Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Birthday to Me!

Birthdays are a great time to take stock. They are milestones that are the perfect opportunity to reflect on growth and struggles over the past year. This past year has been the busiest and craziest yet. This day last year I took the day off and spent it at the spa. Jarrod got me the gift of an entire day to myself. I got a facial, massage, and pedicure. It was absolutely delightful. Jarrod was trucking along at school and we were trying to figure out our next steps in adoption.

Last April this blog went radio silence because of what happened on April 23rd, 2014.

The day after my birthday I went to lunch with a friend. We ate at a Mediterranean restaurant full of pregnant women. I shared my frustration with the foster process. She shared her knowledge of a baby coming in June and a family praying for an open adoption. I wrote about that day and the days that followed in our journey to our little girl.

I can hardly believe it's only been a year. I remember this day last year so well. It was such a calm day, the calm before the storm, I think. The next days and weeks left me so anxious. I was desperate for this baby girl. I prayed for the best outcome for our previous birth family and their darling baby. I could hardly function in my daily life because of this intense secret.

So much has happened since then. We made more family, got our little girl, changed jobs, and grew as a family. We traveled and learned so much. Our daughter has blessed our family in ways I never imagined. It's been an incredible year.

This morning I dressed my big girl in one of my favorite outfits, lace socks, and polka dot TOMS. I pulled her hair into a top pony and added a pink bow. Wesley wore his signature Super Wes shirt.

I received a new charm on my charm bracelet. I shared it on instagram yesterday. 
It's not all sunshine. In fact, this has been an incredibly challenging year. But it's always interesting to look back at the past year and reflect on the changes - good and bad - that have occurred. I don't know what this next year will bring, but most of my hopes it is less eventful than this past year! 
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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Searching for Sunday


I was chosen a few months ago to review Rachel Held Evans latest book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. I've been a long-time admirer of her work including biblical womanhood, her blog, and her lesson in the animate series. I knew I would like this book because her work is always thoughtful and challenges me. I received a copy of this book at no cost, but all the opinions shared are my own. I finished the book a few weeks ago, but you can finally get your own copy today!

This review is hard for me to write. While I've had negative experiences with Christians, and negative experiences with churches, I've never had a bad church experience that caused me to leave. While a lot of this book really resonates with me, I've not had the experiences that she has. I've not left the church of my youth. I've not had any length of time outside of the church and I've never church-hopped. My husband and I have both worked in various (United Methodist) churches our entire adult lives, and likely will for many more years.

But as an introvert, I struggle with the need to do church. Sometimes I just go through the motions because being with people is hard and messy. As an introvert, Rachel challenges my introvertedness and reminds me to be authentic and open because Jesus calls us to community.
Church needs to feel authentic. There needs to be depth, but that's messy and we are often scared of mess. While I've helped create authentic community, I've also stood in the way of it by not sharing my true self in church. 
So why do our churches feel more like country clubs than AA? Why do we mumble through rote confessions and then conjure plastic Barbie and Ken smiles as we turn to one another to pass the peace? What makes us exchange the regular pleasantries—“I’m fine! How are you?”—while mingling beneath a cross upon which hangs a beaten, nearly naked man, suffering publicly on our behalf?
Bam. Right?

This quote hit me between the eyes. She's exactly right. I rarely respond to "How are you?" with anything other than, "Great!" even when I'm exhausted, weary, or beat-up. But if I continue to respond with a superficial answer, how will I ever help cultivate the authentic community Jesus asks of me?

The best part of this book for me is that there aren't any answers. It feels more like Rachel and I are having coffee, lamenting and longing for authentic community. She shares her experiences and I share mine. We do not solve any problems, but rather explore and wrestle. We continue to come back to our need for the church and the things it can and should offer. We come back to the fact that we are both called to serve.

The book is outlined using the sacraments: baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage. Through these topics, Rachel addresses the importance of the body of Christ and space to wrestle with faith. My favorite sections are holy orders and communion. Those concepts really appeal to me in my daily life and those are two areas where I am drawn more deeply into the church. I deeply believe that all are called. "Ultimately, all are commissioned. All are called. All belong to the holy order of God’s beloved. The hands that pass the peace can pass a meal to the man on the street." That's a tough call, but it is one we all have. Because I've wrestled with a call to ordination and have stood by my husband's side while he answers his, I'm especially interested in differences in call. Being called to ordination versus lay ministry is not superior.
I often wonder if the role of the clergy in this age is not to dispense information or guard the prestige of their authority, but rather to go first, to volunteer the truth about their sins, their dreams, their failures, and their fears in order to free others to do the same.
If we all had the permission from our clergy leaders to be authentic and sincere, would we follow? I hope so. What if we gave our clergy that permission so that they could be authentic and fallible? How would that change our churches? I think it might. I think it is.

In the section on communion, Rachel discusses the open table quite a bit. I love this. My denomination does practice an open table where the bread and juice are available to all who confess of their sins and desire a reconciliation with Christ. I respect churches that do not have an open table, but I deeply love that our tradition hosts an open table.
I don’t know exactly how Jesus is present in the bread and wine, but I believe Jesus is present, so it seems counterintuitive to tell people they have to wait and meet him someplace else before they meet him at the table. If people are hungry, let them come and eat. If they are thirsty, let them come and drink. It’s not my table anyway. It’s not my denomination’s table or my church’s table. It’s Christ’s table. Christ sends out the invitations, and if he has to run through the streets gathering up the riffraff to fill up his house, then that’s exactly what he’ll do. Who am I to try and block the door?
Yes. Exactly. Like I said, I have a deep respect for my brothers and sisters who do not have the open table, but this really resonated in me because of my love for the open table. I have a deep feeling that Jesus wants us to share grace with everyone. That grace should flow from us and touch everyone we contact. This isn't always how it works, but I believe it's how it should be. And communion is the manifestation of this grace being shared with all.
But the gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, “Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.” This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry.
This year on Maundy Thursday I talked with Wesley about what we were remembering that day. I read him the passage from his story Bible and we talked about Jesus having dinner with his friends. I pray that he remembers that fellowship when he eats dinner. That is what makes communion so significant - it is a reminder of God's sacrificial grace every single time we eat!

While I desire grace for all, I was stung by the following line:

Sure, I’m happy to pass the bread to someone like Sara Miles or the neighbor who mows our lawn when we’re out of town. But Sarah Palin? Glenn Beck?

Ouch. Yes, I'd be happy to share communion with my child, husband, friends, and neighbors, but what about the homeless man I see on my way to work? What about the acquaintance that offended me? Do I want to share grace with them? Nope. Grace for all is messy like that.

The church is positively crawling with people who don’t deserve to be here . . . starting with me.

Searching for Sunday is a fantastic book about wrestling with faith while still remaining faithful to God. It's about finding a place within the church, even when that seems impossible. It's about longing to know God more, but being frustrated with the rest of humanity also longing to know God more.

I'll leave you with my absolute favorite quote from the book. As you know, I adore midwives and had a fantastic mid-wife assisted birth with Wesley. This is such a beautiful, albeit painful image of who God is calling us to be.

As BrenĂ© Brown puts it, “I went to church thinking it would be like an epidural, that it would take the pain away . . . But church isn’t like an epidural; it’s like a midwife . . . I thought faith would say, ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort, but what it ended up saying was, ‘I’ll sit with you in it.’”
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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Sharing Faith & Practices with Children

I don't have parenting wins often, but when I do, I want to celebrate them. We started some traditions with Wesley sharing prayers and practices with him several years ago. Apparently the persistence and consistency has paid off because in the past few weeks he's been adding practices to his own life.

We are Christians and attend worship each week. Our children are present in a variety of capacities (Christian preschool, nursery during worship, present for theological dinner conversation, listen to Christian radio, etc.) but it is important to us that they make their faith their own, not borrowing ours. My prayer is that this will grow and develop over time, but I know it will take a lot from Jarrod and I to encourage, leave room for doubt, and have plenty of open conversation.

I am sure there are other parents looking for ways to share their faith with their children in age-appropriate ways. I thought I'd share what we do in hopes that I will hear from others about what you do too!

Prayers for Sirens
Wesley LOVES fire engines, police cars, and sirens. He started getting SUPER excited when he heard sirens when he was about 18 months old. It disturbed me because a siren is usually not an exciting moment. I began teaching him to pray when we hear a siren,
Dear God, please be with those who are helping and those who need help. Amen.
Each and every time we hear a siren, we pray that simple prayer.  Wesley now prays this prayer on his own when he hears a siren. He is beginning to understand that sirens mean people need help. It is precious.

Grace before eating
Almost 2 years ago, Jarrod and I went to a monastery in France. A special style of music comes from this monastery called Taize. They are simple, chats that are easy to learn and very meaningful. When we returned, Jarrod and I picked a song that we would use before eating. We picked "Let all who are Thirsty Come." We sing it every night before we eat dinner.
Let all who are thirsty come. Let all who wish, receive the water of life freely. Amen. Come Lord Jesus. Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
This semester Jarrod has had class Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings. The kids and I still eat together and Jarrod gets dinner after he gets home. Wesley has begun singing with me every night and it's adorable. He was shy to join us at first, but now sings with enthusiasm and it is so fun.

Bible Stories before bed
I'm pretty particular about my children's Bible stories. I want them to be age-appropriate but also theologically appropriate. When I was introduced to the Spark Children's Story Bible, I knew I found the perfect Bible for my children.  This Bible is hardbound with thick and colorful pages. The Bible stories are shared in both an age-appropriate but theologically accurate way. Wesley loves reading the stories and looking at the pages. The Bible can be purchased here and I'd highly recommend it for any child!

We read one story from the Bible each night before bed. This was something I started when Wesley was an infant. I started with his first Bible, an NRSV children's bible. It had very thin pages and no pictures. He grabbed at the pages and I was terrified he was going to rip it. I never let him hold it or touch it. His story Bible is HIS Bible. He holds it, picks out the stories, and reads through it. He's getting the opportunity to use his Bible, which will hopefully make him more comfortable reading it in the future. Because the stories aren't watered down (too much) I'm hopeful that he will retain some of what he is learning and feel comfortable using his Bible.

The Lord's Prayer
Our church recites and prays the Lord's Prayer during worship each week. It was a standard part of growing up for me and it was important to teach this prayer to my children. We began praying this prayer as an end to our prayer time with Wesley when he was an infant. We continued doing this every night and when he was about 2.5 years old, he began joining in. He sometimes chooses not to pray it out loud with us, but he knows it and is capable. We pray in similar ways each night, "Dear God, thank you for this day. Thank you for.... Help us... etc." and keep things simple. This is not because we think prayer is simple or reserved only for bedtime but because it is a great and safe way for Wesley to learn to pray. He has copied our language (most of his prayers begin, "Dear God, thank you for this day.") and inserted some of his own (always thanking God for fire trucks, dinosaurs or Jake and the Neverland Pirates) in a way only a 3 year old can do.

It is my desire that Wesley develops a prayer life that is conversational, respectful, and open. I pray that he wrestles with God and listens intently. I pray he opens his heart to God and lifts up others.



I do not share any of this to brag or say that we are perfect. We do not do any of this ALL of the time. We skip nights and pray while children scream. We've found that consistency with faith practices (as with many things!) is key with little ones. If it doesn't work one night, it might work the next. Everyday is a new day and a new chance to share experiences with our kids.

How do you share your faith practices with your children?
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Friday, March 27, 2015

Adoption and Birth Stories

Wesley is 3 years old. We've been very open with him about Eloise's adoption. He knows her birthmom and calls her birth grandma "Grams". We haven't hid anything from him, but we acknowledge that he's very young and isn't necessarily processing any of what is happening. I take any opportunity to share with him the unique ways both he and Eloise joined our family. I want him to know that being adopted is very special and growing inside me is very special. I don't want to dwell on how they came into our family, but do want them to know their unique stories so that they can be confident in who they are and how special they are to us.

Typically the conversation goes like this:

Mama: Wesley, you know that you grew in my tummy, right? And Eloise grew in Birthmom's tummy and we adopted her. Remember that day, Wesley? When we went to court with a judge and the zoo?
Wesley: I'm adopted!
Mama: Um, no. Not exactly. But you're still very special, Wesley.
Wesley: Yes, mama. I'm adopted!
Mama: Yes. That's right.

The other night, as we were driving to church, Wesley began talking about when he was a baby. I seized the opportunity to talk about when he was born.

Wesley: Mama, I was a baby. Do you remember?
Mama: Yes, Wesley, I do! You grew in mama's tummy and you were born. You were very little.
Wesley: Yes, mama. I had a paci and I was little. I was born, mama, you remember?
Mama: Yes! After growing in mama's tummy, you were born and you were very little.
Wesley: I born in a fire truck!
Mama: Really? Wow! Tell me about that.
Wesley: Yes, mama. In a fire truck. There was lots of water! You remember, mama?
Mama: Well, yes, there was water...
Wesley: I born in a firetruck.

And scene.
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Thursday, March 26, 2015

What's been going on...

I took a hiatus from writing. Life got busy and I got writer's block. I've always wondered how much to share and if I'm sharing too much. It stressed me out to write anything because I was worried about what people would think. So I stopped altogether. Writing just seemed too overwhelming.

Over the past couple of weeks I was chosen to be on two book launch teams. I finished Rachel Held Evans' Searching for Sunday. It was incredible, refreshing, and hopeful. I'll write more soon, but the book definitely challenging how I think and encouraged me in my faith. It's the perfect book for those struggling with the church, want to more deeply discover the love and grace of God, and feel less alone in doubts.

I am right in the middle of Jen Hatmaker's For the Love. This book is funny, deep, and affirming. I cannot wait to finish it. You know I love me some Jen Hatmaker. You know she completely wrecked my life. Or maybe Jesus did and the Holy Spirit used Jen Hatmaker. That's slightly more likely. This book is perfect for busy moms who need a laugh and encouragement in their faith and all people who think the love and grace of Jesus Christ should be shared.

I am in closed facebook groups for both of these launch teams with incredible people. People with blogs, books, and fancy lives. I struggle with why I was chosen over so many others. I want to live up to the expectations and get the most out of the opportunities. Over and over I ask myself, "Am I supposed to write?" In the midst of other writers I think about how may people are already writing. Does the world need one more blog? Likely not.

Two weekends ago I had the honor to be the speaker at a women's retreat. I was humbled by the collective wisdom. I had the opportunity to study, prepare, and speak on the feeding of the 5,000 scripture passage in Mark. It was energizing and exhausting at the same time. I enjoyed myself and felt good about the experience. I loved having the chance to study and wrestle with scripture with the purpose of sharing that with other people. It's been a while since I've studied like that and I forgot how much I enjoyed it.

Last weekend our church hosted Renee Swope and Lisa Allen for a women's conference.  Although I didn't know much about them prior to this weekend, I had a fantastic time with them. I had the honor of picking them up from the airport and driving them around as needed. It was awesome to have uninterrupted time with such incredible and inspiring women.

Last weekend I began putting all of these things together. Am I supposed to write? Share my thoughts? Is it possible to share my thoughts without putting unnecessary pressure on myself? I have no idea. But I'm going to try. I'm going to share funny stories about my kids. I'll share pictures and parts of our journey. I might get deep. I might not. I might write weekly. I might not. But here's the door opening to the opportunity to share more of our story. I'm going to go back to the roots of this blog and share "What's cookin' with the Johnstons!"


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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

2014 Goals Recap

Each year I make goals. Several years ago I was very good at documenting our goals for the world. It was a great measurement and helped hold me accountable. Life has gotten busier and I've scaled back on my goals. This past year we set very specific goals as a family and had them up in the kitchen all year long. It was different than previous years because I didn't update you each month. However, I did take stock every day when I got dinner ready because they were staring at me!
My word for the year was obedient and Jarrod's was open. We did not complete each goal, but only because many of them changed! Here's our recap...

1. We did NOT complete the foster process, but probably would have had we not had a baby dropped into our laps. This goal probably should have been more bold and said, "adopt a baby". We nailed that goal!

2. We did not meet with an investment expert in March. We were a little behind on our financial goals in March and pushed it off until April. And then we got the call that we were going to adopt and put everything on hold to save funds for the adoption! Thank goodness! We now have retirement and kids college going but were thankful to be able to put that goal on hold to fund our adoption.

3. Scheduling intentional fun time as a couple and a family was crucial this year because of the chaos we experienced. We weren't exceptional at it, but we did do it and were mindful of it even in the most difficult of seasons. I'd say we did have one fun family day/time each month and probably about that for couple time too. We did have one weekend away without the kids, one night away without the kids, and one week of family vacation this year. Add to that multiple trips to the zoo, a few outdoor concerts, food trucks, and some movie nights at home, and I'd said it was a very fun year!

4. We challenged ourselves to meet each week to go over the budget, calendar, adoption forms, and schedule fun. We didn't do this EVERY week, but we did do it most weeks and it was incredibly helpful. Some weeks were more challenging but we did have on the calendar once a week to meet. We added in going over the menu plan at this meeting, which was incredibly beneficial after adding a second child with Jarrod in school!

Jarrod's Goals
1. He's taking 9 hours during the semester, took 6 over the summer, and 3 during this January term. He's on point to graduate in May of 2016! We had to have a come to Jesus meeting about this, but it happened and lit a fire under him!

2. Jarrod wanted to get good grades. He takes school (this time around) very seriously. However, when our daughter was born right in the middle of him taking 6 hours of class, we re-evaluated his desire to get straight As. Getting good grades is important, learning and taking this seriously is important, however, getting straight As cannot be the goal. Graduating and still having a healthy family relationship needs to be the goal. We re-evaluated this goal and he STILL got straight As last semester!

Leanne's Goals
1. I did walk most days. I probably walked 350 days this past year, but I didn't track it. This year I plan to make the same goal and track it using the Way of Life app. I'm already obsessed with it. I've walked at least 2 miles every day of 2015 so far!

2. I fundraised by MAY thanks to incredible donations from incredible people. It was SUCH a relief to have the fundraising done when we were focusing on bringing our daughter home. An incredible blessing!

3. Figuring out my next journey wasn't clear at the time. I wasn't sure if that meant quitting my job, adopting a child, picking up a new hobby, or adding in a new routine. I felt stuck and needed to get unstuck. Adding our daughter to our family got me unstuck in so many ways. I got a new job, have new routines, and have created a new rhythm for life that feels much more healthy. Life is still crazy, but in different ways.

I look forward to sharing our goals for 2015 soon!
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Friday, January 9, 2015

Baptism Invitations and ideas!

I've intentionally kept Sister's name off the blog for privacy's sake. However, today I'm going to share - Sister's name is Eloise Catherine. We call her Ellie, Sister, Ellie Cake, Ellie Cate, and Eloise, said in a very sing-songy voice. That has nothing to do with today's post...

When we were expecting Eloise, we knew that scheduling her baptism would be a challenge. I work in one church and work on Sunday mornings. Jarrod works at another church and works on Sunday mornings. Our dear friend and baby match-maker is a pastor and also works on Sundays at a 3rd church. Eloise's birth family is dedicated to a church and are busy on Sunday mornings. Baptizing our baby on a Sunday morning seemed impossible.

However, as United Methodists, we believe in baptism done in corporate worship. It is a sacrament meant to be done in community. It is not intended to be a private or secret event, but rather is a covenant between a community and a family. We firmly believe in being surrounded by friends and family as we commit to raising our child in the church. We love the liturgy that creates a covenant between the community and the family that together we will support each other to raise that baby to know Christ.

That being said, we began discussing Eloise's baptism before she was even born. We knew we wanted our dear friend to have a significant role. We knew we wanted her birth family to be there, if they desired. We knew we wanted our friends to be there - many of our friends work in churches on Sunday mornings. And we knew we wanted our baby baptized in the local church. We wanted as many folks from the local church to be there. We wanted it to be a big huge worship service, honoring God, and celebrating Eloise.

We scheduled Eloise's baptism for Wesley's birthday weekend in the afternoon. It meant that family that needed to travel could come for just one weekend and get Wesley's birthday and Eloise's baptism all in one shot. It is a time and day that is somewhat convenient for everyone we know that works in the church. It's proving to be a slightly chaotic weekend because Jarrod's in a January semester class this week and next. But we're making it work, even in the midst of the threat of terrible weather.

Following Eloise's baptism we are celebrating with friends and family at a great Methodist tradition - a potluck! We're making chili, corn bread, and will have cakes - one for Wesley's birthday and one for Eloise's baptism. The color scheme for the party is pink and gold. I fell in love with this color palette and created this invitation. I'm incredibly excited about how they turned out! We will decorate with pink and gold balloons, frames with pictures of our family, and cake!



I'm sure I'll share more pictures after the weekend extravaganza is over! Ellie will be wearing our family baptismal gown for the service and changing into something more comfortable for the potluck. Wesley will likely wear a Super Wes t-shirt because I'm picking my battles with him. :-)
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