Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Diversity of Conformity

"Conform" is a dirty word in America, where individualism has been raised to the place of highest honor. We sing "We R who we R" along with Ke$ha and say "Whatevuh, I do what I want" along with Cartman.

People associate conformity with the church and, thus, perceive the church as dull and boring as homogenized skim milk.

But we've got conformity all wrong. Because we were never supposed to conform to one another. We are supposed to become increasingly like Jesus Christ. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:28-29).

Christian conformity doesn't mean becoming more like Betty Bible and Suzy Sunday School. It means becoming more like Christ.

This is a big relief. Sometimes I look around at some of the wonderful Christian women I know and wonder, "Am I going to start talking like them eventually?" They talk in the sweetest, most melodious, syrupy tones and use words like "heart" and "blessing" every third word.

But no matter how long I follow Christ, it's never resulted in me speaking in a higher pitched voice. Because as we mature as Christians, we don't become more like one another, we become more like Christ. I become increasingly loving, kind, patient, self-controlled, peaceful, and joyful, but I don't turn into a carbon copy of Susy Sunshine because that's not who God created me to be. He already has one of her, and he needs one of me.

This is the great and beautiful mystery of conformity with Christ: As we become more like him, we in fact become more and more diverse. As C.S. Lewis said in the preface to the Great Divorce:

"On the biological level life is not like a pool but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good."

Lewis' words bring fruit to mind. If God created Brenda as a banana and Jen as a strawberry and me as a pear (true on several levels), then as we become more like Christ, we don't all blend together into a homogenous fruit smoothie, each flavor indistinguishable from the other. Brenda becomes more and more the ripe and sweet banana that she was made to be. Jen becomes more strawberry-like, with that perfect red scent on a spring day. I become better than any Harry and David pear.

Remember Paul's analogy of the body in 1 Corinthians 12. We are each a part of a body, and each individual part is needed. The foot doesn't become less foot-like or the hand less hand-like as it matures in faith. What would be the point in that? We need a hand, and we need a foot.

The key is unity in our diversity: "God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other."

Conformity to Christ. Unity in diversity.

As we go deeper in to our knowledge of God, we become more and more the unique facet made to reflect Him. We won't become homogenous "church-goers" who wear khakis and polos and listen to Steven Curtis Chapman. But we will each individually bring God glory in the way he created us to as we follow him.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Story of Two Pastors

Since I'm on an autobiographical kick, I'm gonna just go with it.

I grew up in a Presbyterian church in Denver. I don't know what it meant that we were Presbyterian, other than the pastors wore black robes with purple velvet lining. I kind of miss those robes. I remember the pastor as a funny, teddy bear-ish kind of man. He was charismatic and a good speaker. He told funny jokes, and I liked him.

At some point, I think when I was in middle school, the truth came out. He and the preschool teacher were having an affair. He left the church, and our church split in two. He married the preschool teacher and they're still married today.

Fast forward to college. My pastor, Steve, was a dynamic speaker and brilliant man. He baptized me and taught me to study the Bible. He was charismatic and soon big crowds began to fill our meetings to hear him speak. He gave us the vision for missions, and 5 years after I joined the church, I moved with a group of 30 or so people, including his family of 6, to Amsterdam to help start a church.

After about a year, the truth came out. He was having an affair, and he left his wife and the church.

I've known many wonderful pastors in my life, like Fred and John and Barry. But these two were the most influential in my life, both before the affairs and in the subsequent fallout. I didn't fully deal with the impact Steve's affair had on me at the time - it came out right before my wedding. I asked Mike and everyone else in my wedding party not to bring it up. The last thing I wanted was my wedding to be a hot spot of gossip about the pastor's affair or to be depressed on my honeymoon over the failings of man. So by the time I was back from my honeymoon, most people had already dealt with it, and I was left wondering how to respond.

I've often thought about the impact these two events had on my life and faith. I think they've had bad effects and good ones.

I'll start with the bad. I have an inherent distrust of leaders. Especially charismatic leaders. Especially good-looking, charismatic leaders. Especially good-looking charismatic leaders who tend to draw big crowds around them. When another Ted Haggard-esque event takes place, I can find myself nodding my head saying, "Mmm-hmm. Just what I thought." I don't like this cynical aspect of myself. I have to check myself - not allowing myself to become jaded and judgmental, but giving others the benefit of my many doubts.

But there have also been good effects on my perspective, and one I think is so necessary in today's church: Pastors and dynamic leaders are just men. They fail, they make mistakes just like you and I do.

It's sad, but I can rattle off the names of Christian celebrity pastors faster than I can quote Scripture: Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Francis Chan and on and on. It's so easy for us to become focused on the man and not the message. That happened with Steve. People put their trust in Steve and how smart and dynamic and great he was. But Steve was just a man. This errant focus is happening now with many of our celebrity pastors, like Francis Chan, who decided to leave his church for a time because of the shift of focus onto him.

Francis and Mark and John and Josh and Bill and Rick didn't die for you. They're just men. We should listen to our pastors and learn from them. But we should never idolize them. We should never put what they say above what the Bible says.

Sometimes in our own church, we've noticed the tendency, when discussing spiritual matters, for people to say, "Well, Pastor Barry says..." Hang it all! What about what the Bible says? I respect my pastor and his views greatly, but our starting point always ought to be the Bible. If we hear, "Well, Pastor So and So says" more often than we hear, "Well, the Bible says," I think we're in big trouble.

I had a good friend in college who had been burned by pastors. One had an affair. Another began writing his own Bible, adding to and deleting from the original. So when she went to church, she always had her quick fingers hovering over her Bible, ready to check every verse reference to make sure it was actually there and in context. I appreciated her earnestness.

Most times people aren't nearly as bad or as good as we make them out to be. Not all pastors are closet pedophiles, and no pastors are perfect. I think we need a balance between the two extremes. It's wrong to plop our rumps down in a place of judgment and paranoia. But it's also wrong to sit at the feet and bask in the glory of any leader save Jesus.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Baptism Story

I got to reminiscing after I wrote this post about college, and thought I'd write out my story of getting baptized.

Billy Graham saved me. Well, that's not exactly true. Jesus saved me. But he used Billy Graham to get the job done. When I was a youngster, my parents took me to a Billy Graham crusade at Mile High Stadium in Denver. I was always a tender little gal, so when Billy gave the alter call, I went down the bleachers with hundreds of others, and I prayed to accept Christ as my Savior.

But though I became a Christian at a young age (my parents can't actually remember how old I was - perhaps 5), I wasn't baptized until later in life.

I went to a secular college, and to this day I am so glad I did. I was forced to get out of my Goody-Two-Shoes bubble and make choices. I made good friends with the people in my dorm, and from the beginning I had two groups of friends: My party friends who got drunk and did all those college-y things (who, by the way, I really like and am still friends with), and my church friends. It forced me, in a way I had never had to before, to make a clear decision about how I was going to live my life.

Those first months were intense and I reevaluated and scrutinized my faith - holding it up to the light to see if I still really believed what I said I had so long ago on a football field with Mr. Graham. I decided that I did.

There seem to be times and movements in the church in which big things happen. I, through no doing of my own, got to be swept away in one of them my freshman year of college. There was a small group of about 8 college students at a church who really wanted to share the gospel at our university known for binge drinking and setting couches on fire. (Go Rams!)

I believe the Holy Spirit swept through Newsom Hall and did something amazing. A good number of students who had never heard the gospel before heard it and made decisions to follow Christ. A good number of freshmen Christian who had never left the safety of the nest before made the choice of whom they would serve in life. This church group is still going strong and has changed hundreds of lives up in the Fort.

So in October, a couple of months after we'd arrived, our growing little student group took a weekend trip to Grey Rock Mountain, one of the popular hiking spots up the Poudre Canyon. We hiked in at night and set up camp. We made a big fire and gathered around it while the pastor, Steve, talked.

Steve was one of those incredible people you meet only a couple of times in life. He was smart. He knew everything about the Bible. And he was one of the most influential speakers I've ever heard. People would travel thousands of miles to conferences to hear him speak. We got to hear him several times a week. He would sometimes preach on campus; others times he would publicly debate philosophy professors; and once a week he would study the Bible in-depth with us. At these weekly meetings, I learned to love the Bible and love plumbing it for truth.

Years later, I moved to Amsterdam with Steve and a group of people to plant a church. Sadly, after a while in Amsterdam, Steve left his wife and left church altogether as well. But I bring Steve up because of the profound influence he had on my faith - and baptism.

So on this chilly October night we sat by the fire, warming our hands and listening to Steve talk about giving your life to Christ. He challenged those of us who never had to take the step of being baptized as a sign that we had chosen to follow Christ. I was with Katy, a girl who lived across the hall from me. She had never heard the gospel before.

After Steve had finished, he said to let him know if we wanted to take the step of being baptized the next day. I decided that yes, I did. Katy also said she wanted to be baptized. This caused a conundrum. Linda (a wonderful woman) asked her, "Have you ever received Christ as your Savior?" "No," said Katy. So we arranged to wake up bright and early the next day to talk.

Katy and I slept wrapped up in our mummy bags looking up at the stars over Grey Rock. At dawn, we got up and met Linda in a meadow. She had her worn Bible with her and she shared verses with Katy about how Christ had come to Earth in order to die for sinners, that we might be forgiven for our sins. Katy accepted Christ as her Savior and we knelt our bundled up heads and prayed together.

Once everyone else was up, we had to scramble up the rocks to the tippy-top of Grey Rock, where there is a small lake.

It was a cold morning. I hadn't planned to get baptized, so I hadn't brought any clothes for it. Someone was kind enough to lend me a T-shirt and shorts. About 6 to 9 of us were baptized that morning (I can't quite remember how many). The water was so cold it was hard to breathe. My memories of baptism are memories of ice, though at this particular baptism, we didn't have to break the ice to get in like we did many other times on the frigid Poudre River.

Steve baptized me and then baptized Katy. Several of the other people baptized that morning had also just gotten saved and several of them have gone on to become pastors.

On the hike back down, we were exhilarated. I remember being worried about the wet white T-shirt I was wearing, excited by the experience I'd just had, and so happy to have found this group of friends.

For me, my baptism marks when I made an earnest decision as an adult to follow Christ. It stands as a memorial to me of my choice about what and whom I will live for - no matter how many times I fail or forget, it is my primary Ebenezer.

In case you're wondering, Katy is one of the people I moved to Amsterdam with. I was in her wedding, and she was in mine. Now she lives in Denver with her three kids.

So what is your baptism story? Where and when were you baptized?

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Boy Toy

When Mike and I first got together, he was a baby. I'm serious. Here's a picture of him from our first date.

In fact when we first met, I weighed exactly twice what he did. I was a college freshmen and he was a twirpy high school freshmen. He wrestled in the 72-pound weight class, and I can quote my weight from nearly any month of my life, so that's why we know. But don't worry, we didn't start dating at this point. We started dating when he was a sophomore in college, and I was a super senior. (I've written all the sordid details in these tell-all posts.)

When we finally did get together, we got many comments about our age difference. When you're old (like we are now), it doesn't seem so big, but when you're 21 and 25, it seems like a big deal. Especially when your 21-year-old boyfriend actually looks 17. Tops. I still remember my boss after we got married. Mike would drop by to see me, and she'd say, "I can't believe that's your husband! He looks like a baby!"

To be fair, he did look like a baby. Here's a vintage picture from our rehearsal dinner.
Seriously, why didn't someone put me in jail? But you have to admit he's cute.

Thus, he has gained the nickname Boy Toy and Arm Candy. But now my Boy Toy is all grown up. Yesterday he turned 29. Not quite 30. But not a little Dutch Boy anymore. He's having a hard time coping with this. I think I saw some blond hair dye in the bathroom cabinet. But at least now people may begin believing that he owns an ice cream store. Rather than having conversations like this one:

"Are you Mike?"
"The store owner?"
"Who owns the ice cream store?"
"How old are you?!"

So now I'm going to have to come up with a new name for the Boy Toy. Old Dutchie? Old Man Van? Faded Glory? Let me know if you have any good ideas.

But after all, he does have one more year left of golden youth. Happy Birthday, Boy Toy!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Bongos

Watching the iPhone bongos yesterday reminded me that I never uploaded my Rwandan dancing and drumming videos. So although they're not Christmas-y, I hope you (Mom) enjoy my videos!

For a treat, Phoebe arranged a dinner for us at our hotel with traditional Rwandan dancing. It was fun to watch it with an audience of Africans. Here's how they started their show with drumming.


And here are the very fun warrior headbangers.


Here were two of my favorite dancers. They were our waiters all week and were very nice guys.


And lastly, here's an African children's choir singing a praise song to make this post relate to Christmas in some small way. Now that's how you play the bongos!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Christmas Story

For Christmas-tide I had a number of Christmas-y videos I got to choose between to share with you. Like a video from a megachurch who managed to simulate the sound of "Feliz Navidad" using thousands of dollars worth of iCrap equipment, just almost sounding as good as the maracas and bongos that people around the world still make for just a few dollars and supporting our consumeristic Apple-obsessed culture. Kudos! But then I decided I shouldn't be so snarky on Christmas Eve's Eve.

So here's what won me over. It's like the Christmas story, mixed with some New Zealanders, mixed with the new Where the Wild Things Are Movie (which wasn't any good, by the way, even if Roeper said it was the best movie of the year). I love the sheep and the third king!

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

That Hideous Strength

I love C.S. Lewis. I hate to be a stereotype and I hate to do what everyone else does, but I love him. I've read more of his books than any other author, and I even visited the pub at which he and "The Inklings" met in Oxford. (So much for not being a Christian stereotype.) I recently read an article on CNN about why he is still so popular. I don't know about "shrewd career moves," but I think he's the most brilliant modern writer I've ever read, Christian or secular. His ideas are unique and creative in a way that most of us copy-cats can only dream of. But I'll stop drooling and get to my point, to review one of his lesser known books, That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy Tale for Grown-Ups.

One of the things I love about Lewis is that he not only wrote academic, philosophical and spiritual essays, he wrote children's books and fairy tales - you know, books for the rest of us.

Mike is of the sort who owns books like Thinking With Concepts (blech) and loves to paddle about in abstract thoughts. I need examples. I need hard, cold concrete examples to lay my cheek on before I can really understand or accept someone's thoughts. Lewis was so kind as to write to both of us, my brilliant husband and his thick wife.

That Hideous Strength is an example of this, a speculative fiction book that is the living out of Lewis' thoughts in his book The Abolition of Man. I've begun to read The Abolition of Man three times and gotten bored and stopped...and it's only about 60 pages. But in That Hideous Strength, he couches the ideas in flesh and characters and cottages. That I get.

That Hideous Strength is the third and final book of Lewis' Space Trilogy, which is why most people haven't read it, saying, "Oh, I don't like sci-fi, icky-poo. That's for nerds." I used to say this myself, being a properly trained English major, taught to despise all things sci-fi as lower forms of literature. I wish I'd never been taught such rubbish, as I now believe "speculative fiction" (as Mike snootily calls it) is some of the best fiction I've ever read (e.g. Brave New World by Huxley, who died on the same day as Lewis, just so you know.)

Speculative fiction is not all about aliens and nerds who wear high pants and speak Vulcan and wizards with flowing white hair. Though, come to think of it, there are both aliens and a flowing-hair wizard in this book. But speculative fiction allows us to extrapolate current trends in thought to their possible and perhaps inevitable conclusions. It allows us to say, "Hey, if we keep living like this and thinking like this, look where we might end up - being so fat that we lose all bone mass and live on a spaceship where Sigourney Weaver tells us to eat breakfast, 'in a cup!' and where a lonely robot has to clean up our trash with only Hello, Dolly to keep him company. We better change!" In that way, it is of more value than so much modern "book-club" literature whose sole purpose is to pet and worry our wounds, not to warn or exhort.

One of the many themes of That Hideous Strength is that of the dangers of science. Not science per se, but the dangers of having our scientific powers develop faster than our moral character. If the trends of the scientific community of the 1940s were allowed to run their course unhindered what would happen? Bad things, as it turns out. Disembodied-heads-kept-artificially-alive bad. Although at the micro level, the issues today are different - vivisection and sterilization of the unfit are rather out of style these days - the macro issues are still the same: What role do morality and spirituality play in science? What restrictions ought to be placed on science? Who gets to decide? The answers to these questions can still guide us in today's micro issues: How should we approch stem-cell research? What should the government fund or not fund? Do people have a "right to die" and who decides?

All those fun questions, plus an Arthurian myth and white-haired wizard thrown in for good measure! (I'm a sucker for Arthur.)

But this book is not for everyone. In fact, the three books of the trilogy seem like they were written for three separate types of people, which is perhaps why they haven't caught on like gangbusters. The first, Out of the Silent Planet, seems at first to be your basic sci-fi plot: A philologist (Yay for philology!) is kidnapped and taken to Mars to be a human sacrifice. But, as always, Lewis is more creative than just that, and you learn all sorts of surprising truths about angels, aliens, and demons that force you to rethink your perspective on the planet and what we call the spiritual.

The second, Perelandra, is one-part hippy trip through the planet of love with the goddess of love, Venus, and one part epic struggle against an evil foe, much like Gandalf's fight against the Balrog. (Goodness gracious, Mike has made a nerd out of me. Since I'm a total goner anyway, I might as well mention that the philologist in the epic struggle is loosely based on Lewis' good friend, Tolkien, creator of Gandalf.)

The last book is different alltogether from the fantastical settings of Mars and Venus. It takes place exclusively in a small college in England, which happens to sit atop ancient Merlin's grave. The first part of the book would probably bore a pure sci-fi reader to death, with its long characterization of the main characters - a "modern" man and wife trying to get ahead in the progressive set of a university town. The latter parts would probably scare off your typical book-club reader, what with the disembodied heads and wizards and all.

But what Lewis manages to do, and what I love him for, is show that all these worlds are the same. The world of aliens, the world of academia, the world of folklore, and the world of the commonplace are all the same world - just not quite how we thought they would be. Our souls can rejoice that in a way the fairy tales we so wanted to believe in as a child really are true, while on the other hand our souls recoil that the ugliest evil that has ever been written in those awful book-club books does exist as well.

It is the mingling and reconciling of the magical, the dull, the wonderful, the awful, our brighest hopes and our deepest fears that make this book (and so many of Lewis' writings) like a wound and balm to the soul all at once.

If you love mythology and philosophy, you will love this book. If you are easily bored, you may hate this book. If you love to read but say, "Eww, sci-fi is for nerds. Icky-poo, I don't like it," then get over it. Just read it. But start with the first book.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What Colorado Brings to the World

It's always fun when traveling to hear people's response that I'm from Colorado. Most people stare blankly. They nod and smile, pretending they know what I'm talking about if they're from polite cultures, but they stare blankly nonetheless. The very few who have heard of it start belting, "Rocky Mountain High, Colorado!" and ask if I knew John Denver. I didn't, but his funeral was in my parents' church. I'm pretty cool.

So what should the world know Colorado for? Mike and I got one of those freebie calendars the other day that features pictures of idyllic Colorado scenery. It seemed that the copywriter for the calendar didn't know the answer to this himself:

"With the rivers and lakes within the state, many people choose to reside in Colorado."

Um, rivers and lakes? Colorado is not exactly known for its abundance of water. It's brown. And dry. And brown. If someone is moving here expecting water-playland, they will be very disappointed, and very often are. One often hears those who have moved here complaining that we have no water or trees and that it's brown. But we Coloradoans are not known for our empathy. So we tell them to go home.

Next line on the calendar... "Major cities include Aspen, Ashcroft, Beaver Creek, and Denver.

Um, Ashcroft? If you've never heard of Ashcroft, don't feel bad. The last person who lived there died in 1939. It's a ghost town. Aspen? Population 6,000. Beaver Creek? That's a not even a city, it's a ski resort. Denver? Whew, they got one major city right.

So if we don't have major cities or lush lake-land, what can we offer to the world?

Twisted comic minds.

The twisted minds of our state brought the world South Park, which is so profane sometimes that it's hard to like. But when they feature cultural gems of my childhood in Colorado such as Casa Bonita, they're hard to hate. More sopapillas!

The twisted minds of Colorado also brought the world the Onion. Which can also be profane, but has great cultural commentary.

Oprah Invites Hundreds Of Lucky Fans To Be Buried With Her In Massive Tomb

I don't know if there's something in our crystal clear mountain water that makes for such wonderful comedy (and beer for that matter), but in any case, you're welcome, world.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Big Fat Canadian News

So guess what...I'll give you three guesses.

No, I'm not pregnant.

No, I didn't get a tattoo of Mike's face on my stomach. (Though I'm considering it.)

Give up?

I'm defecting to Canada! Well, not really defecting. Just taking a Canadian job in order to drain money from their country into ours and leave my current position open for some poor unemployed American. Talk about a stimulus package!

I have accepted a job to write for Compassion Canada. I'm not moving there, but will work remotely. (The professional way of saying I'll be in my bed with a bag of Tostitos and PJs.) I'm very excited as this means I'll get to fulfill three long-term goals: 1. To write and/or edit full time. 2. To work from home. 3. To become a top-secret international spy.

I will start my new job on January 13th, and I've already started preparing for my immersion in the new culture.

I started reading books in order to get in the Canadian mindset. I read several L.M. Montgomery books, and now I know that Canadians spend most of their time staring wistfully out of windows and mooning about. I already do that, so it's perfect.

I also read a mystery about being a copywriter in a marketing department (Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers), in order to properly prepare for my new workplace. Now I know to be on the lookout for drug conspiracies and menacing figures carrying blunt objects.

Of course, I want to bring value to their office, so I'm working on several brilliant marketing campaign ideas. Like, "Sponsor a kid, you hoser!" and a special payment program through which sponsors can pay with maple syrup or moose chips.

I've started spelling everything Canadian-style, like this:

1. My, you look like you are ageing, Mummy, by the colour of your hair.

2. I am feeling amourous; you're giving me the vapours!

3. Would you do me a favour and give me a Caesarian section in the parlour, please?

4. Your sense of humour against Canadians gives me offence.

I sound smarter already.

And in order to look the part, I'll be asking for a pair of these and this hat for Christmas, to wear while I'm in bed with my Tostitos.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Life After College

I graduated from college exactly 10 years ago, in December 2000. (I had to add an extra semester to fit in all my fun but useless language courses.) You know how there were some kids in high school who you thought would have a rude awakening after high school - because they were so absorbed by high school life? That was me. But with college.

I loved college. I wanted to stay forever. Although in high school I was shy and was often asked, "Do you ever talk?", in college, I came into my own. No one knew I was the girl who never talked, so I was free to be who I wanted to be. I carved out my identity. I learned that I love deep friendships. I learned to study and love the Bible. I learned that I love to have fun.

After I graduated, I couldn't quite believe that I was supposed to now wake up at a set time every morning, put on adult clothes and go work for someone else every day for the rest of my life. It was a rude awakening. But I have since found that there is, indeed, life after college. The group of friends and experiences that once loomed so huge in my life are now distant memories. It's sad in some ways and beautiful in another. Each stage of life is exciting and new, and though there are some times I would prefer to skip, I have relished each passing year God has given me.

Nonetheless, I love to look back and remember the beautiful friendships and experiences I had in college and how they shaped me into who I am today.

Like Katy and James and Daryl and watching fireworks in Loveland Park.
Like our many Valentine's Day galas and learning what love is.
Like retreats to Missouri and Estes Park and Winter Park.
And dressing like a cow and scaring off small children in the 4th of July parade.
Hanging out with these people in small group.
And wearing lots of overalls and flannels.
Working in the kitchen at the Estes Park YMCA, being a Dish Dawg with James and a Walnut Girl on the side.
Attending Alan Jackson concerts in Wyoming.
And hockey games at CSU.
Getting baptized in an ice cold lake on top of Grey Rock.
And pulling lots of pranks...and cleaning up after them.
Pretending to like rock climbing to impress boys.
Going on mission trips to exotic places like Iowa, Arizona, Amsterdam, and Italy, where I ate my first gelato and drank my first wine. (Still love gelato. Still hate wine.)
Going to Water World in the summers.
And going to 80's parties to kiss posters of Kirk Cameron.

To all of you who made my life so rich in college, thank you for the memories.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The 5th Annual Van Schooneveld Christmas Quiz

Merry Christmas!
And welcome to:
The 5th Annual Van Schooneveld Christmas Quiz

I can't believe it's been five years of the much-anticipated, much-copied, but never matched Van Schooneveld Christmas quiz. This is our little version of a Christmas card - measuring your friendship with us based on the results of a 10-question quiz. Take our Christmas quiz to see if you’re our real BFF, a frenemy, a stranger, or a stalker. Or see how you measure up to last year's results!

1. In July, we became small business owners, opening:
a. Van Schooneveld's Lekker Herring Emporium
b. Mike's Mutt Massage
c. Glacier Homemade Ice Cream and Gelato
d. Sweater Vest for Homunculi

2. For vacation this year, we:
a. Watched the sun set in Santa Fe
b. Went on a hiking tour of the nude hot springs of Colorado
c. Drank mai tais in Kauai
d. Did hard manual labor for 6 days straight

3. This year, we became the proud new owners of:
a. an adorable little Australian shepherd named Moxie Ledoux
b. the newest, hottest baby model, Michael 2.0
c. a sensible new bedroom set
d. a naked mole rat, the only animal we're not allergic to

4. This year, what did Mike do in our home?
a. Created a kitchen island out of a scrapped bathroom vanity
b. Refurbished an ugly oaky banister
c. Painted our kitchen table copper
d. Removed popcorn ceilings and installed crown molding in our bedroom
e. all of the above

5. This year, what did Amber do while traveling for work?
a. Tried every form of transportation in the Philippines - plane, jeepney, taxi, ferry, motor rickshaw and cycle rickshaw
b. Totally fell for Korean barbecue and grape-ade
c. Hiked over the moon in China
d. Got Shanghai'ed in Beijing
e. Headbanged with warriors in Rwanda
f. all of the above

6. Mike spent all his time bossing around how many employees?
a. two
b. four
c. six
d. eight

7. Amber proved her worth to society by engaging in physical feats. Which did she not do?
a. Climb to the top of Pikes Peak
b. Bike 157 miles in three days over three mountain passes
c. Climb the incline in 30 minutes flat over 30 times this year
d. Climb to the top of Mount Blodgett

8. Mike and Amber took overnight weekend trips to which of our following favorite locations?
a. Moab, Breckenridge, Estes Park, and Buena Vista
b. Commerce City, Pueblo, Trinidad, and Fort Morgan
c. Aspen, Estes Park, Breckenridge, and Manitou Springs
d. Firenze, Bonn, Edinburgh, and Prague

9. We pretentiously named our home:
a. Fox Hollow
b. Aspen Hill
c. Netherparts
d. Consumption Glen

10. Amber wrote a study guide for a book that changed her life, called:
a. When I Lay My Isaac Down
b. "Are You Pregnant?" 10 Questions Your 30's Will Teach You to Loathe
c. Becoming a Woman of Influence
d. Becoming Jael: Nailing the Crises in Your Life

Your Score: How Many Did You Get Right?
1. c
2. d
3. c. I just stole Moxie Ledoux from my sister to take our family Christmas picture with her.
4. e. He did it all. Here, here, here, and here.
5. f. You probably saw that coming. I did it all here, here, here, here, here, and here.
6. d
7. c. I'm dumb, but not that dumb.
8. a. This question is for all of you who said the quiz was too easy last year.
9. b
10. a

0-2 Stranger: Hey, stranger. You really need to get on Facebook.
3-5 Frenemy: Although you're our friend, you don't know much about us. You need to stop acting like a frenemy and be our real BFF.
6-7 Business Associate: Let's do a power lunch.
8-9 Real BFF: You're on us like white on rice.
10 Mom or Creepy Stalker: Which are you?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Proper Care and Feeding of Know-It-Alls

Your guide to understanding and embracing the know-it-alls in your midst.

Mike and I are know-it-alls. Today at church, the pastor was talking about some Greek translation or other, and Mike leans over to whisper some obscure fact in my ear. Not to be outdone, I lean over the next minute to share my own bit of minutae. Loving the last word, Mike shoots back more trivia. We are the epitome of insufferable know-it-alls. Luckily, we married one another, and so we have a certain amount of tolerance, nay, relish for our useless knowledge.

Others are not so lucky and didn't sign up for the healthy dose of information you may get in the presence of a know-it-all. At Bible study, I tend to play the role of Hermione, just hopping in my seat to share my pearls of wisdom. Mike, on the other hand, just last week bored, I mean, entertained the group with all they ever needed to know about shooting pistol shrimps.

You may think we are simply annoying and pretentious and boring. But I hope this post will help you to understand and love the know-it-alls around you.

There are two distinct types of know-it-alls: specialists and general practitioners. I am a specialist know-it-all. I can blend into a crowd fairly well, unless a topic I particularly care and know about comes up, like language or culture or the Bible, and then I'll make a general nuisance of myself. General practitioner know-it-alls are those like my husband who make it their business to know everything about everything.

Your first instinct upon encountering a know-it-all may be to assume that she is desperate for attention and affirmation. You may be right. After all, we all as humans are longing for love and affirmation and appreciation. Us know-it-alls just attempt it in our own unique way. We were never admired for our physical prowess or desired for our great looks or flocked to for our social skills. We used what we got, our brains. We might not have had muscles or curves or popularity. But we still wanted to be liked. Or at least admired.

This trait can either repel you or invoke your empathy. When I see a pretty girl ridiculously batting her eyes and mooning for attention, I can either disdain her as pathetic or empathize with her as a human being simply thirsting for love. When you see a know-it-all posturing with his flawless knowledge of Vulcan etymology, you can choose not to be repelled by his absurdity, but empathetic, aware of your common need for acceptance.

But not all know-it-all-edness is posturing for attention. Much of it is simply that we love knowledge, the very definition of philosophy. Being married to Mike, I have realized that he is simply a collector. My aunt collects stray dogs. My dad collects coins. Mike collects information. If we are driving home in the car and I say, "Gee, turtles are cool!", Mike will come home and read every internet article available on turtles and subsequently inform me (and most likely our entire small group) about the breeding habits of the rare turnip turtle of Borneo. (It's amazing to live in the internet age as a know-it-all.)

Unfortunately, not everyone cares as much about the turnip turtle of Borneo as Mike does. But we listen out of grace and patience and love of his cute blonde hair. It's much the same as how I try to listen interestedly when boys talk to me about cars or sports. There is no conceivable way I could care any less about cars or the Nuggets than I currently do. So when some car-boy starts talking about his motorcycle or the score last night, I try as hard as I can to squeeze interest into my countenance. Us know-it-alls are fascinated by information just as car-boys are fascinated by cars...We're just dorkier.

But the heart of the matter is that know-it-alls have a profound love of truths. We treasure them and roll them around in our mouths like a sommalier might swish wine. Our fault can be that we value the small truths for their own sake, rather than for the larger Truth that they point toward. But our fascination with the truth lies in that we have had a glimpse of the beauty of the deep things of the universe and thirst for more.

A Note to the Know-It-Alls
The struggle of a know-it-all is to keep our love of knowledge in order.

"If I...can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge...but do not have love, I am nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:2)

In all things, we must question our motivation. Are we sharing what we do to selfishly seek affirmation or to pointlessly pet our knowledge? Or are we sharing in order to encourage, challenge or comfort others? Knowledge without love is nothing. Unless sharing knowledge is founded in, motivated and guided by love, then we are just a clanging cymbal.

"Knowledge puffs up while love builds up." (1 Corinthians 8:1)

If we are focused on our knowledge, we will look as ridiculous as a puffer fish and be as useless as one in our relationships as well. But if we are focused on love, we can build up others around us, using knowledge to help others glimpse the beauty of God's truth.

*Note: Mike is currently researching all things puffer fish and has revealed to me that they are the second most poisonous vertebrate in the world and their eyes move independently of one another...And now he has moved on to learn every fact about the first most poisonous vertebrate in the world.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Oh, the Places We've Been

Reading through my posts of Christmas past, I found this one from last year and this one from the year before. How lovely to look back and remember our good times. This year was a busy one, so we haven't seen as many new places, but here is a summary of the places we've been and the things we've done in 2010.

January: My live-in contractor, i.e. Mike, re-did our bannisters from boring oak to pizazz black.

But we still had a little time to explore local treasures like Garden of the Gods quite often.

February: We made a public spectacle of ourselves as Liesl and Kurt in order to raise money for a good cause.

And took our annual Valentine's Day trip to Estes, where we snowshoed to the base of Hallett's.

March: We put the finishing touches on the kitchen re-do and spent much time perched precariously on a ladder.

April: I visited the Philippines.
And saw both sides of life.

Then visited the at-once ultra modern and ultra ancient South Korea.
May: We taste tested local places in preparation for the store and explored Red Rocks Canyon with my parents. Mike grew as tall as dad.

We took day hikes, like the Crags with the Raymonds.

June: June was a busy month preparing for our grand opening, so we satisfied ourselves with walks in our backyard.
While Mike squeezed in a trip to see his siblings and their offspring in Estes Park.
July: We opened an ice cream store. Isn't that weird? It's surreal to type it. But we still took time to enjoy ourselves, like a hike at Cheyenne Mountain State Park, followed by a picnic under Norad.
And a short bike trip to Buena Vista.

And a long bike trip in Summit County.

August: Mike worked hard at the store.

And we visited Breckenridge for a weekend with my family.
September: I went to China and got amazingly sweaty and rafted the Li River. Almost as weird as opening an ice cream shop.

And Mike and I enjoyed the colors on Independence Pass near Aspen together.

October: I went to Rwanda and marveled at the volcanoes and the cleanliness.
November: We celebrated Thanksgiving in Buena Vista.

December: I went to Canada, eh. (Sorry, no pictures.)
This was the most travelingest, most craziest year of my life, but I'm so thankful to God for my husband, my family, my job, and all the opportunities we have been given!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Where I Am

This is where I am.

I was a big girl and rented a car in a foreign country and drove it to my hotel in a state of near emergency. Someone give me a cookie!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Breaking the Silence, Part 2: Hubby Speaks

Some interesting discussion was stimulated in the comments of my last post, in emails people sent me, and in conversations in the hall. So this must have hit a nerve! My delightful hubby posted some of his own thoughts in the comments of my last post, and I thought they deserved their very own post. I'm a sycophant for that man. By the by, some of you have occasionally asked me what my husband thinks when it comes to the touchy women's issues I write about. I never post anything (unless it's about Christmas trees or ferrets) without having him read it and put his stamp of approval on it first. He's more even tempered than I am and brings nice balance to me. Almost always the posts are results of discussions the two of us have had together and the best insights are almost always his. That's why I love this man so darn much. Here follow his comments. If you haven't read the first part, this post won't make much sense, so go read it.

Men have come a long way lately thanks to the issue of sexual temptation "coming out" as it were. Books like Every Man's Battle (every man's, what is common to mankind, 1 Corinthians 10: 12-13) have really helped. And women face similar/complimentary challenges. They may be set off by different circumstances or things, but they're there. Knoweldge is power. You'll never expect sin and be on guard against it, you'll never be able to take captive every thought, if you aren't aware of what you're like and what things are likely to affect and tempt you.

I think it's also helpful to understand who the "you" in you is. What I mean is, there are things that are normal in the sense of that's just how we're made. We're spiritual, rational, emotional, and physical beings. All of those are aspects of what and who we are. Spiritually, we're saved, but the other parts of us are what they were, and a big part of living life as a Christian is bringing the various parts of ourselves under Christ's rule and not letting them rule us.

For some people, the struggle is with their emotional self. For others it's the physical self. If you show a man a picture of a naked woman, any naked woman, his physical self will react by releasing chemicals in his brain that will make him like what he sees and want to keep looking at it. There's no stopping dopamine receptors. That's built-in. In that sense, it's normal. But we do, as creatures that are more than JUST physical, have the choice to assert our will and turn away, to choose not to let our will follow our body into lusting for that girl.

As a multi-part being, you can view yourself, or parts of yourself as a subject. You may not be able to control the fact that pretty women stimulate the release of chemicals in your brain, or that someone being kind to you when you're feeling neglected and reaching out to hold your hand makes you feel good (let's assume for the sake of argument that you're a woman and it's a guy who isn't your husband). Those are both normal, in the sense of natural, responses. But you are more than nature, more than just emotions or just a body. You can choose what to do with those responses, to ignore them, reject them, or (if it's with your spouse) embrace them! The you who chooses, that's the real you, and that's where sin is or is not located. In what you choose to do with what is put before you.

Understanding that robs temptation of it's power. It puts you and your obedience to God back in the driver's seat; it empowers your ability to treat yourself as the patient (as Martyn Lloyd Jones would put it, see "Spiritual Depression"). And it keeps your spiritual identity where it should be: you're a saved child of God, forgiven and in the process of being perfected. That is who YOU are.

So yes, knowing is important, and openness is empowering. You aren't your temptations, and you're not even your sin, and there's no sin so big that God is worried and afraid that He (and you with him) won't be able to handle it. Understanding your spiritual identity, and your larger physical, emotional, and rational makeup, is important. Otherwise, you'll get confused, and you'll be vulnerable to attack.

And for people who have been overcome by their fear of sin, sometimes it's helpful to hear the verse Amber quoted: "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."(1 Corinthians 10: 12-13)

Hey, it's common, what you're experiencing. We're all tempted. That's part of living in this world, and it's no good trying to simply deny that we are still physical/emotional/etc imperfect beings living in a fallen world. We can and will face the temptations common to all mankind. It doesn't help to pretend that we won't, and the Bible certainly doesn't pretend it. The Bible is brutally honest in showing that even the very best of Biblical heroes faced ordinary temptations and even fell to them (sometimes spectacularly).

It doesn't benefit me or others to pretend to be above it all, a perfect Christian who is invulnerable to temptation. I'm not. And the same is true for women. You're vulnerable, just like we men are. When we get married, God doesn't magically take away our dopamine receptors. He gives us our vows, and empowers us through the Holy Spirit to keep those vows, to rule our hearts and take captive our thoughts by a conscious and continual act of submission and obedience. When women get married, God doesn't take away your own natural responses. They may need more specialized circumstances to trigger and may (or may not) express themselves differently, bu they're there. And your only recourse is the same as ours.

All this is simply to say, more power to you girls, and I respect you all for your courage and openness, and I wish you all strength in meeting the challenges you face.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The 8th Annual Amber and Michael Vanny Christmas Tree

Update: Since this post was written, our tree came crashing to the ground. All my prettiest, most delicate ornaments, which were naturally on the front, were smashed. They looked oddly beautiful laying smashed on the ground.

I just read through all my Christmas posts past. What a fun way to remember our beautiful life! Mike has been a busy ice cream man, decorating the store for Christmas. It's so cozy now and you can eat gelato by the fireplace! We did muster enough energy to get a tree for our home, which we got from our favorite nursery.

We got the same kind of tree we got last year, a white pine, which is now my favorite. And it happens to be the cheapest kind, although I love its feathery needles. Last night we watched Elf ("Make work your favorite."), today I bought buckets of presents, and I'm so excited for all the wonder of December.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Breaking the Silence: Women Like Men

It's been long known than men like women. And I would like to break to you a shocking secret: Women like men.

In the past 10-ish years in Christian culture in America, it has come into the light just how much of a struggle men's innate attraction to the female body is. Thankfully, many conferences, books, and sermons have created an atmosphere in which men can feel more open and comfortable admitting their struggle with pornography. (Not that it is ever easy.) But at least there is often a culture of, "Hey, we know this is a problem and a lot of us are facing it; let's be honest and support each other."

When it comes to women, so many of us are keeping silent. With married women, our secret isn't typically porn. What many struggle with is the plain and simple fact that we still like guys. Married men are still attracted to women, and married women are still attracted to men.

When we got married, we didn't ride off in a pumpkin into happily ever after with a new brain. We woke up the same person with the same brain we had the day before - with the same impulses and struggles. We did not magically transform into beings who will never feel anything toward any other man on the planet for the rest of our lives, no matter how much the fairy tales imply otherwise.

I think we do women and girls a great disservice when we don't let them know this. Men are warned that they will still want to look at women. Girls, be warned that you may still get blutterflies in your stomach over some guy when you get married.

(Quick disclaimer: I hate it when anyone says all women are like this or that. We are each different with unique struggles. So suffice it to say that what I say is true of many women.)

Not every woman will face the same struggle, depending on her circumstances. If you rarely are in the company of other men except at church, then perhaps you won't have ample opportunities to face this. (Or maybe it will make your interactions with men seem like an even bigger deal!) But many women, like me, do live their daily lives around men. And I believe that every last person among us put in the right (or wrong) circumstances can fall.

Staying silent with this potential landmine is the worst possible thing to do. When we stay silent, we assume that we are the only person with this problem. We assume that no one else could possibly understand our problems. We believe that we are beyond help.

When our feelings of attraction for another man stay in the dark with only our own brain (which suspects we're the most screwed up person alive), they are allowed to grow bigger and bigger. What could otherwise be understood and dealt with is allowed to turn into a really big deal. And, eventually, if unchecked, it is allowed to turn into sin.

But, my married lady friends, if we will be honest with ourselves and others, we can be prepared for when we face the struggle. We will be able to say, "Hey, I am not the first person to ever struggle with this. I do need to get my actions and my emotions in check. I probably need to ask for some advice and put up some boundaries."

Let's all bring a little light into this area in our lives. If you are struggling with feelings for a man besides your husband, don't let it fester in the dark. Talk to a friend, ask for accountability and advice. She'll probaby be relieved that the topic is finally on the table.

It's important to know yourself and know your triggers. Watch out for the things that you know may spark something. In my own life, I travel for work, often with men. I might be spending time with a man for an extended period away from home. It may be someone that I would never like in "real" life, but I nevertheless know that this is a dangerous situation. So I prepare myself. I acknowledge that spending a lot of time in so and so's company might result in me feeling something. I make sure not to flirt. (I'm a recovering flirt.) I make sure to bring up how great my husband is a lot. I don't allow myself to wallow in what might seem like pleasant feelings at the moment.

I am not perfect. Obviously. That's why I'm writing this post. But I also know that when I'm seeking God, when I'm honest with myself and open with my friends, this potential landmine can become just another bump on the road.