Sunday, January 31, 2010

in which I speak frankly about my abortion

Let me begin by saying what I do not aim to do. I do not intend, or in any way desire to un-say the things that many of my well-loved and well-respected pro-life friends are saying. I affirm them. I also do not intend to encourage a softer stance on abortion "rights" (unless, of course, you support violence and angry rhetoric in defense of the cause), though my words may come across that way at times. What I do hope to do is to take the discussion in a somewhat different direction, tackle some difficult questions, explore why some of our arguments are ineffective, and by God's grace settle on the heart of the matter as well as what our heart toward women and their unborn infants should be.

Before I begin, I think it only fair to make it clear where I am coming from. I am a woman who became a Christian at the age of forty.  But I was raised in church and believed myself to be a Christian for most of my life. I have been opposed to abortion for as long as I knew such a thing existed. In college I wrote a paper defending the pro-life position which my instructor thought so exceptionally well written that he pulled me aside to compliment me on it. Then, at the age of twenty-two, during one of the darkest periods of my life, I found myself pregnant and had an abortion anyway.

Over these last few days, remembering my abortion, trying to sort out the story and decide how to most honestly and helpfully express it has left me horribly depressed - what a mess I was in those days, and what a dreadful miasma of confusion, fears, and considerations influenced my decision. You may think it doesn't matter, that a choice is a choice, that when it came down to it I made the wrong one, simple as that. But there was nothing simple about it. It was a decision shrouded in agony. And as a choice can never be divorced from its influences and motives, I want to address them.  What I don't intend to do is wash my hands of responsibility or blame others for what ultimately was my own doing. But, I want to bring some light to why all the pro-life arguments were not enough to keep me, when push came to shove, from aborting my own child all those years ago.

During my final year of high school I began attending Word of Faith and Pentecostal churches. I'd even gotten re-baptized. I met a young man from a family embedded in the world of TV evangelists. I fell in love. We spoke of marriage. I placed all my dreams in his hands. I thought I would die when, over a year later, he left me for another girl. The rejection I experienced from him and his family felt to my heart as if God Himself had turned His back on me. And I had some reasons for believing that. You see, in those days my own mother had fallen in with the Word of Faith people too. She'd been befriended by some super-spiritual folks who'd been in their faith for what seemed a long time to us. "FIVE years!" we would say with reverence when we spoke of one of her lady friends who'd converted from occultism to the Word of Faith brand of Pentecostalism. After my first date with this fellow, I had some concerns about him. He'd treated others unkindly in my presence and I wasn't sure what to make of it. I liked him, but his behavior wasn't what I considered Christian, and I wasn't sure if I should see him again. So my mom made a conference call, with two of her "spiritual" friends. They prayed, spoke in tongues, and finally spoke a prophecy over me which went along these lines: "This is God's will for you, Laurie. God is going to use you and **** to have a great ministry to the youth of America," etc, etc. And later, there were more "prophecies": "**** and Laurie are going to get married and the bridesmaids are going to wear gold llame dresses," etc.

So, the break-up seemed to me like a broken promise from God.  This was aggravated by the high esteem in which I held his family due to their prominence in certain religious circles, the lies I was told before and after the event by the young man and by his family, and by the fact that the "prophecies" came true with the woman he left me for. There is much more to the story, but this will do. I was in college then but was falling apart. I'd chosen that particular school to be near him and had spent all my free time with him, making almost no friends of my own. And there I found myself abandoned. I had no one to trust, not God, not the church, and, sadly, not even my own mother (though years later I would come to learn that she felt almost as confused and victimized as I did).

Little by little I drifted into a dark world of dating, drinking, drugs, and debauchery. In those days one of my favorite bands wrote a song with a refrain which became the secret refrain of my heart during those years:

"I don't want to start any blasphemous rumors,
but I think that God's got a sick sense of humor,
and when I die I expect to find Him laughing."

When I found out I was pregnant, the first emotion of my heart - the knee-jerk reaction of my soul - was joy. JOY! My heart lept with joy for about five minutes. Then my mind set to work and the fear set in. I did not know who the father was. I did not want to try to find out. How could I raise a child on my own, and how could I tell it I didn't know who its father was? A black cloud of dread enveloped me. I grew up thinking, for whatever reason, that what others thought of me was more important than just about anything. I could not live with the shame of what I had become, and I could not tell a soul - last of all my mother. She could not know this about me. Not only did I dread her disapproval, I feared that her friends would speak in tongues over me and talk about the devil. I also I didn't want her to know because she would tell me what to do, or worse, call a meeting of church people and try to stop me.

The shame was unbearable. I had to escape it and there was only one way I could do it. I'd made up my mind.

The doctor's office was cozy and plush. The receptionist was pleasant.  The stack of forms to initial and sign was about a half inch thick - mostly waivers, as far as I could tell (I only skimmed them), stating they could not be held liable if I committed suicide, or fell into depression, or suffered other mental illness, or if I suffered a horrible complication and could never have children in the future... or if I died.  I signed them all.

My husband, Paul, asked me the other day what it was like. "The people were nice when I got there," I told him. "It hurt more than you would think, but less than it could have. I saw a tube leading away from me and did not look at it again. When I was placed in the recovery cubicle - a dark little closet of a room - the niceness stopped. The pain was terrible, my heart ached, and the people no longer cared. They became impatient with me because I wasn't on my feet soon enough. I could hear them outside the door complaining about 'this one' taking too long to get out of there. They needed the room for the next one. I felt deceived yet again, and used." They were a business. I'd thought maybe they cared.

I dealt with my thoughts mainly by trying not to think them. But when I could not escape them, there were things I would tell myself to ease the guilt and pain of what I'd done. One was that since I'd had some bleeding during the few weeks of the pregnancy that there was probably something wrong and I would have lost it anyway. Another was that the baby was in heaven and was far better off than it would have been with me (something that to this day I'm still inclined to believe). Another was to vow never to let it happen again. God would understand and realize eventually how sorry I was and forgive me because He knew I'd never do it again.

And so, to put an end to my wild lifestyle, and to escape the guilt I felt every time I encountered my mother, I ran away just weeks later with a young man I'd been dating during that time. He was moving to another town and wanted me to go with him. I clung to him like a savior. We married, and three months later I found myself pregnant again. This time I could not look away. This was a child no different than the one before, but I welcomed it. I did not have to be ashamed of it, and so I welcomed it. One child got to live and the other one died and the only difference was me. What gave ME the right to make that decision? Nothing, absolutely nothing. I'd sacrificed my first child on the altar of my own pride. I had sinned against God. He is the only one with the power to give life, and the only one with the right to take it away. It was as simple as that. I was appalled; and I was terrified.

My understanding of God in those days consisted of a few different and often contradictory viewpoints existing side by side. Like cards in a deck, each showed a different picture but each was pulled from the same box. One card was called "cheap grace": really, in a pinch, I could do what I had to, even if it was a sin. I was a Christian (or so I thought, because I assented to the Apostles and Nicene Creeds) and so God was supposed to forgive me if I asked and was very, very sorry. Another card pictured God as a stern human parent who might be really angry when you did wrong, but over time would eventually calm down, and either get over it, or forget the whole thing.  Another revealed God as a trickster who will let you think you've been forgiven and that He's forgotten the matter but will bring it up again, when you least expect it, and get even with you. I'd collected each of these notions about God in different times and places and stored them together, drawing from them whenever life dealt me something difficult and unexpected.

When I found out I was pregnant again, I pulled the Trickster Card and was filled with dread. If God was going to take revenge, this would be the perfect opportunity. I was convinced that He would repay me for killing the child I didn't want by killing the child I did want. I spent well over a year living under that black cloud of impending doom. That child, who I thought God would kill, was a little girl, who is now twenty-one years old.  She has a brother two years younger. The Trickster Card was a lie. The devil is the trickster. God is a merciful God. I'd heard it before (that was one of the other cards in my deck), but it would be almost twenty more years before I would come to believe it with all my heart.

That's the story of my abortion.  Remembering the desperation, fear, and hardness of heart which led to it colors my perspective of the abortion issue.  I can understand the motivations; I can understand the limitations of argumentation when dealing with a woman in that situation.  Keeping all this in mind, I hope you'll bear with me as I put forward, bluntly, the objections she will likely have to some common arguments against abortion.  These are some of the means by which she will rationalize it....

When we suggest that the unborn child might grow up to be the next Abraham Lincoln, or Martin Luther King Jr., or Mother Teresa, or Billy Graham, how do we respond when she replies, that it might also become a Hitler, a Stalin, a Pol Pot, a pedophile, a rapist, a murderer, a drug addict, an abortion provider, or a woman who herself gets an abortion?

When we propose adoption as an option, saying that the child would be wanted, loved, and well-provided for, can we really guarantee her that? What argument do we have that can trump her belief that the child would be better off either with God in heaven or just never being born, than alive in this pain-soaked planet? How do we address the truth that an aborted child, after a single brief moment of suffering, will know pain no more and indeed will likely spend eternity with God, while nearly every child who lives to see the sun will more likely than not in its lifetime experience far more pain, in a far more sentient state, than any child who is aborted, only (unless they come to faith in Christ) to die in sin and face eternal darkness? The longing for death is a desire familiar to nearly every suffering soul. Who, in the darkness of the depths of grief or sorrow hasn't wished they'd never been born? When even inspired writers of Scripture are known to exclaim that it is better to have died in the womb than to experience the anguish of living*, how are we to contend that unwanted fetuses should not be destroyed, and spared the pain of life and the risk of eternal damnation?

Beyond this, we need to be also prepared to deal honestly with those who will bring up a rather uncomfortable truth found in Scripture: that God at times, during the time of the Old Testament, actually commanded the killing of infants and pregnant women.** I've not heard this used as a justification for abortion per se. But I have heard it used to label Christians as hypocritical in their defense of the unborn, and to label our God as schizophrenic. We cannot bury our head in the sand and pretend these historical events are not recorded in our Bibles. If the God of the Bible is our God, we have to own these truths. We have to be able to accept the right of God over life and death and carefully distinguish it from our own.  And this brings me back to the point - the truth that glared at me the day I learned I was pregnant the second time - that even though there are things God Himself views as more important than the protection of children in the womb, it is God alone who decides what those are, and God alone who has the right to decide who lives and who dies. Hear the words of David as he repented of adultery and the murder of an upright man:

"For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight."
(Ps. 51:3-4, emphasis mine)

The truth is, all of these arguments are valid. If we really believe that infants who die go directly into the arms of God, then many of our common arguments based upon sympathy for precious little babies will not hold water. And, truth be told, these arguments are not even the point.  Often they are little more than rationalizations meant to soothe the conscience and ease the emotional pain of ones whose minds are already made up. And if a mind is made up, a heart hardened, all the arguments in the world, and all the posters of mangled babies are not going to help.

If we are Christians, then our first priority must be the saving of souls. When a pregnant woman walks into an abortion clinic, whose soul would you say is in the greatest danger? Given the hardness of heart it takes to do such a thing and the fact that Scripture tells us that no murderer inherits the kingdom of heaven, it would seem to me that our hearts should be breaking for the woman at least as much as for the child. Speaking as one who's been there I can say, this is seldom how our anti-abortion efforts come across. Never did I have the sense that there were people out there, broken-hearted for me. Do we only care about cute little babies? What about when those cute little babies grow up into girls as messed up as I was? When I walked into that abortion clinic, unlike my baby, I was for all intents and purposes on my way to hell. I needed to be rescued. I needed a Savior. I needed to know that God is good, and kind, and merciful. I needed to know that Christ bore all my guilt and shame on the cross, and that He really did that for people as bad as me - especially for people as bad as me. I needed to know that every Christian is a sinner as wretched as myself and that every one of them is saved only because of God's mercy, not because they are in some way better than me. I needed to know all these things, I needed to learn them in the only way anyone can:  through the faces, the actions, and the words of His people.

So, as someone who's been there I plead with you not to give up the fight, but to pull your eyes for a moment away from the pregnant bellies and look into the lost eyes of the women.  Each one was once an unborn child herself. Each one is in more desperate need of rescue now than she was then.



*Ecc. 4:1-3;; Ecc. 6:3; Job 3:11-19Job 10:18-19; Job 14:1

**Deut. 2:33-34; 3:6; 7:1-2; Josh 5:16-21; 7:12; 8:24-26; 10:28, 36-39

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Science Saturday

Ambidextrous children and their unique mental challenges.

"Children who write with both hands are more likely to struggle in school and have hyperactivity disorder symptoms, research suggests."

As a person who writes and eats left-handed, but does everything else right-handed, this story caught my eye. Read about the study here.

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Never Forgetting a Face

What if you could never forget a face?
Or what if you could never remember one?

You may not have been aware of it, but each of these is the experience of two very different groups of individuals. Read about these conditions, and how the existence of one, may shed light on the that of the others in this remarkable story.
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Emotional signals cross cultures 

"People are able to recognise negative sounds, like expressions of disgust, across cultures, say scientists."

Read about this fascinating research here.
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Autism and the humane treatment of animals

This is one fantastic interview If you haven't heard of Temple Grandin, or if you have, take a listen to this amazing lady discuss her life with autism, how her visual way of thinking has put the soul back into the beef industry, and how people with autism have the potential to contribute greatly to society.

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The Mystery Of The Celibate Rotifer

"Most asexual animals are doomed to extinction. Reporting in the journal Science, Paul Sherman and Chris Wilson explain the extraordinary adaptations that allow rotifers to thrive sex-free."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Charity and Its Fruits: great sacrifices and great sufferings, part two


(This week we continue our reading together of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded the reading of the "Application" portion of Lecture Three. We will continue with the "Doctrine" portion of Lecture Four in next week's reading. This is the pattern we will be using for the entirety of the reading. The notes below follow Edwards' outline directly, with all direct quotes from the text in italics. My goal is to make each post edifying on its own, even for those who are not reading along with us. I will welcome your questions or comments in the form below.)

Charity and Its Fruits
Lecture III. Part Two - Application

The Greatest Performances or Sufferings in Vain Without Charity

According to Edwards, the doctrine of our previous week of study should be applied...

1.  In the way of self-examination.
"Doubtless, if we examine ourselves, we may see much of hypocrisy.  But is there any sincerity?  God abominates the greatest things without sincerity, but he accepts of and delights in little things when they spring from sincere love to himself....And God accepts of even a little sincere love. Though there be a great deal of imperfection, yet, if there be any true sincerity in our love, that little shall not be rejected because there is some hypocrisy with it."

Thankfully, as we move on to self-examination, Edwards begins with encouraging words.  He would not have us focusing solely upon our hypocrisies, which are sometimes so glaring as to blind us to the seemingly small deeds and passions which evidence the true work of God's saving grace in our lives, lest we lose hope.  For all of us who have been born again into the family of God, there will be an underlying passion for God and appreciation for His beauty which will incline us to want to know the joy of His smile upon us. Though lesser motives will compete for predominance, and occasionally gain a foothold, they will never successfully extinguish this spark of God's grace in our hearts. His Holy Spirit is the seal of our redemption and never fails to leave the imprint, faint as it sometimes seems, of His holy character on our lives. So, as we examine ourselves let us take comfort that God does see what is sincere in our faith and love, even when we can't. And beyond that, God delights in what He sees.

Edwards goes on to unpack what he means by "sincerity", holding up for us four of its prominent qualities.

"Four things that belong to the nature of sincerity:"

First, Truth. - "That is, that there be that truly in the heart of which there is the appearance and show in the outward action."  In other words, when we are truthful, our words and deeds will be a clear and accurate reflection of what is really going on in our hearts. Truth is free from artfulness.  Truth does not behave in a way that seeks to put a gloss on what it really feels.

This is not to say, however, that it is better to behave badly toward someone when you feel badly toward them - for the sake of honesty.  We have the duty to treat others as we would wish to be treated, whether we feel like it or not, and we should carry out this duty, whether we feel like it or not.  However, let us not confuse this grudging obedience with love.  Let us not fool ourselves, or think we are fooling God.  Let us not think this is good enough, or worse, think it ranks higher in the eyes of God because we do it even though we don't feel like it - as though God should be grateful to us.  Try this attitude on your spouse sometime and see how loved they feel.

Second thing, in the nature of sincerity is Freedom.
"...it is an ingenuous, free obedience, and not legal, slavish, and forced, but that which is performed from love and with delight.  God is chosen for his own sake; and holiness for its sake, and for God's sake.  Christ is chosen and followed because he is loved, and religion [Christianity] because it is loved, and the soul rejoices in it, finding in its duties the highest happiness and delight."
Our behaviors are "free" when they are motivated by love for God and appreciation of the beauty of His holiness.  As children delight to emulate an adored parent, and lovers delight to bring a smile to the face of their beloved, so are we when we when our words and deeds our borne out of love to our God.

Third... is Integrity.

The word "integrity" has come to have some added connotations to us that may detract from the sense in which Edwards used the word, which means, "The condition of having no part or element wanting; unbroken state; material wholeness, completeness, entirety" (Oxford Universal Dictionary).  Or, to use Edwards' one word definition, it means "wholeness".  As Edwards puts it, "God is sought, and religion is chosen and embraced with the whole heart, and adhered to with the whole soul....There is a proportion and fullness in the character.  The whole man is renewed....The seeds of all holy dispositions are implanted in the soul, and they will more and more bear fruit in the performance of duty and for the glory of God."  This love for God will affect every part of us. It will touch upon all our attitudes and extend to all our relationships. Not only will our words and deeds be affected, but our hopes, desires and delights.

Fourth thing that belongs to the nature of sincerity is Purity.

Edwards here refers to the absence of "defilement, and impurity, and uncleanness".  Though his meaning is rather similar to that of integrity, it speaks less to extent, and more to depth, or quality.  As integrity is the reaching into every corner of the soul.  Purity is the clean-ness which must accompany it.  And so, while I can more easily recognize the influence of the Holy Spirit in every aspect of my life, which speaks to integrity - I find the aspect of purity even more challenging.  Every corner is touched, but, ever corner is not perfectly clean.  Do you long for this purity?

2.   ...to Convince those who are still in an unregenerate state, of their lost condition.


"Natural, unrenewed men would be glad to have something to make up for the want of sincere love and real grace in their hearts; and many do great things to make up for the want of it, while others are willing to suffer great things.  But, alas! how little does it all signify! No matter what they may do or suffer, it does not change their character; and if they build their hopes upon it, they do but delude themselves, and feed upon the east wind."

 When Christ returns in judgment "doings or sufferings will not avail.  They will not atone for your sins, or give you God's favor or save you from the overwhelming storms of his wrath.  Rest, then on nothing that you have done or suffered, or that you can do or suffer; but rest on Christ.  Let your heart be filled with sincere love to him; and then, at the last great day, he will own you as his follower and as his friend."

Do not reject God's plan and sacrifice for your soul.  Do not imply with your striving and earning that what Christ has done is insufficient, or reject His perfect offering in order to offer up to God your imperfect one in its stead. Trust in Christ, and Christ alone for your salvation!

3.  Exhorts all, earnestly to cherish sincere Christian love in their hearts.

"...let it be the one great thing that you seek.
Seek it with diligence and prayer;
and seek it of God, and not of yourself.
  He only can bestow it."

This is our goal, and why we've undertaken this study.  It is my hope and prayer that our time devoted to this subject will lead to this very thing.  Is it the one great thing you seek - to love God with sincerity?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Another word on grief and doctrine

In a recent post I struggled to put to words the struggle I entered into upon the death of my mother:
"I have ample reason to believe that my mother is with the Lord, but somehow, even in spite of that, I found myself on a spiritual level staring in the face the reality of death for everyone who dies, not just my own mother. Every where and every day some deeply beloved person is dying, and someone is aching and weeping at their side. If my doctrine is true, not all of these people end up spending their eternity in heaven. For some reason witnessing the passing of my own mother brought all this home to me, breaking my heart at the thought of hell, and left me re-asking all the questions I once had pat answers for. I've had to come to grips with a God who sends real people, deeply loved people, to hell. If I cannot, I cannot claim to believe or trust the God of the Bible."
And in that post I began with a quote from D.A. Carson's book, How Long O Lord.  I'm moving slowly, but am still working my way through that very helpful book.  A couple of days ago I was encouraged to land on some paragraphs that so clearly described the position in which I found myself in my own grief.  He discusses what it is like to provide counsel and comfort to someone who has lost a parent and is uncertain of their spiritual state - far more uncertain than I had any reason to be in my own situation.  He lists several of the things, appropriate things, which he might say to such a one, ending with the bare trust we see in Abraham: "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25).  Words I've found myself comforted with time and again.  And then he goes on, as I said, perfectly describing the conclusions I've come to in my own grief:
"All this I could say, and more, But it will not do to opt for a sub-biblical system, a selectively biblical system. Shall we opt for absolute universalism?  Then what do we do with the countless texts that foreclose on this speculation?  Does God treat those who trust his Son and those who disobey the Son the same way, even though his Word insists, 'Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him" (John 3:36)?  Shall we assume that truth and revelation are not the discriminating factors, but human sincerity? What purpose, then, the cross?  And what value?

However hard some things are to understand, it is never helpful to start picking and choosing biblical truths we find congenial, as if the Bible is an open-shelved supermarket where we are at perfect liberty to choose only the chocolate bars.  For the Christian, it is God's Word, and it is not negotiable.  What answers we find may not be exhaustive, but they give us the God who is there, and who gives us some measure of comfort and assurance.  The alternative is a god we manufacture, and who provides no comfort at all.  Whatever comfort we feel is self-delusion, and it will be stripped away at the end when we give an account to the God who has spoken to us, not only in Scripture, but supremely in his Son Jesus Christ." (all emphasis in bold is mine.)
And, just as Carson says, I knew it was either the God of the Bible, or no God at all.  Some comfort, even the tiniest bit, or none at all - ever.  Despite what atheist friends may tell me, there is no hope to be found in the thought of no God and a meaningless, accidental universe (only the giddy and temporary relief from fear of judgment).  And there is no honest way to manufacture meaning in such a place, no matter how desperately I may try to convince myself otherwise. This world is a world of pain.  Nothing I do or think is going to change the fact of pain and grief. Either that pain is meaningless or that pain exists for a reason and has a purpose; and I, to be purely honest, will not accept the absence of meaning. I do not think it is possible to live (with any consistency anyway) without it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saturday Science

Let's start with a bit of perspective.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.
Psalm 19:1-6

 

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Oh, the things mathematicians do for fun!
"If you live in a big city, this will sound all too familiar. Traffic is bad. You're late for work. And, of course, the parking garage is now full. So you're forced to parallel park on the street. You finally find a spot between two hulking SUVs, but it looks pretty tight. Do you go for it or move on?

Not to worry; geometry can save you. Run a simple calculation and — voila! — you'll know just what to do."
Curious? Check out the science of parallel parking.
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Has distrust of science left you in a state of denial?

"What you don't know -- or do know, yet choose not to believe -- CAN hurt you. We'll talk with author Michael Specter about his book 'Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives.' Specter argues that Americans have increasingly come to mistrust institutions, especially the institution of science. When it comes to a range of issues from childhood vaccines to genetically modified foods, he argues, people increasingly have come to maintain personal beliefs even in the face of solid scientific evidence. We'll find out more."

According to the author he has specifically excluded creationism/evolutionism, and global warming from his arguments and chosen to stick to topics that really effect our daily lives and decisions. You can listen to an interview with the author here .
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Look what science has done for these high school kids -
and what these high school kids have done for science



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Mugged by Ultrasound
Why so many abortion workers have turned pro-life.
"In general, abortion providers have censored their own emotional trauma out of concern to protect abortion rights. In 2008, however, abortionist Lisa Harris endeavored to begin “breaking the silence” in the pages of the journal Reproductive Health Matters. When she herself was 18 weeks pregnant, Dr. Harris performed a D&E abortion on an 18-week-old fetus. Harris felt her own child kick precisely at the moment that she ripped a fetal leg off with her forceps..."

Science itself, in the form of ultrasound, may well end up turning the tide on abortion.  Read the full article here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Charity and Its Fruits - great sacrifices and great sufferings are vain without love


As faith without works is dead
so are works without faith.


(This week we continue our reading together of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded the reading of the "Doctrine" portion of Lecture Three. We will continue with the "Application" portion of Lecture Three in next week's reading. This is the pattern we will be using for the entirety of the reading. The notes below will follow Edwards' own outline directly, with all direct quotes from the text in italics. My goal is to make each post edifying on its own, even for those who are not reading along with us. I will welcome your questions or comments in the form below.)

Charity and Its Fruits

Lecture III. Part One - Doctrine

The Greatest Performances or Sufferings in Vain Without Charity

"Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." 1 Cor. 13: 3

All our morality is vain without Christian love.

Now we move on from the “extraordinary gifts” discussed in the previous lecture to looking at our moral actions in the light of Charity. Edwards divides these “moral” behaviors into two types:

First,...our performances, which are in vain without it:

Certainly we are instructed in Scripture of our duty to give and do for others:
"Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.
 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have." 2 Cor. 8:6-12

Here Paul indicates that while giving is an evidence of love, that giving is yet acceptable to God only when it comes from the readiness which love provides. And so, when giving is the evidence of the love, it is acceptable before God, however, giving, no matter to what degree of sacrifice, when done without love is worthless in the sight of God. “And yet, though he says so much in both these epistles, to stir them up to the duty of giving to the poor, still he is very careful to inform them, that though they should go ever so far in it, yea, though they should bestow all their goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it would profit them nothing.”


Secondly "...our sufferings, which are of no avail without charity."

...our sufferings are of no avail without charity. Men are ready to make much of what they do, but more of what they suffer. They are ready to think it a great thing when they put themselves out of their way, or are at great expense or suffering, for their religion.”

Therefore the doctrine that I would derive from these words is this: THAT ALL THAT MEN CAN DO, AND ALL THAT THEY CAN SUFFER, CAN NEVER MAKE UP FOR THE WANT OF SINCERE CHRISTIAN LOVE IN THE HEART.”

I. "There may be great performances, and so there may be great sufferings, without sincere Christian love in the heart."

1.  "There may be great performances without it."

Edwards calls us to consider Paul's own exploits prior to his conversion: “...If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more...as to the law, a Pharisee...” (See Philippians 3:4-7). He then points us to the famous words of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11,12: “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'”

“The Pharisee mentioned in Luke 18...boasted of the great things that he had done, both towards God and men, and thanked God that he so exceeded other men in his doings. And many of the heathen have been eminent for their great performances; some for their integrity, or for their justice, and others for their great deeds done for the public good. Many men, without any sincerity of love in their hearts, have been exceeding magnificent in their gifts for pious and charitable uses, and have thus gotten to themselves great fame, and had their names handed down in history to posterity with great glory. Many have done great things from fear of hell, hoping thereby to appease the Deity and make atonement for their sins, and many have done great things from pride, and from a desire for reputation and honor among men....”

According to Edwards there are a number of things which can motivate a person to great sufferings which in the eyes of God are worthless: pride, reputation, honor, fame, recognition, guilt – the desire to atone for one's sins. But, none of these things evidence love for God, rather, love for self.

What motivates you? Do you recognize any of these sinful motivations at work in your life?

Now, at this point, you may have found yourself wondering about all the real good that is done in the world by people with just such motives. What are we to make of all these good deeds? Are they of no value at all? To that I would respond, these deeds, depending upon what they are, of course, may indeed be of real benefit to the recipients, but they are of no eternal, or saving value to the doer. The eternal value is measured by the heart of the giver. The temporal value, is just that. Another thing to keep in mind is the sovereign providence of God, who is in the long and inexplicable habit of using sinful people (there are no other kind after all) to accomplish His perfect purposes. And so, after the current disaster in Haiti, for instance, God, in His compassion, is using gifts given from every kind of motive, to extend His hand of provision to the suffering. Though, for reasons we cannot know, He has permitted them to suffer, yet He has not left them entirely without help. The evidence of that is in the ships and airplanes loaded with food, medical supplies, prayers, and willing hands.

"Who has spoken and it came to pass,
unless the Lord has commanded it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that good and bad come?"
(Lamentations 3:38)

“See now that I, even I, am he,
and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”
(Deut. 32:39)

And so we find, time after time, that what man does for His own sinful reasons, God uses to accomplish His own perfect plans. (Gen. 50: 19-20)

2. "There may be great sufferings for religion, and yet no sincerity of love in the heart."

Here Edwards sets up as examples the Pharisees, for their religious severity, the Crusaders, the religious pilgrims, monks, and recluses of the Catholic faith, the Turks (the Muslims of his day) who even in his time were, because of the Crusades, “enraged...so as to venture their lives, and rush, as it were, upon the very points of the swords of their enemies, because Mahomet has promised that all that die in war, in defense of the Mahometan faith, shall go at once to Paradise.”

Several motives besides Christian love can lead individuals to suffer even to the point of death:
"And history tells us of some that have yielded themselves to voluntary death, out of mere obstinancy and sturdiness of spirit, rather than yield to the demand of others, which they might, without dishonor, have saved their lives. Many among the heathen have died for their country, and many as martyrs for a false faith.... And in all these cases, many doubtless have endured their sufferings, or met death, without having any sincere divine love in their hearts.”
And so, fear of hell, national pride, religious pride, and even plain old stubbornness can be powerful inducements to endure great suffering which have nothing to do with love for God. I think of the 84 year old man, who died in the eruption of Mt. St. Helen's in 1980. With ample warning, he refused to leave, and died there along with all his pets. I think of Patrick Henry and his famous, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” He felt life was not worth living without autonomous self-rule – hardly a Christian sentiment. I think of parental love, and maternal instinct, which has driven countless numbers to suffer and even die for the sake of their children. (While admirable from our human perspective, Christ states clearly that even evil people are capable of such love: “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mt. 7:11) And I can't help but think of countless Muslim radicals even all these years since Edwards wrote, still willing to sacrifice their own lives along with the lives of others for the sake of earning paradise, and without concern for of the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

II."Whatever men may do or suffer, they cannot, by all their performances and sufferings, make up for the want of sincere love in the heart."
“If they lay themselves out ever so much in the things of religion, and are ever so much engaged in acts of justice and kindness and devotion; and if their prayers and fastings are ever so much multiplied; or if they should spend their time ever so much in the forms of religious worship, giving days and nights to it, and denying sleep to their eyes and slumber to their eyelids, that they might be the more laborious in religious exercises; and if the things that they should do in religion were such as to get them a name throughout the world, and make them famous to all future generations, it would all be in vain without sincere love to God in the heart. And so if a man should give most bounteously to religious or charitable uses; and if, possessing the riches of a kingdom, he should give it all, and from the splendor of an earthly prince should reduce himself to a level of beggars; and if he should not stop there, but when he had done all this, should yield himself to undergo the fiercest sufferings, giving up not only all his possessions, but also giving his body to be clothed in rags, or to be mangled and burned and tormented as much as the wit of man could conceive, all, even all this, would not make up for the want of sincere love to God in the heart.”
1. It is not the external work done, or the suffering endured, that is in itself, worth anything in the sight of God.

“But the LORD said to Samuel, 'Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.'" 1 Samuel 16:7
The motions and exercise of the body, or anything that may be done by it, if considered separately from the heart – the inward part of the man – is of no more consequence or worth in the sight of God than the motions of anything without life.”
Edwards goes on to explain that God is in no need of anything and so in no way benefits by our actions or gifts:
“He is not fed by the sacrifices of beasts, nor enriched by the gift of silver, or gold, or pearls....And as there is nothing profitable to God in any of our services or performances, so there can be nothing acceptable in his sight in a mere external action without sincere love in the heart....The heart is just as naked and open to him as the external actions. And therefore he sees our action, and all our conduct, not merely as the external motions of a machines, but as the actions of rational, intelligent creatures, and voluntary free agents; and therefore there can be, in his estimation, no excellence or amiableness in anything we can do if the heart be not right with him....No matter what may be done or suffered, neither doings or sufferings will make up for the want of love to God in the soul. They are not profitable to God, nor lovely for their own sake in his sight; nor can they ever make up for the absence of that love to God and love to men, which is the sum of all that God requires of his moral creatures.”

2"Whatever is done or suffered, yet if the heart is withheld from God, there is nothing really given to him..."
“...The act of the individual, in what he does or suffers, is in every case looked upon,not as the act of a lifeless engine or machine, but as the act of an intelligent, voluntary, moral being. For surely a machine is not properly capable of giving anything; and if any such machine that is without life, being moved by springs or weights, places anything before us, it cannot properly be said to give it to us...”

I've often heard people object to Calvinism, claiming that the Calvinistic view of mankind makes them nothing more than robots – beings without freewill and with no capacity for choice. This is a misrepresentation. Jonathan Edwards was Calvinistic to his core and yet held that men are “rational, intelligent creatures, and voluntary free agents”. This section should give Calvinists, and non-Calvinists alike plenty to consider in regard to such objections.

In fact, the heart is all that matters. The heart is what makes us more than machines or brute, instinct-driven beasts. Our actions are seen by God entirely and only in relation to our motives. We are not machines, but reasoning and understanding beings capable of valuing what is good – or what is evil – and with volition to pursue whatever it is we value most. Not only is nothing really given to God, unless it is given from a heart of love to Him, but such an act of giving is nothing more than pretense, which makes a mockery of God:
"He that has no sincerity in his heart, has no real respect to God, in what he seems to give, or in all his performances or sufferings, and therefore God is not his great end in what he does or gives...The gift is an offering to him to whom the giver's heart devotes, and for whom he designs it. It is the aim of the heart that makes the reality of the gift; and if the sincere aim of the heart be not to God, then there is in reality nothing given to him, no matter what is performed or suffered. So that it would be a great absurdity to suppose that anything that can be offered or given to God, can make up for the absence of love in the heart to him, for without this, nothing is truly given and the seeming gift is but mockery of the Most High.

3.  This further appears...From the fact, that this love or charity is the sum of all that God requires of us...
“It would be absurd to suppose that we can make up for one thing that is required by offering another that is required, that we can make up for one debt by paying another. But it is still more absurd to suppose that we can make up for the whole debt without paying anything, but by continuing still to withhold all that is required."

"What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the LORD;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?
Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.
Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
Isaiah 1:11-20

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:6

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required. Then I said, "Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
I delight to do your will, O my God.
your law is within my heart."
Psalm 40:6-8

God "demands that the heart be given to him, If we would have the external offering accepted.”

This is perhaps best summed up in the words of Jesus,who,when asked what is the greatest commandment, answered: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 22: 37-40.

4 If we make a great show of respect and love to God, in the outward actions, while there is no sincerity in the heart, it is but hypocrisy and practical lying unto the Holy One.
...surely it is as absurd to suppose that we can make up for the want of sincere respect by flattery and guile, as to suppose we can make up for the want of truth by falsehood and lying.”

5. Whatever may be done or suffered, if there be no sincerity in the heart, it is all but an offering to some idol.

If we offer something, but it is not truly to God, then we are actually offering it to whatever it is which really motivates us, whether it be “self, or our fellow-man, or the world, that is allowed to usurp the place that should be given God....It is as absurd as it is to suppose that the wife can make up for want of love to her husband, by giving that affection which is due to him to another man who is a stranger; or that she can make up for her want of faithfulness to him, by the guilt of adultery.”

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Science Saturday - Sunday Edition

It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
And to sing praises to Your name,
O Most High;
To declare Your lovingkindness in
the morning,
And Your faithfulness every night,
On an instrument of ten strings,
On the lute,
And on the harp,
With harmonious sound.
For You, LORD, have made me glad
through Your work;
I will triumph in the work of Your hands.

O LORD, how great are Your works!
Your thoughts are very deep.
A senseless man does not know,
Nor does a fool understand this.
Psalm 92:1-6




Jiminy Cricket!  Look who's pollinating those orchids! (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)


A newly discovered cricket helps solve an old mystery.

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Some stem cells with potential for saving lives without first sacrificing them

 

Amazing potential for stem cells derived from umbilical cords for the treatment of leukemia.

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Too much TV is not just bad for the soul.  Sitting still may just be the death of you.  And lest you think your half hour jog makes up for it, find yourself a chore to do and listen to this compelling twelve minute interview while you're at it.

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A new book is up high on the "To Read Soon" list here at Casa Mathers.

"Author Ethan Watters thinks that America is 'homogenizing the way the world goes mad.' In Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, he describes how American definitions and treatments of mental illness have spread to other cultures around the world."

Read an excerpt from the book, and listen to a fascinating interview with the author here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Easing our way back into Edwards


If you've been following along with our study through Jonathan Edwards' Charity and Its Fruits, you know we are just wrapping up a hiatus of a few weeks.  With the New Year stretched out before us, and no pregnancies at work in our Chico study group, we should from here on out be advancing forward at a more steady pace, Lord willing.  In yesterday evening's class we picked up where we left off - at the application portion of Lecture Two.  Since I already posted the class notes for this particular section before the hiatus, I'd like to take some time this week to focus on one question that arose during this week's discussion.

In our reading, Edwards makes this key point: "Hence these two kinds of privileges are not to be confounded, by taking things that have some appearance of an extraordinary miraculous gift of the Spirit, for sure signs of grace."  Rather:
"All the fruits of the Spirit, which we are to lay weight upon as evidential of grace, are summed up in charity, or Christian love; because this is the sum of all grace.  And the only way, therefore, in which any can know their good estate, is by discerning the exercises of this divine charity in their hearts; for without charity, let man have what gifts you please, they are nothing."
(See 1 John2:7-11; 1 John 3:10-24; 1 John 4:7-21; James 2:14-17; Matthew 7:22-23)

Specifically, Edwards brings up a particular phenomenon sometimes experienced by Christians - genuine or not - the sudden coming to mind of a passage of Scripture.  Apparently, in the course of revivals he presided over, many became very elated over this experience, attaching much significance to it, even to the point of thinking it the sign of their conversion, or of their ongoing favor with God.  Over the course of time, however, Edwards witnessed many of those "converts", some of the most vocal in their experience of this "extraordinary impression made upon their minds" revert to lives characterized by sin and showing no evidence of Christian love.  But, because they had these experiences they continued to trust that they were truly in Christ, and that His Spirit was at work in their lives.  In short, they looked to what they saw as "gifts" of the Spirit as evidence of their conversion rather than the "fruit", which are summed up in love.

We are never to look at a particular experience, either a supernatural one, such as a prophecy, dream, or speaking in tongues, or, for that matter, a prayer we prayed once upon a time, as proof that we are saved. If we are saved, we look to Christ for our salvation, and we keep looking to Christ as long as we live; and the outward evidence of such trust in Him will be Christian love.

Now, to our question.  One of the ladies raised a concern about Edwards' statement which I think definitely warranted further clarification and discussion.  She wondered if he was implying that God does not lead His people by bringing Scripture to their minds.  And I need to be sure we are clear - this is definitely not the point Edwards is making.  To be sure, as God's inspired word to us, Scripture is the primary means by which the Holy Spirit transforms God's people. (Rom.12:2; 2 Tim.3:16; Rom.10:17) He is merely saying, that such an experience is not a reliable evidence of conversion.  In fact, Satan himself is known to quote Scripture to influence individuals when it suites his deceitful schemes (see Mt. 4). I would add that Scriptures coming to mind is is an experience common to anyone who is well-versed in Scripture, for whatever reason. It's not altogether different than having small events bring to mind familiar pieces of music, or songs, or the characters or events of favorite books, or movies, which happens to me all the time. Our brains, ever devoted to helping us make sense of things, are inclined to make associations between our present circumstances and whatever information we've already stored there.

Edwards deals with this particular phenomenon only briefly in this text, but addresses it at much greater length in his work Religious Affections, where he has this to say, and here I will quote at some length:
"When persons' affections are founded on imaginations, which is often the case, those affections are merely natural and common, because they are built on a foundation that is not spiritual; and so are entirely different from gracious affections....These imaginations do oftentimes raise the carnal affections of men to an exceeding great height [cause high emotional response]; and no wonder, when the subjects of them have an ignorant, but undoubting persuasion, that they are divine manifestations, which the great Jehovah immediately makes to their souls, therein giving them testimonies, in an extraordinary manner of his high and peculiar favor [in other words, that almighty God is singling them out for special attention]....
 There is, on the other hand, a truly spiritual way in which God uses Scripture in the minds of His people which can, at times, be very exciting, but for all the right reasons.  Edwards contrasts the two kinds of experiences here:
...the immediate suggesting of the words of Scripture to the mind, has nothing in it which is spiritual....It may be so, that persons may have gracious affections going with Scriptures which come to their minds, and the Spirit of God may make use of those Scriptures to excite them; when it is some spiritual, sense, taste or relish they have of the divine and excellent things contained in those Scriptures that is the thing which excites their affections, and not the extraordinary and sudden manner of words being brought to their minds. They are affected with the instruction they receive from the words, and the view of the glorious things of God or Christ, and the things appertaining to them, that they contain and teach; and not because the words came suddenly, as though some person had spoken them to 'em, thence concluding that God did as it were immediately speak to 'em.  Persons oftentimes are exceedingly affected on this foundation; the words of some great and high promises of Scripture come suddenly to their minds, and they look upon the words as directed immediately by God to them, as though the words that moment proceeded out of the mouth of God as spoken to them: so that they take it as a voice from God, immediately revealing to 'em their happy circumstances, and promising such and such great things to them: and this it is that affects and elevates them.  There is no new spiritual understanding of the divinie things contained in the Scripture, or new spiritual sense of the glorious things taught in that part of the Bible, going before their affection, and being the foundation of it: all the new understanding they have, or think they have, to be the foundation of their affection, is this, that the words are spoke to them, because they come so suddenly and extraordinarily.  And so this affection is built wholly on the sand: because it is built on a conclusion for which they have no foundation.  For, as has been shown, the sudden coming of the words to their minds, is no evidence that the bringing 'em to their minds in that manner, was from God. And if it was true that God brought the words to their minds, and they certainly know it, that would not be spiritual knowledge; it may be with out any spiritual sense.  Balaam might know that the words which God suggested to him, were indeed suggested to him by God, and yet have no spiritual knowledge. So that these affections which are built on that notion, that texts of Scripture are sent immediately from God, are built on no spiritual foundation, and are vain and delusive.  Persons who have their affections thus raised, if they should be enquired of, whether they have any new sense of the excellency of things contained in those Scriptures, would probably say, yes, without hesitation: but it is true no otherwise than thus, that when they have taken up that notion, that the words are spoken immediately to them, that makes them seem sweet to 'em, and they own the things which these Scriptures say to 'em, for excellent things, and wonderful things....all the sense they have of any glory in them is only from self-love, and from their own imagined interest in the words: not that they had any view or sense of the holy and glorious nature of the kingdom of heaven, and the spiritual glory of that God who give it, and of his excellent grace to sinful men, in offering and giving them this kingdom, of his own good pleasure....On the contrary, they first imagine they are interested, and then are highly affected with that, and then can own these things to be excellent.  So that the sudden and extraordinary way of the Scriptures coming to their mind, is plainly the first foundation of the whole; which is clear evidence of the wretched delusion they are under." (All emphasis is mine.)


Edwards has much more to say about the matter in his Religious Affections, a resource which I highly recommend, by the way, and about which I've written extensively in this blog. But, for today's point, I'll end there.  The point here simply put is this, love God's Word for what it has to say and obey it as you find it.  Don't love it more at the moments it pops into your head, thinking "Aha, this is proof He cares for me! Wow, God SPOKE to me!" Edwards to this would likely say, "It was proof He cared for you all along and He has been speaking to you all along - every time you heard or read the Scriptures. It should not mean any more to you because you feel you've suddenly received it "Special Delivery".  If you won't believe it as you read it, or hear it taught, in the normal course of things, you've no more reason to think you really love it or believe it when it comes via "miracle". (See Luke 16:29-31; Mt. 12:38-39)

Next week we will be reading the "doctrine" portion of Lecture Three: "The Greatest Performances or Sufferings in Vain Without Charity". Join our discussion here next Thursday.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The things which have kept me from blogging

As I hinted in a previous post, the loss of my mother has left me a bit at a loss for words while I process the experience of her death and seek some perspective on her life and suffering. But that is not all that keeps me from writing.  The loss of a close family member brings on a lot of strange and unexpected (for one as inexperienced as me anyway) yet necessary activity. There were phone calls to be made, forms to fill out, accounts to be closed, an apartment to empty and clean, personal possessions to distribute in the process, and on top of all that, room had to be found in my crowded little house for the portion of her belongings that will remain with me. I quickly found myself filling the hours I'd previously spent tending to my mom rearranging my life for her absence. Suddenly I wanted just the right place to put this or that thing to remember her by - and I had all this extra time to make it happen. So, the grief over my mother has led to a catharsis of sorts of rearranging and redecorating. I can't say how many times I've stopped to look at something I've done and had the urge to call Mom and tell her how great it looks - how pretty that thing of hers looks in that place - or how she was right about how cute that doll she kept trying to give me really did end up looking in my kitchen (I'm not a doll person).

So, in that absence of anything of any theological importance to say, I thought I'd share with my friends some of the changes that have occupied so much of my time this last couple of weeks.

So these first pictures are of the dining room at Christmas, one week after Mom passed away. By this time I'd already had to dispose of a large sofa to make room for a dining room set, in what used to be a living room. You can see the dreadful wallpaper which we vowed to remove "immediately" when we moved in almost three years ago. Somehow it never seemed as urgent again until it became the dining room.



Over the past week I spent my extra hours each day peeling horrid wallpaper, the layer of plain paper underneath, and caulking the gaps and cracks in the ancient wallboard. (I know we really needed to replace the wallboard, but that's for people with more money than we have. So we will make do, and be thankful for paint and caulk.) Here's how the house looked this morning, with all the books, furniture and what-nots crammed to the center of the tiny room to give us access to the walls. This afternoon, my dear son, Tony, (that's him in the plaid shirt, above) began with the paint.


And here's the work that was finished by the end of today:

That's Tony working invisibly behind the furniture. What's left is to re-texture the lower portion of wall, and then decide whether to leave it white, or paint it the same color as the rest of the room, leaving only the chair rail and other wood trim white. Then we put it all back in place, and get ready to paint the front room, which should be as straightforward as anything ever is when dealing with a hundred year old house.

 So, this is what keeps me from my blog. Lord willing that won't last too much longer, but He knows the plans He has for me far better than I do. This week our Charity study resumes. Perhaps that will lend me some substance to share. Thanks to all of you for your patience, kind words, and most of all for your prayers.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Science Saturday - cold snap edition

'Tis the season for snowflakes.

Here's some some snowflake science, for all my freezing friends...



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Who needs magic?

Some science parlor tricks to amaze and befuddle - a bit late for the holiday party season, I know, but this way you'll have all year to practice for next year's.



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Twitter's usefulness continues to surprise me

Who'd have predicted this? Scientists are finding Twitter a surprisingly useful resource in the study of earthquakes.

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Mapping Mercury



"The most complete and most detailed atlas of Mercury has been assembled.  It is only now thanks to the Messenger spacecraft that researchers have the imagery necessary to construct a truly global map of the innermost planet...."

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Amazing video of undersea volcanic eruption

"Amazing video has been obtained in the Pacific Ocean of the deepest undersea eruption ever recorded. The pictures show lavas bursting into the water at the West Mata submarine volcano, which is sited about 200km (125 miles) south-west of the Samoas...."
Underwater volcano video:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8419736.stm

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Falling iguanas?

Who'd have ever thought an urban legend could involve iguanas...or is it a legend?  Do iguanas really fall from the trees in freezing weather?  Check out the video here and here.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Charity Study Announcement


To all of you following and/or participating in our online study through Jonathan Edwards' Charity and Its Fruits, I'd like to offer my thanks for your patience during this somewhat unplanned hiatus. Among our local church study group we've experienced the birth of a son and the illness and death of a mother. The mother being my own, I've had to set this study aside for a few weeks, but am about ready to resume, with a slight change in schedule to accommodate the needs of our Chico group.  We plan to resume our meetings on Wednesdays instead of Mondays and beginning on the 13th of this month.  I will try to have the study and discussion notes posted here that evening before my bedtime.