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Archive for January, 2015

As I read this passage this morning, I was suddenly caught by the question that came to mind:

How would I know if I was a weed?

Matthew 13:24-30

The Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning’ but gather the wheat into my barn.” ‘ ”

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The parable implies that some people in the world are planted here by the evil one. I would prefer not to believe that Satan would create people for the sole purpose of evil, but my preferences have little to do with anything that goes on outside my own household. I do believe that God blesses every birth and fills us with the potential to be blessings to the world. Yes, that includes all children from every situation, background, race, and creed. But Satan does have power, can bend our perceptions, and warp our understanding of what is good, what is necessary, what God’s plan for us really is. In doing so, Satan plants seeds of doubt, which grow into weeds of discontent at the requests of God. If those seeds are given enough time and space to grow, we become weeds in the field. Weeds choke out the wheat.

But what is a weed? Weeds are any plant that grows among a crop, in this case, a field of wheat. A weed takes more energy from the soil than it needs, choking out the wheat. When I think of weeds, I think of all the hours I spend in my garden, pulling the unwanted plants up by the root, tossing them into the wheelbarrow and hauling them off to the weed pile–a ever growing mound of grass, dandelions and stray prairie plants that will destroy my strawberry patches and clutter up the rows of beets and tomatoes.

While the weeds in the parable are gathered and burned, the grain is ground into flour to make bread, the most basic meal, the most filling. But it’s ground into flour. How often do we feel ground between the milestones of faith vs. the world? How often do our choices to attempt to be Christians leave us feeling more like dusty flour than a whole grain?

What types of weeds are cluttering our world? The population can’t agree on what is a weed and what isn’t; even in a garden, some of the weeds do have beautiful flowers. How can we pull the sprouting menaces up by the root if we can’t even agree on what needs to be taken out and what needs to be given time to grow.

Abortion is a weed, choking out the newly planted seed of life.

Bullying is a weed that poisons the gentle hearts of children and adults.

Jealousy is a weed that alters our vision into seeing that what other people have is so much better than what we have.

Hatred is a weed that we plant in our own hearts. If it’s fed enough, it destroys our lives while leaving a trail of deadly seeds along the way.

What can counter these garden pests? Love. Abortion is stopped when a mother realizes that that clump of cells isn’t just a random growth formation, but an intentionally forming human being with a heartbeat and the potential to be a great person.

Bullying is the result of low self-esteem and is cured when self-love is nourished. Parents, teachers and other friends can help. The victims of bullying need more love than anyone. Words and physical abuse take years to heal, but if love is present in a never-ending supply, there is a cure.

Jealousy disappears when we learn to love the gifts and blessings we’ve been given. Sure, we might not have that car or those shoes, but we have what we have. Look around and see that you have things that others don’t. Jealousy is perspective. Love where you are.

Hatred is the opposite of love. Just as the darkness ends when the sun rises, so too does the blackness of hatred.

As a nation, we need to harvest a nourishing crop of LOVE. Then and only then can we identify the weeds.

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I was recently in a position to overhear a conversation at a book store concerning the quality of books for young adults. The statements regarding concern over the quality of recent young adult books was at the heart of the conversation. Teen romance is scary enough in real life, the idea of reading about it was enough to send one woman over the edge. The other woman tried to defend it, stating that the character qualities in the books were actually more mature than what the average teenager would experience and that by reading such literature (a term I use loosely when referring to teen romance books) it might actually help young hearts as they tramp through the dating scene.  Having never read teen romance, I must admit that I cannot declare an educated decision on this matter. In all honesty, both women are probably correct. When they caught me listening in, they asked me my opinion: What do you let your children read? How do you select books for teenagers? How do you make your children read? All good questions. booksI gladly climbed aboard my soapbox and shared.

What do I let my children read?

Books with integrity. Books with strong characters in nearly impossible situations who overcome odds to become great heroes. Books based on history–the ugly parts: The Holocaust (The Diary of Anne Frank or Number the Stars by Lois Lowry), Slavery (Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson or Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas), War (The Winged Watchman by Hilda Van Stockum or The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne), Family Issues (Almost Home by Joan Bauer).

Books that allow escape: Fantasy (The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Never Ending Story by Michael Ende), Historical Fiction (The Little House of the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Fever by Laurie Halse Anderson).

Books that teach, encourage by example (Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham, Alas Babylon by Pat Frank, The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour).

When I’m asked to give my opinion on how to select books for young adults, I can only offer suggestions. I encourage the reader to consider books that allow them to put on different skin, view through a different set of eyes, see a part of the world they would never otherwise see. That’s why we read or watch TV or go to the movies: for the experience of the story. My personal opinion will probably carry little weight with parents who are simply thrilled when their children read anything. The concern of the quality of the literature isn’t considered important, but it is. Just as people fawn over mass-produced or organic produce, the quality of literature is even more important because it effects the health of the soul. If detoxing your body is difficult, imagine how much more effort goes into detoxing a soul. If the Bible isn’t something a young adult reads regularly, then that is a great place to start.

When my children were young, I had grandiose plans of reading every book before they did. This worked until I was outnumbered three to one. As the stack of books for me to pre-approve grew taller than me, I realized that I needed a different strategy. It came down to a three-step process of approving books before I could read them.

  1. Read reviews of the book on Amazon. By reading a few of the 5 star and a few of the 1-2 star ratings and reviews, I could gather any potential inappropriate themes that I would not approve of.
  2. Post a request to friends for thoughts on the books we want to read. I used to use Facebook for this quite a bit. It generated some really great discussions.
  3. If a book passed the first two steps, then my children were allowed to read it, with one rule: If it ever felt inappropriate, they were to bring it to me for a discussion.

By doing our research and giving my children the authority to determine if I would approve of a book or not, we’ve discovered that they are much more cautionary than I am about what they read. Any book with a swear word is brought to my attention. I’ve even read books after my daughters have and have found words and sometimes phrases blackened out. Censorship at its best!

The last question, How do you make your children read?, really stumped me. Simple answer: I don’t make them read anything. Long answer: years of modeling reading, giving them time to read, providing time at the library for browsing, giving books as presents, rewarding good behavior with an extra story at bedtime. We turned off the TV years ago. Instead of the furniture arranged to watch a screen, it’s arranged around book shelves and tables with books and big comfy reading pillows.

Remember your teen years? Did anything your parents make you do become fulfilling? The typical answer is no. It comes down to putting your actions where your mouth is. You say you want children who are strong readers, then you must practice reading strong. If you want children who gravitate toward books instead of video games, then you must do the same. And for the love of all that is holy, don’t give your young girls romance novels! What good can they possibly glean from such books?

In all these qualifications of what to read and how to encourage teens to read, there was nothing that would classify a teen romance novel as a good choice.

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The idea of taking a pilgrimage came up twice today in our homeschooling readings. First, in Matthew Kelly’s Decision Point Program, he defined a pilgrimage as a “spiritual journey to a holy place” and list the top ten Catholic Pilgrimages.

 

The second mention was in the YouCat–the Youth’s Catechism of the Catholic Church–where a pilgrimage was defined a “a prayer with your feet”.

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Both definitions intrigued me, partly because it was odd that we read about it twice in one day and partly because the idea of taking a pilgrimage seems out of fashion. Both of these books are recent publications–within the last 10 years, but so rarely–okay, never–do I hear of people taking a pilgrimage. I’ve known professors and scientists who will go on sabbatical. I wonder if that’s similar. But no, a sabbatical, while sounding like a Sabbath, is really more of a vacation from the duties of work so one can explore and research a specific interest related to that work.

 

Images of the Canterbury Tales come to mind. Stories of the stories people told during their pilgrimage toward a holy place. The movie, The Way, detailing one man’s walk on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, is another. I could go to the Vatican, Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, or Jerusalem. My question is this: in flying, taking a train or taxi to any of these places take away from the journey of praying with my feet?

 

Part of the beauty (because there can be beauty in conflict) of a foot-styled pilgrimage is the obstacles that one must overcome in order to reach that Holy destination. If it is sped up, simplified, and too easy, would that take away from the potential of my holy experience? Has going on a pilgrimage been traded down for tourism? I don’t want to be a Christian tourist–buying the knick-knacks of faith, photographing the cathedrals, and staying in my faith only long enough to be caught on film smiling and tanned. The pilgrimage of true faith seems like it would be gritty and difficult. Not like Jesus’ pilgrimage to Golgotha–nothing like that. But is a pilgrimage truly a pilgrimage if I don’t suffer a bit?

 

I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I can worry about taking a month to walk the Camino de Santiago or flying to Rome to visit the Vatican, I must first afford such luxuries. Because that’s where my abilities are limited–or at least my beliefs in the ability I have to take a month, or even just a week, away from my life as a mother. Sure, I could take the kids. That would likely increase the potential for holiness. How would Bill manage a month away? As a self-employed business owner, if he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid.

 

All that brings me to this question: Until I can afford to steal Bill and the kids away from our life for a month, can I find a way to make a pilgrimage? How can I pray with my feet as I walk through the grocery store, behind the vacuum, or between the sink and the refrigerator? Where can I go to seek a holy place that will get me there and back on one tank of gas?

 

That is my new mission.

 

And the answer to that is found in scripture–of course. Pray always. Pray unceasingly. That means that in everything I do, in every step I take, I do everything with the intention of bringing my thoughts, words and actions to God as praise for his mercy. It means that every meal I cook, every dark hour I’m not sleeping, every book I set down to help someone else, I’m offering up my tiny sacrifices to God. It also means that when I accomplish my dreams, that the glory of that accomplishment goes to God. The more I learn about Him, the more I realize I can’t do a thing without Him.

 

Until I can set foot in Italy or Spain or Portugal, until I can take a vacation that has a purpose, I will make my daily tasks my pilgrimage.

 

 

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