Wednesday, May 21, 2008

People of the Exile

Reading Haggai, has inspired me to look again Ezra, Zechariah, and Isaiah 44 & 45. I have always found the exile and returning from exile periods in Israel's history to be fascinating. Maybe because I don't remember learning those stories much in Sunday School. Or maybe it's because I see so many parallels between The U.S. and Babylon.

Now please understand, I don't mean the United States is "evil like Babylon" But there seems to be some very similar attitudes. I am not an expert on Babylonian culture. But I do understand from the scriptures that they were not annihilators, they were assimilators. They didn't conquer a people and wipe them out. They assimilated them into their culture. Tolerance and diversity seemed to be pretty common themes. Well tolerance to a point, there was the fiery furnace thing. But even there they didn't forbid them from praying to God, they just wanted them to bow to idols too.

They also seemed to be a pretty modern society. Even though we consider them to be ancient, I imagine they considered themselves to be quite high tech. They had the best technology and living in Babylon was probably pretty cushy for some. Many of the Jews, Daniel for example, became high ranking officials. Babylon was a melting pot and a land of opportunity in some ways. Tolerance, diversity, technology, opportunity - sound familiar?

I guess that is one reason the exiles fascinate me. How did they stay close to God in a culture so similar to ours? How did they deal with the temptations of prosperity, and push for tolerance? Was it difficult to leave Babylon and return to the ruins of Jerusalem?

It had been seventy years. Few of the returning exiles actually remembered Jerusalem. Many were born in exile, others were just small children when they left. I imagine their parents told them stories about the gorgeous temple, the gates, the walls. I wonder how it felt to them to return to find it all a pile of rubble.

Anyway, I guess that is why the exiles are so interesting to me. They had decisions to make that I can relate to my life. They had to discern when it was right to stay involved in the things of the world, Daniel, Mordechi, and Esther for example. They also had to discern when it was right to give up there wordly comforts as Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel did.

There is lots to learn from them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tackling my clothes

Tackle It Tuesday Meme

I decided I really needed to weed out my wardrobe. Since I was in maternity clothes last summer I didn't weed last year. So it was long overdue. I also want to move a dresser out of our bedroom because it is just too crowded, so I had to empty out the 2 drawers that actually had clothes in them. I decided to put ALL of my clothes on my bed. (Except for some clothes in the laundry, but I figure I wear those anyway.) It looked like this:

Babygirl had a ball playing in the mountains of clothes while I started sorting. I started at a corner and worked my way in. I tried to be ruthless. I got rid of every bra with a "C" on it. If I ever get back there I'll just buy new. I also got rid of all the t-shirts that didn't quite cover my belly if I lifted my arms, and all the long sleeve shirts that didn't reach my wrist. I did keep some pants and shorts that "almost" fit. I decided if I could button it I could keep it. (I don't tend to have a lot of extra pants and shorts) Hopefully I will lose that extra ten pounds so I comfortably fit into them again. After I was done it looked like this:

I got rid of a lot, but still have a lot of clothes! I figure I need to ban myself from buying t-shirts for a couple of years maybe. Before I put things back I had to rethink my storage system. I decided not to just put things back where they were before. I would like to get a closet organizer, but that won't happen until after we paint our bedroom this summer. But I still managed to free up an entire drawer, in addition to the 2 drawers in the dresser I'm moving. And I have a lot of extra room in my closet.

So, now I can move the extra dresser. I can store some of the stuff overflowing the guest room closet in the extra dresser and my closet.

I also developed an appreciation for how blessed I really am. I have too many clothes to even wear them all. I have been to places where people who have two sets of clothing, one to wear and one to wash, are considered fortunate. I don't need any more clothes, not for a long time anyway. So, no more clothes shopping for me for now. Instead I will endeavor to remind myself of the great bounty that I have been given, and choose to be grateful.


Monday, May 19, 2008

More on Haggai...

"...'I am with you' declares the LORD." Haggai 1:13

Why is it so easy to neglect God? In the daily day to day He so often is the first to be set aside. I am so guilty of this. There is rarely a day when I don't check the internet or watch at least a little t.v. But there are too many days when I don't read my Bible, and my prayers are just short petitions thrown in here and there. I think it is a bit of a paradox for me. It becomes easy to put God last because he loves me and will forgive me. In Haggai as soon as the Jews, who had neglected God for 16 years, turned to Him He said, "I am with you."

But that is also the reason to put Him first. He is so deserving of our attention. He is our purpose for existence. The message in church yesterday spoke to me about this. Our youth pastor was preaching. He talked about the sacred and the selfish. It is selfishness that makes me put all the busyness of the day before God, who is sacred. And according to Haggai it is self destructive selfishness at that. God's blessings are limited when we neglect Him. I want Him with me!

I guess one of the reasons I find so much in Haggai is because I relate to the Jews in this story so well. You see these weren't the bad guys. They weren't Jews in name only. They left lives of relative ease in Babylon to come to a destroyed city and rebuild to honor God. They didn't stop building the temple because the rocks got too heavy and the work was uninspiring. They had real persecution and threats from the people around them. They wanted to put God first. But they lost sight of that in the discouragement. Then they got into the habit of neglecting Him. I can fall into this. I don't "completely" neglect God. I am at church everyweek, I listen to Christian radio, I think about God everyday. But that is not what He wants. He wants me to spend time directly with Him in His temple, my life. He wanted the Jews to spend time directly with Him in the Temple, that was still in ruins.

What encouragement that God is there waiting for them. And this time the same discouragement comes. But in chapter 2 they hear these words from God, "...take courage and work for I am with you," "My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear." Instead of succumbing to the discouragement, they take action. Then they begin to see the blessings of the Lord.

So through my day, as I clean my house and care for babygirl, I must remember I have God's Spirit with me. And I can't be discouraged or distracted by the busyness of life. Because if I get focused on the busyness I will miss the blessing. And the greatest blessing comes from spending time with Him.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tackle it Tuesday

Tackle It Tuesday Meme

OK this is the first time I'm trying this. But I saw it on a "friend's" blog and was inspired. I wanted to tackle the paper pile on my counter. You know those papers you want to do something with but don't have time right now. So you either lose them or forget about them and find the 3 months later. I have a basket for this stuff but it becomes the basket of doom since it is all jumbled together. Then everything just gets left on the counter, because "you'll never find it in the basket." So here is my before:

I cleaned off the counter around it too. In order to control the clutter I decided to add folders to the main paper area. In our house I figured it would work best to have 1 for me, 1 for him, 1 for church, and 1 for 4H (we're very involved as volunteers). They're color coded too, green for 4H etc... Basically church stuff and 4h stuff will automatically go to their folders. His work stuff and financial stuff to his. And everything else to me to deal with, file elsewhere, or toss. There are 3 small spaces in front, one for this month's and recent large purchase receipts, one for the errand/shopping list and current coupons and a pen, and one for the calculator and banking. Here is the after:

I also cleaned out my coupon/paper overflow drawer. Now I just need to take 15 minutes each week to keep it in good shape!

Reading Haggai

"You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the LORD Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house." Haggai 1:9

I guess it might seem kind of strange that one of my favorite books of the Bible is Haggai. It is short, only two chapters. It can be hard to find, near the end of the Old Testament tucked in between Zephaniah and Zechariah. But it has so much to offer us for our lives today.

It is about focus and perseverance. It is about putting God first. It is about going on in the midst discouragement.

You see a small remnant of Jews had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, they got a start and then got discouraged by the peoples around them. So they stopped for sixteen years. In the meantime they built their own lives, but they just didn't have the blessings they expected. Then Haggai comes on the scene to tell them they have been neglecting the things of God (building the temple).

I know we don't have a temple building anymore. Instead our lives are supposed to be temples of the Holy Spirit. So this book always challenges me. How often do I get so busy with my earthly house and life, that I neglect my spiritual life - the temple of God?

It is a struggle, but praise God there is more to come in the book of Haggai. I will share more later in the week. For historical context, read Ezra chapters 4-6.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Garage Sale-ing in the rain... or ohhhh books!

It was garage sale day in the town just east of us. Now I have to admit, garage sales are not my specialty. Normally, I shop with a specific mission. That doesn't translate well with garage sales. But, last spring I went on a mission and found a crib and changing table at the first 2 sales I hit. So, I was inspired to try it again.

My mission today - babygirl stuff : 12/18 month clothes, a toy piano, and books. Babygirl and I set off around 8:30, around 8:35 it started raining, pouring actually. But now I was on a mission. So between showers I visited the handful of sales that braved the weather. I found clothes : overalls, shorts, and 2 cute "red" outfits - one with the cutest denim jacket. I thought $5 for 7 pieces was pretty good. And babygirl looks so good in red. Sadly there was nary a toy piano to be found. But, what I really want to talk about is the books.

I was inspired at my MOPS meeting last month to expand my horizons when it came to books for babygirl. Our mentor mom, Holly, spoke about creative ways to use books. She encouraged us to choose a variety of books; fiction and non-fiction, old and new. She also encouraged us to let our children have access to the books, just keep scotch tape on hand. I have always loved books, but hadn't really thought about the wealth of possibilities in children's books. So the third part of my mission turned into a treasure hunt.

I found the treasure trove at a country farmhouse a little ways out of town. The garage was out back and jam packed with stuff. It was dark and dim and the door was down partway to block the recent downpour. It was too muddy and crowded to use babygirl's stroller, so I perched her on my hip as I squatted to sort through the 3 laundry baskets of children's books. Here is what I found:

2 Little Golden Books - Mother Goose and Baby Farm Animals. I love the old fashioned illustrations and sense of nostalgia from my own childhood.

Sea Creatures - Okay, this is 109 pages, photo and fact filled. Probably a little beyond my 8 month old, but the photos are beautiful and hopefully someday she will find the information fascinating. I especially can't wait to watch babygirl and her Aunt Becca pour over the 25 pages devoted to penguins, Bec's favorite animal.

Baby Animals - This is not a highly sophisticated anthology. But I liked it for the simple text, and variety of animals grouped by their habitat.

Rhinoceros Tap - One of my favorite finds. A mint condition book and music CD, of Sandra Boynton's fun silly books set to music, including my favorite "Barnyard Dance"

The Grumpy Bunny Goes West - A silly little perfect condition paper back about a pessimistic junior Easter bunny who wins a vacation at a dude ranch. It is certainly an original concept. And as an Easter baby, I have a soft spot for bunnies.

Who Says a Dog Goes Bow-wow? - This is not your standard "a cow says 'moo' " book. It also tells you that a cow says "Boeh-boeh" in Dutch, and "E-bah" in Ethiopian. The multilingual "animals" in this book are a wonderful way to expand world view, and a fun way to play with language sounds.

Whose Tracks Are These? - A fun little fact filled, "figure it out" paperback about forest animals. Perfect for our camping, hiking, nature-loving family.

Shiver Me Letters - A fun frolicking alphabet book. A crocodile pirate forces his animal crew to find him more letters to add to his "R" (as in "Arrh") A great creative book using letters for words more original than "a is for apple."

Curious George Goes Camping - Does this need an explanation? Where wouldn't I go with my childhood friend Curious George.

I limited myself to 10. They were 5 for a dollar. But I couldn't resist picking up the slightly battered copy of The Cat in the Hat I found at the last sale I visited. Dr. Seuss is well worth the 25 cents.

All-in-all I think I did pretty well. I hope mentor mom Holly would be proud, and I hope babygirl Holly will be pleased, fascinated, enriched, and delighted. Now it is time to go read some books!