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Alone in a crowd

I don't like crowds. I tend to feel claustrophobic in large groups of people. On a recent trip through Pearson International Airport, I felt like tearing my hair out as I made my way through the line ups and crowds to get to security. Once I was through security, I relaxed.

Worse than making your way through a crowd is feeling alone in a crowd. I think we've all had that feeling at one time or another. Throw me into a room full of women at a conference -- especially trying to find a place to sit in a room full of immaculately laid tables --  and I feel very alone. Standing up to teach them? Well, I can manage that, because the dynamics are much different.

The other day, I saw someone I follow on Twitter speculate about why people may share their woes on Twitter: it's a way of feeling like someone is listening. And of course, that may not actually be the case. No one may even notice, or if they do, they scroll by. Even if we have hundreds (or thousands) of followers, we may still feel alone seconds after sharing a burden on Twitter. It's like being alone in a crowd. With Twitter, of course, it is easier, because there are no faces confronting us. We can come and go as we please and no one will see.

I continue to waffle back and forth about social media. It can be so helpful, but at the same time, it can really rob us of contentment. Even reading blogs can be a source of disappointment and dissatisfaction. There are days when I will have both feelings: I am getting off here forever followed by a feeling that I'm thankful I was able to connect with that person. 

I know that I am never alone in a crowd no matter how I feel about it. I know that I could leave Twitter behind forever today and it wouldn't make a dent in my spiritual life at all. There are times when I know I should thank God for feeling alone in a crowd, forgotten in a room, or invisible on Twitter. To invest too much of my contentment, happiness, or identity in such things is not a good path. Confronting my solitude makes me remember in whom I am grounded: in Christ. Social media and blogs can be an entertaining diversion and a source of information, but ultimately, it comes down to me standing before God. And he is with me in a way no one else can ever be. That is a wonderful truth.

Feeling alone can be a good thing even if it doesn't feel so good at the time.


The kids who haunt my dreams

When my kids were teens, my husband and I were very involved in the youth group. That was by design. We wanted to be part of our kids' teen years, and we wanted to build bridges with other kids they knew. Those years were some of the richest times in service. Just a couple of week ago, I had one of those teens, one who was best friends with my daughter in high school, come and share a wonderful visit while he was home visiting his parents. 

One of those kids was brought home by my son. She had a single mother, and there were issues. We took her into our circle and our hearts, and for a while, she was the extra daughter. I worried for her, prayed for her, loved her, laughed with her, and rejoiced to see her growing. But things began to change when she began to have doubts.

I could see it coming. During the last year she was at Bible college, I could see the growing frustration. Questions. Doubts. She was a thinker. Sometimes, other Christian kids don't like those kinds of people. They may not have the same questions and such questions can cause friction. And she felt isolated, I'm sure. When it was finally at the point where she basically rejected her faith, she stopped by the house with a box of things that belonged here. It was such a small box, and the farewell was oh so civil and polite. And when she drove away, I texted my daughter to tell her. And I burst into tears.

On my Facebook memories this morning, an exchange came up between the two of us. A funny little exchange. There are similar ones every now and then. And when they come up, I wonder how she is. It's easy enough to find out, but I don't look. I wonder if she ever thinks fondly of our family. I wonder if she knows that every time I make apple crisp, I think about her. I wonder if she would care.

Four years ago, I wrote this fairly bad poem about her. I still feel the same way.

I knew a girl
and I loved her like a daughter
and I watched the light of Christ dawn in her eyes
as time went on
the light was choked out
by the cares of the world
and behind her eyes was rage

she returned my belongings
in a carboard box
and she was gone

though she is out there somewhere
her eyes occasionally interrupt my dreams
and I pray
and though she is not mine
my heart aches
for a child lost 

how much more
does the heart of God grieve? 

There are other kids whom I think about. Some I know have walked away. Some I see regularly, and I see how they are growing and serving. That is an encouragement. Some of the others haunt my dreams, and I wonder why it worked out the way it did. But ultimately, God knows these things. Part of submitting to God is being willing to acknowledge that we are only a small part of his plan. We serve him because we love him, and we leave the rest to him.


Having a book published is not the be all and end all

This morning I read a really great article called "No, You Probably Don't Have a Book in You." For someone who blogs, this was a great thing to read. The author seems to imply fiction, but it applies for theological writing. Those who write about theology (like bloggers) have a point they want to make.

I write every day. I have been writing every day since I was a kid. I purposely took an Arts degree because I knew it would involve writing. One of the reasons I went to seminary was to write and have it evaluated by people who are smarter and better writers than I. But I do not have a book in me. Although some of the young moms I have taught the Bible to over the years have asked me when I'm going to write a book, I suspect I don't have one in me. At least, it's not uppermost in my mind anymore. I don't know enough to write a book. And I'm not going to take the spiritual struggles of myself or my family and expose them to the world for the sake of trying to have a book published.

Some people write short things that are great reading. That doesn't necessarily translate into a good book. A good book is not a compilation of blog posts. I believe there is an art to writing a good, short article just as I think there are writers who can write great short stories, but not a complete novel. Some writers can produce prose and poetry, but some can't do both. Writing is an art, and it is an individual thing. It is okay to write without having grand designs to produce a book.

Recently, I read the biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I was impressed with the excellent research of the author, Caroline Fraser. In the course of the book, it was apparent that Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, communicated often through letters. Both also wrote regularly in personal journals. It is not common for there to be such volumes of written records by women. That kind of material is valuable. Written records, even if they aren't books, tell a story, too. That is incentive for the writer in you to keep on doing it. Your family may thank you some day.

I don't often save the papers I have written for school. They're all on my Mac, anyway, so I don't need the paper copy. I do have three which I have saved, one from my undergraduate days, and two since starting seminary. I keep them because I worked hard on them, and was pleased with how they turned out. The most recent one was a paper about abortion I wrote for my Moral Theology class. The prof made a suggestion about how I could have improved on it. Being given helpful critique from someone I respect means a great deal. I probably will never write a book, but I have those papers, and they mean something to me.

I write because I can't not write. And if no one but the prof reads it, I am okay with that. I have so much to learn. There is nothing wrong with wanting to write a book, but I write because it's what I do. For the foreseeable future, I better have some good papers in me, because there are more on the horizon. In the process of preparing them, I trust God will teach me many things, both theological and personal.


Herman is your friend

A few years ago, when thoughts of seminary were just that, thoughts, a friend of mine expressed a concern. She believed my going to seminary would be putting myself at risk for shifting my loyalties away from my husband to the male professors. I am not going to even comment on that. Her suggestion was that instead of seminary, I study on my own. I had been doing that already.

For someone who can't or does not want to study at seminary, there are self-study methods. There are a myriad of books, podcasts, online classes, and other resources to help someone with theological studies. The one thing about studying on my own, however, was that I could study whatever I wanted without a plan, and I often studied only what I wanted. And sometimes being told what is to study is helpful. Seminary means required courses.

I had to take an introduction to the Bible; systematic theology, moral theology. I have to take a spiritual formation class. I have to have credits in New Testament and Old Testament courses. That is a good thing. Taking moral theology (ethics) was good for me. Learning about other theological systems was good for me. It made me think about what I believe and why. And taking hermeneutics made me a whole lot more cautious and careful about biblical interpretation.

Hermeneutics was a challenging class, but I believe it ought to be one of the first things we study if we want to understand and interpret Scripture. I have read professionally published material by women who clearly have not read about hermeneutics. If someone is going to embark on a course of self-study, at the very least, learn hermeneutical principles. I thought it was amusing at the time when my prof made the comment that we should make "Herman," i.e. hermeneutics, our friend. He was right. 

My three favourite resources for studying hermeneutic principles are the following. The first is introductory, and the other two go a little deepr:

Journey into God's Word

Grasping God's Word

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth

In many places, I have seen Jen Wilkin's Women of the Word recommended. I don't include it on my top three because it does not address epistles as a separate literary genre. It is an encouraging book, but for someone on a self-study program, a more in depth book is a better investment. Wilkin's book does not go deep enough, and something like Journey into God's Word is both accessible and has a bit more depth.

Not everyone needs to attend seminary, but if someone is a student of the word, and especially if she writes blog posts she hopes others will read, at the very least make friend with Herman.


Watching them leave

My brother and his wife came for a visit on the weekend. Their daughter will be leaving home in the next few months, whereas all three of our kids are on their own. The process began eleven years ago when our daughter left for university, followed by one son three years after her, and then two years after that, our youngest. We have basically been on our own for the past six years.

The fact that it was a process softened the initial difficulty somewhat, although that first year with my daughter gone was hard, because I know what university campuses are like, and as a mother, her safety was a concern for me. But I had two boys at home and I was busy. It wasn't until the last one went that I began to realize what a huge adjustment it truly is.

Once one child leaves home, the family dynamics change; even in the closest of families. Our young adults meet new people, forge new friendships, and their world is opened up. The longer they are gone, the more independent they become. They have lives of their own, and weekend visits may not be as frequent. And when you do try to arrange a family time, schedules begin to collide, especially when there are boyfriends and girlfriends in the mix. At one time, our children all lived fairly close to one another, so it was easy for my husband and I to drive in their direction and find a location to eat a meal together or do something fun together. Now, with my youngest one married and living in another location, it's not as easy. 

Adult children also make decisions we may not like. And no, it's not always an act of rebellion. Even godly children will make independent choices. We're raising individuals, after all, not clones. It can be hard when they make decisions we don't like. It's not as easy to speak into their lives when we don't see them daily. And sometimes, we do better for them by saying nothing. If we are not sure that we have taught them the gospel well or given them the guidance they need, there is not a whole lot we can do about it. What we can do is trust God, and know that he loves them far more than we ever could.

Looking back now, I can see that the process of my children leaving was a major life change, and that fed into my tendency toward anxiety. Outwardly, I seemed to be okay, but inwardly, I really wasn't. We invest a lot of our identity into our children. I did especially, because I was at home with them all their lives, and we homeschooled. This is not to say that I have regrets about my choice. I don't. I'd do it all again. Adjustment to their absence was something that didn't come easily. When all three were gone, and I looked into the very quiet, often empty days, it was not easy, but now, praise God, I'm in a better place. God has been working on my heart, reminding me of where my true identity is and how much he loves me, sending me to seminary, and showing me the benefits of it being just my husband and I again.

There are benefits. We love having the kids visit, but we also love our own space. We love being able to do what we want, eat what and when we want, and not have to share Netflix. And some of the matters which were our responsibility aren't anymore, and there is freedom in that. The pressure is off even while it can be hard. We are here for them when they need us, but we have lives to live, a God to serve, and goals to work toward.

This fall, there will be parents who are sending off their children into the world. It will be hard. And there will be change. As soon as we understand that there will be changes, it's easier. But God knows all about these changes, and he works within them. That should comfort us.