We aren’t what we wear

logoI recently had an interesting conversation with two young women that I tutor. Members of the Old Colony Mennonites who have been relocating to Canada from Mexico in recent years, they wear traditional dresses and kerchiefs. I’ve been teaching them to read, a skill they didn’t have the opportunity to learn as children. One of their many reasons for wanting to learn to read  is so that they can read the Bible, so we’ve been using a children’s Bible story book as one of our texts.

“Do we have different Bibles or do we just understand it differently?” M asked me after one of our recent sessions. “Our Bible says that we should wear dresses and cover our heads,” she continued. She was clearly referring to the fact that I don’t dress that way.

So what does the Bible actually say?

“A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.” Deuteronomy 22:5

We talked about what that might mean and M was quick to point out that though we might both wear blue jeans, her husband would never wear a top like I was wearing. No one would confuse me with a man because of the way I was dressed!

There was a time, not too long ago, when regardless of what they wore during the week, everyone dressed up to go to church on Sunday morning. Heaven forbid that a woman should wear pants or a man show up without shirt and tie! Thankfully, for many of us, that has changed.

Several years ago, before it became commonplace, I made the very intentional decision to begin wearing blue jeans to church. I don’t wear them every Sunday, but I do make a habit of wearing them quite often.

Why?

There were several young families in our church at the time who were struggling to get their teens to come to church on Sunday mornings. One of the issues of contention was what they wore. The kids rebelled at the idea of having to dress up. It always boggled my mind that anyone would consider one fabric (blue denim) less holy than another and rebel that I am, I felt that if I, sometimes considered a leader in the church, wore jeans, the younger parents might feel more comfortable allowing their kids to do the same.

Who knows? Maybe someday my young Mennonite friends might feel comfortable dressing more casually too. In the meantime, they wear their dresses and I wear my jeans and we have a wonderful time together! After all,

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Blessings in the ordinary and mundane

What are some of the most ordinary, mundane tasks that you perform on a regular basis? Have you ever thought about the fact that there are blessings hidden in every one of them?

I hadn’t either until I was doing my Bible study homework yesterday. Our ladies group has recently started doing Priscilla Shirer’s study, Gideon: Your Weakness, God’s Strength. In yesterday’s lesson, she asked us to list five ordinary tasks that we perform every day. That was the easy part. Later in the lesson she had us look back at the list and beside each task, write down what it indicates about God’s faithfulness and kindness to us.

Referring to the fact that Gideon had wheat to thresh despite the hardships and oppression that he and his people were facing (Judges 6:1-11), she wrote:

“Gideon’s story reveals that even your most mundane duty has a twinkle in the favour of God, for if He removed His blessings completely from you – taking away your home, your family, your work, your possessions – the need for many of your daily tasks would disappear. Don’t despise the very things that signify your seat under the umbrella of God’s goodness each day.”

What an eye opener this simple exercise was for me! One of the tasks that I wrote down was brushing my teeth. Is there anything more ordinary or mundane than that? What could possibly be the hidden blessing? Then I thought about the fact that I have access to unlimited clean, healthy water. I am not in danger of contracting a water borne disease every time I brush my teeth! Globally, approximately twice the population of the United States, or some 6.63 million people, do not have access to clean, safe water! 1.6 million people die every year from diarrheal diseases, including cholera, due to their lack of safe water and basic sanitation. Many more are plagued by tropical diseases and intestinal parasites.

Getting dressed is another routine task that we all engage in, so what’s the hidden blessing? I have a closet full of clothes to choose from and the financial resources to buy more if I ‘need’ them, while there are many who have nothing but the rags on their back. I can even blog about my wardrobe! (Come back tomorrow for the second instalment of my new Fashion Friday! feature.)

Cleaning the bathrooms is one of my least favourite household tasks, but when I consider that approximately 1/3 of the world’s population doesn’t even have a toilet to clean, I know how blessed I am! Astonishingly, more people worldwide have a cell phone than a toilet! Almost one billion people still defecate in the open, a practice that leads to the spread of disease and the contamination of drinking water sources. I don’t mind using an outhouse when I’m camping, but after living and travelling in parts of the world where I rejoiced when I found a western toilet to use instead of a “squatty potty”, I’m pretty thankful to be blessed with toilets to clean!

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. There are hidden blessings in all our humdrum, routine tasks if only we have the eyes to see them!

What are some of your least favourite tasks? What are the blessings hidden in them?

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Pilgrimage

If you know me personally or have been reading my blog for very long, you know that my husband and I love to travel and you may not be surprised to learn that we’re busy preparing for another trip. I included a hint to our destination in my last post, but no one guessed where we’re going. Since I’m bursting at the seams with excitement and can hold it in no longer…

Richard and I are leaving Canada on January 21st for a ten day tour of Israel! Although we’ve explored a number of fascinating places over the years, I don’t know if I’ve ever been as excited about a trip as I am about this one. When someone asked me recently if it was a mission trip or a vacation, I wasn’t sure how to answer. It’s definitely not a mission trip, but I hadn’t really been thinking of it as a vacation either. So what is it? Our pastor came up with the perfect term. We’re going on a pilgrimage!

Pilgrimage, a journey undertaken for a religious motive. Although some pilgrims have wandered continuously with no fixed destination, pilgrims more commonly seek a specific place that has been sanctified by association with a divinity or other holy personage. (www.britannica.com)

Knowing that I’m going to stand on Mount Carmel where the prophet Elijah called down the fire of God and the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus Christ delivered his Sermon on the Mount; enjoy a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus calmed the storm and walked on water; float in the Dead Sea; visit Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, and Nazareth where he spent his childhood; pray in the Garden of Gethsemane and view the modern city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives almost takes my breath away. These are just a few of the highlights of our very busy itinerary!

I’ve prepared differently for this trip than for any other. For me, doing lots of research before a trip is part of the fun of traveling, but this time I’ve done less of that and a lot more spiritual preparation. On Christmas Eve, I started reading through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in my NKJV Chronological Study Bible. Frequently referring to the maps at the back of the book, I jotted down the various locations and what happened at each of them. I’ve read all these accounts many times before, but this is the first time I’ve specifically focused on where things happened and it has really helped tie everything together. I finished that today and will spend the next few days looking at some Old Testament references.

As always, God’s timing is impeccable. My ladies Bible study group recently started doing Beth Moore’s study, Stepping Up, on the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120 to 134). In ancient times, Israelite pilgrims sang these psalms as they made their way up to the holy city of Jerusalem for the three great festivals of the Jewish calendar: Passover, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. What fitting preparation for my own pilgrimage which will culminate in that very city!

Of course, when people hear where we’re going, some of them think we’re crazy. “Aren’t you afraid?” they ask. No, I can honestly say that I’m not. I’m not naive; I know what’s been happening in that part of the world, but afraid? Not in the slightest. I feel a deep sense of peace knowing that we’ll be as much in the palm of God’s hand in Israel as we are anywhere else on the planet. We are going on a guided tour though. We’ve wandered some pretty sketchy parts of Asia on our own, but I do draw the line at the Middle East. There, I want the safety of a group and a reputable tour company that has sent hundreds of people and brought them all home safely.

We’ll be staying in some pretty nice hotels where Wifi will be available, but this is the trip of a lifetime and I don’t plan to spend it sitting at a keyboard. The blog will be silent while I’m away, but I will have lots to share when we return!

Why the rainbow?

What I’m about to say will probably be offensive to some, but I’m going to say it anyway because I am also offended. I understand that there are those who are celebrating the US Supreme Court’s historic decision to legalize same sex marriage across that nation, but I am offended by the rainbows that are cropping up everywhere. I was offended when I came to WordPress to write this post and found a rainbow banner plastered across the top of the page. I was offended when I went to Facebook today and encountered numerous rainbowed profile pictures.

Don’t get me wrong. Am I offended because people are using Facebook’s rainbow filter to express their sexual orientation or to show support for gay friends and/or loved ones? No! I am offended in the same way that I take offence to non Christians taking Christ out of Christmas and Easter. I am offended because the LGBT community chose as their symbol something that God used to symbolize something entirely different. Personally, I think there’s significance in that.

So, how did the rainbow become a symbol of gay pride? For some, it’s many colours simply represent diversity within the LGBT community. The rainbow flag was originally designed by San Francisco artist, Gilbert Baker, in the 1970s and had eight stripes: hot pink to represent sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for serenity in nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit. The pink stripe was eliminated first when Baker approached a company to mass produce the flags and discovered that hot pink fabric was not available commercially. Given what the flag stands for, I find it quite hilarious that he simply chose to eliminate the stripe representing sex! Indigo was later removed to give the flag an even number of stripes. Again, I find it a bit odd that the stripe representing harmony was removed. If there is anything that’s needed where this topic is concerned, it’s harmony!

But, why am I offended by this use of the rainbow? Christian or not, you are probably familiar with the biblical story of Noah’s ark. According to Genesis 6, a time came when “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” Perhaps, a time not so different from our own! We are told that God “was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain.” As a result, He decided to send a flood to wipe out mankind, but He chose to preserve one family, the family of a righteous man named Noah, to begin again. When the flood waters finally receded and Noah’s family, as well as the animals that had been preserved with them, were able to leave the ark, Genesis 9 tells us that God made a covenant with them that never again would flood waters destroy all life on earth. Then, He set a rainbow in the sky as a sign of His promise.

“Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”  Genesis 9:16 NIV

That’s the rainbow I’m thankful for; a symbol of hope in a world that often seems devoid of hope! We live in a time of moral decay and depravity, but our God has promised not to send the flood waters to swallow us up! I take offence to the symbol of that promise being used for anything else, most especially something that I do not believe my God would celebrate.

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As always, I invite you to leave a comment. Given the controversial nature of this topic, however, I urge you to do as I have tried to do and express your views without attacking anyone.

Five at a time!

I love books and I’m an avid reader but with the exception of my Bible, I rarely read more than one book at a time. Though it probably happened back in my university days when textbooks and research papers were the bane of my life, I don’t ever remember reading five at a time before or since! Such an occasion seemed worthy of a blog post especially since I’ve been thinking about following the lead of fellow blogger, Kari Ann, who posted “Five Things Friday” on her Outside Air blog last week.

So what am I reading and why so many books at once?

Bible

In addition to using a daily devotional booklet that takes me all over the Bible, I’m almost always somewhere in the middle of reading the scriptures from Genesis through to Revelation. For this purpose, I like to use a chronological Bible, one that puts the stories of scripture into the actual order that they happened. I find it so much easier to understand the big picture that way. I’ve read through my New International Version chronological text several times, but this time I chose the New King James Version Chronological Study Bible. I’m not a fan of daily reading plans that take you through the Bible in one year. To me, reading the Bible is not a ritual or a race. I like to immerse myself in the scriptures, seeking to understand what they’re saying to me about how I ought to live my life. I’ve read the entire Bible in less than a year, but most often it takes me considerably longer. With its illustrations, fascinating background and daily life notes, timelines, maps and charts to help bring the cultures and people of biblical times alive, this one could take me two years and that’s okay.

7 ways

I’m not going to air our dirty laundry here, but Richard and I have hit a rough patch in our marriage. To be entirely honest, it’s actually more like we’ve fallen into a sinkhole or gone careening off a cliff, but long term marriages are like that sometimes and we’re working on it. Since we’re both academically minded, we tend to turn to books for help at times like this. He went to a Promise Keepers conference last weekend and came home with this one, 7 Ways to Be Her Hero by Doug Fields. He read it in a couple of sittings so I thought it must be worth looking at. It’s written for men by a man, but Fields acknowledges that “some women will sneak around and read it (and will most definitely get something out of it).” The book, which he originally wanted to call How Not to Suck as a Husband, is written in colloquial man-speak that is fun and easy to read. It’s definitely not a textbook! I read eight of its ten chapters in one sitting last night and all I can say is that I’d like to give it back to my husband and tell him to read it again, memorize it and put it into practice. It’s that good!

Love & Respect

This is another one that I’m hoping might help us through the rough patch. Based on more than three decades of counselling, as well as scientific and biblical research, Love & Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerich is based on the premise that a wife’s greatest need is to feel loved while a husband needs to feel respected. We’ve decided to go through this one together, reading and discussing one chapter a day. It definitely isn’t as fun and engaging as 7 Ways and we’ve only read the first two chapters so it’s a bit too early to pass judgment but I think it does make some good points and it’s already provided a good jumping off spot for discussion.

Outlaw

This is another one that we’re reading together along with two other couples that we meet with for a weekly time of prayer and Bible study. Sadly, it’s been a huge disappointment. John Eldredge is probably best known for his first book, Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul. I have to wonder if he wrote Beautiful Outlaw simply hoping to cash in on the success of the earlier book. He attempts to introduce the reader to the real Jesus by squashing typical stereotypes and focusing on what he calls Jesus’ playful, disruptive, and extravagant personality. He spends most of the first three chapters dwelling on Jesus’ playfulness. While I expect that our Lord did have a playful, exuberant side, I don’t think that a single one of the scriptures that Eldredge uses points to that. In addition, as one of our group so aptly put it, he could have said everything in the first three chapters in three sentences. As a group, we’ve decided to read and discuss two or three chapters a week instead of just one so that we can get through it sooner and move onto something else. My assessment of this one is that it’s just fluff!

Rainbow

And finally, book #5, the novel that I’m reading for sheer enjoyment. When our small town librarian saw me looking over the shelf of recently acquired books, she pointed to The Dark Side of the Rainbow by Caren Powell and told me to try that one. “I thought of you when I bar coded it,” she said. “It looked like an Elaine book.” She knows what I like to read and hasn’t steered me wrong yet. According to editor, Ann Westlake, “The Dark Side of the Rainbow tells of Nelson Mandela’s South Africa – a country struggling with racism, fear and determination.” She calls it “a wonderful, endearing blend of characters, scenery and history.” I’m still in the early pages so I’m just getting to know those characters but I can hardly wait to dig deeper. Caren Powell lived in South Africa for 38 years during the apartheid era and the changeover to democracy. She and her husband owned a farm there and much of the detail in the book was drawn from her personal experiences.

It’s unusual for me to have so many books on the go at once but tonight’s choice is easy. I’m going to read the last two chapters of 7 Ways and then escape to The Dark Side of the Rainbow!

Enough already!

Just when I thought that life was going to settle down a little, my world was turned upside down again!

Last Thursday, my 91-year-old father flew to Alberta from his home in Vancouver. On Saturday, he walked his granddaughter down the aisle of Fort Edmonton‘s historic Anglican Church of St. Michael and the Angels. It was a unique and beautiful wedding and he was honoured to play such an important role.

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Less than 48 hours later, he was relaxing at my sister’s home in Vegreville when he suffered a cerebellar stroke!

Richard and I had just finished playing the third hole on our local golf course when the clubhouse manager drove out to tell us that our niece was trying to get hold of us about a medical emergency. We live just minutes away so in no time at all we were on our way to the Vegreville Hospital, arriving just in time for me to climb into an ambulance and accompany Dad as he was transferred to a larger hospital in Edmonton.

After laying in Emergency for another 48 hours waiting for a bed, he was finally transferred to the stroke ward yesterday. A cerebellar stroke affects the back of the brain which controls balance and coordination. Dad suffered no paralysis but he’s unable to stand without assistance because his sense of balance is completely off and he’s experiencing some weakness in his right hand. His speech is slurred, but mostly understandable, and he’s having some difficulty swallowing so he’s being given soft foods and thickened drinks. He is cognitively unimpaired and is in reasonably good spirits considering the circumstances.

I, on the other hand, feel like I’m reaching the end of my rope! In the past thirteen months, I’ve been diagnosed with two unrelated cancers. I’ve had seven hours of surgery and thirty radiation treatments for one of them and three radioisotope treatments for the other. I also lost my mother in June. Enough already!

In this morning’s devotions, I read about Gideon and I could definitely identify when he asked, “If the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (Judges 6:13)

Another devotional that I read this week was written by blogger, Cindy Keating of Red Carpet Life. It spoke of the pruning that God does in our lives to bring about greater fruitfulness.

I looked up and saw a sadly barren tree taped off in the middle of the orchard. It stuck out like a sore thumb with a noticeable sign hanging from it’s highest branch: “Pruning In Process.”

I instantly thought of the many painful times I have had to be pruned so the beauty of my fruit could shine for God’s glory rather than my own.

Is that what’s happening in my life? If so, I hope God has read this recommendation concerning pruning:

When deciding how much to prune a tree, as little as possible is often the best rule of thumb. All prunes place stress on a tree and increase its vulnerability…

As I said, I think enough’s enough already!

I know I’m not alone in asking why God is allowing these things to happen. The writers of the Psalms certainly asked similar questions. I particularly like the Psalms of Asaph who said things like “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me” (Psalm 73:16) and “do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever.” (Psalm 74:19b)

I’ve often heard it said that God doesn’t allow us to go through more than we can handle but the Bible doesn’t actually say that and it definitely isn’t true. He allows more than we can handle so that we learn to lean on Him and, in spite of my whining today, that’s exactly what I will continue to do! I’ll put one foot in front of the other, hang onto the hem of His garment, and wait to see how He’ll get us over this latest hurdle.

We have no idea what the next little while will hold. Dad will likely remain in hospital for at least a week or two where he’ll have access to physio and occupational therapy. The neurologist anticipates that he’ll make a fairly good recovery but we have no way of knowing when he’ll be fit to travel again, whether or not one of us will need to accompany him, or whether he’ll need a higher level of care than he had before.

Please God, no more crises for awhile. Enough already!

Going back to school!

If money had been no object, I’d have gone straight back to university after earning my education degree. I would have pursued a second bachelor degree, this time in cultural anthropology, simply because I loved it. At the time, however, that wasn’t an option. My first degree was paid for by a grant from the Government of the Northwest Territories but that had run out and it was time to find a job and begin supporting myself.

Since retiring from teaching seven years ago, I’ve often thought that if I lived closer to a college or university I’d probably enroll in a few courses just for fun. Although anthropology still interests me, at this point I’d probably choose women’s studies. I’ve never considered myself a feminist because I’m adamantly opposed to abortion (except when continuing a pregnancy places the mother’s life in grave danger). By definition, I suppose I’m a pro-life feminist as I’m keenly interested in the plight of women worldwide, believing that girls and women should have equal rights and opportunities to men. It pains me to know that, in this day and age, girls and women in many parts of the world continue to be denied access to education and to endure obscene cruelties such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

Okay, let me climb down off my soapbox and continue what I started off to say!

Though I don’t regret the fact that I didn’t go to Bible college as a young person and I didn’t encourage my own children to do so, in recent years I’ve also thought that I wouldn’t mind taking a few Biblical studies courses. Recently, I learned of an opportunity to combine all three of my academic interests and audit a course entitled Biblical Theology of Womanhood: Old Testament online for free!

The women’s studies course, offered by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, is described as “an amplified and comprehensive study of womanhood in the Old Testament which overlaps in a general way and is supplementary to systematic theology, especially as concerns the doctrine of anthropology.”

Auditing the course means that I’m not taking it for university credit. I get to enjoy all the lectures and do as many of the readings as I want, but I don’t have to write any of the papers or take the final exam. There are also online discussion groups that I can participate in. I must admit that I felt a tingle of excitement when I received the email with my student ID number! It’s been 39 years since I had one of those!

The course actually started on August 21 but since I was on vacation, I chose to wait until I was back home to begin. As an online student, I’m not tied to the regular Thursday evening schedule. Instead, I can watch the two and a half to three hour lectures whenever I choose. The first one, which I watched this evening, was an introduction to the course and laid the groundwork for what lies ahead. I’m not sure that I’ll agree with everything that’s taught but I do know that I’ll be challenged to dig into scripture and to seek a better understanding of what God’s Word says to and about women. I also know that I’m excited to be going back to school even if it is in the comfort of my own living room!

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