Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Patience, please!"

Have you ever had that prayer run through your mind, "Lord, grant me patience!" or "Lord, give me peace!"? ...And of course, the result is that you find yourself in increasingly stressful situations till you get to the point where you're afraid to pray for these things at all....

Over the past few years I've been increasingly challenged by things I've learned that part of the problem is that these aren't the best prayers to begin with. After all, the truth is that if we are "in Christ," if we belong to Him because we have believed that He is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one can come to the Father except through Him, then we have these characteristics in our lives already through the Holy Spirit. It is fruit that comes from Him, not something we ourselves produce:
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."         ~Galatians 5:22&23
The key is not to pray for these things, but rather to realize that they are there and to thank God for them. So, an example I heard recently was something along the lines of, If I'm angry with my children, rather than praying that God will give me patience with them, I thank God for the patience that He has given. As a result, the situation is diffused because I'm resting in the Spirit and letting Him work through me, not striving to accomplish something myself.

But does this really work? I admit I've been leery. I've believed it in my head, but I've fought it in action. On the one very selfish hand there are so many situations where I would much rather stew in my frustration and anger. After all, I have been wronged! Everyone should see this and know it!!! My children should suffer the consequences of being obnoxious when they should have known better!!!! (Can't you hear my righteous indignation?) Of course, the glaring problem with this attitude is that it's all about me.... My pride has been wounded. God should be on my side on this, after all.

Not only am I full of pride in this, but I'm letting fear reign. What will change if I let go of this righteous indignation? What if I don't like how God changes me as a result? What will He make me do that might make me act really differently and stick out like a sore thumb in the world around me? Will I face more suffering if I let Him take control of this? I can't handle more of that! Again, one part of my brain sees these fears and scoffs at them. I know "whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day" (1 Timothy 1:12). Don't I know Him? Can't He guard these things? I've seen Him do it. I've seen Him take suffering in my life and turn it into huge growth and blessing. And yet I still fear.

So can I really just thank Him for the fruit and let Him do the work?

I'm trying to take on the challenge. Today was a long day with the kids. We seemed to have meltdowns happening every couple minutes for good portions of the day. Tonight there was a continual rain of tears from Clare and Ev as they scrubbed down and readied for bed. In the midst of it I found myself praying, "Lord, thank you for giving me your patience." I prayed it, though I wonder if I prayed it with a tinge of sarcasm. "Yeah, right.... We'll see...." And then, after stories were read and the kids were tucked in, and more tears were falling from my eldest because her daddy had to work late and couldn't be there to pray with her, there in the midst of all that I realized that I wasn't frustrated with her and snapping at her. The patience was there.... I hadn't changed me at all. God had.

I am in awe. I am humbled.

Now onto tomorrow....

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Books Worth Reading

Saturday morning I finished the second book of a series that was recommended to me by a librarian friend. I enjoyed both books--junior fiction fantasy with some allegorical twists and nods to C. S. Lewis in that a boy is swept from our world into another. So, a fun read, particularly for someone like me who is one of those strange creatures that thrives on certain fantasy and sci-fi :) .

However, I didn't regret putting the book down because another was waiting for me. It is a novel that I'd originally planned read later this summer when we're traveling, but the author has hosted a competition for a great blog post review and I succumbed to the irresistible temptation.... That, and the fact that I don't think I could have waited three more weeks to read it!

The book is The Monster in the Hollows, the third segment of The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson, who is also a talented singer/songwriter. Once again, I was delving into the junior fiction fantasy realm (personally, I think the majority of quality stories are in junior fiction!), but based on the first two books in the series I had a feeling that this experience would be more than just "a fun read."

And it was. No question.

Last fall when I plunged into the first book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, it was well worth the adventure, though I admit that initially I wasn't sure if the book would rank among favorites. I liked the humor, and there was something greatly appealing about a complete work of fiction that had footnotes referencing fantastical historic instances and lofty-sounding texts as if we should all be able to find them at our local library. But at first the book didn't seem quite serious enough with its lizard-like "Fangs of Dang," despite the main characters' fears of the Black Carriage which periodically appeared to carry children away to the realms of Gnag the Nameless. As the story unfolded, however, layers were revealed, and suddenly it was so much more than a funny story. The characters fleshed out and grew, the plot flipped and turned and surprised, and by the end of the book I was hooked. The second book, North! Or Be Eaten, was even better, and by the time The Monster in the Hollows came out last month I knew this was one of those series we'd want on our own shelves. (And it is now--or it would be if I didn't keep lending it out to friends :) .)

So what is it about a book whose protagonist is a twelve-year-old boy that hooks a mom of young kids (kids so young that it will probably be another year before they're able to enjoy the stories)? I've come up with my top nine reasons....
  1. There is nothing like escaping from a world of laundry and dishes into a land where the humdrum of daily life is punctuated by threats of toothy cows (and worse).
  2. You discover that your worst fears for your children's safety and well-being are pretty unfounded in the grand scheme of things. After all, they aren't likely to meet a cloven, or be captured by Stranders, or taken by the Black Carriage, etc.
  3. You find yourself standing taller, because you feel that in some small way you are as gracious and queenly in your children's eyes as the mom in these stories (and she's not perfect; she's just a cool mom!).
  4. When you see your neighbor's overgrown puppy chewing everything in sight it crosses your mind that having a family dog might not be such a bad idea after all.... (NOTE: This is one of the dangers of reading these books!)
  5. When your kids start squabbling, you smile because you know that down deep they really love each other and will stick up for each other, just like the Igiby children--and you have the chance to help guide them in that.
  6. You may have a hard time putting the book down, but you know that you will be well-satisfied when you finish each book, because even though certain themes still need to be resolved, the main plot of each book has been neatly wrapped up. There's no mess left at the end that will nag you and interrupt your day until the next book comes out!
  7. There are songs out there worth singing, drawings worth sketching, stories worth telling, and you get the opportunity to hand them on to your own kids.
  8. Even though the books are set in a different world, the people are real with feelings and internal struggles to which you can relate (and as a result, you see new ways you can handle your own).
  9. No matter how hard things get, no matter what we suffer, God has His hand on each of us. He wants to change "something twisted into a flourish" and take something "bent and make it beautiful" (The Monster in the Hollows, p. 205), and He can do that with our lives when we let Him.
So yes, there are some books that are fun...and then there are other books that are well worth reading.