The truth as I know it:

We witness a miracle every time a child enters into life. But those who make their journey home across time & miles, growing within the hearts of those who wait to love them, are carried on the wings of destiny and placed among us by God's very own hands. ~~~ Kristi Larson

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

One Year Ago....

One year ago today I was writing this post, and this one, and this one... that's right, THREE posts! We were greeting FedEx carriers at the door with visas. We were packing to travel. We were preparing for my mom to come and keep our kids while we went to meet the little princess who now rules our life.

Today, one year later, I am making her dinner and listening to her play in her pretend kitchen and talk to me in her perfect English!

God is good!

Monday, April 27, 2009

What Is it with Me and Publix?

So, there is obviously some really weird vibe going on between me and Publix on Royal Oaks. Today was yet another encounter of the loony kind for me... this time in the Publix parking lot. First of all, let me set the stage for you. Connor, Meg and I left the house this morning at 9:30 because our school was having their one mile fitness run at the local park today. We arrive in plenty of time, cheer Liam on at several stops along his one mile trek (read me dragging two unwilling toddlers to various cheering locations around a one mile track) and took many photos. I might add here that Liam would not get his water until the last of his classmates had crossed the finish because he felt it was critical for HIM to be there to cheer them over the line... but I digress (or progress, hmmm?) Anyway.... moving on.

We then baked in the hot sun on the playground without any sunscreen played for 30 minutes while waiting for Jack to arrive at the park. When Jack's class does arrive, we once again drag ourselves around the various spots on the one mile track to cheer for Jack. It's important to note at this point that Jack was a little less encouraged by my presence than Liam was. We started today with a discussion on the merits of hot Southern weather and why it's very unreasonable to want to wear your HOODED SWEATSHIRT and your long jeans to school when it's 90 degrees outside, particularly on the day of the mile run. Let's just say that at every turn where I was trying to encourage Jack to run, run, run, he was scowling and saying, "I want my jeans." During the class photo, he had his arms crossed across his chest and was glaring at me with all his might. As I drag the children away from said park to head off to the always fun weekly grocery trip, Jack is hanging out the bus window saying, "Please Mom, bring me some jeans." Before you go judging me as the most ridiculous mother on the planet and someone who is unable to identify a battle worth fighting, let's just say that we have already addressed this issue to DEATH this year with the clothes and I forced the issue because I was at my wits end on the topic of ever-narrowing acceptable attire for Jack. It's almost worth the exorbitant price of private school just to have a uniform. I know, I'll look back at this and realize it wasn't worth it, but sometimes you just have to draw the line when it reaches this point of total insanity. Anyway... on to Publix.

So, we do our entire 1.5 hour shopping trip whereby I avoid many sugary requests in favor of more healthy options like fresh fruit. I'm feeling like super mom, able to avoid toddler tantrums in a single bound, when I reach the register and realize.... AAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHH..... I have left my COUPONS in the car. GASP!!!!! Okay, no biggy, I'll just pay now, go get the coupons, bring them, the receipt, the toddlers BACK inside and get a refund at the service desk. I unload the groceries, get the coupons and head back inside when Meg decides she has HAD ENOUGH! There will just simply be no more of this toting back and forth to things that don't involve Mickey Mouse or a trampoline. She puts her foot down firmly in the form of a swift smack to my face, a complete meltdown, screaming, head spinning episode...! I put her over my shoulder so that she will stop smacking me (you know, sort of like you carry the 50 pound bag of dog food where her waist is on my shoulder, her feet are hanging at my tummy, her head is at my back.) She screams and grabs my shirt so I realize she is a little scared that I am going to drop her. I pull her back onto my hip and say "don't hit mama." To which she responds with kicking, screaming, and more smacking. So, back over the shoulder she goes. This time there is a nice little lady wearing a "Grace Fellowship Bible Church" shirt who says, "Oh, that is just so wrong." Now... picture this scene, all with Connor orbiting somewhere around me.

I turn (whether it was my whole body or just my head spinning 360 degrees, I'm still not sure) to face the lady, firmly holding said toddler on one shoulder and brandishing a pointing finger with the other I say, very rudely I might add, "That is NOT wrong. Let me tell you something... she is having a complete meltdown because she wants to stay in the car and she is sick of being drug around town and it's her nap time and she is smacking me and rather than allow myself to be bested by a two year old I am carrying her so that she can't hurt herself and I won't hurt her." I wish I had a photo of the rage on my face. This sweet lady says in reply... "Oh, honey, not you! HER!" And she addresses Meg at that point and says, "I'm sure your mom would have preferred to leave you in the car, but then she might get arrested. And though the thought of someone taking you is probably appealing to her at this very moment, she would later be sorry, so for you to act this way is just wrong." Well, of course, I wanted to crawl under a rock. I apologized profusely and then returned to the service desk shaking from head to toe. When I came back out, the same lady was still unloading her car, but as she pulled away I saw that she had a smiley face bumper sticker with it's tongue sticking out. Obviously, she has a great sense of humor. And maybe I need to ease up a bit, huh?

I will say (for the sake of my children's grandparents who read this blog) that the kids actually did come out brandishing new balloons in pink and blue and not all was lost. But still, just to be safe, I think I will start shopping at Kroger!

Wall Builders

I have been reading my way through Nehemiah. I was intrigued by his story when Suzanne and Co. went to Uganda to spend a week with Katie. I had read the story of Nehemiah, of course, and honestly had totally pretty much drudged through it because I didn't get the deeper meaning of what he actually was able to do. But this time, when Suzanne and Gwen brought it to my attention that Nehemiah was a cup bearer to the king and not a construction worker, and he led the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem, well, I was intrigued. I've read with a totally renewed interest and a different perspective. And as God is prone to do, He's brought alot of people across my path in the past weeks that didn't think they were brick layers either. Of course, it's got me blogging questioning.

First of all, Nehemiah was someone I could identify with on a very personal level. He was a servant of the King and he had a very big request... a request that was actually foolish to even ask. Why would the king dismiss him from his personal service to go and let him rebuild the wall of his people, a group that had no significance to the king himself? Why? It says right there in Nehemiah 2:8 "And the king granted these requests, because the gracious hand of God was on me." This reminded me so vividly of our time in the courts of St. Petersburg. There was no reason for the judge to grant such a frivolous request as to waive our ten day wait. After all, what kind of reasoning is it to say that there were bushes in bloom around the orphanage that caused our daughter a nasal allergy and she wasn't able to enjoy the outdoors? Total nonsense stuff that shouldn't have mattered a hill of beans to a tough judge who NEVER waives the ten days for young children, and yet... the hand of God proved His graciousness and His power over all earthly dominions. She waived the ten days to the shock of every person in the room. So, I could identify with how Nehemiah must have felt that day. Maybe Nehemiah had more faith and fully expected the king to grant his request, but I have to admit that no one thought my prayer would be answered specifically, everyone thought that God would answer my prayer by giving me peace about the ten days, not by waiving it. But then, in Nehemiah 2:9, God goes even further. "The king, I should add, had sent along army officers and horsemen to protect me." Yes! God provided even MORE than Nehemiah expected. Isn't that so like God!

Then we come to Nehemiah chapter 3 where it describes and lists all the people who worked on the wall. It says that Zabbai "zealously repaired" an additional section. I love that there is a role call, but Nehemiah throws in that Zabbai was ZEALOUS in his work... wouldn't you have loved to be working next to the guy whose zeal was worth recording for all time? And I start to think how Nehemiah is great, but maybe I want to be like Zabbai! I want to be the one working so zealously that it's worth recording.

Which brings me to the non-brick-layers in my path this past week. Last week I asked a friend if she would like to go with me to hear Katie speak in July when she is in the US. Her reply, "I respect that this is your passion, it's just not my thing." Now, I will confess that I physically took a step back from her when she said that. I felt myself move backward, involuntarily, as if I had been pushed. And I let her off the hook too easily, to be honest with you. I pushed back a little, but not enough. Because I've been thinking about it for the next five days. I've relived the moment and ALL the things I should have said. First of all, I should point out that I am not asking anyone to bring home an orphan (well, okay, maybe I am, but not this particular person.) I am simply saying that we all have a brick to lay on the wall of eradicating the orphan crisis. It may not be "your thing" to bring an orphan into your home (though, I could probably go there, I won't....) it is definitely your thing to support orphans in some way. Why? Because it's my "thing"? NO! Because God says it's your thing! God specifically asks us to care for our brothers and sisters who have nothing. He tells us if we have two cloaks and another has none, it's our duty to give one to that person so that he too can have a cloak. Believe me, I'm failing on miserable scale in this area... I'm preaching to myself here as much as I'm preaching to anyone. But He specifically names the orphans and widows in His request to us to be His hands and feet to those He cares for. So, it IS your "thing" IF you are a follower of Christ and a believer. Now, for some, they cannot "go" so they "give", they cannot "give" so they pray. They pray and support and spread the word and they SPEAK UP! That's my shame, I honestly didn't speak up enough. The world would say that I needed to be gentle in my reply so as not to turn this person off completely. And I was. But I also feel I failed her and God by not delivering a grace filled reply that would have left her thinking a little harder about whether she was missing an opportunity to draw closer to God.

Because in the end, I do believe it's all of us that are building this wall for God. We are taking meals to the poor, the widows, the disabled. We are caring for women in crisis pregnancy situations, we are babysitting unruly children while their homeless mothers go for job interviews, we are praying for orphans and those who are caring for them (like Katie and like every other person in the adoption process), we are giving donations, buying t-shirts, or telling someone about the 147,000,000 and how THEY can lay a brick too. We are visiting widows and widowers in their loneliness. We are "recruiting" brick layers every day for the Kingdom. And we are living our ordinary, crazy, busy, unorganized, worn-out, sinful lives in the midst of it all and it doesn't make sense and it doesn't "feel" like it's supposed to, but it's definitely not a surprise to God, I know that much! What is a surprise to me is that we have wealth beyond our imagination today... even in the midst of a world recession, we have abundance... not "enough" but MORE than enough. And it's a disgrace that in the midst of our bursting wallets and cupboards, there are orphans starving for all that we have (clean water, love, food, clothing, medicine, even just a band-aid.)

Nehemiah 2:20
"I replied, 'The God of heaven will help us succeed. We, his servants, will start rebuilding this wall.'..."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's not Monday... and I'm soooo not posting this!

Since it's NOT Monday, you wouldn't catch me writing a post about what I did not do today. And if you did catch me writing such post, it certainly WOULD NOT include a photo of me doing manual HARD labor. You know, an honest days work for an honest days pay room and board???? A days worth of hugs? The promise of my children getting a lesson in responsibility, agriculture, hard work, and maybe a little health benefit to boot... yeah, that's it!

Can you tell by the look on my face just how much fun I was having about then? You should have seen me when I started raking the dirt, oh boy, that was not FUN!

Yeah, so anyway.... after you work your tail off, everyone can appreciate a Coke break... even if it's with an Orange Fanta. (In the South, every carbonated beverage is known as a Coke... even if it isn't even made by Coke.)

And Power Rangers love worms, as it turns out. Although this blue Ranger did NOT dig for worms today in said dirt patch... if he HAD dug for worms, he would have named them Wormy, Squirmy and Edie. Edie? I'm not sure, don't ask.

And I am not feeling a bit sore from all the squatting, maneuvering, raking, pulling, bending, and tilling that I did NOT do. I am sure that I am not that old. You know, it's people my parents' age that get all stove up from working hard. Not young, vibrant youth like myself!

So, now the fun part... deciding what to plant. Connor wants watermelon, we're going to let everyone plant whatever they want and try to get them in on caring for it. It should provide for many a "cute kid story" now through September.

For now, I'm going to be holding God to this one.... thank you God for providing Miracle Grow! :)

"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously."

2 Corinthians 9:6

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Okay, never mind....

Okay, I first wrote this rambling nothing post because quite frankly, my head is a spinning mess with God's goodness and what He's doing in me right now. But it turns out that I am just no longer able to write about nothing specific and I logged off feeling very dissatisfied (kind of like when you force yourself to have the carrots when you really wanted the Snickers bar) and very unintentional in my words. I shared with Gwen today that I really could feel very overwhelmed with everything I think He's calling me to, but I won't let that first tear fall because I'm afraid the dam will be breached and there'll be no stopping the flow once I get started.

One thing that has REALLY been on my mind is this comment that was left on my blog by an anonymous reader regarding this post:

"Maybe the readers whom you lost came to your blog to read cute kid stories, or to follow Meg's progress since she came home. I know that's why I read it.

It's wonderful that you have strong faith and want to spread the word, but honestly, that's not what I'm looking for in the blogs that I read. I'm looking for a little entertainment when I'm drinking my coffee or have a few minutes to waste on the computer.

I'll confess that I skip the 'churchy' posts but read the cute kid posts. I hope that doesn't hurt your feelings.

4:58 AM"

First let me say that this really, really didn't hurt my feelings. I took it as an honest comment on why this particular anonymous person reads my blog and I actually am not at all offended that this is what she (or he) is looking for here.

Then I thought, "Oh, it must be the VERY early hour this person has to get up to have time to themselves"... notice the time stamp BEFORE 5 AM. I wouldn't want to read anything "churchy" at four anything AM. hmmm, must think more on that "churchy" label, but that's not the point.

The point is that I thought alot about this comment. It affected me for several days and it kept going through my head, because, you know, I'm a girl who likes to be liked as much as the next fellow. Iwant to give my readers (both of you) what you come here for. And I kept asking myself, "Am I "churchy"? Do I preach? Does everyone really just want to see cute pictures of my kiddos and not really want to know anything more about me than the fact that I have funny, cute kids and I barely hold it all together every day, but for a few too many ounces of caffeine?"

And then I realized something... those "cute kid only" blogs are NOT the ones I go to... and it's not always where Jesus has my heart. Oh sure, there are a few kids only zones I visit, but those are the ones where I KNOW the kids or have a connection with the kids (probably they are adopted from somewhere near or sometime around when my kids were adopted.) The blogs I feed on, the blogs that fuel me, challenge me, and spur my days and keep me digging deeper into what God wants from me are the ones that have something to say beyond the cute kids. And because that's what I like to read, that's also what I am inspired to write. It's sort of like a statement I read from Matthew Kelly where he says, "show me what books you are planning to read this year and I will show you what you will do with your year." I believe that. Not counting Twilight, I haven't read much fluff in the past five years. I want to have a good beach read, mind numbing feel good just read and smile kind of stuff. But I just don't know, it's not where my heart is. I start to feel restless after about ten pages. I feel an urgency about the fact that there are people who don't know Jesus and then, you know, too, there are all the babies to save and all the hungry to feed and well, who has time in a day for everything I need to pray about and beg God to use me in?

So, that brings me to my next point, which is this.... I really pretty much realized that this blog is a very personal walk in a very public place. It's therapeutic for me to set it all down somewhere. It feels like it lightens the load a little when I am able to lay it out there, sort of like wearing my Gwen shirt, you know, it's not that I have to carry this burden for the orphans all by myself because, well, you guys can share it to. And then at least I've said it. I have to tell SOMEONE about the 147,000,000. Hey, it's possible that there is someone reading this who doesn't know there is an orphan crisis. SO, to that end, I think another reason why I couldn't just take the comment lightly is because when you lay yourself bare like this, when you really and truly confess all the good, the bad and the ugly, it's kind of a little sad when someone says, "Yeah, great, but I really only want to know the good stuff about you." Don't get me wrong, this is NOT an attack on "anonymous." I totally get what she/he was trying to say.... it's a tough world out there, there's enough to worry about without taking on my problems too. I get it, I really do, and I appreciate the fact that there are people out there who might be bored by my burden, and that's okay, really, I still love you and I still love that you want to see my cute kiddos, because, after all, in the end that's the best part of who I am anyway. But having said that, I do feel a certain urgency about the matter and sometimes I just don't have it in me to post about the fluffy stuff because on that particular day, the rest of the stuff just seems too, well, urgent.

But no matter how bad it gets, my children are still hysterical. There are still alot of sweet moments that I would love to share with you. There is still alot of progress to be made in me and plenty of cute kid stories to be shared. Iam a work in progress as a mom and as a wife, as a daughter, as a sister, as a friend and as a neighbor and I'm learning every day that the most important humor is when I laugh at myself. I just thought you ought to know, though, that if you stop by and it's not all about the trials of motherhood, it might still be worth a look. And if not, then that's okay too, just skip it until you feel ready to pick up some of the bricks for the wall, that's all.

James 4:17
"It is a sin to know what you ought to do and not do it."

A Rambling Rambler of a Post

hmmmm, lots and lots and LOTS of posts have been floating through my mind lately, but I'm just not ready to put them to the keyboard yet. I think they are still in the fine tuning stage and God is doing some crazy stuff with my head and heart right now, but I'm just not sure where He's takin' it, so I'm just waiting until He sort of points me in any direction at all. Seriously, God has me poised and jumpy, ready for something big... ready for the next stage, the next step.... but He's got me all jazzed up and I'm just sitting here like a long tailed cat in a room full of rockers, as Granma used to say. Seriously, I know He wants to do something with my Crazy Love experience. And since the obvious thing is out (adoption), what else can I do???? He's asking all sorts of things from me, but I'm spinning recklessly right now waiting on Him for several clarifications, so when I figure out what the next crazy thing in my life is going to be, you'll be the first to know. For right now, I'm just wearing my t-shirt every day, hoping Gwen will come up with a new one soon so I won't have to wear the same thing every day, and waiting and expecting Him to do something REALLY BIG!!!!!!

Next.... the other night I asked my husband what he would say if I BEGGED for just one more little girl, maybe one from Africa, so that Meg could have a sister. His reply? And I quote.... "Oh, you can beg!" :) So, that really does it, I have to get a little more creative on how to serve the orphans if Brian isn't going to let me bring another one home. Oh well, I knew it would end at some point, right, I'm just not cut out to be the Old Lady in the Shoe. hehehe I had this discussion with my friend, Gwen, today. What would you do if one of the orphans of the world knocked on your door and asked if they could come in and stay? Would you let them in? Anyway, I encouraged Gwen to make a post about the knock on the door and I hope she will do it so I can link you to it... until then, I'm saying no more. Just consider yourself warned though, because it's hard to ignore something Gwen tells you to do... God just spills out of that girl and I love how that looks!

Mike, the little dog, is not going to be a permanent Harrison after all. The little rascal just won't stay inside our fence. The family right across the street has agreed to adopt him. Iam thrilled to have him close so we can always see him and know that he is very loved. They have a three year old daughter who can't wait for Mike to sleep in her room with her. She's a true dog lover as she even loves our big boy, Vince. So, it's not the ending our kids were hoping for, but it's still a happy ending none-the-less.

Okay, finally, a prayer request. I don't know how much I am allowed to share, but someone I love alot, who also happens to be related to me, has a possible job opportunity about 10 minutes down the road from my house. This is something I have prayed for SPECIFICALLY and it would be JUST LIKE GOD to do something really crazy... and no, it's not my parents, though if this worked out, I might have a much better case for getting them here... but first things first. Can I just ask you to pray for some very clear and BIG things from God in this. Specifically, this would be an amazing thing for my kiddos. I would give anything for this family to be closer in proximity to my kiddos because of the amazing example and influence that they are. Ican't imagine the privilege my kids would have of growing up with these special people in their daily lives. And quite honestly, the job this person is seeking could use some of that Godliness too. Just pray with me that God will work big in this situation. It would just be an amazing answer to prayer.

Okay, for now, I'll shut up and let you read on to bigger and better things.... these are just some things that are floating around in my otherwise usual life!

James 4:17
"Remember, it is a sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Favorite Photo Friday

Good Morning Aunt Suzie! My most faithful reader! :) Tell Uncle Henry, "We love you this much."

Connor is very excited to watch this Mama Robin in our birch tree off our back deck as she nests. Okay, maybe I'm a little excited too!

The joys of those first days when you can swing yourself!

One day without shoes... priceless!

By the way, I have been reminded that NO ONE in my home town thinks it's a very big deal that I went barefoot for ONE DAY since I have been reminded by said good folks that I spent my life barefoot up until 1988. I guess I'm further from the farm than I thought!

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lessons in the "un" obvious

I didn't intend to necessarily blog about being barefoot today. I didn't set out to see this day in little parts and pieces, one public display at a time. I naively went into this day thinking I would walk around barefoot (though truthfully I wasn't fully committed until about 7:30 this morning) and probably get a few strange looks, maybe Toms would sell ONE or TWO pairs of shoes, but that would be about it. But as usual, God had some other lessons in store for me.

First of all, I was surprised by just how much courage it took to even just go to the bus stop barefoot. It's cold out this morning. I wanted to put on my fuzzy slippers. But I'm so glad I didn't because it prompted this great conversation with Liam about WHY I am barefoot today. Which was lesson #1: I have this sensitive, sweet boy who feels for the helpless and the underdogs of the world. Why have I not noticed that he and I share the same heart in so many ways? Why did I only just see it today? I am SO blind! My eyes are shaded by the difficulties that come with parenting a kid with ADHD and the exhaustion I feel at his disorder. Sometimes it's hard to separate him from it, but times like this are so beautiful because I get reminded how absolutely precious his heart is and how deeply he feels. He embraces so many of the things that are in my heart. He and I are alike in that way and different from the others in our family in the depth to which we feel. (I'll just say I'm surrounded by alot of THINKERS, which is a great counter-balance for us feelers!)

Liam saves his money. He doesn't spend it easily and he doesn't like for others to spend theirs either. Which will tell you how moved he was when he said he wanted to give some of his money to buy shoes for a child who doesn't have any. He was asking me tons of questions about why these kids don't have shoes, why they can't go to school, what causes the Podoconiosis that disfigures and debilitates so many people, etc. etc. It was a sweet conversation and if I do nothing else by going barefoot today, it will have been worth it. But he was so moved that he explained my bare feet to the first mom to come up to the bus stop.

Lesson #2: I still have ALOT of work to do with my oldest son. He is my "easy" child, really doesn't require much of me in terms of workload and he even makes a great effort to make things easier for me at home (he WANTED to get his sister dressed for bed last night, for example... begged me to let him do it.) So it's easy to fool myself into believing that somehow we've done a pretty good job with him over the past eight years. But his heart was revealed this morning when he was very concerned about how embarrassing it would be for me to go barefoot. He was concerned that someone was going to laugh at me and was glad that he wouldn't be there to be embarrassed by my bare feet. It's so much more difficult to penetrate his shield. This shield has served him very well, he copes with amazing efficiency. He is a precious child, but I need him to step outside of himself some more and empathize with the other fellow. This was a great reminder for me that he needs to see some more things first hand that are outside of our comfortable bubble.

Lesson #3: Amazing to me how God literally comes to teach me when I make time for Him and ask Him to do it. This morning I woke up with a massive headache at 6:10. I didn't want to get out of bed, but then I was reminded that Jesus rose when it was still dark to share some time with God and I couldn't stay on the pillow, my good ol' Catholic guilt drove me out of my warm nest and downstairs to my Bible. Whatever gets you out of bed, right? I have been sort of flip-flopping through the Bible since finishing Crazy Love, so I didn't really have a plan for the morning. I started out in Mark, but something drew me to James. I started at the beginning, reading it from "The Message." This is what I read:

"If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who "worry their prayers" are like wind-whipped waves. Don't think you're going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open." (Oops, I had planned to take a pair of flip-flops in the car to give myself an out if I lost my nerve! Clearly, I DID NOT KNOW WHAT I WAS DOING!!!! But I didn't know I didn't know until I ready this!)

I woke up this morning thinking of going barefoot to show OTHER people that they need to be aware of a situation that affects children. After all, I was already aware, right? But what God showed me was that this day is not at all about anyone else. This day is about me. It's about Him showing ME how to empathize and TRULY KNOW what it's like to not have a pair of shoes. It's about me feeling all the pain and the pleasure of my feet on different textures, different temperatures, different situations where I might be considered crazy/outcast/ridiculous or just plain impotent in my efforts, which honestly, would be the worst possible outcome. This day is between me and my God (and I'm journaling it here, not because I'm trying to teach you anything or say "look at me", I'm putting it here because I am expecting God to show up in my life today in a big way. I know He has something to teach me. I know I will grow from this day and tomorrow I will be a little bit different. Praise HIM! I want to be different every day, I want to be changed. And I know this is a day that will be a lesson from the Spirit.) So, I am blogging it so that it will be recorded, journaled, for me to remember the lesson when I need to recall it. Not because I presume that you need the lesson or that you even needed to go barefoot today. God put it in my heart and I have no preconceived ideas about whether or not you needed to do it and I'm not in any way preaching it to you either. (Though I will admit I really tried to talk my buttoned-up hubby into attending just one meeting OR lunch barefoot... but he just thinks I'm crazy and never took me seriously! :)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bonding Activities.... as promised

Okay, sorry it's been so long coming, but I promised to do a dump of information from my old social work files to my blog so that anyone who needs them might easily find them. Feel free to use them as you like. This one comes from teh Center for Family Development and any credit for their success should be credited as such.

Activities to Facilitate Attachment

Touching, rocking, eye contact, movement and physical closeness all will facilitate developmental attachment. Any activity that encourages reciprocity (such as pat-a-cake) and emotional attunement is helpful.
  1. Peek-a-boo with hands, blanket, hood of jacket, from behind a door
  2. This little finger went to market with fingers or toes
  3. comb the child's hair facing each other while commenting on color, texture, shape, and form
  4. washing child's face, bathing child
  5. lullaby singing. Cradle your child so that eye contact is maintained while you gently rock child and sing. Be sure to put child's name and descriptions of the child's features into the song whenever possible. (for example, "Jesus loves John, this I know...." )
  6. Push that Button. Gently press on the child's nose, ear, finger, toe, chin, etc. and make a noise such as "honk", "beep", or "toot". Then have child copy you.
  7. Blow raspberries on child's arm, leg, belly, cheek.
  8. "pop" cheeks. Fill your mouth with air and gently guide your child's hands to your cheeks to pop out the air and make a sound. Then do the same to the child.
  9. Singing and rhyming couple with movement, bouncing, dancing, rocking, moving arms or legs, fingers, etc. Simon says games.
  10. Rubbing lotion onto child's hands, feet, arms, or legs.
  11. Playing with clay or shaving cream together to make shapes
  12. Tower of hands: alternate hands and then move bottom hand to top of pile.

Those are all the suggestions from this sheet, but I would add a few that I have learned through various trainings, etc.

  1. rub lotion on each other's hands and arms, use gentle pressure to have a relaxing affect.
  2. for a girl, paint her nails and then let her paint yours.
  3. play a game where you blink a certain number of times and they have to watch you closely and blink back the same number... this is great to facilitate eye contact in children who are a little older.
  4. play "suck and blow", the old high-school ice breaker where the whole family stands in a circle and pass a playing card from one person to the other without using hands. You suck the card to your lips to hold it, then the other person puts their mouth on the other side of the card and sucks while you blow to pass it to them. Try not to let the card drop. This usually ends in everyone collapsed in laughter, which is very healing and helps children bond and feel safe.
  5. co-sleep or make yourself a "nest" on the child's floor so that you can sleep close to them or at least stay with them until they fall asleep.
  6. Play with a doll and show the doll all the love you want them to show you, then have the child do the same (feed the doll, rock the doll, etc. etc.)
  7. Feed the child every bite of food at first. If at all possible, revert the child to a bottle. I have had great success with this with my two boys, but Meg would have nothing at all to do with a bottle or even a sippy cup in the beginning.
  8. I make up songs about my kids. Each child has a special song that they like me to sing. Liam, at 7, still asks for his special song all the time. It's not rhyming, it has a terrible little made up tune, but it names each of his body parts (hair, nose, eyes, ears, hands, etc. etc.) and tells what makes them special and why God game them to him. For example, "God gave Liam brown eyes, the color of a chocolate bar, to see all God's good work..." and on and on it goes.

I hope those help. As I think of more I will be happy to share them, but these are the "official" ones that are easy to do for children who are not "unattached", but simply entering the home and learning to bond. Children who have actual attachment issues will likely require much more intensive attachment and bonding activities and should be seen by an ATTACHMENT therapist (NOT just a normal therapist.... you can really mess up a kid in normal therapy if attachment is the issue because normal rules do not apply to these precious ones!)

Question of the day: "Does anyone else feel the same amount of disappointment I feel when they pour the last cup of coffee?" I'm still thinking about the barefoot thing.... come back tomorrow to see if I got up the courage!

Mark 1:45

"....He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere." Amazing isn't it? Even when our Lord was silent, people sought Him until they found Him.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Random Ramblings

Okay, just a few random things... first of all, all of a sudden I have 20 "followers". I think some of you felt sorry for me and wanted to make me feel better. Thank you! :) It did make me happy and was a little surprise when I logged in... I'm so ridiculously easy to amuse. ....sigh....
Also, just HAD to show off some adorable Easter photos of my kiddos... Jack was with Brian's parents in Memphis. I'm glad he had fun (so much so that he wasn't sure he wanted to come home) but I think that will be the last time I let one of my kiddos go away for a holiday until I have no choice in the matter. I missed him like CRAZY! And the really GREAT thing that happened on Easter (well, aside from the obvious... my Lord rising from the dead) was that Meg only wanted to pick up the PINK plastic eggs. We actually had to encourage her to get the green and purple ones. She left a giant blue one laying in the grass and no amount of coaxing would make her take it... THAT's my girl!

Something funny that happened was that we had this whole debunking of the Easter bunny this year. I took Jack to the grocery with me on Sunday night last week and decided that I needed to take the opportunity to get the stuff to fill the baskets. When I started gathering stuff, Jack, of course, said, "Who's that for?" I said, "It's for the Easter baskets." Jack: "What about the Easter bunny?" Me: "Jack, come on, do you REALLY think a giant bunny sneaks around the world and leaves baskets full of goodies for kids at night?" Jack: "First the tooth fairy and now this? Next you're going to tell me there's no such thing as Santa." Me: "Nope, Saint Nick is DEFINITELY real." :) I know that Jack "knew" there was no bunny... but he was afraid if he didn't believe he wouldn't receive. Then the night before Easter, Connor said to Brian, "I don't believe in the Easter bunny." Brian: "Why not?" Connor: "How does he carry all that stuff? He's just a bunny." Brian: "It's magic." Connor: "I won't believe it 'til I see him." We have a little doubting Thomas on our hands. It's okay with me, actually. I always thought the Easter bunny was a little hokey. I got Santa because Saint Nicholas actually did help the children and all that, but the Easter bunny seems so contrived and I can't make any kind of connection between the miracle of Easter and the arrival of a gift-giving bunny. It definitely seems like something that was made up to get non-religious kids in on the act, doesn't it. So I don't really care one way or the other if my kids buy into it. I give them the baskets, but I want them to know the real work that was done on Easter wasn't by a hare, it was in an empty tomb.

Also, I wanted to tell all of you that I am still crazy about you and love reading your blogs, but it's becoming increasingly annoying to try to do so on my ailing and feeble computer. It's a crap shoot if I can connect to the internet, when I do connect, sometimes it's so slow that I can cook dinner between page loads, and then sometimes it's totally normal. My in-house IT guy is NO help at all.... even though he is supposedly a Technical guru (I mean, he gets paid to fix people's IT problems, right?), I'm starting to feel like the cobblers child (you know, he makes shoes but his kids are barefoot?) Anyway, my 40th birthday is this year and I have asked my hubby to take me to the beach... I am thinking maybe I should ask him to spend the money on a bright and shiny new computer. Anyway, I say all this to say that I am still trying very hard to keep up with everyone that I have enjoyed following along the way, but if I don't log in every day, don't take it personally, it's just because I want to chunk my boat anchor PC out the window.

Speaking of people being barefoot... Thursday, April 16, is barefoot awareness day. Toms shoes are promoting an awareness campaign whereby everyone would go barefoot for the day to bring attention to the fact that many children around the world have no shoes. Toms will donate a pair of shoes for every pair purchased (all the time, not just that day.) There are diseases that can be prevented 100% of the time simply by wearing shoes, but many folks don't have any shoes to wear, so they get diseases because of one simple thing we take for granted every day. Now I have told you many times how much I love to go barefoot. However, I don't know if I have the nerve to go everywhere I need to go on Thursday with no shoes. I mean, Connor has to go for his school testing for pete's sake... what will the teachers think of me if I have no shoes on when I bring him in? Am I brave enough to go barefoot? It will definitely bring some attention to the issue... but do I have the nerve to do something so SIMPLE for me to do? It's just one day. I won't be going anywhere dangerous to my health. How brave am I? How much do I care about the kids with no shoes? Am I willing to do this simple thing that will possibly change someone's life? I don't know!
Also, I just finished reading Little Bee by Chris Cleave. Excellent read, very difficult in places, but worth the while if you're looking for a work of fiction with a purpose!
Okay, so those are the random thoughts from a random Tuesday on which my middle son woke up with some random itchy splotches on his chest and back and no other symptoms, pretty random, huh? And we are all home now playing Yahtzee! :)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

It was bound to happen....

Well, it really is no surprise that I stained my favorite t-shirt this week. It's bound to happen when you absolutely live in something. I should have known not to dye Easter eggs in this shirt! Now I'm limited to my long-sleeve billboard shirt even though it's warm outside and spring has clearly arrived here (see photo of the tree right outside my front window above.) Is it a frivolous use of my money to buy ANOTHER shirt (Brian don't answer that), even though the money will go to a good cause? Hmmm? Crazy Love didn't address such specifics. Maybe the Bible has something on going overboard on a particular topic... must get back to you on that one.

We did have fun dying the eggs though. Even though they turned out a little less than gorgeous.

I did NOT predict that my parents would surprise me with a visit yesterday. I was sitting on the window seat in the kitchen watching the kids play when the back door opened and it was my Mama! I was so happy to see her. I didn't know they were going to stop in Nashville on their way home from visiting our family in Alabama. They were going to my brother's baseball game (he coaches in a neighboring county) and spending the night at a resort here, but they didn't tell me. So it was a very nice treat for me and the kiddos to have them for a couple of hours. A welcome diversion right in the middle of Spring Break week. And they brought Webkinz for Liam and Connor, which was perfect timing because they had JUST asked for them this week when they discovered that their other Webkinz had expired. Thanks Meme and Pepaw!

The other thing that I could have predicted this week? I "lost" two followers on my blog. Maybe it's a total coincidence that I blog about my faith and try to dispel some long-held myths and two folks sign off on the same week. I don't want to be one of those paranoid people who think everything is connected to some perceived injustice. However, I can't help but wonder. Maybe they just tired of my ranting. Maybe they just didn't find the content interesting. Maybe they are struggling with conviction regarding orphans and couldn't stand the constant barrage of pleas. I don't know. I just know they are gone without so much as a good-bye and it seems very coincidental that I mention Catholicism, in an environment where I know Catholics to be highly misunderstood, and they slip away in silence. Jesus said it would be this way if we followed Him, though, so I am not concerned. I will continue to spill what's on my heart and He will continue to use it as He will. It's hard, though, not to want 5,000,000 followers. It's hard not to be a little excited when you see someone else has decided they "like" what you're saying enough to officially say it. But, that's the danger and the trap of popularity, it can so easily become about ME and not Him, so I am not going to fret about it. I just noticed it and noted the odd timing and thought it was worth mentioning. Because I think He wants us to be loving one another, not trying to find reasons to disagree over how it "looks."

One thing I did NOT predict was how well my THREE kiddos would get along. That's Maggie for giving Jack a much needed vacation from little siblings. She came up this week for a meeting and took Jack home with her for a little break of his own. And she also bought me two pairs of shoes and new purse while she was here, after taking ALL of us (our family and Brian's sister's family) out to dinner. Thanks Maggie! But the other three left behind are having a very unusually perfect week of cooperation and love. It's a perfect storm, the stars must be aligned or God has taken mercy on me in my allergenic/head-ache ridden state and my children have been the picture of sibling love and cooperation. This only happens once in every mother's lifetime, so I feel very sure I should mark the date on my calendar and remember it every year with some sort of pilgrimage or burnt offering!

Maybe it's the power of the sunglasses. You know, the new glasses that Jack just HAD to go to the mall (bleck) to buy and then all the kids just HAD to spend their OWN money to have a pair too... well, maybe I paid for Meg's, but the rest of the kids definitely paid me back for their $7 worth of cool! Nothing says Spring Break at home like watching TV in your new shades!

But even super heroes need their rest. A long day of perfect harmony takes it's toll, even on Super Man. That, I could have definitely predicted!

Matthew 28:6

"He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay."

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Lord come quickly!

All day long I am pursued by my children. It’s a constant cacophony of “mama this” and “mama that”. It’s a beautiful sound, no doubt, but also one that can become a bit monotonous… sort of like the drip, drip, drip of a faucet in the middle of the night. Not annoying enough to make you get out of your comfortable, warm spot to turn it off, but just enough to enter the outer realm of thoughts and keep you from a completely deep state of sleep. Still… there’s a certain rhythmic quality about that sound that, if you allow it, can actually lull you to sleep. That’s the way it seems with the chirping of my children this week. Can you tell they are on spring break and we’re all home together!

That constant pursuing by my little chicks is something I bemoan in the moment, but relish and reflect on every night as I tuck them in. How did I get blessed beyond anything I deserve with such precious and perfect children? Why is it that I am the pursued by day, and the pursuer by night? I don’t understand it, truly! All day long, as I am busy tasking, I feel like I am constantly trying to engage them in some worthwhile and enriching activity so that I can slip away to do more chores. But then when it’s time for them to go to bed, I often feel sad to lay them down and wish the day hadn’t gone so quickly. Bedtime is so often the sweetest time of day here at my house. It’s not that the chores are all done, let’s be honest here, that NEVER happens. There’s always another chore to do. And why am I trying to get them entertained so I can do chores during the day anyway? I hate chores and I actually don’t mind playing board games and jumping around on the trampoline. I think I have priority issues! I hope my husband isn’t reading this because I know I’m going to get some lesson in time management whereby I am supposed to prioritize my daily tasks by assigning them a number or some such very consultantesque lesson.

Last night as I was tucking Meg into bed, I was scratching her back and she said at least three times, “tickle back more Mommy.” I couldn't resist her! So I tickled her back a little more and I just can’t help but think of all the thousands of little girls JUST LIKE HER, her exact age, with equal amounts of potential, who are going to bed tonight with no one to tuck them in, kiss them, or even sweep their hair out of their eyes, much less give them one more tickle. Why does it always come back to this for me? Why am I so consumed? Why can't I just tuck in my daughter, enjoy the moment, and not be tortured by the ones who have no mother? I know there are others out there who get my burden for the fatherless, but why am I absolutely PURSUED by it? Why can’t I set it down, even for a minute? Why does it consume me? Why can’t I just tuck my sons in and not be heartbroken over the ones who have no one? What would God have me do with it? I believe it is my call not only to love the orphans, but to raise children who will love them too. But what else? Surely God doesn’t absolutely torment me with this heart of mine just so that I will be reminded to teach my children what I know of the world. What does He want with me? What does He want to do with this ache He won’t release me from?

Maybe He keeps me burning just so I will keep wearing Gwen’s shirts almost every day. Maybe I am supposed to just be a walking billboard. Okay God, I heard YOU, don’t you see I’m wearing the shirt for three days in a row now (hey, I didn't spill or sweat, it's not dirty!)? I don’t know why I am so obsessed with this adorable blue t-shirt (yep, sounds like God’s sense of humor to me, for sure!), maybe I feel better when I am wearing my passion for everyone to see. I don’t feel like I have to carry it solely when I am wearing it. And I wear the beads from Katie’s village almost every day too. I think I might be becoming some crazy lady who talks to herself on the treadmill at the Y (that is, if the Y wasn't so expensive that I refused to continue my membership!) Someone please bring me a glass of wine and turn off the treadmill before I hurt myself!

“Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”

Deuteronomy 6:6-9

Monday, April 06, 2009

Catholicism 101

Great, I actually got a few questions! How exciting! Thanks! And those are questions (except the nun one) that I get alot, so I am excited to answer them.... however, I may have gotten myself in over my head here. I will do my best to answer you all. But if the GREAT questions keep rolling in, I may have to turn to a guest blogger who is more knowledgeable in church history and doctrine. :) But here is my understanding, other Catholics feel free to correct me here....

First of all, that nun was out of her mind. I have NEVER heard it taught in the church that ANYONE is going to hell. In fact, the church, in my experience, almost goes too far in the opposite direction, telling us not to judge or condemn our brothers and sisters, no matter what religion they are because only God knows His relationship with each individual person/religion. This includes and is extended to non-believers and non-Christians alike. We are called, as a church, to minister to, love, care for, and share Christ with everyone we encounter. We are called to be Christ to everyone who needs Him, but we are not called to judge whether or not their particular faith is legitimate. I have seen a level of courtesy extended to Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews that I was somewhat in awe of and sometimes confused by, but that ultimately left me realizing that this was what Christ called us to... to LOVE every body, to serve Him through serving them, to spread the Word by our actions and our words, and to leave their hearts to Him, because in the end, only God can change a mans heart. This is not to say that we are not responsible for going into the nations and spreading the Word, it means that we are not to judge the state of another's heart. This nun was DEFINITELY off track and I can't imagine a Catholic teaching she would stand on that would say she was right. As the church is holy, it's infallible. However, as the church is made up of humans, it is flawed and that is definitely a flawed theology!

Secondly, do Catholics believe we are the only legitimate religion? No! What your husband is referring to is that Catholics and the Church believe that we have the "truest form" of religion. I want to be careful and VERY CLEAR here... we do not think we are right and everyone else is wrong! That is to say that we believe that our theology, our doctrine, and our practices are as close to what Jesus left His disciples as we can achieve on earth. However, it does not mean that there are not other true religions and that God isn't present and working in the hearts of every man, woman and child in our world, regardless of their religion or beliefs. Each of us come to Him in our own way and in our own time. Now, before anyone gets up in arms about us saying that we have the truest form of religion, stop and think for a minute that most every pastor in every religion in the world would say the same thing, Protestant or Catholic. If you thought another faith had a "truer" form, why wouldn't you be in that church? Why would you choose to remain in a church where you felt that they were close to right, but that someone else was actually doing it better? It would only stand to reason that we all congregate to where we feel like we are closest to what God calls us to be, right? I don't know if this makes sense, but I don't see it as we are right and everyone else is wrong. I have specifically asked this question of one of the theologians in our parish and this is what I was told. We believe (and history makes a strong argument for the fact) that Catholicism was the original religion. That when Jewish Christians were ejected from the churches a few years (maybe around 30 or 40 years or so) after Jesus' death, the religion that resulted was Catholicism. Peter (the Rock on which Jesus built his church) was our first church leader and the religion spread informally at first (secret meetings in homes and catacombs) and then became an organized religion over the years. Prior to the Reformation, there was Catholicism, Judaism, and Pagan worship. When Martin Luther nailed the edicts on the door of the church, it was not his intent to split the church. It was his intent to reform the Catholic church, he never actually set out to father a new religion. The Church of England resulted in great part from that split, due to the desire of King Henry to divorce himself of his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn. However, the Church at that time had become very corrupt and very powerful. They had taken advantage of the fact that the people had no choices and they were acting in very unethical ways (selling dispensations, promoting church leaders who were evil, etc. etc.) So, in that respect, Luther actually forced a cleansing of the church that worked for the good of the church at the time and continues to keep leaders accountable. However, Catholics also believe that it was never the intent of God that His believers and followers be seated at different tables. This came about through the fallen nature of humans who failed to lead the church in the appropriate manner (Catholics of the pre-Reformation age) and we all continue to live with the aftermath of their sins. Paul addresses this several times in the New Testament, warning Christians not to call themselves "followers of Paul" or "followers of Timothy", but rather to consider themselves followers of Christ, one body. Even in the VERY early church, the temptation was there to fight among each other over the "details" of how Christians worship. In this way, the age old "battles" rage on. It's why Catholics (and Episcopals and some others) observe a closed communion. It's a sign of mourning that we are not at one table together as we believe God intended and a "penance" that we must pay until that day in heaven when we are all seated together.

Someone wanted to know about Penance. Penance is simply a "reparation" for wrongdoing. Penance is basically what the priest instructs us to do after confession. Webster's dictionary refers to it this way: "an act of self-abasement, mortification, or devotion performed to show sorrow or repentance for sin." In the Catholic faith, it's how we repair the relationship that sin has broken through confessing our sins to the priest and receiving a "penance" or an act that we perform to repair our wrong. A thoughtful priest will often give a penance that is directly related to the confessed sin. For example, I confessed to the priest that I had talked behind someones back, my penance was to invite that person to lunch and let my sin be known to that person and ask for forgiveness. This is extremely hard to do, but it didn't let me off the hook for facing my sister who I had wronged. On the other hand, I've also faced priests who gave very easy penances like, "Say 10 Our Fathers". These types of penance, while they may work for some, are not as helpful to me and I often feel "let off the hook" by the generic penance. So, I hope that explains what a Penance is, if not, please feel free to ask, I will elaborate.

Purgatory is actually a more difficult one to explain. It's one of the "mysteries" of the Catholic faith and it's a mystery to many of us too! :) It's not a "place" so to speak, it's a state of being. One priest explained it to me this way, "When an older person lingers in body, not alive, but not dead either, that is likely purgatory. It's the soul's preparation to be in the presence of the splendor of an Almighty God." The Scripture that Purgatory is based on is not in the Protestant Bible. It is one of the books that was rejected after the Reformation, due in part to it's mention of Purgatory and the direct conflict that posed with Reformists. I actually don't know the verse it's based on, but I will look it up and get back to you... stay tuned on that one.

In terms of works vs. faith. James 2:19-23 really says it very well. One is dead without the other. You cannot have faith without it producing works in you, if you do, it's a dead faith, useless. Paul addresses this numerous times as well, never better than in 1 Corinthians 13 when he says that if I have faith that will move mountains, but have no love, it is worthless. Your faith is worthless unless it produces love in you, in other words. How do we love one another? Katie Davis does it very well. Paul Farmer (Mountains Beyond Mountains) loves! So many I can think of are allowing their faith to produce a Godly love, but what does that LOOK like? How do we know they love? We look at their works. Their works are certainly, by no means, saving them, Jesus doesn't value them over me because of the merit of their works, but their works are a natural extension of the love in them. We do not, by any stretch, believe that we are saved by the works that we do. We believe that we are redeemed from Hell, where we deserve to be, by the grace and mercy of a risen Savior, Jesus Christ. But we believe that a faith in that Savior will produce works in us that will glorify our Father in heaven. Can we go to heaven if we are "saved" but never do a good deed in our life. I suppose, but I would question whether or not you could have a true relationship and faith in Christ without it producing a change in you. If the Holy Spirit is SEALED in us the moment we accept Christ, then how could we not be changed? And how could we not "look" different to the world? I don't think I have explained this very well. I know that what matters to Christ is our hearts, I just think if our hearts are right, we will not be "dead" in spirit. Yes, we are saved by grace. Yes, grace covers our failures to act, our wrong actions, AND our misdeeds. But a true relationship with Christ produces something... He says a vine that does not produce fruit will be pruned so I think this is probably making a case for what is expected of a Christian. Make sense? I think I butchered that one!

So, I really hope that none of this sounds like an info-mercial for Catholicism. I respect every Christian religion as legitimate and I do not question the faith others have found through various forms of worship. For me personally, joining the church was about following my husband. He was committed to the Catholic church. I believe God set him as the head of our home. If he was not a follower, then it would have been a different story, but since he was already an active participant in a faith, I believe that God was calling me to embrace that faith. That's not to say that God was calling you or anyone else there. God calls each of us in His own time and in the way that speaks to us most pointedly. Catholicism is certainly not for everyone and I don't believe it's my job as a Catholic to convert anyone to my faith. I believe it's my responsibility to be Christ in every possible dominion. I am to be the hands and feet of Christ. I am to be a lover of Christ by loving His people, every single one of them, and particularly the least lovable among them. That's the crux of our faith... love, serve, and love some more. Pour yourself out before Christ and be transformed by His love for you. Let your light so shine before men that you would glorify your Father in heaven. Letting your light shine is different for every single person, we all have a different light, but we all glorify the same Father! Make sense?

I'll leave you with this, which I think is an excellent explanation of the Catholic stance on faith and works" from James, chapter 2:

14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,"[e] and he was called God's friend. 24You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
25In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Holy Week

I have been thinking alot about what it means to be Catholic in today's culture and in our country. First of all, let me say that I know very well that we have the ultimate religious freedom in this country. We are at liberty to attend where we want and when we want and even publish on the Internet that we love and serve a risen Lord. However, being Catholic puts me in a very small minority comparatively and leaves me open to a LOT of questions about my faith. The "war" between Protestants and Catholics is still being waged in many Protestant religions. Many untruths and misunderstandings about Catholicism are still being perpetuated. For some reason, there is a faction of Protestant religions (none in particular, just random pockets of many different denominations) that still fell called to point to the "wrongs" of the Catholic church as a whole and conversion of Catholics as individuals. This probably puts Catholics in the top five list of most misunderstood and most "persecuted" religious factions in the US. I would dare to say that among CHRISTIAN religions, it is THE most misunderstood.

So, with that in mind, I enter very solemnly and reverently into what Catholics celebrate as "Holy Week" (the week between Palm Sunday, the day our Savior rode into town on a donkey with people waving palm leaves and shouting Hosanna, and the culmination of our entire faith when Jesus rose from the dead, which we celebrate on Easter Sunday.) But I get questions all the time from people about our faith and am always shocked to hear what others believe or are taught about the Catholic practices (not just you Michelle, I promise! :)

I thought it might be sort of beneficial to do a little Q and A here and I will try to answer you the best I can. Feel free to be very blunt and open, because most everyone else is, and I already know we are "misunderstood" and some of our "rituals" seem very "mysterious" so I won't be shocked, most likely.

First of all, a few facts that you should know going in. Catholics believe in, worship, and serve Jesus Christ as the only son of God! This is the center and the core of our faith, just as it is in every other Christian religion. We do NOT worship Mary. We revere Mary as the only woman throughout world history who was hand chosen by God to be the mother of His son, we try to emulate her as someone whose only desire was to serve the Lord in His will, but we do not count her as part of the divinity and we do not worship her. There are statues of Mary (and Joseph and many other saints like Paul, Thomas, Matthew, etc.) in our churches, not because we worship idols. They are there very much like you have photos of the people in your family who have meant the most to your family. Do any of you have photos of a deceased parent or grandparent around your house? It's very much the same concept. They are there as reminders of who we are in Christ, whose example it is that we follow, and whose work it is that we are called to carry on... that's it. We do NOT worship these idols, PERIOD!

Do we read the Bible? Yes! In fact, our Bible has seven books that the Protestant Bible does not contain. Did we add these books to the Bible? No! These books were part of the original Bible, but Martin Luther rejected these books at the post-Reformation council. Most of the books were rejected based on the fact that the original text was not written in Latin, but in Greek. Some of the books were rejected because they did not agree with Reformist ideas of the faith and religion, and some of the books were rejected based on specific doctrinal conflicts within them. So, we read all the same things Protestants read, plus seven more. These seven "extra" books do not contain anything that is in direct conflict or revolutionary to the rest of the Bible. One book in particular is a book that is mostly about parenting and discipline. All seven of the books are contained in the Old Testament.

We actually recite a creed every week at church that outlines exactly what we believe, which is not in any conflict whatsoever with what any other Christian religion believes. I believe the fear and misunderstanding comes not from what we believe but in how we practice what we believe. For example, confession. Can Catholics speak directly to God? or do we have to go through a priest? Yes, we commune directly with God and are called to do so every day, many times a day. We do not need to confess to a priest to be forgiven. The priest, in this instance, represents our fellow man, the church body. Christ himself tells us to confess our sins to one another before receiving communion. He says to go and make yourself right with any brother you have offended before receiving communion and then come back and partake of the body and blood. This is exactly the intent of confession. It's a cleansing experience for the SINNER! Not something we do for God so much as something we do for ourselves. We confess our sins out loud to a priest, most often eye to eye (contrary to what you see in the movies, you are usually sitting knee to knee with the priest, looking him in the eye) and he gives us a "penance" (a way to make reparation with the body or brotherhood.) After confessing your sins to another person, it's much harder to go back out of that room with the same attitude of sin. It's so much harder to look another person in the eye and confess week after week that you have failed in the exact same weakness and it also gives the priest the opportunity to be much more intimately aware of the issues his flock are struggling with and tailor his messages thus. If practiced correctly, confession is meant to bring an intimacy and a catharsis to the sinner with his leader. Many Protestant faiths practice similar experiences through things such as "spiritual mentors", who I have heard referred to as "accountability partners." It's very similar.

Many other sacraments in the church that are misunderstood are everything from anointing the sick (which Jesus himself did and Jesus was actually anointed before His death as well) to the sign of the cross, etc. Sacraments are simply outward signs that bring an inward change. These are things we do in the physical body that stir something in the spiritual body. The holy water (simply water that has been blessed by a priest) that we dip our fingers into as we enter the church and then make the sign of the cross, is simply a reminder to us of our baptismal promises (to reject sin and Satan.) It has no "magical" power to protect us, beyond what the reminder does to protect us from the temptation of sin.

Catholics, like many of the older Protestant religions, have one governing document that outlines for us our exact belief and stance on almost every issue, both social and spiritual. This document is most often referred to as "Vatican II" because the last Vatican council (the second Vatican council) is the most current document in the church today. However, the Pope makes statements and takes official stance for the Church as social justice and circumstances demand. The Pope is such a misunderstood figure, and I can't explain it to you other than to say that each church has a hierarchy of leadership. Catholicism is no different, ours just has MANY layers and reaches all the way to Rome. The convenience of having a governing document is that we don't have to ask what our faith teaches on any particular subject, it's written out in black and white. We don't have to put ourselves at odds with other believers or church leadership because we know from the "git go" what our faith teaches on almost any subject. We are called to support these beliefs, which is why I find it very difficult to rectify John Kerry, a Catholic, who proclaims the pro-choice agenda. It's pretty clear that he is not Catholic if he does not ascribe to such a central belief of our faith. Too many times in today's culture we are taught to pick and choose the things that fit us and our lives and leave the rest of the Bible to others. I don't believe we can do this and truly serve as we should. That's where the Grace of the cross and God's mercy come in because certainly we can't get it right, in our humanness.

This week is Holy Week. On Thursday, there is a beautiful service in the church where the cross is "adored." The cross is laid out on the altar and church-goers are called forward to adore the cross in their own personal way, many kiss the feet of Jesus, some rub it, some bow before it, it's a personal and moving experience. I encourage you to attend if you have ever been curious about what actually happens in a Catholic church. You are not barred from participation in this adoration just because you aren't Catholic and it's a very beautiful service to attend. On Good Friday, there is another very personal service in the church. It's a lovely "enactment" of the events that occurred for all humanity on Good Friday. There is no genuflecting, no singing at the end of mass, no praises during these three days that our Lord is "absent" from the church (in the grave) and it's very moving to experience. Of course, Easter Sunday is the most joyous celebration of the year, the day our Lord ROSE FROM THE GRAVE!

So there it is, all the most common questions I get and more than you probably even care to know about Catholicism, you probably weren't curious at all. But I do get alot of questions, these few in particular over and over again. Hopefully now you feel a little bit better about what strange and mysterious things your neighbors are doing in the pews next door. If not, fire those questions, I promise, I have heard it before!

Numbers 5:6-7
"... 'When a man or woman wrongs another in any way [a] and so is unfaithful to the LORD, that person is guilty 7 and must confess the sin he has committed. He must make full restitution for his wrong, add one fifth to it and give it all to the person he has wronged."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I need more faith!

I am almost finished reading Crazy Love. I should be done by now, but I have procrastinated finishing it. Something subconscious, I think, because it's been a crazy ride of a book and I like the time I have been spending with God in this book. I am thankful for the renewed way I view Him because of the words of Frances Chan. I look forward to sitting at the feet of the Master each afternoon and just soaking up some little and big things He wants to show me. He's drug me all through the Bible (and when I say drug I mean it literally because I feel like He's been pulling me so fast sometimes that I am stumbling all over the place.) So what's my take away from the book? A few things... sorry this is SOOOO long.

1. I feel like God does call MANY of us to downsize our homes, sell our "stuff", drive our cars a little longer, give of ourselves and our treasures until it is uncomfortable, etc. However, I also believe that what that looks like is different for everyone. I don't think I am finding excuses for staying in my comfortable life when I say this either. I don't live extravagantly. We try to be very smart with our treasures. But by 90% of the world population, I am still wealthy beyond comprehension. My home is not a mansion, but it's more than most have. However, God also showed me during the course of this book that I am where I am meant to be. I am surrounded by alot of folks who "get it" and who are living out their beliefs. People in my neighborhood are sacrificing every day, not out of their surplus, but out of their "I need this a little less than he needs this" positions. Not everyone in my neighborhood by any means. Certainly there are plenty here who don't get it, but there are enough here who do to keep me here and I know that God sent a couple of these women to me in the past two weeks to very specifically affirm for me that He has me where He wants me for now. If that changes though, God knows (because I've told Him) that I will go ANYWHERE and do ANYTHING He asks. This scares the fool out of me to even say it in my head, much less put it out there. Because when I say that, the first thing I think of is Detroit or Cincinnati or upstate NY. Not because these are bad places to live, but because they are COLD... and I'm a Southern girl, so I think God always gets a little laugh at my expense when those locales pop into my head! :) Plus, I said I would GO... I didn't say I would go joyfully. :) I didn't say I wouldn't be a little irritated if He asked me to go serve on a soup line in Wisconsin instead of an orphanage in Uzbekistan... but I would go (I hope!)

2. I am not believing God for big enough things. Seriously, have you seen what He has done for and through and with Katie? I mean, He gave her a dream and told her the name of her next daughter. He tells her to ask Him for things (VERY SPECIFIC THINGS) and then He almost immediately delivers them to her doorstep. I know there are some other things He is taking more time on, but she gets to see the BIG STUFF happening all the time. Why don't I get to see that? Because I don't believe big enough! Because I limit God with my limited thinking! I believe that God doesn't want to do BIG, show-offy kind of stuff in my life. But He does! He wants to bring that glory on Himself every day and through every person. Why doesn't He? Because of our unbelief and our "stuff" that is in the way of our faith in Him.

3. God has called me to serve Him in a very specific way to a very specific group of people, for right now. I hope there will be a time when my kids and I can go serve orphans together in a very hands on way. I want experiences like Suzanne and Mike had in Uganda. I want to lay my bricks in Africa, Russia, China, or wherever else there are fatherless children that need to know the love of Jesus through one of His servants. But that time is not right now. My children are not ready for that level of servitude from me. I know that some are called to serve at that level, even with young children. Paul Farmer is, no doubt! But right now I have things going on with the ones He has given very specifically to me and He expects me to care for them with a reckless abandon and the energy that I would care for the ones still waiting. Sometimes that's actually a little harder. It's harder because getting the energy up every day, day in and out, to serve in very normal ways is not very "exciting" or "shiny" and doesn't feel much like a ministry. I mean, when you see the lame walk before your eyes, now that feels like you being the hand of God. But when you are making grilled cheese for the umpteenth time, then that's a little more mundane... and with no end in sight, believe me, it's no less a miracle that He can even drag my sleepy booty out of bed some mornings. Did you ever watch the movie "Groundhog Day"? :) So, what I really felt God telling me through this book is that for right now, the mission field is HERE! Right under my own roof, there's plenty of BIG stuff that God can deliver. There's plenty of healing that can happen here and He CAN do it... He wants to do it... but He needs me to believe that He can and will. More importantly, He needs me to rely on Him for it instead of just wringing my hands over it. And I also know that if healing doesn't occur, it's no less a miracle. I know that if healing does not happen, big flashy stuff doesn't occur, it's still for His glory because for whatever reason, the status quo was required for Him to be glorified. Either way, I just have to keep my eyes on Him, stay in the Word, and let Him shoulder the burden.

4. I have learned through reading both books and blogs that God can use just about anything we submit to Him to draw us closer to Him. He can be "in" anything we allow Him to be in. Katie mentioned last week that our worth to God is not tied to what we do. That is such a great reminder where I am in this stage of life. But while God doesn't care that I am folding laundry and not passing out food rations, it does matter that I do what I am doing with an attitude of serving Him. I have tried to have in my mind this past week that God would be putting on those t-shirts I am putting in that drawer, Jesus would be pulling on those pants I am ironing (yes, mother, I do iron!) And that He would be coming over for dinner, sitting at my table, seeing the dog hair (or absence thereof) on the floor and listening to the conversation. It's been pretty eye opening when doing things I don't necessarily want to do. I have a new take on the verse that tells us to do everything we do as if doing it for the Lord. And God has been SO kind and gentle with me. Really, He has encouraged me at every single turn. I must be a very fragile Christian because the load God has given me has been so light and He has given me little pats on the back and sent cheerleaders every mile of the walk. He encourages me sometimes when I don't realize I need it until after I actually get it. And He does blow me away, even though I don't ask for enough and don't believe big enough. So just imagine what He could do if I would increase my faith!

Finally, I want to share a prayer that came out of the book. It's by A.W. Tozer's Pursuit of God. I love it!
"O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, "Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away." Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long."

Change even I can believe in.....

Okay, even though everyone knows I didn't vote for him, I have to say, there are some things on the horizon for our country that could really get a girl excited. The most exciting thing I've heard in ages is the possibility that our government will install Smart Meters into every home in America. First of all, on the exciting scale is that thousands of electricians will be given government jobs. I know this will be a huge blessing for these families because the pay will be good and they will undoubtedly have health insurance, which I don't mind paying for with my tax dollars. I have no problem with a government employee coming into my house to install these meters, after all, someone installed my original electric meter and my water meter. What's the difference? But the very most exciting thing about Smart Meters is that they will allow the government to control the amount of electricity we use. Why didn't someone think of this sooner? We possibly could have avoided that whole inconvenience of global warming if only we could have stopped people from using too much electricity sooner. Besides, it's really not fair that I can afford to keep my heat on 68 when there are plenty of people who need to keep their heaters set to 62. Plus, I'm just not comfortable in the summer with my air on 75, even though my neighbors do keep their's set higher to help with conservation. I am clearly not able to regulate myself, suffer just a little for the greater good, and obviously NEED the government to regulate this for me because I've been given ample opportunity to do it and have not.

The second most exciting change that is actually more close to occurring is putting all our medical records online (15 billion dollars of TARP is designated for this.) This ran a very close race with the Smart Meters, I actually can't figure out which one I am more excited about. Everyone knows good and well that there are sites on the internet that not even the most skilled hacker can access. Companies (like my husband's) could have work for years helping facilitate this transition and helping companies comply with the government regulations surrounding the online records. This is actually stimulus that stands to HELP my family. And think of the convenience where your health records could follow you EVERYWHERE! No need for disclosing things (like your psychiatric conditions or sexual issues or "female problems") to your doctor (discussing those things in person can be embarrassing.) Luckily, there will come a day in the future where you won't have to discuss those things, your records will proceed you into every doctors visit and hospital stay. Only employees of the hospital and clinics will be able to access this private information (oh yeah, and maybe the employees of the companies that spring up to manage this data.... which my husband will be helping to install programs, so probably the employees of my husband's company and others like him) which makes me feel totally secure. I completely trust that none of these people would abuse the very private information they will have access to.

There are a number of other things I am quite excited about.... Government run auto companies, printing more money, increased stem cell research, fewer abortion regulations (those pesky rules restricting minors have GOT to be lifted!), paying to install high speed internet in rural communities also seems more fair, and so many others.... but that will have to wait for another post.

APRIL FOOLS!!!!!!!!!!!