Throw Out the Cookie Cutters

Mothering from Scratch by Melinda Means and Kathy Helgemo:  A Book Review

When my four boys were all very small, there were days when I could have argued that I was too strict, and then heaped guilt upon myself for being too lenient — all within one hour’s time.  When my mind and heart were in the wrong place, mothering was a toxic cocktail of irrational guilt, odious comparisons, and self-condemnation.

Written by mothers for mothers, Mothering from Scratch offers an approach that breathes grace into a mother’s life.  Instead of shoe-horning ourselves into someone else’s plan, why not try mothering out of the individual strengths and characteristics that God designed when He made you?  The “perfect mother” lives next door to Big Foot and down the road from the Loch Ness Monster.  By recognizing this and owning our inadequacies, mothers gain a “unique opportunity to make a gigantic leap in our moral development.”

Kathy and Melinda urge mums to find their comfort zone and then to work at broadening it so that mothers and children grow together.  This is a graceful balance between sensible self-care and mature self-denial.  Mothers need relationships with other adults and the opportunity to develop personal interests, but they also must set up boundaries to protect the fleeting years when their children need them most.  Godly wisdom is necessary for setting these priorities, and every family will look a little different.

At the end of each chapter, thought-provoking questions and suggested action plans make this book a great choice for a mum’s group study.  Rich in resources throughout and then finishing off with three pages of suggested books, blogs, and pod casts, Mothering from Scratch is also a practical reference.  The authors’ personal anecdotes from their own families are like a warm hand on the reader’s shoulder saying, “We can do this.”  Empowered by the Spirit, free of the cookie cutters, and sensitive to the uniqueness of our own family, “there is, therefore, now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

This book was provided by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review.

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Just One Thing: Gates

“They laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars. “*

Not exactly the stuff of which a “life verse” or a New Year’s Resolution is made,

But five times in Nehemiah’s counter-clockwise tour of the wall we are confronted:

What’s the point of a walled city if the gates are not secure?

Shore them up!  Every beam; every door; every bolt; every bar,

Not just for the glory of Old Jerusalem, but for the glory of God,

Who is, after all, the Center, the focus of Nehemiah’s renovation.

“Where there is no center, there is no circumference,”**

And how we need a circumference–

A boundary–

Not to hem us in, suffocation-style,

But to correct our warped geometry,

To free us up,

To establish the playing field:

“Here is the goal.”

“This is my responsibility.”

“Someone else will cover this area.”

After all, didn’t original sin sprout from the refusal of a boundary?

What if, instead of an outreached hand to harvest death,

Eve’s response had been,

“Let me not be like unto God.  Let me be instead what I was created to be.

Let me be a woman.”***

Today, and everyday, let me secure the gates.

All day long we choose

With eyes, ears, lips, fingers —

Trivial pursuits, mindless entertainment,

The gates wide-open to the corrosion of our souls.

Lay the beams, tighten the bolts and bars.

Guard your heart and live free.

 

* Nehemah 3:3, 6, 13-15

**Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder

*** Elisabeth Elliot, Let Me Be a Woman

For further study, read Nehemiah 3 in a sitting.  It may be second only to “the begats” in its repetitive monotony, but if your Bible has a map of Nehemiah’s Jerusalem, follow it around the wall as you read.  It really does help!

Take Charge of Your Money and Your Life

The Financially Confident Woman by Mary Hunt:  A Book Review

“Don’t you have to have lots of money if you’re going to ‘manage’ it?”

“I don’t/can’t do financial stuff.”

This mindset might keep you from reading the new edition of Mary Hunt’s book, but you wouldn’t expect to find that the author of a half dozen books and a nationally syndicated column on personal finance used to think that way as well.  Her motto was:

“I’m not overdrawn, just under-deposited.”

It turns out that a change in what one believes about money is the key to changing irresponsible and self-defeating behavior with money.  Like losing weight and all the other “impossible things” in our lives, it comes down to simple (but maybe not easy?), everyday practices.  Hunt reduces her plan to three major points:  (1)giving; (2)saving; (3)spending less than you earn.  However, she does not stop there.  She provides a self-assessment quiz for financial responsibility and a whole chapter on reforming bad habits.

As the old saying goes, “If you aim at nothing, you will surely hit it,” so Mary Hunt sets up the target with Nine Habits of a Financially Confident Woman.  This section should be required reading for every young woman about to leave the nest, because it breaks down some very basic but mysterious-sounding concepts about investment,  while also giving a stern warning (learned the hard way) about debt and living beyond your means.  Her explanation of the term “no-load, growth mutual fund” on pages 99-101 is worth the price of the book! She makes her e-mail address and web site available and ends the book with a six-week action plan for becoming a financially confident woman.  For me, the most challenging — but chilling — statement comes in the middle of the book:

“One year from today, I guarantee that you will not be the same person you are today.  You will be either better off or worse off.”

Well, I know that I want to be better off . . . what am I doing today to make that happen?

Disclosure:  This book was provided by Revell in exchange for my unbiased review.

Just One Thing: Camaraderie

Maybe the abundance of “picture perfect” lives on social media has made me cynical.  Maybe I’ve been tenderized by the fact that my family has grown to a point where everyone offers (brutally) honest feedback on just what it was like to grow up Morin.  Whatever the reason, when I read Nehemiah 3, and its eighteen occurrences of  “next to him,” “after him,” and “beside him,” my imagination takes off.

It sounds like life.

Old Testament scholar Mervin Breneman describes chapters three through seven of Nehemiah as the “community development process.”  Kelly Minter labels it as an “extraordinary feat of organization,” and I’m sure Nehemiah would sigh and agree.    My experience has been that, sometimes, what appears (from a distance) to be orderly and purposeful can feel (close up) like messy chaos with an underbelly of randomness.   Nehemiah was managing a group that was culturally homogenous — everyone was either a Jew or a proselyte — but, take a  close look at the catalog of names, and it encompasses every possible sector of society:

1.  Siblings — “Also the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate . . .”

“Mum, this is the picture where you made us all part our hair the same and wear matching shirts!”

2.  Generations — “After him repaired Meremoth the son of Urijah, son of Koz . . .”

“Mum, did you get Grammy’s potty seat out of the tub before our guest showered?”  (whoops)

3.  Clergy and laity; different classes; different trades.  Is it possible that not one single person sidled up to Nehemiah to explain that goldsmiths couldn’t work next to perfumers?  That the Tekoites weren’t pulling their weight?  Details like this didn’t make it into the canon, but I wonder . . .

When we function well as the Body of Christ, we are doing a reenactment of Nehemiah Chapter 3, and I’ve seen it.   A crew of families gathers to clean the church.  A couple dozen volunteers pull off a VBS, and the kids all learn something and have a great time.  No one complains about working outside her skill set; people of different educational levels become of one mind; the high and mighty find grace to be meek and lowly in order for the work to go forward.  Nehemiah would say that it is possible because “the hand of our great God, the God of heaven Himself, is upon us.”

The curtain slips aside, and we see that we are all in the midst of a dress rehearsal for heaven.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *   *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Here is the link for a quick review of our progress through chapters one and two:https://michelemorin.wordpress.com/tag/nehemiah/

For further study, read Nehemiah 3, taking note of the repetitious phrase in verses 3,6, 13-15 as well as “next to him”/”after him”/”beside him” throughout the chapter.   You can also join us at Spruce Head Community Church for my Sunday School class on the book of Nehemiah!

An Exuberant Life

Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior:  A Book Review

In order for Hannah More to be truly Hannah More, she had to challenge nearly every aspect of her cultural context.  Fierce Convictions is richly historical and rooted deeply in the period straddling the 18th and 19th centuries, because it is impossible to appreciate the impact of Hannah More’s life without knowing the circumstances of her world at the time:

  • Female education was not only rare, but it was also frowned upon.
  • Female authors were nearly unheard of and also frowned upon.
  • Women were trained for marriage and housekeeping only and were expected to marry young.
  • Novels and religious books barely existed as literary genres.
  • Outreach to the poor and the concept of foreign missions had gotten lost somewhere in the clutter of English class consciousness.
  • Slavery was deeply ingrained in England’s social and economic identity.

Hannah’s “bright imagination” and commitment to follow God led her to challenge each of these realities, and Karen Swallow Prior has masterfully captured  More’s role in her subtitle:  The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist.

Poet

I’m convinced that if Hannah More had lived in our time, she would have had a blog.  It was in her nature to communicate through whatever medium was available, in spite of the general disdain for “the female pen.”  Positively prolific, Hannah applied her gift for verse to current events and social situations, making a name and a place for herself among elite circles (in spite of very humble beginnings).  The Inflexible Captive launched her career as a dramatic author, and she went on to make a comfortable living and an impact on contemporary culture writing Cheap Repository Tracts (a most unflattering name for short pamphlets on relevant topics at the reading level of the newly literate).  If she believed that it would help her message to be received more readily, she wrote anonymously.  Her one and only novel broke ground for 19th century novelists such as Dickens, Thackeray and the Bronte sisters.  Because her writing so closely reflected her thinking throughout her life, I would suggest an appendix in a future edition of the book with a detailed time line of all her publications and major life events.

Reformer

Although best known for her efforts to abolish slavery in England, Hannah’s tongue and pen touched on everything from prison reform, crime prevention, and animal cruelty to dueling, Sabbath observance, and philanthropy.  With her four unmarried sisters, she established a girls’ school, eschewing the “superficial nature” of women’s education at that time.  Income from this and her writing, along with an annuity provided by a suitor (who had jilted her three times), allowed her to be financially independent, thus giving her the freedom to put feet to her convictions.  For example, when the hideous living conditions in the impoverished Cheddar Gorge came to her attention, she and her younger sister established themselves in the area, started a Sunday School, and went door-to-door to assess the peoples’ needs.

Abolitionist

Every gift, every experience, every social contact, and every ounce of confidence that Hannah More had gained as a writer and a reformer were marshaled in her pursuit of emancipation for slaves in the British Empire.  At a time when Britain owned more than half the world’s slave ships,  Hannah More joined William Wilberforce in the decades-long marathon effort of awakening the social and political conscience of the people through any means available to them.  On the home front, Hannah refused to serve West Indian sugar (it “had blood on it” because of it’s dependence on the slave trade).  She spoke against slavery at every opportunity, becoming the single most influential woman in the British abolitionist movement.  She died less than two months after the Emancipation Bill passed in the House of Commons.  Her poem “Slavery” was so widely known and so effective in communicating empathy for the slaves that it later inspired David Livingstone to take Christianity to Africa.

Hannah sparkled.  She loved and worked with people of different religions and political convictions because, for Hannah, “life was a feast, and the space at her table was abundant.”  Even when writing on sober topics, Hannah More, “the first Victorian,” managed to write with humor and an engaging style.  I found myself collecting favorite aphorisms as I progressed through the book:

“On the whole, is it not better to succeed as women than to fail as men?  . . . to be good originals, rather than bad imitations?”

We “must never proportion our exertion to our success, but to our duty.”

“It should be held as an eternal truth, that what is morally wrong can never be politically right.”

To “learn how to grow old gracefully is perhaps one of the rarest and most valuable arts which can be taught to women.”

Given her huge impact and her prodigious talent, it would have been easy for a biographer to lionize Hannah More as a plastic and one-dimensional saint.  Karen Swallow Prior has avoided this by examining her flesh-and-blood weaknesses and blind spots.  For instance, Hannah offset her wild productivity with periods of “illness” in which she would take to her bed, often in conjunction with the inevitable criticism she received for her bold stands and actions.  She was very sensitive to the opinions and regard of the “upper class,” and never reached the point where she saw the need for the poor to learn to write.  Too, her lack of practical experience did not stop her from weighing in on how wives should conduct themselves and how mothers should raise their children.

Having said that, Hannah More is on my list of “Women to Have Coffee (fair trade, naturally) with in Heaven,” and this is mainly because her life demonstrated that there is no station or set of circumstances in life that precludes usefulness to God.  Professionally, she was a poet, reformer, and abolitionist.  Personally, she was single, serving, and satisfied.

Disclosure:  This book was provided by BookLookBloggers in exchange for my unbiased review.

Merry Memorandum

Posted with thanks, unabashed hero worship, and apologies to E.B.White (7/11/1899 – 10/1/1985), author of Charlotte’s Web and other beloved tales.   He wrote “Memorandum,” originally published in Harper’s Magazine in October of 1941 and then compiled into One Man’s Meat in 1942 along with numerous other exquisite essays from White’s writing life.  I would listen to this man reading the phone book, and, therefore, celebrate the beauty of “mundane faithfulness” by borrowing his format and style for this blog post.

December 26, 2014

Today I should start tearing down the Christmas tree.  The needles have been falling off for over a week, and if I don’t drag it out of the living room soon, there will be more needles in the vacuum cleaner bag than there are on its branches.  Before I begin, however, I should open up the attic and bring down all the storage boxes so that everything will be put away properly.  This would be a good day to do that because the boys are all home and can help with the sorting.  I ought to repair the damaged ornaments and find hooks for all the orphaned decorations that are piled on top of the piano.  Then everything can be packed away in good condition.  First, though, I need to find the glue gun.  I’ll ask Micah where he left it when he used it to repair one of the nativity scenes.  Then I will pack up all the leftover wrapping paper, gift bags, ribbons, and tags so that I will know if I need to buy more on clearance.  I will store them under my bed, and if I write a note to myself in my planner, I’ll remember that they are there next Christmas.  Maybe.

Today I will drag the Christmas tree farther out into the woods than I did last year.  I’ll take it out where I threw the pumpkins back in November.  The cardinals have all but cleaned up the seeds — scarlet on orange brightening the dull brush pile.   Maybe they’d like a new place to perch.  While I’m at it, I ought to fill up all the birdfeeders.  I’ll have to get a wheelbarrow and find the red scoop so I can do all those chores at the same time.

Once that Christmas tree is out of the house and the floor is vacuumed and the gift wrap is put away,  I should hang the framed print of Andrew Wyeth’s Wind from the Sea that our good friends gave us for Christmas.  That will require a length of picture wire and the right kind of nails, which means a trip to  True Value and, as long as I’m going there anyway, I ought to ask Calvin if we need anything fixed on the chain saws.  While I’m in town, I ought to run into Lincoln’s for some more sour cream.  We’ve got chips left over from Christmas Eve dinner, and the kids will eat them up if I make some onion dip to help them slide down.  Some clementines would be good too.

It is high time I cleaned out the refrigerator which is packed full of little scrids of this and that, leftovers from Christmas entertaining.  This would be a good time to take on that task because the boys are home, and they won’t mind leftovers for lunch.

This would be a good day to run some Christmas goodies down to Charlie and Gail.  I’ll do that before I go to town.  Since I’m going out, I’d better finish up my thank you notes and drop them in the mailbox before the mail comes.  Some of those thank you’s are long overdue.  I should do it today while it is in my mind.

Today I should organize the shelves in the basement.  I’ve given away a fair amount of canned vegetables, pickles and jams this Christmas, which has freed up enough space so that I can rearrange and consolidate.  Of course, the man is coming to work on the furnace the first part of next week, so I ought to find that pile of old sheets to hang in front of all the shelves to keep soot off the jars while he’s tearing everything apart.  I wonder if Ike and Christine would like to keep their cooler at their new apartment since they now have more room.  I’ll have to email them and ask them about that.  If I’m going to be on the computer for that, I ought to put out a blog post this week.  Things have been pretty quiet around here, but maybe I can think of something to write about if I give myself some time.   I see it’s half-past eleven already, though, and everyone will be getting hungry soon.  I’d better get moving, especially since Calvin’s family is coming for lunch at noon.

Blessings to all on this Boxing Day as we all do eternally important things without realizing it.

Do You Want a Quiet Heart?

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled by Martin Lloyd Jones:  A Book Review

Sometimes we get it all wrong when we read Scripture.  We translate sentences through a syrupy grid of sentimentality (“Oh, that’s so comforting . . .”), when what we are looking at is a command.  Do this.

Thus begins sermon number one of Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, a compilation of eight sermons preached by Martin Lloyd Jones in 1951 when Cold War angst and post WWII gloom hung in the air of Great Britain as thick as London fog.  His musings on John 14 are no less relevant in today’s milieu of beheadings and suicide bombers, nor is his thesis:  “The greatest need of men and women in this world is the need of what is called a quiet heart, a heart at leisure from itself.”  He explores the various means that people use to achieve that goal and comes to a firm conclusion:  “The claim of the gospel is not only that it can give us a quiet heart, but also that nothing else can do it.”

Chapter 2 (i.e. sermon number two) sets forth Jesus’ own words as to just how that quiet heart comes about, and it, too, is a command:  Believe in God; believe also in me.  Sermons three through eight go on to reaffirm the foundations of Christian faith, asserting that the substance of what one believes about God does indeed matter, and that the calm and quiet heart that Jesus urges upon his disciples is not merely another anesthetic to numb the inevitable pain of life on a fallen planet.

Although it is tempting to recommend this book as an evangelistic tool for unbelieving family and friends, it may well have a more immediate purpose within the household of faith.  Jones gets to the core of biblical illiteracy and theological holes that plague the church:

“If we want to know exactly what believing in Him means, we must take the entire New Testament, the Acts and the epistles and the light they cast upon Him as well as the detailed records we have concerning Him in the four Gospels.”

We come to Christ through a cross, and the essence of this gospel will remain a mystery to those who neglect the Source of all Truth about God — the Bible.

With the words of Hudson Taylor, Jones urges his readers to “hold on to the faithfulness of God,” (Mark 11:22).  A right view of God will result in a right view of life, including realistic expectations for peace and happiness.  Doubting Thomas becomes the hero of the day, his stumbling, groping statements of doubt setting the stage for Jesus’ clarifying words that resonate through the ages:  “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled is a road map for the seeker, and a homing device for the believer who has lost his way.

This book was provided by Crossway Books in exchange for my unbiased review.

Resurrecting this post for my first link-up with Overflow’s #wholemama community!  Join us!