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In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am reflecting on all that I have to be thankful for right now. It is all too easy to get caught up in thinking about the negative things in life. Giving thanks is a way for us to redirect our focus onto the positive. Happiness researchers have found that practicing gratitude regularly will help increase your level of happiness.

I am thankful for…

Family: I’m so grateful to have my husband and daughter in my life. I prayed for both of them to become a part of my life — and my prayers were answered. That’s pretty cool if you ask me. Also I’m thankful for all the love and support that we receive from our parents.

Good Health: Hurray! It can be easy to take for granted if you’re healthy, but it’s a pretty big deal. I’m slightly obsessed with health. My current thing is drinking a wheatgrass/veggie juice detoxification blend daily. I eat fairly healthy and take a multiple vitamin, calcium, Vitamin D and Omega 3 supplements. If I feel like I’m getting sick I take odorless garlic tablets. (I rarely get sick, though neither does my husband, and he does none of those things ;)) And I pray about my health and my family’s health all the time.

Being in Eugene: A direct answer to prayer! So happy to be home again. Having the support of my parents five minutes away is a huge weight off my chest.

God’s provision: Our basic needs for food, clothing, water, shelter, heat always seem to be met. Hallelujah! Sometimes I worry about not having enough money, because if I look at the numbers, it doesn’t seem like it should be enough. But it works out somehow!

My faith: The biggest gift of all to me is my faith. Ever since I started going to church my freshman year of high school I have held tightly to my faith in Jesus. My understanding of God and the Bible has deepened over the years and I have been able to witness an amazing transformation in my own life. I guess that’s how I really know beyond a doubt that God is real — because the changes in myself have been miraculous.

Other things I am thankful for right now include our new church (which Marie loves!), the library (free books and toddler storytimes), the opportunity to work as a sub in Springfield, living next door to a playground, sunshine these last few days, and the yummy salmon chowder my husband made for dinner. And maybe a good night’s sleep tonight? Going to bed now.

Yesterday was my 30th birthday. I can tell I’m getting older because I have to dye my hair more frequently. Tragically I have been going gray since high school. Also I’m not as skinny as I used to be, though that is probably more to do with a combination of my husband’s amazing cooking and my being a mom.

My 6th birthday party.

My 6th birthday party.

Anyway I had a very nice birthday. I would have loved to have a big party for my 30th, but since we just moved back to my hometown we don’t know many people here. Spencer and I were able to go out to dinner Sunday night with my friend Giselle who I have known since freshman year of high school — which was half my lifetime ago (!). It was nice to spend some time with her as she’s been living in Chicago for the past seven years, during which I’ve only seen her a couple times. She tells me that for my 18th birthday all my friends decorated my locker with pictures of Ben Affleck, but I have no memory of this. I do remember that we ate dinner at the Olive Garden and that my friend Kevin “Prom Date” Bryan wrote me a rap.

On my birthday Marie and I joined my parents and grandmother for breakfast at The Glenwood, where Marie ate about 50 blueberries (also known as “bluebees”). In the afternoon my mom, Marie and I went shopping. Spence made dinner that evening and my parents joined us. We had grilled salmon, asparagus, garlic mashed potatoes, and salad with Chardonnay. Followed by an incredible Sweet Life tiramisu and some champagne. Tiramisu might be my favorite dessert ever. It was the top layer of our wedding cake — because, why not?

And so — goodbye to my 20s. I started dating my husband a few months after my 20th birthday, which means that we’ve almost been together for ten years. My 20th year was quite a life-changing year for me. I strongly reconnected with my faith, started dating my future husband, and spent 6 weeks interning at a newspaper in Ghana.

Have I accomplished the things I had hoped to accomplish by age 30? I had definitely expected to have more success in my career by this age — if you’ve been reading my blog you may have noticed this as a recurring theme. The recession has taken its toll on that aspect of my life, but that is what it is. I seem to be doing pretty well in my personal relationships. That’s really what matters.

I am very goal-oriented and I would use this opportunity to share my five year plan for my life now, but to be honest I don’t really have one anymore. At least, not in terms of my career. For my life, my plan for the next five years is to continue to be a good mother and wife. To build strong relationships with my family and friends. To continue to grow closer to God and to seek His direction and provision for my life. And to keep writing because writing is an important part of who I am. Beyond that — we’ll have to wait and see.

At the new church we’ve been going to, the pastor has been doing a sermon series on the book of Jonah. It’s a pretty interesting story. As a kid, you just think it’s a silly story — Jonah was swallowed by a whale. But this tiny, 4 chapter book of the Bible actually has some pretty interesting lessons in it.

I’ll give the abridged Jonah story:

God appears to Jonah and asks him to go to Nineveh and preach. Jonah refuses to obey God. Jonah gets on a boat to run away from God and then is swallowed by a whale as a punishment for disobeying God. Jonah repents. God again tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach. Jonah, not wanting to return to the belly of the whale, agrees. He goes to Nineveh and tells them that God will destroy the city in 40 days. The people of Nineveh repent and God saves the city.

Today the pastor spoke about preaching the gospel. He talked about how Jonah preached God’s message to the city of Nineveh even though he didn’t know the people there. He said today we feel like we need to earn the right to preach the gospel to people; we need to become their best friend before we might feel comfortable broaching the subject with them. He said that this is very different than when he was a college student in the 70’s and it was normal for evangelicals to hand out gospel tracts to strangers. He was not suggesting that we should go back to that but just noting that there has been an extreme shift towards Christians basically not sharing the gospel at all.

I do find it interesting because people seem to think that it’s completely inappropriate for Christians to talk about their beliefs yet it’s fine for everyone else to do so. People seem to think it’s fine for an atheist or a Buddhist or a pagan to talk about their beliefs, yet it’s totally offensive for a Christian. I don’t really get it.

But if you’ve read this far, I will share the gospel with you here: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. That’s the simple version.

Now it’s time to deal with a fussy toddler. I am so hoping we get some sleep tonight, last night was awful.

 

 

Disclaimer: This post contains information about my personal beliefs! If you are offending by hearing about other people’s beliefs that may be different from your own, feel free to stop reading now. No hard feelings.

Throughout human history, people have been pondering the meaning of life. Of course some take a different view —  as one dear friend once said, “I’m not interested in being deep.” I’m amazed at those who don’t seem to give much thought to finding meaning in their lives, as it’s always been kind of important to me.

Well if you know me, you may know that it’s actually super important. I’ve thought about it quite a bit. And I am about to turn 30, so perhaps I am old and wise enough for my thoughts to be of value.

In the simplest of terms, I’ve found that life is about this: Love God and love people. In the Christian co-op that I lived in during college we had a huge art piece on the wall that said, “Love God with all you’ve got and love people with all He gives you.” This does come from the Bible, when Jesus taught that the greatest commandment was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39).

Then you ask, but what does this mean practically in my life? What specifically am I supposed to do each day? Because the meaning of life is really more of an essay question than a multiple choice test.

I think it’s important to make the best possible decisions with the choices we are faced with, in light of the goals of loving God and loving people. We do not have total control over our lives, we can only make choices based on the circumstances we find ourselves in.

I choose to be a part of a church because it helps me with both of these goals. It helps me to worship and learn more about God, and to be a part of a community where I can love and serve other people.

I’m also a wife and a mother. Being a stay-at-home mother to a toddler is a 24-7 job. Being the best wife and mother I can be is my main purpose right now during my daughter’s formative years. Sometimes I get discouraged because I think I should be doing more. I used to be a teacher and I think, perhaps I should be teaching. Perhaps I should be writing books. Perhaps this or that. But prayer has given me the perspective that being a good mother is the most important thing I can be doing right now.

I could go into a long diatribe about my meandering career path, but I will just say that circumstances have led me to surrender to God’s will again and again. I have aspired to great success in terms of this or that career but now I feel at peace just being a mom. It is well with my soul. I am also a writer and am enjoying writing for the sake of writing. Writing is one of the things that brings meaning into my life.

As for you, if you are grappling with this question I would encourage you to pray. Ask God to give you purpose and direction for your life, and opportunities to love others. Then watch for those opportunities. Make the best choices you can with the circumstances you have.

Also, do this: Dare greatly.  If you’re really into this guy and you’re pretty sure he’s into you, but he won’t say it, then ask him what’s going on. You might find that ten years later, you’re married, with a beautiful daughter. Or not. But at least you’ll have tried. Audition for the choir. Apply to graduate school. Call that acquaintance and ask them to have coffee with you. Don’t let fear hold you back.

Maybe this post is overly cheese-ball and cliche. I get like that sometimes, late at night. But this meaning of life stuff really matters.

“But now, this is what the Lord says – He who created you Jacob, He who formed you Israel. Fear not for I have redeemed you, I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” – Isaiah 43: 1

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For further, better edited writing regarding the meaning of life check out the following:

-Storyline by Donald Miller (a workbook to help you find meaning in your life, by one of my celebrity crushes)

-The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

– the Bible

– T. S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets

 

 

According to a scientific study published online yesterday, there may be as many as 40 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way Galaxy. And the Milky Way is just one galaxy out of hundreds of billions of galaxies in our universe. So the odds seem likely that many of these planets sustain life, and some probably sustain intelligent life. Perhaps more intelligent than ours. Perhaps it’s true that Earth has already been visited by extraterrestrials. Who knows?

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I’ve always assumed that life existed on other planets, so this news is not all that shocking to me. Why would God make such a large universe with just one life-sustaining planet? Going even further than this, it’s possible that there are also other universes. And could there be gateways here on our Earth into these other universes? The back of the old wardrobe, perhaps? Or via tesseract? I’ve always loved fantasy novels where characters suddenly end up in other worlds.

Some people don’t want to believe in life on other planets. The unknown can be scary. And truly, the vastness of our universe is impossible for our puny little human brains to comprehend. But to me, contemplating this just makes me think of how amazing God is. God is so much bigger and more powerful than we can understand. Not only did He create this beautiful planet we call home, He created billions of planets. And yet He also lovingly created you and me. “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13). Being a mom has been an incredible journey for me as I’ve seen God’s creation in action in the form of my daughter. There is no way that humans could have randomly evolved without the hand of a Creator behind them. And besides, if there were no Creator, well, then where did the Universe come from? The Big Bang, you say. Yes, indeed — the Big Bang of God’s creation. Some matter had to exist for the Big Bang to occur. That matter had to come from somewhere. A creator.

So, how do you feel about life on other planets? Intrigued? Scared? Apathetic? Does this change your view of God in any way?

 

I’m feeling writer’s block after the fifth day in a row of posting here. My daughter is napping and I know that at any minute she might wake up and then my chance to write will be over. So what to write about? I have a few topics that keep coming to mind but I don’t know if I feel like writing publicly about them at the moment…

During my time in Portland I felt like I was living in a Christian bubble. It’s odd that this could happen in Portland, Oregon, but somehow it did. I ended up going to graduate school at a Christian university, then teaching at a Christian elementary school, then working in the office at a Christian high school. Our social life mainly consisted of going to church events and hanging out with people we met from church. So poof, Christian bubble created.

Is it healthy to live in a Christian bubble, where everyone has the same religious beliefs as you? Well probably not, especially when the surrounding community is very non-religious. But I don’t know where else I would have really made friends, since it takes me awhile to get to know people. Still this is pretty much the opposite of my growing up years, when I hardly knew anyone who went to church. So maybe it was important for me to have this experience.

I think a lot of Christians probably end up in this situation because it is really just easier to be friends with people who are similar to yourself. Also you tend to hang out with the people who are around you. In college, I found myself hanging out mostly with other Christians because I wasn’t interested in drinking and partying, which is a lot of what college social life is about.

Well my little darling has awakened so I guess it’s time to push the publish button. What about you? Do most of your friends have the same religious beliefs as you? Do you wish you had a more diverse group of friends?

 

 

As you may know, we recently moved from Portland back to my hometown of Eugene. Although it was time for us to leave Portland, I’m so glad I had the opportunity to live there for seven years. Some of the things I will miss most about Portland are:

* The Zoo. Marie’s favorite place. We had a membership and were visiting quite frequently. When we first moved to Portland I even got to work at the zoo as a marketing intern. I even got to feed one of the elephants! Still I’m sure we will still visit the zoo several times a year.

* Restaurants. Portland has a great restaurant scene and we will miss some of our favorite spots including: Por Que No?, Lardo, Ken’s Artisan Pizza/Bakery, Grand Central Bakery, Screen Door, Pine St. Biscuits, Oaks Bottom Pub and the Belmont food carts. And the best margaritas ever at Nuestro Cocina.

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A spicy margarita from Portland’s Nuestro Cocina.

* Theophilus Church. For the past four years we had the chance to be a part of a new church that started in the Hawthorne neighborhood. It was great fun because we knew the pastors, AJ & Quinn, from when we’d lived in Eugene. AJ was even my husband’s roommate one year in college. We had the chance to watch the church grow from a small group of people meeting in a living room into a medium-sized church of 100 + attendees per Sunday. Prior to that we attended Imago Dei for three years, which I also loved for its great sermons, social activism and community of artists.

* Gorge hikes. Loved, loved, loved hiking in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. My favorite was the Eagle Creek hike even though the uneven terrain caused me to have a debilitating knee injury.

* Friends and family. Well it goes without saying that we will miss all our friends and family who still live in the Portland area. We had the chance to get to know a lot people during our 7 years in Portland, mainly through church and my master’s program at George Fox.

However, in spite of all that I am very excited to be here in Eugene because I strongly feel that this is God’s will for us at this time. And I’m finding that I appreciate Eugene so much more now than I ever did before. Here are some things I’m loving about Eugene right now:

* Lack of traffic. Compared to Portland and other big cities, Eugene basically doesn’t have traffic. I didn’t realize how big of a deal this was to me until I got here. I was having frequent anxiety attacks when driving around in Portland and that’s not really an issue for me here.

* Access to nature. Eugene is a smaller town so it is much easier to access nature. Rather than driving 30 + minutes to go hiking, I can drive 5 minutes to go hike Spencer’s Butte.

Mt. Pisgah Arboretum, one of my favorite hiking spots.

Mt. Pisgah Arboretum, one of my favorite hiking spots.

* More great restaurants. Eugene has a lot of great restaurants for a town of its size (approx. 150,000).  I will give a shout-out here to Anatolia, Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen, Taco Loco and Sweet Life. These are our old favorites and we’re excited to discover new favorites.

* Connecting with a new church. This is only the second week we’ve visited, so there’s a chance it may not become our new church home, but so far I’m very excited about University Fellowship Church. I’ve been enjoying the sermons and the worship and Marie has been tolerating her time in the toddler room. I love that the pastor also preaches on Sunday evenings at the Oregon State Penitentiary. Also I’ve been thinking that I really want to join a choir and this morning they announced they are putting together a Christmas choir. Basically it seems to me like a great fit. Although it meets in the gym of my old high school, which is slightly weird. But really it’s been so long since high school that it doesn’t bother me. Plus I have mostly positive memories of high school anyway.

* Family and friends. Yes, we have family and friends here too. In fact one of the main reasons I wanted to move back here was to be closer to my family. It’s been really great having my parents and grandmother so nearby. I’m also excited to have the chance to reconnect with some of my old friends here and to make new friends as well.

 

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Prayer is not given much credit in our culture. “I’ll pray for you” can often be just a kind thing you say to someone when their life isn’t going well. And yet, according to a 2007* Pew Research Study, 58% of U.S. adults pray at least once a day, while only 18% say that they seldom or never pray. Over the years, my views on prayer have changed. I used to think of it more as a way of wishing out loud. Please God, if you even exist at all, will you do this for me? Now I think of prayer as a chance to talk to God as well as a somewhat magical and mysterious way of helping things come to pass.

A few weeks ago my pastor, AJ, came up to me at church and asked if there was anything he could pray for me about. He said he felt like he was supposed to come talk to me. And I said, “Well, I’m doing alright, but you could pray that we would find new jobs in Eugene so we can move down there.” So he prayed.

Later that week I talked to his wife Quinn and she said, “Man, we’ve been praying for you guys. Every night.” My friends Katie and Holly also told me they were praying for us that week.

And bam — suddenly my husband started getting job offers. He turned two down because of low pay. Then he called a golf course superintendent he knows to see if they might be hiring. We knew the odds were basically nonexistent because golf season is over. But the super called him back the next day and said he was needing to hire someone immediately to be his assistant. Spencer accepted the job and has already started — we’re now in the process of moving to Eugene.

When prayers are answered, we can always chalk it up to coincidence or our own efforts. Well of course I got that job, you might think. I went to YaleOr you might say, I guess I was in the right place at the right time. But I believe that this door was opened as a result of prayer, pure and simple. (Although my husband is very qualified and competent). How many other good things have happened in my life as a result of prayer? My healthy daughter. My caring husband. The fact that I even have friends and family who are willing to take the time to pray for me.

Sometimes our prayers aren’t answered. Or rather, God answers, but not in a way that we like. In fact, we’ve been praying for years that Spencer would get a promotion or a different job and that we could find a better living situation. Apparently God’s answer was for us to wait. And wait.

I think sometimes God makes us wait for things in order to build our character. A good parent knows that you don’t immediately give your child everything they ask for. God wants us to learn to be patient and to learn to trust and depend on Him**.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he said,

“This then is how you should pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we have forgiven those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6: 9-13; emphasis mine)

I feel like God has been teaching me to make fewer plans and be more open to change. Although I may want to make a five year plan for my life, sometimes God just wants to give us our daily bread. We still have things to figure out. We need an apartment. I need a part-time job. We’ll need daycare. We’d like to buy a house if possible. So we continue to pray, give us today our daily bread.

What do you think about prayer? Have your prayers been answered? Or not?

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* Well, I know 2007 is awhile ago but that’s the most recent study I found on Google.

** (or Her — I don’t believe that God has a gender, though for simplicity I will normally just refer to God as masculine to adhere to cultural norms).

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/31246066@N04/5397244948/”>Ian Sane</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

View of Seattle from Elliot Bay.

View of the Emerald City from Elliot Bay.

Fall term of my freshman year of college, my literature professor expressed her disdain for the Italian film Life is Beautiful. “No serious Holocaust scholar liked that film,” she said spitefully. “Life is not beautiful during the Holocaust.”

I think perhaps she missed the point of this highly acclaimed film. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it, but I believe the general idea is that love can still be found in the midst of tragedy, that God never abandons us, and that in the end good triumphs over evil.

She obviously didn’t agree with those ideas.

Why then did I go to this professor for advice when I was feeling lost and directionless as to my major and career path? I sat in her office and told her I wanted to major in creative writing.

“No,” she said, “you need a career.”

“I could always go to law school later,” I said.

“No. Lawyers are the most unhappy people I know,” she offered.

With that our meeting was over, leaving me more confused than before. I had hoped for some comfort, some direction, some mom-like advice from my only female professor. Is it a surprise that I found myself dropping out of college several months later?

That was such a hard and unhappy year in my life. But looking back on it 11 years later, I know that many of the decisions I made were right ones.

I was right to start my college years off in Seattle. I needed to get away from home, to find a new perspective and gain distance from old relationships. And I was right to leave Seattle and transfer back to the University of Oregon, my hometown school. Seattle was only a brief stopping point on my journey, a place to learn a few lessons and move on.

At the U of O I would reconnect deeply with my faith, meet my now husband, find a major I enjoyed, and make many long term friends. But that was sophomore year.

Freshman year began with me in my glamorous big city dorm, with its 8th story view looking out over the lights of downtown Seattle. There, in my favorite city, I was lonelier than ever before. I felt like I’d jumped into an ice cold river and was struggling to catch my breath. It was too hard, transitioning from my senior year of high school with lots of best friends, to a school where I didn’t know anyone.

And so after fall term I left. And I found that it’s true what they say. You can never go home again once you leave. Nothing was the same. Many of my friends had moved away for college, and those who had stayed were different. Or was I the one who’d changed?

I tried to reconnect with my friends, and ended up moving in with them briefly in a horrible apartment in a west campus alley. It was a bad situation, and it didn’t last long.

It was such an awful, painful year in my life. And yet I know now – God was there with me the whole time.

Sometimes we need to go through painful times in order to get where God wants us to go.

Dream Big

When God lights you up,
pray big prayers.
Imagine what God can do,
as He illuminates the darkness
through your life.
God and His kingdom are here
and they’re breaking in.

 

This is a found poem, based on my notes from a sermon podcast I listened to this morning by Imago Dei’s Rick McKinley. I opened my journal to start working on today’s poem, and then I saw these notes and it seemed that the poem had written itself!