Remembering Mike

10285477_677344365663552_628846573_oI wished I could be at Mike’s funeral, but we had already scheduled a vacation to Wisconsin when Mike died.  I know he would understand why I couldn’t come.  I’ve known Mike since he and Carol first came to Gloria Dei.  I knew Mike as someone who loved to give. Mike thought about people; he thought about each person he met as a unique individual with unique interests, and he treated each person he met as if they were special to him.  Over the years, I saw Mike give in numerous ways: from giving rides to people who needed them, to talking to and helping the homeless, to helping his granddaughter, to serving as trustee on the Board of Directors, to making pancakes for all of us after service on Sunday mornings.  He loved to feed us, even when he could barely eat himself. I think it was his favorite thing to do.  He was definitely one of the most enthusiastic Fellowship board members we’ve ever had. 

The last time Mike made pancakes was in December.  He had just gotten out of the hospital after he had a feeding tube placed.  I was at Gloria Dei on a Saturday evening, making Christmas cookies with the youth group for our shut-ins.  It had turned out to be an exhausting, but worthwhile, endeavor.  Mike came sauntering in at some point in the evening, with a bunch of supplies for making pancakes the next day.  No one had expected him to go on with making pancakes after all he had been through, but he was determined.  They were good pancakes.  But he was suffering; he couldn’t finish cleaning up because of the pain he was in.  He did it for us.  He loved us well.

I watched over the past couple years as Mike lost weight, was in pain, and suffered.  I sat with him and Carol in the hospital more than once as Mike went through so much.  We prayed.  From my position as Mike’s friend, church secretary, and member of the Mercy group, I watched Pastor and the people of this church love him and minister to him, and I thank God for all of them: for Pastor Horn, who so capably ministered to my friend, and for my brothers and sisters, who never abandon one of their own.  One day about three months ago, Pastor was sick and unable to be at the Mercy group meeting.  Carol was there, and she was telling us how sad she was about how Mike was suffering.  We were all sad too. There was nothing for us to do but go into the Sanctuary, get down on our knees, and ask God to hold our friend in His hands and heal him, whether on this earth or in heaven.  And so all of us did.  Mike loved us.  We loved him back. 

The last time Mike was in church in April, he was determined to go up to the Communion rail on his own two feet and receive the Sacrament. I was ushering, and I can tell you, I was scared that he was not steady enough.  But he did it.  He loved our Lord, and he was determined.  He relied on our Lord.  I was there with Mike, Carol, and their family just after Mike died.  Pastor led a short prayer service.  I couldn’t believe my friend was gone, and I ached in grief for him.  But as Pastor recited the litany, and sang, I knew that Mike was in heaven, being cared for by the One he was relying on, the One who heals all hurts—our merciful Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And how could I wish Mike were back here with us when he is now with our Lord face-to-face? 

13301482_10209377090406944_4886467426198900037_oMike was my brother in Christ, and I cherished his friendship.  I look forward to the day when I will see him again in heaven.  Jesus said in John 16, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me.” We will ask nothing of Jesus because He has given us everything.  I can’t wait to see my friend again someday, when there is no sorrow and only joy.  But for now, intermixed with the sorrow of this day, I do have joy thinking of him up there in the arms of our Lord. And that is enough. 

“O Lord, Open My Lips”

 

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

I had a good hike today. Pippin and I drove up to the back entrance of Daley Ranch here in Escondido and hiked the Engelmann Oak Loop, about 3.5 miles total.  It was not flat, but not too strenuous either, and we got some good exercise in the two hours we were out there.  I was hoping to be able to say that I never saw another human on the whole hike, but just towards the end, within the last half hour, I saw one bicyclist and two hikers. But I was alone for most of the hike.

Usually I bring my earphones with me and listen to music while I hike. This time, I forgot them, so I mostly had silence, birds, and my own thoughts to entertain me. Lately, my own thoughts haven’t been particularly entertaining, though, and about halfway through the hike I found myself praying.

“And my mouth will declare your praise”

Prayer and I are not really good friends.  Like many people, I suppose, I struggle to take the time, to find the words, to remember who all needs my prayers.  I have a devotion every morning myself and every evening with my family, but it’s not every day or every week even that I pour out my heart to God.  But today, I prayed.  I talked and God listened. And being so alone, with nothing else to do, and lots of things on my mind, the words came and came, until I was all out.  And what was left for me was this: “Be still….be still.”  And so as I walked, I was still.  My mind was finally still.  (That is a lot for me, someone who is almost never still!)

And then I walked around a corner and up a hill and saw this tree that reminded me so much of a cross.  And it gave me hope…with the knowledge that God hears all our prayers, that when we ask for Him to help us with something, to take our sins away, to help us align our will with His, that He will not say no to that.  He promises us that: “By his wounds you have been healed.”  “But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.” (Psalm 4)  He tells us to come to Him with our troubles, our sins, not to hide them away but to confess and pour them out to Him. And when we have no words left, we can pray what the psalmists prayed.  The Psalms are filled with people in distress, coming to God with their troubles. And God always delivers them, according to His will.

“Make haste, O God, to deliver me. Make haste to help me, O Lord.”

We are so blessed to be able to approach our God in prayer and ask Him directly for His mercy, and He renews our spirit.  I am blessed to have been given the gift of faith and forgiveness in my baptism, to be given a wonderful family and to have a vocation that lets me serve the Lord everyday, through my family and the church.

“Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever.  Amen.”

Here are some more pictures from the hike:

 

 

 

The Joy of Lent

It will be the third Sunday in Lent soon.  These have been some hard readings.  Have you felt warned to turn away from sin?  I have. I have tried, and I have failed.  Every day I fail, and I feel it.  The devil prowls around like a lion, looking for someone to devour, says Peter. Some days it seems like that evil lion has me between his teeth.

I am powerless against him.  I try to resist, and I fail.  I think that I am being smart, that I am avoiding sin and temptation because I had a good day.  But I must not fool myself.  Peter says to be sober-minded and watchful.  Something that feels good one minute soon feels terrible the next. Watch out.  He has me between his teeth.

Lent reminds me that I have been broken, utterly broken, by sin. My God might weep over what I do every day when I turn away from Him. I want my own way, not His. I want what feels good, not what He says is right. I despair of my sin, sin that has hurt me and the ones I love.

IMG_1272Yet Peter says, And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” I am reminded that it is not up to me.  I cannot save myself from this body of death.

Paul understood the struggle: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”  He understood the only one to save me is not myself, but Jesus. Every day I must try to submit to His will for me, every day I must listen to Him, pray to Him for strength, and look to Him, and Him only, for mercy.  “God, be merciful to me, THE sinner.” He is the only one who can give it to me. And as Pastor said yesterday, in truth, He is the only one who REALLY wants it for me.  He wants it more than I want it myself. And so He did it for me, by dying on the Cross, taking my sins upon Himself, loving me more than He loved His own life. 

“Do you want to get to Heaven? Yes you do. How badly do you want it? Can you put it in words? I tell you the truth: God wants you there even more than you want to be there. And He has done everything necessary to make it so by the blood of Jesus’ death and His glorious resurrection. So pray it joyfully: ‘Thy kingdom come.’ And when you say ‘Amen,’ understand–that God has made it happen.”  –Pastor Horn

The joy of Lent is not an easy joy. It’s a joy that comes from going through sorrow and coming out on the other side, saved, not because we get better but because we have a God who wanted more for us than we ever wanted for ourselves.  Thanks be to God.

Psalm 30

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up
    and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
    and you have healed me.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
    you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
    and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
    “I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
    you made my mountain stand strong;
you hid your face;
    I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cry,
    and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
“What profit is there in my death,
    if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
    Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me!
    O Lord, be my helper!”

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    you have loosed my sackcloth
    and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

 

 

Three Ways Politics Doesn’t Matter

Politics does seem like everything these days, with the primary season now in full swing, with a Supreme Court justice to be nominated, with so much at stake in our country with the next election. I know people are very anxious about the way the country is going and what will happen.  It is important to keep a good perspective about politics, though, if only for our own mental health, and so here are three ways I’ve found that politics doesn’t matter:

1. Politics doesn’t matter in our interpersonal relationships. Facebook is a terrible medium for speaking politically.  It’s easy to put things out there, to want to “teach” people why they’re wrong, and it’s difficult to see how differently these things affect each person who sees our posts. In truth, most people at some point just tune out the stuff they don’t agree with. After all, how many times have you personally witnessed someone change their mind because of a political discussion on Facebook? I have engaged in several political discussions over the years, and I don’t think I’ve seen it once. But I have seen political discussions tear family relationships and friendships apart. I personally have “un-friended” people who are family or close friends because I couldn’t stand their political leanings. Shamefully, I am even guilty of doing this more than once. It was a terrible thing to do, because I hurt our relationships by letting politics rise above our connections to each other.

12698651_10153269728912484_351464560090726258_o“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.” -Thomas Merton

People matter, not politics. Yeah, but how can we make them see our point of view? Well, maybe we can’t. They may never see our point of view, because they’ve developed their own, through their own life experiences, and they may not want to consider a new one. And we need to be okay with that. How can we influence people in a good way? Only by loving them, respecting where they’re at, and listening to them. Maybe if we listen to them first, then they’ll listen to us. But this is not accomplished in Facebook discussions. It’s best accomplished face-to-face. People matter, ideas matter. But politics shouldn’t matter in relationships.

2. Politics doesn’t matter because it doesn’t make me happy or fulfilled.  It never will.  I used to keep up fairly regularly with the news of the day. I did like to listen to the Rush Limbaugh Show and other political talk radio. I became increasingly frustrated, though, as I grew older, because it seemed like nothing ever changed. The Republicans are always wimps, the Democrats were always….well, Democrats.

A year or two ago, I realized that listening to talk radio and news was making me upset, angry, and frustrated. I couldn’t do anything about it all anyway, so I stopped listening. I almost exclusively listen to music now in the car.  Yes, that means I don’t know the ins and outs of every bill in front of Congress, I don’t know where all the natural disasters are going on, I don’t know what exactly is going on in Syria at the moment…and I am 100% happier for that ignorance. No, it doesn’t mean that I won’t know who to vote for in the next election. I let my husband do the legwork on that and tell me who to vote for. I trust him, he’s smart, and there’s no reason for us both to do the same research when we agree anyway. If I am unhappy thinking about politics, but my husband is not, I let him take care of it. I vote by mail and let him tell me who to fill in, and that makes us both happy, because I am still somewhat blissfully ignorant, he is still informed, and he is taking care of me.

3. Politics doesn’t matter because God is in control. No matter what is going on in the world, God is here with us now.  He knows our suffering, our pain, our temptations, because as Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” When Jesus was on this earth, He was tempted for 40 days in the wilderness with every sin that the Ten Commandments covers, and He overcame those temptations. Our second Adam fulfilled what the first Adam could not: perfect obedience. And then He won our salvation for us by sacrificing Himself in that perfect obedience on the cross.

Though our salvation has been won for us, Jesus knows this life will not be easy. He tells us in John 16 that “in this world, you will have trouble.” But He reassures us by His cross: “But take heart, I have overcome the world.” We are pointed to the cross again and again and again. We must not take our eyes off the cross, lest we think it all depends on us.

It is good to help make the world a better place, it is good to help people and to love them. It is good to work in our communities to make sure that people live free, healthy, peaceful lives. But the world will never be perfect, as long as Jesus has not yet come. There will be sin in the world, and politics will always be nasty.  So we know that it’s ok to take a break from it sometimes. It’s good to go to church and receive the Body and Blood of the Lord, hear His Word, and be reassured, comforted, strengthened. We are promised in Hebrews that when we “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,…we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” He will always be with us, He will never leave us.  For those who believe and draw near, the battle is already won by our Lord. We can rest peacefully in that knowledge.

Learning these three things about politics has helped restore my peace.  I know it’s not something that everyone can or wants to do, but it’s what has helped me. People matter. Love people, love the Lord. It will be ok.

 

“Wild and Free”

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This is one of my favorite all-time photos of my two kids together. We were driving from California to visit our family in Wisconsin, and we decided to do some camping along the way.

Our first stop was in Utah, where we camped in this nice little state park by a river. The next morning, I went to get gas while Mark packed up the tent, and they had these huge green beetles all over the gas stations. It was horrible. I finally found a gas station where they were hosing them off the pumps at least. But how do people live there?

One of our next stops was in Nebraska. There was a hill behind this little lake separating it from a bigger lake, I believe, with railroad tracks at the top. It was hot and humid, and we decided instead of sitting around our tent all evening, we would drive into town to get Dairy Queen. I took this photo of the kids playing together outside, while we were setting up camp. I loved how the sun was shining in their blond hair, how they’re off by themselves, exploring, doing something imaginative together, the water next to them calm and reflective.

My parents camped a lot when we were kids. I loved it, loved hiking and exploring. I spent a lot of my childhood outdoors, playing outside, riding my bike with friends, sledding and making forts in the snow, taking long walks. Sometimes in middle school, we would take off in the morning and not come back until dinner. It was a free, unplanned childhood that’s now so rare.

I always hoped my kids would grow up to love the outdoors. I tried to take them camping almost every year, on cool hikes, and to beautiful national parks with rivers and mountains. I wished that they could have that free, unplanned childhood that I had, but it doesn’t seem to exist out here. It’s not the same world as it was when I grew up. Nate has enjoyed being in Boy Scouts and has done a lot of camping, hiking, and backpacking. Rachel would probably rather do anything else but camp! Oh well, I tried. Maybe someday when she’s in charge of where she goes, she’ll come to enjoy being outdoors more. We realize as parents we can only guide them as we know how, but it’s most important to give them the freedom to be their own people, wonderful and unique in their own ways. My prayer always is that God will help me to be the mom I need to be to my kids.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. – Psalm 19:1

Christmas 

I took this picture on Christmas Eve at the Service of Lessons and Carols. I was so pleased with how my camera took this very low light picture. Gloria Dei is a beautiful church, we’re a close knit family, and I am blessed to receive God’s gifts here.  God loves me well through this church, and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t thank Him for Gloria Dei. It was a beautiful service!

We had the best Christmas that we’ve had in a few years.  Last Christmas was tough because we just got back from Israel, I was sick, we had no pastor. The year before, we just heard a really great sermon from Pastor Matt on Christmas Day, but then Rachel fainted in the bathroom and had the stomach flu after that for the rest of the day.  So, while we were thankful for all our blessings, they weren’t the best Christmases.

This year was filled with love and joy. We all felt well, we attended all three church services, and had a fun and relaxing Christmas day. We ate duck, and I made my mom’s best jello (which is always requested at every holiday). It felt relaxing. I am grateful for my family, the new friends I have made this year, the “old” friends that stay with me, the hiking I have been able to do, the work that I have been able to do at church, and my health.

I have to admit to having a bit of writer’s block about this blog lately. I started it when I was processing two very specific things: our call process and our trip to Israel. Now, I am processing neither of those, and it’s difficult to find time to write a substantial post every couple weeks. I think those kind of posts will continue to come, because I’m always thinking about my faith, but less frequently. So instead of putting pressure on myself to write so much, I thought that I’ll also start posting some of the pictures that I have been taking and also write about some of the hiking I’m doing, both things that I also claim no special talent for, but that I really enjoy.

God bless you in this new year!

At Home

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Our girl

Our daughter was born at home. We planned it that way, though as it turns out, it would’ve happened whether we wanted it to or not.

Just a day or two after her due date, we were eating pizza out in a restaurant. I felt some contractions, but didn’t think much of them. We went to bed that night about 11:00pm, and just before I went to sleep, I felt another one, stronger. But, being nine months’ pregnant and a mom to a two year old,  I was tired, and I fell asleep.

Another hour or so later, I was woken up by contractions. I thought I’d let Mark sleep awhile, like I did with my first child, because labor takes time. My first labor was 12 hours long. The only problem was that I was timing my contractions, and it didn’t take long before they were getting more painful and closer together, maybe 2-3 minutes apart. I was moving around too much, and Mark woke up.

He timed a couple contractions and called the midwife. She said I should go in the shower to see if labor was real, so I did. I wasn’t in there very long before I started to feel “pushy.” Just an impulse to bear down. That scared me. She lived half an hour away.

Mark called the midwife again, and she was on her way. Mark put the plastic sheet on the bed, while I got on all fours on the floor next to the bed, because it was the only position that was comfortable. I put my hand between my legs, and I could feel her head crowning. I said to Mark, “I can feel the head.” He said, “No, you can’t.” Soon enough though, he realized I could, because he could see her head.  He got on the phone with the midwife, and she talked him through delivering our baby girl. He had to hold her until I had another contraction because the cord wasn’t that long.  We left the cord intact until the midwife got there, maybe ten minutes after she was born.  That was how my girl came into the world. We didn’t have an ultrasound during the pregnancy, so we didn’t know what she would be. She was born with dark brown hair, unlike Nate, who was blond at birth. She was beautiful, 8lbs. 15oz.

I was glad ultimately that we planned to have her at home, because otherwise, she would have been born in the car on the way to the hospital, and that is definitely one place that seems even less comfortable than at home.  My husband was so brave. He didn’t have time to think or freak out, but he just did what the midwife told him to do over the phone, and he did it all calmly and lovingly. I am so grateful for him. He made sure that everything was ok.

Now my girl is a beautiful 13 year old, and I am blessed beyond measure to have her for my daughter. She is extremely smart, talented, funny, loves animals, Dr. Who, Harry Potter, and reading. I am blessed to be her mom and watch her grow up.  Happy birthday, Rachel!