Monday, April 18, 2011

Obedient unto Death

Our pastor mentioned part of a verse during yesterday's Palm Sunday sermon: "obedient unto death."  He illustrated it by talking about a parishioner who had recently passed away.  When he lay dieing, this man had come to a place of peace and said, "I am ready."

As I listened to Father Robbie talk about this man's journey, my thoughts wandered slightly.  I did not think about literal death.  Rather, I asked myself:

Am I willing to be obedient unto death?

Unto death?

What do I need to die to?

Am I ready? 

Am I willing?
Philippians 2:5-11 (New International Version)

 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
 6 Who, being in very nature God,
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
   by taking the very nature of a servant,
   being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
   he humbled himself
   by becoming obedient to death—
      even death on a cross!
 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
   and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.

Linking up with Michele at Graceful for "Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday".  What do you need to die to this week?

A New Day

I talked to my sister today.  We haven't spoken in several weeks.  Last August, she and her husband + four kids moved to Spanish Wells, Bahamas, a tiny island three miles long by one mile wide.  For no particular reason and with no particular plan - they just felt that's where the Lord was leading, and they followed.

It was really good to speak with her.  She sounds wonderful.

We had about a thirty minute catch-up.  I ran her down on our news, and she did the same for me.  Speaking with her has made me realize how far we've come, both of us, from our adolescent days and twenty-something lost-in-the-woods round-and-rounds.  She turns forty this year.  I will be thirty-four in a matter of weeks.  Yes, we've come a long way.

My catch-up consisted of filling her in on the changes we've made in our household during the last several weeks.  Between my endocrinologist, naturopath, two OB's, and all of Lily's doctors, we came to a place where, basically, we realized we needed to get back to the basics (pun intended).  The very basics: we're changing the way we eat. 

I've gone from the fourteen-year-old who would eat a Short Stop combo meal every night, to the twenty-something that, maybe, ate a slice of cheese pizza once a day with a cup of coffee in the morning, to miss "five servings a day".

It all started about a year ago.  I spent much of my prayer life asking the same question over and over: "God, how can I glorify you with my life?"  I expected a big answer.  You know, something along the lines of "become a missionary" or "sell everything and feed the poor".  An answer worthy of Biblical proportions.  Something for the history books.  Something radical.  This is what I heard:

"Eat well."


"Eat well," He would say, repeating Himself ad nauseum until this stubborn mama could hear.  I swear if He said it once, He said it a thousand times. 

Fast forward one year; it's early February 2011: I'm so sick I can barely move, and no one knows what's wrong.  In fact, most of the medical community has outright told me they think it's in my head.  I've been in deterioration since my first pregnancy, the year 2007.  It's now at the point that when I'm not on kid duty, I'm in bed.  I have no energy and see no end in sight.  I'm withdrawn and despondent.  Most people don't even know how sick I am because I've gone so internal.  I've started to lose hope.

Finally, I see a doctor who not only thinks he understands the core of the issue, he also tells me that my issues are most definitely not in my head.  The pieces start falling into place: my adrenal glands are in decline, and my body doesn't make enough cortisol.  In addition, I don't get the nutrients I need to function - namely, Vitamin D and B - for two reasons.  The first is because I'm sensitive to gluten.  Eating gluten is blocking nutrition.  Secondly, I don't eat well.  Not eating well puts extra stress on my system, triggering my adrenal glands, which can't make up the difference.  The cycle continues, moving me further down the rabbit hole with each rotation.

So, I start giving my body the cortisol it needs, at the direction of my endocrinologist, but my fainting episodes continue.  The body keeps shutting down.  Why?  I go see a naturopathic doctor.  The first thing she said to me?

"Why don't you eat?"

She had just finished going over my history in detail.  At the end of our two hour chat, she asked me to detail a typical day's eating habits.  Afterward she looked incredulous, and the question came like a cannon in my mind: "why don't you eat?"

Yes, why don't you? I hear the Holy Spirit whisper.

Yes, why don't I? I ask myself in my innermost place.

The answer is complicated and - honestly - too personal for this blog post.  Suffice it to say, I spent almost my entire life ignoring my body.  I cut myself off from it, pretending like it didn't exist.  One of my dear friends - exacerbated - once said to me, "Jenny, it used to make me crazy when you would tell me that you forgot to eat.  Who forgets to eat?  My body won't let me not eat!"

When she said that, I had an epiphany: this isnt' just about me cutting myself off from me; this is about me cutting myself off from God.  In many ways.  The most obvious, of course, is His direct command to me: "eat well."  I had been walking in disobedience, and I had known it.  More than that, though - for this isn't about the law - I had dishonored someone I loved, treating His creation as if it wasn't worthy of care, effectively saying to Him: "I know better than you.  Why should I take care of something that doesn't matter?"

When the naturopath started to teach me how to eat - explaining the why's and how-for's behind organic vs. not organic, the number of vegetable servings I need in a day and why, how lean protein interacts with "good" fatty acids, how hormones are excreted by plastic containers, causing the hormones in my body to get off-balance - I started to understand. 

When I asked God how I could glorify Him and He answered "eat well", He knew.  Long before I had a clue, He knew that I needed food.  Quite literally.  It was actually becoming a matter of life and death.  I needed to give my body a break from over-working itself; I needed to give it what it is designed to need.  I needed to feed myself.

And I needed to trust Him that what He had made was good, that my body - like the rest of me - deserved attention, that, to put it bluntly, I was worth the effort.

I had spent so many years focusing on the spiritual and emotional while ignoring the physical.  In so doing, I missed out on a large part of God's heart.  He wants us to be whole beings - as integrated as He is, held together by the bonds of love.

I need to love myself, I need to honor myself, I need to treat myself - all of myself - as though I matter.  Eating is an act of worship.  Putting good things into my is a way to glorify my Maker.  Allowing my body to work as it was intended to do so makes it more possible for Him to be reflected in that work.

This is an exciting journey, ultimately an act of repentance unto worship.  I am thankful for His patience.  I know that, because it took me so long to come around to obedience, the road back will be all the longer.  I will take time to recover...time to heal.  But that's okay.  I know He has extended me grace for this journey.  I know He is here, now, in the turning.  And I know He will be with me as I move forward, toward Him.  For He is good, and His love endures forever (Psalm 118:1).  Amen.

Linking up with Jen and the ladies at Soli Deo Gloria.  Be sure to stop by.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt

I recently discovered this book thanks to Barnes & Noble - and, by extension, this author.  I can not recommend either highly enough.  Phenomenal is a word I would use without hesitation.  B&N says, "this book will change your life."  They're not exaggerating. 

Here's a link to it on B&N: (in the interest of full disclosure, it's currently cheaper at amazon, but I think you can get free shipping at B&N.  and, I like supporting online stores that have storefronts as well, if I can.)

And here's a reprint of an interview between Amazon and the author (I'm a geeky writer-in-training so I love it when I find interviews of authors and their processes):

Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Author Gary D. Schmidt

Q: Did you always want to become a writer?
A: Nope. In high school, I wanted to go to the Naval Academy at Annapolis and become a career naval officer. Then, late in high school, I wanted to be a vet—mostly because of the James Herriot books and the PBS show, I suppose. Then, in college, I decided to become a lawyer—until my senior year, when I switched to an English major to become a teacher, which I did become. Somehow becoming a writer happened along the way.

Q: What did you read when you were a kid?
A: In my school, we were tracked—meaning that we were put into classes depending on how well we had done in testing. This happened in first grade. I had tested poorly and ended up in the pumpkin group—no kidding. We were the poorest readers, and so since I was told I wasn’t any good at this, I didn’t read much. Then I got taken up by Miss Kabakoff, who just liked me, and who brought me into her class and taught me how to read.
Once that happened, I read everything I could. The Freddy the Pig books, the Doctor Dolittle books, any Greek mythology I could get my hands on, and the Norse mythology that I liked better, the biographies in the Childhood of Famous Americans series, the tales of the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen, the Herbert series and the Henry Reed series, Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson, Howard Pyle’s The Adventures of Robin Hood and His Merry Men, Bambi (which is a lot better than most people think it is), anything by Jack London or Jules Verne or H. G. Wells, the Horatio Hornblower books, Treasure Island, and of course the Hardy Boys series and the Tom Swift series, which I collected whenever I could.
Q: How often do you write?
A: Every day I am not teaching—so two or three days a week, and sometimes at night—unless it’s really cold out and the woodstove needs a lot of tending.
Q: How much do you write each day?
A: I work on three projects at a time, and they are all at different stages. One may be a first draft, one may be almost finished, and one might be in proofs—or perhaps just being conceived. I try to write about five hundred words a day on each project. Most American writers—Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Jack London—all wrote about five hundred words a day. It seems the right pace for me. It keeps me from going too fast at a project.
There are some children’s book writers—like Enid Blyton—who supposedly wrote ten thousand words a day. This seems impossible to me, but even if it is true, one should not judge oneself by the absurd outlier.
Q:Where do you write?
A: I have a study in a small outbuilding away from the house. It has a desk, a lamp, more books than should be in any one room, and a woodstove. I work at a typewriter, and keep lots of scrap paper around me. This means, by the way, that if anything comes out pretty awful, I can just open the woodstove and burn it all. The feeling of relief is remarkable.
On my desk are a dictionary and a thesaurus, books by Emerson and Whittier and Longfellow and Darwin, Henry David Thoreau’s journals, a collection of Churchill’s war speeches, two volumes of Shaker hymns, some Tolkien, some Avi, some Katherine Paterson, some Elie Wiesel, The Giver, and a statue of a greyhound that has been in my family for four generations.
Q:You work at a typewriter?
A: You can’t believe how hard it is to find typewriter ribbons for a 1953 Royal.
Q: Your books often are very serious. Shouldn’t you lighten up?
A: You think life in middle school isn’t serious? Are you kidding?
Living is a serious business. Funny is good, of course. We all like to laugh. But I want more than that. Much more. Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his first great book, called life "a veil of gloom and brightness." We all wish it could be brightness all the time. And maybe for some people it is. I doubt it, but maybe. But there is gloom for us all, too. And maybe books even for kids shouldn’t ignore that. Geez, read Where the Wild Things Are, or Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, or just about any Grimm folktale, or Crow Boy, or Bridge to Terabithia, or Nothing but the Truth, or No, David, or Octavian Nothing, or The Tale of Despereaux, or Stitches, or The Storm in the Barn, and then try to tell me that writers for kids should try not to be too serious.
Q: What is your favorite book that you have written?
A: Hmmm... If I give one title, then all the other books get sort of cranky and jealous, and they start to rearrange themselves loudly at night to push each other off the shelves. Then I have to pick them all up in the morning instead of walking the dogs and then the dogs get irritated and they take their sweet time on the walk so I get back home late and miss most of breakfast and the kids get to school after the bell has rung and the day just goes downhill from there.
Let’s just say they’re all my favorites.
Q:What is your favorite book that you have not written?
A: An easy question. It is The Little World of Don Camillo. There is no other book like it, so sweet, so funny, so moving, sometimes suspenseful. I wish I had written it.

Copied from:
Q:What book are you working on now?
A: Sorry. Writers should never talk about what they’re working on next. It will be done when it’s done, and then I’ll be glad to talk about it. But not now.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Letting Go

This wasn't the post I was going to write today.

The post I had planned to write was complicated, confusing, needing to be unwound.  It was taking a lot out of me.  This post, by contrast, is simple, clear, direct.

It came to me after a friend said to me not more than thirty minutes ago: "Jenny, I think you need to let go...."  She followed it up with specific things I need to release - and I happen to agree with her - but the more salient point here is the overarching message of letting go.  As she spoke, it felt like a hard word - in that I would need to change in order to respond - but it also felt blissfully freeing.  I could literally feel a weight lifting off my shoulders as she spoke.  In its place came a mantle of peace, lightweight, comfortable, soothing.

You see, when I am afraid, I cling.  To whatever.  I obsess in order to find a way out of my fear.  I think that if I can only get to the answer, solve the problem, I won't have to be afraid any more and then I can let go.

As usual, I had it backwards.  The point is faith.  The point is not knowing.  The point is the letting go.

When I let go, that's when the fear left.  When I let go, that's when the peace came.

I'm no closer to an answer.  I'm no closer to a solution.  I'm not even closer to understanding.  But I am closer to faith.  I am closer to trust.  I am closer to Him.

For that, I am thankful.

Sitting on the new deck my husband built for me, enjoying the beautiful spring day, and linking up with Soli Deo Gloria.  This is a good day.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I cried in church today.  Not for anything sad, but simply because so many emotions were bubbling up inside me they had to find a way to leak out.  At first I shed a few, wipeable tears, but then I felt the sobs coming so hard that I had to bury my head in my husband's chest to keep from making a scene.  He barely stifled a giggle while he patted my back.  (You see, I am quite the empathetic crier; and - whether happy or sad - most of the time my emotions show up in tears.  It can be quite comical at times!)

I cried because today we held a special service, a service I had never heard of nor experienced.  (We are Episcopalian, so most of our liturgies are written in the Book of Common Prayer.  After more than twenty years in this denomination, I thought I had heard them all.  Guess not.)  I'm reprinting it here, in its lengthy entirety, because I feel like there are some moms out there who might need to hear it (and dads too!).  More than that, maybe some of you need/want to pray through it with your own pre-teens.  Whatever the reason, I'm definitely feeling led.  So, whomever this is for, I pray God's blessings over you.

PASSAGES: CELEBRATION OF THE TRANSITION FROM CHILDHOOD TO ADULTHOOD (Our church invited children and parents/caregivers of twelve-year-olds to stand at the altar throughout this service.)

The Presentation and Examination

Presider        The Candidates for Passages will now be presented.  Dear People of God: throughout life's journey we encounter moments of change that call us to grow.  In the relationship between parent and child there are many such moments of challenge and grace.  Though each of these has unique burdens and joys, adolescence especially requires greater patience, forgiveness, courage, and hope.  Parent and child must learn to risk and let go.  These children and their parents come to this faithful community to offer thanks for all that has been, and to seek God's blessing for all their futures.  We join them in acknowledging and celebrating the transition as they stand on the threshold.

Who is ready to begin this new phase of life?

Parents and children present each other, one family group at a time.  Godparents and other significant adults may also stand with the parents and children.

Young person         This is my mother/father, (Name), who has raised me and loves me.

Parent(s)                This is my son/daughter, (Name), whom I love with all my heart.

Young persons and parents together
We stand before God and before our faithful community to acknowledge that we are in the midst of a change that calls us to fresh ways of understanding one another.  Help us be thankful for all that has been and for all that is to come.  We trust God's constant love and pray a blessing for this time of transition.

The sponsors address the young people and adults, saying (in this case, the youth minister)
(Names of young persons present), you are made in the image of God who has held you in love every day of your life, and always will.  Remember your divine Maker who formed you in joy and remolds you for the changes that lie before you.  The Creator who knows you delights in the work that prepares you for your roles in Christ's healing of the world.

The Presider continues
Let us recite Psalm 139.  The congregation is asked to recite the antiphon, and the candidates (young persons) will recite the verses.

Psalm 139
Antiphon          Your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
Candidates       Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
                         you know my sitting down and my rising up;
                         you discern my thoughts from afar.
                         If I take the wings of the morning
                         and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
                         Even there your hand will lead me
                         and your right hand hold me fast.
Antiphon          Your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
Candidates       For you yourself created my inmost parts;
                         you knit me together in my mother's womb.
                         I will thank you because I am marvelously made.
                         Your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
Antiphon          Your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
Candidates      My body was not hidden from you,
                        while I was being made in secret
                        and woven in the depths of the earth.
                        Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb
                        all of them were written in your book;
                        they were fashioned day by day,
                        when as yet there were none of them.
Antiphon          Your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
Candidates      Search me out, O God, and know my heart;
                        try me and know my restless thoughts.
                        Look well whether there be any wickedness in me
                        and lead me in the way that is everlasting.
Antiphon          Your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

The Presider addresses the young people, saying
(Names of young persons), will you continue to honor your parents, respecting their life experience, and remembering their love for you?

Young People  I will with God's help.

Presider           Will you strive to make decisions that honor your body, your spirit, and your relationships?

Young People  I will with God's help.

The Presider addresses the parents, saying
(Names of parents), in the sacred responsibility of giving and sustaining life, you reflect the image of God.  These children are God's gifts to you, as truly as you are God's gifts to them.  Remember that God has never forsaken you, and will always be near, in this and in every good work to which you are called, for which you respond in faith.  Know that you are ministers of God's love to these young people.

Will you respect the dignity of your sons and daughters, listening to all that they tell you, even allowing them to make their own mistakes when you may responsibly do so?

Parents           I will with God's help.

Presider          Will you set limits and spacious boundaries for these young people, intended to keep them safe and well?

Parents           I will with God's help.

Presider, to parents and young people
Will all of you be patient with yourselves and each other, practicing forgiveness and forbearance, and holding fast to love's courage, joy, and hope?

Young People and Parents
We will with God's help.

Will you remember to include the outcast, love the lonely, and practice mercy?

Young People and Parents
We will with God's help.

Will you be faithful in attending church, studying the Scriptures, and saying your prayers?

Young People and Parents
We will with God's help.

The Peers (all 6th-12th graders) now stand.  Presider, to the young people's peers.
Dear friends, as these young people move beyond the circle of their families, they will need faithful friends.  Will you stand by them, knowing that there may be times when your support means more than any other?

Young People        We will with God's help.

The entire congregation stands.  Presider, to all the People:
Will you as their Christian community support these young people and their parents during their time of change and growth?

We will.  We welcome your presence among us, honoring the gifts of insight and freshness you bring us.  We will sing and pray with you.  We will challenge you to be generous and compassionate as you serve Christ in your home, at church, and in the world.  Will you do the same for us?

Young People and Parents
We will with God's help.

Let us now pray for these young people who seek God's blessing and ours as they journey into adulthood.

Deliver them, O Lord, from the way of sin and death.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Open their hearts to your grace and truth.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Fill them with your hold and life-giving Spirit.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Keep them in the faith and communion of your holy Church.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Teach them to love others in the power of the Spirit.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Send them into the world in witness to your love.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Bring them to the fullness of your peace and glory.

Lord, hear our prayer.

I invite your intercessions and thanksgivings.

Grant, O Lord, that these young persons, all baptized into the death of Jesus Christ your Song, may continue their earthly pilgrimage in the power of his resurrection, and may wait in hope for his coming again in glory, who lives and reigns now and for ever.  Amen.

The Blessing
The Parents may gather around and lay hands on the young people, as the Presider offers this blessing:
All Holy God, source of every blessing: we thank you for the mystery of growing up, the transformation of body, mind, and spirit that brings children to adulthood.  We marvel in this and all your works.  Give these parents and young people grace and courage, patience and good humor, respect and compassion, and unfailing hope, as they travel together through life, sister and brothers united in Christ and his household, the Church.  We pray in Jesus' name.
And all God's People say Amen!

Linking up with Michele for "Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday".  If you have a chance, read some of the other linkers and leave encouraging comments!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

"You're a writer?"

A typical day in my writing world:

Kids were just picked up by my "thank the Lord for her, oh my God, what would I do without her?" mother-in-law.  They have a weekly snuggle night at her house, thank God.  (I love my children, but I have also realized that I desperately, truly, sincerely need good, solid blocks of time alone.)  I am free to do whatever I want for the next sixteen hours and fifteen minutes (but who's counting?).

AAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  What

About fifty million options have buzzed through my head - so many that I threaten to do nothing and succumb to veggie-outiness by plopping myself in front of the TV.  No, be productive, I tell myself.  I drag on my swimsuit, determined to get some laps in before making it over to a friend's art show.  As I pack my gear I hear the Lord say: "write first; write for an hour."

First fruits.  I've been thinking about this lately (what with spring and all, and my first attempt at growing vegetables going on in a pot in my front yard).  Yes sir, I think.  I want Him to have the best of me.

I sit down to write.  iTunes pumping out inspirational music into an eerily quiet house, I open up my manuscript (aptly titled "Book I") and scroll to the bottom, pleased to find that I'm on page 39.  Just two months ago I would have thought it impossible to get past page three (I'm a notorious starter).

I check my notes - the handwritten scribbles I eeked out on my trip to Marfa - and come up with a quick plan for the next hour.  Finish Part I, write two chapters of Part II.  I start typing.

At first it's easy.  I can relate to these characters, the young man and woman populating the pages of the first part of my book.  Writing them is like writing myself.  Which makes sense, since this book is primarily autobiographical (a work of fiction, it is still one way for me to work out my own past).  They are messy, cynical, passionate, impulsive, suspicious.  They have to fight hard for everything.  I can relate.

I finish Part I and type "Part II" across the blank, white page.  Hmmm, what now? I think as I stare.  I pull out my notes.  Lara.  This is where I introduce a new character, a young girl who also represents part of me - the innocent, trusting, God-protected part.  Me as I was intended to be.  Me before my own Fall, before the moments I learned to fear, hate, mistrust.  Even after all my years of healing, I most definitely can not relate to her.  It's like staring a stranger in the face.

"I don't like you," I think.  "You're too nice."  She's one of those sickly-sweet types that you want to hate but, at the end of the day, you can't.  You can't deny that good is, in fact, good.  You hate it because you, secretly, want it.  Self-defense at its most twisted.

My hour is almost up.  I've written one measly paragraph in the second part of my book, the Lara part.  I can already tell: she and I are going to need to have some words if I'm going to get through this, through her.  I need to understand her.  More than that, I need to forgive her.  For abandoning me, for retreating to a safe place inside of me while my older, hardened self learned to deal with the world around me.  She stayed safe while I died inside a little every day. 

Whose fault is that - hers or mine?  A mute point since we are one and the same, but the distinction feels...well, distinct.  We are still strangers.  I'm not sure if I can trust her and her innocence, the precious way she embraces everyone, unafraid, loving, open. 

My cynicism bubbles up.  Am I safe with her?  Whom will she let in to our world?  Wouldn't I be better off remaining aloof, angry, self-protected, like her counterpart in Part I? 

Tempted as I am to choose that path, I know the answer: no.  The bitchy part of me might feel safer, but she is definitely not happier.  She is certainly not whole.  There is too much missing to live like that: the two must become one.

And so I write.  On to paragraph two with ten minutes to go.

For fun, here are some pic's of my personal writer's retreat in Marfa - where it all began (thank you again Sherry and Steve!).  Enjoy!

My notes stuck up on my big, white wall.  This represents the story arc of one character.

I took my family along.  My husband helps me collect these vintage image cases and then fills them with black and whites of us and the kids.  They sit on my dresser at home and almost always
go with me when I travel.

My writing desk for the weekend.  The typewriter didn't work, so I used my notebook
and computer.  That was fine because I wanted a digital copy of my words anyway.

I love trains.  I love lines.  I love color juxtaposed against neutrality, blandness.
I love wide, open spaces (why I love West Texas).

I stayed at the Thunderbird Motel (which, unfortunately, I do NOT recommend).
I'm including this picture because I like it, and I like the graphic sensibility of the Thunderbird folks.

Per Jen's sweet request, linking up this old post with SDG today.  Be sure to stop by and visit my fellow bloggers.  You're sure to be encouraged!