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
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
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
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...
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
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 THIS...is 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
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
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
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.