Sunday, September 30, 2007

We love Noni!!

Finally, an update now that Noni has returned to California and we are back to our normal, boring lives :-) We had a great visit with my mom - she was here from 9/22-9/29. Hannah was so excited the day we were going to pick her up, that all she could do when we asked her who was coming was just laugh and giggle. It was very cute. Hannah and her Noni are very close and it was a joy to see them together again.

We had fun showing mom our apartment and having her involved in a little bit of our life here. On her first day here we actually bought a dining table and chairs. Up to that point, we were eating meals at our coffee table, but that was getting old. I saw a set in a store ad for only $100 - the table and four chairs. The table's two leaves both drop down and the chairs store inside, so it has a very small footprint - perfect for our small apartment.

The next day was Sunday. We all attended church together and that evening we met my cousin Erin and her boyfriend Paul at a local restaurant (Pujols 5, created by Cardinals player Albert Pujols). Monday, mom went with Hannah and me to Hannah's counseling appointment, then we went to the Turtle Playground and the St. Louis Zoo. That night mom went with me to my "Boxes" Bible study.

Tuesday was our trip to The Magic House - everyone had a great time, including Bethie! They have a huge water table there, where kids can pour, squirt, and play with water. Mom noticed that they have cut-out seats for babies to sit in and splash and play in the water too. Bethie ended up with water all over her face and head! It was really cute and I'll post pictures later. We came home for a short rest before we joined many other seminary families for dinner in the dining hall for family night.

On Wednesday, the girls and mom and I drove out to Columbia, MO to visit a friend from Bakersfield. Sandy is originally from Missouri, lived in CA for a while, and moved back to MO three years ago. We met Sandy for lunch at D. Rowe's, met her "Auntie M," walked around Shelter Gardens, and headed home. Then it was back out (with Don) for dinner at Fitz's in U City.

Thursday, it was time for Hannah to go to preschool. Mom, Bethie, and I went shopping for new curtains after dropping Hannah off. That evening I had Bible study again and while I was gone, my great uncle and aunt (Al & Jane, my dad's aunt and uncle) arrived. They were on a brief vacation (they live in Minnesota) and it worked out great for them to visit St. Louis and see us and mom while she was here. The next morning (Friday), we all went to chapel together here on campus and when Don went back to class, the rest of us went to Grant's Farm. It was our first visit and a lot of fun. It's owned by Anheuser-Busch and it's like a small zoo. We saw zebras, bison, long horn cattle, mountain goats, elephants, camels, llamas, bald eagles, the famous Clydesdales, and Hannah survived feeding the billy goats (and has a T-shirt to prove it!) We have cute pictures from that trip too and I'll them post sometime soon. That evening we all attended the Friday bar-b-que here on campus together and got to introduce the family to a few more of our new friends.

Way too quickly, that brought us to Saturday, and mom had to return home. I told her that I wish I had scheduled in a little more down time, because being so busy made her visit seem to go by so much faster. (We think she's going to return in early December - we'll probably be snowed in and won't be able to leave the house - just the thing to make the visit drag along!) It was great having her here - she's such a help. She slides into our routine and just knows what to do that helps the most. Hannah behaved great the whole time mom was here. Unfortunately, the separation was hard again. The night mom left (last night), it took Hannah over two hours to fall asleep. Then she woke up early this morning and had a pretty major meltdown before church. And after church, she never took a nap. It seems like she's really reluctant to be alone in her room. So please keep her (and us) in your prayers. This move and all the transition has been really hard on our little three-year-old!

And keep Don in your prayers too. Tomorrow begins week 5 of Greek - on Friday he'll be halfway through. His mid-term is on Thursday, so please pray for focused study time and for a good grade. I'm sure he'll post an update as soon as he gets his grade, if not before.

Thanks for reading and for all your prayers. Love and God's blessings to all,
Stacye, Don, Hannah, & Elizabeth

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Let's hear it for the old, married guys!

DR: Well, we aren't *that* old...but when you sit in Greek class surrounded by guys who are barely out of diapers--well, OK, my fresh-out-of-college colleagues aren't *that* young, but...

Anyway, young...old...young-at-heart...whatever. The point is this: my good friend and fellow first-year seminarian, TH, and I have been elected by our peers to serve as 1st year married seminiarian representatives on our Student Senate. TH garnered a few more votes than I did, and my wife wisely noted that's likely because he has a dart board and a beer fridge in his basement, and I don't. This is most certainly true.

TH joked with me this afternoon (as he referred to my undergraduate degree in Political Science-Public Policy)...saying, "I guess beer and darts beats policy any day!" Especially on a good Lutheran campus like ours, where our predominantly German brothers and sisters enjoy good beer.

Nonetheless, TH and I look forward to a year of service together, representing the concerns of our fellow classmates to our larger student body and to our seminary administration. It will be good to serve God and our peers together as brothers who genuinely enjoy each other's company.

And TH and I can be sure to discuss public policy along the way. Over a mug of beer and a game of darts, of course.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Great Forest Park Balloon Race

Today was a very fun, though tiring, day. The girls and I went to the Great Forest Park Hot Air Balloon Race. This was St. Louis' 35th annual Balloon Race and there were thousands of people there. (Last night was the Balloon Glow, where they light up all the balloons in the dark. It's supposed to be awesome, but it was pretty cold and windy last night, so we decided not to go.) Don had to study today, we we ate an early lunch and headed off to Forest Park. We wandered around petting the dogs, getting Hannah's face painted, snacking on freebies, rolling down hills (Hannah, not me), talking to sem friends we ran into, meeting new friends, and eating grass (Elizabeth, not me). Finally, when it was about time for the race to start, Don was able to ride his bike over and join us to see the balloons launch. To say the least, it was very cool.

Here's how it works: the first balloon to launch is the Energizer Bunny Hot "Hare" Balloon. The balloon is 166 feet high - 15 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty and the tallest balloon in the country. Its ears alone are 60 feet tall, which is the size of an average hot air balloon. It takes 30 million BTUs to power him up into the air - or the equivalent of 50,000 gas grills cooking half a million burgers. Once it's off the ground, the other 70 "hound" balloons begin to inflate and take off. Whichever balloon lands closest to the bunny wins. It was so fun seeing the different colors of balloons, the different shapes, hearing the burners lighting, and watching dozens of balloons floating right over our heads. Check out the slide show below:

In other news, Don is still working hard on Greek. He's using electronic flash cards, write on/wipe off grids, and study groups with friends. Hannah is thrilled beyond belief that her Noni will be here in a week. Also, she starts preschool this week - Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8-3. Elizabeth is still a happy fun baby. She loves Mommy so much she wakes up 2-3 times a night to visit with me (well, not me so much as my boobs). zzzzzzzzz oh wait - what was I saying? Oh yeah, Bethie isn't sleeping through the night and it's driving me bonkers. In the next couple days, we're going to set up the air mattress in the den for Don, warn our neighbors, and tough out the crying. Hannah was about the same age and (according to Don's memory) it only took about 2 nights of crying and she began sleeping through the night, which she's done ever since. So pray for us!

I've been getting involved in some Bible Studies and fact, one of my prayers lately is that I don't over-schedule myself, something that would be very easy to do around here. I'm taking After the Boxes are Unpacked on Monday nights. This is an 8-week study helping women to settle in and adjust to changes - whether first year or fourth. Then on Tuesday mornings, I'll begin a Beth Moore study (Believing God) at St. John (our field work church). This one works out great because I'll have an hour or so after dropping Hannah off at preschool and then I'll go to Bible study with Bethie. Then Thursday nights is one of either Today's Light (reading through the Bible in 2 years), a mothers' class, or a wives' class (differs depending on the week). The last two are taught by Myra Richardt, a pastor's wife who moved here from California in part to be able to teach these classes to sem wives. She opens her home and teaches solely from the Bible. I attended the first mothers' class this past Thursday and already gained so much from her wisdom and ideas. What a blessing! (Oh, and these classes don't include any of the Tuesday night wives' classes offered by the Seminary or attending MOPS twice a week at St. John. And that's not to mention squeezing any tutoring in there. See what I mean about over-scheduling?)

Finally, I want to say a huge "Hi" and "I miss you" to my (former) MOPS group at St. John's in Bakersfield and WarmLine (also of Bakersfield). When I realized the other day that MOPS had had their first meeting of the year, I felt really sad. I didn't realize how much harder the move and transition would be on me once everything "back home" kicked into gear again. It's so hard knowing that two groups that were such a huge part of my life have both moved on and I'm not there to participate. So I just want everyone to know that you're all in my prayers and in my heart. I wish I could be there and I miss you tons. That's about all I can say, except thanks again for reading, for your prayers, and your support.

Love to all,
Stacye and the ballooners

Friday, September 7, 2007

And our Field Work Church is... (revised post)

DR: St. John in Ellisville, Missouri! Along with three other first-year seminarians, I have been assigned to St. John for my field work congregation. As we discussed in a previous post, St. John worships about 2,500 souls per weekend, making it one of the largest congregations nationwide in the 2.5 million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS).

But size is not the ultimate (or even primary) determining factor for whether or not a church is healthy (indeed there are many smaller, healthy churches in the nation who are making a tremendous difference for the Kingdom); rather, Scripturally speaking: zeal for Christ and for reaching the lost, and an unwavering commitment to the Holy Scriptures and Christ's command to "Go, and make disciples of all nations" are some key defining factors...and St. John holds true to that.

St. John has 8--yes, that's right, 8--services throughout the week, including one of them offsite at a local brewery, Schlafly Brewery. The strategy with the Schlafly service is that, by preaching and teaching off campus at a site where an unchurched crowd is more likely to go, we can share Christ's love and message with people who might never step foot on a church campus.

St. John is definitely one of the more "contemporary" Lutheran churches in the St. Louis area, and perhaps in the nation. Yet the church does also provide two traditional services each week for those who prefer hymns and organ music for their worship.

I must admit, the Warehouse service at St. John Ellisville--the most contemporary service they offer--put me out of my comfort zone. But it wasn't (isn't, and won't ever be) about me. It was (is, and forever will be) about Jesus, and about the people in that room who desperately need to know Him. And if that contemporary style is a better spiritual conversation-starter for those lost souls than one with hymns and organ music, then I need to be OK with it. Church isn't about me, and it isn't about serving me and helping me to feel comfortable. After all, "even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve," (Mark 10:45) and "to seek and save what was lost" (Luke 19:10).

St. John in Ellisville also has a preschool and elementary school, which we will visit next week and where we are prayerfully considering enrolling our eldest daughter for preschool.

As our "Field Work Church," St. John will serve as our family's official place of worship for years one, two, and four while we're at the seminary (year three is our internship--or, "vicarage"--year, where we could end up at any church in the nation for one year, before coming back to seminary in St. Louis for our fourth and final year in the Master's of Divinity program). St. John will also be where, for about 8-10 hours per week, I will participate in and support the life of the congregation--not as layman, and not as an ordained pastor--but as a student-worker living in the "gray area" between laity and ordination. That means I might help with everything from serving communion, to teaching a bible study, to participating in outreach events, to attending and observing board meetings, you name it. All the while, I will primarily be working under the direction and supervision of one of their Associate Pastors, Pete Mueller.

We also have several assignments to complete over the course of the time we're at our Field Work churches. These practical assignments include everything from studying and reporting on the demographics of the community and the congregation, to interviewing a cross-section of parishioners, to setting personal and ministry growth goals.

We believe it is God's will for us to be at St. John, and we look forward with a combination of eager anticipation and to-be-expected first-year butterflies, as we await what He has in store.

Thank you so very much for your ongoing love and prayerful support. We could not do this without you, and without God's encouraging work through you.

Love and blessings,
Don, Stacye, and the girls

Monday, September 3, 2007

Angel Food Ministries

I am so touched by a website I just visited, I had to write a blog entry to let everyone know about it. Sometime last month, I noticed a flier posted near the Food Bank here on campus. Something called "Angel Food Ministries" was advertising a huge food package that could be purchased for $25. I mentioned it to Don, but with everything going on (our trips, trying to settle in to our new lives here), we never did anything about it. Shortly after, one of Don's classmates mentioned it again. Then, today, just as I was about to call to learn more information, I clicked on a link in an email I got and Angel Food Ministries was the first thing staring at me. Whew! Okay God, I get it!

Long story short, I'll be driving to a local Lutheran church tomorrow to write a check for $43 and place my order for the following:

4 lb. Chicken Leg Quarters
24 oz. Beef Back Ribs
1 lb. 80/20 Lean Ground Beef
2 lb. Breaded Chicken Tenders
24 oz. Bone-in Pork Chops
1 lb. Ground Turkey
18 oz. Stuffed Manicotti (Cheese)
12 oz. Smoked Sausage
Betty Crocker Seasoned Potatoes
7 oz. Cheeseburger Dinner
16 oz. Green Beans
16 oz. Baby Carrots
2 lb. Onions
1 lb. Pinto Beans
1 lb. Rice
7 oz. Blueberry Muffin Mix
10 ct. Homestyle Waffles
1 Dessert Item
Family Convenience Meal Special from Golden Cuisine
(Five Delicious Dinner Entrees: Spaghetti & Meatballs, Roasted Chicken Dinner, Meatloaf Patty & Gravy, Fettuccini Alfredo, Country Herb Chicken. Includes five breads, five skim milks, ten margarine cups, and five desserts.)

I encourage you to check out their website. I was almost in tears reading about the ministry. We'll be able to take advantage of this amazing blessing while we're here at seminary, sometimes for as low as $25 per month (the above list is supposed to feed us for 2+ weeks). When you combine all this with the Seminary's Food Bank, we will be spending virtually no money at regular grocery stores. (We'll have to buy milk and other dairy products and some fresh produce, but that's about it.) I'd like to further encourage you to support this awesome ministry, but I didn't see any way to support financially on their website, except to become a host church (distribute meals). Hey all you St. John's members out there...maybe if the word gets out, St. John's may become a host site? The closest host site I could find was Lancaster and there is nothing in the Central for thought (get it?).

Anyway - it's late and I really should go to bed! Don starts Greek tomorrow (Tuesday) - keep him in your prayers. Love to all - thanks for reading and praying. We miss you!
Stacye (the food lady)
and Don, Hannah, and Elizabeth (the food eaters)

P.S. Last night we were ultra-adventurous and rode the Metro into Downtown (Laclede's Landing) with some friends for the Big Muddy Blues Festival. Very fun, even though we got the girls home waaaayyyy too late. Oh well - sometimes you just have to get out of the regular routine and do something different. Now it's time to buckle down and get serious about Greek. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, something, something, something, Omega! Do I pass? Think Don'll let me tutor him?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

New Slide Show

It's time to add some new photos. Most of these are from our trip to Texas to visit the Marmolejos and witness the twins' baptisms. There are a few other ones on there - the captions will explain most and we'll do another blog update soon with more details about our fun, wonderful visit to Texas. (Short version: It was really hard to leave our good friends. We miss them!)

Today is the opening Convocation for the new school year - our first official act as a seminary family. Don will dress up in a suit and sit with his class. The girls and I will go and sit in the back - we'll see how they do! Thank you for keeping us in prayer as we oficially begin this adventure God has planned out for us. We pray that you are blessed - we feel like we are!

In Christ's love,
The Rays

Saturday, September 1, 2007

When I am weak, then I am strong

Friends and Family,

DR: My seminary orientation is complete, and I now look forward to Elementary Greek, which begins on Tuesday. I have Dr. James Voelz as my professor; he wrote our text book and is legendary among Lutheran circles and the seminary community for his thorough, entertaining, witty, and informative teaching style. I have heard that mini-basketballs regularly fly throughout his classroom (occasionally catching a glancing blow at an unsuspecting seminarian) and a stuffed weasel or two may even make an appearance. Having studied Greek in Bakersfield before coming to the sem, I know that having a moment or two of humor to punctuate our intense studies will be a blessing.

Dr. Bruce Hartung, one of the Deans of Ministerial formation, spoke to us recently about the formation of pastors. That is a word--formation--they use a lot around here. They aren't training us technical methods of *how* to pastor, per se. Rather, the entire experience--from living in authentic community with each other, building relationships, allowing the rigors of classes/studies/family/work shape your soul--work together to *form* us as pastors. They have promised us we won't be the same people we are today four years from now.

Dr. Hartung especially focused on the "darker side" of seminary life in his orientation. We were reminded that--as future leaders in the Church--Satan has a huge target on our backs and on our families' backs. The evil one does not want us to be here, and he will use whatever tactics it takes to wear us down. Many current pastors, in their private moments, may indeed agree that their faith was weakest and their temptations strongest during their time at seminary.

Dr. Hartung had us write down on a 4x6 card what we believed our greatest areas of vulnerability and temptation are, then cover them with a cross, and submit them to him anonymously. He and the faculty will pray over the cards, and pray for a hedge of protection for us from the evil one. We also broke into small groups to pray for each other, and share our struggles with one another.

Pastors (and seminary students) are real people. Just because God has drawn us into this kind of ministry does not make us any holier than the rest of the souls sitting in church on Sunday morning. As Dr. Hartung reminded us, we are people who struggle with the same temptations and struggles our parishioners face: money issues; alcohol issues; relationship struggles; lust and temptations to sin sexually; fighting off laziness and sloth; dealing with arrogance and pride; encountering ridicule, discouragement, and depression; you name it. We are not immune. In fact, we are probably more vulnerable, if anything. Whatever area(s) we most struggle with in our lives and in our Christian walk, we can be sure Satan will tempt us most intensely right there.

And so, as it is with you, it is of the utmost importance we know what our greatest vulnerabilities are, name them, and cover them with the cross of Jesus Christ. We must share our weaknesses with one another, pray for each other, and love one another through Christ Jesus. Life this side of Heaven can at times be a great struggle in the midst of great blessings.

We see and hear the stories all too frequently: pastors, friends, neighbors, co-workers who gave in to great temptation...and whose lives and ministries and churches were in many cases ruined as a result. Sinning is fun, for a time. And that is perhaps one of Satan's greatest weapons: that it all looks like fun and games, on the surface. Getting intoxicated. Flirting with your office secretary. Keeping a little more money for yourself this time. Investing our lives in stuff rather than God and His people. Watching TV to "escape." It all leads to ruin. The Bible says, "He who tills his land will have plenty of food...but he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty." And that poverty can be spiritual, emotional, physical/financial/material, relational, or any combination thereof.

The only way out is to look to the Risen Christ--who was crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected! He has won the battle! We have victory in Jesus! Look to Christ! We must be honest with ourselves and with each other, humbly sharing our greatest vulnerabilities, praying over them, finding accountability partners to help us in the struggle, and tell others about the irreplaceable rest and peace we have in Jesus Christ. There is nothing greater than a life lived in Christ Jesus. Satan doesn't want you know that. He wants you to think your beer, your affair, your TV, your money, your stuff, your ________________ are more worthwhile and interesting than Christ. "It's OK," Satan says. "Just this one time. You're doing so well in the other areas of your life; you deserve it. Go for it." Satan is a liar. His path leads down to death. Don't buy the lie.

Be God's; stay close to Christ. And let us know how we can be praying for you, as we run this race in Christ Jesus together. You can email us via the email link at the top right of our homepage. We'd love to hear from you.

In His Love and Service,