Friday, December 7, 2012

Too Many Words

I'm verbose, loquacious...I use too many words.

It's because I'm trying so hard to capture the sacred, the divine. I want to hold these precious moments. I want to somehow articulate ideas and experiences beyond my own full comprehension.

I grasp frantically for my words, fumble for phrases. I use a thousand adjectives. I like to use three at a time. Don't know why.

I'm not really apologizing for it. The world needs wordy Anne Shirleys to offset the quiet Matthews and exacting Marillas.

It's just sometimes I wish I could scale back. Say less. Just let it be.

But what if Dickens had used fewer words? What if Michelangelo used fewer colors? Or Mozart fewer notes? Not that I claim to be a master craftsman...but someday I hope to be.

Someday I hope to finally spit out the right words, impactful words, beautiful words. (See, three?) Instead of just lots of words.

Someday I may finally capture something divine with my pen. Something glorious. Something sacred I can hold in my hand to keep.

Monday, November 19, 2012

When the Body of Christ Works Together...

 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, 
but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.
 For we were all baptized by one Spirit 
so as to form one body
— whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free
and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
I Corinthians 12:12-14

Several months ago, while perusing Pinterest, I had a crazy idea. It's pure lunacy, really. So much room for error and/or failure. But, and this is unlike me, I decided to do it anyway.

I felt led to do a service project with the youth but something that would really require work of them. I know that 30 Hour Famines are popular, and the old raking the leaves thing is good, and canned food drives are always useful but in my personal experience, not much is really required of the kids. They don't do that much. And in a society where we're doing less and less, I wanted something that required work, effort, thought, and maybe even getting coaxed out of a comfort zone.

So I came up with a Santa Shop idea where we would make the gifts and sell them. Then, in a flash of divine intervention I changed it to Three Kings Gift Shop. After all, Santa's great but he wasn't at the manger (well, neither were the wisemen really but that's a whole other issue...). I suppose we could've gone St. Nicholas but I'm just now realizing that so oh, well! Anyway, I digress...

I spent hours combing Pinterest, reading directions, and carefully selecting gift ideas that fit a couple important criteria.
1) It had to be something people would actually want.
2) It had to be something we could make at minimal cost so I could keep our prices low.
3) It had to be something simple enough for even non-crafty people to make.

I found ten things which met those criteria. I put together a little catalogue and order forms. I ordered some literature from Samaritan's Purse and talked to the teens about raising money to purchase items that would go to people in third world countries. Items like goats, donkeys, honeybees, and fishing boats. Items that would profoundly change their lives, not just their day or week. Their lives. 

Then, I prayed. I prayed for moderate success because I was afraid of failure. Oh, ye of little faith. What if Peter or Paul had prayed for moderate success just in case they couldn't really lead all those people? What if Moses had only wanted moderate success? What if Abraham? Joshua? Gideon? Deborah?

And I think the teens only expected moderate success. They set a low goal for themselves of only $200. And for a minute there, it looked like that was going to be it. But then....

God didn't answer my prayer. He had His own agenda He was pushing and my potential for failure was not a deciding factor for Him. It never is.

The project exploded. We had over-whelming success. We raised $870, more than quadrupling our goal. I was humbled, the teens surprised, and the church family energized. God is good.

Then, I had to figure out how to make over 350 items. Egads. But this wasn't really my job. God had a plan. He'd had it worked out from the very beginning. All the way back to when He first planted this crazy idea in my brain and in my heart.

He planned on using this project to bring our church family together. You see, we've been hurting. It's a long story and quite ugly and this post is about celebration so I won't elaborate. It suffices to say, we've been hurting. We've been in need of something to make all of us feel connected and alive again. But I never imagined it would be this and that I would be part of it.

Last night 28 people, 14 adults and 14 kids (an all time high for youth attendance, actually) came together at house to make crafts. And it was busier than Santa's workshop. After several runs to houses for extra olive oil, after re-making several items because my measurements were off, after figuring out the best way to roll a square piece of paper into a cone, after deciding the perfect way to make a scarf for a snowman and turn a book into a tree...we had completed 5 projects and made well over 250 items. In just three hours. With no complaining and with lots of laughter.

And I noticed something. Everyone naturally found their place. Leaders took charge. Crafters used their experience and artistry to help others in this new area. People tried new things. Everyone pitched in. This is the Body of Christ in motion. Working as one. Glorifying God with our actions. So this is what Paul meant, this is what James wrote about. Faith in action, the Body together.

One boy collected a fistful of money to buy pizzas and breadsticks. A teenage girl prayed, one of my teens that always steps up to pray when everyone else feels tongue tied. She prayed for us, for our gifts, for the people we've loved and missed being able to come back and join us. She forgot to pray for the food, but ti didn't matter. God was there, He knew our thankfulness for His blessings. And this was the true breaking of bread...true communion, even if it was pizza and not a holy wafer.

I had set out to find a project that would bless other people, show the kids that they can make a difference, and help teach our youth how to work together with joyful spirits. But God had other plans. These things still happened but His plan was greater than mine, loftier than mine. He will bless the money we raised and the people whose lives it will help. But He blessed my life through this project and He blessed our humble, faithful church. He is truly the God who sees us, and He's been watching over us the whole time. And last night, He reached out and healed us. He was with us in the mess of olive oil on the counters, hot cocoa on the floor, and hot glue stuck on fingers. And that's what happens when the Body of Christ works together.

As the body without the spirit is dead, 
so faith without deeds is dead.
James 2:26

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Chasing Joy

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

    come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

    It is he who made us, and we are his;

    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

    and his courts with praise;

    give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

My son thinks our dog is hilarious. Dayton's first true giggle was at Bode jumping around the yard and barking. And this Indian summer when we would walk around and around the pond, just to escape the claustrophobia of our house, we would watch Bode chase butterflies. I'd never actually seen a dog chase butterflies before but leave it to our dog to do it. And then Dayton wasn't the only one giggling. It was hilarious. Our enthusiastic border collie would bound and leap after the butterflies leading him on an erratic chase around the pond. But eventually Bode would lose sight of the butterfly...or interest. Something else interesting would catch his attention or it just wasn't that much fun anymore to chase something so elusive as a butterfly.

I chase joy in the same way. Around and around in circles, bounding and leaping with no methodology to straighten my course, no plan to ensure success. And always, inevitably, I lose interest. Something more interesting and easier to catch steals my attention. Or I just give up all together. It's too hard, this joy thing. It's a nice idea but it's just not me. I wasn't made that way. Some people just can't be joyous...or joyful...whichever.

But that just isn't so. It can't be so. 

First, because the Bible says otherwise. And second, because if that's true then I'm doomed. I'm stuck in my Eeyore to Tigger to Eeyore cycle of my own nature. 

A drama queen since birth, I see the world through a dramatic lens. Gloom! Doom! Stress! Worry! Anxiety!!


But I'm the only one squawking. My mother once said my brother is a duck, the rain waters just roll off his feathers, it doesn't rattle him. I, however, am a trumpeter swan...graceful and peaceful when the weather's just right, but when the rain starts to fall it's time to panic. A swan having a cow. A lovely sight.

And while Christmas is supposed to be all peace on Earth, good will to men, and joy to the world...I'm over here wringing my hands and biting my fingernails. I'm a Scrooge in Nephew Fred's clothing. I seem to embrace Christmas but underneath I'm really fretting and fussing and bah-humbugging about plans and people and people who get in the way of my plans. My plans, my plans, my precious plans. Like Scrooge and his gold, no one better interfere with my plans. Or else the squawking begins. This is not joy. This is not Christmas.

I could list you a thousand reasons excuses for this irritating behavior. I could get all Dr.Phil on you and explain from a psychological point of view why Christmas is now wrapped up with anxiety, why my tinsel is perpetually in a tangle. But there's no real point in it. Talking about what's wrong, doesn't do one blessed thing to move toward what is right. Or perhaps more importantly...righteous. 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving
present your requests to God.
Philippians 4:6

So recently convicted of this ridiculous, self-centered behavior I've started chasing joy again.. But not in an erratic chase of circles where I'll eventually just get bored or tired or both and give up. This time I have a plan. And I have some tools.

1) I'm reading Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts. It's a book I've been avoiding for almost two years because I knew it would blast me from my comfort zone. And while I hate my comfort zone because it's stinks...I'm comfortable there. But I'm embracing the uncomfortable to move toward God and His joy.

2) I'm starting my own list of one thousand gifts. One thousand blessings from God, one thousand things I'm thankful for, one thousand things to celebrate. And the thing that I've started counting, I see them everywhere. I would like to share this list on here because it may inspire somebody else, but I just can't commit to that. I don't have time to log into this blog as often as I'd like and I'm afraid that I will use that ask an excuse. Can't write in the blog, not worth writing down at all! (I know, because I did that before two years ago...)

3) Instead of asking God for things, even the right/rightoues things, I am choosing to only thank Him instead for the next two weeks. A friend of mine did this and she said it changed her life. I believe her. Because it's been a mere 24 hours and I already feel a change. I think this must be what detoxing feels like.

4) In a similar vein, when my instinct is to complain, grumble, nag, or otherwise squawk, I'm choosing to thank God for that very circumstance instead. This is hard but it is the very re-training and re-shaping that I need. It is taking every thought captive and making it submit. It is choosing to be thankful in all situations. Because the fact of the matter is, I am one of those people who will cry (ah-hem, flip my lid) over spilled milk. And that doesn't honor God, draw me nearer to God, or bringing me any closer to catching that butterfly.

5) Last, I have community and this means some accountability. I've always shied away from accountability because I like to hide. But I won't succeed and I'll never change unless I bare my soul and all my ugly and ask for some help. We are communal creatures, especially women, especially me. So here I am, ready to accept some love and help and prayers from my own community. And my community is pieced together through Facebook and emails and blogs and text and face-to-face friendships. This is community for a postmodern mom chasing joy.

And this time I'm not just chasing joy, but choosing joy. It goes hand in hand. When we choose joy, we catch it and then we give it away. I must choose to be thankful, to celebrate, to wear joy on my lips and harbor it in my heart. And then I will have caught it. It will be mine, no longer an elusive butterfly.

This blog started out being my journey towards a merry heart. And if you've followed me from the beginning, despite my long periods of silence, you know that I've wrestled with this. One minute I'm chasing the butterfly and the next I've seemingly given up and moved on with life. And I have no delusions of conquering this once and for all, I will always struggle. But this feels more like a real change. The real re-wiring of my heart that I have craved for so, so long. And what better time than Christmas?

I imagine that the shepherds, feeling a bit foolish, were chasing joy when they went from stable to stable in search of a babe in swaddling clothes. The wise men were chasing joy as they followed that mysterious star toward the child savior. Mary and Joseph must've been chasing joy as her belly grew swollen with the life of the King inside her. They couldn't have been the type to fuss and fret and squawk so they must've been chasing joy. Anna and Simeon caught their joy at the temple when Jesus came to be dedicated to God. Elizabeth and Zechaeriah caught their joy with the birth of their son, the prelude of the Messiah. These people didn't only chase joy but they chose it in their obedience. Joy is everywhere in the Christmas story, from the lips of Mary in her magnificat, to the returning of Zechariah's voice, to the alleulia of angels. Joy abounds at Christmas time.

And this Christmas, I am choosing joy.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, 
and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: 
and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, 
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you 
good tidings of great joy, 
which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day 
in the city of David a Saviour, 
which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; 
Ye shall find the babe 
wrapped in swaddling clothes, 
lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel 
a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, 
and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke 2:9-13

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Hallmark Christmas Lesson

I vowed I wouldn't start Christmas early this year. I'm one of those people that usually starts listening to Christmas music in October. I justify it by saying I need to get in the spirit to start crafting all those handmade gifts I talk about making. But the fact of the matter is, I just love it. I'm one of those people. But since this is Dayton's first Christmas I wanted him to get the full dose of it in December. I didn't want the experience muddled with it being all drawn out. As if a six month old has a clue anyway...

But Hallmark started showing their Christmas movies this weekend and I got sucked in. There was nothing else on TV worth watching. I can only watch so many episodes of the Food Networks' 'Chopped' or reruns of 'Everybody Loves Raymond'. So I succumbed to the Hallmark channel's cheesy Christmas movies.

And this got me thinking...why does Christmas seem to creep in earlier and earlier each year?

Many people say it's because it's so commercial. The stores can make an extra sale by plastering the word 'Christmas' on everything. When they trot out the holiday merchandise early and start those holiday sales people buy, to get it out of the way, to avoid the long lines, to avoid the hustle and hassle later.

But I don't think it's all commercialism. Maybe I'm a Linus in a Charlie Brown world, but I don't think this early Christmas creep is just to make money. It's not all aluminum Christmas trees and holiday parties.

I think we crave the feeling of Christmas. We love the twinkling lights and snow covered roof-tops and lopsided but happy snowmen out in the yard. Who doesn't look forward to delicious holiday cookies and steaming mugs of hot cocoa with marshmallows bobbing like buoys? Every family has their own traditions and favorite movies. As a kid the Halsey family watched 'White Christmas' each and every year. I think my own family, the Berry family, will watch 'Muppets' Christmas Carol' every Christmas eve...and anxiously wait for all the cartoons to be on TV. There's a whole atmosphere of Christmas...rituals, traditions, that are familiar and homey and snug and warm.

Perhaps that's why I couldn't resist the Hallmark channel's Christmas movies. They have a particular gift for crafting Christmas. All of their movies take place in quaint towns full of quirky but lovable people. There's usually an old person who needs cheering up, or who cheers up a jaded young person. There's always a love story and a cute kid or two. The towns are all bedecked with wreaths and lights and snow always falls at just the right moment. And in the church there's always a Christmas pageant or a carol sing on Christmas eve. The Hallmark Christmas world is perfect. Just the right amount of greenery, mistletoe, cocoa, and carols. And we want that world...

Because that world isn't too busy for family and friends. That world seems so restful. The long lines and frazzled shoppers and exhausted salespeople don't exist in that world. Priorities are straight, or straightened, and there's something we crave in that.

I think this is the real reason Christmas sneaks in a little earlier each year. It's the whisper carried on the frosty winds...the whisper to come back to traditions of our youth...the whisper to cherish these fleeting moments...the whisper to worship the Savior.

Of course, the whisper gets covered up by the shouts of holiday deals and must-have toys and bargains and black Friday!!!!

An exclamation mark always overpowers an ellipses. The rush always overtakes a pause. But it's the pause we long for...and it's why we let Christmas come a little earlier every year. Because maybe this year, we'll get it right. We won't worry about that perfect gift or holiday dinner. It won't matter if we burn the cookies and all the gifts look like the dog wrapped them. Our holidays don't have to look like a Hallmark's the feeling we crave. The slowing down...the coming together...the worshiping on a holy night.

So, yes, I gave in when I said I wouldn't...I'm letting Christmas start early...this first weekend in November. I haven't started the music yet. We'll see how long I can delay that itch...but I won't apologize for letting Christmas come early in our house. I think maybe I need to let it in early because maybe I need that long to figure it out...not how to get have the perfect Christmas (thank you very much, Good Housekeeping)...but how to really have the right Christmas spirit in my heart and home.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Never Surprised

For he looks to the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
Job 28:24

God is not surprised. Not now. Not ever. He wasn't surprised in Eden. He wasn't surprised at Golgotha. He's never been surprised for a moment in history. 

Disappointed. Saddened. Angered. Frustrated. But never surprised. 

I recently wrote a post about my favorite name for God. 'El-Roi: The God Who Sees Me'.

He sees all; He Knows all. 

Right now our world is bleak. There are people weary from the fight. There are hearts wondering what has happened and how it could have happened. This is what happens with churches fall apart. When the ugliness of the human race creeps into power in the body of believers. We're not immune to sin, even though we are saved from it.

Our world feels dark and the load feels heavy. My heart is aching for people that I love. I'm tempted to say that 'all' I can do is pray. As if prayer isn't action. As if prayer isn't powerful. As if prayer isn't good enough help. Oh, ye of little of little faith.

I worship the God who sees me. The God who is never surprised. The God who has it all under control, even if it feels like being in the middle of a mighty whirlwind.

God didn't make this happen but He did allow it. That is true for every pain, struggle, trial, and heartache you or I will ever experience. Sometimes it is for correction, to get us back into the safety of His flock. Sometimes it is to test us, to see if we will still choose to praise Him when our circumstances seem unbearable. Sometimes we have no idea what He's up to and we won't know until we reach the other side of Eternity. But He is still in control. Always in control. Never surprised.

It's not possible for His plan to be thrown so far of course that we end up outside of His plan. Our lives may be re-routed and end up on long and rambling detours, but that doesn't mean we've gone of His grid. He sitll sees us. We're still in the palm of His hand.

See, I have engraved you in the palms of my hands. 
Isaiah 49:16

When Dayton was diagnosed with jaundice and we had to stay overnight in the hospital I still felt like I had no idea what to say to this stranger who belonged to me. My mom was a natural, she talked and sang and  knew just what to do. I couldn't seem to think of anything to say or any songs to sing. Me, who always has a song in my heart. But I was left alone with him once and I remember looking into his little bassinet and I just started to sing, 'He's Got the Whole World in His Hands'. He loved it. I don't know how I knew it because he couldn't smile yet, but I could just tell that he loved my singing this song to him. I sang it to him again the other day. It's become our anthem, our reminder, that God is in control. And that day in the hospital I just kept adding verses, anyone I could think of, even our dog. Well, I'm still adding those verses. It's now our prayer. Every time I sing this simple melody, borrowed for my childhood of simpler times, I am actually praying. I'm calling on God's power, on His control, on His watchful eye. I name the people I love and that are in need of His comfort. If you're one of them, please believe, you are in His hands.

The Lord bless you 
    and keep you; 
 the Lord make his face shine on you 
    and be gracious to you; 
 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace. 
Numbers 6:24-26

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Cheering Example to Her Sex

This is the biography portion of my thesis regarding Sarah Josepha Hale and 'true womanhood'. I may end up sharing more bits and pieces of that paper as I find her words and thoughts on domesticity to be inspiring for me, as I am coming into my own as a mother as well as a wife. 
I hope you enjoy reading about this incredible woman and maybe you'll get a sense of what I love her so. 
When Sarah Hale sat down to write her cookbook full of practical and stern advice to American housewives, she made sure to tell her readers, “I …write what I know to be true…I have been a housekeeper, both in the country and the city, and have had a practical knowledge of those rules of domestic economy which I shall recommend. And I have brought up a family of children, without the loss, or hardly the sickness, of one of them during infancy and childhood. I can, therefore, claim some experience” (Good 11-12). She knew that it was important to establish her credibility when giving ‘rules of domestic economy’ and even more so, when instructing women on True Womanhood. Sarah Josepha Hale was, in fact, one of the leading authorities concerning True Womanhood and “no one has had greater influence, or become more universally popular among her countrywomen” (Woman’s 686).
If truth be told, the works of Sarah Josepha Hale seem to have been passed over by many scholars interested in True Womanhood. The majority of writing concerning Hale focus on her work with Godey’s Lady’s Magazine and little else. This is a phenomenon that would surprise most nineteenth-century women because she was instrumental in the formation and continuance of True Womanhood. In her time, she was well-known for being a champion of women’s education and philanthropic causes, as well as, an authoress of novels, advice annuals, and cookbooks. True, Hale was not the only woman writing about women and for women. For example, women like Catharine Beecher and Margaret Fuller have interesting writings concerning True Womanhood, both for and against it. What makes Hale unique is that she was the complete package—a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and career woman—unlike Beecher, for example, who never married or had children. Given her wide influence and her personal experience, Hale is a qualified candidate for study and research that has been disregarded for far too long.
 In 1788 Sarah Joespha Buell was born in small town in New Hampshire. Her father, Gordon Buell, had been a farmer but abandoned farming after years with little success to be an innkeeper, which would prove to be just as unsuccessful. For Sarah, this meant that “poverty and home-schooling [would be] the two major elements of her childhood” (Montgomery 63). Concerning her education, Sarah would go on to write much later in life:
I was mainly educated by my mother, and strictly taught to make the Bible the guide of my life…The books to which I had access were few, very few, in comparison with the number given children now-a-days; but they were such as required to be studied—and I did study them. Next to the Bible and The Pilgrim’s Progress, my earliest reading was Milton, Addison, Pope, Johnson, Cowper, Burns, and a portion of Shakespeare (686).
 This education may have been homespun but it opened Sarah to the world of language, imagination, and religion. She was eternally grateful to her brother, Horatio, who was attending Dartmouth, for “supervis[ing] his sister’s progress in a course of study paralleling his own, and which included ‘Latin, and the higher branches of mathematics, and of mental philosophy’” (Tonkovich 20, Woman’s 687). Her brother’s help and influence allowed Sarah to continue her education above and beyond normal standards for a nineteenth-century girl. She flourished under Horatio’s tutorship and the education she gained was near equal to her brother’s college degree.
These quaint anecdotes of Sarah’s early life show that “although Gordon and Martha Buell were not among…[the] social or intellectual elite, their home life was rich in intellectual stimulation. The details of Sarah’s childhood reading and the fact that her brother Horatio met Dartmouth’s admission requirements, suggest, that her family was well read” (Tonkevich 29). Poverty was not a prohibition to Sarah’s success, even in her early years, she learned to surpass difficulties and strive for improvement, especially the improvement of her mind.
While still living at home and helping to make ends meet, Sarah became a schoolteacher at a local school. She expanded her curriculum to include unconventional subjects including Latin, higher mathematics, and philosophy. She took her students on nature hikes and picnics so that they might study botany and other natural sciences. Sarah also insisted on teaching boys and girls together in order that girls might be able to have the same education as boys; this was an ideal she believed in and never relinquished. She had great success as a teacher, and for the rest of her life, Sarah would campaign for better educational opportunities for women.
While still a young woman, Sarah suffered the pain of tremendous loss. Her brother Charles tragically died at sea, her sister and mother both died from tuberculosis on the same day in 1811, and her father died shortly after. Yet, if every thunder cloud does have a silver lining, David Hale was Sarah’s glimmer of hope. Biographer Barbara Venton Montgomery explains, “she did not consider matrimony while providing for the members of the family, always her first concern. Without them, she turned to David Hale who wanted to care for her. They married in 1813” (64). David had stayed often inn the family inn, clearly captivated by the beautiful Sarah, and now her married her.
Their marriage was remarkable; “they had five children within nine years. They studied French, botany and geology together in the evening and with friends began a small literary society. They hiked the New England countryside together and discussed events of the day and her poetry which David encouraged her to write” (Montgomery 64). The literary society “included women as well as men, family members (David Hale and his sister Hannah) as well as other men of substance in the community…Its membership bespeaks class privilege, or so one must conclude from the rather florid account of the group, which notes the members’ ‘well-sustained complacence at their advanced social position’ (Tonkevich 30-31, Parmelee 267). The society provided Sarah with her first outlet for writing and expressing herself, and her inclusion in the society indicates that David respected Sarah not only for being his wife, but also his friend and his equal. In fact, Sarah’s inclusion in the literary society would prove to be a means to an end when Sarah was dealt yet another massive blow.
            David, the love of her life, passed away “on September 25, 1822, after a short illness [of] pneumonia”, just two weeks before the birth of their youngest son, William (Finley 37). The stun of losing a man that had cherished her as a wife, a peer, a friend, and a lover was devastating. Sarah “wore black mourning for David the remainder of her life and never considered the possibility of remarriage”(Montgomery 67). By nineteenth-century standards she should have remarried or moved in with her nearest male relative, but instead, Sarah pushed her pain aside and made a life for herself. The Hales had not been rich, although they might have lived comfortably on David’s earnings as a lawyer had he lived. However, Sarah soon realized that she would be raising her children in poverty as the few fees from David’s practice could not provide for them as they needed. Thus, “it was in the hope of gaining the means for their support and education that she engaged in the literary profession”(Woman’s 686).
            The members of the literary society used their individual influences and collective resources to get a book of Sarah’s poetry published. The book sold well and encouraged her to write her first and only novel Northwood; or Life North and South. Her novel was an “instant success” in both America and in England, and went to press multiple times. In 1830, soon after the publication of Northwood, she was soon asked to move from New Hampshire to Boston, with her family, and begin a ladies’ magazine. By accepting this invitation Sarah became the first American lady editor, a “pioneer in this species of literature” (Woman’s 686). Then, in 1837 Louis Godey, the “Prince of Publishers” bought out The Ladies’ Magazine and merged it with his own magazine, creating Godey’s Lady’s Book and making Sarah editor (Finley 43). The difficulty was that Godey’s magazine was published in Philadelphia, which would have required another move for Sarah and her children.
The decision to move from Boston was impacted by the unimaginable loss of her eldest son David—named for his father—when he passed away suddenly. Her son’s tragic death understandably caused Sarah to feel a surge of motherly protection and concern for all of her children, and so she requested that she be permitted to edit Godey’s in Boston until William, her youngest, graduated from Harvard. Louis Godey was sympathetic to her needs as a mother and allowed for her to edit the magazine long-distance. Given the difficulty of travel and the unreliability of the postal system, editing a magazine in Boston and publishing in Philadelphia was a very stressful and complicated procedure. Despite the difficulty, Sarah had amazing success; her “writing was emphatically personal and approximated conversation caught in print. This combination made her writing accessible to the readers, men and women alike, who enthusiastically responded to the magazines she edited” (Tonkevich 30).
            Sarah worked on Godey’s Lady’s Book for forty years. Under her direction Godey’s became one of the most widely read magazines of the nineteenth-century. She included recipes (which were then called ‘receipts’), fashion plates, sheet music, clothing patterns, poetry, short stories, and scholarly essays. She supervised its production through the Mexican War, the Civil War, Emancipation, and Reconstruction. She retired in 1877 and died that same year at the age of eighty-nine. Her success was considered “richly deserved, and her energy, devotion, and perseverance under circumstances the most trying, afford a cheering example to her sex” (Woman’s 686).
            Sarah Josepha Hale was a woman with an interesting and exemplary life. She lived what she wrote. She had been a devoted daughter, a beloved sister, a cherished wife, and a self-sacrificing mother. Her picture of domestic bliss seemed attainable to her, because she had lived it with David. Sarah did not make impossible demands or set-up unlikely standards for her readers; she wrote what she knew, what she believed, what she felt was right. Sarah began life as a poor young girl in New Hampshire, and by her own determination and talent, she became one of the most influential and successful women of the nineteenth century, as well as an accomplished housekeeper, and proud mother and grandmother.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Original Martha Stewart

To graduate with my Bachelor of Arts in Literature I had to write a senior thesis. I considered the many works of great literature that I had read over my four years at school. But I knew that I wanted to write something different, to touch on something or someone that had been overlooked. So I skipped over Byron, Shakespeare, and Bronte...even though I love them...and settled upon a writer that had been completely ignored by the canon. Sarah Josepha Hale. I used her writings to argue that the woman's sphere was an evil institution of the past. I believe that domesticity and womanhood should be celebrated, not shunned. I feel that modernity only gives us one side of the story...the extreme feminist side. And it's not an accurate picture. 

I fell in love with Hale as I poured over her works...mostly cookbooks and copies of 'Godey's Ladies Magazine'. I read biographeies of her and the few precious words she had written about herself. She had always worked hard to be educated and well read. She was widowed young with four sweet children to raise. First a milliner, then a writer, and finally a lady editor, she labored tirelessly to provide for her children. She instructed women across the country on how to do everything from prepare a chicken to treat sicknesses to wash windows. It was Hale who rallied the ladies to write letters to Abraham Lincoln insisting that Thankgiving be made a national holiday. And it was Mrs. Hale who penned a song that every child knows, 'Mary Had a Little Lamb'. The magazine she edited for several decades was the predecessor for today's magazines like 'Lady's Home Journal' and 'Better Homes and Gardens'. She published short stories, works of music, instructions for crafts. She even befriended a young Edgar Alan Poe and helped him get published. It's for these reasons that those that do know of her consider her the original Martha Stewart. Although, Martha doesn't hold a candle to Sarah.

I fear that if I were to start in on everything she stands for that I would basically be re-writing my thesis which is over 20 pages. Instead, I've pulled a handful of my favorite quotes. Someday, when I have more time, I may write more about my dear friend Sarah Josepha Hale but for now, I'll let her words speak for her.

"I place woman’s office above man’s because moral influence is superior to mechanical invention…woman’s mission is to mould mind, and form character; while man’s work deals with material things.  I do not agree with those who would place women in competition with men in their industrial pursuits. Such a course would not only deteriorate the feminine nature, but fatally injure society, because giving material things a still greater preponderance over moral goodness than is now to be found in Christendom”

“…There were care and preparation in the forming of woman which were not bestowed on man. Why was this recorded, if not to teach us that the wife was of finer mould, and destined to the more spiritual uses,--the heart of humanity, as her husband was the head?...Does it not mark the better nature of woman, that, after the fall even, when she was placed under the control of her husband, she yet held their immortal destiny in her keeping?...not a ray of hope can be found in the destiny of the man, save through the hope given to the woman. Thus they stood together, when, after their sorrowful ‘fall’, they were drive forth from Eden, and sent—Adam to till the ground, ‘cursed for his sake’, or sin; Eve to become the ‘mother of all living’” 

“In the history of creation, it seems that Adam was not perfect till Eve was made to be with him.  All the words of the Creator were pronounced ‘good’ til we come to the man: then the word of God was—‘it is not good that the man should be alone: I will make a help-meet for him.’…The happiness and glory of Eden were then perfected”

“Is it a disparagement to the rose that it differs from the acorn? Would the peach choose to be identical with the potato? Nature gives the kindly ‘fruits of the earth’ their uses and virtues, all different and all good. With mankind it is similar. Men and women differ as essentially in their minds of modes of thoughts as in their forms”

 “And even now, happy homes may be made, it the husband and wife would lovingly work for this sweet enjoyment.  Why should all the responsibilities be laid on woman? Would it not be well to give men a lesson or two on their home-duties? Why should not the husband be advised to bring home ‘smiles and sunshine’ for the wife, which she is admonished always to ‘have only smiles and sunshine for the husband when he comes home wearied with his day’s labor’?”
“A young bride, first making her own home, should think of this, and remember that much of her future enjoyment may depend upon the halo her hand shall throw around the domestic sanctuary” 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

El-Roi...The God Who Sees Me

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?”
~ Genesis 16:13 

When I was in college I was part of a women's Beth Moore Bible study. If any of you have every done a Beth Moore Bible study you know that it's pretty intense and you learn a lot--about the Bible, about God, and about yourself. Not necessarily in that order. This study was 'The Patriarchs'. At first, I thought, "The patriarchs? How can a women's Bible study be all about men?" Foolish little me just didn't see it. But I have always been grateful for that study. I learned so much...about the Bible, about God, and about myself. Not necessarily in that order.

So if this study was six or so years ago, why bring it up now? Well...lately, I've been reminded of one of my favorite parts of that study. It's become one of my favorite stories in the Bible, and it features a little respected or valued person. Hagar. Hagar gets a bad rap most of the time, I think. It wasn't her fault. She was just a pawn in Sarai's quest for fulfillment. She was used, abused, and cast aside. And posterity has had little compassion for her.

Genesis relates two stories of Hagar going out into the desert, running away from and/or thrown out by Sarai. And both times, God comes to her. The writers of Genesis paint these tender scenes of God in the form of angels coming to Hagar to comfort and guide her. The first time Hagar is instructed to return to Abram & Sarai; the second time God provides life giving water for Hagar and Ishmael and reassurance that He will sustain them. It's so clear that God has time and tenderness for this scared servant girl.

In Genesis 16, the first time Hagar runs away, she gives God a name. This is one thing I learned in 'The Patriarchs'; people in Genesis are always giving God names. In this way, Genesis is one of the best books to read to get a sense of who God really is. So many facets of His character are revealed. Hagar gives God the name 'El-Roi' (and in a humorous side note, I can't help but think of the stinkin' Jetsons...'his boy Elroy!' *ah-hem*...anyway...).

El-Roi is translated as 'The God who sees me'. 

Take that in for a moment. Soak in it. Because it really is beautiful. 

And I can tell you it's true. He does see me, and He sees you, too. I've been experiencing this incredible reality for the last 10 weeks. Ever since I started recovering in the hospital after giving birth. It's been in the little things that became really big things for me. The examples are deeply personal so I'm afraid I must keep them to myself. But I can tell you this...I cried out to God from within my heart, and I really believed He could and would do what I asked from Him...and He hasn't let me down. He is the God who sees me. He sees my pain, my fear, my exhaustion, my hopes, and he hears my prayers.

That's the other part of Hagar's story. When she and Ishmael are cast out by Sarah (her name has been changed in the time between Part 1 and Part 2 of Hagar's story) the Bible tells us that God heard Ishmael crying. And so God came to Hagar to comfort and provide for her. He proves that he's not only the God who sees but the God who hears.

So can I tell you, the next time you are afraid and feel all alone...or the next time you feel completely powerless to do what needs to be done...the next time you are over-whelmed by your reality...remember that there is a God who sees you. And just call on El-Roi. He will be faithful. He's always faithful.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!

    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”

~ Lamentations 3:22-24

Friday, June 8, 2012

Be Still and Know

I intended to write my son a letter every month on his birthday. I started one...but I was too exhausted to finish it. I think this is the theme of motherhood. Exhaustion mixed with good intentions. And the sheer resolve to get something done once in awhile.

This month went by quickly, in some ways. The days go fast. The nights...not so much. But I try to stay positive, even at 3am when he's been up for two hours alternating between eating, filling diapers, and crying. My short temper and desire for control get us nowhere fast so I'm learning to just let it go. Let it be.

When I wrote the post about Dayton's birth I left out one huge important detail. When I realized it several hours, maybe even a day later, I was surprised. But we'll blame it on the exhaustion.

Curtis and I weren't able to take the childbirth classes because of our work schedules, so I didn't have any Lamaze training. We got a DVD out from the library but it was a video-taped seminar from approximately 1981 so we mostly laughed at it and got nothing out of it. My mom was a big fan of Lamaze so she talked to me some about breathing and having a focal point. Years ago she had told me that she used Philippians 4:13 (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me) to get through her labor with me. So I thought a little bit about these things in the days before being induced, but I didn't have a plan. Surprising, isn't it?

Well..I suppose that isn't exactly accurate. My plan was to have my mom there with me. Curtis' job was to hold my hand and let me yell at him, if necessary. My mom's job was to tell me how and when to breathe. Neither of these happened. Like I said in the other post, I was surrounded by nurses so Curtis' couldn't get near me. And they had me hold my own legs instead of using stirrups so I wasn't able to hold anyone's hand anyway. And by the time my mom got to the hospital I had gotten my epidural and felt nothing. Because labor started earlier than expected and the worst of my contractions happened in the middle of the night, my mom wasn't there to tell me how to breathe. I just tried to inhale and exhale deeply. I did hold Curtis' hand for that part, so I suppose...his job was partially fulfilled.

I remember thinking that I didn't want to use Philippians 4:13 for my focal point. It didn't feel right, it wasn't the source of comfort that I wanted. I don't know why, it just felt that way. But somewhere in the midst of my contractions, through the fog of my sleeping pill haze, a song came back to me. A song I had learned in show choir my junior year. Be Still and Know That I Am God. I have to be honest, I can't even remember all of the lyrics, and I had completely forgotten the first part of the song until days after delivery, but the bit I had in my mind, I repeated over and over and over again.

Be still and know
That I am God
Though the mountains may fall
To the heart of the sea
Tho' the Earth
May Give Way
Tho' the....(mind goes blank)
The mountains may quake,
Be Still, Be Still,
Be Still and Know

Come see the works of the Lord,
Come see the works of the Lord!

I turned these words over and over in my mind. Through the contractions, through the haze, through the worry. Be still and know that I am God.

My junior year of high school was 2001. We learned this song after the attacks on September 11th. We must've sung it a hundred times that year. My choir teacher retired that spring and we sang it at her last Pops concert. This song has always been riddled with emotion for me, and now there's one more layer. A layer of beauty and celebration...a layer about life and beginnings, instead of endings.

And last week when we took Dayton to church for the first time....the verse which was read before the worship set...

“Be still, and know that I am God; 

    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”
Psalm 46:10

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Moment My Whole World Changed

I've been trying to file as many memories as possible over the last three weeks. I don't want to miss or forget a thing from these precious days. I've been waiting to have time and energy to share some of these memories on this blog, and I figure now is as good a time as ever. I have to be honest with you--I fear that my writing will probably be choppy and stilted. My brain feels fuzzy and I struggle to find the right words to express myself, even more so to express profound feelings that I've never had before. But I want to try to freeze frame a few of these memories in writing, so here goes nothing.

At my final OB appointment I discussed with Dr. Twombly the different birthing options given the reality that my baby was going to be over nine pounds. We agreed that to try for a natural birth seemed to be the best option, but also that if Dayton didn't come on his own by Saturday that I would be induced. The plan was for me to go to Saint Luke's on Saturday evening and be administered a drug that would help my cervix to dilate, and then to be given potocin on Sunday morning (May 6th being my official due date). I was done at work so I spent that week at home trying to figure out how to start contractions and get my water to break or something. Nothing worked. So Saturday evening Curtis, Mom and I headed to the hospital. Mom stayed just long enough to make sure we were settled, but Curtis and I were, obviously, there for the long-haul. Around 10:00pm the nurse finally came in to begin administering the drugs, but because hospital regulations required that they had to start me on the potocin and skip using the other drug all together as Saturday night I was only 39 weeks and 6 days, not officially 40 weeks. I agreed to a sleeping pill, thinking I would need it for nerves, and Curtis and I settled in for our last night as non-parents.

Now because of that darned sleeping pill the next few hours are very fuzzy for me. Contractions started around 1:30 or 2:30am. By 5:00am I was fully dilated and my contractions were getting very intense. The anesthesiologist and my OB gave me the epidural around this time. As I lost all feeling from the waist down I remember thinking, what did I just do? Was this a mistake?? I was relieved to no longer have the pain but I didn't like not being able to feel the contractions at all. It was unsettling for me to have my body be in labor but for my brain to not know it, essentially. I'm not sure I would really do it differently, the not being in pain thing was really great especially since I didn't have any other pain management techniques.

Around 7:30am they had me push for the first time. They could start to see his hair! But as I didn't feel the need to push and they didn't want to rush the baby (I guess), they decided they'd wait a little bit longer and up the amount of potocin I was getting to increase the contractions. My in-laws came for a few minutes to talk before my father-in-law headed to work, and around 8am or so my mom arrived. One of the nurses had us take bets as to what time the baby would be born and how much he would weigh. Around 8:40am this same nurse came in and starting ask me whether or not I could feel any of the contractions or felt the need to push. I didn't. I wished I did but I just didn't. She upped the potocin. A couple of minutes went by and my OB, a resident doctor, and another nurse came into the room. Dr. Twombly briefly explained that the baby's heart rate was dropping and that they would need to deliver him quickly. I had two options--push and let them use the vacuum to expedite delivery, or go to an emergency c-section, and I had about 30 seconds to decide. I knew he was way down in the birth canal, after all they had seen hair at 7:30! So I decided to push. They put an oxygen mask on me, hoping that the extra oxygen would help the baby (something they had done several hours earlier, as well) and had me push like crazy. There were nurses all around my bed so Curtis and my mom couldn't get to me but I remember opening my eyes between pushes to look at Curtis and hearing my mom keep telling me to push and breathe. After a couple of pushes and a few short minutes, Dayton Curtis Milford Berry arrived at 8:57am and weighed 9 pounds 8 ounces. He was absolutely perfect, there weren't' any complications from his lowered heart rate. And I had only been five minutes off in my guess!

We decided to have Dayton sleep in our room that night. He hadn't eaten much so I was hoping he'd wake up and want to eat. He was sleeping in his little bassinet next to my bed, and I barely slept a wink. I just kept looking at him. I had a pillow pulled over the edge of the hospital railing so I could lay my head down and look into this bassinet. I laid my hand on his little chest and fell asleep. Of course every time he made a noise I woke up, hoping he was hungry, making sure he was okay. This first night with my son is one I will cherish in my heart forever. It was the night I knew my whole world had changed. There was no getting back to normal, there was a new normal and this beautiful baby boy was going to define that new normal.

Dayton has changed my whole world. He was born on Sunday morning, on Thursday morning we took him to his pediatrician for the first time (his pediatrician doesn't go to Saint Luke's), and he was diagnosed with a strong case of jaundice. The doctor actually caught it just before it went into the danger zone. We spent 27 hours in Wood County Hospital with Dayton under ultraviolet lights for most of that time. I hated not being able to hold him except to nurse him, and I hated even more that he had to wear cotton pads over his eyes. When he would wake him, he would cry because he couldn't see and I could only imagine how scary that was for him. When the jaundice seemed to be coming back on the following Sunday, my first Mother's Day, we had to take him back to Wood County to the lab. And we took him again on Monday morning. For the first time in my life I had to fill out paperwork for another person, I had to consent for treatment, I had to be the mom.

I've spent fewer than 20 hours away from my son since he's been born. He slept in the nursery one night at Saint Luke's and again at Wood County, and I suppose a couple hours have added up at home with showers and things like that. But for the most part, I have been with my son 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since May 6th. The nights have been better than expected, but there have been some rough ones. We've had a couple fussy days, and I've had some desperate moments when I have felt like a complete failure. All of this is normal, as far as I can tell from the rest of the world. Dayton hasn't just changed my whole world, he's changed me. The world is different with another life needing me so much. I have to be stronger, smarter, and kinder. I have to give more of myself than I ever have before. And I don't think twice. I wouldn't deny him anything he needs, and at this age, anything he wants. I can't be in control anymore but I do have to be the one with a plan to make sure he gets what he needs.

Women will tell you that motherhood is the hardest thing in the world. And you think you understand it but you don't. Not until you've done it. I know that now. But it's worth it. It's worth it for every milestone moment and every tender moment. When I first found out I was pregnant, I was scared to death of losing him. I listened to the Matt Hammit song 'Every Falling Tear' over and over again. And now that Dayton is here in my arms I can vouch for that song's truth--he is worth every falling tear and facing every fear, and he is going to have all my love. I don't know a better way to close this post than to share the link for the post I wrote in September about those fears. It kinda brings the story full circle. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Birth Announcement

Classic Collage Baby Card
Send custom cards from Shutterfly for St. Patrick's Day.
View the entire collection of cards.
I promise to put up a 'real' post soon but I've been a bit busy with recovery and taking care of my darling Dayton. I did find some time to make this awesome birth announcement on Shutterfly, and as my son is so stinkin' cute, I just had to share it! 

Friday, April 6, 2012

We all know that Facebook can be the source of drama. Being an adult, I usually don't have that problem but this week Facebook's dark side reared its ugly head. And the thing is...I was minding my own business. I made the mistake of sharing something that I thought was interesting and thought-provoking. Not overly religious or political, just...interesting. And it blew up in my face.

It's been bothering me for several days now. This is due to my obsessive personality,  no doubt. But I just don't get it. In the last couple of months I've had three separate occasions when I completely innocently and appropriately tried to share with my little corner of the world what I believe, and I've been told that I'm wrong. I don't mind being *proven* wrong but when we're talking about beliefs, deeply personal ones, there's definitely a line that shouldn't be crossed. Especially on Facebook or other social media outlets. It's just not the time or the place, in my humble opinion.

And what gets that in all three occasions, I never once insulted the other person. I never told them they were wrong. I simply stated what I believe. I asked a few questions (received no answers). And I told the other parties that I felt that they were out of line in making fun of my beliefs publicly.

This last time, what I was told is that I should expect to be made fun of for having those beliefs. That I used to be a beautiful soul (but I'm apparently not anymore). That I believe in mythology or fairytales (i.e. The Bible, Jesus' resurrection, etc). I was called a bigot despite the fact that I did no name calling, no slandering of other peoples' views/beliefs, or derogatory comments. I was informed that my son is only a fetus who isn't done 'baking' yet and that I shouldn't use him as a shield (a shield against what? I have no idea). That last part is probably what bothers me the most. Don't drag my child into this, unborn or not. He certainly didn't do anything to anyone.

And then I was un-friended and blocked so I couldn't even reply. I couldn't defend myself. I couldn't even tell this person that what went from a misunderstanding crossed all sensible boundaries into an unwarranted verbal attack. This person even insulted my friends.

I thought only teenagers or very juvenile adults had these issues on Facebook. I thought that those of us that just use it as a way to stay in touch and express ourselves in some small way could avoid this insane drama. But it's true that it's easy to 'confront' people when you don't have to see them face to face, and know that you never will again if you don't want to. It's easy to blast people that are different than you, to degenerate into name-calling and insults when there aren't any real world consequences. Even for adults, I guess.

But the thing is...I am a real person. With real beliefs and real convictions. I have every right to express them (appropriately, of course). And I have real feelings. Those feelings were completely disregarded and trampled on by someone I haven't actually been friends with in 10 years. And I'm just wondering...what happened? All of this drama because I believe life begins at conception and this other person doesn't? And I'm the one who is close-minded?

Now...all this being said...the entire time this has been going on...and in the other two instances...I can only think of one thing. I was promised this. Jesus Himself promised that we would be hated, called names, persecuted and made fun of for Him. He warned the disciples on several occasions and every time, He was right. Why should I think that I wouldn't have to deal with some drama? And at the end of the day, some Facebook drama that disappears in a few days isn't so bad. It's nothing compared to real religious persecution. It's just annoying. But it always takes me by surprise and it always just bothers me. I don't do this to other people. Why is it okay to do it to me?

And what really gets me is that today is Good Friday. One of my favorite days of the year because of what happened 2000+ years ago. The sacrifice for me. The sacrifice for everyone, including this former real-world and facebook friend. Whether they like it or believe it, Jesus died for this person. The blood that poured out on Calvary was as much for the unbelievers as the believers. But because of what just happened, I find myself hesitating to share any thought-provoking images or words. And it's not because I'm suddenly ashamed of Jesus, it's just that I don't want to deal with any more drama. Which is ridiculous. It's Facebook, people...

I mean...I was just sharing my point of view. I wasn't forcing it on anyone...If you don't like it, don't read it. If I really bother you that much, just quietly delete me. Because debate and the sharing of different ideas is one thing, but insults and slandering and judgment calls...I don't have time for.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Where It's Safe

So Curtis and I have bad luck with cats, it seems. We can't seem to keep them at our house or alive for longer than about six months. Currently, we have two black cats we're trying to keep around and alive but they're not making it easy. Otis picks on Simon, even though Simon was there first. Simon's a timid cat so he runs away to avoid confrontation with Otis. Whenever he does come back he looks worse than the time before. This last time he came home we kicked Otis out for a few days so Simon could heal and rest. But Simon took off again after a few days and then Otis left, too. We were completely cat-less for about two-and-a-half weeks.

But then Otis appeared on our porch swing the other morning looking about three steps from death's doorstep. And his meow was the saddest, softest, raspiest sound I'd ever heard. So I put him in the garage for a couple of days with food and water, hoping he'd rest and get better. It started to work, his meow started to get strong again. But he left on Thursday morning when I took the car out of the garage. I found him later that afternoon across the ditch at the neighbor's house completely tangled in burrs and brush. He was lethargic and listless, other than meowing frantically at the site of me. So here I am, 7 months pregnant, climbing through the brush to loosen my darn cat. I went to get my neighbor to carry Otis back to our house (I had visions of me toppling forward into the ditch if I tried to pick him up, given the angle he was laying at and my rather large belly), but when I came back...Otis had disappeared again.

Bode and I looked for him last night and this morning. I worried all through the thunderstorms last night. Fact of the matter is, I don't know if he's strong enough to survive the kind of wind and heavy rains we had. My vet  said she'd take him as a good Samaritan case because we don't have extra money right now--but I have to have him first. I have to get him to come home before I can take him to her office.

I don't know if he'll be back. I don't know if he's still alive. And I really have no idea where Simon is or if he's alive. I tried to help them both. I put them where they were safe and had their needs met. But they both left, despite knowing that I equal safety. I know that they know that because when they see me, they come to me, they perk up, they meow. They know that if I see them, I'll help them, and that if they are where I am that they'll be okay. And yet...they left.

I was lamenting my frustrations the other night and realized...God does this with people all the time. We leave the place of safety, where all our needs are met. Sometimes we leave because we can't get along with the other people there (like Simon avoiding Otis). Sometimes we leave because it looks more interesting or exciting elsewhere (which is how we lost Felix, Luckey, and Milo). Sometimes we leave because we're just wild and refuse to be tamed (which was the case with Fiyero). And sometimes we come back, beat up, mangy, and dirty. When Simon came home last he stunk to high heaven because some other male had sprayed him. His ear was mangled. Otis has patches of fur missing and he lost about half of his body weight. We come back to God this way--a stinky, ugly mess and often too spiritually sick and starved to make it another day.

He puts us where we're safe. He cleans us up and gives us food and water. And if we'd just stay put, we'd be okay. In the Gospel of Luke we're led to believe that the prodigal son does just that. When he comes home, he stays put. He learned his lesson. But this is a parable and not a true story. And the true story often is that we stray again. We leave, for whatever reason. Sometimes we just think we're going out to enjoy the sunshine but we get caught in the brambles. Or side-swiped by life. We can't seem to just stay where it's safe.

Sometimes people leave God's safety and they never find their way back. They think they find something better or they think they've gone too far and can't come back. I think we've all known people that fall into this category. They give up on God because they believe He's given up on them. They keep leaving safety and there's nothing we can do to help them. Nothing but pray. But prayer is powerful, so it can be enough.

One comforting thing for us but perhaps even more heartbreaking for God is that He always knows where we are. Right now I have no idea where Otis is. I'm hoping he's next door somewhere and my neighbor finds him alive. But God always knows right where we are. He knows what we're up to and just how much danger or trouble we're in. I think this is more heart-wrenching for Him to watch us get beat up by life and make damaging choices. He doesn't force us to come back. He never will. That wouldn't be love. Jesus longs to shelter Jerusalem as a mother hen does her chicks, but the people refuse to be saved. The people refuse to be helped, loved, cared for. It breaks His heart. You can hear the lament in His voice. They just won't stay where it's safe.

So I'm not sure what's going to happen with my cats. I'm really hoping that Otis turns up again in the next couple days and I can take him to the vet. And maybe he'll learn to stay where it's safe, to stop straying so far or staying away for so long. And if you have a Simon or Otis in your life, a person like that, then I pray that they come back, too, and let God heal them.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What's In A Name?

I wrote this letter to my grandparents for their Christmas gift this year. They already knew the baby's name but I wanted to give them the story behind it. I know they've shared it with their guests and visitors so they won't mind my sharing it with my blog guests and visitors. This is the story of my son's name. 

Grammy and PapPap,

When Curtis and I began talking about names for children, which was long before this one was conceived, we knew we wanted to use the name Dayton somewhere. Overtime we decided it would be our first son’s first name, should we have a boy.

According to the internet Dayton means ‘sunny town’. This makes sense in light of the research Mom has done on our English roots. Deighton was a place in Yorkshire. We were De Deightons (of Dayton) for generations. Then, just Deighton, and upon coming to America we simplified the spelling to Dayton. But while we were Deightons we were Knights Templar, Keepers of the Great Seal of England, Lord Mayors of York, Sherriffs of Nottingham (but not bad guys, I checked), among other things. The Deightons may not have been important enough to make the history books, even in footnotes, but we have an interesting and prestigious past. It’s the stuff stories and legends are made of, and the kind of things little boys have pretended to be for centuries. I intend to raise my little boy reading him stories of knights, Robin Hood, and kings, weaving in our own family history. I imagine he will be proud of where we came from, and proud of his name. It’s a strong, noble name.

But I will also tell him about what the name Dayton means to me. It’s much more than a sunny town or a noble past. It’s generosity, gentleness, grace, and gratitude—the things I learned from my Grammy. I aspire to be like you someday when I’m a grown up. Sweet and tenderhearted and very giving. Giving of your time, your compassion, your talents. The world is becoming more and more selfish and there are fewer people like you. But it’s people like you, a ray of sunshine, that make the greatest difference. I want my son to be these things, to be a ray of sunshine. I guess the meaning ‘sunny town’ does fit after all. If we’re all supposed to be a city on a hill where people can see the light of Jesus, then we need to be sunny towns.

My son’s middle name is for his father, Curtis. And the funny thing about Curtis is that when I prayed for a husband I asked for a man just like my PapPap because he was the best man I’ve ever known. A man who would be hard-working, a man devoted to his family, a man who is generous and thoughtful. God took me quite seriously and delivered me a young man very much like my grandfather—down to his driving Fords, voting Republican, and having a unique sense of humor.

Our son will have a second middle name. Some people will think that’s silly, to give a boy two middle names. And some will think it’s weird when they find out that it’s Milford. But I like it. It’s my PapPap’s name. It only seemed right to include you in my son’s name. His name is about legacies and who I want him to grow up to be like. If my son grows up and reminds me at all of you, I will consider myself a success as a parent.

Dayton Curtis Milford Berry is a mouthful, I admit. But it’s really a reminder to my boy of who he is and where he came from. He may be a descendant of people who served and knew English kings, but he is also a descendent of people who served and knew the King of Kings. Ultimately, it’s the example of Christian faith that has inspired me so much throughout the years. It’s the same faith that I aspire to have and that I want to raise my son to have.

I will tell my son about both of you and the fun things we did together. I imagine that in his world the Deightons of old and the Buterbaughs of not so long ago will mold together. Children have a way of blurring the lines that way. But that’s okay. I don’t see many differences between Sherwood Forest and your backyard, between royal feasts and Jean-o’s Pizza. For my son, it’s all part of the same story of where he came from.

May will be here before we know it and so will Dayton. I’m so anxious to meet him and find out who this little person is that God is knitting inside of me. I wonder if he will look like me or like Curtis, and if we’ll be able to pick out little pieces of each of you. There are times when I think Marissa Jane looks just like one of you, and I hope that’s the case with Dayton¸too. I’m excited to bring him to visit Bald Eagle and for you to be able to hold him. I want to take pictures so I can show him as he gets older who we named him after and tell him about how much you loved him.

I’m so grateful that you’re my grandparents. Most people I know don’t have grandparents like mine. Their grandparents are nice people, but they’re just not like the two of you. I’m honored to be able to have a son to name for two of the people that I love most and have loved me the most. Yes, his name is undoubtedly a legacy of love.

PS for my readers...I feel the need to assure everyone that the use of the name 'Milford' will be very limited. I figure one way kids know just how much trouble they're in is based on how much of their name their mother uses. My degrees of trouble will be...Dayton!...Dayton Curtis!...Dayton Curtis Berry!....Dayton Curtis Milford Berry!! But other than the birth certificate and certain other legal documents, the name won't be used much, unless he chooses it for himself when he's older. But it is my gift to him, his whole name. 
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