Monday, December 14, 2009

Ministry in Ink



My love for writing was developed over many years of internal and external influences. Some of these influences are my own vivid imagination and talent for observation, a high school English teacher, and the written word of G-d. Throughout my life, poetry has served many different purposes, but to my delight has become something more precious than I had thought possible. Poetry has become more than my own expression of myself, but it has become a form of beneficial ministry to myself and to others.


Growing up in a lower class family, I concluded at an early age that imagination was very important. Lack of external satisfaction and pleasures led to the development of my inner creativity. However, at this point writing took a backseat to Barbie dolls and coloring. Little did I know that the same imagination that had me in my backyard setting a table with leaves and dirt would eventually allow me to express my deepest thoughts on paper. As far as I can recall, reading and writing were never areas of complication for me in school. Reading was worthwhile and writing was enjoyable. Up until the twelfth grade, they were little more than that. However, Mrs. Thompson helped change that. An Honors English teacher dedicated to challenging her students, she continues to stand out in my mind. In her class I developed a new regard for literature and poetry. I learned that I could read, write, and memorize large amounts of material when it was required of me because she expected her students to succeed. More importantly, I realized a personal potential for writing. Her affirmation encouraged me to write more and to strive not for excellence in writing, but effect.


After gaining a genuine love for poetry and writing on the inside, I began to look around for tangible ideas and inspiration. I found these in song lyrics, the poems of others, nature, personal experiences, and in the experiences of those around me. Nevertheless, the most refining influence that my writing has encountered is the Bible. Its writing is beyond comparison. The Psalms of David, the Song of Solomon, the letters of Saul: I find great inspiration in these. Above all, I have concluded that G-d is a poet, and He ministers to me through my writing. Recently, I wrote a haiku that sums up my new understanding of the ultimate purpose of my writing: "Words are not my own; Yeshua is a Poet; I just hold the pen." I would never have imagined that G-d would use my works for His ministry.


In conclusion, I don't believe that I was necessarily born a poet. Everyone has a potential to write poetry; one only has to be bold enough to write down the abstract thoughts that occupy a human mind on a daily basis. Outside influences have definitely shaped my writing into what it is and what it will become. Poetry has become the "baring of my soul," and sometimes it can be difficult to share with others. Writing does not always come naturally for me, either. There is joy in the struggle, though, and the finished outcome is worth the struggle, especially when the L-rd uses my writing as ministry in ink...*


*This was a "cause and effect" essay that I wrote for a composition class in 2003.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

remembering Joyce...

Last Thursday, I received one of those phone calls that no one ever wants to experience... one of those phone calls that begins with "I'm calling with really horrible news"... My former co-worker and friend, Joyce, took her own life last week to the shock of everyone who knew her. I had no idea that she was having medical issues, but I understand that she was in pain and most likely found out that she had cancer. That's when she weighed her options, and apparently decided that suicide was her best bet. On Sunday, I attended a beautiful memorial service in her honor. I just wanted to write some about her life and who she was to me.

It is always amazing to hear people speak at a memorial service. I didn't think that I knew Joyce that well because we only worked together for a couple years, but as her close friends and family stood and spoke about her, I realized that many things they said about her rang true to the Joyce that I knew as well.

She had an intense personality (and made no apologies for it either). At first it was intimidating, but then it was just Joyce. She was an "in-your-face" type: 100% outgoing, 100% Brooklyn... (I find it ironic that I will soon be moving to Brooklyn, which is where Joyce was from). It is also ironic that Joyce was completely capable of being private with her own life, but yet she would ask anybody anything at anytime, whether they were a friend or someone who had just walked into the store that we worked in together. She was personal (perhaps too personal at times), but you just had to get used to that coming from her. You came to expect that, at some point or another, she would ask you something that no one else dared to ask...

She had strong opinions and did not hesitate to share them. She was dead set against coffee, so I stopped drinking it around her. She hated cigarettes, but liked cigars. She's the only adult I know that would down a jar of baby food as a snack. She ate only organic food, she wore 100% cotton clothes... she was eccentric to say the least. She talked faster, walked faster, and drove faster than anyone I've ever known.

If there was one thing that Joyce and I had in common, it was our love for books and reading. She helped me get through Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Plato's Republic for philosophy classes. She had a gift for teaching (and mothering) and tutoring those younger than herself. I was not at all surprised to hear that she had regularly helped her nieces with their homework and helped them study over the phone. To quiz people was one of her favorite things: she tested me with the information I needed to know, whether it was for work or for an exam at school. And I would have to admit, I probably paid attention (and learned) more because I knew she would test me!

It was Joyce whom I first met outside the Judaica store when I went for my interview with the manager, Joyce who asked me after that infamous Purim play, "So who's the guy who played the King? He's good-looking, right?" (I married that King), and Joyce who advised me that I should only be feeding my baby daughter organic foods (and I took her advice as long as I could afford to!) It's difficult to see how much impact and influence a person has on your life until they are taken out of your life... I pray that I made as much of an impression on her life as she did upon mine. I will most certainly never meet anyone like Joyce, but I am hopeful that perhaps I will meet someone who shares some of her qualities: her genuine concern and interest in people, her intelligence, her sense of humor, her eccentricity.

She was a beautiful expression of G-d's creativity, and she will be dearly missed by many.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

we're moving...

Just wanted to post that my family and I will be moving to Brooklyn, NY by the first of January 2010, so if I don't have the time to write anything until after then, you'll know why! Keep us in your prayers! My husband will be pursuing his Master's Degree at the Feinberg Center for Messianic Jewish Studies.

Friday, October 2, 2009

stark...

"Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, who separated between the holy and secular, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, between the seventh day and the six days of labor. Blessed are You, Hashem, who separates between the holy and secular." (From the Siddur for Havdalah)


Although I've read this at the conclusion of every shabbat for months now, it has never been more real to me than it is right now. The Siddur precedes this prayer with the words, "may the distinction between the holiness of Shabbat and the secular nature of the weekdays guide me to appreciate the other differences that exist in His universe." Brought to mind lately are the stark contrasts that exist in the world. Sometimes when we see G-d for who He is, we are taken back by the starkness of reality compared to what G-d deems important. When we see the chasm that sometimes exists between the desires of our hearts and G-d's, it is jarring to say the least. As the "repentance mood" of the Ten Days of Awe and Yom Kippur transitions to the "rejoicing mood" of Sukkot (Tabernacles), I am amazed at the stark contrast between G-d's reality and ours. Transitions and changes (sometimes big changes) are necessary, for G-d oftentimes uses circumstances and changes to change us. Oftentimes it the only way that He can get our attention in this chaotic society in which we live. Oftentimes He must speak louder than words...



There is a difference between the secular and the holy, between darkness and light, between closeness and connectedness, between brazenness and brokenness, between silence and stillness, between contempt and contentment... between us and G-d... and it can be stark. Thankfully, G-d has not given up on us yet! He disciplines and corrects us, he gives and He takes away, but He is never far from us. In fact, He is with us. During this celebration of Sukkot, the stark reality is that we have a long way to go, but also that He has shown us the way to get there......... and when we get there, He will be there too.



Sukkot is a time to remember several things: G-d's provision and deliverance, that He is with us and we will someday be with Him, and that all is vanity aside from Him. As we look forward to reading Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), we are reminded that the things we hold so dear are really not that important........ that G-d sometimes causes change and causes us to leave people and places and things, but those that are really important actually come with us: our husbands, our children, and our G-d. During Sukkot, we are meant to get a taste of what it is like to have nothing so that we understand what is really important, and adjust our priorities likewise.



So, like King Shlomo (Solomon), let us come to the conclusion that what really matters is to "fear
G-d and keep His commandments, for this is man's all. For G-d will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil." -Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

returning...

We are in the midst of what have been labeled by orthodox Judaism"The Ten Days of Awe," the days in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During this time, there is a great focus on teshuvah, or repentance. As believers, this is a wonderful time for us to spend remembering what G-d has done for us and also repenting from those things in our lives that He does not approve of. To "repent" literally means, "to turn." We have to turn from our ungodly thoughts and actions and turn back towards G-d, who has been waiting for us all along.

I have heard it said that we should "go back to the place where we departed from G-d" in repentance, but in this sinful body and world in which we live and breathe, I'm not sure that we always know or remember when and where we departed from godliness. In that case, let us simply return to the feet of our Savior and ask for forgiveness and perhaps He will show us when we departed, or even better, He will align our feet again to the path that He set us upon so that we can continue the journey.

I recently watched the movie, The Chosen, based on the book by Chaim Potok. It is one of my favorites by far, but the ending is the best part. The Chassidic son, who has been seemingly ignored by his father in all aspects of his life except for discussions of Talmud and Torah, is told by his father why he raised him that way. When the boy was very young, he read and memorized a tragic story and recited it to his father with no emotion, no pain at all... and his father realized that he had been given a son with a great mind but an undeveloped heart. So he chose to raise him with the "wisdom and pain" of silence in order to help him better connect with his own heart and also to feel the pain of others around him. When the father determined that the young man had accomplished this, he then began to speak to him about everything and their relationship flourished. The son was then grateful for the silence that he had been subjected to because it subsequently made him a better person. It's a beautiful story in so many ways, and if you have not seen it, do so. Perhaps our Heavenly Father leaves us in silence for periods of time for our own good...

At the very end of the movie, there is one more little story that is told: A boy leaves his father and runs away. His father tells him to return, and he says that he cannot. In great love and compassion, the father tells him, "Well, return as far as you can and I will come meet you there." This not only reminds me of the story of the prodigal son, it speaks volumes to me about repentance. If you, like me, have forgotten where you departed from G-d, don't despair. During these Days of Awe, let us return to Him as far as we can, and He will meet us there.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

how this all started -part one

I don't know when my search for G-d began, but I suppose I was actively looking for Him as a teenager. As I recall the "phases" and stages I went through in those years, they all revolved around music. As a child, I was raised on country music (Being born in Alabama, this should come as no surprise!) Country music was it. I honestly didn't realize that there were so many other types of music in the world. I was not allowed to listen to anything else. I remember the day when I was about 13 or so, and some of my closest friends in the neighborhood were sitting in the pickup truck (whose radio had probably never been turned off of the local country station) listening to "alternative rock" music. It felt as if we were doing something sinful by listening to this music... this foreign, corrupt, music.
G-d forbid that my father should find out what I was listening to.

This perhaps marks the beginnings of rebellion in my life. After listening (and liking) alternative rock, I moved on eventually to heavier rock, heavy metal, and then even death metal. This of course affected the way that I dressed: black clothing, chain hanging from my wallet, looking like a biker or sometimes like a corpse.. this was my "head banger" stage. I wish I still had pictures of myself from this age, but I got rid of all of them!

Then, somehow I toned it way down and became very mellow. It was at this point that I came across a group called Sublime. They were a mixture of alternative, reggae, and ska. They were the ones who introduced me to the infamous Bob Marley, and Bob introduced me to marijuana (which I first tasted on my fifteenth birthday) and rastafarianism. Interestingly enough, Bob also introduced me to a book that he quoted from constantly in his songs: the Bible. He drove me to want to read it and made me curious about what it was about. So in the course of the next year or so, I smoked marijuana from time to time, even tried growing dreadlocks without my father's knowledge, and I read the Bible from cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation. From that point on, whenever anyone would ask me what my favorite book was, my response was always the same: the Bible. I had never read anything like it, and I never will. The Old Testament, with its stories of families and war, prophets and dramas, was immediately my favorite. I fell in love with the Psalms and even memorized several of them during this time. The New Testament, on the other hand, seemed more "mystical" and mysterious, and I didn't know what to think of it. What it said about the Messiah, Bob Marley said about the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie. I didn't know what the truth was or what to believe, but I knew that the Bible was a great book and I couldn't get enough of it.

I spent a lot of time with the Scriptures. Sitting out in the empty fields behind my grandmother's house under the trees, reading or reciting Psalms to the birds or the wind, whichever would listen. I meditated on G-d and on nature, being somewhat curious about the former and in love with the latter. I believed that there was a G-d. Why? I don't know. I'm sure at some point members of my extended family had told me about Him or that he existed, and I just knew in my own heart and mind that He did exist. I just didn't know who or what or where He was.

My belief was only strengthened one day as I was sitting at the kitchen table reading my favorite book and my father walked in. I don't remember how sober or how intoxicated he was at the time, but he said something to the effect of, "You're searching for something you will never find. When you've seen as many people die as I have, you realize that there is no G-d." My response was simple: "I don't believe that." The conversation ended there. His remarks, coming from an ex-marine who served five tours in Vietnam, and his daughter's response, from a stubborn, searching teenager are not surprising either way, but they drove me to believe even more that there was a G-d and I was going to find Him. After all, I inherited my stubbornness from my father in the first place! So there! ;) I was 16.
My father passed away just a year later, but my search didn't end. Neither did my rebellion. Isn't it amazing how teenagers want the exact opposite of what their parents want for them? Perhaps I was attempting to be different rather than admit how similar we indeed were. I think all teenagers have this in common: they don't want to be like their parents. I don't know how so many people survive those years, but here we are. In just over 12 years, I will have a teenager of my own! I can't wait...

A few years later, a close friend of the family began inviting me to church. After declining about 17 times, I finally agreed to go because she told me that if I didn't like it, I wouldn't be invited to go anymore. It was a Wednesday evening, the church was completely full, as there was a guest evangelist speaking that night. His name was Jamey Ragle, and that's all I remember about him. I spent the whole time wiping away and holding back tears, and I didn't even know why I was crying. Now, this wasn't the first time that I had ever been in a church service. No, I had been to Alabama churches a couple times with an aunt, and they weren't good experiences. I always felt "dirty" there, like I had done something wrong, people were looking at me, and whatever the pastor said was aimed directly at me. But here I was, maybe 22 years old, still experiencing those feelings, but there was also a glimmer of hope this time. I wanted to know what all those people were doing there, what they knew that I didn't know... what kept them coming back? In all those books on Eastern philosophy and Zen Buddhism I had read, not one of them made me comfortable with my biggest fear: death. But here, at this Baptist church, I felt something that I had never felt before: truth. All I ever wanted to know was what was true.

While spending an hour with the "new believer's" class, (I didn't choose to go there: I was left there by my ride) I heard a few people testify of their salvation experiences and how they had come to know G-d, the most moving of which was the associate pastor's story, and it was that night in January that I went home, and by myself on the living room floor, drenching the old wooden planks with my tears, met my Savior, whom I now call by His Hebrew name, Yeshua. Prostrated and broken, I went down fatherless, homeless, and lost, but when I got up, I had a Father, a Savior, and hope. I was a different person... immediately. No more promiscuity, no more drugs, no more going along with the negative influences...I was different. G-d simply took those desires away from me, and I am so grateful that He did. I had found what I was looking for.

have you found Him?



...to be continued...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

can you hear it?

As I look forward to hearing the shofar sound tomorrow evening (or perhaps sooner), I can almost hear the sound ringing in my ears already. I would have to say that the shofar's (ram's horn) call has become one of my favorite sounds in the world. I still remember viewing a movie about Moses and my favorite part was when G-d sounded His shofar from Mt. Sinai and the people ran and trembled with fear. It was that movie that helped me better understand the power of G-d, made me long to hear G-d blow the shofar... and I will hear that one day.


The first Rosh Hashanah service I attended where there were two shofars being blown simultaneously was unforgettable. It was one of the most amazing spiritual experiences I have had. The power and sheer volume of the deep, strong blasts left me trembling with tears streaming down my cheeks...imagining what it will like on that day when we hear the shofar of G-d calling us to Himself. Perhaps tomorrow...

"There are things that are important to us, so we speak about them.
There are things so important to us that the words flow out in a burst of emotion, rich words, expressive and vibrant.
And then there are things that shake us to the core. Things that do not care for the mind's permission or for the right words—for the mind cannot fathom them, the most poignant words could not contain them. Things that can only break out in a cry, in a scream, and then in silence.
This is the sound of the shofar: The very core of our souls crying, "Father! Father!"

-Tzvi Freeman

Come, L-rd Yeshua.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

sanity drive

Well, I'm happy to say that we haven't had a sanity drive for a while, but we had one today. A "sanity drive" is my description of putting the baby in the car seat (to take a nap because she was refusing to take one and screaming at the top of her lungs in her crib) and driving (and thinking, praying, whatever) while she sleeps. Today was one of those days...

On one of these drives, I almost always find myself driving east, towards the Atlantic Ocean. Though I usually just head to Palm Beach, today's was special because I drove all the way to Singer Island and then onward to Juno Beach. It brought back memories for me as this was the route I used to take my pit bull, Cobra, to the beach. Just me and her, windows rolled down in the 1985 Volkswagen Jetta, her slobbering all over the backseat and me enjoying the fresh air. Life was simpler then, but if I had a chance to go back, I'd say , "No way!" Now it's still just me and her, though the 'her' is a sleeping baby in the car seat.

Living so close to the beach for practically all of my life, I always remember being in awe of the ocean. It was there when I was about 18 years old, looking out from the sidewalk to the perfectly straight line of the horizon, that I remember asking my (stoner) friend, "How could anyone say that there is no G-d?" Though I didn't know Him at that time, I believed that He existed with all of my heart. I plan on writing much about how I came to know Him and the journey that He has carried me on (if He tarries after this Rosh Hashanah), but for now, I just praise G-d for creating the ocean... for the terror, awe, and beauty that it inspires in me and for the calming effect that it has on me when I'm having one of those days as a mother.

Surely not by chance, I came across Psalm 96 today. Verses 7-13 state: "Ascribe to the L-RD, O families of the peoples, Ascribe to the L-RD glory and strength. Ascribe to the L-RD the glory of His name; Bring an offering and come into His courts. Worship the L-RD in holy attire; Tremble before Him, all the earth. Say among the nations, "The L-RD reigns; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved; He will judge the peoples with equity." Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; Let the sea roar, and all it contains; Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the L-RD, for He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness."

During my sanity drive today, I couldn't help but think about Rosh Hashanah ("Feast of Trumpets" in Leviticus 23). Will this be the year that Yeshua calls for us, His children? During this time of introspection and repentance, I realize how far I am from being like Him, but I also realize how far He has brought me and that leaves me far more hopeful. Although it is important to use our past to teach us, remind us, and inspire us, the future that is awaiting us is much more glorious and important, especially now, two days before this very special Holy Day.

I read a very interesting quote in an email today. It is entitled Reboot by Tzvi Freeman: "Time is not a train of cars hitched one to another, one year dragged along by the year preceding, the present hitched tightly to the past, the future enslaved to the present. Rather, every year arrives fresh from its Creator, a year that never was before and could never have been known before its arrival. That is why we call Rosh Hashana "the birthday of the world" in our prayers. The past has returned to its place, never to return. With the blowing of the shofar, the entirety of Creation is renewed. From this point on, even the past exists only by virtue of the present." If this is indeed the year when the Bridegroom calls for His bride, then the past is gone forever, never to return. The only question that keeps replaying in my mind is, "I've only known Him for about 7 years: am I ready to meet Him face to face?" I don't know if I'll ever be truly ready, but now's the time to get there.

Are you ready to meet Him? For He is coming...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

love you




"...you shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength... and you shall love your neighbor as yourself..." taken from Mark 12:30-31



Notice how this verse says "love your neighbor as yourself," not "before yourself" or "instead of yourself." Why is this important? Well, it means that in order to love anyone else, you must first love yourself and then use that love as a standard of how to love others. As I have noticed in my own life and in the life of other mothers (and women in general), we have a tendency to put the needs of others in front of our own. While being a helper and servant and caregiver are wonderful gifts that G-d has bestowed upon us, we can easily exhaust ourselves in the process of using these gifts. An exhausted woman has less to offer than a rested one. Believe me, as a new mother, I know what exhaustion is and I know how it affects my relationships with others. When we fail to love ourselves, it becomes very difficult to love others.


I would never suggest that you should stop caring for your children because your needs are not being met. I'm simply saying that you shouldn't feel guilty if you need a little "me" time every once in a while. That "me" time will mean something different to every woman. I'm not the type to go get a manicure or pedicure or my hair done, but sometimes I enjoy just doing laundry or a little shopping in peace and quiet... and alone. I am one of the reasons that laundry and dish detergents have so many fragrances to choose from. It's like aromatherapy for busy moms. I find that once I have enjoyed some time away from my baby girl or my husband, it makes me so much more happy to see them when I return to their presence. In some cases, the saying "absence makes the heart grow fonder" is true. It makes me appreciate my family even more.


So the next time you feel burnt out and exhausted, instead of feeling guilty, just remember that even the world's most powerful machines need to be refueled and maintained sometimes.



"...for no one hates [her] own body but lovingly cares for it..."



Ephesians 5:29


Friday, September 4, 2009

discretion is advised

This is a difficult one for me to write, but it is necessary. In fact, it pains my heart that there is a need for me to even point this out. My stomach churned last week when I saw a preview for a show called "Toddlers and Tiaras." It is apparently about really young girls, like 3-5 years old, in "beauty pageants." It also highlights their obsessive mothers who put them into these events. But what's really disturbing is what the little girls are wearing. Since when does mascara, tight leather, and bikinis have anything to do with toddler beauty? Seeing the show advertised for the first time, I couldn't help but think to myself: "who is this show aimed at?" Toddlers certainly won't be watching it because it's on past their bedtime! Forgive me for asking this, but is it for pedophiles to watch? Who else wants to see little girls doing little risque dances with makeup caked on their tiny faces or their crazy mothers who are trying to get attention themselves by exploiting their daughters?! Although I'm trying to control the anger (and heartbreak) that I'm feeling, this really touches a nerve with me. Especially now that I have a daughter...

On a nine month old, the little onesies and outfits are just cute. But I know there will come a time (in a few short years) when I will probably be forced to graciously decline (or return) gifts of inappropriate clothing for my daughter and deal with the accusations of being overprotective or just plain crazy... that time is coming. I pray that I'm prepared for it when it arrives. The sad fact remains that, even though most mothers would never want their child to be looked at as a sexual object, there are individuals in this fallen world who see them as such. If I should encourage that type of behavior by dressing my daughter in a sexually provocative manner (or by allowing her to dress that way when she is older), then shame on me as a mother. I would rather nurture modesty in her from a very young age. In a world laden with child pornography & prostitution, sexual abuse, and rape, it is my job to be protective of my children and their bodies.


Children (girls and boys) should be raised with a Biblical understanding of the body and the importance of modesty. Otherwise, these "toddlers in tiaras" grow up to be immodest teenagers and adults. The bulk of American society today (especially young people) doesn't give too much credence or thought to modesty because it has not been instilled in them. In addition, they are pressured to conform to the societal "norm" by their peers, which means wearing the latest fashions and trends regardless of how inappropriate they are. But thanks be to G-d, not everyone dresses according to the latest trends nor do they teach or allow their children to.


There is a book, The Beauty of Modesty by David Vaughan, which makes some excellent points regarding modesty, its need, nature, and nurture. Regarding the nurturing of modesty, Vaughan deals extensively with the place of the parents' responsibility to teach modesty. While I will most definitely teach and model modesty as an example for my daughter(s), it is ultimately their father who will instill it in them. Why? Because every little girl craves attention from their daddy and those little girls grow up to crave attention from other men. However, if the father is lovingly present and willing to teach his daughters a Biblical view of their bodies, they won't have that void in their lives which leaves them longing for male attention. Many girls and young women dress inappropriately today because their fathers don't have the nerve (or tough love) to tell them to do otherwise.


It seems that the issue of modesty has taken a (very far) back seat in the believing world today. It is not expounded upon or taught from the Scriptures as much as it should be. It is a "non-essential" item, that is, it doesn't determine or deny the salvation of a person's soul. But perhaps we need to take it a little more seriously because it is certainly important. In today's continually degrading society, I would say it is very important. As Vaughan notes, "Immodesty is no small sin. It is not simply a silly and vain form of self-display. It is a snare to serious sin." Leading others to sin is not something I would wish to be involved in, nor would I wish it on my daughters. Chances are, you probably won't be seeing little Elli in magazines, television commercials, or beauty pageants. But if her beauty simply causes others to praise G-d's creativity and is wholeheartedly reserved for her husband, then my duty and joy as a mother will be complete.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

coffee with Shaul...

Sharing a meal of manna with Moses would be nice, or taking a tour of the Holy Land with the prophet Elijah as the guide unforgettable, but I personally have often daydreamt about what it would be like just to have a conversation at a table outside Starbucks with the Apostle Paul (Shaul/Saul of Tarsus). Out of all the biblical characters and writers, excluding the L-rd Yeshua himself, he is the one I strive to understand and interact with the most. He is the one I long to meet one day. What I have gleaned from his writings has been unsurpassable. As a new believer, it was Paul’s words that fascinated me, convicted me, and perplexed me the most. He was a source of encouragement and an example for me to follow. He is my rabbi, my teacher: one of many who have driven me to pursue the Word of G-d and His purposes for my life. As I received, or rather fully realized and accepted, my calling to minister to the Jewish people, it was Paul that I related to the most. As the L-rd revealed himself to Paul despite, even because of, his colorful history and former hatred for the community of G-d, the L-rd revealed himself to me despite, or because of, my colorful history and a background laden with racism and anti-Semitism. Likewise, as a Hebrew called to the non-Hebrews, Paul helps me deal with being a non-Hebrew called to the Hebrews. For all of these reasons and more, it is Paul’s theology I would like to focus on here. More specifically, how Paul lived his theology and how he has inspired me to live mine.



The introduction of Saul of Tarsus is a unique one in scripture. It is not pretty, but rather brutal, bloody, and unforgettable. Saul is first depicted, not as an inspirational figure, but as a murderous fanatic, expressing his approval of the stoning of the believing Stephen. Charles Swindoll puts it well when he says “the man [Saul] looks more like a terrorist than a devout follower of Judaism.” Some time after this, however, the L-rd appears to Saul as he is riding horseback to Damascus, blinds him, sends him to Ananias to restore his sight and he eventually becomes one of the most important figures in formulating the theology of what started as The Way.


How does a brute become one of the most influential figures in Biblical history? To answer this in one word, grace. Paul’s theology is one of grace. The theology of Paul has been examined, debated, refuted, and picked apart for over a thousand years. He has been labeled a saint, a traitor to Judaism, and the founder of Christianity among other things. But who was he, and what was his theology, namely his understanding of the Torah?


First of all, t is important for me to explain what I mean by Torah. Although commonly translated as “the Law,” its understanding is really much broader than this. The Hebrew word torah comes from the verb yarah, meaning ‘to cast, throw, or shoot,’ and is used as an archery term for ‘to take aim or shoot.’ The essence of the word is “to hit the mark.” Torah is more than laws and regulations. Torah is more than the five books of Moses. Torah is essentially God’s mark that He desires us to shoot for. Saul of Tarsus seems to have understood this well. For him, with his impeccable knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures and of what is called the Oral Law as well, Torah was internal. Torah was grace. Unfortunately, this understanding seems to get lost in most theology studies today. When readers today read “the Law” in Paul’s writings, their mind automatically goes to Leviticus or Deuteronomy. In many cases, this is not what he is referring to. At times, he says “in the law it is written” and then he quotes from a book outside of the five books of Moses, such as the Psalms (See I Corinthians 14:21). A monotone understanding of what Paul means when he says ‘the Law’ is simply insufficient to truly grasp what he is saying in his letters and what is said about him in the book of Acts. In my reading of the writings of Saul of Tarsus, I have learned not to settle for this monolithic understanding.


I have always been a very logical person, perhaps too logical at times. But this drive to make sense of whatever I possibly can in the world around me and within me has led me into some great opportunities. One of the most memorable, seemingly illogical things that I have ever done in my life happened on the day that I accepted the L-rd Yeshua as my Savior. My mind could not grasp what my heart felt. I did not fully understand the implications of what I was doing. All that I knew is that it was true, and that it was the right thing to do. It has been one decision that I don’t remember ever regretting. On that day, I became a new person. Although I can’t explain what happened to me, I don’t view it as illogical anymore. My faith in G-d and the reality of G-d are as real to me as anything else that I have ever experienced.


When it comes to learning, I want to describe myself as a sponge. (However, I don’t retain as much water as I would like). When I became a believer, I begin to soak up the Scriptures. They were all I wanted to read and all I wanted to study. If I was going to become a student again, a college student, then I was going to study the Scriptures. I went to church services, Bible studies, outreaches, and I began to serve in middle school ministry every week. I could not get enough. I had great teachers, an amazing pastor, and many individuals that poured their life into me. But something was missing. There was a discontinuity between my life, the church, the teachings, and the Scriptures. I was learning, but I wanted to know more. I grew weary of reading and learning the Bible. I longed to feel it, to live it out…to make sense of it.


One day, something happened. I heard from someone at church that there were Jews who also believed that Yeshua was the Messiah. My mouth nearly dropped open. It’s almost as if my heart skipped a beat at that moment. I had to see this for myself. The teacher of the Jewish Roots Bible study was possibly the first Jewish person I met who believed in Yeshua. He taught Scripture in a way that I had not yet experienced, and I praise G-d for bringing me across his path. He made the New Testament make sense to me. I had found what I was looking for.

What about Paul? Did he make sense? I still remember thinking that Paul and Saul were two different men, and I would venture to say that I am not the only one who has thought this. In my mind, there was Saul the Jew and Paul the Christian. This was a misunderstanding on my part, however, and a failure to read through the book of Acts slowly and carefully. As far as I can tell, Saul’s name was never changed to Paul in the Scriptures. Both were his names from his childhood, which was customary amongst first-century Jews. Why is this important? I think it furthers the divisions that exist between Saul the unbeliever and Saul the believer. Granted, he became a new man, indeed a new creation, after meeting the L-rd on the road to Damascus, but the fact remains that he was still Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee. And he describes himself as such. (Acts 23:6) It is interesting that today the term Pharisee has such a negative connotation, despite the fact that our beloved Apostle Paul was one. It is important to keep in mind that his understanding of Scripture, even after he became a believer, was shaped and molded by his education as a Pharisee, and by his love for and internalization of the Torah. His messianic faith did not cause him to forsake the Hebrew Scriptures. His writings are embedded with commentary after commentary on them in light of his new faith in the Messiah. He understood that believing in Him was in all regards the natural outcome of truly believing what Moses and the prophets had said about the coming of the Messiah. Yeshua was the fulfillment, and not the cancellation of the Torah. It is heartbreaking to me that many believers don’t study the Hebrew Scriptures like they should. Some feel that they are irrelevant, and others don’t even own a copy of the Old Testament because there are so many Bibles being printed without it these days. An incomplete Bible leads to an incomplete faith.


Beginning to be taught the Scriptures by a Jewish teacher opened my eyes to the richness and fullness of the Bible as it is slowly understood in its proper context. It is this richness and fullness that is so evident in the writings of Paul. Paul was known to be a student of a well-known rabbi, Gamaliel. He was a great teacher and rabbi himself. He was a emissary, traveling all over the ancient world for the sake of the Gospel. With these qualifications, it is crucial to let the man speak for himself. How did he feel about the Torah (Law)? In Romans 3:31, he asks and then answers his own question: “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” In Romans 7:12, he calls the law “holy and the commandment holy and just and good”…and later he calls the law “spiritual” (v.14). To sum up Paul’s feelings towards the Torah in one verse, he proclaims that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Perhaps all Scripture includes the Old Testament. Perhaps the Old Testament is profitable in equipping the man of God for every good work.


The biggest misconception concerning the Torah is its relationship to salvation. Well, the truth is that the Torah has never saved anyone. Anyone who teaches that the Torah produces salvation or that the Torah is necessary for salvation is directly contradicting Scripture. Saul had a big problem with these “teachers.” In the letter to the Galatians, he warned the Gentile believers to not be ‘bewitched’ by those who were trying to convince them that they needed to be circumcised, in accordance with the traditional mode of conversion to Judaism, in order to truly be saved. Paul rebukes the teachers very harshly, and explains to the believers that their faith is what has saved them, and to go through with the rite of circumcision might please these close-minded humans but it would not give them any other standing in the eyes of G-d than what they had obtained already through their faith in Yeshua as the L-rd. If anything, it would be redundant and an insult to the grace of G-d. Paul consistently and passionately rebukes his peers whenever they attempt to connect salvation with the works of the Torah. As my rabbi often says, “Works will never produce salvation, but salvation will always produce works.” The difference between legalism and obedience is that legalism says, “I must obey God in order to be saved”, and obedience through grace says, “I must obey because I am saved.” Saul of Tarsus seems to emphasis the latter.


Saul’s love for the Word of G-d and his unquenchable zeal to spread it has been very contagious for me. His zeal, however, was not without knowledge as was that of his brothers of whom he speaks of in Romans 10:2. Knowledge without zeal can also be a bad combination. I desire to have both. Saul of Tarsus had both. As a messianic believer, I strive to make Paul’s teachings real to me. Working in the presence of, reading about, and being exposed to countless different forms of Judaism, I follow Paul’s example in directing my zeal to Biblical Judaism alone, while striving to be sensitive to and be able to interact with the many other Judaisms that are out there. Paul dealt with many Judaisms in his day as well. To this day, I have not met one Jew who desires to be a “Christian”. In fact, the word leaves a bad taste in many mouths. In studying Jewish history, I am beginning to realize why that is. We have to be careful not to build walls, but bridges. Being able to invite Jewish people to my congregation for services and feasts, such as Passover and Hanukkah, with the deliberate intention of exposing them to the Messiah is priceless. If a question about the Bible comes up at work, it is usually directed to me, because I am a student of the Bible. Modern day traditional Jews, for the most part, have no idea what the Scriptures say, and many religious or orthodox Jews place more emphasis on the Talmud than on the Word of G-d. This is not the Judaism that I follow. My ministry is to help the Jewish people understand that accepting Yeshua does not mean turning their backs on who they are, their heritage, their culture, and their families. It means that they experience what it means to be a Jew when they come to the One who is the fullness of the Torah and all that is written in it, The Messiah. “My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1) I have made three trips to the nation of Israel. Every time, I have returned with a broken heart. I know as much as anyone that they need to be saved…

Paul never turned his back on the Word of G-d or on the nation of Israel. He understood that Yeshua was the fulfillment of everything he had learned in the Torah. As believers, let’s take a step back and consider the possibility that Paul has been taken out of his context. Let’s reconsider what Paul meant when he said that we do not support the root, but it is the root that supports us. Let’s reconsider the importance of Jewish evangelism. Let’s reconsider the place of the Torah in our lives.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Free to be Frugal

Growing up, my family never had much money, but we always had just enough, which reminds me of the verse,"Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, That I not be full and deny You and say, "Who is the
L-RD?" Or that I not be in want and steal, And profane the name of my G-d" (Proverbs 30:8-9). I was never without anything that I really needed. This upbringing taught me many valuable lessons, and I am grateful to be reminded of where I came from.




In one of my college composition classes, I wrote a descriptive essay entitled "Poverty" and though I never said so in the paper (which the professor read aloud to the class), I was describing the house in which I lived at the time and grew up in. The essay quickly became one of my favorites...



"I step out of the bright Florida sunshine into the dimly lit house. As my eyes adjust to the semi-darkness, I realize that I am standing in the living room. To my right sits an old beige couch, worn and stained. On the shelf below the television, a lone fish swims in a dingy 10 gallon tank furnished with green gravel, a plastic plant swaying in the current, and algae. On the far left of the room stands a century-old piano adorned with family pictures and dust. I have failed to mention the constant creaking of the ceiling fan overhead.



Entering the hallway, I turn to the right and enter a small bedroom. Inside, the air smells of lavender and moth balls. Turning to my left, I see two parakeets in a small birdcage. The first stares at me with curious peppercorn eyes. His feathers remind me of the sky on a summer day; they are a deep blue with white tips. His companion, however, is not so calm. She squawks hysterically and flaps her wings. I begin to whistle, and the angry queen becomes quiet. Her temper does not take anything away from her beauty. Her wings are a light blue color, as if the sky was being reflected off fresh fallen snow. Turning my gaze from these magnificent creatures, I notice an over-stuffed closet. On top of it, two porcelain dolls compete for my attention. The first displays her beautifully pink Victorian style dress. The second, a ballerina, shows off her favorite ballet position; she is a tall and graceful youth in a white leotard. Despite their vanity, I give them both one last glance of assurance and proceed out of the room.



It is time for me to leave and return to where I have come from. Exiting the front door, I am blinded by the light. Once again, my eyes have to adjust. As I descend the cracked stone steps, I remember the hanging in the blue room: The L-rd is my Shepherd; I shall not want. There is something truly humble about this place. Where poverty exists, humility is present forever. I must never forget that."



Although that was just an excerpt, hopefully you can get a mental picture. The essay is probably one of my favorites because when reading it, even after almost six years, I can still see and smell everything I mentioned. Now, married with a baby, I still don't have much money, but we always have just enough. And my "poverty" has become "frugality".



It was my plan from even before I became pregnant with my daughter to be a stay-at-home mom to my children. Not because I don't enjoy working, but because the thought of someone else raising my small children is unbearable. Of course, I had rose-colored glasses on at the time and I thought it would be easy! Needless to say, it is not what I would call easy, but it is definitely worth it.


In reading 1/2 Price Living by Ellie Kay, I was inspired.She speaks of frugality being a full-time job for a stay-at-home mom, and it is! I love to clip coupons! That has become my Sunday routine. Since I discovered CVS and their Extra Bucks Rewards, I have managed to stock up on shampoos, conditioners, body wash, razors, toothpaste, etc. (and it's name-brand stuff, but I got it for free or cheap!), so I restrain from buying these items unless there's a bargain I can't refuse. My "stash" could probably last for at least a year (maybe two?), even with my husband using it too. In addition, I have oodles of free samples (go to http://www.mysavings.com/) of toiletries that we use for travel or if we run out of something. If we stay in a hotel room, we always take whatever toiletries they are giving away to their guests.


Because milk is so expensive, we used to water down whole milk to turn one gallon into two, and I only buy milk at the stores that are cheapest. We go through a lot of milk because my husband drinks instant breakfast and I put milk into my "Cappuccino Coolers" I get from the grocery store to keep myself away from coffee shops! (They are about $2 for six. Compare that to at least $1.50 each for iced coffees, which is what I prefer.)


Having a baby is very expensive!(Surprise, Surprise!) I get free samples of diapers when I can (just got three in the mail today!) and there are days when we are home when I use cloth diapers to cut back on some of the disposables. And my Pampers and Huggies days are over! When Elisheva was born, that's what she wore, which was easy when we had so many giftcards, but now she wears Walmart & Target brand (just as good as Pampers if you ask me) and sometimes Luvs when I have a coupon. We saved lots of money on formula by breastfeeding, which I recommend. She is still nursing at 9 months and eating solid foods. Unfortunately, I haven't convinced her that homemade vegetables are better than Gerber. She doesn't seem to like texture much, but we're working on that... I do have the food processor and the strainer to make her food. I think it has been a matter of convenience (that's my excuse for buying prepared baby foods!), so I use coupons and buy more when it's on sale. Clothes are not much of an issue because since before her birth, she has been given more clothes than I can count! And when I buy her clothes, they are from clearance racks (and just as cute). I also buy clothes for myself from clearance racks (and sometimes thrift stores) and not very often. Kohl's has awesome clearance prices if you wait for them to go down. I have bought clothes for me, my husband, and daughter there.


I thoroughly enjoy getting good deals. It's not about spending money for me; I just like to shop for things and bring them home... whether they are from the thrift store, the dollar store, or somewhere else is not really an issue to me.


To stretch our resources as far as they can go and still provide for my family is part of being a mother and wife. When it comes down to it, we don't really need that much to survive and to thrive, especially when we have the Messiah dwelling in our hearts and home. My daughter has also been a wonderful teacher to me concerning frugality. As she digs through the full basket of toys and comes out with a smile and a plastic lid or cup, I realize how little she needs to be happy. We could all learn a lesson from her contentment.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

the guest- part one

Your special guest arrives right on time as usual. Your day has been spent preparing for her arrival, and you have looked forward to the time when she would appear. You prepared dinner, tidied up the house, and tried your best to get everything done in time, but just like last week, you're not quite sure if you completed all you intended to. But thankfully, this is a gracious and pleasant guest: she probably won't even notice the stray clothes or the clutter or the few items "out of place" in your home as she greets you. Your home is filled with joy and gladness, fellowship and meaningful conversation. Perhaps you all retire early so that you can continue the pleasure in the morning after you've rested, or perhaps you all stay up late, unable to leave one another's presence. Either way, you're probably disappointed when after a day, she has to say her farewells... until next week. Of course, you send her off with another special celebration, sad to see her go, but hopeful you will soon see her again. Your schedule and your plans revolve around this special guest's weekly visits. The guest I speak of is, of course, the Shabbat...


Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the L-RD your G-d; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the L-RD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the L-RD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. -- Exodus 20:8-11

Nothing motivates me more to tidy up my house than company coming over. It's amazing how much I can get done in so little time when I know that someone is coming for a visit. A few weeks ago, as I was busy cleaning the house for an expected guest, I realized something. What if I could treat the Shabbat this way, as a special guest... a guest worthy of preferential treatment and honor...

In the siddur, Shabbat is referred to as the "Sabbath Bride" and there is a beautiful prayer, "Lecha Dodi" (Come, my Beloved) to welcome "her". It states, "Come my Beloved to greet the bride, the Sabbath presence, let us welcome! "Safeguard" and "Remember" in a single utterance the One and Only G-d made us hear. HaShem is One and His name is One, for renown, for splendor, and for praise. To welcome the Sabbath, come let us go, for it is a source of blessing; from the beginning, from antiquity she was honored, Last in deed, but first in thought." I am convinced that G-d holds Shabbat very near to His heart, and so should we. I have heard countless testimonies of individuals coming to the realization that they should be keeping the Sabbath as the first step in their journey to becoming messianic. As the siddur states, it is a source of blessing. Of all the commandments He had to pick from, G-d chose to list honoring the Sabbath in the Ten Words (Ten Commandments). That should tell us something!

The Shabbat is one way that the G-d of Israel chose to draw those from the nations to Himself as well. In Exodus 20, we read that Shabbat is for everyone, including the servants and foreigners. There is another beautiful passage in Isaiah 56 (verse 3-7): "Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the L-RD say, "The L-RD will surely separate me from His people. Nor let the eunuch say, 'Behold, I am a dry tree.' For thus says the L-RD, 'To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant; To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, And a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off. Also the foreigners who join themselves to the L-RD, To minister to Him, and to love the name of the L-RD, To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath And holds fast My covenant; Even those I will bring to My holy mountain And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.'" Sounds pretty clear, doesn't it? Keeping the Shabbat equals blessings and acceptance from G-d.


But how do we do it? I'll write more about this in a later post...


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

keepers of the home

"...That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home..." Titus 2:4-5


I actually enjoy housework. In fact, I find myself being jealous of women who can spend a few hours cleaning their homes with both hands because they don't have a baby at home. Now, I have to get very creative and resourceful. I like to clean and to see and savor the results of my efforts around the house, even though it always seems that the whole house is never clean at the same time! In my studies, one of the most profound (and convicting) subjects has been on women as "keepers at home." As I have found, being a keeper of the home is so much more than cooking and cleaning. The responsibilities are so much deeper and more significant. As we have seen with women in general, the importance of the outer beauty of the home pales in comparison to the inner beauty that should be present there.

In orthodox Judaism (and indeed in Biblical Judaism) today, the woman's responsibilities often revolve around the home and what goes on inside it. I recently read an article on chabad.org entitled "I am Woman" where the author, Sara Esther Crispe, writes about the mitzvot, or commandments, for men and women. In orthodox Judaism, men are said to be required to keep all of the "time-bound commandments" (i.e. praying with a minyan in a synagogue three times a day, etc.) and for women, many of these mitzvot are optional because it is understood that a woman (especially with small children) needs to be at home for the majority of the time in order to fulfill her responsibilities. Crispe also mentions that many commandments given to men are physical and external (i.e. wearing the tallit, tefillin, and tzitzit or the tradition of wearing a kippah) while a woman's commandments are more internal and private. She says "In almost every case, they are done within the home and in some cases no one other than she is aware as to whether or not she is doing them." Examples would include her private times of prayer, preparing kosher food, and teaching her children. Also, in the Artscroll Women's Siddur, which we pray from on Shabbat morning at our congregation, it gives an explanation as to why women pray "Blessed are You, HaShem, our G-d, King of the universe, for having made me according to His will" (while men pray "...for not making me a woman..."). It explains that "it is a woman's unique opportunity to offer thanksgiving to G-d for her special role as a transmitter of our illustrious tradition. Commentators explain that women are naturally more spiritually inclined than men. For that reason G-d exempted them from certain obligations that He imposed upon Jewish men. Instead, He entrusted women with building the Jewish home and introducing His mitzvot to Jewish children at the very start of their lives..." Well, I don't know if all woman are more spiritually inclined than all men, but it would definitely seem that they are the primary caretakers for children and that they pass on more traditions than their male counterparts. I suspect that many congregations (like ours) have more women filling the seats than men.


In addition to a woman's mitzvot at home, she has many responsibilities. In the words of Debi Pearl (Created to be His Helpmeet"), "keeping the home is more than staying at home; it is having a heart that is fixed on the home. A help meet will be engaged in creative enterprises that challenge and inspire the children. She will guard the home against outside influences, and she will always be on watch to protect the children from their own inventions of evil. She will not be idle and neither will her children. She will ease her husband's load by painting the hall and cutting the grass. She will be frugal in all her endeavors, and she will teach the children to love serving Daddy. She will keep the home so that when Daddy comes home, it is to a sanctuary of peace, love, and order. A real help meet will make herself useful to her man instead of wasting her time."


Whew... what do I say after that quote (that 40 hour a week job is sounding easier now, huh?). I am surely guilty of doing the opposite of everything she just said at one time or another. Keeping a home and raising a family is no easy job description. So if this is truly what G-d wants for us, women, then I am blown away by how He must view us... if He didn't think we could handle it, then He wouldn't have made us who we are. He has equipped up with an unmatchable inner strength and passion to be keepers of the home, godly wives, and mothers who will create and pass on beautiful memories and traditions to our children. When something challenges me (like being a keeper at home), I always marvel at the strength G-d must think that I have. After all, why would a loving G-d who knows everything about us set us up for failure? He wouldn't...


Don't misunderstand me and think that I am saying that women are responsible for doing everything around the home by themselves. No, we are not superhumans... we are women. Even the Biblical matriarchs had servants! If you need a house cleaning service or hired workers to paint your home or cut your grass (thank G-d I don't have to cut my grass), you are not less of a woman. If you need to work outside the home, you are not less of a woman. The most important aspect of being a keeper at home is not the home itself, but the people who live there... your husband and your children. You need to be their home. G-d knows that you can do it because if you are a believer in Yeshua, then you are already home to G-d's Holy Spirit, are you not? As He has sanctified us by His indwelling Spirit, let us sanctify our homes and our families in His strength...


Comment:*He provides help for His helpmeets when we need it! After I posted this, I received a call from my mom saying that my nephew and brother are willing to come tomorrow and help me paint my bedroom, which I was going to do a little at a time because I know my husband doesn't have time to help. Now it will get done much faster! Baruch Hashem!



Tuesday, August 4, 2009

changing times









She's crawling! The most common phrase I've heard in the past week is "you're in trouble." Yes, little Elisheva is crawling and trying to stand and talk and do things by herself already. Perhaps I am in trouble, or at least it seems that my writing has been! Not finding the time to post a real entry in the past week, I figured I would write something to explain why (mostly to myself).

Elli has two more top teeth coming in. It has become rather easy to know when she is teething, because she ceases sleeping through the night, her naps become a little shorter, and she becomes a lot more aggressive and cranky. It's a beautiful time! :) She also requires more attention when she is awake and on the move, so when she sleeps I find myself doing the things that I couldn't do when she was awake. This doesn't leave much time for reading or writing, and for me the two are somewhat inseperable. Turning 9 months old in less than a week, she thinks she is really grown up now. (She's always been a miniature adult, but now more than ever.) Along with her personality developing and coming out, her temper is also rearing its little head! I have to keep reminding myself that she is probably in pain most of the time and that she wouldn't be so unruly otherwise. Don't get me wrong, she is still a very sweet and loving (and funny!) little girl, except when she's tired....

So between caring for her and for the house (I've been cleaning and organizing our clutter), the little free time that I do have has obviously not been spent writing. But bear with me until this season passes and Elli becomes herself again. I suppose these times are necessary in motherhood and in life. So as the ideas and inspirations roll around my head like dice looking for their exit (alongside the nursery rhymes and Shalom Sesame songs that are stuck there also), I praise HaShem for bringing me to this season, and for giving me the strength to get through it.





Monday, July 27, 2009

Miraculous Flow: My Breastfeeding Journey

I don't remember ever asking myself if I would bottle feed or breastfeed my children. I suppose I just always knew or assumed that it would be the latter. But I could have never imagined what I would learn from the experience, and learning to breastfeed is only a tiny portion.

Since my daughter, now eight and a half months old, was delivered by C-section, I missed out on the pains and experiences associated with labor and delivery. Therefore, breastfeeding was my first major lesson in self-sacrifice as a new mother (other than what I had already learned from my not-so-easy pregnancy of course!) It is often said that the first six weeks are the hardest. Well, I say if you get through the first six days, pat yourself on the back because you are doing good! It is no mystery that breastfeeding hurts in the beginning (and in my case, still does some of the time). I was so grateful for participating with my husband in a Bradley method class ("husband coached childbirth") before the birth because we spent a lot of time just learning to relax our bodies in order to minimize pain, and I have to say, I definitely utilized those methods when learning to breastfeed! Otherwise, I would have been screaming, and that would have made the situation worse... and traumatized the poor, tiny baby who is also struggling to learn this new skill. Continuing on despite the pain is something a mother can do only through self-sacrifice. Breastfeeding is the best option for the baby (as even formula producers will tell you), and that is what has driven me to strive on. Even in those early days and weeks when I wanted so bad to give up and give her formula and maybe get her to sleep a little longer... oh, the temptation... I knew deep in my heart that I would have regrets if I stopped nursing and I just needed to continue until it got easier... and it did.

In addition, there are experiences and teachings that I could have received from no other place than my own body. Isn't is miraculous that women's bodies produce milk for babies? And it doesn't end there, women produce milk for their young, specifically engineered (by a loving Creator) to nourish that baby at this time who has these needs, and no matter how hard we try, no man-made formula will ever match this. I am by no means putting down loving mothers who choose to feed formula to their babies, and I am well aware that there are circumstances that hinder or make breastfeeding impossible. I am simply telling of my unique experience on this journey. Breast milk is miraculous, as we learned in our childbirth class, and it has pointed me further towards a miraculous G-d.

Thinking about this topic reminded me of something I believe I heard in a college Hebrew course. One of G-d's names in the Scriptures is El Shaddai (commonly translated as G-d Almighty). Strong's Concordance has this to say: "The title Shadday really indicates the fullness and riches of G-d's grace, and would remind the Hebrew reader that from G-d comes every good and perfect gift-- that He is never weary of pouring forth His mercies on His people, and that He is more than ready to give than they are to receive. (2) Bountiful expresses the sense most exactly. (3) El sets forth the might of G-d and the title Shadday points to the inexhaustible stores of His bounty." If you look just nine words earlier in Strong's, there's the word shad, which is defined as "the breast of a woman or animal." The teacher used this similarity and relationship of these Hebrew words to say that G-d is our nourishment, just as a nursing mother nourishes her child. El Shaddai is not only powerful and mighty, but El Shaddai is a G-d who nourishes and provides. I find that beautiful, and even more so now as a nursing mother myself.

Isn't it amazing how certain aspects of G-d's word come to life when you yourself experience them? For example, in Psalm 131:2-3, it says "Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me." Although I've read an article that suggests this should say "suckling child" instead of "weaned child,"(you can read it: http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/525972/jewish/Mothers-Milk-Mothers-Faith.htm. It inspired me to write this) either of which would have the same effect on me because in order for a child to be weaned, he had to be nursed before this point because there were no bottles then, and the bond that is formed between mother and child due to their breastfeeding relationship is lasting. If you have never experienced that intimacy and closeness with your child, as they make noises and faces that no one else sees or hears, then this verse won't strike you as hard, but as having experienced it, I have never seen Elisheva's sweet little face (and soul) more contented, composed and more quieted than when she is nursing at my breast. Therefore, this verse now has greater meaning to me than it ever did before.

I cannot say how long I will nurse my children. I will try my best to allow them to wean themselves at the appropriate time. In Bible times, it is understood that children nursed until they were two or even three years old. The Midrash says that Sarah weaned Isaac at two, Moses was probably with his mother ('nurse') for at least two years, and Samuel must have also been a toddler when weaned, which is why he was able to be left at the Tabernacle with Eli the priest. I have seen a two year old nurse at a La Leche League meeting (http://www.llli.org/) and his mother had experienced some ridicule and comments from strangers even on him being 'too old' to be nursing. Breastfeeding is demanding, even for a stay-at-home mom, (hence, the need for support groups) and breastfeeding moms need encouragement, not ridicule. I am certainly grateful for the encouragement and support that I have received and plan to pass that on to others. So if you know a lactating woman, encourage her today. If you are a lactating woman, I hope you were encouraged by my words. Breastfeeding is healthy, natural, Biblical, and it is one of the many aspects of a woman's body that G-d has created to teach us about Himself and reflect His image... to teach us that He is our Nourisher, our miraculous Provider.




Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.

Isaiah 49:15-16




Thursday, July 23, 2009

do not awaken love until...

"I warn you, daughters of Jerusalem, not to awaken or stir up love until it wants to arise!"

Song of Solomon 8:4


True love waits. I know it's an overused cliche, but it really is a true statement. In order to understand why, we must look at the sanctity of sexuality. If sexuality is one of the strongest forces within a human being that is made in G-d's image, what does G-d have to say about it? What is sexuality anyway and how should we view it as G-d fearing individuals?

In looking for a holistic (rather than biological) understanding of sexuality, I found this quote in one of my favorite books, Toward a Meaningful Life by Simon Jacobson (it's based on the teachings of Rebbe Schneerson, so although I may not agree with everything in there, I have found great wisdom in this book). Jacobson says, "Sexuality is an internal, G-dly energy, a meeting of body and soul, that is nourished by true intimacy, by modesty and subtlety. It can only flourish in a healthy manner in the context of the sacred institution of marriage. Sexuality itself possesses both a body and a soul, a physical and spiritual dimension. Its body is the union of human bodies, accompanied by the deepest physical pleasures. Its soul is the union with G-dliness, accompanied by the deepest spiritual pleasures. When sexuality's spiritual nature is removed or ignored, it can become an irrational obsession that consumes an individual. Sexuality is among the most potent forces in life. It can either lift us to the great heights of self-sacrifice and commitment or lower us into the depths of self-interest and demoralization. Sexuality is never neutral." (p.67)

If sexuality is removed from its proper context (between a husband and wife), it becomes a mere biological function that can never truly be satisfying. For a woman especially, her body and her emotions and her mind and her spirituality are all intimately connected, and if any one of those is experiencing difficulty in some way, the others will most likely be affected. Sex is never just a physical act for a woman, it has to be much more, because she was created for relationship. Some may try to fill a void by being sexually active outside of marriage, but it is a losing battle. In a book called The Thrill of the Chaste by Dawn Eden (don't take this as a recommendation to read it, the quote just resonated with me), the author writes that in today's society, couples "become physically intimate to see if they want to be in a relationship... the underlying concept is the old Freudian conceit that people have sexual "needs", and that these needs can exist either on their own or as the prelude to a relationship, but that it is unnatural to prioritize other types of intimacy ahead of them. Although I myself have these "needs"-- or, rather, desires-- I never really wanted to place them before emotional intimacy. I don't think it's natural for women to operate that way unless they have serious problems with emotional intimacy-- and even then, I don't think it makes them happy." (p.114) I agree. It's not natural for a woman to operate that way, nor should it be. Need I also say, it's not biblical...

Sexuality, especially that of a woman, can also be a powerful weapon, either for good or for evil. Delilah is said to have been a woman who used her sexuality to bring down the strongest man in the Scriptures, Samson. On the other hand, a woman's other needs are oftentimes stronger than her physical desires, so she may find it easier than a man to initiate (and also reinforce) the "boundaries" necessary for a relationship to remain pure and godly before marriage.

A great article has been written on the subject of pre-marital sex and what the Bible has to say. It was written by messianic scholar, Tim Hegg, and it can be found here:

www.torahresource.com/EnglishArticles/TorahMorality.pdf
I remember reading this article with my fiance who is now my husband.

In summary, the most important aspect of a godly relationship is communication, before and after marriage. Communicate with G-d concerning your desires (after all, He created them, and He knows that you have them!), and communicate with your partner. Even a force as powerful as sexuality cannot withstand the united force of G-d, a godly man, and his ezer (strong helper) by his side (that would be you)...

"If you are close when you should be distant, you will be distant when you should be close."

-Rebbe Schneerson

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Hat...

Anyone who sees me often knows that I usually wear a hat when I am away from home. This is my attempt to explain why...


If someone happens to ask me about it, then my short and sweet response is that it reminds me to submit to G-d and to my husband. But there's really more to it than that. In pondering the question of headcoverings, I've found it necessary to compile sources because there are so many different perspectives out there.





If you are familiar with First Fruits of Zion, they recently published an extensive article on this very issue in their Spring 2009 Messiah Journal. Written by an excellent author, D. Thomas Lancaster, he also compiled many views in his piece. I cannot possibly summarize it here (it's really long!), but he basically comes to the conclusion that it is an accepted tradition (and was in the first century) for married women to cover their hair, but it is certainly not a commandment from G-d. However, there are many instances where the tradition is supported and not discouraged in the Scriptures.




I found two traditional websites that give meaningful explanations as to why married Jewish women cover their hair. The first is http://www.covermyhair.com/. Just scroll down a little until the paragraph begins. The second is an article that you can find at: http://www.aish.com/f/rf/48944771.html and it is what I found to be a beautiful response from a rabbi's wife to a woman who has a desire to cover her hair. The rebbetzin goes into the Jewish concept of modesty and it is very interesting. I know I was touched by it...





It seems that this is a halachic issue that each woman (and man) has to come to a personal conclusion about. My conclusion is that I will wear a hat most of the time when outside my home. It helps me remember that I am always under G-d's covering and that He is with me; it reminds me that my most desirable beauty comes from within; it reminds me that I am not my own, but I have been bought with a price... it reminds me that I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine...