It's been a long time, guys.
When I was pregnant with Daniel last year (oh yeah...spoilers...we now actually have a BOY in our mix of little girls!), I realized I had to start taking back my time or a whole lot of things were going to sit around 20 years waiting to be done. While I was feeling like we were on an endless merry-go-round of laundry, diapers, meals and little pigtails, things that I wanted to give attention to were starting to slip.
I had an afghan started before getting married that needed to be finished. Our house needed many organizational projects done. Our yard needed work. We needed to get the girls moved into their own room and keep it from becoming a huge mess. There was going to be another baby. And there had to be a way to clear my head and start writing again.
It's been a little like the requirements of the last few years have blown little pieces of me all over the place. I didn't even lose all the baby weight from Elaina's pregnancy because it took too much concentration to pay attention to what I was eating.
Once I got through the survival mode of first trimester, I realized I was going to need to change my thinking if I wanted to pull things back together and be ready to add another baby to the mix.
After some thought, I reached a conclusion: I needed three attitude changes toward TIME.
1.) Yes, there really is time to do lots of stuff!
2.) Our kids need to be on our time, not theirs
3.) Just do the next thing and get it done
Sound ridiculously basic?
For me those were two very important determinations. I've been so busy it's easy to think there isn't time for anything else; but the second attitude change helps the first. Ben and I are supposed to set out the day's timetable, not the kids. Everyone is much happier that way and there is suddenly space for quiet concentration on things like, well...crochet.
As for the last point...the old proverb says the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. You can't waste energy worrying about how the whole elephant is going to get eaten. Just make sure to keep taking the next bite.
So every day, I choose one bite I'm going to take out of the elephant. Is it going to be crocheting in the evening while Ben and I are listening to an interesting podcast? Digging out little trees that have been making our yard scruffy? Spending the afternoon getting baby clothes organized?
Whatever the choice, I've been picking something everyday. And the strangest thing is happening: it seems like I have more time now with four kids than I had with just two.
Taking control of the whirlwind has built a lot of confidence because I don't have a niggling list in the back of my mind always reminding me of the things I'm putting off. If the list does present itself, it's simply in the process of deciding what to do today.
And that afghan? Finally finished, after six years. Longest time it ever took me to finish one, but I've since finished two others that were in line behind it.
Boy, did that feel good.
Abigail has been starting to help me cook.
Ever since Susannah was a baby, we've been watching the cooking show Chopped with Ben's parents and for a while we also watched a spinoff called Chopped Junior. It was pretty astounding what 8, 9 or 10 year old kids could do. In their short interviews, the featured kids usually mentioned they had started cooking with one of their parents by age 3.
I looked over at Abigail and thought, "She's 3."
Not only is she three, but she's been insisting on standing on a chair next to me while I cook since she was about 18 months old. She really wants to do what I'm doing. My first instinct was to tell her to wait and watch, but in the end I realized there really are plenty of things she's already able to do and having her work with me is a priceless opportunity.
It does take a lot of time and patience to cook with a 4 year old. But I have a picture in my mind of what it's like to have a capable 12 year old. Fantastic. It's worth every second of having dinner done late because I was waiting for her to finish painstakingly chopping broccoli. It's not because I want slave labor, it's because I want the camaraderie I experienced growing up. I worked with my mom. I felt like I was part of her. We did things together. We really lived together, focused on the same tasks and goals. It built a strong relationship that doesn't happen if everything is divided into "Mom's jobs" and "Kid's chores". I'm looking forward to having that kind of relationship with my daughters. To undertake things together. To talk together and plan together and make things happen together.
The relationship I have with my mom didn't build overnight. It happened over hours and days and months and years as she worked with me and I was gradually capable of more and more. After a while, we could do things together seamlessly because we were so used to accomplishing the same tasks together. It's a little surreal to be starting over again as the mom this time. I remember when my mom let me try making baked things for the first time. Looking back, she was incredibly permissive to let me try making apple cake with no recipe. I need to keep in mind what it felt like to be the kid now that I'm the mom.
In the whirl of taking care of everyone and keeping up with the growing tasks that accompany our growing family, it would be very easy to overlook the small things like letting the youngest child possible to the biggest job possible and letting them do tasks with me instead of entertaining them so I can "get stuff done". It's so tempting to "let kids be kids" and keep the adult things separate but in the end it's counterproductive. Kids are learning to be adults and they're going to be at their most wonderful and lovable as adults. So instead of telling Abigail to go play while I make dinner, I'm making it a goal to find something every night she can help me with, even if it's as small as peeling two carrots.
She's doing it with me and that's the important part.
A relative of ours likes to say Ben and I worry about everything.
I hope they're wrong about the "worry". I think we see things differently. A lot of things seem dangerous to us that seem friendly to others. I think we're cautious, not anxious.
Splitting hairs? Not really. "Worry" is something old ladies do when they won't let you pick up a grocery bag because it might be too heavy for you and hurt your back. "Caution" is something a soldier uses in enemy territory when he enters a space carefully with his gun ready instead of assuming he's safe.
We're commanded not to worry ("worry doesn't add a day to your life," Jesus told his followers once). We're also commanded to put on the armor of God and be careful to maintain it. You don't wear armor unless there's an imminent threat. When someone wears armor, they're prepared for a fight. When you're prepared for a fight, it's because you have enemies who want to kill you.
The older I get, the more I realize how thoroughly our enemies have invaded almost every part of normal life. Because we do have enemies. We have enemies who want to separate us from God. We have enemies who want to take our kids from us - at least in mind if they can't manage it in body - and separate them from God if they can't get us.
When I was young, my parents decided to get rid of their TV. It was a good decision. A friend once described a television as a giant sewer pipe pumping into the living room - as many people said, there were good things on TV...but you had to dig them out of the muck and a lot of it got on you in the process.
Today, it seems like TV is the least of our concerns. We have phones that can bring more of the Enemy and his philosophies into our home than all the TV stations available when I was a kid. Phones! In our pockets!
There is no way to guard against all of it, no way to shut our kids off from the sources like there was by just taking the TV away.
I'm stunned at the level of threat existing around us. I must be naive, because I never saw the tool to bring down whatever was left of our society's morality being the undermining of our very genders, the insistence that now we are required to make a decision whether or not God made a mistake when he made us men, women, or even Human. If this isn't the height of chaos, I don't know what is. You can't watch cooking shows without this agenda being pushed, made normal, brought to the forefront of our attention. Bring up a search bar on your phone and it handily fills in what it assumes you might like to search - "impeach Trump". Even my search bar has a chaos agenda!
It's easy to assume there are safe places and dangerous places in the world but that dangerous places are easy to spot. They're not. Increasingly, the places we've been conditioned to trust - churches, for instance - are just as dangerous as the places we were taught danger lived, like bars or clubs.
Thing is...the way to protect our children has never been to simply remove them from all danger. It's to teach them how to wear armor and use a sword. And to go through every doorway with weapons drawn, because it's foolish to assume any space is safe.
Yep, we look like worriers. Paranoid. Purveyors of tinfoil hats..
But in the end, I'm hoping we're actually warriors and we have a chance of raising our kids to be the same.
When we go out in public, we attract a lot of attention these days.
We're hardly the Duggars, but it's not that common to see families with three small children under four. We must look like a variety show. And as I remember from childhood in my own family, people have this inexplicable urge to stop us for two reasons:
1.) To tell us how beautiful our children are; and
2.) To then tell us how much we're going to regret having them when they're older
Part of me thinks this might just be Human nature. If you see someone with something good, you have to bring them down a notch or two. Instill some fear into those smiling faces. Let 'em know it's not all fun and games down the road. You're going to have THREE WEDDINGS to pay for, you realize. And college. And braces. And heaven help you, those girls are going to start dating at 15 and you can't stop them. Got your shotgun ready, Dad?
Well, no. To be honest, I haven't even thought about weddings. Boyfriends aren't concerning, I'm not sure college has anything to offer our girls they can't get at better quality somewhere else. At the moment I'm mostly concerned with making sure everyone has shoes on the right feet and is sitting peacefully in the cart without falling out while standing to get a better look at something. The future is certainly there, definitely needs planning for, but is it really so bleak?
I wonder if this has always been the way older parents spoke to younger ones. "Wow Noah, nice boys...just wait till they're older and they're not so interested in helping you with this whole ark project..."
Or is this general discouragement about children a product of our selfish, greedy society? All the tools parents and children ever had to live with and enjoy each other are being systematically stripped away - parents can't discipline their children, children can't respect their parents, etc., etc. It's a bleak outlook for most young families, the future most likely being one in which children and parents drive each other crazy, institutionalizing each other in turn in bizarre imitation of the circle of life until the parents die and the children are left struggling with their own offspring.
One older father from Lebanon told us last week, "Yeah, I was one of ten, but in this country you can't have children like that. They want too many expensive things. You just can't afford big families. I took my son to get new shoes and he wanted to get a pair for $176 and we compromised on $150. No way he'd live like I did wearing my older brother's clothes. Three children is enough, believe me."
It wasn't the right time to tell him we'll have four by November, if God is willing.
I'm reminded almost daily about a seemingly small, maybe insignificant to most, promise contained in the words of Gabriel to the incredulous Zachariah concerning the imminent arrival of Elijah, aka John the Baptist: "He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers."
It's a recall of the prophecy given to Malachi: 5“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 6And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”c (Malachi 4:5-6)
This is a stunning prophecy. It's even more amazing in light of the common relationship between parents and children today. We don't have each others' hearts. We're separated right from birth (it's frequently advised that young mothers leave their infants with others frequently so the kids can "get used to it") and everything about our world teaches the separation is good, wise and necessary. Children have to make their own way. Parents need to focus on their lives apart from the children because when the children leave the parents need to have some other life to fall back on. No matter how much we love each other, we were born to be separated and that's just how it is.
That's apparently not quite the way it's supposed to work in the Kingdom of Heaven. The outlook isn't supposed to be bleak. We're supposed to be able to be together in heart if not always in body. We're not supposed to be a burden on each other. I am overwhelmingly grateful to the rare few who come up to us and say, "Beautiful children. You've been very blessed" with no caveats, no warnings of a grim future, no dire predictions of how much we're going to suffer at our childrens' hands.
Boy, if there were ever a promise to cling to...this one about the Kingdom being a place where the hearts of children and fathers are turned toward each other is high on the list.
I've been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books to my two older girls lately.
The series was a favorite of mine growing up. "Little House in the Big Woods" was the first chapter book I struggled to read. It was winter and I had just turned five. It took a week or two for me to conquer that book, sitting curled up on the furnace register with an afghan, determined to decipher the words on the page so I could absorb the story without anyone needing to read it to me. It was the first time I looked at words and began using them to form pictures in my head so I could "see" what was happening. By the time I completed "Little House in the Big Woods", I had learned to read. By the end of "Little House in the Prairie", I could speed read and devoured everything I could get my hands on.
(This, by the way, had it's dangers. I'm already on a campaign to keep the girls from reading to themselves until they're eight or nine. Safer for them that way.)
Because I read the Little House series so many times early on in my life and at the beginning of my discovery of books, I thought I had a pretty good memory of how they went.
It came as a complete surprise to discover how totally different they are to me now. Instead of identifying as much with the little girl whose memories are the focus of the books, I see things much more from her parents' perspectives.
When I was little I'm not sure I had the understanding to recognize how remarkable Charles and Caroline were. They were extraordinary (and in Pa's case, I can't help but think extraordinarily reckless) people. They had the guts to drive off into empty prairie with three little girls and start building a home on terms it's hard to even imagine. The prairie was enemy territory on a variety of levels, under the control of semi-hostile Indian tribes and filled with unpredictable dangers like blizzards and fires and snakes they'd never seen before. There were no towns, no stores, no roads, nothing but wild grassland. Pa drove out into the middle of this empty country without a map, a road or official permission, dropped his wife and three small children onto a decent-seeming patch of ground, and started hauling trees from the creek bottom to build a homestead.
Sitting in our nice comfortable house, I can barely comprehend how they had the knowledge and courage to do this. They seemed to know how to DO everything, from building houses to animal husbandry to making cheese. Laura recounts casually how there was a lot of milk coming in one summer while they were still in Wisconsin and Pa and Ma decided it was time to make cheese, so they got a piece of a calf's stomach from Pa's brother and Ma went through a complicated cheesemaking process using a woodstove to heat the milk to the right temperature and their pantry and muslin cloths to age it properly.
How did she do that while washing the laundry by hauling water, keeping track of three children, cooking on open fire and tending a full kitchen garden? The accomplishment was spectacular.
My respect for Ma in particular has at least quadrupled. She not only quietly tended to all these household tasks, but when her husband announced in March (March?! There was snow on the ground!) that he had just sold their nice warm little cabin and they would be heading out into Indian Territory in a few days, her comment was, "Must we leave while it's still so cold?"
When he said, "Yes, because we need the Mississippi to be frozen when we cross," she packed up their home and left without a single complaint that Laura remembered.
At one point, they nearly capsized the wagon and drowned in a flooded creek trying to ford it while it was too high. Ma and Pa worked together to get the wagon across while keeping their small children and the horses from panicking. They almost died a sudden terrifying death. And Ma's comment when they get safely to the bank?
To be that steady and reliable of a wife...!
The series is sometimes noted for Laura's headstrong feminist tendencies later in life (she pointedly refused to vow to obey her husband during their wedding because "I could never obey a man against my better judgement"), but her mother - arguably the hero of the story even though it's usually Pa who takes front and center - is an awe-inspiring example of a wife doing what she was made to do. If Pa was the head of their home - and he unquestionably was - Ma was the backbone. She believed in her husband. She followed him. She did whatever it took to work with him and make their life succeed. She did not complain. She did not seem to get discouraged. She lost children, cheerfully worked harder than I can imagine, endured fear, uncertainty, hardship, sickness and poverty because of her husbands' choices...and she still loved him and joined into his plans with a devotion often mocked today by women who can't keep their marriage vows longer than a few years. It's amazing to read. It's striking to see how her daughter both respected and rebelled against her mother's example.
I didn't expect to be learning new lessons from the Little House books when I opened them up to begin reading to Abigail and Susannah. What I'm taking away is how far I still have to go to be a truly good wife. It's going to be a lifetime project. My husband is also a pioneer, if in a different (and better) way than Charles Ingalls. I hope to someday measure up to being a wife of Caroline's caliber.
Elaina Joy Turner.
When a child is born, we go through this strange ritual of registering them with the State. Officialdom wants to know all kinds of random facts about all of us: how many of my pregnancies have resulted in live births and how many in deaths, what county Ben was born in, whether or not we were married at the time of the new child's birth, what my beginning and ending pregnancy weight was, how educated Ben and I are, where the child was born and whether it was where we planned for her to be born, and on and on.
But the very first question is simple and yet perhaps the most profound.
What is the child's name?
Then, in juxtaposition, what is the child's mother's maiden name?
A name is something that stays with you your whole life. It's what identifies you to those you love - if someone mentions a close relative's name, a complete identity immediately goes with it.. When I see my maiden name on that birth certificate form, I know it like I know my hands. It's me. The name is the label for my identity, the brand marking who I am. It's a little surreal to see it in conjunction with one I helped to choose, giving someone else a lifelong identity.
Elaina, our third daughter, carries the name of my parents' third daughter, the one I never knew growing up because she never came home. Her death was a distinct marker in my childhood, her name the labeling of an identity we never had the chance to know. It's a little strange to have the name in use again instead of being simply a reference to someone whose story is already finished. My parents did the same for my father's dead brother, giving his name to one of their sons. Maybe someday one of my girls will have a son named Joshua. That's a pleasant thought.
To some it's probably a macabre tradition, but there's something very satisfying about taking the name of someone you love who is gone and re-gifting it to a brand new life, putting it back in use and presenting it as the title of a new identity. For years we've celebrated my sister Elaina's birthday because her life and death changed so many things within my family and we saw God's hands so clearly it seemed like one of those things to make sure to remember. I wonder if naming a new baby with her name will change any of that tradition.
Whatever happens, this official piece of paper declaring Elaina Joy Turner's birth is just part of the opening to a new life's story, one I marvel at even as I'm watching. it happen. How amazing...Lauren Michelle Tuckfield married a man named Benjamin Paul Turner and together they have three daughters: Abigail, Susannah and Elaina.
Welcome to our family, Elaina Joy. May you bless your name with a life that will make your Creator smile when he calls you before him. Because when he calls you, it will most likely be by the name Ben and I just gave you, the one that will mark you as yourself for the rest of your existence.
I look forward to knowing you, baby girl.
My Nana died last week.
She's been fighting pancreatic and liver cancer in combination with Parkinson's Disease and congestive heart failure for several years. A few weeks after Ben and I got married, she was given about 18 months to live.
With characteristic stubbornness, she survived nearly five more years and saw four (almost five) great grandchildren along with many other events she didn't think she'd make it to.
With another characteristic gesture, she insisted for nearly the whole time she was ready to die and couldn't keep going any more.
Anyone who's had experience fighting her conditions knows if you're really ready to die, you don't outlive professional expectations by some 400%. But if you knew Nana well, you knew what she said wasn't always exactly what she meant.
Death, when it finally came, was probably from the Parkinson's disease. Within the space of about three weeks, she became almost completely paralyzed and lost nearly all ability to speak. When I saw her the night before she died, she was unable to comment on the conversation I had with Papa next to her bed, but she did her best anyway. She commented with her eyebrows and expressions even though her eyes were closed and she didn't say a word. The last reaction I got from her was when I commented that I was ten or eleven years old before I realized she was half German because to hear her talk, she was 100% Irish. She gave a small snort of laughter and made the face she always got when someone told her some fact she thought was funny.
But her real last words to me were, "Oh come here, honey. You and I both knew this day would come. It just is what it is."
That was a couple of weeks ago when I came in and found her bedridden at last, sound asleep and with that indefinable look a person gets when they are near to death. She and I have been very frank about the fact that she's been dying the past few years. I've teased her a little about the number of times in the past she's talked about "kicking the bucket" and she's talked about how after she's dead Papa ought to get married again "as long as it's not to so-and-so, because if he marries her I'm going to haunt him."
I haven't cried about it. Much.
But that day, I had a hard time not crying while she was asleep and when she opened her eyes and said, "Well hello, hello, hello," as she usually did, I melted into a puddle. That's when she put her arm out to hug me and told me "it is what it is".
"I'm going to blame being pregnant," I said. "I cry at Hallmark commercials right now."
"That's right," she said. And that was the end of crying about it while she was alive. Because she was right: death comes and it just is what it is. No matter how much we miss someone, no matter how we want to hold that time back and have just one more day, at some point there isn't another day. And as my dad says, on the day you lose someone you love, you often have to take the garbage out because life goes on.
Throughout my life, Nana has loomed large. Busy, bossy, loving, loyal, gruff and fiercely protective, she's the kind of person who definitely makes her presence felt. Short and plump, she wasn't necessarily an imposing person (unless she got mad), but she made up for it with strength of personality. She was a force to be reckoned with and did not suffer fools lightly.
In many ways, I am a lot like Nana. I look most like her out of my other ancestors and many of my instincts and personality characteristics follow hers. She's taught me many lessons, both in examples to follow and ones to avoid. But when Dad - who conducted the funeral since the chaplain she requested was unavailable - asked me the day before the service to pick a personality trait of hers to write about and read, I chose to bring up Nana Code. The thing responsible for her saying she was ready to die when she was fighting so hard to live.
Nana Code is a system of communication where Nana often said things which didn’t totally reflect what she thought.
My birth highlighted a perfect example of how this code works.
For years, Nana insisted there was no way, no how she was going to share her birthday. “I’ve shared everything,” she would say. “My food, my bed, even my underwear; but I am NOT sharing my birthday!”
When my mom went into labor on Nana's birthday in 1982, my dad was a little worried. “Hi Mom,” he said on the phone. “So…did you really mean it when you said you wouldn’t share your birthday?”
“REALLY? OH, THAT’S SO WONDERFUL!!! Are you sure? How’s Mary Kay?” she said. Nana didn't usually squeal on the phone. This occurrence was fairly unique.
When asked about her sudden change of heart, her response was classic: “It’s different when you’re not sharing with someone who lives in the house.”
Ultimately, if you understood Nana Code it meant, “I’m so excited to have a grandchild I don’t care about keeping my birthday to myself anymore.”
Nana’s words often meant something deeper than what she actually said. In the last year or so, she would abruptly end visits with, “It’s time for you to go home now.” She sounded so gruff because she hated having to say it. She was really saying, “I love you so much but I just can’t concentrate anymore and I hate that I can’t.”
Then there was, “Here, let me hold the baby while you eat,” something she said so many times over the years we began anticipating it before she even said it. For a long time I thought she just liked to hold babies – and she certainly did – but she was insistent about this offer for a deeper reason. With three sets of Irish twins – children born less than a year apart – Nana’s experience with child-raising was very intense. One of the things she remembered most was how it was a stretch to do everything that needed to be done, even sitting down to eat dinner. Another was how much she loved having her small children with her. So she’d jump at the chance to have her arms full again while lightening the load on her children at the same time. It might’ve seemed like a random quirk, but it was love.
Because the essence of Nana Code was that Nana’s words just hinted at what was in her heart. If she said something that didn’t make much sense or even seemed offensive, there was a history you had to know if you wanted to understand.
Nana Code is one of Nana’s legacies. Because of it, I learned you need to know a person’s heart to really hear the words they say. Knowing a person’s heart makes you look past things that might otherwise seem offensive or strange.
I love Nana’s heart. It was worth learning to crack Nana Code to see it.
A while back, my family moved into a brand-new subdivision with no homeowner's association. Everyone's paperwork included an agreement that during the final phase of the subdivision's development, the homeowners would gather and create a homeowner's association to support all the restrictions the developer had placed on the properties (which included things like outlawing backyard sheds, banning privacy fences, flag poles, storage pads for campers in the side yard, and so on and so forth).
After we had lived there about a year, one of our neighbors decided to try to organize this association. We weren't thrilled. Homeowner's associations always seem to end up being an excuse ambitious neighbors to indulge their inner Barney Fife.
When we went to the organization meeting, that impression didn't get much better.
The neighbor who most wanted the association was trying to organize it because she couldn't tell other moms at her kids' grade school where she lived and have it be recognized. Apparently this was happening because we didn't have a homeowner's association to levy a tax...er, association fee so we could purchase a sign for the entrance to the sub. "If I tell the pizza delivery man I live in the Split Rail Sub, he doesn't know where it even is - I have to tell him it's attached to Beacon Square and that's just embarrassing. We need to have our own sign and our own identity!"
When an older neighbor objected to the expensive yearly fee, the organizer told him, "Well, people of your generation didn't care about things like this, but my generation likes to have a real identity."
As if you can call being defined by what group of cookie-cutter houses you live in "identity".
People today cling hard to their labels. It's a shortcut to avoid deeply knowing people and valuing them by character. Character takes a while to learn and experience to assess. Labels take a few seconds to assign.
It may have been at that homeowner's meeting when I began to realize I relied heavily on labels. And while some labels are unavoidable (I will always be a girl and not a boy, for instance), many are superficial and can really blind us to the actual person standing there right in front of us.
That's not to say labels are entirely inaccurate. To say I'm a thirty-something homeschooled white evangelical Christian right wing conservative homemaker is true. But seeing me through a sort of computer program you can plug parameters into for a definition would overlook ME in the process. If you happened to be labeled a highly-educated Jewish liberal professional, you'd expect we had nothing in common and might even hate each other.
And yet in real life, I'm not only very fond of someone with that exact set of labels but they are fond of me as well. Because I also know other things about that person, Things about their character. They are not the sum of their labels. And neither am I.
Labeling other people prevents us from truly knowing them. Even worse, labeling ourselves prevents us from knowing ourselves.
After that homeowner's meeting, I began thinking about how to truly know people. I remember reading the list of attributes I'd made for a potential future husband and throwing it out. It was a very long list. It got very short. The difference between the short list and the long list was Goodness. I decided I needed to find a man who loved Good. In order to do that, I was going to have to love Good enough to know something about what it was.
The long list required surface attributes to measure whether a man might be an acceptable husband. The short list didn't care about the surface. The long list could've been run through a computer to find the perfect mate. The short list required thought and care and assessment of a man's actual core beliefs.
Labels are an enemy to being able to see and embrace what is Good. They let us get all caught up in whether a person comes from the "right" family and "right" religious background and "right" political background. They let us think we are doing pretty okay if we've collected all the "right" labels ourselves, like a string of Boy Scout merit badges.
I would probably never have even considered Ben as a husband had I not begun to get a foggy idea of how to see a PERSON instead of their labeling. By the time I met him, I was able to see him as a lover of Good, not as a public-schooled "baby Christian" who wasn't sure whether he'd get rid of a television in his house. (In the end, he's wound up being firmer about "no TV" than I am...and someone with deeper faith too.)
I have friendships today I might never have had if I had simply labeled them and then been disappointed they didn't end up matching the label.
I have more freedom to change my thinking and look for a "renewing of the mind" than I would if I saw my identity as bound to a series of arbitrary labels.
Here's what we are hoping to teach our children: ignore the labels. Seek out what is truly Good and love it. Don't accept counterfeit approximations hiding under nice-sounding banners. If there was ever a time when we needed to do this, it's now when "the love of many grows cold".
Because a long time ago, God's Son came here carrying his Father's name and power and way too many people with all the "right" labels couldn't recognize him because he didn't have all those labels himself. He didn't come from the right part of the country. He hadn't gone to their schools. He didn't conduct himself as they thought Messiah ought to.
And if it happened before, it's bound to happen again. When Jesus comes back, I think we might all end up being at least a little shocked who he really is when we see him in person. Only our deep and sincere love of Good is going to let us truly welcome him back.
"Cognitive dissonance" is a term used to describe the effect on a person's mind when something they have always taken for granted to be true is challenged. It's the mind's version of an orchestra tuning up: an unpleasant confusion of non-harmonic notes.
Ben and I have spent a lot of time talking about cognitive dissonance over the past few years, about what it means and how to address it. For me, this dissonance is almost physically painful. The easiest (most arrogant) thing to do when my assumptions are challenged is to dismiss the contrary idea as foolish and not worth thinking about. It's actually very difficult to go beyond that point, accept the challenge and use research and reason to either conclude that my original assumption is correct or realize it's incorrect.
Many of us when faced with cognitive dissonance find it so painful we do not even try to address it. The only reason I'm learning to is because Ben so fully had to embrace it in order to change from the way he used to think to how he thinks today. He is much quicker to embrace cognitive dissonance and search for an answer to resolve it than I am.
But leaving cognitive dissonance unresolved means caring for our own idea of what is true rather than loving what really IS.
One of the things I've been noticing in the current political race (and I apologize for two political blogs in a row, but it's been a riveting primary season and I've been doing a lot of research...more on that in a minute) is many peoples' eminent refusal to actually search out and find the truth for themselves about candidates they like and accusations against them. If anyone says anything about a candidate we happen to have pinned all our "like" on, it's easy to dismiss the accusation as sour grapes or a biased perspective or an outright lie, etc., etc.
It's not easy to start rooting around and find out the answers for ourselves.
For instance, I've liked Ted Cruz for a number of years now, especially since the Obamacare debates in Congress. However, when he first declared his intention to run for president, Mike Farris of HSLDA - someone I have a lot of respect for after taking a class from him and reading his articles and opinions over a good portion of my life - said he would never choose Cruz as a primary candidate because "he backed the Iran deal". That was a stunning accusation to me since I was familiar with Cruz's speeches AGAINST the Iran deal and there didn't seem to be any wiggle room for backing it. If, after that kind of posture, he had actually voted for the deal in some way...that was a deal killer for me too.
It took me two weeks of research to chase down why Mike Farris said what he did. I had to read too many very dry articles about Congressional procedure and had to go through Ted Cruz's voting record, looking up each bill and amendment he voted on to get a summary of what it was and what it did in order to find anything related to the Iran deal. I finally figured out what Mike Farris was talking about: Ted Cruz voted "yes" to move the Iran Nuclear Review Act forward in Congress, which ultimately ended up allowing the President to lift sanctions on Iran without the deal being properly reviewed and approved by the representatives of the people. He also explained why: because he had hope the Iran Nuclear Review Act would at least slow things down and keep the debate going to allow for further amendments that would ultimately stop the deal completely.
That hope failed. But I don't think he was backing the deal. He was trying to find someway, somehow to stop it.
Now, Mr. Farris may still be correct. I could be misreading things. I'm not an expert in chasing down all the possible angles of votes like these. But at least I know what I think based on what happened instead of what various people wrote opinions about.
(And speaking of dry facts, some of the other ones I've chased down recently have involved reading the last quarter of financial reports from the different campaigns. Turns out Donald Trump isn't exactly funding his own campaign - donors are, just as with everyone else's campaigns. The only difference is that Donald is apparently gambling on winning and has loaned his campaign about a quarter of the funds that've been used. Loaned. As in "expects to get paid back"...although its unclear whom he expects to pay him back. Donors? Probably. I know...fascinating...but after all, he's made a huge foundation of his candidacy being that he's so rich he's not dependent on anyone and he's self-funding his own campaign just to prove he can't be bought. And that's...not exactly true. I also do see why he gets audited so often - if he really hires "the best of the best" to do everything, he needs to hire someone else to do his campaign financials because they're pretty sloppy compared to everyone else. Perhaps his income taxes are just as squirrelly.)
The point here is that I encountered cognitive dissonance: someone I respected had something pretty serious to accuse someone else I respected about. I could've just ignored Mike Farris. Or I could've just bounced on to a different candidate to support and forgotten about Cruz altogether. It takes a lot of effort and thought to reach back through other peoples' analysis and find the information to form a thought myself. It takes so much effort that I don't relish it and wish I could just trust other people to write nice neat articles affirming or refuting these kinds of accusations.
But that's not how good decisions are made.
The same holds true in all facets of life. Learning to ask ourselves questions, to face the process of chasing down the answers and not accept careless assumptions in the process, to keep probing our own minds to make sure we aren't just taking in what someone else has said as our own belief...it's the toughest challenge to face, I think. Looking objectively at my own mind and singling out things I've taken for granted that may or may not be true is seriously tough. Questions are disturbing. Change hurts.
If there's one thing about an earnest desire for truth, though, it's that you have to be willing to look at the one-star reviews on an Amazon listing instead of just accepting the five-star ones because you'd like the cool product. You have to be able to look at questions you don't want to ask and not be content with surface explanations. You have to be willing to look at yourself and say, "I know I thought this...but I was wrong."
And then change direction and love truth more so that next time it won't be quite as painful.
An election is about ordinary people being asked a question: "Out of these available candidates, whom do you think is best suited to run the country the way you believe it ought to be run?"
A lot of times, people make the mistake of thinking the question really is, "Who is the perfect man/woman we can put all our faith in to set all the wrongs of our world right?"
This means we often are really excited about "our guy" winning, only to be deeply disappointed in who he actually turns out to be. He passes massive spending bills when we were convinced he was a dyed-in-the-wool small government friend. He bows when he ought to shake hands. He can't seem to get rid of abortion or even encourage reducing it's occurrence even though he sounded so fervently indignant about it on the campaign trail. He wobbles when asked to stand firm in the face of worldwide pressure to do bad things. He comes out in favor of mandatory vaccines when we thought he was staunchly for the freedom of parents to make decisions for their children. And on and on.
Sometimes our ire is justified. Sometimes politicians do lie about their beliefs to appeal to the people they think will be most likely to vote against their opponent. It's regrettable, but true.
Most of the time, it's our own fault. We pick these people out of starry-eyed idealism rather than reading and listening and studying facts.
It's a little bit like today's marriage woes. We've been sold the idea of "falling in love" so long that we fail to see the selection of a husband or wife as the weighing of someone else's true foundational thoughts and philosophy. Romance takes center stage and thoughtful reasoning is left on the shelf.
Which is how so many wives can lament, "I had no idea he was a drinker" or husbands say, "She cares what her friends say more than what I do." People today resort to living together for a while before marriage in a kind of "trial period" hoping to really get to know the other in a real world sense, but romance and feelings are still central and philosophy is not and so both cohabitation and marriage wind up in bitter divorce at least 50% of the time.
Selecting our leaders has become the same way. This is my theory as to why presidential approval ratings so often go from really high to really low when the man himself is only doing what we should've expected if we really listened to what he said while he was interviewing for the job.
We like being romanced by candidates. We like hearing the things we want to hear and joining a Movement, being held up and comforted by a tide of excitement and hope and it's-a-whole-lot-of-us-righteous-guys-against-the-massive-evil-bad-guys mentality.
We get swept up in the speeches and the promises and our own idea of who someone is and totally miss who the man himself really is and what he really thinks, based on the evidence of what he's done with the rest of his life.
Which brings me to this fascinating, bewildering election we're watching unfold.
I've always viewed elections as something I could have a very strong opinion about but not really do much about.
In other words, I can answer the fundamental question about whom I think should lead, but the final overarching answer is always God's. No matter what I think or do, he ultimately chooses leaders and deposes them. So I more or less sit on the sidelines, eat my popcorn and watch interesting developments before contributing my one little drop to the ocean of opinions.
My strongest opinion actually has nothing to do with what candidate to actually vote for. It has to do with my responsibility in how to vote.
Since I believe it's God who ultimately chooses, my job is, as usual, to be answerable to him for every action I take. When I stand before him someday, he isn't going to talk to me about how well (or terribly) I did choosing a leader for my country. He's going to be weighing my heart to see if I loved him first or if I let my feet go where they wanted without his input. My responsibility is to vote for whom I believe - based on whatever evidence I can find, not my feelings - to be closest to what God would want; and, absent anyone even close, to vote for someone who will do the least harm to what God would want. That's what I'm answerable to him for. Not the ultimate decision. Just mine.
My responsibility isn't to long after the perfect candidate or decide any of the options ARE. Unless Jesus has come back and is ruling as King, there is no perfect candidate. And Jesus isn't going to be voted in, so I don't have to worry about it.
It's not to choose the man who embodies my anger the best.
It's not to choose someone I feel most comfortable with when I see him speak.
It's not to be swayed by every manufactured emotion I'm supposed to feel but to judge based on the clearest evidence I can gather.
It's not even to pick someone I feel would be best for our family finances, though that's probably a better reason than choosing someone embodying anger and frustration.
I need to vote for the most good in the most practical way possible. And then leave the decision to God, not being angry or frustrated when the result isn't what I thought it should be.
This is why I read what the candidates say for weeks or months before I ever see them speak on TV. Because you can be fooled by what you see on TV a lot easier than what you read in a man's words. This is why I'm more interested in the overall pattern of their behavior than of their specific stances on issues which may change given the right incentive. This is why I can tell you much more easily whom I would absolutely not vote for rather than whom I would: because my process of choosing works by elimination, like answering multiple-choice questions on a test.
Whether someone is successful or not, if they got there by lying, cheating, and bad behavior, I'm going to assume they will continue that pattern.
If someone overall appears to be seeking good but has done things I don't agree with, I don't necessarily hold the mistakes against them.
If someone isn't of the same religious background I am but I still see evidence of an upright individual doing his best to do what's right, I won't hold the doctrinal differences against him.
If the person I think is the best candidate doesn't end up being an option to vote for, I don't refuse to make a decision because "my guy" isn't in the race anymore. (I did consider this for the first time this year, but my brother has talked me out of it by reminding me that my job is to make a decision based on what's in front of me, not what I WISH was in front of me...)
Voting is not romantic. It's not about what makes me feel the best. It's not about picking whoever says what I happen to be thinking at the time. It's about choosing someone the closest to good among the options I'm presented with.
And that's why - in this primary season - I can't vote for Donald Trump. He's the romantic candidate. But romance alone ends in bitterness, disillusionment and divorce and that's what I foresee happening with a potential Trump presidency. It's not just differing opinions. It's my basic approach to weighing a candidate: good first, ideas second, evidence of life as backup. Donald Trump doesn't factor God into his decisions and so his decisions will not be made by seeking what's good.
Whatever good you think he will do, it will be offset by the evil he will just as casually do because he doesn't understand or value goodness.
Other candidates may ultimately not value good either. But we have evidence on this one. I wish I could plead with everyone I love not to get married just because they "fall in love" and not to vote for a leader because they think he sounds or looks good in the position. Divorce is a bitter, ugly, heartbreaking catastrophe; and so is following a man who doesn't believe in good but in winning.
As Popeye said, "Bad is bad even if it helps ya."
So now I've voiced my opinion. And whatever decision God makes, it's for a good I'm too small to be able to see.
May the best man win.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
Please don't be shy! If you're reading the blog updates, we'd like to hear what you think. Click on the "comments" link to send us a note.