Adjusting the Focus

Worship Fully – pondered on Luke 15:  what kind of lady looks for a coin that hard when she has other coins?  What coins have I deemed as lost and non-findable?

Spend Less – I plan on spending less time focusing on the things I do wrong or don’t want in my life.  A parenting book I read (can’t remember amongst the slew) talked about focusing on the behavior or action or element you’d like to see rather than always pointing out what you don’t want to see, because chances are you’ll keep seeing more of that.

Give More – I gave more time to letting the kids decorate the house (although there was definitely room for more gracious comments on my behalf, rather than “Stop using Baby Jesus to beat up your brother!”)

Love All – Today I wanted to love my friend by watching her little boy (and likewise love my children by letting them have a playmate come visit), but the playmate got sick.  So I sent my friend cookies because apparently baking is my love language.

Tonight I planned a wonderful family night at the Art Walk event in Newberg:  gathering at the local bookstore to hear the NFC Brass play holiday music and enjoy the company of the listeners.

My boys planned on finding a friend at the event, getting the toys, shooting everyone in sight, and running amuck.  Really:  A Muck.

When my focus is on their behavior and my enjoyment is dependent on it, I lose every time:  oh so crabby.  But when my focus is on realizing that my eldest didn’t run quite as much amuck as he has in the past, and that I got to talk with a few adults, and that this too shall pass, and that I will have GREAT compassion for young parents with crazy amuck running boys in the future, I am able to deem this an okay evening.

Talk to My Face

Worship Fully – sang a few songs at Bible Study during worship time, but also whispered with my friend (face to face conversation is severely lacking in my life:  I steal it where I can)

Spend Less – short trip to the grocery store (probably not necessary, but more of a time killer); less time online; more time Christmas-ing the house with the kids

Give More – unplugged the headphones and conversed with adults; stopped talking and listened to others (some); let the kids help me decorate the house (this is giving for a perfectionist such as myself)

Love All – crabby times happened with the small tykes; found myself having more grace for strangers than for those closest to me – hmmm

Today was Pajama Day at my son’s school.  I’m not sure what Pajama Day entails other than wearing the comfy slumber wear out of the house, in the car, and in the classroom where tykes normally don “outdoor clothes”.  While this was a fine event last year, this year my son would have none of it.  He stormed around the house, making very declarative statements:  “I’m NOT going to school!”

I knew what was going on:  he was having a hard time adjusting to something new.  A few weeks ago he was invited to a birthday party, and while he was excited initially, suddenly he had a change of heart.  Instead of poo-pooing it, I let him talk; instead of dismissing him, I looked him in the face, just like I ask of him:  “If you want to talk to me, don’t holler from the other room – talk to my face.”  Finally he said, “There will be too many kids there, and we’ll get wild, and it will be too exciting, and I’ll get nervous.”

Oh, son, I’m so there with you.  And I was so happy that he recognized that about himself!  So I repeated it back to him and said it was fine if he didn’t want to go.  Then we talked through some scenarios, and he latched onto one, feeling that the excitement would be manageable.

So this morning I tried the same:  looking him in the face, listening, repeating back.  Except he didn’t come to a place where wearing pjs was okay, so he went to school with his regular clothes, knowing that his friends would ask questions.  I felt nervous dropping him off when he curled up at the first questions arose, and I felt similar when I picked him up, but he was okay.  The teacher said it sparked some good discussion in class, and I felt his choice was respected:  might not be fun, but it was his choice and not my desire.

While he was not wearing pajamas at school, I was at Bible Study, worshiping with wonderful women, making faces at my darling daughter who’s decided to respond to interactions in the world.  I’ve been having a hard time getting into the specific study element this semester:  my perfectionism kicks in, and I want to do all or nothing.  But I am reading the chapters of Luke for the week:  this week was all about the Lost (chapters 15-16).  When the facilitator asked if we had any thoughts, I almost dove into my typical babblings, rambling on, verbally processing stuff that doesn’t make much sense and probably leaves the group wondering if I know how to form coherent thoughts (the answer is:  seldom).

But today, I felt the Holy Clap Over the Mouth, and I listened.  People shared their anxiety over feeling secure, opening their lives to strangers, engaging the poor, protecting our children while letting them experience some of the darkness present in this world, speaking freedom to a friend whose time on earth is coming to an end when others aren’t ready to share in speaking that release.  How does the story of Lazarus and the rich man relate to us?  Someone mentioned cutting back on the food bill:  how just because we have access to abundance doesn’t mean we should partake of it.

I don’t have answers.  But it felt like a loving thing to simply shut up and listen:  not just listen, but look each person in the face.

Human

Worship Fully – hmm, I read the Bible and some devotions …

Spend Less – I didn’t spend money, but I did spend time in the kitchen when I could’ve been with my kids, creative energy building up my Cafe World when I could’ve done something truly productive, and positive words for friends online rather than saying them to the people I live with.

Give More – I gave some patience and understanding to a preschooler who’s nervous about Pajama Day tomorrow, some time reading books to small boys, and some yummy homemade food to my family.

Love All – I do in my head.  And when they’re in bed:  boy, I really love my kids when they’re in bed.  But then they get up.  And speak.  And all my idealistic feelings go out the door, which is a good thing really, because love is a choice more than a feeling.

I’m human, and it’s hard for me to come to terms with that.  God doesn’t blame me for my failings.  Watchman Nee’s book “The Normal Christian Life” talks about humans as sin factories:  because of the fall, we produce sin.  Do we blame car factories for making cars?  Nope.  God doesn’t blame me for sinning, for falling short.  But God loves us all too much to leave us that way, and He can transform those little/big sin products into Christ’s body.  If I let Him.

Catching up on my Oswald Chamber’s reading for the day, I was struck by this:  “God never coerces us. In one mood we wish He would make us do the thing, and in another mood we wish He would leave us alone. Whenever God’s will is in the ascendant, all compulsion is gone. When we choose deliberately to obey Him, then He will tax the remotest star and the last grain of sand to assist us with all His almighty power.”

Oh, how I hope this human chooses daily to follow and obey.

Rich with Manna

Today marks my experiment of being (more – hopefully) intentional in:

  • Worshiping fully
  • Spending less
  • Giving more
  • Loving all

Boy howdy, I don’t think I did all that well.  Today looked like any normal day:  family up, dressed, fed; dropping people off at their locations; errands and their aftermath; picking up people; feeding, feeding, and more feeding; managing quiet times (not so much); more feeding; cleaning up from feeding; cleaning up from the day; counting the minutes until I can go to bed.

Before bed I was listening to a podcast from Woodland Hills.  The pastor spoke on breaking the generation sin involved in the cycle of poverty.  He said that we are rich because we don’t have to worry about where our food will come from for the next meal.  And here I was, mildly worried because we were down to two slices of bread and thawing milk from the freezer — the freezer that’s packed to the gills with veggies and fruit and butter and freezer meals, etc.  My cupboards have staples of beans (a half dozen kinds) along with other grains and dried fruits.  Flour, sugar, jello (so.much.jello), cereals, soda:  we have more than enough, and yet I found myself anxious, wondering what to feed the boys when they couldn’t have their pb’n’j.

When I have too much, I am taking from others who don’t have enough.

And goodness, it takes a lot of time managing all that stuff:  shopping, unloading groceries, food prep, making sure food doesn’t go bad or stale, eating, etc.  Hello, Israelite taking too much manna!

Our recent community newsletter (it’s nice living in a town that’s small enough to have a newsletter) noted that the local food pantry is in need of goods.  Also, a number of friends in crisis seem to be in need of some freezer meals.  Perhaps that’s a way I’m being led to give more …

Holiday Present

Holiday priorities certainly change over time.

As a small tyke holidays consisted of brightly colored classrooms, projects with glue and glitter that were supposed to be “pretty gifts” to others who made “oh my how … nice” faces, dressing up in new tights and a frilly dress for the church/school/piano recital, being plied with sugar and excitement and gifts and new events — all while being told to calm down.

As a high schooler the holidays were a time to start learning how to buy presents that weren’t made out of glue and glitter and complaining about the traditions you formerly loved OR complaining that the parents are tired of putting on the traditions you find utterly necessary.

As a college student the holidays were spent detwitching from cramming for finals, eating real food for the first time in forever, sleeping while the family’s awake and being awake while the family’s asleep, and running to the store on the 24th of December because apparently blessing the family with one’s presence isn’t a good enough gift.

As a single person the holidays were for trying to figure out how to live with others while you’re used to living by yourself and for overspending in an attempt to compensate for those years of glue and glitter or nothing.

As a young married person the holidays are a time of negotiation:  who to spend time with, where, what will be eaten, what will be worn, how will presents be wrapped, how will the days look, what traditions will carry over, what traditions will be left behind, and how many people are going to be unsatisfied (so says the melancholy personality type :)).

Now, as a mother of three tykes, the holidays have a whole new meaning.  It feels like it’s all Up To Me:  to create traditions, to buy gifts, to make meals, to plan events, to do crafts, to sing songs, to visit all the family members:  to make Everyone Happy and Content with the Magic of the Season.

And it’s so.not.possible.

Now, this is a pressure I totally placed on myself.  It’s an attempt to fill a role I cannot, nor should not, nor have been asked, to fill.  At the root it’s about trying to measure up, mask insecurity.  And it’s about taking the focus off of Christ and onto the family, or more pointedly, myself.

And I don’t want to celebrate myself.  I do that on a daily basis by making choices that please or comfort me.

Advent Conspiracy has laid out four thoughts for helping bring the focus back to Christ, the meaning of His birth and life and death and life above and beyond, and to the body of Christ.

  • Worship Fully
  • Spend Less
  • Give More
  • Love All

And so this holiday season, for this month of December, I hope to use these phrases to refocus my attention, to orient myself towards my Savior, the one who came without glue and glitter and self-centered desires.

Worry

The other week I had to take my daughter to a hearing appointment.  She didn’t pass her newborn hearing screening, so we were told to schedule another exam, this time with a specialist who works in a hospital in another town.  I scheduled it when my husband happened to be gone.  I had to try to find childcare for the second born.  When I called to verify with insurance, they told me they didn’t cover hearing screenings.  The doctor called the day of the appointment to say that we hadn’t been sent the right paperwork, that she needed to be asleep for the exam, and could I keep her awake and not feed her until the appointment?  You know, for the 30 minute + drive I’d be taking just the two of us?  And what if she really had a hearing problem?  I started to meltdown.

And then I chose to breath.  I called the doctor back who gave me billing numbers to give to insurance people:  they said, “Oh, these tests mean there’s some concern!  They’re covered” (as though I like to schedule inconvenient and expensive tests on my two month old for kicks – geez).  I met my dad for lunch, and even though neither one of us brought maps (because we thought the other one was going to), my husband navigated us to the hospital (while he was in Kansas City getting ready to eat BBQ).  We got an amazing parking space, we were seen forty minutes early, Josephine slept through the whole test, and she passed with flying colors.

I told Jason, “I should’ve known today would go like this:  I read in Luke where Christ was talking about not worrying.”

One of my children is having anger outbursts, and we don’t know what to do other than ride them out.  Another is reading up a storm, and I’m beginning to think that my plans for his schooling are yet in limbo again.  My littlest one is just that:  little.  How does one get the car in to get a potentially hazardous part (according to the letter from the dealer we received two days ago) replaced when one only has one car?  And last night, during a night feed, I discovered the cat to be licking himself excessively — because he had an oozing wound.  So many things to worry about.

And then I attended Bible Study this morning where we heard an update on a sainted lady who is finishing her last trip around the sun.  We’ve known this for some time, but a sense of urgency and seriousness and grief has descended upon all of us.  One of my friends finds herself awake for two hours at a time at night, thinking about our friend, praying for her and her family, struggling with the anger of “why her?  why like this?  why not fix this?” and the presence of the anger at all (can we be angry at God?  what does that mean?  and what will happen?).

The phrase keeps coming to mind:  “God allows in His wisdom what He could easily prevent by His power.”

`Think about the flowers. See how they grow. They do not work or make cloth. I tell you, King Solomon was a great man. But he was not dressed as fine as one of these flowers.

God dresses the grass in the fields so it looks nice. It is in the field one day and the next day it is burned. If God dresses the grass like that, he cares much more that you have clothes to wear. You do not believe in God very much!

`Do not keep asking, “What shall we eat?” and, “What shall we drink?” Do not be troubled about that.

All the people who are not Jews work for these things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need them.

But work for God’s kingdom. Then you will have all these things also.’

`Do not fear, little family. Your Father wants to give the kingdom to you.’

Our sister’s life and situation seems SO much more important, so much more worthy of true worry.  And yet, Christ tells us not to worry – about *anything*.  True, He’s talking in reference to daily needs … but her daily needs are almost gone, so I think it still applies …

Choosing to live out of fear/worry, or out of love/the Kingdom.  I know how I want to live, but my head and my heart don’t seem to match up in how it looks.  Perhaps a clue lies in Christ’s words that follow:

‘Sell what you have and give it to poor people. Make for yourselves money bags that will not wear out. Keep the things you like in heaven. They will not be lost there. People cannot go in and steal them, and insects cannot spoil them.

The place where you keep the things you like is where your heart will be also.’

Lord, cast out our fear!  Transform our fears into love and light!  You are with our sister; You are with us; may we carry that Love and Light, transformed from our fears and worries, to others.

What’s in a Name?

Since last writing, a little more joy has entered my life.

Our darling little girl is soon entering her second month out and about.  She’s growing, changing, sleeping (some), eating (some), and being smothered with love by her brothers.

I never thought I’d be a mother, much less to a daughter.  There’s something different about parenting your own gender:  so much more baggage that can be brought into the situation.  But, as I’m finding out, so much redemption as well.

Not that I’m placing the responsibility on her of bringing about healing or changing in my life, but that she’s a means of experiencing God’s grace in my life.  Or not.  Depends on if I choose to act on the offer:  and sometimes being cranky or impatient seems so much more satisfying … for the moment.

On Sunday someone asked about her name:  “Your boys have such Biblical names, and she doesn’t.”  But oh:  she does.

Josephine Annabelle.  Not the name we thought about, honestly.  I had a list of names at the hospital, Jason had pretty much no ideas but knew he didn’t resonate with mine, so we scrapped most everything, I pleaded a quick prayer because I knew I needed to call my mom and Boo *had* to have a name at that point, and this is what happened.  Really, it’s not the name I would’ve chosen for her:  but it’s *her* name.  How do I know?  Like when I tried on a certain wedding dress some seven years ago and burst into tears because it was the one, I got all weepy when thinking of her name.  And we all know:  when the Spirit moves around Aj, Aj cries.  At least it’s a fairly accurate barometer.  And I can blame God when she’s seventeen and having to fill out all those bubbles on the SAT score card (you know they’ll still have the bubbles).

Josephine:  Biblical – like Joseph in the Bible.  Also after my father and an incredibly influential woman in my life and one of my favorite literary characters.

Annabelle:  My mother, Jason’s mother, Jason, and I all have a variation of “Ann” in our middle names.  My middle name is  a combination of my parents, and now so is their granddaughter.  Anna is a character in the Bible who means a great deal to me:  instead of becoming a bitter widow, she used her position to worship and glorify God, and she got to see Christ.  Jason’s sister and her sister-in-law (a good friend) have had daughters within the past year – EllaMae and Stella – so the “belle” part goes with that.

And her initials are a combination of her brothers – JJ & AA.

As a child I was raised to “pray in Jesus’ name”, but I didn’t know what that meant for quite some time.  “Name” in the Bible is equal with character:  it seems to embody all of what a person stands for, their history, their story.  I figure her brothers will come up with the perfect nickname because Josephine Annabelle is an awfully long name for such a little person.  But I hope that she will feel we have named her character well.

We are singing for the Lord is Our Light

Yesterday at our gathering of Women’s Bible Fellowship we embarked in a newish venture:  worship through song.  We’ve done a little in the past, but this year a pressing sense of needing space and time dedicated to intentional worship practices was felt.  A special space was crafted with lower lights, chairs, cushions, elements:  ambiance.  The leaders selected a few praise songs projected on a projector (sometimes old school is the best option than the high-tech).

Standing in the back, I had to laugh a little.  Yes, it’s new which oftentimes means awkward.  Say you’re going on a date.  Most likely you’re not going to be singing along to that boy band song that comes on the radio, much less belting it out with the gusto you do with your college roommates (not that I speak from personal experience).  🙂  But still:  watching most women stand dead still, or doing the white evangelical woman’s shuffle while singing “We are dancing for the Lord is our Light” made me laugh as much as watching the exact same thing happen on Sunday mornings.

So yes:  I wasn’t fully focused on worship (totally outed myself there, eh?).  But the song stuck with me through the day, and I found myself dancing (as much as I can these days) while scrubbing the sink.

I also read Psalm 40 yesterday morning and realized I hadn’t loaded “War” or “October” onto my Ipod:  a mistake I remedied that afternoon.

Lord, thank you for giving us this new song:  may we learn how to dance in Your encompassing Light.

Little Bit of This, Little Bit of That

Today marks the kick-off of Women’s Bible Fellowship that gathers at my meeting place for worship.  We’re studying the book of Luke:  a book being studied by many other faith gatherings at the moment.  Sounds silly to say:  there’s only so many things worship gatherings can study, but I can list four or five podcasts I listen to that are sinking into the book of Luke at the moment.  Interesting …

When the WBF Steering Team met to decide the topic for this fall study, I felt inclined to speak up about being in the words of Christ:  why study *about* when we can study *the* words of Christ?  My mama has been leading some inductive studies and mentioned one by Kay Arthur that could work.  Today our study was introduced thusly:  “Aj’s mom leads an inductive Bible study, and Aj brought these materials thinking they would be good for us to us this semester.”  Which in tired hormonal mama speak is interpreted as, “So if you hate this study, you’ll know who to blame.”  🙂  I know that wasn’t the speaker’s intention, but we’re leaving the Beth.Moore.Train which has been running consistently at some point each year (and probably will return in the spring – never fear).

People have very strong feelings about Beth, and likewise Kay.  I wish we could see the materials simply as a tool with which to connect with Christ rather than something to consume to meet our preferences.  Not all things will resonate with everyone, but I can’t imagine that if I enter with a right spirit that God won’t have *some* sort of Word for me – perhaps even to simply spend the time interceding for the other women.

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I was reading the story of Joseph and came to the point when Jacob was giving his blessing to his sons.  Instead of Joseph being blessed, Joseph’s kids were.  Kids that came from the wife given to him by Pharoah.  A wife that was the daughter of the Egyptian high priest (I think).  I believe ancestry “stuff” runs through the mamas in the Hebrew culture, meaning Joseph’s kids weren’t Hebrew.  But perhaps by Jacob blessing them, he was in a sense adopting them.  Similar to Ruth and Naomi:  Ruth and Boaz’s first born son was known as Naomi’s.  I always thought that was just to appease a sad, strong-willed, widowed mother-in-law.  But since he’s in the line of Christ, he’d need to be “Hebrew” which he would be in Naomi was his “mom”.  Interesting ….

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On Sunday I plan on helping my friend talk with high schoolers about immigration issues.  I think the high schoolers will know much more than I ….

Impressions of a Summer Passing

So.  Fall’s almost here.  And I have yet to feel like summer ever started.  Last summer I remember more free time, more days spent in the yard, less scheduled events.  But my mind has a tendency to wax poetically, and it’s very likely that I spent last summer like I spent this one, since I can’t even remember what I did last week ….

We gathered at Yearly Meeting in July.  The heat “encouraged” me to take advantage of the full range of opportunities:  workshops, board meetings, evening gatherings, evening celebration times.  Two words:  air-conditioned childcare.  Really, I did it “for the kids.”  🙂  But as I saw the eldest forging some bonds, making friends, loving to go play in the sprinkler and watch Larry-Boy and run amuck with wild abandon, I felt less guilty about dumping him off, filling myself up with connections with adults and quiet time to prep for upcoming events, and recognizing:  Hey, I liked YM for those same reasons!  And now he gets to have those memories as well!  The toddler would be less rosy about his experience, but next year when he moves to the “children who don’t wear diapers” room, I think it’ll all be good.

Following Yearly Meeting came our worship gathering’s Vacation Bible School.  Which I wasn’t sure about the eldest’s participation.  But again:  I saw the crafts, the running around, the morning cheer of “Yay!  VBS!”, and I knew why it was a good thing for him to be there.  Actually, VBS is where I first had an opportunity to “make a decision for Christ” – not that I didn’t make repeated decisions at later opportunities, but still.  And somehow it became oddly important to me that Judah have such experiences.  Finally, parental inclinations might be manifesting …

The next week the kids were shipped up (lovingly, of course) to the grand’rents while Jason and I went to join about 350 other crazy people at the coast for Surfside, our high school camp.  I facilitated a tract for the high school grads focusing on life transitions and our identity in Christ.  It was GREAT:  high schoolers are amazing people.  From kids voicing fears that they will only have dead-end jobs and therefore a dead-end life, to others talking about wanting to leave their faith gatherings all their lives until the community had a split and now wanting to walk through that pain and grief with them – wow.  The larger camp met corporately under a tent in a meadow.  Then it rained.  Then it heated up:  swamp thing!  Meals were served in the dining hall and neighboring meeting room.  Through it all (even my 1am bedtimes and 6am wake-up times) people loved on each other and loved on God and were loved on by God.  God.Is.Good.

After that, I felt like summer could start.  Except now it’s mostly prep for the fall.  Which is good and enh, all at the same time.  Fall is the hardest transition for me:  grey skies are coming, plants are dying, hibernation is on the way.  How not to repeat patterns that weren’t the best from past years?  How to live in the life and light that I feel in the summer without getting discouraged in the daily mundane?  How to re-enter into a more scheduled community life … or enter in at all? …

God is present in every season, ready to speak life and light and healing.  I’m not called to live in the summer season all the time:  I’m called to live a day at a time, with each one being a gift (although some days feel like they were gifts picked out of the dollar bins at Target).  🙂  Summer:  thank you for your light.  Fall:  soon we shall meet – please be kind (rewind).