Tuesday, April 29, 2008

the price of rewards

I've just come across a great magazine for thinking mothers: Brain, Child. The latest issue has, among other stimulating essays, one by Kathy Gillen arguing against using rewards -- toys, ice cream -- to help children deal with difficult circumstances (i.e., life). The author notes that she needs to stop rewarding herself -- lattes, pedicures -- as well, not to model entitlement.

"Nobody wants hardship for a child, but amazing, life-altering joy can be found in even the dark corners of life. Teaching kids to embrace hardships without the aid of rewards can be the difference between understanding life and just muddling through it." Yes.

I suspect too that turning to treats to compensate for difficulties sends the message that we don't deserve suffering, reinforcing self-pity. Better to give compassion, suffering with another.

Now, Gillen "rewards" a child who's had a hard time at the doctor with "lots of hugs and rounds of Itsy Bitsy Spider." (Read it here.)

This is how our God, Emmanuel, comforts us in our troubles -- with his presence, not by distracting us from our pain with food or toys. I am grateful for this essay's insight, which reminds me that if I give John my presence, suffering with him in his pain, it will be easier as he gets older to teach him to turn to God instead of material comforts in hard times. Then, he will be able to share God's comfort with others to comfort them in their struggles (2 Cor. 1). Isn't that a far greater gift than a toy would be?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

aiming high

Michael's parents visited us from New York this weekend. After a few visits to the park behind our home, they saw how much John enjoys watching the boys play basketball there. We have to restrain him from joining the game. He doesn't realize that he is too young, too small, to play with them. Yesterday, John's grandparents bought him a small basketball backboard and hoop. It came with a miniature basketball. So now he has his very own court in our backyard. (Thanks, Michael and Stephanie!)

This afternoon, John and Michael went to the park and took John's little basketball. John threw it in the air, perhaps three feet up, towards the big hoop. But then he wanted to play with a real basketball instead (which is practically as big as he is). Later this afternoon, we went over there again and a kind man gave John a tennis ball. John tried to make a basket with it, too. We also saw some men playing soccer, and John really wanted to join them.

When John was a little baby, it was sometimes scary that he didn't know his own limitations. I was afraid he would hurt himself when he tried to leap off of the changing table or a bed. But now, it is almost heartbreaking to see his innocence and optimism, and to know that one day he will be hurt by the truth that he cannot do everything he wants to do.

Some day, he will fail, and he will learn to be more hesitant, less sure of himself. I want for John to have a realistic sense of his own strengths and abilities, but I don't want him to get discouraged. I won't tell him "You can do anything you put your mind to do" because it's untrue and would lead him to blame himself if he fails at something. But John's lack of self-doubt or insecurity makes me wonder if we can do more than we think we can do. More specifically, I wonder how often I limit myself by preconceived ideas about what I am capable of.

Occasionally, the boys at the basketball court do share the ball with John (and he repays their kindness by wandering off with the ball!). I want to have wisdom to encourage John to keep aiming high but also to trust God with the outcome. Of course, he will learn the most from my example.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

a rare positive review of Expelled

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed has been getting terrible, brutal reviews. Michael and I saw it last night and found it quite good, for its entertainment value as well as its substance. Ben Stein talks to scientists, academics and reporters, but the movie is much more fast-paced and lively than a talking-head documentary, partly due to heavy use of old movie/tv footage and animation. Ben Stein is funny, the scientists (on both sides) are interesting, and watching Stein investigate the ID/evolution controversy gives the documentary some narrative flow. The Berlin Wall is used with good effect as a metaphor for the exclusion of ID from the scientific academy and, more broadly, the science/religion divide that Darwinists insist upon.

I hadn't realized that Hitler's practice of "racial cleansing" was simply social Darwinian, but once stated the connection is obvious -- Hitler simply employed the idea of eugenics, fashionable in the early 20th c. and based on Darwin's writings. Stein reads a bit of Darwin's The Descent of Man that sounds as if it could have come from Hitler himself -- about how anyone would let only his best animals reproduce, yet man takes care of the weakest among him and allows them to propagate. Scary stuff.

The movie goes into some but not great specific detail about the limitations of evolution -- I would have liked to have heard more about that and the scientific evidence for ID -- but perhaps its main purpose is to introduce people to the issues. The complexity of the cell is addressed -- in Darwin's time, no one anticipated that, much less the reams of information contained in DNA. The proponents of evolution admit to Stein that they can't explain how life actually began. Perhaps the best scene is when Richard Dawkins conjectures that perhaps aliens "seeded" life on earth -- as if this is more likely than a divine Creator! He also reads from his book The God Delusion; I don't know whether it is sad or horrific or both to hear his blasphemous view of God. (A side note: if he and other atheistic scientists think that religion has no place in science, then why are they not agnostic? How can their science tell them anything about God's non-existence?? It can't, of course.)

I'm kind of surprised that movie reviewers are so uniformly, vehemently negative about this movie, and that the reviews I've read don't evaluate its worth as a movie at all, but merely bash the content. They trash Stein for "propaganda," and seem irate that he is challenging evolution's hold. But then again, Expelled calls out the media for their hostility to ID, so I shouldn't be surprised. (The exception is Yahoo's positive review.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

The scientific consensus supporting Darwinism comes at a high price: the silencing of scientists whose work supports intelligent design. See the intriguing trailer of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a new movie by Ben Stein revealing the hostile reception given to scientists who challenge Darwinism. In theaters this weekend.

Friday, April 11, 2008

late bloomers

There is a tree in our backyard, with ivy growing around in it a slightly raised area separated from the rest of the yard by bricks. Within the ivy are a few plants that we've never identified in our three-plus years here. Actually, we've never tried to -- there's not much to them -- just long, wide, flat leaves standing up straight. Not weeds, but certainly nothing to look at.

Until now.

A few days ago, Michael noticed that a couple of our mystery plants had developed buds. Dark, deep purple buds. We waited to see what would bloom.

Two gorgeous, showy bearded irises now grace our backyard. They were worth the wait.

They remind me that we are not yet what we will be.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

art in Dallas

If you live in the Dallas area, let me recommend to you a current exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art -- J.M.W. Turner, an English painter from the early 19th century. The son of a barber/wigmaker, he had incredible artistic talent. He believed that the landscape was just as artistically valid a subject for painting as any other and consequently painted a lot of them. The exhibit gathers a ton of Turner paintings from the U.S. and England, and it is really a treat to see so much of his work and to see how his style changed throughout his life.

His paintings are often beautiful, usually powerful, and interesting in how they predate Impressionism by a few decades but sometimes seem impressionistic. He was an amazing painter of light (Thomas Kinkaide cannot compare!) He painted to express and evoke emotion and was often criticized for it and his wanton use of color. It is interesting to see his painting develop and how, towards the end of his career, he went even further in the emotional/impressionistic direction, as if he didn't care what other people thought. The exhibit does a nice job of explaining the historical setting of his paintings, too.

support our troops -- spiritually

Want to help our troops find spiritual comfort and strength during their service for our country? Here is a site where you can donate New Testaments and other resources to them through Campus Crusade for Christ's Military Ministry.

Friday, April 04, 2008

bad chicken

Because I didn’t want to waste an eight-dollar chicken, I gave my husband food poisoning.

We were trying to be healthy. We decided to get a “natural” chicken from the fancy health foods store, even though their chicken cost twice as much as regular grocery store chicken.

The first chicken I bought went bad before we got around to cooking it on Sunday, two days after I bought it. Michael cut it into pieces and then asked me to smell it. It smelled a little fishy, which didn’t seem to be a good sign. I called the fancy health foods store and told the manager about the smell. “Did we get a bad chicken, or did we wait too long to cook it?”

“Your chicken shouldn’t smell like anything. You really should cook the chicken the same day you buy it,” she said. “We don’t inject our chickens with sodium to preserve them, so they don’t last as long as other grocery store chickens. But you can return it and get another chicken.”

On Tuesday, I went back to the store with the bad chicken and got a new, fresh chicken in its place. Then, I got busy and didn’t cook it that day. But surely, I thought, the chicken would still be good in the morning. The next morning, I roasted it. Did it smell a little off? No, not at all like the two-day-old chicken. Actually, it smelled like a little something, and the woman had told me that it shouldn’t smell at all. And she’d also said that I should cook it the same day. But I was sure that the chicken would be ok. Because I wanted it to be ok. I didn’t want to throw away a perfectly good, or even a slightly flawed, eight-dollar chicken.

I had some roast chicken for lunch. It was tasty. My stomach felt a little funny, but not too much. And maybe it wasn’t even the chicken! Soon, I felt fine again, and I was still able to go to the gym.

I didn’t say anything about my stomach to Michael when he came home. He worries too much, I think, about whether food has gone bad. He’s kind of paranoid about it. I didn’t want to put any thoughts in his head.

Michael had a wing for dinner. Later, he said that his stomach felt a little funny.

I woke up at 12:30 to the sounds of Michael retching. I stumbled guiltily into the bathroom. “I haven’t slept at all yet, and I have to go before the Academic Committee tomorrow,” he said angrily. “This is all your fault.”

Well, yes, it was. And I had forgotten all about his important presentation to the Academic Committee. If there is ever a good time to give your husband food poisoning, this was not it.

I apologized profusely. But I waited until the next morning to confess my own stomach issues, which really should have shown me that the chicken was bad and needed to be thrown away. At 12:30 in the morning, I figured that Michael had enough problems without hearing that his suffering could have been avoided had not his wife’s frugality blinded her to the obvious risk of food poisoning.

So what have I learned? First, not to buy “natural” chickens. Food preservatives aren’t all bad.

Second, I’ve seen (not for the first time) that my desire to have things go my way can blind me to the truth, or what is best. Denial is powerful. Ironically, I’ve been working on an article about how God’s economy is different than our economy, and what we may think of as wasting our resources is sometimes part of God’s plan for providing for us. (I got to thinking of this after reading how Moses melted and ground up the gold calf and made the Israelites drink the water w/ it, "wasting" the gold rather than using it for the sanctuary.) I didn’t recognize the application to what was going on in my life. Next time, I’ll know to “waste” the old or questionable food rather than putting our health at risk!