Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Truth of the Matter

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie...
~Romans 1:25a

"What is truth?" Pilate asked Jesus. It's a question that has echoed down through the ages, and still confounds people today. My high school English teacher often challenged us to ask ourselves, "Is it truth with a capital 'T' or lowercase?" Is it absolute truth, or is it relative? That's an even more difficult question in our culture now where absolutes are shouted down absolutely. We are encouraged to be tolerant toward all...unless someone's conviction doesn't permit acceptance of all views. It's an impossible weight to carry, and at times it seems like the world is fracturing under the stress of it. This past year has been the worst I've seen, and I've found myself shaken when I've discovered many of my truths are at odds with friends and family whose beliefs and values I've trusted. I do believe there is Truth with a capital 'T', God's Truth, but I have to be careful to define it on His terms and not my own. 

Recently Kraig and I started watching the series The Man in the High Castle. Its premise is an alternate history 1962 in a world where Germany under Hitler won World War II. The eastern United States is now part of the Reich, and the Pacific States have been ceded to Japan; an uneasy alliance exists between Japan and the Reich, and a stranger relationship has developed between the former Americans and their captors. The story is intriguing and unnerving, obviously because the thought of the United States under an ideology like the Reich is horrible to imagine, but also because there are so many plot points that reflect realities that are in our own world today.

One of the most disturbing characters is Obergruppenführer John Smith, an American-born high-ranking official of the Reich in New York. Though he was born before the war he is, at least as far as we've gotten, completely loyal to the aging Hitler and the ideology of the Reich with its fierce anti-semitism and annihilation of anyone who doesn't fit the Aryan model. He is ruthless, and would be impossible to sympathize with in any way if he did not have a family which he obviously loves, particularly his teenage son, Thomas. 

(For those who haven't seen the show and hope to, the following bit is something of a spoiler, though I have no idea how it's going to play out as the seasons continue. I'll leave the decision to go on up to you.)

In an episode 8 of the first season, Smith takes his son to the doctor to check out a strained wrist. After the appointment, the doctor privately pulls Smith into his office and reveals that Thomas is in the early stages of a terminal congenital disorder. In the scene, Smith is visibly shaken, and I remember thinking, Whoa, this will make him more human! Smith asks the doctor if they can get a second opinion.

"You have that option" the doctor replies. "But you should be aware that if he is submitted to others for examination this would become an institutional issue."

"Oh, I see. Yes, of course," Smith responds, flustered out of his typical reserve. 

What? I thought. That's not an option! And it hit me that under a totalitarian system, there wouldn't be the freedom to privately seek other opinions, particularly in a system where illness was seen as imperfection to be eradicated.

But the scene didn't end there. The doctor counsels Smith that he and his wife can treat their son at home (quietly and behind the scenes, I thought, to get around regulations). Then the doctor pushes a syringe and ampule across his desk to the dazed father. 

"As for medical assistance..." he says, describing the ingredients: morphine, scopolamine, and prussic acid. 

And finally the full truth of what was going on in the scene sank in. The "medical assistance" was death. In the Reich, there was no room for disabilities or long-term care for anyone terminally ill. They had to be terminated. They were a drag on society, or worse, a blight. Later that evening in the same episode, Smith flips through an old photo album of he and his brother. His wife looks over his shoulder reminiscing and speaks of how she wished she had had siblings and the great relationship like what he had had with his brother. "Seeing your brother like that, it must of broken your father's heart," she says, revealing to the audience that Smith's brother must have died of the same disease Thomas has. Then, in complete contradiction to her own logic regarding the joy of siblings, and in oblivion to the truth she says, "Well at least now, when someone is terribly ill, they're not allowed to suffer. That's a blessing."

I was still mentally reeling over the sight of that bottle and ampule. This was not an alternate history. Oregon already has its doctor-prescribed death-in-a-bottle for terminal patients. Colorado and California passed similar laws in their November votes. It's not our policy-makers who voted in these laws, it is "we the people." We don't have the excuse of a dictator with a hit-list against anyone who doesn't fit his ideal of humanity. In our country, the arguments seem to run along the lines that these prescribed suicides are for overall "health" in a  way--family health, society's health, the removal of an individual's suffering. We should not allow suffering. We should not create an economic drag on society. All the while we move blindly into a new Reich where prescribed death is acceptable and cheap, while actively researching potential cures and caring for those who are weak and suffering, and learning from them in the process, is seen as an impediment to cultural advancement.

Eight years ago today, our daughter Keren died. During the course of her life, from before she was born to the day she died, and since, she had purpose and significance. This wasn't just because we loved her, but because we saw that every piece of her Trisomy 18, genetically-flawed, body had been given to us by a God we loved and trusted. She was not a curse; she was not an object of suffering; we were not heart-broken by her brokenness. We were transformed by her existence. We grieve her death, but it is not grief without hope.

In addition to our own walk, throughout her life we were surrounded by family, friends, doctors, and teachers who were there for us and for her. They sought ways for her to reach her full potential. No doctor or teacher could really state her full potential with "facts" because in this world where we can help the sick, people are continually seeking to discover things about our bodies and about diseases. There is always the possibility of a cure. It is only in a world where suffering is considered unacceptable, life expendable, and death preferable that nothing will be done to improve it. 

We have a choice. We can go with the current flow and accept the "truth" that suffering is unacceptable and that there are certain people who disrupt things by their flawed existence, or we can stand against it by holding those who are suffering and learning together what true love really is. Yes, the world is broken, but it is God's Truth that it will be made new, and in a small, faithful way, we can be a part of that restoration.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Finding the Light Side

Written Sunday, October 30, 2016

Here we are back in the States and once again on the verge of Halloween. Buckets of candy are looming, costumes, and today--carving pumpkins. Two years ago, our first fall in Guadalajara, we had to think through their Día de los Muertos and while we heard that trick-or-treating happened, we had no where to go for it. We ended up skipping costumes (which was fine by me) and per a friend's suggestion we gave each kid some money to choose their own candy from the store.

Last Halloween, our second year in Guadalajara, our friends the Smiths lived in a gated community where trick-or-treating happened. The kids cobbled together costumes and we went out with the Smith's son, Luke. It was Luke's first time ever trick-or-treating and it took us a house or two before we realized there was a song we were supposed to sing in order to get candy. Mexico is happy to take on other countries' traditions, but they're going to put their own twist on them. Whatever the case, great enjoyment was had by all.

This year's crew: Sapphire Girl, Obiwan Kenobi, & Owl Girl
Some folks are able to track down pumpkins to carve, but we never got that far. Because of this the kids were thrilled to get pumpkins this year, and this afternoon we had a carving party. The kids are definitely growing up because I didn't have to do much beyond cutting off the top of the pumpkins and digging out the final bits of the innards. I did end up helping Jon, but mostly because the concept of negative space was new to him and he almost cut his pumpkin's giant mouth in reverse.

Once the kids found their groove, I wandered the yard picking up pecans. They planned and worked and eventually songs broke out, and ballads were sung to the "brains" of the pumpkins, the stringy orange strands lined with seeds. Ev eventually lapsed into Spanish and sang, "Me gusta tus naranjas, con mi amor"* in convincing tones. It certainly moved me to tears of laughter.

Three jack o' lanterns now grace our porch waiting for their darkness to be turned to light tomorrow night. As Clare aptly put it, "The only way to make the pumpkins truly bright is to take out their brains." We have succeeded.

* "I like your oranges, with my love."

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Pulling It All Together

Written Saturday, October 29, 2016

We've done certain things to make this house homey. The kitchen is in order and functioning, the dining table accessible. The family room and library are inviting. All of the books are at hand--this is extremely important.

Decorations are, on the other hand, a little random. Of course, I suppose they always have been. My mom likes to say she decorates in "Early Eclectic" and I've taken after her in that. Our couch is a hand-me-down originally from my mom's mom. The dining table was a wedding gift from my grandmother and actually new (when we got married, twenty-one years ago), but the chairs were from my dad's side and are probably going on 100 years old. We have paintings painted by Kraig's grandmother, kids' art projects, garage sale finds, and lots and lots of trinkets from around the world.

Right now the trinkets are a complete hodgepodge. They are primarily the items I came across first when unpacking and actually had a place for. Since a lot of the house isn't organized yet, and even the core isn't completely put together. Many things are still packed away. So right now our fireplace mantle has a set of shi shi dogs from China, an angel figurine which was a gift from our neighbors in Michigan, a candle holder from Guadalajara, a pot Ev made from clay at Guachimontones in Mexico, a china plate from Kraig's grandparents (I think), a mini pumpkin Clare got at a fall festival last week, and a carved turtle--probably from Kenya. Don't even get me started on what's in our China cabinet.

Sometimes I look at the hodge lodge and wonder if it will ever come together in a harmonious whole. I see those home design programs and wish I could have a room or two with that kind of unity. But then I look at the things we have and all the history, places, and memories attached to them and I wouldn't trade them for anything.

Now...if we could just get a few pictures up. There's always room for improvement.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Zoo Trip

Animals found!
Today we visited Caldwell Zoo which is in Tyler, Texas, a little less than an hour from us. We met up there with my new friend Jenn and her two kids and spent a productive few hours socializing and discovering certain animals from different parts of the world. Jenn's kids have just finished a biology unit on animals and she'd made up a animal scavenger hunt which my kids were able to join in on. Great excitement on all sides.

The Caldwell Zoo isn't a big city zoo, but it's pretty and well-kept and the right size for a few hours. I that a good selection of animals, especially birds. Their macaws are magnificent as well as chatty.

Sadly, the elephant exhibit was under construction so we didn't get to enjoy those pachyderms, but their two black bears and white tiger were impressive. I loved the Texas Longhorns, but the kids' favorite place was an enclosure filled with small birds, primarily parakeets and cockatoos, where you're given a little stick coated in bird seed and the birds flock to you to get some.

There's something so refreshing about a nice zoo. Animals are always interesting and great for conversation. Even alligators lounging in the shallows and a rat snake muscling its way up a wall are worth taking the time to watch. And, I don't know, but maybe a parakeet is the pet we should get...or maybe a squirrel monkey :) . Think Kraig might go for it?

Friday, October 28, 2016

International Flavor

I think I'd go a little stir crazy if I lived in a completely monocultural community. Having grown up in a missionary family, and being married to a fellow missionary kid has certainly formed my viewpoint, but there it is. Throughout our lives our homes have had people in and out who come from different countries, or have worked in other parts of the world, or who are from other parts of the country. In our home the world is never small...and yet you never know when you'll run into someone who knows someone you know.

Of course, sometimes one needs to search a little for the multicultural. Canton, Michigan, is incredibly diverse culturally, but even there there are pockets of folks who were born and raised in Southeast Michigan, and so were their parents and grandparents. In Guadalajara we were the unusual ones. Naturally we met a lot of others not from Guadalajara, but the overall culture is not diverse. Here in Longview there are generations of folks who have lived here, like one of the librarians who told me she thought Longview was one of the beautiful places in the world though she's never actually lived anywhere else.

For us, though, Longview is multicultural. For one thing there's the large Hispanic contingent which often make me feel I haven't really left Mexico. And then at LeTourneau there are staff and students from all over the globe. The prof wives I met hail from all over, which makes for a great mix. And then one of the moms I've connected with through the homeschool group is Russian. She and her son who's Jon's age were over this afternoon and it was so fun to talk food and culture and world with her.   And of course, Longview itself is a new culture for our family, so we can be the strange newbies for a while...or forever!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Taste for the Quiet Life

The problem with events that happen in the evening is that we aren't at home. And home in the evening is a haven. We had nighttime events for all of us Monday and Tuesday this week, and this evening Clare had practice for a Christmas musical. Evie came with me to drop Clare off, and then the two of us ran some errands...and then it was time to pick up Clare. And now it's past bedtime for the kids. So much for the evening. I'm looking forward to tomorrow night since we'll be home.

Perhaps it's my introvert side, and Kraig's too, that we prefer home to going out and about. The two events this week were great, but I wouldn't want to make a habit of it. hen we were house-hunting last summer we met a lively rental manager who originally hailed from Venezuela. She gave us all sorts of tips about things to do and see in and around Longview. "But," she said with a sigh, "there's not much night life here." Kraig and I gave our condolences but made sure we didn't look at each other or we'd have burst out laughing. An active night life is that last thing we've ever pined for.

We also hold dear the kids' bedtime which happens a couple hours before ours. We're hanging on to that for as long as we can. Even when we're doing nothing, or Kraig is swamped with grading and class prep so I'm left to my own devices--even then the kids are sent to bed because we want to be alone. Selfish, aren't we?

So, yeah, quiet nights are our preference. But the last few nights haven't been, and tonight has been later, too, because of Clare's event. As a result I'm writing with kids milling around getting ready for bed. Evie, who's done, is cuddled beside me and pointing out words she can't read because I'm writing too fast and messily. "What's that word?" she wants to know. And then she comments on my editing process.

But the others are done now and it's time to herd them into bed. Then, hopefully, I won't stay up too late relishing the silence.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Shakespeare Under the Stars

(I wrote this out last night, but it was to late to type it up and post it.)

I've wanted to write at some point specifically about our homeschool experience--the good, the bad, the uncertainty and insanity :) . There are so many pros and cons and so much we're still figuring out that I haven't been quite brave enough to attempt the topic. So I'm not going to yet.

But tonight we got to do something incredibly fun that we really couldn't have done if we weren't homeschooling. We let the kids stay up late on a school night to go see a play. And it wasn't just any play. It was Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, put on by a theater troop from East Texas Baptist University, a university in a neighboring town They performed it outside of the student center at LeTourneau this evening...for free! And it was terrific.

Not only did Kraig and I like it, but the kids--all three--thoroughly enjoyed it, and not just because there were free snacks :) . I took the plunge this fall, decided to go completely nerdy, and introduce the kids to Shakespeare's plays before they are old enough to think they are boring and impossible to understand. I've heard a lot in the past few years about using picture book versions and other retellings as a jump off point to the real text. Read-Aloud Revival hostess, Sarah Mackenzie, has interviews some folks about it, as has Pam Barnhill of ED Snapshots. The clincher, for me, was when Read-Aloud Revival introduced Ken Ludwig and his book How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. He not only hits on some of the stories, but he helps guide memorizing some passages. And the first play he tackles is A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The kids have responded varyingly. All three like hearing the stories, but while Ev and Jon have dug into the fun of memorizing some of the poetry, Clare has balked and groaned. But she always does that regarding anything she deems pointless, and you can talk to her till you're blue in the face about the beauty of language and how great it all is for stretching your brain. It's no use because she knows better. It's amazing how knowledgeable an 11-year-old can be....

But tonight all three were enthralled. Jon got the actors to sign his program, and was excited to see some kids he knew from church. Ev decided she wants to act out a scene with Puck (as long as she can play Puck). Clare chatted with the girl who played Hermia and was challenged to try acting something sometime, and she didn't toss her head in scorn! All in all it was one of those experiences where I see a glimmer of progress and a reason to keep on the path we're currently taking.

P.S.~ Sarah Mackenzie's site is currently down for maintenance, but be sure to save it to check out later. It's lovely.