Monthly Archives: February 2015

As one man…

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“Then the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they turned out as one man.” –
I Samuel 11:7b

Boys in the boat

Rowing is a complicated sport. Much more involved and complex than I would’ve guessed. Then again, my only rowing experience was watching The Notebook where the character Noah was leisurely rowing himself and Allie, and all the swans were there…

But I just finished reading “The Boys in the Boat,” by Daniel James Brown, and there was some serious rowing talk in this book. The true story is about a college rowing team that went to the Olympics during World War II. These guys had to practice all during the school year, daily, many hours each day. Intense.

And as they progressed and the team was weeded out, they had to perfect working together, reading each other’s signals, rowing in sync. A quote from the book said this:

“All were merged into one smoothly working machine; they were, in fact, a poem of motion, a symphony of swinging blades.”

Like one smoothly working machine, he said. They made progress doing it this way. This is how they win.

When one guy was off, and lost focus, their whole team felt it. They each had to be focused and in the zone, going after the same purpose for this to work.

In I Samuel chapter 11, Saul had just been named king. He found out about another kingdom that was threatening the Israelites, making plans to gouge out their right eyes, when they were given a week to get a plan together. When Saul heard about this, he was given power through the Spirit of God. He sent a message to the people, inspiring them to stand up for God’s people. It worked. In the end of verse 7, we read, “Then the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they turned out as one man.”

They turned out as one man.

Oh how much more could we accomplish for our God if we would turn out as one man.

If we could focus together simply on the things God is calling us to do, rather than get distracted by all the other things – the preferences, the selfishness, the not-doing-it-just-like-I-like-to-do-it – how many more people could we see living their lives for God?

Focusing on the main objectives: Loving God (Matthew 22:37), loving each other (Matthew 22:39), and making disciples (Matthew 28:19) – we can show His love more effectively.

For sure, there will be other things that need to be addressed, but when they take precedence over those three things, we have an official distraction. I can only imagine how much Satan would love to keep us focused on the other things just a little more than the things that matter the most.

But we can’t let that happen. Let’s promise to stay focused, and turn out as one man as we work together serving our God. I’m renewing my commitment today.

 

Backstories

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I had never seen Sleeping Beauty. Crazy, I know. I think the only Disney princess movie I saw as a kid was Cinderella, which I LOVED.

So when Maleficent made it’s debut, I had no idea what it was about, and frankly, the previews looked terrifying (Angelina Jolie scares me). But then I heard it was good, from a reputable source, my sister Monica.

The original Sleeping Beauty was shown on television, so I DVRed it and watched it one afternoon, which I figured was necessary to fully understand Maleficent. Good stuff.

Monica said that once I hear Maleficent’s backstory, I’m going to feel bad for her and see what a jerk the prince is. I had my doubts, but I was ready to watch it.

In case anyone reading this hasn’t seen either one, here is a quick summary of the two:

*In Sleeping Beauty, the King and Queen have a baby, Princess Aurora. Maleficent bursts in on the scene shortly after and curses Aurora with death if she pricks her finger by a spinning wheel before her 16th birthday. Three quirky fairy godmothers take care of her in a cottage right up until her birthday, when she gets out too early and indeed pricks her finger, causing a deep sleep (thanks to one of the fairies making a slight change in the spell). The prince comes and she is saved to live happily ever after.

*In Maleficent, (spoiler alert) the movie starts out with Maleficent herself as a young girl who gets loved, then forgotten about, then de-winged, by Prince Stefan, who becomes king and fathers Princess Aurora with his wife, the queen. Maleficent is hurt and bitter, and annoyed by the baby at first when she decides to stalk it, but then protects and grows to love her over time. Alas, it is her motherly kiss that actually awakens Sleeping Beauty.

Monica was right. Despite my fear of Angelina Jolie and my extreme dislike of changing the original story (Like, who was Peter Parker’s girlfriend, MJ or Gwen? How can you mess with me like that Spiderman??), I became fond of Maleficent and wanted good for her.

Because I knew her backstory.

When you hear of what someone has been through, you begin to understand and empathize with them. While what they have done might be freakishly awful, harmful, or involve deadly spinning wheels, when you get to know them and their story, they become real. You suddenly can’t help but want better things for them. You also start to see that just maybe, if given their exact circumstances, you might be tempted to do things you never thought you would.

And believe me, everyone has a backstory.

Whatever terrible thing they have done is not excused, but you suddenly want redemption for them, whereas before you might have wanted them to get their comeuppance.

The Bible says over and over that we aren’t to judge each other. Not our job. What the Bible does say about someone who is knee deep in sin is this – “…you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” (Galations 6:1, emphasis added). Gently, lovingly. Not because we are better than that, but because we want better for them. There is enough of God’s grace to go around and we don’t want anyone to miss it.

We are all in this life together, dear friend. And without the mercy of God, we all deserve our punishments. But God is faithful and forgiving, and He is who we need to reflect to everyone around us.

So get to know the people, forgive them, love them. And thank God for the grace we each receive if we just accept it.

“Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (NIV) James 2:13b


*Maybe I need to learn Angelina Jolie’s backstory…*

1/3/2015

Blank space and the mountain

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Once in college I had a marketing class and I needed to do a presentation in front of the whole class. I’m not a fan of “in front of the whole class.”

The assignment was to come up with a thing to market, and try to sell it to our professor. I was coming up with nothing. For days and days, not one idea. It’s hard to make an idea pop into your head on command.

Thankfully, one finally did come around midnight the night before it was due, and it was a good one, if I do say so myself. It was a commercial for Sonic (where I worked part-time while I was going to school). I think of this assignment every time I see a Sonic commercial now (think “Lil’ Doggies”), and am sure they need my skills, lol. One day you’ll see it on your TV, I’m just sure of it 🙂

I had to rush out to Walmart in the middle of the night to get poster boards and markers and whatever else I needed to make this happen. It turned out to be one of my favorite assignments of all 9 years of my 4-year degree 🙂

I’m getting sidetracked though… The point is, there are many times I want to have something to think/say/do, but draw a blank.

It’s been like that lately with writing. I have had no words. Blank paper. Blank computer screen. Blank thoughts. I couldn’t figure it out. I wanted to write. I wanted to do some blogs, to work on a book, but I was coming up with nothing. I have a journal of ideas, but even that was getting me nowhere. I wanted to share some words from God through my writing, but wasn’t hearing any hints from Him.

Then it hit me. I hadn’t been listening. I was praying, but not as intensely as I had been before. I became busy and let other things become a priority. I prayed for anyone who asked me to, I prayed over Facebook requests, and over some friends I knew who had been struggling. But I hadn’t really had a talk with Jesus. And as for reading God’s Word, not nearly as regularly as I had been before. It was no wonder I wasn’t hearing His gentle nudgings when it came time to get out my laptop.

In my journal I had written about Moses. In Exodus 19, beginning in verse 20, it says, “The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain.”

When Moses wanted to hear from God during this time, or God wanted to speak to him, Moses had to go to the mountain. Up and down he went, relaying messages to the people from God, interceding for the people when they had quickly turned their backs on Him. To have these conversations with God, he had to go to the mountain.

Where is my mountain? What are the conditions that I hear God best?

For me, it is quiet time alone, when I am not feeling rushed, and I can pour my heart out to God and read His Word, highlighter and ink pens in hand, ready to hear what He has to say. Those are the times I feel His direction.

If you, like me, have had a hard time hearing God lately, see if you need to refocus. That was definitely my problem. Though sometimes God’s silence is for other reasons, this is a good place to start. If you still can’t hear from Him, don’t give up. Keep reading, keep praying, and keep looking and listening for Him. He is there.

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (NIV)

Jeremiah 33:3

12/30/2014

10 sentences

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I need details.

If you ask me to do something, I am going to ask you 347 different questions to be sure I fully understand and am on board.

I remember when I joined a small group of ladies who gathered weekly to focus on praying for our husbands – as we finished with introductions and small talk, we were about to pray. This being our first meeting, I needed specifics, so I asked. “Are we going to pray out loud?” “Are we all going to pray at the same time?” “Will we take turns going around the circle?” “How will we know the other person is finished?” “Who is going to cover which prayer requests?” “Will we each cover all of them, or each person take someone else’s?”

I didn’t want surprises, or uncomfortable situations. I wanted to be prepared.

While I don’t think that’s always a bad thing, there are times when God just wants to lead us, and keep some of the details from us until we are ready. And I should be fine with that, but I’m not.

I’ve been reading a lot about Christ’s birth the last couple of weeks. In Luke chapter 1, Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel, starting in verse 26.

Nevermind that I can’t wrap my mind around what it must have been like to get a message from an actual angel, I am sure I couldn’t have handled it as calmly as Mary did.

Gabriel shows up, and after only 10 sentences, Mary is signing on the dotted line.

“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting his might be. 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.” “How can this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” 

Ten sentences, with very few direct details, and that’s all she gets. But that seems to be all she needs. Her response is highlighted in hot pink in my Bible, reminding me to learn from her. Mary asked one question, and then here is her answer to Gabriel-

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. May it be to me as you have said.” 

I want the faith and obedience of Mary. If I feel God nudging my heart to go/do/say, I want to say what she said. Instead, I am likely to say, “Are you sure?” “When?” “How?” “What if…?”

I’ve got a lengthy list of questions I would want to ask if I was in her shoes, but she doesn’t ask them. She trusts the God of the universe to take care of her and work out all the details, knowing He will provide.

If you are like me, and want all the details of the task or calling God has given you, decide with me to change. The next time we feel God saying, “Here is your next assignment,” we will say to Him, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.'”  – Psalm 31:14

12/25/2014

Look to your left

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If you go to a church somewhere, please read this.

Close your eyes and picture yourself in your church service. Actually, don’t close your eyes because then you can’t read the next instructions… Anyway, picture yourself in your church service on any given weekend service. The music is happening, people are worshiping. Look to your left, then look to your right, look in front of you and behind you. See who is there. And then look to see who isn’t there.

Now get out something to write with. If someone in front of you, beside you, or behind you is no longer going to church, but still lives in the area, write their name down.

*Imagine Jeopardy-ish music playing in the background as I wait for you to write the names down…*

*Seriously, write them down*

Finished?

Ok, that was step one. You are doing great.

Think about that person for a second. Remember some of their great qualities. Are they funny? Understanding? Kind? Passionate about things? Did they have a sarcastic sense of humor that you admired?

Now, this is step two, and it is likely it will mean stepping right out of your comfort zone.

Invite them. I don’t mean to church (although that is great too… I want you to do that too, but maybe try this first). Invite them to your house. Invite them to meet you for lunch somewhere. Invite them to coffee. Invite them for a walk at the park. And give yourself a deadline for initially getting in touch with them, like 1 week. (I promise it will be so much easier after the first time).

Get involved in their life. There is a great phrase going around called “Doing life together.” Just inviting someone to church can work, but this is more of how God intended it.

God created us to be a community, whether we like it or not. (For a somewhat-introvertish person like myself, it can be a struggle). But life is so much better when you share it with other people.

In Acts chapter 2, we meet the first church. We see what made them who they were. Take a look for yourself…

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. “(NIV)

While the needs of the first church might be a little different than today’s church, it sounds like God wants us to be around people. Have dinner with them. Help them. Give to them. Praise God, talk about God, and be excited about God with them.

This post isn’t meant to guilt you into being friends with someone. Nobody wants to be your friend because you feel guilty. This is meant to remind you of the people you already know and want to be friends with. You like them. You miss them. This post is encouraging you to do something about it.

Also, if you don’t know of anyone missing at your church that you could get reconnected with, find someone who still goes there that you would be sad to lose contact with and do something with them. We need each other.

And if you don’t go to church anywhere, but you read this anyway, try going to one. Preferably mine J

Hope to see you Sunday

Huntington First Church of the Nazarene

321 30th Street

Huntington, WV 25702

The beauty of scratches and scuffs

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Watching him sleep, with his hand relaxed on the pillowcase, I see the ring. Almost 17 years ago, that ring was picked out and purchased at Sam’s Club, of all places. We were young, barely in our 20s, with no idea of what our futures would look like. But we loved each other, and he asked, and I said yes.

My first memory of loving him was in first grade. The snow was pouring down that day, and as our 45-minute van ride to school progressed, no other kids from our class were showing up at their pick-up stops. Just maybe, I began to hope, no one else will show up and we would be the only two in class with no one taking his attention away from me.

It happened. For that day, it was just the two of us, working puzzles together with our teacher. I had never seen anyone work a puzzle as fast as him. Just one more thing I added to the list of what I loved about him.

Fast-forward through the next 14 years, after happiness, break-ups, tears, I’m sorrys, and I love yous, I was walking down the orange carpet of my church in my much-too-poofy-for-my-short-self dress to say I do for now and forever.

Since that day, that simple ring on his finger has been with us through some better, and through some worse. And it’s still there.

That ring was on his hand as we signed papers to buy our home, the home we still live in today.

That ring was on his hand as we relaxed in Cancun, and as we came back home and took a pregnancy test, finding out we were going to have a baby. That ring was there as he was holding my hand through the pain of labor, and then as he held our son for the first time.

The ring was on his hand as we waited happily in the exam room getting an ultrasound done of our next pregnancy, and as he held my hand when the tech said she wasn’t able to find a heartbeat.

The ring was on his hand as he let me cry over an awful paint job with some fancy new denim technique I had tried in Noah’s new room to make space for a nursery we would no longer need.

That ring was on his hand as he taught Noah to ride a bike without training wheels, through Noah’s tears and frustrations. But Noah mastered it, just as he knew he would.

The ring was on his hand as I nearly ended our marriage. The hardest and darkest days, when he could have easily left, and had every right to. But he never took his ring off, and that ring was on his hand as he said he wasn’t giving up on us.

The ring was on his hand as I cried tears asking for his forgiveness over tortilla soup at Max & Erma’s.

That ring was on his hand through job changes, the deaths of his father and of my mother, school plays, soccer games, date nights, vacations, home improvements, prayers at the altar and at bedtime with our boy.

These 17 years have seen some better and some worse. The ring, though warped, scratched and scuffed, represents every moment since the day we said I do, and all the moments we still have left. It is beautiful.

Our story, with it’s own scratches and scuffs, is even more beautiful. It’s ours and even with it’s imperfections, it tells so much. Rather than bringing guilt and shame, the scratches and scuffs of our story remind me of love, forgiveness, healing, restoration, grace.

And what a beautiful picture of the love of God, who transforms all of our stories in the same way. My heavenly Father offers me that love, forgiveness, healing, restoration, and grace, sweetly handing it to me when I deserve it least.

If you have failed our Father, please know He loves you still, and He’s waiting for you to come back to Him. He doesn’t offer guilt, but heaping measures of grace instead. Please don’t wait any longer. Run to Him. You won’t regret it.

“…I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (NIV)
– Jeremiah 31:3

Thanks, babe, for being such a good example of the grace-giving love of Jesus.

8/15/2014

What I learned about my hometown – Ecuador, part 6

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On vacation, I can wake up cheerfully just after dawn to go for a jog on the beach.

My family and I can happily walk miles and miles from one end of Chicago to the other just to see stuff.

We are fine sweating ourselves to death in line at amusement parks, with nary a complaint.

But these are not things we would do in Barboursville.

It’s rare for me to take a jog, and if so, certainly not early and not with excitement.

Sometimes when shopping, I will literally drive from the Dollar Tree to Target, in the same shopping plaza.

And most of the time we don’t even think about eating dinner on the patio unless it’s a perfect 72 degrees.

It’s crazy how some things make so much sense somewhere else, but not where we are from. We look at it differently.

I noticed this as well when we were in Ecuador for 2 weeks. Not just the food, where we frequently ate chicken, beans and rice, or the walking, which we did a lot of. But important things, that seemed so important there, and had never even crossed my mind in my hometown.

I think a lot of us noticed this during one of the prayer services, where from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. we prayed for the church of Ibarra, in a million different ways. Praying for electricity, the neighbors, financial needs of the church, and certainly people – people who go there, people who lead there, people who drive by. After we finished, someone said what we all were surely thinking, “I was wondering, ‘Why don’t we do this for our own churches?’”

Prayer services was a big one, and one of my favorites, but there were so many others. Visiting people at the hospital, at a disabled home, playing soccer using a Gatorade bottle with some bored kids while they waited on their moms to get off work at the bus station. Praying for and with strangers.

Bible studies were held in homes of people who go or are interested in going to their church. Then those being taught are trained to teach other. Discipleship at its best.

We stopped people in the park, and held signs at the bus station, just to ask if we could pray for them in some way.

Would I do that at home?

Do people need prayer less in Barboursville? Nope.

We weren’t afraid of looking silly there, standing in an intersection wearing wigs and crazy hats, holding signs saying, “Jesus Te Ama,” letting people know Jesus loved them.

Would I do that across 3rd Avenue? (I’m not 100 percent sure that would be legal here, but still, you get the point…)

A lady asked if the short-term missionaries could visit her tiny business and have a Coke with her while we prayed for her and her store. We did and we cried.

Would we do that here if someone called the church and asked for 20 people to come pray for their store?

I’m asking these questions to have us, you and I, answer them. Would I do these things here? Would I see it as equally important in Barboursville and Huntington as I did in Ibarra and Ambato?

If you already know and can answer yes, I am very proud of you. I mean that. I think a lot of us forget the importance of things like stopping to help one person even if it makes us late somewhere. Or having a conversation with a stranger, who needs us to talk to them. Or praying for our friends, for random people, for our pastors. For those of you who have already had this light-bulb moment and can say yes, you do this, I want to be more like you.

For the rest of us, let’s pray this prayer and ask God to open our eyes to see the things around us in a new way.

Father, thank you for always leading us to become more and more like You. We want more of that. Show us how You would do it. Help us see the people around us the same way Y

ou see them. Give us courage to speak, pray, love and do the kinds of things You would do. Give us passion for this. We love You. In Jesus’ powerful name, Amen.

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 22:37-39

Noah and his new friends from the bus terminal 🙂

Shawn and Brian at the adult day care 🙂

Noah getting ready for the church street promotion 🙂

Church promotion

Lunch break 🙂

Home Bible study 🙂