Sunday, May 31, 2009

Diversify Your "Portfolio"

For 12 weeks now, we've been attending a class called Financial Peace University...a video series by a guy named Dave Ramsey. It's been a decent class...mildly entertaining, but mostly stuff my parents taught me from childhood. Don't go into debt for anything other than a house, live within your means, shop for bargains, etc. Very common sense stuff with a little investing advice thrown in.

Ramsey emphasizes diversification in one's portfolio. OK...fine. But since I don't do much with the money around here (other than spend it), I decided to apply that principle to my "portfolio of life." My primary investments are in my mind and heart...through language studies, reading, writing, memorization, etc.

As you faithful readers already know, I made a resolution to memorize something new each month this year and so far have kept up with that. But for May, I decided to apply Ramsey's advice and DIVERSIFY! I memorized 3 poems: one about surety, one about love (take a deep breath, Rhonda...it's gonna be OK), and one about death. Hmmm...maybe that doesn't technically qualify as diversification since all 3 are poetry. Oh well. What's done is done...no regrets. So here they are:

Psalm 46
A Psalm of the Sons of Korah
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear
Though the earth gives way
Though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam
Though the mountains tremble at their swelling.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God
The holy habitation of the Most High;
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved!
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
He utters his voice, the earth melts.
Yahweh of Hosts is with us.
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come behold the works of Yahweh
How he brought desolations on the earth!
He makes wars to cease to the ends of the earth
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
He burns the chariots with fire.
Be still and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations.
I will be exalted in the earth.
Yahweh of Hosts is with us.
The God of Jacob is our refuge.

Sonnets from the Portuguese - XXXVIII
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
First time he kissed me, he but only kissed
The fingers of this hand wherewith I write;
And ever since, it grew more clean and white,
Slow to world-greetings, quick with its "Oh, list"
When angels speak. A ring of amethyst
I could not wear here,plainer to my sight,
Than that first kiss. The second passed in height
The first, and sought the forehead, and half-missed
Half falling on the hair. O beyond meed!
That was the chrism of love, which love's own crown
With sanctifying sweetness did precede.
The third upon my lips was folded down
In perfect purple state. Since when, indeed,
I have been proud and said, "My love, my own."

Holy Sonnet #6
John Donne
This is my play's last scene, here heavens appoint
My pligrimage's last mile; and my race
Idly, yet quickly run, hath this last pace,
My span's last inch, my minute's latest point,
And gluttonous death will instantly unjoint
My body and soul, and I shall sleep a space,
But my ever-waking part shall see that face,
Whose fear already shakes my every joint:
Then, as my soul to heaven, her first seat, takes flight,
And earth-born body in the earth shall dwell,
So, fall my sins, that all may have their right,
To where they're bred, and would press me, to hell.
Impute me righteous, thus purg'd of evil,
For thus I leave the world, the flesh, the devil.

There you have it. My own personal application of Dave Ramsey's advice. At least the class wasn't completely wasted on me!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lovable LaRussa?

Respected? Yes. Admired? Sometimes. Loved? Rarely.

Tony LaRussa has always appeared to be a complicated man. His public persona is intense, highly-focused, and guarded. After reading Man on a Mission, it seems this public image is fairly consistent with the private man.

His expectations for himself and his players are that they never become complacent but strive continually to play the game of baseball hard and right. I like that. Seemingly, throughout his 30-year career, the majority of players have liked it too. Though initial relationships are often rocky with Tony, and many players don't "get" him at first, those who listen and give him a chance are usually better for it and end up respecting him - for his knowledge, his skill, his passion for the game and his work ethic. He embodies that which he asks from his team.

Apparently, the only players who don't fit with LaRussa are those who either don't play up to their potential, or who seek to put their personal interests before the team's.

In this biography, Rob Rains effectively parallels LaRussa's career and personal journey. After traveling along this road, I feel like I know him a little better, though he still defies understanding. Only a select few seem to have crossed that nearly-impenetrable boundary into his heart.

Because he lacks charisma, warmth and joviality (in short, he's no Whitey Herzog), the St. Louis fans have never completely embraced him...even after the consistent success he's had here. He has engendered respect over the last 13 years, but if he left tomorrow, I'm not sure there would be much of a deal. No parade, no sorrow. Fans still don't love him. They love the game and they love their players, but not their Tony.

Ironically, LaRussa considers pleasing the fans one of his highest priorities. The primary ways he does this is by exerting all his power and energy, day after day, to bring home a "big red W for the weezy company" (as beloved broadcaster, Mike Shannon, would say), and by tolerating numerous and often ignorant questions from the not-so-intelligent media gurus.

Thanks to Rob Rains for a peek inside Tony's life and career, and thanks to Tony LaRussa for a lot of years of superb baseball in St. Louis!!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Can Anything Good Come From Madonna?

That anyone as seemingly far removed from the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Madonna could produce something beautiful and true, is surely evidence for the indelible image of God in mankind and his continuing grace even to those who ridicule him and his people.

To what product of Madonna's am I referring? Well, certainly not to any of her songs, videos, fashions or concerts, which my limited exposure tells me are classic expressions of creative energy from one who worships and serves the creature rather than the Creator. But I have found one exception among her creations - one of three children's books she had published several years ago, entitled Mr. Peabody's Apples.

In this rendition of a traditional folktale, a child misinterprets an event he observes and disseminates a rumor which permeates the entire town, ruining the reputation of an otherwise reputable man. The story compares gossip to shaking the contents of a feather pillow into the wind...we can never retrieve all the feathers, no matter how hard we try.

Not only are the illustrations simultaneously whimsical and beautiful, the story, however unintentionally by Madonna, perfectly echoes the Biblical truths of Proverbs and James. That tiny little thing we call the tongue is a fire and can cause widespread damage in a hurry! A fool will tell a tale before he really finds out the matter and his words are like the thrusts of a sword! The fact that Madonna commissioned and profits from the sale of the book does not diminish its truth value!

So, I say YES! Something good has come from Madonna and we don't have to be afraid to admit it!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hugo: Master of Description

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, author, Victor Hugo, combines compelling storytelling with enticing philisophical asides, as well as an extraordinary ability to describe people, places and events.

The courtyard, filled with people, looked to the spectators at the windows like a vast sea into which five or six streets, like the mouths of so many rivers, constantly disgorged new waves of heads. The billowing crowd, growing ever greater, dashed against houses projecting here and there like so many promontories in the irregular basin of the courtyard. In the middle of the lofty Gothic facade of the Palace was the great staircase, up and down which flowed an unending double stream, which, after breaking upon the intermediate landing, spread in broad waves over its two side slopes; the great staircase, I say, poured a steady stream into the courtyard, like a waterfall into a lake. Shouts, laughter, and the tramp of countless feet made a great amount of noise and a great hubbub. From time to time the hubbub and the noise were redoubled; the current which bore this throng towards the great staircase was turned back, eddied, and whirled.

There you have a supreme example of Hugo's ability to transfer his own vision into the imagination of his readers, using an astonishingly extended metaphor.

This next passage also demonstrates his skill as he passes on to us the sense of a man observing and pursuing a woman:

You were once a child, reader, and you may be lucky enough to be one still. You must more than once have pursued from bush to bush, on the brink of some brisk stream, in bright sunshine, some lovely green or azure dragon-fly, which checked its flight at sharp angles, and kissed the tip of every twig. You will remember the loving curiosity with which your mind and your eye followed that buzzing, whizzing little whirlwind, with blue and purple wings, between which floated an intangible form, veiled by the very swiftness of motion. The airy creature, vaguely seen amid the quivering wings, seemed to you chimerical, imaginary, impossible to touch, impossible to see. But when the dragon-fly at last rested on the tip of a reed, and you could examine, holding your breath meanwhile, its slender gauzy wings, its long enameled robes, its crystal globe-like eyes, what amazement you felt, and what fear lest it should again fade to a shadow and the creature turn to a chimera! Recall these sensations, and you wil readily appreciate what Gringoire felt as he beheld in visible, palpable form that Esmeralda of whom he had hitherto had but a glimpse amidst the eddying dance and song, and a confused mass of people.

One can't help but feel Gringoire's fascination with Esmeralda and her elusiveness.

In order to utilize figures of description effectively, an author must have learned to isolate an image in his mind and then bring that same image to his audience's mind. As mentioned in my previous posts on writing, this requires astute powers of observation which can be acquired and sharpened through practice. It's a skill I do not yet possess, so I remain in awe of those who do it as beautifully as Hugo does.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

I read Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the first time over Spring Break. His other famous novel, Les Miserables, is one of my all-time favorite books, but I was not as smitten with Hunchback. I forced myself to continue reading and wasn't fully engaged until Book V, Chapter II! Maybe I wasn't in the right mood, because when I look back at some of my underlinings, I am reminded of lots of really cool stuff (that's young-person-speak for: creative figures of description, innovative approaches to plot, intriguing intellectual assertions and solid character development).

As he does in Les Mis, Hugo jumps from scene to seemingly-unrelated scene, inserting philosophical treatises along the way that are complete asides to the plot. I loved some of those rabbit trails in Les Mis (i.e. his analysis of the monastic life, his lengthy dissertations on Napoleon, and his minutely detailed description of Paris's sewage system!), but initially these were very distracting to me in Hunchback. However, it was one of these distractions which finally drew me in and engaged me!

Hugo provides a highly thought provoking discussion in the chapter, "The One Will Kill the Other," in which he predicts that the advent of the printing press will negate the forward movement of architecture. His premise is that buildings were man's primary mode of cultural expression and the means of passing on history and beliefs...before the printing press came along. "For the first six thousand years of the world's history, architecture was the great writing of mankind." He argues that the Renaissance brings about a separation of all the various expressions of mankind which were formerly housed together in architecture. "Reduced to itself, abandoned by the other arts because human thought has abandoned it, it calls in journeymen for lack of artists; plain glass takes the place of painted windows; the stonecutter succeeds the sculptor. Farewell to all vigor, originality, life and intellect. ...the architectural form of the edifice becomes less and less apparent, the geometric form growing more and more prominent, like the skeleton of an emaciated invalid. The beautiful lines of art give way to the cold and inexorable lines of geometry." Whether or not you agree with Hugo's conclusions, he provides a highly provokative and lengthy argument which I found fascinating, and anyone who's paid attention to development of modern architecture cannot deny that geometric lines gained both prominence and reverence. I would suggest that the change is not because "human thought has abandoned it," but rather because this is precisely where the trajectory of human thought has led it. Architecture continues to be, as it has been in every age, a visible expression of its culture's mindset.

I realize I've said little about the actual plot or literary quality of Hunchback, but this post is running long, so I'll save that for another day.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Asleep in the Lord

Many of you have heard by now, but yesterday afternoon, my brother went to be with the Lord. After a very difficult, struggle-filled 36 hours, we were more than ready to release him. My brother, Richard, and Jeffrey's wife, Dawnn, were at his side when he breathed his final breath. He was very much at peace.

Thank you all for your prayers and encouragement throughout the last 8 months. We have known the Lord's presence and strength in this trial and even in the midst of our current sorrow, we are experiencing his peace.

Of course, we continue to covet your prayers as we move forward and experience life without Jeffrey. Especially remember my mom this Sunday on her first Mother's Day without The Apple of her Eye.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jeffrey

I lay in bed last night mentally composing a letter to my brother of all the last things I want to say to him. An old high school friend who recently lost her baby brother to brain cancer has been urging me to say whatever I want or need to say and not to wait. I got up and wrote that letter this morning. Previously, I haven't been able to bring myself to say emotional words of parting while Jeffrey was still putting forth every effort to live! It seemed morbid and out of place. He has acknowledged in several ways recently, though, that he knows death is approaching and is not far off, so I finally felt free to pour out my heart.

It appears I may have waited too long afterall. Mom called and told me to come today. Jeffrey was very sick last night and late in the evening he became unresponsive and has remained so for most of the day. My parents are now there in his home to stay until the end.

Needless to say, I've spent most of the day in tears. Ironing his burial jacket and adjusting one of the patches that wasn't just right have been cathartic in a strange way. I've replayed many childhood memories which make me smile, laugh, wag my head in disbelief, and then cry some more. I'm heading to see him in a couple of hours and plan to spend most of the evening with my family there and I hope to catch one final waking moment with him.

As always, thank you all for your love, concern, prayers, and kind words. The body of Christ has supported us throughout this ordeal in countless ways. The Lord be with you all.

For Want of Wit: 4

A former teacher of mine recently found me on Facebook and friended me...in spite of more than one smart-alek trick I played on her in Junior High. I really was a pretty obedient and cooperative kid, but I've always felt this driving desire to make others laugh, plus I've been sarcastic to the core for as long as I can remember. Not a great combination.

Mrs. Keifer was my Jr. High English teacher. We spent some time in this class memorizing a list of prepositions which we chanted aloud together. One day, to keep us from boredom and change things up a bit, she had us march around the perimeter of the room while we were chanting. Her first mistake was putting me at the front of the line, where I proceeded to plot and scheme...not a malicious scheme, but one designed to elicit a few laughs, of course. As everyone followed me around the room chanting enthusiastically, "aboard, about, above, around, behind, below, beneath, beside..." I very nonchalantly led us all out of the classroom and into the hallway...still marching...still chanting. Apparently, she didn't think it was as funny as I did. I ended up in the principal's office.

Stupid.

Monday, May 4, 2009

For Want of Wit: 3

A couple of months ago, I discovered a lovely emerald-green turtleneck buried on the racks at one of my favorite bargain clothing stores. Even though I had been searching for a garment this color for months, I couldn't bring myself to pay the asking price. I tried it on anyway, secretly hoping it wouldn't fit, making my decision easy. Darn...it fit. I decided to leave the store without it and if I still really wanted it in a week, I'd come back and see if it was still there. In these kinds of stores, things are NEVER still there. NEVER.
Except the green sweater. TWO weeks later even! Apparently it was meant to be. I bought it. I wore it. I washed it. I even dried it in the drier.

Oops. I knew the majority of the fibers were wool when I purchased it, but I routinely ignore laundering instructions because I refuse to wear clothes I can't wash in water! Actually, I got lucky. It shrank, but only a little and the sweater fit even better after that...YESSSS!

So...I wore it again. And washed it again. And dried it again. I mean...it has already shrunk, so I'm good, right?

Uh...not so much. Maybe it will fit my 8-year-old niece...MAYBE!

STUPID.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Grace Upon Grace

According to the physicians' best guesses, Jeffrey should have entered the sleep of death a month ago. At the dawn of 2009, he was given 3 months to live, yet here he is!

I have to admit that the prolonging of his life has not always stirred up enthusiasm in me. In fact, after his trip to the Grand Canyon and after the predicted "Day of Doom" had passed, I entered a couple weeks of despondency. The continuing emaciation of his body and the lingering chill made many of his days long and painful. I began to cry out to the Lord wondering why He wasn't rescuing Jeffrey from his misery. Don't misunderstand me...I don't want my brother to die. But he will. That this cancer is going to get him is certain and I was weary of waking each day wondering if today was the day he would take a turn for the worse. Every ring of the phone anticipated his death. I wanted to move on...to know how it will feel to have him gone...to know how his wife and children will handle it...I wanted to grieve and move on with life.

Thankfully, the Lord understands our frame and thankfully he doesn't answer every plea with a yes!

Since Easter Sunday, I have been made aware of multiple mercies and answers to prayers, both small and significant, that the Lord has been pleased to bestow upon us....even in the midst of this great sorrow!

Jeffrey wants to live as many days as he can! As sick as he is, he still has a will to live and be with all of us. Each day he is here is a blessing to him.

My parents have had precious times with him recently that have brought them great joy and comfort.

For these 8 months, all of his family's needs have been met. They have not gone into debt or been left wanting. The generosity of so many has upheld them.

Broken relationships have been restored, both within and outside of the family, as a result of his illness.

I, and others in the family, have had the chance to get to know Jeffrey again and to say important things to each other.

We've had the privilege of observing Jeffrey's courage, stamina, perseverance, grace, dignity and peace as he walks through the valley of the shadow of death.

Jeffrey planned to be cremated, but has instead agreed to have a viewing, funeral and full military burial. We were able to obtain an extra set of dress blues so that his original Marine uniform can be preserved for his sons.

Dawnn has been an angel of mercy, ministering to his every need, day after day after day.

We've been reunited with some of Jeffrey's old friends, and have learned that several of them have become Christians since "back in the day."

Those are just a few of the blessings. Others are too personal to share, but hopefully you get the idea. In circumstances which could not seem to bring anything other than sadness, we have been surprised by joy. This week I've had this line from a Sandra McCracken hymn running through my head, "In every turning He will prepare you with grace upon grace."

Indeed. The Lord has, and is continuing to, prepare us and shower us with grace. We appreciate all your love and prayers.

Addendum: Jeffrey officially came under the care of hospice on Thursday and all treatments, other than pain management, have ceased. My prayer is that the Lord will draw near to him and that he will be comforted...especially regarding his family's future. That is the one issue that brings him great sorrow.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Family Well-Ordered

Man, your family is a pagan family if it is a prayerless family. And the children going down to the place of dragons from your family will pour out their execrations upon you in the bottom of hell until the very heavens are no more. (p. 20)

I am here to tell you that the vengeance of eternal fire will be the portion of unditiful children after all. Children who cast contempt upon their parents will be cast by God into the vengeance of eternal fire at last, and into everlasting contempt. (p. 31)

Thus says Puritan author and leader, Cotton Mather, in his pamphlet "A Family Well-Ordered."

Now, some of you may chime in heartily, "Amen! So let it be!" But if you're anything like I am, you find this rhetoric more than a little abrasive. You may even be put off by it. I admit that the Puritans mystify me. They are portrayed by some as dour, uptight, severe legalists who perpetrated irreparable damage on the church's reputation, while others tout them as some of the most astute students of Scripture and contributors to sound Biblical doctrine and theology. I've not read enough of their history or their writings to draw my own conclusions yet...although my hunch is that something of both accounts is accurate and the truth lies somewhere in between.

Even though I find Mather's tit-for-tat emphasis on blessing and cursing - for both parents and children - a bit extreme and out of balance with the overall Scriptural tenor of prevailing grace, he nevertheless offers some sound advice that all of us can take to heart.

The Duties of Parents to their Children:

1. Consider their condition. Are you solicitous that their bodies be fed? You should be more solicitous that their souls may not go without the Bread of Life. Are you solicitous that their bodies may be clothed? You should be more solicitous that their souls may not be naked, without the garments of righteousness.

2. Improve their baptism. Do not let it be done as an empty formality...no, but let the serious language of your souls in this action be that of Hannah - "I have given this child unto the Lord, as long as he lives he shall be given unto the Lord." You must, as soon as you can, show them that when they were baptized:

a) They were listed among the servants and soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that if they live in rebellion against Him, woe to them!
b) They must observe all things whatsoever Jesus Christ has commanded them to do.
c) They are buried with Christ in baptism and must live no longer in sin.
d) They have put on Christ and must follow His example.
e) They must now make answer of a good conscience to all the proposals of the New Covenant.

3. Instruct your children in the great matters of salvation. And what they hear in the evangelical ministry, do you apply it unto them after they come home? Confer with them familiarly about the things that have been handled in the ministry of the Word till you see that they have gotten clear ideas of them.

4. Rebuke them and restrain them. Keep up so much authority that your word may be law unto them. Nevertheless, do not let your authority be strained with such harshness and fierceness as may discourage your children. Our authority should be so tempered with kindness, meekness and loving tenderness that our children may fear us with delight, and see that we love them with as much delight. Mercy must be joined with severity.

5. Lay charges upon your children.
a) Believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
b) Consider your ways.
c) Pray.
d) Forsake foolish companions.

6. Set the example. Your works will more work upon your children than your words; your patterns will do more than your precepts; your copies more than your counsels. You bid them well, now show them how!

7. Pray. Address heaven with daily prayers that God would make your children the temples of His Holy Spirit, the vessels of His glory. Often in a day dart up this prayer to heaven: "Lord, let this child be Thy servant forever." If your prayers are not immediately answered, do not be disheartened.

The Duties of Children to Their Parents:

1. Reverence. Do not take your parents lightly or despise their counsel.

2. Obedience. The commands and directions of your parents must be of exceeding moment with you.

3. Recompence. Repay them by making it your highest design to return joy and comfort unto them.

These are some of the wise words I found in this "essay to render parents and children happy in one another." If the above summary intrigues you, you can pick it up and give it a read for less than $3! Or just borrow mine. ;-)