earthquakes are a reminder to repent and be ready

An 8.9 earthquake in Japan?!?

That was the news that greeted me Friday morning when I checked my email.

Wow.

I live in California, not far from the coast.  I can’t see the coast from my house; a large ridge separates us (and protects us from tsunamis, in case you were wondering).  But, I’m not that far from the coast.  And our house is very close to the San Andreas Fault.  In fact, our local water supply is stored in a reservoir located over that faultline, and that’s a mere half-mile from our house.  There are lovely walking/biking trails along the reservoir, and my husband often goes biking there.

California is earthquake country.  It’s known for earthquakes.  And there’s always talk about how the Big One is coming.  There was the Loma Prieta quake in 1989 that knocked down a portion of the Bay Bridge, leveled a section of freeway in San Francisco (that the city decided not to rebuild), and shook up Candlestick Park as a World Series game was being played there.  We have earthquakes.

I’ve felt two small quakes since living here.  I hardly realized they were quakes until they were over, and we had no damage from them.

But the news of this big quake was scary.  Very scary.  What if that happened here???

Now, logically, it seems that the tsunami resulting from the 8.9 quake did more damage in Japan then the actual quake itself.  And, there’s just no way a tsunami could hit us here.  But a quake would cause a lot of damage in the Bay Area.  Our lifeline, especially for those of us who live on the Peninsula, is our bridges: the Dumbarton, the San Mateo, the Bay, and the Golden Gate (not to mention two other bridges up in the North Bay).  If a big quake were to compromise any one of those bridges (or, God forbid, all of them), it would be catastrophic for the Bay Area.

Whew.  That’s a lot to handle.

It’s scary.

But … I’m a Christian.  I’m not supposed to be scared of these things, right?

This is where it comes in handy to be married to a pastor.  I asked my dearly loved husband if it was a sin to be scared about big natural disasters.  He told me no.  “Read the Psalms,” he said.  “They’re full of emotion.  Having emotions in itself is not a sin.”  He went on to say that it’s what’s in our head and our heart of faith that counts; we can’t control our emotions.

Well, that was a comfort.  I thought about that some more and remembered that shortest of all passages in the Bible: “Jesus wept.”  Jesus had an emotional response to a sad situation.  It’s okay for me to have emotional responses, too.

That made me logically feel a bit better.  As far as healing my emotions goes, I quickly decided that the best plan for me would be to NOT watch the news reports, and be cautious about reading stories and looking at pictures about the Japan earthquake on the internet.  Thankfully, the San Francisco Giants were having their first pre-season baseball game tonight, and that was being televised beginning at 6pm, so I had something calming to watch on TV while I made supper.

A number of people on Facebook today were posting this passage from the Psalms, and when I was reminded of this passage, I posted it, too:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in touble, therefore we will not fear though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its water roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Psalm 46: 1-3

God created the world, and he is still in control.  These quakes and storms, wars and rumors of wars, uprisings and dangerous times all serve to remind Christians of one thing: Jesus WILL return.

[Jesus said] “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” — Matthew 24:6-8

Like a woman in labor, whose pain gets worse before her pain is finally over and she is presented with her child, these turbulent last days will only get worse.  These are God’s reminders to his people to repent and be always ready.  I’ll admit that part of me is still scared to see the Last Day, but my logical, faith-centered side is eager to begin living the joys of heaven.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

And help me not to be afraid until you finally do come.

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learning to “talk the talk”

Despite my love of talking, I have found that I am still in the process of learning to be comfortable talking about my faith, both to my friends who are not Christians and to my friends who are.  I am definitely “not finished yet” in this department.

Obviously, learning to talk to unbelievers about Christ is important.  However, I’m starting to realize that it’s equally important to be able to comfortably talk with fellow believers about Christ, especially those believers who are newer Christians.  For too long I’ve been assuming that because someone says that they’re a Christian and/or they’re a member of a Lutheran church that their faith is strong.  As time has gone on, I’m realizing that that assumption may be, well, assuming too much.  It’s easy to forget that Satan works harder on Christians than on unbelievers.

Besides, what better circumstance is there to get practice in talking about one’s faith than to fellow believers?  They’re not likely to argue with you, and your words may be just the encouragement they need to hear.  And aren’t believers supposed to build each other up in the faith?  I’ve been trying to do that lately with the people in my life, although I have a long way to go before I can even begin to think that I might be good at it.  Hopefully God will give me lots more opportunities to practice – I need ’em!

On a related topic, I’ve been wondering lately about how much I can/should encourage members who rarely attend church to come more often.  While I regularly see certain members after school as they come to pick up their kids, I rarely see these same members in church.  I have very friendly relations with these parents on the playground, and I often feel like I should be saying something to them when I hear about their weekend plans, and those plans don’t include being in church on Sunday.  Should I say more things to these people about coming to church?  Am I overstepping my pastor’s wife bounds?  Or is that something that, as a Christian, I should be doing?

This all reminds me again of how tricky it can be to be the pastor’s wife.  It’s difficult to have really good friends in the church, because, as I’ve said before, you never know when that person will start attending church less often or develop some spiritual problem that your pastor-husband has to deal with in some way — and when that happens, your friendship suddenly shifts.  It’s not easy to strike a balance.  Plus, once you’ve been burned a few times, you become even less eager to venture into a new friendship with members.

Being a pastor’s wife and living in a pastor’s family is not easy.  We get plenty of situations that “normal” families don’t experience.  But, JJ and I have been blessed with a number of kind people in our church who find ways to make our lives easier, and I’m very grateful for those dear souls.  There are special crosses that a pastor’s family bears, but there are special benefits, too.  And one of those benefits is lots of opportunities to talk about your faith! 🙂

verklempt

Verklempt: from the Yiddish, meaning “choked with emotion.” Also German verklemmt = emotionally inhibited in a convulsive way.

I don’t know if it’s because I realize the gravity of being a mother, or if it’s because I have grown so much in my understanding of “the theology of the cross,” or if it’s because of the various hard times in my life, or if it’s because I’m just getting older, but I choke up during hymns much more often than I used to.

For example — the other night I was playing a recording of the St. Olaf choir singing favorite hymns, and I was trying to sing along with “Abide with Me,” and I got all teary-eyed and couldn’t sing.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, Oh, Abide with me!

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me!

I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless:
Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I trumph still if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!

Recently — in the car I was trying to sing along with an old Lutheran Chorale recording of Kurt Eggert’s setting of the Palm Sunday hymn “Ride On, Ride On,” and I choked up and couldn’t keep singing.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
O Christ, your triumphs now begin
O’er captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
Bow your meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, O Christ, your power and reign.

Ride on, ride on … to die.

Eggert’s setting is just SO powerful, much better than either of the versions in our current hymnal.  You can’t help but be made aware of the gravity of Christ’s mission when you hear that song with the kettle drums slowly intoning in the background like a death knell.

In another instance — last Sunday, the school kids sang the hymn “Jesus, Lead Us On,” in the church service, and I started actually crying during the verses.  But really, how can you NOT cry when you sing:

Jesus, lead us on Till our rest is won;
And although the way be cheerless,
We will follow calm and fearless.
Guide us by your hand To our fatherland.

If the way be drear, If the foe be near,
Let not faithless fears o’ertake us;
Let not faith and hope forsake us,
For through many a woe To our home we go.

When we seek relief From a longfelt grief,
When temptations come alluring,
Make us patient and enduring;
Show us that bright shore Where we weep no more.

Jesus, still lead on Till our rest is won.
Heav’nly Leader, still direct us;
Still support, console, protect us
Till we safely stand In our fatherland.

With all the tough times that I’ve been experiencing lately, that hymn rings so true for me.

Or in another instance — I’m the music teacher for the school, and I was doing a hymn sing-along with the primary grades.  One of the girls chose “Away in the Manger,” and I got misty-eyed during the last verse!

Be near me Lord Jesus; I ask you to stay
Close by me forever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in your tender care,
And take us to heaven to live with you there.

It sounds so simple, but add a little Life Experience to that prayer, and it takes on new depths of meaning that it never had before.

I even got choked up during the Egil Hovland song, Saul, which is wonderfully atonal and dissonant.  However, to be fair, I didn’t get choked up during the song; I had to explain to Lyd the story of Saul’s conversion, and then when I tried to sing along with the recording of the song (also on that same old Lutheran Chorale recording), I got verklempt and couldn’t sing.  Lyd noticed my eyes full of tears and asked me, “Why are you crying?”  I came up with some lame excuse, because I just didn’t know how to truly explain it to her.

This must be from all the stress that’s been in my life lately.  And the lack of good, solid sleep.  Or I’m far too hormonal and should see a doctor.  Or I’m just getting Life Experience and learning to appreciate what a gift God actually gave me by sending his Son into the world to save miserable me.

You know, it’s probably all of the above.

encouraging and inspiring you! (aka. making you feel like crap)

Here’s another great post from Elizabeth Esther, called “Encouraging and Inspiring You! (aka. making you feel like crap).”  It’s a wonderfully honest post that carries some of the same thoughts as my “Why I’m Not a Proverbs 31 Woman” post of last year.  Here’s a quote from it:

For so much of my mothering journey I’ve been desperately trying to PROVE myself. I would read the blogs of other moms who “seemed” to have it all together. They never once wrote about how difficult it was to maintain their sanity. Instead, every single post was written as an “encouragement” and finished off with a delectable picture of a made-from-scratch casserole.

Now, look. There is nothing wrong with that. The problem was me. The problem was that I couldn’t read those blogs without comparing myself to them and then feeling like crap afterwards because I was never gonna measure up…

Read the rest of her post here.

an unfair life

I’m in a pretty good season of my life right now.  My children are young and happy and exuberant, and our little family is filled with love.  Our family’s dinner table conversations are lively and funny.  My husband and I, for all that he is still very busy, are in a good place and get along well together.  We don’t have any big health problems, and we both have steady paychecks.  We have a big house in which everything works, a car that runs, and a beautiful corner of the world to live in.  We are very blessed.

There are people whom I love dearly who are having tough times right now.  There isn’t much I can do to help, except continue to pray.  I can’t fix the situation, and the advice that I (probably too freely love to) offer isn’t necessarily good advice or even helpful to give.  And, honestly, I feel guilty because I have it so easy, so easy that I can just get into the comfortable little rut that is my life and forget about how difficult others have it.  I don’t feel like I’ve done a whole lot to deserve the peaceful life I have, but neither do I feel like those I love have done anything to deserve the difficult life they have.  I feel somewhat guilty about it, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the right response either.

I hope that I will be ready and willing to help if/when an opportunity comes up.  That’s what I want to be ready to do.  I suspect that such a day, perhaps many days, will come in the future.  In preparation for that day, I’m trying to keep a handle on my life now, so that if something comes up, I’d be ready to drop everything and help.

It’s often difficult for me to trust that God knows what he’s doing when he doesn’t fix problems the way I would like to see them fixed.  I know that being a Christian isn’t about having a great life here on earth – it’s about successfully making it to heaven.  Here on earth, God’s people are simply called to be faithful, no matter the circumstances.

That said, I wish some people I loved were able to have an easier time of it here on earth.  But, I have to trust that God has not forgotten them and that he’s doing what is best.

the religious musings of a six year old

Lyd has been asking a lot of questions about God and heaven lately.  She’s looking at things in very black and white way, which seems normal for a six and a half year old girl.  One of her favorite question themes is to ask me what my “favorite” is in a certain category.  Favorite categories include things like Favorite Thing to Do, Favorite Place to Go, or Favorite Person, as in: “Who’s your favorite person, Momma?”  I think for a bit, but before I can speak she breaks in and says, “I know who your favorite person is – it’s GOD!”  Well, yes, sweetie.  From a certain perspective, you’re right.

(MY favorite was earlier this week when she followed up this question with another question, asked with a big, impish grin on her face : “Momma, guess who I love more – you or God?”  Hmm, Lyd.  Let me think… ;))

Lyd also has been asking me awkward questions, like if a certain person is a Christian.  Usually the person in question doesn’t quite fit Lyd’s standard definition of a Christian: perhaps they come to our church but aren’t a member, or perhaps they attend a different church altogether (“Momma, what’s Episcopalain?” she asked me this evening), or perhaps she simply doesn’t know about a person’s religious status.  Her questions have often made me struggle to come up with answers that are enough to satisfy her black and white way of thinking without creating even more complicated questions for me to answer.

Lyd also talks a lot about heaven.  “It will be wonderful to be in heaven where the day will never end,” she might say.  Or, today it was, “What a perfect day it is today!  But there’s still sin in the world, so it’s not really perfect.  But in heaven things will be perfect!”  She thinks about heaven a lot, and wants to get there as soon as possible, if for no other reason than that she won’t have to go to bed at night anymore, and the good times will never end.  She gets pretty sad when a good time ends.

I think about heaven a lot, too.  I think about the people I know who are waiting for me there.  I think about how all the troubles and problems and imperfections and doubts will all be non-existent in heaven.  Like my daughter, I would like to get there as soon as possible, too.  And, also like my daughter, it’s not particularly because my life is so bad here, because I’ve been very blessed.  It’s just that life will be SO good there!

Deeper thoughts on this topic coming tomorrow…

guest post on “worship”

I’m so excited!  I got (sort of) published!

I commented on a blog called A Life in Need of Change earlier this week regarding this post.  The blog’s author, Brooke, liked my comment so much that she asked me to re-write my thoughts in the form of a guest post for her blog.  Wow!  I had never been asked to guest post for a blogger before, and I felt honored.

Of course, I have NO THOUGHTS on worship.  I mean, it’s not like I’m married to a guy with a degree in worship or anything like that. 😉

It was a fun and exciting challenge, and it got me thinking about a goal that I’ve had for a while, which is to write some magazine articles based on religious-themed blog posts that I have written.  I enjoyed having to write within certain parameters, and it was good for me to have a reason not to ramble on and on.  Not that I ever do that, of course…

So, go read my post, and tell me what you think!