Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Let's Get Personal

So, my husband and I have a bit of a distaste for institutionalized "church" as we DO it here in the U.S. of A. Don't get me wrong, there is a great feeling of overwhelming comfort when I enter a church with pews, a pulpit in front of a cross in the baptistry, organ music playing some of the oldie but goody hymns, etc. I mean, what is more down home than ladies with hats and fans thinking about what they are going to bring to the pot luck next week while the preacher yells, paces, and smacks his bible on his hand for emphasis? These stereotypes do give us many laughs at times, and the most fun is the truth behind so many of the stories.

But I've digressed. I am getting on this soapbox, and hopefully only for a short rant, to talk about what we say and what we do. It seems there is a wanting to be something different, something more, maybe something even refreshing. We brag about how we change up our "forms" in worship so as to create a more authentic transformation. We call our sunday schools or bible studies by new names that have to do with relationship building or intimacy. The problem is we have trouble adjusting to the working out of these new concepts. Ultimately, what it boils down to is that we have slightly tweaked and renamed many an old practice.

So here we are. We have just joined this new church. We have been through the ringer and back in life and some of our healing had to do with past church experiences. We come to this new church with a new pastor and things are pretty good. Seriously, we don't have the expectations that this one church is going to "meet our needs" or fall into everything that we are looking for. We didn't make a list. We simply prayed, worshipped, and let God do the guiding.

Now, my husband and I are deconstructionists, though I have the tendency to be able to see further down the way to the reconstruction. This mentality has left us wanting to get in and fix and I know that is not our job. It is God's job. So, I will from here on out simply state what I experiences tonight at one of these group gatherings that was "advertised" to be relational.

So we walk into a room. This room is white and taupe. There are absolutely no decorations, pictures, or anything that would stand out. There are three rows of chairs facing a wipe off board, and a tv set up facing the chairs. There were two tables for sign in and supplies. We sat down on the last row wearing our name tags and filling out forms. Some others filed in and we got started. We talked vaguely about our "assignments" every week and how quickly we were going to have to run through the book to fit it all into one month. Then we introduced. We went around the room. Typical group dynamics kicked in with most giving typical answers and the few usurping precious time to tell their life story and some obviously on a totally different page often saying completely unrelated things.

Now this group dynamic thing I expected. I've done enough study of counseling, human behavior, and church, just to learn to expect these types of interactions. So off we go into a mostly one person led "discussion" about a book whose first two chapters no one knew were supposed to already have been read before you got there. Then we watched a lovely synopsis video which was only slightly helpful this week because no one had read what they didn't know they were supposed to have read. Every time I got ready to jump into the discussion, the facilitator moved on. Now keeping in mind our time crunch, I understood, but I did find it confining to our group's possible growth through discussion. There was scripture used, but not clearly defined in context and quickly with little exploration.

What did I notice? First, I noticed how dull the atmosphere was. Then I noticed how, even during the introductions, I had trouble seeing people due to the seating arrangement. Wouldn't a more relational style be to sit in a manner that allowed for more direct discussion. The very set up of the room screamed for this to be merely educational, primarily lecture based, with very little interaction. I looked at the back of most people's heads! Then the video..I will excuse the use of it this week and this week only since it is likely that the facilitator knew that many would likely have not yet read the assignment. But from here on out, there is no need for it. We will get more than enough of the author's opinion just reading the book week in and week out. There is no need for the video cliff's notes on top of it all. Personally, I think it just cuts into the already cramped discussion time. The last thing I noticed was that one couple felt that they had to leave early and miss out on some of the gathering to go and get their son. Then, of course, my husband and I were worried about Mercy after their early exodus. It was then that I realized that it wouldn't kill us to have our kids with us in these gatherings. Talk about personalizing things! Anyway, that is enough for my soap box right now. Anyone reading this who is further interested should start by reading the book of Acts and see how it was first intended to operate.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Pseudo Father

So, I was sitting with the church this morning, and was gently reminded that there are others in my life that have acted as "father" in my life. One in particular came to mind, Randy Millwood. Now mind you, Adele, his lovely wife, has been an equal partner in all this, but today is Father's day, so it is Randy who comes most to mind. In fact, I got online tonight after Mercy was asleep to check my mail and blog about him and sure enough, he was online also. We spent nearly an hour chatting about so many things; good books, love of reading, love of learning, how to avoid bitterness from all that has incurred this past year. We encouraged one another and shared words from the Lord on eachother's behalf. I didn't get to really speak to my dad today. He was off enjoying a magnificent and much deserved Father's Day with some of his favored classmates from IWS. This filled in the gap. More than that, I was thrilled at the way God had orchestrated the interaction today, perfectly, as always.

Randy Millwood has been a spiritual dad to my husband and I. Jason met him first, but only after my pushing. I persuaded him to go to a meeting on house churches held at the home of a Dr. Millwood. I couldn't go for some reason. He came home mildly impressed, but I still didn't know much. Then Jason had spiritual formation with him and they held it at their house. He was hooked. I still didn't know what all the hype was about, but if my husband is impressed it must be good. I needed the second half of the spiritual formation class and so joined in on the second semester. We met each week at Randy and Adele's house. We always shared goodies. We talked frankly, honestly about our struggles spiritually that week. Sometimes we shared wisdom, sometimes we just gleened wisdom from God through Randy. Regardless, and most important, I always felt like I'd been with God.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't think that Randy Millwood was God, but I can confidently say that he sought and often succeeded to be like Christ. Thus being with him and in his home, one came away refreshed, renewed, comforted...

He is further away now, but our connection through our church, through prayers, through our service of God, we are all still often together in a different sense. We have learned so much from him. We have learned more about how to build relationships (in general and spiritually specific). We have learned new verbage, more biblically correct verbage to express what it is that we do here as church, as Christ followers. We learned more about this thing we call church. What it should be, What it could be, What God intended. For all this and more we are thankful to our Father God for placing him in our path to grow us, to love us, and to be our fellow journeyman.

Even what I've said doesn't seem like enough.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Happy Father's Day!

O.K. so tomorrow is really Father's Day, but I'm anticipating it by mearly an hour and a few minutes. I could not let this day go by with out commending the "Dad's " in my life.

My dad is the ideal dad. I know not many can say that, but, thank God, I can. Sure he has his imperfections as do any of us, but his "good" outways his "bad". My dad is Gary Hallquist. He has passed down to me so many things and thus I'll just mention them as they come to mind. Music is first, not just a love of music, but a desire to create it. I think that is like God our father, the ultimate Creator. Sure He passed down a love of the beauty of His creation, but He also passed on a desire to create. So, my dad also passed down a hunger for learning and continued learning. He challenges me theologically, intellectually, musically, morally. Challenge, I mean here to be a good thing, a pushing toward, a "help you along" hand on the way to the next level. He is patient, kind, wise, loving, thoughtful, selfless, talented, humble, and I know this sounds absolutely ridiculous cause you are can one person be all those things? I honestly don't know except to say that he has a very personal relationship with Christ.

With such a great example, naturally I unintentionally sought someone like my own dad...enter Jason. He, too, is gentle, patient, kind, smart, and handsome. But, as I watch him with our daughter, Mercy, I know that they too will share the sweet relationship that I share with my dad. They way he handles her is such a beautiful combination of relaxed fun, gentleness, and strength. I see the admiration in her eyes when she looks at him and the joy that overwhelms her when he pays attention to her. What a dad he has already become, and he has only just begun. I'm excited for both Mercy and Jason as they are headed into a glorious relationship!

Happy Father's Day!!!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Small Pleasures

I will tell you that I'm not big on things...and in many ways that is true. On my list of priorities, "things" are much further down than relationships, health, and such. However, I have found one of my most favorite "things" in all of the world of which I have been made aware. I LOVE Millstone Caramel Truffle Coffee! I have perfected the art of making the equivilant of a Starbucks Caramel Machiatto in my own home. And overall it is cheaper, although the coffee itself is a little pricey. However, it is one of the few "things" that I would splurge one because its value is pretty great to me right now. I'll take it caffinated in the AM and decaffinated in PM with 1/4th whole milk, two splendas, heavy whipped cream, and caramel drizzled on top. It's like having a gourmet coffee shop in my own house! I actually find it more difficult to leave my house now that I have found this coffee. I have a computer, a book, a chair, a lamp, my coffee, Mercy's asleep, less crowd and thus less noise, and I get to wear my pajamas! OK, so I'm really not obsessed, just newly infatuated that's all. Thanks for indulging me, and if you ever want to get me a present for any now know what to get!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

You Are Not Alone! Yeah!

So I met a friend the other day, a kindred spirit. I can relate to the Indigo Girls in their age old song Virginia Woolf. In the 1200 Curfews album the intro to the song talks about making a friend, a connection through time, through the pages of a book. I met my new friend, Lauren F. Winner through the pages of her "memoir", girl meets GOD. Of course she has no idea who I am, but in some ways she knows a little bit of me, because I find that I am a bit like her. I haven't finished the memoir, and I'm certainly not Jewish, but in so many ways I have felt and experienced what she expresses about church and worship and my own humanity. I folded down a page to quote from, so let's see what it says.

"So I church-hopped, sometimes visiting as many as three churches on a single Sunday. I manufactured good reasons never to return to any of them, but the real reason was probably that it was easier to stay anonymous and aloof than to do the hard, intimate work of actually becoming part of a church.
By the time I return to All Angels', two things have changed. They have called a rector, whom I take to immediately, a sharp and careful man from India named Milind Sojwal; and the very anonymity that made church-hopping appealing has begun to wear me down. I am tired of looking for a church, tired of having my spiritual community be just a patched-together group of Christian friends scattered across the four corners of the earth, folks I can call at any hour but never pray with face to face or eat cheese straws with during coffee hour. I am tired of not being expected anywhere on Sunday morning. I so need a church that it takes just the gentlest push to fall, as though exhausted onto the downiest of feather beds, into All Angels'. "
Now, Adele, if you are reading this, Yes...I'm finally reading the book you let me borrow before the hurricane! Thank you for thinking of me. You know me even better than I suspected. I can't wait to read more. The honesty with which she shares her experiences in church services, in interactions with Christians and/or just ordinary people is refreshing. You Know I've thought those same things before, but kept them to myself.

Well, nap time must be over cause I hear my daughter meowing like a kitten! Gotta go.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Come Awake. Rise. Shine.

This being somewhat a continued story from the previous post, I gave it a similar title. I felt, however, that this information or section, if you will, deserved its own space. Thus, I must tell you more of the awakening story.

So, if you've been keeping up with my posts, you may have heard mention of my feeling somewhat spiritually stagnant. Christ followers have times like these. It is not exactly the same for everyone, but it is certainly common. So, if you are there--feeling blah in you spirituality--be patient, be quiet, but listen and wait for "the voice" to say, "Awake!"

I love how music touches more than just the ears and the mind, but deep into the emotions, into the soul of a person. Even when I had no energy to read God's word or little time or energy to talk to God in any kind of decent prayer life, music written by His servants, sung by more of His servants could reach right into my tough heart and get the blood pumping again.

If you've ever read "Hinds Feet on High Places," you can understand with the love of God in your heart comes both overwhelming pleasure and pain. It is the thorn placed in the heart of Much Afraid. As she experienced stronger love, the stronger beats of her heart gave way to a more severe piercing feeling from the thorn placed there. I experienced this mix and wealth of emotion each time my lips and heart began to sing these "hymns", these songs of the church. My lips were joining together with my sudo brothers and sisters. They were singing and connecting my heart and mind to memories that were comforting and familial as I uttered notes and words that were so familiar. The new songs with their message, not new but refreshed, washed over my spirit as the only words I would allow God to speak to me in my time of healing, adjustment, and restoration.

And isn't it funny how we tend to resist the very things we need. I can tell you why I resisted, or maybe avoided. It was the piercing of the thorn. I chose, in that time, to forgo the overwhelming love in order to avoided the pain that came with it. You see, as I stand before God, I am absolutely vulnerable, undeniably transparant. With that, not only He, but I can see what's really in there. I was not afraid of His response. I have always known Him to love, show grace, and mercy. I was afraid of what I would have to do in response to what I would find. Sort of an ignorance is bliss type thing.

Typical how when you allow a trickle of it to begin to seep into your life, the floodgates rip down the walls you put up to hide behind, and there is no turning back! This is me now...neck deep in Christ's floodwaters. Even funnier is this illustration, considering all that took place previously. Truly, the irony was unintentional. To continue metaphorically, I intend to lift my feet from the sodden ground and allow God's current to transport me into the center of His will. In the waters of Katrina, I was working ever so determinedly to trek through step by step, as if in denial that the waters were all around me. I was dependent on my own strength. I couldn't just pick up my feet and float along with the current, because I didn't trust the one in charge, me.

Literally now, I am excited about the future as it is unfolding in front of me one step at a time. My husband and I are realigning ourselves and our lives, and instead of trying to figure it all out ourselves and get all our ducks in a row before we take another step, we are praying, and listening, and obeying God no matter how ridiculous the instruction seems, not matter if we can see the plan or not. We are reingaging our life and those people that are in it. I have finally felt a burden to pray for my neighbor and his family. I have a desire to learn again, to read, and challenge myself. I have been able to hear from God pretty clearly and it is beautiful!

This new journey has just begun. I didn't want it. I wasn't expecting it. In fact, I think the tragedy of Katrina sent me into a coma, and after months of words not getting through, His voice finally said, "Arise."


Come Awake

"Are we left here on our own? Can you feel when your last breath is gone? Night is waiting heavy now. Be quiet and wait for a voice that will say,

'Come awake from sleep. Arise. You were dead. You've come alive. Wake up. Wake up. Open your eyes. Climb from your grave in to the light. Bring us back to life.'

You are not the only one, who feels like the only one. Night soon will be left dead, friend. Just be quiet and wait for the voice that will say,

'Come awake from sleep. Arise. You were dead. You've come alive. Wake up. Wake up. Open your eyes. Climb from your grave in to the light. Bring us back to life!'

Rise. Rise. Rise. Rise. Rise.

Shine, Oh Shine.

We will Rise. We will Shine.

Love will Rise. Love will Shine."

If you look closely there is a tiny yellow boat in the vast expanse of that ocean picture. Except for the fact that this photo is illuminated by the daytime sun, this has been the mental picture that previously came to mind when I would reflect on my family and our new placement after the tragedy that was "Katrina."

I just emailed a friend that I haven't seen in over 5 years, and all of a sudden the grief, pain, and the story itself began to pour into my fingers. When I neared the end of the "spill" I realized that some of my own family and close friends had never heard any of this either, so I copied a few of them rather than respill the story a second time.

This image...I am coming forth from this image. The above song by David Crowder had a poignant line that caught me as I was jamming to my ipod and making dinner, "You are not the only one who feels like the only one." Yeah! It's true. How many times have I heard these feelings expressed by others in all of my ministry and counseling work?! And yet I have to be reminded! What a silly, stupid sheep I can be. And thus I have a need for a shephard, a loving God.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The More We Get Together

"The more we get together, together, together...

The more we get together the happier we'll be.

Cause your friends are my friends,

And my friends are your friends.

So the more we get together the happier we'll be!"

Designated by the nearly certified Kindermusik teacher, Jennifer Cleveland (Stapleton), the above was our theme song for the visit. Honestly, this visit was much anticipated and yet surreal. It came and went, and I didn't have much to say about it. It was almost as if it was a nice dream I had. Seriously.

Jennifer, my friend from college (5 years and more ago!) emailed me to let me know that she was coming through and was going to stop in Mobile to see Hope (my roomate from college). Since that is only a hair less than 2 hours from me, I decided I'd go too. Yes, I was invited.

Hope Coons (Baldwin) had recently given birth to her first daughter, Anna Beth. She was just 4 wks. old this past Monday! So we all gathered at her house to be together. No real reason it seemed other than to just be in each others' presence and soak up all the reality that life goes on and on. And that is pretty much what we did. Jen and I tried to keep Hope off of her feet. It was tough. I remember feeling like I had to be Supermom, and that I had to play hostess when there were visitors. We just talked mostly about motherhood and our children, shared some of our choice morsels of motherhood success secrets, and such like that.

Our children became instant friends which really did make me wish that we could be closer literally and figuratively. They were a joy to watch. I did find it ironic that the "old" versions of ourselves came out a bit. Jen, the social coordinator was going and blowing. I couldn't help but throw in some "ghetto" humor. We both had to embarrass Hope by talking about sex in front of her husband. It was good...really good.

A weird thing came over me when it was time to ride home, I became sad, truly sad. I have not felt strong emotions in quite a while so it was both surprisingly nice and unusual. I was very reflective on the way home, you know us always trying not to over analyze even though we can barely help ourselves. I thought of how nice it was to be with women. I thought of how nice it was to be with friends. I thought of how refreshing it was to be with Christ followers...all with similar issues, questions, problems, etc. Experience was swapped along with encouragement and the reassurance that you're not alone, and that you will be prayed for. It wasn't "like before." How could it be really. It was what it was; comforting, fun, relaxing, long overdue.

Friday, June 02, 2006

My 11 month old lesson

It's amazing what I can learn from such a little person. I had forgotten how risky it was to grow up and how brave one has to be to move on. This is something that I have begun to relearn through watching my daughter Mercy. There are references to this "growth" phenomenon in the bible. Such as the idea that when I was a baby I drank milk, but now it's time to eat meat. It's a metaphor for our depth and understanding of relationship with Christ and His word.

Hard to believe Mercy went from that little pipsqueek to rolling over, crawling, waving, talking, and now her first several steps. I know that I wrote on Mother's Day that she had taken her first steps, and that was true, but then she became stagnant in her developmental growth in that area. She became busy about talking instead. Well, today she has really begun to stick out her unsure foot and take the risk that each step brings.

I noticed that she is most brave when she doesn't think too much about it. Each time she takes those risky steps, she has become eager or excited about whatever it is she is moving toward. That excitement overshadows her fear and she steps.

Here is where God began to spell it out a little more clearly. Why do I think so much? Now I don't think He desires for us to be dumb little sheep, but it seems that we simply have a tendancy to be that way. Seriously. I have only just begun to relearn the lesson of faith. All of you have seen the old Indiana Jones scene where he steps out over nothing, and yet he is able to stand. Each step is full of fear and hope, but each one gets easier because of the previous step.

This is what faith is like. The more you practice risk, the more you allow God to remind you the He is indeed God...and the easier it is to risk the next time. Somehow, though I stopped this lovely cycle, and it has been so long since I have risked that I am at the starting over place. And I'm o.k. with that. At least I have the memory of God's faithfulness in my past not to mention the stories of it from His Word, the Bible.

So if my daughter, Mercy, can go from a little wiggly vegetable in my arms all night, to a girl who sits at her own table, waves at will, and steps when she doesn't let her mind get in the way, then I can step also. I know that all this newness in my life can seem overwhelming and sort of depressing, but I also know that if I move forward, God has something cool ahead. I don't know what and I don't really care because I trust who He is and His character.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Mercy "Our Little Tutti"

Woohoo! I could ride my poodle pony all day...just like my mommy used to be.

Hey! I love my "beebee!" Love the baby. Kiss the baby. Rock the baby.

All I could take...naptime with Mama in her big bed!

"Hey!" Waving is one of my many new tricks.

I love getting out of the house. Got used to the car due to the Katrina experience.

Finally Home

It feels weird even typing the "title" to this blog. You see I'm a minister kid; basically one step down from a military brat. We moved about every 3 years or so growing up and then once college hit it became just about every year if not every semester. Really. Since 1996 I have moved 15 times!!! Holy Moly, I hadn't sat down and figured it up. Sometimes it wasn't my fault per-se (the last several were due to the hurricane). Wow, I hate it!

Anyway, I picked this subject because "home" hit me like a waft of freshly baked bread as I opened my front door today. You know how smells can really bring to mind thoughts, memories, feelings that are sometimes beyond any kind of verbal expressions? There was a time when I was exploring my future and was employeed at a behavioral hospital. The administration tended to abuse my dependability and thus 25 hours a week often turned into 40 or more. There was a defining moment when I unlocked the back door as I was entering work, and as soon as the smell of the unit hit my nostrils my mind felt "at home." It was that very moment that led me to quit that job. No job should "smell like" home.

Today was another moment for me. I was in and out today, working a little childcare, and running errands with my daughter who I will lovingly refer to as Tutti at times. I had Tutti on my hip, a baby bag and my purse on my shoulder, and I was using whatever weight I could control to push open my tricky front door when rushing toward us came this waft of "home." It was pleasant. Not so much the smell but the feelings that all of a sudden became connected to the smell. Deep breath... Sigh... "Finally home."

You don't know what that means to a "gypsy" or "nomad" like myself. It is so unusual and yet long overdue. Even now thinking of it I have a depth of feeling tingling in my belly all the way up to my throat. Tears well just behind my eyes. Not sure why. Maybe part grief for the things lost over the last year or maybe out of overwhelming relief and/or peace with finding a sense of "home."