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Archive for February, 2009

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot lately on all the ways I’m falling short as a Mom. Sometimes I feel like I’m just making do with broken pieces all around. My own limitations and brokenness. The fallout and brokenness in my kids’ lives from the realities of abuse, divorce, learning disabilities, bullies in school, etc. There is so much imperfection in their little lives, and every bit of it takes its toll on them. I’m acutely aware of my ineffectiveness in mitigating for them the effects of life in a hard world. Or even being able to equip them with the resources to live well in that world. There’s so much more I’d love to do to actively help and equip them. Yet, I’m limited by my own limitations and the very real struggle to recover from the weakening effects of abuse in my own life.

I want to do so much more for them. I see my limitations, but when I follow that line of thinking to the end, I see that it’s not just my limitations. Even if I could do everything I dream of doing–even if I could be as good as Mom as so-and-so, I couldn’t be enough to perfectly equip them with the resources to live an ideal life.

And so, here I sit, rethinking that ideal. The first thing that is helping me is one little part of a very long conversation at The Evangelical Village. My reaction started with this statement from a commenter:

I am curious as to how you justify using single women as an example to prove your point? We would all agree that God’s design is not to have families being run by single mothers who have to do all of the providing, nurturing, etc…

And here is the response, which gave me a big “aha” and triggered some connections, which have been leading to some smaller “aha”s

God’s design lasted until Adam and Eve were put out of the garden. In the garden, they did not have to labour over the soil to feed themselves. The labour of providing is a post Eden task. However, death also has entered into the equation. Men and women die at different times. Although society at first arranged that widows be remarried, this was not enforced among the early Christians. Paul says they should remain unmarried.

What is God’s design in this? That husband and wife both be immortal? That neither one suffer illness? That all men and women remarry ASAP?

Cannot God’s design be evident in how we surmount life’s difficulties. If either husband or wife fall seriously ill, is it not God’s design that we surmount this and remain faithful providers and nurturers of our invalid spouse. Is not this courage part of God’s design?

Somehow, I do believe that God’s design is not just about us finding a way to return to some perfect Garden of Eden state. It’s not about throwing every ounce of energy into making perfect marriages and families happen, nor about succeeding at creating the ideal of perfect social justice and equality in our societies or world.

I don’t have a fine-tuned theology on all of this, so please don’t throw too many theological rotten tomatoes my way if you disagree! I struggle with what God’s design really is. And how His sovereignty and our free will play into it all.

But I think when we act as if God’s design is all about our attaining heaven on earth (whether we focus most of our energy on attaining those ideals in our own homes or in our wider societies), what ends up happening is either

  1. an obsession that leaves us disdaining, dismissing or angry at those around us who frustrate and keep that ideal from happening (i.e. I have to be mad at a spouse who is keeping me from having the perfect marriage; mad at the President who is messing up the world by making (depending on his political leanings) things like war or abortions or poverty or laziness or whatever easier; or mad at myself for my own very real weaknesses which keep getting in the way of my moving towards a family or culture that perfectly reflects God’s design) or
  2. a frantic whitewashing of our efforts that don’t turn out to be perfect or ideal, and then holding our breath and squinting just so, hoping we can convince somebody (ourselves? God? people around us?) that we ARE getting it right!

I’m not exactly ecstatic with the thought that so much of God’s design has to do with redeeming the terrible things, and with how we surmount those difficulties in life. There are times I admit to finding great comfort in that, and there are times (like now) that I would love God’s design to be a whole lot more about things working out right, all around, the first time, rather than about how well we get through the tough stuff or how much of the evil that others get away with is redeemable in our lives.

Even with that tension, though, I think we do ourselves and God a disservice when we assume we’re doing our best at living out His design when we’re most perfectly imitating what we imagine God designed to happen in Eden. If that’s the case, I’m going to have to work my tail off just to get back to ground zero.  Who, though, is not in the same boat? None of us is operating in a context that sets us up to even come close to life as God designed it to be in a perfect paradise. Not one family who looks like they have it all together is doing so from some perfect (or even nearly so) attainment of an Edenic ideal.

A friend of mine who is going through marriage troubles was told by another friend that she probably shouldn’t take in an exchange student because it would be sad for that student to have her example of a Christian family be one where there was so much emotional disconnection. What?!?! So this Mom can’t live out any kind of good example of faith and love and perseverance and godliness because her marriage isn’t good enough? I’m not even married, and I’m learning a lot about love and forgiveness and wisdom from how this woman lives out her faith in a tough situation. And she keeps telling me that she is learning a lot about honesty and patience and resting in God from watching how I live out my faith in a tough, single parenting situation. Do the two of us only get partial credit for loving and glorifying God and living out His design, because our lives aren’t a perfect reflection of God’s design for families?

A comment from a post at Familyhood Church helped bring some of these thoughts together for me:

God’s requirement is that we walk humbly with Him, and leave the glory of it up to Him. I no longer believe that I can make glory happen by being a super-saint in a super-church, my job is to live where I am, learning love, faith and obedience, seeing God where He already is, dwelling in His flawed broken children. And that is enough.

I’ve said before that if God is going to bring hope into my desperate situation, it’s going to have to be His doing. I can’t (and won’t) paste it on like some sort of self-generated commodity. If He’s going to bring light, it’s going to have to be right here where it’s dark, because like Jeremiah (or was it Isaiah), I can’t get myself out of a dark, muddy pit on my own. Yet, somehow it seems to me like God’s design isn’t contingent on whether or not I’m in the pit or out of it. On whether or not I’m depressed (don’t get me going on the topic of needing to fix my depression so God can use me better ;-)!) On whether or not I have the perfect Edenic family scenario. On whether or not I’m able to give my kids all the things they need to make it in a tough world.

I can’t be a super Mom any more than I can be a super saint, or my church can be a super church. But I can be a Mom “where I am, learning love, faith and obedience, seeing God where He already is, dwelling in His flawed broken children [which includes me, and my dear little ones, broken and flawed as they are by the realities of divorce and by, well, just life in general]. And that is enough.”

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This is the title of a hymn (sung to the same tune as “Bind Us Together”) by Charles Wesley, which I discovered in our Methodist hymnal. I am familiar with benediction songs, but don’t think I had ever heard a regathering song.

I love how this song brings into focus something that we often take for granted, until it doesn’t happen–the fact that, when we get back together with others, we actually all have made it through another period of time, alive.

And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace!

There are six verses to the hymn (which is on the short side, for Charles Wesley, I’ve discovered). I won’t quote them all here. I do especially like the questions and the thoughts provoked by the third verse:

What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past,
fightings without, and fears within, since we assembled last!

I appreciate those questions being voiced in the context of a church meeting. Stopping and looking around and realizing that not only in my own life, but in the lives of those around me, we come, not bringing amazing tales of heroics and greatness, but rather, choosing to worship together and cling to the Lord together, within the context of all of our ongoing suffererings, fears and conflicts.

Our Sunday finery might suggest a with-it-ness, but the reality is often far from “with it”. When that is the case, we do ourselves a service to make space for that brokenness and that pain and that suffering. If we think we need to cover up the troubles we’ve seen in the interlude between meeting with these brothers and sisters, if we feel like we need to be someone else–someone more exceptional and perfect–in order to show up at church, then we will neither find nor give the comfort, strength and encouragement that we were designed to give each other.

The other verses in the song celebrate the Lord’s sustaining and redeeming power, His salvation and the glad hopefulness of continuing to share in the sufferings of the cross.

And are we yet alive? If so, let’s take a good look around and actually notice what the Lord’s faithfulness has really meant for each of us since we last met. Let us consider what His faithfulness really looks like, not in some glorified, whitewashed way, but in the very real realities that each of us lives in.

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This book is not the proper medium in which to set forth evolutionary theories of birdsong, but I must emphatically say that the bird sings first for love of music, and second for love of a lady. I put the lady second, for, if he did not love music first he would not have sung to her, and birds, like the rest of us, are a trifle selfish. What we like most we think others will like as well, hence, in a moment of unselfishness we share the object of our selfishness!”

I’m still trying to decide what I think of this quote.

Lately I’ve been enjoying reading about animals. Which is funny, because I’m no animal lover. But still, this book, The Music of Wild Birds, and another, Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin, fascinate me.

Although I’m not particularly a bird watcher, I do appreciate the background music of birds out my window as I write this. This book on birds’ music caught my eye first because of the beautiful artwork on the cover. The lovely drawings throughout are a delight, whether or not one reads or understands any of the text. And then the book kept my attention because of the musical transcriptions and dialogue about each bird and its music. I was fascinated by the thought of someone taking the time to transcribe what they heard, and then make connections between bird songs and music of human composers.

Originally written in 1904 by F. Schuyler Mathews, this edition is illustrated and adapted by Judy Pelikan. Here are some of Mr. Mathews interesting observations and connections [The text is highly interspersed with musical transcriptions, which I cannot copy here, but will indicate with an [*]:

The charm, too, of the Chickadee’s singing lies in the fact that he knows the value of a well-sustained half note, another point which should be scored in the little musician’s favor. Truly, in this regard he is far ahead of the Canary, for the latter wastes his energy splitting into hemidemisemiquavers every tone within the compass of an octave….

[*] I may be overestimating the value of a melody so meager as that of the Chickadee, but if so it becomes difficult to account for the charm that underlies the music of all great composers, for constructively considered their melodies are mere elaborations of absolutely simple themes. (pgs. 56, 57)

Concerning a bird who, day after day, sang the same melody, but at times switched it from a major key to a minor one:

[*]The Song Sparrow has the ability to render a motive in both the major and minor keys, just exactly as Verdi has done in the ninth and eleventh bars of the “Di Provenza”. ( p. 138 )

It is not a stretch to imagine that the author is reading too much “psychology” into a particular bird’s musical expression, but I, for one, found his speculation quite fun:

In the summer of 1903 I heard in Nantucket a bird which sang with charming accuracy the following first two bars from Alfredo’s song in La Traviata [*]…But this was sung in the same pathetic way in which Violetta sings it a little later in the same act, when she finds she must give up Alfredo. There is an unmistakable pathos in the bird’s song.

It is not always the case, however, that the music is pathetic. One afternoon, while crossing the downs of Nantucket, I heard a bit which was decidedly reminiscent of the song and dance with castanets in which Carmen attempts, in the opera of her name, to lure Jose away from his duty: [*]

This, it must be admitted, was not sung in quite the lively way the libretto would demand, but the melody was correct: [*]

A moment later, however, another bird spoiled the whole effect by finishing the song the wrong way, thus: [*]…Meadowlarks, and birds in general, for that matter, are prone to take unwarranted liberties with operatic scores. ( pgs. 168-170 )

I think I find the birds being discussed, and the author himself, equally fascinating. I read something like this, and am fascinated with a person who not only notices bird’s songs, but writes them down, makes intuitive connections with human music, and feels powerfully, in connection with both. As someone who thinks with feeling, it is not completely foreign to me to understand how a bird’s song could connect with such specific feelings.

[The Yellow-throated Vireo] is never in a hurry, and after singing three or four clusters of slurred notes, thus, [*] he gives you plenty of time to think the matter over before he makes another remark. At the time of the Boer War I imagined this bird was telling me all about it [* with this text:  ‘Mafeking. Modder river. Buluway. Molappo. Boer war!’] Certainly one finds the word Buluwayo fits a particular group of notes remarkably well. ( pg. 119 )

Though I’m not so good at analyzing or even always noticing birds’ music, I’d have enjoyed knowing and watching Mr. Mathews be himself. What a fascinating, interesting man he must have been to notice, in such detail and with such passion and enjoyment, the music of birds. Many thanks to Ms. Pelikan for making this book available today, and enhancing it so gorgeously with her drawings.

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