Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Unexpected Keeping of Christ in Christmas

Ah, Walmart. The 'evil' empire that people just love to hate (and yet most of them still shop there). Just mention the company name in a public setting and you won't have to wait long for the bashing to begin. Growing up with a father who has worked for Walmart for the last 18 years, I've not been a stranger to the comments and am perfectly aware of the overall negative public image of this company. I can even see the validity of some of the points that are made, however I must stand up for Walmart. As an employee of Walmart and as a truck driver, my father has been treated with more respect and honor than any other company I know treats professionals in his field. He has been paid a fair, possibly even generous, salary, and has been able to more than support our family over the years. I have seen the pride he takes in his job grow over the last almost two decades as he has been repeatedly promoted and rewarded for his performance, and have attended many of the functions put on by Walmart that celebrate their employees. Most of my father's coworkers have become like family to us and to each other, as they have worked together for years and years because they are treated so well and enjoy their job so much. In fact, most of the drivers see Walmart as the ultimate goal in their career path because their reputation in the industry--they are known for treating their drivers with the utmost respect and fairness.

Today was my father's work Christmas party. Notice I said "CHRISTMAS" party--not "holiday" party. That's because Walmart is not afraid to call it what it is, a Christmas party. In this day and age of PC-ism, of stores and people being afraid to offend someone by merely uttering the word Christmas, this alone should be a reason to applaud Walmart. But it gets better, folks. As the opening speaker welcomed the crowd, he asked us to think about the reason for the season. He chose to recite the following poem to help us to keep Jesus central this Christmas:

This Christmas...Let's Give a Little Jesus, a thoughtful word or deed, an act of generosity for someone who's in need. Let's Give a Little Jesus to everyone we meet--the salesclerk or the server, the person on the street. Let's Give a Little Jesus, that's what really counts--not what's spent or bought, for whom, in what amounts. Let's Give a Little Jesus to everyone, large or small...for Jesus, the Messiah, is the Greatest Gift of All

I have to tell you, I was shocked. Here is a room full of hundreds of people who all work for this so-called evil corporation, yet this man has no fear bringing Jesus up. I had goosebumps, I swear. I could not believe that I was at a non-church or non-Christian event and here was a man freely speaking of Jesus without worrying about creating some kind of outrage. You could really tell that he believed in what he was saying, and it was powerful (even if the poem was a little cheesy).

But then. THEN. The unthinkable happened. Just before we were being dismissed to the breakfast buffet, this man asked us to bow our heads in prayer. He prayed a heartfelt prayer for us, asking Jesus to be with us and to bless each one of our families this season. He prayed for our food and asked that Jesus nourish us with it. He prayed for peace and for the families out there who do not have jobs right now and are struggling to get by. He thanked Jesus for a roomful of people who still have their jobs, even in this economy. Amen.

As far as I could tell, everyone in that room bowed their heads along with him and prayed; it did not seem that anyone was offended or put off by him saying a blessing before the meal.

The rest of the party went the way many work parties do...the usual door prizes and acknowledgements and that sort of thing. However, each one of the speakers mentioned at least once that we need to focus on the real reason for Christmas, and to remember that there are others out there who are not able to afford gifts and things for their families this year. Walmart has so many ways that they are giving back to communities all over the United States and while they did not flaunt it, they did mention some of them in order to urge each employee to do their part to give back as well. Honestly, it was very tactful and it really seemed as if these managers felt strongly about what they were saying. It was encouraging.

While I believe that there are things that Walmart as a large corporation does need to address, I am more proud than ever to say that my father works for this company. I hope that Walmart continues to set this kind of example to their employees.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cloth Obsession

I am officially obsessed with cloth diapers. Ever since deciding on them for my future little one, I have been researching and researching and researching the different options and have finally graduated from 'completely overwhelmed' into 'figuring it out' and finally into my current 'officially obsessed' state. It's amazing, all of the choices and decisions there are to make when cloth diapering...I honestly had no idea.

Once I decided on cloth, I then began the task of choosing the right 'stash' for my 'LO'. (Keep up, people, this is diaper lingo. 'Stash' refers to, well, one's stash of cloth diapers and 'LO' means little one, or the baby.) Prefolds and covers, AIO's (all in ones), pockets...the possibilities are endless. It's also an investment, but one that pays off in the long run. While doing my research, I found You can buy, sell, trade, ask questions and communicate with other cloth diapering moms. I have been able to build a nice stash without going broke, and I'll be able to try out different things without the commitment since most of the cloth holds its value extremely well upon reselling.

Most people think I've chosen cloth for the environmental aspect, and while that is a definite factor, it's also extremely cute and better for baby's skin. What mom can deny that a cloth diaper paired with baby legs is the cutest thing ever??

Friday, October 31, 2008

Amazing (Love)

I love love songs. I especially love well-lyricized love songs. Sometimes when I listen to these songs (and sing along at the top of my lungs) I find myself longing for that kind of love. I wonder if it really exists, or if it's just something everyone else is looking for too and that's why it's such a popular theme for music and movies and books and TV.

Then about a week ago, I realized something. That love DOES exist, and I am a recipient of it. Today, right now, I am loved that much. The love I'm talking about it even better than the love in these songs. It's a life-changing, life-saving kind of love. The kind of love that makes your heart sing with joy, the kind of love that makes you feel lighter than a feather even though the plenitude of this love is so great that you can't believe you can hold it all in your heart. The love of Jesus.

I feel like I'm opening my eyes for the first time. I've learned that God has this love for me, but I never really understood it and I had a hard time feeling like I was loving God back in the same way. I would think to myself, "I love God, but do I LOVE God?" And I felt guilty because I wasn't sure if I knew how. Turns out, all I needed to do was ask Him, because he not only showed me, he showered me with it! And when He did, I realized something else: loving God is not something I had to learn how to do. It's something that's always been there but was floating around under the surface just waiting to be released. Christ released it for me, and now I understand that part of experiencing the fullness of His love is loving him back with all of my heart. Praise God and His love for us!!

The Love of Christ Is Rich and Free

The love of Christ is rich and free;
Fixed on His own eternally;
Nor earth, nor hell, can it remove;
Long as He lives, His own He’ll love.

His loving heart engaged to be
Their everlasting Surety;
’Twas love that took their cause in hand,
And love maintains it to the end.

Love cannot from its post withdraw;
Nor death, nor hell, nor sin, nor law,
Can turn the Surety’s heart away;
He’ll love His own to endless day.

Love has redeemed His sheep with blood;
And love will bring them safe to God;
Love calls them all from death to life;
And love will finish all their strife.

He loves through every changing scene,
Nor aught from Him can Zion wean;
Not all the wanderings of her heart
Can make His love for her depart.

At death, beyond the grave, He’ll love;
In endless bliss, His own shall prove
The blazing glory of that love
Which never could from them remove.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Independently Happy?

As I settle into my second trimester, my sickness gone, my appetite back and my mood improved,  I am beginning to realize on a deeper level why God desires us to have children within a marriage.  I find myself praying to Jesus, asking Him to be the husband I need right now.  It's very hard and very lonely to be pregnant and alone.  By alone, I don't mean physically alone, as my parents are incredibly supportive and of course I live with them, and my friends have been wonderful and caring and giving, and I have my sister and my niece who are so excited already.  However, it's different when it's your own child.  When I lay in bed at night and feel my little girl moving around inside me, it's a very humbling and awe-filled experience, creating an intense emotional response.  But there's no one next to me, who I can say, "feel this!" to, and know that's its not only creating the same emotions in him but also bringing us closer to each other over this incredible gift that God has given.  In a way I almost feel more separate from my friends and family than ever before because of my pregnancy.  There's so many deep feelings and thoughts going on in my head and they're not the kind of thing you call up a friend and chat about, or bring up at the dinner table with Mom and Dad.  

It's safe to say I still have a lot of guilt that is preventing me from fully enjoying this experience as well, and I'm working on that every day.  I do believe that God has a plan for my daughter and for me, but it's so hard to see that right now when all I can think of is the stupid, selfish decisions I made that resulted in this situation.  I realize that what I'm going through now emotionally is a direct result of my sin and I am responsible for those decisions but I don't always know what is the right thing to do now that I have come back into the fold of God's love and grace and have repented for those things. 

 I know God will continue to provide me with what I need to get through this and I know that he will provide for my child as well.  Praise God, He has already made sure I have what I need and enabled me to make it even when I thought I wouldn't, both financially and emotionally. Please just pray that God will also fill my heart with peace and surety, that He will be my child's true and real Father and that he will be the Husband there next to me when I need Him to be.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Breakfast After 10

Our new 'season' of the Wednesday morning women's Bible study I attend began this morning.  I love, love, love this group and I'm so thankful that God originally called me to it last year.  It was an enormous factor in my growth in my faith throughout the year last year and I made some awesome new friends, as well as getting to know some previous acquaintances on a deeper level.  There are some new faces this time around and I'm excited to develop new relationships with these women as well.

I always feel so refreshed after leaving the church, so connected and more understood than I ever have felt anywhere else.  The way we are able to open up and discuss the Gospel and Jesus freely with each other, without judgement and reservations is just incredible.  Plus, the food's always good, too.  I struggle with so much sin in my life and I can get really down on myself trying to deal with it on my own.  I start to feel lonely and ugly and scared and depressed.  However, getting these fears and failures off my chest and sharing in the hope and love of Jesus in the company of these women just uplifts me in a way I could never explain.  Having the assurance that I'm not alone in my struggles goes a long way in refreshing my spirit and preparing my heart for another week out there in our broken, sinful world.  

I pray that God will continue to bless our group and His Spirit will dwell among us as this year as we study the Gospel of Mark.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Flavors of Entanglement

It's no secret (at least, I don't think it is) that I've been an Alanis Morissette fan for a very long time. I own all of her albums and they get frequent play time on the ol' iPod. I've struggled with it because I guess I feel like she's kind of a cliche', like angry chic-rock music or something, but the truth is, she is an incredibly talented musician. She writes all of her own music, plays many different instruments and often her albums are surprisingly complex and highly personal accounts of her life that she is not afraid to share with the free world.

Her new album, Flavors of Entanglement, is no exception. At first listen, I wasn't totally sold on it. I was having a hard time getting into the newer style she tries out, which is a little less "raw" and a little more "produced," for lack of better terms. However, after about the fourth full listen, something just kind of clicked, and I understood where she was going with this new sound. Suddenly, it made perfect sense. I had chosen a few songs that I liked and those were the only ones I listened to, but after the epiphany I went back and re-visited the album in its entirety and I heard it in a new way. Since then, I haven't been able to listen to anything else.

It's the perfect break-up music, without being bitter. She's saying, I'm sad it's over, I still think you're great, but we're better this way. She's saying, I've grown, I'm not perfect, but I'm comfortable with me. She's saying, I'm not looking back, but I'm not trying to forget it all, either. I think those of us who have experienced this type of relationship know, it's hard to get that across without seeming like you're just trying to convince yourself and everyone else that you believe it. However, Alanis manages to tell her story honestly, without any irony at all, and it's fun to sing along to.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Random thoughts and updates for a Friday afternoon

I've probably read about 40 books in the last month.  Sometimes two or more a day.  Novels, non-fiction, everything.  I guess it's been an escape of sorts for me.  I am reminded of the book Girl Meets God where she gives up reading for Lent.  I found it ridiculous that she would consider reading as something she did in place of -or instead of- connecting with God, but now I kind of get it.  It's an easy escape and, to me, it's better than TV or a movie, but I can easily lose a whole day in a good book.  

I'm officially in my second trimester of pregnancy, and I'm finally feeling better physically.  The morning (um, all day) sickness is dramatically reduced and I'm not so dead tired all of the time.  Although, the new "waking-up-at-4-am-STARVING" is not much fun, either.  I meet with my new midwife on Tuesday, which I'm super excited about because it will be my first actual confirmation of what's going on inside me (is it a baby?  am I sure it's not just gas and I've been confused this whole time?).  I'm slowly rising out of my depression/guilt/fear/unbelief and tiptoeing into acceptance and potential -dare I say it?- excitement, which has only been made possible by the loving grace of God.  For that, I am so thankful.  The thought that God has a plan for this little one is what keeps me going everyday.  Praise Him.

I start school September 14th, which I am extremely excited about.  It will be wonderful to be learning and challenging myself in new ways.  I'm not sure what my goals are yet, as far was what I'm studying... they change frequently.  I am just trying to keep an open mind and an open heart, and look to God to direct me where He will.  I know He'll show me when I'm ready.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Everlasting Friend

Lately, I've begun to realize how truly and utterly God has blessed me with my wonderful family and friends. These are people who have stood beside me through thick and thin: They have tried to help me even when I thought I didn't need it- taking their advice and dropping it on the side of the road where I thought it belonged- and then welcomed me back with open arms when I came to my senses and came crawling back. As a matter of fact, they didn't even let me crawl back, they helped me pick myself up and dust myself off, and then they hugged me.

They have given me food, shelter, and open ears and hearts; they have paid me generously for doing their hair or baby-sitting their children and in doing so helped me rebuild my self-confidence; they have welcomed me into their homes and families in order to remind me that we are all in this thing called Life together.

I have enjoyed so many heartfelt and honest conversations with these wonderful people, and have been enormously humbled by the love and support they have given, and continue to give, me. It feels so good to be home again.

In the past two months, the Lord has worked graciously in my life in so many ways that I cannot begin to count them all. While I've been focusing on the big picture and selfishly wondering what He could possibly have planned for me, I've practically missed the small (small in the sense of daily, not as in insignificant) but amazing ways he's beginning to put the pieces of my life back together and prepare me for what's to come.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Weight of the World

I have been reading a fantastic book called God's Story by Anne Graham Lotz.  It's a really good read for a new Christian, or someone who is interested in Christianity but wants to know more about God and developing a relationship with Him.

There's a section in the prologue where the author discusses the fact that God is not bound by 'time' - that which exists to us on Earth.  She has a very clear and direct way of describing this hard-to-fathom (at least for me) truth that makes it relatively easy to comprehend.  She manages to delve into the subject and break it down without getting lost or overcomplicated about it.  

One of the concepts she brings up is predestination.  I have discussed this with many of my Christian friends, and there seems to be a divide in the belief that God has already determined our life plan.  It's hard for some to believe in both predestination and free will.  However, Ms. Lotz has a profound application of God's existence outside the boundaries of time to predestination.  She states, "He sees all of your life from beginning to end at one time."  In essence, to us, we make a choice and then thirty years later, we might make another choice; to God, He sees those thirty years- in fact, our whole life- happening at one time, because time does not exist to Him.  Therefore, He can choose us, yet at the same time, we have free will to choose.

The most shocking concept she brings up, however, is a seemingly obvious "if...then" theory that somehow has never occurred to me.  I actually gasped aloud as I read it.  It's this:  If Jesus was God, and God is not bound by time, then isn't it possible that when Jesus was crucified, suffering the sins of the world, he literally suffered an eternity of God's wrath in order to save us?  Could it be that those six hours that he hung were actually an ETERNITY to Him?

Take a minute to wrap your mind around that.  For me, it's been a struggle to truly comprehend Jesus' death and just how much love He had for us in order to die so that we could live.  I mean, it was soooo long ago, and it's not like I ever met the Guy when He was here on Earth.  Therefore, I constantly ask Him to fill my heart with His Holy Spirit so that I may get a grasp of the depths of His love, a better understanding of Him.  However, when I read that Jesus may have hung for a timeless eternity on that cross, for some reason it was like a switch flipped on in my brain.  I was immediately flooded with this....awe, this immense gratitude for His sacrifice.  I realized that I will probably never even come close to understanding what a gift He has given us.

If you get a chance to read her book, I highly recommend it.