Thursday, January 31, 2013

Word Blog Hop: Job's Subreption

 "Job's Subreption" is my first entry in Hidden Valley Simplicity's word blog hop. This weeks' words are Subreption and Plangent. "Job's Subreption" is PG in content but does contain adult themes.

     "Job," Mama began, heaping another scoop of grits onto my plate. I knew that tone in her voice, half playful, half venomous.

     "Yes, Ma'am?" I replied. I forced myself to sound casual, but I could not raise my eyes to Mama's.

     "Was your father out last night?" Mama asked. She cocked her head to the side and let her voice raise slightly, as if she were merely curious.

     Our servant Karina tensed visibly but did not make a sound. I was glad that she was standing behind the table and out of Mama's line of sight.

     Of course Father was out that night. I couldn't remember that last time that Father stayed in. It must have been last autumn, before Father bought Karina from Mister Peters a few towns over. "Cook can use someone younger in the kitchen," Father muttered to Mama by way of explanation for his spontaneous purchase.

     I was only eleven, but wasn't fooled by Father's subreption.

     At first Father only sneaked out at night once Mama and I were in bed. I watched him from my upper-story window as he slunk his way to the slaves quarters, only to return an hour later swaggering with the same haughtiness Cook always reserved for the stable boys.

     I may not have been able to articulately describe my Father's folly, but I knew what he was doing was wrong even before I overheard Mama talking to her sister.

     "He doesn't so much as look at me anymore," Mama complained when Aunt Clara came for a visit. "Ever since he got that gal to give him his way, I may as well have stopped breathing that moment as far as he's concerned."

     Dressed in my night clothes, wrapped in grandmother's quilt, I strained to hear what Aunt Clara would say.

     "That's just a man's way," she soothed. It was the same voice Aunt Clara used two summers ago when I spent a week on her family's plantation and broke my ankle falling from a tree.

     "Well, that wasn't always my man's way," Mama replied.

     "No?" I imagined Aunt Clara raising her eyebrow, like she did whenever Cousin George and I tried to convince her we weren't making trouble.

     I couldn't hear Mama's muttered response.

     "Our men are just wired different from us, as I figure," Aunt Clara explained. "They've got more need than one of our kind can give. That's all."

     "That's all? And all this is fine with you?" Mama retorted with a snort.

     "Fine or not, sweetie, what can people like you and me do about it?"

     "I've had my ideas," Mama answered.

     "So have we all," Aunt Clara crooned. "But you know when it comes down to it that's all just pluck and nonsense. We need our men just as much as they need their diversions. There's nothing you can do to get back at your husband. Not really, leastwise."

     The next day when Karina came to wait on us at breakfast, she had scratch marks across one cheek and another set down the side of her neck. "Who says I'm out to get back at my husband?" Mama asked Aunt Clara.

     From then on, I came to expect Mama's questioning over breakfast several times a month. "Was your father out last night?" she would ask, directing her voice and darting her saccharine charm at Karina who stood stoically to wait on us. Sometimes I lied, sometimes I feigned ignorance. It didn't matter. At some point during the day Karina would end up with one more bruise or one more scratch or one more black eye than she had at Mama's morning interrogation.

     "No, Ma'am," I replied this morning, my mouth full of Cook's fried grits. "I didn't see Father go out at all last night."

     "You didn't?" Mama declared, opening her mouth into a little O and letting her curls sway as she tilted her head to one side. "That's odd," she continued and furrowed her brow deliberately. "I don't remember hearing him in his room."

     I stole a glance at Karina, who was pursing her lips together and staring at the copper kettle hanging near the doorway to the kitchen.

     "Well," I hedged, "I was awake for a while last night since it was so hot, but I didn't see Father go out none."
     "I see," Mama answered curtly. "I'll take my tea now," she added, abruptly turning on Karina. I saw the colored woman flinch before she muttered, "Yes, Ma'am," and hurried out of the room.

     "So he wasn't out at all last night, hmm?" Mama repeated, raising her voice over the plangent noise of clattering teacups.

     I forced myself to meet Mama's glare directly. "No, Ma'am," I answered, then excused myself for my morning chores.

     Word! Blog Hop

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bundle of Blessings

me and my bundle, seven years ago
This post appears in the Christian Home Magazine. Check it out!

     Today my son Nate turns seven. It's hard to believe this science-loving, marathon-racing, book-devouring bundle of sheer energy and creativity was one just ... well, a bundle.

     Nate was by far the most difficult of my babies. Which meant that when his two little brothers were born I was completely prepared for everything coming way way. (Or not.) All jokes aside, I certainly did learn a lot during my very first year of motherhood. So in honor of Nate's birthday, I am passing on to you the lessons brought to me by my first little bundle of ... well, you know.

1) Your definition of minor discomfort is not my definition of minor discomfort. I'm talking specifically about that fun day or two after delivery when your milk comes in. Ouch. What to Expect did NOT prepare me for that! Let's extrapolate for a moment, though. What you might experience as a tiny nuisance may be painful enough to have me walking at a 45 degree angle for a week. Or a month. Don't judge my reaction to something until you've walked in my shoes. Or worn my nursing bra.

2) Bring a change of clothes to church. It just so happened that Sundays were Nate's preferred day for blow-outs. One mess at church was so bad that my son had dirty squirties oozing out of his diaper, onto his back, then up and around his shoulder and torso. Two adults, 37 papers towels, and a very messy church sink afterwards, Nate was somewhat clean. The only problem is I forgot to bring his extra clothes that day.

     Moral? I've got two to offer. The first is to do what our current church does and keep a few baby outfits on hand for new and unprepared parents facing similar emergencies. The second is to realize that Nate actually had it right; Sundays should be the one day of the week where we are most willing to show our "muddier" selves. Instead we spend Sunday mornings pretending that everything in our lives is smooth as a baby's you-know-what (and I'm talking about a clean baby here, by the way).

3) Breastmilk is sweet. Unless it's regurgitated. Yes, I'm the mom who got spit-up in her mouth. Her open mouth, to make matters worse. In my defense, my novel experience of tasting my own curdled milk was the result of a fun Super-man style game that had my baby giggling and smiling. It also gave Nate's spit-up the perfect route to land on my tongue and glide effortlessly down my throat as I laughed at my charming little superhero.

     Do you need me to tell you that it wasn't all that pleasant? How many of us, unfortunately, have shocked or disgusted others by the things we "spit up" when provoked? With all the death and bitterness we can spew out, it's no wonder God calls the mouth an open grave (Psalm 5:9).

4) Healing doesn't make your scars disappear. Seven years ago, my doctor cut me up, pulled back my abdominal muscles, spliced open my uterus, and yanked out a six-pound, fifteen-ounce alien. All right, he was actually a baby, but since I had never seen a brand-new, fresh-from-the-womb infant before, I truly was surprised at Nate's appearance. (Not quite the Gerber baby I expected. Not yet, at least.)

     Four weeks after my C-section, I stopped taking pain meds. Four weeks after that I stopped feeling sore. But seven years later, I've still got a scar.

    You know the story about the woman in labor that Jesus tells his disciples? She's in pain at the time, but once her baby is born she "forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world" (John 16:21). I'm glad I'm no longer in labor. I'm glad my incision site no longer feels like a thousand red fire ants are trying to reopen my wound from the inside. But I've still got that six-inch scar. 

     When I think about my life's journey, I'm thankful for the healing God has brought me after that painful tests I've suffered. I see the good that's come from the trials I've had to endure. But my memory hasn't been erased. My scars still remain. So do yours, if you're anything like me. And that's nothing to be ashamed of.

     Today I celebrate the life of an amazing seven year old boy. And I thank God for all the blessings the Almighty sent down to me wrapped up in that cute, cuddly (and sometimes very messy) bundle of joy.

What about you? What has parenthood taught you about life, the Lord, or the more unsavory sensations of infancy? (Feel free to leave your comment below.)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

In the Numbers

What's up with this photo?
(This post appears in the Christian Home Magazine. Check it out!)

     Have you ever noticed that the rules of conventional math don't seem to apply to motherhood?

     For example, I gained a respectable 33 pounds when I was pregnant with my oldest son, Nate. After delivering a six-pound, five-ounce baby boy, I hopped on the bathroom scale and saw that I weighed exactly one pound less than I did before the doctors spliced me open and yanked Nate out.

     Or what about breastfeeding? Let's say I produced 6 ounces of breast milk each time I nursed. Then how in the world did my cute little newborn produce at least five pounds of wet or dirty diapers each and every day?

     You know when else those conventional math rules stop applying to mothers? When we're trying to get our kids ready to go outside in the winter. 

     Case in point: Today, we were going to meet another family for a little sledding party. I started getting everybody bundled up twenty minutes before we had to leave. Sounds like plenty of time, until you break it down minute per minute:
  • Send everyone to the bathroom first. (You can tell this veteran mom has had a few winters to learn this lesson, right?) Estimated time: 2 minutes.
  • Put snow pants on all three boys. Estimated time: 3 minutes.
  • Look for socks (don't bother matching). Estimated time: 2 minutes.
  • Socks first, then boots. 3 minutes.
  • Find mittens (4 minutes) then put them on (1 minute). Total time: 5 minutes.
  • Hats. 1 minute.
  • Try to put on coats, realize they won't fit over mittens, take mittens off, put on coats. Then put on mittens again, for a total of 5 more minutes. 
     So, after 19 minutes,  the three boys were completely bundled. That left me 1 minute to get myself dressed, get everyone to the car, get everyone buckled in the car, grab our sleds, and go. Easy right? Well, I got myself dressed in about 3 minutes (so we now were officially 2 minutes late), after which time my kids were already sweating in their sledding gear. We were about to go out the door, but I had to stop to gather my keys and cell phone. By then we were 3 minutes late. The kids were filing out the door (moving suspiciously like penguins) when I realized that I forgot to use the bathroom. (Don't sound like so much of a veteran mom anymore, do I?)
     By the time we pulled out the driveway, we were 10 minutes late. Which is ok, since our friends (who have a significantly larger family than we do) arrived to our sledding party 3 and a half minutes after we did. (It's only when meeting another family for a playdate in the snow when you end up 10 minutes late and are still 3 and a half minutes early.)

     Interestingly, have you ever noticed that God's economics don't seem to follow simple arithmetic rules, either? We're told in the New Testament that Jesus appeared to over 500 people at once after his resurrection. But in Acts 1 when the early church is gathered, there are only 120 believers. What happened to the other 380 who saw the risen Savior? Sometimes I read the Bible and wonder if God even uses the same calculators I use. I mean, Jesus could have performed miracles for thousands upon thousands, but he preferred to spend his time investing in the Twelve. Doesn't sound like the most direct method to see your church numbers grow, does it?

     Speaking of numbers, here's an interesting set of them for you. When God sent manna to the Israelites, he told them to gather an omer for each member of their family. For those of us unfamiliar with that particular unit of measurement, Moses helps us out significantly by explaining to us in Exodus 16:36 that (and I quote), "an omer is one-tenth of a ephah." (Thankfully, the good folks at Zondervan who published my Bible included a footnote to tell me that a tenth of an omer is about 3 pounds.)

     There you have it. Each Israelite ate about 3 pounds of manna a day. That doesn't sound too extraneous, right?

     Until you start thinking about how many Israelites God had to feed. Exodus 12 estimates, "There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children" (37). (Now, before you get your feminist feathers all ruffled because Moses refused to count the women and children, just think about how many youngsters would have been running around that big, vast wilderness. Just imagine how stressful it would have been on all those poor moms if Moses made everybody stand still to get counted. Look at it that way, and it's no wonder he only counted the men!)

     So, if there are over half a million men, there's almost certainly that many women, or maybe more (remember, boy babies who grew up in Moses' generation in Egypt were killed!). Add in all their children, and some Bible scholars estimate as many as 3 million Jews were out camping in the wilderness. And what did they eat? Three pounds of manna a day. Per person.

     Let's be conservative in our numbers. Let's say for every Israelite man who left Egypt, there was one Israelite woman. Now let's say each man and woman had 2 kids. That's already 2.4 million people, who would require 7.2 million pounds of manna a day.

     Makes you kinda wonder why God didn't pull a loaves and fish on them all, doesn't it?

     For the most part, I'm glad God's economics are the way they are. He doesn't always work things out in the way that makes the most mathematical or logical sense. I'm still going to make sure my own boys get a good, solid dose of math practice a week, but I'm also going to allow for some days like today where we don't accomplish an omer of math, but have fun playing in ephahs and ephahs of snow.

     Even if we arrive 10 minutes late. 
What about you? When do your "numbers" not add up? Or what about God's economics surprises or amazes you? (Feel free to leave your comments below.)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Becoming Ms. 31

What's up with this photo

(This post appears in the Christian Home Magazine. Check it out!)

     This year, I only have one resolution: to be more like the ruby-surpassing, praise-worthy wife who is esteemed by all, envied by most, praised by her children, adored by her husband, and held up for all women emulate to emulate in Proverbs 31. I admit it's a high calling, which is why I have actually written down, verse by verse, how I have been doing thus far on my journey towards Proverbs 31 loftiness and what practical steps I need to take to achieve Ms. 31's degree of wifely perfection before the year is over.

     "She brings [her husband] good, not harm, all the days of her life" (12). When I think about what harm I have brought my husband, that lentil-ball disaster is the first thing that comes up. Since I no longer use "vegetarian" and "new recipe" in the same sentence when describing dinner plans, I think it's safe to say that I don't bring Phillip harm (at least not very regularly). But do I bring him good? And whose standards are we using to determine what's "good"? His? If so, then I suppose I'll add ordering pizza and chicken wings to my weekend to-do list. Then I'll sit back and listen to my husband's ceaseless praise.

     "She works with eager hands" (13). My hands are very eager, at least when they're flying at 80 words per minute when I'm absorbed in a writing project. Unfortunately, I find my hands a little less than zealous when it comes to things like folding laundry and washing dishes. But since I do "work with eager hands" at least several hours a day behind my computer screen, I suppose I'll check this verse off my to-do list.

     "She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar" (14). You know, up until I started really taking this Proverbs 31 thing seriously, I always felt guilty for ordering food in or dining out. After all, our family could full sponsor two children a month with the money it takes for one nice dinner out. But Mrs. 31 obviously offered her family a culturally-diverse culinary experience. Since there are no ships to bring us food from afar, I guess I can settle for taking the family out to more ethnic restaurants. Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican ... I'm willing to try it all (for the sake of Proverbs 31-endorsed righteousness of course). There's even a Himalayan joint in town. I guess I'll make my reservation tonight. One more step down towards realizing the Mrs. Ruby ideal.

     "She provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls" (15). Like so many other verses in Scripture, this one is actually liberating when followed to the letter. My family has yet to starve, so I guess I'm managing the first half of The Noble Lady's job description just fine. But you know, it's hard to offer portions to my servant girls when I don't have any (servant girls that is ... we have plenty of food). This year's resolution: to hire a full staff for my home, so I can more accurately emulate my purple-clad mentor's habit of waking up while it is still dark to feed them all. (Just out of curiosity: why is the mistress of the home getting up early to feed her servants? Doesn't this seem to nullify the benefits of hiring servants in the first place?)

     "She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard" (16). I love this verse. Specifically, I love what's left out of it. Can we make the argument from silence that Ms. Success just goes about these business ventures of hers without consulting her husband whatsoever? Whether or not our businesswoman is acting under Mr. 31's authority, there's no doubt about it: In a time when most women couldn't boast a single dime (or drachma) to their names, our entrepreneurial diva is out buying, selling, and reinvesting her capitol gains. I may not be ready to take out a 30-year lease on an uncultivated field, and I don't know nearly enough about grapes to grow a whole vineyard, but I can host a Scentsy party, right? (Consider yourselves invited.) And with my earnings I can buy some Tupperware! ... I'm so close to Proverbs 31 feminine utopia I can almost taste it!

     The whole section about the noble-charactered, spindle-grasping wife of beauty and grace lasts for several more verses, but the closer I look at it, I'm not sure our family budget can handle all of my resolutions towards Proverbs 31 perfection. Maybe after my metaphorical field-buying and vineyard-planting ventures take root (no pun intended) I'll be able to imitate Mrs. Perfect in even more ways, like making sashes for my favorite merchants and holding the distaff in my hands (once I find out what distaff is and figure out where to buy some. Do you think Pinterest can point me in the right direction?).

     For now, if we can't afford a whole house full or servants and ethnic dinners out every week, I suppose I can just sleep with the light on. That way, even if I fall short when it comes to every other description of Proverbs 31 perfection, I can at least say I've got one verse covered: "Her lamp does not go out at night" (16). 

     Guess it's time to go invest in a sleeping mask. At least that's one purchase the budget can handle.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Off The Hook

What's up with this photo?
 (In case any of you read about my newest "project" and worry that I've given up my characteristic love for correct Biblical interpretation, please note that this post first appeared in the humor section of the Christian Home Magazine, 95th edition.)

     A few months ago (after writing the opening lines to no less that fifteen dozen books over the course of nearly three decades) I published my first title, A Boy Named Silas. Just a couple weeks later, I signed a book contract with a company that publishes great fiction for contemporary homeschoolers. Now that I'm an actual, bona fide author I've started thinking about my next project. I like the idea of doing a Bible study, but God has so many demands in Scripture that I'm not it would sell very well.

     I mean, how many times have you picked up a Bible study about being a better Christian, then realized you'll never match up to the Lord's expectations? It can be pretty discouraging, right? It seems like these books that spell out God's commands verse by verse just won't ever top the charts. And since I'm in this whole writing thing for fame, fortune and glamor, topping the charts is exactly what I've set out to do.

     That's why my first Bible study book will feature my ten favorite "Off-The-Hook" Bible verses. I'm so excited about this project, I've even written up the first five chapter summaries! I'm really crossing my fingers that this book is going to fling me rear-end first into the world of inspirational Christian teaching and writing, and since you readers were with me from my humble beginnings, I'll let you have a sneak peak at a few of my featured chapter headings:

     "God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7) For all of you out there who struggling with tithing, this is the verse for you! God wants you to be cheerful when you offer him your money. Logical conclusion: if you're not cheerful about it, don't do it! You're off the hook! (See how easy this is?)

     "Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." (Ephesians 5:33) If you squint your eyes really hard, you'll see that this passage teaches all you wives out there that you only have to respect your husband if he is holding up to his half of the bargain. Are you having a hard time respecting a man who's not loving you like he should? There's good news for you, wives! You're off the hook! (Husbands, you should also feel free to use this verse to justify ignoring, depreciating, or insulting your wife on a regular basis if she refuses to respect you.)

     "God works for the good of those who love him." (Romans 8:28) I find it too emotionally draining for me to really, truly grieve with those who are mourning. I feel uncomfortable when my loved ones are suffering because their pain seems so overwhelming and I don't know what to say. Thankfully, I have a simple cop-out. I just quote Romans 8:28 to them and I'm off the hook!
     "For those God foreknew he also predestined." (Romans 8:29) While we're in Romans 8, let's just hop on verse farther. Romans 8:29 tells us that God has already predestined those who are going to be saved. Do you have a hard time sharing the gospel? Does it make you feel uncomfortable telling people they need Jesus' forgiveness? No problem! God already knows who is and isn't going to be saved, so you're ... (you guessed it) ... off the hook!

     "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:8) Nothing should alleviate your guilt over a ho-hum prayer life like this verse. God already knows what you need ... even before you pray! Take it one step further and you can obviously conclude that there is no reason to pray at all. You are, once more, off the hook!

     These are the first five verses I've picked out for my "Off The Hook" Bible study. Believe me, there are plenty more good ones out there. So many, that after I write my initial ten-chapter book, I just may need to come out with a sequel. All I need to do now is send my chapter summary off to the publishers and see if they start a bidding war over my title.

     I'd probably do it too ... if I wasn't just a little bit scared that someone actually would decide to put this title in print. And if a book like this every became a best-seller ... well, that would speak volumes about the state of American Christianity now, wouldn't it?

What about you? Do you have a verse you'd like to add to my Off-The-Hook Bible study? Or a verse you feel is often misquoted or pulled out of context? (Feel free to leave your comment below.)