No Harm Done

Friday, April 23, 2010

... And After

Here is the "new" Braden!

New glasses. New haircut. No braces.

And look! He has ears!

Braden has been planning this day for at least a month.

He managed to keep all of the changes a secret from everyone, hoping for huge dramatic reactions. So far, only M. and I have reacted dramatically.

At debate today, Braden mentioned that he'd gotten his braces off. His teacher said something along the lines of, "Oh? You wore braces?"

Tomorrow he'll see his friends, and will likely see much more drama than he got today, I think.

Here is Brogan's new look!

Brogan begins "Phase 1" of treatment, and thus far only has braces on his top teeth. He'll wear a wire there for a couple of months and then move on to head gear. Yay!

He's a bit worried about head gear, thinking he'll look like the young Willy Wonka in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." But many wonderful adults who have survived headgear have been quick to reassure him that it's not so bad.

I think the braces make him look older and more mature. Don't you?


It's a pretty big day!!

Here is Braden before.....

And here is Brogan before...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dude, We're Getting the Band Back Together!

Remember this?

In August of 2007, I joined with two ladies from church to form a vocal trio. We were each terrified of singing alone, but found that we loved singing together.

More than that, we loved practicing together. We loved talking with each other. Well, I did, anyway. I probably shouldn't presume that they loved it, too. They may well have quietly been wishing I would stop talking.

One year later, my family moved several hours away. Before we left, the trio got together and recorded a CD, with the help of our church family. It was never our original intent to make a recording, but we'd worked so hard over the year to learn the songs and we wanted some sort of "proof" that we had done it.

Our year was such a blessing to me, and I have thanked God many times that He brought us together. In fact, when I look back at my life in that city, the hours I spent with these women are among my most special memories.

The past two years apart have been filled with changes. My family moved several hours away. S. survived a massive stroke in the fall of 2008. I am so thankful that God spared her life, and that she hasn't quit fighting to regain lost ground.

In May I get to return to the fair city and sing with my friends again. I honestly never thought we would be able to do this. The distance apart was too far. S. wasn't certain if she would be able to overcome her health obstacles. None of us attend the same church anymore. But no obstacle is too great for God.

Even to sit in the same room with these two women is a pleasure that I didn't think I would be able to enjoy again. But to be able to sing with them again is a joy and a blessing for which I am very grateful.

Thank you so much, Lord, for these two women you've placed in my life. And thank you for the opportunity to see them and enjoy their company again!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Modern Intellectuals

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Longest Book Review You May Ever Read

I almost didn’t make it past page 5

This was not a good sign.

After setting the table for lunch, I slipped outside to check the mail, and I was delighted to find the complimentary copy of Matt Mikalatos’ new book “Imaginary Jesus” awaiting me.

Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of his book. They had sent me an e-mail a week ago, advising me that my complimentary copy was on its way.

(There. That should satisfy the Federal Trade Commission. Did I mention I was given a complimentary copy?)

As the boys ate their lunch, I eagerly ripped open the envelope and sat down at the table to begin reading. I began with “Chapter Zero,” being careful to avoid reading the plot synopsis on the back cover. I knew both Matt and Tyndale House Publishers were expecting me to review the book, and I didn’t want to influence my first reading of the book with a plot summary or reader testimonials.

I have been reading forms of Matt’s writing for over seven years. Matt married a college friend, and both were missionaries overseas. We loved reading the Mikalatos prayer letters, as they were always well-written and creative. When the Mikalatos family returned and settled in the States, I began following Matt’s blog and Facebook posts. I could tell that his book was written in the same fun, whimsical style as his blog postings and letters.

I thought his idea of writing a fictional message-story with himself as the main character was pretty gutsy. The book opens with Matt in a vegan café in Portland, OR, hiding his Bible under his notebook so no one will see it, and griping about having to eat vegan chili without the tortilla chips he ordered. Seated with Matt at his table is Jesus.

Now, I’ve read books in which Jesus features as a character: “Ben Hur” and “The Robe” are the first two that jump to mind. But the Jesus seated in the café with Matt is not what I’m used to seeing in literature. He’s wearing the robe and sandals in which you always imagine Jesus. But his behavior and his words are not what I would ever imagine coming from my Savior: amused by things that are not amusing when you really think about them; mocking and avoiding one of his children.

Careful to avoid any stray peanut butter sandwich crumbs, I set down Matt Mikalatos’ new book in frustration. As much as I wanted to read it, I wasn’t sure I could take 225 pages of a book where Jesus was treated so flippantly and irreverently, and for what purpose? To be hip? To be “relatable?” To appeal to some particular demographic? Could I stomach reading this?

“Don’t give up so quickly,” said a voice to my right.

I glanced up to find an elderly gentleman, wearing robes and dusty sandals, sitting at my table.

“Apostle Matthew, why are you here?” I asked him. “I just saw you a couple of months ago. We paid our taxes this year. Believe me, everything is filed and in order.”

Matthew waved my question aside with the back of his hand. “No, no. You’re fine on that front. I came about the book. I can tell you’re concerned about reading it, and I came to help.”

I cocked my eyebrow at him. “The book? You came about the book? Have you read it already?”

“No, but I think I can help allay some of your fears about it, “ Matthew said. “Think about what you know of Matt Mikalatos. Have you ever read something blatantly blasphemous from him?”

“Noooo, “ I replied slowly. “Though he usually just writes funny observations from his life.”

“Have you ever known him to write or speak about Jesus in a disrespectful manner?” pressed Matthew.

“No,” I answer with certainty. “I’ve seen other authors do that, but never Matt. That seems unlike him.”

“Then give him the benefit of the doubt. Give the book more than five pages before you put it down. Look, do you see the cover? The title is ‘Imaginary Jesus.’ Don’t you think that’s a bit of a clue about what’s going on in the story?” said Matthew.

I frowned. “Do you mean that the Jesus he’s having lunch with isn’t actually Jesus? That he’s a representation of something else? That’s…odd. That doesn’t even make any sense.”

“Hillary, you are sitting at your table having a conversation with the Apostle Matthew. Does that seem at all odd to you?” asked Matthew.

“Well, no. It’s not like you’re the real Matthew. You’re imaginary – ooooohhhhhh,” I left the sentence hanging as I finally understood. “You’re saying that this isn’t the real Jesus. It’s a Jesus-like figure that Matt created.”

“Exactly, “ smiled Matthew, as he patted me on the head. “Now, give the rest of the book a chance. Let him tell his story and see where he goes with it.”

Matthew pushed his chair back from the table, and made his way to the front door. “And, Hillary, it isn’t easy writing a book. I wasn’t an author. I didn’t study literature. I was a tax collector, and the Lord used me to write for Him. Matt was, well, a lot of things before he wrote this book. Writing isn’t an easy process.”

He closed the door softly behind him and left me to think about his words, as I picked up the book.

I’m glad that I followed Imaginary Matthew’s advice and continued on with the book.

As Apostle Matthew implied, the Jesus that appears in the early pages of the book is NOT the real Jesus. He is a Jesus that Matt Mikalatos created out of his own imagination, and one with which Matt is very comfortable. He never points out Matt’s sin. He’s like Matt in pretty much every way, except maybe in track and field. The Imaginary Jesus is definitely a faster runner than Matt.

Throughout the book many, many forms of an Imaginary Jesus appear: Legalist Jesus, Magic 8 Ball Jesus, Perpetually Angry Jesus, and Peacenik Jesus are just a few. Each new Imaginary Jesus appears to have been created out of a small aspect of Jesus’ personality as revealed in Scripture. In other words, in each form of Imaginary Jesus there was a wee bit of truth. Sometimes we take the bits of the Jesus in Scripture that we are the most comfortable with, and fashion that into an Imaginary Jesus who is simultaneously Jesus…and yet very, very NOT. It is often much easier for us to deal with a Jesus of our own (or someone else’s) making, than the Jesus revealed in the Bible.

This was an excellent point made by Mr. Mikalatos, and I thought the way he weaved it throughout his story was fantastic. With each new Jesus I definitely was forced to square it with what I knew from the Bible.

There were only two points of contention that I had with the book. I’ll discuss them briefly here, and try not to spoil anything.

Numero Uno
At one point in the book, Matt’s Imaginary Jesus makes several statements that are clearly contrary to what is in God’s Word. He does this in order to make himself more palatable to an unbeliever.

One example of such statements is this, “ …people get all hung up on that my death on the cross was all about substitutionary atonement. Like the only reason I died was to take away the sins of other people. Does that even make sense? How does my dying make other people’s sins go away? And what sort of loving father lets his son get killed? I mean, yeah, I had to die, but not because Dad was punishing me for something you did. It’s like, ‘Dad, Matt stole some cookies,’ and Dad comes down with the belt and I say, ‘No, no, hit me instead’ and God agrees to that? No way.”

When the unbeliever questions Imaginary Jesus about the above statement, he is told not to be so judgmental. Through the entire conversation, Matt sits silently. Nothing in the conversation set off any warning bells and told him that, “Gee, this Jesus is saying things that are directly contrary to Scripture. Maybe he’s not the real thing.”

In fact, it is not until Matt, Imaginary Jesus, and the unbeliever visit a cool, hip new church that Matt realizes that he has attached himself to another Imaginary Jesus. However, it wasn’t the aforementioned gross doctrinal errors that tipped Matt off. When the unbeliever pointed out to Matt the real Jesus surely wouldn’t be found in a racially homogenous church, THAT was what opened his eyes. I can’t imagine the point of this interaction was to imply that the real Jesus is only to be found in racially and generationally diverse churches?

Numero Dos
In the “big reveal” scene at the end of the book, Matt encounters the true Jesus Christ. I thought it was respectfully done but, the language used was very vague and much of what could have been an impactful scene was lost.

Were this a book solely for Christian believers, the use of vague language when discussing such topics as sin, Christ’s death on the cross, and repentance does a disservice to the believers. Vague language waters down the meaning of His sacrifice.

Were this a book solely for unbelievers, the vague language makes the gospel unclear and doesn’t lead any reader to any sort of action. I understand the need to be sensitive when writing for unbelievers, but why shy away from clarity?

Such phrases as “friend of Jesus” or “friend of God” do not give any productive clarity to non-Christians. Someone may see himself as a “friend of God” simply because he does not see himself as an active “enemy of God.” But the Bible says this is not true. (Romans 5:8-10)
"but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life."

In another paragraph, Matt writes: “[Jesus] died so that I could …break out of those for my deeper desires, those amazing, wonderful, transcendent actions that I so badly wanted to do but couldn’t without his help. He died so I could live His life.”

But in our unsaved state there is nothing in us of any redeeming value. That which we do without Christ is still sin. All of our good works are sin, without Christ. To say that we have these deep desires to do good works, but cannot do them without Christ is only half true. We cannot do anything of kingdom value without Him. But without Him, we don’t even want to. It’s not that Christ enables me to do things, it is Him living in me.

The Gospel is powerful. There are important concepts that can be explained clearly, but not when using vague language in an effort not to scare people off.

I understand that Mr. Mikalatos is trying to present the Gospel without using such offensive words as sin, repentance, forgiveness, etc., but the end result is, I fear, confusion and no sense of direction for an unbelieving reader.

Near the end of the book, Matt does write that the Bible is the place where he met Jesus and hears Him speak clearly. I am glad that it is in the book, though I wish that this point was made a bit more strongly.

Allow Me To Sum Up
I enjoyed reading “Imaginary Jesus.” It was a fun, light-hearted, quick read. Don’t think that “light-hearted” means “fluffy and without substance.” Despite the breezy style of writing, the author gives the reader a lot to think about. There were several times when I had to put the book down and meditate over the previous chapter. Matt Mikalatos is a gifted writer, and I look forward to reading more from him.

The premise of the book is fantastic! I loved the notion of us creating an Imaginary Jesus for our own comfort. It was not something I’d ever thought of before, but I certainly see how often and how easily it is done! I can absolutely imagine myself discussing this issue with my children as they grow spiritually.

I would not recommend it as a book for unbelievers, due to the clarity issues I mentioned above.

However, I would have no problem recommending this book to other believers. I can think of more than a few who might receive this book as gifts this year! “Imaginary Jesus” is definitely a book that will make you think.

Friday, April 02, 2010

My Post of Reckoning

I want to thank everyone who read yesterday’s post about Colson joining a Latin dance troupe. Some of you sent me e-mails, some commented here, and others commented on Facebook. But all of your words were read and appreciated.

Now, there’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to say it straight-out. It’ll be like ripping off a Band-Aid, but without the hair loss.


Scroll down and check the date of that post.

Go ahead. I’ll wait. Go on!

OK, are you back? Then I will proceed.

Yesterday was April 1 and each year, in honor of the holiday, I write an April Fool’s Day blog entry.

This year’s entry was memorable for two reasons:

1. For the first time no family member of mine actually believed the entry. That is a first!

2. My "Internet Buddy" (who shall not be named here) did not fall for it! This is also a first. I can usually count on her to fall hook, line, and sinker. Every. single. year. Way to go Internet Buddy! You're on to my wily ways. I see I shall have to be especially tricksy in order to fool you next year!

And to those of you who got the joke early on: Thank you for not spoiling it for others!

For those who would like to read past entries, here they are. Click on the colored hyperlinks to read:

2008 – In Which I Get My Groove On. (My Foray into Pole Dancing.)
(Read the April 2nd reveal here.)

2007- In Which Hillary Supports Hillary (a.k.a. “Hillary Squared”)
(Read the April 2nd reveal here.)

2006- In Which I Confess My Secret Love of Gangsta’ Rap
(Read the April 2nd Reveal Here)

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Further Explanation on the Exhaustion

We’re all feeling more human after lounging around the house this past weekend. It took several days of sleeping in and napping, and, on the whole, I think we’ve recovered nicely.

This has been a very busy year for all of us, and we’re gearing up for a flurry of activity in April and May. I’m considering hiring another woman to be me on a part-time basis so that I can keep up.

I haven’t really written about our added activity too much because some of M.’s co-workers occasionally read this blog, and it kind of embarrassed him. So we’ve kept it quiet, and have not even hinted at it to close friends and family. But it’s getting to the point where it won’t be easy to hide any more, and – doggone it- I’m very proud and want everyone to know!

So, I’m sorry M. Maybe you can distract those co-workers with something shiny for a while.

Colson has always been a dancer. Always. Here he is at age three, dancing at a family wedding.

I have video from when he is a toddler, dancing to a Milli Vanilli song I had playing. Odds are, if there’s music somewhere, Colson will be moving to it.

In our Christmas letter to friends and family (the letter which I’ve only just now realized that I forgot to post on this blog), I mentioned how Colson, after months of asking Daddy for permission, finally began taking tap dancing lessons. Once a week he braves a sea of girls in pink with princess dreams in order to learn how to dance. He’s not terribly good at it yet. I think it’s because there are so many steps and balance issues. Or maybe it’s because he spends so much time listening to the taps on his shoes that he forgets what he’s doing. It’s not terribly manly, and that bothers M.

But the source of our exhaustion started last spring, actually.

Last May we drove to the big city for their Cinco de Mayo celebration. We’d never taken the boys to anything like that before, and since Braden was learning Spanish we thought it would be fun.

After exploring some of the vendors we bought some food and settled on the grass in front of a bandshell to listen to a band play salsa/merengue music while we ate. At one point the musicians asked for children to volunteer to come up on the stage and be “helpers.”

Colson waved his hands wildly, which, as every child knows, is the absolute best way to get someone’s attention, and he went up onstage to learn how to salsa.

Salsa is a tough dance to learn. It’s got a sort of syncopated rhythm that is hard to latch onto. Anyone who ever danced with me when I lived in Costa Rica will tell you that I never got the hang of it.

The children onstage looked like puppies chasing their tails! Just. So. Cute! I wish I had thought to bring my camera, because those kids were all adorable!

But Colson was actually very good. He didn’t have all the movements quite correct, but he picked up the rhythm, and shimmied his little hips as his arms did some sort of odd, serpentine motion that (I think) was meant to help him keep his balance. He was having such a great time, and was in his own little world as he “shook it all out” on that stage.

As the song was winding down, the band members had noticed him, and began playing a little faster to see if he could keep up. He did! At the very end, Colson simply collapsed in laughter.

After the show, one of the musicians came over to talk to M. about Colson. It came out in the conversation that the musicians play for a local Latin dance group that is always looking for boys to participate. Apparently they had many girls dancing but it was hard to convince the boys to give it a try.

Well, we attended a couple of the classes in the big city. It turns out that Colson has kind of a natural talent for Latin dance. He picks it up quickly, and feels the Latin rhythms almost intuitively. We decided to commit to this dance group. This meant a 45 minute drive each way, two times a week. What was I thinking?

Late last summer Colson and his partner began competing in some local ballroom competitions. (Poor M!)

Not many – just two. But it meant buying costumes, which was troublesome on a couple of levels.

1. Can someone please make dance costumes for boys that are remotely manly? Please?

2. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find flared-leg Latin dance pants for a size 6 boy? In the Midwest? Augh! I cannot count the number of dance stores we called or visited, nor can I begin to estimate the number and variation of facial expressions on salespeople as I carefully explained what we were looking for. Once we finally located a pair of size six black elastic fabric boys Latin dance pants online, I told Colson that he could never grow, as there was no guarantee that I could find another pair of these pants in a larger size.

This fall Colson and his partner joined the dance troupe that performs locally. It’s very low-key, but also exciting for a six year old. He loves performing, and gets a kick out of all the attention. He and his partner are the only children in the group, so they get a lot of people talking to them after each performance.

Nearly all of the musicians and dancers are Hispanic, so Colson is learning a lot of Spanish, as well. One of the first phrases he learned was the classic, “Where is the bathroom?” But he can also say such phrases as “Pardon me. May I please borrow your sombrero?”, “My, but you’re a pretty little senorita!”, and “Just a soda, please. I’m underage.”

This June, the group has the opportunity to perform their folkloric dances in Mexico, at the Auditorio Municipal in Ciudad Juarez.

We’re all planning to go. It’s adding some motivation to our homeschool Spanish lessons. Colson is preparing for the Customs agents by learning how to say “I am carrying neither firearms nor fruit” and ‘I have nothing to declare.”

Just this weekend we learned that our troupe is scheduled to perform in Brazil at the 2011 Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro! I can hardly wait! I’m planning for us all to go. M. is against it, but I’m working on him.

How on earth am I going to find a samba costume in Omaha?