Monday, July 28, 2008

An Open Palm

Back at a college bible study (Prepare, for those of you familiar with it), my mentor Karen gave a visual about how we are to hold our dreams and desires. She held out an object on the palm of her hand, fingers flared. She said that we are to hold our dreams, desires, blessings, trials, really everything in our lives with an open hand. Many times we want to close our hand around whatever God has given us so that no one can take it away, not even our Heavenly Father. But God put it in our hands to enjoy, and we must remember that it is His. We must be willing to give it up if He asks it of us.

I've recently had to open up my fist and release a longtime dream to the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Like most Americans, I suffer from entitlement-itis. I see it as my inalienable rights to be married, have kids, have a career, and own a home. Ah, yes, the "American Dream" where everyone lives in a modest rambler with a big yard and we're all successfully employed with 2.5 kids and a dog (or a cat for cat-people). We, as Americans, have a right to this dream. To misquote the Vulcan salute, "Work hard and prosper." And I was this close (imagine me pinching my fingers together) to having the American Dream plopped right in my lap. But I didn't marry him. Instead I married the man God had for me; I married adventure! And the best part about Mr. Adventure is that he holds his whole life with an open hand. I'm sure sometimes he would also long to "just settle down" and have a "normal life" with a "normal job" but we both know that God has different things in store for us and our family. He's even had to check me on occasion when I get moody and ask him when we're going to move out of the city. Will we move out of the city?! I hate the city! In my heart I know his kind, gentle, but reproachful answer: "I'm not going to answer that, Brenda, because I don't know. Right now, it is God's will for us to be in the city, and so that is where we are going to be." In other words, "you'd better bring this up with God because this is a heart issue for you." In other words, "SUCK IT UP, WOMAN!" (He would never say that; that's just a paraphrase... :-)

Most of all, I wanted a house. I saw all my friends with houses and my neighbors with houses and strangers with houses...mailmen with houses, truckers with houses, nurses with houses, dogs with houses, houses with houses. And I knew my house was coming! MAYBE SOON! Next year, 2 years? When, God, when?! Afterall, it's my right. And jealousy began to take root in my heart. I'd walk our daughter in the stroller along Minnehaha Creek and look at all the mansions. I could see families inside playing, eating, talking. When, God, when? What makes them more deserving than me?

At last today I was able to pray what I've been needing to pray for years. I repented of my envy and released my dream of a house from a clenched fist. I'm feeling what Paul says to the Philippians about being content in whatever situation you find yourself. I'm feeling what my husband says about experiencing contentment by knowing you're in the middle of God's will. I am content with renting. Maybe that seems petty. But any closed fists in our faith feeds rebellion and spoils the heart. It's an idol, pure and simple, no matter how petty.

I am EXCITED for this new freedom. By releasing this dream, I've allowed God to open up possibilities for our lives that would have been difficult if not impossible to navigate while bogged down with a mortgage. We are free to circumvent the globe at a moment's notice! (Well, maybe more than a moment, Abi still needs a passport!) We are free to pack up, pick up, and ship out. Praise God.

Here's a poem I wrote in college. It's pretty rough (my poet friends, please don't be too critical) but it shows how I gave up the American Dream (and my own romantic idea of a yard with a tire swing in it) to live the God Adventure. I hope you'll all join me :-)

The Dream of a Tire Swing
Copyright 2004 by Brenda J. Westerbur

In my graveyard of retired dreams hangs a tired-out tire swing
Amongst the buried, the abandoned, and the unremembered, pendulates this humble thing
Fastened feebly to its oak
With no tangible life ahead
With a slipknot slipped and a rotten rope
Only haunted by the life I’d led
With my dream of a tire swing

In my hunger and my determined denial, I felt I felt the wind
The falsehood of flight, a stagnant adventure, I flew willingly pinned
Rooted to one thrill
Yet finding no fault
Its reputation to fulfill
How easy to exalt
To stealing the dream of a tire swing

But the wind in my hair blew empty and sallow
The swing as it promised was honorably hollow
It lacked the means to carry me
The distance I was destined to fly
The Caller called me, his refugee,
“To be effective, the swing must die.”
So I burned my dream of a tire swing

I can see far past the horizon, with no destination in sight
And though I’m unsure where to land, I’m not afraid of the flight
The graveyard a scrapbook beneath me
My dreams laid to rest buried inside
My thoughts infer I feel curiously free
To find if I never returned, I could be satisfied
To a life without a tire swing

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Abi update: 11 Cutiest Stories About The Cuteness

Abigail is 11 1/2 months old now (first birthday is just around the corner!!) and so I thought I'd post a few of my favorite Abi stories.

1. We play hide and seek in the apartment. I will hide in one of the rooms with some body part sticking out (like a hand or a foot) and she will crawl around until she finds me. As soon as she sees me she lets out a huge squeal of glee!

2. We've started using sign language for some of Abi's routines and I didn't know if any of it was getting through until this morning. I had been flipping my hands when I say "all done" to try to associate those words with the hand motions. Today at breakfast we were mostly through her banana oatmeal when she became harder to feed. Then she looked up at me and started squeezing her both her hands together (like both hands were saying "bye-bye"). I said to Jon, "What is she doing - wait! oh! She's saying 'all done!'" She was as excited as I was! I took her oatmeal away and she squealed as I took her out of her high chair :)

3. Abi loves the beach, the pool, the tub...she loves water! She has discovered splashing and almost always objects when we have to leave. Yes, she whimpers even when I take her out of the tub! Glad we live in the land of 10,000 lakes!

4. I had the TV on in the background one day and a commercial came on saying, "Say good-bye to unwanted soap scum!" And Abigail looked up from her toys and started waving at the TV! Bye-bye soap scum!

5. We went to Idaho over the Fourth of July to visit Abi's great-grandparents. After seeing all their pictures on the wall, we discovered that Abi had inherited great-grandma Nini's bright blue eyes. (not just any blue eyes, but heart-breaker baby blues!) Abi gets them from her dad, who got them from his mom, who got them from her mom. Great-Grandpa Miller says he married those blue eyes 54 years ago :-)

6. Abi gives big hugs around our necks and will sometimes even try to kiss us all over our faces with her big open mouth. She's so affectionate!

7. When Isaiah came over in early April, I was convinced that he gave Abi the unction to crawl. Well, after spending the last few days with Malachi and Zach Harpel, she's been getting into a standing position from squatting. She didn't like being left in the dust by them! You could see her envious eyes follow their running and walking. It probably won't be long now until she braves her first step!

8. One of Abi's favorite play things are the shoes in the front entry way. She'll follow daddy to the door as he leaves for work and then she'll just stay there and play with the shoes for a half hour or so. She also has started unrolling the toilet paper and emptying Kleenex boxes in her spare time. I love this picture of her with the toilet paper. It's like she's saying, "sorry, mom..."

9. When Abi gets excited she crinkles up her nose and face and starts breathing really loudly through her nose. I think she does it on purpose because it makes us laugh so much :-) The little comedian! (Here's a picture of her with the crinkle face...)

10. Every morning after breakfast Abi will greet whichever parent is still sleeping by crawling to our bedroom, pushing open the door, and squealing when she spies their foot, arm or face hanging over the bed. It's a joyful way to wake up!

11. One day as Abi was playing quietly in her room, she started to cry, so I went in to investigate. I saw her trying to pull her purple Care Bear (her favorite toy of all time) out of her crib. But the head was too big to fit through the slats and it frustrated her that she couldn't play with him! It was a very heart-melting moment.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Question of My Philosophy of Education

Left: My first day of Kindergarten.
Above: My graduation from High School.

On a recent job application, I was asked for my personal Christian philosophy of education and how I would implement it in the classroom. After a lot of prayer, this was the answer I came up with. I'd love to hear your input!

When asked about my philosophy on any subject my instinct is to turn to Scripture and ask God to help me to seek out His answer. I have found that there is a lot said about attaining knowledge, but that it is only a part of what God would expect His children to learn. First of all, acquiring knowledge is highly encouraged; Proverbs 25:1 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” There are so many new discoveries in the scientific fields that should bring us to our knees in awe of the creation of God, but instead man has taken the glory. Knowledge and instruction should be cherished more than gold or silver (Proverbs 8:10). However, knowledge is not the most important thing. Proverbs 8:12 tells us that knowledge is part of wisdom along with prudence and discretion. The biggest command to parents in teaching their children is to teach them the commands of the Lord and to impress those on the hearts of our children (Deut 6:6-7). Peter also tells us that which we should “make every effort to learn:” goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. Knowledge is only one part of that list. It seems God is saying the most important part of education is training one’s character in all things moral and virtuous. I think many in our culture today have forgotten that molding a child’s character is more important than molding their mind. This leads to a corrupt heart, the inability to discern right from wrong, and insecurity in life. Paul warns Timothy against the acquisition of the world’s knowledge. He says, “Turn away from…the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.” 1 Tim 6:20-21.

As for implementing these beliefs in the classroom, especially a science/history classroom, my first thought is to give glory where glory is due. I have such a passion for praising God in His creation and the way He designed chemistry, physics, anatomy, biology, geology, astronomy and so forth. Science does not explain away God; it merely proves the intricate ways in which God designed our universe to interact. Also, as a teacher, I have so many opportunities to teach moral decisions in the course of academic study. Even while giving a tutoring lesson this past spring, my student confessed to me that she was cheating on tests during school. Together we were able to discuss a course of action for her to confess this to her mom and pray during her times of temptation. Working in groups with peers provides many opportunities for children to practice and improve selfless behavior, wise decisions, and other character issues. As a teacher it is my job to see those and encourage those in the midst of the academic lesson.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Celebrating the Cotton Year

Jon and I celebrated our 2nd Anniversary last Wednesday, which traditionally means the year of a gift of "cotton." Well, the closest we got to that was maybe the "high-quality white cotton duvets" advertised by the graves|601 hotel where we stayed for the weekend. You might recall a certain contest I won last fall which gave me quite a few complementary tickets and such around the metro area. Well, the big kahuna of those winnings was a 2-night weekend stay in the executive suite at the luxurious graves|601 hotel located in downtown Minneapolis across from the Target Center. We decided to reserve our weekend for our anniversary :-) Abigail stayed with my aunt Friday night and with Jon's mom Saturday night so we even had the weekend baby-free! (which was a lot harder than I thought it would be! Every time I saw a baby, my heart ached for Abi!) We decided to play tourist in our own hometown and see the sights as it were! We even got a few of your typical "tourist" shots!

Here's our room on the 20th floor, complete with 42" plasma flat screen TV!

After walking up and down Nicollet Mall trying to find somewhere to eat, we eventually made our way back to the hotel and ate next door at the Fogo de Chao: a Brazilian Steak House. It was basically an unending buffet of meat! The chefs came by our table with a huge slab of sirloin or pork or filet mignon or lamb etc on a sword and they cut off a hunk for us! And they just kept coming and coming until you're so full of meat you could burst! Good thing I wore a stretchy dress!

We even got a dessert on the house because it was our anniversary!

The view from our room

Breakfast at Key's Cafe

We visited the gnomes in front of one of the government buildings.

The Atlas gnome is so strong...and SO AM I!!!

Takin' a break...

WOW! Look up there! What a big building! Gosh darn!

From the observation deck at the Mill City Museum (which I had free passes for. We didn't pay for much this weekend - well, except for the parade of meat). Minneapolis was once known as the milling capital of the world! This particular mill burned in a fire in 1993.

In front of a dandelion fountain at Loring Park

Then onto something completely crazy! The Walker Art Center was having its Art Inside Out exhibit. Artists from around the globe designed holes for a Mini-Golf Course. I think there was a theme this year of "Saving the Planet" or "Going Green" or something because everything was like, "the whales are awesome!" and "I go dumpster diving to help the sea turtles!" Anyway, we went to this back in 2004 on the day we got engaged :-) It was a nice way to celebrate our anniversary! On this hole here, Jon is pedaling an exercise bike to make his golf ball go where he wants in the penny arcade course.

I'm not doin so hot...

Lookit them skyscrapers! SHUCKS! We don't see them down in podunk South Minneapolis!

We finished the weekend with a bottle of Strawberry wine which we imported back from Italy on our honeymoon. We couldn't drink it last year because I was pregnant, so we opened it up for our 2nd Anniversary. We'll just have to go back and get more!!

It was a marvelous weekend to just enjoy each other. We only teared up once on the lightrail when we saw a baby Abi's age cooing and babbling. If you're married with kids it's important to remember to take some time to just be MARRIED. Jon and I couldn't believe how much we did in one weekend because we didn't have to work around naptimes, fevers, and early bedtimes. Keep the spark alive because the best thing you can do for your kids is maintain a healthy marriage :-)