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.

Hawaii: How to Ruin Cross Cultural Ministry

As an English major, I have always found an appreciation for literature as a reflection of real life. Ideals are helpful sometimes and often a more relaxing read, but realism also has the potential to teach. Hawaii, by James Michener, is one of the excellently told stories which has many great lessons about human nature. I read this book several years ago, but was reminded of it this week when I watched the 1966 movie version (why yes, that is Julie Andrews). The novel spans the course of 2,000 years or more. It is truly a story of Hawaii itself and the overall development of the land and culture. The movie focuses in on a fourth of the tome and is still almost three hours long. It covers twenty years of the first missionary contact with the Hawaiian people.

The missionaries arrive and one man in particular succeeds in perpetually sabotaging his own ministry with legalism and insensitivity. He sees little fruit, he and his family personally suffer, and he questions God’s purpose. He is portrayed as ignorant and pragmatic. Some Christians would view this portrayal and assume the author is hostile to Christianity and therefore we should disregard his writing and look to the biographies of the fruitful, godly missionaries of history. However, I believe Michener has some very keen insights into the potential dangers of ineffective cross cultural work. He portrays them in a realistic narrative which causes us to weep or rejoice with the characters.

The first lesson we can learn from Abner Hale about how to ruin your ministry is to be ethnocentric. Reverend Hale and some of the other missionaries are absolutely convinced that their culture is sanctified because of its Christian history and therefore they can learn absolutely nothing from the “heathen” Hawaiians. One missionary refuses to let the Hawaiian midwives assist his wife. He goes so far as to drag his wife across miles of terrain to the other missionaries who have no experience and are dependent on the midwifery book. His wife dies as a consequence. Reverend Hale never listens to advice from the Hawaiians on any level and persists in American customs wholly unrelated to the church or moral issues, such as eating similar meals to what he would have in New England and dressing in the same manner, including warmer clothes for “winter”.

Secondly, in fruitless ministry, the important matters of teaching, discipling, and leading are reserved for the missionaries. Abner Hale refuses to ordain the young Hawaiian who first inspired him to come to Hawaii, believing him to be too immature yet. In fact, he is unwilling to ordain any Hawaiian…yet. The young man waits for nearly a decade until he is driven to frustration and reverts to the old Hawaiian beliefs and customs. It is interesting that even the mission board rebuked Abner on this, insisting that the church should have been turned over to native leadership long before. This gave me a clue that perhaps Michener did not think mission work was worthless, only that it could be done and had been done wrong in this case. This part of the book saddened me more than any other death or tragedy. Christ gave us the priesthood of all believers through His Spirit. What a shame to deny that to any believer, especially one willing and able to lead.

Another tip, expect people to change their behavior before they come to God. Yes, repentance is part of submitting to Christ, but there will be many battles with various sins in one’s life throughout life. Abner Hale expected the people to give up their idols, their sexual practices, etc. before they had experienced God’s grace and without knowing His power. We cannot expect the fruit of the Spirit before the Spirit is present.

Finally and perhaps most important, if you want to destroy your ministry, be focused on yourself. In the rough moments, Abner Hale’s true desire showed through. His desire was to build his ministry. He was frustrated by setbacks, not so much because he was burdened for the people or he wanted to see God glorified, but he wanted his church to grow and his converts to be examples of his ministry. Ambition is a deadly fault. There will always be setbacks or struggles along the ministry, but our hearts will reveal if we are burdened for God’s work and for the people he loves or if we are mourning the loss of our own dream.

Thank you for listening to my musings. I hope they are an encouragement to you in regard to cross cultural ministry. Additionally, don’t be afraid of negative portrayals of Christians or Christian workers in literature. The Bible itself is full of all kinds of embarrassing and shameful accounts about the Israelites and the people in the church, some of whom were humble and repentant and others who were not. What can we learn from these examples? Is there truth in the negative portrayal? Better to take heed from a negative example and examine yourself than continue in prideful error.

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

Farewell, My Pelf

            I still do not understand how a suitcase that was not even full could be 25 pounds over the weight limit. I had to open it up again, transfer some essentials to another bag and reluctantly put away about 15 pounds of the non-essentials. It seemed so hard to do that. I was going to Mexico and leaving friends, family, and comfort and I could not even take my favorite mug or my hymnal with me? I felt like some inherent right had been violated. That was when I remembered how American it is to claim rights, while how Christ-like it is to deny yourself your rights for the sake of another. And then I realized I was being just a little ridiculous. Not only am I very blessed to have so many material possessions, I am also blessed to have a safe place to keep them for the time I am gone. If I cannot have all of my favorite clothes with me in Mexico, at least I know they can stay in my closet and will be there when I come home on break. I do not have to permanently say goodbye to all of my books and keepsakes. I do not have to make the decision about if I am going to pay to store my great grandmother’s antique bedroom furniture or if I need to sell it.

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            It makes me think of the sacrifices that so many missionaries made throughout history and are still making today. Even though our culture today offers so many options and conveniences when it comes to travel, shipping, and storage, there comes a point for the committed Christ follower to part with some possessions. If I end up serving as a Christian worker long term overseas, will I be able to justify having a storage unit full of possessions at “home” as well as all my possessions in my host country? When so many people around the world have so little? And when the lure of possessions is so strong? When an American sense of entitlement takes a stronger hold the more things I have? My sacrifice at this time is small, but I do not know what level of sacrifice I may be called to one day if I choose to live overseas long term.

            I am reminded of Anne Bradstreet’s poem, “Upon the Burning of Our House”.  Her house was burned to the ground in 1666 and most of her possessions lost. Though this was not a voluntary sacrifice of possessions, her attitude was as if she had come to the place that she would willingly have offered her things as a flaming sacrifice. She notes that, “He might of all justly bereft/ But yet sufficient for us left”. She acknowledges that even were all possessions destroyed or willingly sacrificed, God in his fullness would be enough. This is important for every Christian to consider, though many American Christians do not have to face the realities of this in daily life. Bradstreet concludes by dwelling on Christ’s sacrifice for us, in which he gave all, and says, “There‘s wealth enough, I need no more,/ Farewell, my pelf, farewell, my store./ The world no longer let me love,/ My hope and treasure lies above.”

            I desire to learn to sacrifice with willingness and joy, knowing the reward that lies ahead.

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