Friday, December 31, 2010

Confession 152: Passionate Prayer

And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.  Luke 22:44

Over the past few weeks, I have been working through Elizabeth George's study on the book of Luke.  As I am reading through Jesus' final days on Earth, I am struck once again at his prayer in Gethsemane.  In the past, I have always focused on his humanity--his desire to have the cup taken from him, his momentary reluctance to experience the suffering, the torture, the agonizing death on the cross.  It always comforts me to see Jesus as a human.  And then, to see him willingly take on the pain, the sacrifice that is to come--well, there are no words.

Yet today, it was verse 44 which touched my heart the most.  Look at it closely.  "Being in anguish, Jesus prayed more earnestly" and the prayer was so deep, so passionate, that Luke says "his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground."  Jesus prayed with his entire being, laying everything within him out before the throne of the Father!!  He literally gave his ALL in prayer!!  It was spiritual, it was mental, it was emotional, and it was physical.  Oh, my gosh!!  Do you know how paltry and uninspired my prayers seem in the face of this marvelous example?  

Most days, I think I pray with maybe a quarter of my being engaged.  I sit in the recliner with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in the background, or walk the two blocks to work praying and watching for cars as I cross the street, or move through the kitchen praying, cooking, cleaning.  My prayers might be sincere, but they're not really earnest.  Instead of leaving it all before the Father, I hit all the names on the prayer list, make a quick mention of my husband and sons, cover the rest under "family and friends", and ask that God help me honor him with my day.  Somewhere along the line, I've lost the act of passionate prayer.  I have my moments, usually when I feel like my boat's about to go under and I have no other option.  But is that really good enough?

I think, if I'm being honest, the thought of praying earnestly and passionately is a little frightening.  What if I leave it all out there and God doesn't "come through"?  What if he doesn't grant the desires of my heart?  What if I decide the cost is just too much?  What if the direction he wants to take me in isn't the way I want to go?  What if I don't have what it takes to follow through?

The reality is, I will never have the relationship with God that I desire to have if I only give him part of myself.  And the reality is, God has a plan for my life that is so much more than what I could ever see or comprehend.  Passionate prayer is a way for me to let go of the wheel and to let God take over so that I might fully live this life he has given me.  Passionate prayer is my way of saying, "I'm all yours, God."  Scary?  Yes, but then, this is the One who literally gave everything to me.

So what shall I do?  I will pray with my spirit... 1 Corinthians 14:15

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Confession 151: Hit the Refresh Button!

I have a confession to make.  For all of my talk about the true meaning of Christmas and fighting the commercialization/materialism/secularism of the Christmas season, I have some expectations for Christmas that really have nothing to do with the birth of Christ.  I love Christmas!  I love the warmth of family get-togethers.  I love the cookies and candies and cheeseballs and ham and green bean casseroles.  I love listening to my dad read the Christmas story each year before digging into presents.  I love the joy, the laughter, the tales that get-togethers bring.  So, when the flu hit our household over Christmas, I was not a happy camper!  My husband, with the grace of God, made it through all three services.  I missed most of the first as I was doing clean-up for my youngest who was on an antibiotic which his body was expelling at an alarming rate!  Then my parents called--no Christmas dinner.  Mom was sick. 

"Well," I told my dad on the phone.  "This Christmas certainly...."

"It sucks!" he finished for me.

Needless to say, my heart was not where it should have been as we drove to our second service of the evening.  Fortunately, my in-laws were in town and had the kids, so it was just Chris and I.  As the service started, I became more and more convicted of my negative Christmas attitude.  I needed to hit the refresh button, and fast!  I bowed my head in prayer for a moment and asked God to forgive me my negativity and to remind me again of the true reason for this night and this celebration.  My husband's message was titled, "The Greatest Gift Ever" and the message was simple: "Boy, do I have good news for you!!"

I'd like to say that I hit my refresh button and my attitude was suddenly, miraculously transformed so that I, like Ebeneezer Scrooge, was yelling out the window as we drove through town, "Merry Christmas!!"  However, as I am human and not a figment of Charles Dickens' imagination, it wasn't that easy.  But my attitude after our second service was slightly improved, and by the time we were singing "Silent Night" in candlelight at the end of the third service, I was almost there. 

Christmas day provided a much needed opportunity to relax and unwind, and, we ate the ham my loving in-laws fortuitously brought with them from St. Louis.  I napped for a few hours and that evening we took a drive to see some lights and deliver gifts to my parents.

And so, I'm thankful this Christmas for family, for health, for rest.  And, most of all, I'm thankful that I worship a God who hit the biggest refresh button ever!!

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Monday, December 27, 2010

Confession 150: Christmas

As my two year old is smacking his brother with a dinosaur, I don't have a lot of time to post.  However, I thought I'd leave you with these images of Christmas peace.  Many blessings!! 







Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Confession 149: And So This Is Christmas

Well, it seems as if our holiday tradition of illness or injury continues this year as my youngest, myself, my dad and I all came down with the flu this weekend and my in-laws are trying to work off colds.  Luckily, the icky part of the flu seems to be past, leaving behind a persistent cough that's about to do me in.  I took about 2 and 1/2 shots of whiskey last night before bed thinking that should take care of the cough.  Not sure it did much there, but I did get a great night's sleep and woke up very refreshed this morning!  Not wanting to start a bad habit, however, I decided to forgo Mr. Seagrum's for Mr. Robitussin tonight.  The result, wide awake and still coughing at a quarter to midnight.  I think I need some codine.

More important than my bout with the flu, this weekend saw the passing of one of the patriarchs of our church.  With six children and scores of grandchildren, he took his last breaths surrounded by over 20 family members, hearts full of love and gratitude for the life he lived.  Just before he passed, one of his grandsons called out, "We love you, Grandad!" This afternoon, the man's daughter told us how it seemed as if her nephew, in that moment, was cheering her dad on to the finish line of a race.  This family is so remarkable, so full of love, of life, and so full of gratitude for the lives they've shared with one another.  Although they have suffered loss, both now and previously, their hearts seem always full of joy and graciousness abounds from them.

And this thought also came to me: this is what Christmas is really about.  Christ came to conquer death.  When those who know Him leave this earth, they are welcomed with shouts of praise and acclamation on the other side.  While we gather to mourn, the company of heaven gathers to celebrate the return of one who has come home.  These are the great tidings of glad joy the angels brought that night.  It wasn't just a celebration of birth, but of re-birth, of reconciliation.  It was a homecoming, and because of Jesus' homecoming, we will be welcomed home too.  O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant...

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Confession 148: Not Another Dumb Girl Movie

The Personal Finance kids in the class I'm subbing for are watching the movie Confessions of a Shopoholic as a fun end of semester treat.  I've never seen it before, and although it's not as bad as I initially thought it would be, I'm suddenly finding myself wanting to go into film making.  I've decided on a title for my as yet to be released (written) film: Not Another Dumb Girl Movie!!  You see, I'm tired of the ditzy portrayal of younger women in our society--girls who have no common sense, make the wrong/dumb choice at every turn, and yet still end up with the "perfect" guy because they're just so darn cute and cuddly!  Seriously?!  Where's Katherine Hepburn when you need her? 

I have to confess, I'm a huge classic movie buff.  My husband thinks it's ridiculous that I would choose to watch movies that were made before our parents were even born, but I love them.  And it's interesting to me that in a time when women did not have the opportunities that we have today so many of the classic film heroines would be such strong, smart, and witty chicks.  Look at the lineup: the aforementioned Kate, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy.  These women weren't pushovers, at least not on screen.  And, they weren't insecure.  I can't think of a Katherine Hepburn movie where her character would invent some crazy story about herself to avoid dealing with the honest truth of a difficult situation.  The female leads in these classic films were funny, but not stupid.  They could play the coquette without being vapid. They didn't play dumb, they played tough.

I can't help but think of the Proverbs 31 woman.  Strong, smart and self-reliant, she is praised above all women.  With her life she honors God. The Psalmist shows her taking care of her family, elevating her husband's status in the community, making profitable business decisions, and being brave in the face of life's calamities.  Verses 25 and 26 have this to say:
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
   she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom,
   and faithful instruction is on her tongue. 
WISDOM--we are sorely lacking this in our society, and it shows in our portrayals of young women in the media.  I don't know about you, but I want to help raise up Proverbs 31 women.  Women who pay with cash, not credit.  Women who get jobs based on their abilities and merit.  Women who have firm values in place, who are not afraid of the truth, and who will show kindness and generosity to others.  I don't want my boys to bring home silly girls when they get older.  I want them to bring home girls who are witty and bright.  I want them to bring home girls who can put them in their place when necessary and build them up when needed.  

Above all else, I don't want another dumb girl movie!
Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Confession 147: Shutterfly Christmas Cards

I'm a big fan of free stuff, especially since our funds are limited.  So, when a friend told me about a free Christmas card offer from the online photo shop, Shutterfly, I couldn't resist!  In all honesty, I love online photo shops. You get to control every aspect of your photo buying experience, customize all of your purchases, and get it for at least half of what you'd pay at a portrait studio.!

My husband and I have used online photo shops quite a bit over the past few years, designing our own Christmas cards and making unique gifts.  I'll share three with you here.

1. Christmas cards.  Shutterfly has a plethora of options when it comes to customizing your photo Christmas card.  With 803 choices starting at $.32 a card, you're bound to find something unique to you at a price you can handle!  And, the quality is fabulous!  I just received a new Shutterfly card in the mail from a friend, and it looked like something you would custom order at at a fancy printing company. The paper was not flimsy photo paper, but sturdy, quality, textured paper. And, there are lots of options for customizing.  My favorite are the collage cards where you can put several different pictures on one card.  Very cool!

2. Calendars.  My husband and I have found that custom made calendars are inexpensive, personalized gifts that last all year long!  Shutterfly has many options there as well. One of the great things you can do with Shutterfly calendars is to customize dates.  For instance, when my husband and I made a calendar we were able to include all of our family's birthdays and anniversary's on the calendar.  We were also able to include a small photo of our boys with the person whose birthday it was in the date box on the calendar.

3. Photo books.  Both my parents and my in-laws have made online photo books to commemorate vacations they have taken. Again, you customize and personalize everything.  My in-laws have two big photo books they made, one from Yellowstone, another from Alaska.  The first time I saw the book, I thought it was something they'd picked up from a bookshop on their trip.  When I opened it and saw the reflections of my mother-in-law, as well as ticket stubs and trip information, including maps, I was amazed.  It's truly an awesome thing to have!  We're going to be taking a big family trip this summer and will definitely look into Shutterfly's photo book page!!

So, go to Shutterfly and see what you think.  They have tons of great products at reasonable prices to meet all of your Christmas needs.  They even do stocking stuffers with magnets, notecards, magnets and playing cards--all under $10!

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Confession 146: Press on The Path

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

This past weekend, my boys came down with the stomach flu while we were visiting my parents.  My sister was there too, with her five month old daughter!  As it was impossible to drive the 35 miles back to our house, we hunkered down at Mom and Dad's--4 pairs of hands for two expulsionary kids.  Around one o'clock in the morning, as I was throwing yet another pair of pajamas into the wash and my mom and I were spot cleaning the carpets by flashlight, the thought entered my mind that life is simply a matter of endurance.  You just endure one thing after another until it's over and then you go sit on a cloud and play some harps--the end.  It was in this moment of self-pity that God slipped the above scripture into the back of my mind (He always has to meddle in my middling!)  I realized that life is indeed about enduring, but not in the whiny "my kids have the stomach flu and it really sucks" sort of way I was thinking.  Jump with me for a minute to the book of Mark.
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way” “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
   make straight paths for him.’”And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.
Mark 1: 2-7
I don't know about you, but I love John the Baptist.  This guy did not give a fig about what the world thought or expected of him.  From the time he was formed in his mother's womb he knew his purpose and he lived it out with confidence and gusto.  Not only did John know his purpose, he knew his place in the grand scheme of things.  And, he understood a thing or two about the nature of endurance.

Looking at these two passages of Scripture, two things become clear to me.  First, life is about enduring, but not enduring in the sense of "woe is me, my life is not working out the way I planned".  Rather, as Paul writes, we endure the way a marathon runner endures the rigors of a race.  We "press on" toward our goal through whatever challenges life may bring. 

Second, our goal in pressing on is, like John, to prepare the way for the Lord.  God called us, his people, to go forth and show his love to the world, to spread the good news of salvation, of hope, of mercy, of grace to as many people as we can.  Enduring is not about cleaning up runny poop in the middle of the night, or figuring out how to buy your kids more toys that they don't need, or stepping on the scale and having it yell, "Ouch!"  Rather, those who truly grasp the concept of endurance are those who are adopting a family for Christmas, who are providing meals for the hungry in their community, who are traveling to other continents to engage in the hard work of building wells, churches, community centers and homes.  Those who truly grasp the concept of endurance are those people who are training for races in remembrance and the hope that their efforts will mean no other family has fear when the doctor says the biopsy does not look good.  They are the people who make time to listen to a friend in need, who find ways to bring holiday cheer to those who are lonely or alone, those who campaign for laws that will positively benefit children and the poor of our nation.  And they do so regardless of the cost to themselves and regardless of what other people think of them and regardless of the challenges and stumbling blocks placed before them.  

I don't know about you, but this is the kind of life I want to endure.  I want to press on down the path that prepares the way for the Lord!
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
Romans 15:4
Through endurance, we bring hope.  Please, God, let me endure!!
Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Confession 145: Contemplations on a Christmas Tree

It's almost midnight here in Missouri, and I'm just winding down from preparing the house (aka...cleaning) for a ladies brunch at the parsonage tomorrow.  I am truly excited to have them over.  However, I find myself falling into that hosting mode of, "Is it enough?"  Do I have enough food?  Do I have enough decorations?  Do I have enough chairs?  Is the house clean enough?  It's a lot to come down from.  So, before heading off to bed to consider all of the enoughs I potentially have or don't have in my life, I decided to spend a few moments contemplating our Christmas tree.

There's something about the soft glow of a Christmas tree that puts my soul at peace.  Ours is blue again this year, the lights, not the tree itself.  Blue has become the color of compromise in our house.  This whirly-gig girl prefers a tree that sparkles in all shades of twinkly lights while my linear husband prefers the elegance of tempered white.  In blue, we have found the best of both.  Monochromatic, yet colorful at the same time.  Looking at our tree, decorated with the ornaments handed down to us over the years, I realize that more than symbolizing our ability to compromise, this tree represents our family.  Blending our childhood ornaments with ornaments we've received as a couple and the ornaments received by our children, I realize that this tree is us--a hodge-podge of memories and experiences coming together to make something beautiful.

Yet even beyond that, there is something sacred about a Christmas tree to me.  The tree is a silent sentinel through the winter--a sign of life continuing.  When I look at a Christmas tree, I hear the soft crunch of hardened snow, I see a world covered in white with no blemish or mark to mar it's surface.  I see the evergreen rising up from the earth, rooted to the earth, but not bound to the cycle of life and death on the earth.  It is a fitting symbol for the Christ-Child were are preparing to welcome once more.  Alive, pure, of the earth, yet unbound from its mortal constraints. It reminds me again of the purpose of this season.  And it reminds me, too, that above all else, Christ is enough.

Gazing at the Christmas tree I realize that it is indeed well with my soul.

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Confession 144: Christ's Christmas Presents

Although it's not even December yet, the first Sunday of Advent has come and gone.  We had a lovely Hanging of the Greens service at church in which our oldest got to be a "star" (Literally, he wore a big foil star and ran down the front aisle then plopped himself down on the bench by Mary who looked at him like, "What are you doing here?")  Black Friday and Cyber Monday have both come and gone (mostly just gone in our household where homeade Christmas presents are going to be the theme this low-budget year).  Many folks have trees up, gifts wrapped and calendars set for the season.  It kind of makes you wonder, "What's left?"

To counter some of the materialism and commercialism and secularism surrounding our "Winter Holidays", we've started a new Advent campaign at church focused around James Moore's book, Christmas Gifts That Won't Break, a focus on the power of hope, love, peace and joy brought into the world through the birth of Jesus.  Signs are up throughout the church reminding us that "Christmas is not YOUR birthday!"  Our key question this season is, "What are you going to give to Christ this Christmas?"  In our congregation, we have set a goal to raise over $5,000 on Christmas Eve to purchase a Heifer International Gift Ark, which will help to support sustainable living for hundreds of people living in impoverished communities.  Yet, there are so many other opportunities and ways to give gifts to the one whose birth we celebrate, or should celebrate, this season.  As we move into this season of giving, I would challenge you to consider what you are going to give to Christ this season.

Yet more than that, my challenge to myself is to recognize Christ in this season.  I've been reading a study of Luke recently and have been struck again by the fact that so many who had a meaningful encounter with Jesus recognized him for who he was.  Mary and Joseph accepted the news that their son was the Son with incredible grace and humility.  Faithful Simeon and Anna were blessed to see the Christ-child God had promised to send and recognized him immediately as the Son of God.  Even John, in Elizabeth's womb, jumped for joy at hearing Mary's voice while she carried Jesus within her.  This unborn child recognized the Son of God before either of them had taken breath. 

So, here's what I want this Christmas to be about:  1) Recognizing Christ in the world and 2) giving to others in a way that gives a birthday gift to Christ.

What are your goals for this season?

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Confession 143: Gratitude Born of Contentment

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to live with nothing, and I know what it is to live with everything. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  Philippians 4: 12-13
This verse has been in my mind a lot the past few days.  My husband used it as the basis of a Thanksgiving message for our local community Thanksgiving service last Sunday.  Chris and I were contemplating and praying through a situation yesterday for which we just don't know the answer.  We're in the "in-between time" right now.  We know the problem, we know God will solve it, but right now we're in between the two of those.  And it seems to me, that it's the "in-between" space where it is hardest to find contentment.  Yet, as Thanksgiving approaches, I realize that it is only by cultivating contentment that we can be truly grateful.  And I have so much to be grateful for...my family, my friends, health, home, food, God's amazing grace.  In a moment of epiphany yesterday, I understood clearly that this present challenge is actually a wonderful gift from God, an opportunity to simplify, to take stock, to prioritize, and to practice contentment.  I want to be able, throughout my life, to look out over the hills and valleys and declare, "It is well".  To pray, as John Wesley said, "let me be full, let me be empty...I freely and heartily yield all things to they pleasure and disposal."  Life should not be a series of challenges to master, a list to check-off as we go.  But rather, life should be an experience we drink in, a precious gift in which we give thanks to God for the opportunity to be, to do, to journey, to love.  And so, this is my Thanksgiving prayer for you:

May you experience the beauty and gift of every ordinary day that's left to you.
May you center your life on the things you are grateful for.
May you pay attention to what's worth caring about.
May you read the sacred in everyday life.
And may the God of grace and hope give you strength to do all that He is calling you to this day.
In Jesus' name,
Amen
*Taken in part from Katrina Kenison's The Gift of an Ordinary Day

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Confession 142: In Remembrance of Me

As I wrote a few blogs ago, I've been drinking in Katrina Kenison's new book, The Gift of An Ordinary Day.  It's beautiful and deep and suffused, I believe, with grace abundant.  As Kenison was writing of her traumatic journey through her youngest son's adolescence, she says that her job was to remind her son of who he was during this time, to "help him remember, through words and touch, who he really is."  As soon as I read these words, an image of Communion came to my mind.  As Kenison went on to write that loving her son through words and touch gave her "the faith and patience necessary to survive his painful transformations", the image of the communion bread and cup grew stronger and stronger.  I  suddenly came to the understanding that this is precisely the purpose of our communal acts of worship--our holy ordinances, our traditions and sacraments, our sacred rites and rituals.

Taking perhaps ridiculous artistic license with Kenison's beautifully wrought words, I came to this...  Worship helps us in words and touch to remember who we really are.  As we take the Communion bread into our hands, as we roll it around our fingertips, the course textures remind us once again of that human body housing the divine which was bruised and broken for us.  As we dip the bread into the cup, we are once again reminded of the precious blood that was shed for us for the cleansing of our souls.  Yet more than that, we remember that we were redeemed so that we might truly become the people of God.  As Paul writes in Ephesians 3:6, we become heirs of the kingdom together with Israel, "members together of one body and sharers together in the promise of Christ Jesus."

It is when we gather together as the Body of Christ, in the remembering of who and whose we are through our sacred acts of worship, that we are able to survive the painful transformations life can bring.   In participating in the baptism of a new believer we are reminded that we, as new creations in Christ, have become dead to sin.  As we join in one voice that prayer which Christ Jesus taught us, we remember that the kingdom, the power, and the glory of God are eternal, lasting forever and ever.  Standing for the reading of the Gospel message, we remember the precious gift of the Living Word which dwells within us...our foundation, our source of strength, the lamp which guides our feet as we journey though life so that we can say with absolute conviction and assurance "Praise be to God!"

Finally, it is in our acts of worship that we come, as Kenison writes of her son, "a little bit closer to understanding his (for us, God's) true essence."  Kneeling at the altar rail after partaking of the bread and cup, I feel a closeness to God that I feel nowhere else.  I know that I am standing on Holy Ground.  My soul is laid bare to the Lord who dwells within me.  I feel the invisible tie that binds me to those kneeling on my left and right.  They are my companions on this journey.  And when I rise, it is as if I am being sent forth born anew with the Spirit of the Living God full within me to take and give to a world most desperate with need.

When you enter the house of the Lord this Sunday, let it be with the voice of Jesus ringing in your heart.  Hear him say to you again, "Do this in remembrance of me."

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Monday, November 15, 2010

Confession 141: I Lift Up My Eyes

I just got off the phone with the health insurance company and am feeling annoyed and discouraged.  It seems that I am one of those dwindling lower middle class citizens who cannot really afford health insurance, but cannot really afford to not have it either.  Since I take 100mg of Zoloft each day, I fall into the "pre-existing condition clause" which basically means that I get to pay an extra $80+ bucks a month for a pill it probably cost about $.50 to make.  I called the insurance company today to try and change my plan, only to be left 45 minutes later with the same plan and an application for a new plan that I'm not eligible for until January 1st that might lower my premium $50 per month.  It seems that no matter how many health care reforms the government legislates, insurance companies keep finding ways around them.  I'm not going to go off an a tirade against health insurance companies, I'm just saying that to insure my boys and I it costs over $400 per month because I take one pill and my oldest son has Uvitis and sees an eye specialist on a regular basis.  The laughable part of all of this is that I signed us all up for individual health insurance policies because it seemed, in my research, that was going to be cheaper than putting us all on one!  Of course, with my son's pre-existing condition we have to go through a state sponsored health insurance pool because the insurance companies won't take him on, although the pool is run by a major insurance company.  Someone please explain that to me!!  Oh well, enough of the tirade.

The reality is that each of us has moments in life where we want to throw our hands up and say, "I give!"  It could be financial struggles, or chronic health struggles, or relationship struggles.  And, they come about not because we've done anything "wrong" or made poor choices or angered God in some way, but because we are human beings living in a human world.  Fortunately, as Christians, we know that this is not the end of the story.  We were not made to struggle through life giving in and giving up.  On the contrary, God has placed a spirit of hope within each of us to persevere through our struggles, to be steadfast with our eyes fixed on Christ allowing God to work within and throughout our hardships in order that he may be glorified when we triumph.

As Paul writes in Romans 8, we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us, so much so that there is nothing in this world or beyond that can separate us from his abundant love; no insurance companies that can strip us of our faith and trust in him.  So when I feel that the world is getting the upper hand, I do as the Psalmist commands in Psalm 121: I lift up my eyes to the hills and see that my help comes from the Lord, the creator of heaven and Earth.  The God who set the mountains in place and told the rivers where to run is the God who is carrying me.  He will not let my foot slip.  Indeed, he who watches over his children will neither slumber nor sleep.

Thank God for the Word!  My day is suddenly looking up!!

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Friday, November 12, 2010

Confession 140: A Story

A few pots ago, I wrote about the idea of living expectantly--realizing that God is capable of doing amazing things and raising our expectations so God can do them.  I received an e-mail this past week from a former acquaintance that I wanted to share which spoke directly to this.  I LOVE stories like this, and I hope you find as much wonder and encouragement from it as I did!

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

"My oldest son Devin who is 29 has been searching for a friend he had back in the 8th grade.   They were best friends and lost touch somewhere along the way.   He knew his Dad had been a preacher in the Houston area and that Jason had been a Marine.    Devin had been searching the internet and googling everything he could think of to find Jason for the past year.    Last week another friend of Devin’s called him to come “rescue” him.    He had been in jail for drugs and I guess just looked like warmed over death.   It really got to Devin.   This guy was a really good friend.   A renewed interested in finding Jason became urgent.

Devin came over after work last Wednesday and was telling me all of this.   I got on the laptop and proceeded to try my hand at finding Jason with no luck.  I told him about reading your article and that maybe he should pray “specifically” for God to help him find Jason.  “No Mom.   We should always ask for God’s will to be done.  Maybe I’m not supposed to find Jason.”    So I told him I would pray SPECIFICALLY that we would find Jason.  

The next day during a lull at work I did some more searching for Jason’s Dad.  I googled Pastor Paul Scott, Houston, Tx and after about 10 minutes and 6 pages of google, I found an article about “former Pastor Paul  preached Oct. . . . .  “   I made some phone calls and by Thursday night I had Jason’s phone number to give to Devin.     

I had forgotten the JOY that we rob ourselves of by not praying specifically plus we don’t give God the opportunity to surprise us.   It was a Goosebump God Moment for me and I think a wonderful witness for Devin.   And it reunited two long lost friends. 

So I just wanted to thank you for reminding me about praying specifically and the joy it brings and I will resume doing so now."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Confession 139: The Best

I just started a new book called The Gift of An Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir by Katrina Kenison.  It's the story of how Kenison and her husband packed up the life they knew, a life they had carefully cultivated, to move from suburbia to rural America as their two sons were moving through adolescence in order to make the best for them and to come to terms with their changing lives.  I'm only three chapters in, but already have had several moments of, "Oh, my gosh!!  That's so profound!"  I was actually reading part of the book aloud to my husband on a recent trip into the city while he was held captive at the wheel.  There was a passage in which Kenison was describing her older son that resonated with me in my dealings with my own oldest child.  Granted, Kenison's son was a teenager at the time and mine is four, so the circumstances aren't quite the same, but the message is still applicable, I think.  Kenison writes that:

"Rather than try to project who our older son might or might not one day turn out to be, we needed to try and appreciate and understand who he is right now.  And then we needed to meet him there, loving and accepting him just as he was, supporting his journey of self-discovery, crooked and long though his path might turn out to be." (pg. 26)

 "Oh, my gosh!!  That's so profound!"  Talk about being blown away!  How often, as parents, do we try to project our own dreams and desires onto our children?  We want things for them that we often wanted for ourselves.  We see the road that they should take, forgetting that it is in the winding journey itself that they will learn so much about themselves and who they were created to be.  My oldest son, at the age of four, already marches to the beat of his own drum.  We lovingly refer to him as "the weird kid".  I understand, of course, that part of the weirdness is just the age, but part of it is who he is.  And, I'm okay with that. He is who he is, and although middle school might be a bit rough, God has a plan and purpose for all that "weirdness"!

It struck me that, as Kenison calls us to meet our own children where they are, so God meets us exactly where we are, too.  He lets us make our own journeys of self-discovery and faith.  He allows us to try, to fail, and pulls us back up again.  Moreover, God loves each of us and accepts us for who we are.  This realization proposes a bit of a challenge for me.   There's a struggle in my spiritual life that I have been ignoring for years, and that struggle is coming to terms with the notion that God loves me for who I am, not who I think I should be.

Do you know what my prayer has been for myself every day for years?  "God, please help me to be someone today you can be proud of.  Please help me to deserve the love you have shown and let my life be worth the sacrifice you made."  You see, after spending my entire life, literally, in the church, I still fail to grasp the nature of God's love for me.  It is unfathomable to me that God can love me for who I am and not who I think I should be!!  As a natural-born people pleaser, I think that I need to "please" God, completely ignoring the fact that when God created me he pronounced to the heavens, "(She) is good!"  God loves me in all of my human-ness because HE MADE ME!!  Every quirk I have is a gift from him, and although my mother literally birthed me into the world, it was God who breathed into me that breath of life.  Instead of praying that I may "please" God, a better prayer would be that my day would bring God glory and praise.

My love for my boys is deep and wide.  There is nothing I can conceive of them doing that would diminish that love, no "weirdness" a mother's love can't overcome.  I can accept them for who God created them to be and encourage them along the paths they will take, even if the path is not one I would have chosen.  The challenge is to let God do the same with me.

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Confession 138: Working Girl

I have been subbing for the Family and Consumer Sciences  teacher all this week at our local high school.  I've been teaching Personal Finance again--it just won't go away!!  I'm also teaching Child Development and Nutrition, which has been kind of fun.  I was worried when I first went in to visit with the teacher last week before she left because she had a sewing machine out.  We would have had problems!!  Luckily, the focus has been on electronic banking, prenatal development and teen health--all things I can handle!!  I've been subbing quite frequently throughout our school district (it's tiny) and I have to say, I'm a little torn.  On the one hand, I love being in a classroom again.  On the other, staying home has been kind of fun too.  Scratch that last part--child number two is screaming for milk and working on pushing me out of the chair even as I type.  Don't worry, I'm not ignoring him.  He wouldn't let me, even if I wanted to! :-)

God truly works in mysterious ways.  I never thought I could be so content substitute teaching, but I actually love it.  My best friend told me shortly after we moved that God had placed something new and interesting in my life every time we moved and that he would do no less this time.  Of course, she was right!  I wish I could learn to have more faith in the moment rather than discovering it after all is said and done.  I'm sure God will give me plenty of opportunities for growth in the future!!

Well, I have a sheet cake and a huge vat of stuffing to make for our church's Turkey Dinner Friday, so I should probably take advantage of the boys being in the bath to accomplish one of those things.  Yet, as the daylight wanes and the nights grow longer, (and the Republicans take back over the House) (Sorry--couldn't help myself!!  Heaven help me, I'm a "Yellow-Dog Dem" to the end!) I wanted to leave you with this word from the Gospel of John:

Put your trust in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light...I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in the darkness.  John 12: 36 & 46

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Confession 137: The "No Christmas Until December" Holiday Pledge

As I took my boys shopping yesterday for some cooler weather clothes that would actually cover their skin, three days before November, I was bombarded with images of Christmas.  Actually, the holiday to celebrate Christ's birth has been so commercialized that I don't think it appropriate to call it Christmas anymore.  You could go with X-Mas, but X in Latin represents Christ so in the end, I guess we're just left with "Mas" which could easily translate to mess.  Is that too cynical?  I think, as a society, we're just going back to our pagan roots where the big holiday celebration was the Winter Solstice.  It's actually the reason we, as Christians, celebrate Christ's birth on December 25.  The early church was trying to counter paganism with big holiday celebrations of its own.  How ironic that over 1000 years later we would be in the same position as the early church leaders.

Over the past few years, our family has tried to take some different approaches to the winter holidays to bring it back to Christmas. We've done alternative gift giving, taken a family vacation in lieu of a big holiday celebration, and engaged in Advent studies.  Last December, my husband and I took a trip to the mall in mid-December and came to the realization that we were the only seemingly happy people to be found in the place, all because we had absolutely no gifts to buy!! It was beautiful, and I think we were able to truly enjoy the season.

This year, I've decided to embark on a new bring back the true holiday quest.  I am going to make a public pledge to not turn myself in any way toward Christmas until at least December 1st.  No decorating, no carols (except in cantata practice), no gift planning or purchasing, no decoration purchasing, no Christmas card purchasing, no holiday baking or prepping for holiday baking until at least December 1st!  I am going to fully appreciate the season of Fall and celebrate Thanksgiving without looking forward to the next big event.  I am going to take my time and truly enter into a season of Advent so that I may fully appreciate the gift of Christ into a world of so much need.  Heck, maybe we'll be true traditionalists this year and not celebrate Christmas until Christmas, and then enter the 12 days of Christmas and celebrate Epiphany.  Okay, that might just be crazy talk. :-)  But you get the point.

My question now is, are you up for the pledge?  Can you leave "Mas" to the masses in order to focus on the Christ in the midst of it?  Will you pledge with me to restrain from the season until at least December 1st?

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Confession 136: Wait For Me!!

My boys are both absolute "mama's boys".  What that translates to is wherever Mama is, that's where they are. On the rare occasion that someone other than Grandma, Grandpa or Auntie calls, I try to disengage myself from the noise of having a two and a four year old boy by walking to a seldom used corner of the house so that I can fully grasp why someone who is not Grandma, Grandpa or Auntie would be calling.  The caller usually gets through the first sentence before my rowdy ones descend and I'm left trying to piece-meal together the conversation I was having.  I've given up daily showers.  They boys always want to take one too, and our shower was really only made for one.  Sometimes I go and hide in the bathroom to read a magazine, but just when I get into an article, the boys come barreling in slamming every door along the way.  I could lock them out, but the last time I did that we ended up with a sofa covered in raw egg, so it's really best to have them in eye-sight or ear-shot at all times.

Lately, my two-year-old has been calling, "Wait for me!" whenever I get even a step in front of him.  Actually, with his tendency to take the first letter off of every word it actually is, "Ate or eee!"  As I was waiting for him to catch up the other day (which took all of two seconds) I thought, "This is what God does all the time!"  Not only does God call out, "Wait for me!", but he also waits patiently on the other end of a situation for us to catch up!!

How many times do we try to run ahead in any given situation, only to end up back at the start?  I try to be a patient person.  Yet unfortunately, it is one of the fruits of the Spirit I don't always work to cultivate.  Recently, I was faced with a life situation in which I lost my patience.  I decided God wasn't moving fast enough for me to resolve the issue, so I took it upon myself to make some headway.  I heard God calling out to me, "Wait for me!"  But I was warmed up and ready to run.  So, run I did.  In the end, I had a month of undue worry and stress which put me right back where I started in the first place.  I didn't wait, but God did.  When I had lost my race, God was waiting right back at the start.  Wouldn't you know, the moment I slowed down to wait for God, God began working to resolve the situation in his way--the better way.

Psalm 27:14 exhorts us to "Wait for the Lord: be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord!"
Lamentations 3:26 also reminds us that "it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord."

So, how's your patience been, lately?  Are you waiting?  God's plan is perfect.  The question is, can we wait?

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Friday, October 22, 2010

Confession 135: Living Expectantly

Okay, after a brief hiatus in which my computer went with my husband to Chicago (truly, I missed my husband more) we are back online.  I've been thinking the past week about praying expectantly.  It's part of a Bible study I'm leading.  I've realized, through the course of this study, that I do not always pray with expectation.  And, I've found that if I'm not praying with expectation, then I am not living with expectation.  I don't bring everything to God, because deep down, I don't always believe that God cares.  I also worry at times that God won't hear or act on my prayers because I am not "good enough".  As a life-long Christian, I know in my head this is not true.  But my heart doesn't always live it out.  And so, I've decided that I am going to embark on a journey to live expectantly.  I worship a God, THE God, who created the world and all that is in it.  He knows every hair on my head, and yours as well.  He parted the sea with a word, breathed life into the dead, and is the only being who has ever EVER pulled off a true resurrection!  I need to expect more!! 

I need to wake up each morning feeling that God has exceeded himself in just giving me another day with my husband and my boys, another day in which I can get out of bed and work for him.  And, I need to revel in God's faithfulness, praising God for providing for me each and every day, for knowing the plans he has for my life.  I need to live expectantly.

So, my question for you is this:  Where has God exceeded your expectations?

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Monday, October 18, 2010

Confession 134: Twit or Tweet?

Okay, I have a confession to make.  I don't like Twitter.  I just don't get it.  On a cultural level, I feel like it's an incredibly narcissistic tool that serves to further the self-centered nature of our society.  On a social level, I feel like it diminishes the concept of meaningful relationships.  A meaningful relationship is one in which you know the very heart of the person you are in relationship with, not what time they eat breakfast each morning.  And on a personal level, I just don't think there's that much in my life that is instant-news worthy.

However, for the benefit of the faithful Tweeters out there, I thought I'd give it a go for a day.  Let me know the final outcome.  Are they notes from a twit, or sincere tweets?

4:45 A.M.-Boys up and demanding juice--Stephen wants bacon.
5:00 A.M.-Dog ate Stephen's bacon.
5:15 A.M.- Garrett wants yogurt.
5:20 A.M.-Stephen wants yogurt.
5:30 A.M.-Curl up in recliner with blanket over my head and threaten life and limb of anyone who disturbs me.
6:00 A.M.-Give up and work on Bible study--focus on abundance of God which does not include sleep.
6:40 A.M.- Compose what I hope to be an Encouraging Word to Bible study participants--can't be sure because am sleep deprived.
7:00 A.M.- Cat eats Stephen's bacon--refuse to make anymore.
7:15 A.M.- Contemplate exercise while eating peanuts.
7:30 A.M.- Blog instead
8:15 A.M.- Drag out exercise bike to exercise--tell Stephen he has to wait his turn.
9:00 A.M.- Make egg whites with cheese and toast a piece of home made bread--top with butter.
9:05 A.M.- Pour coffee, add CoffeeMate and Splenda--pour Stephen a splash of coffee with milk.
9:07 A.M.- Get Garrett some yogurt.
9:08 A.M.- Get Stephen some yogurt.
9:30 A.M.- Clean up kitchen while cartoons are still on
10:00 A.M.- Get self and Stephen dressed--Garrett piddling.
10:05 A.M.- Tell Garrett to hurry up.
10:10 A.M.- Tell Garrett to hurry up.
10:30 A.M.- Off to the classroom for school.
10:40 A.M.- Threaten to send both boys to the office for behavior issues.
10:50 A.M.- Craft activity.
11:10 A.M. Clean up remains of craft activity and run bath to remove paint from boys--hope it is indeed "non-toxic"
11:30 A.M.- Clean up bathroom after deluge of water covers floor from boys splashing in bath.
11:45 A.M.- Make lunch for boys.
12:00 P.M.- Make lunch for Chris and I while yelling "Take a bite!" periodically into the dining room.
12:25 P.M.- Sit down for lunch--Stephen wants Kool-Aid.
12:30 P.M.- Sit down for lunch--Garrett wants water.
1:00 P.M.- Clean up lunch dishes and prepare to make bread.
1:10 P.M.- Boys want to help and arm themselves with measuring cups-- move flour out of reach.
1:30 P.M.- Bread rising--clean kitchen--again.
1:45 P.M.- Decide to go to library--find shoes for boys.
2:00 P.M.- Shoes on--must find library books to return.
2:10 P.M.- Books found--heading for wagon in garage--realize library card is still in purse--back inside.
2:15 P.M.- Off to library!!
3:15 P.M.- Home with bag of books--Mickey Mouse, Clifford, Thomas, Seuss, Froggy and Olivia have all come home to entertain.
3:35 P.M.- Cuddle up in recliner with boys to read new books.
4:10 P.M.- Go outside for nature walk.
4:11 P.M.- Stop to pick up leaves.
4:13 P.M.- Stop to pick up nuts.
4:15 P.M.- Stop to chase cat.
4:23 P.M.- Cross the street after boys run cat up into a tree and head for home.
4:25 P.M.- Stop to pick up leaves.
4:27 P.M.- Stop to pick up nuts.
4:29 P.M.- Stop to watch squirrels play.
4:35 P.M.- Daddy passes us on his way home from work--consider bumming a ride for the last block.
4:36 P.M.- Stop to pick up rocks.
4:38 P.M.- Stop to pick up leaves.
4:40 P.M.- Stop to watch another cat--see home straight ahead--just out of reach!!
5:50 P.M.- Sit down to dinner.
5:55 P.M.- Stephen wants milk.
6:00 P.M.- Sit down to dinner.
6:05 P.M.- Garrett needs Kleenex.
6:10 P.M.- Sit down to dinner--attempt to talk to Chris over din of boys.
6:30 P.M.- Let boys run wild--encourage the chasing of cats.
7:00 P.M.- Jammy time--ecstatic!!  Garrett piddling.
7:05 P.M.- Stephen dressed--Garrett still piddling.
7:20 P.M.- Garrett finally dressed--both boys out in living room ready to read.
7:45 P.M.- Lights out!
8:00 P.M.- Stephen out!!
8:45 P.M.- Garrett out!!
9:00 P.M.- Mommy out!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Confession 133: Heart of Worship

This is an article I wrote for our church's weekly newsletter on the importance of worship.  I thought it might be good before Sunday! :-)

 
As I’ve been reflecting on the importance of worship this past week (yes, I really do sit around and think about Chris’ sermons!)  an experience has come back to me that reminds me of the true heart of worship.  Several years ago, Chris and I were working in a church that had, I felt, an extremely BORING service.  I thought the music was too old and too slow, the prayers too long and the traditions, well, too traditional.  One Sunday during praise and worship time, my sister and I were griping to each other about the music.  I leaned over to her and made some snarky comment which had us both laughing out loud when I turned around and looked behind me.  There was an older gentleman standing just behind us, worshiping with his adult son.  He was not a tall gentleman, and it occurred to me in that moment that each time I leaned over to chat and laugh with my sister, I was blocking his view of the screen on which the song lyrics were printed. 
God convicted me in that moment in a way that wiped the smug smile right off of my face and tore open my heart.  Not only had I hindered myself and my sister from worshiping God that morning, I was hindering the gentleman behind me as well!!  

 In that moment, there was only one response I could make.  I knelt at the altar rail during prayer, humbled and ashamed, and begged God’s forgiveness for my arrogance and insensitivity.  I also asked God to be present with me in worship, to help me fix my eyes upon him and to truly cultivate within me a heart for worship.

This became my prayer each Sunday as I entered into service.  I prayed for focus, I prayed to experience the presence of God, and I prayed that others would do the same.  As the months passed, I found that it was no longer an effort for me to experience God in worship.  I stopped being so focused on the outside elements of worship (like music and traditions) and focused on its true purpose—to draw us into the heart of God.  Worship became sacred to me in a way it never had before.  Now, when I enter into worship, it is with the conviction and assurance that I will encounter the living God, our creator God, my redeemer God.  The music no longer matters, the traditions no longer matter, the length of the pastoral prayer no longer matters.  God is there and I am there to praise him and receive his Word.  That is the heart of worship.

As you respond to Chris’ challenge in the next week, remember that it’s not a question of “fixing” worship but a question of what you would be willing to change about your worship so that people who have never experienced the presence of God would have that opportunity-- that they would learn to worship in the heart of God.
Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Monday, October 11, 2010

Confession 132: Surprised?

We are in the midst of the abundance portion of the study Faithful, Abundant and True by Kay Arthur, Priscilla Shirer and Beth Moore.  Priscilla Shirer (who may be my new favorite go-to Bible study gal!) made the point that not only is God able, but he also surprises us.  One of the conclusions I've come to over the years is that our cynical, post-modern notions of the world have pushed us to push God into a box.  We put limits to what God can do, as evidenced in our need to discover exactly how the world was made.  We put our hope in human beings to solve our problems and then get disappointed when they ultimately fail...ie, medical malpractice suits, snarly politicians and national gripe fests.  We forget, as Ephesians 1:19-20 tells us, that there is an "incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is the same as the mighty strength God exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms."

 We serve a God who CAN and DOES in wonderfully miraculous and absolutely surprising ways!!  When I graduated from college 12 years ago I had my life planned out.  Yet, four years later I was moving away from everything I knew and loved to go to seminary (What!?) to chase this new calling God had put upon my life.  Little did I know that God had a magnificent plan far greater than what I could ever imagine.  The course of my life changed with that move in a way I could never have planned.  God not only surprised me, but he also showed me the richness of his abundance and blessing in following the road he laid out for me.  I'm not saying it's been all sunny days with the smell of roses, but it has been blessed.  And to think, I would have missed it all had I not let God out of the box!!

So, my question for you today is: Where has God surprised you?  When in your life have you been able to shout "God is ABLE!"?  I want to hear your stories.  I want to celebrate together our God who empowers us to do all things through Christ from whom we get our strength. 

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Confession 131: Unqualified

As I continue to maneuver through this job-hunting process, I have come to the realization that after investing over 50,000 dollars in higher education I am essentially unqualified to do anything!!  It's true.  One look at my resume would tell you that in an instant.  Here's how it starts:
Enthusiastic, certified English / Language Arts Teacher with seven years experience providing students with the self-discipline and communication skills necessary to achieve personal and professional goals.  Skilled educator with experience using constructivist, cooperative learning, and inquiry-based techniques to capture student interest and improve knowledge retention. Personable, respected school leader who builds rapport and communicates effectively with diverse audiences.
It's okay, until you get to my degrees--the product of the $50,000 of education.  B.A. in Secondary English Education and M.A. in Christian Education will just about get you a nickel and a cup of coffee in these tough economic times.  Employers want hard skills, none of which I seem to have.  And, as the face of education changes, my teaching license means less than it did when I started 10 years ago, although it is valid until the year 2110!  Don't worry--this isn't going to turn into the woes of the out-of-work English teacher--it's just a fact that in the eyes of those who have money for people to earn I happen to be unqualified to earn it.  I envy those people who have fixed their eyes on one goal and done all in their capacity to achieve it.  My husband is like that.  He felt the call to ministry at the age of 13 and has, with a few detours, followed it through ever since.  I think I tend to approach life more like a smorgasbord--try a little of this and then move onto that.  It's not that I don't have a goal--I felt both called to teaching and writing at an early age.  It's just that God has taken me to some very different places, for which I am grateful.

But here is what has occurred to me and continues to give me hope on this winding journey of what to do with my life.  In God's eyes, I am fully qualified to do whatever he has created me to do!  One of my favorite verses that I tell myself at least once a week is found in Jeremiah 29:11
"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
God made us each unique, important, and highly qualified in the body of Christ.  Look at the people God has called throughout Scripture to act on his behalf.  None of them seemed "qualified" in human eyes.  Abraham was an old man, Moses was an outlaw with a stuttering problem, Jacob was a weasel, David was a skinny sheep herder, Mary was a teenage girl from the wrong side of town and Paul was one of the biggest bullies the church had yet to see.  Yet each of these individuals was fully qualified to carry out the task God laid before them, for God gave them everything they needed to succeed.  God does not ever look at our resume and pronounce us unqualified for the task at hand.  Instead, he sees our strengths and builds us up to carry out his will.  And so, in closing, I leave you with this passage from Hebrews 13:
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the Sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.
 Blessings and Peace,
Sara 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Confession 130: Trust--A New Hair-Do

My hubby and I will have been married for six years this month.  Now, I know for many of you out there this is merely a drop in the bucket and we might as well still be newlyweds.  But for us, six years seems pretty big.  It's not that we expected anything different, we went into marriage as "lifers", but there's a sense of satisfaction in seeing the numbers start to add up.

I believe that marriage is like anything else you do in life.  One, you have to choose to work at it.  And two, there are natural ebbs and flows to the relationship you have to be prepared for.  Lately, Chris and I have been in an ebbing period brought about by all of the transitions of our move in July.  Chris is working hard to get his feet under him in a new congregation while starting a doctoral program, we've all been adjusting to my unemployment, and we're raising toddler boys.  We've been present for everyone except each other.  After a good heart-to-heart earlier this week, we've both been making an effort to focus more on the flow of our relationship, being the partner the other one needs rather than focusing on our own needs.

One of the things I love about my husband is his absolute steadfastness when it comes to his love for myself and our family. I trust Chris.  I trust his judgment, I trust his abilities as a leader, I trust his ability to problem-solve, I trust his instincts, and I trust in his ability to cut my hair.  Yes, you heard that last one right.  I let my husband cut my hair!!  Chris is a very detail oriented person, and when he begins a project, he is steadfast in making sure it is done the right way.  I desperately wanted a hair-cut, did not want to invest the time or money in finding a new hair stylist, so decided that my wonderful husband with his attention to detail, gifts for design and spatial reasoning ability could do the job. I mean, he cuts the boys' hair, right?  Before beginning, Chris made me say out loud that this was all my idea and that he took no responsibility in the end result.  We were good to go!

I told Chris I wanted a bob cut following the line of my chin.  His first cut was up to my cheekbone.  I will admit to a moment of uncertainty, but the cut had been made and there was no going back.  Chris worked slowly and methodically, focusing on the detail of the design, as is his nature.  After making the final cut, he stood back for the examination.  "Well?" I asked.  "It's cute," he replied.  I ran to the bathroom to take a look.  I am happy to report that my faith and trust in my husband has not been misplaced.  The cut is indeed "cute" and doesn't look at all like a home "whack job".  I'll post a picture later and you can judge for yourself.  Chris tells me he's not doing it again, at least not for a long time, so I guess I'll have to eventually invest in finding a professional.  But it is nice to know that I can truly trust this man God has made as my partner and soul mate with anything--even my hair!! 

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Confession 129: Things Your Pastor's Wife Doesn't Want You To Know

As a pastor's wife, there are many roles I take on.  There are the church roles--provide hospitality, help lead worship, teach Sunday school, facilitate Bible studies, pray with people, keep my boys' hands out of the offering plate and their bodies from swinging around the altar rails.  Then, there are the general public roles--be gracious to everyone you meet, visit local businesses, take your kids to community events, and pull your kids all around town in a little red wagon.  (Okay, maybe that last one is not a role every pastor's wife takes on, but I count it as my exercise for the day!)  If you work full-time, or part-time, there are the various roles that go along with that.  And, you get to be a single mom half the nights of the week which, depending on when your kids go to bad, isn't always a bad thing since possession of the remote control becomes completely yours! I cannot count the number of times my hubby has come home from church in the evenings and has had his sporting event plans thwarted by PBS or the History Channel. :-)

All of the above is common knowledge to anyone who has been around a pastor's wife for about five minutes, and it's something that is written in fine print on the marriage license which means, it's just a part of our lives.  I don't think many of us would complain.  But, there are some things that might surprise you about your pastor's wife and, in an effort to further the cause of globalization, I'm going to reveal them.

1. Pastor's wives let laundry pile up.  It's true, sad to say, that there is a mound of laundry waiting to be washed in each of our bedrooms in our parsonage, and a hamper full of clean clothes waiting to be folded which my husband has probably added dirty socks and t-shirts to the top of.

2. Pastor's wives lose their tempers with their children.  For instance, just this morning when my oldest pooped in his pants for the second time in a week after pooping in the potty three times in a row, 35 minutes before I needed to leave for church, still in my robe with a towel on my head, with my youngest running around in just a diaper--I flipped.  After yelling at him for a full 3 minutes (it's all I had to give) and demanding that he hand over all of his Thomas the Train underwear, he happily skipped out of his bedroom with his so last year Cars underwear and the blue and white striped shirt that matched them perfectly.

3. Pastor's wives bribe their children to get them to behave in church.  I always have cookies or crackers ready in the pew for my boys.  And, if that fails, I threaten the nursery.  I also sometimes allow them to eat a sucker on their way to church as a sort of good faith bargain.

4. Pastor's wives have a secret love affair with premium roast coffee.  Seriously, ask a pastor's wife to recommend a coffee shop sometime.  You'll get every coffee shop within a ten mile radius, a map that would rival Google itself, as well as a fail-safe menu for the ultimate coffee experience.

5. Pastor's wives don't iron.  Okay, maybe that's just me.  But really, can someone actually give me a concrete reason to engage in such an antiquated tradition?  It's what the dryer is for!! :-)

6. Pastor's wives each have one activity they feel compelled to do that they secretly detest.  Mine is football.  Hate it--always have, always will.  However, when over half your congregation turns up at the local high school stadium each Friday night, it's generally good to go, even if your kids see it as an opportunity to run in circles around the grandstand, try to steal drinks from the concession table and repeatedly jump on the aluminum seats. 

7. Pastor's wives love being pastor's wives.  This is probably the most important secret of all.  Don't let that harried frazzled look fool you--it's carefully put on and cultivated.  We love it.  We love our pastors.  We love our churches.  We love our people.  And there is nothing, absolutely nothing, we would rather be!

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Confession 128: Being Weightless

My sister, brother-in-law and I recently started a Biggest Loser competition amongst ourselves which will run to the New Year.  Whoever loses the biggest percentage of body weight by New Year's Day will be the winner.  We were supposed to start by weighing ourselves Sunday morning.  So, I got a cheap scale over the weekend (the boys drowned ours in our soaker tub at our last parsonage) which happens to be resting comfortably in its box on our bedroom floor.  I CANNOT bring myself to step on the stupid thing!!  The thought of stepping onto that scale and seeing precisely what I've done to my body over the past few years is terrifying!  I already can't button half of my pants, do I really have to have a number to put with it too?  My heart is palpitating just thinking about it!  Yet, if I want to be back into my size 12 clothes by Christmas, I'm going to just have to suck it up (not in) and do it!

In thinking about my big weigh-in, it occurred to me that perhaps this is how many non-church goers feel about walking into church.  Not the fatness, but the fear and anxiety that comes when you feel you're not good enough.  In the past, there has been this notion that in order to be a Christian you have to be "good".  Christians have it all together, have all the answers, are "holy" and better than others.  For most of us Christians, the reality could not be more different.  We are not always "good", our lives are messy, we have tons of questions and are "holy" works-in-progress.

The point is that, much as I try to suck-in and ignore my burgeoning weight, so many Christians try to suck their lives in on Sunday mornings to paint a pretty picture for others around.  Yet, if we want to truly witness to the message of Christ, we have to be willing to put it all out there.  We have to be willing to say to others, "Yeah, my life can be a mess, but God loves me anyway!"  We need to let non-Christians know that they don't have to conform to any standard, or fit any sort of mold to receive the love of Jesus Christ.

I remember a sermon illustration in which a pastor took out a crisp, clean ten dollar bill.  He showed it to the congregation, then proceeded to crumple the bill into a tight little ball.  The new bill was now thoroughly wrinkled.  In addition, the pastor tore the edges around the bill so that it appeared frayed and disheveled.  His point was that no matter what the bill looked like, it was still worth ten dollars.  The same can be said for God's love for us.  It doesn't matter what our lives look like--crisp and clean or wrinkled and frayed--God loves us completely.  We are his children and he wants to welcome us with open arms.

Church shouldn't be a weigh-in.  Instead, people should feel weightless.  "Come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest."  God will meet us wherever we are--we just need to come.

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

My Family

My Family

My Family 2

My Family 2