Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Challenge That Made Me Feel Alive

There's a group of women with whom I'm reading and discussing A Year of Biblical Womanhood.  Last week's chapter was "Domesticity", and in it, Rachel Held Evans included this:
"Dorothy Patterson, in chapter 22 of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, concludes...that 'keeping the home is God's assignment to the wife--even down to changing the sheets, doing the laundry, and scrubbing the floor.'  Ambitions that might lead a woman to work outside the home, says Patterson, constitute the kind of 'evil desires' that lead directly to sin.  Debi Pearl, author of Created to Be His Help Meet, wrote, 'A young mother's place is in the home, keeping it, guarding it, watching over those entrusted to her. To do otherwise will surely cause the Word of God to be blasphemed.  Even if you could disobey God and it not produce visible ill consequences, it would only prove that God is long-suffering...but the judgment will assuredly come." (pp 23-24).
I love to cook, and I enjoy having the flexibility that comes with staying home with my children, but I also really, really dislike housework (especially vacuuming).  I get frustrated when something gets messed up right after I've cleaned it, and I do not understand why little boys are not better with aim in the bathroom.  Is it really that hard?

But I do my best to straighten up and clean and do laundry (but not vacuum) on a regular basis, even though I find it tedious and somewhat life-sucking.  It's the same monotonous activity that gets done over and over and over.

It does not make me feel alive.  And I wonder, do these authors and those who are proponents of this, also feel alive when they follow these rules?  What would they recommend to women who need something else, who hear God calling them to do something different?  Is there anything that they would encourage women to do that is not housekeeping, even if it is on a part-time or every-once-in-a-while basis?  Are women allowed to explore new interests?  

A behind-the-scenes photo from the shoot.
I ask this, because I know that I am more than "just a homemaker".  I write, I lead discussion groups, I volunteer, I teach Sunday School classes, and then this weekend I did something else.  I spent Saturday feeling exhausted and slightly sore, because, the day before, I had been gone from home for ten straight hours and had done some light running and weight-lifting (neither of which I EVER do on a regular basis) as part of participating in The Prairie Grass Film Challenge (a 48-hour challenge).  A friend's husband had asked me a couple of days prior if I was interested, and I thought, "sure, I'll give it a shot".  I had a blast.  It was fun to brainstorm ideas on Thursday after we received the requirements for the film, and as tiring as Friday was, it was fun to act and get to know the others working on the film too, as well as seeing how it all comes together in the end.

I felt alive.

Later in the "Domesticity" chapter, Rachel wrote about Brother Lawrence, saying that for him, "God's presence permeated everything--from the pots and pans in the kitchen sink to the water and soap that washed them.  Every act of faithfulness in these small tasks communicated his love for God and desire to live in perpetual worship" (page 29).

Maybe I'm just not spiritually mature enough, but I don't experience this and I never have.  I need outside opportunities to breathe life into me and let me know that I do have other interests and abilities.  And maybe there are women who are perfectly happy and always feel alive taking care of their home and children.  But I don't.  And when the homemaking is broken up by being able to do these other activities that make me feel alive, I often end up feeling more energetic and less resentful about the homemaking stuff that I am obligated to do.  

In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he writes:  

"I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called" (Ephesians 4:1).

He doesn't explain that men and women are supposed to do this differently, with women only leading a life worthy of a calling in the home, but rather, that we all are to do this "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" because, as he says, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,   one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:2-7).  

We are all called in different ways, we all have different ways of coming alive.  Perhaps, then we can all offer each other a little bit of grace and understanding when someone else comes alive in a different way.

And I encourage you all to find those ways that make you come alive.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

When God Cost $35

 The other day in the grocery store, I suddenly stopped while my kids ran down the aisle.  A song was playing on the radio, and I had automatically started singing along to it (very quietly!), but I couldn't quite figure out why, and needed to think.  And then I remembered.

I spent the fall of my sophomore year in college at a Catholic college near Boston, and while I didn't get very involved in much of anything, something that I did do was attend one of the retreats sponsored by campus ministry.  Another girl in our townhouse had convinced my roommate and me to go on this retreat (she had gone the year before).  She hounded us about it multiple times per day--I don't think she would have taken no for an answer.  So we dragged ourselves out of bed and across campus around 5:30 a.m. to get in line to sign up and paid our $35--we were the last two in line.  

That weekend in November 1996 we loaded up a bus and headed off to Yarmouth, MA, to a house close to the beach.  Many of us didn't know each other.  Over the course of the weekend, those of us attending heard talks on different topics from the leadership team. We began friendships, laughed together, cried together.  We saw an impossibly beautiful rainbow in a completely clouded sky.  

There was one activity that stood out to me above all others, though by now, the details have slowly been forgotten.  There was something with necklaces made of yarn, a story about warm fuzzies, and hugs.

And then God showed up.  I don't know if anyone else noticed, but I certainly did.  During this activity that I was surrounded by a Presence, and that Presence was Love, and I knew that it was God.  It set my life on a new trajectory, wanting to find out more.  I'd always believed, but this was different.

In the years since, I've never had the experience again, and I often wish I could go back to that time, that place.  The theme of the weekend was "All I Want", based on the song by Toad the Wet Sprocket:

All I want is to feel this way
To be this close, to feel the same
All I want is to feel this way
The evening speaks, I feel it say...

With my many moves, I never kept in touch with any of the people from that weekend, and I wonder where they are today, what they are doing.  I wonder if they too ever want to feel that way again.  

But as much as that experience has stayed with me over the years and encouraged me at times when I've had questions and doubts, it's impossible to go back in time and feel that exact way again.  It's like reminiscing about "the good old days", when we selectively choose to only remember the positive parts of those days and forget about the negative aspects.   

It reminds me of Paul's words in Philippians:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,   if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.   Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,   I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. --Philippians 3:10-14  
Paul didn't spend his time dwelling on his past experience on the road to Damascus, important as it was in his life.  He lived in the present and looked ahead to the future.  I wonder if, all this time,I've missed part of the message of the weekend.  I've focused on feeling God's presence, but I've forgotten about the rainbow: the symbol of future hope.  The rainbow happened in a very cloudy sky, and we were all pretty amazed, because the sun was not out.  And isn't that just like hope?  Isn't hope something that shines in the darkest of places?  The writer of Lamentations illustrates this well:
my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is;   so I say, "Gone is my glory, and all that I had hoped for from the LORD."   The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!   My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.   But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:  The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;  they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. --Lamentations 3:17-23
Let us all press on, looking ahead with hope.

P.S.  If these photos or the description of the event/location rings a bell with you, I'd love to connect and know how you remember the event.  Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Why I Am Wearing a Jewish Chai Necklace

Image courtesy silverspeck
 The other day, a small package arrived in the mail that held a necklace I'd ordered.  It was the necklace you see in the photo in this post: a Jewish chai.  Chai is the Hebrew word for life, and I thought it would be a good reminder for me that I'd chosen the word "alive" as my word for the year.  Before I ordered it, I checked with my friend Yaakov to make sure it wouldn't be offensive at all for a non-Jewish person to decide to wear something that is decidedly Jewish, and he assured me it would not be.  

I'm not entirely sure what draws me to wearing it.  Perhaps it is because I think Hebrew is a beautiful language (even though I can't read or speak it).  There's something about knowing how ancient the words are, how the word chai takes us back to both creation stories in Genesis: living creatures, every living thing, the breath of life.  It's more than the use of the word there, though.  When I look at the first creation story, when "the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep" (1:1), it is as if everything is asleep, waiting silently for God to wake it up and help it to come alive and realize its full potential.  

For reasons that are different for all of us, we often don't realize that we are asleep and need to wake up and come alive.  Or we wake up and press the snooze button.  Or the many activities we are involved in get in the way.  Coming alive isn't instantaneous.  Regardless of whether one believes in a literal or figurative six-day-creation, we can see that it takes some amount of time for life to happen. 

So, sometimes we need some reminders along the way, and that's what I hope wearing this necklace will do for me.  Is it some magical amulet that will make me come alive?  Not at all.  But it is symbolic, and I am hoping that it will be helpful.  Maybe, on days when it is easy to forget to be alive, those days where everything seems to be going wrong or is in disaray, I will touch it or see it and remember: wake up, don't hit the snooze button. Come Alive.

Share your own Come Alive story by linking up below.

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Sunday, January 05, 2014

Come Alive! One Word for 2014 and an Invitation for You

As I wrote in December, my One Word for 2013 was "abundant" and it really didn't work out so well.  In that post, I quoted from Brene Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection where she quotes theologian Howard Thurman:
"Don't ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."  (page 115).
I realized that one can't really have an abundant life until one actually starts living first. So, my One Word for 2014 will be "Alive".  I am going to find and do those things that make me come alive, and stop doing what doesn't.  I decided to quit going to a Bible study I've been going to for over a year and told them:
"I feel like for the last year or so I've been mainly existing in life, but not really feeling alive. I feel like I've been drifting from one thing to another trying to find a place where I belong and nothing has really and truly fit me, and even when something does seem to fit, it then kind of falls apart because of so many responsibilities and activities (I read something in a book the other day that might explain this but the quote is too long to put here. In short: spiritual warfare)."
The quote that was too long for there was from She Can Teach by Jackie Roese.  She wrote:
"The more prepared we are ahead of time, the more we will be able to roll with the inconveniences or spiritual attacks that may come.  I have learned to expect spiritual warfare when I teach.  Let's suppose I were invited to speak on a Monday or Tuesday.  Well, as long as my kids were still at home, almost every Monday or Tuesday was when chaos erupted at the Roese household.  It seemed that those were the only days my kids got sick, my dog got lost, I locked myself out of the house, my car wouldn't start, or there was a medical emergency.  For example, there was the time I was heading out to speak at a women's retreat, and my older son broke both of his arms.  We just need to recognize that when we're about to preach the Word, Satan would dearly love to derail us.  The better prepared we are, the calmer we are when the unexpected happens.  Take a deep breath and assume there must be some 'punch' in what you're about to say; otherwise, Satan wouldn't bother." (page 110-111).
While I've never really read much or paid much attention to the idea of spiritual warfare, that quote did make me pause and wonder if that is what is happening here.  I know so little about it that I can't really say for sure, but I thought it was something to think about.  I have heard over and over again that being busy is a great way to keep a person from working on her relationship with God, and that is quite true.  I am still going to be busy, I think, but the busyness will (hopefully) be more focused and organized now.

And, I'd like to hear from YOU.  If you have a story about how you have "come alive" I want to hear it and feature it here on Sundays.  I'm choosing Sunday for what I hope is a pretty obvious reason: it's the day of Jesus' resurrection.  What's more "coming alive" than that?  If you want to write your own story on this topic on your own blog, feel free to do that too.   I don't think this only happens once, so each week when I post with this topic, I'll post it as a linkup so you can feel free to add your own link to your own blog--regardless of whether or not it is an old or new post you have written.   Please feel free to grab the graphic at the bottom of the post to use when you blog on this topic. On days that I don't have a guest post, I'll be searching out stories from the Bible that illustrate some way of coming alive.  You do not need to be a blogger to do a guest post for me; you just need to have a "Come Alive" story of your own.  Let's use the hashtag #ComeAliveSeries to track all of the thoughts about Coming Alive.  

Looking forward to living this journey with you throughout 2014.