Monday, December 30, 2013

Looking Back at 2013

The week after Christmas is my favorite week of the year. There is something so satisfying about settling into the quiet with my family after the busy holiday season, cleaning and organizing my house, and preparing my heart and mind for a new year. For me, a big part of this is to look back at the past year-- the challenges and the joys. It is always amazing to see how far we've come.

This has been a year of changes. Although, as I get older, I am finding that most years fit that description. I'm also finding myself less afraid of change, because even though it can certainly be scary at first, I have learned that change can always lead to growth. Even the most difficult circumstances can bring valuable change and growth; in fact, I wonder if these are the circumstances that bring the most growth!

So, here's a look back at our year:

Unfortunately, our family's year has been bookended with illness. We started the year with the norovirus that wouldn't quit (although it finally did after I bleached my house!), and we've spent the last couple of months with various ear and sinus infections, stomach bugs, and the flu. I think we're finally on the road to recovery, though. Hopefully 2014 will be a healthier year for us all.

I spent all of 2013 as a master's student, and I've (mostly) loved it. I'm officially halfway through my program now! If there was any shred of doubt in my mind that I wanted to be a school counselor, it was quickly put to rest when I began my school observations in the fall. I particularly fell in love with the elementary school kids, which came as a surprise to me considering I had always assumed I would work with teenagers. My classes have really energized me as far as my personal interests that tie into school counseling; I have greatly enjoyed learning more about counseling theories, child development, education, and working with those in poverty.

A big change came for me as a parent, as all three kids are now in some form of school. If you had told me a few years ago this is what we'd be doing now, I would have quite frankly been horrified. I've realized that for a couple years there, I rode around on my high horse fed by ideals, without taking into much consideration how realistic and beneficial my ideals actually were for me and my family. I had it in my head that the only way I could personally be a "good enough" parent was to be a stay-at-home mom.

I finally admitted to myself that while being a stay-at-home mom is truly an amazing thing for many moms and their kids, I am actually a better parent when I'm not at home full-time. I'm more capable of being patient, focused on the moment, consistent, and authoritative. So the kids are in school; Elijah (11) is in fifth grade, Isaac (5) is in pre-k at Elijah's school, and Joshua (2) is attending the Montessori school. This has also been necessary for me to be able to focus on my school responsibilities such as doing school observations.

Lesson learned here? Ideals are good, as long as they are balanced with the realistic needs of the family and each person in it. We are all truly thriving now, and I'm thrilled!

Some other major events of the year:

I participated in my first 5k in March: Color Me Rad. Then I didn't run another step. Gotta get back to that...

In June, my husband and I went out of town together without children for the first time in six years, and only the second time in a dozen years of marriage. It was just one night in Nashville, but it was really lovely. I hope we'll be able to take another trip together soon.

 In August, the church we were part of for six and a half years stopped meeting. You can read more about that here. We've found another church that we like quite a bit, but we haven't been able to attend much recently because of sickness. That's something I definitely want to change going into the new year.

In November, Clark was admitted into the nursing program, and he'll start nursing school in a couple of weeks.

We celebrated twelve years of marriage in December! We have been through a lot in twelve years, and I'm so glad we've been through it together. I wouldn't trade my husband for anyone, that's for sure. :)

My hair grew a lot. Maybe that seems like a silly thing to include in my post, but it's a big deal for me after swearing for years that I would never grow my hair out again. ;) For comparison, here I am at the beginning of the year, and now. I can't wait to see how much longer it is by the end of 2014!

Gotta brag about my kiddos a little bit, too:

Elijah was invited to a Lego STEM camp at the local community college during his fall break, which he loved. He got the opportunity because his science and math test scores are so high. So, I guess this is one of those times where I will actually have to say hooray for standardized testing...

Elijah also started an after-school program for academically talented kids, and he chose to participate in a music class. The kids learned to play various percussion instruments and performed at the school's Christmas concert. He looks forward to continuing to learn more about music!

Isaac played his first organized sport this year: pee-wee basketball at the Y. He had lots of fun! He's also loved being in pre-k this year.

As for Joshua, he weaned in September at the age of 21 months. While it was somewhat bittersweet for my last baby to stop breastfeeding, I was ready for him to wean. I'm proud of how long we nursed! He's also loved being at Montessori and has done very well.

So there's a look back at 2013 in our household. I can't wait to see what 2014 has in store. I have a feeling it will be grand.

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Several months ago, I began an attempt to write down things I am grateful for on little slips of paper, and thumbtack them to a cork board. It was meant to be a visual reminder of the large and small ways God has provided for me and my family. Unfortunately, it was a failed attempt because the board ended up getting buried under other stuff on my desk and I forgot about it. :-/ However, I'm getting ready to try it again, this time with the board hanging on a wall in a common room of the house so everyone can see and contribute to it. And no more thumbtacks and little slips of paper; ain't nobody got time for that. I'm just putting a posterboard over the cork board and we can write things directly on it with whatever is handy.

But as I think about praise, I realize there is so much more to it than I think about most of the time. It's not just about praise for material and financial provision, or for health-- although those are most certainly worthy of praise!

There is more.

Psalm 148 is a beautiful piece of poetry that talks about all of creation praising God. It starts by speaking of heavenly beings such as angels, then works its way down through nature itself: the sun, moon, and stars, the animals, the mountains, the trees, even the weather. And then humanity: the kings and rulers of the world, men and women, and finally children. Each aspect of creation is described as being created at the commandment of a God whose majesty is above both earth and heaven. And God's entire creation is poised to praise him.

But the imagery in the psalm takes on more meaning for me when I consider the heights and depths of the universe experienced by Christ: from the heavens all the way down to being a human infant, taking on flesh and blood, and experiencing temptation and suffering. God humbled himself to our position-- then gloriously defeated death. Hebrews 2 describes this so beautifully, with a reminder that Jesus destroyed the one who has power over death. The implications for our spiritual freedom and deliverance are enormous! This is certainly worthy of praise.

But there is, again, more.

This is where my mind is blown every time I think of it.

Presumably, Jesus could have stayed safe in the comfort of heaven, but he didn't. The act of coming to this world as a human being, taking on flesh and blood, suffering, and dying so we could be redeemed... this is such an amazing display of God's compassion, mercy, goodness, and love that I am nearly speechless when I try to fathom it.

The tendency toward sin is woven through humanity; it is egregious and tragic. But God, rather than being put off by it or throwing his hands up in the air and giving up on us, opted instead for marvelous grace, mercy, and compassion to make a way for us. Because stronger than our sinfulness, is God's love for us.

Let me try to put it in human terms I can wrap my head around more easily. It's like seeing my child fail repeatedly at meeting adult standards. As a parent, I see his limitations and immaturity, so rather than giving up on him or punishing him, I come alongside him to help him meet the standard. That's a very dumbed down explanation, but it's one I can easily understand.

The love of a parent toward his or her child is humble, self-sacrificing, compassionate, and merciful. This is a beautiful picture. When I blow it up to the proportions of a perfect creator and fallen humanity, it becomes that much more beautiful. 

Look at the love God has lavished on us. How amazing that God has made a way for redemption for people who are incapable of doing it on their own.

God responds to our failures and sins with compassion and mercy! Not with fury, disgust, punishment, or turning away from us. But why?

Because of the "abundance of his steadfast love" (Isaiah 63:7).

And that is worthy of praise.

If you are interested in reading along, the passages from the lectionary that inspired this post are: Isaiah 63:7-9, Psalm 148, Hebrews 2:10-18, and Matthew 2: 13-23. They can be read at

Friday, December 20, 2013


I have felt my personal Grinch level creeping higher and higher this holiday season. It seems as though time speeds up every year, so last Christmas doesn't feel like it was very long ago. Plus we have struggled financially this year, which makes it difficult to buy gifts for people. And then there is my increasing feeling that this Christmas thing has become so hollow that there is almost no point anymore. After all, at least the way we tend to celebrate it, it has become a social expectation and obligation. Buy stuff, bake cookies, eat food, go lots of places, and then do more and eat more and buy even more!

I once read someone talking about a store putting out merchandise for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all at once; she referred to the combination as Hallowgivingmas... pronounced "Hollow giving mess." And that is exactly what I have started to feel. Like I said in my last post, I have never been the kind of person who likes to do things just because I "should" or because that's "just how it's done." Tradition is fine and dandy as long as I can feel the meaning behind it. But celebrating a certain way simply because it's a cultural expectation... that doesn't really work for me because my heart isn't truly in it.

So I've been Grinchy.

At the same time, I feel the urge to rediscover the anticipatory feeling I once associated with this time of year. As I child, I recall feeling a sense of wonder around Christmastime. Sure, some if it had to do with the idea of Santa, because wouldn't it be so COOL to wake up just in time to hear sleigh bells in the sky or reindeer hooves on the roof? But more than that, it was a feeling that something special was happening. Something sacred. There was a different feeling in the air, a feeling that miracles could occur, a sense of awe and wonder.

I miss that and I want to feel it again.

So when I read through the first couple weeks of the Advent readings in the lectionary, it seemed to be exactly what I have needed. For the first time this season, I began to feel more anticipatory and hopeful-- which is a welcome reprieve from the stress and frustration I had been feeling!

For me, these readings have put words to what my heart already knew: it is time for me to wake up spiritually. I have let myself fall asleep the past few months, and it is time to awake from my slumber and prepare my heart for worship. Not just worship in the sense many people think of, such as praise and worship songs at church, but worship in the sense of recognizing and glorifying God with my life.

Around this time of year it is so easy to become distracted by material stuff and expectations that I forget about the peace and goodness inherent in this season. How often do I pray for peace in people's lives and hearts? How often do I do my part to bring peace by seeking the good of others? Not only doing doing good for others, but also intentionally focusing on the good I see and offering love and encouragement.

When I feel God's peace, joy, love, and hope, my heart is softened, my soul is stirred awake, and I am more prepared for worship. And this makes me wonder if I can help others feel the same by seeking their good and helping bring peace.

And that, for me, is exactly what this season is about. I lose focus on it too easily, but there it is. Peace on earth, goodwill toward men. I look around and see so little of that sometimes; at other times, I see it everywhere. Maybe it just depends on what I'm looking for. But I know that when I see it, I again feel the wonder and sense of sacredness of this time of year.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

New Beginnings

Before my previous church stopped meeting together, we were attempting to move toward following the liturgical calendar. Because of this, I spent the summer as part of a small group of people that met weekly to discuss the readings from the lectionary in order to help prepare the message for the upcoming Sunday. This was very helpful to me on a personal level because it kept me engaged with scripture. I also loved how several passages from different genres of scripture tied together around common themes. This always inspired a lot of thought for me.

Unfortunately, once our church stopped meeting, I stopped reading. Not just the weekly passages from the lectionary; I will admit I stopped reading the Bible entirely. I have found that having some type of structure-- such as the lectionary-- is very beneficial to me. And at least for now, without that structure to guide me a bit, it is too easy for me to get out of the habit of reading.

Recently I have realized that I truly miss reading scripture. I know most people who have spent time in church have heard that they “should” be reading the Bible; however, I have never been particularly interested in doing something just because people say I "should." My apologies to my parents. ;)

Instead, I realize more and more that I want to read scripture because is helpful and inspiring. When I start reading, I immediately feel how the words of scripture speak to my heart. I remember how it feels to truly worship, to have hope and joy, to feel a connection to something greater than myself.

You may not know this about me, but I’m a sucker for new beginnings. I love new years, new months, even new weeks! So I'm taking advantage of a happy new beginning. The liturgical year begins with Advent, the first Sunday of December. Obviously that has recently begun. However, the Revised Common Lectionary follows a three-year cycle of readings, and the beginning of this month just so happens to also mark the beginning of a  new three-year cycle.

Ahh. I love it!

So... because I miss reading scripture, and because I like having a bit of structure, and because I enjoyed following the lectionary previously, and because this feels like a great time for a new beginning...

I have decided to attempt to not only read the passages from the lectionary each week, but to write about what they have meant to me. A few disclaimers: This is by no means supposed to be a way to tell everyone what the passages should mean to them, and I am certainly making no claims of being a theologian. These posts will simply be my thought processes based on what I have read and what it has said to my heart.

I’m getting a bit of a late start on the posts, so I will post my thoughts on the first three weeks over the next few days, then the posts will be weekly. I hope you’ll get involved! Read along, share your thoughts, and most of all, let scripture speak to you.