Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why I NEVER Throw Things Away

I apologize in advance to my male readers, but I just had to share today's adventure because it's SO me. Feel free to bail out at any time, guys....

Just before it was time to leave for the gym this morning, I discovered that I was all out of sanitary napkins. I had bought one of those industrial- size packs that only seems endless. I went fishing around in the depths of the bag, and my hand came up empty. Not to worry, surely there was a pad back in the cabinet somewhere. I tossed out old hair spray cans, hair gels, manicure kits, and dried up nail polishes. I found all sorts of interesting things that I haven't used in years, but not one pad.

I still wasn't too worried. You know how you often find a stray pad hanging out in a suitcase you haven't used for awhile? I was certain I'd seen a pad or two in a suitcase recently. I searched through the suitcases, overnight bags, and carry-on bags in our closet to no avail. It seemed there wasn't a sanitary napkin in the entire house.

At this point, I could have headed to the store, but that would have meant missing at least part of my gym class. I stood with my hand on my hip, brow furrowed, as I considered my options. All I needed, actually, was some sort of makeshift pantiliner. Suddenly, my mind settled on that old pack of Curity nursing pads up on the closet shelf. Was it still there?

Yep! I stretched up on my tiptoes and pulled down the box. It was half full. The shape was all wrong, of course, but a pair of scissors would fix that easily enough. But what about adhesive? I knew I'd be going through all sorts of contortions in my Pilates class, and there was no chance that a modified nursing pad would stay put.

I didn't have time to look for Duck tape, and I knew Scotch tape wouldn't do it. Hmmm.... I remembered the old Stayfree commercials: "No belts! No pins!" What I needed was some safety pins. I ran to Ethan's bathroom and looked on the top shelf of his vanity. Yes!!! There were two safety pins that had come with the house. They were adorned with brightly colored beads--remember that fad from a decade or so ago?

I found my rattiest pair of underwear and pinned the little pad from the outside, at both ends (after I'd stripped off the pretty beads). Perfect! For a moment, I wondered what might happen if one of the safety pins came open during Pilates. I decided to take the risk; the pins might be 20 years old, but they looked pretty sturdy.

As I scooped up Allyson and took off for class, I could hear Bill's dry voice in my head: "In the amount of time it took you to concoct a plan, round up the raw materials, and make that pad, you could have gone to Walmart Market and back."

Well, maybe, I admitted mentally. But now I had the double pleasure of having saved some money and having justified my compulsion to save EVERYTHING. Who knew that I'd find a use for my old breast pads and two beaded safety pins--at the same time?

Later, I was washing dishes when I felt a sharp pinch near... well, let's just say in the seat of my pants. Ouch! Was it the safety pin? A quick check assured me that both pins were still firmly fastened. Maybe I had imagined it.... No, about five minutes later I felt another sharp pinch on the back of my knee. I yanked up my pantleg and found a fire ant! What are the odds that I would be bitten in the crotch by a fire ant in my kitchen on the only day I ever remember having safety pins hooked to my underwear? Seriously!

I'm still not sure if I'm going to tell Bill about my little adventure. I figured he'd ask why the box of breast pads and the scissors were lying on the vanity, but he didn't say one word. He probably saw them, wondered, and thought, "Nah...."

I'm sorry to say that on my afternoon trip to the grocery store, I forgot to buy more pads. Darn it! Oh well, there are about 15 more breast pads left.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Please Pray for Dad

Dad had another endoscopy this morning to check for recurrence of his esophageal cancer. The original site is clear, but he had developed another cancerous nodule in a different area. This was a shock to us. We thought it was just a routine follow-up. Dad has been feeling so much better and looking so much better that we didn't expect bad news.

They did an ultrasound to see how far the nodule had penetrated, and they determined that they could safely cut it out--which they did today. He should have his biopsy results in ten days, and his doctor is consulting with a cancer specialist to determine the best course. His heart does not seem strong enough for a more invasive surgery. Chemotherapy may be an option.

I feel so exhausted emotionally. When I pray for him, I just pray for God to have mercy on Daddy. (He hasn't been Daddy for years and years, but right now he is. I am a little girl napping next to him on the living room floor while we wait for dinner.) I don't want him to suffer. I don't want him to be sick at all any more. I just want this to go away.

Please pray for Dad and my family. Please pray that God will direct his doctors in determining his treatment plan.

Thank you!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lola the Bubble Slayer

Our beloved Lola has discovered a pastime even more exciting than chasing water: she loves to jump up and pop soap bubbles with her teeth.

Here's a short video. Prepare to be amazed at Lola's agility and accuracy. It's my voice narrating, but I wasn't talking for the camera. I was actually on the phone, doing a bit of algebra tutoring, when I saw Lola and had to grab the camcorder. On the video, I'm explaining to my friend Chris why I am totally not paying attention to him.


P.S. Have you noticed that I've posted more videos of my dog than my children? I wonder what that means?

Monday, April 20, 2009

I Hear Birdies...Tweet! Tweet!

There wasn't a moment's peace on Saturday after Allyson learned we'd be going to the "bird park." I'd been invited by a high school friend, Christina, to go to a nearby park for a special bird event. Throughout our busy morning, Allyson kept asking every few minutes, "Is it time to go to the bird park?"

We finally arrived around 2:45, in time to catch the last hour or so of the event. We'd apparently missed the falcons and Cooper's hawks and so forth, but we still had a great time. The first wonder was the gift shop, which had all manner of realistic-looking stuffed animals. There were owls and bats and mice and butterflies.

Christina's husband showed us each animal, holding them like puppets. At first, Allyson clung to my leg, but soon she was excitedly pointing out each animal to me. Gary had her giggling in no time.

Next up was story hour, and the reader must have been a teacher because she was so skilled at sparking the imagination and holding everyone's interest. She read a book about a migrating hummingbird, and we learned many fascinating tidbits. Did you know, for example, that hummingbirds can fly backwards and even upside-down?

We were a diverse group. There were children of various ages, along with their parents, and then there was a group of mentally challenged adults. Those men and women were a joy to watch. They were so enthusiastic, so delighted to learn about hummingbirds and to share their knowledge with each other. They never stopped grinning, and they never ceased to be amazed.

The highlight of the story hour was when the teacher passed around a real stuffed hummingbird in a plastic case. It had been found in this area back in 1976! I held my breath as Allyson held the tiny box; I was afraid she would shake it and damage the beautiful, fragile creature.

Once she had held the bird, Allyson couldn't care less about the story. She kept announcing in a stage whisper that she really wanted to hold that bird again. The girl to our right heard her and handed the bird over, and Allyson studied it intently for a few more minutes until I made her pass it on. A couple of minutes later, Allyson pleaded, "I leely [really] want to hold that bird, Mommy!" I took her by the hand and led her away so the others would not be distracted.

Next, we admired several turtles, frogs, and snakes in aquariums. Just like her big brother Ethan, Allyson was an animated tour guide. "Look at the frog, Mommy! Do you see the snake?"

It took some effort to drag her away, but we finally headed outside to look for some live birds. On our way to the bird walk, we stopped at an art table where Allyson used dyed feathers to paint with a dazzling array of tempra paints. She didn't attempt to draw anything or anyone, just brushed vibrant swirls of color haphazardly across the page. Gary, on the other hand, made a sort of impressive owl. Allyson picked out a spot on the clothesline for their two masterpieces, and then we headed off to the bird walk.

Christina and Gary, who had just taken a guided walk, assured us that there were many types of birds along this lushly wooded path, but we never saw any. That's because every few feet, Allyson would shout, "Hey, guys! I fink I hear some birdies... Tweet! Tweet!" Each time, I'd remind her to be very quiet so as not to scare the birds away, and she'd nod her head and whisper, "Okay." But each time she heard the telltale chatter of birds, her excitement would get the best of her again. "Listen! It's birdies! Tweet! Tweet!"

So instead of seeing birds, we sometimes heard them fluttering away frantically as we rounded a corner. No matter. Since Christina is actually an elementary school science teacher, we got our own guided tour. She pointed out all the tiny wonders we would have missed:
  • Tiny seeds inside their seed coats
  • Dainty white onion flowers with adorable little onion bulbs (when she broke a stem, I was startled to recognize the pungent aroma of onion)
  • Mushrooms growing on the side of logs
  • A spider's nest bejeweled with sparkling water droplets
  • Scurrying creatures that lived under a log (Allyson was delighted, but I shuddered involuntarily)
  • A big pile of dog poop that she carefully guarded so that Allyson wouldn't step in it
The weather was absolutely perfect. It was overcast with a gentle breeze, neither hot nor cold. The ground was a bit muddy from the recent rain, which gave Allyson an excuse to wear her beloved blue boots from Nana in Vancouver. As twilight approached, little clouds of mosquitoes joined us on our walk, but thankfully they never bit us. Allyson welcomed them cheerfully: "Look, Mama, a skeeto!"

When we returned to the science center, the clothesline with the paintings was gone. Gary inquired inside and learned that the pictures had been discarded when the event ended at 4:00! Allyson was heartbroken. She's still pining for that Picaso-esque painting.

After the nature walk, we met another high school friend named Helen and her smiley, amazingly squirmy baby Charlie. We had the most delicious fish tacos at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant, and we sat out on their porch and talked endlessly while Gary kept Allyson entertained.

It was a most wonderful Saturday afternoon, after which Allyson was utterly exhausted.

Just after we got home, the sky opened up and let out torrents of rain. I was so glad to be snug at home, relaxing on the couch with Allyson. We're already making plans to go again.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Thursday Group

When I think about my spiritual walk, and just about the joys in my life, I always remember the Thursday Group. I really believe God brought these women into my life, and I'm so thankful. Here's the story of how I met them and what they have meant in my life.

Before I developed a close relationship with God, I went through some very dark times. In an amazing and beautiful irony, it was those dark times that really led me to God. Just as Paul tells us in Romans 8:28, God truly does work in all things for the good of those who love him.

As I shared in a previous post, I felt God calling me, loving me, when I was at my lowest--newly divorced and all alone in a Chicago hotel room. At that moment, hope was born, but it was a long road back to God. When I got back home, I ended up attending two weekend counseling sessions in a program called The Road Adventure. It was an intensive group therapy approach that helped me let go of many hurts.

While I was there, a girl walked up to me on a break and said, "Hi, I'm Christi!" She started asking me questions about myself and was apparently determined to befriend me. You know how little kids walk up to each other in the park (or the post office) and say, "Wanna play?" It was kind of like that. I was a little put off because at that point I felt incapable of forming friendships, but at the same time, I liked it. I wondered what she saw in me.

After a particularly grueling day in the second weekend session, Christi invited me to go eat Krispy Kreme donuts with some friends of hers. It was late, and I was exhausted, but I never turn down Krispy Kremes! I said, "Why not?"

That's when Christi introduced me to Jenny, a beautiful, gentle girl who put me completely at ease. They told me about the Thursday Group, which they called an accountability group. They said they had lost a member when she moved to New York, and they felt that I was supposed to be part of their group. I really had no idea what this accountability group was all about, but again I said, "Why not?"

Heart Friends
I was so nervous that first Thursday when I drove up in front of Jenny's house. What was I thinking?? I didn't know these people. What if they were weird? What if they didn't like me?

Inside, Jenny and Christi greeted me with warm hugs, and everyone else seemed friendly enough. We sat on Jenny's back porch and ate snacks while Marie and Tisa shared what was going on in their hearts. I hoped they wouldn't ask what was going on in my heart because I really had no idea.

Something Marie shared really moved me, and I suddenly found myself crying with her and telling her I understood her pain. Just like that, I was IN. These were "heart friends" even though I'd just met them.

Thursday Group Meeting (Jenny's Couch, 10/4/01) Back: Jenny, Christi, Britney, Tisa Front: Joy, me, Marie, Cathy

We continued to meet every other Thursday night for a few years, maybe four. We'd sit on Jenny's comfy couch and pour out our hearts to each other, often while we ate Jenny's amazing banana bars. It wasn't a Bible study, though we talked about the Bible. It wasn't a prayer meeting, though we always prayed for each other. It was just a place to figure out what was going on in your heart so you could work through it together.

There were only two rules: 1) everything shared was absolutely confidential, and 2) when someone was talking, everyone else had to remain completely silent. We couldn't even say, "Oh, I know what you mean," or "Oh how awful/wonderful." That was hard to get used to, both as a listener and as a speaker. But I think I have become a much better listener because of it.

Hanging-Around Friends
At first, these ladies were heart friends, but they weren't hang-around-and-have-fun friends. I guess I held them aloof for awhile, if that makes sense. I didn't want my hanging-around friends to know so much about what was going on in my heart. Over time, though, these ladies become very dear friends in every way.

Every year or so, we'd have a retreat over the weekend. We might go out of town, or we might stay in a local hotel, or we might stay at someone's house. There were no kids, no significant others, and nothing to do but talk and eat and sing and laugh and cry. These were some of my favorite times of refreshing.

My First Retreat, Summer 2001

Sometimes, we had marathon cooking days. We'd meet in Jenny's kitchen and make massive amounts of food for our freezers. It didn't feel like hard work when we could share the tasks and chatter endlessly. The best part was coming home with literally 20 meals (or more!).

Christi's Wedding, February 2002

Marie's Engagement Party, Spring 2002

You know how sometimes you have a great friend, but your spouses or your children don't get along? Well, it wasn't like that for us. All of our spouses and all of our children had so much fun together. We spent many weekends at the lake, wearing ourselves out on waterskis and wakeboards and an evil giant banana that skimmed a foot above the water. We ate and talked and stayed up half the night playing games.

Clint Let Allyson "Drive"

Everyone was welcome, so over the years I brought my sisters and nieces and my Little Sister Brandy. One of the best moments was praying for my niece, Mindy, to learn to water ski and then watching her get right up on her skis just as the prayer left my lips!

I'd Never Think Up Such a Thing on My Own!

Clint Had to Bribe Ethan The First Time - $10

So Much More

The Thursday group didn't just break down the walls I'd built against friendship. It was much more than that. Through meeting with these women who all went to different types of churches and had different religious backgrounds, I learned to connect with God in wonderful new ways. They always talked about spending quiet time with God, and about journaling. This was a new concept for me: to just spend time enjoying God's presence and listening for his voice. I decided to try it, and this was how I gradually started a relationship with Jesus.

Then there were the amazing revelations that Jenny would share. God spoke to her in scripture, in dreams, or simply in her thoughts. A few years ago, Jenny compiled all the words from God that she'd recorded in her journal into one book, titled Keep Listening. ("Keep listening" was the very first thing she heard God tell her.) Reading her book kindled a fire in my heart, and I longed to hear from God that way. So I asked him. And He did speak to me. I suppose He was always speaking to me, but now I was listening. The cool thing was that he didn't speak to me in the ways he spoke to Jenny, which was what I asked, but he spoke in different ways that were perfectly suited to me.

All of my adult life, I had struggled with crippling insecurities and relentless anxiety. When Jenny suggested that I start memorizing scripture, I had no idea that God was about to start delivering me from these struggles. Jenny bought me a set of small blank cards with a tiny wallet to store them in. She explained the process: you focused on one passage at a time, one verse at a time. The verse you were currently learning went in the clear plastic front of the wallet so that it was easily accessible. There was a section for the verses you'd already learned and the ones you were about to learn. You NEVER tried to memorize more than one verse at a time, but you kept reviewing the ones you'd already learned.

I really didn't think I could memorize scripture, and I didn't even think God was going to reveal the passages he wanted me to learn. But when I asked Him what I should memorize, he answered. For nearly all of my eight memory passages, I received one or more clear confirmations that I was to memorize them. The confirmation might come through a friend's words, or a sermon, or a church bulletin, or a book, or even through a stranger.

I was surprised and delighted at how much I enjoyed meditating on scripture. In fact, I usually didn't have to try to memorize anything. I just studied each verse over and over until it sank into my heart and imprinted itself on my mind. Twice a day at work, I'd sit on a couch during my break and study my passages. The stress of the day would just melt away as I contemplated God's word. It was a slow process. It took me over a year to memorize Psalm 139, but by the end of that time, it was mine.

Why am I such a fanatic about scripture memory? Because I want you to try it, if you haven't already! Because it has literally changed my life. Over the last seven years or so, I've learned:
  • that I am a virtuous woman, a treasured wife, a mother who speaks with wisdom (Proverbs 31)
  • that God planned all of my days before I was even born, that he knows me and loves me exactly as I am, that he lovingly knit me together in my mother's womb (Psalm 139)
  • that in all things--even my mistakes, even my sins--God works for my good, and nothing can separate me from the love of Christ (Romans 8)
  • that I mustn't worry about anything, but instead pray about everything, so that the peace of God will guard my heart and my mind (Philippians 4)
  • that God has given me a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair--for I am a mighty oak, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor! (Isaiah 61)
  • that I can remain in Jesus' love by obeying his commands--just one command, actually: to love others as He has loved me (John 15)
  • that God has redeemed me, summoned me by name; that I am precious and honored in His sight; that I am to forget the former things because he is doing a new thing in me--it springs up even now! (Isaiah 43)
  • that I don't have to worry about what my family will eat or drink during this recession; if God takes care of the birds of the air, how much more will he care for us? (Matthew 6)
I am so thankful for the scriptures God has given me. When I'm mired in anxiety or depression, these are the "pure, lovely, admirable things" that I think on (Philippians 4). Nothing else can break the hopeless cycle of spinning thoughts and worries.

This should not surprise me. The Bible says the Word is living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). In fact, the Word is Jesus! John 1 says "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Of course, it's faith in Christ and not our works that bring salvation, but hiding God's Word in our hearts gives us power and authority (and wisdom and comfort and peace) as believers.

So once more, I challenge you: ask God what passage he wants you to learn, and see if He doesn't change your life. If you already memorize scriptures, encourage others in your life to try it. Please let me know if you decide to memorize scriptures; I'd love to know the effect on your life.

Back to the Thursday Group

So whatever became of this wonderful Thursday Group? We stopped our regular meetings when Jenny and Clint moved to Honduras about four years ago. Though we only see each other once or twice a year now, we are still heart friends. When we need each other, we communicate by email. Recently, we've talked about resuming our meetings, though we won't be able to lounge on Jenny's couch any more. I really hope we do start meeting again. I need someone to ask me, "What's going on in your heart these days?" I need someone to tell me, "Sarah, that's total crap. The Bible says...."

In any case, my relationship with these amazing women has enriched my life and deepened my faith. I pray that Ethan and Allyson--and you--will find friends like these.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Tardy Easter Bunny and Other Easter Adventures

This year, Easter sort of crept up on me. Okay, so the truth is, I saw it coming but chose to procrastinate (pretty typical for me). In any case, I wasn't prepared.

Allyson was first introduced to the concept of Easter last Friday at the MOPS egg hunt/picnic. On the way there, I tried to explain why we were going to be picking up plastic eggs and putting them in her Easter basket. I told her a bit about the Easter Bunny, and she said, "A real bunny???" I said, no, it was more like... and then my voice trailed off. I started to say Santa, but in her mind, Santa is that scary, bearded, REAL man at the library.

I thought about explaining the true meaning of Easter, but I wimped out. How do you explain the idea of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection to someone who can't conceive of death yet? So I just told her we'd be picking up lots of pretty eggs.

Allyson In Her Easter Dress, Good Friday

After that, Allyson was very keen on the whole Easter thing, and she was excitedly awaiting her second egg hunt at our church Easter service, which we actually attended on Good Friday this year. When we picked her up from class, she proudly held out a brown grocery bag two-thirds full of candy-filled plastic eggs. The other two-year-olds had ten or twelve eggs in their dainty baskets, but Allyson had about 30. Ethan theorized that she had pushed the smaller children out of the way and/or grabbed the eggs out of their hands, but I'm sure she didn't do that. (I hope not!)

We couldn't get a lot of details out of Allyson because she was more concerned with the fact that the Easter Bunny didn't show. She'd figured out that Easter has something to do with eggs and bunnies and Jesus, and she knows church has something to do with Jesus, so she concluded that the Easter Bunny and Jesus would both be there. We told her the Easter Bunny would be dropping by on Sunday.

On Saturday, I picked up some Peeps (Allyson's new favorite candy) and some malted Easter eggs (my Easter favorite). The plan was that Bill would buy some little gifts for the kids' Easter baskets later in the day, and I was happy to leave that task to him.

As it turned out, he was busy all day, and when we got home from his hockey championship game (which his team lost 6 to 5), it was nearly midnight. I told him I'd just run by Walmart after greeting at church this morning. We agreed that he'd tell Allyson the bunny hadn't arrived yet, and then we'd hide the baskets after I got back. It seemed like a solid plan.

Before bed, I sat on the couch and wrote out little affirmations for Ethan, Allyson, and Bill and then stuck them into a dozen plastic eggs. On Bill's recommendation, I also inserted malted eggs; he said Ethan would NOT be impressed with an egg that only contained a slip of paper.

I hit the Walmart at 10:00 this morning, and it was already pretty busy--no surprise. I found the Easter grass right off, and I quickly found an activity coloring book and a Curious George book for Allyson. But I could NOT find anything suitable for Ethan, and my mood was getting fouler by the minute. He's at that awkward age--nearly 12--where the boy stuff is too immature, but the men's stuff is too old. He'd made it clear that he was expecting an Easter basket, but I had no idea what he'd want.

I gave up on the super hero T-shirts and Underoos, or whatever they call them these days, and after a frantic cell phone conference with Bill, I headed over to the men's section to look for a funny T-shirt. There were tons of really funny shirts that I knew he'd love, but all of them were in size large, XL, or XXL. A kind saleslady came over to assist me, but I didn't trust her when she said he'd love the only size small shirt: a black shirt with a neon green Marvin Martian picture. I picked it up anyway and figured I'd find something else and just drop the shirt somewhere when no one was looking. But then I remembered the book Nickel and Dimed, in which a journalist who worked undercover at Walmart complained about people doing just that, so I decided I'd have to sneak back into the T-shirt aisle and put it back when the nice, helpful lady wasn't looking. (I didn't want to hurt her feelings, after all.)

After 15 more minutes of fruitless searching, I was feeling very sorry for myself. "Why didn't I just let Bill go out at midnight? He'd know what to buy. He always knows what people want," I groused to myself. Now, I just wanted to get OUT of Walmart. As I contemplated the little hand-held electronic games, I must have been positively scowling because I looked up and saw a man laughing at me. He looked vaguely familiar, and I was pretty sure he'd been one of the other greeters at church. I grinned sheepishly and offered an explanation as to why I'd be so grumpy on the day we celebrate our risen Savior. "My 12-year-old boy wants an Easter basket," I said. "I just don't know what he would want."

I held up the Marvin Martian T-shirt. "The saleslady said he'd like this," I said. "Do you think so?"

"Oh, definitely," he said.

"Okay, then," I said. I swooped up a tiny Tech Deck skateboard model and turned on my heel. "Thanks!" I called over my shoulder as I hurried to the self-checkout line. Amazingly, I scanned every item and inserted my debit card without incident. Things were looking up!

Back at home, I hurried into the downstairs bathroom, where the Easter candy was hidden. I knelt on the bathroom floor and feverishly stuffed purple grass, plastic eggs, and malted eggs into the two baskets. (I also stuffed a handful or two into my mouth, of course.) I stashed the baskets back in the closet and took Allyson up to get dressed for Grandma's house.

Meanwhile, Bill hid the two baskets. After I'd dressed her in an adorable flowered sundress, we headed downstairs, where Daddy announced that the Easter Bunny had finally arrived!

Ethan and Allyson rushed around and were each delighted when they found their baskets. Allyson exulted over her little activity book (with stickers!), and Ethan just loved his Marvin Martian shirt. Yess!!! He liked it so much that I had to cut the tag off so he could put it on right away.

I read Allyson's little Easter affirmations to her. I'd written things like: "You're Daddy's little princess!" and "Snuggling with you is my favorite way to start the morning."

Allyson asked about the Easter Bunny one more time. We said he'd come in and out while she was dressing. "I think I heard a bump," she said. "The bunny's kinda tricky."

"Maybe you'll see him next year," I said.

While he greedily crunched on malted eggs, Ethan read his own slips silently. He didn't say much about them. His said things like: "I'm so proud of the way you've brought your grades up this semester," and "I'm thankful that you're becoming more generous with your time and your money." (More on that story in another post.)

When Allyson cuddled in Daddy's lap to read the new Curious George book, I headed reluctantly for the kitchen to start my Easter cooking (Greek green beans and walnut apple cranberry salad with gorgonzola cheese).

Ethan slipped up behind me in his new T-shirt and put his arms around me. "I love you, Mom," he said, and I knew those words of affirmation that I'd scribbled at midnight had hit their mark.

We continued our Easter celebration at my mom's house, where we feasted on ham, turkey, and too many other yummy things to count. Then we all sat around and dozed for an hour our so, except for Allyson, who was bouncing off the walls from too much candy.

We tried to cut her off from any more candy, but she's pretty sneaky. She insisted on holding her Easter basket in the car, and she promised not to eat any more candy. When I caught her opening a plastic egg, she claimed, "I'm just lookin', Mama." A couple of minutes later, when her chatter came to an abrupt stop, I turned and saw chocolate smeared all over her mouth. She was holding a melted miniature bunny in its bright foil wrapper.

"Allyson, we told you NOT to eat any more candy," I scolded.

"I'm not eatin' it," she protested. "I'm just lickin' it off the paper." (I think she's going to be an attorney one day.) We had to laugh in spite of ourselves, but we turned a deaf ear to her desperate negotiating when I confiscated the basket.

All in all, it was a very fun Easter, and seeing my kids' joy when they found their little gifts made that frustrating trip to Walmart so worth it. Happy Easter, everyone!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Faith...Even More Precious

Yesterday, I had a really wonderful experience that followed on the tail of a really awful experience. I had been struggling with some very serious doubts about my faith, and I believe the timing was no coincidence. You see, I was planning to share my testimony with my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group this morning. For a moment, I allowed myself to entertain doubts that made me wonder whether my relationship with Jesus was even real. I believe now that the enemy was doing all he could to take away my peace and joy, because he didn't want me to share it with others.

I've decided to share this story for two reasons:
1) I want you to know that, despite all the inspiring words from God and wonderful experiences I love to share here, I am NOT strong. It's the opposite. I am so weak, but God makes me strong.
2) When I emailed out a prayer request yesterday, I received so many encouraging words, and I wanted to share some of them.

Over the course of three days, I suffered depression, anxiety, and insomnia. I told Bill, "I'm wondering whether God is real, whether it's all a fairy tale. I've based my entire life on my faith, and if it isn't real, I don't want to know. If it isn't real, I don't even want to live."

I've had passing doubts before, but I've always shrugged them off pretty easily. This was different. I was ASSAILED with doubts, and the attack was almost relentless. I finally stopped trying to fight it on my own, and I sent out a prayer request. Here were some of the responses....

My husband Bill said:
Sarah, it isn't FAITH if you have to have proof. Maybe this is an opportunity for your faith to grow.

Melissa said:
When Christ infects your life…..when you’ve met Him, sensed Him, been nudged by Him, and when you’ve accepted His forgiveness……you can’t stop believing. Because you know what you know. Doubts happen to all of us, and that is Satan’s attempt to knock us down. Satan cannot take away our salvation, but he can royally mess up and invalidate our testimony....

My prayer for you is that you would stand straight up wherever you are and that you would scream for the Devil to leave your space. Scream at him how much you love Jesus and how much you will continue to do so. I believe that Christ is in you because I believe He is visible in your blog. I am praying for calm and patience for you. I’m praying for your wisdom and your discernment to know when the devil is up to his schemes. And I am praying that this experience will make your testimony even more amazing when you share it with these other moms. How precious we hold so dear to us what we feel threatened we might lose.
James said:
It’s o.k. to question and have our doubts because everyone in life will have doubts at one point or another. This is why the bible tells us “In our weakness, His strength is made perfect”. How can you truly glorify God in your testimony if the women in your MOPS group think you’re strong enough to make it through life on your own? How can they relate to a woman who is so strong that she never weakens or doubts her thoughts or abilities?

When you doubt your abilities, you strengthen the love and power of Christ. I’ve been praying for God to lead you and to open opportunities for you to lead others. It sounds to me like He is not only present in your life, but He plans on using you sooner than I thought. Remember, Moses had a speech impediment but lead the Israelites out of captivity, David was just a boy but slayed a giant. Before every great victory in the bible, the hero experienced tremendous opposition and Satan did everything he could to hinder God’s glory. You may not feel it, but you are extremely blessed. God has given you an opportunity to bring Him glory, which is what we all were created for! Remember where you’ve come from and how your relationship with Christ has changed your life, remember all the prayers that God has answered with our Home Group, and remember your Christian brothers and sisters will be praying for God to strengthen you to bring others to Christ.
Fernando said:
The way I see this is that the devil sees another opportunity to work against us.... The devil knows good and well the possible impact of your testimony tomorrow and he can't allow that to happen. You are standing between him and the next group of victims in his war against our mighty God. These moms will turn to Christ and influence their children accordingly. See what I mean? That's a lot of souls to fight for and your walk is too strong of a testimony in favor of our great Lord. Why would the enemy leave you alone?

Pray a quick one in the morning,
man your armor and go in there and let the Lord speak through you. I have used that technique many times and it really becomes a parroting thing. It feels really triumphant to hear words come from your mouth knowing that they aren't your words but they say exactly what He needs from you.
Heather forwarded these words of wisdom from Joel Osteen:
The scripture tells us that God is the potter and we are His clay. The potter can’t work with hard, dry clay; He has to use soft, moldable clay. We are the ones who decide if we will allow God to work with us or not. We decide if we are going to be soft and pliable or if we are going to allow the world to make us hard and dry. How do we stay soft and moldable? By simply immersing ourselves in the water of God’s Word.
Aunt Donna said:
Sarah, I am praying for you. I really feel the Lord has given you a talent in writing and sharing. You have blessed me many times. We all have doubts and weaknesses at times, but He will get you through. You will overcome through Jesus Christ.

Joy forwarded this encouragement:
Paul writes: "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves… but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Corinthians 3:5 NKJV). When God pushes you out of your comfort zone en route to your destiny, expect to go through some unfamiliar, anxiety-producing territory. It's the only way to go from surviving - to thriving.

Aunt Carol said:
'We can't prevent birds from flying over our heads but we can prevent them from building a nest in our hair.' Also remember Thomas doubted and not only him but the other disciples too. Read Mark 16:9-13. And they had been living and following Jesus for three years. Our faith is strengthened as it is tested. Don't be too troubled by doubts. Just focus on the Lord rather than the problem. Also the measure for our life is Christ, no one else no matter how holy he or she might be, for all humans fall short. Jesus alone is our pattern. He alone is perfect. God bless you and pour His love upon you and give you his peace.
Kristen said:
I don’t have all the answers, and often have doubts. But what Bill said is true, its faith. Faith in God’s word and faith in what he has done for you – which is what speaks volumes.... I do believe that God keeps His promises, and that His ways surpass my understanding. Its kind of like The Shack said, we can’t apply our human capacity for understanding to God. I don’t think God questions or gets angry at us if we do have doubts – He is pretty confident in His word and that it will stand the test of time – and He knows our human minds can’t grasp the complexity that He is. However, I think its faith..which means we are trusting in the hope that He is because we believe it.

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)
Kim said:
Unfortunately, Satan has a way of planting seeds of doubt in God 's most precious people. You are a very kind, unselfish, compassionate person, always willing to help others... to me, that is evidence that there is a God and he is working through you.... Looking outside at the delicate balance and beauty of nature reminds me that our heavenly father had a hand in this. I pray that you are having a better day today.
Darlene said:
Sarah, you are a wonderful testimony of faith. The fact that you have questions makes you human. We will pray for you.
Gentle said:
Remember, God is always with you, holding your hand and bringing you comfort. Just imagine him sitting next to you cupping your hand, what peace that will bring to your heart and mind when you are giving your testimony! I love you and God Bless!

Others emailed or called to tell me they loved me and are praying for me. I could feel all the prayers lifting me up, and by the afternoon, I felt exhausted but peaceful. I took the kids to the park, and the warm sun on my back was like an embrace. When I heard birds singing, it reminded me of my current memory passage in Matthew 6, that tells me how God feeds the birds and how he cares so much more for me.

At Bible study last night, we shared Passover Seder meal. Studying the symbolism of Christ in that ritual that began 1500 years before Christ was an affirmation of my faith. When we sang about Jesus Messiah, Emmanuel, the rescue for sinners, the ransom from heaven, my faith was more precious to me than ever. My heart was full.

This morning, I prayed to be equipped with the full armor of God, and I know he was with me during my testimony. Not only did I feel completely at peace, but I actually felt JOYFUL to have that opportunity to share the story of God's love and forgiveness in my life. As I told how I found God's love in a hotel room through Psalm 139, tears flowed, and I realized that many of the women were crying with me.

Afterward, several people thanked me for sharing my story. Many of them hugged me and said they were inspired or encouraged. Some wanted to hear more. I am so thankful that I had this opportunity share how God has done extraordinary things in my very ordinary life. I pray that someone will find Him or develop a closer relationship with him because I opened my heart today.


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