Thursday, March 26, 2009

Confession 44: God is good all the time?

I attended a funeral yesterday for a little boy who was one month older than Garrett. He would have been three the beginning of May. Needless to say, it was a difficult day. Although I have known parents who have lost young children, I have never been witness to the loss itself. Throughout the service I kept looking over at the casket and thinking, they just shouldn't make them this size.

The service itself was beautiful. The family had put together a slide show of pictures to different songs. Although there were tears throughout the viewing, there were many smiles as well, for who can't help but smile at a child's big open-mouthed grin while covered in food, or that mischievous smile while wrestling with a sibling. The mother's best friend gave a beautiful sermon (although she would probably call it a speech) that was so perfect I thought the service could end right there. She spoke of the beauty of children, the beauty of this child, the miracle of his life and the great impact he had on others in his short time on Earth. She asked everyone in the congregation to consider how their lives had been altered by this child, and then declared that was the purpose of his life.

This little boy touched so many lives, so much so that his surgeon even sent the family an e-mail telling them of his grief in their loss. The hardest part of the day was watching his mother sob throughout the service. Her grief came in waves, and every picture and every story seemed like a punch in her middle causing her to fold her body around the stomach that once held and nurtured this small child. No parent should have to endure such grief.

Experiencing the loss of a child, even one that is not your own, causes a crack in the foundation of the world as you have known it. To bear witness to such pain is a reminder of the broken nature of the world in which we live. It is a reminder that life is fragile and that the world is indeed unjust. I do not believe it is ever God's plan that a child should suffer and die. I do not believe that a loving and compassionate God, a God who is Creator and Parent of all life would purposefully cause anyone such grief. Yet, I believe that God is present in the suffering. I believe that God has redeemed this child, and that this child is at peace, resting in his Creator's arms. I also believe that God is grieving with these parents, that God will take their grief as his own. And I believe that God will place his comforting touch upon their lives so that they may move beyond this present agony to a place of peace where they can continue to live until that day when they are able to hold their child once more.

One of the speakers at the service yesterday said that it was not our place to question "why" in such circumstances. But I don't agree with that. God and I have always had open dialogue, and I believe you can ask him anything. However, asking why might not get you very far. This past week I heard a new song by Steven Curtis Chapman who last year lost his own young daughter in a tragic accident. In this song, he writes about that experience and how it caused him to question everything he believed. In the end, he realized that everything we are and everything we have ultimately belongs to God, and what comes from God will one day return back to God. "It is yours, God, yours..."

In the end, I find I must still believe in the goodness of God. God is faithful, and he will continue to be so. He will provide strength and comfort for this family, and he will take good care of their son. And, if we let him, God can work wonders through this journey. You see, God's goodness is so great, that he can work good out of any situation. I have seen countless people who have gone through hellacious experiences give themselves over to God and be transformed, working through their grief and pain to be a light for others in need. It is my prayer that God will do the same in the lives of this family, and in the lives of all of us who know them, love them, and grieve with them. Although there is sorrow in the evening, there will be joy and dancing in the morn.

Blessings and Peace,

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Confession 43: Shameless Ploy For Free Stuff

Recently, a friend of mine mentioned a product on her blog and was contacted by the inventor of the product and given a free product as a thank-you for the mention. The product was a "Miracle Blanket", a special swaddling blanket designed to keep snug even the most elusive of infant escape artists so that they (and their parents) can get a decent night's rest. We used a "Miracle Blanket" with both of our boys, having heard of it from another mother I struck up a conversation with at The Cheesecake Factory one night. It was truly a miracle for us, especially with Garrett. It was the only way we could get him to sleep. I'm wishing they made a similar product for toddlers, but I believe that might be a straight jacket. Anyway, my husband and I are so impressed with the "Miracle Blanket" we've decided it will from now on be our baby gift for first time parents. (I'm absolutely serious about this.)

Therefore, I've since decided in this time of recession that I'm not above lending my blog space in a shameless ploy to obtain free products. That said, here are a list of several of my faves.

1. "Ghirardelli" chocolate chips. Everyone knows that Ghirardelli chocolate is some of the best in the world, yet their chocolate chips are out of this world!! They are made with 60% cacao, delectably bittersweet, and twice the size of the average chocolate chip. They are flatter than the average chocolate chip as well. That, combined with the size, means a smooth chocolate infusion is in order when baked. I use them all the time. In fact, when I made chocolate chip cookies with them, it was like there was a layer of chocolate sandwiched between the dough. Yum!

2. "Mudd" shoes. Cute and comfortable and reasonably priced. Need I say more? One of the signatures of a "Mudd" shoe is its rounded toe, which means more room for your feet to spread out. They are the only heels I will wear. I'm on my feet a lot throughout the day and I will wear my "Mudd" heels several days in a row. That's saying something! They are cushioned inside and hold up remarkably well. And, they are cute and flirtsy, yet classy at the same time. They're truly great shoes. I know, I have four pair.

3. "Burt's Bees" lip balm. My lips get chapped all the time. It doesn't help that I pick at them and pull off all the dead skin. I've used Chapstick ever since I can remember, but was given a Burt's Bees lip balm stick as a gift several years ago and have never gone back. This stuff is amazing! I put it on chapped lips at night and wake up to give my husband a soft smooth kiss on the cheek. The peppermint is my favorite, although the new pomengranate has a very nice scent. But, I miss the tingly sensation of the peppermint. The plus with "Burt's Bees" is that it is an all-natural product and doesn't feel greasy at all. It also lasts forever, so even though you're paying a bit more than you would for a tube of Chapstick, it lasts twice as long.

4. "Sharpie Ultra Fine Point Permanent Markers". I literally never leave home without one of these. They're in my purse, in our kitchen, in our living room, and in my desk at school. In general, I love office supplies, but these are at the top for me. They come in a wide variety of colors, both bold and pastel, don't smear, smudge or (generally) bleed through papers. As a high school English teacher, I go through a ton of these throughout the course of the school year. They're perfect for grading papers and, I hope, add a little spunk to my comments. I also use them to make grocery lists, write checks, sign receipts, and send notes. "Sharpie Ultra Fine Point Permanent Markers" are definitely worth the investment.

5. "Everyday With Rachel Ray" This magazine, for lack of a better expression, is the bomb-diggoty!! I read this baby from cover to cover every month. It is chock-full of original, low-maintenance recipes designed specifically for people who want good food and quality time. Most of the recipes stem from ingredients common to many kitchen pantries, and the editors are great at taking a few ingredients and using them throughout several different recipes. Everyday With Rachel Ray has helped me become less afraid in the kitchen. I used to hate cooking and typically stuck with the same four or five meals. Not so anymore! My hubby still does a lot of the cooking (and, he reads the magazine too!) but I'm pitching in much more than I used too, and loving every minute of it. Everyday With Rachel Ray also has some fun style and travel sections, as well as great kitchen tips. Plus, the editors are very in-tune with their customer base and reader feedback is put to use in every issue. This magazine is truly for any cook, or non-cook as the case might be. At $20.00 a year, you can't beat it for the amount of use it will get.

6. "Nick and Jake's" famous Sunday brunch. If you are ever in the Kansas City, Missouri area on a Sunday afternoon you must, must stop by "Nick and Jake's" and try their Sunday brunch. It is the best breakfast I have ever eaten!! My husband and I stopped back in last weekend for the first time since we'd moved almost two years ago. It was just as wonderful as I'd remembered! First, they have French toast sticks. Where else are you going to find homemade French toast sticks?! They melt in your mouth they're so good. I should know, I ate about six of them!! They also have these rich and creamy cheesy-jalapeno grits. I do not like grits, generally speaking, but I could eat a plate full of these. They also have a fabulous Greek salad with feta cheese and kalamati olives. I typically start with a plateful of that and the cheesy grits then head for the French toast sticks and homemade mac and cheese. If, at the end of all that, you're still hungry, they have two tables of homemade dessert, including fresh cinnamon rolls and bread pudding. You might fall into a carb induced coma at the end of the meal, but it's so worth it!! "Nick and Jake's"--give it a go. You won't regret the trip!

Okay, that's enough pandering for one day. I need to get back to teaching, which is what I'm actually paid to do. Give these products a try and let me know what you think.

Blessings and Peace,

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Confession 42: Garrett Takes Over

Daddy's campooter has always fascinated me. Daddy always gets mad when I touch it though, like I'm gonna break it or something. I like breakables. Lighten up Daddy. Anyway, I've got my hands on it now. T-Bone is creating a diversion for me so I can play. I promised him I'd try to slip him a cookie.

So, in case you haven't seen it, Cars is the best movie ever! Lightning McQueen says "Cachow." Lightning McQueen has wheels. I like my Cars shirt and jammies. I wear my Lightning McQueen crocs all the time, the girls like them. What, Mr. Bun Man Show? Hang on a second, Edgar, Edgar, Edgar, you want me to spank your bottom Edgar. Edgar, Edgar, Edgar! Okay, I'm back now, just had to take care of something. Anyway, Mater is my favorite. Does Mater drive backwards? I think so. Mater does drive backwards. Crazy Grandpa car. What? He has a Piston Cup! Come on baby, bring out the Piston Cup! Does Sally say, "Hi folks?" Yeah, Sally does say, "Hi folks!" I want to watch Cars! I want to watch Cars! Can I watch Cars?

Mommy made me eat dinner tonight. I don't like eating dinner. I had a cheese kay sa dee ya and some salad, but I really just wanted one of Grandpa Stu's cookies. They are mine. Not for Mommy! Anyway, my ka sa dee ya was ok, it was warm, not hot. Warm is good. So I ate it and then had some of Daddy's apple juice. I like Daddy's apple juice.

I got to go outside and swing on my swingset today. It is my swing. I love my lellow swing. Daddy made it for me. It's mine, it's not Stephen's! I wish I could swing in my lellow swing all day. Swinging is fun. Mommy told me she liked to swing when she was a little girl. I like to swing. Does that mean I am a little girl? I'm not sure. I have a pee pee, like Daddy and Stephen, but I like to swing like Mommy when she was a little girl. Maybe I am a little girl? Mommy says I am a little boy. Crazy Grandpa car! Anyway, I like my lellow swing.

Well, Mommy Sara and Daddy Chris are almost done with changing Stephen's diaper, I guess I should go before I am caught on Daddy's campooter. I better go get that cookie for T-Bone, he kept them away for a while. If Daddy cathes me on his campooter, I might have to go to time out, or Daddy might paddle my bottom. No Daddy paddle my bottom! They are probably going to try and get me to go to sleep soon. But, I don't have to. I didn't last night, and my reward was getting to sleep in Daddy's bed with him and Mommy. I liked that. Oooo, there's Aggie. What you doing Aggie? Gotta run. Aggie, Aggie, Aggie Aggie!! Edgar, Edgar Edgar!

Night night!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Confession 41: Life's Too Short

I've realized, recently, that I have become embroiled in pettiness, become a fairly petty person myself. Looking over my past few entries, I see that my focus has been skewed. I have not set my sights on "higher things". I've lost perspective, but I see now that I am wrong.

Sadly, this past week, a family at church discovered that their almost three year old son has had a relapse in his cancer and that there is nothing more the doctors can do for him. This news has broken my heart. Cancer is an unjust and senseless disease, a mercenary sniper adhering to no code of war. It's a stupid disease, and one I fervently pray will be completely wiped off the face of the earth.

This little boy, baby really, is beautiful, as are his parents and siblings. They are a wonderful family, and I grieve for them as they go through this process. No parent should have to bury a child.

In the process of all of this, I've realized that life is just too short to hold onto petty grudges, to be focused on the childish antics of people who are so lost themselves that they can only inflict pain and discontentment on those around them. I want, I need, to let go of my anger. I want, I need to move on from this. I want, I need, to focus on the important things in life. I need to love and care for my family. I need to show love to my students and to give them the best of what I have to offer. I need to focus on building up relationships with people who are truly seeking God's will for their lives.

I heard a sermon this weekend that hit home for me. It was on "Intentional Faith Development", one of the five practices of fruitful congregations that Bishop Robert Schnase writes of in his book of the same name. The pastor made the comment that in American churches, we really only skim the surface of spirituality and discipleship, like water bugs. He stated that intentional faith development involves coming back to life, and that it is a painful process to allow God to bring you back to life, but that when you undergo that process, you become infused with God. I started thinking of the Evanesence song, "Bring Me to Life"....
Wake me up inside
Wake me up inside
Call my name and
Save me from the dark
I've been asleep spiritually for too long, and I want to move beyond the surface. I want God to wake me up inside. More than that, I want to be infused with God's spirit, and I want God's spirit to diffuse itself through me to others who need to feel and know God's love and presence.

I pray continually for this family at church. I pray that they may feel God's presence as they walk down this path of darkness.

I pray God can work in all our lives to infuse us with his Spirit and lead us closer to him.

Blessings and Peace,

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Confession 40: A Way I Cannot See

I was listening to the latest Sara Groves CD on my way into work. I absolutely love this album. Well, I love most of Sara Groves' albums, but this one is truly beautiful and has been speaking to me a lot lately. I was particularly focused on the song "A Way I Cannot See" this morning. In this song, she speaks of feeling defeated and burdened, and praying for inspiration and a "way I cannot see" in moving forward. I feel like I'm in this place.

My husband received another angry e-mail from a church member yesterday that has hurt both our spirits. This e-mail was from a member I've become close to and truly care about, and her anger at my husband made me very sad. I'm sad that she feels hurt and that it is affecting her ability to worship. I'm sad that her anger and hurt come from something she perceives my husband of doing. Throughout our struggles at our church this past year, it's been very hard for me to see all of the misconceptions people have about my husband surface. We've been in this community almost two years now, and people still think the worst of his intentions. I know he's not perfect, none of us are, but he has always worked with the church's best interest at heart. He prays continually for this congregation and is trying to move forward in the direction he feels God calling him to lead. If he has hurt people, it has been unintentionally, and when he knows of a personal hurt he has caused, he has done his best to apologize and reconcile himself to that person. Are there things he would do differently in hindsight? Of course, but that's true for all of us.

I feel sometimes that people forget he is a human being as well. And, he's been hurt, too. People have a tendency to say hurtful things to and about him and not think that it's going to hurt him. But, how could it not? He's been treated repeatedly like a dumping ground and is expected to just sit and take it. How long can a person, should a person, do that?

I want the divisiveness in this church to end. I want reconciliation. I want this church to grow in this community and to be a vital ministry within our community. Yet every time I see us taking even a step in that direction, something pulls us back. There is little trust, and I'm not sure after two years how to build it. I have to believe that we were put in this place for a reason, but it's such a struggle. So now I'm looking and praying for "a way I cannot see". I want God to move in this congregation, to push through the muck and our own human faults and frailties to achieve his work through the people of this church. I want to see God's work and know the struggle will give way to goodness.

Blessings and Peace,

Friday, March 6, 2009

Confession 39: Forgiveness Can Feel Like A Four-Letter Word

As Christians, we like to talk a lot about the power of forgiveness, especially when it comes to the forgiveness of our own sins. We paint a picture of forgiveness that looks a lot like Julie Andrews spinning around a flowering Alpine meadow in The Sound of Music--light, airy, carefree, fulfilled. I've found, however, that forgiveness, true forgiveness, is much more like wading through a swamp. It's muddy, mucky, and there are alligators hiding under the stagnant water. While I believe that in order to ask for forgiveness we must be willing to forgive others ("forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us"), sometimes it feels like an impossible task. And, humanly, it probably is. It's not really in our nature to forgive, or in our culture for that matter. You get stuck in the muck of your own sense of righteousness and indignation. Our anger and pride (the biggest alligators of all) strike out at us, opening afresh wounds we've tried to slap a band-aide on.

I guess I'm thinking about this now because there are a few people in my life I'm having trouble forgiving. These people were people I trusted, people my husband and I invited into our home, people who turned around and stabbed us in the back, causing pain to both my husband and I and to the ministry of the church we serve. I've prayed about this over and over. I've prayed specifically for these people, that God would enrich their lives, fulfill their lives, heal their hurts. I've prayed that I might be able to forgive them and asked for help in moving forward. My difficulty is that I can't seem to move beyond my own feelings of anger and injustice. These feelings have been heightened by the fact that these people insist on continuing their campaign of manipulation and hurt. As my husband so aptly said, "How are you supposed to turn the other cheek when you know someone's just going to slap it?" I don't know what else to do. I've thought about calling and meeting with them to discuss things, but conversations have been so manipulated in the past that I don't trust it. I keep praying, but it's so hard to let go. Maybe I don't really want to. Anger can be a comforting blanket at times.

I recently read the novel, The Shack, which was wonderful and offered some truly brilliant insight into the importance and nature of Christian forgiveness. The novel pointed to the reconciliation that forgiveness can bring, which I believe, but I don't know how to start. And, if I'm being truthful, I don't know if I want to be reconciled to these people. I know there are two sides to every story, but I also know that there are people out there who are hell-bent on causing drama and divisiveness everywhere they go. So, again, what do I do? As a pastor's wife, I feel like I have to set an example because there are several in the church watching. I also want to support my husband, who I believe is doing God's will in this congregation, and help him to build strong relationships where I can.

I don't know. I know I need to forgive, but I'm just stuck in the muck.

Blessings and Peace,

My Family

My Family

My Family 2

My Family 2