Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

What a day! 

1)  Church this morning - so fun!  I had confirmation with my three wonderful kids and a friend of theirs.  We played a Bible game as something fun to do on Halloween - and had so much fun!  I love this group!  Then, worship was wonderful - full of joy and thankfulness for all the ways people are using their talents to share God's love with those around them.  And lastly, found out another former youth group kid is engaged!  Woo-hoo!

2)  Came home and got set for our first-ever Halloween Cherry Street Cook-out!  We made apple brats, pumpkin cupcakes, and warm apple cider - all served with chips and candy, of course!  We got everything set up in the garage and were thrilled to have 15 people show up!  It was great getting to know some of the neighbors and their kids. Lots of laughing and getting to know one another - the hubby and I are already talking about hosting a spring event...  Lawn games, anyone?

3)  A peaceful night...  Not many trick-or-treaters...  But very relaxed (and some of our favorite candy to snack on this week!).  Definately time for a good night's sleep...  Zzzzz...

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  The hubby taking these beautiful pics this morning:
2.  A wonderful hubby that goes along with my crazy ideas!
3.  Loving working with the kids at my church.
4.  All the people at church cheering us on with the cookout.
5.  All the food turning out yummy!
6.  New friends on the street:  Marie, Kathy, Tara and Troy with Jackson, Katie and Jerod with Brandon and Oliver (and Grandma), Heather and McKenzie, Julie.
7.  Carving jack-o-lanterns!
8.  A fire in the fireplace.
9.  More donations for Goodwill.
10.  A clean garage.
11.  Knowing I'm going to sleep WELL tonight!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

UNICEF Carnival

Today was our church's UNICEF Carnival!  Almost everyone comes in costumes, we play games, eat yummy food, and watch a magic show - OOOooooo....  Oh yeah!  And raise money for an awesome charity!  Here's some pics from the fun this year:
(I didn't even recognize our music director when she was standing right next to me!  Whoa.)
(Fun, creative treats!)
(The hubby - making friends with the devil...)
(Ha ha ha!  Look at her face!  She just touched "eyeballs"!)
(He has 60 seconds to wiggle an oreo from his forehead to his mouth without using his hands.  Too funny!)
(Pastor Penny looking regal as roylaty...)
(I was a "Magic 8 Ball."  Ask me a yes or no question, and you'll get a response...  This one was "Reply hazy, try again later.)
(Look at all the fun costumes!  What a great event!)
(Our magician.  Where did the bunny go?!)
(This kid was hilarious!  He couldn't stop giggling!)

Afterwards, the hubby and I did some grocery shopping for tomorrow's big cook-out, took a long nap, made pumpkin cupcakes, and went out to The Muddy Pig to sample some Pumpkin brews!  Great day.

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  An easy costume.
2.  Playing with all the fun kids!
3.  The hubby finding a new little buddy.
4.  A great turnout for the carnival!
5.  That LONG nap - much needed!
6.  Finding the pumpkin cupcake recipe that I love!
7.  A cozy new neighborhood hang out (too bad it's not in our neighborhood!)
8.  Turkey dinner leftovers.
9.  The book, "Journeys of Simplicity."
10.  Black nail polish...  It's fun!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Fave Five - October 29th

It's that time again!  Time to look back over the week at 5 things that make you smile or thankful...  If you'd like to join the fun, head over to Susanne's blog at Living To Tell the Story.  Here are mine:

1.  Last weekend was a quiet weekend...  The hubby went to visit his mom and I had NO plans.  I ended up spending some time with a friend, having dinner with the family, getting some stuff done around the house, and simply relaxing.  LOVED it!
(Friday night, I spent with my friend, Em, working on her Halloween costume.  She's a Social Studies teacher and wanted to go as "Manifest Destiny."  So I painted the apron (it's based on the painting, "American Progress"), and she added the toys.  It turned out great, Em!)

2.  I've been leading a small group at work, using the book "Unbinding the Gospel."  And I love it!  We have a great group from all walks of life - which makes for wonderful discussion about faith and why we do (or don't) talk about our faith...  These ladies are amazing and make my week!

3.  Wednesday night was our church's annual Turkey Dinner.  I took the job of greeting people at the front door this year - and it was so fun!  We have a lot of senior citizens come to this meal - so excited for a fun evening out.  I like watching how sweet the little old men are to their wives, and how cute the ladies are with their girlfriends.  This year, we even had a grandson surprise his grandma by bringing an ICE SCULPTURE to the church!  He left it by the front door to surprise her - and so everyone else would get to enjoy it, too!  What a wonderful gift for grandma - and the whole event!  (It really classes up the joint, huh?)

4.  Our pup had to have a tooth removed on Thursday - this I am not thankful for.  (It was a very stressful day for me!)  But, I am thankful for the people at her Vet.  They are so good to her - and to us.  They call and check up on her, send emails to remind us of her medications, and they are so sweet to her.  She's recovering well - almost back to herself.  I'll be REALLY thankful when she's completely healed!

5.  Today...  I decided to try my hand at making a typical Turkey Dinner.  I got my "Cooking Light" magazine this month and thought their holiday meal spread looked pretty good - so yesterday, the hubby went grocery shopping, and today I made the whole thing!  Uffda.  That's a lot of work!  But it was delish!  I can now honestly say, "I am fully capable of making a Thanksgiving Dinner (for about 4 people...)"  Ha!

I hope you're having a great Friday!

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  Sunshine!
2.  Cereal...  We've been out of breakfast foods all week!
3.  Working on my Halloween t-shirt.  Yep - I didn't get complicated this year...
4.  Black nail polish.  I kinda like it!
5.  Success at making dinner!
6.  LOTS of leftovers!
7.  The hubby helping with clean up!
8.  Friends thinking of us when making weekend plans!
9.  Delivering invitations to our whole street for a little Halloween cook-out.
10.  Pumpkin beers. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010


"From the very beginning we were meant to experience, interpret, revel in, and unravel the mysteries of this gift - Life - through our senses...  Still, all too often, we journey through our days in a dull trance, asleep to the magic of everything about us...

"Each day, in myriad ways, Spirit attempts to restore the Divine Connection through our sensory perceptions.  It doesn't matter how depressed we are, when we explore and exult in the sacredness of what we dismiss as "ordinary" - the aroma of homemade spaghetti sauce simmering or the exquisite sensation of freshly laundered linen against bare skin, we are restored to Paradise through peace and pleasure.  And if you don't believe me, change the sheets and begin chopping tomatoes, onions, and garlic.

"'The senses don't just make sense of life in bold or subtle acts of clarity,' Diane Ackerman explains.  'They tear reality apart into vibrant morsels and reassemble them into a meaningful pattern.'"
--Something More, by Sarah Ban Breathnach

On yet another day, starting grey and gloomy...  Paying attention to the exquisite details is just what I'm going to do!

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  A beautiful gift from a grandson to his grandma at last night's Turkey Dinner at church:  an ice sculpture he did at school!  It's a wolf howling at the moon.  What an incredibly sweet surprise!
(The grandson and his work of art!)
(A close up - this was only his second time carving ice.  Crazy!)
(Grandma - she was so funny!  She didn't know what to make of this!)

2.  All the people who help with our church's Turkey Dinner - it's a fun event for many people.
3.  A new restaurant a block from work:  Mendoberri.  Great tomato basil soup!
4.  The sun is supposed to come back out today!
5.  Have I mentioned Reese's peanut butter cups recently?
6.  Dinner out with the hubby last night...  An unexpected fun night out.
7.  Pastor Penny praying for my pup today - too cute.
8.  Bailey made it through her dental cleaning and tooth extraction and is sleeping soundly.
9.  The hubby making me laugh when I came home - with his crazy backpacking shennanigans.
(He bought yet ANOTHER tent - we now own a 4-person, 3-person, 2-person, and solo tent...  Good grief.  He spent last night water-proofing the tent in the garage.  So, today I pulled into the driveway and the tent is in the yard.  I told him the neighbors are going to start thinking we have marital problems and I make him sleep outside!  But no... he wanted me to spray the tent with water while he was inside so we could test the seal...
Only one tiny leak.  He was a happy "camper!"  (And yes...  He will be sleeping INside.  Ha!)

10.  The hubby doing our grocery shopping - when he really didn't want to...  Thanks, babe!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More Moments

I've been thinking about my post the other day - about moments when I felt truly ALIVE...  And there are so many more than what I posted!  I thought I'd share a couple more:

11.  How could I forget SKYDIVING?!  I've never felt my heart thump harder or faster!  And what an exhilirating rush - as I jumped, I laughed, I screamed, I prayed, and I praised God for the amazing ride of life!

12.  Along the same lines... I had a chance about 9 years ago to take a ride in an open-cockpit bi-plane.  It was a smooth, fun, ride at first - then the pilot asked if we could do some stunts (Of course!).  We did loops, spins, and free falls - so amazing!  Once again, the adrenaline rush was all I needed to feel REALLY alive in that moment!

13.  A kayak trip on Lake Superior.  A beautiful trip - but on the last day, as we were heading back to our launching point, a storm kicked up.  The waves grew, the wind blew, and the fear set in.  We crossed the lake anyway, as fast as we could, cutting through the waves, the wind, and the rain - it was a little terrifying, but our senses kicked in and made everything crystal clear...  An awesome way to feel alive.

14.  Sitting in a Native American sweat lodge this past summer.  The heat was so intense I thought I would pass out - but the words being spoken by our leader and the songs he was singing were so beautiful that he kept us focused.  Fighting for breath in the steamy setting - was enough to feel alive, prayerful, and immersed in the moment.

15.  Sitting around a campfire, in the middle of nowhere - just the hubby and me.  The world is faraway.  The stars are shining, the fire flickers its warmth, we're talking about memories of the past and dreams of the future...  Always a moment of spirit and life.  Some favorite moments for sure!

What are some of your moments?

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  Still no snow.
2.  Only a slight headache.
3.  The smell of pumpkin pies baking.
4.  Sneaking Reeses peanut butter cups from the Halloween candy stash...
5.  Turkey dinner tonight.
6.  Answered prayers.
7.  A wonderful new friend at church.
8.  Making invites for our Halloween street-cookout.
9.  Pumpkin spice candles.
10.  A cold glass of milk.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

3 Things

Tonight at book group, we were asked the question: If you could be remembered for 3 things, what would they be?


One person answered right away, "to live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God" - Love it.  (And I think it fits her to a T!)

But now what?  What would my answer be?

How about...  "She laughed, she loved, she lived?"


"She lived a story of faith, joy, and strength?"  (Hmmm...  I don't know about the strength part - but this is what do you WANT to be known for, right?)

It's a lot to think about.

What would your 3 things be?

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  No snow.
2.  Able to sleep through the wind last night, for the most part.
3.  Reading wonderful books for work.
4.  Book group - lots of laughs, and great discussion.
5.  My Small Group - wonderful discussion about our fears of sharing our faith.  Very honest answers.
6.  Buying Halloween candy.
7.  I think I know what my Halloween costume will be.
8.  A little quiet time before bed.
9.  Fuzzy slippers.
10.  Hot tea.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Meaningful Moments

"Can you think back to the best moments of your life?  Moments of clarity and commitment?  Moments of transcendence and transformation?  Moments of exhilaration and engagement?  Those Kodachrome moments, when you felt so incredibly alive you actually offered thanks without prompting.  Remember?
...What's the first memory that comes to mind?"

Here's the first 10 that come to mind...

1.  A Jamaica mission trip, freshman year of high school.  Taking a walk at night - coming to a ravine FILLED with fireflies.  Delighting in the beauty of it with a few other people - simply standing in awe at this miraculous sighting.

2.  Summer vacation with my family.  Staying at our pastor's cabin up north.  Going for a swim at night - swimming as far as I could push my body to go, then floating on my back, looking at the stars.  Heart pounding.  Cool breeze.  Heron flying overhead.  Feeling alive - and God's presence.

3.  Practicing Tai-chi on the lawn of the dorms with a close friend.  We practiced til it was late and we were exhausted.  Then the rain started.  It poured!  We laughed, ran, and danced in the rain.  Pure joy and refreshment.

4.  A first kiss.

5.  The first all-out fight with my future hubby.  I didn't run.  I stayed in the struggle and conflict.  He was different - worth it.  Realizing he was "the one."

6.  Our wedding day. So much joy and laughter.  An amazing feeling to be surrounded by those you love - all in one room.  To look in his eyes and say "forever" and be sure.  Blessed.

7.  Holding my grandma's hand as she took her last breath.  Seems a strange moment to feel alive - but I've never felt such grief... and you only feel grief when your whole body senses a loss.  Spending those last days with her was a gift I will never forget.

8.  Signing the mortgage papers on our first house.  Heart-thumping.  Yet thrilling!  So excited to have a place for both of us to create and call "home."

9.  Standing on the Cliffs of Moher - feeling so far from home, looking out at the majestic scenery, feeling the wind in my hair, and feeling so lucky to be able to travel...

10.  Standing on the deck of a wildlife cruise with my sister in Alaska.  Feeling the cold wind on our faces, listening for the glaciers to thunder into the sea, seeing the bluest blue I've ever seen in the sky and water, smelling the salt in the air, experiencing the joy of friendship and laughing at the experiences life has brought us - and our resilience to make it through.

"During these indelible moments, Spirit was a palpable presence, bearing witness to the extraordinary awakening that is the miracle of authenticity...  It's at these times that the soul's Morse code - the dots and dashes of our daily round, so often dismissed as meaningless - not only connect, but resonate on the deepest level."
--Something More, by Sarah Ban Breathnach

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  The duvet is back on the bed!
2.  "Blue Like Jazz" the movie is going to be made - and has broken all kinds of records! 
3.  A good workout.
4.  A pile of things to go to Goodwill.
5.  A playful dog.
6.  Warm, cozy sweaters.
7.  The book, "Same Kind of Different as Me" by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.  So good!
8.  Jalapeno jelly with cream cheese and triscuits.
9.  Helpful friends.
10.  Elly telling "good things" before she goes to sleep...  So cute.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Life's Purpose

Today I went to the memorial service of a remarkable woman.  I've written about her before...  Her name was Linda.  She came to my church about a year and a half ago.  She was dealing with a recurrence of cancer - and wanted to pray.  She began coming to my "Open Sanctuary" nights (the sanctuary was open to anyone who needed a place to seek God; the lights were dimmed, there were candles to light, and peace to find) - and would often allow me the privilege to pray with her before she left.  We cried when the cancer worsened.  We laughed and hugged when there were breakthroughs...  But in the end, there was nothing more the doctors could do.  She died peacefully last week.

But she fought.  And she fought hard!  There was so much more she wanted to do with her life - to travel more, dance more, hug her kids more.  Her strength, faith, determination, and courage astounded me.  She was a remarkable woman. 

I've been asked several times over the last year if I think God has a special plan for each of us...  As I'm sure Linda was asking the same question in these last months...  And how do we know if we've done it?  How do we know if there's something still to do?  What are we supposed to do next?

I never have a good answer.  Mostly because I don't really look at life that way, I guess.  I know that my faith doesn't eliminate the days of sadness and darkness - but I know that God is with me in them.  I know that no one is going to point me in the direction of "this is what you should be doing" - and so I try to experience all I can.  I have dreams of what I'd like to do with my future - but have no idea if I'll be able to accomplish those things...  All I can really do is take life one day at a time, trust in God, and choose to find joy wherever I can.

Last month, at Don Miller's "Storyline Conference" in Portland - we were talking about what we want our life stories to be.  Looking at our settings - where we are and who we are with.  Examining the plot twists in our lives so far - and looking at what we've learned from them and how they may be "foreshadowing" what's to come...  We were looking at the ways in which we choose and make our own story (life)... and as I look back through my notes the same phrase has been echoing in my head ever since the conference - a phrase that may now answer what I think when I'm asked about my life purpose:

"You are a child of God.  Created so that you may enjoy Him, and He may enjoy you."

I love it.  There isn't a "plan" written in a book for me to follow.  God doesn't stare us down with expectations and pressure...  God is asking us, "What do YOU want to do?  Let me do it WITH you!"

I think if I can live my life in a way that allows God in - into the process, into the scary days, into the joys and celebrations - then I'll be living my purpose...

And from the stories I heard about Linda's life this afternoon...  I'm pretty sure she did, too.

Thank you, Linda, for the time we spent together, for the lessons you taught me, for the beautiful person you were.  We were blessed to know you.

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  The life of Linda.
2.  A beautiful memorial of her - including an Open Sanctuary moment.
3.  Stories of spontaneity and joy.
4.  Lunch with a friend.
5.  Presenting Jacob with his 3rd grade Bible - so cute!
6.  Pumpkin bars.
7.  A LONG nap.
8.  A dog who can't seem to get enough cuddles this weekend.
9.  The hubby getting home safe and sound.
10.  My new magazines arrived - meaning, new recipes to try!

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I follow one of my favorite musician's blog - Jason Mraz.  Today he pointed his fans in the direction of another blog "SuperForest."  I started reading it and LOVE it!  It combines environmentalism, sustainability, and MANNERS.  Awesome.  It's premise is that if we all operated with good manners towards all of mankind - most of the problems in the world wouldn't exist.  Think about it...  I dare you. 

Here's their "Humanifesto."  If nothing else - just enjoy the thought of good manners saving the world!  I am...

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  People who start amazing movements to make people THINK about their words and actions.
2.  The dog let me sleep in this morning - talk about good manners!
3.  An invite to dinner with the parents and Kayla.
4.  Cooking clam chowder with my dad.  Too funny.
5.  Good conversation with Dad - and feeling loved.
6.  Wisconsin Badgers won!
7.  Laughing with Mom.
8.  Netflix online.
9.  The "Blue Like Jazz" campaign to get the movie made - it's so inspiring how many people are coming forth to make this happen!  I love being a part of it!  (Wanna know more about the author - check out Don Miller's blog.  Great guy.)
10.  Thunderstorms are heading our way tonight!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Fave Five - October 22nd

Wow - it seems like forever since I've done a Friday Fave Five!  Glad to be back...  It's simply a way to set aside a few moments, think back over the week, and notice at least 5 things that made you smile.  If you'd like to join in the fun, simply visit Susanne's blog at Living To Tell The Story!

Here goes!

1)  A surprise gift from the hubby.  As we were getting ready to go out Friday night, I noticed a gift bag on our dresser...  When I took a closer look, I realized it was a birthday bag.  So, I was racking my brains to figure out who's birthday I had forgotten... and who the hubby would take the initiative to get a gift for AND put it in a gift bag...  Finally, as we were ready to leave I asked him about it.  He started laughing and said it was for me.  (It was the only gift bag he could find!)  I opened it to find the book, "Huck," about a poodle (I've grown up with poodles), named "Huck" (my maiden name).  The funny part is I told him all about the book based on a TV segment I saw earlier in the day - just moments before he put it on the dresser!  Ha!  Turns out, his mom called him at work, told him to go buy me the book, write a note in it (which he never does!), and take me out to dinner.  Mom and son both got big points that day!  I was smiling all night long!
(You bring me joy every day, too, Babe!)

2)  Going to the Farmers' Market on Saturday... which I haven't done in a few weeks.  Carrying our pumpkins around the market - much to the dismay of every parent of small children that was there.  All of the kids stared and said, "I wanna get a pumpkin!"  And then finding a new little greasy spoon diner for breakfast (The Grandview Grill on Grand Ave.).  A nice little treat on a Saturday morning!

3)  Dinner with Kelsey last Sunday evening.  She's a former youth group student of mine - now in college.  We made the drive to see her dorm room and treat her to dinner while we got caught up on what's going on in her life.  We always have fun with Kelsey - she's funny, smart, caring, and beautiful (inside and out).  She had us go to a burger joint (Milwaukee Burger Co.) where I had my first ever "goober burger" - a hamburger topped with peanut butter, banana, and bacon.  It was actually pretty good!
(The hubby's cheese curd burger...)
(My goober burger...  looks gross, tastes good!)
(Miss Kelsey and I.  Too fun.)

4)  Picking my sister up to surprise my parents.  She got a ride part way home, 2 days earlier than they were expecting her.  So we met her at our favorite restuarant, brought her home to our house for the night, and then I took her to my parents' house the next morning - where my dad got a little surprise with 2 daughters showing up unannounced!  He was happy as can be (and I'm sure Mom was happy, too, when she got home from work and found Kayla at the dinner table)!  It's fun to be in on those surprises...

5)  A silly phone call from one of my best friends - asking if I was free on a Friday night, to come help her with her Halloween costume!  The hubby had left town for the weekend - so of course I was!  I got to play with my god-daughter, chat and laugh with Em, and try to get in touch with my old "artist" days...  I got to do some painting for her costume...  Oh boy.  When her hubby came home, he looked at what we did and said, "Megan, I didn't know you could paint?!"  And I said...  "I didn't either!"  Ha ha ha.  It was a fun night - I hope she wins her costume contest! 
(She has a perfectly round pregnant belly to wrap this artwork over...  She's still adding the animals and other parts - I think she's got this in the bag!)
(I think I can safely post this here - she's going as "Manifest Destiny."  She's a  social studies teacher - can you tell?  We were trying to recreate this painting...  She's going to be the lady-in-white - the rest will be on the apron.  Love it.)

I hope you all had - and have - a wonder-filled week this week!  Be sure to take some time to laugh! 

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  A lazy morning.  Man, did that feel good!
2.  I constantly type "god" when I mean to type "good".  It could be a "God" thing!   Ha ha ha.
3.  The hubby coming home for lunch before he left town.
4.  A little fall shopping - and great sales!
5.  Emptying my mailbox after two weeks of not getting the mail...  Oops.
6.  Getting my haircut - FINALLY!
7.  Playing kickball with Elly...  and her constantly telling me "almost!"
8.  Chocolate chip cookies with Em.
9.  Finally talking to my sister "from Alaska" - as she has started reminding me in her messages - on the phone.  Very nice to hear her voice!
10.  Watching a movie in bed as I snuggled in with the pup.  A nice way to end the day.
11.  Bailey decided to share her favorite place in the house with her favorite toy.  I came downstairs, and this is what I saw:
(Eeyore got the perfect sunspot, look-out spot, for the day.  How cute!)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sharing Our Story With Our Neighbors

Today was the day - the day that would end my incredibly busy week!  And what a fun morning it was!  I led worship today - message and all - and it went well.  Since so many people have been asking for copies of the message, I thought I would post it here...  I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments - feel free to post them!

Sharing Our Stories: With Our Neighbors

Sermon: October 17, 2010

"Light. What words come to mind when you think of the word “light?” Yell them out!  (The altar area was covered with all kinds of different kinds of lights - lamps, lanterns, candles, flashlights, headlamps, etc.)

What inevitably happens when light enters a situation? When light is shed in a dark space? When light is figuratively “shed” on an issue? CHANGE. So many of these ideas, that came into your minds when you thought of the word Light, are so easily attributed to God, too. Earlier this week, as I attended a conference on Counseling Teens in Crisis, Kevin Harrington – a psychologist and presenter with Youth Leadership - stated, “God is light – and God is change. When we know God, we can’t help but be changed…” It’s true, isn’t it?

Yet, as I started thinking about it… I realized we are all lights as well – sharing the brightness of God with others. Our families, friends, neighbors…

So I brought all these different kinds of lights with me today – simply to illustrate one point. Every one of these sources of light emits brightness and radiance. Every one of them has the power to change the darkness into light. But… Every one of them does it in a slightly different way… A candle burns hard and bright until it has no more to give – or it glows with soft warmth emitting a gentle change. A lamp – brightness re-enforced by the power it gets from an electrical outlet – it relies on power outside of itself to make change. A lantern – typically used outside in a gathering of family and friends – inviting, unthreatening. A fluorescent lamp – typically seen in the workplace – steady and true. A flashlight – looks for a particular place to shine, the place where light and hope are needed most. And a headlamp… Ha ha ha. My husband, Mike, is going to laugh at me putting this on in church. I think the only time I’ve ever worn the headlamp is when we’re camping and I’m going to the outhouse… and need to make sure there are no bugs, no spiders, and no critters in that space! Sometimes… a light changes us or a situation by diminishing fear and illuminating our current surroundings in a way that gives us a sense of peace.

As we’ve begun talking about sharing our stories, sharing our faith with those around us… we’ve heard the murmurings. We know it’s an uncomfortable topic for most people – especially us Methodists. We get it. But just because a topic is hard to talk about, doesn’t mean we get to run from it. It’s been a focus of the nation-wide Methodist church for a couple of years now – as it should be. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, was a huge evangelist! Think about the stories we know about him – he traveled over 250,000 miles in his lifetime, on horseback(!) preaching the word to anyone who would listen (often in open fields, often twice a day). He had good news to share with people who were oppressed and had nothing to hope in – and he gave it to them! Wanna know something else about John Wesley? Something you might find comforting? He didn’t believe that your “conversion” happened in one moment… He believed getting to know God was a process – that took time – and often occurred through relationships with other believers. You may get to the point where you say “yes” to God for the first time – or you may help someone else get to that point – but getting to know God from that moment on, was a life-long journey…

Even John Wesley didn’t see evangelism as the scary thing we tend to think of today. So stay with us – stay in the conversation. Open your mind and hearts as we continue to talk about sharing our faith – and ask God to show you how you can “do one small thing” to share God’s love with someone in your life…

As I was preparing for this sermon this week… I was looking for words of hope, myself. You see, for people who work in the church – we can talk about faith and God all day long… with church people, of course. But send us outside those doors, tell us to talk to strangers – and we’re as uncomfortable as you. As Pastor Penny often says – often the things we share with you in the message, are the same things we need to be hearing and challenging ourselves with, too. So I as I read the scripture for today – know that I took these words to heart as well!

Our Scripture text comes from the book of 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2: 6-8.

From The Message:
“Even though we had some standing as Christ’s apostles, we never threw our weight around or tried to come across as important, with you or anyone else. We weren’t aloof with you. We took you just as you were. We were never patronizing, never condescending, but we cared for you the way a mother cares for her children. We love you dearly. Not content to just pass on the message, we wanted to give you our hearts. And we did.”

How did Paul, Silas, and Timothy win over the Thessalonians? Bullying them with authority? Judging them and their lives and guilting them into a better life? Yeah, no. They cared for the people of Thessalonica like a mother cares for her children… They loved them. They were gentle with them. They walked beside them. They talked about their lives - shared their stories… They became friends – and gave them their hearts.

This is evangelism – in its gentlest and most loving way. Any one of us could do this.

And so I’ve been thinking - how? How do we share the love of God with our neighbors? And yes – neighbors can mean just about anyone – literally. Co-workers, postal workers, gas station attendants, the person in front of me at the grocery line checkout… Homeless people, children at the park, people in prison, politicians (to continue last week’s discussion)… Yes – anybody and everybody can be considered our neighbors… But this week, I was thinking about my actual neighbors. The people on my street. There are 19 townhomes on my street. We’ve lived there for 5 years now, and I know 3 names – and they are all little kids that adore my husband and my dog.

Our culture these days, especially if you live in townhomes, is to come home from work and close the garage door without ever waving to a neighbor, never walking to the mailbox, or sharing a cup of flour. And I fall into it, too. I stop at the mailbox when I’m leaving for work or coming home – so I never have to get out of the car! If I need a cup of flour or a stick of butter… I go to the store quick. There is no sense of community or “neighbor”hood where I live. So how on earth am I supposed to share my faith – much less my life – with the people who live the closest to me?

Well… When I started working on this sermon, I decided I needed to do something about this. I’ve been reading some wonderful books about living our faith life… about sharing our stories… about reaching out to those around us… and I realized if there’s one area of my life I’m really missing the boat – it’s with my neighbors. The people who actually live ON my street. So I started praying… and praying… and thinking… And I kept coming back to what a wonderful experience our UNICEF Carnival was last year. All kinds of people came, stopped in for some games and goodies, wore their costumes – it was non-threatening and fun. Easy to come and go… and so I asked my husband if we could do a little Halloween cook-out on our street this year. Send invites to the 19 houses on our street, say we’re going to be grilling apple brats, we’ll have some warm apple cider, some pumpkin cupcakes – and candy to anyone who comes in a costume! Stop by as you’re coming or going… But stop by and say hi – let’s meet our neighbors!

Sounds simple. Easy. No problem. Yeah, right. This is SO not my thing. I’m shy. I like hanging out with people I already know. I’m one of the people on our street who comes home and closes the garage door right away. The idea of throwing a neighborhood shin-dig scares me more than a Halloween haunted house. Why? No idea. Seems silly to be scared. But I am. We worry about what people think of us. We worry about being rejected. We worry about offending someone. We worry about the neighbors that already don’t like us – SHOWING up! Now what? We worry… We worry… We worry.

It’s human nature. And that’s ok. But it’s also ok to take a risk, to trust in God, and to give something new a try.

Am I going to preach the love of God, standing on a giant pumpkin in the middle of our street? No. Am I going to hand out Bibles to everyone who stops by? Uh. No. Will I draw frosting crosses on all the cupcakes? Not a chance. I just want to take a moment to shine a light. To learn some names. To laugh a little and hope that we become better neighbors…. We bought our pumpkins this weekend – they will be carved with candlelight glowing – soft and warm – from within. Maybe we’ll have lanterns lit – hinting at the fun of a family party. Street lights will shine down – emitting a “safe” refuge from the unknown… Who knows? Depending on my costume, I might wear the headlamp to remind me of my own surroundings and give me a sense of peace…

My hope? Relationships will begin. Walls will begin to come down. We’ll begin to know and love our neighbors – and through that relationship, begin to share our lives and our stories…

Do I expect all of us to try this same experiment? Of course not. Like all the lights that fill the altar area today – we all have our own ways of casting God’s light on the world. Maybe you fight really hard for social justice through the ministries or organizations you volunteer with. Maybe you’re an amazing care-giver to the people in your life that need a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen. Maybe you’re that one person at work that makes all the other employees feel truly valued in what they do. Maybe you haven’t found where you fit in yet, but you have the resources to support important ministries… We’ve talked many times in the life of the church about each one of us having special gifts or talents that we can use to give more life to the church… But guess what? You can use those same gifts outside of the church – to help people know God, too.

Where is God prompting you to try using your gifts? What one small thing is God calling you toward – to share the loving and grace-filled God with someone else who may need the good word?

It’s been really interesting as I’ve been continuing to learn about what evangelism is – and isn’t – the groups of people I’ve never thought of needing to reach out to. When we first begin this discussion – we typically think of the “un-churched” – and only the un-churched. And we think, because of the circles we are in, that we probably don’t know many people who have never gone to church… But my challenge to you, as you think about the people that surround you everyday – your “neighbors” – how many have walked away from the church (and maybe God) because they’ve been hurt by the church? I know I have quite a few of those people in my life – and it pains me to be a part of the institution that offered them such pain… But what if I could be that person that continued to love them, that continued to remind them of the grace that only God can give, that continued to walk with them in the faith – and hope, for them, that one day they will feel called back into the community of faith. I’m not being pushy, not being forceful, no guilt or shame, just making sure that when they want to ask questions or vent hurts – I’m there to listen and to love them… Hoping I can represent a faithful community that will accept them and love them, too – when they are ready.

It’s about relationship. It’s about continuing to shed light on the situation – and on the fact that God loves them and offers them grace whenever they need it. It’s about being gentle and true. That’s the kind of evangelism I can get behind. That’s the kind that will, yes, force me out of my comfort zone sometimes – but will also help me acknowledge what God is doing in my life as I continue to tell and share my story of faith.

Two more quick stories – both of which happened on Friday night. After a long, crazy, busy week, Mike and I decided to head downtown to one of our favorite places for dinner and some music. The café was crowded, so we waited for a seat at the bar – a PERFECT opportunity for getting to know your “neighbors”! The opening band started – and began a set of all songs relating to the sun. Sun, as in up in the sky – not Jesus. Although that would have been a cool surprise! I liked the upbeat, positive message in the songs and the band was pretty good, if not a little quirky… But after they were done, they announced they were giving away their CDs for free that night. Well, we were quick to get in on that! So yesterday, I was driving around town, and one of the first songs on the CD has the lyrics that say something to the effect of “the sun shines down like the grace of God, and it’s our job to give it away…” I thought, wow – this is perfect for my sermon! They were doing evangelism and didn’t even know it! Here they were, singing about light – the ultimate light – the sun! They gave away free CDs, making me more likely to give it a listen… Then, through a song reminded me of the grace of God… and that I too, should give it away! They’re singers – they gave it away through their music. Their light is shining bright!

The second story came from the same café… as we were sitting at the bar, we began talking to the couple next to us – getting to know them in the soft, warm, unthreatening light of candles (atmosphere makes a difference!). By the second band, we were calling one another friends, exchanging contact information, and hoping to find another time to meet up with one another – striking up a relationship. Things were going well… Life was good, the night was fun. Until they asked me what I do for a job. Yep. When you work for a church, sometimes it’s better to keep that to yourself until the other person knows you really well – flaws and all. Otherwise, they assume you and God are best friends and you can’t possibly live a normal and fun life. But they asked, so I told. The woman was immediately pretty cool with it, but the man got really quiet… My prayer at that moment was that I had represented myself in a way that made me human, warm, friendly, non-judging, and simply someone who lived the faith myself… and would always be open to talking about it… But would not force it on him. All I was looking for was the start of a friendship – conversation could come later when the timing was right.

When the woman “contacted” me on Facebook yesterday, I peaked at his profile as well and saw that he stated his religious views as “atheist.” Who knows? Maybe this person was put in my life for a reason? Maybe I get to be one more seed planted in his life toward knowing God? Maybe not. But who am I to assume either way? All I can do is live with the gifts God gave me, be the person God made me to be, and shine my God light wherever I go.

Light changes things. God’s light changes lives. We have the remarkable opportunity to be a part of those life-changing interactions. We get to use who we are, what we’re good at, and the experiences we’ve already had with God to deepen relationships, make friends, and share God’s love with the world. It will take time, it may take many people to plant those seeds, you may not be “the one” who transforms a life – but you may get to play a huge part! You may never know… But God is counting on us to help those who are lost remember that they are loved and adored by their creator. What a gift to be that messenger – in whatever way you can. Figure out one way to shine your light – today!"

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  My week is finally over!
2.  It's fun writing a message when you feel the Spirit working in you and those around you!
3.  The chuckles when I put on the headlamp...
4.  Lunch with Mom at Teresa's.
5.  A LONG nap!
6.  A beautiful fall day for a drive to Eau Claire.
7.  Dinner with Kelsey!
8.  Dozing off during "Brothers and Sisters."
9.  Continued contact with the couple we met this weekend!
10.  Looking forward to a WHOLE day off tomorrow!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Busy Busy Busy

This week continues to keep me on my toes!

Monday through Wednesday, I went to a workshop on "Counseling Teens in Crisis" led my Tiger McLuen and Youth Leadership.   It was a great workshop - lots of good tips, neat people, and opportunities to examine how I communicate with our youth group kids... and adults as well.  A very good way to spend a few days - although emotionally exhausting (discussing suicide, depression, eating disorders, cutting, abuse, etc for 3 days can be a bit much!). 

Tuesday and Wednesday, following the workshop, I had meetings at church - getting me home late everynight.  But I wouldn't trade those groups for the world.  I'm leading a group on the book, "Unbinding the Gospel" by Martha Grace Reese - a book on real life evangelism.  Such a neat group and great discussion!  (If evangelism is something that freaks you out, I highly recommend reading this book.)  Our book group is starting the book, "Same Kind of Different as Me" by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.  An interesting true story about a homeless guy and a wealthy art dealer meeting up, becoming friends, and changing each other's lives.  Very cool.

And today I spent a full day at work followed by a Church Council meeting - and didn't get home til after 9pm.  But it was worth it.  It's so fun to be part of what is happening at our church right now - great leadership, great focus on the future, looking for direction for where God is leading us, and through it all having fun with the amazing people of our congregation.  It was a long day.  I missed a chance to go to Feed My Starving Children.  But it was a good day, too.

This weekend, I am preaching.  I have lots of ideas, but need to sit down and work for several hours.  Tomorrow is the day!  I'm kind of excited for this sermon...  I'll let you know how it turns out!

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  A very productive week!
2.  New friends through the workshop.
3.  Tiger Mcluen's leadership - always helpful!
4.  A lovely little surprise on my desk today - from "God."
5.  My "Unbinding" small group - an amazing group of women, willing to look at their faith and how they share it with others.  Too cool.
6.  Our book group - always good to "hang" with the ladies!
7.  The hubby took the dog for her booster shot today - one less thing for me to stress about.
8.  A great, uplifting Council meeting.
9.  A glass of wine when I got home.
10.  The week is slowing down...
11.  The "Blue Like Jazz" book by Donald Miller is going to be made into a movie afterall!  If you're a fan, check out this website to join the story - it's going to be the first movie EVER funded by the fans!  This book was instrumental in my faith life - and has been for MANY others.  The movie could reach so many more...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The North Shore

Finally!  I haven't been up to the North Shore in three years - so this weekend was PERFECT!  (The North Shore of Minnesota, along Lake Superior, is probably one of my favorite places in the world...  If it wasn't so darn cold in the winter, I would probably live there!)

The hubby worked a half day on Friday, so as soon as he got home we packed up and headed out the door.  Bailey was at Grandma and Grandpa's for the weekend...  so we were off!

Our plan was to camp at Cascade River State Park, near Grand Marais...  A 4 hour drive from home.  So, no stops along the way - we'd have to do our sight-seeing and playing on the way home.  The fall colors were stunning all the way up - many leaves had fallen, but that just allowed the undergrowth to show-off!  Blue skies, lots of color, and the deep blue of Lake Superior - absolutely beautiful!

We got to the park, parked our car and got situated for the hike into our campsite.  The hubby had told me it would be a 3/4 mile hike, on flat ground, by the river.  Ummmm...  Not so much.  When we checked in at the park office, the ranger woman said it would be a 3 mile hike.  Interesting...  Luckily, hubby was smart - he brought all of his ultra-light backpacking gear; we only brought in the clothes we would need to keep warm that night; and we only had dinner to prepare.  So, he carried everything - except the picnic backpack with our food.  Even if my asthma attacks - I got this!

I have to admit...  the hike was gorgeous.  We saw a "marten" - a very cute little animal...  Apparently known for being aggressive.  Good thing we didn't know that until the next day!  There was a lot of climbing up hills and stairs, uneven trails, and times we thought we weren't on the right trail...  But I was proud of myself for doing just fine - It wasn't the torture I was expecting...  And the hubby is so good at watching out for me - when there's a big step down or an uneven footing area - he's always right there, offering his arm before I even know I'm going to need it.  I have to admit - if I'm going to do these kinds of trips, he's who I want to do it with!
(Well, hello L'il Guy!)
(This WAS the trail.  Good grief!)
(Yep.  One night meant we would carry our pillows in!  Ha ha ha. We were really roughing it, huh?)
(I hate uneven stairs.)

So, since we started late, and we were hiking in the woods... we were pretty aware of fading sunlight.  It felt like we had been hiking forever... when we came across a "campsight" along the river.  I thought it looked perfect - a nice big fire pit, a bench made out of logs and rocks, a cleared spot for the tent...  But then we realized there was no sign and no pit toilet around.  Bummer.  This was not an official site.  We kept going for a while and realized... we were not coming to anything else anytime soon.  So we went back.  I thought it was a perfect sight - I love being right by the water!  (But no pit toilet was a little unnerving...  I hadn't squatted in the woods since I was in high school!  Time to re-learn!)

We set up camp, got the beers cooling in the stream, built our fire, and cooked a yummy dinner of chicken mango brats with sliced grilled peppers...  Nightime fell - cool, but not cold.  Clear, starry skies - we could easily sit on the boulders down by the water and look up at the night sky - so peaceful.  Our cozy little tent kept us warm...  It was a great night!
(The "fridge.")
(The "stove.")

The next morning, I awoke to a cup of coffee being handed in to the tent.  Now, that's what I call service!  We got up, enjoyed the peacefulness of our site by the river...  Then broke down camp and headed out.  Hiking out... took half the time as hiking in...  And it was easy.  We realized we probably didn't hike near as far as we thought we did the night before!  Too funny.
(Mmm...  Coffee.)
(And we're off again!)

So we're getting in the car, realizing we're smelling REALLY smokey and could REALLY use a shower!  Note to self:  Cascade River State Park - doesn't have public showers.  Ok.  Now what?  As we're driving into Grand Marais for some breakfast we're keeping our eyes peeled for a place to shower...  and spot a campground.  Yes.  We were naughty.  We snuck into their showers.  Took the quickest showers either of us have ever taken and got the heck out of there right as the bathroom attendant was showing up!  (The hubby has worked at campgrounds in the past - and was sure we'd get our car towed if we were found out!)

Once showered, we headed into town for some breakfast.  "The World's Best Donuts" was calling our name...  Who could pass that up?  Coffee and yummy deep-fried dough?  Sounds like the breakfast of champs!  (And it was delish...)  After that, we spent the morning roaming through town, playing in the fun shops, walking alongside the lake, and just purely enjoying the day!  And of course, we ended our day in town with lunch at "The Crooked Spoon" - one of our favorite places!  (The hubby even decided it was time to bring some of the "Spoon" home with us.  We bought one of their pint glasses and a crooked spoon!  They have spoons made out of birch branches - too cute!)
(World's Best Donuts - Yummmm...)
(The Crooked Spoon - highly recommended!)

When we finally gave in and left Grand Marais, the hubby had some trail access points (to the Superior Hiking Trail) he wanted to check out on the way back.  We ended up driving into the Lutsen Ski Resort for one of them - and found some great surprises!  The gondola was running - giving rides from one mountain to another...  So, of course, we decided we needed to do this!  So fun - beautiful views and a peaceful ride!  Then, when we got to the top - there was a wedding getting ready!  The bride and her bridesmaids were already at the top, having pictures taken - the colors were gorgeous!  The girls were in deep plum-colored dresses, carrying burnt-orange cala lillies.  The fun part?  Everyone coming to the wedding would have to ride up in the gondola!  It was fun riding back to the lodge and seeing all of these people in formal attire, squeezed into the gondola cars...  Too funny!

Next, we just simply enjoyed the rest of our ride to Duluth - stopping at favorite shops along the way and picking up a pie at Betty's Pies.  We got to Duluth as it was getting dark - just in time for dinner!  We walked around Canal Park for a bit, but weren't really seing anything that appealed to us, so we went into the city for some Pizza Luce.  We watched the Twins lose - again, and for the last time this year - as we sat and ate delicious pizza.
(The sky as we drove into Duluth...  So pretty!)
(Part of the sign over the bar at Pizza luce - so cool.)

Finally, it was time for the final push home.  We arrived back at our house about midnight...  and fell straight to sleep with no problems!  We had 36 hours to enjoy fall on the North Shore - and we did a pretty darn good job of it!  Love it.

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  A hubby who likes to take crazy weekend trips with me!
2.  The beauty of the state I live in.
3.  Camping.  Love it.
4.  Our tiny little tent - so cozy.
5.  Re-learning to pee in the woods.  It's a skill we should all have, right?  Ha ha ha.
6.  Funky little shops.  We always manage a little shopping when we go up there!
7.  Having a "been there, done that, check it off the list" moment at Betty's Pies.
8.  The way my hubby takes care of me. 
9.  Good music in the car on the drive home.
10.  Falling asleep the moment my head hit the pillow!
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