Skinny Souls

Some time ago, I was sitting beside Lake Michigan reading the Psalms. And like many times when I read my Bible, my brain was reading the words and my mind was wandering hither and thither and yon. (An unfortunate reality that you can all relate to.) Suddenly, a group of verses in Psalm 106 jerked me back to full attention. They go like this, “They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel: But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” Psalm 106 chronicles God’s faithfulness and forgiveness to the children of Israel even while they continually sinned against Him. I immediately knew what the psalmist was referring to in those few sentences. It was the time when the Israelites were so sick and tired of the manna God sent directly from the heavens, that they began to wish for meat. They wanted it so much that they began to weep. So, God gave it to them. While they ate, God sent a plague.

The words that kept pounding in my mind were the last, “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” It was sobering to think that God might give me everything I want and a skinny soul to go along with it. A common theme throughout the Bible is that God usually does give us what we want. That sounds pretty good until you realize that getting what you want isn’t always a sign of God’s blessing or that what you want is a legitimate, holy desire in the first place.

As if by divine intervention, (a little tongue-in-cheek there…I know it was), I was reading I Samuel a few days later. In chapter 8, the Israelites come to Samuel and tell him, “We want a king to rule us instead of you. We want to be like the rest of the nations around here who have kings to lead them into battle.” So, Samuel prayed to the Lord and the Lord said, “Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” (Interesting that God should say that. As far as I can tell, there is nothing written in the Mosaic law that says, “Though shalt not have kings.” Just a thought for many of us who suppose that sin is a simple matter of chapter and verse—that if we can’t find it in the Bible, plain as day, then it’s okay to do it.) As God instructs him, Samuel tells the people that if they rearrange their government in such a way, they will have nothing but trouble. “And he said, ‘This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.’” (I Samuel 8:11-18) He painted a rather bad picture, but it changed no one’s mind. So the LORD, as Hosea 13:11 puts it, “…gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath.”  He gave them Saul, who went crazy. He gave them Solomon, who through his lust for many women, led the whole nation idolatry. He gave them Rehoboam, the jack ass whose lack of wisdom split the nation. And the list goes on. There are a few shining stars in the kings of Israel and Judah, but for the most part, they were bad news. Yes, God does give us what we want.

As I pondered these passages, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us Christians are contentedly living our lives without the blessing of God, our souls so skinny we can’t even see it. How many of us have the spouses we clamored after, the material possessions we wept for, the anti-depressants to keep us from unpleasant emotional sensations, the large families we so desperately desired, the childlessness we worked double-time to preserve, the “responsible” amount of children we approved of, the churches we searched high and low for to tickle our fancies and fit our preferences—all gifts given, not in blessing but in wrath? As Matthew Henry writes, “Not that God was pleased with their request, but, as sometimes he crosses us in love, so at other times he gratifies us in wrath; he did so here. When they said, Give us a king and princes he gave them a king in his anger, as he gave them quails. God bade Samuel humour them in this matter.”

It all makes me want to reexamine every one of my desires and all the motivations behind my desires. Because it would be far better to die a pauper, live in a shack, have my hopes for the future dashed and my life’s work come to nothing than to have everything my deceitful heart wants and a soul that’s starving.

The Mad Rush of May

I may be wrong, but I believe spring has finally deigned to smile on us in Michigan. There will be the occasional relapse into fiftyish-degree weather no doubt (like right now). But on the whole, temperatures are on the upswing. How pleasant! And how busy I am!

This week, I have a great deal going on. I’m busy preparing myself to perform for a gathering of ladies in Otsego this Saturday. They asked me to bring music and a little talk about my book and The Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club to a “Ladies’ Tea” several months ago. It should be interesting to see how much of a crowd will be there. I think the biggest crowd I’ve ever had was about two hundred. I always enjoy these little concerts. The only thing I’m concerned about at present is the cold that caught me unawares last week. The effects of a severely stuffed up head and scratchy throat have not yet worn off, so I’m hoping and praying my voice will be in tolerable shape by the end of the week to get through it.

While I’m preparing for that concert, I’ll also be preparing for my niece’s visit next week. Kristen lives in Colorado and I have not seen her since last summer. Kristen has been making me feel quite old for some time now by doing things like turning seventeen, learning to drive a car, getting a job and taking online college classes. My brother and I are excited to spend a week with her. We’re hoping for sunny, warm weather, so she can have a chance to enjoy Lake Michigan and go for a hike around the dunes. We shall see.

And while Kristen is here, I’ll be gearing up for my students’ spring recital. Oh, my. I enjoy teaching, and I even enjoy recitals, but I will mostly enjoy having this recital behind me. There are many more students this year which is a great thing. But of course, more people mean more organization and planning.

So, pray for me and wish me a semi-sane May! I’ll need it.

Justin and Mom

This week, my brother celebrates his twenty-sixth birthday. Plus Mother’s Day is coming up shortly after. So, I thought I’d cover them both in one handy blog post.

Come to think about it, Mom and Justin are the two people I spent the most time with as I grew up. My two older siblings were off to college and then married when I was still pretty young, and my Dad was gone teaching most of the week. So, it was just me, Mom and Justin at home together. Poor Mom. She worked hard homeschooling the two of us. “Stop day dreaming.” “Be diligent.” “Whining and crying will not help you understand math.” I often wondered why she stared off into space at lunch time while Justin and I cut up. Not anymore. I’m pretty sure she was taking a mental break.

Mom was also the one who anathematized sugar in her household, much to my chagrin. Sugar…and processed foods…and ramen noodles…and pop…and all kinds of stuff my childish heart craved. Oh, I would get so frustrated! All of my friends were eating that stuff. What was the big deal? In spite of our protests, Mom fed us lots of beans, rice, salads and whole grain, whole wheat, homemade bread. She made us take chewable vitamins and dosed us up with vitamin C and garlic and tried to get us to drink nutritional yeast in water, put Bragg’s amino acids on our salads, and take spoonfuls of wheat grass juice. Blech. That last item never went over very well. Boy, we had it rough. Justin and I decried health food. Yet, if you peered into our adulthood cupboards now, what do you think you’d find? Well, you’d find lots of garlic, vitamin C, Bragg’s amino acids, lots of beans and rice, and lots of veggies in the refrigerator. Mom, you done good. We’ve come full circle. (Although I still won’t take wheat grass juice.)

Justin, who used to be my annoying little brother. He is still my little brother, but all grown up and quite responsible. We used to fight and clobber each other over the head with blunt objects and then fiercely defend one another from little friends who attempted to do the same. As we grew up, we stopped clobbering each other and began working together. Truth be told, Justin is the one I hold responsible for turning me into a published author. (I leave it up to you to decide whether he should be blamed or commended for this.) Where I would hide away with my pen and paper, Justin would charge boldly in holding up my writing for all to see. “Hey, my sister wrote this. Pretty good, huh?” Justin has and probably always will have an uncanny ability to incite all of his friends to creativity. “Write me a script,” he said. So I did. “Write me another one,” he said. So I am. With the each confident command, I get the silly notion that I actually can write a script. And in spite of myself, I do.

So, to Mom and Justin, thank you for all that you have meant in my life. Thank you for loving me the way family should. Thank you for putting up with my faults and foibles. Thank you for your criticisms and encouragements. (You’re not always right, but thanks anyway.) I love you both.

Happy Birthday, Justin! Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

The Best Place in the World

This picture reminds me of the daily sights and sounds...
This picture reminds me of the daily sights and sounds…

When I was five, my Dad decided he needed to go to Bible college. He was a musician, turned Christian, turned public school teacher, turned Christian school teacher and he decided it was time get poorer. So, off we went to a little tiny place called Freedom Farm. Yes, Freedom Farm. Despite the oddness of the name, it was not a group of “right-wing extremists devoted to breeding the next generation of gun-toting, Bible thumping nut jobs.” Conservative, yes. Crazy, not so much. Freedom Farm was a combination church, school, college and radio station, smack in the middle of some beautiful countryside with a big dairy farm next door. Hence, the word “farm” in the name. Freedom, because of freedom in Christ and freedom from sin.  In the summer, Farmer Wessel’s cows grazed in the pasture down the hill and the alfalfa grew in a field close by. On a still day, we could hear the faint sound of whistling from far up the road. My mom would smile and say, “Mr. Brown’s whistling again.” I never saw or met Mr. Brown from over the hill. I only knew him by his happy whistling.

We moved there the summer before I started Kindergarten. My Dad got hired to work at the school, to pay his way through college. So we lived on campus in faculty housing. Instead of sending me to the Christian school on location, though, my parents opted to homeschool me and my brother. Since my dad’s goal was to pastor a church once finished with school, and since he didn’t know if there would be a good Christian school available wherever we moved, he decided it would be best to start homeschooling so we were used to it.

There were several faculty families living on campus and there were quite a lot of kids. In the winter, we went sledding on the hill behind the school. It was big and steep with a frozen pond at the bottom. If you got a good strong start, you careened down the hill at top speed, hit the ice at the bottom and zoomed all the way to the other side. In the summer time, we raced around on the gravel roads with our bikes, brown as a bunch of Indians and nearly as wild, periodically falling off and skinning our hands and knees. It was a lovely place of hills, green grass, woods and innumerable places to build secret forts and wage imaginary wars. I remember one summer, all of us crazy kids had an entire network of forts and pathways in a big stretch of unmown weeds. We’d play in there for hours, sneaking up on each other and fighting over whose clearing in the grass actually belonged to who, getting eaten by mosquitos and ticks. Then there was the “Middle Trees,” a big stand of pine trees in front of the school. For some reason, the trees never got trimmed. All the better. The branches sloped down to the ground, forming dark green, piney walls. We created pine needle villages in there every summer, gathering up all of the old, fallen pine needles and forming little walls that marked off one friend’s imaginary store from another friend’s house. We molded piles of pine needles into little couches and beds and chairs. Those of us who owned stores created pretend bins and filled them up with crabapples, pine cones, rocks, dandelion heads and other sundries to “sell” to our friends. When I was a little older, I’d climb to the top of my favorite pine tree in the fall and watch the soccer team practice down below. I felt quite sneaky and incognito.

Then there were the secret places that only I knew about. By the cow pasture, all kinds of brush had built up beside the fence. One day, I climbed inside all of the foliage and was delighted to find that all the bushes and vines created a little hollow bubble where I could sit with my notebook and scribble away for hours or watch the cows up close. My hiding spot was no secret to the cows. They often stared at me while they slowly chewed their cud, but I didn’t mind. They were good company because they didn’t talk or tell anyone about my favorite spot.

Every Sunday, we walked to church, a little, white rectangle with not much in it besides chairs, a pulpit, a piano and two bathrooms—one for the ladies, one for the men. There wasn’t any Sunday School. There wasn’t any nursery. There weren’t any special programs, really. Just church. And then there was Pastor Krage, a man you could look at and be sure that there really was a God. There was light and love in his face. He often talked about trusting the Lord and faith and prayer. He knew a lot about all of those. Pastor Krage started the whole ministry years before I was ever born. There were at least four large buildings on the campus, and all of them were built on faith. In other words, the ministry had never gone into debt to build them. And Freedom Farm was never really rolling in the dough. The day school for grades K-12 didn’t charge tuition, just the cost for curriculum and that sort of thing. The reason being that Pastor Krage wanted everyone to be able to afford a quality education. Freedom Farm functioned on whatever people could afford to give. The faculty got paid when people gave. And somehow, we all had food to eat and clothes to wear and buildings that went up without loans. When there was a need, Pastor asked us to pray. The money came in. That was all.

Freedom Farm was a beautiful place and I was happy to spend eight years of my life there. Mind you, it was no utopia. There were problems. People had disagreements. Hard things happened. We were poor. But when I think about all the things I learned there and all of the friends I had and all of those beautiful summer days outside by the dairy farm, I have to say that Freedom Farm was the one place in my life where I felt absolutely safe and secure. It was a good place that God blessed. The best and happiest memories are there. I haven’t been back in a long time. Many things, I’m sure, have changed. But it was and still is the best place in the world.