April 2013


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I’ve heard a bunch of sermons and read a bunch of blogs and seen a bunch of tweets on this passage recently. From Matthew 19:16-22; you know the story. Or if you don’t, this is it:

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour you father and mother, and love your neighbour as yourself.”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

I’ve heard this explained in many ways. Mostly what I’ve been taught is that this is not really about money or about selling your stuff. It’s about finding the thing that is keeping you from really committing your life to Jesus. Or, it’s not really about money or selling your stuff, it’s about living in a posture of being willing to let go of anything at any time if it’s the will of God. Or, it’s not really about money or selling your stuff, it’s about giving of yourself, whatever that looks like, to help others. And then there’s the warning that if we all sold everything we had we wouldn’t be good stewards because then we’d be the poor and we couldn’t help them any longer.

Never, not once, have I ever heard the teaching that this verse might actually be about, you know, selling your stuff and giving it to the poor.

I asked my older kids what they thought the story was meant to teach us. One said it was about how hard real change is. The other said it was about how hard it is for us to let go of our possessions.

Yes, and yes. And maybe some other stuff. But could these two things possibly be at the crux of this teaching story?

Real change is hard, sometimes too hard, and we care too much about our stuff.

I’ve sold stuff so I could buy different stuff. I’ve sold stuff with the goal of getting rid of clutter. I’ve sold stuff to pay the bills. All good reasons to sell stuff.

I’ve never sold anything I own with the specific purpose of giving that money to people who need it.

I was in Mexico once, in a poor village where I’d taken my family and some friends to help build a school, and I listened on a Sunday morning to a poor preacher in a poor place speaking to poor people. And what he said, via an interpreter, was along the lines of, Hey guys, come on. We might be poor. We might not have much, but we are still called by Jesus to give to those who need it more than we do. No matter how poor we are or how little we have, we’re supposed to share that with others.

Ouch.

Maybe this story doesn’t mean I should sell everything I have. But I can sell something. Maybe experiencing that is an important thing, not for the poor, but for me. Maybe that is part of following Him.

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I’m blogging today at How to Homeschool High School on the topic of living through the blahs. This is where I’m at these days. What about you?

A few weeks ago, or a lifetime maybe, I spent a few days on an island with some women and the Lord and the Word.

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Studying Exodus, and the impossible story of Moses. The rescuing and the promising and all that wandering. Mistakes, misery, manna. And the disorientation and reorientation of a people, plucked from one life and given hope of another, and how they deal and struggle and fail and try again.

My story, really.

And at the end of the week, forty-some women stood and took three minutes to share the learning from the week, and the finding of themselves, and the difference it might all make in the rhythm of their lives.

So I gathered thoughts and spilled them on a page and then I stood. And I said …

This is the story of Janelle’s small and ordinary life.

It has been a very long year, full of challenges and losses and even while I feel God in the midst of it all, and while I am conscious of wanting to rest in Him, and to learn, and to seek the blessing in it all – still, it has been very hard.

I’ve connected with the Exodus story in many places. But I think that with where I am at and the year our family has experienced, I connect most deeply with that woman, way over there in the blue tent, who is but one mom among many in the desert crowd.

Were I in this story, I would be her. The woman in the blue tent, saying to her children, “Wipe your feet, boys. You’ve brought half the desert in with you.” I would be the one sharing mana recipes with her neighbour while clouds descended and mountains shook and people wondered what in the world was going on.

I would be the one just trying to make family work, day after day, in the midst of uncertainty and difficulty.

Because this is what I do.

And yet, while I am completely wrapped up in my ordinary life, full of ordinary tasks, I long, deep inside, for special.

What I have learned in Exodus is that God longs for that, too. And that the way that happens is through my relationship with Him.

So as I go about my ordinary, I breathe this prayer … Holy Father, be my friend.

This is my special. Ordinary become holy. Friendship with my King.

It’s been a few weeks, or a lifetime maybe, and I’m still breathing.

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Here’s what I’ve found.

A lot of people talk about simplifying their lives. They talk about doing less, living on less, scheduling less. Maybe even eating less, buying less, and rushing less.

Less has become the mantra of the simple-life-seekers.

I wonder.

I mean, I’ve embraced this whole simple life thing, but its like I’m a recovering addict without any steps or sponsor to help me. I slip sometimes. I forget. My intentions fail me, or I just get tired.

Because a simple life is not an easy life.

Here is what simple is not.

Simple is not pain-free or responsibility-free or work-free or challenge-free. It isn’t doing-what-I-want-all-of-the-time. It isn’t just about reduction, or learning to say no, or putting limits on activities. It’s not just about the cutting out.

Simplicity, I think, is a kind of discipline. Yes there is an aspect of letting go involved. Getting rid of the extra.

But simplicity is so much more.

It’s about making space for what really matters. Which means I first need to figure out what those things that matter are. Otherwise, this whole simplicity thing becomes just one more possible lifestyle in a culture bursting at the seams with lifestyle options.

Meaningless simplicity is, well, meaningless.

Here’s where I am on this journey.

Living simple, I think, is a holy thing. It’s a spiritual discipline – which is an uninspiring term for something that is supposed to bring me closer to God. Let’s work on thinking of a better one, shall we. Spiritual discipline just doesn’t cut it for me. Maybe holy practice, or something? Anyway …

Simplicity, to be meaningful (to me), must be a holy thing. Reduction for a purpose. Cutting out so something can be added in. Making space for the better thing.

Saying no so I can say yes.

Surrender.

I’m a stay-at-home homeschooling mom raising three boys in countrybumpkinville on the Saskatchewan prairie. My simple life is unique to me and my situation and my calling. You are who you are, living how you live, where you live. Your simple life mission, should you choose to accept it, will look different from mine. I can’t tell you the how of it. You will need to figure that out for yourself.

This is a good thing.

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This post is part of the My Dad and Me series that I share, of course, with my dad. He’s been writing a lot lately about spending time with elderly people, and I’ve found his stories very beautiful. Last week, while Dad and Mom were staying with us for a few days, we went to visit a friend in the hospital. He won’t be leaving. He used to be a big, strong farmer. Now he’s skinny and failing in health, and it was precious to spend a few minutes with him. Talk about reduction. Four walls and a bed. But when he sang for us that old song about love and the Red River, I was touched. And when he talked about his wife and the farm and the days now gone, I was blessed. And when we were leaving he quoted scripture and shared a few thoughts, and the time we’d spent together, simple though it was, was sanctified. Holy simplicity in a hospital room.

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I really do. I love them. The ones other people warn you about. The ones who swear sometimes and say outrageous things and give their parents heart attacks. The ones who are a worry.

I love them because I know them. I am them. There but for grace, you know? Without these parents and that church and those friends and this Jesus, I’d have been one. Well, a worse one than I was. I was plenty bad enough. I know I scared them a bit, my parents, with the drinking and the boyfriends and all. Not that there were tons of either (the drinking or the boys), but enough to frighten them a little.

But I never inhaled. Really. A little second-hand buzz, maybe, but that was it. Honest.

I love them, those bad kids, because I married one. But that’s his story. Let’s just say there’s some not-very-nice-for-a-church-boy stuff back there in the pages of history. Ask him some time.

And I love them because I’ve raised them. These boys. Not always angels, but so precious. Sometimes good guys, sometimes bullies. Heroes in training, but mistake-makers like the rest of us.

There is a special space in my heart for the bad kids.

I think of the kid I’ve known pretty much his whole life. The sweet, chubby-cheeked angel who spent hours in our home, who is now that gangly guy traveling a shady path, cigarette hanging out of his mouth and jeans hanging off his scrawny butt. He still stops to talk, though, and I see the who-he-might-be hiding behind the sunglasses and hair.

I think of the teenaged boy from the broken home, who comes to church and sunday school and youth group. He’s not the easy kid to have around, but he’s there. He shows up. He needs us.

I think of the kid who couldn’t make it through Vacation Bible School. All angry and defiant and running away, and so I called his foster mom to come and get him. And we waited in the church kitchen with a bowl of ice cream, and I wet a cloth and washed his face, and his head went back against his chair and his eyes closed and he whispered, I remember my mom doing that. And my heart broke again for the bad kids.

I think of the silly girls and the silly things they do and the silly stuff they post on Facebook. I think of the silly boys and the hormones and how so many of them are growing themselves up, without much help.

These kids. These hearts. These souls. These children. These people. These minds. These creations.

These beautiful, awful, precious, angry, difficult, silly, challenging, hurting, crazy, wonderful kids.

Just them, and they need to be loved.

 Joyful : Wonderful : Graceful : Playful : Useful : Colourful : Grateful : Helpful

:: Beautiful ::

IMG_1005… I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple.

Isaiah 6: 1

May He be lifted up, and may we be filled.

I started writing a different post, but it was too heartfelt and intense and was quickly deteriorating into something icky, so I filed it away for another day and I’m writing this one instead.

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I’m all about the coffee today.

I woke up to rain and a cold bathroom and a dismal view, and I miss my husband.

It’s not as nice drinking coffee by myself in the morning. The first cup, I mean. I like to share that one with him while he eats his eggs and checks his texts. I’m trying to break him of that habit. No phone at the table, I say. Not much progress yet, but anyway, coffee. I like sipping it hot and fresh while he texts and we chat.

The second cup, after he’s gone, is a peaceful, quiet meditation.

I’m missing my first cup of coffee time.

So I’m feeling a tad peevish. You know what I mean. Little things that I usually find mildly amusing are annoying the heck out of me. Like Facebook. I enjoy Facebook for lots of reasons. Connecting with people, seeing their pictures, admiring their crafts or their decorating or their food. And I’m not being snarky. I don’t care how many food pictures or tilty-kid pictures or sunrise pictures you post. I really don’t. I post them too, and I like them.

It’s all the memes and quotes and inspiration that is really starting to get under my skin. The borrowing of other people’s words, without any real meaningful internalization.

Does that sound bad?

It’s not that I don’t find them inspiring. Lots of them are. But how about this? How about if you post a Ghandi quote or a butterfly picture with a motivational saying, you add a comment explaining how this has made or is going to make a difference in your life. And I’ll do the same.

So, like, I post this quote… Never miss a chance to keep your mouth shut, by Robert Newton Peck.

First of all, I think it would be nice if I knew who Peck was, and if I didn’t, to take the time to find out that he is an American author, and that this quote comes from his classic coming-of-age novel, A Day No Pigs Would Die. And when I understood that these words were spoken by the father in the story, a quiet man who butchered pigs for a living, then the quote actually means something to me.

And then, after I posted the words on my status, I might say something like, Today, I will resist the temptation to go on and on at my children about the things I think they need to improve.

Consider yourself challenged.

Oops, I just realized the irony of using this quote as an example in a post where I am indeed going on and on. Oh well.

But really, I like Facebook. And I don’t have any kind of problem with instagram or pinterest or whatever online platform draws you in.

I instagram a lot. I think the lazy factor appeals to me. It’s the ultimate scrapbooking/journaling format for lazy people. Like me. I know, I know. I’ve read all the pushback stuff out there about the danger of instagramming your life, and how we only share the good stuff, and how pictures of your awesomely decorated living room are going to send me into waves of cute-decorated-home envy.

Don’t worry. I was already envious.

Let’s recap. So far, I’m against the flurry of inspirational posting on Facebook, but I’m in favour of coffee and online photo posting.

Okay, except for the selfie. I’m kind of over the selfie. But whatever.

But since I’m ranting…

Can I just say that all the different forms of public bathroom technology have me totally confused and a little bit stressed. How many times have I searched for a tap handle to turn, only to have a kind sink-neighbour demonstrate the hand-waving-under-the-faucet technique. And just when I gotten used to hand-waving, some of the newer bathrooms, like in Chapters in Regina, go and install the old style. With taps. Yep, I’m still waving and waiting, until the person waiting behind me to use the sink kindly points out the turny-things. Thanks, Chapters, for yet another hick-in-the-city memory for me.

And don’t get me started about the places they hide the soap. There are things to push or places to wave. I can’t tell you how often I’ve waved my hand like a crazy fool under the dispenser, only to finally pull away and watch the tardy drop of soap fall to the floor.

And the toilets? Who knew flushing could be so complicated. The automatic flushers are the worst. Lean forward to reach for the toilet paper dispenser, let your cheeks rise ever so slightly off the seat, and the smart toilet thinks you’ve left. Flush spray mist everywhere. Ew.

And the toilet paper dispensers? Who designed these things? The ones with the mammoth rolls of tissue-thin paper are the worst. You wiggle your fingers into the dispensing slot, trying not to think of all the other fingers that have been there, and do the two-fingered search for the end of the roll. After a few cycles you find it, and begin scratching off bits of the paper until you have a nice handful of confetti. Confetti in a bathroom just doesn’t cut it, people.

Oh my.

I do appreciate a public bathroom when I need one though. I’ll put up with toilet spray and confetti in an emergency.

Speaking of things I’ll put up with…

Carter and I are watching Star Trek Next Generation on Netflix. I did not remember how bad the first season is. We’re working our way through it, but Carter keeps asking if it gets better, and I keep assuring him it does. I sure hope it does. It’s been several years since I watched the series, but I remember loving it. I keep telling him that the first season of anything is usually not that great. Everyone is figuring their roles and such out, and it’s all a little stiff. So we’re putting up with it in the hopes that it will lay the foundation for the awesomeness that we are expecting in the following seasons. Fingers crossed.

Hmm, the kids are stirring and the coffee in my cup has cooled. Time to leave the words behind and do the day. Have a good one.

Thanks for listening.

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