Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Unexpected Advent Reading

As I prepare for Christmas, I’m reading some Scripture.   Pretty good idea I think.  But I’m not reading in Matthew or Luke.  I’m in Hebrews.  It is turning out to be much more fitting for Advent than I anticipated.
First, there’s a lot of talk about angels in chapter one, and I’ve never really studied angels in the Bible before.  I highly recommend reading Hebrews 1 in conjunction with the angel stories in the Christmas narrative (Matthew 1:20, 2:13, 2:19, Luke 1:11-20, 1:26-38, 2:8-15).  Sometimes angels appear in dreams, sometimes in holy places like the temple, and sometimes in everyday places—like a field where shepherds watch their sheep.  Sometimes angels appear to “holy” people like Zechariah (and Elijah, Abraham, Peter, and of course, Jesus).  Sometimes they appear to “regular” people like shepherds and Mary, and even idiots like Balaam.  This gives me hope.  Often, angels announce births, especially unexpected ones, like pregnancies for old, barren women, and of course, for a virgin named Mary.  I'm kinda hoping I never receive an angel visit like this.
Sometimes these angels appear and leave quickly.  Sometimes they stick around long enough to answer questions, but they may get mad about that.  Often, they invoke fear, particularly Gabriel (not the image of a sweet cherub). 
One thing they all do, as their name means, is relay messages from God.  They are “messengers.”  That’s who they are and what they do.  Hebrews 1:14 also says they’re ministers and servants:  Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
Now, I’m not angel—not even close.  But, my parents did bestow on me the name “Angela,” which comes straight from angelos, the Greek work in these passages of the New Testament for “angel.”  That got me to thinking—I wonder if I could be like an angel.  Couldn’t I share God’s messages with people?  Couldn’t I be a minister sent to serve others?  Isn’t that what I try to do?
A few days ago, my son said to me, “I wish you’d been a firefighter, Mom.” 
Now, if you know me and what I look like, you may be smiling, chuckling, or laughing right now.  I doubt they make fire coats and pants this short, and I wouldn’t be able to stand under all that gear anyway.
I responded to my son, “I’m sorry.  That would’ve been cool.  I decided to teach people about Jesus instead.”
My son approved of that answer.  In fact, he made his dad come into his “classroom” so he could teach him about God and the Bible.  Again, if you know his dad, you may be smiling, chuckling, or laughing right now.  His dad knows more about the Bible than anyone I know, save seminary professors.   But our son doesn’t know that yet, so he went on to teach his dad:  This is the Bible.  It is God’s words.  You have to read it all the time!  This is a picture of God making the world…This is Jesus telling those men to let the kids come see him.  Jesus loves kids.  Jesus loves me.  God loves me.”
My son may be well on his way to sharing God’s messages with people himself.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Blue Suede Shoes

I have a pair of blue-fake-suede shoes.  They’re 9-years-old.  They’re still in my closet.  No, I’m not a hoarder; there’s a reason I still have these shoes.  These shoes represent part of what I love the most about my husband.  He makes me have fun.  He makes me put aside the ultra-responsible Angie that sometimes appears.  He makes me stop—stop cleaning, stop rushing, stop talking, stop working, stop fretting—stop missing out on some of the best parts of life.
On a Friday afternoon in the fall of 2002, I drove for two hours and fifteen minutes from my college to his, Virginia Tech.  I’d remembered to pack my Shakespeare book.  I’d forgotten to pack comfortable shoes.  This shows my priorities. 
I was a senior English major taking the required senior-level Shakespeare course.   We had to read a Shakespeare play a week.  When you were a high school freshman, you probably spent an entire nine weeks on Romeo and Juliet.   You probably spent four weeks on a Mid-summer Night’s Dream or Hamlet as a sophomore, and maybe four weeks on Othello as a senior.  I was reading one of those each week, while hearing lectures and essays on the play I’d read the previous week.  It was great mental exercise, and it was hard.  Of course, I was also in a few other senior-level English courses at the time, including my all-time favorite—Romantic Poetry and Prose (although Victorian British novels is a close second). 
I knew that a road trip to Tech for the weekend would have to include some Shakespeare.  I’d forgotten that it was going to involve my first hike to the Cascades, an infamous weekend outing amongst the college crowd.  So, I went to Payless (college budget) and bought these shoes. 
I vividly remember sitting on my then-boyfriend’s futon reading Shakespeare while he napped, after giving up on my napping, too.  There was just no time for that!  I also vividly remember when he kinda made me put down Shakespeare, put on the newly-purchased shoes, and go for a relaxing, scenic drive, and then a romantic, scenic hike to the Cascades.
I am grateful.  I am grateful that he is still the man who says, “Go through the Starbucks drive-thru and get the tall white chocolate mocha already!”  It’s a frivolous, unnecessary purchase.  It makes life (and waistbands) thicker.  My husband wants me to enjoy life…and its indulgences… 
…except right now.  Right now we’re doing that personal finance program I wrote about in my last blog.  That means there’s no money for Starbucks runs or other little indulgences.  I know my husband still wants to give me everything I need and lots that I want.  But he cannot right now.  I’m sure he misses it.  I do, too. 

Self-Denial

I’m cranky about denying myself.  Self-denial is for the birds.  Of course, it’s also commanded for Christ followers, so I guess I’d better learn how to fly, build a nest, and regurgitate food for my babies.
There are two things I’ve been denying myself intentionally.  One is unhealthy food.  Two is spending money.  I’ve been inconsistent at best with #1.  I’m doing well with #2.  I’m angry about both, and they’re related, and I’m mad about that, too.
The first issue—the diet.  That’s a four-letter word I’ve never used before.  But, a week or so ago, I stepped on the scales.  I suspected they’d tell me I weighed as much as I ever have (non-prego).  What they told me was much more difficult—I weigh FIVE POUNDS MORE than I’ve ever weighed before.  Now some of you are sneering at the “five pounds,” but I ask—Are you 5’2” with a tiny bone structure?  There’s not much room for five pounds to hide, and they’re not hiding very well.  I cried when I looked at the scale.  I knew I hadn’t been to the gym in a while (They mistakenly de-activated our account, and re-activating it will involve paperwork that’s just too hard to do with two kids in tow.), and I was now very motivated to go.  This gets us to the second issue…
Money.  We’re doing Financial Peace University right now.  It involves living on a budget, which we’ve successfully and unsuccessfully done at different times in our marriage.  I can live on a budget.  I’m having  a hard time living on THIS budget.  In THIS budget, there’s no money for a gym membership.  That realization catalyzed an onslaught of tears.  It is extremely frustrating to want to the right, hard thing but not be able to do it.  Of course, following the budget is another right, hard thing to do.  Ugh!
The reason there’s no money in the budget for a gym membership is because we’re paying down credit card debt.  I’ve had a credit card for twelve years, and this is the first year it’s ever had a balance.  There’s no reason it should.  Our spending got out of hand, and I wasn’t responsibly following our finances, and we ended up in credit card debt.  Being in debt means no gym membership, which leads me to another issue…
Self-image.  This is not an issue I’ve struggled with much.  In fact, I often roll my eyes at females who have Eeyore’s attitude when it comes to their appearance.   I want to say, “You’re beautiful.  Accept it, and move the heck along!”  I’m no knock-out, and I’ve certainly gone through my share of ugly duckling phases.  Sure there are things about my appearance I could do without, but it’s not something that affects me…until now.  For the first time, I’m struggling with the image in the mirror.  This doesn’t make me angry; it makes me sad; it makes me cry. 
I don’t want to deny myself good food.  I’m an “everything in moderation” kind of girl.  I can pig out on Thanksgiving, and eat a mostly egg-white omelet with veggies the next morning, and be happy about it.  The idea and practice of moderating my diet all the time makes me want to eat a bag of Tostitos.
I don’t want to deny myself a gym membership.  I know that when we get the debt paid down, we’ll be in better shape financially.  But that’ll be well into 2012, and I could be in awful shape physically by then. 
Through all of this, I hear the Bible in my head:  If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23)  Why did Jesus have to say that?!  Why does that if/then, conditional statement have to be so absolutely essential to being a Christian?! 
I also hear the fruit of the Spirit in my head, and I can have the “self-control piece,” but having it AT THE SAME TIME as the “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness,”—having a hard time with that.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Haven't Stopped Hammering Nails

As a reminder, I'm driving out nails of discontent and replacing them with nails of thanksgiving.  Last night, I got some 9th and 10th graders in on the action--literally.  They selected a nail for each thing they're discontent about, and then they hammered them into wood, thinking of something they were thankful for instead.  (I learned that prior to this summer's mission trips, we will teach them how to hammer nails.)

56.       For a sizable student ministry, because then different ages and social groups can find their places.  I take this for granted.
57.       For gingerbread
58.       And pumpkin
59.       And cinnamon
60.       And apple
61.       And caramel
62.       And vanilla
63.       And pecan…my favorite scents and flavors, and they’re everywhere right now!
64.       For some women who are sharing this journey of “female youth pastor” with me.
65.   That I get to teach my son how to pray and to hear his precious words of thanksgiving and requests for help.
66.   That my son thanks God for me every night; I know this won’t last forever.
67.   For random comments that someone is thinking about me.
68.   For a process forcing my family not to just write our budget, but to live by it again.
69.   For chances to laugh with (and be flung across the floor by) teenagers.
70.   For encouragement from a friend that I look pretty, that I should write more, and that I’ve made a difference.  Made my day.
71.   For an unexpected lunch with a friend.
72.   For the guts to cut my own hair to save money for Christmas.  I didn’t think I could do it.
73.   That my daughter looks a little bit like me, since my son looks nothing like me, save his pale skin and munchkin size.
74.   That my husband found $5 extra and gave it to me; this is HUGE in our current budget.
75.   That I’ll be with my family EVERY night next week—that usually only happens on vacation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"I Am" student version

I am not what I do,
                how much I do,
                or how well I do it.          
I am not how pretty I am,
                how young I am,
                or how fit I am.
I am not my GPA,
                my SAT score,
                my weight,
                my complexion,
                or my teeth.
I am not my phone,
                my profile pic,
                or my Facebook status.
I am not drum line,
                football,
                dance,
                track,
                or show choir.
I am not my failures or successes,
                my weaknesses or strengths,
                my regrets or dreams.  
                                                                               

I am a child of God,
                created by Him,
                in His image,
                to do His good works.
I am a sinner
                made into a new creation,
                free and forgiven,
                if I confess and turn away.
I am part of the body of Christ,
                and my body is His temple.
I am salt,
                preserving the weak,
                adding flavor to the bland.
I am light,
                showing others the goodness of God,
                that they may praise Him.
I am loved
                despite life and death,
                good and evil,
                present and future,
                mountains and canyons,
                power and weakness;
I am loved.

"I am"

Time for more poetry:)  The second half comes from Scripture.

"I Am"

I am not what I do,
                how much I do,
                or how well I do it.          
I am not how pretty I am,
                how old I am,
                or how fit I am.
I am not my IQ,
                my kids,
                my home,
                my salary,
                or my education.
I am not my failures or successes,
                my weaknesses or strengths,
                my regrets or dreams.  
                                                                               


I am a child of God,
                created by Him,
                in His image,
                to do His good works.
I am a sinner
                made into a new creation,
                free and forgiven,
                if I confess and turn away.
I am part of the body of Christ,
                and my body is His temple,
His dwelling place,
where He is revered.
I am salt,
                sustaining the fragile,
                giving life to the lifeless.
I am light,
                showing others the goodness of God,
                that they may praise Him.
I am loved
                despite life and death,
                good and evil,
                present and future,
                mountains and canyons,
                power and weakness;
I am loved.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Notable Week

Last week was notable.  I should've posted about it before now, seeing as how this week is winding down, but that's the pace of life. 

First on the agenda last week was Halloween.  I talk a lot about being a mom on this blog; I think it's time to show you.
As I've already mentioned, last week marked 14 years since my husband and I started dating.  I don't have a problem being 30; I've felt the responsibility of adulthood in my head and heart for a while.  But it is hard to believe that WE are 30.  WE were 16 and stupid and gushy romantic and attached at the hip and idealistic about our future together.  WE are still together.  WE are different.  I'm thankful I'm still part of WE.

Finally, but probably most anticipated, last week marked my baby girl's 1st birthday!  Wow, time goes so much faster with the second one!  Lily was a blast, and all the grandparents behaved at her party.  She is precious, loving, fiesty, stubborn, dramatic, loud, and an absolute ham.  She totally loves her big brother, but she's not afraid to give him a piece of her mind if he takes away a toy, leaves the room, or--her least favorite--takes a nap.  We say, "Looks like Mom, acts like Dad."  Her dad adds, "...the perfect human being."  Happy Birthday, Baby Girl!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Written Words

Like anyone who’s been educated in the Western world in recent history, I’ve been surrounded by written words my whole life.  We work hard to teach our children how to form letters and words and how to read those words, because those skills are essential for our society.  My son is three.  He can spell his name and “Mom,” “Dad,” and “STOP.”  We start this process early.
I volunteered for double and triple doses of these written words when I pursued an undergraduate degree in English, a minor in history, and a Masters of Divinity degree.  I’ve read.  I’ve written.  A LOT!  Trust me on this one. 
Probably since I’ve been so engulfed with written words, I’ve taken them for granted and failed to recognize their power.  So, I’m reflecting and remembering.
I remember my freshman year of college and how my long-distance boyfriend and I wrote each other EVERY DAY.  Yes, really.  This was before Skype and Facebook (although he wouldn’t have been on it), even before every student had a cell phone and communicated constantly via texting.  We were stuck with e-mail, land lines, and snail mail.  I spent every afternoon between class and dinner writing my beloved.  We have boxes of evidence recounting every up and down of that first year apart. 
I used to write my beloved every day.  But it’s been twelve years since my freshman year of college and those daily notes of love.  Last week marked the fourteenth year since our love story began.  I decided that was a good time to write another love letter.  It was nothing special, just a list of little things that I love about the man he is now—at thirty-years-old, as a husband, father, son, and pastor.  I hope it mattered.
Last night I met a mother of a student who recently visited my student ministry for the first time.  When her son visited a month ago, I wrote him a personal note thanking him for his visit, reminding him of our next gatherings, and giving him my contact information.  I do this every month.  I think little about it.  But this mom thought a lot about it.  When the card came in the mail for her son from the church, she read it.  Her husband came home and seeing the torrent of tears, asked if someone had died.  That’s how much my four-sentence note card meant to her.  Unbeknownst to me, she’s leaving a painful church experience, and written words that offered thanks and welcome and a friend without asking for anything were words she needed to read.
I’m trying to schedule coffee with a dear, intimate friend.  She was a student in my ministry.  I used to write her notes periodically, reminding her of my prayers and love and acceptance and belief in her.  Years ago, I wrote a note to another member of her family.  She recognized my handwriting on the envelope, and I received a sharp note from her, “I miss seeing your handwriting.”  What she was saying was that my words, written in my unique, feminine script, were important to her.  They mattered, and their absence did, too.
I’ve also discovered that written words matter to the writer.  This blog has become a way for me to process.  It matters to me.  It takes a mind swirling with ideas and gives it release and structure.  That frees my mind to still and to focus and to be present.  And that makes me better…at every role I play.