Posted in Christianity, Life, Thoughts

Beauty

Confession: I recently watched six seasons of Say Yes to the Dress in a month.

The show came up in conversation with my mom, and I wanted to watch some, but it’s hard to find. But I discovered six seasons on Hulu. I get lots of emails from Hulu offering a free month, so many that I suspect they’re desperate. So the next time I got one, I went for it.

My favorite moment in all that binge watching happened when one bride turned to see herself in the mirror wearing the wedding dress she liked and a veil. She instantly got emotional and said (paraphrasing because I don’t remember the exact words), “Now I know what [my fiance] sees. He tells me I’m beautiful every day, and I don’t see that, but now I can.”

It was very sweet. I cried.

It made me think, “And that is why these people do their job.”

Feeling beautiful and helping others see the beauty in themselves is, at its core, recognizing and appreciating God’s incredible creation.

It can be – and regularly is – distorted with pride and selfishness and all sorts of sinful attitudes.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It can come with gratitude and humility and praise for the beautiful Creator of beauty.

And those were my brief, unexpected theological musings from a TV show about wedding dress shopping.

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Posted in Writings

Share Your Gifts

Over the holidays, I came across this beautiful ad:

The animation is incredible, for one thing.

But also… I write stories a lot. But I don’t share many of the results.

This is partially because most of those stories not entirely self-contained. I mostly write short pieces to be shared with someone who already knows the characters and the world. In-story explanations for things are not required. I’m okay with this; I write these for fun, for practice, because I love the characters, not because I’m trying to get them published or anything. But it does come with the sometimes convenient, sometimes inconvenient excuse that sharing stuff with anyone else would require explanation – sometimes a lot of it – and I don’t want to bother people with all that if they’re not interested.

But in order to make use of that inspiring ad, I’m going to bother for the story I was writing when I first saw it. You’re still welcome to not be interested; feel free to stop here and move on with your life. But if you would like a glimpse into some of the fictional things that go on in my head, read on.

 

This story was inspired by a writing prompt I came across on Pinterest a few months ago:

In case you thought Pinterest was only for cute crafts…

I knew immediately that I wanted to use it with some characters from my Paper Walls story (which I talked about in a recent post about NaNoWriMo), but it took a while to work out how.

The original setting for these characters is a medieval-ish world. But I also have a modern day AU I play with, and that’s where this story is set. In this AU, the characters’ dad – who is a huge jerk in both worlds – runs a questionable military school, and they grow up there. This provided the three elements I decided were vital to their backstory: growing up fairly isolated from the real world, military training, and daddy issues.

I’ve never bothered to name said military school, but I do randomly know it’s in Iowa. My brain provided vague geography, and when I looked at a map, Iowa was in the right spot.

There are four siblings. Two of them are featured in this story. I’d say Ash is about 16 and Blaze about 14.

I write fluffy, happy things sometimes. This is not one of them. It features a character getting shot. I try not to go overboard with the gruesome details, but occasionally things might sneak in. So. Fair warning.

Again, no pressure to actually read it. Or to like it. But if you are so inclined, here you go:

Hold as Long as You Like

Posted in Christianity, Life

Great Books I’ve Read in 2018 – Part 3

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, illustrated by John Rocco
This is the first book in a series I love dearly about Greek mythology in modern times with modern demigods having adventures. I’ve read it multiple times, but I picked up this one again because a new illustrated version was released this year. I didn’t actually know that; someone returned it to the library where I worked to be sent back to the branch that owned it. I got excited when I spotted it in the delivery crates, made sure no one else had a hold on it, and took it home. It was a great excuse to read it yet again. The illustrations were amazing. They followed the story so well, to the point where when the characters changed clothes in the story, they changed clothes in the illustrations, and I was impressed. It was definitely worth the time. I hope we’re going to get the whole series redone like this.

A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Lane Smith
In this picture book, a couple kids are exploring and find an abandoned house. They go through the house, finding bits of the lives of the previous owners, imagining the people who might have lived there, what their lives might have been like. I love this concept, since I also like asking myself questions like, “Who lived here before? What were they like?” I thought it was done well in this book, and the illustrations were nice.

Wild World published by Lonely Planet
“Read” is a strong word for this book, as it’s all photographs. It’s gorgeous, and huge, and I’m glad I picked it up. To quote my Goodreads review, “What an incredible glimpse into some pieces of God’s creation I’m unlikely to ever see for myself.” There are so many beautiful things in the world, and it’s nice to see some of them captured so well.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
I never believe book reviews that say, “This book was unlike anything I’ve ever read.” But this book was unlike anything I’ve ever read.
For those who might wish to know, I will give the disclaimer that it’s not squeaky clean. Mostly there’s some language, of the sort you can find in the King James Bible (which is a description I definitely stole from some unremembered source). I found it worth ignoring.
It’s a mystery, with an Agatha Christie sort of feel, but it also has some sci-fi/fantasy elements. The main character gets to live one day over eight times, through the eyes of eight different people, in an attempt to solve a murder. The plotting is intricate and fascinating, and I loved watching it all come together. This is the best book I have read in a long time.

The Jerusalem Bible
I’ve been reading through a different Bible translation every year for a while now. There have been some I liked a lot, but this is now my favorite.
It had been on my mental list of translations to read for a while, and then – technically it was the year before last now – my friend Maria was reading it and kept texting me things she liked about it, so I moved it to the top of my list. I’m glad I did.
A lot of Bible translations sound pretty much the same, with minor variations here and there. This one is not like that. It’s beautiful and poetic and different. Of all things, it reminds me of a cross between the King James Version and The Message. You can tell the translators put a lot of thought into not only, “Is this accurate?” but, “Does this sound beautiful and interesting in our language?”
I especially enjoyed the Psalms and pretty much the entire New Testament. Many things that I’ve heard a million times made more of an impact than they have in a long time since they were phrased so differently than I’m used to.
I was reluctant to move on to a new translation. But I figure that I never would have found this one if I’d stuck with one of my previous favorites, so I will start a new one today. But I’m considering changing to reading this one every other year.

For more book recommendations, click here.

Posted in Life

Halfway Out of the Dark

I’ve developed an accidental Christmas tradition for myself.

Generally, in my life, at some point after the festivities, Christmas becomes a quiet day. Then I get in the mood to watch something. But I don’t necessarily want a whole movie, so a Doctor Who Christmas special seems just the right length. And apparently my favorite is “A Christmas Carol”, since I always go for it. Last year I realized that this had happened accidentally enough years in a row that it’s a Thing now.

The episode is, as you might guess, inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. “Based on” would be too strong a term, but it has similar themes, about a selfish man who hates Christmas but mends his ways, in this case because of time travel. He ends up saving a lot of people.

It also includes this really lovely description of Christmas:

On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns and hugs. As if to say, “Well done. Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark.” Back on Earth we call this Christmas.

Well done, everyone. We’re halfway out of the dark.

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Christianity, Life

Teaching Small Children – Moses – Part 1

Last week, I talked about the Bible class I teach for 3- and 4-year-olds. As semi-promised, here is the first in a series of my collection of ideas. I hope they will be helpful for someone.

We started with Moses. I like Moses because it provides a good long story that builds on itself. For all our crafts, I made an extra or took a picture and taped them along a wall, and every week we used them to review the story so far (which is an idea I stole from my mom).

We start by putting stickers on attendance sheets, then we review, then read our new story. Our activity comes after or is combined with the story, and I usually find a relevant coloring page and a snack to fill up whatever time remains.

I’ve mostly been using God’s Word for Me by Pat Alexander. I’m on a quest to investigate children’s Bible story books, but I’d used a copy of this one in the nursery and knew it was acceptable, so I bought myself one to start with. Sometimes the pictures are kind of odd, but I like that it contains more than just the really basic stories.

  • Baby Moses
    This was based on a craft I saw online. I printed out the baby and cut out basket and grass shapes from construction paper. There’s a hole in the bottom of the basket, and the baby is glued to a popsicle stick and can move up and down. Pretty simple, but kids like getting to glue things. I think it makes them feel grown up.
  • Moses leaves Egypt
    This one was hard. There’s only so much you can do with a story focused around Moses killing a man and then fleeing for his life when he’s found out. We ended up making bricks, like the Hebrew slaves in Egypt.
    I looked at a ton of recipes for modeling clay, and I don’t remember which one I ended up using, but I wasn’t sold enough on the results that I feel the need to use the same one again. You can also buy the stuff, but I was feeling industrious, and I kind of liked how the flour/water/salt one looked a bit dirt-colored. I took the results home and brought them back for the kids the next week, because that seemed more considerate than sending wet clay home with unsuspecting parents.
  • The burning bush
    I love this craft, which I found here. I think it turned out super cool. They have little battery-operated candles in them and light up, which you can kind of see in the second picture. Everything our teaching resource room didn’t have, I found at the dollar store.
    Full disclosure: The instructions say to iron the tissue paper before cutting it into squares. I laughed and did not do that.
  • Let my people go!
    I was away this week, and my mom taught the class for me. For this one I literally just typed the words into a word processor and printed them, then cut/tore them and some brown construction paper to make a sort of banner. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know how well it went over, but I didn’t hear any horror stories. For the story, I believe they did Moses returning to Egypt and the beginning of the plagues. They also started this coloring project, which lasted two weeks.
  • First nine plagues
    I had so much fun preparing this one. The kids each got a bag and one item for each plague, and I passed them out gradually as we talked about each one.
    I looked up various ideas but just used them as a starting place for my imagination. I tried to avoid a bunch of small toys that would become clutter, so I ended up with a lot of stickers. But it’s hard to go wrong with small children + stickers, so that worked. We had:

    • Water into blood – water bottles and red koolaid mix; they enjoyed watching the color change and shaking the bottles
    • Frogs – frog stickers
    • Lice – rice between two pieces of packing tape (the rice was my brother’s idea, the packing tape was mine; giving small children loose rice didn’t seem smart)
    • Flies – fly stickers
    • Death of livestock – small animal toys
    • Boils – foam stickers (I had no idea what I was going to do for boils, but in the resource room I found a container of foam letter stickers, and there were a bunch of extra pieces like the insides of o’s and such things, so I pulled out all the red ones. We stuck some on our arms and put some in our bags.)
    • Hail – marshmallows (and a cotton ball for the review bag that went on the wall) (I ate more marshmallows than the kids did)
    • Locusts – grasshopper stickers (seemed close enough)
    • Darkness – glow sticks
  • Death of the firstborn
    This week took more preparation than usual, but if you’re going to do extra work, I think this is an important story for it.
    I taped paper to the door frame of our classroom, and we painted it red to be like the blood the Hebrews put around their doors. The paint said washable, but just in case, I brought old t-shirts of mine for the kids to wear. They liked this a lot and will still tell me that the Hebrews put blood on their doors, but we put paint on ours. I left the paper up, and it will be there until we finish Moses’ story.

    I also made super old-fashioned unleavened bread because I wanted to give the kids an idea of what it would have been like. To be honest, this was a failed experiment.
    Usually I don’t work on Wednesdays, so I would have had time to play around with it. But that week happened to be an exception. I wasn’t even going home between work and Bible study. So I intended to make the bread the night before, but I forgot until it was too late, and being a night owl, there was no way I was getting up early the next day to do it.
    Except I inexplicably woke up 40 minutes before my alarm, so I decided to give it a shot. But I’d never made unleavened bread this way before, and I didn’t know what I was doing, and I guess my pan and/or oil must have been too hot, because the result tasted burnt even though it looked okay. (Also, as soon as I pulled the last one from the pan, the smoke alarms went off and woke my poor brother…)
    But it gave us a fun visual, and I hope to experiment more in the future so I can do it better next time.

More to come!

Posted in Christianity, Life

Teaching Small Children

I’ve been helping my mom and grandmother cut out VBS materials since I could competently handle scissors.

I have a few vague memories of helping someone teach a kids’ Bible class when I was about 12.

At some point in my teenage years, I gave up on being a student for VBS and helped my mom or someone else teach younger kids instead because the VBS class for teenagers wasn’t anything different than our regular classes and I was tired of it not being fun anymore (to be fair, that changed a couple years later).

At some other point in my teenage years, a lady at church asked me if I would help her teach her Bible class for a quarter. I was honored, and it stands out in my mind as a formative experience.

Near the end of my college career, my mom was teaching the nursery class, and when I was home on weekends or breaks, I helped her.

Then, after college, once I was consistently around, I started teaching the nursery class myself. And then I just never stopped. Until this fall, when we rearranged classes and I moved up to teaching the 3- and 4-year-olds.

It took a while to get into the swing of actually, you know, preparing. With babies I can just show up and do the class. And even though my students had been getting older for a while, for a long time we read through a Bible story book, I copied a coloring page that went with the story, and we sang and played and that was sufficient.

But now that they’re older and in a classroom where we can move around instead of the one with the nursery table that you have to lift the kids into and out of, I’ve been having a blast doing more involved things. I usually have two little girls, and I enjoy them a lot. I didn’t want pre-made class material, because it’s just not what I personally like, so I do a lot of googling for craft and activity ideas and come up with some myself. (I plan to start occasionally posting round ups of things we’ve done in hopes of helping other people find ideas. Potentially starting next week, if I remember to take some pictures between now and then.)

I love kids. I love my class. But if I had gone into this without any experience, even with pre-made class material, I can imagine that it would have been hugely overwhelming.

In my experience – which is admittedly limited to a few small congregations – finding people willing to teach children’s Bible classes is an endless struggle. And half the people who are willing do it so much they get burnt out because there’s no one else.

And I wonder if it’s because we don’t teach people how to do it?

Some people can’t. Or are not good with kids. Or are not good at teaching. I get that. But maybe there are others who just never learned how.

Growing up, I was blessed with lots of opportunities to learn, but most of that was because my grandmother and mom were both very involved with teaching. I don’t see this happening on a wider scale. I don’t see people offering teenagers opportunities to help teach. And that’s a shame. Teaching children about God and the Bible is – or at least can be – a blessing and a learning opportunity for the teacher, not just the students.

So in an effort to do my part, I’m slowly psyching myself up to someday ask someone younger to help me teach for a quarter. Or maybe someone older. If this is something you’d like to learn to do, I’d love to talk about it – or I can direct you to people who’ve been doing it a lot longer than I have.

Posted in Christianity, Thoughts

Still Without Seeing

Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ, sends greetings to all those living among foreigners in the Dispersion of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who have been chosen, by the provident purpose of God the Father, to be made holy by the Spirit, obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood. Grace and peace be with you more and more.

Peter walked with Jesus.

I mean, literally. They walked all over Judea together. I’m sure there was a great deal of sweat involved.

30-ish years later, Peter has possibly wandered even farther, to Rome, as many scholars think that’s where he wrote the book of 1 Peter (according to the ESV Study Bible). At this point, he has been walking without Jesus physically present for a long time. Now he’s writing to Christians in a group of Roman provinces, followers of Jesus dispersed among the world as the Jews were once dispersed from their homeland.

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy has given us a new birth as his sons, by raising Jesus Christ from the dead, so that we have a sure hope and the promise of an inheritance that can never be spoiled or soiled and never fade away, because it is being kept for you in the heavens. Through your faith, God’s power will guard you until the salvation which has been prepared is revealed at the end of time. This is a cause of great joy for you, even though you may for a short time have to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials; so that, when Jesus Christ is revealed, your faith will have been tested and proved like gold – only it is more precious than gold, which is corruptible even though it bears testing by fire – and then you will have praise and glory and honor.

Though they live among foreigners in this Dispersion, though they suffer, these sons of God know they are promised an inheritance, salvation, a home. When time ends and Jesus returns, they will receive it. With their precious faith proven, they will be honored. Though this homecoming is in the future, looking forward to it already brings them joy.

But unlike Peter, they have never walked with Jesus. Not literally.

You did not see him, yet you love him; and still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.

With the wording of that sentence, I can’t help but think that Peter must have had this story in mind, this story he lived and witnessed himself:

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, “We have seen the Lord,” he answered, “Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.” Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, “Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.” Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him:
“You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Jesus gave Thomas what he needed. I love that.

But he also talked about those who would believe without seeing him. This sounds like an offer for long past Jesus’ day, for the far future, for me. And it is. But it didn’t take long for the truth in Jesus’ words to become obvious. 30-ish years later, and already, already, “still without seeing him, you are filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe”.

And now it’s 2,000-ish years later, and still without seeing him, we can believe and have sure hope in the inheritance God is keeping for us and have a joy so glorious it cannot be described.

It’s not always easy, but it is a possibility.

Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.

 

[1 Peter 1:1-9; John 20:24-29]