Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Over Thanksgiving weekend, my cousins Lisa, Jason, and Ian Carriere came out from Chicago to visit us at my parents in Potosi. Atticus and Ian had met once before at A.'s Illinois baby shower, but this their first meeting where they noticed each other. Ian greeted Atticus by trying to find out what this guy was made of -- He tried tasting him. This resulted in the dads staging a mock brawl. Having this day and a half with my cousins...I am so thankful to their sacrifice of time especially after just returning from Thanksgiving out in New Jersey.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
November 9th Atticus turned 6 months old. We had his 6 mo. check-up this past Tuesday. He is 28 inches tall and weighs 18 lbs. 4 oz. This puts him in the 75% for ht. and 70% for wt. So pretty much spot-on (proportionately) for a big-ish kid. He can now sit up by himself and is eating two solid- food meals a day. Just in the last few days he's made it to going without eating all night long from 10 pm until 5 or 6 am. He still has a rough spot around 1 or 2 in the morning. But with some teamwork between Brad and me and some sad crying on Atticus' part he gets back to sleep within an hour and makes it until morning. Some of his favorite things to do are bouncing about in his johhny-jump-up, listening to Brad play the guitar for him, sitting in my lap while I play piano music or watching me try to play my violin. He also loves riding around in the back-pack all around the house while I do chores. I try not to do the latter too often since he would be happy doing that for hours if my back would hold up. Atticus and I don't go out "on the town" very often since it jumbles up his naps and feedings and because I've been furiously working on house projects (which will be momentarily finished today) to make way for Christmas projects. BUT he does love watching other children, really, any people. People-watching is quite entertaining for him. And there is always the crazy dog, Victor, who loves performing for Atticus -- and licking him as much as possible until I intervene. One thing I've been missing is the more frequent nursing times -- so very nice to stop, read, be quiet and feel very close to my boy. But I want him to grow up too...so, a timeless and universal joy and sorrow for all mothers.
We are spending this weekend down in Des Moines with the Johannsens and then returning for a few days before heading down to northern Illinois for the Ackland Thanksgiving, then back to Dubuque to spend the weekend with my parents, Jonathan, and my cousins -- Jason, Lisa, and Ian Carriere -- who are traveling to and staying in the Dubuque area just to visit with Brad, Atticus and me. Again and again I am overwhelmed by the blessing of my two families.
Friday, November 03, 2006
"On Motherhood & Profanity" from Love Has a Price Tag by Elisabeth Elliot
[I was reminded recently of this essay -- and though it lacks emphases on joy and delight which I often see missing in E.Elliot's writing, I still think it is an encouragement. Throw in serving the Lord with gladness and the delight of obedience and the pleasure found in doing work well and living in community with your husband and children, and then the lesson would be more full, more savory. Nonetheless, the sermon delivers Truth well.
Following is the essay transcribed in full with a few adaptions.]
"Ok now, which one of you clowns put that bag of M&Ms in the grocery cart?" The mother looks harried.
Two boys, maybe five and seven, eye each other and race away toward the gumball machine near the supermarket door. There is an infant [riding in a front carrier], and a two year old occupying the [grocery cart seat]. The mother picks up the M&M candy bag and starts toward the aisle to return it, but [sighs and tosses it back into the cart -- maybe she can use them for monster cookies later in the week. The two year old starts crying.] Patiently she fishes out her [bank card, signs,] and pushes the cart with the babies in it, herds the two boys through the rain to the station wagon in the parking lot.
I go with her in my mind's eye. Jump out in the rain. Open the garage door. Drive in. Close door. Babies, boys, bags into the house -- in how many trips? Phone rings. Answer phone, change baby, wipe muddy tracks from kitchen floor. [Let out dog, let in dog, wipe dog's feet, give dog clean water.] Feed baby, put groceries away, hide M&Ms, start peeling vegetables, take clothes out of dryer, [intervene and mediate a] fight between the two older children, feed two year old, answer phone again, fold clothes, change baby, get boys to: 1) hang up coats 2) stop teasing two year old 3) set table. Light oven, put baby down for nap, stop squabble, [clean] up two year old, put chicken in oven, answer phone, put away clothes, finish peeling vegetables, [brush hair, brush teeth, take deep breath -- look calm and happy] for husband coming through door.
I see this implacable succession of exigencies in my mind's eye. They come with being a mother. I also see the dreams she dreams sometimes -- [write a book of essays, paint a series of figures and portraits, learn the guitar better and begin writing song lyrics down instead of just in my head, travel, make independent films, become a freelance food writer, design a line of stationary and custom made paper boxes. Have a professional haircut, a wardrobe from Anthropologie, J.Crew and Zac Posen. Wear luscious stilletos and funky italian shoes on a regular basis. Have a job with quarterly reviews and someone letting you know if you're doing a good job -- a vocation where you finish a project that is actually finished and doesn't need to be done over again in 15 minutes or 24 hours. And you're done at 5 o'clock every day -- the rest of the day evening and weekends all yours.]
I know how it is. I have a mother. I am a mother. I've produced a mother (my daughter Valerie, has a two year old and expects another child soon). I watched my own mother cope valiantly and efficiently with a brood of six. ("If one child takes all your time," she used to say, "six can't take any more.") We were -- we still are -- her life. I understand that. Of all the gifts of my life surely those of being somebody's wife and somebody's mother are among the greatest.
But I watch my daughter and other mothers of her generation and I see they have some strikes against them that we didn't have. [They have been told that finding their own personhood and happiness is what is best for their children; That intelligent women need creative outlets and ways to make a difference -- which is true -- that they just can't get taking care of a baby and a house and a husband all day long seven days a week -- which isn't true (read Edith Schaeffer's The Hidden Art of Homemaking); That quality time with a mother who is fulfilled and successful in the sphere of the real (!) world is better than quantity time with a mother who is bored and lonely and thwarted in her personal pursuits and passions.]
...Young mothers often come to me troubled because they can't answer the arguments logically or theologically. They feel, deep in their bones, that there is something terrible twisted about the whole thing but they can't put their finger on what it is. [And there is part of them that does get bored changing five thousand diapers a day and is lonely for adult conversation and does guiltily feel they might be doing something more stimulating or gratifying or enjoyable.]
I think I know what it is. Profanity. Not swearing. I'm not talking about breaking the Third Commandment. I'm talking about treating as meaningless that which is freighted with meaning. Treating as common that which is hallowed. Regarding as a mere triviality what is really a divine design. Profanity is failure to see the inner mystery.
When women -- sometimes well-meaning, earnest, truth-seeking ones -- say "Get out of the house and do something creative, find something meaningful, something with more direct access to reality", it is a dead giveaway that they have missed the deepest definition of creation, of meaning, of reality. And when you start seeing the world as opaque, that is, as an end in itself instead as transparent, when you ignore the Other World where this one ultimately finds its meaning, of course housekeeping (and any other kind of work if you do it long enough) becomes tedious and empty.
But what have buying groceries, changing diapers and peeling vegetables got to do with creativity? Aren't those the very things that keep us from it? Isn't it that kind of drudgery that keeps us in bondage? It's insipid and confining, it's what one conspicuous feminist called "a life of idiotic ritual...." To her I would answer: Ritual, yes. Idiotic, no, not to the Christian -- for although we do the same things anybody else does, and we do them over and over in the same way, the ordinary transactions of everyday life are the very means of transfiguration. It is the common stuff of this world which, because of the Word's having been "made flesh", is shot through with meaning, with charity, with the glory of God.
But this is what we so easily forget. Men as well as women have listened to those quasi-rational claims, have failed to see the fatal fallacy, and have capitulated. Words like personhood, liberation, fulfillment and equality have had a convincing ring and we have not questioned their popular definitions or turned on them the searchlight of Scripture or even of our common sense. We have meekly agreed that the kitchen sink is an obstacle instead of an altar, and we have obediently carried on our shoulders the chips these reductionists have told us to carry.
This is what I mean by profanity: We have forgotten the mystery, the dimension of glory. It was Mary herself who showed it to us so plainly. By the offering up of her physical body to become the God bearer, she transfigured for all mothers, for all time, the meaning of motherhood. She cradled, fed and bathed her baby -- who was the very God of very God -- so that when we cradle, feed and bathe ours we may see beyond that simple task to the God who in love and humility "dwelt among us and we beheld His glory".
Those who focus only on the drabness of the supermarket, or on the onions or the diapers themselves, haven't an inkling of the mystery that is at stake here, the mystery revealed in the birth of that Baby and consummated on the Cross: my life for yours.
The routines of housework and of mothering may be seen as a kind of death, and it is appropriate that they should be, for they offer the chance, day after day, to lay down one's life for others. Then they are no longer routines. By being done with love and offered up to God with praise, they are thereby hallowed as the vessels of the tabernacle were hallowed -- not because they were different from other vessels in quality or function, but because they were offered to God. A mother's part in sustaining the life of her children and making it pleasant and comfortable is no triviality. It calls for self-sacrifice and humility, but it is the route, as was the humiliation of Jesus, to glory.
To modern mothers I would say 'Let Christ Himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he who had always been God by nature, did not cling to His prerogatives as God's equal, but stripped Himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as a mortal man. And, having become man, He humbled Himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death He died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted Him so high...' (Phil. 2:5-11).
It is a spiritual principle as far removed from what the world tells us as heaven is removed from hell: If you are willing to lose your life, you'll find it. It is the principle expressed by John Keble in 1822:
If on our daily course our mind
Be set to hallow all we find,
New treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Yesterday was Reformation Day. Every year for the last 7 years or so I've been deliberate in celebrating this day, the day when Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church Door (the communal bulletin board for that time). In that list Luther pointed out uncharitable excesses and doctrinal errors in the Catholic Church (of which he was a monk and teacher). [If you want a nice summary you can go to: http://www.stpaulskingsville.org/reformation.htm
It isn't that I just want to celebrate one of the critical "catalytic points" of the Protestant Church (Doug Wilson says it is more like the church as a whole was at a boiling point and Luther was one of the first bubbles to reach the surface and pop). It's more that I want to remember and celebrate what fired Luther up -- namely the justification of our souls by faith alone in Christ Jesus alone and that faith itself being a gift from a holy and merciful God. On October 31st I usually read chapters 6-8 of Romans and play and sing a few hymns -- beginning with "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" (written by Luther), followed by old gospel favorites about Christ's sufficient, atoning blood like "There is Power in the Blood" and "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood".
This year October 31st came and ended, and I did nothing to "mark" it. I didn't even hum the hymn. I used to have that entire Romans section memorized and would recite it to myself. I didn't even remember to read it. I was somewhere in Zechariah in my Bible reading and just lazily slid over a couple chapters there and read a page of Oswald Chambers' devotional book. Then my day launched into a blur with a storytime at a local kids' bookstore with Atticus and a couple friends. Then grocery shopping and home for Atticus' nap and some computer work and cleaning for me. Dinner making ensued to greet Brad's return home around 6 pm followed by trick-or-treaters showing up. Brad, Atticus, and Victor took care of the candy-fest while I "did the treadmill" and then nursed Atticus before putting him to bed for the night. That left an hour or so of "I have no idea what". And then it was bedtime for me. That was my entire day.
Today on my walk with Atticus I remembered that it was All Saints' Day and that I missed even thinking about yesterday. I decided to go ahead and sing " A Mighty Fortress" and pray for a little bit. Did you know that our pastor didn't even mention the day on Sunday? I wonder why -- I mean, it isn't like he's required to in Scripture or anything. But I must say, I was longing for some kind of "high church" celebration. If I couldn't have a nice solemn rite with candles, I would have settled for a five minute teaching on the Five Solas of the Reformation or even a rousing communal cry of "A Mighty Fortress is our God".
Well, life is so much less contemplative married and with a baby. Even when I have time to think my mind is crouched nervously waiting to be interrupted and derailed onto something else. Strangely, I'm not upset about this. I don't even feel as if I'm ready to slip down the enbankment into some schmurky sludge. I'm just sorta in awe how I am the same person and yet seem to be running on a different operating system. I do not feel less pious than I have been. In fact, there is a peace and stability in my faith that I have never experienced before. Questions and blurry spots still sit in boxes on some shelves. But I don't feel haunted by them, nor threatened in critical, vital places. What about ardor -- you know, real bona fide passion for God? His Truth? His Beauty? His Kingship? His Glory? Well, I think that's still here in me. Maybe not that adolescent burning kind of zeal, but I never much trusted that anyway. Too much flame and not enough -- I don't know -- "cut wood" stacked and ready? ("Deep embers" sounds better for a metaphor, but I can't in clear conscience say that since I really think there's plenty of adolescent zeal out there with a real furnace under-girding it.) Hmm...well, a white, blank sky and "bracing" knife wind is beating on our house today. I am refusing to let it breach my fortress this afternoon. I will close writing to work on a drawing waiting here patiently. As I wrote this Atticus woke from 10 minutes of sleep which was the meager fruit of 45 minutes of intermittant fight-crying.
Thursday November 2nd
I've re-read through some of my notes on Luther this afternoon.
"Luther was shaped by nominalism, the prevalent school of thought in Erfurt [city of central Germany]. This school of thought held that if one strives with all one's might, God will not deny His grace."
"The lax piety and secularization of the papal court did not particularly irritate [Luther]".. it was more a battle for Truth -- truth about how a man may clear his conscience before God. How do we escape this crushing weight of our own sin, corruption, depravity before a burning holy and glorious God? Humanism was seeping through the culture and with it came blessings and curses. Theologians were urged to study the Bible itself for themselves. Original texts in original languages; to search meanings out at the roots and lay bare what God had declared to man -- cutting off layers of man-made deductions and didaction (which can be useful tools but must not replace or usurp the Word of God). "In [Luther's] lectures on Galatians he arrived at the important distiction between law and gospel as the two ways in which God is revealed. Theologically, [he] had drawn this important conclusion:...humans must declare themselves sinners before God". "In addition to this theology of humility he began to understand that God offers righteousness through Christ." "In struggling to understand Romans 1:17, Luther realized that God's justice did not consist of a demand but a gift given by God to humans out of grace which must be received through faith. Therein lay the message of the Reformation."
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it -- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. Romans 3:21-25a
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus...Ephesians 2:8-10a
Friday November 3rd
Luther was also an advocate of schools for the masses. To be able to read the Bible, to know what it said was a first step to right thinking (right theology) and from that, right action. He translated the entire Bible in vernacular German in order to make it accessible to every Christian, the "Lay People". He "linked all Christian behavior to faith and redefined the ordinary vocation as a 'new' way of rendering godly service to one's neighbor." This reminds me of an essay by Elisabeth Elliot in Love Has a Price Tag entitled "On Motherhood and Profanity". In it, she refers to the 'Altar of the Kitchen Sink' -- the altar of the kitchen sink. Isn't that fantastic? I mean here I stand changing diapers, doing laundry, sweeping floors, cleaning the kitchen, getting groceries, picking up baby blankets and toys and dirty clothes...again and again and again. And I want to work on the essay that's sat untouched for months, work on the painting I've had planned for a year, sit down to work on the wall hanging of my soon and coming niece Lilly; I want to plan a trip to New York City because I've never been, I want to work on binding those books I've got sitting in the corner, I want to, I want to, I want to... Yet what I do now is worship. It is creative. It is eternal -- rooted in utter meaning right now and on into eternity. I serve two immortal souls -- two men have been given me to tend to. I do all this in context of having been released from the prison of my sin, from death. I used to feel the weight of all that darkness and futility. So heavy. I could scarcely breath. Each morning I had to deliberately and numbly lift myself from bed not knowing how I could make it to class let alone get to the end of the day. But it was the severe mercy of God. That suffering was God's tender love toward me -- to burn away idolatry, burn away self-reliance, burn away despair and nihilism To move my hope from the things which cannot withstand the worship of a creature. The God of Hope and Glory prevailed -- He ravished and delivered my soul. And not only so, but long after I really thought I would be given a husband or child, God gives me a lovely and cozy home with a husband who needs me and wants me. And a sweet and consuming little boy. Isn't it wonderful to be given a tangible, blatant task to serve God. "Here you go, Sarah," God says. "Here's Bradley Johannsen. Here's Atticus Johannsen. I give them to you to serve and in doing so you serve Me. Go to it." So clear. So well-suited for all the big-sister and manic-worker and compulsive-organizer in me. Boys howdy, is it alot of work, though. I've never worked so hard in my life -- and I've worked dog hard at just about everything I've ever done. This life is work on every level -- the whole person: body, mind, heart, spirit.
Last night Brad made a fire in the fireplace. He and Atticus and Victor and I sat there watching the beautiful jewel fire drinking hot cider, quietly listening to Brad play the guitar. Later after we put Atticus to bed...we read books together by the fire...until later when...well, we helped the fire keep each other warm (-: Crazy perfect. The Lord is good and He doeth good.