Friday, December 24, 2010

On the outside, looking in

One of the most intensely dark Christmas stories that I have ever read is Hans Christian Anderson's story of The Little Match Girl. Touted as a children's story, it features a destitute little girl, bare-footed and shivering in the cold, afraid to return to her meager home because she has not sold any matches that day. All day long she has been on the outside, looking in at lives filled with warmth and laughter, Christmas trees, holiday feasts, loving families. With no place to go she curls up in a corner between some houses and lights a match to try to keep herself warm. Each match she lights pulls her into a vision of all that she dreams of, delights of warmth and comfort that vanish as the match burns out. Finally she sees a vision of her grandmother, and, desperate to keep that vision from vanishing she lights all of the matches at once. Her grandmother carries her off to heaven and in the morning people find the little girl's cold, dead body. Funny how that's not a story widely told to children anymore.

In a way, I have always identified a bit with that little match girl. Always on the outside, looking in at the warmth and laughter, never feeling that I belonged to that world. In vain I would light my feeble matches, trying to hold on to visions of belonging. Education. Career. Appearance. Family. If only it wouldn't burn out; if only I could REALLY enter in, I would finally belong somewhere. But they all burned out, each in their own way, never bringing me the warmth that I longed for.

I remember in particular one year during college. Home on Christmas break, the feeling of emptiness was overwhelming. On Christmas Eve I went for a walk under a star-lit sky, thinking that if I just tried hard enough I could capture some of the warmth of Christmas, some of the peace, some sense that I belonged in the universe. I knew the Christmas story, had been raised with it drilled into my head, but I didn't FEEL the Christmas story. The stars didn't hold any answers. No angels sang for me, no sudden a-ha! moment came to me. All I felt was alone, wandering under the sky. Forever on the outside, looking in at something I couldn't quite grasp. Inside, I was as cold and dead as that little match girl.

Flash forward many years. Many midnight wanderings on darkened streets that never led me anywhere. Many matches lit and burned out. And now I know...I wasn't the only one on the outside. I'm not alone. We are ALL the little match girl, all longing for something that we could never reach on our own.

Photo by Steve Evans
And so, God came. Because we could not open the door to go in, God opened the door and stepped out in the darkness and the cold. God came to us. As we huddled in our corners he came, and he laid the gift of a baby at our cold and bloodied feet. A baby who would suffer through the same cold and despair that we live in. A child who would know the things that pain our hearts. A man who would take all of those hurts and all of those longings and in one final moment would experience the ultimate knowledge of being on the outside, being forsaken. And in that moment the door would be flung open for all eternity, welcoming us into HIS warmth.

Immanuel. God with us. God with us in the darkness, God with us in the light. God entering our world. God breaking through. Immanuel. God with us. And I am no longer on the outside, looking in.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Oh, Christmas ladder...

I grew up in a house without a Christmas tree, in fact, in most of the years that I remember my mother did very little decorating at all. I didn't understand it at the time, and I longed for a Christmas tree with all of the passion of a child to whom the Christmas trees of friends and classmates seemed embodied with the magical abilities to bring that mysterious "Christmas Spirit" into a home.

We had a tree one year, when I was about five or six, and we may have had them before that, but never afterwards and I didn't really understand why. One year we had a refrigerator box that my mom fashioned into a pyramid shape and covered with green wrapping paper; we stuck paper ornaments on it with all of the names of Christ written on them. I suppose it was a meaningful experience since I still remember it, but at the time all I can remember thinking is "Well THIS is all well and good, but I want decorations!"

Yes, I wanted sparkling lights, candles, tinsel. I wanted something to warm both house and heart. One year I discovered a box of old Christmas decorations in the closet and those paltry, crumbling items held an aura of mystery to me. From them on I took it upon myself to be the decorator for the season. Tinsel on the house plants, old candles arranged with fake greenery and a few flaking decorations, pictures stenciled on the windows with fake snow. I spent years trying to create the feeling of something that I knew was out there, something that I never managed to quite grasp.

Fast forward to my first year out of college and an attic apartment shared with my best friend. She was determined to have a tree, and I happily joined in, going to pick out the tree, hauling it up two flights of stairs and around several tight corners. We decorated with ornaments she got from home, as well as a few purchased on our meager budgets. I still have them in a box; each of my trees since then has been the cumulative story of my adult life.

I had a tree most years after that, skipping a few years with crazy roommates, picking back up when I married and then stopping again when Mike and I lived in apartments with no space for a tree. But still I loved the idea of putting up a tree.

That all changed a few years ago, at a time when we were finally settled into our own home, a time when I should have gladly decked the halls for all they were worth. And I found that I just couldn't make the effort, it exhausted me to even think about it. Going to pick the tree wasn't the happy family outing I had dreamed of, it involved freezing fingers and two small children fussing about how COLD they were. And then there were the needles everywhere, and the hours spent decorating and the watering and the needles and the allergies to the chemicals used on the trees and the needles and the hours spent packing everything back up and it just didn't make it FEEL like Christmas for more than about the first hour.

I wonder now if my mother suffered from seasonal depression too, if the effort of trying to maintain peace on earth and joy to the world all through the holidays was as exhausting to her as it has become to me. I wonder if, like me, she just wanted something simpler but didn't know how to achieve that balance and so she just didn't even try.

This year I decided to put my foot down. I just couldn't do it anymore. Fortunately, I was helped along in my decision by a certain eight year old who suddenly decided that we are better off keeping the trees where they are so that they can provide us with oxygen. The minute he declared we shouldn't have a tree I said "OK! We won't!"

The lessons learned in my childhood weren't lost though. I decided that I would decorate within MY abilities. And so we have the poinsettia corner (using the tree skirt that I debated on for almost two years before purchasing):

The garlanded stocking railing (complete with decorations that recall the chipped and flaking decorations of my childhood):

The Advent wreath (in which I make use of all the round glass ornaments):

The Nativity set, watching for something (for those who have known me awhile, yes, this is the nativity set of "Help, help, Baby Jesus is lost in the beans! Quick, get the sheep!" fame):

And finally, the Christmas ladder:


I can't begin to tell you how much fun I had decorating this year. Each piece was small and quickly finished. I missed putting up ALL of my treasured old ornaments just for the chance to remember their stories, but I am content with what I've done.

When I pulled out the box of decorations Indy dove in with great delight and as I started fussing at him to not make a mess and leave the decorations alone I remembered the mystery that I found years ago in a box of old decorations and I decided to let him play. Maybe one day when he's interested I'll tell him the stories held in some of the decorations.

Most importantly, now that I have the pressure to create removed from my back I have more to give. More time to spend on Advent devotions. More time to spend soaking in the peace. More time to sit with my children, listening to them express their wonder with the season. More time for Christ. And really, that is what it's all about.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Proverbial

There she goes again
The living embodiment of
that super-woman from Proverbs
Chapter 31
Verses 10 through 31.

Up before dawn
She bakes her own bread,
Makes her own yogurt and feeds her children
A healthy breakfast of hot cereal.

All before a day of homeschooling them.
All six of them.

I'm up before dawn,
but I don't want to be.
And sometimes its because
I just can't sleep.

I send my children off to school
with peanut butter sandwiches.

Every hair is in place and her wardrobe
is impeccable.
And three sizes smaller than mine.
She probably doesn't eat chocolate
when she is stressed.

Does she get stressed?

Her home is a welcome beacon
Shining with polish and decorated
tastefully for each season.
She hosts guests with joy and style.

My home is decorated with dust bunnies
And hosting makes me quake with fear.

Her children rise up and call her blessed.

Mine rise up and yell "You are the meanest mom,
Ever!"

She serves on committees and her name is known
for her generosity.
She always knows the right thing to say.

She opens an Etsy shop to sell
her handmade wares.

I have a knitting project I started almost a year ago,
that's been ripped out four times.
And I almost always put my foot in my mouth.

Proverbs 31.
The words always taste bitter.
More rules,
A standard that weighs me down.

What does the Lord require?
What does the LORD require?

Do justice.
Love mercy.
Walk humbly with your God.

I am a Micah woman.
Chapter 6.
Verse 8.

Chaos

Psalm - a miktam*

Oh God, I have that gnawing "I can't do it all" feeling again.
There's too many things on my plate,
A house to clean, children to take to school,
Work to get done
And grocery shopping.

I'm sinking in the morass of my "To-do" list
and I can't see open skies anywhere.
I want to ditch it all and run,
Run far away.

Meetings and conferences and responsibilities
Are devouring me piece by piece.
And there is no peace.

So I stop, and I cry out to you.
You are my rock of rest.
I lean on you and you surround me.
I WILL take time to praise you,
For you have given me untold blessings
Even in the midst of chaos.

My soul delights in you
Let me run to you and take refuge.
My list is still here
But so are you.
Holding me, walking beside me,
Breathing peace into me.

I will hold on to you,
and I will not forget you in the middle of my chaos.
I will see your love in the faces of my children,
Your hand covering me as a sweep the floor,
Your face in each person I pass today.

I will exalt you today, O Lord,
My peace and my strength.

*In ancient Hebrew word pictures Miktam is composed of mem (chaos), kaf (God's open hand allowing to cover), tav (the cross/covenant/seal), and mem (chaos). So loosely, a miktam could likely mean 'a bringing of our chaos to the One who can bring order from it'. If you want to geek out a little further on ancient Hebrew, Genesis 1:1 presents this same picture of One standing in the midst of chaos to bring order.

Monday, October 11, 2010

These days

Today I'll just let the pictures do the talking. Sometimes simple joys are best left wordless.



































































Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Surrender

Dear State Board of Accountancy:

Enclosed, please find one certificate to practice public accounting in this state. You didn't need to get threatening about it, I was going to send it back anyway. I was just having a hard time parting with those shiny letters 'CPA' and the right to put them after my name if I was feeling insignificant. There was something comforting about having a title, about having something that proved I had worked hard and been successful.

And I did work hard. I earned the right to those letters through countless hours of juggling work, classes and a husband. I paid for it in the currency of lost hours, of conversations never had, intimacy set aside in pursuit of my goal. I was going to be self-sufficient. I wasn't going to depend on anybody.

It took me several years to figure out that wasn't what I wanted. That it didn't matter how good I was, what my test scores were or how much the clients loved me. I was empty. Bit by bit my drive to BE someone had drained me of who I REALLY was. I tried to make a go of it, to live up to my expectations of myself. And I was miserable.

It took something fierce to start to pry my grip away. A fierce love for a child that I knew needed me in a way for which there was no substitute. It took mama bear love standing up and declaring that I wasn't going to be afraid, that I would be there for my child. It's been just over three years and I can honestly say I have never regretted a moment of it.

But still I clung to that title like a child clinging to a security blanket long after it loses the ability to keep them warm. The 'what if's of fear, the lack of financial security...those are tough demons to conquer. Far easier to have a fallback plan that I am in control of.

I'm giving up now. I'm surrendering. Along with my certificate I'm surrendering my need to be in control of my life. I'm surrendering the idea that I even CAN be in control of my life. I am convinced that the God who brought me this far has much better plans for me, plans that do not involve public accounting. So you'll just have to muddle along with one less public accountant in this state; I'm pretty sure you'll manage just fine. There's a bigger call out there, a wind that is gathering to take me to places unknown and I'd prefer not to be anchored in the past.

So file this certificate in the file marked 'F' for 'Freedom!' And who knows, I may even do a little William Wallace "Freeeeeeeedoooooom!" yell when I put this in the mail. My neighbors might think I'm nuts, but that's OK.

Sincerely,
Simply Rea



photo by Jesus Solana


Friday, September 10, 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday - 9/10/10

1

Eight year olds have very little concept of the relative amounts of time it takes to complete a task, and apparently I have not been exploiting this encouraging the development of this skill to its full potential. I discovered this one recent Sunday when I told Gates he needed to sweep the Wheaties strewn floor around his chair.

"Noooooo!!!! I ALWAYS have to do it!!!!!! I'm TIRED of doing it!!!!! I don't want to do it!!!!!" Always meaning like once every other week or so for the past few weeks when he's made a significant mess.

So I tried some Mom psychology on him. "Well, I ALWAYS have to do the dishes and I don't want to so I'll tell you what, I will sweep the floor if you do the dishes."

"OK, I'll do the dishes."

Not quite the response I was going for, but OK, I can roll with this. Expecting him to back out at any minute we emptied the dishwasher, re-loaded it, ran water in the sink and washed all of the pots and pans. He declared it 'not that hard'.

He's also already negotiated the fact that at chores go, washing dishes ranks up there enough in difficulty to be worth 50 cents on his chore commission chart. I'm still trying to figure out if I got lucky, or if I got played.

2

I was always an imaginative child, so it makes me happy to see my boys following in my footsteps as they make up stories. Indy has this down to an art form. He can take any object and turn it into a HUGE cast of characters. For example, the refrigerator words:


I got these for Gates a year or so ago in the hope that it would help his ability to write creatively. He's got the creativity in his head, he just has trouble getting it down on paper. Well, he pays no attention to them. Indy, however, has recently discovered the joys of words. And I don't mean reading them. No, he'll sit there by the refrigerator for an HOUR (no exaggeration) making up stories by turning the words into characters and moving them around. It will be interesting to see if his play changes as he learns to recognize words.

3

On the topic of imagination, I've been listening to Anne of Green Gables while I work (I LOVE the down loadable audio book section of our library). It's made me realize just how little scope for the imagination I have allowed myself lately. So I'm vowing to bring some more imagination into my own life every day. I've especially missed all of the time I used to spend in nature; I need to find some special places where I can dream, if only occasionally.

4

I always felt that I should have been a redhead. Maybe not Anne Shirley red, but something brighter than brown. But lately I've become conflicted about using too many chemicals on my hair and body. So what's a girl to do? To dye or not to dye, that is the question.

5

I need to get some new garden pictures up. Last weekend we visited the farm garden and I ruthlessly chopped all of the growing tips off of my tomato plants so that the remaining fruit would ripen more quickly. I don't think I'll be getting that variety again, they were the vineyest things, with little fruit to show for it. I'm taking suggestions for a good, bushy heirloom sauce tomato for next year.

6

Vines seemed to be the story in the garden. Next year I SWEAR everything that vines along the ground is getting planted at the far end of the garden. After last year's great pumpkin takeover (which grew to more than double the size shown in this picture)



I swore that I'd keep my vines in check this year. Umm. Not so much. I told Gates the other day that I think if you stood there long enough you could actually see them grow. First there is the squash plant. See that area I'm standing in? I planted nothing there this year. My squash volunteered from last year and that entire area is covered with vines, and then some.

I also thought I'd be smart and plant a pie squash instead of a pumpkin under the mistaken delusion that a pie squash wouldn't vine as much. Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking either. See that tree I'm standing by? The squash attacked the tree. And by attacked, I don't mean grew up the trunk. I mean some little tendril grew high enough to grab a branch and after that it was all over for the poor tree. This is the stuff movies about aliens are made of.

So yeah, I'm going to have lots of pie squash to hand out to my friends this year. At least they're smaller than the pumpkins were.

7

Last, but not least, this morning as we were snuggling in bed before school a certain 8 year old who shall remain nameless looked at me, smiled and said "Mom, you look kind of like you're having a baby." I tried to explain to him why women do not consider this a compliment, but in his mind babies are good, therefore looking like you are having a baby must be good. Sigh. On that note, I'm going to go get friendly with my exercise videos.


For more great 7 Quick Takes Friday posts visit Jen at Conversion Diary.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What's in a name?

The other morning I sat down to breakfast. I opened a box of Raisin Bran and poured it into my bowl. Hmm. No raisins, how disappointing. Ah well, they'll be in the next bowl, right? Next morning, same thing. No raisins. I expressed my disappointment on Facebook, because clearly all of my friends should care whether I have raisins in my cereal or not.

That afternoon I cut open my seedless watermelon. Seeds. Definitely enough to disqualify it for the 'seedless' label.
What's going on here? 'Raisin' and 'seedless' are words that describe the inherent qualities of my food and they are NOT delivering on their promise!
Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord..."Deut. 28:10 (NIV)
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)
I have a label too. Whether you call me a Christian, a Christ-follower, a Messianic, follower of YAHWEH or some other form to express whose name I bear it is a label. A label that tells the world what they should see in my life.

Anne Rice made news in July when she declared that she was walking away from the Christian church. No longer was she going to bear the label of Christian. Why? Because like so many others, I think she opened the box and found that what was inside didn’t really match the label it bore. Instead of a people who are seeking to be transformed into the image of Christ we have become a people seeking to transform the world into the image of us. Like raisinless raisin bran we have the ‘good for you’ stuff but not the sweetness. Like seedless watermelon filled with seeds we’ve added things that shouldn’t be there.

Anne is not the first, nor will she be the last to open the box and find it lacking. Thankfully she has not stepped away from following Christ, only from being associated with a bland and seedy Christianity.

So what IS in a name? At its core, what should people expect to see in my life if I bear the label of Christian? What would I like them to think of when they hear that I follow Christ?

Let's start with some of the basics.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self‑control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22,23 (NIV)
If I bear the name of Christ I will be loving. Not just to those who are like me, not just to those I agree with, not just to those who are lovable...I will be loving to all.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”


“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31 (NIV)
How often do we get a reputation for being unloving? People walk into our churches, expecting to find something in that box and walk out again having been ignored, criticized, talked down to or judged. Love is conspicuously absent.

Did you get what Jesus said? The most important commandment is to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and with all our strength. I can't help but think that if I am putting all of that energy into loving God that leaves me precious little time for running around telling other people what to do with their lives. My sole devotion is to LOVING GOD! And out of that love comes pouring love for my neighbor. Love for the one who is untouchable. Love for the one from whom established religion shies away.

I think for today I'll leave it at that; it's more than enough for me to wrap my brain around. When people look at me, I want there to be truth in labeling. I want them to see Christ's love pouring out of me. Not all the extra stuff we stick in there and try to make important, just Christ. Christ who has every right to judge, to declare me not worthy of his love. Christ who loved me enough to give his life as a ransom for mine. Christ who rose again so that I can live with him eternally.

That is a name worth bearing.

Friday, August 13, 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday (8/13/10)

1

I am in the rotation to occasionally play the pre-service music for our church's traditional service. I usually try to run straight through my selected music several times to make sure I'm close to the ten necessary minutes. Of course we all know what happens when we try to time ourselves doing anything with our children around. You'd think that if I can practice with the distraction of two small boys and keep my focus then I should be ready for anything. Last Saturday night practice sounded something like this:

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling...
"MOM!!! INDY WON'T LET ME SIT ON THE CHAIR WITH HIM!"
Calling for you and for me...
"Well, go find another chair to sit on then."
"UGH! BUT IT'S NOT FAIR, I WANT TO SIT THERE!"

Did you feel the mountains tremble?
Screaming...
Did you hear the oceans roar?
"You STUPID HEAD!"
When the people rose to sing of Jesus Christ the risen one...
"AAAGGGGH! MOM! HE'S BEING MEAN!"

If with all your hearts ye truly seek me
"Mommy, do you know where my Snowmanny is?"
ye shall ever surely find me..
"Did you look in your little wooden box?"
Thus saith our God.
"Where IS it??? I can't FIND it!!!"

Sigh. I just wish all of that concentration would result in fewer mistakes on Sunday mornings.

2

I am married to MacGyver. On Sunday the passenger side window mechanism on Mike's car broke with no warning and no apparent cause. There was just a 'ping' and the window dropped out of sight. We've had to fix this problem before on a different window, it isn't cheap. And we've pretty much cleared out our savings on car repairs the past few months. So while I was inside stressing and stuffing my face with ice cream and peanut butter cookies (oh, so THAT'S where the extra pounds came from) he went out, took apart the door, raised the window and then screwed a block of wood into the door panel to hold it in place. Sure, we can't use it, but who needs it anyway? I ask you, could the Mac have done any better?

3

This summer is becoming known as the summer of the bugs. Apparently both mosquitos and crickets like abundant rain. What I didn't expect was dragonflies. Hosts of them. They zip around my garden like little blue pins, sparkling in the sun. We've found a few specimens on the sidewalk, and despite Indy's insistence that I rescue them, they are typically beyond my help. But the most glorious sight by far happened the other week as I went out for an evening walk. I looked up in the sky and saw hundreds, probably thousands of dragonflies dancing in the air. Apparently the moist summer brings them out, particularly since it provides an abundant supply of their food source, mosquitoes. Bring on the dragonflies!


photo by Glass_House

4

I really don't care what celebrities do, but sometimes I find that the whole celebrity culture has tipped over into the absurd. Like this recent article. "Paris Hilton sued for wearing wrong hair extensions". Really? Do people actually pay so much attention to that that it would be worth millions to a company if she wore the wrong ones? And how do they KNOW she wore the wrong ones? It's hair, it doesn't come with a little tag proclaiming its origin. They are also claiming her party-filled lifestyle doesn't fit their marketing campaign. Umm, hello? This is Paris Hilton we're talking about? I don't think they can claim ignorance on that count.

5

On the subject of hair (mine is real, thankyouverymuch), I was reading recently that women over a certain age should forgo hair accessories and settle for simple tortoiseshell clasps and grosgrain ribbon headbands. Although I'm not exactly shopping in the kiddie section of the hair aisle, I do like some sparkle, and you will pry my hippie headbands from my cold, dead hands. I prefer to think of it as an expression of the inner me, and the inner me does not scream for tortoiseshell. What's your favorite hair gadget, and what does it say about your personality?

6

The boys start school on Monday, which is creating a lot of mixed feelings. On the one hand, I may actually be able to clean and have it stay so for a span of several hours at a time. I won't be interrupted by bloodcurdling screams of "MOOOOOOMMMMM"! I will be reasonably sure that while out of my sight they are behaving like civilized little human beings instead of devising new ways to aggravate each other.

On the other hand, it will be quiet. Very, very quiet. My husband said to just turn on the tv as background noise. He's missing the point. There is noise for the sake of noise, and then there is noise that is alive and breathing that wraps itself around me and reminds me that I exist for someone other than myself, that I have a purpose and a job to do. Without that noise I fear a loss of purpose, I fear being adrift for seven hours a day.

School starts on Monday. And I start learning how to navigate a new stage of my life.

7

Last, but certainly not least, a recognition of the one who helped to bring the noise, the chaos, the laughter into my life. Without him I do not think I would have ever learned how to fly. I would have never had the joy of rolling over to gaze into eyes that hold nothing but love for me. I would never have a hand to hold, a shoulder to lean on, someone to rub my feet at the end of a long day. (Oh, wait, scratch that last part...he doesn't do feet.) There is a picture in my wedding book; I have no idea what I'm doing, but the joy shining in my face is unmistakable. It is the most joyous picture I have of myself and captures perfectly what he brings into my life.

Happy Anniversary, Mike. I love you now, always and forever.

7 Quick Takes Friday is hosted this week by Hallie at Betty Beguiles, go check it out!

Friday, August 6, 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday



1

Move over Panera, I have a new favorite restaurant in my town. Last night I ate at Mixed and can I just say, YUM! If you like the idea of freshly prepared salads with crisp greens and fresh veggies, this is the place for you. If you like supporting businesses that are committed to being eco-friendly, this is the place for you. If you live outside of Sioux Falls....you're out of luck. I suppose other places have comparable establishments, but the idea of a made to order salad to go is a fairly new concept here.

Of course, I'll be eating there alone because Mike and the boys are allergic to the idea of eating anything containing salad ingredients. Especially lettuce.

2

So, why did I get to eat there? Because my wonderful husband saw me gazing longingly at it as we headed into Chuck E Cheese's and said "Go take a break and eat what you want. The boys and I will be fine." I so love this man.

3

How did I justify buying my own meal instead of eating pizza at Chuck E Cheese's? Because we have a wonderful neighbor who just happens to be the manager there and who occasionally gives us gift cards for a free pizza, drinks and tokens.

And when another neighbor was left with $2 in his bank account she gave him enough food to get him through until payday.

It kind of makes me wonder why someone who doesn't claim to be a Christian is out-giving me. It challenges me to do better.

4

Speaking of food (because I was, sort of), why is it always up to us moms to finish off everything that the rest of the family has decided they don't like? I've got two boxes of cereal in the pantry that I am slowly working my way through. Cereal that the boys USED to like, cereal that Indy insisted he wanted. And now he has declared he doesn't want it so I'm stuck eating it because I can't just toss perfectly good cereal.

The same thing happens with leftovers. I will cook a perfectly delicious dinner and then be stuck eating leftovers for the next four days. Even the most delicious dinner gets a little tiring after the second day in a row. Multiply that times the number of meals a week and its no wonder I am as big as a house...it's from eating all the leftovers. Because my German ancestry forbids that I ever waste food by throwing it away.

5

Moving off the topic of food, school starts in only a little over a week. I am still trying to figure out where the summer went, and if I am ready for this or not. This year I send Indy off to Kindergarten and I am NOT ready. Although there are moments (when he is testing his voice to see how many decibels he can reach) that I am MORE than ready. Unlike Gates, he's not too thrilled with the idea. Gates loves school (or maybe he just doesn't like being at home?). When I asked Gates what his favorite part of summer had been he said "Waiting for school to start." As one friend commented, "I think he's missing the point of summer."

Indy, on the other hand, would be more than content to stay home with me forever. Or at least for another year. But he'll turn six in November, so I can't really hold him out for another year and Mike is adamantly against homeschooling. So, off to school my baby goes.

6

Remember how much fun it was to go school shopping when we were kids? Picking folders and notebooks with cool pictures on them, expressing our personality through the accessories. Yeah, they've pretty much taken the fun out of that. Or at least, our district has. "Four two-pocket folders in solid colors, preferably green, yellow, red and blue. Four spiral bound wide-ruled notebooks to match." Try marching your kids past displays of folders with cars, robots, cartoon characters, etc. and telling them they can only pick the plain ones. Not so fun. Gates has adjusted, Indy not so much. And I'll admit to casting a longing eye at the display of gorgeous folders, binders and other coordinating accessories and remembering the days when all I wanted was a cool Trapper Keeper.




7

Still on the topic of back-to-school shopping, we finally went shoe shopping for the boys last night. Yes, 'we'. Because I refused to attempt it by myself, quite certain that it would result in chaos, mayhem, and possible bodily injury. It is amazing how excited they were about new shoes. You'd think we'd never ever bought them new shoes before. In fact, Gates just asked me if he could look at his new shoes. Um, yes? He picked them up and went and lay on our bed and just looked at them for awhile. Some people appreciate art, my child appreciates shoes. Go figure.


For more 7 Quick Takes Friday posts visit Jen at Conversion Diary.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Water

photo by darkpatator
Water. We take it so much for granted. Turn a handle, squeeze a nozzle, push a button and out it pours, ready to do our bidding. Washing hands, doing dishes, loads of laundry, cleaning, water gun battles, filling pools, watering lawns; it is ours to command. Stop and think. Can you tell me how many times you have used water so far today? From brushing your teeth this morning (hopefully) to the drink you just got from the refrigerator how many times has water been there for you?

I've been thinking about it today. Not because it isn't there, but because I'm not supposed to use it. A crisis in the sewage system due to a recent spate of heavy rains has called for severe restrictions on water usage since last evening for our side of the city, lest an over-taxed system start backing up sewage into people's homes.

Sure, I rejoiced in a reason not to do laundry. I may have even looked at the dirty dishes and smirked a little...until they threatened to start taking over my kitchen. I figured I'm home all day so no one cares if I don't shower.

Yep, I may have been a little self-congratulatory over my willingness to 'suffer' for the sake of residents who would have been affected by a sewage back-up.

And then I came across these statistics (from the website of the Mennonite Central Committee):
  • In our world, one billion people do not have access to safe and affordable drinking water. 2.4 billion live in conditions that lack basic sanitation.
  • 2.2 million people in developing countries die every year from diseases associated with lack of clean drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.
  • The average U.S. citizen uses more than 79 gallons of water per day. The average person in the developing world? Barely a quarter of a gallon.
What if I had to spend a four hour round trip on foot just to get water for my family? What if I couldn't just turn the handle and have access to water that I knew was safe?

It makes my temporary water restrictions look like a cake walk. It makes me feel a little less self-congratulatory, a little less proud of my 'sacrifices'. It makes me want to cry for how good I have it, and how different that is from how so many live and die.

It makes me look at water in a new light.

It makes me want to make a difference.


Photo by magnus franklin

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ready, Aim, Fire!

photo by Stacirl

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  James 3: 7,8 (NIV)





You'd think it wouldn't be a problem for an introvert like me, but I did it again. I got upset, and instead of taking some time to step back, give the situation to God and let him quiet my heart I charged in with cannons blazing and my tongue lighting the fuse.

Let's take the lay of the battlefield, shall we?

On one side we have our history with the school district. Gates' kindergarten year was filled with problems. It was fortunate that he has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge because otherwise I am afraid it might have turned him off of school for a long time. We knew that his teacher had been transferred to the school at the last minute and was unhappy about it, we just didn't fully realize how much it was affecting her work in the classroom. We spent a lot of time blaming our discomfort on our unfamiliarity with 'the system'. It wasn't until first grade that some conversations with other parents brought the realization of just how much of the problem rested on his teacher. So we are understandably leery of school district politics and the transferring of teachers who don't want to be transferred.

On the other side we have our new school, built after Gates finished first grade to accomodate our expanding side of the city. The difference in staff at every level is amazing; handpicked by the principal to fit her educational philosophy it is a beautiful model of top-down influence on corporate culture.

This year Indy starts kindergarten. On Thursday evening I went to the introductory meeting to get his teacher assignment. With less than three weeks to go before the start of school the highlighted portion read 'TBA'. During the meeting the principal explained that due to higher than expected enrollment they would need another teacher but that they had to wait for the district to do a final count on August 3rd to determine needs, which would probably result in a teacher being reassigned from a school that had fewer students than anticipated. I sat through the rest of the meeting with my sole thought being "Oh HELL no, we are not going through this again."

After the meeting I lined up with other parents who had documents to turn in, questions to ask, problems to solve. A large portion of the line seemed to be made up of parents with children in the 'TBA' class, and they were not happy. And I am ashamed to say I did nothing to make them any happier. With scathing tone and sarcastic wit I told about our past experience. I expressed my feelings about the situation. My tongue worked its magic, spreading poison with every word.

When it was my turn to speak with the principal I handed in the paperwork that was my guise for speaking with her, and then I began to question her about the teacher situation. I voiced my frustrations, I whined, I may have made vague threats about how we were NOT 'doing this again'. In short, rather than extending her grace in a situation she had as little control over as I, I dumped all of my frustrations on her and as much as blamed her for misery that had as yet to make itself known.

It hit me today as I was folding laundry (a time that is exceedingly useful for deep contemplation) that I had really screwed up. Again. It is amazing how quickly I can use my tongue to spread poison, to start fires, to tear down. James certainly had it right when he said that no one can tame the tongue. With many of my actions I have a moment or so to think before acting, time to consider if it is kind or not. But there is something about speech that seems to bypass that moment of self-awareness, spewing out of my mouth with barely a thought. And once I head down a certain path it is incredibly difficult to reign it back in, to remember to season my words with grace and kindness. I make myself the center of the universe and act like a spoiled child when things don't go my way.

I can't undo the words I said. I also can't justify them by insisting on my 'right' to feel that way. But thanks to the instant nature of modern technology I was able to sit down and quickly email the principal an apology. I was able to do what I should have done from the start, assure her that I am praying daily for a teacher placement that will be a complement to her already excellent staff.

I make mistakes (ok, no sugar coating...I SIN) because I am human, because I fail to turn to God first when problems arise. I need to walk daily in humility, sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I need to learn to speak when he says to speak, and to shut up when he tells me to shut up. Oh, how desperately I need wisdom to navigate the battlefields of life with my weapon tossed aside, seeking instead to bind up those who are already injured.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. James 3:13

Lord, let my words be light-bringing and life-giving to those around me instead of a raging fire. Let me never take lightly the power my tongue can hold.














Sunday, July 18, 2010

Church ladies

photo by Paul Lowry

This past week I hosted a spa party at my home. I invited a number of women from church and the lone neighbor who actually happened to be outside long enough for me to corner chat with her. She declined, giving various excuses about needing to mow her lawn, being all sweaty, not looking up to par, being tired from a week of work. I tried to dispel her arguments, "No really, who cares what you look like? Look at me! It's a spa party, it's supposed to be relaxing and it sounds like you could use it! Mow your lawn, shower and you'll STILL have time to come." But no deal, she was steadfast.

I suspected another reason hiding behind the surface ones, a reason that was later confirmed. Even though I hadn't said a word about the guest list she knew who was coming...Church ladies. And she didn't think she'd fit in.

When did it become this way? Oh sure, in the 1st century when Christians were being tossed to the lions I can see why your average unbeliever would say "You know, I think I'll pass on being seen at your party." And yet the growth of the church in spite of persecution tells us that there must have been something about these Christians that drew others to them. But at some point, lions and persecution aside, we got the reputation as 'People you don't want to hang out with'. Is it the picture of the pious saint, nibbling cookies and rhapsodizing about the five hours spent in prayer that morning? (On her knees. On the wood floor. With splinters.) Is it the picture of Christians as an exclusive club of dour evangelists who will only admit you to our gatherings if you accept the '5 Steps to Salvation and Living a Righteous Life Unlike Those Worldly Sinners' booklet and promise to adhere to its guidelines? Or maybe we've been pegged as the type who put on sweet faces and say "Bless your heart" as we stick the knife of gossip in your back.

It hurts my heart to know that somewhere along the line my neighbor has decided that Church ladies = people she wouldn't feel comfortable around. Like we are somehow so radically different from her that none of us have ever made mistakes or struggled with our weakness. That maybe we would regard her as a 'project' to be 'led to the altar' and then discarded. That she just wouldn't have anything in common with any of us and would have no fun.

If that is what she thinks of when she thinks of Church ladies then in some way I am failing. I am failing to reflect the love and grace that have been showered on me. I am failing to reflect the reality of being part of the body of Christ and yet part of this world. Because the reality is that in my house that night were a bunch of flawed and crazy women. Yes, I can lean towards the prim and proper side...it has more to do with introversion than any thought that somehow that makes me more holy. But as a whole we were a motley group of brash and reserved, rocker, nature lovers, horse riding, gardening, creating, stumbling, rising, life-living ordinary women.  We worship passionately, but we also live life passionately and in that we could have found common ground.

I'm on a mission now. A mission to change what those around me think of when they think of Church ladies. I want their first thoughts to be of grace, of joy, of gentleness, of welcome. I want them to see a flawed individual being made whole by the grace of God. I want them to see my heart. I want them to see the heart of God.



But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3: 7-14 (NIV)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

There's no place like home

2500 miles.

Over 30 hours of driving.

300 rounds of "How far to the Iowa/Illinois/Indiana/Ohio/Pennsylvania/etc border?"

Over an hour spent sitting in a repair shop outside Toledo. And the accompanying bill. And the thankfullness for just finding an open repair shop on July 5th.

Endless taunting of signs as we cross Minnesota. "HA! Look! You've only gone 5 miles and we're going to put another sign here to remind you of just how far you still have to go!"






But we finally made it home. Up the exit ramp, onto familiar streets to the excited cheers of two VERY bored children. (And the inner cheers of two VERY tired parents.)

It was a great vacation. The boys swam, and swam, and swam some more. In hotel pools, at their cousin's house, at the retreat center. If there was water, they wanted in it.

They mini-golfed, played shuffleboard, ran circles in the retreat center housing, and even had time for a quiet game of chess.



With made up rules, of course!

We got to spend precious time with my brother and his family. We got to enjoy the beauty of Laurelville Mennonite Church Center with Mike's family and friends from the years they spent in Bolivia. Add in a brief stop on the way home with one of Mike's best friends from college and our trip was complete.

It was a whirlwind trip over six days, four of them spent in the car. But I am glad we made it.


And now we are home. The garden needs weeding, the laundry is piled up, there is payroll to be done and quarterly reports to complete. But there is something relaxing about being in my own space again. Room to stretch, to breathe, to be family with all our imperfections and our joys.

There's no place like home.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Stormy weather


He ping pongs from one window to the other, practically hyperventilating in his fear. The clouds are still moving in, the thunder rumbles in the distance but the thought of what is to come has sent him over the edge. Too nervous to eat, he begs to check the radar so that he can see how big the storm will be. He begs to go down to his bedroom, but can't stay there because he must continue checking the windows, watching the progression of the storm. The sky turns green. His fear is a tangible presence, a scent in the air that rips at my nerves like no storm ever has. He cannot be comforted, either by prayer or by my arms around him. We give him large headphones to block the thunder. The power goes out. Worry is a beast that claws at his insides, refusing to be distracted by snacks or movies on the battery run DVD player.

The power comes back on, the storm passes. He continues to pace, reporting on the advancing blue sky as if fearing that if he does not keep tabs on it, it will retreat. He begs to know the wind speed. He asks again to check the radar. Fear takes its time in loosening its grip on him. Slowly it retreats, but I know that each day he lives life with his eye on the sky (and the radar) waiting for the next storm.

I am exhausted from over two hours of this emotional upheaval. I want it to stop. I want to say "Peace, be still," and have it be so. But how can I do for my child what so often I cannot even do in my own life?

In my life I often struggle with fear. Fear that holds me back from doing what I should be doing or what I want to be doing. I am a champion worrier. I have been for years. I look to the horizon and I see the clouds. Aspergers. Finances. The shadow of loneliness. Flickers of failure. I begin to focus on the possibilities, the 'what-if's', the sense that something that I'm not going to like might be forming on the radar and I WANT TO KNOW WHAT'S COMING!

Gates and I have a verse that we will often say together when he's afraid of something. The verse is Psalm 56:3 and simply says "But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you." Time and time again in the Bible we are told not to fear, not to be afraid. I'm not a Biblical scholar, but I don't think God expected us never to experience fear. We're human, with human emotions. I think the key is in that verse. WHEN I am afraid (not 'if'), I will put my trust in God.

I have a hard time with that. Put my trust in God? Rest in the assurance of His care? Oh, no no no! I have to keep my eyes on the horizon! What if the storm moves in and God isn't paying attention? Doesn't He know that I need to know how big it is going to be?
I love the story of Jesus calming the storm (Luke 8:22-25). I can imagine the disciples in the boat, watching the storm roll in, glancing over at Jesus asleep in the boat. Worry begins to creep in. What if God isn't paying attention? Yeah, that's His Son and all, but...what if? Or, what if God plans on plucking Jesus out of a capsizing boat, saving him at the last moment but not them? The waves get higher, water begins spilling over the sides. How can he SLEEP through this? "Master, wake UP! We're going to DROWN!" Jesus awakes, speaks the words and the storm stops. I imagine the disciples continuing to scan the sky, a bit uncertain that it is really over.

Could you have done it, if you were one of them? Could you have sat in the boat with the waves washing over the sides, trusting implicitly that the One who was with you was fully aware of what you were facing? Could you have remained calm when the world around you was in turmoil?

Can you do it today? Can I? Can I lay aside my worries about what is looming on the radar and simply say "Lord, I am afraid but I will trust in you." Can I stop my frenzied preoccupation with my fears and let God do what He wishes with my life? I have learned that preoccupation with what I am afraid of crowds out all ability to do anything else. Just as Gates couldn't concentrate on anything while the storm raged, neither can I accomplish the work God has called me to do if I am busy worrying about the storm that is raging.

Storm clouds of insecurity are dotting the horizon. What if all of my words are for nothing? Does any of this matter? Will God use the words I thought He put into my heart? I can only rest on the words of Paul in Philippians 4:4-9:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Stormy weather lies all around us. But the God of peace is with us.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Through His eyes

I originally wrote this post back in October of 2008. Lately this song has been coming to mind AGAIN because of another Bible study I'm doing. So I thought it might be time to revisit it.

I've just finished my Bible study for the day. These past two days the study has been about laying aside our judgment of others. I struggle with this sometimes, because I love to be right and if I lay aside my judgment it means I'm laying down the desire to PROVE that I'm right. Most of all, it means I'm laying down my pride, the pride that tends to ignore all of the broken parts of myself, all of the repair work that God has had to do on my life, all of the forgiveness and mercy I've been granted. I lay down my pride and I look in the eyes of another person and see myself. More than that, I see the potential for God to move in their lives in the way he's moved in mine.


The past few days this song has been echoing in my head and it seems appropriate. If I'm to lay aside my judgment I need to see people the way God sees them. And so my prayer echoes the words of Brandon Heath's song "Give Me Your Eyes":

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the broken hearted
Ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see







Update 2010:

I was thinking about this song again last night at Bible study, and guess what was playing on my radio when I woke up this morning.

Here's what I'm learning about having His eyes. It hurts. It hurts with a pain that is very nearly physical, the pain of a heart that is breaking along with God's. Having His eyes is one thing to ask, it is another thing to move beyond just having His eyes to asking "What do you want me to do, God?"

The study we are doing now is the popular "Experiencing God" by Henry Blackaby. We learn to experience God by joining Him in His work around us. In order to join Him where He is at work I NEED to have His eyes. But when I see through them I see broken people, I see pain. I see past the shell of someone I don't like and into a heart that is crushed beneath the weight of life, of choices made and unmade, of waiting for love that seems elusive. And it hurts.

But I wouldn't have it any other way, because one thing I know is that I am loved greatly, deeply, unendingly by the One who gave His only child for me. If I can plant the seeds in someone's life that grow into an understanding of that same love for them, then it is worth it. So I cry out with every breath I take "Lord, give me YOUR eyes."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What's on Your Nightstand - May



I have to confess I have been WAITING for this week to roll around because it gives me an easy post and because I love to ramble about books. Unfortunately, this week finds me incredibly busy with cooking 5 nights of meals for Vacation Bible School. No Little time to read, no time to blog. So I'll make it brief, and next week I'll be buzzing around to everyone else's blogs to get some more good book ideas.

So, what's on my nightstand, er...spread around my house, right now.

1. Boys Should Be Boys, 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons by Meg Meeker. This is the same author who wrote Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters which I haven't read because, well, I have boys! Glorious, wonderful boys who are about to drive me crazy this morning. But as I work my way through this book I am coming to a greater appreciation for what it means to be a boy and how they tick. Which is great when they are doing things that make no sense to me and is helping me to learn when to back off and when to steer them in a constructive direction. I checked this one out from the library, but I have a feeling I will be buying it soon and referring to it over and over in the years to come.

2. Who Do I Talk To? (A Yada Yada House of Hope novel) I love Neta Jackson. I loved her Yada Yada prayer group series because it gave me a window into what it might be like to be part of a group of women reaching across social and cultural divides to really lift eachother up in prayer. I'm having a little harder time with the House of Hope series, which takes up where the first series left off. I think it is because I don't get that sense of mountain moving prayer that was woven through the first books. Where the first books inspired me to be bolder in my prayer life, this one is leaving me a bit flat. Still, I'm almost done with it. If you haven't read any of Neta Jackson's books I recommend starting with the Yada Yada Prayer group series first.

3. The Passion of Mary-Margaret by Lisa Samson. I haven't started this one yet, but I read Embrace Me and was enthralled by such a different voice in Christian fiction. Her characters aren't the typical beautiful people, they can be abrasive, sometimes hard to like. But there is a depth that grabbed me and kept me going to the unpredictable, unformulaic end. I am hoping for more of the same with this book.

4. The Oasis Guide to Asperger Syndrome. This is THE go-to book for anyone dealing with a child on the spectrum. It is written for parents, by parents who just happen to also be medical professionals and as such is very easy to understand. I've found myself reading something and having little light bulbs click on in my head as I think about something Gates has done recently. Highly recommended if you have, or suspect you may have, a child with an Asperger's diagnosis.

5, 6, 7 and 8. Better Homes and Gardens Decorating. Color Your Home Beautiful. Waverly At Home with Color. Debbie Travis' Facelift Solutions to Revitalize Your Home. Yes, I'm in the midst of attempting to redecorate! After picking paint colors several times only to hate them a month later (luckily BEFORE any paint was bought) I think I've finally found the key. If, like me, your interior decorator gene is missing or malfunctioning I highly recommend checking out a stack of books from the library and doing some reading and browsing. From the Debbie Travis book I learned that I first needed to pick a MOOD and THEN a color. Wow. Suddenly it became so much easier. I can't wait to get painting in a few weeks. In fact, there'll probably be before and after pictures on the blog...

So, that is what's on my nightstand this month. How about you?

Laundry Day

I pull out the umbrella clothesline, haul it to the back yard and drop it into its hole. It is opening day of outdoor drying season and my line has been languishing in the rafters of the garage all winter. Languishing and quite mysteriously...tangling. I try to untangle the mess. This line over that, that line over this, lift them over the pole, weave in and out, out and in. Frustration. It's hopeless. I simply cannot trace the beginning and the end, placing each line in perfect alignment.

So I unknot at the beginning and begin to pull the line loose. Pull after pull, row after row. The line stretches from one side of my yard to the other and back. I walk back and forth, pull after pull, row after row. Finally, with two rows remaining I am able to untangle what is left. And then begins the restringing. I hesitate, thinking that perhaps I'll leave it for the next day. There is work to be done, reports to file, bills to pay. 'Real' work.

But I can't leave this unfinished, it calls to me as I start to walk away. So I turn back and begin to string the line. Hole after hole, row after row.

And as I string I begin to hear it, soft and plaintive notes carried with the wind, an echo of native flutes and melancholic scales. The wind is blowing through the holes, resonating in hollow aluminum chambers. Transfixed, I continue to string, hole after hole, row after row, listening to the song of wind that has blown for centuries over grasslands. Finally I finish, tying off the last bit of line. The song is silent now, the wind no longer able to blow freely through the holes. "Beautiful," I think as I turn to get my laundry.

Work still waits for me. A few seconds would have had the laundry in the clothes dryer without the work and the back and forth pulling of the line. But there would have been no songs, no moments to move me out of time and place to where imagination dwells.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Kids' Book Picks - May


Today I have a guest blogger, 8 year old Gates, who is going to tell us about his favorite book as part of Kids' Pick Tuesday from 5 Minutes For Books. Gates likes to read a lot and we could probably fill up pages listing his favorite books, most of which he has read over and over and over again. But today we are going to focus on just one book...maybe next month we will do more.

Me: So, what book would you like to tell other kids about this month?

Gates: United Tweets of America, by Hudson Talbott.

Me: Can you tell me what it is about?

Gates: It's about a competition for which bird is the best tweet. And all of the birds that are doing it are state birds and the eagle is telling them that everyone is a winner. But they are still arguing.

Me: Why do you like this book?

Gates: Because it has lots of information about the state and the birds.

Me: Is it funny or serious?

Gates: It's informational and funny.

Me: Do you think other kids would like this book?

Gates: Yes. And that's all I want to say.

Despite the brevity of his description, this is a book that he checks out frequently and laughs most of the way through. It is well illustrated and contains some interesting random facts about all of the states. I would say that it is suitable for any early elementary child, even 5 year old Indy likes to have it read to him.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Part of the family

Originally published 5/3/2008.

Sometimes when my husband is out of town I allow the boys to come spend the night in our bed as a special treat. (OK, really I'm just afraid that they'll need me and I won't hear them.) It always follows the same pattern, but they always want to do it and I'm always willing to let them try. Still, getting two small boys to fall asleep in the same bed is no small feat; it's like they are some unstoppable energy machine that has to keep on making noise and wiggling until 'boom' the battery runs out and silence and cessation of motion ensue instantly. It was no different this time. There were repeated cries of "Mom, he's bothering me," and "Mom, he's poking me." And finally there was the ultimatum. "Mom, I don't want Indy to be a part of our family any more."

Oh dear. What is a parent supposed to do with THAT statement? I'm not even sure what heinous crime Indy committed in order to deserve banishment from the family, something about scrubbing that was keeping Gates awake. I gently told Gates that we are all part of this family and I would be very sad if anyone was missing because I love them both so much.

I suppose it isn't that uncommon to hear from our children. I can recall wishing every now and then that my brothers belonged to a different family (or that I did). (Sorry guys.) What made me sad as I thought about it today is that sometimes we carry that attitude with us into adulthood and into the church. Sometimes there are people in the church that make us think "Boy, I wish they weren't part of the family; I wish they'd go someplace else."

I'm not talking about the people who are making things difficult for the church, I'm talking about the people that we just don't like. Maybe their personality irritates us. Maybe they have a disability that makes us uncomfortable. Maybe they don't dress 'right'. Maybe they challenge our faith in areas we don't want to be challenged in. Somehow they 'scrub' us the wrong way.

We don't want you in the family, you talk too much. We don't want you in the family, you need too much. You aren't up to my standards of what a church member acts like. You're too emotional. You're too philosophical. You're too distant. You're too clingy. It isn't fun to be around you. Your personality is scrubbing up against me and it irritates me.

God, forgive me for the times I haven't wanted people in my church family that you had placed there. When we stop seeing people as part of our family, we lose the ability to BE family to them. We forget that God put them there, just as surely as he placed each of our children in our earthly families.

Who don't you want in your family? Are there still people I wish weren't a part of mine? If I'm being honest, sometimes my hangup to being invitational isn't so much that I'm an introvert, it's that I don't want that person to be part of MY church family. It's a whole lot easier to invite someone who acts like me than it is to invite the person I wish would just disappear from my life.

A very wise friend of mine has said that if someone irritates you, pray for them. Continue to pray for them. You may not like their behavior any better, but you will find yourself being filled with love for them. You will begin to see them as part of your family. I've seen it played out in my own relationships; I need to be more diligent about continuing the practice.

Paul had some things to say about the church acting as a body:

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.   Colossians 3:12-15 (NIV)

One body. One family. We strive to cultivate things like compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience in our own families. Can we humble ourselves enough to cultivate them in our church family as well?