Saturday, May 31, 2008

Failing for the Glory of God

I just polished off the second of Dr. Helen Roseveare's autobiographical books, and the message in He Gave Us a Valley hit my heart like a ton of bricks. Let me explain.

Dr. Roseveare worked for 20 tumultuous years in the Congo, through the frightening time of independence and the Simba uprising. Beside the violence and near death experience of that time, she sacrificially used her doctoring to not only minister to the poverty stricken people of the jungle, but also to train young men and women to do medical work and become midwives, traveling far and wide with the gospel. For 20 years, she sought for the government to recognize their medical college, pouring her own funds into the day to day expenses and doggedly filing paperwork, visiting dignitaries, and preparing the school and students for inspection. At long last, the government recognized the school, gave their stamp of approval on the diplomas, and arranged for subsidizing scholarships for 2nd and 3rd year students. At this moment of triumph, when Dr. Roseveare prepared to retire from jungle living and humbly hand her ministry over to younger doctors, she met with total rejection and humiliation.

Her students turned against her. Those she loved as sons, championed for, and poured her life and resources into refused to sign for the pocket money they were being given out of the scholarship money. It was not enough, they insisted. They accused her of stealing from the ministry for months. She was put on trial, and had to bear to hear those sons accuse her spitefully, and knowing her own innocence was not balm enough for a soul enduring such wounds. She resigned from the school so that others might work out the strike (the students refused to do their volunteer work in the wards) and come to an agreement. She ended her time serving in Christ's name in the Congo, wondering if it was worthwhile.

Only after she turned away, like Jonah tossed from the storm-driven ship, was she able to consider what the Lord was saying to her. "'These are not your sufferings: they are Mine. All I ask of you is the loan of your body. . . You went home and told everyone that I was sufficient. Isn't that true now, in today's circumstances?'

"I tried to say: 'But of course, Lord. You know it's true.'

"'No' He quietly rebuked me. 'No. You no longer want Jesus only, but Jesus plus. . . plus respect, popularity, public opinion, success and pride. You wanted to go out with all the trumpets blaring. . . You wanted to feel needed and respected. You wanted the other missionaries to be worried about how ever they'll carry on after you've gone. You'd like letters when you got home to tell you how much they realize they owe to you, how much they miss you. All this and more. Jesus plus . . No, you can't have it. Either it must be 'Jesus Only' or you'll find you've no Jesus. You'll substitute Helen Roseveare.'"

Doesn't that ring a bell in your heart? I was pointedly reminded of the end of my teaching internship when one particular class chanted "Down with Miss B" -- even the wonderful Christian kids that I'd loved -- because I didn't give extra credit for classroom behavior to a student who'd threatened to kill me. I was totally innocent, and right. And it was so painful to have them all turn on me so. I can still feel twinges of that if I call up those memories -- how much I wanted good for those kids, and how much evil they returned me. Why does it hurt so much? My body is just on loan from the Lamb Who was led to the slaughter. Any suffering endured while living in obedience to Christ is for His glory, and part of His good plan.

Consider the lesson Dr. Roseveare learned when she faced what felt like complete failure. What else do you want in addition to Jesus? Are you able to fail in all your strivings -- for the glory of God? Can you say, at a time of rejection, that Christ is sufficient? Perhaps you look back, as I can, to a twinging hurt from the past -- will you take that, as from the Father's hand, a "failure" for your good and His glory?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Titus 2 Talk

I have this friend at my church who is also named Gretchen, and I really really like and admire her. She is the mom of 5 boys, and has an engaging personality -- friendly, expressive, relaxed and talkative. Tonight I got to hang out with her for a little while over a cup of iced coffee while Josh hung out with her boys (her husband is traveling in central Asia). I feel like this brief evening was an answer to prayer I'd had on my heart and lips for several years now -- for an older friend who would encourage me in the gospel and practically live out Titus 2 (the older women teaching the younger) in my life.

Gretchen encouraged me to love my husband -- to delight in who he is and how God is growing and using him. She encouraged me to be content in my circumstances, serving through Josh's school years as the breadwinner so that down the road I can be at home with children. She shared her own experiences of coming to realize how small she was and how big God was and that He loved her anyway, and how that actually changes your everyday life! We discussed keeping our homes, not over-organizing our husband's closets or pridefully obsessing over a clean house so that we look good in the eyes of our friends. Gretchen said "you have to find the balance between 'how much do I need to be clean and organized to serve my family?' and 'how much is this organizing is just to serve myself?'" I was so refreshed by her honesty and wisdom.

All of this was discussed in perhaps an hour's time. There was no program, no big to-do. It was simply life-on-life relationship, Christ's love our bond.

Friends, I share this to encourage you, as young women, to seek out the wisdom of an older friend! In some churches, these women are more plentiful than the younger women are, and you have a plethora to choose from. In others (like mine), the elder's wives are in high demand, and you need to be considerate and content with the time you can spend together.

Most everyone who reads this knows a younger woman who would benefit from your friendship, if you took some time here and there to just ask her to hang out and share your life with her. This is being the body of Christ together!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Caitlin's Reading List

This is Caitlin. She is my new little sister from the junior high youth group. She's actually the big sister to 5 younger brothers and sisters, so I figure she needs a big sis -- so here I am. She is a HUGE reader. Every time I give her books, she gobbles them up! Her mom and dad told me she is quickly outreading them! Well, I imagine Caitlin will also outread me eventually, but while I can, I'll make her a summer reading list. Here you go:

1. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. This is a GREAT summer reading story! I think you'll like all the sisters in it, as I did. Batty is so much like Claire, and you are rather Rosalind. It's a fun, sweet story.

2. The Fisherman's Lady by George MacDonald -- Beth Bloom suggested these to me, and they are excellent. Out of print, but I have them, if you'd like to borrow.

3. The Marquis' Secret by George MacDonald -- sequel to #2

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamilo (light read, but outstanding story with strong redemptive themes).

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Your mom and dad can call this one, but I think it's just amazing, and that you'll really like it.

6. The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. I hope you haven't already read this. I love these stories so much! If you like it, read the rest of the Quartet: The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, Spiderweb for Two.

7. Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper. Again -- maybe your parents already had you read this, but if not, it's such a solid book and an inspiration.

8. Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss. Fiction, but written like a girl's diary as she grows up and shows how she wrestles with her faith, first to believe, then to begin to be sanctified as she becomes a young wife and mother.

Happy reading, Caitlin! Love you, little sis!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bookish events

I've recently had some fun book-centered events, both at home and at the bookstore where I work. It began a couple weeks ago, with an evening of tea and reading Elisabeth Elliot excerpts with my friends, and fellow EE admirers Canaan and Annie. It was such a blessing and an encouragement to share this together, I'm not sure why we hadn't done so sooner!

Look at the spread -- isn't it amazing?? Annie's teacups, Canaan's strawberries and my scones with Devonshire clotted cream and lemon curd. Delightful!

The three of us in a self-timer shot. Look at the pile of books that await!

Annie reads to us from Keep a Quiet Heart.

Here are some shots from our Prince Caspian event this morning. We read 2 parts of Prince Caspian (where Lucy hopes for the trees to awake) and then made tree people by tracing our hands on brown p
aper for the trunk and adding faces and decorations. Here Lydia and I work on her funny tree with the long long limbs. I traced her fingers to go off the end of the page so the tree's branches were long and skinny and she thought they were funny.

This is another Lydia, who was dressed like Queen Lucy for the occasion. I love how well these kids around here can
read! They must grow up in reading homes (with Dad in Seminary, I'd imagine so!).

Providence's smile got tired before the camera got finished, but don't you love her tree-girl? She had a mommy who could draw faces! At least Providence's tree has a happy face!

This is Hannah, our one teenage attendee. I'm glad she got into the spirit! She and I we
re the only ones who had seen the movie, so we had lots to share.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Summer Book Club

I have this little red journal that I bought at the Guggenheim in which I've listed 100 things I want to do in my life. I wrote this list some years back, and mostly they are rather surface things, like having high tea wearing a hat. Some are a bit more lofty, and others are more achievable. One of them is being in a book club, and I'm just about ready to cross it off the list.

My friends Megan and Heather from church invited me to join their summer book club, and as a founding member I joined them in deciding what we'd read, and the length of time we'd spend reading them. We chose the best books from some of our favorite authors, in different genres. Here's what we came up with:

1. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

2. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

3. Hamlet by Shakespeare

4. Sherlock Holmes short story collection

5. In My Father's House by Corrie Ten Boom

I'm halfway through Mansfield Park right now, and eagerly anticipating our first discussion -- we're having breakfast at Blue Dog Bakery, which is one of my favorite local places here. Strong Illy coffee, artesian breads, and talking books with my dear sisters in Christ -- sounds like a great summer to me!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Midnight Prince Caspian Viewing

A few months back when I had the junior high girls over for a slumber party, I mentioned to them how fun it would be to go see Prince Caspian together -- which played out into an 18 person group from our church at the midnight showing! Watching a highly-anticipated movie with a large, fun group enhances the experience at least 10-fold. Here are my thoughts on the show (keep in mind, I have only just returned, and the coffee hasn't worn off, so forgive any unclear ramblings):

  • Characters: Lucy was just perfect. Her steady faith in Aslan's wisdom and power, unselfish motives and delight in Aslan himself were utterly true to the stories as well as a refreshing respite from the doubts and feuding of Peter and Caspian. Georgie Henley, who plays Lucy is just right -- age, poise and sweetness of temper. Edmund is also terrific. He does a great job of being a strong understated character in this movie -- solid, loyal and brave (Ed is my favorite of the Pevensies, which makes me excited for Dawn Treader). Susan's character was changed most -- from being someone who "hated killing things" in the book, to a warrioress leading the archers in battle. Aside from this derivation (which made her a much better character than she is in the book, to my opinion), the worst of it is that she has this developed sexuality. She and Caspian keep exchanging meaningful glances and the movie ends with a cheesy quip from Susan "it wouldn't have worked between us anyway". The teens viewing this movie joined me in the wholehearted opinion that the suggested romance nearly ruined the movie. It's just dumb. Other than that, Susan was much more like later Narnian girls, like Jill or Aravis, whom I always preferred. Peter was sort of a wash. Perhaps they tried hard to show how he was "coming of age", but I didn't like how he was portrayed as having no faith in Aslan, or how he bickers with Caspian throughout, but his fight with Miraz is fantastic, as well as other fighting scenes. By the end, Peter is mended and back to his wise and mature self. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is Caspian himself. The movie didn't do enough to endear you to the Prince, and his acting was quite inferior to the other children in the movie. I thought he was rather hunchy and gritted-teethy, rattling off revengeful declarations rather like the Spaniard in "The Princess Bride". Perhaps they'll use someone else in Dawn Treader.
  • Plot: A lot of talk was made of the derivations from the book, but I found them to be really true to the stories. Strict constructionists may disagree, but PC was not really written with the modern screenplay in mind, so elevating the battle scenes and intensifying other parts were actually rather well done. I eluded to the Caspian/Susan romance which was by far the silliest change, and also the heavy emphasis on the feud between Peter and Caspian. This leads to a lot of accusations and heated scenes that sort of drag the movie down a bit. Not to say the plot was not excellent -- it really was. And it loosely follows the exact layout of the story: Intro of Pevensies and problem, battles for the throne, Aslan's rescue and leaving through the doorway. One part I thought improved was the scene where the werewolf and the hag are brought by Nikabrik to propose bringing back the White Witch. In the movie, she actually is seen, just about ready to return, while Peter, Lucy, Edmund and Trumpkin fight off the vermin. You see that Caspian is tempted to reach to her, and Edmund shatters the ice that holds the Witch. It's very well done.
  • Theology: The main derivations of theology were mainly seen in a couple statements by Aslan. They are minor but significant (and likely only caught by someone who has practically memorized Aslan's statements). He tells Lucy that as she grows, he grows, which is just slightly off, but implies something rather postmodern about Lucy's faith (being what she makes it). He also tells Lucy that they don't know what would have happened if she would obeyed right away, which is the largest change in Aslan's character, who, in the books, is omniscient and knows all the possibilities of other worlds and actions.
It was a great movie. I certainly plan on watching it again -- perhaps this weekend!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Anna's Summer Reading

Today is my sister Anna's birthday, and she requested a summer reading list as well. Anna is 2 years younger than me (we won't say how old she's turning, but it's still younger than me!), married and a great nurse (with lots of patience -- hee hee). Since we shared so much the same schooling experience, I know she loves reading about as much as I do.

Anna, I thought I would give you a slightly shorter list than Emily, since I know with work and everything, you will have a bit less time for reading than she. Here are some great books I hope you enjoy! Happy Reading!

Digging Ditches by Helen Roseveare This is another part of Dr. Roseveare's autobiography, telling her amazing stories as an medical missionary.

2. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. I'm reading this right now, and I thought you might like to join me!

3. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. I'm not sure if you've already read this or not, but even if so, I thought you might like a refresher before reading:

4. Tramp for the Lord by Corrie Ten Boom. This is a fascinating book about Corrie's travels all over the world and how in her fragile old age,the Lord answered her prayers and provided for her over and over keeping her safe and whole, and enabling her to tell her story over and over. This is a woman who survived the Holocaust! I know for a fact that the library at Calvary has like 97 copies of this book.

5. The Peacemaker by Ken Sande. I'm having Emily read the student edition of this one, hoping that she would share it with Abby, too. I thought you guys might like to read it together!

6. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. This is your George MacDonald to read. MacDonald is the author that influenced C.S. Lewis the most, and he is just an amazing storyteller. If you like it, there is a sequel, The Princess and Curdie.

7.The Screwtape Letters
by C.S. Lewis. I hope I'm not giving you a bunch of books you've already read, but I know you will really like this one. The letters from the demon Wormwood to his uncle Screwtape are so clever, so humorous (at times) and so true to life! This book is quite original, and well done as only Lewis can do!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Emily's Summer Reading

Here's the summer reading list I made for my dear sister Emily, who celebrated her 19th birthday yesterday! I have been making her summer reading lists for years.

Happy Birthday, Emma. Here are the good books I picked for you to read this summer:

1. The Peacemaker Student Edition by Ken Sande. I think this will be a great help to you as live out your counseling degree. :)

2. The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit. I have been raving. Now it's time for you to read it!

3. The Wouldbegoods by E. Nesbit. I'm so sure you will love the first one, you simply MUST read the hilarious sequel.

4. The New Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit. You just won't be able to stop once you've read the first two.

5. The Cross-Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney. It's short, but it's incredibly good. I pray this book will be a breath of fresh air, as it was to me. Sweet, liberating, and solid.

6. The Gray Wolf and Other Stories by George MacDonald. I know how much you love George MacDonald and Woofs.

7. The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander. This is the first in a series of The Chronicles of Prydain. Dr. Orrick (who was one of Emily's favorite teachers this semester) and his daughter were in the bookstore the other day and they recommended these to me.

8. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. This is the sequel to Black Cauldron.

9. Living Faith by Helen Roseveare. This is an autobiography by a woman who was a medical missionary in Africa for decades. I think you'll really like her. She's so readable.

10. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street. I put this one on here because I know you were already planning to read it. I am too!

Love you, Em!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Living Out Biblical Manhood -- My Cousin Steve

This is my cousin, Steve Hill, or at least, the way I remember him from my childhood. In my huge Benzing family of 30+ cousins and 30+ second cousins, Steve ranks up there as a universal favorite for everyone. My whole life I have known Steve to be a kind and gentle guy, easy to talk with. His soft-spoken humor and friendly demeanor endears him to all who know him. Steve is the son of my dad's older sister, Aunt Pat. He and his wife Lorraine, have 4 children: Josh, Isaac, Joseph and Anna.

Steve came to Christ as a young child, and after attending a spiritual disciplines retreat in junior high, he increasingly committed his life to being sold out for Christ -- knowing Him and making Him known. During college, he worked with international students from around the world staying in London, where he was encouraged to press on in his faith, and grow and learn much. He still enjoys serving in Christ's name internationally, and recently took a missions trip with his oldest son to Costa Rica.

When I asked him what God had been teaching him lately, he replied "How important it is to prepare my children to live for Christ: to make Him the center of their life, to love unconditionally, to prepare for suffering, to make the most of every opportunity. I am not sure how well we are doing at this -- some days are much better than others and we have to take the long view on their discipleship." This seasoned dad had lots of great insight on investing in your children. Here is just the tip of the iceberg, some really great stuff I don't hear a lot of people saying:

"Understand that you are responsible for the education of your children. God will hold you accountable. Read the Bible to your children regularly. they will retain and recall so much that you read to them -- even years later. There will be constant attempts to crowd out this particular activity -- make it a priority (and try to make it interesting :)"

"Manage deliberately the transition from boy to man. I am in the midst of this and trying to properly manage transfer of responsibility and accountability."

"Control and preview the media that your children have access to. Be firm on avoiding evil here. Your kids will push early for more freedoms in this area, but once you are proven to be firm, they will also have this conviction. Take time to explain to your children why things are right and wrong. Commands that they cannot watch certain shows or wear certain clothes are empty rules and regulations without clear explanation. Take time to research this so you can systematically explain this to them from the Scriptures."

I really appreciated Steve's humble masculinity. He is a servant leader to his family. I asked him what advice he'd give to husbands out there, and here is a bit of what he gave me (I'm quoting again, because what he wrote was so good!):

"Be generous with your wealth, recognizing God's ownership. Have the right attitude towards money and possessions -- this is the downfall of so many. I would suggest reading Money, Possessions and Eternity by Randy Alcorn -- one of the best books on the right perspective on possessions and ownership tha
t I have read, and will help provide principles for your family."

"Do not be lured into the passive 'silence of Adam'. There are times when your wife or children will want to go in a different direction that you feel uncomfortable with. If your still small voice gives you concern, speak up and work this out with your family. God will use you and your wife in different ways to have sensitivity to sin and His leading. Speaking your concerns is hard because of the pote
ntial conflict it may cause, but it is essential."

I now know Steve to not only be kind and gentle, but wise and godly, an example of Biblical Manhood living out loud in this modern era where such men are few and far between. Steve told me he was working to internalize his personal mission statement: "I want to be a servant of God for his purposes, and a servant of others in obedience to his call. I want to recognize that I am a steward of God for all the possessions, relationships, family and opportunities he has given me. I am a constant student of His Word and of the life and world He has created. I am a citizen of heaven and all that entails -- an ambassador for Christ, an alien and stranger on earth, a subject of the King and His kingdom, and a brother to my family in the body of Christ."

Thanks, Steve. You are a treasure to your family and all who are blessed to know you.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Because He Loves Me -- the Gospel and My Everyday Life, or "Taking the Gospel to the Dentist"

Elyse Fitzpatrick's new book, Because He Loves Me has been released, and is available for purchase in the bookstore where I work. I had an advanced manuscript of the book -- thanks to my beloved academic buyer -- so I'm about halfway through the book right now. It is great. The content is top-notch. Thouroughly steeped in Scripture, applicable and practical, Elyse writes to us on how the gospel transforms our everyday lives.

Which it does! Elyse uses the mundane example of being stuck in traffic to show how the gospel can invade and affect every aspect of our lives, no matter how minute. The driver can sit in their car, irritated by the traffic, angry at the drivers around them, feeling defeated and feeding their sin by stewing about it, or they can stop and consider the gospel. C.J. Mahaney would call it "preaching the gospel to yourself". Instead of thinking "Why do I have to wait in this stupid traffic?" the questions we should rightly ask are Why would God send his Son to die for me, Hiswretched enemy? or Why should I be a partaker of His never-dying love? Elyse writes: "the only answers to these questions is that God, who is rich in mercy has loved us with his great love and showered us with his grace!"

So I took this to heart today during my dentist appointment. I was dismayed to learn that my teeth were significantly decaying and I'd have to get further work done. I lay in the dentist chair, in a bit of pain, a bit discouraged, and just a touch frightened. Suddenly, the realization popped into my head that I had forgotten the gospel. So, as the dentist continued his work, I began to consider the blessings of the gospel. My decaying teeth reminded me of the decay of my body, my finite, temporary shell that bears the marks and repercussions of the fall -- death. And even though my body is all the time dying, death is not the final victor, for Christ has overcome and crushed death to death.

Elyse goes on to point out another vital connection between the gospel and the Christian's everyday life. Using Ephesians 4:32 as an example, she points out the imperatives in this verse (be kind, forgiving, etc.). Most believers notice those things and focus there -- I know I can tend to do that. But Elyse gives us a new pair of glasses to put on, which show this verse through the lens of the gospel. She says "can you see how the imperative 'Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving' is firmly anchored in the indicative, 'you're forgiven in Christ'? This verse demonstrates a beautiful synergy that not only tells us what to do, but also plants within our souls the only motive that will empower God-pleasing compliance: what God has already done. We've already been forgiven in Christ. So many of us cavalierly gloss over what he's done and zero in on what we're to do, and that shift, though it might seems slight, makes all the difference in the world. Our obedience has it's origin in God's prior action and forgetting that truth results in self-righteousness, pride and despair."

Good book. On a completely superficial level, I will say that this book is also one of the most beautiful new books I've seen. Children's books often get this kind of beautiful artwork on the textured slipcover as well as illustrated header pages inside, but grown-up books rarely get this sort of treatment. Because of the universal applicability of the content, as well as the beauty of the book, I'm recommending this book as the #1 Mother's Day and graduation gift this year.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


Last night I found out that a remarkable woman that I knew, Mary Coffman, passed away suddenly. I knew Mary and her equally remarkable daughter Elizabeth from working at the Blue Kangaroo Bookstore. Mary and Elizabeth were much much more than customers, though. We shared a kind of friendship that C.S. Lewis refers to in The Four Loves : when you realize that someone else loves the same books you do and you think to yourself "I thought I was the only one!" Lewis tells a story about when he became friends with his neighbor Arthur in Surprised by Joy:

"I found Arthur sitting up in bed. On the table beside him lay a copy of Myths of the Norsemen.
Do you like that?' said I.
you like that?' said he.
"Next moment the book was in our hands, our heads were bent close together, we were pointing, quoting, talking - soon almost shouting - discovering in a torrent of questions that we liked not only the same thing, but the same parts of it and in the same way."

Even though I moved away, Elizabeth and I have still e-mailed about good books, or upcoming movies-made-from-books. We have come from American Girl to Narnia to Harry Potter to Edith Nesbit and George MacDonald. I have always loved how she was immediately willing to discuss a book! Even though Elizabeth is eleven, we have shared the bond of reading.

Last summer, when Mary and Elizabeth came to visit me, and we went out to eat at Lynn's Paradise Cafe (spending a good long time in "the world of swirl" as you might imagine). I was so intrigued to watch
Mary lay good questions out on the table. We were all sharing what we hoped would come through in the final Harry Potter book, and when Elizabeth expressed an especially vengeful wish toward Malfoy, Mary gently returned a rather C.S. Lewis-ish response: "But Elizabeth, wouldn't you rather see him turn to good? A traitor may mend." (Edmund's remark to Eustace when he has just become un-dragoned in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.) I was always so touched by Mary's friendship with her daughter. Elizabeth is indeed a unique and wonderful child -- one I am blessed to know, and hope to know more as she grows into a young woman.

Elizabeth -- you are in my thoughts and prayers!