Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Humble I am Not

Humble I am not. 

Though I've always fooled myself into thinking I am.

I self-depricate.  That's humility, right?  I constantly second-guess myself - my decisions, abilities, work.  I must be pretty humble.

Then I read this book.  And I find that, in spite of all this, I'm not, in fact, humble at all.  I'm proud.

True humility serves, willingly, in the day-to-day.  And each interruption brings me closer to shouting out in irritation that my plans, my desires, my wishes, my ideas are being trampled on.  My focus is on me.  Otherwise, they'd almost not even have to interrupt and ask.  I'd be aware.  I'd jump in there to offer my help, my service, my thoughts, my ear, my shoulder, my arms and hands, my eyes, my laughs. . . without being asked and without getting irritated.  But I am proud, so I only offer these things grudgingly and only after being asked.

I don't serve; I slave.

True humility gives genuine consideration to the ideas and thoughts and words and actions of another.  And I fight and buck and muse about how "it's not fair".  My focus is on me.  Otherwise I'd listen, reflect, consider, flex and bend, change my mind, do rather than expect.  I'd make the step forward. I'd lunge forward, without outside force, to engage in conversation and offer unconditional love and give what someone else needs. . . without having to be pushed there by guilt or exasperation.  But I'm proud, so I only give after fighting with all my might.

I don't give; I give in.

Lord, humble me.  I need Your help, Your humility.  I don't have it in myself; cultivate it in me.  Help me to serve my children and my husband in every small moment of the day.  Help me to listen and consider the words and actions and thoughts of my husband and children.

Help me to be truly humble.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Small Joys

I was on a cleaning rampage yesterday afternoon, and then I saw it. . .

. . . someone had set up house before me.

In the under-oven drawer, in a 6 cup muffin tin, a little mouse, presumably clothed in an apron, feather duster in hand, had created an abode of her own.  I laid eyes on a neatly kept home: kitchen, bathroom, bedroom.

After running out for mouse traps (for, while I find the whole thing cute, I still don't want to share my kitchen with cute mice in aprons), I set to work cleaning.  And, not one mouse, but two scattered; and I screamed. . . and we all took to the counters while the cat avoided the kitchen and we waited for Daddy to come home and save us.

But I realized, while sitting on my kitchen counter, waiting and watching, that there are small joys even in these little moments of chaos. . . and the every-day moments of chaos as well. . . that's where they're best found, actually. . . His gifts:

* The neatness and storybook-esqueness of a mouse house in a muffin tin.

* The shared panic after seeing a couple mice scurry around the kitchen.

* The personality of animals - not only does God take the time to create each person with a unique personality. . . He creates each animal with a unique personality as well.

* A quiet meal out.

* Kids running through a sprinkler.

* Lilies growing wild.

*Old keys, old paper, old handwriting.

* 8yo reading.

* Crying that makes 3yo's eyes look green.

* An evening alone.

* Cold dew on bare feet.

* A family doctor who's also a family friend.

* Chalk drawings on black top

* A pool, only just big enough. . . and cool enough.

* Lightening storm at night.

*A good rain for the garden.

* A good movie with the kids.

* A good, fun homemade meal.

* Late-night tdip in a cool pool after a hot, sticky day.

* Fireflies dancing in the corn fields.

* Early morning helping husband.

* Late-night sweaty 3yo, arms wrapped around my neck.

* Butter pecan ice cream.

* Pretty book from the library.

* Exhortation to down-grade the to-do lists and upgrade His Word.

* 3yo falling back to sleep.

* Miss Marple.

* Turn in affidavit - check.

* A husband who can answer the tough questions.

* Sweet, wild black raspberries.

* Clover-scented breeze.

* Itty-bitty baby watermelon just showing in my garden.

* First poppy blooms.

* Small bumblebees and butterflies.

* Boys, sticks, rocks and railroad tracks.

* Free apples.

* 5yo so excited to finally have his own library card and Summer Reading GO booklet.

* Our own cilantro at dinner.

* A generous husband who wants to help others. . . even when he sorta doesn't want to at all.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Desiring the Kingdom ~ Part 2

Every day people get out of bed, get themselves cleaned up and ready for the day, eat breakfast or grab a cup of coffee to-go, and drive to work or school or play-dates.  We spend our lunches together at resturants or alone in front of a TV or computer screen.  We talk, converse, share ideas.  We work, play, and plan.  We come home to spend some time in rest or in more work with a family - watching TV, cleaning the house, helping kids with homework.  Then we get cleaned up again and climb into bed just to get ready to do it all over again the next day. 

Habits.  Rituals.

They are all necessary parts of life.  And each habit produces a desire and an idea of what is worthy of our desire.

We can't help but live this life.  Unless we are going to live a life completely separated from the world, we have to engage in these habits.

Smith's solution, in his book Desiring the Kingdom - his idea for keeping our hearts after the Kingdom of God - is to engage in counter-formative rituals.  The various elements of Christian worship, when made a habit or regular practice, will work to both show us the Gospel and give us the opportunity to practice living the Christ-centered life together.  He offers some great ideas in his book, aimed, I believe, at those heading churches and / or Christian education establishments.  I, however, have tried to use his ideas and bring them down to a practical and personal level.  Here are the first six habits I have adapted from his book.

  • Organize your time according to the Liturgical Year, observing annual celebrations and holy days as well as weekly Sabbaths.
  • Reserve the periods of Advent and Lent as times of penitence - times of denial, self-examination and waiting.
This habit of organizing your time around the church year will serve as a sort of exercise in desiring the Kingdom of God.  While we await a weekly day of worship and rest, and then, while we live through the self-denying periods of Advent and Lent, we learn to desire the coming of the Kingdom.

  • Regularly gather together for worship and fellowship.
  • Regularly gather together with other Christians that are not your mirror image - Christians who are quite different in so many ways from yourself but who share the common bond of Christ with you.
  • When you regularly gather with other Christians, make a habit of "invoking" the mercy and grace of God.
This habit of gathering together serves to bring renewal and restoration for us, the broken members of the Body of Christ, so that we can go out and suffer and serve a lost world.  We come together with our sins and weaknesses and look, together, to God for healing and strength, mercy and forgiveness.

  • Accept God's invitation to commune with him.  Practice regular interaction, conversation with God.
  • Regularly welcome others into your life and your home as God welcomes you into relationship with Him.
When we habitually practice hospitality, both receiving God's hospitality to us and extending hospitality to others, we are reminded that we need God. . . we need eachother. . . we need relationship. . . we come to desire it even more, that connection with God and our brothers and sisters.

  • Sing to the Lord, often.
  • Make singing with others in the body of Christ a regular practice, both at church and other gatherings, even just casual get-togethers.
  • Memorize psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
By ritualistically making music to the Lord, we first strengthen our faith and belief in Him and His word.  Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are a beautiful reiterration of our belief in God; and they serve to both build up and reinforce our belief system.  When we sing together with other believers, we practice what the Bible teaches about serving as one body composed of many parts.  We can come together with Christians of all backgrounds and still create one beautiful melody.

  • Begin each day by looking to the Lord for guidance.
  • Make a habit of reminding yourself of the two greatest Commandments:  Love the Lord with your whole being, and love others as you love yourself.
A regular dose of guidance from God, a reminder of His Commandments helps us to reprioritize our lives and creates a desire for God's vision for our lives as opposed to our own that may be warped by the habits of our culture.

  • Confess your sins to God often.  Take time out of each day to reflect on your life and really take a hard look at where you are falling into sin.
  • Make a regular practice of confessing your sins to your brothers and / or sisters in Christ.  "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed."  Look, together with other Christians, at where you are all struggling personally as well as where you, as a body of believers, are failing to fulfill God's call.
  • Just as important as the practice of confessing sin is the practice of receiving God's grace and forgiveness.  If this is something that you struggle with, come up with a tangible way to remind yourself of your forgiveness, something that you can put on or touch or, perhaps, writing your confession on paper and then wadding it up and throw it away.
Sin, itself, is just a sign that we've misprioritized.  In other words, when we sin, we place greater importance on something other than God and His kingdom.  We love something else more - desire something else more.  Confession and repentence help us to reprioritize, to re-aim our hearts toward God.  And, when we confess, and then receive forgiveness, we play out the Gospel message both privately and then, also, corporately with other Christians.

Desiring the Kingdom ~ Part 1
Desiring the Kingdom ~ Part 3
Desiring the Kingdom for the (Home)(School)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Desiring the Kingdom ~ Part 1

Every winter brought the curse of strep throat when I was growing up.  Seemed my tonsils were breeding ground for the bacteria.  Several mornings I'd wake with a burning pain in my throat.  As I lay in bed in my dark room, I'd hear my dad in the hall - he'd cup his hands, blow warm breath into them and then rub them quickly together like he was trying to start a fire.  As soon as I heard that noise, I'd hop out of bed and take my sore throat to him for examination.  He always did and said the same things, perhaps without even realizing it. . . He'd get his little engineer's flashlight and tell me to open my mouth wide.  He'd then peer into the mechanics of my throat and utter his prognosis.  Then he'd switch off the flashlight, put his left hand on my right shoulder and pray for me.  Every time, the same.

And guess what I realized last year I do when my own kids are sick. . .   Without even thinking, I examine, prognosticate, touch and pray.

That is the power of practices - the power of habits, particularly those that involve the whole being - they shape your life, your heart, your ideas.

About a year or so ago, my husband's boss gave me James K. A. Smith's book Desiring the Kingdom to read and discuss with her.  She wanted to put the ideas in the book into practice at the school, and she wanted to know if I had any ideas, related to my own homeschooling, that could help her.  Wading through the book, written by a philospher for those who can read "philosopherese," was difficult.  But the message and ideas in the book are the things of change - a whole new perspective on the Christian life - the idea that it is the practices, not the beliefs, of the Christian life that are the most formative in shaping in us a desire for God.

We all love something; and while our habits will often show what we love most (our home, our career, our family. . .), those activities that we make a point to habitually engage in are also responsible for forming those most intense loves in us.  And we are unwise to discount the seemingly mundane habits in our lives.  Something as small as getting in the car and immediately praying with the family for protection on the road vs. getting in the car and immediately turning on the radio can, without our even realizing it, affect our love for and trust in God vs. our love for and trust in our family vehicle or soothing music.

As I sit down, going back through this book, re-evaluating my habits, I realize just how much of what I do is creating in me a love for something or someone other than God.  Because, when my practices are not Christ-centered, my heart cannot be Christ-centered either.  When I rush into my meal without stopping to thank God. . . love of food.  When I spend more time cooking and cleaning than worshipping and praying. . . love of home or material objects.  When I spend more time teaching my kids than learning about God from His Word. . . love of education or love of children.  Some of these are not bad habits, and some of these are not bad loves, but the love that should be the center of my life - of all I do - is the love of Christ and His Kingdom.
My pastor often asks the question, "What do you find yourself spending the most time thinking about?"  It takes just a few minutes of reflecting on that question to realize where my heart lies - what my ultimate desire is for.  And it takes just a few more minutes of reflection to pinpoint which habits have built up that love of the wrong thing.  Smith says in his book, ". . .such rituals grab hold of our desire and our love through our bodies - through material, visceral rhythms, images, and experiences that subtly inscribe in us a desire for other kingdoms. . ." kingdoms other than Christ's (104).

So, what do we do?  We all have to cook and clean and make sure our children get an education and that the finances are in order.  We all have to drive to the store for things and engage in a secular culture.  But, I think the first thing we need to remember is that almost all of these things can be wrapped in Christ-centering habits like prayer before meals and car rides and the placing of a check in the offering plate at each pay day.  These things seem small, but they keep us centered on Christ.

The second thing, the thing Smith suggests, is engaging our whole selves in Christian worship practices that will both form our desire for God and act as a counter-formation to those secular habits that we have to engage in every day.

We all love something - our hearts yearn for something to love.  And, as Augustine said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in God."  Are our habits leading our hearts to this place of rest?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Shelter from the Storm

There's a storm inside me. . . often. . .

It develops when a full agenda colides with child rowdiness and fluctuating hormones. . .

And then it thunders inside my chest and rain beats against my brain. . .

Like the weather, I have little control over the development of these storms. . .  But, just like with the weather, when I know a storm's a-brewin', I can take steps to deal with the rain and wind.  I can find shelter - for me and my family.  Shelter from the storm inside me.

I can take a break from the full agenda - even just a few minutes outside in fresh air.  I can love my kids and shower them with hugs and laughter.  I can drink a glass of ice cold water and dip my feet in the stream and breathe. . . and thank Him for every blessing, big and small.

Like. . .

* Solitary trips to the library - quick, quiet and productive - a time to hunt for treasure while helpful librarians get me books from archives.

* Free showers for my kids as they play in the rain.  And that same cold rain cools me off after a hot, exhausting day.

* Protection and shelter through scary storms and tornado warnings late into the night.

* Dry-milk-in-the-mix pancake mix when I realize we're out of milk!

* Waking, checking the time, and falling back to sleep for another couple hours.

* The promise of cooler temps and more fun outdoors.

* The calm after the storm.

* Imagination.  I'll focus on the blessings of this trait. . .

* Easy-peasy menus.

* My four loud, boistrous, energetic, creatively messy kids ~ I do love them.

* Do-overs! Grace! Second chances!

* A pile of dirty clothes = fellowship.

*A soothing, trickling stream in the backyard.  Oh, how peace and water seem so closely connected.

* Found tomato plants sprouting up all over my garden.

* Gray and gloomy mornings that  make you want to snuggle.

* Fuzzy socks and sweaters on cool summer mornings.

* The sound of geese flying.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Things that Bring Peace

Just the right word of encouragement.

The sight and sound of water running through the back yard.

A cool breeze on a summer day ~ a breath of sweet-scented fresh air.

A gift from my mom.

An easy, mind-working book with that relaxing bit of British wit.

A moment with my journal.

Time digging bare-handed in dirt, growing something.