Thursday, July 31, 2008

Too Many Churches?

We're still unpacking books from our recent move and I happened to flip through "out of my mind" by Andy Rooney which I have no idea how we even came to own, but the first page that caught my attention was a chapter entitled, Too Many Churches.

Rooney writes: I think it might strengthen all churches if they closed half of them, tore down the buildings and sold the property for money they could use for useful purposes . . . There are about 300,000 houses of worship in the United States. Many occupy huge pieces of real estate in prime locations in every major city in the country. They pay no taxes. On many Sundays, even during the main service, the pews at thousands of churches are far below capacity. . . For the rest of Sunday, and for all twenty-four hours of the other six days of the week, many churches are deserted. It seems like such a waste . . . .

And then, get this: . . . it seems to me the various Christian sects have enough in common that they could worship as well together in one building as apart in several. Even if they didn't want to convene at the same hour, there would be plenty of time for each group to meet separately with just its members. Is there something members of one of these churches believe that would offend members of any other? Why can't they pray together in one building?

Oh, Andy.

You aren't from around here, are you?

Apparently Andy has never met an eternally secure Baptist. Or a sanctified Nazarene. Or a predestined Calvinist. Or a thrice-dipped footwashed second act of grace spirit slain premillenial forgiven Christian. To suggest that we might share the same carpet???? And lose our salvation Andy???

The Church could stand to take a good look at itself from a perspective outside the stained-glass. These few paragraphs have left me wondering:

Is there a Biblical example of a church purchasing a building to meet in? Were the first congregations who chose to buy property to build a building considered radical and worldly, considering the New Testament's emphasis on frugality, and the new reality that our bodies are now the temple? I wonder how the shift away from the Church as a community of believers and toward the church as a building contributed to the compartmentalizing of our spirituality? Was there also a resulting shift of resources away from the poor and towards bigger buildings?

Teaching my two year old to share is about as natural as teaching her to fly. The church could stand to sit on the Time Out Chair and think about sharing as well. How creative can we be with our already tidy temperature controlled-build-it-and-they-will-come church buildings? How about setting-out a welcome mat to groups- even other churches GASP- during the times that it's sitting empty? My husband was a pastor. I can already hear him explaining the impossible logistics of this. But we put tons energy into THE MOST ENTERTAINING ENTERTAINMENT EVER!!!!!, why not put some energy into maxing out the resources we possess generously into the community?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mamma Mia

Today feels like it should be Boxing Day or Holiday Shopping Day or at least the Sabbath. Yesterday was my mom's birthday, well I think that yesterday was the actual day but that is irrelevant because really the last week of July is Birthday Week. But you already knew that, didn't you? Because my mother has managed to market her birthday so well that, not only do her family and friends remember, the grocery stores around here run specials in honor of it. Birthday Week is preceded by Birthday Month, in which hints are shamelessly dropped. The week before traditionally includes a phonecall from my dad asking what in the world should I get your mother for her birthday? Followed by three more from each of my brothers asking the same thing. Then, let the parties begin! We're sure to have a family party planned by Yours Truly, a Friends party thrown by her friends, and just in case someone happened to forget, two or three more parties planned by the Birthday Girl herself.

My mother's week-long birthday celebration concluded last night with a Girls Night Out with her friends for dinner and Mama Mia! I was fortunate to be invited along even though I 1. Don't remember Abba and 2. have never worn a pantsuit. Not that my mother is such an Abba fan because over coffee after she actually asked if "Abba" isn't a Christian band? Outloud. We decided she could be excused for that comment because those were her Mennonite days after all.

I love you dearly, Mom, for many reasons, not the least of which is the FUN you believe life should be! Thanks for that spirit of celebration that finds any occasion a good reason to have a party.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Excellent Parenting Book!

I found a book, The Power of a Parent's Words by H.Norman Wright in a used bookstore a few years ago and picked it up, knowing that he's a great Christian counselor and having read a few of his books on other topics. (One good one: Encouraging the Man in Your Life). So I began reading this the other day and so far it is incredible! I keep stopping because there is so much to talk about with your spouse, and it's great because at the end of each (short) chapter are discussion questions and some ways to evaluate how you are doing as a parent in that particular issue. So far it has gone much deeper than just the surface of the words you use: childhood "roles" that we unknowingly were placed in as we grew up, such as: the doers, enablers, loners, stars, jokers, siants, Daddy's princess/Mommy's little man; what were our reasons for becoming parents: ego, compensation, conformity, affection; How to "empower" (I like that word) our children to maturity; Parental roles and Character goals; Identifying dysfunctional traits that you may be doing as a parent without even realizing it, as well as subtle forms of verbal/emotional abuse that we may not even know we are doing . . . and that is just the first three chapters!

Friday, July 25, 2008

One more reason I love naptime

It is the only time all day when I can unashamedly and fearlessly consume chocolate without a little pipsqueak voice popping up:

I SMELL something! What do I smell Mommy? Do I smell CHOCOLATE Mommy?!?

And then I must choose one of three options:

1. Lie: "No, daughter, that is broccoli you smell. Mommy LOVES to have a broccoli treat in the middle of the (morning/afternoon/day/night).

2. Mean Mommy: Yes, daughter, I am eating chocolate and I am allowed to eat chocolate because I already survived puberty and High School gym class and eighteen months of morning sickness, and THAT entitles me to eat chocolate whenever I want! You, little girl, may eat broccoli.

3. Give-in like the big wimp that I am and spend the rest of the afternoon watching my daughter dance on the bed rather than taking that much-needed nap.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Keep on dreamin'

Just to add some levity to that last post, I've decided to begin a Very Important List to keep myself from totally losing my mind in the homemade muffins batter. It will be a list of things that I wish I could do, hope to do, or will do just as soon as I finish crosstiching my childrens' ultrasound pictures. Look for it in my sidebar!

Live in each season . . .

Something that I believe in very strongly is living life to its fullest. To be fully alive, fully present in every moment. To try everything once. To fully embrace each experience, relationship, emotion, whatever, and then to hold it, learn from it, and release it, ever-ready to experience the coming of God to us each moment, in every invisible unsuspecting way. This "carpe-diem" mantra has been a running slogan in my life for a long time. I suppose ever since God set me free to embrace life, but that is another subject. . . .

A Thoreau quote that I see everyday on my refigerator states: Live in each season as it passes, breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit.

Living fully has taken on different forms in different seasons. In college, it meant embracing solitude when I wanted company, embracing singleness when I wanted to be married, and putting all of my energy into making art.

Out of college and at peace with my singleness suddenly brought a new urgency to get the absolute most out of my single life! I took roadtrips, we planned parties, I moved to Haiti, I saved all my money and traveled . . . and when my single days came to an end at 26, it was hard to say good-bye to the freedom and simplicity of being single. But I knew that I had lived that season to its fullest!

Then comes marriage . . . my husband has a drive to learn and to experience like no one I have ever met. In our "for richer" (a.k.a. before children) days, living fully included mission trips, a much-savoured roadtrip eating our way (hey, I was 8 months pregnant!) along the east coast, good coffee, good friends, art museums, adventurous restaurants, and ten-hour days buried in piles of books at Borders. We also did our best to give all of ourselves to the ministry at the church where Jim was a pastor.

And here we are pushing a baby carriage . . . two, in fact. And to be honest, I have had a difficult time articulating what "living life to its fullest" means as a mom. Perhaps this has something to do with my pregnancies being so difficult, and one child that never learned to sleep until she was two and a half. Perhaps it is related to that inner anxiety that wonders who I am now, and still has a bit of an attitude toward the title of "homemaker." (What was that Helen Keller quote, the one about life being either a daring adventure or . . . nothing? Most days laundry and dishes don't feel much like an adventure).

But lately . . . perhaps it has to do with the new home, our new and calmer life, the abundant sunshine, the sleep we are finally enjoying . . . I finally feel like I am settled into this mom role and- dare I say- discovering the adventure in it.

I came across this "Why I Love Homemaking" piece yesterday, and though I think she is a bit over the top, and it is probably one of those things that I would have broken out in a rash just by reading it a few years ago . . . I can read it now and relate to the joy she has found in homemaking, and be inspired by the passion that she puts into her home. Whereas I may have felt in the past as though the adventure were over, I feel re-inspired to live life to its fullest as a wife and mom, and confidant that being a homemaker requires as much wisdom and understanding, talent and creativity, discipline and hard work, as any high-paying career or adventurous life . . . that the adventure is just beginning.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Making it Home

Well today is the big day . . . truck is here, boxes are packed, we have the keys to our new apartment . . . and that sick feeling is there in my gut, the one I've been trying to ignore every night as I fall asleep. I've written before about how I am looking forward to a simpler life, of getting rid of a lot of our stuff and looking forward to the blessings of living in a small place . . . and the apartment we are moving to is fabulous-- brand new, and clean, and plenty big enough for our family . . . but that fear is there, that it won't be big enough for company, that our girls won't have places to play, that we'll feel like we're living in a closet . . .

So this morning as I was reading in Proverbs I landed on 14.1: Every wise woman buildeth her house . . . and it's all back in perspective for me again. I wish I had time to dive into some of the women the book of Proverbs describes, and their relationship to their home. But this one sums it up for me today. The truth is, there are huge, lavish homes without joy. And there are tiny impoverished homes with much joy. The difference has a lot to do with the woman of the home. It is a creative, daring, passionate call to "build" the house your husband and children call home.

This also has me thinking about some of the wise women I know and the creative ways they have chosen to "build" their homes, taking the circumstances life gives them, and adding to it their own wisdom, and joy, and laughter, and good things. But I'll have to save that for another day, when I'm not moving!

Friday, July 11, 2008

corrections to Monday!

I need to make two important corrections to Monday's post: it's an eraser SHIELD, not a cover. And he was a FULLBACK, not a lineman. Lineman do something different completely. Something that has nothing to do with what Fullbacks do and more to do with something different. I stand corrected.

Our sweet girls, making the United States Military proud

Sleep Monster was back this week and this time he brought a friend for the other sister, so my week has been a hazy effort to survive. I haven't even attempted to blog because when you are this sleep deprived, the mind is the first thing to go . . . well actually the first thing to go is any form of affection with your spouse (because in the middle of the night, This Is All Your Fault), then goes your will to live, then it's the mind. Jim and I always remind ourselves that sleep deprivation is a form of torture . . . I'm pretty sure that if Dick Cheney ever met our girls, he would be like, wow, can I send some guys here for training?

So yesterday I took them to the pool all afternoon, and we drug them to the park until 9:00 last night, and this morning, they are still asleep! Glorious sleep!

We did miss Daddy terribly as we had gotten pretty attached to having him around for a whole month. It was a sad day when we had to say good-bye and not have him with us for ten long hours. I wonder if the change had something to do with the girls' inability to sleep all week.

Speaking of change, we are moving this weekend. We had been in the very spacious church parsonage and are now moving to a much smaller duplex. It is brand-new and very nice, but only two bedrooms so the biggest concern is how we're going to deal with two sleep monsters in one room . .. and praying that the neighbors work nights!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Starch Goes Back to Work

The iron has been hot and sizzling around here the past few days as Starch gets his wardrobe properly pressed for his big first day of work today. At one point there was a lull in the steady hum and hiss of the iron, and I ran to see what had gone wrong, all prepared to rescue him from who knows what kind of ironing tragedy (those things are dangerous, that’s why I stay away), but he was just downstairs frantically rummaging through boxes (as frantic as a Baptist pastor/ civil engineer/ Most Valuable Player 1000 Yards Rushing Fullback is capable of . . . so he was strategically opening boxes according to volume, methodically procuring its contents into subdivided categories, and then sorting and analyzing the data, all with a Very Serious look on his face). In a panic by this sudden and spontaneous change of events, I shouted, WHAT IS IT!? WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? With beads of sweat lining his brow, he managed to look up at me, eyes full of fear . . . “I’m trying to find my eraser cover.”

Now, let me back up and tell you that we had already made several trips to the store in preparation for this big day . . . mechanical pencils, check . . . things that look like rulers but are even cooler, check . . . pleated khakis, check . . . assorted white shirts with varying of patterns of blue lines, check . . . extra cans of spray starch, check . . . Spiderman lunch box (all those groovy lines in the web), check. But the ERASER SHIELD! We forgot the ERASER SHIELD! If you have ever chosen to race your potty-training toddler into the grocery story wearing Big Girl pants, only to emerge minutes later with POOP EVERYHWERE, then you may have an idea the degree of uh-oh we were in here . . .
but you can sleep sound tonight, he found his eraser shield just in time. It was in his box of pocket protectors.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

All- Wal-merican Weekend

So we're midway through Independence Day weekend and we've been celebrating Big, in the American way . . . So far we've already participated in the three official American pastimes: consuming gross amounts of food, cornhole, and Wal-Mart (or Warmut as it is refered to in our house). Independence Day included a family reunion, naps, a picnic and a small-town parade and something that to some could have resembled a Civil War reinactment. This morning, still championing that American Spirit, we emerged from Warmut with TWO brimming carts, containing bags of processed stuff that are packaged in more bags, and then wrapped in more itty-bitty bags so every freedom-loving American can have his and her individually wrapped snack, when they want it. We then paid for all of our individualized overly packaged stuff with our personal rewards credit card (freedom ain't cheap), took our 2.2 children and hauled it all home in our SUV to spend the day wading in our plastic swimming pool. I have never felt so American in all my life.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

My Fix

So I confess, I need to spend a great deal of time in the book of Ephesians. I say I "need" to because, if there is only one book that can keep me from becoming a tied-up knot of emotion, it is Ephesians. I need it like my two (and a half-almost-three) year old still needs her pacifier (there you have it, I AM a terrible mom), like my husband needs time alone. I NEED the book of Ephesians to keep me asleep at night, to make me think straight, to get me through the day. Some days more than others.

The secret power that Ephesians has over me? Terrifying, impossible, unreasonable instructions for human relationships.

Can anything in the Christian life be more of a challenge? Is there any call to following Christ that involves greater risk, greater discomfort, greater sacrifice . . . than this simple, irritating, inescapable call to love each other? Nothing goes more against our nature, nothing requires more wonder-working power. To be true, and vulnerable. To forgive, and be forgiven. To care for others needs, and expose our own. It is too much. In our culture of very few martyrs, very little persecution, I wonder if this is it . . . if this area of loving isn't our high calling, our painful death.

Nowhere but in the Body of Christ could this impossibility be required. We, who alone have been given a tangible definition of forgiveness. Who alone, in all the world, have been plunged into immeasurable Grace. Who have been given, not only the example of forgiveness, but the Power of Christ in us to forgive. And yet we manage to show the world no better way. We're still choking up gnats and swallowing camels. Of which I am the worst.

This is why I crawl back to Ephesians on a regular basis. Familiar words, undo me. I have no choice, in the presence of such a call, but to surrender . . . to ask Christ, again, to do in me what I am incapable of doing myself. Again, and again, and again.

Because really, there is no other way to do it. I was thinking this morning about the verse, "He will show me the path of life, in His presence is fullness of joy, at His right hand are pleasures forevermore." . . . in His Word, He has given us the tools for coping with life. Without these tools, we have no hope. Bitterness like a plague eventually will consume us. The reality of holding grudges is that they take a death-grip hold on us; we carry them everywhere we go, and it is impossible to be free, to fully enjoy life. We are really only half alive. But when we follow His path for life, obey His instructions for loving and living, it is right there all around us: abounding joy, and pleasure, and abundant life. Here and now.

This is a quote that I hang onto:
"Bitterness imprisons life; love releases it. Bitterness paralyzes life; love empowers it. Bitterness sours life; love sweetens it. Bitterness sickens life; love heals it. Bitterness blinds life; love anoints its eyes."
-- Harry Emerson Fosdick