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I hope there will be cake and puppy hats in heaven.

I hope there will be cake and puppy hats in heaven.

Throughout my life I’ve often felt like an outsider, as if I could never be part of the in-crowd. Maybe you can relate to that, and then again maybe you can’t. Since we’ve just moved to a new town, we’re outsiders now because we don’t know many people. At our last church, even though we’d been a part of it for years, I felt like an outsider after my daughter was born because the church was mostly made up of younger people without children. In grad school, I was one of the few married people. In college, I didn’t feel like I quite fit in with the Christians because I was too liberal, and I didn’t quite fit in with anyone else because I was too Christian. Likewise, when I worked at Christian schools, I always felt I had to keep my liberal political leanings under wraps, so I couldn’t really be myself. As a kid, I didn’t know how to make friends, had uneven bangs and snaggle teeth, and was occasionally ostracized by the popular girls.

I assume that everyone feels like this at one time or another, that the sense of not quite fitting in is part of the human condition. Though maybe there are some attractive, outgoing, charismatic people who truly have never felt this way. There have been times in my life when I have fit in and it felt pretty great. In fourth grade, I attended a spring break sports camp where I somehow managed to be extremely popular — everyone wanted to be my friend. (I guess because I used to be good at sports? Or maybe I dressed well that week?). In high school, although not part of the “popular” clique, I did have a big group of nice and fun friends. And most shockingly in college my future husband (who when I’d met, I’d immediately dismissed as too good-looking and popular for me), wanted to date me. Thanks, but I don’t want to be a part of any club that would accept me as a member….(ha!)

The good news for those of us who don’t quite fit in is that Jesus didn’t fit in either. Jesus hung out with social outcasts and as a result was ostracized by the religious leaders of his day. Basically, if Jesus had gone to your high school, he would have been a friend to all those kids who didn’t have friends. He wouldn’t have worn the cool clothes or listened to the cool music. The popular kids would have teased him mercilessly and never invited him to their parties. And yet, Jesus forgives again and again.

The moments in my life when I do fit in and feel well loved are small glimpses of heaven. When my daughter wants to “nuggle,” when my husband asks me about my day, when we share dinner and laughs with friends we’ve known for years. In my mind, heaven is like a huge dinner party with all our best friends, and everyone is invited. And that’s good news.

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What about you? Can you relate to being an outsider? And what’s your idea of heaven?

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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.

The girl who dances with shadows.

The girl who dances with shadows.

My senior year of high school began with the attack on the Twin Towers. Images of the flaming towers were fresh in all our minds that fall. This was an act of war, and even though I lived 3,000 miles away in Oregon, it still felt much too close to home. Who could do something like this? Is this the beginning of World War 3? I wondered.

That year I was part of a group called the Young Women’s Theater Collective. We wrote and performed original shows. We decided to name our fall show “Dancing with Shadows.” It was a declaration that in spite of the darkness in life, we could still find joy. Our show included comedic sketches, dancing, singing, and more somber pieces dealing with issues like substance abuse and depression. We performed to sold-out shows at the WOW Hall, and yes, even shared a promotional poster with Slick Rick.

A few years later, I found myself in Ghana, West Africa, on a study abroad program with the UO Journalism School. Wandering through an open-air market in Kumasi, I stopped at a woodcarver’s stall to browse for souvenirs. My eye was drawn to a carving of a woman, one hand balancing a jug of water on her head, her other hand resting on her hip. The carver looked at me. “That’s the girl who dances with shadows,” he said. “There are always shadows, but she is just dancing.”

My heart leapt into my throat in surprise. I had to have that carving. “How much?” I asked cautiously, fearing he might be eager to rip off an obroni. He quoted a reasonable price, so I paid him the few dollars and bought the carving.

The girl who dances with shadows now sits atop my tall bookshelf in our living room. Was this an interesting coincidence, or was it a purposeful message from God to me? I can’t say for sure, but it’s a reminder to me that in spite of whatever may come — I will dance.

“There is only the dance…” – T.S. Eliot (The Four Quartets)

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.

 

 

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?

 

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.