To Read the News or Not to Read the News

I don’t know about the rest of you, but lately, I’ve been pretty stressed by the state of the world. 

Maybe it’s just me. 

I find myself obsessively scrolling through news sites, scanning headlines. Clicking on the occasional article. Trying to figure out just what on earth is going on. 

And as I’ve done this, my level of stress and fear has risen. Significantly. I find myself restless. I can’t concentrate for very long. I’m struggling with feeling hopeless. I think ahead, start to think through plans for things that we could do in the near future and I stop. Well, maybe we can do that, as long as the country doesn’t self-implode. 

Have you noticed that both sides of the political spectrum have lost all faith that the other side is committed to a safe, fair election? We both think that the other side is going to cheat. And we both think that the other side will not accept losing. We both think that the other side is prepared to fight to have their candidate in place. And the media keeps egging us on. Sowing all kinds of doubts and fears. 

And it occurs to me that my life would be a lot more peaceful if I just avoided the news completely. And it’s tempting. It even sounds spiritual. Think on things that are good. Keep your eyes focused on Jesus. 

But you know, as Christians, we were called to be IN the world, but not OF the world. 

I live here. This is my planet. This is my country, my state, my city. The things that are happening affect my life. It is also a historic time. The decisions and events that are going on are unprecedented. We are watching history unfold before our eyes. I don’t feel like I can simply unplug and ignore everything. 

So then the question becomes, how do you maintain peace in such a time as this? 

I’ve been reading through Revelation the past couple weeks. Reading a chapter and then reading through commentaries to try and get some understanding. And I am reminded of what one of our pastors said about this book: the whole point is that Jesus wins in the end. 

And that is the answer. 

That is how I hold on to peace. 

In the end, all will be made well. Jesus knows what it is going on. He is not surprised. He is not watching the news and scratching his head in bewilderment. Revelation lets us know that there is a plan. None of this is random. We might not understand the timing and all the details, but we do understand that the earth is going to have to go through a time of judgement. And in the end…Jesus wins. 

And when I write that, I feel my shoulders dropping a couple inches. It’s ok. No matter how this life unfolds, the end story for me is eternity with Jesus. And I have his word that in the meantime, before eternity arrives, Jesus has promised to be with me. I am not alone and abandoned. I am walking side by side with my Savior through this craziness. 

And that is peace. 

I’m Celebrating!

I’m going to break one of my personal rules, and write about one of my kids. My eleven year old is not on social media. And none of his friends are on social media. And I’m saying nice things for the most part. And if he discovers this somehow in a couple years, I don’t think it’s too embarrassing, and I’m not betraying any confidences…Ok, now that I’ve justified this to myself, I will continue…

So, this particular child has always struggled with education. I homeschooled him for three years. Two of those years was just doing kindergarten. Twice. Because he hated it and wouldn’t do it. And no matter how I tried, I could not convince him that school was something worth putting any effort into. 

This child was actually a big part of why I put my kids in public school. We did three years of school and he still couldn’t read. I didn’t have the energy to solve this problem. Enter Public School, stage right. 

When I enrolled him I explained that he was significantly behind his peers. They said, don’t worry, we will help him. And they did. They put him in an intervention program. We had a couple meetings with administrators who all assured me they had the problem under control. 

By the end of our first year of public school, he was reading! Yay! All of his teachers loved him. He always worked hard, was kind to others, participated. ( Apparently working hard for teachers and working hard for mom are two very different things.)

I would get reports every couple months telling me about his progress. Lots of charts with little dots. Your child is here: dot. The rest of the class is here: dot. This is how far we are hoping to move his dot in the next couple months: dot. 

I attended all the parent teacher conferences and all his teachers assured me that he was working hard, giving his best, and they were all pleased with his progress. And so, we did three years of intensive intervention.

Last night I was going through his school folder and found a stapled pack of papers addressed to me. The front page was a letter addressed to all parents of 5th grade students. In the letter the teachers explained that, as a result of school getting out in March, our students were struggling with a bigger than normal gap. They were also having a harder time adjusting back to a school routine. No one’s fault. We just have to face these challenges head on. Etc etc. 

I went to flip to the next page, and I was fully expecting it to be an Intervention report where they would tell me that my child qualified for the intervention program, and these were his test results, and these were the steps they were going to take to help him. This was what I was expecting to see. 

Instead it was just two pages of test results from their beginning-of-the-year testing.  

The first page had a chart and then explanations of the chart. I glanced at the chart, was confused, so I read all the fine print. My child scored in the 80th percentile for reading for his grade. He was labeled “above average” for his reading skills. I flipped the page. Math. He was in the 76th percentile. Also above average. What? 

Somehow this child managed to bridge the gap and then leap forward. 

I have been giddy with pride and happiness for him. 

So, forgive me about gushing about my kid. But, I think it’s good to celebrate when someone has overcome such a big challenge! 

Birthday Memories

Today is my birthday. Yay me! I am feeling happy and relatively peaceful and relaxed. My day has been pretty ordinary, but I don’t have any errands to run. No appointments to go to. Lots of projects to work on, but no urgent deadlines. My husband is cooking supper tonight and I will probably guilt trip my kids into cleaning the house as a birthday present for me. It’s been a chilly morning and I am so happy that Fall is progressing as it should, unlike last year when summer went over several months more than we wanted it. I even lit a fire in our woodstove. 

This morning I had a sudden memory of my fourteenth birthday, and it was a fun memory to re-live. 

We were living in the North of Haiti. I was attending a little mission school at a nearby Baptist Hospital Compound. There were five of us in high school that year. We all came to school every day, sat at our little cubicle/desks and worked on our own correspondence courses. We had a grown up in the room to help us if we needed it, but we were all pretty much working independently. There was one other girl besides me, Olynda, who was a senior while I was a lowly freshman. Except, in that school, it really didn’t matter. We were all friends. 

As my birthday was approaching, Olynda and I started talking about birthday wishes. What would be the best birthday ever? I said something along the lines of being kidnapped by my friends, and then we’d all skip school and go to a nearby waterfall to play for the day. We laughed and giggled as we elaborated on the guest list and all the things we would do. 

I didn’t think too much more about it after that.

The morning of my birthday came and our family did the normal birthday tradition of getting up early to open presents. Afterwards I was getting dressed, getting ready for breakfast. My brother surprised me by asking if I had brushed my teeth yet. What? Why are you telling me to brush my teeth? That’s weird. I’ll brush them after breakfast. He was very urgent, telling me to go brush my teeth now. Good grief. Irritating older brother. 

I was standing in the living room talking to my mom when I saw her eyes flicker over my shoulder. I glanced around and there was one of the volunteers from the Baptist Hospital, an American nurse named Kristy who offered tutoring help to the highschoolers on occasion. I started to turn around. What is she doing here? It’s early morning. What on earth? Then she rushed up to me and stuck a pillowcase over my head.  I think I went into a bit of shock cause the next couple minutes were a blur. I heard Olynda’s voice and a lot of giggling and I was pushed through the house and into a car. I can’t remember exactly, but I was probably saying something along the lines of, I can’t believe you actually did this!! 

The really funny part was that this all happened during a time of political unrest, and we had to drive through a police checkpoint on our way to the Baptist Compound. Before we got there, Olynda yanked the pillow case off my head. Sorry, we can’t drive through the checkpoint with a pillow case on your head. We all smiled and looked as normal as possible as we drove through, then Olynda stuck the pillowcase back on my head.

When we got to the Compound I discovered that Olynda had arranged and prepared a birthday breakfast with our friends. And while it wasn’t hooky from school or splashing in a waterfall, it was definitely one of the best surprises I have ever had on my birthday. 

Thank you Olynda (and Kristy!) for the great memories!

Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done

It’s been a little bit since I last wrote. It’s been a busy week. I’ve had a lot on my mind, thinking about different subjects. I read a really good book called “Nomad” by Aayan Hirsi Ali, and I went and listened to several of her talks on YouTube. She is an inspiration. An amazing woman. I highly recommend reading her books and listening to her talks. I pondered whether I should devote a blog to her, but I didn’t. I’ve been reading all kinds of news articles and been thinking a lot about our country. I I pondered whether I should write about that, but I didn’t. I got to take a moonlit drive through the countryside and was awestruck by the beauty of nature. I pondered whether I should write about that, but I didn’t. And last night, as I was going to bed, I started to worry a bit. I really need to write something. But what? 

Then, all through the night I kept waking up, and as I lay there, my thoughts turned to prayer and I found the same refrain on my tongue, over and over again. Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done. 

This weekend I have been aware of several different callings to prayer that have happened in our country and around the world. And though I haven’t been able to physically attend a prayer meeting, or log in to a zoom meeting, I have been praying. Specifically for our country. 

And I find myself overwhelmed as I think about the myriad problems our country is facing. I feel that I lack wisdom to even know how to pray. 

And in the end, my prayer just comes down to Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done. 

Lord, this upcoming election…Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done…

One of our Supreme Court Members just died, she’s going to have to be replaced…Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done…

Our country doesn’t know how to handle this pandemic…Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done…

We have so much division in our country and our media and social network platforms are just fanning the flames, seeking to divide us more and more, how do we find unity…Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done…

We have so many injustices happening in our country, babies being killed, children being sexually trafficked, children in the foster care system who are desperate for families, how do we fix this…Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done…

The racial division that is consuming our thoughts, is our system corrupt, what reforms are needed, how do we move forward in peace…Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done…

We have a disaster at our southern border, immigrants, legal and illegal, and being kept in perpetual limbo, children scared and unsettled, and no matter whose fault it is that they are there, they are still there and they need help…Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done…

People who have lost their businesses and jobs because of the quarantine, all the people who are suffering as a result of the natural disasters that have hit us, one after the other…help them Lord…Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done…

Understand, this is not a weak prayer. This is not an absolving myself of all responsibility, putting it all on God instead. This is a prayer of desperation. Lord, I don’t have any answers. I don’t know what to do. All I know is that I want your will to reign. I want your plan to happen. I want everyone in this world to be drawn to you. I want people to be saved. I want peace. And I have no idea how to accomplish these things. But I serve a God who does know. And so I ask that he move, that he extend his hand to my country and that he bring about his Will, his Kingdom. And I am available to do whatever I need to do to help. I simply lack wisdom right now, to know what that is. And so I pray, Lord, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done. 

My Heart is Full

My heart is full right now.

Our youngest foster child has returned to our home. 

When she got here the kids had a welcome sign hanging up and there was much squealing and hugging and running around. In the midst of all the chaos, she turned to me and said, “Esther, I was waiting for you!” 

You know, I never pursued foster parenting. But it has pursued me. Over the years I have heard stories of the need and my heart would break, but I always felt helpless. What can I do? In order to be a foster parent through the state, you can only have six kids in your home. We have ten of our own. It’s going to be a long time before I can even qualify to become a foster parent. 

And then I would hear another story about the desperate need for foster homes. And my heart would break again. And finally, I told God, if you want me to be a foster parent, you’ll have to do something special to make it happen. 

And he did. 

And we walked a rocky road with these kids, full of extreme ups and downs. 

And then they left and I had no more power over the situation. And I felt bruised and battered, heartbroken. And I told God, I guess you don’t want us to do this anymore? Well, if you do, you will have to work some kind of miracle, because I can’t make it happen in my own power. 

So he did. 

Again.

And my heart is full. 

You Have Not Yet Resisted

This week and last, I have been reading a chapter a day in Hebrews. It has been more of an academic/discipline type of reading than reading to gain deep insights. I have been trying to be faithful to read every day, and think about what I have read, but it has been more a gathering of interesting information than anything spiritual. Until… Yesterday morning. I have been struggling with a feeling of unease and lack of peace for a couple weeks now and I have been skirting around the reason why. Not wanting to face it head on. But knowing that I needed to. And then I opened the Bible yesterday morning and I felt like I had opened a room and unexpectedly found Jesus sitting in a chair, waiting for me, and his face was a bit stern and he said, We need to talk. 

And this is what he said:

Hebrews 12: 4-11

12  4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

    nor be weary when reproved by him.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

I have been struggling for a long time with my health. My body simply can’t handle sugar and lots of carbs. I am prediabetic. And whenever I hit periods of stress, I throw health out the window: 

I don’t care if this is bad for me. It’s going to help me unwind. It’s going to make me feel happy for a minute. Fighting my cravings is too much to handle right now. I deserve a treat. 

And this past week I have not been feeling well. My bad habits are quickly catching up with me. And I have been whining about it. It’s not fair. I can’t do everything. How am I supposed to homeschool and also go on a diet? It’s a psychological thing, I’ve got to figure out how to deal with that part first before I try to abstain. Etc etc. Lots of excuses. 

The verse that struck me the hardest from Hebrews 12 was verse four,  “ In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

For the record, I do not think that being overweight or having diabetes or any other sickness is a sin. But for myself, I know that refusing to take care of the body that God gave me is a sin. When I know the right thing to do and refuse to do it, that’s sin. And all of my excuses looked pretty pathetic when I read verse four. I have not tried to resist to the point of shedding blood. I have actually offered up very little resistance when it comes to temptation and my eating habits. 

After my morning devotions, I went and found a black sharpie pen. I wrote on my wrist, “You have not yet resisted” so that every time I went to reach for the cookie or popsicle or whatever temptation was waiting for me I would see it on my wrist. It’s been a good reminder. 

All that to say, reading a chapter of the Bible every day is always a good idea. My kids ask me often, How do you know what God wants you to do? How do you hear Jesus speaking to you? And I always tell them, the best way to hear God’s voice is to read his word. The Holy Spirit will lead you to the right places, he’ll open your eyes to see what you need to see and understand what you need to understand. 

And I’m thankful that he did that for me this week.

The Spinning Clock

It’s Wednesday. Only two more days till the weekend. The weekend will go quickly. Then another week. Before we know it, that week will be over and then September will be coming to an end. My oldest child is turning twenty at the end of this month. And while I try to grapple with this landmark in parenting, I sit back and view the years. 

I have an image of a large clock and the hands on the clock are spinning, spinning, spinning. And I am walking in a circle, washing the clothes, cooking the food, cleaning the house, changing diapers, hugging babies, and the clock keeps spinning, and the cycle keeps repeating over and over and over again. Buy the groceries, fold the clothes, hug a child. Mow the lawn, drive to church, Christmas, hug a teenager. Celebrate a birthday, sweep the floors, scrub the toilet, wave at the young adult as they head off to college. Turn on the heater, turn on the air conditioner, pack up all the childhood memories in a box, send them off with the young adult who used to be your baby and is now moving across the country ready to start their own life. And the clock keeps spinning and spinning. 

And occasionally I yell STOP! I try to hit pause. I make a survey of my life, our lives. Where are we? What’s happening? My almost twenty year old is firmly established far away, working, going to school. My eighteen year old just let us know that he is also heading out of state soon, pursuing his dreams. I have a junior in high school who is starting to make more solid plans about her future after high school. I have a freshman in high school who might start driving soon. My baby boy has now joined the youth group, stepping into the ranks of TEENAGERS. My elementary kids are rushing through the grades, climbing, climbing steadily up the ladder. My little five year old is reading like a big boy, the three year old no longer needs diapers and he is starting to engage in some pretty grown up conversations. And the clock has been spinning and spinning. And even as I try to get a good grasp on where we are right now, it keeps spinning. The kids keep growing, time keeps zooming past. 

And I think about the book of Ecclesiastes. (1:4-7)

Generations come and generations go,

    but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises and the sun sets,

    and hurries back to where it rises. 

The wind blows to the south

    and turns to the north;

round and round it goes,

    ever returning on its course. 

All streams flow into the sea,

    yet the sea is never full.

To the place the streams come from,

    there they return again.

But, as I was imagining that clock spinning and spinning, the cycle of life, never-ending, I also saw something else. As I was cleaning, and cooking, and washing, and drying, there was a song on my lips that floated above everything else. A song of praise. A song of worship. And it was continually floating upwards, a beautiful melody going up to the heavens. 

And I think, this is life. We are on a treadmill that we can’t get off. The seasons continue to change. We have babies and they turn into adults, then they have children of their own, the cycle never-ending. Governments rise and fall, cultures change, times of plenty come, times of going without, and the clock keeps spinning. Every day we do our part, feed our bodies, sleep, get up and do it again. 

But there is beauty. There is purpose. There is gentleness, and passion. There is comfort and joy. There is the wonder that as we tread out our paths, we are not alone. We are loved by our God. And our work and toil is pleasing to him. The compassion we show others is beautiful to him. Our perseverance is acceptable. And though sometimes we can only see a never ending grinding of daily tasks, our lives are like a fragrant offering drifting up to heaven. 

And even as my children seem to be slipping out of my hands, gone to the world of adulthood, even as the clock hands seem to be spinning faster and faster, even as I straighten my spine and tackle yet another day of cooking and cleaning and washing and folding, I can still have joy. Knowing that contrary to the sentiments of the author of Ecclisiastes, life is not meaningless. My life is a drink offering poured out on the altar. My life is a noble journey. My life is a Holy Quest.

So. spin clock. Fly past, time. Each day is another day to serve God through the works of my hands, the love I share with others, and the faithfulness in the small things. 

The Perfect Day

Today has been one of those “Perfect” days. The kind where nothing overly impressive happens, you just feel connected with the goodness around you. 

We slept in this morning. Eight o’clock! Amazing! If you have a house full of small children, eight in the morning is late! 

We lazed around in our pajamas, reading books, kids playing busily. And then, sometime around eleven the kids gave me a list of things they wanted to do: go to the library, go to the park. 

Not till we get our chores done. 

So, we divided everything up and the house got clean pretty quickly. I put on my new cover for my futon couch and pulled a couple chairs from other parts of the house so I could have a living room with furniture again. (Got rid of the couches a while back, and haven’t been in a rush to put things back together again.)

I made a menu for the week and then went shopping and stayed within my budget. (Not sure why, but that is always So Satisfying!) And I bought some flowers to put on my mantel in the living room. 

The weather today is about ten degrees cooler than it has been the past month and suddenly my kids are willing to play outside again. And other neighborhood kids have emerged from their air conditioning as well and so I have a yard full of children all happily playing together. 

This coming Monday is a holiday so I don’t feel as pressured to get everything done immediately. 

My washing machine is busily doing it’s job. By Monday I will have a big mountain of clean clothes to fold and sort and put away.

One of the neighborhood kids was talking to me earlier, he’s new, never been in my house before. He looked around. 

You know, this place kind of reminds me of a mansion. 

I was startled and then laughed.

Well, it’s big, but it isn’t very fancy like a mansion. 

And I sit in my old, faded worn chair in my living room. The walls need painting, the trim has never been painted or finished in any way, still showing the marks of over a hundred years of use. My bookshelves are over-run with books. The floors have also not been finished in the past one hundred years, and my kids skating and scootering and shoving furniture all over the place has done nothing to improve their appearance. 

But things are tidy. There are bright flowers, the soothing sound of water bubbling in the fish tank, the hum of a fan. Silence. And then thunder as a horde of children run down the stairs and out the door. The sun is shining in through the windows. My fridge and pantry are full. I’ve run all my errands. We have plans to play at the park after supper. Tomorrow we get to go to church. 

Yes. It is one of those “Perfect” days. 

And it occurs to me, that most days have the potential to be perfect. It just takes an eye to see, and a heart to be thankful.

“Batter My Heart” by John Donne

After high school I attended Biola University for two years. During that time I took Composition 110A and Composition 110B from Dr. Pickett. I enjoyed his class. I learned a lot. I think what has stayed with me the most was his constant teaching that in order to write, you have to have something to say. If your thoughts aren’t in order and you don’t have a clear message, there’s not much point in writing. I have many times written an entire page and then erased the whole thing because I realized I had no idea what I was trying to say. No clear thought. I am very appreciative of the opportunity I had to take Dr. Pickett’s comp classes, and the lessons that have stuck over the years.  

 

I was organizing a giant pile of piano books and folders of music a couple weeks ago, and I found a folder that had some of the papers I wrote in college. I found a paper I had written for Dr. Pickett where we had been told to compare and contrast two poems, “Unholy Sonnet” by Mark Jarmon and “Batter My Heart” by John Donne. It was a good paper. I got a good grade, but what captured my attention was the poems. Especially the poem by Donne. Here it is.

Holy Sonnet 14

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurped town to another due,

Labor to admit you, but O, to no end;

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captivated, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,

But am betrothed unto your enemy.

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

As I was reading through my paper I was impressed with how much I had been able to get out of the poem. Really good analysis. But, what struck me was, I read this poem when I was eighteen years old. I wrote this paper when I was eighteen years old. At that age I did not understand the true angst that comes from failing again and again. I did not understand the desperation that leads you to call out to God, “That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me and bend Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new…”, “for I, Except you enthrall me, never shall be free…” 

 

I find myself in this place today. Insecurities that I thought I had conquered, haunting me again. Evidence of long term strongholds, staring me in the face, bending me down with discouragement. Old patterns I thought I had broken still tapping me on the shoulder. “Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, But am betrothed unto your enemy…” 

 

And this evening, as I retreat from everyone, hide myself away, I read this poem again, and I am encouraged. “Divorce me, untie or break that knot again; Take me to you, imprison me…” I come again and say, Here I am God. Help. And his Word assures me. 

 

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:2

 

I find myself standing on the firm foundation of the promises of God. Romans 8 pretty much says everything that needs to be said. If you have time, go ahead and read the whole chapter. Romans 8 

 

And I end with this prayer, “Batter my heart, three-personed God…”