November 23, 2011

Lessons on thanksgiving from a pile of laundry

At the end of the day I was exhausted. I spent the morning teaching my two kids. I spent the afternoon grading papers and answering e-mails and phone calls for my online job. In the evening I made dinner for company, did the dishes afterwards and started some laundry. It had been a full day and later that night, as I was lugging a load of laundry to the den to start folding, my internal dialogue began to unravel.

The kids are loud and messy. The house cannot stay clean. The laundry is never-ending. The dog sheds all year long. The husband can be inconsiderate. I have to work part time to stay home full-time. And after I teach the kids all morning, work at my job all afternoon, make and clean up dinner, I still have laundry to fold. The day is long and full of fires to squelch and by the time I get to bed each night I am exhausted.

Grumbling and complaining under my breath I began to fold the freshly washed clothing,  taking each piece out roughly. As I folded a little skirt my mind went back to the pain of infertility and the emptiness in my heart when I first learned we would not be able to conceive naturally. The little flowery dress reminded me of the wonder of a Friday five years ago when a tiny girl was placed in my arms by the social worker. A small pirate shirt brings me back to the night, a year and a half later, when the phone rang and we were told we had a son.

And as I folded these tiny items I began to smile.

I got to the big button down, collared shirts that I never iron and the polo shirts of every available color he owns and I remembered the coldest day of that December when I vowed to love him forever before many of our friends. I pondered how there is no such thing as a prince charming and that I don’t believe in soul mates, but how often I think if there ever was one absolutely perfect for me it would be him.

And I folded more gently.

I went back over the day I had just had. I remembered Isabel’s excitement at the new book she was able to read and Noah’s smile when I handed him his very first school book. I thought about the paycheck I get for such a stress-free job that keeps us from having to worry month to month. And I remembered the delicious dinner, the good conversation with a dear friend, and the gentle man who spent the evening bathing and putting the kids to bed so I could have a few moments of quiet in the kitchen, even if washing dishes.

What in the world do I have to complain about?

I stopped for a moment and considered this question. All the things I think I have a right to complain about are the very things the Lord has given me to be thankful for. I had forgotten what it would mean not to have those small, seemingly annoying daily frustrations: being alone, single, childless, jobless, friendless. Because relationships are messy and to have the rewards you also have to deal with the irritations and extra work they can bring.

But mostly what I forgot is that they are reciprocal. 

I can be difficult, unlovable, prone to temper. Beyond being thankful for the people God has placed in my life, I want to remember to be thankful that they want me in theirs, for I know many a day I have given them plenty of reasons to grumble.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear blog-friends!

November 21, 2011

On leaving the church

Every once in a while, when they find out I’m a pastor’s wife, new acquaintances ask me church-related questions. My favorite one is: how do I find a good church to attend? I like this question because it’s an easy one to answer. My philosophy is simple and it comes from almost a decade of observation as a pastor’s wife who is also a member of the congregation. Here is what I say:
You pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as you search for a church home. Then, when you find one where the Bible is preached and taught, that meets your family’s specific needs (children’s ministry, youth group, whatever your circumstances), where the people are loving and you feel God’s presence you stay and you stick to it.
It’s just not that complicated.
You stay and you work for the good of those people. You stay and you find out your role in that Body of Christ. You stay and you build relationships, open your heart to God’s teachings, and serve your brothers and sisters.
You stay and become a member of the family.
And you don’t leave.
You don’t leave because someone hurts your feelings because someone sometime will. You don’t leave because you didn’t like this event or that sermon because you won’t always. You don’t leave because there is better music or more dynamic preaching down the road because there will always be. You don’t leave because things are not being done your way because this is not about you alone.
And you don’t leave because people in your church are not afraid to lovingly and biblically point you in the right direction when you are headed down the wrong path. That’s what people who love you do: they care enough about your soul to risk your anger and point your sin out to you so that you can right your relationship with God.
That’s a church that is worth going to.
There is no such thing as a perfect church. Churches are made out of people with imperfect leaders and imperfect ideas. Looking for a perfect church will leave you wandering like the Israelites for forty years, never settling anywhere, never putting roots down. And you will wonder why you are as dry as the desert. We were never meant to do this alone. And church-hopping and church-shopping will only leave you lonely.  
So when you find a home you don’t leave lightly.
You leave if God calls you to help start a ministry somewhere else where there is a need. You leave if the Bible is no longer being upheld in word and action. You leave if your family’s needs change and that church can no longer accommodate them and you cannot help them start the ministries that would. You leave prayerfully and carefully for when you are gone that church is never the same without you. They have lost a valued, cherished, and important piece of their family. The Body hurts and grieves.
And if you choose to leave, you show respect to your pastor by letting him or her know. This is a person whose job is to worry about your spiritual and emotional well-being. And the good ones spend many hours thinking about you, praying for you, worrying about you, writing you an e-mail, taking you out to lunch, investing their lives on you.
Leaving without an explanation it is one of the most painful things you can do to your pastor.
He or she will wonder if there was a problem. He or she will worry that you simply quit going to church altogether. He or she will be heartbroken that the Body is no longer complete. You are not simply a face in the crowd to your pastor. He or she loves you. It is his or her calling to do so.
Leaving a church is not like changing grocery stores without telling the manager. If you respect your pastor as a person, as a friend, as a human being, take the time to let him or her know you are leaving, even if the conversation is difficult, even if you are leaving angry, even if it is uncomfortable for you. He or she will appreciate this simple act of closure, honor, and compassion.
It is the right thing to do.
I hope with my answer not only to help them understand the process of finding a Christ-community but also to give some insight on how painful loss is to a church as a congregation. Finding a church is important, but staying in one is even more critical to both a person’s spiritual growth and to the community in which they have chosen to enter.
On a side note the pastoral family feels the loss in a very personal way. That it is inevitable and part of ministry in a church, does not make it less painful. Some we had known were coming and we understood, some we had sensed were coming but still saddened us, some blindsided us, some baffled us. Some we felt we were sending out with our blessing to be lights in other communities and some we felt were in the best interest of all. Nonetheless, no matter the situation, we have never shrugged our shoulders and just let it go. We have always grieved and prayed for God’s grace in all situations.

Joining with Michelle:

And Jen:

November 15, 2011

What makes a mother?

Today I have the privilege of being a guest at Christy's place. She is One Fun Mom and she is doing a series called Baby Days with stories, advice, and encouragement for new moms. She asked me to write about my experience as a mom and I chose to highlight how we are all the same even as we are different...

I had a very short pregnancy with my first child. In fact, it was a three day pregnancy.
We received a phone call from the adoption agency on Tuesday and we brought Isabel home on Friday. A few weeks before that, when the last signature was placed, and the last document submitted, we were told the wait would be at least several months.
“We have time,” we thought.
But my wise sister-in-law gave us a car seat and said: “you just never know.
So a car seat is all we had that Tuesday night the social worker called and said, “there is a baby…”
Please click here to read the rest and visit Christy's place. 

November 9, 2011

But...what about their social skills?

Here is how this conversation usually goes:

-So, what year is Isabel in school now?

-She is in kindergarten. Isn’t that crazy?

-Oh, yes, they grow up so fast, don’t they? Is she liking school? Do you have her in a private Christian school?

-No, actually, I homeschool.

-Oh (said with a sad look). My sister/friend/neighbor/aunt/obscure relative homeschooled. My, those poor children had NO social skills!

Screeeeeech. Arrrrghhhh. Hiiiiiisssss. Sigh.

We went to a party not long ago where Isabel did not know many of the children. She knows just what to do, this social butterfly. She quickly approached a little girl and said: “Would you like to play with me? I’m Isabel.” The little girl looked at her, said nothing, and ran away. Isabel tried this a few more times with other little girls, with similar results, before finding a kindred spirit. I watched and thought: My child, the homeschooled one with NO social skills, knows how to approach a stranger and start a friendship.

Later that day there was a situation where a child accidentally pushed Isabel causing her to fall hard on the ground. The child who did the pushing walked away without apologizing or helping Isabel to get up. My tender-hearted child asked me why the little girl did not apologize. In our home this would not be tolerated behavior and she knew it. I tried to explain that in different homes different rules apply. A few minutes later I overheard her go up to the little girl who had pushed her and say: “You didn’t say you were sorry when you pushed me, but I forgive you.” A hug followed and I thought: My child, the homeschooled one with NO social skills, knows that not apologizing is not right and that we forgive nonetheless.

To say that a child has poor social skills BECAUSE they are homeschooled is a misconception. I taught public high school for many years and I met plenty of children who had been in regular schools all their lives and yet lacked the proper social skills to interact with peers and adults. As a former public school teacher and current homeschooling mom I have come to believe that the choice of schooling has no impact in the proper or improper socialization of children.

Honestly, I think that parental example and guidance are much more influential in how children learn to interact with other children and adults. Matt and I work hard not only at teaching Isabel how to develop and foster friendships but also at providing her with plenty of opportunities to be with other children and put her learning to work. School is not the only place where children can meet with other children. A traditional classroom is not the only place where they can be exposed to other adults as authority figures. It does take work and planning but having lots of friends with little children helps. My kids are sociable because I am sociable.   

The thing is, I’ve been thinking about what properly socialized means. I bet if I sent her to public school I will stop hearing stories about “lack of social skills” any time I have the schooling conversation. But will that mean she will then be properly socialized? Is a child properly socialized simply because they attend public school even if they don't know how to respond to a polite greeting or how to apologize to a friend they’ve hurt? Does properly socialized mean my daughter will blend in well with other five year olds having the same mannerisms, dress, and behavior both positive and negative?

I read an article not long ago in which a coach was asked about homeschooled children who want to join the public school teams. Here is what he had to say:

“Those kids are nothing but problems. They’re not socialized. We had one boy who wanted to go out for football because that’s something you really can’t do at home, and when he got to the locker room, the other kids found out he didn’t even know how to snap a towel or give a wedgie. That’s the problem with homeschooling.”

According to that coach properly socialized means learning to be as crude and as mean as the other children in that team. No, thanks. Properly socialized is about respect for others, self-confidence, social graces, and for those of us who call Christ our foundation, it is also about all that Do Unto Others and Love Your Neighbor encompasses. 

So, this momma will keep schooling her children at home, not only on math and language arts, but also on becoming the type of person who makes the world a little better, even if I have to hear a thousand more stories of children with NO social skills