Thursday, March 22, 2007

A hunter, a weaver, and the great outdoors

As I walked back along the road this Monday, Dusty’s soft horsy nose and whiskers tickled my hand. We plodded in the quiet spring afternoon, tiredly content from the ride. The weather was warm, but breezy and pleasant. Wide grassland stretched out on either side, the once-flaxen waves of grass turning wonderfully green in earnest. I sigh, and breath in the air, filling my lungs as one can only outside.

Suddenly I was arrested by a soft, commanding scent nestling into my nose and head, echoing in shadowy corners of memory. It hinted of flowers, of earth warmed in sun, of the green things breathing and shooting up after the past week’s rain whispered “Spring!” But it’s more. Something about the smell made me think of a certain little house on a rutted back road, on the edge of a small thicket surrounded by fields. It was the place of walks with grandparents now gone, of their deep laughs and solemn prayers. The smell calls me back…

In cowboy hat, boots, and gentle blue eyes, Granddaddy would sit on the porch with a coffee mug every morning hours before the sun peeped up. I don’t think he usually brought a book. He just sat there. When I was little I thought that would be so boring. I was an early riser too, but it only meant more time for my current Black Stallion book or historical fiction adventure!

Now I can admire that stillness.

What went through his mind? Did he reflect on years of farming, hunting, growing girls, growing algebra students, Sunday school and choir practice? Was it his special time to talk the Creator as he watched His world come alive? Granddaddy was normally stiller than any wild creature who might wander across the yard. Bird, fox, deer, coon, he knew them all. Even the hunter in him was loving, tender with all wild and growing things, never killing recklessly or wastefully.

I learned early on that Disney and I could never agree on the inherent badness of hunters and guns.

Grandmother, too, loved the outdoors. She went on walks every day, until soon before she died. Oatmeal was cooked every morning without fail. When we grandkids visited, she fed us well. But sweets or ice cream were only the rare treat Granddaddy brought out. They were hearty, healthy, going on hunting and hiking trips in the mountains with their Jeep Cherokee even in their mid-sixties. It was a surprise when they left within about a year of each other. Her raven-black hair was only beginning to gray, and his mind has been sharp and active only months before.

Grandmother may have been wrinkled, but she could shoot the shuttle across the warp of the loom like a marksman. Which she was. She helped Granddaddy with whatever he was building at the moment, and always amazed me when her thin arms lifted what I thought heavy.

When my family came to visit, some time was spent inside, watching Granddaddy’s beloved collection of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, John Wayne, and other classics. Or we would lie on beds, on the couch, and read. The hardwood floor was fun, especially slippery in socks.

But outdoors was the place of adventures. There were the huge tangled pines to climb, our clothes and hair getting all sticky with sap and scratched with the rough bark that called us to go just a bit higher. There were the wandering paths, weaving between mesquites and brush and around prickly pear patches, not long, but enough to make us brave explorers.

My heritage has grown in odd twists. Rather like the mesquite trees around here. It’s no coincidence, no mere chance that I've grown up with delight in windblown hair and dusty clothes, seeing reflections of my Creator God’s genius and imagination in every spider’s web or wildflower. Even in smells, and a horse's breathy soft nose.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Who, not where

I 'll try to post more later, but for now here's an excellent quote I found this morning.

"Faith never knows where it is being led, but it knows and loves the One Who is leading. It is a life of faith, not of intellect and reason, but a life of knowing Who makes us "go." The root of faith is the knowledge of a Person, and one of the biggest snares is the idea that God is sure to lead us to success."

~Oswald Chambers, from My Utmost for His Highest, March 19 (italics mine)~

Friday, March 16, 2007

Amazing Grace

hen my mom, two youngest brothers, and I arrived, we saw the theater wasn’t exactly a happenin’ place at 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon. There may have been six more folks besides us at the showing. But what a joyful experience was had by we happy few! When we walked out the doors and out into the bright sunshine, I felt none of the sadness at going back to real life that I often feel on emerging from those caves of visions. This vision was not a couple-hour’s escape to Neverland. It was a window wiped clear for me to see bravery and compassion lived out by a real man through Christ’s power.

John Newton, Wilberforce's old pastor and mentor, encouraging him to "Do it, for God's sake. (Image from

The film centers on William Wilberforce, one of those great Christians from the past whose stories need to be told to our cynical world. It shows his long fight to abolish slavery, his moments of despair, his struggle with bad health, his faithful friends, numerous pets, and a wife who supports him and his work wholeheartedly. For a great summary and review, see Plugged-In Online. I generally agree with their conclusions, and I think they hit this spot on.

It was good. Aesthetically, an authentic, well-made, historical drama. And more. It was not unpleasantly preachy, but gloriously visionary. It’s about a humble hero, who also happens to have lived in real life. It has the same feel to me as Chariots of Fire, or Luther. It makes me want to do good for Christ for the beauty of it, to live out my talents and abilities for His pleasure. And to do it despite what anyone else may think.

Wilberforce playing with his son, little William, and one of their animal friends.
(image from

The film was not all dreary! There were some delightfully humerous moments, such as when a married couple who are Wilberforce’s good friends conspire to “happen” to run into a young lady who is, like himself, “very much un-married.” His butler is also a delightful chap, even though he thinks his master is a bit odd. And the animals he keeps about the house provide subject matter for a few amusing remarks. We see an unexpected game of— But if I told you, it wouldn’t be anymore. ;)

Going to see this film is NOT a waste of time, money, or attention. Again, I proclaim it is good. The colors, the costumes, the acting, the story, the heroes are fascinating. Alive. They will draw you in from the first scene of a British country road in the rain, and a man acting who cares about life. What he does in the first scene seems small. But like the rest of the film, it shows his active compassion, regardless of personal health and reputation.

Wilberforce is the sort of fellow who is the best of heroes. We need more of them in movies. And we need to be them here, now.

(image from

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


’m a great fan of comfort things.
Some of these include my puppy (who is technically not “real,” but remember Woody and Buzz). Whinnie-the-Pooh books. Mashed potatoes. And since I was two, my yellow blanket.

Soft, like woven fuzz. Synthetic, but more instantly snuggly than Great-grandmother’s smooth quilts I now love in a different way. My blanket was edged for a while with a silky border, I think, which gradually loosed itself and dragged about still attached. I had to have it to sleep. It was cozy for watching movies, for cold days of reading ensconced in the brown Ronald Reagan chair, for making multi-chambered tents over tables and chairs to store books and pillows and Playmobile and brothers.

At night, especially when wearing sweats or fuzzy pajamas, it was exciting to move and rub against the blanket, to see tiny sparks of light in the dark. I went to sleep with the light on back then, but under the comforter, or if I woke later on when the house was dark, I could see the electricity flash. Threadlike. As though my blanket came alive.

Sam had a yellow blanket. I think his was a paler yellow. He probably had his from when he was a baby, but the story is that little two-year-old Rael wanted to have a blanket like big brother. His fell apart first, and the remains had to be smuggled out to the dumpster and not mentioned for a time. I think I was older, maybe eleven, when I realized mine had the same symptoms as Sam’s mysteriously raptured blanket. Or maybe I knew where it had gone. Knowing that it would only keep falling to shreds before my eyes, I bravely volunteered it up, keeping only a few small remnants.

During the day, it was the greatest thing for wild hair. It would slip off the yellow monster’s head, and my day-old braid gave up frizzy strands like sunbeams. Only they were brown; the blanket was sunny.

I still like blankets and their flexabilities, as you can see in this picture of me wearing one my Grandmother wove on her huge loom. For a recent birthday, I recieved the snuggest of blankets from my other Grandma. It has a fleece-like side and a brushed suede-like side, and though it’s not big, it’s one of the warmest things. Great for Lord of the Rings marathons, or warm quiet-times with Bible and journal at the dinner table, or for wearing about the house with a pin, pretending it’s a Britain-woman’s fur cloak, my hair thrown about in wild cascades. (It's much longer now than in this picture.)

I think a soft blanket is the childish cousin of grown-up quilts. They don’t always know how to behave, to lie flat and trim and proper. Their fluff can stick with you. So untidy! Yet for story time, play, or simple comfort, they are quite at home.

Eplanation of our presidential chair: My mom bought it at a junk store the day Reagan (her favorite modern-day president) was first inaugurated. It's quite the family heirloom now! Here’s an oldish picture, though with no yellow blanket.

No idea what I'm reading there, but if you look closely, you can see the nose of my ever-faithful pup who is reading along. I'll have to do a piece on her someday: she's a facinating character, and has had many adventures.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sister's keeper

"Younger girls tend to look up to the older ones as perfect role models—and though none of us are perfect, we need to remember to try to emulate Christ in everything we do, so that we can be a good "big sister." So please, be always ready to give advice or a comforting word to a younger "sister." For in actuality, we are all sisters in Christ... And we have the Biblical instruction in Titus 2:4 to the older women to train the younger women."

~Jennifer L. Straw, from an article at YLCF~

This is something I've been thinking about quite a lot lately. Maybe because I'm living with a family that has two girls (ages ten and six) and I finally feel a bit what it's like to have younger sisters. When Sierra sprawls on my bed to read books I bring her, when Samantha wants to drink tea from my teapot and starts liking skirts, I realize- I am being watched! It's both a burden and joy. I want to be extra careful of that my behavior is God-honoring and not leading His precious little ones astray. But I also remember the older girls who influenced me in sweet, steady humility as I was growing up, and I thrill at the big-sistering adventure the Lord has laid before me. And once I'm done with college, I hope to continue walking with whatever younger girl the Lord sets in my path.

Lion calling

“I love an Untamed Lion, He’s calling me to come

My cold heart, how it hesitates, I want to turn and run

His power is dangerous, His power is endless love”

~Michelle Tumes~

(Image from wallpaper on

It is often surprising to look back through your life and see what kinds of things really affected you. Sometimes it is big events, but often it is a collection of small moments that can have the most impact on what we think and do.
In my life, I have been changed by a series of books called The Chronicles of Narnia, or more specifically, by a character in them, a lion named Aslan.

I was probably about eight years old when I got my first taste of Narnia, playing at my friend Sarah’s house. Remember the carefree days when you could just go play at a friend’s house for half a day, with nothing planned and nothing bigger to worry about than annoying brothers who came too? Anyway, Sarah and I had wandered inside from the swings, munching on huge pieces of homemade mint-chocolate candy (oh, that was soooo good!) and we decided to watch one of their library movies. Now none of us ever really watched TV, and movies were a big deal, so of course when Sarah’s brother and sister and my three brothers got wind of our plan, they all had to come and help us decide what to watch. I think the choice was between a girl movie like Anne of Green Gables, probably what Sarah and I would have chosen if left to ourselves, and a movie I had never heard of before called The Silver Chair. Sarah’s older brother, Aaron, tried to describe it. “It’s really neat! Two kids go to another world, and there are giants and dragons and they go underground and there are all these weird earthmen, and it’s great!” Sarah, on the other hand, kept reminding him of how scary it was and assuring us that we wouldn’t like it. But they let us decide because we were the guests. Needless to say, my brothers have never been daunted by the word “scary.” “Girly,” yes, but “scary” never! I was also curious to see something new, so when the vote came out in favor of The Silver Chair, Sarah and I stuck around to watch it, even though our movie had been taken over.

On one hand I was hooked. Any story about two children who get into another world just in time to escape school bullies is interesting, but that was just the beginning. It was a whole new and exciting world, but with many elements of the fairy tales that I loved. There were castles and giants, talking animals and dwarves, and an evil witch who stole away a prince and kept him under her spell. Pretty basic fairy-tale ingredients so far. Nevertheless, it was somehow more serious, more real, you might say, than any fairy tale I knew of. Perhaps most captivating was Aslan, the great talking lion who brought the children into Narnia, the other world, and gave them the task of finding the lost prince.

As I was saying, on one hand I thought it was quite interesting. On the other hand, I must say I did not fall in love with Narnia when I saw the movie. For one thing, it was made by BBC, whose movies tend to be low budget. It seems to me that, for some kinds of movies, the special effects or lack thereof don’t matter that much, but when it’s obvious that talking animals are people in suits and that a flying owl (person in a suit) is not really flying, it’s a bit disappointing. (That’s why I’m so excited that now they are planning to make the whole series into movies. I think the recent Lord of the Rings movies are wonderful examples of successfully taking a fantasy story from a book and making it believable on screen with the help of technology and computer graphics.) Still, when I was about eight that sort of thing didn’t bother me that much. Perhaps what made me not love it right off was the fact that, not only was the Silver Chair in the middle of the series and therefore confusing, but it was also the most dreary and depressing story, even though it has a good ending.

To get back to the story, we finished the movie and, despite what I have just said, we thought it was interesting. The Grubens told us it was part of a series of books that we should read, the first one having the funny name of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Later we went home, and that night I had an experience that implanted itself in my memory like few other things ever have.

Before I go on, let me explain a crucial scene of the Silver Chair. The two children and their Narnian friend, a creature named Puddleglum, travele for weeks over bad terrain, through miserable weather, and across dangerous lands on their search for the lost prince. The Lion, Aslan, had given Jill signs to memorize that would tell them the way to go, but gradually she ceases to repeat them. Finally she almost forgets them completely, because she’s so anxious to get somewhere warm with good food and a hot bath. Against Puddleglum’s better judgement they eventually seek lodging in the castle of some seemingly friendly giants. Everything seems fine until that night.

And then came the deadest hour of the night and nothing stirred but mice in the house of the giants. At that hour there came to Jill a dream. It seemed to her that she awoke in the same room and saw the fire, sunk low and red, and in the firelight the great wooden horse [a toy horse to giants, but huge to Jill]. And the horse came of its own will, rolling on its wheels across the carpet, and stood at her head. And now it was no longer a horse, but a lion as big as the horse. And then it was not a toy lion, but a real lion. The Real Lion, just as she had seen him on the mountain beyond the world’s end. And a smell of all sweet-smelling things there are, filled the room. But there was some trouble in Jill’s mind, though she could not think what it was, and the tears streamed down her face and wet the pillow. The Lion told her to repeat the Signs, and she found that she had forgotten them all. At that, a great horror came over her. (C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair)

Then the Lion shows her the next thing they should have been looking for and in the morning they get back to their quest. But the point I want to make is that this scene stood out to me, and we’ll see why.

At home that night, I couldn’t really get to sleep for a long time. I drifted in and out of wakefulness; it was one of those times when dreams feel just as real when you are awake as when you are asleep. I had my own room, and I was alone. Or, maybe not so alone. The Lion was there, and He would not leave. I would open my eyes and look at the light in the hallway, and He didn’t go away. Then I would scrunch my eyes shut and burrow my face in my pillow. That was worse. I saw Him then even clearer, with that huge mane and those deep golden eyes that looked and knew me. It was terrible. I would call it a nightmare, because I was so miserable, but still I knew that He wasn’t bad. So what was the problem? I don’t know that I can explain it, but He wanted something from me. I felt a bit like Jill. I was afraid, and I may have cried, but I wasn’t sure what I had done wrong. What was it He said to me? It’s funny how we remember emotions and feelings longer and easier than we remember words. But now that I think about it, I do remember, at least a little. He was probing, seeking, calling me: “What about you, Rael?” It was frightening, because then I knew that he was more that a character in a story. He was real and he would not be ignored, but I didn’t know whom in this world He was yet. Somehow I eventually got to sleep.

That was definitely not the end, though time passed and Narnia slipped to the back of our minds. Then one Christmas we found The Chronicles of Narnia in our stockings, and soon they became our favorite books. We still have that set, but it is falling apart. When I first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I finally realized who this mysterious Lion was. He gives his life sacrificially to save a traitor, and then shows His power over death by coming back to life. Sound familiar? I was so excited when I found out that I already knew Aslan, only by a different name. At the end of one of the books, when he tells two children they will never come back to Narnia, they express what is so special about being in Narnia, whether there in the flesh or only in imagination.

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.

“Are ---are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” (C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

And that is the very reason I have been so deeply impacted by a children’s fantasy series. By learning to love and know Aslan more in Narnia, I love and know Him in this world by another name so much more than I did before. One thing that I’ve learned about him is that He calls and teaches His children. Now I believe He was showing me that night that He would not be ignored or forgotten. When I am doing something I shouldn’t or forgetting to do something I should, He will let me suffer the consequences, because He loves me and wants me to grow, even if it hurts at first. As Mr. Beaver says about Him to the children, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” I am learning that He is the one who I can fear and love at the same time.

I could go on about all the many other things I have learned from Aslan, but I will not. First, it would take a long time, and second, it would leave less for you to find out on your own. This is only my story, after all. If you want to attempt to read The Chronicles of Narnia and remain unchanged, go ahead and try. I’m about ready to read them again!

Addendum: I wrote this in my first semester of college, about four years ago. Now, in my next to last semester, I actually am reading the Chronicles again, this time for a C.S. Lewis class! It’s been a pleasure, and if I have time I’d love to post insights and quotes gained this time around. My teacher, Dr Tony Ash, is wonderful. Like Lewis, he’s rather balding, though usually he wears oddly-patterned sweaters instead of shabby suits. I was anxious at first, because having a horrid professor teach one of my favorite authors would have been misery. I needn’t have feared, for he is quite the authentic Lewis enthusiast. Wise, patient, twinkle-eyed, he reads us quotes till my delighted heart laughs for joy and sighs in longing. Again, I am being drawn near the Lion. And as I have grown, I find Him still bigger.

“I love an Untame Lion, His music fills my dreams

I’m filled with longing for a place, a place I’ve never seen

He’s calling, I want Him so, He’s calling, I can’t let go”

~Michelle Tumes~