Monday, April 05, 2010

Not the Right Way

We had it all worked out -- a buyer for our home, a new house lined up contingent on the sale of ours. Then our buyer pulled out last Wednesday, no reason given. So now we are hoping to find another buyer in time to still get the new house.

Michael has faith and is calm; I am very disappointed and angry at that lame buyer and at God, who either doesn't want us to get that other house or doesn't want to make it easy, neither option being acceptable to me.

The other day I was taking the kids on a few errands. First, the post office. As I drove there, John shouted, insistently, from the backseat: "This is not the right way! It's not the right way!"

I told him I knew how to find the post office. And I did.

We left and I said, "Now, to the park." Again from the backseat: "This isn't the right way! It's not the right way!"

"John, I'm driving this car. Remember how I got us to the post office? Do you think I might know how to get to the park too?"

"Well . . ." John said, "I guess . . . . No. This isn't the right way!"

Logic doesn't help much when you're the one in the backseat and the way is unfamiliar. But as usual, I see myself in John. I would like to trust more in God and the unfamiliar (and unwanted) road he's taking me on.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's not Christmas yet

Wrapped presents around the house -- an invitation to temptation. Yesterday presents for the kids arrived in the mail from Michael's cousin. I put the presents by the creche. After John pulled down the present for him a few times, I put them on a high shelf. But John keeps asking if he can open his present. "It's not Christmas yet," I told him. "Just don't think about it." Maybe I should put them out of sight. I want, though, for him to learn patience and self-discipline -- to choose to wait, or at least to wait in peace.

Do I do that? Ha! My current obsession is to get a bigger house. I'm not sure when this will happen. But a friend of mine is selling -- well, trying to sell -- her nice, big house.

It is beautiful.

It would be perfect for my family.

It costs more money than we have.

And we don't know if we should move soon anyway, in case Michael gets another job elsewhere. But I want to stay here, and I want to buy my friend's house. So I'm praying about it.

But -- after watching John long for that present -- I see that I am acting like John. I keep asking our Father, "Can I have it? Will you make the finances work out? Will you make Michael's career work out the way we want it to? What are you going to do?" Meanwhile, He is saying, "It's not Christmas yet. Leave the present on the shelf. Don't even look at it. Just trust me that I have something good for you."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

An Empty Pot

I don't usually cry at Barney. I don't even watch Barney, most days. But today when John asked me to watch it with him, I did, just because I didn't have the energy or motivation to do anything else. So I saw the story of the emperor:

A Chinese emperor gathered a group of children (at least they were played by kids . . . and the emperor was some dinosaur) and told them that he was going to choose one of them to be the next emperor. He gave each of them a seed, which they were to plant and care for and bring back in one year to show the emperor what they grew.

Ling was a good gardener and excited to grow a wonderful plant. He took home the seed, planted it in a good pot, and gave it lots of water. But nothing grew. All year, he cared for the seed, but had only a pot of dirt to show for it.

When the year ended, Ling took his empty pot to the emperor. The other contestants had beautiful flowering plants. But the emperor announced that Ling would be the next emperor. To everyone's surprise, the emperor said, "I gave you each a rotten seed, but only Ling had the courage and honesty to bring me an empty pot."

At the moment, I too feel like an empty pot with a rotten seed. It is a struggle not to try to come up with some pretty flowers to hide my emptiness and rottenness. But I can go to my Emperor, the King of the Universe, Jesus Christ, with my emptiness. He has put his own life in this clay jar, a light that shines in the darkness of our hearts, "to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us" (2 Cor. 4:6, 7). Who needs some flowers when we can one day reign with Jesus, because of his gracious gift?

I still feel empty . . . but my Father says, "Open wide your mouth, that I may fill it." (Ps. 81:10).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Honoring your parents

John and Sarah's grandfather brought them a book about Noah, "a righteous man," who obeyed God and built the ark that would save his family and a few of each kind of animal. The story ends with the rainbow, God's promise that there wouldn't be another flood. But what about the rest of the story?

In the Bible, the last recorded incident in Noah's life tells how he got drunk and naked in his tent. One of his sons, Ham, saw Noah in this unseemly condition and told his brothers. They -- Shem and Japheth -- "took a garment, laid it on both of their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father's nakedness" (Gen. 9:23).

I normally don't think of this part of Noah's life often. I only do now because a friend recently discovered her daughters reenacting this scene with their Polly Pockets. Hearing "drunk and naked" caught her attention.

Turns out that the girls' Sunday school teacher "got a little carried away" (his words) while telling Noah's story. He's a seminary teacher, and I guess he doesn't think the Bible needs to be sanitized for kids. (Meanwhile, another friend's daughter, after learning a Sunday school lesson from Daniel, read that passage in her Bible and asked her mother, "What's a concubine?" That part had been omitted in Sunday school. As my Old Testament professor used to say, with gusto, "The Old Testament is earthy!")

Anyway, this is probably the first time since becoming a parent that I've thought about Noah, "a righteous man," lying in his tent drunk and naked. I don't like to think of Noah in this way -- it's so, well, beneath him. But the point of the story isn't that Noah was -- surprise! -- flawed.

Ever since the fall, nakedness has been a point of shame. We don't want everything about us to be revealed -- it's not pretty. The point is that Ham was disrespectful in pointing out Noah's nakedness, while Shem and Japheth properly averted their eyes and covered him up.

Noah, consequently, curses Ham (or "Canaan," his son): "a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers" (9:25). He blesses Shem and Japheth.

We all see our parents "warts and all." No parents are perfect; what will we do with what we have observed from living in intimate quarters with them? I confess that when it comes to my own parents, I am too focused on their flaws, especially the ways that they have hurt me. But the story of Noah and his sons tells me -- it's time to move on. You know your parents' flaws: look away, and cover them up.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wanna get lucky?

I am a sucker for sweepstakes. I know, "sucker" is the operative word. But the lure of the prize -- a tricked-out refrigerator, 100,000 airline miles, or $5000 at J. Peterman, to name recent ones -- leads me to spend (waste) a minute filling out entry forms. The chance that this time, I might get lucky compels me to continue adding my name to the thousands of other hopefuls. Of course, the odds are against us -- only one person will win. But the possibility of getting something for nothing compels us.

For me, at least, what makes sweepstakes irresistable is that they are free -- raffles, for example, don't tempt me. And how often do we get things for free -- things that are worth receiving? My father's most frequent words of wisdom, at least while I was growing up, were "There's no such thing as a free lunch." We usually value most the things we work hard for, whether it's a car or a degree. And most valuable things require much of us, such as our marriages or children. It is satisfying to work hard at a job or relationship and see the fruit of that hard work. But sometimes, I just want to get lucky, to get something for nothing.

My drive to accomplish something -- to be competent and successful -- usually dominates; I also, though, want sometimes to be celebrated just for being me. Maybe that desire is what makes our birthdays so special (if they are remembered!). For me, the real reason that sweepstakes are irresistable isn't so much the particular prize but the hope of being singled out for nothing I've had to work for.

When I fill out a sweepstakes form, I am pretty sure I'm just wasting my time. But it does remind me to thank God, who gave his Son Jesus to die for me to give me a new life -- not because of anything I've done, but just because he loves me. And that is a prize available to anyone who will receive it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

We Never Arrive (Yet)

An article on Christian travel -- pilgrimages -- states that the point of departure may be more important than the destination: "Yahweh repeatedly identifies himself as 'the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt,' and rarely as the God who brought the Israelites to the Promised Land." (Christianity Today, here).

I had never noticed that, but once stated the point seems obvious, at least as it applies to us now. I often forget that I'm a pilgrim and that it's ok not to have arrived. The Israelites may have eventually gotten to Canaan, but they never really experienced life in the Promised Land -- and nor do we, yet. But we have indeed left Egypt -- or more specificially, the Lord has brought us out of it. Just because our lives don't yet look like what we expect the Promised Land to be doesn't mean that we are still in Egypt, or even in the wilderness. Wherever we are, we can trust God has brought us here, and that one day we will indeed arrive.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

praising great men

Why is it that in the Old Testament, so often great kings are followed by evil ones? Reading Kings and Chronicles lately, I've been struck by this -- it seems strange that a godly king would have a son who departs so far from the ways of the Lord. Jehoshaphat's son Jehoram killed all of his brothers; Absalom, son of David (the man after God's own heart) did not have the godly fear of harming God's anointed one the way David did. Other examples abound. How did the sons not learn from their fathers?

Reading biographies of other, more recent "great men," has shown me a possible reason for the disconnect. John Adams played a crucial role in the establishment of the United States as a free republic, not to mention his service as ambassador, vice-president and president. He was a man of great (not perfect) character, yet one of his sons died of alcoholism. Winston Churchill too -- great leader, remarkable man, yet not a "good" father. These men (and others) devoted their lives to serving their countries, and their families suffered for it.

I suspect it is difficult, if not impossible, for a man to excel both as a father and as a public servant -- not to mention other professions. Billy Graham, for example, has said that he now realizes he spent too much time away from home and that he wishes he would have been a more present and involved father. Much is made of how women cannot "have it all," but the same dilemma faces men who want to make a difference in the world and at home.

I am naturally (or conditioned to be) ambitious, and part of me wants my husband to be as ambitious as I am. He isn't. When I reflect on the lives of "great men," though, I am glad that my husband has chosen the better part -- he takes his career seriously, but he makes his family his first priority. He is home at an early hour every night and very actively involved in our son's upbringing. What could he do that is greater than the influence he is having on our son (soon, our children)? As much as I appreciate the genius, hard work and accomplishments of men like Adams and Churchill, I am grateful to be married to someone whose work the world will probably not notice, but to whom the Lord will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."