Worship as a Living Sacrifice

Today’s message at church focused on what we should specifically be doing while we wait for Jesus’ return. Our pastor gave us four suggestions: worship, wait, watch, and work. Although the suggestions are clear, I think understanding what it means to worship God sometimes is a little more complex. So I want to spend a little more time trying to understand worship. We should be worshipping God while we are here on earth but what does it mean to worship God? There are many places in the Bible where “worship” is mentioned but today I’m looking at Romans 12 1-2 where Paul writes the following: “Therefore I urge you brothers in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his, good, pleasing, and perfect will.” I love this description of worship—as an act that involves our bodies. In other words, we are called to interact, and therefore worship, God with every part of us, with our entire being. By offering our bodies as “living sacrifices” we have no choice but to respect ourselves and others. In other words, you wouldn’t defile a sacrificial object because then the object would no longer be worth of sacrifice. And because God has created us in his image, we are worthy of sacrifice. I think what this means is that our bodies are worthy to be living sacrifices to God because God created us in his image. Anything he has created is perfect and only sullied by the “patterns of this world.” The world would tell us that our bodies are not worthy to be considered a “living sacrifice” that we can do whatever we want to ourselves (and others) without penalty. I think this passage challenges us to be mindful of something more though—how we treat ourselves does matter. This does not mean that we should engage in self-indulgent behavior, but rather that we should acknowledge that God created us, each of us, so that we could be living sacrifices to him. If we can embrace this truth, then our very existence could be an act of worship.

Finally, this quote reminds us that worshipping God involves all of us, our whole self to show up, be present, and offer ourselves as a living sacrifice:

“Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, body –

to what God is and says and does.” Warren Wiersbe 

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The Labor of Writing

I had a miscarriage on August 8th.  I wrote about it here if you’re interested in reading more about that.

Since then I’ve been struggling with what to write–my writing voice has gone and my inspirations have dried up; it seems I can no longer focus on anything for long enough to write about it.  typewriter-1386501-m

For the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of sitting and thinking about nothing in particular.  Most of my time (when I’m not working, taking care of the kids, etc.) is spent outside, on our back patio, reading the newspaper.  In a mix of frustration, irritation, and empowerment, I deactivated my Facebook page after one particularly insignificant, yet depressing read through of the afternoon’s news feed.

I really couldn’t take anymore pictures of happy, vacationing families and the various gluten-free, local, vegan meals they were eating on their trips.

My vacation this summer involved packing up our entire home at the beach and moving to the desert while eating fast food along the way–all the while waiting for my miscarriage to happen.  And the camera on my phone broke so there was no way for me to take any pictures of that depressing 14 hour drive.

It seems like after a traumatic event or something equally life changing, we are less willing to put up with the petty shit that seems to surround us on a daily basis–especially fed to us through Facebook.  At least this is how I feel.

Saying goodbye to Facebook and writing this post are two steps I’ve taken in the past few days to get myself back on the writing track.  I realize I’ve been living in my head too much these past few weeks and writing is one of the few ways I can find some emotional and intellectual release.  I hope writing does the same for you!

This quote by Bradbury seems especially apropos today (maybe you’ll find some inspiration in it like I did!): Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.

What keeps you motivated to write when you really, really don’t feel like it?

My living, laughing Star

How very softly you tiptoed into our world, almost silently, only a moment you stayed. But what an imprint your footsteps have left upon our hearts.
– Dorothy Ferguson

When I first found out I was pregnant, I contacted my family right away.  I didn’t hesitate.  There was no debate over when we should tell people–we were going to do it now!  I know many people wait until their 2nd trimester to share the good news, but for me, I knew that whatever the outcome, I wanted people to know I was pregnant.

Ten years is a long time to wait for this news and my family and friends were overjoyed!  People gave me gifts for the new baby and in a way, this was like the baby shower I’ve never had.  I was excited, but cautious.

Most women I knew have experienced miscarriages.  And most miscarriages, 80% in fact, occur within the first 12 weeks.  Of course I was nervous about this, who wouldn’t be?  But at my 6w4d ultrasound, we got to see and hear the heartbeat!  I found out that if you see/hear the heartbeat at 6 weeks, you only have a 9.4% chance of miscarriage.  I thought I was in the clear.

So I bought some books about yoga and pregnancy & ayurveda and pregnancy.  I allowed myself to rest when I was tired, eat when I was hungry, and I found myself relaxing into the pregnancy.  I began thinking about baby names, what the baby would look like, how his laugh would sound (I thought the little guy would be a boy).  Would he have my husband’s dimples?  We let our two older, adopted, kids choose a middle name.  They chose STAR.  It was perfect.

“In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night . . . You–only you–will have stars that can laugh!”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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Last week, I had my 7w4d ultrasound and we couldn’t see or hear the heartbeat.  We saw that the embryo had grown and was right on schedule.  The ultrasound machine was acting weird that day, so maybe we just couldn’t find the heartbeat.  Everything else looked fine.  I was feeling fine so we didn’t worry.

Yesterday, I went back for my 8w4d ultrasound and again there was no heartbeat.  There was  no growth.  The embryo measured 7w4d and no longer looked kidney bean shaped.  Things were beginning to fall apart, were beginning to unravel.  I was the first one to say something:  It looks like there’s no heartbeat and no growth.  I was matter-of-fact, non-emotional.  After we wrapped up the appointment, my husband hugged me in the parking lot.  At that point, I’m not sure if I was in shock, but I honestly didn’t feel upset.  What was the point? I asked myself.

I began researching miscarriages:  what to expect and how long I was going to have to wait.  I called my sister, called my mom.  I thought about whether I wanted to do this naturally or with a procedure.

My husband kept asking how I was doing and all I could say was that I was relieved.  I no longer had to worry about this little guy.  I no longer had to worry about the pregnancy, labor, delivery, the 4th trimester.

But last night, I woke up, maybe around 3 and realized that I was no longer carrying our baby; I was carrying a decaying mass of cells.  I felt deeply saddened by this huge loss but resigned myself to this reality–after all, if 10 years of infertility have taught me anything, it’s how little control I have over what’s going on in my body.

So as I wait for my miscarriage, I think about whether or not we’ll try again.  Or if I even want to.  Maybe this was a blessing in disguise–I got to be pregnant for a little while after all.  My body was able to get pregnant.  Maybe this is all I can hope for.

“A miscarriage is a natural and common event. All told, probably more women have lost a child from this world than haven’t. Most don’t mention it, and they go on from day to day as if it hadn’t happened, so people imagine a woman in this situation never really knew or loved what she had. 

But ask her sometime: how old would your child be now? And she’ll know.”

Barbara Kingsolver

The fallout of infertility

“I found that each time a test was negative, it stopped the dreaming and hoping for a while. Taking the test was a way of puncturing the balloons of hope, because if I didn’t, they would lift and lift without any evidence, and their falling back down every month was too painful. Essentially, I took all these tests to keep myself from hoping, because the hoping was breaking my heart.”
― Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table, with Recipes

 

If I’m being totally honest, I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.

You see, several weeks ago I found out that I was pregnant.  Am pregnant.  After 10 years of waiting, hoping, praying, and finally believing that it would never happen, it did:  a big pregnant sign on a little test.   The balloon of hope was finally lifting!

My little balloon of hope!

My little balloon of hope!

But after years of living with infertility, I think I have post-traumatic stress disorder.  Okay, maybe not PTSD, but I definitely am experiencing a range of emotions and reactions to the pregnancy. Most people will say, Those are the hormones talking.  But I know that there’s more to it than that for me.  The years of waiting and hoping and questioning my body’s ability to do what seems to come so easily for so many women has deeply affected me.

Quite frankly, I’m tired of the emotional roller coaster that infertility has taken me on.  Each month thinking THIS has got to be the month! We’ve timed everything perfectly. Each month realizing that no matter what we did, the outcome was still the same: no pregnancy.  Another deflated, punctured balloon to add to the pile.

Too many deflated balloons.

Too many deflated balloons.

I can’t really get excited about the pregnancy yet–even saying that I’m pregnant seems fake.  After all these years of I’m not pregnant again this month, I just got used to identifying as someone who would never be pregnant.  So now that I am pregnant,  I am preparing myself for the possibility that the pregnancy might not be viable.  That I really am incompetent at this pregnancy thing; that my body can’t hold on to a pregnancy.

I am angry at infertility for robbing me of the joy I thought I would feel when I finally got pregnant.  I am angry that this one little balloon of hope has to try and rise with so much weight, with so much baggage.

 

 

 

Read to me! 5 Reasons Why We Should Read Aloud in the College Classroom

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A month or so ago, I asked my university students if they had been read to as children.  Nearly 75% of them said no.

I asked them this because sometimes I have students read aloud in class and I’ve noticed that most of them read with little to no inflection; with little to no awareness of the ways punctuation moves, pauses, or stops a sentence.

Many of them translate this lack of awareness to their own writing–often with run on sentences, awkward sentences, incomplete sentences, and general disorganization.  Because they have had minimal exposure to good writing and because they haven’t heard good writing read aloud, they have very little to draw from when they try to write college level papers.

Recently, one of my colleagues criticized another colleague for reading aloud in his class– my colleague thought it was a waste of time in a college classroom.

Is reading aloud a waste? Is doing it a risk?

To answer my questions (and maybe yours too), I found the following list from an article about reading aloud to children, but from my experience, we could also apply this to our college students as well:

1. To provide enjoyment

I often ask students what their favorite book was as a child and many of them don’t have one.  As a bibliophile, my heart hurts when I hear this.

I remember going to a sleep over at a friend’s house, snuggling next to my friend’s mom, and having her read fairy tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

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I can also remember spending long summer days laying on the couch (or outside on the grass) reading Sweet Valley High, Encyclopedia Brown, Jelly and the Spaceboat, The Girl With the Silver Eyes, The Mystery at Peacock Palace, Behind the Attic Wall, any Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary book.

My own children, ages 7 and 10, eagerly await Saturday morning when we go to the library to pick out books for the week.  They have been reading voraciously on their for years and we read to them every night.  They bring books on vacation and long car rides–they still love snuggling on the couch next to my husband for their nightly story.

 

2. To show the connections between speech and print

I have often told my writing students that their writing sounds just like they talk: disjointed with very little thread tying the ideas together.  They usually laugh and agree.  If they can hear how an effective writer connects ideas between and within sentences together, they will be more likely to do so in their own writing.

3. To increase attention span

We all know about the effects that texting and tweeting are having on our attention spans as this article from USATODAY reminds us: kids (college ones too) expect to be constantly entertained and are quickly distracted by their surroundings if they aren’t.

When I have my students read aloud in class, they don’t know who will be called on next — in that way, they are forced to pay attention.

I also keep the reading aloud short–generally 3 to 4 paragraphs.  While we read aloud, I also ask students to underline or highlight key words, phrases, or ideas they are curious about.  We’ll discuss these after we read.  At the very least, I know that they’ve read 3 paragraphs from the chapter.  Sometimes, this is a good as it gets!

4. To help non-native English speaking students become more comfortable with the sounds and shapes of English

In my classes, there are anywhere from 50-75% of students who speak another language, in addition to English.  Many students are first generation college students who identify as Latino/a, Mexican, or Hispanic.  I also have international students who have just arrived to the US and have tremendous academic skills but need support with their English.

Reading aloud gives them, and all of us, a chance to hear the cadence of the English language–I point out, as we read, how various forms of punctuation are used and ask students to start noticing word structures, structures like parallelism.  Then I ask them to try it out in their own writing.

5. To develop stronger vocabularies and more sophisticated language structures.

Students want larger vocabularies–they’ve told me this time and time again.  They just don’t know how to do it.  I tell them the best way to learn new words is to read voraciously.  They look at me with a blank stare.  Voraciously, I say, like it means ‘a lot.’ They nod.  I tell them to use one of the key words or phrases from the reading in their own writing.  I say to them use it wrong but at least use it!  We can work on getting it integrated in your paper correctly later.  Take a risk, I tell them.

So when we read aloud in my first-year composition class, I tell myself that it’s not a waste of time, it’s a chance for students to hear their own voices, to slow down, and to absorb the words on the page.

It’s a risk I’m willing to take.

 

 

 

A Complicated Grief

This month marks the two-year “anniversary” of the death of my cousin, Gabe Houser.

Miss you cousin!

Miss you cousin!

The first year after his death, I committed to running one race a month in his memory. You can read more about those races in my other blog.  A blog I didn’t finish writing.  I ran all the races but couldn’t bring myself to close out the blog.  I realize now that I didn’t really want to acknowledge that Gabe had died.

This is what psychologists call “complicated grief.”  Complicated grief takes many forms and you can read more about that here.  Because our family had experienced and was experiencing significant stressors (my grandma became sick and passed away several months after Gabe died), the grieving process for me became “complicated.”

But now, I realize that isn’t all grief “complicated?”

Because of our human nature, our relationships with people are complicated and it seems when people die, we have a hard time seeing them as they were which may add to our grief.

For example, a few years ago, a professor I knew died suddenly.  In life, this professor pissed people off, was passionate about her beliefs, and didn’t seem to care if she offended someone.  She was intelligent and provocative; she was dismissive and pushy; she was inspiring and irritating.  She was complicated, complex, and dynamic.  But the only narrative that I heard about her after her death was how wonderful she was and that nobody would be able to live up to her legacy.  Now, those things were true.  But equally true were the parts of her that made people frustrated, angry, irritated, and confused.

So how can we honor and remember those who have passed?

 * By being open about how complex and confusing they might have been.

 * By being honest about their faults (can we see these faults in a different light now?).

 * By acknowledging their imperfections, we honor them in a deeper way.

I say all of this not to criticize the way people grieve or the way we remember the dead, but maybe as a way for us to begin the healing process.

Healing is not forgetting, it is integrating the death into your life in a way that honors those who have passed; one step in doing that might be to let ourselves remember our dead as complicated, complex, and dynamic individuals.

Have our Hobby Horses Trampled Women’s Rights?

As you may (or may not know), women’s reproductive rights have been in the news again.  This time, the evil crafting and hobby company known as Hobby Lobby has attempted to exert its pro-Christian, pro-patriarchy, pro-male agenda on the rest of us progressive Americans.  How dare you Hobby Lobby!

But wait…is that what really happened?

According to Terry O’Neill the president of the National Organization for Women, the supreme court, an  “activist anti-woman political organization,” deciding in favor of Hobby Lobby was nothing less than “withholding basic health care from women [which] is bigotry plain and simple.

I guess I’m confused about this:  is access to the morning after pill, and the subsequent termination of a pregnancy, considered “basic health care”?  If so, shouldn’t the option to have children also be considered “basic health care”?

The current numbers show that 1 out of 6 couples in North America are dealing with infertility. Other numbers show that 10% of women have difficulty getting pregnant; that’s about 6.1 million American women.

Only about 15 states offer the option of providing any sort of insurance coverage.  And of those 15 states, it’s up to the employer to decide to offer insurance.  This usually means that no fertility coverage is offered.  Unfortunately, the new “affordable care act” does very little to support couples dealing with infertility–virtually nothing has changed: the “affordable care act” will not mandate that insurers cover fertility treatments which amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars–all out of pocket.

To all of you incensed over the supreme court decision and Hobby Lobby’s contraceptive coverage, where is your outrage that virtually NO companies provide women and families with fertility insurance coverage? A truly progressive idea would be to fight for women who want to have children but can’t. If we’re angry that women don’t have a plethora of ways to prevent and terminate pregnancies, we should be just as angry that they aren’t able to get pregnant.

On another note, we should all be concerned about how the media reporting on this case; in many instances, it’s been reported as a contraceptive issue, like this article from NPR: Some Companies Can Refuse to Cover Contraception, Supreme Court Says.  The reality though, is that Hobby Lobby is not refusing to cover contraception, rather refusing to cover the morning after pill on the grounds that they believe the pill is an abortifacient.  As a Washington Examiner writer says: “No matter how many times the press calls this a case about contraception, the truth is that it was about abortion.”

Regardless of where you stand on the abortion issue, we have to learn, as a society, to discuss these contentious and deeply held beliefs rather than resorting to empty platitudes about women’s health, religion, and family planning.