because i said so


A few weeks ago our church moved into a new building and when we picked Asher up the teacher was telling us about the cool new stuff they would start the next week, including a video curriculum for the Bible story. I asked them for the name of the curriculum and if there was a way for me to watch it first. She told us and I was going to leave it at that but Jake then informed her that we don’t let Asher watch videos. I realized that we have become one of “those” parents – the weird ones. As we were talking about it on the way home I pointed out that, as Asher is potty-trained and we don’t leave Caroline in the nursery yet, they aren’t even aware that we cloth diaper. They are going to think we are REALLY weird when they find that out. I told Jake that I don’t feel weird, these things feel normal to me. But taken as a whole we are very weird people and I can see why it is a bit difficult for us to make friends.

  • We don’t own a TV. And I am very vigilant about limiting screen time for my kids when they are around smartphones etc.
  • Cloth diapers (which, for the record, I prefer over disposables – even if the cost was the same. Disposables stink and feel so…papery.)
  • No soda, except root beer or cream soda as a special treat. We pretty much drink only water, sometimes juice.
  • We put our kids to bed super early and make sure they have time to take solid naps.
  • We try to avoid licensed characters. When Asher needs a toothbrush or something I go to great lengths to find one that doesn’t have a “character” on it. Aside: I shouldn’t have to go to great lengths but unfortunately most toddler toothbrushes have Mickey or Thomas or Dora on them.
  • We’re debt free and actually have money in the bank. Even during times of unemployment.
  • I try to cook from scratch and avoid prepackaged things.
  • We buy used. Any time we need something, we check craigslist first. We have a stroller, a couch & loveseat set, a glider, and a sewing machine that were all purchased used. We only buy used cars. Our mattress, washer, and dryer are hand-me-downs, and everything else has been built by Jake from re-purposed wood.
  • We both try to stay physically active.
  • I will keep my kids rear-facing in the car until I can no longer find a carseat they will fit in.
  • Per WHO recommendations I hope/plan to nurse my babies around 2 years each.

So, lady, it’s not just that I expect you to actually teach and interact with my child instead of popping in a DVD (seriously. What is so difficult about teaching 2-year-olds? Tell them a short story, they will love it and it is so much better for them than watching a video!). Altogether these things make me, and us, pretty different from most of the people I know. I’m ok with that and I’m ok with the fact that you probably talk about us after we leave for rocking the boat. Looking over that list I totally sound like a hippie-granola but I like all of these things about me and my family. These things are comfortable and normal for me. And I think you’re the weird one for thinking a video curriculum for Bible stories is a good thing.

These are kinda tardy. Apparently it’s a bit more difficult to find time to write when you have to hope 2 kids nap at the same time.

Halloween:
I was walking in the neighborhood near our apartment just before Halloween and I was kinda appalled at the creepy decorations people use. The fall-theme stuff is fine – scarecrows, hay, leaves, and gourds – but I kept thinking how I wouldn’t want to take my kid trick-or-treating in an area with skeletons and witches and bloody-looking stuff everywhere. Some cultures have a “Day of the Dead” and you are supposed to honor your ancestors but American Halloween just seems so pointless. I know some Christians don’t like Halloween because of its pagan roots but I don’t really care about that. (I mean, the way we celebrate both Christmas and Easter have pagan influences but nobody seems upset by that. I’m not convinced Satan has much to do with fun-size chocolates.) What I do not understand is deliberately frightening small children. I remember this one time I went trick-or-treating with my dad and this one house had a guy sitting on his porch with a bucket of candy in his lap. He was sitting stock still so you couldn’t tell if he was real or a dummy. I thought he was probably real and planning to scare me so I asked my dad to go with me. He told me if I wanted the candy I had to go up there myself. So I went, they guy scared me, and my dad cracked up. It just seems like so much of Halloween stuff is intended for small children to be frightened and adults to enjoy their fright and – isn’t scaring someone for your own sport sort of the definition of bullying?

Politics:
Now that the #$&!@% election is over I just have to say…there is something really, really wrong about the political system in America. I have been really displeased with recent candidates for the “big” positions – with multi-million dollar campaign funds it seems like we are back to only allowing the wealthy elite into power and unfortunately wealthy elite are utterly unqualified to represent the common man. For example, one guy running for senator in Texas (in the primaries) had a platform that was basically “I am rich, vote for me.” Really? Having a lot of money does not qualify you to represent me; in fact, quite the opposite. I don’t think either mainline party has viable answers to what everyone perceives as our country’s problems; I tend to be Libertarian-minded but find many of their candidates to be underqualified. (Not that I want candidates who are career politicians – I don’t – but the Libertarian candidate for senator just got out of grad school. Like straight from high school to college to grad school, he just graduated. I would really like my representatives to have some real-world experience before they head off to Washington, you know?) Anyway I used to be super passionate about voting and stuff and I couldn’t understand why people would choose to not exercise their right to vote but I have grown very cynical of late. I was unexcited about either candidate running the country (it was a pipe dream but I really hoped Ron Paul would get the Republican* nomination) and only decided at the last minute to vote. Actually the main reason I wanted to vote was I thought there was going to be a school voucher issue on the ballot but there wasn’t, which I was upset about. Since I was going to vote on the vouchers I figured I may as well fill in the rest of the ballot and honestly for President I viewed it as voting for an economic system rather than a person. I know I am kind of weird but I’m not that odd – I don’t think it bodes well for the future of our country when people my age and younger are disengaging from the political process.

And people are SO ANNOYING about their political beliefs. Ugh. Two behaviors that really irk me are 1. assuming that being a Christian means you have to vote a particular way and 2. being super-political on Facebook and then a week or two before the election saying you’re tired of “all the rhetoric” and quitting Facebook until after it’s over. Um…you were part of the problem and the reason some of us just plain avoided Facebook for like 2 months. This is one of many, many things I hate about Facebook. That’s another post entirely.

*For the record I don’t really consider myself a Republican. Republicans, Libertarians, and even a Democrat all got bubbles filled in on my ballot. I just heart Ron Paul.

Princesses:
In keeping with the theme of Caroline’s quilt, I saw this on a blog I read. I may have gotten a little choked up over it. I really hope I can raise my daughter without the diva attitude associated with being a princess…but I hope she knows these things about herself.

We had the privilege this week of seeing yet another friend we haven’t seen in AGES. Years and years. He’s in the military and moved away a few years before we moved to France, although I think we saw him a few times before we left. Anyway, in the intervening years, he married and we hadn’t met his wife. But they were in town this past week and we met for lunch and had a great time catching up (or meeting, as the case may be).

We discussed how living somewhere different and meeting people with different perspectives changes you and how you see God. Jake & I told them how we had (are still having) a very difficult time relating to church people after we returned, that they kept offering trite clich├ęs and churchy advice that just didn’t help. When we were facing a deadline to move out of our last available housing, with no idea where to go, one guy told us, “Well, that’s great! You know God will give you an answer by then.” I just stared at him. Because I did NOT know that. Maybe I’m missing it in the fine print or something, but nowhere in my Bible does it say that God owes me anything. He does not owe me a place to live. He does not owe me food. He does not owe me life, or health, or answers to all my pressing questions. He is not indebted to me in any way.

I think people were trying to encourage us with this idea that God is somehow obligated to provide for His followers. I guess that might be comforting for some people, to believe that God “has to” do something for them, that He is somehow forced to meet their needs. I don’t buy that. I think it’s a very little view of God. I mean, I know there are verses that say God provides…but you have to look at the whole thing, not just a few pretty verses. Let’s look at Job, an entire book. Here is a guy who’s done everything right, so God should definitely be obligated to take care of him…but no. Everything he has is destroyed – not just “my house burned down so I don’t have my photo albums anymore” but like all his kids died. And God allowed his own health to be wrecked. Things never got that bad for us – at least we were all still alive and healthy, no oozing boils to speak of – so really we should be pretty grateful for what we DID have. Like a car to live in if all else failed.

Then there’s Paul. He got off to a rocky start but after that he was like a Christian rock star, God should definitely take care of him…but he spent the rest of his life going from prison to shipwrecks to beatings to stonings to prison to shipwrecks to whippings and so on, until (according to tradition) he got his head chopped off. Somehow God didn’t owe him food or a blanket in prison, but He owes me living quarters that include central air conditioning? I think not.

I know I’ve written about this some before, I’ve just been thinking more about it lately and trying to process my anger over it – anger toward both God and other people. I may not have bought into the idea that God owed me a place to live, or reliable income, but I did buy into the idea that He owed me an explanation for it. (Another churchy platitude – God allows trials in your life to comfort others.) I mean, that is actually in the Bible, I just think it’s been churchified. If my kids died like Job’s, I don’t have a Mickey Mouse hip* what God wants to do with that in the future, I would be really pissed at Him – and anyone who tried to comfort me by telling me I could help other grieving parents down the road. Who cares about that? The point is, He doesn’t owe me an explanation for that season in our lives any more than He owed me a way out.

He wasn’t less God when all 7 of Job’s kids died. He wasn’t less God when Paul was getting 39 lashes…again. And He isn’t less God if I don’t have a home. My circumstances may not be what I want but they have no effect on His abilities – just because He doesn’t do what I want doesn’t mean He’s not capable of it. And He’s not accountable to me to explain why He does (or doesn’t do) the things He does.

*One of Jake’s friends in France said that once. He was trying to say “give a rat’s ass.”

My sister just sent me a link to Half Price Book’s Tournament of Villains. So fun! (Is basketball this much fun for people? I just don’t get it. I even like football, I’m not opposed to organized and/or professional sports or even college sports, basketball is just totally lost on me.)

I think it will come down to Vader vs. Voldemort. What say you?

First, I would like to point out that I have managed to make this “30 day” thing last longer than a year. I am awesome at procrastinating.

Second, I was going to make a new playlist for Jake, because that’s kind of a nice thing to do for someone, but I never got around to finishing it…uh, see above. So this is one I made for him this past summer, back when we were homeless and had no idea what the future held and he was spending a lot of time driving to and from contract/freelance jobs so he would have something to listen to. So they’re all related to uncertainty, or a difficult time, or questions one might want to ask God when He appears to be shirking His duty while trying desperately to believe that He is good.

You’re supposed to also say why you chose the songs so I have included a brief-ish excerpt or explanation for each. (Don’t judge me! I haven’t had much money for music since like 2002 so most of this is old.)

  • “You Did Not Have a Home” by Rich Mullins. Because we did not have a home.
  • “Let It Be Me” by Ray LaMontagne. “For every door you open, seems like you get two slammed in your face…Pockets full of nothin’, ain’t got no cash…You feel like you’d give anything for just a little place you can call your own”
  • “I’m Not Alright” by Sanctus Real. The title pretty much sums it up. And we discovered that most people are pretty intimidated when you say stuff like that.
  • “Next Age” by Stavesacre. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick with desperation/And we’ve had enough for a lifetime.”
  • “I Feel So” by Boxcar Racer. “I feel so mad, I feel so angry…so lost, confused”
  • “Trouble” by Ray LaMontagne. “Feels like every time I get back on my feet she come around and knock me down again…worry is my only friend”
  • “Walk” by By The Tree. Because that song makes me think of Camino (Jake used it on our slideshow (warning! for some reason he included a video of me draining a blister)), and this era in our lives was a spiritual Camino.
  • “Why Georgia” by John Mayer. “So what, so I’ve got a smile on/But it’s hiding the quiet superstitions in my head…Am I living it right?”
  • “Hard to Get” by Rich Mullins. I think this is perhaps the bravest song ever. I won’t put any lines because the whole song is exactly what I would say, if I was poetic.
  • “Aslan” by Kendall Payne. “Lay down your layers, shed off your skin/But without his incision you can’t enter in/He cuts deep, yes he cuts deep…but never leaves a wounded one behind/He won’t say the words you wish that he would/He don’t do the deeds you know that he could/He won’t think the thoughts you think that he should/But he is good, he is good.”
  • “Good” by Bleach. “My heart is bare/There’s not much there/But I believe you’ve given me more than I could know/And I know this/You are good”
  • “Your Love is Strong” by Jon Foreman. “I look out the window, the birds are composing/Not a note is out of tune or out of place/I walk to the meadow and stare at the flowers/Better dressed than any girl on her wedding day/So why should I worry? why do I freak out?/God knows what I need, You know what I need”
  • “Vision of You” by Shane & Shane. Basically begging Jesus to show up.
  • “Be Near” by Shane & Shane. Same idea as above…”Your nearness is to us our good.”
  • “Hold Me Jesus” by Rich Mullins. “The mountains look so big, and my faith just seems so small.”
  • “Yearn” by Shane & Shane. Wanting to want Him when you don’t. (Aside: it appears the Shanes have become the new Rich Mullins(es), no?)
  • “Waiting Room” by Shane Barnard. “I will trust when You don’t seem real…Lord, I know if I change my mind/You will change my heart in time/Sovereign Lord, this time’s from You/So I sit in the waiting room of silence”
  • “Better Days” by Robbie Seay. Here come better days! (I mean, there were only a few ways it could get worse.)
  • “The Best I Can” by The Normals. “This is not what I thought I had been praying for/But this is what I have been given/I will make the best I can.” One of my very favorite lines.
  • “Sometimes by Step” by Rich Mullins. If you are a real Christian you pretty much have to put this song on a playlist.
  • “You are Good” by Nichole Nordeman (and Erin O’Donnell). “When it’s dark and it’s cold and I can’t feel my soul/You are so good/When the world has gone gray and the rain’s here to stay/You are still good”
  • “Lifeboat” by The Elms. “When I can’t swim, You are a lifeboat”
  • “Gratitude” by Nichole Nordeman. “Daily bread, give us daily bread/Bless our bodies, keep our children fed…But maybe not, not today/Maybe you’ll provide in other ways/And if that’s the case we’ll give thanks to you/With gratitude” A very difficult thing to pray.
  • “Over Now” by Needtobreathe. “This time is just a season…Lift up your head, look out the window/’Cause it’s almost over now/Take back the time your fear has stolen/’Cause it’s almost over now”
  • “New Day” by Robbie Seay. “And I know it might seem/That the world is crumbling/But it’s me and you dancing in the kitchen at 2 a.m./And we’re still alive/And it might not be/The prettiest thing that you’ll ever see/But it’s a new day”

So there you have it. Don’t get your hopes up – several of the remaining prompts are completely stupid so I may not finish. And no, that doesn’t bother me.

I was reminded this past week of an unfortunate event that took place in our area earlier this year. The original idea was grand – shoes would be donated for extremely poverty-stricken children in Central America. And some artsy people would decorate shoes and “auction” them and the proceeds would be sent to these children.

Then the event’s vision and purpose was re-directed. Instead of sending the actual shoes, all the donated shoes would be auctioned and the money would go to purchasing shoes locally for the children (this is a great idea, to support the local economy). Except…the idea became really muddled. I visited a women’s small group just before this event and was dismayed to learn that it was a crafting day for them. I am not opposed to crafting in general; I just don’t do it. Because I suck at it. Anyway so some of the ladies’ daughters had a party to “decorate” these shoes for the event, and this small group session was dedicated to “fixing” the “decorated” shoes. Basically you had a bunch of scuzzy flip flops with rhinestones and bows hot-glued on, with an ungodly amount of glittery puff paint. (Let me be clear: any amount of puffy paint is ungodly. Any amount of glitter is ungodly. Glittery puff paint is, by definition, ungodly.) And one of the moms cheerfully reassured us that “All the shoes that aren’t ‘bought’ (because let’s face it, some of these won’t be bought) will be donated to poor people here!” and I was utterly aghast because THESE SHOES WERE AWFUL. Awful, awful, awful. They were ugly and old and dirty…and that was before the rhinestones.

And you know what? Poor people deserve better than that. Because they are PEOPLE. And if you wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of shoes, you and your mother should be ashamed that you would even consider dumping them off on the less fortunate. Poor women want to be pretty just as much as rich ones, they just choose (hopefully) to feed their kids instead of reveling in the heavenly goodness of cashmere. Just after high school I participated in a tornado relief effort and part of that was sorting donations. And I almost threw up – which is saying something, I have a fairly sturdy digestive system – at some of the things people would donate. Like, disco outfits. IT WAS THE YEAR 2000. Disco had been dead for quite some time. But the worst, the absolute worst, was the used underwear. There I was, 17 or 18, with a few part-time jobs and fully cognizant of how scarce money can be at times…and I was furious that people would take underwear off their unwashed bodies and put them in a bag to donate. For just a few dollars, you can buy a 6-pack of underwear at Wal-Mart. Even I, at 17, could afford that.

It is disgusting to me that anybody – but ESPECIALLY Christians – think that recipients should be grateful for an item for the mere reason that they didn’t have it before. “Well, they should be grateful to get these worn-out shoes with rhinestones hot-glued everywhere, because they don’t have any shoes.” Shoes that incite shame are not much of an improvement over no shoes. Your attitude should be more like, “Well, I shudder to think of putting these on my feet so I can only imagine that everyone else would be just as horrified to wear them. Instead, I’ll give something I would like to receive.” If you are going to give to the poor, or a disaster relief effort, imagine that your best friend’s house just burned down and they have nothing. Now you may go to Wal-Mart, or Target, or wherever, and pick out the underwear and socks you would get for your friend who has none. If you are too good to shop at Wal-Mart or would be embarrassed for your friend to think/know that you shop at Wal-Mart, then go wherever you would go to clothe your friend in need. I don’t think God is very impressed when we say “Oh, I’ll get this to give away because it’s so cheap” (I have overheard some of this as people purchase things to donate for Christmas). But He probably IS happy when we say, “I would have LOVED to get this toy as a kid – heck, I would still love to get it – so I’ll get this one for my Christmas kid instead of the thing that costs $2 and will probably break before you can get all those maddening twisty-ties off it.”

Donating should be giving a gift. If you’re not proud enough of something to wrap it up and give it to someone who knows you, someone with a face and a name, then you have no business donating it to a poor family at Christmas. And if you are a Christian, you are called to give good gifts – because God gives good gifts, and you’re supposed to be trying to be like Him. Please don’t give trash to people and think you’re being generous and participating in “the spirit of the season,” and PLEASE don’t say you’re doing it in honor of Jesus.

Today Jake & I visited a new church in the area. I was ok with it until the pastor went off on a tangent about missions. He said he did not believe in “short-term mission trips” here and there, scattered, but instead believes a church should adopt an area and go back, year after year, to build relationships with the people and pastors and educators and so forth. I fully support that. He said the church hadn’t picked an area yet, but he suspected it would be a certain South American country, because there is a church of that nationality that meets on their campus, and that would be a fantastic resource for them: these people would know their way around, would have connections, and could teach them the language. I started to get concerned, because if a church body hasn’t agreed on something like this a pastor doesn’t have any business announcing his personal opinion from the pulpit. That’s cause for “discipline” in an elder-led church. But then he said, very passionately, “And we’re not gonna go to the Southlake [wealthy] area! We’re gonna go to the poorest part, to some hellhole where people need the gospel…” and I checked out. Because I was PISSED. OFF.

Somehow American Christians have bought into this idea that working among the poor is somehow more noble, more spiritual, than working among the middle class, or the wealthy. Maybe it’s the modern Protestant version of penance, I don’t know. Or maybe we just flipped what the church was doing in James, and are now showing preference to the poor – which is still sin. But there’s this idea that poor people need Jesus more than rich ones, and so those who give up everything to go live in an inner city – or, even more impressively, a slum – are doing more for God’s kingdom than my friends who are struggling to make ends meet in the suburbs. Where, I would point out, God has clearly placed them, at least for now. This theme of “go join the poor” is popular at their church too, and every time someone says something to the effect of “If you’re not living in the ghetto you’re not in God’s will” they’re like, “BUT WHAT IF GOD CALLS YOU TO THE SUBURBS?” What will happen there when the salt and light flees for a more hip locale?

I don’t think it’s bad to go to a poverty-stricken area, either for repeated short-term trips or for a lifetime – but if you are doing it because you think that somehow the souls of the poor matter more to Jesus than the souls of the rich, then I would strongly suggest you reconsider because it looks suspiciously like you are trying to earn greater favor with God, to rack up more brownie points by doing something “difficult,” or because you get more points for a poor person’s salvation. And I also think that picking a place for your church to partner with based solely on its level of poverty looks suspiciously like poverty tourism.

While we’re on the subject of things being “difficult,” I submit that a “hellhole,” as this pastor so eloquently put it, may in fact be an easier mission field than one where people do not have such visible, pressing needs. When you are locked in a daily struggle for food – and I mean ANY food, not just getting a store to triple your coupon – someone coming along and telling you that the Almighty God cares about you and can provide for your needs, that sounds really appealing. (And on a side note: trusting God to provide one’s physical needs does not, in fact, constitute salvation. I am merely saying when life is physically difficult, you are acutely aware that you need all the help you can get.) But when someone is perfectly able to meet their own needs, thankyouverymuch, you are faced with the problem of convincing them of their spiritual poverty. When someone literally lives in a garbage dump, I would assume they have a better framework for understanding “This is how you are on the inside, without Jesus” than the guy who has a flatscreen and a car that gives him directions and a phone that can tell him what clothes to wear based on the weather forecast. How do you explain spiritual destitution to someone with a thousand channels in their cable package and some horrifyingly expensive reds in their custom wine rack?

(Note: I am by no means demeaning mission work in impoverished areas. I am trying to illustrate that different types of mission efforts are difficult in different ways. Working among the poor might be physically difficult but spiritually rewarding, while working among the more wealthy might be physically easy but spiritually difficult. Jesus Himself said, after meeting with the rich young man, that it is particularly difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. But He also loved the young man, and He also said that it IS possible – even for the wealthy – to enter God’s kingdom.)

Yes, people who live in a hellhole need the gospel. But so do people who live in expensive apartments. And so do people who have 74 acres in the country, and so do members of the royal family, and so do single moms, and so do your next door neighbors…it’s everyone. We will all be equally empty-handed when we stand before God. All people need the gospel, and their income doesn’t change the value of their souls.

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