Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Memorable Evening

January marks Dawn's birthday, and Jim decided to throw a party for her 60th this year. It sounded so simple, just some handmade invitations and a catered candlelit dinner at 7F Lodge for 50 of her closest friends....

As the party approached we found ourselves putting our heads together to work out details like decor, music, cake, and out of town guests. We ended up booking two bands: the elegant jazz quartet that plays on First Fridays in Bryan, and of course Tim and The Burdines (our very own, otherwise nameless, in-house band).

The cake was ordered from Cinderella Stories, who made James and Whit's wedding cake. It was definitely a birthday cake, probably the best one ever! French vanilla with raspberry almond filling and buttercream frosting, I believe.

Wesley came to town to help celebrate. Many more wished to be here but had to settle for being here in their hearts.

I got Jim's blessing to head up the decoration committee, and something inside me switched into overdrive. I found some terrific decorations for 90% off at After-Christmas sales, ordered dark blue tablecloths from the party store, and prepared almost 200 candles for decorative effect.

My own favorite part of the decor were the 8" silver foiled paper maiche ornaments that we hung from the rafters and lights for a dropped ceiling effect.

I think Dawn's favorite thing was the blazing chapel.

It was so much fun to put on a party for the one who is usually the party planner and detail person. We also prepared a slide show and memory book as souvenirs, which both turned out to be awesome elements.

By the time it was over, I felt as satisfied, and as tired, as if I had just put on a wedding for myself with three weeks of preparation. My tastes have changed so much since my own wedding ten years ago, and I don't think I would have done much better than this if I had it to do all over again right now. And Dawn was so appreciative, it made the effort all worthwhile.

Happy Birthday, Grammy!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Rhinestone Cowgirls

The whole Texas gang got on board to help with a birthday party for Maren's school friends. I tried to keep everything simple, so that money was spent on things the girls would take home. It ended up being both quite affordable and stress-free. The time passed with a rush, leaving us all feeling a bit breathless by the end! But I think everyone had exactly as much fun as you would expect from a 6 year old birthday party.

We started out with an activity of decorating a wooden picture frame with rhinestones, a velvet cowgirl hat, and a horse. My heart thrills to see kids doing crafts!

As each girl finished, she was decorated with a pink bandanna. We got a group photo before turning them loose with sidewalk chalk on the driveway. In pairs, Guppy took the girls on tractor rides around the yard. The temperature was about five degrees too cold for comfort, but the fun level made up for it!

Everyone tumbled back inside for presents and cake. While we were outside, the stage had been all cleared and reset by extra hands in the house. I so enjoy watching little girls get into gifts. All the little heads clustered together, each one urging, "Here, open mine next!"

I had so much fun with the cake, and all I really did was bake a flower cake and frost it green. The topper was a little Breyer stable kit that had all the fancy I needed. Each guest was then sent home with a set of tiny Breyer horses and their finished photo frame, complete with a print of the group photo we had taken an hour earlier, thanks to Justin and James.

These little girls are all so sweet. I have been enjoying getting to know them from parties and from visiting Maren in her classroom. I am constantly struck by the fact that they, along with Maren, are learning their social graces right here in front of me.

After the girly party broke up, we broke out the hot dogs and steak for a family dinner. Maren enjoyed getting even more gifts from the family.

I wondered how we would top last year, and I think this was the best way: scaled back yet still fun.

To see more photos of this fun day, click here: Rhinestone Cowgirls

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Maren turns 6!

It's always a big week when the oldest child has a birthday, because now I am the parent of a child that is another year older! New territory for all of us...

This year Maren had a school day, where she got to wear a crown for the entire day. Here she is with her teacher, who is about to have her own firstborn in another six weeks, I think!

Grammy and Jesse and I went over to meet her at school for lunch. We sat with one of her friends whose mother had also come for lunch that day.

For snack to share on this day, Maren requested homemade blueberry muffins. They were deadly good, and well appreciated by the class (and teacher)! After school, Grammy sat down with her for a tea party, including more blueberry muffins.

At this age, Maren has just crossed over into reading. The teacher says she does an excellent job with hearing and writing down beginning, middle and end sounds of words. I am always hearing her sound out new words, or figure out how to spell a word she knows.

Maren loves kitties and horses, riding her tricycle in the driveway, Super Mario Galaxy (video game for the new Wii), and soft pajamas. Her favorite toys right now are the little Breyer horses. She doesn't know it yet, but that will be a big part of her birthday presents, too!

She has lost a total of three teeth, with another one about to go any day and a few more that are getting wiggly. She enjoys painting and drawing, especially making tickets and charts for people to read, as well as telling stories through her pictures. Sometimes we get on a kick where we do craft projects several days in a row (consider I am her mother, after all), and then she will come to me and say, "hello? it's time to do a craft project!"

We are just beginning to deal with allowance, with some money coming as reward for chores, some money coming automatically but having the potential to be revoked for unkind behavior, and some bonus money available for taking initiative. Hopefully Mommy and Daddy can get our act together to be consistent and actually pay out the rewards!

Miss Maren started swimming this week at the local Natatorium, with the goal of possibly being able to join the swim team by May. It was pretty cute to see how excited she was to get back into the water after four months away. Like a little fish, she was. We also hope to get her started with horseriding lessons later in the spring or summer.

We will be having a birthday party for Maren on Saturday, with her friends from class. It is a Rhinestone Cowgirl party. In the evening we'll have family birthday and give her gifts from the family as well. She has been very grown-up about understanding that birthday comes in two installments this year. I'll post pictures and stories after the fact.

We are very proud of our little princess. She told me on her birthday that she feels like a superhero now, because six seems so much older than five! She is growing into a nice young lady.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cultivating Oranges, Part 2

Please see Part 1 of this post for the beginning of the thought.

The second barrier to giving control of my life to God is another big one: PRIDE. I don't want to admit that I have limitations. With this barrier, I am in good company. Back in the garden when the serpent was tempting Eve, he promised her that when she ate the fruit of the tree she would “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Pride is the original sin. I am personally convinced that when Paul said in “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” he could have added “and the one right before it is pride” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

We all want to believe we are in the driver's seat of our own life. Sometimes we admit to being human, as in, “Hey, leave me alone, I'm only human!” But emotionally, deep in our hearts where no one can see, we still regret our limitations. “I wish I could have done better on that test.” “Why can't I be a more capable parent?” “I hate this feeling inside me that drags me down all the time.”

Have you ever stopped and thought about the fact that God made us just the way he wanted to? Poor memory, frustrating situation, depression and all. Seriously, he did it on purpose. God made us the way he did, put us in this part of the world, in this moment in history, with this set of circumstances, On Purpose. Because in our shortcomings, we learn to come to God, who IS perfect. We depend on him to complete our flawed story with his perfect ending, and in so doing, we learn to love him. So when we fret about our limitations, we are committing the sin of pride, of saying that we think we could have done a better job of orchestrating our lives than God. Better than the same God who intricately created the Universe, and who purposefully created each one of us.

The prophet Isaiah uses the illustration of a potter making a clay pot: “Does a clay pot ever argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, 'Stop, you are doing it wrong!' Does the pot exclaim, 'How clumsy can you be!' (45:9) We did not put the world into being. We did not set history in motion. We did not even have anything to do with our own birth on this planet. We are that clay pot, and God is that maker. When we accept the limitation that we will never be the maker, we are able to surrender our need to control the circumstances. Once we look at life with the view that we were created with a purpose, all that remains is to ask God's help to fulfill it. And all that anxiety about orchestrating and fixing the microscopic details that drive us crazy? The pressure is off.

The third barrier to intimacy with God is CONFUSION about what it means to surrender my life to him. It doesn't make sense to surrender a percentage of my income to the church, because then I may run out of the money I have. It doesn't make sense to surrender a certain amount of time each day to reading God's Word and praying, because I already don't have enough time to do all the things I want to do. And it really doesn't make sense to surrender my dreams, because that is the most hopeful part of my existence.

And yet, all those things are true. I believe it was CS Lewis who said, the more we let God take over our decisions, the more like ourselves we become. Because God knows how he intended us to be, and each moment of surrender brings us closer to that ideal. Romans 6:13 says, “Give yourselves completely to God since you have been given new life. And use your whole body as a tool to do what is right for the glory of God.” To be honest, surrendering our money, time and dreams is not a suggestion for those who have placed their hope in God. It is a mandate.

But never fear, there is plenty of blessing waiting for those who are able to get past the barriers and surrender everything to God. The prophet Micah shares a promise: “'Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,' says the Lord Almighty, 'I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won't have enough room to take it in! Try it! Let me prove it to you!'” (3:10)

So how does one overcome one's Fear, Pride and Confusion, in order to trust God and worship him? Seems like it boils down to a few critical steps. Get to know God. Admit my Limitations. Surrender my Dreams. Then God is able to pour his grace all over the sections of my heart. I imagine it like honey poured on a grapefruit. When he is able to direct and pour grace on every area of my life, he is able to more completely shape me to be all he intended for me to be. And that is the kind of meaningful life that my heart longs for. How about you?

To hear a podcast of the message that inspired this train of thought, click this link.
Cultivate for '08: Worship

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cultivating Oranges, Part 1

As the year starts off, many of us take the opportunity for a fresh start personally. In response to last week's message at church, my new start includes cultivating a heart of worship. To me, that means developing an attitude of noticing God in everything around me, and allowing him to influence everything I do.

Sunday there was a basket of oranges on the pastor's podium. Pastor Will held one up and likened it to my heart. This orange (and my heart) has a fragrant, sweet, refreshing fruit inside it. It represents a whole, as in my whole heart—an illustration the Bible uses to indicate the center of one's attitude and intention. Here can be found my thoughts, hopes and dreams; my attitude toward spending money and time management; my relationships with parents, spouse, friends, children, and more. Each section of the orange represents one of those areas. The orange, similar to my heart, had been carefully cultivated with sun, rain, nutrients, and careful handling to get to the table that morning.

Yet there was something remaining before the fruit could be enjoyed by another. The orange had a peel on it to protect it from the outside world. Does your heart ever get a protective layer wrapped around it? I think we all have that experience, at least from time to time. Life is just a little easier when you don't have other people, or even—dare I say it—God, mucking around in your intimate business, requiring the emotional energy that is a necessary part of change.

Will identified three protective peels, or barriers, we tend to put up as a resistance to letting our Creator have access to the intimate areas of our hearts.

The first barrier we put up to resist allowing God to work his plan in our hearts is FEAR. Simply put, we are not sure we can trust God. We are not sure he will allow us to keep our hopes and dreams. We know there are things hiding there that he will not approve of, and nobody enjoys exposing their ugly secrets to the outside air. What's more, God is so big he can seem impersonal, and nobody shares their intimate self with a stranger.

There are many people who pay their respects to God two times a year, or maybe as often as once a week. Let me ask you, do you speak to your best friend only one time a week? When I meet new people and speak to them only on occasion, it takes our relationship a long time to grow into something meaningful. It is an ongoing, cultivated conversation that results in better knowing another.

There is no way we mostly insignificant humans could have approached Almighty God with this idea of having a relationship. First, what do we know? We would have been too frightened of this being that controls the movement of the sun, the blowing of the wind and the shifting of earth's plates. But in his letter to the Romans (chapter 5, verse 8), the Apostle Paul tells us that God sent Christ to make relationship with people possible. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” While we were still helpless to approach the perfect One who cannot look upon sin, he reached out to us and made a way to be able to come have a knowledge of and relationship with him. Sounds like he might be interested in a relationship, eh?

Jesus tells his followers in the Book of John (chapter 15) that a true friend is willing to give his life for another. “I command you to love each other in the same way that I love you. And here is how to measure it—the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends. You are my friends...” Those listening didn't understand it at the time, but Jesus was referring in advance to his eventual death on the cross. He was trying to convey the intensity and depth of the love that was willing to give up life, so that those listening, as well as all Christ's followers, and even all of humanity, could have the opportunity to have a meaningful, living relationship with the Creator.

In Genesis (chapter 7) we learn of a man named Noah, who trusted God's word for 120 years as he built an enormous boat in the middle of dry land. Can you imagine remaining true to the direction of someone you knew only casually, for 120 years? Noah must have been intimate with God in order to have the persistence to obey. And Hebrews 11, which recaps the faith of the early followers of God, tells us that because of his decision to build despite the fact that a flood big enough to float that boat had never occurred before, Noah was made right in God's sight. He trusted God in a seriously life-altering way, and God rewarded him.

If we need any more reassurance that we don't need to be afraid of God, consider that “Do not be afraid” is the most often repeated command in the Bible. God desires to have relationship with us, and his “delight is in those who honor him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:11) When we let go of the fear, and allow ourselves to be loved by God, that makes God happy! It still amazes me that insignificant little me has the power to do something to please the Creator of the Universe.

There are more barriers that also get in the way of a complete relationship with our Father, which I will share in another post later this week. I know there is good juice to be had from those oranges. Won't you come back and try to get to it with me?