Monday, January 30, 2012

Unexpected Visitor

Last week, I had an unexpected visitor.  The former owner of our new home stopped by.  I am thankful that she didn't stop by sooner.  I had been planning on being gone, but was unexpectedly here and I am thankful for this so that my mom didn't have to field her visit.

She came in with her little dog and of course our golden retriever went crazy.  It was difficult.  Then, I took her around and showed her what we'd done with the house.  She liked the changes--especially the french blue paint in the dining room.  I was glad for this.  It was a short visit and then she was off on her way.

I have struggled with my feelings towards this woman over the past month.  Often I have been upset with her that the work she had done wasn't fully done.  The workers she employed wouldn't do the clean up for their projects and the finishing work.  So, we had to come in and do that.  I've also been upset as I learned that there were problems she knew about and chose not to fix (like the drainage in the back yard).

But, a friend of ours stopped by this week and made a wise comment to me.  He said that much of the work we've done didn't have to be done right away.  When I paused, I realized that he was right.  Some of it really did have to be done--like replacing the water shut off valve that didn't shut off completely, fixing the water leak from the hot water baseboards, unjamming the garbage disposal, removing the window screens and cleaning the rims...  But, many of the projects I've seen as needs--like painting the maroon bedroom (with gold crown molding and pink ceiling), putting blinds in the den, finishing the dining room doors, painting the bedrooms--were not immediate needs.  Some projects could even be considered a gray area--needed to be done but not necessarily right now--removing all the leaves from the yard and ditches, removing the water heater that was being heated (but was turned off and had stagnant water in it), replacing the shutters in the den with mini-blinds (to get air circulation to the windows and cut down on mold/mildew)...

After the comment, I stopped to think and began looking for signs of all the things she'd done.  It also helped that I went next door to take our neighbor some chili and saw his completely unupdated home.  It gave me a bit of perspective.  So, what did she do to this house?

Well, she had the bay window put in the living room.  She put in the french doors in the living room and dining room.  She remodeled the kitchen (including the stove, wall oven, and dishwasher).  She replaced the boiler and hot water heater.  She replaced the sump pumps.  She refinished the wood floors in all the rooms but one.  She replaced the front door. She put in a patio and planter in the back as well as a small shed on the back side of the house.  She had mirror doors installed in the hallway.  She put in new vanities in the bathrooms.  It was good for me to think about what she'd done and put it in perspective.  Yes, most of these need or have needed some extra work, but she did do a lot.

There are a lot of reasons that people don't fix things that are broken or in disrepair on their houses.  Sometimes it's because they don't want to.  But, sometimes it's because of priorities (wanting some things to get fixed before others).  Sometimes there simply isn't the money to fix them.  Sometimes people are overwhelmed or unable to do it.  Sometimes there just isn't time and the only affordable way is to fix it themselves.

Should I be upset with this woman?  Is that really what I think God would want for me?  By being upset with her am I acting more like a spoiled, ungrateful child than a thankful one?  Ungratefulness is a yucky thing.  It's a yucky thing to see in myself.  I remember one of the lessons that I learned about in Growing Grateful Kids.  We have to cultivate thankfulness.  We also can't give our kids something we ourselves don't have.  Focusing on what is wrong feeds discontent.  Focusing on blessings--however large or small--feeds contentment.  We choose what we see, talk about, and think about.  I choose what I see, talk about, and think about.  I think I need to change what I've been seeing, thinking about, and talking about...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Imagining the Past

Yesterday in the car, I turned on NPR and listened to a local talk show radio host interview an author about parents and their expectations of their children.  The host was talking about how parents have unrealistic expectations of their children so they can't live up to them.  My 8 year old daughter suddenly says from the back seat that no child can be good enough.  It took me a second to comprehend what she was saying and then I remembered what the sermon at church on Sunday had been about and the Bible study discussion from Sunday night.  I probed her and asked what she meant.  I learned that she understood that none of us are good enough to earn God's love.  We are loved by God and are good enough because Christ died for our sins.  We are saved by grace through faith--not by our own good works.  She didn't understand why the adults on the radio were having the discussion at all.  I reminded her of a time when she told me she was a horrible little girl because she'd daydreamed her day away and had very little school work done.  I reassured her at the time that I loved her no matter what and that she wasn't horrible at all--she just had a hard time focusing.  Then she understood how children could have those feelings, but also the truth that we are loved by God and redeemed by Christ.  

For centuries, Christians have had this same debate--are we saved by grace through faith or through faith and works or by a choice we make to place our trust in God?  I just finished reading a fiction book that addresses this same question.  It is a new fiction book for young women titled Weight of a Flame: The Passion of Olympia Morata by Simonetta Carr.  This book tells the story of Olympia, a young woman who was born in Italy during the 1500s and then later moved with her husband to Germany.  She lived in Italy during a time of great persecution of protestants.  This book tells the very personal story of Olympia's life amidst the broad story of the persecution of believers when she lived.  

The story begins with Olympia's acceptance to the court of the Duke of Ferrara to be his daughter, Anna's tutor.  It follows her education while interweaving her spiritual journey and the conflict between Lutherans and Catholics within the duchy of Ferrara, Italy, and the world.  The book is well written and interesting.  The author, Simonetta Carr, is a native of Italy who not lives in California.  It is really quite amazing how well she has written this book in her second language.  It would be very readable for a middle school or high school girl.  At first, I thought of it more for a high school girl, but after my discussion with my daughter yesterday, I realized that it would also be very appropriate for a middle school girl.  The transitions between the chapters can feel a little bit jumpy sometimes, but the author was trying to cover sixteen years in two hundred pages.  After the first few chapter transitions, I grew accustomed to how the story flowed.  This is a very good book for young women to read and ponder.  From the outset, the reader will know that Olympia dies at age 29 from the dates on the back of the book, but this book always presents life in a hope filled light--because of God's love.  I never expected to be as encouraged by reading this book as I was.  I simply expected a historical young adult novel.  Instead, I discovered a book rich in story and spiritual ideas.

Let me explain.  this book prompted me to consider several of the differences between Catholic and Protestant beliefs that I had not been aware of.  It also reminded me of my strong conviction that we are saved by grace through faith.  We are not saved by grace through faith and works.  I cannot do anything that will save me.  One of the other very interesting theological ideas brought up in the book is that Christ only had to die once for our sins.  If we believe that any works, whether attending a church service or anything else, beyond God's grace is needed, then we nullify Christ's death on the cross.  

While prompting me to think about these theological ideas, this book also educated me in the history of Europe during the 1500s.  I had no idea that life was so difficult for protestants.  Several years ago, I watched the movie Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes.  That was when I realized what Luther did.  Prior to Luther, normal people could not read the Bible.  Luther translated it into German and in effect unified the German language.  He went against the Pope and had to translate it in secret.  For some reason, I had never considered what life was like for people who believed Luther's teachings.  It was very difficult all over Europe for people who believed what the reformers taught about Christ.  

It is always very interesting to me to realize that the same controversies that troubled people centuries ago are still around.  The controversies have different main characters and the ideas are a little tweaked, but they are similar nonetheless.  The belief that we are saved by grace through faith is important for us and our children to know and fully understand.  I look forward to when my daughters will enter middle school and read this book.  I look forward to the spiritual discussions that I hope it will prompt.

I do want to mention that there is a descriptive list at the beginning of the story of all of the characters.  I referred to this helpful list several times as I read the story.  At the end, there is an author's note about how much is true in the story, a list of reliable references, and a glossary of terms.  All of these were good additions and answered questions I had as I read the book.  I had sincerely wondered how much was true from the story and how Ms. Carr had created this story of Olympia Morata.  This book is one of historical fiction that contains a lot of truth and is based on true events.    

I highly recommend this book--to both children, grades six and up, as well as adults. It is one of a series published by P&R publishing.  If you or your children enjoy it, I would look into the others!  

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book from P&R Publishing for review, but all of these opinions stated in this review are honest and entirely my own.  

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Consequences of Choices

My last post was about my coming to terms with the fact that everything cannot get done.  I've been working on reminding myself of this truth every day.  Yesterday was hard.  

The project I most wanted to get done was to install the blinds in the den.  The girls weren't able to do their school work very easily last week due to procrastination and the fact that the sunlight was right on their desks and often blinded them.  We need to work on the procrastination, but the blinds could be fixed.  So, that was what we spent much of our morning and early afternoon doing.  Once my husband had installed the blinds, I still had to prime and paint the window frame.  I also had to shorten two of the five blinds.  Amidst this, I was also priming and painting a large board that is to be affixed in our hallway to cover up the hole made by the plumber last week.  About five-thirty as I was finishing up painting up the window sills, the former owner of the house showed up to see it.  That's a blog post in and of itself.  After her short visit, I finished up the window and got dinner on the table for the kids.  I got a call from my husband saying that he wasn't going to be home until later because he needed to hang some things for his mom at her house but if I wanted to go on ahead to the event our friends were having at their home, then I could go with the kids.  

I was faced with a choice.  Do I go?  Do I stay?  I had planned to go an hour and a half before that.  I could still go.  But, I was exhausted.  I'd been juggling everything all day--kids, husband, tasks, painting, food...  I had a choice.  I realized I had made the choice an hour and a half before when I had pressed on trying to finish the project in the den.  It was hard.  The kids were disappointed and so was I.  I was especially disappointed when I realized everyone had gone and I'd stayed home.  We all missed getting to see our friends.

It was hard.  As we were sitting down to eat, my mom pointed out that she was thankful that I hadn't gone.  If I had, she would have had to deal with the unexpected visitor on her own--and that would have been hard.  She's a bit unpredictable.  I am glad I was home for that reason.  

Choosing what we need to do over what we want to do is often hard.  It's a moment by moment choice.  I explained this to my daughter amidst her disappointment last night.  I told her about how I had chosen getting her and her sister and brother ready to play in the snow over taking care of my rolls that were in the oven.  Consequently, I forgot about them amidst everything else and had to throw them away.  But, I considered her more important and was trying juggle my priorities.  Sometimes that means that wants and experiences come first and sometimes they don't.  I wanted her to know that I tried not to disappoint her--but that she might not always realize the things I do for her and how I strive to love my kids well.  

I still wish we'd gone last night.  I'm bummed we didn't.  But, I'm trying to come to terms with the reality that I can't do everything--even though I wish I could!  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Finding Enough Time

This weekend I completely derailed our plans for Saturday afternoon by trying to squeeze one more task in.  I do this pretty regularly--try to squeeze in getting one more task done.  Sometimes it derails me or my family and sometimes it doesn't.  I've been this way as long as I can remember.  I underestimate how long it will take to get something done or how long it will take to get somewhere or how long it will take to cook something.  I have operated from the view that Everything Must and Will Get Done.  

But the reality is that Everything Cannot Get Done.  I am realizing that I need to accept this and operate from this perspective instead.  Instead of thinking I can and must squeeze everything in, I need to prioritize and put first things first.  This means that I need to put what needs to be done ahead of what I want to get done.  If I think that everything must get done then it gives me the leeway to do what I want to do first and then what must get done gets squeezed in afterwards.  

So, instead I need to reset my brain and daily plans to choose to do what needs to get done over what I want to do.  What needs to get done needs to come first.  This week I was discussing this with a good friend without realizing what it all meant.  She shared with me tonight that she had been thinking about these two ideas today and how it changed what she did with her day.  I have to admit that I thought about it a little today, but only made a little progress prioritizing and choosing wisely.  My friend, on the other hand, reordered her day and felt good about choosing what needed to be done first.  She was a huge encouragement to me tonight that I truly need to do this and begin my day out with a plan.  I need to pause and consciously plan out my morning and then afternoon when it arrives.  I simply must choose what needs to be done first.

Speaking of which, I better skedaddle off to bed!  I finished doing December's budget tonight (a needed task) and now I need to get some sleep.  Sorry for the abrupt finish to this post.  I just wanted to get it down in writing before I forgot!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

More Explanation

After my last post, I talked with two of my good friends about what I'd written.  I realized that I should give a little more explanation about some parts of the post.

One of the lessons that has impacted me the most from reading so many books over the past four years is that I need to consider who is writing the books I'm reading.  What is their perspective?  What is their worldview?  What are their religious beliefs?  

A few years ago when the movie series based on C.S. Lewis' Narnia Series came out, there were several books and a lot of attention given to "finding God" in the series.  My husband read Alan Jacobs' book The Narnian and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Afterwards, we discussed the book series.  What I came to understand is that C.S. Lewis was a Christian, as was J.R.R. Tolkein.  Both men wrote from their perspectives of the world.  They didn't set out to write Christian allegories, but their faith naturally permeated the worlds that they created in their books.  

Here's an example of how an author's perspective uniquely shapes what they write.  One of the books I read over a year ago was written by a public school teacher who had homeschooled her two children for 3 years.  They were likely in the same grade.  She taught public school before and afterwards.  Her book lectured homeschoolers on how they need to be more organized--but her husband was the driving organizational force in their home.  I read the book because of the polarized reviews of it.  I realized early on that I needed to research who the author was.  That was when I found all of these details out about her (all on the web via her own website and bios).  I was a public school teacher and I've learned that many public school teachers do not have a high view of homeschooling--it is a threat because by taking our children out of school, the message is sent to teachers that parents think they can do a better job than the schools--essentially their jobs get questioned.  Most homeschooling parents do not actually feel this way, though a few do.  The reality is that homeschooling parents feel they can give their children a better education at home--for a variety of reasons.  In any case, there is still a low view of homeschooling held by many teachers.  The other thing I realized was that she taught two children--in elementary school--of similar age.  That is a completely different ball of wax than teaching multiple ages that are spread out while juggling a toddler or middle/high school.  The author's experience shaped how she saw homeschooling--just as my experience does.

Though that book was nonfiction, I believe the same can be true of fiction.  Penelope Stokes is an example of a fiction writer.  Several years ago, I read some of her books.  They were filled with strong Christian beliefs and theology.  But, two or three years ago, I picked up a more recent book of hers and it shocked me!  I went to her website and discovered that her personal beliefs are now quite liberal.  That was reflected in what she wrote.  

In the same way, Stephanie Meyer's belief system naturally permeates what she wrote in the Twilight series.  I don't believe that she set out to subliminally weave Mormon theology into her books.  But, I do believe it's there because it's how she sees the world and what she believes.

The other part of my post that I wanted to address was any pride that may have come through in my post.  When I mentioned the show that I watched in the fall (which I happen to be watching as I'm writing this post), I didn't mean to infer that watching television is a horrible thing.  I sincerely enjoy watching television shows online since we don't have cable.  But, I saw in myself that I dwelt on the show and the plot too much--I gave it too much of my time.  It preoccupied me and stole attention from me that I should have been giving to the people I love.  

So, those are my thoughts this morning.  I hope that sheds a little more light on my last post.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The idea of idols

I had a very interesting conversation with my brother on the way to the airport yesterday.  We talked about various books and movies and then he asked me what I thought of the Twilight books.  Just to give you some background:  My brother and his wife live in Italy and have lived abroad for several years (both before and since they've been married).  

I tried to explain what I thought.  I began by telling him about an interesting article about how mormon theology is deeply woven into the book series. is an interesting article that digs into this.  I haven't read the book series, but have read a few pages here and there.  Basically, they're movie scripts that easy enjoyable reads--as I've been told by friends.  

But, my brother was really asking me what I think of them.  I don't think they're wise to read.  That is my honest opinion.  There are so many books that are out there.  So, it makes sense to read good books that are encouraging and edifying.  When a book has a lot of underlying themes that are contrary to my faith, I don't think it's wise for me to read it and get drawn into that thinking.  

I went on to explain to my husband that I know many people that are very concerned about these books--not so much about the books themselves as the ideas they give young women.  The ideas about romance and relationships are very unrealistic and can lead young women to great disappointment when they are met by reality.  My brother countered that that's not the author's responsibility or fault.  

True.  But, I explained to him that they haven't been here in the states and don't know about what a huge craze and following the twilight series books have.  The characters and actors are idolized.  That was where my big "aha" moment came that I want to share in this post.

My brother reponded to me that people find their idols everywhere, so it wasn't unusual that people would make idols of these characters or actors.

I realized a very important idea in that moment about idols that I had not considered before.  

In the Bible, we are exhorted in the Ten Commandments:  
English Standard Version (©2001)  “You shall have no other gods before me." Exodus 20:3
Christians are warned over and over not to have idols.  An idol is anything that we place more importance on and give more of our time and energy to than God.

But, to someone who is not a Christian, having idols is perfectly fine and even assumed to be a natural part of life.  To someone who isn't a Christian, there isn't anything wrong with having idols!  It's even considered a good thing when those idols spur one on to live better or be more successful.  

To me, the danger of the Twilight series is partly the theology undergirding the stories.  But, the greater part of the danger is the cult of interest and fascination that can lead to idolatry and a consumption of our time.  It's interesting to me because one of the television shows I watch online started back up this morning for the winter season.  I watched it, but have been debating about whether it is wise to continue on with it.  I saw my mind struggle in the fall through each week as I waited for the next episode.  I gave the show too much of my energy.  If I see this begin to happen again, I will need to stop watching it.  I need to beware of it becoming a lesser god--an idol.  

So, that's what I've been thinking about this morning...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Seeking Contentment

As I finished posting the review just now for the Writer's Guide, I realized that I didn't want that to be my only post for the first day of the New Year.  What a horrible way that would be to start off the year!

This past year has been such a crazy one.  The past 2 weeks along have been crazy!  We closed on our house Dec. 6th, moved on the 10th, my mother in law moved into our home we refinanced--both on the 21st, had Christmas Eve at our home with 13 people, Christmas Day with 9, New Year's Eve with 19, and New Year's Day with 10.  My family plus my mom is 6 people, so we start everything with a built in crowd ;)  The holidays were a busy blessing.  I enjoyed the time with everyone so much, but now I'm tired and ready to rest.  Amidst all of the holidays, the unpacking and house fixing pressed on.

So, today.  New Year's Day.  I've been pondering a particular topic a lot lately as my mind has festered and dwelt on one particular issue we've come across with our new house.  Contentment.  I was blessed to have two wonderful conversations with two good friends of mine last night on New Year's Eve.  The first listened to me as I cried and voiced my stress and worry.  The second shared my struggle with contentment and we discussed it.  I've watched as she's dealt with so many unexpected curveballs this past year with the house they moved into a year ago.  I've felt the gentle peace I've always felt when I've been around her.  She has this way of making you feel comfortable and cared about.  Over the past few weeks, I've asked her several times how she's coped with these curveballs.  Her advice and honesty has been encouraging to me.  She encouraged me that she had adjust her expectations.  Instead of being able to be unpacked in two weeks like a friend of her's that moved, it has taken much longer.  Instead of moving into a house that didn't need any work, they found their home needed much more work than they expected.

We also talked about expectations more in depth.  Our pastor spoke a while back about how when we are disappointed it is because another person or event didn't live up to our expectations.  He encouraged us to think about whether our expectations were appropriate or even realistic.  Expectations are based on what we want--not on who the other person is, are often unrealistic, and are often even what is best for that other person.  

One kind of expectation I've come across as I've talked to many women is what they hope for and often expect of the homes they live in.  Where we live, I have found that people expect and desire to live in large, modern houses.  Just as many people don't, as well.  And I've sought out these folks to hear their advice and learn how they've found contentment in their homes and lives. For some people, they have the expectation that they will live in a new, large home.  For others, they buy homes knowing that they will fix them up over time.  People have all sorts of expectations when it comes to the houses they purchase and live in.  When I asked my mom what kind of house she wanted us to live in, her answer was "one that's not too big."  I learned that she really didn't like the house we grew up in!  It was too big!  So much house to take care much yard to take care of...    As we've moved into this house, I've been reflecting a lot on my expectations and what God does with them.

I realized that God has put us in homes that force me to trust Him.  Each of them have had issues that I could not control.  Even this one we just moved into.  I mentioned earlier that I've been dwelling on an issue...  This morning I had the thought that 1) I need to pray for contentment.  It is a blessing that the Lord can give.  I have come to believe that we are naturally discontent people because of our sinful nature.  2) I need to dwell on the blessings and remember how the Lord has taken care of me and my family--not on what worries me.  

Matthew 6:27 ESV
27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
I know that it is not what the Lord desires for me--for me to dwell and get so upset about these things.  He is in control and I can trust Him.

I love the passage that that verse comes from.  Here's the rest of the passage.

Matthew 6:27-34 ESV
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, 
O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

I think this passage is what I need to remember and think about tonight.  God is in control and thankfully, I am not!  

Getting Published

I found it a bit ironic that one of the books I had the opportunity to read (and of course review) this past month is The Christian Writer's Market Guide 2012.  Reviewing books on this blog and Amazon for over the past 3 years has been an interesting experience.  In some ways, it has opened my eyes and cut through my cynicism that there are good, solid Christian books being published.  In other ways, my cynicism about the publishing industry has grown.  In those ways, I have been quite discouraged.

Last January, I attempted to contact several magazines to get more publicity for the great books I come across.  I was trying to find out if there might be an opportunity to review for any of these homeschooling magazines.  One of the first two magazines said yes and I've had several of my reviews published this year in that online magazine.  I thought I'd try my hand and contact a few more.  Every single one said "no."  I learned that rejection simply isn't easy.  Some of the responses surprised me though with their abrupt wording and attitude.  For me, reviewing books is very personal.  Everything I do is personal actually.  

Early in the fall, I came across a wonderful book that an author published independently through one of those self-publishing companies.  I had this wild thought that maybe I might be able to connect her to one of the publishers I review for and get her book publicity and a new published edition.  I know, totally, a wild, crazy dream.  But, still, I dreamed.  This book was far better and useful than many of the other homeschooling books I'd read.  It was grace filled, helpful, honest, and well written.  Upon contacting the publishers I felt the book would fit best, I received the reply from each that they do not accept unsolicited manuscripts and that they could not help me.  It was discouraging.  Actually, it was very discouraging!  I've been reviewing books for these publishers for over 3 years, but those contacts did me no good when I was actually trying to help someone.  

When I look back this fall, I can see how that experience has shaped and diminished my desire to review books.  I still love to read, but because life has been so crazy busy for me, I stopped squeezing in as much time to read books and review them.  I think what discouraged me the most was to realize that a book that really should be read by a lot of families won't be and a lot of the fluff I am offered to read is being published and likely read.  After I investigated and listened to one author talk about how she got published, I realized that publishing is really a "who knows who" game.  You get published if you know someone.  And if you don't... well, then you don't get published in print or on a big website.  

So, let's talk about the Christian Writer's Market Guide 2012 that Tyndale has just published.  Is it   packed with information?  Yes.  Will it get you published?  Cynically, I would say probably not.  Is it worth trying?  Maybe.  The book lists what publishers and periodicals publish what genres of books.  It also lists each publisher in detail with statistics about how many submissions they get, whether they are open to submissions, and how many books they actually publish.  I looked up the publishers I contacted.  Only the information for 1 of the 3 was accurate to what I was told.  All 3 told me they do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.  In this book, it lists 2 of the publishers as accepting books from authors directly (though they receive an immense amount of submissions).  So, is this a book I'd recommend buying?  Well, if you're determined to get your book published and have a lot of money to invest in submitting it then, I suppose you can always try.  I'm probably not the best person to review this book.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book to review from Tyndale Publishing and obviously the opinions in this review are entirely my own honest, and unfortunately cynical opinions.