Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Ministry

Now, here is part two...

What has God called me to do? And does the church help me to do what God is calling me to do? Or does the church continually, through its members, but also through its organizational structures and very culture, denigrate and demean the good and hard job God has given me?

This is what God has called me to do. And i feel very small writing this down. Because it isn't a big thing. I have a friend who is a midwife in Rwanda, teaching women how to basically save their family's lives. I have another who teaches personal security in Sudan. I have another who works, saving children in Asia from a life on the streets in the sex trade. All of them are women i so admire, and all of their causes are ones that i think are big, just, and good.

But God hasn't called me to go anywhere. He married me to the man i begged from him, a school teacher and vice principal. My husband is a good man, who loves me and takes care of our family. Who is responsible, and a role model for young people who often don't have a parent who is taking responsibility for them. We homeschool, but his ministry is often his job, and he is right where he should be, in the public high school.

My ministry is in a smaller sphere than that. My ministry is to T, my husband, and to my seven children. You see, God told me that this was to be my ministry. How? You ask? A bolt from heaven? A word from the Bible? Well, no not really - but He gave me this man, these children. And His word does say "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your heart" - and "as unto the Lord". So that's what i'm doing in my corner of the world. I'm listening to and supporting my husband as he leads our family, in seasons of homechurch, in ministry to children at risk, in helping people who are falling through the cracks. I hold down the fort so that he can do what God calls him to. And i try to make home a safe haven for him when he is home. This sounds like a very small thing. But how many people do you know who are doing it? Not many. Most of us want the glory of being the hero. But Moses needed two men to hold up his hands in battle, and i am satisfied to be holding up the hands of my man.

And my little children. We are so blessed with these sweet seven little ones. One is now bigger and stronger than me, but so much fun, so smart. Once i read that teenagers need you just as intensely as toddlers do, and i'm finding that to be true.

My mom told me that one of the jobs of being a mother is to help children relate to the world around them, step by step - first as part of the mother/child bond, then as part of their family, then gradually expanding in larger and larger circles. Other wise women have spoken to me about the need children have for security - to know that the one place it is safe to fall, to fail, to try again, is in their own home. To know that one person has their back and will listen, love, help, warn, and laugh with them.

This is what i want to do. To love my husband and disciple my children. There might be more God has for me to do. They might be good things, but right now this is where He's put me, and what He's told me to do. And until further notice, i will obey Him. When I hear Him call me somewhere else, i will listen, but i'm not leaving my post without authorization...

Now, the church (i know, this is getting so long...)
I get there, and they want to take my children from me, to teach them separately from me, and separately from each other

1. i don't know the teachers
2. they will each learn something different from each other and from me in the main sanctuary
3. i have often had to correct bad teaching my children have had from sunday school teachers
4. if we all hear the same thing, we discuss it the rest of the week, and it can help build good discussion times and be helpful to our family's spiritual life

The attitudes that i see/feel (and i may be totally wrong, but this is my perception)

1. children are a burden in/to church - let's get rid of them
2. no one wants to teach sunday school, so there is no permanence, no relationship built in the 8 weeks or so that person is in rotation
3. theology isn't important for kids - they don't "get" God anyway. Better a coloring book and Veggie tales video
4. Anyone can teach a child about spiritual matters.
5. God doesn't care who teaches a child
6. You're not a team player if you won't trust us

Here's the truth. My children are very important to me. I am in the process of discipling them at home, with a consistent, theologically correct approach, aimed at their specific needs as individuals. I care more than strangers do about their souls, and because we have a strong relationship, i can speak to them more frankly than strangers can, and correction from me carries more weight. I don't want to teach anyone else's children. My husband teaches everyone's children all week. When we come to church, we come to worship God as part of the Body of Christ. God has given my husband and I a charge, in Deuteronomy 6, to teach our children continually, and we can't do that if we've shuffled them off to a babysitter so we can be more silently spiritual than if we had them with us.

I also think that if churches keep treating children as pests and nuisances, of course they will lose children as they get older. Children have the very same Holy Spirit as adults. If children have made a decision to follow Jesus, we should take that very seriously, and our obligations toward them change. Church should be a place where your age doesn't matter - your soul does.

Churches fail children, and i care deeply about mine.

The other thing, and i know this is very small and petty. But have you ever noticed all the stupid jokes about nagging wives, or naughty children, or husbands prone to porn? This isn't encouraging - what it does is reinforce bad behaviour by saying "oh, we all do it". I have found marriage to a truly righteous man to be the second most transformative event in my life. And becoming a mother was the third, and each child brings with it more need for me to get serious about God, His Word, and becoming the woman my husband/children *need* me to be, and God is calling me to be. Calling me from complacency, back to my first love, where i realized that not only was there a God, but He was near to me, He speaks, and He cares what i decided to do...

At church there is no room for me and my experience. Only one person can talk and share, and i think that's a shame. Because if more people shared their hearts, i *could* trust more of them. They would have less camoflage to hide behind, and they would have to get real, or change, or become the family we all want to be, but instead we settle for pretending, and smiling and "see you next week" - ing...

i don't have a blockbuster story, but i can share where i'm at. And if we all did this, we could pray for each other more readily. We could help each other practically. We could correct and encourage, and feed each other. And in the end, maybe it could be about the Body of Christ instead of an hour of sitting there...

Sunday Morning

I have been slow to add posts to this blog.

I don't want it to be just a collection of rambling vents.

But WHERE to start! I've got here through a huge number of tiny, twisting trails, each of them leaving me with a lesson, a principle, a hurt.

But instead of compiling a list of who has hurt me and how they were so wrong, i want to just describe where i'm at with church, and maybe get to the bottom of it all. Find a way i can make peace with a religion that sometimes seems to hate me, and what i stand for. So... here i go.

Sunday morning worship.

I remember being a little girl, and my dad had a music tape with a song with these lyrics "Walkin' to church on a Sunday mornin'... walkin' and hearing the church bells ring..."... the chorus continued "Oh, it's so good to be here, praising the Lord again. When i hear how Jesus loves me, I take heart to live for Him."

And as a little girl, that is just how i felt.

I knew He loved me, and I loved him. I wanted to be a church, because i saw the church as my brothers and sisters, even if i was not always treated as a full sister (for example, when i wanted to be baptized, out of obedience to what i read in my Bible, but i wasn't allowed to for *years* until i was "old enough")

But going to church was a happy thing. And i think for my children, it still is. They look forward to getting out of the house, to the "candy lady" who always has a bag of candy to dole out to the children. To seeing their friends again, even if i am so mean i don't let them go to Sunday School. To sit at the potluck dinners, and sing along, and color in the pews while listening to the sermon.

For me, Sunday this week meant getting music a couple of days before, practicing, then on Sunday morning helping dh get seven children up, fed, hair brushed, clean clothes on, a big bag filled with tricks to entice the children to not feel too bad for not being allowed to be at Sunday school, fill the diaper bag, and grab my bag of music.

To clarify - i do love helping with worship. It's the one part of church that feels right to me, even if it were all songs i don't like... There is something not ruined by the corporate singing/worship, no matter how tuneful or tuneless... Something exuberant. It's the one way all the pew people actually participate for the whole service.

So i get there, and there are the nice ladies who invite my children to Sunday School. I need to be more forceful about this, i guess. Thing is, the Bible is very clear about who is responsible to teach children. And it's parents. One reason i homeschool. One reason i don't ask strangers to teach my children about spiritual things when i have no idea of their spiritual background.

(also, i have heard some of the weird things they have been taught. Also, if the church were actually any different from the "world", their abortion rate would be lower, and there probably wouldn't be any divorce among Christians, right?)

So i sit there with my children, and they are good today. I dole out m&ms to keep baby happy, pass out magnetic trays with pictures and little magnets on them, coloring pages, and trucks and dollies. All to keep the children quiet.

If it had been a perfect Sunday, we would have stayed for the potluck, but dh didn't want to.

It was as good as it gets.

But that was all it was. Getting ready, keeping children quiet (some piano playing), then going home.

I guess what i mean is - is that all there is?

People always say "what about fellowship!?!" if you say you didn't go to church that week. But really, let's talk about fellowship. Where? How?

Yes, if we had stayed for the potluck, we would most likely have talked to more people. And i did have a chance to talk to some of the nice people there - but it wasn't sharing life, it was small talk.

It seems mostly church just means going to a building, being quiet, and going home.

I have a hard time seeing how this contributes to my spiritual life, but i'm hoping it does contribute in some way to my children's. But i don't know how. They are learning to sit still. And that's good, but hardly enough to help them lead a holy life.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Monastic Mama

I found a gorgeous post on this blog

I would like to be good and just post a snippet, but it's not very long and every single sentence, every word was like water to me. Just take a minute and go read!

I think as a mom at home, you do get used to people depending on you, to being on several leashes at once (this morning, trying to teach fiddle to a 7 year old while a 5 yo walks on the piano bench behind me, baby complains beside the bench and my 13 yo pops in to ask a question having to do with integers)...

But i learned, maybe nine years ago, a special trick - to just go limp and let God be my sufficiency. So many times when i feel i just *can't* - i don't have what it takes - i have got to just sit down and dissolve in a puddle - those moments are when my strength just evaporates - i can feel the fuel line less and less full, and the fumes, and then... there's no more me. Nothing.

And then something else fills the fuel lines - and i'm going still - and it's not my power, it's the power of God who promised me that i have "the mind of Christ" - the one who "will never leave me, nor forsake me", the one who watches with me through the long night of up every 30 seconds with a seriously ill bleeding child, the one who holds my hands in hospital waiting rooms. All the places where mamas can't make it better, He is there with me.

He's provided a place for me to learn to rest, to lean on Him, to let Him power my day, to fill it with His assignments - His requirement of me is that i love. Nothing else. Not to be smart, to be fashionable, talented, insightful. Just to be love.

Hard enough, that.

Now, go read that blog post

and just in case you are being obstinate... here it is below -

Carlo Carretto, one of the leading spiritual writers of the past half-century, lived for more than a dozen years as a hermit in the Sahara desert. Alone, with only the Blessed Sacrament for company milking a goat for his food, and translating the bible into the local Bedouin language, he prayed for long hours by himself. Returning to Italy one day to visit his mother, he came to a startling realization: His mother, who for more than thirty years of her life had been so busy raising a family that she scarcely ever had a private minute for herself, was more contemplative than he was.

Carretto, though, was careful to draw the right lesson from this. What this taught was not that there was anything wrong with what he had been doing in living as a hermit. The lesson was rather that there was something wonderfully right about what his mother had been doing all these years as she lived the interrupted life amidst the noise and incessant demands of small children. He had been in a monastery, but so had she.

What is a monastery? A monastery is not so much a place set apart for monks and nuns as it is a place set apart (period). It is also a place to learn the value of powerlessness and a place to learn that time is not ours, but God's.

Our home and our duties can, just like a monastery, teach us those things. John of the Cross once described the inner essence of monasticism in these words: "But they, O my God and my life, will see and experience your mild touch, who withdraw from the world and become mild, bringing the mild into harmony with the mild, thus enabling themselves to experience and enjoy you." What John suggests here is that two elements make for a monastery: withdrawal from the world and bringing oneself into harmony with the mild.

Although he was speaking about the vocation of monastic monks and nuns, who physically withdraw from the world, the principle is equally valid for those of us who cannot go off to monasteries and become monks and nuns. Certain vocations offer the same kind of opportunity for contemplation. They too provide a desert for reflection.

For example, the mother who stays home with small children experiences a very real withdrawal from the world. Her existence is definitely monastic. Her tasks and preoccupations remove her from the centres of power and social importance. And she feels it. Moreover her sustained contact with young children (the mildest of the mild) gives her a privileged opportunity to be in harmony with the mild, that is, to attune herself to the powerlessness rather than to the powerful.

Moreover, the demands of young children also provide her with what St. Bernard, one of the great architects of monasticism, called the "monastic bell". All monasteries have a bell. Bernard, in writing his rules for monasticism, told his monks that whenever the monastic bell rang, they were to drop whatever they were doing and go immediately to the particular activity (prayer, meals, work, study, sleep) to which the bell was summoning them. He was adamant that they respond immediately, stating that if they were writing a letter they were to stop in mid-sentence when the bell rang. The idea in his mind was that when the bell called, it called you to the next task and you were to respond immediately, not because you want to, but because it's time for that task and time isn't your time, it's God's time. For him, the monastic bell was intended as a discipline to stretch the heart by always taking you beyond your own agenda to God's agenda.

Hence, a mother raising children, perhaps in a more privileged way even than a professional contemplative, is forced, almost against her will, to constantly stretch her heart. For years, while raising children, her time is never her own, her own needs have to be kept in second place, and every time she turns around a hand is reaching out and demanding something. She hears the monastic bell many times during the day and she has to drop things in mid-sentence and respond, not because she wants to, but because it's time for that activity and time isn't her time, but God's time. The rest of us experience the monastic bell each morning when our alarm clock rings and we get out of bed and ready ourselves for the day, not because we want to, but because it's time.

The principles of monasticism are time-tested, saint-sanctioned, and altogether-trustworthy. But there are different kinds of monasteries, different ways of putting ourselves into harmony with the mild, and different kinds of monastic bells. Response to duty can monastic prayer, a needy hand can be a monastic bell, and working without status and power can constitute a withdrawal into a monastery where God can meet us. The domestic can be the monastic.


There. Worth reading, wasn't it?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Regrets, i've had a few...

the internet monk had a great article lately on regrets -

I think what grabbed me so hard by the throat was his talking about his regret for spending so much of his life in what he considered to be the "only way" to have a ministry, which was in a pulpit, or as a youth pastor, instead of accepting that with the gifts God had given him, public education and sharing Jesus as the opportunity arose would have been (in hindsight) a better fit. If he hadn't been so scared to be wrong.

This post really resonated with me. Just the last month i've really felt God tugging at me, saying it really is okay to lay down all the things that entangle me, that discourage, that hold me back from rejoicing in freedom and instead try over and over to tie me up. That maybe going to church out of the "fear of man" is sin, especially if i choose that over faith in who God is, and my ability to hear His voice...

In one part of his post, he wrote:

A healthy Christian person must find a place where they can be themselves, and that place won’t be identical to our definition of “success.” Even if we succeed, the experiences that bring make us who we really are won’t be found in the spotlight of success. They will be found in God’s version of our wilderness.

That place may be a nursing home, or a tiny college, or a farm or a forgotten mission to the poor. It may be in another universe from the latest conference or well known ministry. It may have no potential for anything but small acts done with great love. If that is so, you should embrace it as your place. Yours, and a gift to you.

God has placed me in a life where the soil for growing a good and useful spirituality is plentiful. There is the rich soil of community and relationships, and there is the occasional fertilizer of human failures and disappointment. In this soil, I will grow. I will not be an object to be seen and heard. I will be a person, growing into a human image of the God we know in Jesus.

That's what i want - not to *be* anything, but to be a faithful woman, hearing from God and putting it into practice - no matter what it looks like. I really think God is less about what i do, and way more about who i am becoming...

First Post

Not really something to just get done for the sake of beginning, but here is why i've started yet another blog.

I've actually really resisted having more than one blog - i prize transparency, and i'm pretty open about my life, including my spiritual life and struggles and all the good stuff...

But i do know that for some reason, listening to a Christian honestly talk about what it is to be a believer in Jesus in the 21st century is very distressing for a lot of church people, many of whom are my very good friends.

I want them to be able to go to my happy shiny homeschool blog :) or my paleo eating/exercise blog and not have to be confronted with my frustrated rants, which i am sad to inform you, are all too common, and will likely be a central feature of this blog.

Not that i am dissatisfied with Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, the Church Universal, any huge theological problems - mostly i just chafe at how we do church now, in the 21st century, here, in the Western world.

I don't think it hurts to say "Look, not only is this not working for me, but it is hurting me - it is making me bleed, it is making me ashamed, it is taking all week to recover from the toxic "fellowship". What can i do to make it change? How can i fulfill my obligations to God, and still encourage and be encouraged by other believers?" Because i feel like maybe i am threatening to some believers, and an object of scorn to other believers, and i definitely do not feel encouraged by most believers (with some beautiful exceptions - and of course, most of my friends/family fall into the second circle of the venn diagram that is "believers that hurt/believers that heal"...

So that is what this is all about. If you feel crawly just reading this, consider yourself part of a tremendously huge majority and move on - if something inside you says "me too" .... then welcome - let's find where God wants us!