Friday 30 September 2011

Conviction and Comfort

Today marks the end of September's 30 day habit challenge. For those who joined in, how did it go?

Unlike August's attempt, with all the chaos of family vacations, this month's challenge felt like a success. I had purposed to spend more focused time with God, with a particular emphasis on reading Scripture. With the exception of a week spent with my mother-in-law, I was able to meet my goal without fail each day.

In order to make sure this remained a part of my daily routine (a new "just what I do"), I wanted to tie it to a specific time/event. I am, sadly, not one of those people who can drag themselves out of bed before the kids in order to start the day off with some quiet time of reading and prayer. Perhaps in another season of life, when I don't have nursing children to steal some of my sleep at night, but right now I am unable/unwilling to go quite that far. Instead, I found that the time I spent nursing the little one to sleep for his nap was the perfect opportunity to integrate this habit into our daily routine.

What blessing and relief it was to once again be spending time each day reading the Scriptures! The more I read, the more I wanted to read. The words remained in my mind throughout the day as I thought further about what I'd read and what it meant in light of the bigger picture of God's Story and my place in it.

Two passages in particular have remained on my mind over the past weeks, one bringing conviction and the other bringing comfort. I finished Romans early in the month before beginning another read through of the Torah. I must have read Romans 12-14 through a good half dozen times before moving on, and the two above-mentioned passages came from these chapters.

The first passage brought with it a strong sense of personal conviction. From Romans 12:9-21:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly, giving yourselves to humble tasks. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

This is a beautiful passage and one, I'm sure, I've read countless times before, but this time it stood out to me in a new way. "Outdo one another in showing honor." When do I do that? "Bless those who persecute you." How often do I allow my petty hurts to get in the way of blessing those who have torn apart, twisted, and scorned my words? And so on and so forth throughout the passage. Some of it I do; all of it I could do better.

The next passage filled me with comfort and reassurance, bringing peace where there was once worry and uncertainty. From Romans 14 (emphasis added):

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

"As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God."

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

What comfort! Our differences need not divide us when we are each sincere in our faith. "The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God...whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." I know that I will continue to be judged, but there is comfort nonetheless in knowing that God sees our hearts and honours our sincere faith. That is not cause to become stagnant - our humility should always allow us to come to a new and more full understanding of God and His desires for us - but in the meantime, may our faith be as sincere as our love.

A new month begins tomorrow. I will once again be working to build habit into our routine. This month I will actually be working to reimplement a former habit of ours, reading aloud to the kids from one of the Gospels while they eat their lunch. We all enjoyed this previously but got out of the habit over the course of our busy summer. It's time to make this part of our daily routine once again.

Will you be joining us in October? If so, what challenge have you chosen to take on for the next 30 days?

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Mountaintop

The boy and his Oma

The toddler catching a ride on Mommy's back

Monday 26 September 2011

On fathers and husbands

It was late when we pulled up to the house last night, the boys and I, after nearly 11 hours of driving home from their Oma's house.

Please, God, just let the house be clean this time. I'm tired. He's had all week to himself, no little hands to undo his work, no outings to take up his time, no one other than himself making messes or dirtying dishes or creating laundry. Please, just let it be clean.

It wasn't clean.

An hour later I had the sheets on the bed, the laundry folded and put away, the counters cleaned off, the other messes tidied. I went to bed without a word. You think I want to spend time with you now? Dream on.

Oh, grace. I can offer it to everyone else - my children, friends, strangers, even myself - but where is it when I need it for my husband? I punish him with my silence even as I speak out against punishment. My relationships with my children seem to come so instinctively to me. Oh, we have our bad days, don't ever think otherwise, but for the most part we flow peacefully through our time together. But this wife thing? I just can't seem to figure it out.

I am a sucky wife married to a sucky husband.


I am a human wife married to a human husband.

He is a mess and I am a mess. He is inconsiderate and I am uncompassionate. He cannot see what needs to be done around him and I have the communication skills of a tree. If that.

But every time it gets really bad, I remember my dad.

I asked him once how he did it. How did he put up her cruelty? How did he endure the low blows she dealt, nothing off-limits, nothing sacred? How did he not take it all personally? Why did he stay? I wanted to understand.

He looked at me and answered my string of questions with one simple line: "Because I made a vow."

Because he made a vow. It was as simple as that to him. He endured the abuse* and continued to love her with a steadfast patience I could not comprehend, all because he had made a vow.

And I! What have I to deal with? Some laundry in a basket? Some clean sheets in the dryer instead of on the bed? Dirty dishes in the sink? A husband who yes, can be thoughtless, yes, can be black-and-white in his thinking, yes, can be lazy, but who has never even once given me reason to think he didn't absolutely love and adore me? Who has never treated me poorly or tossed cruel words in my direction or given me reason to fear for myself or my children?

In short?
  1. My dad is my hero.
  2. My husband loves me.
  3. And I love my husband.
  4. Flaws and all.

* I want to be clear that I don't advocate for people staying with an abusive spouse. Unfortunately much of the Christian church, in valuing the marital vows, has swung into the opposite dangerous extreme of encouraging women to stay with abusive husbands, or mocking men who try to seek help when living with an abusive wife. This is often coupled with a misguided understanding of "suffering for Christ" or "turning the other cheek". I believe it is not loving to allow a spouse to continue in his or her sin, nor to leave children in danger for the sake of the marriage. Some time apart while the spouse receives the help s/he needs may be best for all parties involved. However, every situation is unique and requires a unique response. Because my father is not in physical danger and because he has compassion for the pain my mother has endured in her life that has caused her to become the person she is, he has chosen to honour his vows in this way. There are other equally valid ways of honouring one's vows that don't involve just living with the abuse.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Weekend Reading

And just for fun, this week's earworm, "Red Kite" by Rosewood's Diary:

(Check out their newest CD on iTunes!)

Friday 23 September 2011

Fruits of the season

The cold rain, usually so dreary, feels like the perfect way to usher in fall. The yellow-green leaves flutter in the swaying poplar trees outside. We have spent this quiet week with my mother-in-law, just the kids and I, enjoying the space of the country and the slower pace of a small town.

With the start of a new season, I think on our traditions - our birthday celebrations, our summer solstice dinner at the beach, other family traditions that are slowly, one by one, working their way into our lives and memories - and I wonder about fall. How can we commemorate this season each year?

Fall. A slowing down, an exhalation after the excitement of summer. A season of preparation for the winter ahead. A pull towards the comfort of home.

Slow...preparation...comfort...home. I know.

We spend a day peeling, cooking, mixing, scooping, pouring, boiling, sealing. Mother-in-law patiently instructs as we fill the jars just so. Lids seal with a satisfying pop, summer's riches stored for the less bountiful months ahead. Jars sparkle like jewels on the counter. I breathe a sigh of satisfaction every time I walk by. Perfect.

And so a new tradition is born.

Pasta sauce, salsa, and cinnamon peach preserves

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Wordless Wednesday: A last summer hurrah

"Smell the flowers, honey!"

"No, don't lick them, smell them!"

"Here, smell this one."

"You licked it again! Silly baby!"

(From last week's gorgeous trip to VanDusen Botanical Garden.)

Sunday 18 September 2011

Fall is calling

Fall is calling. I can hear it in the breeze. I can smell it in the rain, taste it in the new fall apples, see it in the reddening leaves. I can feel it in the cold night air pouring through the open window as I cuddle warm under the blankets with my beloved.

It is raining after weeks of glorious sun. Boys grab rain jackets and go outside to play. I sit at the open window, taking pictures and breathing in the smell of my warm jasmine tea and the cool fresh air.

The boy's new boots are bright blurs as he runs around the yard, head back and mouth wide open to catch the falling rain. The little one wears cast-offs from his big brother, too big, soon left somewhere in the grass as he runs and falls and crawls in pink bare feet.

Fall is calling. My thoughts turn towards apple picking and fall baking, pumpkin pies and hay rides. Thanksgiving plans fall into place. Books pile high on couches, boy-turning-reader who still wants to hear them in his mother's voice. Stews and soups are set on the dinner table beside warm biscuits.  The bright greens and blues of summer are replaced with yellow and orange, red and brown.  I begin to knit a sweater.

Fall is calling, and I have come to love it.

Saturday 17 September 2011

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Wordless Wednesday: A mother's bouqet

First-World Living: Taking the first steps

Last week I shared the question I have been wrestling with: What am I to do with this first-world life of mine? The words you left in response were a comfort and an encouragement.

Today, I take that question another step further, exploring first steps towards a more holistic way of walking justly. You can find me over at SortaCrunchy, guest posting on this topic of first-world living:

How do I leave behind this stage of being overwhelmed and move intentionally into a more holistic method of social justice? I don't have all the answers - maybe I don't have any - but I know that every journey starts with just one step.

One step...and then the next. I can do that.

I hope you will join me over at SortaCrunchy to read the rest and to share your own steps, small or large, towards walking justly here in the First World.

SortaCrunchy is beautifully written by Megan, mother of two little girls and author of the book Spirit-Led Parenting, to be released in spring 2012. Megan invites us into discussions about "faith, family, and a life more natural". Be sure to browse through her other lovely posts while you're there!

Tuesday 13 September 2011

The right way

Just Write"Let's colour everything the wrong colour!"

"You go ahead," I tell him. "I think I'll keep doing mine the right colours."

"No, I want you to do it too, and then we can find all the things that are wrong! Wouldn't that be silly?"

"It sure would, but I like to colour mine the right colour." Even as I say it, I know I'm being irrationally stubborn. It's just a colouring book. I'm not being graded. We're spending time together, enjoying the peace of two babies napping, no one grabbing at the markers or needing attention. Just us, quietly filling in the pages with our favourite smelly markers.

"Please Mommy? It's okay to colour them the wrong colour."

He's right, of course - there are no rules, I can colour things any darn colour I want to! - but inexplicably, ridiculously, I still hesitate. It's wrong! Things should be coloured the right way! That's just how it is!

"Here, colour them pink. It's okay."

I take the proffered marker, put it to paper and shade in a tree.

He is brimming with excitement, making it oh-so-worth it.

And I?

I am free.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Weekend Reading

Thursday 8 September 2011

If I Err

If I am to err
let it be in love.

If I am to err in loving,
let it be that I love too freely
that I am too compassionate
that I extend too much grace
Grace, scandalous grace.

If I am to err in living,
let it be that I lived too passionately
that I delighted too much in God
and His creation
and the wonder of this body He has given me.

If I am to err in raising my children,
let it be that I taught them
to love too freely
and judge too little
but never the other way around.

If I am to err in my relationships,
let it be in kindness.
Let me never label others as "those people" -
"those gays"
"those Muslims"
"those sluts"
For shame
to reduce a person.
How about
those mothers
those beloved creations of God.

It would be better
not to err at all.
Grant me wisdom and discernment
to know what to say, do, believe.
if I am to err
let it be in love.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Tuesday 6 September 2011

This first-world life

Where to start.

It's not a crisis of faith, exactly...more like a crisis of living. What am I to do with this first-world life of mine?

The question haunts me from the time I get up in the morning until I finally fall asleep again, hours after the lights are turned out.

I know I'm not the only one wrestling with this. Rachel is seeking to avoid complacency in the suburbs; Elizabeth is tired of this first-world Christianity; others, too, are questioning, seeking, searching.

It all just seems so...frivolous. I take my long hot shower and instead of relaxing into it, I am overwhelmed with sadness that others don't even have clean water to drink, much less clean hot water to leisurely bathe in. I wander the mall and feel so empty afterwards - stores full of clothes and food when so many call themselves blessed for the mere (leaking) roof over their heads and the (tattered) clothes on their backs. The culture of consumerism sickens me. I am repulsed by it and yet a part of it and the internal struggle leaves me dizzy.

I question everything. I decorate my home and wonder if making it beautiful is wrong. Yes, it's lovely...but what's the point? What's the cost? I sweep and mop and dust and it all feels so pointless. Yes, it's shiny...but why? Do I spend too much time on things that don't truly matter? Is it wrong to have "nice things"?

I sit and read and it feels so good and so wrong at the same time. Others are toiling, back-breaking work, in hopes of bringing home enough food to partially fill their children's bellies, and I'm just sitting on my couch, casually reading a book? browsing the web? pinning lovely things to my Pinterest boards? watching a movie? sipping my tea? knitting and sewing for fun, enjoyment, relaxation?

Those things aren't wrong...and they are.

I don't know.

And the Internet - oh, the Internet! Blessing and community and knowledge and ignorance was bliss. I am overwhelmed by life in a global society. The needs. The worldwide, endless, heartbreaking needs! I can care for those in my community, the needs I can see and hear and touch, but the needs of an entire world leave me paralyzed. I want to help them all and I don't know where to start and my frozen indecision means that I help none of them. Money sent randomly here and there feels like so little, not enough at all, just a tiny bandage in a world groaning under the weight of all those needs. It's not enough! What do I do?

I try to turn away from the endless onslaught of give give give online and focus instead on a more local community - and again I find myself paralyzed. Oh yes, just move myself out of the suburbs and into a community of true need downtown, but I have two children and I am torn between safety for them and caring for others. Just serve then, but where? And how? And who? So many different needs, so many different services...

What should I be doing here? I have my comfortable first-world life in the suburbs, but what good is it? My children, yes, are my first ministry, but what about serving the poor, helping the orphans and widows, mercy, justice, all the rest? How do I live that out in a practical sense from where I am? I help where I can, with money, time, and donations, with love and encouragement, but it doesn't change the fact that each night I go to sleep in my cozy suburban bubble, safe from the gritty reality of those who have no home to speak of.

I know I can't save the world. I know that from whom much is given, much will be demanded. But I also know more than ever how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. We call ourselves blessed here and I want to believe it, enjoy it, appreciate it, but instead I just feel burdened by it. How can I say God has blessed me here with all of this, as though I have been graced with special favour above the mother crying out to God as her child starves in her arms?

What do I do with this first-world life?

Saturday 3 September 2011

The Saturday Evening Blog Post

It's time again for the Saturday Evening Blog Post, hosted by Elizabeth Esther. Elizabeth collects the "best of" posts on the first Saturday of every month, an opportunity for bloggers to gather and share their favourite post from the previous month.

Tonight, Elizabeth invites us to share our favourite posts from July and August. From July, I've chosen Attachment Parenting: A Christian Perspective. From August, I've chosen Lessons from the journey.

If you've written something you'd like to share this month, swing by her blog and add your link!

Weekend Reading

Friday 2 September 2011

A September to Remember: Memories

You can find me over at Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources today, guest posting on the topic of creating memories with our children:

Will he remember that I sat by his bed every night, singing to him as he drifted off to sleep? Or will he remember instead the times I spoke harshly, wanting him to just go to sleep so I could go do other things (as though washing the supper dishes was more important than being a comforting presence to my son)? Will he remember the trips to the park, the library, the farm – or will he remember instead the times I was overly anxious to get back to the comfort of our home, rushing him along instead of allowing him to linger and explore as long as he liked?

Sad that he will forget, worried that he will remember, I become increasingly conscious of the memories I am creating for this little boy, aware of their significance...

Read the rest over at Little Hearts!

Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources is run by L. R. Knost, a homeschooling mother of six and a published, award-winning author whose works include a devotional guide, a children's writing curriculum, and a children's church curriculum. She is also the author of Wisdom for Little Hearts, a children's book series designed to entertain and instruct children while equipping parents, teachers, and caregivers with 'Gentle Parenting' discipline techniques. Be sure to check out some of the other great posts while you're there!