Sunday, June 24, 2012

Beloved Enemy

There is something deep inside the human heart that longs to be accepted/approved of by another.  I remember in high school drug-free programs would come to the school and speak of peer pressure.  Although I was in a public high school and definitely not part of the in-crowd, I never felt 'pressured.'  I was comfortable being me.  Sometimes very lonely, but not enough to make me be someone I wasn't.  Then I went to the University of Alabama, and discovered my first 'peer pressure.'  I found in myself a deep desire to be accepted/approved of by the professors in my area of study.  They were intelligent, fascinating people.  Some of those 'fools' who say in their heart that there is no  God- but they seemed so not 'foolish.'  Because I'm a nerd, they offered me a sweet graduate studies package.  I wouldn't have to teach undergrad classes or do research for some professor.  I was even going to be given a stipend - basically, they were going to pay me to study there.  And then the shoe fell.  "Oh, you're married?  Well, you'll have to put all that on the back burner.  If you join this graduate studies department, you're married to the program."  I discovered in that meeting how much these female professors disliked men, how liberal their agenda was, how strongly our worldviews were in opposition.  Of course, I knew most of it already, but I was still quite devastated. 

What to do?  What to do?  Nathan and  I prayed about it, and it wasn't to be.  I didn't know how to break the news to these people who were bending over backward for me.  I walked into Professor X's office, and the answer came.  God placed in my heart an image strong enough to convince me and them, too.  I said, "If you knew that to advance in your studies you had to leave here and go study at Liberty University or Bob Jones, would you?"  She was horrified!  "No!  I just couldn't!  I'd be like a square peg in a round hole."  I softly said, "That's what you're asking me to do."  The pressure lifted.  She kindly escorted me from the room, apologized for not understanding, and off I went.  I cried.  

Is it WRONG to want someone else to like us?  Approve of us?  Think we're worth spending time with?  James says if we are a friend to the world, we will be an enemy of God.  In fact the word for friend here is stronger, almost like 'lover.'  But I'll just stay in the friend department for the moment.  A friend is someone we care about.  We care what they think about us.  We want to spend time with them.  We have shared values.  We think alike about enough things to enjoy each other's company. 

Many a Christian has the attitude of "OK, now give me a list of what I need to do to get to heaven.  I don't want to be too weird, so I want to do everything I'm allowed to do, so I can still 'fit in' down here.  You don't want to be so heavenly-minded, you're no earthly good."  Wait.  Aren't we supposed to be FRIENDS OF GOD?  Isn't His opinion supposed to drive ours?  Isn't time with Him the best time of the day?  Aren't our values lined up next to His in Scripture?  Don't we think alike?  When we read His word, don't we say, "Yes, yes, and amen!"?  (Just typing this is so convicting to my own heart- that happens sometimes ;o)

The desire to be approved of by another is a good thing.  But anytime we look to someone other than God Himself for that approval, the desire will take us down.  I'm not saying, "Well, I don't give a flip what anyone thinks about me.  They can get over it."  There is a wise discretion that will guide us to be gentle lovers of God AND lovers of those around us.  Normally that sentence is blasted from the mouth of a person who has, shall we say, some maturation process in their future.  That being said, how much DO I care about what the world thinks of me?  What my extended family thinks of me?  My neighbors?  My friends from high school?   

So we're really different.  So we're supposed to be.  When I'm the only woman in the store who's not flashing skin, when Nathan is sitting in a hotel room studying Hebrews while his coworkers hit the bar, when those moments come that shout, "YOU ARE SO WEIRD!," that's when I must ask myself, "Who do I love?  Whose friend am I?"    The Bible never said, "Go be relevant, (meaning enough like the world so they will listen to you)."  It does say, "Love not the world." and "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul and your neighbor as yourself." 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"Why do you always have to fight?"

Kathryn sat on my bed this week, all twisted into a dramatic pout.  Her face was the picture of disgust.  (She can overdo the drama sometimes, like her mother ;o)  Her grief?  She says that she and Alex don't enjoy playing together like they used to.  That they've been fussing and fighting all morning.  (This I am aware of, as this conversation was part of shall we say... a disciplinary moment).  So I asked her, "Why do you fight?"  She had the ubiquitous childhood answer:  "I dunno."  

Well, I do.  I've been reading James.  Actually James has caught and held my imagination for a little while, especially James 4.  James 4:1-3 tells exactly why we as humans fight one another.    

"What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions[a] are at war within you?[b] You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."   (ESV)

 Kathryn read this for me, and her eyes crossed.  So I said, "There are two guys who are both 'in love' with the same girl.  They start fighting about it.  What caused the fight?"  Kathryn says, "The girl."  EERP!  Try again.  "Because they want the same girl."  Right.  Their desires.  Their desires are in conflict.  The reason Kathryn and Alex used to play without fussing and fighting is because their desires weren't in conflict.  Kathryn had a goal, and by George, Alex fell in line.  But now, she wants to tea party and he wants to sword fight.  Kathryn was surprised to find the reason she is unhappy is because she wants only her own desires and wants Alex to never get what he wants.  The conversation went on, as at this point, a talk about loving one another is in order.  But my mind has been circling these verses ever since. 

We are all in a fight.  Always.  According to the next verse of James 4... 

You adulterous people![c] Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God....
There is an ongoing battle between God and the 'world.'  (Side note:  I grew up thinking that 'the world' was whatever my specific church thought was wrong.  In other words, being 'worldly' meant rebelling against the rules about external standards.  Actually, this is totally off base.  Worldliness is the whole set of values and beliefs that stands opposed to God's word.  It is possible to be very 'godly-looking' and have an extremely worldly heart and mind.)  

So why the battle between God and the world?  The same reason there is conflict between Kathryn and Alex.  They each have desires, and they stand in direct opposition to one another.  Their values and beliefs are polar opposites.  Let's not kid ourselves.  The world isn't really in as much flux and change as we like to think.  Its costumes change, its language changes, but its goal remains fixed:  to oppose God and His word.  It always has, and it always will.  In this fight, where do I stand?  Where do my children stand?  What does it mean to be a friend of God?  More later...

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Thrift Store Cookery 
The largest thrift store in Alabama is ten minutes from my house. That means happiness. My kids LOVE to go to the thrift store. A year or so ago, I went in their room, which had piles of toys EVERYWHERE. I said, "WHAT is going on in here?" Their response: "We're playing thrift store." OK, my kids MAY be a bit deprived ;o)! It looked JUST like the toy aisle at the thrift store, minus the iffy stuffed animals. On principle, I never bring home anything with faux fur (or real fur). Who knows what kind of critters lurk beneath their cuddliness?! Ick. Although, according to Nathan, since I wear shoes from the thrift store, I really have no such hygiene boundaries. I rely on the posted statement that the shoes have been treated, and so far no foot fungus, so we're good! ;o)

One of the places I always stop is the cookbook aisle. Over the years, I've learned what I'm looking for. I'll always grab a Taste of Home (but they are NEVER in our thrift store). I brush by the gazillion old Weight Watchers cookbooks, the trendy Rachel Ray stuff, the many "Cooking with Rosie" books. I peruse happily the old community/church cookbooks. Although occasionally I find their editors to be desperate for material. One I have literally has this recipe: "Jack's Special" Get in your car and drive to Jack's. Go through the drive through. 1 bacon cheeseburger and 1 package fries. Best fast food in town. Not only is this debatable, but that is the classic sign of a desperate editor filling space. I mean, didn't ANYONE have a potato salad recipe laying around their house they could have loaned this poor woman?

 But occasionally I'll find a gem. One that will revolutionize how I cook for years and years. I'm not utterly devoid of creativity, but it doesn't thrive on scrapbooking and arranging flowers. I love to cook. Putting ingredients together and pulling out something truly mouth-wateringly special is such fun. If I need to relax, I head to the kitchen. So introducing my two favorite ethnic cookbooks:  

Mexican Family Cooking by Aida Gabilondo I've been looking for this book for years! A.G. grew up a rich child on a Northern Mexican cattle ranch. Her recipes range the gamut of the humble Mexican repasts to the fabulous beef recipes you would expect from a ranch. She has 20 pages of salsa varieties which I am working my way through right now to find our favorite. Sprinkled throughout this goldmine (written in English and not in metrics- which is also helpful) are fascinating snippets from her childhood. Here's the salsa I made yesterday. This is different from any I've tried. The absence of cilantro is interesting. The flavor is GREAT! Here you go:

Cooked Sauce/Salsa Guizada
1 lb. ripe tomatoes (I used 2 1/2 large tomatoes)
1 7 oz. can green chiles
1/2 c. chopped white onion
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. mashed garlic
1/2 tsp. crushed oregano leaves
 Parboil tomatoes in 1/2 c. boiling water to make peeling easier. (OK, boil yourself a 1/2 cup of water, throw in the whole tomatoes and roll them gently around in the water and steam for a minute or two. Run cold water over them, and the peeling is a breeze). Peel and chop tomatoes. Mix tomatoes, canned chiles (I drained mine), and chopped onion and cook, covered for 3 minutes. (I cooked mine for 3 minutes AFTER they started simmering) Season with salt, fresh garlic and oregano (crush the dried oregano between your fingers for great flavor). Now, I used a blender on this mixture, since we don't do 'chunks' in our family. This is mild and great hot or cold. I put a little cream cheese on a ritz cracker and topped it with the hot salsa to test it- yummmmmm!
 The recipe says it keeps indefinitely and freezes well. But don't worry, it's not a big batch, and it won't be around long ;o)
  The Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo This is my other favorite find. It's out of print, but if you ever see it, your Chinese food will be the talk of the... house. Nathan's family lived in Beijing for a school year when he was a teenager, and he has a thing for authentic Chinese food. No buffets for him, thank you. He's quite a Chinese foodie/snob ;o) This book teaches ALL the tricks! Velveting chicken (that's what keeps it tender even when it's been stirfried) has revolutionized my attempts with the wok. I'll put that recipe up later.... Happy thrift store cookery!

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Well, SHE asked!

Kathryn was standing beside me in Wal-Mart last night, and she struck up a conversation with a fellow shopper. The lady said, "You are SOOO BEAUTIFUL; do you want to be a model when you grow up?" Kathryn looked at me quizzically. I don't think she knows what 'model' means other that 'you need to 'model' good behavior for your brother.' The lady gushed on: "I'm going to be looking for you on TV! You will be a model- you're so beautiful!" Context helped Kathryn out at this point, and she said matter-of-factly, "I've never even been in a beauty pageant." The woman turned on me in an accusatory tone, "Why not, Mom?! Why not, Mom?!" Well, she asked, didn't she?

 I smiled and said, "Because that's not the kind of values we're trying to place in our children. We're teaching them to be beautiful at heart and to please the Lord." Kathryn's nodding and interjects, "That means to have a good attitude." At this point, the poor woman (well, she DID ask, so I don't feel too bad ;o) became very religious and began saying stuff to Kathryn about "if you have Jesus, that's all you need" and then she quickly disappeared.

I also had a conversation with a friend yesterday with whom I was going to a Mary Kay facial demo. She asked me to please, please not tell the woman that I don't wear makeup. She had brought wet wipes for me in case they wanted to give me a makeover. God forbid I embarrass her by being DIFFERENT.

My kids are the only modest kids that take swim lessons at the YMCA, and mom's swimsuit is a skirted swimmer from WholesomeWear so I definitely will stand out. Yesterday a coworker asked me what I wear in the pool and was shocked to find out that I cover up. (Because I don't NEED to, in her opinion- as if because your body looks OK, you have a right to unclothe it?)

You know, I've been different a very, very long time. Not just different in how I look externally, but in the values I stand for and in the way I parent my children. In fact, I've found that it's not enough to be different from your average sinner, but when you live a careful life before the Lord, you'll be different from the vast majority of self-professing 'Christians,' too. Is that OK?

 Some people feel that in order to reach a sinful world, I need to be more relevant. I need to blend in a little more, so my differences don't shoo them away. The children of Israel were made VERY DIFFERENT from the surrounding people groups by the law of God in their lives. Their differences set them apart and were meant to be an evangelistic tool. I find that my differences do this even today, even in Birmingham. As a bit of a social butterfly, I talk to everybody (poor Nathan ;o). Questions come up all the time. (Actually, far less about my appearance and far more about my children's character- thank God they are a good testimony!) I want my children to grow up seeing Mom not shrinking around town, rushing home to 'be myself,' hemming and hawing through honest questions of people we meet. In trying not to offend, I can easily teach them that the differences are a bad thing. But they're not. And you know, a genuine smile, a relaxed chat, a few minutes later, and 95% of the time the person walks away saying, "That's really something to think about. I wish I had...."

 Vive la Difference!