Take a Stand

IMG_9591This week in Kentucky we saw it play out one more time. Kim Davis, a county clerk in a small town stood on her conviction that homosexuality violates God’s ideal for marriage and refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples who applied for them. This isn’t a new story. It’s a different version of the same old story about Christians refusing to bake cakes for gay couples and Christians clamoring to post the Ten Commandments in courthouses and Christians claiming religious persecution because people want to replace the greeting “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays.”

This is a special breed of American Christianity that, as I’ve said in earlier posts, teaches us to stand up for what we believe and be aggressive about it. Don’t just sit back and take this “persecution” because the non-believing government no longer has our best interest at heart but instead tries to annihilate our freedom to express our beliefs. Isn’t that what Americans are about? Freedom?

In regard to the Kim Davis situation, I can’t really answer the question of the legality of the decision or whether it is a binding one. I don’t have any knowledge about the law, and, frankly, at this point, I’m not too concerned about that. Here’s what I am concerned about: in all of this taking a stand for our rights and our freedom, we Christians are losing sight of the goal.

Focus on the Goal

From the opening pages of the Old Testament to the closing pages of the New, the Bible teaches us that a savior would and did come for all of us. All people are included in the promises of the Bible. That doesn’t mean that everybody gets a free pass and we can do whatever we want, but the Bible emphasizes over and over and over that those who believe have a responsibility to reach out to those who don’t yet.

Here’s where I think we get caught up. Many Christians get a Sunday school version of the Bible and don’t see the big picture all that well. I have gone to church my whole life, and I remember reading the Bible through from start to finish when I was a teenager and discovering that all of the stories I’d been taught from birth were linked in some way. I mean, I’d heard about Abraham and Moses and Noah and all of these people, but I had only heard the Sunday school version where they were portrayed as separate characters in separate stories. I was absolutely shocked to find out that the characters were all related, and that the Old Testament was basically the story of one huge dysfunctional family! I had a very basic understanding of the Bible until I later went to Bible college and began really studying it as a whole.

Sure, there are lots of stories of people standing up for their faith, and if we learn about the Bible in that Sunday school way we may learn the surface lessons they appear to teach. Daniel refused to pray to the king and instead prayed to God. God rescued him from his punishment, being thrown to the lions. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not bow to the statue of a false god and received a fiery punishment. God also saved them. This must mean we should stand up for our faith and God will save us. Right?

God Includes All People

IMG_6780Throughout the Bible, though, are passages pointing to the inclusion of all nations. In the Old Testament, we see God calling out a group of people, the Israelites, and instructing them on how to separate themselves from the culture around them. This was to set the scene for the entrance of the main character, Jesus, and God instructed the early Israelite people how to remain pure and separate so that they’d be focused on Jesus when he made his entrance. God’s rules for separating from the cultures around them were to protect them from the temptation to stray from him and to show them how impossible it was to keep all the rules and be perfect.

Keep in mind, and this is key: they didn’t have the Holy Spirit yet. Everything they were doing was done on their own power, so they needed to keep as far away from temptation as possible. However, even in those times of separation from the cultures around them, the people were given instructions on how to welcome “outsiders” who wanted to become part of their culture. These outsiders were required to change everything and become like the Hebrews to do so. But God didn’t exclude the non-Israelites from his promise. He repeatedly instructed his people on how to include them, how to welcome them into their midst, and how to treat them well when they were there.

Outward Focus Replaces Inward Focus

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In our current arrangement of the Bible, the last book of the Old Testament is Malachi. The Hebrew scriptures, though, originally placed 2 Chronicles at the end of the Old Testament. This is relevant because of the last passage of 2 Chronicles. In that passage, the Israelites have been captured and taken away to Babylon by the king of Persia. After a long and complicated exile, they are allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem, and, surprisingly enough, the king of Persia even tells them in the very last verse of their scriptures to go back to Jerusalem and build a temple. He encourages the inward focus of the people, basically telling them to go home, regroup, focus inward again.

Read that verse in conjunction with the last words of Jesus in Matthew 28: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus knows something that the Old Testament people didn’t know. He has left his people with help to resist the temptation that the people before them did not have. He has given them the Holy Spirit, and they are now free to mingle with the non-believers. They are actually encouraged to do so. Now that they have the power of the Holy Spirit, they can interact with those who are different from them without requiring that those people completely change everything first. Before he left his people to return to Heaven, Jesus reversed the proclamation of the Old Testament. Instead of focusing inward on themselves and on keeping themselves pure, his followers were instructed to focus outward, to get down in the dirt with the people Jesus loved in order to show that love to them. Now that we have the Holy Spirit living inside us, we can confidently live in the world without the fear that we’re somehow going to be corrupted by them.

Our American Old Testament Jerusalem

IMG_9590So what does this have to do with Kim Davis and gay marriage and Christmas? I think that today’s Christians must fight the urge to believe we live in an American Old Testament Jerusalem. We must give up our fear that we will be corrupted or that somehow our freedom of religion will be taken away. No government can take faith away from us or cause us to sin. The power of God in us is strong enough to keep us faithful. We are living in a time when we can not only accept differences but reach out to those who are different from us.

When we live in an American version of Old Testament Jerusalem, we do things like point out the faults in others while ignoring our own sins. Let’s not forget that Kim Davis has been divorced three times and is on her fourth husband. Or that she’s a woman in a place of leadership and doesn’t the Bible say something about that? As Christians, we can’t hold to an Old Testament view of standing up for our faith or we’ll be forced to put her down for her sins. We can’t pick and choose which sins we accept and which ones we condemn. If we’re living the Old Testament way, it’s all or nothing. But we live under the New Testament, under grace that forgives the Christian who sins by divorcing repeatedly and the grace that welcomes the sinner before he even changes in hope that he will grow closer to Jesus in the process of being cared for by his followers.

All of this “taking a stand” we’re doing? It’s doing nothing to advance the Gospel. Instead, it throws up obstacle after obstacle in the way of those who might believe. We spend so much time focusing on what we’re against, on preaching against it, on pushing our opinions that we forget about what’s truly important. We expect the non-believing world to behave like the believing world, and let’s face it: they are. Because we’re acting an awful lot like them. If we want them to drop their protest signs and stop insisting on their way, maybe we need to do the same. Instead of stubbornly saying, “We won’t budge until they do,” maybe we could decide our faith is strong enough to live with some differences of opinion. As a friend of mine once said, “Love opens the door for truth to walk through.” Open the door with love. Truth will be welcomed then.

Random Thoughts

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Just a few random thoughts at the end of the week:

  1. New beginnings are exciting! School started this week. We have two junior high family members now, and the youngest child is sweetly still in fourth grade. On Tuesday, everyone got dressed in their finest clothes, straightened and spiked hair, and loaded their backpacks. As much as I love sleeping in a little in the summer and having a more relaxed schedule, I also like the routine and predictability of school.
  2. New beginnings are stressful! One boy in our family has gone to bed at 7 or so several times this week. People have had blow ups over tiny, dumb things, and by people have I mean I have. I’m not even in school, and I feel stressed out by it!
  3. Cicadas make way more noise than I’m comfortable with. I’m sitting on the deck in the back yard, and I can hardly think because of those things.
  4. The weather must follow the school calendar. On the very day that school started, the temperature went from don’t-even-look-outside-for-fear-of-radiation-burns to get-back-in-here-and-get-a-jacket. How does it know?!
  5. The feel of the world changes in fall. How strange is that? I was in the car with Alex yesterday around 7 pm and said, “Man! It even looks different now that school started.” The light is different–golden or something. The clouds and sky looked so crisp. How is it that I forget this during other seasons and only remember it when it hits again?
  6. I’m really tired. Overloaded with new routine, getting kids out in the morning and being home on time, an influx of new students around me all day, many of them needing something from my office, and less sleep than normal come together to make Tired Laura.
  7. I guess I break things when I’m tired nowadays. I mean, this hasn’t been a thing for me in the past, but I think I’ve taken up a new hobby of breaking pottery. Yesterday I dropped my fave coffee mug in the morning and broke the handle off, and last night I dropped a coffee mug out of the cabinet. It fell onto a plate on the counter below, and both of them broke.

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My poor Willa Cather mug

Tired Laura probably should end this overgrown Facebook status-y blog post and go make some dinner. Or, you know, break some stuff.

The Choice

cropped-1918-2.jpgIf you’re on social media at all, I’m sure you’re up to your eyeballs in opinions: opinions about racial issues, opinions about abortion, opinions about Donald Trump. I scroll through my newsfeeds and see all sorts of opinions. I grew up in a conservative Christian home, attended a conservative Christian church as a child, and I work in a pretty conservative Christian environment. Among all of the opinions I hear and read on a daily basis, one theme winds itself around through most of them: many American Christians today claim that the government and cultural agents are slowly but surely eroding their freedom of religion.

I hear people say they think they’ll have to compromise their convictions because of laws regarding things like gay marriage and abortion. I hear them wishing that life would go back to the way it was when Christians were the majority and, even when people did not adhere to the Christian faith, they usually outwardly appeared to go along with it. The people I hear talking about this want America to be “a Christian nation again.”

US flagThe Challenge We Face

My husband said something profound about this topic this week. I knew when I married him he was super-smart, smarter than I can dream of being. But sometimes he says something that makes so much sense that I think to myself, “Man! Why didn’t I think of that?!” Then I remember: it’s because he’s super-smart.

We were driving down the street on our way to the library, where super-smarties like him go, and he said, “I think that American Christians are facing a huge challenge, and it’s not what we think it is.” He went on to explain himself by saying that Christians in America are used to feeling like America is a Christian nation. We’ve mixed Christianity and patriotism so well that we can’t tell the difference between what is Christian and what is American. We so badly want the government to uphold traditional Christian values that when the government acts like a secular force and not a Christian element we feel betrayed and angry. The challenge facing Christians in America in the coming years isn’t winning a culture war or standing up for our faith or our freedom.

The challenge facing American Christians is deciding whether to follow American patriotism or Jesus’ teachings. When the American government diverges from biblical teaching, what do we do? Do we rail against the government and demand that it return to biblical principles? That’s what we’ve been doing for the last few decades. We’ve been fighting this “culture war,” arguing and debating until we’re blue in the face, and yet we haven’t turned the tide of secularism in America. We seem to feel that if the American government doesn’t uphold Christian values, those values will no longer continue to exist. However, the government has never been called upon to promote Christian values. From what I read in the New Testament, I see Jesus tells us many times that as believers we will live in a way that is not culturally popular. This is not something to fear but something to expect. Despite the fact that throughout history much of the world has not been Christian, Christianity has continued to thrive.

According to Andrew, “We are facing a series of tests that cause us to choose between a political position and something that actually is a Christian value. For example, it’s legitimate to think that a country has to have reasonable control over its borders and its immigration policy, but when that turns into a blanket rejection of immigrants and we say racist and hateful things about a group of people, we’re choosing nationalism over Christian values. What is revealed in that situation is that our primary allegiance is to our country more than it is to the principles of Christ.”

cross and flagLove Your Enemies

In a political debate, we often express contempt for people who do not agree with us, although they are made in the image of God. The Bible tells us to pray for our leaders, that God would guide them and bless them. Instead we call down curses on our leaders, criticizing them in ways we would never criticize someone for whom we were praying a blessing. When we do this we show that our political party or our nationalism is where our allegiance really lies.

There are Christian principles on each side of any issue. If we see a person on the opposite side of an issue as an enemy, as Christians we should react the way that Jesus told us to and love that enemy. When we gossip about him, turn others against him, work to divide ourselves from him, we show no evidence of the Spirit’s work in our lives.

An Example

Let me give an example of what I’m talking about. The issue of abortion has taken center stage in the last few weeks. As a Christian, I am convinced that abortion is morally wrong. However, I know Christians who campaign fervently against abortion but refuse to accept and help young unwed mothers because they obviously sinned by having sex outside of marriage. These same Christians campaign just as passionately against government assistance, claiming that the people who need it should “just go out and work like the rest of us.” Now, tell me how a young mother who chooses to keep her baby instead of aborting it is supposed to afford to raise that child on her own. My husband and I have eight college degrees between us and two incomes, and we still need financial help from our parents from time to time just to make ends meet for us and our three children. What is the Christian response to abortion laws and welfare laws then? Can we just sit back and spew rhetoric about the precious life of a child while at the same time refuse to support that life once it has entered the world?

Christians today live at a crucial moment in history. We typically hear that statement followed by a stand-up-for-your-faith-by-fighting-against-the-culture kind of statement, but, just as Andrew said, that’s not really the crux of the decision. God is presenting us with a choice these days. Will we as Christian people choose nationalism and patriotism or will we follow his directives and choose Christian values?

All’s Quiet on the Western Front

stormI’m sitting in my dining room, at the table. The kids are in bed asleep. Andrew is in bed asleep. All I can hear is the gurgling of the fish tank, the occasional stirring of the dog in the corner, and my neighbors fighting outside the window. It’s 10 pm this time. The last time it was closer to midnight, and the talk sounded a lot more dangerous. In fact, the last time I’m pretty sure they threw some garbage cans around the yard at each other.

I listen to their voices but can’t really hear much more than the occasional curse word. I listen because I’m curious and because I feel for them. I understand the frustration that brings a person to the point of yelling and not caring who hears. Or yelling and wanting someone else to notice and care. Or even worse, the frustration of just being quiet and either not knowing what to yell or not caring enough to say anything at all.

Iron Sharpens Iron

Relationships are hard, and the ones that matter most tend to bring the most hardship. If I don’t like a coworker, I can avoid the person and keep things superficial. If I don’t like someone who lives in my house, there’s not much I can do but dive in and face the discomfort. I can quote the Bible verse, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:7) until I’m blue in the face, but I can’t ignore the fact that when iron sharpens iron, sometimes sparks fly!

I tell my kids all the time if people live in a house together they will sometimes have conflict. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about each other. It’s conflict that gives us the chance to learn how to face disagreements in ways that don’t hurt others. I tell them when they grow up and have families of their own they will know how to deal with conflict in ways that build up instead of destroy. That’s what I say, but I’m not sure I’m teaching them how to do it. I’m still learning it myself, and I have to admit I’m not all that good at it.

wedding picWhen Andrew and I got married, I knew that God planned us for each other. I felt certain of it. I never was one of those girls who thought there was one person for everyone, and I’m still not. If that were the case, I for sure would have messed up and married Mr. Wrong and then what? Would my whole life have been a mistake from then on? I have always believed that God’s will for me is flexible and fluid and that if I know him I’ll follow him and I’ll look for ways to do what he wants. If I miss some things he’s pointing out to me, he will still use me in other ways.

That being said, though, I knew Andrew was for me almost the moment I met him. Now I thank God for giving me that assurance! Now I can rest in the belief that God put Andrew in my life for a reason. When life gets hard and we get frustrated with each other, I can look back at the time I felt sure God put us together and know that he still wants to use us in each other’s lives.

If I believe this, I trust God will use him to change me into the person He wants me to be. I trust that God will use me to mold him into the person He wants Andrew to be. Even in times when living with another person is hard and I feel frustrated by our differences, I have to admit that when I look back at the people we were when we started this marriage, I like who we are now better. I might think at times that my life would have been easier had I just gone it alone, and I might be right. It almost definitely would have been easier in a lot of ways. However, what would I have become if left to my own devices, without the smoothing influence of my husband? I’m not sure I would have liked that person.

Peace in the War Zone

Let me give an example. One of the struggles we’ve had in our marriage revolves around the way that we talk. I come from a tell-it-like-it-is kind of family. I remember my grandma telling me men can’t read your mind so if you want something you’d better go ahead and just tell them what you want, not to expect that they’ll figure it out on their own. I took that to heart. I saw too many girls hinting, wishing that some guy would figure out they wanted something and then getting disappointed and even angry when the guys didn’t catch the hint. That seemed foolish to me, so I decided I wouldn’t hide how I felt or what I was thinking from my husband.

Andrew’s family is different. They’re waaay more subtle than mine. Their idea of telling-it-like-it is…well, my family would never even know there was any telling going on if they heard it. His family does this out of respect, I think. They don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, so they present themselves more subtly. And guess what. The other family members figure out what they mean without the loud, in-your-face telling that my family does. It works for them.

We were about to have a family conflict over the appropriate way to take the photo.

We were about to have a family conflict over the appropriate way to take the photo.

However, put these two together, and it’s not always so easy. When we were dating, I went home from college with him to visit his family one weekend. On Saturday night, I asked him to wake me up the next morning in time to get ready for church because I didn’t have an alarm clock. The time to get up came and went, and he didn’t even knock on my door. I finally woke up and asked him why he didn’t wake me up. His answer? “I was making noise so you’d hear it and wake up.” To him, this seemed like a perfectly polite method of waking me up. To me, it seemed like he didn’t care enough to make sure I was awake.

These different styles have led to a lot of “interesting” conversations over the years, but early on we both realized the value of being married to someone with a very different style of self-expression. Over the years, I have become less abrasive, more thoughtful in my approach. I’ve learned to think before I talk, to consider people’s feelings and not just blast everyone away with my opinion. I’ve learned that if the tone of my voice sounds angry, it doesn’t matter what I say because he will only hear anger. I’ve learned it’s not up to me to save the world and to point out everyone’s flaws and shortcomings. He’s learned to stand up for himself more, to be more aggressive in conversation. He’s learned to say what he thinks because people might not pick up on the subtle cues. Somehow in the mix of the two of us we’ve both found a decent middle ground that enables us to say what we think without hurting each other much of the time. This has translated into our other relationships at work and with friends as well.

Nothing Worth Doing is Ever All That Easy

The most recent picture of us. We've changed just a little from how we looked in that wedding photo!

The most recent picture of us. We’ve changed just a little from how we looked in that wedding photo!

In that case, iron has sharpened iron, but, oh my, that sharpening process has been long and difficult, and it will probably continue until the day one of us dies. It has involved deep issues, things from both our pasts that aren’t easily dealt with, things that neither of us ever wanted anyone else to know about, things that we can’t hide from the one we live with day in and day out, especially not if we want a healthy marriage. When those kinds of things come out in the open, they have the potential to destroy us, but they also have the potential to grow us into  stronger, more stable, more understanding people. People who are more Christlike.

I began writing this post over seven months ago. I have hesitated about posting it because I’ve got friends who know some of the realities of my marriage and might read it and think what a hypocrite I sound like, coming from a less-than-perfect marriage and writing about how God uses it. I hesitated because it’s easy enough to gloss over the difficulties publicly and present our marriage as this model relationship when it most definitely is not. We’ve had our share of destruction and pain over the years. I can’t help but think, though, that it’s worth it. It’s worth the arguments, the silence, the hurt that we’ve both sometimes felt because now that we have been married long enough to look back we can see some progress. We can see the positive changes that have resulted. We’re learning to see each other as people who are still growing and changing instead of as final products, solidly stuck in our ways and unable to change.

Not that we’ve perfected it! Not at all! There are still so many things that we need to work on, some that I’m sure we don’t even know about yet. There are still so many mistakes and blunders. We still struggle quite a bit. Sometimes I still look at him and think, “Who is that?!” and at times I wonder if he even knows me at all. Then he says something that summarizes my personality in one sentence and I think maybe I was wrong. Maybe he knows me better than I thought. No matter what our differences might be, our sixteenth anniversary is just around the corner, and I can happily say that we are not throwing garbage cans at each other. At least there’s that!

Religious Freedom and Jesus

picA few months ago, I had a conversation about posting controversial conservative viewpoints on Facebook. In the conversation, the other person said that she felt compelled to stand up for her beliefs and her rights as a Christian on Facebook and in other public forums. She said that this was her duty as a Christian. Since then, my home state of Indiana has passed the infamous religious freedom law that has brought them to the forefront of the nation’s attention and has flooded my Facebook feed with all sorts of opinionated talk.

Growing up in the Bible Belt in a conservative home, I was faced with this stand-up-for-your-rights point of view quite a bit. I saw a lot of loving, kind people reject anyone different. I saw people hide their real beliefs because they were different from what other Christians believed and they didn’t want to rock the boat. I saw my friends pushed away from Christianity because of differing points of view. I am convinced that church people did this out of a sense of conviction that good Christians did not support anything sinful and out of a lack of understanding of how to accept people who are different while allowing those differences to exist. People feel that in order to love someone they need to reject the things about them that they think are bad and this will somehow show them the error of their ways and turn them to the path toward godly behavior.

In the Gospels I read about Jesus’ ministry and how he did not stand up for his rights at all. In fact, he didn’t stand up for his rights so much that he let people murder him. I think there’s one major passage in the Bible where he does talk about Christians standing up for their rights, and that’s in the Sermon on the Mount. There he says that his followers should give up their natural rights in order to love other people. You want revenge? You have a human right to revenge. However, as a Christian, give up that right and love your enemy instead. That over-the-top love is what turns people toward Jesus and not away from him.

In the controversy over religious freedom laws, it seems that there are actually two separate things happening. There is a desire for freedom as Americans. As an American, I want my freedom to worship, my freedom to believe whatever I want to believe, and my freedom to tell the world about that belief. That is my right as an American, as long as I’m not putting someone else’s life in danger.

However, I feel the tension between demanding those rights and the second idea–showing the love of Christ. I must be careful not to mix my freedom as an American with my faith. I may have a right to turn someone away based on my religious beliefs, but is rejecting them the best way to show the love of Christ to them? What if I decided that I would pay particular attention to the gay community and provide fantastic service to them in an effort to show love to a group of people who has been rejected repeatedly by those who follow Christ? I’m not saying anything at all about whether I agree with them, but as human beings I care about them.

I see the focus in this religious freedom issue shifting away from Jesus and onto our rights. From the viewpoint of the non-Christian segment of America, we Christians spend more energy advocating for our right to refuse service than we do on loving other people the way Jesus did. We get caught up thinking that part of our duty as Christians is to stand up for God, as if our willingness to be outspoken for our faith is a test of our spiritual maturity. In reality, our faith is tested by our willingness to love like Jesus did. The New Testament says “they will know you are Christians by your love,” not by your right to religious freedom.

So in this case where Christians are faced with serving people who are different from rainbow cakethem and live in ways they think are wrong, maybe the way to deal with those situations according to Jesus’ teachings is to make sure they have the best service possible. If you’re a wedding photographer and a gay couple asks for your business, make sure you give them the best photos ever. If you’re a baker, make the most beautiful cake. People who don’t and who reject the business of the gay community lose the rather rare opportunity to show extravagant Christlike love to a group of people who has only been repeatedly hurt by the Christians they know. This may mean a loss of support from your Christian friends, but, hey, those are people who have experienced God’s love before. If we care about reaching those who do not know Christ, maybe it’s time to stop focusing so much on our rights as American citizens and start focusing on loving the ones Jesus loves.

We Made It!

Spring...with a little snow in the background.

Spring…with a little snow in the background.

Days like today, when the sun shines and the temperatures soar into the 50’s, when the birds sing and the kids leave on their first bike ride of the season, these are days when the entire countryside emits a collective sigh. The sigh of warmth and hope and the sigh that says, “We made it! We made it through another winter!”

You could argue that it’s not spring yet, that spring doesn’t really start until March 20-something, and you’d be technically correct. You could also argue that it’ll get cold and maybe even snow again before warm weather hits for good, and you’d probably be right about that as well. You could argue that I’ll probably regret having turned off the furnace and opened the windows, and in a few hours when the sun goes down I’ll probably agree with you on that. But now, when I can sit in my house and hear the birds, when the cats nestle themselves up on the window sills to be close but not too close to the outside world that, in reality, scares them to death, when the dogs run happily in the back yard without threat of frostbite and when the sound of the wind chime means soft spring breezes and not an impending blizzard, I feel like spring.

These flowers are some of my favorites because I saw them every early spring in Ukraine. In Russian, the name means "under the snow" and I sometimes saw them growing up through the snow!

These flowers are some of my favorites because I saw them every early spring in Ukraine. In Russian, the name means “under the snow” and I sometimes saw them growing up through the snow!

When I feel like spring, I actually feel like cleaning the house. I feel like cleaning actually makes it clean and maybe even brings some of the spring inside with the warmer air instead of just moving around dust that I can’t ever get rid of in the winter. When I feel like spring, I feel like writing. Let’s face it, I didn’t write much this winter. I mean, I looked back on my blog, and I only wrote two or three posts all winter. Didn’t do any more than that in my journal, and I certainly didn’t put any words worth reading on any other sort of paper or digital file. When spring comes, though, my brain begins to emerge from the Netflix-induced haze of staying up too late and binging on crime shows. I start thinking things like, “why do I even care about watching that stuff when there’s so much good stuff in my head to get down for posterity?” (This may or may not be accurate, but I do think it nevertheless!)

I did create some stuff this winter. This is a baby blanket made with the most beautiful colors in the world (in my opinion).

I did create some stuff this winter. This is a baby blanket made with the most beautiful colors in the world (in my opinion).

That’s not to say I haven’t done anything this winter. On the contrary, winter is the time when I bury myself in blankets and, while vicariously chasing the latest serial killer on Netflix, knit and crochet enough scarves to warm a small village of the homeless I watch giving tips to the cops on Law and Order. It’s the time when I go to work and then come home and put on pj’s and don’t leave again. And if I have stuff to do in the evening and can’t hibernate, I lament the lost knitting/Netflix/pajama time alone. Winter should maybe be the time when I read more, but I hate to admit that I barely read because when I do I fall asleep. Probably because the night before I was up until 2 am…you know, twisting endless strands of yarn into clothing and keeping in touch with my cop friends.

Crochetin' it up! Sweet stuffed animals I made my kids for Valentine's Day.

Crochetin’ it up! Sweet stuffed animals I made my kids for Valentine’s Day.

I’ve thought a lot about this cycle. It happens every year. I like to do different things in different seasons, and the thought of doing them in other seasons really sorta repulses me. For example, give me a crochet hook and a ball of yarn in July, and I might just throw it back at you. No interest. Tell me to go and put on workout clothes and run a couple of miles on the treadmill in a dark (the lights won’t work for some ridiculous reason) garage in January, and my guilt cannot overpower my sense that nobody really notices the extra 18 pounds I’ve put on this winter, so why bother?

Just kidding…I don’t think I’ve put on 18 pounds…I may have…but, anyway, that’s all to say I don’t want to run in the winter, and in the summer I can’t imagine not.

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I used to feel bad about this, used to think to myself that I should enjoy my pursuits all the time and that I should practice them year round because I probably lost some ability, maybe diminished my talent in those times when I ignored something. In the last ten years or so, I’ve stopped chastising myself for my predictable inconsistency. I’ve started realizing that this is how people are. I mean, even nature in my part of the world reflects that. Always changing but always the same. Just about the time I think I’ll burn alive in the glaring sun of summer, fall hits and cooler weather brings relief. I break out my favorite sweaters and recall how comforting it is to wrap up and snuggle in and forget the world outside all winter. Then when the cold hangs around for a few months and I feel like my feet are permanent icicles and I move the heater under my desk at work closer and closer as the cold creeps deeper and deeper into my core, the sun comes out and ta da! It’s spring, and the cold becomes a thing of the past!

Snuggle up!

Snuggle in!

Ever notice how almost the moment spring hits, it’s hard even to remember snow? I mean, I still see snow piles at the end of my driveway today if I look for them, but I’m forgetting it already. That’s how it goes. If I didn’t have snow and cold, I don’t think I’d appreciate warmth and sun as much. The darkness of winter makes me more thankful for the light of summer. When the cold, dark days end and the spring arrives, we can start to forget the snow and the wind. If we didn’t, we’d move to Florida in despair!

Anything Else?

 

Nobody make any sudden moves. The whole place is about to blow to smithereens!

Nobody make any sudden moves. The whole place is about to blow to smithereens!

“When it rains, it pours.” “Bad things happen in threes” (or fours or fives, at times). We’ve heard the old proverbs before. Old sayings are said for a reason. It seems that way too often they’re true.

Last week those two proverbs proved true in our house, at least. It all started one night when Hannah noticed the cat doing his business on the dog’s bed. She shooed him off, but then he went to another spot and tried to do the same. This was a first for him, so we didn’t know what to do. We locked him and his sister in the laundry room with the litter box and cleaned up the mess. Then I went on an errand.

I was only gone for an hour at the most, and when I returned I expected to open the door to a quiet house with children sleeping and Andrew reading or sleeping or doing something else peaceful. Instead the front door swung open, and Emma stood in the entrance.

“What are you doing up this late?” I asked.

“While you were gone, we tried to get the cats back in the laundry room. I carried Smokey down, and she clawed my stomach and tried to bite me because she didn’t want to go into the room with the water.”

“Water? What water?” I asked. I mean, it’s just a laundry room, not an indoor pool. Although that would be nice…

“The water on the floor of the laundry room from where the laundry overflowed.”

This was not what I wanted to hear. Water on the laundry room floor means one of two things: the pipes to and from the washing machine broke or the main line backed up. Neither one of those sounded good at all.

Turns out, the main line chose that night to get clogged with tree roots, and since I’m in charge of laundry and wasn’t home, no one noticed that water covered the floor until the cats put up a fuss and somehow escaped. So our laundry room floor, which some brilliant former owner thought to cover with carpet (?!?) became a spongy, stinky mess.

The next morning, Andrew called the plumber. After he did his thing and sewage no longer flowed into our house instead of out of it, we were left with a smelly mess downstairs and a nice plumbing bill. Enter Stanley Steemer, who graciously cleaned up our mess…for a fee, of course.

At the same time that the plumber was working in the basement, the oven chose to go out. It had been dying slowly since last summer, but it must have thought, “Hey, if everyone else is freaking out, I will, too!” and gave up the ghost. The next morning, Emma sat on my lap and cried that she couldn’t see the board in class and her glasses weren’t working anymore.

I called the eye doctor, we went oven shopping, and we thought all was well. The salesguy even surprised us by saying the oven we chose was 15% off, so we felt happy to get a deal on it. The happiness didn’t last long, though. That night when they delivered the oven, they also told us that the pipes that brought gas to it were not up to code and they could not install it.

Enter the same plumbing service, which took four hours to install all new pipes to the oven, which required new pipes to the water heater and the furnace. All for a price higher than

the cost of the oven itself.  Alex summed it up pretty well when he said to me the other day, “Well, I guess I’ll have to be an aerospace engineer when I grow up after all. You people won’t have any money at all saved for retirement. I need a job that makes enough to support us all!”

Did I mention that I think the cat’s sick and we probably still have that bill coming up.

For crying out loud! I’m almost afraid to make any sudden movements now, for fear of breaking something, flooding something, making something sick. We thought about stopping by Starbucks for coffee while the kids were in youth group tonight, but then we realized that we do not have even close to enough money to pay for that coffee, so we just came home.

Let’s just hope the old proverb “It’s always darkest before the dawn” is true, too!

What’s Your Goliath?

Bring it on!

Bring it on!

The Story

I left my father early that morning, carrying a load of grain, bread, and cheese for my brothers. My stomach fluttered with excitement at the prospect of being among all of those fighting men, armed and ready for battle. All of my life, I’d dreamed of fighting the Philistines, of being part of our great army blessed by God! I arrived at the camp just in time–just as the soldiers were lining up for battle.  Finding the keeper of the supplies, I left my donkey and his burden and hurried to find my brothers in the ranks.

I had barely greeted them when I heard the voice. It boomed out over the ranks, echoed off the hillsides. I craned my neck to see him. Anyone with a voice like that had to be big! I was not disappointed. He stood in front of his army, covered with bronze from head to toe and carrying a spear as big as a weaver’s rod. Its iron point alone weighed as much as a young sheep, yet he handled it with ease.

“Why are you lining up for battle? Choose a man to come and fight me…if you have any men that is!” His laugh rang out. “If he kills me, we will all be your subjects.” I heard his mocking tone.

“Why are you all just standing there?” I turned to my brothers. “Someone go and fight him!”

My oldest brother furrowed his brow. “Boy, go home to Dad. You don’t understand this situation. We can’t fight that giant of a man!”

“What are you talking about? I’ve killed bears almost as big as him. God is on our side. What’s an arrogant man compared to the Creator of everything?”

He shook his head. “Go back to your sheep,” he scorned. “You just came down here to poke your nose in our business and watch a battle!” He spun on his heel and walked away.

I turned to the other men, but they all averted their eyes, angry and embarrassed. One man put his hand on my shoulder.

“Come with me,” he said. I hurried after him to a tent in the back of the encampment. Guards surrounded it. Strong hands pushed me through the opening. As my eyes adjusted to the dark interior, I heard a man talking in low tones to the one who had brought me. He turned toward me, and I saw that it was the king himself!

“You think you can defeat that giant?” he demanded. I swallowed hard, cleared my throat.

“I have been tending my father’s sheep most of my life. Sometimes a bear or a lion comes and carries away one of them. I pursue it, fight it with my hands, and kill it to rescue the sheep. If God can save me from a bear or a lion, he will save me from this Philistine!” At that moment, I knew it would be true. I knew God would save me, would save his people.

To my surprise, Saul agreed to let me try, even gave me his weapons and armor, but I felt heavy and uncomfortable. I chose to go out to face the giant as myself, not pretending to be a grown warrior. As we walked toward the field where I knew the giant waited, we crossed a stream. I stopped and chose my weapons: five stones. I put them in my pouch, rubbing my fingers across their smooth surfaces. In my other hand I held my sling.

Traditional Sunday school picture to complement the story

Traditional Sunday school picture to complement the story

The giant and his shield bearer approached as we stepped forward. I saw him stop, and a look of derision crossed his face. He threw back his great, bronze-covered head and laughed.

“Have they sent a little puppy to fight me?” He cursed me by his gods. “Come on over so I can feed you to the birds today!”

“You come at me with a sword and spear and javelin,” I called out. My voice sounded loud and strong. That man was no match for my God. “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I will strike you down and cut off your head! Today the birds will eat your flesh!” I felt the stones in my pouch. “Today all the world will know there is a God in Israel. Everyone here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves. The battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hands!”

His face turned dark, and he rushed toward me. I ran toward him as well, pulling a stone from my pouch. As I had done hundreds of times, practicing in the fields with the sheep and even protecting them from bears and lions, I placed the stone in the sling. With one fluid motion, I swung it, released the stone, and watched as it sailed through the air and sank into the giant’s forehead. He toppled forward, falling face down onto the ground. His shield bearer dropped his shield and ran. I hurried forward. Without a moment’s hesitation, I grabbed Goliath’s own sword, pulled it from its scabbard, and cut off his head with it!

Now grab the sword and off with the head!

Now grab the sword and off with the head!

My fellow Israelites flooded around me, yelling at the victory, and chased the fleeing Philistines. That day the dead Philistines were strewn all along the road to Gath and Ekron.

The king’s man found me again in the crowd and brought me to Saul’s tent once more.

“Whose son are you, young man?” he asked me.

“I am the son of your servant, Jesse of Bethlehem,” I answered. I saw a man approach from behind the king, carrying something heavy and bulky. Saul turned to him, motioning him to come closer.

“I believe these are yours,” he smiled, presenting the Philistine’s weapons. “I will remember you, son of Jesse.”

The Application

I wrote that for the class I’m taking, and I had so much fun imagining the scene, wondering about what David must have thought. I can still close my eyes and see that dusty field, a hill on each end, with fighting men assembled and a loud and scary voice paralyzing the army with fear.

I have always liked to write. As long as I can remember, I’ve been intrigued with words and stories and how people put words together in specific ways that make their stories come to life. Even as a child, before I could read, I made picture books with scrap paper my grandpa brought home from work, binding them together with bright red yarn. Words make sense to me. I love telling stories, either in written form or aloud, and I work hard every day in the office to shut my mouth so I won’t drive my coworkers insane with the funny things I think of to tell them (If you work with me, just allow the rest of the world to think I am successful at this endeavor, ok?!).

Today I listened to a speaker talk about how we need to find our core identity and let God work in that, using us in the way that he’s made us to be used. He said a lot of great stuff that I hope I remember, but one of the things that stuck in my mind dealt with how people resist changing. They resist stepping into the unpredictable to become awesome and instead stay with what is predictable, where they are just ok. They like the security of the predictable, even when they have a nagging feeling that it’s not really what they were created for, not where God can use them in great ways.

I think that’s a little like David and Goliath. David had a choice that day on the battlefield. He was young, untrained. Absolutely nobody expected anything from him. They definitely did not expect him to step forward and fight the giant that had seasoned warriors shaking in their sandals! He had the choice to stand in the safe predictable-ness of the crowd and be just ok or to step forward into the unpredictable awesomeness that God had planned for him. One little stone stood between him and God’s will, and he chose to step out.

What is your Goliath today? What’s blocking the road to what God has in store for you? I ask only because I’m willing to share my own roadblocks. My Goliath comes in fear of letting go and forgiving people who have hurt me in the past. My Goliath comes in fear that I won’t be good enough, that my writing, which I think may be part of what God wants to use in some way, will stink, that people will read it and think, “Whoa! Better stick with your day job, honey!” My Goliath comes in fear of not measuring up, of stepping out on faith and trying to forgive or trying to love more or trying something that leaves me vulnerable and then falling flat on my face and making a mess of it all.

What Goliath is standing on your battlefield today? Are you ready to reach down and pick up that smooth stone God put just within your reach?

The Elah Valley, where the story took place.

The Elah Valley, where the story took place.

 

A Big Waste of Time

Yesterday morning I listened to a sermon by a veteran preacher. In it, he encouraged the audience to focus on what is important in life and not to settle for mediocrity.

“I can’t help but think of how many great things I may have missed because I was preoccupied with lesser things.”

That struck home with me because even at that very moment, when I sat in a room listening to an eloquent speaker open up truths from the Word of God, I also thought about what texts I might have gotten during the praise time or what someone else around me might have been tweeting about the sermon. My mind wandered to what I’d eat for lunch and what my kids were doing at school. I kept bringing my train of thought back to the sermon, back to what he was saying because I didn’t want to lose sight of the diamonds in life while focusing on the gravel at my feet.

imagesSo I left thinking I’ll do it! I’ll put away my cell phone when my kids are around. I’ll engage with people and really listen. I’ll care about things that God cares about and put the rest in perspective. Yep! That’s what I’ll do starting now! As it turns out, that is much easier to think than to do.

After a long day at work and a busy night caring for sick kids, making dinner, doing housework, I sat down in the quiet house where everyone slept except me. I wanted to write a little, but instead I did The Bad Thing.

I looked at Facebook.

I’m not going to rant against Facebook because I happen to love Facebook. However, I’m not dumb enough to think that Facebook doesn’t steal my life away, one status at a time. This time was no exception. I started looking at a thread on a Facebook crochet group I like. One of the group’s members started writing all kinds of stuff on there that I would consider bitter, hateful, and downright mean. She decided that one of the other members was trying to con innocent people also in the group, and she took it upon herself to start a harsh and condemning thread about that other member. Publicly.

I watched the thread fill up with people spewing hateful things about this person that they did not even know, and I just felt disgusted. So I chimed in and reminded people to mind their words and pay attention to how they treated one another.

Big mistake. They turned on me. The crocheters became violent, hook-weilding gladiators, intent on ridding the world of all that is good and decent under the guise of exposing a “con artist” and self-righteously criticizing those who reminded them of civility. I watched it unfold in disbelief, made a few comments, and then attempted to extract myself from the conversation. I looked at the clock and saw that the lesser things had stolen quite a bit time from the great things.

Isn’t this how it goes, though? We make a decision to change something, to do something better than we’ve been doing it, and before we know it, we’re back doing the same old thing we’ve always done. Just now, I sat down to type while the kids played quietly and independently in the other room, but as soon as I got a good start, one after the other called for me, asked for help, for lunch, for paint, for exacto knives (?!). I, writing about taking time for what’s important, told them that I was busy and couldn’t they do some of this on their own (except for the exacto knives!). I put off the great, the relationship with my kids, to focus on the lesser, my beautiful blog.

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So here’s what I’m going to do to make sure I focus on some of the really important things this week. I consulted my kids for advice on this, since they are the ones who often get put off when I’m working on something less important. Here are their suggestions:

1.   “Spend more time thinking” (Emma, 8 years old). Think about God and what he wants me to do instead of what I want to do. Interesting that this was the immediate response since this is also what a lot of experts suggest for relaxation. Stop and think. Spend time meditating/praying/thinking. Hannah (12 years old) added, “Analyze the things you think are important and compare that with what you know God thinks is important.”

2.   “Not playing on your phone a whole bunch” (Emma). I was hoping that one wouldn’t come up. I mean, I hoped maybe no one noticed that they saw the top of my head more than my eyes since I look down on my phone a lot while we’re together. I decided to move the Facebook app on my phone so that I don’t see it and its demanding notifications every time I pick up my phone. Less of a reminder, less of a temptation…right?

3.   “Use the extra time to do things you say you don’t have time for when you’re using time doing unimportant things” (Alex, 11 years old). In other words, stop saying I don’t have time to read or crochet because I do. Maybe when I see all of the fun things I get to do when I’m not checking my work email or texting someone who can probably wait an hour or so to hear from me, I’ll decide the sacrifice is worth it.

Now that I’ve publicly committed myself to them, you can hold me to them. But, oh my goodness, be nice to me about them! No more Facebook crazy!

Why You Can Go Home Again

This one really isn't packed. I've seen them with people hanging out the doors. Saw a babushka beat a man with an umbrella to force her way on one once.

This one really isn’t packed. I’ve seen them with people hanging out the doors. Saw a babushka beat a man with an umbrella to force her way on once.

A few weekends ago, I went to Cincinnati to pick up my children after their visit with friends. I experienced something I hadn’t experienced since I lived in Ukraine and traveled back and forth every summer. No, it wasn’t a good bowl of borscht (although I kinda wish it were) or a packed trolleybus in 90 degree heat (very glad it wasn’t that). What I experienced was that feeling of going home again.

I drove into town from the south and caught sight of the skyline across the Ohio River. I have never been a big fan of cityscapes, but seeing it reminded me of how my husband always pointed it how beautiful it looked when we drove into Cincinnati from that direction. I drove across the Ohio River and remembered that claustrophobic feeling of being caught in the very narrow space between the wall of the bridge and a semi truck in the lane next to me. That bridge was the one that gave me an unreasonable fear of accidentally driving over the edge and plummeting into the water below, not knowing which child to save if they were all buckled into their car seats. I’m glad I rarely cross any bridges these days! Even more glad my kids can swim!

This is the view of Cincinnati I saw, but I did not take this picture. I was busy driving.

This is the view of Cincinnati I saw, but I did not take this picture. I was busy driving.

Seeing the place we used to live and our friends who still live there reminded me of a few things.

1. Living in a new place and navigating around it for the last year, I forgot the feeling of knowing where I was going and understanding where places are without having to plot out my driving plan ahead of time or plug addresses into Mapquest. Being back in the place we called home for 13 years made me miss living somewhere that I felt connected to in a deeper way than just knowing the path to the grocery store and back. Not only did I remember where things were, but I remembered that sense of really being a part of life in a particular location. It takes a while to feel completely integrated into the new place, and being back home reminded me that we aren’t really at that stage here yet.

On a positive note, though, moving somewhere new shows us all that we really can learn a new place, find friends, and fit in. We may feel a sense of “otherness” at times, but we still feel like part of what’s going on in our new place. I think that has built confidence in our children, and I’ve seen them become more outgoing and mature since we moved.

Our first selfie together. Wait! Is it still considered a selfie for me if I'm not the one holding the camera?

Our first selfie together. Wait! Is it still considered a selfie for me if I’m not the one holding the camera?

2. Not only did I see places I remember, I saw people I hadn’t seen in a year. In my experience, when I see the people I know and love after an absence, I often feel like we are just picking up where we left off. Maybe I have these grand ideas about emotional and exciting reunions, hugging and crying, but in reality those things don’t usually happen to me. When I arrived at my friend’s house to pick up the kids, one of her children greeted me nonchalantly, and then my friend walked in the room. We both said, “Hey!” like we’d just seen one another last week. I love that. I wouldn’t trade that easy familiarity for all of the hugging, crying, made-for-tv-moments in the world!

The kids and I went to dinner with other friends on the spur of the moment. I called them up, and before I knew it we were all sitting in Skyline laughing and eating and having fun. More fun than I remember having had together when we actually lived within five hundred miles of one another. When you live close, you just think you’ve got all the time in the world to get together…but then you don’t.

Feeling good and hungry? Skyline time!

Feeling good and hungry? Skyline time!

On the way back to Nebraska, we talked about how weird it was to see everyone and how Nebraska seemed almost like a dream. The children wistfully said they felt like they’d never left Cincinnati in the first place. I reminded them how nice it is that we have people we love in both places, how if we’d never moved we would never know that out here on the prairie live a whole bunch of great people! My children are learning early in life a lesson I didn’t realize until my adult years. A seasoned missionary once told me, when talking about how hard it was to leave people you love, “When you’re a missionary, no matter where you go, you’re leaving people you love, but you’re also going to other people you love.” That concept has stuck proven true time and time again in my life.

Gratuitous picture of our trip to Graeter's. Because what trip to Cincinnati is complete without a trip to the world's best ice cream place?!

Gratuitous picture of our trip to Graeter’s. Because what trip to Cincinnati is complete without a trip to the world’s best ice cream place?! Alex looks a little less-than-ecstatic about it, though. Can you tell who the introvert is after a lot of social interaction?

3. Some things are more important than sleep. I hadn’t willingly pulled an all-nighter for years. Having babies cured me of the desire to stay up past about 1 am. However, I stayed up late both nights I was there. One friend and I stayed up until 4 am! Does that time even exist anymore? After hours of sitting on the couch talking about everything in the world, she asked me, “What time is it?” I looked at my nearly useless watch that has not one real number on it, and my exhausted eyes crossed. I said, “I think it’s 4:00. Is that what this says?” The next night I went to Applebee’s and then cruised around Colerain Township with my former coworkers until way late. Who needs sleep when you have such a limited time together?!

My two beautiful former coworkers. Look at those faces! See how much fun we had at work?

My two beautiful former coworkers. Look at those faces! See how much fun we had at work?

I think that the longer I live, the more I realize that it’s not true that you can’t go home again. Home just changes definition, becomes more fluid, and grows to include a new place after you leave the old one!