Friday, December 30, 2011

As I was puttering through the house, cleaning up the piles that seem to spontaneously multiply on their own (there's a biology term for this, I'm sure, although I suspect it refers to germs or micro organisms), I found a stack of cards from our wedding. Well wishes. Prayers. Poems. Hopes. Each one specially picked for us as people joined in our celebration. As I read each one, I was reminded that relationships truly do happen in community!

Here's a few to share...

Now you will feel no rain, 
for each of you will be the shelter for each other. 
Now you will feel no cold, 
for each of you will be the warmth to the other. 
Now you are two persons
but there is only one life before you. 
Go now to your dwelling, 
to enter into
the days of your life
and may your days be good and long
upon the earth.

~Apache Blessing~

How to Make a Beautiful Life Together: Reflections on Marriage for the Bride and Groom
Let love be your shelter.
The world is noisy and confusing at times,
so make a home that is a haven,
a peaceful place where you can listen to your hearts and savor
the comfortable closeness you share. 

No matter how busy your days may be,
make time for yourselves. 
Hold hands. Unwind. 
Surprise each other. 
Find little chances every day
to show you're grateful to be partners,
to be friends,
to be married. 

Life is not perfect. 
You will make mistakes but  each time you meet life's challenges together,
you will grow wiser, stronger, 
and surer of your love. 

Cherish your yesterdays. 
They are irreplaceable souvenirs
of your journey through life. 
Make memories
that will bring smiles and sighs whenever you look back. 
(Look back often!)

Look forward, too. 
Dream together. Plan together. 
Make promises to keep. 
Believe in your tomorrows,
because tomorrows 
are what forever is made of. 
To make love last,
put each other first.
That is the way to make a beautiful life together, 
the kind of life you both deserve so much. 

"If" for Couples
If you 
treat each other kindly
with compassion 
and with trust
and always let
your tender feelings show,
If you
laugh together often 
and enjoy
the time you share,
but give each other space
to learn and grow,
If you understand
your differences,
respecting who you are,
and put each other first in all you do...
may you always find the very best in life - 
Growing closer
day by day
as husband and wife. 

A friend of mine posted this on her facebook page and I loved I'm stealing it!

"Nobody ever died of discomfort, yet living in the name of comfort has killed more ideas, more opportunities, more actions, and more growth than everything else combined. Comfort kills!"
- T. Harv Eker

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What do you want to be when you grow up?

One of the funniest conversations I’ve had at the pool was with a little boy in one of my coworkers’ Saturday morning preschool classes. I was life guarding and he was teaching. The morning sessions are long and he had to take a quick bathroom break, leaving me to watch his class for a few minutes. Five little ones, 3 and 4 years old. One of the little boys looked up at me and, with no guile or jest, looked up at me and asked me if I knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. Expecting him to say that he wanted to be a fireman or a teacher or even an astronaut, I looked at him and said, “No, I don’t know. What do you want to be when you grow up?” His answer caught me off guard.

“An airplane.”

“An airplane? You mean you want to fly airplanes?”

“No. I want to be an airplane.”

I didn’t know what to say. What would you say to that!?

It might not be the most realistic or possible goal but he’s dreaming big. I wonder if, when he’s settled into a career, he’ll remember his dream – to be an airplane.

I think of all the ways that I answered that questions along the way. I wanted to be a musician for a while. And there was a LONG stage in which I wanted to be a teacher. I would line my dolls up and teach them for hours. We would have all sorts of classes. Later on in life, I thought a lot about working in agricultural aid, combining my love for science, the outdoors and God in practical missions. Never once did I dream about being involved in enrollment, marketing and admissions (my job at the college) or in children’s ministry (my position at Journey Church). Both roles, however, began with a certain excitement. They made sense with my skill set...and in the right context, likely still would. They engaged me deeper into community I was already involved in. They allowed me to build my skills, grow in my knowledge of myself, develop relationships and be challenged. Each however, developed in such a way that my self esteem and confidence were beaten, my belief in my own abilities was shattered and I was left exhausted. How something that started so good could develop into something so damaging not once but twice is hard to say. It’s possible that much of the fault lies in the fact that when I dive into something, I dive in with both feet and all of myself, feeling some innate drive to succeed and prove myself in all things. I am a perfectionist and it drives me – sometimes the biggest strengths can also be the greatest of faults. In discussing this with a friend of mine, she suggested that it’s because I care too much. Everything I pursue, I not only pursue as a task but also a matter of the heart.

Regardless, the end result is the place I find myself in now. I’m working as a life guard and swim instructor. The hourly pay is good but the hours are all over the map and inconsistent at best - the financial implications of that aren't good. The work is less than challenging (one of the patrons told me a while back that he thinks I’m too smart to be a life guard. Not the best commentary on my position). It’s not particularly encouraging or satisfying. The facility that I work at is not one that is healthy. The truth is, I'm bored. This certainly isn’t the job I dreamed of as a child but I try to regularly remind myself that this job has provided me with a sort of “safety net.” I am thankful that God had me in this place so when it was time to leave Journey, I could, knowing that I had an income.

That's the "job" place I find myself in now but the place for my deeper self is one of questioning, doubt and living with a need for change. I'm feeling restless and stuck all at the same time. Now the question “what do I want to be when I grow up?” is one that I ask myself on a regular basis.

I realize there’s two ways that I can go about next steps. The first would be to find a more consistent job that would be a job for “right now.” In a similar situation several years ago, a friend of mine took a job that allowed him to succeed, be built up and encouraged and heal. Now that his confidence has been restored, he has moved into a new job, one that has a world of potential for him and his family but he might not have looked at before. He needed that time to be restored. Colin and I have talked about me potentially needing that place to be restored. The second would be to figure out what’s next and go full speed ahead.

What do I want to be when I grow up?

I’ve been cataloging my strengths and interests (with Colin’s help…the truth is, right now he sees much more good in me than I do). The question remains, what do I do with those skills.

On more than one occasion, it has been suggested that I should pursue my photography. To this point, it has simply been a hobby…but maybe…There’s so much I would have to do, in my mind, to make that a reality but maybe…What would it take? Where would I start? Would I be any good? What would separate me from all the other people out there trying to make a go of it? What if?

The truth is that I’m afraid. Like someone coming out of a [few] bad relationships, I’m afraid to put myself out there and step into something new. The motivation to hunt for a new job is slim to none. Truthfully, I would rather curl up on the couch and do nothing and yet that only makes me feel worse. I want to contribute to my family and to society. I want to spend my working hours at something I enjoy and can feel some satisfaction in. I want to feel like I’m in a position that I have something to offer, perhaps something that someone else couldn’t.

I get it too, that my job is not the fullness of who I am. The whole "is not what you do but who you are that defines you." I get it. I also get that there's something about our job that is a part of who we are, for some of us more than others. I'm one of those people that actually enjoys work when it's a good fit.

What do I want to be when I grow up? 

I’m thankful. As I process all of this, Colin is incredibly supportive and patient. He gets that I feel a little bit ‘stuck’ and is willing to give me a gentle nudge from time to time. And he processes and prays with me…what do I want to be when I grow up?

Friday, December 23, 2011

So I think this is brilliant! I have one stocking hook and have been looking for three to match. Not only is finding a match difficult BUT they're not cheap. This is a perfect solution and I have the perfect place for it! Now to go bargain hunting post-Christmas for a second hook and we'll be all set in the Miller house!

Monday, December 19, 2011

This morning I'm off work. Convenient day off since Christmas is only days away and there seems to be a lot to do. I'm making my lists and checking them twice this morning. Usually I'm done the "stuff" of Christmas and living in the season by this point but somehow, for some reason, this Christmas I just can't seem to get there.

So, in the middle of the lists and the piles and the tasks, I'm stopping to take a minute to remember and be thankful for the truth of Christmas. Join me?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Eggnog Cream Puffs

After sharing an instragram photo of the egg nog cream puffs on the weekend, I've had several requests for the recipe...and the cream puffs. Since it's easier to share the recipe (cream puffs don't ship that well...sorry), here you go!

1 cup water
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup all purpose flour
4 eggs
eggnog cream (below)
powdered sugar

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat water and butter to rolling boil in 2 1/2 quart saucepan. Stir in flour. Stir vigorously over low heat about 1 minute or until mixture forms a ball; remove from heat. Beat in eggs, all at once; continue beating until smooth.

2. Drop dough by scant 1/4 cupfuls (I did about 1/8 cup) about 3 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until puffed and golden. Cool away from draft.

3. Cut tops of puffs; pull out any soft dough. Fill puffs with eggnog cream; replace tops. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve immediately. Store covered in refrigerator.

Eggnog Cream

1 pkg (4 serving size) vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon rum extract
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups whipping (heavy) cream

Beat all ingredients except cream in large bowl with electric mixture on low speed 1 to 2 minutes or until smooth. Add cream. Beat on high speed 1 to 2 minutes or until soft peaks form.

Read with me?

At one point in my life, I made a commitment to myself about my reading habits (only a perfection/control freak would do that, right?!) and, for years, was diligent about keeping to it. It was nothing major. I would simply alternate between fiction and non-fiction. Then things got crazy and I dove into stories. Stories of all kinds. Stories with depth. Stories that I could lose myself in. Somewhere along the way, the non-fiction, "learning, challenge my brain" type books were set aside. I just don't have it in me. 

A couple days ago, I posted that I'm reading "Naked Spirituality." It's my first attempt at non-fiction in a while. I feel like it's going to be a challenge. A good challenge but a challenge none the less.

Here's where you all come in. I need a wee bit of accountability. Some motivation. Will you read with me? If you're up for the challenge, just drop a comment on this post and let me know. I'm going to try to post something - a thought, quote or post - inspired by each chapter to keep me in motion. I'd love to hear your thoughts too!

Will you read with me?

Article: On Modesty

Having worked with children, youth and young adults in church circles for years, this topic has been one that has made me sad for years: using the idea of modesty to steal - or at least overshadow - a women's god-given femininity. I've seen the damage it can do to a girl's self esteem to not handle this with grace and a true rendering of Scripture. Now, with two step-daughters, I feel like this has become even more personal (if it can be more personal than being a woman wanting to follow God's own heart myself!).

This article speaks intelligently on the subject...

How 'Modest Is Hottest' Is Hurting Christian Women

What the phrase communicates about female sexuality and bodies.
I remember the first time I heard the words chirped by an eager female college student as we discussed the topic of modesty. Her enthusiasm was mixed with perk and reprimand, producing a tone that landed somewhere between Emily Post and a cheerleader.
To be honest, my initial reaction to "modest is hottest" was amusement. I thought the rhyme was clever and lighthearted, a harmless way to promote the virtue described in 1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3-4. No harm no foul.
Since then, I’ve heard this mantra of the pure proclaimed many times by young women, Christian artists (including, most famously, CCM singer Rebecca St. James), and Christian leaders. In conversations the phrase always elicits chuckles, but my response has changed over time. I still wholly affirm modesty as a biblical practice for men and women, but now I hesitate to embrace the “modest is hottest” banner. Those three words carry a lot of baggage.
The Christian rhetoric of modesty, rather than offering believers an alternative to the sexual objectification of women, often continues the objectification, just in a different form.
As the Christian stance typically goes, women are to cover their bodies as a mark of spiritual integrity. Too much skin is seen as a distraction that garners inappropriate attention, causes our brothers to stumble, and overshadows our character. Consequently, the female body is perceived as both a temptation and a distraction to the Christian community. The female body is beautiful, but in a dangerous way.
This particular approach to modesty is effective because it is rooted in shame, and shame is a powerful motivator. That’s the first red flag. Additionally concerning about this approach is that it perpetuates the objectification of women in a pietistic form. It treats women’s bodies not as glorious reflections of the image of God, but as sources of temptation that must be hidden. It is the other side of the same objectifying coin: one side exploits the female body, while the other side seems to be ashamed of it. Both sides reduce the female body to a sexual object.
Of course, this language isn’t new. Consider how profoundly the female identity has been negatively linked to her body throughout church history. For several decades now, feminist theologians have critiqued the mind-body dualism by which Christians have equated men with the mind and women with the carnal body. Citing Eve as the original “gateway for the Devil,” thinkers such as Tertullian have peppered Christian tradition with hostility toward the wiles of femininity. Origen likened women to animals in their sexual lust. According to author Jane Billinghurst, “Early Christian men who had to greet women during church services by shaking their hands were advised to first wrap their hands in robes so as to shield their flesh against their seductive touch.”
In response to this aspect of the Christian tradition, Rosemary Radford Ruether and other feminist theologians have over the past 50 years rightly challenged the mind-body dualism by which women were thought to be “modeled after the rejected part of the psyche,” and are “shallow, fickle-minded, irrational, carnal-minded, lacking all the true properties of knowing and willing and doing.”
All this negative talk about the female body may have created a vacuum for the “modest is hottest” approach to fill. Perhaps the phrase’s originator hoped to provide a more positive spin on modesty. I sympathize with that. However, “modest is hottest” also perpetuates (and complicates) this objectification of women by equating purity with sexual desire. The word “hot” is fraught with sexual undertones. It continues a tradition in which women are primarily objects of desire, but it does so in an acceptable Christian way.
Making modesty sexy is not the solution we need. Instead, the church needs to overhaul its theology of the female body. Women continue to be associated with their bodies in ways that men are not. And, as a result of this unique association, women’s identities are also uniquely tied to their bodies in a manner that men’s identities are not.
How do we discuss modesty in a manner that celebrates the female body without objectifying women, and still exhorts women to purity? The first solution is to dispense with body-shaming language. Shame is great at behavior modification, even when the shaming is not overt. But shame-based language is not the rhetoric of Jesus. It is the rhetoric of his Enemy.
Second, we must affirm the value of the female body. The value or meaning of a woman’s body is not the reason for modesty. Women’s bodies are not inherently distracting or tempting. On the contrary, women’s bodies glorify God. Dare I say that a woman’s breasts, hips, bottom, and lips all proclaim the glory of the Lord! Each womanly part honors Him. He created the female body, and it is good.
Finally, language about modesty should focus not on hiding the female body but on understanding the body’s created role. Immodesty is not the improper exposure of the body per se, but the improper orientation of the body. Men and women are urged to pursue a modesty by which our glory is minimized and God’s is maximized. The body, the spirit and the mind all have a created role that is inherently God-centered. When we make ourselves central instead of God, we display the height of immodesty.
That is not to say that godly women will not attract godly men with their modesty. They might. But that is not the purpose of modesty. If “modest is hottest” encapsulates the message we communicate to young women about modesty, then we have missed the mark. “Modest is hottest” is foundationally human-centered, whereas biblical modesty is first and foremost centered on God.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Current Read

Naked Spirituality, Brian McLaren

This is a recommendation from a friend of mine after she read my last blog post. Check out some of the chapter titles.

Seems appropriate so here...we...go!

Posting this today has reminded me how long it's been since I've actually done a "current read" post. There's been quite a few over the last little while. In no particular order, I've read: 

Romanov Prophecy, Steve Berry
Emperor's Tomb, Steve Berry
Red Tent, Anita Diamant
Dragon moon, Carole Wilkinson
Knights of the Black and White, Jack Whyte
Standard of Honor, Jack Whyte

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Have you ever had something in life that you do because you know you should, because you know it’s good for you? Something that you want to want to do so you do it anyway? You do it as pure discipline, hoping that you’ll gain an appreciation for it? Perhaps eating your vegetables falls into that category. You eat them hoping that you’ll eventually aquire a taste for them. Or perhaps it’s going to the gym. You go, not because you feel like it, but because you want to feel like it, each time you go building the habit until it is such a part of your life that you can’t imagine not going.

Right now, for me, that thing is going to church. I know it’s important. I know how much it has meant to me in the past. I know all the reasons that I would tell someone else that it’s important but right now I just don’t feel like it.

One - but not the only one- of the reasons that I quit my job as children’s pastor of our church was that, in all of my 'working in a church,' I missed church. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the kids that I worked with. I loved the learning I did through preparing lessons and other teaching. I loved being able to see God at work in the lives of those I was directly involved in. I really enjoyed what I was able to give BUT I missed feeling like I was a part of a church. For months, I would get to the building before anyone else got there, go straight to the kids’ area, set up, hang out with the kids while sharing the message with them for the day and then pack up. I missed most, if not all, of the reasons that I would encourage someone else to go to church and I began to feel empty and alone. When it became clear that there was no respite for that routine, no opportunity for me to be a part of the community I was working for, I knew that I couldn’t continue that pattern and maintain any kind of spiritual health.

So here’s the kicker: since then I haven’t wanted to go to church and for a while I didn’t. I didn’t feel like it. If I’m honest, I also didn’t – and still don’t - feel like doing many of the other things that I know I should and could to foster my relationship with Jesus. It was too much. Too much hurt, too much emptiness, too much exhaustion, too much confusion, too much brokenness, too much failure, too much defeat, too much [felt] need for space and far too many other emotions that I couldn’t even begin to describe or define. It was all too much.

But where do you go when it all feels too much? Well, if you love Jesus (and sometimes if you don’t!) you go to church and so Colin and I began cautiously attending. For me it was something I wanted to want to do. I was hesitant, afraid and non-committal.  Do you remember the old TV show “Cheers,” with the theme song that rang out “sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name?” Well, I wanted the complete opposite. I wanted to go and absorb, be encouraged, hear the Word of God preached and, for the first time in a long time just go somewhere to be fed instead of pour out to others.

At first it worked that way. Colin and I have found a place where we feel we could be at home. There’s enough going on that when we’re ready, we feel we could get involved. We feel confident with what we have seen to be the mission and values of the church as they seem to be lived out and supported by the things the people are involved in. We appreciate the senior pastor and the depth to which he preaches the Word – its exciting to see how much he uses the Word in his messages and the amount of study he obviously does to truly teach. He shares the pulpit with his staff and they too seem to share his desire to truly teach and encourage through God’s word.

Lately, though, I’ve been in a dark, ugly funk and it seems like going to church shines a big beacon on my feelings of lament. I’ve described it as feeling like my faith is small but that’s not the truth of it. I don’t doubt that God is real, alive and active but I feel empty and far away and…something. The last several weeks have been very much about going because I want to want to. The last two weeks, however, have been nearly unbearable but have helped me find some words for what’s going on inside my heart and, perhaps, that’s the discipline of it doing it’s work, providing what I needed.

It began two weeks ago with the Chris Tomlin song “Your Grace is Enough,” a song that has been the anthem of many points of my faith over the last couple of years. The chorus shouts out:

            Your grace is enough,
            Your grace is enough,
            Your grace is enough for me. 

I started to sing it out with a gusto I wasn’t feeling but slowly petered out. The inward thoughts didn’t seem to be connecting with the words of my mouth. At first, the prayer was, “Your grace is enough” then became “I want your grace to be enough” and finally, “where is your grace?”

“Where is your grace and what does it look like?”

Each prayer became a little more indignant and little bit angrier than the one before.

What does it look like in my career? What does it look like when the past and the present collide? What does it look like in the day to day? What does it look like in my health? What does it look like in finances and friendships and faith?

Where is your grace?

The next song was like the first in the emotions it dug up. “Beautiful Things” by Gungor. We played it at our wedding, recognizing that God takes messy, ugly things – he steps into the mess – and makes beautiful things. Again, the prayer became a lament: “I know you can do beautiful things so can you? Would you? Please?”

The tears rolled, the emotions crashed and the questions raged but still there were no answers. The week went by with the same funk and more reasons to question.

This past weekend found us in the second week of advent, anticipating the presence of the coming King. The celebration, the smiles of everyone around, the joy, the songs all combined together until I felt claustrophobic, to the point of being physically ill.  The people around me were singing “O come, O Come Emmanuel,” hands raised in praise and thankfulness, and all I could think is “where are you?” The message was about the angel coming to Mary with the incredible pronouncement – you will be the mother of the Song of God – and her willing, grateful, humble acceptance. We talked about responding and about experiencing the presence of Jesus. All I could think is “where are you?” getting angrier and more frustrated and feeling more guilt about my anger.

But in that, I realized something. I’m angry. I’m angry at people and at situations. I’m angry at feeling like I don’t have control over so much. I’m angry that at a time in my life when I should be feeling joy and excitement, I’m feeling such a funk and frustrated that I can’t be better for my new husband (who, by the way, has been incredible through all of my searching and sorting…he’s my good gift and helps me believe, in it all, that God is good).  I’m angry at work. I’m angry at all these happy people (or at least seemingly happy people) standing around me, unaware of the emotions in me and angry that I feel like I’ve lost the happy person. I’m angry that I can’t seem to find joy. I'm angry at all of the reasons I don't feel like I'm enough. I’m angry that in it all, I don’t feel God like I have at so many times. While I know it’s irrational and not in the character of God, I feel like he’s stepped away from me…like he could make some of these things better or at least make the way forward clearer and yet hasn’t.

I’ve chosen this week – perhaps since I’ve finally been able to give words to at least a piece of how I feel – to actually enter into the lament and not be afraid of it. Somehow, even in that place, I choose to believe that God has met me, placing the stories of David on my heart. King David. A man after God’s own heart and writer of some of the most prolific poetry in history was a man who lamented. He, too, was angry with God and prayed some of the same prayers I have in the last couple weeks. “Where are you?” and “Why have you abandoned me?” are prayers that slipped off the lips of this shepherd turned king. It helps to know that the Bible has room for lament and that those “heroes” of the faith allowed the stuff of life to bring them to some dark places. It helps, too, to know that God heard them and met them there, bringing them out the other side in real, tangible ways. Somehow it helps.

I’ve thought about writing bits and pieces of this down for a while, hoping that putting it down in black and white would help me sort out what was going on and give me some freedom from it. I’ve thought about how I would describe how I feel – words like defeated and depleted have come to mind. A more apt description, I think, would be deflated. I feel deflated, like a balloon that was once blown up and full and has taken shape but has had the air let out. Know what that looks like? It doesn’t look like the balloon that was originally taken out of the package, solid and strong and full of promise. It’s soggy and gross, flat and wrinkled and, truthfully, a little sad. As I think about David and his story (and so many others who have hit this kind of spot for any number of reasons), I feel like I can add to the analogy. That original balloon, the one with all the promise and excitement, blows up into something fun. That soggy, deflated balloon? Fill it up and it will look as good as before. It will resume the shape it had before.

So today I still feel the funk and I still feel the tears threatening but at least today I know I’m not alone. I might not feel hopeful but I can choose to be hopeful. I want to want to. There’s discipline in this too, in remembering the stories of David and choosing to believe that perhaps God is not as far away as it feels, that perhaps this deflated balloon can be blown up again.