Thursday, December 31, 2009

Imitating Others

Recently, I read a quote in the book Eat, Pray, Love that perfectly expressed something I have been realizing lately. "It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else's life with perfection."

So many times, I have tried to imitate other people. I have been guilty of elevating the things I admire about others to an ideal to strive for, then I get discouraged when I fail to live it out perfectly. A couple posts back, I mentioned that Shane Claiborne's book, The Irresistible Revolution, changed my life. And this is true- but for a while I told myself that in order to do things "right" and to follow God the way I was supposed to, I should live as much like Shane as possible. The way he lives is very different from the American mainstream; for example, he moved into the inner city and lives in community with a bunch of other people, drives around a vehicle powered by vegetable oil, sews his own clothes, and has gone to places like Iraq and Calcutta. You can visit The Simple Way for more details, or even better, read his book. Anyway, because I couldn't necessarily do all those things, I thought I couldn't possibly be following Jesus the way I should.

Lately I have started to realize that instead of trying to imitate the lives of people I admire, I need to work within my own reality using the ideas and strengths and passions God gave me. My path will be unique, and that is just how it should be.

Upon thinking about it further, I realized that while I do admire certain aspects of other people's lives (like Shane Claiborne), what I am attracted to more than anything is their heart. It is a beautiful thing when a person's love for God, love for people, and passion for a particular issue intersect. The force that drives them- love- is one that we are all called to live out in our own lives. The specifics of how we live out love will look different for us all because we have all been given different talents, interests, and circumstances.

So now, instead of striving to imitate other people, I strive to live a life of love and to utilize my strengths and passions in the process. I am still trying to figure out what, exactly, my unique path will be, but it is becoming clearer. I know I may not always do things perfectly, but that is okay; living out my own destiny imperfectly is better than imitating someone else perfectly.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I Can't Do It All

In my last post, I mentioned that I encountered a couple of roadblocks once I realized how important it is to love others and to make a difference in the world. Today, I want to talk about the first one.

I became overwhelmed. Everywhere I looked, I saw pain and suffering and brokenness. Relationships, families, parenting, birth, poverty, racism, the food we eat, how our clothes are made, what we purchase, the love of things and money, the church itself, and so many more. I began to feel as though I was drowning under the weight of it all, and I began to retreat from the overwhelming noise of all the brokenness. "It's too much," I thought. "I can't do it all. I can't change it all. I can't even begin to process it all. It's just too much."

And it is. No one can do it all. But if we all do our part, if we all identify that thing that we are passionate about, and we devote ourselves to making a change in that area, imagine what could happen! It is not wrong to pick one area and go after it with all your heart; that is much better than spreading yourself thin trying to change everything. And God created us all differently, with different passions and talents and abilities.

It's always really neat to come across something in a book that reaffirms things I have already been thinking about and realizing, and as it turns out, Shane Claiborne actually mentions this in his newest book, Follow Me to Freedom, co-authored with John Perkins:

Our God is an artist. The kingdom of God is a place where every person is unique, just like our fingerprints... There are certain things we can say are clear gospel mandates- like caring for the poor and sharing the salvific love of Jesus with others. But Jesus doesn't tell everyone the same thing when He invites them to follow. To one person He says, "Be born again." To another He tells him to sell all that he has and give it to the poor. There is an unmistakable call in Scripture to "not be conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2). But just because we are called to be radical nonconformists does not mean that we all end up doing the same thing...

It is awesome to see how everyone finds his or her own gifts and passions come to life and how different people take the pilot seat on their little piece. No one has to do everything, but everybody has to do something.

So lately I have been asking myself a couple of questions. What are my passions and talents, and how can I use them to help change things in some specific area of brokenness? What is my path? What did God create me to do? God didn't make me exactly like anyone else... but more on that in my next post. ;-)

What are your passions and talents? How can you use them to make a difference in the world?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


About three years ago, I read The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne for the first time. (I say "the first time" because I have read it a couple more times since then.) I tell people this book changed my life, and I know that sounds cheesy, but it's absolutely true. The author's experiences, passions, insights, and the way he chooses to live changed my worldview. I became acutely aware of human suffering, injustice, and broken systems. I realized how well-off I am compared to the rest of the world, and I realized that Jesus never intended for us to be apathetic to suffering, poverty, and injustice. God used this book to transform my heart so that I began to understand what is meant by loving my neighbor as myself, and how differently we will live if we truly love God and have been transformed by him.

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." -Matthew 22: 37-40

"But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth." -1 John 3: 17-18

But as I realized these things in my heart, I encountered a couple of roadblocks. To prevent this post from getting too lengthy, I will write about these separately over the next couple of days. For now, go check out The Simple Way. There's some good stuff there.

My Goal

Like pretty much everyone else (whether they want to admit it or not), and despite my desire to resist what everyone else does, I still make resolutions as each new year begins. Of course, I call them “goals” so at least I don’t sound TOO much like everyone else. ;-)

And while this year is no different as far as having goals, I am actually approaching my goals quite differently. I’ve come to the place where I realize that I can’t “make” myself change- not real, lasting change, anyway. In all aspects of my life, there are things that need to change. Health, finances, friendships, family, community involvement, my relationship with God. And certainly there are actions that I must take to make these changes. While there is no doubt that I should put forth an effort, I realize that I cannot rely solely on my efforts or my own strength and determination.

I’ve realized that anytime I try to do things on my own, with sheer willpower and determination, I fail quickly. Why? Because these things fade over time, and I get burned out. Outward efforts simply do not create inward changes, and inward changes are the ones that will last. So how do I change myself on the inside? Well, honestly, I’m not convinced that I can. I can readily identify ways that I need to change on the inside, but making it happen is an entirely different matter. How often I’ve fallen into the trap of believing that if I just work hard enough to do all the right things, that will eventually change my heart. It won’t. Only God can do that. I mentioned a few posts back that real change starts on the inside and is then reflected in outward actions.

Of course, I am not suggesting that all I need to do is say a few prayers and then sit back and wait for God to change me. I certainly need to take responsibility for my actions and work toward change. But without seeking God for inner change, my actions will amount to very little in the end. I truly believe that as I seek God and have a closer relationship with him, I will be changed on the inside, and this will result in outward changes.

So really, that is my goal for the year, and for every day- to seek God, to draw closer to him, and to allow my relationship with him to shape me and change me.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Another Year Over

If you want to know the truth, 2009 has been a difficult year for me- especially in comparison with 2008. At the beginning of 2008, I was pursuing some interests by applying for graduate school and getting involved with Habitat for Humanity, and I was enjoying time with wonderful friends. Then I was pregnant with Isaac (I love pregnancy), and to finish out the year, I had an amazing homebirth.

But as 2009 began, I came down from my natural birth high (this is a very real phenomenon, by the way, not something I’m making up), and I plummeted into what turned out to be a months-long battle with postpartum depression. It didn’t help that I also felt quite lonely and isolated this year; for various reasons, many people who I used to spend a lot of time with have not been around as much. That is no one’s fault; it is just how life is sometimes, but it has been hard.

Isaac turned a year old about a month ago, and I think I have I finally begun to come out of the fog. And that’s exactly what it felt like; the combination of depression and loneliness is like a fog. I feel like I lost myself for a while, and I am finally beginning to see clearly again. As 2009 ends, I am thinking ahead to the future and trying to decide what comes next. Once again, I am pursuing some things I’m interested in; I’ve applied for a part-time job at Habitat for Humanity, but I don’t yet know if I’ve gotten the job. If not, I will be making some decisions about whether to apply for graduate school again (I was accepted before, but chose to put school off so I could focus on Isaac- and that was a very good decision!) or whether to start pursuing certification as a childbirth educator and doula.

Hopefully 2010 will be a wonderful year full of growth, learning, community, and love. I’m looking forward to it!

What are you planning for your year?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa Claus God

This holiday season I have heard the infamous song "Santa Baby" a few more times than necessary. When you hear this song, you can almost see a provocatively dressed woman putting on her best innocent act and batting her eyes at Santa, shamelessly flirting to try to get what she wants. And the things she desires are numerous: a convertible, a yacht, a duplex, jewelry, money- and more! And, of course, she takes care to mention just how good she's been, as if to remind him that she really deserves all these things. How could Santa resist?

I realized that a lot of times Christians approach God in the same way and with the same expectations. We make ourselves look as good as we can, smile and act innocent and "flirt" with him, to try to get what we want. And just in case that isn't enough, we remind him how good we've been and how deserving we are of material and financial blessings. Nice cars, nice houses, nice clothes, expensive electronics, money- and more! "How could he resist?" we think.

Think of all the fun I've missed, think of all the fellows that I haven't kissed. Next year I could be just as good, if you check off my Christmas list...

This attitude of deserving and even demanding things from God is, sadly, becoming all too common among mainstream Christianity. Watch the Christian television networks or read up on the prosperity gospel and see for yourself. So many people truly believe that if they look and act in just the right ways, and if they're good enough, and if they flirt with God just right, he will have no choice but to give them material and financial blessings.

I really do believe in you; let's see if you believe in me...

What's sadder, though, is that this attitude cheapens the gift God has given us- the gift of grace. Grace is unmerited favor, given to those who have done nothing to deserve it and can never do enough to deserve it.

As we know, humans are all kinds of screwed up; we have a hard time wrapping our minds around the concepts of unconditional love, grace, and the power of those things to then transform our lives. All too often we approach God the wrong way, believing that we first have to change our behavior and then we will be rewarded with his favor. On top of that, many of us have been raised to expect that our good or bad behavior will result in certain rewards or punishments. It's no wonder,then, that people so easily buy into the idea that we deserve certain material rewards from God for our good behavior, and that we can do things to gain or lose his love.

I wonder, then, if this idea of a God who loves unconditionally, who gives us the gift of unmerited favor, who sends blessings to the "just and unjust," frightens and confuses many people. It doesn't make sense, it doesn't fit with the way we've always approached life, and so we repackage God and the gift he gave us- Jesus- in a way that we do easily understand. We live our lives trying to do all the right things in order to avoid punishment and obtain rewards, all the while missing the real heart of the gospel, the real reason God humbled himself and was born as a tiny baby and lived and died- so we can have a relationship with him. That we can have a relationship with a God who loves us so much is a far more precious gift than any car or house or amount of money ever could be.

My hope is that we can stop treating Jesus like a big Santa Claus in the sky, as a God that can be flirted with and manipulated, and instead see him for who he really is. Grace and love are not easy gifts to understand, but they are so very precious.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Worshiping at the Altar of Materialism

I don't enjoy what Christmas has become: the materialism, the sales ads, the crowded stores, the stress and pressure people experience (I have to buy gifts for this person and that person, oh, and her too! We have seven Christmas parties and dinners to attend! When am I going to wrap the gifts? We need to decorate the house and the tree! I need to bake!). I go along with the American Christmas tradition reluctantly, discovering more and more each year the joy of making gifts for people, buying a few things they will really enjoy, and simplifying my holiday schedule.

Every year there are those who get upset about people saying "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas," as though the words we use have the power to remove or include Christ in Christmas. If we do not keep Christ in the forefront of our minds during the Christmas season, trying to cover that fact by using the right words will not work. And if we do keep Christ at the center of our Christmas season, it will not matter what words people use; Jesus is about the heart beneath the words.

But never mind what other people do, anyway. I cannot change other people, but I can change myself. And to tell you the truth, I realize more each year that I do a poor job of keeping Christ at the center of my everyday life. If I do not celebrate Jesus every day and live as though his birth, life, and death really matter, what difference does it make if I give him a cursory nod during the Christmas season?

So I ask myself a few questions:

What would it look like to keep Jesus at the center of my life every day?

What would that then look like during the Christmas season?

And can I truly keep Jesus at the center of my life if I am worshiping at the altar of materialism with the rest of America?

Every year I think about what I would really love to do: escape the materialistic mindset for good. And I move in that direction a little more each year, but I am not yet there. While I am tempted to make rules for myself in order to move away from materialism, I know very well that following rules will not change my heart; only a closer relationship with God can do that. It is futile to follow rules to change the way I look on the outside in hopes that it will then change the way I am on the inside. Change starts on the inside and is then reflected in outward actions and words.

And so I arrive at a familiar answer, the answer I always find when I am trying to figure out how to change myself: stop striving to change, stop creating and following a bunch of rules, stop seeking my idea of perfection, and instead seek God.

These beautiful lyrics are my prayer, during the Christmas season and throughout the rest of the year:

Oh Christ, be the center of our lives
Be the place we fix our eyes
Be the center of our lives

We lift our eyes to heaven
And we wrap our lives around your life
We lift our eyes to heaven, to you.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wise Words About Parenting

A few years ago, a good friend of mine (hi, Ashley!) wrote a couple of posts on her blog that were instrumental in changing my approach to parenting and discipline. Elijah was four years old at the time, and although I knew I didn't like the spanking/punitive approach, I didn't know what else to do. I feared that my only other option was to be totally permissive, which obviously I did not want, plus I had been hearing all my life from other Christians that spanking was THE God-endorsed way to discipline. Ashley's posts (and our friendship in general) started me on my journey to gentle, grace-based parenting (which, for the record, is nothing like permissive parenting in the least, and is very much in line with biblical, Godly values). I want to share the links to her posts here, and I encourage others to take a few minutes to read them. There is a lot of wisdom in her words.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Look Back...

It all began on the morning of November 19. Of course, at the time I didn't realize it had begun; I was having the same piddly little contractions that I'd been having off and on for days. That morning I climbed on top of the refrigerator. You see, a friend of mine was once told by a random person in the store that jumping off the refrigerator would get labor started. It has become a fun joke among those of us who have heard this story, so when we reach the point of our pregnancies where we are just DONE and want so badly to go into labor, we climb on top of our fridges and take pictures of our crazy million-months-pregnant selves up there. We don't jump, of course; we climb down as gracefully as a million-months-pregnant woman can.

Later that morning, my mom and I went walking at the mall. We had been doing this for several days, hoping to get labor started. As we walked, I debated with myself over whether or not to buy some evening primrose oil; the prostaglandins in it can help prepare the cervix for labor. (For that matter, prostaglandins are in semen, too, but when you're a million months pregnant, having sex is at least as awkward and daunting as climbing on top of the refrigerator. Just sayin'.) The contractions were still coming, slowly and steadily, and I was beginning to believe that it might be the real thing- so I didn't want to spend money on evening primrose oil if I was in labor anyway.

As the day wore on, I called my midwife (Debi) and my doula (Ashley) to let them know that I thought I was in labor. Debi checked me and I was only about 3 centimeters dilated. Things kept moving slowly and steadily. By the time Elijah was in bed that night, contractions were getting a bit stronger but not much closer together. Debi had gone home to get some rest before my labor picked up, and the house was dark and quiet. Clark, my mom, and Ashley stayed with me and encouraged me; I walked, did hip circles on an exercise ball, did lunges, and even took a shower, but still things continued slowly and steadily.

By about 3:00 AM, I was feeling discouraged and very tired. Ashley suggested that I lie down and get some rest to prepare myself for the more active labor that was sure to come. So I did. Contractions continued as I slept, strong enough to wake me, and I would lie on my side and rock back and forth slowly and breathe through them. Daylight came, and I got up, still feeling discouraged. Clark had taken Elijah to school, and Ashley had gone home to get some rest herself. My mom and Kalia (my brother's girlfriend) were here, and they listened as I voiced my fears, near tears- fears that this wasn't really labor at all, that it was just a terrible case of prelabor, and that it would continue for days before real labor actually began. Debi came back to check on me and mentioned the possibility of natural induction methods. Despite my discouragement, I declined; I desperately wanted this labor and birth to happen on God's timing, and as bleak as I was feeling in that moment, I knew deep down that I would regret it if I did not allow my labor to continue taking its own unique course.

And then she checked me, and I was 6 centimeters. Words cannot describe what a difference it made to know that. All that labor was real. It was doing something. This was really happening! God and my body knew what they were doing. Throughout the morning, contractions became more intense, and by lunchtime, I needed to retreat from the group of people who had gathered in my house. I went to my bedroom with Clark and Ashley. We turned on my labor music- a CD I had put together full of artists and songs that I love and that inspire me, relax me, or bring me joy. Things intensified more, and I had to focus on each contraction, breathing through them, swaying through them. Soon the birth pool was filled with warm water, and I got in.

I hadn't been in the pool long before transition began. The contractions picked up in frequency, length, and intensity. This part of my labor felt almost unreal, like a dream. Throughout the contractions, I relaxed, breathed, even vocalized if I needed to. Between contractions, I rested. My eyes were closed most of the time; I needed to be in my own head without any visual distractions so I could focus and relax. My memories of this time are of emotions, thoughts, sensations, and sounds- Clark and Ashley lovingly putting cold washcloths on my head and neck because I was hot... Clark, Ashley, and my mom telling me how wonderful I was doing and giving me such gentle encouragement... Kalia telling me I looked beautiful... my mom reading the scriptures I had written out for labor. I still get teary-eyed when I remember the beautiful moments when I heard her voice quietly saying, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

Although I was still relaxing throughout the contractions, within myself I was growing weary. "This is never going to end," I began to think. "I can't do this much longer." And then the birth junkie voice in my head said, "Ooooh, saying you can't do it anymore- classic sign that it's almost time to push!" Yet I couldn't allow myself to believe it was really almost over; after all, it had been such a long labor- what if I had several hours of this to go? I didn't want to get my hopes up, and I didn't want to vocalize my feelings that I couldn't do it much longer, because then my midwife and my doula would think it was almost time for me to push, and what if it wasn't? So I stayed quiet, kept the thoughts to myself, and continued to labor, until finally I couldn't keep it inside anymore. I opened my eyes, and looked at Ashley and Clark. "I don't think I can do this anymore," I whispered, my eyes meeting Ashley's. Contractions were close together, hard and intense.

And, sure enough, it wasn't long until I began to feel like I might be ready to push. I changed positions in the water and tried pushing, but it seemed fruitless. It felt like nothing was happening. After several ineffective pushes in the water, Debi told me to get out and try going to the bathroom. Laboring women need to pee, you know. So I did. Something about getting out of the water seemed to speed things up, and I found myself pushing in the bathroom. I couldn't help it; contractions were coming and my body was telling me I had to push, NOW.

Clark and I returned to the bedroom, where I got on the bed. I knew it wouldn't be long now, and I didn't want to get back in the water. I pushed hard during contractions, and rested in between. It wasn't long until his head was right there, and I was able to reach down and feel it. "Oh, God," I moaned- not because I was scared or hurting, but because in that split second, I realized that in another push or two, I would be holding my son in my arms. It was time.

There is nothing in this world like the feeling of birthing a baby. That moment when the baby is actually born is indescribable and amazing, and there is such a wonderful feeling of relief and joy and accomplishment. Labor had been long, and he was born with meconium on him, but I didn't mind. He was beautiful and perfect. I held him close and announced his name to everyone. Isaac Nathaniel; it means laughter, a gift from God. We could not have given him a better name; my pregnancy, his birth, and his life thus far have been a joyful reminder of God's grace, the greatest gift of all.

It was a long labor; it began early on the 19th, and Isaac was born at 4:44 PM on the 20th. But it was exactly the labor he needed; after birth, we saw that he had torticollis, presumably from the way he had been positioned in the womb. I believe that his head was tilted to the side, and that although he was otherwise perfectly positioned, my labor progressed slowly and steadily in order to allow the contractions to do their work while getting him into a better position for birth. God and my body knew what they were doing, and I am so glad that I trusted them.

There is no feeling that compares to the feeling that comes after giving birth to a child, either. I felt so amazed and blessed and empowered and strong. For weeks, it was all I could think of anytime I lay down in my bed with Isaac, to nurse him or sleep beside him- "I gave birth to this baby right here in my bed, wow! What an awesome experience!" So many people in our culture think of fear and pain when they think of childbirth, but that is not how it should be. There is a quote that I absolutely love: "We have a secret in our culture, and it's not that birth is painful; it's that women are strong."

I'm a big believer in a woman choosing to give birth in a place where she feels safe and comfortable, both physically and emotionally, and I feel so blessed that I was able to do just that. It always surprises me when people tell me how courageous I must have been to have a natural birth and to give birth at home. The truth is, for me it honestly would have taken more courage to give birth in the hospital, where I knew my desire to have a natural, peaceful, comfortable birth would have been hindered and discouraged at every turn. Some women feel more comfortable and safe in the hospital, and that is fine, but I am just not one of them. I knew I did not want to repeat the experience of Elijah's birth, which involved the hospital, induction with pitocin, and an epidural, and made me feel so nervous and out of control and medically managed. I felt strongly that my body and the labor and birth processes were created by God, and unless there were true complications (and thank God there were not!), I wanted to let my body work the way God created it to work, and let my labor and birth progress naturally.

The first line in the first song on my labor CD said, "Blessed is this life, and I'm gonna celebrate being alive." That is such a beautiful summary of how I feel about my labor and Isaac's birth. A blessing, feeling so alive, giving birth to new life, and celebrating it all.

Happy birthday, Isaac Nathaniel. You are a joy and a gift.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Playtime- Part 1

With our first child, our apartment came to resemble a small toy store. We quite literally bought into the idea that our child needed to have a huge variety of plastic, battery-operated "educational" toys, five million little toy cars and plastic animals, and anything and everything that we or others felt compelled to buy him. Blah!

Over the past few years, we have come to embrace a simpler life, and in the process, our approach to toys has changed as well. When it comes to our stuff, we want to surround ourselves with those things that we love and actually need and use on a regular basis. We don't want a bunch of excess. Likewise, when it comes to playthings, we want our children to simply have a few things that they truly love and play with regularly. Good quality is important, as well as toys that encourage creativity and imagination. We also try to avoid battery-operated toys, partially because they're so annoying, and partially because they require very little imagination. Pushing a button and hearing an electronic voice count to ten in Spanish or recite the alphabet or name the primary colors doesn't require imagination or creativity, nor is it really all that educational.

There are several reasons for our approach to toys. For one thing, when your home is overrun with toys, kids get overwhelmed. They can't seem to find or keep up with anything, and they totally ignore 90% of their toys. Also, it is very important to us to teach our kids to be generous and to not become too caught up in getting more and more stuff. Going through the kids' toys with them every now and then and having them pick out things they want to donate teaches a great lesson about giving to others, not becoming too attached to stuff, and keeping things simple. Besides all that, being selective about toys and activities actually ensures more quality time spent with our children. Sure, we could get some "educational" battery-operated toys that teach various things, but we prefer to teach new concepts by spending time playing with our kids, reading to them, and pointing things out in our daily environment. And before you ask, yes, these kinds of toys can have their place. However, they also can too easily become parent substitutes, relied on to entertain and educate kids so parents don't have to. Because of this, we want to be very intentional about what toys we choose and why we're choosing them.

Recently, we've been working on simplifying our kids' toys. My next post will go into more detail about decluttering, organizing, and the types of toys we do prefer and why.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Money Post

I was all set to write a post about how money can be so intoxicating to many people when I realized that if I was being honest, I would just write about myself. It’s easy to hide behind people in general, and some of what I say may be true of people in general—but I know it’s true of me, so I’m going to focus on my own issues for a minute. Hey, it’s a blog, I think that’s what I’m supposed to do, right?

Money is a very difficult issue for me. I believe in generosity, but I have a hard time living it out when it’s my “hard-earned money” on the line. I fall right into the trap that so many others probably fall into too. I start feeling entitled and I get selfish. Our capitalistic society is often greed-driven, and it constantly reinforces this entitlement mentality. “You deserve this” is the premise of so much of the advertising we see.

It’s a tricky thing because, in our world, we do need some money to pay for necessities. But I’ve learned over the years that money can quickly cloud my vision. Rather than seeing it as a blessing and, out of gratitude, using it to be generous and bless others, it is so very easy to start thinking, “Hey, this is my money. I worked to earn it, and I deserve it after all my hard work, so I’m going to use it on myself and my family.”

I wonder, too, if it becomes hard to depend on God in our society because we have this idea that we can meet our own needs if we just work hard and are responsible with our money. Don’t hear me wrong; I’m not saying we shouldn’t work hard or be responsible with money. I’m saying that maybe the idea of being so self-sufficient is actually detrimental to dependence on God.

Maybe this isn’t a struggle for you. It is for me. I know that it is very easy for me to get into that mentality that we depend on ourselves, and that we’ve worked hard and deserve to use our money on ourselves. Generosity can be very difficult to practice in that mindset. This is one reason I believe so strongly in purposely trying to live a simple life. I fear that if I am not deliberate about simplicity and generosity, I will quickly become enticed by money and possessions.

I believe with all my heart that God wants us to love other people just as much as we love ourselves, and that he wants us to be generous with what he’s blessed us with. Jesus talks about how hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, and I think what I have talked about in this post is exactly why it’s hard. When your vision is clouded by money and you start living according to the world’s kingdom, it is nearly impossible to live according to God’s kingdom because the two simply do not operate in the same way. One is based on greed, prosperity, and comfort, while the other is based on love, generosity, and compassion. Unfortunately, it is so hard in our society sometimes to live a simple, generous life. I wish it wasn't so difficult. I wish I didn't struggle with this, but I do.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Yet Another Reason I Love Babywearing

Since Isaac was born, I've become something of a germophobe. It's funny, people always say that you're less worried about things with your second child than you were with your first, but for me, it's been the exact opposite. When I had Elijah, I was 18 years old and still in that stage where I believed that nothing bad would really happen to me or anyone I loved. I never worried much about him getting hurt or getting sick. With Isaac, though, I'm much more cautious.

With cold and flu season upon us, I'm trying to be mindful of ways to reduce our chances of getting sick. So when I realized that I had to take Isaac with me to the grocery store this morning, I inwardly cringed as I imagined all the germs. The handles of the cart. People touching him. People in general. Sure, I could put him in the seat that's built into the cart, but I was horrified by the thought of him putting his hands all over it, and maybe even chewing on the cart handle (since mouthing things is how babies explore their world, and is especially a favorite pastime of teething babies). I could keep him strapped in his infant carseat and haul him and the seat into the store and perch it precariously on top of my cart while I shopped, but I did learn a very important lesson when Elijah was a baby: carrying around a baby in an infant seat is a pain in the... well, neck, shoulders, arms, and back. That is an error I have been careful not to repeat this time around.

I've been trying out a lovely ring sling that a good friend let me borrow, and this seemed like a wonderful opportunity to use it again. I could keep my baby close to me, where people are less likely to touch him. I could still use both hands to shop. And I wouldn't have to worry about him putting his hands and mouth all over the cart, or deal with carrying around a heavy baby-carseat combination.

So that's just what I did, and it was wonderful. Well, as wonderful as a Walmart trip can be, anyway. I don't understand why more people don't wear their babies. Even if you totally ignore all the benefits babywearing has for the baby (and there are many!), it seems to me that the convenience factor alone would be enough to get people interested.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Rant on the Government and Education- Enjoy!

I was going to post this on Facebook, but I have so much to say about it that I decided to put it here instead. Our President suggests that American children should spend more time in school because kids in other countries do and they're outscoring American kids on math and science tests. I have several problems with this.

For one thing, this is just another effort to make testing more important than it should be. We push and push for higher and higher test scores, completely ignoring the fact that some people simply do not test well, regardless of their knowledge of the subject. Besides that, there is a lot more to learning and knowledge than test performance. To focus so much on test scores is to take a very myopic view indeed.

Not everyone is talented in the same areas; while some people have strengths in science and math, other people have strengths in other areas- language, art, vocational skills, and so on. And that's okay! That's the way it should be. Making the school day longer and pushing even harder for high test scores in a few particular areas risks alienating even further those kids who are talented in areas other than the "chosen" ones. Want a surefire way to make kids even more likely to drop out or hate school? This is a good option, then! A love for learning and an environment that encourages success in areas of skill- these are so important, but we are shoving them aside in pursuit of higher test scores.

Testing aside, I have a serious issue with the logic here. "Everyone else does it, so we should too." I thought we wanted to discourage kids from doing things just because everyone else does. I'm not okay with the lessons being taught here: Test performance is more important than a love for learning, outperforming others is something we must strive for, and we should do what everyone else is doing. Wow, that's actually the exact opposite of what I try to teach my kids! I want my kids to love learning, do the best they can, pursue their areas of interest and talent, and stay true to themselves without worrying what other people are doing or how they compare to them.

And for that matter, even this article states that while kids in other countries do go to school more days out of the year, they actually spend less time in the classroom than American kids do:

"While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it's not true they all spend more time in school.

Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests — Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days)."

Their days are shorter, not longer. So if we must continue to push test scores above everything else, let's consider that the students who are outscoring ours actually spend less hours in school each day.

I am starting to feel very frustrated with how much control the government wants to have over children and families- and how much control so many families are willing to give them! Whose children are they, anyway? After struggling mightily with the decision, I chose to let my oldest go to public school rather than homeschooling. There were personal reasons for that decision, and I am very, very supportive of homeschooling. I still consider it an option, especially if changes like this are made. I already think the school day is too long for our public-schooled kids- seven hours a day. That's just one hour per day short of a full-time job! Did you know that homeschooling families can easily accomplish the same amount of education in half the time each day? I wonder how long it will be before they take that option away (despite the fact that, on average, homeschooled kids score higher on those oh-so-important tests than public school kids)?

Our nation absolutely needs some education reform- but this is not it. This isn't even close.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Trouble With Blogging

As much as I love to write, I've noticed that lately I have been having a hard time blogging. I think there are a few reasons for this (beyond generally being busy, that is).

I think it's human nature to present the most positive side of yourself to others. It makes sense; after all, who wants to put all their failures and worst moments out there for everyone to see? It's hard enough for people to share their struggles with even the people who love them most, much less on a blog that just anyone could read.

Some people, like me, really enjoy writing about their thoughts and the beliefs that are important to them. I especially like to focus on topics like parenting, simple living, and faith, just to name a few. But I find myself wondering if I am going to unknowingly give a false impression of myself. To a person who reads my blog, am I going to look like I have it all figured out and never struggle in certain areas?

The truth is, I do struggle, and I certainly don't have it all together. At this very moment, for example, I feel like I am about to lose my mind. Clark is at work today and is going out with friends later, so we are not going to see him all day. Isaac has been resisting sleep and Elijah is talking my ear off. It's raining again. Yesterday I finished up the last week of a project for my job, which made the last few days long and crazy. I have a ton of stuff to get done around the house, errands to run, commitments to keep, and a lot on my mind that I would just like to sit and think about without anyone or anything disturbing me. I am definitely not the picture of a perfectly patient or gentle parent today.

Sometimes I wonder if my inability to consistently live up to my beliefs and ideals means that I must either be a liar or a hypocrite. The fact is, I am neither. I am human. I struggle. I mess up. Every day. And if I'm being honest, I'll admit that I hate that. I just want to get it right all the time, but no one can do that.

The trouble with blogging is that it's easy to present our ideals, our accomplishments, and our moments of brilliance. It's much harder to let people see failures, frustrations, and setbacks. If we want to be honest about ourselves, though, we have to include both. My failures do not invalidate my beliefs and ideals, and the beliefs and ideals I hold do not prevent me from messing up.

This is why I've had a hard time blogging lately. I want to find the right balance. It seems that a theme of my posts so far- and a theme of my life, really- is trying to find balance. Going to extremes comes easily to me, but balance does not.

It's not going to be easy to hit "publish post" when I'm done with this. I'm going to second-guess myself: should I have really said all of that? Does anyone even care about what I'm writing in the first place? Maybe I should just keep these kinds of thoughts off the blog.

Here goes.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Puzzle Pieces

There's a lot of random stuff on my mind that I need to get out...

Over the weekend, I learned that while I love the mountains, I think I prefer their beauty from a distance rather than driving through them. I feel so claustrophobic (not to mention carsick) when traveling through the mountains in a car. Give me wide open spaces, please.

I also learned that while I like the idea of big cities, I don't think I want to live right in the city. Visiting is great, though. I could probably get used to a big city over time.

I have a really screwed-up view of what I'm realistically capable of. On one hand, I tend to expect more of myself than I can actually accomplish while remaining sane. But on the other hand, I don't believe in my abilities very much. Again with the "all or nothing" aspect of my personality.

More and more I'm realizing that this is my only shot at life, and I'm tired of playing it safe. At the same time, I'm scared of taking risks, especially when we have children who depend on us. We have so many dreams and goals, and every last one of them requires taking risks. If we don't, we'll be stagnant forever, making it by just fine but missing out on a lot of excitement. Shouldn't we enjoy what we do? I'm reminded of the quote I loved so much from Wall-E: "I don't want to survive; I want to live."

Everything in this post fits together like a puzzle. I can see it, even if the reader can't. I'll put all the pieces together for you some other time.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Changing Culture and Showing Sensitivity

A big question has been on my mind for weeks now:

How do you change culture while still being sensitive to people within the culture?

This question could be applied to a lot of things, of course, but the specific topic that has brought it to my mind is breastfeeding, particularly breastfeeding in public. After a conversation with a friend a few weeks back, this question has been weighing heavily on my mind.

To fill you in a bit, I need to explain a few things about myself. First of all, I am the type of person who feels like a terrible hypocrite if I believe strongly in something but then do not live it out on a regular basis. To me, it seems pointless to say you believe something if you aren't going to follow through in action.

What happens, though, when your strong beliefs collide?

Here is another important tidbit about me: I believe wholeheartedly in breastfeeding. That is how babies were meant to be fed, and I see absolutely no reason for a woman to be made to feel like she has to leave the room or hide under a blanket just to feed her baby. I passionately believe that our culture's views of breasts have become sexualized to the point that people in our culture get really uncomfortable (and sometimes even confrontational) when a woman nurses her child publicly- even if she is doing so as discreetly as she can. I could say a lot more about my beliefs on this subject (as the friend I conversed with can attest to, lol), but for now I will leave it at that. The point is, I believe our culture absolutely, unequivocally has it wrong when it comes to breasts and breastfeeding. And I believe strongly in doing my part to change our culture by living what I believe, so for many months now I have nursed my baby in public, as discreetly as possible, but without draping a cover over us or hiding in a nasty bathroom.

However, there is something else I believe in very strongly, and that is sensitivity and love. And if I know that people are uncomfortable, it would be insensitive and unloving of me to knowingly do something that makes them uncomfortable. In our culture, discomfort when confronted with nursing a baby the way I have been is, unfortunately, common.

So, two of my very important beliefs have collided. On one hand, I feel like a hypocrite if I do not live out my strongly held beliefs about nursing babies in our culture. On the other hand, I feel like something even worse than a hypocrite if I make people uncomfortable for the sake of my cause. Love and sensitivity for other people obviously win out over a cause. So I have started using a nursing cover again.

Still, my mind keeps coming back to the question at the beginning of this post. If I truly believe our culture's views of breasts and breastfeeding are terribly skewed and need to be changed- HOW can I help change this aspect of our culture, while still being sensitive to people within our culture? Sensitivity can be such a fine line, because in a way I almost feel as though I am bowing to and accepting our culture's views. Balance is especially hard to find for someone like me, who tends to be all-or-nothing about everything I do.

There are so many areas in which our society's attitude is broken; this isn't the only one. And we are all passionate about changing different things. So I ask you: how do YOU change culture while still being sensitive to people within the culture?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Nursing a Sexually Wounded Culture

I came across this article today and thought it was a good one. It's called "Commentary on the Intersection of Faith, Sex, & Culture"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I'm Back

So basically, what I've done is start a blog and then drop off the face of the earth for a couple weeks. Sorry about that! I just started working from home last week and I'm still getting used to it. It's quite an adjustment!

I actually have several things I want to write about, but none of them fit nicely into this post. So stay tuned. :-)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

May Frighten Small Children

Last week, I was given one of the strangest, most disturbing items I have ever received:

Yes. That is, indeed, a sad, crying clown statue with its hand on its butt. Holding its happy mask in the other hand. I won't even begin to speculate at the implications of this. It is just disturbing. It will be leaving my house very soon.

Friday, August 7, 2009

In Honor of World Breastfeeding Week...

Five Reasons I Love Breastfeeding!

1. It's easy, convenient, and free. No buying formula, no preparing bottles, no washing bottles. I can just feed Isaac whenever and wherever he's hungry. Easy peasy. (Although I totally understand the need for working moms to pump and use bottles; I think it's awesome to do whatever you can to give your baby the benefits of breastmilk!)

2. It's great for mother-baby bonding and attachment. I get a chance to slow down, relax, hold and snuggle with my baby when I nurse him. It's such an amazing feeling. <3

3. Breastmilk is seriously awesome. It changes based on your baby's needs (throughout the feeding, and also as they get older) and it boosts their immunity since babies don't come equipped with strong immune systems.

4. Breastfeeding burns calories. True story: I gained 28 pounds while I was pregnant with Isaac; he's now 8 1/2 months old and I've lost all those 28 pounds AND another 24 pounds besides that. Yes, folks, I've lost over 50 pounds (which I definitely needed to lose), mostly thanks to breastfeeding. :-)

5. Breastfeeding is nature's design. Breasts were made to nourish babies, and babies were designed to grow and thrive on their moms' milk. There's a reason, I think, that breastfeeding is amazingly simple, great for the mother-baby attachment, perfectly suited to each individual baby, and so good for the mother's health: it's not a fluke, it's God's design. :-)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Great-Grandmother's Perspective

We had lunch with my grandmother and great-grandmother today.

When I was pregnant with Isaac, as soon as my great-grandmother found out I was planning a homebirth, she was excited for me and would tell me every time she saw me about how she had all her babies at home. She was so encouraging, and kept telling me positive things even when my grandmother (her daughter) was sitting right there shaking her head and musing at how "brave" I was for not having my baby in the hospital. (As a sidenote, my grandmother made this comment again today, and I told her that after all the research I had done on hospital birth and homebirth, I think it would have taken more courage on my part to have had my baby in the hospital. It's true, too.)

Since Isaac has been born, every time I see my great-grandmother she talks about how wonderful breastfeeding is for the baby and the mom, and how it helps them bond. Today when I mentioned that Isaac sleeps in our bed, she told me that all her kids slept in her bed until they were weaned, and encouraged me not to be in a hurry to wean (I'm not in any hurry, but it was still nice to hear, especially when so many people look at me like I have three heads if I mention that we'll wean when Isaac is ready, and not at a set time).

It was truly encouraging and refreshing to talk with someone who is so supportive of the choices we've made, and to hear about her experiences with her own babies. It makes me laugh a little when people act as though homebirth, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping are these new, weird ideas, when in fact, these things have been the norm throughout much of history (rather than hospitals, formula, bottles, and cribs).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Not Ordinary

I should probably get something out in the open before we get started on this blog. Some of you already know this, some probably have your suspicions, and others may not yet know me well enough to have noticed.

I'm a little... different.

There are things I do and believe in that wouldn't be considered normal by the mainstream's standards. I do these things not for the sake of being different, but because I deeply believe in them. I'll be writing about them plenty on this blog in the future, so I won't list them here.

Sometimes I get lonely. When you do things differently from the mainstream, it's easy to feel like people don't really understand you. In some cases, not only do people not understand, they may stare, talk about you behind your back, or even make hostile or derisive comments to your face. You may be written off as silly, rebellious, or eccentric.

This morning I read this on the Stuff Christians Like blog, and it encouraged me:

"...only ordinary things ever get full consensus from people. Doing something extraordinary should never make complete sense to everyone in your life. People will always support photocopies of what's always been done, but if you start something new, something different, you should expect resistance."

I needed that reminder. It's okay that not everyone gets me, because that's what happens when you don't do things the "ordinary" way. If everyone understood and agreed with me, chances are I would be doing the same old things that everyone else does. And I know, from looking at our broken world, that I don't want to be doing the same old things.

So here's to those of us who refuse to swim with the mainstream when we see that the mainstream is going in a direction we do not want to go. Here's to those of us who, in the face of resistance, hold on to what we believe. Let us not give in to the temptation to become prideful, or to think we are better than others because of the choices we make, or to judge others who don't agree with us. Let's keep doing what we believe in without judging and without fearing judgment. Let's remember that we don't want to merely be different, but to make a difference. We are not silly, rebellious, or eccentric. We are doing extraordinary things.

The Beginning

Welcome to our blog.

Clark and I have talked about starting a shared blog for a while now, to write about things that are important to us individually and as a family. Life, faith, marriage, parenting, community... it's all a journey. I hope to update frequently, so check back soon or add us to your reader. :)