Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Considering Eggs on Toast

This is exactly what they looked
When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider:
God has made the one as well as the other.
Ecclesiastes 7:14

I had an egg on toast for breakfast. And then 2 pieces of cake and 2 scoops of ice cream for dessert. It was a good choice.

On Wednesdays I clean a house for an older couple who live a little outside town. It’s a gorgeous home with lots of thick carpet (harder to vacuum) and big windows (so. much. windex.) and sort of out in the woods (spider webs are my enemy). Plus, every time I clean there I get a free lunch!

And it’s an exquisite lunch, too.  A hearty turkey sandwich on the best bread, some fruit or chips and—always and the best part—a dessert. Today it was a sublime brownie with nuts on top. I positively slobbered over myself.

Then I mowed another lady’s lawn and helped her replant a few plants at various places around her garden. Beautiful weather, easy tasks, and—always the best part—two muffins as part of my payment. I believe I have worked for this woman on about ten different occasions and she has only once sent me away without food.
I only wish I was this competent

Then some running. Then some violining. Then some volleyball. Then some Bible. Then some blog.

It was a good day and I thank God for that.

But I also wanted to thank the bakers and cooks out there, the heroes of my world. Cookies, muffins, scones, sandwiches: they all make life so much better. I can’t do what you do—I have no desire and the last time I cooked, I actually set something on fire. So, thanks, and keep making life awesome for the rest of us!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shortlist (Part 2)

         4.      Bridge to Terabithia (Paterson) “For the first time in his life he got up with something to look forward to. Leslie was more than his friend. She was his other, more exciting self—his way to Terabithia and all the worlds beyond.”

Bridge to Terabithia is a reminder of best friends and the magic they inspire. To Jesse, Leslie Burke—the oddball new girl who outraced him on the first day of school—is the catalyst to finding his courage and unlocking his imagination in this classic coming of age story.

          5.      The Hobbit (Tolkien) “There is a lot more in Mr. Baggins than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea himself.”
When thirteen grumbling dwarves and one laughing wizard arrive for tea and stay for dinner, Bilbo Baggins discovers that he is not an ordinary, comfort-loving hobbit. Trolls, elves, goblins, riddles and rings later, this little hobbit is stabbing spiders, stealing dragon treasure, and becoming an excellent and most admirable adventurer.

          6.      The Tale of Desperaux (D’Camillo) “Stories are light. Light is precious is a world so dark.”

This is not only the tale of Desperaux—a little mouse with large ears and 
un-mousy thoughts—but of Chiaroscuro, a rat beaten down into darkness and Mig, shunted aside and in desperate need of love.  Their lives twist together around a Princess, perfidy, and a castle-wide soup ban.

          7.      The Little Prince (Saint-Exupery) “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
A pilot who never became an artist meets the Little Prince—the young ruler of a house-sized planet with three volcanoes and a rose—when his plane crashes in the Sahara. Vacillating between poignant and clever, this tale rekindles joy in simplicity, contentment with love, and reason to wonder.

I’ve found that while these books all have memorable characters, intriguing plots, and great dialogue there is a deeper common denominator, the name of which we discussed in my poetry class. All of these books have something called “psychic weight” deep in their undercurrents. There is something Important in each of them, underneath all the technical brilliance that each author displays, and that is why they are worth the shortlist.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Shortlist (Part 1)

For some reason, I actually remember a few things from my high school government class. 1. Robert Gates is the U.S. Secretary of Defense (although I hear that’s soon to be untrue). 2. I should vote, and I should feel extremely guilty if/when I don’t vote. 3. Egg McMuffins are delicious. 4. The list of people the president considers nominating for the Supreme Court is referred to as “The Shortlist.”

Everything else I know about our government is from West Wing. Gosh, Rob Lowe is attractive.

Instead, my topic of expertise is recreational reading (specializing in middle grade novels) and, although I’m sure the reporter’s in C.J. Cregg’s press room will have a field day, I’ve decided to leak my summer shortlist. 

          1.      The Book Thief (Zusak) “I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”
As millions of Jews and Germans alike die, Liesel—who learns to steal books early, kisses her love too late, and befriends the Jewish boxer living in her basement—learns about life, death, and guilt under the F├╝hrer. Appropriately, Death narrates her story with both whimsical lyricism and dirty realism.

          2.      Shakespeare Bats Cleanup (Koertge) “I’m just going to fool around a little, see what’s what poetry-wise.” 

Kevin has been benched by mono so instead of baseball, he starts messing around with poetry. Told only through Kevin’s journaled poems, Shakespeare Bats Cleanup is a clever introduction to the power of poetry in confronting troubles with friends, girls and a house left hurting after his mother’s death.
          3.      Okay for Now (Schmidt) “Mr. Powell thought I was pretty good. And Lil thought I was pretty good too. I tried to remember the last time anyone told me I was pretty good at anything. You know how that feels?”

With one part empathy and two parts snark, Schmidt tells the story of Doug Swieteck, the new kid dealing with his father’s fast fists, brother’s light fingers and mother’s broken smile. Doug’s chance encounter at the town library with green-eyed Lil Pricer and James Audubon’s Birds of America changes everything.

P.S. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to write up and endorse a book in 50 words. This shortlist is longer; other books soon to follow.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Seven of them sat around the table, their scant meal long since finished. Nathanael tapped his fingers against the wooden table in the silence. James and John exchanged a look of exasperation at the noise as Thomas shifted in his chair. Philip and Bartholomew stared out the window at the sea of Galilee, glittering in the evening sunset. Simon stood up.
            “I’m going out to fish,” he announced.
            John sighed. He was sure that Jesus had not come back from the dead to have them retreat to Galilee and take up their old occupations and yet what else could they do?
            Simon started toward the door.
            “We’ll come with you,” John said. The others followed him. Sometimes you’ll do anything not to be alone.
            But the sea bore no fruit that night. They worked in shifts, first three—James, John and Simon—then four—Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas and Nathanael—while the others rested. But although shoals of musht fish could be seen teeming the sea, not one of them founds its way into their nets. It was so odd on such a perfect night for fishing that Thomas was sure they had been cursed.
As the deep black of night paled into grey, they saw a figure on the lake shore. But the mist and the distance kept them from recognizing who it was.
            “My friends! Haven’t you any fish?” the man called.
            “None!” James yelled back in his booming voice.
            “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some!” the man called.
            They waved their thanks but only James and Simon moved to put the net over on the other side of the boat.
            “It’s not as though one side of the boat is better than the other. It’s the difference of two cubits!” Bartholomew said.
            “Forget two cubits,” Thomas muttered darkly. “We have bigger problems than two cubits.”
            Simon shrugged. “One more try is no trouble,” he said.
            The sun slunk into the horizon, little bits of molten red glowing in their eyes and clearing the mist away by an infinitesimal amount.
            “Besides,” James added, “it would be discourteous to ignore the man’s advice right in front of him. He could be a friend of ours.”
            John nodded his agreement, and watched as Simon skillfully tossed the net into the sea. It rose high into the air and landed in a perfect circle. It hovered for one instant, and then the lead weights sank down, pulling the net with it. While the others retired to the bow, James and Simon leaned on the rail side by side and watched the sun rising as they waited.
John eyed the slump of Simon’s shoulders, his elbows on the rail and his spine pushing up against weather-beaten skin. He envied Simon’s passion and he missed Simon’s wild declarations of loyalty. It seemed as though all of enthusiasm had disappeared since he had fulfilled the prophecy the Rabbi made about him. Denials stayed with you.
            Then Simon’s shoulders tensed and he looked over at James with a wonder in his eyes that John hadn’t seen since their last dinner with the Rabbi. James shouted and the other four ran towards them from the bow. The net was full and bursting with hundreds of musht begging to be taken up into their boats.
            “The harvest is plentiful,” he had said. “But the workers are few.”
            John joined his brothers in hauling at the bulging net. But they would not come over the sides, so full they were with gaping fish. Simon laughed wildly, too close to John’s ear, but he smiled in response. The swollen net and that light in Simon’s eyes was enough for him. He felt tears start in his eyes and the burning in the back of his throat.
“It’s him. It’s the lord.”
As if he’d already known from the beginning that this night wasn’t about fish and this morning wasn’t just the end of a fruitless wait, Simon grabbed his shirt and jumped over the side of the boat and began swimming to the shore. John laughed outright and wished he could follow suit. Instead he turned to the others.
“Hold the nets,” he said, tears of joy mixing with splashing water on his face. “We’re going to pull to shore.”
They were only a hundred yards where Jesus stood and hard on Simon’s swimming heels. John steered the ship while the others held the nets steady until they were back on the bank. John leaped off the boat, but was not immediately followed by the others. They were focused, trying to pull the nets to safety and retain most of their catch.
Then Jesus pulled John into a hug. Finally the other disciples stopped working and noticed who it was standing with Simon and John.
“It’s him!” some of them whispered. “It’s the Lord.”
Jesus smiled at them. “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”
He turned and walked toward a nearby fire, but not before Simon-Peter heard as if an echo, “Follow me. And I will make you fishers of men.”
On the fire of burning coals lay a single fish and some bread. Jesus and John sat down together and spoke with one another. Simon, too overwhelmed, joined his fellow disciples on the boat to pull in the fish. When they had finished securing them, Jesus gestured.
“Come and eat!”
They came and sat around the fire where Jesus passed around the fish and bread. They ate in silence and devoured his very presence. They ate and all were satisfied.
When everyone had finished his meal, Jesus turned to Simon.
“Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” He gestured vaguely around them. Nathanael was wondering what Jesus meant to ask: did Simon love Jesus more than he loved fishing? more than he loved the other disciples? more than the other disciples loved Jesus? more than fish and bread?
Who do you say I am?
But Simon did not hesitate.
“Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”
            You are the Christ.
“Feed my lambs.”
Peter nodded and accepted the commission without comment. The others sat stunned and quiet. It was Jesus broke the heavy morning stillness just a few moments later. He held up two fingers.
“Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?”
Again, Peter nodded. “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”
He had always loved him, even as he denied him a second and third time.
“Take care of my sheep. Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter blinked, hurt.
“Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.”
Jesus smiled because he did know all things and did know that Peter loved him. “Feed my sheep, Cephas. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
Everyone there recognized this as a prophecy of how Peter would die, not the least of which was Peter. Jesus again smiled at Peter and Peter heard, as if in an echo, “The gates of Hades will not prevail against you.
“Follow me.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sudden Impact

In the beginning there was a giant gumball machine. It was halfway full of gumballs of all different colors, sitting comfortably—passively—on top of one another. As if responding to a silent summons, a hand reached up and put a quarter into the slot. Then it turned the metal handle. A metallic chick-chick-chiiick and quite suddenly, every gumball began to fly about its glass prison. They whizzed back and forth, bouncing violently off the transparent walls and colliding into one another with great cracks and sudden chipping of the colored surfaces. Then even the chips continued this frenzied, unstoppable sprint. For a time, all of the pieces ricocheted back and forth, chipping at one another and doing damage until not one was left unharmed.

The most recent gumballs I’ve collided with are Yujin and and Joonyong Um. They are a Korean couple I met through a class at Calvin this past semester. Despite Joonyong’s rigorous academic schedule as he completes his Master’s degree in education and Yujin’s broken English—and their two young children, one of whom has not yet stopped moving since leaving the womb and has a terrible sense of balance—they have taken me under their wing and begun to teach me Korean. Already I’ve been to their house twice, and both times Yujin cooked me dinner and Joonyong explained Korean history and culture to me.

This new friendship has come swiftly on the heels of hurtful times, during which I’ve surely damaged people and they’ve done the same to me. It’s inevitable, in this finite little gumball machine with such energy pent up inside, to chip off one another’s paint in painful ways. Collisions are a fixed part of life. In each of us unending potential to hurt others lays dormant, waiting for a collision.

Even chickens look to positively affect those around them

So it seems as if there’s nothing for it but to do our best to make each collision a good one. I feel certain that Yujin and Joonyong are chipping off my paint, and sending those pieces flying about my future. But they’re good pieces, pieces that have been imbibed with humility and generosity, and they are sure to collide positively with others. I regret the bad pieces I’ve chipped off of others in the past, pieces filled with bitter resentment and prideful remarks that are now sure to collide with others and cause still more damage. But ultimately, it’s nice to know there’s still plenty of time to bounce around in my glass cage and slam into people for the better.