Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mom Connection Winner

Thanks, everyone, for the kind comments on the Mom Connection post. Random.org picked #4, Theresa, as the winner for the giveaway copy. Thanks for entering!

If you are interested in ordering a copy, you can get one here:
(or check if you can put in a purchase-order request at your local library!).

Religion (Faith) IS For Children: A Response to an Athiest Who Doesn't Want Her Child Invited to Church

I realize that I am preaching to the choir here, for my regular readers. This post is my response to a post I read called “Stop Inviting My Kid to Church: Religion is Not for Children.” I hope that sharing my thoughts will help us become more confident in shining as a light in an increasingly relativistic culture.

The vibrant hues of sunsets and sunrises, the intricate beauty of flowers like irises, lilies and orchids, the melody of birds chirping, the complex structure of a cell and the total failure of brilliant scientists to create “even the most basic chemicals used as building blocks for the larger chemicals of living cells” all attest that nothing is here by accident, but rather by the work of a brilliant and benevolent Creator.  [1]

As I sat outside, reading with my children, and marveling at the sheer glory of the early summer day, it all evidenced to me, as philosopher Blaise Pascal has written, that one has only to look outside in nature to believe there must be a Creator.  Considering the wonder of all living things and how everything fits together so perfectly, it seems absolutely absurd to believe—as many do—that this is all the result of freak of nature, a big bang.

Even my seven-year old son sees holes in evolutionary logic. “What caused a big bang?”, and “How do people get their ideas to make and build stuff? And how are there ants and bumblebees and hornets and flies?” 

This conversation commenced after I told him about an article I read this weekend, called “Stop Inviting My Kid to Church: Religion is Not for Children.” In it, the author—Ms Joy FG, an atheist—expresses her angst for people who invite her children to church. She believes that children are easily impressionable and will believe whatever they are taught, so she aims to stay neutral (or so she says) on the “big beliefs” and not steer her children toward any belief, but rather let them arrive at their own beliefs.

She writes: “There are a lot of things I believe in. Love. Family. Honesty. Gravity. Kindness. Nature. Science.”

But where do virtues like love, honesty, and kindness originate? Where does one’s conscience come from? The big bang?

She goes on,
“I understand why these children feel it is imperative to invite Miss N to church. It is a fun place where they sing songs, eat a snack and talk about the underlying fear of what happens after you die. These children love Miss N and even though they can't quite articulate it in this way, they think we're failing Miss N and her brother by not taking them to church.
This part will be touchy for people who do not believe the same as we do and I respect that; I'll raise my kids and you can raise yours. I do not think religion is for children. I think that they should be exposed to the beliefs of all people, and while I will tell my children "this is what Mommy and Daddy believe," I do not expect her to believe the same thing…
Ms JoyFG is sadly mistaken, in my opinion.

“Religion” (although I would prefer to use the term faith, as it involves the mind and the heart, rather than a weekly ritual) is absolutely for children. Here’s why.

If we were made, not by a chance explosion (which just happened to be the most brilliant accident ever) but by a Creator, then wouldn’t it make sense to introduce the children the Creator has made to their Creator at an early age? Wouldn’t you want to teach them about the Creator who created them? Yes, going to church (“religion”) is part of that process, but there’s so much more. And it doesn’t involve a treat-bag “bribe,” as Ms Joy FG states. (But isn’t she for acts of kindness?).

It’s like this: If I was invited to a famous movie-star’s house for dinner, one of whom I was, and I could invite a friend, I would want you to go with me. Simply because you’re my friend. I care about you, and I want you to meet him, too. I want you in on the experience.

Ms Joy FG writes that there are many “right ways in the world”, but what happens if my right way clashes with your right way? Whose is wrong? The flaw in this logic can be seen in something as simple as streets. In America, the right way to drive is on the right side of the road. In England, you drive on the left. If you both try to follow your right way in the other’s country, you will have a head-on collision). People cannot always be right, at the same time. Absolutes are necessary (although they’re getting much harder to find in culture today).

I am unapologetically a Christian, just as Ms Joy FG is unapologetically an atheist. My right way is Jesus, and yes, I believe there is enough proof from both history and written texts to make that an absolute. But I also understand that many do not believe the same. We can debate ideas, while respecting people and treating them kindly.

No matter what we believe, I think we can all agree that Jesus was an actual historical figure. And he was quoted as saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14).

That’s what we’re doing when we’re taking our children to church, and inviting other children to church. We’re extending an invitation for them to meet the one we believe created all that is seen and unseen. We want to get to know Him better and follow His ways. And yes, sadly, not all churches or Christians are great examples. But we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

While Ms Joy FG defends her view that religion is off-limits for children because we shouldn’t talk with them in absolutes, does her absolutes-are-out-of-style approach to child-rearing extend to other beliefs, such as what foods they eat at meals and snacks, what kind of shows they watch, what kinds of behaviors her children engage in? Or are setting, and sticking to, absolutes there as parents ok?

 Despite her efforts to keep her daughter from any sort of religion (because she’s too impressionable), she has indeed done what she set out not to do: gained a follower in her atheism, which is—ironically--a religion. “I am very proud of Miss N,” she writes, “that she tells her friends that she has her own beliefs and their church is not the place for her -- it's like school for people who believe in their god, it's not really our place.”

Ms Joy FG says she doesn’t judge us and asks us not to judge her, but yet, her statement about church—“It is a fun place where they sing songs, eat a snack and talk about the underlying fear of what happens after you die”—sounds pretty judgemental to me.

What if Ms Joy FG is wrong in her assessment that the invitations are motivated by fear?

Could it all be motivated by love (and truth)? Everything. The creation we see—nature, like trees, flowers, stars, and people—our beautiful children, friends, family, neighbors; and the things we do, like learning about God, and even, inviting others to church.

As you go to church, read your Bible, and learn about Jesus, you realize there is no fear of what happens after death. We’ll all come to know the absolute truth of what he said in the end. In the meantime, I’m taking my kids to church, and we might even invite some kids to come with us…
Although I would not normally quote the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), our state's ACLU director was quoted as saying (paraphrased): when we disagree on issues, we don't silent discussion. We have more discussion. That's what I'm aiming to do with this post.

Sharing With:
Women Living Well
We Are That Family
Raising Homemakers

[1] Institute of Creation Research (http://www.icr.org/creation-cells/)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mom Connection: Creating Vibrant Relationships in the Midst of Motherhood

Some days, I feel like I stepped on an Amtrak Express train going 100 miles per hour. I zoom past stops, that I really should exit for--basic tasks, such as putting away the laundry in baskets all over the house, sorting through out-of-season clothing, and the like; as well as more relational tasks, such as stopping to go outside and watch my sons climb trees, catch butterflies, ride bikes, or play baseball, or make time for a messy indoor activity, such as finger-painting. The hectic pace of my day just never seems like I can jump from the train to enjoy the little side-stops. I fear I'd get run over by the stuff I'm already behind on and desperately trying to catch up with.

Ever been there?

Tracey Bianchi, author of the new book Mom Connection: Creating Vibrant Relationships in the Midst of Motherhood, has. A busy mom, like us, of three, she understands how packed our days can be, and how detrimental this busyness is to relationships, which she argues are absolutely essential to our well-being. Without them, we wither in isolation, amidst "heaps of poop-stained Onesies," she writes. I received a copy of Mom Connection: Creating Vibrant Relationships in the Midst of Motherhood to review from MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers).

"I want to be the mom who drenches her children with time rather than hurry. The mom whose presence signals rest and peace rather than activity and chores. This is how I want my whole family to be known--a people of rest and grace."  

In Mom Connection,Bianchi shows us how creating the right rhythm to our days affords us the time to create these vital connections with others. Chapters focus on connecting with our spouses, children, extended family, female friends, neighbors and communities--both locally and globally.  Good things take time, she reminds us, but the main premise I took away is that we need to slow down to savor (or start) relationships!

"Task lists do not have to be barriers to relationships; instead they can be the very source of our connections. If I keep telling myself that I'll call a certain friend or forge a special connection once things slow down a bit, the reality is that it may be a very long time before that happens. Perhaps calling that particular person is what it will take to actually slow down!" (page 44). 

Bianchi's writing style is highly-energetic and conversational. You'll feel like you're sitting down with an upbeat friend who has a perky perspective, which will leave you feeling inspired. But I had to laugh when she used the word "spaziness" in a sentence, because it's conversational to our culture, but it isn't technically a word. (Because I worked as a writer and an editor, I tend to read books with an eye to details such as that. I found a few small typos, but that's not her fault, and it doesn't detract from the book as a whole).

However, I should note that reading this book requires some understanding of current pop-culture, otherwise you won't get some of the jokes. For example, Bianchi references Tyra (model Tyra Banks) without explanation (assuming most readers will get it) and "McManus's son." Maybe I've been orbiting in outer space, but I had absolutely no clue what the story of McManus' son was all about (so I googled it, and I'm still lost).

Technical criticism aside (which, again, is geared more to her editor), this is a fabulous book.  It really has me thinking about some simple changes I can make in my life, such as being more willing to ask for help from others (even though it feels scary), buying Popsicles from the store to live an invitational life for friends and neighbors (creating that front porch culture), and mostly, slowing down enough so I can exit gracefully from the train to take time to connect with my kids. Through her book, I think I'm finding a better rhythm to my days. And I'm grateful for it.

MOPS generously sent me a copy to give away to one of you. If you would like to check it out, please leave a comment on this post, and I will pick a name randomly next Tuesday and post the winner. 

Sharing with:
The Better Mom Mondays
Gratituesday @ Heavenly Homemakers
Raising Homemakers 
Women Living Well

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sugar Ants & Pesky Habits

Sugar ants (technically pavement ants), which are tiny--only about a millimeter in length--decided to check out what kind of yummy morsels they could find on my kitchen counters. The only problem--they're not welcome in my house. Try telling them that.

When I discovered them, I sprayed them with 409 and wiped them away. The rascals (well, new ones) came back. Repeat spray-and-wipe procedure. They repeated their return. My husband put an ant trap on the counter. That helped a little, but more showed up later. This was all starting to really gross me out.

Fast-forward to the next day, lunch-time.

The scene: making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my kids.
The drama: I thought the counter was clean enough, so I laid the bread right on the counter without a cutting board, and began to spread the peanut butter, then the jelly, on the sandwiches. I put the sandwiches on paper plates and discovered a few tiny little ants crawling on the sandwiches. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Checked the knife I used for the peanut butter. They were on it. Checked the peanut butter. They were in it. More yuck. Threw the peanut butter away.

Decided to investigate where these ants were coming from, and where else they were in my kitchen. Looked in our main food cabinet. Yep. They were not only on the shelves, they were climbing vertically up the sides of the cabinet to reach other shelves. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

At this point, I had a royal freak-out. I started throwing things out of the cabinets, spraying the shelves down, and trying to figure out where the ants were getting in at. (Sometimes spring cleaning is more out of necessity than desire).

I went over to the computer to search for ways to eliminate sugar ants once and for all. Found some helpful tips, but this information only added to my anxiety. Here's how you wipe out and control a sugar ant invasion:
  • Keep your counter tops immaculate. Spray with bleach water, or vinegar water after every meal or snack.
  • Sweep and mop your floor with either bleach or vinegar water after every meal.
  • Apparently, the ants will follow pheromone trails, so the bleach or vinegar will destroy their scent trails.
 Easy advice for a naturally neat person to follow, but for me?

What so overwhelmed me about this was:
1) my kitchen counters are nowhere near immaculate. Getting them spotless in the next fifteen minutes (which was the urgency I felt) caused me to panic, along with questions of how would I ever keep them spotless if I succeeded in getting them spotless in the first place?
2) Mop your floor after every meal? I am lucky if I can mop once a week.

Right then, it felt like all the issues that have been causing some tension for some time (the kids leaving toys on the floor—which I needed to mop NOW, not confining their eating only to the table, etc.) exploded. I had a major rant-and-rave session, which included comments, like, “You all need to help more with chores”, “There is too much for me to do by myself!”, “We have way too many toys!”, “I’m sick of always picking up your toys. I’m just going to start throwing them away” and on and on. At one point, my son said, “Oh no. This is just getting way too serious. We’re still only kids, Mom.” Hilarious!

I realized then, as I have realized in times before, than I fall back on a pattern I was raised with of trying to spur my children to action through using guilt and shame. It’s terrible, I know, but like any bad habit that rears its ugly head, it can be hard to break.

Ironically, while mopping the floor, a Christian radio broadcast was discussing the topic of anger. How do you handle it when it’s gotten out of control and is hurting your family? One woman called in to say that she learned to recognize her triggers and then take appropriate actions to address her stress without losing her composure.

I realized then that the sugar ants were a metaphor for my own spiritual condition. My struggle is how I react when stressed to the max. But for someone else, it may be a different problem. Am I going to keep spraying and wiping the ants I see on the counter each day, or am I going to take the necessary (although difficult) steps to defeat the problem for good?

We can keep spraying and keep wiping (dealing only with the surface problem), but if we don’t target the source, the ants will keep coming back. Sometimes, we’re forced to deal with our “ants.”  The pesticide for eliminating the “ants” we struggle with is repentance, prayer, and walking in the Spirit.

We cannot change any bad habit or sinful pattern of behavior without first recognizing that it is a problem and then confessing our shortcomings and need for help to our Maker and Savior. We pray, as King David prayed in Psalm 51:
"Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight…
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.”
Once we’ve prayed, we walk in the Spirit. Christ’s presence with us will give us everything we need to overcome our sinful temptations and falling back into old patterns of behavior. We need to turn our minds to Him and ask for His mercy and grace.

(By the way, the counters managed to stay pretty clean for a few days—I wouldn’t say spotless, but close! And the ants are not coming back to the same places. I’m still struggling with maintaining the high level of cleanliness required to keep them at bay--it takes a lot of discipline, which can be difficult, especially with a sick baby who wants to be held all the time--but I’m growing. I’m growing spiritually, too. I'm grateful that God cares enough about me that He wants me to grow to become more like Him, and He'll help me do it--and you, too!)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The $10 Mother

Has anyone ever given you a tip for being a great mother? Not a verbal, “here’s-how-you-do-it” tip, but an actual cash tip?

In my devotional book for mothers, Nancy Campbell shared an encounter that happened to her daughter, Evangeline, while out shopping with her five youngest children.  While in Wal-Mart, a woman—a complete stranger—came up to her and said, “You are an incredible mother! Here’s some money,” and gave her a ten-dollar bill. Then, awhile later, she approached again:  “I’m not finished. You have to know you are an incredible mother! Here’s another $10.”

For a few days, I was pondering what in the world she was doing that was so impressive in this woman’s eyes.  Coincidentally, I downloaded an audio teaching by Evangeline called “The Adventures ofMotherhood.” In the message, she recounted the Wal-Mart experience and shared additional information.
As she was walking down the aisles, she was praying in her mind, asking God, “Am I a good mother, 

Right after that prayer, the woman approached.

 “She didn’t even see me mother! We were just walking,” she said.

But she had to be doing something! Perhaps it was just her countenance and general demeanor toward her children that so impressed the woman.

While no one gave me a $10 tip during my shopping trip yesterday with my children (although a very pregnant mother so kindly offered to let us go ahead of her in the check-out lane—and then insisted we traded places!), I have been contemplating what makes us the kind of mothers others take note of (and may even tip!). Here are some thoughts:
  • Smile at your children! 
  • Act like you enjoy them, even if the feelings aren’t flowing easily at any particular time. Feelings always follow actions. 
  • Speak kindly. 
  • Handle your children gently. We’ve all seen the mothers who yank their children away from things. Let’s not be “Yankees.”   
  • Be proud of your group. 
  • Be proud to be a mother! 
As Nancy Campbell writes,
 “When you go out with your children, lift your head high, put a smile on your face, and be proud to be a mother. You have the most important career in the nation. God Himself is your employer and you are determining the future of this nation.

Be a light in the midst of a society that does not embrace children. Do not be intimidated. Show your love for your children as you speak sweetly to them and are patient with them. If God has blessed you with a number of children, be proud to display your ‘blessings’ from the Lord.
You reveal to the world what God is like for He loves children. Jesus did not reject children. He welcomed the children to come to Him. (Mark 9:36-37).
There is no more beautiful picture than to see a serene and happy mother with well-trained children in tow. There can be no argument from those who don’t embrace children.”
A high calling. I’m working on becoming a more serene and happy as a mother every day, and certainly, training our children well is a constant work in progress. That’s why I’m a mom in need of His mercy. I’m so thankful that we can approach the throne of grace with confidence to find mercy and receive grace to help us daily in our time of need. There are eternal rewards. And maybe someday, there will even be a financial reward, like an out-of-the blue tip!

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Sharing with:
Women Living Well
Works for Me Wednesday @ We are That Family