Sunday, April 16, 2017

Unseen Gifts

With both of our daughters and myself sharing Easter as our day of baptism, I always feels a special sense of wonder and reflection amidst the commercialism of colorful eggs, baskets of goodies, and once-a-year attendance at church. Easter has long been celebrated by Christians and pagans alike in some form or another; as the story of Jesus' sacrifice and out of rejoice after a dreary winter's end.
This week I found myself pondering a new connection to my baptism; pregnancy. Say what? Well, the two subjects don't usually coincide- both of my girls were born at winter's end and were baptized as infants. However, as each year passes, I find my thoughts overlap in remembrances and bring about new reflections, so here it goes!

When I first made the decision to get baptized, I was 18 years old. Every Sunday morning I would drive to my grandma's house and together we'd walk next door to the Lutheran Church behind her house for worship service. I was too old for youth group, and too young to consider myself an actual congregation member; those older people were nice but I didn't relate to them. How could I picture their lives being like mine? At 18, living with my boyfriend, with a barrier of teenage angst between my mother and I, and with little to no money to throw in the offering plate. Without a routine life, there was never a consideration in my mind to don a choral robe and join in the worship service, although one time I did get to light the candles as an acolyte. Although I grew up with the idea that "God loves You," religion wasn't a hot topic at the dinner table, nor did any rules to follow extend beyond "do unto others as you would have done unto yourself," and, say a prayer before large, extended family meals.
At this age, and for many of the same reasons, I was in no way looking to become a mother myself. I didn't have any desire to hold a baby, let alone allow one out of my birth canal! If required to follow through with a pregnancy, I'm sure I would have loudly professed that I needed all the drugs allowed and a cesarean section too. Formula would have been mixed because, excuse me, boobs shouldn't be used for kids. I had no way to identify with Jesus' mother, Mary, and the pain that coursed through her body as her son passed away in agony before her...
Mi familia, 1981
I had no time to consider my own mother's dismay as she watched her bright light of a daughter slip into the abusive, drug selling lifestyle of a boy not much older than she'd been when she herself had become a mother. Hey, "I was 18, if I made it through this year without a kid," I thought, "I'd in fact have a one-up on her"; she sought independence even earlier than I and married at 16. She took me along as her private passenger as she headed towards her graduation ceremonies. Now, I can look back and think what it must have been like for, carrying around that knowledge, developing that secret bond that begins to form that unfathomable connection between a mother and daughter, during the stresses of a working teen's married life. I'm so glad that my grandmother spoke these words to me later in life when I tried to say I didn't ever want to see my mom again; "That's not what Jesus would want."
 with Grandma
 That absolutely changed me. Not all at once, no, just like reading enough through the Bible to pick out the principles of faith that I could relate to took many years, so has coming to terms with and being patient in those relationships that are most challenging to me. They are challenging because they are important; I love those people. Or animals. Sometimes we have intolerable connections we can't live without, and we endure. Bible texts can be quite challenging as well. Ever caught a few phrases from a King James version? Whew! I prefer The Message myself! Perhaps because the message is in fact so clear; do unto others as you would have done unto self.

The choice to get baptized seemed like a good one; I enjoyed going to church, and I didn't want to go to hell. Martin Luther proclaimed on the church door that "spiritual gifts come directly from God to the individual," in other words, one didn't have to talk through someone in order to communicate with God, and that sounded pretty good to me, although I did enjoy my Pastor's sermons. So a few days before Easter, I phoned a few of my friends and invited them to come to church and see this happen. And happen it did, with a new baptismal font and large seashells of water, much agreeing to love and watch over me by the congregation, and a lot of rebuking Satan later, there I was, a Child of God. Except, I didn't feel any different. I had the same troubles as when I walked in when I walked out those church doors that afternoon. I also had a new candle, a plaque of remembrance, and a beautiful handkerchief to remember the occasion by. It took me years to understand that my relationship with my spiritual beliefs was one that required diligence on my part. That God, the energy that is creation itself, is always there. Jesus, our example of saving grace, hears me. It is my own belief that these concepts exist that forms the base of my faith.

 together at the beach
 My Anchor
Meeting Ray and falling in love with the idea of beginning our family immediately has never been one I've regretted. While we didn't take a long time to come to this agreement, but that commitment to raising our children with diligence has manifested itself into two beautiful girls who anyone would say, are sweet, well-behaved, attentive children. But making sure they are in safe environments and regularly fed real foods, feeding their curiosity with solid but multi-faceted educational experiences, that all takes diligence as well. Ray works extremely hard to provide the healthiest options for us. For me. He takes the time to research and discover ways that we can be more thoughtful about our surroundings and what we ingest. For that effort, I am extremely grateful.  I have a beautiful house, the time to spend with our family, the best foods to prepare our meals with, and outlets for my creativity within a large space (read: the entire house) galore. Maintaining that feeling of respect for all that he provides in our lives, remembering the payments he makes daily with his body and health, takes steady maintenance as well.

wait for it...
does that say what we think it says?
You know, not one of my friends who hadn't actually attended my baptism would have known about it if I hadn't told them. You see, finding a way to God doesn't really show externally, it's more of an internal exhalation. Instead of feeling alone and fearful, there is a mental friend to voice concerns with. There is a satisfaction felt upon waking and thinking, "I'm alive! Praise be to God." There are beautiful moments that we thank the heavens for, and terribly painful moments that have us shouting, "help me get through this!" But for me, that hasn't been an outward exclamation. My introductory statements have more to do with selfish praise for my involvements than ones that involve my stance on faith.
Whenever I've found out I'm pregnant, there have been a lot of similarities. Although the knowledge that I'm growing a baby exists, nothing really changes right away. The house still needs to be cleaned, commitments still need to be followed through with, and no one can really tell anything is different just by looking at you. In fact, even your own spouse may not know you are carrying something besides waste products within you belly! So, not much really changes. Except, it does. No more going out for margaritas with the girls, no more blue cheese crumbles on salad, and no more lunchmeat sandwiches, either. It's almost always coincidentally been after a few good parties with heavy drinking and binge eating of crap food that I do find out I'm pregnant, so for me there are lamentations and worry mixed in with the wonder and joy filled thoughts in the discovery of new life within as well.

Then there are those quiet moments where I reach for my womb and shift my energy into an exchange with that being. If you hadn't guessed by now, for the past 2 months these moments have been filling my resting moments. When I wake in the early mornings, which of course with frequent bathroom trips happens pretty much all night long, so I mean early morning beginning around 12:15 am. I rest my hand on my changing abdomen and visualize my new baby's growth. My senses heightened, the responsive flexations of his kiwi sized body twitching within... well, that's actually just gas, I'm only entering my 2nd trimester :-)

blooming in North Bend
Resting and reflection almost lend themselves intuitively to speaking with my best self's highest power. Gratitude, worry, celebration and hopes for the future, remorse for past actions, and shining-from-within joy can all be expressed in sigh when communing with unseen forces. I listen closely for the word of God to fill my head and answer or reassure my heart, but then again, this is all prayer based on the faith that one not need God to do anything but be. Same as he asks of us. To live in each moment knowing that all can change in an instant. That sometimes sacrifices are necessary and for the good of someone more important than yourself.

In my walk of faith, I suffered many set-backs. I've had long periods of thankful, joyful living, with literal arm stretching to the heavens in gratitude. But, sadly,  I've suffered through and inflicted self-and-others damage with nary a thought to the consequences as well. This isn't an easy fact to live with, but it's the truth. And as I've heard, "the truth can set you free." One of my good friends, speaking at a ladies luncheon last weekend, spoke of this when she made the comment, You really have to be broken, at you weakest, and desperate, to lay your life down before Jesus and choose to walk with Him. I know the truth in that, for isn't it always at our most heart-breaking moments that we find it easier to reach for something of a higher power for guidance and protection from life's misery's?
This knowledge of my brokenness reminds me of the trepidation that stems from the experience of miscarriage; that constant concern in the beginning stages of, "will this baby make it?" The fear of, if I tell people, will I have to then share my grief if the pregnancy turns out to be unviable... So for a long time, introductions can only include visible members of the family. When asked, how many kids do you have, there is a little mental voice arithmetic-ing away the unseen child within before it's mentioned. Even though a pregnant woman is connected with another life in a way that others never have an opportunity to experience, there is a loneliness that accompanies the beginning of this pregnancy as I exalt in joy at the life growing opportunity I've been given, while commiserating on my sacrifices of food and drink and whatever emotional and physical changes will be endured in the coming months.

The mental image of one in prayer that was formed in my head as a very young girl was that of a person kneeling... and boy do I do a lot of that at the start of each pregnancy! I honestly do try to enjoy the constant nausea as a sign of healthy development, but those first few months are like surviving a death in the family. Well, in less dramatic form, an extended illness. The fog of stomach discomfort, the overwhelming emotions, the heightened sense of fatigue that can't always be addressed; they are like having the flu for two months straight. Then, lets add to that hormone-prone skin issues, and then every woman's favorite issue: clothes that get tighter and tighter with each washing. And all the while, you're supposed to be happy! But without telling anyone why.  I tell you, its secret keeping at it's unhealthiest looking. Even your family, who knows you have an excuse to look grumpy and unkempt, will accuse you of well, looking grumpy and unkempt!

Here's a particularly Easter-iffic visual: At MOPS a couple weeks ago, the pastor of Way Point church emphasized the story of Mary (not Jesus' mother) pouring an entire vessel of expense perfume over Jesus. While the men gathered around began to grumble, saying, How can you be so wasteful?! they are interrupted by the anointed who says that she is in fact preparing him for his death. If you can only imagine the vials of shea butter, the bottles of avocado oil and the containers of coconut creams that I've slathered on myself in an attempt to enable my skin to remain it's most elastic, you would think I ate the stuff like butter. There is no telling what will happen to a woman's body as it shifts during pregnancy and then rebounds into a new form following, I just rub a dub-dub and hope for the best each time.

Another thought I've had along the lines of being pregnant and being baptized has to do with talking to other people about it. If you mention you're pregnant, there are a lot of questions! When are you due? and What are you having? being the least invasive and most common, they are relatively easy to answer if you've been paying attention to your menstruation happenings. But then there are all the birth stories and predictions that strangers and friends and family all want to share; we can't help it really. Every woman who has carried and birthed a baby will want to share that experience with another, especially if she hasn't had the chance to do so yet, but also if she has. Sometimes the stories are heart warming, and sometimes you won't be able to help but cry over the details (remember, hormones are at an all time high)! At the pinnacle of every single birth I've witnessed- and I used to binge watch DVR'd episodes of A Baby Story- I've cried with joy at the miracle of seeing that new baby's tiny form emerge from it's mother. My favorites are the one's where the baby is born without drug intervention, in the water, like my Sunday was.
The same goes with faith declarations; some people wear their heart for God on their sleeve. Literally! Like, in tattoo form :-) And others include their declaratives on their facebook profile pictures, in meme'd prayers shared online, and through constant mention in conversation. When they find out you've been baptized, they are happy for you and want to know the details, What brought you to that choice, Where did it take place, and, Were you dipped or dabbled? They will want to share their own story, and sometimes they are mundane and sometimes those stories are powerful due to their apparent reconciliations. As tears stream down my cheeks at every single baptism I've had the pleasure of witnessing personally, the feelings of being part of something larger than what we see in this world are so intense by the time the babt-ee turns to face the welcoming congregation, I really do feel like I have committed to watch over that person in prayer. My favorite type of baptism that I could hope to see would be one where someone goes to a natural water source like a river or the ocean, and is submerged :-) So, Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

So that's it, my Easter take on Jesus and Pregnancy, and the big news that our family of four will be expanding to include a baby boy in October. With the same fortitude as his older sisters, he ought to be sitting up and laughing by the time his baptism at Easter rolls around next year, and just as he shared the same body as I and Rainer and Sunday have, he will be able to have the same shell dipping to sprinkle on his forehead water from the same baptismal font as we've had as well <3

(and they all sang,) Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!!!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Paper Bag Mini Albums

Oh my word, did I ever have an exhilarating time at this weekend's Woman's Wellness Retreat, hosted by the YMCA at local Key Center neighbor Camp Seymour. Along with various camp counselor-led activities like the climbing wall, archery, boating, and a ropes challenge course, there were camper/instructor-led courses on topics like creating your own makeup, bath bombs, henna paste, neck warmer/coolers... and of course, two opportunity for campers to CraftWithAnna!
I met women who attended guided meditations on non-traditional prayer, as well as ladies who learned information about how to "Make Change Stick," which, it turned out, was not the class I envisioned as I had read, Make A Change Stick lol. #Makers want to make change sticks! There was a book club discussion led by my cabin mate Scarlett on The Orphan Train. I got to know a vivacious lefty during what turned out to be an epically tall game of Jenga!
Now, about a month ago I led the teens at the Red Barn Youth Center through an easy to do project that is so customizable, it can be made for any occasion- and on the cheap! It's a class my friend DF developed, and she had even donated all of the class contents for the kids to use how they would. Of course, no two booklets were alike :-) I am always inspired by the creativity that is shown, and also by the amount of product they are able to cram onto small surfaces.
These books measure 6x6" and are made from paper lunch sacks. Yes, paper lunch sacks! By adding a few patterned papers and pieces of cardstock, these ordinary household items become unique memory keepers. I knew they would be the perfect project to teach at this weekend's Retreat... and it turned out to be an extremely enjoyed class for both myself as the teacher and for the students who took  time out from the great outdoors to make with me.
I saw a cat book made by a dog lover (?!), an album that was intended as a graduation gift, a "Kirk book" (turns out it was not an ode to Star Trek; Kirk was a meaningful marriage recipient), and even one or two that were for what I had in mind- camp memory keepers! To finish off our paper stash and kit contents, we even made some greeting cards that could be sent to loved ones we thought of while making our goodies... be still my heart!
Now, I've learned a few things in the course of my teaching career; first off, I should not drink wine before crafting with others if I plan to teach them how to do something :-) That wasn't a problem this weekend! Another lesson is that, if I start to make the same project at the same time as my students, I get kinda grumpy about helping others... and that is just not cool! So, during my classes I mostly walk around encouraging others and trying to be helpful when I sense someone not embracing their inner craft goddess. Plus, I get such a kick out of seeing what other's make, and I would miss that if I was all wrapped up in my own creation.
BUT, the next morning, I had the (brilliant) idea to collect a few cardstock momentos from campers whose company I enjoyed immensely. Paper momentos that I can now use to create my own unique- to- my- experience mini album- JOY! Double joy actually, with the potential for a soon third; reading those comments after my return home filled my heart with appreciative happy. The comments were truly touching, personal, and boosted my spirits- I will treasure the reading again and again. Once I've bonded paper to lunch sack myself, I can include those cards in the folds of my pages.

Towards the end of my appointed teaching time, I quickly ran through some simple ways to use leftover embellishments and trimmed off papers to make some greeting cards that could be sent out the old fashioned way- through the postal mail. Once I have my version complete, I'll do the same thing and send thank you's out to my new friends who shared their contact information :-)
To anyone reading this who I might have met this weekend, as well as my faithful blog readers~ thanks for stopping by today and Happy Crafting!