Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Journey To A New Life (Part 1)- Sorting It All Out

(Disclaimer:  This series includes the personal experience of our family in both moderately conservative, and ultra conservative Mennonite churches.  I am only speaking for our experience personally, and what we personally know.)

So much has happened in the last few years.  When I think about what has just happened in the last 3 years, I just sit back and say, “WOW!”  I look back at this blog, and I think of where I was when I stopped regularly writing at the end of 2011/ beginning of 2012.  Then I think of what God has done in my life since then . . . PHEW!  So much happened and yet it was so much of a complicated time in our lives as a family.  It was also a very challenging time in my husband and I’s marriage.  It stretched us financially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually in ways I still struggle to fully explain, but I will try.

It was late March 2012.  We were living in Michigan.  I was a mom fully enjoying my time away at the local homeschool book fair.  I was just a woman in my mid-thirties, jeans, t-shirt, and a ponytail.  I was on a mission to buy next year’s books.  That, and I was enjoying roaming around without three kids in tow.  Little did I know how much my life was about to change . . .

I met a young woman named Faith that day that would become a close friend of mine.  What drew me to her?  She was a very conservative Mennonite, and I thought of how simple her life must be.  Was she as serious about her faith as I imagined?  Was her life as romantic as I imagined it to be?  What was it like to sew all of your own clothes, bake your own bread, can your own food, to live without internet, TV, radio, and social media crowding out all of the simple joys of life?  (Actually, we had given up TV years before, but we still watched some family friendly shows online.)

Honestly, she and her family appeared to embody everything that we were looking toward.  When I looked at her I saw someone who lived a simple life, a frugal life, a faith focused life.  I wanted these very things.  And she was so very nice, and kindly offered to trade addresses and write from where she lived, a state away.  (She was at the book fair with a church ministry, as a vendor, selling the curricula that the Mennonites use in their church schools.) 

I happily wrote her for three years, getting sucked into everything Mennonite.  Before we knew it, we were reading their church newsletters and other doctrinal “papers”, and attending church at a Mennonite church about an hour and a half away (once about every 3 weeks).  As time went on we also started to dress as they did, friends from the church near us sewing dresses for my daughter and me. 

Our thought patterns were changing subtly, but drastically.  How we looked at those around us changed.  How we talked and lived changed.  Everything changed.

We started to feel a call to move closer to the Mennonite friends we had grown to know through letters, and pictures, and yearly homeschool book fair centered visits.  We knew that God was calling us to live near Faith and her family, and to go to their church.  So for the last year and a half of Faith and I writing, our family was also plotting our move to another state . . .

Lord, so many are looking for you in so many places.  We don’t always know where the journey with you is going, but we trust that you know better then we do what is best, and right, and true.  Watch over us, and bless us, and guide us as we seek you above all else.  We pray this in Jesus’ holy name.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Look Back

I am currently, “behind the scenes” so to speak, working through the last six years of our life and all that God has done.  I am writing about the story of this time, that needs to be told.  But no one here will see this for a while.  Why?  It was a hard and complicated six years.  But it was also immensely fruitful.  It will take time to work through, write out, think through, revise, and so on.  The goal is that It would not only be truthful and transparent, but written in love.

We moved from Michigan to where we live now almost three years ago.  We fully believed when we moved that we were on our way to maybe becoming members of the Mennonite church where we live now, or at least were opening the door to that possibility.  We are no longer in the Mennonite church, but now that it has been over two years past the time when we left, I am in a healthier place where I can share the positive lessons that I can take away from our time there among the Mennonites. 

One of the ministers’ wives and I had a nice, but emotional talk, during the time when we were getting ready to leave the church.  She asked me what I would say to someone interested in coming into the Mennonite church.  Of course, not wanting to hurt her feelings, I glossed over what I was truly thinking at the moment.  I was in a bad place when we left, and out of Christian love for her, I could not truthfully answer that in the state of mind that I was in at the time.  We still love everyone in both conservative Mennonite churches that we were a part of, but I can not personally recommend it as a journey for others coming from “the outside”.  If you want to know more, then please watch for a coming series of posts where I try to better explain that (hopefully) in love.  It is a process.

But, having said that, here are some positive lessons that I learned from our time in the Mennonite church.

- A reminder of the value of reading the bible and making Christian and church fellowship a priority, and an underscore of why it is important that we do these things because we want to, not out of guilt or shame from others

- The value of truly caring about each other, and being there to share each others’ burdens in ways that go above and beyond.  (Like a group of ladies coming over to help clean both the house you are moving from and the one you are moving to, so that you don’t have to do it alone)

- A focus on teaching the next generation to not only read the bible, but to know it thoroughly. (And a reminder of our need of discernment in processing the theology that we listen to or read.)

- The value of true physical and social modesty.  (Why it is important to cover your body, and how greatly it influences the way that the opposite sex views and treats you.  And how important it is to keep your mouth shut when it is better to do so, and how that positively influences the relationships around you.)

- The value of really internalizing what God is trying to tell us in His word in regards to how we should be living. (And a reminder to live for him, and not for the approval of humans, no matter how well meaning they seem to be)

- The value of ladies that have skills that I don’t have, like sewing and canning, that are willing to teach me these currently not as common arts.

- The value of being a true COMMUNITY of believers all week long, not just on Sunday! (And why it is more joyful to give when you do it willingly)

- The value of being accountable to others in things that we are struggling with, as a safeguard.

- And the biggest lesson I have learned was the value and freedom of being the very best child of God that I can be, and letting others have the freedom to do the same.  (None of us will ever be good enough to earn our salvation, that is why Jesus came.  My being the best that I can be, is the fruit of my faith, not my attempt to earn my salvation.  I do not have all of the facts to be a just judge of another’s faith life, which is precisely why it is NOT my job to be their judge.  Not saying that I don’t still struggle with this though . . . )

While there are downsides to how I have seen these things lived out in the Mennonite church that I don’t need to go into here, I do personally believe that we would see blessings in refocusing on these things in our personal walk with God. 

Lord, I have shared my thoughts here today.  But all that really matters is your plan for us as your people.  Give us a new perspective.  Give us a hunger for your plan, and your ways.  Give us courage to not just live the way we do because everyone else does, but give us the discernment to live the way you want us to.  Help us to choose your way of living even when it’s considered strange or counter cultural to those around us.  Help us to show you love in how we live for you, and also to better see your love for us.  We cannot earn your love, but may we be more in tune with all of the ways that you show us your love, and bear fruit in your current life season for us.  We ask these things in Jesus’ name.  Amen

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Decisions, Decisions

There are SO many decisions that we face in life these days.  Many of our decisions are superficial and rather trivial.  Maybe it's just personal preference, like which lunch meat and cheese I make my sandwich with.

And then there are the decisions that matter.  How do I respond to someone offending me?  Should I take this job or that job?  Do I move, and where?

What should be our criteria for deciding the important decisions?  And am I thinking from a human standpoint, in all of my limited understanding?  Am I allowing myself to be tempted to do something that is not in my best interest?  Am I following God's leading, and trusting Him?  Am I thinking from a "spirit-led" perspective, and doing what I believe God wants me to do?     

King David faced this in 1Chronicles 21.  Satan was tempting David to have Joab, his military commander, count all of the men in Israel who were able to fightMaybe David was needing reassurance of his military might.  I'm not sure.  But it appears that Satan had convinced him that looking at the situation from a human understanding was better than just trusting that God had it handled.

Joab tried to discourage David from doing this.  He knew God would not be pleased by this act.  The King overruled Joab.  In a small act of rebellion from Joab, the bible states that he did not include the men of Levi and Benjamin in this count.

As Joab predicted, God was upset by David's choice to rely on his human need for a count of fighting men.

David then made the first wise choice in this story.  He humbled himself and took responsibility for his sinful actions.  He apologized to God and asked forgiveness.

In response, God gives David three consequences to choose from.  Three months of famine, three years of David's enemies overpowering them in battle, or three days of God's wrath at the hands of his angel.

Wrath of man?  Or wrath of God?  Which is scarier?  Human thinking would tend to tell me that man can't do nearly as much to me as God can.  David took a more "spirit-led" perspective.  He knew that our God was a God of mercy.  It was better to humble himself before God, and call on His mercy.  Man would not be so merciful.   And while God did allow 70,000 men to die, at David's repentant pleading, God did relent and tell His angel to stop the destruction.

It ended at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, we are told.  David was instructed by God to build an altar there.  This site would then be bought by David, and used as a place to offer a sin offering to God.  And then it would later become the site of Solomon's  grand temple to honor God.

I find it interesting that David was able to make the choice to choose the consequence he did.  His choice shows extreme trust.  He knew God intimately enough to trust that His mercy was something that He could count on in response to David's repentance.  He knew that men were slow to be merciful, but God's mercy was something he could count on.

I make mistakes all the time.  I am a sinner in desperate need of God's mercy.  I am in desperate need of His guidance and leading in all I do. 

Oh Lord, save me from myself in the decisions I make.  Help me not to be swayed by fear or lean towards trusting in my own understanding, but to strive towards trusting in your way for me.  Help me to trust your ways, even when they don't make sense now.  I know that when I look back later I will see the fullness of your plan and understand what I can not see now.  Thank you that my limited human understanding of things doesn't have to rule my thinking.  Thank you for the knowledge that your ways are better.  Help all that read this post to know your love and your ways through your word.  Thank you Lord for your blessings and love.  Amen.