Moment of Joy #20: Tackling a Big Reading Project

It wasn’t something I was expecting to do, but the words of a friend on facebook challenged me.  He wrote, “If you read just four chapters a day six days every week, you can read through both the Old and New Testaments in less than one year. If you have never read through the Bible before, I challenge you to make 2014 the year.”

I can say I’ve read the Bible, just never in order and never in less than a year.  It’s a daunting undertaking, to read thousands of pages penned by at least 39 authors over a period of over 1,500 years.  It contains some of the oldest and most reliable records of civilization anywhere.  As a piece of literature, it is a masterpiece.  As the very Word of God, it is an unrivaled source of enlightenment and influence.

For the publishing world, Bibles are big business.  In just the last forty years more than 100 million copies of the Bible in its ten most popular translations have been purchased. Those versions are: the New International Version (NIV), Revised Standard Version (RSV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), The Living Bible (TLB), the New King James Version (NKJV), the New Living Translation (NLT), The English Standard Version (ESV), the Good News Translation (GNT), the Contemporary English Version (CEV), and a New Testament paraphrase called “The Message” (MSG).  Ranging in price from a $1 New Testament paperback to an over $100 leather-bound, gold-leaf-edged chain reference text, the Bible is the best-selling book of all time.

And herein lies the paradox.  What other best-selling book do you know of that just sits on a shelf or coffee table, rarely opened, and is hardly ever read cover to cover? Sir Frederic Kenyon (1863-1952) once remarked: “Bible reading has been a notable characteristic of the English-speaking peoples from the Reformation to the end of the Victorian Age”, and the decline in Bible reading has undoubtedly been “a serious loss to the moral and cultural equipment of the nation today.” His observation was written a century ago, yet it holds true today.

The middle of January finds me in the middle of Exodus.  I’ve already read the history of creation, the flood, the genesis of the nation of Israel, how Joseph saved that nation from starvation, their slavery, their exodus from Egypt, and the Ten Commandments.  I’m always amazed at the contents of the first two books of the biblical canon–the intrigue, deception, murder, love, hate, faith, faithlessness, anger, forgiveness, and even sex scandals.  And I still have 64 books to go!

Perhaps as I travel this journey, you will join me.  It’s not too late to get started!  You might find, as I did, that the book of Genesis reads like a novel that is hard to put down.  Catching up will be easy.  Don’t be afraid to make notes on what you’ve read–write down your insights and questions–and share with family, friends, or a pastor.  I’d love to hear from you, too!

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Moment of Joy #19: The Scrooby Connection

Most lasting changes in human history began with an idea, which turns into a motivation, resulting in words, followed by action.

Follow me on a trip to Badworth, England, specifically, the Badworth All Saints Church.

Before “The Pilgrims” became pilgrims, someone had to give them a motivation to go: Parson Richard Clifton, spiritual forefather of the Separatist movement.  He was friends with both William Brewster and William Bradford.  His sermons sowed the seeds of Separatism.  Those who took his words to heart became the hearty band of Pilgrims on the Mayflower.

The pilgrims were Separatists, meaning, they wished to separate themselves from the Church of England.  Richard Clifton found himself at odds with the idea that the King of England was the head of the church (only 40 years earlier, the Church of England split from the Roman Catholic Church, and King Henry VIII set himself up as the church head).

Because of his dissention with the Church, Richard Clifton was relieved of his duties as parson of the Badworth All Saints Church, but he continued to preach at the home of William Brewster, in nearby Scrooby.  He and his congregation sought to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience.  There was just one problem: meeting to worship this way was illegal–imagine being a lawbreaker just by going to church.

In 1606, the Separatist Church of Scrooby was formed, led by William Brewster, and held in his home.  When an orphan from a nearby town visited the Scrooby home church at the tender age of twelve, he witnessed an unusual service.  He was astonished by the fellowship of believers, but more so by the lack of ritual.  Time and again, this orphan named William Bradford, returned, drawn by the spiritual fervor of the congregation, never once suspecting that he would one day be their leader on another continent.

When the Scrooby congregation learned that King James intended to “harry them from the land,” they fled to Holland.  On a side note, if you’ve ever read the King James Bible, it is named for King James I, under whose authority it was translated, the same man who intended to do away with the Separatists.

Their first attempt to flee failed as they had not secured permission to leave.  A year later, they were allowed to sail for Amsterdam, Holland.  The bustling trade city was somewhat overwhelming for the English country-folk and farmers.  While there, they attended an English-speaking church which was built in 1392 and given to an English-speaking Presbyterian congregation in 1607.  An international Christian community continues to worship there to this day.

Still, the Separatists were not comfortable in the big city, so they moved on to Leiden, Holland.  Conditions were not much better in Holland than in England for the Pilgrims, and things soon became unbearable.  While some were able to find work, most did not, due to the language barrier.  Because they were not Dutch citizens, their civil rights were few.  But of more concern was the effect that permissive Dutch values were having on the Pilgrim children.  The congregation realized they would not be able to worship or live as they pleased in England or Holland, so they voted to make their way toward the New World.

Two Pilgrims were sent back to England to secure a land patent  which would give them the legal right to travel to the New World and begin a settlement.  In June of 1619, they had their patent.  They hired two ships to take them to America: the Speedwell and the Mayflower.  In July of 1620, both ships departed, loaded with Pilgrims, some fortune-seekers, and cargo.

The congregation fell to their knees on the deck of the Speedwell and it was recorded that, “With watery cheeks commended them most fervent prayers to the Lord and His blessing.”

Soon after departure, the Speedwell began taking on water.  Both ships had to return to port where the Speedwell was repaired.  Both ships again departed, but once more, the Speedwell began taking on water.  The ships returned to Plymouth, England, and the Speedwell was deemed unreliable for the voyage.  Suddenly, not everyone who wanted to go to the new world, could.

According to diaries and a ship’s log, the trip was fraught with danger.  During a storm, a main mast was split and had to be repaired by using some of the house-building materials the Pilgrims had brought along.  A passenger named John Howland was washed overboard during another storm, yet was able to grab a rope and was rescued.  Howland would go on to have ten children in the New World.  In fact, he is an ancestor of First Lady Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt and the George H.W. Bush family.  Before they reached land, a crew member and another passenger died, and a baby was born.  The baby boy was named Oceanus, and lived for seven years before dying of illness in America.

When the Pilgrims reached land, they were far north of their intended destination of Virginia.  This posed a couple of problems: the land patent was for Virginia, and they arrived in December–not the most hospitable time of year for weather in New England.

Before disembarking, the Pilgrims signed The Mayflower Compact.  They knew other settlements had failed due to lack of an established set of rules and government.  The Mayflower Compact was a social contract in the form of a sacred covenant, sworn before

Original Mayflower Compact

Original Mayflower Compact

God, for the sake of their survival.  This short contract is often referred to as the template for the Constitution of the United States, and the cornerstone of American government.  Modern textbooks have stripped out the sacred language in the Mayflower Compact in order to be politically correct.  I urge you to find an unadulterated copy and read it in full.

In all of this, the important thing to remember is that the Pilgrims, although weary, sick, and running low on food and water, courageously chose to settle.  In that first winter, 2 to 3 people died every day.  In 3 months half of the passengers and crew were dead.

With the arrival of spring came renewed health and spirits.  The Pilgrims wished to build a peaceful relationship with the local native tribes.  With the help of Squanto, an English-speaking native, the Pilgrims reached an agreement with Wampanoag Chief Massasoit.  This agreement was honored by both the Pilgrims and the Indians for the next 60 years.

As spring gave way to summer, the Pilgrims busied themselves with building homes.  Under the direction of their Indian friends, they began planting crops and were shown plentiful hunting and fishing grounds.  The first autumn yielded an abundance of every kind of food.  So what did they do?  They celebrated!

They organized what we like to now call the first Thanksgiving.  The idea of Thanksgiving–giving thanks to God–has a rich history.  Begun by the Pilgrims in 1621, we still celebrate Thanksgiving today.  But like so many things in the past, there are now disputes over the exact origin of the celebration.  Was it a time of giving thanks to God and their native friends or just a fall harvest festival?  That is up to you to decide for yourself.

But for further edification, there are two written accounts of that famous first Thanksgiving.  The first is by William Bradford who gives no details about the “why.”

The second is by Edward Winslow.  He describes how the governor sent four men out fowling (turkey hunting).  The Pilgrims, along with 90 Wampanoag warriors and Chief Massasoit, feasted for days.  In a letter, Winslow wrote, “And although it be not always so plentiful, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

William Bradford, the orphan member of the Scrooby congregation, became governor of the Plymouth Colony in 1621.  He served in that position for eleven years, and served in other ways until he passed away in 1657.

Today, millions of people in the United States can trace their ancestry to the original settlers from Scrooby.  Most notable descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims include seven American Presidents:  John Adams, John Q. Adams,Taylor, Taft, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush,George W. Bush.

In their lifetime, the Scrooby settlers lived as they believed; but their descendants lost the zeal for their faith and for peace between the settlers and the Indians.  They took the words of Romans 12:8 seriously: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  The pilgrims from Scrooby remain a shining city on a hill in the annals of American history.


A condensed version of this blog is published in The Corry Journal, November 30, 2013.

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Moment of Joy #18: I Got A Rock

Unless you grew up in a cave, you’ve seen the Charlie Brown Halloween special on television.  You might even own a copy on DVD, but just in case you did grow up in a cave, let me recap the story for you.

Poor Charlie Brown would love to be a popular kid, but he isn’t.  He receives an invitation to a Halloween party (by mistake) and while there, the other kids use the back of his bald head as a canvas on which to draw a proper design for pumpkin carving.  A ghost is his trick-or-treat costume choice, yet the costume consists of an old bed sheet with too many eye-holes.  “I had a little trouble with the scissors,” he laments.  When the kids head out to ring doorbells, his companions all receive candy.  At every stop, without fail, Charlie is given a rock.  The boy gets no respect.

Or does he?

Just a few weeks ago I took one of my daughters on a field trip to the Buffalo Museum of Science.  While there, we enjoyed many interactive exhibits, but one that we found most fascinating was the gemstone, geode, and crystal exhibit.  We learned that much effort is exerted in order to unearth expensive and precious gems like rubies and diamonds.  Yet surprisingly, some very pretty (albeit less expensive) minerals, rocks, and gemstones are found just below the earth’s surface all over the globe.  The most popular of these are quartz crystals, found in geodes.

What, exactly, is a geode?  Well, it’s a rock.  The word geode comes from the Greek word geoides meaning “earthlike.” A geode is a sphere-shaped rock containing a hollow cavity which is lined with crystals. Usually geodes contain small compact crystals of quartz on the outside edge of the cavity with agate or chalcedony layers underneath.  On the outside, it’s just a plain, brown rock.

In the museum gift shop we found geodes for sale.  I thought to myself, “Four dollars for a rock?  Really?” and then promptly bought two.

Once home, my husband brought out the hammer and chisel.  The exterior of the rocks belied none of what was contained within.  Gentle tapping on the geode gave way to vigorous pounding until the rocks finally split to reveal beautiful crystal formations.

I hear you asking, “What’s your point, Carol?”

My point is this: What if all of those cartoon adults saw something special in Charlie Brown?  What if they saw past his bland exterior?  What if they were the only ones aware of the true beauty within the little bald kid with the yellow and black shirt?  What if most of us are only interested in eye candy?  What if we, as human beings, are so concerned with the outside appearance that we miss the true beauty that lies hidden until we put forth an effort to bring it to light?

Am I reading too much into a Charles Schultz comic strip?  Absolutely.  But it serves my purpose for this article, so I’m going to run with it.

Which would you choose?

Which would you choose?

Last week I ordered a few bags of geodes (and realized that $4 each at the museum was highway robbery).  I decided to give a choice to the Halloween trick-or-treaters at my door.  They could choose a piece of candy or a rock.  Perplexed adults looked at me skeptically, the question left unspoken, but readable in their eyes:  “Who is this crazy woman and why is she offering my kid a rock?”  Most chose the brightly packaged candy over the baggie with a brown rock and instructions.  When a few parents and kids actually asked me about the rock, I told them it was special, and they had to look past the boring exterior to reveal inner beauty.  One teenager said, “I know what it is!  Can I have two?”

Did Charlie Brown take that bag of rocks home and break them into pieces?  I’d like to think so, but the world will never know.

Published in The Corry Journal, Saturday, November 9, 2013

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Public, Private, Cyber, Home

What do the four words above have in common?  They can each precede the word “school,”  resulting in very different methods which arrive at the same outcome: an education.

What is the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the terms public school, private school, cyber school, and home school?  I guarantee your reaction will be the exact opposite of how another reader responds, and someone else will feel entirely differently, and so on.

Here we are in August, that wonderful time of the year when minors of all ages prepare to return to the daily grind of receiving an education, no matter which of the above methods is utilized.  Teachers thumb through lesson plans with anticipation, hoping to encourage and inspire students to reach their full potential.  Parents shop for crayons, notebooks, and mechanical pencils.  New clothes and uniforms are purchased. Coaches for fall sports teams already have at least a week of practice in.  Some students are looking at bus schedules, while others are receiving laptops and books in the mail.

So where are we all going to school?

A recent PBS News Hour report stated that, of the 1.8 million school-age students in Pennsylvania, less than 2% (approximately 30,000) are in cyber school.  Cyber school is, in essence, public school at home.  This option is for kids who just can’t be at school during traditional hours and allows greater flexibility for a variety of reasons, such as four-hour gymnastics lessons or extended illness.  The school district provides the laptop, books, and lesson plans (read that as free), and students have the option of joining a virtual classroom or working independently.

According to a recent Education News report, one in ten K-12 students nationwide attends a private school, and 43% of those attend Catholic schools.  Locally, St. Thomas School and Corry Alliance Academy both provide the option of the private school education.  What are the reasons some choose private school?  There are many, but most of the reasons boil down to this: parents pay for their children to be educated not just intellectually but also spiritually.

That same Education News report stated that the number of children who are home schooled nationwide is at 4%, an increase of 75% since 1999.  For the parents, home schooling is more hands-on than cyber schooling.  Most families spend between $400 and $800 per child, per school year, for everything from books to software to music lessons.  One parent–usually the mom–stays home with the kids and is their teacher.  It is time-intensive and home schooled kids don’t get snow days.

Of Pennsylvania’s 3,303 public schools, a dozen are within a 25-mile radius of Corry.  In fact, there are 81 public schools in Erie County alone, serving more than 45,000 students.

I am proud to belong to a school district which boasts within its population all four of the schooling types.  Not only that, but the school district is friendly to them all.  That might seem like a harsh judgement upon other districts, but as a home schooling mom, I have heard of school districts which subtly refuse to allow any child not attending the public school to participate in interscholastic sports or other extra-curricular activities and clubs.

Their loss.  Every sports season the Corry Journal provides excellent coverage of all Corry and Union City sports and, quite often, kids who don’t attend the traditional brick-and-mortar schools are mentioned right along with their public school teammates.

Best of all, the kids don’t regard other schooling types as weird.  They get to know each other and actually like each other no matter how or where they are schooled.

The point I’m trying to get across is that there is no single right way to educate our kids.  Home schooling isn’t for everyone.  Ditto for cyber school, private school, and public school.  Because we parents care about our kids and want the best for them, we are willing to go that extra mile to find exactly what fits their learning style.  One of the best gifts we can give our kids is the motivation and desire to never stop learning, throughout their school years and beyond.

This year, be sure to thank the teachers, coaches, and parents whose purpose is to invest in the lives of kids.  Whether they are online, in the classroom, or at home, every one of them deserves a pat on the back.

This blog was originally published in the Corry Journal, Saturday, August 17, 2013.

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Moment of Joy #17: The Whole Truth

Have you ever heard only one side of a story and made a presumption based upon that?  Or, how about this scenario: You’re in a store and you see a mother and her child, both unkempt and a little dirty, and you immediately decide that she’s an awful mother.  What about this one–a man comes to your door selling something.  You want nothing to do with him because you don’t know if he’s trying to con you, so you send him on his way.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of all of the above.  I’ve decided someone’s guilt or innocence based upon one side of a story, simply because the person telling the story was a friend.  I’ve judged people on their appearance.  I’ve not given people the opportunity to earn my trust.  And do you know something?  That kind of attitude really stinks.

This morning I read a little story on facebook (and, therefore, do not know who to credit) which puts the jumping-to-conclusions attitude into perspective.

The story reads that a dog was so faithful that its owner could leave her baby with it and go out to attend other matters. She always returned to find the child soundly asleep with the dog faithfully watching over him. One day something tragic happened.

The woman as usual, left the baby in the care of this faithful dog and went outside to weed her garden. When she returned, she discovered a horrifying scene. The baby’s crib was dismantled, his diapers and clothes torn to shreds with blood stains all over the bedroom where she left the child and the dog. Shocked, the woman wailed as she began looking for the baby.

All of a sudden, she saw the faithful dog emerging from under the broken crib. It was covered with blood and licking it’s mouth as if it had just finished a delicious meal.

The woman flew into a rage and assumed that the dog had devoured her baby. Without much thought she beat the dog to death.  She then continued searching for the”remains” of her child, but beheld another scene.

On the floor on the other side of the room was the baby who, although lying bare on the floor, was safe and asleep.  Relieved but confused, she continued to search around the room.  Under the broken crib she found the body of a large snake, torn to pieces.  A fierce battle between the snake and the dog had resulted in her baby’s life being saved.  Reality dawned on the woman who now began to understand what took place in her absence. The dog fought to protect the baby from the ravenous snake. It was too late for her now to make amends because, in her impatience and anger, she had killed the faithful dog.

How often have we misjudged people and torn them to shreds with harsh words and deeds before we have had time to evaluate the situation?  How often have we only looked at one side of an issue without examining all of the facts?  How often do we see a stranger and judge them solely upon our initial reaction to their appearance?

One could almost call for another commandment:  Thou Shalt Not Presume.  Presuming is easy because we can decide things our way without taking the trouble to find out exactly what the situation really is.  It’s the lazy way out.  But…in taking more time at the store, I might have seen the mom walk out to the parking lot and place her child in a seat on the back of her bicycle.  Had I listened to the man at my door, I might have understood that he was selling things door-to-door because he had lost his job.  Had the woman checked the whole room before reacting in anger, she would not have killed the dog.  Seeing more than one side of an issue and engaging in a little patience can drastically reduce mistakes both large and small.

Are you misjudging anyone?  Take time to get the whole truth.

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Moment of Joy #16: Living in an Amish Paradise

As I sit by my coal stove I see fluffy flakes drifting down past my windows.  Every now and then an Amish buggy passes the house.  My youngest daughter once quipped how fun it would be to be Amish.

She has no idea.

We live in a town that is approximately fifty percent Amish, by the census bureau’s population chart.  We shop at a number of Amish businesses and we have gotten to know a few to the point at which we can call each other on the street by name and stop for a chat.

What does my daughter see that is so endearing that she thinks being Amish would be fun?  She sees white-sided houses with enormous gardens; clotheslines sporting fabric in hues of green, blue, and white; small children running barefoot in their yards wearing miniature versions of their parents’ garb complete with bonnets and straw hats.  She sees the one-room schoolhouse with a fireplace.  She sees a house so clean you could eat off of the floor, oil lanterns hanging from the ceilings, and colorful hand-made quilts on every bed.  Indeed, their lifestyle appears idyllic.

What she doesn’t see: electricity and running water.  Call me shallow, but I am extremely grateful for a flush toilet inside in place of an outhouse or chamber pot.  The same goes for a hot shower, incandescent light bulbs, ceiling fans, and cars.  Of course, during Hurricane Sandy, they could smirk and say, “Sorry to hear your power is out.”

Authors such as Wanda Lewis and Beverly Brunstetter perpetuate the public view of the “plain people” as a lifestyle for which to long, one which eschews all things modern.  They way they write, the Amish are to be placed on a pedestal, holier than anyone else in America.   This isn’t entirely accurate as I’ve seen Amish men with cell phones, charging them up at the local restaurant while they indulge in a cup of coffee, pie and a wad of chaw.  When the Amish taxi is parked in front of the liquor store, I have to wonder.   I’ve also chuckled at the teens enjoying Rumspringa.  Imagine an Amish buggy plastered with bumper stickers, fuzzy dice hanging inside, and Brittney Spears blaring from the boom box.  The teens take photos of each other with their cell phones and digital cameras while taking deep drags on a Marlboro.  Yes, it’s for real.

These folks do possess many qualities which the world at large is sorely lacking.  They take care of their elderly not by placing them in a nursing home but by building onto their own homes and providing family care.  They help one another with huge building projects.  They don’t know the meaning of the term “day care.”  They forgive the worst of offenses because, well, that’s what Jesus did.

Setting aside the idea of the Amish paradise, I can say these people are just like you and me.  They love their kids, work hard, take pride in their homes.  They have addictions they’d like to break.  They have bills to pay and they like it when friends come to visit.  They’re no better and no worse because of what they do or don’t have.  And I’ve come to the conclusion that if the power grid were to go down for an extended period, the worst loss for the Amish would be their cell phone service.

Last fall as I was driving home, I saw a young Amish woman walking.  She was at least 8 miles from the nearest Amish compound.  I put my window down and offered her a lift, and she gratefully accepted.  As she explained to me where I could drop her off, she pulled a cell phone from her purse and began to text.  I asked her about it and she said she was letting her mom know that she’d be home two hours earlier than expected.  Apparently a few modern conveniences aren’t just for Rumspringa anymore.


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Moment of Joy #15: The “To Do” List


The To Do list.  You’ve seen all versions of this list–hanging from the fridge by a magnet, an eye-catching long and skinny tablet.  To Do lists have even become high-tech apps, audibly reminding you as you pull out of the parking lot after work that, “You need to buy diapers on the way home.”

Well, none of those are right for me. I carry a college-lined notebook in my purse and I’ve filled page after page with things that must be done.  If it’s something that must be done immediately, I underline, box, or circle the entry.

So far, I don’t need to write in the things that are daily occurrences like taking the kids to sports practice or brushing my teeth.  Those events are such a part of daily life they are done automatically.  The entries in my current list include such items as “Pick up scholarship forms from the high school,” and “Call the vet about shots for the cat.”

Invariably I remember something I need to do at the most inconvenient time.  During church I remembered I need to send a get well card to a friend.  Notebook was handy, so I wrote it down.  Driving to visit my folks I remembered I need to call someone about hauling away our dead washing machine.  Notebook was handy, but I was driving.  No worries–at the first stop light, I wrote it down!

The time I seem to do the most thinking about what needs to be done is in those five between when my head hits the pillow and when I fall asleep.  Woe is me if there isn’t a pad of paper and a pencil on my night stand.  My husband has learned to stay asleep through repeated “lights on, lights off” incidents.

The most satisfaction I get from that To Do notebook is drawing a line through an entry.  It’s done!  Woohoo!  Things like “Buy toilet paper TODAY!” and “Finish writing deadline” are scratched off and I have that feeling of accomplishment.  Until the next time we run out of TP anyway.  And looking back through pages and pages of To Dos which turned into done gives me a warm  and fuzzy feeling inside.

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