September 29, 2009

fruit of affliction

Lately I've been doing a bit of thinking about seasons of life, identity, purpose, what it actually means to live with an intentionality that deals confidently and compassionately with the past. Just today I discovered two posts on Femina very much to those points - one on affliction and the other on fruitfulness. I don't know that the good women over at Femina meant those posts to be complementary, but I believe they are. I know for myself that the particularly twists and turns of my own afflictions have made me doubt whether or not I'll ever really be the fruitful person I'd like to be. The phrase, "pensive, doubting, fearful heart," applies pretty well most days. I suppose because it's the nature of children (and indeed most everyone) to be egoists I'm more inclined to look at the various hurts and troubles I've been through and wonder "what did I do wrong to deserve this?" or "surely I must be a terrible, incompetent person to deserve this" instead inquiring of myself and God what should I be learning through all this? Along those lines Nancy Wilson writes:

The Bible has much to say about affliction in this life. God always uses such things to sanctify us, to conform us to the image of His Son, to teach us to follow Christ. It is good to be needy because we have a Savior who loves to bestow comfort in affliction, joy in suffering, and help for the helpless. If we never had need, would we have an idea of His matchless grace?

Afflictions are good for us because they are God’s schoolroom in which He teaches His children many things. Learn to listen and learn to be a good student in affliction. He does all things well. This is not an accident, but part of His good (though hard) Providence in your life. This is an opportunity for faith, without which we will not see the Lord.

Of course such a doctrine of affliction doesn't allow anyone to play the egoist. Maybe we earned the current affliction (ie the defaulting bank clerk) or maybe we didn't (ie an abused child), but either way affliction is something we should view from God's point of view and not own own. It's more a question of what God is doing in His kingdom and less of what we did or didn't do to earn our particular affliction. In some ways it's a hard doctrine and in other ways it's a freeing one. If you didn't earn it you can't even pretend to be in control of it. And yet if we really do believe the Gospel we must believe that suffering isn't arbitrary. It's always redeemed. Meaning that my issues with co-dependency and growing up with the kind of family I did is somehow part of God's ultimate plan to redeem creation. Yeah, I admit that I have no clue what part a couple of co-dependent parents and a few more or less messed up kids have to do with redeeming creation. Couldn't make up an explanation if I tried. Yet despite my own cluelessness I can't help but feel that if God is really in charge of this affliction then maybe it isn't such a crime to feel hurt. Maybe I don't have to shut down my heart and refuse to feel the pain since somehow, somewhere this pain that never quite goes away will be redeemed. It's not a wasted and wasteful emotion. By God's unfathomable grace it's part of my own redemption. That's very helpful to me because in the past I have more or less shut down in the face of pain. I've berated myself in private for wanting things to come out differently. Face it, if you expect a slap in the face, and you get a slap in the face at least you aren't disappointed. However, if you'd rather get a hug and know you might just get a cold shoulder and then get a slap in the face....well more fool you for wanting something you knew you weren't going to get. Way to pile up hurt and disappointment for yourself. So you stop wanting and you stop feeling. Every time you do that a little bit of you dies, but that's ok because at least you don't feel the hurts. At least it's ok until you get so numb that you'd rather feel anything than nothing.

As you might guess, under such circumstances it's pretty hard to be fruitful. When the Bible says "out of the overflow of his heart man speaks" I think it could also say that out of the overflow of man's heart he acts. Consider Jesus's remark that any man who harbors hatred in his heart is already guilty of murder. When you're feeling dead, dry, inadequate, and empty it's really hard to be fruitful no matter how much you might want to be. I know that for myself the fruitfulness comes in little fits and spurts -symbolic of my "pensive, doubting, fearful heart" I suppose. As I said, the connection between affliction and fruitfulness, suggested by the juxtaposition of the two latest posts at Femina, is in this case strictly from my own imagination. Whether or not they ordinarily go together I can't say. I can only speak from my own experience. And in my experience being told I couldn't cook for the longest time didn't exactly make my heart overflow with bounty once I got married and found myself having to cook. I remember I cooked spaghetti for our first meal together, and i was scared stiff. Of spaghetti my friends! Surely I had well and truly learned my own inadequacy. And this is where I found Rachel's post so encouraging. She pointed out that in the case of vines and bushes and fruit trees their fruitfulness isn't contingent on someone being there to appreciate the fruit. I don't normally block quote so much, but she puts it so well. Regarding fruitfulness Rachel says:

If you are like me, probably one of the first things you think of is Psalm 128 “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.”

But the funny thing is that in this verse, the fruitful vine is not bearing children, she is bearing fruit. The children are all off her vine long ago, and are responsible for their own fruit bearing. She is just a heavy laden vine. My mom has always taught that fruitfulness is not equal to bearing children, and here is another example of that. The mere fact of having had children does not mean you are a fruitful person. That would be like the apple trees calling it off after their first year of bearing fruit.

Fruitfulness isn't contingent upon someone being there to applaud, appreciate, or make use of what we do. In that sense fruitfulness is wasteful and supremely unconcerned with other people's reactions. We do the best we can and then drop the fruit where it may. If other people can use the fruit great. If not we just go right on producing it. I find this refreshing because this attitude makes hash of my more utilitarian sensibilities. When I think about taking up writing (and not just blogging) for my own pleasure or learning a new instrument or making something extra for supper I keep finding good reasons why not -mostly because who would they really help besides myself. But if I'm seeing this picture of fruitfulness aright then developing one's talents and putting something a little extra into supper making are in themselves fruitful activities. It doesn't matter if the husband notices or if you ever find yourself pressed up to use your talents publicly. We produce the fruit and let God worry about the harvest. And this is so not how I grew up. I've been so afraid of looking stupid or failing or not being recognized for what I do that I've really been kind of scared to do anything. Contrarily this sort of fruitfulness seems to look to God and to itself for its only justification. That's very freeing. Not having to worry about what every one else thinks.

So I know this all has been very long and rambling, but what am I trying to say? Here it is in a nutshell (if you're skimming stop here). I think any sort of non-Biblical idea of affliction is likely to produce people who either don't know how or believe that they can't be fruitful people. It's hard to have a generous heart when you've tucked it down into the furtherest cranny of yourself so as not to feel it's wounded pulse. Case in point -as women its so easy to feel that without kids we are simply waiting somewhere between contentment and despair for our fruitfulness to begin. But no, God has called His people to affliction and to fruitfulness. They can only be contrary callings if we make then be.

September 27, 2009


There are things that were said that cannot be unsaid. Forgiveness can't supply the missing words. There are things that were done that cannot be undone. Reconciliation won't rewind those steps. There is pain that cripples because it believes itself to be a weakness instead of a wound. There are the things that may be forgiven but should never be ignored. Like I tried to do. I made excuses for the hurts because I was not sure the kindnesses would have been better. I did not know that there are things I didn't deserve not because of any aspect of my past or anyone else's past but because of my innate dignity as a person. Perhaps I shouldn't make the same excuses for people who hurt me that they made to deny hurting me.

Maybe, just finally, I'm learning to grow up with the me that is and not the me I wish there was.

September 25, 2009

getting out of hand

Looks like the camping obsession is getting out of hand. Yeah I don't know what I'm talking about either since we haven't been camping since we went to Yosemite over a month ago. But lately it seems like I can't get away from looking at camping gear and planning what gear to get next. I just ordered a couple of mummy bags to replace/upgrade the super huge two person sleeping bag we've been dragging around with in an effort to assemble gear that we could conceivably take on a one or two night backpacking trip. Anyway I was really excited to have found some good sleeping bags on sale. I had bought my gear for the month. Wasn't looking for more. Then I got an e-mail sale flyer from Campmor (same place I bought the sleeping bags). Now I've got just over two hundred dollars of gear in my wishlist -all on sale and all of it pretty basic essentials that I'm sure we'll want. And I'm out of mad money for the month. The annoying thing is that everything I have on my wishlist I can justify pretty easily. If we're going to be camping in the mountains this fall/winter we're probably going to want at least a warm bottom base layer and probably a water/windproof shell. Fleece jackets would be a good addition to all the cotton we've got in our wardrobes. AND DID I MENTION IT'S ALL ON SALE! Jeesh. /shakes head. Of course none of this includes getting a bike rack for our car, and since we've got a spare tire I'm afraid we won't be able to get by with a fifty dollar trunk rack. It is way too easy to spend money. Way too easy.

September 22, 2009

No I can't juggle or breath fire or pull coins out of your ears

How in heaven's name did "entertaining" come to describe the heart warming practice of a person/family inviting you and perhaps a few others over to enjoy a some combination of food, conversation, and possibly cards or a board game? Every time I hear someone say "but of course we love to entertain" my brain conjures up two rival images. One image consists of people shining, polishing, and otherwise gilding their home in the hopes of dazzling the less fortunate the elegance, creativity, and tasteful ostentation of their domestic life. In this sense "entertaining" is understood to refer to that sentiment which prompts people to pay enormous fees to walk around the elegantly furnished homes of people long since dead. At least in the former instance one may reasonably expect refreshment. The second image that comes to mind is that of guests sitting around in expectant silence waiting for their host to do something astonishing such as burst out into an aria or tell a selection of appropriate humorous anecdotes. And here I thought that by cleaning up my apartment and messing up my kitchen to have friends over for a meal I was practicing hospitality. If you want entertainment there's a movie theater down the street. Otherwise I have some homemade bolognese sauce and a bottle of wine that I'd dearly love to share if you can condescend to not being entertained for a single evening.

I know in many ways it's a silly and meaningless usage, but I do rather feel that it obscures what I feel should be happening when people invite other people into their lives for a time. When the emphasis is on entertaining I get a sense more of showing off one's possessions or conversation. However, when one extends hospitality the emphasis seems to be more on making room in your life (however temporarily) for another person and their interests. Entertaining wants crab cakes and champagne. Hospitality might enjoy crab and champagne as much as the next person but will happily make do with hamburgers and iced tea. Of the two I would rather practice hospitality.

September 18, 2009

Thanksgiving in Cali?

So Allen and I are facing the prospect of a Thanksgiving in California far away from both our families. At first we were thinking that maybe we'd just bite the bullet and fly out for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, but when we really thought about spending that much money for four days with family when we're going to turn around three weeks later and head right back for an extended Christmas seems the better part of stewardship to just stay in Cali for Thanksgiving. Of course if this were a book put out by your favorite Christian author this is where things would get all heart warming because one of three things would soon happen. We would A. invite an older person without family close by over and (insert heart warming moral/lesson/conclusion), B. be ourselves invited to join a family gathering (insert heartwarming moral about family being where you find it), or C. spend the day dishing up food a local shelter (insert Christian brownie points). The problem is that none of those options really appeal to me. If I wouldn't go feed homeless people any other day of the week I can't see the virtue of doing in on Thanksgiving just so I can feel all warm and virtuous; I can't think of anyone I'd care to invite over, and I'm not so sure I really want to go visit someone else. I still have enough awkward moments around my in-laws during holidays that I'm none too sure I'd want to go hang out with someone else's family. Of course there's always the "young married without family in town Thanksgiving Potluck" that I'm sure someone will end up suggesting. Can't say that really appeals to me either. I suppose at these moments I tend to revert to my mom's attitude. If there's no family to visit then by golly we've got four whole days to go see something. Pack your bags, and crank up the rv. Of course in our case this would translate into throwing the tent into the car and packing the icechest. I really don't know though. Of course if I was at home I probably wouldn't know either because there would at least be a chance that we'd have to decide among three different Thanksgiving meals. But we'd be with family. At this point it doesn't matter if we head for the mountains or the beaches or just stay here. It's still not home. But we make the best of it. If anyone has any suggestions for destinations no more than 5-6hrs from Silicon Valley area I'd love to hear them. I honestly don't know what's good to visit in November in this part of Cali.

September 15, 2009

no more flu!

Allen and I are finally pulling ourselves together from our recent bout of flu. I don't know if we had the dreaded swine flu or what, but it sure took it's sweet time. First I had a very dry cold (tight cough), then a very wet cold (kleenex flying about willy nilly), and finally a very stuffy cold (sinus pressure with nightly headaches). I feel like I've had a succession of colds to make up for the ones I seem to missed the past year. Allen's been about the same, although his symptoms have come and gone in about half the space mine did. Having missed three weeks of church I've been half expecting people to start asking Allen if I'm dead or possibly run away :D Of course now that means I have piles of back laundry and dishes that need doing. Marvelous feeling to wake up feeling better and then realize how much work you need to do. Rather makes me feel like going back to bed. We're making a bit of progress at any rate. Made supper tonight for the first time in over two weeks. We've been scraping the bottom of the barrel around here and supplementing with frozen pizza and take-out. Homemade soup is welcome change. Anyway, hopefully I'll be fully up around around in a few days. My bike panniers came in the mail last week, so now I can go to the grocery store and the library without having to carry it all on my back.

September 5, 2009

Missing Autumn

On facebook I've been seeing everyone start their annual "my football team is better than your football team" posturing, and I've realized quite suddenly that Fall should be here. Growing up Labor Day always meant another week on the road. For months we'd discuss locations -Maine, Colorado, New England, wherever our fancy and two or three day's traveling could take us. As Labor Day approached we'd check out travel books from the library and watch the weather reports. At some point us kids would be dispatched to vacuum out the rv and stash numerous boxes of cereal. Then, on a Friday afternoon, we'd put the milk in the rv fridge, put a few pizza's in the oven, and wait for Dad to come home. As soon as Dad had come home and changed we did a last check of the house to make sure faucets and ovens and irons were all off; we'd carry down the pizzas on their cardboard rounds, scramble up the steps into the rv, and wait for Mom to lock the door. I can still hear the sound of the that first twack as Mom pulled the rv door closed behind her, and the rv rumbled it's way up the driveway and out onto the road. Sitting there in the rv, eating pizza, and digging into my library I always knew we were doing something special. It was every trip was like Christmas where each day was another present unwrapping itself from the ribbon of the interstate before us. Every sunrise was an entirely new thing seen from a bouncing, swaying window while licking powdered sugar from my breakfast doughnut from my fingers. Even the rain didn't bother us because it was new rain from a new sky, and watching the storm come up over mountain or lake could be half the fun. When you go to see things it doesn't matter near so much how you see them but only that you do see them.

Unfortunately I can never return to those days. I'm even finding myself increasingly reluctant to wear my old vacation shirts because they are the last tangible memories of a time that was necessarily all too brief. Even if I wanted to though I couldn't go back. The university schedule changed much of our travel schedule. Now that we are growing up and going our own separate ways.... How I wish my memories of these days were clearer. As they are I only have snapshots of hikes and sunrises and late nights listening to old radio shows -often as not thinking about some boy I rather liked. They were good times, and I will be forever grateful that I had them.

September 3, 2009

This is just brilliant

This is a quote from Lark News article Pastor tries inauthenticity.

BEND, Ore. — For years pastor Terry Bradley of New Life Community tried to be entirely real with everyone.
That experiment is now over.
"Authenticity is bogus," he says. "It's never real. Nobody knows himself well enough to be fully authentic, and trying to self-divulge all the time breeds shallow relationships because it denies the complexity and mystery of human personalities."

If you don't read Lark News you should -this goes double if you're a Christian and triple if you're an evangelical Christian. If what you read there offends you, and you vow to never darken their links again be scared. Be very scared. Remember, the Pharisees couldn't get the joke about them meticulously straining out gnats out of their wine and then golluping a camel in their soup.

Sorry for the below

I just wanted to say sorry for the sour tone of previous post, and I hope I haven't offended any of you young/new moms out there that might have stumbled across my little blog. However, I think I'm going to keep that post up because I really have felt like that in the past. I suppose I should explain that when I'm talking to a person I have a real life connection to I can genuinely be happy/sad at the news -happy for them but a little sad because of the mess I went through. When it's random people popping up on the facebook news feed throwing out congratulations to people who've been married six months it feels a lot more in my face.

September 2, 2009

pregnant people (can) annoy the heck out of me

1. Because so far Allen and I haven't been able to have any

2. Because some of the congratulations and well-wishes almost make it sound like the expectant mother is holier than the rest of us dumb mom wannabes.

3. Because just maybe I think God is punishing me / it's my fault that we haven't had kids yet.

4. Because I don't want to be worthless because I don't have kids or a career.

5. Because coming face to face with a brand new mom in the making brings me smack up against my own pain as a daughter and a wife.

September 1, 2009

icky sicky -future plan uncertain

Well Saturday I came down with a sure enough cold. It's one of those things where you feel reasonably alert, but every time you stand up you get the head spinning/kind of weak in the back feeling. So mostly I don't stand up that much :D Unfortunately all this isn't helping me plan what to do over Labor Day. Not having any family in town or anything like that I was thinking we might revert to a Natalie family tradition and hit the road but not knowing how long this cold is going to last I'm pretty reluctant to make reservations anywhere (assuming I still could at this late date -California parks fill up early!). If we don't go anywhere I think I'm going to campaign for us to make that bookcase I want for the living room. Anyway, I think I'm going to find me some breakfast and head for the couch. Even sitting up at the computer desk is less than ideal right now.