Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cast of Characters - Us

So many characters involved in the story of Advent, the story of the Incarnation. There are the prophets who told of it long before the events ever took place. There are the Jews, God's chosen people, both the ones who embraced the new thing God was doing and those who continued to wait in darkness for God to do what they expected him to do. There is John, sent to prepare the way. There are Simeon and Anna, waiting in the temple, drawing close to God. And no doubt others, unmentioned, witnesses to God's unfolding plan.

And then there is us. Each one of us; all the tide of humanity that has ebbed and flowed across this planet for the past several thousand years. Because of us, God became flesh. Our pains, our sorrows, our tears, our longing for something more; because of all this God stepped out of heaven to walk among us as one of us.

He came because he loves us.

He came because he longs for us.

He came because without him we are lost.

I had a much more wordy post fermenting in my mind; a post about where I was last year at this point and where I am now. A post filled with sweet images of Christmas pageants and little children. But as I began writing I realized that none of that was what I wanted to say. In the end, it all comes down to that last line:

He came because without him we are lost.

Silence. The cast is assembled. The curtain waits to rise. Incarnation. God with us. Come; be part of the story as it unfolds.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cast of characters - The wise men


After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi  from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”


When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:


 ” ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,


are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;


for out of you will come a ruler


who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’ ”


 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”


After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.



Every Christmas pageant has them. The three wise men (or three kings) kneeling before the baby Jesus to present their gifts. A lovely picture, and what a shock when we grow up and find out that it isn't historically accurate. But, they are part of the story and so I am exercising dramatic license and including them, even though they probably didn't show up until Jesus was between the ages of one and two.


So, just who were the magi? I was just going to call them a bunch of really smart guys, but as Shel pointed out in his comment on my previous post, they were most likely Iranian Zoroastrian magi or priests. John MacArthur has a fascinating article about who the Magi were, I'd really encourage you to check it out. Anything I could say about them and their importance pales in the face of the history he delves into and the comparisons he draws. These weren't just random smart guys searching for Jesus, they were quite literally king-makers.


In my last post we had the shepherds. The most ordinary of the ordinary. And in stark contrast to them arrive the Magi. The intellectuals. The ones who put store in studying and amassing knowledge. The poor followed by the powerful. The insignificant and the mighty. Herders of animals and advisors to kings. And both bowed down and worshiped one whom they recognized as King.


Throughout the ages various movements have tried to co-opt God, to make him the God of the rich, or the God of the poor. They've done so to the extremes of almost saying God is ONLY the God of the rich (Poor? You don't have enough faith) or ONLY the God of the poor (Rich? Well, there's that whole 'easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for you to get into heaven' thing). But here at the inception, when God became flesh, it didn't matter who was rich and who was poor. It didn't matter what the social standing was or how much power they had. Shepherds and Magi alike bowed their knees and worshiped.


It gives me hope, as I look at our world today. I look at the poor and I look at the powerful and in each of us there is that potential to come to the defining moment where we stand within the presence of one greater than ourselves, and poor and powerful alike we all have the choice to kneel in reverence and worship. Political power plays pale when one realizes that eventually every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cast of characters - The shepherds


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ [fn1] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”


13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”


 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”


16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.  Luke 2: 8-20 (NIV)



Why shepherds? Have you ever wondered that? Was it just so we could stand out under starry skies at Christmastime and picture ourselves as shepherds on hills far, far away? I suppose it could have been because it had to be an outdoor event in order to accomodate a 'great company of the heavenly host'. But really, given God's ingenuity, I'm certain an indoor event with the same impact could have been arranged. Why shepherds? So that we, years later, could draw meaningful parallels between the shepherds coming to worship the one who is the Good Shepherd?

Or maybe it is because the were the most ordinary of the ordinary. They weren't doing anything special. They weren't studying scripture, they weren't worshipping at the temple, they were just doing their job. And in the midst of their ordinary night, surrounded by ordinary sheep, as they talked their ordinary guy talk...God interrupted.

Boy, did he ever interrupt! Can you imagine? One moment you are sitting at your desk working on your computer, or stocking shelves at Walmart, or picking up toys after your child, or working on the assembly line and all of a sudden, "HEY! DON'T BE AFRAID! I MEAN, YEAH, I KNOW I'M BIG AND GLOWING AND I APPEARED OUT OF NOWHERE BUT SERIOUSLY, DON'T BE AFRAID! GUESS WHAT? YOU THOUGHT THIS WAS JUST ANOTHER ORDINARY DAY? HAVE I GOT A SURPRISE FOR YOU! YOU'VE GOT A SAVIOR!"

No, we don't get angels and heavenly choirs interrupting our days anymore. But God wants us to know that even in the midst of the most ordinary day, the most ordinary task, he has the capability to interrupt us and turn our world upside down with joy. That's the message of the shepherds. They went from sitting on a hill watching over their flocks to returning glorifying and praising God.

How is God going to interrupt your world today, and how are you going to glorify and praise him to others?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Intermission

OK, it's intermission time in our Advent play. Time to stand up, stretch, take a break, read the playbill. If I had sponsors, this is where you'd read about them and laugh at amusing juxtapostions of sponsor ads. Instead of a list of sponsors, I'd like you to take a look at this video. It gets to part of what I am trying to do this Advent season in a very powerful way. I first saw this video at Elizabeth's blog Finding Him Bigger. Enough said, I'll let the video speak for itself. 







Get involved. Be part of the conspiracy to really celebrate Advent, to celebrate hope by giving hope to others. There are so many ways to do this either locally or on a larger scale that I couldn't possibly list them all. Here are just a few ideas.

Give the gift of clean water as mentioned in the video through Advent Conspiracy.

Give the gift of geese through Heifer International.

Help indigenous people in Bolivia plant crops to develop sustainable agriculture through Mennonite Central Committee.

Give hope for sexually exploited girls around the world through World Vision.

Provide sterile supplies and midwife training in Africa through Alternative Gifts International.

(Of course, all of the above links have other giving options as well; get your children involved in choosing between several gifts so that they can take part in it also.)

And then give your family the gift of your time.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The cast of characters - Joseph

For earlier posts in my Advent series see:

Two for the price of one?

The stage is set

The cast of characters - Mary

Magnificat

 

Joseph. Poor Joseph. Sometimes it seems almost as if he is an afterthought in the advent story. Joseph, the husband of Mary. It's almost easy to feel sorry for him, tagging along with his wife, the mother of the Messiah. What does Joseph do? In most Advent plays, Joseph gets to lead the donkey, and then stand around silently in the background while Mary holds the blessed infant and gazes adoringly at him, displaying him to those who come to worship and wonder. No doubt in reality Joseph played a vital part in raising and instructing Jesus, in providing for the family, and in keeping them safe. No doubt Jesus was delivered into his hands at birth. Did Joseph hold him and marvel at how human he looked?

Joseph gets a little more mention in Matthew's version of the story than in Luke's retelling, but do we really understand what he was pondering, and what he was being asked to do?

18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.


20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”


22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” –which means, “God with us.”


24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.  Matthew 1: 19-25 (NIV)



By law, if a woman was found to have committed adultery she was to be taken out and stoned. Joseph would have been fully within his rights to allow that to happen. But Joseph had a quality about him even before the angel spoke to him; he had a quality of mercy. Because they were already contracted to be married he could quietly ask for a certificate of divorce and put her away. She would still have suffered humiliation and rejection, but she would have lived. Joseph was willing to set aside his right under the law to extend mercy.


But God wanted something more from Joseph. He could have given mercy and then gone on his way and forgotten all about Mary. He could have found another wife, one without the taint of adultery about her. He could have lived a peaceful life. God wanted more than mercy, he wanted Joseph to humble himself in obedience. And so the angel appeared, and told him not to divorce Mary, but to actually take her home as his wife.


What must that have required of Joseph? When Mary's pregnancy became obvious and the gossips started counting weeks, it either made him look as guilty as her or a fool for taking her as wife in spite of the child she carried. It required him to suspend all that he thought he knew about the world and just obey. Mary had the benefit here. She KNEW she hadn't been with another man. Joseph didn't know; he could only go on faith, on obedience.


And so he took her as his wife. He humbled himself in obedience.


God doesn't give the starring role to everyone. But he does require obedience of all of us. Obedience sometimes means being willing to be called a fool. Obedience sometimes means entering the unknown. Joseph, the husband of Mary could teach us a lot about obedience.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Magnificat

I don't know if Mary sailed blissfully through her pregnancy, never doubting, never fearing. I suppose like most of us she had moments when she was certain of God's call, and moments where she wondered and doubted. But in the midst of all of her human emotions she glorified God. She grew up hearing the Psalms sung in the synagogue, hearing the deeds of God told over and over again. And in a moment of joy she poured back to God all of the praise that was in her. The Magnificat. Inspiring composers over the centuries. Often sung with soaring instruments, associated with lofty cathedrals and vast choirs. But Mary, young Mary, spoke or sang it alone. And so I think this version of the Magnificat is my favorite because it captures the youthful enthusiasm of a flesh and blood woman filled with joy.






46 Mary said,
   "My soul gives glory to the Lord.


    47 My spirit delights in God my Savior.
 48 He has taken note of me
      even though I am not important.
   From now on all people will call me blessed.
    49 The Mighty One has done great things for me.
      His name is holy.
 50 He shows his mercy to those who have respect for him,
      from parent to child down through the years.
 51 He has done mighty things with his arm.
      He has scattered those who are proud in their deepest thoughts.
 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones.
      But he has lifted up people who are not important.
 53 He has filled those who are hungry with good things.
      But he has sent those who are rich away empty.
 54 He has helped the people of Israel, who serve him.
      He has always remembered to be kind
 55 to Abraham and his children down through the years.
      He has done it just as he said to our people of long ago."  Luke 1: 46-55 (NIrV)

Friday, December 5, 2008

The cast of characters - Mary

Consider Mary for a moment. How much do we know about her? What made God choose HER to bear his son? Was she the most perfect woman on earth, walking around trailing glitter dust of holiness in her wake? She can't have been that close to sainthood, otherwise fewer people would have doubted her word; Joseph certainly wouldn't have. No, I think she was ordinary. An ordinary girl on the brink of womanhood, carrying out her normal duties. No doubt waiting in anticipation for her marriage to Joseph, dreaming of the family they would have together, dreaming of the wife that she would be to him.

But she was willing. Willing to give up her dreams, willing to risk certain scorn and punishment all on the word of an angel. And in the willingness the waiting began.

Waiting. How would she tell Joseph? Her parents? What would they say and do?

Waiting. Nine months of waiting. Nine months of watching her belly grow rounder. Nine months of feeling little kicks and hiccups, of having baby feet jammed up into her diaphragm. Did she have morning sickness? Did she wonder when it would end? And then, oh joy, she must go on a long journey. Did she ever question God? Did she say, "Look, I agreed to this whole Son of God thing, but honestly, couldn't you have timed it better so that I wouldn't be on this stinking donkey with your son playing punching bag with my bladder?" Did she start analyzing every little twinge thinking, "Is this it? Is it time? Am I ready? What happens now?" I am pretty sure pregnancy for her was no less an exercise in waiting than it is for the rest of us.

Waiting. Watching the sideways glances from the other women, knowing they were mentally measuring her belly and calculating in their minds. Knowing that when the baby came everyone would do the math and make assumptions. Waiting for scorn and contempt to show in their faces.

Waiting. Wondering what the baby would look like. What does the Son of God look like? How can he be dependant on me and still be my Messiah?

Waiting. Trusting. Sometimes in the waiting all we can do is trust in what we don't yet see. All we can do is trust that God is true to what he promises.
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”  Luke 1: 39-45 (NIV)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The stage is set

Silence.

Can you hear it?

2000 years ago a people were crying out for freedom. Freedom from their oppressors, freedom from exploitation by their own religious parties. They were desperate. They knew the prophesies; they knew that one day a Savior would come to them to deliver them. But when? How long would they suffer? The rich got richer, the poor got poorer and the outcasts had no hope at all. Where is the Messiah? When will he come? They went up to the temple, they offered sacrifices, they prayed. And still no deliverer came. Herod desecrated their temple. Surely God would see and come to deliver them. And still they waited. Mass slaughter of all baby boys born around a certain time. And through their tears the people cried out for their Messiah, cried out for salvation. From the outcast lepers outside the city gates, to the scorned tax collectors shunned for being collaborators, each heart was crying out, every heart was waiting.

Silence.

Can you hear it?

A people crying out for freedom. People crying out from captivity to corrupt governments, children ravaged by the scars of conflict, children standing on stick-thin legs, one day away from starvation. Where is their Savior? A mother grieves as she folds and packs away the baby clothes that will never be worn. A family lives in their car, forced onto the streets because the factory shut down. A frightened teen wraps herself in blankets in an abandoned building, afraid of being alone, afraid to go home to the hurt that fills the walls with her cries. Longing, waiting for someone to come save them. Close your ears to the sound of the Christmas music pounding through the speakers in the mall. Let time slow and look into the faces of the ones who pass by. Despair, hopelessness, emptiness, bitterness, exhaustion. Hidden behind the careful masks, the colorful packages, look closely. When will someone come, someone who will hear their silent cries in the night, someone who will lift the burden of guilt, someone who will fill the loneliness?

Silence.

Listen.

2000 years ago. Today. The people wait for hope, wait for a Savior.


10 Pass through, pass through the gates!


Prepare the way for the people.


Build up, build up the highway!


Remove the stones.


Raise a banner for the nations.


 11 The Lord has made proclamation


to the ends of the earth:


“Say to the Daughter of Zion,


‘See, your Savior comes!


See, his reward is with him,


and his recompense accompanies him.’ ”


12 They will be called the Holy People,


the Redeemed of the Lord;


and you will be called Sought After,


the City No Longer Deserted.


(Isaiah 62: 10-12  NIV)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Two for the price of one?

We've been sold on a package deal. All the major winter holidays rolled into one enormous snowball ready to knock us flat. The ball starts rolling on Halloween, not because it is a major holiday, but more because the marketers believe it is the start of 'the holiday season'. It gathers speed as it heads towards Thanksgiving, then it takes flight off our bloated bellies and hurtles us towards Christmas without touching down. And so we land, exhausted, frazzled, and bloated from holiday cheer, smack in the middle of Christmas and wonder how we got here. And then, before we know it the presents are opened, the eggnog carton is empty and we are left with nothing but scattered paper and ten extra pounds to remind us that the holiday even existed.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Christmas decorations were never meant to deck the halls on November 1st, as soon as the artificial pumpkins came down. Some day I fully expect to see Santa arriving in a Cinderella-style pumpkin coach pulled by twelve fat turkeys rather than the traditional reindeer and sleigh. You laugh, but haven't we been sold on this idea that the holidays are a package deal? Thanksgiving is the precursor to Black Friday, day of the Christmas deals, instead of a time to pause and reflect on the bounty of the harvest and give thanks to God for all our blessings as we prepare for the bleakness of winter.

Still, Thanksgiving gets at least part of its due, as school children dutifully re-enact its history and families gather to give thanks. But then there is the forgotten season. Advent. The season overshadowed with the frenzy of Christmas. Advent. A time of waiting, a time of hoping for things yet unseen. A time to take note of the brokenness around us and to echo the ancient cries for Messiah to come and save us. We know the end of the story; we know Messiah has come, but do we lose something when we wait for Messiah in the midst of the clamor of Christmas rather than the silence of Advent? The silence of Advent is shepherds under a silent sky, quietly going about their business, dreaming of the day they will be free from their oppressors, never realizing how close salvation was drawing. The silence of Advent is wise men, with their books and stars, searching for a sign that there is some meaning in this life. The silence of Advent is a weary Mary, nine months pregnant and making her way to Bethlehem, sleeping by the side of the road, bearing the double burden of pregnancy and a mystery she cannot fathom. The silence of Advent is Joseph, wondering what to say to a wife who is about to give birth to the son of God. Silence. Feel the hush as the world waits in anticipation for fulfillment.

This year I want to spend more time focusing on Advent. Oh, I still love the carols and my tree is already up, I'm counting my pennies and doing my shopping. But I want to resist the lure of making every day exciting, every day an anticipation of Christmas. I want to focus on silence, on the broken world that was forever changed on Christmas day. I want to keep Advent in my heart.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

In search of identity

This post is republished from November 2008. Still trying to figure out that identity thing. Still scrawling a signature that makes my 3rd graders writing look like exquisite penmanship.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt
Every other Wednesday I spend part of the day at our church helping to prepare the evening meal. It's fun, it gives me a reason to get out of the house and do something different, and no one has died from my cooking yet. Sometimes we hit a lull in the cooking and prep work and the conversation turns to other things. Yesterday it turned to handwriting.

I will admit, my handwriting looks like the scrawl of a fifth-grader...except that most fifth-graders are probably a lot more neat and intentional about their handwriting than I am. (Remember those days of carefully crafting your loops, and dotting your i's with little hearts, or creating flowers on the end of your name?) Over the years I've gotten lazy. And then I married and decided there were entirely too many 't's in my full name so I started rushing through them. Result? A crazed scrawl that makes my last name look like my first and neither of them look anywhere close to legible.

Enter my pastor's wife, Anne. (Might I add, Anne with the nice short first and last name who does not have a total of 16 letters to write every time she signs her name...) I think she was appalled at my poor penmanship, at any rate, she took it upon herself to try to get me excited enough about my name that I would want to practice writing it, to get me to be intentional about how I sign my name. And so I practiced (and she pulled my practice sheets out of the trash to see how it was coming). And a funny thing happened as I was practicing; I realized that I WANTED my signature to look better. So yes, I'm going to keep on practicing and one day I'm going to knock her socks off with the stylistic beauty of my signature. OK, maybe not THAT great.

How many times do we start to get lazy about our identity in Christ? Day after day we get up, say some perfunctory prayers, go to church, just the minimum to feel like we've signed our 'Christian' signature. Christ wants more than that though. He wants us to get EXCITED about the identity he's given us through his name. No sloppy, hurried scrawls for him. He wants us to shine, to bring out the pizazz and the sparkle of a life that has been redeemed! The only way to get there is through practice, practice, practice. Every day, looking for ways to highlight the unique God-light shining in our lives. It's not going to look the same for everyone. My signature, when I perfect it, will be my own. More legible, but still my own. My way of shining God's light is never intended to look like anyone else's way, only like the identity that God has given me.

How can you practice perfecting your identity in Christ today?

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Always and forever

Wedding photo

Yes, that's me. And my incredibly handsome husband. Excuse me while I go grab a box of tissues because I really didn't think I'd get this emotional one line into my post. I didn't expect to get emotional at all, other than happy little tingles of joy.

So, there we are, nine years ago on our wedding day. Ten years ago since we first met.

Did you ever fall in love with a voice? Have you ever felt a stirring in your heart and known that something special was about to happen and yet still have it take you completely by surprise? Ten years ago this man called the dental office I was working at to change his appointment at the last minute. Normally that would really torque me off; do you know how hard we worked to keep that schedule full? But...there was something about that voice; part of it was how apologetic he was, part of it was something whispering in my ear, "There's something special about that man, and he is going to be a part of your life." I brushed it aside. I was thirty, single, back in school to prepare myself with a degree I could support myself on for life. I wasn't looking for anything, let alone silly romantic notions about voices on the phone.

My coworkers didn't agree. One of my best friends had taken the initial call from him, and I guess something (God?) also whispered in her ear. From the moment he walked in the door when he finally showed up for his appointment he had a target on him "Potential future mate for our coworker." Bullseye!

What can I tell you about this man, the one who will always and forever hold my heart?

He would deny it, but he is a romantic at heart. What other man would call up his best friend after one date and spend two hours talking about the woman he had just met? He knew right away, it took me a little longer to really get it.

He is incredibly patient. Our year of dating and first year of marriage were not easy. I was in school full time and working 25 hours a week. Busy doesn't begin to describe me. The other night I had a nightmare that I was back doing that again and once again discovered I had a test coming up that I hadn't even read the chapters for (I also dreamed that I'd completely forgotten to even show up for the class...all semester). It takes a patient man to put up with that. It takes a patient man to put up with some of the stuff I've put him through over the years. Hey honey? Let's move to South Dakota! And oh, by the way, could you finish out the basement in our house so we can have it on the market two months from now?

He can be creatively thoughtful. One night while we were dating I was up late trying to write a paper, or something that required computer time. Not having my own computer I had worked out an agreement with my boss to be able to use the computer at work (only one block from my house). On that particular night I was frustrated. At 11:00 I called him to vent my frustrations and my exhaustion. At midnight someone knocked on the window. Did I freak out? Ummm, YEAH! Large empty dental office, midnight, silence, tired...what do you think? But when I finally worked up the courage to look, there he stood, smiling in at me, dangling chocolate therapy (i.e. - Reese's Cups) in one hand.

He is the reason I got a B in Macroeconomics. How was I supposed to pay attention in such a ridiculously boring class when all I could think about was him? The professor could be droning on about economic trends and my mind was off dreaming about that smile that you see in that picture above. Macroecon will forever be linked to happy thoughts about my husband.

Oh, and then there was my insatiable craving for Slurpees when I was pregnant with Indy. Easy enough when we lived in Virginia, barely five minutes from a 7-11. Not so easy when we moved to South Dakota where there are NO 7-11's! I'm not sure how long he spent driving around trying to find an acceptable substitute on the night I thought I had to have a Slurpee or I'd die. Now, of course, imitation Slurpees can be found all over the place, but he had to WORK to find me even a pale semblance of one that night.

I kid you not when I say that out of all the men alive, I got the best. He's hardworking. He does laundry. He helps with the cleaning. When I was working tax season hours sometimes he cooked (ok, he's not that great at that...a small flaw). He encourages me to take nights out with my friends, he never complains about watching the boys, he changed diapers and held babies in the middle of the night. He loves me patiently and completely even through my struggles with depression. He never argues with me even when we disagree; he might roll his eyes, but never feels the need to prove me wrong. He is the sort of guy that everyone likes, quiet, dependable, comfortable; he never needs to overshadow anyone.

I spent a lot of years wondering what love was. I spent the past nine years trying to figure out why this wonderful man picked ME, out of all the women in the world. I know, he said he fell in love with my smile and my eyes, but something's kept him around, right? What is love? Why me? I'm learning to stop questioning and just accept it. He loves me just because. Because he sees the gifts in me that I don't see. Because he knows that God has linked our hearts from the very beginning. He just loves me.

I don't deserve it. How many times have I wished I were a better wife? When you struggle with depression you sometimes feel like you've cheated your spouse out of the person they thought they were marrying. And yet, he loves me. I could give him a thousand reasons why he shouldn't love me and yet I think he'd keep on loving me. He gives me just a taste of how much Christ loves his bride, the church.

So here we are, nine years and counting. Happy Anniversary, hon. (I need a nickname for him too, I guess.) I love you, always and forever.

(P.S. - Don't look for a card; do you really think that for $4.50 Hallmark is going to top this?)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The air I breathe



When I was younger I often had periods of panic attacks. Lying in bed in the middle of the night I struggled to take in a breath, my brain not getting the signal from the lungs that all was well. Terrified. Darkness weighting down my chest. Desperate for air I would sit up in bed, every fiber of my being straining to take it in, to have it make its way to my lungs. Minutes could seem like hours while I waited for my body to realize that everything was ok, that I was breathing in and out, that the world was returning to normal. I spent one summer in college sleeping on my roommate's bean bag chair because I couldn't sit up in my loft bed and the attacks were particularly frequent that summer. Sleeping in the chair, sometimes waking and wandering the campus and surrounding neighborhood at one in the morning; I was desperate for air.

We live in a world that is desperate for air. Drowning, flailing, and grasping at anything that seems to offer what they need. We have hope to offer them. We breathe in the air of the presence of God; we breathe it in and know the peace that only he can bring. Take a deep breath. Now hold it. Hold it. Hold it. Hold it. Do you see where I'm going with this? We can't breathe in without breathing back out. If we don't breathe out, if our lives don't exude the presence of God with every breath that goes out from us not only do we deprive those around us of the air that they need, we deprive ourselves of the next breath, and the next, and the next.

I was lost. I was desperate for air. As God's presence fills my life with his hope and his peace, I want to breathe it out again to the next person, and the next, and the next, and the next.

He is the air I breathe.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Autopilot

Have you ever gone from point A to point B without even thinking about what you were doing? Have you ever gotten to a place and had no recollection of your drive there? No? Just me? Ok, then perhaps I should post warnings when I will be hitting the streets. Really though, I consider myself a pretty careful driver, and I will guess that I am not the only person guilty of driving an established route without actually thinking about the journey. We turn where we always turn, we know when to stop and when to go, if we commute sometimes we may even start to recognize certain cars that are always on the same schedule we are.

Articles on increasing your mental agility and keeping your brain fit as you age will often recommend driving a new route home from work. It makes sense; the brain gets lazy when it thinks it knows what's coming, throw it for a loop and suddenly it has to start working, all those little neurons and synapses firing away. "Oh, wait, she turned left there! That's not normal! NOW where do we go? OK, left, then we need to take a right, and then..." Suddenly the brain is awake and active. (Other fascinating tidbit I learned while verifying this article; the Cleveland Clinic Foundation once did a study that proved a muscle could be strengthened just by thinking about exercising it. I was debating going for a walk tonight, but instead I want it noted that I thought about it. There, all done.)

I did one of those auto-pilot drives the other evening. I was on my way home from Bible study, just zipping along. And then it hit me, about four blocks too late...I meant to stop at Target since it was on the way home and I didn't have the boys along. I'm pretty sure it would be hard to maintain the interest of two small boys while I picked out just the right shade of nail polish. (Either that or they'd insist on black, or yellow, or green or some other color that would make my toes look like I was suffering from an incurable infection.) So, I made a U-turn and back I went, frustrated at myself for wasting almost ten minutes by not heading directly to Target.

As I retraced my route, however, I thought about how applicable that is to my life sometimes. I set my day on autopilot and start humming along, doing the things that always have to be done, caring for the boys, cooking meals, cleaning (ok, maybe not cleaning), etc. I may tell myself at the beginning of the day that I want to spend more time communicating with God; I want to catch the small moments during the day where I can entwine myself with his plan. Yep, God and I are going places today. And then my day gets started and autopilot turns on and before I know it the end of the day is here and I've navigated through it without even thinking about God. I've missed all the turns I intended to take, the destinations I meant to go with him.

And so tomorrow I will get up again, and once again I will resolve to communicate with him, to join my path with his. But this time I'm going to retrain my brain. Maybe I'll leave the Bible laying out where I can see it. Maybe I'll post a prayer list on the microwave door. I'm shaking up the route a bit. I hope my brain gets the message, "HEY! Time to start shifting your focus!" It's time to turn off the autopilot.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

A work in progress

Today I am remembering that life is a journey, and that the point of this blog is the journey, not necessarily the destination. Because, quite frankly, I've been knocked on my rear by my old pal depression again.

You would think that after all these years I would get it. You'd think I'd understand that having a string of good days does not mean I'm in the clear. But this week was such a GOOD week. I've been just humming along on the last week of our women's Bible study and it has been amazing, both the study and the prayer times I've had. I have felt the presence of God in a very tangible way. And yet, here I am again, wanting to just hole up in my cave, feeling the dark clouds looming over me. What's up with that?

Maybe the point is humility. Maybe the point is to remind me that I am a work in progress. I will never be what I was fully meant to be until the day that I step into Christ's presence. Without this struggle, I'm not sure that I would do a very good job of remembering that. I think I would rest on my successes and not on Christ. I think that I would take joy for granted instead of being grateful for each measure of it that he gives to me. Life would become less about gaining strength and purpose from Christ and more about how wonderfully I was managing my life. I'm pretty sure that at heart I've got my own little battle with pride going on.

So, as a work in progress, I press on. I will rejoice in the good days, and take comfort that on the days that are harder, I am not alone. God, friends, family, church...it's not just me trying to make this journey alone.

"Because you are my help,


I sing in the shadow of your wings.


My soul clings to you,


your right hand upholds me."


Psalm 63:7,8 (New International Version)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Perspective shift

Life changes; your perspective shifts. You blink, and when you open your eyes you find that the things that mattered, don't, and the impossible has become the thing you have to try.

My perspective shifted on October 23rd, 2006. Only it wasn't so much a blink as an utter knockout from anesthesia that I awoke from to hear the words, "It wasn't cancer. We'll get the final lab results back tomorrow, but so far everything looks good."

The saga really began less than a month earlier with a routine doctor visit. Annual check-up, every woman knows the drill, yada-yada. Not fun, but typically uneventful. Not this time. As she felt my neck the doctor (fresh out of medical school, looking all of twenty years old) said, "How long have you had this lump in your neck?" Lump? What lump? I don't know how it escaped my attention, further inspection in the mirror showed what to my eyes looked like a grossly misshapen neck, or at least a visible lump. Clearly I fail in the health self-awareness category.

"I'm sure it's nothing," the child doctor said. Still, she referred me to an ENT specialist, who fit me in the following week.

"Well, I'm a little stumped as to what the problem is, it doesn't seem to be your thyroid but I'm not sure what else it could be," the specialist said, "still, I'm sure it's nothing to worry about." So, off she sent me to an endocrinologist for an ultrasound of my neck.

Several days later I lay on the table in the ultrasound room. Now, although an excellent doctor, this man does not win points in bedside manner. He had barely touched the ultrasound to my neck when he jumped up, bolted from the room calling to his receptionist, "Get me Dr. X on the phone, NOW." Gulp. There I lay for what seemed like forever. Finally he came back in, having determined his next step. "There's a large mass in your neck, we're going to do a needle biopsy."

O-k. Needles poking into my neck. Fun. Let me reassure anyone who may need that done in the future, it's not so bad. Let me also offer this bit of advise: if you have longer hair, pull it back in a ponytail or make sure it is all tucked securely under your head, because having the nurse unintentionally leaning on it, making it feel like every strand is going to rip out of your head as she holds your head still and not being allowed to talk or move to tell her that? MUCH more painful than the needle.

Several days later. Phone call. Please come back in to talk with the doctor. "The biopsy came back showing signs of cells that can sometimes be cancerous; the only way to know for sure is to take it out." And just like that I was scheduled for surgery barely two weeks later to remove the mass along with half my thyroid.

And two weeks later I woke up to find that it WASN'T cancer. Reprieve. Suddenly life stretched out in front of me filled with endless possibilities and I knew that I was not content to continue on the path I was on. For years I had plugged away at a career I hated, I had dropped my children off at daycare and wished in the secret part of my heart that it could be me caring for them all day. And it was no longer good enough for me.

Quitting work seemed impossible; mine was the main income and my husband is a social worker (interpretation - overworked and underpaid). But I had to do it; I had to dare to live the life that I knew I was meant to live. It took several months of planning, months of questioning, "Is this really the right thing?" But my husband was supportive, and about eight months later I turned in my notice and I have never looked back.

You blink. Life changes. Perspective shifts. When you feel yourself being called to something new, don't hold back in fear; don't cling to the way things have always been. Step out, take that risk. The way isn't always easy, but it IS where the greatest blessings wait.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Singing your part

Last night my friend Amy gave an awesome presentation to the women of our church. Amy is an incredible singer and voice teacher and she pulled illustrations from teaching someone to sing and related them to the Christian life. Not only did it make me miss my years of singing, but it made sense, I really got what she was trying to say.

This morning, as I was thinking back on her presentation I thought of a few parallels of my own.

When I was in seventh grade I sang in choir. At the beginning of the year the music teacher listened to us all and then assigned us our parts; he put me in the alto section. I HATED being an alto. Being an alto was no fun; we never got the beautiful melodies that the sopranos got, we just plodded along with our supporting lines. I thought it was so dull. I wanted to shine like the sopranos, the stars of the songs.

In my eighth grade year I somehow convinced him to put me in the soprano section. Finally! I was one of the ones who got to carry the song, the IMPORTANT part. I had a hard time hitting some of those high notes, but so what? I was important! I sat in the back row with the rest of the first sopranos and let me tell you, we were the most self-superior bunch of eighth grade sopranos you ever laid eyes on.

Fortunately I did some growing up between then and my junior year in high school when I qualified to sing in the concert choir. I learned that I am not a soprano after all, I am an alto through and through. No amount of singing Sandy Patty songs and straining to hit those high C notes was going to turn me into a soprano. I could train my voice to broaden my range a bit, but I couldn't change the God-given range I had. Now granted, as you move beyond eighth grade choir you get to sing music in which each part has its chance to shine, but the other parts are still needed to serve as a base for the ones carrying the melody. Even when my part isn't particularly exciting (there's a hymn in which the altos get to sing a grand total of 2 notes through the entire song), it's still necessary.

How many times in church do we wish that we were the 'sopranos'? The musicians up on stage, the gifted leaders and teachers, the people who do the stuff that seems important to us? We aren't all sopranos. Many of us are needed to play the supporting roles. To type the bulletins, pick up the trash, wipe the noses in the nursery, or just be there offering support and encouragement to those doing the tough jobs. When we are all singing in the part God intended for us, the church is alive with the music of Christ.

Listen. Close your eyes and just listen to how each part supports the whole. Imagine what it would sound like with just the soprano line. And be thankful for the part that you've been created to sing.





Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dancing in the rain

Once upon a time, so long ago that all remains of the memory is the fact that it happened, there was a little girl who danced in the rain. Summer showers pouring down, she turned her face to the sky and she spun and she danced.

I don't know why I have carried that scrap of memory with me for so many years, but there it is. Once I danced in the rain. Once, before life had its way. Once, before a deluge of 'don't do that' overwhelmed me. Once, before depression tightened its grip on my life. Once upon a time. But through the years, always in the farthest corner of my mind something kept whispering, "Once, you danced in the rain. One day, you will dance in the rain again."

Today it rained. I hid in the house as long as I could, but a family has to eat and I hate paying overdue fines at the library so off on my errands I went. First stop, the library, where I pulled my coat around me, hunched my shoulders and scurried into the building. Just like every other grown up was doing. But when I left, suddenly there was that memory again. Once, there was a little girl who danced in the rain. My shoulders straightened. My steps slowed. And as I walked to my car I lifted my face to the rain falling down on it, and I smiled. Not quite a dance, but a start.

What is your 'dancing in the rain'? What joys are held only as distant memories? Does it seem as if the time for joy has passed you by? Lift your face; feel the rain. The time to dance is coming again.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ultimatums

(Disclaimer, no criticism is intended towards anyone with facial hair. I bear no facial hair prejudices. Furthermore, you are hereby placed on notice that any topic not of a confidential nature uttered within my hearing has the potential to start the wheels turning and end up inspiring a blog post.)

Before I married my husband I gave him two ultimatums. Don't ever ask me to move to South Dakota and don't ever grow facial hair. No beard, no mustache, no goatee, nada. I felt that these were entirely reasonable ultimatums to issue. After all, South Dakota is a barren wasteland whipped by unending blizzards in the winter, tornados in the spring, and dust in the summer. And facial hair is itchy. Acceptable on other men, just not on the one I'm kissing.

Well, as you may have surmised from prior posts, I now live in South Dakota. My husband is a man of his word though and never asked me to move here; the idea was all mine. I am, however, happy to report that there are far fewer blizzards, tornados and dust storms than previously imagined. In fact, South Dakota is a very lovely state most of the time. A bit windy, and it could use a few more mountain ranges sprinkled about the state, but it has a beauty all its own, a beauty that can be alternately quiet and wild. (I still remember my first South Dakota thunderstorm and how I sat by the window for almost half an hour that night watching the lightning turn the sky into a giant strobe light.)

The facial hair ultimatum, however, has remained unchanged and is likely to remain that way.

Ultimatums. Those uncompromising demands that carry the threat of severing relations if they are rejected. Life on OUR terms. Now obviously I love my husband, and I would have married him, South Dakota, facial hair and all. But am I guilty of issuing ultimatums in other areas of my life? Am I guilty of issuing ultimatums to God?

I grieved deeply when some close friends had a daughter born with a congenital heart defect that meant she would live for only a matter of days. I drove up into the mountains and I hiked and climbed and prayed. And I tried to strike a deal. "God, heal Keslie and I PROMISE that the first thing I write that sells, all the proceeds are yours." Yes, I was trying to get God to do two things for me at once.

Ultimatums, deals, call it what you like; often I want God to operate on my schedule, to conform to my fears, my likes and dislikes. I want God on MY terms. I hold back from turning over my whole self to him because what if he wants me to do something I don't like? So I hand over little bits and pieces, with ultimatums and deals attached. "Ok, God, you can have this part of me if you will PROMISE never to make me go to Africa or any other place with bugs. OK, God, I will be faithful to say what I sense you want me to say, as long as its on my blog and NOT in front of the church. OK, God, I'll give up this, but don't take that, ok?"

We miss the point. God is God. He can do whatever he wants. He doesn't need our petty little deals and he doesn't have to abide by our ultimatums.

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made,


their starry host by the breath of his mouth.


He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;


he puts the deep into storehouses.


Let all the earth fear the Lord;


let all the people of the world revere him.


For he spoke, and it came to be;


he commanded, and it stood firm.


The Lord foils the plans of the nations;


he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.


But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,


the purposes of his heart through all generations.


(Psalm 33: 6-11 from the NIV)


 


I'm issuing ultimatums to the one who was before all, is in all and rules all? I think I'm going to strike a deal with the one who is able to foil the plans of nations? A few days ago I questioned "Is God good?". I'm still working on the answer to that, reconciling tragedy with a loving God. But this I do know. God is God. He doesn't become less God in my mind if I question him, but he does if I start to think I can control him.


 


Lord, today, let my honest prayer be to listen for your purpose and your plans. No ultimatums, no deals, just every area of my life open to your will.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

God is good?

When I was fresh out of college I got involved in the campus ministry that our church sponsored on the various campuses in the area. I suppose I got involved more out of friendship with the leader than any direct giftings in that area; I'm not sure that my involvement did anyone much good. It was also a time of a lot of personal upheaval in my life and I was questioning my path and questioning God.

I remember sitting at one meeting next to one of the leaders of the campus ministry. I don't remember the topic of the meeting, but at one point I believe we were supposed to turn to each other and say "God is good all the time, all the time God is good." I couldn't say it. I'm not in the habit of blithely repeating platitudes if I don't really believe them in the core of my being. It's one of those things that bug me in church services, when we are supposed to turn to our neighbor and say something pious, something that underscores the pastor's point. If I don't believe it I feel like I'm lying or being hypocritical, and repeating it isn't going to make me suddenly say "Oh, I get it!" (If there is some theological point I'm missing here, please do enlighten me.) At any rate, I did not feel like saying that God was good because I was not certain that he was. The leader seated next to me kept repeating it to me, kept insisting that I say it. News flash, I'm stubborn. Push me to do something and I will dig my heels in and push back with all my might.

So no, I never said it. And this is still one of the big questions of spirituality that I struggle with. I know that it requires a good God to make the kind of sacrifice required to bring us salvation. I know that Matthew 7:11 says "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"  And then there is the infamous Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (I can promise you, if I ever suffer a devastating loss and someone quotes that to me while the loss is still fresh, I will probably smack them.)

So, we have God, who gives good gifts and works for the good of those who love him.

And then we have 22,000 (and counting) dead in Myanmar. Up to a million homeless. Am I supposed to believe that none of those loved God? How is it good to take away the little that someone has left? I know that we live in a broken world, and disasters both natural and manmade are a consequence of that. But still I question, is God good?

I know that it makes my petty problems pale in comparison, but surely 22,000 people weren't wiped off the face of the earth just so I could feel better about myself. A better question maybe is, is God FAIR? Are fair and good part of the same package? Can God be one and not the other?

Today I don't have any answers. Just questions.

Lord, give me the grace to trust you even when I question you.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

More than enough

The weather forecast today is calling for 'abundant sun'. After days of rain, some late season snow, and a lot of wind I suppose the good people at the Weather Channel figured we needed a glorious adjective like abundant to describe such a beautiful day.

Dictionary.com defines abundant as 'present in great quantity, more than adequate, richly supplied'. And abundance is used throughout the Bible. God doesn't hold back and just let a trickle of grace through; it's abundant!

If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.  (Romans 5:17 (RSV))



Grace. More than adequate, richly supplied. Sometimes I think I'm operating under the assumption that God is going to run out of grace. "Well, if you've got enough to go around, God, I'll take some. If not, I'll understand." Nope, his grace is abundant!

I think I'm going to go soak up some of that abundant sunshine while I think about the incredible gift of God's abundant grace. There's more than enough for us all!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Part of the family

The other night, with my husband out of town, I allowed the boys to come spend the night in our bed. (OK, really I was just afraid that they'd need me and I wouldn't hear them.) Getting two small boys to fall asleep in the same bed is no small feat; it's like they are some unstoppable energy machine that has to keep on making noise and wiggling until 'boom' the battery runs out and silence and cessation of motion ensue instantly. There were repeated cries of "Mom, he's bothering me," and "Mom, he's poking me." And finally there was the ultimatum. "Mom, I don't want Indy to be a part of our family any more."

Oh dear. What is a parent supposed to do with THAT statement? I'm not even sure what heinous crime Indy committed in order to deserve banishment from the family, something about scrubbing that was keeping Gates awake. I gently told Gates that we are all part of this family and I would be very sad if anyone was missing because I love them both so much.

I suppose it isn't that uncommon to hear from our children. I can recall wishing every now and then that my brothers belonged to a different family (or that I did). What made me sad as I thought about it today is that sometimes we carry that attitude with us into adulthood and into the church. Are there people in your church that make you think "Boy, I wish they weren't part of the family; I wish they'd go someplace else?" I'm not talking about the people who are making things difficult for the church, I'm talking about the people that we just don't like. Maybe their personality irritates you. Maybe they have a disability that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe they don't dress 'right'. Maybe they challenge your faith in areas you don't want to be challenged in. Somehow they 'scrub' us the wrong way.

When I was a young single I was part of a small group made up of mostly other young singles and a few newlyweds. Most of us were the 'cool' or at least in my case 'semi-cool' singles in the church. And then there were two girls I'll call Vicki and Kim. Or, as our small group leaders dubbed them, Speedy and Needy. Ouch. It was no secret to anyone in the group except these girls that they weren't wanted. We don't want you in the family, you talk too much. We don't want you in the family, you need too much. Your personality is scrubbing up against me and it irritates me. God, forgive me for not wanting people in my church family that you had placed there. When we stop seeing people as part of our family, we lose the ability to BE family to them. We forget that God put them there, just as surely as he placed each of our children in our earthly families.

Who don't you want in your family? Are there still people I wish weren't a part of mine?

I like what I heard someone say recently, if someone irritates you, pray for them. Continue to pray for them. You may not like their behavior any better, but you will find yourself being filled with love for them. You will begin to see them as part of your family.

Colossians 3:12-15 is one of many passages that talks about the church as one body:

12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.



One body. One family. We strive to cultivate things like compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience in our own families. Can we humble ourselves enough to try to cultivate them in our church family as well?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

And so it began

This is the entry that isn't easy to write. It's a story I could hide and no one would ever know. But it's a story that I have to tell; a story that I want to tell because if someone had told it to me six years ago it would have made a world of difference. Postpartum depression is talked about; it's understood to a degree. But there is another type of postpartum mood disorder; a type that I never knew existed until several months ago. This is a story, my story, of postpartum OCD. (I know I get the occasional male reader who stumbles across my blog. I encourage you not to just check out at this point thinking 'oh, it's a woman post'. If you have a wife, sister, daughter, or close female friend you need to know this too. Doctors don't always ask the right questions of new mothers, sometimes it's up to you.)

Six years. Where has the time gone? It seems like such a short time ago that I held Gates in my arms for the first time and yet it is so hard to remember how small he was, how helpless. And soon he'll be turning six and I am remembering. Remembering, and finally healing.

There is a common saying, turned into a commercial for baby products, which tells us "Having a baby changes everything." And it does. The sleepless nights, endless loads of tiny laundry, the inability to just head out the door with ease whenever you want, the worry over every cough, the endless debate over every decision because now it affects a third person in your life, the first real smile that melts your heart, the celebration of every milestone, big or small, the pride that fills your heart that this is YOUR child. Having a baby changes everything.

I was ready for change, ready for the responsibility, ready to be a mother to another little being. I held him in my arms and I loved him. The first week wasn't easy. There was recovery from a traumatic birth experience, the struggle to nurse him, the fear that he might have to go back to the hospital, the suspicion that I might be sliding into postpartum depression.

But I could handle it. I was tough. Having a baby changes everything, I just needed to adjust.

I don't remember when it first happened, but I remember where I was. I was sitting on our couch by the window. Blue couch, reclining ends, middle that folded down into a table so that I could sit there for hours just holding Gates with everything I needed right at hand. I was holding him, looking at him, marveling at his perfection, loving him. And then the thought hit. "What if I put him in the oven?" What?? Where did that come from? I'm not that kind of parent. I love this child; I would DIE for this child. "What if I put him in the oven?"

And so it began. The endless parade of thoughts that I couldn't stop, thoughts that horrified me, thoughts that made me feel unclean. Oven, microwave, knives. In my mind I pictured myself hurting my child in a multitude of ways. I stopped watching any show that involved victimization of children, it just added to the list of horrible things I might imagine myself doing to Gates. It made no sense. How could I be holding my child and loving him and at the same time be thinking these things? I begged God to take the thoughts away. I cried and I begged and the thoughts didn't stop. Had I failed God in some way? Had God turned his back on me? Was I really as evil as I felt?

Having a baby changed everything. If I was evil, I had to work doubly hard to hide it. When people asked how it was going I smiled and proclaimed how great motherhood was. I couldn't let them see the cracks, the doubts, the uncertainties because they might see though them to the part of me that was evil. I couldn't tell anyone about the thoughts; they'd declare me unfit and take away my baby. I couldn't tell my husband, what would he think of me? Would he reject me? I deserved to be rejected, or so I thought.

As Gates grew the thoughts slowly subsided, only manifesting themselves rarely and in other bizarre ways; but the effect remained. No matter how well I parented, I was a failure. I doubted everything about my parenting. Having a baby changed everything.

Fast forward to this year. Major life changes, major stress. I was sinking back into deeper depression and there at the center, waiting to confront me was the part of me that was evil. And I had had enough; I couldn't continue living with the fear that the shell would crack open and what was inside would lash out and hurt the boys. So I finally gave up. I couldn't do it all on my own, I couldn't fix it and I needed help.

At my second counseling appointment I finally spoke the words I had been holding inside for nearly six years. I told of the thoughts that wouldn't leave me alone. I told of how evil I felt. And then came the words that changed everything. "It sounds like obsessive thought patterns to me." I came home and started Googling.

Postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder is part of the spectrum of postpartum mood disorders and is estimated to affect 2-3% of new mothers. It is most likely under-reported, however, because of the shame it produces and the fear that our children will be taken away from us. Postpartum OCD is NOT the same thing as postpartum psychosis. Women suffering from postpartum psychosis often cannot see their thoughts as irrational; women suffering from postpartum OCD know that their thoughts are not normal but are unable to get rid of them. Mothers with postpartum OCD rarely act on those thoughts, instead they typically develop any number of rituals in order to avoid them or avoid the possibility of acting on them. (Not always though, in my case I didn't develop any obvious compulsions.) It can affect women with a previous history of mild OCD as well as women who have never had it before.

More information on what it is: Postpartum OCD

Lots of great resources, support and links about all postpartum mood disorders can be found at Postpartum Progress.

Article from the Washington Post on postpartum OCD.

Those are some of the facts. You can Google all you like and find many more stories out there. The common thread in so many of them is "I wish someone had told me about this before I suffered for so long."

Do you want to know what grace feels like? Grace is taking your deepest, darkest secret, exposing it to the light of day and having it washed away with just a few words. Grace is finding out that even in those dark moments, when I didn't understand why he wasn't taking the thoughts away, God hadn't turned his back on me.

I don't know the answer to 'why me?' Why did I get this disorder that changed the course of my early parenting years? Maybe I'll never know. I know that it has taught me that secrets held too long leave their mark. I know that in some ways it did make me a better mother because fear gave me the desire to seek out parenting solutions that were gentle. I know it reaffirms the depths of love that my husband has for me, that when I finally told him he didn't turn away, he didn't reject me. I don't know all the answers, but I know the peace that comes from being finally set free.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Fighting over earthly spaces

I came across this article on the Yahoo News page. Does anyone else think these Christians missed something? Is there an essential message that they've forgotten?




(from Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press)


JERUSALEM - Dozens of Greek and Armenian priests and worshippers exchanged blows at one of Christianity's holiest shrines on Orthodox Palm Sunday, and used palm fronds to pummel police who tried to break up the brawl.


The fight came amid growing rivalry over religious rights at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built over the site in Jerusalem where tradition says Jesus was buried and resurrected.


It erupted when Armenian clergy kicked out a Greek priest from their midst, pushed him to the ground and kicked him, according to witnesses.


When police intervened, some worshippers hit them with the palm fronds they were holding for the religious holiday. The Eastern Orthodox churches, including the Armenians and Greek Orthodox, follow a different calendar from Western Christians and celebrate Easter next Sunday.


Two Armenian worshippers who attacked the Greek Orthodox clergy were briefly detained by Israeli police. Scores of Armenian supporters then protested outside the police station during the questioning of the two, beating drums and chanting.


The Holy Sepulcher is shared by several Christian denominations according to a centuries-old arrangement known as the "status quo."


Each denomination jealously guards its share of the basilica, and fights over rights at the church have intensified in recent years, particularly between the Armenians and Greeks.


Father Pakrad, an Armenian priest, said the presence of the Greek priest during the Armenian observances violated the status quo. "Our priests entered the tomb. They kicked the Greek monk out of the Edicule," he said, referring to the tomb area.


Pakrad accused the Greek Orthodox Christians of trying to step on the Armenians' rights. "We are the weak ones, persecuted by them for many centuries."


The Greek Orthodox Patriarch in the Holy Land, Theofilos III, told The Associated Press that the Armenians are pushing to change the rules, challenging what he said was the dominance of the Greek church in the Holy Land.


"This behavior is criminal and unacceptable by all means," he said. "They wanted to trespass on the status quo concerning the order that regulates the services between the various communities."


The Church of the Nativity in nearby Bethlehem — where Jesus is said to have been born — also falls under the status quo arrangement. Last year, pre-Christmas cleaning in that church turned ugly when robed Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests went at each other with brooms and stones.



In some ways it's easy to read that and be almost amused. Imagine that, those priests pummeling each other instead of living out a life of love made flesh, the very reason for the sites they are so jealously protecting.

And yet...and yet...are we that far above all that? Maybe we haven't turned to brooms and stones, or palm fronds. But how often do we pummel at our fellow Christians over the insignificant stuff? Over who has the 'right' to do something? Over our worship styles, the formality of our services? Over who has the correct political views? What is the 'status quo' we think we are protecting? We've marked our territory, we've declared that we own this part of Christendom and then someone comes in and challenges us, enters our sacred territory with different garb. And the fists come up.

There isn't anything inherently sacred about the place where Jesus was born, or where he was buried for three days. It is just land, and we've confused what is earthly and human with what is divine. Divine is the message, not the location, not the music, not the clothing it's dressed in.

It's time the church understood that. It's time the church lived that.

 









Sunday, April 20, 2008

It's a good thing it isn't about me...

This morning I had the misfortune privilege of being assigned the task of doing the announcements at church. I actually do like to attend churches where everyone gets involved in the service at some point instead of just a select few; at least I liked it until it became my turn to stand up in front of people and make words come out of my mouth.

I get nervous. Horribly, incredibly nervous. The worship team could have sung the theme song to Blues Clues and I truly would not have even noticed as my fear mounted. (Somehow I think God understands my fear, and I'd like to think that it's ok with him.) The good news is, I survived. I'm not sure what I said, I'm not sure if I missed anything, but I survived.

But here's the great news. It's not about me. God can show up at church whether it's me reading announcements or the most silver-tongued orator we've got. God can show up when there are Power Point difficulties, God can show up when the sound system screeches with feedback, God can show up no matter what happens. Because God doesn't depend on us presenting some flawless show that delights the listeners, he depends on us having hearts that are open and willing.

So the next time your church asks for volunteers don't think "Oh, I can't do that, I'll let someone more gifted do it." Be willing. Serve. You don't have to be perfect, God's got that covered already.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Thankfulness

I was in the grocery store earlier today and have you seen the price of bread lately? Everything costs more! It's so hard to stick to a budget and I am sick of eating the same stuff over and over. I want to feed my family good food, but it's SO expensive.

Ugh, and gas jumped in price again! When's it going to stop? When do we stop feeling squeezed?

There's so little extra money coming in and yet we want to do some work on the house. I'm so sick of these paint colors, I don't know WHAT the prior owners were thinking. Seriously, a mustard yellow bathroom?

On and on it goes. The little complaints, the whining. Except now we call it 'venting' because that makes it sound more therapeutic and useful. And yes, venting feelings and frustrations is therapeutic, it hurts to keep everything bottled up inside. But I think there is a line between venting and complaining, I know it's a line I've crossed over before. Sometimes I've crossed over so far I can't even see where the line was anymore.

How often do we spend as much time on thankfulness as we do on complaining or worrying? Not enough, I'll bet. I know that as soon as I start to focus on what I'm thankful for I can feel my perspective shifting.

So for today, here is my 'thankful' list:

1. I am so incredibly, incredibly thankful for the man God has gifted me with as a husband. I literally cannot imagine there being anyone else out there more perfect for me. Doesn't mean that he IS perfect, but he is perfect for me. He has kept on loving me with a sure and steady love through all the highs and lows of the past few years, and especially the past few months. And he helps with laundry and cleaning too. (Hands off, he's mine!)

2. I am, of course, thankful for the two energetic boys that we have been blessed with. They make me laugh even in some of my darkest moments. (By the way, initials are getting awkward. J will henceforth be known as Gates and K will be known as Indy. I'll leave it up to your imaginations as to why.)

3. I am thankful for our health. In the grand scheme of things we have been gifted beyond compare with good physical health in our family. I have so many friends who struggle or have family members who struggle with health issues, and I don't know why some struggle and why some don't. That's one of those big questions I have.

4. I am thankful that we have food on the table. In spite of rising prices, in spite of the middle class squeeze that we keep hearing about, we never have to question where our next meal is coming from. There are millions of people around the world who do not have the basic nutrition each day necessary to sustain a healthy life. And I'm complaining when bread goes up 11 cents a loaf.

5. I am thankful for a job that lets me stay home with the boys. I'll probably post the whole story some other time, but for now I'll just say that I was blessed beyond what I ever expected.

And with that I will close my list for the day, because Indy is napping and its time for me to do some paying work. I hope this got you thinking though, and hey...feel free to post a comment about what you are thankful for today. (I think I've got it set so you don't have to be registered to comment.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Keep on pedaling

Yesterday was an exciting day in our household. K learned how to ride his bike! I know that 3 and a half isn't that unusual of an age for bike riding, but this is the child who last summer wouldn't even pedal his tricycle. I'd see other two year olds happily tooling around on Big Wheels and tricycles and think "My child can do that, I KNOW he can do that." I'd set him on the tricycle, place his feet on the pedals and say "OK, now pedal, move your feet!"

Nothing. "Push me, mommy!"

I'd put my hands on his feet and try to get him to understand the motion and that the motion moved him forward.

He wasn't buying it. "Push me, mommy!" Physically I believe he had the capability; in every other way he was on target with his motor skills, but something in his brain was not making the connection that HE could do it. HE could make the tricycle move.

Then came yesterday, our first nice spring day, and an early school dismissal for J. K is now the size of a small four year old, so we decided to graduate him from the tricycle to J's old bike. I sat him on the bike, Thomas the Tank Engine helmet fixed securely to his head. I put my hands on his legs.

"OK, pedal!" I encouraged him as I moved his feet, trying to get him to understand the motion. Meanwhile J was zipping up and down the block on his bicycle. "Watch how J does it!" I said. A tentative turn of the feet, and the bike moved forward. Then it stopped. "Pedal, pedal!" I'd encourage again, hands on his legs reminding him of the motion. A few more turns. We worked our way slowly down the block...and then he got it. I graduated from hands moving his feet to a hand gently on his back, pushing him along, occasionally helping to steer.

By the end of the afternoon he had made it all the way down to the far end of the block and back and no longer needed (or wanted) my hands pushing him along. Occasionally he'd get hung up on a crack and say "Ok, little push now." But he was doing it! As we put the bike away he said, "I want to ride my bike forever."

I wonder if God is like that sometimes. He sees the gifts, the potential we have inside ourselves and sets us on the road to discovering them. But we think we can't do it, or we don't see the benefit to learning it, so we sit there on our bikes, wanting God to do all the work. "Pedal!" He encourages us. "It will be worth it!" He coaxes, maybe he puts things in our path that make us use those muscles to learn, and maybe he gives us other examples to watch. But always he encourages "Pedal, pedal, pedal! You can do it! I know you have it in you!"

And then it happens. Awkwardly, uncertainly, we start to move. We start to do the things that God knew all along we could do. Sometimes we get stuck, "Ok, a little push now, God." And he does, and we keep going, gaining strength and gracefulness as we go.

When K had really mastered the art of bike riding I was so excited that I called my husband on my cell phone. "Guess what K is doing! He's riding bike!" I wonder if God gets that excited when he sees his children using the potential that he has given them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Unexpected

"No eye has seen,


no ear has heard,


no mind has conceived


what God has prepared for those who love him"


1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)


For the past two days I've been struggling to write a post about happiness, about what it means and how we get there when it seems so out of reach. The words just weren't coming together right, they weren't conveying what was on my heart.

This morning I sat down to work on the Beth Moore Bible study that I'm working through with a group of women from church. We've been working on the study Breaking Free: Making Liberty in Christ a Reality in Life and I've got to tell you, so far I haven't been feeling a lot of breaking free going on in my life. Still yelling at the kids? Check. Still struggling with depression? Check. Still feeling that in God's eyes I'm pretty useless? Check. We're half way through the study and I'm thinking once again God is just ignoring me down here. Bless others, give them great insights, but somehow I'm left out in the cold. Again.

And what was the title of today's lesson? "To Live Happily Ever After." Now, before you go accusing Beth Moore of having some pie-in-the-sky vision of perfect Christianity that never experiences sadness, that isn't her point at all. I won't go into the details, they aren't important to what I learned today and if you really want to know you can do the study yourself. (Which I'm sure you'll rush right out and do after that ringing endorsement I just gave it in the previous paragraph.)

I came into this lesson with my fighting gloves on, expecting Moore to tell me a Christian should be able to be happy all, or most of, the time. And after years of believing that myself and trying to perpetuate the illusion, I'm dropping it. Christians get sad. Christians can even struggle with clinical depression and guess what? Christians can even have to take medication for depression and anxiety. (And yes, three months ago I would have argued the opposite, that I SHOULD be able to be spiritual enough to MAKE myself happy. Notice the conspicuous absence of God's work in that sentence...now move on to the next thought.)

Two paragraphs into the lesson the unexpected happened. Moore posed the question about what God has done in our life at this point in the study that is in the realm of 1 Corinthians 2:9, that exceeded anything we had seen, heard, or imagined. I flexed my fingers, picked up my pen and began to write that after all this work, God has not done one single thing in my life over the past few months. I've been passed by.

And then I stopped. I stopped and thought about the group of women that I'm doing the study with. I thought about how we've opened our hearts to each other and shared our hurts and our joys. I thought about the women who have encouraged me, the one who poked at me to get me to speak up, the one who gave me her phone number just in case I wanted a friend to call, the one who said "We've all been there" when I was frustrated over one of my son's meltdowns, the one who invited me out to a movie. My prayer for more years than I can remember has been "God, just send me a friend. Send me someone I can share my heart with, someone I can sometimes just hang out and do fun stuff with. I am so lonely, God." And unexpectedly, without me even realizing it, over the past few months he has not been giving me just one friend, he's been giving me a whole group! Slowly the corners of my life have been filling up with the female companionship that I craved.

Still yelling at the kids? Check. Still struggling with depression? Check. Still feeling useless? Check. Surrounded by friends who love me and will walk with me through all the crud in my life? Check, double and triple check.

Sometimes we're digging in the dirt, trying to make grace grow, only to turn around and realize there's a whole garden of it behind us.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Reflecting on Church

This morning my husband and I were introduced as members of the church, along with several other families. This wasn't our official 'joining'; as a newly organized church we have already done that; this was just a way of actually introducing the families who make up the church. But as I was getting ready for church this morning I began reflecting on what makes a church 'good'. What is it about this church that drew me in where others left me cold? This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it may look different from your list, but these are my thoughts.

1. Real church cuts across denominational lines. No one denomination, worship style, etc. has a lock on all that is true and holy and biblical. In fact, we probably all get it wrong in some places some of the time. I've been in churches and movements where it was subtly or not so subtly proposed that somehow we knew a truth that all of those other churches 'out there' didn't get. And that gets confusing when you run up against something in your church that you aren't sure you agree with. Our church is now a merged congregation of the Mennonite Church and the Christian Missionary and Alliance Church. How cool is that? Breaking down walls and declaring that as part of something bigger, as part of the body of Christ we aren't going to let names separate or define us anymore.

2. Real church allows questions. It acknowledges that as humans we are going to struggle to understand the mind of God, to understand the word He left behind for us, to understand how and why He works the way He does in the world both in the past and in the present. Didn't it always irritate you as a kid when you asked your parent a tough question and their answer was "Because I'm the parent and I said so, you don't get to ask the questions." (Well, ok, maybe you were lucky enough to have parents that let you question with freedom.) But it is frustrating to be told you shouldn't have a question because that doesn't take the question away, it just makes you feel guilty for having it. What better place to struggle with the big questions than in a church, where we can learn together?

3. You shouldn't have to be a 'certain way' to belong to a church. Yes, different churches will often ultimately draw different types of people through their worship style, outreach ministries, etc. But as the body of Christ on earth it's our job to show His acceptance to everyone who walks through our doors. Side note here, I don't think cliques have any place in the body of Christ. Nothing makes it harder on a newcomer than to realize that everyone has their own little 'group' already and they are so content with who they relate with that they don't want anyone else coming in and messing up their dynamic. This was my experience in the church I grew up in. Or rather, I should say, my mother's experience. New to the church, she tried to join several Bible studies only to be told that they were really quite full and why not consider starting her own? What a way to welcome a new person! In all the years that we attended there I do not recall my mother making any close friends of her own age. And so I grew up in a church where we were always a bit the outsiders, where I was never quite pretty enough, or popular enough or well dressed enough to fit in with the rest of my class. Insecurity for me began in the church. It should be the other way around. I love that at my church now we are a blend that welcomes ties, tattoos, dreadlocks and Dockers.

4. Related to point 3; church shouldn't be a place of plastic perfection. Church comes with real people and real people come with hurts and baggage and some Sundays we can barely drag ourselves through the door. But we come, and there we find other people with struggles, some the same, some different, but ALL with struggles. It is in watching other people struggle that we can sometimes find grace for our own battles. How frustrating it would be for me, two days out from almost being checked into a mental hospital, to walk into church and feel that everyone there had it together except me, that I was the only one falling apart on the inside? I don't think I'd be back. No, we can't all walk around wearing our weaknesses on our sleeve, but there's something in the air of a church that is genuine, something we sensed when we first entered the church we are a part of now. I still struggle with trying to put on that mask of perfection, but God is gently prying it from my hands and I don't think I want it back.

There are other points I could make, other things to say, but in many ways they all fit under the umbrella of those points. Ultimately, I like the way the vision statement for our church lays it out: Belong, Question, Share, Grow. I love my church, and I'm glad to be a part of it. I hope that I succeed at making other new people feel as welcomed as we did when we first came. (That's a big task for a naturally shy person, but I don't think it lets me off the hook.)

Oh, and one final note; if you happen to be within driving distance of Sioux Falls, come check us out!   Mercy Church I'll be the shy one who probably won't say much, but I promise I'll at least smile at you.