Saturday, December 31, 2011

Most Popular Posts of the Year: #3 Multitudes on Monday

For the next few days, I will be posting 10 most popular Flathead Mama posts of the year.  I would like to invite you to take this chance to catch up on a good buzz-worthy post that you may missed.  Please also drop a comment on the original post.  I'd love to continue the conversation.  If you found a post particularly useful to you, I'd love your help to get the word out about Flathead Mama: copy and paste the link and post to your Facebook page, Twitter about it, or post to a Pinterest profile.  

Thanks and enjoy!
Interestingly enough, my #3 post of the year was one of my weekly Multitudes on Monday posts.  I'm not completely sure what made this particular post so compelling, unless it was references to the famine in Somalia.  Or perhaps, less seriously, this was a week when I actually remembered to link up with Ann Voskamp's blog (ha!).  Either way, you can learn more about why I write a weekly list of blessings in my life as I work on cultivating a life of thankfulness here.

Most Popular Posts of the Year: #4 BBQ Pulled Pork Pizza

For the next few days, I will be posting 10 most popular Flathead Mama posts of the year.  I would like to invite you to take this chance to catch up on a good buzz-worthy post that you may missed.  Please also drop a comment on the original post.  I'd love to continue the conversation.  If you found a post particularly useful to you, I'd love your help to get the word out about Flathead Mama: copy and paste the link and post to your Facebook page, Twitter about it, or post to a Pinterest profile.  

Thanks and enjoy!
As you know, I am a food lover!  One of the great joys of living in the Flathead Valley has been the opportunity to sample so many wonderful tastes at our restaurants and festivals and farmer's markets all year long.  In my most popular food post, I post a simple recipe for BBQ Pulled Pork Pizza, a combination I ate for the first time not here but in Grand Forks, ND at Rhombus Guys Pizza.  I loved it and I think you will too!

Most Popular Posts of the Year: #5 A Toddler CAN Get Something Out of Church

For the next few days, I will be posting 10 most popular Flathead Mama posts of the year.  I would like to invite you to take this chance to catch up on a good buzz-worthy post that you may missed.  Please also drop a comment on the original post.  I'd love to continue the conversation.  If you found a post particularly useful to you, I'd love your help to get the word out about Flathead Mama: copy and paste the link and post to your Facebook page, Twitter about it, or post to a Pinterest profile.  

Thanks and enjoy!
 The #5 most popular post of the year shared lots of tips on taking your toddler to church.  I'm a big believer in the value of having your kids in church next to you, instead of relegated to children's church or the church nursery.  I think the teaching power of seeing Mom and Dad actively worshiping in church is very important.  It communicates to the kids that Mom and Dad think this is important--not that they just say it's important.  But bringing a toddler to church introduces its' own challenges.  People are always telling me how exhausting it is to haul their kids to church and how tough it is to keep them calm.  I'm with you, tired Moms and Dads...I'm in the trenches too.  It is exhausting some days.  But I really think it's worth it.  And I hope this post helps provide some tips.

P.S. If you're worried about your little one's noise at church, older folks are always telling me how much they love those baby and toddler sounds.  A church without them sounds a bit lonely.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Most Popular Posts of the Year: #6 How I Came to be a Stay-at-home Mommy in Montana

For the next few days, I will be posting 10 most popular Flathead Mama posts of the year.  I would like to invite you to take this chance to catch up on a good buzz-worthy post that you may missed.  Please also drop a comment on the original post.  I'd love to continue the conversation.  If you found a post particularly useful to you, I'd love your help to get the word out about Flathead Mama: copy and paste the link and post to your Facebook page, Twitter about it, or post to a Pinterest profile.  

Thanks and enjoy!
The #6 most popular post this year was my very first post: How I Came to Be a Stay-at-Home Mommy in Montana.  In this post, I write about my story of burnout in the pastorate, struggle with the early years of parenting and working, insomnia, depression, the longing to be home with my daughter and the inability to do so...until we came to Montana.  It was not only one of your favorite posts, but it was one of my favorites as well.  I wrote it on the brink of finding healing, having just moved here.  I marvel as I look back at how far I have come in a year.

Most Popular Posts of the Year: #7 The Berenstain Bears and Father as Dunce

For the next few days, I will be posting 10 most popular Flathead Mama posts of the year.  I would like to invite you to take this chance to catch up on a good buzz-worthy post that you may missed.  Please also drop a comment on the original post.  I'd love to continue the conversation.  If you found a post particularly useful to you, I'd love your help to get the word out about Flathead Mama: copy and paste the link and post to your Facebook page, Twitter about it, or post to a Pinterest profile.  

Thanks and enjoy!
In my #7 most popular post of the year, I take on a popular children's series of books (The Berenstain Bears) and confront its portrayal of Papa Bear as a dummy.  Yes, we still read the series in our house, because it does teach a lot of good values, but I am seriously critical of the idea that the man of the house has to be the comic relief.  A lot of you agreed with me and I still regularly get hits on my blog from people seeking someone with the same viewpoint.  I'd love to hear your recommendations of children's books that portray a strong, healthy father figure.

Most Popular Posts of the Year: #8 Anniversary

For the next few days, I will be posting 10 most popular Flathead Mama posts of the year.  I would like to invite you to take this chance to catch up on a good buzz-worthy post that you may missed.  Please also drop a comment on the original post.  I'd love to continue the conversation.  If you found a post particularly useful to you, I'd love your help to get the word out about Flathead Mama: copy and paste the link and post to your Facebook page, Twitter about it, or post to a Pinterest profile.  

Thanks and enjoy!
The #8 most popular post this year: anniversary.  In this post, I wrote about my 6th anniversary with my husband, about our love story, and about how our love has grown and deepened over the years.  He is truly a gift to me!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

top book recommendations of 2011

This year has been a year of voracious reading (thank you, Flathead Library!).  I’ve always appreciated the recommendations of other serious readers, so I would like to share with you my top book recommendations from a year of reading…

The Hunger Games—This Young Adult novel by Suzanne Collins was one of the most capturing, can't-put-it-down books I read this year.  The plot is mesmerizing, dark and troubling—and yet not too explicit (not a single curse word or sex scene), owing to its status as a YA book.

In case you have been living in a cave and don’t know the story: Katniss Everdeen lives in the apocalyptic world of Panem, in District 12.  To punish the people of Panem for past revolts, each year their rulers of the Capitol draw two names of tweens/teens from each district.  The youths chosen are entered in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to-the-death competition.  Each Hunger Games leaves only one survivor. 

When Katniss’ little sister, Prim’s, name is drawn, she self-sacrificially volunteers to take her place.  Meanwhile, Peeta, a local boy who has been in love with Katniss for years is also chosen.  He must go into the Games against the girl who he loves.  Oh, the tension!  Katniss’ love for Prim and Peeta’s love for Katniss form a stark contrast to their world of senseless violence.  The twists and turns in the plot are constant.  But the real pull of the story is the constant moral dilemmas thrust before the characters.  For me, the plot called to mind current reality TV with its shameless embrace of entertainment at the cost of emotional violence to others (see The Bachelor or Big Brother, for instance).  Might our own culture one day turn to killing as entertainment as well (the ancient Romans did)?  The Real Housewives suicide this year may be the start.

I also read the next two books in the Trilogy: Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games) and Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, Book 3) and while they were very good, neither captured me as much as The Hunger Games.  I am eagerly anticipating the movie and think (despite the critics) that Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect actress to play Katniss.  If you have seen  her scrappy, tough performance in Winter's Bone you know why. 

Once Upon a River: A Novel—The great American novel finds its home with author Bonnie Jo Campbell.  In her captivating central character, Margo Crane, we have a female Huck Finn, voyaging down the river as she grows into her own skin and comes of age. 

I had the pleasure of seeing Bonnie Jo Campbell speak this year at Missoula’s Festival of the Book.  She said that in a previous book Margo Crane had been a side character, but her character was the one people (especially men!) were always asking about: a beautiful, silent teenage girl who lived a hardscrabble life on the river, trapped animals, and was a perfect shot with a rifle (in retrospect, she reminds me in spirit of the fierce Katniss Everdeen).

Margo’s father is killed in an act of violence related to her molestation by an uncle, so she flees from her family on a small boat on the Stark River of Michigan, taking off to look for her mother.  Along the way, she meets a variety of men who all fall in love (or in lust) with her.  Margo is a sad character in all she has had to endure, but a courageous one in her ability to survive and her imperviousness to the pressure to be anything but herself.  Yet, she is locked in a world of silence and utterly bereft of community.  Finally, the person who helps bring her out of her shell somewhat is an unlikely friend: a crusty old codger in a wheelchair, elderly and dying.  This book called to mind Winter's Bone for me as well; it must be the year of the fierce heroine in literature and film.  Once Upon a River is an American masterpiece worthy of re-reading over and over. 

Room: A Novel—In this dread-filled, tenderness-infused novel by Emma Donoghue, our narrator is the 5-year old son of an abduction victim and her abductor.  It reminded me of the Jaycee Duggard story and brilliantly portrayed the power of a mother’s love in the midst of the worst of circumstances.  Despite my worries that the five year old voice would be gimmicky, instead I found it an effective way to communicate innocence and gentleness in the midst of a savage situation.  And the biggest surprise of the book was the way the drama actually heated up once the tiny family was rescued.  Unforgettable.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks—In 1951, a poor black woman from the south named Henrietta Lacks died from aggressive cervical cancer at the age of 30.  Without her consent, cells were taken from her tumor, named HeLa by scientists, and reproduced over and over again.  They were the first immortal cells ever grown, and they still exist, used in countless scientific experiments over the years.  Not only were their impact on research immense, but the vast number of cells boggles the mind: enough to weigh 50 million metric tons.  But the unknowing donor of all of these cells is buried in an unmarked grave and no one from her family ever benefited from the large sums of money her cells yielded.

Rebecca Skloot brings together Henrietta’s story, her family’s story, and modern-day medical science’s story in a captivating mix.  I felt the real pathos and pain that the neglect of Henrietta’s wishes and of her family brought.  I was perhaps most touched by the friendship that developed between Skloot and Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah.  And I was brought to wonder and worry about what is being done with my information and cell matter without my consent, even in this day of medical advancement.

Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness—This first-rate historical psychological profile by Joshua Shenk is a few years old, but it was influential enough in my thinking this year that it got its own blog post about the impact of depression on leadership and accomplishment.  I was deeply encouraged by this hero of history, who allowed his deep inner troubles to mold him into greatness.  I appreciated the opportunity to see Lincoln through the course of his life and how his reaction to depression changed, although the depression itself did not really go away permanently.  Every person who has battled depression should read this book.

A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness—This book by Nassir Ghaemi was partially based on Shenk’s book; Ghaemi and Shenk are reportedly friends.  I actually found Lincoln’s Melancholy to be the better book; it contained far more research, depth, and ability to analyze its own argument from the other side than did A First-Rate Madness.  However, this is still an important book.

Ghaemi’s thesis is that in trying times (such as our own), we need leaders who are a little “different,” leaders who suffer from moderate mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder.  He says that the empathy, resilience, and realism found in depressives and the creativity and imperviousness to criticism found in bipolar individuals are especially well-suited leadership traits for times of crisis.  By contrast, he suggests that the emotionally balanced individual is best suited for national seasons of peace.  I found his argument fascinating and wondered what it suggested for the current presidential race; after all, if we were to follow Ghaemi’s thesis, we should seek out leaders like Newt Gingrich or possibly even Ron Paul (surely the most creative of the candidates). 

While I am encouraged by Ghaemi’s argument, I also find myself questioning it and wishing he had provided more self-critique.  Just as a leader who is mentally “off-balance” may provide unique solutions in trying times, he or she may also blow up a government.  I didn’t find the analysis of what made a Lincoln different from a Hitler ultimately meaningful or helpful.  However, what I did find helpful was this unique way of looking at leadership, as well as Ghaemi’s questioning of what the “mental normalcy” really counts for anyway.  For example, if a person is optimistic to the point of being unrealistic about the challenges ahead, he or she may be labeled “normal,” while a depressive who sees with realism would be labeled “not normal.”  Ghaemi questions whether our labels are ultimately helpful and I think he makes an excellent point that another look should be taken at what constitutes normalcy.

This book is flawed but its argument is important enough and stayed with me enough that I still include it in my list of most recommended books from the past year.

A Stolen Life: A Memoir—I was both dreading and looking forward to reading this account of abduction and life in captivity by Jaycee Duggard.  Although the stories of sexual abuse, neglect, manipulation, and abject loneliness are horrifying and nauseating, I was left with admiration for a new hero.  I cannot imagine how this young woman managed to survive, managed to love and raise two daughters, managed to simply raised her head each day.  But she did.  She is a model of resilience and toughness with a tender, gentle heart.  This book is raw and honest and sorrowful...but most of all, it is brave.  Powerful reading for anyone who has suffered adversity., but especially those who have suffered abuse.  I particularly appreciated her honesty about her ongoing recovery.  Her survival is a triumph of uncommon resilience and bravery.

Brave Girl Eating: A Family's Struggle with Anorexia—This book is a mother’s account of her daughter’s battle with anorexia.  It opened my eyes to what it is like inside anorexia.  Harriet Brown’s descriptions are vivid and empathetic.  The book helped me to understand that the anorexic is actually obsessed with food, desperately wanting to eat, but absolutely terrified to do so.  As someone who has struggled with other irrational anxieties and compulsions, I think I can empathize with the heart of what this disorder is about.  And as a mother I can also empathize with the fear and anger when something is ripping apart your beloved child.  Despite the fearful descriptions of anorexia, this book provides a lot of hope.  Although anorexia will always be something Kitty (Harriet Brown's daughter) struggles with, recovery is possible and her daughter has already experienced a lot of it.  The Browns come to find family-based treatment is most effective for their daughter and the information they provide would be immeasurably helpful to any family who has a loved one struggling with this disorder.  I also wish that every pastor, counselor and teacher would read this book.  I would highly recommend it to any family who needs advice now about a child who is wasting away before their eyes.

Christian Books
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are—I would describe this book as life-changing and I have written at length about the effect it had on my life.  As you know, I participate in the Multitudes on Monday blog link-up and share weekly the blessings God has given me.  What I appreciated most about this book was that it was not a sunny Pollyannish volume of glib answers.  Ann Voskamp has suffered and suffered big—losing a sister as a child, battling depression.  She has banged hard into the questions that life brings us and the whys that we bring to God.  And that is why her poetic revelations about thanksgiving are so meaningful.  She has “been there and done that.”  We can trust her.  I got a copy of this book for Christmas and I plan to mark it up and read it over and over.

Boundaries with Kids: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Children—This is another older book, but it was the best book I read on parenting last year, so I had to include it.  After confronting disappointing parenting books that focused overly on spanking and Biblical proof-texting (as opposed to a broad Biblical view of parenting), this book was a breath of fresh air.  It provided strong and helpful guidance from the big-picture view of parenting.  It helped me to reinforce some core convictions I already had about parenting (such as the idea that the pain of discipline may hurt but is not ultimately harmful).  I think spanking might have been mentioned in passing but it did not figure prominently in the book and other discipline methods were emphasized far more.

Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader's Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line (Focus on the Family Books)—This account of a Planned Parenthood clinic director’s journey to conversion and embrace of the pro-life movement should shape the future of pro-life activism.  Abby Johnson emphasizes the importance that the loving prayer and witness of Christians had on her conversion.  There was also divine intervention: a kairos moment when her eyes were opened to see the reality of what abortion is.  But without the loving witness of Christians, she would have had nowhere to go when she decided to leave Planned Parenthood.  She emphasizes the importance of showing caring concern for one’s adversaries on the other side of the abortion fence.  Those who carried placards of aborted fetuses only drove her deeper into the pro-choice movement.  But those who deeply cared for her and tried to do all they could to help her made a life-changing difference.  I also very much appreciated Johnson’s gracious recognition that so many of the people who work at Planned Parenthood are compassionate people who care about women and want to make a difference.  This is vastly different from the caricatures often painted of clinic workers in conservative circles.  I appreciated Johnson’s acknowledgment of positive motives, even if the actions are unwise and finally harmful. 

Well, that’s it for me.  Undoubtedly when I post this list, I will realize that I have forgotten a very important book somewhere down the line!  But to the best of my ability, these are my most recommended books from last year’s reading.  Please join in the conversation and share your recommendations as well in the comments section below!

Most Popular Posts of the Year: #9 From 331 to 231 Pounds

For the next few days, I will be posting 10 most popular Flathead Mama posts of the year.  I would like to invite you to take this chance to catch up on a good buzz-worthy post that you may missed.  Please also drop a comment on the original post.  I'd love to continue the conversation.  If you found a post particularly useful to you, I'd love your help to get the word out about Flathead Mama: copy and paste the link and post to your Facebook page, Twitter about it, or post to a Pinterest profile.  

Thanks and enjoy!

This year, my husband passed a milestone in his journey of weight loss, a journey which he has undergone since our marriage in 2005.  He reached 100 pounds down in 2011.  I was so terribly proud of him and his accomplishment that I asked him to write a guest post.  This post was #9 in the Most Popular Flathead Mama posts of the year.  You can read it here: From 331 to 231 Pounds

Most Popular Posts of the Year: #10 First Communion at Age 2

For the next few days, I will be posting 10 most popular Flathead Mama posts of the year.  I would like to invite you to take this chance to catch up on a good buzz-worthy post that you may missed.  Please also drop a comment on the original post.  I'd love to continue the conversation.  If you found a post particularly useful to you, I'd love your help to get the word out about Flathead Mama: copy and paste the link and post to your Facebook page, Twitter about it, or post to a Pinterest profile.  

Thanks and enjoy!
#10: First Communion at Age 2 : In this post I talked about our family's decision to let my two-year old daughter take her first communion.  In the Lutheran church, first communion somewhere around 2nd-4th grade is more traditional, so we were taking a departure from the usual.  But we thought and prayed about it a lot and felt that Biblically and theologically there was no justification for withholding this blessing from God for so long.  So, what do you think?  How young is too young to take communion?

Monday, December 26, 2011

multitudes on monday (101-105)

Today I give thanks to God for:

101. The joy of books.  In seminary, too much ponderous and pointless reading nearly stole my love of books from me.  But in recent years, it has revived.  I give thanks too for the blessing of public libraries!  And ebooks!

102. For a daughter who got two candy canes (which she adores) in her stocking and whose first response was to turn to me and say, "One for you...".  And for the joy of receiving the first gift she picked out herself for me.

103. The joy of seeing our church full on Christmas and the blessing of being so proud of my husband's delivery of the Gospel.

104. The blessing of a quiet day at home on Christmas with the ones I love most.

105. The goodness of a God who is present for those friends who lost a loved one this Christmas...the Baby born in Bethlehem does not mean sparkly parties so much as He means life and salvation...and hope, even beyond the grave.

What are you thankful for today?

Friday, December 23, 2011

the manger and the "perfect" christmas

I don't know about you, but I have all kinds of crazy expectations for a "perfect" Christmas.  On a perfect Christmas, every member of my family should be in a good mood.  Heck, they should be positively sweet and charming.  I should never have a case of the "Christmas grouchies."  I should never have to deal with family conflicts.  I should give and receive the perfect presents.  I should do endless amounts of baking and supply not only family and friends but picturesque, perfect culinary creations, but I should also give them to those who are alone.  I should have gorgeous buffet, worthy of magazine photography, on Christmas morning .

But growing up, I experienced a lot of conflict over the holidays.  There was a lot of pain.  It got to where I began to dread the holidays. (And sometimes I still have carry-over feelings: why even get excited for Christmas when something awful will happen?)  Two years ago, my dad went into Hospice over the holidays (and, believe me, that is a phone call you don't want to get any time of the year). 

None of us want to experience anything less than perfection at the Holidays.  We don't want the death of a loved one.  We don't want depression.  We don't want a divorce.  We don't want a family feud.  We don't want the diagnosis of a serious illness.  It breaks our hearts.  Can't just this one season of the year be magical

We see the shiny images of people on TV advertisements, smiling, laying out perfect table spreads, kissing, getting engaged, having perfect families, having perfectly dressed children...and it just rings false.  But we dare not mention our private pain to others.  Who wants to be the downer at the party when asked if we are having a good Christmas?  Who wants to answer, "No, I'm not.  My heart is breaking this year."

Well, there is one family at the very first Christmas that definitely did not have a perfect day: Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus.  Let's face it, this group of peasants would have felt out-of-place at the lavish galas held in honor of Christmas these days.  Imagine traveling for several days on a donkey while nine months pregnant.  Imagine people whispering that you were unfaithful to your fiance--or perhaps that both of you had "gotten together" out of wedlock.  Imagine feeling that everything was going wrong; just when you wanted to be home in your own bed, Caesar calls for a census!  And the birthplace of this Little One who changed the world forever?--A barn.  His first bed?--A feed trough, a manger.  In this of all places, Mary and Joseph brought the Greatest Being to ever take on flesh and blood into the world.  To be born amongst the squalor of animals, to be feet away from their droppings, to have nobody have enough room for you lie inside on your first night on earth...this is who Jesus is. 

We forget this.  We forget that the very reason Jesus came was that our world is so very imperfect.  We forget their our illnesses and deaths and conflicts and inner pain are the very reason He left the beauty of heaven to become mortal, to become one of us.  He didn't have to do it...unless you take into account that God is Love.  And Love cannot help but pour itself out for the other. 

Jesus came because we are so broken and we need to be healed.  He came because sin so infects our soul that we needed to be freed.  The only way to do this was to go to the cross for us.  Yes, that sweet baby lying in the manger had one objective in mind: To grow only about as old as I am today, and then to die on the cross, taking all the evil and brokenness and sin of the whole world on His shoulders so that you and I could be freed.

If you ever worry that you are not having a perfect Christmas, if you ever worry that you are shut out from the perfect celebration you think everyone else is having (they're not!), remind yourself that the very first Christmas was very imperfect too.  It's not about having the perfect celebration.  Yes, we celebrate in the grandest way we can, because we celebrate to honor the King who has done so much for us.  But as we celebrate, we must never forget that the meaning of this word, Incarnation (God becoming human for us) is that Jesus has sunk so deep down into our flesh and bone that our brokenness has become His, and His new life has become ours.  The new life He gives is as fresh and filled with hope as the first cry of a brand new baby.  Suddenly, the future looks bright...alive...filled with possibility.  For we do not just have hope for this life, but also hope for the life to come.

I give thanks that Jesus understands my brokenness.  That He has entered fully into it.  That He is compassionate and full of mercy towards me, and towards you.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, intrigued by the concept of faith from the outside, never having experienced it from the inside, then feel this Jesus moving in your heart today.  Jesus said in John 6:44, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him."  So, if you feel that tug in your heart, that gift of faith, you can know that it is from God.  Romans 10 says, "if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (verse 9).  Verse 13 promises, "'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'"

What a gift!  What a promise!  He came for you...In your unemployment.  In your marital struggles.  In your depression.  In your illness.  In your loss of a loved one.  In your struggle with the wrong things in your heart.  He came for you.  Thanks be to God!

Monday, December 19, 2011

multitudes on monday (96-100)--and not succumbing to the "Pinterest mindset"

I have been rather neglectful of my Multitudes posts lately.  I think part of the reason for this is that it is difficult not to succumb to the "Pinterest mindset" that uses posts of gratitude as a way of self-promotion.  It should be about God, not about me.  It should be about His blessings in my life, not my attempt at a picture-perfect self-image.  I need to read One Thousand Gifts about a million more times and try to get this through my thick skull! 

I do think that sometimes it is easier to be thankful in a God-focused way when things are tough, rather than when things are good.  When things are tough, we are forced to lean hard on God and we notice the way He daily sustains us, because we know that without Him we would not make it through the day.  But in good times, we are likely to think it's all about us.  We are likely to think that any good we have in our lives is simply because we produced a perfect, well-ordered, beautiful life.  But all beauty is from God.  And all beauty points us to Him.  But how slow we are to realize this.  Or at least I am!

With that said, here are my attempts to give thanks to God, publicly before you all.  What are you grateful for this week?

96. A breakthrough in understanding the doctrine of election (the teaching that God chooses and draws to Himself those who come to faith in Him).  My vision of who God is is transformed.  I give thanks to God for the blessing of studying Romans 9-11 in detail, even though I will never fully fathom its depths. (I plan to write more on what the breakthrough was in the future.)

97. The blessing of my congregation's "Beyond our Walls" committee.  What a joy to hang out with other Christians who are excited about reaching out to our community!

98. That my daughter has been really getting the Christmas story learned this Advent season!  Working with the ebook Truth in the Tinsel has really helped with introducing her to the Christmas story.  Now, instead of just playing Cinderella and Belle, she is playing Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus!

99. For the blessings of our congregation in general.  We moved into town almost exactly a year ago now.  It was the evening of last year's Christmas cantata.  So when I sat at the cantata this year, I found myself getting tears in my eyes thinking about how I didn't know any of the people who were singing yet last year and now so many of them are dear to my heart.  So much has happened in one year!

100. For a year of SO MUCH HEALING!  There's more to do, but God has brought me and our family so far!  And for this I say, thanks be to God!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

the blessedness of motherhood

I remember when I was pregnant with Burrito how irksome I found so many of the symptoms.  I felt "urpy" my whole pregnancy, tired most of the time, and Burrito laid on a nerve that ran down into my thigh for months.  I started losing sleep in the last trimester as I couldn't get comfortable and Burrito loved to kick me hard.  I couldn't take any medicine when I was sick or had a headache.  I couldn't take too hot of a shower, eat lunchmeat, or drink a glass of wine.  I got so sick of the deprivation.  I was excited (and scared) about the new life that was on the way, but, sister, 9 months is a long time for deprivation!

And then Burrito was born and it was such a tough delivery, and then a c-section.  Everything was hard at this point.  I got so little sleep.  Nursing hurt really bad (don't believe those Le Leche ladies who say, "If you're doing it right, it won't hurt!  Baloney!").  I felt overwhelmed all the time.  I felt alone.

And I found myself resenting the fact that there were aspects of motherhood that my husband could not share with me.  There was no taking turns in pregnancy and nursing.  There was no taking turns in the deprivations of motherhood.  When we got married, like most modern couples, we had the idea that we would cut our responsibilities down the middle and each take half of the burden.  But in the early, intense days of child-bearing, there is no way to do this.  The burden rests heavily on the mother.  Only she can do certain tasks.

And initially, only the mother is tuned into the child.  After all, she has been connected to the baby for months and has gotten a head-start with bonding.  The father cannot be blamed for this.  When I was pregnant, my husband was very excited but had a disconnect with the reality of the baby growing within my womb.  She scarcely seemed real to him until she was born.  And then I found myself waking instantly when she cried in the night.  Inexplicably, my husband was able to sleep through her cries early on.  I was so biologically connected to Burrito that I couldn't understand this at all.  In time, he caught up with the bonding I had already gotten done.  Now, if Burrito wakes in the night, sometimes he wakes up before me and hears her first.

In the early days, we found ways for Christopher to try to share the burden that I was bearing in the midst of my exhaustion and recovery.  When Burrito woke in need of a feeding as a newborn, he would go and get her, change her diaper and bring her to me.  Then he would sleep while I nursed her and rise to take her back.  This helped assuage the exhaustion a bit, but of course it could only go so far.  He also made me a big fatty, protein-laced breakfast in the mornings (I had no idea how draining nursing could be).  He did a lot of other things to help me.  Still, I found it hard at times not to resent the unequal balance in our parenting.  There was absolutely nothing he could do about it.  He could not give birth to Burrito.  He could not nurse her.  It wasn't his fault, but still I found myself bumping up against my 50/50 idea of parenthood.

I think this resentment over our role as women is the primary reason that even after the advent of the ultrasound machine and advanced scientific knowledge of the womb, women persist in saying that when life begins in the womb is a matter for religion not science.  The statement is clearly illogical.  We now know that a baby's heart begins beating by week 6.  By week 12, a baby has fingernails.  At 18 weeks, the baby can hear.  An ultrasound reveals a clearly real human being, moving about within the mother's womb.  A being who has already been given life.  Simply looking at the matter from a purely scientific, logical stand-point, without religious encumbrances, it is clear that life begins in the womb very early.  The pro-choicer's persistence in pursuing broad abortion rights despite our modern scientific knowledge flies in the face of reason.  It reveals the strong, under-girding resentment that many women (perhaps all of us at one time or another?) feel at having the burden of child-bearing laid on our shoulders.  We say that life begins when we say it does because we want this to be true.  We do not want to have a responsibility so heavy and so strong that we cannot escape it.  Not only this, but not every woman has a loving husband who would take on more of the burden of motherhood if only he could.  No, there are times when the burden of motherhood is forcibly laid on the shoulders of women through rape or perhaps, less traumatically, through the failure of birth control.  We shake our fingers at our state.  It's not fair!  Why should we have to bear this burden?  Why should we have to endure deprivation, pain, exhaustion in a way a man can never understand?  And so, we decide to ignore reality in an attempt to escape our fate.  We decide to pretend that little one in our womb is just a mass of tissues and not a real life.

In the midst of my pregnancy, I happened to read a Christian book that dealt with healthy remedies to be used while with child.  Early in the book, the author talked about the blessing of pregnancy.  I remember having a light bulb moment when I read this passage.  I was eager to have my baby, but I was so deeply frustrated with what I--and I alone--had to endure to get to this point.  The author of the book pointed out that a man can never experience the miraculousness of giving birth.  He can never feel the wonder of a living being moving within him.  He cannot bear life into the world.  And of course, he also cannot experience the wonder of the bonding that comes about through nursing.  He does not experience the strong emotional connection that this produces between mother and child.  He does not know the awe of sustaining life from his own body.

I know I am drawing in broad strokes here and I know that some women cannot--or should not--carry a baby in their womb.  Some women cannot nurse their little one.  I mean no disrespect to these ladies.  God gives us each different calls and theirs is certainly equally important, just as the call of father is equally important to that of mother.  And even when a woman cannot or should not engage in child-bearing, she is still given a unique maternal ability that is different from that of a man.  All that is real.  But, broadly speaking, what I am saying is true of women.  We have the unique burden--and the unique gift--of the connection to our child through child-bearing and nursing.  We can choose to look at it as a hassle, or as a uniquely supreme privilege.

At Christmastime, I think of Mary, who bore the greatest burden when it came to a child: the burden of being and unwed teen mother who everyone would assume was promiscuous.  This was not her choice to be pregnant.  It was thrust upon her, despite her status as a virgin.  It was not even something she tried to be open to.  It simply happened to her.  Not only did she have to experience the pain and frustrations of delivery--not to mention travel on a donkey late in pregnancy, but she had to endure ridicule by her community.  How embarrassing and burdensome her state!  But what did she say?  "Let it be unto to me according to Your will." 

I still struggle with the "inequality" of motherhood as I look into the future and wonder if God will give our family more children.  But I have the choice to focus on either the suffering or the miracle.  I hope if I am ever pregnant again, I will be able to choose the miracle more often when in those early intense days.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

dinner tonight: sweet potato shepherd's pie

As with most of my recipes, this one came about with excess produce in my fridge and the need for inventiveness!


For the topping:
3 medium-large sweet potatoes, cubed
3/4 cup milk
2 TBS butter

For the pie filling:
20 oz. ground turkey
1 onion, chopped
6 stalks celery, chopped
1 1/2 cups carrots, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 cup light sour cream
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the cubed sweet potatoes in boiling water 20 minutes or until fork tender.  Mash together with butter and milk until fairly smooth.

Salt and pepper the ground turkey and then brown it in a few teaspoons of olive oil.  Remove meat from frying pan and drain any fat.  Add a few more teaspoons of olive oil and saute the onion, celery and carrots until tender and onion is translucent.  Add ground turkey back in, along with spices and sour cream.  Combine and spread this mixture evenly in a large casserole dish.  Smoothly spread mashed sweet potatoes across the top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Enjoy!  This is a savory and delicious winter weeknight meal!

christians are fighting the wrong battles

A big issue in the Flathead Valley during the past few months has been contention over whether a large Jesus Statue in Whitefish, MT, erected about 50 years ago by Knights of Columbus World War II veterans, could remain on the  U.S Forest Service land it currently occupies.  The Freedom from Religion organization, which is based out of Wisconsin, has been the primary group attempting to get rid of the statue, due to concerns over the separation of church and state.  This has Christians in the Flathead Valley up in arms about the attacks of the "godless unbelievers."

Let me start by saying, I am definitely pro-Jesus (obviously!) and it sounds like the statue had a good purpose.  Although I have also heard rumors of partying that took place around the statue, that doesn't take away from the good purpose in putting up the statue to begin with.  I think the attacks against it are silly and not very helpful to unity in our country.  Perhaps we could all consider the sacred act of serving in war and give a little when it comes to what our soldiers found comforting when they returned home.  Tearing down or moving the statue does seem to be in poor taste and not very respectful of our soldiers' service.

However.  I am really befuddled by the way Christians are acting about the whole thing.  They have gotten their eyes completely off of our mission as Christians.  To them, the battle is to defend ourselves against those who want to take our way of life away from us.  It's Christians vs. godless heathen.

I look at the whole thing and see some atheists who are being unfair, but who also need the love of Christians who love the real Jesus more than a statue on a hill.  What about how the Apostle Paul told us that to him, all the things that were considered religious glory in the past were now loss to him, in light of being able to know Christ, the fellowship of His sufferings, His resurrection?  Was Paul talking about a statue of Jesus--or the actual Jesus?

I'm not suggesting we just become politically correct.  But I do think, we need to let go of battles that are not nearly as important as showing God's love and communicating the Gospel.  Most atheists are convinced that Christians are nothing but hateful, closed-minded idiots.  My response to that is: show them wrong!  Go out there and love atheists!  Talk intelligently to them.  Don't give for a moment on your core beliefs that we are all sinners in need of a Savior, but act like you realize you too are a sinner who needs a Savior!  Be humble!

The world will not rise or fall on whether a Jesus statue remains on a mountainside.  What the world will live or die by is whether they come to a saving faith in Jesus.  This will not be accomplished by snide, sarcastic newspaper opinion letters (and we have had quite a few lately).  This will not be accomplished by rallies of people surrounding a statue and claiming their rights.  This will be accomplished by people who know their hope is in heaven, not in a statue.  A real witness is not found through a piece of art, but through people who are living poiemas or "masterpieces" created in Christ Jesus and given faith in order to do good in a broken world (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Sure, the world is often unfair to Christians.  They see the bad eggs and blame us all.  They try to push us out of the public square.  They fail to see the good that we do, the caring for our neighbor, the hungry, the sick, the unwed mother.  They accuse us of not caring about those things.  (And of course, sometimes we deserve the criticism, but we get it whether we do or not.)  My response is: so what?  What else did you expect from a broken world that needs Jesus?  Do you think you find Christians who are being persecuted in communist China complaining about how horribly unfair unbelievers are to them?  No, to the contrary, they ask not for prayers for the persecution to stop but rather for prayers that they may be a witness in the midst of persecution.  They don't claim their rights; they follow Jesus.  They aren't surprised when they are persecuted; they look at it as an opportunity to show God's love.

We Christians have got to stop claiming our rights.  We have got to start focusing instead on how to bring God's light to a lost world.  We have got to stop thinking the world owes us a certain standard of treatment.  We need to start forgiving when we are treated badly.  Maybe then the world might sit up and take notice and ask us for "the reason of the hope within us."  And even if they don't, they won't be able to use us for an excuse anymore to disbelieve in God.

We Christians have been fighting the wrong battles.  Ephesians 6 tells us our battle is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces in the heavenly realms.  Let's start living like that's true.
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