Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Stuff Summer Is Made Of

I will tell you soon all about our adventures up to see our friends in Michigan, but for today, I present to you some pictures from the road.  This is at a most blessed little spot on I-55 called the Coalfield Rest Area.  We stopped there on the way up and we stopped on the way back.  Here are photos from the way back, when we stopped for a picnic dinner.  The weather was as delightful as it looks.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tribute Tuesday: Ron Lutjens and Old Orchard Church Family

Hey, lookee here, a Tribute Tuesday. Haven't done one of these in a while, although not because I've run short of people to thank.  I didn't even do one for my own daughter yet and her birthday has passed. Mommy's falling down on the jorb.

Today I wish to pay tribute to Pastor Ron and all the good folks at Old Orchard Church in my hometown of Webster Groves, Missouri.   I grew up in this church (a Presbyterian Church of the PCA branch) from the ages of 6-18, and then went during summers home from college.  It's a smallish church and has a lot of longtime attenders, so whenever I come back I'm sure to see people who have known me since I was yea high.  The church also gets a lot of young families, thanks to one of the major PCA seminaries being in town.  We see lots of young seminarians and their young families during their time in seminary, so the church is always a very vital place for kids and adults.

You know how you never appreciate things until you don't have them anymore?  Or until you realize that it's not the same everywhere?  That's how it is with OOC.  Some things I took for granted:

1. Music
 Old Orchard has amazing music (thanks to music director Greg Roig and all the people who sing and play there).  Here's what's amazing about it: it manages to walk that fine, fine line of honoring the old hymns and having contemporary praise and worship style music.  I've not found another church that quite manages as well.

I, for one, think it sad that so many Evangelical (and Catholic, from what I hear) churches nowadays seem to be of the opinion that hymns are boring unless Chris Tomlin adds a new chorus to them.  Sorry, but the Wesleys knew their stuff and we don't need a chorus of "you are holy, holy, holy" x 4 million to make it better or more relevant.  This isn't to say that there's not a place for more modern music, because I do enjoy that too.  It does tend to be more emotionally charged but also often a lot less theological (in my opinion).

As I said, Greg does a great mix of both every service, and we sing a LOT.  Most other churches I attended had a formula: two songs as sort of a warm up, then announcements/take the offerings, then the sermon, then two or three songs during communion.  You were going to sing maybe five songs total.  The "worship" part of a church service at OOC is a good forty five minutes of songs, readings, corporate confession, and more songs before you even hit the sermon (which could also be forty five minutes!) and then communion and at least one more song before it's all over.

As a kid, I did find this somewhat tedious.  As an adult, I really appreciate it.

2.  Liturgical Bent
I've only attended one other Presbyterian church besides OOC, so I can't really say whether all PCA churches are liturgical or not.  The other one I went to was not.  Old Orchard is.  We follow the church calendar (although we don't have a lectionary) and observe Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time (as well as Reformation Sunday).  There is an order of Worship, which I outlined above.  Every week you'll hear an Old Testament reading, a Gospel Reading, a Psalm or reading from a prophet, and an Epistle reading.  You'll recite together either one of the ancient creeds or a confession or both.  There is a time of intercessory prayer, and there is the sermon.  Again, as a kid I found it long and somewhat trying to my patience, but now I really appreciate it.

3.  The Prominence of Scripture Reading
Many of the churches I've attended since being a regular at Old Orchard seemed to put a rather low emphasis on the reading of the Bible.  Although all of them were "Bible believing churches", many times the only time you'd hear the Word read was whatever little snippet the pastor was using as the text for his sermon.  Now that I'm at a Catholic church, I'm back to hearing an Old Testament reading, a Gospel reading, an Epistle reading, and singing a responsorial Psalm at each Mass.  It seems like OOC's priority to put the Bible as the focal point is well-reflected by reading so much of it aloud.

4.  Weekly Celebration of the Lord's Supper
I must say that I don't quite know why so many churches only celebrate Communion once a month or once a quarter.  I've heard people say that it's so we can treat it more specially and don't slip into treating it as a routine, and I guess that makes sense in a way.  Besides, if it is only a symbol or ordinance and not a sacrament, there's no need for it to happen regularly.

But Old Orchard treats Communion as a weekly event and does it in a special way that I've never seen or heard of any other church doing.  The whole congregation gathers in a circle around the inside circumference of the sanctuary (it can get crowded!) and we pass the elements around.  The bread is a loaf of bread that is broken in two and each is passed, one to the left and one to the right.  The grape juice is poured into chalices and similarly passed, along with lots of little teeny shot glass things of grape juice if you don't like drinking out of a communal cup.  I'm sure that this way of doing it is not something a large church could do logistically, but it is special.

5.  Good Preaching
Pastor Ron preaches to the head and to the heart.  He doesn't shy away from theology in favor of "relevant and practical advice from the Bible," and he enjoys exegesis and going through books of the Bible in painstaking detail (think multiple year series on one book).  But he also makes sure to apply the knowledge to everyday life as a Christian and how what we know should play out in how we live.  I have enjoyed and benefitted from the preaching of other pastors (Rick McKinley and Ken Swatman come to mind) but Pastor Ron is still my favorite.

6. Beautiful Building
Okay, the church building has admittedly become a lot more beautiful since I left (renovations, etc.), but it has always had a lovely sanctuary with large stained glass windows, a central dais and lovely pipe organ, and old dark wood pews.  There is no center aisle, which makes it unusual, but I would have been happy to be married there (too bad it was so darn far from Oregon).  It is simple and peaceful, and the outside of the building is stone.

I know that the looks of a church are not to be judged above what goes on inside of it.  I loved Imago Dei, which met for many of the years I was there in a high school auditorium and was the opposite of aesthetically pleasing.  Oregon City Christian Church--by the time we got there--was in a fancy new big building, but it was very modern seeker-friendly style and had a big windowless auditorium for a sanctuary.

I get that many newer churches want to reach out to people who feel intimidated or disgusted by churchy-looking churches, and it's important to be all things to all people, as St. Paul would say.  Still, I do have a very soft spot in my heart for beautiful churches, because there is something about truth, goodness, and beauty in the spot where you're encountering Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  I'm hoping to visit the Cathedral Basilica while I'm in town, because WOW: over a million pieces of mosaic (mostly gold) is hard to beat for my definition of gloriously beautiful.

7.  Caring Church Family
We know and are known.  Everyone in our family has been prayed for and prayed over, loved, supported, befriended, and cherished in various ways at various times by various people.  Our family (meaning my family of origin) is a fixture of the church (been there for 25 years).  Even though my parents' theology has never quite lined up with Calvinist Reformed theology, it's been such a good fit and a home that I don't think they'll ever leave.

The other day I was honored to attend a birthday party for the babies of one of the kids I used to babysit in the church!! Now he's a dad of a gorgeous one year old daughter.  He himself was adopted, and my family and I were there (along with several others from the church) to greet him at the airport when his parents brought him over to the States.  Many of those same people were there at the party yesterday, twenty-something years later.  That is an amazing family to be a part of, and I am sorry for all the times I took it for granted.

Pastor Ron and Old Orchard family, thank you for being part of the firm foundation in the faith I received during my most formative childhood years.  Of course I have my parents to thank for passing on the faith to me at home, but all those years of Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, kids' choir and kids' musicals, Youth Group, mission trips, adult choir, Sunday services, and yearly invitations to the pastor's house for hot cocoa and good conversation were so important.

During baptisms (I was baptized there at the age of six or so), the congregation is called upon to promise to help nurture and raise the children up in the Lord and to assist their parents in doing so.  So many of those who assented to do so have followed through.  I know that many in the church still pray faithfully for me and my family, and for everyone who taught me in Sunday school or watched me in nursery, I thank you.  At the time of my baptism, I didn't think much of all the grownups saying, "Yes, I promise" to the call to help me grow spiritually...but now I do, and I am so grateful.

God has used this group of people to nurture me, and although I wouldn't call myself a Presbyterian in terms of theology, I will always be an Old Orchard kid and grateful to have come of age in that particular part of the Body of Christ.

Life in the Cookie Jar

Monday, June 9, 2014

Gearing Up for a Vacay Within a Vacay!

How lucky am I?  Not only do I get to have a few great weeks in sunny/stormy St. Louis, but I get to take a few days to travel up to my old hometown of Holland, Michigan to see my friends Rhonda (of Real Housekeeping fame) and Jared (of his own fame) and their kiddos!  I'm heading up tomorrow, but I did schedule a post for tomorrow, so stay tuned!

A car trip with three littles?  Could be scary, but I'm thanking my lucky stars and my friend Lauren for lending me the kind of portable DVD player that plugs into the cigarette lighter for power.  YES!  Nothing like a little brain cell rot to get across the Midwest, eh?

And I'm informed that our little guest room is already set up, complete with pack 'n' play, toddler bed, air mattress AND a shiningly clean and dust-free ceiling fan.  That's love, y'all.

Thanks to the Ortizes for hosting and thanks to my parents for letting me steal one of their cars for a week.


Friday, June 6, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Our first week in STL

I was reading my friend Rhonda's seven quick takes today, and she was linking up with a garden themed topic.  It looks as if you're supposed to take pictures of your garden and show it off. So, here are a few:
An impressive hosta forest

A border of impatiens

Wait just a minute...That's not our house!
If you think this is MY garden, then I have an email to forward you about a Nigerian princess who wants to bequeath you 10 million dollars.

This is my mom's garden, because we're visiting my family in St. Louis.  This blue house is the one I lived in from ages 6 to 18, although it has gone many transformations and renovations in that time and many more since in the 12 years since then.

My mom and her mom are amazing gardeners.  Me?  Well, not so much...although I am learning from a great series on Real Housekeeping.  I don't have any pictures right now of the yard at our new place, but trust me, it's nothing like this!

We're having a lot of fun here.  Growing up, going to my grandma's house was the highlight of the summer.  We usually spent about a month there, and every year there was something new and thrilling to play with or do.  It's the same here.

As I type, the kids are playing on the front porch with a makeshift sandbox, a water table, and lots of fine plastic animals that Max is quite enamored of at the moment.  A few moments before, my mom was reading them a story.

I'm not sure who's happier about this visit: my kids or my mom!  She is a natural when it comes to playing the part of loving and doting grandmother.

Not that I'm surprised; just pleased that my kids get to have the same wonderful summertime memories that I had with my grandparents.

Ruby helps grandpa decorate pizza for dinner (which later earned this unjust disapprobation)

Grandma shows Max how to cut flowers 
Max gives it a go, but when all else fails, just yank 'em out

Visiting one of several parks we've been to this week

He's growing up

She barely fits in these kiddie swings anymore!

Building a bean tipi (or is it teepee)?

Max is eyeing Ozzie dog (not pictured)
Speaking of Ozzie dog, those of you who know Max will be shocked--SHOCKED--that he is not scared of Ozzie.  Ozzie is a giant 120 lb. golden lab who is sweet and as dumb as a box of rocks.  120 lbs is three times as much as Ruby weighs and four times as much as Max weighs.

Max is terrified of Dink, his aunt and uncle's 12 lb. pug (okay, maybe 14 lb.).  He screams, shivers, and cowers before Dexter, our friends' bulldog (right? I'm so bad with dog breeds, I'm sorry if I got that wrong).  But apparently, humongous dogs like Hemi and Ozzie don't throw him for a loop.

Go figure.

Ruby, per usual, is fearless around animals (a little too fearless, I sometimes worry).  Here she is engaging Ozzie in a game of "this is MY toy."

I guess Ozzie won this round.

And what of Ben, you ask?  Well, for a guy who is teething and has had really high fevers (topping out at 104.7!) and an ear infection in at least one ear, he's pretty happy.

Uncle Toby dotes on his newish nephie

This is the first Cook baby that didn't grow up in a house with Toby :(

Enjoying a bot-bot at the park

What a sweetie pie!

It's hard work having this much fun
By way of comparison, here's a picture of what the kids looked like on their last visit here (Christmas 2012).  At that time, Max was just 9 months old, so it's fun to compare him at a similar age to Ben's age now.
Remember the era of the helmet?

Minus the brown hair, and you have a spittin' image of Ben

Look at Ruby's long hair (well, long for her)

Ben turned 8 months old on the 4th, and is still not quite ready to sit up on his own.  That's bad news for him, because his legs are getting way too chubs to fit in his Bumbo seat's leg holes.  Better work on that soon!
Despite a (current) lack of teeth, Ben is a voracious eater and loves trying new foods.  I can't think of anything he hasn't liked so far, praise be.  The same cannot be said of Ruby and Max, who are going through a picky phase right now. It's their loss, because the home cooking around here is primo.  

Ben's rolling all over the place and enjoys tummy time now that he can sort of get where he wants to go by a combination of rolling and rotating.  Crawling may not be too far off!  And he had his first real bath in a real bathtub, but was not a fan.

I'm sorry to report that I have no pictures of my sister's graduation to put up yet.  Apparently, no one thought to bring an actual camera.  #youngestchildproblems  I know that someone took pictures of our family, but I don't know if it was with their camera, or their phone, or my dad's phone, or what.  All I know is that she was gorgeous and I can't wait to show you the pictures to prove it!  I'm so proud of her.

Another reason to be proud of Sarah is that she, like her eldest brother, is quite the thespian.  My brother Chris and his girlfriend Julia were here for a few days and I got to pick their brains a little bit about life in NYC as aspiring actors.  While I don't think Sarah wants to go the route of becoming a professional actor, she's certainly a fantastic amateur.

She's got a gig working with the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival doing the green show, which is a very abbreviated summary of the play.  This year, the SLSF is doing both Henry IV and Henry V.  I went to see Henry V, which was wonderful, and I saw Sarah in the green show version. She played the Narrator and it was amazing to watch her.  She exuded a confidence, poise, and mastery that was impressive to behold.

Not many people can recite Shakespearean English in a way that makes it accessible and understandable to our modern ears, but Sarah can.  That's probably why she recently went to the national competition for Shakespearean monologue recitation (okay, that's not the actual name of the contest, but that's what it was) in New York City.  Nationals, people!  WOW! She was the cream of the crop.  While she didn't win the top prize, just getting there with a small cadre of fellow high schoolers is a very impressive feat.

I'm so proud of my baby sis and can hardly believe she'll be heading off to Knox College in the fall.  <Sniffle>
It's wonderful to have all this leisure time.  It really is restorative.  I only wish my husband could be at leisure, but he is at anything BUT leisure.  I don't have pictures to show you, but the trailer is gutted and being rebuilt (here are the "before" pics, to remind yourself of the enormity of the task.)  It's partially wired for electricity and the new pipes for the plumbing are cut and ready to install.  The toilet works, so that's a plus.

Allen was telling me that he's come by nearly $700 worth of insulation--some new and some used but in good to fair condition--which is enough to do the ceiling of the whole house and the kids' bedroom and maybe some more on top of that.  I'm so proud of his resourcefulness and ability to find great deals on Craigslist and by asking friends and family.

He can use all your prayers, good vibes, or whatever you send people who have a hard job to do.  I think he's at that point which so often occurs in big projects of thinking, "Oh dear Lord, what was I THINKING and how am I going to GET IT DONE???"  I have had that thought many a time, but when push comes to shove, somehow it gets accomplished.  The Lowes and the Cooks are famous for this.  I know he can do it, but it won't be leisurely in any sense.  Something tells me I'd better plan something very relaxing for our 5th anniversary this August.
Back to the garden theme: here are some lovely stepping stones my mom made.  Bonus points if you can guess the children's book which inspired them!

Here's a bird bath she made!

I made this bench as part of my senior project in high school.
Another time I'll take pictures of all the other amazing artistry around the house.  My parents both do stained glass, glass mosaic (of which the above are examples), and fused glass as hobbies.  It seems there is hardly an area of art and craft in which my mom has not dabbled (and allowed me to do the same).  

I'll finish up this delightful hour or so I've taken to write this post, sipping on iced coffee with hardly a moment of having to worry about entertaining my kids (and thanks to Ben for taking a mega nap!) by saying: LIFE IS GOOD!  

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Glad for my kids' dad

At the playground today, Ruby was on the swings alongside a very bubbly and sweet little girl (age five and a half, she later informed me), and in her usual inquisitiveness, Ruby asked the girl, "What's your mom's name?"
"My mom's name is Sherry."
"And what's your dad's name?"
"My dad's name? I don't have a dad!"
"Oh, well, I have a dad and his name is Allen."

The exchange ended there.  The dadless girl was very matter of fact, as was Ruby. So far, she hasn't asked why the girl doesn't have a dad.  Truthfully the only thing I can say is that I don't know.  Maybe he died before she was born.  Maybe he was in the picture but left when she was too little to remember. Maybe he left before she was born.  Maybe he's in the army.  Maybe he's in jail.  God only knows.

But I'm very thankful that my kids have a dad and that his name is Allen.  I don't know if I'll do another long vacation without him.  He doesn't really get vacation time from work, and it's very fortuitous how it worked out this time around (it gives him an extra few weeks to get the new house into shape), but it is hard to be away.  The kids miss him and need him, and so do I.

I'm not on my own, by any means.  My mom and dad, brothers and sister are all here and are such wonderful, loving, available caregivers.  But none of them is my kids' dad, and that's a pretty irreplaceable job position.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Kids Say the Darndest Things: St. Louis Edition

This has to be a quick post because I need to take my youngest to the hospital to get his ears cleaned out in order to see if he has an ear infection.  I know how to have fun on my vacations!

So, tonight my dad made his usual and delicious homemade pizza.  He made two: one with sauce and cheese and pepperoni to please the young'ns and one that was a "white pizza" with various sauteed veggies on it, like carmelized onions and the like.  Yum!  Ruby even helped "decorate" the kid pizza.

She and Max happily ate their pieces.  Ruby then grabbed one of the slices of white pizza.  She took a few bites.  "What do you think?" someone asked.

"It's AWFUL!"  she said, with a pained look.

But wait! There's more!

A few minutes later, Max also tried a piece of the white pizza.  He plucked off a strand of the carmelized onion and declared, "WORM!"

"No, it's onion, it's a vegetable," said Toby.

"No! Dat WORM!"  declared Max.