Monday, August 27, 2012

Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire

Not feeling so doubty today as the reality of life and death and heaven have been much too close. Things are too emotional for me right now to even care about philosophy or theology. All I know is I have a very firm conviction that I will see my grandma again and an even more real assurance that she's in total happiness, with Jesus, seated in heavenly places.

The purpose of this post is to publish the eulogy I spoke at my grandma's memorial. The reason I want to share it is because I'm proud of my grandma Lilly and want to use this platform to broadcast the impact she made on my life and the life of others. I also know that some people were not able to make it to the memorial, so here is a little bit of what went on. This is it verbatim.

"Grandma’s Eulogy

On Wednesday night I got a call from my mom that my grandma wouldn’t wake up. My heart sank. I knew right away she was in real trouble.

On the drive to the hospital I was in a panic and began bargaining with God, begging him for more time with her. I said “God, please let her be okay. Just 10 more years… no no no… just 20 more years… no not that either, just 100 more years.

And then I realized that only heaven could give me what I really wanted… unlimited time with her in perfect health. That’s when my prayer became a little less selfish.

I said “God, I want her to make it, but only if she’ll be restored to the quality of life that she would be happy with. I don’t want her to stay with me at the expense of her happiness.”

You have no idea how badly I wish she was still with us but I am comforted by the fact that she is in perfect paradise now with Jesus by her side. I really understand now why people say things like “we cry for ourselves” when their loved-ones pass away. I cry because I know I’ve lost one of the deepest relationships I’ve ever had. I cry because I still need my grandma. I cry because I can’t believe she’s really gone.

But it’s not all misery. I can still see her in my papa who made her so happy. Papa, you know you were her hero. She used to tell me you were the smartest person in the world. Yours was the kind of marriage we all hope for.

Our time with Grandma was a gift.
• I’ll never forget the way her hands smelled when she touched my face, like Jafra lotions and chopped vegetables because she was always cooking…
• the way she’d let me crawl in bed with her when I was a little girl afraid of the dark,
• how she forgave me even when I made really stupid mistakes.
• How she gave me her honest opinion about things that other people would’ve humored me about.
• I love that she loved Nacho Libre and Elf. When I moved into my house she found out my neighbors name was Francisco and she quoted Elf with Will Ferell saying “OOoo Francisco, that’s a fun name to say”. My grandma was funny and feisty. I loved that about her.

I can still see her in so many ways. I can see her in myself when I show love to my kids and I can hear her firm tone when I need to put them back in line.
I see her in the faces of my aunts and uncles and mom.

Uncle Pat I see grandma in your self-discipline and drive for excellence.

Aunt Jackie I see grandma in your sense of humor and passion for life.

Mom, I see grandma in your eyes and strength you have to keep working even when you’re exhausted.

Uncle Mickey I see grandma in your faithfulness and loyalty to family and the way you show such loving respect to grandma and papa.

And Aunt Laurie, I see grandma in your ability to love and sacrifice for your children and how you do the same for your grand daughter, like she was your own.

We thank God for you guys and for papa. You will keep grandmas memory fresh in our minds just by being yourselves.

My grandma was compassionate, generous and truly loving. When we made stupid decisions she never enabled us or gave excuses for us because she really believed we were capable of much better. She had a way of bringing us up to a higher, better level.

My grandma was beautiful. She took care of herself and it showed. She was an elegant person and showed each woman in the family that you can be a strong, powerful woman in a delicate and dignified way.

My grandma taught us the meaning of respect and gratitude. She never minimized our struggles but always reminded us that it could be so much worse. My grandma and papa both built this lesson into me at a young age and it has saved me from the misery of pity parties. I truly believe that lesson will make my life a better, happier one until the day I see her again.

My grandma taught us the importance of family. During the past few months my conversations with my grandma centered mainly around her sisters. She loved you three deeply and wanted the very best for you. My grandma loved family more than anyone else I know. She prayed for us… A LOT. She adored papa. She was proud of her children. She showed and told us how to respect others and put family first and always.

I think the best way we can honor my grandma’s memory is to remember the things she told us and do them.

Ask yourself, “What did mom always tell me? What did Lilly always want me to do? How did grandma show me how to be a better person?” My grandma has already shaped us but when we ask ourselves those questions she’ll continue to guide us."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Fresh Update on Our House Buying

Ok. We just got done signing escrow papers finally! It's such a relief to have that done. Now we just wait a little longer until the city and escrow work through the paper work to make it officially recognized. I'm not exactly sure how long that will take but I've been told it will probably be a few days. We may delay our move until the end of the month so that we can remove the cottage cheese/asbestos ceilings from the house. The only bummer is our house payment will be $200 dollars more than we were originally quoted. We could have fought to get it back down but that would've delayed our purchase by 2 weeks and the sellers would have cancelled well before the two weeks were up. They continued to threaten to cancel about every other day, with the last threat being yesterday. This is what made all this so stressful for Mike and I. Living under constant threat of a broken deal made the last few weeks suck a lot. Had they cancelled they could have kept $8000 dollars of our earnest money. YIKES! Thank God that didn't happen. While I'm NOT excited about the extra $200 bucks a month I am glad this is all over and I can finally let myself get excited about our new home!! Thanks for caring guys. I love you.

Monday, January 24, 2011

An Update on Our House Purchase

Before we got onto all this house buying stuff I was well prepared for potential heartbreak and drama. I've heard too many stories from people about the varying ups and downs involved with buying a house, so let's just say I took those stories to heart and went into this whole thing with my guard up. I'm so glad I did. Our first two offers on homes were rejected, but that's been the easy part so far. Now we are on the third and escrow is supposed to close on the 31st...BUT, things are still up in the air. A few days ago the seller got frustrated with us about a certain miscommunication and signed papers to cancel escrow. We were able to straighten things out but we are still on very shaky ground with her. Now we've got a hang up with the IRS which is going to delay the close of escrow. The seller has been very paranoid that escrow would be delayed because of a failed sale she had with a previous buyer. Now she thinks our deal will fall through as well. When she hears that things are delayed I'm worried that she will drop us for good this time. Although that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, it would be difficult because we've already paid hundreds of dollars to have the home appraised and inspected. I guess we'll see what happens. I'm just glad I took to heart the warnings from friends and acquaintances, because my world will not shatter if this all falls through.

I can't say I'm not stressed though. The stress isn't coming so much from the chance that we may lose the house so much as the not knowing. The uncertainty makes it nearly impossible to plan. If we're moving, we'll need a lot of help. I'm pregnant so I'm not supposed to be lifting heavy things and I can't be around cleaning chemicals with a developing baby in my tummy. And what is moving? Cleaning and lifting heavy things! But it's hard to know if I should try to rally help without knowing when to ask for it or if we'll even need it at all. Plus, we gave our notice to the apartment managers of the place we're in now and they expect us out by the first of February. So, if you've asked me about the new house and I don't seem too enthused, that's why. I don't want to get too attached if things don't work out, so I've decided not to until we actually move in. I hope it all works out, but I hold it loosely.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Nice Place to Visit

Many amazing people have come and gone in my life. People that (whether they like it or not) will always hold some real estate in my heart. I'm sure it is no surprise that those I treasure most are also those I've lived and worked with. Living in community, for better or worse, accelerates all kinds of antics and attachments. Such is the nature of sharing all things in common. Unfortunately this is not an entry about the fun times that living in community brings. The topic at hand is bit heavier.

My faith journey began fourteen years ago and sadly, I have seen many of the friends I alluded to above leave faith in the Biblical Jesus. The same Jesus they once knelt to in weeping prayer and devotion is not the one they follow today. Every Christian is vulnerable to this but still I wonder, how does this happen? Why do they leave? Maybe the harder question is, how do any of us stay? I've asked myself these questions over and over. Sometimes I lay awake thinking, "how can I help bring them back? Will my efforts, for whatever reason, only drive them further away?"

Jesus, wisely addressed this problem. His is clearly the best take on it and is found in Matthew 13:1-9 and 13:18-23. This is the parable of the sower. To summarize (for those aren't familiar with the passage) this parable explains how and why some remain rooted in Christianity while others take the more common road. The seed planted by the sower represents the gospel and the earth/soil represents the state of our hearts as we process what it means to follow Christ. Jesus illustrates four types of audiences.

Christ describes the seed that falls on rocky soil. These hear the gospel and quickly get excited about God and a spiritual life, yet these are easily uprooted during hardships and sacrifices connected to Faith. They, for a variety of reasons, will not be transformed by the Lordship of Christ. They may visit church and claim a loyalty to Jesus but there is little evidence of true conversion in their lives. The next group of hearers described don't make it quite that far. Either poor examples of Christianity or misguided attempts at intellectualism keep them far from church doors. Their ears are trained to equate the gospel with myth and superstition of no more value than Goldie Locks and the Three Bears. Jesus explains that, in this kind of listener, the seeds of the gospel are quickly eaten by the birds.

Jesus goes on to depict yet another kind of audience. She is the one who listens to the gospel. It takes root, deep in the heart. She is the person that despite death of loved ones, doubt, disillusionment, temptation and various seductions remains loyal to Christ. Granted, she may stumble... a lot... she may fail tragically, but she has the kind of loyalty that will not relent. God has His omnipotent grip on her and she grasps back, in sickness and in health, for better or worse, she is rooted in good soil.

Finally there is the type of hearer that I love deeply. Maybe my attachment to this next group reveals more about me than I'd like to admit. I can relate to their plight all too well. These beloved people are choked out of the faith because of the cares of this world. Many hear the gospel and devote their lives to following Christ. They stay in the faith for years and even decades, but eventually, through a variety of anxieties, temptations, disillusionment's and counter Christ belief systems leave faith in Jesus of the Bible. Commonly, their new Jesus is tamed, one who only promotes love, tolerance and peace. Of course love, tolerance and peace are all things Jesus embraces but the meaning of these words morph under this docile Christ. The new meanings condemn parts of scripture that draw lines between right and wrong. Many cannot accept that Jesus is the only way to salvation and it would seem that the pages of the Bible are cut into paper dolls removed in the image of the new belief system. This cut out only includes the truth claims that the new world view can endorse.

I want to be very careful here in the way I describe these things. Much of what I am detailing are beliefs held by people I love and respect, and to be quite honest, many of them are much brighter and more loving than me. To be fair, many "loyal" Christians also morph Jesus into their own image. I would even say that many Christians are guilty of this very often. Proof is everywhere. Some groups of Church goers dress Jesus in an American flag, consider Him a Republican or fill His mouth with hateful rhetoric. This is a much more sinister poison in the church today, and is a topic for another post. The people in particular that I'm speaking of are the ones that have consciously walked away from the foundational truths of Christianity, the same truths they thought they would never forsake.

Partial blame for this "falling away" can be placed on a misguided understanding of our identity as Christians. Forgive me, as this may seem like somewhat of a stretch, but from my experience the two are connected. Misunderstanding our nature leads to numbers of Christians remaining trapped in addictions, while others (as I have stated above) simply leave the faith all together, in part because of a false view of the self. Christians who feel trapped in habitual sins commonly do one of two things. They run to legalism and become ultra religious and self-righteous or they go to the opposite extreme and create a version of Christianity that allows them to indulge in their particular cravings or life styles. Our Path is a narrow one, but real liberty and empowered living are there alone. I struggle to walk this fine line often, but the more I understand what it means to be "born again", the easier it becomes. The key is understanding our new identity and divorcing ourselves from defeated mindsets.

An unfortunate approach to humility in the church today is to give our psyche a home in the reality of our sin nature. Early in my Christian life I was taught about the depth of my depravity. That is, I was taught that apart from Christ I am a wretched sinner, hopelessly enslaved to wrong doing. Either through my own twisted thinking or bad teaching this truth morphed into an idea quite poisonous to my spiritual health. The idea was this, that with or without Jesus the depth of my sin perverted me to the core. I was, without hope, defined by my wretched fallen nature. Unconsciously, I began to live as if Jesus Himself couldn't reach as deep as my sin dwelt. I know I am not alone in having believed this, which is why I write. Too many people of faith find a false identity in this twisted doctrine in its various forms. Too many walk away from Christianity because they think their "forbidden desires" (over-indulgence in alcohol, drugs, food, homosexuality, pornography and an infinite number of other cravings) define them and they resign to the notion that their final identity is the sin nature. Some resort to legalism to ease the guilt, hoping that rigid rule following and contrived good works will somehow change them or at least distract from temptation.

Others make Romans 7 a home for their defeated psyche. A false relationship with these scriptures can be crippling. It's best just to read Paul's words to see where some have gone wrong in the application of this portion of scripture. I recommend reading Romans 7:14-25 to get a clearer picture, but here is a glimpse of scripture that is commonly misunderstood:

"21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin." Romans 7:21-25 NLT

Paul uses powerful wording here. It's no wonder so many believers have interpreted this passage as a permanent definition of themselves. My purpose in this particular blog is to remind us that we are also called NEW CREATIONS! We are being transformed more and more into the image of our Father each moment we accept Him doing so. Each time we show love to our children, appreciate others and cheerfully give of ourselves the reality that we are created in the image of God is proven. All the while taking an honest inventory of our own sin, seeking forgiveness and pursuing repentance. Clearly, we still struggle with imperfections and maybe at times we're overwhelmed by sin in both thought and deed. I am in no way denying that we still have a sinful nature. This is painfully true. My grief lies in the reality that too many of us stop there. Not only do we stop there but we live there, soaking in our depravity until it's all we can see, engulfed in the sin of self hatred. Many often, then approach God in groveling self-loathing or confused hostility, rather than grateful sons and daughters.

Unfortunately some turn their hatred towards God or the church and despise them for "making them feel guilty for who they are". I've seen this too many times and I've lost too many friends to this way of thinking. So this is a call to wake up! We are God's beloved children, "the joy set before Him", and the reason He died. Parents get a special glimpse into this kind of love. We love our children, naughty or nice. Most of us would still give our lives for them on any given day, because to us, they are immeasurably valuable. Fortunately for us, we have a unconditionally loving Parent who has called us the apple of His eye. That's the identity we ought to live out of, the new-creation-image-bearers of the one true God kind of identity. After all..."As a man thinks, so he is". Proverbs 23:7.

I think Romans 7 was meant to be a note of empathy towards us. Proof that even the most prominent apostle struggled with unrelenting sin, a reminder that we are not alone, even in our failings. Which is why Romans 7 is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. This is also true of many of the Psalms. It's good to know that even the great King David, a man after God's own heart struggled with depression and hopelessness at times but clearly his feelings are not recorded so that we learn to be depressed and hopeless. We've got to be wise in how we apply what we read. Doing so in the wrong way can lead us directly out of our narrow path.

One key encouragment in all this is that we have a major part to play in becoming the type of hearer that thrives in spiritual life. God gives us an active role and blessed responsibility regarding the kind of soil our hearts offer Him. Our job is to seek Him, wait on Him, rest in the knowledge that we are His child and not our own project and then wait some more. Soft, open hearted patience is a mighty aid in the creation and maintanance of good soil.

Sow righteousness for yourselves,
reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
for it is time to seek the LORD,
until he comes
and showers his righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12 (NIV)

The parable of the sower serves as a warning, a self check tool that reminds us that we can be choked out of our faith if our minds dwell in the wrong place. Living in a defeated mentality will inevitably lead us to defeat. If we're going to go the long haul with Christ without resorting to legalism or indulgence then our only option is to believe the Bible when it tells us that we are not only sinners but saints. A wise teacher once said "sinners are saints in progress."

By the grace of God we've been given the proper dwelling for our minds. My new home is found in this:

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 2 Cor. 5:17 (KJV)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Props to the Catholics

There has been so much on my mind lately... stuff I would love to fling out onto this blog, like a pulpit for my outrage on various issues. But alas, I have decided to share some positive words instead. Positive words that is, about my Catholic brothers and sisters.

I was raised Catholic. I made my First Holy Communion and participated in the Eucharist. Every Sunday my grandfather and I sat at the back of the church playing 25 games of tic tac toe on the bulletin (insert grandma's disapproving looks here). To be honest I was super bored. It's only recently I have begun to understand the significance of these early spiritually formative years. There was so much I didn't understand. There was so much that went over my head. But I learned that God was present and that Jesus was amazing... the ground of my heart was prepared for my future salvation.

People dump truck loads of criticism on this Church. I have hurled my own judgement on the institution in years past. And yes, some of it is deserved. I have no intention of puffing up the Catholic Church as if it were a poor misunderstood martyr, the victim of bad press. Yet, in the big picture Catholics have contributed a rich quality of Saints to this world. Two of whom God used to help inspire me to keep enduring with Him in the midst of extremely difficult times. Mother Teresa and Saint John of the Cross are individuals whose marks on the world will surely live on, comforting and inspiring others for decades to come. There are also devoted Catholics continuing in the foot steps of these spiritual giants that have impacted me.

In college I spent a lot of time with Benedictine Monks. They graciously allowed me to sit with them during lunches that were eaten silently. From the front a monk would read an excerpt from a book. I found one of these excerpts especially interesting. If my memory serves me correctly the reading was a critique of protestantism. I must say it was a fair and gracious critique and deeply challenged my perception of the protestant reformation. The basic idea framed the pre-reformational church as a group of individuals in a sense "married". The reading portrayed protestants as the discontent spouse who refused to "work it out" and instead chose divorce. The article went on to propose that this may be why there are so many divisions and factions in the protestant church to this day. Perhaps the mentality is, if you don't like your church then leave and make your own or try on another. The challenge of the article was clearly pressing on a weak spot in protestantism, an inability to suffer through disagreements with community in tact.

Before my protestant friends get too frustrated with me, let me explain further. I'm not suggesting that Luther was wrong to launch a reformation. I think he was right to do so in light of the corruption that soaked the church during that time in history. In an ideal world the pope would have seen Luther as a prophet calling his church to repent, but that's all said and done now.

My real message here is that we protestants have missed out on some beautiful teaching, examples, mentorship and fellowship with our Catholic brothers and sisters because of the anti-catholic propaganda we read. I challenge you to ask a priest if he worships Mary and prays to idols. I challenge you to do a google search of convents in your area and ask a nun why she confesses to a priest. I have been blessed to have opportunities like these and I have gotten some very reassuring answers. Part of the problem is that we read biased regurgitated materials rather than discussing differences and misunderstandings in person with devoted catholics, or least researching the topic for ourselves from the original sources.

Granted, there are some very legitimate differences between the two sects but none that I believe should keep us far removed from one another. As protestants we are missing out on thousands of years of wisdom and wise counsel from a whole section of the body of Christ because we think we know what they believe. A whole new world of understanding was opened to me in an extremely vulnerable time of my faith because I softened my heart to Catholic authors such as Henri Nouwen. My hope is that this post will encourage those who feel stale in their faith to dare to look at Jesus afresh. Another perspective may open up a whole new world of spiritual growth.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Chase n the Weeks'

Josiah's first slow dance with little Emmy Weeks.
These guys are such cute little friends. They fight like brother's and sisters, or is that cats and dogs? Anyways, there's a lot more love floating around any way ya slice it... bunch a sweeties! Just some summer sprinkler time.

Rose's pig tails fell out but it's so funny how her hair held its shape... and that famous smile!

Another strangely gloomy summer day. Rose doesn't seem to mind though.