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May 16, 2015

A Visit with a Friend

Today I went to see one of my friends that I hadn't seen in a long time.  It also happened to be the first time that I went to prision.  My friend, Craig, was incarcerated during my first year at the seminary.  It was great seeing him, but it was also quite a journey and experience.  

First, it took about seven to eight months for me to get approved from the first time I applied.  Second, once you're approved and you show up, the guards aren't very helpful.  I had no idea what to do, but the other visitors took me under their wing to help me out.  I was very thankful for that.

Being processed was pretty much like you'd expect.  I went through a medal detector (I wasn't allowed to bring ANYTHING in, other than some money for vending machines and my car keys) and had to fill out some paperwork.  Then, I was stamped with ink that could only be seen by black light.  After that, the group of visitors were ushered into a gateway with bars on either side.  Once we all showed our stamps to the guy in the guard station, the door opened and another guard led us to the visitor building.

The building was not how I expected it.  It was too long rows of chairs.  The best way to describe it would be to say it's like you are waiting in an air port for a plane.  Anyway, because it was minimum security it was very easy to forget you were in a prision.

It was great seeing Craig though.  It was good getting to talk to him.  Though the circumstances were not preferable, he was appreciative that this has happened.  It's amazing how it takes something major in your life for you to reevaluate things.

I myself have been there.  I know how it can be like to hit rock bottom.  When I've reflected, I have seen how mistakes I've made could have landed me in some really bad spots.  They were life changing moments for me.  I wouldn't be where I am today without them.

Craig has come to the same conclusions.  He knows he messed up.  He know he's made mistakes.  The difference is now he's labeled, and will forever have a stigma.  Even this, though, he has accepted.  He has accepted this all by the grace of God, and he knows that God is in control.

It's amazing to see someone's faith in God only be strengthened when they are faced with their own sinfulness and the mistakes they have made, and the consequences that come with it.  Please pray for Craig as he finishes out his sentence and tries to get back to normal life.  Thank you.

May 4, 2015

Lessons from Vicarage that Classes Couldn't Teach

Now don't get me wrong, the seminary does the best they can to prepare you for the ministry.  There is even more to the seminary than simply classes that help form you for the task ahead.  Yet even still, just as with basic training, there are some things that you can't learn until you are in the heat of the battle.  And it is true that pastors are in the midst of a battle.  As the battle rages on around us, pastors see many things.  We see some great victories, and we see some horrific casualties.  No matter, the battle presses on.

Vicarage is really the first time that we get to see the battle first hand.  Sure, we have fieldwork, but that is more like basic training, where you are learning the basics for surviving out in the field and advanced individual training in your area.  One of the things that they teach us in the classroom is about the ministry of presence.  The idea is that sometimes, all we need to do is be present and nothing more.  Often, the ministry of presence is evident in situations such as the death of a member and the funeral.  Usually, your mere presence is more comforting than any words that you could say.

In those situations, it is rare that the pastor will come out of the battle completely untouched.  This is quite well understood.  The mere fact of the enemy of death being so close, even present in the sanctuary of life, and the wounds of grief that the family experiences has some affect on the pastor no matter what.

While this is a self-evident example of the ministry of presence and the wounds it leaves, there is much more to this ministry, and this battle, than the obvious.  That is one thing that I am learning while on vicarage, and this lesson is looming large over my life as I have less than two and a half months left of vicarage.  As a pastor (or vicar) you engage in the ministry of presence every time you interact with the members.  Each time you engage in this ministry, you build a relationship with them little by little.  Eventually, these relationships spill over outside the walls of your church as you interact with your members elsewhere.  Over time these relationships become quite meaningful as you open yourself up to these people and they open themselves up to you.

Having been here for nine months, I have started to develop several of these relationships within the congregation.  Just yesterday we had a send off for one of these families as they were heading to New Mexico.  Unfortunately, I was not able to be here as another aspect of ministry called me away.  It broke my heart that I was unable to properly say goodbye and see them off.  When I arrived to work today, I had a card and a gift sitting at my desk, and I nearly cried as I realized that they were now really gone.

However, it's not over.  In just two months and eleven days, we will be ripped from this congregation as Marie, Levi and I head back to St. Louis.  This time it will not be only one family I will be saying goodbye to, but everyone here who have all found a place in my heart.  Talking about the ministry of presence doesn't really prepare you for the seemingly innocent times when you must say goodbye.  We don't talk about the wounds we will face from leaving a peace of your heart with a congregation you must leave.  While I am excited to be reunited with friends and finish out my schooling, it is going to be extremely difficult to say goodbye.

What helps, though, is knowing that it is not good bye forever.  While it is true that I may see these people again in this life, I know I will see them again when Christ returns.  Friends in Christ are truly friends forever.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the blessings that you have given to me in and through this congregation.  Please be with the people are Our Redeemer and with my family as we head into these last couple months of vicarage.  Help me to continue in the ministry of presence, and to not recoil from fear of being hurt when I leave.  Help me to love them as you love me, and be with them and among them until my departing day.  And when that day eventually comes, be with us as we say our goodbyes.  Help us to grieve the loss of presence, but to also take hope in the promise that You have given to us through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  In Your name I pray, Amen.

April 22, 2015

Moses' Song

This year, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) has studied the life of Moses. We have one more week of Bible study left. This week we looked at Moses' prediction of Israel's future rebellion and his song to help the future faithful in Dueteronomy 31-32. What struck me this week was the faith of Moses, particularly in light of his last days as leader of the Israelites. At the very end, Moses is still a man of faith. He will not be allowed to go into the promised land because he sinned when he struck the rock in the desert to bring forth water. Moses does not become bitter. He does not complain saying, "Why can't I enter the promised land? God forgave grievous sins of the Israelites. Why punish me for my one sin when the Israelites have sinned again and again?"

Complaints like this show the speaker's lack of trust in God's ways. As Moses sings: 
"I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
And all his ways are just. 
A faithful God who does no wrong,
Upright and just is he."
Dueteronomy 32:3-4

God is perfect and just. He does no wrong. He delivers just consequences for actions, just as he did for Moses. But His works are perfect. We can take heart because God is God, in any and all situation and have peace. We will never know and understand all of God's ways and his works, but we can know a good portion of it. As Moses said in Duet. 29:29, "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever." God's Word reveals to us our Father, our Savior and our Worker of Faith, the Holy Spirit. We don't need to ask why or to be anxious about what has happened or will happen. We know our God through His Word. And we know that God can do no wrong. So while we may not understand an individual event, we can take heart in knowing that God is perfect. 

Putting this into practice is much harder, and frankly, impossible without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works faith within us and continues working that our faith may become perfect. This is a daily work until we are made perfect through Christ in our death to pass into life with Him.  One verse that I turn to when I need the Spirit's help is Psalm 46:10 - "Be still and know that I am God." Knowing God's character brings peace. In the throws of a situation, it is hard to remember that. But that doesn't make it any less true. 

Jesus says it best to his disciplines in John 16:33 - "I have told you these things [predicted his death and resurrection and the disciples grief], so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Take heart! Our eternal salvation has be bought. The troubles of this world will come, but nothing can take away Jesus' sacrifice for us. 

April 15, 2015

Kenya: 5 weeks out

I'm not really sure what I want to write about today. Life has steadily marched forward. We've celebrated another Easter. And today marks three months out from the end of vicarage and more transition for our family. 

But before the boxes are packed and the truck is loaded, Timothy and I are headed to Kenya with five other people for a week long mission trip. We will be running a vision clinic to bring glasses to the people of Kenya. Now you may have heard recently that Kenya was in the news because there was a terrorist attack in the country. Yes, we are still going. Kenya is a big country and we will be working in another area, one away from the attack area. My heart goes out to the people of Kenya who are mourning the death of loved ones lost in this attack. 

Saying that makes me think of the tremendous fear that paralyzes many from traveling abroad and from sharing their faith. I understand that some I will leave at home are terrified for my husband and I to travel abroad. I am not afraid. The Lord provides for and protects his people. Sin is in the world and because of sin, bad things, including terrorist attacks, happen. It is with His love that we reach out and bring hope to others. We can show his love to Kenya through eyeglasses. I have tremendous peace, a peace given to me by my Savior. I am ready to go and serve Him. 

April 1, 2015

Joy and Sadness

Yesterday was my aunt's funeral. It was a tragic time for my family. My aunt passed away after a unfortunate and very freaky accident. She was adjusting the bridle of one of the draft horses that my uncle and aunt own. The horse spooked and reared up. My aunt slipped under the horse and was crushed when the horse came down. She died of the resulting internal injuries. It was so sudden and an eerie reminder of how fragile our lives are. 

We mourned as a family, each in our own way. And we are still mourning. Understandably, it is all very hard to process. The sadness has come in tears, in silence, in quiet reflective mess, in shock. Although each of us mourns differently, we were all there together. 

The joy comes in the simple fact that we were all together. My family is strewn far and wide but we all descended upon Nebraska to be there as my Uncle walks this road of pain and loss. My parents arrived from Florida, my brother from DC, and my family from Texas. My aunt came from another part of Nebraska and my grandfather set aside the sorrow of mourning for his wife, who passed away almost three years ago, to be there as his son began that same path of losing his wife. Our family hadn't been together like this since grandma's funeral three years ago on Easter. 

Seeing the ray of sunshine yesterday was well worth it. Sometimes in the midst of the tears it's hard to see a reason to smile. Even due to the worst possible reason imaginable, family was together again. 

On a personal note, I received good news on Thursday. I was finally diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS. This is a medical issue I have had since birth, but has been affecting me since age 14. Because I have a n atypical presentation of the disease and because I was young, I was not taken seriously for 13 years. It's nice to have a doctor really listen to you and want to figure out what is wrong.

So what does this mean for me? I have a hormonal imbalance that causes me to have infrequent periods and can make it very difficult to become pregnant. Web MD has a good description of it here: http://www.webmd.com/women/tc/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos-topic-overview

It also means that I will be on medication to manage it through menopause. Because PCOS causes infrequent periods, I have an increased risk for endometrial cancers. It also means that Levi may be our only biological child. He truly is an anomaly as far as pregnancies of and babies born to women with PCOS. I am so very thankful to have him in our life. Infertility will continue to be an issue that I carry for the rest of my life. 

And that is hard to process right now. The sorrow is there. But so is the joy. I have a medical answer and a doctor that will work with me. I have a starting place with other providers as our family moves around the countries. We have a wonderfully rambunctious toddler that is truly a miracle. He has enriched our lives in countless ways.

Perhaps the best picture of my life right now is the storm we drove through last night. There was an amazing lightning display and yet a fierce rainstorm too. There was beauty and wonder in the storm, and yet it was scary. I had trouble seeing out the windshield at times. We ran over an armadillo at one point and our car jumped a little. Thankfully, we made it through the storm safely and woke up to a new morning, sun bright in the sky and birds singing in the trees. I know that's how I will feel when this time of my life has passed. 

March 25, 2015

Today is one of those days where I just want to go back to bed and start the day over. Being mom to a rambunctious toddler always has its moments, but today my thoughts are elsewhere. Over the weekend, my aunt died as a result of injuries sustained when her horse spooked. My uncle has had a really rough time accepting that his wife is indeed gone. My family is having a difficult time processing everything too. I'm not really sure how to feel.

My aunt's death comes about two weeks before the third anniversary of my grandmother's passing. In her true form, she went on in glory on Easter morning. We had watched her death creep closer through an extended illness. There was none of that preparation with my aunt. She was here, and now she's not. The grieving is different.

I wasn't close with my aunt. In truth, I haven't seen her since Grandma's funeral three years ago. I've probably only been in the same city as her a handful of times in my life. Still, a member of my family is gone, even if we didn't talk every day or even every year.

Please keep my family in your prayers. There will be two funerals: on Saturday and on Tuesday.

March 23, 2015

Stressed and Overwhelmed

March has been a busy month. To be truthful, busy doesn't even begin to describe it. Timothy has had extra responsibilities during Lent. We hosted guests for the first two weekends of the month. (And we loved having them here!) Timothy attended Confirmation Camp the following weekend. And now the Cantata will be this week, meaning we have an extra rehearsal on Tuesday evening.

In addition to normal life, I set my goal at the end of February to start my promotion period to team leader with Usborne Books and More. I won't be meeting that goal. I overfilled my schedule in March to try to meet the sales goal. That won't be happening. It's difficult for me to admit that I won't meet my goal. This Type A person doesn't like failure. However, it's best for my sanity and for my family if this isn't my goal right now. I still will try to promote to team leader this year. I will mostly likely try again after we move this summer.

I have set a new goal for my business, which hopefully, will be more manageable. I will earn my trip to national convention in June for free. This is a much easier (but still a stretch) goal. The sales goal is lower and I also don't need to be pushing to build my team through recruiting new consultants. It will be a stretch because, although I've met the goal for February and I will meet it for March, I still need to meet the sales goal for April and May. In April, our family will be on vacation at the end of the month for a week. In May, Timothy and I will be on a mission trip in Kenya for 10 days. The shortened months for me will make meeting the goal extra difficult.

The reason I knew that promoting to team leader in March/April was going to be too much for me was that I started to lose joy in the business. I was unmotivated to work my business. I experienced depression in college and could feel myself slipping back into that state. My mental health is worth more than business goals. My son deserves a mom that can be present with him and delight in him. That's not what I was becoming. Before getting into really deep trouble, I changed course. I would like to thank my counselor for helping me realize when stress in my life has started to manage me. I could be living a much different story today otherwise.