Sunday, October 31, 2010

Toddler Book Review:
All Things Bright and Beautiful
Ashley Bryan

Lately I have been very interested in getting my hands on some more purposeful literature for my toddler. He is now beginning to understand stories, repeat themes, and ask for specific books. Who knew, at only 22 months old, that a child could grasp and retain so much of what is read to him? (You did, ya good mom, you.)

If he can understand the books we're reading, shouldn't I be reading to him the things I want him to learn? "Well of course you should, Tasha!" (Again, you are a fabulous mom who already has these things figured out.) So I've been searching for themes about God's love, kindness, creation, etc. I stumbled upon this wonderful book in the library (that I'm so sad I'll have to return next week) and wanted to share it with you.

All Things Bright and Beautiful, by Ashley Bryan, is literally a BRIGHT and BEAUTIFUL storytelling of Cecil F. Alexander's 19th century hymn, celebrating God's creation and our response. The pages are bursting with colorful, paper-cut scenes, all put together by multi-award winning artist and illustrator, Ashley Bryan. Children go on an adventure over "purple-headed mountains" and along "rivers running by." The images are exciting and the theme is even better, encouraging children that we can see all that the Lord God has made and we can tell of His glory. This book is appropriate for toddlers and younger children, as there is usually only one sentence per page.

This is one book I would highly recommend adding to your collection of toddler faves.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Psalm 131 and Waiting

"O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me."
Psalm 131:1-2

I love reading the Psalms, because you really get to see David experience and respond to the full spectrum of human trials and adventures, and chances are I will find a response to empathize with; or more often it seems that he is empathizing with me.

Psalm 131 has been speaking that empathizing word into my ear this week. For as long as I can remember, literally, ambition has been a central player in my life strategy. In high school, working my way to holding the position of captain on the cheer squad and dance company (don't judge me, ha); in middle school, starting a club called Kids For Hope, with the goal of helping other kids (we collected dues and everything); in kindergarten, when one sad day I forgot to wear underwear to school, and made my very own paper panties during craft time. Ambitious indeed.

For possibly the first time in my life I feel the Lord saying to me, "Stop. Wait. Not now." I went to a youth conference in high school where the theme was "Now Is The Time." Well, if my life has a theme at this moment, it is "Now Is NOT The Time." Interesting, because as Americans we are cultured to be ambitious people. Not pursuing a greater end is often considered laziness, and being content with where we are in life is looked upon with elitist condescension. And yet, this is still where I find myself.

This new position in life is not for lack of direction. On the contrary, I believe God is very definitively telling me that this IS to be my current direction. A direction of waiting. Waiting on Him. We all go through days in our lives which call us to "wait on the Lord," but I think a season of waiting is a little different. Perhaps it is the intentionally patient walking beside the Lord, without lifting up my heart to something greater and without raising up my eyes to find my future.

As the Psalm says, "like a weaned child with it's mother... is my soul within me." I think about the time when my son was still nursing. He would grope and grab and rood. He would dream about nursing (and we would stand over him and laugh, of course). He would cry and fuss and flail his arms, until he finally achieved the goal. Then he went into that special milk drunk heaven. Finally satisfied. Now that he is weaned, he can sit calmly beside me and wait for me to give him what I know he needs for that moment. What a difference. And of course, you can see the correlation. In a season of rest and waiting, God calls us to trustingly walk beside Him and allow Him to give us what He knows we need for the moment.

It is so easy to occupy ourselves with things that are too great and too marvelous for us... for this moment. It's not that my dreams and ambitions are being shot out of the sky by some tyrant who just wants to bind me to the home (oh the horror this would bring on my life!!); it's that a loving God is teaching me the importance of humbly conquering the small things, that He might prepare me to do that great and marvelous thing that He has given me to do, in the right time, in the right season. "Blessed is the man [whose]... delight is in the law of the LORD. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season." Psalm 1:1-3

For this moment, God is calling me to be a leader in my son's life. That is the great and marvelous thing for this time. Maybe in the future I will lead more people, but I know that now is not the season for that. And not only would it be naive of me to hold onto that ambition now that I've heard the word of God over this time in my life, it would be sinful.

I am so thankful that the Lord is teaching me how to calmly and quietly set my soul before him, like a child, trusting that He knows the future as it should be. Contrary to what western society would have us believe, the "grab it by the horns" mentality is not always God's mentality. But we can always, always, ALWAYS know that His ways will take us farther in life than we could ever have imagined on our own.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Life Covenants

I clearly remember my wedding day. I remember receiving the last order of wholesale flowers that morning, and putting the bouquets together with my bridesmaids. I remember my dress draped from the upstairs banister down to the foyer. I remember all the girls sitting in my bedroom at my parents' house getting their hair and make-up done. And I remember asking my bridesmaids to unbutton the endless line of buttons down the back of my dress minutes before the start of the ceremony because I couldn't breathe. My mom seeing me in my dress and crying, my dad proudly offering his arm for the walk down the aisle. Nervousness, chest heaving, so many eyes looking on, spotting my fiance. My dad's speech, taking Matt's hand, and carefully walking up the steps at the front of the church. Seeing my sister and sister-in-law, in their beautiful black dresses, pearls softly sweeping across their necks, cheeks red and eyes full of tears. I remember that in the midst of my brother's emotional state, the paper wax-stop around his candle caught on fire and had to be stomped out by the rest of the groomsmen, right there in the middle of the ceremony. I remember some inappropriate comments and impromptu vows, because Matt decided in the rush of the moment that the vows we had written together just weren't witty enough for him. And I remember making those promises, looking right into his eyes, meaning them the best I could as a 22-year-old right out of college, who had known little pain, little struggle, and little want in life.

I don't remember understanding the weight of the covenant. I don't remember even knowing I was entering into a covenant. Now, more than five years later, having experienced pain, struggle, and want... I know what I meant when I said those vows that day.

A covenant is simply a promise, or as Wikipedia says: "a solemn promise to engage in or refrain from a specified action." Have you ever thought about marriage as a covenant? What about childbirth, adoption, or fostering? What about ministry? What about death? All of these things are covenants that life offers us. Some we can choose whether or not to partake in, others not so much. Death is a promise that we are required to experience whether we want to or not. But we have the choice (most of the time) whether or not we will have children.

I had no idea the promise I was making the day my son was born. I never would have imagined I was entering into a covenant the first time I saw his sweet little slime-covered face. But I was. The day you bring a child into the world (or welcome an adopted or foster child into your family), you are making a solemn promise to that child. What if we had to make vows on that day? They would go something like, "I promise to be your mother. I will love you unconditionally. I will provide for your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs until you are old enough to provide for yourself. I will train you in the ways of the world and the ways of God. I will accept responsibility for you." And so on. It is the unspoken covenant of motherhood.

Matt and I were visiting recently with some friends who don't have kids, and aren't sure if they want to have kids. Maddox was there, too, acting like a normal one-and-a-half-year-old; giving hugs and testing boundaries. Upon leaving that afternoon, I could only imagine our friends plopping down on the sofa, sharing an empathetic glance, and deciding they should wait a while longer before having kids.

It is so easy for a person without children to look into the lives of a family of 3 (or 4 or 11) and see all the negatives about being parents. We are exhausted, chasing our son around the house, swatting here, spanking there, holding back tears of frustration. I don't have to explain to my kid-less friends the difficulties of living with a toddler. They are pretty clear. But there is no way I could explain to my kid-less friends the benefits of being a mother. The rewards are not tangible. The positives are not visible. They are deeply understood, only by the woman who has entered into the covenant of motherhood, and only to be known after the covenant is made.

It wasn't until talking with Matt after visiting our friends that afternoon, that I realized how important life covenants really are to our human development. When I enter into a life covenant, something is required of me. I am expected to give something. When I entered into the covenant of salvation, I was expected to give my life to the Lord. When I entered into the covenant of marriage, I was expected to give my life to my husband (and he to me). When I entered into the covenant of motherhood, I was expected to give my life to my children. And when I enter into the covenant of death, I will be expected to give my life to Judgement. Every covenant we enter breaks us a little more, because we are expected to give of ourselves. Nothing so quickly pounds out our selfishness and pulls out our selflessness as a new life covenant.

Covenants have broken me. They have caused me to realize that me, myself and I are not the most important people in this world. My needs don't have to be met first. My way does not have to be realized. My opinion doesn't always have to be heard. My plans, dreams and ambitions don't always have to see fruition. It is a grave act of self-denial to enter into a covenant in life. I think that's why so many people are scared to do it. I know I was.

When we stand in front of a life covenant, towering over us and look up into it's glaring eyes, it is so easy to see the risk. "What if I can't follow through? What if it hurts? What if the promise isn't there waiting for me? What if the other party doesn't commit? What if there's hardship? What if it doesn't go as planned? What if I fail?" It is much more difficult to see the pay-off. In so many life covenants, we won't clearly understand all the good parts until we enter in. In Genesis 17 we can read about one covenant God made with Abraham:

"When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly." Than Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, "Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations." Genesis 17:1-4

It wasn't until after Abram entered into the covenant by showing his total submission to God that God allowed him to know the full promise of the covenant. We also read in 1 Corinthians:

"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." 1 Corinthians 13:12

Life covenants are worth entering into, even if we can't see the value clearly from the outside. I have never known such reward in my life as the covenant of motherhood has given me. And I know that when the covenant of my salvation is fully realized, I will be so overwhelmingly blessed, I will wonder how I ever considered holding onto myself and not committing.

Life covenants force us out of ourselves and into new understanding. They bring new perspective and new positions for empathy. They require everything from us, and promise to return more. Have you allowed these covenants to give you their gifts, as is their intention? I used to be afraid, but now I have experienced many fulfilled covenant promises. They are worth their risk. I want to encourage you, in the right time, to enter into your life covenants with gusto.
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