Training in Righteousness
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John Donne

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov'd imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod's jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.


When they tell you their secrets

My kids are beginning to arrive home for the holidays. I love to see how insanely happy the Beagle is when they come in. She was so happy last night that she sounded like she was being disemboweled. It's like she was saying, "Where have you been? I've been waiting."

We had dinner with all of our kids together last night. Our daughter will be home on Monday, but we were in town where she lives, and we ate together. I love to hear my kids laugh with each other. It's so much  nicer than when they were younger and just filled the dinner table with bickering. It's a blessing to see my adult children be friends with each other. It's not always the case. Of my three brothers, I really only have anything to do with one of them, and that's kind of sad.

Inevitably as they talk together, snippets of things they've done while being on their own come out. My brothers used to do that to my mom, too; share a story of some gross infraction she would rather not have known about. She didn't like it, and I could see that. I sympathized with her, and I sympathize with her more now.

I really don't want to know the things they have done which are displeasing to the Lord. When mothers hear that, the guilt impulse automatically kicks in. When my kids persist on sharing details, I try to keep it light, and say, "Too much information," or "I don't want to know that." Because I don't want to know.

Mothers have one desire for their children; Christian mothers, that is. We desire our children to pursue righteousness. A righteous life is a blessed life. It may not be an easy life, but it's a good life. That's what I want for my kids no matter what their vocations are. We don't want to hear about the things they have done which are unrighteous, no matter how small. Hearing them say how they learned from a mistake is one thing, but hearing the details we can do without.

My mind is drawn back to an incident when they were younger and we were homeschooling. I had just started blogging, and I was typing away one morning and one of the kids was beside me, speaking to me, asking for permission for something. I was quite involved in what I was doing, and lo and behold, later on I discovered I had given consent for something, had I been paying attention, I would not have.

I wonder how many other moments there were like that. When they share some of their secrets, I feel like I wasn't paying enough attention, that I was too wrapped up in my own affairs at the time. There is a temptation when they are getting older and more independent that we don't have to pay as much attention. I wonder if my time should have been better spent. It's all water under the bridge, but every now and then, I feel regret for it.

I'm studying Psalm 56 in prepration for teaching in January, and in this psalm, David is running from Saul. He is surrounded by enemies. They are "trampling" him "all day long," (v.2).  Their thoughts are evil against him (v.5), and they "lurk" (v.6).

I feel sometimes like those things in the past are my enemies. They trample on an otherwise good day; they lurk, only to jump out when I least expect it. I don't have the kind of enemies David had, but things like guilt and regret can be oppressive in their own way. These enemies from within are stubborn to leave. They want to drag me down.

In the second half of verse 9, David says, "This I know, that God is for me."

What a tremendous thought! The God of the Universe is for me. He is for us. This season of Christmas reminds me what lengths God went to in order to show that he is for us. He sent his son who knew the glory of heaven to a humble stable. This is my comfort. No matter how relentlessly my inner enemies want to be against me, God is for me. That is my comfort and assurance.

Young moms who blog, take care. While there is nothing wrong with blogging, keep it in proper perspective. Don't get distracted with looking for the affirmation of the blog world. Be there for your kids. You're the only mother they have. There will be time for blogging later.


Little epiphanies

Over the past few weeks, I have had a lot of little epiphanies. I had an English professor in university, a Scottish gentleman, who talked about epiphanies, and told all of us freshman English students that we would go through life with a vast array of epiphanies. He was right. Many of mine, though, have not come until this later season with adult children.

I think it has something to do with the quiet. Perhaps other women my age don't experience the quiet as I do. Many of them have become even busier, going back to work, or whatever it is they do. I find the quiet gets me thinking, and I am thankful daily for this time of quiet.

When my kids were little, there was precious little time for sitting and evaluting my life. My day to day existence was about them. Yes, I did what I could in my spiritual life, reading the Word as I was able, studying as I was able. It was not easy. Children are time-consuming. When I see how much young mothers today manage to read and write, all I can do is wonder how poor my time managment skills were that I got comparably little reading done.

And sitting to ponder my place in the world? Yes, there was about five minutes before falling asleep at the end of the day.

When I was in my mid-thirties, I did not have much time to evaluate things. I was too busy helping young people grow and learn. I was too busy cooking, cleaning, planning, driving, and organizing everyone else's life; all those epiphanies Dr. Mackenzie promise were delayed until there was time. Now that I have done the majority of my parenting work, and my role is chiefly to be an advisor, listening ear, and provider of healthy meals, I can sit and evaluate.

This, of course, makes me a little concerned in some ways. I know I made mistakes because I didn't have all the time in the world to evalute decisions. When you're in that parenting zone, sometimes, it's like being on auto-pilot, and a lot of the decisions we make are automatic. It reminds me that I probably made a lot of decisions in a foolish way, because I didn't have a whole lot of wisdom back then. But God is good and gracious, and I am reminded that the Christian life is not meant to be an never ending succession of glory moments. Suffering and struggle come, and most of the time, those are the best ways to learn something.

I am enjoying these little epiphanies now that life has slowed down somewhat. I'm learning things that, while maybe would have been helpful fifteen years ago, are getting learned in the end. I am growing. The Christian life is not to be a static one. Occasionally, I cringe, knowing that I really dropped the ball on that thing that happened a few years ago. But I'm glad I'm learning these things now.

God has perfect timing, and for young mothers who feel like they haven't got it figured out yet, don't worry. It will come. The benefit of getting older is fully appreciating that maturity is a process, and it takes time. We're not supposed to have it all figured out before we hit the age of thirty-five, and anyone who tells you she has will be in for a bit of a surprise when she hits fifty, and the epiphanies come.


Bloom where you're planted

I like that phrase, "bloom where you're planted." It's a reminder to me about God's sovereignty in putting us where we are.

I recently received a letter in the mail from an agency in Toronto, asking me to give to a homeless shelter there. While Toronto is fairly close (75 minutes without heavy traffic), it is not where I live. The difference is more than geographic. The difference between life in the suburbs of Toronto and my little town are more significant than one might think. 

That being said, here in this small town, we have our share of unemployed, poor, and homeless people. We have our share of victims of abuse, racism and crime. Perhaps it's a small scale, but those people are real life, flesh and blood.

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago as I ran some errands. There are a few individuals in this little town, people on the fringes of society, who are recognizable to everyone who lives here. There is one lady referred to as the "Toonie Lady," because she wanders around town asking people for $2 coins. She stopped me once and knocked on the window of my car when I was about to pull away from a parking spot. She has some developmental issues, and some physical issues as well, and sometimes merchants have to be firm with her, but she wanders around town most of the time, muttering to herself.

There is also an elderly couple who are visibly poor, and I see them often in the park, having taken a shopping cart from the local drugstore, wheeling it around town, gathering aluminum cans, or whatever else they have piled in there. In the winter, the man wears a tattered snow suit, and the woman a bulky vest that you might see a construction worker wearing at a job site. She's got long brown and grey hair tumbling out from under a toque. Last year, I saw them out there on even the coldest days, and it was cold last year.

Needs are everywhere. When I drive past the crisis pregnancy centre on the way to the library, I am reminded that I live in a small town full of needy people; people with basic personal needs, and people with spiritual needs.

It is tempting, because we live in global society, to take our eyes off the immediate needs of our communities, and assume that the needs everyone is talking about are more important. There is a temptation to invest our time, energy, and maybe even finances toward things that, while good, could be put to good use right where we live.

I do support missionaries outside of this country, and I support Compassion, and in the future, I hope to be able to take on other Compassion children, but I must not neglect the needs of my community and my local church because someone on social media is telling me I must pay more attention to what he is burdened for. We are all burdened in ways specific to our own situations, and that's okay.

When I look at my next door neighbour, 90 years old, and blowing out my driveway with his snow blower, I'd rather give him my attention than something else, because frankly, I'm afraid one of these days, he's going to have a heart attack out there. I'd rather keep my eye on whether he's been out and about with his dog, or spend a minute speaking to him to make sure his wife is doing okay. I'd rather spend a few minutes and share my Christmas baking with them. Needs live next door, and we must not forget that. We talk a lot about community, but how many of us actually live in the ones where God has put us? How easy is it to be altruistic from a distance?

Today, take some time to find a local need. It's Christmas; go into a mall and find a charity box and give an unwrapped gift to a child. Take some food to the food bank. Give generously (more than your pocket change) to the Salvation Army containers posted throughout your towns. Take some baking to a neighbour. Say Merry Christmas to each and every person who waits on you at a store. What a horrid job to have, in retaill, at this time of year.

Bloom where you're planted. It's tempting to prefer another garden, but God has put is in where we are. For me, that means I live in Canada, in this province, in this city, in this community. I don't plan on ignoring the wider world, but I am going to live here.


Not your typical "Favourite Reads From 2014" list

This afternoon, I was tidying up my bookshelves, putting my "want to reads" for 2015 at eye level on the shelf, so I was thinking about what I read in 2014. 

My favourite book of the year was Kevin DeYoung's Taking God at His Word. I'm still remembering snippets from it, months later, so I guess that was a reading success. Others which I read, I'm ashamed to say I have forgotten, especially if I read it for review, because I always feel so pressured to finish. I don't think I'll do much reviewing anymore because of that. And who cares, anyway? No one is waiting for my opinion on books.

The books I remember most vividly are the ones about and by two extraordinary women, Nellie McClung and Lucy Maud Montgomery (sorry to all of the folks who don't care about these things, but I am, after all, Canadian. This is where you can click away if you're bored).

I think I read, in addition to her own autobiography, three other volumes about Nellie McClung. She was an amazing, energetic woman, and even though I think she and I would have disagreed about a few things, I admire her very much. I appreciate her efforts to bring justice to women in Canada, especially in the area of property rights and the right to vote. She was a woman of faith, and she speaks about it openly. She had a love for Western Canada that I share, and hearing her stories about places in Manitoba of which I'm familiar did my heart good. Someone else who loves the Prairies is okay with me.

The other woman I spent time with (and continue to) is Lucy Maud Montgomery. In addition to re-visiting her novels, I've been reading her selected journals. Mary Rubio, one of Montgomery's biographers, along with Elizabeth Waterson, put out five volumes of these journals in co-operation with Montgomery's heirs. If you read the journals and are familiar with her fiction, you can easily see the parallels. Waterson also authored a book, which I've begun, that shows the parallels of Montgomery's life with the novels she wrote.

Montgomery had a very sad life, and despite being a minister's wife, had some lingering doubts about God which occasionally came across as bitterness. I'm just getting into the years when the Methodist Church of Canada and the Presbyterian Church of Canada joined together to become the United Church of Canada, and it's quite interesting. She was not in favour of the union, but at the same time, her faith can hardly be described as orthodox, considering she gives accounts of using a Ouija board after the death of her beloved cousin. She was a woman not entirely comforted by her faith, and her marriage was not a happy one.

My favourite Montgomery book is not Anne of Green Gables. While I liked it, and read it over and over again as a girl, my favourite is Rilla of Ingleside, which is set during World War I. It is a novel unique for its time, because it is one of the few which depicts the role of women during the First World War. There are a number of critical works which recognize its contribution in that regard.

When I read the volume of Montgomery's journals written during the war years, I found over and over again, phrases and descriptions that were taken verbatim from her journals which she put into Rilla of Ingleside. Montgomery's reaction to the war was quite profound and intense, which I think was quite typical for her disposition.

After re-reading Rilla of Ingleside, I found a volume of essays entitled A Sisterhood of Suffering and Service: Women and Girls of Canada and Newfoundland in the First World War. It was a fascinating look into the contributions of Canadian women during World War I, both here and in France. They are the kind of stories that aren't well known, but I found completely engaging.

In January, I'll be picking up Emily of New Moon again. I read it for the first time last winter. In her journals, I am at the point in her life where she has just finished writing it. I'm curious to see how the passages in it compare to what I remember about her childhood journals.

People may consider Montgomery's literature "childish," or for young audiences, but I still enjoy it. She had a gift for describing the world around her. Her stories may not be gritty enough for young readers these days, but she's part of my heritage, too, and I'm thankful that I grew up with her, and am growing old with her, too.