Friday, March 27, 2009

beloved

video

Update: For some reason, the video I embedded here doesn't have the pop-up text which makes it much more enjoyable to watch... So I recommend watching it on YouTube here.

Call me a sucker, but this video made me cry. It is 8 minutes long, so I will understand if you don't watch it (though I highly recommend taking the time to do so). The video is from a wedding reception where the 'Man of Honor' gives a musical-theater-style tribute to the bride, incorporating dozens of friends and guests in the song and dance. The whole thing ends in a chorus of "We love you"s sung and shouted to the bride, who (quite naturally) has completely come apart by this point.

I know that my strong reaction to this video was primarily because of the book I read this week, Life of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen. In it, Nouwen identifies the word "beloved" as the most powerfully true word that can be said of us. It is what defines and identifies us in the deepest sense: we are God's beloved.

It's one thing to assent to that truth... but do we experience it? Do we listen to God's voice speaking those words to us in a personal way? Do we use our imaginations to picture what it means, what it looks like to be the beloved of God?

If you want to know what "beloved" looks like, watch the video. This girl is nothing if not beloved. Her closest friends and family are all gathered around her, lavishing their love on her in extravagant and shameless ways. And this is how we are loved by God. Can anyone out-do God in His love for us?

Watch the video, and know that you are beloved.

ready or not


Nate peeks out from his hiding place under pillows on the couch

The game 'Hide & Seek' was definitely invented by a mother of toddlers. It is the only game I have found that allows for full engagement with my kids while we play, and yet I can simultaneously do just about anything else I want, depending on the circumstances. Here are some examples:

1. Hide & Seek / Nap: When I am 'it', I count while laying in bed under the covers. Sure, I have to get up and find them eventually, but how long does that really take? 2 minutes? Then they are 'it' and I can go hide... under the covers, of course.

2. Hide & Seek / Housework: When I am 'it' I count while working (emptying the dishwasher, collecting dirty laundry, vacuuming, making beds), then take a 2 minute break from work to find the kids. When they are 'it', I hide wherever I can get work done: kitchen, laundry room, bedrooms, bathrooms - there's always some little chore to do in all those places while I wait for them to find me.

3. Hide & Seek / Computer Time: When I am 'it' I count while checking email, reading blogs, etc. When they are 'it' I sit at the computer while they count and then duck under the desk when they come to look for me.

4. Hide & Seek / Reading: Works like all the other examples, I just pick a quiet, out-of-the-way nook to read and periodically duck behind a door to avoid discovery, or get up to find the hiding boys.

So my deepest thanks to you, Mother of Toddlers and Game Inventor, whoever you are. You have given me hours of simultaneous productivity and quality time with my children.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

halfway



Last Friday marked the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday; we are just over halfway through the Lenten season. Lent has been pretty weird for me this year, but also good and healthy. Like eating your vegetables, knowing that dessert will be sweet. And yet, bittersweet too... but let's save that for another post.

I gave up Facebook for Lent. I know, in light of what most people in the world live without every day, giving up an online social networking tool might seem pretty lame. And to be honest, if you look at it that way, it is. But let's consider a few facts about Haley and Facebook:

1. Facebook connects people. Haley loves connecting with people.

2. Facebook allow for endless amounts of self-expression. Haley is addicted to self-expression (see also: this blog)

3. Facebook is a breeding ground for affirmation junkies. Haley is a (recovering) hard-core affirmation junkie.

4. Facebook sends you emails every time anything even mildly interesting happens. Haley loves email. (Yes, even boring Facebook email.)

So, as you can see, I had quite the love affair going with this online social networking tool. I did NOT want to give it up. But as good ol' Bill Shakespeare would say: ay, there's the rub!

Here's what I've learned at the halfway point.

1. I am still connected to people without Facebook. Rediscovering the lost art of the phone call.

2. People will survive just fine if they don't know the play-by-play of my day. They will get by A-OK without my fabulously witty (at least in my own supremely humble opinion) comments on their statuses, postings, and 'old school' pictures.

3. My life still has every bit as much meaning even if 500 of my peers aren't affirming my every move through comments and 'like this' thumbs up graphics. (What is up with that anyway? Bizarre, if you ask me.)

4. Not having a million emails flooding my inbox means less time at the computer, and more time on the floor playing with my kids or on the couch chatting with my husband. It even inspired me to finally unsubscribe to the 2 dozen e-newsletter (read: advertisement) lists that I have somehow ended up on over the years.

Good stuff. Now I'm going to go eat some vegetables and pray about how to break yet another addiction in my life: my love affair with ellipses and parentheses (they're just so darn useful...).

Saturday, March 21, 2009

new words


Over The Rhine: Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler

March has been 'new music' month for me, mostly due to birthday presents, gift certificates, and 25 free downloads from eMusic. Here are some of my favorite lyrics from a couple of the albums I've gotten this month. (I made myself pick no more than one song per artist... very hard for a few of these.)

Over The Rhine

I won’t pray this prayer with you
Unless we both kneel down
I don’t wanna waste good wine
If you won’t stick around
Come on lighten up
Let me fill your cup
I’m just trying to imagine a situation
Where we might have a real conversation
But I don’t wanna waste the words
That you don’t seem to need
When it comes to wanting what’s real
There’s no such thing as greed
I hope this night puts down deep roots
I hope we plant a seed
‘Cause I don’t wanna waste your time
With music you don’t need
(I Don't Want To Waste Your Time)


Andrew Osenga
I'm easily distracted
Easily distrac-
By the pixels of lies and promises
There are too many punishments
I haven't given to myself thirty-nine lashes
For the easy distractions
You break the bread
You pour me wine
Here's my confession
I'm more than what I let you see
There's something burning deep inside you won't believe
There's a song you've never heard from me
It's beautiful
It's time I let the caged bird sing
(Staring Out A Window (My Confession))


Sara Groves
I can't just fight when I think I'll win
That's the end of all belief
And nothing has provoked it more
Than a possible defeat
We walk a while, we sit and rest
We lay it on the altar
I won't pretend to know what's next
But what I have I've offered
(The Long Defeat)

Derek Webb
You are the anti-curse
Death going in reverse
(The End)

Welcome Wagon
We nailed him to a tree
But he never said a mumblin' word
Not a word
Not a word
Not a word
(He Never Said A Mumblin' Word)

Friday, March 20, 2009

μακάριοι



My dad has been seeing kids of all ages in his office for 25 years and he once told that 18 months is his very favorite age. I have to agree. It is so amazing to watch Dexter's personality come out as he learns to communicate more. His new favorite word (which almost makes me want to cry, it's so sweet) is 'thank you.' Every time I give him something - food, a toy, or his precious Bear-Bear - he says, "Oh! Ank-oo Mommy!" I could eat him up.

The other fun thing about this age is the way his communication has become so much more interactive and conversation-like. A friend watched the boys for me this morning while I was teaching, and by the time I picked them up and got them home it was nap time. Dexter was laying on the changing table with Bear-Bear, grinning up at me while we had this conversation:

Dexter: Toby house!

Me: Yeah, you were at Toby's house. Did you have fun?

Dexter: Yeah.... Sam!

Me: Yep, Sam was there too, wasn't he? What did you do?

Dexter: Play!

Me: Oh fun... what did you play with?

Dexter: Ock-uh-bus!

Me: Ock-uh-bus? (Then, remembering a little octopus toy I saw at their house) Oh! Octopus! Did you play with an octopus?

Dexter: Yeah! Ock-uh-bus!

[At this point the conversation dissolves into tickles and kisses and giggles and all the best stuff about being this boy's mama.]

μακάριοι (makarios) = supremely blessed.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

this and that



Here are a few Ballast family tidbits from the last week or so:

Dexter: We had his 18 month check-up yesterday, confirming what my biceps have known for months: our child is huge. 31 lbs, 34.5 inches, 95th percentile for both. When I texted Jon with the stats, this was his response: Time to start working on the three point stance. (That's a football reference for all you non-sports types.)

Nate: A few days ago we're in the car and, out of the blue, Nate says, "Mommy?" (Yes, Nate?) "I think we should get a new baby soon." I'm glad he's weighing in on these decisions! Relax people, no news. One more funny thing that came out of his mouth recently was "Phew, I'm glad that's over!" as he was walking out of the bathroom... Where does he come up with this stuff??

Jon: Just got back from 4 days in San Jose for SNUG, which is a big conference - a lot like SXSW. Except that one has music, art, film, celebrities, and parties, and one has lots of engineers talking about how to design digital hardware using Synopsys tools. However, both are four-letter acronyms for big events that happened this week that start with the letter S, so they're almost the same.

Me: Since my birthday a few weeks ago, I have been happily saturated in new books and music and art. I can hardly know what to read, listen to and look at first, but that is a great problem to have. Also, I chopped my hair off a few days after my birthday and I love it. Oh and finally, I can't find the camera right now (kinda freaking out) so all the pictures in this post are courtesy of the camera on our computer.



Now you're all caught up. :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

stumps and shoots


Stained glass art depicting Isaiah 11:1

If you're paying attention, you know that I have been somewhat obsessed with trees lately. Yesterday I posted a link to the album, Hope For a Tree Cut Down. That poignant phrase popped into my head when our (temporary/interim/associate/awesome) pastor referenced Isaiah 6 in a sermon recently. The chapter ends with Isaiah asking God how long he will preach this hard word he has been given, and God's answer is,

"Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged,

until the LORD has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.

And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land."

Sounds hopelessly depressing. Seeing as how I am obsessed with trees, there are few images more depressing to me than a stump. But in fact, if you keep reading, a beautiful hope emerges from this bleak image. Here is Isaiah 11:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -

and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

Our God is in the business of making shoots grow from stumps, creating beauty from ashes, and bringing life out of death. He is doing this now; may our eyes be opened to see it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

hope for a tree cut down



Hope is a word that is coming back around for me. Now that I don't have to hear it co-opted by politicians on a daily basis, I am re-examining what it means in my life. Our church recently had a conference centered around the theme of Christian hope, I am reading a great book about hope, and I've been listening to some awesome music with a message of hope. [The title of this post is from the album I'm referring to - click the link to download it for free.]

Last week I posted about optimism, reflecting on God's work in my life as He has used painful circumstances to change my optimism into hope. The circumstances that led me to write that post center around what God is doing in our church right now. Between October 2008 and April 2009 we will have lost our Senior Pastor (and his wife, our Preschool Director), our Associate Pastor (and his wife, our Children's Director), and our Director of Worship, Music & the Arts. All have left on good terms with the church and for good reasons, but the fact remains that the majority of the church staff we had six months ago is gone.

As a church, it is hard to be optimistic in this situation. But Christ did not come to earth, die on a cross, and rise again so that we can have optimism. He came that we might have life, life to the full, and in that life is great hope. I don't know what He has in store for our church. People I love have left, or are leaving, and I've lost my expectations for what our future looks like. But I have not and will not lose hope.

Friday, March 13, 2009

rethinking retirement



I passed a billboard today that caught my attention. It was an ad for Charles Schwab (you know, "Talk to Chuck"), and it said something along the lines of Nobody wants to work forever. The message of the ad is basically - hey, if you want to retire someday then 'talk to Chuck' and we'll help you plan for it. Makes sense.

But the way the ad is phrased speaks volumes about how our culture views work: Get it done, suffer through it, pay your dues and then you'll get to retire, because obviously nobody wants to work forever.

I understand that there comes a time in a person's life where they are finished with a particular career; actually most people will hit that mark and switch careers four or five times. And I also understand that it is usually appropriate for people in their seventies, eighties and beyond to adopt a slower pace of life than the 9-5 grind.

But what is 'work' if not vocation? And what is vocation if not the calling of God? So, I'm confused... Why don't we want to work forever?

[The title of this post is also the title of a book by John Piper, to be released April 2009. The book inspired the image above. H/T: Christianity Today Imago Fidei]

Thursday, March 12, 2009

optimism



I am an optimist. The glass is half-full, there's a silver lining, hope for the best, stranger things have happened, you never know... Optimist. Usually I am well served by this -- I tend to be happy and hopeful most of the time and I don't typically get bogged down in endless 'what ifs'.

But I am learning that there is a flip-side to being an optimist, and it ain't pretty. You see, as an optimist, I often choose to be blissfully ignorant of signs that are pointing toward a negative outcome. I might pick up a signal here or there, but I usually dismiss them. Why waste time worrying that something bad might happen when there's still a chance that it won't happen? Which is all well and good, until the bad thing does happen and I'm left with my jaw on the ground feeling like Wile E. Coyote, post-anvil. Not fun.

There is one area of life where I have lost my rose-colored glasses, where optimism is no longer my default position. We suffered a miscarriage between having our two children. While I still hope for the best with every friend or family member's pregnancy announcement, I can no longer take anything for granted in that realm. Which makes me wonder: will this happen with other areas of my life over time? As I get older and experience more of the unavoidable losses that are part of life in our broken world, will my optimism die a slow piecemeal death?

Maybe. But I'm not sure that's all bad. Going through the pain and loss of miscarriage has stripped away my unquestioning optimism when it comes to pregnancy. But in its place, something else has grown, something truer and, surprisingly, even more hopeful. I learned to open my hands and say, Your will be done. I learned that whether my deepest fears are realized or my wildest dreams come true, our God is faithful. He never leaves us. As I've said in previous posts, and I'll keep saying until He comes again, the end of the story is good because of the victory of Jesus Christ: His life, death, and resurrection.

If that is what grows when optimism dies... Let it die.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

book it forward



My friend Karen just posted a fun little game on her blog. The first three commenters on her post will receive a handmade gift from Karen sometime in the next year, provided that they re-post and keep the gifts going. Now in order to understand why I was the first commenter, you have to know something about Karen -- I still remember the handmade Valentine cards she gave out in elementary school. Each one was designed and crafted by Karen herself and they were truly works of art. Its been more than twenty years, but I am just as excited to get a Karen original creation as I was on Valentine's Day in 2nd grade!

However. I am craft-retarded. I do not use that word lightly -- retarded, according to Webster, means slow or limited in development. That perfectly describes my crafting abilities. You don't want my crafts, seriously.

So, what can I offer to my beloved first three commenters in order to hold up my end of the bargain with Karen? How about a book of my choosing, delivered to your mailbox sometime this year. You don't have to re-post this on your blog (if you have one). All I ask is that you pass it on, one way or another, and then tell me about it. Buy Starbucks for the guy behind you in the drive-thru. Leave flowers on your neighbor's doorstep. Be creative.

Ready... GO.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

two songs


Zephaniah 3:17 by Mark Lawrence

Both are black, but one is soulful
Deep and dark though rightly so
Sparse and meager, slowly steadfast
Driven by a distant glow

Rhythmic as a pilgrim's footfall
Treading on toward holy land
Pulse and silence interspersing
Notes played each by heart and hand

Joined by countless faceless voices
Lifted, on our common way
To Golgatha and beyond it
Night becoming endless day!

Yet there rings a strain concurrent
To this Lenten journey's song
Both are black, but one is doleful
Dissonant as clanging gong

Eat and drink! it fiercely urges
We know what tomorrow brings
Distance yes, but light extinguished
Famine follows feast, it sings

How can I walk both directions?
Going right still facing wrong
Hands on ears in futile protest
Asking for a different song

Quiet now, my child and listen
Hear the melody anew
Saving might and love rejoicing
I am singing over you

Thursday, March 5, 2009

bean-y baby



After a somewhat stressful Trader Joe's experience today involving tears, threats, a lost shopping bag, Nate nearly chipping a tooth, and a close call with a precarious stack of Mac & Cheese boxes... I decided that a run through the Starbucks drive-thru was in order. As I pulled away from the window with my tall nonfat decaf caramel sauce mocha, I heard my 18-month-old son pipe up from the backseat, clear as a bell:

Mocha! Mocha! Mommy Mocha!

I would have told you that I'm not your typical Starbucks-addicted Seattleite. But when your baby knows the word mocha, it's time to admit you might have a problem. And now if you'll excuse me, I just remembered that my frozen edamame is melting in the back of the van.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

beyond their ability


Holy Holy Holy by Joel C. Sheesley

Our strengths and weaknesses are usually two sides of the same coin. Even Michael Scott knows this (re-watch his interview scene from the Season 3 finale if you're not following... priceless). One of my strengths is that I am willing to put forth great effort to make sure that whatever I do is done well. The flip side is that I sometimes resist doing things unless I'm reasonably sure I'll be able to do them well, or at least up to a certain standard.

Strange to say, but the 1st century Macedonian church is kind of kicking my butt on this right now. Here is what Paul has to say about them in the first 7 verses of 2 Corinthians 8:

1And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. 6So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

The Macedonians heard about a need, and though they were themselves impoverished, they gave generously. Their lack of ability did not hold them back, because they trusted God to provide what was needed.

In this particular instance, Paul is describing a specific situation involving a financial offering, but I wonder if this could be applied more generally. How often do we sense the call of God, but resist it on the grounds that we lack ability? I am so worried about doing things well... forgetting that I am dust, and that what I do is only what God does through me.

Yesterday I made a list of things I am holding in tension. Here's one more for the list:

I want to do great things for God.
I can only do great things through God.

Monday, March 2, 2009

tension



Life with Jesus often involves holding two seemingly opposing ideas in tension with one another. Here are some things I have been holding in tension:

Jesus Christ is fully human.
Jesus Christ is fully God.


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Perfect love drives out fear.

The Spirit of God is in me.
The spirit of fear remains.

I am called to live in freedom.
I am called to be on my guard against evil.

Be wise as serpents.
Be innocent as doves.

A fruit tree doesn't try to bear fruit; fruit is the natural product of the tree.
I spend most of my time trying.

Jesus is all I need.
I cry when I lose things.

The Lord gives.
The Lord takes away.

I am a child of God.
I am a daughter of Eve.

I am not perfect.
Jesus loves me.