Tag Archives: fear

Halloween for Scaredy Cats

Vintage black cat

I have never been a huge fan of Halloween. I’m not saying I didn’t participate in the festivities. I loved the costumes and the candy but I was never very big on the actual “trick or treat” aspect of the event. I have always had a pretty vivid imagination so I was able to completely freak myself out walking in the dark on Halloween night passing all of the other children in costume. Unfortunately I think I passed these feelings on to my own child.

Driving through my neighborhood last night after dark, I realized that at least half of the houses on my street had extensive Halloween decorations: spiderwebs, skeletons, pumpkins, ghosts…the works. It seems to me that people are decorating for Halloween as much as they are for Christmas. That just seems strange to me.

Cute vintage pumpkin child

I suppose that if Halloween decorations were more like this cute vintage pumpkin child, then maybe I would enjoy it more. But that does not seem to be the trend. Just going into a party store in the month of October is terrifying. Gone are the days of Little Bo Peep and cowboys.

Vintage Halloween costumes photo

So tonight I will celebrate Halloween as usual–with some reservation–welcoming the little ones in the neighborhood early then turning out the porch light at the first sign of the older kids. My daughter and I will be counting down the minutes to November 1st when Halloween has passed and the “good holidays” are ahead of us!

 

All images are from The Graphics Fairy.

 

Confessions of a Bibliophile (A Journey Launched, Part 3)

The following is one of four essays that appeared in the Jubilate Deo, the newspaper of the Diocese of South Carolina, in 2006 and 2007. The publication of these pieces launched my desire and need to write about my spiritual journey.

Confessions of a Bibliophile

By Amy Watson Smith, Department of Christian Faith Formation, Diocese of SC

I confess that I have always loved books. I love the sound of the spine cracking on a new book when it is opened for the first time. I love to feel the weight and crispness of the paper. I love to press the pages to my face breathing in the smell of the freshly printed words.

Holding an unread book in my hands always makes my heart race a little—excited by the possibilities of new ideas, adventure, drama.  However, I think what I have treasured most about reading is that all of life’s possibilities were confined to the safety of the page, and they allowed me to “feel” without the risk of being hurt.

So I started reading a great deal early on. When I was in need of comfort or reassurance, I often resorted to the safety and predictability of a favorite book reading the familiar words over and over time and again. Some rather unfortunate (though not uncommon) events of my adolescence confirmed for me that the world of books was a much safer place than that of many of the relationships I had developed.

As time passed it seemed only natural that my love of books and the safety of their created worlds would lead me to a degree in English literature in college and then to a job as a bookseller in a dangerously well-stocked bookstore. While graduate school did not exactly quell my biblio-obsession, it did refine my tastes and limit the subject matter that I pursued. My graduate degree in material culture and my subsequent career as a museum curator opened an even more protected dimension to the safe world I cherished—historical objects and art work.

Working in and for museums for almost fifteen years, I found myself surrounded by a host of very safe companions—thousands of beautiful and interesting objects that stayed nicely on the walls and in the exhibit cases in which they were placed. The security and reliability of these relationships couldn’t be beat! Furthermore when I was called to the Department of Christian Faith Formation in the diocese (now almost 1 ½ years ago), I couldn’t believe how blessed I was. God may have taken me out of the world of museums and objects, but he had placed me in a position where I was surrounded by hundreds of books and resources in the Diocesan Resource Center. I couldn’t believe it—I was and am actually getting paid to read and evaluate books and resources in order to be able to tell other people about them. What a blessing! I have loved the opportunity to read many of these wonderful resources and relish the idea of sharing them with others. Currently I must have at least twelve partially read books on my nightstand, and, as I look around me now, I am literally encircled by pages and pages of words and ideas. What a joy! Hmmm…let me see…this one looks interesting….

What really surprises me about all of this is that God has been doing something new in me over this time at the diocese and, in retrospect, over all these years. He placed a confessed bibliophile—a down-right biblio-idolator—right in the middle of my ideal setting. And then He reawakened a desire for real relationship in my heart. While I was trying to fill my head with knowledge from my “safe” companions (i.e., books), He has been transforming my heart and preparing me to risk relationship in ways that I never thought possible. As I sit surrounded by the books that I once believed gave me the kind of world I wanted—one that let me experience relationships without any of the danger—I realize now that my heart longs for relationships that are worth the risk. And these relationships come in the form of the loving, mixed-up, sane, messy, unpredictable, wonderful, sometimes uncomfortable, grace-filled people that are the body of Christ. Safety, my friends, is highly overrated. Thanks be to God!

November 2006

Becoming Like Little Children (A Journey Launched, Part 2)

The following is one of four essays that appeared in the Jubilate Deo, the newspaper of the Diocese of South Carolina, in 2006 and 2007. The publication of these pieces launched my desire and need to write about my spiritual journey.

Becoming Like Little Children

By Amy Watson Smith, Department of Christian Faith Formation, Diocese of SC

The first time I ever held a Bible in my hand, I was eight years old.  My father was helping me to pass a rainy Saturday afternoon by cleaning out the large walk-in closet in my bedroom. I remember spotting the unfamiliar dark green, leather bound book with gold-edged pages, and how light the feather-weight pages felt in my fingers as I flipped through each delicate one. Who knows how that Bible came to be in the bottom of my closet? I know that I had never seen it before and to be honest, I had no idea what it was. My father gave me a brief explanation of the book and it must have intrigued me for I promptly sat down on the floor and began to read, “In the beginning God created . . . .” I don’t know how far I read that day—probably not very far at age eight—but clearly the experience left an indelible mark in my memory file since I often recall it when I trace the arc of my spiritual journey.

Over the next two decades, I danced around God—attending church in fits and spurts and reading Scripture sporadically. I had many questions but was too self-absorbed to really seek any answers. Becoming a parent changed all of that for me.

The birth of my daughter was in many ways miraculous. For the first time in my life, I acknowledged that there was a God and that he was gracious and merciful and loving—and had inexplicably entrusted this tiny baby to my care. From the very core of my being arose a feeling of love and protectiveness for her that I had not thought possible. But there was something else there too—a feeling that had been lying dormant for far too long. I had a deep longing to know this God and I knew with absolute certainty that I wanted my child to know Him too. The only problem was that He was a stranger to me. This was uncharted territory. I felt (somewhat) confident that as a parent I would be able to help her learn to sit up, walk and talk, but I had absolutely no idea how to lead her spiritual development. I knew that it involved more than just teaching her a set of rules to follow. I had to somehow share with her this deep longing that I felt for God. As I had no foundation from which to draw, I had to start at the beginning.

Attending church regularly seemed a logical starting point. Since my knowledge of the Bible was almost nonexistent, I began reading to her from the children’s Bible that she had been given at baptism. As I read these simple, child-like stories to her, the picture of who God was and what he was doing began to unfold for me. Armed with this basic outline, I became more confident to study the Scriptures on my own. It was at this time that I began to pray with her—the first prayers I had ever said aloud. Hmmm…I was on to something. I was learning about God alongside and through my child. God had used my child to draw me to Him. Amazing.

Over the years I began teaching Sunday School—not because of my vast knowledge of Scripture but because I discovered that it was a safe and dynamic environment in which to learn and grow. Preparing to teach a lesson, identifying the most important idea and thinking through the activities and object lessons that would best illustrate this idea has been an incredible growth experience for me. The questions that my child has thrown at me from the back seat of the car have challenged me to know what I believe and why I believe it. Together we have searched the Bible for answers to problems, learned about traditions and holidays of the Church, memorized Scripture and learned the books of the Bible in order. She has challenged me to pray more authentically and, more often than I’d like to admit, she has reminded me of Jesus’ command to love others.

Recently as I was tucking her into bed, I had the opportunity to tell her about what my childhood was like not knowing about God or going to church. As I recounted to her the story of finding that Bible in my closet, her mouth hung open in disbelief. It was unfathomable to her that someone might not know about Jesus or the Bible. I explained to her that not knowing Jesus for so many years was the reason I was so excited about sharing my love for Him with her and with others. My heart was so full with Him that I just had no other choice. “Oh, Mommy!” she exclaimed. “I want my heart to feel like that too. Can I have Jesus in my heart too? Will you walk me through it?” (and yes, she did actually say ‘walk me through it’). We said a simple prayer together, hugged and said good night.

As I left her room that evening, I thanked God for allowing me to share this gift—His love—with my precious child. He has entrusted this child to me and has given me the responsibility for leading her spiritual development. But He has also given me the one tool that I need to do this—a passion for Him. It’s that simple. Praise God.

“And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” –Matthew 18:3 (NIV)

July 2006

Unpacking Boxes (A Journey Launched, Part 1)

The following is one of four essays that appeared in the Jubilate Deo, the newspaper of the Diocese of South Carolina, in 2006 and 2007. The publication of these pieces launched my desire and need to write about my spiritual journey.

Unpacking Boxes

By Amy Watson Smith, Department of Christian Faith Formation, Diocese of SC

Ouch. I put the book down. He’s got to be crazy if he thinks I am going to do this! This was my first reaction to reading the book, How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth written by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. The ‘he’ I referred to was Peter Rothermel, coordinator for the Department of Christian Faith Formation of the Diocese of SC. I had just accepted a position (late July 2005) with the diocese as the Administrative Assistant for the department. Peter had given me a copy of the book and encouraged me to read it in preparation for a conference our department would present in March 2006. The ‘ouch’ mentioned above was my reaction to the few things that surfaced after reading the first few chapters of How People Grow. I promptly put the book down. A month passed before I had the nerve to pick it up again.  This isn’t going to be quite as painless as I thought.

Over the next few months, I moved through the book at a snail’s pace, reading one chapter and then putting the book away for a month or more. I was familiar with the authors, trusted their reputations, and believed the material to be theologically orthodox and biblically based. The text was engaging and the case studies allowed me to glimpse how their principles applied to real life. Yet I just couldn’t seem to get through the book.  By early January, I was beginning to panic. The team for the upcoming conference was hard at work and plans were moving forward at a brisk pace. And I still hadn’t gotten through the book! What was wrong with me?

Finally it became clear to me what was causing me so much trouble. From the first pages of this book, Drs. Cloud and Townsend stress that the growth process is meant to be done with other people. God did not intend for us to grow alone. He wants us to be in relationship with him and with others. I had been leaving out a crucial piece of the process—the body of Christ. The trouble was that I was a self-proclaimed, self-sufficient, independent, I-don’t-need-anyone’s-help kind of person. Obviously this was not good news to me. But I didn’t see any way out of this situation. It was my job, after all, and Dr. Townsend would be arriving in Charleston in just a few short months. I had to finish the book and get on with planning the conference. I needed some help!

Well, it would be nice to say that I turned to my dearest, closest friend for help, but in reality it was someone with which I had only just gotten to know. Still I felt that God had brought us together for a purpose, so I took a leap of faith. I asked her to read How People Grow and to meet with me regularly to talk about and process what we were reading. Thankfully she took a pretty big leap and agreed. While this may not seem like such a big deal for some people, it was a HUGE step for me. I did not like admitting that I was over my head and needed help. The miraculous thing is that God immediately did something transformational in me.

I liken the experience of going through this growth process to the process of cleaning out a closet or a room full of boxes. My room is full of boxes—boxes full of memories, experiences, lessons learned, things I have done, and things done to me.  While I know what a few of these boxes contain, the contents of many are a mystery. They are all nicely sealed up—and frankly, that is the way I had intended to keep them. But something began to happen to me. As I began to develop this new friendship through the growth process outlined in How People Grow, I began to open up some of my boxes. I realized that some of them contained things that I wanted to keep—memories or experiences that I didn’t want to discard, sins that need to be forgiven, lessons that needed to be learned. I began to take the contents out of each box, one-by-one, carefully turning them over, assessing and evaluating, with the help and encouragement of my new friend, whether they were treasures or trash. I realized that some of the things in these boxes didn’t even belong to me and needed to be returned to their rightful owners.

Intellectually I knew that God wanted me to bring these things out of the darkness and into the light. But I imagined that this light would be like that given off by a single, bare light bulb: harsh and condemning. What I came to learn, however, is that the light he asks us to walk in is more like that given off by a lamp covered with a shade: soft, comforting, yet bright enough to reveal the truth. When I began to unpack my boxes, the contents were brought into the healing, loving, saving light of Jesus Christ—reflected through the warmth, acceptance, and compassion of my new friend. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1: 9).

Three months into this journey, I can honestly say that I am a different person—truly a new creation.. As I continue to experience this new, deeper, more honest relationship with my “growth partner,” I realize that I want more of my established relationships to grow in this way. This experience is having a ripple effect in every area of my life.

I still have many more boxes to go through. But—through the grace of God, the love of Jesus, and the support of the body of Christ—I am now able to look at some things that had been hidden away for far too long. And I am even taking some of them out, putting them on the shelves of my life and integrating them into this new creation—the person that God wants me to be. Praise be to God.

March 2006

Motherhood: “Nothing is impossible with God”

(Homily delivered on 12-11-07 at St. Michael’s Church)

 

Scripture: Luke 1:5-38

Motherhood. What does this word bring to mind for you? For many women, this word, this idea dominates much of our lives. I’m not sure that many men truly grasp how essential this concept is to a woman.

As young girls many of us spent hours upon hours practicing our skills of nurture with dolls, or stuffed animals, or even younger siblings. We developed these caregiving skills through play and through friendships and by observing and then mimicking our own mothers.

As we matured into young women, the reality of motherhood may have taken a back seat for a time as our other life goals and plans emerged, but the idea remained inside of us somewhere—either in the form of a desire to become a mother or in the fear of becoming one.

With marriage the desire to become a mother may have moved to the forefront of our plans. For some this desire is satisfied very quickly and perhaps even multiple times. For some it comes unexpectedly changing the direction of life in ways you never imagined. Yet for others, motherhood is elusive—this deep-seated desire remains unfulfilled perhaps to be buried permanently.

For most women, motherhood (or the lack of it) is without doubt an issue of great importance. It is one that shapes our lives so significantly.

I am so encouraged to know that the Lord understands the significance of motherhood to us today just as He did over two thousand years ago. When I read about the events leading up to the birth of Christ in the Gospel of Luke, I realize that things aren’t so different today as they were for Elizabeth and for Mary. What is so touching to me is that the Lord involves two very emotional and precarious aspects of motherhood—the unfulfilled desire to become a mother and the unexpected, seemingly inconvenient timing of motherhood—in revealing the Savior to us.

Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, were childless. As a woman reaching her mature years, she apparently had come to terms with the fact that she was past child-bearing age and would never have that deep-seated, precious desire for a child fulfilled. She had buried this desire deeply within herself. Yet she did not allow bitterness or anger or sadness to overtake her love for the Lord. In Luke 1:6 we are told that “Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.”

Mary, her cousin, was quite young—just a teenager—and engaged to be married. She had probably dreamed of becoming a mother at some point, but most likely her plans were to get married, set up housekeeping and then begin a family. But we learn in Luke 1:28 that she too loved the Lord and was “highly favored.”

Two women at very different places in their lives learn that the Lord is going to do the seemingly impossible in their lives. Elizabeth will give birth to a child though she is well-advanced in years. Mary, who had never been with a man, would become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Incredible! And they both recognized that these situations would leave them open to ridicule, doubt, gossip and, for Mary, possibly death.

The angel Gabrielle tells each women that not only will these impossible things take place, but that these are no ordinary children—they each have a vitally important role to play in saving the world. Listen to what Luke tells us in verses 14 through 17 about John:

“He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

And then in verses 30-33, he comes to Mary to tell her about the child she will birth:

“But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

I don’t know about you, but I have great dreams for my child—who she will be as an adult, what she will do, etc. and I can’t wait to see her grow into the woman that the Lord has planned. But I can’t even imagine what Elizabeth or Mary must have felt when Gabrielle told them about God’s plans for their children.

What was their response? Was it fear? Doubt? I suspect my response would have been “Okay, but the timing of this isn’t really very good…” No. Elizabeth simply rejoiced and worshipped the Lord. She knew without a doubt that the Lord was doing the impossible in her life. And Mary…well, after her initial confusion about the logistics of how this miracle would happen, she simply offered herself willingly to the Lord: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”

What can we learn from these women about motherhood? Well, I think the thing that really strikes me is that it’s not about motherhood, after all. Whether we are blessed to have one child, many, or none at all; whether the timing is convenient or not….It’s about offering ourselves willingly to the Lord—all of who we are—our condition of motherhood, our plans, our choice of profession, our spouses ,children, finances, etc. All of it. Period. He will use it. He will use us. In ways that we never dreamed possible.

As the Angel Gabrielle tells these women in what seemed impossible situations—“nothing is impossible with God.” Thanks be to God.