It's official. Numbers has kicked my tush. Not the cute CBS show on Fridays but the Old Testament book. I had been doing so well with my daily Bible study and prayer time, and I was relishing that time spent with God. I had been doing so well with my quest to read the Bible through. And then, I arrived at Numbers. And I've been floundering there for a month of Sundays.
I just can't seem to reconcile the harsh God I see depicted in Numbers with the generous and grace-giving God of the New Testament. I can't seem to muster up the interest needed to stay with the endless litanies of rules and rituals. I just can't seem... to conquer Numbers.
And yet, I can't let it beat me or I won't be able to keep going, and it's really important to me that I keep going, not only so that I can accomplish this goal but so I can find in Scripture the loving, gentle God I experience in my heart on a daily basis.
There are things in life that I find dear, that give me warm fuzzies, that remind me that I am loved. I have a marriage rock in my car that reminds me of the love that Mike and I have, of the covenant we made with God and one another on the day we married, and of the friends who supported us then and now.
I have a painting on my living room wall of a big fish. Aleece painted it on fabric, and it is beautiful. It is large and passionate and somehow tender all at the same time. There is something so reassuring to come up to our home on a dark evening to see the blinds open and the lights blazing... and a big fish swimming toward me on our big red wall.
In these things, I find a gentle comfort that sustains me through so many difficult times. The voice of a friend on the phone, a familiar address in my email inbox, an encouraging word, a small hand in mine. God gives me comfort in these trying days in gentle and loving ways (surely if I read far enough past Numbers, I'll find this God I adore in these Scriptures).
When I make it through my busy day - full of meals and snacks and kids and homework and work and laundry and projects and beading and reading and picking up and dishes and television and... on and on - and I fall exhausted into bed, the lights go out and the frustrations and fears and all go on in my head full blast. And then I feel Mike's warm body next to me, and his presence and gentleness calm my soul. And I say an evening prayer to the God who loves me enough to give me His comfort in all of the ways that I need it.
And just before I drift off to sleep, lulled by the clicking of the baby monitor and the breathing of my gentle husband, I resolve to try Numbers again tomorrow.
And our dear friend, Josh, is arranging for me to have a trunk show with some people he works with, so I can begin selling some pieces and doing more custom jewelry design work. I am delighted. And completely wigged out.
If all I had to do was make fun jewelry, I'd be good. But I think if I want to look at this as more than a momentary distraction, then I need to make sure it's all set up properly (from knowing the tax rules to setting up a pricing chart). And I don't do the business stuff well. It overwhelms and intimidates me... enough that I've considered telling Josh not to bother.
But my Mike has offered to help with the stuff that I'm not comfortable doing myself (partly because he's a sweet man and partly because he's tired of me saying everything's about him & nothing's about me), and Josh has these great ideas, and Aleece is going to design the paperwork things for me.
So I feel more comfortable with embarking upon something new. But I don't have a name yet. I used CreatedByChel for my Etsy shop, but I don't know that I want that for a business name. But I don't know at all what to call this new venture of mine.
Update... later today... I was thinking that Created By Chel was just too simple, a lazy way to go, and Josh emailed with this lovely explaination of why it might be just perfect. I'm so thankful for all of the people around me who are supporting me as I try something new.
As I've said before, new isn't so much something I try (outside of food and fashion), so this is a big step for me, and I'm quite sure I couldn't do it without all of these amazing people around me.
Through these days, I have moved closer and closer to God, knowing without question that He was the one guiding our path. Our minister said the other day that he had never counseled with a child Griff's age who had as good an understanding of faith and trust as Griff has. I'm quite sure that's in part because God gave me such a smooth pathway to faith and trust myself. Those are not concepts I have trouble accepting...instead, I find them comforting and encouraging (though I will quickly admit that I have challenges in other areas of my spiritual walk).
I came across a story yesterday about a man we know very casually. He was referring to a particular time of stress in his life, and he told about how that period of time and the people involved in it have led him to become an agnostic, quite possibly an aetheist.
I admit that I don't understand that. My faith in God has been built up by this situation, and my complete belief that He has good in store for me - for all of us! - is part of what keeps me moving through this. If there is any good in my reactions or responses, if there is any kindness in me toward others involved in this, if there is any positive example given through me, it is only because I believe in God's faithfulness without reserve.
My trust in other Christians, however, has suffered immeasurably. The innocence I carried with me - for much longer than one would expect - regarding Christians exists no more. I know now from very real experience that, even as Christians, we are all still fallen human beings who need God's grace and leadership in our lives each and every moment of every day. We struggle against the fleshly things that call to us... power, prestige, vanity, and so many others ... and while some win those struggles (by leaning into God's protective frame), others do not.
And those that succumb to the calls of man rather than to the calls of Christ give Christians a bad name, I think. I've learned that it takes time to know one another as Christians, just as I believe it takes time to know new friends. As such, it takes time to discern those Christians who are really walking with God as opposed to those who are merely giving the outward impression of taking that journey.
Despite the toll this time is taking on me physically and emotionally, I am thankful for this struggle we are living through because I know that God is showing me much in these days. I'm learning that I need to know for myself what God's Word says & what I believe about it. I'm learning that I cannot assume people will do the right thing simply because they are Christians or because it is the right thing. I am learning that committed Christian friends are priceless.
I'm learning... and that is a gift that I believe God is giving me in this time.
I told her I didn't know. I really do enjoy what I do now, but I'm feeling more and more as if I'm ready for a change. I've done this one thing for years and years now, and while I love it and am quite good at it, I wonder if maybe I'm coming upon the time in my life when something different would be good for me.
As I've thought about her question, I keep coming back to this beading hobby of mine. I find myself energized by it, intrigued and challenged by it. And those are good things. I've never thought of myself as creative, but maybe I have more creativity than I give myself credit for (most likely that's true about lots of things for me). I think, in all honesty, my answer to that question would be that I want to do something with making jewelry.
Now, I have no idea how (or if) that will come about, but it's a fun dream for the moment. I'm still trying to figure out how to sell my jewelry, as the Etsy site hasn't sold anything (though with more than 10,000 jewelry items for sale, it's not surprising I haven't been able to compete with the sheer volume of items).
Someone suggested that I have a jewelry trunk show in my home, which sounds like a good idea but also sounds a little like asking my friends to buy stuff, which I'm not comfortable with doing. I have, however, talked with a few men friends and offered to make jewelry for their wives for Valentine's Day, and they've been very receptive to the idea (one said it was a 'ministry' but only because it got him out of shopping).
For now, I'll assume that small steps are good things, and that if God has something more creative in store for me professionally, that He'll show me that when the time is right.
It was a touching experience to have those church family members who have known him all his life come by and greet him as a new brother in Christ.
Our minister spoke in his message of faith, hope, and love, emphasizing that the greatest of the three is love. But for me, his words of hope were most touching. Here are my favorites ...
Hope is the future tense of faith.Right now, hope seems to be so very important, not only to my thoughts about all of our futures but about the daily motions of our lives.
Hope is not optimism of wishful thinking. It is grounded in the Resurrection.
Hope is a vital part of the Gospel promise.
Hope gives brightness and meaning.
101 Things to do in 1001 Days, #2 on my list was to read 100 books. I have begun using Library Thing to keep a record of the books I've read. The widget in the bottom left corner will keep everyone posted on my choices and progress.
essays by Blake Bailey, biographer and author of "A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates," on Slate. Mr. Bailey and his wife and young daughter had lived in New Orleans a mere two months when lost everything thanks to Katrina's ravaging of that city.
These are heartbreaking personal stories of the journey he and his little family are taking to rebuild their lives. They are encouraging narratives of the generosity of those around us.
And they are a stark reminder that New Orleans is nowhere near ready to be forgotten. Months later, there are still families displaced and suffering. There are still people lost and unsure. There are still homes lost and no insurance money coming to help replace them. There are needs that won't be met by Mayor Nagin making stupid statements or by signing a petition to remove Gov. Blanco from office.
I honestly don't know how to help all of those affected by Katrina - even those friends of ours who are dealing with displacement and moldy houses - except to pray. And so I'll pray.
I have TMJ and so my visit to the dentist yesterday made last night and today uncomfortable. My never-ending headache reminds me that I think the makers of Advil should introduce an Advil patch that I could just wear constantly.
And one thing or another has left me feeling out-of-sorts and a little lost. I sometimes feel a little like I've spent the majority of my married life - and certainly the majority of our most recent years - waiting for Mike for one thing or another, and I wonder when it will be my time to be waited on. And those are pretty ugly thoughts, so I thought today would be the perfect day to post the list of answered prayers I've been working on for my 101 list.
If I can't change the circumstances around me (and some days I feel embarassingly like I can't change my initial reactions to them), then I can at least focus my attention to the work God is doing around me and take hope in that.
MzEllen & Co. Go visit.
Some days, the responsibility of parenting feels daunting. The knowledge that we are our children's primary spiritual leaders and guides is overwhelming some days, especially when I'm still building my spiritual life.
But then, days like yesterday remind me that while my responsibility (mine and Mike's, actually) is vast, the ultimate responsibility for our children's spiritual health lies with God himself. He is using us, to be sure, but He is in control and is able with or without us.
I've been reading Carla Barnhill's book, "The Myth of the Perfect Mother," and she says more than once that she takes comfort in knowing that God is able to call her children to Himself regardless of what she does right or wrong, and I have loved that idea.
In church yesterday morning, Griff leaned over to me during the first song to whisper to me that he wanted to talk to me about something after church. I whispered back, "fine," and kept singing. During the next song, he whispered to me that maybe he'd tell me now. I whispered back the same, "fine." And thus began our session of whispering through the service.
Ordinarily, I would discourage the whispering. But what he wanted to tell me was that he wanted to ask Jesus into his heart and be baptized. And I thought that was more important than not whispering.
After church, Mike attended his first deacon's meeting (I'm very proud of him) before coming home to talk with me and Griff during Eliza's nap. We read lots of Scriptures and answered and asked questions, and Griff said the sweetest little prayer asking Jesus into his heart.
It was a moment (an afternoon of moments, really) that was unspeakably joyful. Our minister's sermon yesterday used the Scripture passage 1 Corinthians 13, and Griff listened as the minister spoke of love.
"And these three remain: faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13.Out of the blue (it seemed to me at the time), Griff felt God and moved toward him. And I see that God can do anything in His time, and that He is using me and Mike in the daily interactions with Griff that show our son that God is Lord in our lives.
In that, I can find no greater hope.
Throughout our marriage, Mike and I have always lived close enough to New Orleans for that to be an easy (and always fun) weekend trip for us. I've got very special memories of being in New Orleans with him.
When Katrina hit, we had friends living in New Orleans and the surrounding areas (who were all fine, thankfully, though all suffered damages to their homes). With Mike being a teacher, we've watched with interest how the schools in the New Orleans area would fare.
An article I read today tells that Tulane returned 90 percent of their student body this week when registration and orientation for the spring semester began. Eighty percent of their freshmen returned. That is an amazing testament to the school and to the students (and their families) and to the City of New Orleans.
I hope this is a foretelling of positive things to come.
The beading is my latest obsession, and I really do enjoy it on several levels. I need the cathartic movement of my hands on the beads and wire. I never get to bead when the kids are awake, so this has become a soothing evening ritual for me, something to occupy my hands and my head in different ways than those I'm accustomed to during the work day or the evening with the kids.
I enjoy moving the colors and textures around, finding the beads that work for me. And I'm always surprised when a piece is finished and is beautiful. It's as if something outside (or way deep inside) of me guides my hands to the finished product.
Last night, I was telling Mike that this beading is the first thing I've done in a long time that was just about me... I don't need Mike to help, I don't involve the kids. It's just me. And I'd really like to sell some of my pieces at my Etsy shop so that I could feel like I had an endeavor that was successful.
But even if I never sell a single piece, this has been a refreshing thing for me to to. I didn't believe I could, but I tried anyway, and it filled my soul in ways that I needed this last year.
I've shopped the bead store here in town (and we're getting a second tomorrow!) as well as several online stores. My favorite is Auntie's Beads because they've got a good selection & quick delivery (I want most everything right now, so quick delivery is a plus in my book!).
During the Christmas holidays, I got an email from them with Christmas wishes and a link to the owner's blog. I went to the Bead Man blog and discovered that he's a Christian. And for me, that was a neat thing.
One of the little blessings that I'm searching for in my days.
But sometimes, with some work and the aforementioned cheerleading, I find something that clicks with me for whatever reason. This beading hobby seems to have done that. I rarely have a real idea of what I want a piece to look like, and so I am always surprised at the end result. It's always a delight to look at a finished piece and find it pleasing!
I've made and given jewelry as gifts for this last year, and during the holidays, I made several pieces for friends to give as gifts. I charged these dear folks only for the cost of the materials, something I will do as long as anyone is interested.
But in a big leap of faith, I'm going to try to sell some of my jewelry. To strangers! Number 10 on my 101 Things List is to sell my hand-made jewelry. And so this weekend, I took that step forward and I listed some of my jewelry on Etsy.
Now, that doesn't actually let me cross #10 off my list as I haven't sold anything yet. And I've only got a few pieces listed thus far, but it's a start. And we'll see what happens. And for now, I'm proud of myself (and thankful for my constant cheerleaders!) for taking this step.
So, anyone who would like to see what I'm making, my Esty shop - Created By Chel - is open. I have pictures of some of my other pieces in my flickr account.
I'll update here if I ever sell anything... wouldn't that be groovy?!
We all know people like that. When they get sick or suffer loss, people say, 'now, we'll have to work to help her because she just won't ask for help.' Not me. I'm asking...begging...whatever it takes.
Through a very unfortunate series of events, Eliza dislocated her elbow yesterday afternoon, and as I left the pediatrician's office (after a series of x-rays and a painful examination) and headed for the ER (after hours, you know... had to report there for more x-rays and to await an orthopeadic doctor), I called Mandy, sobbing.
I'm quite sure she wasn't able to understand much of my conversation other than 'Eliza...ER' and 'Josh...Griff.' But that, combined with me and Eliza both crying was enough. And she called Josh who went to our house when he got off work to stay with Griff, so Mike could come be with me and Eliza.
And I'm so grateful for family like them. There's no shared blood in our veins, but there's family in our hearts. I never hesitated to call them to lay out what I needed, knowing they would make it happen.
And Eliza bopped into our house feeling great after the doc popped her elbow back into place (the speed of her pain relief was astounding). And she said 'hey' to Mandy and Josh, never wondering why they were at her house. They just were. And that's a beautiful thing (unlike the insurance bill I'll owe on the whole ordeal).
In the midst of difficult times, I'm grateful to God most of all for sending people to me who comfort and support me, who make me laugh and assure me that it's okay to cry. I am thankful for people two doors down and for people in other cities and states who love and care for me and mine. God is good.
And today, if I were to share all of this with my mama, she'd tell me to pray about it, which I am already doing fervently.
There are possible changes on our horizon, and I am remarkably content to let the Lord take the lead in them. I am comfortable with His timing and His plans for our lives. I never doubt that He has a purpose for us and that if we are willing, He will use us for His good. (And that is my greatest desire.)
But the here and now... ah, how sometimes that feels different. I've written before about how I believe that we need more than a simple faith in Christ to get through some of life's most difficult challenges. We need more than someone encouraging us to pray or reminding us that God has plans for us.
We need physical and emotional support from those closest to us. And my goodness, how I need that now. I feel so broken and weak and overwhelmed and unstable and uneasy and needy (ugh, one of the things I hate to be most) and sad. And this isn't an easy place for me to be, but I feel less and less able to avoid this place.
And so I'm adjusting my expectations of myself, giving myself the permission and ability to move around in this uneasy place in life in ways that feel safe and secure. And I am asking those friends dearest to me to pray for me - for us - as we go through this. And I am thankful when someone says, 'let me help.'
Today is Epiphany, the Twelfth Night, and the beginning of the Mardi Gras season. According to tradition, this was the time when the gift-bearing Magi visited the baby Jesus.
Before moving here, I had no knowledge of any of these things. One of the things I enjoy about living here is the emphasis on the celebrations of faith.
I love that our Protestant church celebrates not just Christmas but the Advent season. While we do not have activities surrounding Epiphany or the Mardi Gras season in general (though the children do have a float in the local annual Children's Mardi Gras parade, much to the objections of some), we do acknowledge Ash Wednesday and the Lenton season leading up to Easter.
The ceremony and the ritual of some of these observations helps me to focus my faith, and I like that. It's good for me to remember that the big events like Christmas and Easter had lots of preliminaries leading up to them. I'll give something up for Lent (and I'll gripe about it for weeks... last year's chocolate and chips fast gave way to my Hot Tamales obsession), and that desire for something I swore I wouldn't have will remind me of how much more Christ gave up for me. And sometimes, reminders are good things.
Sometimes, they're just fun things... like the king cake we'll enjoy this weekend. Yum. And many times, they're valuable teaching experiences for us and Griffin. We try really hard to use these times as ways to show Griff our Lord in ways that he can understand.
And so, this week, we've talked some about Epiphany, and we'll enjoy our king cake and talk about the traditions surrounding it, and we'll spend the Lento season talking about the journey Christ took to the cross. And I'll pray that God will use this time and these discussions to touch not only Griff's heart but ours as well.
But that's ideal, and reality is rarely ideal, I find. The truth of the matter is that some days, the winds of difficulty knock me to the ground. And there are lots of days when I manage to keep standing but only with great effort and certainly not with much calm.
In my ideal image, there is this buffer zone of still air around me, protecting me from the raging winds. But in this reality, my hair's all messy from the wind whipping around me. Much as I'd like to think that we can avoid it, the truth of the matter - for my life at least - is that the external situations we deal with do, indeed, affect who I am.
Mike's been working on his doctorate for a very long time. Griff was in diapers and barely walking when Mike began his coursework, and now Griff is a second-grader. Mike and I have both been changed by this work of his, and our marriage has changed because of it, as well. Griff has been shaped by it. This is all he knows.
At dinner last night, we were doing our best and worst, and Mike talked about how he was coming along on the changes to his dissertation. I leaned over and asked Griff if he thought Mike would ever finish his degree, and Griff took a minute to think before answering.
"No, I don't think so," he said. "When he told us last time that he was going to be finished, I thought he would. But then he didn't, and now I don't."
We all kinda laughed, but I think his little muddled sentence sums up how this has affected us all. This little boy has been living this with us for so long that he's experienced the setbacks and the disallusionment of having something not happen at the right time. And now he's cynical. Seven-year-old cynicism is funny, but only to a point.
I want to be supportive of Mike and this never-ending endeavor, but, like Griff, I've been promised one time too often that this was it. And now, I'm not at all sure that I don't agree with Griff in his assessment of the situation. I've had a graduation card for Mike tucked away in a folder for more than two years now, having been told that I'd need it way back when.
I know that Griff and I sometimes feel battered and left alone by all of this work Mike's been doing for so long, but I also know that some days we do get that lovely little buffer of calm air separating us from the stormy winds. Poor Mike's out the being buffeted around in the storm all the time.
If I told the truth about it, I would have to say that I honestly can't imagine a life without this, simply because it has been our life for so long. And Griff and Eliza have never known a life other than this. When I was pregnant with Eliza, I cried for Griffin. Mike will be finished with this doctoral pursuit (in theory) by the time Eliza develops the cognitive ability to remember it. So she'll always have a daddy who had time for her. But my Griffin will always remember Mike being gone and Mike having to say 'no' so he could work.
And I flip back and forth between being sad for all of us and hopeful for Mike to finish. And some days, rather than going with one of those, I settle instead into angry... at how this has been and at how I wish it were over. (Those are usually the days when the winds knock me to the ground.)
One of the things I try to do is to look for God in all things, to look for His blessings where I wouldn't expect to find them. And the blessings I find in this are... my strong relationship with Griff, which might not be the same if we hadn't spent so much time alone together... my faith in a Heavenly Father who protects me even when I very much act like I don't deserve protecting... and a marriage that has withstood the winds of change and time and difficulty.
Some days, in both my ideal and real images, I'm not standing alone in the eye of the storm... Mike stands with me, holding my hand.
I made a decision this morning to stop participating in the little girls' mission group at church. I've been helping to lead the group for a year now, and while I love working with the girls, there is a lot about volunteering with this group that stresses me. I've considered quitting before - tried once! - but haven't because I do so enjoy the girls. But we've got other things going on in our family right now, and this seemed like the right time. There are new workers beginning tonight, and my departure won't leave a gap in the quality of the program presented to the girls. I'm sad about it, but I know that this is the right thing to do for my family right now. I think that my time is going to be best spent with them.
This way, we can take Griff to the boys' mission group on the nights that work for us, and we can stay home on those nights when homework is heavier or this or that. And tonight, we'll stay home and enjoy National Spaghetti Day with big plates of yummy pasta.
As I was feeling sad and stressed, a friend sent me an instant message to give me wonderful news. It's secret news for now, and I am humbly and deeply honored that she trusts me enough to share this with me. God has given me precious friends with whom I journey through this life. It is a priviledge.
Aleece suggested several months ago that she might do the 101 Things in 1001 Days rather than setting resolutions this year, and I've been intrigued by the idea. I like planning, but I've not been very good about setting personal goals, and this would be a super way to plan, set goals, and envision a future for myself and my family.
I know, though, that my plans and my goals are nothing compared to God's, so I am entering this with the full knowledge that when my plans are disturbed by God's plans, it is a good thing and that when my goals are not God's goals, they need to be changed. One of the things I like best about the description of this 101 Things is that we should all welcome failure for the lessons it can teach us. I like that.
If I begin today, my 1001 days would be completed on September 30, 2008, two days after Mike's 37th birthday. It's a Tuesday, which is interesting because Tuesdays are some of my very favorite days.
Thus far, I've managed to list about six of my 101 things - it's much harder than I would have expected. But rather than waiting to finish the entire list, I think I'll go ahead and post what I have (maybe later today or tomorrow) and then add to it as I consider other goals.
Maybe finishing the list could be one of my goals. :) I think that brings my total up to 7!