Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Valley of Vision

A beautiful song came onto my iPod yesterday at a moment when I needed it the most. The words rang true to my head, and it cut me deep to the heart.

The song, by Bob Kauflin, is called "In the Valley." Always before I have thought of the difficult times of life as being the "valley of the shadow of death." Though this is a biblical term, this song put things into perspective for me.

When You lead me to the valley of vision
I can see You in the heights
And though my humbling
wouldn’t be my decision
It’s here Your glory shines so bright
So let me learn that the cross precedes the crown
To be low is to be high
That the valley’s where You make me more like Christ

Let me find Your grace in the valley
Let me find Your life in my death
Let me find Your joy in my sorrow
Your wealth in my need
That You’re near with every breath
In the valley

In the daytime there are stars in the heavens
But they only shine at night
And the deeper that I go into darkness
The more I see their radiant light
So let me learn that my losses are my gain
To be broken is to heal
That the valley’s where Your power is revealed

The Valley of Vision . . . think about it. Is it not when we are in the valley of the shadow that we most feel the power, love, and support of God? Despite the fact that it is tempting to be angry at God during these times, they are the times when I most feel that I cannot be angry with God because I feel His love surrounding me, uplifting me, and urging me to press forward. It is during these times that I can see God most clearly. The last verse of the song, especially, struck my heart. There are stars in the heavens during the daytime, but they only shine at night--God is always with His children during the good times, but His glory shines the brightest when we are at our darkest moments. This song really encouraged my soul yesterday. The rest of the world thinks that God abandons His people when they go through trials and tribulations, but the truth is that He is never with us more than at those times.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Stormy Seas

Today God showed me once again that it is one thing to sing "It is well with my Soul" when things are going well and that it is quite another matter to keep singing it when you are on the stormy seas in a sinking boat, surrounded by white-capped waves. Lord, hold my head above the water and fill my lungs with the air to sing.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Lesson Learned about the Potter from a "potter" Who Can't Pot Pots

I MADE SOMETHING in ceramics today. But you have been taking this class all semester, you might say. I'll leave it at mentioning that there is a reason that I am a music/English person and NOT an art major. The potter's wheel is totally not my gig. [As a side bar, the song "Hands of the Potter" by Caedmon's Call would play on my iPod while I worked on the wheel . . . I used to like that song . . . and it always made me groan inside because God did not give me any kind of artistic gift when it comes the the pottery wheel.] Anyway, today we worked on a hand-building project. Mine actually LOOKS like something! It'll (hopefully) end up as a really neat looking pitcher when it is all finished. Needless to say, when I think of God as the Potter, He'll be hand-building and not working on a wheel from now on! Not only did I actually enjoy the class today, but I found hand-building to be very relaxing, rewarding, and fulfilling (anything is fulfilling to me when it doesn't flop!).

All this being said, ceramics has definitely given me a much different view of and appreciation for God. For those people who are like me, pottery is HARD! To actually form a perfect cylinder on a quickly spinning wheel is impossible. Why even try? After weeks and weeks (and hours and hours--like eight a week) of practice, my cylinders STILL were slightly (I'm being nice to myself here) misshapen, lopsided, and more like 6.5-7'' instead of 8''. As I said, two words describe using a potter's wheel: IM-POSSIBLE! There were those, I admit, in the class, to whom God has given a much larger portion of potter's talent. Even for them, however, it took a lot of practice and, more importantly, patience. I know that all things are easy for God, but it really says something that we are compared to vessels that take so much care to make.

Think about God when He is described as the Potter. In order to make anything that even slightly looks like anything on a pottery wheel, one must devote much time and effort, love and patience, and passion to his project. The work is not easy, but when you do actually have something finished, it almost kills you just to move it because you do not want to destroy that which you put so much into making. If I feel that way about a short, droopy "cylinder," how must God feel about us, His creations?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Risky Conversation

Recently I had to write a paper for one of my English classes . . . one of the few things that I truly enjoy about college life. For this particular paper, I took a little bit of a risk. It is rather obvious (at least to me) that many (if not most) of the professors in the English department are not only not Christians, but that they are also antagonistic toward faith in God (every English professor that I have had at Towson has been this way). Therefore, when I decided to weave doctrine and a Bible verse into my latest essay, it was a leap of faith (not to mention that I made it more of an analytical narrative than an actually essay). Surprisingly, I received not only an "A" on the paper (the highest grade that I have ever received from this particular professor . . . I took her last semester as well and received B+ grades, which she considered excellent), but I also got back very positive feedback from her. An amazing blessing, right? The paper is posted below.

February 27, 2010. It was a windy, cold, miserable day. The sky was gray, and snow flurried down, swirling in the wind. I was driving along Dulaney Valley Road at around 4 PM in my old, beat-up, hand-me-down purple Saturn. As I sat at the red light that spans the distance between Towson Town Center and the wonderful shopping center that contains not only a Starbucks but also the area’s Ukazoo store, I noticed a man walking by the road. Ordinarily I would not have stopped—men often walk along the road—but this man was different. He was older, about my grandfather’s age, and he had white hair and a white beard. Garbed in a black robe, he was clutching a rosary. Peering closer, I saw a look of bewilderment and panic in his eyes. I looked over my shoulder and saw nobody coming behind me, so I quickly pulled into the left lane and caught the tail end of the green arrow. I turned into the shopping center, and I parked my car in a two hour parking spot. Jumping from my car, I pulled my green scarf tighter around my neck and made sure that I manually locked the front door.

“Sir!” I cried.

He turned and looked at me. When I saw the front of his face in full, I knew. My suspicions had been correct. This man was indeed Geoffrey Chaucer himself, looking as if he had stepped out of his portrait in the Norton Anthology of English Literature.

“May I buy you a cup of coffee?” I queried.

“Coffee?” he replied. “What is coffee?”

Realizing that both coffee and tea had come to England a few centuries after his death, I quickly changed my question.

“How about a drink?” I asked.

“A drink would be very nice, thank you.”

I introduced myself as we walked toward a crowded Starbucks. As we approached the entrance, he chivalrously opened the door for me. Understanding that, though his English now was much more understandable than anything I read from the Canterbury tales, he would have no idea how or what to order, I told him to sit down in one of the big, patterned, oversized chairs.

Moments later, I returned to his side with two mocha chip frappuchinos (the cost of which is a small fortune for poor college students like me, but considering the wonderful opportunity that this could be, I did it anyway). After taking a sip, he smiled.

“My, my. This is delicious! Things certainly have changed,” he said. “What year is it, anyway?”

“Well, Mr. Chaucer, the year is 2010.”

I watched him nearly choke on his drink.

“And things have not changed that much,” I replied.

“Well then, young lady. Suppose you inform me how a world with steel horses and candles without flames and buildings made of glass is the same as the world that I knew.”

“Sir, the things that you have spoken of are indeed changes and signs of progress in the world, but the characters of the people in this world are such that you would easily recognize,” I responded.

“Indeed?” asked he quizzically. “Go on.”

“I will compare your Wife of Bath, your Pardoner, and your Parson to their modern day counterparts.”

And so I began my tale to the master tale teller.

Wommen desire to have sovereinetee.[1]This was the desire of the Wife of Bath. She desired to rule over her husbands, over her money, and to be equal in society. In the same way, there is a woman today known as the Feminist Woman. While she and her friends say that they merely want equality with men in every way, what many of them really mean is that they want power over men. They desire not to be subject to men; rather they want the authority of the men to wield over them.

In a more comical similarity, the Wife of Bath gives her heroine exactly what she herself wants: youth, beauty, and the magic to keep them forever. For by my trouthe, I wol be to you bothe—This is to sayn, ye, bothe fair and good . . . Caste up the curtin, looke how that it is.[2] The Desperate Housewife of today is the modern day Wife of Bath. However, the Desperate Housewife has what the Wife did not—the power to attain these things! As the Wife of Bath, the Desperate Housewife wants to look gorgeous and young at all times. With the magic of a piece of plastic known as a credit card, she buys herself a facelift to remove the wrinkles from around her eyes and to firm up the skin on her cheek. Using the same power, she can buy herself new breasts, remove unwanted fat, and dye her hair a lovely new color.

I could see Mr. Chaucer’s eyes widening in amazement, and the look on his face made me smile.

“Oh my!” he said.

Your Pardoner, I must say, was a very unsavory character. His tale concerned the sin of Avarice, something that he himself was afflicted with to his very core. I would say that he struggled with it, but that would be incorrect because he does not seem to strive against it as much as he appears to embrace it wholeheartedly. However, he is honest about his dishonesty, and it is through this that we learn more about him. The pardoner speaks of how he swindles poor people in various towns out of their money, convincing them that he has the power to forgive their sins if they pay him money. Of avarice and of swich cursednesse is all my preching, for to make hem free, to yiven hir pens and namely unto me, for myn entente is nat but for to winne, and no thing for correccion of sinne.[3] There are still those in the church who prey upon the innocent and weak. In this, the Pardoner is similar to what is known as the Televangelist. I have no doubt, Mr. Chaucer, that there were good Pardoners in your day, men who were driven by love instead of by their greed. So it is in this era; however, the Televangelist has a reputation for tending to favor the bad Pardoner rather than the good. The bad Televangelist pretends to speak the Truth of God, but really he speaks with the cunning of a snake. People are led to believe that, in order to further the Kingdom of God, they must send their money to the Televangelist. Many of these people are poor, and they do not realize that their money is not being used for good, but rather to fund the luxurious lifestyle of the Televangelist.

“Yes, yes,” Chaucer murmured. “How very interesting. But tell me; is there no good in the church today? Is it all evil? There was some good to be found in my time”

I smiled.

“Yes, sir,” I replied. “Or else you would not find me in church every Sunday.”

This brought me to the Parson. The Parson was a good man, a man who stood faithful even among the wolves found in the church. He was poor, caring, loving, and good. Furthermore, he practiced that which he preached—he was no hypocrite. He served his parishioners humbly, and taught only Christ. But in his teching discreet and benign, to drawen folk to hevene by fairnesse by good ensample—this was his bisinesse . . . He taught, but first he folwed it himself.[4] The Parson is like my Pastor. He does not live in a grand house, he does not steal money from any man, he can be found in the rooms of the sick, in the homes of the broken, and offering assistance without being asked. About the Parson is said, God loved he best with al his hole herte, at alle times, though him gamed or smerte. The same can be said of my Pastor. Whether grieving over the passing of a friend or dealing with the cancer of his daughter, he can always be found praising God and loving Him still. As you showed, Mr. Chaucer, the Parson was a rare man among men of the church—the good Pastor, though more plentiful than the Parson, can be hard to find. In the Bible, in John 10:11, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” Pastors also are to be shepherds of the church. A shepherd cares for the sheep, protects the sheep, and feeds the sheep—unlike the other members of the Church among your Pilgrims, Mr. Chaucer, the Parson was the only true Shepherd. My Pastor is a good Shepherd.

So you see, while things in my world may look very different from the world that you knew, there is nothing new under the sun. People are still the same as they were—there are still people who are obsessed with beauty, power, and fortune, and there are still those who help and love others without expecting anything in return. Technology will come and go, advances will grace civilization, and the external things will change, but humanity will remain basically the same for the rest of time.

I finished my statement and realized that my mouth was very dry since I had been doing more talking than drinking. Stopping for a sip, I looked expectantly at Mr. Chaucer and waited for him to say something.

He smiled, but as he opened his mouth to speak, there was a loud beeping sound. While I looked around for signs of a fire alarm, Mr. Chaucer began to fade. I looked back. He was disappearing.

“Erin!” a voice spoke my name.

“Mr. Chaucer,” I called frantically.

“Erin, wake up!”

I started. The voice belonged to my husband, Patrick. The beeping belonged to his alarm.

“Can you make coffee? I’m running late!”

Patrick’s voice cut through my dream. And thus was the end of a wonderful dream and the beginning of a very long day.

[1] The Wife of Bath’s Tale, line 1044.

[2] The Wife of Bath’s Tale, lines 1246, 1247, and 1255.

[3] The Pardoner’s Prologue, lines 112-116.

[4] The General Prologue, lines 520-523, 530.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Eight as One

Few things in this life are certain, but one thing that I am certain about is my family. My parents raised us in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and He certainly knit us into one tight group. All for one, and one for all in the Lord. When I got married, God blessed me with a husband who fit right into the tapestry of my family. For all intents and purposes, he IS one of the family . . . not just an in-law addition (as evidenced by his evident "favorite child" status). I am extremely thankful for my relationship with my family. Attending a secular university has afforded me with many opportunities to hear about other families that are either very dysfunctional or very disconnected, and this makes me even more thankful for the blessing that I have received.

I am blessed to be best friends with my siblings, my parents, and my husband. I never thought that I would be able to (or want to!) be
friends with my parents, but something must have happened because they are actually cool to hang out with now! :-) I love talking to and being with them.

My youngest sisters keep us laughing all the time (they manage to be cute even when they explain how they broke my glasses . . .). I can't imagine life without them, and I can't think of two little girls who I could possibly be more proud to love. Not only do they learn gazillions of Bible verses and catechism, they also manage to be MUCH more fashionable than Marissa and I EVER were growing up. It's just not fair. :-D

My sister, Marissa, and I share an extremely tight bond. It's amazing to think of how we were "mortal enemies" about ten years ago. My brother Jesse and my husband Patrick have also entered this "bond of sisterhood" and have turned it into a circle of confiding, loving, protecting friends. That in itself is also pretty mind-boggling. Jess has gone from the annoying little brother who always tattled on us (and who we always worked to get into trouble) to the tall guy who would do anything to protect his sisters (who would do ANYTHING to protect him), and Patrick has gone from Erin's boyfriend/fiance/husband to a full-fledged sibling who could have been born into the family.

Why am I saying all of this? I am just so thankful to God for making us a family who loves each other and who would do anything for each other. If one of us is hurting, we all hurt. If one of us cries, we all cry. If one of us is attacked, we are all there to protect and defend. We are a FAMILY. We are one.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I'm Ready

Patrick had inventory last week. Basically, that meant that I hardly got to see him at ALL last weekend. He was at work at 7 AM and did not get home until 12:30 AM. What did I do during this time? I shopped.

Actually, I drove to Aberdeen and arrived at 7:45 AM (long story there). Later, Mom, Krista, Gianna, and I traveled to Delaware to go to Ross. I got some cool stuff for the house. We then went to BJ's and got some tax-free grocery items that I can't buy at the supermarkets near me. After all this, we went home and had dinner.

Since Patrick had had band practice on Thursday night in Frederick (I went with him) and hadn't finished until 11:30 or so, we spent the night at his parents house. This meant that we had to leave their house by 6:00 AM on Friday morning so that Patrick could get to work on time. Needless to say, I was REALLY tired on Friday night. It was around 9 PM when I decided that I needed to drive home or else I wasn't going to make it home at all.

It is this drive home that has driven me to write this blog. To help keep me awake, I popped in a CD--the Avalon hymn CD, to be exact. My car doesn't have cruise control, and my speed definitely fluctuated. Had I been pulled over, I probably would have been in trouble because I would have made a crazy sight. I was singing, and I was overcome with emotion. Tears streamed down my face. While a police officer probably would have thought me an awful wreck, I know that that was not how God saw me.

During that time, I felt so close to God. It felt like every fibre of my being was consumed with praising Him. One thought crossed my mind: I'm ready. I was ready for the Lord to return at that very moment. I realized that THAT is how I want God to find me when the last trumpet sounds--praising, worshipping, and serving Him.

So often in my life I sin . . . and I do things that I would be ashamed to have Christ find me doing. The truth is--He DOES find me doing them every day. The thought is so convicting, and I am determined to put on the Armor of God and to wage a serious war on my sin.

Christians often put a lot of emphasis on liberty. I'm tired of this in my own life. I want to stop focusing on the silly, trivial things and put all of my energy toward serving God, striving toward holiness, and finding out how I may better please Him. Just because I can do X,Y, or Z does not mean that I should. How would God want me to spend my time?

This past Sunday we went to the nursing home. I almost broke down when I saw a woman (not one of our regulars) dancing in her bed as we sang praise to God. She could not get up, but she could move her body . . . and move she did as she worshipped God and let her joy overflow.

The truth is that I was tired, and I had to force myself to go and serve others instead of staying home and taking a nap. It was well worth it. What I want to do often seems to be the easier, more fun, cool thing to do; however, what God wants me to do usually turns out to be the better thing, the thing that brings me the most encouragement, fulfillment, and joy.

By the grace and help of God, I want to strive to put down my flesh and what I want to do and to race toward the light and doing what God requires of me. In doing this, I hope that I will be found doing His will and delighting in Him when He returns that I may be a good and faithful servant to the Lord.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Your Sin Will ALWAYS Find You Out

My mom is a pretty wise woman. Wiser than pretty much any other woman that I know. For the past week, I have been thinking about something that she always told us growing up: "Your sin will always find you out whether in this life or the next." And it always did . . . in this life for some reason. I don't think that it had anything to do with her having eyes in the back of her head or ears in every room of the house (benefits of being a mom, I guess). Rather, I think that it had something to do with the following verses:

John 3:20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

Eph. 5:13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.

God is light, and He will expose sin. You may think that you're getting away with something, but God has other plans.

Deu 32:25 Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; Their foot shall slip in [due] time; For the day of their calamity [is] at hand, And the things to come hasten upon them.

Now this is probably one of the most infamous verses in the Bible because of Jonathan Edwards' famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." While this sermon generally has a bad reputation because of bad American lit. teachers in public schools, it is actually a fantastic sermon . . . and one that is very much true.

The following excerpt from Edwards' sermon (in italics) is both interesting and poignant:

The expression I have chosen for my text, their foot shall slide in due time, seems to imply the following things, relating to the punishment and destruction to which these wicked Israelites were exposed.

  1. That they were always exposed to destruction; as one that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to fall. This is implied in the manner of their destruction coming upon them, being represented by their foot sliding. The same is expressed, Psalm 73:18. "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction."

  2. It implies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning: Which is also expressed in Psalm 73:18,19. "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction: How are they brought into desolation as in a moment!"

  3. Another thing implied is, that they are liable to fall of themselves, without being thrown down by the hand of another; as he that stands or walks on slippery ground needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down.

  4. That the reason why they are not fallen already and do not fall now is only that God's appointed time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed time comes, their foot shall slide. Then they shall be left to fall, as they are inclined by their own weight. God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then, at that very instant, they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost.

Observation number three is especially interesting to me. It is easy to be tempted to bring down others who have wronged you, and perhaps this would be something that God would have you do (one would have to be sure that it was done for pure reasons and not those of revenge). However, the Bible and Edwards make it clear that God does not need our help to bring down the wicked. They will bring themselves down, whether in this life or the next. Anytime somebody sins he is walking on slippery ground (or treading on thin ice). As anyone knows, this is very dangerous. It doesn't take much to slip on ice or on slippery ground.

I am reminded of my honeymoon in Mexico. Mid-July, 115 degrees in the shade, 90% humidity . . . and I was wearing worn-out Old Navy flip-flops that had absolutely no tread. I stepped off of the public bus (Patrick and I were on our way to do some shopping), and my foot slipped on the slippery pavement--I almost had a nasty fall. Or think of when one is on ice and begins to slip--if you reach out and grab the person walking with you, both of you are likely to pull each other down and fall. It only takes one tiny misstep, one little mistake. The consequences of a fall on pavement or on ice are likely to be a painful tailbone and will only last a week or so. The results of a tumble down the slippery slope of sin, however, could be life altering and last forever.

Don't tread the path of sin . . . and don't walk with men who do--they will take you down with them with no thought for you, your well-being, or your family. Your sin will always find you out. Rather, GOD will always find you out. Instead, seek the truth and sell it not. Forsake the company of evil men. Follow God, and He will never lead you astray. Remember, God might not use other men to reveal/expose your sin--it could be the slipping of your own foot.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Family IS Cool

As I sit here, exhausted, waiting for Patrick to get home from work, I am missing the company that was always to be found when I lived at home. Not that I would trade being married (because I wouldn't!), but my family has something special that can be difficult to find, even in Christian circles. My family is like a brick wall.

We are all a little different, but we are very much alike. While we are all fitted into different places, we are a part of the same structure. Connecting us is cement. I don't mean the "we're stuck together whether we like it or not" kind of cement, I mean the "one for all and all for one" kind of loving cement. It's pretty neat.

My mother, sister, and I are pretty much like one brain in three bodies . . . living in separate towns and homes . . . but like one. There have been times when I have been on the phone with my dad and have heard my mom and sister saying the exact same things at the exact same time as I. Weird, right?

And my two youngest sisters think that they have the same kind of thing going with each other. "Jinx! Jinx! Jinx . . . jinx . . . jinx . . . haha! JINX!" can be heard coming from them on a daily basis as they each try to guess what the other is going to say before she says it so that one of them can shout, "JINX!!!" It's not quite the same thing, but it's a start.

People have tried to divide our family before . . . and it didn't work. It only made us stronger. I pray that we will always remain that way.

In the Bible, it is pretty clear that God finds family units to be very important. God covanented . . . with families (for you and your children). He saved . . . families (Noah's ark, anyone?). And He created . . . families (like Adam and Eve). So it seems to me that there should be a strong emphasis on families in our daily lives.

Too often I see families pulled in a million different directions and spending way too little time being families. Family time should be a priority. The family that _______ together (you fill in the blank), stays together.

When I was growing up, I was so not in the cool crowd. Neither was my sister. Whether it was the way that we dressed (it screamed: home schooled!) or what exactly I don't know, but I do know that the cell phones we didn't have at fifteen and thirteen weren't exacting ringing off the hooks. Instead of changing ourselves to become people who we were not, we had fun being ourselves with our family. We did just about everything together. Sometimes this was cool, other times it was not. Looking back, those days, though difficult, were amazing because they knit me and my family very close together. Technically, we are still NOT cool . . . but we have the coolest family. Other than my husband, my best friends are my family. I wouldn't have it any other way.