Saturday, November 28, 2015

Trip to Waukegan, Illinois

Anyone who knows me for any great length beyond the superficial introductions knows that I have an older brother who is currently in Navy basic training, a brother that I am incredibly proud of.

He's at 5 of 8 weeks now, and my parents have been receiving letters from him bragging of the rigorous training.  He's improving and delving into the Navy way of life; he loves it. Truly loves it, so much so that he's been volunteering for extra duty, standing out among his peers. I could attempt to explain in military lingo all the things he's done and achieved and told us all about, but I'd probably fail. All in all though, he is a significant leader of his division now, which will prove to set him ahead in the ranks when he graduates in 2 weeks and moves on to A-school.

Since his basic training keeps him in Illinois over the Thanksgiving holiday, a few weeks back we received information to "adopt a sailor" for Thanksgiving day only, so we made plans to drive up and spend it with him.

We left 2 days before Thanksgiving, planning to do some sight-seeing in Nashville and Chicago.
The Parthenon in Nashville Tennessee
It was an incredibly long drive, but spread over 2 days it wasn't too bad. The day before Thanksgiving we went to the shore of Lake Michigan and on into the tremendous city of Chicago.
Lake Michigan

The Cloud Gate in Chicago
Then, finally, on Thanksgiving Day, we got to see Shelty all dressed up with his hair shaved down in military splendor. We arrived on base 45 minutes before we were supposed (driven mostly by my moms paranoia of being too late) and stood in the bone chilling wind, waiting. Slowly the divisions started marching past us, into the visitor auditorium. They were all slicked down in huge black rain coats and marched identically across the graying yard. I was determined to see Shelty march by, and after at least a dozen other groups of recruits went by, my eyes failed to register his pale face. He was at the back of his division, the tallest guy there, singing with pride. They stopped about 20 feet in front of the crowd of parents and families and that's when I saw him. I was about to burst into tears, I was smiling so much. It sounds way mushy, but honestly to see Shelty: reckless, crazy ole Shelty, all dressed out and serious was such a shock. He hurriedly looked back and searched the crowd, and gave a quick smile when he found mom.

So we got him for the day and we ate at some fancy restaurant that was serving a Thanksgiving day buffet and we drove straight into Chicago and saw the Cloud Gate and Lake Michigan again.
On the shore of Lake Michigan
Me and Shelty, and our reflection in the Cloud Gate
Then we drove him back the base, and gave him one last hug. He was impressively positive and excited. Even after 24 hours cooped up in a car just to spend a few hours with him, those few hours were worth every second of car sickness. In 2 weeks he'll graduate and move down to South Carolina, and I promise I'll stop writing about him every chance I get.

Monday, October 12, 2015

If God is real, why do we live in pain?

A portrayal of Job from the Bible. (Image Source)

One thing that I've never been able to understand is pain. And why it's apart of life.
I heard a sermon once where the preacher told the story of Jesus taking the disciples out onto the sea and falling asleep in the middle of an incredible storm. The disciples were battling the winds and rain and waves threatening to topple over the boat, and screaming at Jesus. Finally, he woke up and told the storm to hush, and everything went instantly calm. Leaving the disciples drenched to the bone and stunned.

This story always seems to get people all humble and reminiscent over the powers that our Creator holds in his voice. And it's true, it's remarkable. But why would Jesus take them out on the boat if he, being the all-knowing omniscient God, knew that there was a storm coming?

It's the same with Job, a man in the Old Testament, who is recorded to have been completely devoted to God. Wealthy and healthy. And full of devotion for God. At the start of the story the Devil taunts God, saying he could make even Job fold on God if his riches and health were taken from him. God said "okay, take them, he won't abandon me."

So over the course of the story, Job ends up stripped of his land, home, children, animals (aka source of income), and covered in boils from head to toe. Basically the definition of turmoil and suffering. For what purpose? To settle a little squabble between the Devil and the Creator?

God does not find joy or comfort in the suffering we face. In the end, when Job refused to let go of worshiping God, Satan left and Job gained double what he had owned and enjoyed before. When Jesus woke up in the boat with the disciples, he calmed the storm. So maybe the suffering we deal with is a test of our endurance.

Love is good. Love is the first and foremost thing that carries throughout the entire universe. But love isn't love unless it's chosen. So when God created the world (according to the Bible), he needed to give us that choice: to love or not to love. To be filled with good or to not be filled with good.

And thus the choice of good or evil that was posed to Adam and Eve in the garden. And they fell, chose evil, and now here we are. Whoop whoop.

God wanted us to be able to love him completely, to be truly devoted to Him. And to give us that, he also had to give us the choice to not be. And to not be devoted  to him is to be willingly full of sin and badness. Which is how you can account for most of the pain and suffering that is inflicted on us.

But then why do natural disasters occur? Why do some people live healthy, good lives and then out of the blue contract illnesses and diseases? Why is it fair that we are born into a world like this?

I don't know. And if I was Job, I'd be pretty mad. But for some reason I find comfort in the verse that goes, " Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Declaration of Independence

Image Source
"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

The very last line of the Declaration of Independence, with all it's ferocity, leaves you with a deep sense of the assurance the signers must have felt in their hearts when they they sealed their letter up in an envelope and sent it on over the ocean blue. It reflects the bravery and gusto with which they told the King to take a hike.

But they didn't simply tell him to take a hike, they pointed blatantly to all his flaws, oppressive shortcomings, and lies; in order to say "We no longer want you, we are not connected to you, goodbye." This last line, eloquently spoken, is a promise to the King that they were dead serious.

Politically speaking, we are all fairly familiar with what is going on in the Declaration of Independence. The colonies, after the French and Indian War, became increasingly upset over an influx in taxation. This led to the cry "No taxation without representation!" Which further escalated into the formation of what we now know as our country, land of the free, America! And this phrase clearly says that they were dead serious about forming and molding America without the British interrupting.

Image Source

The interesting thing about this quote, to me, is when they bring to light their source of strength. They say "with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence" right before they promise the King that they won't be backing down.

Providence is used several times in the Declaration of Independence, to refer to the higher being they all believed in. Divine Providence is defined as God's intervention in the real world and is used as a name for God. They were trying to tell the King that God was on their side, so they had no reason to be afraid. They were relying heavily on the bravery coming from this Divine Providence to defeat the political attachments between the colonies and the King and start anew.

The Founder's reliance on God is an idea that had all but disappeared from modern thinking. Sad? Maybe. Probably. The Founders had an incredible source of hope and justice, a wonderfully stable crutch that America has chopped up and thrown out.

When we read this quote today, we see an old faded ideology. An old, long forgotten, silly puritan influence. In the big scheme of things (we tell ourselves) they really just meant that they weren't staying beneath the Kings control. With or without Divine Providence, the Declaration is an attempt to set up a nation without forced religion.

But the Declaration of Independence is what it is. Considering it was crafted as the cornerstone of the United States of America, it deserve a noble respect. We may have to amend and re-amend the living daylights out of it, but we should never lose what it stood for and what it has meant to so many people.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Now I'm 16..

One thing I hate most is the day-after my birthday. The day when only people who really didn't care feel like they owe it to me to say "Happy birthday!" in the hallway. The day when I come home to the half eaten cake, and I want the brand new perfectly-iced cake again.

I guess it's selfish of me to say it, but I really hate when the celebration is all over. It feels like an awkward smile, how you never really know when to stop smiling and somehow it just naturally fades away. One second you are, the next second you aren’t. You didn’t even feel your lips change.

In some ways I’m greatly disappointed, because I never thought I could turn 16 so nonchalantly. As a kid, I was always counting how many years it was till I was 16. Like sixteen would be the magical age where suddenly I’m living the life of one of "the Plastics."

I expected a big party, pink puff balls and cake. Somewhere in there I saw myself in a pretty convertible with someone’s football jersey on. Mostly I saw myself with perfectly ironed ringlets in my hair and a dress wrapped and scrunched with tulle. Pink tulle. And that shimmery lip gloss that makes your lips look like they are floating under a shallow layer of water and the sunshine's glistening on them just so.
The Plastics

But no, life doesn't work like that. Shocking.

What I expected would happen isn't what happened, because the life of a 16 year old girl (despite popular stereotypical beliefs) isn't all pink and fluffy. My life is full of black and white words on pages, on tests; Mrs. Rader's green pen all over that last math test I failed, and the red pens of all my other teachers scribbling more anxiety into my brain.

No watery lip gloss or scrunchy pink tulle here.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

My Journey to Literacy

Being a little sister is a tough life. Being a little sister to a red-headed, freckle-faced boy is tougher.

The benefits: I learned my alphabet when I was barely 2. Impressive, I know. 

The misfortunes: I had to endure way too many sword fights with sticks and trash can lids. 

However, I had an incredible determination to be just like Shelty. To the point of tears when my mother told me I couldn't wear only shorts at the beach, like Shelty did. That was a scarring day. I couldn't believe that simply because I was a girl and he was a boy, I had to wear more clothes than he did. Just to build the same sand castles. I felt like I was being treated unfairly. 

When we were home and fully clothed, my mother home-schooled us. I learned things along the same pace that Shelty did, despite our age difference. She made us both sit down and journal, do our math together, and read books for an hour or so daily. And Shelty was always, constantly, reading. I remember when he must have been 8 or 9, he was reading Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

When my mother was pregnant with me, she stayed in bed all day and Shelty read his books to her stomach, and I'm pretty sure his stories stuck, because when I popped out, I loved books and stories. They fascinated me, and eventually he taught me how to read. With red-headed impatience and an air of self-confidence all his own. 
(Image Source)
Dr. Seuss was instrumental to the evolution of my reading capabilities, because after Shelty graduated from 1/4 inch books, he was ready for me to read by myself.  During our reading hour, I'd climb up to the top bunk with several Little Golden Storybooks and read out loud to myself. This drove Shelty absolutely insane, because he'd be on the bottom bunk trying to read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and J. K. Rowling. But speaking the words was my only hope for comprehending them. He told me to read silently, but I'd say, "That's not reading at all!" 

It took me quite a while to realize my brain could do all the speaking and comprehending without any help from my mouth.

By the time I was 10, my brother and I were both reading at college level and I understood the difference between proper swimwear for girls and guys. Thankfully. 

Dr. Seuss has since been replaced with Sylvia Plath, Gillian Flynn, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Lois Lowry, and other amazing storytellers.