Friday, December 28, 2007

Is That a Toothbrush In Your Ear?

While getting ready for work this morning I glanced at my husband, Al. For a second I thought he was on the phone. No. He was holding a tooth brush to his ear. (To his ear, not in his ear). I was getting ready to call a psychiatrist for him when I realized that he was trying to listen to our six-year olds new toothbrush play the "Star Wars" theme song.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Merry Christmas 2007

Advent greetings to you! We hope that this finds you well and that you have had a good 2007. The highlight of our year was our tenth anniversary in May. Since we’ve not vacationed much since the kids came along, we celebrated with a weeklong Hawaiian cruise! We went to five ports on four islands and visited landmarks like Volcanoes National Park, Waimea Canyon and Pearl Harbor. We tried every shipboard restaurant and Al snapped over 800 pictures. We were told, “You don’t look old enough to have been married ten years,” which we took as a compliment.

We both continue our work at InterVarsity Press, Al as an acquisitions and development editor, Ellen as rights manager. This month marks Ellen’s tenth year at IVP. We’ve done the usual mix of conferences and travel, including things in California, New England, Atlanta, Madison and Ellen’s fifth trip to Germany for the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Al did some speaking around the themes of his book The Suburban Christian, including workshops at the National Pastors Convention and the Willow Creek Group Life Conference. He also spoke at Homecoming at our undergrad alma mater, Crossroads College in Rochester, MN, and we had fun reconnecting with friends and faculty. Al has also been invited to be a regular columnist for Christianity Today in 2008! No, he’s not bumping Chuck Colson or Philip Yancey off of the back page. Al will have a one-year stint with a bimonthly column, “Kingdom Sightings,” with a general theme of looking for signs of the kingdom of God at work in culture and society. Look for his first column in the February 2008 issue.

Ellen started blogging regularly and has claimed our family blog for herself. See for her posts, many of which relate amusing episodes with our kids. She continues to lead and plan worship at our church and now also uses sign language for the lyrics to the weekly liturgical songs. She also coordinated a fair trade Christmas shopping event at Ten Thousand Villages, to provide a living wage and dignity to global artisans. We’ve also gotten into Facebook, Scrabulous and Blokus this year.

Josiah is in kindergarten now, which he enjoys thoroughly. His main hobby this year has been building with LEGOs, especially Star Wars kits. The playroom train table is now covered with minifigures and vehicles galore, from A-wing to X-wing. For his sixth birthday we went to the Star Wars exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Elijah is now two and is a happy and healthy toddler. He loves his Signing Time and Blue’s Clues DVDs. He has a vocabulary of at least a hundred signs and is also starting to vocalize words, including the whole alphabet. His therapists are happy that he is developing well, and he no longer needs physical therapy. Elijah had minor surgery to replace the PE tubes in his ears and to open his tear ducts. We were very pleased that his neurologist gave him a clean bill of health with no ongoing worries or concerns.

On to our annual book recommendations. In fiction: We both appreciated A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner. Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants was an engaging historical read about life with a traveling circus. Ellen (who has been identified as a “warrior princess”) resonated with the soccer-mom-meets-Lord-of-the-Rings fantasies The Restorer and The Restorer’s Son by Sharon Hinck. She also read several Anita Shreve novels. Al was entranced with the “new” J. R. R. Tolkien book The Children of Hurin and got a kick out of superhero homage novel Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. And of course we were both up into the wee hours of the morning to finish reading J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (A blog post Al wrote about it ran as an article on

In non-fiction: Microtrends by Mark Penn identifies fascinating new subcultures and cultural shifts. Al got into economic issues via The Small-Mart Revolution by Michael Shuman, The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli and The Sushi Economy by Sasha Issenberg. The World Without Us by Alan Wiseman explores what the planet would look like if people disappeared. One Red Paperclip is Kyle Macdonald’s amazing journey trading his way up from a paperclip to a house. Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath shows why some ideas are sticky and others aren’t. The Myth of the Perfect Mother by Carla Barnhill is a healthy corrective to evangelical assumptions about motherhood, and Gary Thomas’s Sacred Marriage is likewise a helpful resource. Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives is a moving compendium of real-life portraits. And The Making of Star Wars by J. W. Rinzler is a terrific behind-the-scenes look at the original film.

Most notable of this year’s religion books is D. Michael Lindsay’s Faith in the Halls of Power, an amazingly well-researched and comprehensive study of how evangelicals have become influential in elite circles of government, academia, arts/media and business. Kevin Vanhoozer’s Everyday Theology provides an introduction to cultural studies and theology of culture. Hanna Rosin’s God’s Harvard gives an inside look at Patrick Henry College’s conservative Christian subculture. David Kinnaman’s unChristian is a revealing portrait of negative perceptions of evangelical Christians. The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs is a laugh-out-loud funny chronicle of one man’s attempt to follow the Bible as literally as possible. John Swinton’s Raging with Compassion is a pastoral reconsideration of suffering and evil. While not likely to appear on any bestseller lists, Theology and Down Syndrome by Amos Yong is a landmark contribution to disability studies and theology of disability. And two IVP books received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly – Tim Stafford’s Shaking the System on social reform movements and Gerald Sittser’s Water from a Deep Well on the history of Christian spirituality.

Our favorite children’s book this year is The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones; it’s a very thoughtful, kid-friendly narrative theology that’s engaging for parents as well. We were happy with Mo Willems’s new Elephant and Piggie series as well as his sequel Knuffle Bunny Too. Not a Box by Antoinette Portis and 365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental were clever and fun. The Giant Leaf by Davy Liu is a surprising retelling of a familiar Bible narrative. Sometimes Smart Is Good by Dena Luchsinger is a bilingual story of disability and inclusion. And Josiah could not stop laughing when he first read the Sesame Street classic The Monster at the End of This Book.

That’s it for this year. The Lord bless you and keep you and grant you his peace. Shalom!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Josiah's Song

At the end of our advent activity last week, Josiah said he wanted to sing a prayer. Here is the song he sang:

O Jesus you're the best king ever
You're really joyful
Jesus and God are the best ones
We worship them
They're the best glorious people ever
Jesus dies for us to save us
They saved the whole world
And they are really nice
They shine down on us
They have been the nicest guys ever
They are really nice

I imagine God peering down on Josiah with a parent's loving pride, accepting Josiah's song of praise (imperfect theology and all) with a tender smile and, perhaps, a quiet chuckle. Or maybe God shines with glorious pride at such childlike faith, laughing aloud with joy, reveling in our love for him even as we revel in God's love for us.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Identity Crisis

Our family sends a letter with our Christmas cards every year. Al, the published author, writes the letter and I, the stamping enthusiast, hand make the cards. We address the envelopes together. It's a nice system. This year, however, reading the first draft created a minor personal crisis for me. Here is my internal dialogue as I read the letter:

Here's a paragraph about our anniversary trip. Al picked a nice photo. Here's a nice paragraph about Josiah and another about Elijah. Al did a nice job giving them equal space in the letter. Here's another paragraph about Al and me. OK, here's the paragraph about what I did this year. And now there's a long paragraph about all of Al's accomplishments. I'm really proud of Al. I'm glad he put this in the letter. Wait... Only two sentences of "my" paragraph are actually about me. The rest is about "us" again.

Hmmm. That kind-of stinks. I need to ask Al to fill out my paragraph a little. OK, so what did I do this year that other people will actually care about? [long moment of thinking] Hmmmm.... Well, I, that's not important enough to tell everyone about. And I don't think they really care about all of the housecleaning, laundry, therapy and medical stuff I handled this year.
Didn't I do anything significant this year?!

For a brief time, I felt really insignificant. I was tying my self-worth to my personal accomplishments. I didn't do anything particularly exciting this year. But my value and my significance does not come from what I do. My value lies in my identity as a child of God. My significance come from God working within me, even if that work is often done in small, routine things that don't seem all that exciting.

Many things I do may not be exciting enough to mention in our Christmas letter, but that does not mean that I am insignificant. I may not have many accomplishments to report, but that doesn't mean I haven't done anything important. Faithfulness is not always flashy. In fact, faithfulness often requires commitment to tedious, daily tasks that no one cares about unless they are not done (like doing laundry, making meals and, dare I say it, praying). And in the end, I want to be faithful more than I want to be accomplished.

After a little thought and discussion we came up with a few things to add to the letter. They may not seem very exciting, but in one way or another, they are important. I'm still tempted to base my identity on my accomplishments (the things I do), but am trying to remember that God loves me and can do significant things in and through me even if those things are not exciting enough to include in our letter.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Ten Thousand Villages Event

A few months ago I read a blog that inspired me to action. My friend, Cory Verner, mentioned that he was helping coordinate an Alternative Christmas Event. The idea was to encourage people to think about global poverty issues by hosting an event where they could purchase fair trade and other Christmas gifts that help the poor in one way or another. Something inside of me lit up and I got a warm sensation in my heart that is often an indication that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me (it's usually that or that I am really embarrassed or nervous about something).

So I contacted Cory for some advice and then asked our vestry if we could host a similar event for Church of the Savior. The vestry was very supportive. Since there is a local Ten Thousand Villages near our church, we called and asked if they would open their store for a couple of hours on a Saturday evening as a special event for our church. They were more than happy to accommodate us.

So this Saturday a little over 30 people from our church slogged through rain and ice to gather at Ten Thousand Villages and do some Christmas shopping. We had apple cider, cookies and other treats. Ten Thousand Villages provided fair trade coffee and chocolate samples. We all milled about selecting gifts for family and friends, chatting with each other and munching goodies. The kids enjoyed playing with the drums, rain sticks and other instruments that were available for sale. And we purchased gifts that will both honor the family and friends who receive them and provide dignity and a living wage to the artisans who crafted them.

I am so glad that everything worked out so well. A number of people mentioned how much they enjoyed the event and some of the children asked their parents if they could visit the store again another time. A friend from work read my Facebook status mentioning the event and wondered aloud if this is something his own church should do next year. All of these things (the idea, the ease of working out the details and the positive responses) make me pretty certain that this was a work of God. I'm just glad he let me participate.