Friday, October 28, 2011

Houston, We Have a Problem

Taken from Apollo 13 during the crisis

Last weekend, we watched Apollo 13 with our younger boys for the first time.  I’ve seen it before, but what a treat to see it through their eyes.  Together, we felt the eager anticipation of three astronauts who had labored throughout their careers with the ultimate goal in mind – to walk on the surface of the moon.   Since the inaugural landing had taken place months earlier, Americans were no longer captivated by the endeavor.  What had once seemed unimaginable had quickly become last year's news.  For the astronauts of Apollo 13, however, their eyes were fixed on the goal.  It was to be their turn.  

The entire team of engineers, astronauts, and those on ground control had planned for every conceivable contingency.  They knew that problems could arise, and they had planned accordingly.  Early in their flight, a mishap did indeed occur.  They took it in stride, then were grateful that “our glitch for the mission was over.”  Within minutes, however, everything changed.  “Houston, we have a problem.”  

 The story rapidly unfolded as the three astronauts realized that their ultimate goal of walking on the moon was no longer a possibility.  In fact, it became clear that their return to earth would be somewhat of a miracle.    We were drawn into their tight quarters, felt the loss of power, and more acutely, the loss of control.  No one had conceived that such a multi-system failure could occur.  There was no contingency plan for a disaster of this magnitude.  In the midst of the crisis, they were all forced to disband the plan for what should have been, and to go back to the proverbial drawing board.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”  I’ve said it.  Perhaps you have as well.  We anticipate disruptions in life.  We know they can happen and plan accordingly.  We buy the right insurance, secure the right job, marry the right person, and discipline our kids according the philosophy of the day. We’re not naive – we know that we’ll have our glitches along the way, but acknowledge piously that those problems will make us stronger.  Until one very ordinary day, we’re not facing another malfunction to be repaired, but have suddenly found ourselves drifting in space as the result of a potentially lethal explosion.  We certainly didn’t see it coming, and couldn’t possibly have planned our own remedy in advance.

~Death of a loved one
~A defiant, rebellious child
~Serious Illness
~Loss of financial security

We travel through life anticipating our own version of walking on the moon – the day when all of our hard work will finally pay off.  But in the blink of an eye, everything can change…

Houston, we have a problem.

As the crew became aware of the situation’s severity, a chain reaction of emotion was instigated.  Within minutes, there was an awareness that the pinnacle for which they had trained through the years, would never be reached.  They would not walk on the moon.  This realization brought with it gut-wrenching grief as life-long dreams literally disappeared into vapor. 

Then came the dramatic shift. 

They had to leave behind the dream of “what should have been” in order to accept “what actually was.”

It was only after that pivotal decision that they were able to move forward.  The goal of walking on the moon, which had once felt paramount, instantly became insignificant.  Perspective had changed radically.  The chance of survival was slim.

Alone, they were helpless.  Completely at the mercy of the ground crew which was working frantically to come up with a solution, the astronauts had to wait.  In silence.  In darkness.  In the cold.  Have you been there?  I have, and it’s a terrifying to be thrust into the reality of our own limitations.  

They had to reorient themselves:

~by scrapping the original plan
~by redefining their goal
~by letting go of control and following the direction of another

After days of peril and excruciating uncertainty, the astronauts were successfully brought back home.  That which had once seemed routine became priceless.  Not one of the three ever walked on the moon, but as they let go of "what should be," they were free to discover the miracle of what actually was.

“This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever faced,” lamented the NASA Program Director.  True.  But not the end of the story.  The Flight Director responded, “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”  

And it was. 

From the ashes of great crisis, beauty can indeed rise.

And one day, we've been promised, that it will.


Intensive investigation revealed that the near-fatal malfunction was a result of a production error 4 years prior to the Apollo 13 flight.  Any blame-shifting or finger pointing during the crisis had been misplaced.  It became clear that the error was not caused by either the astronauts on board or the crew on the ground.  They were all the unfortunate heirs of a pre-existing faulty condition.  

Paul in 2 Corinthians 4: 8 says: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair."

*The word for perplexed in the original means "no way through" and the word for despair is the same word intensified meaning " utterly without any way through".

We can trust the Lord to find a way through for us in all circumstances so that whereas we may be stumped, not seeing any way forward though our problems, He will never let us be persuaded that there is absolutely no way through. He will keep us from despair. He will provide the promised way out. (1 Cor 10:13 )
*Borrowed from Ieuan LLoyd-Jones 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Under Where?" is Available - and Worthy of the Accompanying Hoopla

I'm taking a break from writing alone this week, and thought I'd let my kiddos help out.  They want to share with you their thoughts on the new Slugs & Bugs CD that was just released by Randall Goodgame and Andrew Peterson.  I must confess:  although we have five children, I'm not typically a big fan of children's music.  Perhaps it started with the big purple dinosaur, but over time, I've become increasingly finicky about the music that fills our home (and car).  I'm not even sure that my youngest has ever heard "Wheels on the Bus" or "B-I-N-G-O" all the way through.  I know.  Sad.  But I digress.

So why the post dedicated to a children's CD?  So glad you asked.

The best music, like the best books, tells the truth about who we are, who God is, and the situations that we face in life.  A well-written song assures us that we are not alone in the feelings we experience.  It can provide comfort, insight, or much-needed levity.  The effect of music on people can be astounding.  The same is true for our children and the culture of our families.  Music can bring us together, give us a "secret language" between family members, and influence the tone in our homes.   Slugs & Bugs tells the truth about the everyday experiences that children have (losing pjs, wanting to help, finding a hole in a sock, getting angry).  It speaks truth about who they are, and about who God is.  It's refreshing, unbelievably clever, but somewhat addictive.

If you're not familiar with Slugs & Bugs, here's a sample of what you're missing.  This recording, produced by our own bears, surfaced unexpectedly early one morning.   And to think that we blamed goblins and feechies for all of the ruckus the night before.

In the the words of the ones whose opinions matter most:

Caroline (7yrs):
"I like the Slugs & Bugs CD because it's funny, and it gets stuck in my head so I can always sing it.  My favorite song is the pajama song because when the person can't find his pj's, he says 'Gotta find my mama, someone call Obama.'  That's my favorite part."

Sam (10 yrs):
"I really like the Mexican Rhapsody song.  It's very fun, energetic, and it even made my dad dance.  Be careful, because 'cheese dip' easily gets stuck in your head."  

Will (12yrs):
"My favorite song is the Ninja song.  I like the music because it's fast-paced, and the words are clever.  It makes me think of kids pretending to be ninjas.... although I'm too old for that now."

My boys are surprisingly offended by the potty song.  Peculiar.  I'm pretty sure they're actually uber-impressed that you can sing about such things.

Like a baby box with carefully stored booties and special blankets, I have within my heart a place to safeguard the cherished icons representing my children's childhoods.  Included among those treasures are Charlotte's Web, The Chronicles of Narnia, Rescue Heroes, Star Wars Legos, Robin Hood, various weapons, American Girl dolls, and Slugs & Bugs.  Go ahead and  buy more than one - you'll want to have them on hand for Christmas and baby gifts.

You can order "Under Where?" here.  Enjoy.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lessons from the Master: A Study in Contrast

The grande marble halls were lined with majestic columns standing guard.  Although my steps were steady and dignified, I had to work hard to contain my right-before-present-opening-Christmas-morning giddiness.  Then it finally happened.  After months of anticipation, a budding (albeit one-sided) friendship was culminated.  I found myself face to face with my first Rembrandt.

I knew that the collection would be focused on the life of Jesus, but didn't know what specific paintings we would be viewing.  As we finally turned the corner and entered the exhibit,  The Woman Taken in Adultery commanded center stage.  I'm not generally quick to become teary-eyed, but in that particular moment, I found myself struggling to appear only appropriately, moderately interested.

The Woman Taken in Adultery by Rembrandt

So much about the painting is captivating.  The richness of color,  diverse cast of characters, anachronistic costumes, and barely distinguishable shapes lurking in the darkness create a scene steeped in tension and drama.  But perhaps the most startling artistic element, that which is so very Rembrantesque, is the way in which light and composition are used to guide the viewer's eye methodically through the story.  We're drawn immediately to the woman... then to the Source of Light.... and eventually back through the crowd ultimately leading to the Jewish officials.

I know enough about art (very little) to be dangerous.  But this is what I do know...

Oil paint applied to a simple 3 ft X 2 ft  oak canvas 367 years ago brilliantly summarizes the ministry of Jesus, as well as the world that he came to rescue.

Take a long look into the painting.  You'll be touched in different places of the heart than am I.  I wish we could stroll through the gallery together, pause, reflect, and process our experience over a hot cup of Starbucks.  As you'd share with me, I'd be given the gift of seeing the painting with different eyes.  Here are a few of my own observations that in turn, I'd share with you:

~Light is experienced most intensely in the presence of darkness.  

~We labor to hide our deepest, darkest selves from others.  But look into the painting.  Ultimate rest and blessing are a result of stepping into the light.

~Those lurking in the shadows "have it all together" in the eyes of their world - they are the bankers, lawyers, board members, elders of the church.  They spend their lives grateful that they aren't needy.  They have figured out how to make life work, and aren't about to let their hard-earned stability be disrupted.

~The folks "in charge" have colluded to trap the woman... in order to trap Jesus... yet he turns the tables.  The people or circumstances which seem to have control over our lives serve merely as a backdrop for real life.  There is only one who holds the position of ultimate authority.  And he is good.

~The woman caught has no defense.  She is guilty.  Blame shifting isn't an option.  All pretense, social standing, worldly security is doomed, and she has absolutely no control over the situation.   She is at the mercy of another.

The Woman Taken in Adultery is a study of contrasts:

Between pride and humility
Between judgement and grace
Between self-sufficiency and dependency
Between control and brokenness

The Woman Taken in Adultery summarizes the entire ministry of Jesus:
"He disturbs the comfortable, and comforts the disturbed." Tim Keller

Daily, we're given the choice of where we insert ourselves into the painting.  If we're really honest, most of us spend more time lurking in the shadows rather than giving up the control required to bask in the warmth of life and grace.

Are you willing to look into the painting?  
Where would you place yourself?  
Where do you want to be?

Yes, my new friend, Rembrandt, has given me a new perspective from which I can hope to see myself a bit more accurately.  As I discover dark areas in my life of which I've been previously unaware, I find that I'm guilty as well - of pride, judgement, self-sufficiency and control.  And I can't shift the blame.  Yet when I'm willing to risk exposure and emerge from the shadows,  I'm grateful to find grace, not judgement.  From the one who is ultimately in charge.  Who has all authority.  Who is good.  Who came to earth to rescue his children from the darkness of despair, sickness, broken relationships, and loneliness.  Who came to shatter the dark with light, rescue the lost, and redeem the broken. 

Sometimes we need friends to point us in the right direction... and sometimes a work of art does the trick.


Although we weren't allowed to take pictures during our visit to the Rembrandt exhibit, we were able to bring home some beautiful sketches from three different portraits of Jesus.

by Caroline - age 7

by Sam - age 10

by Will - age 12


A few resources to consider if you'd like to begin your own adventure with Rembrandt:

The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen
     Highly recommended.  This was my introduction to Rembrandt, and one of the few books I own that I've read more than once.

How Rembrandt Reveals Your Beautiful, Imperfect Self by Roger Housden
     Worth a read.  I'm at the end of this book, and it's given me much about which to think.

The Night Watch: Adventure with Rembrandt by Isabelle Lawrence
     This is a piece of historical fiction which takes place in Rembrandt's home and studio while he is commissioned to paint the Night Watch - a fun read with children). This book is out of print, but fairly easily found on Amazon or used books.

Art Museums for the Uninitiated by Russ Ramsey
     A great article about venturing into the world of art.

Rembrandt in America exhibit at the NC Museum of Art in Raleigh
     Coming November thru January

Picture Study Portfolios by Emily Cottrill
     A practical, easy to use method of becoming familiar with great artists and their work.  Each portfolio comes with a portrait and biography of the artist, eight laminated full-color works by the artist, step-by-step instructions for doing a picture study and recommended books for additional learning.  This methodology and information are equally applicable for adults and children.

My own meanderings:
Lessons from the Master:  Rembrandt's Self-Portraits and Me
Lessons from the Master: Freedom from Ties that Bind

*If the resources listed are helpful to you, please let me know, and I'll be sure to include such a list in the future when appropriate.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Along the Road - Hutchmoot 2011

I'm a lover of life.  A glass-is-half-full girl.  A believer in ideals.  But life can be really, really hard.  And if it's not hard for me at the moment, chances are, it is for one (or many) of those close to me.  Over time, I've had the honor of walking with folks who were navigating through some treacherous territory.  They didn't see it coming, and weren't sure they'd be able to find the way out.  I've been there a time or two.  And I bet, so have you.  Thank goodness we're all here to stumble, sprint, roam, crawl, dance, climb, skip, limp and wade through life together.

In returning from my weekend at Hutchmoot, I've been pondering how and what to report back to those who've graciously shown interest.  This is my attempt.  For starters, it may be helpful to address the etymology of the name.  

Hutch - n.  A coop for the housing of small animals, especially rabbits.  
Moot - n.  An ancient English meeting, especially a meeting of the free men of a shire.  v. To discuss

Hutchmoot is the convening of 100ish music, art, Lewis and Tolkien-loving folks, many who have met virtually in the Rabbit Room. Hutchmoot is more of a family gathering than a conference.  It offers community rather than instruction.  Its intent is to inspire and enjoy rather than to equip.  

Upon returning from my weekend away, our family resumed reading Dangerous Journey, which is a beautifully illustrated retelling of Pilgrim's Progress. The story begins by introducing Christian, who carries a heavy burden upon his back.  He works with it.  He sleeps with it.  He can find no relief.  In an effort escape from certain doom, Christian embarks upon an odyssey of discovery that leads him through great peril, uncertainty, and pivotal  choices.  During his travels, he meets a variety of fellow-travelers.  Some of them, such as Obstinate, Pliable, Worldly Wiseman and Mr. Legality offer a plethora of counsel to Christian.  Their counsel, however, is unhelpful at best and near-fatal at worst.

One broad road turned to the left;  another broad road turned to the right;  while the narrow road went straight on - up the great black back of the Hill called difficulty.  Which one would they choose?  Formalist chose to go to the left, which led him into a dark wood.  Did he but know it, the road was call Danger, and he lost his way for ever.  Hypocrisy chose to go to the right, which led him into rough ground, full of holes and hummocks.  Did he but know it, the road was called Destruction.  Here he stumbled and fell, and rose no more.  As for Christian, he paused and drank at a spring to refresh himself.  Then after looking both ways, he started briskly straight up the hill.

Others join Christian and impact his journey in quite a different way.  Evangelist points him in the right direction.  The Interpreter helps him gain understanding.  Faithful, who has fought quite different battles from those Christian experienced, offers encouragement and fellowship along the way.

So I saw in my dream that he made great haste.  But as he drew nearer, he could hear in the darkness the roaring of the lions.  The only way forward was along a narrow passage, which was about a furlong from the porter's lodge.  This, he knew, was the place from which Mistrust and Timorous had fled.  And Christian was never so near to running back after them.  But the porter at the lodge, whose name was Watchful, perceiving now that Christian made a halt, cried out:   "Is your strength so small?  Fear not the lions.  They are on long chains.  If you keep strictly to the beam of light, in the center of the path, they cannot reach you."  So Christian moved on.  He took good heed to the directions of the porter.  At the same time, he trembled for fear of the lions, for now they were on either side of him, straining at their chains.  And how they roared, and snapped at him!  And how they tried to catch him by the foot!

Although the characters are prototypical, I can see myself in each on any given day.  At times, I offer hope, encouragement and companionship to those who are struggling.  At others, I'm presumptuous, hypocritical, timid, and not particularly helpful in encouraging my fellow-travelers to persist and press on in the right direction.  As the years go by, my hope is to become a better travel companion.

My time in Nashville was a sweet reminder that we're not left alone on this unpredictable journey of life.  Those I met did not have names like Evangelist, Faithful, or Goodwill, yet they gave me great gifts of encouragement, community, and hope.  Here are few glimpses of our encounters along the road:

~ Pete Peterson - Affirmed that just as God created in His own image, we create from our own personal stories.  Although flawed, we are born to create.  That which we create has dignity, and reflects the hope and the truth of the gospel.

~ Jonathan Rogers - Encouraged us to spend time considering our story... those moments, years, and decades in life that make up our personal history.  Within each of our lives can be found the story of redemption.  Not just in the few dramatic, life-altering scenes, yet more often in the details of the mundane.  Pay attention.  Take note.  

~ Ben Shive - Challenged us to look for stories of redemption in unlikely places.  Although that may not have been his end-goal, it was certainly a by-product of his recounting the life and works of Brian Wilson.  Who "woulda thunk"  that his music is complex and innovative, or that redemption can be seen in the story of his life.  Not in a renewal of Wilson's strength and vigor, but in the kindness of those surrounding him when he finally reached the end of his proverbial rope.  Listening to the Beach Boys will never be the same.  And hopefully, neither will listening to the stories of folks whose paths intersect with mine.  I want to listen without presumption, but with anticipation and curiosity.

~ Russ Ramsey and Justin Gerard - Illuminated the connection between the art of the masters and the Master himself.  By becoming apprentices of the great artists - studying their lives, technique, style and artwork, we can gain glimpses of the Kingdom from a new and fresh vantage point.  Gerard, who is an amazing artist and illustrator, conveyed, "I can't write like Tolkien, but I can reflect what he's done with my own art."  There's a sermon or two for us all in that statement alone.

~ Sally Lloyd-Jones - Inspired us to believe in the power of language and story, and to fall more deeply in love with The Great Story.  "A story can do much more than teach, it can transform you.  It works secretly," she shared.  Trust the story to do the work.  Don't feel like we we have to push morals.  I'm still mulling over the implications of that one.  With her humble, winsome, and delightfully British accent, Sally treated us to a lovely storybook time which could have rivaled that of the Darling children in Peter Pan.  She then narrated the story of her own life, complete with a few significant plot twists, compliments of the Author.  She inscribed my daughter's Jesus Storybook Bible with the following, "Caroline, This is your story." And it's mine.  And it's yours, too.

~ Andrew Peterson - Reminded us all to Whom we belong.  We are the beloved.  We are made in His image.  And we create as a response.  He also reminded us that we have not been left to journey through life alone.  The weekend served as a living testimony that the Kingdom is not only in the future - we've been given a taste of it here on earth.  In all of creation.  In music, art, literature, laughter, kindness, compassion, and yes, in each other.

As I continue to distill all that I experienced over the weekend in Nashville, perhaps the most lasting impression that will mark my soul was the gathering of 100 relative strangers, who because of the great love for their Father, became family.  We were given a glimpse of what will take place one day, when we are all finally gathered together "from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages"...

A voice cried out: "These pilgrims now are come from the City of Destruction for the love they bear to the King of this place."  So the Gates of Heaven opened to them, and they entered in.  "And," writes Bunyan in his book, "I was able to look in after them, I saw the streets were paved with gold.  And in them walked - with crowns upon their heads - the company of just men made perfect.  And the Bells of the City rang for joy.  For Christian and his fellow had come to their true home."

All pictures and quotations are borrowed from Dangerous Journey:  The Story of Pilgrim's Progress William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company