Saturday, December 19, 2009

Meditation #4: Christmas Chiaroscuro

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a lgiht has dawned." Isaiah 9:2

I remember many years ago puzzling over why Christmas could be so hard for some people. Why couldn't people just "get into" the season? Why couldn't they focus on the real meaning of it, and forget whatever was hard? After several traumas, and some choices of my own (good choices, but not without consequences), Christmas took on a whole new feel for me several years ago. I set myself up for it. I had spoiled my kids and even spent my lifetime of Christmases caught up in the whirlwind of traditions. Suddenly, I was barely able to get out of bed each morning. My chioces about what were important for me and for my boys had left me living paycheck to paycheck, hardly able to make ends meet. Christmas made it worse, as I faced "celebrating" without the trappings I had come to love. I faced Christmas with no money, no energy, and no enthusiasm. Still I turned to the things I had always done: decorating, baking, singing songs, and even reading the Christmas story as a way to escape the sense that I was messing it all up. I have really struggled with Christmas for years now, having little sense of wonder and little anticipation of something wonderful in the holiday.

I woke this morning thinking about a terrible, stupid book I read by Lemony Snicket called "The Lump of Coal," about a piece of coal that is hoping for a Christmas miracle. Even an author as dark and vile as the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events can see that Christmas is a time for miracles. Why couldn't I? Most days I walk in a world of darkness. Oh, many of the people around me think they are enlightened, but I see through the facade. I have tasted some of the world's hopelessness in the loss of those dear to me, in the struggle to do what I think is important work, in my own struggle against the parts of me that terrify and shame me. Yet over the years, as I have tasted the devastating consequences of sin, I have also become more aware of something there that I know is real and dependable: hope. Not hope in me, because I let myself down all the time. Not hope in others, although I have come to love and appreciate the relationships I have and the kindness that people can show. I know deeply though, that my hope comes from belonging to the Most High God . . . of knowing I am His daughter and his beloved, and that even when I mess up big-time, He will use it all for my good and His glory. My hope comes alone from Christ, and everything else I experience that is good in the world is because of His hand at work upon it. In the darkest morments of my life I have sensed His presence and tasted His peace, knowing that I didn't have to understand what was going on or why I was hurting to know He was in control and loved me and was going to use it all. I know this, even if my feelings have been slower to respond to it.

A few people at the time of Christ's birth found this hope too. In the midst of a very dark time for Israel--with the rule of the violent, oppressive Romans--there were people looking for hope. Of course, they were looking for the hope that a ruler who would throw off the shackles of Roman oppression would bring. Instead, what a few found was a baby, some angels, and a star. In the midst of the dark of night, during a time of darkness in Jewish national history, in a dark and backwards place like the little village of Bethlehem, a sudden great light shone out. It was accompanied not only by a glorious angel, but by a heavenly host of them . . . enough to inspire fear in shepherds who regularly fought lions and thieves. It was proclaimed not only by a star, but by one bright enough in the dark night to impress some very well-educated, important men from faraway eastern countries. The only thing in that whole story that doesn't seem to shine is the baby, and yet in eternal eyes, he was the brightest of all, for He was God Himself. He would continue to shine through His short life: as he perfectly and respectfully obeyed His parents in everything and showed unusual compasssion for his age on the children around him, as He worked dilligently to help care for His family all the while studying scriptures and worshipping with passion, as He left His beloved family (surprising everyone) to travel and preach and care for the outcast and downtrodden, and as He exposed the hypocrisy and inconsistencies of the religious establishement of the day, urging, calling, chastising them back to true worship of the Living God. The reactions to Jesus were mixed, because he was light--the Light of the World (John 3:19-21)--and while some were drawn to it, many ran from Him or tried to extinguish Him like cockroaches when the switch is flipped.

As I awoke this morning and pondered all of this, I realized that my struggle to find purpose and meaning in Christmas has the same cause as the struggle of every person who has heard, saw, or met Jesus from the time He came here to earth until now. If I get caught up in all of the tradition, in pleasing my children, even in dutifully reading the Christmas story, even my best efforts to celebrate are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). What God wants from me . . . what I was created for . . . was to live in relationship to Him, and then as an extension of that relationship to reflect His light to a dark world. If I want to celebrate Jesus' birthday, I need to do it by reflecting and celebrating Jesus Himself. It's not about conjuring up enough emotion or feigning devoutness to celebrate the season, Christmas is still about the same thing that it started as: renewing my relationship to God. I am grateful that Chrismas comes at the end of the year, because every year, regardless of my feelings I begin a new year reflecting on my Savior, on what He has given me, and on how and where I have strayed away, again, from Him. I have nothing that He really needs, but He wants me. All Jesus wants for His birthday is for me to give back to Him my heart, surrendering to the light and banishing a little more of the darknes

Meditation #3: When the Plan Looks Different Than Expected

At Christmas time I often find myself puzzling over Mary. I've tasted what it is like for God's plan to turn out so different than I expected, and I wonder about her thoughts as Jesus' life unfolded before her. Surely she understood the gravity of the proclamation by the angel that she would have the Son of God. Surely she felt the weight as it dawned upon her that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. And yet, did she have doubts? Did she wonder at God's choice of her, a simple peasant girl, to give birth to one who had been proclaimed to be a great warrior-king? Even as a child he must have puzzled her. Not the conquering ruler so many had envisioned, but tender, compassionate, kind . . . and at the same time, bearing an air of authority.

Did the birth of the Messiah confuse her as much as it does us? I mean, when we really think about it. It's easy to buy the traditional story of a baby in a manger, but when we really begin to grasp that it was God in the manger, when we really start to understand the majesty and holiness of this one who had come . . . a stable seems an odd choice.

Of course, if we really study God's whole story, we see that He is a God who delights in turning things upside down. Over and over He proves to us humans that we can't apply a simple formula to life and get what we want or expect. He just doesn't work like that. He loves to make the youngest the heir, the lowly a ruler, a woman a deliverer. He loves to show His might through the weak and the broken and the hopeless.

Perhaps that is because eventually that is where we all end up: facing our own helplessness. The husband leaves. The illness ravages our body. Parents and siblings die. All of our education and training can't find us a job. When sin decimates our lives, God's stories of using humble maidens to bring a king into the world remind us that this same king conquered death and sin for us. He offers hope and life in the midst of a hard world. Only in a relationship to Him do we find satisfaction and joy.

I wonder how much of God's story Mary knew. Did she know much beyond the traditional tales of folklore that were told. Somewhere had she glimpsed the God who loved her? She was a woman who treasured up things and pondered them, so I wonder if she had pondered the truth of God's story enough to just trust that He knew what He was doing even though the plan never seemed to make sense to her.

Christmas is a time of giving to others and asking for your deepest desires. I think this Christmas I'm going to give God my attention and my worship. He deserves so much more, and nothing less. I'm going to give Him control of my life (again . . . although He never lost it). And I'm going to ask Him to draw me back into His story in the year to come. This year I would like many more glimpses of the life-giving, hope-bringing God-incarnate.

Meditation #2: Guilt By Association

I am struck every year by part Joseph plays in the Christmas story. His initial reaction to the discovery that his future wife is pregnant is surprising enough--most young men I know would hardly decide to handle it quietly! I wonder how his quiet handling of the matter would have appeared if word got out in Jewish society--if that was considered the reaction of a guilty party who didn't want to admit his guilt by fulfilling the betrothal. Surely Joseph was going to be unable to "save face" by sweeping the matter under the rug. Since we, the readers, know the truth, his decision speaks volumes about his character, his tenderness toward God, and perhaps about his feelings for Mary.

But what comes next is astonishing. In a dream he is told to take Mary as his wife, and HE DOES IT!!! As I ponder this for a moment, I'm humbled. You see, my tendency with dreams is to laugh them off as odd and go on with my day. To marry a woman already pregnant, especially when he had dealt quietly with the whole affair was as good as admitting that HE was the father of the child. I cannot imagine how they would have been treated in Nazareth after this juicy bit of gossip circulated. Did Joseph's business suffer? Were they looked down upon when they went to worship? Did they worry about the neighbors treating the child--the Messiah--as inferior because of his family's dirty little secret? I wonder if they were as puzzled by this plan as I am. Yet the scriptures indicate that Joseph's obedience was immediate, and Mary and her baby found a protector. What a guy!

Such a man seems super-human, and it almost makes the story unbelievable. I admit, I have known a few men who I think of as being of that quality of character, but it still seems outrageous to imagine the cultural impact of Joseph's obedience. It was a one in a zillion pick, which of course God knew.

Then I realized tonight that in his choice of a father for Jesus, God modeled His own divine Fatherhood of His beloved children, for the very reason Jesus was coming into the world was so that God Himself could associate with sinful, willful, rebellious children who had "played the whore" and turned their backs on Him many times. While Mary's guilt was only that of appearance, and Joseph's one of association, my guilt was real. The sins I have committed against my most holy, glorious God are real, as are the consequences of that guilt that I carried. And yet, He chose to come into the world to suffer guilt by association. Throughout His life, Jesus embraced the weak, the immoral, the rejected, the imperfect, and I'm so glad He did, because it makes it easier to believe that He could love me.

It kind of hurts to think of the number of times I'm afraid to associate myself with him--afraid of the cultural impact of admitting boldly that I'm a Christian. I don't mind whispering it to those who are closest to me. I don't mind bringing it out to show when someone is in a tough spot and doesn't know where else to go. But often I fight the urge (and even give in) when associating with Christ will make me look guilty, crazy, or even just weird. So today, for Jesus birthday, I'm going to shout it! Jesus is my beloved!!! He loved me when no one could! He loved me even when He saw the things in me I hope most people never see!! He has faithfully loved me and cared for me and pursued me in my most faithless moments!

Christmas is Jesus birthday, and this year, I want to celebrate it, because He is my most beloved!

Meditation #1: A Costly Gift

I've been wrestling lately with some young friends who are trying to understand God's sovereignty. It's that age-old question: If God is good and in control, WHY would He create a world, and people He loved, and even give them an opportunity to sin and to open the proverbial Pandora's box, letting destructive murderous sin into the world? How can a God who does that be called good?

"Mystery--how He came to be a man. But greater still, how His death was in His plan. God predestined that His Son would die, and He still created man. Oh what love is this? That His death was in His hands?" (Selah, "Mystery")

Suddenly I realized this morning that we're not seeing the complete picture when we ask this question. We only see a man and a woman in a beautiful garden, and an even more beautiful relationship with each other and with their God. If we only look to the separation from the simple life in the garden and the intimacy they knew, it does seem cruel that God even gave them a choice to sin. But what was God going through? He ALREADY knew what choice they would make! But more than that, He knew that with all the good things He had already given them, it was going to cost Him more! He would lose fellowship with His own precious creation for a long time! (Not to Him, I know--billions of years aren't that long compared to eternity) Moreover, He was laying His own son on the line--a part of Himself! He would be compromised in a way He had never allowed Himself to be before! He would have to watch the Holy One He loved more than any other suffer and die!

I've given gifts before that I was proud of because I knew "they'd keep on giving." I've passed over things because "they cost too much." I've received things that I knew I really didn't deserve. But wow! God watched Adam and Eve choose rebellion, and saw at the same time the unimaginable suffering it would cost HIM!!! Why would He do that?

You see, I realized that God didn't inflict suffering on us wantonly or with pleasure. He didn't simply want to humiliate us before His power or righteousness or control. The gift of life wasn't enough for Him to give. A stroll in the garden wasn't enough. He needed to give us all of Himself! He needed to have a relationship that showed the full extent of His love.

If a woman marries a rich man, and he puts her in a house filled with beautiful things, has dinner with her regularly, and takes her on luxurious vacations, will she be happy? We see often in Hollywood that even with all your basic needs met and many of your wants, a relationship devoid of intimacy and the mutual sacrificing of oneself is empty and meaningless. So knowing fully the cost of our sin--to us as well as to Himself--God gave us a choice to love Him, and at the same moment chose to love us even though we wouldn't love Him like He deserved. Several thousand years later, He loved us again, by giving us the true gift that "keeps on giving," the most costly gift, and the one with the most thought and planning put into it. The incarnate Jesus was tailor-made for us!

Friday, October 02, 2009

On Grieving

I'm glad to see the month of September go. It has been one of the hardest months for me since the year after my dad died. September 9th would have been my 20th wedding anniversary. It was a mark I always dreamed of as a little girl. How differently life has turned out than I expected! Strange that although I've been divorced for seven years, it still hurts. I still have many days when I think to myself, when will it stop hurting? The truth is, that it won't stop hurting until I get to heaven.

I don't think I would have understood that a decade ago, in fact, I know I wouldn't have. Our western culture has such strange notions about grieving and loss. Once the customary couple of months are over, it is implied that it is time to start fighting the grief and move on with your life. "Make lemons out of the lemonade." Get on medication for a while until you get over the loss. Take on a hobby or new responsibilities to empower you so you will be able to take charge of your future. In truth, after the first several months you truly start to grieve. The loss becomes less surreal and more real, depression and anxiety become constant enemies, and getting out of bed seems like progress each day. To make things worse, people around you have moved on, and you often feel as if you are left to wrestle with ongoing grief alone. As odd as it is, even though there is a cultural expectation of "bouncing back," we are intuitively aware that the grief goes on. After all, who of us doesn't understand a parent who never recovers from the loss of a child? Who expects a widow to forget her husband? Who would lose an arm or a leg and not expect to always struggle with the feelings of loss and insecurity that such an amputation would create? It puzzles me then why as a people we are so unable to sustain our compassion and assistance to the brokenhearted. As a culture we don't know what to do with death and loss, especially once the funeral is over and life resumes.

From my experience, I suspect that responses are a little different to loss by death and loss by divorce. When I went through my divorce, I felt not only as if I had lost him, but as if I had died. I lost much of my sense of identity. I was no longer "his wife," and I wasn't sure what I was. Although over time I have built new experiences to draw identity from, the part of me that loved being wife, helper, lover, and best friend are still gone, and I miss them like I would miss an amputated arm or leg. Although my heart has toughened in small ways, I still have phantom pains that hit me frequently, and I find myself crying for no reason because I feel alone and rejected, and my "not-so-new life" seems overwhelming and lonely. Until you have been through a devastating loss, this ongoing grief, and the hole left in your soul are hard to understand, and sometimes hard to be compassionate toward.

I've also noticed that ongoing grieving is hard for children. Although children are very resilient, and can withstand a lot of disappointment and grief, an overwhelming loss or a series of losses can leave them wrestling with grief for years, even into their adulthood. The emotions tend to dive below the surface for a while, and the kids look fine, only to resurface later, particularly during adolescence. As much as they might try, a grieving parent is struggling through their own grief, and it is hard for them to help their children through theirs also. I can remember times after my tragedies when I was fighting to get out of bed in the morning and keep my kids fed, clothed and working on schoolwork, much less have conversations to draw out of them how they were feeling. Furthermore, I learned mostly by trial and error how to process and manage my pain; I was at a loss how to guide them through theirs.

That's not to say that ongoing grieving is a completely bad experience. Does that sound odd to say? In the last seven years, I have seen more clearly how evil, heartbreaking, devastating, and miserable our fallen world can be. I have learned to appreciate the complete wasteland that sin can make of a life, and I have come to understand that no one is guaranteed shelter from its effects. I was a "good girl." I made "good choices," was kind to other people, went to school, ate my green beans, and tried to live by my convictions. Yes, I was still with flaws and weaknesses and sins, but I followed the rules, and "life" still ran over me. Or did it? I don't believe that my losses were accidents or without purpose. In addition to the greater understanding of the evil that has corrupted the world, I am more sensitive to people who have been trampled. I'm less likely to say stupid or meaningless things to them, and more likely to find ways to really comfort them. I don't minimize pain, even when it is appears that the pain someone is wrestling with is something I would gladly exchange my pain for. I've discovered that our pain is designed for us, to expose our weaknesses and draw out our strengths.

Most of all, I've come to realize I have true hope within me. Without it, the pain would have overcome me a long time ago. I would have given up trying to get out of bed, or would have been sucked into the illusion that I was "better" by burying my grief in a flurry of activity and self-help mantras. Instead, I've come to realize that the "cure" for the depth and destructiveness of sin is Jesus. I've learned that all of the things that my heart cries out for in grief are the very things He stands waiting to be for me. I've come to know Him as everything I want and need in my life, and honestly, I've come to long to be with Him in heaven even more than I want to stay on this earth. Grieving losses, like being homesick, has made me aware that I don't belong here. Instead I belong to a different place, where all that my heart cries for is available and abundant.

Within the church, we need grieving, broken people. We need to minister to them, and we need them to teach us and remind us of the lessons they are learning. If we as Christians are going to enter the devastation of a fallen, broken world, we must learn from our brokenhearted brothers and sisters how to show compassion to such needs. We need to discover how to make ourselves vulnerable to the hurting, how to enter into their hurt in a way that compromises our own hearts and shares the pain. We need to know how to communicate hope in a winsome way that neither belittles their suffering, nor presents the Gospel as a trite, easy answer or a guarantee that they will not hurt anymore. Those in our midst need us. They need us to call often and ask if they are getting out of bed. They need us to know whether they have family or other support people to remember birthdays and holidays. They need us to love and spend time with their kids, and to take on some of the burden of shepherding their children through grief. Most of all, the world around us needs to see us caring for our wounded in a radically different way than they do. If our love is demonstrated in the way we care for our weakest members, it will be hard for the world to dismiss our Savior. And He will draw us closer to him for having his heart for the wounded.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Getting My Dream Vacation

For so many years, our family vacations were to places like Disney World or Sea World. Entertaining our kids was the priority. But for about five years now, I have longed for a REAL vacation--a vacation that was as much for me as for the kids. We came close last year when the grandparents took us all to Chatanooga, and we stayed in a cabin there, but there was still touring the local sights, at a bit of a clip. There was lots of time for playing games, enjoying the mountains around us, and even watching movies together, but it was still pretty exhausting. This year, the grandparents and my sister Mary came down to us, and we vacationed at the beach. A friend let us use a beach condo, and it has truly been relaxing, and refreshing. I came with certain goals, and I must admit, I didn't fulfill them all. I really wanted to spend lots of time quiet and alone with God, but I'm having a hard time breaking out of my sinful rut of letting other things take His place. I guess I've begun to realize that time and place won't cure that. I'm just going to have to arrange my schedule to make Him first place.

But some of my goals--playing with the boys on the beach, taking a long moonlit stroll on the beach, getting up before dawn to watch the sunrise--these I've done. We have watched lots of TV together, the only thing I wish we have done less of, but it has been fun anyway. During the week while my parents and sister were here there was so much freedom for us all--Grandpa would take all the kids swimming, or Aunt Mary and I would take them down to the beach, or they'd go off with Nana and Grandpa for a while. I loved not having the plan meals or cook (Nana and Mary seem to enjoy cooking. Go figure! I was content cleaning up!) On Friday when they left to return home, the boys and I were so down, and it was hard being without them.

Yesterday, the two younger boys and I went down to the beach for the whole afternoon. We built a huge sandcastle, bathed in the ocean, buried each of the boys in the sand, and laughed and played together. It was such great fun! Today we drove down to Washington Oaks State Park and went to a rockiy shell beach. We added to our huge collection of shells, Stephen and I took photographs of the rocky beach, and we played in the water on a beach that was very different from the one we've enjoyed the week on this week. I have been amazed at how much creativity I have seen in God's creation this week--a thousand different colored shells, gentle waves, followed by rough, harsh waves, totally different skies from day to day, and so many ways to enjoy being outside in the sun and surf.

I guess I am touched that God would give me this vacation. I couldn't afford it, but God worked out the financial end. I certainly don't feel like I deserve it. I have loved it, and hate to go back to "real life," and all the decisions awaiting me there. But I feel rested and ready to work again. Hopefully all the beauty and nature around me will continue to inspire me for a while longer.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I LOVE Homeschooling!

Things I love about a new year of homeschooling:

  • Snuggling together to pray and read the Bible. (OK. The teenager doesn't snuggle.)
  • The boys begging for their treat bags on the first day of school.
  • Eating breakfast together and TALKING!
  • Realizing I just got to be irritated at the nine-year-old because I had to tell him the two billionth time to sit down and do his math test. (Instead of being irritated at some stranger for bugging me!)
  • Hearing them read to me, and knowing I taught them to do that!
  • Racing from downstairs to upstairs and back again to help with problems and answer questions.
  • Doing my laundry and dishes while I work!
  • Hearing "what's for lunch?" and "is it lunch time yet?"
  • Stephen's jokes, Andrew's advice, and Josh's sarcastic comments.
  • Seeing checked off assignment sheets.
  • Grading math papers and realizing they've got it!
  • Hearing the comment, "C.S. Lewis was an amazing writer!"
  • Seeing the whole room stop to watch the cat try to steal beef jerky.
  • Laughing, giggling, playing, eating, getting mad, hugging, telling jokes, learning . . . and doing it all together!
  • Knowing we got through another day of school.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hey! The Brain is Working Again!

So someone mentioned to me today that I haven't been blogging lately. Hmmm . . . I thought I was. Oh wait! Once every three months doesn't really count, does it? So I'm back (for today anyway). Actually it has been hard for me to get anything done lately. For more than a year my brain had gotten progressively foggy. I would spend every day trying to stay awake and do school. I had no energy for anything, and was sleepy all the time. Gradually, I've lost all my interest in anything that required any effort, and the house and schedule (among other things) have run down into chaos. Seriously, for at least a year now I've felt I was barely keeping it together. Struggling financially ended me up on the doorstep of our church's Mercy Ministry office, and I began to receive some counsel from the director there. One of the things she had me do was change doctors. After reviewing my history, complaints and current medications, she changed my meds, has had some new testing done, and made some other recommendations. Low and behold, just changing the meds alone has helped me find my energy, not feel like I'm going to fall over asleep all day, and I'm actually feeling like getting things done, and now I'm blogging!!! Hooray! God is moving me forward again!

So this weekend was a delightful and blessed first for me. For a long time I have felt a desire to speak publicly about homeschooling, with a special interest in encouraging single moms and parents facing impossible odds to receive God's call and homeschool even when the possiblity of doing so looks bleak. This past year I began working at our local area homeschool library, and made some connections with the people in leadership of the HERI organization. Eventually I found myself volunteering to teach a "How to Homeschool" class (which I do all the time anyway for people considering it!), and so they asked me to give the seminar at the BIG convention this weekend. So yesterday, I found myself in front of about 50 new and somewhat anxious homeschoolers, walking them through the maze of choices and decisions they would be facing in the coming months as they began their own homeschool adventure. Oddly enough, I never got nervous, never felt uneasy, and I loved it!!! I had several people share that they were encouraged (Thank you, Lord!!!), and hopefully many more were blessed with information they wanted, and encouragement they needed even more. (Sheesh, if I can homeschool, almost ANYONE can!) Best of all . . . I unexpectedly got a $$$ thank you from HERI! (But of course, I spent it at the Convention.)

Even more unexpectedly, I asked some questions and got a lead on an area of curriculum development in which there is NOTHING. It's something I've already started writing and teaching, so I just have to dedicate time to developing it further and have to do some research to find out about the process of preparing curriculum for publishing and getting it published. Who knows, perhaps by next summer I'll be teaching a Vendor class!! Cool, huh? All this challenge to consider writing curriculum at a time when I'm getting a little desperate for some paying work has stimulated my desire to write at all, so I'm taking a look at some other projects I had started and will be forging ahead on some of them as well. Of course, by the time some of you read this, my ADD will be in full-force, and I will have forgotten my drive to write and will be back in my rut and not blogging again. But one can hope that won't happen, right?

So now I'm off to bounce from project to project. Wow. I really need a writing schedule and some goals, don't I?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Special Twelve Years!

My dearest Stephen,

Have you noticed that lots of great things come in 12's? Eggs come by the dozen. Twelve inches makes a whole foot! There were twelve tribes in Israel, and twelve disciples, so the number twelve was important to God too! This year marked a dozen years I've had with you. Wow! As always, money was tight this time of year--it always is with the end of the school year and beginning to prepare for the next year. Of course, a major difference this year was that we didn't go to the homeschool conference on Memorial Day weekend, so we were home to celebrate your birthday. Only . . . I didn't have any money. It was hard to watch you so excited, when I knew I wouldn't be able to do anything until the day OF your birthday. I couldn't prepare ahead . . . no presents, no cake, no decorations. Even the planning lacked a little as I have struggled to get through the end of the school year, complicated even more by all the events in your brother's year at the Academy. So there I sat on Friday morning after dropping your brother at school. I was trying to figure out how to redeem the day and make you feel as celebrated as my heart feels when I think of how much I love being your mom and having you as my son.

Then it came to me! The idea I proposed to you was quickly negotiated and embraced, and you told me all day long how much you loved it! We went on a shopping spree. I could laugh when I even call it that, since you wanted so little. The first thing we got was a big gift bag to fill up, only there were so few things you wanted, we could have done with a much smaller bag. First we hit Starbuck's and the grocery store to get coffee and donuts, then we went to several stores to find the things you wanted. We headed home for a little while for lunch and so AJ could have his tutoring done. Then we picked Josh up from school and wisked away to watch "Night at the Museum 2." Afterward we went to Cici's for pizza, then home to enjoy playing with your new games and shows. It was a simple day, but you genuinely loved it, which says volumes about who you are. You love simplicity . . . love being home and with family or alone.

The day after your birthday I took you out just the two of us, to a movie ("Wolverine") and to dinner. The day after that we celebrated with a big family party with us and the Borkos, just lots of noise and activity and fun! Matthias spent the night, and then you were completely satisfied with your special day(s). It is easy to see in this what I have long known about you--you are content to have a few very close relationships, and don't really need many of them. You like the "social scene" and have enjoyed the activity and excitement of being with the youth at church, but your preference is to just enjoy the people you love being around.

You've grown so much this year, in size (you now top the scale at over a hundred pounds!) and in skills. Your art work has come such a long way, and you love to spend hours drawing cartoons. You love all things boy! You giggle at explosions (go figure!), and love action movies more than anything. But you are quite the ham, and LOVE LOVE comedy of all sorts--from sitcoms to Garfield cartoons to blonde jokes. You are always cracking me up with some hilarious observation and comment, or with a new cartoon that reflects your ability to get inside the heads of those who draw your favorite comics.

Stephen, I love being your mom so much. You are so full of surprises. You are sensitive, and when I get down, you look for some way to help or encourage, even if it's just in holding my hand. In spite of your insistence, I dread the day that some cute girl takes away my snuggle bug, and I love all the affection you give me still. But I also love the ways you are changing--new conversations we get to have, new kinds of movies we can watch, and lots of new humor.

Happy birthday my dear boy! You are a delight and a joy!

Picking Up the Pen . . . er . . . keyboard.

For some time now I have been fighting conviction. Not that I don't always fight it in some form or another, but I've been convicted on how much time I spend on unproductive distractions that don't really satisfy me. In fact, they stir up appetites and cravings that are insatiable, causing me to lose sleep, waste precious time, and end up with nothing but deficits (in time, money, and production). Tonight I discovered a wonderful blog called Permanent Things. I found it as I was searching for some new ideas of how to handle literature studies with the boys. But what I discovered there was the kind of peek into the life of a kindred spirit that whet my desire to write again about my own experiences. So here I am! Back from a long hiatus, and determined to write more. I have so many thoughts and ideas floating around my head, I'm not sure where I will even start, but it will probably do me good to get them out on paper . . . or rather . . . computer screen. So for the two or three of you who have stuck with me and are still checking my blog, hoping I might actually have thought of something worth saying to entertain you, challenge you, encourage you, or just make you laugh, stay tuned! I'll start thinking of things to write! It'll be fun catching up, don't you think?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Mother's Day Confession

Given to me by my Beloved, to remind me of His purpose in making me a mother.

My children take all that I give
Demanding more
I give a little of myself
A little more but never all
Demand respect
For little
You gave Your all
Your only Son
Your very image
All in All
All You had
I take . . . I leave
I look elsewhere
Chasing idols . . . other things
Discontent with Your best . . .
With You . . .

My children forget my special days
Mine! I say
My worth . . . my value lessened
Diminished by their neglect
I cry--tears of self-pity
You give more . . . love more
Wooing, compelling, offering
Never demeaning or threatening
Through saddened heart
By my neglect
Your value, worth NEVER lessened
By the back of my head

In love, You gave me children
So often my heart's delight
My future hope
My life, my work, my purpose
Your gift to comfort me in love
Elevated to Your place
Yet using them, expose me
Reflecting You
Reflecting me
Pain in what I see
O Lord, the way I treat You!
More than the way that they treat me!
Let them resume their place
Forgive me! Consume me with You!

copyright 2009, Lisa A. Baker

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Life According to Stephen: Chicks

As Stephen and I were driving home from the bank today we passed a sign at the feed store that said, "We have CHICKS!" Not wanting to miss an opportunity to razz Stephen, I said, "Hey, look! We could pull in there and get you a CHICK!" (Remember, girls are icky!)

Meanwhile, Stephen had seen the sign and started making chick noises, so he said, "They say cheep, cheep, cheep."

I answered, "No they are anything but cheap, cheap, cheap."

Stephen insisted, "They say cheep, cheep, cheep."

Thinking about it, I relented, "OK, maybe they do spend a lot of time calling you cheap, cheap, cheap."

Quickly Stephen got caught up in the joke and piped in, "Until they grow up. Then all they say is gobble, gobble, gobble!"

Monday, March 23, 2009

That Boy of Mine is Turning Nine!!!

Funny Andrew:

Nine! I know I must sound like a broken record when I say every year: How has this happened? Where did the year go?

What a year this was! Full of angst and hard work and progress. You're reading! Like a maniac, you're reading. It seemed to click overnight, although I know the truth--you were working hard. You still are, eager to burst into newer, longer, and better books. Meanwhile you read everything: street signs, captions on TV, my emails (well, you try). I have discovered in the last week that I can't even leave birthday gift receipts around, because . . . well, you read them! (Oops!) I'm eager to see you continue to progress and learn to love reading to yourself as much as the rest of us do. Just don't expect me to quit reading aloud to you! I love it too much.

You're so independent now. You do almost everything on your own . . . and some days I hate it. Right now you bug me like crazy to teach you to cook. You can make scrambled eggs and grilled cheese. So now we just have to cover a dinner and a dessert and you won't need me anymore! You love telling and retelling stories. Guess that's in your blood too (both your brothers and I are story-tellers!) You write all kinds of stories, from your own episode of Stargate to narration about the Revolutionary War. Obviously writing assignments are hardly necessary for you. You do it on your own!

At times I wish you would slow down a little. I wish you'd slow down so I could enjoy you. You run at mach 5, and I'm so old and tired I can hardly keep up with you. You are also competing all the time to keep up with brothers three and six years older than you, and it breaks my heart that you are rushing through all the little boy stuff that I enjoyed with them. It frustrates you to no end when I set limits like not letting you watch a show or movie that your brothers do, or not letting you take off in a store like they do. That's OK though. You'll be gone from me soon enough.

It's been a whole new experience to approach this birthday with you. First of all, you've had it marked on your calendar and have been counting the days for weeks! You've pretty much planned everything, from how you will spend your day tomorrow, to what you want to do over the weekend to celebrate, to what you want to eat. I think you already know what presents you are getting (probably because of the whole receipt thing, although I think you sneaked into my closet to peek too). All I've heard all day today is "I'm so excited! XX more hours!" Guess that's what I get for teaching you to tell time and use a calendar.

AJ, I love the boy you are becoming. Yes you drive me nuts. But I love your thoughtfulness, your willingness to apologize when you do something wrong, your willingness to still snuggle with your mommy. It's fun watching you grow into someone new, but I like it that you are still the same old Andrew in many ways too. I hope you have a wonderful day!

Happy Birthday sweet boy! I love you!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

AJ's Take on Life:

AJ and his brothers have been watching Men in Black 1 & 2 at their dad's. I'm not so crazy about #2, but have tried not to make it an issue so as not to arouse more interest or to create a new and unnecessary war with dad. So out of the blue as I tried to skirt the conversation today AJ said (about #2):

"Yeah. You don't grab naked ladies. 'Cause if you do, they bite your head off."

So true.

Monday, March 02, 2009

999 Book List: The People of Sparks

Sometimes I do something so unlike myself that it leaves me a bit shocked. Completing this book in a little less than a week is one of those things. While not a difficult read, for me to keep enough momentum to actually finish a book, much less to finish it in the same month . . . or year . . . or decade, is unusual. I enjoyed People of Sparks, however I didn't think it was as good as The City of Ember (to which it is a sequel). It felt a bit more preachy to me--in other words the morals and lessons were kind of beat into my head, and because of that the ending seemed a little predictable. But I still liked the vivid descriptions, the meaningful imagery, the interesting characters, and even the plot of the story. I have decided to put futuristic, post-apocalyptic fiction on the back burner for a while. I'm starting to look over my shoulder a bit too much, and with O'Bama president and all . . . well, need I say more? So for now I'm going to tackle some of my more spiritually nourishing books. But not for long. I'm realizing how much I enjoy a good story! I like historical fiction and anything else with good characters and adventure and mystery. Any suggestions?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Life According to Stephen

"Mom, I need to learn how to cook so I don't have to get married when I get older."

Where the Boys Are

Ahh, in working with Jr. High girls, I remember this song of my youth . . . how embarrassing! How I wasted so much time then!

Now of course it means something totally different. I realized as I was looking over my blogging that I haven't mentioned the boys of late. Since supposedly this whole blog is mostly about living with boys, here is an update:

Josh: has been faithfully and dilligently working through his first year of school away from home--at private Christian school. The homework load has been much less than I expected. I have discovered in him a very anti-establishment attitude. He questions every rule, every reprimand, every math fact, every instruction . . . the boys wants to know WHY!!! The hormones are a-raging, and he is mad all the time no matter what I do. I of course don't dare acknowledge that I belong to him in public . . . on penalty of death, I think. However he is making great grades, is working exceptionally hard (both at our after-school job where he helps me clean, and at home when I ask him to do some chore), is communicating with words his constant frustrations and irritations, and assures me that he still loves me (although sometimes I have to remind him I'm a girl and that I need to hear him say it). He's a great kid, and someone I truly respect and admire, although I'm a little concerned about a "crisis of faith" that he's battling right now as he searches for his own identity.

Stephen: Still very much the happy-go-lucky boy, just in a rapidly growing and always eating body. Stephen never finishes his schoolwork, but always seems to know more than me. He is still very sensitive, but as the pre-teen hormones are starting to stir, I see it emerge more as anger now than as tears (although sometimes the two appear together). Stephen's highly creative streak bounces from one interest to another: at the beginning of the schoolyear he was hard into stop-motion animation and computers, and now is drawing and sketching everything. Stephen's biggest challenge this year has been working via Florida Virtual School, which violates his free, impulsive, unconstrained approach to work. Nevertheless, he also is proving he is capable of doing "classroom" work, and is showing signs of improvement both in his computer skills and his art (the two classes he is taking are 2D Art and Keyboarding). Stephen's heart is still very tender to the Lord, and to those in need around him.

Andrew: AJ has been full of surprises this year. He was having great difficulty reading at the beginning of the schoolyear, but has made leaps and bounds in the last couple of months. Suddenly words are popping out all over the place, and when they do AJ tries to read them! School efforts are moving along now at a nice clip, so much so that he and I have started reading and studying anything we can get our hands on about the Colonial and Revolutionary period of American history. It has been fun seeing what he is learning once again beginning to take over his imagination. Andrew's latest endeavors have been book-writing. He starts many, though rarely makes it to the finish. However he writes and draws all day, intermitten with fighting imaginary enemies (and a couple real brothers) outside whenever possible. I love Andrew's energy, as well as his delight in snuggling and being with me. Maybe I baby him a little, but I figure that's OK. He does NOT get away with everything!

Having essentially three different ages and stages has kept me awfully busy. I'm trying to balance youth group, scouting on two levels, friend get-togethers (not playdates anymore!), this school event and that one, etc. I spend much of my life in the car. Fortunately I have kept their outside committments few, and they usually share events (like the older two both do youth group, the younger two are both in homeschool support group together and have scouting back-to-back at the same location). And after much prayer and discussion with Josh, it looks like we will probably all be home again next year for school. (Not so sure if that's a light at the end of the tunnel, or just the headlight of a train!)

Just so I'm clear, if you've placed a call and asked me for something, or if you want to catch up over coffee . . . we can schedule something . . . in about ten years!!!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

999 List: The City of Ember & Fahrenheit 451

Wow! I just looked at my list and realized that I'm making my way through books quickly right now! The first book I finished this year was Whatever Happened to Penny Candy, and I was amazed at the information about economics that I didn't know. I'm not sure if it was helpful to educate me in this area--I'm more skeptical than ever about our government--but nevertheless, it whetted my appetite for more of these "Uncle Eric" books.

Then I continued on in one I was determined to finish--Fahrenheit 451. The story was unsettling--more so because it was written over 50 years ago, yet was almost prophetic in its vision of futuristic society and the media--but it was well-written and stimulated lots of thoughts in me about my need for good literature. In some ways I found it a little sad; I felt it relied too much on general knowledge (from all kinds of literature) instead of saving knowledge (from scripture) for hope for society. One of my close friends disagrees, so I'll probably continue to process it for a long time in the future.

Tonight I finished a book that I've only been reading about a week. The City of Ember has recently been made into a movie. One evening not long ago while the boys were finishing their cleaning jobs, I read the first chapter in one of the classrooms we clean, and was astonished at the quality of the writing. The story captivated me, so I reserved the book at the library and started it when it came in last week. What a great story!!! Two kids recently graduated from school (at 12!) begin to suspect that something is wrong in their isolated city, and begin to search for a way to help the citizens of their town to escape from their dark abode. This story is a thrilling mix of social commentary, heroism and villainy, mystery, and adventure. It's such a great book that Stephen curiously picked it up and has started reading it! It's also part of a series (of course!), so now I have to read the sequel, The People of Sparks. And eventually, of course, I'll watch the movie . . . which won't be as good since I read the book first!

Anyway, I'm quite impressed with myself, that I've finished THREE books in two months! Not to mention, I have started and made progress in a couple more! So on with the challenge! So many books, so little time!

Friday, February 20, 2009


So there's this classroom I clean every day. I've decided that the kids in the class are future members of FIYA. For a while I found these unfolded paper clips everywhere. They reminded me of little shivs, like the homemade knives they make in prisons, only pint-sized. Now I'm finding the tops of pencils. Not the erasers, mind you, the points . . . perfectly cut off. I couldn't help but wonder what tool an elementary school kid is finding that can so perfectly and straightly decapitate a pencil. I know the teacher, and find it hard to believe that she is at all boring, so I'm pretty sure she just has a class of hardened 10-or-so-year-olds. And I'm sure that the membership of FIYA--Future Incarcerated Youths of America is soon going to increase.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Crazy Cat at Our House

OK, it's been a while since I posted on "the queen." She has become more insane than I ever thought possible. Gracie is our rescued feral cat. We found her summer before last behind our church, a mere week-old kitten. That she survived was a surprise, although I'm not so shocked now seeing how feisty she is. She thinks the house is hers, and all who live here or who enter are at her whim. No guest goes unchecked, and usually gets a swipe of the paw and a hiss (just to put them in their place). Although she hates for us to pick her up, or pet her, or generally look in our direction, she doesn't avoid us either, and in fact she usually follows me from room to room. She does this even if I've just harassed her.

She LOVES paper balls! If I wad up a piece of paper she comes running and when I throw it in the trash she pulls it out and carries it in her mouth to whatever location she wants to play with it (usually one with a tile floor). She likes her water fresh, so she is constantly knocking the boys' water cups off the counter so she can lap the fresh water up off the floor. She isn't afraid of the dogs in the least, and usually attacks them just for fun. The German Shepherd cowers. She likes her dog food, but every now and then gets a hankering for dog food, so she bullies the dogs out of the way and eats what she wants. She always waits for me to finish my yogurt, ice cream, etc. so she can lick the bowl. She is a perpetual kitten, and several times a day has very playful moods where she runs around and trills, trying to get someone to play with her. When we do, she usually ends up attacking us.

She has every person in our house wrapped around her little paw, and she's so soft and cute that nobody can keep their hands off of her. You know, if I were watching all this from the outside, I'd think we were nuts to let an animal take so much control, but truth is, we love her. She's the queen and we are her mere servants. But it's OK to be a servant to the queen. Right?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

252 Used to Seem Like a Huge Number

Did I mention we've entered the high-tech world of text messaging? No? For Christmas Josh got a phone (from his grandparents, not me). It's one of those pay-as-you-go deals--a real scam if you ask me. So far it is still cheaper than putting him on my service, so I decided it would be a good "experiment" to see how he liked having phone service. A couple weeks ago, a friend of his showed him how to use messaging, and for some reason I still don't understand the company had given us a little credit, so he was able to have the cost of the messages deducted and thus able to try it.

Well, after checking it out, I decided it would be fun to add texting to the service for this month just to see if he and I liked it and if it was worth having. I selected an inexpensive plan for 200 messages, and with the purchase of his monthly minutes, that left about $5 credit on our balance. Well, he's been enjoying doing some texting, and I thought it was funny . . . until last night . . . when I discovered he's used all his pre-paid messages AND all the credit on the account (which was supposed to cover NEXT month's messaging).


He's used 252 messages. Boy, word got out fast! And his little fingers must be flying. And I'm left without the ability to message him now ('cause sorry, I refuse to pay for more messages!). That used to seem like such a huge number, but now . . . . So now we're looking at a plan with unlimited messaging . . .

I need to remember to thank his grandparents for introducing me to this world. Wonder if they knew this was a gift that kept on giving?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

999 List Update

OK. Been thinking about my list. Here are some revisions! I'm still a little short on fiction, but that's OK.

Fahrenheit 451 DONE!!
The Screwtape Letters
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (to Andrew)
Island of the Blue Dolphin
The City of Ember DONE!!
The People of Sparks DONE!!

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? DONE!!
Are You Liberal, Conservative, or Confused?
The Grand Weaver
The Ministry of Motherhood
Let the Nations Be Glad
Age of Opportunity
A Chance to Die
How the Brain Learns (this will be a hard one!)
When Life and Beliefs Collide
Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate
Crazy Love

My Big Mess

A poem God gave me in quiet time with Him today:

The Big Mess
January 25, 2009
as I reflected on how much I’ve messed up my life

It started as I worked on it, and what I thought I saw
It wasn’t much . . . well, maybe just . . . I thought it was a tiny flaw
I picked and poked determined that perfection was the goal
And then I realized all at once, my finger had made a hole.
I tried to make it better. I tried with all my might
But as I worked a little more, the flaw became a blight.
Now frantically I tried to fix the problems I had caused
Until in pieces there it laid and finally I paused

Now slowly I approach Your throne with only my big mess
I’d hoped to give what You deserve, a thing of loveliness
I lay it down before you, and mumble in my shame
It’s all I have, this giant heap, and for it I’m to blame
I wait, the quiet moments scream. I wonder if you heard
Fix it? I think but still you sit there saying not a word.
I look to You, impatience floods the recess of my soul
I wonder if you love enough to make my mess a whole
I look to you, and see you looking not at all the rubble
For just a second I am calmed that on your face there is no trouble

But then I say to You, “Will you not help me with all this?”
Why did you give me useless tools and let it all go so amiss?”
I wait and wait . . . it seems like days . . . to see what you will do
I know that I deserve to be sent out. I just blamed my big mess on You!
But as I start to watch Your face, I see there something more
It’s not at all what I expect: disgust, rejection, something more.
Instead I see compassion, concern for me—and love?
I see You open arms up wide, and beckon me above
I slowly feel my feet begin to move up toward Your side.
I feel your arms embrace me. I feel the tears you’ve cried.

I watch, You look me in the face, I hear Your tenderness
My child, don’t you understand I care not for the mess
But you, my love, you are my bride! What hurts you hurts me too!
So I will fix this mess you’ve made, but first I must fix you.
And as I melt into His love, frustrations disappear
My life finds meaning all because Beloved drew me near.
And what I have to show for it to those who gather ‘round
Means nothing, but His love for me will dazzle and astound.
And all the messes I have made will fade to nothingness
And I will give Him what He wants—my adoration to profess.

copyright 2009

Rambling on Trials That Never Cease

My sister is in a lot of trouble right now. Without going into it, she has made some choices, the results of which have left her once again severely depressed, hopeless, and nearing the point of suicide. It is a miracle that God has preserved her life thus far.

This weekend, the boys have all been staying with friends. I needed the time to pray--about school decisions, and training them, and Robyn. More too. Just lots of decisions and trouble. I actually reached a point of peace yesterday. It was weird--I had some errands I had to run, and walking through Walmart I felt disconnected from the frenzy and chaos around me. People scurrying like ants to do things that wouldn't matter in a day, a month, or a year. Although I was alone, I sensed my Best Friend alongside me.

I prayed this weekend that God would make me freshly aware of His presence. He did it in a strange way--mostly through forcing me to rehearse what I believe by reminding my sister of it. He is here. He is in control. He does love me. All is for His glory and my good. No plan B, only plan A.

I blew it for a while last night--got caught up in a show I like to watch. But today everything is quiet, and I've decided to keep it that way. I still have a lot to pray about, and lots of decisions pressing in on me. My sister is still a mess. I have to increase my income. I have to make decisions about school next year. So many things.

But for now I still have a few hours alone with my Beloved.

Friday, January 09, 2009

New Christmas Blessings

Wow! Did we ever make Christmas memories this year! I was especially blessed to have my beloved parents-in-love (from here on out to be known and Mom and Dad--I think my parents would agree to sharing the titles!) come down and stay with the boys and I for Christmas. Not having much family to share the holidays with, I casually mentioned to them that I thought it would be fun to spend Christmas together this year. They JUMPED on the idea, and made plans lickety split, so here they were for a week. We had fun shopping and eating together, watching movies until our eyes bulged. AJ and Lilly played together until they argued like siblings. Papa and Josh were pretty much joined at the hip, and Josh is thoroughly corrupted politically now! But it was fun! I'm still recovering from the fun!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

I have discovered that during seasons of spiritual drought, it requires much of me to find things to write. When I return to my First Love, suddenly words well up in me and I have lots to say. After my devotional tonight, this sweet poem came to me. May my Beloved find pleasure in it!

Wait Thou Only
based upon Psalm 104:27-28
and Andrew Murray's devotional Waiting On God

Wait thou, oh my soul take flight!
And rule with silence o'er the night
Stillness rule my every part
And in me movement find no start

Voice, be silent!
Hands, at rest!
Feet do wait!
Breath stay in breast!
Mind and thoughts
do not contrive
In stillness only will you thrive

Resist those voices whispering
Thick like burning 'round they cling
They call for me to rush, decide!
They call me coward here to hide
But hush them!
Pay attention not!
Remember where thy help is sought!

That place where one finds joy and peace
Where one can go when strivings cease
Return to where it all began
Creation found all in that hand
And give up all on His behalf
Find comfort in His rod and staff
So walk with Him on esplanade
And "Wait thou only upon God!"

Friday, January 02, 2009

New Reading Challenge

OK, having just shared my loathing for goals (because I so seldom seem to achieve them), I will say I rather enjoyed the reading challenge this year. Maybe because I thought of it as a challenge instead of a goal, or maybe because I liked crossing things off my list and seeing progress, even if I didn't read them all. So I'm forging ahead with the 999 Reading Challenge as I proposed it earlier: 9 fiction and 9 non-fiction in '09. I also liked that I could change my list (which I did frequently as new books caught my fancy!).

So for right now, here are the books I want to read (it's not complete yet, so I'll be adding to it later!):

Fahrenheit 451
House by Frank Peretti

The Ministry of Motherhood
The Mission of Motherhood
Age of Opportunity

New Year's Redirection

I hate the term New Year's Resolution. Have I mentioned that already? I like the idea behind a resolution--something you commit to do. The problem with the New Year's kind is that I commit for a couple weeks, or at best a couple months, then I forget and my committment . . . well . . . isn't. I've tried all kinds of things to allay the guilt that comes washing over me at the end of the year, as I realize that once again, my resolutions weren't exactly resolute, but to no avail. This year, I have been praying about my direction in 2009. What God keeps pressing on my heart is that all my striving and working are useless if they are powered by anything other than Him.

I'm fallen into a subtle trap. I'm doing some things--some very important things--and I say they are for Him. But the truth is, although I do believe they are His will for me, I'm doing them all in my own strength. I have yielded to a culture of over-communication. Information is seconds away, at my fingertips. I have inundated my brain with Google and Netflix and Facebook. While there is nothing wrong with these means of communication, God's Word . . . and worse yet God's presence have fallen to the wayside in my life. Communication with Him is hard, because it requires me to stop . . . to be still . . . to wait. I don't like waiting. Heroes don't wait. Successful executives don't wait. And well, mom's don't get to wait. Waiting requires an intense amount of self-discipline, and I'm not exactly that.

In our spiritual culture, we live in a mindset that has washed away the seriousness of our relationship to God. I have grown up in the church, and sometimes I sense that "Jesus loves me" and "Jesus saves me" and even "God is soveriegn" are washed out phrases that have become bland. Shame on me! Shame on us! Christ's love and sacrifice to save me are world-changing!!! If the idea of men I don't know fighting and dying on a battlefield half-way around the world humbles me into reverence for their sacrifice, the idea of the holy God of the universe CHOOSING to put Himself at risk and die for me should level me to my knees. Prayerlessness--the casual neglect of the relationship with that very God--should be considered a travesty instead of excused by my own weakness. It is sin! Chasing after all the things of this world is adultery, not mere choice made in freedom! Am I being hard on myself? No, I don't think so.

So my goal this year is a hard one. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness." I only have one goal, one "resolution" this year. I want to seek after God's kingdom harder . . . more intentionally . . . . I feel certain that if I work at this one thing, with Providence's help, everything else will fall into place and I will see progress in more areas than I can imagine. Or at least, those other things bugging me? They won't matter, because my goals and desires will be more shaped by God's concerns.

I'm not off to a good start. But I still have 364 days to work at it. And ANY progress toward this goal is something to be pleased with! What have I got to lose?