It’s been a long, slow journey. Kind of like grief itself. But what was once a barren field in rural Nepal became a metaphor for the lifelessness I felt after losing a son. I can name off the events, but I still don’t know quite what insanity led a grieving family to attempt a task on this scale. None of us knew anything about fundraising. And throughout the entire process, I would have preferred to grieve quietly, alone in my room, than work and work at something only to fall short of our goals each and every month. This house wasn’t going to be built. I didn’t need another failure on top of the sense of failure that was tearing my soul apart. But I kept going, because of stories like Meena’s. Even as I feared what it would mean to invest so much of myself into something that was bound to fail.
It brought us across the midwest, speaking to small groups and churches. It helped us make new friends.
It brought us together with old friends.
It kept boxes of jewelry packed in my SUV, whether we were on our way to Texas or just to a little craft show in the next town.
And it brought me to talk to neighbors I had never spoken to in order to ask for unwanted items. They helped us fill the church with donated things for a name-your-price garage sale.
One of the carnival workers nervously gave me $2 for a bike and a stack of children’s clothing. I thanked her, glad we could help someone closer to home. Another woman gave us a check for $40 for a basket. The one that made me cry, however, was the lady from the nursing home who heard what we were doing and walked over with a handful of change she had on her dresser. It was all she had.
Grief has a way of leaving you disconnected from the world. Watching people give of themselves has a way of reconnecting you.
And somehow, a handful of change at a time, we made the goal. Work began.
But this is Nepal. Homes don’t pop up overnight. There is a communist government to work with that in one moment approves your paperwork and in the next is talking about throwing out all the Christian organizations. There’s the weather and the landscape, equally as temperamental and equally as harsh. And then there’s the materials. Holding up the second floor with bamboo poles?
It all seems so shaky. Nothing is firm. Like after Mattias died. I don’t know quite how to explain it. If you’ve lost a child, you may understand. But it’s kind of like that song, “…all other ground is sinking sand.” We sing it. We understand it. We believe it on some level. But after losing a child, for a time, you see the sand. You see it shifting and blowing in the wind. You realize how little this world really has to offer because none of it lasts.
But the souls of these children do. So we wait. There’s nothing else we can do.
And the bamboo poles are replaced with brick and mortar and mudded in.
Rocks are laid on the exterior.
And it’s beginning to look like a house. I don’t know how long the construction season lasts in this land of unpredictability. But a dream is taking shape. A home is being built.
If you have followed this blog for long, you know that Tiny Hands International has a special place in our hearts. After our son died, members of this community around the nation and around the world helped us raise funds to build a children’s home in Nepal to help fight sex trafficking across Nepal’s borders where it is easier to get a young girl across the border than a stereo. Because of their education and border monitoring efforts along with the work of countless other organizations, rescue ministries working near Indian brothels have noted a marked decline in the number of Nepalese girls being trafficked. But today, I want to share Meena’s. Meena’s story is different from most of those Tiny Hands helps, but it is a story of incredible bravery, determination and love. And how a broken young woman found Christ.
How is her story different? Tiny Hands’ mission is to intercept children before they are trafficked. They have children’s homes for children at high risk of being trafficked. They have border monitoring stations where they look for suspicious activity and get the young people away from their captors in order to get a more complete picture of what is going on. They help gather information and through their efforts, more traffickers are being imprisoned than ever before, and more young men and women like Meena who thought they were crossing the border to jobs and a better life are rescued before the real nightmare starts. Most are able to return to their villages and their families, a little wiser than they were before. Some find homes at Tiny Hands’ children homes. All of them get a second chance.
Meena’s story is exceptional because of her strength and her courage and her will to survive. She made it home when so many do not.
Have you ever filled out one of those spiritual family trees? Where you write down who led you to Christ and who led them to Christ and who led them to Christ, going back as far as you can? They tell interesting stories, no matter how dramatic or mundane the events. This one is a little more on the dramatic side. If you saw Nabeel Qureschi’s testimony about how he went seeking Allah and found Christ, you might remember that it was “David,” a fellow debate team member who befriended him, answered his attacks and encouraged him to examine Islam the way he had examined Christianity. This is the story of that David, the former atheist David Wood.
I watched this long before I knew who Nabeel was. My first thought at the time was really,
“Wow. I’m glad you found Christ or you’d be one scary person to have on the streets.”
He tried to kill his dad with a hammer. No guilt . . . no remorse . . . no anger . . . nothing. He wanted to break free of the confines of societal norms and expectations and killing someone close to him seemed like a good place to start. I can sort of understand those “crimes of passion,” when someone gets caught in the heat of the moment and there is a deadly weapon nearby. Sort of. But I don’t understand the coldness of a psychopath.
What was really interesting to me was his own view of his actions at the time. He knew his lack of empathy for others was not normal, but he didn’t find that concerning. It fit into the atheistic worldview he was raised with. In his eyes, he wasn’t an antisocial pyschopath who needed to be institutionalized for the good of society.
He was Humanity 2.0.
After all, for survival of the fittest to really choose the fittest of the species, compassion cannot enter consideration. And if all you are is a meaningless lump of cells, what sense does it make to speak of intrinsic human value?
But in his prison cell, he met Randy. Randy wasn’t like the other inmates. He was a Christian who had turned himself in for committing a string of felonies. Unlike other Christians, however, when David tried to mess with him, he fought back. Not with fists, but with questions.
For the first time, David confronted his own beliefs.
As his mental health deteriorated, he began to wonder if there was something else. Something more. And like Saul on the road to Damascus, his eyes were opened. He realized who he was and what he had done and that there was only one way to find freedom.
Because freedom was in the person of Jesus Christ.
And how many people have found that truth because a Christian landed in jail, talked to someone in the middle of a mental breakdown who befriended a Muslim who went on to speak with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries? You can never know the consequences of a simple act of obedience. Even if that comes after some obvious disobedience.
Wonder Woman is not my thing. She never has been. Not the comic books. Not the old television show. And certainly not the old cartoon. When my high school history teacher teased the girls for apparent daydreaming, he accused us of flying around in our invisible jets and that is about the closest connection I ever had to the Amazon warrior princess. But then the mini-reviews started popping up in my facebook feed. “Finally, DC makes a movie worth watching!” Everyone who saw it loved it, including my rather conservative, Christian friends. So my husband and I went to see it.
Upon exiting, the first thing my husband said was,
“I’m kind of over the anti-God messages of all the superhero movies.”
I wasn’t so sure. Maybe because I loved the movie, myself. I mean, you can’t dismiss something that you loved as inherently anti-God, can you? At least not quite that quickly?
The thing is, the “anti-God messages” didn’t bother me because the world in which Wonder Woman operates is so purely fictional. Not like “those stories” that gain such popularity in Christian circles with enough of a Christian veneer to land in a Christian bookstore and enough of a lie to misrepresent who God is.
Most of the Christian commentary I have read actually takes the opposite view, seeing Christian elements and themes to the story. M. Hudson of The Federalist goes so far as to claim unmistakable Christology and that the movie really is the gospel brought symbollically to life on the silver screen. Ryan Duncan over at Crosswalk sees the movie as a call for Christian love, self sacrificing and pursuing virtue.
But seriously? The movie was good (as in a story well told). . . but not that good (as in pointing to the author of goodness Himself).
Maybe it’s because I’m a little leery of this recent trend to find God in every popular book and movie, whether the author intended for Him to be there or not. Looking for God in Harry Potter? Sorry, He’s not there. Seeking Christ in the character of Wonder Woman? Eh, sorry to disappoint, but He’s not really there, either.
That isn’t to say that you can’t make a case for one or the other (or any of a plethora of story characters) being a Christ figure. But the use of a Christ figure in literature is a specific literary technique intended to draw allusions and bring power to the characters, not to draw the reader or movie-goer into a deeper understanding of the Christ of the Bible. In fact, a Christ figure can serve to make a mockery of the faith.
“The Christ figure is not Jesus the man nor Christ the Christian redeemer; the novelist bears no direct responsibility to the church nor to his Christian heritage to present a figure sympathetic to the Christian dogma; the critic who attempts to interpret the figure in terms of faith and doctrine does so at his own risk.” ~Robert Detweiler, Christ and the Christ Figure in American Literature
Just because the author chooses to use a Christ figure to serve the story does not mean the story serves Christ.
After all, if you go looking for God in Wonder Woman, you will find several: Zeus, Ares and (spoiler alert) Wonder Woman herself. Part of the case for her being a Christ figure, after all, is that she is the daughter of a god and the daughter of a woman who has never been touched by a man.
But it’s the wrong god.
So does that mean Christians shouldn’t watch Wonder Woman because of its “anti-God messages?” I don’t know. I’m not really big on telling people what they should or should not do to be “good” Christians. I don’t really view Zeus as a major contender for our society’s worship. It doesn’t take the gospel story and twist it. It doesn’t mock Christianity. Christianity is merely absent, even if a few thematic elements were lifted to drive the story.
There’s a little bit more to the movie than that, however. I didn’t love the movie for its definition of who God is. I loved it for its portrayal of humanity.
I loved it for one scene and one line. (And another spoiler alert because this really is the climax of the movie). I loved it for Ares’ depiction of man as utterly depraved, bent on his own destruction, easily corrupted and not deserving of her devotion or protection. It’s the third time the fact that humans don’t deserve her was brought up, but finally she has an answer.
“They’re everything you say. But so much more.”
Because in each individual there is light and there is darkness. Each individual must choose his path. In the end, it is the pursuit of love and virtue and justice that brings forth the light. And no hero can do that for us.
In Wonder Woman, I saw a depiction of mankind that resonated with me. One which explains how one man can develop plans to annihilate an entire race while another man sacrifices his life to save strangers. It reminds us that the capacity for both rests in each of us and that neither can ever be completely driven out.
Great literature wrestles with what it means to be human. American movies rarely delve that deeply into their characters and their story lines. But Wonder Woman reached just a little deeper, showing us a little of ourselves as we are and as we could be. And that this “could be” need not refer only to the victory of the “light.” Because the “dark” has its presence in every human heart as well.
It’s why we don’t deserve Wonder Woman. And why we don’t deserve Christ.
Summer can be a welcome break from formal lessons, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a break from learning. A collection of toys that are probably already in your beach bag is all you need to turn the pool . . . or a storage tub full of water . . . into a floating summer science lab. Check out these five simple science activities and brush up a little on your own science knowledge to help your children understand science without even having to think about school!
Exploring Bernoulli’s Principle With Your Child
OK, who of us hasn’t stuck their hand out the window to feel the force of the wind rushing past? Young children are natural explorers and will discover quickly how to make their hand dive and rise again just by tilting their hand in the wind. Connecting that to how an airplane’s flaps works is pretty easy and if your child has actually seen the flaps on an airplane’s wings, he or she may make the connection immediately.
Why does it work?
It’s all about Bernoulli’s Principle. OK, so for you physics people, there is a whole lot more to it than that, but for your children who are still young enough to pretend to be an airplane on the way to the pool, Bernoulli is enough.
Bernoulli’s principle states that the increase in the speed of a fluid (and yes, air is a fluid ←That link takes you to another simple experiment to demonstrate) occurs simultaneously with a decrease in pressure. An airplane’s wing is flat on the bottom and curved on top. Since the air has to get to the back of the wing at the same time, whether it goes over or under the wing, the air traveling over the top goes faster. This faster air creates a low pressure area which helps give the airplane lift.
Of course, with your hand plane, you are feeling the force of drag, the wind pushing against an object, more than the lift caused by the changes in air pressure. But there’s no better time for discussing the principles of flight than while pretending to be an airplane! Go ahead and throw in how the car’s engine is providing thrust and how the weight of your hand determines how much thrust is necessary and you’ve discussed all four forces involved in flight!
Exploring Drag With Your Child
Drag is the force that acts opposite to the direction of motion. Thrust pushes you forward while drag literally sucks you backward. It is much easier to feel in the water because more pressure is involved. You can feel the effects of drag even as you just try to walk through the water because humans are not very hydrodynamic.
Find some aerodynamic (hydrodynamic?) toys. Those weighted bombs are perfect for this. Race them under water. Feel how smooth they move through the water. Then find (or make) a small parachute. How does it feel as you pull it through the water? What you are feeling is drag. For smooth motion, the surface of an object has to be smooth to “cut” through the water. The shape of the tail area is important as well. If you look at several objects designed to be aerodynamic, you will likely notice that they have the same basic shape. Take a close look at a submarine, an airplane and a shark. What basic shapes to they have in common? And when you look at their tail area, what do you notice?
Why are they shaped similarly?
Water and air are both fluid (see above). The same laws apply to both, however the drag is much easier to feel in water because the pressure is greater. As water (or air) flows over your toy, it looks something like this:
See that space at the back, before the arrows join? That’s a low pressure area, creating a vacuum at the back of your toy. It “sucks” at the back, slowing it down (and decreasing fuel efficiency). This is the drag we have been talking about. The tail area of anything made to be aerodynamic (or hydrodyamic) is designed to minimize drag while maintaining balance. The fins help keep the machine upright, but they also increase drag. The tail area is tapered to decrease drag, but tapered too much and it can be hard to keep the machine from simply spinning in the water. Mathematicians and engineers work out the perfect balance for decreasing drag while maintaining balance and then build models to test in wind (and water) tunnels to see if their theories worked. Try turning the pool into your own test lab with a variety of differently shaped toys. If you have an older toy, it could be interesting to carefully cut the fins off and see what happens when it moves through the water.
Exploring Buoyancy With Your Child
“Float and Sink” is kind of a staple science center in early elementary classrooms. Children are born scientists, always questioning and always testing. What can be more fun than gathering all your favorite (water safe) things to throw in the water?
Even young babies seem to delight in just dropping things in the water to see what will happen. Older children can begin sorting objects by whether or not they float. Which of the floating toys could carry the sinking toys across the pool?
Once they are old enough to begin to make predictions about which objects will float and which will sink, they are old enough to begin to understand buoyancy. Gather several items and have your child predict which will float. Most important, ask why. She may think the dive ring sinks while the bottle floats because it is heavier, but why does a huge cruise ship float? Can you find items in your collection that float even though they are heavier than the sinking ones? Can any of them float while carrying one of the sinking toys?
Why does it work?
Archimede’s Principle states that the upward force (buoyancy) of a fluid (in this case water) is equal to the amount of water displaced by the object. So if you have a 10,000 pound ship, it has to displace over 10,000 pounds of water to stay afloat. That’s why a ship stays afloat unless something cracks the hull and it begins taking on water. Once enough of the ship is filled with water, it no longer is displacing enough water to stay afloat and it begins to sink.
Can you find anything with neutral buoyancy?
This is easier to demonstrate in a sink or pitcher, but you can actually measure the amount of water something displaces. Mark the edge of water and see how much it rises when you place something in it. What happens if you take an empty container and force it mostly below the water? And as you let the water rush in?
To really demonstrate the principle, try making this simple (if you know a little origami, anyway) paper boat and then recording how many pennies it holds before sinking.
And if you want to take a look at how buoyancy and Bernoulli’s law work together to make a submarine surface and dive, check out this short video on how submarines work!
Exploring Air Pressure With Your Child
For this, you need squirt guns. Or seahorses, dolphins or even soap bottles if you don’t like toy guns!
Water fights on a hot day are always fun, and some of the newer squirt toys for the pool can shoot whole columns of water quite a distance! Have you ever wondered why the water doesn’t just come pouring out of the hole, even when you aren’t squirting it? OK, so you may know, but have you explained it to your children?
Start out by getting your children curious. Hold several different squirt toys upside down. Some may dribble, but unless there is a hole somewhere, they really shouldn’t drain out. What happens if you open the stopper? If you poke a nail hole into the soap bottle? How about if you fill a milk jug and just turn it upside down without a lid?
There are actually two things going on to keep the water in.
First, nature abhors a vacuum. For water to come out, it has to be replaced by something. If the hole in the dispenser end is big enough, air will go up through the liquid while the liquid is coming out. That’s why milk jugs and soda bottles “glug” if you dump them by turning them upside down.
Second, air exerts pressure. 14.7 pounds per square inch at sea level, to be exact. In the case of your squirt gun, the air is exerting more pressure on the water than the water is on the air, so the air actually holds the water in the gun.
Once you squeeze the trigger, the pressure increases enough to send the water shooting out.
Really want to impress your kids? Try some water glass magic. Fill a glass of water to the top and place a note card over the top. Flip it quickly and watch as the air pressure holds the note card against the opening, holding all the water in!
Exploring Volume With Your Child
Assemble a variety of toys for filling and dumping. Don’t forget a set of measuring cups. These are great for teaching young children about volume and measurement. How many quarter cups does it take to fill a cup? How many cups fill a pail?
To really challenge their concept of volume, take several different sized containers and put the same amount of water in each one. Especially young children have a tendency to see height more than width, so they will think a tall thin container has more water in it than a short fat one. Help them to see that they contain the same amount of water by pouring the water back and forth between the different containers and the measuring cup.
If you have a set of geometric solids, try filling them up with water and comparing their volumes as well!
Are there are any other must-have toys or games you take with you to the pool to squeeze a little learning into the fun? If so, please share!
Part story telling, part encouragement. Part homeschooling, part whatever is on my mind. Pour yourself a cup of tea and join me for a spell as we reflect on this journey of life, education and faith.