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Bring on the Peace

27 Aug

So, yesterday was my first full day on my individual stewardship campaign in response to God’s question, “What will you give?”  As I mentioned earlier I have designed a task for each of the three “channels of giving”:  Time, Talent and Treasure.  Remarkably I did pretty decently.  Particularly if I get to count the partial day from before 🙂

Time

Initially when I considered that I was going to have to spend two and a half hours each day giving time to God, I had visions of myself kneeling on stone floors in meditative silence.  I imagined anyone who committed that much time to “God time” is worthy of robes and must have close ties to some monastic order.  After having started this challenge however, I discovered two and a half hours can go pretty fast.  In fact, I have been concerned that it came too easily.  I will be considering this over the next couple of days to be sure that I am being rigorous enough in my definitions.

In my two and a half hours I have included devotion/Christian reading time.  I have been reading Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  Ironically, this was already on my reading list before I began this quest to focus and simplify.  My concern is that I am enjoying reading it way too much.  Back to the whole monastic thing, my knees are really not sore enough to feel good about the book . The redeeming factor is that it is compelling in it’s message, we live in a culture that is wildly out of touch with the abundance that swallows to the point that we pity ourselves for what we don’t have while 95%+ of the rest of the world sustains themselves on a fraction of the resources of our low income families possess.  Naturally in this season of purge, the message resonates with me.  I have found myself sitting in bed reading, and as I read I peruse the room filled with overflowing shelves, bursting closets and drawers that can’t be closed.  It is like having my own personal cheerleader between two book covers encouraging me on my quest.  God was swell in giving me just the right reading at just the right time.

I have also found service oriented call-answering seems to come relatively easily.  In life, I am a doer.  If there is a job to be done (except dishes), I tend to volunteer.  My family grows concerned whenever I join a new organization, because in the end I will be in charge of something if not the entire organization.  I think the most difficult part with this aspect of the task is to consider what counts as “God time” and what is just me.  It is easy to classify many things into service, however, there is a distinct difference between serving in response to God’s call and doing something because you it sounded good to you.  One can still do swell things that have fabulous merit even if they aren’t things that God called you to.  However, there is an opportunity for growth and development in your relationship to God through answering His call.  So while both opportunities have merit, one offers a spiritual depth the other doesn’t necessarily.  Yesterday I completely lost myself in knitting a prayer shawl.  It is easy to allow your mind to become distracted and focused on so many other things when you are knitting.  I have definitely been known to watch TV, or more recently watch a football game (which explains the grass in the yarn, while knitting.  Yesterday though, I realized that this was one of those opportunities to focus and center.  I wanted this particular shawl to be covered with blessings, and I wanted to use it as an opportunity to consider the circumstances of the gal I was making it for.  I took the time to pray.  I consider the blessings I have and often take for granted.  I smiled as I considered the acts of kindness folks have done for me.  I was overwhelmed when I thought about the greatness of God, His faithfulness and the strength my faith offers.  Over an hour was easily passed without realizing it.  Over an hour without diversion … without conversation … without sound.

Despite all that was gained in these experiences, I have realized that my actual scripture reading could use a boost.  This tends to be a rough one for me, but like exercise, once I get started I find myself re-energized and looking for more.  I think that the days ahead are going to need a Bible injection, so if you have any particular insights on how you go about this with out picking random passages blindfolded, let me know 🙂

Talent

I am completely unsure if I have failed in this area abysmally or not.  I have challenged myself to work towards identifying and using my talents for the glorification of God.  At the end of the day, I am not sure how much progress I have made.  I considered my knitting earlier in the day, and asked myself, “Is this the talent I am to be including.”  Two things cause me to hesitate:  1)It is definitely not a unique skill or talent.  There are a plethora of folks who are “knitters”, and besides the doctor said cool it on the knitting.  2)I am not particularly fabulous at it.  I will allow a marginal check mark in this column in that I use my knitting exclusively for others.  In the years that I have been knitting, I have never completed a project for myself.  Oops, I lie, I have made some dish towels – and I do like them.  But I struggle, because it just doesn’t feel like it fits.

The other struggle with this area is just this overactive sense of modesty, but probably more aptly titled lack of confidence.  I feel so shameful and guilty for identifying talents.  This is further exacerbated by my second guessing as to whether I am actually as talented as I suppose I am, and perhaps I am on some poorly focused ego trip.  The only thing that keeps this whole thing from spinning out of control into a whirlpool sucking me right down to the therapist’s couch is a realization that I am one of God’s creations, and that in and of itself makes me special and blessed.

While in the book of Romans and I Corinthians we are offered a list of gifts that make anyone blush:  healing, prophesy, exhortation, miracle worker and such, I came across a verse in Exodus that illustrates some more mundane (albeit creative) talents that God has specifically placed within individuals for the purpose of His glorification.

The Lord spoke to Moses:  See, I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah:   and I have filled him with divine spirit, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. Moreover, I have appointed with him Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have given skill to all the skillful, so that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the covenant, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent,  the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin with its stand, and the finely worked vestments, the holy vestments for the priest Aaron and the vestments of his sons, for their service as priests,  and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the holy place. They shall do just as I have commanded you. (Exodus 31:1-11 NRSV)

What I wonder when reading this, did Bezalel and Oholiab recognize their gifts as blessings directly from God?  When they crafted things, not just those things mandated, but lamps for their house or forks for friends, did they considered them a means of glorifying God or even consider God as the source of their skill?  I think about the things I accomplish in a day and wonder 1)how appreciative am I for the gifts I have and 2)if I use those gifts to point toward His Kingdom.  I talk all the time how glad I am that I can cook, because how much I like to eat good food.  I figured if I’m not going to be wealthy enough to go to fancy restaurants, it is nice that I can make some of the stuff myself.  I just don’t think I ever really think about that being a gift that God has given me, nor do I necessarily seek ways to build the Kingdom through cooking.

Oh so much to think about, but thankfully I have two months to ponder all of this. 🙂

Treasure

So far I have done pretty derned good with this, but to be honest I started in the bathroom.  I expect that I downsized my bathroom by 25% (if you don’t count towels, which I don’t  because none of them were clean nor in the bathroom).  Of course it feels a little like cheating.  I rarely bond to bath soap, hair products and perfumes.  It did feel good to show the man-person, Jeff, that I sent crud away.  I am actually pretty excited to dig into another room.  I so yearn for the peace that will come when I don’t see things everywhere.  I am hopeful that God will help direct me towards folks who will be blessed by my excess.  If nothing else it will help make amends for my squanderasness.  (Yes that is my own word – words have to start somewhere.)

An equally important effort, I had not considered when taking up this challenge is the intake side.  A friend and I are suppose to go thrift storing soon.  In my mind, I imaged it would be a great opportunity to drop off donations while I loaded up on some deals … hmm.  Thinking there needs to be a stipulation that my net reduction is 10%, because how much good does it do to downsize by 10% and then upsize by 12%.

I think for today I am going to anchor myself on this:  “ For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”  (1 Corinthians 14:33a)

Giving

25 Aug

picasso quoteIt is rolling into fall soon.  Kids go back to school next week.  The days are getting shorter, and football is everywhere.  If you are a regular church attendee, there is one other thing that inevitably is associated with fall as well.  That’s right, it is soon time for the annual stewardship campaign.  Pulpits everywhere will be primed for “stewardship moments”.  Christians will be instructed on how their giving serves missionaries abroad and ministers to the needs in our community.  Letters are being proofed to be mailed to the homes of congregants everywhere.  Pastors dread it.  Congregants dread it.  The church finance team won’t sleep for weeks.  It is a special time of year that is set apart to talk about that nasty business of money and budgets.

The truth of the matter is that ministry cannot happen without money.  Somewhere there has to be a check writer.  I am such a John Lennon idealist and love the love, but hate the money talk.  One of my pastors, however, years ago helped me to see that there are a whole lot of not flashy expenses with the church … light bulbs for example.  However, I feel like each year, no matter which church you are affiliated with, everything to do with stewardship is REALLY clumsy.  At the core of this I think it is that we loose sight of why we give.  Giving is Biblical.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)

There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales (Acts 4:34)

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys (Luke 12:33)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. (Deuteronomy 15:7)

Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; (Proverbs 3:9)

So now that we have that out of the way – Hopefully we agree, that if we consider the Bible to be a source of truth and guidance, then it seem really evident that there is an expectation to be generous.  In that respect, as a member of a church, it is appropriate to give to and through the church.  However. the aspects that are frequently overlooked during the stewardship campaign are individual giving outside of the church, sharing of time and the use of our talents to advance the Kingdom of God.  What needs to be realized is that most stewardship campaigns are conducted for pragmatic reasons and are driven by the finance team.  The fact is the church is an organization, and like it or not, it must operate under some version of a budget.  Corporations do projections on sales and such, churches do stewardship campaigns to forecast giving.  Depending on who you talk to, you will have different takes on how appropriate this is.  Jeff and I tend to be renegades in this area.  We are sometimes literalistic.  If we learn in Sunday Sermons that we are to seek truth through prayer and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and follow that with the faith that God will provide the needs for what we are called to, we kind of figure the church should take the same leap of faith and budget based on what they feel the church is being called to and have faith that God will provide the means.  I do, however, get why it isn’t necessarily that way, despite my yearning that it would be.  I understand that there are mortgages. salaries, contracts and such to be dealt with.  Most mortgage companies aren’t cool with late payments, even if you tell them it is all part of God’s plan.

So. I have determined that I am not likely going to change the course of church tradition and the pragmatism that to some extent must exist.  I am however, going to raise the bar in my own personal discussion with God.  So, if you know me, you know that my “prayer closet” happens to be a shower.  Every great idea, or at least most of them, happened while taking a shower.  Over the last several weeks I have been feeling really convicted about the overabundance of “stuff” in my life.  There is absolutely too many things in our home.  It literally some days is impossible to find a clean surface to set something on because of the piles.  It sucks my energy … it weighs on my spirit … and maneuvering through all of this stuff takes a lot of time.  So, I was already determined that there needed to be a substantial purge.  One thing I did decide though was that I didn’t want to arbitrarily just heave-ho it in the direction of the nearest thrift store.  I wanted to be intentional in my giving.  I wanted to manage it in the same way I would if I was giving cash.  If you came into money and decided you wanted to give away $1000, odds are you wouldn’t give it to the first and easiest person/organization asking for money.  You would be intentional.  I felt that my years of accumulation, what was bad, could be made good through blessing others.

However. while in the shower, God started up His chit-chat again.  (I think it was the cool air reminding me that stewardship season is around the corner.)  He was asking me what will I give to build His Kingdom.  So I told him I was going to give Him all my old stuff.  One would have thought he would be delighted, but I’m pretty sure I saw Him roll His eyes and offer up a sarcastic “thanks…”  Realizing that in many respects the purge was for me as much as it might benefit others.  I began to consider what is often the call of the stewardship campaigns?  It is to give … To give of your time, talents and treasures.  This is where the Holy Spirit guided me to what God is calling for me to offer.

I have decided to put a time frame on the project, because “forever” is way to big for me to feel good about.  While, I am hopeful that these will turn into forever habits, I know that in order to take the first step I need an end date.  For me, this date will be October 29th.  This gives me a little over 2 months to be particularly Kingdom-minded.

My Time

I think in many ways our time is even more valuable than our money.  It is so limited, it can’t be regained and it is absolutely finite.  I know that my time is probably the thing I treasure most and regret misspending the most.  God has called me to spend my time in a way that will advance His Kingdom.  While I am hopeful that every moment I have is spent in a way that brings glory to Him. I know that most of my time is spent in ill-considered ways and is not necessarily Kingdom building.  There are three ways we are called to spend our time:  In study, in prayer and in service.  In reading the gospels we are reminded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37b-40)  So, for the next two months I will tithe my time.  10% of each day will be spent intentionally with the purpose of building His Kingdom.  Each day 2.5 hours will be spent on devotion and prayer and absolutely on service. 

My Talent

God has blessed each of us with certain gifts and talents.  While we naturally experience joy when we use them.  If you cook, you know how much joy you receive out of the sounds and smells in the kitchen.  If you are musical, the feeling of the music in your body soothes you.  If you work in the garden. the feeling of the earth under your feet rejuvenates you.  We are meant to feel blessed through our gifts.  Too often though we get busy with the day to day tasks that we forget to exercise and use our gifts.  It is through our talents that we glorify God, and it is through these gifts that we advance His Kingdom.  It is not vain to believe you are good at something. but it is sinful to neglect those gifts.  I often get confused on what I am good at, but I do know that whatever gifts I have are meant to be used for the glorification of God. and that can’t happen if I won’t acknowledge them.  So, for the next two months, I am going to dedicate myself to exploring where my gifts and talents are.  I will commit to exercising these talents each day in such a way they benefit others.  Frankly, if you guys have some thoughts on this one, share away 🙂

My Treasure

What a squanderer I am.  I often overspend money that will be needed down the road.  I buy things I don’t NEED … such a big difference between need and want, and they are so often confused.  My home if filled to the gills with stuff.  My excessiveness has brought heartache, and managing it has been the source of anger and pain.  My greatest blessings have been found when I have had the least.  Truly I have never been allowed to crash and burn.  So far, there has always been an 11th hour blessing.  I hold on to the things I have for fear that I will have a need.  I hold onto them as a source of pride – keeping up with the Jones you know.   I hold onto them sometimes because I am too derned lazy to deal with what I already have – “Whoops forgot to bring a knife.  Eh, I’ll just buy a new one.”  The next two months I am committing to get rid of at least 10% of everything I own.  I will do my best not to arbitrarily toss it, but will be prayerful in my disposition of these things.

I apologize for this very long-winded post, but I had to put it in writing.  I had to publish it.  Otherwise it is just another really good shower idea that I am held unaccountable for.  So, if you are a praying kind of person, say a prayer for me.  Hold me accountable and encourage me.  I know that if I commit to this stewardship campaign in my life, I will come out the other end wildly blessed.

Just as you are …

31 Jan

beliefsI have a confession to make … I am a Christian.  I am sure if you have been paying attention at all, you are well aware of that.  However, many new friends seem to be surprised when they learn this.  I remember one person, after coming by our house for a homeschool event, commented how surprised she was to find the kids “memory verses” up on the wall.  Most of these friends are surprised because they think I am just too nice.

Now before those of you who are Christians go and get offended, although I have gotten a little twitchy over this sentiment myself, consider the perception the “world” has of the Christian community.  Inside the doors we look at our activities as Kingdom building and grace-filled, however, the message projected often has the air of judgement, condemnation and condescension.  While, I am not going to defend every person that wears a cross (just like I wouldn’t generalize about any member of any population) I will say that most folks I know within the church don’t intend to communicate this message.

I have to wonder where we went awry … Has the church always been askew?  While I think of the church’s active involvement in the abolition of slavery, public education, healthcare and social reform.  It is impossible to overlook the darker moments of The Inquisition, The Crusades, the age of exploration and Puritanical Witch Trials.  It seems that there has forever been a dual message communicated by the church – one of nurturing and love, and another of judgement and wrath.

A friend recently shared a blog post with me that really brought the face of the modern church to mind.  In her blog, Pearls and Grace, Sibi Riffer writes about “The New Church Lady.”  While the title immediately brings to mind Dana Carvey’s SNL Church Lady character, you quickly learn that this new church lady ditches the judgement and embraces the grace.  Riffer discusses the judgement she faced from the church, and how that hurt had kept her away.  I could relate to so much of what she wrote, and couldn’t agree more with her perspective of what it meant to be a Christian in the world today.  One of my favorite quotes was, “[A new church lady] understands that to become the Proverbs 31 woman- you can’t skip chapters 1-30.”

For myself, I always yearned to be at church when I was little.  I felt at home in sanctuaries dancing in stained-glassed light and flickering candle flames.  I embraced Bible stories and felt cozy wrapped in the melodies of old hymns.  As I got older though, more and more frequently I was cornered (literally) by classmates demanding to know if I had been baptized.  As it turned out, I had not.  While my parents supported me exploring my faith, they decided not to discern on my behalf and have me baptized.  Additionally, being a military family we didn’t necessarily develop close ties with any aspect of the community, particularly the church.  As a family we explored many faiths, predominantly Unitarian and Episcopalian.  In addition to these logistical  issues, I never thought I needed a special ceremony to live in God’s grace and to be called His own.  Many of my friends thought differently.

Throughout my high school and college years and beyond, I was frequently confronted with this question.  My friends were confused and upset about why I had not been baptized.  They told me I wasn’t a “real” Christian and faced eternal damnation.  I was told that I was denying Christ by not being baptized.  I was angered by their confrontations and accusations.  Who the heck where they, or their church, to tell me what my God felt about me.  Who were they to decide whether I was in God’s “in” crowd or not.  Why did they suppose that I had to pick one variation of Christ’s church to commit myself to.  How wildly self-important to suggest that I should be “saved” in the Baptist church versus the Catholic church.  Who the heck decided that the Presbyterians had it right, while the Lutherans were wrong.  I looked at my Bible and noticed that Jesus never mentioned a denomination.  That nowhere in the scripture was there any indication of who gets picked first.  My eyes regularly landed on the scripture “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, for I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).  Sounds like an open invitation to me.

What was worse though, was the hurt that came from these proclamations from friends.  I think that sometimes when Christians share their “truth,” they have trouble hearing the tone of judgement that comes with it.  While the Christian thinks they are “saving” a friend from eternal hell fires, they are overlooking the whole grace and love bit.  Jesus regularly shared some tough news.  The rich young ruler really didn’t want to hear he was going to have to give up all he had acquired, but at the same time His message seemed to be much more about “Follow me.” and not so much “Worship me or else.”  Because of my experiences, I continued to hang with God on my own terms, but judged anyone who carried a Bible, wore a cross or had a fish on their car severely.  Unfairly, I assumed that everyone who was a member of this special “Christ Club” perceived me the way my friends had.  I felt that having doubts in any area of my faith was condemnable, and that my personal choices weren’t appropriate for the pretty people.  When invited to churches for special events, I fussed over my appearance and examined the dirt under my nails.  The cozy home of God I had known as a little girl, didn’t exist anymore.

Eventually I did return to the church, almost accidentally.  I was a desperate, pregnant mother of three, and the church in our community had a Mother’s Day Out program.  The participation fees met my budget, and I really, really needed some time alone.  Once I joined the group, the pastor would regularly drop in and say hi to the moms and children.  I finally got comfortable enough with her to ask some questions.  I challenged the theology of the church, and confronted the judgement I frequently felt.  While she unapologetically defended the theology and doctrine of the denomination, she made clear that judgement was not what God calls us to, but rather a life of integrity and grace.  She invited me to participate in Bible studies, and because she was a really smart gal and because she always answered every question honestly, but without judgement, I went.  In these classes she encouraged the participants to confront the church and the scripture.  She taught us to ask questions and build a faith that was organic and not rote.  She introduced me to writers like Philip Yancey and Tony Campolo who will acknowledge that sometimes Christians just get  it wrong.  My pastor waited patiently for me to learn, pray and choose for myself to become a member of the church.  One day, in my mid-thirties, I decided for myself to be baptized – not because I was afraid of going to hell, but because I decided that I wanted to officially join this community of believers.

I still get hurt by church people, and I still get angry.   I have left churches, and been nervous upon entering new sanctuaries for fear of being hurt and judged.  However, I continue to embrace my faith, and I continue to work to be the “salt and light,” to be “in the world not of the world.”  It is my hope that I continue to surprise people when they find that I am a Christian – not because my behavior does not reflect the love and grace of Christ, but rather, contrary to their experiences with some Christians in the past, that it does.  It is my hope that regardless of what faith others choose to embrace, or if they elect not to choose at all, that they will come to know that there is another, sweeter voice in the church that welcomes “all who are weary and heavy laden” without judgement, just as they are.

Forty is the new …

24 Jan

Regardless of what decade of life I faced, I was perpetually 19 in my mind … not the fun sort of 19, but the awkward not a kid and not an adult 19.  I donated most of my 20s to getting married and having babies.  My 30s were a blur of keeping my head above water as a now homeschooling mother of 4.  Then I turned 40, yet still had this awkward 19 year old living in my body …  It wasn’t a dramatic “loss of youth” sort of moment.  To be honest, in many ways it was a relief because I never thought I would turn forty.  I never have been able to perceive myself as a grown person, so I figured I would probably just die at 39.  While pleased as punch when my 41st birthday came along, I was at a complete loss of what to do or how to feel.  I have never been concerned about being “old”, so much as not knowing how to feel like an official, know-what-I’m-talking-about, “don’t talk back to your elders” grown-up.  I have been perpetually 19.  Old enough to be held responsible, but too young to be trusted with important decisions.  Yet, here I sit with a 19 year old son who is busy making important decisions … even if he doesn’t realize it.

dawn

For me, in many respects, 40 is the new 20 (but not the way you or People magazine thinks).  After having a few years to linger in this decade, I have finally had a spiritual birthday and am no longer 19.  It happened somewhere around my 41st birthday when I knew I would be on this planet for awhile longer and I began to think about my future.  There was the initial, “Oh my GOD I’m dying … I have already lived half my life.”  However between periodic irrational bouts of cancer fear, I began to realize that a page is turning and the plot is thickening.  While my financial means are limited and my time is still primarily allocated to familying, I am dreaming again.  I began to think about life in much the same way I had in high school.  “Where do I want to live?”   “What would I like to learn?”  “What job would I like to do?” “What is the purpose of life?”

For myself and I’m guessing for many parents, particularly stay at home mothers, forty is very much parallel with your high school years.  The door is opening up to a life that is your own and independent.  As a teen, you are considering stepping out on your own for the first time.  You finally have an opportunity to make  your own choices and mistakes.  You see frightening, yet exciting opportunities laying ahead.  As a fortysomething stay at home mother, I also see a light creeping through the slightly ajar door.  For the first time in decades I am envisioning a life independent of the responsibilities of child rearing.  You face the frightening realization that soon your days will be spent alone, yet there is a bubbling sense of excitement and adventure that brews up as well.  Every deferred dream, every back-burnered passion can actually be dusted off and pulled back to the front. Even more exciting are the new dreams and passions you have discovered on the journey to this moment.  As you reach for the doorknob you begin to envision yourself as someone … just you.

I cry, I do (please don’t tell anyone), when my big boy goes away to school.  I have small bouts of anxiety as I become suddenly aware that these bitty people I used to carry three at a time are now budding adults.  They talk about college, dress up in big people clothes and say really, really smart things.  I know that the sun is on the horizon, and very soon they will be leaving me to live an independent life.  When I examine that sun sitting on the horizon though, it is not setting … the beautiful awareness arrives that it is a rising sun, and the dawn is upon me.  The day is coming and spring is here.

My Abnormal Children and I

23 Jan

Have you missed me?  Well I have missed you terribly.  I have been busy building an unprofitable business, schooling four children, going back to school and ignoring a lot of housework.  Lately, however, I keep having thoughts to share and points to ponder running through my brain.  To sooth my nerves, and document the fact that I do indeed occasionally have deep thoughts, I am back online.

Image

Since we last were together, my youngest daughter has been scrutinized, analyzed and evaluated.  Despite many pediatricians in her younger years urging me not to compare, it turns out I was right all along and Caroline has some developmental delays.  Any time you acknowledge that your child has some definable difference from typical children it leads to a lot of sessions in the shower crying, as well as random outbursts of tears when listening to just the right, or maybe wrong, song.  We have a long way to go in discerning whether there is a specific definition for what she “has”, but to be honest I have been dragging my feet.

I have to some extent been avoiding a definition.  Definitions are, well, definitive, and that scares me.  I am scared that someone is going to tell me what she “can’t” do.  I am worried that all the beautiful dreams I have dreamed for her are going to be dashed, and they will tell me instead a sad story of dependence and deficit.  I am a pro at denial, and this has been no different.

However, more recently, there is another reason for dragging my feet.  That is this concept of definition.  I don’t want my daughter defined.  I know that regardless of what doctors and specialists may find, she is Caroline.  She isn’t a type, a disorder, a syndrome or a deficit.  While I acknowledge it is important for me to continue to pursue definitions of her physiological makeup, I don’t feel the need to now what is “wrong” with her – if for no other reason than there is not a thing wrong with her.  Just like everyone else, she has been “fearfully and wonderfully made”.

Over the course of our adventures in homeschooling and beyond, we have been blessed, and yes I do mean blessed (to often this is just a euphemism thrown in for affect) – to know so many kids with something “wrong” with them.  Some have subtle differences that allow them to fit in more easily.  Others have dramatic differences that demand attention, and are regularly a source of sideways glances from strangers afraid to make eye contact.  Some of our friends unique attributes are cognitive or developmental, others are physical.  These folks give me perspective, and have allowed me to see the beauty, and completeness, in each of God’s creations.  A popular perspective in the Christian community is that we have been created by God, and God doesn’t make mistakes.  Therefore, each of us has been created exactly the way He would have us be.

The final straw in ending my blogging sabbatical was while reading my textbook for Developmental Psychology.  In a particular chapter of my text there was an abundant use of the phrase “abnormal child”.  Truly this brought tears to my eyes.  What level of education must one receive … what knowledge must one possess to define a person as normal and abnormal.  What attributes assure us that we are “normal”, and what characteristics must we be plagued with to be defined as “abnormal”.  Now I get what they are saying.  I know what is intended.  There is no value between one person versus another implied, but gosh darned it, there is.  In what world is being abnormal OK?  I get that there are characteristics and attributes that most of us illustrate, and when we veer from this typical development we are different … we are unique.

The question comes however, to what degree do we choose to value these unique attributes.  Elizabeth Taylor was considered astoundingly beautiful in part because of her unique, violet eyes.  While this attribute was unique, would we have ever defined this Hollywood movie star as abnormal based on this physical attribute?  We regularly idolize folks with unusual strength, height and intelligence.  Each of these individuals representing attributes that are unique and not typical.  However, when we see a child with a severe physical developmental differences … a child who learns atypically … a child with severe cognitive differences – why are these folks typed as “abnormal.”  I would argue that each of these folks presents unique qualities that make them uniquely able to see and do things a way that is different from the norm.  This makes them special, not “special”.

As a corollary to this is the idea that somehow if you look the same, think the same and act the same as others you are “normal”.  The truth is, you are not.  And ask any teenager (ideally between the ages of 14 and 16) and they will tell you you don’t want to be normal, typical  or average.  The one thing my textbook did get right is each of us is a unique creation.  By definition then there is no such thing as normal.  Each of the attributes we have been born with are designed to equip us to fulfill the calling we have on our life.  We are all a collection off strengths and weaknesses.  There is no one that is mostly weak, nor anyone who is mostly strength.  We all possess a balance of both, and what sets us apart is what we do with each of these.

At different times each of my four children have had an easier time than others in “fitting in”, and each of them have had their moment to be “abnormal”.  The truth of the matter is that I would hate to think of them as a clone of normal, or to suppose that there was nothing unique and set apart about them.  While no mother of a “disabled” child is able to disregard their unique medical, developmental or educational needs, they cannot be beaten down by a culture and a society that defines their child through a list of limitations.  We as a culture and a society need to learn to embrace the unique qualities individual possess, and empower parents to become the force that opens doors and sends their child forth into the world to answer their unique call.

Wrestling with faith …

23 Mar

Let’s get something out of the way straight away … faith doesn’t make sense.  I know, faith by definition kinda means that it doesn’t have supporting evidence.  It seems though we always want it to make sense.  We want it to be logical, to have rules or to somehow make something a little more predictable.  We regularly find preachers on TV or publishing books arguing that life will be better if you buy into their brand of faith.  Many of them will argue that your life will actually be financially better. 

i don’t know what it is like to be an adult who grew up in the church, who was taught a particular belief system, who was guided in the church.  My experience was more diverse and very open.  Something that at one point in time was particularly frustrating, because more than anything I wanted to blindly believe in something.  It isn’t to say that folks who have had that experience have blind faith, but rather I didn’t have anything to hang my hat on until I built my own proverbial coat rack.  So many people it seemed had their hook provided for them and as they got older they could decide whether to use the hook they had been given or seek out one that better suited their hat, but if I wanted to have a hanging hat, I had to find the hook myself … OK, so I totally killed the hat analogy, but I hope you understand what I mean.

In my quest for a religion, I would try other people’s churches on for size.  I loved being with them.  I loved how confident and shiny everyone was.  The trouble came when I began to ask why.  The answers I received where not much better than the mom response, “Because I said so.”  My reasoning mind could not accept that answer.  My reasoning mind wanted something that made sense and had observable supporting documentation.  Not too likely, I know.  Well, after a dramatic year and half period, I finally made the big step … I believed because I believed and I accepted my beliefs on faith without measurable, quantifiable documentation.  It felt remarkable.  I was anxious to join the whole church clan.  I was ready to put on my new faith and take it out to church to show it off a bit.  “Yep.” I would say, “This is my new faith … did you notice that I believe ALL of this without one shred of evidence.  Pretty faithful (ha ha) of me don’t you think?”  I anticipated that people would find me quite mature and quite an example of the modern Christian.  I loved Bible study where I would smile confidently and share my insights and give it all up.  It seemed I was in good shape.

However, somewhere along the way I gathered the impression that folks who have faith are some how vacuum-sealed away from trouble.  That they have faith so they don’t have suffering and strife the way the rest of the population does … the way I had prior to my revelation.  Unfortunately, life got hard.  Some of my other faith friends got mean and did unkind things.  Our family continued to face hardships and life was quite a struggle.  While I never really had bought into the “prosperity doctrine”, I had somehow thought that some sort of white picket fence and Donna Reed lifestyle would come along with my cross.  I was disillusioned and hurt and very confused on where to place the blame.  Over the last several years that issue never really resolved itself completely.  I continued to work on it and work on it.  As I did friends died, financial struggles hit, family suffered and the reality of life pressed on.  The good news is that God was good … He didn’t forsake me … He stayed present in my life through the Holy Spirit who guided me.  He never left me alone, but allowed, perhaps encouraged, me to wrestle with these questions.  It just occurred to me in much the same way he wrestled with Jacob.  Time and time again I was confronted with scripture that actually supported a rather unappealing perspective on the Christian life.  Throughout the Bible, particularly the New Testament, we are told the truth of our situation – prepare to be persecuted … prepare to suffer for your faith.  (for example:  “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”  2 Timothy 3:12)   For whatever reason it seems churches don’t include these bits of scripture on their doorhangers 🙂  I was hooked though.  I couldn’t not know what I knew, so the only choice was to reconcile how could the God that loves me … the one I accepted without any empirical evidence … allow me to suffer.  There are a lot of answers to this question.  A lot of people have a lot of perspectives on this.  One thing I know to be absolute though is that Jesus (God himself) suffered and his suffering has changed the world.  If I could have even the smallest percentage of this impact on the world for good, I will have lived a life fulfilled. 

Today, life is often pretty crummy … OK, honestly, a lot of times its much worse than that.  Many days I wake up and have no idea how I’ll make it to the next day.  I have suffered heartache that seemed unbearable and in between my mournful wails (because, yes, they are there), I am able to smile and shine knowing that no matter what reason I must be in such dark places, God is with me there … “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:  For though art with me …” (Psalm 23:4)  I am able to persevere.  I have learned that my understanding of the world is infintile compared to God’s (and yes, here I literally mean as an infant.)

Like Jacob I will walk with my crippled hip.  I have been forever changed by my wrestling with God, but through it all I can’t conceive of being there without him.  So I will hobble along no longer flaunting my shiny faith, but rather humbling acknowledging my limp as my mark of faith.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”  Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”  But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.  So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”  The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.  Genesis 32:28-31

Please forgive whatever may seem incoherent … after a day sick and a night catching up on work, it has gotten late, but I wanted to make sure I honored my commitment … hopefully if I have rambled too much, there have been bits of insight that can be gleaned 🙂

Something to prove …

16 Mar

To whom do I have something to prove?  Mostly myself I expect, but I hope in the process of proving to myself there are things I can commit to and follow through on … that there are things that when I have the opportunity and the determination to focus on I can do well – While doing all of this, that maybe I can create an example through my own growth.  That perhaps I can illustrate for others the value of the disciplines.

I have always felt that the disciplines of prayer, scripture reading and devotion are critical to “walking the walk”, so to speak.  I think that could be for a couple of reason – 1)How could you possibly expect to stay on track if you don’t know what the track looks like.  It seems to me that the Bible offers us some pretty good suggestions on what it looks like to be a Christian and what it is that God expects of us … and 2)Immersing yourself daily in the Word of God and then hanging with the Holy Spirit sharpens that connection to God.  I believe completely that the Holy Spirit resides in me (and, no, I don’t mean me alone) and urges me in the direction that God would have me go.  When I am committed to daily reading and prayer, I think it helps me get closer to tuning my receiver to the right frequency so that I can more clearly “hear” those promptings and it is easier for me to stay on track.

Today’s reading from Isaiah 55:10-11 compared God’s word to rain or snow and illustrated just as the rain and snow don’t fall down from heaven and then shoot right back up (instead they water seeds to cause plants to grow and allow grain to be turned to bread), God also does not want His word falling from heaven and then shooting right back up.  Instead it is intended to enrich His people and serve a purpose.  We have our Bibles so that we can receive this guidance and connection to God like water on our souls.  This water will allow us to grow and then through our growth feed the spirits of those around us.

The scripture from Psalms (Psalm 34) reminded me that when we appeal to God, when we seek God, not only is He always there, but he lifts our spirits and enables us to endure our trials … “Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” (Psalm 34:19)   Our daily disciplines ensure that we have this connection to God.  And as silly as it sounds, that we don’t forget that He is there.  So many of us try to forbear through these “afflictions” alone and with our own strength and in many, if not most, cases we are not capable of sustaining ourselves.  We wither through a loss of hope – I expect because we can’t see our situation in context.  I think a lot of times our spiritual walk doesn’t mend our situation so much as provides us perspective and allows us to put things in context and value something beyond the situation we are in at the moment.

Most folks who have any formal church experience have had the opportunity to learn the Lord’s Prayer in the context of the gospels and not just as that “prayer thing” we do in church most Sundays.  I think one of the more important aspects of this bit in the Bible is what precedes the prayer itself.  Jesus instructs us not to get carried away with fancy wordy prayers thinking that somehow God is going to be more responsive to our needs if we “impress” him – as if we could 🙂  Instead Jesus says, God already knows what you need … he knew before you said anything.  Instead he provides a prayer that is designed to sharpen this connection.  That works well to tune in on the Spirit Frequency.  Each line addresses the relationship in whole:

Our Father who art in heaven (Who exactly are we talking to?)  Hallowed be thy name (What’s the relationship?)  Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (What is the objective?)  Give us this day our daily bread.  (On whom or what do we depend for sustenance?)  And forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us  (Can you get what you don’t give?) Lead us not into temptation.  But deliver us from evil.  (On whose strength must we depend to empower us for good.)  For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory …  (Who is in charge, who is to be glorified?)  forever (How long?)  Amen. (!)  Matthew 6:9 -13

Today I was having trouble with my motivation … I eventually read my scripture because I didn’t want to quit.  I had all my little distractions surrounding me.  My 8-year old throwing books at me to read.  My 10-year old wanting to rely ever conversation she  had shared with every friend every hour of the day.  My 11-year old wanting to discuss his movie plans.  My 16-year old wanting to discuss his car repairs.  I tried to read my scripture and bond in the midst of this constant dialogue.  To boot, the kids where watching TV in my room.  Needless to say, it wasn’t happening.  I was in the midst of trying to contrive a way to check the  box and be able to close up the computer and get to bed straight away.  Fortunately, God has enough of a grasp through the Holy Spirit that he led me back to a blog that I have been following from a church out west on Lent.  I thought most of the time that the chatty nature of this particular devotion was a little inane, but then they finally came to the point … Don’t give up on your Lenten commitment.  Wow!  And here I was trying to figure out how to give up gracefully … or at least take a day off 🙂  From their blog:  “Stick with your plan, and don’t become discouraged.  Persist in seeking what God has put into your heart for this Lent season until you receive the fruit of your effort!”  (http://a2observeslent.com/2011/stick-to-your-plans/)  The scripture they accompanied their message with:  You will always harvest what you plant… So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. (Galatians 6:7, 9)

So yep, I have something to prove … to me … and something to do … for the Kingdom of God.  Why has he asked me to do this … I can speculate, but I anticipate that I won’t really be able to appreciate the fruit until it’s time for the harvest.  So if God called you to make a commitment to begin something (like a project 🙂 ) or to end something (like drinking soda) don’t give up  … abide in Him and you will receive water for your soul that will allow you to grow and endure through the most difficult times.