Heart in the Clouds

Friday, December 31, 2010

Grateful - 12/31/2010

The other day, someone asked me what my resolutions for 2011 look like. I thought about it for a minute and realized I don't have any. I'm not really a yearly resolution type of person. Yes, a new year is a good time to start fresh and it feels like a clean slate. But I guess you could say I've resolved NOT to make any resolutions. I want to see where this year takes me. I want to see the plans that God has. I think that's because I've begun to learn the value of every day, and the value of resolving every day to be a better version of myself. New mercies every morning...

Last New Year's Eve, I thought about wanting to exercise more often to get my endurance and stamina back. While I didn't "resolve" to do it, I ended up doing it just because I wanted to and because I got addicted to walking outside, rain or shine. I have felt physically better this year than I have in years. I walked off periods of sadness. I walked off a tired mind, body and spirit. I walked off stress and fear. Personally, I had to turn my focus away from weight loss and fruitless resolutions of dieting or fitting into an old pair of trousers, and on to taking care of myself and loving who I am RIGHT NOW. Since I've begun to do that, I couldn't care less about those few extra pounds. I now feel like I can look in the mirror and love the person I see looking back at me, extra weight and all, and that (to me) is more important than any weight loss could ever be. Love your curves, ladies. You're beautiful as you are.

I guess the one thing I do want out of this year is something I can't really "resolve" to do. I want to get back my sense of awe about life. When you're focused, as I often am, on just trying to survive each day and to make it through as unscathed as possible, you lose the concept of the bigger picture. You lose perspective and the ability to see the little speed bumps in life's road for what they are...molehills, not mountains. I want to get back that sense of being small in the universe, and to focus instead on the beautiful life God has created for me. This year, I let a few molehills become mountains and I don't want to do that again.

Along with that sense of awe, I just want to focus on being open to whatever God has in store. He's already gotten me started in a few things that I'm looking forward to seeing the outcome of. I want to be more grateful. I want to learn from the bad and to cherish the good. I want God to give me more opportunities to be his hand extended to another person. I want to love my kids and my husband even more. I want to be a better friend. I want to have more fun. I want to be more content with life, but to also look for adventures along the way. I want to be less religious and more about relationship, when it comes to my faith. These aren't things I can really "resolve" to do, but I want to see them happen and experience the joy of seeing my life change in the process. Maybe you want to join me in not resolving to do anything except just BEING--actively "being", not becoming complacent.

So, to end the 2010 chapter of my gratitude journey, I only want to lift my face, close my eyes and say, "Thank you." There is nothing more I can say to the One who loves me most.

Happy New Year, everyone. May 2011 be your best year yet!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Grateful - 12/30/2010

Today, I'm grateful for...

An easy Christmas holiday. This past week has been great because it's gone slowly. Usually, it feels like our vacations or holidays go quickly, so this has been a welcome change.

A WHITE Christmas. As much as I loathe Winter, it was really, really nice to have snow falling on Christmas.

Encouragement. There will always be naysayers because that's just the way life goes. However, God puts encouraging people into our lives for a reason. It's so much harder to listen to the good and thumb your nose at the bad, but it's so important.

WWII marathons. Sean and I watched all of "Band of Brothers" in two nights and then all of "The Pacific" in ONE night. Yes, we're insane, but it was well worth it. Every time I watch things like that, that are based on the lives and experiences of real people, I come away from them with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the strength and fortitude of those who served. I also come away realizing the insanity of war.

Biting my tongue. It's something I've been trying to incorporate into my life over the past few years and it has been serving me well. There are many times in the past where I have said what I REALLY thought without filtering and without picking my battles, or I've spat out a quick retort without thinking. Those situations never ended well. In the last couple of years, I've seen a change in myself where, if someone says something I just let it hang in the air. I hold myself back from returning fire with a comment which (though true) would just end up making things worse. There's often wisdom in keeping your mouth shut.

Quiet. This past month, I have been away from my computer more often. I haven't watched TV much, other than a few movie nights and the occasional DVR catch-up session. The quiet has been great. A lot of what I do (photography editing, writing, etc.) is computer-related, so I welcome the change of pace.

My network. I have a lot of friends who live here in the Pittsburgh area and I have an even larger network of friends who live in other states and other countries. I value all of these friendships and they have gotten me through a lot of difficult times. They have made me realize that there ARE people I can lean on and with whom I can share my weaknesses.

I hope you know that there's wisdom in holding back. Some of the best advice I've gotten has been that hard times come and they pass, so don't make any rash or life-changing decisions when you're in the middle of an emotionally difficult time. Also, as I've been learning, there are times when it's important to keep your mouth shut. There truly is also a time for saying what needs to be said, but learning the difference is what's the most important. Sometimes humility is the most obvious in a person in what they DON'T say. God, help me to remember that. :)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Grateful - 12/24/2010

Today I am grateful for...

Cozy days. Today, we stayed at home and got in the Christmas mood. I have to say that after today, I actually have the warm fuzzies that I like to feel at this time of year. I spent the early part of my morning with all three of my fellas in bed with me. We had a big breakfast, we watched Christmas movies, listened to Christmas music, drank egg nog and ate cookies all day. I baked, I made fudge and we had a wonderful day at home.

Linus' reminder of what Christmas is all about.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKk9rv2hUfA

A long walk. I walked for nearly 2 hours in a pretty hard, windy snow. It was lovely, though. I smiled the whole time and I felt more grateful than I have in a long time.

Our new basement room. Sean and my dad have spent a lot of time working down there and their labor has paid off. It's a lovely, warm space where we will all enjoy spending time.

Acts of kindness that aren't particularly random. They're good for all the people involved.

Layoffs. I could look at the downside, but I'm not going to. We are able to have Sean with us all the time (for now) and we are all enjoying that part of it. So thank you, God, for the layoff. :)

Ignoring the stress. I have had a lot of different things that have tried to preoccupy me, and many have succeeded in the last few weeks. However, today I chose to forget all of those things and just enjoy myself...hence, the smile on my face and the warm fuzzies in my heart.

Christmas movies. It's A Wonderful Life. Miracle on 34th Street, The Nativity Story, A Christmas Carol, A Christmas Story, White Christmas, Charlie Brown Christmas. They never cease to lighten my mood and remind me about what is important, even when it's not Christmas. So much more this time of year.

Time with my friends. Last night, I got to hang out with Tammy for some girl time, and this evening I got to hang out with Slavina and Roy and their little baby, Gabriel. Holding a sweet little baby for 3 hours made the boring (but successful) Steelers game a lot better.

I hope that you take a moment this weekend to remember what is truly important.
Have a wonderful, blessed, safe, happy, cozy, memorable Christmas.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKk9rv2hUfA



Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Grateful - 12/15/10

There are days where everything seems to make sense. Then there are days where everything you say, everything you hear, everything you think sounds like dialogue from Pingu or like Charlie Brown's teacher. "Wah wah wah wah..." The wonderful thing is that God is faithful and loving and generous and caring no matter which day I'm having. His is the voice that shoots through the fog and cuts straight into my heart. I love that about Him. He is always present in my life, even when I'm not.

I'm grateful for...

Steelers tickets! Bill (my brother) and I had a fun time seeing our favorite team play. We saw Polamalu make two interceptions, one of which he ran for a touchdown. It was cold and rainy, we ate food that wasn't good for us, we dressed unfashionably and even adopted some thick Pittsburgh accents when we felt like it. But we cheered our team to victory and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

Kittens. The Debate Kittens are a group of women I came in contact with online. We started out debating politics, religion, news...whatever was debate-worthy. Over time, though, we have become friends. The Kittens are incredibly supportive and thoughtful. Because of them, I started to really think about what I believe about certain things. Because of them I know that I have a place to stay in pretty much any state in the country. We don't all share the same beliefs, but that doesn't seem to matter.

Layoffs. This time around it's been harder, but I'm still grateful that we get to have Sean here with us. Plus, he and my dad have been going crazy trying to finish the basement remodel and it's looking great. There WILL be a guest suite/hangout room down there soon! Looking forward to making use of that space.

Random acts of kindness. I LOVE to do them because it's one of the instances in life where I can feel God smiling. Random acts of kindness are an opportunity to be an extension of God's hand, even in a small way.

My car. It's been such a blessing to me to have it. I know that getting it was a "God thing." I'm also grateful that both of our cars are paid off. Not everyone can say that.

The empty fridge. This morning, I opened the fridge to find something to feed the kids, but there was nothing much in there. I had to laugh...and then I had to go grocery shopping. The empty fridge means I've been really busy doing fun things, so I haven't had time to shop.  However, I did go shopping and bought enough to last us a couple of weeks. It IS possible to feed a family of four decently for under $75 a week...even less if you know what you're doing. (Bows)

Snow...I'm cringing as I type it, but maybe I can do the "fake it till you make it" thing. Maybe someday I'll REALLY be grateful for snow, but until that day comes I am grateful that we're another day closer to Spring! The six inches on the ground is making me happy for the coming of Spring.

Having coffee with a UK friend. I have a friend who lives across the ocean who says that reading my gratitudes is like sitting down and chatting with me over coffee. It's a nice visual and I hope that's how people feel when they read what I write.

Hearing my kids laugh until they can't breathe. There is no better sound. It's impossible not to smile when kids are laughing from their guts. :)

Loving myself. I haven't always loved myself, but I am learning to do that these days. I love that God created me. I love that he has had a purpose for me from before time. I love that He considers me lovely, even when I don't. I can love myself because HE loves me.

I hope you realize that it's good to love yourself. I hope you have some laugh-till-it-hurts moments...I know I'd love a few. I hope you know that God provides for your needs, so worrying isn't helpful. I also hope you learn to live well, no matter what your bank account balance says. Living well has nothing to do with money and everything to do with attitude and kindness.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A few of my favorite things...

I did one of those Facebook surveys, so here are my answers...

Favorite sights:
1. Sean walking in the door after work.
2. The view of Pittsburgh when you come out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel (day OR night)
     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TA7yvlUIRy8&feature=related
3. Sunshine through the windows of my bedroom.

Favorite sounds:
1. Laughter
2. Music (it soothes my soul)
3. Bacon frying

Favorite tastes:
1. The first bite of my favorite foods (the first bite is always the best)
2. Coffee with flavored creamer (peppermint mocha or pumpkin spice)
3. Chocolate (all of it...except the really dark stuff)

Favorite touches:
1. My camera in my hand
2. The sun on my face while I'm on one of my long, fast walks.
3. A big hug from my man (he makes me feel little...that's hard to do)

Favorite smells:
1. Banana muffins baking
2. A new magazine full of perfume sample ads
3. My kids, freshly showered

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Grateful - 11/28/10 (Hallelujah Chorus)

To me, there's something so moving about the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. Lately there's been an outbreak on YouTube of flash mobs singing the piece in various public places...department stores, mall food courts, etc. It doesn't matter how many times I hear it, though, I get chills and I'm all choked up. I think I feel that way because the wonder and mystery and majesty of my Jesus seems to be encapsulated in the feeling of that song. It is a piece of music that at least attempts to give Jesus the credit that is due him, whether the people singing it even believe what they're singing or not.

My emotions have been tied to my faith since I was a child, and music has always been a part of that for me. That's probably why old hymns hit me at my core. It's why pieces of music like the Hallelujah Chorus make me want to turn my face to heaven and smile and say, "Thank you."

So I will continue to watch every single Hallelujah Chorus flash mob video that pops up on the Internet. It makes me feel less important in my own eyes, and it makes my problems seem a lot smaller. It doesn't matter to me where or how it's sung...it's the truth to me and it's majesty in music, and it will never get old.

Here are two versions:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXh7JR9oKVE
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp_RHnQ-jgU


Today, I'm grateful for...

A new baby. There's beauty in the beginning of a new life. It's solemn and joyous and new and scary and crazy and emotional and tiring, but it's beautiful. Knowing that that little baby boy will be a man someday, with his own purpose and calling, is a heavy thing to think about. But it will be fun to watch him grow. He has two great parents who love the Lord, so that's the best start any child could ask for.

Christmas lights. This weekend, it seems that everyone now has their Christmas lights put up. It's the beginning of a season that I love. As much as I love Thanksgiving, I also love the Christmas season--funny, though, that the actual day I could take or leave. I love the feelings of Christmas. I love the setting. I love the idea of celebrating Jesus' birth and what it meant for him to come as a baby. All of it. It's like Thanksgiving on speed. People go nuts over presents and purchasing goodies, but I could honestly care less about that. I just want Jesus and I'm so glad to celebrate him, whether it's Christmas or not.

A fun weekend. It was seriously great. It was Thanksgiving. My brother and his family came in town. I got to go to a Penguins hockey game. My friend had her baby on Thanksgiving. I also got to see a group of people with whom I went to high school, some of whom I hadn't seen in 18 years. I got to spend family and friends time, fun time and food time all in the span of one weekend. Really, you can't beat that.

Reminders. Sometimes we need an occasional reminder of God's faithfulness. As he has promised, he will never leave us nor forsake us, and he will provide for all of our needs. And he continues to do so for me in so many ways.

Laughter. I have people in my life who make me laugh. Laughter truly is the best medicine, whether you're sick in body or sick at heart. God created it in us because he DOES it. I think funny people have a gift that they don't even realize is truly a gift.

Our new TV. Sounds like a shallow gratitude, I know, but Sean waited all night on Black Friday to get this TV and it's one sweet TV. :) It's not gigantic or anything, but it's flat and it's mounted on the wall. Pretty.

I hope you take the time to laugh today. I hope you remember that joy is at the center of this season when we celebrate Jesus giving up everything to be one of us. I hope you keep reminding yourself that it's the little things that matter, and that you can learn from anyone. God is faithful all the time.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Grateful - 11/21/10 (A shift.)

Today I'm grateful for...

Sunday mornings. I like do-nothing mornings. Sundays, for us, are family time, usually spent in our pajamas. It's even better that it's sunny and frosty. Everything is sparkly outside.

Waking with a song in my heart. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkwJ-g0iJ6w )  Every so often, I wake up singing and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's to signify that my spirit knows that a hard time has passed. I don't know. I had a bit of a rough week, but I woke up this morning acutely aware of God's presence and his faithfulness. It was a welcome change. :)

God-directed "random" acts of kindness. When God tells you to do something for someone, do it. This week, I felt really strongly to do something for a specific stranger, and when I did it, it really made the person's day and made them feel like someone cared. I encourage you to do that this week, too. Listen for God's voice when you pass by a stranger and follow what he says. Don't preach at them. Don't shove the Bible down their throats. Just be you and love them. You are God's hand extended.

The smell of cinnamon rolls and coffee. Ain't nuffin' better.

A shift. This week, I experienced what could be the death of a dream...or at least MY version of the dream. I allowed myself my "wallowing time" and then I decided to let go. Maybe God has something else. I already know that "good" is the enemy of "best", so maybe my version wasn't the best version. While I know nothing is impossible with God, I'm making myself ready to let God be the one to put focus to my blurry vision. He knows what's going to happen. Nothing comes as a surprise to him, and I know he's got plans to prosper me and protect my heart. While I still find myself a little sad when I think of what could be, I know that I am in good hands.

A new opportunity. I'll tell you about it if you send me a message (some of you already know), but I'm going to wait on talking about it here on the blog. I feel like it's a "God thing," though, because it's a job that kind of fell in my lap only a few days after I told God that I'd take whatever opportunities he brought across my path. Amazing and it feels so random...although I know that God is anything but random. :)

Ugg boots. It's that time of year again. I hate cold weather, but I love my cozy boots.

The layoff. While the summer layoff was a really great time, this time around it's taken me longer to remember how awesome it can be. I'm grateful that Sean can collect unemployment while he's waiting to hear about another job. We've lived well on a lot less, so I know that there's no problem with money. I don't worry about money. I guess, though, that it's taken me longer this time because I feel like I'm getting closer to whatever change God has been preparing me for. Change is good, but it's also stressful. Adding MORE change (like a layoff) into the mix makes me uneasy if I focus on myself, but keeping my eyes on God lifts me above present circumstances.

I hope you know that things will get better. I hope you know that if you open yourself to whatever God has to give you, you are opening yourself to GOOD things. While it's easy to see our dreams as "the best" that could happen to us, God is the one who knows what "best" really is. He's got more extravagant plans than we do and he can orchestrate them down to the minute. There are no coincidences. There are no chance meetings. There are only opportunities to see God in every situation. That's what gratitude is--seeing God in every situation and thanking him for being there.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Grateful - 11/15/10 (Five Qualities of Grateful People)

http://realzest.com/2010/11/five-qualities-of-grateful-people/

I had another opportunity come up to write a piece for RealZest.com. Here's the article. Let me know what you think!
_______________________________________

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It sounds cliche, but a holiday where gratitude is the main focus is my kind of celebration. I’ve been on a journey of gratitude for the last two years and it has changed my life completely. I have tried hard to stop putting my attention and energy into the things that don’t matter, or into drama and the people who cause it.

Since I decided to make gratitude one of the central focuses of my life, the thing I’ve found the most difficult is finding things to be thankful for when things aren’t going my way. I think that’s the most life-changing part about gratitude, though. When you begin to find within yourself the ability to be thankful in ALL circumstances and you choose to focus on the good things, you find that complaining and pessimism tend to leave a bad taste in your mouth, even when you see it in other people.

There are amazing qualities present in people who are grateful all the time. I sometimes find I’m just a tiny bit envious of those people because I’m still on my journey. But I know everyone is on a journey. I know I’ll likely never get there…wherever “there” is…but the more I focus on the good, the closer I will get to the heart of gratitude that God has for me. So in honor of my favorite time of year, here are the top five qualities that I notice in grateful people–qualities that I want to see in myself as I keep walking this road.

1. Truly grateful people are humble.
Humility isn’t something you can do. Perhaps this comes from my many years as a pastor’s kid, but I can pick out of a crowd the people who are trying to appear humble. Humility is a gift. It’s a flower that sprouts out of what looks like rocky, barren ground. It often takes root when a person goes through trials or personal downfalls. It’s the beauty that comes from knowing who you are and knowing you are loved, despite the fact that you’re flawed and imperfect and undeserving.

If someone you know claims to be humble…well, first of all, that’s a red flag right there…they’re not. They’re ESPECIALLY not humble if they spend all of their time complaining or whining or dramatically languishing whenever trouble comes. Humble people are happy givers who are fully aware and in awe of the grace bestowed on them. They know that God is faithful and they live their lives in that knowing. They aren’t self-seeking or self-absorbed. They have the ability to love, even when it’s not reasonable to do so. I want that gift. I’m not there yet…I likely will never be, but God is working on me.

2. Truly grateful people are content.
While I’ve been noticing this in myself occasionally as time goes on and I am choosing to focus on the good, but I am aware that I’m still a work in progress. I’m learning that contentment doesn’t equal complacency. Complacency is focusing on self. The dictionary definition is “uninformed self-satisfaction”. It’s about allowing myself to stay in one place because it’s easier. Focusing on gratitude takes our eyes off of ourselves and puts them on God’s blessings and the positive sides to our circumstances.

Daily counting your blessings and all the good things present in your life makes you content. You realize you need nothing more than those few important things. You become less focused on fruitless ambitions and material things. You become more present in your life because you finally realize that life isn’t about what you get or about who you know. It’s about the blessings you already have and the people who love you.

3. Truly grateful people aren’t judgmental.
This is another place where the humility comes in. Grateful people are humble, thus they are less likely to judge other people. They already know what they have been given. Judgmental people are insecure, and they try to find fault with others because they are afraid of or blind to their own faults. When you’re deeply grateful, your focus is on the good. You even begin to focus on the good in other people. You’re not naive, but you allow love to overrule your fears and judgments.

4. Truly grateful people don’t gossip.
Gossip is intended to tear other people down. When you’re grateful and humble and content with your own life, you are less likely to speak badly of others, especially behind their backs. Something present in gossip are the issues of comparison and jealousy. We usually gossip about people to make ourselves look better…we’re not secure in our own significance.

Sadly, it’s human nature to compare ourselves to other people, in good ways and bad ways. Gratitude helps us go against the grain and make the choice to love ourselves enough to NOT compare. Choosing not to gossip is difficult at times. When you’re in a group and everyone is talking about one person, it’s hard not to enter into the conversation. It takes practice and it takes will.

5. On the flip side of that, truly grateful people are encouraging.
They are a pleasure to be around because you leave their presence feeling like everything is going to be okay. I know people like this–almost all of us do. They exude peace because they are the type of person to put a hand on your shoulder and lift your spirits with a kind word. We gravitate toward people who are encouraging. If you want friends, be friendly. If you want encouragement in your life, encourage!

So these are some of the qualities that I want in my life. Maybe you do, too. You don’t have to do what I do and blog about it or even write it down every day, but in the next month, try to focus on the good. Instead of putting your energy into negativity, try listing the positive things about your life. If there’s someone you want to stop gossiping about, try listing the good things about them and think about ways you can encourage them.

As I’ve said before, gratitude is a discipline. Just like any other discipline, it takes practice and hard work, but the end result is so worth the time. If you practice enough, I promise you’ll see little changes that will become big changes that will become LIFE changes as you keep going.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

You have to read this...

It's not gratitude-related, but it made me laugh. I used to write update e-mails during my first pregnancy. I'd send them to all of my family and friends, so reading this really took me back and made me smile. Enjoy.
--------------------------------

Hey, there!

Well, folks, once again it is time for the monthly e-mail regarding the amazing and wonderful Colligan baby! Please keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times...The roller coaster is about to leave the station. I know you have all been waiting on the edge of your computer desk chairs, clamboring for more information regarding uteruses, placentas and such. Yes, it has been a month since the last e-mail. I can't believe it.

Anyway, as is usually the case when I write one of these e-mails, I have just returned from the doctor. This time, as is also the norm, I went bearing two questions, one of which I forgot. So, I asked her the burning question every pregnant woman wants to know...namely, "How long do you let people go overdue nowadays?" Her answer wasn't too inspiring. She said, "Only 10 days, so you should actually think of that as your due date." Okay...ummmm...HUH?! What is THAT about? But, she calmed my fears by saying, "Hey, you never know, he could come early..." to which she added a little evil chuckle. All I have to say about that is HA HA...very funny, lady.

So, they weighed me...another UGH! See, my stupid scale at home told me I have only gained about 4-5 pounds since my last doctor visit. However, I didn't realize that, since the scale came from IKEA, it likely came with a little Swedish instruction manual, which, as usual, I didn't read, that held the formula for figuring out my ACTUAL weight. The formula is basically this: WHAT THE SCALE SAYS + 10 BILLION POUNDS= MY ACTUAL WEIGHT. Yes, folks, the water weight gain is catching up to me.

We listened to the baby's heartbeat, as we normally do. OR I should say that we ATTEMPTED to listen to the baby's heartbeat as we normally do. However, since this is MY child, he doesn't like to sit still. So, every time the doctor would put the monitor to my belly, the baby would punch it and then quickly move out of the way. Smart kid! Already trying to get out of going to the doctor's office. So, we heard snatches of his heartbeat mixed with loud punching noises. The doctor exclaimed, "Wow! He's very responsive, isn't he? A very active child!" Ha Ha...I'd like her to be there at three in the morning saying that when the baby decides to have his wild house parties and play BABY TWISTER!

Also, we found out that the baby is now in a "head-down" position. So, in the last month, he moved from being lengthwise across my abdomen to now having his head pointed downward. Also, since this is Sean's baby, as well, this means that his legs are as long as sequoia trees. So, whenever the baby decides to stretch his legs, that usually means he is stretching into my stomach, my diaphragm or outward from under my ribs. When he does this, you can see these big bumps poking out of the top of my belly and moving around. It's pretty cool...even at 3 in the morning. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything.

So, on Monday morning around 1am, Canadian Thanksgiving Day, the first of my pregnant friends actually went through with it! She gave birth to an ACTUAL, REAL baby! OMIGOSH! Let me just say that this makes things much more real. From the sound of things, she was originally wanting to go "natural," but one of the first things her husband said to me when I saw him was, "GET THE DRUGS!" Seems like her labour was so long that she was ready for narcotics when they finally admitted her to the hospital. What have I been telling you, folks? IT'S ALL ABOUT THE DRUGS! So, anyway, congratulations Bebbie and Sasha on the birth of Lily. I can't wait to see her.

We finished our Prenatal class. I'd have to say that one of the most memorable classes, aside from Fernando (the guy who is embarrassed about uteruses and cervixes and grossed out by any mention of body fluids) watching the graphic birthing video, was the one where we watched Nuno give a demonstration of how to bathe a newborn. If you don't know Nuno Marques, you may not think it's too funny, but let me just say that Sean and I and Nuno's wife, Amanda, were in tears (no, not from fear, necessarily, but from laughter).

First of all, the teacher hands Nuno a Cabbage Patch doll, complete with bright yellow yarn hair. Then she says, "Okay, Nuno what do you do next?" Okay, there was no actual water in the little bathtub, but if there had been, what Nuno did with the baby would have caused a huge splash. So, SPLASH!!!!, the baby goes gently into the water, making sure that she gradually gets used to the temperature...So, then, the teacher says to Nuno, "Uh-oh, Nuno, the phone is ringing. What do you do?" The next thing we know, the Cabbage Patch doll is planted safely face-down in the bathtub and Nuno runs for the phone. You should have seen the look on the teacher's face. Then, it came time to dry the baby. The teacher said to Nuno, "Now we need to take the baby out of the bathtub and dry her off." So, Nuno takes her by the legs and THWACK!!! the baby is gently placed, plastic head first, on the table as Nuno gently begins to dry her. Nuno was great! I have to say that he's going to be a great father.

The other great part of the class was the breastfeeding demonstration. The teacher threw a pile of baby dolls and stuffed animals into the middle of the floor and it was a free-for-all as everyone, including the men, ran to pick a baby to breastfeed. Sean picked two little stuffed gingerbread people, so he could try the twin baby thing. So, the teacher asks us to hold the babies a certain way and then proceeds to show us, using herself as the example, how to make what is very technically known as "A Breast Sandwich." Hmmmm...Well, at that, Sean and Nuno start doing that little-boy-in-health-class chuckle that you know is only going to end in disaster. I won't go on from there, but you have to assume that seeing Sean and Nuno making the aforementioned "Breast Sandwich," giggling all the way, was truly a moment to remember. I wish I had had a camera for that one.

Anyway, from here on out, I will be going to the doctor every two weeks until the last couple of weeks where I will go every week. It's getting closer, folks. Less than two months. I'm excited, I'm nervous and I'm happy. Sean talks to my belly every day and he always tells the baby how much he loves him. It's really cute. I know that Sean's going to be a great father. Also, the dog has a little thing where I tell her to kiss the baby and she nuzzles my belly with her nose. It's cute.

Whoo!....just had a big knee bulge!...everyone say hi to the baby!

Well, that's it for now. I'll fill you in, once again, on all the lovely details of pregnancy in another couple of weeks. I hope you have enjoyed your adventure in Baby Land on the Pregnancy Roller Coaster. I'm glad you didn't throw up in the loops...those G-forces can do a number on your stomach.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book Review - "Pagan Christianity"

Review: http://www.amazon.com/review/R4TEJ2WHGH5M/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

Buy the book: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/141431485X/ref=cm_rdp_product


I recently reviewed "Pagan Christianity" by Frank Viola and George Barna on Amazon.com.
It really made me think, but it also gave me insight into why I feel the way I do about institutional church. It put into words feelings I've had for a long time that I couldn't find a way to verbalize. Check out my review (below) and buy the book (link above) if you're so inclined. The book is a very interesting read.


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"Validation"

As a pastor's kid, a student in denominational Christian schools, and then as a member of a large pastoral staff, I never could put my finger on why certain teachings rubbed me the wrong way. I never could articulate why I didn't fit into the mega-church/church growth mentality. I had no way to express the unrest in my spirit when I heard people say that dressing up showed respect for God. This book did it for me.

"Pagan Christianity" presents the factual history on the origins of certain church traditions. This book was written to be paired with Frank Viola's other book "Reimagining Church", so "PC" deconstructs and "RC" constructs a vision for getting back to the concept of church at its most basic, without all the well-intentioned (but misguided) man-made frou-frou.

In the past, I didn't know how to handle my questions, though, or how to put them in the context of pastoring when the traditional setting was part of my job. I think that's why I always felt unsatisfied or like something was wrong and also why I probably put people off with my lack of "umph" when it came to DOING church and following a particular format.

Many people never even question WHY and they take the word of man and think that we should just do church a certain way because that's the way it's always been done. I think Frank Viola and George Barna would agree that the point of "Pagan Christianity" isn't to make people drop everything and change, but it's to at least make us question WHY we do what we do and to see what actually lines up with what God originally intended for his church. Also, it's about looking at the Scriptures in context and examining where our ideas of church actually come from.

People are afraid of change, especially within the confines (often an appropriate word) of institutional church walls. They're afraid of not having a middle man between them and God, much like Israel's desire for a king. I've done the traditional pastor thing, and I've also participated in things being done a new way. I can honestly say that when GOD is the one leading things in a new direction, it's a smoother transition than if we were to just try to change things ourselves. It's hard for pastors, though, when they rely on the church for their income. It's scary.

Many people deceive themselves into thinking that questioning why we do certain things in church is heresy. Especially in traditional denominations it seems, people have been taught to do certain things in the name of godliness or holiness when, really, Jesus' blood is the only thing that can make someone holy. It becomes all about appearances and impressing man.

I think it's easy to look at where Jesus says, "No one comes to the Father but by me" and know that it's true in your heart. However, when your church leadership is telling you that you should dress a certain way or act a certain way or participate in a certain way, they are presenting people with the idea that they come to God through Jesus, but in the manner that the particular church thinks it should happen. Church tradition for tradition's sake can be just as much a form of bondage as habitual sin. It's easy to believe that God sets me free from sin, but it's hard to believe that God needs to set me free from doing unnecessary and unbiblical acts "in His name".

I highly recommend "Pagan Christianity" for anyone who is ready to think through and to confront their preconceptions and traditions, when it comes to institutional church and how "church" should be done. I felt like it was a well-written, fact-filled feast for my spirit, and it wasn't written in an angry or in-your-face manner. You can tell that the authors are passionate about the information they are presenting. I am actually considering reading it again, even though I finished it only two days ago.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Grateful - 11/12/10

Today, I'm grateful for...

Being shiny. Today, Mr. Mastroianni, my 88 year old walking buddy, told me that every time he sees me, it's like everything about me is shiny. I took that as a huge compliment and it was uplifting to me. :)

Getting over it. I'm finally starting to get over the hacking cough. TMI, but stuff is coming out and I'm happy about that. The sooner I can get to where I don't sound like I have tuberculosis or whooping cough, the better.

Open windows in November. The fact that it's warm enough to open my windows to the blue sky and breeze is fabulous. Thank you, God, for pick-me-up weather. I can only handle so much of the gray and cold. That's probably why gratitude is the hardest for me in the Winter...lol.

Knowing everything is going to be okay. God lifts me up in so many ways. FB chats with friends, Scriptures that pop into my head, comments from my kids, the still, small voice in my heart--I don't have to listen too hard to hear God's voice. I'm grateful for that.

Babies on the way...for other people. I'm so glad that some of my friends and relatives are having babies. There's nothing sweeter than a newborn. The tiny cry, the little feet and hands, the fuzzy head, the wrinkly skin...so cute. I can't wait until Slavina's baby, Gabriel, is born and until my new niece will be here next year. Babies are a gift. Maybe that's why I've considered gestational surrogacy. I love the idea of giving Christian couples the joy of adding to their family, but I can't imagine doing it all again myself. I guess you never know, but I plan to get my fix with these new little ones. So exciting!

Encouragement. God knows how to encourage me. I'm odd. I'm grateful that God knows my heart and he knows my quirks and he loves me anyway. He's good that way.

Change. Sometimes, when I feel a change coming, it's easy to get uptight and worried. But God is good about giving me peace if I ask for it. He brings change because he wants it. I am learning to go with His flow and embrace things as they come. He is faithful to not give me more than I can handle, even though I question that at times. :)

My hope is that you learn to wait for God. It's so easy to want to push ahead with whatever we're doing, especially if it feels like God is taking too long. Sometimes, though, he calls us to wait. He's not dragging his feet, but he's teaching us patience. Psalm 27:14 says, "Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." Often, the strength comes in the waiting. I hope you learn that waiting isn't a bad thing. There are so many foundational truths to be learned when you're in a holding pattern. God is faithful to us, even when it feels like nothing is happening.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Grateful - 11/5/10

Today, I'm under the weather. I know it will pass, but I feel awful. So to add some brightness to my day, I'm choosing to be thankful when I feel like crap. That's the best time, I guess, right?

I'm thankful for...

Sparkly people. There are people who just sparkle. They have a presence about them that makes them glisten. :) They are the people who make you laugh when you're down. They are the people who call you when you're going through a hard time. I'm grateful that I have a few sparkly people in my life, and I know that God put them there.

His rod and His staff...they comfort me.

Friday movie night. It's a tradition I hope to continue with my kids as they get older. Tonight, we snuggled under blankets in the family room and watched a movie, Toy Story 3. When it got to the part where Andy's mom gets upset as he's leaving for college, Liam turned to me and said, "Do I get to choose when I go to college?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Then I'm never going." He got choked up at that part. So cute.

"Pagan Christianity" by Frank Viola and George Barna. You know how I feel about Brennan Manning's books, right? Well, this book was on that level for me. It was a "right time" book. There are some books you read and you feel like it's not the right time for you to receive whatever message the authors are putting across, but this was the right time for me to read this one. I felt validated and I felt a lot of questions were answered for me. I never knew why I felt I didn't fit in in certain religious settings, or why certain things about institutional church made cringe. This book was a vaildation of all the things I couldn't put into words in the past.

Making new friends. Sometimes God brings new people into your life at just the right time.

Road trips. We had a great time hanging out with old friends in Ontario this week, and we had a fun time together as a family, as well.

Tylenol PM...'nuff said. It helped me sleep last night.

Jesus. He's the reason for everything.

I hope something amazing and timely happens for you this week. I hope you remember when it happens that God is behind every blessing.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Grateful - 10/27/10

Amid the craziness of life and the multitude of things that pop up in a day, sometimes it's necessary to stop and rethink things. Whether it's a discussion, a thought-provoking book or an impression you have from God that sparks it, it's always good to take stock of what you have going on in your life.

You all know that I'm honest (sometimes brutally so) about when I'm feeling down-in-the-dumps or when I feel like something just isn't right, but that's not the case this time, thankfully. I guess what it is can be explained by saying that I sometimes get a sense from God about when something is about to change, and that occasional sense is often the catalyst for me to stop and really think about what I have, what I want and what I've learned in recent days. Taking opportunities like this, helps me keep my feet on the ground because I can reflect on God's faithfulness, despite my failings.

So to continue my track record of honesty, here are just a few of the things I've been learning and pondering.

--I have the tendency to make God too small.

--I am not an "institutional church" person...some of you are saying, "Well, DUH!" You who know this about me can attest to it, but I am becoming more and more aware of the fact that I've been questioning the whole idea of "institutionalization" in every way for longer than I've actually been conscious of it (church, education, society, religion, etc.).

--God is more than capable of getting me to step outside of my comfort zone, despite the fact that I often dig in my heels and make him drag me. However, once I've taken the first step, I usually know why God wanted to stretch me in the first place. He's smart that way.

--I am learning about who I really am. It seems like God takes me through seasons where I get to know myself more. I am learning to love myself. I am learning to accept my faults, and even embrace them. I am learning to be comfortable with aging (yes, I'm only 35, but it's hard for me sometimes...shut up.) They say the best way to get to know someone is to watch them as they go through different seasons in life. I think the same can go for yourself. Watch yourself and take note of the things that set you off or the things that bring out the best or worst in you. You can learn a lot about who you are just by stepping outside of yourself for a little perspective.

--I like crappy TV shows. I mean, I have some good ones I like, but honestly I like crappy ones A LOT! Mindless vegetating is the key to making my mushy brain even MORE mushy at the end of a long day. Don't roll your eyes!

--Humility HAS to be God-given. Perhaps this comes from my many years as a pastor's kid, but I can pick out of a crowd the people who are trying to appear humble. Humility isn't something you can do. It's a gift. It's a flower that sprouts out of what looks like rocky, barren ground. It often takes root when a person goes through trials or personal downfalls. It's the beauty that comes from knowing that you're loved despite the fact that you're flawed and imperfect. Humility is also coupled with joy and gratitude. If someone you know claims to be humble...well, first of all, that's a red flag right there...they're not. They're ESPECIALLY not humble if they spend all of their time complaining or whining or dramatically languishing whenever trouble comes. Humble people are happy servants who are fully aware and in awe of the grace bestowed on them. They know that God is faithful and they live their lives in that knowing. They aren't judgmental. They aren't self-seeking or self-absorbed. They have the ability to love, even when it's not reasonable to do so. I want that gift. I'm not there yet...I likely will never be, but God is working on me.

--Jesus is the reason. He is God's love letter to us.

--I'm content. Yeah, seriously. I know! I'm not complacent. I'm content. I like this. It took years for me to get here.

--I'm insanely grateful, but I have also been working on how to put it into practice more often. Lately, I have tried to make it a point in every so often during the day to stop and close my eyes and sincerely whisper, "Thank you." God likes to hear it just as much as we do. He doesn't need it (and neither do we, really), but I think it makes him smile.



With that said, I'm grateful for...

80 degree weather in October. Honestly, I needed it. I wasn't ready to dive right into Fall.

Perspective.

Making friends. For a long time, I kind of shied away from putting myself out there with new people. Maybe it's because there was a time in my life when I often felt misunderstood and pre-judged, or maybe it's because I got lazy...maybe a little of both. But I'm thankful that God is pushing me into more situations where I am meeting new people and realizing I'm not as bad at it as I thought I was. Yeah, I probably put my foot in my mouth a lot, but my filter has gotten better over the years. Thank you, Lord. Hahaha...

A good discussion. I love the open hashing out of ideas and thoughts with trustworthy people. It's the best. I love a good debate, too, but good, honest discussions are like gold.

Seeing Nicole again! I miss my friend, but I love when I get to see her. Thank you, Coley, for coming to see me. I loved hanging out with you. ((hug))

My messy house. When I get busy, it gets messy. That's just the way it is. But it's MY mess...I'm grateful for my home because it is truly a HOME.

My hope is that you keep your chin up. Re-focus yourself on what is really important. Everything is going to work out in the end, so don't sweat the small stuff. No, I have not been reading a self-help book...thank you very much. I do, however, think it's important to give yourself a pep-talk now and then. It's so easy to be negative, but talking yourself up and keeping yourself focused on the positive is HARD. Do it anyway. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Grateful - 10/20/10 (Wonder)

Tonight, I'm grateful for...

Music. There's a song for every situation. As I occasionally do, I am in a music mood tonight. I feel like there's something about the "right" song at the "right" time that, in a way, fills up the soul. God created music, and I think every artist has something to say...I like when what they say meets what's in my heart. I'm grateful for music. I'm grateful that I sing. I'm grateful that music is something that ministers to me and connects my heart to memories or hopes and dreams. Music is a gift. Let God sing over you tonight and see what kind of music you hear in your spirit. It doesn't have to mention Jesus to be a message from God. One of my fondest God/Music memories is of a song that has nothing to do with Jesus, but I knew God was wanting me to hear it at a specific time. It still warms my heart when I hear it because I remember very clearly feeling His arms around me and feeling complete peace when the song began. He knows what touches you...

Nature. Everything in nature was created to point toward the Father. I think nature is God's love letter to us. Outside of reading the Bible, I consider the best way to be able to hear his voice is to be walking in the woods, looking closely at the intricacies of flowers, or sitting and watching the ocean tides. There's an object lesson in EVERY part of nature. There's always something to learn about God if we stop long enough to notice. God gave it all to us and there's something of him in every creation...including YOU!

Time. Even though it's not promised to us and we don't know when our last breath will be, I am grateful that I am learning to take advantage of the NOW. I could be always future-focused or always living in the past, if I wanted to. But God has turned my focus to what's happening now. My children will not be 7 and 4 much longer. There will come a day when I will look in the mirror and see a 90-year-old woman looking back at me, and it will probably happen more quickly than I can imagine. I am learning to cherish the NOW. I am learning that nothing is more important than being content and being grateful. I can truly say that I am content. I'm not complacent, by any means, but I am content. I'm deeply grateful for that.

Dates. Brendan is now at the age where he WANTS to go out with me more often, so this week I let him choose where we went for lunch and where we went after lunch. He chose Wendy's and The Science Center. We had a great time together. He's becoming such a little man. I love his thought processes. I love that he continuously said, "WOW!" during the whole planetarium presentation about the Hubble telescope, even though everyone else in the theater was silent. I love that he's in awe of the world. I love that he has a sense of wonder and that everything is a new experience. That's the one thing I've asked God for during this, my 36th year. I guess the best way to learn a sense of wonder is to be around someone who truly understands it. Brendan is one of those people. I pray every day that he never loses that.

My life. The other day, Sean asked me if I love my life. I actually thought about it for a while, and, even though I have my moments of insanity, I can say that I truly, honestly, deeply love my life. I love my family. I love my friends. I love God. I love that He has taught me to remove drama from my life. I love my flaws. I love that I am forgiven. I love that God has completely revolutionized my life through my making one choice--the choice to be grateful for everything. I've said it before but I will say it again. I want to be able to take my last breath saying, "Thank you, God, for everything. It was beautiful." I intend to live in such a way that I can say that at the end.

So my hope for you tonight is that you learn to love your life, no matter what circumstances you face. I pray that gratitude becomes your first choice, instead of complaining. There is ALWAYS something to be grateful for in any situation--call it "the silver lining", or call it whatever you want. My hope is that you know it's going to be okay. I hope you know that you are loved passionately by the Father, so you had better learn to love yourself (*shakes finger at you*). There is beauty and greatness in you, so make sure to remember that, even on the days when the first thing you see in the mirror in the morning is messy hair and pillow face. You're beautiful and God loves you just as you are.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Grateful - 10/10/10 (Unity)

This week turned out better than I thought it would. God is good that way. To say it's been rough for me with everything going on, and with Sean's overnight job, is an understatement. God knows, though. He's been holding me up.

Last night during church, we were all sitting around and discussing "The Unity of the Spirit"--how a group of people can come together because of God and there's a unity and a love there for each other. My parents were talking about how, in all the years they've been traveling and speaking at different churches, they haven't always seen that unity in the churches they've visited. I can say the same thing. I've been to churches, large and small, and haven't always seen the unity that comes with a love (and a LIKE) for each other. In fact, it's a rare find.

Part of that unity comes from knowing you can just be yourself and you'll be loved. Another part comes from knowing that it's okay not to agree about every doctrine...nobody knows everything about God and you can only go on the bit that he shows you, as an individual. I think it's also that unity comes from knowing that God loves you as you are, so you are free to be transparent with the people around you, including those in whatever body of believers you belong to.

I cherish that about our church. It's not typical. It's the kind of place where we sit around and discuss a topic, rather than just hear it from the pulpit and then walk out the door. It's the kind of place where you can wear whatever you want to and you won't be out of place. It's the kind of place where there's NO pressure to perform or to say the right thing. It's the kind of place where you know that when you walk in the door, at LEAST one person will genuinely encourage you, whether it's through something they say to you directly or something they say in the discussion. These people are a huge blessing in my life and I don't take that for granted. I've been in other church situations where I've felt completely alone in a crowd of people...I have never felt that way here. I'm grateful for that.

The unity of the spirit is not something you can fake. It's not something you can duplicate. It just is or it isn't. I will always be grateful for this little church and I feel like God has us in this body for the long haul. It's not about growing in numbers; it's about the individual people growing in their lives and in their love for God.

___________________

Today, I'm grateful for...

Sunshine and warm temperatures. Need I say more?

Dates with Liam. We went to the Natural History museum and the Art Museum on Friday, and we had a great time exploring together. I think spending one-on-one time with my kids is really important and I am grateful to have the ability to do that.

Having more than enough. No matter what our financial situation has been over the years we've been married, we have ALWAYS had enough. Even when we had $.05 in the bank (that really happened), we have never wanted for anything. We have lived on one income the whole time because we felt like God wanted us to do that, and he has been faithful the whole time. Any money I've made has gone toward extras. It's been great to have the ability to do that. This week, our credit card debts will be paid off. We never really use our credit cards anyway, so there's not much on there, but it will be a really nice feeling to have it out of the way. We will be able to start saving to fix up our kitchen and to do other things we need to do. God is faithful if you give your finances to him and be smart about what you spend.

Letting go. God has been teaching me about holding the things he gives me in an open hand--not grasping everything tightly and being unable to let go. Sometimes God calls us to let go of things (memories, fears, money, friends, dreams, etc.) because they are doing us no good. If we hold everything and everyone with an open hand, we are free because we know our significance and our identity are not affected by losing something that wasn't good for us anyway. Even when we lose something or someone who WAS good for us, we can trust that God will bring something good out of it all. Everything turns out okay if you give it time and if you trust that God has your best interests at heart.

Getting there. I know that I will never be a "finished" project and I'm okay with that. I am constantly learning new things on this journey with God and it's cool to occasionally feel like I've reached the small plateau before the next big climb. While we're in the middle of a lesson, it can seem like we're tip-toeing on a steep ledge where we're just barely hanging on, but when we reach each little summit, we gain more confidence in ourselves and in him. We learn to trust him more. We learn that we're stronger than we thought we were...all because of his grace.

My hope is that you know that everything will be okay. Don't worry. Even if you feel like you're coming to the end of what you can handle, God will always provide you a way of escape, or he'll provide the means to step up your courage and hold on to your faith. When we worry, we take control away from God and take it upon ourselves, as though our worrying somehow makes us the ones in charge. Worrying helps no one and causes nothing but anguish. There will always be times to be smart and to be alert and to be present in the moment, but there is never a time to worry. My hope is that you are able to let go of whatever is in your hands and put it all in God's. He's MUCH stronger. He's far more capable. He is faithful to take whatever you commit to him and to make something beautiful out of it. His grace is always sufficient.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Grateful - October 2, 2010

I've been thinking about the fact that our relationship with God is pretty much the only area of our lives where we are NOT judged based on our performance. We all have (or have had) jobs where we have to measure up to a certain standard, and we've all been involved in projects or undertakings where we feel we will be judged based on what we do, what we say or how we look. I'm so grateful that God doesn't look at us that way. He only looks at our hearts and values us for our REAL selves. His love and acceptance and approval aren't based on our performance. They are based only on the fact that HE first loved US...meaning, he already loved us even though he knew we would continually screw up, and even though he knew we'd never be able to deserve it. That's some good news, people.

I love that I can be real and honest and transparent with him. He already knows my heart. He knows my motives.You can't be fake with someone who truly knows you, and who loves you passionately in spite of yourself. When I really "got" that I am deeply loved and accepted by God and that the only opinion about me that truly matters is His, I gained a level of freedom in my life that I had never had in all my years of life. But I didn't really get it until a couple of years ago.

For so long, I tried to fit into whatever mould people wanted to try to shove me into. I tried to be all things to all people, so as not to rock the boat or cause conflict by standing up for myself. I tried to be a good pastor's kid. I tried to be a good teenager. I tried to be a good friend. I tried to be likeable. I tried to be a good pastor's wife and fit into the "pastor's wife" mould. It didn't work. In fact, I was a failure at trying to be all of these things. I have to say that doing everything to gain the approval of others is exhausting and so not worth the anguish. Even though I knew in my head that God loved me for who I was, I still projected on to him the fact that I felt all of these ridiculous expectations coming from other people.

Daily counting my blessings made me realize that the gifts in my life are not based on what I do. They are based on the fact that God somehow sees fit to pour out love on a sinner--a pathetic, undeserving, imperfect, but completely loved loser like me. I still don't understand it sometimes because I know myself and how dark my heart can be, but I accept it and I receive it.

I think this is why I've come to such a place of rest in my walk with God. Knowing that he holds no judgments against me and that he loves me fully is freeing. It allows me to learn to be free in other areas of my life. I've become more honest, more transparent, more loving, more patient and more positive because I have known true love. I can look back to the woman I was 10 years ago and I barely recognize her. I see a sad, misunderstood, fearful, approval-seeking shell of a person who knew very little about myself or (to be honest) about God. I thought I did, but I didn't.

I'm grateful to be living in a place of rest. I'm grateful that God won't stop loving me when I screw up. He won't turn away from me, but he chooses instead to dump buckets of new mercies on me every day and lavish me with countless gifts. I just have to notice them and receive them. I don't have to perform. I don't have to DO anything, as a matter of fact.

If anyone tells you that God is angry with you or that you have to do this or that to earn his love, you know that that person really doesn't know God. Run away from people like that! They may profess to love God, but their actions speak volumes about what is truly in their hearts. Their condemnation is toxic and many people have fallen prey to the enemy under the guise of "Christian love." The Scriptures say that you know the followers of God by their love and by the spiritual fruit in their lives. Are they humble? Are they transparent? Are they kind? Are they generous? Are they encouraging? Do they run from gossipers? Do they reach out to help those in need? The only standard is love. If we live our lives and do what we do just because we love God, we can't go wrong. People will see the fruit in us if the only standard we keep ourselves to is love. No other standard really matters.
________________________________________

I'm grateful for...

My church family. Tonight, since my parents were away and my husband was working, I was in charge of facilitating the service. It was worship night, so it was mainly music, but I shared a little bit about being thankful, but also about letting worship be a two-way thing. It was a good time. :) I'm so grateful for my church family. We are an awesome little group of people who know each other like family--so much so that we CHOOSE to spend our recreational time together, as well. I'm blessed to have them all in my life.

Perspective. I'm learning so much as a parent. I'm learning to get a little perspective before I fly off the handle about things that won't matter in the end. I'm learning to be a listener. I'm learning to know my kids as individual little people. I'm learning that they love me, even when I'm behaving like an absolute freak. I'm learning that loving them and accepting them for who they are is one of my biggest callings in life because it's teaching me more about God's love.

A chill day. Today I spent most of the day in my pajamas. Yes, I'm sick with the cold/cough thing, but I really needed the chance to just sit and do nothing. Sean understood that and let me languish all over the house, and he encouraged me to lie down and relax. So I did. I needed that.

My dog. Seriously, she's the sweetest thing. She follows me everywhere. If I stand still in one place for any length of time, she comes and sits in front of me (usually ON my feet) and leans her head on my leg. She gets happy when she sees my feet hit the floor in the morning. When I come home, she jumps around like a little puppy, even though she's getting old. I love her. She's the epitome of unconditional love, and (despite the fact that I am constantly complaining about the fact that she somehow sheds on every surface in our house) I wouldn't trade her for anything. Right now, she's curled up next to me on the couch and dreaming about running in a field somewhere.

I hope that you know that you can just be yourself. I hope you know that you're loved. I hope you know that if you're being fake or pretending to be something you're not, you're selling yourself short. Be transparent. Be who you are. Be humble, but realize that you are awesome. Seriously, go to the mirror right now. Look yourself in the eyes and say, "I'm loved. I'm accepted. I'm awesome. I'm wonderfully made. God knew what he was doing when he made me." I bet the more you learn to be yourself and to love yourself and to be grateful for everything, the more you'll find that people are drawn to you because you'll be like a candle in the darkness. You'll glow.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Grateful - September 27, 2010

My friend, Beth, asked me to guest write/ghost write a couple of times on her blog while she was away. She has the goal of writing 365 gratitude blogs in a year, and she didn't want to give up on that goal just because she was away for the week. So she asked me and a couple of other people to write for her. And we did!

I was honored to do it and I hope I did her proud.

http://meagain-alifeofgratitude.blogspot.com/2010/09/day-267-being-beths-ghost.html
http://meagain-alifeofgratitude.blogspot.com/2010/09/day-270-slowing-down.html

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Grateful - September 21, 2010

One of the many things I've been thinking about recently is how my perception of "nominal Christians" (or Christians in name only) has drastically changed over time. I used to think of them only as people who didn't go to church. You know how when you were a little kid in Sunday school and you'd hear the adults talking in hushed tones about so-and-so who didn't make it to church except on sacred holidays...THAT'S what I always thought of as a "nominal Christian". Turns out, though, that I'm starting to notice that there can be a lot more nominal Christians IN church than there may be outside of it.

It's pretty easy to hide in church. It's easy to go to the Sunday service, hear some cool music, listen to the message from the minister and then head home for lunch. Nothing is really required of us except attendance and the appearance of interest. However, I have seen people with some of the deepest relationships with God and some of the most truthful and honest, faith-filled lives living OUTSIDE of church. Many of those people have either been disillusioned by the idea of "church" as we have known it in the past, or they have realized that, even though church can be awesome, it isn't a requirement for a heart-to-heart relationship with the Creator...which is true.

Yes, I firmly believe in the idea of "the fellowship of the believers" and the fact that hanging out with other people who love God and want to know him more can build you up as a person and can strengthen you in your Christian walk. I just don't think that it HAS to look like what we've made church out to be. It doesn't have to look like THIS ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ys4Nx0rNlAM )! Yeah, it's meant to be funny, but it really caused me to think long and hard about the sadness I felt when I watched it. Many of us can recognize our churches somewhere in that video. The truth is, church as we know it can be the one thing that turns people away...sad, but true. I think that in our struggle to make church relevant to our 21st century society, we have made it irrelevant to the kingdom of God.

Thus, I am trying to be as loving and as non-judgmental as I can be as I try to figure out why God has been speaking to me about these things. They aren't concepts that would have come to my mind on my own, so they are coming to me for a reason. I think God is really trying to get me to rethink what I want out of this Christian life and what I want from the relationships with the people who are my church. If church doesn't have real, honest relationships that are fruitful and go deeper than the surface, it's not what God intended. I feel like there's a HUGE shaking coming and I want to have my heart ready for the changes that God is going to bring about. In 100 years, I don't think church is going to look ANYTHING like it does now...and I TRULY hope it doesn't. Food for thought.
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Today, I'm grateful for...

Norrain. She's encouraging and she's the one who reminds me when I've gotten behind on my gratitudes. Truthfully, I think about how grateful I am every day, but somehow writing about it makes it more real. I'm grateful for Norrain who thinks that reading my gratitude list is like having a morning coffee and a chat with me, despite the fact that we're an ocean apart.

Sunshine. The past few days have been beautiful. The sky has been a clear, bright blue. Seeing the tops of the colorful trees up against the sky is something that makes me happy inside. Even though the changing colors of the leaves means that Summer is truly coming to an end, I love the colors of Fall and I'm going to make it a point to enjoy it. Sunshine always helps.

Daily walks. Yes, I'm still doing them when I can. I have been trying to keep it to 5 days a week, if not more. I feel better when I walk and I feel like I have more energy to get through the rest of the day. God speaks to me without fail and I have the opportunity to mull over the things he's been speaking.

Craziness. Seriously, the past 2 weeks have been non-stop insanity. My brain has not been at rest once. For someone who values peace, it's a hard time. But just waking up every morning and having the ability to jump into the craziness with both feet is a blessing. Every breath, every hour of constant movement, every new morning--all of it is a blessing. I am making the daily choice to see this period of crazy activity and busy-ness as a gift from God. I'm alive, right? :) Just because I'm busy doesn't mean I can't have peace.

Living drama-free. I know that there are people who don't get why I have made the choice to cut drama, and those who create it, out of my life. But I have to say that God has been behind it from the get-go. I prayed for a long time about wanting God to help me with my negative attitude. He answered. First, he inspired me to start acknowledging my gratitude and to really grasp what it means to be truly thankful. You can't be grateful and negative at the same time. Second, he brought it to my attention that, as a Responder, I get easily sucked into other people's negativity and gossip...I hate that. It's toxic. So he spoke to me about cutting all of that out of my life. Yeah, there are times when I need to vent and let out my emotions and other people need to do that, too, but I have asked God to show me who I can trust and who I can't. He's been very specific about who I shouldn't trust. Thus, the pruning has been gradually taking place. When God shows me that I can't trust someone, I listen. It would be much easier to just maintain the status quo and leave things as they are, but I feel like God is moving me into a new stage of life and he has a plan to get me there. This is the beginning, and letting go of the things that hold me back is a part of moving forward. Living drama-free can be lonely sometimes, but because I know that God is in it, I know he'll bring the right people to me.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Grateful - September 11, 2010

I already know that so many things I feel every year on this day have already been said a million times over by other people. Whenever I watch video of that day nine years ago and the events that occurred, it is just as fresh and raw to me as it was then. I was profoundly and deeply affected by the deaths of people I didn't know, just because they were my fellow countrymen and women. At the time, I was living in Canada for what I knew to be an indefinite period of time, and while I lived only a little over an hour away from the Canada/US border, it could have been a million miles in my heart. I felt sad, angry, homesick, anxious, worried, hopeful, fearful and I was glued to the American news networks because I wanted to feel the comraderie of the American spirit, even though that spirit had been attacked.

Because of 9-11, I was brought into a time of re-examining my life, and every year on this day I still take the time to think about life and how much I have to be grateful for.

Today, I am grateful for...

Remembrance. You have to remember life-changing moments, whether they are good or bad. I feel that reminding ourselves of the worst events can make us more focused on the good.

Breathing. Though none of us knows when our last breath will take place, I am grateful that I have breath in my lungs and I am alive.

Tears. I relive the events of 9-11 more often than once a year, but especially today, I cry for the lives lost and the millions of lives affected by those losses. I cry for the heroes and the victims. I cry for the loss of my illusions of peace and love in the world. God changed me for the better through 9-11 and in the years since, but I will always remember this day with tears. Always. I hope I never forget.

My country. No matter how bad it feels like it's getting here sometimes, I will always, always, always be grateful for my country and I will always be proud to be an American.

My children. They are one of my daily reminders that life goes on and that there is hope.

Sunshine.

Health. It's a basic thing, but it's not something everyone has.

God. I can't even tell you how grateful I am that God has me in his hands. I would have lost myself and lost my mind if I didn't have Him. Some people who don't believe in Him say that God is a "crutch" for those who do believe. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. We're all wounded in some way or another and having God as the thing that stabilizes us when we're wounded is a simple, yet profound visual. I don't have to prove that I'm strong because I already know that without him, I'm nothing.

Friends...one in particular. Nine years ago today, I was online and I happened into a Yahoo chat room. Everyone was talking about what had happened, where they were and what their thoughts were. There was fear, there was anger and there was deep sadness. In the middle of the chaos, I met a guy named Chris. I didn't know him, obviously, but in the middle of all the noise that was going on in my head, he was the voice of reason. He spoke comforting words and he spoke hope. I have no doubt that God orchestrated the chance meeting. We have kept in touch over the last nine years, sending the occasional e-mail to say Hello and give updates on our families and the happenings in our lives. It may not seem like a big deal to some people, but God brought a calming influence into my life when I was alone and anxious about what each new day after 9-11 would bring. I will always be grateful for Chris. Even though he didn't know it, he was a vessel that God used and I am thankful for him.

My hope is that you know that there IS hope. There is a promise of peace in the storm. God never promised that we would be successful or rich, or that everything in our lives would go well all the time. He DID, however, promise that he would be with us and that he would never leave us. He promised us peace in the struggle, hope in the hopeless times and comfort in the chaos.



(The above photo is not mine. I found it online and I thought it was incredibly profound...never forget.)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Grateful - September 9, 2010

I am getting used to the "You're a crazed maniac" look people give me when I tell them that my favorite times in life recently have been the times when Sean has been laid off from work. Someone asked me (with that look in their eye), "What about money? Don't you worry that you won't have enough?" No, I don't worry! We've never gone hungry. We've never been without our basic needs. In fact, we ended up with the same amount of money in the bank during this last couple of months as we had during the last few weeks when he was working. That's probably because we're pretty good at tightening our belts during the slow times, but it's also because God brings in opportunities for us to make money EVERY SINGLE TIME. God is beyond faithful to us...always.

So Sean just got called up for a 6-week job working on the plumbing at a power plant. While I know that it will give him decent money and will help us build up our account in preparation for the next layoff, I was (admittedly) bummed. Honestly, I almost cried. I have SO enjoyed the time we've had together as a family. I've loved having all my fellas together and I've loved the feeling that all is right with the world. Sean has enjoyed being home with us, too, and he's been able to get work done on the other house. I know that wishing for more time probably seems selfish to other people, but that's okay.

I can say, though, that I think the main thing I've learned during this time is not to wait for layoffs to try to make memories as a family. I've always had the struggle of learning to enjoy the "in-between" times just as much as I enjoy the opportunities God brings for us to do fun things and to have real, quality time together as a family. Life is short. I am learning to make the most of every chance we get to spend good time together. I hope to hold that thought. God has been more than faithful to us. We have a great family--immediate AND extended. We have wonderful kids. We have many multiple small blessings that God piles on us every day. We are wealthy where it counts.

All that to say that I am going to try to be just as grateful for this job opportunity as I have been for the quality time we've been able to spend together as a family. And while I look forward to the next layoff, I am going to make it a point to find the silver lining in every situation.

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Today, I'm grateful for...

A happy preschooler. Brendan had a wonderful time during his first day in preschool. He is looking forward to tomorrow. That makes me happy. While I knew that he would like school, it warmed my heart when I walked into the classroom and he yelled, "MAMA!" and ran to me. Even though he's turning into a big boy, I hope it's a long time before he starts to think that loving his mommy isn't "cool".

A great first week of 2nd grade. Liam and I have had a great time during this first week. It's been mainly review and the introduction of a few new concepts, so it's been pretty easy. I've been trying to develop more of a cheerful, "teachery" attitude about it and I've noticed a difference in my level of patience. I am going to try to make it a point to pray together before we start each day. God is faithful if we let him into our little mundane lives. (Liam also got promoted to the next

A lunch date with my husband. I'm grateful that we are good friends, as well as all the other perks that come with marriage. Today, we went for Indian and just sat and talked. It was fun and I loved having some quality time.

My parents. I'm incredibly grateful for my parents, who are always so helpful with our kids when Sean and I need to go places together, or when we just need an extra person to ferry the kids to different places. They're also fun people to talk to...I think everyone should want to hang out with my parents! :)

The beginning of football season. I bet it probably sounds dumb to you, but I love football. It makes me happy. If you're not a football fan, move to Pittsburgh and I guarantee that you will be a convert. There are NO fans like Pittsburgh fans. GO, STEELERS!

The opportunity to shoot a beautiful wedding. I got to be one of the two photographers at Ashlee and Dan Pelczar's wedding. What a fun group of people! I know I have said it already, but the people at their reception had a handle on what a joyous occasion a wedding is supposed to be. I laughed aloud MANY times and I got teary-eyed along with them during the emotional moments. It was lovely and it was another reminder of how amazing it is when two people meet and come together in love for the rest of their lives. Love is a gift.

My hope is that you realize that it's no good for you just to exist between the great times. Living every moment means choosing to be grateful, even during the times when you wonder why life seems so screwed up. The moment you fall asleep tonight is the last you will see of this day...it's never going to come around again, so it is your choice what you do with it. So my challenge for you is to make the best of as many moments as you can. God is faithful to do what he promised, so even when it looks like he has no idea what he's doing, be grateful anyway. Things will get better.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Grateful - September 3, 2010

I've been thinking...don't act surprised. I can see why Solomon asked God for wisdom instead of riches or any of the other things he COULD have asked for. Sometimes I feel that wisdom is the one thing I'd ask for if I had to pick something. I think it is the key to all the other things you can dream of. If God gives us wisdom, along with that comes discernment, gratitude and good judgment. In the Bible (Proverbs 1:7), it says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." In this case, the word "fear" doesn't mean being afraid, it means being in awe and reverence--it is realizing who is responsible for all of creation, and realizing who it is that can tame your inner beast if you allow Him.


I don't know much, but I do know that gratitude has unlocked a lot of spiritual doors in my life. I've felt so thankful for everything that there have been many moments when I didn't care what God did, as long as it made me more like Him. I have felt convicted. I have felt sad about the way I've thought or acted. I've had God tell me to shut my mouth. However, in his infinite mercy, He has lifted my head over and over again, and allowed me to look at the love in His eyes. Do I still do and say crappy things now and again? Yes, I do. But God teaches me something from every mistake I make. Learning from your mistakes with God's help is how you get wisdom. The fool is the one who keeps doing the same dumb things over and over again and never learns a thing from it...that's how dysfunctional patterns develop. I am asking God to get rid of my foolishness and give me wisdom. If that means learning from my many mistakes and accepting them, that's okay with me.


Today, I'm grateful for...


Summer. I refuse to give up on Summer, even though we're back in school. It's always a time of joy for me and it's my "happy thought" during the Winter season.


Friends. Whether it's making new ones or keeping up with old ones, I am so grateful for the people in my life whom I can trust. Real, true "bosom friends" (thank you, Anne Shirley) are a gift from God. They are the type of people with whom you can pick up where you leave off. If you have those types of people in your life, cherish them.


A happy husband. He has been looking forward to his portage trip for the last year. Seeing him giddy and excited about venturing back into nature makes me happy.


Reflection. Sometimes, watching my kids go through things and come to certain realizations in their own little lives gives me pause to reflect. Liam passed his karate belt promotion test today, but he came out of the testing upset that he didn't do everything perfectly. I told him that I was insanely proud of him, whether he got the next belt or not. I wish he wasn't so hard on himself, but now that I have had time to think about it, I can see myself in him. I don't want to do something unless I already know I can do it well. I am incredibly hard on myself when I fail. I'm harder on myself than I am on anyone else...sigh. God loves me anyway and He's insanely proud of me, whether I succeed at something or whether I fail. God teaches us deep things through our children.


Cool nights. What I love about September is that the days are hot, but the nights are cool. For those of us without air conditioning, this is a wonderful time. :)


Bible lessons. I think one of the main reasons there are so many books in the Bible about specific people is so that we can learn that everyone has successes and failures in their lives and they are still considered God's beloved. Those people we see as the "Fathers of the Faith" made some really dumb moves in their time. All of those stories, though, are tied up with the ribbon of God's grace. God had grace for them and he has the same grace for us.


My hope is that you learn from my shortcomings and cut yourself a little slack. I'm trying to learn to do it, too. You don't have to be perfect. You are loved as you are, but God has promised to make you a better version of yourself if you let Him. Perfection isn't required and, really, the more you strive for it, the more it evades your grasp. Just be who you are. God knows you. He loves you. He won't leave you if you make a mistake. He is slow to anger and rich in love.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Hatching of a Heart - Rich Mullins




"The Hatching of a Heart" - Rich Mullins


Well the night was cold and my heart was
Hidden very safely in a shell
But I knew somehow I'd have to run that risk
Have to open up myself
Look at the stars on the face of the sky
They're the same ones Abraham saw
Come under my wings I will make you shine
Give you strength enough to love

Oh now I'm getting strong enough
You helped me chip my way out and open myself up
And for the snow that comes with winter
For the growth that comes from pain
For the joke I can't remember
Although the laughter long remains
For the faith that brought to finish
All I doubted at the start
Lord I give you praise for all that makes
For the hatching of a heart

Well my face was smooth and featureless
Just like an egg
And if I was moved you would never guess it
By the look upon my face
But You said man looks without but I look within
I can see the love you hide
It's a matter of doubt it's a symptom of sin
It's a problem of too much pride

And I now I'm opening up wide
Wet feathers pulled out from beneath me
And You're teaching me to fly
For the strength that comes with friendship
For the warmth that comes with hope
And for the love time can't diminish
And for the time love takes to grow
And for the moonlight on the water
And for the bright and morning star
Lord I give you praise for all that makes
For the hatching of a heart

And for the moonlight on the water
And for the bright and morning star
Lord I give you praise for all that makes
For the hatching of a heart

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Grateful - August 24, 2010

As He often does, God has been speaking to me through a natural object lesson. In this case, it's the art of creating a bonsai tree. I know your mind probably springs immediately to Mr. Miyagi and the Karate Kid movies, but creating a bonsai is a work that a gardener does over a long period of time. Sometimes, the bonsai outlasts the gardener.

While we were in NC this past weekend, we took a little tour of the NC Arboretum (ie. GIGANTIC garden) in Asheville. As we were walking, we came to the bonsai exhibition and there were placards and photos posted on the walls detailing the process of creating a bonsai tree. These are the ones that stood out to me.

--Pruning is an essential ingredient in creating a bonsai. The gardener chooses which parts to remove or to leave, based on the mental image of the best shape possible for the subject plant.

--Repositioning various parts of the plant is often necessary to achieve the desired result.

--Root pruning allows the plant to grow indefinitely in a container without becoming pot-bound. Great care must be taken to do this work at the correct point in the growth cycle and to avoid aggressive pruning.

--While the initial work of the bonsai is now complete, it will never be considered "finished" as long as the plant is alive. The gardener will continue to maintain and develop the desired shape of the bonsai as it grows, always striving to refine the design while promoting excellent health in the living plant.


If you know me, you know I love a good object lesson. God likes to speak to me through things I can see and touch. In this case he hit me between the eyes, and he spoke to me about the truth of being patient and waiting for him to do the work. He has a picture in mind of what he wants my life to look like. He knows what's best. He knows what to keep and what to remove. He knows how to reshape me.

The key for me is to learn to have the patience to wait for him to work. As long as I'm alive, my journey will never be complete. God does big things in me, but he continues to maintain my growth in small ways. He is constantly refining me because he wants me to be as healthy as I can be.

You can't hurry a bonsai tree. It takes a lot of waiting and pruning and training to get a bonsai tree to go the way you want it to go. God is constantly at work in our lives, molding and shaping us and pruning from our lives the things that would take away from the full beauty that is the picture of what we CAN be. Trusting him and surrendering to the waiting is the hardest part.

If we were to surrender every area of our lives to "The Gardener", who knows what we could become? Try it. I'm going to try it myself. I am ready to quit my complaining and dragging my heels, and I am ready to begin to let him work and "make all things beautiful in his time."

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Today, I'm grateful for...

Trying. Sometimes, to get things to be better we have to do our part. We often blame God for the outcomes of our OWN life choices, or we blame other people. There are other times when we don't see that we are the common denominator in all of our failed relationships. God promises to do his part, and what he wants for us is for us to be present in our lives and grateful for every moment. There are moments in life that are good, but that can be GREAT if we decide to try and to make better choices with God's guidance.

Peace. Despite life's circumstances, I have been having a peaceful, easy feeling...insert Eagles song here.

Object lessons. 'Nuff said.

Fresh basil. It's a summer thing. Put together with some fresh, garden tomatoes, some slices of fresh mozzarella, a sprinkle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sea salt, it's LOVELY.

Learning not to care. I am learning to care less and less about what other people think. Occasionally, I'll get hit with an insecurity that pops up in my heart or a fear of losing someone's approval. But God has been making me more and more secure in his love, to the point where I'm beginning to care less about what others think and to care more about the truths I feel God wants to speak into the lies I'm believing at a given moment. God is faithful to speak the truth if we listen.

Saving money. When we were getting married and going through pre-marital counseling, we felt like God wanted us to plan our lives living off of one income (Meaning, paying all of our bills, mortgage, car payments, etc. using one income, and whatever else came in would be used to pay for extras and fun things). It is an easy thing to do if you're willing to make a few sacrifices early on and to live within your means. We learned early on to be thrifty, but also to realize that money isn't everything and sometimes the occasional splurge is healthy if it doesn't break the bank. Life is too short to focus on what you do or do not have, so I am so grateful (though it can be annoying at times) that God directed us in that way at the beginning. Because of His direction, times like these where Sean is laid off and the income isn't as high as it could be, are easier to handle because we have experienced what it's like to tighten our financial belts.

God's faithfulness. I can look back and see the miracles he's made in my life and I'm so incredibly grateful to be able to experience his love and his faithfulness toward me. No matter how I've turned my back on him or rejected the love he's tried to give, he has continued to be faithful. When God makes a promise, he keeps it.