Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Grace, grace and more grace

I've reprinted a letter I sent to my sister.

Hi Shawna,
Phyllis just sent me the photos of Derek and me. I now know that you were being nice in saying I "looked different" on the horse and horses "make people looked squished down".
What you were doing is trying to find a polite way of saying, "What's up with Sharon's big ol' pot belly?"
Good night! How much weight have I gained?!
I don't think I look like that in the mirror. And don't try reasoning that photos distort someone's body because there's nothing to compare it to. I was on a horse, for goodness sake! I have got to lose more weight.
So I guess the last laugh is on me. There I was making fun of the chubby women rodeo riders when all along you were on the line listening to me thinking, "hmm...maybe she without cellulite should throw the first stone."
Well, I've been ill these last two weeks so I'm not working out for a little while.

On a more worthy subject: BSF is going really well although I think we have not been without Satan's attack. First, Iris, one of my co-children's leader, left all her notes at home so she had to adapt her discovery lesson.
Then there was me. I had to do the closing activity which is basically to get the kids to memorize next week's scripture. I took the scripture to school and, with the aid of the deaf ed interpreters, learned how to put the scripture into sign language as a memory aid to make the lesson more interactive and interesting. For the record the scripture was:

"No one has seen God, but God, the one and only
who is at the Father's side, has made Him known." (John 1:18)

I had it so beautifully prepared. So simple yet just a lovely visual representation of God's word. I get to the Bible study that night, rarin' to go only to find out I had the wrong Bible lesson. The scripture I was supposed to teach the children was actually:

"Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name." (John 20:30, 31)

Well, well, well. Did I teach the kids and adults how to use American Sign Language to recite scripture? Nope.
Did I throw a bunch of English words together and sign John 20:30-31? Yep. Did God enable me to use sign language to enable every one to learn and memorize the scripture? Yes, He did. As I was going through the activity, God kept reminding me that the object was not to teach these children sign language but help them to memorize the assigned Bible verses and I can say with satisfaction that we all had the scripture memorized in fifteen minutes. Not only that but we could sign the verses without speaking, which actually looked pretty cool.
Do we serve a great God who's love everlasting assists us in the minutest details of our lives? Yes! Yes! and Yes!

One thing our teaching leader at bible study said was that Jesus' death on the cross was not only to cover our sins but to pour grace in our lives every day and every moment. Grace, grace and more grace. Grace covered me Monday night at Bible study. That is my wish to each reader out there.
May you have God's grace. Grace, grace and more grace.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Secret Holocaust Diaries

The Secret Holocaust Diaries are the memoirs of Nonna Bannister. Nonna grew up in a wealthy Russian family with ties to the Tzar at an unfortunate time. The Bolshevik Revolution took place some time earlier and Stalin had come into power while Nonna was still a young girl. As living conditions worsened, her father, Yevgeny, sought an escape for their family. So when the Germans invaded Russia in 1941 he kept his family in their residence even though Stalin had ordered all Russians to move farther east. While this decision would mean being labeled as traitors by the Russian government, Yevgeny hoped that the Germans would provide an escape from a regime that was destroying its own people. (Nonna describes going to church with her grandmother and walking past hundreds of people lined up outside the building begging for food- part of Stalin's Holodomor, genocide by starvation that took up to 8 million lives.)
As it turns out the Germans did provide a way out of Russia but in a horrible way. Yevgeny was brutally murdered by German soldiers and Nonna and her mother, Anna, were taken away in cattle cars to German slave labor camps. (She also had a brother but he was taken away to join the Russian army earlier and she never learned of his fate.) Sadly, Nonna was the only one to survive; she and her mother were separated when Anna was taken to a concentration camp for attempting to rescue a Jewish baby from German guards. Her death there is too grievous for me to write here.
After the war, Nonna eventually made it to the United States and settled in Tennessee, marrying a nice southern man and leading a “normal life”. All her nightmarish experiences are kept hidden away in a trunk in the attic. In her old age, Nonna showed her husband her diaries, written in several languages and with the help of him and Christian publishing editors her story was translated into English and put in book form. Her request that it not be published until after her death was honored.
As terrible as her experiences are, Nonna does not fail to infuse her story with the love and joy she knew while with her family in Russia and she clings to those cherished memories of her beloved parents and brother throughout the horror that she endured at the hands of two despots. What also never falters is her Christian faith. It is interesting to see a stout Orthodox Russian eventually join a Southern Baptist church and if she were alive, I would love to ask her about her opinions of the two drastically different denominations.
Nonna Bannister's story is as heart rending as it is gruesome; nevertheless, hers is a story that must be told and preserved.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

More bookmarks

I am feeling little under the weather. Friday started at 5am with a Bible study, I'm now in Children's leadership for Bible Study Fellowship-an international Bible study that is the best study of God's word that I've ever been in; then straight to school. After school, I had to drop Derek off at swimming while I raced to work out, then back to get him and friends to take them to Team Impact at 7pm.
Saturday I had to clean my dirty house. I woke up Sunday morning with a pounding headache and have spent most of the day in bed. Hopefully, after consuming huge amounts of Vitamin C and Airbourne I will make it through tomorrow-especially since it is the first night of BSF and I'm giving the Bible lesson. For those of you who pray, we need more teaching leaders, we have children on a waiting list.
So I'm just listing a few more of my bookmarks without explanation. I am currently reading, "The Holocaust Diaries". This book is about a young Russian girl who belonged to a wealthy Tsarian family, how their life changed under Stalin's regime and how they eventually ended up in a German slave labor camp. I've only read half so I will review it next week.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Book reviews: Two different perspectives on life under the Nazis: In My Hands; On Hitler's Mountain

I have seasons of interest. Lately I have developed an interest in things pertaining to the first half of this century and the world events that took place.
The books I have been reading are nonfiction accounts of different people's lives during World War II. I have also bought, but not yet read, a book on the rise of Communism in Russia. I don't know why I have developed an interest in such events except that I am striving to gain an insight in how people come to be in countries where all their freedoms and rights are taken from them and they find themselves living under the regime of a totalitarian government.

My questions are: Do people freely hand their freedoms over to despots? Are they deceived into doing so? Do they find themselves pulled under by a current that's too strong to swim against? Is it apathy? Desperation? Can we recognize the symptoms if it happens in our own country? Do the writers of these memoirs now possess insight as to how things came to be in their country and how it can be avoided in the country they've immigrated to (all the writers I've read so far have immigrated to the US)?

Finally, as those of you who know me, I am Christian and have an unashamedly Christian viewpoint. That will be obvious from my reviews. On the chance that there are people reading my blog that do not share my faith, please do not jump to the conclusion that my personal angle must be biased. Any viewpoint is from the angle of that individual's personal beliefs. Therefore, my opinion of secular viewpoints are that they are no less biased, but simply from a stance that God doesn't play a key role in our lives while I know Him to be the Entity that gives meaning and purpose to all things.

Into My Hands by Irene Opdyke

The first book I've read was a wonderful, riveting account of a young Polish girl's experience of the Germans invading her country. I read this book in two days because I could not put it down.
Irene Opdyke vividly recounts the innocence of her childhood, the happiness of her family as she grows up and trains to be a nurse. While at the hospital one day, the Nazis invade her town and life as she knows it is over. She doesn't get to go back home. Instead, she and the other hospital staff find themselves running for their lives and hiding in a forest for the night. The next morning one of the Polish generals comes to them and, rather than giving them the comfort and solace they were hoping for, announces that Poland no longer exists as a country and that they are now a part of Germany.
Can you just imagine that? You go to work in the morning little knowing that you're not coming home again? Not because you died but because there is no home to go to. You no longer even have a country.

Irene doesn't see her family for three years. In her efforts to escape the Germans she is apprehended by the Russians where she is forced to work as a nurse in one of their hospitals. Eventually she makes it back to her hometown and because she is lucky enough to look and speak German, she is given a job as housekeeper of an SS officer.

Now here's the really good part. While she keeps house for this feared Nazi officer, she is simultaneously taking care of eleven Jews in the basement of his house.

What I particularly like about Opdyke's narration is that she has no one-dimensional good and bad guys. Yes, she meets with and suffers at the hands of some monstrous, Russians and Germans; but she also meets Russians and Germans who are capable of compassion and kindness. Such as the German cook in the hotel occupied by the Nazis who, with a knowing eye, gives Irene several coats when she asks for just a couple for "her sister and herself".

Opdyke recounts her horrific experiences in a way that causes you to vicariously partake of them. Not a bad thing for most of us sheltered Americans.

On Hitler's Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood by Irmgard A. Hunt

This book is also very interesting for what it reveals. Several things stuck out for me. One, Irmgard Hunt tells of how Hitler attempts to replace the Christian religion with Nordic and Celt beliefs because the latter are more "authentically German". For instance, during the Christmas and Easter holidays, the German people are encouraged to practice the ancient pagan customs that Christian missionaries had imposed "Christian meaning" to such as winter solstice and fertility rites in the spring rather than celebrating Christ's birth and crucifixion/resurrection.

According to Hart, what she and the Germans around her were most aware of was their own hardship and deprivation. She claims they were ignorant of the holocaust and the concentration camps. Given that she was very young during much of it and also that she lived near Hitler's compound it is possible that she and the people of Berchesgaden were more sheltered from the nightmarish realities that other German citizens must have known about.

What I value about this book is the insight it reveals in how a people could allow someone like Hitler to rise to power in the first place. We can understand some of the reasons through the lens of time. For one, the first World War had left the German nation utterly destitute and desperate. Initially, Hitler seemed to improve the economy and for a time things got better. Then, however, as Nazi Germany started invading its neighbors, Germany was soon sunk back into poverty as WW II took its toll. Hart never explains how the average German reasoned the need for war in the first place. Were they led to believe that they were the ones being invaded? How did they become persuaded to fight in a war when no one was attacking them? This is never made clear nor does Hart ponder it herself- at least in this book.

She does make clear how the blind devotion to Hitler and the almost brainless unquestioning obedience to anyone in authority affected the German citizens. I would like to read something that explains how they came to think like that.

Overall, this book does not draw me into the sufferings of the people as does Opdyke's book, except at the beginning when Hart describes the harsh conditions her grandparents and mother have to endure in the aftermath of WWI.

Interestingly enough, in reading the question and answer section at the end of the book, Hart believes the same thing could happen in the US if "fundamental religionists" are allowed into power. My question to her is, how do you define fundamental religionists, and what do you fear they can do?"
She also expresses a fear that these "fundamentalists" are trying to make "targets of hatred" out of terrorists and Moslems in the same way that Hitler made targets of the Jews. Now what the heck does she mean by that? For one, the Jews were not a threat to Germany. Terrorists are a threat to the security of our country. Has she already forgotten 9/11?

All of this calls to mind that someone can live through something as profound as a totalitarian regime but possess no insight as to how it can be prevented again when their own secular ideologies shape their thinking. If you read her biography at the end of the book, you'll know what I mean.
Overall, it was an interesting read and I still recommend it although I think there must be better sources of information of life under Hitler out there.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Never Enough Bookmarks

I guess I'm being lazy. School is back in session and once again I'm coming home exhausted with just enough energy to make myself a cup of tea and read a book on my back porch. I'm currently reading a fascinating book entitled, "On Hitler's Mountain". It is a first person narrative of a women who grew up in Berchtesgaden near Hitler's Obersalzberg while he was in power. It gives a unique perspective from an average German citizen's point of view during Hitler's rule and how they were deceived, or allowed themselves to be deceived by him, until they could no longer deny the monstrosity they unleashed upon themselves and the world. I haven't finished so I'll have to tell more later, so far it's a worthy read.
What I have here are my different bookmarks. I never have enough bookmarks.