Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Continuing the last post.

In an effort to focus my mind on Him, and to allow the Lord's people to speak to me (even as they 'sleep'), I have been re-reading Thomas a Kempis' The Imitation of Christ as part of my devotional reading. It has been exactly what I have needed. Sometimes I try to dive into certain books, only to have them bounce off my chest and never make it into my heart because the time was wrong to read them. I love those happy occasions when the Lord's people launch words of wisdom that penetrate like an arrow right into my heart, piercing and then, somehow healing in their wakes as they shoot through. The last book I read that had that effect was Burroughs' book on Contentment, which changed my life.

An excerpt that has pierced me:

O, how swiftly passes the glory of the world! Would that their life had been in agreement with that which they knew. Then they would have studied and read well. How many perish through empty learning in this world, and care little for the service of God. And because they choose rather to be great than humble they fade away amidst their own speculations. He is truly great who has great love. He is truly great who is small in his own eyes and holds as nothing every peak of honor. he is truly wise who holds all earthly things as trash, that he may make Christ his gain. And he is truly learned who does the will of God, and abandons his own will.

I've had chances to go forward in the things that mean something to this world system. I give God the glory that I have been able to resist these temptations, or that they have been removed from me by various circumstances. God knows my weakness to find my worth in things that have nothing to do with the fact that He is coming, and that I need to be found in obedience to Him when He does, that I need to give account for every moment of my life. Perhaps I am even going to learn this lesson again. Perhaps I will learn all about medical illustration and still have to find a job as a dental assistant or something. If I look upon this whole experience as a trial sent of God (and not merely a gracious gift of His), I can do well in this. Help me, O Lord Almighty, to be found in your service!

Recently I was reading in Luke 4 concerning the temptation of Christ in the desert. The last temptation was the greatest one, for it touched upon the very thing that Christ wanted most: to have the world in subjection to Him-- yet, what a cost! and what a cheat, for it would actually have been in subjection to Satan! Matthew Henry writes that the pinnacle of the Temple was the highest position-- and it is in the highest positions we attain that there is the greatest temptation. Satan exalts us to cast us down, but Christ casts down to exalt. Help me, Christ, to go with you in being cast down, that I may be raised by none but Your hand at the Last Day!

I have printed out this verse to keep by my drawing board:

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Another Horizon.

Had a busy week, both activity-wise and thinking-wise.

I've begun an internship with a medical illustrator at the university vet school here. Medical illustration is "simply" portraying medical and anatomical visual information in hand-done, extremely accurate pictures using a variety of techniques. It's what I've wanted to do all my life, and now, somehow bizarrely, after 25 years of marriage and child-rearing, I'm going to actually do it.

This has been a long, long road for me. When I left Boston University, I had two places call me for immediate interviews: one was the Lahey Clinic in Boston, which specialises mostly in cancer treatment, and at the Smithsonian in D.C. , which wanted a book designer. My father almost flipped when he fielded the calls for these interviews. I hadn't solicited them. But I'll tell you what did make him flip: when I told him neither one would be in the offing because I had a man to marry. He was very, very angry with me. Even my mother wondered aloud if my education hadn't been a waste of time. But I was too happy for it to bother me, and I still am. No job could possibly have been as worth it as the one I have had serving Rich.

Still, I often wondered if I would ever have a chance to make a go of the thing in my life. When we moved here, I actually called the university to find out if there was any chance I could do some studying with the illustrators there at the vet school. There wasn't. I interviewed at a graphic design firm for a part-time job, and they offered me a full time one, which I felt I had to turn down, wanting to be with my son. And that was a relief, in a way: it freed me to stay with my year-old son without feeling like I had to have "career accomplishments". I really was content to stay at home. I could go slowly through life, and concentrate on doing one thing well: home life. It suited me.

As the years rolled by, I heard from many people that I "really should" be doing something with my art. Off and on I would try, but I never really had the heart for it. There always seemed to be something more that I ought rather to be doing. Laundry, ironing, bathrooms, laundry, cooking. Reading! Talking to my hubby. Some of my friends even pressured me, but it was not time.

This past year, with my youngest as a junior in high school and beginning to look at colleges, and my oldest in his junior year of college, I began to think of how I might use my time in other ways. Getting through the housework was no longer that hard; I could pretty much accomplish it in a couple of days every week. In a wild, rather random thought, perhaps even a little desperate, I called the university again, and to my astonishment was told that an internship was a real possibility.

And so here I am, with my own space in a college full of vet-to-be folk, friendly scientists, down-to-earth veterinary professors, and one extremely kind, erudite and dapper professor who is going to walk me through doing medical illustation. I showed him some slides of what I did 25 years ago, and I fear he has rather high expectations of me, which I keep warning him about. But I can hardly believe I'm doing it. All the people who would be whooping anf hollering (besides me, of course) are dead: My father. My mother. My art anatomy professor from B.U., Jack Kramer, who referred me to a dentist in Boston for whom I did my first illustrations. And probably at least one if not both my painting professors, who barely knew what to do with me because I wasn't going in a direction they were familiar with...

May I be worthy of them all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Vanity and Humility

A young believer is plagued by the nagging thought that she is worthless and hopeless, "lame, stupid and unenjoyable". She wonders why it is that "I just don't get why I am such a pathetic person, and yet He has stooped down and put His hand over my life. Praise God! He is truly good, and I will never get my hands around that."

Praise God, indeed! And if you keep trying to get your head around that truth, my young padawan, you will find it stretching to do so, and able to grip more and more of it over your lifetime.

There is both vanity and humility in these thoughts. The vanity is a deadly danger, the very one that brought that shining angel Lucifer down to Hell. The humility is the gracious, God-given ability we all need from God to be able to call on Him.

The vanity is this: We all want some worth apart from God. We want to be able to regard ourselves as having some self-gotten, intrinsic value independent from God that makes us worthy to have been chosen of Him. We just have a hard time with the fact that if there is any good in us at all, it doesn't come from us but originated from the One Who made us in the first place. If we are artistic, it is because God has bestowed that gift on us. If we are responsible and careful, it is because God has made us that way. If we are at all pretty to look at, we had nothing to do with it.

The humility is this: If we have any value, it is because God ascribes it to us in that from all eternity He made a place for us in His plan, and brought us forth at just the right time with all the right equipment, and gave His own life shielding us, His chosen ones, from the consequence of our rebellion. Humility realises the obligation we have to use our artistic talents, our common sense and carefulness, our looks even, to serve him as we have been equipped. What soldier, after all, takes the sword and shield he has been given to fight his master's battles, to make himself a name apart from the one he serves? The righteous soldier fights valiantly, making himself a name of fealty and honor and valor in his Lord's cause. If he gathers himself and army to rally under himself and departs to conquer himself a name, will not the master go out to war against him as a traitor?

Look at your equipment, young believer, modest or weighty as it may be, as it has been given you. Yes, make a name by the way you use it, but let yourself be known as one who uses it in valor for the Lord's cause, for it is He Who has equipped you.

"I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure."
Luke 10:19-21

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Look up into the stands...whom do you see cheering for you?

"These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Hebrews 11:39- 12:1

As my husband was running this morning, he told me, he had a neat thought. Thinking on this verse, it occurred to him that his dad was among that great cloud of witnesses, cheering him on in the ministry work he does today. My father-in-law became a believer while in the throes of Alzheimer's. He saw the Jesus Film one day with my husband, and somehow it got through to him the horror of the whole thing. My husband explained that it had had to happen to take away our sins. Would he like to ask God to take away his sins and be made clean because of Jesus Christ? He would, and then he did. And then the window of consciousness closed again. But eternal life had begun.

For those of us in this world who feel like orphans surrounded by family members who do not know the Lord, the ability to think on even just one believer, even a distant ancestor, in the family can be a huge encouragement. Such believers are a family heritage, more precious than the material heirlooms that might be handed down to us to help tell us who we are and where we belong. They point us to what all the families of the earth are supposed to be about in the first place.

My mother came to the Lord late in life, but her life was a changed thing afterwards. I have a great-great aunt who gave up a comfortable, predictable life in Norway to come to the US to minister to the Norwegian seamen far from home on voyages. She founded a hospital in Brooklyn that still stands. My great-grandfather weathered the loss of a wife, and small son from cholera on board a ship he captained only through his faith in the sovereignty of God and His eternal goodness. There are others who might have been believers, but their faith was not something I beheld first hand, or heard of.

I pray that I will leave some writing behind that will encourage some discouraged young descendant some day to persevere in the faith, to keep his or her eyes on the prize. Oh God, give me a voice that they can hear in their race, and help me to use it to point to You!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Why Are They So Surprised?

An article from CNN on the stigma of smoking and cancer:

"When people get breast cancer, people say, 'What can I do to help you?' When people get lung cancer, people say, 'Did you smoke?"' said Susan Mantel, executive director of Joan's Legacy, a fund-raising group named for Joan Scarangello, a nonsmoker and former head writer for newsman Tom Brokaw. Scarangello died in 2001 of lung cancer, as did her nonsmoking mother before her.
"There is a definite stigma," said Labrecque, recalling comments after the funeral for his father, a former chairman of Chase Manhattan Corp.
"People would say, 'I didn't know he smoked,"' he said.
His foundation's Web site even acknowledges this trend, by stating that more than half of people newly diagnosed with lung cancer each year have either never smoked or quit smoking.
Doctors who treat the disease, like Dr. Bruce Johnson of Dana-Farber Cancer Center in Boston, bristle at the notion of "innocent" and "not so innocent" victims.
"People who smoke don't deserve to get lung cancer, and people have worked very hard to quit," he said.
Nonsmokers who have surgery for their cancer have a lower risk of developing a second tumor than smokers. Also, smokers who quit after cancer surgery have better survival odds, he noted.
Nonsmokers also respond better to Iressa and Tarceva, said Dr. Alan Sandler, director of thoracic oncology at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, who has been involved in testing these new-generation drugs that more precisely attack the molecular factors making these cancers grow.
"The malignant cell in a smoker is much more complex" and has more mutations than nonsmokers tend to have, Sandler said.
Researchers now are studying whether nonsmokers do better in general on chemotherapy than smokers, he said.
Meanwhile, the cancer society is hoping for an eventual decline in lung cancer cases to mirror the decline in smoking rates.
"Cigarette consumption is down where it was at the start of World War II. About 1 in 5 people are current smokers," Thun said.
"Lung cancer death rates have fallen 17 percent in men from 1990 to 2002. Both incidence and death rates have leveled off in women, so we are turning the corner."
As for stigma, he would rather see it on those who sell cigarettes than those who use them.
"If there's blame to go around, most of the blame falls on the tobacco companies," Thun said.

My only comments are, Why are doctors so surprised when people assume that lung cancer is a natural outcome of smoking? Lung cancer, by itself, was not a common disease before tobacco came into the culture we live in. Now that it has, tobacco is well-documented as having harmful and addictive properties. People ought to know-- and this article makes it fairly evident that they do know-- that if they fool with tobacco they can expect certain consequences. Why shouldn't we assume that if a person has lung cancer that 80% of the time it is because they smoked, or were around alot of smoke? And why shouldn't we assume that that person was stupid to smoke?

Both my parents smoked, and both died from lung cancer. I spent alot of time around cigarette smoke as a kid, and today I have a strong tendency towards bronchitis whenever I get sick. It's possible, that even though I have't been around smokers for 30 years, I could still get lung cancer. Why should I be upset if someone assumes that if I do get cancer, I was or am a smoker and it's my own fault? There should be a stigma to smoking, but obviously, only for those who have a choice about it. And everyone who smokes has a choice about it. It's the folks who put up with it who do not. If I do not smoke and had no choice about inhaling it as a kid, why should I get upset if some dumbbell thinks it was my own fault if I get cancer? After all, I have no problem saying that my parents were pathetic tobacco addicts who paid the ultimate price, and that I still may be paying part of that price. They were human beings, and they were weak. But they were responsible for their habits, not tobacco companies.

I also had a friend who died as a young woman from lung cancer. You'd never guess she would have, either: she was a health freak who biked about six miles to school and back every day, brilliantly intelligent and gentle, and decided to be a sheep farmer in Vermont, living out in the fresh air and having lots of outdoors activity. She died before age 35. Not a smoker. She would not have been upset to hear that people thought she smoked. She probably would simply have set them straight, that not all who get lung cancer are smokers. Then, likely she would have told people not to ask for the un-asked-for trouble she got by smoking like fools.

Making tobacco companies responsible for lung cancer in smokers is like making car manufacturers responsible for speeding and car accidents. We know how to operate the things; if we do stupid things in cars we die. Our responsibility. I have no problem on placing a stigma on idiots who drive poorly. And if my kids get killed because of doing something stupid with a car, I will cry not because they were "victims", but because they were stupid enough to not value their lives as I value them.

Death is a tragic waste, but we have more power to avoid it than we like to think.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A View of the West from the East

This isn't about red and blue states.

Vignette #1: My husband attends a scientific conference where he meets a Saudi scientist. They cordially exchange ideas, my husband offers his help on some problems, and they part with a friendly handshake. As my husband turns away, out of the corner of his eye, he notices the Saudi wipe off his hand uncomfortably on his robe. Nothing personal, you understand, but non-Muslims are.... dirty.

Vignette #2: A Bollywood movie. I love these interminable, silly song-and-dance soap operas from India, but they can be deeply telling with regard to attitudes. In one scene, a son disgustedly finds his father in a nightclub where bikini-clad girls are dancing. The father is leering at the girls. He says, This is great! Look at that! Nude women! His son spits, I don't want to look at that! Observation A: What we call bathing attire, Easterners call nudity, and see it as shameful exposure. Observation B: None of the dancing women are Indian. They are all Western.

Taste and See

Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. "Do not be afraid, O man highly esteemed," he said. "Peace! Be strong now; be strong." When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, "Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength." Daniel 10:18-19

It's hard to put my finger on why this passage touched me so this morning. Perhaps it's simply the reminder that what God wills, He also enables and brings to pass. These words of the Lord aren't just a command, they are an effective pronouncement. Sort of like that other pronouncement:

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. Mark 4:39

or, this one, which comes to mind:

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." Luke 24:36

So sure are these pronouncements that they go beyond mere well-wishing-- they have already happened. We can act on them. When He tells me to be strong, I must behave as though the strength is already there, for He does not tell me to do what there is no ability to do. When He tells me, "Peace be unto you", that peace is there and available. I must make use of it. He is telling me what is on my plate, and to eat.

Oh Lord above, help me in faith to taste and see that You are all goodness, life and strength! Help me to see all that is on my plate, and do what you tell me to do.

Monday, August 01, 2005

One more time...

OK, try this one. I scored 76 out of 87, which surprised me.