Monday, April 30, 2012


The joke in Christian circles is that you shouldn't pray for patience unless you're good and ready to get quite a few chances to exercise that particular virtue. I can attest that this is often the case in my own life; I ask God to give me more of something, and He obliges. In spades, even. 

 Earlier this year I discovered another area you ought not pray about unless you're willing to undergo some upheaval: friendship. 

Having simply gotten to the point where the resource of time often feels at premium in my life, and where I no longer feel pressure to be anything other than who I am, I realized that I am probably more of an acquaintance than friend in the lives of several people with whom I had previously been close. You know what? It made me sad. I found myself thinking over years of memories, pining for intimacy, and mourning the loss of the comfort that long-standing friendships bring. 

I was caught off guard by the sharpness of the pain, and found myself praying something that I had never prayed before, "Lord, show me the value of real friendship. Show me how to authentically share my life. Show me who you have given me to walk with." 

And that, I guess, was mistake number one. Because folks, within 24 hours I found myself unwrapping an onion that is only now, I think, coming close to its core. 

 First, I saw that a woman who I had felt an instant kinship with in truth held some pretty different foundational views in terms of marriage and parenting, and that those just plain old weren't compatible with the stated policies of the family Blandings. I admit that I was disappointed, but I felt a huge sense of relief as time went by. After all--we are only casually involved, and keeping things on the casual level will be far easier than disentangling after a messy incident. 

Relief was also the word when a handful of peripheral ladies in my life suddenly began buzzing all the louder in directions I knew I wasn't meant to go. A couple were chatty Cathys who seem to spend their entire lives on the phone. A few engaged in gossip. A couple of others pushed for commitments after I expressly said no and even after I shared that my husband was not on board. Having just recently prayed for eyes to see, all of this felt like blessed confirmation. Not your people, God was saying.

From there, though, things got tougher. I had to appeal to a dear friend for an ear, which felt so uncomfortable at the time that I thought for sure I was going to throw up. She's normally more the sharer, and I'm more the mentor/listener. But I was having an authentic need to be heard, and felt like I needed to express that rather than do my usual of stuff-down-my-heart-and-wait-for-an-opening-a -few-days-or-weeks-later. Go figure: she wasn't offended at all. As a matter of fact, I've recently had to ask her if I had hurt her feelings on another occasion (Eeek! Potential confrontation moment!) and she apologized to me and assured me that all was well. ((sigh)) The beauty of being known! 

 I'd love to say that the rest of the journey has been just as rewarding, but I'd be lying. In equally swift fashion, the Lord hammered me with an out-of-the-blue dissolution of a long-standing, life-foundational relationship. You know--one of those friendships that stretches back before you were even aware that you had friends? Mr. Blandings had cautioned me about the nature of this relationship for years, but I was refused to believe his take on things. (I know, I know ...) The Lord made it impossible to deny. Still, cutting the ties was heart-wrenching, and looking into the future is awkward, to say the least. 

As I said, I'm still peeling the onion. But already, I have learned so much. Good friends, for example, rarely live their own lives through the lens of their children's. Good friends don't serve up guilt when you are unable to meet their expectations. Good friends never assume that you're trying to hurt them. And good friends? Well, they usually have a pretty ready supply of other good friends because people want to be around them.

May we all be blessed with a multitude of good friends!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Missions: We're Doing it Wrong

Before I even get started with this rant, let me clearly state that I do not have all the answers. Chances are good that really, I don't have any of the answers ... at least none worth hammering out and installing as policy. (Praise the Lord, because the last thing the modern church needs is one more policy.) What I do have is a Bible, a love for the church of Jesus Christ, and a passion for spreading the gospel.

Which, as it turns out, doesn't get you very far in today's missions culture.

If I sound cynical, please know that I am praying against a hardened heart in this area. But frankly, it's getting more and more difficult to keep biting my tongue and moving forward. Since founding a religious nonprofit in 2005, my family has been actively working to bring the Good News into unreached areas. Areas where you can walk for hours, stumble upon a village, and be the very first person in the history of the world to say the name of Jesus Christ. That kind of "unreached areas." You'd think that the logistics of raising up leaders would be the hardest part, wouldn't you? Or maybe even traveling to such remote places? 

You'd be wrong. The hardest part about penetrating the 10/40 window is convincing your fellow Christians that the work is important enough to support in the first place.

Now, I am well aware that not everyone is called to the same passions of faith. I know and love people whose hearts are all for the inner city, urban areas of the US. I know and love people who are clearly called to the specific task of reaching out to those who have been hurt by the church. I know others who feel that it's all about their family serving through hospitality in their own communities, or who have some other specific, clearly God-led manner in which they are taking Christ into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.

And that's o.k. That's good, and that's right, and that's part of how God wants to build His Kingdom. 

But somehow along the way, amidst the good work of Women's Teas and Vacation Bible School and Building Campaigns ... somehow, international missions got shoved into a corner, slapped with a label, and forgotten.

Oh, alright. Not totally forgotten. International missions are trotted out once a year on Missions Sunday, and again sometime during the AWANA season when a child needs a book signed. Oh, and there's the ubiquitous penny/book/backpack drive, and the shoeboxes. There's always the shoeboxes. You fill up a couple of those babies, and you're gold!

My point here is this: missions are a hard sell in today's church climate. Go ahead and tell me how much your church body allocates to the act of spreading the gospel into unreached places. How about for Bible translation? Tell me where your church focuses its efforts. How many missionaries are in the budget, and what percentage of the annual budget does that represent? Who's on your church's missions committee? How does the committee decide who to fund? 

Don't feel bad if you don't know the answers to these questions. I've learned that by and large, even the most die-hard, never-miss-a-Sunday Christians have no clue as to how they're being represented in the race (and yes, it is a race--ask me about Islam in Nepal if you want to be convinced of that) to bring the Word of God into unreached areas.

Did you catch that? "How they're being represented." Because folks, that's what it is. When a church supports a missionary, it is doing so on behalf of each and every member of that body. Just as a man wearing the uniform of the US Marines in Afghanistan stands in proxy of every citizen of the United States, every missionary that your church funds acts on your behalf as he or she or they labor to harvest for Christ.

Sobering, isn't it? 

But the fact is, we don't think of missions that way at all, do we? We drop our tithe or offering into the collection plate on Sunday, and we fail to truly grasp what that means. We may remember that Women's Bible Study is hiring paid childcare workers, and recognize that we're footing the bill. We may hear that the heating system needs an upgrade, and stick another $20 in the pot. We may even know that the crisis pregnancy center is getting a piece of the pie, and feel good for helping.

But rare is the family that knows that X cents of each dollar goes into reaching new believers on the other side of the world. Even more unusual is the family that can tell you that their church supports twenty missionary projects, meaning that each group gets half a cent of each dollar. 

This isn't a post about money. It's a post about priorities. In the six years that my family has been supporting nationals, training pastors, bringing supplies to believers, and supporting children, I have become disillusioned, I admit, when it comes to the value that Christians place on the Gospel. I could rail against the churches we have asked for support, the ones who tell us that they are cutting missions funding because they want to hire a second youth pastor. Or the ones who tell us that they are too small a congregation to give even $10 toward saving souls in other countries. Or the ones who hold our work up to a complicated series of "giving matrix" and score it, then decide that we don't meet with their standards.

As someone passionate about what they do, that's hard to swallow sometimes. Because when we ask for support, I don't picture the dollar signs in a wire transfer of funds--I picture the pile of vegetables that the kids in Nepal will get with their lentils. I picture the new believer being given a Bible in his own language. I picture the face of the woman who no longer feels she has to abandon her baby to appease the gods. I see these things, and the "no" hurts.

But the problem isn't the churches. They are simply listening to their congregants and reacting to the "needs" and "wants" that filter up. The problem is the Christians in the churches. But no, wait ... even that's not quite right. 

The problem really and truthfully is on the general abdication of missions into the realm of "professionals." Because folks, that's what it's become. I am shocked--shocked!-- at how many people really believe that you have to have a 4 year degree to save someone's soul in a place you need a passport to reach. I am utterly stunned at the number of people who really think that the church is better equipped to decide who is capable of spreading the Gospel, and where it should go, and how it should happen.

I'm pretty sure that this isn't what Jesus had in mind. I'm pretty sure that He was speaking familiarly, in love, to those whom He knew intimately, when He issued His Great Commission. I'm pretty sure that He didn't set up a committee, organize a barbecue, and write up a list of detailed interview questions, then ask for a furlough visit every two years. 

I'm pretty sure that He just wanted people to hear about what He did for them.

But hey ... what do I know? As I said, I'm just a woman with a Bible who has found freedom and meaning in the blood of Christ. I'm just part of a family that lives to serve Him wherever He calls. 

I'm probably wrong.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Taking a family photo just isn't as satisfying as it should be. I'm not talking about the chaotic insanity of trying to get three small people looking at the camera, or about the near impossibility of finding somewhat complementary clothing for all family members, or even about the number of times I have to remind people to take their hands out of their pockets.

I'm talking about the sadness of posing for a group photo with the full knowledge that it's an incomplete snapshot of our family in this moment of time. 

By nature-- due to our situation-- each and every photo is missing someone. That makes standing for the photos, loading them, and editing them almost too bittersweet to bear.

But here. We did it. Eight Blandings in one frame. Faces forward. Clothing clean. Backs (mostly) straight. Smiles on. 

Missing one very beloved 15 year-old girl, but otherwise a complete look at who we are right here, right now. Loving Jo at 14 and that all-empowering half. Oli at 5 sweet years.  Logan counting down the weeks until his decade mark. Atticus more 12 than 11, though he has a month to wait to claim the title rightfully. Mani-- gorgeous, beaming, Mani-- careening towards 4. Seven not really a baby (but still a baby!) at 19 months. And Mr. Blandings and I, in the prime of our salad days. 


Friday, April 13, 2012


These two

... are usually buddies ...

...  are sometimes rivals ...

... are often polar opposites ...

... enjoy typical boy humor ...

... never cease to amaze me...

... are more capable than I realize ...

... will make pretty awesome husbands and fathers someday ...

... can make more noise than a herd of elephants ...

... are growing up way too fast.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

God knew

Right about this time two years ago, I was announcing to the world that I was pregnant and seemed to be staying that way, as far as I could tell. I had no way of knowing, of course, that our little Seven would be, well ... Seven. My list of what I "knew" was so short, actually, that I couldn't see past each new morning. Every day of that pregnancy was a gift.  I didn't want to ruin it by looking too far into an uncertain future.

When Seven was born, my awe for that gift blossomed even more. A new little person. Who would she be? How would she see the world? And, of course, what role was she destined to fill in our family?

I don't know about you, but one of the things that I love most about the gift of someone new to fold into your circle of family is the gentle unfolding of their place. It's as if a hole that you didn't even know existed is being filled, one day at a time, by a person custom fitted to the job. I have felt this with each and every one of our children, be they blessings via birth or adoption. Each person has added a new pattern to our quilt, a new flavor to our pot. 

Seven is now old enough that her personality is revealing itself in all its glory. She is a lover of beauty ("pretty!" is a favorite word), not above scrapping to make sure she gets her fair share, loves music, and prefers a steady rhythm to her days. Knowing her--learning her--has been a joy I can't put into words. Like her siblings before her, Seven has carved out her own special place in my heart, and in our family--the person we didn't know we were missing.

So many things about this child have been unexpected. Her entire existence, for one. Her healthy arrival. Her ability to skip naps and be fine, even at a very young age. Her utter embodiment of the term "girly." 

And, most of all, her relationship with Logan.

Logan has always been our slightly third wheel kind of boy. He's the one you can count on to dissent when everyone else agrees. He's the guy who never found his perfect match:  too young for Jo, too random for Atticus, too fast for Oliver, too impatient for Mani, too silly for Bee. He's the one who likes chocolate when everyone else likes strawberry, who wants to go sledding when everyone else wants to skate. 

I think we do a pretty good job of keeping Logan fully in the embrace of our family, but I have always suspected that his teen years might be ripe with the "no one is quite like me" drama that was the hallmark of my own high school years. Without an anchor, kids who feel like black sheep often become black sheep: rejecting the commonality that they find in favor of shrugging their shoulders and assuming that they will always be the odd man out. Without an anchor, those kids can feel lonely. They can drift. They can struggle to feel the love of their family, let alone the love of their Savior.

Seven is Logan's anchor.

I didn't expect it. Didn't see it coming at all. But it's true.

Seven gets Logan.

His goofy humor? Yeah, she gets that.

 His need to hug and be hugged? Yeah, she gets that.

His random goofiness? Yeah, she gets that.

His love of teaching and telling tales? Yeah, she gets that.

His ability to stop and breathe in beautiful moments? She gets that, too.

The best part? Logan gets Seven. Together, they are a team: a sweet spot balance between Great Dane boy and headstrong toddler. Carbon copies of one another in terms of features, they are a funny pair of contrasts in size. And yet, there she is: riding his hip in the aquarium, cheering for Logan (and only Logan) in the family soccer match, laughing as he pratfalls for her pleasure. And there he is: slipping into her room as I put her down at night because he didn't get to give her a kiss, asking if she wants to share his Easter treat, calling for her to come so they can go check the mail together.

I see this miracle love story being written and all I can say is thank you. Thank you, Lord, for being so generous as to give my son someone to relate to. Thank you, Lord, for giving my daughter a doting protector who cherishes her. Thank you, Lord, for making my family so amazingly beautiful.

Two years ago, I was stunned by what God was doing. Today, I am stunned by what He is still doing. When will I learn that His plans are, truly, perfect? Someday ... 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

On Easter

I've had a hard time with Easter this year. Normally, this is the holiday that brings me the greatest joy. Normally, I am the one pulling out all the stops. We prepare throughout Lent, we analyze the walk that lead Jesus from the garden to the cross, I challenge my kids to put themselves in the shoes of Pilate, Barrabas, Judas, Peter. We talk. We pray. We digest.

And then, we rejoice. On Resurrection Sunday, we burst into full bloom and sun ourselves in the absolute peace that comes from knowing that Jesus has overcome.

It is a good season. It is a beautiful holiday. It is everything that I love passing on to my children.

And this year it struck me that, perhaps, Mr. Blandings and I have been doing it wrong.

My planning started out with the same excited hum that I always feel just prior to Lent. I pinned some fun crafts on Pinterest, thought of all the fun hands-on ways that I could draw my little ones in, pictured the bright smiles we all seem to have on Easter morning when we greet one another with the required, "He is risen!" "He is risen, indeed!"

Everything was shaping up to be pretty darn wonderful, right up until the point where I stumbled upon a section of Acts that gave me pause. Don't think I'm daft for asking, but did you realize that the main reason that the church met was to celebrate the resurrection? The focal point of every meeting was what we call communion. Yes, God was worshipped. Yes, letters were read. Yes, the fellowship of believers encouraged one another. But read closely and you get the distinct feeling that if Paul walked into most Protestant churches today, he'd be a little lost. Unless it was the first Sunday of the month, of course. In that case--bring on the crackers and juice!

(I'm not even going to go into what constituted communion in the early church, or the various Protestant denominations today who offer weekly communion. Those topics could fill entire posts of their own, and I'm no expert on them anyway, sooooo ...)

After reading through those sections of Acts which pertain to the gathering of believers, I was nudged into an uncomfortable spot. I took my questions to Mr. Blandings, and together, we discussed, we pondered, we researched, we prayed. We prayed a lot. And in the end, both of us were convicted.

Convicted of what, you ask? Easy. We were convicted of turning the resurrection into a holiday, a special event, something trotted out and celebrated and put back into a box until the next spring. We were convicted of not impressing upon our children daily the message that Jesus suffered, died, and was buried, then rose again in accordance to the Scriptures. We were convicted of being too comfortable with teaching that is more about practical how-to applications and less about the immediacy of the gospel.

This newfound conviction changed the way I am viewing Easter this year--in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it changes much more than just this one season. I will be making Empty Tomb cookies tonight with my children ... but I'll probably do it a few more times this year, too. We'll have those yummy sticky rolls where the marshmallows evaporate to leave a gaping hole ... but why can't they be a random treat throughout the year? "Giving something up" might just become a new way of life around here. And I think that the newfound practice of communion during family worship just might be here to stay. In other words, maybe Easter will be celebrated all year long.

I don't think I'm the first person to be led to this place, and I don't think it makes me "special" or "more of a Chrsitian" than anyone else. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong, either, in pouring love and effort and exuberance into a very special culmination holiday. But I know that two hearts in this household--mine and Mr. Blandings--have both been drawn into a deeper walk with Christ thanks to this calling, and I'm happy in the knowledge that I can celebrate my favorite holiday year-round.