Thursday, December 6, 2012

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas day! Wait, who?!?!

I posted this picture on Facebook earlier today and my husband informed me that it was "weird". Perhaps I should have provided a backstory. After a talk with some friends yesterday about Christmas traditions and where they came from, I started reading about Santa (aka St. Nick) and Christmas Trees and the 12 days of Christmas and all that to sort out what we're doing and why. If you're anything like me, you've been putting up lights, setting up a tree, singing about rudolph and participating in Santa traditions your whole life, while also possibly contending that the "reason for the season" is Jesus, but nonetheless embracing the fun and festive secular traditions as well. I had one friend that made an attempt at reconciling/merging traditions telling her children that Jesus gave the gifts to Santa and Santa just handed them out. Um, yeahhhhh… 

Our discussion yesterday had a lot to do with the difficulty we're having explaining our traditions and beliefs to our children because they TEACH Santa in school. I know, I know, Santa is fantastic. Don't get me wrong. However, Ive got this darn Elf in my house and my kid coming home asking questions about Santa and I find that I have to lie to play along. I feel weird about that. So I don't. I just kind of skirt around the questions by telling her that it's a nice tradition that we participate in to honor St. Nicolas. And of course, she's like "who?!?!" This doesn't square up with what she learns in school of course. And I've never said that Santa isn't real because I'm surely not a grinch! Oi. This is tricky. I sense that my husband may believe I'm over thinking things. Sure I want my kids to enjoy the festivities and the wonder and the mystery of the season- but here's the thing- the TRUTH is so much better! Because, well, because it's the truth. Take the actual day of Christmas for example- we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. GOD. The big guy. Maker of heaven and earth. Who brought the whole world and every human in it into being. Came to us in the form of man- fully man and fully God to live life right along side us. To teach. To reveal His character, His desire for us, His will for all of us. He suffered, died, was buried, ROSE FROM THE DEAD AND ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN. Um- I don't know about you, but I think that is a whole lot better than an also nice story about a chubby guy that lives in the North Pole and makes presents and delivers them to boys and girls with flying reindeer and a sleigh. They're both pretty cool stories. People that are REALLY into presents may even argue that they're equally cool- but- and this is a big but- one of them is TRUE. How much more moving is a movie or a book you read when you know it's a true story?? huh? Again, maybe it's just me, but I think the story of God Incarnate is pretty awesome in itself and although I enjoy the traditions that I've grown up with, I find as I look more into the history of these traditions, the roots are more interesting and fantastic than what we're left with today. 

So, that being said (holy cow, I'm long winded), St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra. The St. Nicholas Center, dedicated to preserving the history of the saint explains 

The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.
Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th (December 19 on the Julian Calendar).
Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas' life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need. One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.

In further reading about the Council of Nicaea, the story is that the council was called in response to heresy abounding- one of which was being perpetuated by Arius, a popular presbyter (his followers were thus called "Arians"; he denied the divinity of Christ and his relationship to God the Father. It is said that discussion at the council became so heated, that St. Nicholas, a bishop in the church, became so agitated he totally lost his head and full on punched out Arius. The council was shocked. Nicholas was stripped of his bishop's garments, chained and jailed. He repented of his actions, but not of his beliefs. During the night, he had a vision of Jesus and Mary asking why he was in Jail. He answered that he was there because of this love for Christ. He was given a bishop's robe and his chains were loosed. He remained there until morning when the Jailer found him free. When Constantine was informed of this, he released Nicholas and restored him as Bishop of Myra. Oh- and the Council decided against Arius in the matter of the divinity of Christ (in case you were wondering). 
I like this story because Nicholas- a bishop, a SAINT lost his head. I lose mine from time to time. Sometimes it's because I'm self centered and selfish and sinful. Sometimes its because I'm jealous for the Lord. I become outraged at the culture I live in and the crimes we don't just commit- but we condone and celebrate, even. I fail to speak gently in response. I get agitated. I lose my joy. And I shouldn't. What I can learn from St. Nicholas is how to move forward. I repent. I need to seek the face of the Lord instead of hiding in shame. And I'm forgiven and restored. Probably not morphed into a jolly old man that makes toys and flies a sleigh led by reindeer, but forgiven and restored for sure!  
What's even MORE interesting is this whole Santa vs. Jesus thing isn't necessary. Santa- the real Santa, was a servant of God! A follower of Christ Jesus that gave everything he had to live a life that was glorifying to the Lord. Like any other man, he made mistakes, but he lived a remarkable life that inspires us to this day, even if we don't realize the roots of that inspiration. Man, if history isn't cool, right? 
Anyhow, so when I saw that picture of St. Nicholas and the caption- "He knows when you've been sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've denied the divinity of Christ, so if you're Arian- Duck!" I laughed. It's funny. Even funnier is this depiction of the event by Alexander Bogulawski- Whack! Take that, you heretic!!!!  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hard Decisions

I should be showering right now, but instead I want to share something with you, my friends. I woke up early and went for a run this morning. Like booty early. Alarm went off at 4:45am early. When you run at dark thirty in the morning, it's best to run through your hood so you have some light, but there isn't that much road to run in my own section of Paradise Point, so I like to head up past the stables and the ohsoscarydark stretch of Stone to Watkins Village and Berkley Manor. In the dark. Because trail running in the dark is just awesome.  I always think that running in the dark, when I can't see the trail in front of me or my feet or anything really is the hard part, but it's not. It's making the loops through the neighborhood because I continually encounter intersections- decision points. I'm constantly presented with an easy way out. Do I keep going straight or should I just turn left now and head home. Every turn is a decision to make: Do I want to give up now or keep pushing? Do I want to run 3 miles? Do I want to run more like I had planned? Heck, even every step at some stretches is a hard decision. The decision to KEEP going when I could just stop. Nobody is watching. Nobody cares. But I always feel better when I make the hard decision. When I hang left instead of right, knowing its the difference between 4 miles and 4.5 miles. It doesn't matter that nobody sees, nobody cares, because I KNOW the difference.

It's this way in life, too. How many decisions do we make every. single. day. that seem unimportant or little, but they add up? A while back I posted this picture to my facebook page after a conversation with a friend. She was really upset that some of our mutual friends proclaimed to love Jesus, but the fruit of this didn't show in their lives. They loved each other, yes, and they did it well, but she didn't think they loved others. They weren't doing anything outside their circle to live the Gospel. I told her I thought we all had different seasons of life and that while many of us had small children, deployed husbands, were far from our families, etc, that maybe right now the best way they could be a witness for the love and grace of God through Jesus was to be the best wife and mother and friend they could be- modeling love and grace and patience and kindness.

Well, I was thinking about that this morning and I think I was right and I was wrong. I think it's true that at this time in our lives for many of us, making it to the soup kitchen to serve weekly, arranging childcare, working at the animal shelter, going on missions across the world maybe isn't the best way to serve our families and others right now, BUT being loving and gracious and kind and serving our children and husbands isn't really enough, either, if we're spending our free time shopping and indulging in ourselves constantly while others world wide are starving, living as slaves, unable to provide for their basic necessities. Ignoring the problems of the world and continuing to fill our homes and our lives with STUFF isn't REALLY being a good lighthouse, is it?

I don't mean to condemn. I really don't. I'm living the "American Dream" just like the rest of my friends, and most of you, but I'm trying hard to make the hard decisions every day. When it would be easier to give into my inclination to buy that pretty new scarf because fall is coming and I saw someone look, oh just so cute with one the other day, I make the decision to love one of the 5 scarfs I already own. When it would be easier to serve myself, I try to decide to serve others. Even in the little things. I challenge you to do the same. I know many of you think my BNN challenge is obnoxious or annoying or un-doable (it's not, btw) maybe you'll consider making a harder decision and fasting this October. Everytime you're tempted to buy that new necklace just because or a cute new pair of jeans or boots, think about what you already have. When you're excited that cooler weather is upon us, think about what that means for the family that can't afford to heat their home in the winter. When you want to buy that green jacket because you're tired of pink that you picked out last year, think about the woman that is probably tired of the holes in her jacket, and would love one that fits and isn't falling apart and could care less about the color. Take the month of October and fast in this way- when you are about to make a purchase- stop. think. And if it's unnecessary, don't do it. Take the money you would have spent and give it to the local homeless shelter, the food bank, the soup kitchen, the Baptist Children's Home down the road, wherever. Or at least put it aside and save that money to be spent on some quality outing with your children or family. It's only 31 days. You can do pretty much anything for 31 days, right?? It's a great exercise in self control (and we know that the Lord has given us a spirit of self-control, right??) and an opportunity to make some hard decisions. You can do it! I know you can. One step at a time.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Growing Gray

Ever since I stopped earning a paycheck (January of 2011) I've felt a little guilty getting my hair done at the salon. With a cut and highlights, I dropped $120-$150 on a visit to the salon every 6-8 weeks when I was working, and every 8-12 weeks thereafter. I've struggled since we moved to Texas (when my income dropped significantly, and then eventually completely after moving to NC) with being 100% financially dependent on my husband. I saw myself as a burden to him and I felt guilty spending "his money" on things that were unnecessary. Over time, as I've grown in my faith and my understanding of God's intentions for marriage, I've come to see my husband's complete financial support of me and our children as his responsibility. I know, I've gone totally domestic and traditional, but I don't think I'm wrong. This is what he was made to do; to care for me and our offspring; to provide for food, shelter, and other needs. And I'm so thankful that he is able to do so, and that he is proud to do so. Now I don't mean, it's his "job" to go to work and make money so that I can lounge around and eat bon-bons and watch daytime television all day. I also have responsibilities and my "job" is to care for our children, tend to the home, shop for and prepare meals, I also "mow" the yard (I weed-whack it) and take out the trash and do laundry among other things, as I'm sure most of you do as well. We have always thought I would go back to work when our youngest is in full day school (Kindergarten), but recently, our ideas of what we want our lives to look like, how much money we need, and what we want to do with our future has changed kind of dramatically. But this topic really warrants it's own blog post, so I'll get back to my hair (because I'm sure the whole wide inter web is really, really concerned about my hair). The one thing I never really stopped feeling guilty about was spending so much money on my hair. 

Earlier this year, the movie The Hunger Games came out. I had read the books early last fall and really enjoyed them (much, much more than the movie, but that's another conversation entirely). One thing that the movie DID have over the book is obvious- it was visual. Now, usually any picture I can come up with in my head while reading is better than what the movie people come up with (yes, I'm that good! lol). However, the scenes of the capital people in the movie were very convicting for me. I guess in my head they were more freakish looking. On film, they were still freakish looking, but they looked a lot more like you and me. I wish I could find a picture of the blue haired lady, but I can't. But I can tell you that when I saw her, my immediate response was "I am the blue haired lady". The amount of time and money spent on their appearances mirrored my own reality. I would put my kids in childcare or leave them with my husband, go to the salon and sit for at least 2 hours (more like 3) and pay at least $120 to have my hair cut and colored. Um, why?? Who am I that I need to do that?? So, I stopped. When we started our Buy Nothing New Challenge on May 1st, I included this in my guidelines- haircuts, sure. Highlights? No. I allowed myself box dye purchases to do myself, but after doing this twice, and finding it doesn't hold- It just fades- I've decided to just grow it out and be me. To my surprise "me" includes GRAY HAIR. This should be interesting folks. I've had several people ask me during the last few weeks if I dyed my hair blonde again. I haven't. The brown dye has just faded, and this is what I'm left with.  

Can you see all that gray??? I'm actually kind of excited. Natural highlights!!! lol. I'm hoping the contrast between my natural growth and dyed hair isn't just horrible as it is growing out, if it is, I can always chop it off. One of my friends expressed complete confusion over my decision. She said she couldn't ever imagine feeling convicted about her hair. Well, I do.  I don't expect everyone to share my convictions, but I think if you just think about it a little bit, maybe you can understand where I'm coming from. 

Now take a minute and look at this. 



Now anyone that has read the books (and some of you that have seen the movies, although I would argue that the development of the disparity between these people wasn't NEARLY as rich as the book) knows that the Capitol people were clueless, selfish people living excessive lives at the cost of the oppressed (and hungry) people in the districts. And it was gross. It looked a lot like America and the rest of the world. We live lives in ridiculous excess, while people all over the world struggle to even eat. BUT, you might say... We aren't gathering them up and watching them kill each other for sport. Its not our fault that there is such a disparity between us and the rest of the world. Well...

Now take a minute and look at this:



Which contrast is more distinct to you??
We're not gathering up and watching them kill each other for sport, but we're not doing a whole lot to help them, either. Certainly not doing anything to help that would make our own life uncomfortable. Not spending money on my hair is a baby step. I'm a selfish person living comfortably just like the rest of you. I'm not claiming to be any different. But I am starting to think differently. And we're making changes to live more simply. If we ALL made some small changes, they could add up, maybe. I don't know.

So if you think I look awful...if you think I've let myself go, that's okay. I'm okay with that. I'm digging the grays.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Buk, buk, bugock!!!

Yay! I'm so so very excited to FINALLY announce my fundraising intentions for the 2012 Marine Corps Marathon. I have to admit, that I have put off fundraising because of my own insecurities. This is huge for me. And I wasn't really convinced I could do it. If you will recall, I have not always been a "runner". I have attempted running several times in my life and failed. It was hard. It was boring. I hated it. When my mom sent me information regarding the Warrior Dash and I realized that they hold one ON the grounds of the summer camp I worked at in college in the mountains of GA, I decided I really wanted to do this. I did some research (google search "learn to run") and found the Couch to 5k program that "teaches" you to run in 8 weeks. This program is the in case I haven't said it enough and it did in fact teach me how to run. A year almost to the day (3 days off) I ran my first half marathon. Then I ran another a week later.

Then my friend, Analisa, and I had this big idea to make our own half marathon event and run one every month. By the grace of God (because Lord knows we didn't have these big ideas when we started, our goals were all about us!) the monthly event morphed into something amazing. TOTALLY AMAZING! Every month, we organize a half marathon on behalf of an organization or a family that is near and dear to one of the hundreds of members of our running club, Stroller Warriors annnnnnd we provide a positive, encouraging environment for some of our ladies (and husbands) to take that leap and run their first ever half marathon. We even have women who push their children in strollers the entire race- how awesome is that?? So far we've held an event to raise funds for the Semper Fi Fund in honor of the Lovely Jen Miller who is running the Marine Corps Marathon on a Semper Fi charity bib. We held the next one to honor "Long Run Liz" our amazing long run coordinator and her daughter Maddie, who beat childhood cancer, but continues to suffer from dabillitating epileptic seisures. She chose an organization that raises funds and awareness for epilepsy research. And in August we raised over $1400 and had 54 runners run in honor of my sweet friend Deana and her daughter, Dara for an organization that supports Austism research. Deana is also running the MCM on a charity bib for this organization. Meanwhile, I've been running these runs and building up confidence that I'll actually be able to run an entire marathon. I think I'm finally convinced this is going to happen. It might be really ugly, but it's happening.

We just did a 16 mile training run on Saturday, we have approximately 6 weeks until THE BIG DAY, and I've finally decided on my fundraiser. I hope you're still with me. I hope you'll love this organization I've selected as much as I do (I love these people and I wanted to be so much more like them someday than I am now). And I hope you'll jump on board the crazy train and help me with my fundraiser. So here is the thing. I had this idea. Back in April, I donated chickens on behalf of my grandmother through Compassion International for Grandma's birthday. She has this collection of chickens. It all started when one day, a couple blue and white porcelin chickens caught her eye in Hobby Lobby and she brought them home. She's not really a collectible country kitchen kind of woman, so we all thought this a little funny. And as a joke, I started buying her chickens for her birthday, Christmas, Mother's Day, you know. Now she has a pretty large collection of chickens that she never really collected in the first place. Poor grandma. I think it so hilarious, I have a really hard time not buying more chickens for her. And she's a really good sport, and frankly, I just love to hear that woman laugh. But they've been thinking about downsizing and moving as they get older and she broke the news this past spring that she'd have to get rid of some of these chickens. Sad face. So anyhow, when her birthday came around, I decided to buy her some REAL chickens. She has a beautiful, generous and giving heart, so this present really suited her better than another ceramic chicken anyway ;)

This is not my grandmother's actual collection, but this is somebody's grandmother's collection. Megan, I post pictures because I heart you.
I really loved the idea. Its amazing to think that a family in an impoverished country could benefit so greatly from a chicken that I cared enough to donate. It provides nutrient rich food as well as a means for an income (selling eggs). I want to give chickens to everyone. Well anyway, I was having a hard time setting up my fundraising page through Compassion or World Vision to be chicken specific and while I was googling away, I came across an organization called Garden Harvest, Inc. and I fell  in love with these people and this organization. I hope you will, too. Here is the description from their website:

  Garden Harvest, Inc. is a not-for-profit farm run by full time volunteers, assisted by seasonal staff & apprentices, and supported by over 5000 enthusiastic volunteers each season. Our mission is the alleviation of hunger & the improvement of nutrition of economically disadvantaged citizens worldwide.  We accomplish this by the establishment of community farms that teach people of all ages & any ethnic background  methods of organic, sustainable production of fruit, vegetables, eggs, & wool , and in the near future milk & cheese, so they can learn how to grow food for themselves & for others, and in ways that regenerate the Earth's precious soil.  Absolutely all of the hundreds of thousands of pounds of organic vegetables, fruit, and eggs produced every year at Garden Harvest are given to the poor.  None is sold. In addition, we assist economically distressed individuals from the rural areas of India and Appalachia in the United States in the establishment of their own farms. We do this by  training them in animal husbandry and then giving them livestock to take back to their homes where they can implement what they've learned to produce their own food & bring in some income. We teach disadvantaged youth highly marketable skills, so they can obtain permanent, good-paying jobs, as well as methods of organic gardening/farming so they can grow their own food.   We teach children of all ages methods of organic food production so that they will know how to grow food for themselves & their families. By request, we teach community leaders & landowners from different regions how to replicate the Garden Harvest model in their communities. 

Are you in love yet???? You should be. This is amazing. These are people that give their first fruits to those in need. And we know that our Lord said ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40). These are people serving Jesus, like REALLY serving Jesus (even if that's not their intent- I don't know, their website doesn't mention it). What an amazing organization. This an organization that feeds the local hungry in their community- healthy, organic, nutrient rich food- and has a mission to serve those in Appalachia, the poorest area of our country (and arguably the most beautiful!), as well as the poor and needy people of India.

Chicken standing guard over baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary and a shepherd boy. Good, chicken.  Do you love all the pictures, Megan???

But you know me, and you probably expect that I'm not just going to ask you for money, and I'm not even just going to ask you to donate some chicks or chickens. That's right. I'll be running the Marine Corps Marathon in a chicken costume. We're talking orange leggings. A fluffy white skirt. A hat with a beak and eyes and a red chicken "comb". A red "gobbler" on the front of my shirt. But here's the thing: I'll be wearing a white running jersey and for every chicken donated (or any other general donation made to the organization- you can donate $5, $10, $15 dollars, whatever you feel led to contribute is so appreciated!) I'll add a feather to my jersey. I need YOUR help to fill out my feathers. I'll attach the name of every donor to a feather and you'll essentially be running with me! I don't want to be a lame, featherless chicken. That's just sad. So, make your donation today! (pretty please) and help me look ridiculous for the MCM (as if I'm not going to look ridiculous enough attempting to run 26.2 miles...)

Make a donation here: and take a moment to look around their website, check out the amazing service they provide to their community, the people of Appalachia and India. Please consider donating a dozen baby chicks, some mature chickens, or making a general donation to the orgnanization. YOU can make a difference!

I wasn't able to set up a fundraising page through their website (did you read the part where it says they are run totally by volunteers, I'm not pressing them to make someone spend time on creating that for me), so please forward me your confirmation receipt so I can make sure to add a feather to my fluff on your behalf and keep track of fundraising efforts (I'd love to raise $1000 in chick, chicken, and general donations). Thank you in advance for your support!!! Buk, buk, bagock!!!!!!!!

I haven't made my costume yet, but for those interested, here are my inspiration pictures. I will still need to be able to RUN 26.2 miles, so I will be using some running gear that I'll modify, it should fantastic ;)
Running hat, paint the bill, add the eyes and the comb. I'm totally considering the hooker makeup, too. 

I'll wear orange running capris and a fluffy skirt like Donald, here.

I like this fabric feathering technique. 
And it should all add up to me looking like this. 

Or maybe something more like this...
Yay! So please do your part to Keep Ryanne Weird and support this organization in its efforts to feed the poor and hungry and equip them to feed themselves!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Clearing things up: WHY CATHOLICISM???

Shannon and I are so excited to be starting RCIA (Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults) and look forward with hope and expectancy to coming into full communion with the Catholic Church at Easter of next year. When people find this out about us, they are often confused. Ironically, Catholics are often more surprised than anyone. Others are not at all surprised and respond that they thought I already was Catholic based on what they know my beliefs to be on certain topics; however, my deeply held beliefs concerning loving others, caring for others, birth control, abortion, consumption, evangelism, submission to my husband and the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and society are what led me TO Catholicism, not the other way around. Although a Catholic background did not lead me to form my beliefs, the Catholic teachings are now refining them, no doubt. My Protestant friends are usually the most "concerned" and several have accused me of "throwing away my salvation". I have to tell you that I was initially more concerned than all of them and the best word to describe my initial inclinations toward Catholicism would be HORRIFIED.

I have been asked by several people about our choice to "go Rome", but while training for a marathon in the heat of summer and 92% humidity, or while our kids plead for our attention, or in the company of people that would rather talk about anything but religion, an adequate explanation has proved difficult. I know many of you could care less, but I know of at least a few people that would like to know, so I plan to share the things I have been thinking about that led me to Catholicism, the issues I have encountered on the way, and struggles and issues (as well as some great, great joys!) I continue to encounter in bits and pieces here in future blog posts. 
So to begin, what the heck happened?!?!?! When we moved to Jacksonville, I met a wonderful loving woman that opened her heart and her home to me and invited me to be a part of a ladies' accountability group/bible study in her home. I had only really been a Christian for a little over 2 years at this point and although two other friends in Texas played a huge part of bringing me into the faith and teaching me what it meant to love God and seek His face, this group was where I really came into my own. The safe haven this group provided and the pursuit of Truth that took place in this group was encouraging and inspiring and I began to really DAILY read the Word, examine my own heart and life and grow in grace. It was a wonderful, wonderful time in my life and sometimes I just wish I could go back there. But in the fall of last year, I felt the Lord moving me to participate in the First Baptist ladies' study group. At the time I thought this was just because I needed to form bonds within my church family (it's a BIG church and we weren't truly a part of it, just attending), so I obeyed even though it wasn't really where I wanted to be, I felt this nagging, nagging (is that disrespectful to call the Lord a nagger??) and I chose to submit. However, I soon realized that the reason I was there was not to be more involved in the church, nor was it to really grow from the study. It was for a specific relationship. I challenging mentoring relationship (who am I to be a mentor??? really????), but there it was. It was a difficult time for me because I loved this woman so much that I would be physically pained by her choices. It also led me to participate in a ministry to a Children's Home for children that didn't "work" in the foster care system and my heart has changed in ways I can't even communicate from that experience. 
Anyhow, all of this caused a separation from my small accountability group. I could feel myself falling away from them and feeling not at home in the group- I now realize this was to teach me to rely on the Lord and not my friends. Many times in the Gospels, Jesus is with his disciples, his small group of 12. And when times got tough, and He needed to pray most ardently, he had 3 that the shared more with- Peter, James and John and then beyond that, He even had one special disciple, the "one he loved", the one that stood next to his mother at the crucifixion that he shared a relationship with beyond the others. Although we must surround ourselves with other believers, sometimes, it just needs to be you and a few, or you and one or in the hardest of times, just you and God.  I have felt a similar pulling away, but I have maintained relationships with smaller groups and just a few people, but it has been extremely clear to me - when I cried out WHY?? Why would I have such a wonderful group of Godly women in my life and then be pulled away?? And I can now see that this was for my growth. When certain beliefs began to surface that were not in line with this group, I made a choice. I had to choose God. Not to say these women and God were incompatible. I believe they truly love the Lord, I do. But these basic beliefs that we do not share divide us on some many other smaller beliefs that I believed my own struggle in coming to terms with my beliefs would only be disruptive and divisive if I continued to participate in the group. 
These poor ladies are likely concerned because they witnessed the "horror". In fact, through tears in the midst of my own confusion and astonishment that I, ME, RYANNE BAKER could be Catholic, I told them that the next time I saw them, I believed I would probably be telling them that I believe myself to be an alien. It was that surprising to me. And one of them actually suggested that this may be Satan trying to pull me away from the Lord. I love her, but my goodness, that wasn't it at all. What they witnessed was my flesh clinging to what I knew, what I was comfortable with, and honestly what was so much easier for the flesh to love. I didn't want to be Catholic. But the more I read about the ACTUAL teachings of the Catholic Church (as opposed to what I THOUGHT the Catholic Church taught and believed) the harder it became to refute it. 
I think I'm getting off track… This spring I read an article in Runner's World of all places. The article was about Julius Achon, a runner that ran away from civil war in Uganda with the help of a college scholarship at George Mason University all the way to the Olympics. On a visit home, he saw 11 starving orphans huddled under a bus. He thought they were dead, until one of the moved. Their parents had been murdered and they were on their own, ages 3-11 begging for food and barely surviving, filthy and barefoot. Julius' father agreed to care for the children provide Julius would send money to provide for their care. The quote that really stuck with me was this: "Childcare was also no problem, since children contributed to household chores and tended to be well-behaved. As long as there is enough food, they are easy to mind," he said. WOW. This blew me away. TOTALLY BLEW ME AWAY. Can you imagine having that outlook?? It's so far from the American mindset and my own that I think I reread it maybe 10 times and just let it sink in. I was overcome by the chasm between my own beliefs and attitudes and this man's. I realized right then that I had a serious, serious heart condition. 
A few weeks later, I started hearing a lot about the HHS mandate controversy.  In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a mandate under the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) that requires all employer health plans to provide free contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs, regardless of any moral or religious objections. The ministries of institutions like Catholic schools, hospitals and charities—educating the young, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry— are not considered sufficiently religious to qualify for the Mandate’s “religious exemption.” Not only are such institutions forced to provide services that directly contradict the teachings of their faith, but—more alarmingly— the federal government is claiming the right to decide for religious institutions what constitutes their ministry. At first I thought it odd that the Catholic Church felt so strongly about birth control, so I was prompted to do some research. 
To be clear, I have used birth control in the past. I didn't care for it. I have an extreme case of endometriosis that caused fertility issues, but a surgery was able "clear things up" enough for us to conceive. Twice. (Praise God!). Birth control that diminishes and prevents the endometrium from growing is the only treatment for my condition, but even though I didn't really understand why, I was never comfortable using birth control. After reading the Catholic teaching on birth control and doing my own research through the manufacturer websites and the Dept of Health, now I know that side effects and such aside, there are so many other reasons that I choose not to use birth control and would encourage others to abstain as well. This topic deserves it's own post, so I'll save that for another time, but I mention it here only to explain that I developed a whole new respect for the Catholic Church. They truly believed what they taught without wavering. The core beliefs are not changing to "keep up with the times" or stay "relevant" and a religion should not. If God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and He always was and always will be, then shouldn't his followers look more the same today as they did yesterday?? 
My respect for the sticktoitness of the Church opened my heart just enough that my walls were down when one day I was on the couch, stuck under my two kiddos watching Tangled for the thousandth time and I looked around for a book and there was one that my Aunt had sent me along with a whole slew of other Catholic books that had sat on a shelf or in boxes for years. I don't know how it got in the house. Every other Catholic book was in a box in the garage. But here it was, sitting on the side table within my reach- Surpised by Truth: Elven Converts Give the Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic.  I figured why not, since I had been researching the Church to understand the HHS controversy. As I read through each chapter, I found myself in tears... Bawling, really, as one by one, these people explained what brought them to terms with their own misconceptions of Catholicism, and how the Church was not what they thought it to be, or how they were feeling "not quite right" about certain teachings and practices in their Protestant home churches and the Catholic beliefs were more in line with what they new to be Truth. And I knew right then, that this was the beginning of my journey. You may pick up the book and be baffled about what I could have read that would cause such a transition, but it wasn't the book. It was a softening of my heart that had been taking place for months and this was just the tipping point. 
There were so many other objections and questions and concerns to be confronted (and a few still remain), but I knew in my heart of hearts, way deep down that this was the start of my journey to the Catholic faith. It was like I had been walking along in the dark, and all of the sudden the lights came on and I was not where I thought I was. It was scary and confusing and appalling. But now that I am over my initial horror (that was based totally on untruths and misconceptions and confusion), I am full of joy! And there are so many reasons that I look forward to sharing with you. I think this is long enough for now, but this is just the beginning. This is the when and where and how the lights came on, and I'll share with you a little bit at a time what has been illuminated if you care to read. If not, just don't follow the link next time ;) 

Monday, August 27, 2012

BNN Challenge update: Finding a balance

So I joined in the BNN challenge when a friend suggested it because I had been feeling convicted about the way we live and this challenge seemed like a great way to make some changes. The first month I had an accidental purchase (some clearance tank tops at walmart for the Fin), but I started paying attention and avoiding the places I tend to mindlessly spend money, and cut off all my email notifications and I was set. I was really quite surpised how easy the challenge was. Life seemed easier. Slower. I didn't have to stress about getting out into town to every store I wanted to stop at and try to remember everything I needed to get because get this: I didn't need anything. I didn't have to fight with the kids and the crazies at WalMart because I stopped going to WalMart. Brilliant. I like this life.

We also did some purging (and I'm getting the itch to purge again!) And this first month was also the month we sold the car. Shannon drives his Harley and we live on base. His office is 4.2 miles from our home and he is deployed for months at a time. I do not have a job outside the home, but we had a car, a truck and 2 motorcycles. So we became a "one car family" and again, to our suprise found this to be not a huge deal. Who knew? Over 2 months into the challenge, we found ourselves asking why do we have one vehicle that gets 17 mpg, no warranty, due for all its major service? Why didn't we sell the truck and pay off the newer car, with the better gas mileage and newer everything?? Ummmmm. Yeah. I don't know. We thought it over and obsessed about it a little and decided that using the truck as our main vehicle we were using a lot of gas and spending more money than we'd like. We decided to trade it in for a used Jetta Sportwagen tdi- a diesel engine that gets around 50mpg on the highway and about 40 in town. It's super practical and one of our friend's actually asked if we had a grandparent visiting. That's cool. I rock it. I still don't know if this was a good decision. Should we have kept the Kia? The truck? Should we have bought the VW? I don't know. But I do know that we are totally cool with one car. We really don't need two. And in the end- that's what we have. One car. And we're sticking with that.

Aside from some heavy whining from the girl child, the challenge has been pretty insignificant. We've spent ALOT less money than we usually do, just by not buying stuff. Again- who knew?? And we've been able to give a lot more away and pay more on the motorcycle loan, have that paid off in a few short months and then start throwing that money at my student loans.

So, if I talked to you in the first 3 months, I probably told you all of this. Easier than I ever imagined. Not a big deal. And I DO talk about it quite a bit. I was actually told by a friend, who was upset with me about something else at the time, that I was obnoxious about it. She didn't say those words exactly, she used many more words, but obnoxious sums it up neatly. She didn't understand the whys. She thought that it was me being "holier than thou". And to be clear, in sharing about the challenge, that is never my intent. I mostly share so that its out there in the world and this alone provides me with a great deal of accountability. But I also share because I want to encourage people. But I find more and more that alot of people don't want to be encouraged. Some do. Some don't. And those that don't are the ones that either don't want to think about the way they're living or they don't know me very well. They think that I am doing this challenge because I think I'm holy or pious or good. Believe me friends, I am none of these. I have the Spirit in me and He is good, but I am just me. Flawed as the rest of you. Struggling with selfishness, pride, insecurity, irritability, general sinful tendencies. And I am fully aware of my own sin. I am only less of these things when I am more focused on Him. And this challenge is one way that I try to focus on the Lord. This is a way that I try to fight my selfish nature and depend less on the things of this world to bring me joy. This is a way that I try to live out the Gospel. If I can spend less on ME, I can spend more time, money, energy on HIM.

We know Jesus was moved with compassion for the weak, the harassed, and the helpless (Matt. 9:35-36). We see in the early church that the needs of the poor and distressed was a constant priority (Acts 4:34-35; Acts 11:30; Gal. 2:10). And frequently we are commanded to love one another not only with kindness but in the concrete actions of generosity and material support (James 2:15-17; 1 John 3:16-18). Is it okay for me to just think about me, me, me all the time? Am I being a good steward of all that the Lord has given us? No. No, I'm not. I never have been. That's what this challenge is all about. Spending less, paying off debt, positioning ourselves so that we can live differently. This is only the about face. This is only the shifting of direction. It's a long, long walk before we actually start looking like what we want to look like.

Early on one of my fellow challenge participants who had fallen off the wagon asked me if I thought that we had made the challenge an idol. I was like "say what?!". Ridiculous. But fast forward to month #4 and I finally get what she was saying. Shannon has left again, marathon training is in full gear and school has started.  The kids have outgrown their shoes, we're preparing for seasons to change and so many of their clothing is worn out (these are rough and tumble kids) and I want to make gifts for my friends and I don't have the supplies I need and I found myself on ebay all the time. The thrift stores here aren't all that great and as I was looking for pants for Finley (she's outgrown ALL of hers) shoes for both of them, and running shoes for me that were used but not used (floor models) I started to see what she was saying. It became work this month. The challenge had become harder. Because there were things that we really did need. My child came home from her first day of school with blisters on her feet because she wanted to wear tennis shoes so she could participate in gym, but hers were too small. She is starting gymnastics and we tried on her old leotard- um, let's just say NO. Too small. Lots of butt cheek exposure. And finding these items became a task in itself. And a friend pointed out that she felt bad shopping at the thrift store for childrens clothing because she only bought the best items. And she can afford to buy stuff elsewhere, so she felt like she was taking those items from someone else. Oi. I can't help but agree. I broke down. Tired of dragging my kids through thrift shops and finding few or no items worth buying, I went to target. We got Wyatt 5 shirts on clearance for $2.14 each. We went to the PX and bought them both tennis shoes- that fit. And pants- that fit.

We also bought a new wireless router. Ours pooped out. And we don't have cable. We're down to just netflix and this works great. It's cheap and has plenty of kids shows and stuff for Shannon. I'd love to have nothing and just have the kids watch their dvds, but we're not ready for that. Shannon is just now okay with not having cable. So, we need the router for the netflix to work. I was given one by my very generous friend, but it's not compatible with our operating system. So I just bought a new one.
So I've been thinking about these purchases. Stressing. Feeling guilty. Feeling ashamed. Hurrying in and out of the store in case I see someone I know and I have to explain myself when I realized that I was worried about the wrong thing. I was worried about the rules. I was worried about other people and their perception of me. I was worried about failing. I had let the challenge become an idol. The Lord doesn't care that I bought my children shoes that fit and pants that fit and replaced my router. He probably DOES care that I care so much. And for the wrong reasons. I actually feel so much better now that I've just replaced the things that needed replacing. I'm not concerned about them anymore. We  carry on with life now. And we aren't spending mindlessly. I'm so much more aware now and likely to think of the differences between things I think I need and things I actually need. So I've fallen off the wagon. But I think its in a good way. I'm finding balance in a real life way that you don't find in a challenge. Is it an impressive feat, have I managed to not buy a single thing new and avoid all temptation? No. No I haven't. But in a short 3 1/2 months, my mindset has changed. My habits and tendencies have changed. And although we've had a rough couple weeks where I got off track with the challenge and turned it into something it was never meant to be, we're back now. I've decided we need balance. And although I should change the challenge name to the "Don't buy stuff you don't need for a year challenge" it doesn't quite roll off the tongue, does it??

(Megan says every blog post needs a picture. Here you go.)

So for anyone that has actually read this entire post (I'm guessing Megan Daigle stands alone as the sole person to make it all the way through...), we're still doing the challenge, but I'm trying to get back to the original intentions. I've allowed the stress of the past couple weeks with Shannon leaving, the Have to Half run, school starting, and reaching the midway point of marathon training just wreak havoc on my peace. I'm asking the Lord for my peace back.

Lord, we love you. Help us to love you more.
Lord, we need you, we can't change without you.
Please give us peace in the life we live. Lead us to live a life more glorifying to you. A life that pleases you. Help us to understand how to find balance in this pursuit. Help us to make sense of the discrepancy between our life and the lives of millions of others that live in poverty, distress, and pain. Thank you for the gentle reminders you give me daily. Thank you for your patience. Help us to live simply so that others may simply live. Help me to desire YOUR approval- not anyone else's. YOURS. Change my heart, Lord.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Couch to 5k launch day!!!

February 14th of this year, Analisa and I challenged our friends, neighbors (anyone would listen, really) to give THEMSELVES a gift and commit to the Couch to 5K program. We convinced Stephanie, the leader of Stroller Warriors, our running club, to allow us to put on this program. We had upwards of 70 women join the facebook page. About 40 something show up to that first workout on Valentine's day. And over 20 ladies complete the 8 week program and participate in a local(ish) 5k.  I know, I know, that's quite a bit of loss, but this is a 3 day a week walking/running interval program for non-runners, and you can't MAKE anyone follow through with their goals no matter how obnoxious encouraging you are. Believe me! I can be VERY encouraging!  
I can't tell you how proud we were on race day when our former couch potatoes showed up and kicked some 5k booty. It was a pretty fantastic day. As we cheered for them like crazies, we reminisced about the first few weeks of workouts. These ladies that could barely run for 45 seconds straight, were now running 3.2 miles!!! In JUST 8 weeks!!!!! 

It was the same program Analisa and I both did to start ourselves off running. I had never run over a mile in my whole life before I started this program, and now 17 months later, I've run 4 half marathons, I'm running another this Saturday, and we're training for the Marine Corps Marathon in October. The first half I ran, was in March of this year- 3 DAYS shy of my one year anniversary of starting the Couch to 5k program. 

My favorite Psalm is Psalm 139. In this reading, one of my favorite verses is "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Can I get an amen??! If you don't fully grasp this scripture- go from never running ever. Living a pretty much lazy life. Eating junk food and generally not taking care of yourself for years and years. Then do this program and go from not running at all to running miles. MILES. With an "S" at the end. Multiple. We are so wonderfully made that we can go from sedentary lives to active lives with really not all that much effort. About 30 minutes a day for 3 days a week for 8 weeks. That's really not too much. Praise God! What resilient amazing bodies we have!

Anyhow, so today our running club launched another Couch to 5k session. Analisa and I have passed on the leadership to the wonderful Candice Carnes and Shannon Reynolds- two of our graduates from the first C25K group! It felt weird not to be heading up this group, but we've got marathon training and the Have to Half monthly half marathon series on our plates and we believe these two ladies not only are going to do a fantastic job, but they deserve the opportunity to lead this program. As much as the C25K was obviously to benefit these ladies, Analisa and I both feel that we got so much out of it. It was amazing to be a part of these ladies' experience and to watch them all do something that they didn't think they could do. It was great to see all the new Couch to 5k newbies out there today. We had a great turnout and I'm just so stinkin' proud of all these women that I don't even know!!

If you're interested in putting aside your excuses and making a change, we'd love for you to join us. For those of you that aren't local- find some buddies and get started with the program outlined here.

Shannon and her "deployment spouse" Katie
Candice and her awesome husband, a wounded warrior that has his own inspiring story (He'll be running right alongside his wife soon- even though he was told walking on his own wouldn't be likely!)
The "pow-wow" before the run. I wish I had a picture of just the newbs! But these are all the Stroller Warriors that made it to the workout today. 
Whitney gets seriously nervous before the race! 

Kara has been officially crowned a warrior after finishing strong!!
 I don't have pictures of all the ladies, but here are some fun shots!