Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Shredding My Life Away

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I'll admit it--I have been a paper hoarder.  I have been loathe to throw away school papers, important papers, sermon notes (okay this is more German's hoarding but the papers are here in my office), things the kids drew, things the kids wrote, etc. etc. etc.  So my goal for the past (2) years has been to GET RID OF THE PAPER.

I started easy. I started with sermon notes.  I scanned the notes into pdfs, categorized them by book of the Bible in to a nice computer file, recycled the paper.  I said I was getting rid of paper not content! Paper gone, I began to breathe a little deeper.  I did not realize how much paper clutter was affecting me.  With the sermon notes came 10 years worth of prayer notices from the church, since often the notes were written on the back. It was sometimes fun, sometimes heart breaking to read those prayer requests and know how the situations ended. Those I shredded, because they are someone's personal details and I didn't feel comfortable just tossing into recycling. Then I recycled the shredded paper.

Next step--college notebooks. Yes, I still had them. I actually still refer to some of them (especially my seminary notebooks) whilst planning home group and home school topics.  So, obviously, I don't want to not have the content. But I also did not want the two boxes taking up any more room in my attic. So, more scanning. More remembering. Now I have neat computer files for each of my math classes, my seminary classes and a couple of other classes that impacted me. I can find material without hauling out a box when I need it. Won't my kids be ecstatic when they get to Calculus that I have access to my Calc I-III tests! Yeah, probably not, but I am thrilled.  Again, volumes recycled. I am breathing better.

This summer I tackled my personal filing cabinet. This was the most difficult. Two drawers full of keep-sakes and work notes and things from my Mom. I tackled keepsakes first by scanning the ticket stubs or programs of concerts and college activities. There is now a computer file for each of the children with scanned copies of their early writing or drawing. I confess, I kept 2-3 for each of them, but recycled the rest. Out of five large keepsake files, I now have one very thin one. Very few things made the cut--a card from my grandmother when I graduated high school, DeForest Kelley (Dr Bones McCoy on Star Trek) autograph, the first poem I submitted for publication, a note from my Great Aunt my first year in college.  That file now makes me smile, not hyperventilate! I have gathered writing that inspires me over the years. I re-read those, scanned the ones that still spoke to me--about half--and recycled the rest.

Then I tackled my work files. I scanned one copy of each of my resumes through the years and shredded the 25 extra copies I had kept. I scanned the my Education certificates from social work days as a record of classes taken and shredded the evidence.

That is when I hit the next file--the rejection file. Every rejection letter ever received during a very difficult job hunt nineteen years ago. I kept the letters! All of them! For what reason, I cannot tell you. But when I found the file, I had a gut-level, physical reaction of remembering all that rejection and uncertainty. AND, I had an internal debate with myself of whether I should keep them. You read that correctly, I considered keeping them! In the end, sanity won out and that file of rejection letters received its just-due. It was shredded. All of it. And it probably felt better than all the other reams of paper that had been shredded prior or since. It was more than paper. It was something that I had kept around, that in some sense was still defining who I was. Even though I had found the right job after that difficult search, and even though I made some of my very best friends in the jobs that resulted from that search, and even though it was NINETEEN years ago and I had been a successful social worker and was now doing something that I loved. Despite all the facts, I still defined myself, on some level, by the jobs I did not get.

Last night I watched Brene' Brown's amazing TEDtalk on shame. In it she differentiates between shame and guilt. She says that guilt says "I made a mistake" and shame says "I am a mistake." I don't know about you, but I grew up in a shame-based culture. There was very little emphasis on just a behaviour being wrong; the emphasis said that if you exhibited a behaviour it was a sign that you were wrong. And I internalized that for a long time. Keeping a file that says "you are a failure" demonstrates how deeply I had internalized that. But it is not true! I may have applied at places that were wrong for me--or perhaps the mistake is that they couldn't see how great I was for them.  But the missing out on a job was not a failure--and I should not use it to define whether I am useful. Shredding that file was one more step in my saying that I would not be defined by a shame-based past. 

Earlier this week I sorted through the last of the files, deciding what to keep, what to scan and what to shred. It was the file of our past church and the event that led to the shaming incident by the pastor which resulted in our leaving both the leadership and, eventually, that church. It was painful to revisit. I shredded over a hundred pieces of paper that were email conversations that had hurt so much that I had printed them to keep them. But now they are gone. What is left is the objective elements of that incident--the architect reports of what the church could achieve and the minutes of the meetings where it was approved and then denied. I'll keep the objectivity because it helped to define me. In fact, it was probably the first time in my life I could say "I'm sorry that what I did upset you and I apologize for (specific act) but I am not sorry about who I am." I never realised until this week that it was that extremely painful event that taught me the difference between "making a mistake" and "being a mistake" and that the biggest issue was that I refused to accept the shame that everyone wanted me to have (so that they would not have it). Mistakes were made. But I stopped letting them define me. And this week, I stopped holding on to them. I shredded them. All of them. Without regret.

Shredding my life has been life-changing.  On a physical level I have four less boxes of paper that gets moved from place to place. AND I have learned to just go ahead and shred it rather than keep it so I don't end up with more paper accumulating. But, more importantly, on a mental and spiritual level it has been an exercise in letting go of things which hurt me and that I then allowed to define me. I'm slowly shredding the things of my past that want to cover me with shame. It is freeing. May I encourage you, if there are things that you need to let go, please stop defining yourself by the mistakes of the past and trust in the one who forgives it all.

Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.

“For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Isaiah 61:7-8

image from www.morguefile.com, attributed to pippalou

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book Round Up

One thing I have done a lot of since April is reading. That is one of the joys of home educating, is lots of reading. I won't bore you with reviews of everything, but I will make a list and then give some highlights, for my record-keeping.

School Reading:
Master Cornhill by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin   *How did I miss this book growing up? A fun mystery once you get the characters straight.
From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L. Koninsburg
The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary L. Blackwood
The Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyal Choi
The Breadwinner Trilogy by Deborah Ellis   *I enjoyed the first book as a glimpse of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, but did not think the final two books kept up with expectation.
The King's Fifth by Scott O'Dell
The Good Master by Kate Seredy
A Murder for Her Majesty by Beth Hilgarten
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Reading the Classics that I Never Read or Didn't Pay Attention to in School:
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
Dracula by Bram Stoker

Reading to Grow:
Made to Crave by Lysa Terkeust
Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges
The Fitting Room by Kelly Minter   *Kelly Minter has a beautiful way with words and this book was no exception. Lovely reminders of how to put on Christ. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Between Worlds by Marilyn Gartner  *A good book about understanding Third Culture Kids and their transition needs.
Ready, Steady, Grow by Ray Evans

Reading for Pure Enjoyment:
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Glory by Rachel Billington  *The story of Gallipoli as told through the eyes of a fictional family. Thoroughly engaging.
One Plus One by JoJo Moyes
The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes  *JoJo Moyes is my current guilty pleasure, along with Kate Morton. I love how she creates characters that you want to know and can't wait to read more.
The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon  *Haunting and draws the reader into the story. I will read more of Simon's books.
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton  *another author of which I can't get enough
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende *Trying to read more of other cultures as well. This wasn't my type of book, but I couldn't put it down.
Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor *Second book as he walks from Hook of Holland to Constantinople. Covered Romania which is one of my favourite places in the world, so I enjoyed it.

Newbery Contenders:
Jewel and I are reading through books that are potential Newbery winners this year. It is fun to get her perspective on new books. This has been my favourite reading genre this year!
Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff   *excellent character development and an enjoyable story
The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart  *Jewel says it tried to be Fault in Our Stars for kids. Good but left something lacking.
Hoot by Carl Hiassen  *we both enjoyed, but not enough to want to read again
Greenglass House by Kate Milford  *again we both enjoyed it and one of us was totally caught out by the twist in the story.  We definitely want to read more of Milford's books
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley  *This book has stayed with me and was an amazingly well-told story. Adults will enjoy as much as teens. Jewel and I both hope that it receives honours.
Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper *This, too, is a great story. I felt it needed one or two more chapters to truly bring it to a conclusion.
Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb  *We enjoyed this as well
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan *This book is magical. We both feel it deserves the Newbery or at least Honours. Jewel said "It is the kind of book you fall into and hope never ends." and "If this doesn't win the judges have forgotten what books are all about." Pretty high praise from a thirteen year old. And I agree. Four months later I still find myself musing about these characters. We loved it!

There you have it, a spring and summer's worth of reading. Have you read anything lately I should add to my list?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Holiness Stuff

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Jewel and I are studying the Middle Ages.  We were discussing the rise of monasteries and how they were crucial to the development of books (especially written Scripture).  One of the questions that the text asked was, "Would you have wanted to live in a monastery?" I was expecting a negative answer, especially in light of the fact that this is my child that loves sleep more than anything. She could never have managed a 4AM prayer call. But I wasn't expecting,
"No, I don't like all that Holiness stuff."

She quickly added, "I like God and all but all that other stuff--praying at certain times and giving up so much, that's not what I want."

I smiled at the "giving up so much." And yet...

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Mark 8:34-38

In a recent training session at church we were challenged that our job was to 'make disciples that make disciples.' The trainer asked why we are hesitant to say upfront to someone who is exploring Jesus' call that part of discipleship is to in turn tell others and help them become more like Jesus. It seems that we mostly focus on the 'getting saved' bit and not on the 'following' bit. The discussion that ensued was about wanting people to stay and if it sounds hard maybe they won't, that we ourselves don't necessarily spend enough time considering the cost of discipleship and that we don't want to make the gospel sound work-based. All of the discussion was good. I learned much from listening to the others. But I kept hearing Jewel's words, "I don't like all that Holiness stuff." I think, for me, the gist of the matter is that "I don't like all that holiness stuff"--I don't like thinking I have to give up anything to be a follower of Christ. As I wrote on Tuesday, the ungodliness of not even considering God as a part of my day creeps in and consumes.

I'm not talking about 4AM prayer calls, (or 9AM, or noon or 6PM). I'm not talking about regulating and scheduling God. Nor I am saying that it depends on certain works, or a certain translation of the Bible or morning devotion, or telling a specified number of people the 'good news' each week, or any of the other things we might equate to holiness or discipleship. I'm talking about actually living my life, every day, like I am a follower of Jesus Christ. It is about not losing him in the busyness of life. It is about finding godliness by seeking him in every situation. Even when that means missing out on something. But mostly, it is about others being able to look at my life and see that God is at the center and that he does make a difference. It is about being willing to count the cost and accept the cost. I want my life to be totally oriented on God, whenever and however he leads.

I guess I want to "like that holiness stuff." I want to be a disciple. And my prayer is that ultimately that will help those around me also be disciples, who help those around them be disciples.

Father forgive me when I don't want your holiness. Forgive me when the earthliness and humanness of my day cause me to ignore your call to be godly. Help me to seek you first. Help me to be a disciple willing to count the cost. Help me to then influence and encourage others to be your disciples as well. Let me be the center of a spiral of disciples who make disciples who make disciples. Help me be part of loving your people and changing my world for your sake and glory. Amen.

photo taken at Newstead Abbey, April 2014, please do not copy

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Left in the Wake

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I saw a "joke" this week that went something along the lines of "it's been a good week--I made it to Friday, haven't needed bail money and didn't need to hide any bodies." We all laugh because we have had weeks of just hanging on and not letting our emotions fly--much.  Humour strikes a chord because it hits close to home. Maybe too close to home.

I got to wondering--at the end of that kind of week have we(I) really not left anything to hide?  Have any of my words wounded or slayed those around me, most often my children, leaving souls dying in the wake?  Jesus said,

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell."
Matthew 5:21-22
How easy is it by word and action to show our contempt for others, or to make them feel or look like a fool, all for the sake of being right? Leaving souls in the wake of frustration or anger?

Or maybe it is my indifference that leaves the figurative bodies to hide. I am not necessarily speaking of the large-scale issues of our days that can leave us bewildered and unsure of how to help. Those issues can and do great harm, but deserve a more fitting discussion.  No, I'm talking about the local issues that I may not even notice. The homeless man I walk by without even seeing. The lonely neighbour with whom I don't stop and have a short chat, who is desperate for someone to say hello. The hurting teenager that doesn't seem to have anyone to notice she is slipping into depression or harmful behaviour that I could invest some of my time in getting to know. The mom on her own who needs to hear me say that I don't have it all together but I trust Jesus to help me cope, but I don't say it. There is a wake of hurting people left in my hurried life and indifference. And I am too numb to see it?

 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’  Matthew 25:42-44 
My small group has been studying Jerry Bridge's book Respectable Sins. One of his premises is that the basis of many of the sins that we justify in our lives (impatience, sinful words, anger, jealousy) are not based in pride but in ungodliness. He defines ungodliness as "living one's everyday life with little or no thought of God, or God's will, or of God's glory, or of one's dependence on God." (p54) How guilty I am of this! I go through my day, with its ups and its downs, and work to solve all my problems in my own strength and ability. It is not that I don't think that God cares or is capable of involving himself in my daily life--I just forget. I forget to involve him. I forget to ask him to step in. I forget to talk to him before I speak sharply words I'll later regret. I forget to see the world as he sees it instead of through my busy tunnel vision. I forget.

I no longer laugh at the joke. I know that there are 'bodies' left behind by my words and deeds. They don't need to be 'hid' but they need to be restored. I need to apologise, and repent of angry words. I need to notice needs. I need to allow God's godliness to direct me. I don't want to be indifferent to the power a small word or deed can hold.

Father forgive me. I forget you. I forget my dependence on you. I forget to give you glory for the things in my life. I take control. And when I take control, I mess things up. I say harsh words that hurt the people I love. I miss opportunities to share you with hurting people. I leave souls maimed behind me and don't even notice. Help me notice. Help me apologize. Forgive my indifference. Amen.
photo uploaded from www.morguefile.com in 2011. Attributed to senaca77

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Stitching Update (photo heavy)

Once upon a time, one of the purposes of the blog was to connect with other stitchers and to keep a record of what I was stitching.  Stitching still remains one of the main ways I clear my head and relax. I thought I would do an update of the last six months or so, in case anyone was still out there.

My April goals included finishing these two projects.  First is Mirabilia's "Fairy Moon," shown with the companion piece "Stargazer," which was completed a couple of years ago.  I love how this turned out and now I need to get both framed!

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Secondly, Drawn Thread's "Summer Garden" finished as a pillow for my guest room:

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Whilst on holiday in Ireland, I completed a project of Victoria Sampler's "International Hearts" representing the countries where we have lived (note that I did Scotland, Wales and England to represent Great Britain):

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One of my favourite stitching things is to participate in Round Robins, stitching on others' pieces whilst they stitch on mine. My latest RR theme was Coca-Cola Polar bears. I stitched the upper left hand hockey player.

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In return, I stitched the lower left part of the heart and the medallion for my friends. Unfortunately the fourth participant's piece went missing in the post.
 photo Tawnya rr_zpsuwwevptd.jpg                                    photo Kathye rr_zpsih6ibmje.jpg

I finished a block on an old round robin that was international neighbourhood. This is representing The Netherlands.
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As I mentioned, I lost a dear friend to cancer in April. She was one of my stitching friends, and several of us stitched blocks to be made into a quilt for her family. She and I had considered stitching a piece called "Noah's Submarine" together. I stitched a part of that pattern for the quilt.
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Finally, here is my current project, Carriage House Sampling's "A Mind Independent and Free." I've finished approximate 25% of it.
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Thanks for looking!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Expecting the Negative

"I know you are going to say no, but..."

Twelve year-old Jewel approaches me in the library with a book to be approved for check-out.

To be fair, it was one of those "teen" books that borders on dark and the blurb on the back read like something out of one of those sensational newspapers at which we all roll our eyes.  Also, to be fair, I do slow down some of her exposure to the darker material.  She has one of the most sensitive, empathetic natures, especially for seriously hurting people, I've ever known in a child. I seek to protect that sensitivity as she grows into her ability to manage it. It is part of her God-given character and I want her to learn to embrace it, not be battered by it.

Anyway, these are the words with which she approached.  She truly expected "no" to be the answer. In my defense, I don't think I have ever said "no, not ever" to a book, but I do often say "wait." And at twelve, "wait" sounds like "no." (Who am I kidding, at 40something, wait sounds like no!) More and more as she nears her teens and is growing in discernment of how to handle harsh things, I say okay.  In this case I laughed at how she asked and told her that yes she could read the book. She was happily surprised.

I continued to chuckle at how she asked. But part of me was sad that she came expecting a negative answer. Why did she come expecting me to say "no" to her requests?
(Do you see the punch line yet....that's okay, I missed it at first as well.)
Then I felt that oft-sent catch in my spirit. "You do it, too." How often do I approach God saying, "I know that you are going to say no, but this really is the desire of my heart. God please..."  In fact, I did it the very same morning before we went to the library. I actually said, "You are going to say 'not yet' but...." Because, just like Jewel, I still hear "wait" as "no".

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:11-13

I am still trying to learn how to approach God expectantly and without pre-judging his answer. I want to stand with open hands as well as open heart and mind. Just as I want my children to come to me expecting me to give my best for their good--I want to trust God's best for my good.

In my Mum's group recently we were discussing this concept of coming to God empty and expectantly. We were reminding each other to look at the times that God has been faithful and to use that as our foundation when asking for not only what we need but also what we want.

I know in my life God has proven faithful. He might not have done things how I would have orchestrated them--I mean forgiveness of those who slight me is rarely my first plan. But his forgiveness flows to my detractors as easily as it flows to me, and that is ultimately a good thing. He has used countless situations to grow me into the person he desires, and he continues to do that. Sometimes that means the answer is 'wait'. Other times it is clearly 'no.' I am learning that 'no' always means he has a higher lesson or an unexpected blessing waiting at the end of obedience. Since so much of what God does in my life I could never have imagined on my own, I want to come empty and expectant.

I needed the reminder this week, maybe you did as well.  Be blessed......MiPa

Father God, help me trust your answer. Help me to come expecting your best and not second-guessing you. May I expect positive answers and be able to hear "wait" with trust that you know the best timing. And when the answer is no, give me grace to accept that and trust that there is a better reason. Amen.

 You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
    “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
    O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
    O God of my salvation!
Psalm 27:8-9

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


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Returning books is easy. Returning a compliment, piece of cake. Returning to a favourite haunt, a joy.  But finding a way to return to blogging has been rather difficult.  Time gets away. So much happens that I have thought "I should write about that" and didn't. And more time erodes. Until the moment that two very lovely friends show back up on your blog. One just posts that she came by to say hello.  The other corners me and says "waiting since April is way too long." And she is right. April? Really?

Let's see, in April we went to the States. We saw family. We saw the Grand Canyon. We had a wonderful time. Then we returned to real life and almost immediately received word a dear friend had lost her battle with cancer. I couldn't write--I could barely speak at times. But grief ebbs and duty calls and I spent May and June focused on school. In July we went to Ireland for basically VBS on the beach for two weeks. And we re-connected with friends. And we relaxed. Then we returned to real life. Then in August the girls went away to church camp. Jewel made me the mother of a teenager. And, we started back to school.  In the midst of it all, we have lived life, loved each other, fought with each other, forgiven each other and started the cycle all over again. I could have...should have...blogged. But life was in the way.

I've missed being here.  Even when all I do is track my goals and my Scripture memory, it is a good place to be. It is a focus place for me.  Plus I miss the community. I am grateful that my friends have said "where is your voice?"  So I will try to be a little more faithful.  I won't promise that I won't get caught up in living life, because that is my first priority. But I need, for me, to make writing a priority again. So please don't give up on me, and hound me if I am away too long.

Come with me to one of my favourite haunts....my blog....and let us find joy together.