31 March 2010

Pruning and being pruned

At our new house, we inherited a very old (30-40 years old), very large, VERY overgrown grape vine.
After watching about a thousand (more or less) YouTube videos on pruning, I attacked the vine today. First, I started by taking out the very obvious dead growth, then I started cutting back on those vines with questionable vitality. I cut until I found live wood, then cut back per my instructional videos.
We ended up with a fairly scraggly vine. I would not be surprised if it does not bear fruit this year, though my mother tells me it is entirely possible that it will. But, hopefully, in a few years, we will have a good crop of grapes.
The entire time I was cutting, I was thinking about the vine illustrations in the New Testament. I know regular gardeners are well aware of this, but pruning is sometimes a fairly drastic action. A whole lot of our vine had to be cut away to reveal life. I find that so often in my spiritual life, I balk at taking the drastic steps that cut away death to reveal a place where new life can occur. But, obviously, that is what is necessary sometimes.
The other thing that occurred to me is that growth is not necessarily a gauge of health. Last summer and early fall, our grape vine was full of green, hard fruit. But the sun couldn't reach much of it, and a lot of the grapes did not develop well because so many vines were pulling energy away from the fruit. Further, the growth on some vines, covered up dead wood and, from a bit of a distance, made everything look quite lush. I thought about the many churches where numerical growth is held up as an indicator of health, while energy-sapping offshoots flourish, death/disease goes unchecked, and individuals are not challenged to grow fully.
I guess I have always known that being pruned is a rather painful process. But until I was cutting away the excess myself, I didn't understand just how much of myself really needs to be pruned.

29 March 2010


On Palm Sunday morning, we were in the car and I was telling the kids the Palm Sunday Story again. Annalivia asked from the very back of the car,"What did the people say again when Jesus was riding into town?"
"Hosanna!" I replied, pronouncing it "ho-ZAHN-ah".
"Oh" she said and paused for a minute.
Then she said, "We should have Lozanna for lunch!"

23 March 2010

In the car

When we are in the car we listen to three Fernando Ortega cd's and two Glory Revealed cd's. We listen to them over and over and over and over... and over and over and over... and over and over and over again... and over...

(I love Fernando Ortega. And the Glory Revealed discs are pretty good, too. They're scripture set to folksy roots-rock sort of music. If given a choice, Annalivia and I choose Fernando. Daniel likes Glory Revealed II. )

Annalivia is at the age where she is remembering a lot of lyrics. That which we hear in the car, ad infinitum, comes out elsewhere. Today she put on a concert at the piano. The selections ranged from "There's Power in the Blood" to "The Lord is My Shepherd" to "All Creatures of Our God and King."

Her favorite song right now is Fernando's "I Will Praise Him Still". I love hearing her sing,

"When the morning falls on the farthest hill,
I will sing His name,
I will praise Him still.
When dark trials come
and my heart is filled with the weight of doubt,
I will praise Him still."

And she always sings this part, her favorite, really loud.

"For the Lord Our God, He is strong to save
from the
arms of death

from the deepest grave!"

And then I always join her on the end...

"For He gave us life in His perfect will
And by His good grace,
I will praise Him still."

I don't think it's necessary to have kids listen to "children's songs" in order for them to learn lyrics. Personally, I think it's more important for kids to hear good music, preferably beautiful music, and see that their parents are enjoying it, too.

At least, I hope that's how it works. I like singing such songs with my girl. It's s special sort of praise... in and out of the car.

For Monica's lovely ideas on car time, click here.

22 March 2010


We were without internet for the last five days.
I was twitchy... itchy?...scratchy? :)... for the first 12 hours. After that, it was good. We haven't had a tv for the last few weeks, so we didn't have much to artifically entertain us.
I read to the kids a lot more. Dennis, after smashing his finger in a log-splitter and getting the requisite stitches necessary, spent a lot of time reading. I read. We chatted a lot. I started a journal again. The house didn't, unfortunately, get any cleaner, until this morning.
After that, I called the internet company, whom I detest, and got the problem solved. Finally. I asked about just cancelling the service and it will cost two-months' worth of internet to terminate early, an arrangement they reserve for folks without land-lines.
Dennis and I were wondering -- is it worth it? We are becoming neo-Luddites, of sorts, I think, enjoying the inter-personal connections that come when we disconnect from electronics. We had a nice time this weekend. Save for a thankfully-not-severed finger, it was downright delightful. Why does that not seem possible when there are electronics to offer an escape from reality? Something to ponder...

18 March 2010

On truth and the search for it

In my previous life as student-of-the-liberal-church, I spent a lot of my time figuring out what I didn't have to believe about the Bible. Historical, social, or economic contexts, textual errors, authorship disputes, interpretive lenses and so on and so forth, blah blah blah.
I have mentioned before that when I was in seminary, I won an award for a very tight, well-constructed theology project. It was incredible, if I do say so myself. Everything in that paper fit together like puzzle pieces in a well-crafted frame.
It was crap.
When it came down to it, that which I had constructed was just...me. There wasn't any real depth or substance, wonder, mystery, etc. There was a small box and I filled all of it. No room for Jesus. No room for the Spirit. No room for the Creator-of-all-things.
Just. me.
I am at the point now where I no longer want to think about what may or may not be believable. I just believe that the Word is True. All of it.
I know some will think that is feeble-minded or that it is the "easy" way out. I would have thought that.
But I hadn't actually read the words then. And I hadn't had a real glimpse of the power of Jesus.
It's True. I don't know how, but it is.
That's all.
That's enough.

"If you believe in the Gospel what you like, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself." ~Augustine (a pretty smart guy)
Thanks, Roo, for the quote.

15 March 2010

Boys and girls

The DHM has a fascinating round-up/ summary of some links exploring learning differences between genders over at The Common Room.

When Daniel was born, I felt sort of as though I didn't really know him at all. I think much of that was because he is a boy. As the eldest of four sisters, with no male cousins around while growing up, getting acquainted with a boy-brain has been fascinating.

I have been amazed, intrigued and enthralled lately with watching Daniel (3) process life, especially in comparison with his older sister (5). It is incredibly interesting to study how he learns/ acts/ feels, etc. As we begin to teach them, it has been clear to us that the differences are deeper than simple personality traits. Reading this article was fun -- there's something going on in that little blond-haired blue-eyed boy that is completely, totally unique! :)

Oh, Lord, this is a long day...

That dern time change. I detest them.

12 March 2010

In process

I have learned, in whatsoever state I am,
therewith to be content. ~Philippians 4:11

10 March 2010

What a year!

My youngest child is a whole year old today. Emmeliese Elizabeth entered the world at 12:25 a.m. via c-section. I waited too long to make the decision to have the section and was unable to give her the birthdate she probably deserved (Annalivia and Daniel's birthdays are numerically blessed -- 2/25/2005 and 2/7/2007. Emmeliese could have been 3/9/09.) Oh, well. It will always serve to remind me of God's great mercy in keeping her from serious harm while I waited.

What a gift she is to our family! She's our sweet baby girl and growing up so fast! Happy birthday, little love!

09 March 2010

Trust as love

Today, I was listening to Midday Connection on Moody Radio. Sheila Walsh was the guest, speaking about a new book. Something she said caught my ear. It went something like this...
"I used to think that our gift to God is our Love. Now I think it is our Trust. Trust is our Love lived out. Trust is Love with flesh on."

08 March 2010

Going forward without the crutch

We removed the tv from our house the other day. I am ashamed to say, it had become a crutch on which we leaned far too often. It was too easy for me to say, "Why don't you go turn on PBS?" while making breakfast. Or dinner. Or to use it as a distraction while getting Emmeliese to sleep. My eldest child was particularly susceptible to the lure of television, though her reaction was not unique in this family.

Now, we do not have a tv in the house. And, again, I am ashamed to admit that it has taken a bit of adjustment on my part. There is no escape. No diversion. No crutch. I was a bit nervous.

But, it turns out that we walk quite well without it. We had a lovely day today, even though it was a fairly cold rainy day with no foray to the outer world. It ended up being a day with just a few sibling clashes. They all played well all day together, drew a whole lot of pictures, colored, played with baby dolls, created an elaborate tow truck business, played dress-up. The friction was minimal. It was very, very nice.

I think we can leave the crutch behind.

07 March 2010

He who takes delight

Do you ever think of God as One who delights in you?

For me, it isn't too hard to think of God as loving me, even unconditionally. But that God likes me? Really, truly likes me? That he enjoys my company, smiles at my little jokes, feels exceedingly proud of my successes... that just blows my mind.

And as I think about what I communicate to my children about God, it occurs to me that it is critically important to convey not only His love and provision and mercy, but also His great delight in us.

The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
~Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

06 March 2010

A culture of effort, or a culture of grace

There's a provocative article on racial reconciliation in the new issue of Christianity Today by Chris Rice, co-director of the Duke's Center for Reconciliation. If they make it available online, I'll provide the link, but I suggest any who have an opportunity to read it at a library, church, etc., should do so.

In it, he talks about a ministry of reconciliation of which he was a part in the late 90's that, in effect, had dried up. He was on the verge of leaving a partnership with an African-American friend and the congregation the two co-pastored was feeling the strain and angst in the relationship.

They consulted with John Alexander who diagnosed the problem with these words, "If you don't give God's love in your bones, you will become very dangerous people. Especially activists like you. The most important person in the community is not [the pastors], or any of you, or the people in the neighborhood. The most important person in the community is Jesus. Your life has to keep Jesus at the center."

After the consultation, the author and his partner actually did the hard work of extending grace and the author's partner pointed out that actually extending grace to others in the minutiae of day to day life is a very, very difficult thing.

I won't ruin the rest of the article by summarizing it here, but it's a great reminder that justice issues need to, first, be taken to the cross of Christ. As the author says, "We are not the central actors in saving the world's brokenness. In the life and resurrection of the crucified Christ now living in heaven, God has given us everything we need to live well in a broken world through the Holy Spirit. God has already changed everything through the power of a grace we do not deserve."

And, though I promise I do not mean to diminish the grandeur of working against injustice in the world, for me, the article was a great reminder that ALL issues need to, first, be taken to the cross of Christ. Even (or perhaps, especially) the day-to-day weariness induced by the "effort" so many of us put into parenting can be revived by a reminder to bask in grace for a bit. Again, in the author's words, "For us, 'telling the truth' had come to mean telling...each other how they needed to change. But now we saw that the greatest truth was telling and showing each other how much God loves us. Our paradigm for daily life had shifted to John's mantra, 'Caring for each other, forgiving each other, and keeping the dishes washed. We are forgiven. All the rest is details."

It resonates; that much is sure.

Good stuff. Check it out.

04 March 2010

Guarding and unguarding my thoughts

I've encountered a life-changing read this Lent in the book, A Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, president of World Vision. It is a compelling, challenging book for Christians. It is a compelling, challenging book for me.

I have been processing the book at the same time that our pastor has begun a sermon series on our thought lives. The basis of his sermon series is this passage from Romans 12 "I beseech ye, brethren, by the mercies of God that ye prepare your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (pardon -- I have the KJV memorized and it never sounds right to me unless in this version).

As our pastor has pointed out, scripture is clear here that disciplining our thoughts brings us into alignment with the will of God. He talked about how important it is to choose to expose our minds and, thus, our spirits to things that build us up and encourage us to be holy. And, of course, I thought about tv shows and songs and other media (like the internet *ahem*). I thought about what a huge difference it makes in my life to filter the things which influence me. And I thought about how, a year ago or so, I decided to listen to sacred music most of the time and how much that has changed what goes through my head throughout the day. I love the snippets of scripture that appear with melodies at odd moments. The echoes are just lovely.

But while processing my reaction to the earthquake in Haiti, especially through the lens of "the hole" in my gospel, I've realized that while God wants me to guard my thoughts when it comes to those things I seek out to entertain me, that God wants me to unguard my thoughts when it comes to the suffering of others. I am finding that to participate in the grandeur of self-focused thought refinement without applying the exercise to the world beyond is so...hollow. It is "the hole," I guess. And I have realized that the desire to live an insular existence is not a holy desire. I've thought about how many of us will gladly watch CSI or, heck, MYSTERY on PBS or will expose ourselves to all manner of crazy, violent thoughts and dissonant behavior, but won't watch the news or look at pictures of a disaster or read statistics of suffering or even discuss the presence of evil in the world. Being careful not to see the news does not mean that the news doesn't happen.

So, while being called to set my mind on things above, I've been being reminded to open my eyes and see -- really see-- this world God loves.

Thus, my prayer this Lent has been two-fold. First --"May the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Reedemer." And, I've been praying the prayer of Bob Pierce, World Vision's founder, "Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God."

01 March 2010

Castille soap and conundrums

A few months ago, I got tired of having a shower full of hair and body care products and switched to castille soap. First, I bought the liquid stuff, then I found a bar and realized that it does a better job for less money (I think).

So far, I like the simplicity of castille soap for hair and body. I also like that I'm not putting many chemicals on my skin. And I like that the skin on my body feels pretty nice -- clean, but not so clean that I'm dry and scaly. And now that I've figured out I should use yogurt on my face as a moisturizer a la my cooler/ prettier sistahs, my face is better, too. (Though, Lil and Roo -- I wonder -- should I rinse the yogurt off? Or have Dennis lick it off? I've just been letting it soak in -- that's cool, right?)

Using just castille soap has left me with a bit of a conundrum in one department and that is that I think it would be logical, when one has largely cut out chemicals in hair washing, to follow that up with cutting out chemicals by not using styling products. But, um, I can't figure out a hairstyle that would play to my hair's natural state wherein the roots are slightly limp, the ends are frizzy almost-curls and the whole thing hangs either a.) awkwardly close to the face or b.) awkwardly extending out into the air. So I use my products (aka some miscellaneous curl spray on the ends, some miscellaneous gummy substance at the roots, and some miscellaneous hair spray on the whole thing).
Anyone out there got some wisdom on doing hair au naturel?

Praying for Chile

A slideshow can be found here.