Years 6 and 7…Seven year itch?

1999….

So much of 1999 was about mourning the loss of my grandmother and building up to 2000. In 1999, my aunt, a strong Pentecostal woman, offered to do a bible study with some family members, she drove from Milwaukee to Chicago each week to lead the bible study. I decided that this was a good opportunity to hang out with some of my favorite people. I showed up with my catholic bible and my catholic education, after all I went to a catholic grammar school and a catholic high school. I thought, I know the bible, what is she going to teach me? It turned out, I did not know much about the bible or about being catholic. I learned so much from her and about the other women in the bible study.

At the end of 1999, my Pentecostal aunt suggested that we visit a non-catholic church for Christmas. For me as a Mexican-american, being catholic was a part of my DNA and attending a non-catholic church was was a major no-no. But I had learned to trust her, so we went to a church that a friend of mine was the drummer. I enjoyed the service and wanted to return.

2000….

Shaggy and I began attending the new church regularly. It was a charismatic church with a latino flare and made up of mostly people in their 20s and 30s and we loved it! It was at that church that we committed our lives to Christ, we recommitted ourselves to our marriage and committed ourselves to ministry. It was completely life changing. We were on fire for Jesus and nothing stopped us! We were baptized that summer.

I soon began volunteering at the church and was later hired. I had no office experience but I had a willing spirit and a knack for organizing things and people.

We learned so much about ourselves and about each other. We saw examples of great marriages and began laying the biblical foundation for our own marriage.

stephanie baptism 2000                                             

           shaggy baptism 2000

Countdown to 20 years of marriage…day 5 reflecting on year 5

Maria Cruz

1998…

When I think about 1998, all I can think about is my grandmother, Maria Cruz. Maria Cruz was the matriarch of our family: she was the one who called the shots, bossed us all around, made the best tamales, was a tremendous cook, a talented seamstress and taught me so much. Maria Cruz was a mother of 12, grandmother and great-grandmother to many. She was unreasonable most of the time, she cussed and smoked too much but when you walked in the room her face would light up and she would look at you with her big brown eyes, telling a story without speaking a word. She’d give a great big smile and say “heeeeyyy!” I’d greet her with a kiss and a hug, feeling like I was the most important person in the room. I would sit and ask her how she was and she’d catch me up on all the family gossip.

In 1998, she summoned me to her house and requested that I organize the family for her 70th birthday and a family reunion. I did it, we all did it. Shaggy dj’ed and there was more food than people could eat. we had fun, we laughed and played games. Grandma was glowing; watching all of her family gather, seeing generations gather and celebrate her life. When I think about that day, I think about the legacy she left behind. I think about the family she built and the nuggets she deposited in our lives.

Two months to the day of our family reunion, she died. And with her part of all of us died. We tried to keep the family traditions alive, but we couldn’t. She was the glue.

Since then, I’ve tried to create traditions for our children, something that they could carry on. Its only in the last two years, I have established some traditions for our family unit. At times, I find myself unreasonable and bossy, I can’t help but think about her and long to talk to her again. 

Countdown to 20 years of marriage…day 4 reflecting on year 4

1997…

We were renting from my parents. It was a simple 2 bedroom basement apartment on the street I grew up on. The rent was cheap and the neighborhood was improving, it was a good deal. However, when you are in a dysfunctional family, even after you start your own family, you tend to keep your role, it was even harder to separate myself when we were living in the same building. My mother continued to make decisions I could not agree with and I could not keep my mouth shut, and it was affecting my new family. It was time to go!

We found an apartment that was about 4 miles away but the rent was double! I had my doubts, I was a stay at home mom with a 4 yr old and an 11 month old but Shaggy said we could do it. and we did! It was one of those life changing moments that forever changed my relationship with my family. The apartment was bigger and the neighborhood was nice. Shaggy claims that it was one of the best decisions we ever made for our family, I agree with him. 

 

Count down to 20 years of marriage… day 3 reflecting on year 3

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1996…

I was 21 years old expecting my second child. Before we got pregnant we discussed the importance of being committed to the marriage and to our growing family. We needed stability in our lives. God has a way of bringing people in our lives to offer that support we were lacking in other areas. We befriended an older woman who did not have children but took us in like we were her own. She taught me how to shop for groceries, to prepare meals and many other basic skills that I had never learned. She would take me to the grocery store, I did not drive at the time, show me how to select items and helped me determine what was a good value for my money.  These skills seem so simple but this is something I never learned growing up. I had finally grown up and became a wife. I thank God for Lydia and her grace with me.

Its a sword or is it?

written in April 2013, 3 months later…he has lost interest in the closet…lol and has figured out that he can drag a chair to the places he needs to reach!

 

My 2 year old is a busy guy! He is always looking for a new adventure. One of his favorite places for an adventure is the closet. He likes to hide in there whenever he is in trouble or wants to have some alone time. Almost daily, I’ve noticed the vacuum attachment has been removed from the vacuum. I’ve watched him use it as a sword to torture the dog, so I assumed that was what he was doing with it.

 

I’ve also noticed that the closet light has been left on more frequently, I blamed my husband of course. Well, until today. I watch my little guy grab the attachment, go into the closet. I followed him. He used the attachment to turn on the light switch. I am so amazed at his ability to think on his feet even at such a young age. He doesn’t skip a beat EVER!

 

I will have to remain one step ahead of him, even more so than I did with his 19 year old and 16 year old siblings!

 

Legacy

this is the transcript of a sermon I preached in August 2012. 

I love history! I can watch the history channel for hours! When I was in high school, history was my best subject, that and art. When I was a full time student at the Moody Bible Institute, my children were 10 and 7 years old. I needed to finish school as quick as possible, before they became teenagers, so I took some summer courses. Of course, I took Christian and Western Culture, I loved it! It was a semester worth of work crammed into an intense 3 weeks of church history but I thrived in it and I was sad when it was over.

As we read, Paul recognized the legacy that Timothy came from. He says “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you” (verse 5). He knew that his legacy went back to his grandmother and mother and that his faith was sincere and without hypocrisy. Not only the legacy from his grandmother and mother but the legacy that Paul has imparted in Timothy in the ministry. They have history together. We can read about Paul’s relationship to Timothy in many places in the New Testament. In 1 Cor. 4:17 Paul writes, “For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus…” Paul trusted Timothy to share the Gospel message just as if it were Paul himself.

“Paul, imprisoned in Rome as a result of persecution under Nero, realized, when he wrote this letter, that his death was near. Alone and cold in his dungeon, the veteran missionary wrote to his young son in the faith this intensely personal letter” (Ryrie Study Bible, Intro to 2 Timothy). Paul’s relationship with Timothy was important to him. Unlike the other Pauline Epistles, that were written to churches, the two letters to Timothy and Titus are considered personal often referred to as the pastoral letters.

Paul wants to remind Timothy to rekindle the gift of God that is within him. The word “rekindle” or in some translations “kindle afresh” (NASB) or “fan the flame” (NIV) means to stir up, strength, inflame one’s mind. Paul is not suggesting that Timothy’s fire is going out but rather a friendly reminder to keep it going. “The image is of a campfire that is kept going for days on end and requires to be fanned into a fresh flame each morning” (New Interpreters, 833).

But before Paul gives Timothy this reminder, he mentions Timothy’s grandmother, Lois and his mother, Eunice. This is not the first time Timothy’s heritage is mentioned in the Bible. In Acts 16:1 Luke writes, “Paul* went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek.” Timothy is like a son to Paul. In the book of Acts we can read about how he took Timothy under his wing and showed him the ropes in ministry. Paul remembers their work together and he longs to see him to experience joy, “this is the only mention of joy in the pastoral letters” (New Interpreters, 833). Paul knows that part of his legacy in the ministry is with Timothy.

We all have a legacy to pass on, even organizations. But how does the Methodist campground preserve its legacy? I understand you had VBS here a few weeks ago for the children. I have taught VBS, it is a lot of work. The preparation, the activities, the clean-up. You need a vacation from the vacation bible school! But impact on the lives of the children that attended cannot be measured.

As I read your vision statement I was impressed at your vision to preserve the legacy of the Methodist Campground. “We will stay this loving community; By caring for our body (historic buildings) by creating educational programs (to develop our minds) and to have Christian programs in order to hear God’s words and have the Holy Spirit move us.” But in order for the legacy of this community to continue it first must be personal.

Billy Graham said…“Our days are numbered. One of the primary goals in our lives should be to prepare for our last day. The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives. What preparations should we be making now? The greatest waste in all of our earth, which cannot be recycled or reclaimed, is our waste of the time that God has given us each day.”

In 2000, I was working for a small charismatic church on the northwest side of Chicago. I was the church secretary to a young pastor and his wife, they were not even 30 years old yet. They were new to the pastorate. She was just as active in the ministry as he was. They were partners in every sense. I got to known them quite well and enjoyed working for them. Elis was vibrant. She was sassy and classy all at the same time. She was an advocate of education. One day she came into the office and said, “Stephanie, we are blessed to have you work for us, but you need to think about going back to school. God has something bigger for you.” She planted a seed in my life.

In September 2002, Elis died suddenly. I was heartbroken. The church was heartbroken. I knew that my life would never be the same. I knew that I needed to do something to honor her legacy. So I applied to Bible college. When I was accepted, I was shocked. I could not believe that I was actually going to college. It was a difficult time. It had been 11 years since I graduated from high school, so much had changed. My children were in grammar school, money was tight because I could only work part-time. Sometimes when I thought I couldn’t continue another semester, I would think about Elis and her legacy in my life. Even as I stand here today, I think about how her life touched mine and how I continue to try to honor her legacy.

Like Paul, we all have a legacy to pass on to the Timothys in our lives. Or we were once a Timothy to someone else. Who are the Timothys in your lives? Who do you need to encourage to rekindle their flame? How do we share our legacy?

Paul answers that in verse 7, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

As believers we have the power to “pass the breaking point and not break” (Barclay, 162). “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Our strength or ability comes from Him. Even if it seems that our interaction with others seems casual or unimportant, we must be confident in our role in someone’s life because the Holy Spirit lives within us. We should always strive to be the representation of Christ.

As believers, we have Christ’s love to share with other. “And of love, which enables us to hear, believe, hope, and endure all things; and is the incentive to all obedience.” One of my favorite passages is 1 Cor. 13, Love bears all things. We all have a different way of doing things but if love is the motivation, we can truly represent Christ to others and ultimately live up to the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself.”

As believers, we have the self-discipline. Or in the King James Version it is “sound mind”. This “divinely given control of self which makes people great rulers of others because they are first of all servants of Christ and in complete control of themselves” (Barclay, 162). Self-discipline here is not like self-control but rather setting a good example so that others will follow you.

Paul left a tremendous legacy in Timothy’s life and he was confident that Timothy would continue it. What will your legacy be to those lives you’ve touched? What will be the legacy of the Methodist Campground? If we know the power we have in Christ’s love, we can accomplish anything and leave a legacy for generations to come.

It’s my birthday…I’m 9, I’m 13, I’m 25….really!

This is a note that was published on Facebook on Aug. 14, 2010

 

Today I celebrate my 36th birthday. I think about all of my other birthdays. Some stand out, like the morning I turned 9. I woke up expecting to be different, taller maybe. So I tried to measure myself in my bed. I stretched out the sheet and laid next to it, then folded the end near my head. I stood up on my bunk, the top bunk and I tried to guess how many inches I grew since the night before. I waited to see if my parents noticed. Much to my disappointment no one ever said, “Wow, Steph! You grew 5 inches over night!”

Or like when I turned 13 and my mother threw me a surprise party. Gina took me shopping to get me out of the house. When we got home, all of my friends from Brentano were sitting in my living room. That night, Tori slept over, we celebrated our birthdays together because they were only a week apart. I had such high expectations for my teenage years. I thought, I had finally crossed the finish line, I was hanging with the big kids now. When I reflect on my teenage years, it was a very difficult time that I compounded with some bad decision making. It was a learning time.

For Christmas my boss gave me the book, “Woman Hollering Creek” by Sandra Cisneros. My boss thought I would enjoy reading some of her work. Cisneros wrote “The House on Mango Street” telling a story of a young girl growing up in Chicago, not much different from my life story. Of course I took a greater interest in Cisneros when I discovered we were alumni of the same high school. “Eleven” is a short story from “Woman Hollering Creek”. When I read it a few months ago, it struck a chord in me for many reasons. See my notes after you read the story.

 

ELEVEN  by Sandra Cisneros

What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.

Like some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five. And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re three, and that’s okay. That’s what I tell Mama when she’s sad and needs to cry. Maybe she’s feeling three.

Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.

You don’t feel eleven. Not right away. It takes a few days, weeks even, sometimes even months before you say Eleven when they ask you. And you don’t feel smart eleven, not until you’re almost twelve. That’s the way it is.

Only today I wish I didn’t have only eleven years rattling inside me like pennies in a tin Band-Aid box. Today I wish I was one hundred and two instead of eleven because if I was one hundred and two I’d have known what to say when Mrs. Price put the red sweater on my desk. I would’ve known how to tell her it wasn’t mine instead of just sitting there with that look on my face and nothing coming out of my mouth.

“Whose is this?” Mrs. Price says, and she holds the red sweater up in the air for all the class to see. “Whose? It’s been sitting in the coatroom for a month.”

“Not mine,” says everybody. “Not me.”

“It has to belong to somebody, “Mrs. Price keeps saying, but nobody can remember. It’s an ugly sweater with red plastic buttons and a collar and sleeves all stretched out like you could use it for a jump rope. It’s maybe a thousand years old and even if it belonged to me I wouldn’t say so.

Maybe because I’m skinny, maybe because she doesn’t like me, that stupid Sylvia Saldivar says, “I think it belongs to Rachel.” An ugly sweater like that all raggedy and old, but Mrs. Price believes her. Mrs. Price takes the sweater and puts it right on my desk, but when I open my mouth nothing comes out.

“That’s not, I don’t, you’re not…Not mine.” I finally say in a little voice that was maybe me when I was four.

“Of course it’s yours, “Mrs. Price says. ” I remember you wearing it once.” Because she’s older and the teacher, she’s right and I’m not.

Not mine, not mine, not mine, but Mrs. Price is already turning to page thirty-two, and math problem number four. I don’t know why but all of a sudden I’m feeling sick inside, like the part of me that’s three wants to come out of my eyes, only I squeeze them shut tight and bite down on my teeth real hard and try to remember today I am eleven, eleven. Mama is making a cake for me for tonight, and when Papa comes home everybody will sing Happy birthday, happy birthday to you.

But when the sick feeling goes away and I open my eyes, the red sweater’s still sitting there like a big red mountain. I move the red sweater to the corner of my desk with my ruler. I move my pencil and books and eraser as far from it as possible. I even move my chair a little to the right. Not mine, not mine, not mine. In my head I’m thinking how long till lunchtime, how long till I can take the red sweater and throw it over the schoolyard fence, or leave it hanging on a parking meter, or bunch it up into a little ball and toss it in the alley. Except when math period ends Mrs. Price says loud and in front of everybody, “Now, Rachel, that’s enough, “because she sees I’ve shoved the red sweater to the tippy-tip corner of my desk and it’s hanging all over the edge like a waterfall, but I don’t care.

“Rachel, “Mrs. Price says. She says it like she’s getting mad. “You put that sweater on right now and no more nonsense.”

“But it’s not –”

“Now!” Mrs. Price says.

This is when I wish I wasn’t eleven because all the years inside of me—ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one—are pushing at the back of my eyes when I put one arm through one sleeve of the sweater that smells like cottage cheese, and then the other arm through the other and stand there with my arms apart like if the sweater hurts me and it does, all itchy and full of germs that aren’t even mine.

That’s when everything I’ve been holding in since this morning, since when Mrs. Price put the sweater on my desk, finally lets go, and all of a sudden I’m crying in front of everybody. I wish I was invisible but I’m not. I’m eleven and it’s my birthday today and I’m crying like I’m three in front of everybody. I put my head down on the desk and bury my face in my stupid clown-sweater arms. My face all hot and spit coming out of my mouth because I can’t stop the little animal noises from coming out of me until there aren’t any more tears left in my eyes, and it’s just my body shaking like when you have the hiccups, and my whole head hurts like when you drink milk too fast.

But the worst part is right before the bell rings for lunch. That stupid Phyllis Lopez, who is even dumber than Sylvia Saldivar, says she remembers the red sweater is hers. I take it off right away and give it to her, only Mrs. Price pretends like everything’s okay.

Today I’m eleven. There’s a cake Mama’s making for tonight and when Papa comes home from work we’ll eat it. There’ll be candles and presents and everybody will sing Happy birthday, happy birthday to you, Rachel, only it’s too late.

I’m eleven today. I’m eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one, but I wish I was one hundred and two. I wish I was anything but eleven. Because I want today to be far away already, far away like a runaway balloon, like a tiny o in the sky, so tiny—tiny you have to close your eyes to see it.

 

It makes so much sense that our 5 year old self is a part of our 11 year old self. We often forget that although, we are all grown up, the child that we once were is still deep inside.

Although, I turned 36 years old today, I am still that 9 year old looking to see if I’ve grown at all maybe I haven’t grown physically, but I ask myself if I’ve grown spiritually. I am still that 13 year old girl, searching for the answers in life. I still make bad decisions but now I have wisdom and time on my side so the bad choices are fewer and fewer.