Christ Child

Christmas. So many ideas whiz through my head like snowflakes. I’m not even totally clear on the one before the next flutters past. The overall feeling is magical, mystical, immortal.

Newborn Babe.  The Christ Child.  Coming into your life so small and unintrusive, but unique and fascinating.  This one is so like any other baby, but much, much more. His presence, as He toddles around, forces inconvenience upon you, prying into forgotten corners and hidden closets, until He knows you better than you know yourself. He grows in your heart until, full grown, He’s become so much a part of you that you are indistinguishable without Him. Your legacy is Him –

The manger scene. Utter silence, the smells of warm animals and fresh straw, the feeling that something special is here. It bids us look, but that act seems so brash. And besides, we’d have to go out back, into the dirty barn with the tools, beasts, and unwanteds. I so want to go look, but what would people think?

I stay here with the rest of the inn’s guests, where we’re expected to abide. I only get the briefest glimpse of the miracle in the barnyard, and I cannot see the baby’s face. I can see the others’ faces, though, and they are filled with awe. Even the animals are entranced by Him. Strange that all these people eating and drinking and singing minstrel songs are so unaware of what is just outside. Only the wise men, when they arrive later, gaze openly on the Babe. I am so disarmed by even catching this small picture through the frame of my window –

A Word on a page. The Word made flesh – human like me. Male, but like no man I’ve ever known. So aware of what goes on inside me and what makes me tick. He brings me up short every time I hear His voice, or even hear reports of Him – yet I feel so loved at the same time. Love like I’ve never known before. He calls me to receive and give, to be a servant and His sister, to show others the way and to rest. It’s all so confusing and yet, deep down, everything begins to make sense –

The creative power of the universe, growing inside me like ivy – it scares me as it takes over, and I’m tempted to remove it. But its presence is soothing and tender, like chamomile; sweet purple flowers put me at ease and I let it grow.  Every so often I see how big it’s grown and cry out to the One who planted it: “Are You sure? Will I be safe? I’m so afraid!”

Do not fear, for I am with you. I AM with you.

My fears calm and I let the Word, made flesh within me, continue to take over. And I find myself not just well, but thriving.

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life

Family Christmas Letter, 2011

This has been a year of change.  Jon’s graduation came up too fast and January spun into May in a blur of scholastics and firefighting.  The idea of apprenticing with Uncle Barry in California surfaced, and within twenty days, his graduation party happened and he was gone.  When the dust settled, the house had changed dramatically.   More than just the move-around of rooms, we realized how Jon’s strong personality had driven much of our days.  I was excited and deflated all at once.

Jon had the whole world opening before him and a chance to see how another family worked.  The other kids had the opportunity to test their wings without his oversight and commentary.  The first thing they saw was how many of the household chores he had been doing as a matter of course.   As Jon readjusted to life outside the home as an adult but still under a family roof,  progress reports on my childrearing and homeschooling began coming in.  I thank the Lord my brother was honest with me about what he saw.  He challenged me to re-look at what we’re doing.  Summer turned into a basic retraining intensive.  I also saw that some of my foundational goals for homeschooling had been achieved.  While they didn’t score any points with the relatives, I was encouraged.

 Meanwhile, Jon was a fish out of water.  Dropping techno-happy, 19-year old Jon into the world of antiquities was like dropping Bill Gates into the Civil War era.  Jon lives for computers and “bleeding-edge” technology – his mechanical skills just allow him to use them efficiently.   He learned new skills and honed old ones with his talented Uncle Barry, who also steered him to his first car.  He bought a ’98 Mercury Mountaineer and eventually drove it back home from California.  That was a cool trip: he spent some time with Grandma & Grandpa Elving in Murrieta, CA and toured the USS Midway with them.  From there, he went to spend a weekend with his Aunt Amy, Uncle Kolby, and Grandma & Grandpa Bryant near Phoenix.   It was another day’s drive to the White Sands Missile Range in Alamogordo, NM, to spend the night with Dad, who was there on a business trip.  Texas tested him and his truck with every type of weather it could imagine for his final day on the road.  I was happy that he had a warm bed and a hot shower for each leg of his trip – I’ve never had that luxury, and it really helps.  He’s decided, now that he’s done farming, auto restoration, and home renovation (another live-in work opportunity this year), that he wants to pursue a more technologically driven field and college in the fall.

David missed his brother terribly and didn’t want to “become him”, as he thought would be required.   He eventually developed his own brand of hands-on household maintenance, totally different from Jon but just as essential.  He took up rock climbing for a while, and really enjoyed it.  It’s just a bit expensive for someone without regular income.  While he was figuring out who and what he wanted to be, he began spending a good deal of time stargazing on our roof.  One night, he noticed a lot of cracking in the ground that could turn an ankle where he normally lands, so chose a different route down.  He  jumped onto the driveway and nearly broke both heels.  He was on crutches for several weeks and didn’t walk normally for a month.    He’s finally decided to pursue firefighting for himself, instead of merely following Jon or Dad.  He completed the Cadet Academy over the summer and expects to graduate from his Firefighter 1 class in February.  He is working toward full certification as soon as he graduates from cadet status on his way to TAMU.

Faith has really grown into a lady.  She turns 15 this year and her dog, Sheba, is still the center of her universe.  We had thought, because Sheba has birth defects, that she was infertile.  She wasn’t, and presented us with a most colorful litter of puppies at the first of the year.  The puppies were a lot of work; 6 of the 7 were males, and there was a lot of rough and tumble.  We lost two to a nasty illness that was never identified.  Faith proved herself to be a lot stronger than she wanted to be, caring for all of it.  She enjoys rock climbing with Dave, playing with her hamster, or walking Sheba.  She despises Geometry, although she’s very good at it.

Michael turned 13 this month.  Algebra is the most memorable part of his year.  He has struggled mightily and is finally claiming it for his own.   He enjoys computer games, playing with technology, and target shooting with his airsoft rifle.  He spends a lot of time honing his foreign accents, facial expressions, and mannerisms into interesting characters.   His quick wit brings these out at the most unexpected times and keeps us on our toes.  My favorite moment was when I couldn’t find Faith one afternoon, so I asked Michael if she was out back or if she’d just vanished.  He never looked up from the cookie dough he was stirring.  “Well, either that, or my buyer came through.”   It took me a moment to register before I fell over laughing.

Tommy is now 9.  He has really taken off with reading and is ploughing through all the Pathway Readers in his spare time.  Schoolwork comes so easily to him that I have trouble keeping him occupied.  He is usually off on his bike someplace, and all the neighbors know him.  He was out watching a neighbor bale a field one day, and got invited to ride in the big, new, air-conditioned tractor and learn how it all worked.  Another day, though, he went to watch heavy graders too close to the highway construction site.  A couple workers and the local constable backed him off the road a bit and then called me to come get him.  He’s the first of my children to have a run-in with  the police.   Hmm – not sure that’s positively notable!  We’ve found him some more worthwhile pursuits closer to home.

Rachel was with Tommy on that excursion, safely strapped into the bicycle trailer hitched behind his bike.  She loves spending time with her brothers, although riding on Jon’s shoulders is probably her favorite.  She is beginning to read and write and loves to put her spelling words on the white board next to Tom’s.  She will help anyone who will have her to  cook, and is quite the able kitchen assistant.  She lost her first tooth last month.  I don’t know if I’m happy or sad that my baby has hit her first real milestone on the way to adulthood.

Bob has traveled a lot this year, away from home nearly 60% of the last 5 months.  But that means business is good, and he’s been able to visit his sister, Beth, twice, and his parents once.  When he’s home, he’s very active still with the fire department and even earned Board Member of the Year for 2011.  He was out of town for the ceremony, so Tommy was honored to accept the award and handsome utility knife for him.  Bob may never see that shiny little implement again….  (just kidding!)

God blessed me with a new walking partner this year – Jake, one of Sheba’s pups.  After reminding the kids incessantly that we were not keeping any, I’m the one that did.  Oh, well – he’s diligent in waking me every morning, rain or shine, and encourages me to go farther and faster than I’d ever do on my own.   It’s a hoot to watch him bound around in search of bunnies and keeps me laughing through my daily exercise.  This is good time to mull over my thoughts, pray, or just enjoy the morning before the daily routine begins.

May the gift of the infant Lord grow to bless you in the coming year –

Santa Claus and Christmas

I don’t remember the 60’s nearly at all, but that’s fairly common.  In the 70’s, Pink Floyd and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” set the backdrop for my first memories of levitating sleighs, flying reindeer, and the fat guy slipping through chimneys.   When I was actually introduced to His Eminence, pipe-smoking childhood heroes were still considered normal and flying was something a lot of teens did regularly.  There was no doubt about his reality.  Besides, he also had his own Little Golden Book and I had a signed photo with him.

Some years later, though, I grasped that people don’t wear disguises unless they have something to pull over on me.   The fake beard just seals the deal.  A full-blown panic attack is not out of line when encountering a disguised man who wants me to sit on his lap.  Maybe I’m delusional.   I did have to apologize for knocking down my boys and dragging them under the stroller that one year.  To this day, if I must pass the mall’s “North Pole”, my older sons will intone: “Breathe, Mom. Breathe and walk.  You’ll be fine.  We’re here for you.”  I just don’t get the whole concept of Santa and Christmas.

We as a society go to great lengths to introduce our children to Santa Claus and make sure the impression is real.  In our house, we baked cookies for him and set them out with a glass of milk before bedtime.  In the morning, there sat the plate with only crumbs and the empty glass with distinct, pudgy lip prints on its rim.  The stockings were suddenly stuffed to overflowing, and the tree no longer sat on the floor for all the pageantry underneath.  At least my dad didn’t go tromp around on the roof, like some of my friends talk about.   As teens, we began helping Mom with the baking and she showed us how, at our midnight snack,  to dust the crumbs onto the plate and poof our lips up to make the appropriate prints on the glass for the little ones to see in the morning.

So why do we work so hard to instill this fantasy when it is expected to be discarded before puberty?  They must have Halloween rules at the North Pole; if you look older than about 10, you are no longer allowed to participate.  The innocence and sweetness of a child’s faith in goodness would be seen as gullibility in someone with mental acuity.  Maybe if we keep the idea in the children’s court, we can keep it around.

The story as presented just doesn’t add up, even for children.   Christmas is about  Jesus coming to earth as a baby, born in a stable.  He is God’s own Son come here to show us what He is like.  He taught about true love and demonstrated what it looked like.  After He went up to heaven, he sent Santa Claus back in his plush red suit every year at Christmastime to remind us to love one another by buying expensive presents for everyone we know.  As long as they’re nice, go to church, and don’t otherwise deserve coal.  Glory to God in the highest – uh, yeah.

So the kids and I read Clement Moore’s delightful story again over eggnog.   No brandy needed; this is good stuff by itself. While the original poem is great, what it sounds like today is another story altogether.  The star is introduced as St. Nick, who historically resembles our modern yuletide hero not at all, although the names have become synonymous.  “When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.”  Reindeer are fairly large – this is a cool trick.  I’m not understanding why someone who’s gone to all the trouble of acquiring reindeer for a PR team would shrink them.  What does all the resizing do to my gift?  For that matter, to Rudolf?  Where’s PETA in this?  “He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work.”  Then, “Dash away, dash away, dash away all!”  Man, this sounds like we’re in East LA, ripping off cars.  Look small, work smart, run fast.  “And laying his finger aside of his nose” – uh-oh;  I’ve seen this kind of thing at college parties.  “And away they all flew like down on a thistle.”   Yep – it’s a flashback from the way-back days.

But really, Bren, it’s just a childhood story!

Just so my mother knows that it’s not just me being overly weird, I had the help of my sons, daughter, and three of their friends online for these ideas.  The jolly man with the goods sits up in his invisible house someplace where no one has ever found him and then goes over his list.  So He sees you when you’re sleeping… and knows what moral choices you make.  Then he comes out to each kid’s house.  My favorite remark, from Kyle:  “You best make morally straight decisions, for the sake of goodness.”  This is creepy; Santa is the ultimate stalker.

Not to mention his obvious unreliability.  The little bully from the playground received and destroyed more toys from Santa every year than any of us ever got.   We dutifully cleaned up our acts for an entire month before the big day and still got stiffed.   Nobody has ever found any trace of toy manufacturing at the North Pole.  And yet the multitude who question God’s veracity simply because they can’t see him celebrate Santa prominently every year with impersonators.

Granted, it really was a fun story to tell my little brother when he was young.  (“Honestly???  Did you really think you were going to get the dune buggy just for being GOOD???  BWAAhaaHaa!!!”)   Now, though, these are my children; my integrity is at stake.  I must teach them all about stranger danger and I expect – nay, need – them to take me at my word.  So once a year, I pay cold, hard cash to set my sweet young thang on the lap of a man whose name I do not know, is admittedly introduced with an alias, and then graciously step out of arm’s reach?  Between the hat and beard obscuring over 2/3 of his pudgy face and the stage-pillow in his shirt, I can’t identify him even with the photo of his hands on my little abductee.

Uh – how, pray tell, can I expect my children to discern the truth from my lips? When I’ve assured them of an obvious fantasy that is uncovered and recovered before their very eyes while still in their most impressionable years, how are they supposed to understand when I teach them historical fact?  Why would they ever trust me with their little hearts, when I’ve played with their fondest dreams?

They know the truth, you know.  They know there is a gift to be had at Christmas, and it is free.  Santa is just an imposter, sitting on a throne that is not his.  It turns out to be only the adults that grasp for him and confuse the players:

“Please God, I know I didn’t do too well on the first half of your rules this year, but I did stop coveting my neighbor’s ass and I never murdered my wife.  That makes 5 out of 10 this year, which means my batting average is approaching awesome.  Please send that big promotion at work.  I ask in Jesus’ name, as you’ve promised in John 14:13: ‘You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it.’  Amen.”

“It’s Christmas Eve. And reverberating in our hearts is the reality of 2 Corinthians 9:15. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” Christmas is about giving, because Jesus is a gift. It is not hard to make Romans 6:23 a Christmas text. “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The first Christmas was the gift of Christ coming into the world to purchase for us eternal life by dying in our place and rising again. And this Christmas – as every Christmas – is a time when God is still giving.”   (John Piper,  DesiringGod.org)

Defiantly Definite

“Definitely” is one of my favorite words.  I’m a pretty serious gal and don’t “maybe” anything.   I like to define terms and think things through, no matter how seemingly trivial the issue.   It’s the little steps that define the path that eventually becomes the story of my life.  I need to definitely do it well.

So I chuckled at a “definitely” comment on Facebook the other day.  The writer intended to say that she would definitely check out the posted link further.  “Definitely” has to be the most commonly misspelled word on Facebook, so the presence of an “a” didn’t surprise me.  What struck me was that she actually said she would “defiantly check this out”.

That’s intriguing.

Have you ever defiantly done anything?  Oh, sure, teens are always defiant.  But rather than just sheer rebellion against authority, true defiance is a stance made in contempt of the adversary; it is an invitation to maintain my point in combat, if anybody dare to meet me.  That’s the gist I get from the three aspects of the word in my 1828 Webster’s.  Definitions make things definite.   Without definition, the rebellion is more stubbornness than stand.   Holding a hill you’re willing to die on makes defiance definitely heroic.

Maybe this whole thread struck me because I had just posted Tim Tebow’s public response regarding his “incessant use of Jesus Christ” in speech.  Tebow, who is the star quarterback for the Denver Broncos,  responded on ESPN that that’s who he is and why, and he wouldn’t shut up.  His relationship with Jesus Christ is everything to him and he would give glory where glory was due, every time.   That is a defiant answer.  And yet, while he drew a line and cemented his foot to it, he didn’t engage his adversary.  He just said, in effect, “Yeah – what of it?”  That’s strength of character.

It reminded me of something I saw my cat do once.  Kitty was big, as cats go: 22 pounds of solid, Siamese muscle.  But when my 85 lb. yellow Labrador ran at him one day, he didn’t flinch.  Right there in the driveway, he looked the dog in the eye and laid down precisely where he was.  My cat whisperer/veterinarian brother explained the body language to me:  essentially, he’s refusing to fight.  But he’s also refusing to give ground.  This is his real estate, and he intends to keep it.  The dog can stay and ponder, or he can leave, but the cat’s going nowhere.  There’s no use growling because Kitty’s said all he’s going to say.

That’s just plain awesome.  That’s what Tebow did, and where I want to be.

I can’t believe I actually thought twice about posting the letter.  What would my friends think of me?  Would they judge me to be a  fanatic, a Jesus freak?  My sanity broke in on my fears:  moreso than I’ve already shown myself to be? 

It boils down to one question:  Will I follow my Lord, or not?

What will I do today that makes any difference?  World changers don’t go with the flow and follow the 98%.   Scary as it is, I must defy the big, ugly dog that outweighs me fourfold and look him in the eye.  Definitely.   I must sit down and say, “This is not just what I believe, it’s who I am.  Take it or go home.”

I belong to the King of kings; I have nothing to fear.  He is also the Prince of Peace.  I will not make arguments or shoot every detractor down like so much alley cleaning.  I will simply follow the Man who’s proven to love me and love Him in return.  I will go where He leads me and stand defiantly, definitely on His hill.  I may find, like I did with the Tebow letter, that I don’t stand there alone.  That may not always be the case.   May God help the man who throws the first stone.

Remember, sinner, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that is the instrument–it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not to thy hope, but to Christ, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Christ, the author and finisher of thy faith; and if thou doest that, ten thousand devils cannot throw thee down – Iain Murray

Legalism in the Homeschool

Teaching a one-room schoolhouse is not just a job – it’s an incessant mental workout, plotting, overseeing, and enabling the intellectual pursuits of multiple children simultaneously while clarifying my own motives and methods for doing so.  Mothers can be a bit insecure holding the future in their hands and incessantly look for clear direction.  It would be really nice if there were a manual to follow which would guarantee well-rounded adults.  I found a really viable one once, but couldn’t afford it.  That frustrated me.  But I saw recently that many of its graduates are now hopelessly mired in hypocrisy, torn by an inability to be true to their professions of faith and morality.  I cannot imagine the parents’ remorse as they hear that their students feel cheated of the truth.

I’m sensing that this curriculum, like every other one I’ve seen, was incomplete.  Children need to understand the Law and the Gospel.  I was raised with plenty of Gospel mercy and very little Law to give a reason for Jesus’ death and resurrection.  My biggest problem has been an inability to define sin.  The students I saw in that program had the absolute truth about sin, but no redemption from it.  I didn’t see that then.

I just knew I was winging it and was really dissatisfied with my progress.  The irritating little girl in the sandbox angrily threw sand into her mate’s face while yelling, “Sorry, Molly, I didn’t mean to do that!”  loud enough so Mommy heard her.  I was humiliated to see it was my own child.

Homeschooling seems to have a special knack for breeding legalism, which, according to Webster, is the “literal and usually too strict adherence to the letter of the law.”  Yep, that would be my little Pharisee.  In my quest to produce Rhodes scholars, I’ve drilled rules into them.  Any failure rests on my shoulders, and I am plagued with doubts:  “I must be lazy or using the wrong organizer; something I’m doing isn’t working!  These kids are smart, but I’m too inexperienced for the job.”   There is no going back.  The serious Christian has no business sending her children to government schools if the truth be told.  Separation of church and state, you know. 

“A Day in the Life” articles show others achieving everything God apparently requires:  Socratic method, elementary Hebrew, plane Geometry, and concert violin are all taught to umpteen well-mannered children in a well appointed home.   The goals themselves were way beyond me.  I threw my hands in the air and told the world to go to hell.  Or something like that.  I’m certainly not making it, so I guess we’re all doomed.  I obviously don’t have what it takes to be an educator and a chosen one simultaneously.  The call I heard to do this, not to mention the Christianity that invoked it, was a sham – and it was high time I admitted it.  Honestly.   I have always said that where God puts a lamb He will also provide the pasture, but I had obviously missed something.  Everything I stood for was crashing around me and my flock.   I took the summer off.

I read Scripture and prayed.  Not the “Hallowed be Thy Name” kind of prayer – the “What the hell’s going on here?” and the “What do you want from me, God?” kinds of prayer.   Prayer becomes very powerful when you finally get honest with God.  I found out I was right – what I’d professed was a sham.  What Jesus taught and the Christianity I practiced bore no resemblance to each other.  My faith was badly warped.

In seeking the perfect curriculum and implementation, I’d been combing Scripture for which rules to uphold, never seeing the real good news.  (Who’s the Pharisee?)  “When our salvation is based upon something WE do rather than what GOD does, eventually a person will grow disillusioned, frustrated, and spiritually suicidal.”  I wish I’d read these anonymous words years ago, but I had to experience them for myself.  The same writer went on:  “…true freedom doesn’t come from moral behavior, but rather by complete abandon to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

But how to teach my children the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy  6:6-7) while pointing to Christ like John the Baptist (John 3:30)?  They need to know the rules so they know how awesome the pardon is.   Rules broad enough to apply to everyday life will never address the situation at hand, however.  I can’t look to these rules as a checklist of what to do.  That’s not their purpose.  The purpose is to show us how frightfully inadequate we are to live up to the standards so that we will look for help from our Creator.  And His work is already finished.

I see now that this was because I kept thinking that everything depended on what we should do, for when I saw so little of true repentance and victory over sin, helplessness crept into my heart. I counted and summed up all that they did  [to clean up their act], and not the smallest percentage of debt was paid. But now I see that which is done, and  I see that the whole debt is paid. Now therefore I go about my duties as might a prison warden who carries in his pocket a letter of pardon for all  his criminals.  (Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God)

Not that my school is a prison.  Good grief.  But the children are human, just like me.   Christopher Columbus said,  “I am a most noteworthy sinner, but I have cried out to the Lord for grace and mercy, and they have covered me completely. I have found the sweetest consolation since I made it my whole purpose to enjoy His marvelous Presence.”

When I cried out to the Lord for help and stayed on the floor until He provided, I found the secret.  Those prayers I utter in the morning are more important than the lessons I spout in the afternoon.   Inspiration – breathing in the breath of God – is what brings everything else together.  Until I see the joy of Christ’s resurrection and what it means to me, I can drive the children all day and they’ll never go.  But they will catch my fascination with my Savior if it is real.   The curriculum becomes just a medium to work with on the way to mastery of everything in God’s world as we seek to know and understand Him together.

The frustrations we encounter turn out to be pointers redirecting our steps, gifts to be welcomed.

Kara Murphy, creator of Organic Homeschooling, sums up my point perfectly:  “If Satan can keep us in constant turmoil about what method or curriculum to use, he can keep our focus away from the most important work of discipling our children. Don’t fall into his trap. Renew your mind by the washing of the Word and move forward, confident of the work that Jesus Christ is doing in you and your children.”

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.   (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV)

She’s a Lady

Women, their interests, and fluffy stuff have never been my cup of tea.  Then I was told at the hairdresser’s last week that I am such a girly girl.  Whatever could she mean?  She chuckled something about my clothes, nails, and hair and how I enjoy them.  That I do.   After 17 years of being pregnant and/or nursing, either baby-fat or just looking it with my incessant baby slings,  I’m ready to be more than a spit rag.  I no longer dress like the poster child for durability and functionality.  All that time as “one of the boys” and then “Mama” has left me wanting to be a woman.  If I can pull it off, “Lady” sounds better still.

I noticed something right after “In the beginning…”  Woman is made of the same stuff as man and can take over his position if necessary.  Since living in the sticks, I’ve realized I am tougher than I thought.  Storms can pound and crap may fly, but I will still be here tomorrow to take some more.  The women who inspire me have an unusually quiet strength, never breathing a word about what they endure.  Trials are unbecoming to a lady.  As tempting as it may be to whine and complain, I must bear up under pressure gracefully, never besting her man.  I met a beautiful gal once who was a serious mechanic.  You’d never know it over dinner, though, with her lovely, dark red nail polish to cover the grease under her fingernails.  This is probably what sets a woman apart.  Men don’t cover their grime.

God pulled Eve out of man to be different.  While she’s capable of anything, she should not do it all, and what she does, she does differently.  She is the soft, merciful side of the equation;  she is Grace to man’s Law.  It is hers to bear the next generation and sustain this one, keeping home and hearth warm.   A “womanly touch” softens and beautifies.  He  provides security and incites fear in any who threaten their nest.  There is nothing to fear in woman but the withdrawal of her acceptance.  Most men will do anything to prevent that.

Yet, so many men show affection for  their ladies similarly to how they’d show affection for their brothers.  I remember watching a guy flipping his keys around his finger, slapping his new bride’s thigh with each turn.  Chink, chink, chink.  Stupid, little things hurt a woman deeply.  She (and other women around her) will read many intentions into that one thoughtless action.  It’s not the pain;  women will control their minds and breathe through the ultimate workout of childbirth.   I have never met a man who honestly thinks it would be no big deal to bear a child.  Childbirth is only the initiation.

A man’s work is done when the battle is won and the goal achieved.  He bandages his wounds like trophies and wears them proudly, turning to new pursuits and obstacles to conquer.  The woman now moves into the daily grind, covering over her scars and stretch marks as shameful and unladylike.  Her work of feeding the family and making sure the laundry is folded and put away is not hard work – it is merely tedious.  And far beneath her abilities, she is reminded too often.  Chink, chink, chink.  Childhood stories have left visions in her head of singing while she scrubs her floors, laughing with the children when they come in from their mudpies, and overlooking bootprints her gallant warrior tracks across the tile.  Nothing she does is special and couldn’t be done better by a maid, and she tends to forget that it is her very presence which makes the magic of “home”.  She sees so many areas where she hasn’t met the standard, and they pain her.

Her deepest desire is to be taken care of – cherished, as my mom would say.   She needs to be so dear to her man’s heart that she is restored to rib-hood.  She must know beyond any doubt that she is essential to the survival of the family,  appreciated and protected and held tightly when the nights are cold.  She can become stronger than steel if necessary, but prefers to be soft.

She is powerful and vulnerable all at once.  Fascinating.  That’s what makes her so alluring.

She’s faced the hardest times
you could imagine
and many times her eyes fought back the tears
and when her youthful world
was about to fall in
each time her slender shoulders
bore the weight of all her fears
and a sorrow no one hears
still rings in midnight silence,
in her ears

Let her cry, for she’s a lady
let her dream, for she’s a child
let the rain fall down upon her
She’s a free and gentle flower,
growing wild

–           “Wildflower”, by New Birth

It’s All in the Details

My earliest memories are with cars.  If there is one sensation that will instantly assure me of peace and rightness in the world, it is the smell of a clean, orderly garage. The feel of a chamois in my hand turns my world misty-rosy as the gleam of paint comes up under my touch.  All my ancestry swirls around my head in a strange, Lion King way the minute my sudsy sponge connects with a dirty hood.  Meguiar’s wax runs through my veins.

As a kid, I would wash my Schwinn from the same bucket of soapy water that Dad used for the cars and then scrub floor mats for him.  I loved playing on their prickly backs, just like my daughter does now.

When I traded in my gleaming Schwinn for a Ford Pinto, people began to tell me  I was going to rub the paint right off my car,  that I was crazy for keeping a car that clean,  that I’m obsessive/compulsive or even anal.  Maybe.  I’ve also been offered more money for my 12 year old Pinto than Dad paid for it new.  I know I’m not the only one who believes that taking care of what God gives me is good stewardship.  Somehow, when my car is a dirty mess, it comes home with all sorts of bumps and scratches from people who assume I don’t care – so they don’t either.  But when my ranch wagon is sparkling, nothing happens to it.  People respect what is respectable.  Cars aren’t that different from people in many ways.

I wish, though, like the insurance commercial I saw yesterday, that the bumps and bruises of living and serving could be washed out.  Some of the scratches a kid puts down a door are forever, but most of my Suburban’s life is memory alone.  It has nearly 300,000 miles on it.  It hauls trailers regularly for church, work, and play.  It has driven over the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada range, to the Grand Canyon, Pismo Beach, and the Gulf of Mexico.  It has carried lambs, kids, and children in its seats.  My beloved Bear was euthanized in the back.  I probably have more feelings of “home” in my car than most people do in their kitchens.  In my struggle to understand what it meant to follow God,  I gave up all things automotive as potential idolatry, including taking care of this part of my life.  God was worth it, but He didn’t require it.  He heard what my lips never uttered, and gave my cars back to me.  As I listened to Him speak through the sound system, I washed the scribbled “This vehicle also available in pewter” off the back window.   My head began to clear and I began to understand grace.  We don’t need to be grungy or die to be accepted.  He washes us clean if we will but sit still.  Reflections shimmered back at me in the door.  His clouds, trees, playing children – even the anonymous painter whose gifted hand laid down that metallic pewter coat so smoothly – are all his creation.   I never want that beauty to fade.

 Granted, washing and waxing will not make my truck run any better or add life to the fading powerplant under the hood.  But just because it’s aging doesn’t mean it has to look like a beater.  Everything in creation is worthy of notice and care, and even Gremlins are worthy of rebirth.  But I’m no resto artist, as much as I’d like to be.  I can only keep up what I’m given and point to Who gives it all to me.

Theology aside, a clean car just makes me feel special.  Although all I truly need is a vehicle to get me from Point A to Point B,  I would rather not arrive there covered in dog hair with a gum wrapper stuck to my backside.  I am worthy of a decent ride – and let’s face it, driving a shiny, new car is something most of us can never get enough of.

So when the offer appeared on my table to detail my first car professionally, I took it.  I may be stupid for starting a detailing business on a dirt road and I haven’t worked out all the chinks yet.  But Christians advise to follow God’s call, while secular folks say you should always follow your dreams, even when they look silly.   I know that washing cars will not save people’s souls and I have no dreams of becoming rich.  It’s just what I love doing.   Detailing cars is my form of art, the way I bring beauty into my world.

I believe that there are those out there who would love to be cared about, who never noticed their whitewalls were black and brake dust obscured their wheels.  I would like to share that feeling of value I sense every time I get behind the wheel of a car so shiny the reflections overpower the paint color.  Just like a girl in a new dress, a clean car makes the man.  Growing up in SoCal, we all knew that cars were a reflection of their owners.   So what does your ride reveal about you?