Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

22
Apr

Easter is better than Christmas

   Posted by: liz

IMG_2597Facebook and Twitter were “all a twitter” with Easter pictures this weekend: adorable kids dressed to the nines, family photos of matching and unmatching outfits, and baskets filled with confections, colored eggs, and stuffed animals. I tweeted an adorable picture of my too-cool-for-skool boys, but the remainder of the pictures I took throughout Easter Sunday were of food.

I loved each picture that was shared – I looked closely at what they were wearing, what each hostess was serving on their dinner tables, what desserts were eaten, and what easter baskets were filled with.

Easter is quickly becoming my favorite holiday. Christmas, the long-time favorite, is fun and nostalgic and warm and fuzzy. But Easter is the celebration of resurrection, life that springs from death, the end of winter, cold, and grey. Easter is robin-egg blue and blue skies and green grass and yellow daffodils and warming temperatures; new lambs and more eggs in the hen house, the rebirth of the Alleluia at Eucharist. Easter is second life. Second chances.

IMG_2586

I don’t help to prepare an altar for Easter Eucharist anymore. It was the best day to prepare for, as an altar guild member: such gorgeous flowers, polished silver, brand new beeswax candles, and crisp linens. I did help to prepare a dining room table for Easter dinner. I took lots of pictures of the new linen napkins, the gorgeous colorful tulips my mom sent, the gorgeous platters filled with dishes from other guests. And the china and freshly-polished silver passed down from my great-grandparents. The table was prepared with holy hands from the past, and from now.

And even though Poinsettias are regal and stunning, tulips and hyacinth are my favorite.

 

7
Jun

the meal table

   Posted by: liz

i have noted before that it is nothing short of magic what happens when friends – new and old – family, and even strangers are gathered around a table of food and drink.

some would like to blame it on the alcohol, but i credit the euphoria on the flavors of food and drink that humans share together around a table.

some of my favorite recent memories are hosting meals around our farm table in our dining room. even before i redecorated the room (now a cool colonial blue), our dining room has hosted christmas meals, thanksgiving feasts, and our dinner group of friends eating, drinking, and usually breaking into song at the end. it is by no coincidence that our family piano is tucked away in a corner of our dining room. we stash all of the sheet music, our boys’ piano books in a basket near the piano, but also a stack of old hymnals and psalters.

one thanksgiving meal comes to mind, that included my brothers and their families, my parents, and some friends of ours that we had recently met. we ended the chaotic meal (chaotic only because 12 kids under the age of 10 with 10 adults to match makes it so) around the piano. We sang the Alleluia chorus from Handel’s Messiah, stumbling our way through the four parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), but sharing together in the richness of filled stomachs and Handel’s brilliantly coupled harmonies.

another remembrance is a dinner group of friends, all of us with sons (10 total), shared a potluck dinner of indian-spiced goodness, deep, dry red wines, and a table full of singing before we said our nighttime goodbyes.

i hosted my book club for a cookie exchange one christmas and set up the dining room meticulously with christmas decorations and space for all of our dozens of cookies to be displayed. but where did all 8 of us spend the entire exchange? standing around my kitchen table (ignoring the festive dining room) where the brunch items and mugs of steaming hot coffee were. we laughed, we comforted those of us not looking forward to the upcoming madness that Christmas can be, and we played a “name that tune,” christmas song version all while sharing together the cinnamon rolls, mimosas, and several versions of quiche.

maybe it’s not magic. maybe it’s what is supposed to happen when we open our comfort zones – our family meal tables – with friends. maybe we’ve gotten so bogged down with school schedules and day jobs and family crises that we forget to notice that when we take time to sit, eat, and remember…connections happen. friendships deepen, family members open up, incredible flavors of food and fellowship are shared. this is how we are supposed to sup.

my mom’s book club gets together monthly to talk about their latest book at restaurants and sometimes one of the members hosts a potluck brunch or dinner on their deck. when i ask my mom how her book club was, she always responds, “oh, it was great. we LAUGHED and LAUGHED…” that’s what friends, and hopefully family, does when they share time and conversation around a table. when it’s more than a passing conversation on the phone or email. when we sit, breathe, and break bread together, we are sharing our humaness with each other.

“take, eat…” Jesus says to His disciples. let us do likewise. together.

3
Jan

from the director’s chair…

   Posted by: liz

it’s been a wild and crazy past few months for our family, but why would we want anything less than that?

we’ve been living and breathing theater since september when kenny started working on another production, and moreso when we announced auditions for our production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol through a newly formed theater group we started, hobnob theatre co.

production week at the theater was so intense, so tiring, so exhilarating, i wanted to post my thoughts and photos of it all before i forget. we loaded in the set, props, and costumes on monday of production week, had techinical rehearsals monday through thursday nights, opened the show on friday, and closed on saturday. it was certainly a whirlwind week. we didn’t have a full cast throughout  the technical rehearsals since we were out several cast members from illness each night until opening night. i knew the actors were ready, so i didn’t worry about that. tech week is for learning and polishing the technical aspects of the show. and fortunately, that was accomplished.

(click on each picture for a closer view)

~                                 ~                             ~                               ~                                 ~

here are some photos of the set pieces. Christopher, our scenic designer and artist (pictured in one of the photos) put some finishing touches on Scrooge’s bed and our indoor flats (pictured below is the Cratchit flat) that just made each set piece turn from “just a set piece” to a realistic bed or wall. it was such a joy seeing him bring such beauty to our set! kenny designed and constructed the fezziwig rafters – i think that was one of my favorite drops because of it’s simplistic elegance. and it was the backdrop to a really fun party scene in the play.   the bottom picture is our “London street” scene – with four buildings that are wheeled out for all the street scenes in the show (the beginning and the end of the production). the two middle buildings are named with our production sponsors.

i loved walking through the backstage area where the actors were preparing before each dress rehearsal or performance; applying make-up, wigs, putting their characters’ clothes on and walking onto the stage a completely different persona.

we had two props tables. our amazing stage crew (pictured below) kept these props in order, changed the set like a well-rehearsed dance each night, and kept the behind-the-stage area so organized.

and our amazing cast of actors. after spending a lot of time together for several weeks as a cast, you begin to get to know each other, enjoy each others’ company, and get used to each other. then, after a show closes, those people aren’t in your life any more. this is true for every single show i’ve ever been involved with. this show was a bit different because i felt more responsible for the quality of these cast members’ lives. i knew they had outside lives that were more important than their cast life, but i felt they were vitally important to the cast as well. it’s a hard balance and you tip it in the direction of theatre company that last week of production, certainly. i definitely miss my HUGE cast of actors and look forward to working with them again!

we had a cast party after Friday’s performance (the first big snowy night of the season!). it was so much fun to celebrate a fantastic opening night (full house, too!) with our cast and crew members!

 


We were also blessed with a very good photographer who did head shots of each actor and displayed them in our lobby:

 

the cast really gifted Kenny and I with so much during the show and then went and gifted us with a huge bag of gifts the night before we opened. Below is a “Scrooge and Marley” light up house that I put next to our advent wreath that sits next to our tree. it will be there until easter! :)

the whole experience was amazing. each step in the way, from the auditions to the rehearsals, to the technical meetings to the performances, we learned and were blessed by the people who were involved with us. it was exhausting, but in a way, it was also easy. there was much sacrifice, but in the end, we had a huge group of helpful and supportive people in all aspects of the show. it was one of the best times we’ve spent as a family unit. i was encouraged once  to follow our dreams while our boys were still young. it would be a good example to them. i admit, there were moments when they were sick and tired of the theater, and i was wishing for it all to be over to get them back to normalcy again. but they’ve been resilient. they’ve bounced back to our normal schedule very easily.

i loved having the opportunity to study and research and fall in love with Dickens and his victorian backdrop. our wheels are already turning for future dickens shows (in addition to performing A Christmas Carol each year!)

our next project with our theatre company is much more low-key, but still very exciting. kenny and i are helping to coach some students for the Shakespeare Monologue and Scene contest held at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre. and we’re already planning future shows for the remainder of 2013.

please follow along with us by subscribing to our email list, or liking our facebook page!

5
Nov

election day, 2012

   Posted by: liz

before we experience election day, 2012, can we ALL remember a few things?

we are all from dust, and we will return to dust no matter what happens in our lifetime. according to the westminster catechism, the chief end (the “main point”) of humans is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  it’s not about glorifying our preferred candidate, it is about glorifying Him.

i hope we can all keep this in mind before we “spike the football” or demean the other side. i know it feels like a big deal, but we can keep in mind that we are all americans. but we are children of God first.

He is bigger than any election in any country, and He loves all of us. ALL of us.

 

 

4
Nov

communion and worship

   Posted by: liz

i understand why the roman catholic faith makes a person’s first communion a big deal. usually, it is a child, around the age of 6 or 7. for a parent, it’s a wonderful thing to see your child recognize and understand the meaning behind the elements of the eucharist. and i am down with worship services that surround this milestone in a person’s life.  i grew up in the orthodox presbyterian tradition, where you are older when you make your confession of faith and take communion for the first time.  i was 15 or 16 when i made a public profession of faith in church and before the board of elders and pastor of our church and when i had my first communion. protestants, in general, don’t believe in big worship services honoring this event.

when i joined the episcopal tradition, i noticed families taking communion together at the rail and i understood this to be a family decision. of course, the church would like your children to understand the “whats” and “whys” of the Eucharist, but i loved that the family was a bigger part of this sacrament in worship.  i always envisioned our family, kneeling at the rail together when each of our boys would partake for the first time, and not just receive the blessing on their heads, but be an active part of the Remembrance.

this morning, one of our boys had communion, in church, for the first time. for a myriad of reasons, we were not with him when he did it. i’m coming to terms with this, and i’m okay with it…here are my thoughts:

first of all, we’ve talked about this as a family. the older two have been asking about communion over the past six months and we’ve discussed in full what it means, why we do it, and the different ways in which churches offer it. communion is distributed on trays to the sunday school classes that are happening at the same time the “grown ups” are in corporate worship. we decided that for their first communion, they would take it with us in the worship service, and then following their first communion, they could take it in their sunday school classes from now on.

this morning, kenny was playing music for the worship service and i was asked to serve communion. so, i told both of the older two boys that they were welcome to just take communion in their sunday school class today if they still wanted to. one did, and one didn’t.  i was proud of both of their decisions.

i love it when we are asked to distribute the elements. i love watching the people pour forth from their seats and take the symbols of the highest sacrifice. i love telling them “This is Christ’s Body for YOU.” and i love it when they look back in my eyes and accept this gift for the 1st? 50th? 1000th? time.  no matter how often i take part in the great mystery, it is worship so amazing, so divine, i am in awe again and again.  St. Maximilian Kolbe once said, “If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.”

so when i asked my son how his first communion was, i was expecting him to tell me that angels sang from above, that the earth moved below him, and he answered….”um, the bread was kinda yummy.”

he’ll get there.

he was also baptised as an infant (as were his brothers) and we have no way of knowing if they experienced what an adult experiences at their first baptism. so as a child takes his first communion, sometimes it’s not the same experience as an adult partaking for the first or for the 100th time. the mysteries of the sacraments aren’t explainable. at any age.

secondly, our children’s first communions aren’t about what we, as parents, want to experience with them. of course, we raise them in our faith and hope they understand and believe as us, but these milestones are about them meeting God and understanding Christ’s love for them. they aren’t about how i always envisioned it happening. my ideal church is so far from where we currently worship, but God has us there for His reasons, not my own. i have to let go of my ideal (infant baptism, children’s choir robes, ancient hymns, and weekly Eucharist), and really live out my belief that God works through and is truly worshiped in any worship setting.

there was no pomp and circumstance in our child’s first communion today…but neither was there in the lowly birth of our Saviour 2000 years ago.  humble experiences are just as Holy as those with pipe organs and angels singing from the heavens.

 

21
Mar

i don’t know

   Posted by: liz

as the boys grow older, their questions are changing. no longer do i have to explain how the sun comes up each morning, or how a flower grows, but now i find myself up against a constant flow of questions, most likely from sawyer, from the strange: “what happens if  someone wears a wool sweater and walks across a  desert?” to the where-does-he-come-up-with-these-ideas: “what happens if lava touches electricity?”

instead of succinct answers that hinted at the truth and that used to satisfy him, i am now finding myself not even able to come up with an answer that might be even a little truthful. so i tell him, “i don’t know.”

i think it’s important for parents to be able to admit they don’t know all the answers. even to their little kids’ questions. i am okay with the fact that i don’t know the answer about lava and electricity.

i’m glad, at least, that they still come to us with questions. recently, rowan and sawyer asked me what hell was. perhaps if you’re a christian reading this, you are wondering why our 7- and 8-year-olds have not yet heard about hell.

because we don’t believe they need to know about it. and we think they need to know about Jesus and His command to love others and that is so much more important than to scare them into a false sense of security about “asking jesus into their hearts” so that they can stay out of hell.

there are blog posts and articles and even books written these days about the large exodus of young people (that definition doesn’t include me any more!) from the church. a lot of these authors believe they know exactly why.

Ken Ham and the fundamentalist side states that it’s because the Church isn’t teaching apologetics enough to its children.

This study at the Christian Post suggests several reasons, among them that the Church is anti-science and judgemental of those who have doubts or struggles with their faith.

i’d like to offer my own suggestion. what if young people are leaving the Church because they were told that the Church has all the answers. and when they are faced with problems that were brushed under the carpet in their home church, or told their “problem” was a Big Bad sin, or told that to question their faith/a certain interpretation of scripture was sinful, they felt duped.

since when is the Church supposed to have all the answers?  the Church is supposed to commune together, take care of its widows and poor, love each other no matter their “sin.” it’s not supposed to be the place where all the answers of our faith are answered. what if, instead, it was a safe haven for all those questions we have?

parents don’t have all the answers for their children as they raise, love, and nuture them. the Church should be there to love its members and its community, not claim to have an answer for all of their questions or problems.

so when my sons asked me about hell the other day, i didn’t lie. i know what people think of hell. i know what people think the Bible says of hell. so i told them that. and i told them that i believed differently, but that i’m still learning. and then i went farther.

i told them not to worry about it or think about it. i told them that we’re to listen to Jesus’ words about taking care of each other, and loving each other, and then asked them what they think that is supposed to look like in our life. following the words of Jesus is entering the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

the conversation changed and i admit that i engineered the direction because i don’t want to scare them into making a decision about trusting Jesus now, and then finding out the reason they originally trusted Him was…well…bunk.

so as we raise our boys to trust Jesus and follow His example and His commands, i hope they experience the Church as a fallible community willing to embrace them no matter what. because that’s what they’ll get from their parents.

“We cannot come to the light unless we are willing to enter into the darkness.”

Observing Lent has been a part of my life for the past 15 years. It was not a part of my childhood, so when, as an adult, I began observing it, it was as though I had been converted to a new way of celebrating Easter Sunday.

Growing up in a non-liturgical church, you get surprised by Easter Sunday especially if it falls smack dab in the middle of a sermon series, instead of at the end of the Lenten readings. No previous Sunday is spent in lenten devotion, crawling ever-so-slowly to the glorious Easter morning.

Lent has a way of slowly, gently, urging us forward to the huge celebration that is Easter Sunday: the crux of our faith, the party at which we celebrate the God-Man who conquered death. I can’t fathom celebrating Easter Sunday anymore without having symbolically walked with Jesus in the desert for the previous 40 days. Without having given something…anything…up for Lent.

On Ash Wednesday last week, my facebook and blog feeds were filled with status updates and blog posts about Lent. Many quoted what a priest says as you receive ashes, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” And many were links to other blog posts or reviews of books that suggest giving up for Lent isn’t necessary and were encouraged to change the age-old practice of fasting, prayer, and alms-giving to something like “adding something each day to strengthen your walk with Christ.”

The purpose of the 40-day observance of fasting is a reflection of Jesus’ time in the wilderness before he was crucified. How can I identify with Christ’s suffering (even a little) by not denying myself something?

There will not be a smithical blog series on my journey through Lent, or how The Smith household observed Lent. The Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday is taken from Matthew 6: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you…”  It is not only polite, but fully encouraged by our Lord to not ask what others are giving up for Lent.

Sounding a trumpet and looking sullen and starved from fasting won’t help us realize that our only hope is in Jesus, not in our piety.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. ” Psalm 51:11

 

 

10
Feb

being communion.

   Posted by: liz

i just read Lauren F Winner’s latest book, Still, bought for me by my mom. it’s about getting through a mid-faith crisis, or how one finds oneself in the middle of their faith (far away from the excitement of conversion, far from the end of life).

longtime smithical readers may remember that i was on a team at my old church that organized a weekend writers and womens retreat that Lauren led. here is the blog post about that (i was pregnant with adam in this picture!)

i’ve been a fan of Winner’s work since that year. Mudhouse Sabbath still remains my favorite of her work.

i’m still a fan of her writing, but this latest book was one on which  i found i couldn’t connect as much with her. i don’t have a conversion story, and my faith grows stronger and more in depth as i grow older. however, inserted among the prose that wasn’t as engaging for me, are chapters like this one, that i cannot do justice talking about (nor can i read them out loud, as i tried to read it to kenny and ended up crying.  so i just gave it to him to read).

so, i give you a gem of a chapter, and know that some of you can relate to this, as i’ve had many a conversation with a lot of you over the years about communion, the eucharist, the Body and Blood and One Flesh.

an episcopal church in a small town in upstate New York has asked me to come preach. The town is home to two vineyards, there seem to be more maple trees than people, and the church is bedecked Gothic revival, all arches and parapets and stone sinews you can see. I find myself wanting to move here the minute I arrive.

at the eucharist, i serve as a chalice bearer, following along behind the priest, offering the cup of wine to parishioner after parishioner. some clasp the cup and guzzle with what looks like relish; some are daintier, more polite, as though handling fine crystal; some don’t touch the chalice to their lips but, practicing what’s called intinction, dip the wafer into the wine and then consume the crimsomed host.

i don’t know the people in this congregation; i don’t know anything about the triplets who sport pink glasses and bobs like cloche hats; i don’t know anything about the man with one arm, or the college-aged woman who surely shops at thrisft stores, today clad in a polyester paintsuit circa 1969, the jacket and pants and blouse all squash-colored yellow with cinnamon trim. and it is only later, after i ask the priest, that i learn something about the elderly couple who, near the end of the communion train, come to the rail and kneel, fragile as mushrooms.

what i learn later is that for a dozen years, he has been afflicted by a wasting disease, an intestinal disease that makes it almost impossible for him to eat – he lives on Ensure and lemonade. but at the altar i don’t yet know that, i only know what i see: they each take a wafer from the priest; and when I come to them with the chalice, the wife dips as i say, “the blood of Christ keep you in everlasting life,” and she eats her wafer, and then her husband likewise intincts his round of Christ’s Body into the wine and then he hands the round of Body and Blood to his wife and she eats his wafer for him. there at the Communion rail, i don’t yet know what illness lies behind this gesture, I know only the couple’s hands and mouths, and that I am seeing one flesh. I have read about this, heard sermons about a man and a woman becoming one flesh; and here at the altar, i see that perhaps this is the way I come to know such intimacy myself: as part of the body of Christ, this body that numbers among its cells and sinews an octagenarian husband and wife who are Communion.

2
Feb

Candlemas and Groundhogs

   Posted by: liz

I’m once again linking back to an old post regarding a holiday. Or a feast day, as we like to call them. This one is from last year.

~~~

It is just before 7:00 a.m. as I type this, and the sky to the east (to my right) is just beginning to lighten. This is the earliest I’ve seen light at this hour in a long time. So no matter what the groundhog says, I am content to know that spring is right around the corner!

I found Rembrandt’s work (to the left) of Simeon in the Temple purely by accident. The boys all touched on Rembrandt in their co-op on Monday, and I wanted to show them some more works of his. When I found this, I was amazed at how many paintings of New Testament stories he painted in his lifetime. This one is thought to have been his last.

It’s been 40 days since Christmas, which makes today the Celebration of the Feast of our Lord or the Feast of the Purification or Candlemas. (Another reason I am including this painting in this post)! It is the day to bless the candles in the church, or in your home, and say the song of praise of Simeon (whose words are always on our lips as we sing the Nunc Dimitis):

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;Your word has been fulfilled.My eyes have seen the salvationYou have prepared in the sight of every people,A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people, Israel.

So whether you celebrate six more weeks of winter or an early spring, whether you bless the candles in your home or remember the faith of Simeon and Anna in the temple when they beheld the Messiah, think on the light that this day celebrates: more light returning to our days and the light of the Messiah, revealing God to the nations.

11
Jan

family resolutions, farm resolutions

   Posted by: liz

 

we got rid of our television before christmas.

well, okay – we have a television in our basement but it’s only hooked up to netflix and the boys’ video games. our rule is weekend-only videos/video games, and even the weekend time is limited. i have issues with artificial entertainment, and i’m one of those prudes who sees video games and reality television as just that. artificial, fake, unworthy of our precious time.

but that’s not our family resolution. in fact,we kind of fell into this new no-tv living space accidentally (that’s a whole ‘nother post). so…since christmas, my “spare time” has been filled with so much more conversations, reading, planning, and learning. and that television in the basement?  SUCH an after-thought.

family resolution
our family resolution this year is to actively pray to make us “mindful of the needs of others.” it’s a phrase from our family grace and one night at dinner, we discussed what it meant in greater detail. it’s always been the phrase that stuck out in my head, but it’s so fun to see it now making its impression on the boys hearts and minds. we are daily, looking for ways to understand and do what others need from us.

this was humbly acted out for us when i was sick at christmas. our neighbors showed up at our door with a huge vat of homemade chicken soup when they saw that i was sick the day before.  it was humbling, and touching, and our boys noticed.  so it’s our family resolution to seek out where we can be helpful, useful, and loving to everyone else. we can put our own needs aside, because they will be met, especially if our eyes are open to the needs of others.

 

farm resolution
my farm resolution is to do more. i feel as though the farm part of our life hasn’t been the joy it once was, for me at least. this is purely my fault. but january always gives me a sense of excitement as we already begin to plan for the busy spring and fall ahead.

my first order of business is to study up on honeybees. kenny’s already an expert, and when we had bees a few years ago, he did all the handling of the bees/honey, etc. i want in this year. in fact, i told him i’ll do the majority of the work – and from what i’m reading, they are a lot of work in the spring (you have to feed them), not a whole lot of work in the summer, but work returns in the fall with the honey harvest.

honeybees are one of the most fascinating living creatures. the waggle dance, the way worker bees communicate to the hive where a food source is, is amazing.  this short, 55-second video, describes what the waggle moves mean.

i hope to keep good records this year so that our honey harvest will be great. my plans are to have a pantry full of our own honey, make soap with some of this honey, and extract all the beeswax to make candles.  of course, this all depends on the health of the hive, the weather, and.,.whether or not we can protect the hives from black bear again!

our first order of business is to clean out our old Langstroth hives, and to order two packages of bees. this will be done by end of january. and then i have to patiently wait for the bees to arrive in late spring.

have you ever smelled beeswax, or tasted honey straight from the hive?  once you do, you’ll be making your own backyard apiary plans!

related:  kenny catching a swarm