Monday, April 22, 2013

Holding Myself Accountable

We dubbed April "decluttering month" at our house. But-- I haven't been on top of things at all. I know I will not get my entire month-long task list completed in a week, but I can at least do a thorough cleaning and try to reestablish a semblance of order from all the chaos. I'm posting this here so I know that I've got others looking over my shoulder, hopefully cheering me on.

Monday (Laundry Day):
  • Wash and dry at least two loads
  • Put winter clothes in basement
  • Fold and put away all clean laundry
 Tuesday (Bathrooms):
  • Organize bathroom drawers
  • Clean tub and floors
  • Replace shower curtain liner 
Wednesday (Bedrooms):
  • Clear off all dressers & pick up items off of floor
  • Organize at least one closet
  • Vacuum
 Thursday (Kitchen)
  • Clean out refrigerator
  • Clean outside of cabinets/appliances while boys clean the windows
  • Mop floor
Friday (Living Areas)
  • Remove all clutter
  • Organize toys and books
  • Vacuum/sweep floors

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book Review: John Newton (Bitesize Biographies)

Before reading this concise biography, I knew almost nothing about John Newton's life. I was aware, of course, that he wrote "Amazing Grace" and had a sordid past as a slave trader. The story of how God redeemed him from miscreant to minister is fascinating, and I am thankful for this brief book because it has instilled in me a desire to read about Newton in his own words. I did not realize so many of his works and letters were published during his lifetime, and I look forward to reading his Narrative and Cardiphonia,  as well as some other modern biographies recommended by the author.

What I gained from this book is the utter joy and benevolence that Newton received from his relationship with Christ. Though he barely recognized God's Providences at the time, once united with his Savior he was able to look back on his wayward young life with thanksgiving. The author does an excellent job of celebrating the graces repeatedly bestowed upon Newton, and he shares numerous examples of God orchestrating events and people to spare Newton's life and bring him into a relationship with Christ.

From the very first pages I was struck by the remarkable impact of Newton's mother on his life. Though she died when he was only seven, in her brief time with Newton she taught him to read, introduced him to Latin, and instructed him in Scripture and catechism memorization. She exposed her son to the great hymns of the day, including those by the notable Isaac Watts, which must have influenced his love of music. Though the author downplays her influence and describes it as "fading from Newton's heart" once he turns to more wicked ways, I believe her instruction was sustained through his love of books and learning and manifested later, upon his renewal, in his diligence to teach himself the original languages of Scripture.

Of particular delight to me were the snippets about Newton's home life with his wife Polly -- how they excelled in hospitality and opened their home multiple times during the week to parishioners, visiting pastors, and guests in order to share fellowship and prayer and theological discussion.

The section concerning Newton's friendship with the poet and hymn-writer William Cowper remains particularly touching. Newton displayed a true and genuine affection for this oft-troubled companion, and their devotion and partnership in the Lord are inspiring. I would hope that I could love a friend as well as Newton loved Cowper during his long bouts of depression. Their collaboration -- The Olney Hymns -- displays their immense talent and shared creative effort to convey Spiritual truths through song.

Indeed, my favorite chapter of the entire book is titled "The Songs of the Soul," which offers fresh insights into the complete original text of "Amazing Grace," as well as other famous hymns such as "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" and "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds."   I was introduced to the latter two hymns through the popular modern movement Indelible Grace and was delighted to discover more about their origins and explanations.

The final chapter summarized the main themes of Newton's prolific correspondence and was of particular interest to me as one who struggles against fast and easy electronic communication. One of the archaic definitions of the word "prolific" means to cause abundant growth, generation, or reproduction, and this would certainly be true of Newton's letter-writing ministry. Through his communication with noblemen, other clergymen and laypeople, Newton often shared glorious truths of the gospel and built lasting relationships.

Overall, it was a quick introduction to the compelling life story of John Newton, but was sometimes difficult to read because of the writer's distracting style. The short bursts of information might be better served as teachable sections instead of one continuous, flowing narrative. Although I gained many great insights through reading this short work, I must admit I found the author's excessive use of exclamation points and abrupt or unclear transitions irksome. At times the author's enthusiasm and extraneous commentary only served to divert the reader from the actual story. The plot itself, though, was riveting enough to hold my attention.

Despite these minor quibbles, I found the passion and purpose of this short biography to be enthralling. I would recommend this book as a brief introduction to John Newton's life and works, with the caveat that it may entice you to further study! The discussion of his hymns and letters at the end is worth the asking price.

(Disclaimer: I received this book free from CrossFocused Reviews. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

I Know Not How

Six months ago today was also a Tuesday. Partly cloudy, but with sun enough. A mild fall.

October had just begun and there was promise of a new month. "I will do better, be better." Yet I sat at that computer in the afternoon, inside, in the dark, as I do now. Typing. Writing. Browsing. Escaping.

The phone rang. Startled me out of my stupor.

It was my Dad's cell, not my Mom's. And I knew before I even answered--something was wrong. While he was talking, I started packing anyway, a frantic attempt to do something useful. To go. To drive. To get there in time. In time for what? To see her one last time? Dad would not tell me what to do.

Somehow I found myself talking with a nurse at the hospital, who wasn't much help. I kept asking questions and kept getting no answers. How long had they been doing CPR? I was a bit hysterical, admittedly. No one had confirmed yet that she was dead. No one confirmed anything.

This time, the phone was passed to another nurse, someone I knew. And so I walked outside the front door, leaving my children inside the house, so that I might breathe alone and better hear the words of my childhood friend.

My friend Kacie, someone I'd known since I was three, was working as a nurse at the hospital that day. Thank Providence for that! Her words calmed me. She kept me from jumping in the van and driving the five hours alone with the boys, and for that I am grateful.

I stood outside our house, pacing in front of the walkway. I looked at the turning trees and the patchy grass and the leaves starting to fall, but I didn't really see. I was already somewhere else.

When I finally talked to my Dad again, I knew. I looked out the window and saw the deer standing outside the window and I knew.

My mother was gone and so was I. Part of me, at least.

For six months I have been somewhere else. Like the deer. Hiding. It has been a long winter.

I feel like I've been buried, too.

Today, spring is appearing. It's another Tuesday. The second of the month, yet again. Life goes on around us, little green shoots push their way up through the ground, buds begin to burst forth, dirt thaws.

The sun is shining. And I am starting to emerge.

The trees out front still look mostly bare. The Bradfords have bloomed, but only just. The yard fills up with flowering weeds. The deer have returned.

The forsythia struggles. I hacked at it in a fit of something last fall and chopped off most of the branches. But even it, once devastated, still bursts forth.

This afternoon, we planted seeds. Wildflowers and tomatoes, cucumbers and chrysanthemums. Watermelons. The boys chose a mix --whatever was in the box from last year. We covered our gifted mint and thyme seedlings with water and soil. We pray there will be no more frost.

I poke my head out. The sun? It's still there? Yes.

Easter has come. The Kingdom with it, slowly breaking through.

Looking outside, I see the signs. The Seed sprouts and grows, I know not how. It dies and gets up again. I know not how.

I just hope and wait.

Daily we will tend and water, watching expectantly for new life. For resurrection.

I have been told that the tiniest of seeds will grow into a mustard tree so large that all the birds of the air will come rest in its branches.

I know not how, only that it will be. And I am thankful.