Monday, January 26, 2009

A Must-Read: Parting the Waters

When my friend Tina asked me if I wanted to participate in a blog tour for Jeanne Damoff's new book Parting the Waters: Finding Beauty in Brokenness, I didn't hesitate to answer "yes." I have enjoyed reading Jeanne's postings over at The Master's Artist and had heard bits of her story through Tina, who has known Jeanne for years. So I looked forward to reading the rest of the story in her new book.

I believe that God can, and often does, use other people’s stories to change the way a person sees his/her own life. One example is Jacob Damoff’s story, which is lovingly told in Parting the Waters: Finding Beauty in Brokenness.

Jacob’s mother, Jeanne, penned his story for him. And though it's not the story she would have written for him of her own choosing, it's a story of faith and hope that glorifies God.

Towards the end of Jacob's freshman year, Jeanne packed and delivered a bag to Jacob so that he could spend the night at a friend's house. Jeanne told him that she loved him and to be careful and received an "I love you, too. I will" in return. She knew he was going canoeing as part of a school field trip the following day, but she didn't know it would be a life-changing event. That an accident would occur. That the water, which was supposed to provide pleasure for a fun outing, would rob Jacob of oxygen and part of his life. And that the Damoff family would lose the Jacob they knew.

The Jacob that was pulled from the water arrived at the hospital in a coma. The medical community opined that he would spend the rest of his life in a "permanent vegetative state." And though the family accepted those words as the medical community’s best guess as to Jacob’s future, their faith told them that Jacob’s future was ultimately in God’s hands and that He would have the final say.

I have no idea how Jeanne typed her family's story without short-circuiting the keyboard; I’m sure that tears flowed in abundance as she bravely relived the events surrounding Jacob's drowning. For although theirs is a story of hope, they faced many hurdles along the way.

Readers will appreciate that Jeanne doesn’t sugar-coat the process. She discusses the jealousy, frustration, exhaustion, and communication breakdowns that occurred while her family tried to continue their normal routine in addition to making treatment and placement decisions for Jacob and taking care of his needs. And thankfully, they had the help of their friends and the community of Marshall, Texas, surrounding them in ways that they couldn't have asked for or imagined.

Throughout Parting the Waters, the Damoff family’s example of living faith shines brightly, reflecting a God who shines even brighter.

Please check out what others are saying about Parting the Waters here. And if you want to see pictures of memorable events from the book (you know you do!) and learn more about Jeanne, check out her website here. And last, but not least, take less than two minutes out of your day to watch this amazing book trailer:

Glorifying His Name

Meander on over to Morning Coffee with Renae to see what I wrote on John 12:23-33.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More Than Just a Man

Due to work, I watched only a few minutes of the inaugural festivities today. The pieces of the inaugural speech that I caught were inspiring. Not really unexpected or any different than what previous presidents have said after taking the oath of office.

And yet, one person after another who was interviewed expressed hope for and excitement about the future. From celebrities to commoners who sat at the very back of the mall, everyone united behind this one man.

Unity is so difficult to attain, so the glimpses of it today were beautiful. But such confidence--that of being united behind a mortal man--is confidence misplaced. The oath gives credence to this.

The oath's conclusion--"so help me God"--deserves renewed attention and devotion. The problems that our country face are too big for the president, the vice president, his cabinet, the Congress, and the Supreme Court. It seems that we, as a country, have forgotten Who is in charge. And until we re-learn to give Him all of our praise, honor, adoration, as well as all the glory, I don't foresee much change on the horizon.

Call me a pessimist, or even better, prove me wrong. Pray for our leaders and for our country--that we would stop using every opportunity as one for self-glorification. And above all, pray that God would shower us with His mercy and grace.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

New Beginnings

Each January, I enjoy opening a new calendar filled with beautiful pictures and lots of blank squares. After I add in the birthdays, I start to contemplate the endless possibilities for filling in the squares. Should I plan a trip for MLK weekend or take that time to recuperate from grading? (Thankfully, I settled on the latter.) How about Presidents' Day weekend? Are there any good concerts coming this way that I can't miss?

The main difference between this year and previous years is that I am reluctant to fill up the squares. After having taken a break from virtually all activities during Christmas--other than spending time with family, I discovered that I am being more selective with what I add back in to my schedule. I am thinking through the time commitment involved with each activity and trying to assess whether it is something that I can and should participate in. Many great opportunities exist to fill my schedule, but not all of them are right for me at this time in my life.

In the end, I decided to rejoin my small group as we pursue a study of the Psalms, which goes well with my writers' group's upcoming project to put together a Psalms devotional. I will also be going through Dave Ramsey's 13-week Financial Peace University. As far as my blogging, I am sure that I will post on the previous activities from time to time and have also committed to guest post on Renae's blog on January 27 and to review two new books that will be making blog tours in the coming months. Obviously, it doesn't take long to get a full schedule in place.

What activities are you looking forward to this year? What steps do you take to make sure that you aren't overcommitted?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Interesting Parallels

I attended a luncheon yesterday where John Stossel spoke. The self-described libertarian and Emmy award-winning anchor of 20/20 talked about the economy and made some interesting points:

*When we're scared, we vote for the government to help us, despite the fact that competition protects us better than the government. As an example, he used the Senate's 100-0 vote to have federal airport security following 9/11. Controlled chaos has ensued. But, because it's the government, rather than a private company, we can't exactly fire them or terminate the "contract."

*Capitalism works. It sorts things out. But it's not intuitive.

*He asked whether anyone remembered what the stock market was in 1982. He said that it was at 860, that interest was at 15%, and that it cost 21% to borrow money. So what's so bad about today?

Before you leave thinking that I have changed this into a political blog, let me assure you that I have no intentions of changing the focus of this blog. The whole reason the above-mentioned ideas have continued to ramble through my mind since lunch yesterday is that I see parallels between them and my walk.

How many times have I run to my mother or other earthly authority figures to solve my problems instead of turning straight to God?

How often do I get stuck on how counterintuitive grace is, thinking that I can do something to earn it?

How often have I gotten riled up by a lesser drama that won't be remembered? And how few times have I sensed the urgency of spreading the gospel?

I don't expect to solve the economic issues of the day. But I have new insight into what I should be working on in my own life.

Monday, January 12, 2009

One-Word Resolution

We're almost halfway through the first month of the year, and I'm just now nailing down my New Year's resolution. It's not that it wasn't on my mind on January 1; it was. It's that it takes longer to settle on only one.

In the past, I've set resolutions in various areas of my life: physical, spiritual, emotional, financial, etc. The volume of resolutions overwhelmed me. I couldn't keep all the plates spinning and felt like a failure at the end of each year. I knew I needed to change the method to my madness, so I came up with a new plan that I instituted last year.

Towards the end of 2007, my writers' group wrote a book of Advent devotionals. The first one I wrote under the theme of "prepare" dealt with how Mary spent Advent. After finding out she was pregnant with the Christ child, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth to celebrate what God was doing in their lives and spent three months with her. This idea of Mary focusing on relationships--with her family and with her God--during such a pivotal point in her life spoke to me. For years, my to-do list had controlled how I spent my time, luring me to choose to accomplish tasks over investing time with friends and family. I wanted that to stop, and so I chose a one-word resolution for 2008: relationships.

I can't say that I mastered relationships last year. My resolve was tested while I was teaching, and I often didn't do the best job of balancing relationships with that added job. But I can say that by making that one word my focus, I spent a lot more time thinking about relationships than I ever had and chose them more often than tasks.

As I began 2009, I wanted to choose another one-word focus. But choosing just one word out of all the things I want to improve on or add to my life is difficult. I want to show more love, to reflect more joy, to experience more peace. But ultimately, none of these is possible if I'm constantly doing battle with fear. Not just the fear of flying, but fears of illness and loneliness and even typing this out here. And now that I have, I know I will be tested. It's inevitable; after all, I've been being tested for a long time and succumbed. But now I want to conquer them. And that can only come through trust.

So "trust" it is for 2009. I'm buckling my seat belt for this one because you can't be too careful around a loaded word like that.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Faces Behind the Numbers

I thought I had finished writing about teaching, but I decided that grading deserved its own post. So here goes.

With the exception of the evening of January 5 (the Fiesta Bowl), I have spent every evening since December 28 parked at my dining room table pouring over the papers that my students turned in about two months ago. Typically, I'm not a procrastinator, but this task was more than I had bargained for.

I started grading the papers the day that I received them, but I managed to grade only two that first weekend. After that meager start, it was hard to go back to them. Thankfully, my computer broke down right before Thanksgiving, so I graded 11 more during that three-week period. And then came Christmas with ten days at home with my family--a time that papers were not allowed to compete with. So the grading of the 9 remaining papers resumed in full force on Dec. 28.

As I marked the innumerable grammatical errors on each paper and attempted to arrive at a grade that would reflect what I had seen, the numbers side of me wrestled with the words side of me, as well as the feelings side of me. All of the markings meant something, but what? What should a 40-point argument look like versus a 35-point argument versus a 30-point argument? What objective criteria could I use throughout this subjective process to make sure that I was being consistent in my grading over the two-month period? And even though I had only pen names, I knew that there were actual faces behind each of those papers and that bothered me. I didn't want someone to do poorly.

After years of being a competitive student who thrived on beating others, these grading struggles surprised me. I didn't expect to have such a tender spot for those who had not followed instructions or applied the rules that they were taught. But at the same time, I did not want to reward those students to the detriment of the students who had followed the instructions and rules and far exceeded my expectations.

In the end, I read the papers through about three times each, created a chart to explain how I had arrived at the points awarded (to quell my fears about being challenged on a grade), performed the multifarious averaging calculations, and finally let go of them. Amazingly, the final grades ended up matching well with what I would have predicted had I assigned grades based solely on class performance. A few students will probably not be pleased with their grades, but I assume that is to be expected in every class. I wasn't perfect, but I did my best to be fair and am finally okay with that.

Ultimately, I know that most of the details of the past semester will fade. But the faces of my first class of students will stick with me. I'll be interested to see how they perform in their chosen career path and hope that they will apply at least something I taught them, even if it is simply a silly grammar rule.