Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A teeny little tax rant...

I wonder what kind of tax code results in a husband and wife owing more taxes than the previous year when the year's income went down and the main breadwinner suffered unemployment?  Ah, the tender mercies of bureaucracy!

It was ignorance on our part, really.  We did not realize the child tax credit goes away the year the child turns seventeen, so hadn't adjusted our withholdings accordingly.  Also, it is a little known fact-- at least it was little known to us-- that unemployment benefits are taxable income, although the government does not offer pre-tax withholding on those benefits.

At least now you know and won't be surprised. ;o)  Forewarned is forearmed.  Although it may change at any moment.  The tax code is a seething morass full of writhing legislation suddenly shifting ...  I vote for a flat tax on purchases rather than income.  Even a graded tax on purchases rather than income would be easier to understand than what we have currently.

In light of the happy list, I'm trying to move from anger to the idea that we have a front-row seat in which to watch the Lord work.  We're currently praying that the vehicle doesn't break down and nobody needs a doctor until after we get the taxes paid.  :)  Actually, if that could go on indefinitely, it would be great.

The Lord is amazing... we have had our van almost eight years and it has over 175,000 miles and it still runs well.  The other day I averaged our last nine months of van repairs, and our repair bills are still less than a car payment. Of course, it may die tomorrow.  But so might we all. :D  Then we would be in heaven with the Lord, which is more than I can say for our get-out-of-debt van or the tax code.

And that is my happy thought for today.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Term 2 Exams: Composer Study

This is LittleLa's description of her favorite piece by a member of the Mighty Handful:

Mine is "Flight of the Bumblebee".  It starts out straight to the point.  The eighth note is always accented.  It is very fast.  Mrs. M. says they usually take it at a speed of 152 at least.  There is no part in which it slows down.  It was written by Rimsky-Korsakov, the most famous of the Mighty Handful. This piece's name has something to do with being chased by a bee; that is my impression.  The orchestra is doing the wave with their instruments:  violin, cello, bass, flute and clarinet, over and over again.  It is a very continuous piece.  The piece ends with one pluck of your instrument.

Term 2 Exams: The 11yo's take on Austen's Emma...

I asked LittleLa to tell what has happened so far in the novel, Emma, which all of us ladies are reading together.  Here is her written reply:

Frank Churchill left after they planned a ball and does not expect to be back soon.  Mr. Elton is married and brought back his bride from Bath, Mrs. Augusta Elton.  She thinks she is the best thing that has ever happened to anyone.  Emma thinks Jane Fairfax and George Knightley have something going.  Emma thinks her recreational date is Frank Churchill!

Term 2 Exams: The Holy War

This is Little La's narration of The Holy War by John Bunyan.  This is the episode after the surrender of Mansoul in which the townspeople petition Emmanuel three times:

Well, first they tried coaxing him and sweet talking, “O, powerful one! We look back and see our sinful ways!” Secondly, they tried guilt-tripping themselves. “We know our worthless place, O great Son!” Thirdly, they sent 3 this time with ropes about their necks for when they were to die. They honestly poured out their hearts. Emmanuel was crying! He dressed them richly and went to Mansoul. Emmanuel went to his palace and everyone rejoiced!

And this is Mariel's:

The People of Mansoul have surrendered. After living in suspense for a little while, they sent some messengers to Prince Emmanuel and beg for their lives. The first messengers went to the Prince and bowed very, very low.  “Please, O Mighty Prince,” they said, “Please have mercy on us and the rest of the miserable wretches in the unfortunate Town of Mansoul!”
But although the Prince treated them with kindness, he told them to go back. The messengers were filled with fear and trembling. They went back and said, “The Prince will not have mercy! O lackaday! Lack a couple of days!”
Everybody moaned for a while, but soon, they decided to send new messengers.  They came back with the same experience. But when they told everyone, someone said that this horrible news needed to go to the Mayor, My Lord Will-be-will and the Recorder.
They told these three men of the trials that the messengers had gone through. Then one wise old man shook his head and said, “We must send these important men-the Mayor, Will-be-will and the Recorder- to the Prince, in sackcloth and ashes, and they must beg for the lives of the people in the wretched town of Mansoul.”
 So they went to the Prince, clothed in sackcloth and ashes, with ropes about their necks.  They threw themselves at His feet and said, “O Lord and Prince Emmanuel, we were led astray! We know that You are in the right, and we know also that if it is Your Will, we will die for the sins we have committed.
“But we entreat You, we beseech and implore You, to have compassion and mercy on us. We are but insignificant worms, not worthy to lick the dust off of your feet. Please have mercy on us, the sinners.”
The Prince turned and smiled, and at that smile, the prisoners knew that they were to live. The Prince washed their feet, removed the sackcloth, ashes and the rope, clothing them in magnificent velvets, silks, brocade and feathers. The Prince gave them a flag and told them to go back to Mansoul.
SLOW-MOTION MOMENT: Picture this scene in a movie. Three men, in brilliant arrays, come running over a hill, a glorious flag streaming in the wind. They are shouting, “We are SAVED!! We are SAVED!!
This is what we need to do every day. Wake up and say, “I am SAVED.”

Term 2 Exams: Biography

Here is Aravis' response to the question, "How did Anne Frank serve others?"
Anne Frank didn't realize she was serving others. She never meant to share her diary – it was her only girlfriend at a time when friends were scarce – but the little book gave a face to the millions of ordinary people who were killed in the Holocaust. Anne had a normal, happy childhood until she had to go into hiding, not long after she started her diary. The rambling journal tells about the tension between her and her mother, her inability to relate to her sister, the awkwardness of falling in love and the constant bickering between the families with honesty, directness, and more than a little dissatisfaction with her own role. “They don’t ever seem to understand me,” she often complained to the diary she called “Kitty”. “One day I’m Anne who is so clever and nearly grown-up, and is allowed to hear all sorts of interesting things. The next day Anne mustn’t stick her nose into the grown-ups’ business and ought to tend to her studies.” Any girl could sympathize with Anne’s angst, which draws the reader in to the story of Jews in hiding. Her Everyman quality made people care about the individual victims of the Holocaust.
(I wish she had added paragraph breaks!  But I like the content.)

Term 2 Exams: Picture Study

This is Aravis' description of her favorite picture by this term's artist, Norman Rockwell:

The poignant Little Girl Looking Into Mirror was certainly one of my favorite Rockwell paintings from this term. A little girl sits outside on the grass, before a gold-framed mirror tilted against a chair. Her abandoned doll lies against the mirror, with one foot on either side of the frame. The girl, her hair pulled up into pigtails, scrutinizes her own face carefully; she appears to compare it to that of a woman in the book spread on her lap. She does not look either pleased or displeased with the comparison, merely thoughtful.
In class, I heard many theories about the symbolism of the picture. The book in the girl’s lap might be a magazine with a beautiful movie star in it, or a photo album with a portrait of her mother; perhaps the girl wonders whether she will grow up to look like a famous lady, or like her own mother. The doll represents the girl herself – alone and thoughtful, with one foot in adulthood and one in childhood. The mirror also represents this: the elegant frame and spotless glass rest against a red wicker-bottomed chair outside in the backyard. There is a quiet tension to the picture, as the girl contemplates her move from child to young lady.

The Faith Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11)

Earlier this week I wrote a post explaining what I have learned recently about faith and assurance.  Our pastor is leading us in a study of the book of Romans.  It has been such a blessing.  Romans is a tough book to understand, and thankfully, I understand a bit more than I did before.

We talked one night about "laboring to enter into that rest" which is something Paul exhorts us to do in the book of Hebrews.  It stirred my mind, so I have been reading the book of Hebrews, trying to focus on our assurance.  Today I read what is called the Faith Hall of Fame, Hebrews 11.

(I suppose I ought also to mention that this year the kids and I are reading The Holy War by John Bunyan.  By God's providence, we got to the place where Emmanuel defeated the erring town of Mansoul, cast out Diabolus, and received the uncertain petitions of the townspeople.  Interestingly enough, the townspeople had to make three petitions.  The first two were apologies and promises to do better, to be his servants, etc.  Indeed, they had Mr. Good-deed deliver the second petition!   But with the third they sent the three most infamous prisoners, Lord Understanding, Mr. Conscience and My Lord Will-be-will, and completely threw themselves on the mercy of Prince Emmanuel, confessing they rightly deserved death for their rebellion.)

As I was reading Hebrews 11 today, my mind lit by our recent study of Romans as well as our reading of The Holy War, I realized that usually when I look at the Faith Hall of Fame I focus almost completely on the deeds of the Hall of Famers.  Paul does say the world was not worthy of them.  They are to be admired.  But for their good deeds?  No; for their faith!  He says over and over, "By faith... by faith... by faith..."  The focus is faith.  How did I miss it?

Leading up to this chapter, Paul talks about Christ and the new testament-- how you can't have a testament without the testator dying, and that is why in the old testament they were commanded to sacrifice animals; it was not adequate, but a shadow of things to come.  Then Christ the new testator came and shed his blood for us.  The new testament is superior.  The perfect one paid for our sins:  we could not, and cannot, pay.

Paul takes an entire chapter to list amazing things done by people because of their faith in God.  They did not head out to do these things on their own.  Would Abraham have left Ur of the Chaldees without the Lord telling him to do it?  Ur was a hub of civilization at that time.  He left a place where he had wealth and power, and went into the wilderness!  Some would call that crazy; but he was following God by faith.

Abel's and Cain's sacrifices have always bothered me:  why did God accept Abel's and not Cain's?  Does God like animal husbandry better than agriculture?  Not necessarily.  Abel offered his sacrifice with faith in God, while Cain did not!

And Rahab, a non-Israelite that clearly did not live up to the moral standards of the children of Israel, in spite of this threw herself on the mercy of the Israelite spies in Jericho.  She protected and helped them although the punishment for fornication in Israel was public stoning.  In Hebrews, Paul tells us she did this through faith in God.  She was not stoned-- she was protected by the Israelites of her time, and was later lauded as a woman of faith!

These amazing people didn't go off and do these things on their own and they did not do these things through blind faith.  They had the promises of God written in their souls, though those promises were not revealed generally until Christ came.  They did not take leaps of faith.  They went on rational faith.  We talk about doing things 'in good faith', which means we have it on good authority that things will turn out a certain way, so we are acting on that belief.  That's what I mean by rational faith:  It is rational to do things based on good authority that things will turn out a certain way.

Doing things through faith in God is not going on your own strength, nor is it taking a leap of faith or following blindly.  It is receiving the promises on good authority-- we know we will ultimately be saved, so we keep going. We do hard things and face uncertain times and plough through BECAUSE we have it on good authority that God's promises are true.  One result of our faith is our awareness of God's love for us, another is that we may be able to do amazing things like these Faith Hall of Famers.  But that is not the focus.  The focus is on the good authority.

This is such a ramble, but I feel like I finally get some concepts I have struggled with my whole life.  It's so easy to focus on results.  But we are responsible for process!  God redeems our efforts according to his purpose.  Our process should be to follow Christ in faith, doing our best because we know how much he loves us.  Christ loves to see our faith perfected.  And he loves us.  Love doesn't measure the actions of the other to see if they add up.  Love rejoices in the loved object.  (We should love him too and not measure whether he loves us or not by the good and bad things that happen in our lives.)

At this point in my life, I am strong and can do many things.  Am I acting with faith? Oh, to be Martha with Mary's faith!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Read this when you feel you cannot go on.

"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place."

-- the Red Queen, Alice Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll (emphasis original)

I currently have a sense of failure regarding almost everything in my life-- mothering, teaching, planning, housework, church member-ing, music, personal relationships, community.  I realize that, comparatively, I am not a failure at any of these things.  Nonetheless, I just cannot do things the way they should be done.  I miss the mark.  I am WAY off in some cases.  I could do so much better and why do I not?

(Yes, I am a perfectionist.  Yes, I understand that what I do is probably "good enough", whatever that means.  I am not asking for validation as a "good" or successful person, although I appreciate the compassionate hearts that wish to offer it.)

Last night I was tired.  I had kept busy with necessary activity from sunrise to sunset.  Still I carried this sense of failure.  I was tired of willing and tired of running.  I sat down to do nothing for awhile.  It did not help.

I got into bed.  I fell asleep.  I awakened with the same sense of sinking dread.

Did I reach for my Bible?  Did I pray?  No.  Well, I did do a bit of desultory praying.  You know, "Lord, what is this?  Please deliver me!" while catching up on email and FB status updates.

So far this is not an encouraging post.  Why the title?

I used to let myself sit in this position for weeks and weeks.  I would even allow myself to quit things, to retreat into my turtle-shell and let relationships lapse, because of this feeling.  I am finally beginning to realize this is not what I am called to do as a child of the King.

Of course I miss the mark.  Duh.  I am a sinner.  I am going to fail, one way or another, my whole life.  I am not okay with this, and I do not think God wants us to go through life saying, "That's just the way I am."  HOWEVER, I also do not think he appreciates me sitting down on my stool of do-nothing because I have not the strength and courage to continue in the face of failure.

In the face of failure, it is my duty to resist retreat and recall myself to God.  If I feel like this, I am trying to do well on my own strength!  Oh person-that-is-a-sinner, who is he that has called you to himself?  How does he love you?  And why do you neglect him?

The birds implored Peter Rabbit to exert himself when he was caught in the barbed-wire of Mr. MacGregor's garden.  Like Peter, I must labor to enter into rest.  This post is to remind me to seek God when I feel I cannot go on.  Of course I cannot do whatever-it-is without him.

And guess what?  He counts my faith as righteousness!  My faith.  Not my good deeds.  Not my successes.  My doing-the-next-thing-with-God.  I can go on, knowing I have missed the mark (and will in the future) because, whatever happens, God is with me.  God is a wise parent, and when I fail, he upholds me with his hand and urges me to go on, knowing he sanctifies and preserves me.  He is faithful and will do it.

If you are reading this, you have permission to remind me of this truth whenever you think I need it.  And I need it a LOT.