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When people say “before I was a parent, I expected _____ about raising kids, but now…” What it kind of sounds like to me is “don’t bother spending these waiting years preparing to be a good parent; you’ll only get it wrong.” Thing is, I sincerely disagree.

I know preparation isn’t the same as living it. But the solution to the barren thinking they would never let their kids throw fits in grocery stores is to share your experience, not put them down for trying to plan well and aim for good things. I think it is a huge problem that many people enter parenthood with so little experience, training (discipleship), or intentionality. They have no idea what are reasonable expectations.

On the other hand, believe it or not, many childless people have lots of experience interacting with non-ideal children. Some have seen lots of different homes and had more time and less personal investment (defensiveness) to synthesize what they’ve learned. It isn’t everything. It is NO justification for them being arrogant or judgmental. But God seemed to put parents together with non-parents, in community, so maybe we could learn from each other and encourage one another instead of silencing our companions.

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How Jesus Sounds

I have never realized it before, and perhaps that’s a ridiculous fact, since I’ve read the gospels over and over, heard Sunday school stories and sermons and Christian songs for decades.  But just tonight I realized how easy it is to relate to so many different people Jesus spoke to while on earth.

 

Here’s how I described them on Facebook earlier, and I relate to every single type, at least a little:

[I’m] remembering what Jesus sounds like, to mothers and rich young rulers and zealous disciples and grieving women, to those sitting at His feet and those longing to be healed, to the inquirers who aren’t sure there’s hope for them, to askers of silly questions, to doubters and fearers and sinners and strivers. To little children and we who aspire to be like them. To goad-kickers and prison-wait-ers.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

There is a popular idea coming out of our analysis of the new thing that is social media: that social media’s tendency to make echo chamber, confirmation-bias-reinforcing bubbles is a bad thing for growing as human beings.  I don’t think this concept is entirely without merit. But I think it may depend on the type of person you and your friends are.

 

First of all, I have observed the use of social media for things that have nothing to do with affirming preconceived ideas, unless it is the idea that one’s own children are cute and that their grandparents enjoy pictures of them.  There are other social media users who only exchange amusing morphed pictures of their faces with friends, or who only play games using the platforms, or watch and share Grumpy Cat memes. Some people basically only use their social media as a platform for marketing their business.  The lesson to be learned from this fact is that social media’s effect is, in part, a consequence of how you use it. This is hopeful, because it means we can choose how to act based on the kinds of outcomes we aspire to.

 

We can be the kind of people about whom the sociologists warn, who use Facebook only to get “likes” from people who agree with us, and to read the simple slogans of others who are stating thoughts we’ve already had (or adopted).  We can steer clear of anything that we’re not sure our group would agree with, and berate anyone in our network who dares to publish statements or photos or videos that the “group” hasn’t accepted.

 

Or, if we want to be the kind of people who learn and are able to be corrected, we can pursue that goal.  

I am struggling with the argument that in order to be this kind of social media wielder, one must network with people whose ideas are radically opposed to one’s own.  I believe my struggle comes from two main places: that I am a minority among my friends, when considering the kinds of topics I like to discuss on Facebook; and also that it is proper to discriminate in personal friendships against people who are fools.  

 

I know that, relative to Americans at large, my circles look like a very small-minded bubble.  Most of my friends are, like me, Christians, pro-life, compassionate, and lovers of freedom. But I am actually in a minority for my beliefs and morals even among my own several hundred Facebook friends.  My religious and political views, standards of human behavior, ideals for life and society, principles of economics – are all things that I am at odds with almost everyone about. The differences may be nuanced, but they are real.  This being the case, I experience being almost constantly challenged by my associates. And where I am not contradicted, I am exposed to aspects of the topics that I haven’t considered before, or haven’t delved into. I hypothesize that most people who are interested in thinking deeply on these subjects, and applying them to life, have a similar experience.  

 

Also, I have exposure to the larger world’s ideas through colleagues and clients at work, through shopping, watching TV and movies, and advertising – enough to know that there are ideas different than mine and different than what I witness on social media.  In addition to being a comfort when I feel inundated by foreign values and beliefs in my larger culture, it is also helpful to have some people closer to my values to help me evaluate and respond to these disagreements with the world around me in a constructive, insightful way.  

 

My familiarity with the “other sides” isn’t complete!  I still have moments where I realize I had assumed most people had a common experience or universal understanding of a thing – and it wasn’t true!  Everyone lives in a sort of social bubble, no matter how hard we try!

 

The Bible teaches that the people that we spend a lot of time with will have influence over us.  It warns that “the companion of fools will be destroyed” and “he who walks with wise men will be wise”, that “evil company corrupts good morals”, and “what fellowship has light [those made alive by the work and grace of Jesus] with darkness [those who remain in rebellion against God and its corresponding delusions and weaknesses]”.  Thus, I think it is wise to exclude from among my frequent influencers and counselors those whom I discern to be wicked and foolish. I lament that this is the state of our nation: that there are millions who would debate about simple and obvious things like whether to allow murder of some humans; that there are people so given to their own pleasure that they do not care to evaluate their desires or philosophies (but talk about them anyway).  I wish that we could instead be pooling the wisdom (or at least humble curiosity) of God-fearing and thoughtful* people in order to solve harder questions.

 

*Not every God-fearing person can be classified as thoughtful, and that’s just fine, as long as it is moderate, and as long as non-thoughtful people aren’t trying to have public, in-depth dialogue on subjects where thought is needed.  Being a thoughtful person, I believe it is good to have at least some substantial portion of my acquaintance also be deep thinkers.

 

I believe it is OK, if you are using social media for discussion of important topics, to have some friends who aren’t wise and good.  I’m not a strict isolationist. I would advocate that we keep a prayerful, vigilant watch on the balance of friends and those we follow or subscribe to who are, on the one hand, able to sharpen us and, on the other hand, those who pull us away from good thinking and good acting.  This is true even if social media is, for you, a less profound venture, because any shared experience can build bonds that sway your priorities, even shared fun or simple everyday comments. It may be fine for the proportions to be different if you use the platforms for more lighthearted purposes. But because of the power of words and precepts, it is more important to have the majority of those whom you engage on that level be good companions.  If the majority of your interactions on these deeper issues are outside of social media with a group of friends whose influence is more positive, it may also be acceptable to dabble in social media exchanges with less upright people.

 

I tend towards viewing interactions with wicked fools as condescending (hopefully with as little hypocrisy as possible), and as rescue missions.  This can be a good way to guard against taking them in as “companions”. But, since even “blind squirrels find nuts” – and because in many ways, I am yet also a “blind squirrel”, it is useful to be open to new revelations brought through these people.  At the very least, conversing with them can improve our understanding of them and the experiences that have formed them (and may have formed others in our society, including ourselves).

 

How do we know if we are discerning which people are wise and good, versus which are foolish and wicked?  That’s not something I want to write about right now, but it is something worth considering, with an allowance that we may not be perfect at it, in principle or practice.  

 

In conclusion, I appreciate my social media (primarily Facebook) experience, but also benefit from reminders to be careful that I am using it to build wisdom, rather than pride.  And I hope that others can, as well.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Winter is for…

“Winter is about Innovation.” So said a slogan I saw at work recently. It sounds sloganish. The company was selling new winter sports gear, from shoes to skis to sunglasses. But it made me think. The past couple years I have been thinking a lot about winter. A few friends recently moved to places where winter is stronger than it is in Colorado. And it is hard for them to cope for long weeks of too-cold air and too-grey skies. So we’ve been brainstorming ways to embrace what winter has to offer, or at least to dress it up so that it is not quite so distractingly dreary.

Winter is for innovation. It is easy to think of the things you can’t do during winter. You can’t take long walks. You can’t grow a garden. You can’t go swimming. You can’t play soccer in the park. Amusement parks are closed. Sometimes the snow is so bad that it makes driving dangerous. You can’t leave the windows open all day. You can’t go barefoot. And during the season when we can do all those things, it makes sense to soak them up and not waste the time doing other things.
Winter is for innovation. A farmer has just brought in his harvest. He can start to evaluate whether the crops he planted are what he and his family needs. How did the planting, tending, and picking go? What could he do better next year?
A mom considers her family. They’re growing. What parts of their strengths and weaknesses were revealed in the freer times of summer: from play, from reading, from industry, from strife? How can they work on these things?
Now that the warmer months are over, it is fine to turn on ovens and to slow-cook things. How could a kitchen be more efficient? What simple tools could be added? How can the experience of cooking support the values of the cook, like friends or including children, or listening to podcasts?
Are there craft projects that you’ve been meaning to try? Research on your next car or appliance? Résumés to write? Friends to catch up with? Books to read?
I have one friend who loves New Year’s resolutions. They haven’t been my thing in the past, but I am starting to think that maybe they are an appropriate way to face the winter. Winter can be a time of reflection, recuperation, goal-making, and also, innovation.
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Love Begotten

Love.

On the surface you think it makes sense.  You love someone because you click, or because it’s convenient, or because they love you.  And you do the things that go with love: you spend time, you give things, you make sacrifices.  But then time goes by and it’s become something else, too…

It isn’t that you’re lost in it; you become something else, maybe.  You go through seasons when you can’t remember any of the reasons.  You feel like you don’t have anything in common. You feel like so much of your relationship has been you hurting the other person, and you can’t take those things back, and maybe all the other love-things weren’t worth it.  You can’t think of anything about the person that inspires you – you can’t even bring to mind things that used to inspire you.

But in the middle of all that – and you feel like you’re drowning, feel like you’ve been crazy to have ever thought differently – in the middle of it, you realize there’s still love.  It’s there with a pulse, abiding even when you have nothing to feed it, no reason to believe in it. And it’s hard to even define what it is that’s present that we name love, but you know it is love.

Opportunities come, and they’re wrenching ones, to see some things that this love does.  The person you love gets sick and you’re surprised that all you can think about is rushing over to hold the puke bucket and rub their back.  Or you’re half awake but the first thing you think about is whether they’re ok. You hear them say that they don’t feel loved, don’t believe they’re lovable – and sometimes they don’t even say it, you just find it out – but you get the sensation that you were made for this: to prove that someone is loved, and you want to prove it with everything you have and are and do.  Or they’re in such a dark place spiritually and you can’t stop praying, and the only things you can pray are that God will rescue them.

There are border-lands of this feeling, where you’re conscious of some reasons, where you enjoy loving them, even though it’s still hazy.  You’re not sure what you’re dealing with, so you’re not sure how to act, but love isn’t about figuring everything out and making a plan.

But you know you’re in this state where whether you get anything out of it or not, whether it seems successful or not, whether there’s hope for things to be better ever again.

Or.

Not.

Youknow that none of those things will change the fact that you care about them more than you care about yourself.

It doesn’t mean that your life will end up entwined with theirs, nor that you’ll be asas significant to them.  It just means that love doesn’t go away. You can choose to start loving; you might be able to choose to quit loving; I don’t know.  I do believe, though, that you can’t just fade out of loving a person. Once you’ve invited it, it’s there.

You can still do the not-loving things.  Your love can be weak or it can be caged by all sorts of other feelings and choices – but if it is, you’re going to be miserable, because the love will still be aching inside you.

It’s like a miracle, like begetting children: you do contribute, but you’re not doing it.  You haven’t a clue where to begin to create love, and you’re not powerful enough to do it if you did.  It’s a grace. God gives it.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

It’s happened before.  I hear about a friend whose marriage is rough.  I understand the swirling strain the mind goes through, trying to solve problems.  Is there a way out?  I understand the grief when a thing isn’t what it should be.  It may be the only way to stay sane, to hold tight to the fact that God’s design is better than this.  Marriage is good.  God designed it to be good.  He designed it to be better than what anyone experiences.  And though He isn’t out of control, what we do and experience falls short of the glories God designed.  What we do and experience, though, can still bring Him glory.

 

I digress.  Is there a way out?  If God didn’t intend it to be this way, must I still live in it?  God’s design for humanity is health, but we get sick; we feel pain.  Must we still live it?

 

God’s design for fatherhood is to be one who speaks to his children, teaching them the way they should go, demonstrating love and patience. Fathers chasten their children so that they will learn to be good, God-fearing, and productive.  But if a man fathers a child and then walks away, is he still a father?  Our society is all in a rush, with step-parents and father-figures, to give the title of father to those who come closest to fulfilling the design for that role.  I’m not sure I disagree with an analogous application of the term “father” to someone who is doing the work of a father.  What concerns me is when we say that the man who abandoned his family is not a father.  The thing that, in fact, makes a man a father, is his biological participation in bringing a child into the world.  Are we letting biological fathers off the hook by telling them that unless they act like fathers, they aren’t fathers (and, thence, they don’t have the responsibilities of fathers)?  Perhaps a more difficult question is whether God means for “Honor your father and mother” to apply even to fathers (or mothers) who are not living up to the ideals.

 

So I’ve been pondering the difference between what is essential to a thing, and what makes a thing “good”.  A marriage is one man and one woman covenanting and becoming one flesh for this life.  A good marriage is more.  A good marriage has good communication, good teamwork, is productive and pleasurable.  A good marriage involves each helping the other become closer to God.  A good marriage is a testimony of love to the world.  Do God’s expectations for marriage only apply to healthy, thriving ones?  If one spouse isn’t living up to the ideals of a “good” marriage, is the other spouse free to claim this isn’t going to work out?  Or does “What God has brought together, let no man separate” apply even to marriages that just meet the bare bones definition of a marriage?  (And what are the bare bones of things, in God’s eyes – as He has revealed them to us?)

 

It’s a hard road, but I believe that we are called not to escape the things and people who are broken, but to love them and to mourn over their/our brokenness.  I believe we are to hope for the good, even when it looks impossible.  I believe that when we read the Bible, we must do so submitting to God’s revelation for our understanding of the institutions God instructs us about.  A father begets a child. Those children are commanded to relate to their father with obedience and honor.  Such a father is commanded to treat his children in certain ways.  Marriage is a thing, even if it is a different thing from what we imagined or hoped for when we started it.  Being a Christian is a thing, with responsibilities that we don’t escape by failing to live up to them.  Being a friend is a thing that I’m wrestling with right now, trying to understand what God teaches are the bare-bones essentials of friendship and also what He delights for it to be.  Church is a thing.  Gender is a thing.  How well we live these things doesn’t change what they are.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

I was with my friend the other day, watching her two young sons play.  On this particular summer day, the six year old was standing on the couch with a large foam ax, knocking his four year old brother on the head.  The younger one gave a delighted laugh and begged, “Do it again!”  Both brothers demonstrated their foolishness in what followed.  The one with the ax did it again, but harder, and the one on the floor, less delighted, kept hoping for a repeat of the first delightful tickle and kept asking, “Again!”  And that’s when their mom intervened, warning the armed brother to stop.

 

The little vignette reminded me of our culture.  We think that as long as someone consents to it, there are no limits to what we are justified in doing to them: fornication, assisted suicide, and high interest loans are some examples.  But just like my friends, consent wasn’t enough to determine morality because there is a higher authority.  Their mom hadn’t consented.  She was wiser about the dangers to her sons.  God is wiser about the ramifications of our choices.  And what’s more, He has the ultimate right to our lives.

 

But so many people in our society are in rebellion against His authority.  They actively deny that He has any say over what they do.  We have lost the fear of God, and with it lost wisdom.

 

And this is why I want to celebrate what my friend did.  It seems like a little thing, letting her sons know that she was in charge, and that even their own wills did not overrule that fact.  It is a big thing, pushing back against the philosophical tide made of millions of people and layers of lies.  It is a sweet thing, leading her children in the ways of true wisdom.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn