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Friday, November 10, 2017

Exercising Gratitude: 30 Days - 7

Creation.

Now, before you balk and say, well, of course we're all thankful for creation...I'm going somewhere with this.  And of course, Creation covers everything so with such a broad category I guess I don't have to finish this project and write anymore posts about what I'm exercising gratitude for.  But so far I've included things like: bananas, my husband, rest - so I'm covering a whole lot of random stuff that comes on my radar, and right now I'm camping out on Creation.  Okay?

(Do I sound in an argumentative mood? Maybe. Sorry, I just have dialogues in my head with no-one in particular and as I write I hear what people are saying back to me, in my imagination of course...no, I'm not hearing voices.  Well, maybe a few...)

My last post was in answer to a question about where we find our worth.  And my answer was long and winding (hum: 'the long and winding road' by the Beatles...as you read that), and circuitous and landed on Creation.  The image of God imprinted on me gives me worth.  (I just saved you having to go back and read all that.  You can thank me later).

But I promised a 'Part 2' to explain how that changes everything for me.

Well, you all probably know I'm pro-life.  I'm also, pro-understanding-the-pro-choice-side.  And for recognizing that any time a political issue is polarizing it probably boils down to overly simplifying the others position.  

But the reason I'm pro-life has everything to do with my belief that the image of God is imprinted on every human being.  That means the one who was born who will never speak or walk or read or hear.  That means the elderly, the frail, the 'weak' of society.  All human life bears God's image and is worth dignity, respect, care and love.  That includes criminals, politicians, people I don't agree with.  It includes gun-toting right-wingers and liberal far-left people.  It means those who love God and those who hate God.  It means the Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Secular Humanists who want to teach evolution.  I know I'm leaving some out, but what I really want to point out is that the image of God in people changes everything - or it should.

It has changed how I parent.  It has changed how I lose my temper (a lot less...because the person you're yelling at is an image-bearer of God and do you want to mar their soul by outbursts of rage that steal their dignity and disrespect the image of God in them).  It has changed how I view domestic violence - both verbal and physical.  

I believe it is hypocrisy for anyone who is pro-life based on Christian views (the image of God in all humans) to protest abortion and yet tolerate child abuse.  It is a double standard.  If churches were as passionate about spousal abuse - the denigration of the personhood of another, whether in word, action or tone, mood, violence - what-have-you - as they are about the politics of abortion, I daresay people would take the Christian message far more seriously.  We proclaim a gospel that focuses solely on the redemption narrative, and forgets the very beginning: we are made in the image of God.  The evangelical church focuses so much on saving the world, and for sure, it needs saving.  I applaud the missionary movement - I love that people serve and give and pour their lives out to reach out in the world for good.  But it saddens me that in the very churches that promote and send missionaries, there is also secrecy about domestic abuse.  The fact that we promote a gospel of salvation and forget the creation account: that all people deserve dignity and respect, kindness, love and that verbal, emotional abuse exists and is harmful and damaging to the souls of people who suffer under it - this is a great sorrow to me.

Now, I know I'm stepping out on some toes here.  Forgive me.  But I wanted to share how the discovery of the image of God in me has radically transformed how I view myself and others.  No longer do I simply take what I read in the Bible as a moral code, but rather underneath it all I see the moral code of Love.  

Do I exemplify this perfectly?  Do I hold myself up as a paragon of loving virtue?  No, I am entirely a work in progress as I trust you are.  But the key word there is 'progress'.  Am I moving, growing, discovering, changing?  Am I finding my inner self being renewed in the image of my Creator?  This is not to create a self-evaluative to-do list.  This is not to bludgeon myself with yet another, "Here's where I don't measure up."  This is to invite wrestling - and to recognize that in the wrestling there lies a blessing.  Jacob wrestled with God Himself, and God changed him.  Forever changed him.

Every day for the rest of his earthly life (and perhaps even in his heavenly one?) Jacob's very steps were marked by that encounter with the living God.  Every effortful step demonstrated his steadfast yearning for the blessing of the One Who made him.  And as I walk, I feel the limp in my soul that defines my every move.  Age shapes our souls.  Movement becomes pained - joints stop working well.  And in this is yet another invitation to ponder, to see, to know and discover the blessing of God.  

Though I limp, I shall not let go until You bless me.

Exercising Gratitude: 30 Days - 6

Natasha.

She's a friend - a classmate from my Hong Kong school days.  I haven't seen and known her since then - so it's not like we really know each other well.  But since the dawning of facebook and how that seems to connect us all in certain ways, she's come back on my radar (Hi, Natasha!!).  So, today I'm grateful for her because she asked this particular question, and I couldn't just blow it off...so I am doing an entire blog post to try to answer it.  Here goes.

Her question:

How do you measure your worth? This is a random and very general question....but I look forward to reading your answers. Do you measure your worth by your paycheck? The friends and family in your life? Academic achievements? Opinions of others?

There are certainly a number of ways this could be addressed.  Instinctively, I think, we all need or long to know or have a sense of our own worth - if only to our selves.  If I value, say, independence, I'll value my worth by the measure to which I achieve (in my own opinion of myself) independence.  So, our worth is subjectively measured by the things we value.  A lot of this has to do with identity - how we see ourselves, what we identify with, things we like and dislike.

I have struggled throughout my entire life with this very issue.  Many of my report cards, which I still have, report that I seem to struggle with self-esteem.  (Well, that should be plainly obvious - who wouldn't given my dismal grades and academic performance!?)  I think it was truer in my youth than now, but who knows - we aren't always as accurate definers of ourselves as we think we are.  At least I'm not (you, whoever you are, probably define yourself just fine).  

I struggled because I could never measure up.  Not to others standards for me, God's standards for me, my parents standards for me, my school's standards for me - or even my own standards for me.  Defining our own worth has everything to do with evaluating and measuring - and in my case I was and still am, on many fronts, a low achiever.  So I muddled my way through, always with a limp in my soul, wondering how I could ever sort myself out.  I couldn't, and didn't and won't ever.  Because sorting myself out, while it sounds grand, is a life-long journey - we're all invited to take the journey, but I daresay, most of us live by default and bury our heads in the sand about who we are, inside and out and live blissfully ignorant til our dying day.  It is my goal to avoid doing that.

So standards of achievement weren't going to cut it for me.  What next?  Success, money, status, appearance (skinny and beautiful, or not skinny and still beautiful or...?), intelligence, career, academics, marriage, kids - how they behave/achieve/look etc. Religion comes into play - how I make my mark on a group of people, say the right things, use 'Christianese' with ease, know the right theology, adhere to a certain group of thinkers...you know - these can all define our worth, in our own eyes, as much as anyone else's.

Until a year or two ago I would've said I figured it out: that I had landed on the 'ANSWER' to defining worth.  That's because I love theology, have studied it at length, and I love the Bible, and I love to know things, and I love to understand people and problems and solve them.  In fact, on more than one occasion I leave from getting a haircut saying, "And now that we've solved the world's problems, we can go back to normal life."  

My answer would have been: Jesus.  (Because, you know, Sunday school?)  Our identity and worth is totally wrapped up in Jesus, if we know Him, have Him, are found in Him.  It's fairly good theology.  And I still kind of believe that.  But it is simplistic.  It isn't enough.  It doesn't go deep enough.  It doesn't acknowledge other realities (like, what about people who don't know Jesus?  Are they not worth anything?  Are those not in Christ worth less than I am? - No, a thousand times, NO.)  You see, good theology is good, but unless you turn it on all sides and ask all kinds of questions what seems good on the outside may be empty on the inside.

So, before you ultra-conservatives out there (if you're still reading, have I lost you yet?!), cry heretic and run, hear me out.  Yes, understanding that Jesus died for me, so of course I'm worth something, is great and all - but it is a truncated gospel.  It ignores the creation account, and the re-creation account.  Creation is a theme throughout Scripture, not just in Genesis.  It pops up in Job, the Psalms (think, 8 and 19 off the top of my head), in the gospel of John, in Pauline epistles (think 1 Corinthians 5:17), and in the Revelation (think: new heavens and new earth).  And it is in these narratives and themes that I come to the beginning of an understanding of my worth. 

The evangelical, gospel-answer to this that: Jesus died to save me gives me worth - has been found wanting for me.  It is true, and it is wonderful, and I love that I can know the living God through the redeeming work of Christ on my behalf on the cross - by all means, the Cross is the crux of it all: "May I never boast except in the cross of Christ." (to quote St. Paul).  But I cannot rest myself on this alone for my worth because there are many who don't know Christ who have immeasurable worth.  And I must affirm that they have significance and worth even without Christ.  By all means, if you are without Christ, I'd invite you to know Him, come to Him, seek Him.  But I can without a doubt tell you, you have inestimable worth because you were formed, fashioned, created and imprinted with the very fingerprints of God.  You were made, you are known, you are loved, you are shaped and formed by the God Who made this world and all the beauty you see in it.  Any place you find worth - what you achieve, what you have, the gifts and talents you are blessed with, your intelligence, your hard-work, your effort, your progeny, your depth, your wisdom/insight - can come up short and leave you helpless with an incurable soul-ache.  Your mind can fail.  Your money can be taken from you.  Your wonderful children can become wicked, go off the deep-end, suffer tragedy and whatnot.  Your career can tank.  Anything else you know or have or rely on can come up short for you.  

But if you are a human being, you are made in the image of God.  He has imprinted you with inestimable worth.  When Jesus was confronted with the issue of paying taxes, he asked for a coin.  "Whose image is on here?" he asked.  "Caesar's" they replied.  "Then, give what is Caesar's to Caesar and to God what is God's."  We can marvel at His wit and wisdom, but let us not miss the crucial point: We are imprinted with the very image of God.  We are His.  We can give our money to Caesar (rightly), and we can give ourselves to God (rightly).  

Now, you may come at life from some other angle.  That's fine - I'd love to hear your perspective.  But I have wrestled through this theme throughout my life and this is the point I've arrived at (which can always change in the future, because, you know, I'm always growing and learning).  

The image of God imprinted on me, gives me worth.  

In Part 2 I will explain how that impacts and changes everything for me.

Exercising Gratitude: 30 Days - 5

Unanswered Questions.

Today I am thankful that many of the questions we face in life remain unanswered.  Why would I ever be grateful for such a thing?  Glad you asked.

If every struggle were met with a pat answer - a manual of 'here's the how and why and what of every question ever' - the inquisitive side of me might lose vigor.  I might fall flat, mope about, unmotivated to seek, to discover, to find.  I'd have all the answers, and I'd live blinded to the journey of discovery.
That's why.

Because unanswered questions invite trust, faith, learning, engagement, hope, surrender, joy, peace.  The unknown can be scary.  The unanswered questions can cause tension, confusion - pain, even. 

To me, the unanswered questions sit, not begging an answer (though on the surface, that's how it seems - but need I remind you, things aren't always what they seem?), but begging to be noticed, heard, pondered.  What do my questions say about me?  What do they say about who I am, what I need, what I'm missing, what I'm longing for, what the deep yearnings of my soul are? 

Questions - especially unanswered ones don't always need an answer.  They need knowing, understanding, openness.  One of my favourite quotes is by Frederick Buechner: "God does not give answers.  He gives Himself."

And the truth in that is worth pondering.  I would say that perhaps God does sometimes give answers - or more likely, we'd like to think He does.  That we have Him figured out to the degree that we can with resolute confidence declare that we have heard/read/understood the answers He's given. 

But I think Beuchner is right.  Jesus said, "Come to ME, all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest."  He said, "I AM the way, the truth and the life."  He said, "I came that they might have life, and life abundantly."  I haven't found the part where He said, "I came to explain everything to you, and to give you answers.  I came to give you a new code, a checklist of statements that, once you agree to them, you inherit the kingdom of heaven."  Buechner is right:  God gives us Himself, if we'll have Him.  If we'll hear the invitation.  If we are drawn by such grace.  If we can sit with unanswered questions and instead find the love we long for in the person of Christ.

Because I have a hunch that ultimately most of our unanswered questions lie somewhere in the realm of, "Does God really love me?"  (There are of course many other categories of unanswered questions, like, "Why can't I get my computer to work?"  or "Why won't my kid get his shoes on?" or "What is a black hole?" or "Could Einstein have been wrong?" - you know, those kinds of things...but I digress).
Sorry for the rabbit trail.

Most of the pressing, deeply felt, yearnings that prompt the unanswered questions that sit on our souls like dead weight, asking to be acknowledged - most of these stem from a kind of deep need we may not know we have.  The need to know, understand, feel, discover and welcome the love God has for us.  I believe this to the very core of my very fragmented, broken, sometimes wandering, self.

So yes, I am thankful for unanswered questions.  And mostly for the invitation they present to be drawn into the loving embrace of my Heavenly Father Who has given me Himself.

"He who did not spare His own son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?"  Romans 8

Monday, November 6, 2017

Exercising Gratitude: 30 Days - 4

Rest.

I am thankful for a chance - though rare - to rest.  Sometimes it is more needed and more scarce.  Other times rest is abundant (maybe, on some planet, somewhere, perhaps...not sure). 

I am grateful to be given the opportunity to rest; that I have a choice to carve out time for it; that I have support to help me find it - somehow, somewhere.

Perhaps it is on my 'gratitude radar' lately because I've been craving it so badly.  And last week I came down with an irritating cold/allergies/sniffles/misery.  And it landed just as Sam and I were planning to head away for a weekend for nothing more exciting than rest: undefined time, no agenda, no deep, spiritual goals or anything - just rest.

I hear it is hard for some people to rest.  I know of those people.  I secretly admire them.  They are productive, energetic, happy hard-workers.  If that is you: Go You!!  Woo hoo!!  That is not me.  So here I sit, recognizing that the stillness and quiet of undefined moments and hours is a cool water to my parched soul.

Our weekend away was great...until the ride home where we conflicted (read: fought, argued, misunderstood each other) - irritatingly so.  In hashing that out with Sam I recognized he was very glum about ending our time on a sour note.  I said, "Can you be thankful for conflict?"  There's more to that, but I put it out there because I can welcome rest because it is in contrast to busy-ness, to stress, to intensity.

And so I end with a beautiful poem/hymn that reminds me how the backdrop of our lives highlights the blessings we welcome and often fail to recognize:

As water to the thirsty, as beauty to the eyes,
As strength that follows weakness, as truth instead of lies;
As song-time and spring-time and summer-time to be,
So is my Lord, my living Lord, so is my Lord to me.

Like calm in place of clamour, like peace that follows pain,
Like meeting after parting, like sunshine after rain;
Like moonlight and starlight and sunlight on the sea,
So is my Lord, my living Lord, so is my Lord to me.

As sleep that follows fever, as gold instead of gray,
As freedom after bondage, as sunrise to the day;
As home to the traveler and all we long to see,
So is my Lord, my living Lord, so is my Lord to me.

(Timothy Dudley-Smith)

Friday, November 3, 2017

Exercising Gratitude: 30 Days - 3

Bananas.

It seems a crime to run out of them at our house.  The perfect on-the-go snack - all-natural packaging, densely caloric. 

And when you get too many and they start to ripen, and friends are about to come over and you need to whip out a cake in no time...bananas to the rescue.

And when your kids need extra calories to pack on them for school lunches...bananas.

And when you can't think of anything to eat - grab a banana.  Or make banana bread.

I'm glad God invented the humble banana, and that people in their creativity invented banana recipes. 

Food is interesting - we share recipes and forever link it to a person.  Every time I make banana bread I think of Robyn, who gave me the recipe.  And I have some recipes that are hand-written by faithful friends - seeing Becky's handwriting on my Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe always reminds me of the days in her kitchen when she was whipping up a batch and serving them warm and gooey fresh from the oven.  Memories like these inspire me and make me want to be that kind of Mom. 

So, for today, I give you Robyn's Banana Bread (of course you can call it Sarah's, or whatever, since now I'm the one giving it to you :) ), and Nisa's Banana Cake.  (While 6 loaves sit baking in my oven)...

Robyn's Banana Bread

Cream: 2 c. sugar, 1 c. shortening
Add: 6 ripe mashed bananas, 4 eggs well beaten
Mix: 2 1/2 c. flour, 1 t salt, 2 t. baking soda

Spray pans
Blend wet and dry ingredients.
Don't overmix

350 degrees 45-50 minutes, do the toothpick test.  Then another 1/2 hour probably.

Since I can never follow a recipe exactly, and because this is a heavy laden recipe - I like to add a few things to give it more heft: substitute up to half with whole grain flour, add wheat germ, wheat bran, oats, nutritional yeast flakes.  I just toss in a bit of whatever healthy stuff I have around.

Nisa's Banana Cake (with modifications by me!)

1 yellow cake mix
1 1/4 water
1/3 c. oil
3 whole eggs
2 large mashed banans
2 t baking soda
****Extra optional ingredient: Almond cake and pastry filling (this makes everything yummy)

(Mix and bake til done)

Frosting:
12 oz cream cheese
1/4 c. butter/margarine
2 t. vanilla extract (I use a little almond extract too)
4 c. powdered sugar



Thursday, November 2, 2017

Exercising Gratitude: 30 Days - 2

Today I am thankful for my husband, Sam.

As I was reflecting on this post, I thought to myself, "Yeah, that's so generic...everyone is grateful for their husband, more or less."  And well they should be, I suppose (depending).

But so what it's predictable and typical.  I'm still grateful for him.  I don't know that anyone else could've married me - seen all my weaknesses and failures and tough it out, work together, grow in acceptance and love and continue to honour the commitment of marriage.  Now, lest you think I am unreasonably self-deprecating...I am aware I have a few strengths too.  Just many of my strengths aren't super applicable to house-keeping and parenting (some surely are - but a hot-temper is a liability in the parenting department I daresay).  And I know I am a free-spirit and poetic, mystical, easy-going and not a control-freak (see - there are a few strengths).  But to marry an engineer, who doesn't typically revel in the free-spiritedness and mystical poetic, theological/philosophical musings of his wife, it is all that more of a big deal that he has toughed it out with me.  Sam is a man of unwavering commitment, passionate godliness and untiring drive to make use of his gifts in service to God and others.

I see that every day.  He is self-sacrificing, patient, efficient and talented with all things mechanical.  I am so thankful that he is able to manage household stuff often saving us money and blessing us with his creativity.  He recently built a bed for Andrew that has a hidden staircase at the back (or is it a ladder?) to the 'roof' of it where there is a play area - but first you must crawl through the tunnel underneath where there are piles of books and blankets.

We have had some very rough times together.  Our first 5 years were fairly miserable.  Maybe more than fairly - 'plainly miserable' would better describe it.  I was a putz and he was annoyed.  I had flaws and he had perfection (sort of, not really).  We wrestled with each other's hard-headed personalities.  I was brutal on his ego - cold-hearted, and super demeaning.  He was frustrated because I was slow to (if ever) change and was totally disorganized and a messy house-keeper, talked too much, impulsive about most everything, scatter-brained and majorly distracted.  Most of these things are still true, just he seems to be at peace with the person I am, and I have actually changed a lot, just I know I'll never be at a point of 'super-house-keeper-diva', nor do I really aim to be (I'll forever be working towards change and progress, but at some point I have to see perfection is not probably attainable without major interventions/assistance a.k.a. house-cleaning service, which, other than my support staff, isn't happening any time soon).  (Support staff otherwise known as 'in-laws').

I have watched Sam grow in wisdom, patience, acceptance and kindness.  His parenting style has changed along with mine, as we re-assess and realize we need to see our kids as actual human beings with hearts of flesh, not robots to be programmed.  Sam faithfully serves others in our community - neighbours who need help here and there as well as needs that arise in Church.  I say he does the work of 10 men - and this is no exaggeration.

Sam inspires me because he wastes no time in all of life.  I mean that.  I don't know how he has stamina for that.  He is purposeful about what he does with all his waking hours and purposeful about getting enough sleeping hours in too.  He is steady, and dilligent, and yet takes time to reach out to others and be a genuine friend.

This summer he performed the wedding for some friends of ours who were getting married.  We were blessed to meet with them over the preceding months to go through marriage counselling materials together.  This was a fun process and in many ways re-invigorated our union - as we explored things a young couple starting out together might need to know, we were reminded how much work goes in to making a marriage great, and how much reward there is in it.  When starting out you just hang on, work at it and hope for the best.  But years down the road you look back and say, 'Oh, that was a good move, glad we worked on that then...things are so much better now.'  Or you look back and say, 'Oh, I wish we had figured that out sooner!'

So, today, even if it's predictable, I am thankful for Sam.  And I hope to continue to be for many more years to come.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Exercising Gratitude: 30 Days - 1

Today I am grateful for my mother-in-law, Lois Logan.

Here is why: 
She came to live with us 8 years ago, and even though she is legally blind, and has occasional other challenges, she has faithfully helped in our home, especially in kitchen cleanup and setting the table.
When Andrew and Hannah were babies, she welcomed them to her bedroom when they were a nuisance in the night.  Often she would deliver them to me for night feedings and retrieve them so I could get better rest.

She is an amazing woman.  She rarely complains about anything - is probably one of the most contented people I've ever known.  She is happy despite her many limitations.  

She was born in Lucknow, India and later lived in Karachi before the formation of what is now Pakistan.  Later she moved to South Africa with her parents to complete her nurses training.  She studied at Emmaus Bible College, which was at the time in Oak Park, Illinois near Chicago.  She later married Paul Logan, of Chavuma, Zambia, and moved there to be a missionary nurse and assist in all the work of the mission there.  She spent 46 years there and had her 4 children there, the last of which is Samuel, which is why I am so grateful for her.  During her time as nurse at Chavuma hospital, she delivered over 1,000 babies.  Many of those babies were healthy and nurtured well thanks to her expertise and dedication.  She also spent many hours with patients, comforting them after receiving difficult medical diagnoses.  It seems she had a special gift for sitting with those who were to receive HIV positive diagnoses.  Doctors would ask her to be the one to share the news with an ailing patient.  In the bush of Zambia, where specialized medicines are sparse, this diagnosis was extremely troubling, as it meant a very swift and downward spiral healthwise.  She was able to walk with grieving patients through these very painful moments.

In 1992 she suffered a severe medical crisis.  She contracted malaria, which is quite common out there, but sadly it got into her brain which is deadly in most cases.  Cerebral malaria put her into a coma and she was airlifted to South Africa for treatment.  In an effort to save her life, high doses of quinine were administered, even though they knew this could be damaging in other ways.  After a number of days in a coma she did come to consciousness and slowly regained many/most of her faculties over the course of a number of months.  The high doses of quinine damaged her optic nerve rendering her legally blind, barely able to read except with high magnification and unable to drive - which is a huge blow to independence.  She experienced mild brain damage but remarkably has been able to carry on and learn how to function well for the most part.  God's grace in sparing her life is not to be overlooked - her life is a testimony to the power of God in responding to the cries of prayer to Him on her behalf.  

Because it is a different kind of experience growing up with a Grandma in house, our kids can sometimes take her for granted.  Sometimes they fail to see and recognize what a gift she is.  And when she has 'brain-lapses' (a cognitive gap or something), they sometimes lack compassion and I must call them back to basic courtesy, respect and gratitude.  Here is what I tell them:  "Your Grandma may frustrate you at times.  Sometimes you may not understand why she does or says something.  But I want you to ask yourself a few things:  Are you glad you have such a wonderful Daddy?  Do you appreciate that you have a Daddy that loves you and cares for you, is faithful to our family and who works hard to provide for us?  Do you realize that you have a very wonderful gift in your Daddy?  Think about that for a moment.  Now think where you got your Daddy from.  Sure, God made him and gave him to you.  But did you ever think that Daddy wouldn't be here, nor would you be here if Grandma hadn't had him, cared for him, raised him, taught him, loved him and guided him?  So, next time you aren't grateful for Grandma, just ask yourself are you grateful you exist, or your Daddy exists...because if you are, you are to be grateful for your Grandma too."

Our family has its rough edges all around.  All of us fail each other at times.  It is easy to focus on the irritating things or how we wish others would change for us.  Grandma Logan has very patiently put up with all our crazies.  We aren't exactly a tidy household, and I know this has annoyed her at times.  Sometimes she says something.  But more often than not I come home after dropping off the kids to our entire living room, dining room and kitchen all tidied up - even though this requires so much effort on her part.  Instead of complaining, she kindly serves.  Instead of reprimanding, she quietly steps in to help.  Instead of lecturing on my/our faults, she accepts and patiently waits for our maturing and growth.

In these next 30 days I hope to highlight many more areas of gratitude in my life.