Monday, October 16, 2017

Skeleton and Ghost by Nathaniel James Dowell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are a child at heart who loves Halloween but are not into the over-the-top creepy aspect of it, or if you are looking for a book to share with an important child in your life, this is the book for you. It is an adorable story of a skeleton who longs to walk around in the outside world, but cannot because he has no ghost. Along comes a ghost looking for his family and so begins a beautiful relationship!

The story is sweet and the writing is enchanting. The illustrations are gorgeous creations by the author himself! This is the perfect book for you to share with your child, little sibling, niece, nephew, or friend.

Happy Halloween!

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Go Teen Writer's Instagram Challenge Week 1

"I am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." 
~ Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables

Everything seems magical in October. It could be because it is Halloween month, and everyone has their various decorations out. It could be because the weather is changing, if ever so slightly (in Texas anyway). Everything is transformed into a pumpkin! Coffee, cereal, soups, desserts.

Anyway, in the spirit of October and the magical season, I have decided to participate in Go Teen Writer's October '17 Instagram Challenge (even though I'm not a Teen).

I'm not a huge fan of hardcore Halloween stuff, but I like the slightly-mystical-not-too-serious-not-too-dark-fall-festival-pumpkin-carving-Legend-of-Sleepy-Hollow-Disney-version type of Halloween. I felt like this qualified.

As you can see, each day has a prompt for the participant to follow with a picture that somehow matches. Creativity is encouraged. This is the first time I've done something like this, so I'm excited to give it a try.

Rather than post once a day for 31 days (which, let's be realistic, wouldn't happen, and would be annoying if it did), I will be posting once a week with my findings. If you decide you would like to participate, feel free to post your favorites in the comments below!

Here is Week 1:

Day 1: Magic ⭐

Obviously, coffee is a magical drink. Especially first thing in the morning when everything is still dark outside.

You reluctantly make your way into the kitchen, not really wanting to start another day yet, but knowing you must. Then you hear the whisper of your favorite coffee brand beckoning you from the cabinet. You open the cabinet door and there it is. Glancing over your shoulder to make sure you are alone, you quietly pull it from the shelf and open the bag. As the scent of the yet-to-be-brewed concoction hits your nostrils you feel a twinge of excitement and inspiration. The day has possibilities you have yet to discover, and this drink holds the key! You glance at the clock. Time is growing short. Hurriedly, you fill the cauldron (coffee-maker) with water, grind the beans with your mortar and pestle (coffee-grinder), and soon the brewing has begun.
The cauldron grumbles and spurts, unhappy at being woken from its slumber. However, even this cranky machine is susceptible to the power of the brew and its grumbles become purrs as it eventually complies with your wishes. You pour the dark drink into your chalice (coffee mug), taking a moment to savor the beautiful aroma. Then you take your first sip, and the world around you begins to change.

Day 2: Ghost 👻

This picture could have a double meaning because it includes the appendix of the science textbook, which is like a ghost because my 7th graders SWORE  it wasn't there, and then it magically appeared when I looked for it...kind of like a ghost. But within the appendix, we also find a picture of an amoeba which I thought looked like a cute little ghost waving its ghost-like arm. The caption says that the amoeba is extending its pseudopods to engulf and digest some food. Sounds kinda creepy to me.

Day 3: Pumpkin 🎃

Like I said, EVERYTHING turns into a pumpkin! And you don't even have to wait till midnight. I tend to be skeptical about flavored cereals, but I LOVE pumpkin spice things, so I tried it. Honestly, my taste buds had to adapt at first, but I have decided this is a win. It's not overly sweet, which I appreciate, but it does have an addictive element to it. It works great as breakfast or a snack, and you get to feel festive while you eat it.

Day 4: Orange 📙

This one was easy because orange is one of my school's colors so it's everywhere, including my classroom. This is a picture of my back wall. I teach Science, Math, and Yearbook. Can you tell what the different items represent? On the far left I have our Yearbook Planning board, that helps us keep track of what pages we have worked on so far. Next to that, we have the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens which we talked about on the first day of school. These also kind of serve as my class rules (Be Proactive, Begin with the End in Mind, Put First Things First, Think Win-Win, Seek First to Understand and Then to be Understood, Synergize - work together, Sharpen the Saw - take care of yourself). Next to that is my clock, which is two minutes fast, much to the dismay of my students, and the steps of the Scientific Method. After that is the Periodic Table of Elements and the Roman Numerals. You may also notice some random folded pieces of paper along this wall. This was from a multiplication scavenger hunt I did a few weeks ago with the kids. Each paper has a famous mathematician and a multiplication problem that leads to a different paper. At the bottom of each paper is an answer to a different problem. The kids had a lot of fun with that one because they got to get out of their chairs.

Day 5: Black

Because I can....Sonograms are black (and white). This is a picture of my, that sounds weird coming from me. I've managed to wrap my head around the fact that I am pregnant and will have a baby this February, but when I think in terms of "Mom" and "Son" it adds a whole new level to it! Anyway....Look at that little thumb-sucker! Isn't he cute??? He gets increasingly more active with each day, usually when I am sitting down. 22 weeks and counting!

Day 6: Moon

Thursday night we had a full moon, and even though I don't have a fancy camera, I had to do my best to shoot it. There is something about gazing at a full moon that quiets your soul and begs you to stop everything and listen to the world around you. My in-laws live in a neighborhood in the city, but it is its own little woodland haven. Each of the houses has a huge yard surrounded by trees. In the morning and evenings, deer can be seen grazing on the grass, and some lucky residents have been able to coax them into eating out of their hands. It is a beautiful little retreat that allows you to forget you live in the middle of the city. Everything was quiet and still the other night, and the moonlight was gorgeous.  I was so excited that the rays showed up in the picture. I love the yellow houselight as well. I think it adds a little bit more October to the picture. ;-)

Day 7: Candy

In general, I am not a huge candy fan, but one must make allowances for chocolate. Especially when that chocolate is dark chocolate and combined with almonds. I'm not sure if this technically even counts as candy. It's more of a sophisticated snack.

These things are AMAZING and dangerous. Much more dangerous than candy. If you are thinking of purchasing some, be aware: They have addictive properties! Proceed with caution.

Okay, well that's all I've got for this week. Hopefully, I will be creative enough (and have enough time), to continue. We will see. Feel free to post your own finds in the comments. Either way, I hope you have a beautiful October!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Examining Beliefs

"Truth doesn't mind being questioned," my parents told me as I was growing up. I have always looked at this statement as something solid that I could hold on to. If truth is truth, it will hold up under pressure.

That's great.

Until you are questioned on something you have always accepted as true without putting much thought into it.

Suddenly, your beliefs are challenged by someone who HAS thought about things and come to a different conclusion. They actually have reason and evidence to back up their claims. Does that mean that what you believe is no longer true? Does that mean you were wrong?

There are two possible answers:

1. No, they just came to a different conclusion than you and your theory or belief is just as valid as theirs.


2. You may be the one in the wrong.

This possibility scares us. We don't like that scenario. We dismiss it immediately, discounting the other party as radical, or emotional, or extreme. We come up with all kinds of theories for why they believe what they believe, never once asking, but assuming we know their motivation.  To ask questions would be to grant validity to their opposing view, and we can't have that. To look into their evidence would be to admit that they possibly have good reasons for believing as they do, and that could lead into a discussion we are not prepared to have.

No, it is better to stay away from such arguments and listen to people that agree with us. Accept their much smarter-sounding arguments, and look at their single-sourced reasons. That's safe. It reaffirms what we have always known to be true without having to hold it up to the light.

There are two problems with this approach and they both stem from a frightening fact: If we choose to respond to arguments this way, we don't actually believe that the truth is truth and it will hold up under pressure.

Problem 1:
By not taking the time to examine our belief system, we may persist in a belief that is not only wrong but also harmful to ourselves or others. We perpetuate lies. We walk blindly into situations that will end up being a trap for us. We allow suffering to continue.

History is filled with examples of this

Nazi Germany

Child Labor

Jim Crow Laws

American Slavery

Human Trafficking

Pick an issue. We are not blameless.

We turn a blind eye to what is actually happening because we don't like to think about what it would mean if it were true. We listen to the voice that brings comfort and says the right things. The correct things. The things that sound like truth. The voice that says the right key words.

"Did God ACTUALLY say...." Genesis 3:1
"You will not surely die." - Genesis 3:4
"God know..." - Genesis 3:5

Instead of questioning it, we accept it because it sounds like truth. We do not hold it up to the light and other things we know to be true.

We rationalize. We ignore things that cause us to question ourselves and the people we love. We choose to believe a lie.

If we listen to enough lies we will eventually forget what truth is. Truth will become relative. Truth will be what we want to hear.

Problem 2:
By not examining our beliefs, and the beliefs of others, we are powerless to defend against beliefs that actually ARE wrong. They have better arguments, they have valid reasons for believing as they do, and yet they are wrong. We have no right to argue with them, however, because we have not done our research. We have not examined or listened to their arguments to understand where they are coming from.  They will not listen to us because we are uninformed and we have ignored and dismissed them.

Any way you cut it, our unwillingness to examine truth allows darkness to continue, in ourselves and in others.

As Christians, this should terrify us because we are called to be witnesses to this world. How can we do that if we choose not to engage with it? This means we may have to examine our own beliefs. We might be wrong. If we are, we need to own it. If we are not, we need to fully understand and be able to defend our positions.

If I believe in truth, I need to allow it to do its work.  I should not feel threatened when people ask me a question to which I have no answer. I need to think about why I have no answer. I need to struggle with my beliefs and examine other viewpoints prayerfully. I need to find the light, and bring it to others.

There are many things that may change in this world, including my beliefs on certain issues. There is only one thing that is constant, and that God. His truth will hold up every time.

There are many things that are challenging me right now, particularly because of society's volatile response to these issues:

What is my role as a Christian living in America?
Should Christians pledge allegiance to anything or anyone other than God?
Should we really respect all leaders and those in positions of authority?
Does it really matter if someone kneels instead of stands?
How should I react if I see a wrong that needs to be righted?
Is the history I have always studied an accurate account of what happened?
What should my response be to someone who is suffering regardless of the cause?

Several people in my life have answers to these questions. Not surprisingly, they disagree.

What do I do with that?

First, I need to recognize that people in my life who I care deeply about will not always agree with each other, or me.

Second, I need to realize that I am not God, and am therefore subject to mistakes, including mistakes in my beliefs. I cannot assume that I am right and someone else is wrong. We are both human. Eventually, one of us is going to get something wrong.  I need to seek the truth outside of people's opinions.

Third, I need to figure out what I believe, independent of others. I need to ask people I disagree with how they came to their beliefs and actually listen to what they say. I need to examine the evidence, or lack thereof, they lay before me.  I need to think critically about what they say and how it lines up with my own observations and experience. I need to do my own research into the matter and vary my sources.

And I need to decide. I may come to a different conclusion, or I may see that they actually have a point. But whatever conclusion I come to, I will have a reason for what I believe.

In the end, I will be held responsible for me. I cannot be careless.

If what I believe is true, it will hold up under questioning.

Father, please help me to hold myself accountable for the things I profess to be true. Help me to seek truth and not be afraid to question it, no matter what it leads to, knowing that You will not lead me astray.

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
John 8:31-32

 "And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.  But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
John 3: 19-21

"but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame."

1 Peter 3:15-16

"The brothers[a] immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Acts 17:10-11

"If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth."
1 John 1:6

"Let no one deceive himself. 
If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise."
1 Corinthians 3:18