the only finished thing

I’ve just seen an opinion piece published online by The Washington Post. It was titled, “Christianity in Iraq is Finished”. The article went on to tell the story of Christians in Iraq since the fall of Hussein in 2003. The Christian population of northern Iraq, author Daniel Williams claims, has shrunk from over a million to just thousands. Of late, even the survivors have fled the country. They do not, argues Williams, desire to return to an Iraq so marked with violence. They become exiles.

In essence Williams is saying that the Christians fleeing Iraq will be looking for a new country and a safer kingdom: “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16). Thus we know, ultimately, that they will have it.

Insightfully Williams notes in his article that the “bulwark against fanaticism” that Christians in Iraq have long been is now removed. I am remembering how Jesus said we are the salt of the earth: What happens to a nation when its salt has been removed? He said we are the light of the world, like a lamp that gives light to all in a dark house. How dark is that house with no light at all? When we pray for the Christians of Iraq, let us also pray for what remains!

The thing in Williams’ article that rankled was his title. “Christianity in Iraq is Finished.” Perhaps he achieved his goal. After all, his title was provocative enough that I read the article. But I felt a strong reaction all the way to my core. Christianity is never finished, Mr. Williams, in Iraq or anywhere else! Christianity as we know it is the beginning of a new and better kingdom that will last long after even the best and strongest empires of this world are ashes. Christianity is eternal. Do you want to know the only thing “finished” in Christianity? As he hung there on that crude cross and triumphed over all the forces of evil for all time, our Lord Jesus said “It is finished.”

 

 

 

 

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of schooling and such

Meanwhile, I’m homeschooling my children. We are now in the middle of our sixth five-day week of school. We began on August 11 because Baby Boy is likely to arrive around the end of November and thus we would no doubt not complete a fall term if I taught September to December. One the (many) nice things about homeschooling is the total sovereignty one has over the schedule.

My oldest is nearly six and I am striving to keep her work firmly at the kindergarten level. (Somehow my sporadic and faulty efforts over the last year or so have managed to teach her some things so she is doing first grade work in reading and math, but I refuse to make her a first grader at five years old.) Our homeschool also includes Harriet, who is nearly four and doing pre-K work.

One upshot of all this is that Norah has become a teacher, too. The other day she devised a math worksheet for Harriet. (“Harriet, this is just a little review page.”) Harriet, who watched eagerly while it was being laboriously created, was then required to fulfill it before breakfast (which she did).

IMG_4792We know already that Norah is more effective at training Harriet than I am. Remember the bed-making drama? During one phase of it, Harriet was shooting upstairs right after breakfast to work on it and, astonishingly, I found it done in a thorough and timely fashion several days in a row. On the day when I began to internally congratulate myself on having achieved this parenting triumph, I happened to overhear the following as I approached to inspect Harriet’s bed one morning.

Norah: “No, Harriet, you haven’t put the pillows on. You better hurry or you will not be having your prize this morning.”(frantic activity ensues)
Harriet: “Is that okay, Norah?”
Norah: “Well, that’s pretty good, Harriet. It could be better, but I guess you can choose one prize.”

And I entered to find Harriet poring over the odd bits and ends that Norah collects wherever she goes and keeps in a shoebox dubbed “Norah’s treasures” in her bottom bureau drawer. Harriet, who has long envied Norah this collection of rocks and rubber bands and gum wrappers, had been sufficiently motivated by it to display passable bed-making skills.

A second upshot, perhaps related to their new identity as scholars, is that both of my daughters are affecting spectacles this week. Norah began it, suddenly appearing one morning in an old pair of glasses (with clear glass) from the dress-up bin. She wore them faithfully all day, despite the fact that the lenses are enormous on her little face. Then a friend gifted Harriet with a pair as well. They seem to need these lenses for nearly all activities, even viewing The Magic School Bus. (Hugh’s eyes remain adequate, and he spurns all attempts to smarten him up with lenses.)

20140910_164157What does Hugh do while we do school? He steadfastly resists all attempts to educate him. He won’t sit nicely while we do calendar, crayons only interest him for two minutes, he eats paint, he pulls at the pages of storybooks and tries to climb over my face while I am reading. Despite the generous helping of healthy neglect he has received since birth he refuses to become independent, only rarely occupying himself with toys for any length of time. I just juggle him the best I can. At these ages we only do focused work for a relatively short segment of the day, after all. Sometimes I can kind of play with him as I do things with the girls. Sometimes I hold him, or he has a snack in his chair or he watches Thomas the Tank Engine. Often he clings to my legs and weeps at the tragedy that is his sisters’ education. But he likes recess. And field trips.

IMG_4405IMG_4697Those are my favorites, too.

Posted in Homeschooling, Our Little Ones | 3 Comments

for the regulars: change is coming

IMG_0167Since July of 2010 I’ve posted on this blog 614 times. I started for three reasons–as a place to share more about our transitory, hop-around lives with those that know us, as a creative outlet, and to work on writing in an authentic way. The last reason was the real kick that got me started. I was tired of writing in my head or writing journals, reflecting and then forgetting. I wanted to write something that someone would read.

Over time, as that began to happen, I found another reason to blog. Writing-just-to-write began to seem very empty compared to writing things that may be relevant or in some way encouraging to others. Perhaps that’s really what prodded me to start in the first place; perhaps by naming this collection Part of the Main I was trying to get at something far better expressed by John Donne centuries past–we are all parts of the one big whole of human experience; intentionally or unintentionally in our lives and deaths and struggles and joys we present an unfolding story written by God, the original Author. The one who made every one of us in his image.

I’ve just had a look at the categories I’ve written about. There’s plenty of rubbish about food and who knows what, but far and away my dominant topic has been Being Mommy. That’s really the story of my last six years, this massive transition from being whoever-I-was-before (can’t remember, really) to the Mommy in this family. It’s changed me in ways permanent and profound. It’s a part of who I am now in a way I could never have imagined before a wrinkly, little, red Norah was placed in my arms yelling her pointy head off in 2008. And, while I know there’s other work for me to do, other parts of who I am, my role in this family as Alex’s wife and the mother of my children has proven the biggest and most fulfilling challenge of my life. I’ve failed at it, struggled with it, rejoiced in it, learned about it, loved it, and tackled it for going on six years. It’s been most of my part of the main.

I’m still there. I think I’ll always be there, reflecting on and considering my life in light of motherhood, which is an inseparable and indispensable part of it. But there’s more going on here. We’re a pre-field missionary family, about to depart for places far-flung and different. On this mom-blog I’ve kept a pretty solid silence about that part of my part of the main. (I’ve used the word “missionary” here this once, for security reasons I won’t be using it again. Let’s call us overseas workers.) Sometimes this silence has made it hard to write the posts I really feel stirring, bits of our journey or things God has done for us that I’d really like to sing about. I have no “mission” category.

When we move overseas, I’m not even certain I can continue in this venue. I think a new mode may become necessary, devoid of names and details–disconnected from this collection. If I do continue writing, I plan to write more about our family’s journey in light of what God is leading us to do. I’d like to write as I learn more about other peoples in other places and thus learn more about the God who made us all to reflect his glory. It may not be your cup of tea, dear reader. At any rate it won’t be the same one. Thank you for reading all of this time, for receiving what I’ve placed here and for participating in this site. I’m grateful for you: I’m grateful for each friendship brought to me in this unexpected way and each interaction. (Except the lady who keeps spamming me about diet pills, struggling to be grateful for her.)

Just a word about the long silences. And a heads up: change is coming.

Posted in In Transit, Writing and Stories I Tell | 8 Comments

the next thing

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I can hear the shrill chirping of crickets outside the window and, underneath, the steady roar of a far-away and far-up airplane. It isn’t the one I’m listening for, the one my husband boarded this morning. That one, at the minute, is somewhere over Saudi Arabia. This time tomorrow he will have arrived at his destination–on the opposite side of the world. On my screen I’ve been watching the little cartoon plane creep along its blue dotted arc on flight tracker off and on all afternoon. Right now he’s just west of Iraq.

Many, Americans at least, would call it a “vision trip” but that language always makes me uncomfortable when applied to us–as if somehow we must go and get some special vision or something in order to serve overseas. We Christians have all been given the same commission, the Great one. We all have a spot prepared in advance for us to serve in (“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.Ephesians 2:10). It just takes some of us farther afield than others: it seems to us that our spot is in southeast Asia.

We’ll call it a survey trip. When it concludes some weeks hence, we he will have surveyed and, we pray, found the spot and the seminary at which we will serve. (He is also under orders to check for bears and inform Harriet promptly if any are spotted.) I remain at home to wait, to pray, and to act as lead cheerleader for any little people struggling with daddy’s prolonged absence. (Also to gestate. We are expecting baby in about 14 weeks.)

It feels momentous to us, this trip. We’ve been working up to it for about ten years. I think we both feel that it’s the beginning of a new era in our lives, a new part of our journey less predictable, less known, than the last. (Less known to us, but written in the account of our days already, see Psalm 139:16.) For that reason not going along makes me ache deep inside.

But, as leaving Daddy at the airport was harder for our children than anticipated, I’ve been greatly helped today by the need to focus on them. I didn’t think they’d realize it, exactly, but I was mistaken. On the way home it became absolutely necessary to take everyone out for doughnuts and make up silly passwords for the sister club (“Stinky Eyeballs” was today’s winner, offered by Harriet). We “had school” and did crafts and played outside (Hugh ran up to Daddy’s office window at the church and beat on the glass, calling, “Daaaaa-deeeeee!!”) and generally stayed busy. When anyone mentioned Daddy I exercised my elementary teacher’s gift of bright back-chat to such a degree that my oldest daughter told me that I clearly wasn’t missing Daddy like she does. Ha. She’ll sleep tonight.

Once everyone was asleep and silence settled in the house, the weight of it all has found a place to land–on me. I start to feel exhausted and alone and apprehensive and questions about the present and the future of my life beat me about the head as I do the dishes and line up school materials for the morning. One thought helps me at times like this: Jesus. This is not about me, this is about him. Today’s task may be small and seem somewhat unappealing: just trust and carry on with the next thing. But it is something small and unappealing I can do for Jesus. THAT is a privilege–and, with his help, we have everything we need.

“If a commission by an earthly king is considered an honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?”
–David Livingstone

Posted in Jesus, Keep Calm and Carry On | 5 Comments

when life gives you oranges

It’s a busy season in this household. There are more pots on the stove than arms to stir them. Sometimes my husband and I turn to each other for a hand and find the other is busier yet. We have, as we have had since Oxford days (that far-removed and oft-remembered other life) an ongoing conversation about stress. Recently he sent me a link to an article on this topic by Jon Bloom. Bloom calls it “the priceless grace of pressure,” claiming its presence both pushes us to perform and causes us to rely in greater measure on God. Or so we hope. It is certainly true that “necessity tends to produce resourcefulness” but do “deadlines induce creativity”?

I used to think deadlines squashed creativity. But come to think of it, when faced with an approaching deadline one hasn’t time for the paralyzing wafflings of perfectionism. It’s time to do the best you can with what you have. Also, as I have previously noted, when pressure looms we Type-A types have a secret: Do Something Else. If that something is a creative something, then, yes, deadlines make me creative.

I like to make a new wreath for the front door every month, usually from greenery or branches I collect around the place. In July it didn’t happen because we were traveling for four weeks. When we returned, I was greeted with the shriveled remains of June’s ivy wreath. The beginning of August was really full: we were hosting dear friends visiting from out-of-town, I was preparing to start our school year, we had medical appointments and dental appointments and who knows what. So naturally I spent an hour making a wreath of driftwood for the door. It’s a project I thought of last year but hadn’t gotten to yet (most of the wood was sitting in a vase on the dining room sideboard for six months). I gained a few more interesting pieces on the shores of Lake Superior in July, so it seemed like the thing to do. Side note: I love it.

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Another creative project this week: orange marmalade. This one has been stewing since June (in my mind, not on the stove). Monday was our first day of school and it feels like my job just quadrupled in difficulty so of course I made marmalade on Tuesday afternoon. Priorities.

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I love marmalade, friends.

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What’s one more pot to stir? And the aroma in the house was heavenly. I said that out loud and my kindergartener instantly wanted to know why heaven smells like oranges. “It just . . . does,” I answered from a haze of citrus fumes. I’ll probably have to straighten that one out later.

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The pressure made me do it.

Posted in Food & Cooking it, Keep House and Carry On, Make Do and Mend | Leave a comment

of things current and things certain

I was terrified of the Holocaust when I was a child. I couldn’t hear about it, read about it, or watch anything related to it without suffering for days afterwards. There would be long hours of anxiety, lying in the dark, afraid to sleep. Then I would finally fall asleep only to face vivid nightmares that would leave me, suddenly awake again, shaking or weeping in fear. Thus I angled furiously to avoid the subject whenever I could though, as I grew older, this was often misunderstood and frequently embarrassing.

We all assumed I would outgrow it.

In high school, trapped at a friend’s house without a route out, I saw the film Swing Kids . . . and endured weeks of nightmares and nameless, indescribable dread of going to bed. It was still there. In college, after my freshman year, I went on a church mission trip to Israel. The group decided to go through the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. I did not say a word, but that walk cost me far more in courage than anyone suspected. I can still see most of the museum, from the piles of shoes to the dark room of pin-prick lights where one just hears audio of children’s names, read one after another. I think somewhere inside I hoped that if I could just face up to it, really force myself to look it in the face, I would become more inured to it, I would be able to talk and think about it the way other people did, like something terrible that happened a long time ago. It didn’t work.

My friends were all raving about Life is Beautiful and Hotel Rwanda and similar films early in my adulthood. I could not watch them and I could not explain. During my third year as a literature teacher, my principal wanted me to teach The Diary of Anne Frank as part of the eighth grade curriculum. I suggested other works . . . in the end, the books were ordered and put in my classroom to be read with the students in the spring. When The Chosen took longer than we had expected, that was the unit I cut out. I could not bring myself to do it.

It has been blamed on my parents–that they showed us the film The Hiding Place at too tender an age (I was probably at least nine). For the record, I do not think this has much to do with it. My parents showed us the film because it is a true and inspiring story of faithfulness–for Betsy Ten Boom (for whom I am named), faithfulness unto death.

Some people have said, “Of course you don’t like to think about it, no one does, but we should all know about terrible things that happen.” Once a friend said to me, “You can’t just stick your head in the sand.” Often, from childhood onward, people have tried to encourage me with, “It’s not going to happen to you,” or “It all happened a long time ago.” Sometimes I have the same reaction to other stories, stories of atrocity or torture or violence or genocide, that I do to information about the Holocaust. I had to leave the room during the brief scene where Gollum is tortured in The Fellowship of the Ring and I couldn’t sleep for several nights. In situations like these I have also been told, “It’s not real.” I haven’t had a vivid nightmare of the old sort in nearly a decade now, but the heavy, heavy feeling–of terror and sleepless anxiety, comes still.

Because evil–sheer, calculated evil, evil without mercy or compunction–is real. It does happen. That’s the thing. I’ve finally realized it’s not only the Holocaust. The thing I can’t get over is that these things can and do happen.

Have you seen the news from Iraq?

I can’t bear to read it, but I’ve been reading every day.

Lord, have mercy.

I find the hands of my heart grasping out in reaction, looking for some hope, some reassurance that these things cannot be.

I find my heart shouting, “Make no mistake about our God, you wicked!” Make no mistake about the Good Shepherd of those sheep you slaughter in your depravity and your violence. He is God and He will act. He knows every tear and he repays every evil deed in full.

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”  (Revelation 19:11-16)

 

“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13)

 

 

 

 

Posted in Jesus | 12 Comments

outtakes

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Posted in Being Mommy | 4 Comments

announcement

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Posted in Being Mommy, Our Little Ones | 3 Comments

of harriet’s reform, however brief

After breakfast each morning, there comes a part of our routine I call the “Morning Tidy-Up.” The children return upstairs where they are to dress themselves and make their beds. It is one of the only responsibilities in their young lives. Hugh, being yet but a youth, remains free to sit in his crib, driving trucks around and saying “Vrroooooom” to himself. Mommy generally takes a shower or puts laundry away or does some tidy-up of her own.

Norah is often exempt because she likes to make her bed in the early morning hours while she is still in it, thus saving work later. She also tends to dress herself rapidly, leaving her mostly free to play or get conscripted to help Harriet. I must have done a better job of teaching Norah both how to make her bed and how futile resistance would be, because she does it as a matter of course.

Not so the Chicken Lickin’.

When told to do her tidy-up, Harriet troops upstairs immediately. Anyone spying in the kitchen window would see a model child. (Unless that same someone then climbed onto the kitchen roof and peered in the girls’ bedroom window.) She plays, she dances, she climbs, she prances, she maketh not her bed. She visits Hugh, she visits me, she teases Norah, she dresses dollies, she invents games, she picks fights.

Sometimes I find that she has taken a step or two in the right direction, usually removing her trousers and throwing the pillow off the bed. Admonitions, warnings, frequent checks, even disciplinary steps have not yet yielded consistent and immediate bed making. She often claims that she can’t do it. This has worked well for her so far and she must hold the world record in Bed Making Lessons Received.

Usually what happens is I somehow end up “helping” and really finishing it myself or Norah ends up getting conned into doing it for her. I am aware that if I would just forgo my shower and stand faithfully over her until it is done each day, a new habit could probably be formed. I have occasionally done this. But I have not been consistent.

There have been a few occasions when she has done it fairly well. Each time she has embellished her efforts in some way. I have found every single item of clothing belonging to her and Norah torn from the hangers in the closet and laid over the bed patch-work style. (But it was made underneath.) Another time, upon finishing, it looked so appealing that she immediately ripped it open and climbed inside to celebrate. And once, I found this:

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Generally, in this house, Bedtime is Bedtime. But tonight Harriet was unusually wakeful. She just kept turning up, offering me boogers on her finger and making tiny amounts of piddle in the potty  . . . this is rather rare so I was patient. But finally I told her that there would be disciplinary measures taken if her person were seen or heard again. Twenty-five minutes of silence ensued. Then suddenly, there she was, marching proudly into the room.

“I’s made my bed and cleaned my whole room, all by myself!” She was completely thrilled that Norah (who had been sleeping for an hour) hadn’t helped. When I reached the girls’ room I found that the light was on, every single dolly was put carefully away in the basket and, in the midst of it all, her little bottom bunk was completely made.

It was unbelievable. The sheet was tucked in with military precision. The comforter was patted in place, her pillow was placed into the sham (hitherto she has been exempt from this task as I thought it impossible for her). On top she had placed a throw pillow and a perfectly-folded quilt.

I looked at the clock. 8:24 p.m. Just twelve hours too soon.

I brought her downstairs, unsure how to proceed and hoping to hand off the situation to Alex. I explained what had come before, and that she had not obeyed and gone to bed, but instead actually made the bed and found myself interjecting, “It was made so beautifully–” and cut off as the irony of it all struck me. I couldn’t talk or I’d laugh my head off. I motioned madly for Alex to take over behind her back (he is used to this gesture from me), but he too saw the humor in the situation. So we stood in the kitchen, trying to explain between gobs of laughter exactly how naughty she had been. Oh well.

 

 

Posted in Our Little Ones | 4 Comments

of sowing weeds and starting again

IMG_3225Sometimes when I sit down at the end of the day, there are moments that play back in my head from my day with the children. I hear Hugh’s giggles when I hid behind his chair and see Norah’s hokey spontaneous dancing in the aisle of the grocery store. I can feel the warm pudge of Harriet’s cheeks when she gave me a crusher hug. Often sweet moments come to mind, as when the girls announced a Sister Club picnic in their bedroom and spread out pillows, blankets, and a feast of wooden food and lukewarm water stolen from the bathroom tap when they thought I wasn’t looking. Or when Hugh suddenly dropped a truck and waddled out the front door because he saw Daddy coming.

But sometimes I feel the piercing pain on the back of my ankle when one of my children ran a shopping cart into it. I hear a little voice calling, “Moooooooo-mmy! I peed on my piiiiiii-llow!” twenty minutes after I finished putting clean sheets on the bed. I feel again the boiling frustration when we settled in to build a Lego house together during what ought to have been a quiet moment after lunch–and a ferocious fight erupted amongst the Sister Club, who began to bludgeon one another about the heads with their forearms. Worst of all, I hear myself shouting.

I could tell you how provoked I was. How they kept on fighting and disobeying and generally behaving like the excellent little samples of fallen humanity that they are. How two minutes after I finally separated everybody after a very frustrating time of it one of them released her bladder on a pile of clean bedding. While I dealt with this, she threw a plastic truck at her baby brother’s skull. Trust me, today, the Children Were in the Wrong. They were Naughty, they were Cross, and they were Stinkers.

I could tell you how very much I have to do. How behind I am in everything, how tired I am, and, for frosting on the cupcake of hardships, I am pregnant. (Thus we take our greatest blessings and add them to our kvetch list when we’re having a pity party.)

It doesn’t matter. Behind the smoke screen of Mommy Martyrdom lies the truth: the children aren’t the only excellent little samples of fallen humanity in this story. I didn’t get what I wanted so I pitched a fit. What did I want? Ease, I think. And peace and quiet. You might say I wanted the restful fruits of righteousness. I really do want my children to be righteous. Right now.

So I yell at them to get righteous right now.

I have not found this approach effective, fellow mommies.

Here’s why: “A harvest of righteousness in sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18). Righteous plants won’t grow from angry seeds. The preceding verse fills out the picture a little more: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”

These are two of the most helpful verses for Being Mommy. And they blow through my mind like a breath of fresh air when I fall sit down at the end of days like this one. They remind me that I’m not alone in this, that my heavenly Father has not left me to my own devices. (Can we ever praise him enough for that?) There is a place to repent my worldly “wisdom,” a place to find the light I need to move ahead. There is restoration, there is a beautiful day loaded with grace dawning tomorrow. With that grace tomorrow we take these words and plant peaceful seeds. With that grace God grants the harvest.

 

 

Posted in Being Mommy | 7 Comments