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More summer book shout-outs

I haven’t made any sewing advances to show off, so today seems to be the ideal time to give two summer book shout outs.

Moon Over ManifestMy first shout out goes to the children’s book Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. Vanderpool won the 2011 Newbery Medal with this work, and it was an award well received. The prose was stunning; as a word lover, I was salivating over Vanderpool’s literary cadence and pleasantly surprised at the range of vocabulary that she used — some of it sweetly Southern. If I ever have kiddos someday, this book is going to rank right up with Anne of Green Gables as a tool to ingrain them with words that we don’t use often enough anymore. As beautiful as the prose was, the story was equally if not more so. Vanderpool weaves a tale of regrets and acceptance and what we suffer when we can’t find the secure love that we want more than anything else in the whole world. I listened to the book in audio version from my library, and the narrator did a phenomenal job bringing the story to life, so I’d recommend listening to it if you don’t have time to read it. I just put Vanderpool’s more recent novel Navigating Early on my book wish list, and I’m looking forward to reading more from her.

SwayMy other shout out goes to Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman. I scored it used on my trip to Nashville and then realized the library had the audio version, so I downloaded that and got to quilting and furniture painting with the hard copy nearby in case I wanted to highlight anything. If you’re only interested in reading one book about how we make decisions, I’d still direct you to How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, but Sway was worth reading as well, and it’s a pretty short read.

The book has no biblical underpinnings, but as I was listening, I found myself pondering the meaning of Mathew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Brafman and Brafman take readers to Switzerland in 1993 when the government was trying to identify a town that was willing to become a nuclear waste repository. The first town hall meeting held near the site of the proposed repository consisted of merely informing the townspeople about the proposal and the government’s backing of it. The residents were asked if they would agree to allow their town to become a repository for nuclear waste, and 50.8 percent responded that they would be willing — possibly as an act of goodwill towards their native home.

Now, I think 50.8% is a pretty high number considering that nuclear waste was at stake. Obviously though that leaves about 50% of the population as unhappy campers, so researchers descended on the community to see if they could convince more residents to let the town be used as a nuclear waste repository. They thought that offering individuals the equivalent of about $2,175 a year would increase public support. It didn’t. Now, only 24.6% of residents approved.

Why the switch in support ratings? Brafman and Brafman cite a National Institutes of Health study as a possible explanation. NIH researchers monitored the brain activity of individuals playing video games. The researchers discovered that entirely different parts of the brains lit up depending on whether the individuals were playing to win money for themselves or to win money for a charity. Brafman and Brafman conclude, “It’s as if we have two ‘engines’ running in our brains that can’t operate simultaneously. We can approach a task either altruistically or from a self-interested perspective. The two different engines run on different fuels and also need different amounts of those fuels to fire up. It doesn’t take much to fuel the altruism center: all you need is the sense that you’re helping someone or making a positive impact. But the pleasure center seems to need a lot more.”

As I reflect on Matthew 6, I know that there are many people who give to others without any commitment to God motivating them, but for those who do serve because they believe that God has commissioned them to do so, I think these studies are fascinating. I’d always just thought that trying to serve money would distract me from serving God, hence the biblical warning against it. It turns out that it seems this dichotomy is hard wired into my brain. I can’t have a dual focus to my intents, and since serving people is tough — very tough as I’ve discovered while trying to help someone get back on her feet over the past couple of weeks — I think it was nice of God to design the part of the brain that responds to altruistic acts to be more sensitive to stimuli. A little service appears to go a long way.


Grading…at a snail’s pace

If snails could grade and I was in a race with them, they would have beaten me. I’m getting close to the end, but I’m having trouble getting into the zone and finishing up this semester. What did I do instead this afternoon? I cut the grass with a weedwhacker and cleaned up the smelly, gross alley between my neighbor’s house and my house. I also cleaned the fridge. Of course, then I wanted to put the clutter back into the fridge because taking it out only confirmed my worst fear — the entire fridge needs a good wipe down. How does one person make a fridge so messy?

If you’ve ever pondered (not that you probably have), what Deogi does when I do glue myself to the couch to grade as I finally did for a little bit tonight, then here is the view from my seat.

Deogi helps me gradeThat’s his face crunched up against my leg. I like to call this his I’ve-had-more-fun-watching-paint-dry look. He’s actually pretty much asleep even though his eyes popped open for the picture. It cracks me up that when he falls asleep, he leaves his bottom lip open to show off his crooked teeth. I’m glad dogs don’t need orthodontists.

He was actually pretty comfy even with his head all crunched up against me. Notice how I get one cushion of the couch, and he rolls over on his back to sprawl out across the other two cushions.

Deogi loungingAlright, that’s it for now. Hopefully tomorrow’s blog will be a celebratory post about finalized grading.


Today was graduation for our students at Lancaster Bible College. While I could skip ironing all that regalia at the end of every semester, one of the blessings of being a faculty member is getting to share in this special day with students who have worked so hard for it. Today, I saw a student get the award for a graduate showing all-around excellent improvement. I was proud beyond words of her. Really, I was; the preceding sentence is quite possibly one of the most boring ever written on my blog because I can’t think of how to say how proud I was. This morning, I was thinking about her in my English class her first semester — so much frustration, so many doubts about her ability, and, to her credit, so much hard work. She kept pressing on, and today she walked across that stage. The teachable spirit that got her through that English class has only continued to deepen and mature; some ministry better snatch her up because I promise she’ll be one of the best hires they ever make.

Wiping tears away was also part of the afternoon. We were blessed to have Wes Stafford, President of Compassion International, as our commencement speaker for the afternoon. He literally oozes passion for the mission of rescuing children from poverty. And, he’s a great speaker as well. At the end of graduation, LBC gave him an honorary doctorate of divinity and surprised him by announcing the initiation of The Wesley K. Stafford Leadership Development Scholarship. One of the beautiful pieces of Compassion’s work is how they take promising sponsored students and help them obtain further training in a post-high school environment. I’ve been able to hear a couple of these students who have gone on to receive Masters Degrees speak, and my jaw drops when I hear their passion to take their educations and to help their native countries. The scholarship announced today will provide the opportunity for some of those students to receive a PhD in Leadership from LBC to further enable their leadership efforts around the world.

I was sitting on the stage where I had a direct line of sight to Dr. Stafford as the scholarship was announced, and his immediate and spontaneous reaction to the announcement brought tears to my eyes. His hand flew to his mouth as he choked back tears. I honestly think if we’d offered him a three million dollar beach house that his reaction wouldn’t have been nearly as overwhelmed or joyful. What a beautiful illustration to our graduates that when you stay the course and give your life to others, you will find joy indescribable at seeing those you serve be blessed. I hope the picture of Dr. Stafford receiving that news stays with me for a long time.

The day was also a little surreal for me since this year is my own 10 year anniversary of graduating from college. I stood in the lobby all decked out in my regalia talking to one of my colleagues who was formerly one of my hero professors. I watched students who  I knew as freshmen graduate with master’s degrees. I reflected on being chair of a department with members who were some of my professors of old. How can time fly and crawl at the same time?

And, so, while I couldn’t hold a candle to Dr. Stafford’s commencement address, I did reflect on what I would tell graduates today now that I have 10 years of miles and minutes between me and walking across that stage.

First, don’t panic that you don’t have all your plans in place. This doesn’t give you free license to retreat to your parent’s basement (though I did for a year, and I think I turned out ok). The reality of the matter is that you can’t anticipate what life is going to hold in the next 10 or even 5 years for you. Weeks before I walked, I said in jest to the LBC dean at the time that he should look for my resume in a few years, and I wound up sending in that resume and getting hired. But, I never anticipated being chair, never anticipated being single still, never anticipated buying a house on my own, and never anticipated the journey of this summer when I will start looking at PhD programs not in the English field. Graduates, if you adopt one plan and doggedly pursue it without staying open to what else God may layer in, you will miss many blessings and opportunities for growth.

Second, you’ve already made your decision to follow Christ. I’d be unfair to you, graduates, if I told you that the next ten years will be easy. You’ll be starting families, new jobs, and in some cases uprooting your lives here to live in completely different cultures. If the statistics and my own observations of my graduating class hold true, some of you may face unchosen singleness, infertility, the lost of a child, or the illness of a spouse. Because you are young, these events will strike you as odd and ill-timed. As you serve and serve alongside people, there is incredible opportunity for mutual blessing, but at the same time, you are opening yourself willingly for some of those people to cause the deepest hurt. Some of them will be ungrateful, will squander the training you’ve poured into them. Some of those you serve will lose heart and lose faith and because you care about them, you will have pieces of your own heart break as you watch this happen. And, unfortunately, there may be a morning when you wake up and ask yourself if it’s really worth it. Do you really want to live another day for Christ? Or, you may walk the floorboards at night and ask yourself why you shouldn’t just storm off to find your own way, to make your own path by cutting a few corners or sidestepping a few of the values that you’ve held to that point. I pray in those moments that you redirect your decision, that you understand that you’ve already made your decision to dedicate your life to Christ. In those dark moments, you need only to decide whether you are going to do that one more day. And, you can do that. You can keep doing that one day at a time as you walk through the trial. And, I pray for you that the intimate times with God and the blessing sprinkled amidst the trials will hold you steady and will cause you to remember that if you would run, there is no destination where you’d rather be.

Finally, since you will be navigating new territory, often without much of a map and often with much at stake, surround yourselves with good people. Don’t walk this road alone. Find married couples who’ve walked the road before you who will invite you into their homes to learn by observation. Find someone who you can walk with everyday who will listen to your heart. Find someone who shares your passions and can stir you to greater commitment to them on a regular basis, and find someone who is different from you so they challenge you to continue to see the world in new ways. In the 10 years since I’ve left college, these people in my life have been lifelines. They have reminded me to breathe, to have fun, to continue to serve. They have modeled marriage and parenthood in the way that I hope someday to be able to live it out. They have been there to take slow, limping steps beside me in the moments when my heart has been broken or I have faced times of doubt. It’s foolish to think the you’re too busy to find time to build these key relationships. Wherever your path goes next, be intentional to seek out this people and be fervent in prayer that God will bring them into your life.

And, finally, don’t forget where you are launching from. Many of you have wonderful families and a group of faculty watched you graduate today. We collectively know your passions; we’ve heard of the formative decisions that you’ve made, know your character strengths and your weaknesses. So, sometime, ask us to meet you for coffee. More than likely, we’ll know that you’re still living on a shoestring, so we’ll pick up the tab. And, we can remind you of the day when you had big dreams; we can help you navigate tough waters, and we are humbled to both rejoice and mourn with you as you stretch in new ways. You do our hearts good when you continue to share with us how you are students, of God’s word, of the world.

Pedal, pedal, crash

If I had to come up with a ridiculously melodramatic metaphor for my life right now, I’d say it feels a little like riding a tricycle rapidly around an octagonal room; the dizzying ride on an inefficient vehicle should be pictured complete with several jarring crashes into walls and getting stuck in corners. This is the nature of higher academia at this time of year. I’m wrapping up the current semester, and as an administrator, already thinking about launching the next semester. And, God bless my high school teaching friends because I don’t know how you do it. I’ve found that sixteen weeks is the outer limits of the human capability to focus on one class before everyone needs to cease and desist for awhile. Whew! 8 more days. Just eight more days until a fairly dramatic schedule shift. I’ll still be at the school quite often but in a different rhythm of activity. My 800 emails in my inbox are just waiting for me to clean them out.

There have been a few bright spots. One of those bazillion emails today was from a former student who wanted to thank me for being patient but also pushing him when he was wasting time in my class. I helped sparked realizations in him that he could do better, and he is doing better. That kind of email does a teacher’s heart good. Because, for those of you who are non-teachers, let me tell you it’s not easy to call a student out on less than ideal habits. Sure, part of me might be motivated (in my basest of human instincts) by annoyance at the sheer and utter inconvenience of any one student’s nonsensical behavior. But, I couldn’t go into (or at least stay in) teaching unless a bigger part of me hoped that when I choose to call a student out on behavior it is to help them in their future endeavors, and it does take a choice on the part of the teacher as well because the option is always there to take the easier road, the one of letting the student fail quietly and without intervention for the future. It’s nerve-wracking to call a student out. Again, the indignant me might say, “How dare he/she?” But the me in the room with the student gets tangled up in, “How far can I push the trust of this relationship? How tough can I be without this student losing faith in the fact that I do this because I care? Did I just give formative feedback or devastating criticism?” And, so when as student follows up, and that student lands on his feet and is making great strides forward, it’s a win (and an assuager of teacherly self-doubt).

And, in totally unrelated news (unless you count the good news theme), I won a quilting contest today — not for one of my quilts. I wish! Maybe someday. But, over the course of the past month, I’ve been following a microMod sew along, which consists of many quilters over the course of the month creating projects out of a collection of retro geometric fabrics. And, they host a fabric giveaway in conjunction with their project postings. It’s a win-win. Someone gets great fabrics; fun projects are showcased, and I’ve found several quilting blogs to add to my subscription list. Swim Bike Quilt is one of those blogs. I discovered Katie’s blog when she made aprons out of the fabric for her and her husband. Between that apron and the one over at Jaceycraft, I’m thinking that I ought to make a work apron for sewing. I constantly loose scissors, seam rippers, and thus my sanity. If I had pockets for all that stuff, I might get faster at sewing and spend less time wondering whether the dog could have possibly absconded with my supplies.  Today, I got an email from Katie to tell me I won the fabric. Yes, my name in blog lights — sort of. Now, I can start to imagine what project(s) to make with these fabrics. It’s not too late to join in for the last week of the sew along fun. Follow any of the links to the blogs I mentioned, and you can find out where the last few stops of the sew along will be.

The Evidence of Hope

Ok, first things first. Please go watch The Evidence of Hope. Do it. You could even stop reading now if you want to go watch the movie, but if you want know why I’m telling you to watch it, then feel free to read on.

While the dog was busy finding hot chocolate and shredding the packaging all over the bed in the guest bedroom, I was with two of my Writing on Social Change students at a screening of The Evidence of Hope.

guest bed mess

Tonight’s screening was a special treat because Chad Amour, the film’s director and producer, was on hand to answer questions afterwards. Amour said he wanted viewers to feel like they are sitting in a room and having a conversation with three people as those individuals reveal how they are pursuing their calling. And, he achieved that goal. The three individuals selected for the film were of the breed that radiate inner beauty – radiate. I’ve never quite been able to capture this breed in words; they’re different, convicting, impassioned, inspiring, and mysterious. But all those words fall short. Maybe you at least know someone like that so you grasp slightly what I’m saying. In contrast to my meager attempts to describe them, the film manages to reveal glimpses of  inner beauty in the natural striking way that makes these people powerful encouragers that walk among us. The Filipino pastor featured on the film reminded me of one of my Hispanic students who is a pastor impassioned to make his community a better place; Peter, the Kenyan police office, has a story that will encourage Compassion sponsors since he was able to go through Compassion’s leadership training program, and the woman who rescued children from the garbage dumps of Honduras…well, Amour said in jest after the film that if Gandhi and Mother Theresa had raised a child, it would have been this woman. That’s probably the best way to describe her – an impassioned soul seeking the good of others.

And, lest you get all freaked out that this is a heavy handed film about Christian calling, take deep breaths. It is not that, anything but that as a matter of fact. Amour explores calling in the way that most of us come to realize it — softly, in slowly unveiled pieces, in scraps of conversation and in the dings of trying circumstance. And, he represents it as most of us hope to find it — an animating energy, at times a fire that keeps us up at night and pulls us out of bed in the morning, and at times a gentle nudge down a long path of slow, small victories.

And, if you’re still not convinced to go see the film, go for the cinematography. Throughout I was struck by the absolute vibrant beauty that Amour found in the Philippines, in Kenya, and in Honduras. The breathtaking tableaus remind us that dreams and dignity exist everywhere. The individuals in this film encounter poverty, but you’re not going to see children with the bloated bellies of malnutrition or the dirty, stagnant pools of water. Instead, you’re going to see beauty, and the possibility of dreams, and the power of love — in short, the evidence of hope.

If you’re in the Lancaster area, go see the film this weekend. It’s going to be playing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Zoetropolis Theater, and Amour will be on hand again for Q&A. Sure, you could just get the DVD, but don’t miss out on the opportunity to hear him talk about the making of the film. My understanding of it was definitely enriched by the conversation.

If you’re not fortunate enough to be able to go to a showing, you can rent it via internet streaming for $5. Trust me, make a date night with your spouse, or just watch it on your own. You’re going to be glad that you infused your soul with this message instead of absorbing whatever mind fluff is currently circulating about vampires marrying were-mermaids, or whatever is the latest supernatural pairing of the week.

New faces…favorite places, and more fabric

I started the morning mucking around campus in gale force winds and cold dreary rain to gather up the materials  needed to set up a Communication program table for student preview day. Much muttering to myself and and an ugly time of putting my mangled umbrella to rights ensued.

There you have it. I’m not perfect. Rain makes me cranky…and I don’t like mornings.

Fortunately, it wasn’t too hard to do an attitude check once the students started rolling in. I met one of our incoming students who already has her fall classes lined up. From the little bit of time  that I got to spend with her, I’m glad that she chose LBC as her destination in the fall. And, I also got to meet a spunky high school sophomore and introduce her to the program for the very first time. So. much. fun. Her face lit up as she discovered elements of the program that might be a good fit for her, and when I told her that every January our Worship and Performing Arts department puts on a musical, her excitement level was rivaling that scene in Willy Wonka when everyone is finding the golden tickets. Sometimes it’s fun to momentarily see life again as a high school student with the vast map of life laid open and a seemingly endless number of roads to explore.

I got to leave work earlier than expected, which of all days was fortunate timing since I’d promised myself a trip to the PA Fabric Outlet tonight. On Wednesday a 50% off select calicoes coupon arrived, requiring the use of all my self control not to jump straight in the car to ride out there. I spent $86 on fabric, but before you judge me too harshly, let me just say that I got over 30 yards of fabric for that price. I’m not going to show all of it, just three highlights.

Navy diamondsFinding this fabric on the sale table for $2.50 wound up being my most exciting find of the day. A few weeks ago, I found this fabric in another store and knew that I wanted it to make a camera bag for myself at some point in time, but I didn’t buy it. I even liked it enough that I mentioned it to my mom later. Sometimes delaying gratification pays off since this is that fabric. Isn’t it going to make such an adorable camera bag? It’s hard to tell in the picture, but the tiny squares are actually dark navy. I bought what was left on the bolt, so I’ll have way more than I need for a camera bag; I’m envisioning some goldenrod and navy solid fabrics blended with this into one very preppy quilt.

Purple Gimme DiamondsFor my birthday, my sister got me the Gimme Diamonds Pattern by Four Paws Quilts, which is a fun pattern to show off bold prints. There were some nice purple fabrics on the sale table, and I cruised around the rest of the store to pick up 3 more fabrics to blend into the quilt. I need at least nine main fabrics for the quilt, and I was thinking purple and gray while I was in the store, but I got home and saw a yellow fabric that I have that maybe I’d want to use instead. So now I’m torn between sophisticated purple and gray or a bold purple and yellow. Hm…

backing for vintage girl quiltThis next fabric is a little bold for me, but I picked it up on the sale table thinking I’d use it in a baby quilt someday. However, I got home and realized that the colors match the fabrics for one of the first quilt projects that I’m going to attack this summer (if not sooner). Now I don’t have to go hunt down the backing fabric for the quilt.

I’ve been holding off on that project because the fabric gets cut selvage to selvage, which will be infinitely easier once I ditch my 16×22 rotary mat without marked grids in favor of the 24×36 inch mat that I’m going to buy with my grandma’s birthday money. I’m so stinking excited to buy that cutting mat. It goes on sale this Sunday. No more counting the grid squared over and over to get my bearings.

And, lest you think that I’m starting to become a fabric hoarder who’s never going to actually make more quilts, I need to post these pictures. Here’s a reminder of the fabric.

teal and yellow quiltI’m going to be using it to make a Scrappy Lone Star Quilt and a Daisy Baby Quilt because I like the colors that much. And, this week I’ve settled into a nice rhythm of pulling up a sermon on the Roku in the living room and listening to it while I cut fabric in the dining room. (Shout out for Andy Stanley’s recent Breathing Room series). After two sermons, I’ve gotten this far on cutting out the fabric. During tonight’s sermon, I plan on cutting out the brown sashing for the Daisy Baby Quilt. Once that’s done, I’ll have materials ready to piece together.

scrappy lone star and daisy baby cuts

Media Heroes

I think I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I love, love, love Hope International’s philosophical model of addressing poverty. Two phrases from their website express what they do well: “Share dignity. Support uncharity.” If you’re curious about Hope,their Uncharity site would be a great place to get acquainted.

I doubt that Kevin and Erin, my two guest speakers from Hope International would actually consider themselves media heroes, but I was blessed that they graciously took time out of their day to visit my class. After a semester of trying to encourage my students to use their growing communication skills, being able to hear from two communication professionals who work on behalf of social justice every day that they go to work was a wonderful opportunity for my students. I enjoyed seeing the students try to get a look behind the scenes during the question and answer time of class.  Since the LeapFwd campaign is seriously one of my all-time favorite fund-raising concepts, it was a double bonus for me to get to interact with the two people who came up with the brilliant origami that drives this video. I’m not sure how many times I’ve watched it, but I still enjoy everything about the LeapFwd concept and the way that it’s communicated.

I’ll leave you with access to it. I’m going to indulge in a little bit of quilt pattern organizing time, so I can go use my 50% off coupon at the PA Fabric Outlet tomorrow. Watch the video: I promise you it’s fun and thought-provoking.

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