Is Guarding Your Heart for Girls?

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”- Proverbs 4:23 (NIV 1984)

As a single woman, I recently reflected on this verse which I have often heard used in the context of dating relationships. It is usually addressed to young women in purity talks as a kind of feminine counterpart to telling young men to guard their eyes.

However, Solomon wrote this passage, not to women, but specifically to his son. Maybe we need to look at this passage a little closer before applying it to modern situations. In the ancient Hebrew context, the heart was not just the seat of emotions, it was the very being of a person, the source of emotion, will, character, etc. Solomon says that the instruction to guard your heart is “above all else”. This is not a gentle encouragement to be careful about emotional intimacy; this is a vital command. How can we effectively guard our heart (being)?

Wisdom– Looking at the context, Solomon is talking about the importance of wisdom. He also gives specific instructions to his son for avoiding what is evil and doing what is good. Following these wise instructions will protect us. Note that in other passages in Proverbs (7:25 and 23:26), the son is warned not to let his heart be inclined toward an adulteress. This is technically a relationship, but I do not think Solomon is forbidding his son from feeling affection for a woman. He clearly wants him to stand firm against temptation (sexual temptation being a good example because it is so powerful).

Armor– I have recently been studying the armor of God as described in Ephesians 6. Which part of the armor covers the heart (your being)? The breastplate of righteousness. Doing what is right will guard our character and our conscience. How can we do what is right and keep a pure heart? By guarding it according to the Word of God (Psalm 119). Notice again the imagery of guarding or protecting. We can only effectively guard something when we are alert to what is attacking it. Ephesians tells us we are fighting against (and guarding against) the spiritual forces of evil. Be prepared!

Prayer– Philippians 4:7 tells us that when we pray, the peace of God will guard our hearts (and minds). We can seek God’s help in living a pure life.  We can pray for wisdom, we can pray for a better understanding of the Word and the battle we are facing, and we can pray for spiritual protection.

Repentance– Even when we have not kept a good guard up, and the enemy has broken in, God is able to restore our hearts.  After David committed adultery and murder, he wrote Psalm 51 and prays to God to give him a clean heart. We know God answered this prayer and David was still called a man after God’s own heart.

As a single woman, I do want to guard my heart, not against emotional attachment, but against sin. (And yes, for those considering the typical interpretation of this passage, I do see the wisdom in being careful in intimacy and I do want to have self-control over my emotions. I simply do not want to limit the passage.) I definitely want the men around me to be guarding their hearts. I want it to be said of the man I marry “young man, … you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” (1 John 2:14) Stand strong, brothers and sisters in Christ. Put a vigilant guard over your heart, that the enemy cannot sneak in and destroy you.

 

Photo by Henry Hustava on Unsplash

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The Past Made Young

100_2841What kind of evidence do previous generations leave to show that they lived?  I sometimes find myself thinking of them as characters in a book. Pictures add some life, but still portray them as one-dimensional beings. Did they really live in the full sense of the word? Did they have experiences we may still have today or share the same feelings? We cannot brush against them in time, but may find a connection in place or through writing. When we walk the halls of an old home or school (though the building has changed hands many times since) we can sometimes imagine them walking in the same hall. Our life somehow intersects with theirs. If we read the teasing post card sent to a younger brother (delivered decades ago, yet not so different from the text we just sent our own little brother) we start to see what made their life meaningful.

The other week at a yardsale, I found a 1939 yearbook from Lynchburg College. I loved finding a piece of local history, but was even more thrilled that the yearbook was filled with personal notes from friends and faculty beautifully written in the margins. Dorothy Dancy’s name was on the inside cover.  By the time I got to the back cover and had pieced together the little notes to her, as well as her official mentions in the sophomore class and various clubs, I felt that I could envision her in more than one dimension. She was from North Carolina, but had moved to Lynchburg. She was a thespian and had starred in The Importance of Being Earnest that year. Most people referred to her as “cute” or “little”. She had worked at the library and many teased her about how she had made them all be quiet. One girl joked about the time they had ended up with two cute senior boys in the gym. Yes, she underlined “cute”, not me. Others gave fatherly advice, some offered clichés.

In doing a little more research online, I found out whom she later married (to my disappointment, he was not another student mentioned in the yearbook). In the index of students, it listed the street addresses of the local students. I know the family that now lives in Dorothy’s house. Five or six other students lived within just a few blocks of me. I am trying to imagine the people in the yearbook walking around my neighborhood. They probably passed in front of my house regularly and maybe even had been in it. I wonder if they rode to school together, or went fishing on the James River, or went dancing down town. I wonder how many of them died in WWII not long after those yearbook photos were taken. I wonder if there is any student from that yearbook still alive, maybe still close by in the city of their alma mater.

 

At the same yardsale, I also found a scrapbook a mother had made for her son (Proctor Hoskins) in the late 30s and 40s. School supplies lists, handwriting practice, and coloring pages were stuffed in the book. A record of birthday gifts and a small account of his 4th birthday (at a local address) gave me a picture of life back then. Childish drawings showed fighter planes taking out planes emblazoned with the Nazi swastika. In doing some research online, I found out that the boy’s father had been serving in the Navy most of the time the scrapbook was being put together.

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I also have one other local scrapbook that I got as a Christmas present several years ago. These two new finds made me pull it out again. It was put together by a teacher at Madison Heights High School who was also the secretary for the Virginia Education Association. The book includes personal mementos, a church membership card, WWII era newspaper clippings, local political slogans, and funny hand-sketched cartoons.  It also included many items about her students. She included several book reports which had been beautifully illustrated by the same boy. It turns out that the boy became a professional artist and even wrote a book about art (which I, of course, had to get).  Many play bills and programs were also included.

 

100_2864I will probably never be able to fully satisfy my curiosity about these people. However, the wondering makes them more real to me, which I hope honors their memory. It is also a reminder that I will probably not be remembered many generations after my death. I hope my possessions and words that do survive after me reflect the kind of life I want to have. Live life with purpose and know it is only a spiritual legacy that lasts forever.

 

Photos are my own.

Poetry is Good for the Soul

A marbled black and white composition book that I got at the beginning of third grade is one of my most treasured possessions. It is full of hand-copied poems in the neatest handwriting I could muster. Poetry became special to me in first grade. I attended a small classical school and one of the key events of the year was a poetry competition. Every student (from kindergartners to seniors in high school) would memorize a poem to recite to their class. Finalists would be selected from each classroom for a poetry evening. I still remember the poems I learned in 1st and 2nd grade and how hard I worked on presenting them and how fun it was to wear a costume and have props.

In 3rd grade, when my mom began to homeschool me and my sister, we each received a notebook for poetry. We would practice penmanship while copying, talk about vocabulary, meaning, sometimes historical context, and then memorize the poem. We memorized about one a month. I kept it up through high school, memorizing everything from childhood poems by A.A. Milne, fairy tales by J.R.R. Tolkien, and brief poems by Emily Dickinson, to sonnets by Shakespeare and classics by Longfellow, Poe, and both the Brownings. I would sit down and read A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson from cover to cover. Though I have not done much memorizing since graduation, I keep my composition book out and handy. In college and after, I have added poems to it when I read or hear a new one that strikes a chord with me. Recent additions include Afternoon on a Hill by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Human Family by Maya Angelou.

This year, I had the privilege of helping my 1st grade students get ready for the same  poetry competition I was in so many years ago. This year’s selection of poems was written before 1840. My students memorized Mother Goose, Eliza Lee Follen, and even John Bunyan. They tackled some challenging words and abstract concepts and, for some, faced their fears by presenting in front of a large crowd of parents and grandparents.

Why should students have to interact with and even memorize poetry? How does it benefit them? Memorization is often discounted today because it is possible to memorize without understanding. It is true that understanding is the goal. However, it is also true that sometimes understanding follows memorization more easily than it follows explanation. This particular form of memory (poetry) has incredible benefits. Poetry uses an economy of words, often expresses emotions vividly, and trains children to listen to the sounds in spoken words (an important skill for reading). Memorizing poetry for presentation further impacts children. It teaches presentation skills, the use of clear diction, and creative expression. Reading and memorizing poems also helps students build up a stock of good examples of literature (from their own memory and those they have heard performed by their classmates) that they can enjoy and apply later on.

I have enjoyed some reading on classical education this month and found this quote by T.S. Eliot. “No one can become really educated without having pursued some study in which he took no interest-for it is part of education to learn to interest ourselves in subjects for which we have no aptitude.” Even if poetry is difficult or seems boring to some children, it still has a valuable part in education.

 

 

Photo is my own.

This Our Hymn of Grateful Praise

For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies,

For the love which from our birth, over and around us lies;

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

Every morning when I get up and look out my window, I am awed by the beauty around me. The mountains forever call my name and the hues of the bright trees catch my breath. When the sun sets, I again am amazed. Our God is the great God of creation.

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For the wonder of each hour of the day and of the night,

Hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

As much as I love the season of spring when all is new, as much as I love the mid-day sun when all is bright, every hour has its place and purpose. No matter the season or time of day, I am thankful for the plan God has for me and how He is teaching to be here now.

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For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child;

Friends on earth and friends above; for all gentle thoughts and mild:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

I am incredibly thankful to be with my family during this season of life. I have missed them so much and am glad that I can be present as a daughter and sister. The friends God has placed around me and around the world are treasures to me. For the friends who are near, and far, and those who have gone ahead of me to eternity, I must thank God for His gracious gifts to me for the time I had them close.

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For Thy Church that evermore lifteth holy hands above,

Offering up on every shore her pure sacrifice of love:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

I cannot even begin to describe the great mystery of Christ and the Church. I do not understand why Christ would sacrifice Himself for her that we could have fellowship with Him. Neither do I understand how He allows us this incredible communion amongst each other and how the church can come together out of its many diverse parts to bring a song of praise. He knows that we need this kind of community.

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For Thyself, best gift divine, to our race so freely given; 

For that great, great love of Thine, peace on earth and joy in heaven;

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

Best gift of all, the Giver. Thank You that we can know You intimately and that You are the source of all peace, joy, love, and hope. All that is beautiful and good comes from You. To You be glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.

 

For the Beauty of the Earth text by Folliott S. Pierpoint

First three photos are mine of Thanksgiving 2016. Fourth photo is Carola Venega’s of part of the Church in Mexico.

How the Hobbit Got Back Again

I have been fortunate enough to have a nice amount of free time recently and have been looking for some good books to fill my quiet evenings, so it seemed appropriate to choose a dependable book I could trust for enjoyment. I was not disappointed by The Hobbit. While reading and relishing, I noticed a theme I had not paid much attention to before. Perhaps circumstances have given me a keener insight into this particular theme.

After going home for Christmas break and then returning to Guadalajara, I again began thinking about the balance of the beauty and wonder of the world contrasted by the pleasure and familiarity of home. Or perhaps they really complement each other after all.

Either way, Bilbo’s character represents this tension well. He does not want an adventure, resents the adventure much of the way, and happily returns from the adventure. Yet he does accept the adventure of his own will and completes his purpose in it admirably, and even goes beyond his duty. His Tookish side leads him to accept the appeal of the adventure and when all is done, he is weary, but not regretful. He has friends among the race of dwarves, has been named elf friend by the Elvenking, and been hosted in plenty by many good and wonderful people of various kinds. He has also suffered much, feared much, and sorrowed much for his trouble.

The alternate title is There and Back Again. The “back again” section of the story takes up only one short chapter and an additional couple of pages, yet it seems quite important that Bilbo came back again. The whole story points to his return as he constantly thinks of his comfortable chair, his sitting room, his tea, etc. “not for the last time.” The part of him that thirsted for adventure has been satisfied, well, for 60 years anyway. He is satisfied with home and indeed “the sound of the kettle on his hearth was ever after more musical than it had been even in the quiet days before the Unexpected Party.” Yet the adventure has left a strong mark. He began writing poetry and he would visit elves and be visited by them and other “foreign” people. He also loved to share about his times abroad, though most of his stories were discounted by the skepticism of hobbits.

I love to travel. I love to experience new things and talk with people who have different perspectives and backgrounds. I like to see beautiful and unique things in person and not just through a picture on Pinterest. I am enjoying my overseas experience now and hope I will be able to travel to many more places in my lifetime. However, something about my little city makes my heart happy and contented. I hope that I will also get much more time there and that it will be said of me, she “remained very happy to the end of [her] days, and those were extraordinarily long.”

Photo from unsplash.com

An Ideal (yet real) Relationship

 

            In literature, it is so often difficult to find a balance between the ideal and the real. The division might also be described as the balance between classic storytelling and contemporary storytelling. Contemporary books, often more realistic, can tend to be so close to life that they are boring or are too base and graphic to make an enjoyable read. Inversely, the older style which embraced more idealism can seem too predictable or be resolved so perfectly that it cannot be taken seriously. I find that this balance is especially hard to achieve when it comes to stories centered around love relationships. However, I discovered the perfect blend of classic and contemporary in Charlotte Bronte’s The Professor. The professor is William Crimsworth, a gentleman cut off from his relations and means of support in England, who becomes a teacher in Belgium to earn his living. Frances Henri, whose only relation is her sickly aunt, teaches lace mending at the same school, but becomes William’s student in a desire to improve her English and broaden her opportunities. The plot is very simple and takes no unexpected twists, but the relationship between William Crimsworth and Frances Henri is beautifully done.

            Their relationship seems to embrace all of the good concepts of both historic courtships and modern engagements. They are realistic about each other’s shortcomings, yet charmingly choose to focus on one another’s best points. For example, William acknowledges that his fiancé is not the greatest of beauties, yet he is attracted to “the graces of her person” still and enjoys her beauty. In fact, at one point, he cannot contain himself and pulls her into his lap to first declare his love. He does, however, exercise control in waiting until she has confessed her own love and promised to marry him before he asks if he can kiss her. In fact, he frequently begs kisses from her even after their marriage. Aside from this physical attraction, he is an intellectual sort and makes clear that Frances’ mind is not only what first attracted him to her, but also the bond that holds him to her the strongest. This sweet holistic blend of loving both mind and body of a sweetheart is another characteristic I rarely find. Many old books treat true love as an ethereal, intellectual substance which shuns the carnal desires of flesh and is content with a mere look or spoken word from a lover. On the flip side, many new books focus on the physical, sexual drive that unites a couple’s bodies while minimizing the meeting of minds.

The couple also commands my admiration because they can communicate without trying to dominate each other. Each desires to yield to the other and so they work through situations together.  One important discussion they have is if Frances should continue her new position as teacher in an English school after they are married. Frances expresses a very modern opinion of desiring to be working and making profit even though they could be supported on just William’s salary. William, on the other hand, speaks of how precious the idea is to him of “becoming the providence of what he loves- feeding and clothing it, as God does the lilies of the field” and requests of her that he be allowed to give her rest from the hard work she has been doing to support herself. In a more modern or feministic story, Frances would have asserted herself and William would have been humbled. Instead, Frances acknowledges his superiority and gently persuades him that people who work together, even suffer together, esteem each other more highly than those who only interact for the purpose of pleasure or comfort. And so William yields for the sake of her happiness and agrees with her that she should continue working.

Later on in their marriage, Frances shows an entrepreneurial side and suggests that she begin her own school. William takes her suggestion seriously and supports her in it. Even though the school is her endeavor, she insists on his teaching at her school at least an hour daily. Why? Because she wanted him to be a part of what was significant in her life and because she wanted him to know how her day was filled so that what was important to her could be important to him as well. He was not allowed to fall out of touch with her school and he was always applied to when anything difficult arose in the school. As William words it, “it was her pleasure, her joy to make me still the master in all things”.

And so, unexpectedly, in a lesser known work of one of the Bronte sisters, I find the perfect model of a couple that I have always been looking for in literature and never quite finding. Here is a couple that complements each other and defers to one another in love, even in the modern context of a working family. A couple where the man is decidedly masculine in providing for his family and leading his wife and the woman is sweetly feminine, industrious as the woman described in Proverbs 31, yet deferring to her husband and looking to his support. What was their secret? Perhaps William is right when he says, “Frances was then a good and dear wife to me, because I was to her a good, just, and faithful husband”. 

The Call of the Child

Take a wild guess which book I read last. If the title was not enough to give you a clue, my last sentence hopefully made it clear. Yes, I recently read Jack London’s The Call of the Wild for the first time. Aside from the setting, I did not know anything about the book as I began to read (always the best way to start a book) and I enjoyed this short little novel. I really liked the unique perspective of the story being told through a dog’s eyes. Stating it briefly like that kind of makes it sound like a Disney movie, but it was not tacky or unbelievable and every emotion Buck portrayed and everything he observed and understood was perfectly in keeping with what you can observe in a real dog’s behavior. For example, you can observe that dogs feel loyalty and affection to certain people and other animals. The general plot of the book is a pet reverting back to the wild, becoming stronger and fiercer until he forsakes human company and joins the wolf pack.

            It is very evident that London was heavily influenced by Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Buck is described as going through a process that stripped the tame generations from him. It is also observed that Buck learns that nothing matters except survival and only the toughest survive in the wild. The Call of the Wild is a great piece of literature, but I admit that I do not agree with the bleakness of the evolutionary outlook. In this case, I am not even so concerned with where this theory says the earth came from, but where it implies it is going. I recalled Romans 8:19-22 which describes creation being subjected to futility because of the sin of man and that it longs to see the full redemption of man because it too will be redeemed at that time and set free. In the meantime, it groans, as if in the pain of childbirth, waiting for the coming hope. I want to read a story that keeps the concept of using a creature’s perspective that reflects this worldview. I want to read a story that subtly shows a dog (or other animal) longing for peace and for the redemption of man. One day, according to Isaiah 11:6-9, the wolf (even as cruel and selfish in its desire for survival as described by London) will live with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the calf with the lion. These animals are described as grazing and eating straw, no longer requiring death to satisfy their hunger. And sweetest of all, a little child will lead them. Creatures small and large will listen for the call of a child and follow his leading peacefully. Verse 9 specifically says “They will not hurt or destroy”. Why this change from their “natural” behavior? Because “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord”.  Knowledge of the Lord is not limited to humans! Amazing! Just as the curse on the caretakers ruined the creatures and gave them selfish, destructive natures, the healing of the caretakers will also bring peace to those under their authority.

As a clarification, I do not believe that animals have souls or that they can share in God’s Spirit. And I do not thing Scripture is clear enough to say that animals’ spirits are eternal. However, I do think that God does love animals because they are also a part of his creation. And I think that those who believe in a God who created all things for his glory will treat animals and the earth with respect and seek to hasten the day when the WHOLE earth will be made new.