Thursday, December 12, 2013

Merry Christmas Card

After only 90+ minutes…which was only an hour longer than I wanted to spend - the Christmas card is ordered and on it's way.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

When Typhoons Get Personal

A week or so ago we received our latest letter (dated August 29) from Avie, the 16-year-old my daughter Brynn sponsors through Compassion. Here's a snippet of what she said:

"A blessed day! Mama Michelle, thank you for the letter you sent. And thank you also for the stickers you have given I will use to decorate in my notebook. (She loves Hello Kitty - and Brynn bought her an entire book full of stickers which we include page by page with each letter.) I really miss you too and Brynn. Yes! Mama Michelle I will tell to my Grandmother that you continually praying for her. I know that she will love to hear that from you. Thank you that you always pray fro my mother and siblings also for the unity of my family."

Back in 2010 Brynn and I went to the Philippines  - we met Avie and her grandmother. We spent just one full day with this sweet girl. My heart was ripped open by my experiences with Avie and with the 100's of other children we had the chance to interact with during the 10-day trip. These just aren't faceless masses, Twitter updates, or CNN news videos. They are people I love. Today I'm praying they are safe, dry, and have food. I trust God and the work of the local churches and the Compassion projects to bring healing and hope to Avie and her family and the thousands of other children enrolled in Compassion. But oh how I wish I could hug my sweet Avie today.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

See God: Reflections on Summer Sunday School

Originally published as my pastoral quarterly report (boy that sounds official) in our church newsletter - this article says a lot about what God's been teaching me this summer. I still have much to learn and put into practice.
- Michelle

Although my area of responsibility includes families and women’s ministries here at NFC, summertime is predominately about kids. Programs such as 3M (Monthly Marriage Maintenance) and Women’s Bible Fellowship take a break and I enjoy a summer focused mainly on the younger members of our congregation. Sometimes this is a great thing—but a few Sundays ago I found myself staring blankly into the eyes of a third grader.

I fancy myself a pretty good Sunday school teacher, but this particular morning my plans were being tested in every way, and I felt sorely lacking in “child-management skills.” As I tried to get the group of 11 kindergarten through 5th graders to pay attention to the Bible lesson, it was clear this was not going to “work” the way I had imagined. The wiggly kids were set on “extra wiggle.” The child who “doesn’t like Sunday school” let it be known to the entire class and me in a loud voice as I instructed them all to turn to 2 Chronicles. He then proceeded to put himself in a trash can, much to the class’s delight. The tired one sprawled out on the carpet, put his Bible over his face and proclaimed “it’s dark in here.” Another ripped some pages in the borrowed Bible while flipping back and forth trying to find the New Testament. The girls and boys chatted and giggled while I plunged deeper into the lesson, determined to get through the curriculum I’d prepared. A volunteer helped by taking two of the most disruptive children in the hall, leaving only 9 kids for me and a second volunteer to reign in.

Somehow I made it through that lesson, and we regrouped outside. The game I created on the spot went surprisingly well. We made a circle and threw the red ball to a friend while saying a characteristic of love. We threw the white ball after naming a quality of God. They paid attention and rattled off some great things about who God is and what love means. The game came to an end; snack was about to be served. I glanced at my watch. If open worship didn’t go too long we might have only about 5-10 minutes left of class. I took a deep breath. I knew there was no way the majority of the class would go back in and do the worksheet…even if it could be cut, folded, and stapled into a little book about God and his totally awesome love.

And then—the question I’ve never been asked by a child: “What is it like to teach Sunday school to kids?” I paused the most pregnant of pauses—and looked into her wondering hope-filled eyes. For a moment I couldn’t think of anything to say. I finally stumbled over something about it being fun, except when it’s difficult. Snack was ending and it was time to get the crew back inside. Her excellent question got lost in the shuffle, but my heart was cracked open by its convicting Holy Spirit power. How could I not think of anything meaningful or loving to say? Me—the children’s pastor who tries endlessly to get others to join this important ministry with children—so lost in my own plans for the morning that I forgot it’s about God, it’s about being there for these kids and listening to them.

Why doesn’t he like Sunday school/church? Why are they so tired? What is so funny? What stories do they have to tell? How might the new toy I set out at the beginning of class be used to capture their attention during the lesson? Why didn’t I just do class outside from the beginning? Why would a child want to know what it’s like to be a Sunday school teacher? What did she need to hear to feel affirmed? What moment did I miss by being so caught up in my “ministry plan”?

If I had that moment again I’d tell her: “Teaching Sunday school is one of the most humbling, joyful, frustrating, entertaining, silly, and important things I am honored to do.” I’d let her know I love her being in class and how she brings me so much joy with her thoughtfulness. I love her questions and I appreciate her kindness. I see the Holy Spirit at work in her life and in the words that come from her mouth. I’d also share with her that I see God in the trash can, rolling around on the floor. I see God in the children desperate to get back to the building toy so they can be creative and successful. I see God in giggles and whispers, in the words of children and in their questions. I see God when I take time to pay attention.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When Forgiveness is a Sacrifice

I was prepping the kids worship folder last week and looked at the scripture passage our pastor was using for the message.
This part really caught me:

...and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:2

I started thinking about proclaiming forgiveness or telling God we hope to forgive as an offering or sacrifice to God. I believe sometimes we aren't ready to forgive and forgiveness is often a process. The truth is, in some of my deepest wounds, I haven't wanted to explore what it means to forgive or felt the desire to ask God to help me enter into the forgiveness process. I've simply pushed the issues to the recesses of my mind and carried on. This scripture helps me to see forgiveness not as something we do for the offender, not something we do for ourselves (as is often taught), but as something we do for GOD. 

Wow… as I'm following and honoring God, I offer forgiveness as a sacrifice. 

This is one for me to chew on a bit. I believe God doesn't just want me to say empty words (for that wouldn't be honoring to God or myself) and I believe God doesn't want me to proclaim something that isn't true…so how can I offer forgiveness as a sacrifice even if I don't want to do it? Isn't this a definition of sacrifice? - giving up, doing what we don't want to, laying down when we'd rather hold on, etc. Merriam-Webster defines sacrifice as: an act of offering to a deity something precious. That definition helps me remember the power I have within me to forgive, which comes from the Holy Spirit, is of eternal value. In essence we offer a holy piece of ourselves back to God. 

Today I realize that I need to face the journey of forgiveness for one reason (and I'm sure there will be other benefits along the way) - I want to love as Christ loved. I want to sacrifice my WHOLE self to God, and that means not holding back a piece just because, "I'm not ready." So apparently my sacrifice begins now. Sacrifice is painful, beautiful, exhausting, and ultimately fulfilling when done for God. I can trust that process based on prior experience with the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Defining Strength

When God wants you to think about something, He allows multiple opportunities and perspectives to fill your head. I'm beginning to get a headache. It's heavy in there.

 A beautiful day at the Oregon coast. The crosses were a fun discovery!
On our recent our mini-vacation, I woke up, made breakfast, and sat down with a warm mug of coffee. I want a life defined by the health of my closest relationships. My strength lies not in what I can or cannot achieve, but in my dependence on God to order my days and embrace sabbath.

Besides engaging in a few conversations with my family and friends, a walk on the beach, and packing up to head home, I was about as unproductive as this mama can get. Strength? Maybe this is stretching it a bit, but I honestly believe the days set aside to relax, renew, and just enjoy life, build strength. In our culture being successful (strong) often means working hard, being irreplaceable, and multi-tasking. I've bought into those lies more times that I'd like to admit. The truth is - giving time and attention to my family and friends matters. This year I've struggled to create space in my life to be with and actually have friends. 

After the Boston Marathon bombing happened and the terrible explosion in West, Texas, the good ole USA was in shock. Our sense of safety was rocked as the unspoken vow we have with one another was literally blow apart...again. For all the fear that we have in this country, we're also a nation that tries to trust one another. We value life. When the bombs go off or the factory erupts, where's the strength? As Di Murphy pointed out to us as Women's Bible Fellowship, strength was found in the actions of the first responders on the scene - running toward the explosion. We continue to build those muscles when we help our neighbor. Our cites are full of people who feel vulnerable, afraid, and angry. Prayer matters. We are strong when we decide to accept our brokenness but won't be overcome by evil. We are strong when we love. We are strong when we choose Trust again.

During the week I met individually with four women who epitomize what it means to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong... even if they don't always see it this way. These women face a vast array of daily challenges. They are living proof of how reliance on God turns ashes into beauty.

Friday morning, April 19, I sat glued to the TV. SWAT teams, police cars, and a frenzy of media activity displayed another kind of strength: money, technology, information, and deadly force. We live in a country where if you want to "call in the big dogs," our dogs are HUGE. By Friday night the manhunt was over, thanks to the work of hundreds of people in dozens of law enforcement agencies and the general public working together. This kind of strength makes some of us cheer and some of us cry. I feel stuck in the middle, grateful that we have the power to capture "bad guys" and sometimes conflicted by the priorities and processes in which we do so.

 "God's Great Dance Floor!"
At the end of the week our family joined thousands of Believers at the Chris Tomlin concert. The Rose Garden Arena transformed into a sanctuary and we worshiped together for three hours. I stood hands held high and dancing with as much enthusiasm as possible in the twelve inches of space in front of my chair. The strength of the Holy Spirit filled me with gratitude. Tears streamed down my face as I joined the congregation singing about God's faithfulness. Yes, God is so completely and totally faithful! (You can't be "kinda faithful.") The tears continued as I stood behind my two daughters and my loving husband and I was reminded of my own failings. God's conviction and mercy overwhelmed me. My voice became a mere whisper as I stood in the embrace of Christ. Wrapped in love, secure in forgiveness. We celebrated. I lifted my arms above my head, they felt weightless.

It's taken five days to write this post. I'm realizing that no amount of writing and editing will capture completely what I noticed last week. There's frustration over how long it's taken me to simply say some things that I thought were simple and now feel like a big jumble. But before I give up and push "publish" I'm going to give it one last hurrah and fumble through my definition of strength.

Church inspires me. Sitting in the pew, listening to the sermon, scribbling down my thoughts, asking questions, taking notes, making to do lists. This is how I worship; this is how I work. Last Sunday I came home with this on my worship sheet:

If you can't read the chicken scratch, it says, "Changing what it means to be strong." From this one phrase boxed with a little arrow pointing to "Eternal Life." I came home with a desire to use many of the examples Gregg gave about "power coming through sacrifice and surrender" to redefine strength. The world tells me that being strong means being stoic in the midst of pain, using muscle and power to get my way, and to strive for independence and self-sufficiency. If a woman holds back her tears - she is strong. If a teenager uses his karate skills to cut down a bully, he is strong. If a family doesn't need to borrow or beg from the community they are strong. Perhaps these examples hold a measure of truth, but I believe Jesus turns these definitions upside-down in the Kingdom.

When we come undone, let it all hang-out, ball like a baby, and expose our most tender self to others, to God - we are strong. It takes strength to be vulnerable, open to attack, comparison, or ridicule. It also opens the doors to healing, help, and the power of the Holy Spirit. So I say let the cleansing messy tears flow. Allow pain to be present knowing it is temporary. Eternal life starts now and there is nothing stronger than resurrection power.

If we use physical strength to solve problems, have we really solved them? Reading the Old Testament I'm confronted with issues that are ongoing today. Fights for territory, power, control. People want to be right, to stand up for what they believe in, and to subdue "the other." For thousands of years humans have used muscles and might to dominate. Jesus shows us another way. A stronger way... submission, sacrifice. With Christ we suffer, in Christ we live.

If I don't need you and you don't need me, how do we love? Created to live in community, we deny the core of who we are when we choose separation and independence. Cheesy metaphor alert: If we compare humanity to a machine - that machine runs best when all of it's parts are properly maintained and filled with fuel. God is the master mechanic, and love is the fuel. You know...the power of love. Cue Huey Lewis. In perhaps the greatest mystery of all, love brings life. Jesus conquered the grave through love. To truly love is to serve and be served. I remember seeing this popular license plate in the 90's: He who dies with the most toys wins. How different life is in the Kingdom. If we dare to enter into eternity now, we choose life in community in which what is mine is yours, because it's not really mine in the first place. In the body of Christ we'll let each other know when we need help. We'll share our "toys." We will see love at work in one other and we'll use that power to define strength.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Long Term Impact

March 21-30, 2013 will forever be remembered in our family as the time we:
1. Left our precious dog Bella for waaaay too long.
2. Went to Mexico on our first ever short-term mission.

I'm anticipating a long term impact from Equipo (meaning "team" in Spanish). Honestly, the trip didn't shatter my world, like my first Compassion sponsor tour to the Philippines in 2010, or overwhelm me with the beauty of life-long relationships created during my visit to Honduras in 2011. But Equipo 2013 has changed me. I've seen the value of families serving together, and I can't stop thinking about how teamwork was reflected in every aspect of the trip. This incredible teamwork was a living example of the body of Christ.

From the year-round planning of the leadership team, the intense preparation work of the advance Equipo group, the skill, sweat, and dedication of the home-building teams, the adaptability of theVBS/Food gang, the faithfulness of the costura (sewing center) crew, the ingenuity of the chicken coop/rabbit hutch makers, and the dedication of the Nueva Esperanza church family, we were witnesses to the power that God creates through community. The work accomplished, the blessings experienced, and the miracles that materialized throughout Equipo were due to over 100 individuals being open to the Spirit. Out of this Love, God allowed us to see, feel, hear, taste, and touch more than we could have imagined.

From tiny trailer to a secure home!
A large group is bound to have many different "take aways" from such a complex mission. I could not begin to describe them all. I'm realizing I can't even do justice to the numbers of my personal experiences. This is what happens when you allow yourself to be placed in God's live an adventure too rich to adequately record! With tired eyes, weary from nights spent listening to the constant barking of countless dogs, I enjoyed gorgeous sunrises proclaiming God's majesty. With tears in my eyes, I held the hands of a Mexican mother in mine, as we marveled at the miracle of a home being built for her family in just a few short days. God's love and presence was evident in all things. I found joy in cleaning toilets and emptying the trash. Trust me, there is deep abiding peace ridding the church compound of piles of dirty toilet paper as often as possible! I practiced patience, learned my need for more kindness, and was a student of God's abundant goodness as I helped plan, prep, and provide Vacation Bible School for over 50 non-English speaking children. In the midst of poverty, once again hope overflows in the abundance of Christ's love.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Highlighting Page 83

I've used Sarah Parsons' A Clearing Season as the center of my Lent study. As I've soaked in these reflections for Lent, the beginnings of a rainbow has been created. Pink denotes last year's highlights, swaths of blue (a bit dark for a highlight color) mark the phrases I found particularly meaningful this year. It's quite possible that if I use Ms. Parsons book a third time, every line will be bathed in neon ink!

Today I finished up the chapter on consecration and holiness. Highlighter in hand, I surprised myself at how much blue page 83 was getting. This was a page on letting go and trust. This is the hard stuff for me. You know, "Jesus take the wheel" kinda stuff. Oh, page 83... every word so rich in truth. Hopefully with Sarah Parsons' blessing, I'll quote what I highlighted:

"Thy will be done...the most revolutionary words we will ever say."

"The prospect of relinquishing our lives to God's will can be terrifying, as it may have been at first for Jesus on that night of prayer in the garden. But this fear comprises part of a holy moment; it is endured and transcended so that God's will may be done."

"When we let go...we agree to take a secondary role in our life's project, allowing ourselves to be come servants of our growth rather than its masters."

"Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac...this story is not a lesson in how to treat a son; rather it is a lesson in ultimate trust. It teaches us to put God's will before all else, even above our most powerful instincts and deepest loves, even above love like that of an aging father for his son. Abraham's willingness to let go of his greatest earthly joy demonstrated the extent of his submission to God's will."

"We transcend fear by letting go, by saying, 'Thy will be done.' and trusting that God's will is good."

In a Lenten season marked by the desire to deepen my faith, to relinquish control, and to have a deeper understanding of God's power - I'd say page 83 nailed it. I came into Lent with a heavy heart because of the rules, perimeters, and expectations I had placed on what and how my Lent should be. I will probably ALWAYS struggle with control. Wanting control, desiring to be "in the know" is a part of who I am and how God created me. But I'm learning day after day that a part of why God gave me a desire for control was so that I had something to offer Him. There are days when I am weak, worn out, overwhelmed, and feeling pretty inadequate. God says, "Great. just give me the control you're so desperately grasping know, the stuff that is slipping through your fingertips anyway. The stuff that has you in knots, the circumstances you can't even control no matter what you know...give it to Me."

And when I do, I am freed.

Sometimes the freedom is forever when I let go. God gave us a memorable metaphor at Women's Retreat a few weeks ago. I won't ever forget the beauty of watching the sky lanterns take flight. When it was time to release each one, there was a gentle tug, and then the lantern lifted up quickly and effortlessly. As they rose in the night sky with speed and light, we stood there on the sand, looking up in awe, knowing we couldn't of held on to the burning balloons even if we'd wanted to; not without getting burned. Once out of our hands, there wasn't a way to retrieve them. They were gone, because they were doing that they were made to go, go straight to heaven.

Then there are the things I try to and want to control day after day: my relationships, my kid's relationships, volunteers, schedules, my 14-year-old dog's arthritis pain, laundry, the weather (and my grumpy response to another rainy day), ETC. Deep sigh, so much et cetera. And perhaps when I look at God's grace, here's where the Holy Spirit's power is deeply rooted. Every day the Spirit mercifully allows me to say, "Here, take it. It's yours - again."

The story of Abraham and Isaac still scares me. With all my talk about trust, faith, and God's goodness, I still don't want to let go of my greatest earthy joys. Does anyone? I don't care how righteous you are, saying, "sure God take my kid" is an absolutely horrific thought. I've said countless times that I can't even imagine being willing to lose my 10-month-old puppy Bella. This is simply a sacrifice I don't know how I could choose to endure, let alone an actual human - I gave birth to it, raised it, and loved it child.

What I have come to recognize, what this clearing season has done in me, is to accept that my peace, my joy, doesn't always come from becoming a person who dislikes control. But rather, each day I wake up with more certainty that God is good, and I'm willing to place my offerings in the hands of my Lord.

So here I stand (or sit in bed) with two offerings before God: my control and my fear. Yes, yes, I'll give Him my love, devotion, acts of service too - the pretty stuff. But for tonight I want to remember that it's the ugly stuff (big and small) that God is also pleased with as an offering. Thy will be done.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Trusting Truth

In life we often say that something is untrue when it doesn't make sense. A child tells a story and we look at them with a sideways grin and say, "Well honey, that doesn't make any sense. Please tell Mommy the truth."

In our world when something is honest, right, shows integrity, or is trustworthy - the story, facts, details, and ideas usually fit together in a moral, scientific, or reasonable way. This is the kind of truth we can understand. For example: If the cookie jar is empty, it makes sense that little Bobby stole the last of the goodies when his parents weren't looking. It makes less sense (or seems untrue) to say that the dog jumped up on the counter, learned how to take the lid off the jar, devoured the last cookie, put the lid back on, and jumped back down without anyone seeing it. The doggie excuse seems even more unlikely when Bobby has had a history of snitching from the cookie jar.

As I ponder the idea of truth-telling, I'm re-reading the entire Bible this year. Last year I read it from the NIV Chronological Bible, this year I'm reading straight through Eugene Peterson's "The Message." My hope was that by reading a modern paraphrase of Scripture, it would make more sense. Fascinating stuff the Bible. And also quite unbelievable. I've come to the conclusion that no matter the translation, the Bible doesn't make much sense. God asks people to do ridiculous things. God's people act in grotesque ways (even when witnessing and experiencing God's miracles for themselves). Miracles, yep, those are pretty unbelievable too. I often find myself wondering why I chose Christianity as my religion. So much of the Bible and it's stories seem silly. As a follower you have to decide what is real and what is metaphorical, what is supposed to apply to ancient culture and what is relevant for today. You have to know history and context. It helps if you know Greek and Hebrew. You can go a bazillion different ways when deciding on "correct theology." To read the Bible is to find yourself tromping around Jericho for seven day blowing a horn, screaming at the top of your lungs, and watching a city wall crumble before your eyes. ( I just finished Joshua last night.) It means you believe God loves all people, but that at times He asks a chosen few to wipe out entire nations. Believing the Bible is hard, messy, frustrating work. Belief sometimes comes at a cost. The cost of understanding. There are many things about God I simply don't understand. I vacillate between wanting this Book to make sense and feeling at peace that God's story is so complex.

So silly as I am, I'm a Christian. I try to follow Christ. I choose to believe that Jesus was the son of God. I choose to believe that God does love and value all people. I choose to trust that God tells the truth even when the truth is incomprehensible.

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. 
Psalm 25:5

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Untitled Post

Apparently Blogger doesn't let me use a strikethrough in my title. So the real title of my post is:

What I Have Want To Do

Relaxing and energizing well describe my Lenten season so far. I almost find that hard to believe when looking back at what I wrote for my first "individual exercise" from the book study A Clearing Season.

Here's my "wilderness" from week 1:
I come into every situation in my life with an agenda. I don’t just show up and wonder, “what will happen.” I have an idea, a plan, a purpose for the event, the meeting, the day, the relationship, the study. Uggggh. It’s those expectations that lead me to discouragement and frustration. Others don’t “play my game,” their responses don’t match what I have already figured out should happen. I feel trapped by my expectations and then doubly trapped when others/circumstances don’t fit my mold. I feel like in the past few years I’ve actually gotten better at releasing control in some ways (or at least realized to a greater degree my lack of it in some situations). I truly believe responsibility is overrated because it is so draining. I wouldn’t blame God for wanting to be “hands off” for a while…it must be exhausting work trying to coordinate a universe. Perhaps His power lays in the fact that He never stops. Never stops. Even on the Sabbath God heals, God redeems, God loves, and God is present and active. His rest looks very different than ours.

How do I step into Lent without an agenda? How do I not decide weeks ahead of time what this season is going to be about? I feel out of control, overwhelmed, and/or blocked by my desire to control and to see the finish line before the race has even begun to be run. This is my chaos. Even typing that feels scary. I don’t want to come into anything unprepared. And yet, even when I plan, I organize, I present.... I forget, I mess up, I mumble, I don’t do what I’ve prepared to do. It doesn’t look/feel like what I’ve dreamed or hoped. I stand back and like Beth Moore, say, “What was that?” It aches because I want to be good. I want to serve well, to make a difference in my life and in the lives of others. Uggh, the ugly “I” again.

I wonder if the desire to do well is the desire of the Holy Spirit to work through me, to use the gifts I have, or if it’s about pride. Am I fooling myself? Am I just grasping for attention and praise. Am I a praise junky? Do I still feel, in the core of my being, so lousy about who I am that my attempt at work, relationships, events, is really just about trying to create a “better” me not a window to God? Can it be both? Do I have to deem my self selfish or sacrificial? Can I be both? God, how do I work more out of a desire to sacrifice, submit, and serve out of love for You, not trying to gain love for myself?  Do I need to see myself more as a sinner or as a beloved child of God? Which view releases this desire to predict and protect outcomes?

I say I don’t want to “do” Lent, but in my mind, I’ve already done it…and it’s just started. I don’t want to flog myself for this…I know guilt is a lousy long-term motivator/solution. But it makes me crazy that I don’t release myself enough/I’m not open enough to let God take me ANYWHERE and do ANYTHING that HE wants to do with me in this wilderness. Talk about needing a clearing season. I need to clear out me to make room for God. I need to admit that truly doing that would mean that I have no idea what’s going to happen or be the focus of the next 6 weeks. 

So now fast-forward and it's week 4 of the study. What emerged out of that initial frustration was a desire to run and to blog as my Lenten practices. After confessing my need for control (even in the processes that are supposed to be God-led) I felt a tremendous freedom. God answered my request to release this season to Him, and so far it's been incredibly rejuvenating to sit down and blog when God's put something on my heart to write about - aka: not daily because I have to, it's Lent for goodness sake.  I've been on some runs, but then ya know, I fell. So running was out for a week. I tried running again and it was painful. I've been a bit irritated by the set backs I'm experiencing in training for the 1/2 marathon this summer, but overall I've had a sense of contentment (even laughter) at how out of control I've had to be with my running regimen. Again, God is showing me his redeeming love. I don't believe He wanted me to hurt my rib, strain my chest muscles, and scrape up my hand and knees - but I do choose to believe that God has taken that situation and used it to teach me that I can't predict and protect outcomes. I really truly cannot "do" Lent. God does. Hallelujah! 

God's helped me to shift my focus, release control, give me awesome options for Lent, and has faithfully shown his command. Feeling very grateful for the space to write about God's goodness this clearing season. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

God With Us

Sometimes my awareness of God's presence is minimal. The sun rises and sets with too few hours in the day to accomplish my tasks. With a focus on my week's to do list instead of eternity, it is easy to scurry about, narrow my vision, and forget to hear Holiness. My daughters call each other "weird," trees sway in the breeze, time to feed the dogs, my husband folds a load of laundry, Jolee takes out the trash, stars twinkle, and I make yet another trip to the grocery store. Life, regular plain old life.

Yet all it takes for me to see the extraordinary, the supernatural in the everyday, is the realization that God was present in every moment. He didn't just show up for pastoral team meeting, Women's Bible Study, or during bedtime prayers. Nope, God was there when I hollered at the kids to set the table, when I made it home just seconds before the school bus (and on the days I didn't), and when I lay wide awake wondering how long it will be until sleep overcomes me as I listen to Alan's snoring. I love and serve Immanuel - the God who never sleeps or slumbers, who is just as present with my kids on the school bus as He is in the sanctuary.

This is the powerful and mighty God who tenderly reminds me I am loved even though sometimes I act like an idiot with those I love the most. This is the God who transforms my spirit from judgmental to compassionate. This is the God who finds ways to call out to me in the midst of my regular plain old life and says, "I AM here, I hear you."

God delights in delighting us. In Christ we don't live a life of random moments, interactions, and duties. Our experience is knit together by a Divine Trio that is able, in inexplicable ways, to create order out of chaos. Although I am unable to fully understand The Mystery, I choose to believe. The evidence of a loving, all-knowing God is clear to me when I stop, look, and listen. I think God even reads my blog! As I sat in worship service last Sunday night at Community, the phrases, words, and even scripture portions I've been writing about kept popping up. Honestly, it was so cool, it kinda freaked me out. I was stunned at how specifically God chose to affirm my heart. 

Tomorrow will be another tiny piece of eternity. We can choose the degree to which we will turn our attention to God. God has already chosen to attend to us.

O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you. Psalm 89:8 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Fall

It's been a bumpy week. Tuesday night Alan and I went for a run. Less than a half mile in we were traversing some nasty broken sidewalks and I was jammin' to Summer Nights by Rascal Flatts. Feeling oh so energetic and a wee bit overconfident, I was clapping my heads over my head as we breezed along. And then I bit it big time. Bam, just like that I was on the ground. Thank goodness it was dark and the only person who witnessed my crumple was my beloved. We paused for a moment, he helped me to my feet, and asked if I could still run. Thankfully the answer was yes and we finished our 3 miler. The cold air soon numbed my scraped hands and knees. I was grateful that the fall hadn't injured me in any significant way. I took it as a sign of God's faithfulness to my process of training for a half marathon this summer. I felt tough knowing the crash and the "road rash" couldn't keep me down. I huffed and puffed triumphantly. I pretended I was a "real athlete" know the kind who get hurt all the time, shrug it off, and keep playing. Yep. Key word, pretended.

Then we got home. It was warm inside and my once frozen hands started to thaw. The abrasions began to sting unmercifully. The tough girl started to melt. I don't "do" physical pain. The shower was a stinging nightmare and for the next two days I couldn't keep bandaids in place more than a hour or two on the oozing sores all over the back of my swollen right hand. My knees were ok but sore when I knelt down. I started to notice a funny pain in my upper right chest, just below my clavicle. By Thursday it hurt a bit more when I bent over or breathed deeply but it wasn't anything bad enough to keep Alan and I from going on a four mile run that night.

Again I felt triumphant, no silly fall earlier in the week was going to keep me from my training schedule. After the run I felt the pain in my chest intensify. Getting into the shower that night I could see a raised bump in the part of my chest that felt bruised and sore. Breathing became more difficult. I wondered if I'd popped a rib out of place. I did a Google search. This seemed to be what I was experiencing:
Subluxation of the rib means that one or more of the ribs have been slightly displaced, which causes pain. The pain may come from your back around to the front and can get worse when you are breathing deeply. If you lean over, the pain will get worse. Usually this condition will resolve itself in a week or two.

Alan suggested some ibuprofen, but I went to bed too proud and too strong to give in to meds. Friday morning I woke up with pain so severe I was not just frustrated, I was scared. I could hardly move. Breathing, even normally hurt like H. E. double hockey sticks. Calling Alan, who was already on his way to work, I got weepy and asked what I should do. We decided it would be best for me to go into the ER. Fearing a punctured lung or fractured rib I drove my shaken self to the hospital. Two chest x-rays later the doc came in and said, "It's nothing." Because when you can hardly breath and it feels like someone just punched you in the chest with every move you make, you like it when the doctor tells you It's NOTHING. Ugghhh. I did appreciate hearing the morning prayer over the hospital loudspeaker. It kinda made up for the loneliness and fragility I felt while laying on the gurney. Basically the nurse instructed me to take 800mg of ibuprofen every four hours for a few days, don't run for a week, and get out. 

Friday morning, the hand healing, but now feeling like I can't breath...
Well, I have to admit the ibuprofen has helped, but this wasn't the week I had planned. Is it ever? I know that "the fall" will someday be a distant memory and in the bigger picture, this week's events are really very minor. This week people I know are dealing with the loss of loved ones, are afraid that their child may have cancer, and others worry about how they will pay for food, clothing, housing, etc. I sat in the ER very aware that I had a simple choice to make - go in to the hospital for peace of mind or don't. I didn't worry about health insurance or where to go for help. I can't pretend that my normal is really normal at all. The world tells me differently every single day. I have to appreciate my choices even when it hurts to know that others don't have them. 

The other "take away" from this week for me is the reminder that our pain, no matter the size, shape, or reason behind it, is ours. If we want to live translucent lives (thanks Beth Woolsey) then we have to be real about our pain. I could of put on a brave face, walked out of the ER and said nothing but "fine" to the people who asked how my day was going. But the truth is, I wasn't fine. I was angry, sad, and uncomfortable. I joked through a text with a friend that what I wanted to do was, "just go curl up in a ball and cry...but that would have hurt too bad." It's ok to be real about the stuff we are struggling with even if it doesn't seem to come close to the level of suffering others are experiencing. I pray that my vulnerability helps others have permission to share their pain... or at least join my pity party for a bit. I believe with all my heart that what God appreciates most is honesty. If we have to fall sometimes to get real, so be it. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Are We Ready for a Powerful God?

Last week I posted about God leading me to the word believe as my theme for 2013. I'm a connect-the-dots kinda gal, and it's a hoot to see how the Spirit is leading me to examine how American Christians, including myself, believe as followers of Christ.

I see the largest disconnect in what we proclaim and what we practice. There seems to be a gap between what we claim as truth in scripture and how we live our ordinary lives. Our expectations or understanding of God's power within us appears sadly lacking when we profess to worship the God of all creation. It's not that we don't see or believe in miracles happening in the present, but it does seem fair to say that in our everyday American culture, an instantaneous cure from cancer, paralysis, blindness, or deafness are not a part of our "normal" experience. We want to believe God can release us from the bondage of addictions, an evil spirit, or chronic pain, and yet this still seems a mighty big pill to swallow. Start talking about experiencing being raised from the dead, and for a lot of us, those stories have us feeling like we've entered a fairy tale more than the kingdom of heaven. It's just plain weird. Miraculous healing can make us wonder if we stepped over some imaginary line to the edge of fantasy and witchcraft versus the Holy mysterious supernatural power of an omnipotent God. Let me take this a step further and ask: Do you and I believe we have the power within us to cure, heal, and raise others from the dead? Are we willing to speak and act on that power with confidence? Do we rush over to a friend's house, a stranger on a street corner, or an aquaintence in the grocery store and offer a healing prayer or touch? If no, is it because we don't want to look silly, are we embarrassed, unsure, insecure, inhibited, afraid, etc? Do we believe we possess the power? Are we leaving this kind of work up to others? Are we more aware of how often God doesn't heal than than the times that He does? In order to not confuse, disappoint, or discourage, do we hold on to The Power and keep it to ourselves just in case healing is not God's will? Are we ready for a powerful God?

We live in a culture of doctors, nurses, counselors, hospitals, insurance companies, antibiotics, radiation, and medicare. We live where miracles take place through small groups and therapy sessions. We experience healing in the ER, ICU, outpatient clinics, and on sick leave from work. I believe these are some of the ways God works today and I'm grateful. I don't mean to limit miracles to the medical world. In my life, most miracles have been a process. They've taken place through prayer, patience, and practice. This doesn't cheapen the miracle. I've seen my marriage raised from the dead...and that my friends, saved at least four lives. I pray that I don't doubt God when it comes to physical healing or dramatic displays of power, but the truth is, I do. At least I doubt God's followers. Skeptically, I watch documentaries of those who proclaim to have seen a woman regain her sight. My hardened heart finds it almost impossible to believe that a lifelong paralytic could stand up and walk just because a Christian laid on hands and yells, "In the name of Jesus...." This is the stuff of the Gospels, Acts, and Paul. Is it really for today? Is it really for me and you?

God's been doing miracles since the beginning of time, and our Bible records only a portion of the Lord's work. From cover to cover God's power is on display. Most comforting, or perhaps most disheartening, is that that even people who were eyewitnesses to some of God's most incredible miracles in ancient days forgot time and time again what a faithful and powerful God we claim to believe. Over and over God's people have doubted, questioned, and disobeyed. We say we trust a mountain-moving, water-parting, demon-slaying, dead-man rising God, yet when we suffer we often suffer most from a lack of hope.

John 14:10-14 has me riled up so bear with me...
Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Did Jesus just tell the disciples...Did Jesus just tell you and me that when we believe in Him, we are able to do what he does, that we're able to do even greater miracles than he did when he walked the earth? Whhhhaaaat?  Why don't we spend some time sitting in a spiritual jacuzzi on that one? That is crazy amazing stuff. John chapter 14 goes on to tell us about Jesus promising us the Holy Spirit. John 14:17 says, "The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. but you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you." To this I shout, "I WANT TO KNOW HIM!" I want to be so steeped in the Holy Spirit that I throw off the hinderances of this world. I don't want miracles to be strange stories that give me shrivers or make me sneer, "Really?" I want miracles to become normal. Writing those words sounds greedy. As a follower of Christ, it seems to me that Jesus is telling me I should expect and experience God's power to fill me and flow through me everyday. Everyday. Are we ready for a powerful God?

Before you worry I'm power-trippin', let me share more "dots" God is connecting. There are few scriptures that come closer to the core of how I experience, or want to experience, Christianity than Matthew 18:1-5, Luke 4:14-21, and Mark 12:29-31.

Matthew 18:1-5 describes Jesus reminding his followers that a humble child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Pride and power don't make you great. A willing, trusting, heart brings you closest to Christ. A life of service and generosity ushers in the Kingdom.

Luke 4:14-21 defines the Good News. In this passage, Jesus, fresh from a 40 day fast in the wilderness being tempted by the devil and being cared for by angels, comes into the synagogue in Nazareth and reads a bit from Isaiah. Speaking the words of the prophet, Christ defines his ministry and purpose. Jesus states that he's been anointed by the Holy Spirit, is ready to proclaim freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and has the authority to release the oppressed.

Mark 12:29-31is just one of the places in the Bible where we learn what matters most to God. We must love God with all of who we are and we're commanded/expected/compelled to love others as we love ourselves. It is Christianity 101.

In service last Sunday I wanted to stand in Open heart was not clear to move forward. But here I am in what has become my place to "stand" and share and process what the Holy Spirit is placing on my heart. This blog allows me the time and space to make what I hope are coherent statements about my faith. All that to say, that these "dots," these little pieces of how God is working in my life, felt tangibly close Sunday morning.

Last Saturday night, after watching the documentary Finger of God about seeing and experiencing God's power, miracles, and healing in today's world, I began to look over the lesson for the 4th/5th grade girls Sunday school class I was to teach in the morning. The curriculum instructed me to share the story of Jesus calming the wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee. What an awesome story about Jesus' incredible and almost unbelievable power! Are we ready for a powerful God? The disciples in the boat didn't seem to be as they asked, "who is this?" Sunday morning the girls and I read the story and talked about miracles. They were well versed in reciting Bible stories, but when I asked them if they'd ever seen or experienced any recently, there was quite a pause. Then one child remembered her mom talking about being able to speak publicly (something she wasn't comfortable doing) after a friend prayed for her. Another child had heard the story of a boy who needed to do well on a test, but hadn't studied or had severe test anxiety. The boy went to bed and dreamed that he held the teacher's answer key. The next day he took the test and remembering his dream, he was able to take the test while "looking" at the answer key in his mind.

The class agreed, miracles happen, and perhaps they happen more often than we realize. We also agreed that we weren't so sure about performing miracles ourselves. Here was a room of kids raised in the church, who would all claim to be followers of Christ, who know Bible story after Bible story, and yet they hadn't really heard the message of John 14:10-14 before. I read it to them three times. We marveled at how, as believers, we are called to do what Jesus did (and more). Jesus says, "follow me." If we follow Jesus, we too will perform miracles and be able to watch the Holy Spirit at work in and through us. I shared with the Sunday school girls about Finger of God and how captivating it was for me to see little African children living in severe poverty with such strong faith. The film described the children as instrumental in praying for miracles. The most humble of children helping blind adults to see.

Then it was time for service, the verses from Luke 4:16-21 were the basis for Gregg's excellent sermon. Once again I felt blessed to sit amongst a congregation who loves Jesus and justice and sees them as interconnected. Believing we serve a God who transforms individuals and the whole world energizes my spirit and fills me with hope. This transforming love is described in Mark 12:29-31. Loving God is of utmost importance and usually a major "duh!" for believers. The trickier part is loving your neighbor as yourself. How do we do this? Sunday morning I wondered if it had something to do with believing God. Are we ready for a powerful God? Do we accept and want to follow a Messiah that asks us to want healing for others as much as we want it for ourselves? Are we ready to take God out of an ancient text and make Immanuel real and relevant today? Are we ready to believe, to show love, by entering into God's power and allowing the Holy Spirit to flow through us as we humbly trust the Creator of the universe with the faith of a child?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

God-Given Spirit

Last year's "word" was grace. Ahhh, grace. Everything about grace seems delightful, smooth, and lovely. Along with it being my daughter's middle name, grace has a very hope-filled tone. To my surprise, focusing on grace taught me about pride and forgiveness, and ended up being more difficult than I ever expected. That's alright, I like being surprised and dare I say, tested by God.

At the end of 2012 I waited and prayed for a new "word of the year" to emerge, some fresh vibrant theme, a grace-filled challenge, a virtue. I wanted an exciting word to center on and shape my thoughts and prayers for 2013. Nothing came to mind and I began to sense that perhaps this whole "word of the year" business was really more about my desire to have a focus than it being God's idea. No word God...ok. Then I saw it. BELIEVE. I have the word believe posted on my mantel and along the staircase. Umm, that can't be it. I already know that one. "Believe" is too obvious, too cliche, too boring. I already believe - don't I?

Day after day the word popped off the page in scripture, resounded in my ears during conversations, and my eyes kept glancing at those silly old signs adorning my home. It became clear that despite my negative reaction to the initial boringness of believe, this was it. I'd have to trust God that working on belief was my task for the year. As I closed out 2012 with the final books of the chronological Bible, this verse from 2 Timothy grabbed my heart.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

Could I, would I, choose to BELIEVE these words? Is this truly the type of Spirit that God has give us? Has given me? So many times I feel my actions and reactions are ruled by fear instead of courage, out of weakness and doubt not strength and faith. I live wondering when I'll ever be ready to really do the things I say I want to do...but my willpower fails time and time again. And yet here's this amazing verse that claims the Spirit that God gives us is courageous, strong, loving, and full of all we need to be disciplined and intentional. Oh how I need to believe these truths. I need to soak in God's Holy Spirit. I want to take in and breath in and out this Spirit. This is Life.

As an advocate for children through Compassion  one of my desires is to help others see how child sponsorship can change lives; how knowing Christ brings Life. It's important for me to speak with assurance...with belief. I must proclaim without timidity and in love that sponsorship works as a tool to end poverty. I want to encourage sponsors that when they use the self discipline given to them by the Spirit to sit down and write to their sponsored child, they are engaging in a holy opportunity to place value, hope, and God's love in the spirit of a child.

As a children and family's pastor here in small town in Oregon, I am grateful to serve a community that I know well and who knows me. It's easy to keep my eyes focused right here. There are many needs, so much pain, and unlimited opportunities to share God's love. It's also comfortable and safe. The truth is we serve a global God. I believe as a follower of Christ we are asked to widen our vision to include the entire world. God has used the ministry of Compassion as a way for me to live out love to the ends of the earth. Jesus takes the blinders off and with grace gives me a heart for children and families who live in circumstances beyond my understanding. God comes crashing through my office door, spins my ergonomically correct chair so that I face Him eye to eye, and shows me that beyond my insulated walls are children that need to know they are worthy. The Holy Spirit makes my stomach flop at the words sex-trafficking, famine, malaria, drought, lack of education, sewage, unemployment, and suffering. Those words can be paralyzing. I can hear them and lose hope. It's too much God.

But God says, "No it's not too much for Me. So believe. I've given you a spirit not of timidity, but of power, love, and self discipline. Follow Jesus and together we will serve."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Forty Days

It's Fat Tuesday...Mardi Gras. Time to indulge before the fast, to consume and celebrate before walking into the wilderness and spending 40 days in a season of penitence. Or is it?

Today is Tuesday. A regular day when kids went to school, came home, watched TV, ate ice cream, and practiced cello. It's a regular day. Alan and I got up, went to work, and came home. A regular day. A regular day of fixing dinner, taking the dog out to potty, and folding laundry. A regular day on my tiny piece of the planet.

It's a special day. Tuesday has meaning, life, breath, and joy because the sun came up and the earth kept spinning. God created this day. It's a special day. In the midst of so much misery and doubt in our world it's easy to ask, "Why is it special?" I imagine God answering "Because I said so." Strangely, that's enough for me. Not so much when I was 12 and my mom used that ridiculous line.

Today I was able to join in prayer, to grieve, to laugh, to question. I didn't solve deep theological issues, cure cancer, or abolish poverty. Today I was able to hug my children. Today I made my bed and sent some emails. Today I felt thankful but forgot to say grace. Today I spent way too long on this blog post when I could have been on a run. Today I felt God tugging at my heart and whispering, "Get ready!" Today I am filled with anticipation and I admit, a little trepidation.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Lent. This season can shut us down or open us up to transformation.  We can let the expectations to "give something up" rule and even ruin our experience with this opportunity. I don't want to "do" Lent.

Beginning tomorrow, and lasting for the next six weeks, I'm accepting the invitation. I'm planning on making space for God in my life in ways that don't always come easy for me. I have grand plans - and there is my first obstacle. Can I get out of the way enough for GOD to do the work and not me? Am I willing to wake up each regular special day inviting God to take control, believing that Christ is good, trusting the Holy Spirit to be enough? Today all I can do is hope.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:5

These books will serve as guides for the journey: A Clearing Season by Sarah Parsons and A Place at the Table by Chris Seay.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Of Beans and Blessings

The Compassion Advocate and Sponsor Gathering has now past. I will look back at this weekend as a marker point in my education. I've been taught that a wobbly aluminum foil casserole pan cannot contain sloppy hot refried beans. They will sploosh and cover the interior of my van with the slightest turn of the wheel. I've learned that rushing to hold the door for my mother should always be my first priority...especially when she is carrying a pan of sloppy hot refried beans. Otherwise the blasted beans take great delight in covering her from shirt to sneaker, and the doors to the church, and the welcome mat. Welcome to Newberg Friends Church; it looks like a herd of cats just vomited.

Despite the very unwelcome arrival of spilled beans during our Saturday lunch break, this weekend was lesson after lesson on God's great blessings. A bullet point list isn't compelling reading, but perhaps it will provide a way for me to record the joy I experienced.

  • The coffee for the weekend was donated by friends who purchase/produce fair trade, fair wage coffee.
  • I enjoyed a relaxing trip to Costco on Friday morning...I know, that sounds like an oxymoron. Maybe I'm a moron, but I love Costco and I rarely get to go.
  • My friend and fellow pastor, Elizabeth, offered to brew coffee for the Friday night portion of our gathering...then they sponsored another child! Pure happiness!
  • My husband took Friday off and spent the entire weekend Advocating for Compassion by serving as AV/Techy man extraordinaire. I love being in ministry together.
  • There were traveling mercies for all presenters, Compassion staff, and attendees. 
  • A dear friend of mine, Teresa, who also cleans my house, was able to come over Friday and make my house sparkle just in time for our guests to arrive. 
  • The movie that I made of our Honduras Sponsor Tour trip turned out pretty well despite my lack of video editing skills and rush to finish in time for the Gathering. 

  • It turns out that when you're looking for a video from your Philippines Sponsor Tour to play during your intro to the weekend, you should do a search for "Compassion Sunday Video." Crisis averted. 
  • Yummy pizza...lots of yummy pizza thanks to Rick!
  • The cupcakes turned out just right and the blue tongues that resulted from the fondant blue squares on our "Compassion-branded" dessert made the evening extra fun. 
  • Hosting Maria and Paul was a treat. I'm sure they were probably exhausted by the time they left on Sunday, but how can I help it...They r e a l l y liked Bella. Bella learned how to "roll over" this weekend thanks to some late night puppy training by our guests. 
  • Gregg and Marta planned and presented a beautiful opening to our gathering on Saturday. Our last song was "You Have Me." Amen! I felt like God created that moment just for me. God is always faithful, always good. 
  • Every presentation (including Maria sharing her story) was rich with information, interactive, and engaging. Powerful lessons that brought us to tears and inspired us to action. 
  • Watching each advocate, trainer, and person on Compassion's staff use their gifts and share their passions, allowed us to see the body of Christ at work.
  • My mother has a servant's heart and spent her day in acts of service (my love language) by being a one-woman kitchen crew.
  • Brynn loved taking care of Jill's kids during the day. They loved Brynn!
  • Diana takes "let me help you" to another level. She de-beaned my van and joined the kitchen crew for the afternoon. 
  • Jill and Juli played beautiful music during lunch and soothed my nerves after the bean blow-out. 
  • Dinner with our "Compassion Family," as Brynn named them, gave us time to reflect, relax, and be really silly. Dinner was followed by a game of Nertz. 
  • Conversations with Maria and Paul gave me a greater appreciation for how God works and how He weaves lives together. Their love story has God all over it. 
  • Despite six children's ministry workers being out sick on Sunday, I was able to sit through both services and hear Maria with my NFC family. 
  • Gregg's short sermon on justice as evangelism wonderfully and wisely connected Maria's sharing and our upcoming series on the Good News. The service affirmed once again that God is using Compassion and Newberg Friends Church to stand up for the oppressed and to live Isaiah 58. 
  • 16 children were sponsored. Lives were changed! 

You'll just have to trust me that this lengthy list doesn't even come close to painting a complete picture of the blessings given to me and my family this weekend. Some are too private to share in such a public forum while others didn't make the list simply because I had to stop somewhere. By now you're probably seeing spots! 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Afraid of Being Equal

At Newberg Friends we've joined with other NWYM churches for "peace month." Our weekly worship services have focused on internal conflict, conflict in families, conflict between groups, and this Sunday we'll cover International/Global conflict. A reoccurring theme throughout this study centers on the struggle to accept God's compassion for those we don't like. Sometimes the person we don't like happens to be ourselves and sometimes it's an entire people group. As someone who has struggled mightily with my own sin and shortcomings, I feel like an expert when it comes to internal conflict. As a daughter, wife, and mother, I'm a first hand witness to and instigator of conflict in families. Now that we've expanded our frame of reference to groups and the globe, my personal understanding of conflict resolution has greatly diminished.

A smart woman might stick to the stuff she knows. Writing about topics that I have real experience with might be the wise choice, but today I'm venturing into the realm of international conflict. I sat in my pew last Sunday and scribbled furiously on my worship sheet. So many ideas, so many thoughts about why nations hate nations and millions of people all over the world are experiencing devastating poverty. Now I'm clouding the issue. Why bring poverty into the mix when we're supposed to be focusing on conflict and peace? Because I was sitting on a pew...a cushy one, in a warm room with beautiful lighting, and a decent sound system.

In my mind I don't see an end to international conflict - to poverty - until those with the power, prestige, money, and resources decide they are willing to relinquish control. Poverty is probably one of the worlds most polarizing issues. It pits us against them. Poverty is a symptom of a world that thrives on a "me first" mentality. It divides us into the haves and the have nots; it destroys the concept of we. Often overlooked or swept under the international carpet, I believe poverty is the result of a worldwide epidemic of fear. For a lasting peaceful resolution to take place, me must choose to live and give freely instead of being gripped by the fear that we'll actually experience a radical redistribution of power. It means my pew might not be as cushy. It means that I might only have two pairs of shoes instead of a dozen. It means that my house which currently sleeps four, might sleep eight. Honestly I have no idea what it means, but I believe it won't look anything like my life does right now. And that scares me. We are a nation, and a globe full of people (at least those who live above the poverty line) that are afraid of being equal. The American way is to work hard, amass wealth, and distribute that wealth as we see fit. The problem is that we work, save, and distribute with our own scales - not God's. Those who are comfy are reticent to relinquish. Christians proclaim (myself included) protection and provision in Christ, but we often act and live out of fear. Who among us doesn't resonate with the seagulls from "Finding Nemo" squawking, "Mine, Mine, Mine?"

In my simple thinking, our global conflicts all stem from one central issue: The desire for power. In our collective brokenness we hunger and thirst not for enough but for more. From our love of the all-you-can-eat buffet, to drilling rights, to those suffering at the hands of evil dictatorships, our lust and desire to control, to gain and maintain power has created a global atmosphere of fear. No matter what we learned in Kindergarten, the truth is we don't really want to share. If I give you some, I fear I might not have enough left for me. I matter more than you. If I collect, gather, maintain, or horde, I win. If I only have two outfits to wear to church, you might start looking at me funny. "Doesn't that woman have anything else to wear, why does she wear that same sweater every Sunday?" I can't live with that kind of embarrassment. I don't want to be vulnerable to attack. If I give up all my weapons of mass destruction, I'll be vulnerable to attack. We live in a world based all too often on fear, not love.

I'll go so far as to say that most of our global decisions are fear-based. We're scared to death of one another. We have lost (or perhaps never had) a world in which we trusted in other people groups or nations. Scripture seems to support this theory pretty well. So desperate for the blessing, we kill, trample, and persecute others who might grasp a little or too much of what we want for ourselves. Those without the power and prestige are the impoverished. Poverty and oppression run rampant in our world not because we don't have enough, but because we refuse to share. We are afraid of being equal. As I go all the way back to Genesis 1, I see that God said the world was good and the humans He made were very good...created to be in God's image, created to love without reservation, hesitation, or fear. We were and still are created to be a vessel for the Holy Spirit. Christ has given us the ability to bring hope, to help redeem, to encourage, and to serve. But how often does our brokenness, our knowledge of good and evil, lead us to apathy, denial, and selfish abundance?

Christians love to give. Some more than others. I'm still in the "giving is nice as long as I can still maintain my comfortable life-style phase." It makes me ill. This false sense of generosity has made me buy into the belief that I'm following Christ. The more I learn, listen, and look, the more the lie is revealed. Last Sunday a wise woman said, "one way to resolve conflict is to be a servant." I heartily agree. But the problem with that statement is that for the most part, we want to solve poverty at arms length. It's hard to truly serve others when we're afraid to get our hands dirty, lest we become impoverished ourselves. Once in awhile I let the scales fall from my eyes and I'm caught in this place of freedom and desperation. I cry, "Jesus, yes, show me how you want me to live! Strip away my fear, Give me the motivation and the tools to actually obey your Word. Free me from the false sense of discipleship that I so easily proclaim."  The next minute I'm asking my husband if we should buy second laptop and a $5000 sectional sofa. The truth is I have more (clean water, food, square-footage to live, clothes, $$ for health care, etc.) than the majority of people on this planet. I am both blessed and besieged by this fact.

I began this post in my home office earlier in the week. Today I am finishing it while sitting tucked in a cozy quilt-covered bed at a retreat center on the Oregon coast. Last night, after our evening prayers and some thought-filled fun fellowship with other retreat attendees, I begun reading Chris Seay's fantastic book, A Place at the Table. 40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor. I am one of the lucky ones... I'm a wife, mother, and pastor, and my schedule allows for time to sabbath away from the heaviness of everyday life. My "to do" list for this Sabbath by the Sea included concluding this blog post and beginning A Place at the Table. Yes, I come to retreats with "to do" lists...but that's another topic. I'm sharing these details as a way to remind myself of the abundance that I have and the responsiblity I've been given to find tangible ways of releasing fear into the hands of Love.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Of Hope and Courage and another 13.1

Greatly lacking in my life these past few months is the discipline of exercise. And by lacking, I mean totally void. Nothing. Not any. Quitting the gym didn't help. I reasoned I'd spend less time in a building and more time outside running once I dropped Zumba. Hmmm, such noble intentions.

I've heard several people say that the way to get back into running is to sign up for a race. I've thought about that...but that means I'd have to run a race. At this moment, that seems a near impossible feat. A little less than a year and a half ago I ran my first, my only, 1/2 marathon. It was awesome. So awesome that I vowed to do it again. It's now 2013 and I've only been running about a dozen times since that glorious October 2011 morning. I admit there are some valid reasons for this departure from training. Although a yo-yo exercise regimen causes me distress and guilt. Shame isn't a great long-term motivator. Instead, it's time (once again) to let go of fear, laziness, and excuses. It's time to let go of the pseudo-security I feel curled up in my bed. Lately I've sensed the Spirit leading me out of my cozy cocoon and onto the cold open road. So cold. Uggh. I know God will meet me there as He did back in 2011.

When God wants my attention, He weaves the most inspiring tapestry. This morning God used my dear friend Denise to bring Psalm 91 back to my mind. Psalm 91 first came to my attention in May 2011 when Alan and I were in Honduras visiting the home of a Compassion child. Her family's kitchen is pictured below. Living in poverty, this joyful family believed and trusted in the meaning of Psalm 91 in ways I honestly cannot.

On the wall of their home, Psalm 91 speaks of dwelling in the shelter of the Most High. It proclaims that God is my, "refuge and my fortress." It promises that if you make the Most High your dwelling "then no harm will befall you." It describes God's protection and presence. Today Psalm 91 is a powerful reminder to me that my physical body, my idols of comfort, must not rule my actions. Psalm 91 reminds me to trust. It fills me with hope, it reignites my desire to believe and to run.

Just registered.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Introductions feel like the world's shortest autobiographical obituaries. How do I explain who I am in a minute? What matters to me? I'm sure there is no perfect way to share who you are in sixty seconds. This week I noticed these spur of the moment, open-eneded, descriptions provided an unsettling snapshot of my priorities and perhaps my insecurities.

During some recent experiences with verbal introductions, here's what happened:

  • I shared what I'm paid to do.
  • I often made light of the time spent "just at home" or "being a mom." 
  • I listed my children's ages, grade level, and sometimes their names.
  • I rattled off what keeps me busy.
  • I didn't use the term "wife" as a way to describe myself.

I've been pondering the snippets of information I chose to use. I'm perplexed and a little agitated with what I excluded when giving a brief synopsis of myself this week. Starting from the bottom bullet point, I'm using this post to mull over what I noticed.

Why didn't I call myself "Alan's wife?" I labeled myself "mom." Doesn't Alan deserve a shout out? At the very least he definitely played a major part in making that "mom" thing happen. Sure it's cliche, but Alan is my best friend, and the cool thing is, I get to have a slumber party with him every night for the rest of my life. Am I so subconsciously worried about being viewed as old-fashioned or submissive that I neglected to mention I'm married?

I gave people a list of my responsibilities instead of a list of what I love. Luckily, in my life these two often overlap. But it bugs me that I hear myself sharing in such a way that it sounds like a list of chores rather than blessings. It seems that my identity or worth is still too tightly bound to my "to do" list and accomplishments rather than soaking in the Sabbath. I didn't give much (if any) information on how I worship, rest, and renew.

My kids are the delight of my life, yet when given a chance to "introduce" them, I didn't share what I like most about my children or what makes them unique. Our culture often focuses on gender, ages and grade level. There's much more to my daughters than how long they've been alive and how far along they are in the education system. I'd like to start describing Brynn and Jolee for who they are, not for what they've accomplished.

I believe that being at home is the most important thing I can do for my family. I admit, it's not always easy or enjoyable. My office at NFC is often a little sanctuary away from the chaos and frustrations of home. "Just" being home is some of the most challenging work I've ever done/will do. I also try hard not to sacrifice time with my family for the work I do as a pastor. It seems silly to spend time "serving God" while ignoring the first and foremost gift God has given me, my husband and my girls.

Of course when someone asks, "So, what do you do?" I name my profession. It's the American way. I am grateful to have a job I love. Sometimes I even cringe at the thought of calling it a j. o. b.  But the deal with this last point is that I want to live a life not solely defined by paid positions. I want my advocacy with Compassion, marital status, motherhood, and a list of my own interests to be just as vital to describing who I am as my title in the church directory.

I've pushed the delete button more in this post than perhaps ever before when writing for my blog. Writing often clears my head, but I'm still not clear on this one. What might seem a somewhat shaming or self-condemning piece, is not. And yet I can't deny that what I've written has a corrective tone. This blog is about compassion, spreading hope, and letting God's light shine through me whenever possible. I pray that God will use these last 4 hours (yes, I'm ridiculous) to help me focus on truth and grace.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

One Dozen

Today marks one dozen years since the birth of my youngest daughter. Sometimes I'm guilty of whispering in her ear, "I couldn't love anything more than you." or "You're my favorite baby girl." Don't worry, I'm not pulling an Isaac and Rebekah - I say those lines to my other daughter too. And the girls often remind me that Jesus is supposed to be my #1 love.  But in the moment, I mean it, I often find myself completely overwhelmed with the love I have for my Jolee girl. She brings an incredible amount of joy and delight to our lives. Her stomping feet, counter-tapping hands, raucous laughter, puppy-crazed energy, singing, dancing, silliness that can make me irritated one moment and inspired the next.

Jolee is a combination of leader and follower, extrovert and introvert, reader and runner, focus and distraction. My adventurous homebody, whiner and go-with-the-flow kind of gal. She can't be put in a box and labeled. She is truly her own person and her personality seems to shift just a quickly as you try and pin her down. With Jolee, you never know what you're going to get (yes, much like Forrest's box of chocolates). Her dynamic personality is one of my favorite things about her. It makes it easy for her to transition from disappointment to elation. This is helpful as a parent when I hurt her feelings or disappoint. It helps her to cope, to release, to forgive. It makes her strong and yet moldable. She isn't a doormat and she won't be fooled. She loves deeply and is a faithful friend.

I want to honor Jolee for who she is today... and that's not easy to describe. I realize she's still knee-deep in the process of figuring out who she is and what she's about. Horse back riding or four-wheeling, this daughter of mine is up for the challenge except when she's too lazy. Do you remember being a 6th grader? Tough stuff. Yet, she breezes through her days with a lightness, clarity, and a love for life that blows me away. Happy Birthday Jolee. Your mama is crazy about you.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

22 Days

Dreams come and go. Sometimes they come to life. In just 22 days I get to play a part in seeing one of my dreams become reality. The problem with dreams is that they grow, change, and sometimes become overwhelming and unpredictable. It's what makes dreams exciting. It makes them uncontrollable. It helps me experience God.

Last year I chose to devote more time and energy into my advocacy with Compassion. I dreamed of helping to provide an experience for Compassion advocates, sponsors, and their families that would allow for fellowship, training, and encouragement. My original idea was to organize and develop what I would call "Camp Compassion," a weekend retreat at Twin Rocks Friends Camp. With inspiration from my years as a camp director, a heart for the poor, and a desire to put "hands and feet" to my child advocacy, I made a call to Compassion. Immediately I was affirmed and encouraged to pursue the dream. Calls to Twin Rocks provided more open doors and confirmation that what I proposed was possible. 

As the momentum was building, so was my work schedule and a reality check. Planning and preparing for a three day retreat on the Oregon coast in six months or even in the following year wasn't going to happen. 

God wasn't done. After a road trip to Colorado Springs in July for a national Advocates Gathering at the Compassion headquarters, Rick, my advocate manager, proposed a regional gathering at my church, right here, in Newberg. He would help me plan and prepare an event with people coming from across the NW region to speak, present, and train. Even though Camp Compassion was on hold, this was doable. 

Back in September we scheduled the regional Gathering for the first weekend in February. February seemed so far away. I quickly put together a schedule based on all my dreams and made some initial contacts with local advocates. 

At exactly the moment I felt God leading me to new levels of faith, trust, and contentment, an unexpected hurt consumed most of my energy and thoughts. Doubt and fear crept into my advocacy. The darkness blurred my vision. I searched for signs of Light. Glimmers appeared.

Webster's dictionary defines compassion as a, "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it." The word compassion also serves as a definition for Christ. Jesus is aware, alive, and active. Compassion glowed and is lighting my way through what continues to be a shadowy season for our family. 

In 22 days I'll see Compassion advocates, sponsors, and speakers gathered at Newberg Friends Church. We will experience the joy of worshiping together. I expect to cry and be inspired as I listen to the stories of a young woman from Peru who grew up in poverty and found hope in Jesus Christ through the ministry of Compassion.  I will laugh, wonder, and learn during training sessions. It's time to dream again.