Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Sunday Blessing

This morning at church I sat behind a family with three small children. The youngest boy appeared to be around two, and he sat contentedly in his father's lap for the entire service, looking through a cloth book that contained activities such as buttoning, tying, and zipping. He unlaced the cloth shoe and then tried to tie the string to a string on a different page. He worked patiently for several minutes until he was satisfied that his knot would stay. He then looked proudly up at his father and excitedly whispered, "I did it!" His dad looked down and gave him a small, encouraging smile. The little boy beamed as if he had been handed the world, and then he turned his attention back to the book.

As I watched this exchange, I realized that that little boy was giving me a picture of how I should live each day. While I may not always clearly understand the things that are going on around me or why I should respond to them in the way He has asked me to, I can sit contentedly in my Heavenly Father's arms, focused on the work He has given me to do. When I need approval, I should look to Him alone, and His smile is the highest affirmation I can receive.

I was blessed to witness this one simple exchange between father and son. It amazes me how our actions may be a blessing to others in ways that we may never see or realize.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Rejecting Tolerance

*I wrote this in my journal at the beginning of February and had completely forgotten about it. I ran across it tonight and became challenged by the thoughts it contains, and so I thought I would share it.

Although I know should not do this for the sake of my blood pressure and out of respect for the analytical skills I am supposed to be honing in graduate school, and not destroying, I often will scan user comments on news articles after I read them, especially articles that deal with controversial subjects. An article discussing the issue of marriage will invariably have a few users who chime in with the “ultimate answer” to Christians who support traditional marriage. These comments usually say something like, “God is love, and that means love in whatever way it manifests itself. He accepts everyone equally, and Christians who hate homosexuals do not reflect who God really is.”

Yesterday at church I heard a sermon that dealt with the rich young ruler, and how Jesus immediately pinpointed that what was lacking in that man’s life was the inability to understand the depth of his sin and his need for a Savior. It was far easier for him to believe in his wealth and position than to admit those things could not save him and turn to the One who could. This morning as I went to do my devotions, I realized how deeply the Gospel as Jesus presented it to the young ruler rejects tolerance.

“Tolerance” is a huge buzz word right now and has been for awhile. It hit me today that the rise to prevalence that it has enjoyed in America may be one of Satan’s more brilliant moves. The idea of it sounds so…American. You accept everyone as they are, and everyone lives how they want to. No one steps on anyone’s toes. This is how true freedom manifests itself in society.

I think this concept sounds innocent enough and carries a small grain of truth that makes it sound acceptable that it has proven to be the biggest thorn in the church’s side. This wolf in sheep’s clothing has blindsided us. The saddest part about it is the concept of love has been weakened to the point that it is now equated with tolerance. 

Tolerance, however, only extends as far as the Tolerant Line. If you have opinions that do not line up with that, then you lose your right to freedom of speech to express such offensive feelings. If you do open your mouth and say something that does not fall on correct side of the Line, then you are expected to at the very least apologize, and hopefully take sensitivity classes or write a check that will prove that you actually are tolerant of those you offended when you held a view contrary to their way of life. Even with those measures, you can expect to be branded for life as someone who is stupid or ignorant or, even worse, intolerant.

What started off as such an innocent sounding word has done more to hurt the church in the past decade than anything else. Tolerance has become America’s god, and its priests are political activists who remain on the prowl to subdue any sign of resistance. The concept of what love truly is has been lost. Explaining God’s love, then, becomes that much harder. The phrase “God is love” has become one of the most misunderstood truths in America today.

God is not tolerant, in any way, shape, or form. A quick glance through the history of Israel in the Old Testament will prove that, as will reading any of Jesus’s words to the Pharisees or New Testament stories like Ananias and Sapphira. God’s holiness leaves no room for tolerance. These examples, however, also serve to illustrate just how beautiful God’s mercy is. No one is righteous—anyone who has ever told a single lie and taken anything at all that did not belong to them (a paperclip from the office, for example) is a lying thief. The depravity we all live in is so deep, and God does not tolerate it at all. His mercy, however, is open to everyone. Without judgment He will extend the mercy of Christ’s sacrifice to anyone who recognizes the depth of his or her sin and turns to Him for life. The law of God still applies, and tolerance offends God’s holiness. A metaphor I heard in church yesterday was that the law is like a needle that must pierce the human heart (“for without the law I never knew what sin was”) to create a hole that the thread of God’s mercy can then enter to bind the heart to Him. Tolerance only stands in the way of God’s salvation, because if the depth of sin is accepted, then the need for Christ is hidden.  In ignoring, or, at worst, embracing, tolerance, the Church has allowed an idea that blocks the Gospel to become so prevalent in society that we now have to overcome it before we can share the message that brings Life, and that abundantly.

As long as Tolerance is the driving force behind societal policy, the Church can never be. The two should not, and cannot, exist side-by-side. For God’s love to truly be understood and communicated, we must recognize that sin exists and is wrong, admit that we Christians, too, are sinners and that we hold ourselves accountable to the same line of judgment as we hold everyone else, and then point to the Truth that comes not from ourselves, but from a higher authority. Only then will the depth of God’s grace truly be revealed.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Father's Day

My poor dad's birthday is always right around/on Father's Day, so the two events always manage to get merged into one. This year was no exception.

Last Christmas my dad gave us all shirts that say "Hey, wanna know something?" This was a question he used to always pose to us when we were little, and we would eagerly demand "what?" He would respond "I love you!" As we grew older, the question itself came to mean he loved us.

On Father's Day we wore our shirts to church, and our gifts all centered around them too. He got a mug with the picture below on it, and a collage picture frame filled with pictures of us jumping. Or, for the most part, us attempting to jump. Trying to get a picture of four people in the air using a camera on a self-timer is harder than it sounds!

While the four Marken girls showing up to church in t-shirts is not a typical occurrence, I do hope that our actions honored Dad, and showed him how much we love him. We have been blessed to have had such a Godly man raise us in his own gentle way.

Friday, June 14, 2013


I live a fast-paced life in a faster-paced world. I am a multi-tasker even when the need to multi-task does not exist. I surround myself with noise to keep my ears occupied while my eyes and hands are busy with other things.

Then the power goes out. A storm rages. The wind tosses tree branches around as if they are bubbles. My computer sits useless; my chance to work through my to-do list is snatched away.

So I sit back, relax, and enjoy the sound of the rain pounding against the windows. A momentary pause to my day. 

Twenty minutes later the sun's presence can again be felt. Yet evidence of the storm lingers. Silence replaces power-induced noises. It stretches through the afternoon and into the evening. What began as a pause lengthened into a disruption of the entire day. No Internet, no photo editing capabilities, no iTunes.

A quiet workout. A shower in the dark. A supper of graham crackers and peanut butter. A phone conversation with a good friend. Time spent playing the guitar. A chapter in Nehemiah and one in Proverbs.

A chance to connect with my Creator. Without distractions.

As the shadows lengthen and the candlelight flickers, I spend time with the One who loves me most. The silence engulfs me like a gentle, drawn-out embrace. A chance to unburden my heart. I pour out my concerns, my fears for some I love who are headed down paths of pain and sorrow.

My Father hears. My Lover comforts. His grace in my life becomes more pronounced, more incredible, as I see His grace in the lives of others. An understanding washes over me. The pain I feel over the presence of sin in this world is only the faintest shadow of the pain He feels. The pain He felt the day He died to give me the chance to live in freedom in such a world.

The darkness engulfs the house. Small flames dance and flicker on their wicks, fighting to hold off the coming night. They reflect the daily battle of a follower of Christ. The silence deepens into peace. Fireflies begin to glow. As the night settles into its darkest, my confidence in Light's final victory grows. Victory that will replace the pain with eternal joy.

My to-do list sits untouched by my computer. The Father's Day gift will have to wait. Preparation for grading next week's work will have to wait. Life interrupted today's best-laid plans. A quick storm took my twenty-first century comforts with it. It left in its wake the chance for me to be reminded of the promise in His presence.

A promise found in silence.

Friday, June 7, 2013


I have often thought it strange that graduation ceremonies are called "commencements" when the majority of the time is spent celebrating where the graduates have come from and the conclusion of that stage of their lives. There's always the obligatory answer to "what are you going to do now?" that must be uttered multiple times that day, but the diploma is the crowning moment of a stage of schooling and we bury it in a ceremony we call a beginning. Strange. But, I suppose as a historian, I am more concerned with appreciating the past than I am with focusing on the future, so perhaps my perspective of graduations is what is strange, and not the word "commencement".

My sister's high school graduation ceremony was beautiful, and very different from my own. I did what I do best at my sisters' graduations: take pictures. These were a little less of a fiasco than Kyra's were, mostly because you cannot underestimate nine years of technological improvements in cameras, but also because I've also learned a little more about photography since then. By time Kory's graduation rolls around, I'll be able to get really nice pictures for her!

While it is strange to think of Kaitlyn going off to college (in Massachusetts, no less), it has been neat to see the accomplished woman of God she is becoming. The "quiet" Marken girl (although those of us who really knew her knew this label was never quite accurate) has a boldness and confidence about her that really shines when she gets on stage. She can also tap dance like nobody's business, and make you cry in a heartbeat through one of her short stories.

The Class of 2013

Homeschool Graduation flashback: The Class of 2006.
Amazing how long ago this was, even though it doesn't feel like it!

Each graduate played a slideshow during the ceremony, which added a sweet touch to the day. I made Kaitlyn's, and got a little more ambitious in what I wanted to do than iMovie would allow. Rather than letting the limitations of consumer software stop me, I showed my computer who was boss and merely moved over to Final Cut Pro. If I want to put three pictures on the screen at the same time, I will, thank you very much. I had so much fun working in Final Cut again! (I still LOVE editing movies. If anyone ever needs any video edited, please think of me…)

I was instructed on how to begin it, so I cannot take credit for that brilliance (and it really is a brilliant opening. Good idea, whichever sister thought of it!) If you'd care to enjoy all of the hard work that Kaitlyn still owes me a lot of fudge for, I can make that happen. Just click the play button below, and you're in business! (For best results, be sure you have your audio turned up before you hit play. Trust me, you don't want to miss the audio at the beginning.)

Monday, June 3, 2013


Yay for summers, when sisters graduate from high school (wait, WHAT? When did my little sis get THAT old?), internships only require a few days of work a week, and little buddies need playing with while their parents are out celebrating an anniversary. Being "Rissa" for a whole day was so nice!

I can guarantee you that whoever you were with on Friday were not as cute as who I was with. Or maybe they were equally as cute. No way they were cuter!

Cannot believe he was born while I was in college. Surely I am not that old, am I?

This is the Star Wars wizard right here. I promised him that I would finally get around to watching those movies this summer. I fear that if I don't, I will never be able to understand a word he is saying ever again. This should come as some comfort to those of you who have wondered how I could have been a media major having never seen Star Wars. This is a wrong in my life that will finally be righted. (Also, I would like to note that he was not mad here. He was merely trying to figure out why I was taking a picture of him and not the goat. I don't think he could understand it.)

Those buddies who were little when I left for college are no longer so little. So, I babysit the younger ones, and I socialize with the older ones. It's a good system. After all, I go over there to play. We really need people who are responsible around!

And when I say "babysit" the three little ones, this is what I mean. My secret has now been exposed. (After this, we played Pretty, Pretty Princess, but I was so intent on strategizing how to become the princess that I failed to get any good future blackmail pictures of the boys. Also, I think the best definition of maturity is "the ability to exercise restraint to NOT always take the crown when you land on 'choose any piece' in Pretty Pretty Princess, because you know it is the only piece that you can and will lose before you get to go again." This is such a hard real-life concept to grasp.)

Monday, April 8, 2013

History Comes Alive

Judging from my presence on my blog, you would probably think grad school has eaten me. While that sometimes seems at least partially true (I do not even want to think about what I have to complete over the next month…therefore I won't), an alternate explanation for my absence is that I moved away from my friends and my most recent set of kids, and now I must have nothing interesting to write about, because if you look at my previous posts, you'll see that's all I ever posted about. This explanation may seem a little extreme, but let's be honest here: how many posts can I really get out of the things I am reading (which is all I ever seem to do)? After posting a few pictures of BOUS (Books Of Unusual Sizes), my blog would become so boring that even I would steer permanently clear of it. I suppose I could self-publish my book reviews on here, but most of the time I like to forget about those as soon as I turn them in, and I am not sure they are fit for public consumption.

Last week something interesting did happened in my life, and so I am choosing to ignore the grading that is glaring at me (which will probably bury me so deeply under its massive bulk that I will emerge blinking, pale and blurry-eyed, into the sunshine right around the time I turn 50), and post a few pictures to update my sorely neglected blog. My Civil War class toured the battlefields of Harpers Ferry, Antietam, Gettysburg, and Cedar Creek under the guidance of guest instructor Dr. Steven Woodworth, who has written this book and this book, both of which I own, and both of which I got signed while I had the opportunity (yep, I'm a TAD excited about this).

Anyway, the afore promised pictures…

Harpers Ferry. The day was crisp, blue, beautiful…and FREEZING. The wind was so bitterly cold that I'm just glad I still have my toes.

One of the prettiest sights in America: the Shenandoah River, the portion that wove along the hills on which was fought the battle at Harpers Ferry in 1862. Who knew?

Where the Shenandoah and the Potomac meet and become just the Potomac. The beauty of the spot is dampened when you remember that very near this spot was where the first man killed in John Brown's Raid was shot. 

With my friend Andrea, standing near Jefferson's Rock, the spot with the view that he claimed was worth the trip over the Atlantic for. The view was pretty, but you'll have to trust me on this one since we are conveniently covering the entire thing.

By the Sunken Road/Bloody Lane at Antietam. Andrea is a Yankee (from NJ), so we're reenacting the scene—her on the attacking side while I am just above the lane on the other side of the fence. We had marched, shoulder to shoulder, across the Cornfield earlier that day, and there's nothing quite like reenacting things on the spot they occurred that give you a perspective on what it might have been like (minus, you know, the presence of bullets flying around you and the haze of gun smoke…).

Some of us in front of the visitor's center. It's a cannon…you have to take a picture!

On to Gettysburg! The view from Little Round Top, the rockiest place on the East Coast in my humble opinion. I can't imagine running up that hill in full gear under fire. It was hard enough to walk carrying nothing on a peaceful day.

Behind Sharpshooters Rock is this famous picture taken by Matthew Brady's photographers in the days following the battle. I include this because…

We had to recreate it!

On Sharpshooters Rock, sharpshooting, with Little Round Top in the background. Yet another reason I wouldn't have wanted to be on that hill.

Longstreet defenders grew tired of him not having a memorial at Gettysburg, since everyone and their third-cousin-farmer-from-the-middle-of-nowhere has one, and so they raised money to right this wrong. Their motto was "it's about time!" which is ironic, because that's what Lee probably said when the real Longstreet finally reached this spot on July 4, 1863. They didn't raise enough money to put it on a pedestal, so it holds the distinction of being the only monument at Gettysburg that is on the ground. It also holds the distinction of being the ugliest. The front of the horse is disproportional to the rest of it, and the neck is thicker than its hindquarters. I don't know that this monument does very much to contradict the work the Lost Causers did to Longstreet. Poor guy.

In front of the Virginia monument…of course.

Lee and Traveler, Virginia heroes. 

Standing at the point where Pickett's Charge began, overlooking the field they had to cross.

The other side of Pickett's Charge, looking back over the ground they covered.

On the stonewall that separated the charging Confederates from the Union line. We marched the route of the Charge, shoulder to shoulder as Lee's men would have done. It took us over 11 minutes to get from one end of the other, including nearly 3 minutes between the road and the wall, ground that would have been entirely exposed to Union guns. Imagine that journey under constant fire. After doing that, I'm amazed any of Pickett's men survived to either be taken POW or to retreat. 

Group shot with Little Round Top in the background.

We stayed at the Gettysburg Hotel, in the heart of the town. I got the brilliant idea to try to do a panorama of the circle that all of the main roads converge onto. Apparently this is what happens when you take a panorama of moving cars. Ha! The hotel is the building that has the bus parked out in front of it. It was Eisenhower's national command center (or something like that) for a time. Also, the building across from it (the brick building on the far right, half of which is cut off) is where Lincoln stayed when he was in town to give his address.

Final day of the trip—Cedar Creek. This is the view from the Belle Grove plantation. The Shenandoah Valley is so pretty!

The Valley, once more. This was at the far end of the Union line, where the Confederate attack began. In a battle in which Early and Sheridan were the opposing generals…well, can I root for both sides to lose? I really am not a fan of either one. 

One of the highlights of my trip—I was kidnapped by some buddies! I hadn't seen them in over two years, but you'd never have known that from the fun we had. I was staying six miles from their house (Abby tried to convince me to just stay AT their house, because, why not?), so I was thrilled they made it over to the hotel and then decided that I needed to spend the rest of the evening with them. It's hard to believe how tall they've all gotten!

Shout out to Apple: all of these photos were taken on an iPhone 5. I love that camera. 

The trip was tons of fun, and I wish I didn't have to get back to real life this week (did I mention the grading I have to do, and really should be doing at this moment?) I vote we do it again, only this time for a month! Lowlights were the colder temperatures, which made for some uncomfortable moments when the wind swept across these wide open areas, and the fact that I ate beef one night and promptly broke out in a rash. Apparently I'm allergic to some types of beef. Ironically, one of the guys on the trip had offered to switch his chicken for my London Broil, and I nearly took him up on it. I would have saved myself so much itching and discomfort had I only done so! Oh well, such is life.