Faith

What Does God Want of Me?

Three questions to ask the next time you’re faced with a difficult situation in life.

Several years ago, my husband and I were facing a tough situation in our lives. I don’t remember the details—who was involved, what it was about, or what the outcome was. I don’t remember if it was a minor issue that we solved in a few hours or if it was a lingering problem that went on for weeks with no resolution. I don’t even remember if it was exclusively my problem (or his) or if we faced it together.

But what I do remember are the three questions that came out of this difficulty, questions that my husband raised in the midst of this trial to help provide us with direction and guidance. These questions have stayed with me ever since, and have given me clarity and lessened my burden in a wide variety of situations: problems with children or other family members, issues in my marriage, dilemmas in church, personal trials, and more.

The questions are these:

In this difficult situation…

  • What does God want me to do?
  • What does God want me to be?
  • What does God want me to learn?
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Reading

Coming-of-Age Novels—One Old, One New

What is it about adolescence—that time between childhood and adulthood—that is so endlessly fascinating to us? Why is it that the music of those years stays with us as “the best” music of all time? Why do we remember, with sharp poignancy, the dreams, passions, and preoccupations of our teen years, decades after we experienced them?

There’s something compelling about this stage of life … a time of self-discovery, rebellion (major or minor), and the end of childhood innocence. The best coming-of-age novels encapsulate these themes and more, with characters that tug at our hearts and remind us of our own journey to adulthood. And (in my experience, at least), it matters not whether that transition was overall a positive or negative experience for us—or for the characters we read about.

Recently I read two coming-of-age novels back to back (unintentionally), and was reminded of how much I love this genre.

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Faith

Love Without Limits

I was nearly 30 before I ever went to a funeral. I was 27 when I first held a baby (a coworker’s niece), and well into my 20s before ever attending a wedding or any kind of shower. It took marrying into a large, loving, and functional family before I ever went to a housewarming, graduation party, or milestone birthday party.

Because I grew up not going to these kinds of events, the typical family get-together happenings (including large “church family” get-togethers) have never come easily to me. Even today, after many years of experience with my husband’s extended family, I get nervous before attending almost any large event. Thankfully, my husband, who is in most other ways more introverted than I am, is comfortable at these occasions, and he patiently supports and encourages me through each one.

My near-total inexperience with extended family events or milestones was never a surprise or a disappointment to me. I knew growing up that I lacked many things that my peers took for granted in their lives, due to my family situation and socioeconomic status. But I also grew up missing one other, much more vital thing that I never knew I was missing until much later:

I grew up thinking that the human heart is only capable of limited love.

I believed, from my experience and the examples around me, that people have a limited capacity for loving one another, and especially for loving multiple people at one time. I believed that the heart was like a small bucket, filled with a finite amount of love, which could be offered and taken back, depending on mood or circumstance or whim. I believed that all of one’s love could be given to one person, leaving nothing left to give to anyone else. And I observed that holding back one’s love was the safest route because it was a much better guarantee of never being hurt, rejected, or let down by another person.

Up until the time I got married (my late 20s), I’d had no reason to doubt my previous life experience with the heart’s limited capacity to give or receive love. Very soon, however, my world (and heart) expanded to include the ever-growing, fully functional, and exuberantly loving family that I had married into. Within just a few years, my previous experience and knowledge of the human heart were toppled by powerful and irresistible forces that convinced me I’d had it all wrong.

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Reading

Three Books for Two Weeks of Sickness

I had high hopes that my first “what I’m reading” post would be something really special … an impressive title that showed my discerning taste in reading material (I’m joking—I’m a fairly nondiscriminatory reader and always have been). But instead, my entire household got hit with our first case of COVID and my reading for the past two weeks was whatever I could manage while dealing with frequent fatigue and occasional brain fog.

Now, I don’t get sick very often, but apparently when I do, my reading brain seeks out not-too-heavy books with happy endings. Which led me directly to a genre that I otherwise don’t read much: romance.

During my illness, and while I was helping family members with their own illness (which I gave to them), I read three books. All of them, while very different from each other, fit into the romance category. I would also unreservedly recommend them to anyone who’s looking for a well-written but light read for whatever reason.

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Faith

Longing, Loss, and the Life to Come

I was six or seven the first time I remember the feeling. Playing by myself (a fairly common occurrence for an only child), talking to my dolls or to my cats, lost in a world of my own imagining. And then out of nowhere, the feeling—soon to be a familiar one—swept over me: a great desire, an aching yearning, a tremendous longing for something I couldn’t name.

This highly unusual feeling was a little overwhelming for such a young child, and when it came upon me from time to time, I would catch my breath and sit quietly, my mind trying to pin it down, to capture it so I could name it. It was unpredictable, visiting me a few times a year for most of my childhood. And while it was a bit disconcerting, I soon learned to relax and simply experience it as best I could. Not that I had a choice in the matter. Resistance was futile, so I learned to be okay with never understanding what it was or why it was.

During the few minutes when I sat quietly with this feeling, I knew it only as an unmistakable, unresolved longing that caused an ache in my very soul. In my child’s mind, I began to associate it with water because it seemed to me that I was remarkably thirsty, in need of liquid, and then my thoughts would shift and I would long not for a drink but to be floating in water, my whole self, surrounded and supported by gentle, comforting waves as I experienced a complete rest and peace that I never knew I craved.

Years later, I learned the German word that approximates this inexplicable longing or yearning: “sehnsucht.” I also learned that C. S. Lewis had written of this phenomenon several times:

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Reading

This Reading Life

My life with books goes so far back that I actually can’t remember a time when I didn’t know how to read.

My entire childhood was spent with my “nose in a book,” as my grandfather often said. Books were my comfort, my friends, my treasures, my security, my escape, and my joy. Children who have insecure and disrupted family lives often find solace in something they can control, and my solace was found in books.

I always was, and still am in some ways, a fairly nondiscriminatory reader. By which I mean, I read everything I could get my hands on, from high-quality literature to poorly-written brain candy, from encyclopedias to cereal boxes. Whatever was available at the time, I read it. For a long time I was limited to what I could find on the bookshelves at my grandparents’ house, which meant I had access from a young age to a 10-volume Bible story set (which introduced me to God and eventually changed my life) as well as to The Exorcist (which sadly, I read, and far too young at that). I had no supervision regarding my reading material, for better or for worse.

Between the ages of 7 and 14, I attended ten different schools. My transitory life didn’t foster close friendships with peers, so books remained my most reliable and best friends. I read constantly. I have vivid memories of walking home from school around age nine, engrossed in a Peanuts comic book and trying not to run into trees or get hit by a car.

A year or so later, my mother and I fled to Florida after a domestic violence situation in her marriage. And miracle of miracles—the tiny library in our rural town was a mere two blocks from our home. I walked there several times a week and, along with my mom, read every Agatha Christie they had before branching out to other fiction and nonfiction books. It was in Florida that I discovered The Bobbsey Twins, books that I knew were “too young” for me, as well as hopelessly outdated and overly idealistic, but they were exactly what my heart and mind needed at that time. I read every one that the library had, and wished, mostly subconsciously, for a loving, protective, intact family of my own.

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Other Topics

Mere Writing

Forty years ago, author Madeleine L’Engle was throwing shade. At fellow writers, no less.

In her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (an otherwise excellent book), her love of words leads her to warn about language that becomes exhausted, and how a diminished shared vocabulary can lead to injustice and dictatorship. So far, so good.

Then she takes off the gloves.

“I might even go to the extreme of declaring that the deliberate diminution of vocabulary by a dictator, or an advertising copywriter, is anti-Christian.” (page 39)

Ouch.

I’ve been writing professionally for more than 30 years. Right out of college, I got a job in department store newspaper advertising, writing about perfume and clothing and furniture. It was incredibly boring (to me) and lasted a blessedly short four months. But I’m glad I did it because it led to a much better job in medical publishing, writing about books, periodicals, and conferences for doctors, nurses, and others in healthcare. Which led to a long-term, part-time job doing much the same thing, only at home with our children, which was where my husband and I both wanted me to be.

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Faith

My Three Baptisms

“Tell me again why we baptize babies?”

That was the message my husband and I received from our oldest son several years ago, when he was stationed in Japan.

It was an honest question. Simply put, he had witnessed several other Marines getting baptized in the Pacific Ocean and was thinking about whether he should, as well. He had previously been baptized at age four, soon after our family had joined a church that practiced what’s commonly known as infant baptism.

I got to thinking about this just recently and began to contemplate my own baptisms. I’ve actually been baptized three times, and that seems a little out of the ordinary to me. If multiple baptisms are a common occurrence, I’m not aware of it. But then again, baptism isn’t something that comes up in everyday conversation, even among Christians, so I really have no idea.

The question of “whether to baptize” has never been a question in the Christian church—the answer is yes—but “when and how to baptize” have been valid, and often contentious, issues for hundreds of years. Since thoughtful, entirely sincere Christians have disagreed on the answers to “when and how” for centuries, and since I’m neither a theologian nor a church historian, this article won’t go there. Suffice it to say that I’ve been on both sides of this issue, I have Christian friends who are on both sides of this issue, and I believe with all my heart that God does not look upon either group with more favor than the other.

In so many areas of life, I find myself in the middle, able to see both sides of something, and baptism is no different. Maybe it’s because I’ve personally partaken in every common version of Christian baptism: infant baptism, believer’s baptism in childhood, and adult baptism. Some weren’t exactly my decision, and some I can’t actually remember. Here’s how and why they came about:

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Faith

Uncomfortable in Church

Recently I sat in an unfamiliar church, surrounded mostly by people I didn’t know, listening to a sermon preached by my oldest son. This experience wasn’t entirely new to me; I’d listened to my husband (who is not a pastor) preach a few times years ago, as he completed the requirements for his seminary degree. Sitting in those pews twenty years apart, I was more relaxed as a mother than as a wife—perhaps due to my greater age and experience, and perhaps because I no longer had several small children to wrangle as I listened.

By the time my son’s sermon began, I felt entirely at ease with the whole situation. The songs were familiar … the liturgy was familiar … there were no surprises here. I wasn’t even the least bit anxious about how my son would do, what he would say or wouldn’t say, or how he would say it. I felt calm, at peace, and ready to hear about King Saul and how he tried to kill David multiple times (1 Samuel 18:6-16 and 1 Samuel 19:8-16). It was a story I knew well. As my son stood at the pulpit to begin his sermon, I settled in and got comfortable, ready to listen.

All was fine until about fifteen minutes in. We’d been given the background of King Saul and his relationship with David—that Saul knew his (already shaky) kingship was threatened by David, his jealousy and hatred because of that threat, how he gave in to his anger and pride, and how he attempted to murder David, over and over, in order to rid himself of his “problem” and continue being king. So far, so good.

Then we were asked to think of ways in which we resemble Saul, and things took a turn that I’d never experienced before in church. It was not “comfortable” at all.

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Faith

In Defense of the Proverbs 31 Woman

I have a friend—let’s call her P31—who is sometimes unfairly misunderstood. This makes me sad, because she used to be well-liked, even highly respected, by women who shared her faith and her faithfulness, who looked up to her as a role model and who were inspired by her. I was (and am) one of those women.

Years ago, as a new Christian and very busy new mom, I was fascinated by the book of Proverbs and was especially drawn to the end of chapter 31—twenty-two verses that offer a picture of a godly wife, or as my Bible describes this passage, “The Woman Who Fears the Lord.”

Baby Christian though I was, I knew I wanted to be a woman who fears the Lord. As I read and reread verses 10-31, I grew in admiration for this godly woman who used the abilities, gifts, and energy that God gave her to bless her family, her extended household, and her community. P31 and I were soul sisters in lots of ways and she was a great blessing to me as I spent years working out what it meant for me to be a Christian wife, mother, wage-earner, neighbor, church member, and citizen.

I just assumed that everyone felt about P31 the way I did, until twenty years later when I was with a few other Christian women and one made a casual, somewhat negative comment about P31. I can’t remember the exact words, but it was accompanied by a heavy sigh and an eye roll.

Initially, I was confused. Had I misunderstood her intent? Was she actually stating a dislike for P31? Later, I did a little searching online and was shocked to find that I had entirely missed an anti-P31 movement within the church as a whole. The Proverbs 31 woman, much to my surprise, was no longer inspiring virtuous, noble qualities and habits in many of my Christian sisters, but instead was inspiring envy, anger, eye-rolling, frustration, feelings of inferiority, negative comparisons, and more.

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