Monday, January 28, 2008

"I Don't Like How Emotions Make me Feel!"

That's the quote I heard while Tim was watching Jon & Kate + Eight (a tv show about a family with twins and then sextuplets--it's amazing, but it makes me tired). It's true, I hate emotions. Well, sort of. I hate negative emotions. (Duh. Don't we all?)
Yesterday our pastor asked me whether Katie was for real when she e-mailed and sounded like everything was going well. At first I didn't connect the confusion...then slowly I realized why he was wondering.
Katie had expressed lots of doubts on the phone to me that day. That day it felt awful to be separate from her and have so much feel undecided. One girl was leaving the school for good that day because of doubts about the department in which she had her major, the same major as Katie's--voicing the same doubts about it that Katie had come home with over Christmas.
Katie had gotten me doubting, too, mine snowballing onto her doubts, and the hardest part was that I didn't know a single one of the answers, didn't know where to find out, and wasn't there to help her with it: Was it the right college? Was it the right major? Should she take 18 credit hours, or drop a course? How many hours of work could she handle? How many hours of sleep could she justify whittling it down to each night? Should she change majors? I knew that Pastor Ken had asked her a couple of times why she had chosen that particular college. I know somewhat why he might have asked that question, since we'd started realizing that we might be developing some differences of biblical views from those of the college...yet it was the track we'd been on so long, and no college is perfect, and it was unthinkable to change at such a late date...
So in view of the "why that college" question that he had asked her, I thought it was appropriate to send him an e-mail regarding her doubts regarding the choice of college. I never have a lump in my throat; that was a notable feeling in putting my doubts into words. Doubt is one of those negative emotions, in my book. I was hoping that he might have some advice for us, some insight regarding the college question.
Still, I don't remember even being surprised that Katie so quickly recovered; I was just relieved that most of what she was wrestling with of her own from that point was more minor, and that she was back to sharing the (publicized) prayer requests of others. I understand, looking back, where she got some of her perspective about her doubts; it was those prayer requests. They have a way of making one's own troubles seem infinitesimal. How can a person even ponder their own minor doubts when compared to the extreme concerns of others?
Katie told me that she had come to accept that the student who left the college had the same doubts, but that the girl's decision to leave didn't mean leaving was the right decision for her. I'm so glad that she evaluated it for herself. I also feel convinced that her ability to cope with all the doubts and all the difficulties she does is because people are praying for her. We pray for her; our pastor does; and various people every Sunday are asking about her, keeping tabs on how she is doing.
I've never resided in a dorm, and I don't relate to how hard it must be; easy in some ways, and yet hard--meals are prepared, laundry is on-site, almost everything is available right there on campus, and her church is even adjacent to the property. There are friends right on hand, so there's lots of moral support and encouragement; yet there are people everywhere, so there is no privacy to speak of. Katie is very aware that the effort she puts forth in every subject in the present may affect so much for the future--eligibility in the short-term for very necessary scholarships, and possible job eligibilities in years to come. The pressure from this seems like an unfortunate burden to add to all that which is inherent to all that classwork and dorm life.
Still, by the grace of God, the happy things outweigh the hard things for Katie. She loves to be near her friends, this girl who was homeschooled and never quite clicked in her youth ministry all through her teen years. There are great students, professors, dorm counselors, and we even know some people off-campus who live nearby. She's got lots of moral support and more importantly prayer support. By God's grace also she has a pretty resilient tendency to see the bright side; our reminder to each other is "BJA, PC"--"Be joyful always, pray continually"--and she takes it to heart. She loves her classes this term, loves her profs, loves her work-study supervisor. How can so many things be so good, how can she do what-all she does? I can only attribute it to the power of all the prayer going up on her behalf, and God's grace.
In all of this, there's a reminder, something of a rebuke to myself--I need to update people with whom I share these requests, when their prayers are answered and it's time instead to praise God for His goodness; God is so good! Hallelujah! Amen.

It's a Small World After All!

Just recently I've been discovering that there are some amazing women blogging on line. They do some phenomenal website management complete with photos and then all sorts of bells and whistles that I don't comprehend. So mine is looking increasingly plain and undecorated in comparison...(sigh)...but anyway, in the reading of them I feel like I'm gaining some new friends. Mostly a bit younger than I am, seemingly more all-together than I am, definitely more creative and clever, but I think I can like them anyway. Shows how tolerant I am, don't you think?
Most of them have a whole list of other blogs something like their own, and I visit the top one on the list, and that one has a list, and I go to that one, and I realize in the process that I'm probably missing about 24 on each list as I go on. Oh well. I don't have that kind of time anyway (though today was good--my son was playing in the snow and it was a day off for him, and sort of for me as well; I got extra housekeeping done and did some blog-reading!). I will have to be careful that it doesn't turn into some sort of addiction for me.
The amazing thing is, I just today found a contingent from my own town, my own hometown where I now live (for the present, anyway)! And my own age range, as well. That is amazing, considering most of the people I have known personally who blog are in the 18-30 age range. I'm no longer a female middle-aged version of the Lone Ranger.
It's a small world after all. A small, happy, blogging-Christian-woman inhabited world. God is great! (But of course, we knew that, didn't we?)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Missing Parts of my Testimony!

Just today I realized that my testimony (how God brought me to know Him) has much more than I've written in my profile to the right on the screen. The most interesting part is missing!
Still, some of it is beyond words--such as the hopelessness I felt, the emptiness that was an almost physical sensation like a huge hole in my middle. There was a time in high school when I was pondering suicide, seeing that my life seemed to have no significance and I could not pull myself out of its meaninglessness. As I recall, all that saved me at that time was that my sister noticed my increasing listlessness and said that things would improve. I'm not sure why I believed her; but I went on to get married at age 23 and have our first child at 27...and start sinking into hopelessness again at 29.
Nothing was going right in our life, and I had tried fixing things myself: tried getting along with my mother-in-law (who we later found out was coming down with Alzheimers, which makes many of its patients contentious); doing my best for my colicky daughter (it probably wasn't colic, she was almost two, but it was like it), who woke up every night at 2:00 a.m.; keeping up with repairs on our house--I remember spending a month of evenings using a heat gun and scraper to peel the marine paint that was layers thick and checkering on our front porch, and fixing a wobbly leg on our table using a drill and dowel and glue. I fixed appliances and electric outlets; I was constantly overwhelmed with things to do after work, and it seemed that nothing put a dent in the things that needed doing. No trying to hold my tongue helped my relationship with relatives, no economizing helped our ever-increasing money problems. I was constantly exhausted, overwhelmed with allergies and problems, and could hardly think straight with all these struggles.
Maybe I was obnoxious toward family, but I don't remember being so. I do remember carrying all my complaints about my mother-in-law to work, and looking back I picture myself with all sorts of sore thumbs sticking out from every direction. I was a mess, and lots of Christians started trying to help me. One invited me to a Bible study. I didn't understand anything they said there, but afterward, I asked, "Why are there bumper stickers that say that Jesus is alive? He died on the cross!" The man directing the study asked if I'd heard of the resurrection (Jesus died on the cross, but He rose from the dead after three days; His tomb was empty even though there were Roman guards posted there). Since I wasn't sure, he explained it to me. Well, I asked, "So didn't Jesus die again? I don't see Him walking around today." The man was patient. "Have you ever heard of the Ascension?" (Jesus appeared to over 500 people, and as His disciples watched, He rose to heaven and is seated now at the right hand of the Father in heaven, alive today.) I thought about this. A person couldn't live on earth 2,000 years, but in heaven, I figured it was possible. Well, I didn't come to any quick conclusions that day, but an important step was made. I hadn't known Jesus was alive. I couldn't worship a dead man, but Jesus wasn't dead after all.
Katie had been waking up every 2:00 a.m. for most of her life. Suddenly she started sleeping through the night. I didn't; she had me conditioned, and I woke up at 2:00 a.m. with nothing to do but think. I thought about the various things people had said. I had a vague notion that Christianity somehow started with a transaction, and that I had to give up my life to get something meaningful that Jesus had for me. That was honestly about all that I knew about it, and I don't know how I knew that much.
So I thought about my life, and in a rather systematic fashion, I assessed how much of my life was worth keeping. There wasn't much I wouldn't give up at that time. Katie was my biggest hesitation, but she was often colicky and quite difficult (anyone who knows her now would wonder at that, but we have witnesses who would testify!). Besides, I remember figuring, I might have her as a friend until she was 13, but from what I'd heard, that would be about the end of it. Still, I had my doubts that He was going to demand Katie as part of this mysterious exchange; I honestly didn't know what the exchange consisted of at all. I was desperate, but I went to sleep.
The next night, again, Katie slept, and I woke up at 2:00 a.m. like I was supposed to. This is the strangest part: We need to flash back to when I was about 14 and my brother was going to college at Portland State University. He'd come home from his day's schooling and tell my mom in a mocking tone about someone who'd stand on the street corner and shout out a Bible verse. I don't remember ever having thought about that up until this time, the verses were somewhere latent in my brain, but this night my brother's mocking voice came to my mind, mocking salvation verses: "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved." Various verses went through my mind, but the mocking was getting to me. I asked God to make the mocking go away, and everything went silent. I went to sleep again.
The third night, Katie slept, I awoke, and I thought about the previous two nights. I was overwhelmed, desperate, and exhausted. I didn't know what Jesus had in store for me. I don't know what I thought He was going to do with my life, but I guess I thought I was going to lose anything significant that I had. The picture that was in my mind was of taking a step off of a cliff into darkness. Finally, I took that step. I surrendered to Christ, and I had no idea what that meant, except that I guess I thought He would rescue me. I didn't realize that the conventional way is to acknowledge in prayer that you're a sinner and that you need a Savior. Still, I knew I was in all ways inadequate; I knew I needed something He had but I wasn't sure what. I knew very little! I went to sleep, and I'm not sure that the next day I even took note of having done anything significant in the wee hours of the night before.
God was gracious to accept my exchange, and what He first gave me was an insatiable desire to know His word, but I couldn't while I was a working mom. He made it very clear that I had to quit work, even though Gary was working part-time and looking for full-time work at the time. I did so, and I remember just starting to feel the peace that came with His salvation.
It's funny, many of the things (but not all of them) that brought me to that desperate point were lifted almost immediately: I was diagnosed as severely anemic, and three days of triple iron doses transformed my energy level; Katie suddenly turned sweet and compliant (I think it was because she was at home, where she wanted to be); 1 1/2 years later Gary got a full-time job. We started attending a church that taught the Bible at about our level (ignorant beginner).
Not everything got better. Gary's mom of course remained sick; still, she was diagnosed, which reduced her influence in the family and that made things much easier. There are other things that have never been "solved" either, but that isn't the point.
The fact is, even if any of my earthly struggles hadn't improved, the exchange would have been worth making. God has given me peace, joy, contentment, the ability to love and forgive like I never had before. Besides that, I know that I can look forward to a future hope of heaven with Him. That alone is worth anything a person could give to get there--and yet all you can give is your heart, your love for Him, your obedience to Him (that comes out of your love for Him and He makes it much easier than it sounds!). Nothing could make me go back. Praise be to God, Hallelujah! Amen!

Friday, January 25, 2008

My Memory of My Father

My friend Lanae watched Tim yesterday--took him to music class along with her boys, and took him home to play with them afterward. We often trade off doing this, and I needed the afternoon, so next week is my turn. Anyway, when I came to pick him up we sat down and got talking. The talk turned to how much we remembered our dads--hers died when she was 11, mine died when I was 10. Funny, neither she nor I could remember their faces apart from pictures. All the stranger when I realize neither her boys nor Tim are yet 10, and they would probably be in the same condition if they lost one of their parents. I tend to think of Tim as so much older than I was at the time, and assume that of course he would remember us...and that's also strange.
Lanae and I both remember strange things. My dad was the strongest element in our family, in terms of running the show and holding us all to the consistent, precise, stated family rules and not letting any of us vary from the Jones program, all of which fell apart when he died. I know my dad and I got along well (but I don't remember how that manifested itself), I remember the dinnertime grace he used to say, I know of an actor whose voice sounds like his did, I remember that he thought we should send our tv programming to the Russians in order to win the Cold War. He loved steak and ice cream and eggs; he smoked and drank and I'm not sure what his beliefs were, but I think he was kind of impacted by a Catholic nun we knew. He was fastidious and kept his desk and his tools in their exact assigned order (and I learned not to touch anything in his desk or he would know it, no matter how carefully I put it back). He was conservative and I never knew until after he died that my mom is liberal--they must have agreed not to discuss it, because they never argued (my mom clams up if she doesn't agree--that's how she expresses it, unlike most of our family). He loved to spend money, though we never had any until I was 6, when his father died and he came into a trust from his mom.
I know he loved the "Cheaper by the Dozen" book on which the movies are loosely based, and he would have loved to have 12 kids--there were six of us. He probably would have had us homeschool if it were available at the time and especially if my mom had been willing (but she wouldn't have). He loved the outdoors so we went camping or on picnics even in the rain and wind; he loved tools and old cars, he made things, he barbecued, and he took thousands of pictures--only a few of which I have.
I don't remember many interactions between us, though. I remember the probably only time he ever spanked me, he immediately acted troubled about having done so (strange, since spanking all the older kids came perfectly natural to him). I remember him bringing a few presents home from outings on days other than special occasions, just because he wanted to. He and my mom used to go to coffee or lunch pretty much every day in the final few years of his life. And that is about all I remember.
When he died, the whole family's dynamics changed. My mom went to work probably about the time my little brother Greg started off to school, and my older brothers and sisters started being less family-focused and more outwardly social, the older ones dating, getting jobs, and doing typical teen things. I was generally at home, and as I recall I became more aware of being alone--with my little brother most of the time, but very much alone. The funny thing is, I don't remember much of that time at all--how my brother got to and from school (he was 7 years younger than I, and I never went with him), who watched him if I stayed after school (which hardly ever happened, if I remember right). I think if I asked Greg, maybe he could fill me in, but I don't think either of us were very happy with the setup.

The thing is, Lanae is very much like me in her memories of her father--she remembers the layout of his apartment (he and her mom had divorced), but not his face except in photos. She remembers weird little details, but not the overall picture; she too was alone at home most of the time in her remaining growing years, but doesn't remember the specifics of how she and her mom dealt with it. It must be something about the age.
She and I both felt impacted inwardly, socially messed up by being alone so much of our growing years. I remember that vividly, the painful feeling of not measuring up, of feeling that everyone else had it all together and that I never would. (It's a good thing in a way, because otherwise I might never have known my need for Christ!) I know what I've been like, and if God hasn't made me normal (whatever that is), at least He's made it so it doesn't matter; if my focus is on Him, and if He loves me, what does it matter how socially inept I might be, as long as I do my best? Lanae, in spite of having had this same awful inadequate feeling as well, seems so normal from everything I've seen. She does a fantastic job raising her three sons in spite of the fact that her husband's in the military and much of the parenting she does all on her own. God is great and gracious--and He restores the years the locusts have eaten. I know, in spite of a heightened awareness of my many inadequacies, so much more, how He is all my adequacy. Hallelujah!
It shows how man looks so readily at the outer appearance. We often don't know from observing a person on the outside what is really going on inside, or what their history is: what they've dealt with, what's changing, where they are as we see them today, how far they have come to get to where they are now, and how much more they have yet to go through. God does, and He does so entirely in love and compassion. He cares, our hurts are His hurts, and He is our Healer and Restorer, our Heavenly Father. Lanae and I both now have a Father, a perfect Father, who knows us and loves us and will never leave us nor forsake us. Already He has done a great amount of restoration. When we are done, we will be perfect as well; we will be like Him. Hallelujah, Amen!

Sharing Tattoos

This morning I was pondering (in reference to yesterday's lunch) why we as women tend not to focus on the easy and good and happy things that have happened in our lives, but the difficult things, when we get to know each other and compare notes. It's a little like sailors comparing tattoos, we wear our trials like a badge and find commonality that links us. You can see this when it comes to birth stories; seems like invariably one doesn't even finish hers when another chimes in and (unfortunately) usually one-ups her in one or more ways. Sometimes it's hard to tell which one was more difficult, they all have such various elements. (Don't ever let these get started with a pregnant woman around, they can get pretty frightening!) I suppose if I met someone who'd never had trials, I'd need to focus on all the easy things instead. Somehow it seems like it wouldn't bind us as well, and I'm not sure why.
Perhaps the going through of trials shows us that God has enabled us to be stronger than we thought we could be (and of course on our own we wouldn't show up strong at all). The trials make us better, by strengthening our faith and reliance on God, and knowing He really doesn't ever fail us. As unbelievers, people do get through the trials somehow, but it isn't in victory. It may be in a resigned way, not knowing that God has a reason in it that we might know Him better; or especially, more usually, a bitter way. Bitterness shows that we haven't had God at the center of it, but ourselves, and we expect that it should have been better for us. I would much rather go through these things with Him; in fact I remember in the loss of a pregnancy resolving that I would watch for His hand through the whole process. The great thing I found was that He was all over it; I felt that He was closer than if He'd had skin. One of my favorite Bible verses, strangely enough, is, "It was good that I be afflicted, that I might learn Your decrees." This verse has gotten me through these many things (if you're wondering what, I've blogged about most of them, so you could read about them by going through the links, because they do help me learn about God and His great love) and I am strengthened.
So when women share the hard things they've gone through in life, if they're believers, it's iron sharpening iron, and we are encouraged for the next round. We see that God has gotten them through it, and He will do the same for us. Looking back in my life, it's the difficulties that have made me what I am today, and whatever that is, feeble enough though it is, it's much better than I was 25 years ago. God is faithful to provide for His people; He teaches us through these things so we can be a help to those around us.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Few Hours of Fellowship over Lunch

Today I got to go to lunch with our pastor's wife, Kit. I'd been anticipating doing so for some weeks, and the opportunity just now presented itself, delayed in part because of her appendectomy and winter ills. It seems like church time isn't enough to talk with her and get to know her like I wanted to. We went to Collector's Choice, a restaurant I hadn't been to in about 7 years, I was fun driving out there and seeing various sights that brought back this or that random memory from when we used to attend a church in the area. She took me by way of backroads and I learned various avenues that I hadn't seen before, connecting streets with which I was acquainted; it was a beautiful drive, with the snowy mountain peaks looming tall in the background against a beautiful, cold, sunny winter sky. I learned a shortcut to our favorite trailhead for the Centennial trail, the Machias stop (or conversely, learned what a "long-cut" we'd been taking all along otherwise). It snuck up on me and I was surprised to recognize where we came out to familiar territory.
While we ate our lunches and drank our tea, we got to reminiscing various things that women will, about life, marriage, hardships, children, parents...and found that though the specifics in our lives were entirely different, we had much in common. I suppose that would be true of most of us, if we got talking long enough!
We poked around in an antiques mall for a while afterward, and then we went back by another backroad--I think I was entirely lost by that time--and talked much more. She shared so many ways that they have related to the people of the church, especially being "grandparents" to the children there, since many of them, like ours, rarely see any of their own. Tim calls her "Grandma Kit" as do the other kids at church, and it feels a little weird to me, since she's maybe 10 years older than I am. Maybe "Auntie" Kit! But he delights in the feeling of a relationship there, too, often pondering aloud the things he loves about church, and it's things like using this nickname of hers that make him feel a part of it.
Anyway, I was able to share with her how much we delight in their approachability, how Sunday is a happily anticipated day for our family. To have gone out to lunch with the pastor's wife, and feel her friendship. I went home rejoicing in the fellowship we shared, the faith that unites us. God is great, is He not?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Air-Soft Pellet Guns, BB-Guns and a Shocking Pastor

On the way home from our Ephesians study, Tim was talking about air-soft pellet guns, because they are his latest obsession, especially considering that he has a birthday looming and he also just received an appallingly extravagant $20 for having taken care of a neighbor dog for one day. Our neighbor boys have for years been obsessed with playing air-soft gun wars to the point that there's hardly a square foot of our yard that I can imagine is free of 10 or 20 of these pellets. Tim has been finding that many of his friends have the guns, and whether he has one seems to be the first question he's asked by them when he visits. I have come to use as my main argument, much to Tim's chagrined exasperation, "You'll shoot your eye out with it." This is a bit of education I received from a movie lent to us, "The Christmas Story," a silly movie where this is a mother's everlasting response to the kid's desire for a bb-gun.
Tim was commenting on how much weaker air-soft pellet guns are than bb-guns, and how boys can be hurt pretty badly by bbs. In response I said, "The only person I ever knew to have shot anyone was a pastor." The pastor at a church we attended about 10 years ago had told as some sermon illustration how as a kid he had shot his neighbor girl in the stomach using a bb-gun. I neglected to tell Tim all the details that we had been given, but I told him that the pastor had shot the girl in the stomach with a bb-gun. "Why did he do that?" Tim asked. I said, "Well, maybe the girl was a little like (insert name of a neighbor girl who, true to her character, at one time has hit Tim with a baseball bat)." This made perfect sense to Tim. "Did the neighbors sue him?" I said I didn't think so, but they weren't very happy with him. Tim sounded more and more incredulous as the story progressed. "Did you know him when he did it?" I had to laugh. "Oh, no, he was a kid when it happened." One small missing detail that made all the difference...

The Value of the Custom-Crafted Sermon

Last Sunday our sermon was covering Ephesians 2:17-22, and how we are fellow citizens with the saints, citizens of God's Kingdom; also how we belong to God's household; that earthly government and earthly family is not our salvation (and I would add, it's a good thing, too!). I was amazed, for one, on how it corresponded to the very thoughts of my last blog entry regarding a heavenly citizenship, though set in entirely different context and thought process...though because our church is studying Ephesians throughout, I've been reading and rereading Ephesians for quite a while now, and I suppose I would be gathering some of the same ideas from it whether consciously or otherwise. The pastor had also said how the wall of division goes up any time we have something that rises above Christ as important in our lives, whether job, gender, or anything.
The thing I noticed was how the sermon pertained to many timely needs, how it pertained to the very answer I was trying to articulate to a friend who doubted that Katie should be off at college but felt instead should be home with family. The matter of the dividing walls that we make for ourselves really struck Tina, our homeschool music teacher, as a very useful thought--she was going to be gathering with some of the mothers from our 200+ child music classes. These music families come from a variety of backgrounds and many of them are being dragged down in divisiveness over trivial issues to Tina's great grief and frustration. Who knows how many of the congregation were feeling that applicable nature of the sermon? I had barely scratched the surface to find so much!
The way that the sermon confronted so many timely issues is an illustration of how the Holy Spirit works in the pastor as he crafts the sermon for the purposes of his own congregation. No ready-made work from anywhere could reach the hearts of the people like one that was custom-designed with the Holy Spirit's fresh and creative breath upon it for those particular people at that particular time. It makes me anticipate the hearing of it all the more, and the pondering of it later all the more potentially fruitful. How great it is that after my wrestling with whether I could think of a refreshed start in building on the foundation of Christ in my faith and its application, that Sunday I should hear a sermon citizenship is in heaven. And I eagerly await my Savior from there!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Getting back to foundational faith

We have been attending our present church for about seven months. During that time I have been brought to realize the need to reevaluate my thought processes and assumptions about my faith. I have been a Christian for 18 years, and yet, somehow I think I have been more American than Christian. I have to remind myself at times of the seemingly obvious truth that Christianity is not primarily American; in fact it is not this-worldly at all, it is not global, it is not multi-national; it doesn't place its trust in any mere human being or organization; it is heavenly, and it corresponds only to heavenly ideals. So many times I have presented a thought to our pastor and he responds with a question regarding why I believe that, and I am often stymied. I've seen it happen with others as well; I think it is a healthy thing to have these assumptions challenged, so that we can give a reason for the hope that is within us without coloring it with earthly influences.
How encumbered we are in the culture in which we live! And yet the Bible warns us to not be conformed to the pattern of this world and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds...this is a huge challenge, as I see it.
How can we not be conformed to the pattern of this world somewhat, when we live in it? We are to be in it but not of it. This is fairly easy to define when using extreme terms, such as that a Christian would not generally find himself comfortable with some worldly behaviors such as carousing and breaking the Ten Commandments in the more obvious ways; but what about balancing material concerns, stewardship, living out the fruit of the Spirit, being salt and light...there are Scriptures that address these kinds of things, but I think they may be more subject to interpretation than the Ten Commandments (though I realize Jesus showed the proper interpretation of those also to be more inward and complex than what the Jews saw in the Old Testament); I see how fine that line can be in my life these days.
I realize for example that I need to strive to maintain our home so that it is a haven and a good representation of stewardship in Christ; but at what point does that detract from my being a good neighbor who can serve another, who can not be distracted so much with my own needs that I ignore the spiritual or physical needs of my neighbor, my brother, my friend, even my enemy, all for whom Christ died? It is a hard balance and as we work to make our house attractive to sell, I realize we're improving its appeal to align with the more materialistic bent of today's buyer. Is this wrong, or is it right to make it as beautiful as possible, so that we get a good price, so that we are less likely to need to rely on others financially in the future, as we get older and our finances may become more strained? Is this not trusting God, or is it being a good steward? These are things I have to address in my own conscience, and I can only do it by praying and asking for God's help and guidance, because the Scriptures that come to my mind could be applied either way on it.
So far in this project, I do believe that God has helped and blessed us, as we have been guided to excellent workmen and the project has been as stressless as any I've heard of, and it's been as affordable as I could have imagined. I hope to think this is an indicator that God is not distressed by what could be viewed as materialism. I've prayed that He would close the doors to it if it weren't His will, and yet they've been wide open.
This seems to me to be a good example of wrestling with how much we conform to the pattern of this world. How the Scriptures are lived out, whether according to American values, or heavenly ones, that is the challenge. Even what church we choose to attend can influence, and be influenced by, our stand on the Scriptures. Are we consumers as we choose a church? Is the church we attend chosen because it is comfortable, because it is easy to agree with what is taught there, because it has a smorgasbord of programs that appeal to all the age groups of our family? Or do we attend because it in fact challenges our comfort and our assumptions regarding our faith?
I remember from long ago a family about whom I kept hearing sniping comments, who had undergone some financial challenges along with a career change, and I prayed that God would help me understand the truth about them. I'm not positive that a dream I had about them was God's answer to this prayer, but I dreamt that the huge brick house that they lived in had become a house with clear walls, with a layer of bricks only at the base, at the foundation. I saw that they had needed to start over again, rebuilding their lives from the foundation, brick by brick. They had huge challenges and the sniping comments were the last thing they needed. I relate that picture to my faith--I feel the need to bring it down to the foundational truths, and build it up brick by brick, contrary to the culture, and with God's help, to rebuild it in line with heavenly priorities and ideals. It seems so disheartening to start over, and yet I think that a clarified view of God's purposes will be the end reward; this is such a worthwhile incentive. How well I will continue on this rebuilding, keeping heavenly priorities in mind, persevering to the end I don't know, but I hope it will continue and that I will have a clearer understanding of how to live out my faith in such a way as to please God and love my neighbor.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Beauty of Church, and Change

The other night as I was getting Tim off to bed, as he was lying there winding down for the night, he was reflecting on our church. He sighed (he does that when he's content) and said how much he loves our ugly old church building. He loves that it's old. He loves how worn out it is. I've been thinking the same thing.
The building is cinder block and covered in about 20 coats of yellow paint. It was built about 60 years ago when the original structure burned down. The front steps are of concrete covered in indoor-outdoor "grass" type carpeting...and it's worn through to the concrete...and the concrete is worn to a rounded edge.
When our pastor was visiting our house one night, we showed him a plate that was given to us as a momento of our wedding. We were married in a very traditional chapel-type church in Hillsboro, Oregon, the Old Scotch Church, and the plate had a drawing of the church on it. Pastor Ken looked at the plate and with a wry smile, he said, "We couldn't really do that with our church." I suggested that we could, with a doily over it.
Last night when we were describing our church building to some friends over dessert and dominoes, their grown son said regarding the worn front steps, "That's a good thing." And it is. Those steps show the impact of every footstep that has gone in and out of that church over the years, a testimony to a long continuity (if a small congregation) of faithful believers. The church has remained tiny, and I think it's because of the visual lack of initial appeal in the outside of the building; but the tiny congregation is as sweet as any I've seen. Some friends of ours seemed to be pretty put off by the outward appearance, and that's fine.
We have plans to build a new facility, and it promises good things--the property that the church was given overlooks a beautiful small lake that you see driving into Granite Falls. It's a very appealing site (aside from the mosquitos, which loved the taste of my blood last summer). I can't help but dread a little bit the changes that will undoubtedly occur on the occasion of its opening. There will be a whole population of people who will no longer be put off by the building's appearance. A new building seems like it will unavoidably change the character of the church in general. We've seen a couple of times what is called the "new paint syndrome" of opening a new church building for a church that has already existed beforehand elsewhere, and the growth of the congregations as a result.
Yet who can complain? It is a good thing. It's God's provision for His purpose. If a person is put off by appearance, and conversely attracted by appearance, I'm sure that accomplishes something in sifting people according to the time and place and purpose that God has in mind. If the appearance of a new building is the cultural appeal that brings more people in to hear the gospel presented, so be it. Just so long as the biblical message of the church isn't weakened as a result in hopes of growing the numbers rather than strengthening the spirits of those who attend, who can argue?
That wasn't all that our Tim had to discuss about the church. Last night, after having talked with our friends and telling them about our church, Tim was pondering with pleasure the idea of coming to church this morning. I told him, "I hope the main thing you're looking forward to is the fact that we go to worship God, not that your friends are there." He understood that, and claimed that was in fact his primary reason, but he also went on to say, "I bet Pastor Ken has never said a swear word." I was surprised, partly because I thought he'd bring up something about the friends his age, but he is strongly impressed by the fact that the pastor has befriended him personally. I said that chances were that the pastor had in fact sworn before, that he is only human, after all. He said, "Well, you think he's pretty good." Yes, I respect, admire and will try to imitate the way that he lives out Christ in his life; I haven't found fault with him. Still, I don't make him out to be beyond what humans are capable of. It's easy to put leaders on a pedestal, and I've seen it done with very bad results before. We have to realize the human limitations of everyone, holding them accountable to the perfect standard of faith in Christ, but realizing that all fall short; it's not fair to anyone to expect them to be perfect.
So we look forward to Sundays, if you haven't noticed. It's solid teaching, there's a very sweet fellowship, and I treasure each time we're there. I walk up those worn concrete steps and open the heavy, battered wooden door with great anticipation. The character of the church may change with time, but as long as God is at the center of what goes on there, it's the way it should be.
Well, I stand corrected. I told Kit, Pastor Ken's wife, about Tim's comment, and she said, "He's right. I can vouch for that. I've never heard him swear, and he's never sworn. It isn't that he holds it back, it just isn't there." Well, there you are. I guess Tim could tell, somehow, in Pastor's gentle demeanor. That can be pretty hard to kick out of place sometimes!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Fun of Scrabble

Katie and Tim and I played Scrabble tonight. It was a sweet thing--we all had a great time trying to fit the words in the most advantageous spot possible. We're all a bit competitive and control freaks to boot. The greatest thing about it was that we all enjoyed each other's company; the next best thing was that they're becoming serious contenders. I'm having to get used to a new depth of competition. It's the first time I've lost that I remember...not that I have that great a memory. Katie won. Tim got almost as many points as I did.
I used to allow Tim to take twice the tiles I did in order to give him an advantage. It didn't take him long to refuse to take the extras. Then for a long time I had to help him create the words. That's becoming less frequent, too. I occasionally have to correct his spelling, but not that often any more. He's becoming more and more canny at the positioning of the words. I think Scrabble is a great game for evaluating a child's progress in word use and strategy. His progress is encouraging to me, too, since his vision has only recently been corrected to the point that reading comes more readily to him. I don't know how he came to do as well as he is, except by God's grace. His average score per turn was a bit over 13.
Katie's skills are a bit more developed. She looked in the dictionary and found a word, "kina," from Papua New Guinea. In our house, if it's in our dictionary and not an acronym, abbreviation, or proper name, you can use it. She also had more instances than the rest of us for using a letter to make two words simultaneously. She got an average score per turn of almost 17 points.
So I think we have a family trait of loving Scrabble, and we will use it for a family fun time as well as for honing our competitive skills. It's a good time. If you enjoy Scrabble, call us and come by, we'd love to have you come over to play it with us!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Goals rather than Resolutions; Sinkless and Mindless

Well, it's 2008 and I haven't made any New Year's Resolutions. I don't really intend to, either. Goals are easier for me to comprehend, to stick with. This year my personal goal is to add 20 pounds--no, not add 20, but add them to the 18 pounds that came off last year as a result of not eating wheat! They came off so slowly that they'll probably stay off, and eating wheat hurts so much that there's no incentive to return to my old ways. That's a realization that's been refreshed by accidentally thinking a new cereal we had was wheat-free. Ouch! Takes a number of days to get it out of my system, and meanwhile I go around with an annoying limp.
Our family goal will be to get our house fixed up and sold. We're on our way, getting new cupboards and counters in. They will be really nice, but the meaning is a bit emptier in that while they're aesthetically pleasant, they're not intended as ours. The significance of the improvements is different when it's primarily to get the house sold.
After a couple of days of tearing out the old cabinets and disconnecting sinks... (I tried anyway--Dave the cupboard guy came to my rescue and helped me finish, bless his soul), my brain was gone and my muscles were sore for a couple of days. I'm beginning to speak in full sentences again, though--more or less.
All this is on the heels of Christmas. I'd barely gotten most of the Christmas mess put away before they started--there are still some ornaments and decorations to go, but I have to wait to do these until afterward, now. It's not the ideal scenario, but we wanted to get going with a bang after the holidays were done. Boy, did we!
So what was messed up before has more messes on top and we really have a lot to clean up once this remodel is done. Now we're sitting here with one sink in the house that's operational, downstairs where most of us hardly ever normally go. It's rather primitive, something like camping out except dryer and warmer. If you thought I was messy before, you should see the house these days! Uh, scratch that. Stay away for just a little while!
I'm not feeling very well-motivated yet--we will also have floors to be done, all the more since the edges of our old, cheap and worn linoleum are now exposed by differently shaped cupboards. You can see the subflooring underneath. This first stage of remodel will require us to rid the garage and basement of all those boxes of stuff and pieces of furniture that we've been intending to jettison, so that clearing the floors won't be such an enormous stress when that time comes. I guess it's a good thing, it will make for a much easier move.
Meanwhile we have a neighbor two doors down who has put her house on the market, and priced it quite lower than we thought would be the market rate. I knew the market wasn't doing well, but the house is vacant and they're in a hurry at this slow time of year to get it sold. They refaced the kitchen cabinets and added granite counters, and refloored the place--and it cost her much more, because while we have great Christian friends in the business, our neighbor went through a local warehouse store which subcontracted the work to various businesses that made many mistakes, went way past schedule, and blamed each other for everything that went wrong. We do feel very blessed. The men who are doing our work are just fantastic!
The friend doing our counters also came in one morning and told us that a previous customer of his had called to say he had a whole kitchen full of top-of-the-line appliances and a sink that he was willing to sell for the cost I'd seen for just a cheap range and fridge. (Most of our existing appliances are either broken or very worn, about 15 years old.) I think we've made some new friends. They are incredibly sweet. We looked at the appliances (they look almost showroom-new), and then they had us sit down and we talked for about an hour and a half. Their house overlooked the Puget Sound looking east, scanning a view from Mt. Rainier to Mt. Baker. They later called us at home with about three different offers of help to get the appliances to our house, at least a 45-minute drive.
God is good, life is sweet. I can't find anything around the house, but knowing God's goodness, I know we can get through it eating microwaved food with plastic and paper for the next week or so, and washing our hands in the shower.
2 Samuel 22:32-33 For who is God besides the LORD ? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.