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October 12, 2015

Whole30 Recap

Today is Day 30 of Timothy and my Whole30 program. Which means we have 10 days of reintroduction and then we're back to our "normal" diet. The Whole30 program is a short-term detox program aimed at ending unhealthy cravings, restoring a healthy metabolism, healing your digestive tract and balancing your immune system. So for the past 30 days we have been eating natural, whole, unprocessed meats, eggs, vegetables and fruits. Some days were a struggle; some days were fantastic! But here's what I learned:

  • How to cook, and I mean seriously cook. Not just boil water or saute vegetables. But to cook every meal (including condiments) from scratch. How to improvise when something doesn't quite go to plan. And I'm now best friends with my food processor. (And I can cook an egg ANYWAY you want it - perfectly - on the first try).
  • I snack when Levi snacks. I want second breakfast and afternoon nibbles. But I don't need them. My body now processes protein correctly, meaning I don't need a pick me up to battle the carbs between meals. (And yes, you caught that right! The pregnant woman doesn't need to snack!)
  • I love cheese! Seriously. It's about the only thing I missed every day during the program. And after a month without cheese, I will be better equipped to have one slice and be done, rather than just keep eating.
  • I found new recipes my family loves. Our current favorite is roasted spaghetti squash (instead of the noodles) with homemade pasta sauce. Seriously, it is to die for and there is hardly ever leftovers when I make this meal. We also love shepherd's pie and most baked egg dishes (frittata, salsa egg poppers, etc.).  Plus, I can add so much spinach to these dishes without anyone knowing ;)
  • My previous diet caused serious bloating. I'll be paying close attention during reintroduction to find the culprit. I didn't notice it too much before the Whole30, but after 3 weeks without it, I have no desire to go back to being constantly.
  • Our family's portions at meals are way out of sync to what we need. This will be easier to manage after seeing the effects for just one month.
  • It's fun to buy the grocery store out of all their vegetables and skip the aisles in the middle.
Yes, I did the Whole30 while pregnant. Yes, I survived and even thrived on the diet. No, my baby did not suffer developmentally. I just had my 20 week ultrasound. Everything was fine. No, I did not need the snacks. And yes, if you are contemplating doing the Whole30 while pregnant, it is totally possible. And you will be healthier for it. I am 20 weeks into my second pregnancy. I have more energy than I did in the first. I am not bloated. I have gained less weight than I did with my first at this same point (and I ate pretty healthy during my first pregnancy too).

So now we begin reintroduction (to be completed just before a family member's wedding). While Timothy is just eager to get back to eating pizza, I will be watching for food triggers. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome in January. PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that leads to many different symptoms, which will vary on a case by case basis. Current research has shown that controlling carbohydrates in your diet can help mitigate some of the symptoms of PCOS. The Whole30 diet cuts out all grains. I will be watching as I add these food groups back to my diet if my body reacts differently. Timothy will be watching how his weight gain/loss will be after reintroduction. As he still has about 15 pounds to lose before he can join the Air Force reserves, it's very important that he doesn't start gaining weight again. Since I will be the one doing most of the cooking, I'll be cooking meals that look more like what we have been eating these past 30 days: meals full of vegetables and high quality protein.
put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system. - See more at: http://whole30.com/step-one/#sthash.Ojkq1i4X.dpuf
put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system. - See more at: http://whole30.com/step-one/#sthash.Ojkq1i4X.dpuf
put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system. - See more at: http://whole30.com/step-one/#sthash.Ojkq1i4X.dpuf

August 22, 2015

Another Year Gone By

Today we celebrated Levi's second birthday.  I can't believe that almost two years ago (he actually turns two on Monday) we met Levi for the first time.  What a two years it has been.  In those two years, Levi has lived in two different states, Missouri and Texas, and three different apartments.  He has visited both Florida and Nebraska.  He spent 10 days with grandma and grandpa while mom and dad were in another hemisphere.  He has become fearless and daring in his gross motor skill challenges.  He has grown into an independent and sociable toddler (though the occasional snuggles from mom and dad are still appreciated). His expressions, idiosyncracies, and personality are really starting to develop.  He's grown so big that sometimes it's hard for dad to even recognize.  Oh, and he's become a big brother!  We're eagerly awaiting to see his little brother/sister in March!  So much has happened in the last two years, and even though Levi was not in the plans during seminary I couldn't imagine the last two years without him.  He has changed our lives so much for the better.  I love that little guy!

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for choosing us as Levi's parents.  Through him you have given us much joy and have given to us a reflection of the love you have for us.  We have learned great lessons in love, patience, humility, and sacrifice.  Thank you, dear Lord.  Amen.

August 9, 2015

Settling In

So, we've been back in St. Louis for nearly a month.  When we first arrived, we felt out of place, like we didn't belong.  As we made our way through campus during the first week or so we saw lots of strange faces.  Slowly familiarity started trickling back in as our friends began returning from vicarage.  Normalcy has crept back into our lives, finally starting to make this place feel like home.

I've already picked up two jobs and am waiting to sign another contract for campus work.  As of now I'm back in the campus store and in the cafeteria.  Those things have somewhat helped me settle back in.  I have already had one vicarage debrief meeting and have another coming up this week.  I also have a convention I am going to this week, free of cost thanks to a donor to the seminary.  Keeping active is what's keeping me sane until classes start and I step foot into my final year at the seminary.

I can't believe it's already here though... Less than a year and I'll be a pastor.  Guess it's time to get settled in and finish this thing out!

July 10, 2015

Almost Gone

Today is Friday, my last day off at Our Redeemer.  That is because my last office hours were yesterday.  Tomorrow, I will go in to finish packing up my office.  Right now I'm feeling a mixture of shock and sadness.  I really don't believe that by this time next week we'll already be settling in to our apartment in St. Louis, yet I know that it's true.

It hit me hard the other day when I had to correct myself from saying something that "we're" going to do was something that "you're" going to do.  I'm excited about some new possibilities that are coming to Our Redeemer, some new ministry avenues, and I am sad that I am going to miss them.  I have invested in this congregation, my time, effort, energy, and emotions, yet in two days this will no longer be my congregation anymore.

As harder as that makes it, I don't regret any of it.  Before I arrived, I promised myself that I would behave in such a way that I wasn't leaving, as if this wasn't a temporary assignment.  I did not want to close off myself from the people at Our Redeemer simply because I was going to be there a year.  Even in the last few weeks I have allowed myself to continue developing and deepening relationships with people here.

While this makes it hard to leave, there has been some relief.  For example, there are at least three families that will be coming to St. Louis while I am there, some using the 'excuse' of visiting family to justify coming and seeing is!  ;)  Some  already had plans to visit family and taking time out from their visit to see us.  It helps remind me that goodbyes are not always forever, even on this side of eternity.

I don't know what else to say.  This has truly been an amazing year.  I have been blessed so much by the Saints at Our Redeemer, and I will never forget this year.  They have definitely been a big part of my formation as a pastor/chaplain.  To God be the glory.  Amen.

June 29, 2015

Hitting Hard

While getting ready for work today I realized that two weeks from today we will be packing the last boxes in our place.  Two weeks from tomorrow we will be heading back to St. Louis.  While it will be great to see friends and family again, it does not override the deep sadness and heartache that I feel.

As I contemplated this fact this morning, I was reduced to tears.  To me, "home" is where my family is.  This past year Wichita Falls has become our home.  I have grown to love this city and it's people.  Over the past year Our Redeemer has become our "home" congregation.  I knew the risks of getting attached to people that I was going to be leaving in a year, but I threw caution to the wind and I don't regret it at all.  Even in these last few weeks I have gotten to know some of the people in this congregation in at a much deeper level that it is going to make it even harder to say goodbye.

No matter how painful it is going to be to leave, I do not regret making these people my family.  I do not regret making myself vulnerable to these great people at Our Redeemer because in doing so I have had an amazing experience this past year.  I have been filled with so much love and joy by their outpouring into my life.

It is going to be hard leaving them, but I also take comfort knowing that a goodbye in Christ is not a goodbye at all.  I know that they are and will always be my family.  That does not take away the grieving that will take place, but it does give me assurance for the future.

Dear Lord, as we prepare to leave this place which you have brought us, please be with us.  Comfort us as we continue to pack and clean.  Be with Our Redeemer and those who will miss us as well.  Give us all the comfort of your promise, knowing that we will one day see each other again.  Thank you, Lord.  Amen.

June 19, 2015

How did we get here?

Wow!  We blew past Kenya and conventions.  VBS is now over, and later today I head out to New Mexico with Pastor, two other adult leaders, and 13 Sr. and Jr. High youth.  Vicarage is quickly coming to an end.  After we return from New Mexico I will only have two more times preaching and once leading liturgy before we say goodbye.

So, how did we get here?  I can't help but feel like vicarage just started.  I can't help but feel like there is so much more to learn.  But in less than a month it's all over.  In less than a month we'll be back in St. Louis, bags unpacked, and waiting to start classes in September.

Again, 36 (credit) hours stand between me and my diploma.  36 hours stand between me and my graduation.  36 hours is all that is left between me being lost in this limbo of seminary, not a layman but not a pastor, and being fully called and ordained.

Time has flown.  So much has happened.  I'm not who I once was, but it all seems to have happened in a blink of the eye.  I don't know what the future holds, and as hard as it is going to be to say goodbye I am ready to start the next chapter in our lives.  I still have to ask though, how did we get here?

June 2, 2015

Reflections on Kenya from Timothy

Most of my life I had never felt any desire to go on a foreign mission trip.  On April 30th, 2013 that all changed.  That was the day that I found out that I was being placed at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Wichita Falls Texas.  That night I had my first conversation with Pastor Snyder, my vicarage supervisor to be.  It was during that conversation that Pastor Snyder told me that he wanted to send me on one of their biannual vision clinics to Kenya.  At first, I didn't know how to respond.

Call Day 2014, the same day I found out I was going to Kenya.  Just over a year before we left for Kenya.
Outwardly I responded with enthusiasm, but inside was a mixture of both excitement and fear.  If you knew me before my seminary years, you would know the great social anxiety I had.  Plop me down in a culture that is completely foreign and add a language barrier and it was a nightmare scenario in my head.  Mix that with my weak stomach for certain foods and decent gag reflex to some smells only increased my fear.  A few years ago the unknown beast of Kenya would have made my physically ill and paralyzed in fear.

Yet with two years of formation behind me, God had worked through a lot of my social anxiety.  In counseling for class and beyond, I worked through a lot of my insecurities with the help of Dr. Hartung.  Taking on leadership roles at work and in Student Association grew my confidence as I encountered and tackled new challenges.  Being constantly placed in different situations at school and in fieldwork helped me to feel more comfortable in new social settings.  During those two years God also chiseled away at my fear of the unknown.  Life at the seminary is one that is always in flux, one where you don't know where you will be a year from now much less when you graduate.  A new term with new classes and new professors every ten weeks didn't help with stability either.  I was getting used to like that always seemed to be in the dark.

All this helped lead to the crazy stirring in my heart when Pastor Snyder mentioned Kenya.  Despite everything I was still working through, I also had a crazy yearning to go and be among a foreign people and share with them God's Word.  God brought me through my social anxiety to the point where the physical side affects that used to prevent me from doing many things had given way.  After a deep breath to calm myself, I told to myself, "If someone is willing to send me to Kenya, then I am going to Kenya."

Bracelets worn by both the congregation and the team during the duration of our trip.  It reminded the congregation to pray for us, and reminded us that we were being prayed for. 
That was just over a year before my bags were packed and I was ready to go.  I arrived at work Thursday morning still not really believing that I was about to begin my long voyage to the other side of the world.  I had already said goodbye to Levi, giving him a big hug and a kiss but not really believing that I wasn't coming home for lunch latter that day.  Pastor and I just finished preparing the van and the footlockers when the rest of the team started arriving.  Before I knew it were were loaded and ready to go.

The Vision Team: Alison Beck, Cindy Carlton, Eddie Carlton, Vicar Roth, Marie Roth
Even on the drive to Dallas I couldn't believe that we were actually headed to Kenya.  It wasn't until we touched down in Nairobi roughly 24 hours later (though in Nairobi it was already late Friday night when we left Dallas early Thursday afternoon) that it hit me.  We were in Kenya.  In the airport we met up with Ray, our team leader, and Catherine, our contact person and support in Kenya.  We also met up with the other team that was running a vision clinic that week.  After the joys of getting through immigration and customs, we were finally on our way.

We spent the first two nights in Nairobi at the Little Daughters convent.  When we arrived Friday night, we placed the footlockers in storage and then went to bed.  That was my first experience ever sleeping under a mosquito net, though I saw fewer mosquito my whole time in Kenya that I do in a day in Texas with this rain.  Saturday morning we ate breakfast and headed out to Nairobi National Park to go on a safari.  It was a great day to go because all of the animals were out in force.  On our trip we saw rhinos, hippos, lions, giraffes, all kinds of antelopes, ostriches, all kinds of other birds, wild hogs, and even a baby crocodile.  After our safari we went to the Veranda to have a delicious lunch and do some shopping.  That is where we bought our first souvenirs: hand carved animals for Levi, a painting of giraffes created by a youth from a street ministry, and a soapstone box in the shape of Africa.  When we were done with lunch we went to the Nakumatt (Think Kenyan Walmart) to get supplies for the week, including lunches and candy for the children.

Little Daughters Convent in Karen, Kenya
and Nairobi National Park
The team and our driver at the Nairobi National Park.
Sunday we finally headed out to Nyahururu.  On the way we passed through the Great Rift Valley.  The view from the ridge is astonishing!  You can't help but feel extremely small as you gaze out upon God's wondrous creation.  The Great Rift Valley is vast and continues to grow by about 2cm every year.  It makes its way through Kenya where the tectonic plates below Africa slowly pull apart.  It also contains very fertile land due to the volcanic activity in the area.  As we were driving through the valley we saw trenches formed from dirt collapsing as the rock below moves apart.  It was a fascinating and beautiful place to drive through.
Sign posted at the look out point we stopped at.  The red dotted line is where the Great Rift Valley runs through Africa.
View of the Great Rift Valley from the look out point we stopped at.  In the left side you can see the road continue on with the street side stalls hanging over the edge.  The hill on the right side of the horizon is Mount Longonot, a dormant volcano lying just south of Lake Naivasha.  Look at the map below for reference.
The view from inside the valley is just as beautiful.  You are surrounded by mountains and dormant volcanoes.  As you drive down the street you pass troops of baboons and zeals of zebras.  Mostly the zebras were grazing, sometimes mixed with herds of cows and goats.  We were fortunate enough though to see a zeal of zebras running through the valley.  It was an amazing sight to see.

About and hour and a half into the drive, we stopped at the Lake Naivasha Resort to have lunch.  We had a little extra time so we were able to go on a boat ride on the lake.  While on the lake, we saw plenty of hippos both in and out of the water.  We saw several gigantic pelicans fishing for food.  We also rode over to the private island in the lake and saw giraffes, antelope, water buffalo and much more.  You could take a walking tour of the island because it had no predators, but it was very expensive.  We were content with gazing at the animals from the water.

Lake Naivasha Resort where we ate lunch.  Hell's Gate National Park is covered in ash from when Mount Longonot erupted in the early 1900's.
On the Lake.  From right to left: Catherine, Vicar Roth, Mike, Eddie.
Adult and baby giraffe on the island.
Mamma and baby hippo going back into the water.
We returned to the resort for lunch, and I had some of the most delicious honey glazed pork that I ever have.  It was also at the Lake Naivasha Resort that I was introduced to Pepper Sauce.  One of the locals that works for Lutheran Hour Ministries put a red sauce on his french fries instead of the ketchup that was sitting on the table.  I asked him what it was and decided to try it for myself.  After all, I LOVE spicy food.  However, I was not prepared for the power that this packed.  It was not the hottest pepper I have ever eaten, but it was up there.  The best part about it was the lack of "after-burn," where your mouth feels helplessly on fire after you have already enjoyed the taste of the food.  After we had finished lunch, we hit the road again with the next stop Nyahururu.

It only took two more hours to get to where we were staying in Nyahururu.  That makes it about three and a half hours from Nairobi.  It wasn't until we got to Nyahururu that we turned down our first dirt road.  As we departed from the paved path, we started winding around fields and fences.  We eventually started wondering just where we were going when we pulled up to an iron gate with ivy covered walls.  Catherine turned around from the front seat and said, "Do not ask me how I find these places."  We just laughed, but our laughter quickly turned into stunned silence as we passed through the gate into Catholic Tabor Hill.  Passing through the gate was like passing into another world as the rough dirt road became smooth gravel, and the clumpy fields turned into manicured lawns and gardens.  As it turns out, we were staying at a Catholic spiritual retreat center for the week.  Our team leader, Ray, said this was the nicest accommodations he had in all his 25 trips.  That night we had dinner and went to bed, eager to start our clinics the next day.
Catholic Tabor Hill is where we stayed every night, as well as ate breakfast and dinner.  Our first clinic was at the Baari Health Center where we served for three days.  Our second clinic was at the Ndaragwa Hospital where we served the remaining two days.
The registration building and chapel at Tabor Hill.
Our walk from the room to breakfast every morning.
Monday morning.  This was it.  It was finally here.  That morning we packed our bags, ate breakfast, and headed out.  Only Ray, Alison, and Mike had any idea what to expect.  For all of us newbies, we had no idea what was in store.  We piled into the van and headed down the dusty road to our first clinic at the Baari Health Center.  We knew we were right on top of the equator, but we were still excited when we realized that we would be passing it every day on our way to and from the clinic.  When we arrived that first day, I felt the same feelings of excitement and fear that I did a year before.  As we pulled up, there was already an extremely large group formed and waiting for our arrival.  Even our team leader, Ray, appeared to be quite nervous at the amount of people already there.  Especially since we had to still set up the clinic first.

Our team at the equator on the last day.
If you are unfamiliar with Vision for Kenya, I will explain how our clinics are set up and run.  When people arrive at the clinic they come to the registration table.  When they sign in they are given a card with their name, church information, and spots to put information about their vision, eyes, and prescription.  From the registration table they would go and sit in our waiting area.  From there they would go in a group from about eight to twelve people to "First Touch."  Here, a local pastor or evangelist would share with them the Gospel with the use of an Evangecube.  The Evangecube is a tool that takes you through the story of rebellion and sin, Christ's death and resurrection, salvation through Christ alone, and how we now live out our faith in Christ.

The Evangecube.  Tells the story of sin and salvation, and how Jesus has brought us from death to life everlasting.
After "First Touch," the people were sent to the eye charts.  Marie trained the local nurses on how to use the eye charts.  The nurses would test their vision and report it on their registration card.  Some people had really good vision and tested between 20/15 and 20/25, but there were many people who tested at 20/200 or even worse.  After they had their vision tested they would then go to wait in line for "Second Touch."  This is where we would sit down one on one (with or without an interpreter) and talk about the Gospel.  This is what the whole clinic is about.  Yes, we are there to give physical sight, but only as a means to also give spiritual sight.  We should start by asking them to read a coin, which coincidentally can help determine what issues they have with their eyes.  In essence, one side of the coin reads in Swahili, "Where will you go when you die?"  The other side is John 3:16.  Not only did it help us in determining issues with the eye, but it immediately lead to the discussion of the Gospel.
During Second Touch.  Here I am talking with a man who was part of the Jewish Synagogue across the street from the clinic.  It was a great experience as the synagogue consists of Messianic Jews, so they believe in Jesus but also believe that salvation is up to us.  My interpreter, a local pastor's wife, is watching and listening as this man knew English well.
While we were at a predominately Christian part of Kenya, there were still many people who believed that they had to earn their own salvation.  Talking to people one on one gave us the opportunity to ask them, "Why do you get to go to heaven?"  Many people answered that they would earn the right through their obedience to God and good works.  You could see the relief when you assured them that our confidence of salvation is in Christ alone.  The moment they realized that it is not what we do, but what He has done, is priceless.  Then, I would reminded them that we do good works because we are already saved and not the other way around.  When children came through, we would use beaded bracelets to tell them the story of creation, rebellion, redemption, and everlasting life.  It is truly life giving work to share the Word of God with people, for both the hearer AND the sharer.  I would love to go back and do this again!

After sharing with them God's Word we would ask them why they had come in to the clinic.  We would write down a few notes on their registration card and send them to the eye doctor.  Everyone was treated equally, regardless of their belief.  The doctors checked out their eyes and determined if they needed more medical interventions.  We sent a total of 31 people to go and have cataract surgery done.  We had a photographer with us throughout the week, and I was fortunate enough to be able to see a video he took of the people together after they came out of surgery.  They were all singing praises to God because they could finally see clearly once again!

After the doctor, people were sent to either the reading glasses station or the autorefractor, or even both.  If they only needed glasses to help them read, then the doctors would send them to that station and then they'd be on their way.  However, if they needed prescription glasses to see then they'd be sent to the autorefractor.  Our autorefractor is a handheld device that shoots a beam of light into the persons eye and reflects it back.  When the light returns to the machine it reads the shape of the lens and the eye and tells you their prescription.  This machine works very well in reading a prescription, so much so that when we were training I took home my own prescription and had new glasses made.  They were even better than my old prescription from a couple years ago.  The person running the autorefractor would then print out the prescription and attach it to the registration card and sent the person to the last station.
This is the autorefractor that we use to read the prescription for people's eyes.
The last station is where Marie spent most of her time.  This was the glasses building station.  The prescription would tell them what kind of lenses to use and at what angle to put them in to the frames to correct an astigmatism.  While people gained spiritual sight from Second Touch, this is where many would gain physical sight.  It was amazing to see people who had difficulties seeing put on the glasses.  The reactions were priceless.  The unfortunate thing is that the glasses aren't the most trendy, so it would be heartbreaking to see people come in and finally be able to see, only to put their glasses away and leave.  Marie decided the second day of clinic to put on a pair of these glasses so that the kids would be more willing to wear them.  She wore them faithfully throughout clinics and it really did seem to have an affect.

After three days at the Baari Health Clinic we moved to a place called Ndaragwa and set up there for two more days and did it all over again.  We would start sometime between 8:00 and 9:00 and typically finish sometime between 4:00 and 5:00.  In total, we talked to 2,494 people.  The most busy clinics usually average 1,000 people, so needless to say we were busy.  As exhausting as it all was, I would do it again.  It was a great experience and great to be with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that I would never have the opportunity to meet otherwise.  It was great telling people that we will one day see each other again in heaven.  It was also great meeting peoples needs in this life and seeing what a difference it made.

It is amazing how something so simple, something that we take for granted, can change lives.  Vision for Kenya is powerful, not only because it shares the Gospel of Christ, but also because it does so in a way that people will remember the love of Christ in a permanent way.  There is one specific story that I want to share that comes from the eyeglasses table.  On our last day of clinics, we had a fifteen year old boy named Peter come into our clinic.  He could only see an inch or two directly in front of his eyes.  When he went to the autorefractor, our person could hardly believe the results, but he sent Peter on to have his glasses made.  The prescription required the most powerful lenses we had.  As our team built his glasses, Peter patiently waited on the bench, not really knowing what was going on around him because he could not see.  Once his glasses were built and cleaned he was called over to the table and one of our team placed his glasses on him.

I think the most striking thing about Peter was that he did not react in a way you would expect.  In fact, he did not react at all.  It was like it was too good to be true.  He didn't know how to respond.  I held out a paper about a foot and a half in front of him and asked, "Can you read what this says?"  He could.  Someone else asked, "Can you see the mountains in the distance?"  He could.  We celebrated for him and sent him on his way.  Alison, our unofficial team photographer, snapped a couple of pictures, and we sent him on his way.  That was that.  About an hour later though, one of the local Vision for Kenya people came in and told me and our team leader to come outside so we could take a picture with someone who came in and was overjoyed that he could now see.  It was Peter!  When he came over joy stretched across his face as he was soaking in the world around him for the first time through his eyes.  Reality set in and he was happy.  His mother also came over for a photo and was in tears because her son could now see.  I was so thankful that God could use us in such a way, and gave us the opportunity to see Peter once it finally struck him that he could see.
This is Peter wearing his glasses.
After our clinics we would head back to Tabor Hill and have a devotion and dinner.  This gave us a great opportunity to unwind and share in the goodness of God.  It also provided us the opportunity to be refreshed in God's Word and remind us why we were doing what we were doing.  That gave us the energy to keep on going.  If I ever had the opportunity, I would do it again.  I hope and pray that where ever I find myself in the future, I will have the opportunity to go and do God's work among the people of the world.

When our final day had come, we packed our things and started our way back to Nairobi.  With the clinic finally over, I was able to reflect on some things.  First, I found out that foreign missions are not as scary as I once thought they were.  Especially in Kenya.  The people there are usually so loving and compassionate.  They welcomed us with open arms, and we made many friends while in Kenya.  I also did not feel uncomfortable as I thought I would in a place that I was unfamiliar with and was so different than home.  In fact it wasn't until the end of the week that I realized that I NEVER felt out of place or like I didn't belong.  Neither did I experience any culture shock while I was there.

That being said, there were times that my heart was broken.  While we were in a pretty nice area, that does not mean that there was not any poverty.  One thing that I noticed was there was not much of a middle class.  Either you had a lot of money, or you had no money.  Most people had no money.  They were doing what they could to get by.  The place that this was the strongest was in the slums of Nairobi, where tin shack was squeezed in between tin shack.  Thousands of people living in such harsh poverty right in the middle of the city.  The slum is also massive, stretching as far as the eye can see.  We did not get to experience it first hand, but we drove by the slums on out way out to the airport.  The most heart breaking part was around the edge of the slums were nice, fancy, beautiful homes by US standards.  It is one of those things that is really hard to process, and I am still working on processing.  All during our trip and see things and think to myself, "How could we help?"  It doesn't take much, even just a pair of eye glasses.  I know we can't "solve poverty," but it has definitely started me to think about what those with abundance of wealth or knowledge can do to help those in need, and how I can be part of that.

Anyway, that is enough about my trip and the clinics for now.  This post took over two days to write and my mind is still recovering from jet lag.  If there are any other things, I will share them later.  If you have any question, feel free to ask and I will do my best to answer.  There will also be pictures to come later as well.  Until that time, Mungu Akubariki, God bless!

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.

March 17, 2015

Warning: This Might be Too Much for You to Handle

Culture has this way of saying that things can be too personal to share. TMI... too much information, if you will. TMI leads me to where I am now. When it is "appropriate" to keep experiences private to meet cultural expectations, we tell others that their feelings, their experiences, their pain can't be shared. It's no wonder our society includes so many individuals suffering from depression. Holding everything inside is painful and extremely lonely.

This post won't conform to those standards.

If you don't want to confront the dark and ugly parts of life, stop reading now. I mean it. This is about to get really personal.

I have been struggling emotionally regarding a medical situation that happened in December and our journey of trying to conceive another child. Timothy and I began trying for Baby #2 a while ago (details not important). I went to the doctor in November to seek advice and to get medicine to help jump start my menstrual cycle, which was still was absent since Levi's birth. I was given a three-month supply of progesterone to help regulate it. In December, I had a really nasty period. (Again, details aren't important). One week before this period, I had a questionable pregnancy test. Ironically, the signs of a miscarriage and the first postpartum period are identical. When I mentioned my concerns to my doctor, I was dismissed.

So, Baby #2 could have already been part of our family, even if only briefly. But I will never know. The only way to medically distinguish what happened in December would have been to test the hormone levels in my blood or to test some of the tissue. Since my doctor didn't think that it was a concern, it wasn't done. So I will never know. And that was (and is) still really hard for me to accept. I don't know how to process what happened, to make sense of it, to know how to feel.

Since December, I have read several negative pregnancy tests. Timothy and I have become discouraged. Levi was our happy accident. Proof that once is all it takes. We weren't expecting this journey while trying for Baby #2. It's gotten harder as we've celebrated with friends who are expecting new babies in their families.

While I am walking this journey of infertility, I have fielded several questions of when will we be welcoming the next child to our family. I never know how to respond. These questions, which are asked from the kindest intentions, cut my soul to pieces. Usually I say "We'll see" or stumble for an answer. It would be TMI for me to say "I don't know. We have been trying for a while." Infertility is not a culturally acceptable topic, especially to those kind people who are just trying to make conversation. It's an issue to look past.

And it's not like you could know what is going on with me. When you see me, I smile. I chit-chat about random things. I don't let on that anything is wrong. I don't look sick. I simply look like a young mom of a toddler. Maybe I'm a little tired and a little sticky. Maybe there's jelly in my hair and dirt on my shirt. That way you know it's been one of "those days" at home. Nothing appears out of the ordinary.

I don't blame anyone for what has happened. I don't hold grudges. I haven't sunk into a depression because of my circumstances. But my heart is heavy. I am grieving for the unknowns in my life. I rejoice with you when you are happy, even though I hurt. But the next time you see me, I would appreciate a hug. I wish it was a little more culturally acceptable for women to say: "I am dealing with infertility and it sucks."

March 11, 2015

Moving

This past weekend we were blessed to have friends from the seminary visit us in Texas. It was wonderful to see their familiar faces again. We picked up right where we left off when we parted ways last July. Even Levi took straight to them again. I was amazed by this! He has been overly cautious of new faces while we've been in Texas. But 8 months after we last saw our friends, he had no problems playing with them and giving them big bear hugs. It was wonderful to see. 

Having friends in town has made me see how much I hate leaving friends behind when I move. Moving hasn't been a new thing to me. I have moved 11 times in my 27 years. 9 of those times I moved to a different state, leaving behind everything that was familiar to me. We only have a short 4 months left in Texas. Moving is on the horizon again. 

February 4, 2015

Logos Bible Software

I just finished my final distance training session on how to use Logos Bible Software.  You had to commit to three sessions of training with the seminary in order to receive the academic discount, which was the only way we were going to be able to afford to products that I need to really help me in the ministry.  At first, I thought Logos was primarily going to help me in working with the original languages a lot faster and more efficiently.  It does that for sure, but it also does so much more!

It opens up a whole new world with everything it offers.  You can search almost anything in the Bible and it will have some information on it.  For example, if you search for Jesus, it will have a ton of information on Him including painting of Him, family trees, graphics on how He relates to others in different Bible passages, Scripture verses He is referenced in (and what those references are as in if he is the subject or object or indirect object and so on) and all kinds of other stuff.  There are also atlases and all kinds of Bible dictionaries and everything else that you could think of.  There is so much on there I am sure I could go through my whole ministry without even knowing about some of it.

In addition to that though is how you can customize things and create things in Logos.  For example, through the "Personal Book Builder" tool I could compose a "book" of lecture notes, and then through some simple coding I could built it as a book in Logos and it will link to all the scripture references or references in Luther's works or what not.  It is so much customization that you can set it up however you want to make it work exactly how you need/want it to.  I am so excited to really be able to start building off what I have and making great tools to use for my future ministries, including things like Bible Studies and Confirmation and such things.  So much to do and it will be so much fun!

Usborne Books: A Summary

I'm nearing the end of my first 30 days as an independent consultant with Usborne Books and More. Usborne is a direct sales company that strives to end the literacy crisis through book ownership. Unfortunately, in 2012, 67% of US fourth graders were reading at a level that was under their grade level. Usborne books enrich the mind through engaging non-fiction books and enrich the heart through heartwarming stories from countries all over the world.

Training with Usborne has been really busy. Usborne has a 12 week training and incentive period for new consultants. I'm a third of the way through this period and about half way through all the material. I've learned a lot about hosting home and Facebook parties, holding preschool book fairs, recruiting new consultants and running special programs Usborne offers, like fundraisers and literacy grants. I'm swept away by all the information, but I'm also blown away by the company. Usborne has amazing books and yes, does a lot of sales through parties. But the mission of the company is not profit, but literacy. Usborne is truly working to get engaging books into kids hands through multiple programs. This aspect makes the job more fulfilling for me. 

Getting my business started has been stressful, but I am so thankful for my supporting husband and team leader. By the end of my first 30 days, I will have hosted 5 Facebook parties. That was a stretch for me. Booking parties did not come easy to me. I took some time to learn the online ordering system that consultants use. It also took several troubleshooting messages to my team leader. Everything is getting easier as the days pass. 

Moving forward, I'm getting ready to contact area preschools about having a book fair. I'm following up with a local church and a local homeschool group about using our Cards for a Cause fundraiser. I'm getting ideas for a book drive. I'm ready to start branching out into the special programs Usborne offers. 

I'm glad I took this risk and signed up to own my own business. I couldn't be happier working for a company that does more than sell books. (And the books are amazing!) As with any new endeavor I've struggled, but I've learned a lot through those struggles. I've set my goals for February. And planning to meet those goals. Here we go!

January 22, 2015

Six Months are Not Enough!

Last Thursday Pastor Snyder kindly filled when our babysitter had to excuse herself (due to sick children at home and not wanting to spread the illnesses to Levi, which we HIGHLY appreciate!) so that Marie and I could go celebrate our anniversary.  We had a great time!  We went to a new-to-us restaurant in town, called Pelican's, and then went on to see 'Into the Woods' at the movies.  When we got home, Pastor had successfully put Levi to sleep and so we sat around talking for a little bit.  Finally, it was time for Pastor to head home, and as he closed the door behind him he said, "Happy Six Month-iversary!"

With those words my heart was struck.  It was indeed, exactly six months into my vicarage.  That meant that I had only six months left.  This thought has slowly crept into not only mine and pastors thoughts, but into the minds of others as well.  As we got to know each other the thought never entered our minds that this would come to and end.  It seemed that vicarage would go on forever.  It seemed that Wichita Falls was now my permanent place of residence.  In many, many ways Wichita Falls and Our Redeemer has become our home and the realization that it's already more than half over strikes hard.

Jokes have been made about vicar just not going back to school and staying.  After all, they are looking for someone to fill their youth director position.  The confirmation kids keep asking for reassurance that I will be here to see them confirmed.  A conversation the other day had to be halted between me and out Director of Christian Growth and Music because the reality was striking hard.  There will be a lot of tears shed on that day, when Marie and I finally have to pick up our bags and move on.  We only have six months left, and six months are not enough.

Heavenly Father, please bless my remaining time here at Our Redeemer.  Let me continue to form and deepen relationships with Pastor Snyder, the staff, and the members and live as though my departure will never come.  When that time comes, however, comfort us in the peace knowing that friends in Christ are friends forever, and if we do not see one another here in time, we will all see each other there in eternity.  Thank you for this amazing opportunity to learn and grow and experience being a servant of your Word and Church.  All this I pray in the name of the One who has reconciled us to Yourself, Jesus Christ, Your only Son, Our Lord.  Amen.

January 21, 2015

What I learned at BSF this week

Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) looked at the Day of Atonement this week. We spent quite a bit of our lesson drawing parallels between the sacrifices required to atone for the Israelites sins and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The sacrifice that took away the nation's sin (not the one required from Aaron the priest for his own sin) required two goats. Lots were cast to determine which goat was offered as a sin offering and which goat became the scapegoat. The goat for the sin offering was sacrificed to atone for the sins of the nation. After the priest laid his hands on the scapegoat's head and confessed the sin of the nation, the scapegoat carried the sins of the nation out into the desert as a symbol of the sin being completely removed from the people and forgiven by the Lord. We often think of Christ as the sacrificial Lamb, the sin offering for the world. But Christ is also the scapegoat. All our sins were placed on his shoulders. He was sent away from the Lord (instead of welcomed into the Father's presence as a perfect sacrifice) and descended into hell. Our sins that were laid on Christ were taken away from us and removed from the Lord's sight. They are now forgiven and forgotten. Thankfully, as the perfect unblemished sacrifice, Christ did not stay confined in hell. He rose again, doing what the Old Testament sacrifice couldn't: atoning once for all sins.

I also want to share a portion of the notes BSF have to me on Leviticus 9, the beginning of the priesthood. Leviticus 9 describes the sacrifices required to ordain the priests. "These sacrifices are a picture of what God requires of anyone who wishes to enter into a right relationship, worship and enjoy fellowship with Him. Christians can learn some important principles of true worship when we consider the order of the sacrifices.  The first priority in worship is cleansing from sin. This is what the sin offering shows. The burnt offering and grain offering point to the fact that we then must surrender our lives and our work to God. Finally, the peak of worship is intimate fellowship with God. The meal that was part of the fellowship offering is a picture of that intimacy."

I'm struck by this as the now familiar order of a worship service for LCMS Lutherans. We first confess our sins and receive forgiveness for them. Then we offer of ourselves to the Lord through praise, through offerings, through faith given to us by God. Finally, we celebrate true fellowship with the Lord during communion. This service feeds my soul and truly renews my fellowship with God because I have confessed my sins and Jesus' sacrifice allows them to be forgiven. I have attended many services that start with the assumption of fellowship with God and approach Him as such. There is no aspect of confession, no portion that recognizes that we are sinful humans and unworthy of approaching God with such freedom and fellowship until our sins are atoned for. These kinds of services are not spiritually edifying for me. They do not acknowledge the great divide that exists between sinful humanity and the perfect Lord.

Leviticus warns of the danger of approaching God in worship in a way that he has not ordained. Aaron's two sons died because they offered an unauthorized self. God gave specific, detailed instructions to the priests on how they may approach Him and what was required of them to do to atone for their sins so that they will not be struck down. Yes, Jesus has fulfilled all the atoning sacrifices, but that does not mean that Christians are suddenly holy. We are holy only in the forgiveness that Christ provides. We still sin and need to approach God after being cleansed from that sin. How would worship change of we all entered Gods presence using the Old Testament idea of sacrifice? First cleansing from sin. Then surrendering to Gods work in our lives through faith received in baptism. And finally, enjoying true fellowship with our holy Lord, true intimacy. 

January 14, 2015

Christmas, New Year's and Some New Beginnings

I'm sure your family can relate to the busyness of Christmas. It is no different for our family. In fact, it might be a little more busy since Timothy was preaching for all the mid-week Advent services at church. With his work requiring more attention and Levi becoming more rambunctious, I felt like there was never enough time to rest leading up to Christmas. We also hosted 10 of Timothy's family members the weekend before Christmas. It was lovely to have family in town to celebrate with us.

Christmas Eve was wonderful, even though I didn't get to light my candle (thanks, Levi, for being extra wiggly that night). I played "Greensleeves" with Scott and Linda during the pre-service music. Greensleeves happens to be one of my favorite Christmas tunes. Then I played "O Come, O Come Immanuel" while Timothy read the opening litany and some choir members sang. It was really powerful. I love when music is worked into a service beyond singing hymns. I am looking forward to playing in church more. After the Christmas concert with the Wichita Falls Community Orchestra, I decided to end my involvement with the group. I thoroughly enjoyed playing the Nutcracker with them, but the rehearsal schedule was becoming too much for me to keep up with.

Timothy preached again on Christmas Day. It was only the second Christmas Day service that I have attended.... ever. Christmas Day service was not a tradition in my family growing up. I did enjoy celebrating Jesus' arrival with many of our church members that morning.

Boxing Day, a.k.a. the day after Christmas, we drove to Dallas to go to Medieval Times. Medieval Times is a dinner theater. We all enjoyed the show and the meal. Levi was enthralled by the horses and the competition. He also loved the chicken! It was the first time he has eaten a large quantity of meat. Our champion was the Blue Knight of Castle Valiente. Our knight did not win the tournament, but one of his companions did! So it was like winning. Levi has a souvenir sword now and likes to tournament Mommy and Daddy by chasing them around the house. Ever been chased by a squealing toddler with a sword? It's frightening!

New Years came and went without a hitch. We relaxed and went to bed on time. Timothy and I didn't even stay up until midnight. We're enjoying the days when we don't have to chaperone a child who wants to stay up until the new year.

Shortly after New Years, both Levi and I came down with the flu. We lost a week of our lives, no joke. We were both down for the count Sunday-to-Sunday. I'm now contemplating getting the flu shot next year...

This past week two major changes have occurred in the Roth household: I started a business as an Usborne Books and More consultant and Timothy decided to pursue chaplaincy with the Air Force. Both decisions have been coming a long time. My wonderful friend and now team leader had been nudging me to consider joining Usborne for several months. And now I've finally taken the plunge. Usborne Books is an award winning publisher. If you aren't familiar with them, take a look at their website: www.f4798.myubam.com. I'd be happy to chat with you as well.

Timothy had been toying with joining the military since high school, but tabled the thought when we started getting serious. He considered joining the chaplaincy candidate program during his first year at the seminary, but tabled the thought again when he couldn't get a recruiter to talk with him because he was not within the required weight range. On vicarage, we are within 15 minutes of an Air Force base. The second in command of the base just happens to be a member of the congregation. And in December, a new wing chaplain joined the base; he just happens to be an LCMS pastor. Conversations sprung up and Timothy's desire resurfaced. He has now talked to the Air Force recruiter in the area for the chaplaincy candidate program. Since we would be joining the program late in his seminary career, Timothy may need to extend his education by pursuing a STM degree. An STM is a separate master's program to gain a Master's of Sacred Theology. This is a more academic leaning degree than the Master of Divinity (which Timothy will obtain in May 2016). Timothy might also pursue a different counseling degree to delay his ordination in order to be part of the chaplaincy candidate program.

We also have another option. Timothy can graduate as scheduled in May 2016 with the Master of Divinity and join the Air Force reserves as a chaplain while gaining experience in the parish. After two years in the parish, he can choose to be called up to active duty and join the chaplain corps full time then. As our family weighs our options, please keep us in your prayers.