Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Can't quite explain it

Today I spent the afternoon delivering poinsettias to the shut in's at one of my congregations. This is something I had been looking forward to and enjoyed it so much. They really have wonderful stories to tell and tremendous wisdom to share.

What was odd is that as I went along, this burning sensation started under my nose and on my left eyelid. It got worse and worse and now as I sit here it is driving me insane!!!!

I'm assuming I may have an allergy to poinsettias? Is that possible and would these be "normal" symptoms? I'm totally baffled...

Please, share your thoughts and home remedies. At this point, i'll try anything!!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Do I follow you?

Hello friends,

If you check on this blog, let me know by clicking on the "follow me" section to the right. That way I can check out your blog and get to know you better. It's always nice to know who's checking on on my infrequent (though may be more frequent posts)!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving Sermon

It has been quite a while since I posted a sermon. I am thinking I may need to be more intentional about sharing them with you! Here is the sermon I will be preaching tonight at the community Thanksgiving service. I think it still needs some tweaking, but here you go!

Two years ago, our family celebrated a miracle. It was a thanksgiving unlike any we had or probably will ever experience again. We celebrated a day which we were told would never happen. Statistics showed we had a mere 10% chance of ever reaching it. It was a miracle; he is a miracle.

Two years, six months, and 1 week ago, my twin nephews were born. They arrived 15 weeks, 4 days early and were around 1lb 5 oz each. Doctors shared over and over again with their parents the grim statistics. If Jacob and Asher did survive, according to some medical professionals, their lives would be miserable and without quality. They would face complication after complication, without the ability to function in normal society. That was the language used by the doctors; their parents let it go in one ear and out the other.

From the moment they were born, we celebrated the miracle of their lives. We prayed, we journaled their milestones and the heartaches on their online journal. We knew the boys were God’s creation and desired to share their story with the world. As Jacob’s kidney function began to cease, we prayed. We prayed and we asked others to do the same. We cried when his urine output stopped, we rejoiced when it would start again. On June 29th of that year, we weeped as this 7 week 2 day old little boy took his last breaths. And we remembered with pride the life that was lived, and the literally thousands of people throughout the world touched by his story.

Asher continued to battle hard for his life. On the day of Jacob’s funeral he almost died. We were told we were just going in circles and he wouldn’t live. And yet, he continued to fight. At 5 months Asher came off the ventilator for the first time. At 5 ½ months he went onto nasal cannula. And, at 6 months 1week old, little Asher came home with an oxygen tank, ostomy bag, and his saturation monitor. It was a lot of equipment for such a tiny person; yet he was home. Two years later, we are still celebrating and giving thanks to God for this incredible miracle that is Asher.

This Sunday evening, we hear the story of the ten lepers. It is a story which demonstrates to us God’s unyielding grace and mercy towards all people. In the time in which this was written, an encounter with ten lepers would not have been an unusual site. The difference with this group, however, was one was a foreign, a Samaritan. It was a mixed group, nine being Jews and one being a Gentile.

When Jesus sent the group to the Jewish priests, the Samaritan must have felt Jesus was a bit crazy. The likelihood of him being accepted was slim, and yet he went. In his unyielding desire to be healed from this horrible disease, he went and demonstrated faith. And now he was cleansed; he was healed. Something he had hoped for for so long was now coming to pass. He could now imagine life from a whole new point of view. After being despised and considered unclean for so long, he could see himself having a future. A future filled with hope, a future with work, friends, a family. What else could he do but give thanksgiving to his healer, his savior, his God?

This Samaritan, this social outcast, who had two things going against him as a Gentile and a leper, returned to prostrate himself and praise Jesus. While the other lepers certainly could have been praising God on their way to and from the Temple, the Samaritan is the only one who makes the connection. He connects praising God and thanking Jesus. He saw the human Jesus is the power of God.

Faith is found in the response of Thanksgiving. It is the ability to see what can’t be seen- to believe the unbelievable. Faith is to praise God at the feet of Jesus, to see the power of God at the foot of the cross.

There are many times in our lives where we do not desire to offer our thanks and praise to God. When sweet little Jacob passed from his mother’s arms, it was difficult, nearly impossible, to see the good in his death. While we were thankful to God for the life that had been lived, the heartache and despair clouded any goodness that could be found. Jacob had died, and his mother was left with empty arms.

In both verses 14 and 15 of this text, we hear the word “seeing”. Jesus saw the lepers and in response sent them to the priests. Then, the Samaritan saw that he had been made well. The word “seeing”’ in this context means more than simply physical sight. It means to both recognize the opportunity to be merciful to another, and to recognize that God’s mercy has touched one’s life.

This text calls us to see the opportunities before us. Jesus calls us to recognize those in need of God’s mercy. To surround people like Jacob’s mother with the love and mercy that can only come from the Holy Spirit dwelling in the body of Christ. It calls us out of our comfort to be God’s hands and feet to all people, even those society would label as the unclean.

Jesus also calls us to see God’s mercy in our own lives. In the midst of our sorrow and despair, in the midst of the stressors in our lives and the depression that can cloud our judgment. God is there with us, extending the mercy and healing that only Christ can bring. It is the healing and grace that may not always come in the way we would like it to, but yet it still comes.

Our sweet little Jacob was not healed in the way we desired. We wanted so badly for that amazing little boy to stay with us, to grow up alongside his brother. We wanted to cuddle with him, to hear his little voice, to watch his first steps, to see him grow. Our hearts longed for that miracle. And yet, we know God’s mercy was there. We know Jacob was healed. And so we do thank God. We thank God for the life that was lived, and we thank God for the healing that took place. Hearts are still broken but we know that God is good.

The question for us, on this Thanksgiving celebration, is how do we see Christ’s mercy, and how do we respond? In the midst of the craziness of this world, when do we stop to recognize the love and grace that Jesus has to offer us? What do we do when we see? Truly, gratitude, thanksgiving, is the purest measure of our character and spiritual condition. It is the ability to see beyond ourselves and to recognize Christ living in our midst.

I personally never fully understood the point of Thanksgiving Day. While I understood the story of the pilgrims, why we eat turkey, and so forth, it lacked that spiritual dimension. It wasn’t until two years ago when Asher came home that I understood. I realized that indeed, Thanksgiving is an opportunity for us to intentionally set aside and give thanks and praise to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for having mercy upon us. It is a time for us to acknowledge that while we were still yet sinners, God made us saints through Christ’s death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit is active and alive in this Christian body, and God’s mercy continues to reach out to us in awesome and unexpected ways.

Martin Luther, the German Reformer, shares his thoughts on God’s provision in his explanation of the 1st article of the creed in the small catechism. He states:
I believe that God has created me and all that exists.God has given me and still preserves my body and soulwith all their powers.God provides me with food and clothing, home and family,daily work, and all I need from day to day.God also protects me in time of danger and guards me from every evil.All this God does out of fatherly and divine goodness and mercy,though I do not deserve it.Therefore I surely ought to thank and praise, serve and obey God.This is most certainly true.

This Thanksgiving, we can give thanks and praise to our Lord and Savior, as he is indeed merciful and will continue to provide. While we will continue to face the hardships that come with our journeys through life, God is present, God is merciful, and we will have opportunity after opportunity to give thanks. And for this we can say, thanks be to God. Amen.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My addiction...

Okay, so I know i've been away from this blog for almost a month. I can't believe it has been that long; I guess that comes with the craziness that is a pastor's life!

As I have mentioned before, I have been busily planning the big Disney trip coming up in less than two months (woo hoo)! One of the addictions I built towards the beginning of my planning was the DIS boards (http://www.disboards.com/). This is a great forum site that if you are planning a trip I highly recommend. Lots of great wisdom, pictures, and fun stuff can be found here. It helped me in determining where we would stay and what restaurants to eat at. I have also made many great online friends there.

One of the things many people do is offer up their pre-trip reports. I decided to begin joining in this fun. As I haven't updated you in a while, I thought I might share some of my entries. My report is entitled: "Three Alaskans hit the world...watch out for the glare!":

Part I:
Alright, so i've buckled and have decided to do a pre-trip report. I'm just so excited for the trip, I must do something with my Disney fanatacism, even if no one reads this!

So a little background:

As a child, it was a tradition in our family to drive our little Honda Accord from Seattle (where we lived at the time) on down to California most summers. Over the years, we visited Disneyland about four times. From the second my cute little feet stepped on to Disney property, I was addicted.

In 1994, my mother, two sisters and I packed up our bags and headed for the wild's of Alaska. This ended our Disney trips and we haven't been back since. Total heartbreak...

Fast forward to adulthood... In 2003, I entered my Master's program to become a pastor. This was something I never thought I would do and stepping into this future role was a major commitment. In the midst of my anxiety and fear, I made a promise to myself. "Laura, if you finish this program, you can take yourself and your sisters to Disneyworld." I hung on to this promise throughout my four year program.

In August 2006, I called my sisters and asked them if they would want to go with me to WDW. Of course they both said "yes" but didn't take it too seriously. I wouldn't graduate from Seminary until May 2008, and we wouldn't even be going until January 2009. Yet, I stayed committed and the family kind of chuckled as I began making plans.

So, before I go any further, I shall introduce you to the cast:

Me (Laura): I am a 28 year old newby Lutheran pastor living in Pennsylvania. It has been my dream for many, many years to go to Disneyworld. Life has been a bit chaotic lately with some major transitions and personal struggles. This trip is important to me for so many reasons. Relaxation, connecting with my sisters, being a kid again, seeing the mouse... it doesn't get any better!

Brenda: Brenda is my 31 year old sister. She is an amazing person that I really do look up to. She lives in Alaska and works in pediatric home health. Brenda is overdue for a real vacation and is counting down the days with us. I regularly receive phone calls and emails about things she discovers she wants to do. While Jamie and I aren't totally on board, Brenda is ready for T&T (tower of terror)!!

Jamie: Jamie, our baby sister, is 23 years old. She, like Brenda, is my best friend and confidant. She lives in Seattle at the moment and is a dedicated volunteer at the Children's Hospital. During her most recent visit, she helped me build a trip plan which we will of course share with you. Jamie has held on to the excitement of this trip from my first crazy vision and is counting down the days. Her #1 goal is to ride Dumbo, and she doesn't care if people thinks she looks silly doing so! I must admit, i'm right there with her!

More to come so stay tuned....

Part II: Choosing Time and Location..What to do, what to do!

In the midst of the chaos that comes with senior year, I began some of my planning. I found the DIS about a month into it and became seriously addicted. I mean, really, this site needs a recovery program!!!

I started sorting through all the reviews, articles, websites, etc on where to stay and what a good size trip would be. There is so much info out there it felt very overwhelming at times.

I decided that if we were going to go all the way to Florida, we might as well give ourselves time to relax a bit. I watched packages fluctuate in price to determine when would be best to go and when would be best to attempt purchasing one. After a great deal of discernment, I decided we should go in January for 8 days. This seemed reasonable and enough time to enjoy ourselves. Almost a year later, I went a little nutty and added another day; I just couldn't help myself!

In regards to our resort, it wasn't a difficult decision to stay on property. While I recognize it costs a bit more, the perks were just too much to pass up. Plus I couldn't stand the idea of commuting.

At first, we thought about staying in ASMo (All Star Movies). We wanted something Disneyish and that wouldn't send my pocketbook through the roof. All three of us were excited over the characters throughout and thought it would be for us.

As I read more and more reviews however (thanks DIS), I began looking seriously at the Pop Century. At first I was turned off to it as it didn't seem Disney enough for me. When we looked further into it, I saw how it integrated Disney with Pop culture. I now love the theming at Pop, as do my sisters. We know it isn't the most exciting building, we love the 80's building and have requested it. For us, it really is our decade and we think that's pretty special.

Part III: How in the world am I going to afford this???!!!

So as you can probably guess, 8 years of college does not leave much money in ones pocket. This is one of the many reasons my family felt I was nuts for even considering a 9 day trip for three people. Considering the amount of debt accrued through student loans, there were many more reasonable things I could save my money for. I own very little furniture (a bed and tv stand to be exact), and I could really use some new work clothes and a better running vehicle! There were so many reasons why I shouldn't go.

With all the voices in my head telling me to be smart with my money, one stood out. It was the voice asking me, "what is more important: saving money towards my student loans, or enjoying myself when I have the chance?" There would not be many other times in my life when my loans would be in deferment. There would not be many other opportunities around where my sisters and I would all be free to go during the same period of time. While we are all currently unmarried, eventually we would begin building our families. While I could save, buy some furniture, and make a couple larger payments on my student loans, my family is much more important to me. We have never done a trip together with just the three of us before. I hope and pray we will be able to do it again soon, but we don't know that. I decided to take this opportunity and run with it. I praise God daily for the decision that was made.

Next up, Part IV: Approval, Finals, and some Disney planning in between!