Saturday, March 23, 2013

What is the biggest influence in your life?

Since we moved to Eugene, Oregon, I have found myself to be feeling a bit lost at times. We have been through a very big change, so I suppose that is a natural feeling. And since we didn’t move up with jobs in place, there wasn’t really much to structure our days besides the things we impose. I am an active sort of person, and I like to live with a sense of purpose. Sometimes I envy those who seem to content to just live one day at a time, but I have never been like that. I always like to have a goal, a plan, something to accomplish and something to look forward to. We came to Oregon because we knew that was his calling for us, and that it had something to do with our new church, North Eugene Faith Center, and something to do with my family - most of whom live here in Eugene. But that was about all we had. No specific goals, no plan, nothing concrete to accomplish, and not much to look forward to (that was sure to happen), other than spending time with family. This is not where I like to be.
I wrote a few rather depressing journal entries, which thankfully I did not post on the blog... you really don’t want to be depressed too, right? 
I asked a lot of questions. Why are we here? What is your plan, God? Where should we look for work? How can we situate ourselves for whatever it is you called us here to become or to do? 
I made a lot of requests. Please keep us healthy, since we don’t have health insurance - you are our only option! Please provide for us. Please help us make friends. Be with me when I am lonely. Help me be a good mom, and guide my children through this transition. Help me focus on the positives, be thankful, keep your faithfulness in mind... 
He has been faithful, and answered prayers. We still have many unanswered prayers and questions. We are still making adjustments. We are thankful Domenick has a job, even though it is not a perfect one. I am thankful for some training I have received, and some books I have read that have given insight and godly perspective. I am very thankful for my family - both immediate and extended. I am thankful for their encouragement and support. I am thankful for some closed doors to jobs I have applied for, and thankful for the possibilities that still exist. I am thankful for all the time I spend with my kids.

Still, I sometimes feel lost. I think this is a “being” and a “learning” season instead of a “doing” season, and I’d prefer to do! As I have been praying about my lack of motivation, my frustrations, my questions, my lack of discipline in certain areas of my life, I felt God ask me a question:

“What is the biggest influence in your life?” 

I would like to say it is God. If that were true, would I still feel purposeless, uninspired, unmotivated, and undisciplined? I think probably not. I know it when I look at my time. I am not devoting that much time to him, to his word, to worship and prayer.

The last few months in California were so busy with the holidays, packing, seeing friends, finishing things... I knew once I got to Oregon I wanted to make sure to be more disciplined in my time spent with God. I wanted to exercise more, and I felt I should devote some time to fasting and prayer for our roles at the church and in Eugene. I confess, I have not done any of those things. Oh, I have read my Bible and such, but not daily. I am not worse than I used to be, but I am not better. I want to be better. I NEED to be better, or I will not survive. But I can’t seem to do it on my own. Would you like to do it with me? It’s too late for Lent. But Easter is supposed to signify new life, right? So maybe we can start after Easter - start together. 

A few years ago I wrote a guided journal. Read about a chapter of the Bible a day, and journal it. Since many people aren’t used to really studying scripture, I provided a little background and some questions to consider to get to the heart of the passage. The selections are chosen to provide an overview of what I feel all Christians should know, but most don’t. I have used it in small groups, and I’ve thought about trying to publish, but for now, I would love to have some friends read and blog it with me. I can post my insights, and you can read and post yours. Since I am goal oriented, I know a specific goal, with accountability of my online community, would help me get back on track. And, being online, you can go at your own pace, reading as little or as often as you’d like. I’ll probably try to post a few times a week, starting April 1, and read other thing in between. You can start whenever you’d like... email me and I will send you a reading list. Let’s see what changes in life when we allow God to influence us more.

NOTE: I am changing my blog to a different format. If you are following me here, please check out

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Here We Go!

Here we go!

5:00 am.  Thanks to my crazy early-morning-loving husband, we are leaving Valencia now, on our way to Eugene, OR, via Sacramento tonight to stay with friends. We are moving. 
It has been a long time coming at this decision, but the biggest catalyst was that my husband, D, lost his job in July. We have talked about moving to Oregon "at some point" since we were married, but none of the factors converged. This time, they all did.
We got our first little promptings from God in the spring: a ministry opportunity we heard of in Oregon and felt we should apply, rumors of cutbacks at D's workplace... What really caught my attention, however, was when I was praying one day about the youth ministry I was leading, and I clearly heard God say, "Don't get too excited, you need to find a successor." That was a surprise, but I knew it was God, so I started praying and preparing to hand off the ministry, and seeking God about what he had for us next.
The initial ministry opportunity in Oregon didn't work out, but it did help D and I to realize that we felt we were ready for a bigger assignment from God, given the right situation. It also served to get us on the radar of the Oregon District Supervisor of our church denomination, the one who places lead pastors and oversees ministry in large areas. 
Another key factor in our readiness to move is that I finished my Seminary degree in May. When we did receive notice in June that my husband would be laid off near the end of July, we started to talk more seriously about the move. What was there to hold us in the Los Angeles area? My parents asked us to consider moving up to work with them at the church they pastor. It would be unpaid, except a small stipend, but a great opportunity for D and I to develop our ministry skills together, and a great need to try to reach out to a part of the city that was not currently represented in the church.
We went to Eugene in July for my brother's wedding, and by the end of the trip, we knew that was what God wanted us to do. The first week in August we put our house on the market, we told our pastors, and held a yard sale.
In late September my husband started working again, but at a lower paying job, so we proceeded with the sale of our home (a short sale) and thanked God that we at least had medical insurance again, since all the kids were due for something. 

5:45 am. 308 miles to Sacramento. It is still pitch black. By the way, the end of December is not a good time to move. The house closed on December 31. Between trying to pack, keep some Christmas spirit alive in the home, see everyone we knew, and all the things involved with escrow, I am not sure how we make it through the last month. Not with enough sleep, that is for sure. We didn't have quite as much packed as we should have when our moving POD arrived, so I am pretty sure we loaded up some things I would have been fine to part with, and parted with some things I'd have rather kept. Our car is amazingly loaded down right now, and we left a few things at D's parents house, to pick up on our next trip down, but we ended up getting most of it in. I can't believe how much stuff we got rid of- either sold or just gave away- and still I think we should probably have got rid of more. We have three kids. Sometimes I think maybe our family is complete, but we've talked about having four, so we kept a bunch of baby stuff that we aren't currently using. We got rid of a lot, but my husband says since we kept so much of it, now we MUST have another kid! I don't know why it is hard for me to part with things.  Maybe a psychologist could tell me.

Day 2, 6:38 pm. Just passed a sign that said 400 miles to Portland - our first sign indicating Oregon. We arrived at our friends' house in the Sacramento area yesterday around 12:45 and had a wonderful little visit. These friends lived briefly in our area and attended our church in San Dimas, but moved back north a couple years ago. We had stopped and visited before on our way through, but the husband had been working out of town, and having us all together, for a longer visit, I realized I had forgotten just how well we all got along. They are a great family to visit when passing through, but I wish we lived closer. We stayed for their son's birthday party this afternoon and left about 2:20pm. I drove the first leg to just north of Redding, then we stopped for awhile to let the kids run around and eat dinner. Back on the road now. We figure we'll make it in to Eugene tonight somewhere around 11:30 or midnight. It is raining now and we are climbing elevation, but there is not supposed to be snow or ice tonight so we are hoping to make it through. 
On our little 26 hour break in Sacramento, we finally started to relax. We all went to bed early, since we slept with the kids in the living room on a very comfortable pullout couch bed, and actually slept really well - which was greatly needed! (Really well meaning we only were woken up by the kids about 4 times, but since it was over about 10 hours and we went back to sleep fairly quickly each time, that counts as a great night's sleep.)
Our first week in Oregon we'll have a lot to do just settling in, unpacking a bit, getting our son M set up in school, and so on. Our first official Sunday at the church is January 20, not that we really know what that means! It is definitely a big adventure and a lot we'll be figuring out as we go. I am looking forward to getting into a new routine of personal Bible reading and prayer time, since that has been thrown way off by the move.

7:17 pm Mt Shasta and it is snowing!

Epilogue: we finally arrived in Eugene about 11:45pm. The snow was pretty heavy through Mt Shasta, but after that we made it through that area it was pretty smooth (except for the strange detour in Ashland, Or when we got off the freeway to let M use the bathroom and had to drive miles to find an onramp). Relieved to be here! So far we switched to OR phone numbers and the hubs has his OR driver's license. (We thought it wise to go to DMV separately instead of dragging the kids along, so I don't have mine yet.) I guess we are here to stay!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Open-ended conversation

A lot of my reading in the Bible lately has been focused on prayer. Different styles of prayer in the Bible, people who prayed well and boldly, the results of prayer. I have been challenging myself with this topic and realized that often, I don’t really pray in a Biblical way. I pray in an American way. 

“Dear Lord, Thank you for this food. Help it to nourish our bodies (or as my kids say, help it to be nursing our bodies), Amen.” 

“Dear Lord, thank you for this day. Please help us to get over these colds. Help the kids sleep well, at least until 7:00, and keep my husband safe at work tomorrow. Thank you, Amen.”

My prayers are usually a bit more personal than the ones above, but often I don’t spend focused, intentional time in prayer except for at meals and bed time. Maybe on the way to school. We pray for ambulances and fire fighters when we see them come down the road, and we pray for our boo-boos, and we ask forgiveness when we do something wrong. But seldom do I practice what prayer actually is supposed to be - which is spending time with God, listening to him, worshipping him, instead of just telling him our needs and asking him to fix things we can’t control. 

I am reading a book called, “Messy: God Likes It That Way” by A.J. Swoboda. It is a great book. He is a pastor and writes from that perspective, but it is written in such an accessible way - I think anyone would like it and “get” it. In one section he speaks of prayer this way, starting off talking about a book he read on the art of conversation:

Open-ended questions... will always spark better conversation. Open-ended questions require the other person to talk more about themselves, giving them space to be vulnerable, honest, and real... Sometimes when I pray I feel like God is not speaking to me. I should say, most of the time. At all. But when I read that book, it became clear to me. When I pray, I only ask God closed-ended questions... Now I have experienced that when I open up and ask God open-ended questions, it gives God much more of an opportunity to talk. “God, why am I so worried about my savings account?” “God, where are you?” “God, how are you going to forgive me?” If the Bible is right about something, God has more words than yes or no. He has a fully formed dictionary and can talk. We talk to God as though he knows only two words. Ask God bigger questions and you will find bigger conversation a reality.

I want my life to be a conversation with God. I want him to be my real, face-to-face friend, not just my Facebook friend that I check in on every once in awhile to see what he’s been up to. Not a priest I visit once a week for confession or someone I hope sees the candles I light in honor of those I pray for. Not someone I visit and hear about at church, or talk to and read about in preparation for something I’ll share at church. I need more than that. 
My husband leaves for work around 5:00am, so for the whole time I have been a mommy, I often wake up not with my husband in my bed, but with one of my children. They crawl in during the wee hours of the morning, or I’d nurse the baby and we both fall back asleep there. This morning when it was almost but not quite time to get up yet, my daughter came and stood by my bed, and I pulled her in with me, and we silently cuddled. She lay on top of me, with her little bones poking me and her fuzzy hair tickling me, but I didn’t care. She is mine, and I love her. I’ll put up with the little discomfort for a chance to cuddle and get a bit more rest. As we lay there silently together, the picture came to me, that this is what God desires of us. 

Psalm 131:2 says (ESV) “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” The psalm is talking about waiting on God in simplicity. Not complicating matters, but waiting and hoping in the Lord. I always thought the verse must be translated wrong somehow. It doesn’t mean weaned, right? Because that is a toddler, running around and crazy. And talking. And arguing. And pouting. And fighting for toys and saying “I can do it!” when really they can’t do it yet. Surely, I thought, the verse must mean a child that is not yet weaned, and  is still peaceful with its mother, content to have its needs fulfilled there.

But as I say with my daughter, my three-year-old, in the quiet of the morning, not talking, just being together and resting and enjoying each other’s embrace, I felt the meaning of the scripture. It does mean weaned. Peaceful, loving, resting, not wanting anything, but calm and quiet, confident of the love that is there. Confident and peaceful in a way that comes from a few years of knowing that mom brings love and comfort. This is prayer. Coming to God, in peace and quiet, being with him, confident of his care.

Eventually she did ask for something (breakfast), but first she rested. 

Lord, as I go about my day, help me to rest in you, confident of your care, peaceful in your embrace. And help me to pray my requests out of that confidence and peace, not from worry and anxiety. And Lord, what is it you want to do today? Can I come along?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Writing my own job description (part 1)

Sometimes I think I chose the wrong career. Not the pastor part - because of the nine or so years I have been licensed, I have only been paid by a church for about two, yet I love what it means to me to be a pastor... But that is the topic of a different day's blog. So what is the wrong career that I chose? 

Motherhood. Stay at home motherhood, to be precise. Because what do we think stay at home moms do? Well, if there is a full-time homemaker, isn't the house supposed to be always clean, organized, and smelling great, ready to receive visitors at a moment's notice, and a haven of peace when the man returns from a long and weary day of work? 

If that is the expectation, then I am a miserable failure. 

My house hardly ever seems to be clean all at once, and especially not when when my husband returns from work to hear me say " hurry up and take a shower so you can keep the kids out of my hair while I make dinner." And that smell? Well, if it is not dinner, then it is probably a poopy diaper that didn't quite make it into the designated trash can. And despite all my organizational skill, there are usually (okay, always) a few piles waiting to be organized. 

Actually, I am a happy failure. 

It does bother me that my house is not the cleanest, because I do in fact notice the mess and and I do in fact know how to clean, but I have come to accept that there is a lot more to homemaking than that.

What are the essential tasks of MY chosen career of stay-at-home-mom?
Cook, clean, clothe, and care, yes, but also adventure and artistry, love and learning, delight and dream, worship, welcome and wonder.

Cooking - love it. Sometime I think it is the closest thing I have to a hobby. With three kids it is a little more challenging than it used to be, but if I stay up until midnight to make a fabulous birthday cake for one of my kids, I think I am insane, but I also love to do it. Luckily, the control freak in me keeps me from over-eating... my husband is not so lucky. But my kids eat a few vegetables and otherwise are generally eating home-made and healthy-ish foods, so here I am a success.

Clean - hate it, as mentioned, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Actually, what I hate is trying to clean while constantly being interrupted. Give me a few hours at home alone, some upbeat music, and I actually don’t mind it all. Clothe - well, my husband is a better shopper than I am, but luckily most of our clothes are hand-me-downs or gifts from Nona (the Croatian grandma), so I haven’t had to do too much to keep my family dressed. Semi-success.

Care - well, I am a little better at not yelling at my kids to stop crying than I used to be, so semi-success? Okay, all kidding aside (sorry for the pun), I love to care for my kids. The rocking chair before bed, kisses and prayers for ouchies, cuddling during story time, finding teachable moments in the day to help them handle conflict and disappointments, I think I do pretty well caring for my kids. And as one guy at church said after watching my kids repeatedly come up and hug me or hold my legs to be lifted up, “your kids sure do love you!” - Success!

And the rest of the list is what I think are the important things I can do for my kids as their mom, aside from the stereotypes. 

Adventure: we have had our share of museum and zoo memberships, but even walking to get the mail can be an adventure, if we stop to look at bugs, plants, and clouds along the way! It took me awhile to be okay with the slow pace of taking a “walk” (toddle) with kids, but it is worth it to slow down, let them wander, and enjoy the chance to take a few deep breaths of fresh air. 

Artistry: I love to create things. This would be my hobby, if I actually had the time. Maybe that is why I like to cook, because I can make something beautiful and enjoyable out of a task I have to do anyway. So, since I don’t have time to paint or do many crafty things generally, I like to be crafty with my kids. I am so proud of my firstborn, that over the past year he has really become quite the little artist, mostly sketching out different kinds of dragons, and creating fantastic stories about them, and about his toys. One day I will write up a story of his and post it. I ought to write down his tales every day - I could probably make a children’s book series and pay for his college education. I am not a genius crafter - I mostly steal other people’s ideas and do a decent job replicating them. But I have fun.

Now, since I’ve been trying to write this post for about four days and I really should be in bed, I think I’ll save the rest - love and learning, delight and dream, worship, welcome and wonder for another day. If I can write my "job description" this way, maybe I picked the right career after all.

But let me leave you with a question - what is the job description you’d like to write for yourself, highlighting what is most important in your life and especially highlighting what you enjoy and do well? Let’s celebrate our successes instead of feeling like miserable failures. Or at least, let’s accept what is and be happy failures.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Finding God in the Everyday

At some point in life, we all find ourselves in the middle of a storm. Or lost. Or maybe we know exactly where we are and where we want to be, but don't know how to get there. Maybe we have nowhere to go, but are so bored or frustrated with where we are that it seems anyplace else would be better.

I live in the greater Los Angeles area. People here tend to find ourselves far too busy, far too entertained to know how to be quiet, and far too unaware of the wonderful beauty of creation, due to the congestion of buildings and cars and people.

I love it here. I fit in well. I am a goal-oriented person, I like to be busy, I love people, and I love it that just about anything I could want to see, do, or eat, is no more than about an hour away. On the other hand, more often than I'd like, I realize at the end of the day that I haven't spent much time truly listening to God. I have spent too little time just enjoying my children's company. I haven't had a meaningful conversation with my husband. I haven't spoken much about God. I haven't been thankful. I haven't called the friend who has been on my mind.

Wife, Mom, Pastor, Friend. These are the most important roles in my life. Wife for eight years, mother of three. Pastor by calling and ordination, though not by salary at present. And I hope to be the kind of friend who can listen well, be there when I am needed, and inspire hope, faith, joy, and gratitude.

I am starting this blog in an attempt to keep at heart the relationships and roles that are most important to me, and to help me recognize the spiritual side of the everyday things in life.

I am also in a bit of a storm. Actually, I am at a standstill when I'd rather be rushing. That's the problem for a do-er: if we aren't moving fast, it seems like something is wrong. So that is another reason I write: to help me slow down and enjoy it (since I have no choice about the pace at which my life moves). God's love and faithfulness have been present throughout my life. I want to thank him for that, and move in his timing, grace, joy, and peace.

Care to join me?