30 January 2007

This man I married

Regular readers of this blog are probably getting tired of me gushing about my beloved husband, but y'all are just going to have to deal with it because this man has outdone himself again tonight.
Last night, for several reasons, I was awake for three hours in the middle of the night.(i.e, baby niece was born, I was excited, I have to pee an insane amount because my bladder is squished into the size of a thimble, Annalivia woke up, Annalivia woke up again, Annalivia would not go back to sleep, Annalivia woke up yet another time...)
ANYWAY, suffice to say -- today I was tired and had kind of a busy day meeting with the funeral family, arranging the burial a la my previous post, cooking a lasagna with tomato sauce that needed to be used because I made it on Saturday, making some cupcakes because I'm crazy, etc.
And about 7 p.m., I just felt like I hit a wall. I was done icing cupcakes and was standing in the kitchen and all of a sudden, I just felt like I could neither stand nor ice nor do anything anymore. So I went to my bedroom and breathed a lot and eventually, about one-half hour later, fell sound asleep leaving a kitchen with lasagna dishes and cupcake dishes and icing dishes still to be washed and a very tired child needing a bath and bed and a very tired husband needing to do homework . And me -- fast asleep. Not oblivous, but ignoring all.
After Dennis came to bed about an hour ago, I got up to finish the funeral and emerged from the bedroom to a perfectly clean kitchen -- more clean than I would ever make it -- cupcakes put in Rubbermaid containers, dishes -- including the lasagna pan-- clean, counters wiped down. Child clean and sound asleep in her own bed. Toys put away. Homework mostly done. Husband so tired he was asleep in less than 5 minutes because his nightly quota of sleep is the amount I got last night even with my three-hour interruption!
How in the name of heaven was I ever blessed enough to marry this man? If there is NO other sign(and for the record, there are plenty) of grace in my life -- something I DEFINITELY don't deserve -- this would be tangible evidence enough of a God who loves me beyond all reason.
What an amazing man! What the heck is he doing with me?

Pastoral parameters

So it has been a morning of phone-calling while trying to figure out what exactly is happening with this funeral I'm officiating tomorrow morning. This dear man who passed away has two sons -- one who lives in central Illinois and one who lives in Alabama. Both arrived in town last evening, met with the funeral director and scheduled a visitation for tonight and a funeral for tomorrow morning! I now have 25 CWF ladies who are freaking out because they have no time to get together donations for a funeral dinner. Ooooof.
The arrangements have been further complicated by the fact that this dear man's grandson is a Marine who has received permission to come home from Afghanistan for the funeral, but will likely miss the service itself. Hence the son from central Illinois who is the father of the marine asked his brother from Alabama to consider having a separate burial service on Thursday so that the marine could be part of something to honor his grandfather (who was also a Marine and the reason this young man is in the service in the first place). The son from Alabama has reluctantly agreed as he needed to return to Alabama as soon as possible. (It just seems to me that regardless of whether one drives 20 hours to get back to their hometown for their dad's funeral, the inconvenience of that act is trumped by the inconvenience of the person who has to fly in from halfway around the world and get out of a freaking WAR to get here. But that might just be me.)
So, I asked this family to try to schedule the burial anytime but between 1-3 on Thursday, as I have a pretty significant prenatal test that needs to be completed that day to determine whether we will be inducing this weekend. And guess when the burial was scheduled? Bet you can't....

yep -- 1 p.m.

But that's ok because the family had in mind the former pastor of our congregation who lives in the Quad Cities an hour from here. They didn't call him, of course, before arranging all of this and he is, predictably, I think, unavailable for the service. Phone calls to three other pastors have yielded naught in terms of a person able to cover the burial.
After calling my doctor who was willing to arrange for THREE people to come into work an hour earlier on Thursday so that I could have these tests at 7:30 a.m. and thus be done in time to do this burial, I decided to draw my line in the sand. I'm not doing the burial and will be going to my appointment at 1. The funeral director will find a pastor to officiate or I've offered to ask one of the elders in our congregation to do the service which I will prepare for them.
After a lot of phone calls and an equal or greater amount of prayer, I think this is ok. I hope this is ok. I struggle with guilt because I really did love this man who passed away. But on the other hand, I love my children and my husband and myself and I also need to attend to us. A pastor does get to draw some parameters, right?
Geez, I hope so.

Hurrah!! She's here!!

Little Lirah Noelle is finally here!
My mom left me a message a little while ago that my sister, Lillia, aka God's-most-patient-expectant-mother, had her water broken last night and got in the birthing tub about 9:30 p.m. Lirah emerged on her due date today at 12:55 a.m. She is 8 lbs and 19 inches long and apparently has dark hair and eyes and blond eyelashes and eyebrows. She was attended by her wonderful daddy, Jake, too. Big sister, Cleya, is probably bursting at the seams at Grandma's house.
I'm having a hard time NOT jumping in the car and driving south this minute, but only grandparents and siblings are allowed to visit the baby at the hospital, so it would be a long drive and I'd have to take binoculars and have Lil hold Lirah up at the window to be able to see anything. And that could just get awkward if a policeman happened to drive by and wondered what I was doing...
But if Sir Littler is remaining safely encased within me on Friday (and my doc says it's ok to go when I see her on Thursday) ... look out, Lirah, here comes Aunt Apey!
Anyway -- SHE'S HERE!! Hurrah!!

28 January 2007

The weekend in review

We've had a good weekend here. Yesterday we got the baby's room all cleaned out and mostly ready to be inhabited. Now there are just finishing touches left to do. Dennis' mom, Alice, is making bumper pads and curtains and we have a couple little hooks to hang up. Oh, and the glider we ordered from Walmart has to get here and be assembled, but then the room is ready to go. I'm excited to post pictures when we get it done.
We also did lots of organizing and tossing of our junk yesterday. That was good. We got lots of stuff that had just been irritating the heck out of me completely resolved. I am SO grateful for my patient, patient, patient husband! No one else could possibly love me enough to put up with me when pregnant, tired, and wanting things done NOW but with no real ability to do myself what I want to have done. If you read this, sweetheart -- thank you. I love you. He's just so incredibly good to me.
And so is his mother. This last week, she ended up watching Annalivia every day but one, so we had her over last night for dinner as a thank you. We had stuffed chicken breasts, garlic bread and salad and I made lemon bars, since I know she loves them. We ate plenty of them, too, and dinner was SO good!!
Today has been a strange day. It is one of those days that seems to be going on forever, on one hand, and on the other, has just flown by. The day started with a phone call from my pianist at church who is sick. That meant that we were either going to have old-fashioned church where we all sing a capella or we were going to have to dig out a cd of service music I had prepared sometime in the past with hymns provided by the Methodist hymnal on cd. Since this congregation does not sing, we opted for the latter.
Annalivia escaped her father in the first minute and a half of church and came up to visit Mommy on the chancel. After that, she was whisked away to Mommy's office and not seen til the end of church. Church went well until right before communion when Dennis came in and handed me a note that one of our dear church members passed away during the night. It was shocking to many of us, though he was near 90. I was grateful for the chance to pray with the congregation about our loss before church ended.
After church, Dennis and I were just kind of discombobulated and didn't seem to be able to use our brains in conjunction with our bodies. Or something like that. After ending up at three different eating establishments trying to get lunch, we finally went for a long drive and let Annalivia sleep while we ate carryout pizza. That was really very nice. It was also the first time I've been up in Oregon, IL, where Dennis works, since we had our accident. For some reason, that stuff is significant now when it wasn't before. It was nice to get over that mental hurdle.
When we got home, I got bitten by a reorganizing bug and ended up changing around some furniture in the bedrooms. Again, I would refer everyone to the paragraph referencing Dennis' patience. We moved lots of stuff around in Annalivia's room and in our room and Dennis and his brother hauled away some of it for temporary storage out at his country house. Now I feel like the baby can arrive any moment and we'll be ok. And since I had lots of contractions while moving everything around, I'm glad I feel that way!
And tonight, we had beef and noodles for dinner which was great in this incredibly cold and frigid weather and we watched some of a really interesting program on rhinoceroses on PBS tonight while also reading for the millionth time the book A Baby on the Way to Annalivia. Then after her bath tonight, our big girl went to sleep for the first time in her toddler bed. I keep checking on her to make sure she hasn't fallen out. So far, she's doing fine.
So. That was our weekend. It was good. A little weird but good. And it went far too fast. Hope everyone out there is staying warm and enjoying time with loved ones!

26 January 2007

My day of rest

Today I have nothing to do.

Well, actually, that's untrue. There's a lot I should do, so I'll rephrase. Today, I'm going to do very little.

It's the first day all week when I don't have to be somewhere, namely a doctor's office. It's also the first time all week that I don't have to drive to Dixon. I'm going to try to avoid just showing up there accidentally.

My official plan for the day involves arising with my daughter, getting her milk and breakfast, taking my insulin, using the facilities, laying down on the couch in my bathrobe and dozing while PBS entertains The Bug for a little while. In that order.

After that, I may do some work on bulletins for maternity leave and a newsletter. Or I might not. I might try to put in a load of wash or two. Or make some cookies and cookie dough to freeze. Or get to the store. Or I might not.

I might just watch Annalivia play then take a nap with her and then watch her play some more. I've missed her this week and today there are no outside demands on this momma. I'm thankful for that and now going back to bed to enjoy the first part of the day in the restless sleep of the late third trimester. If you call, please forgive me if I don't answer. It's officially my day of rest.

25 January 2007

Secret suspicions confirmed

Lovely Psalmist (or as I affectionately refer to her, "Psalmy") posted this great little diversion. See her place for all the hat tips and in the meantime, go find out about your inner aristocrat(s).
My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Her Exalted Highness Duchess April the Incontrovertible of Lower Wombleshire

Known in some parts as:

Milady the Right Reverend April the Undefeated of Westley Waterless
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

You know... it's just been so difficult convincing the plebians of Westley Waterless to exalt me in the manner to which I became accustomed in Wombleshire.


edited to add:
Her Eminence the Very Viscountess Annalivia the Precocious of Piddletrenthide Under Booth


Venerable Lord Dennis the Profuse of Yetts O'Muckhart
seem to be out of the loop on proper treatment of us also. (Yes, that's the royal, "we" in use there.)

Now -- leave our chamber.

24 January 2007

Some needed prayers

In the wee hours of the morning, I'd like to request some prayers for some dear ones who have been on my heart....
  • My good friend from college, Amy, and her husband, Jim, are expecting their second child. Their first son was born in July very prematurely and did not survive. Tomorrow Amy will have a cerclage -- a surgical procedure where her cervix will be closed. I'm praying for peace for Amy and Jim and protection for Amy and the little one. They are understandably very nervous.
  • Crystal, an internet friend (though it seems like she's much more than that), and her family have received word that her daughter, Emily, who has been combatting thyroid cancer, will have to undergo further radiation and treatment. Little Emily and her family have handled this situation with such grace -- it's a true inspiration. I am praying for healing for Emily and assurance and even more love for this family who has touched so many of us.
  • Several years ago, Cathy, the niece of a church member, began attending church after she found herself pregnant and was thus deserted by her boyfriend of almost 10 years. She moved in with her aunt, who is just one of the most wonderful people I've ever met and came to church almost every week and we all watched her get ready for the baby. She gave birth to her son, Reese, the week before Dennis and I got married in July 2003 and then moved back home to be near her parents in Iowa. Today we found out that Cathy, who is just 37, had to have triple bypass surgery. She went to the hospital with chest pains and they tried to do a stint and her artery collapsed. The surgery went ok, but she apparently has veins and arteries that are abnormally thin. Several women in her extended family have died very young and her own mother suffered a stroke at 48, but no one knew that this was the problem. Tonight Cathy is in ICU and her parents are caring for her son. I don't think this family has a church family to support them and they are 3 hours away from us. I'm praying that they are finding tangible support from friends and family and know God's peace and assurance of how much God loves Cathy and little Reese. And I'm praying for miraculous healing.
Again, if any of you are able, please consider lifting these folks up in prayer. Thank you!

22 January 2007

My unexpected friend

Today is my little sistah Lil's birthday. She's 25 today. She's also 39 weeks pregnant.
I am so thankful for Lillia. She is a friend I am still kind of surprised that I have.
Lillia is 6 1/2 years younger than I am. When she was born, I don't think my sister, Marissa, and I knew what to make of her. Consequently, we made life pretty difficult for little Lil.
Somehow, despite our best efforts, Lillia grew up into this person who is gracious and kind, easy-going yet passionate, disciplined and devoted. She's hilarious and intelligent and has always been one of the most generous and creative people I've ever met. She's a great mother and a blessed wife. Essentially, she is who I want to be.
What is especially cool is that Lillia is a great friend to me. She is the sister I call a couple times a week and she lets me talk to her about everything. She's great at maintaining levity and also being a sympathetic commiserator when necessary.
She's just one cool chicka.
And today, she is 25 and more than ready to give birth to her second child, her second daughter. I'm excited about that niece, but, frankly, today I'm more excited that God gave me this little sister to love and adore and treasure. Now that I've gained some wisdom with age, I see that her family were the ones who got the gift on her birthday. She really is amazing. And I'm glad she's here.

Hanging out with my homeboy

Today I went to the OB just like I do every Monday. And Thursday. And some Fridays. And Sundays.
Anyway -- went to the OB today at week 36 and my blood pressure was miraculously down, the baby performed beautifully on the non-stress test and got an 8 out of 8 on his biophysical profile, and my 24 hour urine test results were perfect. All of which is great!
And all of which led my OB to say, "You know, if we can get you to 38 weeks, that would be great."
Now, please, don't get me wrong-- I'm VERY thankful that my little boy is ok and that I'm ok and that the only thing wrong is that I am a little anemic and thus have to take some iron supplement, and perhaps only mothers who have borne children into their 9th month will understand this when I say that I'm a little disappointed that she's contemplating abandoning the 37 week plan. I'm just sayin' -- it was kind of exciting to think that I only had a week or so left to be poked, prodded, pummelled and provoked by the potent combination of gestational diabetes, the attendant high blood pressure, an extremely cautious physician and a very active baby. I can, of course, deal with it for as long as necessary. It's just that my homeboy and I get to hang a little longer than I was expecting and, well, I AM God's most impatient person, after all...
But, hey -- all is well! And that's very good news.

21 January 2007

REALLY fabulous peanut butter cookies for cheaters

I have been CRAVING peanut butter cookies during the last few months of this pregnancy -- real peanut butter cookies like my grandmother has made in the past. I've not however made any because I find cookie-making to be a tedious pain in the butoushka most of the time.
Last week, I bought a Betty Crocker peanut butter cookie mix and my dear love mixed them up and made them for me. He did a fine job mixing, but they weren't as I remembered them -- not peanut-y enough and certainly not that great mix of chewy and crumbly that a truly fine peanut butter cookie should be.
It occurred to me sometime this week that I could maybe modify the mix, though, and come up with something pretty close. Tonight I did and besides being really quick, these are SO good, probably mainly due to the fact that with my additions, both purposeful and accidental, I probably quadrupled or quintupled the fat content.
Peanut Butter Cookies
3/4 cup peanut butter
6 T butter, softened
2 eggs
1 T vanilla
1 pkg. peanut butter cookie mix
Optional ingredients -- about 2 doz. Reese's Peanut Butter Hearts or miniature cups or Hershey's Kisses, if you're a purist, or Dove Dark Chocolate Treasures, if you're an indulgent gourmand, unwrapped and uneaten while they sit beckoningly on the counter
Preheat oven to 375.
Cream together peanut butter, butter, eggs and vanilla til well blended and slightly fluffy. Add peanut butter mix slowly til mixed together. Make ping-pong sized balls.
For traditional pb cookies, roll in sugar and then flatten with a glass dipped in sugar or make crosshatches from the tine prints of a fork dipped in sugar. Bake about 6-8 minutes or til very lightly browned on edges.
For blossoms -- just pop in the oven for about 10-12 minutes or until edges are very lightly browned. Remove and place unwrapped choco delicacy in the center, pressing down slightly to flatten the cookie. Force yourself to let the cookie cool before you gobble it up. And pace yourself -- they're pretty rich.
Should make about 2 doz cookies. Our batch was 22 today, though some got a little big, but they look nice with the peanut butter hearts in them. (I'm telling myself that I'm going to freeze a dozen for Valentine's Day. We all know I'm fooling myself, but for now, it's a nice lie.)

Superbowl Shuffle

Yeah, it's a stupid title. But I'm just saying -- my guess is that if there's not a re-record, we'll hear a lot of the original in the next two weeks.
Anyway -- THE BEARS HAVE WON!! How much fun is that?

Parenting with a human heart

I am awake far too early this morning having been driven from my bed by a combination of low blood sugar, a kicking baby, and a kicking toddler who never seems to stay asleep when Momma puts her to bed.
I don't like it when I wake up at this time of the night. For some reason, anytime after 4 a.m., my brain wakes up far too eagerly and I find it darn near impossible to just go back to bed and go to sleep. Instead I go back to bed and lay awake, thinking, imagining, turning whatever it is that's going on in my head over and over and over.
Tonight I got up and was thinking about being a parent and making mistakes. I've had a lot of fun being Annalivia's parent lately. I think I go to bed every single night and fall asleep smiling as I glow about some wonderful miscellaneous thing that she has done. (Tonight she was in a very kissy mood -- it's quite precious.)

But tonight I was thinking that as Annalivia matures, I think my daily mistake tally has narrowed when it comes to the obvious and increased probably exponentially when it comes to the less obvious.
Thinking about this led me to wonder -- do experienced parents ever look back and just grieve their parenting mistakes?
I mean this less in a beat-myself-up sort of way and more in the way one's heart feels a heaviness and true sorrow when a deep loss has occurred. Do folks think about their parenting mistakes and just grieve the loss contained therein?

I'm continually realizing -- the job of being a parent is just SO big. And one of the biggest parts of being a parent is being entrusted with nurturing, but also protecting, a child's sense of self. That's such a fragile thing in some ways. Oh, I know -- children are resilient and blah, blah, blah, but there is also a sense in which they just aren't. And how a parent treats a child throughout the child's life forms that child in a way that other relationships just don't.
So making mistakes with a little one is so different, I think, than making mistakes with the other relationships we've been given to nurture and protect. With other relationships, we can also do irreparable harm with carelessness. But as parents, we are powerful in a way that is so frightening sometimes. The things we say and do are stored deep, deep inside this little being and will be there for the rest of their lives. When those things will emerge will not be determined by us or by our children; those things will speak whenever they will speak whether our children are in our presence or whether they are alone at 5 in the morning. Those things don't silence when a child turns 16 or 21 or 31 or, I'm assuming, beyond.

I guess I don't know quite what to do in response to my failures. I work on turning them over to God and I try to apologize for my mistakes and ask forgiveness from Annalivia when I make them, even now when forgiveness is completely forthcoming. But I confess, I think that I will probably always grieve these losses and I imagine that when I start making the really big mistakes, which I'm assuming I will because I am entirely too human, after all, that those things will hurt my heart the way not much has before.

Yes, parenting is a big, big job. And the grace it requires, the grace I will need -- well, I'm just beginning to get small glimpses of just how vast that ocean of grace will have to be. I pray I'm smart enough and humble enough to bathe in it.

And now, I think I'm at least smart enough to go back to bed. Blessings of the day (and night) to all of you.

16 January 2007

Favorite Annalivia words

I love the way language is forming in Annalivia's mind and in her mouth. When she talks about her toes, she always says, "Toe-eees" in this great sing-song voice. For "baby" she says, "meme," which, incidentally, is the same word for "pee-pee."
My favorite though is her word for "turtle" which consists of her sticking her tongue out of her mouth and making an "mwanle, mwanle, mwanle" sound (are you all trying it?). It IS kind of funny word when you think about it, you know...

15 January 2007

He takes the plunge

Well, not, THE plunge.
But dear James has committed to Blogspot and that is something to celebrate 'round here.
Check it out.

14 January 2007

Annual meeting angst

I hate the Annual Meeting.
I don't say, "I hate" about too many things, because about most things, I just don't really feel that worked up about. But I hate the Annual Meeting of our church. And I'm not the only one.
We had ours today after church. I think most of the saner members of our congregation had been praying for a reprieve in the form of an ice storm. God did not deliver.
The Annual Meetings are always a time of big stress for our congregation. I have no idea why. Literally all the information contained therein has been presented to the board in the months leading up to the meeting. Basically, it just contains financial reports, ministry reports, and the proposed budget for the coming year. It should not be a big deal.
But it is. And it certainly was today. And, as is usually the case at these things, attacks were directed at me. Fun times.
Today's budget included a proposed 3% cost of living increase for me. This is the first cost of living increase I've received in my 5 1/2 years here. Now, to be fair to the congregation, we've done lots of jockeying of my package about. But it has never increased. When I got married, I had them move the amount they paid in healthcare into my salary since I was covered by Dennis. They saved $100 doing that. Then when I had Annalivia, I took a 1/4 salary decrease in order to have her with me. Last year, we didn't do anything to it. This year -- we finally did what should have been done all along and increased it. A whopping 3%.
Most people did not have a problem with it, but there are two main antagonists in the congregation who did have a problem, but did not want to have a verbal vote on it. They wanted a secret ballott. That was rejected by the board chair, so the budget passed. No one voted against it.
Then we voted on my proposed maternity leave. I had tried to craft this maternity leave with ultra-sensitivity to what worked and what didn't when I had Annalivia. So I proposed that I take 4 weeks of leave from the pulpit, during which time I'd be available for emergencies and funerals as able, would do newsletters/ bulletins, as necessary and would be available for questions and concerns. I offered to use my vacation time for this leave. Then, rather than taking the other two weeks off of the pulpit that I took with Annalivia, I requested 4 weeks of slow return during which time I wouldn't attempt office hours, but would do the mid-week Lenten service, bulletins, sermons, choir practice, etc. I asked that my salary, benefits remain the same during both periods. I really honestly thought that this was an incredibly generous proposal and when I presented it to the pastor/ parish relations committee and to the elders, they voiced their appreciation for it also and approved it quickly and unanimously.
But today, the antagonists said that they thought I shouldn't get paid full salary for the second four weeks. And further, they said, TONS of people agreed with them, but just wouldn't speak up about it. Which then devolved into a conversation about how people talk to the elders but nothing ever gets done about their concerns and no one is available for them to talk to about their worries and the church is in trouble and blah blah blah. We finally got back to conversation about the maternity leave and I told them that I thought the proposal was more than fair given that the first four weeks were not really vacation at all. And finally, they took a secret ballot vote and it passed 16 to 8, though I'm sure if we did that verbally that not one person would have dissented.


Aside from the fact that I can't stop thinking about it, there are several things that bother me. The first is that there is always a kernel of truth in criticism. This time, I think it is about office hours. I have an incompetent secretary and have let her run amok (though in my defense, it's only in the last month that I've figured out just how incompetent she is.) She needs constant supervision and I've not been willing or able to give it to her. Nevermind the fact that our congregation just simply cannot have a secretary who needs constant supervision. Right now, unless the personnel committee decides to do otherwise, she's the secretary.
The second thing that really bothers me is that once again, trouble is brewing and I'm not clued in. And because I'm not plugged in, I don't know whether it's several people or a dozen people or what. I don't know if it centers on home visitation concerns or anxiety about availability after the baby is born or whether it is just that I minister to older folks who really have nothing to do during the winter other than talk to each other on the phone and complain a lot -- which I mean in the nicest way possible, I promise.
The third thing that bothers me is that we have systems set up to deal with this stuff -- we have elders and a pastor/ parish ministry team that generally reflects the make-up of the entire congregation. We have board meetings and ministry team meetings. Yet, the folks in the system don't know how to handle their responsibilities. The elders don't know how to defend themselves against attacks or how to respond graciously to concerns. The pastor/ parish group doesn't know how to seek opinions of others and provide an appearance that concerns are being parlayed to the appropriate parties. The board and ministry teams try to handle everything and end up doing nothing. I end up feeling as though I must kick-start everything in order for it to be started and monitor everything in order for it to be accomplished and when I don't do those things, which I don't much of the time, whatever it is that needs to be, is not.
Fourth -- I don't know if I have the energy or desire to deal with it all. For all that I've written about faithfulness to call, I don't know if I can work out this call. I'm praying for energy and strength and desire to be faithful, but I'm tired. I'm about to give birth, and frankly, I JUST DON'T WANT to make the political phone calls and explain to the Pastor/ Parish team for the gazillionth time how to invite people into sharing with them and talk my crazy secretary into leaving stuff alone in the office because we all function much better when we know where things are. Part of me is resentful. They should know this stuff. They should be able to talk to each other. They should be able to talk to me.
And on the other hand, this is where I was called -- to minister to people even if I don't wanna. Even if they should know better. And this is where I've been blessed. And this is where I'm supposed to be. I know this.

I've been reading Anne Lamott's Plan B: Some Further Thoughts on Faith. Her book, Travelling Mercies, saved my life in seminary, literally, so I've been excited to read this. She writes about a church conflict,
"At times like these, I believe, Jesus rolls up his sleeves, smiled roguishly, and thinks, 'This is good.' He lets me get nice and crazy, until I can't take my own thinking and solutions for one more moment.
So the next morning, I got on my knees and prayed, "Please, please help me. Please let me feel You while I adjust to not getting what I was hoping for." And then I remembered Rule 1: When all else fails, follow instructions. And Rule 2: Don't be an a-hole."
Good advice. While I'm praying for instructions, I'll be resisting any urge to ignore #2.
Of course, I'm probably going to need a lot of prayer for that. It's far easier to ignore #2 than put into action #1.

12 January 2007

Such a great daddy

Tonight Dennis and Annalivia put together the changing table for the baby's room and when I say that they both put it together, I mean it. He let her put the screws in the holes and tighten them with the allen wrench and had her hand him boards and things.
He's just such an amazing daddy. His patience just overwhelms me sometimes. Thank God for his patience! Maybe Annalivia will learn that from him.
Right now, I hear him snoring in Annalivia's room. He must have fallen asleep in the chair. He deserves to rest, but I think I'll go get him. I want to tell him in person how glad I am that he has fathered my children.

Sunday forecast

Sunday is our Annual Meeting at church
But, more importantly, the Bears are in the playoffs.
There is a reported winter storm headed our way that is making both pastors of elderly congregants and their espoused Bears-fans a little nervous. The crucial question of when church should be cancelled, it it were to be necessary, will be answered later.
The question of whether the Bears will play? Here ya go.

11 January 2007

Does compensation cloud calling?

Another thing that I've been mulling over as I've been thinking about these calling/ coming/ leaving issues the last couple of years is that I really only see this angst-y struggle occurring in seminary-trained, ordained pastors. The lay ministers I've met, most of whom are bi-vocational or second-career folks, many of whom are minorities, don't seem to be dealing with this stuff in their churches and ministries. Why is that?
One of our fastest growing DOC churches, doing really effective ministry here in Illinois is pastored by an African American guy who has two other jobs in addition to pastoring this church of 400. AND...
A good friend in seminary was part-time pastor/ developer in a Hispanic congregation where he was deeply appreciated and respected, where people tithed at a 10% or above level and where the congregation tithed to our denomination at a 10% or above level, where almost everyone was involved in real outreach ministry and evangelism and where the congregation doubled in two years. When I've talked to them about call, they talk about it being dynamic and fluid and developed in relationship with their congregations. Granted -- their churches are dynamic and fluid, so maybe that's where the impetus is, BUT...
I also have a good friend in Peoria who is a lay minister of a very small no-more-than-30-people-in-worship, congregation who is just one of the best pastors I've ever met and also has this sense of continued call WITH his congregation that is just amazing. They don't really do awe-inspiring ministry, but when I'm around those folks, it just seems as though everyone is very happy, very secure and very Spirit-filled. From looking at the numbers, they don't look like a dynamic congregation, but they are, in their own way. *
So why is that? Is there something about becoming "established" in the way that many of those of us who are seminary-trained and ordained have become, that clouds calling? And clouds the calling of both the church and the pastor?
When our denomination, as well as many denominations, took off here in America, churches were established and maintained by lay people. Professional preachers came in occasionally to lead revivals or tent meetings, or even to preach for special services, but for the most part, ministry was maintained by and for the laity. Even when congregations became established, pastors were often called, given a place to live, and given a promise that the congregation would care for them. Their salaries were often not formalized and certainly not to the extent that they included pension, professional expenses, healthcare, etc. In many places, this trend was abandoned only after WWII when other groups of professionals became more organized and formalized and standardized. That's not a long time, really. What generally DID NOT happen was that a congregation would spend 60% or more of its annual budget on the pastor and the pastor's benefits.
I wonder if the interdependence this kind of system would have created worked to the benefit of both pastor and congregation? Obviously, the roles of the pastor and laity had to be those of partnership. The roles of both pastor and laity had to have a necessary humilty to them. I don't, however, want to overly romanticize this situation. It had to be darn hard for men and women called into ministry. It was probably worse on their families. It must have been difficult for congregations, too.
But -- when a congregation calls a pastor and agrees to provide for her/his salary, benefits, housing, etc., do we lose something essential to being in effective partnership together? Does a congregation hand over the responsibility for doing ministry to the pastor, whether subconsciously or consciously? Does the pastor become dependent in unhealthy ways -- afraid to be challenging or resentful of perceived lack of care?
I don't really know if there's an answer here, but perhaps exploring those areas where our congregations are in vital partnership with their pastors would be an excellent step towards increased vitality in other congregations. And among pastors, too. Thoughts, anyone?

*(I could go on and on with examples, but, as I've said before, I hate to be too specific because we are, after all, "The Brotherhood," and the association with the mafia that might have popped into your head is apt, not so much for the internal squabbling/ rub-outs (although there's far too much of that), but more for the fact that we all know each other and even a small number of facts can clue almost anyone in on who exactly I know. These three guys know of my admiration for them and the fact that I regularly hold them up as shining examples of calling.)

10 January 2007

If you missed NPR tonight...

Take a moment or two and check out this great reflection by Kevin Kling. Great car moment listening to that today.
And if you want to be amused, listen to more of his reflections, especially this one, which should appeal to you church-y folks. Search at NPR under Kevin Kling. Hours of amusement.

09 January 2007

So close, and yet so far...

Great link to an article on growing churches here.
My sister, Roo, referred me to this after playing the hand drum at my church on Christmas eve where there were a whopping two ethnic minorities in attendance and her sister, the pastor, had to forcibly not look at her other sisters when the teenage reader talked about the magi paying "home-age" to the baby Jesus as we are from one of the most irreverent families God has ever created, but...um... 60% men we just DO NOT have.
Oh well.

the JC password

So apparently our Lord, Jesus Christ, was sometimes a little confusing.
Who knew?
I'm enjoying reading Brian McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus. It's provocative, but a quick read, which is exactly what I need for my gestational-hormone-addled brain. I'm taking it with me to doctor's appointments and am zipping through.
Anyone else read it? I'm interested to hear others' thoughts on it. I've not read any other McLaren, but was reading on some conservative blogs that he's "asking the right questions, but not coming up with the right conclusions" or something like that. And on some liberal blogs, he and Jesus apparently go to parties together, they're so tight.
The young female clergy who have agreed to participate in a blog initiated by a RevGal are discussing it later this month, probably right around the time I give birth. Although I'm interested to hear that discussion, we are all from the same liberal, mainline traditions. It would be nice to hear some other voices weighing in.
I'll keep y'all updated.

08 January 2007

Apparently even the popular kids need Jesus

I found out this week that yet another seminary colleague is leaving his/ her church position for the second time since we graduated five years ago.

I don't know why this distresses me so, or if it bothers anyone other than me that the average length of time for a minister in his/ her first call after seminary is less than two years. (I have no independent confirmation of that figure, fyi -- that's just the casual wisdom cited around the seminary when I was in attendance.) But it really bugs me that my generation of clergy are bailing out on congregations, and in some cases, leaving ministry all together. I've been thinking about why this is a lot and I've come up with one of my theories that I'd like to post here, knowing fully that this probably doesn't make a lot of difference to pretty much anyone who may be reading this, but also knowing that some of you will suffer through my rant just because you're nice people. So thanks.

I want to admit up front before I start said rant -- I am someone who has thought about moving a thousand times and in the last five and a half years of my employment at FCC, Rock Falls, I've had my name in the Search and Call system three times. The first time was when I'd been here for about two years and was prompted, by some miscellaneous discontent -- I think I thought I wasn't being paid enough, the church wasn't changing enough, people actually wanted me to visit their friends in the nursing home -- something like that...

Anyway, by the grace of God, and by the grace of God alone, I was never contacted by any viable options when I put my papers out into the system. And each time, within a couple of months, something happened -- I got a raise, met Dennis, got pregnant -- that would prompt me to return to my belief that God called me here in the first place.

(Point of clarification for those who don't know and do care -- in our denomination, congregations call ministers directly; we are not appointed. Our denominational system to "facilitate" "(whether it actually "facilitates" is an entirely other post/ rant) this process is referred to as "Search and Call" which is a pretty self-explanatory term.)

Here's my experience, that I think pretty similarly echoes the experience of many of my seminary colleagues, if they are honest about it. I'm sure there are exceptions and this really may not apply to anyone out of my denominational circle. You can let me know.

Like many of my clergy colleagues, I grew up in the church. My home congregation was "home" in more than one way. It was the place I felt loved and embraced. It was a place of comfort and nurture. It was also the place that I was adored.

I loved being adored at church. My congregation, like those of many of my clergy colleagues, was one that had been gloriously relevant about 10 years before I was born and was/ is still adjusting to a lack of young families and the whole-hearted involvement of children, youth, young adults, middle aged adults, older adults, etc. in its' programs.

When I was growing up, there were about 10 of us in our youth group. About five of us were die-hards. And we were adored. We were allowed to sit in the back of the church and leave and go hang out in the youth room during the sermon. We were allowed to direct Christmas pageants and present special "Youth Worship" services. We were encouraged to plan all sorts of fun fellowship events. And when we did these things, we were lauded and applauded and smiled upon by our elders.

And I, and most of my seminary colleagues, received our calls to ministry during this time. Usually these calls came at church camp when we were surrounded by other teens in a potent mix of devotion and hormones and exceedingly high humidity or mission trips where we were free of parents and aware in a new way of a world beyond us and the possibility of being part of something larger than ourselves. And we took those calls and earnestly expressed them to our home congregations where they lauded and applauded and smiled at us and directed us towards our denominational colleges, which, incidentally, were coming to terms with pre-ministry programs that had peaked about 50 years before I was born. And when we applied to these colleges, they directed us to the fellowships and scholarships and endowments left by folks who had graduated 50 years before we were born and put us in contact with a Chaplain who encouraged many of us to work with our region in the camping program during the summer or at a church as an intern during the year where we were, of course, lauded and applauded and smiled upon. And when we graduated from college, we went to our denominational seminaries where most of us received free or mostly free tuition and where we remained in the very small world that is our denomination, well-connected to regions and camping programs and pastors who had smiled upon us. And those same people encouraged us to apply near them or for them or to them for positions when we came to ordination and then we ended up in our first churches.
But somewhere along the line, someone forgot to memo these first churches and tell them that we were supposed to be adored for simply being young and at church. For a while, most of us were, of course, adored for just being there, but like all honeymoons periods, eventually the moon waned. And that's when many of us put papers into Search and Call and moved on to a second congregation where we settled for while, though many of us are vaguely or even keenly aware that there MUST be another congregation out there somewhere that is a better fit for us.

So with that background-- here's what I realized about myself about a year ago that led me to my thoughts on why me and so many of my colleagues have wrestled with our first (or second) callings (or, as I like to call it -- April's Grand Theory on Wussy and Whiny Pastors). Those who know me, know that I have a very annoying habit of thinking that everything that applies to me probably applies to everyone else as well...
I should mention -- I have seen apparent exceptions to this theory and actually am privileged to work with one in my neighboring town. He inspires me. But what I've observed in him also convicts me that I may just be right about this theory.

ANYWAY -- I realized that in all that time of connection to the church, I had developed a strong relationship with the church, but not actually with Jesus. In fact, my spiritual development was about nil. I knew what to say about it to convince my ordination committee that I was sufficiently prepared to lead a church. I knew how to pass off to a search committee my sacrificial love for a potential congregation. I knew how to be indignant about other clergy who didn't share my apparent devotion to some miscellaneous cause/ theology or another. But in actuality, the relationship with Jesus that had the power to sustain me in ministry -- the reason on which I should have based my entire life -- did not exist in any real form. Oh sure, it was there when I was desperate or angry or tired. But it was not an integral part of me.

And though ultimately my spiritual development was/ is my own responsibility, almost NEVER was I challenged about that on the way through the hoops to ordination and my first call. My ordination committee raised a perfunctory question that was sufficiently distressing to me that I should have seen red flags all over the place, but they were easily pacified. And I was/ am one who wears my spiritual disfunction on the outside. When I was in seminary, I was a 350 lb, slobby, and desperate mess of a person and I'd been that mess of a person since my sophomore year of college. I don't know if I would have had ears to hear it, but I do think someone in the church should have said, "You know, going into the ministry is not going to fix this self-loathe thing you have going." And then someone else probably should have said it again. About 100 times.

But they didn't. And seminary certainly did not help it. And though none of my seminary colleagues wore their fear/ anxiety/ spiritual angst like I did, I can tell you -- many of those people had/have BIG issues -- and the most common one that I saw and experienced and shared was the desperate need for adoration from others. And though many of us got that at church growing up, I think a lot of us are in crisis because adoration is much less forthcoming after the first year of ministry and we don't have the spiritual resources to fall back on when the adoration is gone.

In my personal experience, about a year ago, I was once again flummoxed by dissention at church. Some of it wasn't fair, but some of it was and I found myself retreating back to the old "well, maybe it's time to move on" thought process. And suddenly I realized that when God called me to ministry, He called me to follow Jesus. He called me to minister to people. And ministering to people WAS NOT dependent on whether they ministered to me first. When God called me to ministry, He called me to a missionary position. My job, from God, is to minister. And whether I'm ministered to -- well, that's someone else's job. It's real nice if it happens, but my calling -- to ministry and to this congregation in particular -- can't depend on whether they minister to me first. I was called to follow Jesus. And Jesus ended up on the cross. I hope it doesn't come to that, but that's what I was called to do and that's what I agreed to do so that's what I have to do.

See -- the thing was -- the relationship with the church was not enough to sustain in times of pressure and frustration. The adoration was fleeting. And the relationship with the church was not deep enough to redeem me when I'd made mistakes and hurt people. It was usually not enough to redeem others when they'd made mistakes and hurt me. Being lauded and applauded and smiled upon was just not enough, especially when I knew that I didn't deserve the applause.

I've realized that the relationship with the church is a wonderful side-benefit of my relationship with Jesus. And I have to say -- it has gotten 1000 times better since I stopped expecting the church to prove its love for me before I was willing to show my love for it. It's still icky sometimes. Sometimes it's downright shitty (sorry, Gramps, for the curse word). But inevitably there is grace somewhere in the midst of the gunk that arrives when I focus on why exactly I am in ministry.

What distresses me about my colleagues in ministry dropping off like flies to the left and right is that our denomination is already in decline. Big-time decline. And many congregations have very distrustful relationships with pastors partly because pastors have treated them poorly. And to be fair to pastors, many congregations have treated pastors incredibly poorly, too.

BUT -- expecting that a congregation will understand its calling before we ourselves are willing to understand and enact our callings is reverting back to that adored high-school youth group member mentality. I'm not saying that we offer ourselves up for crucifixion everytime the CWF wants to change the silverware in the kitchen, BUT we MUST be willing to sacrifice more than a commensurate salary in a secular job and a nice house, right?

IT IS OUR JOBS AS PASTORS to be willing to "go for them." And if we don't do it -- who will? Didn't God ask us? Didn't we say, "yes?" So why are we complaining, whining, and wussing out from where we need to be?

Yes, so. That's my rant. It is, indeed, SO one-sided and one-dimensional. I do know that and I continue to remind myself to pray for my brothers and sisters in ministry.

My prayer is that God will raise up in each of us a willingness to be called and to respond to that calling. Sometimes doing God's work seems so exhausting. But I think there are wings like eagles waiting for us if we are willing to set down what keeps us from being lifted up. And it seems to me that believing that promise and searching out the Promiser has made such an enormous difference in being able to hear the call in the midst of frustration. I hope others are renewed and restored. I need them to be here.

06 January 2007

Marketing failure

This afternoon, we needed some basics to put us in the position to complete the nursery project so after the Bug woke up from her nap, all of us took a trip out to Menards.
We started by looking for a light fixture. Annalivia was helping us push the cart, rather than riding in it, and was doing a good job of standing right by us as we headed down an aisle of light covers. As Dennis and I looked at some standard frosted glass light covers, our daughter still standing right next to us, we heard the exclamation, "BALL!!" followed immediately by shattering glass.
Turns out that the brilliant marketers at Menards had some soccer ball-shaped globe light covers on a bottom shelf where little eyes could easily see them. Annalivia's little eyes saw them and thinking them to be actual soccer balls had grabbed one and slammed it into the floor using both hands.
It didn't bounce.
But that marketing scheme sure did work!

05 January 2007

Really funny television

Tonight I had one of those great experiences that seem to occur incredibly rarely -- I saw something absolutely hysterical on a television show. Dennis and I were watching Arrested Development on dvd. We are now on season 2 and there was a moment in the episode titled, "Meat the Veals" when Dennis and I both started laughing so hard that we cried. We had to stop the dvd so we could laugh and then replay it 10 times before we moved on. I'm smiling just thinking about it.
Obviously, I'm not going to describe it because it would lose most everything in translation, but isn't it nice to experience absolute hilarity in a place you don't usually experience it? I am usually mildly amused, at best, by tv shows. I would say there are some that are highly amusing. But raucously hilarious is rare. Very, very rare.
Edited to add: I should mention -- Arrested Development would probably be in very poor taste to some. I think it's brilliant. But, then, I'm very weird.

04 January 2007

Homemade pizza extravaganza

This afternoon I've been making pizza crusts after having spent most of the morning dozing on the couch while PBS helped Annalivia entertain herself (if I categorized my posts, I believe this would go under "Bad Mothering.")
ANYWAY, this afternoon I've been pretty productive. So far, I've made 6 pizza crusts, which has been just about the easiest cooking I've done thanks to a recipe from Lynn at Choosing Home, my breadmaker and three foil pizza pans I bought at Kroger for $1.24 yesterday. I'm posting the recipe, which I altered a bit at the bottom of this post. Basically, I just let the breadmaker mix it, then as soon as one batch was raising, started the second. I might put in a third and make 9 pizzas!
One of the women at the CH Forum pre-bakes these crusts and wraps them and freezes them so as to have homemade crusts available anytime. My plan is to let these crusts cool and then freeze them for a couple of hours, take them out and top them quickly, then wrap them up tightly and freeze them again so that we will have homemade pizzas in the chest freezer. I'm also going to send some down to my sister, Lil, who could be giving birth at any moment and thus relieve a little of my I'm-a-selfish-big-sister guilt.
So -- this evening I'm making deluxe pizzas (sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, green olives and cheese), Garden Ranch pizzas (broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, red peppers and mozzarella over a garlic ranch sauce) and Spinach Artichoke pizzas. Don't those sound good? We're having pizza tonight, too, by the way!
I'm hoping this works and does not make soggy pizzas when they are reheated. We have a pizza stone which should help when baking them again. I'm a little worried about the frozen fresh veggies, but even if these pizzas are a tad soggy, they'll be FAR cheaper and much more healthy than the other options available to us post-partum.

Pizza Dough
2 cups warm water
2 T honey
1 T salt
1/4 c olive oil
5 cups flour (I've been using 4 cups whole wheat and 1 unbleached white today)
2 T yeast
Put in breadmaker in order listed. Allow breadmaker to mix. (Keep an eye on it -- you may need to add more flour to make a soft dough). When done, let rest 5 minutes or so. Divide into three portions and press into pans oiled with olive oil (can use a little cornmeal for a nice texture on the bottom, too!) If you want to make seasoned crusts, brush them with a little olive oil and add your seasonings (like Italian seasonings and parmesan, for example).
Pierce with a fork and let rise about 25-30 minutes til it is nice and puffy. (Lynn's original recipe doesn't have the time for the rise, but if you do take the time, you'll end up with much thicker, chewier crusts, which we really like).
Bake at 425 for 5-7 minutes. At this point, I slid mine off the foil pans and chilled for freezing. If you have a pizza stone and are going to continue baking, now we be a great time to put it on the stone, top it quickly and then stick it back in for about 15-25 minutes, or til done. Keep an eye on it til you figure out what time works for you.

03 January 2007

Schizophrenic nesting

Well, the nesting urge has hit! Praise God and Hallelujah!!
I have a long list of things to do and am reminded what a scattered person I am as I have been trying to do stuff. Today I'm in the midst of making bread and pizza dough to freeze, but I've also been trying to let myself be pulled in a million other directions. I want to paint the wall in the baby's bedroom and do a couple loads of laundry and look for turkey recipes online and blah blah blah rather than doing what I've decided I need to do today.
This is why Flylady resonates with me so much. Left to my own devices, I not only multi-task, but multi-directionally multi-task leaving multiple things in multiple stages of completion.
So, today, I'm concentrating on doing my list even though my brain has figured out that it could have been much more efficiently compiled and constructed and wants to do the things on the mental list instead.
And maybe by this time next week, our child will have a momma pretty ready to welcome him into the world. I'll let y'all know...

01 January 2007

And here's to 2007!

Well, happy New Year, all! And White Rabbit, too.

What's weirdest to me about 2007 is that we're only 12 months from 2008. I don't know why that is so shocking to me, but it is. This year will mark 10 years since I graduated from college and next year will be 15 years since high school.

My goodness, I'm old.

On that note, it's 9 p.m. and time for me to go to bed. Happy New Year!

Five random things I've realized

In no particular order or relevance...
1. Funeral preferences tend to vary regionally
2. Most of the people around here whose families want their funeral service to be in the church are generally of two ilks: more rarely, the incredibly devout and devoted who have been instrumental to the life and work of the church; and more popularly, those who have not darkened the door of the church in the last 20 years or their entire lives
3. I have not actually worn my winter coat more than an hour this winter (i.e. since Dec. 21)
4. There are still people who believe that there is no such thing as global climate change
5. My last haircut was really terrible