Nov 13, 2013

What's in your ear?

Recently a friend included me in a discussion on Facebook talking about what Christians should be listening to musically.  It was super interesting to hear what everyone had to say, and here are my two cents:

This question makes me think of a particular bit from Scripture - Romans 14:

"14 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God. 13 Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. 19 Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. 20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; 21 it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. 22 The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. 23 But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin."

I listen to nearly everything and anything: pop, mild rap (heavy rap doesn't interest me, neither does heavy metal or screamo), Country, Classical, jazz, Christian Contemporary, soundtracks, etc. I am also very determined and resolute in my faith in God. I love God more than breath itself.
The Scripture passage I quoted above perfectly describes my gut instinct regarding this question. It says to let conscience be our guide - let the Holy Spirit work and guide! Does your conscience say "don't listen to that music"? Then don't listen to it! But don't pass judgment upon those who do. Also, make sure that what you are doing is for the Kingdom of God. Let's think about this a little more....
First, pay attention to what the music is doing to you. Does the music put your mind in a dark place and think unholy thoughts about sex, the opposite gender, life, etc? Then don't listen to it. Does heavy thump-thump-thump music distract you to the point that you generally speed while listening to it in the car? Then don't listen to it. Does it make you want to punch something? Then don't listen to it.
Second, why are you listening to that music? If everything we do is to glorify God, as the Scripture passage above would seem to indicate, then how is your listening to that music in that moment glorifying God? If there is absolutely no way this is possible, then maybe don't listen to it.
Third, are you passing judgment upon those who listen to music you deem unacceptable? Not liking specific forms of music is fine, but don't judge those who do listen to it. You might not like country, whilst the twang runs through my blood. Others might not like 38th Parallel, while the beat and lyrics run deep through my mind and draw me to God in a way that traditional worship music cannot.
Fourth, what is in the music? I've heard people say they avoid explicit, graphic music. Praise God, hallelujah! So do I. Pay attention to not only how the music sounds, but also WHAT the lyrics are. There have been many times that I've loved the SOUND of the song but abhorred the LYRICS - there is a difference. I have a hard time when people say all hard metal or rap is isn't. There are Christian hard metal bands, just as there are Christian rap bands/singers. It depends on the letter and intent of the lyrics. If the music is explicit or demeans another person, then avoid it, but don't judge those who do not.
Fifth, would you be comfortable listening to that song with your grandmother, priest, and Sunday School teacher in the room? I say this tongue-in-cheek, but it's true! If you aren't comfortable listening to it around those who are supposed to uphold moral character, then don't listen to it.
I listen to anything and everything except rap and screamo (and those essentially because I can't understand the lyrics). Youth nowadays will have little to say to you unless you can intelligently discuss their interests, and one of their major interests is music...all music.

Sep 16, 2013

My son nearly made me cry

Sometimes I call myself a budding theologian.  I've been through undergraduate and graduate school, read more books than many women 200 years ago (and many women today) would have been allowed near, have been to different countries, am well-versed in Biblical history and theological importance, yadda yadda yadda.

My 1-year-old son totally schooled me.  He nearly made me cry.

He nearly made me cry because one simple little act contained so much theological importance that my heavy heart could barely handle the tangible "I love you" God sent through my son.

You see, I've had a rough few months.  No, I'm not gonna go into the gritty details here and now.  Let's just say that a fair share of bad news has come my way in the past couple of months.  I also work with children from difficult homes with psychological disorders.  Hard times and stress surround me on a daily basis.  Being the emotional sponge that I am, those hard times and stress became my hard times and stress.

(Right now fly buzzing around my head is causing me hard times and stress, but of a different sort.)

I work a lot, so during the workweek I'm lucky to get two hours with my son every day because for now one or the other of my two jobs claims the rest of my time as our little family focuses on getting Dahmon (my husband) through graduate school.  In the evenings, Drexel and I have a routine: bathtime, changing into jammas, songs/cuddles, sleepy time.

A month ago I underwent minor surgery to remove what turned out to be a ganglion cyst from my left foot.  This surgery left behind a 2 inch scar that is still healing, so it is rather red and still sore.

During bathtime, Drexel (the cutie patootie on the left) generally decides bathwater looks better on the floor, and does his level best to test this theory.  Momma (me) disagrees with Drexel and does her level best to avert his determined efforts to moisten the floor (suddenly I'm thinking of Gideon and his dew-soaked floors....).  Generally this is attempted by me putting my foot or hand in the tub as a target for Drexel's water cup.

A couple of days ago, I stuck my left foot in the tub.  The foot with the scar.  This was a day I was feeling particularly down in the dumps and crabby.  Drexel usually just dumps water on my foot and gleefully goes about re-filling the water cup he plays with in the tub.  This day, he grabbed my foot, looked at me, turned my foot until he could see the new scar (which up until that point was facing the other direction), and then poured the water on my foot.

Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.

My son not only washed my foot, but intentionally washed my new scar.

Despite my failings and all the screw-ups that have been my fault the last few weeks, God still loves.  In the midst of the chaos, hurt, and confusion, God is still there whispering "give me your scars, I'll wash you bright as new."

God spoke through a 1 year old who thought he was just playing.

The Kingdom belongs to such as these...

Jul 6, 2013

Trusting God with money

My brother and I grew up in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere in the Denali foothills in Alaska.  Log cabin = no running water unless we ran with buckets to the creek to get it, electricity from a generator, drinking water from rain/snow, monthly trips to get groceries in bulk, etc.  Log cabin = no stable employment for either of my parents, which meant we were on welfare for the bulk of my formative years.

When I was 9, we moved to Fairbanks (a city in the middle of Alaska) for a few months so my parents could go take come college classes.  It was the first time my brother and I had ever attended public school.  Some classmates "kindly" informed me that my family was poor.  Poor?  Really?  My family?  Honestly, it was the first time I'd ever thought about it.

After that, I really thought about it...especially when I noticed that many of my classmates talked about vacations my parents couldn't afford, wore fancy clothes, rode in cars that were less than 20 years old, etc.  And all because of this pesky thing called money?

I thought I knew what it was to be poor, to have not among a lot of people who have.

Then I went to Haiti.

The beautiful people of Haiti took over my mind and heart despite the fact I was only there for a week two years ago.  Their dignity in the face of true poverty, their "degaje" ("make it work") frame of mind...I still dream about Haiti on a fairly regular basis. A huge part of my heart remains with the smiling faces of the children who know what true poverty is like.  (YOU CAN READ ABOUT MY TRIP TO HAITI HERE.)

I hate money.  To me it is a loathsome thing that causes unhealthy obsessions, destroys relationships and fellowship, emphasizes class divides, etc.  I hate money.  Yes, hate money...especially as money and greed are the major reasons for many of the issues that cause true poverty throughout the world which affect children.  When children are affected negatively by money and greed, this Nora becomes very cranky.  /grumble

Unfortunately, money is a necessary thing in our society as trading goods and services just doesn't work in the kind of global market in which we live.  I hate money, but I see it's necessity.

I hate money, but it stresses me out greatly because I'm a welfare child.  I grew up in a state of financial insecurity, hate the thought of being in debt, and hate the thought of my child having to worry about money in the same way I worried as a child once I realized my family was "poor".

It is very hard for me to trust God with money.  What if....someone gets sick and needs to go to the doctor and we can't afford it and can't afford stuff to make sure they stay alive?  What if Drexel breaks something and we have to pay for that?  What if the small tumor being removed from my foot next month is cancerous and we have loads of unanticipated medical bills in our near future?  What if I get in another car accident (I was t-boned last year, totaling my car though everyone involved was fine)....what if what if what if...............................................

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."  Matthew 6:25 - 34

A few days ago, an organization that I keep up with - Real Hope for Haiti - posted THIS.  I suggest you go to the link and read the story for yourself, but here it is in a nutshell: a fire in a living area caused third-degree burns across the bodies of six young children.



One of these precious children did not survive for an entire day following the fire.  Their parents want them cared for at the Real Hope For Haiti clinic rather than make the arduous journey to Port au Prince to the hospital.  The post says "for many reasons" the parents want their children cared for at RHFH.  My suspicion?  The children will be loved at RHFH and the parents know it.

I visited RHFH when I was in Haiti.  It broke me.  The amazing people at RHFH spend their lives caring for the broken, truly poor, truly sick, etc.  They clothe the naked, feed the hungry, give water to the thirst, figuratively teach the Haitians how to fish so they can feed themselves, etc.  They also tend to the medical needs of precious Haitian men, women, and children.  Haitians will walk for days to get to RHFH because they know they will get good, loving care from people who truly care about them and their mortal as well as immortal lives.

Where am I going with all of this?

As soon as I saw the post about the children who were burned, I flashed back to the two house fires that I have experienced (one when I was 8 and one when I was 16....let's just say I was more than a tad nervous when I was 24!).  In order to escape from the second fire, I literally had to jump through a wall of fire that had engulfed the front of the cabin where I had been snoozing the night away.  I was uninjured save a small blister on my hand and some hair that flashed off when I went through the flame (these fires are the reason for one of my tattoos...but that is a story for another day).

These children were not so lucky.  They have more than a small blister.

They literally had plastic melted into their hair.   I cannot imagine their physical and emotional pain, nor that of the adults in their lives seeing them in so much pain.  (Come quickly, Lord Jesus!)

As soon as I saw this post, I heard God's patient whisper "you are going to help them."  Awesome!  So I'll pray for them, post for others to donate to their upcoming care, and my obligation is fulfilled...right?!  Right?!  "You are going to put your money where your mouth is and donate as well."

Lord, have you gone and lost your divine mind?

Not kidding, that was my thought.  : )  Doesn't God know that my husband and I are squeaking by to make ends meet?  Doesn't He know that we have over $35,000 in outstanding loan payments (car, student loans)?  Doesn't He know we have a son to care for?

"Don't you know you can trust me?"

Last year, God gave me very clear instructions to quit my job.  I balked at these instructions, hemming and hawing that He/it/she/whatever had certainly gone and went nuts because that was the absolute WORST timing to quit my job....Dahmon and I were going to have a baby a month later, after all!  How could God expect me to quit my job, especially since I didn't have another one lined up?!?!?  I'm a very get-things-in-order-so-you-don't-have-to-worry kind of person.  God is, however, a very lean-on-me-so-you-don't-have-to-worry kind of entity.  Quit a job a month before a baby arrives when my job was slightly more than half our monthly income.  Not to mention the fact that both my husband and I were in graduate school.  Right.


I argue with God.  He knows when I'm perturbed by instructions, so why try to hide it?  I argued with Him about my job for a couple of weeks.  More and more things kept coming up that confirmed I was supposed to quit.  During worship at church, I asked God what the he** He was thinking, and felt a hug just as sure as I feel one from my hubby when he's being cuddly.  God hugged me.  And He was STRONG...and bigger than money.

I quit my job about 3 weeks later (okay, so we might have argued a little more).

Back to now, I read about these precious children and immediately was plunked into flashbacks of the house fires I've experienced.  I was also, however, plunked into memories of how God cared for my little family after I followed His instructions.  Like I said, I quit my job 3 weeks after "the hug".  My son was born 3 days later.  The next week I was back in class while classmates and friends watched my baby during class hours so I could finish the last few weeks of my master's degree (in ministry, fyi).

Money was tight.

Very tight.

Suddenly a lot of those unexpected little bills that peck away at bank accounts quit happening (not sure my car had ever run smoother).  People to whom we'd lent money unexpectedly paid us back (when we lend money to friends in need, it is with a "pay us back if you can, but if you can't, it is all God's anyways" frame of mind).  My husband was able to get overtime fairly regularly so our monthly income from his paycheck was supplemented.  We squeaked by through pinching nickles out of pennies, but we survived and I learned a powerful lesson about trusting in God (I am now employed again at two part-time jobs that I love and which allow me more time with my son than a 9-5 job + commute would have).

"You are going to put your money where your mouth is and donate as well."

*inhale*  Okay, so how much?  As I thought about how much my husband and I would donate for these precious children, I kept feeling nudged to get uncomfortable. Oh sure, we could give $20 and call it good, but that would not make us uncomfortable.  We could give $50 and call it good, but that would not make us uncomfortable.  I prayed and asked God to give me a number that HE wants us to give.  He did.  It made me uncomfortable.

Now, I don't mean uncomfortable in the financially-not-able-to-make-bills kind of way.  I mean in the way that means we can't overpay our student loans this month at all and in a way that means $$ will be tight this month.  I mean in a way that makes this welfare kid who constantly worries about money squirm like a worm on a hotplate.  Lord, you want us to give HOW much?  Are you crazy?!

I presented the entire situation to Dahmon, my husband.  Now, he's the kind of person who would willingly live in a shack and eat beans and rice the rest of his life if it meant that he could use his finances to help someone.  Therefore it did not surprise me when I jokingly said we could dump our savings into this cause and his response was "I'd be fine with that."  We prayed again, and the number God gave me earlier remained the same.

"I protected you before.  What makes you think you cannot trust me now?"

The Lord of all Creation, of water, earth, and skies, has proven His trustworthiness time and time again.  When I freaked about money in the past, He provided.  Now we are in a position where we can help some precious children.  The amount makes our pocketbook cringe, but isn't that kind of the point?  If we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, if the greatest commandments are to love God and then to love one another, if love means clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, providing ointment and linens to the sick, how can we not give?  And how can we not get out of our comfort zone in such a way gladly, knowing that God means it to help His precious children?  If the widow Jesus saw could gladly give all she had out of her poverty (Mark 12:41-44), how can we not give as much as we possibly can when there are children in need?

Typically every month, we put whatever surplus funds we have on our student loans to get those darned things paid down.  This month, that will not be possible.  Priorities are different.  These children and this organization needs help now.  Our student loans will hound our bank account for a few more years, but these kids are blistered and hurting NOW.  And so on our table sits a check for the amount God told us to give, waiting to go out to Real Hope on Monday.

I don't write this to be all "hey look at us, we are giving money away to the poor".  I write it to be a witness to God's greatness in the midst of flames.  I write it to hopefully help push you out of your comfort zone a bit and think about how you can use your blessings to help others.  God will provide!  We are meant to find our wealth in God, community, and relationships, not in things...especially not that loathsome money thing.

We are blessed to be a blessing.  Lean on God's greatness and step out in faith.  Make a donation today, help people today in a way that pushes you out of your comfortable bubble a bit.  God is waiting for you to partner with Him to love on His precious creations.  We may feel uncomfortable when we are told to give more than we are willing, but whose money is it anyways?

How much would you want people to help if it were your child/mother/sister/nephew/self who had been burned nose to toes and needed help with medical expenses?  Loving your neighbor as yourself means helping that much!!!!!!!  and more!!!!!!!

TO DONATE TO REAL HOPE FOR HAITI, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE BY CLICKING THIS LINK (By the way, PayPal is a good resource but they take a percentage out of donations made via their website (processing fees).  To ensure all of your $ goes to RHFH, it is best to send a check).

By the way, I took all of the pictures in this post while at the Real Hope for Haiti clinic in Cazale, Haiti in January 2011.  And just because I think God's creations are so is a picture of an awesome bug that looked like a leaf that I saw at the clinic.  Seriously, I nearly flicked this "leaf" off the balcony until I saw the leaf had legs.  : )