Book Review: While Beauty Slept

indexAh, the classic fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. We all know the story: a beautiful princess is born, after many years of longing, to the delighted King Stefan and Queen Leah. A joyous celebration ensues, where all the good fairies of the land come to bequeath gifts of talent, beauty, and song…until the unwelcome Maleficent appears and spoils all the fun by proclaiming that before sundown on her sixteenth birthday, Princess Aurora will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. The good fairies cannot undo Maleficent’s evil curse, but dial down the danger a bit by stating that Aurora will not die but rather fall into a deep sleep, from which she can only be awakened by true love’s first kiss. Years pass, Aurora pricks her finger, she falls asleep, and eventually Prince Phillip finds her, kisses her, wakes her, and they all live happily ever after. Oh, after he disposes of Maleficent in a rather frightening and unpleasant death scene that is probably too graphic for preschoolers.

Or, at least, that’s what you’ve been told in school and seen in the movies and read on Wikipedia. Well, has anyone ever told you that you can’t believe everything you read? Or that not everything on the internet is true? Or to challenge what you’re taught in school?

In While Beauty Slept, we learn the backstory to one of our most-loved, most well-known fairy tales.

We meet the strong and regal King Ranolf and his beautiful, loving wife Queen Lenore. We learn of the relationship between them and Millicent (the “evil witch” Maleficent), as well as the enigmatic Flora (a conglomeration of Flora, Fauna and Merriweather…but without the round bellies and tiny wings). We are introduced to a wide array of castle characters – knights and ladies-in-waiting and royal stableboys and groomsmen and housekeepers and chambermaids – all through the eyes of Elise Dalriss.

Elise comes to castle life out of great personal loss and suffering. In a world where class is everything and women have nothing, Elise makes a bold decision, holds her ground, and keeps her wits about her to integrate herself into the world of nobility and royalty. As she does, she gains the personal confidence of Queen Lenore and becomes privy to all the castle’s goings-on. She comes under the spell of Millicent, befriends the aging Flora, and mentors the young Princess Rose. We see, through her eyes, the prevalent dysfunction of royal families, the political and social constraints of “true love”, and the very real dangers inherent in “once upon a time” life.

I found myself immersed in this story-behind-the-story. With characters so real they were alternately adorable and infuriating, and a setting so well described I felt a part of the landscape, it was easy to lose myself in Elise’s world. In the end, after the magic was debunked in favor of a more plausible scenario, I felt neither cheated out of my childhood fantasy nor disappointed by the alternative.

With a healthy and unexpected twist at the end, what might have been just another medieval tragic love story became the “happily ever after” that produces the satisfying sigh as the final page is turned.

 

Book Review: The End of Everything

The-End-of-EverythingThe End of the School Year means one thing: trips to the library for some great summertime reads.

The End of Everything means something very similar: a great summertime read.

In this story we are introduced to 13-year-old Lizzie Hood and her best friend Evie Verver, who conveniently happens to live across the street. Lizzie and Evie are inseparable, both at school and at home, and know almost everything about each other. Almost.

But then, tragedy strikes. Somehow, some way, in the flash of a moment, Evie disappears. Just like that, she’s gone. No one knows how. No one knows where. No one knows anything.

Except Lizzie.

Not in the way of an accomplice, but rather in flashes, in moments of remembering. In bits and pieces, like scraps of paper, Lizzie unlocks the clues that can put her world back together again.

Unfortunately for Lizzie, it’s The End of Everything. The end of her familiar, tight bond with Evie. The end of her tenuous relationship with her own family. The end of her anonymity among her peers. The end of her childhood. The end of her innocence.

Written in bold, prosaic style, Megan Abbott navigates the very grown-up world of the English language while maintaining the very childlike perspective of young women on the cusp of self-discovery. Both entertaining and breathtaking, quirky and tragic, this book provides an often overlooked perspective on a difficult subject.

For Lizzie, it was The End of Everything. For me, it’s the Beginning of Another Summer of Great Books.

Music to my Ears

God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.

-Mark Batterson, Wild Goose Chase

Eighteen years ago, God called me out of my elementary school classroom and into my very own piano studio. Though I had no idea what I was doing, or how to do it, I saddled up that Wild Goose and hopped on for the ride of my life. Very green and at times very overwhelmed, sometimes fumbling along and sometimes knocking it out of the park, I forged my way into a path that I could never have predicted would be laid out for me.

As with any choice, there were those who mocked me. Those who said I wasn’t qualified and not very good. Those who looked down their noses and held me at arms’ length and lamented the fact that “Wal-Mart teachers” like me were undermining the profession, muddying the waters, and diluting the pedagogical excellence that piano study requires.

But God continued to affirm and reaffirm His plan for Piano by DESign, and by faith I continued to follow. And what happened today was not just an affirmation but a great big bear hug of reassurance and pride from my Abba, my Daddy.

Cue backstory swoosh.

Several years ago, I started teaching a delightful young woman. Her mother had been teaching her for a few years, covering the basics and teaching her the fundamentals of music theory and piano performance. She was a piano teacher’s dream: that perfect blend of love for music coupled with solid discipline to practice and a cheerful attitude at lessons. For four or five years, I worked to nurture that love, that passion, while offering corrective steps in artistry and skill. She quickly progressed out of the methods I was most familiar with and offered a professional challenge as I sought just the right materials to use with her, finally settling on a combination of classical repertoire and lyrical sacred music.

At some point, however, I recognized the need for her to “graduate” from my program into one that could better equip her to reach her goals and fulfill her dreams of studying piano in college. After honestly and openly discussing this with her parents, I encouraged them to begin the process of selecting a new teacher and assured them of my commitment to doing my best to prepare her for the transfer. But I wondered, would I be considered one of those “Wal-Mart teachers” by her new instructor? Was I equipped enough to adequately equip her?

End backstory swoosh.

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Respectfully, I disagree…

Oh, the internet. *sigh*  Oh, social media. *double sigh* Sometimes I love you and sometimes…well…you make me just a little crazy. Okay, a little crazier. Sometimes that’s a good thing: causing me to think deeply about what I believe and why, challenging my notions about life and health and parenting and marriage, and getting me to consider issues from different points of view. But sometimes…sometimes you make me tired. Like a whiny, demanding child. You beat me down and make me sad and wish I’d never read that article (or the comments), clicked on that link, or scrolled through that news feed.

So much negativity.

So many put-downs.

So much misunderstanding.

So much insulting.

So much shouting.

And not nearly enough listening.

Recent events have only served to heighten this insanity. And I, for one, have had enough. So since this is my blog and I can rant if I want to, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. In a very civilized manner, of course. I am a grown-up, after all. And if you choose to comment or engage in dialog, I would ask that you do the same. Because, really, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…er, crazy.

Without going into too much detail, I’ll simply say this: I am NOT a hater. Please stop calling me – and those like me – that. You have no idea what that does to my spirit. What’s more, I believe it’s possible to disagree with someone and STILL LOVE THEM. Crazy, I know. But still, true.

You see, I love my husband. I love him with all my heart. He is, truly, my best friend, my closest confidante, my greatest ally. But sometimes, I disagree with him and the choices he makes. Not just about what tv show we should watch or where to go for dinner, but real stuff. Important stuff. Stuff that matters. There are times when I adamantly believe he is flat-out wrong.  When that happens, I’ll tell him so. I’ll share with him my beliefs and my perspectives, and provide a reasoning for my position. But I don’t stop loving him just because I disagree with his choice. I will still walk through life with him. I will still cry on his shoulder and let him cry on mine. I will still hold him when he’s feeling sad our discouraged and celebrate with him when the blessings rain down. I will still laugh at his jokes…okay, maybe that’s going a bit too far.

I realize this is a simplistic example of a complex issue, but I implore you, oh friends of the internet, to please consider that there may be someone just like me who loves you very much but simply does not agree with your choice or decision. I will still share in your joys and sorrows, I will still celebrate the good and commiserate the bad.

Who knows? I might even laugh at your jokes.

 

Truth at the Kitchen Table

Tonight was our monthly Life Group date night: an enjoyable evening of grown-up conversation where all the boys sat on one end of the table and all the girls at the other and enjoyed delicious barbecue and the best peach cobbler this side of the swollen Trinity River. I’m still pondering how that qualifies as a “date” but whatever. The food was great, and peach cobbler makes me happy.

Over brisket and potato salad, we laughed and swapped stories and generally caught up with each other’s lives in this chaotic, swirling rhythm known as “parenting”. And then this happened – one homsechooling mom’s confession of the reality of homeschooling life – paraphrased, of course:

My daughter struggles so much with math. And I realized that I had fallen into a habit of sending her off to do her work by herself while I busied myself with all the other things I had to do. This rarely ended well, as she would get frustrated and then would start the yelling and crying and hitting…and it was a mess.

So I decided to try something different, because obviously what I was doing was NOT. WORKING. For the past week or so, I’ve been intentional about sitting with her while she does her math work. I’m not teaching, I’m not coaching, I’m not correcting. I’m just sitting. Right there, beside her. To let her know she has my attention. To let her know I’m available.

But I get distracted really easily, and I’ve caught myself daydreaming while I’m right there. And suddenly, I notice she’s crumpled up into a ball of tears and I wonder WHY??? Why are you so discouraged? Why are you so frustrated? Why are you trying so hard to do this on your own? Didn’t you know I’m right here beside you? I have all the resources of my knowledge and skill to help you with your struggles.  I was just waiting to give them to you! All you had to do was ask me.

It was as if God Himself had spoken those words right to my soul. I looked at my friend and said, “There’s deep spiritual truth there.”

Deep. Spiritual. Truth.

You see, I struggle with stuff, too. I struggle with insecurity and never quite feeling good enough. I struggle with my self-image and wondering if what God created is truly “beautiful.” I struggle with anger and impatience toward those I love as well as complete strangers…most of whom drive along Highway 5. I struggle with wandering thoughts and laziness and deliberate disobedience. And so I go off to fix it…to solve my problems. Because, really, after all these years of life experience, I should know better and do better.

But I can’t. I can’t fix these things. I can’t stop being insecure. I can’t look at myself in the mirror every day and honestly believe I’m beautiful. I can’t always stop those unkind and harsh words from slipping out, especially when I’m forced to drive 35 mph down Highway 5. I’m more often unsuccessful at “taking every thought captive” or working “with all my might” or saying “yes” to God when I really want to say “no.” And so I become frustrated. Discouraged. Crumpled up into a ball of tears.

And right there, next to me, sits my loving Heavenly Father. Waiting. Patiently.

If I’m still, I can hear Him say, WHY??? Why are you so discouraged? Why are you so frustrated? Why are you trying so hard to do this on your own? Didn’t you know I’m right here beside you? I have all the resources of My being and character to help you with your struggles.  I was  just waiting to give them to you! All you had to do was ask Me.

The Bible study I’m currently doing dives into the relationship between living in the flesh (our own strength, our own bright ideas, our own natural tendencies) and living in the Spirit (God’s strength, God’s wisdom, God’s character). As I prepared for my meeting this week, these words jumped off the page and into the scenario I had just experienced over a warm and crunchy bowl of melt-in-your-mouth-delicious peach cobbler:

Like the original humans, you will choose moment by moment whether to lean into Jesus or trust your flesh. You will decide whether or not you will live in an altar’d state. But knowing how close Jesus is – in all His power and His readiness to step in and take over every burden or situation – will change the minutes of your days. (Altar’d by Jennifer Kennedy Dean, p. 51, emphasis mine)

Dry those tears. Uncrumple yourself. And look to the One who has the answers, the strength, the victory to overcome any problem. Even fifth-grade math.

 

Super Summer Suppers: Grilled Ginger-glazed Salmon with Cucumber-Lime Sauce

Oh. My. Goodness.

I’m wiping drool off the keyboard as I write this. Seriously. That. Good.

Matt and I journeyed back to the Beach after a 30-lb. hiatus. Now that I have time to cook again, and I don’t have to be around any other people while I de-carb my body for two weeks, we figured it was a good time to dive back in. I dug out my newly-arrived Taste of Home magazine – which I have found terribly disappointing this time around – and figured I’d give it the old college try. Come to think of it, I never had salmon in college. I didn’t even like salmon in college. So I just gave it the old try.

This was my first attempt at making any kind of sauce using cucumber. I’m not sure if I got it completely right, but the moment that cool, spicy sauce with the sizzling hot salmon introduced itself to my taste buds is a moment I will cherish forever. I’m getting all dreamy just thinking about it. *sigh* My husband and I kept looking at each other and reapeating, “This sauce is REALLY good.” “No. Really. This sauce is REALLY good.” as we inhaled another bite. Our children weren’t as convinced, but they loved the salmon so it ended up being a win-win all the way around. Except for the poor salmon.

Cucumber-Lime sauce:

1 T grated lime peel (I used lemon)

1/4 C lime juice

2 T olive oil

2 T rice vinegar or white wine vinegar

4 t sugar (I used Splenda)

1/2 t salt

1/2 t ground coriander

1/2 t freshly ground pepper

1/3 c chopped fresh cilantro

1 T finely chopped onion (I used minced onion)

2 t minced fresh gingerroot (I used regular ground ginger)

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped

Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor. Cover and process until pureed; refrigerate until serving. Or just grab a spoon and start eating.

Ginger-glazed Grilled Salmon:

1/3 c minced fresh gingerroot (I used regular ground ginger)

1 T lime juice

1 T olive oil

1/2 t salt

1/4 t freshly ground pepper

10 salmon fillets (6 oz. each)

In a small bowl, mix ginger, lime juice, oil, salt and pepper. Rub over flesh side of salmon fillets.

Moisten a paper towel with cooking oil; using long-handled tongs, rub on grill rack to coat lightly. Place salmon on grill rack, skin side down. Grill, covered, over medium-high heat 10-12 minutes or until fish just begins to flake with a fork. Serve with cucumber-lime sauce.

Nutrition information:

Calories: 327

Fat: 20 g (4 g saturated fat)

Cholesterol: 85 mg

Sodium: 372 mg

Carbohydrates: 7 g

Fiber: 1 g

Protein: 29 g

Diabetic exchanges: 4 lean meat, 1 1/2 fat, 1/2 starch

 

 

 

 

 

A Letter to My Son: 15 Things I Want You to Know on Your 15th Birthday

Dear Trey,

Today, you turn 15. As I write this, you’re not *quite* 15 yet, although you were hard at work to make your grand appearance. To think that 15 years have passed since that unforgettable day – that day when my whole world changed, when my dreams became reality, when suddenly everything I’d ever wanted was snugly wrapped in a soft white blanket and placed in my arms – doesn’t seem possible. But I look at you – now taller than me – and I know it is not only possible, but reality.

To think that you’re 15 kind of blows my mind. And yes, it freaks me out a little, too, though probably not for the reasons you think. I’m less freaked out about you getting your learner’s permit than I am about the fact that you are only three years away from adulthood. I’m less freaked out about you being old enough to hold down a “real” job than I am about the knowledge that you are closer to living under your own roof than under mine. I’m less freaked out about you being taller than me than I am about the realization that pretty soon my voice will no longer carry the weight it once did, that other, more important voices will be the ones demanding your attention and guiding your decisions.

And so, while I still have even the slightest bit of influence over you, while you still reside under my roof and are compelled to listen to my voice, I want to write this letter to you. Because these are the things I want you to know. Because these are the things I wish and dream and hope and pray for you. Because these are the things you need to carry with you. Because, no matter how old you get, these are the things that will always – always – be true.

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Tender Hearts, Leaky Eyes, and Calloused Knees

Moms-in-Prayer-Logo

As a mom, I work hard to care for my children.  I do my best to ensure that they eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.  I encourage them to exercise regularly, through fun activities they enjoy.  I buy them clothes and shoes and school supplies.  I help them with their homework and participate in their school events.  I take them to interesting places, both local and far away, to learn about our world, to discover the beauty of art, and experience different cultures.

But far and away, the greatest thing I can do for my children is something they aren’t even aware of.  I pray for them.

Once a week, or sometimes every other week, I gather with other moms to pray for our children, their schools, and their teachers.  For a solid hour, we commit our children to the very God who created them, praying His words and His truth over them.  Over the course of a school year, we pray for every single staff member – including administration and support staff – by name.  We pray for school events and school teams and the PTO.  We pray for our volunteers and for sick children and for the school board.  We pray for bond elections and school board elections and zoning changes.  We pray…because it matters.

At the beginning of each school year, whenever possible we arrange a prayer walk around our children’s schools.  This year, I had the privilege of prayerwalking two schools for the very first time.  Though our groups were small in number – only four of us at each location –  the effect was mighty and powerful.  Though the methods were vastly different, the results were undeniably the same.

I’ll share specific details below the fold, details of what prayerwalking is, how to structure a prayer walk for your child’s school, and suggestions of prayer items and topics.  But before I do, let me urge my fellow moms: get involved.  Find a group and plug in.  Don’t let fear of praying out loud stop you from coming.  There is no better way to care for your children than to pray for them.  Your eyes may leak, your knees may grow calloused (literally or metaphorically), but I promise, you will look at your children differently.  You will be changed.  And so will your children.

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Lessons from a Funny Man

Today, the world was stunned by the sudden passing of Robin Williams.  A true original, his career was as unique as he.  From stand-up comedian to TV star to Academy-Award winning movie star to voice-over talent, his career spanned decades – and generations – creating timeless characters that made us laugh, made us cry, made us laugh until we cried, made us connect with our inner child, and above all made us think.  Because hidden inside his zany, crazy, manic humorous schtick, there was truth.  There was love overcoming hatred; there was beauty amid devastation; there was joy amid sorrow; there was triumph amid loss; there was a search for meaning, for purpose amid chaos and confusion.

Over the next several months, we’re going to hear celebrity after celebrity, person after person sharing stories and honoring “a great man.”  I never had the opportunity to know him personally, so I can’t speak to his greatness as a human being.  But I do know the characters he created, their enduring personalities, and the lessons I learned from them.  Lessons that provide great insight into this journey of life.  I’m sure many of us could share our own, but these are the ones that have stuck with me.

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Book Review: Teaching Kids Authentic Worship

teaching kids authentic worshipI know, I know.  Another non-fiction book in a span of just a couple weeks.  You’re probably wondering who are you and what have you done with my Debily?  But I promise, this is only small diversion.  Every once in awhile I *have* to read a work-related or ministry-related book.  I’ll get back to my regularly-scheduled brain candy shortly.

This book was loaned to me by my ministry “boss”, our children’s pastor.  Knowing that my passion is children’s worship, he didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that this would probably be a good book for me to read.  But since I don’t read nonfiction, it sat on my nightstand for several days weeks months years.  So long, in fact, that there are multiple – MULTIPLE – hot chocolate rings on the cover where I used it as a coaster during chilly winter nights. Yeah, I know.  Oops.

I won’t bore you with details, but the time finally came to dust off the cover, dive in and plow through.  And in the end, it was a little bit pat-myself-on-the-back and a little bit facepalm.  To be honest, it was actually a lot of both, but I don’t want to brag.

So for the pat-on-the-back bit, I’ll travel back in time 5 years, to the spring of 2009.  I had been asked by our elementary director to “come up with a little talk for the kids about worship.  You know, what it is and why we do it and why it’s important.”  Because apparently they just weren’t “getting it” – they were disengaged, half-heartedly participating, missing the blessing that comes with full-on worship of our great and amazing God.  Sure, I agreed.  No problem.  Piece of cake.  I mean, it’s what I do.  It’s part of my DNA.  It’s in my blood, man.  Except there was one slight problem: even up to the morning of “the talk”, I had no earthly idea what to say.  Or how to say it.  I’d been praying.  I’d been thinking.  I’d been asking God to show me, give me the words.  But every time I sat down to put pen to paper (or, more realistically, fingers to keyboard), the result was theological gobbledy-gook.  Definitely not the kind of material that would inspire children to engage in worship.  In fact, it was the kind of material that would disengage them further, or put them to sleep.  Neither outcome was particularly desirable.  As He often does, however, God waited until I was in the shower – sort of a “captive audience” kind of thing – to reveal a powerful message about worship, in a way that would be meaningful and relevant to children.  In a nutshell, it was this:

Worship doesn’t begin with “W”.  Worship begins with “A”:

Audience: We worship an audience of One.  True worship is focused on God and God alone.

Attitude: Worship is an attitude of surrender, of yielding myself to God’s word and God’s ways.

Actions:  Worship engages the whole person: our mind, emotions, and physical bodies.  God created us to worship Him with all that we are.

Pretty awesome, huh?  Now,  I will describe the content of this book in three easy sections.  Section 1: The Who of Worship.  Section 2: The How of Worship.  Section 3: The Why of Worship.  In other words: Audience.  Attitude.  Actions.  In other words:  I nailed it.  Or, rather, God nailed it into my brain, but I listened pretty well.  That, my friends, was the pat-on-the-back moment.

That was also the facepalm moment.  As in: I could have written this book.  *smack*  As in: I should have written this book.  As in:  it’s too late.  It’s already been written.  And now, blogged.

Regardless of who wrote the material, and who copyrighted the material, and who thought of it first, it’s great material.  Spot-on.  Biblically sound and absolutely necessary.  Inspiring for those of us who work regularly with children and desire to see them worship their God with passion and focus.

Ultimately, that’s the important thing.  And really, the only thing that matters.

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