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Archive for February, 2010

Gratitude

I have decided to post a weekly continuation of my previous blog about thankfulness.

This week’s  list of things for which I am thankful:

  • when my students “get it”
  • my son said he wanted a grilled cheese for lunch.  I asked “from Sonic?” He said, “oh no, mommy, from home.  Yours are so much better.”
  • even though I now need reading glasses for computer work, I scored some pretty cute ones that only cost $1
  • when my son quietly plays so that I may work/rest/read
  • my home
  • coffee talk with my dear friend Carol
  • Forgiveness
  • cozy,soft blankets
  • my sassy new haircut- it’s not all that drastic a change, but it makes me feel cute and young, which is a good combination
  • time to think
  • my parents
  • the promise of Spring
  • daily emails from a good friend that remind me of encouragement and God’s love
  • a weekend with my son
  • SNOW
  • reading good things that challenge me
  • the ability and opportunity to serve at Family Promise
  • a stack of new books and videos from the library
  • good poems- see the example below

“I Cannot Do This Alone” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you:
I cannot do this alone.

In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me…

Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before me.
Lord, whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.

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I just finished listening to this beautiful and sometimes painful novel on audio book.  I love the way Kidd develops the characters and crafts them in such a multi-dimensional way that I felt empathy, anger, disgust, and compassion for them all.  Kidd does a great job combining folklore (an interest of mine), Catholic doctrine, and psychology.  I particularly loved a reference to a prayer by Thomas Merton that was given to me years ago  by a much-loved professor and that I still keep on my mirror and read daily.  Tough subject matter, but worth the struggle.

Amazon.com Review

Sue Monk Kidd’s The Mermaid Chair is the soulful tale of Jessie Sullivan, a middle-aged woman whose stifled dreams and desires take shape during an extended stay on Egret Island, where she is caring for her troubled mother, Nelle. Like Kidd’s stunning debut novel, The Secret Life of Bees, her highly anticipated follow up evokes the same magical sense of whimsy and poignancy.While Kidd places an obvious importance on the role of mysticism and legend in this tale, including the mysterious mermaid’s chair at the center of the island’s history, the relationships between characters is what gives this novel its true weight. Once she returns to her childhood home, Jessie is forced to confront not only her relationship with her estranged mother, but her other emotional ties as well. After decades of marriage to Hugh, her practical yet conventional husband, Jessie starts to question whether she is craving an independence she never had the chance to experience. After she meets Brother Thomas, a handsome monk who has yet to take his final vows, Jessie is forced to decide whether passion can coexist with comfort, or if the two are mutually exclusive. As her soul begins to reawaken, Jessie must also confront the circumstances of her father’s death, a tragedy that continues to haunt Jessie and Nelle over thirty years later.

By boldly tackling such major themes as love, betrayal, grief, and forgiveness, The Mermaid Chair forces readers to question whether moral issues can always be interpreted in black or white. It is this ability to so gracefully present multiple sides of a story that reinforces Kidd’s reputation as a well-respected modern literary voice. –Gisele Toueg

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Give thanks in all circumstances,

for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1Thess. 5:18

I am the quintessential absent-minded professor sometimes, and as silly as it may seem, I like to keep lists on my Blackberry.  Lists of  things that my son says that make me laugh. Lists of books I want to read. Lists of movies I want to see. Lists of  blog ideas I want to write.  I think I am going to add a list of things for which I am thankful.  I love this verse.  I love that Paul tells us to give thanks “in” the circumstance.  Not after the fact.  But while we are going through it.  Giving thanks is not always easy.  Sometimes I literally have to force myself into a spirit of thanksgiving. When I find myself in a mood like I’m in right now, I can look at this list and snap myself back to where I know I need to be. 

These are simply a few of things I am thankful for this week (in no particular order): 

  • laptop computer
  • Katie’s baked Ziti that she gave me “just because”
  • 2 amazing jobs that allow me to use my talents for God’s glory (and that I can work on from home, often while wearing my pjs)
  • the fact that my son knows the Fruits of the Spirit
  • Forgiveness
  • Rachael Ray’s red-wine braised italian sausage – yum-oh!
  • audio books from the library
  • solitude
  • text-messages from people I love
  • taking a nap and being able to sleep until I wake up
  • a wonderful book that I do not want to put down
  • my pastor’s love for the Liturgy and church traditions
  • my Daddy’s unstoppable love and unwavering support
  • God’s provision for our financial security
  • Fresca
  • National pride as I watch the Olympic athletes represent our country
  • people who love me and allow me to completely be myself , without judgement or trying to change me

See, that’s the thing about giving thanks.  When I turned on my computer, I was in a complete and utter funk.  I felt lonely and sad and was missing my son.  But now that I have made this list, I am able to focus on the blessings that surround me.  I know that some of these things are “things,” and I think that’s ok.  I am not making those items the source of my happiness; rather, I am making the One who has blessed me abundantly the source of that happiness.  And for that, I give thanks.

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and to dust you shall return.  These were the words recited by my pastor over and over tonight as he lovingly wiped the symbolic ashes and oil on our foreheads.  Ash Wednesday.  I have has ashes placed on me almost every year of my life; yet, I think that this may be the first time that I have really pondered the phrase that is said. 

As a child, my family attended an extremely large Catholic cathedral that was attached to the school which my brothers and I attended.  So for years, I received my ashes during morning mass and spent the remainder of the day either worrying about rubbing them off, wiping ash dust off my nose, or making fun of others.  I’m fairly certain that none of these was the intended effect.  As I grew older, I came to see Ash Wednesday as simply another “Holy Day of Obligation.”  I went to mass, but probably did not get much more out of it than I had as that precocious 3rd grade girl in braids who vainly worried how my bangs were now sticking up awkwardly.  Again, not much of an improvement in bringing me closer to God.  Not accomplishing the desired goal.  Then came the stage  I fondly refer to as the “recovering Catholic” years, in which I was much more concerned with the exploits and libations of Mardi Gras than the day after. 

So here I am now.  A member of a wonderfully relaxed, yet faithfully observant church.  So, once again, I returned to church on Ash Wednesday.  However, something is different.  I actually listen when Ryan squints his eyes in the darkness, straining to read from the Holy Word.  I explain what is happening to my son, who sat quietly beside me.  As I listened to those words repeated more than 100 times, they finally penetrated my heart.  I am dust.  I am nothing.  Everything that I am, all that I have, anything that I could hope of being in the future, is all because of the mercy of Our Father.  Repent of your sins.  Don’t simply say you are sorry, but turn away and sin no more.  How often am I like the man who lay so near the healing waters, but could not find the strength to go in?  Christ asked him: are you sure you want to be healed? Believe the Gospel and share the good news. 

I know that I am dust.  I know that I will live this life and die.  I will fertilize daisies.  Just as the ouroboros, my earthly body will cycle through as the rest of nature does.  Why do I struggle with cleaning out the clutter from my life?  If I am truly focusing on Heaven, why is it so difficult to purge my life of excess?  Those earthly things don’t matter.  They, too, are dust.  I am to love the Lord with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, with all my strength.  Not with my clothes, my shoes, my DVD collection, not even my (gads) book collection. 

So, this year, I am trying something different.  Rather than giving up Diet Coke or chocolate, I am choosing to spend 30 minutes studying the Word, praying and meditating.  I will be giving up sleep.  This is somewhat of a physical sacrifice (I was once accused of being a narcoleptic) but I think more importantly, this time will allow me to work on loving with my heart, soul, and mind.  I will feed my heart with prayer by asking the Holy Spirit to enter me.  I will feed my soul by reading about the life of Jesus and asking Him to make me more Christ-like.  I will feed my mind through meditating on the Word. (Unfortunately, I drafted this on Wednesday night after church and overslept on Thursday morning.  Alas, my offering is not a perfect one, but one that I will renew everyday.)

There is nothing good in me that is not of the Lord, Jesus Christ.  I am dust.  He is LORD.

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How do you spell LOVE?

Today is Valentine’s day.  I must admit that for the past several years, I have been oppossed to the whole idea of vday.  Since I worked as a floral designer in college, and my mother is a floral designer, it has mostly seemed to me just another consumer-driven holiday, filled with husbands who wait til the last-minute to make some lame attempt at a romantic gesture (please don’t tell my mom).  But the past couple of years I have looked at this day for what it can be: a day to show the ones we love that we care for them. 

As a single mother, I don’t get the whole breakfast in bed thing (yet).  But this morning I got something much better. In the wee hours of the morning, my son had a bad dream.  He climbed in bed with me for the remaining couple of hours before the alarm went off.  When he awoke, the first thing he said was, “Mommy, you’re the most beautiful mommy on the planet.”  I just don’t think you can get any better than that.  We got ready for church and because of some special circumstances, he had to stay with me at church for both services and Sunday school.  He was amazing.  Oh, not without his minor moments where he needed to be lovingly reminded to use his whisper voice or that the window sill is not for standing in.  But overall, he was fantastic. 

In addition to being on the staff as Children’s Minister, I also sing on the praise team, so we spend LOTS of time at church for practices, Wednesday nights, work, etc.  About 3 months ago, while I was leading the congregation in prayers, my child had a minor meltdown.  He clung to my leg and pulled on my arm.  At the time, I was mortified.  I thought “How can I teach other people’s children about Jesus if my own child won’t even behave so he can learn about Him?”  But then God convicted me.  My child was not acting out because he didn’t want to pray. He acted out because he wanted to pray with me.  I decided then that as much as I feel called to use my talents to sing God’s praises, my first and most important job in God’s Kingdom is teaching my son the way he should go.  I still sing with the praise team, and I still lead prayers, but only when my son is with his father.  Our youth pastor offered to lea prayers on the weeks when my son is with me at church.  This way, we can pray together.  This way, my son gets more of what he craves most: my time.

So I guess this is my exhortation to parents to cut back.  Eliminate some things from the “busy”ness of your lives, so that you have more time to spend with your children.  Bake cookies. Play a game.  Read a book.  Swing in the backyard.  Cook dinner together (he loves to put the things I’ve chopped up into a bowl, which I then dump in the pan.  Totally not necessary, but he contributes to the meal and we are doing it together.  The bonus is that kids will always eat a meal that they helped prepare). Look up funny videos on YouTube (one of our new favorite hobbies).  For the record, this does not mean that I am a helicopter mother.  It simply means that I am available.  If my son wants to play in his room by himself, that is great.  I catch up on mom chores or read a book.  But if he changes his mind and says, “Mom, let’s play Candyland,” then I can do it.  It does not mean that I drop everything at his call.  But even if I’m doing laundry, grading papers, or cleaning house, I can let him know I will be there in a few minutes (the kitchen timer is an oft-used helper).  I still take time to read every day and I ask him to respect that alone time for me to decompress after work.  But after that, our time together is usually quality and quantity. 

One of these years, I will resume singing every Sunday and rehearsing every Tuesday.  I will go back to the week night Bible study.  I will audition for a role in the community theater.  I will go back to singing barbershop.  I will scrapbook more than once every few months. But until then, I will give my child the best love I can.  I will give him the gift of my time.

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Thinking about Prayer

Wednesday evening taught me quite a bit about prayer.  I teach a Wednesday night children’s program at church, and we usually end the session by going around the circle and praying.  This week we asked if the children had any prayer requests.  And what they said has been with me for the past two days.  One child calls his grandmother “my friend MiMi” and prayed that she would feel better.  Another gave thanks that she asked the Lord into her heart.  Still another prayed for Haiti.  One boy prayed for the economy and for the victims of foreclosures. 

I sat in awe as I listened to these children, all under the age of 10, lift their praises and burdens up to God.  And I thought about how much I can learn from them.  Do I really pray “without ceasing” as Paul instructs, or do I only share the big problems with God?  I suspect that I keep as much to myself as possible, trying to manipulate or repair those situations over which I feel I have some control.  Oh sure.  I go through phases where I become Nell on “Steel Magnolias” (in her Holy roller stage) and give thanks for everything from my food, to Purell, and Diet Coke.  But usually, I save prayer for specific times of day and specific subjects.  Maybe the children are the ones teaching me.

After church my son had a minor meltdown.  He didn’t have a nap and was simply overly tired and over-stimulated from all the activity.  He was rude to one of his friends that wanted to speak to him.  In the car, I told him that he had hurt his friend’s feelings and he should remember this situation the next time someone hurt his feelings.  We arrived at home and prepared for bed.  I thought he was in the bathroom brushing his teeth, but when I opened the door, I found my son on his knees in prayer.  He was crying.  When I asked him what was wrong, he told me that he needed to ask for forgiveness for hurting his friend’s feelings.  Again I felt convicted about my own prayer life. 

I am thankful that my child knows how to pray and I truly believe that the Lord honors his prayers.  But when was the last time that I was moved to tears, moved to prayer on bended knee, because I hurt a friend?  I honestly don’t remember.  My guess is that it was longer ago than I care to admit. 

So, as I ponder these lessons in prayer, I am reminded of Jesus’ warnings to not be like the hypocrites, who only pray when others can see them, rambling all day long.  But He says we should go to our rooms, close the door, and quietly pray to the God of the universe.

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This is the first week for my new meal planning/grocery shopping system so I thought I’d share how it worked out.  

I only plan for dinners.  We take either leftovers, sandwiches, or soups to school for lunch, and breakfast is fruit and granola or protein bar for me and banana and french toast for my son.

Menu for the week:

Monday- scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, toast

(Tuesday- pork chops (Rachael Ray), steamed green beans, new potatoes

Wednesday- crock pot bbq chicken, mashed potatoes, steamed veggies

Thursday- (Use leftover chicken) bbq on a bun sandwiches, oven fries

Friday- Croque Monsieur (Simply Recipes), caesar salad

Saturday- crock pot roast with veggies and potatoes

Sunday- White chicken chili (America’s Test Kitchen), cornbread, carrot and celery sticks

If I need a recipe for the dinner, I made a note of where I got it so I don’t spend time searching for lists of ingredients for my shopping list, or for the recipe when it is time to cook the meal.  Most of my recipes come from websites, so I simply save them in a folder on my computer.  This procedure made the task of making a shopping list and then shopping at the store so simple and streamlined.  I downloaded the shopping list/meal planning worksheet from www.theprojectgirl.com. (So many cute and free templates!) I did not waver from my list, and even with dog food, my total was $59 for the week.  Considering, however, that I had previously been spending about $20 per week at Chick-Fil-A, though, I thought I did fairly well.  I know I can do even better than that, though.  Next week, I will do a better job of planning my meals around the HEB meal deals and the meat sales in the newspaper.  However, for my first week, I was pretty pleased with how it worked.  Happy meal planning!

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