Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Am I Failing? A Note For Young Moms

This question was posted on Facebook by a relative of mine with young children.  Lots of people responded to her question...so many that I didn't think it was necessary for me to respond too.  But, then I felt like I had something I wanted to add.

Her question:  "As a mom I worry I am not teaching my kids to be good people. Anyone else feel this way?"

And here's what I felt like I needed to share with her...

Yes. All the time. I worry all the time that I'm failing to teach them to be considerate, loving, compassionate, and patient. I worry that every time I fail to be compassionate & patient toward them that I have negated any small smidgeon of that which may have gotten through to them before. I worry that I don't do enough to teach them about God's love and His Word. I worry that I don't pray with them enough. I worry that I don't pray FOR them enough. I worry that when I get frustrated and angry that my own behavior will make them reject any bit of Truth that I've managed to impart to them. That, like so many in today's world, they'll decide that Christians are just hypocrites. In a family we see all of our worst flaws & imperfections.
When I first became a mom another mom with older kids than me told me that when she became a mom she realized how selfish she was. I didn't understand that at the time....after all aren't moms supposed to be self LESS and giving? But, now I know exactly what she meant. Children are needy & demanding & require SO MUCH. And, our own selves....our own desires rebel against this...sometimes even resent it. It's hard to give and give and give. And, it's exhausting. And, as someone else said above, children are selfish little creatures too. And, while as adults we've learned to hide that a bit, our children reflect back to us something that's sits at the very core of our being too. They reveal our own flesh.
A couple weeks ago I had one of the worst parenting weeks I had in a long time. I was angry and frustrated pretty much from sun up to sun down. I felt like banging my head against a wall. I was barely...and I mean barely hanging on. I was asking God for enough grace just to get me through. And, here's what I felt like He said to me (it wasn't immediate...this was something that came to me over the course of that horrible week). I felt like He was saying that he can give me just enough, but He wants to give SO much more than that. He wants to give overflowing grace...much, much more than enough. 
I was like 'Ok God. That's cool. I'd like that. But, HOW do I tap into that? How do I get that abundant grace when I'm in the middle of a funk so deep I can't see any way out?'. 
I didn't feel any immediate answer to that question either. And, I'm still figuring it out. Maybe the first step is accepting that as truth. Even that is hard for me to do. 
The one verse I try to hold on to is 'Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.' Lots of people quote that verse...to the point where it seems to lose it's meaning. But, here's what I always take from that verse. It doesn't say 'he will never depart from it'. It says, 'when he is old...' There will be bumps and crashes and rebellion and tears along the way. But as that child grows and gains wisdom & experience they will recall the wisdom taught to them in their youth and they will embrace it.
Wow. That was a really long response...and I don't know if I really answered your question or just went off on a dozen different rabbit trails. All that to say, you and your husband love your kids and are trying to raise them right...and God will honor that.

New Look

I know I've sadly neglected my poor little blog.  And, I miss a lot of things about blogging.  I definitely miss the interactions with other bloggers and readers.  I miss writing.  And, from a purely selfish standpoint, I miss having words captured here that I can come back and read again and again.  I miss having enough blog posts that I can print out and put into a 'blog book'...something I can hold in my hand...proof and record of how I thought, how I felt, how I reacted over the years.

So, I gave the header a new look.  I found some freebie sites that were actually easy to use (well, easy once I figured them out) and created a new header. I hoped that giving the blog a fresh look would inspire me to start afresh with writing. New look....new beginnings.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Questions I Would Ask An Atheist Over A Cup Of Coffee Or A Glass Of Wine

As I mentioned in my previous post I've been thinking a lot about the topic of Christian apologetics.  I have been delving into why I believe what I believe and how I can clearly communicate those reasons.  I've also been thinking a lot about my atheist/ agnostic friends.  Beliefs about religion are one of those topics that can quickly become heated and uncomfortable.  Unless we're talking to someone we already know agrees with us we don't typically bring it up.

Yet the internet is chock full of discussions about faith....most of them heated & uncomfortable.  I've seen some videos on youtube along the lines of 'Questions for an atheist' or 'Questions for a Christian'.  And, those videos for the most part ask questions that are designed to challenge the other person's worldview.

And, don't get me wrong.  Challenge can be a good thing.  If I hadn't been challenged on some of my core beliefs by others I never would have gone deeper and reached a point where I felt I truly understood what I believed and could articulate that.

Challenge can also be combative and divisive and fruitless.  It's a fine, hard line that we're called to walk when challenging or questioning others.  And, I've already failed miserably on that front more times than not.

So, this whole concept of asking someone with opposing views questions got me to thinking.  What kind of questions would I ask if I could sit down face to face in a totally non-hostile environment with someone who believed differently than me?  What do I really want to know from the atheist or agnostic?

You see.  I'm fascinated by people.  I'm also an introvert by nature.  But, I love to observe & listen & consider what seems to be what makes people tick.  I love hearing other people's stories.  I love getting beyond what's on the surface and finding out what's deep down.

So, if I had a chance to sit down with an atheist or agnostic...say over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine...what do I really want to know?  And these are the questions I came up with.  I posted this on Facebook hoping that some of my atheist/agnostic acquaintances might answer some of them for me.  And, I'm taking a risk by posting them here too.

Please understand, I don't ask these questions to initiate a debate.  I would just like to better understand.  This is what I posted...
I have a some questions for my friends who would consider themselves atheists or agnostics or who have no religious affiliation. I'm wondering if any of you would be willing to answer them for me. They are an attempt for me to do a bit of research and better understand how you've reached the conclusions about life, faith, religion, etc. that you've reached. I don't intend to use your answers in an effort to debate with you.

As I've been exploring Christian apologetics and have been learning how to better discuss my faith intelligently and my reasons for believing what I believe, I realized that one thing I'm lacking is understanding how people with opposing viewpoints have reached their views. I'm not talking here about scientific evidence/arguments for or against a Creator. I'm talking about the personal journey that each of us make in life and in arriving at our belief systems. Rather than making assumptions, I'd like to understand better.

One of the things that I've been learning is that when we discuss things that are at the very core of who we are and how we approach life, it can become easy to slip into a combative mode. In my attempt to enter in more discussions I've slipped into that pattern myself. It's sometimes hard to discuss something with fervor & passion without sounding argumentative.

So again, let me assure you, these questions are just to help me have a better understanding of what you believe and why.  And, for my Christian friends, I want to stress that I want this to be a safe place for my non-religious friends to answer these questions. I don't want to start any debates, discussions, or arguments.

1. Growing up were you involved in any church/ religious experience?

2. If so, how did this influence or shape the views you hold now?

3. If not, how would you describe the worldview you were raised with?

4. Did you at any point believe in God or the possibility of God?

5. What experience or experiences did you have that most shaped what you believe now?

6. Have you ever had any doubts regarding your current world view?

7. Do you feel you have an understanding of the Bible & what's in it and the Christian view of God? Or do you have a less in depth understanding?

8. Are there other religions that you explored or researched? What were your thoughts on those?

9. If evidence for the existence of God were presented to you, would there still be other roadblocks to being able to accept that evidence?

10. What is your opinion of Christians? If you have a negative view, what is your main complaint?

11. What do you feel is a misconception that Christians have about atheists?

12. What are your thoughts on amiable debates? Are you open to them or are you closed to having discussions with those you disagree with?

13. Can you briefly explain what your current world view/ view of life is?

I know these are a lot of questions, but I appreciate any input you can give me. Thank you so much.  "

Friday, April 11, 2014

My Journey in Christian Apologetics, Part 1

(I include a lot of links in this post to previous posts that I wrote...reading them will give you even more of my story)
My church just wrapped up a 5 day Apologetics Conference.  It featured the speakers Dr. Norman Geisler, Ray Ciervo, and Simon & Nel Brace.  I had been looking forward to it ever since they announced we'd be having the conference again this year.  Our church held it's first ever apologetics conference last year...which I also attended.  Apologetics is a topic which fascinates me and I am always hungry for more teaching on it.  I've been on a journey of sorts for the last three years in coming to understand what it means to be able to defend my faith.  

The first time I heard the term 'apologetics' was when I was in my 20s.  It was also a time that I was not following God.  I had fallen away from the church and most of the standards and values I had held to be true in my early years.  Interestingly enough I still attended a Christian music festival every year during this dark decade.  It was there that I encountered books with the topic of apologetics.  Like many people I misunderstood what that term meant.  I thought it insinuated 'making apologies' for faith.
The term 'apologetics' actually comes from the Greek work, 'apologia'.  And, rather than meaning 'an apology', it is the word for 'making a defense or argument' for a case.  As a matter of fact, the word 'apologia' was used in the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  In I Peter 3:15 Peter writes, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason (apologia) for the hope that you have."  Christian apologetics is making the case for/ giving the reason for our faith.
Three years ago marks the point at which I started down the road that would lead me to apologetics.  And I recorded some of that journey here in this blog.  
It all began with an encounter I had on Facebook with an atheist friend.  That encounter shocked me & shook me and showed me how desperately unequipped I was to answer arguments against Christianity.  I wrote about that in the blog post, "My Friend the Atheist".  Basically I came to two realizations 1.  Atheism & Skepticism are far more widespread than I realized.  2.  Atheists & Skeptics ask exceedingly hard questions & make very complex arguments against Christianity....all of which I was completely unprepared for

That experience left me so rattled & raised so many questions that I didn't have a response to that I began a serious battle with doubt and sank into a place of despair and desperation.  I was in a spiritual crisis.  I started to write about that in "Dealing with Doubt, Part 1" and "Part 2"  I started searching for answers but had no idea where to begin.  I started doing some reading and some of the books I found that I'd hoped would help me answer my questions either a. left my questions unanswered or 2.  raised even more doubts.  

I continued to write about this issue in That Thing About Doubt, That Thing About Doubt, continued, and finally in That Thing About Faith...Seeking Revelation where I was finally starting to climb out of the depression and pit of doubt that I had been wallowing in.  Looking back at those last three posts written about 2 1/2 years ago I realized that now I've come even further in this journey.  For instance, in the one post I used quotes from the book No Argument for God...Going Beyond Reason in Conversations about Faith by John Wilkinson.  I no longer embrace everything that was written in that book.  Certainly it touched on the mystery of faith...which is absolutely a component of faith.  But, I no longer agree with the premise that Reason is not a vital component of faith and the conversations we have about it.  In fact, I now believe that Reason is essential.

We live in an age of atheism, agnosticism, & skepticism.  Christianity is looked upon with contempt.  We need Christians who are willing and able to have conversations with those around us who are asking very difficult questions.  I learned this the hard way.  But, looking back on that encounter I had on Facebook three years ago I am actually grateful now.  It has started me on a journey of study and spiritual growth unlike what I have experienced before.  My faith has grown stronger exponentially.  While I feared that the dark time of doubt was going to destroy my faith, it was a necessary refining process.  I think a lot of Christians are afraid of that process.  But, that's why I want to write about it here...to encourage other Christians to consider challenging themselves to think more deeply about why they believe what they believe so that we may be better equipped to reach others in this world.

Check back again soon & I'll tell you more about this journey.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Fasting and Seeking God

It is only 2 days away from the  beginning of Lent.  I had not really considered doing anything in particular this year for Lent.  At least not until yesterday.

At church they called for  a congregation-wide time of fasting & prayer over Lent.  Fasting is something I've never really done before.  It's a spiritual discipline that wasn't really discussed in the church I grew up in.  But, yesterday one of our pastors laid out some very practical tools for fasting, gave reasons for fasting, & encouragement to consider it.

As we sat there I felt led to consider a fast over Lent.  But, more about that in a bit.

First I need to back up to the previous Sunday.  I felt God's presence move very strongly in my heart & in my mind.  As we were singing during worship, we sang songs about Christ's sacrifice on the cross and the redemptive power of his blood.  The following thoughts came to me & I sat down and wrote them out as quickly as I could.

"  As we were singing I felt this impressed on my heart.  I believe & accept whole-heartedly the redemption Jesus has given me from my past - from the darkness and sin that threatened to destroy me there.  But He didn't just take those sins to the cross.  When He went to the cross He took all our sins.  All of them!
  He wants us to experience complete redemption.  Just as I would never dream of returning to the life I lived then - it is completely behind me- my life restored- Jesus wants the same for me in other areas where I struggle.  Areas like apathy, discontentment, feelings of being overwhelmed & frustrated, anger, depression, & fear.  He has redeemed it all!
  Why would I continue to wallow in these when they were also nailed to the cross?

This really spoke to me.  I even momentarily thought about sharing it with the congregation.  But I didn't. (During our worship time, if people feel they have a word from God to share, they can approach one of the ministry leaders.  They give them a brief synopsis of what they would like to say so the ministry leader can assess if it is something biblical & not completely off the wall.  Then they signal the worship leader that someone wants to share.  They pause the music while that person shares with the congregation).

As I wrote those words and for a while afterward is was a physical experience too.  I could feel such a powerful sense of peace & relaxation.  I told John I even felt a little tingly.  That experience really had me thinking this past week.  As a matter of fact, as I was writing just  now I thought, "Why have I only been thinking about this over the week?  Why haven't I claimed it?  So, just now I prayed and claimed this word as a promise from God.  And, I accepted it as a gift of redemption from all that holds me back from Him and the life that He would have me live.

So in many ways that previous Sunday had prepared  me for the message this Sunday about fasting.  Here's what the pastor had to say about fasting...
-Fasting deals with our distractions and helps us focus on God.  Faith increases.
-Fasting often brings about breakthroughs and helps us to find freedom & clarity in situations we have struggled with a long time.
-Just as we fast before a medical surgery, so we should fast before a 'surgery' on our spirit.  He shared these verses from Hebrews 4:12 & 13

"For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword; it penetrates even to dividing soul & spirit, joints & marrow; it judges the thoughts & attitudes of the heart.

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight.  Everything is uncovered & laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."

And as I prepare for a season of fasting, I plan to do that - to lay myself bare.

Here are some steps that he suggested we take during a season of fasting...
1.  Hold struggles & burdens out to God in prayer.  Ask God what to focus on during the fast.
2.  Seek the Lord about the fast (what type of fasting should I do?).  Ask what He will give me the grace to do.
3.  Agree with God about the fast.
4.  Write a fasting plan for each day of the week.  Include what you will focus on in prayer that day, verses to  read, etc.
5.  Consciously surrender yourself to the Lord.
6.  Declare why you are  fasting.
7.  Keep a journal.
8.  Know that you will be tempted to break your fast.  Jesus was & so will you.
9.  Read your Bible while you are fasting.  Isaiah 58 is a great passage to read.
10,  Set apart times too pray when fasting.

Tomorrow I will share what type of fast I feel called to.  It's not a 'complete fast'...in that I will not be giving up food entirely.  More to come!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Downton Abbey! I miss you already!

I'm finding through recent comments & posts on Facebook that you either love Downton Abbey or you don't get it.  I fall in the the LOVE category.  I was a latecomer to the show.  I heard a bit about it during Season 1 & 2 and decided to see what all the hoopla was about.  I caught up with Seasons 1-3 through Netflix & DVD's borrowed from the library.  Season 4 was the first season I watched on tv as it was being aired.  I loved having something to look forward to on Sunday evenings ( I think the last time I had a show that I looked forward to watching each week was when 'Friends' was on the air.  Yeah.  It was that  long ago).  So, I'm sad the the season is over already.  It was too short!

Last night I laughed OUT LOUD several times.  I almost never do that while watching tv or movies.  Here were some of my favorite parts of  last night's episode...

-Carson's face when the young American valet asked if he could speak to him 'man to man' in hopes of getting some information about Daisy.  Oh dear Carson!  He looked so horrified.

-  Daisy's response when the American valet asked her if she was excited about the upcoming events in the house.  "I'm never excited." she replied.

-Any scene with the Dowager Countess & Mrs. Crawley is always fabulous.  Their conversations are just hilarious.  I love that the show has developed their relationship from merely being bickering biddies with very different outlooks on life to the obvious respect & affection they have for each other despite their differences.

-Mr. Carson & Mrs. Hughes sweet interaction at the beach & holding hands while walking into the water.

A couple other thoughts....

 - Have you ever noticed that everyone has impeccable posture?  The women in particular are always straight as a pin whether they are sitting or standing.

-Will poor Edith ever find happiness?  I'm curious to see how the storyline will play out when her secret child is brought closer to home & is living on the estate with the pig farmer's family.

-Was anyone else annoyed that they skipped ahead 8 MONTHS from the previous episode to last night's?  I know they've made dramatic skips  in time between seasons, but it seemed a bit much for between episodes.  We never even got to see Edith looking pregnant.  There was a lot of story development that could have happened.

-A lot of new characters were introduced last night & I had to play close attention to keep track of who was who & how they were connected to the other characters & story lines.

What were some of your favorite parts from last night's episode?

I had Downton Abbey so much on my brain last night that I was dreaming Downton Abbey the whole night.  Even the show's  music soundtrack was playing through my sleeping head.  I had a rather bizarre dream with Lady Mary in it.  Except Lady Mary looked nothing like herself.  Instead of a filmy, elegant & exquisite dress she was wearing a hideous 80s version of the drop waist dress with large shoulderpads.  And, instead of a fabulous 20s hairstyle she had 80's feathered back hair.  Also, she wasn't the waif-like creature that she is in the  show.  In my dream she was rather....plump.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Slow & Steady

"Slow & steady wins the race, right? Years & years (since I was a preteen!) of being on the weight loss/weight gain yo-yo ride has been discouraging & terrible for my overall health & well-being. 

I've determined that I don't want to try any sort of weight loss methods that aren't going to have lasting results. I truly, truly want to change the way I think about food, act around food, the way I live. When I look at all the changes I can and/or should make for a healthier lifestyle it is so overwhelming. 

My past method has been to jump all in, be really gung ho for a couple weeks (or in my best efforts, a few months) and then not be able to keep it up, make a few mistakes & throw in the towel completely. I've been an all or nothing kind of gal. The problem is, all or nothing doesn't work for me. I can't live that way. I need to ease into things a bit. 

So, I've decided I'm going to start slow. I'm going to tackle one goal at a time. And, hopefully I can make some real, lasting changes. My first goal? To stop my night-time snacking. This is by far one of my biggest weaknesses...and honestly I think a lot of my weight gain recently has been because of this area. 

And, I've been trying to keep this verse in mind when those night-time cravings hit (and they sure do hit hard!)..."For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline." (2 Timothy 1:7). Combining that knowledge & promise along with thinking about how much better I feel when I wake up in the morning without the bloat of night-time eating, I can usually hang on through those cravings. Continuing to pray for the strength in this area!"

This was a post I made  on Facebook this week.  And, I wanted to record it here so that I'd be able to come back & look at it when I needed to remind myself of my goals.

I actually started with another goal that I didn't mention in this particular post.  That first goal was to make it a daily habit to spend time with God...in prayer, in reading His word, in worship.  This, has been a really, really hard thing for me over the years.  I'm not sure why.  But, I go through seasons of hungering for His Word, and then longer seasons of spiritual dryness and spiritual apathy.

I had been in another rather long dry season.  Oh, I was still going to church & feeling the presence of God & knowing I wanted more of Him.  But, during the week I'd get so caught up in everything that needed done, or distracted by 'more interesting' things...like tv, the internet, etc that I really didn't spend time with God other than to throw out quick prayers now & then or occasionally listen to the Christian radio station.  But, it wasn't enough.

I'm not sure what signaled a change in me recently.  I guess it began around the time that I joined a group of women who were watching the video series that  accompanied the book 'Made to Crave'.  I had read about half of the book well over a year ago and came away somewhat discouraged actually.  But, I thought maybe I wasn't reading the author's intent properly...and maybe seeing her speak would bring clarity.

The whole premise of the book & the video series is that we have a spiritual yearning & need for God.  But, oftentimes we try to fill that spiritual need with other things....in this case, food specifically.  I knew this to be true.  And, I really felt like my first step at making any changes whatsoever HAD to be making time for God.  Before I jumped into any other aspect of lifestyle changes related to healthier eating I HAD to tackle this issue first.

The first thing I did was write down 4 immediate goals...the idea was to tackle one a  week.  Those were...
1.  Time with God each day.  Even though the same time of day doesn't always work each day, I wanted to find a portion of time each day where  I could read the Word & pray.  I also didn't give myself a specific amount of time.  I wanted to set easy, simple goals.  The fewer parameters I put on myself, the less likely I was to fail.  So, some days I've really gotten into my quiet time and have gone half and hour...even up to an hour.  Other days it's been less...maybe 10 minutes or so.  And, that's ok.  I just try to find a time when no-one is around because I like to read the Bible out loud & I like to pray out loud.  I find I'm able to concentrate & focus better that way & I find it feels more like I'm really communicating with God instead of it all just  being in my head.

2.  Night-time snacking.  That's the main one I addressed in my Facebook post.  But, I didn't feel like I could even begin to start that one until I had #1 under my belt.  And, you know what, it hasn't been as difficult as I thought it might be.  The first couple nights were  rough.  Man those cravings hit me hard!  But, when I thought about how good I would feel the next morning if I didn't snack I was able to hold on.  Also, I've found that having a good book to read instead  of just passively watching tv has helped me keep my mind off food.

3.  Water.  I'm pretty good about drinking water throughout the day.  I always have a glass of water sitting on the kitchen counter.  But, I want to be more conscious of drinking even more.

4. Movement.  I want to do something each day to get my body moving more...whether it be taking a walk, sledding with my boys, playing Wii boxing, dancing.  I want to do something to get my heart rate up a bit.  Notice I did NOT call it exercise.  Exercise sounds so formal and...well, intimidating.  But, movement I can do.

So, I'm on items 1 & 2 right now.  And, I'm pleased with how it's going.  I'm not seeing a change in my weight yet.  But, I FEEL better.  And,  I'm going with that.  I'm keeping  in mind that the ultimate goal is lasting changes.  And to get there, it has to feel natural.  For it to feel natural, it will take time.  
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