Category Archives: Making choices

Brain Research and Brain Dialysis

(By guest writer, Jane Anderson)

A few years ago, then President Obama approved $100M to start an initiative for study of the human brain. “There is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked,” Obama says.  No doubt! I, too, have been fascinated by the way my brain works [or doesn’t]. In fact, I’m often baffled by how people think. And just so you don’t get the wrong impression, I fit into that classification of people with sensible thoughts one moment and totally illogical thoughts the next. Try mind mapping that!

I’m not slamming the research project. I understand the mission behind it, which according to the White House “aims to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.” I get that. However, there’s a much more significant brain research project available that’s 100% free and has eternal benefits, except it’s a do-it-youself project that no one else can do for you, and it starts with this observation: What we think actually affects the health (or illness) of our brain! In a very real way, we become what we think about. Every act started as a thought – in the brain. “Right thinking leads to right doing.” No amount of brain research is going to alter that truth.

There is a map in our brains, and all paths stem from the initial thought. To act right, thoughts must be right. But, how can we clean up our map of wrong thoughts and get on the path of right thinking? How often do we get onto a path of wrong thinking—worry, pessimism, negativity—and then wonder why we can’t shake the despair?

Have you ever wished there was such a thing as dialysis for the mind?  I sure have.  I have a friend who has dialysis on a regular basis. I have zero medical expertise, but I know that in that process her dirty blood is drawn through a machine that cleanses it and puts it back. It’s a fascinating process. In dialysis, man-made equipment and procedures perform the life-preserving act.

However, when it comes to our minds, it’s all up to us! We have to take responsibility for cleaning up our minds (although we can have access to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us, of course).  Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” This is the ultimate dialysis for our minds! Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold, but instead be transformed by renewing your mind. It’s not easy, but renewing our minds is the only way to think rightly.

It would be a phenomenal achievement if my brain could be mapped with all the right paths deeply embedded so I don’t fall off the track. It would be so much easier if I could hook my brain up to a machine and have the contents cleaned up and put back while I do nothing but wait. What are your thoughts on that? Well, don’t think too long because that’s not how it works. You know…free will and all. We have work to do in our minds, in our hearts, and in our acts.

If we get the inside right the rest will take care of itself.  How can we focus on the right things, so our acts will be right? We have some clues in the Bible.  2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Let me assure you, if our thoughts are obedient to Christ, the maps in our brains will lead to acts that follow Christ and are good.  1 Peter 1:13-16 from the Message translation reads this way: “So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, ‘I am holy; you be holy.'”

Maybe you have it all figured out, but I don’t! I’m still working on spiritual dialysis and mapping my mind to right actions, and I don’t think this research project will ever be finished until the Lord takes me to heaven one day!

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

(Image of the brain from Wikipedia.)

 

Which School and The School for Scandal

So, this week I have kids and grand kids working hard at schools in Greece, Italy, Germany, California, and Michigan…home schools, public schools and private! And, guess what? Even Alan, Joel and I went to school! That’s right; we attended The School for Scandal in Canada. Sounds rather scandalous, doesn’t it?  Well, maybe I should backtrack a little. Jonathan is teaching in Athens, Mike and Grace are homeschooling in Italy, Jon and Gerlinde’s girls are in public school in Germany, Aaron and Carleen’s boys are involved in a private-homeschooling combination called Classical Conversations in California, and my daughter’s daughter has started school here in Michigan. So far, so good, as far as I know, and I hear they’re all settling in nicely at their very different venues. However, I wasn’t nearly as settled about attending The School for Scandal when Alan, Joel, and I went to Stratford for a weekend of plays. In fact, the name turned me off so much that if we hadn’t made a deal that each of us could choose one play, I would have balked big time.  Alan and I both wanted to attend Twelfth Night for sure, which we’ve seen and enjoyed for many years. It has a clever plot, lots of humorous lines, and a happy ending, where all’s well that ends well.  This year’s Stratford Festival (in Ontario, not England…if you look online for tickets, make sure you buy them for the right country! I almost didn’t!) marked Canada’s 150th anniversary, and according to artistic director, Antoni Cimolino, all the theatrical productions were chosen to explore identity issues…how “we prepare our face to the world, deal with our hidden desires or balance our self interests with the environment around us.”  Without a doubt, the humorous confusions of Shakespeare’s comedic Twelfth Night fit the bill perfectly.  Our second choice was Tartuffe, considered by some to be the French playwright, Molière’s, most brilliant creation. The play was a comedic exposé on hypocrisy, specifically showcasing the evil intentions of a self-effacing Catholic cleric. I’m not french, and I’m no expert in what the original language was, but I was woefully disappointed by the script, which had been translated from seventeenth-century French into contemporary English rhymes. I was sitting next to a young playwright from Toronto, who beamed over the cleverly adept translations, but some of them made me cringe. What I thought was going to be light-hearted humor turned out to be pretty distressing and distasteful. On the other hand, our third play, written by Irish playwright, Sheridan (The School for Scandal), which I was most wary of seeing, turned out to be mostly light-hearted fun but with a powerful lesson for all of us pupils: Stop gossiping and start learning true discernment of character! Great lesson! Long thought process short: It’s nigh unto impossible to know what’s really going on inside the brain and heart of someone else. Similarly, it’s nigh unto impossible to know what decisions someone else should make concerning how to school their children.  It’s more than enough challenge attempting to live transparent and wise lives personally. Let’s pray for others and support them, trusting they will make wise choices for themselves and their families. It’s something I learned (yet again) in a very unlikely place: The School for Scandal!

Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
(John 7:24).

Contrasting America and Africa: What Are You Looking For In A School?

A few days ago, I had the privilege of escorting a pair of darling twins home from their first day of school at a lovely, modern facility. I was there early, waiting a little anxiously with all the other parents who were wondering how their cherubs had done. Joshua came bursting out the exit door first, showed me his new lunchbox with its cool, flashing lights, and immediately asked if he could join in with the other children on the playground. Grace took forever. In fact, I had to ask several times where she might be, and eventually a teacher went back inside to find her. She’d gotten lost and wasn’t sure where to go. However, she seemed perfectly unworried and untraumatized (although I was a bit of both), and all the way home (which took close to 45 minutes through construction and rush hour traffic), she kept up a bubbly conversation about her day, what she ate, who she met, what she did, and what she was planning for the next day. Joshua, on the other hand, fell asleep! Their first day appeared to be a success, at least from the outside.

Last fall, while in Africa,  we visited a school in Swaziland  and brought the children lots of food, toys, and school supplies.  It was in a poor, rural village with a dirt yard  enclosed by barbed wire  and a big room with a concrete floor, which served all the children.  This was not a mission school,  so I was happy for the opportunity to share with the children  but had no particular expectations for what the children would be like  or what they would be learning.  After they excitedly helped unload the bus,  they played with us,  and we enjoyed watching them play.  The teachers had the children form lines,  and we helped pass out the supplies,  which made the children (and us) very happy.  And then, something unexpected happened!  The teachers had prepared the children to give
a little “thank you” performance for us!  The kids sang songs with their teacher in their language,  but they also sang Christian songs, like” Jesus Loves Me,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Amazing Grace” (in English),

and then one of the little girls did a wonderful job of telling the story of Jonah with a clear gospel message. She did such a great job it made me teary-eyed, and I marveled that at this little school deep in the heart of Africa, the gospel was going out to the world who were coming to them!  Isn’t that beautiful?Here in America, we take the knowledge of the gospel for granted, and in the public schools, teaching about God is actually suppressed. How sad! Instead of “freedom of religion” (no state-selected religion so that children of all faiths can practice their religion without being oppressed) it’s become “freedom from religion” (no religion allowed at all). Millions are going to schools where they do not learn about God. As you send your little ones off to school, I hope they will be learning about God and how to share His love with those around them!  In some ways, America may be darker than Africa at this point! If your children are not learning about Christ at school, I hope they’re learning about Him at home, and that you’re teaching them how to share his love with others at school.  As my spiritual big brother used to say, “Wherever you go, you’re either a missionary or a mission field.” What about you and your children? Are you preparing them to be missionaries in the dark and needy nations…everywhere “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates: That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth” (Deuteronomy 11:18-21).

(The first photo is not of “Joshua” from my story, but it’s the son of a dear friend, whose son is also just starting school. I know this little boy will be well taught at home, no matter where he goes to school! Thanks, Amy. 🙂  )

The Life of Bri

Every once in a while I meet someone so special that I just have to share about them. The life of Bri is extremely different from The Life of Pi (even though Bri does love pie), but to me—it’s much more heroic! Brian came into our family’s life when he and my son Daniel sat by each other in a college class; Daniel was the youngest student (14?) and Bri was the oldest (44?).

Since that time, Daniel has become a dentist and Brian earned his PhD in pharmacology, but to this day we’re all still good friends. About 10 years ago, Brian (“Bri”) brought a peach pie to our home for a potluck, and Alan was so delighted with it that Bri started a tradition of bringing us two peach pies every August when the peach crop ripened. And then, about three years ago, he didn’t come. I learned later that his father had passed away, leaving him as the sole care-giver for his very aged mother. He no longer had any time to make pies (or do much of anything fun, for that matter), and so I’ve started making a peach pie for Bri each August!

Yesterday he came over for this year’s edition. His mom (who’s now not only frail and can’t walk but is also becoming demented) was delighted to hear that he was going to visit “Mrs. Peaches” and asked if they could have the pie for supper. You bet!  🙂

The truly touching thing to me is to see Bri’s devotion to his mom. He’s put aside everything that he enjoys and said that his goal is to be successful in taking good care of his mom for as long as he can. This is the polar opposite of The Life of Pi, which was filled with adventures. The Life of Bri is filled with quiet unadventures.

(Maybe I should back up just a bit. Bri had cancer at age twenty-three, and although the radiation treatment cured him, he’s suffered a lot of side effects, like kidney failure, etc. He’s now lived longer than anyone who’s ever had the disease and treatment he underwent, but life is very challenging for him even without the added difficulties of trying to care for his infirm mother!)

I am in awe of those amazing people who give up everything to care for others. Bri is one; Maggie and her daughter Em are another duo, who are giving way above and beyond to keep their husband/father in their home, even though he’s lost virtually all ability to move from his neck down. To a lesser extent, but still heroic, is the devotion of every parent to their children and the devotion of every person who cares for others. Mother Teresa is one supreme example, and to me, Jesus is the ultimate example. He laid down his life so that anyone who believes in him may have forgiveness and eternal life! May God bless and encourage each one of you who is sacrificially loving others for their well-being! It’s a God-work!

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Praise God for The Zookeeper’s Wife

If you haven’t seen The Zookeeper’s Wife  and aren’t totally over traumatized by studying World War 2,
please consider watching it. It’s the true story of Antonina and Jan Żabiński,
who were keepers of the Warsaw Zoo  and lived lives of incredibly risky heroism
to save Jewish people during Hitler’s regime.  Alan and I first discovered The Zookeeper’s Wife when it came out
as an audio book (from our public library, about ten years ago),  but it’s come to life in 2017 in an even more profound way
as a PG-13 historical drama. Often if you’ve already read the book, the movie isn’t very compelling
because it’s too changed from its original content,  but I felt like the movie version of The Zookeeper’s Wife
retained the authentic story line.  In the Holocaust Museum in Poland, the Żabińskis are listed
as some of the “righteous among the nations”  because they protected hundreds of Jewish people, using their home
as a safe house until safer housing could be found.  The role of Antonina is played by Jessica Chastain,
who’s been nominated twice for an Academy Award.  In one interview, I heard her say that ultimately, the story is “about hope,
about family, and about love. Love will always be there and you can find it.”

I praise God for the incredible bravery of those who will protect the innocent                                          in the unending fight for good over evil.        “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

(Photo Credits: Images 1, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15 are from various internet sources [some of which are listed or inscribed on the images]. The rest are mine, taken while watching the movie. There is one scene with gratuitous nudity in the context of the couple’s marriage, but it can be fast-forwarded without losing any critical dialogue.)

Rise Up, My Love (248): Are We Willing Workers?

Song of Solomon 7:12 “Let us get up early to the vineyards.” First, we see that the bride desires to begin immediately…to be up and away early in the morning. Second, let’s consider where she wants to go, i.e. the vineyards. We learn in chapter 8:11-12 that Solomon had vineyard in Baalhamon and that his wife also had a vineyard, perhaps at Baalhamon or nearby.

The word Baalhamon means “possessor of abundance,” and although there is no known location for such a place, it is generally held that either symbolically or in reality, it refers to a place where the fruits were exceptionally fine. The wife’s invitation in 7:12 does not mention any location by name; she just says “the vineyards,” as if her husband will know exactly what she’s talking about. Perhaps she meant their mutual vineyards at Baalhamon, or perhaps she was speaking generically of the entire nation’s vineyards, but in either case she was definitely thinking of vineyards for which she felt they bore some responsibility, and she was eager to know if they were prospering.  Vineyards were very important in Israel, and there are several passages in Scripture which parallel “working in the vineyards” with laboring spiritually to produce a harvest of souls. In Matthew 20:1 we read, “For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.” This is a parable where it is clearly stated that Jesus is speaking about God’s spiritual “kingdom”… and what did the man do? He “rose up early” like the bride in order to tend his “vineyard.” This is an example for us to follow. We too, like the bride and the diligent husbandman, should be willing to make the sacrifices necessary in order to get up and get going early to tend the Lord’s business!

Then, there is the parable in Matthew 21 about the man who asked both his sons to work in his vineyard, but only one went. What was our Lord teaching us through that story? He was teaching us that the God who said, “Look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35) has also called us to “go ye therefore, and teach all nations…to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Our Lord’s heart cry is for us to go, go, go and preach the gospel, making disciples of all who are willing…to work in his vineyards! Are we going? Are we sharing at home, at school, at work…wherever we go?  As Jesus taught us: “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35).Not long ago someone reminded me that in the parable about the sower, the sower wasn’t criticized for scattering seed on rocky soil, he was commended for scattering the seed liberally everywhere. It wasn’t his job to drill tiny holes only in fertile rows, but to scatter the seed! We have the “seed” (the Word of Life), and God wants us to share it with everyone. What they do with it is their choice, but everyone deserves a chance to hear the gospel. Don’t be afraid of being rejected, rejoice in that there is good news of great joy for anyone who has ears to hear!

Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (James 1:22)

(Grape vines photos are from Italy; the wheat and hay fields from Washington.)

Buckle Up for Safety!

I’m not exactly sure what the laws are in Michigan, but I do know children have to ride in car seats, so I (quietly) freaked out when I discovered that my three little grand daughters arrived at the airport without car seats. Several options flashed through my mind: A. Smuggle them home riding low and loose in the backseat  B. Buy three new car seats at a store and rush back to the airport while they waited, or C. Try to rent some car seats at the airport. Option A was illegal and unsafe, so that was out. Option B was too costly and time consuming. That only left Option C, which we decided to do. Of course, none of the car rental agencies would rent me car seats without renting a car for 24 hours, but I saved $50 for insurance by leaving the car parked on the lot and just using the car seats in my car.

This morning bright and early I returned the car seats to the rental agency at the airport while the children slept, and all was well! (We had some car seats in our attic, which Joel got down for me last night, but he had been at work when the girls arrived, and I don’t have the arm strength to climb into our attic.) In a way, it seemed like a big expense (over $100) for a 20-minute trip home, but it was the right decision, even though it was costly.

I’ve never been in a serious accident, but what if yesterday I had been, and one of the children got injured? I would never forgive myself! What if I’d been stopped by the police? I have no clue what would have happened, but I’m sure the fine would have exceeded $100, and I might have ended up in jail…definitely an ignominious way to end a family vacation!!

There are times in life when for some reason (maybe even a simple misunderstanding) we end up in a tight spot and are tempted to cut some corner or take some risk we know we shouldn’t. Our well being, integrity, and reputation are worth more than our money. May we always remember that!

Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.” (Ecclesiastes 10:1)