Everyone Else Is Doing It…

iPod touch picture“Mom, when can I get my own email?” eleven-year-old Kiersten asks me as I pick her up from school.

“Not for a while, Kiersten,” I respond, never giving a specific age or timeline.  I’m not willing to be held to anything yet!  The truth is, I have no idea.  And furthermore, I’d be happy for it to be a very, very, very long time.  I see no need for her to have one.  I think of all the spam emails I get.  The junk emails that are quite inappropriate (even in just their subject line).  She’s too young to be faced with this.  She sees her friends every day at school (or weekly at church), she doesn’t need to email them.  And I’d rather her write actual letters to her long-distance friends.

“Well, everyone else has one,” she says.

“Who?” I reply, not quite believing her, so needing some hard facts.  She comes up with two names.

Later that same day, as I’m setting the timer for her time to play games on the iPod touch (the iPod that she and Micah share, that they both saved up money together for almost a year!), she asks me,  “Why can’t I just play whenever I want?  Everyone else gets to play whenever they want.”

I kind of believe her on that one.  She just started playing “Words with Friends” with several of her friends.  From the moment she gets home from school, the iPod touch starts binging throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening, signaling that someone else has played a word and it is now her turn to play.

“Everyone else…” Twice in one day.  Over technology-related activities.  This phrase was already fresh on my mind, from the chapter in my mom’s book that I just posted on my blog (click here to read).  Thirty years ago it was the TV that my brothers and I were begging to watch because “everyone else” got to watch whenever they wanted (or so it seemed to us).

As my mom reflected on our constant begging for more TV, she mounted her soapbox (her words) about the evils of TV (balancing it out later, by clarifying that TV is inherently neither good or bad).  At the bottom of it all was her frustration about the constant begging of us kids, which put her, the mother, in a position of defense.  Not a fun place to be as a parent.  Wouldn’t it be so much easier to not even have this item in the home that causes so much desire for little kids and so much struggle for parents to manage?

That’s where I find myself so many times as a mother.  As I experience Kiersten’s desire for email and more iPod time, and have the often daily struggle of telling my children, “No, you may not watch more TV.  No, you cannot keep playing the iPod, your time is up.  I’m sorry that you’re in the middle of a game.  No, no more Wii for today.  You’ve played plenty.  I’d like you to find something else to do,” I find myself wishing these items didn’t exist!  Wouldn’t life be so much easier without them?  I, too, want to mount my soapbox and defend my stance for putting limits on these things.  I even want to take it a step further and say I wish these things had never been created.  I hate monitoring them and dealing with the constant requests.  Even though my children know the rules, they still keep asking for more!  And it’s so easy and tempting to “give in” as the parent…

Yet, I’m not willing to take all things technical completely away.  I’m not about extremes.  I know that, used sparingly and at opportune times, these things can be good.  We’ve had many fun family nights of playing Wii together.  In the middle of the winter, when outside play is limited, a game of tennis or basketball on the Wii is truly a fun alternative.  Sometimes a little downtime playing an iPod game is a good option, too.  I remember my brothers’ “electronic football” game and how much fun we had playing it!  And Words with Friends can be a great (and even educational) way to connect with friends…especially when you’re the only girl in the family (and the oldest) and sometimes get a little bored with the games your little brothers enjoy playing!  And the television.  I will always sing the praises of PBS and have to give them partial credit for playing a role in the education of my children.  And never before have I realized how good The Brady Bunch really is!  Who knew?!  Not only do my kids love to see and enjoy the family life and antics of this dated family (they get a kick out of the clothes and the home decor), but they also get the added bonus (whether they know it or not) of observing some good family and moral values (which is hard to find on TV these days).  I’ll take reinforcements any way I can get them!  Not to mention, the lure of this program later in the day is a perfect reward for completed homework!

Yes, when functioning smoothly, technology has its perks.  On paper, I can work it beautifully into my daily and weekly schedule, choosing when, what, and how much is appropriate.

But alongside that, comes a bit of reality.  I have the perfect plan, but my children seem to rub up against it.  Push the limits (not turning off the TV right when their program is over, playing Wii or iPod beyond the beeper that signals that their time is up, begging for more time, more programs…more, more more!).  That’s when I want to throw it all out the window!  My children are becoming addicted, I worry.  My children don’t know how to entertain themselves.  They’ve lost their ability to be creative and use their imaginations.  To play together and enjoy each other’s company.  To just “be kids” and have fun.

So I have to step in and become the mom.  To make hard, unpopular choices.  Just this past weekend, my husband and I had a long talk about this (as he, too, was experiencing their push back and “addiction”).  His suggestion:  no Wii or iPod touch for a week (well, he actually said a month…I suggested we take it one week at a time). Every Sunday evening, we’ll gather as a family and discuss how things went the previous week and make a decision about the upcoming week.

It’s now Friday of our first week with no Wii or iPod touch.  And it has been a glorious week!  Knowing the hard-core limits, my children have risen to the occasion.  They weren’t thrilled with the announcement, but they’ve accepted it and haven’t even asked to play either item!  They’ve found other things to do.  They’ve looked more forward to their one TV show for the day (The Brady Bunch at six o’clock).  Brennan gets an extra half hour of TV (PBS), since he’s only in school half day.  They’ve played together, worked more diligently on homework, and come up with other things to do.  No longer do I have to deal with arguments over whose turn it is to play the iPod touch, what Wii game to play (if they are playing together), and frustrations over losing or things not going “their way” during some game they are playing.   I was beginning to feel like my role as mom had become limited to mediating, moderating, and controlling all aspects of technology amongst the kids in our home.  And in the midst of my attempts to control, I felt completely out of control!

I think I see a future of less “screen time” in our family.  Just because we have them, doesn’t mean that we (they) have the right to play them every day.  These items are for “special occasions” only.  And I think we all will enjoy them more that way.  And in the meantime, we can enjoy each other more!

As I linger over a question my mom raised ~  “Who is in control?” ~ I think of the changes that Randy and I have made this week.  “Everybody else” is not in control.  The Wii, iPod touch, and TV are not in control.  Coming up with a plan as husband and wife ~ parenting partners to our children ~ I feel that Randy and I are back in control.  And a part of me believes strongly that my children are glad.  They want structure and limits.  Even if they don’t know it.

So even if “everyone else is doing it” (and whether that statement is true or not!), we aren’t.  And I’m okay with that.

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Who’s Influencing My Children?

As promised, here is the chapter on TV from my mom’s book.  I’m tempted to introduce it with lots of my own thoughts and convictions (and even confessions!) on the subject, but that would defeat the purpose of posting it.  It speaks for itself and it captures, I think, the struggle many of us face ~ not only with the TV, but with all things “screen.”  I love my mom’s balanced conclusion and find myself challenged to “be in control” of all of our media options.  I hope you find it helpful as well.

WHO’S INFLUENCING MY CHILDREN?

by Miriam Huffman Rockness (1979)

“Can we watch TV, Mom?”  David sets his books and lunch box on the high chair and looks at me with bright hope and expectancy.  It never fails to amaze me how he faithfully asks this question that through the years has been consistently answered in the negative.

“Not until four o’clock, honey.”

“How come?”

“You know we never watch TV right after school.  This is your time to play.”  I answer with what strikes me, under the circumstances, as a monumental show of patience.

Everyone watches TV after school.”

“That’s right,” echoes Kimberly.  “Everyone.”

“I doubt that,” I respond, measuring each word carefully.  “But even if they did, you know that isn’t how we make our decisions.”

“I’ll choose a good program that won’t scare Kimberly and Jonathan.”

“The programs aren’t bad, Mommy,” Kimberly adds.

“I know the programs aren’t bad, but I just don’t think anything is on now that is that good.”  I go on to explain how precious time is, how many good things there are to do.  We limit TV because we want them to live life, not just sit back and watch others live life.

David and Kimberly look up at me with expressions that simulate total incomprehension.  David shrugs his shoulder and says, “C’mon, Kimberly, let’s go ride our bikes.”

Am I too strict?  I ask myself.  There is nothing in the programs they are pushing for that is harmful.  After a busy day in school, shouldn’t they just be free to sit back and be entertained for a while?  I review our policy:  They have a daily block of time set aside for their choice of several pre-determined programs.  We check the TV guide for specials which we attempt to make a shared family time.  Then there are their morning fragments of “Captain Kangaroo.”  No, in proportion to their other activities, they see plenty of television!

I begin to bristle that I let myself be put into a defensive position.  I’m convinced we approach the whole thing from the wrong angle – if it’s not bad, it’s OK we allow, rather than choosing from the enormous smorgasbord of programs that which is edifying and good.  By default, we’ve let the question become “Why not?” rather than “Why?” making it a matter of acquiescence rather than choice.

I mount my soapbox and continue to build a defense of our position.  I think of the vast number of messages our children are subjected to, input that is shaping their thinking and in turn their character.  I am realistic; I can’t put blinders on my children, and even if I could, I wouldn’t.  TV is only one of the many voices that shout their conflicting messages, that have something to say about everything.  But it happens to be one influence I can still control.  There is so much at stake.  When you cut through it all – the mundane activities surrounding mothering – my deepest concern is the kind of people our children are becoming.  They cannot help but be influenced by the values that bombard them.  Values so often in conflict with what we are trying to stress; the importance of the inner man, the person we really are – in a word, character.

I don’t want to tune out other messages altogether.  I just want to keep up with their input so I can help them learn to be discerning.  I will not always be able to screen their TV input, but I refuse to abdicate my filtering role while my children are still so moldable simply because of their demands, or because it is expedient for me.

By now I am gesturing eloquently from my soapbox and am becoming increasingly possessed with a desire to dismount and rip the TV from its life line on the wall.  Show it a thing or two.  But I begin to cool as I consider how it has enriched our lives:  the concerts we’ve enjoyed in the comfort of our sitting room, our trips to faraway lands, the exposure to values and life-styles of another time and place, drama that has carried our emotions the full gamut – together . . . When I hear Jonathan count to thirteen, I have to admit he didn’t learn his numbers from me!  So I kick my soapbox aside, and reassume a more realistic posture, that of a mother simply trying to make decisions that will be in the best interest of her family.

No, like most everything else, the TV is  not inherently good or evil.  It holds the potential for either.  The fundamental issue is, who is in control?  The TV?  Or are we in control?  I believe it places far too great a burden on the grade school child to have to make these quality-of-life decisions.  As parents, we will continue to assume the responsibility of determining the amount of time spent watching TV and the kind of programs watched.  We will continue to allow our children choices within our choices, knowing the day will come when they must exercise their own judgement.  I would hope by then we will have established a pattern of selection that will provide a kind inner monitoring for their own positive choices.

*This exerpt from my mom’s book, Keep These Things, Ponder Them in Your Heart, is posted in response to my previous post, “Out of Touch.”  Without a TV for one week (yes, that doesn’t seem long, but it was…trust me!), I had plenty of time to ponder the role of TV (and all things “screen”) in our home.  It also gave me a chance to appreciate the value of being “out of touch” and how this truly allows us to actually be in touch with our inner lives…our soul.  And our Creator.  If you enjoyed this post, I’d love for you to read that one, too.  Just click here.

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Out of Touch?

“Mommy!  Come quickly!  The TV is smoking!”

Not quite able to wrap my mind around the words I’m hearing (The TV is smoking?!  What in the world must they mean?!), yet clearly hearing urgency in their voices, I quickly head towards the living room.

And, just as they said, the TV was smoking!  Smoke was literally coming out of the top of the television set.

Never having been in this predicament before, and having no framework by which to be prepared for this type of emergency, I thankfully had the wherewithal to unplug the TV.  Clearly, this was the end of our television set.

And, it was the beginning of five days without a TV.  Yes, five days does not seem like long.  But it only takes five days to realize how much a part of one’s life a TV is!  Even when you think you don’t use it much!

I could go into all the details of that week without television, and tell you about the concerns of my children (“What will we do without a TV?!) and my own surprising “TV withdrawal,” but that would be a completely different discussion.  Suffice it to say, it was a week of my own internal dialogue of the good and the bad of TV and my role as Mom (and person!) in relation to this flat-screened object that makes its home in our house.

My mom, in one of her book Keep These Things, Ponder Them in Your Heart, voices her own struggle with television (thirty-plus years ago!).  In her concluding paragraph in her chapter on the television entitled “Who’s Influencing My Children?” she writes:

No, like most everything else, the TV is not inherently good or evil.  It holds the potential for either.  The fundamental issue is, who is in control?  The TV?  Or are we in control?

I could go in to more detail of my own thoughts from my week without TV, concerning this issue, but my mom does it so well that I will actually post that chapter here on my blog in a few days.

Instead, I’m focusing on another issue that came to light during my five-day TV hiatus. During this time, I was reminded of an experience a few years ago.  For almost two weeks, we were without both phone and internet (and that was before I had a cell phone!).  I was basically cut off from all communication!  Thankfully, Randy had internet at work and would check my emails for me during the day.  And he had a cell phone, so I could also make calls at the end of the day, if need be.  And, at the time, I was at church quite a bit throughout the week (MOPS, Bible Study, preschool), so I was able to check emails there and use the phone.  But while at home during the day, I was utterly and completely cut off from all communication with the rest of the world!

I made it through those two weeks (obviously).  It was a struggle at first, and a huge lifestyle adjustment, but what stands out to me the most was the good that ended up coming out of it.  By being out of touch with the world, I was able to become more in touch with myself and God.  I was given the gift of time.  Of space.  And, surprisingly (or not!), it was refreshing.  And restful.  And good.

Edward W. Bok, in his book, Twice Thirty, talks about this very thing.  Though written in 1925, his words still can speak to us today.  And challenge us.

In the chapter, “Out of Touch in Florida,” Bok reflects on his decision to spend three months of the year in Florida.  An amazing business man (editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal for thirty years and quite active in the community and society of Philadelphia), his friends couldn’t understand why he would leave for three months!  Especially when staying in touch wasn’t as simple as picking up a phone, sending an email, or texting or twittering.  “Madness,” was their response to him, “You will get out of touch.”

He muses over this phrase in his book:

There are minds which cannot conceive that to get “out of touch” may sometimes mean to get into touch.  Is it inconceivable that to sit and read and to let the world pass before one for a bit and yet not be of it or in it, may mean getting a larger perspective of truer vision?  That these overbusy days may well cry aloud for a quiet stock-taking?  Those there are who are afraid to be alone, but those there are also who seek for the spot where one can be apart and take an inventory of the things that count and are not of the flesh.  Some natures there are who feel it incumbent to take a personal accounting…to invite the inner self and bring it to the surface.  Some natures grow larger from such contacts; some thoughts come at such times that go deeper; some lives there are which become fuller and richer from the moments of quiet repose and aloofness from the traffic of the world.

How true are these words, even today.  Especially today!  How out of touch from the world I felt when I had no phone or internet!  Yet, by being out of touch with the world, I was truly able to get in touch with myself.  And as I was out of touch (or out of sorts!) last week without our TV, I was more able to “take inventory” of things.  To “go deeper” as I evaluated life.  Without the TV for my own personal downtime, I had the time to contemplate the role of this device more deeply in the overall life and functioning of our family.

And to delve more deeply into myself, as mentioned above by Edward Bok.  And as mentioned once again in another quote from his same chapter:

If three months of glorious sunshine in a climate so gentle as to be caressing [or in my case, one week of no TV, or two weeks of no phone or internet] has put me “out of touch” with some things which in the minds of my friends [or the mind of myself, Kimberly Rockness Wood!] seem important, is it not possible that I have been permitted to come in touch with other things which are vital and likely to be more enriching, more satisfying, and perhaps a bit more deep-reaching?

Life is back to normal in the Wood household.  We have a new television.  I’ve established some new routines.  I’m happy to be in touch via phone, cell phone, and internet.  But my week of no TV – my week that afforded me extra time and hearkened me back to life without phone and internet – was a good reminder.  A reminder, and a challenge, to intentionally choose to put myself “out of touch” from time to time…even when there is a TV, a phone, and internet access in my home!  Because it is good for my soul.

* You can now read my mom’s chapter (from her book, Keep These Things, Ponder Them in Your Heart) about the TV.  Who’s in control?  Is TV good or bad?  How do we raise our kids in a culture where they feel like “everyone else is doing it” when it comes to things such as watching TV?  See how my mom processes through some of these questions thirty years ago in this chapter.   You’ll be surprised how convicting and relevent it still is today!   Click here to read it.

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Play With Us!

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“Mommy, come play with us!” Micah calls to me as I settle down with my book on the sidelines.

We were at Kiersten’s basketball practice.  Normally I carpool with another mom; she takes the girls to practice and I pick them up.  The other family was out-of-town, so I was driving Kiersten both ways today.  Since it was a fifteen minute drive each way, I decided to just stay at the practice.  Plus, it would be fun for the boys.  I knew there would be an open court for them to play on, so I brought an extra basketball along.  We don’t have a basketball hoop at home, so this would be a treat for them.

And I brought a book for me.  I was in the middle of a good book, so I had secretly calculated “reading time” for me while the boys played.  I thought I had planned things perfectly by setting the boys up with a fun activity during Kiersten’s practice.  I had been anticipating this time all day!  Guilt-free pleasure reading!

So I was caught off guard by Micah’s request.  Play with them?  Couldn’t they just play on their own?  I thought they’d go running off without even thinking twice about me.  I was flattered that Micah wanted me to join them…but I really wanted to read my book!  Reluctantly, I set down my book.

“I’ll give them fifteen minutes,” I thought to myself, as I attempted to steal the basketball out of Micah’s hands.  By then I’m sure they’ll be having enough fun that they’ll be fine continuing on their own.  I pour myself into the moment, anticipating a reading reward for myself at the end.

But after fifteen minutes, it was just Micah and me…Brennan had become bored.  The basket was way too high for him, so he was frustrated.  And we only had one ball, so there was nothing else for him to do on his own.  My plan wasn’t working.

I came up with a “Plan B.”  Take them to a nearby playground.  They had never been to this playground before, so it was full of new and exciting possibilities for them.  I knew that they would both be happy there.  Which meant I could finally read my book!

So, off to the playground we went.  Once we arrived, Micah and Brennan went running off immediately to explore their new surroundings.  I found a nice bench.  Eagerly, I opened my book.

“Mommy!” call two little voices before I can even read the first word, “can you play with us?!”

I sigh deeply.  I am so tempted to say no.  They can play by themselves.  According to my plan, this was supposed to be “my time.”  Just taking them here was a special activity.

But then I look at them.   Two little blond heads.  Two eager little faces.  Two precious boys.  Two little boys who won’t always be little.  Two little boys who won’t always be begging me to play with them.  The book will always be waiting for me.  These little boys won’t.  Some day they will be grown and gone.  I’ll wish they were little again.  I’ll wish I could play with them again.

It just so happens to be December 14.  The day of the Sandy Hook tragedy.  I think of those parents who dropped their kids off at school that morning.  Those parents who had no idea this was the last time they’d see their child.  Those parents who would give anything to hold or play with their child one more time.

I set down my book.  The book can wait.

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Papa Panov and Advent

images[1]In the reading that our family follows for Advent, the second candle that we light is called the Bethlehem Candle, which “shines to show us that Christ came to us in the quiet of a stable in Bethlehem.”  So that week we focus on baby Jesus.  On his humble beginnings.  That He is a gift to us.

As we read and discussed this concept, Brennan asked, “What is our gift to God, Mommy?”

He asked as sincerely as only a five-year-old can.

I had been wondering how I’d transition into reading the Christmas book I had chosen to read to the kids that night, Papa Panov’s Special DayI had just checked that book out from the library and was excited to read one of my childhood favorites to them.  I was reading it whether it fit the Second Sunday of Advent theme or not!

I love when these perfectly unplanned moments arise.  The theme of Papa Panov was the perfect answer to Brennan’s question.

“What a great question,” I say to Brennan, “In fact, the book I’m about to read to you ~ after you get your pajamas on and get ready for bed ~ talks about that.”

So, the kids eagerly ran off to get ready for bed.  Fifteen minutes later we were all gathered in the boy’s room to read the book.

“A long time ago, almost too long ago to remember,” I begin, “there lived an old shoemaker.  His home was far away, almost too far to imagine, in a small Russian village.”

This story goes on to tell about Papa Panov, who “was not very rich…but neither was he very poor.”

It was Christmas Eve.  Papa Panov, who was typically quite happy and who would“sing and whistle and shout a cheery greeting to people passing by,”was actually feeling sad and lonely.  He missed his wife (who had died many years before) and his children (who had all grown up and gone away).

In his sadness and loneliness, he took out his bible, sat in his chair, and began reading the Christmas story.  He read about how “a little boy, Jesus, was born, not in a good warm house but in a cowshed because there wasn’t any room at the inn.”

“‘Dearie, dearie,” said Papa Panov (who lived in his one-room shoe shop), ‘If they had come here, they could have slept on my good bed and I would have covered the little boy with my patchwork quilt…'”

He continued to read about how “the rich men travelled across the desert to bring wonderful presents for the little boy Jesus…”

“‘Dearie, dearie’ sighed Papa Panov, ‘if Jesus came here, I shouldn’t have anything to give him'”  Then he smiled as he remembered something.  He took down a box from a shelf.  “He opened the box and unwrapped a pair of tiny shoes.  Papa Panov held one small shoe in each hand…They were the best shoes he had ever made…  ‘That’s what I would have given him,’ he murmured.”

As he continued to read the Christmas story, Papa Panov (who was very tired) fell asleep in his chair.

Suddenly, he heard a voice, “Papa, Papa Pavov!” he heard. “‘Who is it?” cried Papa Panov, looking around him and seeing no one.

“‘Papa Panov,’ said the voice again.  ‘You wished that you had seen me, that I had come to your little shop and that you could bring me a gift.  Look out into the street from dawn to dusk tomorrow and I will come.  Be sure you recognize me for I shall not say who I am.'”

Papa Panov did not go to sleep that night.  He wanted to be awake so as not to miss the first person to pass by in the morning.  As dawn approached, he made a pot of coffee and waited.

Finally, he saw a figure coming down the street. “Perhaps this was Jesus,” he thought.  But it was only the old roadsweeper.  Papa Panov was frustrated and disappointed.  He really wanted it to be Jesus.  But as the man neared, Papa Panov felt sorry for him.  He looked very cold.  And how terrible to have to work on Christmas Day!

So Papa Panov opened the door and called out, “Hey old chap!…How about a cup of coffee?  You look frozen to the bone.”

So the roadsweeper came in to the warm shop.  “It’s very kind of you, very kind,” he said.

Papa Panov continued watching for Jesus throughout the day.  Many people passed his shop throughout the day. “Merry Christmas, Papa Panov!” many of them called out.  The old shoemaker would nod and smile back.  He knew them all by name, but none of them were Jesus.

He then saw someone he had never seen before.  It was a young woman carrying a baby.  “She was very thin, her face was tired and her clothes were shabby.”

As Papa Panov watched her, he called out, “Hello, why don’t you come in and warm yourself?”

“‘You’re very kind,’ she said, as he stood aside for her to enter his little shop.”

She refused the bread and soup he offered her, but willingly accepted the milk he offered for her child.  As he fed the child milk, Papa Panov noticed the baby had no shoes.

“…A thought came to [Papa Panov’s] mind.  He pushed it away ~ but it came back…The tiny pair of shoes he had made so long ago ~ they might fit the baby.  So Papa Panov got them down from the shelf and tried them on the child’s feet.  They fitted exactly.  Perfect!”

After the mother and child left, Papa Panov resumed his perch by the window.  Hours passed, but still no Jesus.  He began to be afraid.  “Perhaps Jesus had come and he had not recognized him.  Perhaps he had passed by quickly when Papa Panov had turned away just for a second to poke the fire or boil the soup!”

As he sat back in his chair that night he said to himself,”‘It was only a dream after all.  I wanted to believe it so much; I wanted him to come.’  And two great tears welled up behind his spectacles and filled his eyes, so that he could hardly see.”

“At once it seemed as if there was someone in the room.  Through his tears Papa Panov seemed to see a long line of people passing across the little shop.  The roadsweeper was there and the woman with her child ~ all the people he had seen and spoken to that day.”

“And as they passed him by they whispered, one by one, ‘Didn’t you see me?  Didn’t you see me, Papa Panov?'”

“‘Who are you?’ cried the old shoemaker, struggling out of his chair, ‘Who are you?  Tell me.'”

“And then came the same voice as the night before… ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me water, I was cold and you took me in.  These people you have helped today ~ all the time you were helping them, you were helping me!'”

“‘Dearie, dearie,’ said Papa Panov slowly, pulling at his long grey moustache.  ‘So he came after all.'”

“So,” I say to the kids as I close the book, “how does this answer Brennan’s question about what we can give God?”

Of course, they got the message:  we can love God by loving others.  Giving to others is giving to God.  It doesn’t matter your age.  It doesn’t matter where you live.  It doesn’t matter how much money you have.

Long after the children are in bed, I’m left with the simplistically powerful message of Papa Panov. It is a beautiful reminder to me of the importance of caring for others.  What I’m struck most with is that it can be so simple.  I often feel like I need to sign up to do “great things” (volunteer at a soup kitchen, sign up for a big church-wide event to “care for others,” etc.).  Those things, though they are very good and can be excellent tools and activities through which to teach children how to serve and care (and can be truly heartfelt and helpful and meaningful), sometimes can become one more thing on my “to do” list. Have I cared for others this season?  Check.

I want to work on simply loving others.  Of having an ongoing spirit and attitude of caring:  Engaging with the other moms in the kindergarten pick-up line.  Talking to the college neighbors who rent the home across from ours and baking cookies for them.  Sharing what I have with someone in need.  Showing interest in those people whose paths cross my daily life.

I want my children (and myself!) to see everyone as potential “Jesus’s.”  That as we are waiting for Him (to truly meet Him face to face some day), we are caring for people along the way.  Whether we do it in large venues for big groups of people, or in small venues for one single person.  Even a family member (maybe at times, especially a family member!)

As Advent is over and all the that goes with it (both the beautiful and the crazy!), may this simple message of the Bethlehem candle ~ and Papa Panov ~ linger on throughout the year.  May Brennan’s question be at the forefront of my mind:  What is my gift to God?

May I be looking for Him everyday, in my every day life.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”                                                                        ~ Matthew 25:35-40

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Taking in the Weather

I woke up the morning of the election only to discover that I didn’t know who I was going to vote for that day.

This is a scary confession for me to make.  Scary because some people may have judgmental reactions to this.  Some may wonder why in the world I’m not clearly voting for _________ (fill in the blank as you may).  Others may be appalled at my apparent lack of preparedness.  How in the world, after months upon months of political ads and political discussion, could I not have done my homework and decided on my candidate of choice?!

Let me explain.  When I went to bed Monday night, I knew who I was voting for.  I wasn’t planning on waking up undecided.

Let me also explain that my indecisiveness had very little to do with the candidates.  It had everything to do with me.  With the journey that I’m on right now.

Eugene Peterson, in the forward to his book, The Wisdom of Each Other, tells this story about a man named John Muir:

In the last half of the nineteenth century, John Muir was our most intrepid and worshipful explorer of the western extremities of our North American continent…

[in 1847] Muir visited a friend who had a cabin, snug in a valley of one of the tributaries of the Yuba River in the Sierra Mountains…One December day a storm moved in from the Pacific ~ a fierce storm…It was for just such times this cabin had been built:  a cozy protection from the harsh elements…

[but] Muir, instead of retreating to the coziness of the cabin…strode out of the cabin into the storm, climbed a high ridge, picked a giant Douglas fir as the best perch for experiencing the kaleidoscope of the color and sound, scent and motion, scrambled his way to the top and rode out the storm, lashed by the wind, holding on for dear life, relishing Weather:  taking it all in ~ its rich sensuality, its primal energy.

This story is background information for an illustration that Peterson uses later in the forward to explain “religion vs. spirituality.” This illustration so accurately depicts the spiritual journey that I’ve been on in recent years:

The word “religion,” following one possible etymology (not all agree on this), comes from the Latin religere, “to bind up, or tie up, again.”  The picture that comes to my mind is of myself, having spent years “getting it all together,” strolling through John Muir’s Yuba River valley, enjoying the country, whistling in self-satisfaction, carrying my “life” bundled in a neat package ~ memories and morals, goals and diversions, prayers and devotion all sorted and tied together.  And then the storm comes, fierce and sudden, a gust tears my packaged life from my arms and scatters the items every which way, all over the valley, all through the forest.

What do I then do?  Do I run helter-skelter through the trees, crawl through the brush, frantically trying to recover all the pieces of my life, desperately enlisting the help of passersby and calling in the experts, searching for and retrieving and putting back together again (rebinding!) whatever I can salvage of my life, and then hiding out in the warm and secure cabin until the storm blows over?  Or do I follow John Muir to the exposed ridge and the top of the Douglas fir, and open myself to the Weather, not wanting to miss a detail of this invasion of Life into my life, ready at the drop of a hat to lose my life to save it (Mark  8:35)?

For me, the life of religion (cautious and anxious, holding things together as best I can so that my life will make sense and, hopefully, please God) and the life of spirituality (a passion for life and a willingness to risk identity and security in following Jesus, no matter what)  contrast in these two scenarios.  There is no question regarding what I want:  I want to be out in the Weather!  But far more often than not I find myself crawling around on the ground, gathering up the pieces of my life and tying them together again in a secure bundle, safe from the effects of the Weather.

The past couple of years have brought some big changes to our lives.  A storm has blown through, so to speak.  Not a storm in the form of a death or physical tragedy and not a storm that the average onlooker would even notice.  Yet a storm that has still impacted us and has caused us to experience loss.  Loss in the form of some changes in life that weren’t part of my “plan” ~ my nicely tied up package.

Just like Peterson’s image, I had been walking along a lovely river valley, carrying my “life” all bundled up nicely.  I knew what I wanted, where I was going, and what I was taking with me.  I was happy with my memories and morals, goals and diversions.  My life was easy and good.  I liked it.  I was full of self-satisfaction.  And I praised and trusted God in the midst of it.

So it made no sense to me when a storm came through and tore that bundle from my arms and scattered all that was in it every which way.  Because in my mind, everything that was in it was good.  It didn’t need to be torn from me.  I found myself desperately trying to crawl about (helter-skelter!) and pick up the pieces and bundle them back together…like they use to be.

I felt like I was the “innocent bystander” and didn’t deserve the changes that had come my way.  But slowly, I began to see (how I began to see are separate stories in and of themselves) that I was right where God wanted me to be.  He was the Weather, and it was not a mistake that my bundle had been stripped from my arms.

As I wrapped my mind around this idea, I was slowly able to release those items that I had been comfortable with my entire life.  Rather than trying to frantically gather them all back up and put them back in my bundle, I “opened myself to the Weather.”  I let all of my comfort items (all those things I thought I needed to live a “good Christian life”) go.  And I slowly began to wait and see what items would go back in.  Maybe some of them would be the same…yet in different forms (maybe I still needed a “water bottle,” but a different brand, style, and/or color).  Maybe I didn’t need some of those items at all anymore (maybe the box of granola bars wasn’t necessary).

Of course I’m talking in cryptic form…a blog is not the place in which to share some of the specific details of my storm.  Yet I hope my message is clear.  God was (and still is!) working in me.  And He was doing it in ways I didn’t expect or understand…and in ways I didn’t even think I needed!

As difficult as it has been (and still is at times!), I am so thankful for the storm.  My faith is stronger.  My understanding of what it means to follow Jesus and trust in Him is much deeper.  I have gone from being what Peterson calls “religious” (holding things together as best I can so that my life will make sense and please God) to what he calls “spiritual” (having a passion for life and a willingness to risk identity and security in following Jesus, no matter what).

No matter what.  Some of the changes that have been brought about in my life (our lives, collectively as husband and wife) are things that (I must admit) I negatively judged others on in the past.  In many aspects, I’ve risked my identity as I’ve pulled out of things.  I’ve also let go of many of the securities in my life.  And in doing so, God is drawing me closer and closer to Him.

I’m turning to God for direction like I never have before.  Not just doing things because they are supposedly the “most Christian” or because that’s what I’ve always done.  Some things may stay the same (as I “own” them and choose them) and some things may change.  And I’m doing a lot of waiting.  Of taking one step at a time, not always knowing where the next one will take me.

And that’s what I think my “election morning dilemma” was all about.  It was one more thing I’d had in my nicely tied-up bundle.  I had always voted a certain way because, well, that’s what I thought I was supposed to do.  But that morning, I realized that the “right answer” might not be what I thought it was.  At the same time, it might be.  I didn’t know!   I had heard compelling arguments on both sides ~ both for and against specific candidates~from wonderful Christians who I respected and admired.  Rather than just assuming one side was “right” (as I’d always done), I was more aware than ever that the overall answer as to whom should govern our country was not necessarily black and white.  I was ready to consider both sides and come to my own conclusions…with God as my guide.  What did I think?  I truly didn’t know.

Of course, I didn’t have the time that morning (though I did try!) to figure it all out.  But that’s okay.  My questioning was the first step ~ in yet one more area ~ in letting go of “what I had always done.”  Another item from my bundle to be evaluated.

As I stood at the ballot station that day with the choice of president before me, I paused.  Not because I didn’t know who to vote for; I had come to a decision before heading to the polls. Who knows how I might have voted, had I had more time to truly weigh both sides…but I knew my choice at that moment was my own choice, and I knew why I had chosen it.  I paused to appreciate the significance of that moment.  A symbolic moment of moving forward.  A moment of acknowledging the soul work God was doing within me.  Just that morning, I had read this quote by Lilias Trotter on my mom’s blog:

 And the growing point of our soul is the thing with which the Spirit of God is specially dealing, and all depends on faithfulness there.

My mom went on to quote another author, Bruce Larsen, in the same blog post:

Surely this is how the Holy Spirit wants to work in each of our lives.  Everyone of us has a spiritual growing edge.  We all have mastered certain skills and subjects and disciplines and formed certain attitudes.  Our tendency is to sit back and make this the sum and substance of the Christian experience.  On the other hand God says, ‘Well done,’ and then moves us on to new areas that we can grasp and master.”

Letting go of my comfortable and security-producing package has been my “growing edge” these days.  And election day gave me one more opportunity to grow and trust and intentionally consider what to put in my bundle.

I pictured myself atop the Douglas fir tree ~ taking in the Weather.  Not knowing which way the wind would blow, but trusting God in it…and in me.  Not just in this decision, but with my entire life.

You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that.  You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next.  That’s the way it is with everyone “born from above” by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.  (John 3:8, The Message)

Posted in Faith and God, Heart Ponderings, Self-Discovery, Struggles and Sorrows | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Purple and Green

As I prepared my three-minute reflection for my grandmother’s memorial service, floods of memories of Grandma from the past twelve years poured into my thoughts.  Twelve years ago, my husband and I moved to Indiana.  Only three hours away from Wheaton, Illinois, we took advantage of visiting Grandma (and Grandpa, at the time) a couple of times a year.

They had recently moved into a retirement center, Windsor Manor, and had a lovely apartment in the independent living area of the facility.  Grandma had beautifully decorated this apartment.  The best of the best of her furniture and decor graced the rooms of this two-bedroom complex:  her gorgeous white couch, lovely glass coffee table, peach colored accent chairs, an oak hutch filled with her fine china, amongst other beautiful items.

Grandpa was beginning to fail (thus the reason for their move), so Grandma’s presence in this new setting was predominant in my memory.  It was Grandma who made this apartment a home.  Even with Grandpa’s declining health, she entertained and lived as elegantly as she had before.  Our visits were always clearly anticipated by her.  In her little kitchenette, she’d prepare “tea-type” treats for us:  homemade oatmeal cookies, or brownies served with vanilla ice-cream and a drizzle of chocolate sauce or a homemade quiche with a sprig of grapes alongside.  And she’d serve us these treats on her best dishes, on a beautifully set table.  She’d have clippings of articles of interest, or magazines to pass along to us, obviously set aside and saved for our visits.  As Grandpa’s health continued to fail, our visits would include trips down to the nursing home section of Windsor Manor to visit him.

And each of those trips to see Grandpa were planned out lovingly by Grandma.  We’d bring him a treat of some sort (it didn’t take me long to learn that Grandpa loved my “Gooey Bar” recipe, so each visit I’d arrive with a new batch baked just for him).  We’d look at pictures with him, sing songs with him, and share stories that might trigger his memory.  It was always a joy to see Grandma’s unconditional love for her husband of so many years and the faithful care she gave to him until the very end.

After Grandpa died, we continued our trips to see Grandma.  By now, we had added kids to picture.  New memories of times with Grandma still included all of the above, but with babies and toddlers playing on her floor.  Though her apartment was not necessarily kid-friendly (why should it be?!), Grandma never seemed a  bit worried or bothered by my children’s presence.  In fact, I think she loved having these little people around.  She always seemed intrigued by the “new toys” we’d bring along.

I will be forever grateful for the many memories of these past twelve years with Grandma.  I’m grateful, because I have so few from my childhood years.  I didn’t realize how few memories I had until I began trying to come up with some to share at her memorial service.  Beyond making popcorn balls with her, sewing with her (she taught me how to cross stitch), and reading with her…I could think of nothing else specifically with her.

Most of my childhood memories with my grandparents centered around Grandpa.  He was a larger-than-life personality.  As I tried to think of “Grandma-centered memories” from childhood, Grandpa kept getting in the way!  Trips to Cypress Gardens, where he would hold me in his special Grandpa way.  Walks with him around Lake Wales Lake…in particular the walk where I trailed far behind him because I was embarrassed by his hat and didn’t want to be associated with him!  Endless checkers tournaments where he was determined to never lose.  Equally endless croquet tournaments, which occasionally ended with fights between him and my little brother (both of them were stubborn and competitive).  Trips into Chicago and Grandpa’s crazy driving (covering the speedometer with his checkbook and proclaiming he would not let anyone pass him the entire way!).  Sneaking into first-base-line seats at a Cubs game and getting a foul ball hit our way!  So many memories with Grandpa…yet memories with Grandma elude me.

As much as I loved my memories of Grandpa (who died in 2004), I was saddened by my lack of specific memories with Grandma from the early years.  Saddened especially because I had such good memories from recent years, and felt she (and I!) deserved more childhood memories!

As I was struggling with this reality, a quote came to mind.  It was a quote I had stumbled upon a few months earlier at my parents’ home, in a book by an artist on art and faith. The quote struck me, so I wrote it down in a little notebook that I keep on hand (to record thoughts, ideas, observations I come across that might serve me well for future purposes…a writing tip I learned through a course I took).  This is the quote:

Purple alone is pretty, but place mint green alongside and the purple becomes glorious.  Sometimes we need to be a green in a purple person’s life. *

This put it all into perspective.  I had been looking at Grandma’s life through the wrong lenses.  Through the filter of this quote, I had a clearer picture of who Grandma was all along.

Grandpa was a purple person and Grandma was the mint green in his life.  It was all so clear now.  Grandpa was all the more glorious because of Grandma.  As I began to rethink my memories of Grandpa, I realized Grandma was right there in the background.  At the end of each of our excursions, she was waiting for us at home with a beautifully prepared meal and a listening ear.  In the midst of an intense checkers game, she would show up with popcorn and ice-cold water to drink.  We’d end an afternoon of croquet on her outside table and chairs with homemade oatmeal cookies and lemonade served in crystal glasses, sprigs of mint, and a silver sipper from which to daintily gulp it down.

I remembered times she’d say “Oh, John,” in exasperation; yet I’m certain she was secretly enjoying his varied antics.  His crazy behavior added fun and zest to her life.  I’m convinced of that (I’m convinced because of how much she missed him after he died, and the love which she clearly had for him all along).  I even think she encouraged his mischievousness.  For example.  Every time Grandma made mashed potatoes, she would add a very modest amount of butter (maybe a mere tablespoon or two).  And every time, without fail, when Grandma’s back was turned, Grandpa would get the attention of us grandkids and throw in two sticks of butter (yes, two sticks!).  We would stifle our giggles as he sneakily mixed it in until it was melted.  Of course, Grandma never “caught” him.  Nor did she ever seem to realize that there was extra butter in the potatoes.  I never thought twice about it at the time.  But as an adult, I’m sure that Grandma had to know.  I would know if someone had messed with my mashed potato recipe!  And Grandma was a smart cookie (the valedictorian of her class, Grandpa always proudly reminded us).  Even at ninety-eight years old you couldn’t get much past her (just ask my dad who tried to sneak past her, just weeks before she died…he thought he was successful, but later discovered she had seen him the whole time).  Yep…mint green Grandma was allowing purple Grandpa to be all the more glorious in his playfulness.

I think Grandma loved being the green in Grandpa’s life.  He brought excitement to her life.  And he showered love right back at her in his ever-so-purple ways.  Even after he was gone, she continued to portray him and remember him as a glorious purple person.

And as I reflected on this analogy, a beautiful image came to mind.  In the end, Grandma finally got the chance to be purple herself.  Of course, I think she was purple the entire time.  She was gloriously purple in her green-ness.  But in her final years, she was no longer in the background.  She was loved and admired by all who knew her.  The dignity, grace, and beauty that had been there all along in the shade of green, was able to shine out gloriously as purple in the final stretch of her life.

And as each of us ~ her children and grandchildren ~ shared our memories of her that day of her memorial service, we were all given the great privilege of being the mint green in her life, as we honored and remembered the glorious person that she was.

Beautiful Grandma in her beautiful apartment.

* Blish, CarolynDrawing Closer:  The Paintings and Personal Reflections of Carolyn Blish.  New York:  Artisan  Publishers, 1997.

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Savoring

Cherish the season of motherhood you’re in…whether babies, preschoolers, school age, or teens.  Unlike the seasons outside your window, the seasons of motherhood never return ~ except in our memories.

~ Mary Steinke (from Motherhood One Day at a Time:  Daily Inspiration for Moms)

 “Savor these days…”  If I’ve heard that phrase once, I’ve heard it a thousand times!  Time goes by fast, I know that now.  And even when my children were much younger, I tried my best to savor each stage.  In fact, I started this blog, in part, to savor moments and memories with my children.  Because, before I know it, they’ll be on to the next season of life.

Nearly five years ago, before I was blogging, I took this advice to heart and sat down to capture in words what I savored about the specific stages of each of my three children.  After reading the above quote just the other day, I immediately thought of that “savoring journal entry” from January 2, 2008.  Curious to remember how I felt then, I dug it out (from within the cavernous files on my computer!), and savored that stage all over again…a season of motherhood that has already too quickly come and gone:

I’m savoring this unique stage in my life as a mother…three small children at three distinct stages:  one in grade school (kindergarten), one in preschool, and a baby.  Yes, I am busy.  Thankfully, though, God has given me perspective.

I am thoroughly enjoying Brennan, the baby…even the night wakings don’t bother me like they did with the first two.  He is our last, so I’m savoring that time with him.  In fact, it’s one of the few times to be with just him, without another child clamoring for my attention.  The cuddling, his smiles and coos and baby noises, the way he clutches on to me and hugs me when I pick him up.  I know these days are far too short…I know I’ll miss having a little baby (the good so outweighs the struggles!).

Micah, age 3.  What a joy it is to watch him growing into a “real little person” – with thoughts, ideas, reactions, and so many words.  He is just taking in life.  It’s so fun to see him in a “formal” setting (preschool) for the first time.  He just had his first school program the other day and we were amazed to see that he knew all the words and the hand motions!  Somewhere, somehow in the past six months he has gone from being a toddler who struggled to put words and thoughts together to form complete sentences (and when he did, I was the only one who could understand him!) to being a little boy who not only can speak in comprehensible sentences, but who really has interesting thoughts and ideas to share.  He really has a mind of his own!

I can’t believe my oldest is in kindergarten!  There were days that this milestone seemed light years away!  As much as I’ve anticipated this stage of life (I LOVED school and couldn’t wait to experience it again through Kiersten), now that it’s here I’m suddenly aware of how quickly the years pass.  Already Kiersten is 6.  She is 1/3 of her way through her years here at home.  She’s now in school…no longer at home with me all day.  She’s in an environment that seems a little less under my control…making new friends whose families I don’t know, hearing and learning things from friends I’m not ready for her to hear and learn.  There’s nothing major, nothing bad.  It’s just that I’m now much more aware of what lies ahead.  She is growing up.  This is the beginning of her launching and having some independence.  She loves it, she’s learning.  I love her teacher and I love to watch her learn and hear about her day.  There’s joy in the moment and the anticipation of the future, yet there’s a sense of grieving what is now gone.  What I can’t get back.

That brings me back to the savoring of Brennan.  I know how quickly they grow.  In fact, I’m trying to savor all three stages.  Babyhood with Brennan, preschool joys with Micah, and kindergarten excitements with Kiersten.  How I wish I could bottle it all up.  How I wish I could go back and enjoy certain stages more.  How I’m reminded to enjoy and savor the now…it will be gone before I know it.  How thankful I am that they are still so young and that I have three in each of these distinct stages.

Kiersten, Micah, and Brennan ~ 5 years ago!

I can’t believe that savoring journal entry was nearly five years ago!  Kiersten is now 11, Micah is 8, and Brennan is a five-year-old kindergartener!  Where did those five years go?  Oh, I cherished and savored as much as I could.  I even attempted to “bottle it up” by writing it down!  But time still marches on.  That season of motherhood is gone and will never return. I’m thankful for this journal entry of January 2, 2008.  It only took a fraction of time to write, but it allows me the chance to remember and savor how I felt forever!

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The Little Things

My heels are a daily reminder of the value of consistency and faithfulness.  Of how even the little things can make a big difference.  Let me explain…

In recent years, my heels have become cracked.  Very cracked.  Dead skin.  Deep grooves.  Scratchy and dry.  For a while, I lived with their condition and was quite distraught.  They were ugly.  I assumed that it would take something drastic to heal and restore my callused heels.

Unwilling to live the rest of my days with heels I wanted to hide, I decided to try something little.  I’d seen advertisements for various pumice stones and heel files, so I thought I’d start there.  I purchased an inexpensive heel file at Wal-Mart, and began to daily file my heels in the shower.

I was amazed!  After just one day, I could already tell a difference.  Literally, I filed each heel for less than one minute.  The amount of dead skin that came off was amazing.  Within a week, my heels were almost back to normal!

I continue this practice on a regular basis (and when I don’t, I can tell!).  I typically file them three or four times a week.  I also picked up the helpful tip to keep them moisturized.  It’s best to put lotion (or even better yet, petroleum jelly) on them and them wear a pair of socks for several hours (or overnight).  This practice takes my heels to the next level of smoothness as it goes deep into the skin and restores my heels.  I don’t do this as often, but I do it when I can.

This experience has been so helpful to me in understanding how even small things can make a big difference.  And this insight applies to so many areas of my life…from cleaning the house (wiping things down with a Clorox wipe or throwing away junk mail immediately, before it piles up) to parenting (hugging and kissing regularly or dealing with small discipline issues before they become big) to random things like taking care of plants (it’s amazing how watering regularly ~ something so seemingly easy and little ~ really does make a difference!).

But where I’m encouraged the most is how it applies to my relationship with Christ.  Simply reading a bible passage each day or meditating on just one verse a day or reading a short daily devotional can make a huge difference.  These seemingly little practices help file away at the spiritual deadness, cracks, and callousness that can so easily form over time.  And as I daily spend time with Him in small ways,  I still look for opportunities to delve deeper by spending extra time with Him…whether it be a Bible Study with friends or just extra time in His word (like occasionally rubbing lotion or petroleum jelly on my feet).

If just a little bit of time and effort can make such a lasting impact on the condition of my feet, I’m certain that just a little bit of time and effort can also make a lasting impact on the condition of my heart and soul before God.

Day by day

Day by day

Oh Dear Lord

Three things I pray

To see Thee more clearly

Love Thee more dearly

Follow Thee more nearly

Day by day

(from the Godspell song, “Day by Day”)

As I file my callused feet, I pray, my Lord, remind me of the difference You can make in my own heart and soul, simply by spending daily time with You.

Posted in Faith and God, Heart Ponderings, Self-Discovery | 3 Comments

The Best Cleaning Agent

A little over a year ago, I made a life-changing discovery:  the cleansing power of vinegar.

I had heard from others that vinegar was an amazing cleaning agent.  I have friends who wash their windows and mirrors with vinegar.  I have other friends who add vinegar to their laundry.  And I have friends who use it (combined with various agents such as baking soda or dishwashing liquid) to clean a variety of surfaces (bathtubs, countertops, etc.).

I’m not particularly fond of the smell of vinegar, so I intentionally avoided using any of those cleaning tactics.  For the most part, I was content with my nicely packaged store-bought cleaning supplies.

But then I became desperate.  My glass dishes were foggy.  Terribly foggy.

At first, I had no idea that vinegar might be a solution for this problem.  I tried numerous dishwasher products (various detergents as well as rinse agents and glass cleaners).  Then, I resorted to hand-washing.  Again, trying a variety of products.  Nothing I tried worked.  The dishes remained cloudy.

I was at the point of throwing away these glass dishes and buying new ones.  I knew they were “clean,” but I was hesitant to invite others over and use my dirty-looking dishes with them.  I was embarrassed of their condition.

In this state of desperation, I began asking others for advice on my situation.  Some people thought my dishes might be etched.  If that was the case, there was nothing I could do about it.  Others suggested many of the products and techniques I had already tried.

Finally, someone suggested vinegar.  If my dishes were not etched, they informed me, then vinegar would take care of the problem.  Not just wiping them in vinegar, but soaking them in vinegar.

Learily (I truly felt there was no hope for my poor dishes), I purchased a huge jug of vinegar.  I filled a large bowl with the stinky substance and submerged one of my short glass cups into the vinegar.  Then, I walked away.

Fifteen minutes later, I returned.

As I pulled the glass out of the bowl, I couldn’t believe my eyes:  it was crystal clear!  I was thrilled.  Immediately, I began to soak cup after cup, bowl after bowl, and dish after dish.  I could barely contain my excitement.  I took before and after pictures.  I called Randy at work.  I showed my children the sparkly clean and clear glass dishes.  If I was a more gregarious person, I would have shouted this good news from the mountaintops!  Really.

Instead, I internally marvelled at the cleansing power of vinegar.  As silly as this may seem, it truly was an amazing and exciting discovery.  As I thought about my desire to shout this good news from the mountaintops, these words of an old song from childhood (“Pass it On”) came to mind:

I’ll shout it from the mountaintops!  I want the world to know,  The Lord of Life  has come to me;  I want to pass it on.

It’s funny how the little things of life strike you in unexpected ways.  In my excitement about the power of vinegar and my desire to share it with others, I was struck (through the words of this song) with the analogy of vinegar to Christ.

To some this might seem like a stretch or simplistic, but it was insightful to me.  I had looked everywhere for a solution.  Everywhere except where the real solution was.  And when I found the solution, it was so simple.  And I realized I kind of knew about it all along.  I had just never tried it.  And it was so easy.  Vinegar.

Kind of like Christ.  It’s so easy to look for solutions everywhere else.  Even though we’ve heard about Him. We know that He’s helped others.  Even though we know He’s the best “cleaning agent” there is!  Jesus may use experiences and other people (like vinegar may be combined with baking soda, dishwashing detergent, salt,  etc. for the best results), but He’s the ultimate “Cleaning Agent.”

And the image of a cloudy glass alongside a crystal clear glass was powerful.  It spoke volumes to me of the work of Christ in our lives…in my life.

The thing that struck me the most, though, was my great excitement and desire to share this good news about vinegar.  Do I have the same desire to share the good news about something ~ Someone ~ even better than vinegar?  Am I as excited about the life-giving and life-changing ways of a relationship with Jesus as I was about the “life-changing ways” of vinegar?

Convicted in the kitchen.  When I least expected it, in the most unexpected way.

When I clean with vinegar, my Lord, I pray, that you would remind me of Your cleansing power and give me the courage ~ and opportunities ~ to share You with others.

Posted in Faith and God, Heart Ponderings, Just for Fun | Tagged , | 1 Comment