman Right (accidentally)

In order for this post to make any sense, you must understand something. I was a rabid talk radio fan for many years and after God shifted my life in a dramatic way, I stopped that nonsense. However, I still prefer to listen to someone talk when I am driving than to listen to music. About a year ago, I started listening to the Mortification of Spin podcast because I had just finished Carl Trueman’s book The Creedal Imperative, but I have to admit I mostly keep listening because I want Aimee Byrd to be my best friend.

And that creepy note is the point of this blog post.

During my NaNoWriMo writing marathon, I was checking twitter more often than I usually do, because the NaNo crew communicated word challenges and the like through Twitter. I follow Rev. Todd Pruitt on twitter because I listen to the podcast, and one evening he posted an article. I had read the article earlier, and it had struck me as one of those “anger the masses” ad hominem editorials that serve no purpose other than to polarize. Several of my friends had linked to it. I didn’t respond to any of those people. I responded to Todd Pruitt.

Here is the thing. I feel sort of like I know Todd Pruitt. Every Wednesday he and Aimee and Todd show up on my iPod. I plug in my ear buds and have a lively conversation with them. Only, and here is the most important point here, I don’t actually have a conversation. The rational part of my mind knows that they can’t hear all of the witty and insightful (in my ever so humble opinion) comments I add to their podcast. The part of my brain that lives in the real world knows that if they were booked for a speaking gig in Moncton, not a single one would say, “Well, if we’re going to be that close, why don’t we swing up and see how Coralie is doing.” I know that they don’t know me.

I really do know that.

Except apparently I don’t.

In a rash twenty minutes of tweets, I suddenly felt I had the familiarity and relationship with a man I have never met, to try to correct his choices in 140 characters or less.

Interestingly, the Mortification of Spin cast speak often on this topic of celebrity. Dr. Trueman often speaks about the false familiarity that can be created in which people feel that they know someone personally because they have encountered them through varying types of media. I had thought he was talking about other people. Crazy people. The people who don’t have boundaries and think they can respond on twitter to someone they have never met.

Oh. wait.

The issue of celebrity is a complicated one. What gave me the impression that I could respond to Rev. Pruitt in a way and a medium that I wouldn’t with my friends? What makes us think we can pick apart the marriages of people we have never met based on headlines in a grocery store aisle? They are one and the same. The issue of celebrity isn’t that we feel a sense of intimacy or relationship with someone else. It is that we don’t really believe they are real. We create an idol of them in our mind, and mold it in our image. They are not image bearing humans, they are fictional characters in our mental world.

When I say something strange and creepy like, “I want Aimee Byrd to be my best friend,” I am not speaking about a housewife in Maryland who cooks and mops floors and attends her children’s sporting events. I am speaking of the image in my mind of a woman who would sit at my kitchen table at my convenience and discuss only the theological points that I want to discuss and not challenge my mental laziness or personal blind spots. I am not speaking of a real human. I am building an idol. Rev. Pruitt’s posted article elicited a strong response from me not so much because of my personal distaste for the article, but because it did not fit into my mental image of who he was. When I sought to edit him back into my script, he stubbornly refused to conform. He insisted on being human.

While the internet didn’t create celebrity, it, combined with years of self-esteem culture, has built a culture in which celebrity has become the expected norm, not the exceptional experience for remarkable people. Ethan Renoe wrote a fascinating piece about become an overnight internet sensation. He says “It soon felt like little burglars were running through the halls of my cyber house . . .But while I became Internet famous, but what I did not become was known.” In our desperate search for celebrity, too many of us are willing to sacrifice true relationship to become idols in someone else’s cyber-world. Todd Pruitt resisted my efforts to celebretize him into my image, but too many of us don’t. Too many of us would rather have millions know about us than be known by a handful.

I don’t know Rev. Pruitt or Dr. Trueman or Mrs. Byrd. They don’t know me. Their 20 minute podcast once a week is fine, as far as it goes, but if someone told me I could have dinner with them, or with my sister, I’d pick my sister every time. I’d pick Jawan or Becky or Sarah or . . . you get the idea. I would pick real relationship over the inevitable disillusionment of idolatry.


An Unsolicited Book Review: Luther on the Christian Life

One of the hardest things for me about transitioning out of the seminary environment is that I have far fewer female friends who care to discuss theology and the deeper things of God. I didn’t realize how much I missed that until my friend Sarah sent me a copy of Carl Trueman’s book Luther on the Christian Life for my birthday this summer. Opening it was a moment of feeling so completely understood by someone. It was such a wonderful gift.

It was an even more wonderful gift as I read it.

I find Luther difficult to read. His style is bombastic and wordy and he assumes his readers to have his classical education. Carl Trueman, on the other hand, is pithy and entertaining. Reading Luther filtered through Trueman was ideal. Rev. Trueman does a masterful job of distilling a frankly overwhelming body of work and drawing out the essence of Luther’s theology. Rather than taking a single point in Luther’s life and calling that “true Luther,” the author takes the reader through the process of growth evident in Luther’s work. He quotes long passages, instead of tweetable sound bites, and he gives historical and biographical background through which to view the quotes. Rev. Trueman also does an admirable job of mostly separating himself from the work. In areas like the Lord’s Supper and the use of imagery, where a Presbyterian (Carl Trueman is an OPC minister, and professor at Westminster Seminary) would differ from Luther, Rev. Trueman offers those differences in footnotes, not within the text. There were only two places in which I felt Rev. Trueman’s voice rise above the work itself. In both places it was deliberate and added to the point being made about Luther rather than (in my opinion) detracting from it. Finally, Dr. Trueman does not permit himself to fall into hagiography or sensationalism. He is unafraid to mention the times in which Luther was “fundamentally wrongheaded” to quote the author, but he gives those moments the percentage of attention they deserve. He does not deny the later life anti-semitism, but he does not permit it to be the sole lens through which Luther can be seen.

Having completed the book, and now stepped back from it for a month or so, I find three major points have stayed with me.

  1. I found the inclusion and discussion of what Luther called “Anfechtungen” to be extremely helpful. Luther spoke of the essentials of the daily christian life as a. speech, b. meditation (not the eastern idea) and c. emotional distress or Anfechtungen. This idea that emotional struggle was not only a guaranteed part of the Christian walk, but a *necessary* element of it was a brain shifting one for me. Understand that Luther is not suggesting we should foster sinful emotional responses. Instead, Luther believed that if we are reading, speaking and crying out the Word of God (speech) and if we are actively pursuing the understanding of the Word of God (meditation) then we will naturally struggle with despair and hope (Anfechtungen.) The word will reveal to us the nature of our sin, and the holiness of God and that will cause a true believer to despair. Rather than being a downward spiral, however, Luther sees the emotional distress as a part of the sanctification process, that will drive us back to speaking and meditating upon the word of God. Luther believed that the emotional distress caused by the word of God was necessary, but that it was an internal response, and it should drive us away from ourselves and toward the external, objective, truth of God.
  2. That leads me to the second point that has stayed with me. All of Luther’s theology was shaped by his view that truth is objective, and therefore must come from outside of us. Dr. Trueman mentions at the beginning of Chapter 5, “. . . the more we examine Luther on the Christian life, the less he would seem to agree with the classic evangelical models.” (p.117) I had already reached the same conclusion by that point in the book. The idea that we must find truth within ourselves, or even that we are capable of some new understanding of God’s truth was anathema to him. Far from the rebel evangelical nailing the pope to a wall that is portrayed in popular culture and social media every October, Luther was seeking to return the Church of Christ to the objective truth that has been entrusted to her. If someone had said to him, as is the common parlance of our time, “I didn’t take that from the text,” Luther would have reprimanded her. There is the text. You take from it what is there, and you seek that outside of yourself, not from within. I was chastened (needfully) and driven back to speech and mediation.
  3. Finally, Luther’s habit of speaking to the devil when he faced questions was tremendously helpful to me. Whether Luther was actually conversing with the physical accuser of the brethren, or just facing his own sinful nature is of no significance, really. The point is, that when Luther found his mind assailed with doubt, he spoke truth audibly. This is a very practical application of Philippians 4:8 that I had once practiced and abandoned as mystical. Hearing the way in which Luther reminded the devil, and himself, of his standing before God, and the promises upon which that standing rested, gave me a sense of permission to do the same. My having a more robust theology now than then, I suspect has also helped it to be a more effective tool.

There is so much more to be commended in this book than a few hundred words can do justice. I recommend it highly, and I hope that this raving blog post also serves as the thank you card I did not send to my dear friend Sarah.


Reflections on NaNoWriMo

This November I participated in the National Novel Writing Month challenge. It is a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel between the 1st and the 30th of November. I have been wanting to do this for some time, and this year we weren’t moving or renovation or any of the big things that had kept me from it in the past. On October 30 I made myself a profile, named my novel and committed myself to write about a vague idea that had been floating in my mind for a few months. I had no idea how it was going to play out, or that it would end in my writing almost 8000 words on the last day of the challenge.I just said, “Sure. Let’s give it a go. How hard can it be?”

On this side of things, I am left with three general observations.

  1. I need to challenge myself more often. This was a difficult task, but I am telling my children every day that the hard things are the way we learn and the way we glorify the Lord. Homeschooling the children has been one of those hard things in which I am pushing myself, but just as an athlete is always pushing to better their time or go further, I need to do that in the things that I am comfortable about doing well.
  2. I can choose not to feel guilty about doing something I enjoy. Part way through the challenge, my Mackerdoodle (who is 8) asked why it felt like I was spending a lot more time sitting at my laptop. I thought about how that made me feel, and how it was making her feel and we talked about it. I told her that I was still being faithful to the family. I was still doing laundry and vacuuming and cooking meals. I was still tucking the kids into bed most nights and homeschooling every morning. I continued to read aloud and to bake bread and make desserts. I had no reason to feel guilty for also choosing to write 50,000 words in one month, so I chose not to feel guilty for it.
  3. I really love writing. I love the sensation of stringing words together  to make sentences that carry specific meaning. I loved developing the characters and building the events and researching a specific time and place. I really love to write, and I had forgotten how much.

So I am editing the novel I wrote, and I am committing to finish Kissing Frogs (for the two of you who care) and I will be blogging more. If the only thing NaNoWriMo did was remind me how much I love to write, it was well worth a month of my time.


For Your Entertainment: A Story I Did Not Write

039Today we drove to St. Andrews and St. Stephen with our friend Miriam and had a wonderful day. While eating lunch in the Ganong Nature Park, our middle doodle (and only son) looked at this building  and asked, “Who’s house is that?”

Jonathan answered, “I don’t know. Let’s make up a story about it. I think it was the home of a Ganong Aunt, who would wander these trails seeking her only love who was lost at sea.”

Mackerdoodle: “And then, one day, he came back and found her, and brought her a special present.”

Cheesedoodle: “Her very own sea turtle.”

Miriam: “And she was very upset that it wasn’t a ring.”

 


A Break With Tradition

It is the beginning of 2015 and I have been in the habit of ringing in the New Year by posting a retrospective of posts from the past year. This year, however, is better remembered by the things I didn’t post than the ones I did. 

If I were to pick a single post from 2014 to summarize the year, I think it would be this one from last March in which I ask the question “How do homeschooling bloggers do it?” Every church to which we have belonged since 2004 has had a school, so I assumed that the pattern would continue. I never thought I would be educating my children at home, and I think much of 2014 has been a year of adjusting to that new reality, and realizing how often I had assumed I would have more time to write after Jonathan finished with seminary. Turns out that was a flawed assumption.

In the summer there was the garden to keep me busy, and then Jonathan was being examined and licensed by Presbytery and then he was installed as the minister. We bought a house and tore out the carpet and we’re still putting the floor back. More to do. No time to write.

In addition, in September I began working as an evaluator for Tree of Life school. I am grading seventh and eighth grade writing assignments, which is certainly not a stretch for me. Now, often when I pick up my computer thinking that I may carve out a minute or two for writing, I see Mike’s face in my head and hear him saying, in an excellent Ricky Ricardo accent, ” Coralie. you got some grading to do!” To be clear, he has never, ever said those words to me in any accent (including his own), but you get the idea. More teaching. Less writing.

2014 can best be remembered in the silence of the blog and how the Lord has been teaching me contentment with what is, not what I think it should be.


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