Friday, November 30, 2012

The Practice of Public Gratefulness

During the month of November I posted one thing each day for which I am thankful on Facebook. All the cool kids were doing it, and so originally I shunned it. However, on November 2, the one-month anniversary of my mother's death, I realized I would need it more than ever this year. The trivial and the Truth. So I'm copying them here to find them easily later. And so I can add them to my list.

  • Day 1: I'm thankful for the 32 years, 3 months, and 15 days I had with my mom.
  • Day 2: I'm thankful for the nice man outside of Costco who helped us to our van when I accidentally ran over Jacob's foot with the loaded shopping cart in the middle of the parking lot.
  • Day 3 - Thankful for my children and their active imaginations - playing pirates, battling sea monsters, making friends with a dragon & creating "desks" using puzzles and Duplo blocks.
  • Day 4: The body of Christ who has embraced, comforted, fed (literally & figuratively) and exhorted us, especially this last month. I appreciate our communion. We are so grateful.
  • Day 5: Thankful for my husband, Gaines, who celebrates his birthday today. He is wise, patient, understanding, funny, encouraging, an excellent teacher, a diligent student, a faithful provider, a loving husband and great father and role model to our three boys. Oh, and he also has exceptional taste in music and can play a mean guitar. ;)
  • Day 6: Grateful for umbrellas, hot chocolate, warm socks, doughnuts, a car heater that works, and polling places-- including all the people that volunteer their time to work there and those who voted, like me, even in the rain.
  • Days 7- 8: Thankful for my hometown, a good home-cooked meal, wide open spaces and giant trees, and stillness and stars in the early morning before the sun.
  • Day 9: Thankful for my family. I miss my mom today, but am grateful for my husband, boys, father, and extended relatives, with whom we can still celebrate and be joy-full.
  • Day 10: College football. Particularly when it goes your way, but even when it doesn't, I'm still thankful I've grown up enjoying such a crazy, unpredictable, memorable, fantastic sport. Go Jackets! War Eagle! Yeah!
  • Day 11: Sunday afternoon naps. Just woke up from a nap on the sofa with two of my three sick boys sleeping with me. Yay for rest.
  • Day 12: Thankful for freezer bounty (fried rice, Trader Joe's mandarin chicken) so we can have warm, yummy "take-out" at home tonight -- in a flash!
  • Day 13: Thankful for an awesome neighbor/friend who helped me tackle some big projects today! My hallway is box free! My van is clean! Yahoo!
  • Day 14: I'm thankful for thankfulness. Seriously. Because it helps me to always remember my Benefactor, that everything I have, has been given to me. May I never be ungrateful
  • Day 15: We are blessed with healthy kids. Sure, they get sick like everyone else, but there are many parents I know dealing with all sorts of much more serious issues. Praying for them tonight!
  • Day 16: Thankful I have a reliable vehicle that has room for extra passengers. Once we had two kids the Honda Civic wasn't much for offering rides. Now, even with three, I still can help others. I never before thought I'd be so grateful for a minivan!
  • Day 17:I heart good Southern BBQ and friends to share it with! Thankful for Slope's in Sandy Springs and in Roswell, who have always been welcoming, even when we bring in a horde of kids!
  • Day 18: For the delight my 5-year-old has in shopping and packing boxes for Operation Christmas Child. If he could, I think he would've given a trunk full instead of a shoebox!
  • Day 19: Just...thankful. For a friend who walks three miles to my house just to say hello to the boys. For going to the grocery store at just the right time to run into someone we helped a few weeks back. For a toddler's looooooong afternoon nap. For all this...for grace.
  • Day 20: Extremely thankful for Jessica Renee Vaughan who spent four hours with me cleaning out our office yesterday. We're halfway there! If you need a professional organizer, I can get you in touch with her -- she's awesome! Also thankful for my friend Melisa, who let both Jacob and Ethan play at her house the entire day so we could work! (And for her kids for being so welcoming!)
  • Day 21: I am thankful that there is grace for me, and that my kids forgive me when I lose my cool in front of them. Many, many, many times over.
  • Day 22: Thankful for double gatherings of family today. And for fireworks. Now that's the American way to celebrate all the Chinese have given us! ;-)
  • Day 23: Nothing runs like a Deere. Thankful for a very generous great-uncle who has made all three of my boys extremely happy today.
  • Day 24: Thankful for polished toes and time with my sister-in-law.
  • Day 25: For family cookouts and cousins playing together and a cancer-survivor's birthday to celebrate. Happy birthday, Papa
  • Day 26: For my cousin, Mitch. In January, on the 4th anniversary of his hunting accident, he is organizing a hunting outing for those who, like him, must use a wheelchair. I am thankful for his generosity, his courage, his fortitude, and his hope
  • Day 27: Thank you, Aunt Rheata, for coming to Atlanta to babysit the boys while we went to the concert! The boys had a blast and I hope you did, too! We love you, Rhe Rhe!
  • Day 28: For stringing cranberries & popcorn on dental floss in the company of friends--for trying something new to me that's a very old holiday tradition.
  • Day 29: Grateful I had a quiet early morning with Jacob to work on our Bible study together.
  •  Day 30: Thankful that I have hoarded craft supplies for the last 20+ years. I think we can complete all 25 crafts from the Truth in the Tinsel Advent book without actually buying anything!

Friday, November 02, 2012

Book Review - Christ and the Desert Tabernacle

The Introduction to J.V. Fesko's Christ and the Desert Tabernacle immediately resonated with me, as he described an all-too-familiar phenomenon: the attempt to read through the Bible in a year. More specifically, I resonated with how jarring it can be to transition from the narrative of Genesis and Exodus into the detailed, often tedious instructions for building the tabernacle. For many Christians, these chapters are alien and seemingly irrelevant to their faith and practice. Fesko's book is an attempt to help faithful readers see the significance of these chapters, not only for God's Old Testament people, but also for believers today. Though Fesko is a professor of theology at Westminster Seminary, California, he has written a very accessible book. As one blurb on the back cover states, "while the book is geared toward the average layperson, it is not simplistic, but profound." Having its origins in a sermon series on Exodus, the book conveys Fesko's pastoral concerns for Christians to understand and appreciate how the entire Bible works together to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The format of the book is pretty straight-forward: Fesko starts in Exodus 25 and works through the instructions given for the construction of the tabernacle. Each chapter focuses on a different section, such as the Building Materials, the Ark of the Covenant, the Table and Bread of the Presence, etc. For each section, Fesko begins by explaining the details given in the Exodus text, indicating the significance of particular items and possible symbolism (e.g., the requirement that a blue curtain be used to separate the most holy place from the rest of the tabernacle is meant to evoke the sky, and more specifically, the recurring motif of God's throne being in heaven). He then turns to the New Testament to interpret the tabernacle construction in light of the person and work of Christ (e.g., just as the Old Testament tabernacle represents God's presence among his people, John 1 uses that same word "tabernacle" to describe the incarnation of the Son of God, who took on flesh to dwell among his people). Finally, in each section, Fesko draws practical applications for Christian believers (e.g., the Israelites were to donate the building supplies for the tabernacle voluntarily, out of a generous heart -- their involvement in building the tabernacle was never described as repayment for God delivering them from Egypt. In the same way, Christians should respond to the grace we have received in Christ by giving generously to the building of his church, not out of obligation but from a desire to see the Gospel spread into all the world.) Having experience as both a professor and a pastor, Fesko is able to exegete the Old Testament text, interpret its theological significance in light of the New Testament, and then apply it to the Christian life in a very relevant and meaningful way.

The book is relatively short (133 pages), so it could be a quick read. But there's plenty to warrant pondering over. Each chapter strikes a good balance between content and application, and I could easily see it being used for small group Bible study, as well as devotional reading. 

Overall, Christ and the Desert Tabernacle is recommended for anyone interested in learning not only about the Old Testament tabernacle, but also about how it fits into God's overall plan of redemption through Christ. 

(Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book in exchange for writing a review. I was and am under no obligation to provide a favorable review.)

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Halloween Then and Now


Since we moved into our current house almost three years ago, we have celebrated Halloween according to our neighborhood's traditional parade. On the 31st, we dress the kids up, meet at a main intersection around 5pm and walk the half-mile or so down a long sloping street and down a steep hill to the pavilion at the Swim & Tennis center, where there are hot dogs to enjoy before the trick-or-treating begins. All the while we take part in people-watching and the excellent fall weather. So far, it has never rained.

As the shadows fell long on our parade route yesterday evening, I couldn't help but remember last year's Halloween. Gaines wasn't able to be with us for some reason -- he probably had a class or couldn't get off work. But my mom came up for the event. The evening shadows fell long, then, too.

She was there, I remember. Jacob remembers. Ethan remembered. Last night, he remembered walking with DD "beside a large tree." (Which in our neighborhood, could be anywhere!) I vaguely remember introducing her to some neighbors. I hope I was in a good mood, but I was probably slightly annoyed at something, and took it out on her, what with my failing to procure a proper ghost costume for Jacob and settling on a white pillowcase with holes for eyes. It kept slipping off, and both he and I kept getting frustrated, so he finally just took it off. 

J 2011  
But Ethan as Elmo was pretty cute. 

E & J 2011

E 2011

I'm not sure why Calvin didn't wear his yellow jacket costume for the parade -- only for a few photos afterward. I think here he is being a "Yellow Jacket Fan." Better last year than this year, buddy.

C 2011
I remember she didn't talk much while we walked the parade route. I remember it was cold. I remember how last year, at the end of the parade, while I went in line to get the hot dogs, my mom waited with Calvin and started talking to a neighbor I hadn't met before, a new mom, and ended up telling her the story of my preemie birth. I remember we had chili, and how it made me think of my parents' golf course and how they had started out selling chili dogs and sandwiches at lunch and now have a real restaurant upstairs. We didn't trick-or-treat long that night, only a few houses (luckily the kids weren't old enough to care!). We came home, warmed up, put them all to bed. At some point Gaines came home before bedtime, because at least I have some pictures of the boys with him.

I have been looking back at pictures from October of last year searching for something, anything with her in it from that night. Anything. All I found was this:

Oct 31, 2011

 I'm not even sure which direction the picture should go, but you get the idea. Mom relaxing with her youngest grandbaby on her lap. Discarded bee/Buzz costume on the sofa next to the tissues and a stack of children's Bibles. Seems about right. She was always reading to them. This was probably taken after the older two were in bed and we were probably watching HGTV or the Food Network.

And this year, this year was fun, yes. I was more relaxed for some reason, even though I didn't finish Ethan's robot costume until THE very last minute. (I was still adding foil tape to the box when our friends arrived and I completely forgot to cut up and add the 5 feet of dryer vent duct stuff we were planning to use for Ethan's robot arms and legs bought just for this occasion. Sigh.)

E 2012
The boys had a blast. I enjoyed myself, enjoyed seeing everyone. Still, the shadows were a little too long for me yesterday.

up the hill 2012

In between chasing down the kids on their bikes and keeping them from running into people or falling head over heels onto the pavement, I had time to reflect on the difference twelve months makes in our lives. How, at Calvin's birthday party this year, my mom told me to "take pictures of me with the boys, because I may not be here next year." And I didn't believe her.

Tomorrow will be an entire month since Mom died, and I still keep wanting to call her and tell her about all we are doing. I keep waiting for her to comment on my album on Facebook. I keep expecting her to drive up and spend the night in the basement, in the bed with the sheets that I still haven't washed since the last time she visited in August. I still keep crying over letters and photos and missed moments. I wasn't going to cry while writing this blog post, but I find myself with tears running down my face.

Last night, there were neighbors who knew about my mom, who had even met her, but who I hadn't seen in a while. They offered wonderful hugs. And there were neighbors who didn't know, and I ended up telling, who offered comforting words. One said she was surprised I was "doing so well," because when her husband's parent died he didn't leave the house for two months. In that case, I guess I'm alright. God has certainly been sustaining me, been ever-present and real in the midst of grief.

My children have been so mature beyond their years, so understanding. They know I am sad more often these days. They know I am usually sad because "DD is gone." One day last week, while riding to church in the van I was sobbing, quietly, at a letter that had arrived in the mail from one of my mom's friends. Jacob told me, "I want to give you a surprise when we get there." And he got out, ran around the van, and gave me my surprise: a giant hug. And then he looked up at me, touched my tear-streaked face and said, "Now let me wipe those tears away for you." Oh, my, I've got a sweetheart. He's going to make someone a very good husband some day.

I've realized I am now the sole keeper of the family photos. She will never organize them, like she'd always planned to do "someday." I am the only one who will send out Christmas cards. I am the thank-you note writer, the historian, the collector. Yesterday, I realized I am the only actual administrator on the Facebook page for my parents' golf course. (I probably should teach my dad how to use Facebook, but I'm not sure he ever will). I suppose I should update it. Or not. I'm still not sure exactly what to do with my days.

For now, I will write. I will write memories as they come, and I will write about things that are happening to us just as if she were there to read them. Because even if no one else reads these words, they help to ease the pain just enough for me to keep going. One day, one event, one holiday at a time. I know the shadows will not be long forever. The sun is coming.

 I know the mountains will rise high again,
 I know the letters will make words again,
 I know the winter will grow warm again.
-- Eric Peters