Chocolate and Psalms make for a good church

We have had a very busy weekend, and the stress level around the house has been higher than normal. Nothing serious, nothing dramatic…just life and work for Steve that is demanding. It does mean tht we’ve been a little more snippy and a little less patient and a little less aware of all around us.

Maybe that framework is what set me up for Sunday morning feeling such an appreciation for our church fellowship. We’ve been part of this congregation for nearing 4 years and while relationships have grown and we have a place in the life of this body, there are days that it still feels new and I still walk away breathing a prayer of thanks for finding a place that is so integral to our life.

I have many friends and acquaintances who have had experiences that leave them either frustrated or even hating the church. There are some cases where genuine abuse has happened at the hands of those who were to care for people, not harm. These leaders have taken advantage and have harmed and the ramifications are serious. There is righteous anger against these leaders and there are conversations which have to take place as those who have been harmed physically and spiritually in a church setting try to understand and heal and move beyond and bring justice. All of that is emotional and difficult and frustrating and painful.

Most of my friends have had more disappointment with the church than actual abuse. Leaders have not led well. They have not listened or they had an agenda that they were not willing to sway. Sometimes it has been our faults as congregation members to join a church that had a clear vision and then be mad when they didn’t change to meet our vision.

There are all kinds of stories of frustration, of disappointment, of abuse, of….fill in the blank. There are a multitude of blogs given to the conversation of how awful these leaders are and how hurt the congregants have become. Some of those conversation are valid, and some of them are picking at scabs and being mad when others don’t want to join the fun.

So…whew. That is a long set-up to what I really wanted to share. I have had some fantastic church experiences, having been part of nine different congregations as I have moved from New Mexico to California to Tennessee to Washington to Vancouver and back to Tennessee. I’ve also had some disappointments. And we’ve found ourselves in some places where we just didn’t fit…it wasn’t anyone’s fault, we just didn’t fit.

We have found where we fit. The worship is what we have sought…simple and no spotlight on an individual, and we can hear the congregation sing! The teaching is verse-by-verse which we love. The children’s department is creative and engaging. The nursery is clean and the children are loved and cared for.

Here is what I truly love, though. Friday night we came together for a Chocolate Festival. I would guess there were 300 or so folks, and the goal was to raise money for Blood:Water Mission. Everyone brought chocolate and we had raffles and cake walks and art to raise money; $3000 was raised! There was laughter and conversation and eating and simply being together, in the sanctuary of an old Catholic school (where we meet). My kids were running around and I watched as Sammy would walk and those who knew him would reach out and touch him as he went by. They didn’t necessarily speak to him, as they were engaged in conversations, but they would touch his shoulder or pat his head. He would look up and grin and keep on to wherever he was headed.

My kids are known in this congregation. There are adults who have listened to their stories, or to my stories about them, and have paid attention and know my children. More than that, they are aware of my children and my children know that. That is enormous in our world today.

Sunday morning we heard a message on Psalm 77. We walked in and saw 6 pink balloons celebrating six months of life of a baby who was not supposed to live outside the womb. We heard Kim pray for the needs and the joys of the congregation. By name, without rush and with knowledge. Then Jim taught us that it is okay to doubt and to struggle and to be disappointed…even with God. He spoke with compassion and with grace and also with challenge that at some point we have to speak to our mind and our heart and our will and we have to remember.

10 And I said, “This is my anguish;
But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
11 I will remember the works of the Lord;
Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
12 I will also meditate on all Your work,
And talk of Your deeds.

We have leadership in this congregation that lives out their walk with a confident humility and sets the tone for a church where there is freedom to struggle and to question and to pray and to rejoice and to laugh and to eat chocolate with a purpose. There is great diversity in our congregation, and while I am sure there are those who have struggled there and have been disappointed…because no where is the place where everyone is going to fit perfectly…there is something really special about this congregation.

Why this post? Well, I guess I was aware this week of those who have been very focused on the negative of the Church. There is plenty to focus on if that is what you are looking for, and sometimes there is a season to focus and call out things that are wrong. This weekend, though, I was struck by the life of this place where I and my family belong. I was struck by the laughter of my kids in church and the fact that they very rarely whine about going…they like being there. I was struck by the maturity and confidence of our leadership, and also their humility and lack of “celebrity”ness. I was struck by the blessing of being able to be known by a group of people and the fact that we didn’t make it out of the parking lot for 45 minutes after the service was over as we talked with friends.

I was struck by the fact that in the midst of a week that had drained us emotionally and physically and mentally, I walked out of the service Sunday with joy and refreshed and challenged and renewed. It was not just the words that were spoken…it was the life of the place and that was made up by the parts all creating a unique whole.

So, if you’ve hit a place of disappointment or frustration or anger toward the church, maybe spend some time finding those who are rejoicing and renewed and hopeful in their congregations. There are lots of them out there. Find a place where there is laughter and tears, questioning and worshipping…and life. Spend your season being mad and be done with it. Remember the works of the Lord and find the place where you can rejoice in being part of the work. This video is from our congregation….

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Happy Birthday, Mom

Today is Mom’s birthday. I read through what I wrote last year, and while I could have reposted that today, it struck me that it is not a day to dwell on the sorrow of dementia. Nope. Today is a today to celebrate something a little deeper.

 

Mom has been, my whole life, a force. She had a brilliant mind and a wicked fast wit. She could catch you completely off guard with a zinger that would set of laughter you couldn’t stop. She structured our home life around family: family dinners and Biblestudies, vacations and just “being” together. I still think about Friday nights as pizza nights and watching Dallas in the family room.

 

Our family is a story-telling family, and I think we owe much of that to Mom. She loved her family and often told us stories about “My Mama”, her grandmother, and how she would sit with her in the day and work in the garden. We knew that we came from some pretty special people.

 

The character and the determination and the wit and the intellect that was part of Mom’s heritage is part of who we are now. Part of the strength of Mom and all the stories she told is mixed with all the character and strength of Dad’s family…and it has resulted in a pretty great group.

Familytable

 

 

Every holiday we have and each gathering still has a bit of Mom’s imprint. She may not be able to hold the memories together with clarity now, but we still do. We are the fruit of her efforts, and while there were difficult days and disagreements and frustrations…as with any family…there is so much laughter and such closeness.

 

I’m immensely blessed to have been raised by this woman.  I hate what dementia has done to her mind, but I know that there are moments when she is with us still…moments when she delights in the grandchildren..

grandmateddy1grandmamaddie

 

Moments when she delights in simply being herself.

Grandmadriveway

 

Thinking of her, and of Dad, and of all the family today. Thinking of wonderful memories of moments of laughter or of conversation or of delight and thanking God for the life of Janie Mossman. Hoping for more moments of her being truly herself this coming year, and for God’s grace to be gracious to her this coming year. Happy Birthday, Mom.

Bedtime Stories as a Discipline

I am reading a bit of a horror story at the moment.  The real horror is that it is not fiction. A Train In Winter tells the story of a group of women from France who were resisters and who ultimately arrive in Auschwitz. They had hidden Jews, had helped others escape, had printed newspapers that urged resistance. They had taken a bold stand, and they pay a horrendous price.

There are moments of humor, moments of grace and moments of terror.

I just finished reading a different story to the boys at night. That story is about three children and their mother and their grandfather. They face terrors of their own, including a reptilian army of bad guys called Fangs of Dang who are under the rule of Gnag the Nameless. There are moments of escape, moments of terror, moments of captivity and fear and lots of humor.  But this story is not true and so we are able to hear it and not be as afraid.

I think and feel strongly that it is important to expose the kids to stories. Lots of stories. Sometimes they will be better written than other times, but each story we have read has expanded their imagination and their thinking. Most have led to discussions about God and about hope and faith.

There will be a time when they will realize that there are real terrors and there are those who are deeply evil. There will be a time when they will know that there are horror stories that are not fiction.

They will have a foundation, though. The best stories have suspense and have a mixture of fear and hope…they capture our attention and show us that there are choices to be made and there is courage to be grasped.  The story we’ve just finished up was the third in the Wingfeather Saga, written by Andrew Peterson. So far this series has been the favorite of the boys, and we eagerly anticipate the last book in the series coming out this Fall. Andrew is a Christian and he weaves deeper truths throughout the story…hints of a greater story.

And that is where I’m headed. I want my kids to have an expanded imagination that gives them groundwork for imagining the impossible. Three children fleeing from an army of lizard-men…facing crazy, imagination filled obstacles. Their eyes light up as we read and they never want me to stop because they are engaged deeply.

One of the things that I love about my faith is that it is based so richly in story. We are called to imagine the impossible…God becoming man and saving us.  Better than that: God creating everything out of nothing. Everything. Grass that is not only amazing shades of grey, but fragrant. The colors of the rainbow and the sunrise and the sunset and the mountains. Ostriches and pufferfish.

God has laced our lives with imagination that created reality. We serve a Creator.

And so when the horrors come, and they will…there is story to hear and to give understanding. Story of Falls and of sin and of brokenness. Stories still of redemption and of hope and of salvation.

Stories.
They require us to be patient and hear how they will play out. As we are three books into this series the boys have had to learn that not everything will be explained in the first pages of a book. Wait and see what answer might unfold.

Reading to them and teaching them to listen well and pay attention is not just a bedtime routine. It is a discipline that is foundation…listen well and pay attention is the key to making it through this life.

Listen well and pay attention. Part of the mark of our Maker is in our stories and in our imaginations. Pay attention. Don’t rush to the last page because you’ll miss too much…be patient and listen to the Story.

Enough!!! Well…..not really.

Dinner the other night did not end well.  The boys were rowdy and would not tone it down. Not after the first request. Not after the second. Or the third.  Not after Dad left the table and Mom gave them the silent treatment. They were reprimanded and scolded and told to knock it off.

Life with three boys can be rowdy. Most of the time. They test each other constantly and if they are not physically wrestling, they are wrestling verbally. Constantly. Sometimes there is giggling involved and sometimes there are tears.

They test Steve and I often. Not out-of-control rebellion, but they question us and they push us to see if we push back. They are not surprised that we do.

Then there is the addition of the little Miss. She has enough personality to keep them all in check. Granted, she comes by it honestly…there are stories that my folks had to tie a piece of plywood to the top of my crib to keep me from crawling out in the middle of the night. Since I am now almost 43 I think it is safe to say that without fear they will be called by Social Services. Apparently, however, I was slightly a handful and Maddie is following in my steps. She can scowl with the best and she has got a mean pointer finger that seems to be attached to her eyebrows…they go up when she points at you and says, “No!”.

Something struck me tonight as I was rocking Maddie. I’m glad the boys push and I’m glad Maddie is full of personality and challenge.

Sometimes I have a headache and I wish they would veg. Sometimes Steve has had a long day at work and wishes they would just be quiet at dinner and talk like…well, not like little boys.

We are weary from the responsibilities of life and they are filled with the enthusiasm of childhood. The enthusiasm that embraces fart jokes and mocking your brother, or imitating all the facial expressions of the family. We want to say, “Enough!”, but actually I’m thankful that they will constantly be pushing us.

That means when they venture beyond our dinner table they will continue to push. Not that I want disobedient children, and it would be nice if they know which fork to use when they go out to dinner and can hold a conversation without, well, farting. I do, however, want them to be full of life.

I’m realizing as we make our way through this journey some things about what is required of me as a parent.

I’m required to guide them in their knowledge of wrong and right, and to show that there are consequences to choices. I’m required to be committed with Steve to be consistent in our expectations of them, and to create a structure that gives them space to be themselves while learning how to behave with integrity and some level of decorum.

There is more though…

I’m required to delight in their giggles and to know all the tickle spots that bring the best laughter.

I’m required to pay attention to what is important to them at the moment, because it is important to them.
I’m required to remind them that they have amazing imaginations, and then to listen as those imaginations take flight and spin amazing stories. Even at the dinner table. Even when I’m tired and have a headache and wish there was a little more quiet.

I’m required to put them to bed with some routine that brings them comfort and structure and love and stories and imagination and wonder. Sometimes, though, I’m required to rock them (especially the littlest) until their eyelids flutter and they give themselves over to sleep in my arms. Then I am required to be amazed at this litte Image Bearer who trusts me implicitly to know what is required to care for them.

I’m required to delight in them. Because as I delight in them they blossom and they grow and they experiment. They watch to see if I am watching and if I am bored with them….well, they just might be bored with me and with life and they may not be interested in what I have to say.

Sometimes it is simply twinkling lights hung up in an empty cabinet to create a secret play space. Sometimes it is the hour…or two…of reading before bed that spins stories of adventure and courage and faith and wonder. Sometimes it is talking of God with hushed voices because…well…because He is amazing and wondrous and Creator and they bear His Image.

Enough….sometimes I want to shout that, but really, I don’t. I want to shout instead: “Keep at it!! Keep pushing!!! Keep living…loudly, with vigor and enthusiasm. Ignore that I am weary and have a headache and am boring. Remind me that life is amazing and worth delight.”

Clean slate…meet January 2nd.

Oh had quickly that clean slate gets dirty!!

All the encouragement I had in my spirit yesterday, and even this morning, as I headed into the new quarter of homeschool…well, it was deeply challenged today. We actually got off to a great start, I had a good plan and the kids were ready to get the wokr knocked out. We had a good time of Bible reading and discussion and prayer. We had time to jump on the new trampoline and have snacks and even sneak in an errand.

That is the good stuff.

The rest, well it felt like a Messy Monday.  The coffee pot overflowed when I brewed the first pot. Yes, first…it was a two pot day. The garbage bag leaked.

When the kids went to play on the trampoline three of them stepped in dog poop.

The dog stepped in dog poop…and he is faster than the kids when he tracks it in!

Maddie, who is generally the easiest baby on the planet, was not easy. She was mad. Mad as spit. All day. No matter what we offered her or did.

The worst part was that one of the boys just was in that mood, you know the mood where nothing is going to go right. It came right after we ran our errand, and lasted right up to fifteen minutes ago when I sent his hiney up to bed. He dragged out every assignment, he wrote painfully slowly in our joint work, and he literally dragged his feet throughout the afternoon. We pulled him out of the mood during dinner and we had laughs and good times during dinner, but in the last hour of finishing up school work that had not been completed, he melted down again. When he began scribbling in his Bible I called it quits.

The day had been prepped for, the day had been approached with prayer and hope. The day stunk in many ways.  I was frustrated and am tired.  And yet, I am not surprised.

The fact is January 2nd is real life…it is all the hopes and expectations and wonder and excitement of the clean slate of January 1st, but with the eraser marks and smudges of having real life interrupt. I’m still excited about 2013, but I’m a little more realistic. I know that the kids will not jump out of bed in the morning and be shiny faced and excited to plunge into school work. I know that I will not either.  And yet…the slate is clean again tonight. It is for the boy who had an attitude all day, and it is for me.

God’s mercies are new every morning.

Hope is hope because it does not rest in me and my abilities. Hope is founded on One Who is surer than I and therefore I can rest and know that the hope will be fulfilled.  Not a hope that all my neat plans will come together in the way I have imagined…but the hope that the God who hears is listening and the God who created continues to create and to work in those who seek Him.  The hope that He will not leave me alone in the desires that He has stirred in my heart.

January 2nd.  Messy Mondays. Life.

God the creative, redeeming savior.
Clean slate and hope in tact.

Clean Slates and enthusiasm!

Hello, January 1st!!!

I have a stack of books and notebooks ready to load into my backpack to make a short trek to a local coffee shop where I can think and imagine what to do in homeschool this coming quarter. Two quarters are under our belt and I find myself getting more excited about possibilities, more excited about what homeschool can mean for my kids.

One of the things homeschool can be is a place that fosters imagination and wonder. I know that there are many ‘real’ schools that are able to do this as well, but for the moment our kitchen table is our classroom. I have three very bright boys, but they are boys and they are not thrilled about school. My goal is to create some type of excitement of learning. They are progressing in their like…not quite love yet…of reading.  That is worth celebrating, and it is a start.  The next goal is getting them excited about “meeting” new people through their reading and the studies.

Being exposed to people who will challenge and encourage and inspire.  Because they are everywhere.

One of my favorite authors, and one who has challenged me immensely in the area of imagination and wonder is Madeleine L’Engle.  The other day I came across a blog post that was wonderful, and is part of what I am hoping to keep before the boys. The truth that those who have done amazing things are often those who were ignored when they were younger…check out the full blog post. The point of her short article is that L’Engle faced a number of obstacles and her childhood was far from what might be imagined as ideal for creating a writer. Those obstacles, those struggles, however, are exactly what created such an imaginative mind.

Not sitting in front of the television or the computer or the iPod or the XBox.  The boys like their “screens” and it is easy to let them veg and enjoy those things…but I am so aware of their need to get their minds engaged.

New Year’s Day.  Clean Slate. Lots of ideas floating around in my mind of what to put in place to engage the imagination and wonder and to challenge the ability to think well….excited to go make a plan!  There is something amazing about the New Year. We can start fresh at ay time, but there is something about starting a new calendar year that lifts hopes and spurs us a little more to try new things. The start of a New Year reminds us of the things we have gotten lazy about and gives us the reason to start again with discipline and enthusiasm.

Clean Slate. Spiritually as well. His mercies are new every morning…and sometimes that is easier to embrace on a whole New Year. There are so many things I have done lazily or without enthusiasm when it comes to my spiritual life this last year. This year, I hope to put things into place again to inspire the imagination and the wonder and the ability to think well spiritually.

Fresh and clean….and full of promise. I don’t know how long that feeling will last, I know in my frail human ability it will fade. While it is present, though, I hope to get the most out of this boost of a New Year!!! May 2013 be filled with wonder and imagination and thinking well!!!