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Friday, August 31, 2012

Today's Zombie Apocolypse

This concept 30 years ago would have impacted people like a meteor.  Today, there's a trance-like Stepford Wives sort of acceptance of being connected to the network.  We do it without even thinking about it.  Shouldn't we at least THINK about it?

30 years ago we were all concerned with how straight the part was in our hair, and mostly no one ever saw it.  Today, parts aren't so important... and everyone sees them.  It used to be rude to interrupt someone when they were talking to you... now, we say, "Wait a minute" in the middle of someone's sentence and answer a conversation taking place via text message.

We wish 50 people a happy birthday via Facebook, but don't make personal phone calls to many of our closest relatives on their birthdays.  I used to call my grandmother every other week at the minimum. Does anyone do that anymore?  I knew her phone number when I was 6 years old... I used to call her before my mom woke up on Saturday mornings. At family holidays we played with our cousins - actually interacting with them (sometimes fighting with them) - now there's a video screen they stare at.

We think we're so connected.  Remembering how different it was for me as a child, makes me sad for the "feeling" of being a child that today's children will never experience... the outdoor play, the imagination we used in building forts and matchbox car layouts from whatever we found on the ground... twigs, leaves, a rock that we scraped the roads into the dirt with.  Now someone in China makes those things, with colorful plastic and stickers all over it.  The reason it's so dangerous for kids to play outside is because there are so few of them out there.. so few of their parents sitting on the porch having a glass of iced tea and keeping an eye on the neighborhood... the shades are drawn so you can see the TV - nothing happens "outside the box."

What personal relationship aspects of your childhood do you see missing today?  

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sometimes It's OK to Quit... Maybe Even a God-Thing!

I was in a small group for almost 2 years. A lovely group of women and we learned so much. And then, something that seemed to go wrong went right. We were using the study “Cultivating a Life of Character” by Elizabeth George.

How It Began

We were studying Deborah, the prophetess from Judges 4 & 5.  Mrs. George noted that we, as women, probably wouldn't be used by God in the same way Deborah was.  Deborah saved a nation, after all.  I had no issue with that.  She then referred to 1 Timothy 5:9-10 and Titus 2:3-5 and said, "Do you think leading a nation is more important than loving a family? Do you think watching over God's people is more important than watching over your own family and home?" (p. 34)  

Guilt, responsibility, duty, reproach, stifling expectations.  These were my gut reactions to her questions designed to elicit a specific "right" answer.  But, if you put it that way, I don't think Deborah would've dared to do either - lead a nation or watch over God's people.  Sadly, too many Christian women have made that leap of connection - God will never call you to do anything beyond home and family.  God may ask you to sacrifice in order for your husband and children to follow God, but he will never ask you to do something that would require a sacrifice from them. 

The Escalation

After Deborah, we studied Gideon. (Judges 6:1-40)

Your call - Gideon was called to be a judge and a warrior. As women after God's own heart, you and I possess a calling from God, too. And it's a high calling Read Titus 2:3-5 now and write out what your high calling from God is. And don't worry so much about whether you are married or single. Just look for the roles and character qualities that God calls us to.”  (Cultivating a Life of Character, E. George, p. 45)

Titus 2:3-5 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored.

As I struggled with this paragraph in our group, my wise Bible study friends gave me some of their thoughts.

“It just seems like something else is going on here, that you're struggling with something.”
“Maybe you haven't gotten over something in your past and you need to deal with that.”
“You have daughters that you hope to impact, you have to sort this out.”

I was angry. I felt oppressed, rebellious, silenced and struggling to be understood - not by God, because I knew we were good - but by Christian women. But how could my lovely friends understand when I didn't understand myself. I took some time off from the study. I wasn't getting anything out of it at that point and I was disrupting the flow for everyone else.

Something was going on in response to this subject. I was raw and angry. Gideon was called to be a judge and warrior – none of which are mentioned in the Titus verses concerning men, yet the calling of every woman was being neatly buttoned up in appropriate outward behavior.. don't be a drunk, don't gossip, keep your house clean, love your family and teach other women to love theirs. That's it?! It doesn't even mention a relationship with God. 

I was angry with myself.  I was angry because what God called me to use and develop for over 20 years, I'd believed was a selfish distraction.

Relevant Today?

I know everyone has either heard or expressed this sentiment, “This part of the Bible is only relevant to the cultural setting of 'back then'. It doesn't apply the same way today.” I've never said that, but I am today. These particular verses were written at a time when I couldn't be dressed in clothes I didn't sew myself, while the washing machine washes my dirty clothes utilizing that handy indoor plumbing, the dryer dries our bedding, the dishwasher is doing its job, a loaf of purchased bread sits on the counter waiting for the roast, which cooks unattended in my self cleaning, temperature controlled oven. My backache isn't slowing me down because I took a couple Advil with breakfast - a bowl of cereal I simply poured from a box and topped with milk safely preserved for days in my fridge and a cup of coffee that took just a couple minutes to make.  In most cases it no longer takes ALL day to care for a home and family, though you may find yourself at a stage where it actually does... I said most cases, not all.

For some of us, these verses have actually kept us from our high calling. We've numbed the nagging sensation of something missing in our lives with exhausting part time jobs, excessively cleaning our homes, continually looking for needs to fill for our family members, taking up meaningless hobbies, scrolling Facebook, playing Angry Birds and watching reality TV. We've ignored deep desires that God gave us for years, believing they were our failure to be content in this “high calling.”

A New Place

And God pushed me out of the nest... out of this small group, which I did not wish to leave.  There was something going on, something God was dealing with me about, something I needed to get a grip on – just as those wise women said. He was about to open up a study that would impact my life like a freight train hitting a grocery cart.

One day my sister said to me, "Sometimes you feel pain or discomfort because it's the only way God can get you to MOVE!" God was saying something that I needed to hear... but I had to move to the place He was saying it.  A place where He was providing the direction I needed to move to the next place in our relationship.

We're all parts of the same body, but we're not the same part. We're all on a road trip with God, and it has similar checkpoints for all of us, the biochemist as well as the foster mom, the architect and the blog writer, the bakery owner and the grandmother raising a second generation. We're not all at the same checkpoint today.

Where are you in this road trip? 
  • Building my relationship with God
  • Wondering... Who am I?
  • This is my passion but what do I do with it?
  • I'm picking up momentum!
  • Living it daily!
  • Transitioning to something new
  • or are you in a stage of consulting, mentoring and advising?

Share this post and leave a comment telling about your road trip. Give a description of the scenery where you are right now, and tell me where you've come from.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Since You Aren't Doing Anything Important...

“Since you're home all day, could you...?” “You don't have kids holding you back, so you can do whatever you want, can you....?” “Well, I knew you'd be off today so, can you...?” “They always say busy people get things done, so I thought I'd call you – you're one of the busiest people I know...”

I started a computer services business in 1993, working from home. I had unrealistic expectations of what working from home entails.

Fantasy #1. Wake up, have a relaxing coffee, make breakfast. Get my work done. Go to the bank and deposit the amount of money that covers 150% of my household needs and wants. Have lunch with a friend or my mother. Buy some office supplies. Straighten up the already tidy house. (Pffft!!!) Cook a nice dinner and relax for the evening.

Fantasy #2. The entire family works together on keeping the house up. My work day is 8-4 with regularly scheduled breaks where I would smile at my family members who are all doing their own thing quietly in some other area of the house during my work hours.

The Work At Home Reality – You want to work from home for the freedom it will give you! Your children, regardless of age, are unable to quietly do anything – pour a bowl of cereal, find their socks, dress themselves, pick up the remote control, locate the milk. The amount of errands that need done has multiplied, since you're home. A friend calls you at 10:30 in the midst of a bawling meltdown because she's maybe getting a divorce and everyone else is “at work”.. and she knew you'd be home. A relative and another friend also call daily during your work hours and just have to tell you "one thing" before they'll let you hang up... one very long, emotionally exhausting thing. Your mother wants to go to lunch once a week, because you need a break honey! You spend Tuesday morning at the pediatrician with a child exhibiting signs of strep throat, then pick up the prescription and special foods and spend the rest of the day running to their assistance because apparently the strep has disabled their legs and they can't reach the remote control, a glass of juice, a blanket, a pillow, their stuffed animal or a new roll of toilet paper. At 3 o'clock you vow to at least return phone calls from your business voice mail. At 3:30 the rest of the crew gets home and bursts into your office. You hold the phone to your left ear and wave frantically with your right hand to shush them. They ignore you and continue yelling their news to you through the closet door where you finally retreat – plugging one ear with a finger and getting into the corner farthest from the door. Your potential customer thinks you're an amateur. A lonely client keeps you on the phone for almost an hour while your family eats dinner without you.  You want to go back to work to escape.  Everyone thinks you are "living the dream!"

People didn't respect my boundaries, because I had none. I felt compelled to juggle it all. After all, I wanted to work for myself so I could be there for the important things. I just had no idea there would be so many!

After a day in my “reality”, I wasn't creative enough or energetic enough to market, run and grow my business. I worked into the evenings, but it wasn't my best work. I was angry, frustrated, exhausted. I wanted to “get it done” with the least amount of personal investment necessary because I was tapped out. I no longer had the ability to say no without a reason, or justification that would be “acceptable.” I felt that way for years after the business closed. It had a numbing effect. I expected myself to do MORE with less... always. 

If you won't prioritize and control how you spent my time, others will. You'll feel powerless and resentful. I wasn't my own boss... I had 4-8 bosses spending my time and energy between them. 

Years passed and this Superwoman role became a part of my identity. So had the stress of feeling out of control and on call for emergencies both real and imagined. Some days it became an effort to breathe.

After a panic attack that felt more like a heart attack, I promised my husband things would change. For a time, I avoided people since I didn't know how to say no. I'd led everyone to believe I'd always “be there” for them. I started to say no to everything, but I felt I needed an excuse to say no. 

I knew I had to find the power to make my own decisions. I stepped out of the hub of this wheel and tried to connect all those people to one another – encouraging them to lean on each other for a little while.

Eventually most people forgave me for this, but some have had hurt feelings. They've felt abandoned and unloved. They felt “pushed off” on other people. I said no to almost everything – going from one extreme to another as they saw it. 

It took several years before I could say yes or no honestly. Changing direction was hard, but it was way past time for me to grow up and act like an adult in my own life. Not carrying the weight of the world has reminded me that only God can be God in the lives of others. When people are not able to comfort us, God comforts us best and helps us to change.

How can you know who you are if your entire life is lived at the will of the people around you? If you've not made the decisions for the direction your life would take? If you deny the things that would be “best” in order to serve the things that are only “good?” If you've never taken the time to identify them for yourself? 

For one week - take 15 minutes each day to sit quietly with pen and paper. Ask yourself and God – Am I saying “yes” when I should say “no”? If I said “no” to those things... what things would I be free to say “yes” to? Come back and share your “best” list with us!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Horror and Humor of Children's Church Music

This morning, I read this post – Singing with Gusto about Death and Destruction. Amy Young reflects on childhood memories of the song “I Wish We'd All Been Ready” and the feeling that it may not have been age appropriate worship music. Ahh, the 70's.

I remember this song. We had some interesting music at that time. It was the decade of such pop favorites as "Seasons in the Sun," "Billy Don't be a Hero," and "The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia." Seems we were quite the lovers of emotionally gripping music that decade. 

That post and the comments following it brought all sorts of songs to mind from my Sunday mornings in children's church.  Do you remember the song, “I'm in The Lord's Army?” I have to say I've taught it to my grandsons - not necessarily for the message of being in the Lord's "Army," but because they love all the physical movement. What exactly is the message of that song?

Speaking of physical movement, how about that odd song "Father Abraham"... "Father Abraham. had seven sons and... seven sons had father Abraham. and they never laughed and they never cried... all they did was go like this..." followed by lots of flailing arms and legs. I always wondered what was wrong with father Abraham's emotionless kids. 

And one that was my favorite, but I can't remember it all... just bits and pieces which seem unrelated. “The deacon went down, to the cellar to pray, he fell asleep and he stayed all day (repeats all that)... all my sins are washed away I've been redeemed" – in the same song had verses like – “Oh you can't get to heaven in a mini skirt... cause God don't like those girls that flirt”, AND “You can't get to heaven, on a set of skis, you'll ski right through St. Peter's knees.” Other ways to not get to heaven were on a stick of butter, in Batman's car, and on roller skates. 

Isn't it amazing what can get past us when put to catchy music? Really? “God don't like those girls that flirt?” He doesn't LIKE them?  He had no problem with boys, apparently because they had no verse of their own.

Personally, as a little girl, and even a teenager, I thought the songs about lots and lots of blood were a little disgusting. A fountain filled with blood where I'd be “plunged” sounded like a bad prom night for a girl named Carrie! Deep and Wide – same said fountain – I couldn't swim until I was 14! This wasn't really as reassuring as my Sunday School teacher was intending.

The Jewish people did not bathe in the blood of sacrificial animals.  It was a symbolic washing of their sins. Christians sang about it quite literally, even if we didn't plunge our earthly bodies into it. 

We sang songs about little red and black boxes where we'd respectively keep our Savior and the devil... occasionally taking Jesus out for a smooch and the devil out for a stomping! 

Safety could be found, however, in those songs about building your house on the rock - though the rains came down and floods came up and washed away the rest of the neighborhood. Also Noah's “arky” built from hickory “barky” was a good place to be in the rainy season. (A reference to an actual song, not just random “baby talk.”) 

So, what are your favorite childhood songs? And what ones are you seeing in a new light as an adult? 

Monday, August 20, 2012

I Don't Live in a Billboard Picture of a Beach Vacation

I read a story this morning, in a magazine called The Sun. It was about a young woman just before and years after her older sister disappeared at the age of 16. The sister was found, years later, murdered. 

The author expressed the emptiness, regret, horror, fear, suspicion, danger, loss, fragility of relationships – so perfectly to my own imagination it made me cry. This had been my greatest fear. I didn't want to feel this.  
More than 3/4s of my life I lived in that fear – what happened in this fictional story could truly happen to anyone. My mother was taken from me in my fearful, terrorized imagination many times as a child. But not in reality. My life has been filled with fear of the tragic taking someone from me. My mother, my dad, my husband, my little children, my teenaged children, my adult children, my grandchildren, my pets. 

Writing requires honesty, if you desire to share something meaningful. In the past, however, I haven't handled visits to my painful memories very well.  I thought perhaps I should avoid all thoughts of them. But, it isn't honest to share a picture of joy and spiritual freedom with no context. So, those painful fears are relevant. They are part of the story, the “before” picture, truth. If I refuse to “go there”, to recall what I've been delivered from... what I share will be as superficial and shallow as a billboard picture of a beach vacation. 

For many years, I believed that my fears and pain had to be someone's “fault.” Someone was responsible, if not for a direct action then for failing to take preventative measures. Blame was a close friend to me for decades. It was assigned to whoever was deemed the “root” of the pain I was experiencing. But, no one was truly able to insulate me from every discomfort. 

Most times, the people I held accountable were doing the best they could, with no desire to harm.  They had no control of the neuroses that could grow from nursing a tiny injury that I didn't seek to heal. Sometimes the smallest event can spread like a crazed fracture in a plate of glass tapped not so very hard but under just the right set of circumstances. 

Blame pours its inky black stain all over your images of that person. You cover them so thoroughly that their image no longer bears the truth. Nothing is able to shine through the opaque covering of a handful of actions or decisions amidst millions of intentions, actions and decisions that reveal the true character and identity of the ones you blame. 

So, while I must “go there” and remember where I began, that pot of ink is a boundary. I have no business opening it and no right to pour it over another. Yes, it hurt. But mine is not a life of stagnant victimization. It's a life of movement and growth, gaining strength and wisdom... which one cannot do if she covers every flawed human being in her history with the opaque black ink of blame. We are all flawed. Our decisions and actions may tap on another's pane of glass. Some of these are our children. If we teach them to blame, we help them to spill the ink, grow their fears, hide from wisdom and live at the mercy of the brokenness. 

We aren't whitewashing anything, just recognizing that the painful truths aren't the entire truth. Don't let your story end with ink stained hands, ink covered relatives, and bitterness and injury haunting you like wraiths. It isn't what God intended for you.

Monday, August 13, 2012

It Takes A Lot Of Preparation To Camp At This Age

We took 2 of our grandchildren camping last week. My husband was on vacation and we'd been planning this for months. It too one postponement and two tries to get it done. The postponement was because Declan was still recovering from the flu. We could have set up camp that day – mowing, prepping, setting the tent, finding out the mountain pie cooker we bought was structurally deficient for my husband's cooking methods. But, my husband was on vacation and we painted the office and played video games instead. 

So, on the day of our first attempt at camping, my husband mowed the clearing and I picked up groceries and the grandsons. The boys swam the afternoon away, struggling to remember the temporary “no splashing Granny's new patio and the men working on it” rule. 

With the truck loaded up with the big stuff of camping – chairs, tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses, coolers, etc., the boys set off for the clearing and unloaded. The fire was fed, the tent came out of its box for the first time, air mattresses were filled, sleeping bag zippers were fought with, and flashlights were distributed to all. 

The sentence, “Don't do that to your brother” covered a myriad of activities of the 5 & 7 year old siblings. It was followed with:
  • “Don't shine your flashlight in Granny's eyes.”
  • "There isn't any electric over here for video games."
  • "No, we're not going to have a tornado."
  • “Put that flaming stick back in the fire.” 
  • “Why are you in Granddad’s truck?” 
  • “Keep your shoes outside the tent.” 
  • "Don't go in the tent with your shoes on.” 
  • “Take your shoes off first.” 
  • and “Yes you can have another cookie.”

At 7:50 I turned to my husband (with a queen sized, half inflated air mattress draped over my head at the front of his truck where the air pump was being powered by the battery) and said, “They want to go swimming. It's really hot out here. Let's order from the pizza shop, let them swim and if they suggest it... let's sleep in the house. I want air conditioning.”

“What about the mountain pies, the smores, the campfire?” 

“We can do it another night. I'm too tired to camp.” 

So... that's what we did. A couple nights later, after a threat of thunderstorms had passed and good weather was a sure thing, we camped. The boys and I were tired by 10:30. I told them stories of all the things we didn't have when I was a girl. The list and the memories made me feel as though my life started in the dark ages, but Drake was fascinated. He proudly carried the stories from one grandparent to the other, revealing that he knew all sorts of new secret information about these seemingly benign grandparents. 

 A short while later, Drake was out of the tent and chatting with Granddad at the campfire again. His brother followed but was back in his sleeping bag minutes later. I listened as they talked about dance moves. Knowing the uncontainable wiggly nature of my grandson and the unrestrained fun my husband expresses to music, I smiled at what was going on out at that campfire – just 500 feet from our house... where “normal” visits over years had not given a tenth in relationship building as these few days had.