Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Much will be required.

Growing up, I never wondered if there was going to be a turkey on the table. I never questioned if I would have a place to go to celebrate with loved ones. In my world, there has always been enough food to feed the multitude. And we continually play the game, year after year, of finding room to store all the leftover sweet potato casserole, homemade rolls, calico bean dip, and pumpkin pie. I have always had plenty of options of where to celebrate---actually there are too many!! And we have always grown up with the permission to invite anyone to our house, if we knew they would not have a place to go.

It's easy to get bogged down in the details of running from point A to point B. It is easy to let the guilt of not being able to make every stop in one day weigh a little heavy on my shoulders. It's easy to get caught up in decorations that adorn our own dining room table. It is easy to lose sight of having a turkey period, when trying to think of what else should be served alongside it. It's easy to forget what this day is really about, and it's even easier to forget the abundance of blessings that overflow my everyday life.

Not because I took the initiative to find opportunities, but rather because I have some amazing friends who laid the opportunity at my feet, this week, I had the privilege of serving those in our community who have found themselves in need this Thanksgiving. By being in the right place at the right time, divine appointment you might say, I was able to deliver a turkey dinner to a family, which in reality probably wonders each and every year if they will have a meal like the rest of us to gather around and enjoy. After several moments of knocking and waiting in the rain, two young boys timidly open the door. Once we handed over the frozen turkey and the bag of yummy sides, my eyes filled with tears as their faces went from those of fear to those of complete joy. As we turned to walk away the littlest with his big smile wished us a cheerful "Happy Thanksgiving."

Prior to that, I had the chance to spend a few hours with some of the cutest, most energized kids of the boys and girls club of Petersburg. We got to serve them Thanksgiving dinner and I had the pleasure of making bracelets and necklaces with several of the little girls. I could not tell you who out of that room would be sitting down at a table with loved ones, eating a delicious turkey with all the fixings tomorrow, and which ones of those kids had no idea what it means to celebrate Thanksgiving like most of us do. All I can tell you is that there are so many people that are in need in our communities. And it is so easy to not think about this faceless beast until you start putting names, and beautiful smiles, and high fives, and laughter, and bashful ”thank yous” to it.
I have been given so much in this life, much more than I ever could deserve. So much that I sadly and too often take it all for granted. Luke 12:48b is on repeat in my head today: “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.”
This Thanksgiving and the days leading up to, have been an incredible reminder that not only do I have so much to be thankful for, and not only are there so many in our community, in our backyards that desperately need our help, but it’s been a reminder that I have been called to, required to do “much” about it.
That, for me, is a sobering thought as I head out to begin this year’s Thanksgiving festivities.
Tomorrow, as I gather with loved ones and partake in some good eatin', and as I remember those smiles, and high fives, and beautiful eyes from those precious children, it is my prayer that I wrestle with the uncomfortably of Luke 12:48b. That I am able to step up, to be obedient to the essential core of my calling, to serve selflessly, to give generously, to love unconditionally, and to point back to the One who deserves all the praise and glory for all the good things He has done.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Season of Transition

This past Saturday morning I stood in the kitchen among the aroma of brewing coffee and gazed out our back window. The vibrant colored leaves that had painted the backdrop of our yard were now faded and falling quicker than I could count. I will not deny that fall is my favorite season. The sweaters, sweatshirts and fuzzy socks, the cool mornings and brisk evenings, the snuggles under a massive warm blanket by the fireplace, the anticipation of snow and a holiday that turns our hearts to celebrate the blessings that abundantly fill our lives.  What is not to love? But as I stood at the window Saturday, this season hit a little deeper within. Autumn is not only a season of personal favorites, but it is a season of transition, from summer to winter, a season when death and decay begin to prepare the way for life and growth.
In the beginning of October I found myself feeling "stuck," stuck in the routine of life. Doing this life out of obligation verses living it with passion. Browsing through the books of a local Christian bookstore I prayed for something to jump out, something to get me back into studying the Word vs. just checking it off my to do list, something that would help cultivate that environment of abiding in Him and letting Him abide in me.
Ironically I left the store caring a study called "Stuck."
I thought that that book was an answer to my prayers, and to some degree I am sure it was, but after reading the chapter on Anger, Forgiveness and Dying to Oneself, I have not picked that book back up. After some soul searching, I could not tell you a specific area in my life where I was harboring anger or withholding forgiveness (and as for the whole dying to self thing, this is a constant battle). And yet, even though I was eager to read on, I could not flip the page. In hindsight, it's amazing how at times I can clearly see the hand of God, when in the moment I can be completely oblivious to what He is doing. I was examining my life for areas where I needed healing . . . but now I see that His plans were not my own.
For about two weeks I have continued to pray and study on anger, forgiveness and self-denial. Sunday messages and Monday night small groups have been filled with teachings about the power of our words, how to face conflict and to abstain from retaliation. My journal has been filled with prayers that have surrounded scriptures like:
James 4:6-10 "But he gives us even more grace to stand again such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, "God opposed the proud but favors the humble." So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and seep grief. Let there be sadness instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor."
Psalm 4:4-5 "Don't sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent."
Luke 6:28-30Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your good do no demand them back.”
Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”
John 3:30 “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”
2 Timothy 4:17aBut the Lord stood with me and gave me strength …”
and it's been filled with thoughts like:
“…a transformational, unselfish, disciplined love, defusing volatile situations and restoring those who are suffering. This is the call on every person who claims to know Jesus. This love is so contrary to the world that is has the power to demonstrate God, to put Him and His radical love for His people on display. This love cost us something. It is not easy, but it is simple.” –Jennie Allen
“We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior.” –John R.W. Stott
“The way we view people must shift. We must allow people to fail us, because they are, like us, sinners. To know God, to truly see God, radically shifts our perspective.”  --Jennie Allen
Little did I know that God was preparing me.
Little did I know that anger, and conflict and the opportunity for retaliation would land right at my feet--meet me face to face, and challenge the character of who I am called to be.
Little did I know that it wasn't a paperback study called "Stuck" that was an answer to my prayers of a renewed desire, but rather a messy situation that caused pain and brokenness.
Little did I know that I was entering a season of decay and death in my own life, and that God was using it to create the way for growth, for life and for deepening my trust in a faithful Savior.
As I stood by that window Saturday, watching leaf after leaf fall, I could not help but think of what was lost on this tree of conflict. To date, restoration seems far off. Maybe this tree will stand barren through the rest of fall, and under the ice of winter. Perhaps it will bud again and be full of life come spring. I do not know.
Nevertheless, I am thankful for a God who is active in our mess, who prepares those who seek Him for the battles that are not of this world and thankful for a God who fights on our behalf. I am thankful for brokenness and the reminder that in our weakness we are made strong through Him.  I am thankful, that even though it is not easy, it is simple: Love God, Love People. I am thankful for fall, for this season of transition. And I am thankful that He has, and does and will continue to turn death into life, old into new and will work it all for His good.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Hey YOU! It's been 511 days!!

Hey YOU!!!
Amazing how much time has gone by when you sit down and really think about it. It seems like yesterday that we were going through all the intoxicating feelings of “the beginning:” the excitement, the fun, and those “I can’t get enough.” Since, we have also experienced the tough conversations, the tears, the sharing of doubts, and even the “I just need a moment alone.” And yet, here we stand--firm, solid--knowing that it takes work, it takes intention and it takes being real. It takes pushing aside our busy schedules and just being with one another. It takes making the time to get uncomfortable and starting those deep conversations, to work through our differences and to find that same page. It takes making the time to pause and have fun together. It takes making the time to share the “real stuff” of life, the beautiful and the ugly. And it takes making the time to laugh until we cry, and to be silly and carefree. It’s taking the time to challenge one another, to hold one another accountable and to strive for the best. It’s love. It’s work. It’s fun. It’s a blessing. And now, 511 days into it, I am enamored as much as I was on day one. I am loved. I am having fun. I am being pushed. And I am blessed . . . blessed by sharing my life with you. You are loved. You are fun. You are a blessing—a blessing that I have been and will continue to be thankful for each and every day. A crush that is worth another 511 days of work, of intention, of fun, of silliness, of challenge, and of leaning into the greatest blessing God has poured into my life.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Blue Box, Homemade Stew and a Zombie Apocalypse

Tuesdays are a fairly busy day in our house. After work, Half pint usually rushes home and loves on the pup for a bit before she is out the door again to spend the evening with some pretty cool ladies.  I either meet the bestie for a quick cup of Joe and good conversation or I find myself hitting up the Kroger making sure there is some good grub happening in our home. Once I walk into the door of our humble abode, I throw some loving on the fur ball that has stolen our hearts and together we run around the crib making the floors shine and the laundry smell like a bed of roses. (It’s become this odd ritual of cleaning and preventing the beast from stealing socks or eating the vacuum.) Don’t hold this against us, but dinner is typically not fancy on these nights. If the lady doesn’t grab a bite to eat with her friends, and I didn’t steal 3 minutes to make a cheesy roll up (tortilla + cheese + cumin + jalapenos + cilantro + 45 seconds in the microwave = cheesy roll up & deliciousness) dinner can either be forgotten, leftovers thrown together or yes, even a glass of wine and stove top popcorn. (Don’t judge.)
This Tuesday was a little different.  There has been this blue box, making its home in our pantry for quite some time. Whether it is from when I moved in or, even scarier, since there was an occupant in the house who made consistent meals off the blue box, that box has been there FOREVER. We threw the idea out there and next thing you know, she was grilling the dogs, and I was slaving over the stove preparing the blue box of cheesy creamy goodness.
We sat down and reminisced over a bowl of Mac & Cheese and hot dogs. We retold childhood stories and college memories. We remembered other meals of savory poor nutrition that filled our days growing up. Sloppy Joes before softball games, a can of beanie weenies when the college funds were running low, and weekends of youth group retreats with pots filled with Dinty Moore Beef Stew.
Even though we both have a past filled with boxed meals, we learned early on in our journey together that there is something about cranking up the tunes, pulling out the pots and pans, heating up the grill and cooking a fresh homemade meal side by side that brings joy and happiness into our world.  Not only has it provided time to have good conversation and enjoy an evening of laughs after a stressful workday, but it’s also allowed us to learn a lot about food and to make some healthier choices in our everyday meals.
After ruminating over Dinty Moore beef stew, in light of our pending camping trip, we decided to pull out the cutting board, get down the spices, open up bottle of wine, and create our own healthy version of beef stew to fill our bellies in the cool evening of camping under the stars.
As we woke up in the wee hours this morning surrounded by an aroma of grass fed beef, fresh vegetables, fresh thyme, Worcestershire sauce, and a red wine reduction sauce, I warned Half Pint that the Zombie Apocalypse would be happening today and that our home would become the world’s safe haven because of our beef stew. (Yes, there was only one crock pot, but it work like the 5 loaves and two fish miracle of the Bible.)
I wanted her to be prepared.
She was confused.
And I was perplexed at where in the world our minds find this stuff while we are sleeping away the night.
No worries folks! It was only a dream.
But I can’t help but look forward to tasting that stew this weekend, because if my dream holds any truth, than that is going to be some REALLY GOOD stew.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

His ways are higher than mine.

I have a flaw. (Okay, to be honest, I have MANY flaws.) But one in particular is that I really like for everyone to be on the same page ... as me. To understand me and where I am coming from, and yes, to even agree with me on any and every stance. Unrealistic, prideful, naive, I know!! (Thank goodness God is not done with me yet!)

I don't like how disaccord affects relationships and how it makes people feel. I don't like the controversy of gun control and the anger it stirs up. I don't like the disagreements between political parties, and the nasty blows that arise out of it. I don't like hearing the disputes over abortion, and the shame that is often chained to it. And I don't like the contention between the gay community and church goers, and the division it creates. And yet, I have an opinion on these issues, a stance, if you will that would most likely cause dissension to some. I think we all do. Because we all are so different. We all come from distinct walks of life and have a diverse bundle of experiences under our belts. Despite 'the ugly' that our human nature can bring out from our differences, in reality our differences are one of the most beautify handiworks of God's creation. We are uniquely created, each having a variety of passions and ideas and philosophies.

Last night at small group we didn't tackle a pre-read chapter of the Bible or particular topic that was sent out the week before. We were all given a blank card and the freedom to write down ANY question. Some were light hearted, "If Jimmy cracked corn and nobody cared, then why was there a song written about it?" Some questions disclosed unknown information about the people we gather with each week, like middle names. (I'll let you guess who wears the name of "Pearly!") And one question even allowed us to hear about each other's 'transformational' story about meeting Christ.

As to be expected, we hit some challenging questions. You know those questions that we can agree on that God's Word is Truth, yet still struggle to find a common ground on what the Bible means and how it pertains to our lives here, now in 2013.

Paul's teaching on women in church?
The Letter of the Law vs. the Spirit of the Law?
If God's Word is infallible--true from cover to cover?
Can we know that we are walking in God's will? If so, how?
The Rapture and how is that going to work?

and who knows what else was in that pile of questions . . .

Once saved always saved?

We tend to stay away from those "controversial" issues. Right? I mean, we all have been told to steer clear of politics and religion at some point in our life. But even inside the four walls of our church building, we shy away from, maybe what some would call the gray areas of the Bible.

As I sat back an enjoyed a different pace from our routine small group last night, I couldn't help but think, that these gray areas that at times we avoid like the plague aren't really issues at all, but they are real live breathing children of God, trying to find their place in His story. Our group alone is made up of so many of these "gray issues," and I am thankful that we were able to scratch the surface last night--thankful that the conversation was started, even if it was challenging at times. I wish I could say we all left standing on common ground, or left holding the secret of where to find all the answers to these difficult questions. But we didn't.

I know for me, I walked out of those doors more confused than I did when I entered, more challenged to dive into God's word and read for myself what others sounded so confident on. I left understanding thirteen people I care about a little better. I left pondering the mystery of how Christ followers can read and interpret God breathed scriptures so differently and it not change that fact that His Word is true. I left knowing its OK to say "I don't know or I don't understand" and it not diminish the amount of faith one has. I left reminded that it's not about being on the right side of an issue, but rather getting to know the story behind the one who gets labeled an issue, and loving them as Christ would. But most importantly I walked out with the reminder that it's about Christ! It's about His work in our lives, individually and collectively. It's not about getting everyone on my page, but getting myself on God's page and finding His peace in the controversy that our feeble minds and the lack of understanding His ways will create. It's about learning from one another's differences and letting those differences challenge us and push us deeper along in our journey to seek after Him.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Look Up!

Problems. Difficulties. Obstacles. Challenges. Complications. Hurdles.

We all have them.

Problems do not differentiate between the young or the old. Difficulties hit the homes of the rich and the poor. Obstacles arise for the wise and the fools. Challenges face both the faithful and the faithless. Complications change the lives of the healthy and of those who are ill. Hurdles show up out of nowhere for the singles just as they do for the married.

In the past eight months alone I have seen cancer come out of the blue, marriages dissolve behind the doors of a "happy home." I have seen friends hurt by lies, and addictions retake their claim. I have seen cars spin out of control and flat tires ruin preset plans. I have seen financial troubles lead friends down the road of hopeless debt, and abusive words rip away any ounce of self worth. I have seen work situations gone awry and how the needs of a baby can spoil time tables. I have seen friendships dissolve and the bitter stains of unforgiveness.  I have received emails from friends requesting prayer for unknown problems, and have had several prayer requests of my own for the 'snags of life' I’ve experienced.

None, not one of us are immune from the complications of life . . . but there is hope!

Remember the apostle John? The brother of James, cousin of Jesus, the son of Thunder? The John who witnessed the agony of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and the one who took Mary, the mother of Jesus into his care after her son’s death on the cross? The one who walks step in step with Peter passionate about building the church and gets thrown into prison? It is traditionally taught that John was dipped into boiling oil only to survive and be exiled to the Island of Patmos. It is there, on this sterile, barren island that was used by the Roman government to banish and punish criminals, that John got to see into the doors of heaven. (Revelation 4) 

If you pick up in Revelation 7 around verse 11 we see that an elder turns to John and explains that all of those who have come from the great suffering, those who have washed their robes white and those who have scrubbed them clean in the blood of the Lamb encircles the throne of God giving worship of praise and thanksgiving.

Living in a world of petty annoyances, life changing problems and experiencing unimaginable heartaches provides reason for us to forget to look up. But here we see, that when John does, what hope, promise, and salvation He finds. His problems aren’t gone, he stills find himself on the desolate island, but His burden is made lighter in the promise coming of Jesus Christ. Later John calls those who are redeemed and who walk in this life of trouble, “blessed.”

I read 1 Peter 1:3-9 this week and couldn’t help but be reminded of those I know who are facing struggles, for the struggles I too find myself in, and the hope of John’s story found in Revelation. As we walk this life full of unexpected twists and turns, saturated with troubles of large and small magnitude,  and full of seasons of doubts, where there seems to be more questions than answers, it’s so easy to look around and get distracted by the annoyances, the crises, the tribulations and the set backs. May we remember, as those He has called redeemed-His beloved, that it is through suffering our faith is proven genuine.
Keep walking my friends, keep looking up, and know that you are not on this journey alone.

1 Peter 1:4-9
"...we've been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven--and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you'll have it all--life healed and whole.

I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it's your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory. You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don't see him, yet you trust him--with laughter and singing. because you kept on believing, you'll get what you're looking forward to: total salvation.”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A guest blogger

I am sure you have heard me comment before that I have a pretty remarkable small group. And it's true, they are all individually and collectively amazing. This past Monday, our closing devotional was shared by one of my favorite people. Not only do I get to gather on Monday nights around the book of Acts with her, but I get to walk life by her side. I get to see firsthand how God is challenging her to go deeper, to step outside of her comfort zone and to share her story and all that God has done, and is doing in her life.

I have never had a "guest blogger" here before, but God has been using her words from Monday night to challenge me. With her permission, I wanted to share.  I pray that God continues to use her words to pierce our hearts and to challenge us all on this journey of faith.

Thanks for sharing Melinda!

Joshua 5:2 "At that time the LORD said to Joshua, 'Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelite men again.'"

Scripture based on Joshua chapters 1-5
To give a little of the background of the story…

Chapter one Moses is now dead and God is admonishing Joshua to take over the leader role. That he will lead them across the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. God reminds Joshua that He has given them every place that Joshua’s foot treads. He tells him over and over again to be strong and courageous because He will not leave nor forsake him.

In chapter 3, Joshua tells the people to follow the Ark of the Covenant and not to lose sight of it. God tells Joshua that He will begin to make him an exalted leader to the Israelites, so they will know that, indeed, God is with Joshua. God will do that by walling up the water of the Jordan as they begin to cross over and will cross on dry ground.

God knows that we have a short memory.  So He tells Joshua to get 12 men from each tribe and to set out memorial stones in the middle of the river, so that every time they see them, they can remember the mighty hand of God.

But God also knows that regardless of all the miracles and wonders He performs, the Israelites still have a hard time not doing things in their own strength.  SO, in chapter 5, God tells Joshua to circumcise all the men. So Joshua makes flint knives and circumcises the whole nation.


Joshua, for a split second, had to ask: do what? Why over here, on this side of the river, on enemy territory? You know that circumcising everyone will make us sitting ducks, completely vulnerable and exposed to enemy attacks?

But maybe that’s the point

Joshua does it anyway. Later on in the book of Joshua we learn that they attack and defeat Jericho, Ai, Gibeon and all the rest by the mighty hand and strength of God.

It’s a pretty cool story.

I started to think about how this story really applies to me, to us, since obviously we are not talking about physical circumcision …

Circumcision of your heart is spoken about in the old and new testaments:

Deuteronomy 30:6 says “The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants and you will love Him with all your heart and all your soul, so that you will live.”

Jeremiah 4:4 says “circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, men of Judah and residents of Jerusalem. Otherwise, My wrath will break out like fire and burn with no one to extinguish it because of your evil deeds.”

Then in the New Testament:
Romans 2:29 says “on the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart - by the Spirit, not the letter. His praise is not from men but from God.”

Phil 3:3 says “for we are the circumcision, the ones who serve by the spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh.”

So to put all this together…how do we circumcises our hearts, or better yet, how do we allow how hearts to be circumcised and why do we need to?
I think, we have to be like the men of Israel first, we have to surrender...we have to allow it to happen.

When we do surrender what will be cut away?
I think just like those warriors when they got circumcised, Israelites’ protection was removed. Their whole nation became vulnerable and exposed. So it is with us; we have to allow our protection, our calluses, our walls that have built up from past hurts, our shields or our masks that makes it look like we are fine, to be cut away.

It was only after their circumcision that God was able to move in and among the Israelites to show His strength. 

And the same is with us…When we are not tender-hearted but closed off because we are afraid of being hurt again, or we keep people at arm’s length, or we don’t allow people to know us because maybe we will feel judged, we aren’t allowing God to use us and our past experience for His glory and His honor.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says “…the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who in any kind of affliction through the comfort we ourselves receive form God.” 

So when we have a circumcised heart we can know that God is trustworthy in His promises, that He is with us, He will not leave nor forsake us. We can share our hurts, pains, fears and struggles so that others may be able to see the mighty hand of God working in me and in you.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Meet Bernie

You can't come within 10 feet of my FB page and not know the news already. But just in case you missed it, we got a (shih poo) puppy. I know we are biased, but we think she is pretty darn cute. It's a girl, and yes her name is Bernie. Several of you question our judgment here, but once you meet the girl, it fits! She's a 3 lb. spitfire, but don't let her size deceive you! Her personality fills the room with laughter and over floods it with spunk. And just like any new puppy, with Bernie, there is never a dull moment (unless she is snoozing). Whether it is inquisitively exploring new rooms, or trying to get Kovu and Kiara (the kitties) to do more than just sniff her nose and stare her down, Bernie brings excitement to every bounce she takes. And yes, I do mean bounce. Regardless of her leaving 'doggy heaven' and entering into our world off Lilking, and us diving into her 'I don't want to sleep here without you' nightly routine, I think she is as happy to have us as we are to have her. We might not know the ends and outs of what we are doing, like Cesar Millan (that's the dog whisperer for those of you who don't know) but as for a cat lover turned Bernie fan, I could not ask for a better partner to do and learn this with. And for the record I think we are floating along just fine. So here's to many more rainy days filled with laps around the house, battle wounds from baby teeth that mistakenly take your flesh color hand as her blue and green frog, sunny days with puppy PFDs, the yaks, and paddling on the water with your best friend, puppy snuggles, moments of complete exhaustion, situations where you have more questions than answers, and to many many many cups of strong coffee.

As Sam our 4 year old neighbor suggest: "She needs play dates." So my friends, if you want to see 'the cutest puppy ever' (a quote I stole from a friend, but couldn't agree with more) lets us know. We would love to share her cuteness!

Thursday, July 4, 2013


The Declaration of Independence of 1776 is one of the most important documents we hold dear to in the good ‘ole U.S. of A. 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Our laws and what we believe we celebrate today, the 4th of July, have not always seen eye to eye. It’s taken almost 200 years for slaves to taste freedom, for women to no longer feel inferior, and for African Americans to see that they too are equal. Our fight for every American to taste Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness is far from over. 

In our schools we will continue to fight for those kids who fall through the cracks. In our streets we will continue to battle the disease of apathy towards the homeless. In our offices we will continue to break through the glass ceilings. In our neighborhoods we will  continue to wrestle the beast of discrimination. And in our churches we will continue to work through the tension that regardless of orientation, all who are called by God to serve may find that open door. 

I awoke this morning (way too early for my day off, by the way) with “freedom” on my mind. I tried to convince myself to shut my mind off, to roll over and steal a few more hours of sleep, but soon found myself up and at ‘em.

You know, for some, the American rights we hope to live in each and everyday, may always be an up hill journey. We will struggle with feeling inferior, second class and less than par, but this journey by no means discounts what freedoms we do live in and the cost they demanded. 

As I wrapped my mind around today, Independence day and my little corner of the world, I found my way to Galatians. 

It was in this book of Truth, that I found the reminder of where my true freedom lies. The politics and laws of this country will always provided some limited means to freedom, but as Paul says in Galatians 5:1 it is Christ, my Savior who has truly set us free, and it’s my responsibility to stay in that generous, open handed freedom that will never be restricted by the law.

May we all walk through today with true freedom on our minds.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fashion Advice

I do not claim to be a person who knows much or puts considerable thought into fashion.  My rule of thumb typically falls within the line of: if it’s comfortable, I’m in it. There are these so called ‘Fashion laws’ I remember hearing along the way: “No white after Labor day,” “Shoes match the belt,” “less is more,” “Do not mismatch patterns,” and “never wear navy blue with black.”  It seems now we live in a time, where anything goes, where people are more comfortable coloring outside the lines when it comes to wardrobe choices, and where the no no’s of our growing up, seem to be the trendy fashion for kids today. You still probably will never catch me in mismatch patterns, and white after Labor Day? I just choose to stay away from the color period. And I probably will always hold true to less is more. So even though I may not follow these new cooler fashion trends, I do still believe it is important what I put on each and every morning.
For the past year, I have found myself in three separate studies of Acts. I am confident that it is not by coincidence that I have ended up in this book or learning more about Paul’s story. I’ve always been a Peter girl, riveted by this rough and tumble fellow whose emotions often got him in trouble, this man who frequently spoke before he thought, and despite it all was in the inner circle, one of Jesus’ dearest, most loved friends.  But the more time I spend in Acts, and in the other books that Paul has pinned, I am finding that same fascination for this man that I could never seem to connect with before, and honestly who I knew very little about.
As I laid on my bedroom floor this morning in defeat from the insecurities that had already challenged my day as I flipped through hanger after hanger of clothing, I was reminded of Paul’s words to the church in Colossians.
“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12 (NLT)
Paul, a fashionista?? Who knew!
Maybe it did not matter what dress I pulled out of the closest, as much as it did that I walked out of the house wearing compassion. Being available to suffer, moved to the core--in my guy, by a person’s demanding situation or trying circumstance.
Maybe it did not matter what color top looked more flattering, than it did that I got into the car covered in kindness, fixed to lend my strength to whom ever made need it.
Maybe it did not matter what sweater I grabbed for the cool AC filled office, than it did that I drove down 95N suited up in humility. Ready to view myself accurately, ready to approach all who crossed my path today as a friend, and acknowledging what makes me special, is the exact same thing that makes anyone else special—that we are all loved by our Heavenly Father.
Maybe it did not matter what shoes adorned my feet, than it did that I walked through the parking lot clothed in gentleness. Equipped to set aside my strengths, and meet others in the middle of their strengths and weaknesses.
And maybe it didn’t matter what purse carried my belongings, than it did that I walked into that office dressed in patience, prepared to set aside my own pace, and deciding to go the speed of others.
I also laid on the floor this morning in the conquest of feeling misunderstood, walled off and hard hearted toward those who have caused hurt, for those who have failed to understand.  I reached for my Bible, and continued to read Paul’s words in vs. 13 & 14 “Make allowances for each other’s fault, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”
It does not matter how misunderstood I feel, or the hurt caused by others,  Paul says to throw on the  fashionable cloth of treating others, not how they should be treated, but how time and time and time and time again God has treated me.
And over all let love be your canopy.
Maybe Paul’s name will never carry the weight in the fashion world like those of Armani and Versace. Maybe he will never have a fashion advice column in Style magazine. But it’s Paul’s advice:  clothe yourselves in compassion, kindness, humility gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love that will be the fashion rules from this point on that I will intentionally try to follow.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Under the carpet

Today I entered Barnes and Noble and made my way to the normal cafe table I occupy most days for lunch. A book that I was fascinated by years ago caught my eye on a display shelf. "My secret: A Postsecret Book." It's a book that contains hundreds of anonymous postcards that reveal people's innermost  secrets. As I flipped through the book, I read confession after confession. Sexual sins, deep regrets, feelings of failure. I read of people's suicidal thoughts, of struggles with cutting, self-injurious behaviors, and eating disorders. I read about people wrestling with loneliness, like one postcard that read "Today is my birthday . . .and nobody knows." People battling self-esteem issues and those who bare the scars of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. It went on and on. Page after page of people who most likely wear the mask of "I'm OK," "I have it all together." when we pass them by on the streets, in the break room at the office, in the halls of our own homes and in the sanctuaries of our churches.

I heard a sermon last week, that like this book reminded me that behind every mask is a story, and behind every story lies a past.

Sometimes when I approach the Bible, I tend to forget that the men and woman who did great things--had a past. I want to remember the extraordinary good that God did with their lives, and skip over the step where they had to remove their masks, reveal their secrets, acknowledge their past and let the God of the Universe heal, restore and make new.

One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Paul's conversion in Acts 9. Saul is on the road to Damascus eager to kill anyone who followed the Lord, when a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. Saul was blinded and he was led into Damascus by his companions and he remained there, blind for three days and did not eat or drink. In the meantime, there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias and the Lord spoke to him in a vision calling him to go to Saul and to lay his hands upon him so that he could see again. You see, Saul was the chosen instrument to take God's message of hope to the Gentiles, to the Kings and to the people of Israel. In a nut shell Ananias' says "Lord you have the wrong guy. He is the most unlikely candidate of them all."  

And in essence Jesus says "that's my point."

Paul had the courage to let God pull back the carpet and deal with the "Chief of all sinners" as he calls himself in 1 Timothy. And when that carpet is pulled back God begins to heal and redeem and restore whatever is under there.

But God doesn't stop there. 

In 2 Corinthians 1 verse 4 Paul writes "He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given to us."God wants us to take off our masks, to share our secrets, our struggles, to bare one another's burdens as it says in Galatians 6:2. We rarely expect that our biggest regret, our greatest failure, our most hidden secret is that one that God can use for the greatest good, the one He can use to reach the unreachable, the one He can use to show others that He is willing to come into the mess of our lives, to get his hands dirty so that He can transform us into the men and women we were destined to be. When we find the courage to do that, we glorify not our name, but we glorify His name and others who are observing us, watching our lives just might have the passing thought that if God can do that with her, with him, then maybe there is hope for me.

The reason Paul did something extraordinary wasn't because He was perfect, or that He had it all together. The reason God used Him was because He was willing to acknowledge his past, He was willing to deal with His secrets, and He was willing to let God leverage that past so that someone else wouldn't miss out on the hope of Jesus Christ. 

He lived out 2 Corinthians 1:4 and that's my prayer for us tonight. That we let God take the messy things in our lives, our greatest failures, our biggest disappointments, that He will redeem them from our willing spirit and use them as a gift to those in this world who think that their past, their mistakes have disqualified them from belonging to the church and more importantly from belonging to God.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My first "real" bike ride

Every once in a while, my biggest fan will get the chance to read the blogs I write and for some reason or another I choose not to share. Perhaps it was because she knew the behind the sense of this ride she felt it important for me to finish the story and to share my thoughts. To be honest, I’m not sure they why, but nevertheless, I took the advice, and here it is . . . .
Back in November when we toyed with the idea of getting bikes, I am sure my assumptions were the same as many. Remember those childhood summers, filled with hours and hours of riding around the neighborhood? To the school playground? To the friend's house down the street? We lived on those bikes, and could ride for hours without a mere struggle. I wasn't not naive to think, that a good twenty years later, my riding experience would be the same of that 12 year old little girl, but nevertheless, I foresaw many effortless adventures and pain free hours spent enjoying beautiful days upon the saddle of two spinning wheels.
After 6 months and now knowing the importance of padded bike shorts, peddle cages,  butt butter, biking gloves, "On your left," and so much more, I have learned that "riding your bike" can be an entirely different ball game.
Yes, there are days when an effortless 5 mile stroll in your jeans around the neighborhood or in a local park provides enough solace from the fast paced momentum of the day.
And there are the rides where the minutes tick into hours, where the ground below passes and miles accumulate.  The rides where you discover places of beauty that you never knew existed along the back roads and trails of your hometown. The rides where your friends peddle alongside you and stories of family and events of the prior week are shared in between the twist and turns of the pavement. The rides where you cruise into town and share laughs over a meal with the ones you love. The rides where you pause when a moment is needed to take a photo or to enjoy the beauty of God's handiwork.
But a few weekends ago, we were able to be a part of something bigger; a world I knew existed but never envisioned being a part of.
We rolled up Saturday and it was obvious that we were the new kids on the block. We didn't have on a fitted bright colored jersey, and out of insecurities, I threw baggy athletic shorts over my very snug padded biking shorts. We did not have special biking shoes, or the type of bike that a majority of the riders traveled upon. We were out of our league, and I quickly questioned what in the world did we sign ourselves up for. We surely were not signed up for one of our leisurely day trips to cruise along the High Bridge Trail or for a stroll around the neighborhood block.
The Cap 2 Cap Ride was truly outside of my comfort zone and a challenge; I’ll admit I wasn’t sure it was a challenge that could be completed. But I have learned that it is in challenges and it is outside our comfort zones that some of life's best accomplishments and biggest blessings are clearly visible and humbly achieved.  And Saturday they were.
Looking back it was seeing familiar faces at registration, getting great riding advice, and sharing drinks and stories with experienced riders, it was waking up to the rain pounding on the roof, to walking out the front door into the sunshine of a gorgeous day, it was having my best friend by my side and  her helping hand in the midst of my frustrating obstacles, it was her prayers of support before the last leg of the race and it was the choir of voices shouting encouragement that could be heard along the course, it was the friendly first bumps of a job well done and the challenge of overcoming the mental "I can'ts" with the "I cans,” it was in seeing a mom and dad pull along their mentally and physically disabled children along the twenty five mile route and then watching them cross the finish line with cheers and smiles, it was being embraced as outsiders, as newbie’s, into a community that it didn't matter what you wore, or what bike you rode, what shoes you had on your feet, or really who your were, it only mattered that we all chose to get up that morning, to keep moving on those tiny seats, and to not stop peddling until the finish line was crossed….AND it was in accomplishing a goal, that at times I thought was unattainable, it was finishing that 25th mile and celebrating that victory with good entertainment, good food and good people that made the 2013 Cap 2 Cap Ride, an moment in my life I will never forget.
(And to you, my #1 fan—thanks for challenging me to finish this blog, even if I did drag my feet!)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Count it all Joy

A little over a year ago, between the quiet yellow walls of my Powhatan kitchen, I spent countless mornings at the table with the book of James. Unlike previous years, this season of life was not particularly a difficult one, but rather one of healing, of truth and honesty, a season of understanding grace, and personally redefining what it means to live a life of faith - of expectant faith.  

It was in the book of James, in letting those God inspired words wash over my soul, that I was able to open up my hidden wounds and allow healing and forgiveness to fill those dark unexpected vacancies that had shaken my world. It was in those pen strokes that peace calmed the winds of unanswered why's and where's and how's that quivered my spirit. And it was in that book that truth pierced my heart and gave me permission to walk in grace and taught me to become the woman, God fearfully and wonderfully, created me to be.

It was in James's pages, that God led me to revisited those "trails" in my own life, and it was there I discovered that the worst days of my life, became the first days of my testimony. It was in my calamities, in my weakness that opened the way to His glory, to His feat. It was there at that kitchen table, many days not getting much further than verse 5, that I began to understand what James meant when he said "count it all joy."

You can imagine my excitement, when I found out my church was reading through James together. (You can read along with us, just click here).

“To count it all joy.” 

Beth puts it simply . . . “those who follow Christ will become more Christ-like because we face difficulties - not in spite of those trials.”

It is not “all joy” because the outcomes to our problems, our situations alway turn out the way we hoped and prayed that they would. It’s not “all joy” because happiness and success always follow our failures and let downs. It’s “all joy” because He’s present in the midst of our troubles. He’s working in the face of our defeats. And He changing us for the better in the middle of life’s moments of devastation. It is there, in the hardest moments of our lives, that the greatest stories of His faithfulness and wisdom can be seen. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Yo, Adrian.

It was "Rocky Balboa" who was the topic of our first exchange 395 days ago. I knew nothing of you, your story or what life's twists and turns you had traveled. And similarly, you knew nothing of me, other than my name, what church I attended, and that the steps we had just climbed reminded me of good 'ole Rocky. Who knew that twenty days later we'd be sharing a meal and sharing our life stories? I wasn't looking for you, and to be honest, I didn't want to be tied to anything--I actually swore off dating for quiet sometime (true story). But 10 days after that delectable dinner, and intriguing conversation, we decided to take one step at a time and see where those steps would lead. And, 365 days later, here we stand, I thought it was only fitting that I let Rocky provided the inspiration :)

"Let me tell you something you already know."
are one of the best unexpected blessings in life,
are funny and I cherish the laughter we share together,
are appreciated for all that you do,
are fun and adventurous, and
are loved dearly.

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.”

We’ve . . . .

walked on the sunny side of the street,
crawled down the roads of despair & rejection,
skipped along the cul-de-sacs of joy & friendship,
stomped on the avenues of differences, and
run down the streets of hope & change.

“It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.”

We have willingly fallen to our knees . . .

with prayers of thanksgiving & praise,
with prayers for strength,
with prayers for wisdom,
with prayers for health & healing, and
with prayers for opportunities.

“You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.”

We know that it ain’t . . .

time at the gym, or
P90X . . .

that’s gonna give us the strength needed to face this life and to make it another 365 days.
(Even though they may help you block some punches, or at least look good while trying)

“But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward.”

And we know, that it’s . . .

keeping our priorities in line,
studying together,
praying together,
seeking His will together, and
letting His Spirit lead us. . .

that will keep moving forward.

“That’s how winning is done.”

Letting Him . . .

speak through us,
use us,
guide our every decision,
be our strength when we are weak, and
be our focus above all else.

Yes, that is how winning is done.

“Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth.”

You are worth…

more than many sparrows,
more than rubies,
more than gold,
more than all the world, and
more than the life of His one only Son.

(That means you is important.)

“But you gotta be willing to take the hit”

Thank you . . . .

for standing with me,
for taking the hits along side of me,
for showing me grace when I was the one swinging,
for asking for forgiveness when you took the punches, and
for standing hand in hand with me, firm on His promises in the midst of whatever battles we faced.

“Not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you.”

You ain’t no coward because you . . .

can kill spiders,
don’t jump when you see a plastic snake hiding,
hear rustling in the woods & walk towards the danger,
wrestle mountain lions, and
pet wild saber tooth tigers.

(ok, maybe all of that is not truthful, but the point is: you ain’t no sissy.)

I think what Rocky inspired me to say is:

The last 525,600 minutes that I have lived have been full of memories and moments that have taken my breath away. We have cruised through days filled with rainbows and lollipops, and we have weathered days of gray and doubt. And no matter how amazing I think you are, or how incredible you think I am, the truth is we wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for something greater than us.

“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Ephesians 4:12

So here’s to another 365 days, to the good ones, the bad ones, the ones that will challenge us individually, and to the ones that will challenge us together. To the days that His hand is easy to see, and to the days where is seems far away. To the days it will be easy to love one another and to the days where love will be an intentional choice. To the days where belly laughs echo, and to the days where the tears won’t stop. To the days we spend broken, on our knees and to the days we lift our hands full of praise.

I am thankful to share them all with you, with Him, strengthening our cord of three every step of the way.