Monday, April 6, 2015

A Full House

Yesterday was Easter.  The day that we mark and take a special time to remember that Christ was raised from the dead.  He died for our sins and conquered death.  He had the company of this disciples and followers, yet endured betrayal and rejection.  I was reminded recently of the parable of the wedding banquet.  The invitations were sent out, yet one by one, they were rejected.

Thank you, but I have to take care of the farm... Thank you, but I have to do this...

The invitations were rejected, returned.  The banquet giver then issued the invitations to others--who accepted gladly.  But, one wouldn't wear the wedding clothing and didn't appreciate the invitation and the banquet giver, well, he threw him out.

I am so thankful for the Lord's invitation to my heart, his working in my life, and his love.  I'm so glad that I didn't say, "I have something else to do, God.  No thanks."

What I have watched God do over and over is to bless me with the desires of my heart.  He taught me long ago that it wouldn't probably look the way I wished, but that I needed to look, see, and be thankful.

Yesterday, my house was full...  I love to host people on holidays--they really matter to me.  And my house was full.  Laughter, conversation, and smiles filled the rooms.  Children running outside on a sunny day--not cooped up inside.  Sitting at the children's table entertaining each other, enjoying their food.  Adults able to have conversation and sit.   The adults helped clean up afterwards and made my job as hostess easy.  We all worked together.  Within an hour of everyone leaving for home in the evening, my kitchen and dining room were clean and returned to normal.  Extra chairs sit again in the basement ready for the next time.  All were glad to be there and we were thankful to have them.  They all wanted to be there...

And my eyes fill with tears with thankfulness.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Being Proactive

Last fall, my kids played soccer.  On my girls' team, there were 3 other moms who I talked to each practice.  It was such fun and I looked forward to our chats.  Two of them were taking college classes, one was a friend of mine from church, and then there was me.  We were all so different from each other and I loved hearing their stories about life and their families.

So, I looked forward to this side of baseball with my son this spring.  I was hopeful that I would find some other "kindred spirits" as Anne of Green Gables would say.  On Monday, I introduced myself to two moms and had long conversations, but it was different than the fall.  Last night, my son had his second baseball practice.  And my heart was cheered.  I met a mom who I really enjoyed talking to.  I enjoyed hearing about her life and what's going on with her.  I enjoyed sharing and encouraging each other.  What a blessing!

It's an interesting thing walking into a new environment where I don't know anyone.  I don't know the system or how things work.  It's interesting to walk into a situation realizing that really I don't matter. I don't need to matter (and shouldn't), though, because I'm not the coach.  My son is just one of twelve kids on the team.  He is in good company with several other boys who've never played before--just like him.  There are several boys on the team, though, who can hit and catch and know a bit about what they're doing.

My oldest daughter is in that time of life when she will be walking into a lot of new environments where she doesn't know anyone.  How should she deal with that?  What parts of her personality will come out?  How will she be seen by others?

In college, I read a book about strangers (I'm currently trying to figure out which one it was) and what we do to avoid them.  I remember reading that we give space, we look down, we look at an object in another direction...basically, we do a lot of things to avoid eye contact.  Of all the things I studied in college, that is one that has haunted me the most.

But, we live in a world that is even more one of strangers today.  We have a new, handy tool at our fingertips to help us avoid people we don't want to talk to.  We can successfully avoid feeling alone if we have to eat alone and are physically alone.

It is the smart phone.  With the internet, texting, and email at our fingertips, there is always something for us to do or think about--other than the fact that we are alone and not actually "talking" to anyone.

Georg Simmel wrote an essay in the early 20th century about "the stranger".  I'd never heard of this essay before this morning, but I gather from what I've read that it details the role and even the importance of the stranger in our society.  He explains that a stranger has to do with distance/proximity.  The stranger is present, yet not involved or engaged.  On Wikipedia, it is explained that the controversy about his essay has involved the application and implications of his ideas about strangers.

I've found that it's intimidating to walk into situations where you don't know anyone.  What if people don't want to talk to you, what they're people you don't want to talk to, what if people aren't who they say they are, what if...  There are so many what ifs.

But, here are some new "what if?"s

What if you make a connection that encourages someone who's been having a bad day?
What if the person you approach needs a friend?
What if the person you approach is scared?
What if the person you approach is...
What if it isn't about you?

What if what we really need to find is the peace that comes with knowing that God made us the way we are--peace that comes when we understand that we are loved by the creator of this world and that that matters far more than what another human being may (or may not) think of us.  If we have this peace, then rejection from strangers won't matter the same way.  It won't change how we feel about ourselves or life.

The first question question in the Westminster Confession of Faith is this: Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man? A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

That means that it's all about Him and not about us.  Mark 12:30-31 tells us that we are to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. and the second is this: To Love your neighbor as yourself."

I watch my 11 year old daughter and see her self-confidence.  She has that peace that God made her and self-confidence that I never had at her age.  I learn a lot from her.

What if we chose to approach strangers instead of avoiding them?  What would change?  How would we change?  How would the places we go change?

Yes, we will probably get rejected sometimes.  Like the time I was in the airport and turned to the lady and asked where she was flying to.  She replied "Why are you asking?"  I replied that I ask everyone.  Then, she said, "Well, I'll just let you do all the talking then.  Where are you going?"  She reminded me of a facebook stalker at that moment and it gave me the creeps because of her tone.  So, I replied I was going to Maryland and then turned around.  I then asked the man in front of me who was heading to Chicago.  He and I laughed about the cold and having to leave the warm weather of Florida.  I can't remember, but I know he said something to me at the time that was helpful.

I had a rough year last year and it really shook my desire to talk to strangers and care.  But, I can see now that the Lord has been using it to shake me free from my impulse and belief that I can please everyone.  I can't.  But, I can do whatever it is that God sets in front of me this day to do.  I can reach out to people.

Ah, my ramblings... I hope this make sense!

Friday, March 27, 2015

A new schedule

Deep Breath.  It's been quite a week.

On Monday morning, I instituted a new schedule with my kids.  I know my weaknesses and one of them this year has been pushing back our start time.

I have other things I want to reflect on about our new schedule, but I think need to post these links before I forget...

I love my middle daughter dearly.  She is very unique.  She has her strengths and weaknesses.  My kids and I were very clear with me today that they know mine and theirs ;)  Anyways, I saw an area this week that I need to work on with her--her imagination.  I love the way God helps me see what my kids need as I'm schooling them.

So, I'm instituting an Imagination Exercise Schedule as part of our devotions/read aloud time starting on Monday...

Here it goes:

Monday          Story Starter
          I will start the story with a few sentences and each child will take a turn adding at least one sentence or a few more... (Go as long or short as we want)

Tuesday          Close Your Eyes:  Sensory exercises
          Imagine you are...          a butterfly flying in the air.  Fill in your description.
          Imagine different places, creatures, jobs.
          Ask the kids questions while their eyes are closed.

Wednesday    Picture Story Telling
          Show the kids a picture and ask them to imagine what that person is feeling.  Ask them to
          imagine why they're feeling that way.  What's going on in the picture?

Thursday        Would you rather...?
          Here are some questions I found online:

Friday            Prediction Exercises
          When I grow up...
          Read a passage, what's going to happen next?  Read the next part.  Were they right?
                       OR Charades


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sad Book

In light of all the reflection and sorting through the Lord has taken me through over the past few days, the world looks a little different.  There is a peace in my heart that I know is there.  I've always been a very competitive person and I've fought against the negative ramifications of that part of my personality.  But, last night as I sat with a group of women who I greatly enjoy doodling and doing zentangles with our daughters, I was singularly struck by the drawings of the other women and how they were all great.  It came so naturally to all of them and I admired them all.  I wasn't concerned in any corner of my heart with comparing my own to theirs.  There was a pure enjoyment of simply doodling.  Mine didn't need to be better than theirs.  For a competitive person, that's a huge thing to say.  I have peace about just being me.

Because of the weaknesses I've seen in my character that have stemmed from my competitive spirit, I found that I was particularly saddened by a book I just finished reading.  That book is Shannon Miller's new autobiography, memoir titled "It's Not About Perfect: Competing for my country and fighting for my life".  I love gymnastics and grew up in the gym, so at first I really enjoyed hearing about her journey and learning more about how a competitive, Olympian gymnast got to the podium. But as the book went on, I began to realize that it was filled with "I did this" and "I did that".... over and over.  She attributed her success over and over (and even in the introduction) to her own belief in herself.

Her own belief in herself.

When I realized how that little statement "Believe in yourself." misses God and how He's left out of the picture, I was taken aback.  I thought about it for a moment and reflected.  It's not bad to believe you can do something, but that belief can be rooted in one of two places.  1) It can be rooted in God, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." When something is achieved, the person knows in their heart it's because of the strength God has given them and who He made them to be. OR 2) The belief that you can save yourself.  In essence, you can do it all on your own, don't need anyone, and it's all up to you.

When a tree looks a little different but is surrounded by other trees, it doesn't look that different.  But, when it's by itself, it looks very different.  For some reason, I hadn't picked up on what it means when someone constantly says "Believe in yourself."  

It came up with my children last week as we watched a movie that we really enjoyed.  The movie was titled America's Heart and Soul.  Disney made it a few years ago.  I loved watching it with my children because they got to see people from all of the US and people who live very different lives than ours.  But, after each story, I paused the video and talked about specific elements and things the people had said.  We talked about a lot of interesting topics in the process--ranging from reincarnation to divorce and child custody arrangements.  But, we also got to see an amazing group of aerobatic dancers and an aerobatic pilot.  None of the stories presented anyone who believed the gospel and in heaven and hell.  There was one pastor who exhorted his church to love one another and get along with each other.  He actually says on the video that this is more important than telling people about heaven and hell--and that Jesus died on the cross for their sins.  It was a feel good about yourself church.  As soon as I opened up the conversation, my oldest daughter brought up a song by Ellie Holcomb that we love:  

This is a really powerful song to me.  It's so tempting to think that we've done things on our own and forget that it is God--GOD who gives us the strength.

I did explain to my kids what common grace is--grace given to all humankind--that God gives grace to those who do and don't believe in him.  He created them and his beauty is seen in the things they do.  We see a reflection of God in his creation--all of it.  

Finding Peace of Heart, Part 2

In my first post, I explained the passages that I cling to that tell me "who" a Christian is.  This post is about "how" Christians should live and the ramifications of teaching and encouragement I've received as well as what I've found in God's Word.  

I have found that when you are a Christian there are many sermons, books, teachers, and even friends and family who want to tell us how we "should" live.    With so many messages pouring in, it is easy to get overwhelmed and find one's self with a twisted idea of how we are to live and why.  Christians can end up with a very long and heavy list of "shoulds" that weigh them down.  For years, I've loved this passage from Ecclesiastes 3:13, but couldn't fully articulate the rest of my "why" it's okay for Christians to enjoy life and things in this world.  

The Amish emulate the idea of living a pure life by cutting out the things of this world because they believe it will keep them from being stained by the world.  Their support for this (according to the website Got Questions?org) is James 1:26-27

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

The Amish are shunned and punished if they violate the lists of do's and don'ts that the church has.  They believe that their good works earn them God's favor and that they can lose their salvation if they stray or fall from grace.

But, the Word tells us very clearly that we are saved by grace through faith that we might not boast of our own works.  In our humanness, we want assurance that we are doing things "right".  It's hard to trust in God's work alone, but it is essential--and Biblical.  In our humanness, we can fall into that belief that it's all up to me.  Yet, God says it isn't.  Our beliefs about salvation drastically effect our answers to the question of "How should we live?"  If we believe we are saved grace, we can fight the legalistic lists of shoulds and live by grace--glorifying God and thanking him without constantly condeming ourselves.  If we believe that we are saved in whole or any part by our own efforts, we have no choice but to condemn ourselves when we fall short.  This is wrong.  

I have also clung to this passage: 
Ecclesiastes 3:13
that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

In these passages, I see an underlying joy in life and in people--and in fact a contentment that includes enjoyment--an enjoyment rooted in thankfulness and appreciation of God (what he's done and is doing).  

Is it okay for Christians to read a fiction book?  Is it okay to enjoy meat and sweets?  Is it okay to watch movies and television shows?  

Yes, I believe it is.  We can enjoy them with a joy that is rooted in our faith.  When seeing these things carries our hearts and veers towards lust and sexual immorality, then we need to be careful and steer clear.  But, there is a danger that can also enter when we avoid these things altogether in the name of purity.  

See I Timothy 5:23...
(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) and I timothy 4:3-5.

1 Timothy 4:3-5  English Standard Version (ESV)

who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. Foreverything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

In my ESV study Bible, there is a note about I Timothy 5:23 that says there was a twisting of the idea of purity and so this was mentioned and it pointed me back to I Timothy 4:3-5

I John 2:15-17
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

When I read this passage a week ago and reflected on the enjoyment I had when I looked at the pictures in my portfolio, I realized something.  I'm not loving the world when I enjoy photography and photographs, a movie, or music--rather I'm loving the God who made what's in the pictures, who gave us sound and sight and I'm enjoying what He's given us.  I'm not loving the world.  I'm loving God.  But, I am enjoying the world that he's given us.  

In Pilgrim's Progress, Christian is burdened by a pack that is his sin and he leaves it at the cross at the end of the story.  But, I would like to use that same image as a picture of what happens to Christians burdened by the guilt of how they "should" live.  We can leave that bag at the cross and accept the gift of God's grace and instead live a life of love and marked by thankfulness to Christ.  We can enjoy what God has given us.  

A few months ago, we got a foam mattress topper for our bed.  I haven't slept well in twelve years.  We got a new mattress last year, but it was actually worse.  But, when I learned that not getting good sleep could have a significant deleterious effect on my health, I resolved to figure out what to do.  So, I got a 4" mattress topper and foam pillows for my husband and me.  It was so much more comfortable.  Now, I want to lay down and go to sleep each night! Each night and each morning I am thankful for my bed and for sleep.  

Two weeks ago, I got a book about zentangles to review.  I sat down and started doodling.  It was fun--and I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the shapes and lines that came together.  I erased some and went back to change what I did to begin with until I liked the final result.  It's a process like everything else.  Last Saturday, I sat with my three children and enjoyed drawing with them.  I enjoyed seeing what they created and how the pictures came out of their heads.  I enjoyed seeing the creativity--that God has given them.  I enjoyed being.  

I am thankful that the Lord helped me sort through what has been troubling.  I feel free again to enjoy the life that the Lord has given me.  I want to glorify Him in what I say and do and praise him and thank him as I enjoy eating, sleeping, reading, drawing, watching, talking, sharing, and living.  There's this peace in my heart now because I found an answer to my question.  

We are to live and love.  We are to enjoy God and his creation.  We are not locked in a cage of "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts".  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fun movies to watch!

Every once in a while, I come across a movie that I really enjoy watching.  There have been a few this past year that I've enjoyed...  here's my short list.

Death at Pemberley (PBS Masterpiece Theater):  PD James murder mystery continuation of Pride and Prejudice.  I wish these actors had done Pride and Prejudice.  It would have been wonderful.  But, I enjoyed this new story PD James wrote when she was 89 years old!

The Giver:  of course there's some changes from the book, but the acting is well done, nothing concerning, and I enjoyed it.  The Giver is one of my favorite books.

The Hundred Food Journey:  What a fun surprise!  I enjoyed this movie and would watch it again.

Last Love:  Michael Caine surprised me in this very slow moving story.  But, there was something about it that I really enjoyed.