7 Quick Takes is a blog carnival, hosted every Friday by Jen of ConversionDiary.com. See this week's 7 Quick Takes to read Jen's Takes and see links to everyone participating. The idea is to post seven blurbs, usually things which are too short to write a full blog post about, but still interesting.
The first, as long as I'm on the topic of Jen's blog, is that her post about vocation being a matter of who you serve, combined powerfully in my mind with my recent reading (or rather, skimming) of Mulieris Dignitatem. While I was reading the document because of an ongoing discussion with my sister-in-law about feminism, the lines really struck me, about men and women being called to "exist mutually one for the other", and about how being a person made in the image of God means we are "called to exist 'for' others" (as the members of the Trinity exist for each other). This idea of only being really fulfilled in the giving of myself to others - in particular my children and husband, since I am a mother and wife - is one that I think I will be pondering about for some time. It's most immediate application to my life was that I felt strongly that God wanted me to play less WoW. Ever since I made a new character, I have started spending a lot more time playing, because I am no longer waiting for my husband Ken to want to play with me. It became very clear that this time was focused on my immediate pleasure and would not be fulfilling in the long run. So I've tried to back off on playing so much. Which I may point out, can be very difficult when your five-year-old son is urging you to play, because he wants to watch.
I've written before about walking with God and mentioned some of the peace it brings me. One area of my life in which this has had a noticeable effect lately is in my friendships. I'm an introvert, and I find personal relationships to be fraught with awkwardness. I am most comfortable when relationships fit into one of two categories: (a) a relationship that takes place in a structured environment with fairly clear social rules (such as a classroom, or my Moms&Tots group) or (b) a relationship with someone who is very, very close, like a family member or a very long-time friend. The most awkward times for me, relationally, are when I want to bridge the gap between these two categories: when I want to make an acquaintance into a deeper friend. Three different times in the last two weeks or so I had the opportunity to either step out and say something that could potentially move a friendship forward (following up on my friend Sia's invite to a new place; inviting Becky to my house; and inviting my neighbor Sara to have a chat) or I could do what I usually do, which is take the no-risk method of not speaking up or doing anything uncomfortable. Each time, I did what I have been learning to do - I retreated into my heart. In Becky's case, peace of heart and acting on it came right away. In Sara's case, I missed my first opportunity to speak up, but God was kind enough to give me a second one, which I took. In Sia's case, it took some serious agonizing, not because of where I am at with Sia, but because her invite involved me taking all four kids out in public, to someplace I'd never been, and that is something that my introverted self finds overwhelming. When I managed to clear out the angst well enough to realize that I would regret staying home, but would not regret going, then it was clear to me which was God's will. All three of these situations have resulted in my having a good time with my friends, which would not have been possible if I hadn't been learning and practicing to find God's peace within.
Ever since we moved to Portland in 2006, our 4th of July's have been laid-back experiences. Each year I longed, somewhat vaguely, for the firework displays of my childhood. But unlike when I was growing up, there is no park conviently located within easy walking distance from where I live that provides a large firework display. The closest thing to it is the display at Blue Lake, which means driving, unknown parking in what's sure to be a crowded lot, paying $10 to get into the park, and then being completely lost as to where in the park the fireworks are. The potential for a bad time seemed very large, so I always passed. This year, though, I found myself really agonizing over the decision. After more and MORE agonizing (should I go? should I go by myself to familiarize myself with Blue Lake before having to take all the kids there? should I go and bring all the kids so they have a good time? should I skip the whole thing so I don't have to deal with the hassle of it all?), eventually I managed to sit down with God and hash it out in my heart. It quickly became clear that my heart really *wanted* to go, and it was just fear of the unknown that was getting in my way. (I often find that agonizing over something is a sign that my heart and my fear are having a little war inside me.) But to be sure of God's will, I decided to go with opening my Bible at random (which works SO often for me). Not having my Bible at hand, I opened instead the little booklet I get in the mail that has each day's daily Scripture readings. It surprised me by opening to the very first page - the Table of Contents. I thought that was probably a mistake, but then suddenly the words "You Are Not Alone" (the title for something on page 61, fyi. :) ) were jumping out at me. Was I supposed to take all the kids with me, instead of going alone? I asked God for more guidance. The thought of taking all the kids was still quite overwhelming. I opened randomly to another page and saw "Kyrie, eleison." I don't think I can capture how much this blew me away. I had, in my angst, completely forgotten that my eldest daughter happens to have a name which might actually be found in a Catholic booklet involving the Mass. I was expecting to find a Scripture passage from which I would have to somehow extract God's meaning - probably with some residual angst over whether I was interpreting it right or not. Instead, in answer to my question "Why am I not alone?", I find written down my daughter's name. It could not possibly been any clearer to me that I was to take Kyrie with me to Blue Lake. To check to see if I should take anyone else, I turned the page once more - thinking to myself, as I did it, that Elijah (the next most likely to come with me, since he's the next oldest) also has a name which might be found among Scripture passages - but Elijah's name wasn't on that page, so I stuck with taking just Kyrie. (And Gabe, since Gabe goes everywhere I do, being a nursing baby and all that.) We went, and we had a blast. I got up the guts to ask a park staff lady where the fireworks were at, she politely told me, we had a great view, and they were beautiful. And even accompanied by music. We did spend about 45 minutes sitting in the parking lot afterward before I even managed to back the van out of our spot - and it was another 45 minutes or so from there before we got home, on what Google Maps says is a 16 minute drive, but that just added to the adventure for me. Taking Kyrie and Gabe was just right - I had companionship to enjoy the fireworks with, without having to constantly worry about small children running out of sight. It was perfect.
Speaking of nursing Gabe, that is another area in which God has recently given me some guidance. Gabe sleeps in bed with me, as part of my eco-nursing thing (aka ecological breastfeeding). Yesterday and the day before, he fell out of bed in the morning, after I was already up and about out of the bedroom (he sleeps in later than I do). Usually, he had been making noise before getting to the edge of the bed, so that I could come grab him before he fell off. These days, he didn't. He wasn't hurt, but I was still concerned. Ken was too, and suggested maybe moving him to the crib. This would mean stopping the eco-nursing. I was drawn - really, really drawn - by the idea of being able to sleep through the night without waking to nurse Gabe. (A good night's sleep... every mother's dream.) :) But I had gotten into the eco-nursing for good reasons; not ovulating means I'm not stressing me and Ken out about - ahem - you know, married stuff (well, you fellow NFP-ers know, anyhow); not ovulating reduces my risk of breast cancer, which is a big deal for me, since my mom died of that; and God had told me to, (through the random-Bible-page thing again) when I asked him if I should. So I wasn't sure if it was time to give it up yet. I've been sort of slacking on doing the eco-nursing properly; when it's hot, I don't like to nurse much, so I have put it off far more than I should for preventing ovulation. I asked God if I should stop the eco-nursing (and move Gabe to the crib), and opened the Bible randomly. I can't remember the passage anymore, but it was something about giving of ourselves to others. That sounded to me like God was saying to keep giving milk to Gabe. Above that was a passage that said something like "for a little while longer, and then I will be taken away from you". That, too, sounded to me like God was telling me to keep doing the eco-nursing for awhile longer, before moving Gabe away from me to the crib. To be sure, I opened to another page. Again, something about selflessly giving to the weak. I think a baby is about as weak as you get. And so last night and today I have been making a new effort to nurse Gabe frequently, and I think I feel a little closer to him because of it. (And he didn't fall off the bed this morning). I certainly feel closer to God because He answered my question. I love it when He does that.
Ever since I started working on a new habit for July, of praying with the kids during meals, I find myself repeating the same phrases over and over again, and having the kids repeat the same phrases each day. I've been worried that this might be too much ritual for them. How are they supposed to learn the deeper, life-changing meanings built into the Our Father, if it's only a rote prayer? So I prayed about that this morning, and took my concerns to God. And I felt him reassure me (without resorting to a random Bible page this time, heh) that I was on the right path. I realized that the kids don't need to be making heartfelt discoveries at this age. Thinking back to myself at their age helped me realize that they don't need to be deep yet. That will come, in time. Right now, getting them in the habit of praying is what's important, because then when they are old enough to need a greater understanding, they will have the knowledge and the practice that the habit imparts. This was very reassuring to me.
One of my brothers sent me a book called No god but God, by Reza Aslan, about Islam. While the book has a couple offhand comments about Christianity that I object to, I was fascinated by the history and interpretation of Islam that the author presented. Most of all, though, I loved his description of Sufi Islam. The Sufis' mystic approach to God - calling God's very essence or substance to be Love, talking about their relationship with the Divine as the Lover and the Beloved, writing of their pining and longing for God, talking of being caught up in unity with Him, etc. - so closely resembles the mystical tradition within Christianity, not to mention a lot of what I myself feel about God, that I delighted to see God so clearly at work in their lives. And, then, the same day or the day after that, I happened to read, as part of my regular Bible reading (it was the Gospel for the Mass that day), Matthew 12:1-8. There the Pharisees make the mistake of condemning Jesus' disciples for supposedly breaking the sabbath rules. Jesus faults them for their overly narrow interpretation of sabbath laws. The fact that Jesus called his disciples "innocent" really leaped out at me. And it was clear to me that God was confirming that I, too, should not take an overly narrow interpretation of His truths, that I should not doubt that, though the Muslims do not know His Son, He can still bring them into a close loving relationship with Him.
Ken being without a job right now is something I think I have been taking pretty well. When he was out of work for five months last year, I had a lot of practice in learning to trust that God will take care of us. That has proved incredibly useful this year, since he got laid off again. When I feel the urge to be stressed about our ever-dwindling financial resources, I just relax back into my heart, where I know, from so many things, that God has our good in mind and we will have everything we need. Sometimes this is easier than others; when Ken comes home with a new 12-piece silverware set, just as I'm wondering if we're going to be able to pay next month's rent, I have to force myself not to say anything I know God will make me regret later. Then about two weeks ago, during the personal ministry time after my charismatic prayer group meeting, I went in to the prayer team to ask for prayer. They prayed, among other things, for Ken to get a job (they know the situation; they pray this almost every week). Then a lady on the team said she was seeing something; a round tunnel, like maybe one of those sewer tunnels, with a light at the end of it. There was a guy on a skateboard, riding up on the left side of the tunnel and then up the right, back and forth, as he skated towards the end. (She said, "I hate to say it, but it's the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel"). She wasn't sure what it all meant, but I was. The end is getting close; the light at the end of the tunnel means Ken will get a job before long. But the skater boy means enjoy the ride. God wants me to not just trust him, but to enjoy the adventure, and the ups and downs, of the remaining time Ken will be unemployed. So I've been trying to focus on having more fun with this whole thing. And you know what? I really LIKE having matching silverware for the first time in my life. Darn right I should enjoy it.