Letting Go of the List

Today, I’m delighted to be on Heartskeeper Author Sarah West‘s blog talking about why I let go of the list. You know, the list of those qualities desired in a mate.

Most women have one. A lot of guys do, too, even if they won’t admit it.

I had one. Well, no, that’s not entirely accurate; I’ve had four, at least… [READ MORE]

#GetOutoftheField: Disordered Eating

Did you know this week is National Eating Disorders Week here in the United States?

ANAD says that “up to 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S” and “eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.” Like so much else, EDs are highly appealing, but the pay-off is destruction, and if left untreated, death.

Disordered eating offers the promise of finally being acceptable to others in how we look and what we eat. It offers the promise of finally having control over this one little thing, when we’ve had to sit back and take too much for too long.

But it’s a lie.

Instead of being accepted, we find ourselves slaves to the standards and expectations of others. Soon, we adopt those standards and expectations as our own, and though we think we are still in control, we’ve actually surrendered. Make no mistake, those standards and expectations dictate when we eat, what we eat and how much, and who we eat it with.

And while we make ourselves slaves to what we think we should be, we’re destroying ourselves.

Among many other health risks, National Eating Disorders lists heart failure first for both anorexia and bulimia. Binge-eating produces many of the same health risks as obesity, such as Type II diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease.

The unfortunate thing is that too many people have died and will continue to die, enslaved in the thinking that they need to be something else. They won’t even see it coming. And that – that is exactly what our enemy wants: our destruction and death. Our bodies were not made for this kind of abuse, and they cannot – will not – withstand it.

Our bodies were created by God to be His dwelling place. He wants us to know how intricate our bodies are, how absolutely breathtaking and awesome. He wants us to treat our bodies like the miraculous works of art they are, not be taken in and ruled by a lie about what they should or should not be. He wants us to have life, full and free.

Family and friends, often disordered eaters are among the last to understand the harm in what we are doing. Please educate yourselves on the signs of disordered eating and the best ways to help a loved one fighting an eating disorder. Sadly, we are not always in a place where we can hear you, so take time to learn about recovery options and resources.

If you’re battling an eating disorder, you are not alone, and you cannot make it alone. Let your family and friends into your struggle and let them help you, even if they don’t do it perfectly. Take advantage of what is available for your recovery, even if you don’t do it perfectly. It’s going to be a battle, and at some point, you’ll go from survivor to fighter, and from fighter to winner, so don’t give up on yourself.

Much love. ❤

 

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Hollywood’s Treatment of Other, an Analytical Review

*SPOILER ALERT: This review is analytical in nature and may contain Pride and Prejudice and Zombies spoilers. If you are planning to read the book or see the film, you may want to wait to read this particular review.*

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For fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the speculative fiction genre, this newly-released reimagining of Jane Austen’s classic from writer Seth Grahame-Smith and director Burr Steers is sure to raise a cheer. It is indeed a provocative concept and my own hat is certainly off two these two creators for pondering what would have happened if zombies were introduced to the Bennett’s world. The fierce Elizabeth Bennett was played by Lily James and both the character and actress translate well to a martial arts master. The impregnable Fitzwilliam Darcy is played by Sam Riley who captures the newly-imagined cold zombie killer exceptionally. Watching familiar, ordinary scenes transformed into fight scenes managed to be both thrilling and just off-kilter enough to work. As far as an Austen and zombie films go, it was a lot of fun and everything it should have been.

There is, however, an underlying message in the film with which I’m not entirely comcomfortable. Whether it was intentional or not, I can’t say, but having extensively studied film, it is something of a trope in horror film. I refer to the subjugation of what Jacques Lacan and other psychologists call Other, those things the Ego perceives as being radically alien and unassimalible. That is, the Ego sees those things different than it and cannot be made like it as effrontery to its own being, and thus, views Other as something to be suppressed at all costs.

Of course, in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Other is portrayed as the zombies and Ego is perhaps best represented in the character of the hyper-vigilant Mr. Darcy. From the outset, he considers it his duty to detect and dispose of the undead, even in instances when they pose no real threat because they have yet to consume human brains. In his mind, it is only a matter of time before they do, and must be dealt with immediately. In his zeal, he nearly kills Jane Bennett and his closest friend, Charles Bingley. Fortunately, the more level-headed Elizabeth stops him in both instances. We later learn no one was there to stop Darcy from destroying his father when he had become infected, duty-bound to keep the disease from spreading. To the analytical mind, it begs the question of where Darcy’s sense of obligation originates.

George Wickham’s mysterious character also elicits unease, because if ever there was a villain in an Austen novel, it is the charming officer. Wickham swiftly gains Elizabeth Bennett’s trust, as can only be predicted, and whisks her off to a colony of the undead at St. Lazarus, a  church, ironically enough. There, he reiterates that the undead are essentially harmless, being sated from pig brains offered during communion. They will not attack humans without having first tasted human brains. While it becomes clear Wickham is using these zombies and controlling their urges toward his own ends, the benign nature of these zombies until they are fed human brains is never fully explored, nor is the aggression against them fully explained.

Perhaps most disappointing is how easily the otherwise strong Elizabeth Bennett is swayed. At the beginning, she is not only forceful, but compassionate. To her, protection against harm is one thing, aggression against something harmless is another. She prevents Darcy from prematurely slaying her sister, and later, his closest friend. After the latter scenario, Elizabeth says, rather critically, “Mr. Darcy, your skills as a warrior are above reproach, but you are not a very good friend.” She continues believing this about him until, after her rejection of his first marriage proposal, he explains what he had to do to his father. Oddly, that changed her mind about Darcy, while it further solidified him as somewhat uncompassionate in mine. After all, if there was evidence such as she had seen at St. Lazarus that zombies could indeed be harmless, why was she so quick to believe Darcy’s assertion that it was a battle – the living against the undead? Perhaps it was the growing knowledge that Wickham used and controlled the zombies to infiltrate the homes of the wealthy, but surely that knowledge lends itself to cutting off that kind of leadership, rather than destroying its followers.

When George Wickham and Elizabeth Bennett appeal to her for help in guiding the harmless zombies at St. Lazarus, Lady Catherine de Bourgh compares the undead to locusts, saying they go forth in bands, having no leader, referencing an Old Testament proverb. In context, the proverb is actually saying this behavior of locusts is wise, but Lady Catherine uses it to say the undead will reject any and all leadership, and therefore must be destroyed, another example of Ego against Other. Because the undead did not fit within societal norms and could not be assimilated, they must not be allowed to exist.

It is reminiscent of the response of many in the United States to the Syrian refugee crisis, though Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was created before that came about. On one hand, there are those who, like Darcy and Lady Catherine, believe we should close our borders to people trying to escape the tyranny of Islamist extremists. Perhaps their personal histories lend them to the belief that the United States is most protected from terrorist attacks if she closes her borders to all Muslims.

On the other hand, there are those who believe we should be alert about those who wish to harm the United States and to be protected against them, but who also desire to help others who have been harmed. It is easier to embrace the first position than the second, because the second involves more risk. There is always a possibility when we open ourselves up in compassion, harmful things can slip in with the harmless. That’s why I enjoyed Elizabeth’s character at the outset: she was compassionate, but she was also protected.

Of course, there will always be those who seek to manipulate those who need protection for their own ends like Wickham and even Darcy did near the end when he fed the harmless zombies brains. Compassion is not a front to be hidden behind to change those who need help to be our way or do things our way. If it is, it is not compassion at all, but control, and it will backfire.

It’s human nature, really – this fear and subjugation of Other. That’s why prominent psychologists like Hegel, Freud, and Lacan have studied it so extensively. That’s why it’s a trope in the horror genre, where fear is rampant. That’s why there has been slavery and oppression throughout history. That’s why there was a Holocaust. That’s why we can’t welcome Syrian refugees. That’s why we can’t accept people who are attracted to other things than we are, who believe differently than we do. Our Egos are affronted by anything different from us, anything that cannot be like us or, God forbid, anything that doesn’t want to be like us, and our narcissistic tendencies insist that we crucify anything Other than ourselves, until at least, we are god.

In the New Testament, Paul warns Christians to mortify, or slay, the Ego, that inner resident who insists that everything must be about him or her; to reject self. If we continue to feed our Ego and reject Other, we run the risk of creating monsters, according to Percy Bysshe Shelley: “Treat a person ill and he will become wicked. Require affection with scorn; let one being selected, for whatever cause, as the refuse of his kind – divide him, a social being, from society, and you impose upon him the irresistible obligations – malevolence and selfishness. It is thus that, too often in society, those who are best qualified to be it’s benefactors and it’s ornaments, are branded by some accident with scorn, and changed … into a scourge and a curse” (On Frankenstein).

Interestingly, the Bennett sisters were considered as Other by respectable society in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as well, having been trained for war instead of marriage, yet Darcy came to consider Elizabeth a suitable bride. Maybe there’s hope for him yet.

***

I am deeply indebted to Dr. Harry Benshoff of the University of North Texas for my analytical framework of horror films in his Gender and Sexuality in the Horror Film course. In other words, y’all can blame him that this review wasn’t just that first paragraph.

 

 

In honor of my #KidsMin bestie…

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Everybody, meet Beth. I met Beth about twelve years ago when my family was preparing to move to Texas. Her family had to Texas from Georgia. (She still talks about going back to Georgia. Crazy kid.) Having been involved in the same church and many of the same ministries for several years, we became fast friends, and today, although we don’t get to talk or hang out often, I’d say she’s one of my closest friends.

Of the many things we’ve done together, one of my favorites is children’s ministry. We’ve been fellow Sunday school teachers, Bible club leaders, and VBS leaders/volunteers. Beth has great vision for everything she takes on – just out-of-this-world and imaginative – something the kiddos love, not to mention the artistic teams she supervises. (Seriously, I wish I had pictures to show of the VBS themes she’s executed and how she decorates her classrooms. If you’re ever running low on ideas, I highly recommend checking her out on Pinterest. She is awesome.) She’s does an amazing job leading the kids in music, taking the time to help them understand and be excited about what they’re singing. Although she’s a few years younger than me, she is always inspiring me to think bigger.

And so, when God laid it on my heart to undertake writing a curriculum from the book of Proverbs after teaching some littles a lesson on Solomon a little over two years ago, Beth was actually the first person I talked to about it. And when Small, But Wise was ready yesterday morning, she was the first person I sent the link to. Of course, I sent her the link to the corresponding Pinterest board, too, because we’re both Pinterest junkies. I really wanted to share it with someone who has been in the trenches with me before anyone else, and so I did.

Along with Beth, I’ve been thinking about children’s ministry life, so I thought I’d share some things that have made the trenches a little bit easier, more robust, and adaptable.

Picture Bible(s). Consider purchasing a picture Bible. It’s good to have something for your visual learners. My personal favorite is The Children’s Bible from Golden Press, but I also recently picked up God’s Love for You, a Bible storybook by Rich and Renee Stearns (the World Vision people). If a picture Bible isn’t an option, look for visual aides on Pinterest or Google Images and show them to your students on your smart device.

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Bible Coloring and Activity Books. Yes, there are TONS of craft and activity ideas out there, but believe me, for those times when life comes up and you don’t have time or energy for activity and craft prep, a coloring or activity sheet is a perfectly acceptable fallback. I like Zondervan’s The Beginner’s Bible SUPER DUPER MIGHTY JUMBO Coloring and Activity books because you can run off copies royalty-free for classroom use.

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Have the basics on hand. Children’s ministry crafting staples include: construction paper, poster board, yarn, beads, scissors, glue, crayons, markers, and colored pencils.

Start collecting children’s ministry crafting fodder. You know, cartons, paper and styrofoam products, newspaper, and cardboard tubes. The sky is the limit with crafts when you have supplies on hand.

The dollar store is your best resource for craft materials. The goal with crafts is to help students develop fine motor skills while expressing creativity, so the materials don’t have to expensive or high-quality.

Get on Pinterest. After today, y’all are going to think Pinterest is paying me to talk about them so much, but there are millions of ideas on there for every kind of craft, activity, and project imaginable. Many pins link to additional website and blog resources, like most of the pins on the Small, But Wise board link back to the curriculum.

And for the love of all that is good and holy, find yourself a ministry buddy. Find someone to share thoughts and ideas with. It doesn’t have to be someone at your church, though that can be helpful. Beth and I haven’t been in church together for about two years now (and it was on and off even before that), but I still feel comfortable approaching her when I need someone to chat with.

You may not know me from Adam, but I am always here as well. To prevent spam, I shut comments down on posts after two weeks, but you can always visit my “about” page or email me at lydia.evelyn.thomas@gmail.com. I am thrilled to chat and answer any questions you might have, children’s ministry-related or not.

Be blessed, and happy Thursday!

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(And since it’s Throwback Thursday, here’s this oldie-and-terribly-unflattering-but-goodie)

Happy #AfricanAmericanHistoryMonth: 10 Quotes from Dr. Maya Angelou

This month, I celebrate African American History.

I celebrate the African Americans who have given of their lives in building and rebuilding America and making her great.

I celebrate the significant contributions of African Americans to my spiritual development, teaching me and praying for me and giving me swift kicks to the rear end when needed. These women and men are a major part of my spiritual heritage.

And since it’s both African American History Month and Wisdom Week, I want to include some quotes from my favorite African American poet and a truly wise woman, Dr. Maya Angelou.

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The Tethered World, A Review

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About The Tethered World (from Amazon):

“Normal” means different things to different people. For sixteen-year-old Sadie Larcen, family dynamics look a little different than most. Parents with oddball occupations? Normal. Five homeschooled siblings—one with autism? Normal.

Police knocking on the door and parents gone missing? Definitely not normal!

When Sadie uncovers the reasons behind her parents’ disappearance and the truth about her heritage, she despairs of ever feeling normal again. Especially when she learns that her mother’s interest in Bigfoot, Dwarves, and other lore extends beyond her popular blog. Sadie’s family has been entrusted with keeping the secrets of the Tethered World—home to creatures that once roamed the Garden of Eden.

Sadie and her siblings must venture into this land to rescue their parents. Stepping out of reality and into a world she never knew existed is a journey Sadie fears and resents. But she chooses to risk all to save her family.

She’s just not sure she will survive in the process.

About Heather L. L. Fitzgerald:

Heather Fitzgerald grew up in Orchards, Washington (considered part of Vancouver). She loved creative writing and loathed math. In third grade she began her first book, Rubber Bands and Mashed Bananas, pounding it out on an old-fashioned typewriter. With no typing skills or knowledge of white-out, Heather eventually gave up.

Though she married and settled down in Texas, “write a book” remained on her bucket list. Family life included homeschooling four children, one with autism. A favorite pastime was reading adventures with the kids. After they read through The Chronicles of Narnia, Heather’s desire to write became too powerful to ignore.

She began to blog and work on story ideas. When author Susan K. Marlow read Heather’s review of her book, Trouble with Treasure, she contacted Heather and asked, “Are you a writer?” By God’s grace, Susan saw something in Heather’s writing and began to mentor her.

Heather joined North Texas Christian Writers and attended writing workshops. A prompt from Susan sparked Heather’s original ideas for The Tethered World. This book is the result of six years of writing and a gazillion edits (with equal parts coffee). Though the novel is YA Fantasy, Heather prefers to call it Family Fantasy. She hopes families will read it aloud and enjoy the adventure together.

You can connect with Heather on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

My Review:

I give The Tethered World by Heather L. L. Fitzgerald 4 out of 5 stars.

In her debut novel, Fitzgerald has created a vivid world, diverse cast of characters, and an adventure on par with The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Redwall.

What you see on the cover is just a small glimpse of the world Fitzgerald has brought to life in The Tethered World: giant mushrooms, dark tunnels, snake branches, and many, many others occupy the pages of the story. What intrigued me most, though, was the concept: a world within our own, linked to our own since the Fall. Because of its connection, the Tethered World groans along with ours without needing to resort to allegory. Whether intended on the author’s part or not, I was reminded that human sin created total bondage for all creation, that sin does not occur in a vacuum.

When I say the characters are diverse, I don’t just mean that there is a variety of creatures in The Tethered World, though that’s certainly true. There are leprechauns, gnomes, dwarves, Nephilim, yetis, ogres, and fairies, but beyond that, the human characters were unique. Being a former homeschooler, I loved that Sadie and her siblings were homeschooled and had that special brand of homeschool humor (there was a joke about chain male that had me laughing longer than was probably reasonable). One of Sadie’s brothers has autism, and her great-aunt is afflicted with dementia, and those with loved ones in either condition will find the characters beautifully and relatably written. I would love to see more diversity like this in speculative fiction.

Sadie is not your typical brave heroine, and spends most of the adventure wishing she was back home. I didn’t particularly identify with her, but I liked this aspect about her – it made her authentic and gave opportunity for character growth.

Sophie, though – Sophie is my soul sister. There was a moment when a character quipped, “Hay is for houses,” I thought, I think the saying is ‘Hay is for horses.’ Maybe it’s a typo? Sophie echoed my sentiments just moments later, minus the part about the typo. I am known as the know-it-all in my family, too. I’ve gotten so much better over the years, but I mean, sometimes a girl just can’t help it, so I adored Sophie.

The story is packed with action throughout, and it makes for an exciting read. There were many moments when I caught myself holding my breath, wondering how the Larcens were going to make it out of this scrape or that. It’s not all serious, though: there is plenty of comic relief to offset the tense moments.

That being said, this is a bit of a journey story, and action girl that I am, I had a bit of trouble with the traveling portions. I know they’re necessary – unless you’re J. K. Rowling and then, disapparation – but even in my favorite stories – The Lord of the Rings, for example – I have a hard time with them.

I also want to thank Fitzgerald for not ending on a cliffhanger – that is my pet peeve in serial fiction, and I loved that it was resolved, and yet, you know there’s going to be more.

I highly recommend The Tethered World for fans of Tolkien, Lewis, and Jacques. It’s a fun, clean adventure that will appeal to families everywhere.