Category Archives: Memories
So… My husband and I have always been budget-minded. We came away from our respective childhoods after watching at least some of the adults in our lives be fairly irresponsible with money with a wounded awareness of how that affected us, as children. Both of us, independently, had said, “That won’t be me when I’m an adult.”
As a result, as young adults, each of us were already very mindful of responsible fiscal living, and that only increased after we got married.
However, it took Martin and me what I thought was a REEEEEALLLLLLYYYYYYY long time to get on the same page with how to approach exactly HOW to approach being “fiscally responsible.” His tactic, for a number of years, was, “Don’t buy anything, ever, and save all your money.” That sounds all right, but what about when there are real needs?
I was reminded of that time in our lives this morning, and one major way I got through his tight-fistedness.
Most mornings, I sit down with my six-year-old, Audrey, with my now-ancient copy of The Pregnancy Journal. There are daily entries in this spiral-bound book of what is happening in the mother’s body, how the baby is developing, plus other tidbits about childbirth in other cultures, hints on nutrition, pithy — or touching — quotes about parenting, et al. There are also lines on which the mother can record how her particular pregnancy is progressing: her weight, mood, and other thoughts.
My current pregnancy is only a week different than my first, as far as due-dates go. My oldest, who will turn 16 on June 23, was due on July 4th. This pregnancy, my sixth, is tentatively slated to end on June 27. So, I have found it especially interesting, comparing my thoughts now, as an experienced mother, with my thoughts from sixteen years ago.
This morning I read something particularly poignant: It detailed how I really needed maternity clothes, and Martin wouldn’t release the funds. I now find that almost laughable: He’s a lot more reasonable now; I almost can’t believe that I could have made it to 20-ish weeks in my first pregnancy with ZERO maternity clothes, and him still saying, “No.” Additionally, I’m now a lot better at finding good deals; most of my current maternity wardrobe came, second-hand, from Craigslist. Some items came at no cost via Freecycle. And just a few things, I purchased new. I’m certain that, back then, I had no intention of buying secondhand maternity clothes.
In my journal entry, though, I noted that even if my husband was wrong, I didn’t want to develop any bitterness. I didn’t want to harbor any anger for him. He wasn’t in sin. He wasn’t breaking the law. He was simply unreasonable. I felt it then, and now, looking back, I still think he was unreasonable. Reading that journal entry caused all my old feelings to come flooding back: I remember struggling mightily with feeling hurt and unprovided-for.
However, in the midst of that dilemma, I decided to pray. Really, it was my only option.
I’m 39 and have been a Christian since I was five years old. However, I still tussle with the basic premise of prayer at times. “Why would God listen to me? Why would He move on my behalf? What if I’m praying the wrong way? Or for the wrong thing? I don’t even fully understand why He wants His people to pray. He knows everything, right? He already knows my needs. I don’t know why He works like that. Hmph.” Prayer often seems like a non-action.
Even though I’m not really fond of aging, one thing that I am appreciating is having a history and a longer perspective. I can look back on a current difficulty and say, “Well, I don’t know why God would answer my prayer. But He has, so many times before. I’m just going to pray. I’m just going to exercise some faith that He will listen and that He will move on my behalf.”
And, whaddya know??? Sixteen years ago, God provided. He showed up, and in a BIG way.
My pen from 16 years ago records the names of seven people who had, in a period of three weeks, given me money for maternity clothes, gift cards, gifts of clothing, and loans of maternity clothes, all of them unasked-for. I don’t know what prompted them; but whatever the method of prompting, God was behind it.
There were seven of them*. In three weeks. Immediately after I started praying.
I wrote, “The Father has seriously overwhelmed me.”
Shortly after my firstborn entered my life, I started going to a ladies’ Bible study. It was held at a church so near to my house, I could walk. It was attended by about 200 women weekly, most of whom were in the midst of marriage difficulty.** The lady who led it — a wise and grandmotherly sort — was fond of telling us women that the line we draw is sin: If our husbands are so wrong that they are requiring us to SIN, we don’t comply. However, if it’s just that our husbands are wrong, if it’s just that we don’t agree, if it’s just that they’re unreasonable… The best course of action is to turn it over to God in prayer, and let God be God in our husband’s life, and trust HIM, Almighty God, as the true source of our provision.
Easier said than done.
Well, maybe. It’s not even easy to say! But, I’m glad for the reminder, this morning, of God’s provision. And, I’m glad for the reminder of how far my husband and I have come as a couple.
*Five of those ladies are still in my life, incidentally.
**I wouldn’t say that my marriage was in difficulty, however, I was — two years into it — still having a tough time adjusting to being married, being other-oriented, thinking in terms of “two become one”, etc. I learned a lot in the 3-4 years I attended.
…It was kind of on accident.
Beyond some classics — Austen, Brontë — I don’t think I’ve purposely read a romance since I was in junior high, 25 years ago.
I rather disagree with the whole premise of romance novels. I tend to think that it’s unhealthy for women to live in the fantasy world of The Perfect Relationship; it sets them up for disappointment with reality.
I feel the same about most chick flicks — “relationship” movies. I see almost none of them, on purpose.
Strangely enough, this was a decision I came to WHILE I was in junior high. A very odd thing was the catalyst for my decision: the movie Romancing the Stone.
In the movie, Kathleen Turner plays a romance novelist who becomes caught up in an adventure. The movie opens with her, alone in her apartment, crying over her typewriter, sipping wine, and talking to her cat. As a 13-year-old or so, this made an impression: “I’ll bet that’s what it’s really like.” It dawned on my pubescent self that the people writing those books and movies weren’t relationship experts — just relationship dreamers. And I swore them off.
Now… I know that a number of friends read romance novels and some of my readers even WRITE them. I’m sorry if my stance is offensive. I’m sure any number of people can come up with good reasons to read romances, and exceptions to my stereotypes. But, I stand firm. I just don’t think romances are a generally healthy read.
So, imagine me: standing eagerly at the library counter, waiting for the librarian to fetch my reserved copy of the latest Charles Todd novel: Charles Todd who reliably writes mystery novels. Picture my surprise when I see that, on the book in her hand, the “R♥MANCE” label is slapped on the spine. I was literally, physically startled.
Charles Todd, how could you do this to me???
I have always enjoyed mysteries; since I read my first Hardy Boys book, borrowed from my brother, while I was in 2nd grade, I have been hooked. And, for the last couple of years, I have been immersed in the World War I era.
It’s hard to find compelling, literate mysteries, that aren’t trashy — full of sex, bad language, and violence, masquerading as “intrigue”. And when you add my caveat of setting it in WWI, the list is even smaller.
- Yes, I’ve read almost all of Laurie R. King’s books — I’m tired of her. She seems too impressed with her own cleverness, and her books have devolved into farce. I put The Pirate King down, midway through — something I virtually never do! — and swore her off, too.
- And I’ve read all of Dorothy L. Sayers’ works; she’s the queen, the original, and Peter Wimsey is a classic. But, she’s not writing anything new…
- And I’ve read all of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series. I like them all right. Winspear, though, liberally injects her books with her personal philosophy, with which I generally disagree. I do like the story lines, though.
- And I’ve read Anne Perry’s World War I four-book series, which starts with No Graves Yet. They were all right only. The first and fourth books were the best. Clean: Yes. Compelling story line: Mostly. Interesting, believable-but-inspiring-yet-flawed characters: Mostly. Literate: No. Perry has written a whole lot of other books; I don’t believe I will read any of them.
- And, I’ve read a bunch of stand-alone novels set in the 1910-1930 era; I prefer series, though.
So, really… the ONLY author of whom I know who fits my extremely niche current interest, plus my long list of requirements: Charles Todd. The author is really a mother-and-son team. They have written the 14-book series featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge, who suffers from PTSD in the aftermath of his service in the war. I love Inspector Rutledge!! They have also written the newer four-book series featuring World War I nurse, Bess Crawford, all set during the war years. I’ve loved all those books. Their first novel — The Murder Stone — I must admit that I didn’t like. It was an absolute maze of characters for whom I cared nothing, and I put it down after the first 100 pages or so.
Overall, though, I do love the Todds’ work. They’re my favorite current fiction authors. Last spring, two friends and I even traveled to the Prescott Public Library to see the authors!! It was a glorious day trip — the best of company, with two friends who are also fans of the Charles Todd books.
So, having a track record of 18 “loves” and one “dislike”, I always look forward to any new Charles Todd novel! When The Walnut Tree came out, even though it is (kind of) stand-alone, rather than part of the Crawford or Rutledge series, I really anticipated reading it. However, I have done very little reading the last few months; it’s just been an insanely busy season, and when I had time for reading, it was not typically books for pleasure. So, even though the book was published late last fall, I just now got around to reading it.
So, again… imagine my surprise when I saw that offending sticker on the back…
Under partial internal protest, I read it.
And, I liked it!
I had to get past the “this is a romance” thoughts. And I had to get past my internal editor, who was highly annoyed that there are a TON — and I mean hundreds — of incomplete sentences in the book. I finally rationalized that by saying, “Well, the book is in first person, in which Todd generally does not write… and when we think, we often think in incomplete sentences… The protagonist is narrating her thoughts… Oh, well.”
I liked the story line; I found it very compelling. The book was very readable, though “lighter” than I typically prefer. And, I got a kick out of the fact that the protagonist is actually tied to the Bess Crawford series, so there were some character references and interplay that I really enjoyed….
I used to voraciously consume books. Now that I’m a mother of five with responsibilities, I tend to read in a more self-controlled manner, finding ten-to-20-minute snippets of time in which to indulge my reading compulsion: In a doctor’s waiting room, while a little one is in the tub, waiting in the car to pick up a child who is finishing an event, that sort of thing. But, I (perhaps unwisely) stayed up late into the night on Friday and Saturday nights, long after everyone else was in bed, to read… And I finished it on Sunday afternoon, in less than 48 hours. (I typically take 1-3 weeks to complete a book, using my stop-start technique.)
And, when finished, I found myself hoping that The Walnut Tree would be the first in a new series by the Todds.
When I was a child, my mother — an only slightly-recovered hippie — was a health nut. At least I thought she was a health nut. I spent my childhood thinking, “When I have kids, I will let them drink Kool Aid and put Twinkies in their lunch boxes!” I was tired of peanut butter and honey on whole wheat bread, sliced apples, and plain potato chips in my school lunch. I envied other kids’ white bread and jelly, sweetened applesauce cups, and the lovely, perfectly-formed, hermetically-sealed chocolate cupcakes with a swirl of white icing adorning the top. I was certain she was skewed in her perspectives and couldn’t wait until I could make my own decisions about what I ate.
Given my own experiences, I have been quite surprised about my own children’s apparent buy-in to my own health nuttiness, which has MORE than raised any bar my mom ever set.
Here are a few things from just this past week:
I tend to worry that when my children see commercials for junk food on TV, they’ll be swayed. It turns out that concern is misplaced, at least with my six-year-old, Audrey. Upon seeing a McDonald’s commercial the other day, she remarked, “The box for a Happy Meal is more nutritious than the food inside!!” This made me laugh! And, NO, I have never said anything like that. As far as I know, this is her own analysis.
- My 15-year-old, Ethan, went home with a friend after church on Sunday. Upon his return, he reported to me, “Guess where we went for lunch after church? Taco Bell. Jacob became very exasperated with me because I didn’t understand the menu and he had to explain the whole thing to me.” We couldn’t remember the last time Ethan had been to Taco Bell, which in his own mind, ironically enough, is even an even more nefarious food-offender than McDonald’s. “I had a Burrito Supreme. It wasn’t very good. It was about 30% water.” Well, at least it hydrated him…
- I published this tidbit on my Facebook page; forgive the repeat, if you’ve heard it already. My four-year-old, Fiala, ran a fever for about 48 hours. No other symptoms. I saved a (gluten-free) cake pop from a little friend’s Saturday birthday party. I took Audrey, but Fiala missed out, though the mother of the birthday girl sent us home laden with a goodie bag. Fi keeps asking to have the cake pop, which she calls a “lolly cake”. At the best of times, her body has a hard time handling sugar, so I told her she has to wait until well after her fever is gone. “Why do you have a fever?” I asked her. “Because my germ-fighters are working HARD!!” she said. “And what makes germ-fighters weak?” I asked. “Sugar!!!” she replied with no hesitation at all. I was proud of her for remembering all my indoctrination, even if she still wants the cake pop.
I have a friend with some tangelo trees and pecan trees. I envy her. Her property has irrigation, which is really needed to grow strong, large, healthy, productive trees in the desert. We have two citrus trees which are nowhere near as nice; they were neglected by the previous owner. Actually, we had three trees, but one died (it was 95% dead when we moved here in July, and to my distress, we couldn’t rescue it; it kept declining until its death). One other tree is stunted and didn’t produce anything; I don’t even know what kind of citrus it is supposed to bear. The other tree is a medium-sized navel orange tree. Its fruit is delicious (though hard to peel), but the whole tree produced about 30 oranges*. I’m thankful for those 30 oranges, but I’m definitely going to make sure that the tree is well-watered and fertilized so that it produces MANY MORE oranges, next winter. Thanks to the expert knowledge of my local, small nursery, I already learned that, in Phoenix, citrus needs to be fertilized on February 14, then again in mid-July, and once more in mid-September.
That makes me consider the valuable lesson of delayed gratification taught by growing one’s own food. I think our society would be much more balanced in our perspectives if we all grew things to eat.
But, I digress.
In mid-December, my 13-year-old son Grant and I took my friend Jeannie up on her offer and picked probably 30+ pounds of tangelos (which are very tart, quite sweet, with easy-peel rinds) and about 10 lbs of pecans from her property. Jeannie wasn’t at home, but her husband and I had a great conversation about homeschooling, parenting boys, and about land and growing things as we harvested.
The next day, before the children were awake, I sat at the island and started to shell the pecans. As the kids trickled sleepily out of their rooms, there was a universal response of, “Wha…??” as they walked into the kitchen. As in, “Why would you want to be doing that at 7:30 a.m.????“ But, each sat down at a stool to try their hand. Soon, all five children were happily cracking away, breakfast delayed, perfect half or even whole nuts held up as a trophy of new found shelling-skill. We exclaimed over eachother’s successes, and groaned over the occasional rotted nut or slipped nutcracker that resulted in a barrage of shell and nut bits broadcast over the table.
Quickly, in front of me, piled up the outcasts. When one child didn’t crack the nut quite right, or the nutmeat was just plain stuck, rather than persisting (which is no fun, and can be hard on the fingertips!), they’d pass the nut to me.
It was all right. It just meant that I was a whole lot slower than even my four year old, Fiala. I worked at rescuing the stuck bits, buried in each shell. It felt worthwhile, and I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away even the smallest nutmeat that could possibly be redeemed.
It became one of those unexpected moments where I found myself profoundly missing my mother.
I had a flashback to one of my mom’s favorite winter pastimes: Shelling nuts in the family room, fireplace blazing, happily chatting around the family room coffee table, eating more than we shelled. AND…. passing onto my mother our own tough nuts: the ones we couldn’t best. She redeemed them all.
I realized, as I worked on the bits of stuck pecans that December morning with my own children, that I thought my mother enjoyed the challenge of picking out the trapped bits of nutmeat. Maybe she did. She was like that.
But, maybe it was one of those things similar to how I thought she liked burnt toast, because she always ate it. It wasn’t until my adulthood that I discovered that her burnt toast-eating was sacrificial: She knew that we four children didn’t like burnt toast, but she didn’t want it to go to waste, so she ate it.
I thought she liked eating leftovers for lunch.
I thought she liked hand-me-downs.
And so on.
I thought she liked picking out those stubborn, stuck bits of walnut and pecan.
I would have liked to ask her. I felt compelled, multiple times, to go pick up the phone to call her. I had to remind myself that I could not.
I also would have liked to tell her that I was passing down what I didn’t realize — until that morning — had been a family tradition.
I have often lamented that tradition was in short supply in my childhood. But, the longer my perspective is on my younger years, the more I realize that there were traditions tucked here and there… And every time I can pass one on, or share a joy with my children that I experienced as a child, there is such warmth in that, now more poignant than ever.
My mom passed on in October. In general, I haven’t lamented her death. She was long ill, and eager to go home to be with Jesus after years of fighting and staying strong. It was her time, and as much as sad things can be, it felt very right.
I had an inkling, though, that there would be many days like these: Where I would so love to call her and tell her something funny or tender or joyous… And I just couldn’t. And THEN I would miss her and deeply regret her passing.
So it was, with the pecan-shelling morning: All five children happily chattering and squabbling over the nutcracker; we only have one. However, one of my children discovered that the garlic press worked wonders! Ha!! I had to implement a rule — which had echoes of familiarity — that each child can eat as many pecans as they cared to, as long as they were the one who shelled that pecan; they can’t reach into the community jar and take a handful of others’ efforts. “Did my mom say that, too??” I wondered silently. I also remembered — and expressed to my children — how our pecan-shelling party reminded me of one of our most treasured picture books, Blueberries for Sal. Sal’s mother had to tell her to go pick her own blueberries, and not take those her mother had picked; her mother’s were for canning. Similarly, the community pecans were going to go into Christmas baking and weren’t for general snacking.** Again, the memories hearkened back to my mother, as she had first read the book to me, as a child.
Over the course of two mornings, we shelled about nine cups of pecans. Then, our fingertips gave out, too sore to continue. Still, nine cups was way more than I could have done on my own, despite how many pecans ended up in one small mouth or another!!
Pecans: One of my happiest and saddest memories of this past month.
*It would have been about 40 oranges, but I discovered about ten of them with small plastic pellets lodged at various depths in the rind and fruit, and I had to lay down the law about NOT using oranges for airsoft gun target practice. How could they???? Aargh.
*And, oh, how that added to our enjoyment of each baked good!! Each child would say, “I shelled some of the pecans that went into this Cranberry Orange Pecan Bread!!” Many items, we gave as gifts, and it really lent to the feeling of family, of community, of ownership, of pride in what we gave to others.
My two long-time readers may perhaps remember a sort-of series I did, sparked by a young man named Jerry, an ex-Amish cowboy for whom my youngest son fell hard. Our family met Jerry in the heart of western Colorado, at the Circle K Ranch, which is blessed with one of the most gorgeous settings known to mankind, along the lush and bird-filled banks of the Dolores River. Jerry is the oldest of eight children and was 17 when we met him; I’m sure he likely had a younger brother Wesley’s age, at home in Wisconsin. He gladly gave Wesley time and attention, playing Uno (which Jerry pronounced “You-no”) with Wesley’s made-up rules, and giving Wes a spot on the couch next to him, watching rodeo events on TV during the rainy afternoons.
Wesley is now almost eleven years old, and is still very careful about sharing relationship with anyone; it takes a special person to really capture his admiration.
The fact that Jerry hadn’t received anything past an eighth grade education also weighed in my heart, prompting a number of thoughts on the subject of the value of education, and… non-traditional ways of approaching life that might be, in the end, much more balanced and healthy. (One of my first blogs ever was on the subject, here, on July 14, 2006. I continued the thought about a week later… I’m kind of embarrassed about my writing style, but the thoughts remain relevant.)
Six years later, those topics are still very close to my heart: Living close to nature, pursuing a life that’s a good fit for one’s personality, the value of education… and even Jerry himself meanders through my memories quite frequently. In 2006, very shortly after I met Jerry, I read a book called Last Child in the Woods. And guess what? I’m re-reading that right now.
Yesterday, on Facebook, my cousin posted a link to a gorgeous black & white photo essay published in an English newspaper. It reminded me, yet again, of Jerry.
I decided, on a long shot, to e-mail the good folk at Circle K, to see if they ever hear from Jerry.
To my delight, I received this quick response:
Yes, I remember your family and the fact that your son was praying for Jerry. He is working for a horse trainer in Grand Junction Co. We hear from him every now and then. He loves the work he is doing. If I speak to him, I'll let him know that you were asking about him.
Wesley is already making plans to visit Grand Junction.
We don’t even know Jerry’s last name!
But, I won’t discourage Wesley’s hopes.
And I’m almost giddy that Jerry is still a cowboy.
I’m sure, in my 6+ year history of blogging, I’ve mentioned the frustrating (and for a time, wounding) experience I had while in university, being accosted by a street preacher. It was my non-Christian friend, of all people, who had to pull me away from the man with the megaphone who was shouting at me that I was a Jezebel who would burn in hell. I tried to reason with the preacher and tell him I was a sister in Christ, but he would have none of it, and hollered at me — at point-blank range, still through the megaphone — that I was lying. My friend, meanwhile, growled at the preacher that he had “got the wrong girl” as he dragged away my offended self.
That event, oddly enough, really cemented my heart in commitment to the Vineyard church. With its emphasis on much-more-subtle (and practical! and never emotionally-damaging!) activities like servant evangelism, it just seemed much more in line with what Jesus would truly do (and this, my friend, was way before the WWJD phenomenon).
Recently, I have decided to read through the book of Acts. My pastor very often uses passages from Acts in his weekly messages; they’re very practical for the everyday life of a Christian, for he is nothing if not practical. So, I feel like it’s a book with which I have a good acquaintance. And I tend to concentrate my Scripture reading in portions of the Bible that are less-familiar to me. Nevertheless, I decided to read Acts for myself… to reacquaint myself with what the early Church was doing, and to re-prioritize it in my own life.
Most days, I only read a few verses, before cross-referencing, word study, and contemplation take over, not to mention little girls waking up early, wanting to snug. Yesterday, however, I read the whole of chapter three. In it is the account of Peter healing a man who was 40+ years old of a lifetime of being lame. The thing that really struck me, though, was the tenor of Peter’s sermon on the matter, and its effect.
- “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life….“
- “…I know that you acted in ignorance…“
- “Repent therefore and return…“
- “And it shall be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed…“
- “God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”
Not exactly the world’s most touchy-feely sermon, eh? But what was the fruit of it? What was the result??
Peter, the street preacher, with his megaphone, so to speak, delivered some really scorching words to the hearers. And what happens? Conviction! Salvation! Church growth!
His hellfire and damnation sermon WORKED.
I suddenly have some compassion for my own street preacher — which I have never previously felt, in the twenty years or so since it happened! Perhaps he was just trying to follow Peter’s lead, expecting the same result.
This morning, pondering it further, I was reminded of George Müller, whose amazing life is a profound testament to prayer, faithfulness, and God’s redeeming power, not to mention vast social change*. If I am remembering correctly, when George first became a believer, he took his university Divinity education, and tried “pastoring” simple German farming folk** with high-falutin’ sermons, even copying, word-for-word, some of the most sophisticated ones he could find, in hopes of impressing those who heard. The result was that he impressed them, all right, but he didn’t pastor them, nor bring any closer to knowing and loving Jesus, because they couldn’t understand what he was saying!
In other words, it may have been the right words, but it was at the wrong time, to the wrong audience.
The greater difference between Peter in Acts, and the megaphone-toting, hellfire and damnation New Orleans street preacher, though, may be this:
- Peter was filled with — and controlled by — the Holy Spirit.
- Peter’s words came after some serious manifestation of “signs and wonders“, which, in and of itself, made believers out of non-believers.
In Acts 4:23-31, directly after this event — Peter healing the lame man and being detained by the religious leaders of the day for it, and for preaching the resurrection of the dead in Jesus — the believers gathered to pray for further boldness!
I need that. I need all of that:
- The right timing,
- being filled with the Holy Spirit,
- participating in the miraculous,
- and more boldness.
I really don’t want a bad experience with someone who had only one of those four in operation — the boldness part — to… well… I don’t know how to put it. I think what I have done for the last twenty years, is mostly be afraid that anything I say or do out of boldness will have the same negative effect on others that my own experience had on me. Until now, I really haven’t pieced it all together that it wasn’t the boldness, per se, that was wrong. It was not having the REST of the package in concert with the boldness.
Having all of it together is the difference, I now believe, between wounding others and revealing the true heart of God to them.
As I re-read what I’ve written above, it sounds like a no-brainer. “Duh. Of course you need the Holy Spirit in order to be effectively bold.” But, I guess that’s what a revelation is all about: Really sealing things that you may have heard a million times before, and to which you can make a quick mental assent, into a true thing that goes deep in your heart of hearts, so that it’s really REAL, in a way that it never was before.
So. Now. Instead of tentatively praying for boldness, afraid of what would happen if God actually GRANTED that prayer to me, I will not just pray for boldness, in and of itself. I will pray for His timing, His presence, and His power to accompany that boldness, continually in my life.
It’s a good recipe, I think. And may it bear, oh God, the same fruit that Peter and the apostles did.***
*To my mind, no two men did more to change the way orphans were treated in Victorian England — and to this day — than Charles Dickens (who raised awareness in a socially-palatable way) and George Müller, who actually DID something about the horrid state of orphanages.
**George hadn’t moved to England yet.
***Might as well start now with the bold requests, eh??
I am really excited about Christmas, especially the presents, which is a switch for me. I’m a terrible gift-giver. I just never can think of what would be “just right” or the only thing I can think of is a bizillion dollars, or it would have taken a month to make and I’m out of time, or whatever. It’s a lack of intuition plus inadequate planning, I guess. Add to that the constraints of staying ON BUDGET, and it about wipes me out. However, this year, we set aside some money well in advance. And I’m excited about what I have planned for my family. Although, also in the back of my mind linger the unpleasant memories of gifts that I thought were going to be AWESOME and they turned out to be a total bust. It’s so much easier to remember the failures than the successes for me. Something wrong about that…. Anyway.
I had my children make Christmas lists, which I don’t often do, as I think it’s a bit tacky and self-serving and can get their hopes up for that ridiculously over-priced Really Cool Present that they will never receive, like the CELL PHONE on my 12 year old’s list. I know there are younger children with cell phones, but I looked at him and asked, “Really??” with the Mom Look: One eyebrow arched, head tilted to the side, lips pursed, a heavy sigh written all over my face.
However, I need to let my children dream… I’ve been convicted about that lately. I caution them and prepare their hearts so well about our family’s values — which have a lot to do with Jesus and very little to do with materialism — that I caution them right out of dreaming. I’ve specially noticed that about my oldest son, who is 14. He is afraid to even have dreams, lest he be disappointed; he doesn’t want to fix his heart on the impossible. That’s startling, partly because that’s just like ME, and I have to fight just to allow myself to have dreams… and frankly, it’s not a super-healthy place to be. I read “Hold Fast Your Dreams” by Louise Driscoll to him yesterday and suggested that it was a good poem for him (though “The Metal Checks“, also by Driscoll, is much more striking, as poems go, it wasn’t appropriate for the lesson at hand…). And, I let the cell phone stay on Grant’s list.
For my younger two boys, Wes (age 10) and the aforementioned Grant, I’m having them memorize Luke 6:27-38, in light of the commercialization of the American Way to Have Christmas, and due to the fact that there has been way too much of, “Hey, that’s mine! Give it back!” which makes me want to poke out my eye with a fork. I slowly went over each verse with them, explaining that in God’s economy, if you give up something willingly, you always gain back in greater quantity and quality than what you yielded. I used as an example: In April 1994, I semi-unwillingly gave my $50 guitar — which was just this side of firewood — to my roommate who had, in my absence, started taking lessons with it. It was hard, but I was intentional about being generous. I got married in November of that same year, and my dear husband greatly surprised me with a Taylor guitar (815C model — jumbo with a Florentine cutaway) for our first Christmas! I hadn’t even dared to hope — to dream — about my own super-fabulous guitar. It was enough to play my husband’s. Come to think of it, that was the first of many instances where my husband goes above and beyond where I dare to dream, when it comes to buying me presents.
Anyway. I also explained to my boys that Jesus was blowing the minds of his hearers. The Jews already had an unusual law forbidding lenders to charge interest. Jesus was taking it one step further telling His followers that they were to give anything to anyone who asked, and not even expect repayment of the principle, let alone interest! This is challenging, to be certain. Very challenging. But, it’s required. Even for kids. No more, “Hey, that’s mine! Give it back!”
And, it must be mentioned, that the former roommate is now a professional musician.
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
I am a recovering Protestant.
My pastor calls us “empowered evangelicals.” I like that. Yes, I’m evangelical — I want to tell others about the beauty and love of Jesus — but there’s the power of the Holy Spirit behind it. Or, rather, the Holy Spirit is in all things I do (that’s the goal, anyway). God is the focus, the motivation. His love compels me. In 20ish years of reflection, now, on my childhood church upbringing, I feel that there was too much “show”. In other words, speaking in tongues was THE goal. Prophecy was THE goal. Exuberant worship was THE goal. Faith was THE goal. It very well could have been the immaturity of my perspective; I was 18 when I left my childhood church, never to again return. But, somewhere in the mix there of all the hyperactive religion, the Lord Jesus Himself was lost. I somehow missed that the GOD OF ALL CREATION IS THE GOAL. All that other stuff is a means to that end: Jesus.
So, with that in mind, I have been challenged so far this year, and have felt the breath catch in my throat on more than one occasion in my small group. As a worship leader, I’m assigned a weekly group. I don’t necessarily get to go where my friends are, or get to choose the leader who I feel most speaks to where I’m at, and does so in a way that communicates clearly to me. I go where I’m assigned. So far, that’s been a really good thing. And, only three weeks into the “season” of new small groups, it’s really too early for thorough assessment. But, more than once, the leader has mentioned that faith is going to be a focus of his teaching.
Having grown up in said Pentecostal church, where the idea of “name it and claim it” was (for real) taught, I feel like I have had more than my fill of teaching on faith. And any time someone says that they are going to focus on faith, little warning bells and red flags start chiming and waving in my mind.
“What are you doing, God?” I wonder. “Where is this going? Is my leader really going Pentecostal on me? Because I don’t think I could handle that for nine months. Am I overreacting? Am I here to balance out any ‘name it and claim it’ junk that might crop up? Do you have me here to test me somehow?” Round and round my thoughts have gone. What I have come to, though, after three weeks of concern, prayer, and a wee bit of hyperventilating, is this: God wants to redeem my concept of what faith is. It’s time. It’s time for me to no longer be afraid of the word “faith” and to be rid of the negative connotations it has for me. It’s time for that history to be sifted, and for the good, solid, true, right aspects of it to remain in the sieve, and the chaff and dust to be shaken out and done away with.
Which brings me to, yet again, the idea that one of the best things about God, and one of the most uncomfortable things about Him is that He doesn’t allow me to just stay, if where I’m camped is harmful. He doesn’t allow me to remain in patterns of sin or even thought patterns based on misunderstanding. He, by no means, is a static God. He’s active. He’s methodical, but not in a plodding way; He is purposeful.
(The following kind of jumps around a bit; I hope that, by the end, it’s tied together coherently.)
I’ve been reading the epistle of I John lately, and this morning thought, “You know, I’ll be happy when this book is done. It’s so challenging and meaty, and I really just need some love and comfort, like from the Psalms or the late chapters of Isaiah.” Hahaha! Such maturity. Although, the Holy Spirit spoke to me in that time, “Take note. Your children can also only handle so much correction and instruction before they need a serious break filled with love and comfort.” OK, God. Point taken.
Then, I came to this:
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith. I John 5:4
The first thought that came to me, upon reading that verse, was about the process of natural childbirth. Among the natural childbirth community, especially for those espousing unassisted birth (that is, birth at home* with no attending physician, nurse, midwife, etc.) there’s a saying: “Trust birth.” When I read the verse above, I thought, “Rather, I should trust the GOD of birth. Have faith in the God who created birth. He has overcome all the junk in the world — sin and death and pain and crappy doctors (and nurses and even midwives and friends and family and whoever else) who are antagonistic towards the beautiful, arduous process of birth. I must have faith that He’s a good God and that though the path is difficult, His purposes in it are right and true and good.”
I hope that makes sense.
What I’m saying — though it’s kind of tangential to the point of this post — and I realize that this may be a wee bit inflammatory, is that trusting birth is idolatrous. It’s having faith in the creation, instead of the Creator. My faith, and any woman who claims Jesus as Savior, needs to be in the One who originated the process, the God whose infinite mind conceived such an amazing process, and in His goodness and His right-ness in doing it in the way He did.
Those thoughts (faith, birth, Creator) led me, this morning, to progress to one of my favorite concepts EVER, found in Romans 1:20
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
In other words, as the songwriter Kevin Prosch coined it, “The natural things speak of the invisible.” I ABSOLUTELY ADORE IT when I gain a better understanding of my God when He reveals more of His character, His heart, His nature, His abilities, His wisdom, et al, through something I can see, touch, or experience.
Birth, clearly, is an experience. However, there are a lot of variables in the process. There are a lot of emotions. There are many unknowables. With every birth, but especially with a first-time mother’s birth, it really is like diving into the unknown: jumping off of a diving board into an empty pool with the hope that it’ll be filled by the time she hits the water. There is a lot of FAITH that needs to be employed.
Backing up just a few verses, Romans 1:17 tells us, “…the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith…” I pondered that for a few minutes. I re-read it, “The right-ness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” We as people, and especially we as Americans, don’t like that concept. We want to try before we buy. We want a test-drive. We are wary of anything that can’t be sampled. However, that’s just not the way of God. He calls me to trust Him, to have faith in His right-ness, and as I do that — after I do that, perhaps even as a result of my faith — His ways are revealed as solid, good, true, and trustworthy.
Does that make sense? I have to have the faith FIRST. It’s only after I’ve gone through that exercise of applying faith, and applying faith, and applying faith, that His ways are revealed as right.
So, getting back to the natural speaking of the invisible… As further pondered where God has me, I realized that as I study my God, and as I study the process of birth, I am ever more convinced that the process of birth is a microcosm of the nature of God. Birth is the marriage of:
- The concrete and the abstract.
- Science and emotions.
- The rational and the transrational**.
- The absolute and faith.
After I recovered from my reverie this morning (well, I’m still not quite recovered; I’m still in awe), I became filled with thankfulness. My God knows that I struggle with the idea of faith. Thankfully, I’ve been a Christian for long enough to see God move in amazing, powerful ways, and in truth, my day-to-day relationship doesn’t require much faith. He is. He is real to me, as real as anything I could hold in my hand and stare at. But, He is also faithful to illustrate to me the value for something that I gaze at, with sidelong suspicion: faith. And He did so in a way that makes sense to me, utilizing something for which I already have value: the process of birth.
God is so good
God is so good
You reign on high in majesty
And the widow’s heart You cause to sing
You hear the cry of the fatherless
And the depth of Your love who can comprehend
For the natural things
Speak of the invisible
Look around and see
Who could deny the wonders of His love
(From God is So Good by Kevin Prosch)
*Well, usually it’s at home. I actually birthed my third child, Wesley, all ten pounds of him, unassisted, because the nurse didn’t believe he was coming, and wouldn’t return to the room when my friend Stephanie called her back, “I just checked her and she was at an 8. I’ll come back in 20 minutes or so…” and when she came back, I’d already pushed Wesley into the world. Unassisted hospital birth: that’s gotta be rare.
**My dictionary is telling me that this isn’t a word. However, I love it as a word-concept, even if it’s not truly a word: “Transrational” is that which is outside of my understanding. It doesn’t mean that it’s irrational or untrue; it’s just something that cannot be quantified by cold, hard facts.
I know I’m biased, but my 14 year-old son Ethan wrote something this week that brought tears to my eyes. It was jaw-droppingly gripping and well-written. We got done reviewing it together, and I asked, “Can I post this on my blog?” He laughed, “I knew you were going to ask that.”
Ethan says that he hates to write.
Toward the beginning of last year, his 8th grade year, I assigned him a “mini” research project. We went through the process of deciding on a topic, learning the construction of research papers, crafting an outline, procuring the appropriate books, doing the reading, learning how to use the books to get the best info… on and on. Well, his three-page project grew into five pages. Then ten. Ten and he still wasn’t done. He kept writing more, but with absolutely no joy, and only when I twisted his arm to write. I was desperately and unsuccessfully trying to get him to rein it in; he would get so bogged down in the details, it was like he was trying to write another book… His actual writing is excellent, but his self-editing skills were nil. And with a paper so long, of course there were many opportunities to discuss better grammar, or spelling, or sentence construction, or topic sentences, or better vocabulary choices, and on and on and on. And, any time I had a correction for him in the process, well… we’d both end up in tears, because he’d get SO discouraged. I felt like Bad Homeschool Mom.
The paper, I’m ashamed to say, never got done. It was mostly my fault, because the whole thing had just ballooned into an awful scramble of flawed teaching, sensitive adolescent feelings, and LOTS AND LOTS of words. At some point, toward the end of the year, I just decided that it wasn’t worth it, and we’d tackle writing next year.
“Next year” is now this year.
This year is only one week old… but on Sunday evening, as we discussed in greater detail what his freshman year would look like, to his great disappointment, I told him, “You’re going to do a lot of writing. But, you’re going to do it in much smaller chunks, so that neither of us gets bogged down. It’s my goal to encourage you greatly, because you really ARE a good writer, but you so dread the process that it hangs like a sword over your head. I want, by the end of the year, for you to become a confident writer, who writes with relative ease, and isn’t frightened by the writing process. And I will stay on top of it, helping you along the way, and not giving up.” He seemed only nominally assured.
Ethan is doing Sonlight’s Core 200 this year, and really enjoying it. I’m glad that he found the first assigned novel, Pictures of Hollis Woods, so interesting, because his writing assignment was based on the book. The book is a compelling story of the history of a foster child. Each chapter begins with a word picture, painted from a memory of the main character, a girl named Hollis. The writing assignment detailed:
What is your favorite picture from Pictures of Hollis Woods? Why? What qualities make it your favorite? … Using that picture as an inspiration, write a picture of your own… make sure your picture reflects the same qualities you value in your favorite.
Though the assignment was only asking him to think about it, I suggested to Ethan that he write out his reflection on his favorite portion of the book, describing what it is about it that made it so striking. Then, for him to pick ANY memory of his own that stands out like a snapshot in his mind, and to note various things about the memory: what was happening, how he felt, what the weather was like, why it stuck with him, etc.
His notes were:
I think I would say my favorite picture expressed in this book is the thirteenth picture. However, it is not my favorite because it’s funny, or pleasing, but very sad. Now, I do not mean to be morbid in any way, but this picture really provoked my emotions more than any other contained in this book. It just really got me thinking, “Wow, how could this happen. How could a girl, an orphan at that, be so hard-hearted to the one and only foster father who truly loves her.” And just the way this book is written puts you smack dab in the middle of this clash of emotions that really seems to make the characters come alive, it’s just stunning and it makes you feel like you’re standing right there the entire time.
Notes: Arizona Snowbowl
on ski lift
about 8? (years)
11 – 2 (time)
legs feel scratchy from blanket
And here’s what he wrote: (I very lightly edited it with him, altering a few points of punctuation, and crossing out a total of seven words, adding five that he chose from my suggestions… )
He was tired of looking through the wreckage of this house. He decided to look in the last room of the house then leave for good. The man did not enjoy the findings of this particular abandoned abode; the only thing of use that he found was a thick folder full of paper. He sighed, thinking, “Only good for starting fires.”
Later, at his camp, the man spread out his findings of the day before him: a rusty kitchen knife, four cans of food, some ammunition, three burnt and water damaged books, and the folder. The man was intrigued most by the folder. He picked it up, but it crumbled in his hand, spilling papers all over.
One caught his eye, different from the others. It wasn’t just a bunch of letters he couldn’t read, but a picture seemingly drawn by a child. It was a family, a mother and three young boys, riding up a mountain on some kind of lift. The mountain was spectacular, hundreds of feet tall, grey, and covered with pines and what stuff the man determined was snow, based on what the family was wearing. The sun was high in the sky, making the ground glisten, and the man quickly lost himself in his imagination.
He found himself looking through the eyes of the oldest boy, cold, but wearing a strange fuzzy sweater with a hood attached. He was also wrapped in a blanket that looked itchy. The man felt a strange, excited, tingly feeling inside and opened his eyes back to the world around him. He sighed, looked down at that wonderful picture and gently folded it, putting it in his pocket. “More precious than all the fire starters in the world,” he thought.
Is it just me?? Or is that not REALLY GOOD? Mystery, unanswered questions leaving the reader wanting more, very evocative, very creative. He inserted his own memory into a really compelling fictional account. A short-short story. I thought it was awesome. Plus, I was so excited that he (we, really) got through the assignment with triumph. I didn’t have much to do with the story at all, but it still felt like an accomplishment.
It was a good first week of school.
When I was 27 years old I was fairly certain God was trying to kill me.
I was reminded of this upon recently reading about an old acquaintance’s plans to adopt a baby after two birth children, but not perhaps as you might initially be thinking as you read this account of the hardest season in my married life — a season that lasted, oh, about five years.
Reading the adoption-plan story also made me consider my standard response to the numerous people who ask me whether or not my husband and I are having more children. For a canned response, perhaps it falls under the category of “TMI”, but it encapsulates my thoughts on the subject, “Well, we’re not planning on it, but we’ve done nothing permanent to prevent pregnancy, nor will we do anything permanent, and two of our five were conceived when we weren’t ‘planning on it’, so you never know what God has in mind.”
Back to when I was 27: I had a one-year-old boy and my oldest son was three. My second son had been a surprise: I had decided, after one, that one was more than enough, and I privately extended grace to all the mothers of “only children” over whom I had stood in judgment. I also — seriously — asked the Father for forgiveness for my wrong attitude, rooted in abject ignorance, over how difficult mothering is, and how one child can truly feel like plenty — very fulfilling. So, there I was with my two boys, and daily, I felt like I was barely, barely, barely keeping my nose above water. Literally, every day, I felt like I was drowning, only to just survive another day.
Then, I found out that I was pregnant again.
I remember laying on my back on the floor of the family room one night, early in the pregnancy, after everyone else — including my husband — had gone to bed. I was weeping, laying it all out there before God, in ugly and brutal and heartbroken honesty. I told him that I was sorry I didn’t want the pregnancy, sorry that I was having great difficulty accepting His choice for me, sorry that I was even having those thoughts, and so on… I had to lay there — a position of my choice, being entirely vulnerable, before Him – and in all seriousness, confess to Him that if He was intending for this to literally kill me, that He was going to have to help me trust Him on that, too. It was just… too far beyond me to consider that this pregnancy, and the resulting baby, could be for my benefit at all. So, I considered that maybe that God wanted that baby’s life so dearly, for such a specific and important purpose, that He would need to sacrifice mine in order to bring that little one into existence. I’m not being melodramatic. I was completely serious, and that was the best I could come up with: That the baby needed to be alive, even if it killed me. Even if God killed me. “Though [You] slay me, yet will I trust in [You]…” reverberated in my mind, alternated with, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!“