A Eulogy

I friend of mine passed away two weeks ago. She attended my church off and on over the past few years, and though nobody knew her extremely well, as she was quite introverted, I wanted to honor her life and her participation in our church body by saying a few words at the end of yesterday’s service. 

I met Sara sometime around 1987. My family started attending the church that her family went to in Minnesota. I was in 4th grade, she was in 6th. Over the years my parents became very close friends with her parents. They were even in a small Bible study group together for several years. Sara was the oldest of 4 sisters. Two of her sisters are the same age as my two younger brothers. They were also close friends growing up. Even though Sara and I were in youth group together, our families were close, and we attended the same junior high and high school, we were not all that close. She was two years older than me, and at that age, two years matters a lot more than it does now. We were not close, but we were more than mere acquaintances. I would definitely say that we were friends. I liked her.

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1992 youth backpacking trip in Northern MN. A few of us got up early to watch the sunrise. Sara is the blonde on the left, standing in front of me.

She graduated from high school in 1994, and we lost track of each other. In those days there was no social media and the internet was relatively new. Fast forward about 15 years. I graduated, went to college, moved to Indiana, got married, started a family.

By the fall of 2009 Facebook had burst on the scene, and I had reconnected with many of my friends from high school, including Sara. We were all experiencing the aftermath of the housing crash, and the “Great Recession” was well underway. As many of us were, Sara was unemployed. She was also recently divorced, and living in Virginia. Her lease was running out, and she posted on Facebook that she was going to need a place to stay.

At the time we owned a duplex. We lived in the larger half and rented out the smaller apartment, but it had been empty for about a year. I half-jokingly responded to her plea for housing, saying, “I have an apartment available, but you’d have to move to Indiana.” *Ha-ha*. Little did I expect her to take me up on it. It turns out she had another friend in Elkhart, who coincidentally was also a friend of ours. The timing seemed to be perfect for all of us. We agreed to let her stay there for free for a few months. Give her some time to find a job and get settled, as long as she could pay the utilities.

She lived in our house for four and a half years, right up until we moved out last June. I saw her almost every day, coming and going to work, when she was working. My kids adored her. She would occasionally babysit them. Whenever they saw her outside they would run out, yelling “HI SARA!” They would talk her ear off with the kinds of silly stories children tell. I was embarrassed at how often she probably heard me lose my temper and scream at my kids, through the thin walls. She probably knew me better than I realized.

Sara was a true artist and a talented musician. You may remember that she played the piano and the bass guitar on our worship team from time to time. Her illnesses prevented her from being able to participate more, but her mother told me that she really appreciated the times she got to be part of it. I remember her, as a teenager, playing Great Balls of Fire on the piano. Her mom says she learned to play it by ear. She had a very eclectic style, as many artists do. She had a gorgeous collection of pottery, unique art, trinkets from friends and souvenirs from her travels.

She was the kind of person who held others at arm’s length. There were very few people she truly let in and get to know her closely. She was a quiet tenant, didn’t party or have a lot of company. She never complained. We had her over for dinner sometimes, and on rare occasions she and I would talk outside on the porch, but most of the time she kept to herself.

Sara had a lot of struggles, both internal and external. She wasn’t the type to ask for help, or to go seeking charity or government assistance. She wanted to appear strong, and I think she wanted to BE strong. She WAS strong, for a long time.

Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Sara had the kind of trouble that many, perhaps most of us will probably never be able to comprehend. And now, those of us who knew her and cared about her are facing trouble as well.

Jesus also said, in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Sara is now experiencing ultimate rest for her soul, in Jesus. While we wait out our days here on earth, though we have many troubles, Jesus implores us to take heart, and he invites us to come to him and find rest.

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A more recent photo of Sara, circa 2014. She loved her cats.

#OneWord Blog Challenge: Wonderful (and Confused)

This week’s One Word Blog Challenge words were Wonderful and Confused. When I sat down to write, both of them made their way into my story.

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In just a few short months, my last child will be going to Kindergarten. I have conflicting emotions about it. Mostly I’m ecstatic. My two boys (the youngest) were… can we just say… a handful during the toddler years. You know how toddlers are – getting into things ten times faster than you can keep up with them and their shenanigans. Emptying shampoo bottles and tubes of toothpaste, eating the dog’s food, finding a scissors that you were sure was hidden away and cutting up important papers, coloring in permanent marker on walls. It’s relatively easy (though still exhausting) to keep the house toddler proofed when your oldest child is the toddler. But when it’s the youngest of five children, it’s one hundred percent impossible. The older children are kids themselves, and though they have a much better sense of boundaries and knowing not to smear Vaseline all over the living room, they do NOT very well know that they should not leave their backpacks, uneaten food, precious toys, craft supplies, and other valuables laying around where toddler hands can reach them. My dad used to say the house “Looks like a hurricane hit!” I thought he was being hyperbolic, but now I know he wasn’t. Being surrounded by children who make one mess after another, all day, at the speed of light, I felt like I was in the middle of a hurricane. It is insane. It is completely exhausting. It is even defeating. When you’ve been cleaning up messes all day, and the house is still a complete disaster, you wonder why you bother.

This, my friends, is why Kindergarten is wonderful. Preschool is actually kind of wonderful too. The crazy toddler years are behind us, and I’m thankful. Looking back now those memories are full of funny stories. But they weren’t so funny in the moment. This year, with my youngest in preschool, I have about 10 hours a week of kid-free time, which is WONDERFUL. But I still find that my days are full, even with most of the kids at school. Starting in August I will have FORTY HOURS a week of kid-free time. That is a HUGE difference. And it’s strange that though I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, now that it is approaching I’m feeling confused about it.

I’ve heard of moms at this stage of life going through a kind of identity crisis. I’ve been out of the “work force” for a full decade. I’ve tried to stay connected to some hobbies, to give myself a sense of being an individual – my own person – something other than mom, housekeeper, chef, chauffeur. I find myself feeling a little like I felt at the end of high school, wondering “what am I going to do with the rest of my life?” What are my interests, my skills? Of course, I still have a family to raise. My neighbor next door has two teenagers and one grown and gone. She went back to work full-time when her kids started school, and she advised me not to do that. She said that if she could, she would rather be home, to be there for her kids as they go through the school and teen years. I do feel that if I had the school day to do the “stuff” – the grocery shopping, house cleaning, food making, bill paying – then I would have the time and energy to attend to my kids’ needs in the evenings and on weekends. It would be very difficult to work full time AND do all the stuff, AND take care of the kids. Part time work seems like it might be a good compromise. But where? What? Who hires almost-40 year old moms? Am I really almost 40? Now I’m having another crisis.

I’m not complaining. I’m thankful that I even have choices. Single parents usually have no choice but to work full time AND take care of the kids and all the stuff. Many families need two incomes just to make ends meet. Though to be fair, my circumstances are unique too – My husband works unconventional hours, so I’m often alone with FIVE kids (though my oldest is starting college next year, I think she’s planning on staying at home), trying to juggle homework, chores, making dinner, sports and activities, bedtimes, friends, etc.

I’m in a transition place. Trying to decide on the next step. I might just take the first week and binge watch a bunch of Netflix.

This post is part of the One Word Blog Challenge hosted by:

Lisa of The Golden Spoons

Janine of Confessions of a Mommyholic

Marcia of Blogitudes

1 Word Linkup

#OneWord Blog Challenge: Morning

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I couldn’t think of much to say about mornings because I hate them, and that’s all. The truth is, I don’t feel like a very good person in the mornings. It’s a stressful time on school days, and I’m not ready to handle it. Therefore, I am often cranky with my kids in the mornings. So I thought maybe I would share one of my favorite morning photos, one I took in Yellowstone in 2010. And I thought of this Bible verse that tells us that God’s compassion (some translations say “mercy”) is new every morning, which is such a relief. So many days – today for example – the stress and chaos of parenting pushes me to the edges of my sanity. But the good news is, no matter how rough today was, or yesterday, or tomorrow… no matter how many days we mess up and act in ways we know aren’t the best, God’s mercy and compassion is renewed EVERY MORNING. Each morning is a new day, a fresh start. Now if I can just get through the first hour without screwing it up royally. I should hang this photo in my kitchen as a reminder.

This has been part of the One Word Blog Challenge hosted by:

Lisa of The Golden Spoons

Marcia of Blogitudes

Janine of Confessions of a Mommyholic

1 Word Linkup

Fear, Karma, Jesus, and Love

There is no fear in love.

There is no fear in love.

This is the rambling musings of what’s on my mind today. Sorry if it doesn’t make complete sense. There are a couple trails I felt I could go down, but I’m trying to stick mostly to the point. When several things happen within a short period of time that are unrelated but related, it’s usually a good idea for me to open my eyes, ears, and heart to what God is trying to show me.

After church today a man in our congregation who is known for his prophetic visions told me that he saw two angels standing guard over me during the service. They had swords, and they were whispering into my ears. He said that sometimes the sword was pointing down, and sometimes the sword was pointing up. He didn’t know what that meant. But I’m asking God to reveal to me if it meant anything at all. Sounds a little weird, huh? Well, I don’t know. You can say it’s hokey, but I tend to believe him. Here’s why:

During the sermon my mind kept being pulled in two directions that were sort of related, and I was trying to sort out how. On the one hand, I was trying to listen and process the sermon being given at the moment. It was about the difference between Karma and Jesus.

At the same time, I kept thinking about a sermon I heard online 2 days ago. It was about the difference between God’s wrath (or what we tend to view as such) and Jesus’ love. That sermon was by the pastor at my parents’ church, the church I grew up in.

Karma is basically the idea that if bad things happen to you it’s because you’ve done bad things either in this life or previous lives. And if good things happen to you it’s because you’ve done good things either in this life or previous lives. But either way, the judgment has already been made. And since we can’t remember our previous lives, we never really know for sure if we’ve done enough good to outweigh all the bad we might have ever done. We constantly live in a state of FEAR or anxiety over whether we’ve done enough good to secure ourselves in the next life.

This sounds a bit like the idea of God’s judgment and punishment. If we don’t do what God wants us to do in this life, we will be punished with eternal damnation in the afterlife. But if we DO follow God’s will for our lives, then we will be rewarded with eternal paradise in the afterlife. This doctrine is well accepted in Christianity, but it holds an element of fear. We don’t do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do, we do it because we are afraid of going to hell, or of being punished. Whatever “it” is – some believe that asking Jesus into your heart is “it,” and it’s as simple as that. Some believe that being a generally good person is “it” – as long as you do more good deeds than bad, you’re ok. In psychology, doing good out of fear of punishment is an immature level of morality. But I can honestly say that I have spent much of my life in that place, and also in fear of other people thinking I’m a “bad” person.

When I was a teenager I saw a skit numerous times. There were 4 teenagers in a car, cruising along, having a great time as teenagers do. Suddenly out of nowhere, they are in an accident and all four of them die. Only one of them was “saved,” and so the rest were going to hell. The 3 condemned to eternal damnation were crying out, “why didn’t you tell me!?” And the one on his way to heaven was a tortured soul as he had no choice but to watch his friends walk away into hell, never to be seen again. I understand the point of the skit: if I don’t tell all my loved ones about Jesus, they will all go to hell for eternity, and it will be ALL MY FAULT, while I spend forever frolicking in eternal paradise. But the main take away was FEAR and GUILT.

Many of us have heard the “End Times” prophesies out of the book of Revelation. At the end of the world, God is going to come down and wreak havoc on the earth and punish all the wicked and evil people who have chosen not to follow him. If we’re lucky, we good guys will be outta here by that time, but that depends on whether you believe in a pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib rapture (if you don’t know what that means, look it up, but only if you want to go down a major rabbit trail). If we are still here, we better head for the hills and hide in caves because God’s destruction will be severe. Again: FEAR.

But 1 John 4:18, written by a man who was perhaps Jesus’ best friend on earth, says this:

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

There is NO FEAR in love. FEAR has to do with PUNISHMENT. Jesus is all about LOVE, which has nothing to do with FEAR. We (I?) need to rise to a higher level of morality than being afraid of God’s judgment, wrath, and eternal damnation. God IS Love.

Karma says that whatever happens in our lives is either punishment or reward for past deeds. But Jesus didn’t operate that way. He loved and honored the poor and the sinners. He broke bread with prostitutes and tax collectors. His closest followers were fishermen – blue collar laborers. He instructed his followers not to give the rich places of honor in the temple, but to treat all people as equals no matter their social status. Jesus said that we are ALL sinners who have done bad things.

In my mind I keep coming back around to the idea that if we follow Jesus, he will reward us with good things in life – not necessarily material possessions or comfort, but deeper things like peace, joy, and fulfillment of the soul. But that would mean that if we are lacking any or all of those things, it’s because we’re not really following Jesus or we don’t have enough faith – back to the karma thing again.

What is the opposite of fear? Faith? Trust? Love?

I think the angels are still whispering to my heart on this one. I can’t quite wrap up my thoughts, but I think it’s something like, God is not someone who hands out rewards and punishments based on our behavior. Rather, he is a loving Father who we follow because we trust and rest in the security of his love.

Quiet

I just read a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. My mom recommended it to my husband, but I read it too because I didn’t want to be left out.

It was a cool book for us introverts. I guess I’ve always known that I’m an introvert. I thought I kind of hovered on the Intro/Extro line, but after reading this book it firmly cemented in me that I am a true introvert at my core.

As a child I was quite shy. I displayed classic introvert characteristics, as explained by the book. I hated to raise my hand in class. I don’t like attention. It makes me nervous and self-conscious. I often knew the answers; I just didn’t feel the need to share my knowledge with the entire class. There were always plenty of extroverts who loved to talk, so I figured, let them talk! Every single year of elementary school, without fail, my teachers would always express concern at my parent-teacher conference about my lack of “participation” in class. They all wanted to hear more from me, wanted me to raise my hand and join in the class discussion. From a teacher’s point of view, I can understand. But I preferred to listen and ponder. Often I will turn over something in my head for days before I really know what I think and feel about it. I’m usually not ready to join into the middle of a conversation, unless it’s a topic I’ve already had plenty of time to think about.

As a teenager when I started gaining a bit of independence I would walk or bike around my town sans parents. My dad owned a small business on Main Street, so a lot of the other shop owners in town knew him. Plus, we have very unusual and distinct last name. Anybody in America with the same last name is pretty closely related. Everywhere I went people would say, “Oh, you must be Mike’s daughter!” It used to drive me crazy in an angsty teenager way. Looking back now, it makes me smile. My dad is an extrovert. I remember being so embarrassed because he would talk to anybody, anytime, anywhere. Standing in line at the grocery store, he would strike up a conversation with the people around him. I thought it was so weird, you don’t just talk to people you don’t know! But guess what – I DO THE SAME THING NOW! And every time I do, I think of my friendly, people-person dad. But I always walk away feeling a little self-conscious, thinking things like, “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Was that weird? Did I share too much? That person doesn’t care about my life, why did I say that?” AWKWARD!

One interesting point the book makes is that there are degrees of introversion, and there is no perfect introvert. It seems obvious, but as both my husband and I read the book, we had moments when we thought “But wait, I’m not like that at all, that’s weird.” For example, introverts don’t tend to like small talk. They find it tedious and pointless. But they DO enjoy deep conversations and getting to know people at an intimate level. I think this is why I enjoy meeting new people, even if it is somebody I’ll never see again. I LOVED my job at the coffee shop because I got to chat with people all day. But it wasn’t the small talk that fulfilled me. It was the day-after-day interaction with the same people – the regulars – that I loved. I developed relationships with people in my community as I got to know their daily coffee routines, their work schedules, their kids. It gave me a sense of connection that was very fulfilling. I’m not comfortable in a room full of strangers, but I do enjoy one-on-one conversation. I see those first “shallow” chit-chats as the beginning of a relationship. It’s a little weird, but I see everyone around me as a potential friend, and I feel drawn to strike up conversations because it could be the beginning of a friendship. Of course not everyone I meet will become my BFF, but you never know unless you try.

I met a woman at the playground a few years ago. We started chatting and I found out that she and her family had just recently moved to the area from Chicago. My life was full of babies and toddlers, and I was craving some grown-up time. I suggested that we exchange phone numbers because our kids were similar in age, and we lived fairly near each other. For some crazy reason I called her a few days later and we set up a play date. Sometimes I think I was being so weird and forward. I really hate calling people I don’t know, but for some reason I did. We became really good friends and had regular weekly playdates for a couple years. Eventually her family moved to another school district just across the state line, and when the kids started school, we got busy and lost track of each other. But that was a very enriching relationship for me – one that I really needed at that time in my life, all because of that strange non-introvert quality I have that makes me want to strike up conversations with strangers. It’s what makes me think I’m not a great introvert. It’s also what makes people surprised to learn that I really AM an introvert. But at the end of the day, I do need my “me time.”

I’m trying to nurture my inner introvert by writing more and taking more opportunities for quiet and solitude. It’s hard to come by in a house full of kids and chaos, but as the kids are getting older and a little more independent, most of them off to school, I’m finding my soul feeling more at peace.

This has been part of the 1 Word Blog Linkup hosted by The Golden Spoons, Blogitudes, and Confessions of a Mommyholic. This week’s words were Quiet and Fake. Obviously I chose Quiet. 

Love Your Neighbor (And Your Children)

My boys have been awful this weekend. THE WORST. I’m almost certain they have been possessed by the devil himself. As I sit here at this computer they are grounded to their beds for the entire day. Yes. The entire day. But even there, they are finding ways to test and push the limits. At this moment they are making fart noises on their arms, singing songs about poop and bananas, and laughing hysterically. Before that they were jumping on their beds. I fear that being grounded to their beds for an entire day will have no impact on them whatsoever. They’ll remember the fun they had while they were “in trouble,” and they’ll associate misbehaving with having fun. Truthfully, I don’t think any form of discipline has any impact on them whatsoever, but that’s a different topic.

I read this article the other day and it hit me. It’s about a common excuse people have for not doing foster care – “I would get too attached.” The author’s response was basically, yes you get attached. Yes it’s hard. Yes it’s sad. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. A doctor wouldn’t say, “I’m not going to perform surgery on this baby because the baby might die and then I would be sad.” Life is sad. Life is hard. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the sacrifices of loving and caring for other humans. {This does not mean that everyone should become foster parents, it just means the excuse “It would be too sad” is not the right one}. Obviously, that wasn’t a barrier for me. I wanted to be a little bit of light and love in the lives of the children in my community. I was willing to be sad. But I wasn’t prepared for this.

This is one of those days I’m wondering why I ever even wanted to be a parent. Why I ever thought adopting children would be a good idea. It seems like this wonderful thing to do, doesn’t it? To “rescue” abused or neglected children from a sad and horrible life. The thing we don’t think about is that in the rescuing, our own lives get turned upside down. We all think our children are going to be angelic little versions of ourselves. But they are not us. They are their own people with their own personalities.

This morning my pastor taught on what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. In the same way that we strive for our own happiness and self-preservation, we should also strive for happiness and life-preservation in the people around us. It’s threatening to our own lives. We might have to give up our own comfort or leisure or something we really want in order to help meet the needs of somebody else. Right now, to me that means that even though parenting is infinitely harder than I ever dreamed – so much so that I question whether I even made the right decision – At this moment my boys have a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, food in the kitchen, and they feel loved and secure enough in their own home to know that their needs will be met and they will be safe even when they act like complete raging lunatics. And I guess THAT is why I am doing this. That’s what I’m trying to tell myself right now, anyway, because it’s the only thing getting me through this day.

gone fishin

…trying to remember the happy days, the ones that make it worth it…

Lost In Cyberspace

This post is part of The 1 Word Blog Challenge. This week’s word: Lost

Hosted by: The Golden Spoons, Confessions of a Mommyholic, and Blogitudes

I definitely feel lost most of the time in parenting. With the first child it’s so much trial-and-error, but then you think once you’ve been through it, it’ll be easier the next time around. And then the next kid is so entirely different (and the world has changed so much already) that all the things you thought you figured out go flying right out the window.

Let’s talk about the Internet. Good glory, people. We are the first generation of parents who have to navigate the constantly-changing world of the internet and screen devices. New social media sites appear regularly. Just when we think we have some things figured out, like twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat, the kids all jump to a new program. Program? App? What’s it even called? We are the parents who learn about the internet from our kids. The internet – Unlimited access to everything. Many adults can’t even handle the vastness of the internet. How easy is it to start off on facebook, click on some interesting looking article to read or video to watch, then find another link over there to investigate, and then another and another until you’ve been “surfing” for hours. Do they even call it surfing anymore?

I remember the first time we got “the internet” as a teenager, oh about 20 or so years ago (has it really been that long? It only feels like about 5 or 6 years). We had AOL and it used our phone line to access it. Remember the days of “dial up”? I can still hear that squeeeeeedingding song it would sing while trying to connect. You couldn’t use the phone and the internet at the same time.

I was 23 when I got my first cell phone. Remember those first Noika phones? At that time I vowed to use it only at home, to treat it just like I would a land-line. (We didn’t even have the word land-line then, it was just “the phone.”) I would take it with me for emergencies, but I wouldn’t just be on the phone in public because that wasn’t NORMAL.  It seemed frivolous and invasive and unnecessary. Now it’s not normal to NOT have a cell phone. And it’s perfectly normal (though sometimes annoying) to see someone talking on their phone in any and all public places. Not only that, but we can access the ENTIRE INTERNET ON OUR PHONES. You guys, it’s truly amazing. I am in awe at the technological advances that have been made, not just in my life time, but even in my adulthood.

"What is THAT?? That's a PHONE?? It looks like a TV remote!" - My 9 year old

“What is THAT?? That’s a PHONE?? It looks like a TV remote!” – My 9 year old

Remember that video phone booth on Peewee’s Playhouse? I thought that was the coolest thing EVAH! Now we have skype and facetime. I can video chat with my brother on the other side of the world ON MY PHONE, from anywhere I want to be – at home, at a friend’s house, at the coffee shop, the park, Target (that would be weird, but it’s possible). It’s unbelievable.

Before Facetime

Before Facetime there was Peewee’s Picture Phone

Then again… as parents, it’s kind of scary. Things have changed even between my 1st and 2nd children. There is an 8 year gap between them. When the oldest got her first cell phone it was a little blackberry-type thing. Talk and text only. Do they even have those anymore? I don’t even know if they had smart phones then, it was about 8 or 9 years ago. Texting was just becoming mainstream, especially for the kids and young adults, which I was apparently neither. I thought it was so annoying, she would just text and text and text. I couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t just call each other.

My 2nd daughter is now 9, and she saved her money for about 8 months and bought herself an iPod touch. I told her that if she was responsible enough to save that much money, then she could buy one. But now that she has one… I really do feel a bit lost as to how to handle it. I’m making up the rules as we go. She has some games and a texting app. No social media, no browser. We have had talks about internet safety. On the weekends she gets to use it for an hour a day. On school nights she can do an extra chore to earn 10 minutes of time on it (I’m loving that!). So for now, she is very limited in what she is allowed to do on her iPod. But I have no frame of reference by which to guide her into the cyber world. There’s no “This is how my parents did it with me, and it worked just fine,” or on the opposite hand, “This is what my parents did and I don’t feel like it worked, so I’m going to try something else. It’s just a big, black hole that constantly changes shape. No matter how I try to navigate it, I’m just… lost.

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