Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Report

Don't worry... I won't talk your ears off like I did with Unbroken (even though I gladly would.) But here's a list of what I've been reading and my thoughts on the books. Even though I'm really missing the classroom, I have to admit that it's been nice to have some extra time to read!





1. My Secret War: The WWII Diary of Madeline Beck by Mary Pope- this is part of the Dear America series and I absolutely loved those growing up, so this one was a re-read for me. Maddie lives on Long Island in a boardinghouse with her mom and a rather motley group of strangers during World War II. She worries about boys (one in particular), popularity, and clothes like any other teenager, but she mostly worries about her dad, who's stationed in the Pacific. (Pearl Harbor happens about halfway through.) Maddie and her friends do the best they can to support the war effort but quickly learn that war is anything but a game.

There's just something about historical fiction that brings these events to life. Yes, the stories themselves are made up, but there really were families like the Becks during wartime who made sacrifices and worked hard to support the war effort. If you have kids (oh wait, I don't...oops) and they aren't that interested in history, this series is so great. It includes facts about the time period without feeling like a textbook, and the stories are really well done. Plus, they're in a diary format so it all feels more personal. I highly recommend these (and they're not all girls!)

2. The Giver by Lois Lowry- okay, confession. I know this one's been around for a while and I didn't read it until now because of the movie preview. (Bad girl, I know.) But I was curious, so I checked it out and read it in one night. Jonas lives in a "community" where everyone is assigned a position, clothes, food, etc. Basically, there aren't any choices at all, due to the concept they call Sameness. So when he becomes a "twelve" (12-year-old) and is not assigned a career, everyone knows something's up. But instead of being assigned, the Counsel has selected Jonas to be the new Receiver of Memories. Basically, the former Receiver will transmit all the memories of history to Jonas so that the "community" won't figure out how things used to be "elsewhere." So, Jonas becomes the Receiver and works with "The Giver," but receiving all these memories makes him ask a lot of questions. Some are fairly innocent ("Why don't we have color? Why don't we have snow? Or hills?") but some become dangerous ("Why don't we get to choose our jobs? Why can't we love? Why do they send babies and old people 'elsewhere' when they're sick?")

It's really too much to condense into a brief summary (and the plot is hard to explain since it unfolds in so many layers) but the more Jonas learns, the more he wants to escape and take the Giver with him. I won't spoil the ending but I will say that the movie version looks extremely different but I guess it has to be because I have no idea how they'd end the movie the way the book did. Anyway, it was an interesting plot but I wouldn't say "instant classic!" the way I know others have.

3.I, Saul by Jerry B. Jenkins- I really liked this book, even though the back-and-forth between past and present became a little confusing. It was really interesting, fast-paced, and of course extremely well-written since Jerry Jenkins is the master. It jumps from a modern-day story about a theology professor who finds himself caught up in some international intrigue surrounding the discovery of some ancient documents to the last days of the life of the Apostle Paul, including passages of his own personal memoirs (which, you can probably figure out, happen to be the previously mentioned ancient documents.) I really wasn't sure what was going to happen up until the last minute, which was nice, and there were several little subplots that kept things interesting along the way. But then the last page turned out to be a cliff-hanger... booooo. Now I'll have to buy and read I, Paul which is coming out sometime this year. Well-played, Mr. Jenkins.

Also, I read this while working my way through Paul by Beth Moore, which tells a lot of Paul's story in a similar, narrative-type way so reading them at the same time was really cool. They definitely enriched each other! Like I said about the Dear America series, there's just something about fiction, whether its telling a Bible story or some other part of history, that brings everything to life in a new way. 

4. Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel by Judith and Neil Morgan- I tried to like this book; I really did. But not only did it move soooo slowly to me, but it also revealed some things about Dr. Seuss that I didn't like. To address my first grievance: it moved slowly, I guess, because of all the minute details included. I'm a big fan of details that bring a person's story to life, but these were a little dry to plow through. Some parts of it were absolutely fascinating, and then some really dragged. I guess that's true of a lot of biographies but (now on to the second complaint) this one was so revealing of Ted's "quirks" (to put it mildly) that I felt a little disillusioned. I know that's not the biographers' fault, but still. It's a bit disappointing to find out that a beloved children's author had some pretty serious issues, some of which many believe led to his first wife's death. Such a tragedy! Anyway, I guess the person who came up with so many zany, inventive characters had to be just a little "off," but it was still sad to read about. 

On the other hand, the parts I did enjoy were really interesting... for example, he started drawing his "Seussian" creatures as a kid, he did fine art paintings as a hobby (April!! That tidbit's for you!) and during World War II he was part of a "Hollywood League" type military group that included Meredith Wilson (of "The Music Man") and was led by the legendary director Frank Capra. Who knew? Overall, I learned a lot about Ted but I prefer to know him as Dr. Seuss. (And even though it was a dismal failure, I still love The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.) 

5. My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business: A Memoir by Dick Van Dyke- I saw this at Target a couple years ago and flipped through but I haven't seen it at the library until this recent trip, so I snatched it up. I absolutely LOVE Dick Van Dyke as an actor. Mary Poppins was my favorite Disney movie growing up, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was another favorite, and of course The Dick Van Dyke show is an undeniable classic (it's on Netflix if you've never seen it. SO funny, and I'm obsessed with Mary Tyler Moore's wardrobe.) So I was really excited at a peek into his life (it's like literary bonus features!) and I flew through this one in a couple of hours. It was good and I appreciated his work even more after reading about how hard he had to work to "make it" in show business. Many years of doing comedy acts in just about every type of venue and TV show eventually led to the starring roles for which he's known now. 

The only thing that left me feeling a little sad was that throughout the book (in addition to the issues that led to the end of his first marriage- sad!), he discusses at length the different times in his life when he has studied the Bible, attended church, and even served as Sunday school teacher. As a teenager, he even contemplated becoming a minister. But it seems like (by his words, not my assumption) that all that spiritual knowledge never really led to a true understanding of the gospel or a relationship with the Lord. I hope I'm wrong, because I sincerely that he really is a Christian. At the very least, I do appreciate the choices he made to make clean, family-oriented movies and shows and the stand he took against most of the junk in Hollywood over the years.

6. Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand- after reading Unbroken, I knew I had to read anything else by this woman! She's such a talented biographer. (I know what you're thinking... "Isn't Seabiscuit a horse?" Well, yes. But he still had a life!) I'm actually not quite finished with this one, but it's fascinating so far. Laura Hillenbrand just as a way of weaving together so many details and stories and facts seamlessly so you're learning but it's not at all textbook-like. Anyway, the whole world of horse racing is pretty unbelievable... just the danger that jockeys face was staggering, and it was even more dangerous 70 years ago when there were few rules and even fewer safety precautions. 

The serendipitous way that all the events unfolded to bring together Seabiscuit's trainer, owner, and rider were pretty awesome, and I've never been into horse racing as a sport (shocking, right?) but reading this book really makes you feel like you're right there in the middle of the action. I'm currently alternating between really wanting to ride a horse and feeling terrified to ever go near one again. Even if this topic doesn't really interest you, the author is just so insanely good that you'll feel yourself getting into it. 


Check these out! And if you do, let me know so we can talk about them! (This happened in the book section at Sam's with a total stranger the other day. We had a jolly conversation about Unbroken and Jonathan is convinced I'm crazy.) 


Ash

Thursday, August 7, 2014

To My Students...

Dear Students,

Can you believe school starts in two weeks? (I can hear your weeping and wailing cheers of excitement from here.) You guys, I know we've already said our goodbyes and all that mushy stuff, but now that school is rolling back around it's hitting me all over again that I'm really not going to be teaching you this year. Some of you are sad with me. Some of you couldn't care less. (It's okay; I'm not taking it personally. =) Some of you are indifferent about it. But however you feel about it, I'm really sad. 



I will miss laughing over the most ridiculous things... usually a dumb sentence in your grammar book but more often than not one of my stories that mysteriously inserted itself into the lesson. Thanks for letting me live out my dream of being a stand-up comedian for three minutes at a time. I'll miss watching you guys FINALLY understand something we've gone over a million times (adverbs, anyone?). I'll miss singing with you in chapel, listening to your prayer requests in homeroom, and acting out literature stories. I'll miss having class on the front steps of teen church. I'll miss hearing about your drama "social activities," joking about all the dating couples, and running into you at Target. (Actually, there's a solid chance that that will still happen.) 




I'll miss watching you struggle and then come out on top a little older and a little wiser. I'll miss choric speaking practice and clapping in absolute delight when you finish a section. I'll miss our pizza days, pep rallies, basketball games, and having you beg to skip P.E. help take down bulletin boards. (I know that game.) I'll miss going outside and watching during P.E. or bringing popsicles when it was so miserably hot. I'll miss Christmas parties, Charlie Brown specials, green Rice Krispie treats, and valentine cookies. (Well, you'll miss them, won't you?) I'll miss singing the Preposition Song (and various Disney arrangements), our library trips, and dress-up book reports. I'll miss those rare but special moments when a lesson would magically turn into an opportunity to teach you more about Jesus and how, through many weeks and months, the Lord was able to speak to your hearts and I was, in some small way, a part of that. 

I never THOUGHT I'd miss telling you to stop talking a million times, pausing the music in study hall to get you to get back to work every day, walking through the junkyard locker hallway, especially between classes, going back over the same concept 237 times (adverbs, anyone?), giving the same homework lecture every class period, picking up eraser pieces from my floor, sweeping my floor a million times a week (to no avail), yelling at you to shut the door when it's 25 degrees outside, grading your research papers, forbidding snacks in my room, listening to the screaming that somehow always accompanied the time spent changing for P.E., or reminding whoever it was to PLEASE finish cleaning the lunchroom and go to class.... but in their own ways I'll miss all of those things. Because if I'm not doing them, then someone else is and I'm not there with you, even for the less-than-awesome moments. 




I want you guys to know that the years I was able to teach you were a gift to me. They certainly weren't perfect... and neither was I. There were many moments of joy, fun, laughter... and many of confusion, discouragement, and sheer frustration. But through it all, I hope I taught you much more than grammar (although I would love nothing more than for everyone one of you to be able to name the parts of speech at any given moment for the rest of your lives.) I hope that I made it clear to you that serving God doesn't have to be boring (I mean, call English class what you want but I think we can safely say it was never boring. Well.... maybe a couple units. I'm no magician! =) But living for God, whether it's in a ministry position or not, can be exciting, fulfilling, and...dare I say... fun; certainly it doesn't have to be a life of being enslaved to a list of rules. You don't have to be a Puritan missionary to live for God... and you don't have to choose a wild extreme in the other direction. Going to church, doing right, and living for the Lord don't just bring blessings in your life... they guarantee them. Sure, things will be hard, but not nearly as hard as those who don't live with the hope of Jesus Christ!





I hope I've taught you that there is much more to life than the tiny circles we create for ourselves. Through literature, we were able to explore many worlds far beyond our own, and I want you to live your lives that way. Think outside of yourself and your interests and be interested in other people... in their ideas, their feelings, their way of life. It will teach so much, including what NOT to do. The chance to learn and grow as a person increases significantly when you are willing to be interested in others. (Also, it helps if you voluntarily crack open a book now and then. Just a thought!)

Please remember, too, that how you communicate IS important. I know that grammar isn't a spiritual matter, but representing our Savior is. When you talk or write, do it correctly. If someone is distracted by your incorrect word usage or spelling errors, they're not likely to think you'll do a good job as an employee or student... talk about discrediting any chance to talk about the Lord! If you're portraying an image of someone who doesn't know what they're talking about, it's going to be a hard thing to convince another person that you should be telling them about something as important as eternity. Think about it! (I know you've heard this lecture many times, but one more won't hurt.) 


Know that authority... your parents, your teachers, your youth pastor, your pastor.... loves you. I know it doesn't always seem that way. I know it may rarely seem that way. But speaking as one of those people, I can tell you it's true. If your teachers sometimes seem cranky or irritated, it's because we see the vast potential that lives within you. We see that beneath your disinterest in your homework, or attitude, or constant joking, lie talents, abilities, passions, and gifts from God that could turn the world upside down if you would let them. So sometimes we just want to take your face in our hands and say, "Hey! You're a great kid! Stop interrupting the lesson for a second and do your best and watch what happens! You'll be amazed!" (This teacher could possibly be grumpy because there's no more coffee but that's beside the point.) 



Remember that your homework DOES matter, and I promise it's not something we give you just to make you (or ourselves) crazy. It serves a purpose and if you DO your homework on a regular basis you'll be shocked at what magically happens (you'll probably do better on the next quiz. It's a miracle, I know.) Also, I hope you've learned that we WANT to help you. I've been know to tell you that I get a little "testy" when you don't let me know you need help. (Again, not a magician... and neither are your other teachers!) When should you tell them you need help? (I can hear you groaning out the answer now, "BEFORE the quiz/test." Right!) 

Most of all, I hope you've learned that no matter what you choose to do in life- whatever career, college, hobby, whatever- it will be worthwhile if you make Jesus the center of your life. After high school, I doubt you'll remember my Chick-fil-A stories, Disney parodies, or movie quotes (who knows, maybe you will.) You'll probably have forgotten all the clever bulletin board captions that I spent way too much time on. And SOMEHOW I doubt you'll remember the list of verbs that can be both action and linking. But I hope and pray that you will remember that Mrs. McNeese loved you, that God loves you, and that living for Him is SO worth it. It's not the easiest way, but it IS the best way. 

At the end of the year, when I talked about having a baby (someday), one of you said, "You don't need a baby... We are your babies!" And despite the physical impossibility of that statement =) it's true. You're my kids and always will be. I'll be back for your graduations, I'll keep up with you online, I'll dance at your weddings... wait a minute. Too far ahead! (And I don't dance.) After all that I taught you, I can't thank you chuckleheads enough for what you taught ME... patience, understanding, sympathy, love, and far, far more about Justin Bieber and pop culture than I ever, ever wanted to know. Thanks. 



Oh, you crazy kids. You are smart, unique, gifted, bright, sweet (and sometimes terrible.) You've made me laugh, cry, and nearly lose my mind... and I'm grateful for every wild moment. I'm proud of you, praying for you, I'm here if you need me, and I hope you have an absolutely wonderful school year. Do your best, pay attention, and walk in His steps. I love you guys.


Mrs. McNeese

Sunday, August 3, 2014

MAD

It's Montepeque Appreciation Day, appropriately shortened to MAD since it's so hard to say goodbye! (In case you're unaware, my sister and brother-in-law are moving from Georgia to Connecticut this week, and today is their last Sunday at home.) Knowing that "Montepeque Appreciation Day" was approaching and that I would, as both a former youth group member and a sister, probably be expected to come up with some kind of contribution to the festivities, I first thought that I would try to write a poem. Then I decided that I am certainly not the poet laureate of the family (DAD) and that prose would simply have to do. (Also, it would be really hard to say everything I want to without watching you suffer through 37 stanzas.)

It's been hard for me to decide how to approach this post. Do I approach my tribute to Amanda and Steven as simply one of their teens, or do I selfishly include some of the multitude of stories I could share as their sister? (I've already gushed about them here and here, respectively.) It's hard to put into words the love, admiration, and gratitude I have for them... but since today is about their ministry at Berean Baptist Church, I'll try to focus on that.



I've known Steven for twelve years... almost half my life. And I've known Amanda for quite a while... we met on a balmy spring day in 1989... just kidding, obviously I've known her since birth, because she is my sister. (Duh.) But I've known them as a couple for a decade now and it's been fascinating to watch how God's plan for them has unfolded.

Of course, it's no surprise that the Lord has used them the way that He has. Some of my earliest memories include Amanda playing the piano for church, visiting the nursing home (and being far more at ease than I was), and working tirelessly on the bus route, bringing dozens of kids to church and building relationships with their families. While I was always satisified with a perfunctory smile or wave at the old people and usually felt awkward and uneasy visiting in some kind of scary areas, Amanda was nothing but confident as she embraced the little kids, remembered their phone numbers, and truly cared about them. And Steven was no different as a college student, actively reaching kids and families, bringing them to church, and sharing the gospel.

They've continued those ministries and that servant leadership as the youth pastor (and wife!) for these past eight years. Countless teenagers have been discipled, challenged, and loved by these two amazing people. It's rarely easy to listen to preaching that "calls you out," but not only did we know that Steven loved us, we also knew that he modeled the Christ-like behavior he was trying to teach us and lived it more consistently than just about anyone we knew. I relied on his counsel as a teen but didn't really appreciate it until I was grown and "away," and now I count on his calm, rational advice more than ever before. ("WHY WOULD I OVERREACT? NOBODY IN MY FAMILY OVERREACTS!")



In their years at Berean, Amanda and Steven have loved (and been loved) by so many of us for so many reasons. They got back from their honeymoon and literally stepped from their car to the church van to take us to Youth Conference. They washed windshields to help raise money for camp. They let us into their house, fed us, prayed with us, cried with us, and made us laugh. (Where's Stevo, anyone?) They sacrificed more than most would or even could, but they did it with a smile and a passionate fervor for the ministry and the people of Berean Baptist Church. 



Many things have changed over the years, including the addition of three (!) kids, and Amanda and Steven have made  Emily and Steven, and now Ella, their number one ministry, proving that putting family first is definitely the way God designed it. But they've continued to faithfully serve in their multitude of capacities- music, youth, bus, VBS, translating, preaching, teaching, discipling, nursing home, and more... just hauling two kids around! They've not only served in all these capacities but have opened their home to countless families, sent care packages to college students, hung out with young adults, and were just there for anyone who needed them.




I'd love to tell stories that would make everyone laugh... I am the family jester, after all, but I'm too overwhelmed by emotions to even try. I (selfishly) am glad that I couldn't be there today, sparing everyone (and myself) the embarrassment of my ugly crying. But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to acknowledge the debt that I owe both of them... so much of what I know about ministry and who I am as a person is due to their love, support, occasional chastening =), and most of all godly example. 



My testimony of their influence is one of many, and today their former teens, fellow church members, friends, and family want to thank them for their sacrificial service. I do not know of two more humble, Spirit-filled, loving, and dedicated servants of God. I am proud to be their sister and even more proud to be a product of their ministry. (As a 4-time Teen of the Month, I think it's safe to say that I am a sparkling jewel in their crowns of service.) =) 

Seester and Bruther, I love you! I hope those New Englanders know what they're getting! 


Ash

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A New Adventure

Welp... since it's now on Facebook (meaning it totally wouldn't be official otherwise...*wink*) I finally feel free to spill my guts like I've been wanting to for a good long time. In case you haven't noticed (but you have, right?? You know my insecurities!) I've been a little MIA lately and as I've sort of alluded before, when I can't say everything I'd rather not say anything so... I haven't. Ordinarily I'd be more than content to just share my usual mindless drivel (speaking of, don't worry... I haven't abandoned my Disney playlist series!) but I've been SO busy that even those posts were not really happening.

So, this is the story all about how my life got twisted, turned upside down... oh, wait. I'm not moving to Bel Aire. (But bonus points if you can finish that song!) Anyway. Back to business.

As long as I've known Jonathan, he has talked about wanting to be involved in church planting/home missions in some way. He talked about it in high school, in college, and since we've been married. But clearly the Lord has had other plans for us for the past four years, and we've been content- happy even- to serve where we've been called, both Goldsboro and New Bern- "blooming where we're planted," if you will. But remember my word of the year? (If you've carelessly forgotten, it was delight... but more on that in a second.)

So, over the past few months, Jonathan started feeling more strongly about this home missions thing and wondering how and when it might work out for us to get involved in it. (Also, I was totally in the dark about this for much of the time... he's sneaky that way.) In April, we talked with Heath, our friend who happens to be a home missionary to Houston. And he asked us to pray about coming there. Huh. This was unexpected, but it wasn't really a shock. I mean, Jonathan's praying about an opportunity, and here comes one knocking... I believe that's called luck, no? (Just kidding; obviously it was all God's doing.) 

Clearly this isn't the kind of thing you just decide on a whim, so we were thinking and praying and worrying (well, I was) but it worked out for us to take a trip to Houston at the beginning of June... incognito, of course. 



This is my "Holy cow, what in the world are we doing?!" face. It was mostly attributed to my anxiety about the trip but partially to the fact that we were flying out of New Bern in what was essentially a toy plane. 

When we arrived going there was just a possibility, but when we left it was very clear that God wanted us at Woodforest. Both of us really felt in our hearts that it was right, and our "well, maybe" turned into "okay, how do we make this happen?" And so we continued to pray and figure things out, and while it's still not ALL figured out, right now we know that next week we'll be out of our apartment, living in Goldsboro, and spending the next few months raising support as associate missionaries. Wow! 

It's been a crazy summer... packing up our house, spending several weeks really having no idea what we were going to do, and then finally (after some setbacks) seeing things fall into place. I have a feeling that God's planning on teaching me a LOT over the next few months. I know this process so far has basically taught me that I have absolutely zero control over much of what happens in my life, which, as you can imagine, has made me more than a little crazy. =) But that's the beauty of following God's plan... even if I'm not entirely sure exactly what it looks like, I know that He does. He sees around every corner (and really, I'm kind glad that I can't.) This has been, and will be, an exercise in faith. 



Today... finally relaxing now that the news is out!


Naturally, this kind of news is accompanied by a myriad of emotions... excitement, joy, fear, terror (you know I love my anxieties!) but mostly peace that we are doing what God wants us to do. I mentioned my word delight earlier, and it's been really neat to see the promise of Psalm 37:4 unfold. Honestly, there have been times recently, and specifically the past two months, when delighting was the last thing I've felt like doing. It's not really easy to delight in uncertainty... in fact, it's probably my least favorite thing! But as Jonathan has faithfully sought God's will, faithfully served where we are, and delighted in the Lord, I've been able to watch God give him the desire of his heart... a desire that's been present since he was a teenager on his first missions trip. And, like only God can, He has given me- despite all my fears and insecurities- that same call to share with my husband. 

Things are going to be crazy for the next few months... and honestly, I don't know exactly how everything will go down, so I'm glad I know the One who holds tomorrow! I'll be sharing all of our progress as it arrives, so follow along. It's going to be an adventure! Oh, and please pray for us! I just know you will, because you are awesome that way. =)


Ash

Monday, July 7, 2014

When It Rains (Well, You Know...)

So, I was working on a really perky, upbeat post about how awesome camp was (I know! Can you believe it? Me??) but alas, life had other plans. I thought it would be far more entertaining- cathartic, even- to share with you a little glimpse into the last 48 hours in the life of the McNeese family. As I write this, it's after midnight, I'm staring with bleary eyes at this screen and the television, listening/watching The Parent Trap (1998 version... before LiLo went all cray-cray) and trying to ignore the fact that our AC is out. What? Oh, don't worry... that little calamity is only a part of my tale of woe. Enjoy.

So, on Friday night at camp, Jonathan started complaining that he had the chills and felt achy. [Editor's note: this was AFTER I had spent half of Thursday in the bed moaning in pain from a heinous sunburn. Just wanted to throw that in there in case you were tempted to use up all your sympathy on a certain lanky McNeese). Since I can sometimes be a little mean somewhat lacking in sympathy and because it was hardly a convenient time for him to jump ship and abandon me with all the children, I was reluctant to buy his story. But I sent him down to our room anyway and followed when I finished eating (because the chicken was fabulous and I do have my priorities, people.) 

So, I went down to check on Sickie and, to my dismay, he was so hot (and while I think he's adorable, I mean his actual temperature.) He was burning up and his throat hurt and he was just miserable. It was pitiful, actually. So I gave him so medicine, dutifully laid a cold rag on his head (because that's what Laura Ingalls would do) and went back up to the service. And THEN during the service one of our boys, who had had pink eye the day before, came up to me with his eye swollen again so I went and got his medicine, shakily dropped it in his eyes, grabbed Jonathan a Powerade, and went back to check on him. 

He wasn't really any better, but he didn't want to miss the game time and fireworks (also, he was going stir-crazy) so he roused himself out of bed and powered through the next couple of hours. Bless his heart... he did get roped into doing a game/skit and I know people were probably like, "This guy isn't very funny..." (he's not really a skit guy, anyway) but I was really praying that he wouldn't pass out onstage. (That would have given the skit an unexpected turn...) Anyway, he lasted for an admirable length of time, but I sent him down to the room before it was all over. 



Right in the middle of his misery... he wasn't drugged up on anything, I promise... although he probably should have been.

I slept great that night, but unbeknownst to me, Jonathan was waking up, like, every hour. So, he didn't really sleep at all and then while we were loading up the van the next morning he threw up in the bushes. (It was as dreadful as it sounds.) And even though I offered to drive home, he insisted on doing it himself- a lack of confidence in my driving, perhaps?- and seemed a little more pitiful with each passing mile. (Okay, full disclosure: I was asleep for over half the trip and had the Aladdin soundtrack blaring through my headphones the whole time.) By the time we got back to the church, he was completely out of it and as soon as everyone was dumpedwiththeirparents picked up we headed home and promptly slept like the dead for four hours. 

Unfortunately things went from bad to worse (or worser, which is a double comparison but seems necessary to convey the level of despair in the situation) because when we woke up, Jonathan's throat was killing him and (lucky us) our ONE urgent care center was closed (since apparently we live in Mayberry) and so last night was a really fabulous bout of trying not to succumb to the horrible pain and only finding a little relief from some throat spray. Also, his fever was super high again, around 101, and one of his eyes was oozing something really gross... but more on that later. (During this time, I was sleeping like the compassionate nurse that I am.) Also, we kept wondering why it was so warm in the house...but, I am getting ahead of myself. Read on.

This morning, I was relieved to find that his fever had broken... but his throat was still really sore. It was my week to sing, so I left Sickie to go to practice, Sunday school, and church but rushed back home to his side (haha) and as soon as we could, we left to wait for the urgent care to open. Ah, Urgent Care... the great American oxymoron. First you get to wait for over an hour just to go back to the holding cell where they make you THINK you're going to see a doctor and then you get to wait for another hour. It's so much fun!!! It's even more fun for those of us sitting in the waiting room with screaming toddlers. Poor parents. (In the urgent care's defense, everyone there was super nice.) 

SO, the diagnosis was strep throat (obviously) and the nice people called in a prescription at Target and said it should be ready in about half an hour. We went and got some food, ate it in the car, and THEN went to check on the prescription and- shocker- the pharmacy hadn't even received the order yet. So, it was going to be another 20-ish minutes. Obviously, killing time in Target is one of my spiritual gifts but poor Jonathan was seriously about to keel over (since we'd been at the doctor, his fever had shot back up and he was achy again.) Finally, after we stocked up on the essentials (namely, orange juice and pizza rolls because we have the palates of broke college students), the drugs were ready and we were headed home. Home... where the air was set to 73 but the temperature was actually 78. Hmmm.... curious.

There was just enough time to rest a little and then head to church for me to run the kids class alone (well, with Mrs. Jo). Nothing reminds me how much more comfortable I am with teenagers than having to get up in front of little kids. Poor kids... thank goodness for Veggie Tales! (We watched Lord of the Beans and it was quite clever.) Also during this time, I got a text from Jonathan saying that his eye was swelling. (I told you that the eye would come back up.) I rushed home from church, distributed another round of drugs, and then noticed that the Oozing Eye was even more... oozy and was now completely bloodshot. Remember the pink eye?? Yep... that's it! On top of the strep, he's got an oozing, swollen, bloodshot eye. And naturally these symptoms are all compounded by... wait for iiiiiiiit.... 

...Our AC is out. SHUT UP. ("I beg your pardon? Shut up? Your majesty, in America it doesn't always MEAN 'be quiet'; here it could mean 'wow, gee whiz, golly-wolly.'") So, my husband is basically the Walking Dead and on top of that it's a billion degrees in our house. Since it's always too hot upstairs even when the AC works, our only option is sleeping downstairs with the fan cranked up, a move that's sure to give Jonathan a sinus infection by morning. Poor thing... his immune system is like Jacob in the Bible... all wimpy (and, since I never get sick, mine is apparently the hairy, burly Esau. What a lovely comparison for us as a couple!) 

So, The Parent Trap has ended... I forgot how much I love that movie. I laughed AND cried. Jonathan is conked out on the floor... I know he's going to be sore but it's been so hard for him to go to sleep that I hate to move him. (Well, wake him up so he can move. You know I don't have the upper body strength to lift a grown man.) But anyway, pray for us. Well, mostly Jonathan. Not only is he being hit at with illness from all sides, but he also has the world's most disorderly orderly (me) trying to take care of him. But even if you forget both of us during your Quiet Time, please pray for our AC situation. A broken unit in July? No. Just no. It's SO hot. 

And that is the tale of woe that I so pitifully spun for your enjoyment. I'm off to Lysol everything in sight and Google "how to fix an AC unit for dummies." Maybe I'll set the house on fire... not that you'd be able to notice.

EDIT: I finished this post and it was sometime after 3 A.M. So, like the insomniac that I am, I still couldn't sleep and started cleaning instead. I was only intending to "straighten up" the kitchen but I reached under the sink to grab the dishwashing detergent and smelled something... horrifying and mysterious. Turns out, there was a leak coming from somewhere (the sink or the dishwasher... don'tknowdon'tcare) and it had soaked through a bag of potatoes, leaving them a moldy, soggy pile of nastiness that smelled like the bottom of a filthy pond. 

So, picture me, if you will, completely freaking out over the mess (and the smell) and standing on my back porch at 4 in the morning, swinging a bag of rotten potatoes and hurling like a discus thrower into the woods behind our house. And then scurrying back inside with Kronk-like, awkward humming ("He's got his own theme music?") and saying (in my best Kronk voice), "I hope that doesn't come back to haunt me." I'm still freaked out just thinking about it! Oh, and since that apparently gave me an adrenaline rush equal to scoring a goal in the World Cup, I proceeded to clean the rest of my house, take a shower, and organize the guest room. Guess when I went to sleep? Around 8:15. And so ends a crazy night and this crazy story. The only plus to all this is that my house is spotless... stifling, but spotless.


Ash

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stepping Up to the Plate

Sorry to disappoint you baseball fans and myself at age 12, but this post is actually not about baseball. Just want to start with that disclaimer in case anyone scrolled through and thought, "She didn't talk about baseball at all!" Carry on.


My list of fears does not include ice cream.


It always amuses me when people make these grand, dramatic statements in an attempt to share something about themselves, when in reality the "super unique" trait that they're sharing is something pretty common. For example, if I were to ceremoniously declare that I struggle with fear, then every other human being (especially the 13 and under crowd, with whom I closely identify) would have to admit to also being afraid of something. I mean, who doesn't have a major fear of at least one thing?

Of course, there are remedies or "cures" for different fears. For example, if you're afraid of snakes, you can solve that problem the way I do- by rarely venturing outside. =) Every child knows that a fear of the dark can be solved with a nightlight (or "nighty-light" as my 3-year-old nephew says, which is an unessential fact but one I'm including because it's adorable.) And if you're afraid of being inadequate, unsuccessful, or just a big old flop, you can...

Huh. Is there a cure for those feelings? It's kind of raw deal. We finally realize that there are no monsters under the bed, no "bad guys" lurking in the closet (well, at least I hope not, but that's why I don't watch crime shows), and no other unknown danger promising a fate worse than death... only to be plagued by grown-up fears that, let's be honest, are a little bit harder to overcome. Everyone has their own way of dealing with these fears (deny, deny, deny?) and their own go-tos when feeling afraid. I remember lying in bed as a kid (okay, last week) and chanting "What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee" over and over again while I tried to block out the creaking noises of my house that I was absolutely positive meant a murderer around the corner. But now that my fears are a little more... reality-based, if you will, I find I have to dig a little deeper. Not that Scripture isn't deep... I mean deeper into Scripture and other resources to silence that nasty little voice of doubt, worry, and criticism that comes from yours truly.

Lately I've been feeling really fearful in a lot of ways... but one of them has been in my writing. Life has been a little crazy the last few months and, in an attempt not to spill my guts about everything, I just haven't really written much about anything. And, as is usually the case when I'm not writing, I start feeling like it's not that great, that I don't have anything interesting to say, that I'm never going to write a book, or be a real author, or write anything worthwhile. (I'm a very positive person, eh?) As Jon Acuff says, it's easy to think that every topic has already been covered by "a million writers who are smarter than me." For whatever reason, it's easy to grow especially morose about topics like this when it's late and I can't sleep, last night was one of those times. Of course Jonathan, who is way too nice and always indulges my stupidity, helped talk me down from the crazy a little bit but he's required by law to tell me I'm not completely devoid of talent so... I take his praise with a grain of salt.

So this morning, while having my devotions, I turned to a chapter in Resolution for Women that I knew was right up my alley. (By the way, ladies, if you haven't read this book you really should.) Anyway, I'm reading along, enjoying Priscilla Shirer's writing style, as always, when this paragraph hits me between the eyes:

"Some readers will only hear, understand, and accept certain things when they read it in your words, from your perspective, written in your voice. We were each created by God to do our part. And if we fail to do it because we don't think it's valuable enough, great loss will be suffered. Someone, somewhere, needs you- in all your uniqueness- to step up to the plate of your calling." 

Um, okay. That slapped me around a little. It would be a cop-out to tell myself that these words don't apply to me, that they're for someone who is more talented, or more experienced, or more... different. But Jeremiah says that before we were even born, God knew, sanctified, and ordained us with specific gifts for specific purposes, so I have to believe that this is true for my life. Because to ignore that fact would be a contradiction of God's plan. I don't know always know what that plan entails, or what it looks like. Sometimes that makes me crazy, but mostly I need to remember that all it really requires is for me to do what I'm called to do. And whether that means writing poetry or ranting about grammar or sharing Disney playlists, I better be doing it... stepping up to the plate of my calling, whatever it is.



Ash

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Unbroken

Warning: this post contains spoilers. If you still want to be surprised, just go read this book right now. I'm just dying to talk about it with/to someone.

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Since it's finally summer and I actually have the time, I've been reading like a crazy person for the past couple of weeks. Last week, before heading to the library, I first clicked over to Janssen's book index, as is my custom before a library trip. And, as usual, she did not disappoint. Her review of Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand completely sold me and I checked it out, then plowed through it in just a few hours.

If you've been around me since then, chances are you've heard me talking about this book. Oh, my. I haven't been able to shut up about it. I've probably described it, in varying levels of detail, to at least ten people (number one being my husband who is probably weary of hearing the summary over and over... and over again.) So instead of talking the ears off of even more people, I decided to be efficient and blog about it. =) Buckle up, folks. It's a long one.

Unbroken is the biography of Louis Zamperini, known throughout the book as Louie, a boy from an Italian family who got a pretty rough start in life. Growing up in California, he was constantly in trouble and pretty much terrorized his neighbors, teachers, and friends. Louie was bullied at an early age and decided, as just a little boy, to never let anyone beat him down again. And as the local troublemaker- from stealing to fighting- he refused to be overcome by any obstacle. He simply figured out a way around the problem. This defiant spirit, although misplaced, would eventually serve him well in much more serious pursuits. 

By the time Louie reached high school, his parents were terribly worried that he would end up in prison (or worse.) So his older brother Pete began training him to run track, and by the time he graduated, Louie was the fastest high school runner in the country. He now had a purpose in life and set his mind to another goal- the 1936 Olympics, hosted in Berlin. Louie qualified and made it to Germany. He did not win his race, but ran his last lap so fast that Adolf Hitler himself personally demanded to meet him after the race, calling him "the boy with the fast finish."
Soon Louie had to put his dreams of running on hold as the world went to war. Joining the U.S. Air Force, he became a bombadier and, along with his crew, completed several dangerous missions while stationed in the Hawaiian Islands. After one terrible flight, Louie's crew was horrified to count over 500 bullet holes in their plane, a B-24. Ironically, it was on a fairly routine reconnaissance mission- not in combat- that Louie, his best friend Phil, and the rest of a crew were shot down over the Pacific. Only Louie, Phil, and a gunner named Mac made it through the crash. Mac eventually died as well, but miraculously, Phil and Louie survived on a raft in the Pacific Ocean for 47 days with practically no provisions other than their own smart thinking. 

After drifting over 2,000 miles in shark-infested waters, Louie and Phil made it to an island. Being stranded in the middle of the ocean with practically no food and only occasional rainwater had been a nightmare, but unfortunately, their hardships were only just beginning. Both men were captured by Japanese soldiers and imprisoned. They would be captive for over two years.

Louie had always held onto the indomitable spirit he had developed as a child, but even his enduring attitude and sharp intelligence could not lessen the agony of being a POW under the Japanese. His years of imprisonment held unspeakable acts of  torture, cruelty, and injustice, not to mention the heartbreak of watching his fellow soldiers experience the same treatment, often fatally. One guard in particular was especially cruel, sadistically beating POWs as if it were a game. He was so deranged, in fact, that even though he was not actually an officer, those who outranked him deferred to his preferences because they were afraid of his violent, unpredictable mood swings that usually left at least one prisoner nearly dead from a beating or other punishment. 

This guard, known among the prisoners as "The Bird," became almost immediately fixated on Louie. The Bird hated all officers, especially those with distinction, and since Louie was an officer and an Olympic athlete to boot, The Bird took a special pleasure in hurting and degrading him. All POWs agreed that physical pain, while brutal, was nothing compared to the loss of personal dignity. The Bird sensed Louie's defiant spirit and did everything in his power to break him. When The Bird was transferred to another prison camp, Louie got a brief reprieve, but The Bird, in his sick manner, demanded that Louie be part of a group to be brought to the same camp, and the torture continued, sometimes multiple times a day. 

Finally, the war was over and, miraculously, Louie survived, despite multiple injuries, horrible diseases, and a broken spirit. His family welcomed him back with hysterical joy, having no idea the atrocities that he had been subjected to during his time as a prisoner (all the torture, starvation, and other inhumane treatment contradicted the requirements of the Geneva Convention and led to thousands of Japanese officers and guards being imprisoned for war crimes later on.) Soon Louie married and tried to start a new life, but two heartbreaking realities made it nearly impossible.


This photo was taken after the mission that filled Louie's plane, Super Man, with over 500 bullet holes. Later, his sister would be haunted by this image during the two years that the family had no idea whether Louie was dead or alive.


First, Louie's dream was destroyed. Having never been to college and living in a veteran-saturated job market, he turned his ambitions back to his passion- running. The 1946 Olympics became his new purpose. But a war injury that had seemed healed flared back up when his training began again, and a doctor told him that running competitively was out of the question. Louie was heartbroken and began spending his days fantasizing about returning to Japan, finding The Bird, and murdering him. 

Louie was also plagued by terrible nightmares, or worse- flashbacks to prison camp, in which every sight, smell, taste, and touch of his time as a POW became extremely real to him. In these days before PTSD, no one knew how to treat this type of ailment, so Louie did what so many other POWs did... he began drinking. Soon he was an alcoholic and his marriage was falling apart. He had violent outbursts, fought for now reason, and did little during the day (or night) but drink and plan his revenge. 

Then his wife Cynthia, who had already taken their baby girl and separated from Louie, went to a Billy Graham tent meeting. She came home eager to reconcile with Louie, for which he was grateful, but when she asked that he attend the meeting with her he wouldn't even consider it. What began as three-day meeting stretched out for over two weeks, and during that time Cynthia begged Louie to attend. Finally, he agreed. He was gripped with conviction throughout the message and left as soon as the invitation began.  During the service, Louie kept thinking back to a time on the raft when, desperate for rain and fresh water, he had prayed fervently and promised God that if it rained, "I'll serve You all my life." When Cynthia asked him to return the next night, he made one stipulation: "We leave as soon as he starts praying at the end." But Billy Graham practically forbade anyone from leaving that night, and during the altar call, Louie stopped wrestling with the Holy Spirit, went forward, and gave his life to Christ. 

This man of never-ending endurance, who had become a pitiful, usually drunken shell of his formerly vibrant self, was transformed. The bitterness and despair that had consumed Louie gave way to a new purpose: sharing the redemptive power and work that the Lord had done in his life. He had already been invited to graduations and other events for years, but now that he had a positive message to share, he eagerly accepted the invitations. At long last, he was able to fulfill the promise he had made in a desperate, thirsty moment on a raft in the Pacific Ocean. 

One of the most amazing transformations Louie experienced was his feelings towards the Japanese officers and guards from the prison camps. In 1950, he traveled back to Japan and visited a prison where many of his former guards were being held for their war crimes. Of course, he inquired about The Bird, but no one had heard from him since the war's end. Still, Louie walked among the men with a smile, forgiving each one as he passed. It wasn't until decades later, at age 81, that Louie was contacted and told the shocking news that The Bird was alive. Louie requested a meeting and was denied (even after all those years, The Bird refused to admit to doing anything wrong) but Louie wrote him a letter of forgiveness, stating that "my hatred for you has been turned to love" and hoping that one day the man who had caused him so much physical, mental, and emotional pain would accept God's gift of salvation. 

Louie became a noted speaker, founded a camp for troubled boys, and participated in many Olympic games as an honored guest. He is 97 today and a movie about his life (same title) is coming out later this year. 

WOW. This book (which was incredibly well-written, by the way) taught me so many things. It taught me that I should slapped for complaining about petty inconveniences when there are American soldiers who have suffered unspeakable horrors to make my cushioned existence possible. These men and women are HEROES, plain and simple. Louie was a hero, certainly, but he was only one of thousands upon thousands of Americans who showed the same courage and resilience during this time. It taught me that God orchestrates the events of our lives... Louie didn't survive as a POW just to drink his life away, but to become a Christian and share his incredibly inspiring testimony with others. And it taught me, most of all, that forgiveness is possible, even for the most heinous wrongs. I find myself withholding forgiveness for the smallest things, when Louie found it in his heart to forgive those who did everything in their power to break him and literally take his life. But, as Louie said, how can we possibly refuse forgiveness to anyone when Christ has forgiven us? 



Still a hero!

Unbroken brought this period of history to life for me, but more importantly, it brought the power of redemption to life. Louis Zamperini is not just an American hero; he is a beautiful picture of God's sovereign grace.

Thanks for being a part of my book club! If you made it all the way through this post, I'll give you a multiple choice quiz and you probably deserve college credit. =)