Sheep Go To Heaven

11 December 2012

Christmas Wishes 2012

Two years ago, when I was blogging during Advent, I was struck by how materialistic I found myself around Christmas.  A lack or scarcity (even a relative one) of, well, stuff certainly makes me think about stuff in a different way.  There were just more times during a day or week living in Nicaragua where I would think "it sure would be nice if I had..." compared to when I lived in the United States.

I do think that has changed a bit, over two years into living here.  I've gotten used to the things that are available, and have learned a little more about how to look for things that are harder to find.  But I also continue learning the lesson of how little of the stuff that still sometimes feels necessary to me, truly is necessary, or even important.  It's a lesson that I need to learn over and over again, because that feeling that these things are necessary, creeps back in over and over again.

I continue to be very impassioned about the work that Global Ministries does all over the world, and the model they use of partnering with churches and organizations who are in and of the country and culture in which they work.  It's really a gift to get to work for an organization I believe in.  So, a gift to Global Ministries in honor of our family would be very welcome.  A general, unrestricted gift helps them do important work around the world in a way that is responsive to changing needs and priorities.  A special gift to the Christian Mission Church of Nicaragua, the church we work with here, would also be very much appreciated.

I do, it turns out, have some materialistic desires as well.  Chief among the things I miss about life in the United States is chocolate. :)  So, fairly traded chocolate treats are always very welcome.  I still haven't adjusted totally to making do with things that are available in Nicaragua -- I tend to update my wardrobe in the U.S. (to the extent that I actually do that sometimes ;) ), and get books as well (even books in Spanish).  So I do have some very prosaic wants, most of which are really hard to get for another person (like a running bra...).

Mainly I am happy to be getting to celebrate Christmas with our families, and look forward to baking lots of treats because I know I will be able to find the ingredients!

05 December 2012

Oh, Google... (and Gratitude)

I was reading the lectionary readings for the first Sunday in Advent, and the line from First Thessalonians 3:9, 

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?

called into my mind another line (Psalm 116:12):

What can I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?

I like to think that the Bible often provides us with more questions than answers.  Life, too, often does this.  And I've been bumping into the quote from Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet about living the questions quite a bit on the internet lately:
...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
I actually think this approach is one the mainline churches at their best have to offer to the world.  I don't think we're supposed to find easy answers in church (or in life).  But asking, or better yet, living good questions, is something I think our faith can help us with.  And the Bible has some really powerful questions.

To me, the above verses are two versions of the same question, and it's one that comes up for me at times in life.  Life is so good, full to bursting with blessings, most concretely beloved friends and family.  How could I possibly say "thank you" enough?  The psalmist, acknowledging that God is the source of this goodness, seems to question if anything could be good enough to give back.  Paul seems to have the same feeling of abundant blessing, a heart full to bursting when he thinks of that community of believers in Thessalonia, and an awareness of how feeble our expressions of gratitude are compared with the goodness we have received. 

That is a question I would like to live out of -- the facebook "gratitude meme" was one attempt, and a useful one in that it made a daily discipline of looking for something to be grateful for.  It can really open you up to living in that space of feeling bathed in, overwhelmed by, the gifts of life.  

That is the serious part.  Here's where it gets hilarious:

When I was looking for the Psalm reference, I began typing in the part of the question I recalled:
"what can I return to the Lord"

Google thought perhaps I would like to know:
"what can I return to Walmart"

Oh, Google... you think you know me, and yet, you do not.

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18 November 2012

Book Review: Hopes and Fears

Lee and Bromleigh are two of my dearest friends and colleagues, and the arc of my motherhood and ministry thus far has in many ways been parallel to both of theirs.  (My older daughter is a few months younger than theirs, and my baby was born the same month as Lee's.)  I have accompanied them in the living of many of these stories and even mulled over many of these insights, in conversation and sneak previews of various chapters.  Reading their book, Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People, has made me miss them both terribly (I live in Nicaragua now), but more importantly, the book offers a taste of the humor and thoughtful reflection that I so cherish in them to a much larger audience.

Despite my familiarity with them, I found for myself a freshness in their writing, a much-needed reminder of what is good and true and important in this life as lived with small children.  Because their theology is incarnational (made flesh), based in rather than removed from the stuff of everyday life, they are able to remind us of these things without denying any of the parts that are mundane, exhausting, or even sticky.

Reading this book was like being preached to, being spiritually fed.  So much of parenting literature, even when there is nothing remotely religious about it, leaves one feeling preached at (a.k.a. scolded).

Both Hull Moses and McCleneghan are formidable preachers, so it is no surprise that their writing, like good preaching, takes you on a journey with them, and uplifts and inspires even as it names complex, often literally messy problems.  (Are cloth diapers worth it?  How do we navigate parenting together?  Will the children ever sleep?)  They address all these themes drawing on a delightful variety of sources of wisdom:  Tina Fey and Immanuel Kant appear in adjacent endnotes.

Hopes and Fears, like the best preaching, doesn't just apply theological wisdom to our daily lives (although it does that).  What these wise, wonderful writers do is locate their stories, and our stories, in the Great Story of the Bible and Christian tradition.  They assure us that these questions of how we live together in families do matter.  So you will find in these pages more than just funny, true stories you can easily relate to if you are, have been, or have known a new parent.  You will also find here glimpses of God's dream for our lives, the assurance of grace, hope that our redemption truly works itself out in the midst of our gloriously imperfect lives.

Don't be surprised if I give you a copy for Christmas.

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21 March 2012

Maya: 6 months!

The past six months have flown by... I can't believe Maya is this big already.

We took her to the doctor on the exact day of her first half-birthday.  She was 67 cm long (about 26 1/3 inches) and weighed 15 lbs  11 oz (almost double her birth weight).  She also was due for quite a few vaccinations, and I was grateful that most were delivered in a single shot.  She didn't cry at all for that shot, but the HepB was in a second shot and that proved to be too much for her, poor love.

I took the photo the same day, when she really couldn't stay sitting up very long and it's amazing how steady she is and how much longer she goes without toppling just 9 days later.  Her latest achievement: "creeping."  She scoots herself forward one bit at a time using her elbows and knees.  It's a funny move,  which occasionally results in knocking her forehead on the floor, but it's intentional forward motion!  In other words, we're in for it. ;)

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26 January 2012

Maya's Dedication

Our family, perhaps like most families these days, is somewhat religiously eclectic. I was raised in both the Disciples (my mom's) and Catholic (my dad's) traditions. I was baptized in my mom's church, University Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) shortly before my 15th birthday (I think. It's possible I was almost 14?). And now I'm a Disciples pastor.

I think it's fair to characterize the religious aspect of Tim's upbringing by saying that Tim's parents transitioned from practicing Catholics to cultural Catholics over the course of the first years of his childhood. Both he and his sister were baptized and have godparents, but weren't "raised in the church" after that point -- attending kindergarten in a Catholic school was basically the extent of his religious education. (As babies, my three siblings and I were neither baptized nor dedicated, since my parents wanted us to choose for ourselves. They made sure we got as much religious education as possible in BOTH traditions... so we could have the information to make that choice.)

So, when we had our first kid, it was pretty clear we would not have her baptized as an infant. This was interesting because I was serving a United Church of Christ church at that time, and it is their tradition to baptize babies. So, we had what we think was their first infant dedication, a brief ceremony during a Sunday worship service where the parents dedicate the baby to God, and the parents and congregation dedicate themselves to nurturing the child in faith -- I put together the liturgy. This is a pretty common ceremony in churches that practice "believer's baptism" (that is, baptizing people who are old enough to decide for themselves). Fortunately, that congregation is very open to a variety of experiences and perspectives (even in worship!), and it didn't seem to be anything other than a joyful moment for everyone.

Anyway, it turned out that even though it didn't matter to Tim whether water got sprinkled on the little baby or not, the *godparents* part was important to him, because those relationships have been special to him throughout his life. So, we had an infant dedication with godparents -- we chose the alliterative pairing of Jessica and Jesse (Tim's only and my oldest sibling).

Okay, yes, I realize the title says *Maya's* dedication... but you know me, I had to go into the theological background at least a little bit... and it turns out this is one of those "second child" stories, too. Because Quinn's dedication was an Event. We planned it so that Tim's parents and sister (who was the godmother, after all!) could make the cross-country trip to be there, we borrowed a fancy christening gown (which made the cross-country trip with the grandparents), and nearly ALL my in-town relatives came. Which was a lot.

Well, sometime during the first, California, half of our whirlwind, bi-coastal baby tour introducing Maya to her family and friends, I realized something. While still in California, we had developed the following vague travel-planning guidelines: 1) After we get home after this, please let's stay in Nicaragua for a good long while 2) Let's come back to California next time we visit the U.S. and 3) maybe Christmas in the Washington, DC area in 2012? That meant that AFTER the baby-tour visit, it would be more than a year until we were back in the DC area, in the congregation where we are members (University Christian, the location of not only my baptism, but also our wedding and my ordination). And, since it's called "infant" dedication, it might be a good idea to take advantage of visiting our home church while the kid is still an infant.

So, instead of the big family event that Quinn's dedication was, it was planned totally at the last minute. The Dress was handed off to us the day before we left Fresno, just in case (we still hadn't totally decided/ figured out if we could even make it happen). We called the church to see if we could still get it into the bulletin at the last minute. We asked the godparents at the last minute (and in one case, after the fact!). My sister said "what would you have done if I hadn't been able to make it to church?" Little did she know... we had no Plan B! We barely had a Plan A. My older brother's family already had other plans. And then, my dad had a (mild!) heart attack two days before, so it wasn't just the California grandparents who missed it -- all three of her grandparents got a copy of the church bulletin in the mail. Fortunately, my aunt and uncle and even some cousins who were in town for Thanksgiving did come and help fill in a couple "family rows" near the front.

But, I was really happy that it worked out. It felt good to present Maya to our church family in that formal way.
Gloria, the acting senior pastor, talked about children and the raising of them in faith, and asked us to make some commitments. She then took Maya and walked her down the aisle, presenting her to the congregation.
And then, when she came back up front to our assembled family and handed Maya back to me she took Quinn from Tim's arms, carried her out and presented her as well.
I loved the way that took what could have been a tough moment for Quinn (of little-sister-getting-the-spotlight) and included her in the blessing of the moment.

We decided to think outside the box a little when choosing godparents.
Tim's "honorary sister" Elisabeth is her godmother,
my younger brother Eric is the godfather, and my sister Amy (a pagan who goes to a UU church) is the goddessmother. :)
The one thing that we learned from Quinn's dedication and did *better* the second time was to get more photos of Maya in the dress.

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22 January 2012

Maya's Money Shot

My most faithful readers may recall a post from Quinn's babyhood with a stunning photo that could be used to sell baby products (or at the very least, picture frames).

Well, being a second child myself, I was determined to try to capture a similarly enchanting photo of my equally gorgeous younger daughter at this age (also known as "the age when they really start to look cute").

So, here it is:


Quinn, born in winter in Washington, DC, sported a knit hat. Maya, born in Nicaragua in a tropical climate, is relaxing in the hammock.

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15 December 2011

4 for 4

How many birthday parties does a four year old girl need? Well, if you're Quinn, it turns out the answer is: four.

To Quinn, and perhaps to many other children, the essential element of a birthday party is - cake! Here is the cake from her birthday party at school at the end of October, right before we left Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan birthday parties are also pretty much required to have a piñata. Quinn is whacking away at it.

Maya came to the party, too!

The second fourth birthday party was at Quinn's grandparents' house in Fresno, less than a week before her actual birthday, and just a few days before the end of our time in California. It also featured:

a cake ( a *strawberry* cake -- Quinn was a little fixated on that this year)...


and friends!

On Quinn's actual birthday, in the middle of the week, we were staying with my Aunt Leslie in Maryland, and she was kind enough to make the birthday girl a strawberry cake. The frosting was just pink as opposed to artificial strawberry flavor. I felt it was a decided improvement, and Quinn did not know the difference.
I did not get any photos of the cake, but here is Quinn with the brown-haired, blue-eyed American Girl doll that Aunt Leslie gave her.

And, for the fourth and final party, Quinn's Aunt Holly took the strawberry theme and ran with it:

These cupcakes were just pink with a few real strawberries on top, and again, Quinn did not seem to know the difference.
She loved celebrating with her cousins.

Having been so thoroughly feted, we had to warn her that she would not be getting nearly as many presents for Christmas!

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