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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