Monday, December 26, 2011

When God Wore Diapers

I was never one for Christmas. For most of my life, the annoyances and stress outweighed the good parts for me. I loved Thanksgiving. Loved it. Then December would show up, and I would resign myself to yet another year of busyness and awkward social situations. (Sidebar: Please attribute this disposition to my adolescent belief that cynicism was the same thing as wisdom, more than to any particularly scarring holiday experience.)

But then I had to go and fall in love with the world's biggest fan of Christmas. And as these things often play out, over the six holiday seasons we've shared (five as husband and wife), I have found increasing measures of real joy and anticipation in myself on December 1st. Add to this the fact that our 22 month old daughter kind of knows what's going on now, and I can say I genuinely enjoy Christmas. But I've gotta tell ya, this year I got my ass handed to me on a holiday-themed platter.

It's been a hectic semester for the Pintos. I started the internship for my counseling program, which means I am being a therapist for the first time -- doing all different kinds of therapy with different combinations of people and problems. The understatement of the century is that this has been hard on my emotions. I've written on here about brokenness, and that's really what I keep coming back to. Guys, our world is broken. Things are not going the way they were meant to go. I have always had sufficient evidence in my own black heart of the need for a Savior, but now I've got more. Like, a shitload more.

I was so looking forward to Christmas because it meant a respite from grad school and my internship, and lots of quiet family time with my man and our girl. Last Sunday, Dec. 18th, I had turned in my last papers and I was looking at a two day work week and then vacation. I woke up Monday morning feeling a little funny, and by noon I was laid out with a stomach virus. It was miserable and humbling (and nobody is ever as sympathetic as I want them to be when I'm sick...are you this way, too?), and I wasn't back to 100% until mid-week.

On Thursday morning, Dec. 22nd, I received a phone call that a precious girl I knew had lost her battle with cancer. She was 28 years old, just out of the starting gate in so many ways. For about three months before she had to stop working, we had done cotherapy at one of my internship sites. While I only knew her for a short time, we bonded quickly simply because this is often the nature of cotherapy and, of course, because my cotherapist had cancer. Generally, people come to therapy because they have big questions; they want to talk about life and death matters. So Kendra and I kind of jumped right in to some very real stuff with people. And her own diagnosis led to some pretty intense conversations between the two of us, over lunch or in between appointments, during which she displayed an iron will and an unshakable zest for life. I will not tell you much more, because remembering those conversations feels holy and sacred and like none of your damn business. But I will tell you that she was beautiful and graceful and strong, and she was too young to die.

The funeral was yesterday morning. I didn't go. People almost always say really stupid things at funerals, and I do not yet trust myself to respond graciously. She was too young. That's what I keep coming back to. Death and disease. These are surely the purest forms of evil on our planet. They do not discriminate; they are cold and heartless and blind. And I swear if anyone tries to talk to me about the sovereignty of God, I will probably slap them across the face. This is not what God intended. If I'm going to trust Him, then I have to believe that He is grieving now with me and with people who knew her much longer than I did, and with her family. Her family. Lord, have mercy.

Is there a way out? Where is hope? Unfortunately, there is not a way out of dying. That is one of the few guarantees of life, and I do believe we would all be wise to get more comfortable with that fact. It would, in reality, make life better and more precious.

But the answer, it's on the other side of death. I was pouring my heart out that Thursday with a trusted advisor, wondering if I had been a "good enough" friend to Kendra, and just generally feeling utterly helpless. He asked me if I believe I will see Kendra again. I said, "Yeah. Yes, I do." He said, "I believe when you see her for the first time in eternity, you will exchange knowing smiles. No words will be needed, for she will know what it was like to have been you, and you will know what it was like to have been her...and you'll just smile at each other." There is real comfort in that for me.

I do not believe death will get the final word. I do not believe that disease gets to have her body - or any of our bodies - forever. We will be redeemed. Surely it is a powerful God who can defeat death. It is a mighty God indeed who will demolish and decimate this evil away from us and for all of eternity.

This is the God I believe in. This is the hope I have: that whoever got us into this mess in the first place, it won't matter, because He has provided, is providing, and will provide a way out. He is the only real game changer. And He did it in the unlikeliest of ways. He "became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (John 1:14) God came as a man in the person of Jesus Christ. And as things go around here, He came as the infant Jesus Christ. Wait a second. A baby? Seriously?! The almighty, infinite, all-wise Creator of a baby?! Diapers and drool and learning how to walk. The whole bit. That's how He did it.

So if this is how He defeated such powerful adversaries as death and evil -- in humility, in quietness -- how am I to follow His example? Well, I'm gonna need to get back to you in about 50 years because that's probably how long it's gonna take me to really unpack that. But for now I will tell you that I am going to keep calling the brokenness what it is, not excusing it or accepting it, and in fact fighting against it with all I am. But I am going to really try to carry humility in my heart at the same time. I'm going to try to be gracious, and I will love whoever is in front of me as best I can in any given moment. Because moments are really all we have, and they pass so quickly.

O come, o come, Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Spend Less :: What do you really want?

Waterdeep is, in my opinion, one of the best bands of the last 20 years. Never mind that they have a smaller following than, say, Limp Bizkit or Matchbox 20 or LMFAO. They are awesome. I started listening to them circa 1997 and I simply have not stopped. Because of this, their songs have basically become the soundtrack of my life. The Christmas season is no different, and to get the ball rolling on my post encouraging us all to spend less, I offer a few lines from one of my most favorite Waterdeep songs, “If You Want To Get Free.”

I am so often deterred from my actual intent
By distractions in a cellophane wrap.
And by a cruel voice that taunts me when I open them up
To find just one more box full of crap.

What is our actual intent in gift-giving? I happen to be of the persuasion that, generally speaking, when people set out to do good things, it is because they have good motivations. As time passes our motivation can get clouded, but perhaps we can retrieve the essence of what we want to achieve by retracing our steps.

Have you, or do you know someone who has, bought progressively more expensive Christmas gifts over the years for their spouse or family members? Five years ago, you agreed on a spending limit of $50. But then one of the involved parties had to go and spend $65, which of course made the other involved party feel a little embarrassed. So the next year you said, “Seventy-five dollars, and that’s all. I mean it!” But one thing led to another and this Christmas you’ll end up spending $250 on each other. Why? Again, I am an eternal optimist, and so I am going to choose to focus on the nobler motivations at play here.

1. I want to celebrate you. You are very special to me, and you have done and been for me when maybe I couldn’t do or be for myself. This makes me feel humbled and grateful. As such, I want you to feel treasured.

2. I want to bless you. We will celebrate our second Christmas with our daughter this year, and when she saw our Christmas tree for the first time last week, I am pretty sure I got more joy from watching the wonder on her sweet face than she did from having the actual experience. Parenthood is amazing that way. Our children are the most precious gifts we have ever received, and so we want them to feel treasured.

3. I want to share love where it maybe wouldn’t be shared otherwise. You can’t repay me. Maybe you won’t even know who I am. But I’ll know that you had a good meal and some warm moments because of me. Every human being on this planet deserves love, and so we want to share that love with as many people as possible this holiday season.

Like I said, I’m focusing on the nobler motivations here. Perhaps the stupid White Elephant gift you have to take to the office party for the job you don’t even enjoy very much – perhaps that doesn’t fit into any of those three categories. Um, you’re on your own there. But I think these three motivations cover most of our gift giving anyway.

For me (and maybe for you), base motivations for gift giving have absolutely nothing with a price tag. It’s not a formula like, “I want you to feel loved + I spend $100 = You feel loved.” And anyway, times are tough for a lot of folks right now. So I wrap up this blog post with a few practical ideas for ways to achieve your actual intent for the holiday season without spending tons of moolah.

1. Go handmade. Listen, you don’t have to be Martha Stewart. In fact, for these three ideas, you probably only have to be moderately conscious to achieve a pretty impressive result.

2. I’m cheesy, sappy, et al…therefore, I love receiving the little coupon books that offer stuff like free babysitting, a homecooked meal, cleaning the bathroom (the bane of my existence!), and so on.

3. Give experiences rather than material items. This report aired on NPR in 2009, which explained a scientific study that discovered people get more enjoyment out of fun experiences than they do out of receiving gifts. A person’s enjoyment of, say, an iPod will diminish over time. But if you can give someone a good experience (a nice dinner, tickets to a play, a gift certificate for a manicure), their enjoyment of that experience actually increases in their memory. The material item may break or get boring or become outdated; but the memory of that fun experience really does – is scientifically proven to – get better with each retelling. The implications here are rather compelling.

For what it’s worth, my husband and I have given homemade hot chocolate mix to our friends and family the last few years, to rave reviews. And we are starting a new tradition this year of spending a good portion of our Christmas money on taking a family trip. This year we will spend a couple of days in the lodge of Mt. Magazine State Park, and I have got to say, I am looking forward to that weekend so much – probably more than anything else that is on this month's calendar.

Spend less, friends. It's not about the money. People don't need money. We actually only need a very few basic things. Food, shelter, clothing...and love. So give something that really matters this holiday season. Give of yourself.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

thank you

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

-- W. S. Merwin


So here's what's going on -- life is really hard, for almost everybody. No, for everybody. There is not one person left unstained by the brokenness of this world, wrought either by their own hand or by the hand of another. Or both.

Each day that passes finds me more convinced of this bitter reality -- brokenness.

And for every new outward event that proves the brokenness to me, there is an almost one-to-one ratio of some inward event that - lest I be tempted to view the brokenness piously - makes it impossible for me to do so.

The world is broken. I am broken. And the world is broken.

I am broken. Also, I am redeemed. There have been some moments, so bright and expansive and hope-filled, when the redemption is so undeniable. Who could make beauty from ashes? Who could actually take the death and waste and (seemingly) useless parts of me, and transform them to life and purpose and power? Not me, not on my own.

I am broken. I am redeemed. Also, I am being redeemed.

Also, the world is being redeemed. Close to me, and far from me. Light always beats darkness. Love always beats fear. I have some evidence of this now, and I cling to it. Because I know one day (oh, I ache...let it be soon) we will have all the evidence we need.

"Oh, how I long for love to beat fear in your life. How I long for you to trust me! Lift up your eyes. I am calling out to you a thousand times a day, in a thousand different ways, to show you the beauty and the life and the power that is available to you. It's scary; I know it is terrifying. Because the cost is nothing less than losing the very life you've held so tightly. The life you still clench with white knuckles.

"You have spirit, that's for sure, and courage. But will you come to Gethsemane? Do you have the courage to have it out with me here? In Gethsemane, one does not have the luxury of hypotheticals. Oh, but one can find comfort, and purpose. And resurrection. Come to me, and you will find rest for your soul. Lose your life, and you will find it. This is the mystery. And this is the Truth."

thank you thank you thank you

Friday, October 21, 2011

See, what you need to understand is...

"See, what you need to understand about Dean is..."

I was working at an advertising agency, and I think I was about 23. I had just been publicly, loudly, and colorfully reprimanded by my boss, Dean (not his real name). Everyone around this scene knew that I had done nothing wrong, that it was just a misunderstanding. But nobody spoke up. I just had to take it, apparently.

I was speechless. Dumbfounded. By God's grace, I somehow did not cry, but I'm sure I looked like a scared little girl. Dean's #2, who had witnessed the scene, came up to my desk after about 15 minutes and said, "See, what you need to understand about Dean is...he's a really good marketer. He is really sharp and really creative. He just moves too fast sometimes, and he doesn't really know how to handle people. I'm really sorry for his behavior. Are you okay?"

Okay? Even at 23 years old, I knew I was NOT okay and that what had just happened was NOT okay. That was the beginning of the end for me and that company. I was never assertive with Dean - never had the chance - and I naively thought, "If I leave this company, I'll leave this jerk behind and not have to deal with this crap anymore." I didn't yet realize that there are jerks everywhere. I somehow avoided more Deans in my professional life, but do you know where they have showed up since then? I'll give you three choices:

1. Church
2. Church
3. Church

Did you say "Church?" If so, you're the winner!

And this is the hang up for me. Because if some crazy dude at some tiny ad agency wants to be a jerk, that's fine. It's not good, but it's his deal and not my deal and I'll get over it. But aren't people in the church accountable to a higher purpose, a higher way of doing things? Aren't we, as the church, accountable to God and each other? Of course we are.

And church people are still people, and not perfect, and all that. I get that. I really do. But when this girl sees a pattern forming, she is gonna try to figure it out.

So. I decided to study the local church, and I figured out a way to get credit for it in one of my classes by getting more specific and studying the American megachurch. I am going to share some of what I learned here as background.

Businesses love to study megachurches. They see them as successful, creative, and lucrative. Forbes magazine has referred to megachurch pastors as "essentially CEOs who successfully address many of the same issues that challenge their business brethren." Megachurches are designed -- and this is stated in various ways explicitly and implicitly -- to grow resources (people, money, land, buildings) as much as possible in order to display the "big-ness" of God. "Big" experiences are also part of the mix here, as they are constantly pushing towards the cutting edge in terms of music, technology, and creative events.

So, that's the goal. How do they support and work towards achieving this goal? Essentially, by fashioning every aspect of the church around the goal.

1. The Pastor is offered as relatable, accessible, and highly visible to the congregants.

2. The large support staff is able to provide many services in-house (graphic design, counseling services for congregants, food and hospitality services) that were hitherto unavailable in this arena.

3. Architecture. One article I read drew a distinction between the "vertically-aligned" buildings of the traditional church, and the "horizontally-aligned" buildings of today's megachurch. The traditional (Catholic, generally speaking) church was built to overwhelm the congregant with the majesty and big-ness of God, with its high ceilings and ornate statues and crucifixes. But today's megachurch buildings are designed to be approachable, comfortable, and utilitarian. The congregant comes to church, but it "feels" more like a shopping mall or community center. Basically, this new architecture is centered on the congregant rather than on God.

4. Symbols. Old church symbols: think crucifix, statues of saints, the Communion table. The megachurch, on the other hand, abandons these heavily religious images for images of...well, of people. Websites, promotional materials, and of course the huge projection screens. All of these have images of people enjoying each other, or enjoying their time of worship, or being reverent.

And this is the crux: the megachurch offers the personal experience on a grand scale. Goh (2007) refers to this as "performing the mega." The megachurch relies heavily on creating "mega" experiences (grandness of scale, variety of options, etc.) for its congregants in order to display the "mega"-ness of God.

So far, this discussion of the megachurch has just been discussion. Now I will move into some of my criticisms of this model, and in order to do that, I think I need to share my personal experience to be completely honest with you.

I am an evangelical. I am female. And I am a worship leader. Oh, and I live in Arkansas. That is the nutshell of my dilemma. I am called and gifted as a worship leader, and I have been supported in this gifting by the Body, to a point. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that every church I have joined with in ministry (as a member) has brought up my gender as a detriment to ministry at some point. Correction: the leader of the church, rather than the members of the congregation, has had some sort of conversation with me about my gender. Here's a sampling of what I've heard:

"You know, I think from now on we're just gonna hire a male for this position. It'll just be easier." [I was briefly employed here.]

"This will be the first time I hire someone for this position, and I think I want that person to be a male. Maybe we'll hire a female in the future, but not this time."

"I am thinking I may need to hire a male this time because I'm considering the chemistry of my team."

Message received. My gender is a detriment. At least as far as they are concerned. I kind of like my gender. It's pretty great. I like being pretty, and a wife, and I get to have babies which is also pretty miraculous and awesome. Further, I am confident in what God wants me to do. While some of the people I have encountered do take theological exception with females in leadership, I am not one of those people. And I have peace about this. And it's actually because of a John Piper book, which I will tell you about if you really want to know but I don't want to get too far off topic.

But most of these do not take theological exception. They have told me that they fully support my desire and gifting. However, they are considering factors other than what the Bible says about me and my gifting. If a church is primarily concerned with "performing the mega," which is to say, reaching as many people as possible with as broad and inoffensive a message as possible in order to grow resources as much as possible...and if this church is in boils down to this -- it's just easier to hire a male worship leader. It's less controversial. Or at least, it's just more expected.

You may not be surprised to know that this has been hard for me to deal with. It has been very hurtful. Because these church leaders are not business executives. It's church. It's not business.

I've been in at least three (maybe more, but who's counting?) hurtful situations regarding gender and calling and yada yada. And I kid you not...each time, I saw the "Dean scene" replayed before me. This is how it goes --

Head honcho #1 says something to me that is really, really crappy. See the above quotes.

Everyone else knows it's crappy. I don't speak up for myself, and they don't speak up for me either. OR I do speak up for myself, but it doesn't change anything.

Eventually, honcho #2 comes along to smooth things over. #1 has disappeared, apparently. Either doesn't know, or doesn't care, what's going on with me. And here's what #2 says...

"See, what you need to understand about Dean is...he's just way ahead of the rest of us. He's been hurt a lot in his life, and so he doesn't really have any soft skills with people. I mean, he's just got so much on his plate, that he can't possibly be expected to care about every little thing..." And so on. And then #2 apologizes on behalf of #1, and tries to coach me regarding my further interactions with #1. Because...I's my problem...? It's weird, people. Just weird.

Okay. Why do I need to understand anything? And I am proud to say that, finally, after the third take of this particular scene, I was able to say in that moment that I was not okay with my life or self-respect revolving around #1 like -- apparently -- everyone else was. I am supposed to live at peace with everyone, as far as it depends on me. And this one...this one doesn't depend on me. So. Peace.

I am glad that I finally did that, and I really do have peace. But...

I am of the belief that if I find myself in an unfortunate situation more than once or twice, I need to not only examine the situation in order to avoid it...I also need to examine myself. Because apparently, there is something about me that is contributing to this mess. I've been doing lots of that self-examination lately.

There are two things that I have learned, and I'm going to be completely and brutally honest here:

-- I was looking for significance (which is okay), but I was looking in the wrong place for that significance. Maybe I was not fully confident in myself, and I needed someone else to bolster that. Unfortunately, I kept seeking this from people who were incapable of encouraging me for whatever reason. And these days, when I'm feeling shaky or negative about myself, I take it to God and to people that I know love me and have my best interest in their hearts. World of difference!

-- My ministry focus was too narrow. Since I have given up on gaining this sense of significance from the withholders, it's like the floodgates have opened! I am ministering more, and in more varied ways, than I ever thought possible. I cannot accurately express how much of an encouragement this is to me - and such a special gift from the Lord - that I am now in a season of my life where my calendar is literally flooding over with opportunities to make a a real Kingdom difference.

So, I know this is a really long blog post. But it's one that has been stewing around in my heart and mind for some time. I offer this as encouragement to those of you who may be wondering about your usefulness as a part of the Body, or wondering about the Lord's timing. I want you to be encouraged, and know that while the Body is imperfect, the Lord is perfect in all things. His love for you never fails. His plan for you is amazing! Trust Him! Lean on Him! Let Him heal and strengthen you. He will take care of the other stuff. Just move in closer to Him.

Thanks for reading. Peace to you.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Chenal Family Therapy
10800 Financial Centre, Ste 490
Little Rock, AR 72211
501.786.9970 (ofc) 888.816.7916 (fax)

Hi Everyone -

I want to update you about a new program we're offering at Chenal Family Therapy, designed to help lower-income individuals and families get mental health services at a reduced cost.

Beginning today, Chenal Family Therapy will begin partnering with local graduate schools to help future therapists and counselors earn their required "practicum" hours as a step towards graduating and potential licensure.

Our "interns" who are nearing the completion of their graduate level training, will offer counseling and therapy services for substantially reduced hourly rates.

As part of providing this service, our interns will be supervised and coached by licensed and experience therapists, helping them to provide quality mental health care, as well as to grow as professionals.

Our first intern, Rachel Pinto, is pursuing her Master of Science degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and Community Counseling from John Brown University. Prior to being a graduate student, Rachel worked in a variety of fields including church ministry and as a high school teacher.

Rachel has a special interest in marriage counseling, step-families, and women's issues. Rachel approaches counseling from a systemic, emotionally-focused, and existential framework. As such, she strives to help her clients connect with themselves, their significant others, and their environment in new and deeper ways regarding the "big questions" of life. Rachel lives in North Little Rock, AR, with her husband of five years and their one year old daughter.

To learn more about our new reduced-rate therapy program or schedule a session with Ken Clark, Rachel Pinto, or another therapist, reply to this email or call us at 501.786.9970.

Ken Clark, MA, LAMFT
Licensed Associate Marriage & Family Therapist

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Help

I saw "The Help." It wrecked me. In a good way. I set about putting my emotions into words on this here blog and simply could not get started. Then I realized that the main person I wanted to communicate with regarding this movie was my daughter. Since she's only 18 months old that's not entirely possible right now, so I wrote her a letter. I publish it here for your eyes today, and for her eyes when the time presents itself.


Dear Ava,

It is Monday, August 22, 2011. You will be eighteen months old tomorrow! I am not with you right now; I'm out of town on business, so I will miss your eighteen month birthday. However, I'll be home on the 24th and we are gonna have us one big celebration - because eighteen months is kind of a big deal, but also because you with or without an occasion are a big deal to me. So we're gonna eat spaghetti and eat cake and listen to music and watch Elmo and Grover - all of your current favorite things.

I saw a movie tonight called "The Help." I would love to watch it with you someday when you're a little older. This movie stirred up lots of emotions in me. I'd like to think that you are even now realizing that tears can come when someone is happy, or when they are sad, or when they are happy or sad for someone they really care about. Ok, maybe you don't have all of that yet, but I've cried in front of you a couple of times and you did not seem afraid or alarmed. You just studied me for a moment, and then went on with whatever you were doing. That is wonderful, Ava, that you accept people so simply. Anyway, about this movie...

I'm not going to tell you about the plot or the characters, because we will watch it and I want you to have the full experience. But there were women in this movie who, because they had darker skin than the people around them, were treated badly. All of them were treated badly, and some of them were treated very badly. Yet they showed strength and courage and they did not give up on what they believed in. They had hope in their hearts. And you know what I thought? I thought, I want Ava to know about these brave women. She needs to know where she came from, and understand that she also has that strength and courage and hope. You will learn the history of our nation, and parts of it are really bad. You will learn that white people used people of color to do the dirty work, and you will even see the leftovers of this arrangement in our present day. I wish I could protect you from this horrible reality, but I can't. So it's best for us to just face it head on.

People feel a lot of different things when they learn about this. Some people say it's not true, or it's not so bad, or everything is better. These people are lying, and usually people lie because they are afraid. Do not be like them. Other people get angry, and they start fights and call people bad names and break things. These people are also afraid. Please don't be like them.

Then some other people get angry, but they use their anger differently. They use it for good. They take the hardness of that energy and use it to push away the bad parts of our world. Then they take the softness of that energy and use it to increase good things like kindness and respect and love. If you can learn to be like these people, you will be wise.

I am so proud of you, Ava Denise. You are my heart, my very heart walking around in the world and the best thing about me. You love to laugh, and make new friends, and explore new things - that's how I know you have courage and strength inside you already. I simply cannot wait to be your mama for the rest of your life and watch this adventure unfold. I just love you!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Keeping House

Hello faithful readers (both of you, haha). It's been awhile since I've posted. In fact, I could currently be working on stuff for my stats class, but I wanted to at least check in and share some of what has been swimming around in my head. Silence, in this case, does not mean that there has been nothing to report.


"Love your enemies" is freaking hard. Lord, have mercy. That is all on this one.


My sister gave me Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson, and since I have had a teensy bit of free time this summer to indulge in some non-grad school reading, this was my pick. I'm almost done and I have been so encouraged by Peterson that there really, truly is God-ordained value in keeping house and taking care of one's family.

Essentially, I am a performer. I mean that in the positive and negative sense here, by the way. I do love the stage, and I can hog the stage fo' sheezy...BUT the positive side of this is that I really enjoy being among people and if that being with them also means we are working together to achieve something I really care about, that's even better. I did this sort of thing for 10 years, the last four being as a high school choir director. Then I quit teaching, got pregnant, had our sweet baby girl...and for awhile there, the most important thing about me was how much milk I could produce on any given day.

And I struggled. "Is this it?" I thought. "Is this all I do now?" I felt like the exciting stuff was happening out in the world, and while I love my daughter so much that most times I can't talk about this love without crying, many times I felt like I was simply fading away from relevant and meaningful interaction.

Peterson's book has helped me see that I was a victim of an internalized cultural bias against the duties of keeping house and, I believe, against women in general. That second thing is a huge can of worms among some evangelicals, and a whole 'nother post in and of itself, so I'll leave it alone. I think. :) The main thing I want to share is what I've learned from Ms. Peterson.

Did you know that the word "housekeeping" was not even in the English language until the late 19th century? Before the industrialization of the Western world, almost every family had a homestead. They all worked the land, and took care of the house and clothes and food -- together. Enter industrialization, and factories, and bigger cities...and many men are going to do the hard manual labor of the factory which leaves the women at home to keep house. Peterson submits that this was when the division of labor that we live with today (to some extent) came to be. She further asserts that the various appliances and gadgets that were created to make life easier actually did not achieve their function, but that we still expect ourselves to continually do more and be more.

Take food for an example. A typical weekday meal on the homestead consisted of a pot of stew (made from seasonal veggies and whatever meat was available, if any) that was placed near the fire in the morning and forgotten about until a bowl was eaten at lunch and a bowl was eaten at supper. But today, we have ovens and food processors and fancy gadgets and celebrity chefs constantly in our faces demonstrating how to cook these huge feasts ("in 30 minutes or less", right?) and even someone who loves cooking, like myself, can begin to think it's all just a little much. Peterson even goes so far as to refer to the TV networks and magazines and websites devoted to food as food porn. It is beautiful and alluring and, let's face it, unattainable.

So. Many people who could otherwise learn a few simple technniques in order to cook healthy meals for their family just give up before they even get started. Many others spend money and time and energy on pursuing the fantasy at the expense of the heart of the issue -- that is, loving and caring for your family.

There is a third group here as well: those who view housekeeping (Peterson's definition includes providing food, shelter, and clothing for one's family) as simple, menial, and by extension, insignificant. And if the work is insignificant, what does that say about the worker? And here is the heart of the matter. I felt like I was wasting away because I couldn't see the value in doing such simple things for my family. But Jesus' view is upside down from our cultural view, isn't it? He says the last will be first.

Many of Jesus' parables and teachings revolve around these everyday matters, as if God Himself values to the utmost what we refer to as mundane. The parable of the feast speaks of a king (probably the Lord) who prepares a feast, and when the people he invites don't show up, he invites others until his house is full. And what is He doing for us right now? He is in heaven, preparing a place for us and a magnificent wedding feast. (John 14:2, Rev. 19:9) God Himself is doing these things for me so that I will be fed and housed for eternity, and He is asking me to do these things for my family in the meantime. How beautiful is that?!

Sidebar: I do not believe this word is just for women, or just for married people. Peterson suggests, instead of wedding showers, we give people "graduating from college" showers or "getting my first apartment" showers regardless of whether they are married or single. I love this! I'm kind of wishing I still knew some college students so I could help them set up house. Wait! I do know a few. Awesome!

This is getting longish. But I want to share some scripture with you. I've read it many times, but in light of what I've learned from Keeping House, it is bringing tears to my eyes these days. If you are a stay-at-home parent, or you're a working parent with children, or you're a single person who just needs to be encouraged to take good care of yourself and the people who cross your threshold...please read the following scripture in the context of housekeeping. It's just beautiful.

Matthew 25:31-40 (The Message)

"When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.'

"Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about?...' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me -- you did it to me.' "

Take good care of the people in your lives. It is, truly, the Lord's work.