Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Invisible River by Helena McEwen (3 of 5 stars)

Invisible River is the story of Evie, an English art student who is headed to school in London. She is leaving behind her father and the woman who raised her, but she quickly finds three close friends and one fascinating boy. The only problem is that he already has a girlfriend.

McEwen has a very concise writing style, without a word going to waste, but her descriptions of London and the art the students see and create is very vivid. Evie is a synesthete and McEwen's descriptions of the colors in her paintings singing are just lovely. The symbolism in the book is very well done as well. The underlying themes of alcoholism, loss, new life, love, and recovery are all set on the backdrop of the undercurrents of emotion running through Evie's life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through I was not required to write a positive review and was not compensated for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sermon 1/16/11

I gave the sermon in church yesterday morning.  This is the text of my sermon and most of what I said.I always embellish some.  :D

I volunteered to speak today because I am very excited about what God has been doing lately in my life and in the life of our church. I told Beth a few weeks ago that I wanted to do a testimony and when she looked at her calender she saw the opening for me to speak instead. I am happy to be the vessel for the Spirit's words this morning. Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, please allow us to see your Word in a new light today. Please deepen our faith and show us the path that you want us to follow. Allow us to accept the freedom that you are offering for us and surrender our will to your service. Let your Spirit guide me this morning. Amen.
Our scripture passage today starts out with the disciples on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. They were rowing against the wind and have been trying to cross the Sea for hours and are making no progress. It is the fourth watch of the night, or about three in the morning. The disciples are exhausted from rowing all night in the storm. All of the sudden here comes someone walking across the lake to their boat. Their first response is fear. They even think that Jesus is a ghost.
As soon as the disciples recognize their Master, all is well, though. They realize that he has the ability to bring them safely through the storm. At that point Peter is even inspired to volunteer to ask if he should try to walk on the water as Jesus does. Jesus calls him to come to him out on the water. Peter steps out of the boat and walks toward Jesus. Around them the storm rages on. Unfortunately, the storm distracts Peter from his destination. Peter is scared by the wind and begins to sink.
When he realizes that he's in trouble, Peter looks again to Jesus for help. He cries to Jesus and Jesus extends a hand to catch him. They both return to the boat and the storm is calmed.
Since this was originally a testimony, you will have to forgive me if I use a lot of testimony in my message today. I last got up here and spoke in October of 2009. Not too long after that my job got extremely busy and stressful. Over the next year I worked more and more late nights at the office and at home. I also worked on Saturdays and on Sundays after church. Management kept promising that things would get better soon, but they were asking more and more from me at the same time. I had less time to spend with the kids and Chris. I was tired and stressed out all the time and it stressed Chris out a lot. I was stuck at work on Wednesday nights and couldn't make it to Bible Study. I was so tired on Sunday morning that I was making excuses to skip Sunday school. By the middle of last summer I was in the same shape as those disciples at 3 am in the middle of the lake. And before I go any further, I have to tell you all that I am terrified of water. My parents took me on a canoe trip once and they bought me a shirt that said “Shut up and paddle” because I cried in fear for the first hour. So when I say that I was in bad shape I mean I was in bad shape.
In the midst of my troubles, Jesus was walking through the lake. When I came to church, the sermons spoke to me. I remember when the Celebrate Recovery team was here and the sermon was about what we really needed to give up to get closer to God. I had no hesitation in writing down “work.” There is a song I would listen to on the way to work about the American Dream where a father loses his family because he chooses the castle made of sand referred to in Matthew 7:24-27:
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Eventually I started skipping that song when it came on because I knew God was talking and I needed to hear something else. I knew what the problem was but I was comfortable where I was working and I didn't want to dive into the search for new employment, even though I knew that I needed to. I felt that fear that the disciples felt. Poor Chris urged me to start applying for jobs and I did, but very slowly.
One night I reached my breaking point. I prayed and told God that everything was in his hands. I needed him to determine whether or not I should stay at my job or leave and find something else. In the next few weeks I continued to talk with the management and human resources at work and it was apparent that things were not going to improve but only get worse. I was going to have to step out of the boat. I told human resources that I needed to get out. In three days I no longer had a job.
But God was walking alongside of us. God has watched over us financially, and I am currently waiting to hear back on two jobs. But more important are the spiritual benefits I've already seen. I've been able to make it to worship again. I'm home to say prayers with Chase every night. I've had time to set up the praycahokia project and to contribute to the worship wall and the planning conference. I was free to go to the Deeper Still retreat. Since the day that I walked out of that office building, I've felt the peace and joy of God's presence again instead of the stress of a busy work day.
Now I still am not joyful about searching for jobs. I hate the entire process. I stepped out in faith when I left my last job and I absolutely know that God knows what I need to be doing instead of what I was doing. When we were studying Ruth, Pastor Beth asked us whether we considered or work a vocation. I honestly did not consider it a vocation and it was blocking me from using my talents for any volunteer vocation. I know that my vocation is waiting and I'm waiting for that job. I'm doing my part, applying for the jobs and interviewing and thanking God every night for that job. I know that a lot of you are praying on my behalf and I appreciate that. Some days it still gets difficult and I still feel like Peter, sinking a little bit. I have to call out for that hand to catch me, for that little boost of strength to remind me that His ways are higher than my ways. The wonderful thing is that God provides that faith when I need it. And He reminds me that my treasures are not upon this Earth, but in Heaven.
Another scripture that I wanted to touch on is Mark 8:34-36:
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
I talked to the children this morning about being trapped until they give in. I was in the same situation. I'm going to let everyone here in on a little secret – I like to be in charge. I like to run the show and I like things to go the way that I want them to. So something that I struggle with is to surrender everything – even to my creator! But when I finally did I regained the peace of knowing that my life is in the hands of the One who is really in charge.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Open letter to my future self:

Dear Spud,

Stress is one of your migraine triggers.  Remember high school?  College?  The Famous Barr years?  Remember how you felt summer of 2010?  The headaches were pretty much non-stop as you tried to work yourself to death.  You just got back from the neurologist and now that you aren't working guess what?  You're doing great!!  So if you go get a stressful job or volunteer for something crazy at church your migraines are going to go nuts.  Chris will tell you to back off and you'll be in the doctor's office wanting your medicine fixed but the real problem is your personality that wants to take on the world all the time.  (Well, the real problem is your brain chemistry, but the personality is the problem that we can address and fix.)  So instead of making the doctors all miserable, remember to SLOW DOWN sometimes!

Much Love,
Carefree and (mostly) painfree Spud