Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Joys (which include official wedding pictures)

Sundays are officially my favorite days of the week. Lunch with friends, calm afternoon, and tonight, hike and dinner with different friends. And a morning of solid teaching, in both Sunday school and the service. Our Sunday school class is taught by Tom Gardner, a poetry professor from Virginia Tech, so it's kind of like taking Sunday school from Beth Impson or Whit Jones. I'm learning so much about the Gospel of John. He actually just finished a book on John, which is on our Christmas list.

image via Baylor University Press

To top this weekend off even more, our wedding pictures are finished! The fabulous Kelly Davie has a sneak peek of them on her blog. I love how some are so obviously film instead of digital. I can't wait to see the rest of them. Great job, Kelly!

Image by Kelly Davie

Friday, September 23, 2011

Everybody Bakes Bread

My mother used to read me this book when I was a little girl, and we both still call it a favorite: Everybody Bakes Bread, by Norah Dooley. It's about a neighborhood in which everyone inside on rainy Saturday is baking bread, of all ethnicities. Pitas, challah, cornbread... The story is charming, and the recipes are included!
Image via

For the past few weekends, this has been the story of our home: everybody bakes bread. Well, just Andrew and me. Even though my mother is an avid and gifted bread-meister, I have never baked bread. Pies and cookies and biscuits, yes. Bread, no. My first attempt was a simple Victorian milk bread. I didn't know that my oven is unusually hot, so I accidentally overbaked it. I so wish my camera wasn't sick, but for now, we'll rely on borrowed pictures. My bread looked like this -- except overdone thanks to my sneaky oven, and my lack of dilligent watching. I wasn't thrilled, but it tasted good, and I suppose the fact that it rose and baked golden brown should be encouraging for a first try.

image via

You can bake it in this distinctive S-shape, or braid it.

The next weekend, I attemped a Turkish flat bread called ekmek, made with honey and olive oil. This turned out slightly better, as it is supposed to be crispy and crusty. It was particularly good with an olive oil dip. Yum!

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I came home from work earlier this week to a house that smelled of cinnamon rolls -- or so I insisted. Andrew declared the only thing in the works on the stove was a pot of beans he'd been soaking. No. I smell cinnamon rolls. I asked him to walk to the mailbox with me so he'd notice the smell when he walked back inside. Huh. I do smell something like that, but I don't know what it is. Then, I discovered a pan of rolls and loaf pan with dough rising in it. That sneaky man made bread! I had no idea he knew how; apparently his grandmother taught him. And, of course, his bread was better than mine.

Image via

He made the rolls in cloverleafs, which makes them so delightfully soft and nice to pull apart.

Don't worry. I'll get better.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wednesday Book Review Part Two: The Kite Runner

I really don't know why I picked up this book to read; it's not my usual style. I bought it for a dollar off the library's sale table -- and I'm glad I did.

File:Kite runner.jpg
Image: Wikipedia

Set in Afghanistan's recent history, from the 1960s to the early 2000s, The Kite Runner is the story of Amir, a privileged young man whose greatest desire in life is to please his successful, athletic father. As this leads to an deep division between 12-year-old Amir and his best friend and servant Hassan, and as the tumultuous political climate of Afghanistan drives Amir and his father to America years later, the adult Amir is forced into a life of courage and selfless love -- ways he has never chosen to act before.

The New York Times Book Review calls this book both "haunting" and "powerful," according to the front cover of my copy. For once, The New York Times is dead on. Hosseini's subject is painful, excruciating even, and he does not flinch from portraying the hurt of his people. He also does not flinch from a deeper theme of redemption. Instead of taking the easy and obvious path to hoplessness and self-pity, Hosseini, like Amir, chooses to write with courage, to take his story to a place of redemption. Though Amir has lived a life in the shadow of his father, a life of depending on others to fight his battles and take care of him, he is given a chance to fix what he destoyed at age twelve. He is given one chance, one phone call, one opportunity -- and he takes it, though it leads him to terrifying situations and places, he does not shirk from the duty he is called to. A boy of fear and hatred becomes a man of courage and love.

Equally moving to my heart was Hosseini's portrayal of the Afghani people. I am an American and a Christian, and I have never given a thought to the pain of Afghanistan. I have never given a thought to their suffering, their poverty, their humiliation and fear at the hands of the Taliban. God forgive me for my selfishness, for not loving my fellow man.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Review Part One: How to Buy a Love of Reading

The consequence of having a husband in medical school is that I have a husband who studies all the time. Which is exactly what he's supposed to do, being in medical school... but it also means I'm curled up beside him on the sofa, him with his laptop and me with a book. I never complain about a circumstance that leaves me curled up with a book.

My two most recent reads have been How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

Image via:
her review here

I picked this book off the library shelf entirely because of its cover and title. I do, I hate to say, often judge a book by its cover.

This is a novel for those who love books, about a girl who hates to read ("Never met [a book] I liked"). Set in the land of Gatsby, and continually referring back to Fitzgerald, this novel revolves around a community of families so fabulously wealthy that they have everything they could want -- and none of them are content. The story centers around Carley, a poor student, an overweight and unpopular disappointment to her obsessive mother, whose parents hire a writer to craft her a novel for her sixteenth birthday, a book she has to love. They intend to buy her the love of reading.

Gibson takes Carley, her best friend Hunter Cay (the community's golden boy and aspiring writer who falls continually deeper into the pit of alcohol and drugs), and Bree McEnroy (the struggling and bitter author hired by Carley's parents) on a dark and painful pathway through the hidden sins of the elite upper class and the elements of story until they each uncover their own selves. This is a story about stories: the ones we live in, the ones we love to read, and the ones we make up to ignore the truth around us.

I kept reading through to the end because I was curious how Gibson would save her characters, who all seemed to be drowning while trying to find themselves, and trying to save each other at the same time. Gibson seems to stereotype the upper crust, giving them the life as seen on television: nothing but alcohol, drugs, sex, and secretly hating one another and themselves -- and no one to save them but themselves.

More than the search for self, I saw in this novel a deep, painful cry for something more. Perhaps it's foolish and naive of me to say, but I kept thinking the whole time I was reading, these people need Jesus so badly. In the search for themselves, these characters destoy themselves. Hunter spends the entire book under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both. None of the husbands love their wives; none of the wives love their husbands; none of the children love their parents. This is a book of wounded souls searching for themselves -- they have nothing but their own selves, their own sins and guilt, the knowledge that they are broken and cannot fix it. Gibson gives them nothing but clever satire, a finished story for Carley, some deep literary metaphor that will not satisfy.

Gibson's novel seems intent on proving her own cleverness. And yes, she is witty, and the story is compelling. But to me, Gibson's novel proves her own blindness, her own foolishness. Her characters are hopeless, and she leaves them hopeless. No matter how much more they know or love themselves four hundred pages later, she still left them in the deepest darkness.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Towers, Crosses, Thoughts, Hopes

Our pastor challenged us this morning, as he does every Sunday morning, to examine our lives and hearts to see if we are living like the gospel is real. That's all he teaches, and all we need to hear: the gospel, over and over. I forget it every day.

The events of September 11, 2001 were horrific, the wicked product of minds twisted by sin and hate. When Andrew and I were in New York City in July, we went to Ground Zero, and to the church across the street that is much more a memorial to that time in history than the fenced-off corner of construction. Our hearts broke for our country, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, our shared pain and grief.

But we who proclaim the name of Christ cannot live in grief, cannot stop there. We have a hope beyond this world; our hope was never in this world, this country, this present anything. We must live always for what ultimately matters. Yes, that means mourning and loving -- of course! But we do so because of a much greater purpose in life. We live for Christ, not for our own reputations, our own comfort, pleasure, success, or glory. We live for Christ, and so live in disgrace and shame in the world's eyes. We live for Christ, and die to self. At least, we must if we are to follow Him fully.

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
Mark 8:34-36

Jesus said this to the whole crowd, not just his disciples. Anyone who would follow him must daily take up his cross. Living so completely for Jesus is not just for the Pauls and Peters and Stephens and Martin Luthers of Christianity -- we are all called to such a radical life, all called to live completely for Him every day. In our normalcy, in our daily jobs and shopping and cleaning and bill-paying, we live completely for Him, doing all things not unto ourselves.

Of course we can't do this on our own. Of course we hurt and struggle and fail and sin. Of course. But our hearts yearn for Him instead our ourselves, and that makes all the difference. We live by faith, not by the law. Our hearts yearn for his glory more than our own reputation, more than our country's victory, more than comfort or pleasure or happiness. And one day, the pilgrim days will be over.

Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
Think what Father's smiles are thine,
Think that Jesus died to win thee...
"Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken"
words by Henry Francis Lyte

Saturday, September 10, 2011

New every morning

Marriage is an incredibly stretching state of living.

Duh. You could've learned that from ... well, anywhere. Even diehard singles know that marriage is hard and full of newness. Some days, marriage is nothing but new things.

The past two months have been for me, the two best and most deeply difficult and painful months I have ever experienced or struggled through. And yet, slowly, in the smallest and sweetest of ways, God loves me continually, unceasingly, patiently. He breaks, and He mends.

Today has been a sweet Saturday, full of good newness.

1. Andrew and I both ate our very first Chick-Fil-A breakfast this morning, along with new favorites from Starbucks: a salted caramel mocha frappe for me, and a pumpkin spice latte for him. We took our spoils to a town park and ate them under a blue, blue sky.


2. I buy books and they sit on my shelf for ages before I finally decide to buck up and read them. Today was such a day: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, bought at a library sale for a dollar. It is a painful story, full of sin and hurt; it made me cringe and want to walk away, but I am holding on, hoping for redemption. East of Eden is, after all, a dark story about sin, but so much more and deeper than that also.
The Kite Runner

3. Homemade bread! My mother is a whiz in the kitchen, and has the gift of baking bread. I have no idea if I have inherited this coveted trait (I had a momentary lapse of memory and forgot how to braid when I had my three nice ropes of bread dough laid out), but my kitchen sure smells good!


4. And, like every day, God's sweet mercies are new to me today. The gospel is new to me today, because I have forgotten it since yesterday. Tomorrow, I will begin again, learning and re-learning the sweet truth that God Himself died because He loved me more than He hated my sin, loved me more than the life of His Son, loves me enough to daily give me mercy and grace, loves me enough to daily sanctify me to be like Himself, as an earthly father gently builds his children to be like him. And the great comfort is that He promises that one day, all the sad things will be untrue, and I shall be fully sanctified, fully the image and daughter He means me to be. Then I shall be new, indeed.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Virginian Culture!

Andrew's best friend Dwight came up for the long weekend, as they haven't gotten much time together since we got married (sorry guys). The two of them planned to hang out Saturday without me, but when we got wind of what was happening an hour away, we knew that all previous plans were scrapped.
What, you ask, could be so exciting?

The Hillsville Labor Day Flea Market and Gun Show!

We piled into our car and drove the hour down the road to the tiny town of Hillsville, Virginia. The town boasts a population of less than 3,000 -- but during the Labor Day weekend craziness, they expect about half a million. Holy cow!

The flea market takes up the entire town. We parked at least half a mile away from the beginning of the festivities, and walked over two hours before we reached the other end, probably two or three miles away. Every inch of the roadside is lined with booths, selling all manner of the ridiculous wares you find at flea markets, and in many cases, the booths are three or four deep off the road -- or they are only the beginning of a small town of booths. Dozens of tent cities spread off the main drag, full of strange crap and being admired by thousands of equally strange people. It was fantastic!

VFW Labor Day Gun Show, Hillsville Virginia Labor Day Flea Market

Anything you could possibly want is available -- as long as you don't want anything of too high a quality. Dozens of the booths are nothing more than yard sales, full of old bottles and toys. Others are thick with old kitchen equipment, bulk drugstore items (from birth control to deodorant), baseball cards, historical collectibles (those booths were pretty cool), "name-brand" clothing, handmade jewelry, bras in bulk (!?), and piles of Army surplus clothing.

There are equally as many food carts of the sort you only see at town fairs and carnivals, which only sell foods that are very fried and always make you sick. Funnel cakes, chicken on a stick, corn dogs, jumbo turkey legs, ice cream, you name it. Dwight treated us to funnel cakes; it was my first funnel cake since fourth grade, can you believe it?


The best part (other than watching the thousands of people, which was quite entertaining), is the fact that this draws an entire crowd to the second part of the event's title. This is also an annual gun show, which means hundreds of those in the crowd are wearing large orange stickers proclaiming "Guns Save Lives." Oh -- and probably one-third of the booths throughout the town sell guns. Which means probably equally one-third of the considerable crowd are men of various ages walking through the flea market with guns slung over their shoulders.


It's not at all disconcerting; mostly amusing. I'm not at all making fun of this culture: I am a South Carolina girl, born and raised, and a member of The National FFA Organization. But it still makes me smile to see so many interesting people all together in one place.

We didn't buy anything other than food (which made us sick later), but we spent all day walking around, calling one another's attention to various items of interest. Namely, a copy of The Fairie Queen that was about a hundred years old (kind of kicking mysel for not buying it), a case full of KKK artifacts, Justin Beber signs with personalized names, and a framed Lord of the Rings drawing from the 1980s. (This we later saw again in someone's wagon.)

Did I learn anything grand? Did I buy anything artsy? Did I meet a famous person who I'm now friends with?
Pssh... no.
But we had fun.