Truth and Rewards

I’m currently reading Timothy Keller’s latest book (see here and here to read more about my respect for Keller). This book is co-written with Keller’s wife, Kathy Keller, and it’s called The Meaning of Marriage. I’ll write more about it in the future but let me just say right now that it’s very good and full of Biblical wisdom.

In one chapter, Keller cites an essay entitled “Singled Out by God for Good”. (You can follow that link to read the whole essay. It’s by Paige Benton Brown.) The essay is about being single and being a Christian. Why, you might ask, would I be interested in reading such an essay when I’m married? What a great question, hypothetical blog reader! Well, truthfully, I was single once.

This is a photo of me when I was single.

More to the point,  Benton Brown isn’t just talking about singleness, she’s talking about the church’s attitude toward singleness. I think that attitude basically falls into two categories. 1) You’re waiting to get married, when your “real adulthood” begins or 2) Better to be married than burn! ie: getting married is somehow for the weaker-minded/more lustful. I definitely fell into that first category for a lot of my single life. Peter and I have discussed how both of us, before we met and started dating, feared that we would never get married. Just to be clear, we were 21 when we met – I wish I could go back in time and give myself a shake. Benton Brown discusses how these attitudes are both unhealthy and contrary to what God wants for us. What struck me while reading both her article and Keller’s book was that I can tend to view my marriage as a sign of my success, as a reward for my labour if you will. That is so untrue! First of all because Peter is a person, not a reward, but primarily because getting married demonstrates no greatness about me. Lots of people get married who are wonderful and lots of people get married who are not wonderful. Lots of people are single who are wonderful and lots of people are single who are not wonderful. To believe that I “succeeded” in my relationship because I earned or because God somehow chose to reward me that way is simply false. I’m not married because I’m a good Christian or because I’m a bad Christian. I’m simply a married Christian. God has a plan for Peter and I as a couple and I have confidence that His plan is good. Were I single at this point in my life, God’s plan for me would be equally good. That is the very nature of who God is. Here’s how Benton Brown puts it:

“Can God be any less good to me on the average Tuesday morning than He was on that monumental Friday afternoon when He hung on a cross in my place? The answer is a resounding NO. God will not be less good to me tomorrow either, because God cannot be less good to me. His goodness is not the effect of His disposition but the essence of His person – not an attitude but an attribute.”

That is truth. God is neither better nor worse to me than He is to an unmarried woman, just as He doesn’t love me more or less. God is good and He loves His creation. And so, while I thank the Lord each day for my husband and my marriage, it doesn’t make me special.

I particularly like the way Benton Brown ends her article…but for that, you’re going to have to read it!

Here’s another picture of me for good measure. This was taken within a week’s span of the previous photo. I guess I went through a phase?

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A Revelation

This week I found out who these guys are:

Do you know who they are?

I had both never heard of them and had never heard the song that made them “famous”. My initial reaction was a certain pride in not knowing who these teen pop stars are. After all, doesn’t it demonstrate that I listen to music of a higher quality and that my brain is busy storing other, more important bits of information?

And then I realized that it may mean those things but it also means I’ve become an adult. There was a time (most of high school) when I could identify every song and musical artist played on the radio (Z 95.3!) Not because I liked all those songs and artists but because I listened to the radio constantly. My friends listened to that same radio station constantly. We talked about those songs and those musicians. We read glossy magazines telling us about the lives of the Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, and N Sync, even if I never owned a single CD by any of them. Back then I honestly didn’t understand how you could not at least recognize popular music. It plays everywhere! Now, I have to correct that opinion – it plays everywhere that teenagers go. I do still listen to the radio at home but I keep it pretty focused on CBC Radio 2 these days. Somewhere in the last nine years I’ve grown up and, without making any real conscious effort, I’ve moved into a realm where pop music has not followed.

This is all not to say that I don’t try and keep up with new music. I’m not a huge music buff but one of the reasons I do enjoy listening to the radio is that it introduces me to artists I might not know. It keeps me abreast with who’s coming out with a new album, who’s performing. It would be too easy to say music these days isn’t as good as when I was young. Yes, there’s lots of crumby music being played on radio stations now. There was lots of crumby music being played on radio stations in the late 90s and early 2000s when I was in high school. (See above mentioned boy bands.) I guess my point is that I’ve reached a settled stage in my life where I know what kind of music I like.

And for those who have heard the band pictured at the beginning of this post and fear for the musical future of the world, last weekend a girl in grade 6, when I asked her what kind of music she listened to, answered, “Johnny Cash.” There is always hope.

Book Review – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Have you ever found a photograph – a photograph of complete strangers? Maybe in a used book or at a flea market? Not a photograph of anyone you know or anybody famous or of a place you’ve ever heard of. Just somebody else’s ordinary, precious personal photo. Working at a used bookstore I found a number of photos tucked into books over the years. There’s one on my fridge. There used to be one tucked into the edge of my mirror. There’s one that I brought home and put in a frame.

This one sits in a frame (also found) and has a place of honour on the piano.

I don’t know any of these people; I don’t know a thing about them except what I can see in this picture. But I like the photo. There’s a sense of excitement to it, a sense of something about to happen. It makes me smile to look at it. The older the photo, the more precious it can seem. We take photography for granted in our easy, digital lives but there was a time when having your picture taken was special, an event. Finding the evidence of those special events in someone else’s life raises all kinds of questions. Who are these people? Why this moment? How did this photo end up somewhere away from them?

It’s easy to imagine that Ransom Riggs starting to write his novel as a way to answer these questions. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children incorporates found photographs, often unusual, often creepy. The cover of the book is enough to put off many readers but the book is surprisingly uncreepy.

This is a picture of one of the photographs in the novel. I think it’s my favourite one. It’s as if this little girl’s imagination has come to life

16-year-old Jacob has grown up hearing his grandfather’s fanciful stories of an island where the sun always shone and children with peculiar abilities were safe from an unnamed danger. When his grandfather dies mysteriously Jacob is plagued by nightmares, as well as endless questions regarding his grandfather’s childhood and how much of his stories were true, and so Jacob travels to the secluded island to find out.

From there the story takes some unexpected (and some expected) turns. I read most of the book in one day – partly because it’s a young adult novel and I’m a good reader, but mostly because I was intrigued and was caught up in the mystery. At least one part made me actually laugh out loud, which doesn’t happen often when I read. Jacob’s narration struck me as authentic (as much as I can guess about the inner thought life of a 16-year-old male, that is) and likeable. I was impressed by the layering of themes in the novel, that the peculiarity of the children comes to represent and stand in for so much more. I don’t want to give anything away but I thought it really added to how much I cared about them and made me ponder what this novel is truly about.

My major beef with the novel would be that there is no real conclusion given. The story is clearly written as the beginning of a series. Are there any young adult books being written right now that aren’t in a series? I don’t unequivocally hate book series (there are undoubtedly some fine ones out there) but even in a series, each individual book should stand alone with its plot and this one doesn’t. That disappointed me at the end of an otherwise great read. But I’ll probably still read the sequel.

Favourite quote:

“I thought about how my great-grandparents had starved to death. I thought about their wasted bodies being fed to incinerators because people they didn’t know hated them. I thought about how the children who lived in this house had been burned up and blown apart because a pilot who didn’t care pushed a button. I thought about how my grandfather’s family had been taken from him, and how because of that my dad grew up feeling like he didn’t have a dad, and now I had acute stress and nightmares and was sitting alone in a falling-down house and crying hot, stupid tears all over my shirt. All because of a seventy-year-old hurt that had somehow been passed down to me like some poisonous heirloom, and monsters I couldn’t fight because they were all dead, beyond killing or punishing or any kind of reckoning.”

Find out more about the author at his own blog ransomriggs.com.

Book Review – The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

The Power of One is one of those books that I really should have read years ago. I’ve certainly meant to read it for a long time so this was a satisfying title to cross off my list. It’s stunning that this was Bryce Courtenay’s first novel. I look forward to reading his others because if this is where he started, he’s a talented guy.

The Power of One is set in South Africa, starting shortly before World War Two, and following approximately fifteen years in the life of our narrator, Peekay. At the age of six, Peekay decides that his life’s ambition is to become the welterweight champion of the world (that’s in boxing) and the rest of the novel follows him as he works to realize this dream. Peekay is a young English boy (a rooinek, as the Afrikaaners call him) living in a racially diverse and tense society. The book encouraged me to learn more about the Boer War and the history of South Africa. Much of what I know about South Africa comes from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography so it was interesting to hear some of the history from a fictional and English perspective. (Courtenay grew up in South Africa, by the way.) I’d be very curious to read something from the Afrikaaner perspective or from a different African perspective.

The book is well written with strong details. The physical landscape is beautifully described. I learnt about boxing, cacti, and boarding schools. It’s a thick book but I read it easily over a long weekend; once I began the novel I wanted to finish it right away. At the end I was left to ponder Courtenay’s handling of the racial issues surrounding Peekay. My initial reaction was that Peekay didn’t do enough, wasn’t kind enough. That his lack of action made him a bad person. I wanted more from him in his treatment of the Africans around him. Yet the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Peekay likely was pretty progressive for South Africa in the 50s. The fault therefore lies with the culture this character was raised in, one where the African people were automatically thought of as second class, to be compared to intelligent animals. Even the kindest of characters seem to treat the Africans around them as one might a favourite pet dog. From my Canadian, 21st perspective, that’s not good enough (and I stand by that in the real world), but in the novel’s world, those tiny differences say a lot about its characters. In fact, it seems to highlight the sadness of injustice and racism, that even the small kindnesses that some of the characters offer – kindnesses that, to me, don’t even seem that kind – make them stand out in a society of prejudice and apartheid.

My major fault against The Power of One was the character of Peekay. Although immensely likeable, Courtenay writes him as a sort of superman, a boy good at everything. At some point in the novel I realized that everything is just sort of working out for Peekay and from there on, a lot of the tension vanished. In short, he was too perfect. The book lost touch with realism on a number of points. Not everybody turns out to be talented at what they decide to be at the age of six. That’s why I’m not an astronaut. Sure, there are people who are as talented in as many facets as Peekay seems to be, but the majority of us are not. The ending as well did not offer me the redemption it seemed to want to provide for its main character. For a relatively long book, it felt like it ended too quickly.

In the end though, I would recommend the novel as a snapshot of history, of South Africa, of youth and maturity.

Easter Weekend 2012

Picture heavy post. Not much to say, just feeling very blessed after a wonderful weekend on the Sunshine Coast.

Passing a ferry on our way to Langdale.

Wildflowers in the yard.

A walk and a jump on the beach.

Hot dog roast on the beach.

Epic hot dog eating.

Good Friday sunset.

Saturday morning.

Easter bunny cake!

Sunday afternoon.

Swing, swing

Easter chocolate on the beach.

Book Review – Egg on Mao by Denise Chong

“Of a generation who remembers Tiananmen Square, 1989, I considered how some excuse – the lack of, or slow progress on, human rights in China because ‘times have changed’, or because other concerns, including making money, come first, or because rights, freedom, and democracy are somehow different issues there than in the West.”  Denise Chong

China holds a special place in my heart. The country has played an important role in my life yet I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say I truly understand the nation.

With its cover bearing the portrait of Mao Zedong, Egg on Mao caught my attention from the display shelf of the library. I haven’t read Denise Chong’s previous works but knew their titles well – The Concubine’s Children and The Girl in the Picture, the latter dealing the Vietnam War. I knew Chong has a strong reputation for investigative non-fiction.

Egg on Mao follows the life of one ordinary man, Lu Decheng in 20th century China. Decheng is from Hunan province, the home province of Chairman Mao. Decheng has a nominal education, marries his teenage sweetheart, and settles down to a job as a mechanic. At the same time, as Chong chronicles this seemingly ordinary life, we see Decheng’s growing awareness and frustration with the political situation in China. He sees flaws in the system, yet to speak out against the government is fraught with danger and many are afraid to state their opinions.

This changes for Decheng in 1989. If you know anything about China, you probably already know where I’m going with this. Inspired by the protests and hunger strikes of students in Beijing, Decheng and two friends travel to Tiananmen Square and throw paint-filled eggs at the portrait of Mao Zedong. For this crime, Decheng serves almost nine years in prison. One of his friends serves seventeen years. Yes, this is a true story.

If you’re not familiar with Tiananmen Square, let me try and explain. The square is located in the centre of Beijing (which is the capital city of China), directly outside the Forbidden City (the former Imperial Palace). It’s the third largest city square in the world. A statue in the square commemorates the martyrs of the Cultural Revolution. The Mausoleum of Mao Zedong is located there. The portrait of Mao is more than just a picture like we might hang of Queen Elizabeth or our prime minister. The portrait is huge, it dominates the square, it seems to see into every corner. It represents more than just a man – it represents the worship of that man, of the Communist Party. The best way I can think to describe it is as the primary icon of the cult of Mao. (If you visit China today, you will see Mao’s image emblazoned on everything from cigarette lighters to t-shirts to scrolls.) To throw eggs and paint at this icon is more than simple property destruction; these three men wanted to make a powerful statement against the cult of Mao. One of the slogan the men created to go along with this act of protest was, “The cult of personality worship will vanish from this day onward!” That is what they were attempting to do.

When the three were arrested they insisted on their action being recognized as a political one even though that meant harsher and longer sentences. Quite frankly, their willingness to stand by what they believe is inspiring. Most of us in Canada take our democracy for granted. We vote in miniscule percentages, if we happen to have the time on election day. We disrespect every person now and in history who has fought and died for that privilege. Books are powerful tools to spread this message. I’m glad that Chong enabled this story to be shared but I’m disappointed that I had never heard of this book before.

The book isn’t perfect. The dialogue in particular gave me pause. I can recognize Chong’s attempt to translate as closely as possible to the original Chinese but in English it often sounds stilted and unnatural. (This translation problem is why we get restaurants with names like Seven Happiness Family Noodle House. They sound great in Chinese but awkward in English.)The narrative though, which is the majority of the book, is well-written and her amount of description is perfect.

If you don’t know much about China, I would encourage you to read this book. China will only become more important on the world stage as time goes on. I also encourage you read other books about China – this is a big topic and you can’t rely on one book to tell you about it or to form your opinion by.

As far as books on democracy go, I also recommend Nelson Mandela’s biography, Long Walk to Freedom.

Favourite quotes from Egg on Mao:

“Democracy is not granted from the top down; it is won by individuals.”  Fang Lizhi

“The numbers of courageous people willing to speak up, to step forward, are becoming fewer and fewer. I’m willing to be one of those few people to take the first step.”  Lu Decheng

A Beautiful Woman

Has anybody read this article by Samantha Brick? In it Brick details the difficulties of being too beautiful. Brick is 41, an English woman living in France with her French husband, and, apparently, accomplished in her career. Yes, the article includes pictures of her. She says that frequently men buy her drinks, help her to her car with her groceries, or flirt with her in front of their wives. She spends a good deal of space in her article talking about the fact that women don’t like her and she thinks it’s because of her good looks. She says she’s been passed over for promotions by female bosses and that none of her girlfriends have ever asked her to be a bridesmaid.

So, does Samantha Brick just have awesome self-esteem or is she overly self-absorbed? I think she is an attractive woman but I’m not really interested in commenting on her looks here. A lot of people out on the internet are saying that it’s likely women don’t want to be friends with Ms. Brick because she seems narcissistic. I have to say, I kind of agree. That was the predominant feeling I was left with when I finished her article. It may be sad that she’s never been asked to be a bridesmaid but I wouldn’t want a bridesmaid who was thinking in her head that she was more beautiful than the bride. I’ve been a bridesmaid four times and although I think I looked great each time, I know that I never overshadowed the bride. It’s just not possible. Plus, I hate the implication that women choose plain friends to be in their wedding party. My maid of honour (I had just one attendant) is one of the most beautiful women I know and she looked beautiful on my wedding day; it never occurred to me to be bothered by that.

Part of me really hopes this whole thing is a spoof. Otherwise, I think Ms. Samantha Brick probably does have a difficult life. Whether it’s actually because women are jealous of her or because she just thinks they are. My feeling here is that her self-esteem may not be as high as she portrays. Let me be honest here, I’ve been jealous of other women. Of course I have! Whether it’s their hair or their clothes or their beautiful eyes/cheekbones/smile, it happens. Women are constantly sizing each other up. Women are constantly trying to impress each other. (It’s other women who appreciate our fashion sense, right? It’s other women we worry can tell that our shoes are scuffed or our sweater has a hole in it.) It can be easy to slip into the mindset of, “I’m prettier than her” or “I wish I was as pretty as her.” Neither serves us well. We fish for compliments; we’re heartbroken when no one notices our new shoes or the fact that we’ve lost five pounds. Sometimes, yes, we harbour ill will toward the women around us who seem more put together, more desired by men. Let me say though, that if your husband flirts with your attractive friend, he is just as much a part of the problem. I’m not bothered by my husband hanging out with beautiful woman (in fact, his job is dominated by women) because I know who he’s coming home to. When I see women check him out on the street or an acquaintance comments on how great he is, I think, “I know. How lucky am I?”

I have loads of beautiful girlfriends. If that sounds like I’m bragging, well, I am. I’ve been really blessed. Blessed because they are also smart, funny, passionate, adventurous, well-read, talented women. They travel the world, they knit colourful hats, they cook delicious meals, they raise fantastic kids, they laugh so hard that they snort, they care about the downtrodden, they play dress-up and aren’t afraid to have their picture taken when they’re being goofy. These are the things that make me want to be their friend. I don’t know if Samantha Brick is any of those things. Maybe. But she didn’t express any of that in her article so all I’m left with is the impression of a woman a little too concerned with the way she looks.

Please understand, I’m not saying women shouldn’t be concerned about their looks. Take care of your body! Enjoy fashion! Experiment with make-up! I’m not going to criticize you for any of that because I like those things too. We’re women – we’re made to be different than men. God made us beautiful! But don’t let your identity stop there. I spent years of my life thinking I needed to be thinner or prettier to have value. Years spent wishing my reflection in the mirror looked a little different. I’m still guilty of looking through my closet and thinking I’d be cooler if I had different clothes. Stop! We are made in God’s image. We are created by the God who brought rhododendrons and lilies, tigers and hawks into being. We are amazing. Not because we look great in skinny jeans or because another woman’s husband smiles at us. Women already have so much to deal with in their lives, let’s not add the hatred of other women to it. Ultimately, that’s what bothers me about Samantha Brick’s article. She pits herself against women and doesn’t seem to want to try and change that.

To all my beautiful friends: Keep being awesome.

Photo taken by my beautiful friend, Suzanne

 

And because it’s always good to be reminded of what God thinks is beautiful:

“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” Proverbs 31:30-31

Thrifting Adventures (American Edition)

I sort of forgot that I had made mention in a previous post that I would share some of our thrift store discoveries made while in Washington. Peter and I are avid thrift shoppers – we can’t get enough of the places. It goes along nicely with the fact that we’re newish university graduates and I work in a creative field (ie: we’re not the wealthiest of folks). We’ve been on holiday in the USA twice together and have had great thrift store experiences both times. In particular, we’re big fans of Goodwill, which we don’t have on our side of the border. We made sure to visit one in Bellingham. That’s where I found these:

Pro-tip: When buying second-hand earrings, clean, clean, clean them with rubbing alcohol before wearing them!

I also came home with this dress:

I love dresses; in the summertime, they are most definitely my favourite type of clothing. I love this one because it’s light and airy but doesn’t reveal thing. Cool summer dresses that I can wear to church are good finds! I’ve already been able to adapt it to spring with a pair of tights and a cardigan.

Peter and I also found a Value Village located conveniently close to our hotel and that’s where we made this score:

ASOLO hiking boots in my size! A little worn but a steal at $15. I’ve been looking for hiking boots for a while but have been reluctant to spend $100+. I lucked out here with someone’s sexist shelving. Peter spotted these boots in the men’s section but since they’re my exact size and they fit perfectly, I’m positive they’re women’s boots. Let our outdoor adventures begin.

At the same Value Village, I found a lovely Pyrex mixing bowl for just a couple of bucks. It’s clear so pictures of it are not really exciting. Just imagine it and imagine me smiling as I paid for it with my new boots.

We also came home with a couple of gifts, jeans for Peter and something that will make my summer way more fun but is currently riding around in the back of our car. Any guesses? It will be undergoing a few minor repairs and then I’ll share it with you all.

In other news…does anybody know how to prevent a friendly cat from leaving you gifts of dead birds? I know the cat means it as a lovely present but I just don’t see it the same way.

Maybe we can't blame him when we allow this to happen.

This has resulted in Peter and I deciding on a very specific division of labour in our marriage – disposing of dead animals is his job. And judging by his reaction to my sliced finger this week, bandaging up our future kids will be mine.

Speaking of cats, check out this site. It is music designed specifically for cats. It was hard to tell if the aforementioned cat liked it but he definitely reacted. If you scroll down on the site you can listen to samples. Thanks CBC Radio 2 for sharing this knowledge with me!