Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Travel Chronicle

I've not made a diary-style entry on this blog for quite awhile, but it seemed the best way to record our recent trip to Canada with the few pictures taken along the way.

It all started with another of Caleb's Canadian cousins deciding to get married, to our great delight, and on Memorial Day  (for us) weekend at that! So we planned our vacation days, booked a little motel in Smith Falls, Canada, and departed from Virginia with well-diapered toddler, safely enveloped passports, too much luggage, just enough food to get eaten up before the Canadian border crossing (homemade beef jerky in the border dumpster wasn't an appealing thought), and having a prized pot of flowers safely deposited in care of our 92-year old neighbor Rosa.

We stayed a night going to and coming from the north country at my parental home in Pennsylvania, where we enjoyed attending Wednesday night prayer meeting at Grace Baptist Church (for Caleb and I, who met at the church, this is a little like going back to the coffee shop where you had your first date) and spending time with two of my brothers and their wives. Here's Uncle Benjamin and Auntie Megan regaling Walter before bedtime with one of Grandma's books.

The trip up to Canada was rather long and weary, especially as it was Walter's first road trip longer than 2 hours. We stopped frequently, including one rest stop in New York where we met two Pakistani couples (one US residing, one visiting for the first time) who asked us to take their group picture and then promptly invited us to sit down and eat with them from their generous supply of spicy chicken curry, naan and mangoes. We asked them to return the photo favor so we could remember the unique moment. Walter was too busy stuffing down spicy chicken to smile for the camera.

Who thinks of hospitality on the road? I certainly don't make a practice of packing enough food to host unexpected guests at a rest stop. It was such a sweet learning moment, and a blessing. I wish we'd gotten another passerby to get a picture of all of us together. There probably would have been enough food for them too! It was superbly delicious, but as we got back on the road, thoroughly bespattered with curry sauce (guess why?) I was already thinking about doing laundry when we got back home. I obviously needed a vacation!

The drive through the Canadian countryside after we crossed the dreaded border (where they didn't even ask if we had any meat or produce) was lovely. I'd never seen the northern profusion of lilacs that bloom across the Canadian countryside in late May like giant lavendar-plumed hedges. I didn't get a photo of them, but it probably wouldn't have done them justice. And there were the sandy-earthed stretches of birch, aspen and ferns that my Michigan-born heart loved. It was good to be north. Our travel listening encouraged this sentiment - C. S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy with Bree whinnying for "Narnia and the north!"

When we got to the little hotel in Smith Falls, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the Indian family who operated the hotel lived on the premises. I never told them that I grew up playing with Indian children in Guyana, but it made me feel quite at home to see their shiny black braids and hear their distinctive high pitched voices chattering. Their three little girls all ran out to see "baby boy" and invite him to play on their swing set. He preferred to investigate the riding lawn mower.

After a trip to the slightly bewildering Canadian grocery store, we returned to the motel to cook our supper of chicken and green beans on the camp stove in the chilly evening breeze. It was a decidedly northern evening - light and cold at 8:00.

Grandpa and Grandma Smith had reserved the motel room right next to us, but they didn't arrive till the following afternoon. We visited the nearby locks and canals in the morning, which was very interesting (and slightly terrifying until the very curious toddler was finally strapped into his stroller where he couldn't fall off 8 foot drops into canals). I didn't get any pictures as the phone was charging in the car, but here's one off of a local website (credit) of just one section of the locks where we walked. The path continued along the canal through woods and past houses and was quite lovely.

The afternoon was simply the best of hotel life - microwaved hotdogs, naps, books, and no dishes or laundry.

Friday evening the grandparents arrived, Grandma and I whisked off to Walmart to try another round of bewildering grocery shopping, and then all of us trooped off to see the cousins at Josiah and Jenn's wedding rehearsal. The fact that the wedding program on Saturday went off without a hitch was probably due to the fact that the groom being his own excellent wedding coordinator drilled everyone with remarkable thoroughness in their steps and duties. My husband was thrilled to discover that some assistance was needed with the cordless microphones  and therefore he could technologically participate in the wedding ceremony, which made his pleasure complete.

And then,  Saturday, the wedding! It was simple, sober and sweet with navy blue and baby's breath all round and much singing. We both got teary eyed as the bride came down the aisle in her simple and elegant hand made dress (Caleb and I did - not Walter, who was more delighted that we were keeping him quiet with a tube of kid's toothpaste from my purse). We sang both new and old songs, including one new to me from Psalm 127. Considering that the groom is among the oldest of a family of ten children, the hearty singing of "Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them" gave hope of an equally fruitful future for the newly wed family. We hope that God will so bless them as they show characters fit for being fantastic parents. 

I left partway through the reception to put Walter for a nap at the hotel, and when he (and I) woke up I returned to find the bride and groom still not departed and Caleb helping with clean up. I managed to get a picture with him in the remnants of our wedding finery. And look, I did get capture one of those magnificent lilacs after all - right in the background. Good job, Abby.

The bride and groom finally left the church in united Newton-hood, and back at our motel the evening was clear, crisp and cool. I had such a whim to go and look at the night sky declaring the glory of God in some part of the Canadian wilderness that my rather tired, but kind husband agreed to take me on a creation-gazing date in the direction of Murphy's Point while Grandpa and Grandma agreed to watch Walter at the hotel. We hadn't done anything like this for many moons and it was delightful. We stayed out much too late waiting for it to get dark, as we drove down winding woodsy roads, but it was worth it to see the crescent moon hanging in the deep blue above a forest-enclosed lake, the wind rustling so cool and sweet in the silhouetted leaves and the peepers singing softly. My wish to see the stars covering the unpolluted dark sky wasn't satisfied as we hadn't realized how late full nightfall was already beginning to be at this time of year far north, but it was all beautiful nonetheless.

Sunday was spent with the remaining Newton family, attending church, preparing and eating Sunday dinner with much conversation, and poking around the ever-interesting Newton property which included things like young John's souped-up lawnmower, beans and corn seedlings in homemade seed pots, and two sweet brand-new kittens in the garage. We had a windy walk down their country road, seeing new sown fields and marshy woods sprinkled with ferns and trillium and watching young Tim and Sam spar with sticks. Somewhere my skirt pocket holds gifts of snail shells and leaves, and one shaped like a heart, from those rough but tenderhearted three youngsters who accompanied us. 

Monday morning, Memorial Day, found us packing the car in the rain to head back to the states. I was anticipating a rather dreary and weary trip, but the rain cleared as we neared the border. When we stopped in a poky little town in NY for food, Caleb declared he wanted to eat lunch in a park somewhere and followed some small signs out of town for a state park. The rolling countryside was charming, but I was even more charmed as entered the designated picnic area and saw a vast expanse of twinkling blue with no visible shore, flashing through the trees. It was Lake Ontario! I hadn't been at a Great Lake for so long, and was as happy as a clam to run down to the stony shore and walk at the water's edge after we'd eaten our lunch.

 Walter was rather concerned about the chilly water.

Happy on the pier.

The outing sent Walter into a nice long nap as we resumed our trip southward. He woke up quite cheerful! 

When we at long last reached my parent's home in Pennsylvania, my oldest brother and his wife and their son were there also, having arrived from their new home in western New York for his attendance at the Banner of Truth minister's conference with my dad. It was so good to see them all and to watch the cousins interact as real 'grown up' toddlers for the first time. 

Vacations are sweet when you don't get them often. (Who does? I guess that's the point.) It was good for this small-town mama who doesn't like driving anywhere more than 5 minutes away to pack up and go...well out of the country- and feel the bigness and yet the smallness of the world God has made. It was good to be together with nothing to do but enjoy each other and our family and nature. That's all you need in a vacation, isn't it? A few baby chuckles make it even better.

"The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made." 

-Psalm 145:9, ESV

Thursday, April 2, 2015

About Parenting

The Scripture truly is sufficient for parenting. That is, if you read your Bible heartily, consistently and prayerfully, you won't really need parenting books. The Bible is the best parenting book ever, and it will take all our lives to mine its riches in just that one area.

You might be saying, "Really? I mean, yeah, there's the fourth commandment, and that Deuteronomy passage about teaching them diligently, and then a bunch of the Proverbs about parenting, and Ephesians 6, and then that passage about Timothy's mother and grandmother...and it's all really good, but that's such a small percentage of the Bible to study when I want more specific answers for how to deal with my children every day." At least, that's kind of how I thought at one time.

But consider this: The Bible is a book about all about parenting the way the Bible is a book all about marriage, because both of these relational realities picture aspects of God's relationship to His people. In the Bible, we see God dealing with his children from beginning to end - loving them, directing them, blessing them, punishing them, reasoning with them, rescuing them, helping them, and welcoming them home. He does it perfectly. The more we learn from God as Father, the better we will know how to parent. But it doesn't come off nice and slick like a 20 Steps to Raise a Dandy Kid. God did plant some outstanding parenting sign posts throughout His Word, but the Bible isn't just a handy list. The Bible is a story about God and His ways with men, and we have to spend time in that story, following His ways with our hearts as we read His word over and over, praying to see Him, letting His revealed character transform our vision of what it means to be His, and then what it means to glorify Him in stewarding the children He gives us.

I haven't quite finished the journey I've described - but I've started it, and the glimpses of the road are enough to make me say, "Come on down this way - it's amazing!" That is, the road of reading more Scripture, memorizing, meditating, repeating, reading over. At the beginning of this year, I took a challenge of reading a book of the Bible 20 times. I'll admit, I didn't make it to 20 - I read my book of choice just 10 times, but then I did choose 32-chaptered Deuteronomy, so I don't call it a  goal failure. But I was amazed at what happened during those ten readings. God Himself started to become very familiar, and His methods of dealing with His people started to impress themselves more deeply into my moral sense and thinking patterns. That's what Scripture is supposed to do. (When you find yourself making automatic mental reference to Israel in the wilderness while trying to deal with a complaining child, my premise at the top will start to make sense.)

So read the Bible and pray. Yep. Comes down to that, doesn't it? But more and more. And maybe stop reading all those blogs. Except maybe sometimes read them, because (thank you) you're reading mine and I hope it did you some good.

-- A word to other mamas. I only have one child, so it's easier for me to read the Bible than others, but it's still not easy. Ask God to help you read His word and then keep your Bible(s) handy and look for how He will answer. No complaining that you can't find time if you haven't seriously asked God to provide some for you. Seems to me its one prayer He will be quite willing to answer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

His Excellency

Being a home-working mama to a toddler, I don't have wide opportunities to witness to the gospel. I know my child is my great mission work of the moment, and I'm thankful for that. But today, I was thankful for two Mormon missionaries - young men who could nearly have been my younger brothers - who came by as I was in the yard to bear witness to me and gave me an opportunity to bear witness to them.

I don't have time to detail our conversation, except to say that we both understood our religions well, so it was definitely interesting, and we were both polite and friendly, so it was courteous and pleasant. But as we ended the conversation and they encouraged me to look into their Mormon book and beliefs more, I could say to them with a smile, "But I don't need that. I have all I need. I don't need another prophet, or another priest. Jesus is my prophet! Jesus is my priest! Jesus is my king! He is everything to me and all I need." We had discussed our common faith in Jesus already, so what could they respond to my claiming the sufficiency of Christ? There was no need to pick on their odd customs or dubious history. It was enough to say that Jesus Christ was enough.

For me personally, to emerge from stroller-pushing and sippy cups into such a vivid gospel opportunity was a priceless gift, and a reminder to be always ready to give an answer for the hope that is in you. It was sweet to sit on my little porch step and proclaim the supremacy of Jesus Christ - especially to those whose religion so subtly dishonors him.

But is Jesus Christ enough for me always, as I said? Not just in matter of religion, but enough for me with all the little trials of life from health difficulties to a house wife's unending battle with dirt and clutter? Is it enough that I have him, though I may never here have a perfect body or a perfect house or really anything just quite right? Yes, yes, yes - He is really so valuable as to make having Him outweigh any other seeming lack. Proclaiming His excellency to those two young men, over whom my heart still aches for their deception and error, brought His worth to greater light in my own eyes. I hope maybe in theirs too.

"and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ." - Philemon 1:6 ESV

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

End of an Era

Today feels like the winter is almost over. Something about the melting snow, blue sky and singing birds says 'it's not far off'. I know spring really is quite far off. I won't complain that it's not spring though. I'll enjoy today and every day of sunshine between now and sweet May.

Something else is over though. Something that always seemed so far off, and now has come rather quietly, with the strange freedom and bittersweet sadness that I'd waited for so long. On Sunday night, my travel-weary, uniformed husband came home from his last military drill. The seven years of army service are ended. Today I hung out post-drill laundry for the last time.

I met my husband after his first deployment to Iraq. The time between that and his second deployment to Kuwait sufficed to just accommodate our acquaintance, friendship, courtship, engagement and our wedding squeaked in two weeks before he left again. The reality of his uniform and duties always marked our relationship and I've always known him as a soldier. He was the first soldier to join my complete extended family - both sides considered. He's still a soldier. Even the reality of his wife and toddler, whom he dearly loves, could not hinder him from a twinge of sadness over not being able to accompany his unit on their next deployment. I've always been proud of him for the real old-fashioned patriotism and love of service that marked his military career. That same love of service is now leading him to other things that make military service an added burden.  It's become more of a burden as those duties increased. And now it's over.  No more wondering if he'll be deployed again. No more weekends spent apart for drills.

But our true warfare isn't over. That's the battle in which I get to be his comrade, in a way I never could in those dusty battle zones of the middle east. To fight sin, to follow our Commander Jesus, to obey His orders, to help each other up when we stumble. We can't hang up our shield of faith yet, not till all the soldiers come home together. That's why this ending isn't quite as freeing as I'd dreamed - because it's not the real end of duty and service. How far we shall march before we reach that, only our great Captain knows. My husband was awarded for good service as he bid farewell to his company. But my prayer for both of us is much more that we will be found good and faithful servants when we are called to enter into the joy of our Lord. How good it is to know that our Lord Himself with us is the strength that will make our service faithful to the end.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thoughts in Deuteronomy

"'And when you approach the territory of the people of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession.'' (Deuteronomy 2:19, ESV)

"Even wicked men must not be wronged. God gives and preserves outward blessings to wicked men; these are not the best things, he has better in store for his own children." - Matthew Henry

If the land of Canaan across the Jordan is a picture to believers of the heavenly promised land and everlasting rest, than the land traversed east of the Jordan may be a picture of the believer's sojourn through this world. In this world, the people of God are not given to triumph over everything and to own all they see. They must be content to see unbelievers living in comfort and security, to see opportunities for advancement here and now pass by them, because they are on their way to the better country. There will be victories here and provision here, as the Lord gave the Amorites into Israel's hand (2:24), but we are to be content with one or the other as long as we may travel onward to the better land.

Even in the instance of Israel conquering some lands east of the Jordan, they were to go about the deed in a passive and civil way, saying "Let me pass through your land. I will only go by the road" (2: 27) letting the victory come to them simply as God should send it. Whereas, in the conquering of the cities of Canaan, they were to go about the conquest with fierce activity. So also, believers are to seek first the kingdom of God, to be in the matter of entering heaven as the violent who storm the gate by force, cutting off hands and eyes that might hinder them, giving up all that they might have Christ, and taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ; but in matters of the present, earthly life, they are to be content with plenty or hunger, abundance or need; to be anxious for nothing but trust that all needful things will be added to them by their heavenly Father. Canaan is to be had at all cost. Christ has gained it for us and we follow Him in his victory march, so let us not fret that Esau should have Seir or that Ammon have Moab, so long as we shall arrive in God's country ere long.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

To Stand Before the Son of Man

Yesterday I was gripped by these words of Jesus in the gospel of Luke:

"But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." 
(Luk 21:34-36, ESV)

This morning, I could hardly go on to other study without returning to the chapter again and writing out my thoughts on it:

Have I been watching myself with a view to staying awake spiritually? If I am consumed with the cares of this life - however pressing the duties of wife and mother may be - and am not mindful of the coming of the Son of Man, I am living as one asleep. Times of upheaval, trial and persecution have come upon God's people often and again since the last days began, and they may come upon us again, even soon without warning, and perhaps many times, before His return.

Whether it be the last day of all, or only one of the birth pangs preceding it, I know that in myself I have not the strength to face it. In my human nature, I want to live on in comfort, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage our children, our grandchildren, nestled in comfortable homes, friends with all and enjoying business and leisure from day to day. If this should be interrupted by an evil day, and I must follow Christ into the fire of men's hatred and the destruction of my comforts, how will I stand? Here is Christ's command: Watch and pray that you may have strength to escape all these things and stand before the Son of Man. Surely He would not direct us to such a prayer unless He intended to answer it. He does not call me to worry that something bad might happen, only to watch my soul and pray for strength to endure and escape all that may come to me before I enter His presence.

Today is a day of home and shelter, food and family. Tomorrow may be fire and sword, the hatred of all mankind and exclusion from society. Let my goal be not to have the blessings of today at any cost, but to escape with my faith intact, to endure to the end, to realize the salvation of my soul and stand before the Son of Man at the end. Then let me ask Him for this - not only for myself but for the next generation, upon whom the evil day may come more strongly than my mother's heart could ever believe. Let me be instructing my children not only in eating and working, in speech and play, but in the teaching of Jesus Christ and their need to know and be found in Him before that great day. May they together with us have strength to escape and to stand before the Son of Man at last.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sweet Subduing

At some time, every wife will find herself facing the divine command to submit to her husband in battle with her desire for mastery. A certain bitterness presents itself to us in surrendering the sweetness of having our own way. But submission is sweeter still. For we have in wifely submission not only the consciousness of harmony with our Maker's design, but a better satisfaction of our desire for mastery.

In submission, we relinquish mastery of a man for the mastery of our own rebellious will, and the sense of control over self that may be ours when we yield control is a more rightful sweetness for our heart. Only our obedience must be by the power of Him who said "Not my will, but Thine be done." He has bowed lower than we ever shall, has overcome all, and is now exalted to bestow on us His Spirit. All that the crucified and exalted Christ calls us to do shall be possible, even now, even today.

"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, 
giving thanks to God the Father through him. 
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord."
- Colossians 3:17-18 ESV