God the Father

If I were to ask you, who is the Advent season about?  You would say _____.   If you said, Jesus, great!  You get an A+.  For me this Advent season, it seems no matter what I do, God keeps reminding me of His part in this story.  He keeps drawing me back to himself as the loving Father.  I’d like to share with you a few parts of this year’s little learning Advent-ure 😉

It all started in a small village in France in late October.  Everywhere we went, we saw families together.  And not just together, but children happily holding their parents hands or siblings hands while the whole family took a walk.  Fathers, Mothers and children would play in the park together (I’m not talking about the parents talking to one another at one side of the playground while the kids nearly kill themselves on the jungle gym, I’m talking about actually running around with their children and playing with them).  Teenagers were even willing to hold the hands of their parents.  If this was just one family, that would be one thing, but it’s a whole other thing that it was nearly every family nearly every evening.  Seeing these families wanting to be together gave me a joy and a hope that I couldn’t seem to explain.  It brought to mind the handful of times that my parents played with us kids; we loved it and were sad when those rare times ended.

Next, came Berlin at the beginning of November.  There was a speaker there named Dr. Neufeld who spoke about parental attachment and how today’s culture no longer supports parental attachment but instead opts for peer attachment.  This means that parents must work harder than times past to have their children’s hearts as they grow older.  He writes from his perspective of working in the field, but also as a father of teenage daughters.  From this book, I have come to understand so much about myself, my family and why kids with parents are growing up with an orphan kind of mentality.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has kids, is thinking about adopting, or anyone who wants to understand themselves better.  It’s called Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld. The point of this book is that to remain close with your child, you must purposefully be physically, mentally and emotionally close.  It helped me to understand why seeing those families in France meant something.

A few weeks ago, I received a newsletter update from the co-founder of the foundation “The Harbor” that Ethan and I visited in St. Petersburg, RU a few years ago.  It’s a foundation that takes in orphans/street kids that have “graduated” at the age of about 16 or 17 (this really means that they are given a small sum of money and sent out to the streets to figure how to survive on their own).  The Harbor is a Christian organization that gives these kids a place to live, food to eat, and more importantly, teaches them useful working skills and about the love of God.  In the newsletter, Melinda Cathey talked about how she had once asked the kids, “What do you think of when you hear the word Father?”  For a long time, no one responded because most of them had not experienced having a father.  Those that did, only had negative associations.

And yesterday, it all came together as I was meditating on the first words of the Lord’s Prayer “Our Father.” Here’s what God brought to mind about Himself.

God knows me and wants to be known by me.

God wants me.

God provides for my every need, without exception.

God is not grudging in his gifts.

God knows my every desire and longing.

God takes the time to comfort me.

God loves me, without any conditions attached.

God never leaves me.

God protects me.

God is not unjust.

God forgives me when I mess up.

God makes no excuses.

God is not afraid.

God does not mock me.

God does not give up on us.

God gave up his only son, so that all of his other adopted sons and daughters might have life.

Perhaps the word Father mostly has negative associations for you too.  Perhaps these descriptions of God sound nothing like your dad.  I would encourage you to remember that although this season is about the gift of the Son, it’s also about the gift of the Father who wants more than anything to be close to you.

“He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Eph. 1:5-6)  Now that’s an amazing gift!  Merry Christmas!

Grasping at Moderation Part I: Honest Thoughts on a Religious Journey

Picture by tubagooba CC Some Rights Reserved

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

In May, my husband Ethan was confirmed into the Catholic church (the rough equivalent of denominational membership).  To get to know what it is that the Catholic church officially believes, I am taking an RCIA class (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults into the Catholic church).  Throughout this class, I am constantly reminded of how Catholics aren’t well informed as to Protestant theology and vice-versa. I grew up indoctrinated with misinformation like, “Poor Catholics.  They’re good people who’ve missed the point.  They think that you can get to Heaven through works alone. It’s too bad we won’t be seeing most of them there.”

Our dentist was a Catholic and my parents really loved him. “He’s got to be a Christian Catholic,” they reasoned, “you can see the love of God in his life in the way he treats people.”  For much of my life, I thought I would make an excellent nun…if only they were Christians…

Catholic theology places great emphasis on works stemming from faith.  They take James 2:18 very seriously: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”

I am still Protestant, partly because I have not read the church fathers and can’t swallow the emphasis placed on Marion theology, and partly because I have not felt the leading of God that way.  However, I’m very thankful for my husband’s journey as he seeks God’s will. Perhaps I will join him somewhere down the road, and perhaps I will not.  I am trying to keep an open mind and heart.

When Ethan made this decision, we were dumb-founded at the blatant prejudice that is still so pervasive between the two factions (for lack of a better word).  We have both been treated with great hostility for his move.  People seem baffled by this dichotomy of my being in full support of Ethan’s decision while choosing not to follow him.  One well-meaning woman even rebuked me for allowing my husband to make that decision.  Hmm, right. I’m going to MAKE my husband think one way or the other…yeah, not so much.

“What is this? The middle ages?” I mused to Ethan one night while brushing my teeth. “It might give people more satisfaction if we revert to burning at the stake. I just don’t understand how two groups of people who love God can be so hateful to one another.  And honestly, I see it much more from the Protestants than the Catholics.”

“Being strong and in the middle,” a very wise older friend told me, “confuses people and makes them uncomfortable.  You are doing something uncommon by being together in your separateness. People like black and white because it’s easy to see what is right and wrong and thus, comfortable.  This is one more way that you two are pushing the boundaries.”

It’s so refreshing when friends approach me directly and straight up ask what they want to know.  The questions always start with “How is this affecting your marriage?”  When I answer that this has actually drawn us closer, a majority of people cock an eyebrow and say “really” because they assume I’m either lying or insincere.  Let me assure you I am not.

The next question is, “What about when you have children?  Then what will you do?”

Most people assume that we’re just busy people that are waiting until we get all of the fun out of the way, but the truth is, I can’t have children.  So choosing a church in which to raise our children is not a problem that will have to be solved in the near future.  All of the sudden, people get sympathetic looks on their faces and begin apologizing about prying.  I always think this is funny, because I wouldn’t have told them if I didn’t want them to know.  I have nothing to hide–it’s just the way things are.  I always had an intuition growing up that I would not be able to have kids, and well, I was right.  I’ve already raised a bunch of kids, so I know what it’s like.  I’ve had the sleepless nights when a baby is colicky or a kid is throwing up or the sheets need to be changed and the kid bathed in the middle of the night because he/she wet the bed.  I’ve had the joy of changing diapers, giving baths, tucking in at night.  I don’t feel the need to do it again any time soon.

That being said, if God wanted to do a miracle he can make anything happen and Ethan and I are happy either way. This statement  leaves people with a look of aww,-you’re-just-making-lemonade look on their faces.

Lastly, people want to know about communion.  “Won’t you miss taking it together?” In some ways, it is a little odd that we are not allowed to take communion together, but I subscribe to the fact that God is bigger than church tradition.  He’s present at both and we’re partaking in the body and blood of Christ, just perhaps not in the same place and time.  As for the transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation argument, I’ve always sided with the Catholics since I was 14 and read Foxe’s Book of Christian Martyrs of the World  (the opposite position of the book).

This is all to say, the middle is not a popular place to be, but being comfortable is not all its cracked up to be either.  Whether or not you agree with my thoughts, I challenge you to look at your own journey.  Are you in the uncomfortableness of seeking God’s will?  Is God calling you to follow him in the undefined middle?  Where has your journey led you up to this point?