Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I love to read and I love the Goodreads website because it allows me to keep track of what I've read and remember what I liked and didn't like about a book. 2008 is the second year that I've kept track of all of my books via Goodreads, so I thought I would reflect on my year in books and see which books were the best I read in 2008. Click on the titles to read my Goodreads reviews.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: This was the best book I read in all of 2008. I loved it and can't wait to read it again. I'm not sure where to start with why this is a Great Book. The unique writing format, the characters, the setting and the story are all extraordinarily well done. I read this book in June and still remember the characters with such fondness (and a touch of pain).
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini: Not as painful a read as The Kite Runner and impressive because the male author truly captures a female viewpoint (something I think few authors can do well).
Summerland by Michael Chabon: Chabon writes extremely well and this book places you in a well conceived alternate world. While this book is technically "young adult," the writing and storyline will keep adults compelled as well.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks: One of those books that is written in such a unique format that you can't help but admire the author. I loved that we don't know the full story of each character in the book, leaving lots of potential for the reader to fill in the blanks.
Blue Balliet's Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3 and The Calder Game: I'm cheating a bit to list these as one entry since they are three separate books, but they are fun reads. While these are young adult books, the combination of math, art and mystery makes for a great read. Books like these are a great way to get children (and adults) to think about art outside the bounds of a museum's walls.
John Twelve Hawk's The Traveler and Dark River: Two books in a trilogy that imagine an alternate reality not so very different from our own. I'm not sure when the third book is coming out, but I will definitely read it when it's published!
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Christmas is a time of year that is steeped in tradition for many of us. While those traditions may vary widely, I’m a firm believer that tradition is what sets holidays apart in our memories. I could tell you almost exactly what I ate on Christmas Eve for the first eighteen years of my life. Two years ago we decided as a family that we weren’t going to travel on Christmas anymore. Our girls were old enough that they started asking when they were going to get to celebrate Christmas at home, so we decided it was time to honor that request. J and I have tried to meld our respective traditions and craft holiday traditions that will be meaningful and memorable for our girls. Since he’s from a Polish/German Wisconsin family and I’m from a Southern Gulf Coast family, the traditions we pass on to A, B and K will be different than the ones we remember. But this year will perhaps stand out for all of us… because it has completely lacked tradition at every turn.
There are several Christmas traditions we’ve bypassed this year:
· Birthday Party - My birthday is in December and we normally have a bi-annual birthday party for me because I love this time of year AND love parties! This would have been our third party in six years of this type, but with The Nutcracker’s opening falling on the weekend this normally would have occurred, this tradition was postponed for a year.
· Cookie Party – Since 2003, the girls and I have had a cookie party each Christmas season. This started after A was invited to a cookie party in 2002 and enjoyed it so much that we decided to hold one each year. This tradition has taken different forms each year. One year we invited family friends to join us, another year ballet friends and last year, we invited students at Rejoice to decorate cookies with us at Edgefield, where classes are held. This tradition wasn’t skipped entirely this year. Instead, we had family from Alabama and family from Wisconsin join us as we decorate sugar cookies, gingerbread and oatmeal Christmas Trees, Snowmen, Wreaths, Stars and Candy Canes.
· Christmas Eve – Christmas Eve was always the time my aunts, uncles and cousins gathered at my grandmother’s house, so it has always been the main event for me. We would go to church for communion before having gumbo, biscuits and Christmas cookies at Granny’s house. Granny passed away a few years ago, but part of the tradition J and I have crafted is to have tortilla soup and Christmas cookies on Christmas Eve after attending our church. All of this tradition was skipped this year as we left on Christmas Eve afternoon to start our trek to Disney World. Santa came to visit our family on the 23rd and we opened the remaining gifts before climbing into the van and buckling up for the ride to our Atlanta hotel. Because we were anxious to get on the road and we couldn’t find a Christmas Eve service with childcare for K, we opted instead to read Isaiah 53 and Luke 2 together as a family and sing a few Christmas Carols. While we didn’t sound as beautiful as a congregation raising its voices together, it was nice to share scriptures that are meaningful to us and talk with our children about them instead of trying to keep them still for an hour long service.
· Christmas Day – Instead of waking up to a breakfast casserole or homemade cinnamon rolls, we had a continental breakfast at the Hilton and got back into the van, still heading south. Christmas Day has traditionally been a day of relaxation for our family. After opening presents, we generally just spend the day hanging out together. I wouldn’t really describe the eight hour drive to Orlando as relaxing, but I am hopeful that seeing our daughters at Disney World will make it worth it!
All of this lack of tradition has served its own type of purpose. We’ve made it through as a family and still managed to celebrate Christ’s birth, albeit in a different way than we have in years past. One of the reasons our traditions have changed is we have been blessed to have family join us from hours away to see A dance in The Nutcracker. It was affirming to A and encouraging to J and me to see family members happily drive 6-10 hours to see our little black lamb on stage. It was also good for me to sacrifice my love of Christmas traditions for the sanity of our family. Ultimately, I could have chosen to maintain these traditions, even if we were all exhausted from months of Nutcracker rehearsals, preparing for family, hosting guests and packing to depart for Disney World. Instead, I tried to go with the flow and enjoy this Christmas for what it was. When tradition becomes the master and I become a slave to it, that’s no longer celebration. I will confess that it was difficult at times to forgo traditions that mean a lot to me, but I hope that memories of The Nutcracker and Disney World will be held in our hearts in the place marked Christmas 2008.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
A family friend sent our girls some sea glass from Newfoundland. It's not only beautiful to look at, it's lovely to touch and feel because it is so smooth. As I ran it between my fingers, I thought about how this same glass would have cut my fingers had I encountered it years before the sea and sand did its work. It made me think about my heart and how I want smooth edges, but there's still work to be done. I wonder if others who come into contact with my heart are cut by my rough edges, instead of finding an encounter with me pleasing.
I want a heart that's smooth, not rough and whose surface is pleasing. Like sea glass, it will take years for my heart to change into what I want it to become. And, like the sea glass, I can't change it on my own. I'll have to trust the Holy Spirit to smooth out my rough edges and make them smooth, soft and a blessing to others.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Sometimes I am in awe of my children. Today K & I made chocolate covered pretzels for J to take to a potluck at work tomorrow. It didn't start well: about 10 minutes in, she dumped a bowl of miniature stars all over the kitchen floor. Her immediate reaction was to say, "Awww! I am SO disappointed." Her clear frustration with herself and her cute way of expressing it completely diffused my own frustration. By the end of our decorating session, I was in awe of her ability to thoroughly enjoy this task with such abandon. K is four and the baby of our family. Sometimes she is difficult for me to parent because we are SO different. I'm in awe that I can have a daughter so different from me, love her so deeply and find a task like cooking that we can both enjoy!
I also took A to see The Nutcracker tonight. She wasn't dancing in tonight's performance, so this was a chance for me to sit beside her and hear her thoughts on the costumes, the set, the dances and anything else that popped into her mind. I told her before the performance started that I am so impressed with what she is doing by dancing in this production. Every time she performs, she dances in front of approximately 3,000 people. I have never done anything in front of 3,000 people. A doesn't think this is a big deal. She pointed out that it's just like a rehearsal because the lights keep you from seeing even one row of the audience. I told her that, even so, I would not want to be on a stage that size and I think the reason she's able to do this with no fear is because she is using her God given talents. If this weren't a passion for her, I'm not sure she could do it. But she clearly is loving every minute of it and I'm in awe of her courage, her talent and her perseverance.
Just to round out this post and spread the love to all of my girls, B had a wonderful moment today in the van. A friend of A's was with us and said something that was somewhat derogatory about K. The comment wasn't mean enough that it hurt K's feelings, but it wasn't especially kind, either. B said to her, "Let's not make fun of K. She's young and she's trying. She is doing the best she can." I'm in awe of the empathy that prompted her comment, the boldness to say it to a friend of her sister's and the way she delivered this advice without injuring the other little girl.
I guess even more than I am in awe of my children, I am in awe of the God who made them. They challenge me, bless me, test me and push me to be a better person than I am. If I were given a box full of potential strengths, gifts, talents and personality traits, I do not believe I could have crafted three girls as uniquely wonderful as the three who sleep under my roof every night. They merit a bit of awe every now and again.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I truly love Christmas. It's always been my favorite time of year. My birthday falls in December as well, so perhaps it's just that I love the celebratory feel of the whole month. No matter why I love Christmas, I struggle sometimes to hang on to my joy for the season when I am mired in busy-ness. Today I need some perspective. I need a greater "capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance."
I love to cook. I love to entertain others in our home. I love it when family come in to town to visit, as many family members are doing this very week to see A perform in The Nutcracker. Yet I am feeling a tad overwhelmed. It feels necessary to focus only on the thing immediately in front of me in order to avoid feeling intimidated by what the next three weeks hold in store for us. Here are the highlights: 4 family members arrive from WI on Thursday, 3 family members arrive from AL on Friday & Saturday, A performs Friday and Sunday, all family members leave to return home by Monday, our family of 5 leaves on Christmas Day to drive to Disney World, Vanderbilt plays in its first bowl game in 26 years on New Year's Eve and A turns 9 on January 5. Are you tired just reading it?
The last time we had family in town, I felt a bit left out because other family in town have a larger, newer, nicer home for entertaining. This meant we gathered at their house for meals and I not only didn't get to host, I didn't get to cook. This made me sad, so I was quick to make sure we would get to host some things this weekend. We are - dinner on Thursday and a cookie party on Saturday - and now I'm questioning my sanity a bit.
I need to get some perspective and remember that everyone coming here loves me and loves my family. While I do love and serve people through food, they are not driving 6-10 hours to eat my homemade chicken & dumplings (they are good, but not that good). They are coming to see us, to share our lives and to share this joyful time of year. I am thankful they are coming and praying for strength to get everything done, wisdom to do it all in the right order and perspective to let it roll off my back when something, inevitably, goes awry.
Monday, December 15, 2008
2: reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission
In this final passage of the book of Ruth, Ruth herself is only mentioned by name once. There is a lot of attention paid to Naomi and God redeeming her circumstances through Ruth's child. As a part of recounting this redemption, Ruth is referred to as being "better than seven sons," but the focus of the passage is definitely not on her. It made me wonder what we would each name the book of Ruth if we were to read it with no title. I'm not sure she's the character that would stand out the most to me if I were reading an untitled accounting of her story.
This is because Ruth does a great job of making her story about other people. Her decision to come to Bethlehem is about Naomi. Her faithfulness in gleaning wheat and barley is about providing for Naomi. Even her approach to Boaz about marriage is directed by Naomi and when the citizens of Bethlehem praise the birth of her child by saying, "Naomi has a son," it is not recorded that Ruth objected in the least.
Given that Ruth isn't the boldest character in the book, why is the book called Ruth? I think it's because God wanted us to look more closely at her and if the book were named for something or someone else, we might miss her. This struck me as a profoundly important point: Am I content to let my story be about other people? Am I living my life to serve others and provide for others? Am I looking so hard and so closely at Christ that those around me can see him reflected in my eyes?
Ruth doesn't call attention to herself. She makes godly choices, is faithful, kind and obedient. I'm fairly certain I would not be described in the same way by those who know (and even love) me. It's a high bar that is set in this story. True humility is not easy, even though humble people often make it look so. I think humility is so antithetical to our human nature that one must pursue it continually in order to approach it.
I've been thinking about what my take away for Ruth will be. How will I remember what I've learned from this book? Ruth didn't follow convention, she worked diligently, she walked a path that seemed doubtful and she did it all with humility. Like Ruth, I know the epilogue to my story. Ruth is remembered as the grandmother of David and is named in the lineage of Christ. I'm in that lineage too, as a daughter of God. Who knows what the prologue to Ruth's story was? She almost certainly grew up in a pagan home and she certainly sinned in some way not recounted in this book. I can take comfort in the fact that the prologue to my story doesn't make the epilogue any less true.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Around 8:00 tonight, I'll have known my husband for sixteen years. We met on my twentieth birthday, so each year my birthday marks not just another year for me, but another year for us. As you might imagine, we've both changed a lot in sixteen years. Physically, we're both a bit rounder around the edges. Intellectually, we're interested in far different things than we were back then. Emotionally, we're both more stable, thanks largely to each other and our faith.
While geographically we aren't far from where we started sixteen years ago in the library at VU, we've walked through dating, engagement, marriage, three children and many other events, both large and small. I am thankful that these shared experiences have drawn us closer together instead of pulling us apart. We still like each other in addition to loving each other. We haven't always evolved symmetrically: J is still the preppy boy he was when I met him, even if he does now own shirts that are not blue, while I have found my own style and it's not what I wore in college!
I liked J from the moment I met him because he was kind, unassuming and funny. We were studying for an art history final: he needed to pass the exam to pass the class and I was an art history major, working to keep an A. We both accomplished what we needed to on the exam the next day. Not long ago, I was on a field trip with A to The Parthenon and I showed her a coffered ceiling, one of the things I clearly remember telling J would probably be on the exam. It was, and he told me after the exam that he'd only known it thanks to studying with me. I love that I have clear memories of the first time I met J.
I also love that each year on my birthday, I get to remember that my best birthday gift ever arrived on my 20th birthday. I can't imagine any gift I'll ever receive that will stack up to J as my friend, partner in life and husband. It's nice timing that this occurs in December, since I try to spend the month remembering that Christmas is not about this year's gifts, but about celebrating the greatest gift of Christ's birth. How sweet of God to send me not only the gifts of J and His son, but reminders of them.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
9: mental and emotional steadiness
I think every mother (and probably every parent) struggles at some point with balance. Am I working too much? Am I not working enough? Am I too hard on my children or too lenient with them? Am I alternately selfish and selfless and therefore never able to feel good about my choices?
While there are many areas of my life that demand that I balance competing needs, overall my life right now is fairly balanced. I enjoy my work and find it fulfilling. I believe God led me to this job and I can see that I am helping the ministry (not always in the ways I imagined helping, but in the way God wants me to help). I work part-time three days each week, leaving me four days for my family. While I can't always accomplish everything in three work days or four home days, it feels like a good balance for our family right now.
I stayed home full time for about three years. At that point, it was necessary for the sanity of our family. J was working a job with crazy hours and lots of travel and A & B were both young. There were things I liked about being at home with them, but mainly I remember a longing to have an outlet for myself. I love my daughters very much, but I think I have gifts God means for me to use and being at home full-time didn't allow me to use these gifts in a satisfying way.
When the opportunity to work again arose, it felt like the right timing and the right job. And when I left that particular part-time job for the one I have now at Rejoice, that felt right, too. I was never at-home in the for-profit world. I was well-compensated during my time in the workforce (startlingly so, when I come across old paychecks), but it never fulfilled me like my non-profit work does. I'm not much of a gardener when it comes to flowers or vegetables, but I see the seeds I am planting at Rejoice, not only in the ministry itself, but in the dancers and their families. Many of these seeds won't bear fruit any time soon and, like any farmer, I have to rely on God to water and feed the seeds. But seeing those seeds go into the ground is satisfying and it gives me hope that I can do another, much harder, job well... being a mother.
I hope that my work outside the home plants seeds in my daughters just like my time with them does. I hope that they see me use my gifts and talents to serve others and that they confidently take advantage of opportunities they are given to use their own gifts and talents. We've talked in our family about the gifts God gives you being used up for him. I've told A & B that when they get to heaven, God doesn't want the box with their gifts in it to still be full. He wants them to open up the box and pour those gifts out on those around them. Because when we do that, the box really doesn't ever completely empty. The beauty of using a gift you've been given for others is that is doesn't deplete the gift.
There are days when I feel stretched thin and wonder if there are any gifts left in my box, but mostly I feel like my life is pleasantly integrated, harmonious and balanced.
Friday, December 5, 2008
2: freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions
I wrote a few weeks ago about the financial challenges facing Rejoice Ministries, where I work. I talked then about the need to put my trust in God to provide for us when we couldn't see how He would do it. While the first few weeks after that were challenging for me and filled with self-doubt, self-recriminations and some anxiety, in the intervening weeks God has given me an amazing peace about my work at Rejoice.
A few weeks ago, our pastor referenced the verse in Philippians that says that God will give us a peace that passes understanding. I whispered to my husband that God had truly done that for me with Rejoice and he replied, "Yes, you are calmer about it than I am." When I say peace, I don't mean "a state of tranquility or quiet," the first definition for peace in Merriam Webster. Tranquility and quiet are hard to come by in a home with three children ages 8, 7 and 4. Even when we have moments of quiet while they are all reading or playing, I am rarely what I would describe as tranquil because there is always something that needs to be done.
What God has given me during this time of walking in faith is "freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions." I continue to work diligently for Rejoice. I continue to believe in what we do to plant God's seeds in the lives of the children who dance here. But I don't berate mentally myself for each grant rejection letter we receive. I don't question my very worth when I hear a grant was not awarded to us.
As I wrote a few days ago, one of my take-aways from Ruth this week is that we, like Boaz, should be living to lift of the name of the deceased. I could not be peaceful about my work were it not for the sacrifice Christ made to be cut off from the land of the living. Without His work on the cross, my worth would be found in my work, my home, my children. Instead, my worth is found in Him and nothing I encounter on this earth can change that.
At a busy time of the year, I am eternally grateful to be experiencing God's peace in a meaningful and lasting way. I took this job because I thought it would stretch me, both in my skills and my faith. That has been more true than I ever imagined and I can't wait to see God slowly reveal more of His plans for me and for Rejoice.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
2) not subject to control by others : self-governing
3) not requiring or relying on others
Independence is a quality J & I have always wanted our daughters to have. Even at a young age, we encouraged them to do things for themselves, even if it ultimately meant a little more work for us or a lot more mess. While it sounds like a good thing to encourage independence, it can be challenging to follow through on that encouragement.
Right now, K is putting peanut butter on her toast. It will probably take her nearly as long to complete this process as it will take me to write this blog post, leaving her toast cold and the peanut butter clumpy. Needless to say, I could butter her toast much more efficiently, quickly and neatly than she will. But she wants to do it herself. She told me to leave the kitchen because "I can butter my toast all by myself."
Frankly, it's easier to just leave the kitchen instead of watching her dip the knife in and out of the peanut butter, thinly spread the peanut butter and get PB all over herself and the counter. She's happier without me watching over her should and I can just clean up when she's all finished.
In allowing my 4 year old to butter her own toast, will it make it easier for me to let my daughters make their own mistakes in middle and high school? I'm not sure, but I hope so. I think God designs parents, and especially mothers, to be fiercely protective of our children. I want to keep them from emotional, mental and physical harm. I know logically that this will not always be possible, but it's still the desire of my heart. But I also want them to be fully functional, well-adjusted adults some day. J & I value independence in them because we want them to eventually be "self-governing" and not "rely on others."
The hard part is that if I always protect them, they won't become they women they are meant to be.
A may have her heart broken by the wrong boy to recognize the right man when he comes along. B may misplace her trust in a friend in order to learn discernment. K may lose an audition to learn to always work her hardest. I'm sure parenting them through each of these imagined circumstances would be hard for me. But it would be much worse for me to parent them around the circumstances and see them grow into shadows of the strong, gifted women God has made them to be.
So the next time I wipe up a spill, sweep up broken shards or soothe hurt feelings, I'll try to remember that we all come through life with a few scars. Without the scars, we wouldn't be who we are.
Monday, December 1, 2008
2: a place in public esteem or regard : good name (trying to protect his reputation)
Throughout the book of Ruth, Boaz is set up as a character who foreshadows Christ for the reader. After all, he redeems Ruth, as Christ redeems us. Yet as I read my passage in Ruth for this week, I am struck by a completely different angle. This week's passage leaves me believing that we should be more like Boaz. Instead of foreshadowing Christ's sacrifice for us, Boaz shows us how we should honor that sacrifice.
Chapter 4 of Ruth is the final one, so the story is drawing to a close. Ruth has come from a foreign land against her mother-in-law's urging, worked diligently in Boaz's fields and asked Boaz to marry her. We see Boaz act on Ruth's invitation to marriage in this passage and the reason that he gives for marrying her is, in part, to protect the name and reputation of her dead husband. This is remarkable on several levels.
First of all, this is a man Ruth presumably loved. Boaz is not jealous of this previous love of Ruth's, but honors it instead. This shows not only his confidence in her feelings for him, but a compassion for all that Ruth has been through. She loved Mahlon enough to leave her homeland and journey with his mother to Bethlehem. Boaz sees this and gives respect instead of condemnation. Where am I lacking the confidence to respect the choices and sacriothers have made?
Secondly, Boaz is not concerned with his own name or reputation, but with preserving another's. He marries Ruth so that Mahlon's name will live on. Isaiah 53 says that Christ was "cut off from the land of the living" and Boaz says he is marrying Ruth so that "the name of the deceased will not be cut off." Christ was willing to be cut off from the land of the living so that we could have an eternal inheritance. If Boaz is willing to raise up a dead relative's name and reputation, how much more should I be willing to raise up Christ's name?
Finally, Boaz does all of this in the presence of witnesses. It's interesting to note in the above definitions for reputation that every definition involves the judgement or regard of others. Boaz doesn't raise up the name of Mahlon privately with Ruth. He does so publicly, in front of the elders of the town. If he did it privately, it wouldn't have the same impact. Similarly, if we as Christians only raise up Christ's name in private, how does that further His reputation? Don't we need to acknowledge publicly all that he did and does for us?
How am I putting my own reputation before that of Christ? How can I be more focused on living and acting to preserve His good name and not my own?
Sunday, November 30, 2008
2: the social unit formed by a family living together
It's good to be home. After a brutal seven hour drive last night through rain and fog, we arrived home after midnight and crawled into bed at 1 AM. My head was pounding with a cold and lack of sleep when K woke us this morning at 7 by banging on things. Still, it is good to be home.
We spent Thanksgiving with my parents, which is a different pace of life. In many ways, it's good for me to spend some time in a rural area with no agenda for the day. For one thing, it makes me appreciate our life here in Nashville. In another way, it forces me to relax, allows me to read more and calms my mind. I made the conscious decision not to check my e-mail for a three day period and when I did take the time to check it, I handled the things that had to be done and left the rest until later. I didn't spend time thinking about work, upcoming parties or decorating for Christmas. This was healthy and good for me.
However, it drives J crazy in less than 48 hours. He wants to do something. When we visit his parents, we experience a different pace of life than our own as well. It feels as if we are constantly running from one place to the next, doing something. This is a bit hard for me, I'll admit.
What I love about being home is that it's our home. We get to do things our way, whether that means staying in our pajamas until mid-morning or showering immediately after getting out of bed. We don't live our lives like my parents, or J's parents, and I love that. Not because there's anything wrong with their way of doing things, but because we have found our own rhythm to life that works for us as individuals and as a family. My daughters all love spending time at their grandparents' houses, but they love coming home as well. Even when we drag them out of the van after midnight to put them in their beds, they are glad to be home. As am I.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
2 : to cause (one) to lose an interest or intention
Vanderbilt lost today and disgust just about sums it up. Our play during the game provoked loathing, repugnance and aversion more than I can adequately recount and I only wish it could make me lose an interest in future games. You see, we didn't just lose. We lost to a terrible UT team and lost our last chance to beat a Phil Fulmer coached team. To properly put this in perspective, this is a UT team that lost to Wyoming, yes Wyoming (!), at home a few weeks ago.
It's hard to know exactly where to start processing my thoughts on the game. We admittedly played terrible and didn't look anything like the team that managed to beat UK last week to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1982. It's been so confusing to be a Vanderbilt fan this season. We have sometimes been improbably good. Early in the season, our players seemed to believe they could win - and they did. Then things went predictably, terribly wrong and we lost four games straight including a mind-numbingly painful homecoming loss to Duke. As a Vanderbilt fan, I am used to my team losing. It's the five wins followed by four losses that cause confusion. When I had given up all hope, we beat UK last week to seal the deal started in the 5th week of the season.
Even with losses to teams we should have beat like Mississippi State and Duke, today's game was the worst of the season. While watching, I was in the kitchen working on dinner, so I wasn't watching the game closely. When I heard the crowd roar, I would check in to see what was going on. This was a home game for Vanderbilt, but more often than not, the crowd roar was for a UT play. It sickens me for there to be more UT fans at a Vanderbilt home game than VU fans. This should NOT be the case. It's bad enough to live in a state that swathes itself in a hideous shade of orange for a large part of the year. To not be able to fill our own stadium with black and gold for a game like today's is a travesty.
During the fourth quarter, I had to restrain myself from telling A, "Don't be a Vanderbilt fan. Cheer for a team that wins, honey."
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I have the great fortune to have married a wonderful man. He loves me, he loves our daughters, we share many interests and enjoy each others company. While I could go on and on about his wonderful traits, you'll have to take my word for it if you don't know him because this post is about one of his few faults. Namely, he is a Morning Person.
We have been married for over twelve years, so it's not like I just learned this about him. However, the last three weekday mornings have made it a bit more glaringly obvious. We are having a new roof put on our house (not the most exciting $10,000 we've ever spent, but necessary nonetheless) and dear J wanted us up, showered and dressed before the roofers ever arrived. Sound OK? Until I tell you that they arrived at dawn! Yes, literally at daybreak. Now, while J goes from completely asleep to completely awake in 2.5 seconds flat, it takes me a bit longer. To say that this is annoying doesn't quite capture the behavior. He doesn't just wake up. He talks. He expects responses from me. He sings. He whistles - whistles! - before 7:00 in the morning. This is just not acceptable behavior.
Sure, I will talk to you in the mornings. Preferably after a shower, a cup of coffee or tea and even then only in one word answers. I'd prefer to just coast through the first hour of the day with no verbal communication at all. Instead, I have two daughters who treat mornings much like dear old dad. They wake up with the sun, read for a large chunk of time before ever letting us know they are awake, grab a snack, hang out and are ready to talk the minute I walk down the stairs.
You might have noticed that I said "two daughters" above. Yes, dear B is a bit more like me when it comes to mornings. Today, I came downstairs to find A & K sitting on the sofa, dreaming aloud about recipes in Betty Crocker's Best Christmas Cookbook, while B was still asleep. Not only was she asleep, she was curled on her side, cuddled under her blankets, blissfully unaware that school was less than an hour away. I wanted to whisper to her, "Never marry a morning person." Instead, I looked at my beautiful daughter, who wouldn't be who she is without the wonderful dad she has, and I kissed her softly to wake her up. Maybe mornings aren't all bad.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
1: the quality or state of being secure: as a: freedom from danger : safety b: freedom from fear or anxiety
4: peace of mind or spirit
1 a: one's place of residence : domicile b: house
3 a: a familiar or usual setting : congenial environment ; also : the focus of one's domestic attention <home is where the heart is> b: habitat
Ruth and Naomi have been through a lot: they've each lost a husband, traveled together across many miles and survived by gleaning left-over grain. At this point in their story, Naomi suggests a completely new thing: rest, security, a home. The Hebrew word actually used is manowach, which is translated in various versions of the Bible as security, rest or home. Any translation is imperfect because not all words have an exact correlation in another language. When I come across a word that is translated in three different ways, I think the way to get the best definition for myself is to look at all of them together.
Ruth was in need of rest, security and a home. Physically, she had been working very hard over the last seven weeks to glean enough grain to feed herself and Naomi. For the poor, then as now, rest was in short supply. A day of rest meant a day without food. Ruth had been blessed to find herself in the fields of a generous and honorable man, so perhaps she had managed to observe Sabbath during the barley harvest. Regardless, rest must have been an appealing concept, as was security.
Security was in short supply for a widow in Ruth's time and Ruth was especially lacking in this since she was a foreigner in Israel. She willingly left her own family to stay with and support her mother-in-law, Naomi. Even the reasons outlined above that led her to long for rest show the lack of security in her life. Ruth had been blessed to find favor in Boaz's field, but even that favor could not ensure the continued security of food.
We are told that Ruth lived with Naomi during the barley harvest, so while she technically had a "place of residence," it may not have been "a familiar or usual setting" or a "congenial environment."
What Naomi is pointing Ruth to is a home of her own, a place of true rest and lasting security. Naomi proposes that Ruth find manowach by marrying Boaz, a relative of Naomi's and owner of the field Ruth has been gleaning in. Naomi instructs Ruth in how to approach Boaz and Ruth obeys without question. While we don't see it in this passage, Naomi's instructions work. Ruth not only weds Boaz, but gives birth to the grandfather of David, a man after God's own heart.
In thinking about how to apply the lessons from this passage of Ruth to my own life, I have thought a lot about what I think manowach truly is. Where in my life do I find security, rest and a home? How do I define these three things and where do they meet, since manowach encompasses them all? At the start of the week, I spent a lot of time thinking about my home and whether it is a peaceful place where my children not only make their home, but feel at home. I want them to feel rested and secure here.
That led me to think about what security really is. I've decided one personal definition of security is to be truly known and loved anyway. This is why our ultimate security is with God, why we can find our rest in Him and why our home is not of this earth. I want to know my children for who they are, love them as they are and see them with God's eyes. One of my prayers is that God would extend that desire so that I would seek to truly know others (friends, family, neighbors) and love them as God does. The only way I will ever be able to do this is by resting in the security of the truth that God knows me even better than I know myself and loves me anyway.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
2 : future (the world of tomorrow)
It's been a week since the Presidential election and I've needed that long to think before composing a post. Part of the reason I've needed so long is that I've had a difficult time choosing a word to title my thoughts. (The disadvantage of being WordGirl is the never ending search for the perfect word.) I finally settled on tomorrow because the election gives me a different attitude about tomorrow and I feel the results of the election were that people voted for tomorrow instead of yesterday.
Yesterday, we were a country that said you could do anything, be anything if you worked hard enough. Tomorrow, we will be a country where that is actually true. A friend commented last night that it is so easy to form an opinion and then work to fit new facts into that already conceived opinion instead of starting all over when new facts appear. I believe that yesterday we thought a president looked a certain way (white and male, without fail), came from a certain background (generally patrician, certainly not single parent or biracial) and did things a certain way (the way they have always been done). I hope that tomorrow, a president will look like a picture of this diverse nation we live in, come from anywhere in this broad land and do what is best for our country and our country's future.
Yesterday, we were a country gripped and crippled by fear. Fear of those who look different than us, those who believe different things than we do, those who are not "us." This made and makes me sad. It makes me sad that I am sometimes afraid of people who are different than me. I am sometimes afraid of rough-talking, physically large people (especially men and especially black men). I am sometimes afraid of people who don't smile back at me or won't even make eye contact with me. I am also afraid of people who walk through life confident that they have all of the answers. These are, perhaps, the people who scare me the most.
Tomorrow, I hope we will be a country that stares fear down and chooses boldness, courage and confidence in what our country is and who we are. I hope that tomorrow fear will play a very small part in the way my daughters approach the world and their lives. I hope they will not be driven by fear, guided by fear or led by fear.
So what does this talk of yesterday and tomorrow mean for today? It means that today:
-I will encourage my children to get to truly know other people before forming an opinion of them based on one or two visible characteristics.
-I will get to know my own children and who they are in order to encourage them to do anything and be anything they want to be.
-I will try to live my life in a way that shows what I believe rather than just talking about it.
-I will set aside my own fears and love others instead of judging them.
-I will try to raise girls who are strong, bold and courageous, not fearful.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
6 a: a channel or direct course of thought or action b: tendency , trend c: a guiding, governing, or motivating purpose
I have been doing inductive Bible studies for three years and it has been a pathway for spiritual growth. I've not only learned a lot about God, but about myself as well. I didn't realize how important words were to me until I started spending a good deal of time studying God's Word.
As a part of inductive Bible study, I usually start pretty early in the week by looking up the Hebrew for the text we are studying and seeing what words stand out to me. For the first time that I can recall, this technique failed me this week.
The passage did contain some interesting words, but for the most part I had explored those words earlier in the book of Ruth. Normally, a good word leads me to other verses with the same word. That obviously didn't work this week, since I didn't have a word to use as my diving board into the passage. After failing to find a good word or a good cross reference, I finally happened upon an expositional sermon that examined the passage verse by verse.
In that sermon, the author pointed out that Ruth abides in Boaz's field for the entire barley harvest. Ruth didn't hop around from field to field looking for the best circumstances. When God led her to a field where the owner protected her, fed her and provided abundantly for her, she stayed put. Now, it may seem obvious that the thing to do when handed all of these blessings is to stay put. But how often in your own life do you receive a blessing, only to look for the next one? How often do you put in a hard day's work and just keep on working without seeking lasting reward? The gleaning Ruth was doing wasn't easy work. She spent all day bending over, picking up grain from the ground and then beating the grain to get the edible portion. She did this because it was the way God provided for her.
My picture to illustrate the lesson I learned from this week's passage was a series of traffic signs: A Yield Sign, A Stop Sign and A Traffic Light. I wrote below each that we are to yield to God's will, stop where he sends us and go full out at the work he places before us. I'm not sure which of these is hardest. Sometimes it feels pretty easy to yield to God's will. I believe I am currently in my job at Rejoice because I followed God's traffic signs to it. That part wasn't really all that hard. I love Rejoice. I believe God is using it to do great things in the lives of the children who dance there, including my own daughters. I believe God has a plan for this ministry and that he wants to see us dance before him with joy as these students do. I have seen that Rejoice is God's ministry, so it was easy to yield to God's direction to work there.
Right now, what's hard is stopping where God has me and staying there. I feel responsible for our budget shortfall. As Development Manager, I believe I should have been able to somehow prevent this. I should have found more time, more energy and better words to solicit funds for us. One of my first reactions upon hearing about our financial situation was that perhaps I should resign. My salary, small though it is, does have an impact on our budget. It might be better for the ministry as a whole if I were to just go to another "field" instead of stopping where God has me and continuing to go full out at my work.
I think this doubt about God's direction for my life stems from a lack of belief on my part. Specifically, a lack of belief that God can and will use me to do his work. I have for so long believed that I am incapable of producing worthy work that when faced with a challenge like this, I instantly begin self-recriminations regarding my worth, my skills and ultimately, my value. Interestingly enough, I've taken some solace and instruction from a song that my daughters danced to at Rejoice this summer. It says in part, "If you are who you say you are, then I am who you say." If I am going to believe that God is who he says he is, then I must also believe that I am who he says I am... and right now that includes Development Manager at Rejoice.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
There's a scene in the book of Ruth where Boaz calls Ruth over to join him for lunch. They've met not long before this as she gleaned in his fields and he shares his meal with her. Boaz gives Ruth a portion of what he is eating. Most importantly, Boaz gives Ruth enough food that she ate until she was "satisfied" and had some left over. One definition for the Hebrew word used here (saba) is satiate. I prefer satiate to satisfy because of the fullness and excess implicit and explicit in the word satiate.
This made me think about where in life I am satisfied and where I am satiated. Am I spiritually satisfied or satiated? Am I settling for just enough or filling my soul to excess with God's goodness, mercy and love? Even more convicting, am I satisfying myself with earthly fare or holding out for the truly good stuff? It's hard to deny the satisfaction I get from reading a well-written novel, but that should not be what satiates my soul.
If I'm satiated with the things of God, what am I doing with the excess? What Ruth does with her excess is share it. So I think I'm called to not only seek my satisfaction and satiation from God and His Word, but to share the excess with others. What does this mean practically? That's a bit harder, but I think for a start it means remembering God's patience with me when I err over and over again and offering grace to others who injure, insult or merely annoy me. It also means forgiving whether it's sought or not, loving those who are less than lovable and setting aside my own self-interests much more often than I currently do.
But first, I need to satiate my soul. There's no denying that I currently feel calm in the midst of storms at work and that is from filling my soul with God's Word.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
2: a stock of needed materials or supplies ; especially : a stock of food —usually used in plural
3: proviso , stipulation
Work is a little stressful right now. I found out nearly a week ago that after payroll is paid tomorrow, Rejoice won't have enough in the bank to pay next month's payroll. While I'm not the executive director, I am the Development Manager, so fundraising is my job. I started in May and have been writing grants since the moment I joined. I've not focused exclusively on grants, but I knew we didn't have any grant awards in the pipeline and felt it would be wise to work towards having something coming in down the road. I had no idea (until last Thursday), just how close we were to running out of money.
I am more stressed by this than our Executive Director. This is not, by any means, the first time Rejoice has been in a situation like this. Before we received a large grant two years ago, this was a common occurrence. She has seen God provide before and believes he will again. While I don't disagree with that, I'll admit I'm somewhat scared by it. I'm not used to depending on God for day to day provision.
I certainly trust him to provide safety for my family, an income through my husband's job and wisdom for J and I to use our resources to the best of our abilities. But those things seem amorphous compared to needing and expecting God to provide $20,000 before the end of this year.
So what's my role in this? To pray, certainly. But also to continue to write - grants, letters, descriptions of Rejoice - that compel others to know more about us and give money to us. I think this will only work if I'm using God's words instead of my own. The most amazing thing about Rejoice is that it's God's vision. He planted the seed in the director's heart and has instructed her all along, right down to the color of leotards the students wear.
One thing I've always loved about Rejoice is that I think it is uniquely designed to teach the dancers how much God loves them. He values them highly (which is why they wear leotards named after various jewels and precious stones), he wants the best for them (which is why they dance in a beautiful studio, not a second rate facility) and he wants them to know and worship him (which is why they dance!) Maybe my role is to remember all of what God is trying to teach these children, so that I don't forget who he is. If that's my foundation, earthly provisions will take on less importance.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
2 a: calm, peaceful b: happy, golden c: prosperous, affluent
I have a friend who lives on Halcyon Avenue. I told her one time that I love the name of her street and the images the word "halcyon" evokes for me. When I think of halcyon, it's almost immediately followed by days. (I guess the books I've read with the word are most frequently talking about halcyon days.)
I realized not long ago that I think right now our family is living in the halcyon days. While "calm, peaceful" might not be true all of the time, I do think these are "happy, golden" days. I think we will look back on these days in two decades and remember them with such fondness. I've been trying to cling to that during the day-to-day difficulty of doing everything that I want to do and doing it well.
I think these are halcyon days because we are past the challenges of toddlerhood (with our youngest daughter now 4) and not into the unknown waters of pre-adolescence (with our eldest daughter at age 8). Some of the sweetest things to me right now about our spot in life are:
1) Involvement: Our daughters still want to be around us. They get excited when their father gets home from work and crave alone time with either of us. While alone time for a chunk of hours is a rarity with two parents and three daughters, we try to snatch minutes here and there for our sake's and theirs.
2) Imagination: They play wonderfully imaginative games in fanciful worlds - with each other! From the time B was old enough to play, she and A have lived a good portion of their lives in fantastic worlds only they fully understand. I'll never forget the first time I heard them call "Mommy" and was told, "Not you, the pretend Mommy." How much longer will there be a pretend mommy and will they continue to actually call for me when they need me?
3) Independence: Even K is able to play alone while her sisters are at school, get a snack with permission and go for stretches of time without needing help. Independence is one of the traits we've always sought to foster in our girls, even from the time they were very young, so it's rewarding to begin to see the fruits of those seeds. Especially because I have daughters, I want them to feel empowered and strong to face their lives. I think the satisfaction and confidence that comes from doing little and big things independently is one of the most valuable gifts we can give our daughters. I rarely wish they would ask me for help rather than take care of it themselves, but I hope we are striking and will continue to strike the right balance of being there for our girls and encouraging them to be the fully-formed, strong women they can be.
4) Individuality: One reason these halcyon days of ours don't always feel calm and peaceful is that each of our daughters are involved in after-school activities. A is a dancer and will probably always be a dancer. B has truly come into her own on the soccer field. This is her first year to play on a team that uses a goalie and her first game as goalie is a memory I will always cherish. I've never seen her so engaged as she was during that game and it utilizes her strengths of a quick mind and a fearless body to great effect. She's also doing an art club at a local church that feeds her innate creativity and her desire to be a part of a social group. K is dancing and playing soccer and while these may not be the two particular activities she pursues in years to come (she's only four, after all), she clearly loves organized activities and, more importantly, the attention. She enjoys soccer and smiles the entire time she's on the field playing. When I'm tired from running around every day after school to one activity or another, these are the things I remind myself. We're not doing these things to help our girls build a resume for the right high school or college (some parents really do think that way!), we're doing it to help them become who they were made to and to help them find a life preserver to hang on to during the rocky days of adolescence.
I hope and believe these will not be the only halcyon days our family experiences together, but it's a sweet experience to get to live them together.
Friday, October 24, 2008
2 : something that resembles or suggests a cathedral (as in size or importance), i.e. cathedral of business
It's been a good week for me: I've been to the art museum three times in the last seven days. J and I went on a date there last Friday night. I went to ArtQuest
There are three exhibits currently available at the Frist: Rodin's sculpture, Photography from the Eastman collection and Art from AP High School students throughout Tennessee. It's been interesting in looking at each of them to think about the role that the title plays in a viewer's experience of a work of art: My favorite Rodin sculpture on exhibit was The Cathedral
Cathedrals are also an interesting example because they were the work of many people in one place. It's not natural for me to think about my hands being just a part of the whole, but I do think that's what I'm called to be. I should not only see my body, but my gifts, as meant for the greater good and actively seeks ways to work with and for others. As a natural introvert, this can go against many of my natural inclinations. I love many solitary pursuits - reading, writing, running and cooking, to name a few. But there aren't as many group activities that inspire or energize me. Does this mean I'm off the hook and don't have to use my hands (and other parts of me) as part of the body of Christ and the world at large? I don't think so. I think even when it goes against my natural inclinations - maybe especially because it goes against my natural inclinations, I need to look for ways to be a part of the larger cathedral that's being built to point us to God.