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When we were getting ready to go trick-or-treating on Tuesday night, my 2-year-old son was playing with one of his sister’s Disney princess figurines. He put a finger puppet monster on her head and said, “This is her Halloween costume.”

Two year olds can be quite delightful.

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Paul dressed up as a dragon (or perhaps a crocodile), Marie was Snow White, and Spencer and I were milk and cookies. We had fun visiting my grandmother to wish her a happy birthday, then trick-or-treating with my mom in her neighborhood. Our trick-or-treating experience was short lived, however, as it was a cold night and Marie was tired out from a busy day at kindergarten. After about 10 minutes of trick-or-treating, Marie said, “I have enough candy. I’m done.” We went back to my parents’ house to let each child eat a piece of candy and then we drove home. By the time we got home at 7 pm, Paul had fallen into a deep sleep in his dragon costume. He was so tired he didn’t even wake up when we took the costume off of him and put him in bed. So much for trick-or-treating with my tiny ones!

I have been thinking this week about the origins of Halloween and what it means to us culturally today. I’ve also been thinking about the various reactions to Halloween among those who profess the Christian faith. Our pastors in Portland thought that Halloween was a great opportunity to get to know their neighbors in a fun way, so they would decorate their whole living room in a different theme each year and act out a little skit for the neighborhood kids. One year it was a Peter Pan theme, and the next it was a medieval castle. One the other end of the spectrum, I know some churchgoers who won’t allow their kids to trick-or-treat or acknowledge Halloween at all.

I came across this very thoughtful article about the origins of Halloween on a ministry website. The name “Halloween,” actually comes from All Hallows Eve (meaning Holy Evening), the night before the Christian holiday All Hallows (All Saints Day). In the 9th Century, the Pope scheduled All Saints Day to be celebrated on November 1 to coincide with (and replace) the pagan holiday of Samhain. It was common for the church to place Christian holidays at the same time is pagan holidays — for example Christmas occurs around the time of the winter solstice. Over the years, traditions from Samhain and All Hallows Eve blended together to create what we now know as Halloween.

Personally I do not like horror films, haunted houses, or things that are creepy in general. Nor do I like to feed my children candy. But I do think that Halloween is an adorable opportunity for kids to dress up and create family memories, as well as a fun way to interact with neighbors.

And then I’ve been thinking about this too — Halloween reflects a need we all have to acknowledge our shadow side. If you read my solar eclipse post, you know I’ve been contemplating the human shadow a bit lately. We need to acknowledge the darkness in our world and in our own souls. In her book Rising Strong, shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown writes about the importance of integrating light and dark into our consciousness: “Being all light is as dangerous as being all dark, simply because denial of emotion is what feeds the dark.” She also writes, “There’s always something foreboding about overly sweet and accommodating ways. All that niceness feels inauthentic and a little like a ticking bomb.”

We don’t have very good mechanisms for processing difficult emotions in our culture. Physical and mental illness, aging, and death, are all topics we steer away from. In the fall we are surrounded by death in the natural world. It is the time of the harvest and the dying away of the light. Halloween, with its imagery of ghosts and skeletons, is one way we acknowledge the season. And it is the one time when we as a culture face our own mortality and even poke fun at it.

P.S. What did the photographer say to the ghost?
You look boo-ti-ful!

 

 

 

 

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Today I found a note to myself that I wrote on December 31, 2009. Apparently I had intended myself to read it 10 years later, but 5 and a half years seems good enough.

Dear Ursula (me),

You should now be 36 years old. That means a lot has happened since I wrote this.

I am now 26, happily married for 3 and a half years, living in a nice apartment in Westmoreland and teaching 4th grade. I wonder if I will still be teaching in 10 years? I just hope to be happy in my job, whatever it is.

Also, I hope to still be happily married and have 2 or maybe 3 children. I hope that Spencer will be happy in his job. I hope we own a house.

Most importantly, I hope that God remains at the center of my life.

I think I should write back.

Dear 26-year-old Ursula,

So much has happened in the past 5 and a half years that I can hardly relate to the childless version of myself. I wish you would take a little more advantage of your childlessness. Go to Seattle for the weekend. Go to yoga. Take an art class. That’s cute that you like the Westmoreland apartment. I guess it did have some hipster appeal, with its proximity to Papa Haydn and the neon glow of the Yukon Tavern sign visible from the bedroom window. Soon you’ll find out about the horrible mold problem – really you should just move now.

Teaching is fun though, right? I’m not sure why you took a job that paid so poorly, but then again, I know you were excited just to have a teaching job. And fourth grade really is a great age to teach. I’ve now been married almost 9 years, have two sweet and sometimes challenging children, and am occasionally working as a freelance writer and editor. I do love being a mom and a writer and editor – I just wish I were able to get more consistent work. I am keeping my teaching license and may still go back to it at some point if the right job opens up.

My goals for the future remain much the same – be a good mother and wife, be happy in my work, keep the faith, be financially secure and own a house. Make meaningful memories.  Have fun. Do good deeds. Overflow with joy.

Love,

Me

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been reading the book The Power of a Praying Wife. I was initially a little skeptical about this book because I heard about it from a woman who said we needed to pray for our husbands because “they are our leaders in our homes and in our community.” Hmmm, really? The last I checked our mayor was a woman. I also know of many successful female teachers, principals, medical professionals, lawyers, pastors, etcetera. Yes, men can be good leaders, but so can women. Anyway, I chose not to bring this up at the time as I figured my minority opinion would be consider divisive in the women’s church meeting I was attending. Just because I disagree about something important doesn’t mean I need to get into an argument about it in every situation.

Another thing I initially disliked about this book was the the pink floral-patterned cover. Because, you know, women want to buy books that are pink and have flowers on them. Maybe they could also give away a free Barbie doll with each purchase of this book.

That being said, I picked up a free copy of this book at Bible study a few weeks ago and started reading it and praying through the chapters. I think it’s actually a great book for Christian women, though I may disagree slightly with a few of her comments. Her goal is to help people to improve marriages and prevent divorce, which is pretty important, considering the high divorce rate. Praying for your spouse and children is very important, in my opinion! The book covers prayer topics that I wouldn’t necessarily think of on my own — but now that they’ve come to mind, they seem like great things to pray about. If you can’t think of your own words to pray, you can just read the prayers aloud with your husband in mind. Easy!

We often undervalue prayer and think of it as something you do as a last resort. But truly I think it’s best if prayer is our first resort. Praying about problems before they occur can prevent them from happening in the first place. The further I go on my journey as a person of prayer, the more I believe in its power. It works, not in a God-vending-machine type of way, but prayer can change your heart and the heart of those you pray for and influence the outcome of events. This God-stuff is very mysterious.

I think more appropriate cover art for Power of a Praying Wife would be a picture of a woman running a marathon, or engaged in an intense wrestling match. Or perhaps a picture of a mother bear protecting her cubs. Yeah, that sounds about right. She’s ferocious, and willing to fight to protect what’s important.

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This is my first assignment for Writing 101: 20 minutes of free writing. So it’s not as polished as I would like, but here are my thoughts for today. And what about you? Do you believe that prayer works? Would you like to share an example of a time in your life when prayer has worked for you?

Dear 60-year-old Ursula:

Well, how are things? It’s hard to imagine life 30 years in the future, so I won’t make predictions, but here are some things I’ll be praying for you about.

I hope you are healthy, both physically and mentally, that years of hiking, running and yoga have kept you fit. I hope you and Spencer are still happily married, and have recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of your first date on Valentine’s Day 2004. I hope you are able to see Marie (and your other children? grandchildren?) often. I hope you have a strong community of friends to share life with. I hope you sit in Bible study knitting hats for babies.

Ursula, I hope you feel beautiful, with white hair and a few wrinkles around your eyes. I hope your wrinkles are from smiling and not from frowning. I hope you really understand how much God loves you, that God’s love is as tangible as the slice of chocolate cake you just ate for dessert. I hope you wake up in the mornings laughing with joy. I hope that gratitude is your first instinct, that if any thought runs obsessively through your mind it is simply Thank you God.

I hope you see the good in people. I hope you’ve welcomed so many people into your home that you’ve entertained angels without knowing it. I hope you’ve given away enough money to save thousands of lives. I hope you’ve been the best mother and wife you could be, that you’ve put the needs of your family ahead of your own.

I hope that love is the verb that best defines you.

Love,

30-year-old Ursula

Dear 15-year-old Ursula:

Greetings from the future! It is the year 2014. You are a successful film and stage actress and drive a Mercedes hovercraft. Last year you made People’s Most Beautiful People list, and this year you’ve been nominated for an Academy Award.

Okay, just teasing you a little bit. I’m choosing to write to you at 15, because I’m now 30. I hope that in doubling my age I’ve learned a few things about life. Perhaps this means I can soon expect a letter from the 60-year-old me? Maybe by then they’ll have better technology for communicating across the space-time continuum.

First, I will encourage you to enjoy high school for what it is. A time to learn and make friends. Thank you for not caring about being accepted by the “popular” group. That’s very wise and admirable! You’re choosing instead just to make friends with people that you like. This will be a blessing to you during your high school years. Most of these friendships will fade after high school as people move away, so enjoy the time you have with these fun friends. I know you want all your close friendships to be lifelong and some will — but not all. Life is filled with surprises, including the surprises of which classroom acquaintances bloom into long-term friendships, and which BFFs fade into the memory banks.

This is also the year that you’ve started going to church and chosen to get baptized. Thank you also for making these wise choices! Seeking to know and follow God is, in my opinion, the most important thing you can do in your life. Your faith will bring you peace and joy and will ultimately lead to you meet your husband and develop many significant friendships. As a sidenote that is perhaps related, thank you also for not being interested in drinking and partying — you will need all the brain cells you can get to help you through the sleep-deprived early parenting years.

Do not be afraid to try some new things and meet new people. I know you’re shy and afraid that new people won’t like you. Don’t let that stop you from participating in activities you want to participate in. Be nice to people and they will like you. Except when they don’t, because sometimes they won’t. (Well, those people are jerks, so you shouldn’t pay them any mind). Also don’t let your fear that you might not be good at something prevent you from trying it. If you want to run on the track team, then run on the track team. Maybe you won’t be very good, but you won’t know unless you try. Likewise, if you want to join the choir or start a photography club — you should do those things! You won’t have as much time and energy when you’re in college and beyond.

Lastly, don’t worry so much about academic success and getting into an elite college. I mean you should do your best in school, but don’t give yourself a heart attack. You don’t really want to go to an elite college anyway — it’s just not your destiny. You’ll get a good education and meet your husband at the University of Oregon. But maybe you should reconsider the journalism degree? Marketing perhaps, or something else with the potential for good pay?

Love,

30-year-old Ursula (wife, mother, freelance writer, substitute teacher, world traveler, ice cream enthusiast)

 

The festive busyness of the holiday season is over. A bone-chilling fog, evocative of a dementor infestation, has enshrouded Eugene for the past week. And I have just been informed by Target that the Russian mafia may now be in possession of my personal contact information and credit card number. My instinctive reaction is to sit on the couch with a warm blanket and microwaved popcorn and binge-watch old Parks & Recreation episodes on Netflix. But, this may not be the best way to combat the January Blahs.

Sometimes it take a little effort to climb out of the fog.

Sometimes it takes a little effort to climb out of the fog.

Here are a few of my strategies for boosting my happiness level in this dark and dreary time of year:

1 ) Invest in my spiritual practice

Going to church regularly, reading the Bible and seeking God through prayer are my most important tools for maintaining a positive outlook on life. And the research backs me up on this — religious people tend to consider themselves happier than the nonreligious.

2 ) Keep exercising

Though I don’t feel much like running when the whether is cold and gray, I feel so much happier and relaxed when I do. If you’re not a runner you might try walking, biking, swimming or taking a dance class.

3) Focus on healthy eating

What’s good for your body is also good for your brain. Amidst the craziness of caring for my toddler, I need to remember to fuel my body with fresh fruit, veggies and lean protein — and limit my sugar intake. I also increase my Vitamin D intake in the winter, and take care to continue taking Omega 3 supplements.

4) Plan fun activities

I’ve realized that having something fun to look forward to is important. I used to look forward to weekends, but now that I’m a mom I don’t really have weekends “off.” Also my husband works long stretches of 12 days on and 2 days off. So I’m trying to make the effort to plan little things to look forward to. Last weekend we went to the movies for the first time since before our daughter was born, and in a few months we’re going on an actual vacation. Participating in fun activities also gives the added benefit of having positive memories to look back on. Win-win.

5)  Laugh

Like exercise, laughing releases endorphins and boosts mood. So maybe it’s okay to snuggle up on the couch and watch Parks & Recreation episodes from time to time.

6) Give thanks

It’s easy to take for granted the blessings I do have and instead focus on what I don’t have. Practicing gratitude helps me re-frame my perspective to view my life in a more positive light. Even simple things can be worth expressing thanks for. Some things I’m thankful for today are my morning into the sunshine, my dishwasher, and the lavender latte and pastries my husband brought home for breakfast.

7) Call a friend

Even though I’m rarely alone, I still get lonely from time to time. I mean, conversations with my 1.5-year-old can only go so deep. When I start feeling lonely, I know that it’s on me to reach out to others, rather than wishing that others would reach out to me.

What are some strategies you use to boost your mood when you’re battling the blahs?

 

 

Running, is once again, one of my goals in the new year. Perhaps there's a metaphor here?

Running is, once again, one of my goals in the new year. Perhaps there’s a metaphor here?

New Year’s has always been one of my favorite holidays. I like reflecting on the past year and looking forward to what’s ahead. I enjoy making New Year’s Resolutions but I rarely end up keeping them for the entire year.  Last year I set two goals for 2013:

1) Read through the entire Bible in a year

2) Run a 10K

Did I accomplish either of these goals? Alas, no, I lost interest in both. But — I did stay on track with the Bible reading for about 6 months. I realized I wasn’t getting much out of it because the reading schedule was too intensive. To read through the entire Bible in a year you need to read three or four chapters per day. Lately I’ve been trying to read one chapter a day and that is working well, so I plan to continue that.

As far as running goes, I have been running off and on throughout the year. I’ve noticed I feel much better when I run regularly. For about the last month, I’ve been running twice a week, but I’d like to increase that to three times a week.

So what was 2013 all about for me, if not completing my resolutions?

1) A Mommy Year

2013 (and 2012, 2014, 2015, etc.) was mostly about caring for my sweet little one. It’s been amazing to see all the changes she’s gone through in the past year as she’s changed from Baby Bear to Toddler Bear. In 2013 she learned to walk, clap, sign, talk, dance, run, and climb. From her first word (Mama) to her first sentence (“Read the book!”), it’s been a joy to watch her language development.

2) Becoming a Writer

In 2013 I’ve made the transition from being an aspiring writer to being a writer. Although it’s been years since I graduated from college with my BA in journalism, this is the first time I’ll be putting “writer” as my occupation on my tax return. And that feels pretty great, even if it doesn’t pay much – yet. I’ve completed two freelance editing projects and have published a collection of parenting articles on sites like eHow, GlobalPost Parenting and ModernMom.

3) Moving

This fall marked a move that has been very beneficial for me. We’re now in the same town as my parents, and have an apartment that boasts a dishwasher and is (mostly) mold-free. Hip hip hurray!

Goals for 2014:

Goal-setting is important to me, as it makes me feel like I’m purposefully moving forward in my life. Explicitly stating my goals helps put them into a clearer focus and greatly increases my likelihood of accomplishing them. I’d encourage you to also have goals for the year, even if some of them seem unrealistic right now. Dare to dream. Here are mine:

1) Write and self-publish my young adult novel.

I just completed an excellent online course on writing young adult fiction. I’ve wanted to write a YA novel for some time, but never knew how to structure it. Now that I’ve taken this course, it seems an achievable (though challenging) goal.

2) Buy a house.

I’ve already completely Step 1 towards this goal — just bought a book about becoming a first-time homeowner. Yay!

3) Run 3 miles in 30 minutes.

Currently I can run 2.5 miles in 30 minutes, but I think if I increase my running to three days a week it will be fairly easy to reach this goal.

4) Make new friends but keep the old.

Focusing on relationships is always important to me. I’m shy, so it is a challenge for me to make friends, but necessary since we don’t know many people in our new town. And I want to continue investing heavily in my old relationships — particularly with my husband and the little one.