Psalm 101

If you’ve run in Christian circles long enough, you are familiar with the Proverbs 31 woman.  She is the Biblical measuring stick by which husbands look for wives and women look for inspiration.  She has been used as an encouragement and teaching tool.  Unfortunately, she has also been used by some in the church as a way to make women feel inadequate and chastised.

In case you don’t know much about her, she is a seamstress, takes care of the poor, and runs a large household of people.  She is both a homemaker and a small-business woman. She is up before anyone else and is the last to go to bed.  She is smart, witty, resourceful, kind and hard working.  Everyone loves her. I’m sure her Facebook page has pictures of perfectly manicured children gazing adoringly at her and I bet she has the most followers on Pinterest: she is crafty.  I’m also pretty sure she would be president of the PTA and her kids would eat all their vegetables because she takes the time to cut them into shapes of dinosaurs or rocket ships or something.

For many of us, the Proverbs 31 woman illuminates a standard we are not living up to.  Like her fictitious Facebook page, she is a carefully edited highlight reel of a person.  We only see her good side.  Those of us who make it through the day wondering if we’ve even brushed our teeth don’t feel very encouraged by a woman who not only weaves her own linen, but then makes her own clothing out of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the Proverbs 31 woman.  I think she has a lot going for her.  But for a few months now I have been mulling over Psalm 101 and wondering if there isn’t another, different Biblical view of womanhood lurking in there.  I kept going back to verse 2, “I will walk in my house with a blameless heart,” and wondered if there was not more to glean about the dark side of womanhood.  Not to say that women are or should be confined to the home, but more that home is where we relax, where we are our true selves. Home is where our families are formed, our morals are implemented, our shields are down.   Home can be a place of immense comfort or distress.

So I implemented an exercise my favorite seminary professor taught me.  He argued that the Psalms were written as prayers to God and they can be our guidepost for our own prayers.  He encouraged us to take a Psalm, line by line, and write it in our own words as our own plea to God.  Armed with what I know to be true about the rest of Scripture- that God is more concerned about the state of our hearts than the state of our wardrobes- here is my own version.

Psalm 101

1-2 God, You are bigger than all things.  You encompass the far ends of human emotion: Love and Justice.  You are fully good and fully sovereign; a mystery you cradle together in Your broad hands.  I’m so sure of this, I won’t just tell people about it, I’ll openly sing of it, loud and clear.  I don’t know which I am more grateful for: blessings You’ve given, or adversity that has allowed me to embrace them. I will tell others how You’ve knocked me down and helped me up.  That, ‘There is as much love in the blows of Your hand as in the kisses of Your mouth.’ I will sing my hope that you will set things right in the next life if not in this one. When are you coming to do that God? We can’t do this alone.

2b-3 I will share this great mystery not only out in the world where it is easy to look polished and put together.  Where I can fool others.  Where I can fake it.

I will do this at home where it matters most.

This means legitimately loving those in my encampment: shining bright around my husband and children, my family, my in-laws.  Purposefully blessing the people who push my buttons and try my patience.

To the people who wont or can’t leave.  To the people too little to argue back.  To the people I know will cover for me.  To those who have endured my poison I will be a vessel of your love.

I will hack up the bitter roots in my life.  I will keep short accounts.  I will forgive quickly and completely.  I will embrace conflict but only when I have to.  Otherwise I will sow in peace. Will I be perfect? No.  But no one lives well without first resolving to do so.

Even though this discipline is hard, the end goal is peace in my home and peace in my heart.  I will go about my chores with a light and guilt-free spirit.  I will pick up socks without resentment.  I will make dinner without worrying who will do the dishes.  I will not spend my life counting what percentage I give in comparison to others or how much weight I pull around here.  I will regard small tasks as holy and give thanks. Piety must begin at home or else it has no merit. Can I preach peace at church and permit strife at home? Can I extol others to forgive and withhold it myself?

I resolve to walk in my house with a blameless heart.

For that, I have to sift through the fog and fix my eyes on You. Help me to remember that we become that which we look upon.  Let me reflect and be a reflection of you.

Help me to be disciplined in putting to death things in my mind that defeat this goal.  I shouldn’t be surprised- You Yourself said, ‘garbage in and garbage out’. I can’t watch scary movies and not be afraid when I turn out the lights.  I can’t fill my mind with women’s magazines and wonder why I am discontent with what I look like and what I own. I can’t mold my schedule to match that of the women around me, adding more to my over pressurized pace and expect peace.  My eyes are the ticket booth to my heart and not everything is worth the price of admission.

3b-4 I know I need this because your voice is so small and hard to hear sometimes.  I need to surround myself with people who say, ‘shhh…listen’.  The voices of this world tell me I am not good enough, pretty enough, witty enough.  They grumble constantly of unfulfilled needs. They hiss like the serpent did to Eve, “Did God really say?” and they convince me that what You have given is not enough.

That’s why I won’t invest my time in women who hear these voices and become ungrateful.  They throw back Your gifts in Your face.  I won’t allow those who are choking on their own fear to suffocate me too.  I don’t want to spend my time with women whose verbiage is soaked in fear, anger and regret.  Those whose end goal is self-preservation won’t influence me. Those who hold tightly to their rights won’t sway me.  I need to be reminded that I don’t lack love for myself or belief in myself.  If I lack anything it’s love for You.

5 I will separate myself from women who trash other women in my presence.  Those who have nothing but complaints for their husbands will not be invited back. I will distance myself from those who preach hate and intolerance.  I won’t listen to sermons by those who preach against homosexuality but won’t preach against pride.

You yourself implored us to Love one another as you have loved us.  You said nothing is greater than to put aside our own desires and needs and wants for the good of our friends.  I will try to remember that you care most how we treat each other. Gossip and slander are not tiny sins. They are THE sins because it undermines Your greatest commandment, that we love one another as You have loved us.  To degrade another is to degrade Your very likeness.  We, all of us, are made in Your image, fully beloved by You.

I hear Jesus’ words echoing back to me when I implore my kids to ‘please share’ ‘be nice to each other’.  I want to shake them and ask, Don’t you get it? This world will not be kind to you! You are all you have in this world.  There is no one else who is your brother, no one else who can love you like a brother can.  Love each other!

Begin with me: Cut out my tongue and my pride. Forgive me when I think I need a tune up or a reboot instead of a complete overhaul.  Forgive me when I think there are major and minor sins.  There is either reconciliation to or separation from You.  Sin is not a problem, it is Utter Destruction: it is an ember left to smolder in your fireplace that will burn your house to the ground.

6 I will look for like-minded women, those who love your ways.  Those who embrace peace and encourage their husbands. Those who long to soak up good things, beautiful things.  I want the women who speak to me to be women who love transparency and will speak truth into my life even when I don’t want to hear it. I want to pray with women who aren’t afraid to beg and cry ugly tears; who aren’t above pleading their case to God knowing He may not answer in the way they would like.  Women who love repentance, women who believe in second chances. I want to be around women who are broken wide open, nerves and vessels and throbbing veins all exposed.  Not women who stitch themselves up and dab on a glob of concealer.  I want truth and tears and blood.

I want to know and be known by women who do small things, hard things, in the secret where no one else knows.  Those who give away their money recklessly, who serve with abandon, who forgive swiftly, who love wildly. Women who take seriously their role as risk takers, life shapers, learners, teachers, and preachers.  I embrace those who expect God to speak and encourage me to listen. I yearn most of all to be amongst those who submit their lives wholeheartedly to God, because submitting is scary business.

7-8 These are hard resolutions I’m making to you God; seemingly impossible to follow.  That’s why every morning when I wake up, I will remind myself that it is Your voice I need to listen to.  I will silence the bad thoughts, the ugly lies and those who promote them. I will remember that Jesus did not come to stitch us up.  He came to make us new.

I’ll reject the lies that tell me not to sacrifice too much, or give too much away.  I’ll respectfully decline the offer to have boundaries or to be a ‘good steward.’  I won’t judge those who spend money on vacations but not Your poor, or concern myself with those who take the easy road, the wide path. I’ll especially plug my ears around those who say you can live this way and still follow Christ.

I’ll try to remember that little eyes watch how I respond to lack of money.  Little ears listen to my tone when I speak to my husband.  Little feet are walking just one step behind me on a trail I’m blazing.  Every morning when my feet hit the ground, may these resolutions be my guide. May those who run hard after God be my teammates on this narrow road.  May our sneakers get muddy together.

Before Assisting Others

“Why is it called Aslan’s Table?” asked Lucy presently. “It is set here by his bidding,” said the girl. “But how does the food keep?” asked the practical Eustace. “It is eaten, and renewed every day,” said the girl. “This you will see.”-Chronicles of Narnia, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

We were on a flight last week coming home from holiday festivities in Michigan. The flight attendants did their usual spiel about not smoking on the plane, staying buckled and all sorts of helpful hints most of us have heard a million times before. But my ears perked up when she talked about what to do with children if there were to be an emergency. For the first time we were travelling with 4.

This being outnumbered 2 to 1 made me feel more vulnerable than normal. If there was a crash who would my husband and I reach for, how would we help them all get those inflatable life vests on in time? The flight attendant got to the part where they promise that oxygen masks will magically be deployed from the celling. I have never seen this happen for myself. I guess we just go on blind faith that they’re telling the truth. Then I heard her with new ears when she said, “Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”

In a real emergency, I’m presumably going to remember this one-sided conversation. I’m going to calmly sit (buckled) in my seat and wait patiently for supposed masks to drop from the celling. Then I will selfishly put mine on first while my child sits next to me gasping for air. Not likely. I’m pretty sure my nutty mom instincts would kick in and I would not only use mine, but steal the mask from the guy sitting next to me to make sure my kid has enough air. I’d probably yank down every mask in the vicinity, depriving a whole row of fellow passengers oxygen and pass out in the process. This securing of our own masks first business is counterintuitive to mothers.

Also, I’m terrible in emergencies.

The morning after we got home and the mornings since, my kids have woken up in the 4 o’clock range. Even if I could get them to go back to sleep for an hour or so, their little bodies are still on the Eastern Time Zone, and by bodies I mean bowels. Twice this week I’ve found my 2 year old in various states of undress at 4:30 am using the bathroom alone, which is nearly always disastrous. Each morning I’m jolted awake. Blurry eyed, I lurch through each day, putting out fire after fire until they collapse in bed for the night. I feel rushed and snappy and un-centered. I can’t seem to catch up. I can’t seem to catch my breath. I have not secured my own oxygen mask and I’m attempting to assist others.

Well meaning friends have said I need a little ‘me’ time. I need a glass of wine and some Honey Boo Boo. Maybe get my nails done or stare off into space for a couple of hours. True story: once when my firefighter husband was working a 72-hour shift I laid the kids in bed and sat down on the couch. I stared at the celling for what I thought was a minute or two thinking no thoughts making no plans. Just staring. I was so burnt out from the “whyyy mommm’s” and the “he looked at me’s” and the “I accidentally’s…” that I literally just stared at the celling. By the time I thought about 5-10 minutes had passed I looked at my watch. An hour and 15 minutes had gone by.

There is a deep and merciless exhaustion that accompanies parenting that makes one feel like no amount of rest will be sufficient. The truth is, no amount of staring at the paint on a celling or garbage T.V or booze or distractions can give us true rest. I don’t know very much but this much I know: God and God alone grants true soul rest.

Back in my childless days when I felt burnt out I would find some alone time to commune with God. I would sip my tea and read my Bible. I would journal. I would sometimes cry. I would be quiet and listen.

This used to be my primary mode of getting close with God. So you can imagine my dismay when I had kids and could not enter into God’s presence because it was never Quiet. So like millions of mothers before me, I have tried and failed and learned how to commune with God despite the chaos. I’m on a path to finding God in the noise. Instead of trying to get to Him by removing myself from the chaos I’m learning how to invite Him in. I’m not very good at it yet, since I’m just now at the point of seeing that it may be possible.

I have a (good or bad) habit of reading several books at a time. I don’t know why I do this as it can be very frustrating when I’m trying to relay something great I have read to another person and can’t for the life of me remember which book it came from. But then there are times when words and thoughts and ideas from several books merge to form a similar theme and teach me something wonderful.

Here is what I have been reading/ re-reading lately.

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In their own way, all of these books put an emphasis on embracing the duties of this life to commune with God; infusing the commonplace with His presence. In essence they describe spiritual breathing or, I’m coming to realize, what Jesus meant by abiding.

Abiding has always seemed to me to fall under the category of Things That God Calls Us To Do But We Will Never Really Be Able To Do.

Like, “Be perfect therefore as your heavenly father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

Or, “Pray without ceasing” 1Thessalonians 5:17

“Abide in Me and I will abide in you.” John 15:4

These verses ring of the impossible.

This is why I love the Jesus Calling devotional. It’s a daily reminder to turn to God in everything. It encourages a life based on deep dependence on God. If you’re hurting, ask God for help, if you’re joyful, rejoice with Him; acknowledge His presence in all things. Christianity gets boiled down to a simple, daily one on one conversation.

My copy of The Quotidian Mysteries (in case you had to look up ‘Quotidian’ too it means ‘commonplace/ordinary’) is so repeatedly underlined, I don’t dare give you more than one quote, “I have come to believe that the true mystics of the quotidian are not those who contemplate holiness in isolation, reaching godlike illumination in serene silence, but those who manage to find God in a life filled with noise, the demands of other people and the relentless daily duties that can consume the self.”

Ok, I thought I could stop, I can’t. One more, “Where people need assistance with the most basic tasks- breathing, eating, urinating, bathing- the holiness of ordinary acts is made most manifest. It is there at one extreme of human vulnerability, that we come to realize that all we customarily take for granted is truly a gift from God. The Christian faith also asks us to acknowledge that to shortchange these quotidian gifts is to reject God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ.”

Alright, and this last one doesn’t count, because she is technically quoting another author,

“Whatever you do repeatedly, has the power to shape you.”

Here’s what Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, says in Practicing the Presence of God,

“The souls eyes must be kept on God particularly when something is being done in the outside world.” And later,

“What could please God more than for us to leave the cares of the world temporarily in order to worship Him in our spirits? These momentary retreats serve to free us from our selfishness, which can only exist in the world.”

I also have a monastic cookbook with these cute little inspirational monk quotes on each recipe. From the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict (i.e. quote from my cookbook), “Idleness is an enemy of the soul. Therefore the brethren should be occupied at certain times in manual labor, and at other times in sacred reading. For they are truly monks when they live by the labor of their hands, as did our fathers and the apostles.”

The monastic way of life demands that monks do all kinds of kitchen duties and manual labor since monasteries are mostly self-supporting. Monks scrape dried cheerios (or the equivalent) off the floor. They scrub toilets. They pay bills. They do repetitive, boring, backbreaking work. But they invite God into it. They infuse the mundane with the Divine.

I feel this is as good a time as any to tell you, I sort of love monks.

There is a way to breathe God. There is a way to be close to God in all moments of the day. There is a way to allow ourselves to be renewed day-by-day, hour by hour moment-by-moment. There is a way to abide. That’s where I am right now. I realize I need to secure my own oxygen mask before I can assist anyone else in breathing. I see that it can be possible but can’t imagine how I’ll get there. I welcome your comments and thoughts both here on this blog and in person about your perception of abiding. You can also tell me books you’ve read that have inspired you, if you can remember what they are.

Plastic Bunnies

There was an incident in our house today that has caused me to question my parenting abilities in their entirety.  I’m still reeling from the events and not quite sure where I have gone wrong, but I assure you, it is under careful review.  

It all started with F calling from upstairs, “I need you.”

For you non-parents out there, allow me to give you a leg up on your peers.  In the parenting realm, there are two types of “I need you’s”.  One is a whine, usually deployed by an overwhelmed, over tired or over hungry child approximately every 30 seconds. This continues indefinitely until they eat, sleep or you prop them up in front of a television. They do not really need you when they do this.  They just like to hear the sound of their own voice making an extended “waaaaa” sound and timing how long it takes before you completely lose your marbles. 

The second “I need you” is usually a little too quiet and rings of deep sorrow.  In this instance, yes they need you, but the sorrow you hear is because they have decided to involve you in the problem much, much too late.

In between these two extremes is a large span of silence.  This silence can mean that the children are playing happily with blocks. It can also mean they have found a black sharpie and are coloring the dog with it.  Usually it is fairly harmless and requires moderate clean up.

When it’s the whiny, “I need you” I usually ignore it until lunchtime.  When its eerie silence, I go hunting for them and start sniffing for the smell of chocolate or opened paint cans.  When it’s the pathetic, “I need you”, I sprint. 

Since this was the latter, I took the stairs two at time to find my two middle children in my bathroom surrounded by a great cloud of white which turned out to be 1 ½ Costco sized reams of unrolled toilet paper.  My 5 year old, sitting half naked on my toilet said, “She (motioning to his 2 year old sister huddling behind the toilet seat giggling) unrolled the toilet paper and then dumped the bunnies in the toilet.” “What bunnies?” I asked. “The bunnies from the tic-tac-toe game” he offered.  I conjured up the imagery of the Target Dollar Spot tic-tac-toe game…got it. We are dealing with 9 small plastic bunnies.

I motioned for him to vacate the toilet seat to find several not quite solid poo’s floating in the water and nothing else. “Where. Are. The. Bunnies.” I hissed.  “I took them out” he said.  I thought about that for a few seconds while looking at the wet cuffs of his long sleeved t-shirt. Then the awful hit me. The awful question with an awful answer that has been haunting me since.  I bent down toilet/ face level with my 5 year old.  “Did you take the bunnies out of the toilet before or after you pooped in it?” “Hmm?” He said, as is often his response.  Its part of the family mission to cause me to repeat myself as often as possible in a 24-hour time span. “DID YOU take the BUNNIES out of the TOILET.  BEFORE.  OR AFTER. YOU POOPED IN IT.” “Oh,” he says, “After”. 

And that’s when everything I thought I did well as a parent went down the proverbial toilet.