Thursday, February 25, 2010

Confession 84: What Is God Up To?

I've been reading some stories lately of people who have had life-changing encounters with God. Stories of people who have taken leaps of faith and had God guide them into new adventures and ministries. Stories of people who have trusted, when the act of trusting seemed absurd, and have had God work wonderful things through them. It has made me feel that I want a word from God, not just a "word", but a full-blown burning bush arrows marking the path WORD. I find myself asking, "Why doesn't God do that in my life?"

The reality is, he has, and is, and will. God tends to be loudest with me when I'm being most stubborn. For instance, several years ago when I told God I was not moving and I was not living alone I found myself in seminary in Chicago in an apartment by myself. Doors opened, God pushed, I went. Similarly, I told God that I was never going back to classroom teaching again. Five years later a door opened, God prodded, and I went. It's been the best professional experience of my life. God needed me here, and he knew I needed to be here.

Yet recently, I've been getting a nudging. Things have been put into my path that have made me wonder, "What is God up to?" I have to confess, I'm not a huge believer in "signs". Let me qualify that statement. I believe that God speaks to us in many ways, shapes and forms. I have seen God put things in my path and open doors I didn't even know existed. I have taken opportunities to follow God based on these doors opening and the prompting of the Holy Spirit. However, I also know that the devil is always trying to find ways to turn us off-track, and if we spend too much time looking for "signs" (just my humble opinion) he's going to lead us the wrong way. The key, for me, is discernment through the Spirit, and that comes through prayer and study.

This brings me back to my original question, "What is God up to?" Heaven, literally, only knows, but I think the key is to be open to it, whatever it may be. In an age where we are constantly asked to make goals, assess those goals, make plans for reaching those goals (I have never had a job interview where someone has not asked the question, "Where do you see yourself five years from now?") it's hard to live in the present. Yet, that's what we're called to do. If I really want to know what God is up to, I need to look around. Chances are, the answer will be--a lot! Instead of thinking too much about what God wants from me five years from now, the better thoughts would be in how I can best serve God here, now. Guess I can't put off that lesson planning anymore!!

Blessings and Peace,

Confession 83: Lisa McKay is Becoming My Oprah

I just finished, no wait, devoured a new book by Lisa McKay entitled, You Can Still Wear Cute Shoes. Check the link on my sidebar to peruse. It is a phenomenal book! She offers real-life, relevant advice to pastor's wives, and even to pastor's themselves. My husband is reading it now and getting some great stuff from it. If you are a pastor's wife, you need to check it out. If you are not a pastor's wife, you need to buy a copy and give it to your pastor's wife as a gift. She will absolutely love you for it!

Lisa also has a wonderful website full of resources for pastor's wives and laypeople alike. You can access it from a link on the sidebar. See what you think!

Now, if Lisa could just start her own syndicated talk show! :-)

Blessings and Peace,

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Confession 82: Sunday, Crazy Sunday

I think I've mentioned before that one of my Mom's favorite sayings is: "The devil always works hardest on Sundays!" This was always the case at our house growing up. Chaos reigned, tempers flared, and my Dad usually stormed off to church without us so he wouldn't be late for his Sunday School class. My Mom, Sis and I followed shortly, in not much better fashion.

This is still true today. As a pastor's wife, I'm a single mom on Sunday mornings. Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge it at all. I understand my husband needs to get into "the zone" before worship begins. And, I know at 12:30 he'll be back to co-parenting with me. So, I have nothing to complain about. I've learned over the past several months to embrace the chaos on Sunday mornings rather than fight against it. Instead of rushing to early service so people can see me at both services and leaving my boys for three hours in the nursery which is too much for them, I let my boys take their time in the morning. Garrett piddles around till his little heart is content. It's not that it's easy, by any means, but not feeling the pressure to be "seen" all morning on Sunday has really helped.

That said, this Sunday was one of the craziest I remember, and it had nothing to do with the boys. The boys were up by 6:30, which meant we were ready to leave the house by 9:15. I spent fifteen minutes walking in circles through the house looking for the partner for my one black heel, finally locating it on the windowsill behind the sofa, a natural occurrence in our house. Shoes on, coats zipped, dogs kenneled, we began the journey.

About halfway to the church my oldest asked me, "Mama ,why do we have to go to church?" Hmmm... how to explain the importance of corporate worship to a three and a half year old? Anne Lamott has an absolutely beautiful piece on this in her book, Traveling Mercies. If you've never read it, you need to get it. It's one of my most favorite pieces of Christian writing. I could write a whole blog on Anne Lamott's work, but suffice it to say my little man was not interested in an essay. I summed it up by saying, "God loves us, so we go to church to tell God that we love him." I think he would have preferred an answer that involved playing with Thomas the Train.

Upon arrival to church, we saw a police car sitting out front. Now, we don't have any police officers in the congregation, so this got my attention. My first thought was that my husband had kidnapped another little girl--JUST KIDDING!! He did accidentally pick up a girl for our Wednesday after school program who wasn't supposed to be there, and the police did show up to the church, but it wasn't his fault and the parents said she does that sort of thing all the time. The real reason the police car was there was because a church member was experiencing chest pains. Pretty soon, the ambulance rolled in and my boys were just thrilled with that.

Chris gave up on preaching and led the congregation in a silent prayer time, running back and forth between the church member and the congregation. "Adapts Well To Change" is something that will never go on his resume! As God had it, there were three nurses, a physical therapist, and a nurse practitioner in attendance that morning, so the man was in good hands. In the end, tests revealed that it had been some sort of muscle spasm and had nothing to do with his heart. And even though service was disrupted, I think it became a pretty profound spiritual experience for those who were present. If anything, it brought this man and his family further into community with the congregation.

So in the end, the devil does work hardest on Sundays. Yet, the beautiful truth is, God works even harder. How comforting to remember in the midst of crazy Sundays!

Blessings and Peace,

Friday, February 19, 2010

Confession 81: Early Morning Wake-Up Call

Ugh. That's about all I've got this morning. That and jeans that still are a bit too tight because I can't seem to stop shoveling fatty foods into my mouth. It was a McDonald's morning this morning, after a rice crispy treat with M&M's. But, considering the fact that I was up at 3:30 A.M. and the fact that we need to make a Sam's/Evil Empire run, it seemed to be the most appropriate thing to do.

I love my children, I really do. They're each a unique little blessing from God. And I have high hopes for them. I pray every day that they will grow into Godly men. But, sometimes.... well, let's just say that blessings can be mixed! :-) It's my fault, really, that the youngest hasn't been sleeping well lately. He's a total "Mama's Boy" and Mama has been gone overnight twice in the past three weeks. So, he's a bit clingy. And I really don't mind cuddling with him some at night, although I definitely prefer cuddling with my hubby, but I have to draw the line at being up, and I mean up at 3:30 A.M. Not only was the little stinker roarin and ready to go, he was bound and determined that Mama wasn't going to sleep anymore either. At one point, the entire family was awake. That's when Up went into the DVD player and Mama ran for the shower. I have to admit, it wasn't hard shutting the door to Stephen's cries of "Maaamaaa" as I left for work this morning. And, as is typical, once Mama is out of sight, she's out of mind. He was quietly cuddling with Daddy by the time his brother and I pulled out of the garage.

Now, I'm a zombie, and I'm covering AP Lit for a fellow English teacher today. Heaven help us all!

Blessings and Peace,

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Confession 80: Role Playing for Romance?

Chris and I have a new favorite comedy--ABC's Modern Family. It's everything we love in a comedy--witty, quirky, sarcastic, and completely relate-able. I can't tell you how many times we've looked at each other while watching the show and given each other the, "That's so you!" look. It's one of the few shows out there that actually makes me laugh out loud.

That said, the episode last night got me thinking a bit about the nature of romance. In the episode, one of the couples decided to "spice up" their celebration of Valentine's Day by doing a bit of role playing. The wife had her husband meet her at the bar of a hotel and "pick her up". The results were both disastrous and hilarious, which is why we watch the show, but it got me thinking about the ways in which people try to rekindle the romance in their relationships. Many relationship "experts" advocate the idea of couple's engaging in role play to heighten the romance in their relationships. But, I have to confess, I don't quite get it. If I wanted to be with someone else, then I would have married someone else. I love my husband and I can't think of anything more romantic that being with him.

This is the man who still finds me attractive even though I've gained an extra 15 or so pounds. The man who walks past me in a room and brushes my arm, hand or back. The man who comes up behind me and gives me a hug for no reason at all while I'm doing dishes or pondering something in the kitchen. The man who tells our sons every day that he loves them. The man who spends his day off doing laundry--even folding it and putting it away! The man who sends me an e-mail saying, "I'm not sure I'll be home for dinner but there's a pot of chili on the stove for you and the boys." The man who checks in with me every day to see how things are going and eats burritos or stir-fry at least once a week because those are the only two meals I really cook. The man who lets me fall asleep on the couch and then gently wakes me up for bed after cleaning up the kitchen, feeding the animals, and letting the dogs out. The man who finishes projects that I start and laughingly deals with "fine messes" I tend to make (like getting my car stuck in the snow in our front yard).

This is the man who watches Grey's Anatomy with me because he knows I love it and who takes me to see the Twilight movies even after being told by colleagues that, "As the spiritual head of the household you should not allow your wife to watch those movies or read those books." The man who laughs at statements like that and who treats me as a partner, an equal, an intelligent human being capable of making her own decisions about what she reads and watches.

This is the man I can trust to be completely honest with me, even if he has to tell me something I don't really want to hear. The man who encourages me when I'm losing confidence in myself, who supports me in every decision I make, and who believes in me more than I believe in myself. This is the man who has voluntarily committed to spending the rest of his life with me, as big of a mess as I am, and raising our two boys in love and in Christ. The man who tries to follow God's will in everything that he does and puts his family first, below God.

What can be more romantic than being with your true love--the person you are building a life with? No, I'm afraid I don't get role playing. I think my hubby's pretty amazing just the way he is!

Blessings and Peace,

Confession 79: Sealed for Safekeeping

I was putting together a soup for snack day at school this morning. As I was pouring the soup into the crock pot I realized that I had no idea how I was going to get it there without it covering the front seat of my car. You see, I teach in a town about twenty miles from where I live and there are several turns, curves and hills along the way. As I was standing in the kitchen staring at the crock pot, I had an idea. I pulled the Press N' Seal out of a drawer and carefully wrapped it around the lid and top of the crock pot.

**Product Promo Moment--if you haven't tried Glad's Press N' Seal, you need to e-mail the company and see if they'll send you a trial roll. It's amazing. I promise, you will never buy saran wrap again!

After finishing that, I decided to add an extra layer of protection with aluminum foil. As I was sealing the foil over the Press N' Seal I realized, this is what God does for our hearts, although probably not with tin foil! When we give our hearts to God, he seals them with his love and grace so that no matter what happens, he is there. God protects and keeps our hearts for him so that with his seal around us, not even the gates of hell will prevail against us. We can stand firm and confident in the knowledge that the creator of the universe holds us in the palm of his hand!

Blessings and Peace,

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Confession 78: Do No Harm

Monday evening, a teenager from our community was killed in a car accident. His grandparents are members of our congregation, although the teen himself attended another church while in high school. He had graduated last spring. His grandparents asked my husband to take a role in their grandson's funeral, to which he agreed. He met with the pastors of the other congregation who would be presiding over the service to discuss the details of the service. Through the course of discussion, Chris learned that this young man was expecting his first child. His girlfriend is five months pregnant. As a parent, this news broke my heart. Yet, Chris and I were both disturbed at the response the other two pastors involved in the service had to this news. They decided that they would have to be careful about addressing this young man's salvation because his girlfriend was pregnant and they didn't know if he would have been "right with God." My jaw hit the floor when I heard this! But that wasn't all. After leaving this meeting Chris went over to the grandparents house to be with them for awhile and found that this concern over the young man's salvation had been passed on to his family! His grandmother told Chris over and over how concerned she was that her grandson had not been "right with God" at the time of his passing because his girlfriend was pregnant. Chris tried to reassure her, asking her if she had forgiven her grandson. Of course, the answer was yes. He tried to help her see that as much as she loved her grandson, God loved--and loves-- him even more. So, if she could easily forgive him, how much more so would God!

I couldn't stop thinking about this last night. One of John Wesley's three principles for Christian living kept going through my mind--do no harm. It makes me angry when Christian people, especially Christians with authority over others, violate this principle, whether intentional or not.

First, no one, not even a pastor, has the right to judge whether or not someone receives salvation. While our lives as Christians should bear fruit, and while we should live our lives so that others might know Christ through us, the state of our soul's eternity rests firmly in the hands of God. It is by God' grace alone that we are saved. We can't earn it, we can't do it on our own. Nothing we say or do can make us "right with God." It is God alone who reconciles us to him. The whole of Scripture can be boiled down to God attempting throughout history to reconcile humanity to himself, finally finding that reconciliation through the ultimate sacrifice--Jesus Christ and God himself. Think back to John 3:16-- "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes may have eternal life." God's grace surrounds us from the time we are conceived and salvation is there in a moment when we choose to accept it.
Who are we to judge what occurs between the heart of the creator and the heart of the created?

Furthermore, scripture makes it abundantly clear that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Ask God to reveal your sins to you and he will gladly comply. God has put me in my place several times when I have judged or misjudged the behavior of someone else. We all have something or lots of somethings to be held accountable for. And, quite frankly, I don't see bringing a child into the world as one of them. Don't get me wrong, I am not an advocate for premarital sex, but it burns me to the core to hear people talk of an unplanned pregnancy as a "sin" or "mistake". If we as Christians truly believe in the sanctity of life, then we must accept each new birth as a precious gift from God, regardless of whether or not the parents were married when the child was conceived. Moreover, in this particular situation, when the family of this young man holds that newborn in their arms, they will be holding onto a living piece of him. What a beautiful gift!! Don't tell me God had nothing to do with that!

Finally, when a family is grieving, especially due to sudden unexpected loss, it is not the time to quibble over theology. Families need comfort and support. They need a pastor or spiritual leader to offer them hope, to bring words of peace. They do not need to be thrown into emotional and spiritual turmoil, questioning themselves, the nature of God, their own faith. Although, many people do this anyway, it shouldn't be brought about by their pastor! A pastor should help put pieces back together.

I had an uncle who died from colon cancer almost ten years ago. Due to a serious childhood illness, my uncle's brain never developed past the age of nine. As he was dying in the hospital, my grandmother's pastor came to visit. He informed her that if Charlie was not baptized, he would not go to heaven.

My grandfather had passed away just six months before. He was the emotional and spiritual rock of our family, and my grandmother was still reeling from his loss. When her pastor, this man she trusted to speak the truth of God's love, told her this, she was thrown into despair. She and my grandfather had talked to a well-respected pastor when my uncle was younger about baptism. He told my grandparents that since Charlie had the mind of a child, he would be welcomed into the kingdom of God regardless of his baptismal state. Now, as she was preparing herself to lose her oldest child, my grandmother had to second-guess everything she believed. My father, a spiritual rock himself, convinced my grandmother that Charlie was fine, that God would welcome him with open arms, and that baptism now would only confuse and scare him further, as he already did not understand what was happening to him.

I have some definitive thoughts on baptism that I could share, but as this post is already too long, I'll save it for another day. Suffice it to say, we, as Christian leaders, need to be very careful and intentional to do no harm. John Wesley's second principle of Christian living, after do no harm, is to do all the good you can. I think these two principles are tied together. As we should intentionally do no harm, so we must be intentional to do all the good we can. If something we are doing or saying is not working for the good of others, then maybe we should consider that we are doing harm. Finally, Wesley tells us that we should love all. Everything we do or say should reflect that perfect, sustaining, redeeming, life-giving, life-affirming love that God has for us, that Jesus showed as he walked among the least of us; the outcasts, the sinners, the sick, the judged, the broken, the weary, the oppressed.

I believe in a God of grace and mercy, a God who sacrificed everything to reconcile our messed-up human selves to him. God is "right" with all of us. Thank you, Jesus!!

Blessings and Peace,

Friday, February 5, 2010

Confession 77: Sara Searches for Seashells on the Seashore

I returned Wednesday from a three-day trip to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. I went with colleagues for a conference on "Engaging Students Intellectually, Emotionally, Socially, and Behaviorally". All in all, it was a good conference. It makes me feel good to know that we're on the right path with our students. And while teaching will never be an art that is perfected, I think our high school is making some good headway. For all the complaints people have about the education system, there are some really good things being done, some in virtually impossible circumstances. And although I've probably said it before, I'm going to rant about it again. Teaching is hard work. Not only are teachers responsible for educating students in knowledge materials, we are somehow supposed to also craft responsible citizens, caring human beings, ideal workers who are able to engage people on an appropriate social level while being emotionally stable and intuitive. Teachers are supposed to accomplish all of these things and are also the only people held accountable for any of it. Forget parents, forget pastors, forget mentors, forget self-responsibility. Teachers are supposed to fix it all. And, all in all, I have to say we're doing a pretty good job, given what we get to work with.

Luckily, there are conferences on the beach to escape to! :-) I enjoyed my time walking the beach, combing through the sand for sea shells to give to my boys. It amazes me the wide variety of life the tide brings in. Aside from shells, shark teeth, sticks and an old butane lighter, we saw live sand dollars and star fish, algae and sea-foam. And although it was peaceful and beautiful, it was somewhat lonely as well. There's something about walking along the surf that makes me contemplative. Maybe it's looking out at the vast horizon sinking into the endless gray expanse of water and knowing there's nothing out there until you hit the coast of France. Maybe it's watching your footsteps disappear with each successive wave. Maybe it's seeing the assortment of shells in all shapes and colors and realizing that each have been carefully and artfully crafted by decades of salt and waves.

My own contemplations led to think longingly of my boys, all three of them. I saw myself walking along the beach holding Chris' hand. I saw Stephen running headlong into the waves, splashing gleefully with his daddy in the water. I saw Garrett under an umbrella on the beach, a plastic orange pail beside him, digging methodically into the sand to extract whatever treasures might lie beneath. And me, sitting beside him, helping him to craft a sand-art masterpiece.

But what my time at the beach really brought home to me was how blessed I am to have my boys, all three of them. It also reminded me to not take any time with them for granted because, like the footsteps in the sand, it goes too soon.

Blessings and Peace,

My Family

My Family

My Family 2

My Family 2