our “valentines” (feb 3, before my first surgery): we both had a dessert 🙂

My wife and I are completely different in one major way:  my wife could live without sugar altogether…and I crave it.  After I lost weight,  my wife noticed something about me.  One night my eyes became as wide as saucers when I saw a dessert and she said, “You really are a fat kid inside, huh?”

It is true.  I grew up with desserts all around me and I LOVE THEM.  If you’ve ever had my mother’s pies, you understand.
I’ve been acting pretty good the past week or so, but the other night I was craving a dessert.  I dutifully called my wife and asked her if she’d like me to pick up something for her, too…I already knew the answer: “No.” She is so good.  Well, I went out to the nearby Fresh Market and looked at the desserts.  I went there because I knew I could get just one single cupcake, and, from experience, I knew that the calories would be worth it at that bakery.
But, when I got home I didn’t just have just a single cupcake in my bag.  I had a whole Apple Brown Betty Pie and vanilla bean ice cream.  Who am I?  I’m a monster!
But, you know, I think it isn’t just about sugar.  For us who are “fat kids,” I have to suggest, that, in part, it is about memory.  I can almost taste the snickers bar when I am in the check-out line.  I could taste the deep vanilla of the ice cream as I picked it up off the shelf.  Worse, when I go home, the memories of my mother’s cooking is intoxicating: whether it is something universally delicious like Blackberry pie or beef stew or something like depression-era mackeral patties.  It isn’t the culinary genius as much as the memory of that food from my time growing up that makes it so amazing (but, mom, you are also a culinary genius).
church folks, can you almost taste it?
Memories are powerful things.  On Sunday, at my church, we celebrated Holy Communion.  For Christians, the taste of the bread and juice/wine are meant to draw on memory the same way as my mother’s cooking did.  For adults who grew up in the church the taste of bread and juice (wine) takes them back to memories of childhood in the church.  For the early Christians it must have been a powerful reminder of a time when Christ was in their midst doing incredible acts.  For all Christians of all times it connects us to the people who have come before us.  It is a very real connection to them.  It also reminds us of all the people who will come behind us in our living tradition.  Perhaps just as importantly: because there are churches around the world in every time zone that celebrate Communion / Eucharist daily, there are Christians constantly communing with one another and with Christ!  Communion is a very real sign that we are connected to one another and Christ no matter our distance through time and space.  It is amazing, really.
Resurrection & New Life: Is This Easter?
Image found at:

Today I invite my wife to be my guest blogger here on “virtues.”  Rev. Carrie Carnes is the pastor at Chenoa United Methodist Church which is just 25 minutes North of Bloomington-Normal, IL.  She will graduate from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary next month, although she finished her classes last summer and has been serving at Chenoa as a full-time pastor since.

This isn’t what Easter’s supposed to be like, is it?

Scripture:  Mark 16:1-8

Throughout Lent, we sang “Lord Who Throughout These Forty Days”.  It’s a great hymn about Jesus’ time in the desert. The hymn reminds us that when we are in barren places- Christ is with us. When we find ourselves in those wilderness places we often feel alone and it can be difficult to see God walking with us. During Lent we inspect pain, suffering and sin with the assurance that God is with us- and with the knowledge that Lent ends with Easter.
Scott and I had a rough Lent; especially the first part. We were in the wilderness. Scott had brain surgery in February. As we returned from the hospital and subsequent stay at the Berry Family Convalescent Home and Pet Boarding Center (what we call may parents’ house). I was ready to go. I wanted to dive right back in to everything. But then Scott got the flu and I had to find someone to fill in for me at the last second that first Sunday. We had to make unplanned trips back to St. Louis. Scott’s recovery plateaued. We were in the wilderness. I wanted so badly for things to be normal again but nothing seemed to be going right. Towards the end of Lent things looked up a little. I felt like I got my groove back. I felt refreshed and could feel the Spirit’s presence with me more and more. Holy Week was wonderful, and Easter Sunday brought such joy. I felt like I had lived liturgical cycle and was filled with new life. Plants and plans were budding. 
And then it happened. Scott started in with intense migraines again. We wound up back in the hospital Saturday. We were transferred back to St. Louis Sunday and informed that Scott needs yet another surgery. I feel like we went back to the beginning. Lent’s over. We’re not supposed to be in wilderness anymore! Lent is 40 days, so I found myself wondering: did we take a wrong turn? Have we gotten lost? Will we become like the Hebrews stuck in this wilderness 40 years?
After the news sunk in, and after a little sleep I began to feel a little more hope. I’ll admit however, that I’m not quiet ready to sing “Alleluias!“ just yet. Though in churches we rightfully celebrate the resurrection with great joy; if we take time to read Mark’s account of the resurrection noticeably absent is the joyous celebration. Mark instead describes the morning with great fear, showing us the darker side of the resurrection.The women have just witnessed their friend and leader crucified. All the other disciples have fled in fear and while the women have remained, it seems safe to assume that these women have remained not without fear- but despite their fear.  The women nervously venture up the hill to the tomb. They discover the tomb is empty and are greeted by this young man in the white clothes of a martyr. He tells them “Don’t be alarmed”- now he wouldn’t have had to say this if they weren’t alarmed would he? He instructs the women where to go to find Jesus, “…he is going ahead of you into Galilee”. In saying this he is sending the women back to the very place where the Gospel began- where he first called the disciples. I wonder if the women also thought, “So its like we’ll be starting back at square one.”  Then the Gospel ends with its final two chilling sentences, “Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
When I read that Easter passage, it’s hard for me to imagine lilies, Alleluias and the bright festivities. This passage is filled with challenge and dread. The women are not venturing out into the Lenten wilderness, but there is a terrifying journey that lays ahead of them. 
During Easter we celebrate the resurrection. The past couple of days have reminded me that Easter is not just about the thrill of an empty tomb and new dresses. While God is creating new life all around us, that life isn’t easy. It’s still filled with pain and challenges, disappointments and starting over. And some days that sucks. But just as we are assured that Christ is with us in our Lenten wilderness moments so too does that angel at the tomb assure us that the risen Christ has gone ahead of us. When we are faced with frightening new starts and begin tedious new journeys we can hear again the angel’s words, “You will see him there”.

I guess this what happens when you don’t have a plan, but pick up a video camera and start recording.  This is the video that is going to be used at the Evenglow Bible Study on Tuesday to give residents an update on my recovery and to show them the fruits of their labors as they prayed over my mother last Spring!

It is really great to be back in Pontiac and relaxing at home, but I sure did enjoy my time in Pittsfield with family!

Also, I think we’ll add another video here.  I asked Edwina Wilber, after church, to comment about what makes Pittsfield so great.  I thought you might enjoy her response:

The Day We All Love to Hate (or Hate to Love?)
Carrie looking stunning as she prepared for our wedding on Aug 28, 2010

Carrie had a great time last Saturday, wedding dress shopping with her sister. So much so, that when she got back to her parent’s house…she decided to play dress up, herself. She got in her wedding dress -veil and all. Wow. I teased her, but she looked just as beautiful as the day I married her. Maybe more beautiful, actually. She gets all stressed out about some grey hair and worries about her weight, but she is being completely silly, I think most of you will agree. She is beautiful. It’s not just on the outside. It isn’t just something based on looks. My wife and I have agreed to spend our lives together. Those bachelor themed shows that make fun of marriage as “death” or getting “hitched” or “the old ball and chain” just don’t get it. Each day I spend with my wife reminds me of why I married her. We have our fights and difficult moments, but overall we have grown in our love for one another.

Loving one another is not something that happens when we “fall.”  And it isn’t so magical that it takes away all our troubles.  Do I hear an “Amen?”  No, love is something we have to work on and something that has to be maintained and grown.  One way we do that is on special occasions and with our words (feelings).

As we approach Valentine’s Day it is an opportunity to simply share with our loved ones why they matter to us.  For some of us it may be difficult to say the words because circumstances, other relationships, family trouble or time has gotten in the way.  For others of us, we find ourselves in a new relationships where sweet words come easily, perhaps too easily. Valentine’s Day should not just be a day of mushy clichĂ©s, but thoughtful words of care from the heart.

This year I have much to be thankful for.  I have a wife, parents, sister and in-laws who have surrounded me with love and care.  I can’t ever repay them for what they have done.  They wouldn’t necessarily want me to…but I can tell them what it meant to me.  I can remind my wife of my love for her and show her that I’m not finished working on that life / love with her.  Who do you have in your life that you need to show some appreciation for?  Who do you have in your life who you might work to grow and strengthen your relationship?

Valentine’s Day is a good place to begin.  It’s not just a day of romance, it’s a day for growing in love with the family and friends around us!