Sunday, June 27, 2010

Just As They Are

One of the things I love most about our church’s recent transition to meeting in homes is the presence of children. There is something so beautiful and natural about having everyone gathered together, from the youngest to the oldest. Worship was beautiful today; it brought tears to my eyes to hear everyone singing together to just the music of a guitar, and to hear the smaller children making noise too, and to hold my youngest son close while I sang. I think there’s so much good to be said for children experiencing worship and hearing adults talk about and praise God. No, children are not always quiet, and as a mom I do feel a little embarrassed when it’s my kid making noise—but at the same time, children are part of life and I love seeing them accepted into the community just as they are. It’s a picture of life, love, family, worship and discipleship. Beautiful.

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. –Luke 18:15-17

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


When I was a child, my dad worked third shift in a factory that made brakes. It was hard physical labor, but the money was good and he was able to provide for our family. During the summertime, he often got an extra night off each week, and Thursday nights became ours. I was a night owl just like him, so on Thursday nights after everyone else was settled in for the night, we would go out.

At the time-- I was probably around ten years old-- we had an old Volkswagen Beetle, white with a black convertible top. My dad would start it up (the engine sounded so loud against the silence of the night) and we'd drive. Back then, he considered it nearly a crime to have to pay over a dollar for a gallon of gas, and both the sales tax and the gas prices were cheaper in Georgia. So we'd go to Georgia to fill up the gas tank and bring back a full gas can or two for the other vehicles. Sometimes we'd go to Dalton, and sometimes to Fort Oglethorpe, and while we were there we'd stop at Walmart. We'd look around at stuff we were interested in, taking care to spend extra time in the books and magazines because it was one of our favorite sections, and we always bought a roll of Sweet Tarts as we were leaving the store. They were mostly for me, although I would give him the orange ones because I didn't like them, and sometimes the yellow ones too. They had recently introduced the blue Sweet Tart, and to this day if I taste one I immediately feel like I am back in that Volkswagen with my dad, driving through the night with the wind blowing through my hair.

My dad and I were close throughout my childhood. We had (and still have) similar personalities and senses of humor. Certainly we clashed sometimes; I was always very stubborn and persistent about what I wanted, and often he would say no for one reason or another, so I would do everything in my power to argue, bargain, and convince him to change his mind. (I was rarely successful, although he would smile and say that I'd make a great lawyer one day.) But we had so many good times together and countless wonderful memories. I'm grateful that I had a father who understood the importance of connecting with his children and who set aside time to spend with us one-on-one (and who is now committed to spending time with his grandchildren as well).

Fathers are so important-- yet many, many children are growing up without them. Thankfully, there are people and organizations out there who realize how significant it is for children to have a positive male influence in their lives, and they're doing what they can to be sure that fatherless children have mentors. The Mentoring Project is one such organization; they provide mentors for boys between the ages of seven and fourteen. This weekend, people from our church are coming together to hold a garage sale to raise money for The Mentoring Project. If you are in the area, I hope you'll come check it out. This is for such a good cause.

Sappy But True

Recently a few friends and I had a conversation about weddings and how something always goes wrong. After giving a couple examples of things that had gone wrong with our wedding, I made the statement that, actually, the only thing that turned out right about my wedding was the husband I ended up with. Of course, such a sappy statement was met with groans-- and I agree, it was sappy, but it was also pretty true.

Our wedding was in turns a comedy of errors and a tragedy. When you're seventeen years old and still in high school, and you're getting married two weeks after you got a positive pregnancy test, the ideas you had about your dream wedding kind of go out the window. I had no engagement ring, and our wedding rings were cheap yellow gold (we replaced them with something more our style a few years later). It was not the beach wedding I had dreamed of; we were at least going to have it outdoors at a local park, but it was moved to my parents' church at the last minute because it was a cold, rainy December day. Despite the fact that this was the church I grew up attending, it was the last place I would've chosen to get married. With very little time to find a dress, I went shopping with my two closest friends and decided on a very pretty dress that I loved and that fit me well-- but it was navy blue, not white. I decided that was fine with me because I was okay with not being "traditional," but looking back, I do wish I'd chosen something that looked more like a wedding dress and less like a dress you'd wear to a high school Christmas dance.

The ceremony itself also included mishaps, some comical and some heartwrenching. Our music, which was on a cassette tape, loudly screeched to a halt when Clark walked out, so my dad and I came up the aisle without music. The tape began working again when we reached the front of the church, and no one knew what to do at that point, so we let it continue to play while we all stood there trying (and failing) to keep straight faces. In the video, you can see me snickering, then becoming serious again, then looking at my best friend and snickering some more. The pastor who did the wedding used the oldest and most traditional vows possible; they included the term, "and thereto I plight thee my troth." (I did request to have that changed at the rehearsal because I had no idea what it meant, and I sure as heck wasn't making a vow I couldn't even comprehend). To wrap it up, our parents had thought it would be nice to surprise us with a special song, so Clark's stepmom got a guy she knew to play his guitar and sing. It was a lovely thought, except for one minor detail-- the song she chose was Creed's "With Arms Wide Open." If you're not familiar with the song, it's about a guy finding out he's about to become a father. We stood at the front of the church awkwardly throughout the entire song, and I cried, trying to pretend it was because I was so happy and not because I was so mortified. (Eventually I did ask her why she chose that song. She'd had no idea what it was about; she just chose it because she knew we liked it. Oops!)

I do have a few good things to say, though. My mom and grandmother worked hard to put the wedding together and decorate the church despite their shock at the situation and the short amount of time we had to plan it. The church was filled with our friends and family members. My best friend was my maid of honor. And our friends put together a lovely reception for us. So no, it really wasn't ALL bad. :-) Still, I'm glad that the wedding was no indication of how our marriage would go. Eight and a half years later, we've worked through some difficult stuff, we've grown in so many ways (individually and as a couple), and I couldn't ask for a better person to spend my life with. The wedding may not have gone the way I would've wanted, but I am so blessed to have my husband.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thoughts on Strollers and Slings

Just so we're on the same page here, I do have and occasionally use a stroller. But I still think this cartoon is funny. Slings are no more complicated than strollers; they're just less common in our culture.

I do like our stroller for certain things-- for example, going for a walk on a hot day. Maybe I'm a big wimp, but when it's 90+ degrees outside with insane humidity, I barely want to walk outdoors even without another human being strapped to my body. ;-) I also use our stroller when I'm shopping for clothes because, for me, that's just easier than moving my child in and out of the sling each time I try on clothes.

But overall, when it comes to convenience, I'll just be honest with you... our ring sling wins. It fits easily in my purse along with my other stuff; the stroller takes up the entire back of the van and leaves no room for anything else unless I lay the back seats down. Obviously, safety is a good thing, but the stroller has all sorts of safety features that significantly increase the complication factor; for example, the only way to get our stroller open is to simultaneously hold down a button, twist a thing on the handle, and pull the stroller open. The strap buckles in three different places. The sling, on the other hand: put it on, put the kid in, and adjust the tightness as needed.

Besides the convenience factor, I'm also just not a big fan of using things like bouncy seats, swings, strollers, cribs, pack & plays, and carseats (out of the car) more often than necessary. Don't misunderstand me; I definitely think those things can have their place and can be useful from time to time (and I have made use of them all at one time or another), but I also think it's really easy to over-rely on them to the point of constantly moving the baby from one baby-holding contraption to the next without spending very much time holding the baby in arms, and this can promote parent-child detachment. Slings keep the baby with the parent, where babies are most content, keep the parents' hands free to do other things they need to do, and promote attachment. Neat!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Children and Sin

Usually I'd back away quickly if a book I was reading started talking about children and sin. Most of the "beat it out of them" parenting methods seem to originate with the idea that children misbehave because they're sinful, and I honestly believe that young children misbehave because of immaturity and where they are developmentally. They still have so much to learn, they're curious, and they have very little impulse control and very short attention spans. Young children need patient guidance and understanding of where they are developmentally, not harsh punishment based on the notion that they are sinful little creatures who need to have the sinful impulses driven out of them.

But tonight, as I was reading Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott, I came across the following sentence in a chapter about her teenage son: "It turns out that all kids have this one tiny inbred glitch: they have their own sin, their own stains, their own will... all of them are wrecked, just like the rest of us." Out of context, or if you aren't familiar with Anne Lamott's writing style, that still may sound a little out there to you. But please bear with me for just a moment, because it got me thinking about something that I think may be really important.

I still think that young children disobey or mess up because of developmental abilities and immaturity. But it's also obvious that sometime between those early years and adulthood, people do develop certain areas where they struggle. I'm not sure when that starts happening, but it does.

Our job as parents is not to try to drive sin out of our children somehow (an impossible task anyway because no matter how old people get, they will never be completely rid of sin), but instead our job is to teach our children what to do when they struggle with it. We can teach them how to recognize areas of weakness in their own lives, and how to make amends when they mess up, and how to look to God for help, and how to do their best and still accept God's grace and forgiveness when they miss the mark. And we can't teach all of this just by telling them; we teach them by living it in front of them daily. They see us struggle with our own sins, and they see us make amends and go to God and accept grace and forgiveness. My oldest child is almost eight, so obviously immaturity is still a factor here, but I do see certain patterns and tendencies in him that I think could be the building blocks of particular struggles he will have in his life. Instead of punishing him for them, I need to help him learn how to deal with those things and also what to do when he does mess up.

I don't know about you, but it makes a huge difference to me to realize that my children are in the same boat as me. They need the same love, grace, and forgiveness along the way that I do. It makes me think of the story in Matthew 18 where a servant owed the king a debt that he could never have repaid, and the king had mercy on him and forgave him the debt-- but then the servant went out and found someone who owed him some money and refused to show him any mercy. The grace and forgiveness and patience that God gives us, we should also give to others, including our children.

I think about all I've gone through, and will go through, in my life-- the habits and temptations and weaknesses and failures, and the lessons I've learned along the way-- and it breaks my heart to realize that my children will have to go through these things too in the context of their own weaknesses and struggles. It's an inevitable part of the human condition; no matter how much I live these things in front of my children, and no matter how much I teach them, I simply cannot spare them from this human journey. They will struggle, they will fail, they will learn about grace and forgiveness in their own relationships with God. I can equip them for their journeys in certain ways, but their unique journeys are theirs to take. I can't do it for them. All I can do is be there to guide them, prepare them, and love them.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Using God

Sometimes people follow God out of fear. And sometimes, we follow because of what we think we'll get from him.

Believe me, I could write plenty about the idea that God will give us material blessings if we follow him. Suffice it to say that I don't think that's how God works, and regardless, it's not a great reason for following him. What kind of relationship is it if we're doing things just so we'll get a reward?

No, I want to talk about something that seems so much more innocuous on the surface, something I do all the time and have only recently realized it.

Many times I've written that we cannot change our own hearts by simply changing our outward actions; God is the one who changes hearts, and then true heart changes are naturally reflected in outward actions. And this may be true-- but I've realized that a lot of times I've been guilty of viewing my relationship with God as a means of self-improvement. And maybe that doesn't even sound like such a big deal, but when you're more or less addicted to perfectionism and self-improvement, it is a big deal.

I see where I am weak, I see where I fail, I see where I want to improve, and all my efforts and striving make very little difference in my heart. And so I see that I need to turn to God and stop trying so hard to be righteous on my own-- and that's true-- but then I simply substitute God as my means of self-improvement. If I can't do it on my own, maybe God will do it for me if I just follow him properly.

Do you see how this is not a great thing? On the outside, it looks perfectly reasonable and it sounds spiritual enough, so what could the problem be? But underneath the surface, it's still the wrong motivation for following God.

I'm not saying that God won't change our hearts; I think he does. I'm saying that this should not be our primary focus in pursuing a relationship with him. Suppose God never changes me in the ways I think he should or the ways I wish he would-- would I still follow him? The truth is, even when God does change our hearts, and even when those changes are reflected in our actions, we still are not going to be perfect in this life, because it isn't possible.

So instead of following God in pursuit of that thing we want to get from the relationship or out of fear of punishment, we are free to follow him out of love. It's that simple and that complicated-- simple because it is just that, no strings attached, and complicated because our humanness is constantly telling us there must be more to it and so we are continually tempted to focus on the wrong things.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My Experiences With Fear

The question about different motivations for following God is a personal one for me. I have spent about ten years moving away from a fear-based motivation for following God, and sometimes I'm still not completely rid of it.

As far as I can tell, my religious upbringing was not too uncommon for my particular area. I remember sitting in church as a young child and hearing our pastor recount time and time again the detailed stories of vivid nightmares he had about hell when he was a teenager. There was the constant reminder that if you died without knowing Jesus, you would "spend eternity in a devil's hell." I can still hear that phrase in my head if I think about it hard enough. At the age of eight, I felt anxious and sick to my stomach about leaving church. I was scared because I'd heard the pastor talk about people who knew they should believe but never took that step, and how they would go to hell if they died. So I thought that because I hadn't said THE prayer yet, but I knew I should, that made me one of those people. What if we got in a car accident when we left church and I died and went to hell? (Another common example used in the sermons I'd heard.) The next Sunday I went to the front of the church to pray.

It's not that I didn't believe in Jesus; I did. And it's not that the people at our church had negative intentions; actually, I believe they had the very best of intentions and were passionately preaching what they believed. But, either way, I ended up following God out of fear of what would happen to me if I didn't.

Starting my relationship with God based on fear had other effects. For years I struggled with feeling like God would punish me or reject me if I wasn't good enough. If I messed up too many times or didn't improve quickly enough, I feared he would punish me somehow. To this day, I still struggle with the deeply rooted fear that if I am not grateful enough or if I don't do things right, God will take away the people or things I love the most. I can't tell you how many times I've had a frustrating day with one of my children, only to lie in bed at night and cry because I'm so scared that God will take them away from me for not appreciating them enough. I know it's not true-- that this isn't how God works-- but that fear is still there in the back of my mind, haunting me at my weakest moments.

Most teens who have grown up with their parents' faith reach a point where they begin to question it all for themselves. This is an important step toward making their beliefs their own rather than simply regurgitating what they've heard all their lives. When I reached that point, though, I was so frustrated with all I had seen and heard that I more or less started over from scratch. Throughout my late teens and early 20s, I reexamined and reassembled my faith, and this time it was truly my own. And one thing I had to work through was whether I should be following God out of fear. As I learned more about God's love and grace, I felt this gentle nudge in my soul that this was it-- this was the point, this was what I hadn't understood before. I mean, I "knew;" I could have talked to you about love and grace, but I didn't really know. In my heart, I didn't get it.

This post has been long enough, so tomorrow I'll talk about the other half of it: following God in hopes of getting certain rewards.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Turn or Burn" Evangelism

Last night, as I was working on a post about my experiences with fear-based religious beliefs, I decided to see if I could find a few pictures to illustrate my point. I ended up on a website that sells tracts and I read through several. The spiritual and emotional manipulation and the theological fallacies in them brought up so many thoughts and feelings that I realized they deserved a post of their own.

The last tract I read was a very recent one, published just this year. A guy asks his pastor about hell, and the pastor fumbles around for an answer and tells the guy that hell isn't real and God is too loving to send people there. At some point after this conversation, the guy is in a car accident; his wife is killed and he is in critical condition. He calls his pastor to the hospital, and here is the scene that follows:

He dies a couple hours later, and the doctor says it was a terrible death.

That's only the first half of the tract. In the second half, the pastor is shaken by this whole scene and he talks to a retired pastor, who tells him, "Billions of souls are down there because no one warned them. And billions more are on their way. Their blood is on our hands." Then the retired pastor asks him if he's ready to face judgment, and reminds him that there's "only one way to avoid hell," so the pastor who didn't believe in hell before has a conversion experience.

There's more to it than that, but I'm going to stop here before my head explodes. I felt sick after reading this. Let's begin by assuming that the Dante-inspired interpretation of hell represented here is accurate; if the guy was "dead in the ambulance" and saw it all, why on earth, in the two hours he was alive again, wouldn't he seriously examine his faith? Why would he use his time to call in the pastor and make accusations that it's the pastor's fault he's going to hell?

That was bad enough. But the scene with the retired pastor really bothered me. The last I checked, people were responsible for their own decisions and beliefs, and our role is not to terrify people into believing in Jesus; our role is to show others the love of God. That's what Jesus did. However, those who embrace the theology in this tract would say that scaring people into believing in Jesus is loving, because they're being saved from hell. But that brings up another point. Is the gospel-- the good news-- about escaping hell or about being able to have a relationship with God? About a year ago, I drove past a church that had "Amazing Grace" in its name-- yet under the church's name, the sign read, "Turn or Burn." Is this actually the point? The last scene of this tract basically implies that without having certain beliefs about hell, you do not really have a relationship with Jesus, and that the real reason for turning to God should be to avoid hell. The pastor believed in God and in what Jesus had done, but since he didn't believe in a particular interpretation of hell, his salvation didn't count? That isn't Jesus' message at all!

Having faith in God's love and forgiveness sounds too simple to be true, but it is true. Why do so many Christians insist on making it more complicated and putting burdens on people that they cannot bear? Why add on guilt trips and emotional manipulation? Why terrify people into believing, and then terrify them into scaring other people so they won't have blood on their hands? Where is the love in that? How is this not highly works-based? How is this a loving, Christlike way of interacting with our fellow human beings?

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." -John 13:34-35

Friday, June 11, 2010

Punishments and Rewards

In my last post, I asked if it matters why we're following God, or if it just matters that we're following him regardless of the reason why. I likened it to my children obeying me; I want them to obey me out of the love and trust in our relationship and not because they're seeking a reward or afraid of being punished.

I want to talk about that a little more. Because children begin forming their understanding of God based on their parents, I think it's important for Christian parents to be aware of what our interactions with our children may be teaching them about God. Believe me, I know that in the short term it can feel awfully tempting to hang rewards and punishments over our children's heads to get them to behave the way we want them to, but is it beneficial to them long-term? Is this how God relates to us? Does he want us to obey him because we're afraid of what he'll do if we disobey? Does he want us to obey him because we're seeking certain blessings? Or does he want us to obey him because of the love and trust in our relationship with him? (More on whether I think God rewards or punishes us based on behavior in another post, but the short answer is: I think he allows us to experience the natural consequences and outcomes of our actions, but that is not the same thing as adding on a punishment or reward.)

Long-term, both in life and in their understanding of God, does it help or hinder our children to tie the value of obedience to obtaining a reward or avoiding punishment? I would submit that at the very least, it's not helpful because it doesn't point them toward an accurate view of how God relates to us and it encourages less-than-great motivations for obedience. Now, obviously we are not God; we are human, and we won't always get it right. God's grace leaves room for our mistakes, but I do think it's a good idea to be cautious about the general parenting and discipline philosophies we embrace. Let's learn about how God responds to us and why he wants us to follow him, and then do our best to intentionally represent this in our interactions with our children.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Does Motivation Matter?

I've had a couple questions on my mind lately.

First, the personal one: Do you follow God out of fear (and I don't mean respect; I mean actual fear of what will happen if you don't), or because you want to receive the blessings that come from following him, or do you follow him out of love? Or is there some other reason?

Second, the theoretical/theological one: Does a person's motivation for following God matter? To put it another way, does God care why we follow him, or does he just want us to follow him regardless of why we do it?

As a parent, I want my children to obey me because of the love and trust in our relationship, not because they are scared of what I'll do to them if they don't or because they want a reward for obedience. I know some may disagree with this and say that even if a child is obeying because of punishments or rewards, at least they're being obedient. So how does that translate to a person's relationship with God, especially in light of the fact that a child's rudimentary concept of God is formed through the parent-child relationship? I think the "why" really matters, and obeying out of fear or in pursuit of a reward isn't what I want for my children-- not in our relationship, and not in their relationship with God either.

But this isn't a post about parenting, per se; that's just an illustration of the bigger point, which is: do the reasons we follow and obey God matter to him, or is the point to just follow?

My gut tells me that the "why" does matter. When we say the "why" isn't important, I think it can open the doors to tactics like terrifying people with fire-and-brimstone messages or convincing people that following God means they'll receive lots of material blessings. But I also think that regardless of motivation, he will meet us where we are. And then, if we are motivated by fear (or anything other than love, really), maybe through the relationship, God's love will change our motivation. I am reminded of 1 John 4:18: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love."

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


In the fourth chapter of Romans, Paul continues the discussion about faith, this time focusing on Abraham. He points out that Abraham was the father of both the circumcised and the uncircumcised because it was his faith, not circumcision or works, that justified Abraham before God. To us today that may sound like a no-brainer; of course we know that the state of a man's foreskin doesn't make him righteous. But during Paul's day, the debate over whether believers must be circumcised was a big deal. This was something the Jewish people had done for a long, long time-- but Paul was pointing out to them that it's not outward appearance or actions that count as righteousness.

The circumcision discussion may not challenge our thinking in the same way it would have challenged Paul's audience, but think about this. Western culture focuses heavily on performance, and there are at least segments of Christian culture that focus on outward appearance and rules. In light of this, I wonder if the message that our works are not what justify us before God is just as hard to wrap our minds around as it was for the Jewish people when Paul told them that circumcision did not equal righteousness?

Near the beginning of the chapter, Paul says, "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." How often do we expect that if we just do what we're supposed to do, God will give us the wages we are due? How often do we believe that if we do the right things or act the right way or give enough, we will deserve to be rewarded by God? But really, we "deserve" no such thing on the merit of our own righteousness. Even our "righteous" works are like filthy rags, and it is by God's grace alone that we can have a relationship with him at all. It's a gift, not a right, not something owed to us in exchange for our good works.

I've heard so much talk about doing certain things in order to receive blessings from God. I would submit that perhaps we should stop worrying about what we can "get" from God, stop worrying so much about our own performance, stop focusing on rewards and rules, and instead simply focus on God. Let's build a relationship with him and allow him to transform our hearts, our desires, our actions, our lives. I'll put it this way: What's the point of giving God our filthy rags in hopes that he'll give us even more filthy rags? It's not about giving stuff to God or doing certain things so he'll bless us; it's about giving ourselves, our hearts, to him, surrendering and allowing him to transform us.

When we reduce our relationship with God to a give-and-take in which we receive our due wages for doing the right things, we are missing the point. This is not a transaction; it is about faith and grace and a transforming relationship with our Creator.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Live in the Sunshine

When I was a teenager, I noticed that there was something about being out in nature that gave me a sense of peace. Being at the ocean especially calmed me; I felt as though my problems were put in perspective by the beauty and enormity of the sea.

I spent many afternoons walking through the woods at local parks, off the main path, breathing in the scent and the peacefulness of the trees, dirt, and creek. I would go to the nearby mountains and imagine what it would have been like to be Lewis and Clark exploring America before all the pavement and power lines, or what it would have been like to be Thoreau, living in the woods. Once, when I was very depressed, my dad insisted that we take a walk; he told me it would help me feel better, and he was right. The sunshine, the breeze, the sky... they were transforming. I remember when I was a child, I would play outside for hours, exploring the nooks and crannies of our backyard and riding my bike as fast as my little legs would pedal, just to feel the wind blowing through my hair, pretending that I was on an important mission.

These memories have come back so vividly as I have begun reading Last Child in the Woods. In our culture with its planned developments, rules of homeowners associations, obsession with indoor entertainment like TV and video games, and parents' fear that their children will be hurt or abducted, children miss out on experiences of nature that were simply a normal way of life for past generations. Nature is good for our minds, bodies, and souls. Spending time in nature brings a sense of calm and peace and can help with depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Exploring nature gives children a variety of sensory experiences and a hands-on familiarity with the environment that cannot be gained through mere book knowledge.

I'm only a few chapters into the book so far, so I'll probably write more about it as I continue to read. But for now, I'm thinking about ways to reconnect with a love for nature, especially in the face of fear (my own fear that my children will be hurt and my son's overwhelming fear of dogs). I want to go fishing, camping, and hiking. I want to explore the woods again and spend time near the water. I want my children to experience the wonder of nature in ways that many modern children do not.

"The cure for anything is salt water-- sweat, tears, or the sea." -Isak Dinesen

"Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, June 4, 2010

Not What My Hands Have Done

In the third chapter of Romans, Paul basically says God is righteous and we're not. Sounds pretty simple, right? But how often do we try to rely on our own righteousness?

The law that was given to the Jews made them very aware when they were missing the mark, and because God has also written his law on our hearts, we too are aware of how incapable we are of righteousness. We all mess up. We can't boast about the things we do and say, because all too often our words and actions reveal just how unrighteous we really are on our own; as Isaiah says, "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags."

It is through faith alone that we enter a relationship with God, and it is through that relationship that God illuminates his law in our hearts. This, in turn, affects our words and actions.

We can't do anything to make ourselves righteous. We can't follow God's law perfectly (whether Torah or what he's written on our hearts). We can't clean ourselves up enough on the outside to transform ourselves on the inside.

But we try. Oh, we try. Sometimes we strive and perform only to fail and berate ourselves for it; at other times we strive and perform and end up looking pretty good on the outside, but on the inside we know something is still not right. Either way, our focus is on our own performance, our own righteousness, and not God. In a culture that is highly individualistic and performance-driven, it is not surprising that so many people struggle with this. It's ingrained in us to focus on ourselves and our own performance rather than on God and his transforming love and grace.

I want to wrap this up with some of the lyrics to a really amazing song by Aaron Keyes. This song brings me to tears whenever I hear it. What a beautiful message.

Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul,
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God.
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.

These guilty hands are raised,
Filthy rags are all I bring,
And I have come to hide beneath your wings.
These holy hands are raised,
Washed in the fountain of your grace,
And now I wear your righteousness.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


I've said before that I think one of the downfalls of blogging is that it's so easy to give people a false impression of yourself by focusing on your brilliant moments and talents and downplaying or entirely ignoring your weaknesses. I try to offer a balance of both on this blog. If you've read my blog for very long at all, you probably know that I have some strong opinions and beliefs about certain things, but that I also tend to doubt myself, hold myself to impossibly high standards, and fear failure.

It will come as no surprise to you, then, that all of these factors are at work right now regarding my decision to homeschool. I believe in homeschooling and that it's going to be a better fit for my son; if I didn't, I wouldn't have made the choice to do it next year.

But alongside my confidence is sheer terror. Can I really do this? Will Elijah learn anything? Can I provide the education he needs? Are we going to fight with each other every day? What if I utterly screw this up? These feelings of fear were exacerbated by the beginning of summer break. Elijah finished up his last day of public school first grade a couple weeks ago, and we're all adjusting to him being home again. I know that may sound odd, but think about it-- he's used to getting up early, being away from home for seven hours a day, and the structure of a school day. He's not used to being home this much, and he's been a bit disappointed by the reality that he's not going to get to do everything he wants to do all of a sudden; he's not allowed to watch TV and play video games all day long, we can't go out for lunch every day like he wishes we could, and so on. It's an adjustment for me and Isaac too as we get used to having Elijah home with us all day again.

I knew not to expect everything to go beautifully during the initial adjustment period; we were all getting used to a different schedule and a different structure to our day. Even so, the first week was especially turbulent, and I found myself wondering many times, "Can I really do this? Can I really homeschool? This is not going all that well, and we're not even homeschooling yet!"

I'm happy to report that things are getting easier now. We're a bit more adjusted, and Elijah's natural inquisitiveness and love for learning are shining through. The other day, as we were running errands in the van, he started asking questions about multiplication, and once he understood the gist of it, he was figuring out simple multiplication problems on his own. He even sat in his room and made himself a "worksheet" of multiplication problems later. Elijah has this love for knowledge that just makes me so proud I could burst. He truly enjoys math and science (just like his dad!), and he's also quite a talented reader with a large vocabulary.

While it's natural to doubt myself sometimes, I'm starting to realize that I don't need to worry so much. Elijah is inquisitive all on his own, and his thirst for more knowledge and understanding will demand that I teach him (and teach him well). Interestingly, most of our educational discussions seem to happen in the van. Perhaps we are van-schoolers rather than homeschoolers. ;-)

Playing while we waited for Clark to get some stuff from the store. Clearly I do not allow my seven year old to drive. ;-)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Mission of Motherhood

In May, I read The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson. I had been looking forward to reading this book for a long time, especially after hearing so many favorable reviews of it.

The Mission of Motherhood focuses on God's design for mothers and the importance of raising children in a Godly way. Sally Clarkson encourages mothers to be there for their children physically and emotionally, to guide and instruct them, to meet their needs, to create family traditions, and to bring their children up with a deep understanding of God. She encourages mothers to manage their homes well, to inspire creativity and generosity in their children, and to seek guidance from God throughout the highs and lows of mothering. She essentially encourages intentional parenting-- committing to a vision of family and parenting and, with God's help, following through-- rather than flying by the seat of your pants or not really having a vision.

Mothering is an exercise in self-sacrifice, and sometimes it is frustrating and exhausting-- but mothering is so important and so rewarding. In the last chapter of the book, Clarkson reflects on the times when she felt burned out and worn down as a mother, the times when she felt like she was inadequate or a failure. At the time she was reflecting on it, her children were at an age where she was seeing her commitment to her vision for motherhood pay off. Right now I find myself in the first category a lot of times, feeling inadequate and wondering what I've gotten myself into. The last chapter was so encouraging to me because it reminded me to stay committed to my vision for motherhood, and above all, to seek God. I can't do this on my own; you'd think I would've realized that by now, but I keep learning that same lesson over and over in different situations.

Overall, I think it was a pretty good book. There were times that I struggled with what was being said, but I think this is partially because of my own issues. You see, I'm a perfectionist and an idealist, and I am guilty of expecting far too much of myself as a woman and a mother and then becoming very critical of myself when I fail to measure up to my too-high standards. This book does not say that all mothers should do things exactly the same and meet particular standards, but my own issues colored my perception and caused me to be too harsh on myself at times while reading this book. I'll go ahead and warn those who have similar struggles: you may have a hard time with this book in some places, not because of what it's saying but because of how you're perceiving it. It's definitely worth taking the time to read, and I hope to get a chance to read it again someday.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


"Do you know what it is to feel the light of love inside you, and all the darkness falls away?" -Dave Matthews Band

In Romans 2, Paul writes that although God gave the law (Torah) to the Jews, he has also written his law on the hearts of those who are not Jews. I love that God has put his law in our hearts. So many people think about the Old Testament law in a negative way-- too strict, impossible to follow perfectly, and not necessary to Christians anyway because of Jesus. I don't entirely agree with that, though. I can think of a few things Jesus said about the law that tell me it is still important-- for example, in Matthew 5 Jesus says that he didn't come to abolish it, but to fulfill it (in other words, live it out fully). At other times Jesus says that things like love for God and your neighbor and treating others the way you would want them to treat you summarize the law and the prophets. So I don't agree that the law is irrelevant post-Jesus. I think it reveals God's heart and desire for his people. There is no longer a need for atonement whenever we do not live it perfectly, though-- Jesus paid this penalty for us, and this gives us the freedom to have a relationship with God and to follow him the best we can while accepting his grace and forgiveness along the way. Paul also points out that it is what is in our hearts that sets us apart for God, not something outward like circumcision. What is important is not what can be physically observed on the outside; God is looking at us inwardly, in our hearts.

Truth be told, I seriously struggle with where my heart is sometimes. I know that I end up straying into places that I should not be, places that are off limits and are not in line with how God desires for me to live. At the beginning of Romans 2, Paul writes, "Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" And that, I think, gets to the root of my struggle. I know that God is forgiving and patient and has given me grace, so I sometimes make the mistake of not taking these issues very seriously when they come up, when in fact they are serious.

See, what happens is I get to a place where I start thinking I'm doing pretty well and I can handle things from here. But then when I start trying to manage things on my own, I slowly drift away from God. God is still there, willing to shine his light into every corner of my heart, but as I drift away, the darkness becomes more and more pronounced, and the light fades into the distance. It is like seeing a very bright light from far away, and it looks like a tiny speck. But then when I realize just how far I've drifted and begin moving closer again, the light becomes bigger and brighter, and as it shines on all these things I've been hiding, I realize they have to go. Bad habits, thought patterns, attitudes, desires-- they are glaringly obvious. It's hard to let go of the things that have become deeply ingrained, but in order to stay in the light, I must. It's like turning on a bright light in a pitch black room; it hurts as I adjust.

And when I get to that point, I realize that I cannot continue to "presume on the riches of his kindness" and ignore these issues in my heart. His law is written there and he is illuminating it for me. His grace means that the penalty has been paid; it does not mean he is permissively looking the other way. It is meant to bring me to repentance. And so as God's love and kindness bring me to repentance, and I move closer to the light, his light fills me and the darkness fades.