Monday, December 31, 2012

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why is the Bible so messy?

Lately, Mike and I have been having some interesting discussions about the Bible.

One question that I have often thought is: Why is the Bible so messy? It has many distinct authors. Many confusing texts (hello, women saved through childbirth). Many seemingly contradictory texts (hello, sometimes-hedonistic, sometimes-fatalistic Ecclesiastes). Prophecies that are confounding. It can be difficult to understand outside of the culture it was written in, etc., etc. Many say that the Bible is simple for anyone to read and understand. I've read it many times in my life and I think it is beautiful and amazing, but I have never thought it was simple or easy.

Sometimes I've wondered, if God wanted to communicate with us, why couldn't he have just written down a nice 5-step plan? Very to the point. No need to interpret. No fiddly questions left unanswered.

Perhaps the most obvious answer to this question, to non-Christians, is that it isn't inspired by God, but is simply mythology, history and poetry written down by people throughout the ages.

But I happen to believe for various reasons that God has inspired the Bible. So why did He allow this very important work to be so historically prone to misunderstandings, so random with women driving nail pegs into men's temples, so naked with Solomon asking, "What's the point of it all, anyway?"

Perhaps God could have written it like this:

Dear People, 
I am God. I created the world. You should worship me. You shouldn't worship other Gods. You should be compassionate to one another. In fact, you should be perfect. 

Unfortunately, you aren't perfect. Therefore I am sending my Son to die in your place. He will pay for your sins. Believe in Him. Follow Him. 

In the end, there will be no tears, and I will be with you. 


There. See? A concise 73 words. No confusion about childbearing or predestination. (If necessary, He could have included an appendix including FAQ on important topics.)

But as I think over it more, any such communique - be it letter or five-step plan or even a 20-page thesis - is absurd. It is contrary to the nature of the universe.

In nature we can see that God enjoyed diversity enough to create far too many kinds of bugs. He created the aardvark and the elephant. He created the Maasai and the Norweigans. He created the Alps and the prairie. Of all the things the Creator of this universe must be, He's not one-note.

And us humans, His crowning creation, love story and intrigue and mystery and history. Some of us do love a good 5-point plan. But all of us love a good story.

But then, I ask, why didn't God just write a nice clean story? Surely a good editor could cut this bulging Bible rife with seeming tangents down to a clean 150 page novel.

I wonder if part of the answer is that God wants us to be a part of the story. We are the actors and the authors as well, and we are messy.

God isn't threatened by our messiness (although we are), and He allows that to shine through in the Bible. Samson goes off and ties lanterns on fox tails. Job is anguished to the point of collapse while his friends wax eloquent. Solomon has it all and thinks it's all pointless. This messiness which originally makes me doubt the inspiration of the Bible, in the end reminds me of authenticity. It's not an artificial, imposed, sanitized list. That, if anything, would make me believe it was certainly man-made. It would seem somehow less than the universe itself, somehow shrunken.

Instead, we have a rich, if sometimes befuddling, tapestry of expression. It echoes the human experience. It has despair and joy, beauty and ugliness, love and hatred, brokenness and redemption.

If all the Bible was Leviticus, we might know the rules, but we wouldn't necessarily love God. If all the Bible were the Psalms, we might find solace in our dark hours, but we might not understand the context of our story. If all the Bible was history, we might understand God's overarching plan, but we wouldn't necessarily know how we ought to live each day. If all of the Bible was written by Paul, we would be wonderful theologians, but we would miss the gushing love of John.

With each disparate element and author and genre of the Bible, God is adding one facet of truth, which it would be incomplete without. This format of multiple authors in many genres over hundreds of years inevitably means that along the way there will be some confusion and need for study to understand the words. It can get messy, but it is worth it.   

Mike likes to point out that God doesn't need us to know information. He doesn't need robots that know the rules and follow them. He needs us to be transformed. A list doesn't change us. A concise religious thesis is static, not transformative. The God of the Bible says over and over that He isn't concerned so much with outward right behavior as He is with the heart. The Bible as it is allows us to go on a journey of discovery, meditation, understanding, and a change of heart.

So at the end of several days of thinking, I'm glad that the Bible is big and crazy. It's enriches me and challenges me in a way that any other format would not. I'm still in the process of thinking, which I will be for the rest of my life. So tell me what your thoughts are.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

My End of the World List

So the world was supposed to end last week. A friend of mine posted her top-ten end-of-the-world list. I am a little late to the game, but I still want to play.

If I could only...

10. Read one last book: I probably wouldn't want to sit around reading. But if I'd have fair warning, I'd sit down with an old friend like Jane Eyre.

9. Watch one last movie: I’d watch the most painfully beautiful movie I've ever seen, La Vita e Bella. But then I'd feel depressed, and I'd watch UHF

8. Eat one last meal: There would have to be courses. First course: a nice spring salad with roasted beets and pine nuts. Second course: grapefruit broiled with brown sugar and served with berries. Main course: Grilled cheese made with crunchy artisanal white bread with cheddar and muenster. One half would have just cheese. The other half would have bacon and avocado. Dessert: flourless chocolate cake with raspberry compote.

  7. Visit one last place: Kauai. I'd sit in the shade on Hideaway's beach and eat a rainbow shave ice at Wishing Well and hike along the spine of the craggy mountains and kayak down quiet rivers.
6. Savor one last poem: I'd read the The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot and go about with my trousers rolled.

5. Experience one last rush: I'd go hot-air ballooning over the colors of New England in the fall. Or maybe I'd go zip-lining in Kauai. Or maybe I'd go hang-gliding in Rio. Depends on how adventurous I'm feeling that day.
4. Smell one last scent: I'd smell the lilacs in springtime in the arbor of Colorado State.
3. Right one last wrong: I can't think of one for this. I don't know if this is a good thing or bad thing. But I would tell all my family and friends how much I love them and what they mean to me.
2. Feel one last touch: I'd have Allie fall asleep on my chest.
1. Relive one last memory: This one is too hard, so I will change it to "Create one last memory." I'd go on safari in Kenya or Tanzania with Michael, one of my life's dreams.

What about you—what would your final top 10 look like?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Amsterdam, January 20, 2003

(Wondering why I'm being so presumptuous as to publish my own emails? Read this.)

This will be my last letter from Amsterdam - my final letter to my prayer team back home. Aren't you sad? I enjoyed looking back 10 years ago to an experience that impacted my friends and I so deeply. Now nearly all of my friends have moved home, with the exception of three woman. All three married or got engaged to Dutch men, including my roommate Naomi. That must have been the way to go! (I married a Dutch man...I just got confused and married a Dutch American man.) The church that we started, now called Amsterdam50, has had its ups and downs, but is still being used by God to share Christ's message in the Netherlands. If you want to learn more, you can check it out here. Thank you for going on this journey with me!

Amber Bray
Lannhorn 2
1181 BD Amstelveen
The Netherlands

January 20, 2003

Dear Friends and Family,

The time I've spent during the past five months in the Netherlands has been one of the most enlightening and exciting experiences in my life. I've met many incredible people and been part of an amazing church from its beginning.

For the past several months, I've been reevaluating my presence here in Amsterdam due to several different reasons. When I first started thinking about moving to the Netherlands, I wasn't sure how long I would stay. I remained neutral, saying, "indefinitely." Then I met a boy. You can probably guess the rest from here. My relationship with Mike took my "indefinitely" to "definitely coming back." Since I knew I was coming home eventually, the question was just how soon. Having a serious relationship with someone in the States has proven very difficult in conjunction with attempting to put all of my heart into being a part of the church here - it's hard to have your heart in two places.

In addition, after completing one semester of the master's degree program I am attending here in the Netherlands, I realize that the degree they offer will probably not prove helpful to me in securing a teaching job in the States. I am living and attending school completely on student loans - a lot of money to spend on something that will not serve in the end.

I sought the advice of our Amsterdam pastor, many Amsterdam team members and my family back home. I believe the team here is healthy and will not be affected negatively by my going. After much consideration of my future place in the Amsterdam church, my schooling, and my relationship with Mike, I realize that my life is moving in a different direction than I thought it was one year ago. I've decided that it's time for me to come home to Colorado on January 31. I will spend a week in Denver and then move to Ft. Collins, hoping to find a job quickly. I have applied to CSU's English grad program for the fall.

Being a part of the Amsterdam team is an experience that has honestly changed my life. The friendships I've made, the things we've learned, the experiences we've had together have all enlightened me and enhanced my life. I have been so blessed to be able to help out with the church in its beginning stages. From what I've seen, I know God is going to greatly bless many people through this church and I am so lucky to have been a part of it.

I know that this is a long letter, but it still seems like I didn't say half of what I could. If you have any questions, I'd love to talk to you. Thank you for all the love and support you've given me!


P.S. Following are some updates and prayer requests for the church in Amsterdam. If you would like to continue receiving updates from someone on the Amsterdam team, please let me know and I can set that up.

  • Several of the neighbors we befriended have been attending church meetings with us. They have shown a lot of interest in spiritual topics and we have gotten to have great conversations with them. Recently, one of them asked Naomi and Lesley, "How do I become a Christian?" They explained to her God's forgiveness and she accepted Christ as her personal Lord and Savior. She has been coming to church meetings with us and making many new friends with the team. Please pray that God would continue moving in the hearts of our neighbors and using my roommates to reach out to them. 
  • We are in the process of organizing small groups whose purpose for the church will be to be a source of encouragement, fellowship and accountability. Please pray that these would be set up in a way to be culturally comfortable and that new visitors would feel welcome. 
  • Three team members are still in need of jobs. Pray for perseverance and jobs!
  • In the last several months, many visitors have really started showing an interest in becoming part of our church. We have had help from Navigators and YWAM in making decisions about how the church should function. Praise God for all the support we have received from fellow ministries and all the people who have become a part of the church.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Amsterdam, January 17, 2003

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland

(Wondering why I'm being so presumptuous as to publish my own emails? Read this.)

 In January, after I went back to Amsterdam to tie up loose ends, I went on a trip to Scotland with my friend Jen who came to visit before I moved home. 

From: Amber
To: My parents
Sent: Friday, January 17, 2003

Hello there!

How are you guys doing? Scotland is great. We have just finished our third day here and we go home tomorrow. It's been really beautiful and fun, but I'm pretty tired out! I've taken a lot of pictures, which I will show you when I return.

 With one of Robert the Bruce's foot soldiers at Edinburgh Castle

 Getting nearly blown off of Arthur's Seat

I hope that you guys are having a very wonderful week. Tonight, Jen and I might go out to dinner at a pub and then go home early so we can get an early start tomorrow.

I'll talk to you more soon!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Our Little Christmas Elf

Amsterdam, December 11, 2002

(Wondering why I'm being so presumptuous as to publish my own letters? Read this.)

From: Amber
To: My parents
Sent: Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Hi mom!

It's soooooo cold here! It's so cold that the canals have frozen and the kids are all playing ice hockey on the canals. Naomi, Rachel, Leslie and I all went out last night to try skating on the canals, but I think we almost cracked them! (Don't worry, the canals are less than one foot deep!)

I finished my paper and tomorrow is my last class. Today I'm wrapping up loose ends and tomorrow I'll finish packing.

I'll see you soon!

love, Amber

I went home for Christmas in late December. I joined Mike in his hometown of Sterling for his birthday the day after Christmas. We visited Chimney Canyons, a systems of canyons carved out of the prairie. As we watched the sun set, we decided to get married in July of that summer, and so my final decision was made to move home from Amsterdam in January, after I tied up all my loose ends in the Netherlands. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Something sinister behind the curtain lurks

15 Months and Counting...Part Two

Since Alexandra wasn't in a fabulous mood yesterday, and since she is in a fabulous mood today, I decided to retake her 15 month photos.

Here's our smiley little girl!

These days, you only have about 10 seconds to take a photo before she wanders away, the little stinker.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

15 Months and Counting

Alexandra wasn't much feeling like having her photo taken today. She was feeling more like this:

The doctor tells us she's working on four morals at once, so we understand. The doctor also tells us she's jumped up in her height a little bit from the 20% percentile to the 43 percentile. Go, Allie! She's still in the 9th percentile for weight, but we were glad to hear she hadn't dropped behind any more. She's proving that one can live on fruit and milk alone.

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Review of the Hobbit

I saw the Hobbit last night. I didn't expect to love it, knowing what I know about Peter Jackson's love for battle scenes. I was right. I didn't love the movie, though I do love the book. And as a sort of catharsis, I'd like to say my piece.

The Hobbit himself
Martin Freeman was a marvelous choice for the hobbit. The narrative voice of the book is what makes it charming and quaint and enjoyable. But because we don't have a narrative voice to hold our hand during the movie, all that weight is put on Bilbo in his reactions and facial expressions. Freeman portrayed the hobbit as much less polite than he is in the book - and much of the early humor in the book stems from his aggravated politeness - but he is still likable and funny and believable. Three cheers for Freeman.

It was also lovely to revisit the Shire, even if it was only briefly in the beginning. But from there, I felt that Jackson's liberties with the plot crammed a beloved children's book into a mold that didn't fit. 

The problems of turning an adventure novel into a movie
One of the main problems of turning the Hobbit into a movie (and three movies at that) is the fundamentally different plot structure of an adventure book vs. a movie. In a movie, you want a simple narrative arc: Setting the scene, rising conflicts and tension, characters who are transformed by the conflicts (for better or worse) and a resolution to the conflict - most preferably brought about by the characters themselves and not by chance or rescue.

But in an adventure book, the arc is simply different - or perhaps it's a much longer, more gently sloped arch. The characters go through many adventures. Some advance the plot; some are just for the fun of it. In the book, Beorn, the man who turns into a bear at night, serves the purpose of a respite for the plot. But he also is just a fun adventure - imagine if your host in the woods for an evening turned into a bear and scratched on your windows, trying to get in. There isn't plot advancement or character development (or if there is, it's of the very slow kind). It's there for the thrill of it. In an adventure book, you have a number of misadventures along the way that make the story a story.

The problem is when these stories are forced into contrivances for the sake of a movie's narrative arc.

At the end of the first Hobbit movie (spoiler alert), the scene with the hobbit and dwarves stuck up in pine trees is no longer just one misadventure along the way. It is forced into the mold of heroism. In the book, the wizard, the dwarves and the hobbit cower in the trees, unable to do anything but throw pine cones at the wolves and goblins who have trapped them there. They wait in the trees for their certain doom. But by chance the eagles hear them and rescue them. At the last moment, the hobbit is plucked from the tree and whisked safely away. The hobbit isn't heroic. At this point in the book, he is simply trying to survive and wondering why he ever left his afternoon tea and pipe on the porch.

But because Jackson has broken this book into three movies, Bilbo is forced to become a hero before he has had time on his adventures to develop heroism. Jackson couldn't simply let his heroes be passively rescued by eagles. Any decent screenwriter can tell you that the hero must be the author of his fate. So rather than being stuck in the trees, the hobbit defies fate and attacks a huge orc to save his friend. Quite a brave act for a little hobbit who has only just left his hole in the ground.

But Jackson's hurried heroism lacks depth. Rather than being a slow transformation of Bilbo from a settled country hobbit to a brave and loyal friend, it's a flash in the pan. One minute he's at home eating seed cakes. The next he's an offensive tackle of goblin warriors. The slow and subtle change of character is satisfying to the reader because it's real. We can relate to transformation by degree - how each of our small choices slowly changes us and builds us into a better or worse person. Bilbo's sudden leap into greatness in the movie is inauthentic and therefore unsatisfying.

Battles and beheadings
My last, and unsurprising, nit to pick with the movie is the excessive action. As a cousin said it on Facebook: "If I could sum up the book's and Bilbo's style in one word, it would be "subtle." It was impossible for Peter Jackson to convey this because he was always trying to go too big too often. In the spirit of Bilbo, less is more."

Although Tolkien's books are full of battles, I don't believe he relished them. The battle in The Two Towers movie which is shown in great detail and lasts for what seemed like two full hours was only about one page in the book. He did relish clever escapes from sticky situations, like the trolls and the spiders. But it's clear that the narrator is disgusted by cruelty and violence. It's part of Tolkien's books, because that is the world, but he doesn't revel in the description of violence. He might have a goblin threaten to rip someone's arms off, but he doesn't spend undue amounts of time describing someone's actual arms being ripped off. 

And I think there's a big difference. Partly, it's a difference of medium. It's very different to write that the wizard slashed at goblins chasing them in caves, and a very different thing to show it in a movie. Any visualization is naturally more gruesome. But the problem is how relentless Jackson is (and was in the LOTR movies) in portraying the violence. In the caves, it's not enough for several attacks by goblins, followed by much running away (as in the books). In the movie, it's constant killing. There is no respite. There is no time to breathe. To me the excessive action seems very un-Tolkienesque, a subtle Englishman.

The fighting becomes, in my husband's word "tiresome." It loses any meaning or heroism or plausibility when it is constant.  

(And don't get me started on the White Orc, who was responsible for much of the added fighting, which was a departure from the plot that dominated the original material, rather than complementing it.)

To end on some good notes
There was still much I enjoyed in the movie. Gollum was wonderfully awful but still humorous. And Gollum was a necessary creepy comic break from everything I mentioned above. Serkis managed to make Golllum both funny and terrifying. 

And lastly, Richard Armitage was the best looking dwarf that ever has been. Jackson did give him a prosthetic nose, to save women the uncomfortableness of swooning over a dwarf. And for that, I thank him.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Christmas-y Day

We got Alexandra all dressed up to go see Santy Claus with her cousin.

Santy Claus made her cry. Which made Jett cry. Which ruined the Ahearn's first Santa picture. Sorry guys!

(Yes, this is a picture of a picture. I'm too impatient to wait for my sister to give me the digital copy. I'm the seventh most impatient person on the planet.)

And Alexandra got to open her Christmas present from us. We figured this way she could play for a week before she got some new toys. She loves it. Thanks, Aunt Krista, for the idea! And thanks, husband, for finding it on the cheap on Craigslist.

Friday, December 14, 2012

2012 in Review

I love looking back and remembering all the magical times I've had. This year, I honestly thought I'd look back and find we'd done nothing other than stare at Alexandra. But it turns out we did do a couple things here and there. Here's a look back over 2012.

Perhaps I spoke too soon. In January, we really didn't do anything other than stare at Alexandra and take videos with our new camera. Here's a peek at what she was like in January.

In February, we went for our annual Valentine's trip to Estes Park. We went with three other couples from our small group, so we did a lot of hanging out and talking and eating.

OK, so once again, I don't think we did anything in March other than stare at the baby and get out for an occasional walk. But I did get wrist surgery. That's something! I won't bore you with a picture of my arm. Here's a pic of what Allie looked like in March. I wish I could munch on those arms. 

We were able to get out hiking with our new Kelty pack and enjoy some sights with Alexandra. We went hiking for the last time in a lot of spots before they burned in June, such as this lovely spot in Queen's Canyon.

In May we got to have a fun shower to celebrate Jett's upcoming arrival. We also got to go to both Moab and Buena Vista. I somehow didn't take a single picture in either place! So another one of Allie will have to do.

In June I went to the Niagara region of Canada for a conference for work. It was beautiful and great to see all my coworkers for the first time in a year. And then of course...the world burned down. Or at least our little corner of the world. It was sad and scary and kind of exciting. Many of our favorite hiking trails are still closed and the hills are going to be bare of pine trees for a long time. But it's still beautiful in its own way.

In July, we still reeled from the fire for awhile, but we also got to take a nice trip to Estes Park with Mike's family to meet up with Alexandra's 10 cousins. Here she is with Cousin Caleb. Oh, how I wish Allie was still this fat.

The big news of this month - and this year - was that our wonderful little nephew Jett came to join our family. He's the best thing ever. Now that the adoption is finalized, I can finally show these videos of his arrival. Here is our very first glimpse of Jett coming up the escalators at DIA. Watching this made me bawl.

And here are Alexandra and Jett meeting for the first time.


In September, we celebrated Allie's first birthday and Jett's second birthday. I traveled to Chicago for a conference for work. We also went to Happy Apple Farm to pick some apples and on a tour of the aspens changing in Cripple Creek.

I did enough in September to last me through October as well, so not much happened in this month, other than utter cuteness of Halloween.

This month, Alexandra learned how to walk...kind of. We also went to Denver and Sterling for Thanksgiving to see family. (And somehow didn't take a single photo.)

This month, I went to Canada for work. And December isn't even half way through, so who knows what could happen next.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The 7th Annual Van Schooneveld Christmas Quiz

Merry Christmas!
and welcome to
The 7th Annual Van Schooneveld Christmas Quiz

It's here again! The much anticipated, often copied, but never duplicated Van Schooneveld Christmas Quiz. We feel like we haven't done much other than sit on the couch, hug and kiss Alexandra and take 7 billion videos of her. But as we look back, it's been a pretty full year. Take our quiz to find out if you're a Omnipresent Old Friend, a Sometimes Sally, or if you've been AWOL from our lives. And if you just can't get enough of us, check out some of our previous quizzes: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008.

1. This June, our home was how close to the most destructive wildfire in Colorado's history?
a. 750 feet
b. 950 feet
c. 1,100 feet
d. 1,300 feet

2. In March, Amber had her third surgery in ninth months. What was it?
a. Rhinoplasty
b. Appendectomy
c. Cuteness Reduction Surgery
d. Ganglion Cyst Removal

3. In 2012, Mike continued to flex his handy-man muscles by:
a. Installing heated floors and custom bookshelves
b. Building a walk-in closet and completing our master bathroom re-do
c. Literally flipping our house by picking it up with his huge biceps and rotating it 200 degrees
d. Installing crown molding in the living room, heated floors in the master bath, and building custom bookshelves in the living room

4. Alexandra has acquired many skills, such as crawling, standing and walking. She's also been practicing for the stage. Her favorite roles include:
a. Princess, mommy, and an acrobat
b. Pirate, dinosaur, and super-villain
c. The Man in the Iron Mask, Lady Macbeth, and Captain Underpants
d. Pirate, princess and snake

5. Mike's ice cream store, Glacier Homemade Ice Cream and Gelato, has now been open 2 ½ years. Some landmarks from this year:
a. Our gelato won the Best of the West
b. Our ice cream is now served in three local pizza stores and can be bought by the scoop in 5 stores
c. We now employ 12 people and served our gelato at the Broadmoor, a five-star resort hotel
d. We created several new local flavors including bison praline, trout chunk and donkey pee

6. The Van Clan went to which locations for vacation this year?
a. Moab, Estes Park, and Buena Vista
b. Texas, Estes Park and Breckenridge
c. Aspen, Moab and Salida
d. Djibouti, Nunavut and Ouagadougou

7. Amber traveled to what fine places for work this year?
a. Toronto, Boston, and St. Catherines
b. Chicago, Niagara Falls, and London
c. Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, and Frogmore
d. Nicaragua, Detroit, and Toronto

8. Alexandra shared her first birthday party with her new cousin from Korea named:
a. Jett Hyeong-Joon
b. Jet Cho
c. Jet Hyeong
d. Jett Stanley

9. In August, Amber engaged in what physical feat?
a. She climbed Longs Peak to raise funds for the International Justice Mission
b. She biked from Copper Mountain to Leadville for Children's Hospital
c. She walked from Palmer Lake to Ice Lake to raise funds for refugees in Thailand
d. She sat on the couch and ate chocolate to raise her blood sugar level

10. This year's most surprising moment with Alexandra was:  
a. A giraffe wrapped his tongue around Alexandra's leg and tried to eat her sock.
b. Alexandra perfected her skills as a super-villain, including an evil laugh, an evil look and repeated surprise attacks.
c. Alexandra became an unabashed chocoholic.
d. All of the above

1. a: 750 feet. It was Criz-Azy!
2. d: Ganglion cyst removal; although much to the chagrin of my surgeon and to my discomfort, the (benign) cyst has come back.
3. d: Mike finished our bathroom, built custom bookshelves, and installed crown molding. I haven't posted about the crown molding yet, so this was my trick question to make the quiz harder.
4. b: Pirate, dinosaur, and super-villain are Allie's favorite.
5. b: You can actually get our gelato delivered to your house with a pizza by Marco's pizza! We're also in 5 scoop shops.
7. b: Chicago, Niagara Falls, and London
8. d: Jett Stanley, although I didn't get to post any photos of him since the adoption wasn't final yet.
9. Trick question: c: She walked from Palmer Lake to Ice Lake to raise funds for refugees in Thailand and d: there was much couch sitting and chocolate eating.
10.  d: All of the above. She's constantly surprising us.

1 to 4, AWOL: Where've you been, friend? Let's get a peppermint mocha and chat. 
5 to 7, Sometimes Sally: Merry Christmas, Sally!
8 to 10, Omnipresent Old Friend: Happy New Year, old friend!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Critical Thinker or Critical Spirit?

Mike and I are critical beings. I've blogged about it before. (Now that I re-read it, I sounded rather pompous. I'll try to put on my less pompous self today.) In the previous post, I wrote about how our society can be too credulous. But lately, I've been thinking about how a critical mind can so easily become a critical spirit.

We need critical people. Otherwise, we'd all be effusive supporters of Twilight and The Secret. (Just kidding, I haven't read either.) We also need people whose gifts lie elsewhere than being critical. Otherwise, who would there be to follow my husband's rule when he inevitably dominates the world?

But critical thinking, while good in its pure form, can become ugly. Those of us who tend to be analytical can slowly warp into Mr. Grumpy Grumps. As I thought it over, here are a few things I think are signs that my critical thinking has turned into a critical spirit.

Dismissing people, not ideas
I realize that when I am not simply being a critical thinker, but am having a critical spirit, I tend to dismiss people, rather than their ideas. I think we see this happen a lot in the Christian world. If we disagree with one line of a person's theological thinking, we dismiss the entire person - their service, their ministry, and any other helpful thoughts they might have to offer. I have this problem with books. If there's one line I dislike, I stew on it and read the rest of the book with a chip on my shoulder, closing my mind to any other good things the author might have to offer.

I'm pretty sure that my personal understanding of the world, the Bible and God is not perfect. I'm pretty sure yours isn't either. (Sorry!) We're all fallible, and in retrospect, we can detect the missteps of even the most revered theologians. 

This isn't to say that I should become permissive because we all have faults. It's to say I should be gracious and strive to understand others, rather than practicing a one-strike-you're-out thought policy.

It's about me, not them
Other times when I have a critical spirit, it's even uglier. One word: pride. Rather than focusing on understanding and disassembling thoughts, I become stuck on myself. I am right; they are wrong. Thoughts become personal when our pride is involved, which leads to muddled and biased thinking. 

Sour grapes, not a refreshing peach
The last way I can tell if I'm letting a critical spirit in is simply the fruit. What is growing out of my attitude - sour grapes, or a nice refreshing peach? Truth may be hard, but it is always good. It is never sour or stingy. If I'm sour and stingy, I'm not a harbinger of truth, I'm a critical stickler.

Just a couple things I've been thinking about so that I don't become a Thought Grinch. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Your day just got better.

In the meantime, when she isn't practicing her dance moves, Alexandra has been practicing her walking.

And for those of you who just can't get enough Alexandra, you can watch a couple of random videos on youtube, if you just go to Michael's page.

Amsterdam, December 9, 2002

 Cologne Christmas market

(Wondering why I'm being so presumptuous as to publish my own letters? Read this.)

From: Amber
To: My parents
Sent: Monday, December 9, 2002

Hi guys!  

It's really, really cold here! In the last week or so it's been really cold.

Diane and I in front of one of the doors at the Cologne cathedral

On Saturday, Diane, Naomi, Rachel and I went to Cologne. It was so wonderful! It was really really beautiful. The cathedral is spectacular and we went to the cutest Christmas market. We got to eat all kinds of German food and I bought a bunch of little gifts. I'll have to tell you all about it when I get home.

Eating chocolate covered fruit on a stick at the Christmas market

On the streets of Cologne

I'll be home really soon! [I went home for Christmas.] I just have two classes left. I still haven't finished two of my papers. One I'll finish this week and the other I'll write in January.

I hope you're doing well. See you soon!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Amsterdam, November 28, 2002

(Wondering why I'm being so presumptuous as to publish my own letters? Read this.)

From: Amber
To: My parents
Sent: Thursday, November 28, 2002

Hi mom,

I'm feeling a bit better today, but couldn't sleep last night and had a sore throat when I woke up, so I stayed home from classes. My T.S. Eliot class is cancelled again this week. The email said they were trying to figure out what to do for the rest of the semester. I hope they tell us soon! [The class was later cancelled for the whole semester, after only meeting a couple of times, one of the reasons for my frustration with the program.]

I hope you have a good Thanksgiving. We're having Steef, Jurren, and Marloese over for dinner. I'll be the only one around to cook, so I'll be cooking for six for Thanksgiving. I couldn't find anything at all Thanksgiving-ish at the store except for frozen apple pie, so that'll be our dessert. I'm making fettuccine alfredo with broccoli and chicken. Hopefully it'll be good. I've never made alfredo sauce before. [If I remember correctly, it wasn't very good.]

Mike is in Omaha this week, where Trevor and Dynell live with their new baby, so I'm not hearing too much from him. It's kind of lonely being in a foreign country on a holiday! Oh well. I'm working on a paper today, but getting really tired of it.

Tell everybody that I said Happy Thanksgiving and tell Aunt Cin thanks for the card - it's our sole Thanksgiving decoration!

Have a good day,

I couldn't find the email in which I wrote about a Thanksgiving party that the Smiths had for the team. But I'll post a couple photos at least, for Marcey's sake.

Chris and Marcey brought a taped Broncos game to play in the background of the Thanksgiving party. Here's wee little Lainey, Max, and Jackson, who are now bigguns.

I think there were about 20 to 30 of us there for dinner. Somehow they'd found a turkey and made other Thanksgiving favorites.

One of my good friends, Ned, hanging out on the Smiths stairs.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Amsterdam, November 27, 2002

Here's an email I wrote to my parents after I met with my pastor at a cafe to discuss coming home, which was very helpful to me in making my decision.

(Wondering why I'm being so presumptuous as to publish my own letters? Read this.)

From: Amber
To: My parents
Sent: Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Hi guys!

How are you? I'm good. I'm a little sleepy and feeling like I might be coming down with something. I'll take the rest of the day fairly easy - reading or writing.

I just had my meeting with Steve. It was good. We talked for about an hour or so. He said he wants me to feel totally free in making my decision - not worrying about disappointing anyone or feeling like I'm letting people down or worrying what they will think (which is easy to do). He said really either way that I have his blessing.

He had two thoughts. One was that in the spring we are probably going to be getting started, having our large, kickoff meeting and it would be a shame to miss that and I could be a help in getting ready. The second was that I don't need to feel like if I go home now it means I'm dropping out of the team and I failed. He said he wants people who come back to feel just as much like they were a part of helping something start in whatever capacity their role was. He also would really like to have me as a state-side liaison if I do return. This would mean sending out prayer letters for the team and perhaps writing or organizing a newsletter for the team (kind of like I did before).

So he said he wouldn't view it as me dropping off the team, but returning to the states and continuing to help get things going from this side (if I choose to do so).

So those were his thoughts. It was good to talk to him. This week I've swung back and forth many times between staying and going. Several days I've felt convinced I should stay, other days that I should go. Could you guys pray for me to make the right decision?

Well that's all.

love you,

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Good Aid or Band-Aid?

Here's an article I recently wrote for work. It's on this site, as well as being in the most recent issue of Macleans magazine, which is a weekly news magazine in Canada.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Traveling makes me lose my mind.

I got in to London, Ontario late Sunday night with nary a hitch in the travel. I created my own hitches when some foolish person allowed me to drive in Canada.

I get flustered when I'm in a new situation, and I simply lose my reasoning faculties. When I picked up my rental car in the lot, I stood in front of the space marked with the correct number and pushed the unlock button on the key over and over - looking for a car's lights to turn on. I couldn't figure out why nothing was happening. Then I guy passed me and said, "I think your car is right there," and pointed to a car two spaces down whose lights were flashing. (Talk about tunnel vision.)

Then I drove off in my Mitsubishi and noticed the engine was making suspicious noises. I drove several blocks before realizing I was in the wrong gear. (Fancy Mitsubishi gear shifter!) I've done this roughly five times since I've been here now.

Then I spent some time circling the airport, as I somehow couldn't figure out how to leave an airport that is only the size of a Walmart.

Then at a stoplight, a man honked at me and politely informed me that my lights were off and I'd nearly caused a crash. He asked me if I was lost, which doesn't speak well of my driving. (But he was incredibly nice because, you know, he's Canadian.)

Then I spent 35 minutes driving to my coworker's home that should have only taken 15 minutes thanks to my impeccable sense of direction.

So this is just to say that I lose all ability to reason when I travel. Normally, I'm a competent, capable being. But put me in a place as exotic as Ontario, and I suddenly turn into a 9-year-old with a license.

Personal blunders aside, I've had a great trip so far. I had a nice dinner with my boss and his wife on Sunday. On Monday, I went to meetings, then to the company Christmas party where I ate cheesecake and listened to a song about Tim Hortons that was the Canadian equivalent of this song. Then my crazy coworkers kept me up drinking chocolate milk at the bar until midnight.

Today, my team went out to breakfast at a place that specializes in ridiculous fruit creations, and I got this:

At the door, instead of a bowl of mints, they had pieces of maple fudge. Brilliant!

Next, we drove to a maple farm where I bought treats.

Now I'm just enjoying meetings and getting to know my teammates.

And because no post would be complete without a picture of Allie, here is a totally unrelated photo from Thanksgiving.She looks just like her Grandma Van here.

Newsflash: Just minutes after I posted this, I left Compassion. There are two sets of double doors to leave the building. When I got to the second set of doors, they were locked. I turned around to go back inside, but found the doors behind me locked. So I was locked in the entry way with no escape. I tried turning the lock to no avail. Soon someone passed by, and I knocked on the doors, hoping they'd find me and rescue me. Luckily, it was someone I knew. But she didn't have a key to get back into the building and couldn't help me. She went to all the garden level windows and started knocking to get someone's attention, though most people had already left. Finally someone saw her and came to the front doors to my rescue. It was my boss' boss' boss. He opened the door and told me I could have just unlocked the front doors. I told him it didn't work. He tried it and it unlocked immediately. Yep. I'm pretty awesome.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

My Baby Is a Toddler

Alexandra has taken a step here and there, usually with a day or two in between, not showing much interest in the sport. Then today, she's decided that the effort is worth all the praise she receives.

The very sad thing is that I leave tomorrow for Canada for five days. I'll leave my baby. I'll come home to a toddler. (That is, unless Mike follows my explicit instructions to stifle her growth for the next five days, strapping her into a stroller or carrying her all day long.)