Friday, May 13, 2016

Book Review: The End of Law

I was first introduced to the Holocaust as a ten-year-old when I was given a comic book version of The Hiding Place. Fascinated by the story of Corrie Ten Boom, I had both read the full version of The Hiding Place and seen the movie within a few years of that introduction.

As a teenager and adult, I went on to read other biographical and fiction narratives of World War II events, but all of them were from the perspective of the “good guys.” I read stories from the Warsaw ghetto, tales of many (Germans included) who helped fight against the Nazi regime from within and without, and narratives of both survivors and victims. Only occasionally did I truly delve into the darkness that was the Nazi regime itself.

That darkness, however, comprises the full scope of my most recent review novel, The End of Law. Written by Therese Down, this intense novel does not read like a work of fiction. Instead, it feels more like what a stenographer would produce when trying to incorporate real-life stories into her reproduction of notes from top-secret meetings.

I do not say that as a negative assessment of The End of Law. In fact, I believe that presentation, while not as engaging as a more dramatic novel, made this story bearable from an emotional perspective. The End of Law reflects the pure evil behind the Nazi exploration for increasingly effective and efficient methods of mass extermination. It is hard to recommend that anyone read such darkness. Yet, we need the reminder that history repeats itself. This book clearly demonstrates how quickly a disregard for human life descends into pure horror. And the sad truth is that our own nation is one in which human life is not honored.

While the “Judische problem” is mentioned in The End of Law, the story actually focuses more on the elimination of other undesirables, especially terminally ill or impaired children. The Nazis were intent on ridding their society of these “drains” upon their resources, as well as those who marred the purity of the Aryan race. Yet, they knew that the ordinary citizen would not understand the need for extermination of innocent children, regardless their handicaps. Secret meetings of top-level Nazi party members sealed the fate of hundreds of children, quietly murdered by those who were supposed to be offering them care and treatment.

This is the world explored by Therese Down in The End of Law. This is the horror captured within these pages. A dark, hard reality that we hate to delve into yet cannot afford to ignore. This evil exists.

So, do I recommend The End of Law? As hard as it may be to read, yes, I do recommend it. Fiction though it may be, it paints a real picture and stands as a reminder to us that man is capable of pure evil - and a reminder of what we will face if we choose to stand against it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Stand Up!

Several months ago, we discussed the idea of our spouses being competent - and how our belief in that competence should impact our actions, including publicly supporting our spouses rather than declaring their weaknesses. But recently, my thoughts pressed the public support concept a little further.

How often do we actively stand up for our spouses?

I want you to think about your spouse for a moment. In what ways do your personalities differ? Your interests? Your perspectives? When each of you view the world, what colors your lenses differently?

Next question: How do you respond publicly to those differences?

My husband and I differ in many ways. I need lots of sleep. My husband needs less. We’re both introverts, but I crave social interaction (as long as I get a recovery break later!) much more than he does. He is decisive, grasping what looks best right now and dealing with the consequences as they come. I want to ponder through every possible scenario before I make a decision. He is an idea person. I am an implementer. He is energized by constantly changing or updating the plan. I am energized by bringing a decided-upon plan to completion.

I could go on and on and on. And, in all honesty, there are times when I just don’t understand his way of thinking. It is foreign to me. My brain doesn’t work that way. My actions cannot be shaped that way. Although there are many ways our differences complement one another in the long run, we have to get through the immediate, contradictory implications long before we can get to the point of complementing one another. And in this in-between period of time, it would be easy for both of us to find great ways to “tease” one another about our differences.

That attitude of teasing is second-nature in this culture. We are entertained by it, and it flows naturally into our conversations. It’s much easier to tease than to praise. But, what if we were to break away from that natural response and actively stand up for our spouses instead? Not just reactively or occasionally, but proactively and boldly.

I’m married to an absolutely amazing man. He is brilliant in so many ways. He is funny. He is observant. He can problem-solve in ways that blow my mind. He has ideas that seem to come from nowhere. He often introduces and implements strategies in life and ministry years before “experts” make those strategies popular.

He also loves me fiercely. He encourages me. He pushes me to be better. And, amazingly, he is proud of even the parts of me he doesn’t “get.” He opens my eyes to things I never would have contemplated, much less pursued, without his perspective.

As I contemplate those praises of my husband, I realize how rarely I shout them in public. Oh, I have long striven to not criticize him publicly. And, when someone makes a comment like, “How do you survive living with him all the time?” I enjoy responding with, “Oh, I love it!”

But, to proactively praise him? That comes more rarely. And I want that to change.

My friends, it is so easy for us to demean others - intentionally or unintentionally - by “teasing” about differences. Let’s instead go out of our way to praise the God-given characteristics of others, especially those that differ from us the most.

And let’s start with our spouses. After all, they’re probably the most amazing people we know!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Just Write

Remember the old Nike “Just Do It!” slogan? That’s how I’m feeling today. “Just write it, Ann!”

But what do I write?

I don’t care…just write. Every day.

It’s one of those disciplines. I’d say it’s like exercising, because I want the results of working those writing muscles just like I want the results of working the physical muscles.

But really, it’s more like practicing an instrument. You always know how to do it, but you get rusty when you don’t do it daily. And you miss its impact on your life. The calming influence it has. The connection it provides with your Creator.

Do you get what I mean?

When I was growing up, I could always tell when my dad had not had a chance to build something. He loves to work with wood. It’s his outlet. And when he goes a while without the chance to create something with his hands, it shows. His creativity, energy, and joy all wane.

I see the same with my husband and teaching. If he gets so buried in the administrative side of pastoring that he doesn’t have a chance to truly teach – an interactive type of teaching – his joy in ministry fades. He also enjoys writing and gets discouraged when he doesn’t have the opportunity to write. Then there’s cooking. And oh, is he ever good at cooking. He’s not the only one who misses it when he doesn’t have the chance to cook! 

If my oldest doesn’t get to play the piano or write, it shows.

If my middle child doesn’t get to draw, sew, or do needlework in some shape form or fashion, it shows.

If my youngest doesn’t get to create from paper or Legos or some other medium, it shows.

All of these things require regular practice to maintain – and progress – in the skills. But, they also provide a sort of natural therapy. They are an avenue of connection with the Creator who gave us these skills and desires. And I can’t help but think that we are disobedient if we don’t utilize and hone these skills while also embracing the doors they open in our hearts.

Yet how often do we consider ourselves selfish for setting aside the time to daily practice? We forget that through them we are actually connecting with our Creator, refreshing ourselves,  strengthening our talents, and equipping ourselves to truly minister.

What do you need to buckle down and do today?

Monday, September 28, 2015

My Way is Okay

I believe I’ve mentioned once or twice that I am a tiny bit OCD. I have never been extreme, but I do like the bed to be made a certain way. I like the dishwasher to be organized to maximize efficiency. I like pictures to be straight on the walls, cans to be lined up in the cabinets (although they don’t have to all have the labels facing the same direction), and some symmetry to exist in furniture placement.

My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t even notice many of these things. He is so observant when it comes to the needs of others. He can pick up on gaps in information or read between the lines in ways my brain cannot even begin to process. But, a wrinkle in the bedspread, towels or clothes folded in haphazards manners, or a streak on the windshield does not even merit a second glance.

I decided long ago that my OCD needed to take a chill pill, and I needed to be okay with the imperfections that might typically drive me nuts. It is really okay. Really, really.

But, I missed one important fact when I decided to reign in my perfectionism. I forgot that God made me that way. I forgot that it is part of who I am. And I forgot that it is not all bad. I allowed myself to feel embarrassed because I do like things to be just so. And I would try my hardest to ignore things instead of fixing them.

Getting over my obsessions is a good thing, especially if it means that my husband does not feel constantly criticized because he doesn’t do things “my way.” But, if I stifle who God created me to be, there is no way I can truly walk in the Spirit, exhibiting His fruit in my life, and allowing Him to use me to the fullest.

And I also cannot be the wife He created me to be.

Now, let’s turn this around a little bit and consider our spouses. Who has God made them to be? What are their natural tendencies? What do we stifle in their personalities by simply making their way of doing things seem inferior to ours? How often do we complain instead of rejoicing over the fact that they see the world a little differently?

Better yet, let’s consider this: How can we encourage our spouses today to be who God made them to be? How can we express ourselves and our own personality quirks without demeaning our spouses? How can we both bend a little to come together even in our differences? And, most importantly, how can we use our differences to work together for the glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

We are different by design. But, God created us to be compatible in our differences. He did not join us together with our spouses with the idea of one personality changing to be like the other. He intended for us to meld our unique characteristics into one new creature.

And that, my friends, is why my way really is okay. And so is his.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Paying Attention to the Hordes

Not too long ago, I awoke to legs that itched horribly. They were covered in more mosquito bites than I’d had in a very long time. I couldn’t even remember how I got them. I don’t recall being surrounded by a swarm or batting away while they bit. Yet, there were the bites.

The funny thing about this is that we had just moved from mosquito country. I cannot describe how many mosquitoes there are in Almyra. Most people don’t believe the stories unless they have been there. It’s not just a dawn and dusk thing. It’s all day and night. Garages filled with thousands of mosquitoes (we had two ceiling fans and two floor fans running constantly in our garage just so we could get in and out of our vehicles). Doors entirely unusable if there wasn’t something rigged to repel the pesky bugs. Fat frogs everywhere.

The thing about living in the middle of mosquito country, though, is that we were constantly aware of the threat. We actively fought mosquitoes daily.

Now, though, we’re in a new location. The mosquitoes aren’t nearly as bad. They don’t visibly swarm us. They don’t cover our windows or swarm our garage. So, it becomes easy to forget about them until it’s too late and we are covered with bites.

Spiritual struggles are often like the mosquito contrast. When we’re constantly and heavily hammered by temptations, struggles, or challenges, we build our big fortresses against those difficulties. We are on guard. Fighting becomes the norm, and our senses are aware. As a result, the casualties are few.

But when the issues are mild, we often forget to build our defenses until after we face the consequences of an attack. We wake up one morning to find ourselves beaten down in failure or overwhelmed by the consequences of sin. We are more miserable than we ever had been when surrounded by struggles.

One evidence of spiritual growth is an increase in our vigilance no matter what surrounds us. We actively and intentionally center our energy on Christ at all times, not just in the tough times. The result is that our guard is always high, whether the threat is great or small.

I’m learning to be more attentive to the occasional mosquito now that the hordes are gone. I haven’t had a massive outbreak of bites since that morning. I pray my spiritual life is growing even more profoundly, whether the challenge is great or small.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I Love Your Home

Most of you are probably looking at the title and thinking, “But you’ve never seen my home!” And you’re right. I haven’t. But I love it. Why? Because it’s part of you. It reflects your personality and passions in so many ways.

I used to be ashamed of my home. I’m not a great housekeeper, and I can’t really decorate. If you walk into my home at any given time, there will be clutter. Despite my love for organization, my house will be unorganized. You might arrive on a day when the bathrooms have been cleaned recently or the trash cans emptied. But, it might also have been a few days since either was done. And the fact that housework gets done at all is a testimony to the willingness of my children to participate in household chores.

So, for those who love a spic and span, well-organized house, I’ll give you fair warning: You won’t find that within these doors. But, you’re welcome anyway, because it would give you a chance to get to know my family a little better as you walk in and see the combination of our personalities poured into our living space.

That’s what I’d find in your home, too, isn’t it - personality reflected in your space? And that, my friend, is why I love your home, even if I’ve never seen it.

Recently, my family joined hundreds of other Arkansans for a one-day mission trip to southwest Arkansas. The girls and I, joined by three others, spent four and a half hours prayer walking one portion of Arkadelphia. The thing that stood out to me the most was how closed up all of the houses were. Closed windows. No screen doors - just closed, solid doors. Closed garages, even when the occupants were home. Back yards closed off by privacy fences, such that even if the residents were playing together in the back yard, it was impossible to see.

It brought me face to face with the reality of our culture today: So many of us rarely see the inside of one another’s homes. We rarely get the chance to know one another on that level. And I am as guilty of that as the next person. I live much of my life behind closed doors as well. Although I’m always happy to welcome others into my home, I don’t go out of my way to make sure they know my home is open.

Because our homes reflect our personalities, our closed homes reflect our tendency to close ourselves off from one another. We hole up inside ourselves and hide what we consider to be a mess. We don’t want others to see our clutter - whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual. We want to be particular about what we share.

Honestly, as an introvert, it makes me a bit nervous to think of living with an open home, because I need my protected space. And, there will be times when I must close my doors and focus on just my family. But, I want to be more open. I want to welcome others in more readily. I want others to see the real me.

And I want you to know that I love the real you. Yes, I really do love your home!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Marriage Monday: A Servant’s Attitude

This month in Sunday school, the youth girls at our church are walking through the fruit of the Spirit. In preparation for each lesson, I’ve looked back at Elizabeth George’s book God’s Garden of Grace. I love the way she sees the fruit of the Spirit as three “categories” of growth in grace. Love, joy, and peace represent growth in the attitudes of grace. Patience, kindness, and goodness are the actions of grace. Finally, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control represent the application of grace.

This past week, we discussed the action trio in class, reviewing also the reminder that the attitudes have to be in place first. There is no action if our attitudes are not full of grace!

How often do I ponder that truth in my marriage?

My husband and I are frequently doing for one another. It’s a part of marriage. But what is behind our acts of service to one another? Are the actions habitual or intentional? Are they duty or delight? Are they obligatory or flowing from a peaceful heart of love and joy?

I love my husband dearly, and I really do love doing for him. But, so often I do not apply the attitude of that love to the day-in, day-out living of life. I don’t always approach walking through our morning routine as an outflow of patience, kindness, and goodness. I separate preparing lunch and caring for the normal routine of the home from the spiritual dynamics of our relationship.

But it’s all part of my service to my husband. And it all must be rooted in the Holy Spirit’s work in my life. Yes, even the most mundane, routine service. Even those acts must reflect the Spirit’s faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

My goal this morning was to start the day with that perspective, getting my attitude in place even when I did not want to get up, then letting my actions follow through. And it’s been a really good morning - not just in routine flow, but in our hearts as well. We both noticed it.

How can the fruit of the Spirit shine forth in your marriage this week?