Monday, April 30, 2007

Salvation Belongs to Our God

One of the things I appreciate about Anglican worship is the commitment to the public reading of Scripture. Each week we read four lessons, usually one from the Old Testament, one from the Psalms, one from the Epistles and one from the Gospels. Some weeks I am particularly encouraged by one or more of the readings.

This week, it was the reading of Revelation 7:9-17 that made me teary. I had a number of things on my mind. Al and I were leading music for the service and I was feeling inadequate to the task. The songs I had selected felt uninspired and I came into worship feeling frazzled and hurried. We had also just learned that Bob Webber, whom I studied under and respected, had passed away the evening before. In addition, I'd recently read an account of the martyrdom of three men in Turkey. I did not know these men, but felt somewhat connected to them because they worked in publishing.

The reading began:

9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
"Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb."

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.

I was startled to realize that a week ago, while planning worship for this service, I had selected "Salvation Belongs To Our God" as one of the Eucharist songs. I hadn't known this Scripture was part of the lectionary for today when I was choosing music and was encouraged that the Holy Spirit had inspired my choice of songs even though I felt uninspired. I am thankful that even when we feel inadequate, God chooses to work in and through us to the glory of his name.

The reading continued:
13 Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?"

14 I answered, "Sir, you know."

And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,
"they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will spread his tent over them.

16 'Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,'
nor any scorching heat.

17 For the Lamb at the center before the throne
will be their shepherd;
'he will lead them to springs of living water.'
'And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'"

As I listened, I had the image of Bob and the three martyrs worshiping before the throne of God, their robes washed white. And at that moment, instead of focusing on the sadness of their deaths, I was reminded of the victory of Christ over death in a very real way.

We sing an "Alleluia" after the Epistle reading to prepare for the Gospel reading. I was so overwhelmed with God's goodness that my heart sang "Alleluia! Alleluia! Give thanks to the risen Lord," but my voice was choked up and I moved the microphone away allowing the congregation to carry the song as we joined all those around God's throne praising the Risen Lord.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Disorderly Disciplines

I recently read Jenell Williams Paris's article, "Disorderly Disciplines" (Christianity Today, May 2007) where she talks about how becoming a mother ruined her ability to be disciplined about spirituality.

Many of the spiritual disciplines were developed by monastics who valued regularity and solitude; words like order and rule describe them. Family life, while no less holy than monastic life, makes consistent order impossible. The wild rhythm of parenting persuades me that monastic life cannot provide the only model for spiritual discipline. In fact, some seasons of life may be better suited to spiritual undiscipline. In contrast to the stability of monasticism, motherhood offers a catch-as-catch-can spirituality.

I am drawn to the idea of spiritual disciplines, but have always found it difficult to maintain any specific discipline. I've practiced various disciplines including daily quiet time (reading the Bible and praying), practicing solitude and silence, journaling and listening to an audio devotional. Each of these disciplines has been helpful in its season, but I've never been able to maintain a single discipline for very long. Becoming a mother has made most disciplined approaches to spirituality difficult at best and impossible at worst. More often than not I end up with a "catch-as-catch-can spirituality" comprised of bed-time Bible stories, God-moments with our kids (those wonderful and often unexpected opportunities to talk to our kids about God and God's work in the world) and meal time prayers.

Jenell's article was a welcome reminder that spirituality does not look the same for every person or during every stage in life. Some disciplines that are appropriate and helpful during one stage of life may be less helpful, or maybe even inappropriate, during a later stage of life. We cannot expect everyone else to connect with God in the exact same way that we do.

A few years ago I was part of a committee that was drafting a commitment card for worship team members to sign. One person on the committee wanted to include a commitment to spending 15 minutes with God each day. I forget if he specified that those 15 minutes were to be spent reading the Bible and praying, but that seemed to be the expectation. I was upset and argued for different wording. Yes, it is important to spend time with God and reading the Bible and praying are good spiritual practices. But spirituality doesn't look the same for everyone.

I do not set aside a specific amount of time to spend with God each day and cannot name a specific discipline I am currently practicing on a daily basis. And yet I find myself connecting with God and seeking his grace. I find myself praying as I read or listen to disturbing news, when I learn about a co-worker who is struggling or when I am at my wit's end with the kids. I am moved by children's Bible stories. I am reminded of God's grace in the simple things our kids say and do. I hear God's whisper in the books I read, the music I listen to and in conversations with friends. I see examples of God's love for me in the way my husband shows his love for me.

So, with Jenell, I practice "disorderly disciplines" and am thankful that God is willing and able to meet us in different ways, often using the mundane things in life to remind us of his character and grace.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Body Image and Culture

Last Tuesday I came across an interesting article in the Chicago Sun-Times. According to Country struggles to end force-feeding of girls by Rukmini Callimachi obesity is considered attractive in Mauritania, North Africa and parents sometimes force-feed their daughters to make them more beautiful. One girl was forced to drink 14 gallons of camel's milk each day from the time she turned four years old.

Some of the quotes were completely opposite of what you might hear from a typical woman in the U.S.A. One North African woman said, "My husband thinks I'm not fat enough." Another wants to gain more than 20 pounds and wants to be big "because men like that."

Whether the cultural definition of beauty is fat or thin, women are making themselves ill trying to be beautiful. Mey Mint, one of the women quoted in the article, said "My mother thinks she made me beautiful. But she made me sick." So while women in the U.S.A. starve themselves in an effort lose 20 pounds or more, women in North Africa are suffering from health risks associated with obesity (diabetes, heart disease, etc) as they struggle to gain weight. Both countries objectify women, encouraging them to unhealthy extremes of weight without regard for their health.

While I am glad that there is not a single definition of beauty, I wish women were encouraged to be healthy instead of being a particular weight or build.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Well, it's almost time for Josiah to start kindergarten. I attended a Kindergarten Roundup meeting for parents this week and received a stack of flyers, handouts and packets of information about what to expect and how to get involved with PTA.

I'm sure that Josiah is ready for Kindergarten. He can read and write. He has counted to at least 200, can do basic addition and subtraction and knows his shapes and colors. He loves preschool and enjoys playing with other kids. Yep, he's ready.

I'm just not sure if I'm ready. One mother commented on how happy I must be getting the first kid off to school so that I would have more time to do other things. But, you know, that's not what I look forward to. I am excited for him to learn new things and make new friends, but I fell a little sad transitioning into a time when he will spend so much time at school. He's fun to be around (most of the time) and I love playing with him, laughing with him and watching him grow and learn. I know that won't all go away once he starts school, but it still feels like a small loss. And I suspect that the next 13 years will fly by and that he will be heading off for college all too soon.

It's almost time for Josiah to start Kindergarten. I can't believe how quickly the last five years have flown by. I have the whole summer to prepare myself, but I'm pretty sure I'll end up crying after I drop him off for his first day of school.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Too Many Jeans

How many pairs of jeans do you own? Last week I was listening to a Christian radio station on my way home and the DJs were discussing that the average woman in the U.S.A. owns 20 to 25 pairs of jeans. So they were taking calls from listeners who were willing to tell how many pairs of jeans they owned. I wasn't able to listen very long, but a lot of the people who called in owned 25 or more pair of jeans! And that doesn't include capris, dress slacks or other types of pants.

In an interesting juxtaposition, I heard a story on NPR earlier in the day about widows in India. One widow mentioned that she cannot buy any cloths. Her family takes turns buying her one sari each year.

I own six pairs of jeans: two pair that are old and have holes in the knees, two pair that are too big (kept from when I was had post-pregnancy weight), one pair that is white and one pair that I actually wear. How sad that I have five pairs of jeans sitting in my dresser that I rarely wear while other people can't even afford to buy one outfit each year.

Friday, April 13, 2007


I am tired.

I am tired of tasks that never seem to end. I am tired of scheduling doctor and therapy appointments. I am tired of vacuuming, sweeping the kitchen floor and doing laundry. I am tired of rearranging my schedule to fit everyone else's needs. I am tired of reading book contracts and catalog copy. I am tired of trying so hard to be perfect at everything. It is really wearing me out.

The other day Elijah had his 2-year old check up. I was feeling a little ill, so Al agreed to take him instead. As soon as they left I started to worry. I am the one who usually attends Elijah's therapy sessions and medical appointments. What if the doctor asks Al something and he doesn't know? What if Elijah needs a clean diaper after they weigh him? What if Al doesn't ask the right questions or remember all of the doctor's recommendations? So I grabbed the diaper bag, had Josiah put on his coat and shoes and we rushed out to meet Al and Elijah at the doctor's office. It turns out that Elijah did need a clean diaper and I probably provided more information than Al would have been able to, but I don't think it was as necessary for me to there as I had convinced myself.

My spiritual director is convinced that it would be good for me to have more fun, to receive opportunities to enjoy life when I am tempted to strive towards perfection instead. You would think this would be easy, but my inner critic actually makes this somewhat difficult. My inner critic takes the invitation to, "Go ahead and have fun once in a while" and makes it a command, "You should have more fun." So even having fun becomes another task instead of an invitation. And so, I often feel guilty no matter what decision I make. If I play with the kids all morning, I feel guilty that I didn't clean the house. If I clean the house, I feel guilty that I didn't play with kids. If I play with the kids and clean the house, I feel guilty that I didn't finish some other task on my never ending list of things to do.

I am thankful for the days when I am able to receive opportunities to enjoy life, for the times I am able to be present to the moment instead of deciding what task needs to be accomplished next.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Happy Birthday Elijah!

Sunday was Elijah's second birthday. It was a pretty full day celebrating both Easter and his birthday, but it was a lot of fun. It's hard to believe that Elijah is already two years old!

We are so proud of Elijah. He has a great laugh and gives wonderful hugs. He enjoys it when we tickle him and even when Josiah wrestles with him. He loves to read books and watch Signing Time and other kids' shows. He is walking and climbing and transitioning from sitting to standing without help. He can play at the playground now instead of sitting in the swing or stroller watching everyone else.

He knows at least twenty to thirty signs and is learning new signs every week. He will sit and look through his Signing Time books and do the sign for each picture. It's very cute and it's encouraging to see him identifying and naming objects on his own.

With all of these achievements, Elijah is also starting to get into trouble more often. He loves to take the grates off of the heater vents and occasionally throws a toy into the vent. Josiah is very vigilant about protecting the vents. A few times each day we hear the clunk of Elijah removing a grate immediately followed by Josiah running across the house yelling, "No, Elijah!" (I think Josiah will pass his hearing screening with flying colors!) If we are not careful to push all of the dining room chairs in, we are certain to find Elijah sitting in a chair or on top of the table.

Elijah wore a new outfit for Easter and his birthday. By the end of the day he figured out how to use his vest to play "Peek-a-boo!"

We're so glad that Elijah is part of our family. It's fun to watch him grow and learn. He is a blessing and brings us a lot of joy.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Grumpy Day

It's amazing how one event can set the tone for an entire day. Yesterday Elijah deleted a seven-page talk Al was preparing on the computer. Somehow, possibly with Josiah's help, the contents of the file were not only deleted, but the file was also closed without being saved. Al called me at work in great distress and frustration. By the time I got home Elijah was just waking up from his nap and he was very grouchy. It took half an hour to calm him down and convince him to eat lunch and by that time I was getting grouchy too.

Elijah had therapy after lunch. The session went well, but not great. Elijah is starting to exert independence and test boundaries. It's wonderful that he is reaching a new developmental milestone, but pretty frustrating too. He throws toys and food in disdain and insists on lifting the heater vents and tossing things in. All completely normal activities for someone who is almost two years old, but activities that drive me nuts.

We picked Josiah up from preschool and played at a local playground for awhile. Josiah played "Red Light, Green Light" with some friends. When it was his turn to be the "red light" though, he refused to say "green light." He wanted to be the "red light" forever and did not give his friends a chance to get near him. Instead he made up his own rules. "Banana light! That means you have to pretend to eat a banana...Orange light! That means you have to go back to the beginning." I was torn about whether to intervene and remind Josiah to play by the rules or to let him experience the natural consequence of his friends deciding not to play the game anymore. I ended up tossing out, "Josiah, you have to say green light" from time to time. He didn't listen and his friends quit and suggested a new game.

The evening went well enough, but Al and I were both feeling tired and grouchy. I completed paperwork for enrolling Josiah in Kindergarten. Then Josiah and I made an Easter banner for church while Elijah tried to climb on the table and grab all of our supplies. Al folded laundry and tried to keep Elijah occupied so he wouldn't grab more craft supplies. By the time the kids were in bed Al and I both were exhausted. We climbed into bed to read for awhile and thanked each other for putting up with our grouchiness.

Other than the incident with Al's file being deleted, yesterday was pretty normal. But it seems like that one incident made us all a little grumpier and less patient than usual. Lord, have mercy. But that was yesterday. Today is a new day. With God's help, I hope to be more patient and loving today.

Monday, April 02, 2007

$100 Project

Awhile ago Al blogged about the $100 project and invited people to join in and blog about their experience. I usually try not to talk about my charitable giving. If I hear Al mention a charitable gift we have given, even in passing, I usually elbow him and mutter "right hand, left hand!" (a reference to Mt 6:3). So, blogging about what I did for the $100 project feels a little awkward. And yet, for some reason, it also feels important to join in the project and to share my experience with others.

When Al first posted his $100 project blog, I assumed that his $100 counted as mine too. We're married and most of our charitable giving is done in both of our names. So I figured I would help Al decide what we should do with our $100 and that would be all. Then I received a $100 honorarium for leading worship at a retreat. I starting to think about how I could spend the money. I could buy more stamps and other card making supplies, or I could use it towards an anniversary gift for Al... And then a quiet whisper, "You know, its $100. Remember Al's blog. You could give it away."

My first response was not very nice. "Give it away!? But this is one of the few times I earn extra money that I can justify spending on me." I didn't have any immediate opportunities to spend the money anyway, so I put it aside and started to pray about it. I didn't pray particularly often or very fervently, but I did ask God what I should do with the money. Should I give it to an organization or should I find a more personal way to give the money to someone in need? Should I use it to help poor people, people with disabilities, or something else? Was giving to an organization instead of finding something local and more personal a cop-out?

Then I began to notice that one organization was coming to my attention more frequently than usual. While reviewing a video for work, I saw a segment about International Justice Mission (IJM). Shortly after that I read a brief news blurb about a successful mission that IJM accomplished in freeing children who were enslaved in the sex industry. I am familiar with IJM because the publisher I work for publishes Good News About Injustice by Gary Haugen, the president and CEO of IJM. I had also heard someone from IJM speak at the Urbana 06 Student Missions Convention. Finally, last week Al was reading Terrify No More, a book documenting the events leading up to, and surrounding, IJM’s raids in the notorious Cambodian village of Svay Pak where their workers rescued 37 underage victims of sex trafficking, many of them under the age of 10. I read a few chapters before we had to return the book to the library and made my decision.

Since the work of IJM includes a few different areas that I am particularly concerned about (injustice, children in need, slavery, sex trafficking) and since IJM seems to be coming to my attention more frequently than usual (something God often uses to catch my attention), I decided to give my $100 to them. I imagine that $100 is a small amount for IJM in comparison to what they need, but I hope God will use my small gift to help rescue people who are experiencing injustice and help on their journey to find hope and healing.