Monday, January 13, 2014

Literary Reality: Why Anne Shirley Is One of My Most Bosom Friends

When I was a girl, I read all of LM Montgomery’s books.  At least twice.  So many heroines in novels these days are superficial.  Their problems are ridiculous or, at the very least, unlikely to happen to the everyday woman.  Perhaps that is the point: novels are a form of escapism.  To be able to leave your own mundane life behind you and get lost in a lifestyle far removed from your own definitely has its perks at times.  Still, do you regard any of those “heroines” as friends?  Do you look back fondly on them years later, thankful for the experiences that you “shared” together?

It is very rare that I do.  I’ve read more than my fair share of books throughout the course of my life, the number is somewhere in the thousands.  There is little in the written word that has stuck with me, though, that has woven itself into the fabric of my “mundane” life.  The Bible, obviously, is the greatest and, I hope, most noticeable life-shaper, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, so often heard on tape that I once had it nearly memorized word for word, and Anne.  Anne Shirley.  She was so relatable, our circumstances so similar and yet vastly different.  Looking back—even as an adult, a wife and mother myself now—I still count Anne Shirley among my most bosomest of bosom friends.  Why? 

She was someone with whom I grew up, one whose adventures I shared.  The older I became, the more dear she became because her character developed naturally, her entire life literally an open book.  We both struggled with finding friends, with insecurity, with catty girls.  Anne and I both loved to read, we both lived life in a perpetual day dream, and we both went through a disastrous hair dying experience (why did I not learn from Anne?).  Anne and Gilbert, who eventually became her husband, fought and struggled through their youth and young adulthood to reach a point where they were not bickering over petty things. 

I laughed with Anne.  I cried with Anne.  I grew with Anne.  She was an example in so many ways, a positive influence that helped to shape me. Unlike so many series or books that end with the marriage of the hero and heroine and perhaps a brief epilogue detailing their utter joy and bliss, LM Montgomery chose to continue with Anne’s story.  When Anne and Gilbert finally got over their differences and got married, and there was no “happily ever after” ending, the kind that gives girls unrealistic expectations for marriage, there was the “real” story.  Anne’s history is the kind of tale that lets girls know that marriage is joy and happiness . . . but it’s also work and heartache.

Anne loved her husband, but she wasn’t perfect; her life wasn’t free from real trials and problems.  She watched her children grow and struggle, she saw daughters grow into women and get married, she sent sons off to war and anxiously waited for their return.  Anne is every woman.  Real, human, she experienced nearly every emotion possible to women.

Early in her marriage, she hit a rock that often sends couples tumbling through turmoil.  She experienced acute pain . . . the kind of tortuous pain that so many women face at some point in their lives.  When I got to the book Anne’s House of Dreams, I was devastated, even angry with my favorite author for stripping Anne of Joyce, the little girl who dies shortly after birth.  Why did Anne have to experience that anguish?  Why would my beloved Anne have to endure more pain?  Why did I have to experience it with her?  I get it now.  I understand in a way that I wish I did not.

It’s hard to love a heroine who only has minor mishaps.  It’s difficult to relate to someone who has not experienced real pain.  After I lost my little girl two years ago, I found a renewed kinship with Anne Shirley Blythe.  As women, we survived the most difficult blow, pressed on after our hearts had shattered.  Was Anne ever the same after losing little Joyce?  No.  How could she be?  Did life continue and did she embrace it to the best of her ability?  Yes.  That is what counts.  In my opinion, THAT is what made LM Montgomery such an amazing, enduring success of an author—she crafted a heroine who was capable of empathizing with women in good times and bad, a friend who would understand.   

The end of the holidays, as depressing as they always have been, now, more than ever, serves as a reminder of what God has done in my life.  I remember the little girl that God gave to me for just a whisper of time, I mourn her sudden loss, and I remember the little boy with the huge grin that God gave me to help heal my broken heart.  It’s overwhelming. 

God has given me much, and for that I am thankful.  This year He blessed us abundantly, and I rejoice in His goodness.  As silly as it may sound, and perhaps only those who have ever had a deep, emotionally connection with a fictional “person” will understand, but I count Anne Shirley among my blessings. 

Anne with an “e” has been around for most of my life, through the good times and bad.  She was there when I was a loner with my nose constantly in a book, she was a part of my wedding joy when I walked down the aisle to her theme, and she was there, in the back of my mind, when my heart was at its lowest point.  So yes, I admit that it may seem odd that I count a fictional girl, one from a book not even religious, as a blessing, but I do . . . and I can’t wait to share her with Natalie, my oldest girl who is already turning into a bibliophile.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Two things struck me today: the thought that life without Christ terrifies me above all else and the awesome responsibility that I have to teach this to my children.

While praying for a friend who lost her baby this past week, the memories of the stark agony of my own loss flooded into my mind.  There is not a day gone by when I do not miss my little girl.  In fact, I almost broke down in tears just last week when introduced to a babe who was the same age my daughter would have been had she lived.  The one thing that stood out among the pain was the memory of God's love and peace surrounding me throughout that horrible experience.  It hit me: how does one survive such a grievous event without that comfort and security?  Without the knowledge that the King of Kings is holding you up in the palm of his hand, that He will never let you go?

It cemented once again the fact that I would sooner die than live without Jesus.  When all else and everyone else fails, He is always here.  He always will be. 

With these realizations came the sense of amazing responsibility that God has entrusted little lives to me.  It is my job to teach them that, though I may and will let them down, Jesus never will, that He is always there--in the best of times and the worst--that He is the ONLY one in life of whom we can forever be certain.  Every day I pray that God would cause my sweet babies to love Him all of their days, that He would draw them to Himself and hold them all of their days.

Raising little ones in the fear and admonition of the Lord is not easy.  It's scary.  All that is going on in the world terrifies me.  Through it all, though, I cling to the promises of our Lord.  For me and my children, He has promised to be God.  He always has been, and He always will be.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Guarding Your Heart: Another Study for Middle School Girls

Proverbs 4:23
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

 What does it mean to guard your heart?  Is it just something that one does in regard to romantic entanglements?

Matthew 12:34

34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

It seems that guarding one's heart involves more than just keeping yourself from falling for the wrong person.  
You are what you eat, you are what you think, you are what your heart is.  If your heart is full of boys, you'll talk about boys.  If it's full of anger, you'll speak angry, hurtful words.  A disrespectful heart is evidenced by your actions and speech.  

Our hearts are like fountains: no matter what we do, what ever is in our hearts bubbles up and flows from our mouths and penetrates every thing that we do.   

What kind of "water" are we using to fill our fountains?

*Friends/bad influences/peer pressure/good influences

*Movies/TV: inappropriate language and actions

***the more we disrespect others, the more disrespect grows in our hearts

***bad words breed bad things/thoughts

***encouragement/discouragement: ever had one good or one bad comment either uplift or ruin an entire day?
***topics: if you talk about something a lot, you will think about it a lot, and then talk about it a lot, and then think about it . . . a lot
*Music: the lyrics of the music that we listen to influences us and becomes a part of us

*Love: when you love someone and they love you, they begin to fill your hearts--what kind of influences are the people that you love?

The thing about water is that just a drop of something bad will contaminate a big old glass.  If I sneeze into your water, will you drink it?  If I poop in your water will you drink it?  What if I fish it out?  No way, Jose, right?  As totally revolting, disgusting, and puke-inducing as that example was, that is how sin is in our lives and hearts.  One "little sin" goes a LOOOONG way into working its way into our hearts and lives, and it can have far reaching consequences.  Remember Abraham and Hagar and how we are still paying the penalty for their sin?

What can we do to fill our hearts with God's love and His word?

Psalm 119:9-16

9How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
10I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
11I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
12Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
13With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
14I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
15I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
16I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.

I have hidden your word in my heart--here again, we see that filling your heart with good things (God's Word) is a way to keep from falling into sin.  If we are thinking about God and talking about God, isn't it harder to disobey God?  By filling our hearts with God's word, our lips will recount his laws and we will rejoice in giving God our obedience.  Meditating on God and His wonderful ways will cause us to delight, to take joy in, to be cheerful in our obedience to God and in the reading of His Word.  

Now, we need to guard our hearts this way, but we also need to guard them from boys.  Your heart is precious.  It's a gift.  YOU are valuable.  Your value isn't in what you can "give" to a boy, it's not determined by how many boys you can date or who "want you."  Your value is in Christ.  Don't let some stupid boy trample on your heart and try to lure you into giving him what isn't his.  Your body is the temple of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 6

16Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

If you are following Christ, you have given yourself to Him--mind, body, and soul.   God has called us to purity.  Why?  Does God want us to be a bunch of prudes?  Not exactly.  God doesn't think that purity is "prudity."  To God, purity is beautiful.  He is pure, and He wants His children to be pure--He sent His Son to wash away our every stain.  Honor God with your body--with the way you act, dress, and interact with others.  Don't let what others are saying, doing, and thinking change you--let what GOD says and thinks be most important to you, and He will bless your obedience.  

People at college probably thought that I was a little weird because I didn't have a boyfriend.  Not only did I not have a boyfriend, but I'd NEVER had a boyfriend.  I was 19 before my first boyfriend, and that relationship didn't last long because we were not both headed in the same direction. 

 Shortly after that, I met Patrick.  I'm not saying that you have to do everything like I did it, but I will tell you that I am so GLAD that God led me to do things the way that I did.  I knew that my love was special, and I didn't give it away to just anyone.  My body was special, and I saved that too.  Patrick is the ONLY boy/man to whom I have EVER said "I love you," he's the only guy who's ever held my hand, and he's the only guy I've ever kissed (and that wasn't until we were married).  Again, I'm not saying that you have to do everything exactly like I did--I'm just telling you that doing things this way was a really good way to guard my heart from being repeatedly broken, and it also saved every aspect of a physical relationship between a guy and a girl for the one person for whom God intended me to be physical with--my husband. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

All Things New!

Let's build up . . .

Patrick and I finally made it to the eye doctor for exams last Saturday.  Between house hunting, open houses, and everything else going on in our lives, it was difficult to find a time when we could both go--and as much as I knew I needed to go, I was not about to take two under two to that appointment by myself.  As I suspected, my eye sight had changed drastically (several points in each eye).  When the doctor gave me a pair of contacts, I almost cried.  It was totally amazing.  In fact, it was like going from your grandparent's ancient TV to a 1080p 100 inch flat screen.  That awesome.  I can't wait for my new glasses to come in now since I'm not used to wearing contacts all day every day any more, and I refuse to put on my old glasses and be nearly blind when I have contacts that make my vision so much better! 

Next, and even more exciting than miracle contacts, we found a house!  From the pictures, I could tell that it was going to be a place that would compare in beauty and openness to our condo--not an easy thing to do.  When we walked in for the first (and so far only) time, we were blown away with just how perfect it was for our family.  One thing that was very important to us in the house-hunting processes was "how will this home be for ministry/entertaining?"  So few of the places that we saw would work for hosting large crowds or Bible studies.  This house, however, is perfect for both.  Open kitchen, living room, and dining room, a few steps down into a massive family room, a large laundry room, a great yard, a big deck (and a pool), and a place for the drums PLUS the 4 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms that were a must for our growing family--this house is the first one (and we saw many) where Patrick and I both got really excited.  (The fact that it is 4.4 miles from Marissa and Kyle's home-to-be "upped" the excitement from 10 on a scale of 1-10 to 20!)

We put an offer in on Friday, but we were told that the owners wanted the weekend to think it over.  Ahhh!  It was a long weekend.  While we waited, our condo underwent inspection for our buyers (it "passed"), we had the previously detailed eye exams, watched Life of Pi in 3D, went to church, and had a family day.  Come Monday morning, we were jittery, nervous, antsy, and eager.  FINALLY, we got word that our contract was accepted!  Talk about an exciting answer to prayer!

It is our hope that God will use our house as a way to bless others and that our little family will grow and expand there in years to come.  We totally can't wait to move!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Grace for All

What is grace?

  • a manifestation of favor, especially by a superior: It was only through the dean's grace that I wasn't expelled from school. forgiveness, charity, mercifulness. animosity, enmity, disfavor.
  • mercy; clemency; pardon: He was saved by an act of grace from the governor. lenity, leniency, reprieve. harshness. ( G 
Grace is mercy, pardon, forgiveness.  When you are given grace, you are granted something good (forgiveness and absolution) instead of something bad when you really  deserve it (punishment, consequences).

Ephesians 1:3-10
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

We, as the children of God, do not deserve His grace or forgiveness.  But God, being the all-powerful, loving God that He is, chose to give it to us before we were born, before our parents or grandparents were born, and before the world itself was "born" and created.  God isn't like we are--He gave us His grace freely, without any good or love on our part, with no strings attached, and despite our countless sins against Him.

The thought that someone would not only forgive but also give full grace and mercy to one who killed His son, disobeys and dishonors Him constantly, to one who is an adulterer, a murderer, a liar, and a thief is mind-blowing, yet that is exactly what God has done for each and every one of His children.  We who daily commit the sins in Matthew 5:

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

We sin in our minds, with our bodies, and in our hearts, and yet God offers us grace.  How much more so should we, who deserve death, extend grace to others?
How can/do we show grace?  Again, from Matthew 5:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 

43  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This is so difficult to do.  When someone sins against us or hurts us, our first inclination is to hurt them back.  If someone gossips about us, we jump to say something nasty about them.  However, I am reminded of Matthew 18:

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
As God has cancelled our debt, so we should forgive the sins of others. 
It is easier to do this when it is a friend or someone we love who says or does something that hurts us, but when it is someone whom we already dislike or try to avoid, it becomes more difficult.  Who really wants to be nice to someone who isn't nice to you?  Who really wants to forgive someone who is nasty and has hurt you?  I don't.  Not naturally.  It doesn't come easily most times.  Yet this is exactly what God has commanded for us to do.  Back to Matthew 5:
43  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Anyone can be nice to those who are nice to them, any one can love those who love them, and anyone forgives those with whom they are close . . . but God calls Christians to love their enemies, to do good to them and not harm, to repay evil with good.  

Romans 12 says:

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

This is where being a Christian is hard.  We, in our sinful natures, do no naturally want to do this; furthermore, it is difficult enough with our regenerate hearts.  However, in following this command of God, we are not only obeying Him, but we are also shining out His love for the world to see.


Friday, March 15, 2013

It's Over Already?

Well, that was amazing.  In a week and a half, the Lord not only brought a family to buy our condo, but he brought the perfect people to buy it.  We are officially under contract. 

It sometimes seems easy to underestimate God, or at the very least to under expect from Him.  Why would God do ______ or orchestrate _________ perfectly?  He did.  In a way that continues to blow my mind, my Father guided the right buyers to us at the right time in the right way. 

That being said, we are now in the process of looking for a home quickly in a market where there are not very many homes for sale and even fewer that would suit our needs or budget.  Remembering how God worked to put our condo under contract in such a short amount of time, I am forcing myself to slow down and to have peace.  Why should I not also trust that He will guide us to the perfect house for us?  I have full confidence that He will and that we will be excited when we finally find "the one."  (Personally, I think that "saying yes to the dress" was a WHOLE lot easier and less stressful than finding a home for potentially the rest of our lives)

Yesterday I was struck with how much easier it was to house hunt with one baby instead of with a very active (and at times very cranky because she was exhausted) toddler and a rather needy infant.  Today I am recovering, which basically means that I am doing minimal work (just keeping things straight) and am in my most comfortable pair of pants and a cozy shirt.  Unfortunately, being out all day and later into the night did nothing for my kids--early to rise were they, and I have the headache to prove it.  It really is difficult when you realize that you want a bunch of kids but that you are not a morning person . . . and having a husband who IS a morning person almost guarantees that your children will be disgustingly cheerful, early-rising morning people.  I'm still not awake.  Fully.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Our Life: Photos

In the last few months, we have updated our house (new windows, appliances, light fixtures, paint, etc), had a baby, and put our house on the market, just to name a few things.  Things like all-nighters with a little one, packing up half our our belongings to go to storage, and taking care of two under two have kept me from blogging, but we'll see how life goes now that I'm slowly getting back into the swing of things.

First things first:

Robin (like Robin Hood) is our latest addition.  Coming a week and a half early, he was born on January 2, and weighed 7 lb 6 oz (and now weighs at least 12). We love our little boy, and Natalie loves her new toy . . . baby. 

Natalie is growing like a weed, and her vocabulary almost exceeds my own.  Her favorite word by far is "Mommy," which I hear 95,000,000 a day, but "Daddy," "bears," "Nonni," and "milk," are close seconds.  Currently, her favorite songs are "ABC's" ("ABC's? Mommy, ABC's"), "Ba Ba" ("Mom, Ba Ba.  Ba Ba" [Ba Ba Black Sheep], and "Old MacDonald" ("EIEIO.  Moo moo here.  Moo moo there.")  Robin is her favorite thing in the whole world (after yelling for Mommy and playing "Night Night" in our bed). 

Finally, our condo.  Our big, wonderful, yet not so baby-friendly home.  We'll definitely miss this place, especially now that it looks so good.  In fact, I'm typing this from our once storage room now office.  Still, Natalie loves playing outside, and she can only yell "Birds!  Where are you?" from the balcony so many times before it gets . . . old.  What have we done with the place?  A lot.  Here are some highlights.  Know anyone who wants an 1800+ sq foot condo outside the city?

The Lord continues to be good to us, and we are exceedingly thankful for His hand of blessing in our lives.