This week I've been reading out of Jeremiah, Romans and Deuteronomy. It is interesting to me how sometimes I get the same message out of each book - I guess it shouldn't be all that surprising since the whole Bible is God's word and he is consistent.
Jeremiah 32:41: "Oh how I'll rejoice in them! Oh how I'll delight in doing good things for them!"
Romans 8:32 (I think): If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us?
Deuteronomy 30: 8b: ...God, your God, will outdo himself in making things go well for you...
Okay, God, I'm ready for this to start happening.
I've been mulling over questions about God and his presence in the world lately. Is He active here? Is He just watching over His creation as it unfolds around Him? Does he test? Does he punish? Does he do good things for us? Ultimately, does he actively change or manipulate the world in order to do those things?
In reading the OT, it is clear to me that he DID those things. Is the God of today different than the God of Moses, the Israelites, Jeremiah? Is he less present and active now than he was then? But God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow - so He is NOT different than we was then. So he MUST be actively manipulating (sounds like a negative word) his creation in order to test some, punish some, and do good things for others. Logically my belief gets held up here: If God is actively involved in creation and manipulates the world in order to (for example) punish person A, then I may be indirectly affected by A's punishment... and how does that work?
In the stock market, when one person gains, another person loses - is that also true of God's punishment and blessing? If I'm blessed, is someone else being punished?
And this leads me to wonder if the last 4 1/2 years of financial stress has been a punishment. I know that money is not everything and that there are many people suffering in horrible ways and that our financial issues are so minimal compared to other people's problems - financial or otherwise. The thing is... this is OUR issue right now, the hardship that we're dealing with and just because it is money related doesn't mean its wrong. In fact, throughout my readings God promises to give his people a good life - prosperity, homes, cattle, sheep, wealth, health, children, so obviously he doesn't believe its wrong.
So today I'm wondering why this has been such a struggle. If God WANTS to do good things for me, wants to delight in making things go well for me - and he says so in his word - then WHY do I feel like I'm spending my prayer time trying to convince him to do good things for us? And does it make a difference? Oh my, I have so many questions and not many answers:)
Faith. I will choose faith.
Friday, July 31, 2009
This week I've been reading out of Jeremiah, Romans and Deuteronomy. It is interesting to me how sometimes I get the same message out of each book - I guess it shouldn't be all that surprising since the whole Bible is God's word and he is consistent.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
The Bible Jesus Read, by Philip Yancey is my current non-fiction book. I was intrigued by this book because, although I've learned many of the OT stories in school and church, I don't KNOW the old testament and the stories I've learned are slowly fading away. The author makes the point in the first chapter that we don't pay much attention to the OT anymore - we are much more NT focused. He, himself, had little desire to read or dig into the OT and only did so because he was paid to do it.
In this book, he explores four books or sections of the OT: Job, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and The Prophets. I am currently reading through the prophets in my Bible time, so I can't wait to get to that section.
Chapter 2 - Job: Seeing in the Dark
I've read Job in the past, but I did not read through the book as I was reading through this chapter...
His basic premise in this chapter is that the book of Job is NOT about suffering, rather it is about faith.
The first two chapters of the book set up the plot of the rest of the book: God and satan discuss this man, Job, and Satan tells God that Job is only faithful because he is rewarded very well for his faith. God disagrees and tells satan that Job is a righteous man whose faith is true. Satan pretty much gives God the Whatever sign, to which God's response is: Okay, do whatever you want to him, but do not harm him. In chapter 2 they have the same conversation and God gives him permission to harm Job, but he must not die.
The middle chapters of the book describe Job's suffering and the conversations he has with his friends. The last chapters hold God's magnificent speech about his power over creation and who is REALLY in control here.
What I took away from this chapter:
* Job's friends used the following logic to explain his suffering: a) God is just and fair - if you sin, God will punish you, if you are righteous God will reward you. Therefore, if you are suffering, you must have an unconfessed sin - repent and God will restore you. Job, however, maintained that he was righteous and blameless and that God was simply being unfair.
Throughout our EJ journey I have held the same reasoning - Why isn't God rewarding us when we have been obedient? Does one of us have an unconfessed sin lurking around that needs to be confessed before we will be taken care of? This book reveals how that reasoning is just false - God doesn't work like that.
* Job questions God. Job cries out in despair and even says scandalous things about God. Job gives up on the idea of God being JUST and FAIR, but he never gives up on God, he never stops believing in God and that God is present in his life - even if he is being totally unfair.
It is okay to question and doubt. God condemns Job for his ignorance of what is going on in the rest of the universe, but he doesn't condemn him for questioning and doubting him. William Safire says: "Human beings are sure to wander in ignorance and to fall into error, and it is better - more righteous in the eyes of God - for them to react by questioning rather than accepting. Confronted with inexplicable injustice, it is better to be irate than resigned."
* Job lives in a limited perspective of what is going on. Yancey says he is only privy to the ingredients of the situation and not the goal, the end result or the play as a whole. Having knowledge only of the ingredients limits his perspective to the point that he IS completely ignorant of what is going on when he questions God. Job sees God as unfair; God sees this as a cosmic battle with his reputation on the line (so to speak). God doesn't even explain himself or give Job reasons for why he is allowing his suffering.
This smacks of me having the following conversation with the girls: "I have much more incentive to win this battle. My job is to raise you to become good, well-functioning grown ups and this small battle is much more important for me to win, than for you - my incentive is greater." In a nutshell, the girls are ignorant of the larger picture and really only see the ingredients of the current situation. Wow, do I feel like that in my own life many times. Hind sight is 20-20, right? How often have I looked back and thought, "Oh. Well Holy Shit. THAT's why this happened." (excuse my profanity, that is exactly what is going through my head.) If only we could be privy to the play as a whole rather than the ingredients - life would make much more sense.
* There is a cosmic battle going on and MY faith, MY decisions make a difference. Quotes from this chapter: " Job presents the astounding truth that our choices of faith matter not just to us and our own destiny but, amazingly, to God himself." "God has given ordinary men and women the dignity of participating in the redemption of the cosmos. He is allowing us, through our obedience to him, to help reverse the pain and unfairness of this world..." "We will never know, in this life, the full significance of our actions here for... much takes place invisible to us."
It is really difficult for me to see or grasp that I matter in the grand scheme of things. It is also difficult for me to grasp that God is not the watchmaker just watching his creation as it winds down. I guess in that respect I sometimes wonder if praying really makes a difference or if life just follows a natural path and if you give it enough time it will all work out. Can prayer change his mind? But then I've experienced having my prayers answered - specifically. WHEN does God step in? Does he really, truly test us - like make things happen to test us - or is it just coincidence when things happen? Combination of both? How do you know which is which? I have a friend who does not believe in tests - his response is that God does not make children die as a way to test the parents. However, I've had times and experiences that I felt were tests... most recently when our capital campaign pledge was due to increase and we were making less money than before. I felt like the decision to continue our pledge was a test of faith - did we believe that God would provide even in THESE circumstances?
I wish I knew the answer to those questions. I feel like the actual circumstances might be a bit easier to deal with and live through if I knew they were a test - "Okay, this is a test, therefore if I choose faith, everything will be okay." Of course after writing that out I think perhaps the best response to anything - test or no test - is faith. Seems kind of like a DUH realization:)
A verse from my OT reading this morning fits very well with this chapter on Job:
Jeremiah 23:35 - "Instead of claiming to know what God says, ask questions of one another, such as 'How do we understand God in this?' But don't go around pretending to know it all, saying 'God told me this...'"
Truly, we have no idea what is going on in the universe as a whole. We have no idea how our actions, our situations affect the spiritual battle that is taking place around us. We have no idea what God's incentive is in allowing whatever is happening to happen... perhaps we are playing the role of Job in this play.
Friday, July 24, 2009
I've gotten myself into quite a situation with this and I'm not sure what to do about it. Pretty much life as usual with me includes a lot of self-discipline and then often sliding to the extreme.
I started running a year ago. At that time I couldn't even run a mile without taking a break. But I was determined to become a RUNNER. I didn't want to just run for exercise, I wanted to be a runner. Up until that point I had done some running on the treadmill as exercise, but I always did intervals because I couldn't stand the boredom and pain of endurance running. Around this time last year, though, I began to run outside and it changed me dramatically.
My 3 mile route became a challenge that I just couldn't beat - and began to feel like a puzzle I couldn't figure out. My brain was working overtime analyzing anything and everything about how I ran and how I could do better. Ultimately my problem was that my heart was beating too fast - my body could handle things, but my heart rate was getting too high and I'd have to stop. I didn't know how to change that, but I continued to work on running a little further every time before I stopped to walk.
In the meantime I was able to drop the last 5 pounds of pregnancy weight and my body was changing to become more athletic, fit and healthy. Soon I added more mileage and was running 5 miles at a time. Somehow I had it in my head that truly fit people ran 5 miles - not 3 - so this was fantastic.
I am a weather wimp, though, so as it got colder I started running on the treadmill more and more. Until finally that was all I was doing. But I was running 5 miles 3 times each week and then adding a mile each Saturday morning until I had gotten up to 7.75 miles without a break and 9 miles total. In April, Dave and I ran a 5k at Calvin. It was my first and I sucked - I didn't run even 1 mile straight. I finished and found a corner in the field house and cried for 15 minutes - I had worked SO hard at becoming a RUNNER and was unable to string together even 1 mile.
From that point on I have been running outside again - time to stop being wimpy and get over it. First 4 miles on a hilly route. Then turning that into 5 pretty comfortably. Pretty soon I was running 8 miles on Saturday and if I had to run on the treadmill due too weather it was 10 miles. I have to say, I was quite proud of myself not to mention I could basically eat anything I wanted to eat.
I had an awesome 8-10 mile run in Lake Geneva at the end of June and then took a week off to rest. Since then I have had nagging injuries to my shins and my ankles and I'm not sure what to do about them. Basically I've been a mental case about running... I don't want to gain weight, so I'm reluctant to stop or back down my mileage (I now have it in my head that 20 miles per week is best).
I'm worried, though, that I'm in a cycle that is only going to get worse - if I can do this many, well then I should be able to do this many and pretty soon I'm doing a ridiculous number of miles every week that are completely unnecessary to achieve good health. I have no notion of doing a marathon - I have a goal of running 15 miles by next April, but am beginning to wonder why I want to do that:)
Somehow, I need to get back to focusing on being healthy. I would like to lose 5 pounds, but don't think I can do that while I'm running so many miles (because I get so hungry and know I can eat whatever I want). I suspect that I might not be eating enough calories to maintain this amount of activity, which probably also contibutes to injuries and fatigue. I think that I'm going to need to rejoin Weight Watchers and retrain myself on how to eat and exercise. I need to remember that I AM a runner now, I don't need to go to this extreme... running 3 miles is just fine.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I wish that over the last 4 1/2 years I had kept a very detailed journal of our EJ experience and the financial aspect of it... because it is pretty incredible. God is so evident to me in hindsight, I just wish that in the midst of despair I could see him. I am thankful that He can and WILL listen to my brattiness when it occurs and loves me despite my ungratefulness.
Last March we had gotten the letter from our mortgage company advising us that they cut our equity line down to $2500. We freaked out. Dave began kicking his own ass at work - he resolved to make 20 contacts a day and not come home until he had. He ultimately revised the goal to 100 contacts/week and a commission goal as well. He has maintained this all while continuing to only have 2 nights of appointments each week.
I'm not going to lie - it sucks a little. He's not around as much. I feel like we don't talk as much and need to have "catch-up" coffee on Sunday mornings. It has gotten better recently, but it will be like this for a very long time. Ultimately I think we are both figuring out that this is how it should have been for the last 4 1/2 years.
His income increased a little each month - not enough to come close to paying our bills, but looking promising. Last month, though (June), sucked. The worst month he had in over 6 months. Would have been fine, except that we were down to the very last couple of thousand dollars of supplemental money AND Dave's assistant left, which meant a hiring process, more hours for him since he didn't have an assistant and as we experienced that last time a decrease in income.
I had quite the talking to with God one day in the car. Yelling, crying, sobbing. Asking why. Questioning why in the world we have been tithing and giving money to the building fund if this was going to be the result. Why was Dave working so hard to not be rewarded for his efforts? We could probably get through that month, but beyond that we would have nothing left. While Dave had hope because he knew his pipeline, I had very little.
I've been praying that there would be enough oil in the jars this month and that God would fix things and bless Dave's business and turn things around. I've also prayed that the hiring process would be quick and that He would guide Dave to the absolute perfect person to work with him.
One month later (today): Dave's hard work has definitely been rewarded. He has been making money every single day. His commissions for this month are already almost double those of June and his selling month doesn't end until next Tuesday. I think we will cover our expenses for the 2nd time in 4 1/2 years this month and quite possibly will have something left over to start to rebuild our emergency fund (which, by the way, we are living examples of how important it is to have one). It is looking more and more likely that he will earn a trip - I'm asking God everyday to give him this gift (he wants to go skiing in Steamboat Springs). AND the hiring process for his BOA (Branch Office Assistant) went quicker and smoother than I could have imagined - resulting in hiring Carol!!!!!
I cannot contain my amazement and praise. I feel like I'm bursting with thankfulness and excitement for the future. I know that it is not likely that life is going to be automatically easy street from here on out, but I feel like there is definitely hope and I can identify clear answers to prayer... and perhaps I can go grocery shopping without feeling guilty.
I also feel like everything that we hoped EJ would be is finally - gradually - happening. I'm hoping to be skiing in March with a bunch of other EJ families and we're hoping to take the girls to Yosemite next July. The trips are becoming more reality than desperate wishes:)
Not only that, but Dave is forming REAL relationships with many of his clients - they invite our family over for dinner, they are becoming part of our family. And he has just hired an assistant that we know will complement his business very well and will also become part of our family (I'm basically out of my mind excited about Carol!)
God is Good. He has carried us through it all and provided oil in our jars even when we thought we'd run out. He listens and loves me even though I'm a whiney ungrateful brat. For that I am forever thankful.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Yesterday was one of *those* days. One of those days where my line snapped and I became a raving lunatic who worked up a sweat by throwing toys into garbage bags. I won't go into details, but to say that my sweet little Ryann pushed my buttons too many times yesterday.
Sunday night Nora was the culprit. Much complaining and whining turned into a very unpleasant situation for her and grounding for the rest of the night while Dave and her sisters went out for dinner. While she was released from her bedroom for dinner, I was able to have a conversation with her where I emphasized the importance of 1) choosing to be happy/positive even in bad situations; 2) our job is to raise her to be a happy, well-functioning adult which results in necessary discipline and punishment to guide her there; and 3) it was important for me to follow through on my threatened punishment because if I didn't, then she couldn't trust that I would punish her when I told her I would and also couldn't trust me when I told her I loved her, I would be there for her, I was proud of her, I believed in her, etc.
After sending her back to her room (coincidentally, I think this was the slowest she has eaten in 3 years), I had an opportunity to reflect on what had happened and on our conversation. My most important conclusion (for me) is that I am having a really difficult time being a thoughtful and intentional parent right now. I feel like there is so much noise circling my head at any given time, that it is tough to escape it and really THINK about what I'm doing, how I'm reacting and how I am affecting my girls.
Noise = actual noise like Ryann asking 1.5 million questions each day, Georgia talking all the time, girls fighting or whining, "how many minutes until...", the dog barking.
Noise also = the continuous thoughts/obssessions running through my head that I can't seem to quiet sometimes: painting projects that I'm currently doing or planning to do, personal interactions between me and the neighbors or the girls and the neighbor kids, finances and the dramatic turn of events we've had in that arena in the last 2 months, what I would like to do with additional money, what I know we SHOULD do with additional money, dreams of the future, expectations of others, why do I start my day out with God but end up forgetting about him as the day goes on?, running and my suckiness at it, running injuries and how I'm screwing myself up by continuing to run with them, terror at gaining weight back after working so hard at losing it... knowing that I'm a little mentally messed up in this regard right now and not sure how to get back on track to healthy, disappointment in myself for not living as intentionally and consistently as I'd like, contemplating no nursing school in my future, but rather becoming an on-call BOA for Jones. The list goes on and on.
So how do I quiet these things? I feel like journaling would do my soul good, but at the same time I'm a little fearful of being that honest on the www... writing it, though, makes my hand hurt to even think about it (I have a problem with writing way too much). Even though this blog is private, I still feel a little vulnerable about being truly honest. Not to mention that I've had an experience of someone finding a very personal previous blog several years ago and it caused much pain for me.
So I guess I'm going to just get some of it out of my head...
Thursday, July 02, 2009
The section of The Life You've Always Wanted that I read today was about asking God to speak to you through scripture and being washed and cleansed by his word. I have to say that believing that God can actually SPEAK to me through any means seems farfetched lately, but I'm trying to listen as hard as I can. The suggestion in the book is to meditate on a short passage, read it slowly, think about phrases or even just words at a time and ask God, "What are you trying to teach me through this?" So I opened up to the passage that I had read just prior to opening TLYAW this morning - Jeremiah 1. I asked God to speak to me.
First: "Stand at attention while I prepare your for your work."
What work are you preparing me for? I feel like you are preparing us. Refining us. Teaching us to be dependent on you and to have faith in the midst of our doubt and fear. Is there more? Are you preparing us for something more than this?
"I'm making you as impregnable as a castle, Immovable as a steel post, solid as a concrete block wall."
Crap. I feel this, too. I do. I feel like You are supporting us and making us stronger through all of this. I do. It sucks, though. It really does. Can't we be finished already? My faith is stronger, yet probably weaker, too. You have given us supports to hold us up - very recently in fact. I have hope, though, in reading this - solid as a concrete block wall - my faith will stand firm and will be unshakable.
And then this, which immediately produced tears: "You're a one-man defense system against this culture."
The previous two sentences I felt related to our Jones/financial situation, which is becoming scarier and scarier every month... all the while it is becoming more hopeful every month. Lets just say that there are two emotions running through our house throughout the month - both at opposite ends of the pendulum and we swing pretty freely between them. A melt-down last week. Incredible hope this week. Hope and despair. Faith and Doubt.
This last sentence, though, hit me in probably my biggest struggle. My biggest area of duplicity in my life - yearning to live one way, but struggling to not live another and struggling to not WANT to live the other way. Battling for my girls. Battling.
Its hard. It is hard to be a one-man defense against this culture. It is especially hard when I'm trying to defend three tiny souls who don't know what is going on. It is hard to do what I consider the right thing every day when the family that I come into contact with the most is always doing the easy thing. I'm battling against over-indulgence, entitlement, poor discipline, snottiness, lack of respect for others, children running the family. That is what my girls are exposed to every day, but I can't keep them from it without locking the doors or completely leaving the house every single day, all day. Recently I've felt a little under attack for the way I choose to parent - have been made to feel stupid or foolish for my choices. I need to be that concrete brick wall - stallwart and unmoving, not shifting, not compromising. It is important to me that the girls are exposed as little as possible to advertising, inappropriate clothing and behavior, the disrespect of our culture... so we don't do much tv. I don't want over-indulged children, so they hear NO a lot and don't have every single toy ever created (although it feels like it lately). They aren't allowed to eat all day or to have treats more than once a day. They have expectations of how they should behave - trying to find a fine balance between allowing them to be kids and expecting them to be well-behaved. I don't want my girls to have an inherent sense that their bodies are to be used to attract attention or manipulate men. They have brains and I want those to be important to them and I want them to have a sense of confidence where they don't feel like they need the approval of the "generalized others" in their lives. I want them to respect others - whether it is someone older than themselves or a peer or younger... respect for all people that they come into contact with.
Its hard, God. Its hard. I'm beginning to think that the first two sentences may not have applied only to our financial situation.
Finally - a verse later: "I will be with you through every inch of it."
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
1. Run 15 miles in one running session at least once.
Still working on this goal. This month I ran 10 miles on the treadmill twice. Last week I ran 8-10 miles on the path around Lake Geneva (I had no way of knowing my distance, just that I ran for a total of 101 minutes, which on the treadmill translates to 10.25 miles. The path was inconsistent terrain, so I'm pretty certain I was running a little slower or walking a little more than usual. I would guess that I ran at the very least 8 miles, but based on how I was feeling toward the end assume that I ran closer to 9/9 1/2. In addition, Dave and I walked almost the same distance on the path later that same afternoon with another Jones couple... so my body had done 14-18 miles on Saturday). I am taking a break this week, but have not decided yet if I'll do a long run on Saturday. I think I will complete this goal by my birthday, I think right now I would prefer that I complete it at Lake Geneva:)
2. Write one handwritten note each month.
I'm accepting thank you notes as completing this goal since my thank you notes are very personal and usually include much more than Thank You. I wrote 4 of them on Monday, so I'm way ahead on this one:)
3. Spend the afternoon school time reading a non-fiction book.
Still reading "The Life You've Always Wanted" by John Ortberg in the morning before the girls get up. Right now my chapter is about having a rightly ordered heart - not a divided heart, which I feel like I have so often. This book is so fantastic I'm thinking about reading it a third time.
4. Start the whole flylady thing.
Ugh. Not happening right now. We are doing swim lessons every day for 6 weeks (2 more weeks), which somehow has resulted in a complete hijack of my life even though it only takes roughly two hours out of my day. The two hours are in the middle of the day - too early to get much done beforehand other than breakfast for everyone, but by the time I get home and launch right into lunch and the aftermath there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of time to do much more... I mean when I'm chatting with a neighbor for an hour unexpectedly or making banana bread almost constantly (seems like) there just aren't enough hours in the day to get the laundry done;) I'm kind of putting my routine-ish life on hold until swim lessons are done in the middle of July.
5. Repaint the foyer, front room/dining room, kitchen and family room.
Foyer - done. Paint has been purchased for the kitchen. I am considering altering this goal as I come to a better realization of the actual cost of paint for the front room/dining room. In addition - and the bigger reason for considering putting a hold on all of this - my interior decorator's husband (they are Dave's clients) is having major health issues. As in, they are preparing for weeks. Anita may not be able to help me with the accessorizing for a long time.
6. Go on at least three city adventures with the girls over the summer.
One down, two more to go. I took the girls to the Museum of Science and Industry on Free Day a couple of weeks ago. It was everything I expected - as many kids as could be packed in there at one time. It was sensory overload times a million, but it was an experience and and adventure and that was EXACTLY what I was going for. I have not decided what our next adventure will be - I thought about taking them to the Taste of Chicago this week, but since they don't like to eat normal food I figured it would be a waste of time and money - they could get a very similar experience at the Taste of Orland Park at the end of this month. So I'm thinking perhaps Lincoln Park Zoo after swim lessons are over.
7. Take a yoga class.
This will also probably happen closer to my birthday.
8. Write in each of the girls' journals at least once a month.
I suck. I actually took them out of their hiding place after last month's review, but I have not written in them. I suck.
9. Do a personal Bible study in the morning before all the morning routines begin.
I have been reading through Isaiah in the mornings. I want to read all of the prophets. I sometimes don't understand what I'm reading, although, I've been asking God to teach me something every morning before I begin. I usually am able to learn SOMEthing about Him each morning.
10. Do not add any new television shows to my regular watch list.
Crap. I added one. But luckily it isn't a horrible one and it is on at 9pm on Tuesday night so we're usually home and girls are in bed. Chopped, on the Food Network. I love it - 4 competitors, three courses: appetizer, entree & dessert. They have 30 minutes for each course and have to use the surprise ingredients. One chef is chopped after each course. I'm not too upset about this since we don't want anything else other than baseball.
11. Be consistent with not getting on the computer until my stuff is done.
Again - I suck. One thing I've learned about myself in the last 8 years is that I thrive on routine and when I don't have a good one, my life feels completely disordered and a little out of control - like nothing is getting done. This is happening right now as we have been adjusting to no school + daily swim lessons. I find myself playing dumb games on facebook way too often.
12. Drink 100 ounces of water on the weekends (total of Saturday and Sunday).
Not consistent with this, but am at least aware of it. It is especially difficult when I am out of town. When I am home I have a certain cup I use - I know the exact number of ounces it holds and how many cups I need to drink. When I'm out of town it seems like I can only find small, tiny cups - drinking 20 of those sounds like a whole lot of not fun. I think I need to bring my cup with me. Fortunately we won't be out of town as much in the next 2 months as we were in June.
13. Memorize Bible verses.
I am still doing well with this and loving it. Several of the verses have helped me get through a near melt-down last week - even though I didn't want to hear what they had to say. I am learning to hear God in the midst of his word, which is a whole new thing for me.
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