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.

Cultivating a Garden

God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures.

— Francis Bacon

April showers bring May flowers. They also bring weeds. This month, I have been reminded of this as I enjoy the fresh beauty of the outdoors, both in my yard and in the gardens around my school. In March, I was giddy to see the trees were budding in purple Virginia fashion and daffodils were springing up. Later came black-eyed Susans, irises, peonies, and roses. I was frustrated to find that many dandelions (I cannot concede these be counted as a flowers), wild onions, crab grass, clover, some unidentified spiny thing, and a host of other undesirables also sprang up. The garden out my classroom window looked a little more like a wild jungle than a peaceful garden. Finally, I couldn’t stand it. One afternoon after school, I went out and pulled up as many weeds as I could. I had a huge pile of weeds when I was done, yet the garden still looked over run. I realized that part of its appearance was due to an overabundance of good things. Many of the flowers had not been thinned out recently, the ground cover had not been trimmed back, and the bushes and trees needed pruning. Meanwhile, at home I helped my mom pull out a patch of irises. We only did this because this was the second year in a row they had not bloomed. Why not? The previous owner of the garden had let them become too crowded and overgrown by weeds. The soil was also full of rocks that had worked their way up to the surface. A garden needs cultivation.

God makes all things perfect, but he has made things living, not static. Yes, there is much to enjoy in untouched nature, but in the beginning, God placed man in a garden and told him to tend it. I wonder what tending the Garden of Eden would have involved. Did Adam and Eve prune the fruit trees? Try to develop varieties of plants? Arrange the plants as they wished? Remember this was before the fall. They did not have to fear weeds or the toil that Adam was later cursed with, but they still had responsibility and work.

A garden is such a lovely metaphor. Even when we have planned something well (a schedule, a relationship, habit, etc.), we need to continually be working on it and cultivating it. Just because the garden is laid out well, does not mean that you can leave it alone forever. Because of the curse, you need to look out for the weeds that creep in and then multiply when they have an entrance. Even just preventing or removing the bad is often not enough. You also need to make sure the good, planned things in your life do not overrun the rest. A crowded garden is typically unhealthy.

Enjoy the spring in your garden! In your literal and figurative gardens, be willing to do the hard work of cultivating so that you can enjoy the flowers and the fruit in their appropriate seasons.

I Can’t Stay Away

Spring Break is a beautiful thing. It is so good to have a break from teaching to relax! I was able to return to Guadalajara for the week. Many people here and there have asked me how hard it was to adjust back to American culture or if I have experienced reverse culture shock. The transition has been easier for me than I had expected. I think this is for a few reasons. First, I was quite busy as soon as I arrived home in the U.S. and had a lot going to keep my mind engaged. I was very focused on the task of figuring out my role in my new school and organizing and setting up my classroom. Another thing that made the transition easy was that I kept a tie to Mexican culture by joining a Spanish speaking small group. This helped me make friends with people who know something of the experience of living in Mexico (or another Spanish speaking country). I can keep speaking Spanish, talk about Latino culture, make bilingual jokes, etc. I even have discovered a place to salsa dance in my home town. It is not quite the same as dancing in the streets of Guadalajara, but it was one of the activities I was sad to give up so I am thankful that I still get to do it sometimes. Salsa also provides another opportunity for speaking Spanish! Finally, I have been looking forward to this trip since the summer, knowing I would not be saying goodbye to friends forever.

I prayed for my trip that I would get quality time with as many people as possible. He was so faithful to answer! A fun surprise started out the trip as I had the same flight to Atlanta as a high school group from my school going to Belize. I enjoyed chatting with them in the airport and on the plane. Sunday, I spent the full day with my church on a retreat. It was so encouraging to see how the church has grown in depth and number and many of the individuals I have prayed for are thriving. Monday was dedicated to the school. I wandered around the campus catching up with American and Mexican teachers, staff, students, etc. I loved having lunch with my former students and then playing games with them at recess. I went back nearly every day for this sweet time with my not-so-little ones.

 

Throughout the week, I caught up individually with many people, often while eating (another thing I have been looking forward to on this trip). I have missed avocados, frijoles, lonches, Mexican popsicles, and, most of all, tacos! It was great to be able to enjoy authentic food and it was so refreshing to go deeper with friends and hear about their ministries, goals, struggles, and joys. I shared tears more than once and lots of laughs as well. God is taking such good care of them, even when I am away. I knew I could trust him with them when I last said, “Adios” (blog post: Good in Good-bye).

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My last day, some of the Lincoln teachers joined me in going to Tlaquepaque. We had fun looking around in artisan shops, taking pictures, and even caught a free show which included traditional Mayan dancing, dancers from Veracruz and Jalisco, and live Mariachi music.  I bought a piece of art made by the Huichol people. I recently have been doing some research about this people group. They are one of the least reached in Mexico and are located not far from Guadalajara. I bought the art to remind me to pray for them more often. As a closing gift, I coincidentally ran into the only friend I had not been able to contact during the week. I loved my break and I hope I can visit again soon.

 

Photos are my own.

Nothing New

Everyone wants to be original, creative, the first to do something. It is the mark of our culture. We are independent and unique. We value fresh, new, innovative art, music, and technology. Originality is held as a virtue. Does being original make one better than the rest?

I am also a product of my culture. I want to be seen as creative and unique, especially in my writing. I like when I can come up with a fresh idea or can think of a clever frame for a story. I feel like the written word is one of the few areas I am truly creative. In other areas, I am usually just following a model. I can cook well because I can follow a recipe well, I can sew or makes crafts well because I find good patterns. I can play beautiful music because I practiced technique and play exactly what is written by a composer.

In a book about the history of classical education, I read, “They tried not to say something new; they tried to say something worthy, and say it perfectly.” This quote reminded me that newness is not the end-all. It is completely acceptable to imitate what is good. Even the Italian renaissance, which I tend to think of as a time of fresh creativity, was actually an imitative era. It was a rebirth of the classical style of art, literature, architecture, etc. Renaissance thinkers and artists studied the written works of the Greek and Roman authors and admired their architecture and art. Success was measured by how a work held to the classical standard. The renaissance led the way into the modern era by looking back to a previous era.

Many people can be “original” without saying or showing anything worthwhile or beautiful. I want what I say (or make or do) to be first worthwhile and true. Secondly, I want to say it well, beautifully, and with clarity. If what I say is also something new, well and good, if it is even possible to say something truly original. In the end, what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Quote from Climbing Parnassus by Tracy Lee Simmons.

Photo is my own.

Trying Could Mean Failing

Many of you know that I am a perfectionist. I like to get things exactly right the first time. Unfortunately, I have the tendency to avoid things that I don’t think I can do just right. In the new year, I have a uncharacteristic desire to try something new, even if that means I cannot do it perfectly.

I have been taking harp lessons again with a new teacher. At my first lesson, she mentioned she likes to teach how to arrange music. I had never tried to arrange anything. My friends who could play anything by ear always left me mystified. I am not very creative, but I can follow instructions really well. I have always relied on finding the best music and then learning to play it just like it is written. I decided to step out and try arranging a song since I had a willing teacher. I chose to start with I Wonder As I Wander (a nice minor key Christmas carol). It took me several weeks just to come up with a brief intro, interlude, and conclusion with little variation to the left hand (bass clef). It was hard to get started and there were several times when I kind of looked at my harp and looked at the blank staff paper and wondered if it would be easier to just write some notes down and then play them and keep trying until I hit on something. I finally got out a simple arrangement and even used some music writing software so that it looks like published music. You know what? I like it. I have decided I want to continue arranging in the new year with the help of my teacher. Even though it isn’t my natural bent, I hope it will get a little easier each time and I will be a little more satisfied with the result each time. I definitely have already learned a lot more about music theory and how written music works on the page just after one song. I had hardly ever thought about arranging my own songs before and definitely not composing, but now I even have that in the back of my mind. It might be a few years away, but it could happen.

Apart from the new things I want to do this year, I will also be doing some things that I am more used to. I am going to be helping my church with a free English conversation club that is available to the internationals in our area. I am excited to get to meet new people and to brush up on my ESL skills. I also want to continue blogging and write more fiction this year.

I encourage you to try something new, even if you try it and don’t like it or if you don’t stick with it the whole year. Remember that even if you fall short of your goal or fail utterly, a step forward is still significant and you can learn as much from failure as success.

 

Photo credit to Lauren Brouillette

Advent: Christ is Coming!

It has been a long time since I have enjoyed the Christmas season so much. Even though I have been home for Christmas the last two years, I have missed the lead up to Christmas that starts with Thanksgiving. It was so fun to be here for Thanksgiving, get to help with decorating the house, attend Christmas parties, and take part in the Christmas traditions that I have missed. I think the other reason I am enjoying it so much is that I get to teach my 1st grade class about Christmas. Our public schools are no longer allowed to celebrate Christmas (they are allowed to teach about it academically if they teach about other religious holidays equally). This means most schools did not decorate for Christmas, have a Christmas performance, or otherwise celebrate.

It is such a privilege to teach at a private Christian school where I am encouraged to celebrate and teach about Christmas in a meaningful, religious way. Having ties to the Reformed Episcopal church, our school made the distinction between the Advent and Christmas season. While advent begins four Sundays before Christmas, the Christmas season starts with Christmas day and continues until January 5th, the day before Epiphany. If you were wondering, Christmas season is 12 days. That’s right, the song is talking about the 12 days after Christmas, not before.

For 6-year-olds, waiting is hard. For that matter, waiting is hard for adults too. I am constantly catching myself wishing I could get this sooner and get through that quicker. Advent is all about waiting. Advent reminds us of the overarching story of the Bible and how the Israelites (and really the Gentiles unknowingly and even creation) waited for thousands of years for the coming of the Messiah. We talked about how many of the prophecies about the Messiah were written during some of the darkest days of Israel’s history, when their princes and priests were both corrupt and the nation was about to be destroyed. God gave them reminders of the hope to come, though it was still far off. As we think of the Israelites waiting and hoping, we remember that we are also waiting and hoping for Jesus. We are waiting for his second coming when he will come as the reigning king, bringing justice and destroying the curse.

I have also been teaching about the traditions that come out of Europe as they were passed on to the U.S. (though I was excited to devote a day to Mexico and talk about Las Posadas and the Poinsettia). We started out learning about St. Nicholas, who was from modern day Turkey, noted for his generosity, and who argued for the divinity of Christ in the Council of Nicaea. We talked about various traditions and legends associated with St. Nicholas in different countries, made some traditional ornaments and crafts, and thought about gift giving as a way to show generosity and kindness in remembrance of Christ’s selfless giving. I even got to wear my amazing vintage Polish dress that I got this fall. I can’t resist an opportunity to dress up, even at school!

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I love having our beautiful Victorian home decorated for Christmas for the first time. I have enjoyed making and buying gifts, singing so much Christmas music, and…eating Christmas cookies! The waiting time before Christmas is so sweet. I will be sad when it is over, but looking forward to what the New Year holds.

Photo by Laura Barnwell