Spring into the Future

It is cool and crisp this bright Tuesday morning, and the sun made driving difficult as I rushed to reach the train station in time. Today (or maybe yesterday) is the first day of Spring … fittingly, we had the first frost that we have had for some time, today.

Kathy has been encouraging me to take these alfalfa tablets recommended by one of her friends in the Homeschool Co-op … I’m not sure they’re helping, but my allergies don’t seem as bad as they have been in previous years. Last year, of course, I was clever enough to be invited to Michigan for the celebration at Trinity Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and missed the worst of the allergy season.

It is funny to think of what a difference a year has made in our lives, remembering that at this time a year ago I was at the end of a 17-month period of unemployment. Now I have been working for my current employer for nearly a year and am anxiously awaiting my first annual review … I wonder where I will be a year from now?

Over the weekend I continued my unpopular ‘No field trips until the WNW 2004 DVD is finished’ program, much to the dismay of my children and (perhaps even more) my wife. Kathy managed to snatch a quick visit over to Julee’s house but otherwise missed her down-time on Monday grievously. Joshua cleverly persuaded me to read a few chapters of The Hobbit between DVD burns, but the others were largely neglected. My ‘Dad ratings’ are plummeting, and the pressure is on to come up with something really fun for next week’s outing. I made a wry comment to Kathy that I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I ever finished this project … the kids all agreed that I could use my spare time planning our Monday field trips. How kind of them to think of a use for all that (otherwise wasted) time.

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There is just something really cool about having a sister, as Kathy often laments.

I was off on Friday and haven’t checked my e-mail all weekend … I’m a little worried that something may have come up over that time that needed my attention. On the flip side, I’m a little worried that I wasn’t missed at all and that I am not very essential to my employer. I guess you can’t have it both ways. Today is my last day of alternate on-call … how nice that the pager hasn’t woken me up once during these last two weeks.

As the summer approaches our thoughts turn to the question of where we will live once our lease runs out on this house. We’ve been fairly happy here but are not eager to continue paying rent at this high rate. I’m of the mind to purchase a home in the Puyallup or Sumner areas, depending, of course, on a favorable performance review and some modest increase in pay. Kathy is very happy in Lakewood, though … maybe we could find a home that is a little closer to the train station yet still in easy range to the YMCA, the Homeschool Co-op and Julee’s house. Yesterday we scored a bag of chocolate-chip cookies from Kathy’s friend … such advantages are not to be overlooked in choosing a home.

The older kids continue to pray that we could move back to the Duckabush, but my work situation does not seem to be moving toward a work-from-home arrangement. Truth be told, I am not so inclined to push for permission to telecommute now that I see how happy Kathy is, living in the suburbs. Of course, it is non-trivial to buy a home when we are already paying a mortgage on our home in the Duckabush … house prices in the area are up as interest rates continue to be low. I think that space is one of our biggest priorities, although proximity to a train station looms in my thinking.

Neither Kathy nor I are big savers, so coming up with a 20% down-payment is pretty much out of the question. One possibility is to take advantage of my eligibility for a VA loan … but the funding fee of 1.5% – 2.25% is a bit of a deterrent, and even there it would be to our advantage to come up with a substantial down-payment. I guess if God wants us to own a home rather than pay rent, He can work out the finances.

The train is fairly full today, although initially it seemed very empty when we started out in Tacoma. People must be tired … a much higher proportion of people are dozing than usual. Or perhaps they are just closing their eyes against the slanting rays of the sun, unaccustomed as we are to its glory.

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Daffodils and DVDs

After what seems an interminable stretch of warm and sunny days, this morning is cloudy and cool, and there is a rumor of this crazy wet stuff that falls from the skies (I think they call it ‘rain’). In spite of the universal cloud cover, sunshine bathes the slopes of The Mountain and illuminates the daffodil fields outside Puyallup to the delight of my eyes.


I woke at 4:50 this morning, wheezing and snurfling from my allergies, and spent some entertaining 40 minutes trying to get back to sleep, as the paper route lady with no muffler continued her plague of our street with her comings and goings. Eventually I gave up, and took solace in a long hot shower, only emerging when the water temperature began to fail. Whatever troubles may accrue in life, everything is more bearable when there is plenty of hot water.

I’ve been on-call this week, which was a source of some concern initially … I was worried that I wouldn’t know how to assign the tickets as they came in (finding who is responsible for a problem is a real challenge where I work). It has been a pretty quiet week, however, and I’ve only been paged a few times (and none at night). Today I hand off the duty to someone else, and I don’t come up for a turn again for several months.

Over the weekend I have been working on the much-delayed Wilderness Northwest 2004 Day Camp DVD, and so I didn’t take the kids on any kind of outing (except a brief walk around a nearby lake). I felt that I needed to stay near the house in case I was paged … as it turned out, this was an unnecessary precaution. If I hadn’t stayed home, though, it would be just my luck that I’d be off in some remote place and all kinds of trouble would break loose.

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I have five children, but they ride like a thousand.
I’m trying hard to finish the DVD before Easter … it is rapidly coming to the point that if I don’t finish soon, the video will be of little use to Jody and the camp. Initially I told Jody I hoped to finish by Thanksgiving, then Christmas and Valentines’ Day. Easter is pretty much my last fall-back position … beyond that, kids will already have signed up for the 2005 camp session. I don’t know how movie directors can stand to cut out all those good scenes … I’m trying to cut about 40 hours of video down to about 130 minutes, and it is a real challenge.

Over the weekend we attended a seminar on preventing child abuse and molestation at church … a required seminar for all those volunteering to serve with children’s ministries. A chilling and unpleasant topic, the seminar ran from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm Saturday, effectively monopolizing the day. On a more positive note, I had the opportunity to see an old friend and mentor who preached at Main Post Chapel on Fort Lewis, and to chat with him for more than half an hour after the service. We also attended the Concert of Prayer at church Sunday night, which was a lot more fun than I expected. Joshua, Rachel and Daniel joined us and were not afraid to pray out loud in their small groups … I was proud of them.

I always brace myself on Tuesdays, because it is the start of my week, now that I am working four-day work-weeks. But it is remarkable how quickly the weekend comes along again … working only four days is a privilege I am coming to really enjoy.

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Trains, Buses and Monorails

Allergy season has arrived with a vengeance again, and I have forgotten to take (or bring) my medication today. It could be a very long day … already I am sneezing uncontrollably and peering about blearily with red-rimmed eyes. It is funny how a few discomforts can focus the thoughts internally … it will be an interesting challenge to see if I can be cheerful and friendly today.

Last Monday I took the kids in to the ‘big city’ to the Children’s Museum in the Seattle Center for the day. We had planned to go to the Pacific Science Center but couldn’t find our membership card … both Kathy and I called to see if they would accept some other form of proof of membership, but they were adamant (and rather rude) in their refusal. I guess some museum curators don’t want anyone to actually use their museum, or perhaps they are a little over-vigilant in wanting to make money.

David was particularly excited about taking the train home. All the kids have been pestering me for an opportunity to ride on the train … my glowing reports of the joys of the Sounder commuter train have tantalized them for months. Not wanting to get up as early as commuters (the poor wretches), we took a bus in to Seattle, then another bus (through the bus tunnel) as far as Westlake.

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David kept us apprised of any Herbies that we passed.

We walked the rest of the way (about 15 blocks or so) to the Seattle Center. This proved to be a mistake … I should probably have taken a transfer and ridden the bus all the way through town. It was further than I had anticipated and several of the kids were tired by the time we arrived.

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Dancing and music and a picnic lunch

We ate our lunch inside the Seattle Center listening to some live music and watching some elderly couples dancing. There were perhaps eight to twelve couples with the average age well over 70. It was somehow very poignant to listen to the strains of Danny Boy and watch these brave souls step (or in some cases, shuffle) around the floor. Not an accomplished ballroom dancer myself, I was vaguely encouraged to see that some of them had still not learned to dance very well even after a lifetime of opportunity, while others moved with a grace that belied their years. I sat and imagined that some of them had probably been married more than sixty years, and wondered what Kathy and I will be doing when I am 86 and she is a young thing of 81. They danced for more than two hours (just finishing up when we came out of the Children’s Museum) which I thought was pretty impressive in terms of mere stamina.

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Joshua embarks on a brief career in broadcasting.

The kids enjoyed the Children’s Museum, although I thought it was not as nice as the one in Olympia. Many of the exhibits were damaged or dirty and a number of the moving parts were out of order. I suppose they get a much higher volume of visitor traffic at the Seattle Center than in the comparatively-sleepy Capitol district of Olympia. David provided some brief excitement by opening one of the alarmed exit doors, thinking it lead to another part of the exhibit. By apologizing abjectly, we managed to avoid a tongue-lashing, although David frowned for some time afterward, as he often does when embarrassed.

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A bunch of blue-tongued skinks

After finishing our tour of the Children’s Museum, we stopped at the food court for Icee drinks, universally choosing Blue Raspberry over boring old Cherry. Although we were tempted to ride the Ferris Wheel (in honor of the recent home-school reading of the story describing Mr. Ferris’ first attempt) I felt that David and Sarah might not enjoy the ride. We settled on a conventional Merry-Go-Round which was well-appreciated by everyone, even me.

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This might have been David & Sarah’s first merry-go-round ride.

We rode the monorail back to Westlake, which was a vast improvement over walking, and caught the bus back to the train station without mishap. Discovering that we were almost an hour early, I took the kids on a quick run through the Uwajimaya shopping center (an oriental grocery store and food court near my work) and introduced them to a favorite lunch choice (Pahd Thai with Orange Chicken). I had an entertaining few minutes trying to buy train tickets for the three oldest kids … the ticket machines wouldn’t accept my credit card and some of my dollar bills were very wrinkled. As the train pulled into the station, the kids started to panic, not realizing that the train would be sitting there for another fifteen minutes or so. Fortunately, I had enough quarters to buy the last ticket, and we boarded with relief.

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The monorail beats walking, any day of the week.

We devoured the Pahd Thai Chicken (if it hadn’t been for Daniel’s solicitous care, I wouldn’t have received any) and experienced only one mishap with an exploding Sprite. The other passengers looked on in hunger and envy, so I made the kids put the few remaining noodles away.

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We certainly would not have been welcome in the Quiet Car.

David seemed a little let down by the train … I think he expected to sit up front in the engine and to pull the steam whistle, wearing an engineer’s cap. He is an interesting little fellow … I could see his face twisting and frowning as he looked out the window, struggling with disappointment. He is usually very careful not to say anything that could be construed as ungrateful, having learned from his older siblings’ negative example. I come down pretty hard on anyone who vocalizes an ungrateful spirit, recently having taken a piece of cake away from Daniel at a family party for this very reason. I’m proud to say that he took after his Mama and spoke only cheerful things … he is a good boy, and well do I love him.

We eventually arrived in Tacoma, found our car and headed home. It was a full day of treats … the kids must have thanked me at least five times each on the way home. Kathy spent a good part of the day with her dear friend Julee, so I think I can say that a good time was had by all.

There is a strange but happy side-effect from these field trip days. While I love my children dearly, I am finding that the more time I spend with them on outings such as these, the more I want to be with them again, and the warmer my heart feels toward the little rascals. You might think that it would be a chore to spend the day with five little children, but I find it to be very fulfilling.

Being cooped up in the house with a bunch of bickering kids is no picnic, but spending comparable time out of the house on a field trip seems to introduce a very different dynamic, which is a delightful surprise. It probably doesn’t hurt that I ply them with treats and take them on adventures.

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Foreign Wives

Today the train seems empty, which is odd, considering it is a Friday. Although they promise clear skies today, a combination of low clouds and fog hides the sun. It is almost a relief to the eyes, after all these days of sunshine. I’ve actually heard people complain about the weather, saying things like “If I wanted weather like this, I’d live in California.” People are funny.

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Daniel loves to climb the tree in our front yard.

I’ve been reading in Ezra the last day or two, which chronicles one of the return parties from the 70-year exile in Babylon. The story starts out very cheerfully, with the Persian king granting permission to return, and supporting the endeavor with gifts and letters of authority. When Ezra arrived in Jerusalem, however, he found that a number of the existing Jewish leaders have taken foreign wives. Apparently this practice violated the covenant they had made with the Lord and had historically caused them to adopt the practices of the pagan people living in the lands around them.

Reading the last chapter of Nehemiah, I see that there was more to the story. Apparently a number of the children of these marriages could not even speak the Hebrew language, so thoroughly had they been assimilated into the local cultures. Additionally, the peoples of Moab and Ammon were explicitly excluded from the assembly of Israel, in accordance with Deuteronomy 23:3, because of those nations hostility to Israel when they returned from Egypt. Nehemiah writes that he even resorted to beating some of the men and pulling out their hair in an effort to shame them into doing what was right. Nehemiah seems to have been a real stickler for following the law … I must say that I like him and admire his courage. He seems to have had his enemies, though … throughout the book and four times in the last chapter Nehemiah calls on God to witness what he has done and to remember those who opposed him.

And yet Ruth was a Moabitess, and an ancestor of David. How strange are the ways of God!

Ultimately the men of Judah took an oath to ‘put away’ these foreign wives and their children; presumably sending them back to their non-Jewish relatives, with the aim of re-establishing their covenant with God and maintaining the purity of the ‘holy race’. It made me sad to think of the fathers explaining to their little children that they were ‘unholy’ and had to be sent away. I can’t help wondering if there wasn’t a better way to honor the holiness of God and to keep the covenant without breaking up these families, perhaps by offering up some expensive sacrifice or going through some exhaustive baptism ceremony? Wasn’t there a precedent for bringing aliens into the assembly of Israel, as was apparently done with Rahab and her entire family?

I’d have a hard time sending these three away, even if their Mom was an Ammonite.
(Picture from 1999.)

(I’ve often wondered if this same Rahab is the one mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, mother to Boaz. Now that I think about it, there would have been only three generations, to span the entire period of the Judges, which seems to have been more in the ballpark of 300 years. Not saying it couldn’t have been the same Rahab, but perhaps it was actually someone who was named after her.)

In Malachi 2:16 it is written, ‘”I hate divorce”, says the Lord God of Israel … ‘. Yet only a few verses before, Malachi also speaks against the practice of marriage outside the covenant. Is there is any application of this principle within the context of the New Covenant? What does God think of our nation’s now-commonplace practice of divorcing ‘the wife of our youth’ and marrying outside the faith?

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The wife of my youth with her new haircut.

Ultimately our relationship to God comes first, which may explain why Paul tells the Corinthians that if an unbelieving spouse wants to break up the marriage, we are to let them do so. Yet we also know that marriage is a picture of our relationship with God and is one of the few institutions established by God. I think it would have been very hard to live in the time of Ezra, and to make the choice to ‘put away’ a wife from outside the covenant. It makes me wonder if there are things in my life that, while similar to things that God blesses, are actually man-made substitutions from ‘outside the covenant’? Certainly a job can become like a ‘foreign wife’ if it is relied upon apart from God for provision, or if it becomes a God in itself. I can see how certain friendships might be ‘unholy’ and a believer might come to the point of ‘putting away’ those relationships which hinder them in their walk with God. Maybe I’m trying too hard to find application in this historical event.

Perhaps the essence of the application is that anything that lures us away from God (as happened with Solomon and his pagan wives) should be treated ruthlessly. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:30:

“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”

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One thing that constantly amazes me is the depth and beauty of God’s creation.

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Ordinary Faith

On Monday we celebrated ‘Field Trip Day’ again, only this time a little differently. I forgot my camera, and for that reason I must make do with recycled pictures from other days.

Rachel spent part of the weekend out at the Duckabush with her friend Leanne and my Mom. On Saturday evening, before she came home, Rachel called and asked if Leanne might be allowed to come to our house for the remainder of the weekend. Knowing that it would fall to me to make the three-hour round-trip drive to return Leanne to her home, I eventually (and rather reluctantly) agreed.

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David really enjoys his gymnastics class, offered at the local YMCA on Tuesday and Thursdays.

Last week in our Sunday school class we were talking about modeling servant-hood to our children, and I was convicted about the way that I talk about service in front of my children. Many times when I serve others it is after considerable persuasion and with little graciousness on my part … I identify closely with the son who said he wouldn’t go work for his father (and later did), in the parable Jesus taught. Our class discussed the use of a phrase like “I would love to do that for you!” or something similar. It is interesting to note that such language frees the served person from obligation to reciprocate and sends a clear message that this service is done as unto the Lord. In turn, this allows the served person to choose to reciprocate, which can rebound to additional blessing for them. Service is a choice, and there should be no question of hypocrisy … it just takes a moment to make up your mind that you will do it before you speak, so that you have time to decide to be glad about it.

Knowing that I would be seeing Leanne’s Dad (the director of Wilderness Northwest), I was determined to make some progress on the DVD of Summer Camp 2004 for that organization. I stayed up until 4 am burning a demo DVD for Jody’s review, and so we got a later start on our Field Trip than we usually do. My children had never been bowling before; I decided to take them bowling at Timber Lanes, conveniently located in Shelton, about half-way between Lakewood and the Duckabush.

Kathy packed us a lunch and shooed us out the door very patiently and graciously, considering we didn’t leave until noon. We swung by the bank to pay our monthly rent and ate lunch at a cool playground area adjacent to the bowling alley. Of course it began to rain just as we got there, but the kids were unfazed, shouting happily about the storm and the likelihood of pirates as they clambered about the play structure merrily.

We spent almost two hours bowling a single game, with Rachel, Daniel and David bowling against Joshua, Leanne and myself. They beat us handily with more than a 100-point margin … Joshua maintains that the bumper gates in the gutters gave them a considerable advantage, but I’m not so sure. David got several strikes and spares, routinely getting three and sometimes even four chances to knock down each set of pins. The machine had trouble registering his bowling ball, which crawled along at the speed of a lively glacier. Sarah ‘helped’ me and shouted with excitement every time my ball came up out of the ball return … “There’s my ball!” Sadly, she had to learn not to grab at the bowling balls as they came up out of the return the hard way, and spent several tearful minutes sucking her fingers on the bench. I was surprised at this, because Sarah is usually very cautious and listens closely when warned that something is dangerous. The proprietor of the bowling alley personally came down to our lane and gave all the kids a lecture about the hazards of the ball return machine. I guess I should have played it up a little more … sometimes I feign an injury (especially with something hot) while she is watching to give her a sense of healthy respect. We had the establishment almost entirely to ourselves, and it wasn’t too terribly smoky, about which I had been worried. A good time was had by all.

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Although Sarah technically is too young to join ‘Nastics, sometimes Kathy sneaks her in.

Eventually we tore ourselves away from the game, with many a regretful glance back toward the video arcade. I had bought each of the children a small pop at the bowling alley, which was a big hit, especially because we had not packed enough drinks for lunch.

We arrived at the Duckabush around 4 pm, and spent an entertaining 20 minutes watching video clips from the Camp DVD with Jody. Unfortunately, he had to take Leanne somewhere, and so we were soon left at our own devices. We swung by our old house (everyone needed to go to the bathroom) and decided to watch a movie, just for old time’s sake.

I called Kathy and asked her if she missed us … there was a long pause, and then she said, “Well, no.” The honesty somehow made me glad, although she called back about a half-hour later and said, “Now I miss you.” Of course, it is safe to miss us when we are 90 minutes away, heh heh. We ate a nutritious dinner of Hot Cocoa and Macaroni & Cheese, finished the movie and cleaned up … it felt good to be at the old homestead, even furnished with unfamiliar furniture and decorations.

Knowing that we couldn’t leave the valley without stopping in at the Bringhams, we dropped by “just for a few minutes”. I hadn’t reckoned with Tom’s crafty conversational wiles, though; we stayed for almost an hour, engaged in interesting discussion. We arrived at home around 9:30 pm, tired and happy, except for Daniel, who was tired but not particularly happy.

During the ride home, Daniel had slumped down across his seat and fallen asleep on the bench directly behind Joshua, who was sitting up front beside me in the passenger seat. Somewhere around Olympia, Joshua became weary and decided to put his seat back into the reclining position. Imagine Daniel’s surprise and dismay to wake up with his head trapped in smothering darkness, pinned to the seat. Wrenching his head free, he scraped the side of his face, and cried for some little while. As a claustrophobe myself, I can’t say I would relish (or even mustard) waking up in that situation.

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One place where Daniel really shines is in Homeschooling PE.

Wednesday evening I had a bit of an adventure … I heard on the news that the Sounder trains were cancelled due to some kind of labor relations problem with rail workers nationwide. I tried to get a bus schedule from Sound Transit’s website, but it was down, of course, due to the unusually large number of people probably doing the same thing. I was worried about the estimated 3000 extra commuters that would be piling onto the already-crowded buses … how could I manage to get a place on the bus? I envisioned hours of waiting at some bus stop, watching bus after bus pass by, each packed to the gills with irritable commuters. Not my idea of a fun way to spend a Wednesday evening.

I called Kathy to let her know that I wouldn’t be home any time soon, and she offered to call her good friend Julee to see if I could meet her husband somewhere in Seattle & carpool. Instead of being at his office in Seattle (where he was supposed to be) Colin answered the phone at his home in Lakewood (must have been working from home that day) and without missing a beat, responded, “Of course I’d be glad to pick Tim up!” He is a silly man, which is a big part of why we like him. I was tempted to call his bluff and ask him to drive the hour up to Seattle to fetch me home — but a clever person like that will always have a quick rejoinder. “Oh, I’d love to, but my sick grandmother just called, and needs me to take her to the hospital,” or something like that.

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Joshua would have come to pick me up, if he wasn’t too busy in his new role as environmental activist.

Eventually I found the bus route map I needed and hatched a clever plan to walk upstream from the usual bus stop to catch the bus before it filled with disenfranchised rail passengers. As I cut across the plaza near the train station, I caught sight of two police officers lounging against a fence. On a whim, I asked them if they’d heard any news about the trains, and they told me that Sound Transit had managed to get one train running. They didn’t seem very confident or knowledgeable, but I decided to nip across the street and glance down into the station to see if there was a train waiting … sure enough, there it was!

I dashed down the steps, nearly trampling a TV cameraman in the middle of an interview with the station master, and boarded the train with a full minute to spare before it departed. The Sounder was nearly empty … everyone else must have believed the news and taken the buses.

I think that spiritual life is like that many times … we get ourselves all worked up fearing or dreading some adverse situation, only to discover that our fear and dreading was unnecessary and that God had already made a way for us to have joy. I’ve continued to read Hind’s Feet on High Places to the older children at night, and a recent chapter described just this sort of thing. Little Much-Afraid is faced with a fearsome climb of the Precipice Injury, and nearly turns back out of dread. But when she actually climbs the mountain, she finds it is bearable and not nearly what she expected. The scriptures teach that without faith it is impossible to please God … when we give ourselves over to fear and dread about the future, we are not exercising any kind of faith. Strange … I always thought I had faith. Maybe I never had the ‘tell this mountain to go throw itself into the sea’ kind (Matt 17:20), but a respectable amount of the ordinary ‘we badgers, we hold on’ (C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian) kind of faith. These last two years have shown me how deficient I am. I think that a lot of my so-called ‘faith’ in God was really faith in myself — it just wasn’t revealed until I was tested. I think that true faith is, by definition, extraordinary. And yet there is honor and faith in quiet, steady holding on to the truth of who God is.

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And then there is ‘misplaced faith’, demonstrated by these children who thought they would live to reach the bottom of the stairs.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. — Hebrews 11:6

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