April McGowan

Perfect World

Because of my family’s food allergies, we’ve become major label readers. And I have to admit, it’s disheartening sometimes. I mean, they sneak gluten into just about everything. Egg and dairy are all around us. Sometimes, just walking through the store, you feel like food companies are out to get you!

I was at the grocery store today, looking for relish that didn’t have food coloring in it. I know…food coloring? Cucumbers are green! Silly companies! Guess what? Couldn’t find any. My thought processes started buzzing. American food companies are following the way of the fashion industry. You’re probably wondering what I’m talking about—try to follow my though process, it can get a bit convoluted at times. American food companies are doing what the fashion industry has been doing for years. They are covering up imperfection in foods with dyes (rather like style mags cover up their models with airbrushing). But…in pickles? I’ve seen homemade relish and pickles—yep, still green. But, dare I say, not green enough? (Just an FYI—the foods the US exports to Europe have to be free of dyes because of a ban they instated due to safety concerns. I’ll let you ponder that one.)

Now, take a leap with me: our striving to cover up imperfection can get in the way of our spiritual life. A lot of people get so focused on the surface, they don’t ever take a peek inside. They are worn out trying to live up to other’s expectations. They are exhausted trying to be perfect and to do it all. People might put off starting a deeper relationship with their creator until they’ve got it all together. I do that sometimes, too. I plan to have a time set aside to spend with the Lord. But, I’ve got to get all these other things out of the way first! Or worse yet, people try to become perfect enough to approach God on their own.

The Bible says we can’t do it by ourselves. That we’ll never measure up, never be perfect enough to approach God. In our American perfectionism, this is rather a bummer. You mean, I can’t cover up my sin enough to approach God on my own? Mix in a little food coloring to make myself brighter and more appealing? Not so much. The good news is, Jesus says that if we accept Him as our savior, He’ll approach God for us. He’ll be our intercessor. God will forgive our imperfections and sins because the One who is perfect died in our place. We don’t have to wait until we have it all together, or cover up our sins or short comings, to deepen our relationship with God. We just have to accept the gift of grace Jesus offers to us.

Romans 5: 7-11 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Read in context here.)

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One Foot in Front of the Other

Right now, uppermost in my mind, is the beginning of our school year. We homeschool our children—have from the very beginning, and intend to go all the way through high school.

People not familiar with homeschooling usually ask me what the benefits are of schooling at home. First and foremost, it’s created a bond in our family that I don’t think we’d otherwise have. It’s also allowed my children to not only learn about our faith, but see it lived out in our daily lives. God’s definitely not just for Sundays around here. They also have opportunities to try out many different areas of focus—where as the public school system just can’t afford the staff to do that. We hold a belief that God grants each of us a gift—and that gift is to be used to bring Him glory (rather than ourselves). We are blessed to see their gifts growing and encourage them in their use. My son is on his way to being a building or robotic engineer, and my daughter has a passion for drawing and working with children. I don’t know how the Lord will use these gifts, but I do know that if my children are looking to Him, He will.

Every year we begin and I think to myself, “This year is going to be normal.” By that I mean things will go according to schedule with no hic-ups. I don’t know why I think this every year—it has never gone the way I expected. Ever. The first year we formally home-schooled I was pregnant with my second child and, unlike many other lucky mom’s out there (but I’m not bitter), I spent 9 months throwing up about 9 times a day. It’s rather hard to teach like that. Then the next year, we had an infant—this posed some problems. The next year, that infant was a toddler—more issues! Then my health started to go awry. Then my son’s health began to challenge us. That’s been a pattern for the past several years, really. Some how though, through all of this, my daughter, and then my son, learned to read, write, spell, study the Bible, history, science, grammar, vocabulary, robotics, art, and math (these are not listed in order of importance).

There’s a well used verse in Christian circles: Proverbs 22:6 Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.  

These past nine years have held some important lessons for us all. I think all our food allergies and health challenges have brought the idea of God’s providence clearly into view for my children. They are learning from a young age that God is directly involved in all aspects of our lives–and we can and do rely heavily on Him for our day to day strength.  God’s word is active and alive in our lives, not just stories printed in a book. Most importantly, prayer isn’t something to do when you are caught in a jam, but an ongoing conversation with our heavenly Father.

SO, what’s this year going to look like? Is it going to be normal? After 9 years of doing this, I think the answer is unequivocally ‘no.’ However, this year, as I learn to put my health in the Lord’s hands, I’m turning over every other aspect in my life to Him as well. What are my expectations of our school year going to be? We’ll be putting one foot in front of the other as we all keep our eyes on Him.

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A New Normal

I started off writing this blog about seven weeks ago. I’d had a cold, was getting over it, and felt discouraged because it didn’t seem like I could keep up with life. There are so many people out there promoting their writing better than I do, turning out more stuff, and some how keeping their lives in ship shape order. I shared my insights with a friend who reminded me that my family lived at a different level than maybe other people’s families do. I didn’t understand what she meant.

She reminded me that in the past few years, we’ve gone through a lot with all our different health ailments. She took me down a long list of things we’ve survived and it took me aback. It seems, over the course of time, we’d adjusted to these things, moved the bar, so to speak. I hadn’t thought of that. She suggested I might be putting too much pressure on myself (who me??) and I should rather appreciate how God has helped us adjust to this new normal in our life, and cut myself some slack in the expectations department.

I’d thought about that phrase before. A new normal. Our normal has changed. We’ve gone from a carefree, grab a meal out here and there, spur of the moment family, to one that has to consider ever aspect of food, preparation, time and energy. We have to take a lot into consideration when planning an outing, or making a commitment. I think, even though it’s been a very hard adjustment period, we are better for it. I think. On days when I’m exhausted and just want to get takeout, I don’t feel that way so much–but we all have our moments.

So, where was I? Oh yeah…planning this blog. SO, while I’m thinking about our new normal, and health issues, I get pneumonia. Again. Weeks have gone by, and now that I’m getting my energy back, I realize I never posted my blog I’d begun so many weeks ago. Maybe I needed a refresher course? Okay, so here’s what I learned this time:

My family has learned to pick up the slack when mom is down and out. They know how to really dig in and take care of things. We’ve been here, done that, and are good to go with the flow. I don’t dig my heels in and complain when struck silly with illness, as once I did. Rather, I look and think and wonder what God might have in store for me this time. I used to rail and whine with each bout of illness that came our way, now I’m like, “huh…well, okay. We know how to do this.” I now feel fairly (notice I said fairly) comfortable telling people, “No, I can’t do that.” Because I know the limits on my energy. I don’t fear.

I liken it to fire drills. Or emergency preparedness. If you do something often enough, then you get kind of used to it. Am I comfortable being ill? Not hardly. But, I know that God will provide for our needs. He’s shown us again and again and again. When I go down, I’m not alone. He’s here, providing comfort in the sense of His being, through others, through family.

Some of my favorite passages are in Romans. One that get’s used an awful lot, found on stationary, door knockers, you name it,  is Romans 8:28 And we know in all things that God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Is that an easy platitude to give someone going through a hard time? No. I think it’s often taken out of context. First, it’s a promise to those who belong to God, His children adopted by God through our great Savior, Jesus. Second, it’s a promise that no matter what we face, if we are submissive to Him, He can take all the trials of this life and work them out to further His plans, for our good. It’s a verse I hold dear. But, put in context, it’s ever so much more powerful:

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.  28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Paul goes on to say, if God is for us, who can be against us? Who indeed.  If we belong to Him, then NOTHING can separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus.  If you haven’t read this passage of Romans completely in a while, or maybe never–please do. It’s so much more than a platitude for those hurting. There is beautiful power in the Word of God.  Here’s the link Romans 8.

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