Thursday, January 17, 2019

Small Things With Great Love: Remembering Chris

Photo by Samuel Zeller
Randall recently said on "This Is Us" that sometimes it feels harder to be a good man than a great man.  We all want to do something great with our lives.  The past two and a half years, I've struggled with what to do with the second half of my life, knowing that I want to do something great with it.  Sometimes, the hard part, the best part really, is what we do with our every day, walking around life.  As Mother Teresa once said, "Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love."  My friend Chris did just that.

Some lucky people live to be 100, and then there are others who only live for a few minutes or days, or in the case of my friend Chris, only 20 years.  Having been in youth ministry for 15 years, I always loved the celebration moments.  The graduations, the birthday parties, and now the weddings and births of babies.  The deaths are the ones that absolutely break my heart.  This is the third young person from my time in ministry to pass away.  It has left me breathless with grief, but also helped me to remember what life is all about.

Adopted at less than a year from Russia, Chris came to the United States, where he was fiercely loved by his parents and his church family.  He lived what some may consider a regular childhood, swimming on the team at the local pool, camping with the Scouts, going on adventures and mission trips with our church.  He died his hair blue or orange depending on the week.  He had a sweet smile and made everyone around him laugh at the little things in life.  He had a beautiful spirit about him, one that cared about the people some may not usually care about.  He loved to sing to the elderly, eat lunch with the outcasts, and most of all, to rescue hurt, sick, or dying animals.

Chris smiling on our Club 456 Winter Trip.


We never knew what animal Chris would rescue next, from mice to cats to birds to dogs.  Sometimes he would even bring them with him to church, as he had just found them on the way there.  "Look what I found!" he'd exclaim and then proceed to tell us how he'd help to fix whatever was ailing that particular animal.  One of my favorite Club 456 meetings was the time I asked Chris to come and lead us in a project to help rescue animals.  He brought his knowledge and his passion to the group.
Chris leading a Club 456 project for rescued animals.


He himself had been "rescued" from a life unknown.  He would go on to rescue many other creatures.  As an accident-prone young man, like these animals he helped, Chris got hurt many times, suffering broken bones and concussions.  He also had an odd allergy to blue die which prevented him from eating regular old marshmallows.  One sweet youth leader found some he was able to eat and all was right with the world.

Chris had his share of struggles, griefs and pain.  There was a lot he went through in his high school years that many of us never knew about.  But, as I look back on the years when I knew him best, I will always remember him as a sweet adventurer.  One who looked for the broken and hurting, to help put them back together again.  He may not have had time to do something huge with his life, but in his twenty years, he truly did "small things with great love."

Visiting and singing to the elderly on a Club 456 Mission Trip.

Buying food for the hungry.

Bowling with the elderly.
Talking with a man from church on the CROP Walk for Hunger.

Making blankets for shelter pets.

Playing messy games at Club 456.

Sorting food during the 30 Hour Famine.

That smile...

Christopher Thurman

September 30, 1999 - January 7, 2019

May our adventures together always be remembered.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Rocking Baby Jesus

Photo by Greyson Joralemon
This year the Christmas season seemed to take me down rather than build me up.  December was a tough month for many reasons.  On top of the usual wrapping presents, stamping Christmas cards, attending parties craziness, we had some added challenges.  A close relative had emergency surgery, I had two different versions of the flu, and my children experienced this flu in the form of a tummy bug after a birthday party. 

I tried to focus on the meaning of the season, I really did. I read my Advent devotional.  I listened to Christmas music.  I put up manger scenes around my house.  However, it just seemed a little harder this year to focus on its meaning.

The other day, however, I walked into my daughter's room and asked what she was doing.  My sweet three-year-old had her head bowed, her eyes gazing down at a little baby doll, which she was cradling in her arms.  "I'm rocking baby Jesus," she replied. 

The beauty of this moment stopped me in my tracks.  I stood there gazing at her for a few moments, taking it in. 

Rocking baby Jesus.  The meaning of Christmas hit me once again.  Jesus came down in human flesh.  As a babe.  Not some perfect, never-crying infant, but as a real, live baby.  One who screamed at his birth and wiggled around in his mother's arms.  One who needed milk and comfort and love. 

A baby who needed to be rocked.

What beauty there is in a God who willingly chooses to come down from Heaven to become a little baby.  A God who makes himself vulnerable and allows himself to be dressed and fed and taken care of by his new, young mother. 

A baby who needs to be rocked.

As the long, cold days of January stretch on, may we keep this babe in our arms.  May we remember to rock him close and gaze down at his beauty.  The beauty of Emmanuel, God with us.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Hallmark(ish) Christmas

Photo by Mourad Saadi
I'll admit it, I love Hallmark movies. From the weekend after Halloween to New Year's Day, I watch them.  I don't watch them 24/7, because, you know, I do have a life, but I like to watch the new premieres they have on the weekends.  I like them because they put you in the Christmas spirit.  They show beautiful towns and Christmas traditions, families, carols and most of all, love.

My husband has tried to put a damper on my Hallmark movie watching ever since he saw a comedian talking about them.  He points out that they all have the same plotline.  That they don't want women to work and they all focus on a single woman needing to find a man by Christmas.  While I get where the comedian is coming from, I don't think the jokes are completely true.

The premise of most of the movies is that we work too much instead of focusing on what is truly important in life, family and love.  Yes, they all do end with someone falling in love and a kiss in the last few minutes of the show, but who doesn't like a happy ending?  In life, there don't seem to be that many happy endings, so sometimes you just want to curl up with some hot chocolate, a Christmas cookie and a warm blanket and watch a heartwarming movie about love.

Genesis 2:18 tells us that "It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him."  I always thought of this verse in the context of marriage, but I recently heard someone say that we are never really alone.  We are not alone, because we have the love of God right by our side.  For many, he does give a marriage partner as a helper, and to others, he gives the gift of good friends, family and church companions.  God never leaves us completely alone, because he is a God of love.  There have been times in my life where I have felt completely and desperately alone, but it was then that I looked to the promises of God, knowing that he was there even when I couldn't feel him.  It was also in those times that he brought me the comfort of friends and the love that only he could provide.

Wherever you are in life right now, know that it doesn't matter if your life looks like a Hallmark movie.  If your house doesn't look like a Pinterest board, you haven't baked any cookies, you haven't shopped for all those gifts and you haven't found that right person to kiss by midnight, it's ok.  Because you are completely and utterly loved by God.  The Creator and Sustainer of the universe, who came down to earth as a tiny babe, so that we could wrap our arms around him and hold him as a child.  Come and see this love that God has sent for you in the manger this Christmas.

"Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love." 
 ~Hamilton Wright Mable

Let's go out and spread that love and light to a world that desperately needs it.

Merry Christmas from Pancakes and Perseverance!

Peace and Love to you,
Alisa Laska


Photo by Gareth Harper

Monday, November 26, 2018

Jealous Of The Thankful

Photo by Alex Geerts

Thanksgiving morning I found myself lying on the driveway underneath the bumper of my car.  The temperature was 12 degrees and I was holding a heat gun and a hammer.  Inside, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was starting, and I wasn't feeling very thankful.

Let's back up a little. This Fall has not been kind to my car.  In the last month and a half, I have had a rock hit my windshield, causing a dent in my line of sight, a flat tire and then, out of nowhere, as I was driving along the road to preschool, a huge branch dropped off of a tree at the exact second that my car drove past it, smashing my windshield and denting my hood.

But life wasn't done with my car...fast forward to Thanksgiving Day and the popping out of a dent in my bumper.  You know how people nickname their cars?  Well, my car's new nickname is "Job."  No, not the pronunciation of the word similar to what you go to 9-5, Monday through Friday.  No, the nickname of Biblical proportions.  As I said, Fall, life, or something else has had it out for my car.

In the midst of this craziness, enter November.  Each November, a number of my friends take up the lovely practice of posting each day on Facebook something that they are thankful for.  It's a beautiful devotion that I have done myself a couple of times.  It's a reminder to think each day about what God had done in our lives and to be reminded of all of the many, many things we have to be thankful for.  This year I decided not to do it.  For one, I was just busy this year taking care of my car problems and dealing with life in general.  But, last year as I was writing about all the many things I was thankful for, I tried to look at it from an outsider's perspective.  I realized that it almost felt like bragging.  Look at me and all these wonderful things I have to be thankful for.  Someone reading it might be single and be sad that they aren't married.  Someone struggling with infertility may be frustrated seeing my thankful posts about my kids.  I realized that it might be hard for someone to look at what I'm thankful for and wish they had some of those things.

Oddly enough, the reverse happened to me this year.  As I was going through my car problems and child-raising issues and hubby-working-all-the-time challenges, I began to read the thankfulness posts of my friends and acquaintances.  I found myself wishing I was thankful for those things too.  The kids with wonderful grades, the date nights, the kids who invited Jesus into their hearts at 18 months, the time and money to travel the world.  That green-eyed monster reared its ugly head.  So much so that I actually considered emailing some of the Facebookers and pointing out that their posts might be inadvertently hurting other people who aren't able to be thankful for those things this year.

In that moment, I had to stop and check myself.  I was about to complain as Job did in chapter 10 verse one, "I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul."  I realized that if I did, in fact, give voice to my complaints that I would be allowing that jealousy to poison my soul and leave it full of bitterness.  I realize that it wasn't really the Facebook posters' problem, it was my own.  My own insecurities about my parenting, my frustrations with my children and their reading levels and behaviors and the comparison of them to other kids. My anger about my car problems, my busyness, and the crazy level that was rising in my life had contributed to this jealousy and came to a head on Thanksgiving morning as I lay under the bumper of my car.

Ephesians 4:31 urges me to get rid of this bitterness.  All bitterness.  This has been a struggle for me in several areas, and I am learning to release it to God because it's too heavy to carry around.  I don't need it in my life.  When I need to hear things, God speaks them to me. Today, Hebrews 12:28 reminds me that "We are receiving a kingdom that can't be shaken.  So let us be thankful.  Then we can worship God in a way that pleases him.  Let us worship him with deep respect and wonder."  (NIRV)

Let us be thankful.  This is not a command but an invitation.  Thankfulness is a state of being, a state of mind in which we switch our brains from what we want, what we wish were the case, what we are jealous and sad about, to that which is bigger than ourselves.  No matter how much the Enemy tries to mess with us and literally throw rocks at our cars, it doesn't matter, because we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.  Nothing we do, nothing that happens to us on a daily basis, can shake the Kingdom of God.   For this reason, let's remember to "give thanks in all circumstances" as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 reminds us.  In all circumstances, God is still God and his Kingdom is firm and steadfast.

If we do these things, if we live thankful lives, then we can worship God with the right frame of mind. We can worship God with deep respect and wonder.  The only right way to do it.  God is worthy of all of our respect and honor, just because he's God.  Not because we are having a great day, our kids are doing well and we got a great parking spot at work.  No.  Because He's God.  Because he's God, we have to look at him through eyes of wonder.  We may not understand what in the world is going on in our lives right now, but we can know that the God of Wonder is walking with us through it and he's calling us to a deeper understanding of himself.

The Message version of Hebrews 12 goes on to say that God is not an innocent bystander.  He's actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn.  He won't quit until it's all cleansed.  Today I've been reminded that God needs to torch the jealousy in my life and replace it with a deep sense of awe and wonder.

What in you needs to be cleansed and healed in order to draw on the infinite wonder and majesty that is God?





Sunday, October 28, 2018

Fall


Fall is brilliant in the coming.
A chill dances on the breeze
Cooling and stealing away summer’s heat
Trees begin their painting
Golds, oranges, reds
Pumpkin entices
With its deep autumn aroma
Boots walk us
Scarves warm us
Fall festivals keep us busy
As the slow boil of Fall turns to Winter freeze
I look longingly at the bathing suit in my drawer
And whisper
Goodbye summer.

~Alisa Laska 2018

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

You Had Me At Kayak

I met my husband in South Carolina.  We spent most of our courtship dodging alligators and ducking snakes falling out of trees. 

Let me explain...

I won't go into how exactly we met.  (I'll leave that for another memoir blog!)  But, I will say that about a month after we met, my husband bought me a kayak.  I have to say that I freaked out a little bit at first.  I mean, this was a huge gift for someone whom he had really just met and had only been talking to for about two months or so.  I wondered what I should do?  I finally decided to accept the kayak and then if we happened to break up, as many relationships do, I would simply give him back the kayak.  Sounds good, right?  Well, we never broke up.

Turns out, he had me at kayak.  (Or so he likes to brag!)  Here is a picture of our two kayaks.  Mine is the blue one at the top.  South Carolina was a gorgeous place to live.  The winters were a little boring, but we were lucky to have met in the springtime when the world was at our fingertips as far as outdoor activities go.  We could walk the boardwalk, hang out at the beach, go for a motorcycle ride or do what we liked best at the time, go kayaking on one of the rivers. 

It turned out that kayaking was the most relaxing things I had ever done.  Amidst the exhausting demands of ministry (I was a full-time youth director at the time), I needed an outlet to unwind.  We would paddle around, exploring the low country of the Carolinas.  We would time the tides just right so we'd never have to paddle upstream against the tide.  (Smart hubby!) 

It was beautiful!  The trees in the background with Spanish Moss hanging low, the old Southern plantation homes along the river to gaze at as we paddled.  My blood pressure dropped a few points each time we pushed off. 

We did have our fair share of  funny incidents.  Including the times when we'd see a small alligator pop up out of the water, or just see his eyes gazing at us.  (Supposedly, according to hubby, they are scared of kayaks due to the Native American boating traditions.  I don't know if he made that up to make me feel better or not!)  A time or two, we also had to dodge a snake falling out of a tree.  Needless to say, I never got out to do some swimming in the water!  I also dropped hubby's sunglasses into the creek at one point, which I thought were a cheap pair.  He told me later that they were his new designer-brand glasses.  (Oh, young love!) 

Kayaking turned out to be what I liked to call my "Three Hour Vacation."  I have always wanted to have that inscribed on the side of my kayak.  It's the most relaxing three hours I can think of.  The inscription reminds me of one of my favorite things to do near water--check out the boat names.  I've seen some funny ones over the years, including a gigantic boat in Annapolis named the "Minerella" with a literal helicopter on the top, aptly named the "Glass Slipper."  I've seen many named after women or places or funny sayings.  Doing a Google search, I found these beauties: 

She Got The House
Seas The Day
Fishizzle
Reel Therapy
Unsinkable II
Taco The Town
Ctrl+Alt+Delete
My Other Boat Is Also A Boat
FahrFrumWurken
Bacon In The Sun
Sea-battical
Knot For Sail
Liquid Asset
Row Vs. Wade
Missing Peace
One More Toy
Grounds 4 Divorce
Sails Call

Many of these could tell their own story if we let them.  My favorite that I saw recently is below.  Life's A Journey.  Whether we're courting our future husband or just on a three-hour vacation, it's important to take time out from life to rest, relax and enjoy someone's company on a sea-battical.  Just bacon in the sun...



Monday, October 15, 2018

In need of editing for your project, proposal, paper or grant?

Photo by Freddy Castro
Do you have a project, proposal, document or college paper in need of editing?  Need a little help writing content for your blog, website, or business social media account?

Ever thought of searching for a grant to grow your business or finance your dreams?

I can help!

As a freelance writer, I have written and published articles and chapters in a book, as well as ministry curriculum.  I am currently a content editor for the Deeply Rooted curriculum series by http://fourfivesix.org/. I have a passion for writing and editing and a goal to expand my freelance writing and help others to improve their pieces of writing and grow their businesses.  See below for details:

Need help editing or proof-reading your papers, proposals, documents or college papers?  Need a lesson written for youth or preteen ministry?  Help with content for a retreat or youth group lesson?
$15/hour

Research/writing/and follow-up on Grants for you or your business:
$20/hour

Contact Alisa Laska, alisalaska14@gmail.com

I look forward to partnering with you to make your writing the best it can be,

Alisa Laska