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Review: “Helen Keller: Courage in the Dark”

I’m not sure whether my fascination with Helen Keller came from reading about her or seeing the museum first. My mother would have to confirm for me. Just knowing that Helen Keller grew up a town over from my parents sparked my interest. I read Helen Keller: Courage in the Dark by Johanna Hurwitz so many times that I practically had it memorized. Almost twenty years later, I want to see how Hurwitz’ book could combine with faith to inspire young readers.

The Helen Keller Museum

I don’t remember how old I was when my grandmother took me to the Helen Keller festival one summer. She drove me to a big, grassy field with a two-story house and side building. We walked through the house with its creaky wood floors. The sinking sun colored the rooms gold. We peered through the windows of the small side building where colorful wooden toys covered the ground. We meandered by the black iron water pump to chairs that faced the back of the main house. We watched a reenactment of Helen Keller’s early life, and I learned how to spell water in sign language.

Seeing Helen Keller’s home in real life inspired me to learn as much as I could about her. I loved reading and reading about all Helen learned and accomplished in her life. I imagine her writing abilities piqued my interest, too, since I always loved telling stories. Even now, reading Helen Keller: Courage in the Dark reminds me of all we can accomplish with hard work. The growth certainly comes with its challenges, but things I believed to be possible at 6 don’t have to be impossible now. The book truly inspires hope, which blends wonderfully with faith.

Faith in “Helen Keller: Courage in the Dark”

Just because early readers use simple language doesn’t mean that the concepts can’t be complex. In Helen Keller: Courage in the Dark, Hurwitz shows young readers the challenges Helen Keller faced as a blind and deaf young woman. Even thought the sentence structure repeats and the language is basic, Hurwitz beautifully chooses details that young readers can relate to. This way, the readers put themselves in Helen Keller’s shoes and learn compassion.

I also love that at the end of chapter 2, Hurwitz adds that Annie Sullivan considered Helen’s quick learning a “miracle.” Considering the time and place, Annie Sullivan’s statement probably was religious. Hurwitz blends it into the story seamlessly by showing how Helen’s behavior changed. Readers understand why Sullivan called it a miracle because they saw for themselves how different Helen’s life became.

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“You Are the God Who Sees Me,” Genesis 16

I think we all struggle with feeling alone at some point or other. If nothing else, this quarantine we’ve been living under has certainly highlighted loneliness. Even introverts like me who thrive on days at home, pet snuggles, and warm blankets battle that emotional hurdle of loneliness. I imagine we all know the feeling of being alone in a room full of people. That’s why I love Hagar’s declaration of God. In Genesis 16:13, she names Him “You are the God who sees me.”

The Passage

So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”

“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think is best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man: his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”

She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

Genesis 16:3-13 NIV

Hagar

I have to confess, this passage makes me greatly dislike Sarah (or Sarai at this point.) I know, God uses her to be the mother of His people. Sure, she endured a ridiculous amount pretending to be Abraham’s “sister.” Miraculously, she did give birth at nearly 100 years old. Most importantly, I know that I sin just as much as she did. I just want to slap her for how she treats Hagar.

Hagar did not have a choice in bearing Abraham’s son. Then, the very mistress who concocted the plan starts mistreating her. (Jealous much, Sarai?) The situation worsened to the point that Hagar ran away. Despite the horribly messy situation, God showed up.

“You are the God who sees me”

God knew Hagar’s Egyptian heritage. He knew her slave status, and He knew that she ran away. Yet, God sent an angel to find her in the desert. He comforted Hagar and prophesied a hopeful future. God didn’t leave Hagar despairing and vulnerable in the desert. Yes, He did tell her to return to Abraham’s camp, but that command protected her from the dangers of wandering the desert alone.

I doubt many of us encountered an angel as we hid in the desert from our rude mistresses. Yet, Hagar’s name for God holds true for us, too. “You are the God who sees me.” God sees us in our pain and fear and anger. He sees our joy and hope and excitement. God doesn’t run from any of it because He is just that amazingly powerful. If God doesn’t run from it, we can face it head on because “You are the God who sees me.”

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2 Peter 3: Encouragement During Stress

We looked at Peter’s response to Passover and Easter the past two weeks. I wanted to continue the Peter theme, so I opened the letters he wrote for inspiration. I was surprised to find several passages that I didn’t remember. Peter recognized the struggles we face in this broken world and gives some wise advice. Let’s turn to 2 Peter 3 for some encouragement during stress.

The Passage: 2 Peter 3

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:3-9 NIV

Encouragement during Stress from 2 Peter 3

First off, I want to recognize that between the original authors and modern-day translators, Biblical text sure can get muddy. (Peter even addresses this in 2 Peter 3:15-16 because people misinterpreted Paul’s letters!) So let’s break down exactly what Peter means when he repeats “water” and “words.”

Water

Peter’s rather confusing “of water and by water” refers all the way back to Genesis when God created the earth. In Genesis 1:6-10, we see God separate the sky from the earth, which the Bible explains using the term “water.” On the next day, He grouped all the literal water on the earth into “seas” so that dry ground appeared. Peter then references the flood account from Genesis 6:9-22. God punished the water-formed earth by sending a flood to kill everything. Only the faithful Noah and a select group of animals survived the flood in an ark God taught Noah to build.

Words

Peter’s first reference to “word” points to Genesis 1 where God spoke the world into being. (I haven’t met an English major who doesn’t love the power of words in this account, regardless of their belief in its scientific accuracy.) Peter goes on to connect God’s word with His mercy and judgement. Because justice characterizes God, He ultimately must judge evil as He did in the flood account. However, in His mercy, His word holds back the judgement we deserve until the time He decides.

Peter reminds us of God’s power by showing us how God created, judged, and maintained Earth. Yet, Peter doesn’t leave us with this image of an almighty, wrathful God. Instead, Peter points us to God’ loving patience. He reminds us that God holds back His judgement for our benefit.

In Light of A Virus

2 Peter 3 shows us that God holds ultimate control over the happenings of Earth. We very well may not understand God’s permissions or His timing. Instead, we remember God’s goodness and faithfulness. The early church did not know why Jesus still waited in Heaven. They expected His arrival yesterday. That same tension hits us today as we continue to face a complete upheaval of life as we expected it. Thankfully, the same powerful God of the early church draws us to Himself today.

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Review: “The…Whangdoodles,” Pt. 2: Calm in the Chaos

Last Friday, we reviewed part 1: “Challenge” of The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards. This week, we’re entering Whangdoodleland in part 2: “Capture.” As the children face fantastical dangers, we all learn the importance of staying calm in the chaos.

Beauty and Danger in Whangdoodleland

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles takes full advantage of its fantasy side in part 2, where the children enter Whangdoodleland for the first time. This new fantasy world is magically different than ours. As with part 1, Edwards perfectly describes this new world with rich, sensory words. We smell the flowers, hear the sounds and music, and see the colors painting every inch of the landscape. She rearranges details from reality as we expect it to create a new, immersive, and utterly charming fantasy land.

Of course, as with any good book, danger and conflict taints the beauty of this world. However, Edwards’ “evil” characters really aren’t too evil, at all. They act in threatening and frightening ways, but concern for their friends motivates every challenge they create. Throughout the book, the Prock predominantly drives the “evil” obstacles of the book. In part 2, though, the villain the children and professor face is the High-Behind Splintercat. This fantasy cat maintains most of the eccentricities of normal cats. He loves balls of yarn and fields of catnip. Even though kidnapping would probably terrify anyone, this cat still manages to charm the reader.

Calm in the Chaos

Early in part 2, we learn the driving message of this section, if not of the whole book. The children have faced their first scary obstacle, and the professor comforts them. He says,

“If you remain calm in the midst of great chaos, it is the surest guarantee that it will eventually subside.”

*Edwards 98.

Personally, I love this message. It encourages children to persevere through hard times. The professor’s accompanying speech affirms the value of each individual child and the unique strengths they bring to a challenge. Especially during these COVID-19 times, the concept of staying calm in the midst of chaos seems like a virtue we all can grow.

*Edwards, Julie Andrews. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles. New York: Harper Trophy, 1974.

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King Saul’s Daughter: Another Look at Michal

I became interested in the story of King Saul’s daughter, Michal, when I read The Wives of King David series by Jill Eileen Smith. Getting an on-the-ground view of the book of 1 Samuel completely changed my opinion of Michal. Today, let’s look at Michal again so we can understand how depression affected King Saul’s daughter.

The Passage

Then [Saul] himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” And he went there to Naoith in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naoith in Ramah. And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

1 Samuel 19:22-24 ESV

And it was told King David, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the city of David with rejoicing. And when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. And David danced before the LORD with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod.

2 Samuel 6:12-14 ESV

Parallels between Saul and David

Anger often hides a deeper emotion like fear. Michal certainly had reason to fear her husband David following her father’s footsteps. After all, Saul was Israel’s first king. Who was to say that Saul’s fate wouldn’t also be David’s?

Consider 1 Samuel 19. Saul ramps up his attempts to kill David. After three rounds of soldiers have fallen to the ground in prophesy before they can complete their mission, Saul himself journeys to David. In contrast to the joyful prophesying Saul preformed at his anointing, Saul winds up naked in the streets for a day. No doubt his family at home was ashamed by the scandal and the turmoil.

Now in 2 Samuel 6, David has taken over Israel. He already failed once at moving the Ark of the Covenant. In fact, Uzzah died stabilizing the ark in transit, and 2 Samuel reports David trembling in fearful humility because of it. However, word arrives that the house currently holding the ark was blessed, so David decides to move it again. Michal probably recalls her father’s fearful attempts to gain power as David left for Ark Transport Round 2. She probably feels fear for the Ark herself.

Next thing Michal sees, her husband is dancing basically naked in the streets because of this ark. I imagine the scandal of her father’s naked prophesying flashed before her eyes. She probably fears that this foreshadows David following in Saul’s depressed footsteps. She lived in that unstable palace once before; I doubt she wants to live there again. So, Michal waits with all her fury at the door to the palace for David to come home.

King Saul’s Daughter

Besides the stress of living in royal palaces led by men with mental illnesses, Michal has another fact working against her. Genetics play a large role in anxiety and depression. Saul’s early pattern of silence certainly parallels Michal’s stuffed feelings. It is very possible that Michal inherited her father’s depressive tendencies. Add a life of stress to genetic inclinations, and Michal’s own depression kicked in full swing. As 2 Samuel 6:20-23 repeats, Michal was “the daughter of Saul” in more ways than one.

Unfortunately, Saul’s untreated mental health problems led to further problems for his children. While Jonathan lived in the shadow of Saul’s poor decisions, Michal faced the scary truth of depression in the mirror. Without the example of someone seeking help for their mental struggles, Michal played defense like her father did. She put up rules to stop the cycle from returning, but it cost her more family in the end.

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Music and Depression: A Look at King Saul

I find it funny how music can affect my mood. Sometimes when I tense up with anxiety, I hear “Sunshine on my Shoulders” by John Denver and instantly calm to memories of my mother singing. Then there are times when the flowy worship of “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman makes me feel absolutely claustrophobic. It changes from day to day. When I think of music and depression in the Bible, King Saul of Israel best exemplifies the power music can have on mood.

The Passage

Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.

Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.”

So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.”

One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him.”

Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul.

David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.”

Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

1 Samuel 16:14-23 NIV

While this passage speaks of Saul’s mental distress as an evil spirit, Saul exhibits many of the symptoms of a depressed and anxious person. His mood swings without warning. Later in 1 Samuel, Saul responds to irritations by throwing spears at the people in the room with him. He lives in constant fear of losing his identity as King of Israel. The only source of relief he knows comes from a young shepherd who knows how to play the lyre.

Music and Depression in Therapy

Many studies have been done on the links between mood and music. In this academic article, Lucille Magill Bailey, D.A., discusses the effect music had on families dealing with cancer. She found that music eased their anxiety, facilitated communication and confidence, and allowed families to feel peace when their loved one passed on. She noted that songs from all genres of music could ease the family’s depression and anxiety. Patients and families needed the links to memories and feelings more than they needed a specific key or instrument played.

2 Tips on Music and Depression or Anxiety

  1. Listen to what you need now. The song that calms you the most on Monday may drive you up the wall on Thursday. Honor your body’s changing needs and listen to the songs that best speak to you in that particular situation.
  2. Remember to breathe. Deep breathing regulates mood and tension quicker than any other trick out there. (In fact, most tips I know of for anxiety and depression involve reminding yourself to breathe.) Try adjusting your deep breathing to match the flow of the song. Singing also requires controlled breathing, so sing out if that helps you.

How does music affect your mood? Let me know in the comments! And as always, seek a professional counselor for advice on your particular situation. (Mental health is not one-size-fits-all!)

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Handling Stress like Moses: Two Methods

Moses was a pretty stressed-out dude. I mean, leading thousands of grumbling people through a desert when you really don’t like talking anyway doesn’t sound like the best way to spend your day. But, God called Moses to lead His people, and Moses was obedient. That doesn’t mean God left Moses to learn handling stress on his own, though! God sent advice in a surprising source: Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro.

The Passage

The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and laws.”

Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. But select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain – and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

Exodus 18:13-23

All the grumbling people were wearing Moses out! It seems to me that Moses didn’t even realize how much his work as judge was affecting his health and ability to lead God’s people. It took an outsider, Jethro, looking in on the situation to notice the path that Moses was headed down.

Two Tips for Handling Stress like Moses

  1. Listen to advice from those who know you. Moses had lived with Jethro a “long period” before he found the burning bush and returned to Egypt (Exodus 2:23). He tended Jethro’s sheep, married Jethro’s daughter, and lived in Jethro’s house. When Jethro watched Moses at work, he knew Moses well enough to recognize that the work would overwhelm him. In response, Moses listened to Jethro’s advice. He acknowledged the relationship he had with his father-in-law, recognized the advice for the help that it was, and implemented the advice quickly to avoid the negative outcome he was headed for. It’s not always easy to take advice, but sometimes it can make a dramatic difference in our health if we listen.
  2. Delegate, delegate, delegate. Jethro’s advice was fairly simple. If Moses taught other faithful, respectable men God’s commands directly, they could handle the smaller cases based on that knowledge, and Moses would only have to judge the difficult cases. Delegation isn’t easy. It requires time to teach the skills and principles needed to complete the work. It means the delegator has to trust the workers to implement what they’ve learned. However, delegation also took a lot of repetitive busy work off of Moses’ plate. Delegation allowed Moses to focus on what was important – leading the people in God’s will – and helped him in handling stress.

God sent Jethro to teach Moses ways of handling stress. Just as God provided food for the Israelites in the desert, and just as God provided Aaron to be Moses’ mouthpiece, God provides us with wise friends who warn us when we are headed down a path that is dangerous for our health.