Tuesday, October 1st, 2013
2 October 2013: The audio of my presentation is available online now.
Last weekend Desiring God held its 2013 National Conference–The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis. Friday afternoon was filled with 10-minute Small Talks. I used my slot to think out loud about my introduction to Narnia and the effect in my life.
I’m the oldest of 10 children. Of course, in a household that size, there were plenty of responsibilities for all of us kids. Any one of us standing still with empty hands was a target for the dreaded, “Oh, you’re not doing anything. . .” followed by something to do.
Fortunately for me, it was understood that homework was a priority. That became my retreat—not mainly for doing homework which I finished quickly, but for reading. My fat, boring history book was a cover—literally—for the library book of the day, and the skirt of my chair was the screen to hide my contraband pleasure shoved hurriedly under the chair when I heard parental footsteps headed my way.
From the time I could read, I did. I can still tell you most of my favorite books from the library shelf at the back of each grade’s classroom in our country grammar school—The Little Girl with Seven Names . . . Little Lord Fauntleroy . . . Caddie Woodlawn—stories I could sit down and enjoy again today. They must have been good books, because as Lewis said,
A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.
But no Narnia. I hadn’t heard of C. S. Lewis or Narnia. God was saving me from Narnia. The hour had not yet come. I think that at that time, I would have gulped down each Narnia story at one sitting and then raced on to something new.
Then came the day in 1965 when Narnia’s hour was drawing nigh. I stood on one side of a door, and waved goodbye to my parents and brothers and sisters. Then I turned and walked through that open portal and disappeared from their sight and was transported—not quite instantly—from the Atlanta airport to O’Hare—my first ever flight.
There in college, I entered a world I had never known—a story I had never lived. Almost all the characters were close to my age. Once in a while, I heard my parents’ distant voices calling into my fantasy world, mediated faintly through an invisible agent whose magic incantation was “number please” (no dial phones yet in my small hometown and phone numbers of just 3 or 4 digits). They were far away.
But in my every day story? I wrote the plot. Yes, there were class schedules and professors, but I chose when, where, how, and whether to obey. I was free.
My problem, though I didn’t realize it, was that I didn’t know who I was in this new story and what role I played. I didn’t know what character I was.
I fell without much thought—and certainly no effort—into being Peter Pan. I reveled in this life. Fun. Friends. Freedom. No responsibility. My motto was “I don’t want to grow up.” I thought that was cute.
So, for example, if the night is sweltering and there’s cool water spraying up right there in the center of the campus lawn, why not dance with friends in the fountain—until the oldest college trustee hobbles up and ends it furiously, “What are you? A bunch of existentialists?”
Francis Schaeffer had been on campus one of the first weeks of my freshman year. The main thing I took away from his daily chapel messages was that he was the first person I’d seen in real life wearing knickers, and that when other people would have said pseudo-intellectualism (if they even used that word), he said suede-o-intellectualism. I had pretty much no idea what he was talking about, except that existentialism—whatever that was—was not good. I didn’t realize until later that Peter Pan could be the poster boy for existentialism.
(By the way, if you want to know one of the big differences between me and my husband, here’s a good place to mention it. I hadn’t met Johnny yet, but he probably really dug what Dr. Schaeffer was saying.)
But what I dig—then and now—is stories. Stories speak to me. My mind stays with me when I’m hearing a good story. I learn so much from stories—about God, life, people, places, relationships.
And now Narnia’s hour was upon me. At Wheaton, the sainted name of C S Lewis hovered in the air. People spoke casually about Narnia as if that was where they’d vacationed last summer.
If this were fiction, I’d tell you about the earth-shaking moment when I turned the first page of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Truth is, I don’t remember actual reading the Narnia books. What I do remember vividly are particular moments in the stories and what happened to me and in me afterward.
Just recently, I was chatting with one of our 8-year-old grandsons about the difference between adults acting like children in a good way—childlikeness—or in a stupid way—childishness.
For me, the most memorable moment in Lewis is a picture of that difference. Here’s the setting: Aslan humiliated, slaughtered. . . Susan and Lucy grief-stricken at the impossible. But then:
There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane. . . stood Aslan himself.
The awesome, mighty, living Aslan invites them to climb up high onto his back. And here’s my quote:
It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.
There it is: childlikeness at its best. A romp like a child, yes. Playing like a child, yes. Playing as with a kitten like a child, yes. A lion as playful and soft as a kitten, but at the same time a kitten as perilous as a thunderstorm—“Of course he’s not safe, but he’s good.”
I wasn’t changed overnight, but I began to trade Peter Pan for Lucy. I understood Lucy, and she was the kind of person I wanted to be—With all the best traits of a child—brave, loyal, curious, truthful.
But not perfect, and so Lewis’s Lucy made me look at myself through clearer eyes. In Prince Caspian, when she sees Aslan, but the other children don’t, when she can’t persuade them to go toward Aslan, I say, “NO! Lucy! Don’t follow them. Go to Aslan!” And yet, I wonder, What would I have done?
Narnia was one of God’s good tools, turning me from childishness toward the desire to be childlike. The kind of child that can enter the kingdom of heaven.
That led me toward imagination. Imagination is childlike and Narnia opened my heart’s eyes to imagination—not make-believe, but imagination. My second favorite Lewis scene is Narnia’s creation in The Magician’s Nephew. It’s a long and glorious chapter. Here’s just one small part:
A voice had begun to sing. . . . Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. . . . It was beyond comparison, the most beautiful sound [Digory] had ever heard.
Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. . . . The blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. . . . The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. . . . You would have felt quite certain . . . that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.
Sometime after reading that, I walked along a Wheaton street one dusky evening. Peering through the twilight into the next block, I saw a regal collie—one of my favorite kinds of dogs. As I came closer, the collie melted back to what it really was—a pile of golden autumn leaves.
Ashes to ashes. But in between is life. Leaves to leaves. But in between, my imagination was wakened to see a glorious Narnian creature. I could hear more and see more.
The last most memorable scene in my top-3 came when I traveled to Perelandra, the planet that hadn’t yet experienced sin. Ransom is wandering alone through an Eden-like forest of unimaginably luscious fruit.
As he let the empty [fruit] fall from his hand and was about to pluck a second one, it came into his head that he was now neither hungry nor thirsty. . . . What desire would turn from so much deliciousness? But for whatever cause, it appeared to him better not to taste again. Perhaps the experience had been so complete that repetition would be a vulgarity—like asking to hear the same symphony twice in a day.
Why do I remember this passage? I don’t know. Maybe because the thought was so foreign—not to take a second helping of a glorious taste? Maybe because I was grasped by the idea of something so perfect?
And that’s a good place to end—with perfection—where God means to take his people. He uses many means to get us there. And for me, Lewis’s fiction has been pictures, tastes, experiences that are shadows of what is to come.
Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
At the Together for Adoption conference last year I talked about what I didn’t know or fully realize before adopting. Beforehand, I called on blog friends for their experience. I’ve just reread the dozens of comments to that post and find myself once again helped and deeply moved.
Those stories represent what I’ve observed at the T4A conferences–families who have moved beyond the rose-colored glasses assumptions about parenting, and adoption in particular.
In reality, none of us knows all that parenting will bring into our lives, both of grief and gladness. And sometimes it’s difficult to see beyond our own four walls to the bigger reality: God was the first adoptive parent, and adoption–even for God–included suffering.
As Dan Cruver writes at the Together for Adoption blog:
Romanticizing adoption is so very easy and tempting to do.
But adoption always involves suffering. Just ask any birthmother or any child who is one of three hundred orphans in a Chinese orphanage or any adoptive couple who has lived with infertility for years or any adoptive couple who is experiencing the high-ups and low-downs of the adoption process. Sometimes the suffering is deeply intense and ongoing—like that of an orphan languishing each day in a nightmarish orphanage—while other times it’s the heavy heart of the couple waiting to bring their child home. [Read the rest]
Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
When I posted the video of Noah’s story yesterday, I didn’t realize that today would be the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream.”
If you haven’t listened to Dr.King’s speech yet today–or even if you have–I hope you’ll take a minute to hear it from the mouths of hundreds of young people who are living and learning that a person’s character is not measured by the color of his or her skin. The video is especially moving to me because our Talitha attended Hope Academy for several years and here we see young men and women who were children with her then.
Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
Last weekend was a special time for me with family– in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews, children, grandchildren. Next weekend is the Labor Day holiday.
That means it’s time to turn my eyes to the fall. And that means Together for Adoption 2013 is just around the corner with 6 general sessions, 60 workshops, 50 exhibitors–all there because of One Story. That’s ”the story of God the Father forming his family from every tribe, language, people, and nation,” as young Noah’s wisdom reminds us in this video:
I’ll be in Louisville blogging the event Friday and Saturday, October 4-5. I’ll also be there for the Preconference events Thursday, October 3.
It’s a good time to register. I hope you’ll be there and look me up.
Wednesday, July 31st, 2013
Each of you has won won a registration to the Together for Adoption National Conference, compliments of T4A. Email me through the Contact link at the top of the page and I’ll send you instructions for registering.
And thank you to all who commented. I hope I’ll see you at the conference.
Sunday, July 28th, 2013
The Story that Changes Everything for Us and the Fatherless
Together for Adoption
Friday-Saturday, October 4-5
(Pre-Conference events, Thursday, October 3)
Early-bird registration deadline: July 31 — $20 discount
I have been involved with several of the T4A National Conferences. Each time, from personal conversations or speakers I learn something about being a better parent in general, and about understanding and empathizing with my children (whether adopted or born to us). Each time there are ah-ha moments, realizing I’m not the only one experiencing this or that. Sometimes those ah-ha moments lead to tears that lead to my receiving wisdom and practical suggestions. Sometimes I’m the one who is blessed to be able to pass on something I’ve experienced for the blessing of another parent.
So, I look forward to this gathering every year. This year, I will be blogging from the conference.
Conference organizers are offering three of my readers free early bird registration to the 2013 T4A National Conference.
To be eligible:
- If you use FB or Twitter, post a link to the Together for Adoption conference page. If you’re planning to attend, include that info for your FB friends and fellow-Twits.
- If you’re not a FB or Twitter user, use whatever means of communication you choose–email, phone, etc.–to tell some others about the conference.
- Post below to tell me how you’ve spread the good word.
Deadline is 11:59 pm cdt, Tuesday, July 30.
I’ll announce the winners Wednesday morning, July 31.
Monday, June 24th, 2013
I’ve just ordered A Heartbeat Away: A Novel, by Harry Kraus. It’s free for Kindle today, and I don’t know if that offer lasts longer. I’m eager to read it.
You may remember a couple of earlier posts about Harry. One was about visiting him and Kris where they work in Kijabe, Kenya. The other gives a short description of his book Breathing Grace: What You Need More than Your Next Breath. It was being offered free then, but still it’s only $.99 for Kindle, and it’s one of my favorites of Harry Kraus’s books, and he’s written a bunch.
Friday, June 21st, 2013
You’re planning to travel . . . or wishing you could. And some days, you’re thinking how nice it would be if you could send your children on a trip somewhere.
You’ve heard of escape literature. Well, I’ve just discovered some of that genre for your kids. If they curl up in their favorite reading nooks and escape with some of these books, it might be as good as your own escape.
Or maybe they’ll discover a destination you’re actually planning to visit and can read about what to expect.
Subscribe to NoelPiper.com by using the one of the Subscribe links to the right or by clicking here.
Please visit my travel blog too–Tell Me When To Pack
Saturday, June 15th, 2013
The long walk to the mailbox yesterday evening was pointless if letters were the only goal. But it was far from fruitless from Edith Schaeffer’s outlook of taking pleasure in the everyday beauty around you.
Almost hidden in the hayfield were a couple of stalks of bright orange butterfly weed in the neighborhood of lots of delicate fleabane. At least, I think that’s what those wildflowers are called. Tell me if I’m wrong.
Whatever they’re called, they brighten our breakfast table.
There’s lots more about our new place where we’re living this year at my travel blog–Tell Me When to Pack.
Sunday, May 12th, 2013
A few years ago, I wrote several posts about our adoption story. (They start here.) So you’ve heard from me, and I hope you’ve realized our gratitude to God for bringing Talitha to us and us to Talitha.
What you might not have heard yet is Talitha’s own heart.
This morning, she got tired of waiting for me to finish sleeping late and slipped onto the bed beside me with a kiss and a perfectly chosen card, and even better, her own thoughtful note written inside.
Later this afternoon, she sat on the living room floor leaning against the sofa where her daddy was sitting. She was intent on something she was writing on her computer.
Only later, when I opened my own computer, did I realize what she’d done. I went straight up to her room to hug her and thank her.
I suspect that some of you are birth mothers whose children are in another family now. This has been a hard day for you. I pray you might receive Talitha’s words of love and thanks as if they had been written directly to you.
Dear Birth Mother,
I have no idea what you are doing right now or even where you are. But know, you are on my heart, especially today. Today I celebrate not just one mother, but two. Two mothers who have been there for me in different ways. One has nurtured and taken care of me since I was 2 months and the other is you. . . .
Saturday, May 11th, 2013
I suppose none of us ever grasps all that God works in our lives through our mothers. I believe that is true even when growing up is hard. I’m thankful that so much blessing has come from my mother in the midst of our normal family–in other words, we are all very imperfect.
And so on this Mothers Day, with thanks to God for Mother, I share this classic post with you again.
Months before the celebration of Mother and Daddy’s 40th wedding, my sister Pamela dreamed of a quilt to honor Daddy and Mother and to express thanks for the years God had given them together.
Pamela recruited squares from each of the sisters and sisters-in-law. . . . Then Pamela assembled, quilted, and stenciled the gift for Daddy and Mother.
As I look over the squares of this quilt, from oldest child to youngest of us 10 children of George and Pam Henry, I’m reminded of a few of the things I’ve learned by being my mother’s daughter. . . .
Read and/or listen to the rest of “What I Learned by Being My Mother’s Daughter”. You’ll also find photos of all the family quilt blocks, the illustrations for my thoughts.
Happy Mothers Day, dear Mother! I love you.
Monday, April 15th, 2013
Our Bethlehem family blessed us last night with a grand recommissioning service and celebration marking the end of our 33 years as a pastor’s family and the beginning of our next chapter.
My words to our brothers and sisters there touched on the parallels between Bethlehem’s growth and our family’s.
In 1980, Bethlehem’s Sunday congregation fit well in the old Sanctuary, with elbow room to spare. That summer, we Pipers arrived as a family of 5—2 parents and 3 sons.
You who were part of Bethlehem then, I thank you for making this an easy place to become a pastor’s wife. I don’t recall any times when someone expected me to be or do some certain thing because that’s what a pastor’s wife does.
Instead, you offered me options for ministry and were willing to let me pray and talk it over with my husband and then tell you yes or no. You gave me freedom to be wife and mother and to be involved as I felt God leading me, both within the church and elsewhere. I hope that all of you now will bless Cara in the same way.
As Bethlehem grew to multiple services and built a new sanctuary, our family grew too. We added another son and a daughter and so we were a family of 7—2 parents and 5 children. The same year we adopted our youngest child, we also gained our first daughter-in-law—the beginning of the years of sending our sons one by one to their own homes with their brides. And Bethlehem was sending more of its sons and daughters to their new homes, all around the world to spread a passion for the supremacy of God through Jesus Christ.
When Talitha was a first grader, Bethlehem’s old sanctuary came down. That year while the new education building was going up, there was no Sunday school. So we used the Children Desiring God 1st grade curriculum at home—the ABC’s of God. Talitha still remembers rearranging the letters of one long word until she got incomprehensible—however much we learn about God and no matter how well we know him, there is always much more.
That education building completed the downtown campus as we see it now. And Bethlehem has multiplied from that one campus to three. Our family has multiplied too, from 5 of us at the beginning of our time at Bethlehem to 23 now—we 2 are rich with 21 sons and daughter, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren.
Bethlehem’s building with its changes is a symbol that touches just the surface of how much our lives have been interwoven with you brothers and sisters for these 33 years.
I have a gift for you, Johnny. We know that the best gift a person can give often is one that person would also like to have. So this gift to you is to go over our fireplace so that we both can have before us reminders of our life here.
Dear friends, no one but God knows what a treasure your prayers for us have been all these years. Now I ask you to pray that we will be—as Mary Schmuland said to me a few weeks ago—“Retired? No—refired.”