Most Favored 2006

Following family tradition ( I find it necessary to create Marsha’s Most Favored Awards2006—not that anyone really cares what I think, but it gives me a place to chronicle a year’s worth of favorites. 

Favorite Movie – Little Miss Sunshine
This may just be the place I am in, but I laughed hysterically at this movie. I might have been the only one in the theatre doing so, but I totally enjoyed this movie. The acting was phenomenal. My favorite quote in the movie…
Richard: Sarcasm is the refuge of losers.
Frank: [Sarcastically] really?
Richard: Sarcasm is losers trying to bring winners down to their level.
Frank: [Sarcastically] Thank you for opening my eyes to what a loser I am!

Books: This was the year of nonfiction reading for me. 

Favorite Literary Work of 2006: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
I will have to admit that the number of grief books I have read in the past year would number in the—well, lots. However, this book is written by an award winning author who simply has a love affair with words and though I didn’t always find her experience the same as mine, I found the essence of the writing to be extremely familiar.

Best Book Read in 2006 not published in 2006: Turn My Mourning into Dancing – Finding Hope in Hard Times by Henri Nouwen
Whatever “hard times” your life may bring; Nouwen, in his infinite wisdom and gift of prose, speaks to the very heart of learning to heal and find hope. My favorite quote from this book: “To heal is to let the Holy Spirit call me to dance, to believe again, even amid my pain God will orchestrate and guide my life.” WOW~

Most Surprising Book that I Enjoyed—Even LovedThe Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
I am neither a Democrat, nor a liberal-though have been accused of being a closet liberal; however, this book was surprisingly well written and more thought-provoking than I expected. When it was chosen by my bookclub to read, I was less than excited. I couldn’t have been more surprised. Obama sure does have his thumb on the pulse of America and the reforms needed to move us from the place in which we reside to one of hope. If you don’t want to be challenged to think—don’t read this one.

On to the more intellectual aspects of things favored:

Best Television All-Around: Boston Legal 
This show is a spin-off of another all-time favorite of mine, The Practice. Boston Legal is like watching The Practice on steroids. Though he doesn’t know it yet, I am going to marry James Spader (Alan Shore character) I find his intellect and wit to be tremendously attractive. LOL! William Shatner (Denny Crane character) is the epitome of politically incorrect in a tremendously correct way. Best quote from the show:
Denny Crane: Now, Alan, if all else fails and you think you’ve lost… pretend you’ve won! Works for our president.
What a hoot!

Biggest Surprise on Television: Heroes 
Though I have never been a comic fan or even taken with the fantasy genre, this show captivates me. I find the characters engaging and the storylines refreshing original. Besides all of that—it is just plain fun.

This one is tough. If you looked at my ipod playlist you would sign me up as a true music schizophrenic. Music is one of the most vital gifts in my life. I will give it a whirl as to what I have enjoyed this year.

Best Album All-Around: Wherever You Are: Third Day
I know this choice comes from the place I am in my life. The songs on this album have been my constant companion the past year. I am especially connected to the songs The Sun is Shining and Love Heals Your Heart, but the message of hope from pain in the lyrics on this album have been a cornerstone to my personal healing. 

Others that deserve mention:
The Frey: How to Save a Life- Grey’s Anatomy has done wonders for this band.
Chris Daughtry: Daughtry- post-American Idol—awesome! This album takes me back to the rock of my youth. LOL
As for Praise Music, I have to acquiesce that most of it is lame; however, I have enjoyed Lincoln Brewster: Let Praises Ring. I love this album probably because of its strong guitar overtures.  What can I say; I am a sucker for the guitar player. He does Here I am to Worship as a guitar solo that is amazing. Then there is Jeremy Camp: Beyond Measure; All American-Rejects: Move Along; and Nickleback: All the Right Reasons (lead singer, Chad Kroeger can sing to me ANYTIME)That’s about it for the general favorites of 2006. All in all, it was a good year: one of hope, redefining moments and coming to terms with life in general.

This I know for sure…

SCUBA and Life!

Well I did it!! This weekend I completed my SCUBA training and became a certified open water diver. It was a great experience-one I will never forget. I completed the class work over the past few weeks and then spent two intensive days of training in Florida to receive the certification. This is a big “chapter two” thing for me. I have always loved the water and believed I would enjoy the SCUBA experience. I was NOT disappointed.

As I collapsed from exhaustion following the first day of training, I was reminded of the miracle of the wonderful mixture of nitrogen and oxygen in the air we breathe. There were times during my training that I was amazed at the fact that I was truly breathing under the water. This experience reminded me that when difficult times arise in our lives we often are at the point where we feel we can’t breathe. We aren’t sure where the next breath will come from and we are in need of some breathing apparatus to assist us. 

One of the “skills” I had to pass for certification was to take the regulator out of my mouth—let go of it—wait 15 seconds, find it and replace it. Fifteen seconds seemed like a lifetime. The inability to breathe was such a defenseless feeling. The impulse to panic was difficult to fight. When I finally was allowed to grasped that regulator and plunged it into my mouth to begin breathing again, I felt an immeasurable feeling of relief. 

When we face difficult times that leave us with the feeling of breathlessness, there is always a lifeline (regulator) for us to grasp. It may not be evident at first and we may have to feel around for it, but it is there. It could be in the form of a great friendship, a spiritual awakening, a song, or simply becoming aware of our own inner strength. The encouraging aspect of this analogy is that there is no need to remain in a state of despair. The assistance we long for is right there for us to grab on to—but—we have to be willing to do so—to grab for it—hold onto it—and use it to become living, breathing people again.

As for my SCUBA escapades, I am sure there will be more. As for life, I long to not only identify, but rely on the “regulators” in my life. What’s more, I long to be that lifeline for others.

This I know for sure…

My Own Independence Day!

I made an amazing realization today. My faith is truly my own. It is not based on my heritage, nor on the tenants of my “religion”, but is based on the spiritual struggles of my life and what God, himself, has chosen to attest to me. This realization came to me after reading a post on the young widow electronic bulletin board to which I credit much of my ability to heal. There was a post by someone questioning thier faith and the “plan” of God through their grief—so very understandable. It was following reading his post that I realized what I believed had come full circle. I finally wear my faith as a comfortable robe or favorite pair of sweatpants. 

I was fortunate to be raised in a very A-typical “Nazarene” parsonage—where questioning was not only supported, but encouraged—where finding your faith was more that mere words, but an actual process to complete. I am here today to say that though the process is far from complete, it is much more defined. It is not the faith of my father, in fact, though the foundation may look the same the “ins and outs” may look terribly different. I own what I believe—I have possession of it. It is what God himself has revealed to me about MY life and MY circumstances and how I am to live.

There is tremendous freedom in that. My faith is not based on what others do, but on what I do with the values God has revealed to me. My integrity holds true because it is based in what I believe. Then, even though I am not perfect—God’s amazing GRACE covers me. OK—now my “Nazarene” friends get a bit nervous and my “Baptist” brothers and sisters say “AMEN”, but I do believe we totally underestimate the GRACE that God provides. It covers our lives, our decisions and our sacred choices.

This I know for sure….

Stepping Into My Faith

I sat, stoic in the pew on Sunday as our worship pastor challenged us to “step into our faith”. I thought about it long and hard. Stepping into my faith would mean that I would have to totally let go of what I wanted for my life and be willing to accept whatever God had for me. Stepping into my faith would require me to stride up to the cliff—look down—see the 200 foot drop and place one foot in front of the other and continue to walk. Was I up to that challenge? It meant examining my life—completely and in a most agonizing way. Was what I believed enough to carry me through what life had to bring? The answer—a resounding YES—stepping up meant placing my trust, my complete devotion into what God had for me. This may not be what I had in mind, but it is most certainly what God had in mind for me. It may not be the “easy” route (most likely it is far from easy), but it will be the most fulfilling in the end. 

I sat, stoic in the pew on Sunday as our worship pastor challenged us to “step into our faith”. I thought about it long and hard. Stepping into my faith would mean that I would have to totally let go of what I wanted for my life and be willing to accept whatever God had for me. Stepping into my faith would require me to stride up to the cliff—look down—see the 200 foot drop and place one foot in front of the other and continue to walk. Was I up to that challenge? It meant examining my life—completely and in a most agonizing way. Was what I believed enough to carry me through what life had to bring? The answer—a resounding YES—stepping up meant placing my trust, my complete devotion into what God had for me. This may not be what I had in mind, but it is most certainly what God had in mind for me. It may not be the “easy” route (most likely it is far from easy), but it will be the most fulfilling in the end. 

I have to admit that since Sunday I have been trying to figure out what it means for me to “step into my faith”. A friend had an old 4 Him cd on his ipod and shared the song “It is Well with My Soul” with me. Now, this is one of my most favorite hymns. I grew up singing it in church. It was a beautiful arrangement that I had not heard. I remember when my husband lost his job at Illinois Power—I was asked to sing this song in church the following Sunday—talk about stepping into my faith. I had to stand before 400 people and buy into these words. I remember singing the first verse:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul. 

Ok- good thing I didn’t have any idea what that would mean when facing the grief following the death of my husband HOWEVER it was a promise that when I began stepping into my faith it would sustain me through the trials of life, no matter what they were—then came the second verse:

Though Satan should buffet (pound, batter), though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

Yikes—stepping into my faith became a bit harder, even though I knew my life was covered completely by what Jesus gave, I still didn’t seem to totally be able to make that “step”. Then came verse three:

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.

Now it becomes easier—to know that the God of the universe has taken the time to care about my simple life—and the decisions I am making—the life I have chosen to live– is overwhelming to say the least. Stepping into my faith means coming full circle and embracing my life story and learning to find God’s grace despite my circumstances. Of course this is something I am totally unable to accomplish on my own. So I continuously reach out for the support of family, friends, my church community and the universe of believers that embrace faith.

This I know for sure….

A New Year’s Resolution

“When we grow closer to God, we do not become more spiritual, but more loving.” 

I am not sure who said this, but I have it printed on a card sitting on my desk at work. It is a constant reminder that when we are rooted in God’s love, it transforms us into more accepting, tender and tolerant people. Unconditional acceptance of others becomes effortless because we suddenly see them through God’s eyes. We are called to let God be God and we are to simply step back and embrace each other—not only as a body of believers, but as fellow travelers.

I know this isn’t an easy concept to grasp, even harder to actually live. When I look across my classroom at those 25 children, I want to see them the way God does. When I look at my family and friends, I want to see them as God does. When I look at myself, I want to see me as God does (this is a hard one). When I look at the Walmart cashier, I want to see her has God does. So, I ask myself—how can I get to this place. I refer back to the quote. In order to love people more, I must know God better.

As I look to the new year with resolve, it seems I need to bypass the “normal” resolutions and think of those which are rooted in more practical terms. I am not fond of resolutions perhaps because I am Type-A personality and feel like when I make a resolution and fall short then I have failed. So this year I am going to make a different type of resolution, one which I can perhaps attain. So here it goes: I am determined to continue on this life journey with a new resolve – to give more and take less; to love more and hurt less; to sing more and complain less; and to pray more and worry less. Most of all—I resolve to know God in a way that requires me to love more.

This I know for sure….

A Disclaimer!

Perhaps I need to take a break from blogging for awhile—seems that whenever I write a blog, it is like God says “lets see if she really lives this”. Now, I know that isn’t true, but every time I write—there seems to be a test of faith that follows. You shouldn’t write anything you aren’t able to back up— 

This I know for sure….

Season of Peace

For He himself is our peace… Ephesians 2:14

Resting in the peace that God feely gives is often difficult. The season of Christmas represents peace—peace beyond our understanding. It is at this time of year we discuss the need for peace, yet seldom do we seize it. As I travel this path that has become my calling, I have a heightened realization that I desperately need God. My weaknesses are magnified and my strengths haven’t mattered—this has made me totally reliant on the peace that God gives. Even through the desolation that accompanies difficulties, blossoms of peace peek through the desert of life. These blossoms of peace grow from the seeds of moments in our lives resembling – a kind word, a song, a new relationship, the laughter of children, hope for a future, or a feeling of self-confidence that has been long lost. We just have to be present to claim these gifts.

I have found God’s greatest work tends to be exemplified when life seems the hardest. Needing God has made me well aware of the fact that I am unable to travel alone. Even my strengths fail me through the journey without the empowerment of a heavenly father—my weaknesses seem to be magnified and my security wanes. Peace becomes a confidence I must act upon through the promises God has given. 

When life seems too difficult to tolerate, when circumstances seem beyond what we can handle, when we are too tired to take the next step on our journey—Christ becomes our peace. It is at this point that we must begin to claim the promise that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39). This is real peace.

Nothing in life is predictable. Life is often chaotic, but He is our Peace all we have to do — is claim it.

This I know for sure….

The Gifts of the Season!

It is that holiday time of the year. I am forced, as a public school teacher, to remain benign to the “Christmas Spirit”. Everything I send home must say “holiday” not “Christmas” and must never contain anything that might be construed as religious in nature. This got me thinking about the most wonderful CHRISTMAS gifts I have ever received. I remember getting the Chrissy Doll with hair that actually grew—of course I cut it within a week and never played with her again. I remember getting a Viewmaster slide projector as a gift from the church in St. Louis—wow, I loved that and played with it for almost two weeks before putting it in the corner of my room. There are very few gifts I have actually used or appreciated long after they were given. My husband knew that if it plugged in—it wasn’t a gift—what a smart man. The gifts I truly cherish are those not wrapped and placed under the tree, but given with love by those who have experienced this life journey with me.

Tom Paine stated in 1791 “and the slavery of fear made man afraid to think”—I am so very thankful for the gift of free thought that was not only embraced, but encouraged by my family. It is a gift that continues to give as we grow together and appreciate the thought processes we so eagerly mock within each other. 

The gift of friendship so freely given, is one I treasure. When I think of Christ and his close friendships, I feel I am luckier than he. I have had friends stick by me through tremendous heartache—no one has denied me or even given up on me. I read in many books not to expect my friendships to remain in tact through the grieving process; apparently, my friends beat the odds—they have not only stayed, but loved through it all and now they share in my joys as I regain a new normal. The gift of new relationships is also something I value this year. It is amazing to me how God provides just what we need.

According to Nelson Algren, “the journey is all”. I actually appreciate the gift of “the journey”. I am grateful that there is a God who loves and cares for me and wants the best for my life. I value the one who leads me through the maze of life’s decisions. I am not sure where I would be at this point if it weren’t for extreme faith, but I DO know where I would be without it.

Supportive family is a gift I am fortunate to have received. Not only am I blessed with amazing parents who, after 40+ years are still in love each other, I am also blessed with brothers who mean the world to me and sister-in-laws who are equally a part of my heart. I am fortunate that my family has loved me through these past months with intensity and resolve to see me through to the other side.

The love of my children is a gift I treasure beyond words. They love so completely and so meaningfully. I honor who they are and who they will become. They have so much of their earthly father within them that I know they have tender hearts. They have enough of their mother that I know they have some “spunk”. I am truly privileged to be their mother. 

I am thankful for the promise of tomorrow. I am forever grateful for the hope of a future and an openness of love that is always there for the taking. I am opening the gift of hope—hope that our lives with be stronger and that love will one day fill our home again. God is so faithful to complete all we ask and hope for.

Finally, I am grateful for the gift of Jesus Christ. The hope that his birth represents is simply astounding. I am normally a big Easter fan (it is my favorite holiday), but if it weren’t for the amazing birth, there would never have been a resurrection and without the resurrection there would never be hope. This is the HOPE that insures all of us a future filled with confidence and anticipation.

Throughout this holiday season……

THIS I know for sure….

A Lesson in Need

It is the season for spreading joy throughout the land, right? It is the time for helping those less fortunate—I am all for that—I am all about helping others. It makes your load lighter and creates within you this awesome sense of gratitude and goodwill. Today I received an email from an organization, of which I am involved, that included the following message:

“This year we have adopted two…. families who are in need. We are collecting money as well as gifts. Below are some items we are seeking for these two families..” What you will find following is a condensed (very condensed) list of the items submitted by this needy family. Marsha commentary will be in italics and bold.

On the list were some very reasonable items including: Uno Spin, The Game of Life, earrings, necklace, Old Navy gift card etc.. I have no problem with these items. They are expected to be on the list of someone less fortunate.However, the list didn’t end there. Here are some of the “other” items on the list: Ipod Stereo that fits an Ipod Nano – seriously—they have ipods how horrible life must be since they only have a Nano and not a 30 gig video ipod?; Lion King 1 ½ (DVD full screen) – what happens if I buy the regular screen version; Mario baseball for Gamecube, NGC Pokeman TD gale (game for gamecube) – GAMECUBE are they kiddin’; Silver Ipod Nano – oh, one of them doesn’t have an ipod—ok I am going to stop here except for one other interjection so as not to become too overly sarcastic; Coach, Luis Vuitton or Guess brand purse – sure—let me run out and purchase a $400-$700 purse for the needy – seriously.

When did we get to this point? When did a family in need require an “Epson Stylus Photo R340 Printer”? Could it possibly be that we no longer have a distinguishable line between what we want and what we need? My brother related a story he heard about a father trying to instill the concept of “need” in his son. The son wanted a pair of $100.00 Air Jordan tennis shoes. His father said “Son, I have $40.00. You WANT a pair of Air Jodan shoes. Seems to me you NEED—–$60.00.” Funny as that maybe—it hits the mark. Truth be told, the son didn’t really NEED the shoes at all.

I will confess—I have not had much success instilling within my own children a sense of gratitude for what they are so fortunate to have, but you can bet that is at the top of my Christmas wish list now. I want them to understand the difference between want and need. I wish for them to know that we have far more than most folks in the universe and for that we should be extremely grateful. I also want them to know that there are those TRULY less fortunate who wake up every morning with empty stomachs and wonder where they will sleep for the evening. I want them to understand that in Jesus’s words “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God”. I yearn for them to grasp that it matters very little what we possess, but life’s riches are measured by the relationships we develop and the love we share. For myself, I desire a spirit that truly gets what being poor means and a gracious heart that is content with what I already possess. Living in the land of plenty we lack much in the way of gratitude.

This I know for sure….

Balance for Our Existence

To live a life of gratitude
To live a life of gratitude
is to open our eyes to the countless ways
in which we are supported by the world around us.
Such a life provides less space for our suffering
because our attention is more balanced.
We are more often occupied
with noticing what we are given,
thanking those who have helped us,
and repaying the world in some concrete way
for what we are receiving.
-Gregg Krech-

This past weekend was Thanksgiving, traditionally a time of reflection. For me; however, it was more about remaining in a state of gratitude. This state of mind began from a poetry lesson I shared with my students during writing workshop before the holiday. They were to create a poem of thankfulness from a mentor text. Following a discussion regarding the way the poem was structured, we soon began to discuss the author’s word choice. We were most impressed with the author’s ability to describe what she was thankful for without actually printing it in black and white. This became the part of the poem we wanted to emulate in our own writing. 

At that point we stopped, opened our writer’s notebook and for four minutes brainstormed what we were thankful for. I asked my fifth graders to think outside the box on this one – to think beyond what the average 10-year old might write and come up with things they were thankful for from the heart. After four minutes of brainstorming, we met on the class carpet to share—and oh my goodness, it took every thing within me to hold back the tears. Let me share with you a few of the lines from these awesome fifth graders:

For the horn that lets me express my inner soul,

I am thankful. (OK she is gifted)

For the beautiful music my saxophone makes without words,

I am thankful.

For the pleasure of being able to be taught by a woman who has been through so much,

I am thankful. (yep-this one brought a tear)

For the tiniest surprises in life which brighten my day,

I am thankful.

For the courage to stand up for what I believe,

I am thankful.

For the pleasure of expressing my thoughts and feelings through writing,

I am thankful.

For the ability to know bad times will get better,

I am thankful.

This exercise, shared with my class, created in me a most grateful heart. I could have written these lines, but they came from those special children I get to share life with each day. I am an extremely blessed woman. I never want to take that for granted or cease to have a grateful heart, no matter my circumstances. Fortunately being thankful has become a constant state instead of one visited every now and then. Gratitude has created, not only a balance for my existence, but “less space for suffering” as well.

This I know for sure….