Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Nature of a Servant

I preached this sermon on Palm Sunday.   I waited awhile before posting my manuscript here because I knew there was audio for this sermon recorded and I wanted be able to post a link to the audio along with my manuscript, in case people were inclined to want to listen to me preach. The audio is in two parts.  I made it into video because I didn't know how to just post the audio.  So the videos are really boring.  But here they are:  Part 1, Part 2.
And here is the manuscript:

There is a story that I have heard told many times around the dinner table or gathered with friends and family around the fireplace.   It’s a story about an old man who lived alone.  He didn’t always live alone.  Once he had had a wife and a few children, but that was a long time ago.  His wife had died and his children had all moved away, starting families of their own.  One night he sat alone gazing out the window lost in thought.   He watched as the wind blew big gusts of snow around the farmyard.  It was bitterly cold out and a blizzard was coming in.   He glanced at the fire burning in the hearth and was grateful for the warmth of his house.  As he looked out the window again he saw them.   A flock of Canadian Geese were struggling against the wind.  They had landed in the space between his house and his barn and looked like they were trying to find shelter from the impending blizzard.  His heart went out to them and resolved to open his barn and allow them to take shelter there from the storm.  He put on his heavy winter coat, his boots, his gloves and his hat.  He braced himself as he opened his door and walked towards the barn.  He battled his way to the big barn door and pulled it open.  He motioned for the geese to go inside.  Instead of seeking shelter they ran away.  Again and again he tried to convince them to go inside where they would be safe and warm and again and again they ran away from him in fear.   In that moment he wished nothing more than to be like them, to be a goose, so he could reach them.
I imagine that in some way G-d felt a little bit like that man when he looked down on of the human race, except multiplied an infinite number of times.  He had created the entire world and everyone in it.  He had knit every human together and ordained all their days for them, but then something happened and they became separated from Him.  Ever since that day in the Garden, that day when the first man and the first woman fell, the humans that G-d had created, the crown of his creation, had been separated from him.   His heart continually went out to the human race.  Throughout the Old Testament we read about G-d trying to draw the Israelites closer to Him.   While the people of Israel were in the desert, G-d gave them the tabernacle, as a way for him to dwell among them.  As time went on, He sent the prophets to draw Israel closer to himself, to direct them in the way they should go.   The prophets though were just messengers of G-d.  Even they pointed towards the coming of one greater, one who would restore Israel to a right relationship with G-d.  In Isaiah 49 we read  of one who was to come to restore Israel and to be a light to the gentile.  This was the promise the people of Israel looked forward to.  Until Christ came humankind remained separate from G-d.    It was only after Christ came that we had the opportunity to be united with G-d. 
What was it about this coming, of G-d as a baby, which allowed us to be united with G-d?  What was different about G-d coming to humankind as a baby?
Our text this evening indicates that Christ came to us as a servant.  A humble, obedient, servant.   How does this servant nature allow us to be united with G-d and what does it mean for us to have the attitude of a servant?
If G-d had chosen to come to Earth in his full glory he would have been about as effective at drawing us to himself as the old man was at convincing the geese to seek shelter in the barn.   In His full glory, G-d would have terrified us.   He would have more than terrified us.  We would not have been able to stand in the light of His glory. When the glory of the Lord was shown to Moses, the Lord hid Moses in the cleft of a rock so that Moses could only see the back of the Lord.  For no one can see the face of G-d and live.   The only way that G-d could reach us, the only way that he could draw us to himself, was to become like us.  That is what he did when he sent his son to come and live among us.
Not only did Jesus have to come as a man in order that we would not be terrified of his glory, he also had to come as a man so that he could pay the debt that we owed.  Our sins, our broken relationship with G-d, demanded repayment.   Throughout the Old Testament we read about the types of sacrifices required for sins and the intricate rituals surrounding them.  A common thread characterized all of them though:  They were temporary and needed to be repeated, over, and over, and over again.   They had to be repeated because they were not sufficient to fully pay for our sins.  They were like bandaids where we, as G-d’s people, really needed reconstructive surgery.   For a time they were okay, but in the long run, they just weren’t enough.   We read in Ezekiel and the Psalms that each of us bears the weight of our own sins and that no animal or mere human could ever pay the debt that we owed.  To borrow the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, we need a “mediator who is truly human, and truly righteous, yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also true G-d.”
Our mediator needed to be truly human and truly righteous because a sinner could never pay for the sins of themselves or another. One who has been dirtied by sin cannot stand in the place of another who has been dirtied by sin.   He also needed to be true G-d so that he could bear the full weight of all our sins.  Being in the very nature G-d, Jesus was also able to become the high priest that could live forever and continually intercede for us.  Jesus became like a man, even though he was in nature G-d, he chose to become a human so that he could be our mediator.  We read in Hebrews 2 that he became like us in every way so that he could help us.  Because he was tempted when he suffered, he can help us when we are tempted.
This dual nature of G-d shown in Christ, truly G-d and truly human at the same time,  this coming down from heaven to be a human baby, this emptying himself of the glory of G-d so that he could bring us back to G-d, this is what the nature of a servant really is.  Think with me for a moment about a baby.  A baby enters this world as a tiny, usually incredibly cute, human being. They are completely unable to do anything on their own except cry and soil their diapers.   That is how Jesus entered our world, as a little helpless baby.  He laid aside all his glory, all the riches of heaven, which are far greater than we can possibly imagine, to become a helpless baby.  I cannot imagine anything more humbling than being completely helpless, than having to rely constantly on other people to meet your every need.
But Jesus didn’t stop there. He didn’t stop at just being a helpless baby.  He went on to live a life marked by humility at every turn. Throughout his ministry he walked among the least of society.  He touched lepers and other people considered untouchable.  He had conversations with foreign women.  He ate with tax collectors.  And then perhaps the most well-known servant story of all: During the feast of the Passover Jesus knelt to wash the feet of his disciples. The washing of feet is a super dirty job; especially considering that Jesus and his disciples wore sandals and walked everywhere. It was a job reserved for the lowest of servants.  But Jesus took it upon himself.  Even though this story is often told as an example of the servant nature of Jesus, our text tonight points to another, even greater example of the servant nature of Jesus.
Look back with me at verse 8.  Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.  Crucifixion in the time of Jesus was a punishment reserved so the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth, the slaves.  There was no crueler, more humiliating form of execution.   Every step of the crucifixion process was designed to bring more humiliation and pain upon the one to be executed.  After Jesus was condemned to die by crucifixion, he was flogged.  His hands were likely tied to a post as a Roman soldier whipped him again and again with a whip embedded with bits of metal.  The whip would have torn through his flesh, his muscle and much of the underlying tissue. We also know that the Roman soldiers dressed Jesus in purple robes and put a crown made of thorns on his head and hailed him as “the king of the Jews”.  The humiliation of this must have been extraordinary.  Then, they paraded him through a crowded street where his enemies could jeer at him and taunt him more.  Then, when they reached Golgotha, the soldiers would have stripped him of all his clothing, in order to add to his humiliation, before nailing him to the cross.
When our text says that Christ humbled himself to death on a cross, it was not speaking figuratively. Death on a cross was the most humble of deaths and it was the death that Jesus submitted to on our behalf.
So what does this mean for us?  What does verse 5 of our text really mean for our daily lives when it says that our attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus?   We cannot stand in the gap in the same way as Christ did because we are not truly G-d as He was. We are limited by our humanness.   I also don’t believe that we are all called to die humiliating deaths by crucifixion. For one thing, crucifixion is not routinely practiced in North America to the best of my knowledge.  For another, if all Christians were called to death by crucifixion, we’d have a lot of dead Christians. I think the key for us is humble obedience to whatever the Lord calls us to.  We have all been given different spiritual gifts and we are called to certain tasks in accordance with our gifting. Some are called to be teachers, others are called to work with their hands, others to care for the sick, others to share the gospel in foreign lands, others to work the land, others to run large businesses.  We each have a calling and that is where we are called to be obedient. It won’t look the same for everyone.  My calling won’t look the same as yours and yours won’t look the same as that of the person sitting in the pew next to you, but it is in that calling that we are called to be obedient.
Being obedient to our callings won’t always be easy.  Being crucified wasn’t easy for Jesus.  When he prayed in the garden we read that he sweat drops of blood and pled with G-d to take this cup from him. A story is told about two young Moravians, members of a religious order, who heard of an island in the West Indies that was home to a slave plantation of two to three thousand slaves.  The owner of the slave plantation is said to have said that no preacher or clergyman would ever stay on island.  These two young Moravians heard about it and following G-d’s call on their lives, sold themselves into slavery in order to reach the slaves on the island.  That was not an easy calling for these two young men to follow.  It was not a short term mission trip, but a life sentence.  Their families and friends questioned them in following their call. They thought it was crazy.  But even Peter questioned Jesus’ call to go to Jerusalem to die.
Being obedient to G-d’s call on our lives won’t always be easy.  Sometimes people will think we have lost our sense of reason, but when we allow ourselves to be humbled in obedience, that is when we will be exalted.  When James and John, the sons of Zebedee, asked Jesus to let them sit on his right and left when he came into glory, he rebuked them and said that whoever wanted to be great, must first become like a servant, the one who wanted to be first must become the last.  Our text this evening tells us that it was after Jesus had humbled himself and became obedient to death on a cross that G-d exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of G-d the Father.
As we enter into this final week before Easter, when we remember the great sacrifice that Christ made for us when he humbled himself to death on a cross and rejoice in the exaltation of his resurrection, may we be attentive to the calling that G-d has on each of our lives, to the ways that he is calling us to have the nature of a servant.
Let us pray.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lesson in self-care from a loaf

The other night I made bread.  I don't make bread very often because I don't eat bread very often.  I don't eat bread very often because I don't make bread very often.  With my list of food restrictions there exists only one or two options for me when it comes to store bought bread and they are both pretty little better than flavored cardboard, but not much.  I've been making my own bread since I was about 18, so I've had lots of practice.  When I pulled my loaves out of the oven last night, I cried.  They were not beautiful well formed loaves.  They were more akin to a disaster. I cried because I longed to pull beautiful well formed loaves out of the oven.  I wanted my loaves to look like the loaves of bread my father pulls out of bread-maker about once a day.  But my loaves will never look like those.  Yes, the often will look better than the ones I pulled out of the oven the other night, but they will never look like the loaves that other people make.  Why? because I use different ingredients.
I use different ingredients in my bread and therefore will never have bread that looks quite like what other people make.  Once I finished crying over my fallen loaves, I accepted the fact that my bread will never be quite like other people's bread because of the different ingredients. Then I started to think about it more.  I'd already been thinking a lot about self-care already, so it logically follows that my thoughts went in that direction.
We all come into the world with different ingredients.  We cannot expect to turn out the way that someone with different ingredients is turning out.  My bread will never look like the whole wheat bread my dad pulls out of the bread maker, because it's made with different ingredients.  My seminary career won't look like someone else's because I'm coming into it with different ingredients.
Making Joy-Friendly bread takes different steps than making whole wheat bread, but both are still bread in the end.  If you try and make Joy-Friendly bread the same way that you make whole wheat bread it's going to be a disaster.  I might take different steps to becoming a pastor, but in the end, I'll still be a pastor.  If I tried to follow the same steps as someone else, it would likely end in a disaster.
So if I take 4 years  or even 5 to finish instead of 3, that's fine.  If I need an extra month to finish off this semester because I spent a week in the hospital, that's fine.
It doesn't mean I'm failing. It doesn't mean I'm any less of a student or any less of a person.  It just means I'm coming in with different ingredients and taking my own steps, so I'm going to turn out different.

This is the loaf that made me cry and then taught me a lesson.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Free Us from the Tyranny of the Devil...

This is the manuscript for the last sermon I preached in preaching lab this semester.  The text was Mark 5:1-17.

Jesus stepped out of the boat onto the foreign shore of the region of the Gerasenes.  Nothing in our text indicates that the disciples followed him out of the boat.  I imagine they remained in the boat, looking at each other and echoing the question they had asked just a few verses earlier:  “Who is this man?  Even the wind and waves obey him”
So Jesus gets out of the boat and this “madman” runs at him.  In our sanitized, politically correct world, we would say that he was a “man with mental instability” or a “man with mental illness” or if we were psychologically savvy we might say he was a “man with schizophrenia”.   In any case, this was a man who was oppressed by many things.  Whether we believe that they were actual demons or we read it as mental illness, there is no doubt that he was oppressed. The text gives us signs of his oppression:  he lived in the tombs.  No person in complete freedom would choose to live in such a desolate place.  Our text also tells us that he had often been hand and foot and would wander around the tombs night and day, crying out and cutting himself with stones.  It takes a big kind of hurt to drive someone to resort to cutting themselves.  Any counselor or youth pastor who has worked with young people who cut themselves will confirm this.  You have to be hurting really bad before you start cutting on yourself.  And once you’ve started, the cutting itself begins to oppress you and you can’t stop even if you want to.
Whether this man was oppressed by literal demons or by a psychological condition there is no doubt that a whole legion of things was oppressing him, and what’s more, the Roman government with their legions of soldiers were oppressing the entire land.
We too live in a world that is oppressed.   Many countries are oppressed by tyrannical governments.  Many people are oppressed by generational poverty.  No matter how hard they try they cannot find a way out of the systems that have effectively kept them oppressed for so many years.  Last week there was a display in the atrium about human trafficking.  The fact that human trafficking is still happening, and even increasing,  in the United States is evidence that people in our society are being oppressed.  Oppression doesn’t just happen on global or national scale.  It also happens on an individual scale.   If we stop and think, we all know people who living under oppression.  We have friends, family members, congregants who are living under the oppressive thumb of controlling addictions.  We know people who are oppressed by mental illness, people who are oppressed by the pain of memories of years of abuse, people who are oppressed by chronic illness.  No matter what age group you work with, chances are high that someone is struggling under some form of oppression.  Perhaps you yourself are feeling very oppressed.  People who are being oppressed can’t see the way out for themselves.  Talk to a teenager who has a big enough hurt that they have taken to cutting themselves or one who has an eating disorder or a person who is addicted to drugs.  They will tell you that even though they want to stop, they can’t.  And, no one can stop them.   The oppression is real and it feels like it will never end.  The list of things that can, and do, oppress us is legion.
So this extremely oppressed man is running at Jesus, yelling at him, saying “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High G-d?  Swear to G-d that you won’t torture me!”   The man, or the demons within the man, knew who Jesus was and were terrified of him. They didn’t want to be tortured by him.  People had evidently tried to help the man before.  They had chained him up, evidently to keep him from hurting himself more.  For him, it must have been like torture.  Maybe he was afraid that Jesus was going to try and help him that way too.  But Jesus didn’t come blazing onto the scene with an agenda that he was ready to impose on the man.  Instead he engaged the man, and or the demons, depending on your view, in conversation.  He asked him his name.  He listened to the response, and when the legion asked to be allowed to go into the pigs, He said that they could.  
Jesus freed the man from his oppression and the pigs went running down the bank into the lake. The man was free from his oppression and responded in gratitude.  The swine herders on the other hand, were angry and asked Jesus to leave.  Were the swine herders not grateful that the man had been set free from his oppression? Where they really so cold hearted that they wanted to see him suffer?    I don’t think so.  I think they may have even been among the people who tried to “help” this man.   If they routinely herded their pigs in this area, they couldn’t have wanted a madman running around.  Maybe they were the ones that chained him, hoping to help him or even cure him. But they were ticked, completely and utterly ticked.  Their entire livelihood, all two thousand of them, had just committed suicide by running off the cliff into the lake.  I’ve known more than a few pig farmers.  Each pig was valuable.  If anything happened to one of them, much less the entire herd, it was devastating.  The entire livelihood of these swine herders was invested in these pigs and they were gone.  They were so upset by their loss that they failed to see the incredible gift of freedom that had been given to the man. 
I’m sure they wanted this man to be healed.  If they were praying people, I imagine that they even prayed that he was healed.  No one wants to see another person live under than kind of oppression.
When we have someone in our life who is living under oppression, we want them to be freed from it.  We try to help them anyway that we know how.  We pray for them.  We ask G-d to remove the weight of oppression from them.   I still remember the October night when my dorm room phone rang at about 10:30. It was a friend of mine, Kugel.  A mutual friend of ours, Big David, was sick.  She wanted to know if I’d come see him.  I grabbed my medical bag and headed across campus.  I spent the next couple hours assessing and dealing with what I could.  At that point things didn’t look life threatening or worthy of a midnight trip to the emergency room. The next morning Kugel took him student health and from there he went to the hospital.  From the local hospital he went on to the hospital in Des Moines.  I prayed for him.  The entire community on campus prayed for him.  We asked G-d again and again to relieve his oppression.  We wanted our Big David back.  As soon as the doctors got one problem under control another one popped up.  We watched a blood clot in Big David’s brain spontaneously dissolve.  We watched his kidneys fail and then improve.   We rode a crazy roller coaster of emotions, all the while hoping for a miracle. 
We learned more than we ever wanted to know about the medical system and the human body.  Did you know there was a level of care above and beyond Intensive Care?  Neither did I. It’s called Critical Care and there are more nurses than patients on that unit.   I spent many long hours on that unit, sitting with his fiancé and praying.  I spent hours in the prayer room on campus praying with friends.  We begged G-d to remove this legion of oppression from our friend.  And He did.
I wish I could say that this story ends with Big David getting better and coming back to campus and marrying his fiancé and the two of them living happily ever after.  But I can’t.  We buried Big David just before Christmas that year, about two weeks after his 20th birthday.  His fiancé stood in a funeral line receiving condolences instead of in a wedding reception line receiving congratulations.  We listened to his eulogy instead of his psychology research presentation.
Did G-d fail to answer our prayers for deliverance from this legion of oppression?  Did He not hear us?  Did we not pray enough?  Should we have fasted more?   I don’t think any of that is true.  I believe that G-d did answer our prayers.  It just wasn’t in the way that we expected him to.  We expected him to heal Big David.  We expected Big David to have many more happy years.  G-d had a plan to relieve Big David from the legion of oppression that he was suffering under.  Big David was set free from his failing body, from his diseased brain to spend an eternity rejoicing with Jesus.   We expected one thing from Jesus, but He gave us another.
The Jews expected one thing from Jesus as well.  They expected him to liberate them from the oppression of the legions of Roman soldiers that were oppressing them.  But Jesus had a far greater plan. He planned to liberate all of us from all oppression for all time.  That’s what we remember on Easter.  We remember the gift of Jesus’ blood covering all our transgressions and setting us free from the tyranny of the devil.  And we are grateful for it.  The prayers of the Jews for a Messiah were answered, just not in the way that they expected.
The swine herders wanted the mad man healed, but didn’t expect it to come at the cost of their livelihood.  We wanted Big David to be healed, but didn’t expect it to come at the cost of his life.  What oppression have you been asking G-d to free you or someone you love from? Have you gotten angry at G-d for not answering?  What if he was answering in a way you didn’t expect?  Jesus is still in the business of freeing people from oppression, just like he freed the madman of the Gerasenes.  But like the swine herders, we need to be prepared for him to do it in unexpected ways.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter House! the finished product

These are the pictures of the finished "Easter House"
Front door 
one side 
The other side 
Back view 
Bird's Eye view 
leftover Gingerbread made into cookies

Easter House!

It is Easter.  Christ is risen!  The sadness of Good Friday is all but forgotten in the glorious joyousness of Easter morning.  I like Easter a whole lot.  I may or may not have been awake in the wee hours of this morning because I was so excited.  Just maybe.
At Christmas last, I wrote a post called "The Christmas Cross" where I talked about how Christmas would be meaningless if it weren't for Easter and how we wouldn't have Easter without Christmas.  At Christmas G-d gave us Jesus who grew up and died on the cross so that we could be set free from all the evil powers and our own sinfulness. I am more of an Easter person than a Christmas person. I like Christmas and all, but I could tell you quicker how many days are left until Easter (349, just in case you were wondering) than I could how many were left for Christmas (I actually have no idea).
At Christmas I enjoyed mixing traditions a little bit and making chocolate bunnies. I decided to continue in my pattern of mixing traditions, since the two holidays really do go hand in hand,  and made a my very first ever Gingerbread house.  After making it I realized why I never had a gingerbread house growing up.  There is just so much wrong (allergywise) with gingerbread houses.  For starters, gingerbread itself is a challenge.  But I conquered it a couple months ago.  Second, Royal Icing (the "glue" that holds a gingerbread house together) is typically made with egg whites.  I googled vegan royal icing recipes and found that they all had corn syrup in them.  Corn syrup is an issue.  So I googled alternatives to corn syrup and found one that I could make.  Then I could finally make Royal Icing.  Royal Icing also has powdered sugar (icing sugar, confectioner's sugar) in it, which is made with corn starch.  My mommy is amazing though and makes me corn-free powdered sugar.  She's just that great. The third major problem with gingerbread houses, especially here in the US, is the decorating candy.  Americans have this strange fascination with corn syrup.  It's in everything.  Thankfully I had thought far enough ahead and had Mommy bring decorating candy with her last time she came for a visit.
Here is some pictures of the process.  Pictures of the finished product will be in a different post:
Gingerbread cooling 
A nice green foundation 
lots of colors! 
Candy all set out.  Most of it is free from artificial flavors and colors...but the icing definitely wasn't. 
Dyed mints.  I dyed blue ones too. I like how speckled they turned out. 
In process.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Little People's Olympics, Part 5

After the "official" part was done, everyone hung out and the fun kept going
Dan shows us how he would go through the tube

Playing a football type game

crawling in the tube

At this point there were two children in the tube, one from each direction.  To solve this dilemma, they did what any seminary student would do: Rock, Paper, Scissors.  They have been taught well. 

I have an idea for a game...I'll stand in the tube and people can throw balls at me.   I didn't think this was a great idea, but he did.

Little People's Olympics, Part 4

For the final event, the little people had to crawl through the tube.  Then they got a medal.
Go Noah!

Some of the bigger little people were afraid that they wouldn't fit through the tube, so Rus showed them that even a grown-up would fit. 

The last person through!

Little People's Olympics, Part 3

The next event was long jump:

The sidewalk was maybe not the best choice

Little People's Olympics, Part 2

A continuation of the photos from the little people's olympics

Nice shot Anna!

Go Rena!

Little People's Olympics, Part 1

Today we hat Little People's Olympics in the backyard of the Red Bricks.  The weather was kinda icky, but it didn't rain and I think everyone had a good time. I missed the first few event because I was finishing up my gingerbread. This is where I came out to watch.
In this event, they were trying to hit the tree with a frisbee

Short Distance Foot Race

Noah and Anna are racing against each other

Some of the little ones needed help for moral support

Thursday, April 21, 2011

One Small Light

There is a song that we sing almost every Christmas.  I think it's called "One Small Light", but the part I remember best goes like this:

One small light in a land of a thousand
One small dream of a Savior tonight,
One small hand reaching out to the star-light,
One small city of life.

One small light from the flame of a candle,
One small light from a city of might,
One small light from the stars in the endless night
One small light from a face.

Tonight was our Maundy Thursday service at church.  I've never been to a Maundy Thursday service before.  Back in Canada we always had Good Friday morning church.  Apparently that's weird.  I think people here are weird (especially since I have school tomorrow).  Anyhow, at the service tonight we had a huge cross with candles on it.  At the beginning of the service they were all lit.  As the service went on and we progressed (figuratively) towards Christ's death, the candles were extinguished. As I watched I was struck by how much difference the extinguishing of a single candle made.  Even with the last vestiges of daylight filtering through the windows (with Easter so late this year, it was still daylight during the service), the room got noticeably darker every time they extinguished a candle.  That's when the "One Small Candle" song started running through my head.
One small light can make such a difference.  A tiny light can brighten an entire room.  Turning out a light can bring darkness to an entire room.  When a single light bulb is burnt out in the kitchen in my parent's house the entire room feels darker and we quickly send someone out to the shop (usually Isaac or Papa) to get a replacement bulb.
One small light can make a huge difference.  As Christians we are called to be lights to the world.  Imagine what a difference we could make if we were all lights?  How much of a difference would that make in our world?
In 2 days, 3 hours and 30 minutes it will be Easter.  About 6-10 hours after that many of us will gather in churches to celebrate the gift of salvation that was started at Christmas, finalized at Easter, and continues to this day.  Unfortunately, many people have no idea why we celebrate beyond chocolate and eggs. That makes me very sad.  Be a light.  Share the joy of Easter with someone.

PS: I figured out later that the impact of a candle being extinguished was increased by the dimming of the lights...however, if it hadn't been daylight, the candle extinguishing would have been very noticeable. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Comfort Food

Most days I'm all about eating real food...un-processed, made from scratch, locally grown, etc., etc., etc.  I even wrote about it once.  When I make macaroni and cheese, it doesn't come from a blue box...I cook the pasta, I make the cheese sauce, I add other yummy things to make it healthy.  When I eat bread (which is seldom), it is bread that I've made. Same with yoghurt (which I eat much more frequently than I do bread).  But sometimes, there is something about hyper-processed food that is comforting.  I don't know what it is, but I like it.  And that is why there are commercially made french fries (shaped like alphabet letters) in the oven right now.  Because sometimes, you just need comfort food.
What's your favorite comfort food?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Big News

So the neurologist called this morning.  When I saw his number on my phone, I pretty near had a heart attack. In my experience, a call this soon after a test is typically not good news.  I ran out of class and answered it, with my hands shaking.  I didn't need to be worried.  The news was good.  There has been no change in my lesion since my last MRI.  Praise the Lord!  It means, that for now, I can relax again.  Unless something changes, I don't have to see my neurologist again until the end of June.  True, we are no closer to knowing what Spot is than we were before, but we know he's not growing and doesn't seem to be misbehaving, and that is very good news!  I pretty much couldn't stop smiling after I got the call.  Now I can stop jumping every time my phone rings.
When I realized the possibility that I could get rather bad news just before Easter I resolved not to tell very many people (including my immediate family), until after Easter, unless the news was super bad. In fact, the only people I had planned on telling before Easter where those who absolutely needed to know...basically, the ones who would be taking me to the neurologist and anybody who would be directly affected immediately (professors whose classes I would miss, my teaching church if it interfered with my work there). I let some people know that this was my plan and was sharply criticized by more than a few of them.  They told me it was selfish and even foolish to think like that.  I disagree with that assessment.  I don't think it was a selfish decision, in fact, it may have been the exact opposite.
Easter is my favorite holiday.  During Advent I could quicker tell you how many days were left until Easter than I could until Christmas. Easter is a happy time and I wanted everyone to be happy for Easter. I didn't want to cloud anyone's Easter with the news that bad stuff was happening in my brain, unless of course it was really bad and waiting until after Easter would make a difference.  I can remember being at camp as a teenager.  Part way through the week I called home to check in.  No one told me anything was wrong.  When I got home at the end of the week, I found out that by the time I had called home midweek, my parents already knew one of my friends had died. They didn't want to cloud my camp experience with the knowledge that friend had died.  Easter is a much bigger deal than camp.  I didn't want to cloud anyone's Easter.  If someone wants to explain how that is selfish, I'll listen.  I won't necessarily agree, but I will listen.
In any case, that's not an issue now, since the news is good.  Hooray Spot not growing! Praise the Lord!
PS:  Easter is only 4 days, 10 hours and 47 minutes away!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Very Waiting

I'm at a waiting place.  A very waiting place.  There are different kinds of waiting.  Sometimes waiting is just a matter of putting in time.  Other times, you hardly know you are waiting.  And sometimes there is the very waiting.  That's where I am now.  I'm waiting for the phone to ring.  It's the kind of waiting where you don't go anywhere without your phone and you don't dare turn it off. It's the kind of waiting where you explain to your professors that your phone is going to remain on vibrate during class and that if it rings, you will take the call, irregardless of what is going on in class.  It's the kind of waiting where you come back in when you are half way out the door with your hands full of garbage to grab your your phone because you don't want to miss the call because you are taking the garbage out.  It's the kind of waiting where a text message jolts you out of an unintended nap and leaves your heart pounding as you search the couch cushions for your phone.  It's the kind of waiting where you check your phone repeatedly because you think maybe you felt it vibrate.
It's the kind of waiting where you are both eagerly expecting the phone call and dreading it all at the same time.  It's the kind of waiting you do when you know this phone call could either change everything, or change nothing at all.
All this waiting has prompted some thinking.  As the body of Christ, we do a lot of waiting.  We even have whole church seasons designed for waiting.  We call them Advent and Lent.   In Advent we wait for the coming of Christ.  In Lent (which is almost over by the way), we wait for the Celebration of Easter.  And then of course there is the time after Easter when we wait to celebrate the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.  Our church year revolves around waiting.  And then there is the Big Waiting.  The waiting for Christ to return and the kingdom of heaven to be realized. But how often do we really realize that we are waiting?  How often do we engage in the state of Very Waiting?  Do we wait for Christ with the same expectation that we wait for a potentially life changing phone call? How would that look?  How would our lives be different?  What if we knew that Jesus was going to call us up on our cell phones? How would we go about making plans?  How would we live?
Waiting for Jesus is a different kind of waiting than waiting for this phone call.  I knew that today was the earliest I would possibly hear anything.  I know that now that it is after 5pm I am  not likely to hear anything until tomorrow morning.  But it doesn't work that way with Jesus.  He isn't bound by the business day, nor is He bound by whether or not you have cell phone reception. And when He does come, it will change everything. Are you ready to join me in the Very Waiting?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Week in Review

*warning*  I am on a rather large dose of Xanax as I write this.  I will do my best to make sure it is coherent, but no guarantees. *end warning*
This week has been crazy. On Tuesday I met with my new neurologist, Dr. A.  He was very nice and took time to listen to me.  He was also rather concerned about my brain, particularly Spot.  Spot is a lesion on my right hippocampus. We aren't quite sure what he is. At first they thought he was a cyst or scar tissue.  Then they though he was tumor.  I'm not sure what they think he is now, or how they are going about finding this out.  Nobody has ever asked him what he is.  They just take pictures of him and he just hangs out.  Except the fear is that Spot is not as well behaved as we would like him to be.  So Dr. A decided that I needed to have another MRI.  I hate MRIs.  That's why I'm on lots of Xanax right now.  Dr. A won't get the MRI results until Monday, so that's the earlies I will hear anything.  I hope not to hear anything on Monday.  The longer before I hear anything, the less likely it is to be bad news.  At least, that's my theory.
Dr. A also started me on Zonegran to try and control some of my seizures.  In theory, this was a good idea. In reality...well, it didn't work out so well. When the antihistamines I'd been on for seasonal allergies wore off, a nasty reaction to the Zonegran broke through and I ended up in ER for steroids and Benadryl.  So no more Zonegran for me, which is a shame because it was a really pretty purply color.  Instead I'm on Trileptal, which is not near as pretty.  But hopefully it doesn't make me sick.  Time will tell.
Also this week, in the midst of this drama I had 4 Silent Praise events and wrote a sermon.  And other school work.'s been a busy week. I preach tomorrow night.  I hope it goes okay.  Prednisone does not make for the clearest thought patterns.  Also, right now, spell check is my friend.  It took at least three tries to spell the word thought in that last sentence.
Last night was spring banquet.  I got to where a pretty dress.  and eat yummy food.  even ice cream.  and didn't make me sick.  hooray.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Unexpected Hope

It had been a nearly perfect day to end off my spring break.  The sun had been shining, the temperature was warm enough for shirt sleeves (almost outright hot in the sun!), and I'd spent the day visiting with dear friends. It was evening now, about 7pm and there was one thing left one my list of things I wanted to do on break: Watch the sunset.  I would have preferred to go to the lake to watch, but that wasn't an option (and we do have lakes in Michigan), so I headed out to the soccer fields.  On the way I met a friend who said that she thought we were in for a spectacular sunset.  The cloud cover seemed just right, it was warm out.  My heart was happy.  I was looking forward to a spectacular sunset with bright, vivid colors.  Iowa has some pretty spectacular sunsets and I was ready to be romanced by my King.
I settled down onto my perch on the hill by the soccer fields, my camera in hand, a bag of grapes and my water bottle beside.  My Bible lay open on the ground beside me. My journal was in my bag so that I could jot down prayers or thoughts that came to me.  It was going to be a great night.
Then I saw it.  A massive cloud mass coming in from the north.  It all but obscured the sunset.  My heart sank. This was not going to be the spectacular sunset I had hoped for. I dropped my gaze to the grass and concentrated on eating my grapes, pouting a little on the inside.  I glanced up again and realized that the colors had changed. I watched in awe as the colors morphed, very slowly, before my eyes.  The changes were almost indiscernible.  I noticed them most when I looked away for a time, to study my text that I'll be preaching on it a week or to pick the perfect grape out of my bag.  When I looked back, it would have morphed into a new type of beauty.  It wasn't the spectacular sunset I had hoped for, it was far better, for in the slow, gradual changes, I found a lesson.
Often we come before G-d expecting something big.  We ask for healing and expect it to come right away, in a big, spectacular sort of way.  We ask for Him to remove the storms from our lives and expect them to be gone like the waves and wind in Mark 4.  We ask Him to free us from our demons and expect them to thrown into the abyss immediately.  But it doesn't work that way.  We don't get a big spectacular healing, the storms are still there and the demons still haunt us.  We are disappointed and pout.  We know that we serve a big G-d, a G-d who has a history of doing spectacular things.  We have seen spectacular things in the past.  Why not today?  Why not this time?  Why not in this situation?
It is then that we need to realize that G-d is working.  He is making changes.  He has something far greater to teach us through the small gradual, barely indiscernible, changes.  Slowly He is bringing healing.  Slowly He is calming our storms.  Slowly He is freeing us from our demons.   Sometimes He chooses to respond in spectacular ways, but far more often, it is the slow and steady that He uses to romance us.  It doesn't mean He isn't answering our prayers or that He isn't working.  He's just working in a different way.  Just like the sun was still setting.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Neurology update

I saw my new neurologist this morning.  Thank you to all of you who were covering this appointment in prayer.  Overall it was a very positive appointment.  I felt that the neurologist actually listened to me and took the time to let me voice my concerns and fears.  He doesn't have the results from my hospital stay yet, but will get those and review those.  In the meantime, he is starting me on a new medication Zonisamide (Zonegran) to try and eliminate any epileptic type seizures.  He believes (along with me and others) that I am having multiple types of seizures.  Additionally, he has ordered a new MRI of my brain.  My last MRI was almost 2  years ago now.  The CT three weeks ago was unclear (as CTs are apt to be) and he wants to take a closer look at Spot (my brain lesion that was found after the seizures started).  He suspects that Spot is causing problems (which I've suspected all along).  Whether Spot is causing problems or not, it will be good to have  look at him again and make sure he is behaving.  My MRI will be Saturday (April 16) at noon.

If you are in Holland and would be willing to give me a ride to and from my MRI on Saturday (at Holland Hospital), it would be appreciated.  As an added bonus, I will be drugged for this MRI, so it should be fun.  I hear I'm quite entertaining when they drug me.

If you are a praying person, please pray for the techs who will be doing my scan and for the specialists who will be reading it.  Please ask the Lord to give them wisdom and guidance. Please also pray for me.  I'm very claustrophobic (I freak out in elevators).  They are drugging me for this to help with that, but MRI's are still rough experiences for me. Pray that I have peace about it and am able to stay calm.


This will be brief because I have to go to class and I need to print some stuff off before then, but I'm seeing the neurologist this morning.  I could use some prayers that this is a fruitful appointment and that we get some answers.   Thanks friends.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Pella, Part 6

This particular post in the Pella series is dedicated to the "natural" things I photographed during my break. Things that are just as much a part of Central as the people...and maybe even more so, because they never go away.
A sunset through a dorm room window.  
Two of the three geese that live on the pond.  I'm not quite sure how this family of three thing works, but they seem to get along fine.  
A goose looking all tall and proud.
The "mama-to-be" working on her nest.  No eggs yet, she's not spending enough time on the nest for there to be eggs in it yet.  Last year I got to watch her lay an egg.  It was neat. 
The trees were just starting to bud.  Lots of pollen in the air.  Hooray allergies! 
Sunset at the soccer fields. 
Look for a post inspired by this sunset in the next day or so (I'll put a link up once the post goes live)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pella, Part 5

Walt the Pocket Kangaroo helped me shelve books in the library one day.  I used to work in the library and I missed shelving books and pulling markers, so Lana let me work some. 
Study Hall in the Lower Chapel is the cool place to be. 
The Lower Chapel is also a great place for life chats and praying with friends. 
Walt the Pocket Kangaroo enjoyed sitting in the sun journaling by the pond with me. 
Walt the Pocket Kangaroo also enjoyed the sunny weather for reading outside in the sun.  I think we were reading a preaching book at this point. 
Sarah G got "stuck" in the telephone booth. 
We decided to engage in some foolishness and built a camera stand so we could take a picture of ourselves with the telephone booth.  It was an adventure.