Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

Oh, it's so good to be back, to reacquaint myself with my sweet little blog. I found a draft of a post that I never published from back in March 2009 called "My Back-Pocket Happy." I reread it and hit the publish button because it expresses just what I feel now – just so happy to have this little corner to express myself, so publicly and privately at the same time.

By now I've lost any quasi-followers I ever had, and oddly, that feels just fine because they were mostly people who knew me in the flesh and blood. For the moment I'm happy to not have an audience.

So, you wanna hear the most oddly romantic thing? We bought a new mattress earlier this week. We had purchased our old one just days before our wedding back in 1989, and we celebrated our 20th anniversary in March. While I was still completely comfortable on it, T was not and had not been comfortable for more than a year. Sure enough, without its bedclothes, that mattress sagged and drooped in ways it didn't when the marriage was new. (Come to think of it, without our clothes T and I are now doing the same thing…sagging and drooping.) So it was time. We bit the bullet and laid out the dough for this veritable mountain of a bed. We now refer to going to bed as ascending the heights or climbing Mt. Hood.

We had a few moments of melancholy seeing that old bed go. Lots of good things happened there, not to be too graphic. But as long as I've already gone there…three of the four kids were conceived on that bed. :P And a different three of the four spent many, many a night there snuggled between us. We have great memories of staying up too late on a regular basis watching old Star Trek reruns on the 13" black and white TV that lived on our dresser back in the old days. We were annoyed when that time slot switched over to The Next Generation Star Trek series, but it didn't take long before we decided that Data , Captain Picard and Commander Riker were even more fun than Captain Kirk and Spock.

But still, how does this translate into romantic? Well, c'mon. What an indisputable vote of confidence in the longevity of our marriage. I mean, that first mattress lasted twenty years, and T has now laid out an outrageous sum to invest in the next twenty. How unintentionally, incredibly sweet! I don't remember that we did much to celebrate our 20th anniversary. I think we were nervous about spending any money, so we tentatively postponed any major celebration to our 21st year, while visions of Fiji danced in our heads. But I don't think he could have bought me anything that would have said "I love you" more convincingly than this.

Well, that's about as deep and penetrating as my thoughts have been these past days. But oh, I am so happy to be back blogging. I'll be back again soon!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A.W. Tozer

I ended my last blog entry wondering what in the world could be said to those among us who go by the name of Christian, yet apparently feel free to pick and choose which aspects of Christianity apply to them, which qualities of God's character they choose to acknowledge and which of His law they choose to obey. Well, what should actually be said remains a dicey topic, requiring a social finesse beyond my abilities. But I believe I have come to a more enlightened perspective of the root of the issue, thanks to A. W. Tozer and the very book #1-son recommended two posts ago, The Knowledge of the Holy.

Tozer's words are distressing because their truth is undeniable. I don't want to admit that his words apply to me, but they do. When we gloss over our own wretchedness, when we refuse to take the time to wallow in our desperate state without Christ, we become cavalier in our attitude toward God. But our culture cannot even grasp its desperate state because we have lost the basis for comparison; we no longer have any sense of God's greatness and the awe He should inspire. So, too often in our culture being Christian means giving intellectual assent to one's plight (the need for a Savior), accepting the cure (faith in Christ), and then running on ahead with bold familiarity and entitlement.

These are some excerpts from the Preface of Tozer's book.

The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.

The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking.

With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit. The words, "Be still, and know that I am God," mean next to nothing to the self-confident, bustling worshiper in this middle period of the twentieth century.

This loss of the concept of majesty has come just when the forces of religion are making dramatic gains… …it may be that our supposed gains are but losses spread over a wider field.

The only way to recoup our spiritual losses is to go back to the cause of them and make such corrections as the truth warrants. The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them. It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is.

Tozer says so much that is worthy of our attention just in this excerpt, which I'm sure he'll explore in more detail in the upcoming chapters. But the part that grabbed my attention right off was, "We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit." In part this caught my eye because of our erring friend, whom I have mentioned in the past couple posts. I believe that if her walk with the Lord consisted of private worship of this nature, surely she would have been prevented from taking such a deviant path.

But in addition, that passage caught my eye because I have mourned over how few Christian friends I've known who seek to experience the life in the Spirit. I'm nobody; I do not consider myself even remotely to be one whose spiritual life should be emulated. If you met me you'd agree with my assessment! "Right," you'd say to yourself, "she's not impressive." But I do long to know God, to be still in His Presence and to hear His voice. I do love to meet God alone in adoring silence. I don't adore Him as much as He deserves; He is so much better than I can give Him credit for. And as much as the next busy mom, I'm inclined to get caught up in the maelstrom of family life and not spend as much time alone with Him as I should. But I know that that is where my life is, with Him. I know that in the quiet of His presence and in His Word my answers will be found – not in the consolations or advice of friends.

So over the years, in my quest for Christian fellowship among women, I've made the mistake of assuming that the other Christian women I'm rubbing shoulders with have the same perspective. And many do, certainly. But, oh, how it breaks my heart, so many don't. I have to say it: most do not.

From what I have observed, there are many church-goers today, even those attending evangelical Bible-based churches, who agree with the gospel, but their excitement over church has to do more with the pleasant social interaction they find there, or with the satisfaction that they are bringing their children up under Christian principles, or with being thought by others as having certain elements of personal righteousness, but not really because they want to take the time to seek His face themselves. Church can be an all-consuming enterprise for anyone – often in the name of that quintessential Christian virtue: fellowship. But being all-consumed with the frenzy of church activity and friendships has very little to do with knowing God.

Do I sound like a jerk? I'm so sorry. Part of me feels like a jerk for writing these things. But it is my blog, and though I wouldn't dare utter these things anywhere else, on my own blog I have to call it like I see it.

I have been blessed to be a singularly unsocial person. I have ached to be social, to be in on all the fun, to be sought after, to be popular. I have grieved more than I care to admit that easy intimacy with women has always eluded me. God has blessed me with great sisters who have been my closest friends and confidantes, but not a passel of girlfriends. As a result, when heartaches and troubles have assailed me over the years, God has perforce been my mainstay. And now, from the vantage point of years, I see that what was always a source of shame for me has actually been a great blessing.

Because if I had had a gaggle of giggling geese with whom to ensconce myself all these years, even Christian geese, believe me, I would have. How often would I have loved to pour out all my troubles to multiple sets of compassionate ears, to receive their unmitigated assurance that my perspective was the only right and reasonable one, to have my indignation supported unquestioningly, my grievances given full air! Instead, I have been left with God, who always knows the end from the beginning, who insists on exposing my own guilt and false motives in a situation, who calls for repentance and death to self, who insists that I forgive as He forgives me, that I trust Him, that I remember His faithfulness and lovingkindness, who doesn't approve of giving way to fear, and whose comfort and correction so often come in the same stroke. I have been blessed, indeed.

Tozer has so much more to say. This was only an excerpt from the preface! I've cheated and read ahead, so I know that the upcoming chapters provide a veritable feast of ideas to digest, all still painfully relevant though they were penned more than half a century ago. I plan to hitch my wagon to Tozer's star and draw closer to the Savior through his words. Maybe you'll join me.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fear God

I just got done watching the 1983 movie, "Mr. Mom," with my kids. Remember it? Michael Keaton plays a dad who loses his job and ends up staying home full time to care for his young family while his wife goes to work. So part of the hilarity is supposed to be how messy and chaotic his house becomes as he tries to manage in his new role. Well, I don't have the excuse that the role is so new for me, but my house is reminding me a lot of his at its worst. I'm not seeing the humor.

Nevertheless, I'm bugged and I need to write this down – the house can wait.

In my last post, FEAR, I did something I should not have done, which is that I made reference to an acquaintance who is deeply involved in sin. Actually, if my husband, who has never read my blog, were to read that he might be upset. I can imagine him somehow defending her, and even though everything about the reference is completely anonymous, he might be angry that I impugned her character, even anonymously.

In reality, however, that reference disguised how upset I have been about the situation. So although maybe I never should have brought it up on my blog in the first place, I'm ready to dredge it up again and examine it more closely.

She shamelessly engages in flagrant sin. I'm grieved about that. But the part that has me bugged, all the more since that last blog posted, is that she apparently still sees herself as having a "close walk with God." Today we spent some time with this gal's roommate, and this roommate kept referring to the peace this gal has from God, and how God got her through various difficult times over the past years, and how close God is to her. It seems they have regular conversations along these lines – that is, their intimacy with the Divine. I was so disgusted I had trouble even making eye contact with this roommate today. I felt filthy myself at even participating in a discussion like that. What has become of our idea of who exactly God is and what exactly our relationship is to Him?

When my oldest son saw the title of my last blog, FEAR, he assumed it was about fearing God. Somehow right now I wish it had been about fearing God. But he ran to his room to fetch me his copy of A. W. Tozer's book, The Knowledge of the Holy. He was sure I could make use of Chapter 13, "The Divine Transcendence." Isn't he a sweetie? Well, as it turned out, I didn't even read the chapter until after I posted that blog entry. But I read it just now, and it is so completely relevant to this, my most current upset, that I feel compelled to share its most poignant parts with you.

Actually, its most poignant parts are all I would share with you, because much of it is beyond my vulgar ability to comprehend. I mean, I get it – I just can't really appreciate it. Tozer begins the chapter discussing, basically, God's greatness – how He is so far beyond us in greatness that it doesn't even make sense to make comparisons. He says,

We must not think of God as highest in an ascending order of beings, starting with the single cell and going on up from the fish to the bird to the animal to man to angel to cherub to God. This would be to grant God eminence, even pre-eminence, but that is not enough; we must grant Him transcendence in the fullest meaning of that work. Forever God stands apart, in light unapproachable. He is as high above an archangel as above a caterpillar, for the gulf that separates the archangel from the caterpillar is but finite, while the gulf between God and the archangel is infinite. The caterpillar and the archangel, though far removed from each other in the scale of created things, are nevertheless one in that they are alike created. They both belong in the category of that-which-is-not-God and are separated from God by infinitude itself. (p. 70)

Sort of makes your head want to explode, doesn't it? But with this impenetrable illustration, Tozer sets the stage to remind us that God is to be feared. He continues,

When the psalmist saw the transgression of the wicked his heart told him how it could be. "There is no fear of God before his eyes," he explained, and in so saying revealed to us the psychology of sin. When men no longer fear God, they transgress His laws without hesitation. The fear of consequences is no deterrent when the fear of God is gone.

In olden days men of faith were said to "walk in the fear of God" and to "serve the Lord with fear." However intimate their communion with God, however bold their prayers, at the base of their religious life was the conception of God as awesome and dreadful. This idea of God transcendent runs through the whole Bible and gives color and tone to the character of the saints. (p. 71)

Tozer describes the "terror and dismay" of various men of the Bible when God appeared to them: Abram, Moses, Daniel and Isaiah. He concludes,

These experiences show that a vision of the divine transcendence soon ends all controversy between the man and his God. The fight goes out of the man and he is ready with the conquered Saul to ask meekly, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" Conversely, the self-assurance of modern Christians, the basic levity present in so many of our religious gatherings, the shocking disrespect shown for the Person of God, are evidence enough of deep blindness of heart. Many call themselves by the name of Christ, talk much about God, and pray to Him sometimes, but evidently do not know who He is. "The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life," but this healing fear is today hardly found among Christian men. (p. 72)

Oh Lord, it is so true. This healing fear is today hardly found among Christian men – and women. I'm sick with disgust tonight at what passes for Christianity in our country, in our time. This happy, happy, "pull God out of your hat when you remember a verse that pleases you" version of Christianity. Or when you need help with something. Or you need to feel loved.

What would God have me say to people like this? First of all, I'm not without guilt myself, so the whole subject gets contorted in my mind even as I wrestle with it. And secondly, at least they acknowledge God and grant Him some semblance of honor in their lives – with their words, if not with personal holiness – which is a far cry better than the mainstream of our culture.

So, I am without answers. Maybe you, gentle readers, have answers for me.

P.S. -- Well, hubby got home last night just as I was ready to post this and was still in the throes of emotion over the whole ugly thing. I laid it all out for him and was pleased to watch him quietly agree with me with sad nods of his head. He did venture a feeble defense for the roommate that she is trying to cope with a bad situation by looking for the best and turning a blind eye to the worst. And that neither one of them is very well versed in certain fundamentals of the Christian faith. But this is by their own choice, as they have refused any Christian fellowship or exposure (even simply going to church on Sundays) for decades. What is there even to say to people like this?

Friday, July 3, 2009


Chrysler has now come through bankruptcy and GM is going through the same. Who knows what this means for the future? We have a lot of friends who work for GM and Chrysler, and although Hubby doesn't, without Chrysler's business, the owners of his company might do well to close their doors. These owners have made all the money they will ever need for themselves and have no heirs who would be interested in taking the business over. Even last quarter, the company lost $700,000. Why not wrap things up before they lose everything? We're hoping they keep their doors open for the sake of their employees. Time will tell, but it does bring to the forefront the issue of FEAR.

It isn't just the auto companies and joblessness – we have the swine flu, the ruptured banking system, corrupt Wall Street executives and the politicians in bed with them, impending socialism, global warming (or rather, the looming threat of militaristic governmental intrusion into our lives in the name of environmental protection), nationalized health care, and as always, taxes, taxes, taxes. Everything conspires to instill fear.

Last week in our Bible study we were discussing John 14 where Jesus tells His disciples not to be afraid. "Do not let your heart be troubled." (v. 1) and again (v. 27), "Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." Did He mean it like one might say it to a child who is afraid of his first day of school? "Oh honey, it's okay…don't be afraid." Was it gentle encouragement for timorous hearts? Maybe a little. But I prefer to see it as a command: Do not be afraid.

Really? – I say back to Him. Really? Can I not be afraid? Do I dare to not be afraid?

I wrestled this out with the Lord a few nights ago in the wee hours of the morning. I've been a stay-at-home mom for most of 19 years now, and in the process I have rendered myself virtually unemployable. I have a highly regarded degree in Computer Science from a well respected university, but come on – my skills are 20 years out-of-date.

So what's a girl to do? Do I enroll myself in an expensive school to reinvent myself as a database administrator? I could do that, in only a few months apparently. I could study to pass a Microsoft certification test and thereby prove my right to reenter the work force. Then I could pound the proverbial pavement along with the other millions of unemployed, including thousands of database folks with scads of experience, hoping to be hired by someone, my only advantage being that I'd be willing to work for almost nothing.

I could do this, but at what cost? It would turn the dynamic of my family on its head. Am I overblowing my own importance when I say I believe that the emotional and spiritual stability of my children has depended largely on my constant (even sometimes annoying!) presence in the home? Hubby has had to be gone a lot over the years – weeks at a time when business was booming, once for a solid month. And even when he wasn't traveling, he still spent many evenings entertaining clients in order to build relationships. So obviously, things have slowed down. He's still gone a fair amount at night, but the kids are older now and his business is slow. Is it time to throw in the towel and put me back to work? Am I putting my head in the sand to think that we can go on as we've been, that we can face college expenses on his income alone, in a state that is being slowly strangled by inept government? And yet, Lord, the cost, the cost, the cost to my family to lose me as the full-time nurturer and taxi service.

And so I turn to Him in the wee hours of the morning when I can find quiet, and I say, "Lord, what do I do? What do we do?"

We have a friend – bless her heart – who is in an immoral relationship with a man of questionable character, and we are afraid for her. Ironically though, it's her fear that has created the problem. Being 34, she is afraid of never finding a man to marry or marrying too late to have children. So she has taken matters into her own hands; she has set out to solve this problem on her own. We see the minefield she is walking into, but she refuses to see it. She is afraid of what will be if she doesn't walk into the minefield. Although she claims Christ is her Lord, she will not believe that her future in God's hands, even if that means never being married, is brighter and happier than her future outside of His will.

And yet, what did "Do not be afraid" mean for the disciples? It certainly didn't mean nothing bad would happen. Jesus could have said, "Do not be afraid, but most of you will be brutally executed because of Me, and relatively soon." Good thing that didn't make it into Scripture! How convincing would that have been?

So it's not, "Do not be afraid because everything will work out just the way that pleases you most" – although sometimes it means that. God is amazingly good and generous and gracious, and He does love to give His children good things. It really comes down to, whose life am I living? Am I living to please myself, to carry out my own will, to craft my future in a way that gives me all of life's pleasures here on earth? Do I ask for God's involvement in my life in order to facilitate my own earthly happiness?

Not having thought the situation through carefully, I think this is what our friend wants from God – she wants God involved, and she invokes His name when it suits her, but her purpose in calling on Him is to help her accomplish her will for her life, not His. (Am I being too hard on her?) In this country, which has enjoyed such prosperity and material blessing, it's easy for Christians to forget that this is not our home, and discipleship is costly. "Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.'" (Matt. 16:24) And "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24)

So, is God my own personal genie in a bottle? Is it that I do not need to be afraid because I have a powerful God who will give me what I want? Or is it that have I given my life to Christ to do with as He sees fit? If I have, then the hope I have for the future is an eternal one, the hope of pleasing my Savior through obedience and trust, and the confidence that when this life is through, He will receive me to Himself in glory. Giving my life to Christ may mean earthly joys – so far I've had plenty. It may mean forsaking earthly comforts and diversions. Or it may mean being content as the way of life we've always known completely collapses.

Not being afraid goes hand in hand with submission to God. His promises are meaningless if we refuse to obey Him, to fully submit our lives to His control. I'm no theologian, and I'm too lazy to pound out my case with Scriptural evidence, but I know this is true. The earthly joys I have experienced so far on my journey have been in the context of obedience. I feel a little sick and depressed when I talk to folks who like to pick and chose the aspects of Christianity with which they want to adorn themselves, as well as pick and choose when God suits their purposes – a thorny issue, because we all sin, I know. But I think we can agree that some who call on Christ are more egregious in this than others – certain local politicians caught in corruption come to mind.

But back to me in the wee hours of the morning. I'm asking God, What do I do? How is it I must not be afraid? Things are looking pretty darn scary out there. Terrifying even. Should I put my youngest in school, go back to school myself, and enter the work force? Am I living in a fantasy world to think that no action needs to be taken to overcome the Goliaths we face? I open the Bible to Psalms, and as always, I'm overwhelmed with passages about God's power, His faithfulness to His own, His promises of blessing, and again, more reminders to not be afraid.

So I resolve to not be afraid. I will trust in God's provision and faithfulness. But I understand that it's not about claiming those promises and then pursuing my own course. It's not about making choices out of fear in order to insure my own security; neither is it about doggedly pursuing the status quo because it's what I want, demanding that God find some way to provide. It's about taking the time to quiet my heart before the Lord, to remind myself that I am His, that I am His servant and will go the direction of His choosing, whether it coincides with my desires or not. With my heart laid at His feet, I ask Him what I should do; then I listen, listen, listen, for the still small voice, like the gentle blowing that contained God's voice for Elijah on Mt. Horeb. (1 Kings 19)

And when I am confident that I have His heart in the matter, when there are no checks in my spirit over the course He would have me pursue, and when I have determined in my heart to pursue that course no matter the cost – then, I will not be afraid.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Talk of Heaven

My favorite #2 daughter said something to me today that is patently untrue, completely unsupported Biblically, and was definitely very biased hyperbole. But it made me cry and soothed an ache I'd been secretly nursing since the day before (she had no idea of that) because she had a true and valid point.

I bought her a book by John MacArthur for her birthday called Twelve Ordinary Men and Twelve Extraordinary Women. (I do take issue with the idea that the women get to be called "extraordinary." They were just as ordinary as the men were! Maybe he applied that adjective only because they tend to be overlooked as important representatives of faith. But still…)

So, we we've been doing a little tag-team reading. Of course, one of the first ordinary men John MacArthur examines is the disciple, Peter, and it turns out Peter was quite a leader. JMA writes,

But with all his brashness, Peter had the raw material from which a leader could be made. Better to work with a man like that than to try to motivate someone who is always passive and hesitant. As the familiar saying goes, it is much easier to tone down a fanatic than to resurrect a corpse. Some people have to be dragged tediously in any forward direction. Not Peter. He always wanted to move ahead. He wanted to know what he didn't know. He wanted to understand what he didn't understand. He was the first to ask questions and the first to try to answer questions. He was a man who always took the initiative, seized the moment, and charged ahead. That's the stuff of leadership. (p. 43)

Good for Peter, bad for me. I've never fancied myself a leader by any definition. I am, without a doubt, the antithesis of a leader, and, for the most part, I've always been okay with that. That is, until I read this paragraph. Passive and hesitant? Yep, that's me, and for my effort I'm compared to a corpse. Dislike change of any sort? Yep, that's me too, which leaves me needing to be "dragged tediously in any forward direction." Inquisitive? No way. I'm content to let things be what they are without the compulsion to understand them or change them. I never take the initiative, have never seized a moment and make it an iron-clad rule of life to never charge ahead, unless it's with VISA.

Incidentally, neither have I ever been so rude as to discredit anyone for having leadership qualities, as those with said qualities seem duty-bound to discredit those of us without them. I once worked for a company that took all its employees off-site one day for a personality analysis seminar. I don't remember exactly when we answered the requisite endless stream of questions – maybe we had already answered the questions beforehand -- but I do remember having the personalized graphs and tabulations all ready for us. And after many assurances that promotions and performance reviews would not be based on the results (which itself aroused suspicions), they put the "ideal" personality model up on the overhead projector so we could all see where we fell short and how we should try to change ourselves. I was flabbergasted. It takes a lot to outdo me when it comes to being dumb about people, but they managed it on that day.

I'm going to give John MacArthur the benefit of the doubt and assume he wasn't denying the beauty of all the personalities God created just because he extolled the leadership qualities in Peter. But I have to admit that this paragraph bumped around in the vast empty caverns of my cranium for a few days like an unwelcome guest, causing me to question how God could ever use the likes of introverted and unsocial me to glorify Himself.

That unwelcome and deceptive guest would probably have left all of its own accord and been happily forgotten, except that it found a friend. I happened to run into and exchange pleasantries with an old acquaintance at Home Depot the other day. She had been involved in Women's Ministries at my church at the same time I was, and when that group disbanded all the members found places to serve elsewhere in the church that seem to suit their gifts. Well, all except me. My service right now is in an area in which I am not gifted and don't like very much. My "gifts" don't seem to be very much in demand, leaving me actually a little suspicious that they don't really exist. Maybe it's had something to do with not taking the initiative, not seizing the moment, and not charging ahead, but that turn of events (along with a sordid history of the same) left me with a nagging sense of uselessness that I have studiously ignored over the years. Running into this gal, however, caused these "happy" (tongue in cheek) thoughts to resurface, where they immediately befriended the "happy" thoughts from JMA's paragraph about Peter. Having found each other, they frolicked about and made much more noise in my head than I'd like to admit.

I apologize for subjecting you to the dirty laundry of my soul. But it is necessary for you to know my frame of mind if you are going to appreciate my reaction to what #2-daughter said.

It turns out, and I've known this, that she herself has struggled on and off with the banality of my life. In other words, she doesn't want to be like me. She wants to do "more" with her life than graduate from college, and then throw all her studies away to be a stay-at-home mom. My understanding is (and I qualify this because I might not be getting all the nuances of her thinking just right – but this is my understanding of it), that in light of this dilemma, she was impressed by something she read in a book called The Heavenly Man, by Paul Hattaway.

The Heavenly Man is a biography of Brother Yun, an illiterate Chinese peasant who became a Christian through a remarkable conversion, and how he went on to share the Gospel to thousands of other Chinese peasants, establishing underground churches throughout the country. It's also the story of his dicey relationship with the Communist Chinese government, who, shall we say… frowned on his activities. At one point in the book he knows that God is telling him to run away, and fast. But he ignores God because he doesn't want to leave the work he's doing in that city. His wife wakes him up in the night with another urgent appeal to leave right away. But he refuses to go. As a result he is indeed caught, imprisoned, beaten and tortured.

Eventually, he is miraculously rescued from this imprisonment, which is a story I'll leave for you to discover yourself, since you're undoubtedly opening another window even now to order the book online. But the lesson he learns from this is that God does not want his work as much as He wants him, his heart, his worship, his obedience. He learned that he had been making an idol of the work God gave him to do; that he was loving the work more than he was loving God Himself.

Well, #2-daughter very astutely applied this lesson to herself and her waffling thoughts about what she wants her future to look like. She says, "For example, take you, Mom." And I'm thinking, here we go again – more about me and my loser self. (Even good teenagers are hard, aren't they?) But she says – are you ready? She says, "I think you're the talk of heaven. You've kept your marriage together for 20 years, you've raised four great kids, and you remain passionate in your walk with the Lord."

The talk of heaven. Isn't that silly and wonderful, both at the same time? She has no idea how all my insides erupted into tears when she said that. (Only a few threatened to spill over.) I went from useless to the Kingdom, to being the talk of heaven. Affirmed by my teenager, of all people, so there must be some truth in it!

But do you see what I mean? It isn't really true. I'm not the talk of heaven. But she, I believe, was coming to the understanding that the Christian walk is about doing the work God has laid out for us. Not building some glorious shrine in His name with our work or service or sacrifice. It's about keeping our eyes and our hearts fixed on His face, about walking step by step where He tells us to go, doing what He tells us to do. I believe that's what I have done with my life, and the result is not remarkable in a worldly sense. But I trust, I hope, God has been pleased. I want to please Him more than I want to build something glorious in His name.

Within an hour or so of this conversation I happened to read John 17, where Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. And I was struck by verse 4 where Jesus says, "I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave me to do."

That's all I want from this life. I want to glorify God on this earth. And I want to accomplish the work He has given me to do. Not anyone else's work, not any work I dream up for myself, not the hallowed "achievement of personal goals" so my life can be fulfilling. I want to accomplish the work He has given me to do.

With that in mind, with my eyes fixed on His wonderful face, with my ears attuned to His quiet voice, all my personal inadequacies become irrelevant, don't they? What a relief! That is freedom.

So let my personality assessment graph be lopsided, let me possess ZERO qualities of a leader, let me not find a place in my church. I'm too busy to worry about that – my plate is full with the work God has given me to do, and it takes all my focus to do it well.

Thank you, Lord!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Zero Tolerance

So he wants to be a Baptist. Baptists have it right, #1-son says. Whoa, buddy, we're talking mega-legalism there, I tell him. Yes, I know, he says. How many Baptists do you know? he asks me. But, Mom, you don't even know legalism until you know a Baptist, he says. And they have it right. Zero tolerance for sin, that's what it's all about. None of this grace business, none of this wishy-washy, namby-pamby, I'm okay-you're okay business. None of us are okay; let's get that straight right off! These are the ideas he's toying with. (Is that still Christianity, by the way?)
This has led to some stimulating conversation around here lately. Really, it has been fun. He's a great kid, earnest and contemplative, sincerely trying to noodle out certain disparities he sees between the Word and Christianity as he's seen it lived out in his young life.
And I'm not really a Baptist-basher at all. As it happens, I'm also not quite as sheltered as #1-son thinks I am, and some of my favorite people are proud Baptists. They remain staunchly devoted to their tradition, but even they freely admit they were raised in an atmosphere of crazy legalism.
So, we've been talking lately about the tension that exists between legalism in the Christian walk and grace. It can be a fine line, I'm realizing. There's a subtlety between the two that has more to do with heart than law. In my opinion, he is tending toward legalism – harsh, condemning, lacking in grace and compassion. And I'm thinking that in his opinion I must be fat, lazy, unrighteous and ungodly, lax in my acceptance of worldly ways. Okay, maybe not lazy. But definitely not uptight enough. (He loves his mom and wouldn't say these things. I'm extrapolating a little from other things he's said.)
On the other hand, he knows sin when he sees it. And those "certain disparities between the Word and Christianity as he's seen it lived out" are undoubtedly an indictment of me and his dad. I can't pretend there isn't sin in my life, so let's get this over with.
I overeat! There, I said it.
But wait, how can this be? Do I not know that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in me, whom I have from God, and that I am not my own? (1Corinthians 6:19) And if I'm an obedient child, why would I be conformed to the former lusts which were mine in my ignorance, rather than like the Holy One who called me, be holy myself also in all my behavior; because it is written, 'YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.' (1 Peter 1:14-16) And if I love Him, will I not keep His commandments? (John 14:15) To be a believer in the Lord Jesus is to have zero tolerance for sin in our lives. We must not dilute the message of Christianity; we must not allow the infusion of humanism or pervert the faith for the sake of making it palatable to a weak and self-indulgent culture. Obedience is the goal. No excuses.
Oh dear. I know. I know these things are true. And if I really understood the gravity of my sin, if I could claw through the layers of apathy resulting from years of turning a blind eye to this sin, I would be paralyzed with self-loathing.
So where does that leave me? What do I do now? Well, I could jump right to the ending point, where I know I'll end up at the end of the discussion anyway: "I'm forgiven! Grace, baby! That's why Jesus died, so I'm okay!"
But this is exactly why, having been raised in non-denominational churches, #1-son now eschews the whole non-denominational movement. And he does have a good point: we tend to skip over the sorrow-over-sin step, jump right to grace and forgiveness, and then we pretend we're experiencing the joy of the Lord. At that point it also becomes a bit of a farce to say we're awash with compassion and grace for the sinners around us. We've skipped over the parts of the journey that fill us with joy and make our hearts overflow with compassion for other sinners – the part where we're broken over our own sin.
Let's go back to the point in the discussion where I'm paralyzed with self-loathing over my bad eating habits. Actually, let's start a few steps before that: let's begin where I recognize my sin but am not yet willing to change my ways. Rather than jumping to the end where we know the right answer like circling the right letter on a multiple choice test, take a little time with me while I hang out in that uncomfortable place. Let me meditate on the tender love my Savior has for me, on His faithfulness, His concern for me and His constant presence, as that of a best friend. Even as I stubbornly pursue my rebellious course, let me keep eye contact with my Savior today. Let me experience His tender love and commitment to me as I disobey. Let me feel His hurt with Him as I choose a bowl of ice cream over loving Him through obedience. Let me hear His gentle voice, never condemning, always patient, always close, even as He watches me sin, let me hear Him whisper, "I will never leave you, little one." What happens to a sinner's heart on a journey like that?
I contend that only a heart that has been on that journey can know the joy of Jesus and feel compassion for other sinners, because it has been bathed in undeserved compassion itself. The rest is just cheap Christian jargon – we talk about joy and compassion because we know we're supposed to be filled with it, but it's just claptrap. Over time our actions and words betray the reality: we are not experiencing the kind of joy and compassion and peace we talk about. We've looked at the outside of the package, we've been told there's joy inside so we like to talk about all its wonders, but we haven't opened it yet to experience personally how great it really is because we resist honest and painstaking confession of our own sin.
We prefer to let our minds dwell on the large portions of the Christian life that we do keep under control: for myself, I don't lie, swear, steal, or commit adultery; I don't drink too much, I work hard, I pay my bills, I bathe everyday and wear clean underwear. I even make my bed and pick up after a messy family. How much more could possibly be expected of me? But sometimes I resist engaging in any extended conversation with God about the nuts in my life that are too hard for me to crack on my own. In the depths of my heart, I know what He wants to talk to me about. And when I'm willing, we can have the kind of conversation I outlined above about my eating habits. It'll be great. In the meantime, He continues to love me, to never leave me, to bless me in ways I could never deserve.
It's the Holy Spirit who nudges us in those tricky places that we'd rather ignore, those parts of the Christian life we have a harder time getting under control on our own. We do need to run to Him with our sin. We do need to bury our face in His bosom, ask for His help, and listen to His still small voice offer words of assurance and wisdom and correction. But in the end, I put very little confidence in my own ability to conquer my flesh. This is His work. He knows exactly where the real issues reside, and He can reach those deep places in my spirit that give rise to obstinate sin in the first place.
But rather than run to Him, we more often either ignore our own sin (much preferring, after all, to enjoy the lofty discernment of other people's transgressions), or we jump straight to cheap grace. Either way, we miss out on an opportunity for wonderful intimacy with Jesus.
In addition, we end up confused about what appears to be a tense dichotomy between grace and legalism in the Christian walk. Doesn't that tension evaporate in the face of meaningful, intimate, daily dialog with Him? Either one by itself is a deficient rendering of Christianity. Both are shallow and result in a lackluster, lifeless, powerless, and joyless caricature of the real thing. We need to obey, and we need to accept forgiveness for our weaknesses, all in the context of loving interaction with God.
So, he can be a Baptist, if that's what he ends up choosing. There are definitely worse things for a couple of sinful people like me and his dad to have turned out. (I'm only poking fun here, folks. I love my Baptist friends.) He'd be a great Baptist. He'll be a great Christian of whatever sort he chooses. And I'm confident God will work mightily in his life, that his love will abound more and more with all knowledge and discernment; I'm confident he will approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

Friday, April 24, 2009


My son in college called me this morning at 2 a.m. to discuss what he considers to be the "corrosive environment" in our home -- by which he meant, corrosive to one's Christianity. Bless his pointy little head.
He wasn't angry or condemning or even emotional, just concerned. "I don't know, Mom. I can't put my finger on it, but something isn't right there," he said.
Well, it is definitely a nuanced situation, as is any when dealing with veteran sinners, such as we are. Nuances aside, however, there are interesting observations to make as to why he would think such a thing.
He grew up in a home with a mom fairly consumed with, of all things, children and housework: laundry, food, homeschooling, cleaning (okay, not so much), baseball, hockey, piano lessons…the list goes on and on. And a dad fairly consumed with earning enough money to keep this enormous ship afloat. Door-to-door evangelism and all-night prayer vigils have a way of falling by the wayside in the face of such prosaic realities.
Regular church attendance, Sunday school, VBS, Bible studies and prayer also figured into the equation. But the vibrancy, the energy, the fervor for the Lord that he has experienced through his campus Christian fellowship in this, his freshman year of college, make his childhood experience with Christianity seem insipid. I get that.
So, I might try to make the case that we're talking completely different venues here. Right now he's privileged to be laying a strong foundation of faith in a veritable Christian greenhouse. Eventually, just like his dad and I did, he will leave the greenhouse and test his faith in the harsher climate of real life. There the true nature of his profession of Christ will be laid bare. When real things hurt, and there is no solace except in Christ. When real fear attacks, and there is no hope except in Christ. When fatigue sets in, when patience wears thin, when disappointment overwhelms, when circumstances bewilder, when life grates and grinds on unceasingly, year after exhausting year. When no one is looking and no one cares, how will his heart answer then? Will he keep Christ on the throne then, or will he turn to worldly comforts and distractions? Only at that point will he know the real strength of his convictions, no matter how immovable they seem right now.
Yes, we're talking completely different venues. I could try to make that case, but let's be fair. He doesn't really have a pointy head, after all. He knows the score, more than ever now that he has immersed himself in the heady world of serious Christian discipleship. So today the question before my husband and me is what should our response to him be.
We have a lot we could defend. After all, we did raise him, and the love for the Lord he is cultivating even now did not emerge in a vacuum. We could find a lot to say about the wisdom of our decisions regarding our children's fledgling beliefs in God, our keen intuition about the best environments for their Christian growth.

But I don't think those would be the best responses. The best response when he comes home for the summer is going to be to listen carefully to what he has to say, and then to humbly examine our hearts and our lives to see where we have drifted away from the pure love of Christ. Where are we seeking something other than God's Kingdom? What worldly habits and values have crept into our lives? Have we forgotten the joy of intimacy with our Savior? Are we dying to ourselves for His glory – or have we grown bored with that and sought out diversions? Are we ready for His return -- do we have "oil in our lamps?"
It could be a long summer. Bless his pointy little head.

Monday, April 20, 2009


My husband is in charge of all things social in our family. We have a tacit understanding that he goes out and makes friends, and once he is completely ingratiated with them and they begin to suspect that he doesn’t really have a wife after all, only then do I enter the scene, usually kicking and screaming.

Such was the situation last Friday night. I say he tricked me into it. He said early in the week, “Hey, do you want to go out to dinner with me on Friday night?” That always sounds good, so I said, sure! A day or so later he said, “What do you think if I ask the Baineys to join us?” Well, that pushes the envelope a little for me, but I like the Baineys, so I said okay. It turned out the Baineys already had plans to join two other couples, and wouldn’t we like to join all of them too? That’s where the kicking and screaming comes in – or more accurately, pouting and accusing, because after all, clearly I’d been tricked.

As it turns out, I had a wonderful time. I hate to admit it after how I carried on, but it’s true, these people really are very, very nice. In particular, one woman named Karel. She’s about a size 0, so I’m hard-pressed to think anything positive about her at all, but it cannot be denied. She is more than just cordial, she more than has good social skills, she more than knows how to make a newcomer feel welcome. She is truly, truly, a nice person. You sense it: she is kind.

Over the course of the next couple days as we reflected back over the evening we discussed Karel. My husband said, “Other than you, she is one of the only really kind women I’ve met.”

Whoa. Stop the tape and rewind. Do my ears deceive me? First, I was surprised that he even understood that many women, although cordial, are not necessarily kind. But I was more taken aback by the phrase, “Other than you.”

I did venture a tentative (and incredulous), “You think I’m kind?” He answered in the affirmative, and I decided not to mess with a good thing. It’s one of the most wonderful compliments anyone has ever paid me. I’m pretty sure it’s not completely deserved, but I really, really like the idea. I am inspired to live up to his perception, however faulty.

The truth is, the issue of kindness has been very much on my mind lately, even before this incident. (Adolescent girls…enough said.) From what I’ve seen, unkindness easily becomes a very bad habit, it’s catchy, and its destruction often goes way beyond the intended target. Sometimes the intended target of the unkindness never even knows he’s been shot, but what happens to all those who live daily in a mean-spirited atmosphere? Defenses go up, fear and insecurity set in, and they know it’s only a matter of time before they themselves are the injured party. They learn to bite first, before they are bitten.

When I am finally hoodwinked into being social with my husband’s newfound friends, it’s not uncommon for one of the men to pull me aside and expound on how much they like my husband. They go on and on about how much fun he is and how much life he brings to a party and how he makes everyone feel comfortable.

Well, fun, shmun. I don’t know much about that, but I do know that my husband does have a gift for making people feel valued for the best parts of them. And I tell them, he is the real McCoy. If he seems to like you (and he likes almost everyone), he really does. He doesn’t put on social graces and then roll his eyes as he turns away, or snigger to someone else privately about your quirks. A fact that can be quite annoying when I’m mad at someone and want to spout off a little, because he generally comes to their defense. How infuriating is that?

Last week in my neighborhood Bible study we were talking about Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus. The question was, of course, if we had ever been betrayed by a close friend. One woman very sagely pointed out that most of the betrayals in our circles have to do with gossip and backbiting. In the name of politeness we are ever so gracious in our interactions with others. We make every friendly overture, we convey good will and friendliness with every facial expression and gesture. But how often, as soon as we leave their presence, do we take aim and fire?

So lately, floating on the bubble of my husband’s charitable words and mindful of the example I’m setting for my children, I’ve been putting more effort into being kind. (Because I don’t think I’m nearly as kind as he thinks I am, and I’d better straighten up quick before he figures that out.) I’ve been trying to think the best of folks, appreciate their best qualities, have sympathy for their weaknesses, roll with their funny idiosyncrasies, just generally extend grace at every turn. And guess what – I’ve discovered that it requires only about 12 extra brain cells and 0.3 extra calories per gracious thought. Not much effort at all. And I think my skin is getting clearer to boot!

Now if I could only figure a way to avoid those pesky dinner engagements…

Monday, April 13, 2009

Misunderstood and Irked

I wrecked my own Easter.

I thought it was a pretty interesting comment, and I certainly didn't mean to create a stir. I'm sure I'm right, and I'm pretty irritated that as simple an observation as the one I made should have created such controversy during our Easter breakfast. But my favorite husband, who is for the moment my unfavorite husband, didn't get it and worked himself up into a little huff all over our delicious Cheesy Egg Casserole. But once I'd opened that door, nothing I said could allay or appease the situation.

Well, here's my first beef. If someone says something that you're sure is wrong, and you have complete confidence in your position, there should be no place for emotion in your response to the wrong thing. All you have to do is say, "No, that cannot be right for this and that reason." Then the other reasonable person will calmly say, "Oh yes, now I see! You are clearly right about that." Or else he will say, "Yes, I see what you're saying, but you misunderstood what I was saying. Let me clarify." And after the clarification, if you still don't agree, you can simply say, "Ah, now I understand what you're saying. But I must still disagree." Is there any need for flapping of wings and strutting about, creating an emotional ruckus replete with accusations of stupidity and folly?

I confess to some residual trauma over the issue, so I'm reluctant to even reopen it. But since my non-existent audience on this blog is so obliging and sympathetic, I will lay my fears aside.

Here's the observation: simply that we do not understand exactly how or why faith in Christ's death and resurrection bestows upon us eternal life. We accept that it does based on God's authority and our trust in Him because He is much bigger and wiser than we are. But nothing about it is obvious or could have been guessed if we hadn't been told. We make up little paradigms to explain it to ourselves, we try to make it make sense given what we can understand. But in the end we must just accept it as true because God says so. We haven't been told exactly why it all had to come down this way.

By the way, this isn't my thought. I got it from C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity:

"The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work. I will tell you what I think it is like. All sensible people know that if you are tired and hungry a meal will do you good. But the modern theory of nourishment -- all about vitamins and proteins -- is a different thing. People ate their dinners and felt better long before the theory of vitamins was ever heard of: and if the theory of vitamins is some day abandoned they will go on eating their dinners just the same. Theories about Christ's death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works." (Book 2, Chapter 4)

It thrilled me to read this because the quasi-blasphemous thought has always lurked in the recesses of my mind that this doesn't make the kind of sense I like most things I put my faith in to make. Like, if I roll the ball toward the edge of the table it will fall off, if I jump in the water I will get wet, if I don't pay my taxes I will be in trouble, if the sky is cloudy it may rain. All these things can be explained through logic, physics, experience with the laws of this world. There's an obvious cause-and-effect sense to them.

But somehow God appearing in the form of a man, enduring torture and death on a cross, somehow my faith in that pays my debt to God? And not only my debt, but everyone's debt, for all of time, past, present, and future? I accept it because something inside me tells me it's true, but that thing that tells me it's true is not rational logic based on what I know about this world. There's something else going on here that made this necessary, something we just haven't been told.

The fact that we haven't been told doesn't make it less plausible. Why should it surprise us that we don't know everything? There are plenty of things here on this earth that we don't understand, and, in fact, we find that the more we look into physical realities here on earth, the more there is to understand that we haven't even begun to fathom. Why should it surprise us that there are spiritual realities that are beyond our ken?

C. S. Lewis goes on to say that if the models for why this is so help us to understand and accept the truth of it, great. But if they don't, drop them. They're just models.

So who cares? Why is this even worth bringing up? I think it is important to acknowledge our limitation here because the theories as to the why, if presented as absolute truths, can make Christianity sound ridiculous. Let's just 'fess up straight-away: we don't know why this is so, but it is. Flat out. Forget the drivel about it being sensible that God took the form of a man, and that His unspeakably brutal death gains us all entrance into heaven. That doesn't make sense based on anything we know here.

We trust in the truth of it because we trust God. There's no wriggling out of it: Christianity involves trust in Someone we cannot see, but we know in our hearts, if we're being honest, is there. It involves trusting that He is working out things we cannot understand, just like our parents worked out the inscrutable details of life for us when we were children.

Well, here I have the luxury of giving the full explanation of my apparently hazardous thought. I would have been content in a more receptive atmosphere to have confined my discourse to the first sentence or two I wrote here.

Really, I only wanted to mention the joy of resting in God's care, to mention how wonderful it is to not feel the burden of needing to have a complete understanding of the very day we were celebrating. My point was child-like trust in our Heavenly Father. I didn't quite get that far.

Live and learn. Next year I'll remember to talk about the Easter Bunny or something. Not that I carry grudges...

Happy Easter.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

C. S. Lewis on Happiness

More C.S. Lewis, again from Mere Christianity. He says, "The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water." (Book 2, Chapter 3)

He also says, "What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could 'be like gods' -- could set up on their own as if they had created themselves -- be their own masters -- invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history -- money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery -- the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy." (Book 2, Chapter 3)

The long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. Isn't that true?

I don't hang with very powerful or influential people. But the people I hang with, even most of the Christians, do play that out on a provincial level, trying to find something other than God to make themselves happy.

It's subtle though, you know? It sneaks in the back door. As in, I love God and I want to do His will, but I will like His will better if it includes some measure of pleasure or status among my peers or some noteworthy personal accomplishment.

Where have I fallen into this without realizing it? To what do I look for satisfaction and that ellusive, 21st century notion: fulfillment?

Do I look to God, the Almighty, Creator of this universe and my own silly self, who so benevolently and compassionately stooped to make a love affair with me possible -- do I look to Him for this...fulfillment? Is His love for me enough? Or do I spit on His love and sacrifice, and insist on something more?

And more importantly, what am I missing in my walk with Christ when I only give him a percentage of my heart, and devote the other percentage to satisfying myself, even sometimes in His name?

Motherhood fully embraced can be a mundane, boring, thankless job. I'm not complaining. I am thankful to be allowed the opportunity to love my children as they need to be loved by being available to them, by being allowed to make their needs top priority in my small world. I am so thankful for a husband who is willing to bear the financial burden of this big family alone. But as near as I can figure, this...THIS and pretty much only God's standing order for my life.

The process can be monotonous and definitely does not stroke my ego. But I need to remind myself that monotonous and anonymous is just fine. If I am where God wants me to be, if I'm doing what God has called me to do, isn't that enough? And as long as my intimacy with Him is allowed to grow daily through obedience to Him and attention to His loving voice, what more could I ever want from this life?

Nothing, absolutely nothing more.

Monday, April 6, 2009


My husband surprised me in the middle of last Friday afternoon with the announcement that he had invited 15 people over for the Saturday night Final Four basketball game.

I'd been gone all day on Friday and would probably be busy and gone from the house until 8 p.m. that night. The next day involved each of the three kids needing to be carted to and picked up from three different activities, and my older daughter needing to be carted to and from work later that day. In addition, not being an exceedingly neat family even on the best of days, given the "hec-tosity" of that day, the house was TER-ASHED. Not just trashed, it was TERRR-AAAASHED. But 15 people, plus two babies and two dogs, were coming over for a party on Saturday night.

So he makes this momentous announcement, gives me a kiss, and then heads out to meet the guys for a little Friday night socializing.

In my long and uneventful life, I have been called "unflappable." Had to look it up the first time it was applied to me, but it generally fits. I'm the even-keel, unexcitable sort. No one has ever saddled me with the label of "great personality" either. But I tell you today, I got "flapped" over this. To my credit, it was a very calm flap, but a deep, unequivocal flap nonetheless.

So unlike me was this feeling of upset, that it took a while to register. He had met me where I was attending a homeschool event to pick up his phone which he had accidentally left home that day. He took the phone, relayed his news, gave me a kiss, was on his way, and I returned to my business without missing a beat. I am very committed to my even-keel ways. I resist excitement of any sort.

Have you ever seen those little capsules they sell in the toy departments that kids put in water. Slowly the gelatin covering dissolves and the thing inside begins to grow bigger and bigger until over the course of hours (or days) it becomes this gargantuan thing, usually a dinosaur or some sort of ferocious animal -- never, actually, anything sweet and gentle, like a flower or a kitten.

Well, I think I swallowed one of those capsules.

As I went back to my hobnobbing with the other homeschool moms, I felt a little niggling pressure working its way inside. When I got home, I was depressed and concerned, but not overwrought. By the time I got my son to his baseball practice, that dinosaur capsule was full-grown and stampeding.

I called my husband to allay the rising panic. He needed to get home so we could start working! No answer. Called again...and again. I texted. And texted again, a little more forceful in my choice of words this time. In the end I announced that I was packing up the kids and taking them to our favorite indoor waterpark, 5 hours away, for the weekend. He was on his own for everything. That got a response.

When he did finally call, he was very consoling. Don't worry, he said. I'll take care of everything, he said. Then he wondered if I thought 24 pieces of chicken would be enough for 20 people. And should he buy some paper plates while he was at the store?

Well, I hate to drag you through the miry details, but we do deserve some accolades. Along with two baseball practices, dance classes and the ACT test... The Christmas lights came down, the garage was cleaned, the deck was swept and parts of it scrubbed, and the bushes got raked of stuff that should've been raked up two years ago. The hot tub got super-chlorinated. The house got picked up and organized, floors vacuumed and Swiffered, bathrooms cleaned, and counters that hadn't seen sunlight in months got decluttered. Our grimy upholstered kitchen chairs had their upholstery cleaned and the downstairs windows got washed. A couple broken screens were either fixed or taken down. In addition, we figured out what to serve (more than 24 pieces of chicken, thank you), bought the food and drinks, prepared the food and decorated in our team's colors. And last but not least, I even got myself showered and dressed before our guests arrived.

The party was a smashing success! Our team won, our guests had a great time, stayed late and went home happy.

But I am pooped. It's two days later now, and I'm still pooped. Will I ever recover? I just can't get un-tired. Hubby doesn't get that, and I'm sorry for him because I haven't been the best company in the past couple days. I all but booted him out of the house this morning in an urgent attempt to get a little time ALONE. Something in me needs to be replenished that only gets replenished with quiet and solitude, with people not trying to engage me in anything.

And in answer to that need I have four bouncy neighborhood girls spending the night to celebrate their Easter break. Maybe I'll join a convent.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I love C. S. Lewis. I love the way he thinks, and I love the way he makes me think. Truthfully, he makes my head spin. He takes me down mental bunny trails that seem so reasonable as I take each step with him. But after awhile I find myself in an altogether unexpected place, only to look around and wonder how I got there, certain that I'd never be able to repeat the process.

Right now I'm combing through his book (which was originally a series of WWII radio broadcasts), Mere Christianity. Here is one isolated thought of his that struck me that I'd like to get down before I forget it.

In the beginning of Chapter 2 (Book 1) he addresses what he calls "Christianity-and-water," the simplistic view that "there is a good God in heaven and everything is all right -- leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption." And then he says, "...these are boys' philosophies. It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple." And later on, "Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd."

How wonderfully true that is. And comforting, somehow. I find myself mulling that over in my mind a fair bit, savoring it. Real things are complicated and odd, unpredictable and unexpected.

I strain at times to make sense of my tiny world, to find symmetry and purpose in all the odd twists and turns of my journey on this earth. What a comforting idea that there simply will not be simplicity and symmetry in all things. But that doesn't mean my life lacks purpose and it especially doesn't mean that my loving God is not in control of all things.

Look at one thing He was solely responsible for that is anything but simple: creation. The deeper we look into the intricacies of our world through science, we become ever more amazed at its complexity. Just when we think we've come to the bottom of something, we look deeper and find more to know and understand. (Which raises the question, why are more scientists not Christian?)

And when we stand back and look at the story of God's relationship with us through the Bible, that story is not simple either. There's a lot to it, a lot to digest and put together, a lot of stories upon stories, a lot of history that plays into God's dealings with us. But in the end, His purposes are not thwarted, are they? The complexity is not too complex for Him.

Why should that comfort me? I think because it's so clearly too much to hold in my head all at once, I must conclude that I just do not need to understand it all. He understands it, He controls it, and that's enough for me. I can let go and relax.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Extravagant Devotion

In John 12 we find Jesus reclining in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus just before the Passover, in fact, just before His own death and resurrection.

It says, “Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.” (v. 3) Judas Iscariot took issue with this extravagance, saying, “’Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’” (v.5) Apparently he was not overly concerned about the poor, but had been pilfering from the money bag and saw what could have been his going to waste.

So, with whom in the passage can I most identify: Mary, Jesus, or Judas?

Oh dear. I have to confess, although I don’t see myself pilfering from the moneybag, I do see Judas’ point. Why all the waste? Why all the extravagance? Let’s be practical, even in our devotion to God. After all, what good does perfume really do? And the money from that perfume could have purchased how many nights' lodging on their travels, how many meals for the Jesus and the disciples?

Even if you concede that putting perfume on feet is an acceptable activity, let’s at least be frugal about it! I mean, Mary didn’t know that Jesus was about to die. Why not use a little bit today, and then there will be plenty left over for future visits?

But Mary used the entire pound all at once. The fragrance of the perfume filled the entire house. In fact, I've heard it said that as Jesus hung on the cross a few days later, that fragrance would still have surrounded Him, reminding Him even in His agony of Mary's love.

How often am I “prudent” in my devotion to Christ? Careful not to expend all my resources in one place. A little devotion, a little service, a little Bible reading, a little prayer. So guarded, measured. How often am I practical on God’s behalf, rather than allowing my motivation to be pure, unfettered love for my Master?

Oh Lord, let me be extravagantly devoted to You, just like Mary was. Let me pour my all out for You, everyday. Tomorrow’s devotion will take care of itself.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Every morning Marlin says "Good morning" to me, and that simple kindness is changing my life.

It isn't just that he says good morning. He stops what he's doing for the briefest second, looks me in the eyes and says, "Good morning, Jane." (Although my name isn't really Jane.) And then an hour later, he looks up again and say, "Have a nice day, Jane," or "Good-bye, Jane," or "Have a nice weekend."

The first time he did it his boss was right there, and I chuckled to myself that he was just showing off that he knew all his boss's clients by their first names. I thought, good for him -- I'm happy to help him earn a few brownie points. But he's continued to do it everyday since then.

I don't imagine that I'm anything special to him. My guess is he does this with everyone who works out in that gym regularly. But that doesn't matter, because it's still nice and still makes me feel important and recognized and somehow human. Like at that gym I really am more than just a monthly credit to their bank account.

Because I don't like to exercise. I like to have exercised. Just like I don't always like to write, but I do like to have written something funny or pithy or profound. (Or rather, I would like to have written something funny or pithy or profound.) But exercising everyday is still a chore. Every morning I wake up and my first creative efforts, before I even open my eyes, go toward thinking of whether I have any legitimate excuse for not going to the gym after I drop my kids off at school.

Apparently last week I was blessed with a boon of creativity, because I managed to come up with convincing excuses on four out of five mornings. But all week long I was plagued with thoughts of Marlin wondering where I was. And this morning I was able to relieve myself of a backlog of guilt as I swiped my gym card past the card reader and Marlin said, "Good morning, Jane." And I was able to give an earnest "Good morning!" in reply, as if to say, "No worries, mate! I'm back!"

All this to say though, that Marlin's simple kindness means a lot to me. I think it's important to spend a minute appreciating that. I wonder how many people I could affect throughout my pedestrian day by simply looking them in the eyes and smiling as we exchange common pleasantries. By not being in such a hurry. By remembering that I'm interacting with human beings who take my money at a checkout, or take my shirts at the cleaners, or bring me my food at a restaurant. And their humanity is more important than my to-do list, or my time constraints, or the next thing I'm rushing off to.



Last night was my son's last hockey game of the season. It was for the house championship, so it was a big deal. And what an exciting game it was! The teams were pretty evenly matched, so the score went back and forth all game, but by the end of the third period it was tied, 5-5.

Now in years past I think they would have played a short, 5 minute overtime period. Then if they were still tied after that, they would have done a shoot-out. But apparently the powers that be saw fit to change it up this year. Now the rules call for the kids to play 5 on 5 for 1:30 minutes. Then if there was no score, they play 4 on 4 for 1:30 minutes. If still no score, they play 3 on 3 for 1:30. The first team to score in all this wins, and no player can be repeated in the overtime play. (In other words, if a kid plays in the 5 on 5, he can't play in the 4 on 4 or the 3 on 3.) If there was still no score after the 3 on 3, I bet they would have gone to a shoot-out.

So, in our game last night the kids played the overtime 5 on 5. Still no score. They did the 4 on 4. No score. And out come the players for the 3 on 3. One of the three was a kid named Pete. Pete is a big, slow kid, can't skate backward to save his life, and always manages to fall down every time the play gets anywhere near him. (Okay, I'm exaggerating a little and I don't want to be mean. My son rushed to his defense when I conveyed this in an e-mail to his brother, so Pete must at least be a really nice kid. Suffice it to say, he was not one of our better players this year.)

When I saw Pete out there, I turned my head (away from the other parents) and whispered to my husband, "Why is Pete out there?" My husband said (out loud, but not loudly), "They've got to play him -- they can't have any repeats." Which would've been fine, except the guy next to us picked up on it and said (quite loudly), "Yeah, I wouldn't be putting Pete out there right now!" To which I cringed because Pete's parents were sitting right next to this guy, just across the aisle. I would be surprised if they didn't hear that. Grrr...and I started the whole thing.

So the play begins and it's clear the kids are tired. But somehow, all the way back in our zone, Pete gets the puck and he starts to skate it up. He gets by one opponent, and then the next. Where are his other two teammates? They're hanging back in our zone, even as Pete, in his slow and lumbering fashion, works his way up the ice toward the other goal. I couldn't figure why they were hanging back -- were they expecting Pete to lose it right away and staying back to protect the goal? Or were they just tired?

Whatever the reason, Pete, looking like he was out for a Sunday stroll, made his way up the ice, went "coast-to-coast" in hockey lingo, all alone. He gets to about 12 inches from the opposing goalie, and I'll be darned if that kid didn't poke that puck into the net! It was no snazzy shot, it sure wasn't fast. But he tucked that thing in right between the goalie's legs, in the 5-hole as they say, and won the game!

No one could believe it! The whole crowd of parents, grandparents and siblings went wild. The team rushed off the bench and jumped all over Pete. It was glorious!

Who needs professional sports when there's so much pure and wonderful drama in simple, house hockey?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Back-Pocket Happy

My laptop came in the mail yesterday. So extravagant. My oldest son, spartan as he is, will be appalled when he comes home that I so impulsely spent this kind of money. It is silly that I feel like I have to give an account to him, but his attitude will resonate with my own self-doubt, so it will bother me a little. But not only is there competition for the family desktop with three kids at home either needing it for school or wanting to check e-mail, IM and play games, it is also tucked away up in our bedroom. So the only way for me to be online was to be away from the heart of the home and family.

So it came yesterday and now I am connected with the world right in my very own kitchen. And I am still available to help with math problems, put up emergency ponytails, hear who said what to whom, get snacks, and give "poor baby's" for the latest boo-boo. And more important than being connected to the world -- this is where my self-doubt comes in -- I have an avenue to create something useful. At least I'm hoping it will be useful.

The sweet part of it all is that my husband, who has funded my extravagance, is happy about the purchase and supportive of my venture, even though there is no obvious way it will ever produce ... money. The one who paid for it all is supportive and more optimistic than I am even, but swirling all around in my head are the imaginary reactions of almost everyone else I know who are rolling their imaginary eyes and mocking me, saying Why would anyone spend so much time on something that will never pay? How could that ever benefit financially? And she BOUGHT A LAPTOP so she could work on it???? Good grief!

And they'll remember all my other hare-brained schemes -- which were never actually "schemes" as much as interests that the demands of my family prevented me from pursuing as far as I'd have liked. But they were things I read about and talked about and probably spent a little money on, but in the end didn't have time for. Now I've spent a big chunk of money on something that I can't see ever giving me a return on my investment.

It is a depressing concept that ideas are only as good as they are fiscally beneficial. In the face of all the nay-sayers, I insist that pursuits that do not produce an income can be very important. One is for just plain happiness. This laptop, this blog and the website I'm working on -- they make me happy. They are a healthy salve to a personal ache that was threatening to develop into full blown sadness, an ache that first niggled its way to the surface when my oldest left for college and my third-born entered public school in the fall.

I still have one at home during the day (being homeschooled) and plenty of running around to do for all of them, so my job is secure for the moment. But it's clear my role here is winding down from the frenzy it once was. I find myself now, for this first time in maybe 16 years, having moments, even sometimes a couple hours in the day, when no one is pulling on me. Schoolwork has been finished, no one needs to be driven anywhere for awhile, dinner can wait, and the only thing between me and a good book is housework. The housework is always there.

But housework doesn't satisfy. It does for some women (my mother-in-law), and I admire them for that. I imagine they get a inner peace, a personal glow from a house well-cleaned, like an endorphin rush. For me that inner happiness comes from words well-written and ideas well-expressed. All the better if someone wants to read those words, but readers are not even entirely necessary. Just getting the words down makes me happy.

(I am not saying necessarily that my words are well-written or my ideas well-expressed. But they're as well-expressed as my abilities allow, and that's enough for me.)

And so I find that in the short week of its existence, this blog has become my "back-pocket happy." As I scurry about my daily tasks, important but mundane, I find myself remembering this blog. Like pulling a favorite pet out of my back pocket and holding it for a minute, I'm reminded that it's there waiting for me. Waiting to hear all the words and ideas that have floated through my silly brain in the past day. And it fills me with a crazy sort of joy that defies description. Isn't that worth the price of a laptop?

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Wonder of Being Type-B

What is lonelier than an unattended blog? So I hate for this brand new blog to go without a new post for too long. Can't set that precedent so early. And even though my intention was never that this blog be overly personal, I am going to post a somewhat personal entry only because I have complete confidence that my reading audience at this point is in the zero to negative range. And if someday I'm ever lucky enough to garner a small coterie of cyber-friends, by then this will be buried deep in the archives! :)

And one thing I must also say at the outset: regarding this particular topic, I am most definitely not a "small dog in tall weeds." I am the premier expert of the world. A very tall dog on the top of a rather tall hill standing in very short grass.

My credentials are thus: a classic type-A person married to an extreme type-B for over 20 years. So I have had time and opportunity to meditate on why this precious type-B person is so good for me.

I have learned the value of spending money on fun. I have learned the joy of sleeping until 10 on a Saturday and then going out to breakfast. Of choosing the late service for Sunday church only because it means we don't have to get to bed on time on Saturday night and can start the movie at 11 p.m. I have learned that the grocery store is filled with really wild and crazy options, none of which would ever make a grocery list, and not all of which end up being that fun to eat, but you don't know unless you try, right? And that remote control boats, although pricey, make for very fun vacations. I have learned that nothing too bad happens if the Christmas lights are still up on Easter. And that it is actually humanly possible to take a nap right after breakfast.

From my perspective, if a place is worth getting to, it's worth getting to faster. My fine fellow, on the other hand, has perfected the art of ambling. After all, there's a lot to notice on the way. Definitely people to talk to. And who knows, maybe we'll change our minds about where we're going anyway.

Fun is fine, but too much just gets boring is my take on things. Give me good solid work. Something to sink my teeth into, something to produce. And please let it not be housework. Hence this blog. Hence the websites I'm working to create. And as the demands of my family grow less and less, I'm feeling driven to situate myself in such a way that I can be a producing member of society. I don't know if I'll ever produce any money, but doggonnit, I'm determined to produce something. I'm desperate to produce something.

But living with my favorite type-B has softened my edges. (On the other hand, I don't think I've in the least taken the edge off his type-B-ness -- he is the most determined type-B I've ever known.) He has slowed me down. Maybe extended my life. He provides a little balance.

I say all this in order to remind myself of these truths after a particularly harrowing weekend of naps, snacks, TV, and more naps. All capped off with a long soak in the hot tub. But hey, maybe we'll give our neighbors something to talk about by turning those Christmas lights on for Easter.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Welcome, Small Dog!

I can't tell you how happy I am to be here! Completely anonymous, I'm sure, but out for the world to see nevertheless. It's been a labor of love, creating this blog. Coming up with the name was trickier than I thought. So many darling names are taken (taken, but never developed, I might add).

But I'm satisfied with "Small Dog, Tall Weeds." Suits me just fine, because no doubt, that is what I am. And I do have strong opinions about the "weeds" in my immediate vicinity!

So, without much to say at the moment, I just had to extend myself a hearty welcome to the wonderful world of blogging. I'm sure very soon I'll bubble over with ideas about things the world needs to know. Until then...