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September 18, 2014

You never know...

I went to our circuit's winkle on Tuesday.  For those who don't know, a winkle is our monthly meeting where the circuit pastors get together, have a short service with communion, have a theological presentation, have some other kind of presentation, have lunch, and have a business meeting.  (I am told that winkle is the German name for the tool we call a square.  Thus, we get together to 'square ' things away.')

During the service, Pastor Knobloch talked about how we faithfully serve in the ministry and the impact it has on people.  It is easy to question if our ministry has any impact, and it's easy to get discouraged.  Yet there are moments that the Holy Spirit lets you know that He is in fact working through you and those moments are both exhilarating and humbling.

This past Sunday, I preached on forgiveness.  (The sermon is posted on the 'Sermons' tab.)  I preached about how as a sinner it is impossible for us to truly forgive because forgiveness brings life and as such belongs to the workings of the Holy Spirit, but at the end of Jesus's parable He tells us to forgive or we too, like the unmerciful servant, will be condemned.

So what are we to do?  Since forgiveness is of the Spirit and not of us, for us to 'forgive' is for us to yield to the Holy Spirit and let the forgiveness we receive as sinners flow through us and out to others.  When we refuse to forgive we are refusing to let the life giving water flow through us and thus bring condemnation down upon ourselves.

Often we refuse to forgive simply because we don't understand what forgiveness means.  We think it means that we must forget about what had happened to us and pretend it never happened.  Not so.  Forgiveness is letting go of another's throat and releasing them to God.  Refusing to forgive is insisting that you are the judge and that you are the one who gets to bring down condemnation.

I made one thing clear though, struggling to forgive is not the same as refusing to forgive.  We all struggle to forgive because our struggle comes from the Holy Spirit within working against our sinful flesh.  Yet when we yield to the Holy Spirit and let go of the other person's neck, we allow the Holy Spirit to kill the sin that is choking the life out of us, and by doing so we find the healing and peace that we really need.

Anyway, it was a sermon that I enjoyed preaching and a topic that has been on my heart for some time.  As a preacher, you never know how your words are going to be received.  After service, I had several people tell me that my words struck home, one or two even with tears in their eyes.  My wife told me that she heard several more around church commenting on, "Do you ever feel like the preacher is talking specifically to you?"  And throughout this week I have heard from others on how my sermon impacted them.

As a preacher, you rarely ever know what happens to your words once they leave your lips.  You hope and pray that the Holy Spirit uses them to work in peoples lives, but most of the time you are left in the dark.  There are moments though where the Holy Spirit really lets you know He is active and that He is using you, and it is those moments that trump every discouraging thing and every doubt and reminds you why you are doing what you are doing.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for giving me the words to speak, and thank you for empowering those words to touch people's hearts and work in their lives.  Amen.

September 13, 2014

Love, according to my toddler

Love is...

-Sharing Mom's last goldfish crackers
-Getting your blow-out poopy bean diaper changed... Twice in the same day. 
-Going to the mall playground on a rainy day
-Being served first at every meal
-Having unrestricted access to Mom's plate
-Cuddling with Dad when I get scared at night
-Playing outside, even when it's hot
-Mom and Dad finding my giraffe buddy, my pacifier and my sippy cup before bedtime and several times throughout the night so I can sleep
-Three letters: PB&J
-Wearing my big boy shoes all day
-A big hug when Mom and Dad come back after abandoning me in the church nursery

September 9, 2014

The Last Thing You Think About

Five-year drought, they said. Stage Five water restrictions, they said. When we arrived in Wichita Falls, we knew the history. We knew water was a commodity that we undervalued in St. Louis. We learned the difference between city water and well water. We knew that Levi may or may not have the opportunity to go swimming in the neighborhood. (He gets to enjoy the pool only because the neighborhood association is paying for well water to be delivered weekly.) We knew that there would be no sprinklers running or people washing their cars outside. Grass would be dying around the city and trees and plants would be barely hangng on. We saw all of that.

One thing no one tells you about drought is how the ground changes. The ground drys out and begins to shift, snapping the pipes in the process. The precious water bursts forth and bubbles up from the ground to flood the street. In the past two weeks, our street has had this happen twice. The breaks were only 15 feet apart. When the pipes break, your water gets shut off as fast as the water company can get workers on the scene. Depending on the severity of the break, your water can be off a couple hours or for most of the day. The first break was at Wednesday around 9 AM and the second break around 8 PM on Saturday night. Needless to say, life gets rearranged when your water is suddenly gone.

September 4, 2014

Midweek Activities - Texas Style

If you have spent anytime in the South, you know how important Wednesday night church activities are to the community culture, second only to Friday Night High School Football. Midweek, as it's known in our congregation, started up at Our Redeemer yesterday and will continue throughout the school year. Midweek includes a meal, hand bell choir for first graders through adults in 4 different ensembles, Bible study classes for three year-olds and up (including confirmation), and adult choir. The church is a buzz of activity and crawling with people. I'm ringing in the adult hand bell choir this year and it's a lot of fun. We may be playing in church in a week and a half.

I will also be playing in church during the prelude this Sunday. I had the opportunity to practice today with our wonderful organist, choir director, and director of outreach, Linda. Linda is incredibly talented and patient. She balances so much with ease. We will be playing a setting of "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee." I look forward to ringing with her each Wednesday and playing with her in services.

August 28, 2014

Busy, Busy, Busy

Same song different verse.  I hit vicarage running.  I have been on several pastoral calls, and even lead a couple.  I have presided over two worship services alone: one with my pastor gone and one with my pastor and organist gone.  Thankfully, nothing big happened while my supervisor was out of town.  I have been getting to know the congregation better, and thankfully we have been accepted like one of their own.  I have seen a lot of ins and outs of ministry, the sometimes grueling grunt work that is involved to make things happen.  Pastor Snyder wants me to learn about all aspects of running a church, so I have been to many board meetings and seen what it takes to accomplish everything that needs to happen.  He has also brought me in on many unique opportunities, challenged me to think what I would do/have done, and discusses theology and practice with me.  He has also given odds and ends assignments, like creating the bulletins and coming up with the church signs (They currently reads, "Google can't satisfy every search" and "Jesus knows the answer even when Siri doesn't") and even learning how to juggle (literally).

If that doesn't keep me busy, we also have midweek classes starting up next week.  Pastor and I will be teaching confirmation classes every Wednesday night, as well as pitching in with the high school youth.  Our Youth Director retired shortly after I got here, so in addition to helping with high school youth on Wednesday nights, pastor and I will also be helping with all youth until the congregation decides "what next?"  That means that every time they have an event pastor and/or I will be there unless someone else volunteers.  In addition to that, I thought it would be fun to start up a college ministry at Our Redeemer for the two local colleges.  That is IN ADDITION to the evangelism project that I have to do for the seminary while on vicarage.  We will see how that goes.

The great thing, however, is that I do not have classes and I can do all this work during the day, and be with my family in the evening and on my off days.  That has been the great part about all of this too.  I love my family and I love being able to be with them and focus on them.  Especially since Levi is growing so fast now!  It took him about a week to figure out this whole walking thing.  We've also enjoyed time together in the pool...he wants to be able to swim on his own so bad.  We've also met a lot of our neighbors on walks, which have all been very nice.  We live in a great neighborhood.  Let's see, I don't know what else I have to write, but I will copy my completed sermons here soon.  Hopefully I will be able to upload some video.  We'll see!

August 27, 2014

100 posts

I realized that this is the 100th post on our family's blog. 100 posts for a little over 2 years at the seminary seems rather few. But I digress...

Reflections on Cloth Diapering:

Levi has been in cloth diapers for the better part of a year. He started in them full time when he was two months old. Timothy and I are in love with them. While we each have our go-to diapers (Timothy prefers all-in-ones and I like the prefolds and covers), we are in this 100%. I've learned to wash diapers in both really clean, amazing water and super hard, smells like sulfur water. I wash diapers about twice a week. And in Texas, we have the special treat of hanging them dry in the sun. So much better than on a drying rack in the path of a fan, like we used to have to do.

Cloth diapering is addictive. I know many mommas (and some dads too) that desire the newest prints for their little ones. Levi has added to his stash on three occasions after the initial purchase. Once, to add all-in-ones for starting babysitting. Again, to add more covers and prefolds to stretch how often we were doing laundry. And the last time because Mommy won a Cotton Babies give-away (two new Flip covers and my choice of inserts - I picked the Organic Overnights - I love these with a hemp doubler to keep him, and the sheet, dry at night). While the new prints are cute, I just can't justify it. We are saving so much money by using the stash we have. I probably spent about $500 on the diapers we have (and I do have cloth diapers in both newborn and infant sizes). If I would have bought disposables instead of cloth, I'd be looking at about $800 for one year. (If you've never considered cost, check out this article on Mint.com.) However, since I'm probably not potty-training Levi in this next year, I'm saving significantly more. (Disposable diapers will cost more for fewer diapers in larger sizes and I already have my cloth diapers so I just have to pay laundry costs - electricity and water.) Add to this, cloth diapers can be used on more than one child, and Timothy and I made out like bandits. Sure, coming up with the initial money to purchase a stash is hard for some families. (If you want to try it out cloth and are eligible for WIC, check out Cotton Babies Share the Love program here.) It's safe to say: I'm a cloth diaper fanatic.

August 20, 2014

A Year Already?

Levi turns one on Sunday. And neither Timothy nor I can believe that our little man is a toddler. He has probably tripled his birth weight (won't know for sure, since we don't own a scale and aren't seeing the pediatrician until October). He's gone from laying on a blanket like a log to nearly running around the house. That's right world: Levi is fully mobile at 11 months. He can sit, stand and walk without help. He's gone from nursing every two hours like clockwork to eating everything on Mommy's plate, including the spicy enchiladas. He's started to sleep through the night. He even has said "Mommy" clear as day.

While it has been a joy watching him grow and meeting all of these milestones, I'm sad to think of the days that are gone and will never been coming back. He snuggles less each day, preferring to be mobile and independent. We haven't fully weaned yet, but he's nursing less and even drinking cow's milk from his sippy cup. (Yes, you can judge me for giving cow's milk before a year old, but he was ready for more than water. We started in small amounts and watched for reactions. He was and is fine with it. He loves drinking milk, although he only gets a few ounces a day.) With a mobile toddler, we are quickly learning what is not safe in our place. Lesson One: the shoe rack. While I don't mind that he pulls off all the shoes, he climbed on top of it last week and broke it. Yay for cheap construction. It was a much simpler time when he was perfectly content to sleep in my arms. Now, he wants his crib so he can sleep on his stomach, or side, or back. Whatever feels most comfortable at the time. (Our crib days are numbered too. With a little monkey, its only a matter of time before he learns how to climb out.) A year has gone too fast.

Levi: 2 days
Levi: 11.5 months