Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Little “Inside” Humor

I have two brothers, both younger. One of them, the older of the two, is currently in prison. For the second time. It’s a long story. Let’s just say he makes lousy choices and leave it at that. But, he is a fantastic writer!

John shared the following story in a recent letter, and when I asked, he gave me permission to publish it here. It. is. hysterical. In a this-could-only-happen-in-prison kind of way. So, set down your coffee (trust me, coffee snorted through your nose is not yummy; plus, it kinda burns) and enjoy.

With the exception of a few minor corrections (hey, I’m a proofreader; it’s what I do), this story is 100 percent John’s: his wording, his style. Except for names and cuss words—I changed those too. You’re going to love it. Seriously, put down your drink. And don’t read this in public. You will draw attention.

About a month ago I paid a few dollars to use a contraband cell phone, but before I could use it to talk to [my son], we had what’s known as a “shakedown.” There were about 20 officers searching every nook & cranny. Well, in order to defer discovery, the owner hid his device in the usual place. This precaution, usually so effective, would have sufficed—except that his girlfriend, unfortunately, chose that rather inopportune time to try calling him.

The mind can only wonder at what this poor [guy] had gone through to get the thing where it was, or what intestinal fortitude it was taking to keep it there. But even a man of such hidden talent has his limits. A look passed across his face, every three seconds or so, that can only be described as . . . extreme. This, of course, attracted the attention of one of the guards.

Thinking the inmate must be having some sort of fit, the guard kept trying to get him to sit down. Given the rather unique circumstances, this was a physical impossibility. With what I am certain were the kindest of intentions and a hand gently but firmly applied to the shoulder, the concerned officer attempted to push our brave hero down onto his bunk.

I’m not entirely sure what the PSI capacity of the human anus is, exactly, but I now know that, when it exceeds its design parameters, it sounds very much like a bottle of champagne being opened.

Also, it seems I’ve been doubly blessed in that I am one of only about 58 persons privileged to, again, witness the birth of cell phone technology.

As the guard, with a look of fascinated revulsion on his face, was trying to push the offending article into an evidence bag, somebody shouted from the back of the bay, “Hey! I guess you can fit a square peg into a round hole!”

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Marathon Mover

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Yes. The rumors are true. We’re moving to Alaska. Again.

You know those stickers that runners put on their cars—26.2 or 13.1 with an oval around ‘em? I want one of those. Only I want one that says 3.092K. Mmhm. 3,092 miles. That’s how far it is from our house in Colorado to Glennallen, Alaska. It’s even further from Greenville, SC. 4,103 miles—that’s how far we drove last time. So I might need one for that trip too. 4.103K. Nobody else will have a clue what they mean. But I’ll know. Those are looooong drives.

The first time we did it, we had a 7 year old, a 5 year old, a 3 year old, and a 1 year old. That, in itself, deserves a sticker. It was . . . long. The second time we did it, we had a 16 year old, a 14 year old, a 12 year old, a 10 year old, and a 7 year old. Decidedly easier. But. We also had 2 cats, a big dog, and a guinea pig. The critters added their own special . . . flavor . . . to the trip.

Moving is never easy. I seriously cannot fathom how my military-family friends do it time after time. Maybe it’s easier on some people than others; maybe some just learn to deal with it better. I really don’t know. I just know I detest er, strongly dislike it. For one thing, I’m sentimental and my husband likes to purge. I spell “stress” M-O-V-I-N-G. Seriously, the most difficult times in our marriage, bar none, have been during moves. We get along great otherwise. Once settled, we’re golden.

For example, we both absolutely loved Alaska. We loved the place and we loved the people. Small communities, for better or worse, are tightly knit. This dynamic is especially true in places where life is tough, and you have to rely on one another. The Copper River Valley is a kind of arctic Mayberry. We got to know folks deeply. We walked the same valleys and celebrated the same triumphs. Life wasn’t easy, but it was rich. Together. And we loved it.

We both really like Colorado Springs too. However, our transition to Colorado has been challenging on multiple levels. The job we moved 3,094 miles for Paul to do was a massive disappointment. In the weeks between accepting the position and our arrival, the work situation began to change. Shortly after we got here, it unravelled. Dramatically. And was no longer a fit.

Aside from the sucker-punch of sacrificing a life we adored for the disappointment of an ill-fitting job, we also faced a cultural adjustment. Somewhere in there, we became small-town folks. Don’t get me wrong, people in Colorado are awesome. It’s just that life here is fractured. People are busy—and they’re busy doing different things. We were busy in Alaska too, but there, because it was so small, lives naturally overlapped. Your busyness lined up with your friends’ busyness. You were busy together. The same people attended Bible study, hockey games, and PTO meetings. You ran into each other at the gas station, the post office, and the telephone co-op. I can count on one hand the times I’ve bumped into someone I know while out and about in Colorado Springs. That’s not bad; it’s just different. And it makes building relationships—deep ones, I mean, beyond a superficial, “Hey, how ya doin’?”—really, really tough. It’s doable, over time, but it takes focused intentionality.

So, Colorado has been a challenge and Alaska was wonderful. Plus, my parents live there with four of my nieces and nephews! You’d think I’d be beyond eager to go back, right? But I’m not. Sharing this is risky, but important. We’re headed back to a very small community filled with people I love. I would never, never want them to think I don’t want to be there. I DO! Our visit over Thanksgiving reminded me of just how much they all mean to me. I count it an honor and privilege and a joy to do life with them. But they’re savvy enough to sense when someone isn’t whole-hearted about something, and I respect them too much not to be honest. I am torn about moving back. In reflecting on why that is, exactly, I landed on a few reasons. (Be warned. Some are flat-out carnal.)

1. I’m lazy. Life in rural Alaska is hard. We hauled our drinking water. We harvested, butchered, and packaged our own meat. We drove three to four hours each way to do most of our shopping. Paul and our boys cut and split the wood we used to heat our house every winter. All of that is just normal, everyday life. Most everyone up there does the same. It’s hard. And extreme temperatures aren’t just cold—they can be deadly. So if you’re wise, you lug full winter gear with you everywhere you go. And maybe an arctic-temp–rated sleeping bag or two. We have seven people in our family. I’ll let you do the math. And while you’re adding, don’t forget to save room for two or three hockey bags. And maybe some groceries. Speaking of groceries, shopping at Sam’s Club, in the dead of winter, in Anchorage, Alaska, ain’t no cake-walk. For one thing, we shop BIG. We only went to town (Anchorage, that is) once every month or two. So an average grocery run meant 8–10 gallons of milk, 12–14 loaves of bread, multiple cases of canned goods, ginormous bags of pet food . . . . You get the picture. It was a LOAD. Then, you had to get that load from the store to the van, often in subzero temps, across an icy parking lot. A pitted, gouged, snowplow-scraped parking lot. I can feel the teeth-jarring workout just thinking about it. And then, when you got home . . . it all had to be hauled inside. Whew! Grocery shopping in Colorado Springs is waaaay easier!

2. I love to shop. I especially love Anthropologie and TJ Maxx. Alaska has neither.

3. I don’t like change. Really, I don’t. I don’t even rearrange my furniture. I get it how I like it, and I’m good. For years. We lived in the same house in Alaska for nine years. I rearranged the living room once. And even that time, it wasn’t my idea.

4. I put my all into making a home for my family. Truthfully, I think this may be the biggest reason I dread moving. (This one and the next, for sure.) I’m a feeler. When I do something, I put my whole heart into it. Which probably explains why I don’t do hobbies. I can’t. It’s all or nothing for me. And with five kids . . . well, that’s pretty much all the “hobby” can handle. So my home—the home I make for them and for my man—is big. And leaving it is hard. Excruciatingly hard. It feels like I’m leaving part of my heart behind. And I am.

5. I value relationships. This one’s the other biggie for me. I am a people-person. Big time. I love people! I love being part of their stories and their growth and their struggles. And I like sharing mine with them. So saying goodbye to friends takes another chunk out of my heart.

At the same time, those last three are also the reasons why I know I’ll be just fine once I get there. I mean it when I say that we love the people in the Copper Valley. Being back over Thanksgiving this year, it felt like we’d never left. We shared meals and stories and laughter with family after family. What a treasure of friendships we have there! Everywhere we went, people grinned when they saw us and said, “Hey! Welcome home! We’ve missed you all!” and, “When ya comin’ back?” And they meant it. That’s pretty special.

I look forward to making our new house there a home, making it ours and making it welcoming to company. I look forward to doing Bible study and having coffee with my girlfriends, to keeping score at hockey games, to knowing my kids’ teachers—and them knowing all of my kids, not just the ones they teach. I look forward to being near my parents again and being Aunt Misty and Uncle Paul, every day, to the four kids they’re raising. The more I think about those things, the more I look forward to going back.

Yes, I’ll miss Colorado. I’ll miss the weather and my front porch and the mosquitoless summers. I’ll miss our neighbors and other friends we care about here. And, on the carnal side, I’ll miss our hot tub—and TJ Maxx! No, I won’t ever love Sam’s shopping in Anchorage or packaging meat. But, if I let them, goodbyes and hardships and disappointments simply serve to remind me that nowhere on this earth is perfect. Nowhere is truly home. Not yet. And, if I let them, the people and places I love can  remind me that I have a Forever Home that my soul longs for and that will fill all the empty places in my heart. One day.

I really look forward to that! Somehow, I don’t think I’ll mind that move one bit. I won’t even need a sticker.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pride Goeth Before Destruction

DSC_0726cBWLoerResA few years ago I was headed to a conference—in Colorado, actually, from Alaska—and I had on super-cute new cowboy boots and a brand new outfit. Suffice it to say, I was feeling downright chic.

It’s worth noting that it was late winter in Alaska, and it had been months since I’d been out in anything remotely “cute.” Ain’t nothin’ svelte about a parka and snow boots.

I strutted my fashionable self through the airport toward my connecting flight, basking in the aura of marvelous taste I was surely projecting. Stepping oh-so-gracefully aboard the Up escalator, I stood, confident in my trendiness—completely forgetting that my oh-so-cute new cowboy boots had a mile-long pointy toe.

You know how escalator steps do that unfoldy thing right in front of you?

Yeah . . . well, my pointy toes were doing some projecting of their own. That escalator step lifted those cute little pointy toes straight up, and I came perilously close to doing a backflip right down the escalator. Every last iota of style, grace, confidence, and dignity deserted me as I flailed wildly for balance, staggered desperately around on my heels in an effort to get my toes back on my own step, and clutched frantically for the railing. Ooooh, yeah. Ultra-svelte.

All I could think afterward, as I bent over the (firmly grasped) handrail in laughter at my idiot self, was “…and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Good grief.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Speak, Lord . . . No, Really. Speak!

080730-DSC_0254-600Ever wish God would just . . . SPEAK? I mean, we’ve got lots of bushes around our house that would work nicely to kindle with holy fire. And plenty of wall space, too, should he want it—although, that time in Daniel didn’t exactly bring the kind of message I’d want. Shoot, we’ve got lots of critters he could use, and I’m pretty sure Gabriel could fit in my foyer: “Misty and Paul, take thine offspring and return to the land from whence thou came (Alaska).” Or, “Misty and Paul, remain where thou art.” That wouldn’t be too hard, would it? Not for God. But . . . He remains silent.

I know God could make it clear. So why doesn’t he? And what should my response to his silence be?

When I look at Scripture, I see that God didn’t answer Job’s cries right away. (And, truth to tell, Job had a whole-heck-of-a-lot worse circumstances to beg God to intervene in.) When God did answer Job, it was along the lines of “Do Not Question Me, Mr. Smarty-pants.” David was anointed years before he became king—and that was far from the end of his difficulty. Joseph was yanked around all sorts of ways before God’s ultimate plan for his life was revealed. Daniel was kidnapped, castrated, used, ignored, used some more, and ignored again (not to mention that whole lion’s den incident) for decades—in the service of pagan kings, no less! And John the B. died wondering if he’d misidentified Christ.

Never, not once, in all those examples did God pull anyone aside and say, “Okay, here’s the scoop. Life is gonna rot for a while. As in, really, really stink, and you’re going to hurt. Deeply. And be confused. People will treat you badly, and I’m going to let them. But it’ll be okay. Because in the end, I’m going to do such-and-such. So hang tight.” He didn’t even say, “Trust me. I see what’s happening, and I’m working behind the scenes to do something really cool.” He was often just . . . silent. Bottom line, God does not explain himself to us mortals. He loves us—wholly and completely and perfectly. But he does not answer to us.

So, the question remains: what should my response be?

I think, worship.
Worship through confusion.
Worship through disappointment.
Worship through frustration.
Worship through tough choices.
Worship through mistakes and backtracking—that, incidentally, he could have helped us avoid with a little spontaneous combustion, had he been so inclined.

Worship: Adoration. Trust. Humility.

Honest attempts to choose what will best enable us to honor and glorify him. Humble willingness to be redirected, but moving forward as best we can in the absence of clarity. Laying down our “rights” to this or that and putting others first.

Open hands. Open hearts.

Worship.

Care to join me? Here’s my playlist:
Broken Hallelujah, The Afters https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8VWLkaVvc8
Oceans, Hillsong https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jhf6XHvMHqE
Write Your Story, Francesca Battistelli https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBmDCDbmtpc
God, I Look to You, Jenn Johnson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CR5IoWH9OiI
Need You Now, Plumb https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGIumjD6I3M
Worn, Tenth Avenue North https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zulKcYItKIA
Sovereign Over Us, Aaron Keyes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPkMbhydU9I

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Life and Hair

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Hair. There it is. Every day. Sitting on top of your head. Waiting for you to do something with it. You might even have some idea of how you want it to look, but . . . until you start in on on it . . . you never really know how it’s gonna look on a given day.

After all, there are a lot of factors at play: 1. what products you use (conditioner, gel, mousse, cream, wax, spray), 2. what tools you use (hair dryer, curling iron, flat iron, curlers, wide-tooth comb, vent brush, round brush, fingers), 3. whether or not you use any products or tools—all that plays a part.

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Then there’s weather: 1. wet or dry (frizz v. static), 2. cold or hot (hat head v. sweat head), 3. windy or still (why does the for-real tousled look never have quite the effect it does in those salon images?), 4. or any combination of the above. And, if you’re blessed with curls or cowlicks, there’s a whole nother dimension to your hair styling challenges!

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Then, right about the time you think you’re starting to figure it out, you get a hair cut. Or get pregnant. Or move to a different climate. Or start getting wiry little grey things mixed in . . . and it all changes! The bottom line is, every day and every season of life is a little bit different with hair. (Unless, of course, you’re a man and you simply go bald from the stress of it all.)

Life is like hair. Every day you wake up and there’s a day to be lived. Challenges to overcome.

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Changes are inevitable, and you know you’ve gotta deal with them. You may even have an idea of what they’re going to be and how you plan to handle them. But . . . until you actually start in on ‘em . . . you never really know how those changes are gonna shake out.

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After all, there are a lot of factors at play: 1. stage of life (kids or no kids, age range of kids, spouse or no spouse, job or no job), 2. support network (family nearby? church home? God-honoring friends?), 3. location (US, Europe, 3rd World)—all those things play a part. Then there are personalities, health issues, cultural expectations, and any number of day-to-day factors that can nudge us in one direction or another on our path through life. Honestly, like James tells us in 4:14, we have no idea, really, what tomorrow holds. We just don’t. All we know is that (unless we die) tomorrow is coming.

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Like with hair, there really is no magic serum to make life hang perfectly smooth and beautifully coifed. There are gonna be bad life days. Days when nothing you try seems to help. When everything’s outta control and seemingly beyond help. Days when all you can do is barrette the dickens out of it . . .

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. . . or hide it under a hat. Or eight.

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But here’s where the analogy breaks down (and that’s a good thing).

Life, unlike hair, isn’t just along for a ride on the top of our head. Life IS the ride. And it’s a ride planned out from before the foundation of the earth by a Creator who knows and loves us, who guides and shapes and grows us into something bigger, something better, something beyond our imaginations.

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Maybe ride is the wrong word. Ride implies that we just have to sit back and go along. If it’s a ride, it’s a bike ride. Uphill. For miles and miles. It’s work! And our hair gets messed up, for goodness sake. But, you know what? I’m thinking it’s a tandem bike. One where Christ sits in the front, and when we’re just too tired to pedal anymore, he lets us coast for a while, knowing that he never stops, that he’s still got his hands firmly on the handlebars, and he knows exactly where he’s taking us. And really, at least from where I sit, it’s a beautiful view.

When I look back, I can see that he’s taken me along paths that were breathtaking, spectacular, and sometimes a tad scary but amazing. Looking around to the sides and craning to see over his shoulder, I see exciting turns we might take, but none of them show much of the trail beyond. And that’s scary too. What if he takes me down a path I don’t like? What if we crash? But when I look straight ahead, I see nothing but the broad, strong shoulders of my Savior. Shoulders that carried a cross for me. Shoulders that remind me that he’s there. Going first. And I realize I have nothing to fear. He’s not going to take me anywhere that he isn’t going too. And if he’s going, it’s going to be okay. Even if my hair gets mussed in the process.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

A [Kid] by Any Other Name

As our kids have grown, we’ve been struck by how completely they’ve grown into the meanings of their names. We like names. We particularly like Old English/Gaelic–sounding names. I don’t know why; we just do. But, it was important to us to choose names that we not only liked but that also had neat meanings. We didn’t use Bible names, but there was always a biblical character or verse that the name brought to mind.

Tristan Lee Rude

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Tristan, our eldest, is our “David.” You can find all sorts of different meanings online for just about any name these days, but the one we saw and loved for Tristan was “lover, warrior.” Who else in Scripture but David fits that description? Our prayer has been that Tristan would become a man after God’s heart. That he would be kind and loving (minus the myriad women), but be a stalwart and fierce warrior for his King. He has always been a sweet-natured kid. To this day, at seventeen, he often hugs me goodnight before bed or first thing in the morning. Yet he wants to be a Marine. He’s not overly vocal about his faith, but when you ask him, he offers surprisingly deep insights regarding the Bible and God. I’ll keep praying, taking nothing for granted, but he truly seems to be growing into a lover-warrior for his heavenly Father.

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Tristan’s middle name is “Lee,” after his paternal Grandfather. Terry Lee Rude is a remarkable man of faith whose heart for God has impacted thousands. Literally. And that’s a conservative estimate. He has spent most of his adult life studying and teaching God’s Word. (In fact, he was my Bible Doctrines teacher before I ever met his son.) We are immensely grateful for the heritage of faith that Dad Rude has passed down to his children and grandchildren. If Tristan Lee grows into even one of his grandfather’s shoes, we will be beyond thrilled.

Aidan Gregory Rude (That’s him in the middle, with his cousin and . . . his Grandpa Rude.)

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Aidan, our second-born, is our “Peter.” His name means “little fire or fiery one.” My mom, half-jokingly–half-seriously quipped, “You’re gonna regret that one!” when we told her his name. And . . . truth be told, his personality has been a challenge at times. But only because he feels things deeply; he’s pretty much all-in, whatever his mood. You know what, though? When submitted to the Lord, the passion and tenacity Peter displayed changed the world. Aidan doesn’t do anything halfway. (He’s like his Dad in that regard.) So we pray that the fire of his heart will be fed by a passion for his Lord and Savior, that nothing will hold him back or temper his enthusiasm for Life as a Christ-follower.

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His middle name is Gregory. We are blessed to have a God-fearing, God-loving, God-serving heritage on both sides of our family. My Dad and my Papa (Gregory) love/loved Jesus with all their hearts. I remember seeing my Dad on his knees in the wee hours of the morning, day after day, praying faithfully for those listed in his prayer journal. My Papa was a Christian businessman who’s motto was, “You can’t out-give God.” He gave of his time, his money, and his love in service to his Lord. (And he used to pay me a quarter for every Bible verse I memorized. Loved that!) We pray that the same heart for God will be evident in what Aidan Gregory passes down to his children and grandchildren.

Ashelyn Rae Rude

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Ashelyn . . . ah, Ashelyn. Her first name comes from the Irish name “Aislinn” (pronounced ASH-lin, hence our spelling—plus an “e” in case she ever decided to shorten in to “Ashe,” which so far, she detests the very idea of), meaning “meadow or dream.” Alone, it doesn’t have much significance—unless you know our daughter; she has an imagination like none I’ve ever known—but Rae means “doe or deer.”

Immediately, we thought of Psalm 42:1, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” Our prayer is that our imaginative, creative, free-spirit of a daughter will long deeply for the Lover of her Soul. We didn’t know before Ashelyn came into our lives that “hippie” was a DNA thing. Apparently it is. She is a flower child if ever there was one. To. The. Bone. She also has long, flowing, white-blonde hair. Go figure. But don’t be fooled; the child fits inside no box ever created. She’s a classic “blonde” in many ways. But she can do math. Really well! And she iw 100 percent her own person. Something we will never have worry about with Ashelyn is peer pressure. She couldn’t care less what other girls her age are into. She’s too busy writing fanciful stories and poems, imagining new mythical creatures, and inventing games for her younger siblings and their friends. And yet, she is eager to please, loves Jesus, and has a sweet, tender heart. We can hardly wait to see what God has in store for Ashelyn Rae. One thing’s almost certain: the world probably hasn’t conceived of it yet.

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Therron Lewis Rude

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Therron, our third son, is our “John the Baptist.” Therron means “untamed,” and he is our little wild man—in a fun, crack-a-rib-laughing kind of way. He has always loved life and has kept us in stitches from day one. He has an incredibly quick wit—and a jive that no white boy can fake. (We have NO idea where that came from!) Our prayer is that his zest for life and laughter will grow into a deep and dedicated joy in Christ that cannot be quenched.

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Therron’s middle name is Lewis, for C.S. Lewis. We love Lewis’s stories and his writings on theology. He pondered deeply about his God, seeking to understand more of His character and becoming ever more in awe of Him. That is what we want for Therron Lewis.

Teagan Laura Rude

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Teagan means “lovely.” Our prayer is that she will be lovely from the inside out. Now, color us biased, but we think she’s beautiful. However, Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” We want Teagan to understand that she is beautiful because she is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), regardless of her outward appearance, and that true beauty shines out of a heart and spirit that are pure and lovely before God.

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Laura was Paul’s maternal grandmother’s name. She was the matriarch of faith in Paul’s family—on both sides. She came to know her Savior as an adult, through a radio evangelist. She found a church, taught her own children and others by both word and deed, and prayed faithfully for her husband’s salvation for over fifty years. He came to Christ only weeks before his death. When her high school–aged daughter wanted to go out with a boy named Terry, she said yes—but only if he’d attend church with them. That is how my father-in-law came to know Jesus. She was a fireball and a woman of God. We would love for Teagan Laura to take up her great-grandmother’s baton of faith.

Brogan Edwards Rude

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We actually had a fourth son. Brogan was our fifth child, born between Therron and Teagan. He was stillborn. But though he never drew a breath in this world, I fully believe that his life, short as it was, had a purpose. We chose the name Brogan because it meant “strong, sturdy.” (Ironically, he squeezed off his own umbilical cord. It got caught inside his elbow, and his little fist got wedged under his jaw, clamping off the flow of oxygen.) “Edwards” was for Jonathan Edwards, that bastion of faith and grit who had such an impact on Christianity in this county and beyond. We hoped Brogan Edwards would be “[an oak] of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3). And he has been. Not through his life, but through his death. Through Brogan’s story, seeds of faith and hope have been scattered. We’ve been privileged to encourage other hearts throbbing with the pain of losing a child. And we have had doors opened to us, to share our faith, that might have otherwise remained closed.

I think names are maybe more important than our modern culture considers them. They were certainly given weight in Scripture. But whether or not our names—or our children’s names—were given any special thought beyond “Ooh, I like that one!” we have another Name that we bear if we love Jesus and have accepted His sacrifice and His lordship: Christian—“little Christ, child of God.” Are we growing into it?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Talk

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Our oldest daughter loves cats. Any cat. But her favorite was a cat named Jasmine that we got when Ashelyn was three. They were best buds, and we often jokingly referred to Ashelyn as Jasmine’s human.

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One evening, we were sitting around the dinner table in Alaska, and our then eight-(ish)-year-old daughter asked, “How can Jasmine have kittens when she isn’t married?” Paul, in his usual take-charge way, replied, “That is a great question, Ashelyn. And right after supper, Mommy’s going to answer it.” Why, thank you, sweetie.

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Now, you probably need a little context to understand our situation. Because of where we lived, we had to have The Talk with our kids at a much younger age than we might have otherwise. Sexual abuse is rampant in rural AK, even among very young children, and we’d been warned that if we wanted our kids to hear the facts from us, from a healthy perspective, we needed to talk with them sooner than later. It was also important for them to have a clear understanding of what was good and what was not. So, we already knew it was time to talk to Ashelyn. And this provided a golden opportunity.

We have a beautifully and tastefully illustrated book on the subject, written for children and from a godly perspective, which we’d already used with our two older children. So, after dinner, I pulled it out for Ashelyn and we snuggled up on the couch to read.

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It begins with the story of Adam & Eve, talks about the gift of marriage that God gave them, and about the special gift he gave that is only to be shared between husband and wife. It then goes into a pretty clear explanation of where children—or kittens, for that matter—come from.

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We also talked about how for every good gift that God gives, Satan offers a counterfeit, often tantalizing us with its availability sooner, faster, better—only, in the end, to rob us of our joy and self-worth, the value of the real gift.

We closed the book and sat quietly. I, treasuring the mother-daughter moment of closeness and waiting for the questions I felt sure would follow—which I, of course, would answer with great wisdom and depth of insight. She, apparently, contemplating the relevance of the book.

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She paused for a moment, then looked up at me with a somewhat blank, somewhat confused, somewhat irritated look and said, “That had nothing to do with cats!”

Friday, June 27, 2014

Mothers . . . May I?

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I could not WAIT to stay home with my first child. For starters, the teaching job I’d landed—teaching English, Public Speaking, and Theatre at a wrong-side-of-the-tracks public high school—was n.o.t.h.i.n.g. like I’d dreamed it would be. I had envisioned touching lives and making a difference through my winsome ways, through copious amounts of love & grace, through character-building & a firm hand. Yeah. Reality involved being cussed at, mocked, and ignored, as well as occasionally having to duck flying chunks of deodorant. Not even kidding.

So, when I got pregnant, I counted the days until I’d get to stay home with my sweet baby. (My rosy-view–prone nature had a smidgeon of reality to adjust to there, too, but that’s a story for another day.)

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AND . . . I didn’t even have to feel guilty about quitting! Because that’s what any good mother would do. Right? Good, godly mothers put their children above their careers. (Bonus if your career stank.) I embraced that lie with a full-on bear hug. Because that’s what I wanted to hear.

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But, wait. Let’s take a look at the rather precarious pedestal that lie is perched on. In which sliver of recent history has that option, as we know it, even existed? Until the advent of washing machines, crockpots, and self-cleaning ovens, stay-at-home moms in this country actually stayed at home—and worked. As in, physically labored. Now don’t go getting your drawers in a knot. I’ve got 5 kids, and I’ve been “at home” with them for 17 years. I know SAHMs work. But, truthfully . . . when’s the last time you hand-stitched a hem? Or darned a sock? (Finger cramps ain’t no picnic.) When’s the last time you used a washboard for your laundry? Or butchered and plucked a chicken for dinner? Or milked a cow? Those weren’t just hobbies. They were life. Every single day. Life at home used to be hard. Back-breaking, fingers-to-the-bone exhausting. Those moms weren’t playing Candy Land, reading books to toddlers, and taking trips to the zoo.

Beyond that, look at the women the Scriptures laud. The Proverbs 31 lady? Um, she was a business woman, straight up. Lydia, in the NT? A merchant (a.k.a. business woman). Sarah? Pardon, but she ran a pretty large domestic operation on the road. (Ever been camping?)

All that to ask, Where in the WORLD—much less the Bible—did we come up with the bogus idea that staying home (using a vacuum cleaner, washer/dryer, and a dishwasher) is more spiritual than a job outside the home? Seriously. Where did we? Women in the past had very little choice as to what they did, and they certainly didn’t have time to read or write about how sanctified their choice was. Frankly, they were fortunate if they had the education to read or write, period.

Wanna know what I think? I think God has uniquely gifted different moms with varied and sundry personalities, skill sets, levels of drive, sleep requirements, and callings. I think some are gifted to homeschool, some to run home businesses, some to work outside the home, and some to do a combination of all of the above as life takes its turns. I’ve known SAHMs who were fantabulous, and I’ve known SAHMs who were lazy and unmotivated and devastatingly poor examples to their kids. I’ve known career women who neglected their families in pursuit of advancement, and I’ve known successful career women whose children rose up and called them blessed. Being a “good mom” isn’t determined by the label a woman wears; it is determined by a heart resolved to do whatever her hands find to do as unto the Lord, whether that’s balancing a spreadsheet or baking cookies, teaching a class or tackling a mountain of laundry.

The truth is, nothing I do or don’t do is going to be my kids’ saving grace, anyway. Do I have a responsibility to make the best choices I can for them? Sure. Should I put their needs above my own goals and dreams? Of course. But their hope lies in Christ, not me. Thank God! Because I’m going to screw up, no matter what choice I make.

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I am immensely grateful that I got to spend so many years at home with my kids. If I had to choose again, I’d do it the same way. But I am blessed to have some remarkable women in my life who—before God and with their husbands—made different choices. And they are amazing. It makes me furious to hear them spiritually marginalized because they “put careers before their children.” I happen to know them and have seen first-hand how untrue that is. Have they done it all perfectly? No—and neither have I. That’s life. And that’s where the shimmer of God’s grace can blanket our mistakes. But right here and now, I’m standing alongside these women I love and saying Back. Off. They answer to God and to their families, not to some twisted fabrication of misapplied Scripture. 

My God is much too big and far too creative to have made only one acceptable role for all women to fit into. Look at the variety in his creation: in flowers, in birds, in foods, in sunrises. What, so he hiccuped when he created women and somehow made us all to fit the same mold? Of course not.

And you know what else? Godliness in Scripture is not measured by vocation—not for women and not for men. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). That’s what God is looking for. In me and in you. At home and at the office. I dunno about you, but I’ve got some work to do. Far too much to spend time finding fault with my sisters in Christ.

So let’s stop with the finger-pointing. The judging. The smug, self-righteous patting of our own backs. Good grief. We are all different, with different circumstances and needs and gifts. And, if we love Jesus and are doing our best to honor him and serve our families well, how ‘bout we start cheering each other on instead of kicking one another in the shins?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Promise & Beauty

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I enjoyed a remarkable walk tonight. So . . . I shall remark upon it. For starters, I decided to walk, rather than attempt another walk-run-walk/C25K near-asphyxiation. (C25K = Couch to 5K) I wanted to enjoy this outing, so I decided I was walking, hang it all! It was a brisk walk, alright? Anyway, it was well-nigh perfect weather, right at 70, with a gentle breeze. And the timing was perfect too. Sun still out, but low in the sky, casting shadows across most of the route. We live in an absolutely gorgeous area of the Black Forest in Colorado Springs. The roads near us are dirt, but well-graded and wide. The houses are set back from the streets and most have multi-acre lots. There are wide lawns and trees and fields and fences and a pond and, right now, a gazillion wild flowers: various shades of purple, yellow, pink, orange . . . just everywhere.

I couldn’t help but think as I walked and soaked in the colors—including lush green—that a year ago right now, my neighbors were glued to TV sets and computers, trying to glean any information they could about whether or not their homes still stood. The devastating Black Forest Fire broke out on June 11, 2013, just a couple of weeks before we made our move from Alaska. Days later, having been evacuated, they waited still. The fire ended up claiming some 14,000 acres, 511 homes, and 2 lives. It wouldn’t be contained for nearly 10 days. The section where our home is was untouched, but a mile north and a only half mile east, the fire destroyed acre after acre, home after home.

As I walked, listening through my ear buds to praise music, I thought how unpredictably things we take for granted can be lost. And I decided to soak in the walk, the beauty around me, the moment. Beyond the flowers and the golden light of pending dusk, were the animals. Gobs of different birds. And bunnies galore—including one who was sprawled at the edge of the road like a dog, flat on his belly with his back legs splayed out behind him and his front legs and chest resting on a slight berm alongside the road. He looked for all the world like he was leaning on a fence, talking to his neighbor. And he kinda was. Neighbor Cottontail took off as I approached, but Chill Bunny stayed right where he was—long enough that I began to worry he’d been hit by a car and wasn’t able to move. As I crossed behind him, though, he (I swear I heard him sigh) pulled his haunches underneath him one at a time and amble-hopped off. (If a bunny can amble, this one did.) And deer. The first was a doe who trotted off into some tall grass beside the pond when she saw me. The second, a young buck, velvet-covered antlers barely topping the tips of his ears, watched me cautiously for a while before taking a few steps further away. As I passed him, I saw the doe emerge on the hillside across from me . . . with a little spotted fawn gamboling along behind her! So sweet. So beautiful.

Basking in the evening and it’s aura of tranquility, I couldn’t help but ponder God’s restorative power. The area I was walking in was unscathed, but every day of the school year I drove through a burned section of Forest. I saw foundations of homes and partially burned fences and the random, inexplicably standing garage or outbuilding. The devastation was astounding. This spring, though, the ground underneath the blackened trees is green again. Wildflowers bloom. And some trees, those whose crowns escaped the flames, are putting out green needles. The Forest is still charred . . . but it’s not dead.

My friend and neighbor, who experienced firsthand the horror, fear, evacuation, and uncertainty of those days, shared the picture above that someone took at the edge of the Black Forest on the one-year anniversary of the fire’s outbreak. The road in the photo runs right through the area where the fire began.

What beauty. What promise. What a gift.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Hockey. And Other Deep Thoughts

130108-DSC_0305artsyI remember the first hockey game I ever attended. I remember thinking it was LOUD. And violent. All in all . . . rather obnoxious. Did the music really need to vibrate my seat—and my liver? And what in the world were they fighting over? I had no clue what checking was, much less that it was part of the game, but even I could see that throwing a punch (while appearing relatively futile given the amount of protective gear between the players) was not allowed. So WHY did they keep doing it? It was pointless and petty and absurd. Grown men acting like middle school boys! I thought it was the stupidest game I had ever seen.

Twenty years later, I have three boys playing the game. Avidly. I’m not sure exactly where the switch is that gets flipped: I send well-mannered, respectful, (mostly) sweet young men into the locker room, and out step The Avengers: Attitude, Fire, and Touch-Me-And-Die.

Now, I’ve learned a few things about hockey in the past 10 years. For one thing, I now understand checking. (As well as any non-playing hockey mom can understand it, anyhow.) I know that intimidation—physical and psychological—is a huge part of the game: If you get knocked on your can, you better get up, fast-and-fierce, to show you are not cowed and you ain’t takin’ it! Better yet, knock the other guy on his can. As soon as possible. Harder. Legally, if possible; if not . . . well . . . do what your coach tells you.

I read something a while back about why competitive sports have developed into such massive empires in the civilized world. The premise is that males are, by nature, warriors: born to fight, to grapple with a foe, to win the day. For eons men and older boys had to fight. For survival. To eat. To provide. To protect. That—for the average, Western male—is no longer required. Sure, there are career paths, like the military and public safety, that involve such elements, but they are chosen paths, not inevitable ones.  (Which, let me be clear, in no way diminishes the sacrifice they make. If anything, it makes it even more laudable. They choose to serve, and they honor the rest of us with that choice.) War, though, for most men in first world cultures, is now reduced to video games and sporting events. So, they “battle” on the court or the field or the ice.

Feel free to quibble with that logic. (It’s not mine.) But, it makes sense to me. Just watch two little boys at play. I don’t care what you give them to play with, they’ll turn whatever they get their hands on into swords, guns, shields, bows-and-arrows, bombs, and whips—i.e., weapons. No lie, they’ll sword fight with a Barbie doll. And if they have nothing to play with? They’ll wrestle. (Truthfully, they’ll most likely wrestle whether they have toys or not.)

Which brings to mind a funny story from my childhood. My brother and his little friend got into a tussle, apparently the equivalent of a scene from Rocky-in-Preschool. The appalled mothers rushed to yank the two hoodlums apart, gave them stern what-fors and then, holding them firmly by the shoulders, faced them toe to toe and demanded, “Now. What Do You Say?!” The two miscreants looked at one another in quasi-abashed silence for a moment. Finally, one muttered, grudgingly, “Thank you,” and the other dutifully replied, “You’re welcome.” Ironically, there’s truth in that response—for sure, a lot more truth than in a forced “I’m sorry”! Boys love to play rough-and-tumble, king-of-the-mountain type games. Mine do, anyway: hockey, airsoft, paintball.

And, I think, it’s because they DO have warriors’ hearts. And, I’m convinced that for the Believer, that heart is a tremendous advantage. We’re told that our Enemy seeks to devour us. I, for one, want some fierce men battling on my side of this warfront.

So I’m all for my boys playing hockey. They are learning to defend the vulnerable. (Just watch what happens when a teammate, especially a goalie, takes an unfair hit.) They are learning not to back down from bigger, more aggressive players. They are learning to be aggressive—but smart. (My oldest isn’t a big guy. He can’t take on a 6’5″ defender and win. But he can outmaneuver him.) They are learning to be tough, even when it hurts; to work hard, even when the scoreboard says it’s over; to get back up, digging deep for control when a competitor is playing dirty. To FIGHT. Not over petty stuff. It still bugs me to see fistfights on the ice—it’s against the rules, and it only hurts the team when a player gets sent to the penalty box. But to grapple. To overcome. To win.

Those are life lessons I like.