Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Quiet Faith

After church recently, I felt compelled to share my faith. I usually walk quietly in my faith, but God has put this on my heart and I'm trying to obey unquestioningly and listen closely, so here goes.

I wouldn't say my faith has ever been a secret. I teach at a Christian school, I reference heaven when someone dies, I say 'Thank God' and genuinely mean it. But how many may have not realized my faith exists?

I choose to say faith instead of religion, because I see them as vastly different, and thankfully so does my church. I'm service oriented, and try to show my faith through kind words, thoughtful actions, and a deep consideration for my fellow people. But the sermon topic from a recent Sunday has me thinking about speaking my faith instead of just showing it. If I do those things because of my faith, but say nothing, how many will know who leads me? How many will miss an opportunity to hear of the love God has to give? Of the sacrifice that has already been given? 

I love words. I love reading words, thinking words, writing words. Yet I often feel I lack the words to share my faith. I fear judgement and dark looks, when really, I should have no fear of anything in this world. Every tough situation I've encountered, I overcame because God led me through it. No judgement by man should make me ignore the small voice in my heart, telling me to speak up.

So this is step one. I have a heart for Jesus. Don't worry; I won't shove it down your throat. I won't push my faith on you in any way. But every act I do is a reflection of my faith. I pray you see my actions, read my words, and know there would be no me without God. I want to love as God loves, which means I don't judge you. I pray for people I don't know and will never meet. I feel compelled to pray by simple things, like hearing a siren or seeing someone who looks stressed, downtrodden or sad.

I became a Christian while in high school, and it was the actions of one amazing family combined with the words and stories of author Francine Rivers that led me to faith. 

My best friend's family truly lives and breathes faith. It was through spending time with them, seeing their kind hearts through their actions, that I realized I had a misconceived notion of faith. When I received a set of books from them, the Mark of the Lion series, I was a little hesitant to read them. I hadn't read the Bible, I didn't go to church, and I only prayed when I was desperate. I thought the Easter resurrection was a ghost story, meant to frighten like the headless horseman, the first time I heard it. Religion seemed like a web of entrapment and guilt, led by a disconnected and angry God. My friend's family wasn't judgmental, harsh or put a fear of God in me. They showed me God's unconditional love while the Rivers books introduced me to the concept of a personal relationship with a forgiving God. This combination absolutely changed my life. I began going to church, praying and reading the Bible. I saw that I had been judgmental, believing stereotypes in the media instead of taking the time to investigate for myself.

God is forgiving. He has forgiven me so much-- periods of doubt and searching, hurtful words and unkind thoughts. One of the hardest and most important lessons I learned was that if you ask for help and forgiveness with a pure heart, you will be forgiven. He may ask you to forgive others as well, but it's much easier to forgive when you have been forgiven.

I am not a perfect person, but I am loved by a perfect God. He leads my every step and I often pray for Him to guide my thoughts as well. He is the source of my strength, the well from which I draw. Now He is leading me to reach out, declare my faith and offer my words. If there is anything I can pray about for you, or if you just want to talk, I'm only a comment away. 

I know religion and faith are often hot topics, which lead people to attack one another. Please refrain from doing so here. I will be closely monitoring comments, but I would like this to be a judgement free space. My goal is to not judge anyone, and I ask that if you comment here you make that your goal as well. Thank you for your time, and for reading.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A change of plans

Recently, my husband and I took our 5 month old to Oklahoma to meet his great-grandmothers, aunt, uncle, and a myriad of other family members. I was super nervous about flying with him, but he's a rock star and is the poster baby for flying with babies, if that poster shows smiles, sleeping and crazy fun plastic cups. He was a champ.

Being an Alaska baby, he's never encountered heat like we experienced while there. One day, the car's thermometer read 117. As it turns out, he's not a fan of being hot. On the flip side, he adores swimming and is a total water baby.

I was overly excited to have him meet my sister, whom he loves. He didn't even spit up on her! He also met my cousins, my aunts and uncle (one aunt is unmarried, this isn't some sort of Big Love arrangement or anything). He proved himself a Mama's boy by wanting me a lot, but I'm okay with that. I love my snugly boy. 

I've always been incredibly close with my Grams, my dad's mom. She taught me how to bake, which y'all know I cherish and love to do. We've always shared a love of books, and traded and chatted about them frequently. When I was waiting to learn the gender of my baby, she kept saying how sweet little boys are. With my dad's death just four months before our baby's gender was revealed, I knew she was hoping for a great-grandson. She adored my sister, cousins and myself-- her four granddaughters. That was no secret. I knew regardless of the gender, she'd love this baby, too. But boy was she excited to hear that my baby was a boy. He is, after all, the first boy on my side of the family in 50 years. So to say I had been looking forward to her meeting my little bear would be an understatement.

After battling ovarian cancer for two years, I knew she would look different. On the Thursday we arrived, Independence Day, she met my sweet little boy. She pinched his fat little legs, a family joke, and he held onto her now bony finger. Despite being warned in advance, I was unprepared to see her so frail. I set little bear on her lap, but she couldn't hold him herself. 

Two day later, she was in the hospital. J cautioned me to say everything I needed to say, but I still held out hope that she would recover. I followed his advice, going to the hospital and chatting about little bear's swimming adventures, the heat, and other meaningless things while her eyelids grew heavy with fatigue. She fell asleep while my sister was in with her. I returned to her room, held her hand, and cried while telling her how much I love and treasure her, and our relationship. J and little bear were waiting for me in the hall, and I was so thankful for their hugs when I emerged, tear-stained and stuffy nosed.

Our flight was scheduled for the following evening. On Sunday morning, we were informed she had passed away. Delta waived the change fee for our flights, charging us only the difference between the tickets.

In the past two years, my heart has broken three times. Once when my dad died, once when Charlie died, and again when Grams died. She didn't want any speeches at her funeral, so this is what I didn't get to say:

Grams was the type of person who would say life is too short, so eat dessert first. Of course, she'd only say that because she loved chocolate so much. We shared a sweet tooth, a love for baking, and an unstoppable fondness for books. I believe I get my depth of heart from her-- she loved so deeply. She loved spending time with her granddaughters, family dinners, white Christmases and football. She loved all her babies, grand-babies and great-grand-babies.

She was, by far, the most considerate person I've met. We spoke several times a week, we emailed equally as often. She bragged about her roses, we joked about  everything. At the end of my pregnancy, just a week before my due date, I got the worst cold of my life. Every cough and sneeze was agony. All I could do was lay on the couch, read and watch movies. Every single day, my phone rang with her on the other end. She didn't ask that oh so annoying question of, "is there a baby yet?" She simply wanted to check in on me. At my wedding, when some guests made a mess, she helped clean it up before I even saw it. Her actions were dictated not by societal standards, but by her heart.

Before you go thinking she was a saint, you should know she always spoke her mind. She was a sailor's wife and if she didn't like something or thought something wasn't right, she'd let you know in colorful terms. She was riotously funny, tactful, caring, and a little bit of everything that is good. 

I know she's in heaven, enjoying the company and delighting in the calorie-free food. But I also know she'll never be truly gone. She lives in me, my sister, my cousins, my uncle, my son and his cousin. Every cupcake and pie I make will have some of her advice and knowledge in it. Every Christmastime snowflake that gently lands will be reminiscent of her. Every miracle touchdown will echo with her cheers.

Grams will forever live on in the loves she left behind. I, for one, intend to live life as she did: with love, joy, chocolate and honesty.

Dad, Grams and myself at my wedding, between photos in the chilly sunshine.