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.