Monday, July 25, 2011

Books and More Books

Here are snapshot reviews of several books I've recently finished, but failed to blog about:

War Child
by Emmanuel Jal
This one was recommended to me by my son, Eric, after he read it for school.  I make it a priority to read anything my boys recommend!  Unfortunately, I read it right on the heels of Gulag, and it was almost too much to hear these two stories back to back.   In War Child, the author tells his own story of kidnapping, revenge, starvation, disease, and war, as he experienced them from his childhood in the Sudan.  His is a story of incredible tragedy but also one of redemption and hope. 

Tender is the Night 
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The author of The Great Gatsby, offers a longer and more complex story in Tender is the Night.  I can't exactly say I liked it better, though.  As with TGG, I found it fascinating in a morbid sort of way.  Both of these stories feel oppressive and leave me with a sense of heaviness in the same way Russian literature and Walker Percy do.  His characters and his narrative are compelling, yet I find my longing for their redemption and maturity, unsatisfied.  If you have enjoyed Fitzgerald's other works, it's likely you'll enjoy this one as well.

The Great Auk 
by Allan Eckert
I can not help but be impressed by any author who can write an entire book solely about the daily life and habits of a particular bird and his companions, entering into their "thoughts" and "experiences."  I can not help but be astonished when he does it in a  novel that fully captivates ME!   I didn't want to put down this book about the feeding, breeding, and migratory patterns of The Great Auk (a penguin-like bird).  Eckert's storytelling is masterful, as is his command of language and description.  This is a beautiful story.  My thanks to Mr. Tim Weston who went out on a very shaky limb when he gave this book to me with certainty that I would appreciate it. 

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 
by Douglas Adams
I admit I didn't read the entire series.  I found the first book highly entertaining, but by the third I was slugging my way through.  I forced myself part way into book 4 before I finally gave up.  I have never been a huge sci-fi fan, but decided to read these books simply because I was on the outside of too many cultural references to them!  I wanted to understand what all the fuss was about!  Take the time to read the first was hilarious at times and never boring.  

Enter Jeeves 
by P.G. Wodehouse
I have intended to read Wodehouse for years, but hadn't gotten around to it yet.  Enter Jeeves provided a good start for me and left me desiring more adventures with Wodehouse's characters.  I love Jeeves: the unassuming, opinionated, knowledgeable, quirky butler who must continually rescue his bumbling master.  These stories are pure delight.

Musical Monday: Chris Thile

I have shared some of Chris Thile's music with you before.  He was a child prodigy who began composing and performing on the mandolin around age 8.  His life and career have taken some crazy turns along the way, and he's not been afraid to try new things and step outside his (and MY) comfort zone.  

Thile first became a household name with the publication of Nickel Creek's first CD - a predominantly bluegrass album put together by 3 friends: Thile, and siblings Sean & Sara Watkins.  The band branched out from bluegrass and produced some rather progressive sounds on subsequent recordings which were not as popular with the masses (or with me, I might add).  

When Nickel Creek disbanded (they had been performing together from childhood), Thile started another band called The Punch Brothers, who toyed in a variety of genres, but again (in my opinion) excelled with their bluegrass pieces.  The majority of their self-composed pieces were a little too modern, chaotic, and dissonant for my palate.

Thile's most recent venture is a collaboration with guitarist, Michael Daves, and to my delight, is devoted exclusively to bluegrass.  Daves' voice is a tad unusual and perhaps a bit off-putting at first, but it will grow on you!  Their instrumentation is simply divine!  This is old-fashioned bluegrass at its organic best.  Enjoy.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Name That Flower

Newton to Wilberforce

Here is an excerpt from a letter written on July 21, 1794, by John Newton to William Wilberforce: 2 men of exceptionally godly character, who endured all manner of troubles for the sake of the Lord's name.

My very dear Sir;

Because I believe you are the Lord’s servant and are in the post which he has assigned you; and though it appears to me more arduous, and requiring more self-denial than my own, I know that He who called you to it, can afford you strength according to your day, and I trust He will, for He is faithful to his promise.

Some of his people may be emphatically said, Not to live to themselves. May it not be said of you? Would you not be glad to have more command of your time, and more choice of your company, than your situation will admit? You meet with many things which weary and disgust you, which you would avoid in a more private life. But then they are inseparably connected with your path of duty. And though you cannot do all the good you wish for, some good is done, and some evil is probably prevented, by your influence and that of a few gentlemen in the House of Commons, like-minded with yourself. It costs you something, many hours, which you could employ more to your known personal satisfaction, and exposes you to many impertinencies from which you would gladly be exempted; but if upon the whole you are thereby instrumental in promoting the cause of God and the public good, you will have no reason to regret, that you had not so much leisure for more retired exercises than some of us are favoured with. Nor is it possible at present to calculate all the advantages that may result from your having a seat in the house, at such a time as this. The example, and even the presence of a consistent character may have a powerful, though unobserved, effect upon others. You are not only a Representative for Yorkshire. You have the far greater honour of being a Representative for the Lord, in a place where many know him not, and an opportunity of showing them what are the genuine fruits of that religion which you are known to profess.

It is true, that you live in the midst of difficulties and snares, and you need a double guard of watchfulness and prayer. But since you know both your need of help and where to look for it, I may say to you, as Darius to Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually is able to preserve and deliver you. Daniel likewise was a public man, and in critical circumstances. But he trusted in the Lord, was faithful in his departments, and therefore though he had enemies, they could not prevail against him.

Indeed the great point for our comfort in life, is to have a well grounded persuasion that we are where, all things considered, we ought to be. Then it is no great matter whether we are in public or in private life, in a city or a village, in a palace or a cottage. The promise, My grace is sufficient for thee, is necessary to support us in the smoothest scenes, and is equally able to support us in the most difficult. Happy the man who has a deep impression of our Lord’s words, Without Me you can do nothing, who feels with the Apostle, That he has no sufficiency of himself even to think a good thought – provided he has likewise a heartfelt dependence upon the saviour, through whom we can both do and bear all things that are in evident to the post allotted us. He is always near. He knows our wants, our dangers, our feelings, and our fears. By looking to him we are enlightened and made strong out of weakness. With his wisdom for our guide, his power for our protection, his fullness for our supply, and proposing his glory as our chief end, and placing our happiness in his favour, in communion with him, and communications from Him, we shall be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.

May the Lord bless you my dear Sir. May he be your sun and shield –and fill you with all joy and peace in believing.

I am, Your very affectionate and much obliged

John Newton
Paul’s Cray Kent

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Person, Not a Project

As we stood talking about our children and the ins-and-outs of parenting, fellow church member, Weisan Hui, made a profound statement: "We have to remember to view each one as a person, not a project."

How can that be profound?  I mean, c'mon!  Could there be any more self-evident statement? And yet, it cut me to the quick.  A project.  Unfortunately, that all too accurately characterizes much of my approach to parenting my boys when they were little.  I must say, in my own defense, that their individuality, their personalities and their creation as Imagers of God, did not ENTIRELY escape me...and were even important to me on some level.  

But truth be told, the majority of my decisions were less about relationship and more about accomplishing something.  Afterall, I am a task-oriented person.  Show me what the outcome needs to be and I will dedicate myself to working intensely to bring it about!  How bad can that be when the things I hoped to accomplish as a mom were Good Things?!  I wanted my boys to love God, to serve His people, to be a blessing to others, to be hard workers, and to be lights in the community.  Those are noble goals and righteous desires, right?

But underneath all of my efforts to train them in these ways, was a desire to successfully conquer this project of parenting and produce a satisfactory product...i.e. a particular kind of child/person. 

It is really difficult for me to confess that reality, because I was very unaware at the time that I was approaching parenting more as a project than a relationship.  In my head and heart, what I truly desired was for my children to love God and love their neighbors, and I would have denied that they were a project for me.  But looking back on my actions and reactions - i.e. my emotions and behavior - I must admit they reveal that I wanted to bring those things about in a prescribed manner which was more about a measurable outcome than personal relationship.  I recognize this now because I can see that when my approach didn't produce the RESULTS I wanted, I was frustrated, confused and discouraged.

I can only thank God that He uses even our most distorted efforts, and that He also sees fit to withhold the desired outcomes along the way, forcing us to face the flaws and sins that have motivated us.

I encourage you to take some time and think about how you might parent differently if your primary desire were to understand your child and his unique make-up as an Imager of God, rather than to fit him into a mold.

I feel like I have to make a qualification here!  I am not trying to say that all methodologies are bunk, or that requiring your child to do things that may not "fit" his personality is wrong.  I am mostly talking about examining the driving forces behind the ways we parent. 

We need to ask ourselves:

Am I doing this solely to make my life easier and fit the pattern I want it to fit? 

Am I doing this in order to present a model family so that others judge me as a good and successful parent?

Am I doing this because it is what others expect?

Am I doing this to gain leverage over my life and children and future?
(Btw, there is SOME merit in each of those approaches!  Sometimes it is necessary for the efficient function of the home and for the parents' sanity, to require things that simplify the parents' lives!  It can be helpful to ascertain what others think of our parenting...we can often gain wisdom from their objective perspective!  Sometimes doing what others expect, can be an act of sacrificial love that benefits and encourages them!  Etc.)

The overall question is, when I require obedience from my children in particular incidents and in particular ways, WHY am I doing it?  Am I parenting as a task that must produce a certain kind of child? I doing this for the nurture of this child and his relationship to God, to others, to me and to the rest of the world?  Am I seeking to know, understand, shape, guide and guard a unique individual with unique gifts, unique perspectives on life, unique needs and desires, so that he becomes all that God intended him to be? 

I know one thing.  Throughout the years, God has moved me toward relationship and away from the project mentality, but He has largely done it through frustrating my efforts and disappointing my expectations!  When my children fail to conform to my prescribed plan for them, I am forced to step back and examine myself and my boys, and then I begin to grasp the necessity of knowing them and parenting each according to his bent.

One final thought: This conversation with Weisan took place over a year ago, but his statement has continued to work on me.  We are all prone to forget how powerful our words are, and how profoundly we can impact one another when we take the time to engage one another even in brief and simple conversations!

Y'all have a good day now.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Today it is easy to be grateful.   One of those "Big Deals" has just happened for which it is impossible NOT to give thanks.

Just a couple of weeks ago, my brother, Richard, became engaged to a young gal named Lindsey.  This weekend, the two of them traveled north to attend her mother's wedding (her father died about 2 years ago), and they decided to spend a couple extra days in the area, enjoying New York.

Yesterday morning as Rich and Lindsey were hiking near the Niagra River, she ventured out onto some boulders to feel the water.  As she stood up to hike back to the trail, she slipped and fell into the rapids below, and was carried away.  

Richard stood helplessly 30 feet above her, calling out for her to relax and not fight the current, while   Lindsey was submerged repeatedly and for some fairly extended times.  Richard knew that if he entered the water, he too would be swept away and he would be of no help to her.  Within a matter of seconds (10-20), a tour boat, designed to negotiate the rapids, came into view and Rich frantically flagged them down and finally made them understand that Lindsey was in the water. 

They eventually spotted her and, after what seemed like an eternity to him, they pulled her from the water into their boat and headed away.  Rich didn't know if Lindsey was dead or alive.  He had a 3 mile (45 minute) trek just to get back to his truck!  The park ranger had heard Rich's cries for help and met him near the accident site, requiring him to stay until the police showed up.  When they arrived, they told Richard that Lindsey was unconscious, but had been resuscitated and was currently alive.  

They took him to the nearest hospital, and subsequently drove him to the Buffalo Trauma Center to which she had been airlifted.  

The long and short of it is this: Lindsey is OK.  She spent the first several hours on a ventilator which the doctors removed late last night.  She breathed well on her own throughout the night into this morning.  This afternoon, Lindsey was released from the ICU.  She is still in the hospital, but appears to be fine, with no serious injuries and no brain damage, in spite of oxygen deprivation and the stoppage of her heart.  The doctors largely attribute her survival and quick recovery to her active lifestyle...she runs 3 miles per day.  

Their story has been reported on Good Morning America, New York news and St. Louis news today because, apparently, though many have been pulled from those rapids before, not a single one of them has lived to tell about it.  Not one. 

Obviously, Richard and Lindsey are still in shock, but are thankful that the Lord very mercifully spared her life.  Please join our family in giving thanks.

St. Louis Woman Falls Into Niagara Falls - KTVI

Thursday, July 14, 2011

For Want of Wit

I think I liked it better when these posts were called "Stupid Things I've Done,"  because that fully captured the essence of my episodes of ignorance.

I am developing a series of food blog posts and have been working frantically in the kitchen the past couple of days to finalize some of the recipes to get this thing going.  

About an hour ago, thinking I had finished, I came down to check email and FB.  I thought I smelled something burning, but was confident I had wrapped everything up for the day.  Until...

An alarm started going alarm I hadn't heard before.  I ran up to the kitchen to discover a nice cozy little fire inside my gas oven.  Oops.  I had placed a roll in there to broil it just a tad more until it looked pretty...b/c everyone knows if you're going to blog about food you have to show pretty results.  I'm afraid there's nothing pretty about charcoal.  Sigh...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Name That Flower

The Gift

Recently, I received this beautifully-wrapped package from one of my girlfriends:

I couldn't wait to see what was inside...I mean, how could this not contain something splendid? wanna know what I found?  Do ya?  Huh??


It was...

Wait for it...

Wait for it...

THIS!  Ta-da!!

I suppose the fact that she even bothered means that she thinks there is a measure of hope for me...that I'm not a completely lost cause.  And...that's a good thing.  Right?

I learned a great deal from this book - infinitely more than I ever wanted to know! - about how to stop looking OL (Old Lady) and start looking Y&H (Young & Hip).  Mainly, I learned that I am guilty of many, MANY OL fashion faux-pas.

I also discovered that I am what they call a "low-maintenance" least in the beauty department.  This is determined by how much time and money one is willing to spend to look fabulous and basically, I am cheap and lazy!

Each chapter has a "Nothing Ages You Like..." section.  Here are a few suggestions about what NOT to do, most of which I violate:

Too short bangs - Oops
Too long hair - Oh well...
An updo - But...
Gray hair - I refuse to cover it!
Unkempt, shapeless eyebrows - Maybe I'm proud that my unibrow has more hair than some folks have on their entire heads!
Black eyeliner - Darn
Bifocals -  No word on TRI-focals, though, so I guess I'm OK on this one!
Pale legs - It's called GENES, people!
Looking too tan - But I don't want pale legs!
Forehead lines - Hmph...
Crows feet - Hmph...
Lip lines - Hmph...
Smile lines - Hmph...
Sagging skin - It's called GRAVITY...Hellooo!
Age spots - I just call them freckles and suddenly feel like an adolescent.
A mouthful of silver fillings - Oh, I gotta rip out my old dental work and start over!  I don't THINK so!
Ridged nails - Guilty
Discolored nails - Guilty
Veiny hands - Guilty
Bony hands - Guilty

WARDROBE: - Guilty on all counts...
Looking like you tried too hard
Clothes that are too young
Baggy Jeans
Too-tight Jeans
Faded Jeans
Embellished Jeans
Your daughter's Jeans
Over-sized earrings maybe I have more than a little work to do if I wanna replace my OL look with the Y&H look.  So as not to be overwhelmed, I do hereby highly resolve to limit myself to one simple baby step at a time.  

Baby Step 1:  Gain 10 pounds to eliminate bony hands, veiny hands and sagging skin.

GAIN weight??!  I can DO this!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


"Well, I am NOT becoming a Presbyterian, that's for sure!"  

Such was the feisty retort I received when I first met Gertrude and asked what she was going to do after her century-and-a-half-old Lutheran church closes its doors.  Their congregation has aged and diminished in size, so they will soon hand over the reins to our recent (Presbyterian) church plant, with whom they have been sharing space for a couple years now.

Since that first encounter with Gert, there have been many more, all confirming that spunky spirit as an indelible feature of her personality. Each Monday morning I head into south city to help harvest any ripe produce from the church's garden, and to assist with their neighborhood food pantry.   And 90-year-old Gert is there...every time...without she has been for decades now.    People, years, and methodologies have come and gone, but she remains steadfast.

When I grow up, I want to be like Gert.  She isn't stunning.  Or well-dressed.  Or eloquent.  In fact, she's a bit of a tough old bird who leaves the impression that she can still endure anything and tackle anything...including YOU!  But she is also a strong-hearted, able-bodied, faithful servant who spends 5 days a week at the church serving in one capacity or another...simple service that will probably remain largely unnoticed until she is no longer there to do it.

I give thanks to God for Gertrude's life and example.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tequila For My Horses?

Willie Nelson sings a song with Toby Keith in which they lament the way society has gone "soft" on crime. The song celebrates the old-time law enforcer who would saddle up his boys, round up the criminals and send them to their Maker. Then....these cowboy-lawmen would meet up at the local saloon where the Sheriff would order a round of "Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses."

Well, it seems the Spanish police have a similar philosophy to Toby and Willie's! Check out this old video which is simultaneously disturbing and satisfying. It offends my modern sensibilities (which are not very acute), but appeals to my Wild West sense of swiftly-executed justice.

Musical Monday: Tyrone Wells

Some friends recently took us to The Old Rock House, a  quaint St. Louis venue previously unknown to me, to hear singer-songwriter, Tyrone Wells.  It was my kind of evening: a 6'5" bald-headed dude with his guitar, performing thoughtful, poetic, heart-wrenching and fun-spirited songs he had written himself. (I almost forgot that he also had a small band with him!)

Check him out on i-Tunes and definitely patronize The Old Rock House when you get a chance!


Running Around in My Dreams

And The Birds Sing

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Hymn

I have been singing the hymn, Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, for most of my life.  Oftentimes when a thing becomes overly familiar, it loses some of its power to influence.  When I sing a hymn for the gazillionth time, it is quite possible for me to sing every word while my mind is entirely preoccupied with something else.  I try to be aware  of that trap and seek to intentionally pay attention even to the most familiar songs, hymns and prayers, but I am not always successful in that endeavor.  

But then there comes a time, like this morning, where suddenly I hear a memorized Scripture, song, hymn, prayer or benediction as if for the first time.  It always encourages me to know that I'm still alive!!

So many fears that I recently expressed to friends are addressed in this hymn!  HE will guide me...I am weak, but HE is mighty...HE holds me in His hand...HE will feed me until I am full...HE washes me with healing waters...HE will lead me through my entire journey...HE is my Strong Deliverer, strength and shield...

So, even if you know this hymn, listen up!  You might find yourself blessed and encouraged never know.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Civil Wars

I know I have been promoting this duo incessantly for weeks on end, but I simply can't get over them!   When I think I can't be drawn any further in, they go and make an impression deeper than the previous ones.

Their songwriting is lyrically and musically superior...poetic, thoughtful, harmonic, beautiful in every way.  Their debut album is flawless from beginning to end.  Their LIVE performances are breathtakingly powerful.  They move seamlessly in concert...their connection to one another's musical and interpretive sensibilities elevates their performances.

High praise, I know.  But anyone who can step into the Tonight Show studio and pull off a performance this powerful with only 2 voices and a single guitar, possesses real and lasting talent.

Aaahhhh!!!!  Amazing.

I also appreciate the joy that exudes from these two when they perform.  They take their music seriously enough to do it exceptionally well, but they have not yet begun to take themselves too seriously and they transfer joy to their audience.  

Here's one more...and then I'll quit (for today).

OK...I lied.  Just one more which highlights their versatility.  Even though these two primarily perform their own music, they have also done some amazingly original covers including "You Are My Sunshine" in a minor key, a lovely rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love," "I Want You Back" by the Jackson Five, and then there's this:

They are brilliant.  They can do no wrong.  They embody musical perfection. 

When You Are Old

A little gem from the famed Irish poet, William Butler Yeats:

When You Are Old
by W.B. Yeats
When you are old and gray and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of  the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead,
And hid his face among the stars.

Name That Flower

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Grati-Tuesday (on Thursday)

Although I am not a big fan of the term "dying to self"  (in my experience, it has been used primarily as a way to sound  "spiritual" but without meaning anything concrete), but insofar as it means considering other's needs before my own, preferring others in honor, and laying down my life for the benefit of others, then it is obviously a biblical idea and meditating on what dying to self might look like, is a worthy use of our gray matter. 

Anyway, I give thanks for a mom who still challenges me with things like this: 

Suppose you have been neglected or unforgiven. You sting with the hurt of the insult from such an oversight, but your heart is happy because you have been counted worthy to suffer for Christ. That is what dying to self is about.

When your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, and your opinions ridiculed, and yet you refuse to let anger rise in your heart or try to defend yourself, you are practicing dying to self. 

When you lovingly and patiently stand face to face with folly and spiritual insensitivity, and endure it as Jesus did, you have died to self. 

When you are content with any food, money, clothing, climate, society, solitude, or interruption by the will of God, you have died to self. 

When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, record your own good works, or desire commendation from others, you are dying to self. 

When you can honestly rejoice with a brother who has prospered and had his needs met, and never feel any envy, though your needs are greater and still unmet, you have practiced dying to self. 

When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself, and humbly admit he's right with no resentment or rebellion in your heart, you have died to self.

Are you dead yet?



Honor that has been squandered
Cannot be redeemed at any price.
Stripped of that esteemed robe,
The Honorless stand exposed.

Raise the scaffold to the heavens!
Bare the shame of The Disloyal 
Who bereft themselves of dignity
For a false and fleeting joy!

The fire of noon reveals all,
Its retributive heat
Avenging the Thoughtlessly Discarded,
Drawing forth The Guilty's dross.

Onlookers gaze, gasping aloud
In contempt of such betrayal;
Quietly praising the deserving blow
Of Justice's Heavy Hand.

A new light, obscuring noon's, descends
Enveloping The Naked, and declaring,
"Though your sins be as scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow."

The crowd cowers fearfully as The Guilty
Re-emerge, Shameless. Gloriously robed.
Wielding freshly-cast measuring rods
Of iron-clad Mercy.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Musical Monday: Kings Singers

Enjoy this entertaining piece by the infinitely-skilled and humorous King's Singers:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Marquee Madness

And here I always thought it was someone who followed Christ.  Silly me...

An Old Woman

I don't think I have ever in my entire life spent my birthday meditating on the coming and going of another year.  But here I sit doing exactly that.  I don't expect to experience any profound revelations as a fact, I simply hope not to talk myself over the proverbial edge! 

You see, there are these wretched things we're all born with called genes. I am reminded of their significance every morning when I awaken with hips and knees that ache for no particular reason...when I experience my daily migraine...and each time a spell of vasovagal syncope strikes.  Buy,'s not ALL bad, you know.  

These same genes have indelibly bound up in them the "blessing" of longevity.  

My paternal great-grandmothers were relatively young (late 70's and mid 80's) when they passed, while my paternal grandmother remains quite healthy at age 86.  But as they say in Southeast Mizzourah, from whence my maternal grandmothers hail, "Them's small taters."

My maternal great grandmother was 104 when she died, and my grandmother (her daughter...see how that works?) was 100.  Oi-vay.  

Could it really be possible that I have not yet lived half my life?  It has been a very long 46 years and I cannot even begin to imagine that I potentially have another 54+ to go!!  All I can think right now is, "That's an awful lot of opportunities left to screw up!"  And, "Thank God the years pass more quickly as we age!"