Sunday, October 26, 2014

God Counts: Numbers in the Bible

Here is the story of how I learned to teach Yohanan about God. You can download the picture book I made for him over at the Gospel Coalition Blog.

Hans handcrafted these for Yohanan, our little number lover.

Description of the book

God Counts is a book about God told through the numbers in the Bible. Essentially, it is a theology primer for very young children (ages 2 to 5). I sketched some simple drawings and left them in black and white to make it a little easier to print. In our home, it also serves as a coloring book.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Crumbs of glory

Hans kissed me good night and wished me a happy birthday at midnight. I drifted into sleep trying to decide what I want for my birthday lunch. It was going to be a good day.

Morning came.

I drew the curtains and saw that there were ants everywhere. Everywhere. Hundreds of ants crawling all over our floor. All over the bag that I used to carry the children's snacks. Ants were storming in through our front door and our screen door. Ants were streaming into our kitchen.

The boys were still in bed and I instructed them to grab some books and stay in their beds. Breakfast will not be served for a while. My head was swimming in words like infestation and invasion as I tiptoed around the apartment, trying to decide the best course of action. An ant found its way up my pajamas and bit my leg. That prick, that tiny sting, planted a seed of fear in my disorientated heart.

I can't let them near the boys. The baby, I can't let them bite the baby. But they were everywhere. There were hundreds of them, and one of me.

Last week, we walked by the Godiva store when we were running errands. The boys asked me whether they could pick up a chocolate sample for daddy. This has become somewhat of a tradition for us, and it was really hard to say no to boys who were being kind.

The sweet storekeeper found out that the boys were saving their samples for their dad, so she generously packed an entire bag of chocolate caramel as a gift for the boys. When she checked my membership, she reminded me that since it was my birthday month, I was allowed to pick five free truffles.


After a chorus of thank yous and happy shrieks from the boys, we walked out of the store carrying two bags of free chocolate. Being students, Godiva is not exactly on our monthly budget. The boys skipped all the way to the car and shouted, "Thank you, God! Thank you for the chocolate!"

I thought to myself, surely these must be the crumbs of glory. These must be the crumbs that fall generously from the Table of the Lord, where his children will feast for all eternity. Thanks be to God indeed.

My birthday surprise yesterday morning was less pleasant. While the boys waited patiently in their beds, I launched my attack against these tiny enemies. The fear that was planted by the sting on my leg grew into a seedling.

Two hours later, the boys were hungry for breakfast but the ants were still streaming in. No matter how many ants I killed, they kept appearing.

Suddenly, the crumbs that I had failed to pick up from the night before seemed to have multiplied, and magnified. The sticky sugary residue that I had neglected to wipe off my kitchen floor looked like a banquet table for ants. I had known for some time that I was not a detail-oriented person. But yesterday, my weakness seemed so abhorrent to me. Guilt took roots and they entangled my soul.

Throughout the day, Hans and the boys would wish me a happy birthday. I would say to them (half jokingly): No, it is not my birthday. I refuse.

Hans took his entire day off to help me clean the house. Together, we sprayed our adversaries with vinegar at their point of entry. We wiped them off at their path. Vinegar, wipe. Vinegar, wipe. Vinegar, wipe. We gave Emeth a vinegary rag and put him in charge of the floor under the tables and chairs.

Our victory was not swift, but it was sure. By end of the day, the ants were nearly gone. Working alongside my husband, in the company of our children, with this magical, non-toxic liquid was a good thing for my soul.

Fear withered; my heart was at rest. These little ants led me to the real crumbs of glory.

Family, friends, home, life, redemption, and hearts set free from guilt these are the crumbs that fall generously from the Table of the Lord, where his children will feast for all eternity.

Last night, we celebrated with fancy chocolate. Though they paled in comparison, they, too, were glorious.

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures,fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us,like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. - C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Monday, October 6, 2014

Wearing the Gospel on our sleeves

Levi's were really cool in high school. All the cool people had them. The little red tag represented wealth and the ability to own a tiny piece of something from the United States. So fancy, so stylish.

The little red tag also cost a fraction of my father's salary as a pastor in Malaysia. They were way beyond my reach.

I don't have an older sister, but Wini comes really close. She introduced me to lipsticks. I was hanging out at her house one day, and she asked me whether I would like to try on her Levi's. I said, "really?!" She said, "really."

"It fits you well," she said. I was beaming. Beaming and exuding the coolness I had never known.

Imagine my surprise when she said, "Take my jeans! They are yours." I was floored.

Those jeans were perfect in every way. I loved the wash, the fit. I wore them everywhere. Everywhere.

They came with me to the United States a year later. Those were the days before Skype and Facebook. The faces and places I once knew were like a distant memory. I missed home so much that my body hurt.

Those jeans. I wore them to shreds. I wore them under the autumn sun, and I wore them in the dead of winter. They were to me a piece of something from home, the far country where it was always summer. I wore them in remembrance of Wini, of her love, and her kindness.

My three older sisters. Wini in more cool jeans, Janice, Serene, and me in front of Wini's house. Christmas, 1999.

Recently, I attempted to correct two mistakes I had made over the years when I taught girls about Biblical modesty. You can read my thoughts over at the Gospel Coalition blog, "The Gospel on Our Sleeves."

There, I explained how immodesty is the beginning of why we wear clothes, but Christ is the end. What we put on our bodies is a response, not a means, to forgiveness and righteousness in Christ. In other words, our clothes embody our response to the Gospel. Our clothes embody our worship. We put on our clothes in remembrance of Christ.

Some of the feedback I received asked me if I could give a guideline to how we should dress. I am always hesitant to give a list of what to wear and what not to wear, mainly because we are neither defiled nor made righteous by what we wear. We can be covered from head to toe and still be immodest. Having said that, I do see the benefits of fleshing out how we might wear the Gospel on our sleeves.

The dress code of God's children can be summed up in one word: Sacrifice.

In the Old Testament, the garments of priests were splattered with blood. Their work and worship entailed much slaughtering of various kinds of animals. Levitical priests stood before Yahweh, representing God's people, offering sacrifices unto God.

In the New Testament, God's people are the sacrifices. We are to present our bodies, our entire beings, as living sacrifices to Yahweh. This is our worship.

As living sacrifices, we get dressed with nothing to prove, nothing to hide.When our clothes are beautiful, let their beauty honor Christ. When our clothes comfort and protect, let them enable us to labor for Christ. When our clothes are means of expressing ourselves, let us proclaim Christ—truthfully, beautifully, and well.

Here are some questions I find helpful as I evaluate the intentions and desires of my heart about what I wear, what I buy, and what I choose to put on my children.

1. What am I trying to convey? Am I trying to prove something?

2. Am I able to control myself when I am shopping for clothes? Do I have a budget? Do I feel entitled to spend however much money on however many clothing I want?

3. Do I have things in my closet shoes, bags, rings, necklaces that I treasure a little too much? Am I willing to give them away?

4. Do I feel entitled to wear whatever I want whenever I want? Am I willing to give up my so-called rights of self-expression if my preference would not be good for others? Am I willing to sacrifice comfort in order to serve and edify others? Am I willing to sacrifice my time, resources, things for the edification and good of others?

5. Am I willing to submit to the instructions of my authority? 

6. Am I ready, at any given time, to open up my closet and give a portion of clothes and things away if I know someone in need? To give away even the things that are still useful to me?

7. Do I regularly purge my closet and give away clothes that I do not wear, or do I hoard?

The baby's uniform. Hat - check! Backpack - check! Jacket - check!

The garment of God's children is marked by sacrifice. Wini demonstrated her love for me when she gave me something that was precious to her.

I have a son who loves his bow-ties and blazers on Sunday mornings. He is learning to check his heart and ask whether he is wearing his Sunday best for his own glory or to honor God.

I have another son who loves soft and comfortable things. He loves his jeans and T-shirts. For Sunday worship, he is learning to give up a little comfort to honor the Lord and others by wearing a not-as-soft button down shirt, sometimes he would even throw on a tie.

I have yet another son, who is only one year old, but he is already making his preferences known. He knows exactly what he wants to wear: hats, backpacks, jackets, and puppets on both hands. He makes us laugh by running around in his funny outfits.

We get dressed in remembrance of Christ, of his love and his sacrifice. We get dressed in remembrance of the bridal garment that we will wear, in the city where there will be no need of sun or moon, where there will be no night, for the glory of God will be our Light.

Shark on his head, peacock on one hand, flamingo on the other.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Learning notes: It was the stench

Things we did

Last week, our friends, the Tillets, invited us to come along on their trip to the zoo. I thought it would be the perfect week to study Noah's story.

On Monday, we read various renditions of Noah's Ark. I checked out nearly all the picture books our local libraries had about Noah. There were so, so many (there were versions about Noah's trees, Noah's dog, etc.). Our favorite was probably the one by Jerry Pinkney, intricately illustrated with simple prose. Here is a quote that stayed with me:
And the Lord loved Noah.
God spoke to Noah.
Noah put down his basket and listened.
We also liked the one by Peter Spier. His illustrations were thoughtful and detailed. We compared the different versions and talked about how faithful each of the authors were at telling the original story. Some ventured far, far away from the Biblical account. Others were nearly unrecognizable. I thought it was important for the boys (especially Emeth, for now) to learn to distinguish between fact and fiction.

And we decorated paper boats.

But the zoo was indisputably the highlight of our week. The opportunity to spend time with friends is so precious, and so much fun (Thank you, Callie, Lei, and Kalina!).

Khesed was exclaiming "A!!!! A!!!!! A!!!!!" (for alligators).

Things we pondered and cherished

We pondered the smell.

More specifically, we pondered the smell of poop in the Australian House. For some reasons, the excrement of wombats and fruit bats was more pungent than the excrement of animals in other exhibitions. It was so memorable that we were still thinking about it days later in the comforts of our home.

It was the stench that led us to a cherished discussion about obeying God.

I find it funny that stenchy places have their ways of speaking to Hans and me about divine things.

The conversation started when they commented on how they really did not like the odor in the wombats' house. And I told them it was very likely that Noah's ark smelled just like that, if not worse. Noah and his family were rescued. Yes, their lives were saved, and they gave praise and thanks to the Lord. But building the ark was hard work. Planting food to take into the ark was hard work. Caring for the animals was hard work. It was not fun to be teased by their neighbors, to be thought as foolish. It was not (always) fun to be in a stuffy ark with lots of animals. Noah was very eager to know when the water would subside.

Obeying God is often hard work, and often not very fun.

*crickets chirping*

I don't think they understand this quite yet.

Our conversation also made me think about what I prioritize as their mother. Have I demonstrated through my parenting that fun and comfort and happiness (by themselves) are Most Important? Do I overemphasize, do I idolize, these secondary things? I would have to think about this a little more, but the idea itself is a little unsettling.

Finally, we loved the dolphins. It was really interesting for me to watch Khesed participating and responding to his surrounding. In our past field trips, he would sit back and quietly soak up his environment. During the dolphin show, he kept signing the letter "D" with his hand, and he would sign the letter "B" when he saw the dolphins playing with the ball. And because he is Khesed, my loudest child, his signs were coupled with exclamations, "Deeee!!!! Deeeee!!!! Deeee!!!! Beeee!!!! Beeee!!!!! Deeee!!!!! Deeeee!!!!!"