Sunday, January 29, 2006

Under Grace, Part II

Read my first post on grace here.

In yesterday's post on grace, I mentioned the two aspects of grace that we, as believers, are extended. Not only are we forgiven of our sins, but we are continually cleansed and purified by the Holy Spirit. I also highlighted v. 14 of Romans 6, which is oft' misquoted as a prooftext for antinomianism, and I explained why such a use of the verse is mistaken and completely out of context.

At the end of yesterday's post, I had considered expounding more on law v. grace, but decide to hold off, hoping that I would have the chance in the future (The three chickens on the stove were calling my name; I now have plenty of broth for your soup recipe, Jessica!). One reason I held off on extending my previous post was because I was still mulling over several related ideas and had not yet sorted them out in my brain. I'm still sorting, but I feel more organized in my thoughts on the matter today than I did yesterday. The sermon today had many applications to areas over which I was ruminating; it was definitely a timely choice of sermon topic. A good portion of this second post will be drawn from this morning's sermon.

I tend towards extremes. I don't live by the ebb and flow of our culture or even of the modern church, but do you know what? I fall into many pitfalls even as I am careful to protect myself from modernist views. I exchange one sin for another. You see, I am often so careful to avoid all the "evils of modern society", making sure to avoid those sins that I deem "really bad." However, in backing away in disgust from modernism and antinomianism, I stumble and fall into separatism and legalism. I exchange one extreme for another.

I think we all have problems with such extremes. As one of my former pastors would say, I know I am guilty of _______, and you can't be that much better! It's much easier to whole-heartedly embrace either antinomianism or legalism, rather than striking a balance between the two. Conservatives, homeschoolers especially :), have a special knack at card-carrying legalism.

The sermon at our church this morning was from Mark, chapter 7, verses 1-13. This passage really strikes an excellent balance with Romans 6; Mark 7 stabs legalism, while Roman 6 attacks antinomianism. Both legalism and antinomianism are easy to fall into, and I am pretty confident that every Christian struggles with both to some extent; some may major on legalism and minor on antinomianism, while others may do the reverse, but I don't believe there ever was or ever will be a Christian who hasn't dabbled in a combination of the two.

The passage from Mark 7 details Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisaical traditions. We all know that the Pharisees majored on legalism, but I think they also had a strong minor in antinomianism, however covert they wished it to be. In this passage, Jesus takes a swing at their failings in both areas.

The Pharisees were experts at keeping the law, if there ever were experts. They not only strived to keep the whole law of Moses, they even embellished the Mosaic law to make sure they didn't come close to breaking it. This was called "fencing the law." Fencing the law was the practice of placing safety nets over the Mosaic law, to doubly ensure that it was not broken. For example, to ensure that God's name was never taken in vain, God's favorite name - Yahweh or Jehovah, meaning "I am" - was not spoken for hundreds of years. The Jewish people figured that if they never spoke God's name, they could never profane it. In like manner, they adopted hundreds of extra-scriptural rules concerning Sabbath-keeping, to absolutely ensure that the Sabbath was strictly kept.

The problem was that the Pharisees treated their own rules, or boundaries for the law, as absolute laws, not "helpful suggestions." They were trusting in their system of righteousness to save them, trying to clean themselves up before God, rather than letting Him do the job.

We can laugh at the Pharisees and their fencing of the law, but are we not also guilty of the same thing? I know I am. I appreciate R.C. Sproul Jr.'s principle of hermeneutics: When you read in the Bible of someone doing something stupid, do not say "How can they be that stupid?" Instead, think, "How am I that stupid?" After all, original sin isn't all that original; we make the same mistakes that our fathers did and that our forefathers did. We should study our past, not to make fun of our forebearers, but to learn from their mistakes. As the old addage goes, those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat it.

Fencing the law is not a dead practice; it's alive and well. We see lawlessness, we see filth, and we build extra safeguards to avoid it. It's much easier to confront sin with specific rules and regulations, rather than with a guiding principle, so when such specific rules are absent from scripture, we make our own for convenience's sake. A few cases in point:

Clothing: Those of us who recognize (rightly so) the vast problems with our culture's general mode of undress are anxious to do something about this problem. Unfortunately it is easier to fall into establishing certain rules regarding apparel and then inflict them on others than it is to teach and practice guiding principles of modesty and propriety with regards to clothing. It's much easier to tell a girl that her skirt is too short because it doesn't reach her knee then it is to explain to her exactly what a miniskirt does to her brothers in Christ. It's also easier, when aware of modern problems in blurring gender roles, to "solve" this problem by appointing skirts as the only godly apparel for women. Detailing reasons behind such a practice or explaining the problems with dressing with no gender distinction would take much more effort, so we establish specific, extra-Biblical rules on the matter. (For my own views on feminine apparel, please see this post I wrote on the subject last fall.)

Entertainment: Those of us who recognize (rightly so) the vast problems with our culture's general methods of entertainment are anxious to do something about this problem. Unfortunately it is easier to establish certain rules regarding entertainment and then inflict them on others, rather than teach and practice guiding principles of time management and mental purity. (Sensing a strong parallel to the previous paragraph?) It's easier to decide that all R rated movies are wrong, rather than evalate each movie based on Biblical principles; it's easier still to dismiss all TV and cinema as ungodly. It's much easier to tell someone that all video games are wrong because they are a waste of time, rather than provide that same someone with reasons that time is important and then provide alternatives for both entertainment and industry.

Education: Those of us who recognize (rightly so) the vast problems with our culture's general methods of education are anxious to do something about this problem. Unfortunately it is easier to establish certain rules regarding education and then inflict them on others, rather than teach and practice guiding principles of wise educational decisions and godly training. (Sensing a strong parallel to the previous two paragraphs?) It's easier to declare that homeschooling is the only method of education allowable to Christian parents, rather than explain legitimate, Biblical problems with the public school system and the majority of Christian schools. How much easier is it to condemn all college education as "wasteful," "sinful," and "prideful," rather than taking the time to explain many legitimate concerns with the typical college education?

The problem with all of the above examples is that in each one, a man-made rule is established and instigated with the assumed authority of God. Many views somewhere in the middle of the "condemned view" and the "godly view", that may indeed be legitimately Biblical, are automatically thrown out in exchange for a man-made definition of righteousness.

I could go on, expounding on courtship, sexual purity, birth control, music, age-segregated activities, debt, child-rearing strategies, etc. I could continue, but I'm sure I've painted a large enough picture :). I've brushed enough strokes on the subject to keep myself, and I'm sure each of you, reeling from conviction for years to come. Many of the scenarios I described above I am guilty of perpetuating. As I recoil from antinomianism I fall into legalism, over and over. It really is a slimy pit out of which God continues to pull me. I fall into a form of legalism; God delivers me. I fall right into another form; God delivers me. Et Cetera. Sanctification is definitely a continual process!

The Pharisees were using their traditions to make themselves good, to earn their righteous status. They were using their ceremonial traditions of cleansing, not so much to cleanse their feet and hands and bowls, as much as they were using their traditions to try to cleanse their consciences. They were trying to save themselves by good deeds.

The law of God is good and right; we are to delight in the law of God; we are to love the law of God; we are to cherish the law of God; we are to seek to follow the law of God. Legalism distorts the law of God, though. The law of God is given by God to "teach us our duty, and show our need of a Saviour" (courtesy of the Catechism for Young Children). It is a mirror into which we look to see our filth before God; the law shows us our sin. The law is not the solution to the problem; it is there to show us the problem! I love the way the pastor put it this morning: The law is a mirror to show us what's wrong. The law is not soap, so quit scrubbing yourself with it!

That is the problem with legalism; we treat the law like soap, using it to try to cleanse ourselves and make us right before God. It's a works-based salvation, destroying the significance of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and the continuing role of sanctification that the Holy Spirit is appointed to do in our lives.

The Pharisees were genuine legalists. How then were they also antinomians? Well, the Pharisees sure had a lot of laws down pat; they washed at the right times, they rested properly on the Sabbath, and they avoided unclean meat. But like we all do, they played pick-and-choose when it came to the law. I like this law here, hmmm, nope chuck that law, this one will do, let's add in this one right here just to make sure. . . Take a look at vv. 9-13 for an example.

Are we not all guilty of playing pick-and-choose with the law? We pick certain commands of God that we deem "really important" - usually ones that happen to come easily for us (hmmm. . . ), we "overlook" some other commands of God that "aren't as important" or are a "matter of personal conviction," and then to make ourselves feel really good we make up a few rules of our own to ensure our own righteousness. Then we top it all off by finding people who haven't decided on the exact same result in our "pick-and-choose" game, and set about condemning them in an attitude of self-righteousness.

Antinomianism ignores the second dimension of grace - sanctification, while legalism ignores the first dimension - justification by faith alone. The two dogmas, while seemingly unrelated, are quite intimately connected. May God deliver me - and all of us - from both of these traps.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Stay-At-Home Wives

I found this article to be inspiring. There are many excellent articles out there on stay-at-home mothers (some of which I have linked in the past), but few on stay-at-home wives. I hope the article inspires you as it did me.

Hattip: Lady Lydia's blog

Under Grace

I've been thinking about grace a lot in the past few weeks. My mom and I are in a women's Bible study at our church this spring, and we are going through Grace to Stand Firm, Grace to Grow, by Carol J. Ruvolo. As evidenced by the title, the study is on grace, more specifically Peter's perspective on grace in I Peter.

I realized that I've been confusing grace and mercy and sort of lumping them together even though they are different. One lady at the study on Tuesday described grace and mercy this way: Grace is giving to someone what he doesn't deserve, while mercy is not dealing to someone what he justly deserves.

I like D. James Kennedy's simple yet profound definition of grace: God's riches at Christ's expense. Jerry Bridges described grace as God's free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment. To put it personally, I, who was once poor in my filthy rags of sin, have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ.

I think it is easy to see grace as a one-time deal; we "make a decision", Jesus comes into our heart, and extends grace to forgive our sins. What we tend to miss is that grace is also a continual process, a renewal and a sanctification. Jerry Bridges recognized two dimensions of grace: God's free and unmerited favor that is granted to us by salvation, and a continual sanctification by the Holy Spirit, as an ongoing release from the bonds of sin.

When we are saved by God's mercy and favor, the journey has only just begun! God is not finished with us, and he will continue to remold and refine us to become more and more like Him. Romans 6 is an excellent passage on righteousness and sin. I memorized Romans 6 a few years ago, but unfortunately it has mostly flown the coop, so I was reviewing it and recommitting it to memory today.

(As a side note, does anyone have advice on memorizing scripture and having it "stick"? I can memorize a whole chapter of scripture in a day or two if I press myself, but it doesn't last, even with continual rehearsing for several days or weeks. A few weeks of no exposure to the passage, and it's mostly gone. When I was younger, scripture - and the catechism - just stuck in my brain with very little effort. I still remember scores of verses and catechism questions that I memorized in elementary school but haven't rehearsed in years. I think my myelin sheaths are wearing down. . . )

The aforementioned passage is an entreaty to continually die to sin and walk in newness of life (v. 4). We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin (v. 6). The first 13 verses of the passage continually expound on the truth of our death with Christ and our resurrection with Him. Verses 15-23 carry the same message as the earlier ones.

Stuck right in the middle is v. 14:
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Verse 14 is one of the most oft' mis-quoted portions of scripture. Reading it in context today, I was especially struck by the irony of its use as a proof text for antinomianism. The verse is surrounded by a treatise to righteousness, to continued sanctification. We are not under the weight and the guilt of the law, but we are slaves to righteousness (vv. 16, 18, 19, 22)!

Paul even answers the antinomians of his day, first at the beginning of the chapter, then immediately after v. 14:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (vv. 1,2 )

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (vv. 15, 16)

We are slaves of righteousness! Our guilt is gone and we are free from sin in Christ, even as we are slaves of righteousness. We are no longer under the weight of the law (v. 14) but that does not mean we can do "whatever we want" just because our eternity is secure. I was saved (justification), I am being saved (sanctification), and I will be saved (glorification). Thanks be to God!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Calling All Soup Recipes

As I mentioned here, here, and here, I infinitely prefer from-scratch cooking to any of various stages of prepared foods. It's often a challenge to even find good from-scratch recipes, so we're always on the lookout for good ones. My Dear Sister has been after me for several days to post a request for soup recipes. We love soup in the wintertime but much prefer soup that is homemade. So, if you have a favorite from-scratch soup recipe, Hannah and I would be thrilled if you'd share it with us :).

Here are directions for one of our favorite soups. It's great for using up leftover mashed potatoes. Use mashed potatoes made with potato peels to give the soup an extra dimension and to add nutrition. It's kind of a little-of-this, little-of-that recipe, but aren't those always the best kind?

Potato Soup

Chop up a little bit of celery and onion and place in a saucepan with about 1/3 cup water. Cook 5-10 minutes until tender. Add leftover mashed potatoes and milk to desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with cheddar cheese sprinkled on top.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Garden

I read this story a number of years ago, promptly forgot the source, and had not been able to locate it again until this evening when I stumbled upon it while browsing the YLCF site. Now I remember that I first read it in the back of a Douglas Wilson book (Her Hand in Marriage perhaps?). Enjoy.

The Garden by Douglas Wilson

As my horse trotted wearily up the road, I could see the walls of a beautiful garden ahead. Outside the gate was an equally beautiful woman. At the sound of my greeting, she turned and dropped a curtsey. "Good sir... good morning."

I looked at her, and then at the garden walls extending out to the right and left. Behind her was the garden gate. I said, "I am very thirsty...for something clean." She smiled, and her smile made me thirstier still. But she said nothing. "Is there water here?" I asked.

"There is a stream within my garden." Her statement was simply a statement of fact; there was no invitation at all in it.

I asked, "May I come in and drink?"

"No," she said. "The lord of my mother's garden does not permit that."

"Why is this? Other women have let me drink from the gardens that they tend." I glanced at the fruit-laden branches, which were visible over the top of the garden wall. "You have a lovely garden, but those who let me drink had gardens just as beautiful."

She laughed at this, and her laugh was merry indeed. "I have no doubt that you have been in some lovely gardens. But was the water clean?"

"No," I said, and in spite of myself, turned my head and looked down.

She continued with a question. "Is that why you are no longer in the gardens tended by these women?"

I was ashamed so I did not answer her. Instead I looked past her into the garden. The path through the gate disappeared after a few feet, leaving the view of anyone on the road. "It seems like a shame for such a garden to go to waste."

She seemed both puzzled and amused. "How does it go to waste?"

"Does any man drink from your stream?"

"No, but no man fouls it either."

"But is that not a waste? Was not your stream made to quench the thirst of travelers?"

"I'm afraid you are seriously mistaken. It was made to quench the thirst, not of travelers, but of the lord of the garden."

"Oh," I said, "this garden has a lord?"

"No," she said.

"Then I don't understand. Are you speaking in riddles?"

She smiled. "No, I do not. The garden will one day have a lord, although it does not yet. The stream is for him alone."

"And who will your lord be?"

"When my mother's lord gives a blessing, the one whom I appoint."

"How can the lesser appoint the greater?"

"How can it not be so? When my lord comes, I will grant to him my garden. But until I do, he is just another traveler."

"And what do you look for? I am sure there are many who knock at your gate."

At this she blushed slightly but looked straight at me. "I will not have a lord who does not have a lord himself--my lord must have taken an oath of fealty to the Landlord."

"The Landlord? Who is he?"

"He is the owner of all the gardens along this road. In order to come into my garden, my lord must take an oath before the Landlord to tend the garden well. He must also swear that he will enter no other garden."

I had never heard such words as these before. "How long must he stay out of other gardens?"

"Forever."

"But what if he is born to travel?"

"Then he is not born for my garden."

"I see," I said, becoming a little angry. "Then why have I never heard of such an oath? I have been in many gardens."

"Yes, you said that before. But was the water clean? Were the gardens tended? That is what happens when there is no oath."

"So that is all? If someone takes an oath before this Landlord, you will make them your Lord?"

"No."

"Well, what else then?"

"There are many men who think they can tend my garden well, and who would be willing to swear an oath before the Landlord saying so. But that does not mean that my mother's lord, or I, share their confidence."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I know the extent of the garden. I have a knowledge of it that cannot be gained from the road. But no man can share that knowledge until after I have made him my lord and husband. So I must have the measure of the man before."

"So what must a man do?"

"The first thing is to--"

"Yes, I know. He must swear to the Landlord. But after?"

"He must return to me, and ask to see my mother's lord."

"And what would he say?"

"That depends on the man."

At this parting comment, she turned and walked slowly back into the garden, pulling the gate closed behind her. I spurred my horse, which began to trot down the road. I did not know what to think, but I needed to find this Landlord.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Lite Reading

I received a gift certificate to a large Christian bookstore chain as a Christmas gift, so tonight my mom, dad, and I dropped by the bookstore while we were out and about. I've decided that I'm rather disappointed with the selection of typical Christian bookstores. I do have to give them credit for having a lot of books, I guess.

They had every type of Bible you could ever want (or not want). The WOW Worship Bible, the women's Bible, the African-American Bible, My First Bible, the Bible for teens, the camoflauge Bible (for the stealth Christian), the 1-hour Bible summary for the busy Christian, and the list could continue. Of course, each of these Bibles is available in the version (or paraphrase, or approximate summary) of your choice.

There were lots of other books to choose from as well. There was the book Finding a Guy Worth Keeping (I put it on my to-read list). And the book on false idols that American Christians struggle with - written by a fan and call-in voter of American Idol. I was tempted to purchase the newest Chicken Soup for the Miscellaneous Soul book, or the newest addition to the Jenkins-LeHaye saga. Left Behind: The Early Years. Of course, if all else failed, there were about 40 zillion swamp, er, Christian romance stories in the fiction section. Really, does no one write fiction that is not driven by a rather inappropriately detailed romance story? I don't like reading fiction that makes me feel dirty.

The Christian Living section could have been more aptly named Self-Help or Therapeutic Reading. Not finding the type of Christian Living book I was looking for in the section of that same name, I headed over to the Christian Classics section. I blinked and almost missed the classics portion of the store. It was one section of an aisle, and half of the section was taken up by Chronicles of Narnia. Now, I love Chronicles of Narnia, but half the (very limited) Christian classics section? Where were Edwards, Calvin, and Luther? I had already exhausted the Theology section of the store, mind you, all one-quarter of an aisle of it.

*sigh*

I finally decided to special-order something and exit as quickly as possible.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Slice of the Country

Some of my readers may remember my post on Autumn last October, in which I shared my desire (which is particularly strong in the fall) to live in the country. I still hope to live in the country some day, but for now God has brought a slice of country to me.

In the aforementioned post, I mentioned a park my family had briefly visited once at the time of writing. Since that time we have had the opportunity of returning to that same park on numerous occasions. The other parks in our area are rather ugly, full of metal structures, paved trails, etc., but this park is markedly different, decorated as much as possible with a natural taste. There are extensive trails - some mulched and some chip-sealed - winding through the woods in the back of the park, just asking to be explored.

Hannah and I had hiked along one such trail a few times - accompanied once by Mother Dear and Father Dear - but there was another trail that we had not yet traversed. Today we decided to spend our Sunday afternoon enjoying God's creation, so we headed to the park to explore the other trail. The new trail was more extensive than the former, with many scenic views of a ravine and of a waterfall. There was more to see, more expanse in view at one time, and more and more trail to come. We could have spent much more time exploring.

A few months ago I had no idea that such a set of wooded trails was available in my area, and I was yearning for just such a park, not believing that my wish would be fulfilled. I looked at the confined parks near me, consisting of short, paved trails, and assumed my yearnings were in vain. God delights in pleasing His children and surprising them with provisions for the "little things" for which they pine :).

Sometimes the easiest things for which to thank God are the simplest. I was reminded today to cherish the little things in life - a mild January afternoon, fresh air, trees as far as the eyes can see, a rustic bench, the sound of a waterfall, strength to hike up and down dips and hills, a comfortable denim skirt that had been long-forgotten in my closet, a scarf to comfortably hold back my hair, while still allowing it to hang free, a sister who is a kindred spirit.

Lord, help me to remember to cherish the little things everyday.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

TV is Everywhere

I am sick of going into public places and seeing television screens everywhere I look!

I stand in line at an amusement park and have to watch Looney Tunes; I sit in a waiting room and have to watch Court TV; I eat in a restaurant and have to watch a sports game. A Wal-Mart near us just installed television screens in every checkout line! Can I scream? Granted, they aren't tuned to a soap opera or cartoon, but it's still irritating advertising that I have no choice but to listen to as I wait in the usually-long lines in Wal-Mart.

Aaaahhh!

There, I feel better.

Monday, January 09, 2006

My Parents' Anniversary Quilt

I mentioned in a previous post that I was making a quilt for my parents' 25th wedding anniversary. I finally finished it last week and here are a few pictures:





I used the Bear's Paw pattern, which is one of my favorites. This was my first (and quite possibly my last) attempt at a king size quilt. I think I may stick with queen or smaller from now on. . . We had to go over to my church to layer it. Many thanks to Mother Dear and Sister Dear for being willing participants :). We had to set up four 8-foot tables side-by-side to just barely fit the whole quilt.

I've already cut out all the pieces for my next quilt (for my friend who is getting married), and I started piecing it yesterday. I love the colors she chose - maroon, blue, and green. My goal is to finish it by the end of February so I'm not rushed right up to her wedding date, which is March 18th. I'll have enough to keep me busy, what with being the maid of honor and (along with her sister) making and decorating the wedding cake.

My poor neglected double wedding ring quilt, which I started quite a while ago for my hopechest and that I have had pieced and layered for several months, is going to have to wait even longer to finally be quilted and bound. It keeps being pushed back to make way for other (more urgent) quilting projects. Ah well. I don't anticipate it being put to use anytime soon ;).

Friday, January 06, 2006

Keeper of the Springs

I found this sermon by Peter Marshall, to be a needed message in today's society. As you read it, keep in mind that it was written around 1942. How much more necessary is this message today?

As a disclaimer, I don't agree with his bit on Sunday School and thought it did not meld well with the rest of the sermon. Maybe I'm missing his purpose in placing it there:

There remains only one place where it [religious education] may be obtained, and that is in the Sunday School, but it is no longer fashionable to attend Sunday School.

I would submit that the home is the best place for religious education, as the rest of his article seems to support. I am not a stalwart family-integrated church advocate, although I do strongly believe that children should remain with their parents during services. I also think that Sunday School is not necessary, and often detrimental. Unfortunately it can be a false safety net for parents who choose to leave their children's religious education to the church, rather than accepting their primary God-given responsibility in their children's religious training. I have not been greatly impressed with most Sunday School programs I have come across, and am distraught to find that it is often the primary religious training children receive. I do not think age-segregated Sunday Schools are prohibited by scripture, but I think they are overrated and usually not helpful.

Other than that, I greatly enjoyed his sermon and found it heavy stuff to ponder. Here is one of my favorite quotes:

The modern challenge to motherhood is the eternal challenge--that of being a godly woman. The very phrase sounds strange in our ears. We never hear it now. We hear about every other kind of women--beautiful women, smart women, sophisticated women, career woman, talented women, divorced women, but so seldom do we hear of a godly woman--or of a godly man either, for that matter.

I believe women come nearer fulfilling their God-given function in the home than anywhere else. It is a much nobler thing to be a good wife than to be Miss America. It is a greater achievement to establish a Christian home than it is to produce a second-rate novel filled with filth. It is a far, far better thing in the realm of morals to be old-fashioned than to be ultramodern. The world has enough women who know how to hold their cocktails, who have lost all their illusions and their faith. The world has enough women who know how to be smart.

It needs women who are willing to be simple. The world has enough women who know how to be brilliant. It needs some who will be brave. The world has enough women who are popular. It needs more who are pure. We need woman, and men, too, who would rather be morally right that socially correct.
I encourage you to read Peter Marshall's sermon in its entirety.

Hat tip: Lady Lydia's blog.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Back from Christmas Break

Wow, that was definitely my longest break from blogging - almost 2 weeks. I really enjoyed my break from teaching, tutoring, etc., and I had a good time up North with friends and family. It's good to be back, though, and in the rhythm of things. It was also refreshing to take a pseudo-break from blogs. I've still occasionally kept up on other blogs these past 2 weeks, even though I haven't posted on mine.

We had a nice time in Indiana with family. We drove to Indianapolis on Christmas Eve, which is comparatively late for us, as we normally drive to southern Indiana first, at least a few days before Christmas. Indianapolis afforded us a white Christmas this year, although mild enough so driving conditions were not dangerous. Last year in southern Indiana we had 15 inches of snow, paralyzing pretty much all activity and leaving us snowbound. This year's offering was much more managable :).

We spent Christmas morning at church with one of my dad's brothers. We've been to his church a few times and it's always an interesting experience, as we more than double the number of white people in the church :). Our church, which some have jokingly dubbed The Church of the Aryan Race, is predominantly white, although we do have various ethnic backgounds in small numbers. My uncle's church is mainly black and a different style than I am used to, but it's good for me to see other people of God serving Him. It's obvious the people from the church sincerely love the Lord, and in many ways they put me to shame. It's sad that something as simple as skin color so often separates the bride of Christ.

Christmas evening we spent with my dad's parents and his brothers that live nearby. My dad grew up with 5 brothers in a very small house, so it's always a challenge to squeeze all the brothers, wives, and grandkids back into Grandma and Grandpa's house for the evening. My dad describes it as one of those handheld games with tiles, like a 5x5 grid, where one tile is missing and you move the other tiles one by one to try to form a picture. Each tile can't be moved until the one before it is moved :). We had a good time, though, despite cramped conditions. The cousins had a white elephant gift exchange, and my brother won the pink George Foreman grill :). It will look lovely with his Barbie decor. . . j/k My cousin Chris brought a video karaoke game, and the cousins and aunts (and occasionally others) had a great time taking turns. There were 1000's of songs to choose from, which was good for this pop-culture-challenged girl :), as the selection was numerous enough to include songs that even I knew. I've had the Carpenters' song Close to You stuck in my head for days!

We spent a few days after Christmas with my mom's family in Hanover, IN, overlooking the Ohio River. Talk about a breathtaking view! Hannah and I had a good time teaching cousins to play Mau, a game that everyone seems to either enthusiastically love or vehemently hate :). I am a pretty tough Mau master (although not as tough as some), and one of my cousins said, referring to my strictness, "It's obvious you're a teacher!"

After spending a few days in Hanover we drove down to southern Kentucky to spend the night with our long-time friends the Trues, who have 5 girls, age 20 on down. We had fun talking over plans for the the wedding of the oldest, Lydia, who is getting married in March. We spent a lot of our time scouring the web for bridesmaid dresses, but finally resigned ourselves to making them ourselves. It shouldn't be that hard to find a decent bridesmaid dress! Sheesh. I love the pattern we chose (with a raised neckline), and the lilac color of the fabric. I'm probably going to drive up to KY for a 3-day weekend in a few weeks, so we can try to tackle the dresses. We have five to make, so we'll see how many we get done. I'm also going to be busy for the next 2 months rushing to get Lydia's wedding quilt done. Gulp. I am just now finishing my parents' anniversary quilt - only the binding to go!

I resumed teaching today, although my tutoring schedule will not normalize for another few weeks probably. I have to admit I did miss my students over the break, even if I did enjoy time off. We had weekly homework help on Monday, and one of my students, Sarah, carpooled with me for the 1+ hour roundtrip. It was fun to get to talk with her about more than just math and neat to get to know her a little better. Sometimes I feel like I'm a math-calculating machine during lectures, since they are so jam-packed - one week of lecture in 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Although I do try to incorporate personal experience, life stories, etc. into my lectures, sometimes I still feel rushed and impersonal to my students. I like it when I have a chance to really sit down and talk with my students.

Today before lecture, one of my geometry students got to class early, as he often does. Patrick is such a neat guy to talk to and has such a fascination for knowledge, math and otherwise. It's too bad all students aren't equipped with his brains and enthusiasm. Today when he came in he said, "So, is infinite a number or is it just a concept?" We then proceeded to discuss the difference between the two, the idea of "approaching" something, and even the very basics of limits. Fun stuff. He also showed me a proof he had just seen for proving that .99999 repeating is exactly 1, and he enjoyed an alternate proof I showed him. The funniest part was when the other two students walked in as class was about to start, just as Patrick and I were discussing proofs of repeating numbers. I heard exclamations of "Cool. That's neat," which made me think, "Wow, this stuff interests them too." Come to find out they were admiring my braided bun, not the proof on the board :). Ah well.