The Gift of Community

Yesterday I turned forty.  Forty.  I don’t feel forty.  I am still stunned by the truth of this milestone.  Not that it’s all bad.  I wouldn’t want to sacrifice what I now know just to look young.  But if there was a way to have the wisdom of years and the smooth and creamy skin of youth I’d certainly go for that.

But I was blessed by a wonderful weekend.  The sun shone bright both days, Will and Nate won their basketball games, my mom and my sister flew in from Michigan,  I received many phone calls, emails, cards, texts, and Facebook posts, and the moms from my boys school threw me a fantastic fortieth fiesta.  Caitlin was part of it too, because, as a teacher, she’s an integral part of my school community (unbelievable, I know).  It was a very special group of women who are trying to follow Christ and raise their kids in a place where they are known and loved.  It’s somewhat of a by-product of the school model that the families grow so close.  But many of my very best friends are from their school, and did they ever make me feel loved!

Based on the above photos you can see the setting was over-the-top beautiful.  The hostess obviously has serious skills and if you’d like to hire her, I may be able to work something out.  They had my favorite salsa in the whole wide world, margaritas, sangria, and yummy mexican for a sit down dinner.  They served a decadent chocolate cake, and played lots of Michael Jackson.  Clearly these incredible ladies know me well.

They passed around a sombrero (the fanciest, cutest, heaviest sombrero you’ve ever seen) and the wearer shared thoughts and memories about me.  I cannot convey how much I will always treasure these beautiful, generous, kind, encouraging, and wildly affirming words. The whole night was a gift, a gift that would be impossible without a loving and fun community.  In fact, my face was cramping up most of the night from laughing so much and I had to massage out facial kinks mid-party.

There could be no better way to turn forty!

Hebrews 10:22-25 says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

So grateful for the love I was shown, for the community I am a part of, for the meeting together and the spurring on and faithful encouragement.  I am indeed blessed.

I hope that you too know the gift of community, and that if you don’t, that you’ll seek it, that you’ll pray for and pursue a group of godly friends.  Like anything else worth having it takes intentionality, and maybe even a bit of discomfort and vulnerability in the process.  This weekend was a great reminder of why that process is always worthwhile!

Jackson 5 Friday: But What About That I Love That?

Last Saturday night we were watching football, hanging out on the couch.  All five of us.  I had almost finished my glass of wine, maybe one tiny sip left, and had placed it on the counter behind the couch.  We were all sitting there engrossed in the game, when I heard the wine glass being set down again on the counter.  Looking up, it was obvious that Sam had taken that last tiny sip.

“Sammy,” I exclaimed, “Did you just drink that?”

With all eyes staring at him with shock and amazement, Sammy proudly proclaimed, “It’s delicious!”

Of course we couldn’t help it.  He has such great comedic timing.  It was hysterically funny.  But I tried not to laugh too much.  Instead I said, “Sammy, you cannot have that.”

“But I love it,” he said.

“But you may not have it.  It is not for kids.”

“But what about that I love that?” he reasoned.

And I’ve been thinking about that all week.  Such a funny kid.  Such a funny statement.   But what about that I love that?  Isn’t that the way we think too?  There’s a lot of things I love that aren’t really appropriate or good for me.  For example, I like chips and fresh salsa.  Healthy right?  But not in the quantities I eat them in.  And I like those pretzel nugget things that are drenched in honey mustard, and I love good, salty, cheesy pizza.  I love Chai Tea Lattes from Starbucks and sometimes when I write there, I get a venti Chai and a lemon loaf.  These are bad choices, yet like Sammy there’s a part of me (a big part of me) that stomps its foot and says, “But what about that I love that?”

It reminds me of Paul writing to the church at Corinth.  He tells them that, yes, everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial or constructive (1 Corinthians 10:23).  Yesterday, I started tracking what I eat.  Having to log it in to the computer proved a big deterrent for day one.  I ate good things, things that were healthy and beneficial.  I hope to do the same in the days to come.  It’s not about depriving myself or claiming that anything (including the lemon loaf) is forbidden, it’s about being healthy and treating my body like the temple that it is (1 Corinthians 6:19).

So as Paul concludes so will I:  Whether I eat or drink — whatever I do — may I do it all for the glory of God (10:31).

Jackson 5 Friday: Sleeping on a Toddler Bed

Have you ever slept in a toddler bed?  It may seem impossible, given that I am just a hair under six feet tall, but I actually have.  Of course, it was technically more on, than in, but I’ve slept there more than once.  While very pregnant.  With my gargantuan child.  Not the whole night, but a small portion of quite a few nights.  When I realized that my first son would not yet be two when his baby brother arrived, I decided a toddler bed would be the best transition.  Yes, he was the size of a four-year-old, but I just couldn’t bring myself to put my baby in a bed he could roll out of.  So about a month before the new baby came (I didn’t want Will to think Nate was stealing his bed), we transitioned little Will to his toddler bed (which in case you do not know is the same size as a crib, it’s just that the mattress is laid on a little miniature bed frame).

How I managed to get my pregnant self and son on that bed is a mystery.  But I did it.  I wanted to cuddle with him as much as possible while he was still our only child.  I worried that he’d have a hard time with all the attention and love suddenly being halved and I wanted to soak up my last days of just him, and sometimes I’d fall asleep there.  Silly girl.  Of course now I know that attention-halving is not at all the way it works.  I enjoyed Nate and Sam more as babies because little Will was there too.  He adored them as much as any big brother could, and from the earliest days they gazed up at him with undying affection.  And they remain in awe of him.  Attention halved?  Love halved?  Ridiculous.  Utterly laughable.  More family members have meant more love all around, and I wish we would’ve started earlier and had six boys instead of three.

But the reason I thought about sleeping on a toddler bed is because it is actually in Isaiah.   Isaiah 28:20 says, “The bed is too short to stretch out on, the blanket too narrow to wrap around you.”  What a picture!  You may drift off for a few minutes on a toddler bed, but I can assure you it is not restful.  You cannot get comfortable, no matter what you do.  Contentment escapes you.

In this verse Isaiah is prophesying about Israel and what will happen when they fail to listen to God, but I think this toddler bed, undersized blanket picture describes every human life.  There is no perfect peace outside of Him.  Pascal was right when he said there is a God-shaped hole in our heart that only He can fill.  So where do you turn for peace and comfort?  Do you think things will make you happy?  Do you think love will make you happy?  What is the longing of your heart?

Isaiah said that perfect peace is found in listening to God and relying on Him alone: “[He] will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in [Him].” Isaiah 26:3.

Our lives are busy and full of distractions; steadfast minds don’t happen by accident.  May we be purposeful in seeking and trusting the Lord anew each day!  

Jackson 5 Friday: My Hip Replacement

Six months ago I thought I might be a candidate for a hip replacement.  No kidding.  It sounds like a joke, but my right hip was stiff and ached and throbbed almost all of the time.  Getting out of bed in the morning took effort and trips of more than fifteen minutes in the car meant that I looked at least eighty years old climbing out.

In September my good friend Brandi and I resolved to run together.  I explained to her my lack of ability, but she claimed that she hadn’t been running much either.  So the first time out we started talking.  I told her about my perceived need for a hip replacement.

“Does it hurt down the side of your leg to you knee?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, “it does.”

“It’s your IT band,” she said.  “You need to get a foam roller and roll on it.  It hurts but it will help.”

We ran that day, and then I drove straight to Sports Authority for something I had never laid eyes on or heard of an hour before.  I bought the foam roller and started rolling myself silly.  To say that it hurt is a drastic understatement.  It was very painful.  However, the difference it made was astounding.  It is as if I’ve had my hip replaced.  I do not have that stiffness at all anymore.  I am stunned that foam rolling and running (something I have abhorred my entire life) could be curative for this prematurely aged hip, but that’s the fact.  Somehow schedules have conspired against us, and Brandi and I have run together only one other time.  But I am so grateful that she encouraged me with her IT band wisdom.  You might be tempted to wonder why my running, disciplined, M.D. husband never pointed me in this direction.  I guess he’d never heard of the foam roller either, and I should admit that I long ignored his faithful entreaties to stretch.

Since that first outing with Brandi I’ve been pretty faithful about running a few times a week and using the foam roller when I sense that tightness creeping back.  And now, as I mentioned the other day, I got a gym membership for Christmas.  This will allow me to swim, work out with weights, and do classes.  So far I’ve done three different classes.  In each class I’ve had women 20-30 years older than me kick my butt.  I am in awe of the fitness of these women.  It’s definitely proof that age is no excuse.

So I don’t know if you run, but I think you should.  It’s a horrible thing to start doing if you’ve never really done it like me.  It’s jarring and uncomfortable, but it’s also mental.  You can do it.  You can run a few minutes and build up.  I’ve used the Couch to 5K app, and I’ve set distance and time goals on my own.  The first mile is always the worst — every time I go out, the first mile is the longest.  I’m still only running three miles at a time, and I do not have goals to run any crazy distances.  But I am feeling healthier and stronger.  I haven’t dropped a lot of weight, or any really, but that post-run satisfaction is motivation enough to keep going.

Plus research shows that your brain works better when you exercise.  I’m currently reading a fascinating book called Spark by John Ratey.  Ratey provides ample evidence that “aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance.”  If this was the sole reason to work out I think it’s more than sufficient, don’t you?

So for all my friends who are physically fit, please know that I admire you greatly and so appreciate your inspiration and encouragement.  And for those friends who are not quite so fit, I know you can do it.  How do I know?  Because six months ago I was a nonrunner in need of a hip replacement.

The father of lies would have you believe that you cannot do it, but Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13 NASB).

I certainly haven’t arrived in terms of being skinny or fit, but it feels great to be on the path, and I sure would love it if you’d join me.

THRPLGEW: A Discipline

I imagine that most of my readers know me personally and therefore know where my boys go to school, but since this is in fact the Internet, I do not mention this place by name.  You know, just to be safe.  However, I am struck as I read through Richard Foster’s chapter on the discipline of study how closely Foster’s ideas align with the educational philosophy of their little school.

Foster writes:

The principal task of study is a perception into the reality of a given situation, encounter, book, etc.  We can go through a major crisis, for example, without any perception of the real nature of the tragic situation.  But if we carefully observe and reflect upon what occurred, we can learn a great deal.

Their school encourages careful observation and intentional reflection.  Analytical questions are part of their everyday life, and there is little to no rote memorization.  They  are there to learn in a joyful environment, where wonder and awe at God’s creation are prevalent, where great stories are treasured, and where first-hand experiences and lively discussions leave no room for technology (by design there are no computers or televisions in the lower grades).  They participate in Socratic seminar which teaches students to interact with one another, delving deep into books.  As Foster says, “when we gather for discussion, debate and Socratic dialogue insights emerge that would never have come without this exchange.  We interact with the author, we interact with each other, and new creative ideas are born.”  I am privileged to sometimes facilitate seminar at their school and am blown away by the students’ insights.

Their school also has an abbreviated way of talking about Paul’s admonition to train our minds to think on worthwhile subjects.  Paul said “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8 NASB).  So what should you let yourself dwell on?  Only things that are THRPLGEW: True, Honorable, Right, Pure, Lovely, Good Repute, Excellent, Worthy of praise.  Pretty simple, but not always easy.

Foster also quotes a beautiful Dostoevsky excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov:

Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it.  Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light.  Love the animals, love the plants, love everything.  If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things.  Once you perceive it, you begin to comprehend it better every day.

This is how I want my boys to study the world around them, and this is how I want to study.  It’s a discipline, though, to be sure.  Our high tech world and constant distractions are hardly conducive to careful observation and reflection.  Like all these spiritual disciplines, we must be intentional.

I hope you’ll read Foster’s whole chapter on study because it is well worth your time.  It has me inspired to study the Book of Isaiah in a more thoughtful and deliberate way in the coming months.  If I’m disciplined about it, maybe that will lead to a new blog series.

The Dreaded Discipline

For Christmas I got a health club membership, and it’s a pretty fancy shmancy club.  To get you started they do a full assessment of your fitness.  My appointment is at 10am today.  Despite my ten-year-old’s insistence that I am neither skinny nor fat (click here if you missed that one), by noon today I’ll unfortunately know just how fat I am.  And I’m not being dramatic or fishing for compliments, I have issues with food.

I eat too much.  I love the social aspect of food.  Sitting down to eat with my family is one of life’s greatest joys.  A leisurely dinner out or at home with lots of conversation is just a gift to me.  Unfortunately, as Proverbs says, “food eaten in secret is [also] delicious” (9:17).  I love food, and spend not only too much time consuming it, but too much time thinking about it.

So it is with this background that this morning I read Foster’s chapter on fasting.  Oh my. The dreaded discipline.  I am happy to pray, happy to meditate, happy to study, happy to worship, even somewhat happy to confess.  But go without food?  It’s not a longing that I have that’s for sure.  But if you read this chapter, and I hope you will, I think the case is made that God intends for us to fast.  At least I am certain that fasting should be a discipline I practice.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6: 16-18).

Yet as Foster says, “Fasting must forever center on God.”  Fasting is not about losing a few pounds, or gaining discipline for discipline’s sake, but about actively and intentionally seeking God.  That’s it.

Many people know Jeremiah 29: 11, but look at it with the verses that follow as well.

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. ” (Jeremiah 29: 11-13)

Do you believe that fasting is one way to seek the Lord with all your heart?  I do.  And I will in 2012.

Pushing and Praying

On Sunday I was in Charlotte, North Carolina with my family.  My brother and Will’s brother have both moved to that beautiful city in the last three years, so we have a new tradition of shooting down there for cousin time sometime between Christmas and New Years.

We decided to have lunch at a sports bar type of place on Sunday, which meant that my rabid Eagles and Redskins fans could see a few minutes of their last game till September.  In fact, since the restaurant had Direct TV, every game was on, depending on which direction you looked.  Although my boys seemed more than capable of processing all the games on different screens — calling out players names from various teams and their amazing feats without hesitation — it was definitely sensory overload for me.

I was visiting with my brother and my niece and nephew, and catching maybe one of twenty plays.  Yet this was the setting for a mathematical epiphany for Nate.  Oddly, in the midst of all that he said, “Nine times nine is eighty-one.  Eight times ten is eighty.  If you do that, it will always be one less.”

My response, “Wait, what?”

“Like five times five is twenty-five. And four times six is twenty-four, one less.”

“Mmmh,” I said, not sure that it was universally true, and far more interested in the fact that my sensory overload level left him bandwidth to attempt to deduce anything at all.

But as I laid in bed that night I came back to his assertion.  In the quiet I could do it in my head, and of course Nate’s theorem is verifiable.  He said that x² – 1 = (x -1)*(x+1).  If you foil that out, and I haven’t foiled in my head in quite a number of years, if ever, you get x² – 1x +1x -1, which is the same as x² – 1.  Yes, no matter what number you use, it is one less just as Nate said.  I am biased.  I am his mother, but I think it’s freaky.  He’s eight.  We were in a sports bar and he was engrossed in about five different NFL games, reciting statistics on every player that flashed upon the screen.  How on earth did he come up with that?

So here’s the question: what do I do with him?  He’s got some serious abilities — strange abilities, to remember facts and figures in Rain Man fashion, and to recognize patterns that most would miss, but the question is how do I push him?  Or do I push him?

This is a question that comes up a lot.  Not with oddities like Nate’s theorem, but just in the course of mothering conversation.  Do I make my child do x?  Do I let them quit?  How do I make them do things I know are good for them (practice piano, work on math facts, clean their room, put away laundry, drink water, eat veggies) even when they don’t want to.  There is not a simple answer.  Kids are different.  Lord, do I know that.  Parenting is hard.  Failures are certain.  What are we to do?

Well, I have one answer, and only one answer:  PRAY!  I’ve been meaning to blog through Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline for over a month now, but my re-read and re-post has been slow.  His chapter on prayer is full of wisdom and application.  Please read it.  But I’ll leave you with a few quotes.  “All who have walked with God have viewed prayer as the main business of their lives” (emphasis mine).  Wow.  I cannot say that prayer is the main business of my life, can you?  And as for our children, Foster says that “Your own children can and should be changed through your prayers.”  Yes, it’s my responsibility to feed my boys and get them to school and take them to practice and to push in some areas and offer grace in others, but the main business of my life as their mother is to pray for them.  May 2012 be a year of fervent prayer for Will, Nate and Sam, and for all of our children!