Monday, November 26, 2012

advent and the ninth month of pregnancy

Yes, it has been forever since I posted.  This is deeply frustrating because I love writing regularly and I hate to lose readership when I am slow to post.

But such is reality.  My body has taken this pregnancy much harder than the previous one and I'm finding it hard to keep myself and my family organized and cared for, let alone write my blog.  I look forward to when I am feeling better and can write more often.

God has a way of using even the "tough stuff," however, to help us grow closer to Him.  I have had to spend many hours laying on my side, not because of bed rest requirements or anything so dire, but just because for some reason I've been dealing with a lot more pain (leg pain, belly pain, knee pain, hip pain) and exhaustion this time around.  Additionally, in the third trimester, some personally trying and stressful situations have come up for our family.  In the beginning, I felt sorry for myself and spent time asking, "God, why did You choose this timing?  I can't handle this right now!"  But God has been working in my heart and during those times when all I can do is lay on my side with my good ol' pregnancy pillow, there is lots of time to pray (lest you think I'm more spiritual than I am, in those times when I can mentally focus a bit, I watch a lot of TV too!).  But prayer?  I've had more time for it than I've had in years.  In that prayer time, God is giving me peace in the midst of lots of challenges.  That doesn't mean I don't have days when I have a raze-the-earth, grouch-fest attitude, though.  Just the other day, I had one of those.  I had to apologize to my husband for that one!

Now there is only one month to go...or maybe less?  I'm hoping!  I'm getting ready and preparing.  I'm feeling an urgency to get Bean's room ready, to get all that laundry washed, to make sure my list for the hospital is prepared...  And this comes, just as the church season of Advent is about to start.  Yes, I am going through my ninth month of pregnancy in Advent.  Just as I need to be prepared for Jesus' second coming, so I need to be prepared for Bean's coming.  Just as Mary needed to be prepared for Jesus' first coming.  (By the way, I totally empathize with her concerning that long donkey--or walking?--trip to Bethlehem.  I bet she had some questions for God too about timing!  A!)  For some reason, it is easier for me to understand Jesus' second coming through the lens of Bean's due date.  This due date is tangible, marked on the calendar, but on the other hand, Bean may come any day.  I feel my son pushing and nudging urgently inside me.  The other night, it looked like he was knocking on my stomach!  He is preparing and I am preparing.  The time is drawing near.  Will I be prepared?  Will I be ready when he comes?

What about with Jesus?  Will I be ready when He comes?  Will I be faithful in prayer and Scripture reading?  Will I be forgiving those who have hurt me?  Will I be loving my loved ones even in their imperfections (after all, they love me in mine!)?  Will I be focusing on the needs of others, to the best of my ability, and not just my own?

I hope that I am fully ready when Bean comes.  I hope that I am ready when Jesus comes again.

And yet, the coming of Bean also reminds me how much the Christian life is resting in God.  I mean, as much as I'd like my limitations to be removed, I have very limited time periods when I can do things like make a meal for a needy family or watch a friend's child.  I am even limited in my ability to do things for my husband and daughter right now.  My energy is low, my strength is limited.  But I am driven back to my bed and my pregnancy pillow.  I lay on my side and pray and rest in God.  That's what I can do right now.  This won't last forever, this stage of life.  But I hope I remember the lesson of it.  The lesson that in the Christian life, we need to focus on abiding in God, resting in Him and trusting in Him more than on doing and accomplishing.  The former is all about God; the latter can often turn out to be all about us.  God wants us to do things to help others, but never to lose our center in Him.  Being ready for Jesus' coming does not mean frenetic chasing around to try to please God with our works all over again.  It means resting in God and His salvation and letting our energy flow from His acceptance and love.

Happy Advent!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Fall in a Bowl" Pumpkin Soup with Caramelized Pecans


For the soup:
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 small apples, peeled and chopped
2 TBS butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 TBS brown sugar
2-3 cups apple cider
1 can (29 oz.) pumpkin, unsweetened
1 tsp sea salt

For the pecans:
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 TBS butter
3 TBS maple syrup

Melt the first 2 TBS of the butter in a heavy Dutch oven.  Saute the onion and apple in the butter.  Coat with cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar while cooking.  Cook until onion and apple are soft and pan is beginning to glaze.  De-glaze with the cider, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits.  Boil the mixture and then add the pumpkin and sea salt.  Bring back to boiling and then lower heat to simmer.  Cover and cook for at least an hour.  Puree soup to a smooth texture.

About 10 minutes before serving, melt the other 2 TBS of butter in a skillet.  Add the maple syrup and stir continuously until hot, bubbly and slightly thickened.  Add the pecans and continue to stir continuously until toasted.  Add a pinch of sea salt.  Be careful not to burn pecans and beware that when the mixture gets thick, the pecans may stick to the bottom of the pan.  (Hence the continual stirring!)  Pour the soup and top with pecans.  It's Fall in a Bowl!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Review Friday: French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon

If you are an American family, chances are you have picked up some bad food habits along the way of daily life.  Let's face it...our culture is not geared towards good, healthy, balanced food habits and if you are trying to do it right, you're facing an uphill battle.  It's easy to forget about some simple basic rules.  In our family, we struggle with eating enough of our meals at the table (although I will say, we almost always eat dinner at the table together as a family).  We have all three developed some truly terrible table manners over time.  Our table is often piled with papers and clutter which we push out of the way to eat.  And we gobble up our meals way too fast.  We forget to stop and truly savor our food.  Finally, some of the shorter members of our family (who shall remain nameless...cough, Burrito) are a bit picky in their food choices.

When I saw French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters by Karen Le Billon on the "Grab and Go" shelf at my local library, I was intrigued.  I've long been interested in the eating habits of the French.  They manage to eat a balanced diet without all the guilt and self-hated that food causes in the United States.  They eat real food, delicious food.  They eat butter!  They eat chocolate!  And a lot of other weird stuff, to be honest.  But they love food and they stay healthy.  We could use a bit of that in America, eh?

The rules (principles) are enumerated on the back of the book and unpacked throughout the chapters.  Le Billon's husband is French and she is Canadian.  After they decide to take a year to move to France, Le Billon shares her family's journey toward better eating habits.  She is alternatively irritated with the rigid ways (and superior attitude) of the French and intrigued by how they do really seem to know what they are talking about when it comes to food.  Along the way, she gently nudges American and Canadian parents toward good habits.  She isn't rigid or judgmental herself...just honest about her family's journey and ultimately very compelling in convincing the reader to take on some new food habits.  Her chatty but informative style makes the reading very approachable.

Several of the rules were particularly helpful for me.  For example: "Kids eat what adults eat."  How many of us as parents have become "short order cooks"?  Junior is picky and would never eat that, so we make something different for Junior (Kraft Mac and Cheese, anyone?).  When Le Billon moved to France, she was amazed at the complex foods that were served to the children for school lunches.  Endives and pate and fine cheeses and fish and beets.  Would your kids eat that stuff?  But when kids are not given another option, it's amazing what they can come to enjoy!  French parents don't make a big deal out of it if a child refuses a meal.  They simply remove the dish and don't offer any substitutes.  Pretty soon the kid gets hungry enough to start eating.  Of course, it helps that it is like this everywhere in French culture.  At school and home and friends' homes.  Kids aren't babied, so they learn to enjoy all kinds of food.  The culture itself is helping parents meet their goals.  Admittedly, it is much harder to do this in America.  But we can still stop making it easy for kids to be picky eaters.  We may not have control over every place our kids go, but we do have control over our own home.

Another rule that was very helpful to me was the "no snacking" rule.  French adults rarely snack but children may have a snack at 4 PM and then usually a later dinner.  This is the only snack of the day, however.  Like you, I always travel with a snack in my purse.  We get in the car and my daughter starts immediately whining that she is hungry, even if she has just eaten!  But can all this grazing and snacking really be creating good food habits for the future?  And as Le Billon points out, a child who snacks on crackers and cookies and less healthy food all day won't be as hungry for the main meals of the day in which more healthy food is served.  So she recommends cutting the snack down to just one a day.  And she also recommends that the snack be something really appetizing and delicious to the kids, but healthy as well.  As I contemplated this rule, I realized that I was doing things like providing my daughter a snack during church services (supposedly to keep her quiet) even though fellowship hour immediately followed the service...with a huge snack available.  So, I cut out the church time snack and so far things are going fine!  (I realized after reading this book that a friend of mine from Europe never provides her daughter a snack or even toys for church.  She is just expected to sit and behave.  Wow!  And she does!)

One of the most key rules was that "Eating is joyful."  How often do we forget this in America, with our calorie counting and our guilt over one piece of chocolate cake?  How often do we stuff massive amounts of food down, without even tasting or savoring or enjoying it?  I love the balance found in this rule.  After all, food is a tremendous gift of God.  He didn't have to make it so flavorful and varied and colorful and amazing.  It could have all tasted like porridge.  But He gave us tremendous beauty and variety.  When God gives a gift, it behooves us to sit down and appreciate it.  The French may not (mostly) be doing this for a religious reason, but those of us who are Christians can.  We can savor food, enjoy variety, enjoy real foods (not just manufactured ones) and give thanks to the Creator of all!  This is what is missing in most of the diet plans out there: the joy of food.  When you enjoy food and give thanks to God for it instead of fear it, it changes your perspective.  You don't have to eat as much because you are taking the time to savor it.  And you don't have to be afraid of food either.  Or make an idol of it.

I have been making an effort to help create a mood at our table for dinner too.  The French get out the tablecloth and the whole works.  I'm not sure I can manage that just yet, but I do try to clear the table thoroughly (as often as I can!), to remove any plastic cups and use glass (classing it up a bit!), and to create a space for us all to enjoy and look forward to our meals.  I'm working on this.  One day, I even fixed a lovely lunch for my husband at the table (instead of us scarfing down lunch when we get a chance on the couch or in the easy chair).  We had a wonderful conversation together and both felt re-energized for the rest of the day.  My daughter and I have stopped turning on cartoons for lunch and have been sitting at the table and eating together.  This has really improved our attitudes toward each other and given us some wonderful conversations.

Ultimately, Le Billon and her husband decide that the French way of life is too rigid and even judgmental for them to continue living there indefinitely.  I appreciated the honesty about this.  It is all too easy for outsiders to glamorize a culture and pretend it has no flaws.  Le Billon takes from the French culture what she can, applauds it, learns from it, but also adapts it to her own family's needs.  I learned a lot from reading her book and was inspired to eat healthier and enjoy family and food more.  It was just the shot in the arm that I needed.  I think that every parent would benefit from reading this book (as would those who are not parents but are looking for a more balanced approach to food in their own lives).  Le Billon closes her book with a few recipes she has made for her kids--simple but also challenging foods.

4.5 stars.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book Review Friday: Quiet--The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

I feel like I've been on a crusade for years to educate people about introverts (otherwise known as "my people!").  As Susan Cain points out in her excellent book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, it's an extrovert's world out there in America--even though introverts make up 33-50 % of it (depending on which study you follow).  Cain writes, "We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal--the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight."  Speaking from experience, I can say that it's tough to be an introvert in the loud, boisterous world of the United States and I constantly have to explain to people what the word really means.

A lot of people still believe that introverts are "people haters."  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Cain writes, "Probably the most common--and damaging--misunderstanding about personality type is that introverts are antisocial and extroverts are pro-social.  But...neither formulation is correct; introverts and extroverts are differently social."  With their capacity to bring focus and depth to relationships, introverts make great friends.  They might be slow to warm up at first, but once they commit, they commit!  At work, they might not have the loudest voice, but they are usually the most prepared people in the room and have carefully thought out their ideas from multiple angles.  But it's easy to dismiss introverts, because they are quiet and slow to draw attention to themselves.  There are times when loud and gregarious is what is needed in a situation.  But we already know that.  Extroverts are already revered in our culture.  It's high time to recognize there is also a time for "quiet strength" (also the title of a biography about Rosa Parks).  And that's just what Susan Cain's book does.

Cain traces the origins of the Extrovert Ideal in America and fascinatingly contrasts it with Asian countries and cultures which have more of an Introvert Ideal.  It's fascinating to think about how cultural standards figure in such matters as politics, particularly as we look ahead to our Presidential election in November.  From observation, it seems to me that both President Obama and Governor Romney exhibit some pretty classic introvert traits.  Is this a weakness?  Or could it, in certain ways, be a strength?  Cain makes the observation that "people followed Moses because his words were thoughtful, not because he spoke them well."

As a side note, Cain briefly references the problem of choosing pastors based on extroversion and charisma alone.  She writes, "evangelical churches often make extroversion a prerequisite for leadership, sometimes explicitly."  As a young pastor, I often felt pressure to change my basic personality and become more extroverted.  I could play at extroversion for a short time, but it left me exhausted long-term.  I wanted to spend hours in my office thinking through mission plans and curriculum and studying for sermons.  Trying to do youth work in the traditional way was exhausting.  I had never enjoyed or been good at the "rah-rah-rah!" youth activities when I was a youth!  What would magically make me good at these things now?  I did have a lot of interest in doing a youth ministry that was focused on discipleship and depth, so when I got the chance to revamp the confirmation program and introduce some really substantive material, I got super excited.  The structure of the program came me a great outlet to teach and get to know the kids in my class.  But water slides and sports games?  Those were tough to even contemplate.  In other areas of ministry, I found it hard to visit people and console them if I didn't know them well.  My words felt so generic and lifeless without a personal relationship with people in difficult circumstances.  And how could I know what would best comfort them unless I knew them?  But knowing people (really knowing them) takes time.  It doesn't happen overnight.  There are some great ways for introverts to lead in a church setting but it depends on a big part of the congregation understanding the differences in how God gifts each member of His body.

Cain wisely writes, "Bill Gates is never going to be Bill Clinton, no matter how he polishes his social skills, and Bill Clinton can never be Bill Gates, no matter how much time he spends alone with a computer.  We might call this the 'rubber band theory' of personality.  We are like rubber bands at rest.  We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much."  If I interview for a ministry position again, I think it would behoove me to explain my personality type and the "rubber band theory" to a call committee.  Cain writes that we can stretch ourselves far outside our comfort zone in a job successfully if we are doing it for deeply help values or goals.  However, if we do that much stretching, we must build in regular "restorative niches" so that we don't burn out.  These niches are quiet time apart from the demands of job and the stretching of our personalities.  These times must be guarded and protected.

The light bulb moment for me in reading Susan Cain's book is that introversion is not just where we get our energy (from lots of interaction with people or from time alone), but why we get our energy that way.  Extroverts have a high need for lots of stimulation.  They like being in noisier, busier environments.  They are the life of the party and need to be where the party is happening.  They like risks, too.  Having too little stimulation will de-energize them.  Introverts, on the other hand, need far less stimulation.  Not no stimulation; just less.  This means that introverts do indeed get lonely.  They need friends and socializing too.  They enjoy people.  They just need less of this stimulation than extroverts do.  And keep in mind, the stimulation is not only about people.  Busy, loud environments are great to extroverts.  Introverts quickly begin to feel overwhelmed in such places.  That's why open office plans can be so de-energizing for introverts, while extroverts might thrive on them.

As I was reading this book, I took a trip with my husband and Burrito to a busy family fun center, full of loud flashing video game machines, bouncy houses, laser tag, bright colors, and blaring sounds.  I sat down and watched my extroverted family members eating it up while I noticed my own reactions: overwhelmed, exhausted, overstimulated.  I felt like I needed a nap after our visit.  Had we gone instead to a playground where they might be plenty of children but perhaps another mom to chat with and focus on and lovely nature sounds, I think I would have enjoyed myself far more.  I stayed because I love my family and want them to have fun.  But it wasn't so very fun for me.

Within the same month, I went to a local church that has had great success attracting young families and young people, a church whose excellent teaching I have enjoyed on the radio.  Fresh from reading Quiet, however, I noticed that despite this church's excellent track record and focus on the Gospel, there were a few things that might be off-putting about the church to a more introverted group.  The music was so loud, it literally made my stomach hurt.  The loudness and over-stimulation were overwhelming and made it much harder for me to focus on the excellent Bible teaching that was being presented.  Could this be something for mega-churches to consider?  While they offer a chance for an introvert to "get lost in the crowd" and just focus in, sometimes the over-stimulation can get in the way of the message.  Could there perhaps be a middle ground where the extroverts feel sufficiently stimulated by the environment to stay focused while the introverts are not too overwhelmed?  Food for thought.

Overall, I found this book immensely helpful and informative in understanding my personality better and in being better able to explain it to others.  I found insights for how to use my personality in relationship with my extroverted family members and friends and to better understand where they are coming from.  There were insights for the workplace, for church, for marriage, for parenting, and for friendships.  Both extroverts and introverts would benefit from this book.

I have two areas of critique.  The first is that for those who interpret the Bible literally (as I do), the references to evolution in the development of the different personality types might be a bit annoying.  My advice: just ignore that part and take from the book what you can.  The second critique is that at times the book becomes bogged down in detailed and sometimes confusing research.  Don't give up on it, though.  There is a lot of good information here even in the midst of all the data.

4 stars out of 5.  Recommended.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Crown Publishers.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

the blessings of Christian friends

I really believe that when the Church acts as God calls it to, fellow Christians become to us like family.  I have experienced this over and over again here in Montana, in our local church and in my community of fellow mothers.  The Christians I know here free me to be myself, to be vulnerable and authentic.  They really care.  And they show it by word and deed.  It's so easy to start getting cynical about the Church of Christ.  Yes, it is full of sinners.  But it is also full of caring people who are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.  I am so grateful to God for the way He shows His love and care through the family of believers.

I've been struggling a lot through this pregnancy.  One of my primary struggles has been with my limited ability to participate in service.  I see so many needs all around me and I long to be able to do more to serve.  But I also know I am not very dependable right now.  I keep having health issues that slow me down and take my attention.  And when I push myself too hard, I regret it later.  More of this pregnancy has been spent resting in bed than in my previous one and I get so frustrated with the exhaustion and health hang-ups.  Yesterday, I was sitting in the fellowship hall at church with some ladies of all ages and they asked me how I was and listened and then gave me some gentle lectures that it is right to take care of myself.  They told me this is only a limited time in my life and I will have months and years to return to service and doing.  They said, "How can we help?  Do you need help cleaning your house?  Setting up the nursery?  What can we do?"  One friend proposed a baby shower, which will meet so many needs in our stretched budget currently.  Another friend is offering me maternity clothes.  A third is watching Burrito one day this week so I can get a little rest.  And today, another Christian friend from another church offered me more maternity clothes.  A week ago, another friend gave me some baby boy clothes, which were also much needed.  God is providing.  He is answering so many prayers.

Sometimes it's hard to be vulnerable with my fellow Christians, but to fail to do so, to fail to share how things really are is to miss out on God's blessing and care through them.  I came home feeling a bit teary-eyed with gratitude.  I hope that when I am feeling better again, I can be there for other friends like this too.

Friday, August 10, 2012

adventures in pregnancy: mr. bean

Pregnancy has not been good for blogging.  I thought it might be.  I mean, I could whine and moan about the discomforts of pregnancy for NINE WHOLE MONTHS, right?  Ample material!  But...I also started to think of how SICK of my whining my friends and readers would get...and how sad my friends who struggle with conceiving might feel...and how STINKIN' TIRED I would be--so tired that even spending time whining and moaning seemed as though it might take too much energy.  I remember after my first trimester how I knew I was beginning to feel a bit better because the idea of watching a TV show downstairs on the couch was not so overwhelmingly exhausting (I'd been crashing in bed many hours a day).  LAYING ON THE COUCH was exhausting!  I mean, seriously!  Who can blog?

Not to mention that my blog definitely takes a food slant and just try writing about food when you can't stomach food.  Just, ew.  Gross.

I have barely cooked for my family in months.  Yep, that's right.  Me.  Flathead Mama.  Foodie.  More often than not, I find myself getting take-out or making a big salad for dinner.  Or a sandwich.  Mmmmmm....  Garlic has become persona non grata, which eliminates basically all of my recipes except dessert (although if I had found a way to add garlic to dessert, that probably would be part of my repertoire too!).  The first trimester, I couldn't cook or even stand cooking smells in the house.  I was craving chili one day and I made my husband cook it on the barbecue grill.  A few friends brought me casseroles.  BLESS THEM.  Because of them, my family could actually eat a few home-cooked meals!  And Sweet Peaks...Oh, God bless Sweet Peaks...their creamy, homemade ice cream was one of the few things that tasted really good.  Hence, my visits about three times a week.  No exaggeration.

And then...just as the afternoon sickness of nausea began to abate, I got a bad sinus infection that turned into a cough that made me throw up (which, strangely enough, I had never done from pregnancy either pregnancy!).  And then I got food poisoning and had diarrhea for 4 days.  I was reminded of the line from The Devil Wears Prada: "I'm just one stomach flu away from my goal weight."  Haha.  In a way, it was good.  I had gained a little weight before getting pregnant.  This equaled me out a little bit.  Look on the positive side, I guess.  I wouldn't recommend 4 days of diarrhea as the best diet ever though.  Don't try this at home.

I got so depleted, I started having what almost felt like contractions.  So I had to get checked out at labor and delivery.  There was enough instability that they ordered an ultrasound.  But ultimately, baby was found to be staying put.  I went home, rested, stayed in bed (some more) while my husband did basically everything (some more).  BLESS HIM.  Without him, I probably couldn't have gotten well.  But I did.

The last week or so has been good.  We have done more fun things in the last week than in practically the whole pregnancy combined.  (Arts Festival!  Swimming at the lake!  Farmer's Market!  Thursday Fest in Kalispell!  Movie with the hubby!)  I'm tired and sore these days (and suffering from more allergies than usual), but functional.  And we found out this week that our baby Bean is a boy, so we have taken to calling him Mr. Bean.  I'm feeling him move more and more and so grateful to have gotten this far.  So grateful for the husband, daughter, family, and friends who have helped me through the hormones and sickness and difficulties of the first trimester (and part of the second).  So grateful to God for sustaining me even through an all-too-frequent negative attitude.  So grateful for the good and replenishing activities I've been able to do this week.

I hope with some renewed health and energy, I will be able to post a little more often.  But however things work out, know that I plan to be with this blog long-term.  Because, well, writing is awesome.  And so are my readers.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

It's not about me...

I've been having a sentence burning its way into my heart and mind lately.  It comes to me at times when I see something on Facebook or the internet that gives me a flash of anger...a flow of argument on my lips and in my heart.  It comes to me when someone who disagrees with me says something sharp and pointed.

This is the sentence: "It's not about you, Rebecca." 

This comes to me again and again.  In my sinful flesh, I am so eager to claim I am so righteous, the other person is so wrong, and it's all about me and my opinion!  But Jesus has been reminding me over and over again that It's not about me!  I can relax.  I don't have to prove myself.  I don't have to smack down someone's argument.  I don't have let everyone know how right I am.  I also don't have to be liked.  I do have to make an effort to show God's love to people.  Because my actions are viewed by one Audience: God.

It's not about me.  It's about Jesus and a world full of people who are hurting, just like I am.  It's about taking myself out of the way and letting Jesus shine through.

I stink at this a lot of times.  I want to claim my Christian rights.  I want to be in the spotlight.  I want to argue my point.  I get all caught up in the claim that poor Christians are so persecuted, forgetting that Christians in America know little of persecution and that even when it does come, Jesus said that it would.  I forget the pain of others in trying to force everybody to see my own distress, my own point of view.

Meanwhile, the person I want to argue with is essentially saying to me, "I hear your argument, but I don't hear your love."  Or maybe I am trying to listen and they are "giving me no credit for listening" I get upset and offended?  Or do I listen some more, get to know them, tell the truth about my beliefs but never give up on being their friend?  Do I claim my rights to be understood?  Or do I remember, "It's not all about me?"  Do I see where Christians have hurt them?  Do I see a person that God loves?  Or just my own ego?

Jesus was firm and unapologetic about His beliefs, but He was also incarnational.  He came near to us poor sinners.  His truth was something expressed through a relationship.  Will I be like Jesus and listen?  Or just love the sound of my own voice? 

And when I do speak and give witness to God's Word, do I have to be liked?  Do I have to be understood?  Does it pain me when people don't give me credit for being balanced and nuanced and compassionate?  Or do I accept the pain of people's misunderstanding, knowing that God loves them?  Do I let myself relax and say, "It's ok.  I will do my best to love and to learn from their correction, but I will also be faithful to God.  I'll try to change where I need to shed self-righteousness and lovelessness, but I won't go along with people just to be liked.  It's ok if they don't understand.  It's ok if I am maligned (as long as it's not because I'm being a jerk!)."

Over and over again, Jesus says to me, "It's not about you, Rebecca."  I'm learning to listen.  It might take me a lifetime...

Monday, July 23, 2012

a short word on evil and the shooting in Aurora, CO

Like all Americans, I was horrified, grieved and unnerved to hear of the massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, CO this weekend.  A movie theater of people, gathering to enjoy a summer blockbuster, was sprayed with bullets, leading to the murder of 12 people and the injury of 50-some more.  News coverage has mostly followed the typical sensational and speculative script that comes about each time one of these mass shootings occur.  Virtually every hour, news anchors on the 24-hour networks have called in criminal profilers and psychologists to try to explain to us all the "why?" behind such acts of evil.  Evil is typically something we can avoid in most of our everyday life.  Mass killings are too common, certainly, but still relatively rare in the big picture.  But when such a visceral act of violence occurs, apparently targeting individuals for no real reason, we want to know why. 

This is not the only place we have seen evil in the news lately.  The Jerry Sandusky-Penn State scandal also calls to mind questions of evil in our world.  How is it that a man could abuse children so callously over such a long period of years?  Even worse, how could "normal," professional people--even revered and admired people--tolerate it and cover it up? 

What if, instead of bringing the psychologists and the criminal profilers and the attorneys, we brought in clergypeople and theologians?  Can we continue to avoid the pervasive nature of evil, even in seemingly "good" people like Joe Paterno anymore?  Where does this evil come from?  Is there any power or force greater than this evil?  How can we hope to overcome evil?  Will a day come when we no longer must seek to heal victims of sexual abuse or bury young people mowed down in their prime?

These are all questions for which Christian theology has answers.  At a time in which we are so baffled and troubled by evil, wouldn't it behoove us as a nation to at least give a listen to what those answers may be?

My prayers continue to be with all of those who suffered losses in Aurora, CO.  May God grant you comfort, peace and the assurance of His presence through all of the stages of grief.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

my faith story

I've been thinking recently that it is so easy to write about tangential issues and never get around to writing about the most important and central part of my life: faith in Jesus Christ.  So today I want to take an opportunity to share my faith story with you. 

I grew up in a Christian home where I was taught the Bible from a very early age.  In fact, I'm pretty sure my Mom even read me the Bible when I was in the womb!  Saturation in the Bible would describe my growing-up years.  We had family devotions.  We were required to have personal devotions (Mom used to say, "You need to nourish your soul just as much as your body" so we would have devotions even before breakfast).  We listened to Christian radio, read Christian biographies, and even listened to tape recordings of Scripture as we went to sleep at night.  As I became a teenager, we were paid 25 cents to memorize each Bible verse.  This motivated me to memorize chapters of Scripture...even a few whole books (short ones!). 

At the tender age of two years old, I was laying on the changing table when I said to my Mom, "Jesus...come in...heart."  Mom marks that down as the beginning of my faith journey, the stake in the ground of faith, if you will.  I have a lot of appreciation for her belief that a tiny child could have saving faith in Christ (or shall I say, "faith in the saving Christ"!).  Clearly, for a little child to believe, it is the work of the Holy Spirit!  I was baptized a year or two later, at my request.  Although I now believe that conversion and baptism are best understood as a single act, I also agree with an article I recently read on Christianity Today's website: if we find ourselves in the posture of faith and trust in Christ, that is what is important.  It is not so much the journey we took to get there or whether we said a perfect sinner's prayer or had baptism at the "right" time.  It's not whether we use the term "decision for Christ" or the term "Christ's decision for me."  The point is that we trust Jesus for our salvation.  I would add to that that we should also realize that faith itself is the gift of God and from God much more than it is our gift to God.

At any rate, from the earliest of ages, I found myself in the posture of faith in Christ for my salvation.  I had been taught and came to understand for myself that I was born with sin and brokenness in my heart.  After all, who needs to teach a child to rebel?  Rebellion is so common and normal among children that it points to the innate nature of sin.  Children normally and naturally go through selfishness, disobedience and lying.  I understood, though, that sin wasn't just something I did; it was something that was inherently part of me.  I had a nature that made me turn away from God and from my parents.  I came to understand that I needed a Savior to take away my sin, to carry it for me so that it would no longer weigh me down.  I came to understand that I needed forgiveness and restoration.  And I truly believed (and still believe) that Jesus' death on the cross and subsequent resurrection gave me such a salvation and redemption.

As I grew, I came to understand that that sin nature is always there as long as we are on this earth but that in salvation, God also gives us the "firstfruits" of our new life with Him in eternity.  We have a new nature too and that is why despite the in-fighting and hypocrisy and sin and ugliness we see from Christians, we also see that Christians are some of the most generous, sacrificial people in the world.  We see this in the Christians who venture into the leprosy colonies, who reach out to treat those who battle foot-deforming illnesses in Ethiopia, who serve and care for the most hungry and impoverished in the world.  Even Nick Kristof, the New York Times columnist who tackles social issues and doesn't shy away from criticizing conservative Christians, has noted that, in all fairness, you will always find Christians at the heart of seeking to alleviate suffering, in the most dangerous and ugly places on earth.  There is a glory that shines in the midst of the darkness and God uses Christians to bring some of that beauty and hope into the world.  That is why Jesus told us we were the light of the world.

At any rate, as I went through junior high, I found myself less interested in growing in faith and more interested in my hormones.  This passed shortly though and gave way to a period of two years of anxiety and depression that didn't exactly make me suicidal but didn't really make me want to live either.  An increasingly unhealthy dynamic at home probably didn't help things (I was living through the second disintegrating marriage in my family).  I believe that I developed obsessive-compulsive disorder during this time and found myself trying to purge myself of any sin (even a sinful thought) and doing illogical things like obsessively washing my hands.  The outward compulsions were a sign of how much pain I was in inwardly.  There were so many days I crawled through, only holding on to the hope that I would find the answers and be able to be whole in the future.  My interest in matters of faith had returned, thankfully, but often the heavens seemed dark and answers were elusive.  By the grace of God, I didn't give up, though.

It was the restoration to a healthy Christian community that led to my restoration.  Although I had grown up in evangelical and Pentecostal churches, we began to attend a Lutheran church that had a lovely service by the lake.  As we continued to attend and to hear God's Word faithfully preached, as we became a part of a small group and began to serve in the church, I found my hope and wholeness begin to be restored.  In this church, I found pastors who showed me unconditional love and that was healing as well. 

At the same time, I began to study Martin Luther's story.  I came to see that he had suffered the same obsessive anxiety to be perfect and to receive God's favor that I was going through. Martin Luther did not grow up in a world where he had access to the Bible like we do today.  The Mass was in Latin and the Scriptures were in another language and reserved for the elite.  It was only in his work as a young monk that he began to actually read the Bible.  When he did, he was completely overcome by the grace of God.  He came to see that salvation is never dependent on what we do, but is totally dependent on what God has done and is doing for us.  Jesus died for us so that we could be free from efforts to please God (efforts which are never enough to match God's perfect standard).  He saw that while God is holy, He is also merciful.  When we could not bring redemption and healing for ourselves, Jesus did it for us, at great personal cost. 

It was not that I had never been taught this.  I was steeped in Scripture and its teaching about salvation.  But somehow I had gotten myself into a place where I believed that, as a Christian, I was responsible for holding on to God's favor.  I saw myself as a worse sinner than other sinners and was desperately trying to claw my way up the ladder of holiness.  Martin Luther reminded me that only Jesus can obtain God's favor and that it is given to us as a gift--not only at the moment of our conversion, but for the rest of our lives.  Is obedience important?  Yes!  But not to obtain God's favor.  It is the way we show our love and gratitude to God for what He has already given us.  Little by little, I began to experience more and more freedom from the obsessive control I was trying to take over my life.

In the years that followed, I had many ups and downs.  I had times when I followed God more closely than others.  I had times when I clung to my own control instead of to Christ.  I think of myself now as "in recovery" from this obsessive control.  It's a life-long journey.  And now as an adult, I often feel I have more questions than answers.  But in the midst of the questions and struggles, there is one passage that I cling to.  In John 6, Jesus has just finished a particularly difficult-to-understand teaching ("eat my flesh...drink my blood").  Many people are repulsed and turn away from following Him anymore.  Jesus asks His disciples if they plan to do the same.  Simon Peter's words are the ones I cling to, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (NIV).  This is so often how I feel.  So often, I don't understand God.  I have so many questions.  The heavens often seem dark.  Scripture is so often hard to understand.  But what I do know is that there is no other credible place to which I can turn.  There is no other Person who was willing to die for me.  There is no other assurance like that which I have in Christ.  So I cling to Him in the midst of the questions and confusion of this life.  I remain in the posture of faith. 

There's a lot more I could write about.  My growth in faith in college and at Bible camp.  My years in Christian ministry.  Seminary.  But this will suffice for now.  

Jesus has saved me, redeemed me and given me the gift of faith.  He holds me in the palm of His hand and promises that no one can snatch me away from Him (John 10) and nothing can separate me from His love (Romans 8).  To whom shall I go?  I go to Jesus.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Politics, Original Sin, and a New Creation

It's election season.  Politics is in full swing and as time goes on, it gets increasingly, nasty, unreasonable and full of attacks.  I describe myself as a "radical moderate" (a term coined by my husband), fitting neither in the Republican nor Democrat camps.  I try to listen to both sides, think about what I believe is right (particularly through the lens of my faith), and use common sense and practicality to decide how to vote and how to think about political matters.  I don't enshrine my politics or one party or another as being "of God" or "more American" than another.  I think there are stinkers and good people in both parties.

And so as the political debates begin to heat up, I begin to become very frustrated with how people proceed.  The dark music of political ads, the inevitable ad hominem attacks comparing one leader or another to Hitler when such is comparison is wholly unwarranted (I have heard this said of both President Bush and President Obama), the unwillingness to sit down and listen to another perspective (if my belief is true, it will hold up to scrutiny!).  I start wanting to sing, "Why can't we all just get along?"  I don't understand why people can't be more reasonable with one another and work together for a better future.

This is because I am an idealist.  In the abstract, I think that surely people can just be reasonable and practical and get along.  But this is because I forget so easily the reality of original sin in our world.  To expect perfection out of sinful human beings is unrealistic.  To expect that we can all just use reason and common sense to get along is not reality.  Because I am a Christian, I believe that there is something terribly wrong at the core of human beings.  This is why absolute peace has never been achieved in the history of the world. This is why the utopian dreams of communism never came to fruition but merely became another way to take what belonged to someone else and dominate one's neighbor.  This is why the competitive environment of capitalism so easily leads to trodding our neighbor underfoot instead of providing opportunities for everyone.  We are sinners and whatever political system we are given, we will find a way to manipulate it for ourselves and to the detriment of our neighbors.

Because we are sinners, we also turn nasty in political debate.  We harden our hearts to hearing another side.  Rare is the journalist or commentator who takes the time to at least listen to another perspective fairly.  We call the Affordable Care Act "Obamacare."  We call pro-life people "anti-abortion."  Certainly, we will not see things from the same perspective all the time, but we fail to even listen to another side of the story.  We attack Americans who think differently than us and call them "un-American."  I have heard this attitude from the elite intellectual who thinks the Republican farmer has nothing to teach him and is hopelessly backward and out of touch.  I have heard this from the blue-color Republican who dismisses the liberal as a Nazi in the making, as someone trying to destroy America.  (And I have participated in such attitudes as these too from time to time.)  Both are wrong.  But why would we expect anything else from sinful people?  We are not reasonable and able to get along all the time, precisely because we are sinners.

Not only do I fail to take sin seriously in the everyday American, but I also fail to take it seriously at times in relation to the evil in the world.  When you get a lot of education, it is easy to look at things from a theoretical perspective: "If I reason with the nations of the world, they will see the wisdom of my approach and stop the evil that they are doing."  But evil is not something that can be reasoned with.  In fact, when it is downplayed, it gains more power.  I will always be of the opinion that war should be avoided if it can be and should only be a last resort, but there is absolutely a time and a place for strong military action that sets boundaries with repressive regimes.  Look at the accommodation of Neville Chamberlain that did not take evil seriously.  Look at the prophetic eye of Winston Churchill that dared to call evil what it was, even if he was maligned as a warmonger.  The fog of war does not always immediately reveal who is right and wrong, but Churchill's courage and willingness to be misunderstood and disliked is to be admired.  We have to take evil seriously and not think that it can be reasoned with.

So, we will never have a perfect political world where everyone gets along and behaves well, precisely because of the nature of original sin.  Even Christians?  Yes!  Lutheran theology is so helpful because it teaches that Christians are both fully saint and fully sinner at the same time.  We will not be free of original sin until we are taken home to be with the Lord.  This means that in reality we will sometimes behave badly, including in the political arena.  We will lose our tempers.  We will sin in areas which we have publicly condemned in others.  We will lie and bear false witness.  We will be nasty, slow to listen and unloving at times.

But just because we screw up sometimes and can be forgiven does not let us off the hook.  Paul asked in Romans 6, "Shall we then sin so that grace may abound?"  Do you remember his response?  "May it never be!"  We are not only 100% sinner, but also 100% saint, created new in Christ Jesus.  We are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).  And although we are not yet free of the "old man" of sin and death, we are being made new, day by day.  The world rightfully condemns Christians when they do not live up to their own ideals of love, respect, truth, and forgiveness.  No, we will never be perfect, but we also should not lower our standard.  And we should be willing to repent when we mess up.

But why is it that the nastiest email forwards come from Christians?  Why is it that Christian on Facebook, email, Twitter and in conversation constantly bear false witness, sharing rumors that are not substantiated with others?  For example, no matter your political party, do you think the Lord wants you to forward an email suggesting that President Obama is a secret Muslim?  (I have received such rumor-filled email forwards primarily from conservatives, but that doesn't let liberals off the hook.  They have their own way of pushing down the other side.  Nasty comments paired with a newspaper article posted to Facebook, for instance.)  Does this honor the Lord?

As a Christian, no matter which political leader you are spreading rumors about, consider two steps: 1) Check before you forward anything--most of these email forwards have been passed around so many times that they no longer have any truth to them.  2) Pray for political leaders, as the Bible commands us to do (1 Timothy 2:1-4).  It is so easy to forget that prayer for our leaders is our responsibility as Christians.  But even if you disagree sorely with an elected leader, remember that God loves him or her and pray that that person may come to know God in all His fullness.  Pray for his or her spouse and family.  Pray for protection against temptation.  Pray for honesty, courage and integrity.  The pressures on our leaders are terribly strong and the temptations are great.  Without prayer, how will they have any hope of doing what is right?

Fellow Christians: you and I may have very different conclusions, politically, about how best to serve our neighbor.  But we are united by our common identity of saint and sinner.  We're going to screw up sometimes.  We're going to get mad sometimes.  We're going to bear false witness sometimes.  But let's strive higher.  Let's be an example in a fractious political environment.  Let's be people that the world can look to and admire and respect for our integrity, honesty, fairness, respect, and love.  There will be times to fight evil.  There will times to take on debates rigorously, and it is our duty as citizens to do so.  But let's do it with truth in our mouths and respect in our hearts.  Let's live out our new identity as new creations in Christ!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Summer Vacation: Seattle, Portland and the Oregon Coast (Part II)

Beautiful sculpture in front of the headquarters of World Vision 
Before I get to the second half of our vacation in Oregon, I wanted to mention our visit to World Vision in Federal Way, Washington.  We thought visiting their headquarters and taking a tour would be a great learning experience for Burrito and it was!  We pray every night for the "people in trouble" in Africa and it was great for Burrito to see pictures and hands-on illustrations of what people in Africa and other impoverished areas of the world go through.  It was wonderful to see the ways World Vision is helping through working in entire villages to provide clean water, food, health care, schooling and micro loans for businesses.  I was also impressed with their efficiency and preparation.  For example, they stash emergency supplies in specific locations around the world so that they can get in when there is a natural disaster or other emergency and begin assistance immediately.  Their long-term relationships and ongoing work within each country also helps them to make sure supplies actually get to the people who need them.  Very impressive.

After our whirlwind trip to Seattle, we began the trek down to Portland.  We began to be interested in Portland a year or so ago when we started watching Portlandia on IFC.  The opening song and comedic segment of the show stated that "The dream of the '90s is alive in Portland" and reminded us that it is the city where "young people go to retire."  We thought this was hilarious (and let's face it, we've met people from other cities...cough, Minneapolis-St. Paul...who remind us greatly of the characters who people Portlandia).  We (cough, I) also enjoyed being poked fun at a bit.  One of the first sketches involve a couple who are so deeply interested in where their food comes from that they want to know the name of the chicken they are being served at a restaurant, as well as all of the aspects of its life, and finally decide to visit the farm where he was raised before ordering dinner.  This is foodie/locavore taken to the extreme.  I can take a little good-natured ribbing!

We were only in Portland two nights, but I can testify that the slogan you find on a building downtime ("Keep Portland Weird") is entirely warranted and will not be a difficult goal to achieve.  I saw all of the following downtown during our visit: Rastafarians, a "gang" of guys on segways decorated with roses in a parade, people trying to get Oregon voters to sign up for a bill to make pot legal, a street preacher, street musicians, a dad pushing a baby car seat in an umbrella stroller, a piano player who was playing the piano on a rigged-up bicycle, one and only one very dressed up trendy lady, artists molding your face into a garden gnome in 10 minutes, a guy dressed up as Spiderman (complete with full face mask) on a bike, and a very fine variety of street food.  Quite the collection of folks!

In the midst of the weirdness that is Portland, we managed to have a nice time, though. First off, we had to visit the famous Powell's City of Books (a bookstore that takes up an entire city block and is the largest new and used bookstore in the world!).  I was in bliss surrounded by that many books, but Burrito was quickly bored.  She did enjoy waiting with a little girl who had lost her Daddy though until the store manager could call her dad on the intercom.  Powell's even has a machine where you can self-publish your book!  I loved the quote on these stairs:
 Next, we visited the Saturday Market downtown, where local artists sell their work and world street food is available for lunch.  I opted for the yakisoba noodles from the Hawaiian food truck, while staring longingly at the Lebanese and African food trucks (garlic figured majorly in their offerings and I was still dealing with garlic aversion).  We also visited the Lan Su Chinese Gardens in the heart of Portland.  We learned that for Chinese culture, there is no division between garden and home, as perhaps there would be in the United States or Great Britain.  The home is a garden and together they create a cohesive whole, providing serenity throughout.  I loved the quotation in the program: "Most cherished in this mundane world is a place without traffic; truly in the midst of a city there can be mountain and forest."--Wen Zhengming
We also had the pleasure of taking time for tea at the Chinese tea house located in the middle of the garden.  It was a deeply peaceful location and Burrito loved having a "tea party."  I sampled the licorice tea, she tried orange-cranberry and Daddy tried jasmine tea. 
After an eventful day in Portland, we took our next day to spend on a relaxing trip to the Oregon Coast where Christopher had a Sunday morning 5k planned in Cannon Beach.  Early forecasts had been for rain, but we were so glad that it turned out to be a nice day.  As is the case in Oregon, the beach was a bit cold at first (and the water is always cold that far north), but it was blissful laying on the sand and smelling the salt air and hearing the crash of the waves.  This was Burrito's first big trip to the ocean too (she had been to the Atlantic Ocean once but not long enough to play and enjoy it).  She worked on sand castles, hunted for shells and ran, giggling, through the bracingly cold water on the shore.
Seaside, OR--the end of Lewis and Clark's journey.
I am always at my most peaceful at the ocean.
 After a visit to Cannon Beach (which has a quiet, family-friendly vibe), we headed over to Seaside (which is louder and busier) where we stayed at a very affordable mini-apartment for the night right on the beach (on the quieter side of town).  Nothing beats being able to see the ocean from your bedroom!  The next morning, we sadly said goodbye to the ocean and began to make our trek home.

All in all, it was a great family vacation, made even nicer by a shorter drive than our usual massively long trek back to the Midwest.  We had never visited Seattle or Portland before so it was wonderful to experience new places.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Summer Vacation: Seattle, Portland and the Oregon Coast (Part 1)

I just returned from our family vacation last week.  I had been keeping my expectations low for vacation.  Would I be able to sleep on the road?  (Thanks to insomnia, this is often a problem for me.)  Would I feel well enough to walk around and see the sights?  Would I be able to eat anything good (thanks to continuing nausea)?

I have to say that things went better than expected.  We went to bed early each night, woke up early and spent our mornings (when I had more energy) walking around and doing fun things.  When I began to crash in early afternoon, we returned to our hotel and Christopher took Burrito to the pool or somewhere else fun and I laid down and rested.  It worked pretty well!  I'm a bit disappointed that my nausea limitations kept me from enjoying as much of the ample foodie-friendly cuisine to be found on the coast as I would have liked, but I'm happy that I did manage to try a few highlights.  Now, I will simply have to return another time when I am feeling better!

In Seattle, we bought the City Pass and found it a great way to save money and simplify our site-seeing.  My favorite site was the Space Needle, which was a super classy way to see the views in Seattle.  They had one of the best gift shops among the city's attractions too.  I will have to return sometime to sip a glass of red wine from the top of Seattle.

We also managed to escape the rain for a day and get to the Woodland Park Zoo, which was fun for Burrito.  She also greatly enjoyed the Aquarium, which is super toddler-friendly.  In one section, kids can reach into touching pools and touch starfish and other underwater animals.  Christopher and Burrito, my science buffs, enjoyed the Science Museum quite a bit.  We took a Harbor Tour through Argosy Cruises as well.  The boat could have been a bit cleaner but our tour guide was well informed and entertaining and we enjoyed being out on the water.

My very favorite place in Seattle, though, was the Pike Place Market!  This, my friends, is foodie mecca!  If I lived in Seattle, I think I would do most of my grocery shopping there.  From fresh farm vegetables and fruit, freshly caught fish (I forgot how good fresh fish smell), handmade cheese (and you can even see it made at Beecher's Handmade Cheese), sausages and prepared meats, bakeries....This is the home of beautiful food!  We spent the morning of my birthday at Pike Place and it was wonderful.

We stopped at the beautiful Le Panier Bakery and sampled pain au chocolat along with gorgeous, colorful macaroons.  This may be hard to believe, but I had never had real French macaroons before.  Now I see what all the fuss is about!  We had orange and lemon macaroons.  Little pillows of joy!

We lunched at Pike Place Chowder; their clam chowder is the best I've ever had: buttery and flavorful!  We enjoyed the joy of the fish tossers and the live musicians and the general happiness among everyone working and shopping in the market.  And of course I had to visit the original Starbucks and grab a birthday mocha!  Pretty sure it tasted better from the original store!:-)

We also managed to stop by one of the most famous food trucks in Seattle and the United States: Maximus Minimus.  This pig-shaped food truck has been featured on a number of TV shows and is known for its pulled pork sandwiches, with either Maximus (spicy) or Minimus (sweet) barbecue sauce.  We also got some delicious mac and cheese that is prepared by Beecher's and available in the Market, topped off with some Maximus sauce.  It was all pretty crave-worthy. 

In my next post, I'll share why keeping Portland weird is not an unreachable goal and how the ocean is the best place to be, even if a toddler is nagging at you the whole time.

To be continued...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Nik Wallenda and the Power of Awe

Friday night, stuntman Nik Wallenda (descendant of the Flying Wallendas) became the first (and perhaps only?) person to walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope.  He did this on a tightrope the width of three pennies and the length of four football fields.  He did this in the midst of rain and swirling wind.  He did wear a safety tether (something he had never used before in his tightrope walks but required by ABC, the sponsoring network).  The safety tether hardly took away the danger, however.  Even with the tether, this was a very dangerous stunt.

Wallenda was calm and cool as a cucumber as he approached the walk and even as reporters asked him questions in the midst of the walk.  Before he got on the wire, one reporter asked him how he managed to stay so calm.  Did he use some sort of meditation to keep his cool?  Wallenda replied, "I have the peace of God in Christ."  Until this statement, I had been unaware that Wallenda is a self-described born-again Christian.  But he shortly was about to make sure everyone knew.  All the way across the wire, the miked Wallenda was heard saying over and over again, "Thank you, Lord God.  Thank you, Jesus."  For a half hour on network television, an earnest Christian was praising God without censorship.  Wallenda said he felt incredibly privileged to see the splendor of the Falls as no human ever had before.  The joy of the moment for him (despite its difficulty and even suffering) was clear.  What was also clear was that he could do no other than walk that tightrope.  it was where he belonged.

What Wallenda taught us as he walked across the Falls was the power of awe.  He taught us the power of worship.  Intensely concentrating in order to maintain his balance and composure, Wallenda's mind was on His God who had given him the incredible ability to pull of this stunt and who had created wonders of creation such as Niagara Falls.  And so he gave witness to Christ all the way across the Falls.

In a world of iPhones, iPads, iPods, laptops and numerous other distracting devices, for those with the eyes to see, there was a pull into a moment where we sat down, riveted and in awe.  A quick perusal of Twitter after the walk revealed plenty of snark and sarcasm in response to this incredible feat, but many people also sat on the edge of their seat watching Wallenda.  We were in awe of what he was doing, but also in awe of the grandeur of creation.  Wonder.  Awe.  Worship.  When was the last time you stopped what you were doing to focus on God and the amazing world He has created?  When was the last time you said with the Psalmist,
"When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?" (Psalm 8:3-4, NIV)

Wallenda said his goal was to inspire people everywhere.  He has certainly inspired stop before the burning bush and be remember that Wikipedia has not conquered the world, for the world is far more mysterious and wondrous than humans can ever describe, organize, or know that I cannot experience everything there is to know through the internet.  He has inspired me to stop and really focus and see this incredible world God has made.  He has inspired me to worship boldly my awesome God.  Well done, Nik Wallenda.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Book Review Friday: Creating with God by Sarah Jobe

As I have been struggling through the first trimester of this pregnancy (perhaps more than the previous pregnancy?), I was desperate for an uplifting, Biblical perspective on the sufferings I was undergoing.  Certainly, they are not as bad as the suffering of infertility (for my sufferings are short in time and have a good end ahead), chronic illness, or so many other forms of suffering.  But these truths do not negate the difficulties that one does indeed face, going through the nausea, the deep-down exhaustion, the struggle with caring for one's family in the midst of these challenges.  That I am not suffering in the worst possible way does not negate that I am suffering as a pregnant woman, suffering in order to bring life into the world.

The suffering of pregnancy and childbirth is so significant that the Apostle Paul wrote about it in Romans 8 as a metaphor for the Christian life this side of heaven: "22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies" (NIV).

I have been struggling greatly with my attitude as well.  I've been feeling sorry for myself and in sore need of perspective.  In the midst of this struggle, I found myself searching the Christian pregnancy books on  The most intriguing title was Sarah Jobe's Creating with God: The Holy Confusing Blessedness of Pregnancy (Paraclete Press).

Jobe had my attention right away when, in the prologue, she described her best friend, Holly, who couldn't wait to get her maternity clothes out of storage for yet another pregnancy.  Holly loved pregnancy.  But Jobe lets us know, "I love Holly.  But I think you should know, right from the start, that I'm not that type of pregnant woman....I won't say that I hated pregnancy.  But I can't say that I loved it either.  Pregnancy was the most difficult endeavor I have ever undertaken."  Jobe says this in spite of two uncomplicated pregnancies.  It was simply the mundane miseries of being pregnant that were so difficult for her.  I read this and thought, "Here is someone I can relate to!"  Jobe has the added benefit of serving as a Baptist minister; I can also relate to her on the level of a woman in ministry (but her book would be beneficial for any Christian woman).

This book provided numerous insights from the Scriptures on how to deal with the indignities and sufferings of pregnancy.  Jobe writes, "This book is about naming.  But it's not about naming our babies.  It's more about naming ourselves.  In this book, I will muster up the courage of Eve, the courage that motherhood has given me, to make some bold and joyous proclamations.  I will name the work of pregnancy as the work of God.  I will name the pregnant women around me as the image of Christ.  I will call the pains of pregnancy 'spiritual disciplines.'"  So often the nausea, pain, tears, and exhaustion seem so pointless--especially before you can feel the baby move.  The pregnancy seems theoretical; though you know you are growing a child in your womb, you have nothing but negative symptoms to tell you this.  How good it is to know that it is not for nothing!  God is seeking to bring spiritual growth in our lives in this time, in addition to the physical growth of our babies.

One of the most important areas of spiritual growth is learning to rest in God.  Rather than frenetically doing and going, a pregnant woman must rest.  Jobe writes, "We can try to work even when our bodies cry for us to do otherwise.  Or we can rest like God does in Genesis.  We can learn a  Sabbath rest that God calls blessed and holy."  Viewed this way, even the exhaustion of pregnancy is an opportunity, not a burden.

One of my favorite insights from the book was Jobe's point that the way a mother feeds her baby, both while the child is in the womb and through breastfeeding is a powerful metaphor for how Christ feeds us spiritually through communion.  Just as Jesus said to us that His body is real food and His blood is real drink, so our bodies too become food and drink for our babies.  This provides a very human connection point to understand one of the most challenging doctrines of the church and to understand it experientially. 

There are many other powerful insights in this book.  I found it extremely helpful in weathering the physical challenges of pregnancy and finding meaning in them.  I also appreciated Jobe's conversational tone that was very accessible to any young mother.  If there is any caution I would offer, it would be to be aware that there are female metaphors for God in this book.  I did not, however, find them objectionable because each one was well supported from Scripture.  There are times when Jobe uses female pronouns for God, which is not my preference, but because she was dealing with female-oriented metaphors each time she did this, I was able to follow her.  She does not exclusively use female pronouns for God, which I found important.  I hope this aspect will not keep women away from this book, however.  There are so many insights Jobe provides that it is worth weathering a difference in terminology.  I also trust Jobe's writing because it is solidly based in Scripture.

4.5 stars. Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

thankfulness in pregnancy

My head is tired but my heart is full.  God has been so good to me and to our family. 

I admit that I find it hard to feel thankful when the tears are a-comin' and the nausea is a-buildin'.  I forget my blessings and languish.  I become convinced that I will feel this way forever.  I gaze in dismay at the mounds of laundry, the scattered toys, the dirty floors.  I forget.

But God's mercies do not stop.  He brings me a husband who takes every chance he can to watch our daughter so that I can rest and yield to the solitude for which my soul and body are crying out.

He gifts me with the precious prayers of friends, who hold up my hands like Aaron and Hur holding the weary hands of Moses above the melee of the battle.

He blesses me with a daughter who (despite her bad days such as today) is really trying to be understanding of how tired and sick her mother feels.  Just last week, I was lying in bed with Burrito watching cartoons beside me.  She had not napped and now she wanted a snack!  I was near tears in exhaustion and self-pity.  Why couldn't everyone just leave me alone?  I got her graham crackers and snapped, "I wish someone would fix me a snack!"  Had I said that to my husband or to any man for that matter, they may have missed the request.  But my daughter is a woman in the making.  She gets hints!  (Hooray!)   "I can fix you a snack!" she said.  I requested yogurt and she went right down and got it for me.  And then I teared up again...she did care about me, the sweet girl!  It was just yogurt but it meant a lot more to me.

God has blessed me with friends who listen to me as I struggle through this first trimester, listen graciously, with compassion, and with the knowing that comes with having already walked this path.  Even my most negative feelings find a sympathetic ear.  These women understand.  They've been there.  And how precious to talk to them in flesh and blood.  Not on the computer.  Not on the phone.  They are with me.  They have time for me.  I am so grateful, for it has not always been this way.

God has blessed me with those who have offered to help.  Friends have offered to help me clean house, to watch Burrito, and one even brought me dinner (the first home-cooked meal I'd had in quite some time).  To ease my nausea, she cooked it at her house first so I didn't have to smell food cooking.  And that night the nausea began to abate.

God has blessed me so much.  I am grateful too that my friends have seen me when I was not such a basket case!  But nevertheless, they have loved me right where I am.  So has my husband.  So has my daughter.  I am blessed. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

real romance

Christopher and I celebrated our 7th anniversary last week.  Like most people, I grew up imagining romantic holidays like Valentine's Days and anniversaries spent with roses, a romantic dinner, a little kissing... And don't get me wrong: those things are great.  But it's when you can't have those things that you find the real strength of your relationship.  And you find real romance.

On our anniversary this year, all I could manage was going out to lunch with my husband without gagging.  There were only one or two things on the menu I could stomach.  I was too exhausted to write my usual love note.  I felt terrible that I simply couldn't bring myself to do any of the usual things to make him feel special.

And so later that day I cried and he held me.  And he told me that I was doing something for him that was very important: growing our baby.  He accepted my limitations.  He loved me in the midst of my lack.  I don't know about you, but I think that's real romance.  Anyone can eat a fancy dinner when everyone feels good and all is well.  But it takes a special person to love and accept his wife when she has very little to offer him.  But that's my husband.  He's a wonderful guy and I am so blessed to be married to him.  I love you, Christopher!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

why i'm so glad i told people earlier this time

In my first pregnancy, I had no idea what to expect.  At that time, I was in Christian ministry in a small town and was one of the most high profile people in the community.  Privacy was not readily available anyway and so this very personal experience of my first pregnancy was a secret I guarded and held close to the chest.  I waited until the end of the first trimester to tell most people.  I didn't know how my body would respond to pregnancy and was not ready to be public about something so personal.  I also closely guarded my ultimate birth plan to have a home birth, wanting to guard against negativity (since I knew I tend toward anxiety anyway).

In retrospect, I probably was right to hold those secrets close to the chest, but even so I am so glad and grateful to not be so controlling of the experience this time.  Heck, not only am I telling pretty much everyone I know, I'm also blogging about the ups and downs of this pregnancy.  I didn't wait until the end of the first trimester to tell, but only until 8 weeks in.

I have discovered that one of the most key times when a pregnant woman needs support is in her first trimester.  This is the most difficult part of pregnancy, complete with mono-like tiredness and debilitating nausea.  Hormones are high and tearfulness is common.  And yet, we so closely guard what we are going through from others.  It has been such a relief to open up and tell my friends and my church about what is going on.  No, I don't dump on everyone, but my closest friends and family know that I'm going through a pretty tough time right now.  We all know that "this too shall pass," but I also know that I need prayer, encouragement and offers of help right now.  I need to take a walk with a friend and pour out the good, the bad and the ugly.  I need to be able to write about what I am going through and process it in a way that carries me through.  I need my Bible study to be praying for me.  I need people with whom I can cry, even though I am not normally a crier.

Will all of this be worth it when the baby comes?  Of course it will!  Am I glad to be having this baby?  Of course I am (though the gladness is more intellectual right now)!  I feel for all of my friends who have struggled with infertility and pregnancy loss and mean no disrespect to their experiences.  Clearly, a child is a blessing from God.  But it also takes travail to bring a child into the world.  It takes suffering.  I feel tender, overwhelmed and in need of Christian community right now.

And so, Jesus shows me how He carries me when I cannot carry myself (which all of the time, but even more clear right now).  Jesus gives me grace when my house looks like a tornado hit it.  Jesus shows me love through my husband who is picking up so much of the slack at home.  Jesus is in a friend's listening ear.  He is the offer of help watching my daughter.  He is even in my absolute need to rest and be, instead of do.  I am not alone.  And this too shall pass.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

i can finally talk about it: expecting baby number two!

Last month, Christopher and I found out that we are expecting our second baby in December.  I haven't been able to blog much for two reasons: 1) Extreme exhaustion and 2) I couldn't write about what was really going on!

It's amazing how in just weeks, your body COMPLETELY CHANGES as a pregnant lady.  Circulation is affected.  Suddenly, taking a load of clothes out of the washer completely winds me.  I've been sick as a dog when it comes to morning sickness (which in my case should be called evening sickness!). 

I'll be honest...I've been struggling a lot with "receiving with thanksgiving" this first stage of pregnancy.  The exhaustion and nausea have been all-consuming and of course pregnancy brings up all kinds of self-doubt and worry as well.  And I worry about all that I am placing on my husband's shoulders (despite his gracious willingness to shoulder the burden).  I've been looking for resources online to help my attitude improve.  I've been asking for prayers for my attitude to improve.  I know that this too shall pass and I know that ultimately I am struggling with what is a difficult part of a very happy thing (a new baby), but it has been hard.  For those of you with experience in the art of weathering the first trimester, I'd love any advice and encouragement you can offer.  I will share insights I am learning as I go through as well, but for now I am not the expert.  I need to learn and grow.  (And perhaps accept the suffering that comes?)

I did begin to really embrace the joy of this pregnancy when we told Burrito the big secret on Sunday.  I'm sure she thinks that an alien has taken over Mom's body (partially true) since I've been acting so weird.  She was absolutely delighted and has been helping me get Bean's (our nickname for the baby) room organized.  She loves to hear every detail about the pregnancy and how Bean will grow and develop.  She is delighted by it all and it delights me to share with her.  It seems like throughout this time, we have gotten closer as mother and daughter.  She wants to snuggle and talk more (which I always used to wish she would do).  She wants to help.  She's even been acting a little more grown-up as we call her "big sister."  I'm so proud of the new parts of her I see emerging.

My experience with Burrito has taught me a lot.  I had many fears and worries before she was born too.  I was truly worried if I would be a good mother.  But despite some difficulties along the way, Burrito has shown me that there is truly nothing to fear.  My life is so much richer for having her in my life.  I am trying to trust in faith--believing without seeing--that the same will be true of Bean.

I'm also going to buy Creating with God: The Holy Confusing Blessedness of Pregnancy.
The author's argument?  Pregnancy is a way in which God works in us, even when it may be hard to detect His work.  The suffering we go through is not a waste but can train us in the practices of faith.  I think it will be just what the doctor ordered.

P.S. So much for the weight loss plan!
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