Jul 4, 2015

The Day We Were Given a Wedding and a Marriage

This one day, July 6th 2002, we were given a wedding.  Most people pay for their wedding and throw it themselves.  When we got married, every aspect of our wedding was given to us by our church, family, and friends.  Our community rallied around us and showered us with love and prayers.

We were poor and young.  Dirt poor with not much career under our names yet.  I wanted a small garden wedding and knew we couldn't afford much else.  Then our collective parents made the guest list and a problem occurred.  There were about 400 people they all wanted to come and a little bit of panic set in.  But what I didn't realize, was that the reason 400 people were invited was because our families over the years had poured into our community, the church we both grew up in, our tight family connections, and those roots went down deep.

Within a month, the guest list "problem" was solved.  Everyone was invited and the people we had lived alongside and loved us growing up offered pieces of our wedding to us. With each offer I was touched and I often cried.

The large church we grew up in said we could have the building, chairs, kitchen, tables, etc.  for free.

My second "mom" growing up does wedding cakes and did ours.  From scratch. Plus a groom's cake. It was amazing, huge, and we had plenty left over.

My mother-in-law's best friend (a florist) took me up to San Francisco two days before the wedding to the wholesale flower market, bought (what seemed to me) about a million dollars worth of flowers, did all of our flowers and gave it to us as our wedding gift.

One of our former youth group leaders (also a florist) did all of the backdrop and church flowers and decorating as a gift.

A childhood friend did our pictures for only the cost of the film (he was a photographer) in the days before digital.
Another friend did our wedding video and editing as our gift (he is a videographer).

And then we didn't know how to do the food for so many people.  Another second "mom" to me growing up said, "No problem.  Hand me the guest list."  She then proceeded to call them all and got people to bring food.  You guys, we had a hors d'oeuvres potluck wedding and it was marvelously good.  Church people can throw down.

Wedding coordinators for the church volunteered their time to run our wedding that day.

My husband's two best friends hired the DJ as our gift.

Tone's grandpa and our childhood pastor both did our wedding ceremony.  Very close friends did the music at the ceremony.  A friend ran all the sound.  We paid for nothing there.

Tone's best friend's mom is a hairdresser and she did our hair for free.

Tone's cousin did a fly over in his little plane during the reception.

A second dad to me sang a surprise song during the reception that was kind of joke song that we sang every year with them on vacation.

Sure, we bought a few things.  Ribbons for bows, candles, paper for programs, my dress and my sister's, some fruit for the reception lunch.  But that was about it.

My dress was a whole $200.  I kept trying on heavy dresses and they all felt too much for little me.  Finally I found a floaty chiffon simple dress and it had "me" all over it.  I made my veil.

It was the most beautiful wedding, and I am so glad that I didn't have my little garden wedding.  It's not that I'm a girl that wants large parties and the glam, it's that I have never felt that a wedding represented what a wedding should be more than ours.  Our wedding represented a large community of people who have invested in the lives of two people, celebrating and blessing them into their new life together.  I look back and treasure every single person that came.  Our wedding was grace and undeserved love from our community who felt we were worth investing in for whatever reason.  It was an example from our community who knew how to love well and a prayer for us to model the same.

We had to go back to our registry and put more stuff on it....twice.  We literally had every possible thing we could think of to start our new lives together and then some.  We didn't register at the most expensive places or for the most expensive things (we don't roll that way and neither does most of our friends), but twice our large registry and Target and Bed Bath and Beyond was bought out.  This isn't to brag.  This is more a tribute to our parents who raised us in such a strong, supportive community. In turn, throughout our marriage, we've thrown our doors open and hosted about a million people out of our home.  We haven't been hoarders with those gifts.

So what kind of marriage did they bless us into?  I was a naive, bright eyed twenty two year old teacher and Tone, at twenty five, flying little planes and dreaming of being in the airlines someday. Ha.  We knew nothing but had a handful of role models.

Flash forward 13 years. As we have grown into this thing called marriage, we have found that there is nothing harder or more transforming or more powerful than committed love.  We've lived off of $19,000 a year, with a baby, away from family and friends.  We've traveled the world, had more babies, fought, laughed, been in counseling, had lots of romance, clung to each other through really tough times, served together in community, fought and laughed some more.  Marriage is the greatest picture of true love because it was designed to be a reflection and earthly picture of the truest love there is.

 The reality is that the search for true love is built into the core of all of our souls.  True love is the definition of the gospel.  The gospel is simply that God never quits, never gives up, never runs away, never turns away, is not conditional, gave everything to His very own life, and is ever committed in His love for us and He built that yearning into our very souls.  And then He gave the earth, marriage, as a picture to show this kind of love.  It's why divorce and affairs and selfish, hard-hearted marriage is so devastating.  It takes the picture of God's love for us and trashes it.  It's why there are two roles in marriage.  The husband reflects this kind of selfless, lay it all on the line, do anything, love for his bride so that she can shine in all her glory knowing she is cherished full well, nurturing and calling her to be a great reflection of God (Ephesians 5:25-29). He's supposed to reflect how God loves the church.  I'm super glad I'm not male and receiving that tall order. And likewise, the bride, reflects the love of the church for God; helping, supporting, respecting the husband knowing that whatever he endeavors is out of love and a reflection of who God is, calling him to greater love when it is not (Ephesians 5:22, 33).  It's this love that draws us in movies, books, the loving looks of those celebrating their 50th anniversary, and all the wishes of the heart.  It's the kind of love that forgives often, dispels the arguments over women's and men's roles in marriage, and encourages people to reach their highest potential in Christ.  It's not the ultimate in love since it's only a reflection of our greater relationship with God, but it is the best picture of that love that God set on earth.  We all want to have that kind of love given to us, the struggle is to BE that kind of love.  Marriage seems to be the battle ground and lab for us here on earth as Tone and I continue to fully know each other and love each other well.

I think our church community grasped that, and yearned to bless us into that kind of marriage, knowing full well that it takes a life-time to get it "right".  Honestly, we still don't have it right, and struggle in our selfishness.  This side of heaven, we are reflecting dimly the love we will enjoy one day with our Father.  But marriage gives me a taste, a glimmer of that kind of great great love.  I know that I love Tone.  I know I won't ever give up on him or us and he won't on me either, even as we slug it out in our selfish areas.  I know that it has taken a community rallying around us to keep us straight some days.  They sent us off into a marriage with much hope and faith that we would reflect the gospel.  Some days, it seems Tone and I have scratched and clawed for our own "rights", some days we have gotten love exactly right, and some days have been a mixture of both.
As it says in 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I have been fully known.  But now abide faith, hope, love, these three.  But the greatest of these in love."

Some people have just a wedding, but our community sent us off into a marriage full of hopes and blessings.  And thirteen years later, I am still saying thank you.

Mar 17, 2015

Wrestling with Silence

I light my usual candle and settle into the rocker.  The little light springs to life as I prepare for my nightly ritual with God.  The candle is the invitation.  The signal that God is near and I am getting ready to settle into His presence with the prayer of silence.

And then I begin as I do every night with the settling of my soul before Him. 

Breathe in, breathe out.  The wrestling for silence. 

There is a tension in silence in which I am learning to be comfortable.  

(Self Talk the Gospel is writing a series on spiritual disciplines and I recommend reading all the excellent posts in the series, in which I had the privilege of writing just this one on being silent before God in prayer)

Feb 22, 2015

Dessert for South Beach

Ok guys, I caved.  I absolutely couldn't face another sugar free chocolate jello pudding as my only dessert option for these two weeks of no sugar or carbs or fruit whatsoever.  Let's talk about detox and deprivation.  I am clean eating and my system is craving the other stuff.  I will be adding it slowly back in in a week in moderations, but for now, I've got to have something to balance out all the savory stuff I'm eating.  So I made this up, and it is good enough to satisfy.  FYI, I haven't dropped a single pound of weight, but I have found that my face which had been breaking out for the last two months is clearing up almost immediately after starting the diet.  I couldn't tell you if my health is any better as my health is pretty good already.  My energy level feels about the same, so apart from my face, I don't know if it's making a difference.  But I'm stickin' to it.

So here is the totally acceptable recipe as I am not allergic to peanuts or nuts and find them to be a great snack.  But don't overload on it as it's calorie rich.  This makes enough for several servings worth and I just refrigerated the small cookies to satisfy my chocolate sweet tooth when needed.  One or two at a time will do. They don't look all that purty, but they taste good. If you can eat some fruit and are past phase 1, they pair well with blackberries.
I started by making my own chocolate sauce - because good luck finding one without sugar overload.

Chocolate sauce:
6 Tbl. water
2 oz. unsweetened baker's chocolate
1/2 cup sugar substitute (like Splenda or Agave nectar, though if you use Agave, use less water)
1/8 tsp. salt
2 Tbl. butter
1/4 tps. vanilla

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate in the water and stir constantly until completely combined.  Stir in sugar substitute and salt.  Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla until fully combined.  

Next I used my little food chopper to fine chop mixed nuts.  I made about 1 cups worth of fine chopped nuts.  Then I got my peanut butter out of the fridge because I use pure peanut butter that you have to stir (no sugar added) and storing it in the fridge keeps it congealed.  

Add about 3 spoonfulls of peanut butter to the nuts and then spoon in the chocolate sauce.  You may want more of less chocolate.  Play with the amount until it gets to a thick consistency.
Stir, stir, stir!  Then roll the mixture into teaspoon sized balls and refrigerate.
Ainsley couldn't wait for it to cool.  She loved it.  She also like it spooned onto raspberries.  I still can't have fruit for another week, but that seems pretty tasty to me for a little dessert at night.

Now I realize that I REALLY want this (see below) but sometimes I just gotta have something sweet to go with all these veggies and meat and nuts and beans I've been eating.
And since I can't have the real deal, these will work until I can hit phase 3 of the diet and have small amounts again.

Enjoy that nutty dark chocolate yummy goodness!

Feb 21, 2015

On being a Lent "newbie"

As a non-denominational protestant, I have been strangely drawn in the last year to some of the meditative practices of my orthodox brothers and sisters.  Though I don’t do things JUST “for tradition’s sake” and I believe every soul saved by grace is a true Saint and we only pray to God not saints, I do find that some of the traditional practices have a place in my Christian heritage and they are worth a look.  Sometimes I feel we contemporary protestants throw the baby out with the bath water especially when it comes to the contemplative and meditational aspects of Orthodoxy.  Traditions when kept fresh and done with the intent to draw us close to God, practiced with grace, outside of legalism, add rich nuances to the Christian walk. 
I would say that for contemporary protestants, we do practice traditions during  Christmas advent though.  Each year I carefully craft advent activities each night for 25 nights that bring us into a reflection of the gift of Christmas.  Not only do my children look forward to them every year, but every year we do it just a bit different to keep it fresh and it’s definitely my children’s highlight of the season.  But when it comes to matters of Lent, I tend to dismiss it as a Catholic tradition.  Why?  I think it’s just because it’s unfamiliar and outside of my normal traditional upbringing.

This year, I decided that we were going to practice a season of Lent which started on Wednesday.  Let me just tell you, this gal is a “lent newbie”.  I started just about knowing nothing except there was this odd tradition of ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday.  I mean, since I knew nothing about it, it seemed odd to me.  Then I decided to delve more into the purpose of Lent inside the traditions and I found quite a bit that resounded with my soul. 

And I thought, what if I took some of the traditions and meditations of Lent and made the next 40 days purposeful just like we do at advent?  I’m not sure there is a “right” way to do Lent anyways, but it seemed that the traditions of alms giving, fasting, and meditations on the life of Christ could add rich meaning to my own family.

This is probably the part of the post where all my orthodox friends chuckle and nod their head with understanding.  But for my kids and I here is what we have practically decided to do to count down towards Easter Sunday:
We are going to spend the next 40 days reflecting on the ministry of Jesus and we started with the temptation in the wilderness.  I have a book called, “The Bible in Picture for Little Eyes” and it’s perfect for Tessa.  There are 45 stories on the life of Christ and each one has a beautiful illustration and at the bottom is the corresponding scripture.  So we are reading one each night (I know the math is off, I’m not worried about that), and Hunter will read to us the short scripture from his own Bible.  Easter week has about 10 stories that tell about His death and resurrection so I figure we’ll double up there.

In addition, we have little activities to do during the season.  The first activity was decorating our Lent money jar.  The kids will work for money to give to a cause at the end of the season.  I let them decorate the jar, so it’s definitely zany, but I love what it represents.

Other activities will be service projects (luckily our church is doing neighborhood serve projects during March we can participate in), crafts, object lessons (such as resurrection eggs), and other games.
Ann Voskamp has a short meditative Lent devotional for each day.  Actually she’s written two.  I chose the first one.  I cut off of the picture end of the devotional and turned them into ornaments for our “Lent tree” though she has gorgeous pictures in the second set that could also be used.  I am using the devotional side myself for my daily meditations and the children hang the pictures each night since they are numbered one through forty.

Here is where I threw in the “fasting” loop.  I started the South Beach diet this week and am cutting most sugar for the kids and have bought more fresh produce.  Literally, the first two weeks of the South Beach diet stink.  No carbs, no sugar.  Period.  I have never ever completely cut that in my life.  Meals are bland.  Eating bland and healthy as an act of worship is very new for me.  I have never really reflected on the correlation between food and worship and though it is scattered throughout the Bible, I always figured I live in New Testatment times so nothing is forbidden.  Bring on the fried chicken tacos and salsa!  I’m sure that’s what it means.  I should also say that I am not doing this because I have any weight to lose.  I would just like to be healthier.  I would like to take care of this body that God gave me, and caring for it seems to be honoring to God.  One week in, I’m not gunna lie, this is so tough!  But I’m in for the long haul.  I’ll let you know how it goes.   Hunter and Ainsley aren’t minding too much, but cutting a lot of the sugar in the house and adding more veggies has Tessa in fits most meals.  So this will be good for her too.

I know many Orthodox people study and learn about different Saints.  Since I believe all believers are saints, I chose to focus on inspiring missionaries of the faith.  I bought some children’s biographies on Corrie Ten Boom,  Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, David Livingston, Jim Elliott and others.  We will be reading and reflecting on inspiring people who sacrificed for the love of others around the world and perhaps even some of the martyrs of the faith.  If we are looking towards the victory of Easter and the resurrection, it seems that looking at people who have gone before us who have lived their lives in that victory and sacrifice would be inspiring.

Sadly, I have only every focused on the season on the three days of Good Friday, Saturday and Easter Sunday and have missed the season of reflection and build up towards the day.  This year we intend to be more intentional and see what God grows in us this season.  If you have practiced the season of Lent as a family, what was the most meaningful part of the season for you?  Is there something you would recommend this newbie trying?