Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Limited Number of Days

This morning's sermon was from I Corinthians Chapter 7. While Pastor Howard did a fantastic job of illuminating the sanctified states of both marriage and singleness, the challenges existent within each, and the unfulfillment inherent within each without the Lord - I found I was caught by a particular part of the passage that seemed to have less to do with whether you find yourself either married or single. I invite you to read verses 29-31 aloud and really hear the words.

What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

Every day holds this summons, a call to us that whispers through the clamor and chaos, the nonsense and the noise. The time is short, this world is passing away. What a difference this should make in our lives, inviting us to hold more loosely, handle more tenderly, care less about small concerns and slights, and more intensely about the things of sweeter and deeper importance.

What difference would this make in what we weigh of priority to our life's plans and pursuits? How might it affect how we choose to spend our "free" time? Might we respond with greater mildness to perceived injuries? Do you suppose that some of our passions might reveal themselves to be overfed wants rather than legitimate needs? Would our stumbles and defeats take on a gentler temperance? And our little victories and triumphs attain an enhanced heavenly understanding? Would we apologize more readily, forgive with greater generosity?

From time to time I have to pull back and consider the challenge of simplicity. This morning, He pulled me aside and spoke in hushed tones to my heart. If we truly live with a daily recognition of life in its brevity, if we spent a sincere moment of focus on this truth in the waking hours of our mornings, will we not see more clearly and live this short life with greater meaning and understanding?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Update on Resolutions

Well, this is really more of a confessional, she said with a wry smile.

In order of appearance from their introduction on my Anno Domini post :
  1. Beets - it was funny to me that as I perused blogs in the first month of this year I came across a few other gals who also have an aversion to this healthy veggie as well as a secret longing to love it. And they also referred to a description that I thought I was the only one to have discovered. They think they taste like sweet dirt too! Of course, now I can't find most of those posts, but I do have this one from Just Making Noise. It looks pretty simple, but she makes it sound yummy. Plus, I love that she took her picture of her soup in a chipped bowl. I also found this great cheat on Penniless Parenting, but no... I must make something more substantial in order for it to count as following through on my resolution.
  2. Kombucha - nothing to add right now, except that my Mom remembers that she used to make this and that triggered a long-buried childhood remembrance.
  3. Whey kraut and kimchee - still not up to tackling them, although I do wish they were in my pantry. Maybe this summer.
  4. Budget management - began the New Year in earnest, trailed off into self-reliance w/o accountability, am gearing up for greater monitoring once again.
  5. 10 min of exercise 5 days a week - oh for shame! I did just fine for about 3 weeks, then I fell off my tiny little wagon. So much for the adage that it takes 3 weeks to establish a habit. In my case, at least, it appears that it would take longer. I suppose I need to renew my cheerleading efforts.
  6. Find something to experience wonder over daily. Success! Regular, well appreciated and enjoyed success with this one. What a rich blessing this has been.
Well, that's the update as of this moment. I'll be back with more as I accomplish more. I looked for an uplifting quote to end this post with. So join me here in thanking Arnold J. Toynbee, who I believe I would have liked quite a lot had we ever met:

The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

We Are All Slaves, But There Is Freedom

This past Sunday's sermon was a perfect example of why I love Christ Central Church. We are going through I Corinthians and had come to chapter 6 verses 9-20. If you do take the time to listen to it, do so first without your kids around; then you can decide later if you'd like to have them listen. Some serious things are covered here. The Promise of Sexual Freedom - Feb 21, 2010

As Pastor Howard began he got right to it and addressed our hearts. He was going to discuss those sins mentioned in the text, most particularly the sin of homosexuality. He brought out into the light our secret thoughts,
"Alright now! Come on and give it to 'em! It's about time! Nobody talks about this, and somebody needs to say something! Let's hear it!"
He's right, that's how we feel. Maybe you don't, but I confess I do and so does practically everyone else I know. As he went on, I considered how he and Giorgio always bring it back to the gospel - I was rather curious as to how that was going to be accomplished with this message. Not that I doubted it could... it was more like a feeling of anticipation, but there was definitely curiosity.

I really think I need to go back and listen to this sermon again - in fact, I want to, as uncomfortable as it was to listen to the first time. Because over the past two days since then, my thoughts have returned to his words and gone over them repeatedly. And in the end, what Howard inspired in us without ever saying the word, was compassion. And even empathy. I rarely agree with every word someone says and this past Sunday was no exception, but these were the Lord's words to us, of that I am sure.

The woman caught in adultery comes to mind, though he did not reference her. Throughout this sermon, I found myself identifying. I have been the woman who has been caught in her sin and has crouched shamefully in the dirt. I have been those men, angrily incensed over sin and demanding of retribution. But I don't know that I have felt quite like Christ, regarding this particular sin, as I did this past Sunday morning.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?" This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more."
John 8: 3-11

I was moved to contemplation and an extension of grace towards the sinner. I felt the love and mercy of the Savior beat in my heart, and a desire to lift up the offender, care for their woundedness, and encourage them in a walk towards the more that is found in Christ. That is what is meant by sanctification, the transforming work whereby we are made holy as He is holy. Thank you, Pastor Howard, for being His instrument in our lives, showing us our inadequacy in loving others as He does, and how deeply I need Him that I might be anything like my Savior.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Labor of Love

I think this may be my last post in this theme of thoughts concerning what it means to conceive, how we are to do so, Who we are to look to as Christians to provide fulfillment for these longings, lead us into them, and to help us with our disappointments if our dreams do not play out in our lives as we'd hoped. I know that being a parent has so deepened and enriched my understanding of God as my Abba, and of myself as His child. But I've wondered how my views of our relationship would be different if I'd not been blessed with Motherhood.

This beautiful video below gives tribute to the labor of love that accompanied the birth of our Savior. I can share in this as I remember the painful hours I struggled to bring my sons into this world. But I also know that the births of my daughters into our lives by way of adoption came with their own pains, gasps of travail, sleepless anticipation, cries of joy.

And what of beautiful Joseph? Watch him kneeling there, doing whatever he can to help as he is in so many ways helpless. Look at the amazement and joy in his face as he first gazes upon this baby, Lord of all in human likeness, whom he will train up in the years to come. There is more than the miracle of birth on his face, there is witness to the divine. He is a wonder to behold.

I sincerely hope that my understanding of who my Savior is would not be the less if I'd never been a mother. I think of *Amy Carmichael, and I like to think I would have led a life something like her's. I love Jesus - more than anyone. So if He'd chosen for Himself to be my all in all without a family just as He is with them, well He would be. Whatever our roles that we are ultimately called to as His servants, let them be not as we will but as He wills, and let them all be labors of love.

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. I Cor 15:57-58

*A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Most Outrageous Chapter in the Bible

You might disagree with my awarding this verse for that title, but there is no doubt that many have felt horror in reading this particular passage. For my morning time with the Lord, I read at least one chapter of Old Testament, New Testament, and a Psalm. Currently I'm in Judges and Revelation and Psalm 119. As I sat down this morning, I knew that I was going to be reading Judges 19. I decided to see if I could find it online to listen to - if you are familiar at all with The Levite and his Concubine, you can understand my trepidation. It is a terrible, terrible tragedy.

But this time I get the context of what is going on a whole lot better. The Israelites are in a period of intense floundering, creating their own rules and ways. In Judges 17 we have a mother whose son steals from her; then when he confesses later, she practically idolizes him - and makes an image from the stolen silver for him to lead their family in worship. People are grasping for something or someone to revere and to lead them. They are back-stabbing and coniving, selling out to the highest bidder, the one with the coolest offer. Innocence is taken advantage of, led astray, and betrayed. Even the judges we read of are rather weak and wishy-washy. It is a truly a world where each is doing right in their own eyes.

So here we come to this story of a Levite who has had some sort of disagreement with his concubine. I have read translations that vary from this being an issue of unfaithfulness to simply an unknown quarrel. I encourage you to read the chapter for yourself. What seems apparent to me is that their whole world is turned upside-down. These men do not behave as MEN. Not one of them. They do not protect or defend the women in their lives. In fact, they willingly sacrifice them to save their own skin. To anyone who reads this chapter, the natural response is one of sickening outrage. It should be. I looked for commentaries on this particular passage and had to share this young lady's: Please take the time to peruse her blog, and definitely read Shake Girl I rankle at the wording of feminism, but a Godly view of the value of women in God's eyes and hands is right and meet.

One of my sons is currently serving as a member of We are so grateful the Lord has provided him this path in which to take a stand to fight for justice. But his training began in our home with a view of the world and it's people as those made in the image of God - men, women, and children. But look here around us on our televisions, in our malls, the school yards, our neighborhoods. Women are objectified for their appearance only, depersonalized to an existence of what we see alone. Men are encouraged to lose all restraints in any and all directions. Children are treated with anything from complete disregard to the status of a feared deity whom we cannot disappoint. We have gone astray... lost, purposeless, aberrant.
But the Good News is this:

You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more. Psalm 10:17-18

He hears and He knows. He saw and memorialized the actions of these men on that day, and He sees us today. How will our stories be written, our actions not only in our own regard, but our regard for others?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Conception (Pt 4)

I am glad that in light of my previous sobering post, I can follow it with some rays of hope and encouragement. This blog just has to make you smile by it's title: Donielle explains how she was discovered to be low on the fertility scale, her various physical challenges, the status-quo medical recommendations she received, how she followed the Standard American Diet guidelines for health, and how her own gut instinct drove her to research what a traditional, nourishing diet consists of. She eschews the new wave of fertility treatments that modern medicine has pandered to the masses. She is gentle, considerate, and respectful of our desires to have children, and sensitive to those who find this to be a challenge.

Her personal story ends with these thoughtful words which offer a bigger picture of a world where God is there, but desires more than to simply give us what we want because we want it. He desires his plans for our lives:

Unfortunately though, sometimes no matter what they do, not all women are able to become pregnant, and it is my belief that the Lord is the only one that truly governs over our bodies. Although some days I have struggled immensely, I know that with his strength, I can find peace about the future of my fertility. It is something that I must continually place in his hands. I pray this site is both God honoring and also full of useful information, so that you might begin your own quest to better health through reading and research.

Read it in good health - and God bless you and yours.

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9
May it be so.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Conception Complications (Pt 3)

Another request came to me this week - someone close to me asked for prayer for blessings over an in-vitro fertilization procedure of frozen embryos. A young couple wants a child and has been told that their chances of conception are quite small. And once again, the reality of the choices Christians consider viable includes going outside of creation as God has designed it. The door appears shut to a natural conception within the time frame they would like and with the bodies He has blessed them with - so they are turning to this scientific option Man has created.

I really knew very little about frozen embryos, so I did a little reading to educate myself on the matter. As it turns out, it's pretty straight-forward. A fertilized embryo is the beginning of life:
"Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed....O'Rahilly, Ronan and Müller, Fabiola. Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8

Frozen embryos are those that have been created in a test tube and then are cryogenically preserved, awaiting implantation in a woman's uterus in hopes of a child. It might be that of yourself and your husband, or it might be your egg and a donor's sperm, or it might be your husband's seed and a donor's egg, or it might even be a fertilized egg donated from two complete strangers.

You see, this process of trying to have what we want with the least amount of trouble to ourselves has in fact created a whole new set of problematic issues for us to deal with. The afore-mentioned ones of options regarding a child's parentage are just the beginning. For those who have given of their own egg and sperm, the decision of what to do with the extras awaits you. What are you to do with those frozen embryos that you do not provide the haven of your uterus to and welcome them into your family with the gift of birth? A great article found on titled What Happens to Extra Embryos after IVF? covers many of the dilemmas this venture has brought forth. An excerpt:

Michelle DeCrane of Austin, Texas, has also been paying for embryo storage for two years. She has a 2-year-old daughter -- and six frozen embryos. "I would love to have another baby, if I were younger -- I'm 40 -- and if money was not an object." She finds herself trapped in a mental loop; while she doesn't have the same mind-blowing love for the embryos as she has for her daughter, neither does she consider them anonymous laboratory tissue. And there's another wrinkle: One of the six embryos is biologically hers and her husband's; the five others were created with donor eggs and his sperm. "What do people do?" she asks. "You have all of these embryos in all of these labs. Are people going to keep doing what I'm doing and pay the $40 a month ad infinitum?"

Some will. Experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of embryos have accumulated in fertility clinics throughout the country, some awaiting transfer but many literally frozen in time as parents ask themselves questions few among us ever consider with such immediacy: When does life begin? What does "life" mean, anyway?

In the case of our friends, they are prepared to be parents to all three children that Mommy might give birth to nine months down the road. So they are not in the position of having to decide what to do with extra embryos. However, I cannot support this industry that has arisen in an attempt to give us all perfect babies that spring forth from our own wombs - whether God gives us this or not. I cannot offer my prayers to theirs in this, and the whole thing saddens me.

It saddens me that parents who want children are sometimes barren.

It saddens me that children who deserve loving homes sometimes wind up with families who betray those hopes.

It saddens me that children find themselves in disrupted situations which shape their character and hurt their ability to trust.

It saddens me that fear is a part of adoption.

It saddens me that we are so consumed with making it possible for parents to get every possible chance (and then some) to be good parents that we extend the season of uncertainty for their children for lengths of time that are detrimental to those kids.

It saddens me that acceptance of difficult things are not seen as tools the Lord might be using to shape us.

It saddens me to write all of this....

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Best Time to Have Children

Conception (Pt 2)

We are a people obsessed with control. I don't know if it's just Americans, the greater part of the developed world, or all of it, but our control issues are out of control. I feel like to even say this is to state the obvious - is there anyone with an ounce of maturity out there who would argue this point with me? And what I am putting out there, in particular, is the notion that we can take the miracle of conception and decide that we can lead and guide even this - the creation of life.

I was blessed with two sons who I loved and adored (still do). But I knew I was only getting one more child out of my husband, and I wanted a daughter. ;D I recall talking with my Mom and saying, "Did you ever want something so bad that you thought, 'God's just GOT to give it to me'?" That's how I felt.

So, I did what any modern day bibliophile who recognizes what wealth our multitude of libraries and bookstores affords us would do. I took matters into my own hands, and bought and read books on How To Determine the Sex of Your Baby. It was all too complicated for me, however, so before I could quite grasp how to organize my strategy - I was expecting. It was done, and I was robbed of the opportunity to try my own little creation science experiment. It had remained His and His alone - and nine months later I was blessed with my third son, equally loved and adored. And that longing that I'd once thought was personally stamped within me through and through to the marrow of my bones; well, over time He dealt with that and replaced it with gratitude and contentment as I trusted Him with even this.

I realize that there are many sorrows and longings that go into our heart's desires when it comes to being denied the blessing of giving birth. I know that having the reality of a child does not begin once they are on their way. They are real to many of us even before they are born, even before they are conceived. I also know that I cannot comprehend those heartbreaks that I have never personally experienced, like infertility. But my contention is that whether we do or do not get what we want, in this case "children", should not determine our freedom to take control of our situation.

Conception has been wrested out of God's hands.

From Steven Katz, M.D. in The San Francisco Medical Journal:
In 1978 at Bourne Hall, Great Britain, the first baby was created by the mixing of a human egg and sperm in the laboratory. Thus, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) was "bourne".

Today, 23 years later, over 60,000 cycles of IVF are completed each year in the United States alone. What was once an experimental procedure is now commonplace (emphasis mine) in our society. Why does infertility seem much more common today than a generation ago? The answer is unclear but many theories have been proposed. First, some people feel that the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies led to many known and unknown sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). These STDs created pelvic infections and ultimately tubal disease. Secondly, women are much more likely to work outside the home and thereby delay childbearing. Lastly, investigators have hypothesized environmental factors and stress as causal factors.

It has become commonplace, and I contend an additional explanation for the increase in fertility treatments. Quite simply - We can. As His children, we were not intended to be herded along by the world and it's ways. What I am putting forth is not easy, I am quite aware. It leads to many more questions, and I do not hold the answer to all of them. But I do know this. He said:

"You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be My own."

And if we are simply doing what we can because we can, not because He has led you or me to do whatever, then we are not following. We are leading.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Conception (Pt 1)

Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you — they are your life. Deut 32

I was 18 years old. I stepped up to the sandy edge of the cliff, looked over and stepped back time and time again. My heart was hammering, palms sweating, an inward debate went back and forth in my mind as I willed myself to jump, wondering if I were really going to do it. Suddenly I ran forward and leaped out into space.

I don't remember much beyond that. Screaming, flailing, plunging deep into water, pain, slowly stroking my way to the surface. Thank God I survived, but boy, was I dumb.

I was as a foolish young woman with something to prove, more to myself than anyone else. Ever been there?

I feel a bit of that same trepidation I felt on that cliff as I begin this post. However, my compulsion today isn't based in a desire to validate anything within myself. It springs from a belief that something needs to be said - and I don't hear anybody saying it. This post is intended for believers only.

When my life was given over to the Lord, I experienced something I'd never known before. It was this crazy mixture of being able to see. I could see sins I'd never known I'd committed, feel the full ownership of guilt for them (and not cover or shamelessly wiggle out and escape my responsibility), be sorry with true down-deep sorrow, and then - there was His forgiveness. What followed was a desire within for a commitment to never repeat them again. This is the freedom found in Christ.

As I continued in my walk with the Lord, I found that sometimes I unwittingly make mistakes even still. And at a later date the light will dawn and I'll experience that same cycle of uncluttered vision, personal ownership of guilt, Godly sorrow, forgiveness, and the turning we call Repentance.

Some years ago, while living in Salinas, CA I met a homeschooling Mom who was unlike anyone I'd ever known. I can describe some things about her, but it wasn't these things. First of all, she was a black homeschooler - the only one I knew. She and her husband had some property and farmed their own vegetables. She might have had a few animals as well, or maybe my romantic notions have added to my memories. She had four kids with a fifth one on the way. But there was something else that was more of a sense, and I guess quite simply it was a vibe of obedience within her.

One day she and her kids were over visiting at my house and I innocently asked that question every woman asks another pregnant mother, "So, are you guys done? Is this the last one for you?" She just as innocently replied, "Well, that's up to the Lord."

And I experienced it - Conviction. What I refer to as the big finger of God gently but firmly pressing upon my heart. We had done what everyone does.

My husband had decided that three was enough for him and had a vasectomy. As a new believer, I'd thought I was doing the right thing by honoring my husband's wishes, although personally I wanted more children. But he was the provider and my husband and so I had supported his decision. What I suddenly realized was that we had taken this part of our lives and kept God out of it. We certainly hadn't consulted Him on whether this was His will for us or not. We'd "done right in our own eyes" and behaved as though we were God.

My friend was all grace and understanding, I have to say. There truly was no condemnation from her, simply going forward in greater understanding of what it means to walk in this world after Him.

But this idea of conception being His domain was here to stay.

It's funny, I'd titled this piece before I began writing, thinking of how my view of conception truly being God's work has been established. As I finished here, I thought of it's other meaning, as in "can you conceive of?" Idea, vision, grasp, understand.

From the book of Job, "But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding."