April 2, 2007

Is it Spring yet?

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Today was gorgeous, sunny with blue skies. Unfortunately it was COLD! Well, I guess it's still a good sign that spring is coming. The trees are all in bloom, there is a gorgeous, giant magnolia tree on the way from our house to church that is just awesome. I can't wait to be outside more - more trips to the zoo (we have a membership so we can go however often we want), to different parks, and playgrounds. I am really anxious for Sam to start walking. I am ready! I want him to be able to have more fun at playgrounds and parks.

Things have been crazy here for the last three days. First of all, we attended a new members class at our church on Friday and Saturday, and on Saturday morning we became members! We've been attending for about a month and Sam goes to the nursery. This is a very big change for me, and at the end of this update I'm going to post some things I wrote over the weekend. I invite anyone reading this to read about the little journey I've been on for the past few days. It's something really new for me, and I really want to share my feelings and thoughts with people. Justin is happy to be getting back into the church and starting to figure out what he believes now that he's an adult and his own person, and has been enjoying the sermons, so hopefully it's going to be a really great and supportive place for us. Justin is going to go with Dave and a bunch of men from the church on a mission trip to Mexico in June to build a house for people there!

Saturday after our class, we went straight to Brooke and Dave's for Lorelai's 5th Birthday party! We had a great time. The party was at an indoor playground and Sam had a lot of fun crawling around and playing. He especially liked this big Fisher Price tree they had and he crawled up inside it and made lots of noise and bounced up and down. I will be putting up pictures from the past couple of weeks in the next two days. After the party we were all so tired (we had to get up at 7:15 or so to get to the church by 9) we went home and Justin and Sam slept for almost three hours!

Sunday we went to church and then out to lunch at 'The Rock' with the Whalen-Robinsons for Lorelai's birthday, which was actually on Sunday. Then we came home and got Sam all packed up and Mom took him back up to Bellingham with her! That's right, Sam is at his Grandma's house until Thursday when we're going to go up to Bellingham and stay for a couple of days and try to visit with people and be back here for next weekend. It's a little weird not having him around, but I got SUCH good sleep last night! I got home from book club and we went to bed around 11 or 11:30 and I woke up this morning before 8:30 feeling totally rested! Today I've been playing Viva Pinata, and took a shopping trip with Brooke and went to the movies. There are certainly things I want to get done around the house, but I'm putting it off and I'll probably end up doing it all on Wednesday! For right now we are just hanging out and relaxing, and Justin is trying to rest up to beat this bad cough/cold he's had for almost a week now.

Sam has been doing really great. Every day it seems like he standing up a little better and being a little more confident. He's still struggling with his top tooth coming in, so we made sure to send some Tylenol up to Bellingham with him. He also did something exciting starting on Saturday and started waving! One of the other parents at the party waved at him and he waved back, it was crazy! Since then it's happened a few other times. It's funny, I was telling Brooke when you have a little baby you tell them things and repeat things over and over and you're never really quite sure if they're getting it at all, then one day they just DO IT and you realize that they really are absorbing things!

I also had a crazy moment with Sam on Sunday where we were sitting in the living room near the bookshelves and he likes to stand there and touch the books. But he is pretty good about not pulling them off the shelves. When he goes over, I tell him "Sam, no, those are Mommy's books. Mommy's books stay on the shelf", and he doesn't usually pull them off. I find that in itself pretty amazing, but he really showed that he understood on Sunday. He pulled one of the books all the way off the shelf and I took it and told him no and put it back, and then he was standing in front of the bookshelves touching the books and whining and bopping up and down. It was clear that he REALLY wanted to pull the books down but he knew he couldn't! It was really funny, but at the same time it's sort of a proud moment in a way. He's such a little cutie! He really is a wonderful baby.

Well, I think that's about all that's been going on around here! Since Sam's gone, I should be able to get on and upload pictures in the next few days from our camera. I'll get up pictures from when Maggie visited, random pics of Sam from March, and pictures from Lorelai's birthday party!

A Journey of Faith

Now I'm going to post a rather long addition, which is a couple of things I wrote over this weekend, and at the end, something that I'll add about how I feel right now.

Part One: Written Friday, March 30

Tonight we attended the new members class at the Lake Forest Park Presbyterian Church. We started going to the church every Sunday about three weeks ago and have been enjoying it. I have never had a religious presence in my life in any consistent or significant way. I have never said I believed in God or that I thought that Jesus was the Lord or the savior of all mankind. There have been many times in my life when I was unsure whether I would ever understand religion. I have had friends who were very religious or faithful people, and I looked at them with a little bit of envy and wondered what it would be like to believe in something so fully. Even though I've said that I kept my mind open, and that I was still deciding what I believed, I never truly thought religion or church would ever be a part of my life, let alone one that I might enjoy or that would really mean something to me.

So we decided to go to a new member class because I thought that maybe Justin would want to join and that I would just get a little more acquainted with the church etc. I knew that one of us would have to be a member if we wanted to dedicate Sam, which I think we do want to do. I want to provide Sam with the community and education that the church provides, because I think that way it will be easier for him to decide on his own what he believes when he gets older. Well, it turned out a lot differently than I thought...

When we got there, they gave us each a folder with some papers in it. I was looking through it and came to the sheet that to me signified the reason that I wouldn't be able to become a member of the church. The four questions. The questions they ask you in the Presbyterian church, and the answers you must give:

Who is your Lord and Savior?
Jesus Christ is My Lord and Savior

Do you trust in Him?
I do

Do you intend to be his disciple, to obey his word and to show his love?
I do

Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, giving of yourself in every way, and will you seek the fellowship of the church wherever you may be?
I will

We all introduced ourselves then went through a few exercises. We talked about what was the source of 'warmth' in our lives when we were kids, and most people's answers revolved around their families or mothers. My answer was my mom for sure. She was always there for us and provided us with everything we needed throughout the years. Then we moved to the question of when in your life did God become real to you instead of just being a concept? This was an amazing conversation that involved tears from several people, myself included. Listening to one of the group members talk about feeling like he wasn't alone and not worrying during his wife's c-section, and hearing another group member talk about praying for her daughter in the hospital when her daughter almost died and knowing that her daughter was going to be okay and make it. A few people said that they didn't think they'd really had a moment like that, one person said she felt she'd had prayers answered. I spoke up and said that the closest thing I thought I'd felt was feeling an intense love for my family and that one moment in particular I could think of was when I was pregnant with Sam and had a moment of absolute peace when I thought of the miracle that Sam was for me, thinking I would never be pregnant and then it actually happening and how I couldn't believe it.

It was very emotional in the room, but in a good way. It's wonderful to be in an environment where you feel completely comfortable and that it's okay to be open and to share, and I did feel that way. Then we moved on to the purple paper... We started with the first question - Who is your Lord and Savior? Mike asked us what it meant for Jesus to be your Savior? What is he saving us from? There were various answers. Jesus saves us from death. Jesus saves us from suffering for our sins. Etc. Justin said Jesus saves us from ourselves and from only thinking of ourselves, helping us remember to do things for others and for God. And something started in me... we started to move on to the Lord part, but in the meantime I wrote this down in my notebook: "[What it means if] Jesus is our Savior - Jesus saves us from each other and from pain. By following the things he taught, we save each other through generosity, love, kindness and charity. Jesus' example was love - he loved everyone enough to be crucified, beaten and persecuted because he thought it would make things better for us. If we all loved one another as much as Jesus loved us we could eliminate all pain and suffering. When we love each other we save ourselves." The funny thing is, it's not something someone told me. It's not me spouting off someone else's ideas. It's just my interpretation of what it means for Jesus to be your Savior. I didn't even know I had an opinion about that. Then we moved on to the part about the Lord. Mike asked, what does it mean for Jesus to be your Lord? Well, what is a Lord? Again, people had a few answers, but it's pretty straight forward. The Lord is the boss. What he says goes. I wrote down - "The Lord is our leader. Live by his example always. If you make a mistake it's okay because you will be forgiven as long as you keep trying."

We moved on then to the second question - Do you trust in him? What does it mean to trust in Jesus? I wrote down "Trust Jesus - Trust that it will be okay. Trust that if you are good, you will be rewarded with love and goodness returned to you. Trust that you are on a path and that you make life what you make it. Trust that the things he said made sense and that we have the strength to carry it out." Other people said things like, trust that he has a plan for you. Trust that even when you don't know why, things are happening for a reason. Now, I've always thought the idea that someone has a plan for me is a little ridiculous. But what if that's not what it means? What if it means that Jesus had a plan for everyone, and that plan was for us to be good people, to help people, to love one another, and that by doing that we would be fulfilling his plan? What if it means that he knew the best way to live and that will lead us to the futures we deserve?

The third question - Do you intend to be his disciple, to obey his word and to show his love? Well, that's an easy one. A disciple is like a student. By answering positively to this question, you agree to learn his word, obey it, and to follow his teachings, love one another, show charity to your fellow man. Whether you are a religious person or not I think that if you break it down the golden rule is something that really everyone should follow, no matter what they believe.

The fourth question - Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, giving of yourself in every way, and will you seek the fellowship of the church wherever yo may be? What do you agree to by answering that you will do these things? You agree to be a committed member of the community that is the church. Participate and support your fellow church members. Know that the church will be there for you no matter where you go, that you will always have a place when you are feeling lost and need comfort. Know that you can provide comfort in that way for other people as well.

Those are the base questions you must answer to become a member of the Lake Forest Park Presbyterian Church. And I can honestly say that I might be able to answer them the same way that other people who are members do. My interpretation isn't necessarily exactly the same. Even before tonight, I thought that if I said those words above, that I would just be totally lying. But now I'm not so sure.

I've never thought about any of this in this way before. I never GOT IT. I always thought that religion was something very strict and stiff. I thought that in order to be religious I would have to conform to someone else's ideas of what God is or who Jesus was, or what exactly it means to BELIEVE and to have faith. I didn't get it. Having faith doesn't have to mean that you agree to what someone else thinks exactly. You can have different ideas about the details of what God is or what it means to believe in Jesus and God. The bottom line is still the same! Not everyone has the same exact view, and that's okay. So, I don't believe that God is a dude sitting up in the sky telling us what to do and where to go. Maybe I believe that God is love. God is the love and compassion that lives within people, it's the positive spirit that is available to everyone if they choose to tap into it. God is what makes us love each other, care for each other, want to help each other and give everything for each other. God makes a mother love her baby. God helps us see how to work it out when we have problems with friends and family. God is the spirit of love. I know I might sound like a giant hippie here, but I never got it. I didn't realize that in a church full of 100 people, there could be 100 different ideas and beliefs and that is okay, because it leads to the same place. Loving one another. Doing good in the world. Helping people. I suddenly realize that I CAN have faith. I CAN believe. I CAN belong in a community, in a Church. My interpretations are just as good as anyone else's. I actually have interpretations! What?? I might believe in God. I didn't realize there were different ways to believe in God. I didn't realize that I might be able to do it... that mabye I have actually believed in God for longer than I realized. By the way, I could just go on writing about this... but I would just be repeating myself.

I am freaked out. Not in a bad way. I just can't believe that I never saw this before. I can't believe that I went to church and something clicked. I don't know what to think. I can't believe that it could be that I actually might find religion in my own way. I didn't know it was possible. In the car on the way home, I talked to Justin about what I'd written down and what I was thinking about. I felt emotional, charged and overflowing with a weird kind of wonder at all the thoughts in my head. I talked to Brooke after I got home. I wanted to call her even though it was late because we've had so many conversations about faith and because I know how happy she was when we decided to start going to her church. I told her that I had a moment at the group, and told her about what I'd written and what I'd been thinking about. This is when I came to the above realization that I hadn't gotten it before, and tears were streaming down my face. And I could feel how happy she was for me. I don't even know what is happening to me. It's all very new. I don't even know what it means. I told her that I felt freaked out and didn't know what I was even thinking. She told me she remembers feeling that way too.

Well, it's almost one in the morning now and we have to get up and be at the church at 9:00 for the 2nd part of the class tomorrow morning, and then at the end, the church elders are going to be there to help anyone become a member who wants to do it. And I am thinking about it....

Part 2: Saturday, March 31

Today I joined the Lake Forest Park Presbyterian Church. I am still amazed at the transformation over the past 30 hours. I feel happy. I am the kind of person who sometimes feels passionate or strongly about things at first, but then sometimes it fades. Sometimes things seem exciting to me and like a good idea, but I find that then a few days or weeks later that my opinion has gone back down to normal and I feel like a hypocrite because I spoke words that were strong and sort of have to take them back. Usually I trty to just never mention it again and hope people don't notice. There is a part of me that was scared over the past day that the feelings that I had last night and the things I feel like I've been discovering will leave me. That I will wake up one day and realize that I didn't find anything, that I just got inspired somehow by being at church, or that I was influenced by other people and just went along with what they were saying and it wasn't really my opinion. I have to let go of that. Part of having faith is trusting that the faith is not just going to abandon you.

This morning we went to the second half of our new members class at the church. Today we talked more about what it means to be Presbyterian, what they believe, how the church is structured, the two sacraments that they observe, and what their ideas about the bible are. We got a little history in there, and a little bit of information about the bible, and a tour of the church, which has WAY more staircases than I realized and several rooms I never knew were there! Towards the end of the class the active church Elders came in to meet us and vote on the new membership. At that time, we went around the room again and introduced ourselves, and I was able to share a little bit about the experience and discovery that I had last night. I got teary eyed, even just reading the above that I wrote last night out loud makes me cry a little bit. I even made Mike (the Associate Pastor) cry, but that's not hard because he cries at just about everything if it has to do with God. Then we answered the four questions out loud for the Elders, they motioned to let us join the church, and we all became members. Then we prayed together and I couldn't stop smiling. I could try to describe the feeling of being surrounded by joy and love, but I don't feel all that articulate right now and it really can't fit into words well. I was the only person in the class who has not been baptized, so I will have that done. I see it as the beginning of something new - living a life of faith in goodness and love. I am currently supposed to be baptized by sprinkling at church on the 22nd, but I am actually thinking about changing my mind and being immersion baptized in the lake when it gets warmer out in the summer time. I feel like it might be a powerful experience, and you only get baptized once, so maybe I should really go for it. So, I have a couple of weeks to decide.

After the class several people came up to me and thanked me for sharing and one person even said that I was articulate. I found that particularly funny because as I spoke to the group this morning I actually felt really unarticulate and like I was just blabbing out in a disorganized way. They gave me hugs and made me feel really welcome.

I feel comfortable and confident in my choice of churches. There are several reasons that I am happy with my choice of denominations and of churches. This is the first church where I have felt really, unconditionally welcomed. Where I didn't feel like they were ultimately thinking of having a new member, pulling in someone new, having someone contributing to their church monetarily. In the congregation and also in the small group of the new member class, I feel comfortable in having my own opinions and ideas. I don't feel like I have to conform, that I have to feel the same way as everyone else or have exactly the same ideas that they have. That I feel loved, that people are just happy for me because I have discovered something new, they're just glad I'm there sharing with them in love and faith. This is also a church that is very family oriented. They have a wonderful nursery and a wonderful children's ministry with Sunday School all the way through middle school, then youth groups. They have lots of mission trips for the teens and the adults, they have vacation bible school in the summer and a lot of options for hands on ministry. They believe in worship plus two - growing faith and hands on ministry being the plus two. I don't feel judged. I feel comfortable with Mike, which is important to me because I usually feel somewhat intimidated by that kind of 'authority figure'.

As for the denomination, there are a lot of things I like about Presbyterianism. I like the fact that they believe in family and marriage. I like their views on the Bible, and that they don't necessarily believe that the Bible is the word of God and he just used people to write it like they were puppets, but that it was written by people who were inspired by God and understood what to write because of that inspiration. I like it that they are welcoming of people from other churches, recognize baptisms done at other churches, and welcome all people to take communion and don't exclude people because they aren't church members or were not baptized presbyterian. They gave us a pamphlet about what it means to be a presbyterian and the last page says that the presbyterian church is people. That's what I like. It's all people, and it's a community. Somewhere to belong and feel welcome and to be there for other people and have them be there for you.

So, here I am. Belonging somewhere that I never thought I would belong. Understanding things I never understood and never thought I would. Thanks for 'listening'.

Part 3: Monday April 2

The last few days have been really full for me, but in my time in the car or lying in bed I've done a lot of thinking. I am really happy. It's weird I feel a lot more relaxed in the past two days, and weirdly I feel more confident too, or maybe just... Well, I always worry about things that aren't worth worrying about. For instance, since it was the first Sunday of the month, they had communion at church. Beforehand I was talking with Mom and Justin and they both thought that I wouldn't be able to take communion because I'm not baptized yet, but I thought that it would be okay, but wasn't sure. Now, in the past, I probably would have been convinced not too because of experiences at other churches, and just sat there quietly and waited until after I was baptized, just to be safe. But instead of doing that, I told Justin I would be right back and went and ASKED Mike, and found out that it was totally okay for me to do it. Instead of just being scared or unsure, I just took care of it. Or yesterday when Brooke and I got to book club and we had the address but hadn't been to Ceci's in a long time and it didn't look familiar. Instead of going through the hassle of looking it up on my phone's crappy internet browser or calling Justin or Dave to look up the address to make sure, I decided we should just get out and knock. If it wasn't the right house, it wasn't. It's not like anything bad was going to happen. I know those are little things, but to me they do make a difference.

Attending church on Sunday was great too. Since it was Palm Sunday the church was more crowded than usual. We also had communion, and I was able to take communion for the first time. It was also interesting how things sounded so different to me. Listening to the songs parts that I wasn' sure about before made a lot more sense to me, and I understood how the words fit in to my faith and my interpretation! I just really like it there, and I'm looking forward to getting more involved.

I've also felt pretty happy the last few days. I feel really close to Justin and have been just enjoying spending time with him, and I'm glad that happened just before Sam was going to be gone because I'm really enjoying hanging out with him. So, that's what's going on with me. I know this was really long, so if you got this far, thanks for reading!

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