Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I've been thinking about the value of community lately...The thought was sparked by my recent dollar store incident (see last post), and more fully developed by a verse someone shared with me today. 

I've grown up thinking it was good and preferable to always be strong and be able to take care of myself and to be able to do all things that I need by myself and to always have everything together...basically, to be more or less completely self-reliant.  Asking for help always seemed like a weakness, and--understandably--has always been very hard for me to do.  On the plus side, this mode of thinking has encouraged me to learn and pursue things that I never would have otherwise, and so has broadened my talents and interests.  However, over the last several years, I've been gradually beginning to think that maybe the island life isn't really the best, after all. 

The recent dollar store incident (see previous post) caused me to think about the value of other people in our lives who act as a check and balance--whether it's someone close who serves as a mentor and accountability partner, or if it's a stranger who points out a blind spot.  What kind of arrogance makes me feel like I alone know what's best for my kids?  I mean, God has given me that sacred responsibility to raise and nurture them, and I embrace that responsibility wholeheartedly!  But, we've all heard it said, "It takes a village to raise a child," and I think there's wisdom there. 
  • It's good for a child to learn to respect adults other than his/her own parents.
  • It's good for parents to glean wisdom from other parents' experiences.
  • It's good for the young to learn from those who are older and wiser.  
  • It's good for the old to learn from the young who have not lost their childlike faith.
  • It's good for all of us to interact with those who are different from us, and maybe to glean valuable nuggets from a different way of life or a different perspective.
  • And, equally importantly, it's good for parents of young children to have a break now and then, to rejuvenate their own spirits.  

That last point ties in with the verse someone shared with me today.  As I mentioned above, I tend to feel like it is required of me, as a capable human being, to do everything myself and not to burden others by asking for help.  I guess I tend to think that it's selfish of me to ask someone else to do something for me, or am afraid that they will feel burdened, or feel like I am failing my God-given responsibility to pass off tasks for which I am responsible.  Or something. 

So here's that verse:
Exodus 18:13-18  "The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening.  When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, 'What is this you are doing for the people?  Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?'  Moses answered him, 'Because the people come to me to seek God's will.  Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God's decrees and laws.'  Moses' father-in-law replied, 'What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.  The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone."  Moses' father-in-law went on to instruct him that he should teach the people all of God's decrees and laws, and then select capable and trustworthy men to serve as judges, so that only the difficult cases would be brought to Moses.

I felt floored when this verse was shared with me.  Not that it was a new passage that I'd never heard before, but God used the person sharing the verse to bring me new insight, and it was something I needed to hear.  God gave Moses the responsibility of leading the Israelites and teaching them God's laws--a seriously important responsibility.  Moses had stood in God's presence, and daily he sacrificed himself in the Lord's service.  What he was doing was good, and no one could argue otherwise.

Except his father-in-law.  (Leave it to those in-laws, right? *wink*)  If you were Moses, and arguably had the most intimate relationship with the Living God of all the people in the land, and God spoke to you audibly and performed amazing signs and wonders through you, and entrusted you with the well-being and teaching of an entire nation of people, and you sacrificed yourself daily to this exceedingly difficult task, wouldn't you want a little pat on the back or an encouraging "What you do is good--keep it up"?  Wouldn't you be a little upset if a family member, who hadn't been with you on the long journey, and who probably wasn't even a believer in the same God (Jethro was a priest of Midian), showed up and said, "What you are doing is not good"???  Chalk it up to Moses' deep humility (which is attested to in Numbers 12:3) that he listened and took his father-in-law's advice. 

But the point I'm trying to make is that just as Moses needed help to perform his God-given responsibility, so do we need help with ours.  None of us is an island; God created us to be in community.  That is why we are called the body--parts of a whole, who work together for the betterment of both the whole and each part.  God can teach us and help us grow anywhere, at any time, through anyone, as long as we remain humble, open, teachable.  (Hey, this is not my strong suit here, so I'm certainly not preaching...just sharing what I'm learning!)

This week, I learned two valuable lessons from two different people, both of whom I'm not close to, and was blessed.  And that, I believe, is just a foretaste of one of the incredible benefits of living in community: to bless, and to be blessed; to sharpen, and to be sharpened; to help, and to be helped. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Oh, the Brazen Nerve!

Yesterday, my errands took me across the path of a gentle older lady who was a cashier at the local dollar store.  But, for a minute, let me backtrack...

One of my uncompromising discipline staples as a mother is that I do not give in to or reward bad behavior.  (Well, that's my goal; I'm sure I'm not perfect in execution.)  Manners and politeness are required; fussing and whining are not allowed.

This past week or so, my one-year-old daughter, who is normally nothing but sugar and spice and everything nice, has become moody and fussy and is constantly crying and throwing tantrums.  About EVERYTHING.  It's sort of thrown me off guard, and I think I maybe subconsciously thought it was my fault, like I wasn't giving her enough love or attention and that was her way of getting my attention...And I kept making excuses for her, "She's just tired...She's teething and her teeth are bothering her...She's hungry..."  But the point is, I was so focused on making sure she felt loved and special that I didn't even realize that I was catering to her bad behavior.

Until I was checking out at the dollar store.  Hmph.  Fia saw the candy and mints and was squawking wildly for some.  Now, in my own defense, I just want to throw out there that I was planning on buying some mints anyway; let's just keep that in mind!  So, I was trying to calm her and was letting her pick which one she wanted. 

This older cashier lady said kindly, "Oh, aren't they just like that sometimes?  Earlier today a grandma was in with her twin boy grandsons who were acting similar, but she didn't give them what they wanted and reward their behavior, and I was glad to see it!  It just takes once, and they know...Aren't they so smart?..."  Albeit gentle, it was still a slapping rebuke.  If there's one thing that always makes my blood boil, it's strangers commenting on my parenting technique...in a negative fashion.  (If they want to tell me how great a mother I am, they can comment away!)

I just enacted my "smile and nod" defense mechanism to get out of there as quickly as possible, but once safe in my car, away from judging eyes, I felt angry--"Who is she to say such a thing to me?  She doesn't know us and she doesn't know what our morning was like..." etc.  But then I felt a gentle prodding in my spirit, "Does it matter what your morning was like?  Is bad behavior ever justified?"  And I knew that I was angry because I knew that she was right; she had brought to my attention an issue that I was for some reason blinded to.  I knew that if she had said that same comment about another mother, I would have agreed with her wholeheartedly, and I felt convicted.

After a short battle in my spirit between self-righteous anger and humble acceptance of reproof, the latter won, and I immediately changed my manner of responding to my precious, ill-tempered child.  And you know what?  The results were dramatic.  She shaped right up, lost the attitude, and has been back to her sweet self.  So, thank you, Dollar Store Cashier, for your brazen nerve.  It was just what the both of us needed.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Beer Buddies

I'll give you a heads up: this post may be controversial.  I've debated for some time about even writing it at all, but it's been on my mind and so I decided to spill it.  And by the way, these are just my own inconclusive thoughts, no theological implications intended.

So.....Last month, we attended a beer festival here in northern Michigan--an event for a myriad of microbreweries to team up and showcase their specialty brews for the brew-loving public.  My husband is a budding connoisseur of malted beverages, so it was natural for us to go (and good business contacts were made, might I add!).

I wasn't much into the beer tasting (there were other things that suited my tastes better), but the experience struck me in a different way, having never been to such a thing before.  What struck me the most, from the minute we got in line to be let through the gate, was how friendly and non-judgmental and rather community-minded everyone was.  Of course, at an event such as this where the object is to taste various alcoholic beverages, people are going to develop more animated personalities.  However, the phenomenon I'm talking about started at the very beginning, before anyone had had even a sip to drink. 

(This obviously is not a picture from our winter festival, but it shows the atmosphere inside the tent)

Everyone acted like everyone was their friend.  Strangers were merely best friends yet to be met.  Everyone smiled and greeted everyone upon passing by, not  unlike the first few freshman weeks on a college campus.  And standing by the open fire to warm my hands, I got to know several people and became deeply immersed in conversations about the Middle East, its troubles, possible remedies, and other politics (disclaimer: Owen is the political one in our family, but I do have my own ideas on some things).  I'm not one who's energized by socializing, and so I usually feel overwhelmed and lonely in large crowds; but on this night, even at times when surrounded by no one I knew, I felt befriended and belonging, and never alone. 

I was really quite shocked...because, in my experience, out in public people tend to keep to themselves (maybe this is my experience because it's how I tend to be?), and the rare occasions when you do meet friendly people, conversation usually stays pretty light and short.  In the instance above, though, three sentences in we were already knee-deep in Middle-East issues, and talking about things that matter in the world.  It was refreshing, and inspiring.

Not to sound dramatic, but the whole night I just felt valued, appreciated, understood, and free to be myself.  (I even danced!  Not well, but who cared?!)  Not because people were lavishing compliments on me or paying any special attention to me, but just because everyone was so warm and welcoming and non-judgmental to everyone.  It was like all worldly criticisms and character judgments got checked at the gate, and everyone was equal, and everyone appreciated that everyone was equal, and everyone appreciated each person for who they were.  It was like what I expect the Church should be like.  And yet, I found it at a beer festival.

Okay, I know it probably sounds really silly to be painting this glorified picture of a bunch of tipsies at a beer celebration.  But, my spirit was legitimately encouraged and instructed.  Even amongst (maybe) non-believing strangers (oops--now I'm being judgmental!), I encountered God in a special way. 

I don't know.  I feel like sometimes we as Christians get so concerned about living right--and making sure others live right--legalistically working out our own salvation, if you will--that we forget about Jesus' commands to love and forgive and not judge others, and other simple but basic truths.  May we, the Church--believers in our daily lives--have arms so open and hearts so forgiving, and may we find God in the most unexpected places.