small steps

small steps

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Finding Balance

Here is the quote that has completely wrecked me. It comes from author and pastor Larry Crabb:

Happy people do not love well. Joyful people do. That’s why happiness, the pleasant feelings that pleasant circumstances generate, must be taken away and replaced by joy. Happy people rarely look for joy. They’re quite content with what they have. The foundation of their life consists of the blessings they enjoy. Although they may genuinely care about those less fortunate and do great things to help, their central concern is to keep what they have. They haven’t been freed to pursue a greater dream. That’s why they cannot love well. In His severe mercy, God takes away the good to create an appetite for the better, and then, eventually, He satisfies the new appetite, liberating them to love. It comes down to this: God’s best is available only to those who sacrifice, or who are willing to sacrifice, the merely good. If we are satisfied with good health, responsible children, enjoyable marriages, close friendships, interesting jobs, and successful ministries, we will never hunger for Gods’ best. We will never worship. I’ve come to believe that only broken people truly worship. Unbroken people – happy folks who enjoy their blessings more than the Blesser – say thanks to God the way a shopper thanks a clerk. 
It’s a great tragedy when Christian people make it through life without ever discovering that their happiness is no different from the happiness of circumstantially well-off pagans. I fear that millions of Christians have never made that discovery and therefore blissfully continue to drink watered-down grape juice when fine wine is available. " -Larry Crabb


The first time I read this I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. The second time I read it I realized that this is something I need to digest over and over again. Now, years later from when I read this for the first time I'm still striving to figure out what it means to find this balance.

How do I find the balance of striving for God's best in the midst of my brokenness all the while savoring the shower of His blessings in my life?

Some days I do want to rest in the comfort of my amazing friends & family. I do find joy in the growing student ministry I'm so blessed to help lead.

But then the quote creeps back into my heart..."Happy folks who enjoy their blessings more than the Blesser--say thanks to God the way a shopper thanks a clerk." That's the part that hits me like a bus and brings me to my knees in a plea for the balance. I'm reminded of a verse from the book of James 1:22--"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says."

The strive for this balance is not an easy one. Our culture has become so busy and full that I believe it's become all to easy to keep drinking that watered-down grape juice. I fall for it all the time. I allow myself to fill my calendar full with life--and honestly mostly good stuff but ultimately the reason this quote from Larry Crabb messes with me so much is because I am not wired to just want a life filled of good stuff.

My Creator has wired me for more. He has wired me to seek Him and His Kingdom. In the midst of my mess and my struggle to strive for this balance all He seeks is for me to begin by resting in Him.

In the midst of these next few days giving thanks for the blessings I'm praying for a thirst for a greater dream. When my stomach is full from turkey and pumpkin pie, I hope I cannot fully forget that there's more to strive for...fine wine is available.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Filled with Awe


"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Acts 2: 42-47

I have read this beautiful passage in Acts 2 dozens of times over the years. The book of Acts has become a source of hope and renewal for me. I love to be reminded of the fire and passion of the early church. I love this example of these first Christ followers. I've brought it in front of students over and over again. I've asked the question--what does this look like for us in the church, today? My heart has wrestled with this passage and found hope in it's example of living for Jesus. 

A couple months ago, I was sitting in our staff meeting when our senior pastor shared his heart. He shared how God had nudged him as our spiritual leader to help create a weekend for our church family with an emphasis on spiritual renewal and unity. His vision was different from anything we had thought of tackling as a church family or a church staff--atleast in the four years I've been blessed to serve at Castleton UMC. One of the things, I so appreciate about our senior pastor is that Pastor Frank knows he needs help with the details. He had been prayerful over the direction we needed to go but knew it would take a team to make a purposeful spiritual renewal weekend a reality. I watched in the weeks to come as he reached out to church members, church leadership & our staff to make all the logistical details of this past weekend possible. Again and again he reminded us to cover it all with prayer. 

This past Sunday, I sat in a different spot of the sanctuary then normal for our combined worship service. I sat in the back on a folding chair so that the pews could be packed in. I watched as all ages filed into worship. I began to reflect of the dozens of ways the people who were entering into worship had reached out to serve our neighborhood and had come together in fellowship over the past 48 hours. And then as the music for worship began, I could not hold back my tears, immediately God brought to my heart this passage from Acts.

I realized I had found the answer to my question that my heart has wrestled with for so many years--this is how the church today lives out this walk with Jesus as a family of believers. Over this past weekend, it didn't matter our preference of worship style, it didn't matter how long you had been a church member or not. Teenagers were serving in the midst of an older generation...children were working alongside their parents and their church family.  There was love and selflessness poured into every meal served to every worker, volunteer & community member. We ate together. We served together. We laughed together. We saw the love of Jesus within one another. We went beyond the walls of our church to share that love with others. On Sunday, we witnessed some profess a desire to say yes to a relationship with Christ for the very first time. 

We are far from the perfect church. This past weekend wasn't about being a perfect community of believers. It was however, a powerful reminder of what it means to allow our Perfect Savior to guide us...to work together in His name. I never could have imagined this kind of renewal but I'm thankful for the reminder of Acts 2 now more than ever and I am filled with awe.






Thursday, October 23, 2014

Foggy Hearts



I was running late this morning...my hair was wet...I realized half way to the car I still had my slippers on...one of those kind of mornings. After pulling myself together and starting my drive, I realized the thick fog of the morning. The first one of this fall that I have witnessed so far. A foggy morning always amazes me---especially when I haven't experienced one in awhile. The roads and path I so frequently travel all of a sudden completly different--and as sure as I am about where I'm headed, I'm also a little unsure of the path that will get me there.

In the midst of my foggy drive, God reminded me that this is the place my heart has been lately. I have still been fixed on Jesus and living out His will for my life and for the ministry He's entrusted me with but the road has been a bit hazy. My heart a bit foggy.

It gets clouded with the lies I tell myself that I'm not good enough to be used by my Father, that I'm not smart enough to take on seminary and full time ministry, that I can't give my students all they need--that I'm not wise enough or discerning enough. My path gets bogged down with the fear of the unknown and change--even though with unknown and change comes great revelation of God's timing and plan. My heart just gets foggy when I allow all of the lies & fears to creep in for a bit and settle over me.

The road underneath me--the direction I'm headed still remains. I do know this truth-- I am not enough on my own--I never will be, but my Savior is more than enough. He is bigger than my worries & fears. He knows that trusting Him with the changes in my life allows His timing and plan to wrap its presence around my heart greater than any fears ever could. He is greater than my foggy spirit and it's ultimatly His light that breaks me free of the fog I've allowed to weigh me down .

One of the greatest blessings that's come into my life this fall is through my participation in a Sunday afternoon Bible study with a group of women of mixed generations and backgrounds. These women have quickly become sources of encouragement and inspiration to me as I have witnessed their devotion to God's Word and their willingness to be the church together as sisters in Christ. I have found myself often silent during my time with these women because my spirit is truly just soaking in their wisdom and examples of grace and truth. What a precious reminder these women and my time with them continues to be to me of seeking the Kingdom...of the road we are on together.

In the midst of the fog--God reveals His light, how thankful I am for a season in life to learn from the haze and ultimately to trust God's timing and leading.

  1. All to Jesus I surrender;
    All to Him I freely give;
    I will ever love and trust Him,
    In His presence daily live.

  2. I surrender all,
  3. I surrender all;
  4. All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
  5. I surrender all.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Investors

When I was in high school I counted down the days until I got to head off for our summer mission trip with my friends. I loved the road trip with them. I loved the freedom of a week where it meant spending every waking moment with my favorite people. My friends who I went to church with were my best friends and I hounded my youth director for weeks to make sure we'd all be in the same van. As a full time student director now, I really can't believe it...I was that girl.

I can remember quite vividly the moment my well orchestrated and thought out plan of my perfect mission trip van line up was messed with. I had paid some attention to the adults who had signed up for our mission trip but not a ton--my focus was on the week with my friends.

When, Rich, a Dad of young kids, piled into our van with his bright eyes and very distinct mustache, I remember just stopping and starring at him. "You got room for me in here?!" he said as he plopped himself down in-between my brother and another good friend of ours. I realized quickly he wasn't asking.

"Great, our plan for the perfect road trip is ruined," I thought to myself. An hour later my sulking and perfect road trip van with my friends plan was forgotten because I was laughing so hard my stomach hurt. We stopped for lunch and my friends and I all looked at each other almost at the same time and said, "Man, we love, Rich. This guys is awesome."

Over the course of that week, Rich poured into us. A group of teenagers who had just been familiar faces to him in the church pews each week just a few short days ago. He made us laugh. He poured over words of affirmation and encouragement into us with our small skill set for mission trip handy work. He taught me how to install a wax ring before installing a brand new toliet. It's probably a task that could have taken him 10 minutes and yet he coached me through it for over an hour so I could have the credit and the skill. To this day, it's the only thing outside of painting I know how to do on a worksite and it's all because Rich had the heart, patience and energy to pour into me.

Every evening as we'd all run around during our free time, Rich would sit under a lamp post on the mission property,  just writing. We had no idea what he was really doing, we knew he was a lawyer, so we thought maybe he had brought work along. Rich's wife, was actually on the trip was us too and she would play and laugh over card games with us in the evenings, all the while Rich would sit and write under the lamp on his legal pad.

The last night of the trip at the end of our group devotional time, one by one, Rich walked around and began handing us each personal handwritten letters. I could not stop the tears as I read through the first sentence. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the selflessness and love of someone who didn't even know me a week before. This lawyer with the mustache, was being Jesus to me in ways I had never experienced before. I looked around the room and saw my brother and friends reading their letters from Rich. I'll never forget their faces.

Rich wasn't a youth leader who had attended tons of youth conferences or read every book on what it meant to chaperone a mission trip. Rich was simply an obedient and loving investor. He was invested in his relationship with Jesus and because of that he invested in us in ways that have impacted my life and heart for the long haul.

The investors are my student ministry heros. They are the volunteers who pour into students with time, energy, laughter and dozens of other endless ways. The investors are willing to sit under lamps and write letters of affirmation and patiently teach inpatient teenage girls how to install a wax rings on new toliets.

Thanking God for the investors. Student Ministry would be lost without them.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Freedom

I have found solo road trips to be a great time for reflection. Sitting at a stand still in traffic jams also graces me the opportunity to think about things I may not often take the time to think about during my normally busy day to day ministry schedule.

My road trip to Lookout Mountain, Georgia yesterday gave me the opportunity for lots of thinking time. As I passed sign after sign for "Fireworks for Sale" and "Firework Mega Warehouse", I began thinking about what it was we really celebrate on the 4th of July.

Freedom.

I attended a college where this was an important part of the heart of the Hillsdale core curriculum. To understand how our country began, I was required to take a United States Constitution course in order to graduate. At the time, I did not appreciate it as well as I do today. I can now quote pieces of it to myself after hours of studying note cards.

After learning it & studying it, it has become etched in me in a small way. What the freedom we hold in this special country is all about. That freedom has held more significance to me as I have traveled and served in other parts of the world over the past 4 years. Places where education, health care, and basic daily needs are a struggle and not very available. I'm aware these are a continual struggle for us here in the US in ways too but we do have the freedom to pursue those rights.

As I was driving, the song I'm claiming for my next year of life appeared on my play list, it's by my favorite worship band, All Sons & Daughters, Your Glory. The words of this song speak to where the stage of my heart has landed and it gives me hope. As I heard my voice sing along yesterday, I realized its words speak of the greatest freedom. The freedom found in a life surrendered to Jesus. That all heaviness of our sin and failures were taken from us in the sacrifice of Christ and through Him we have eternal freedom.

My favorite line in the song says: And the heartbeat of my life is to worship in your light. 

It makes me wonder what kind of impact I could have on this broken world full of heartache and struggle to be free, if I lived out those words in total freedom. If I truly allowed the heartbeat of my life to be a focus of worship in the light of my King. What revival could explode in our churches and how could we the body of Christ change our torn communities and neighborhoods if we allowed that freedom to truly transform our ministries and day to day mission.

I wonder what would happen to church politics and the disagreements we sometimes share as believers if our heart beat was truly to allow our freedom in Christ to guide our steps. 

It's a lot to process and think about for my own heart. I'm thankful for another long drive in a few days to keep working on it and praying over what it means for me...because that's where freedom begins, right? Within each of our own hearts and our own lives. The personal decision to decide how we allow the gift of this freedom to transform how we approach each day we're gifted.

Happy 4th of July! 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Day Before.

This is a post I've been writing, saving and re-writing for months. It's been a struggle to find the words as I deal with my own heart and self.

And then, just like most things I over analyze...all of a sudden it's here. The day before I leave the decade of my 20's behind. Tomorrow, I will be 30.

I've dreaded this day ever since last July 2 when I hit the 29. Honestly, for most of this year I have been debbie downer about leaving my 20's. As, I've shared many times before on this blog and in life, change is a hard one for me.

For months now, I have thought over and over about what it will mean to cross into this new territory. I have also over analyzed all the ways I feel that I have missed the boat in my 20's. All the plans that I had for myself that seem unaccomplished...there is no house with a white picket fence, there is no "Mrs." in front of my name and there are no babies with my green eyes & strawberry blonde hair. That was also the plan for my 20's. To check off the things I felt everyone else around me in their 20's was checking off.

For over a year now we have been talking to our students about the word, identity. It began in our teaching last summer over our mission trips and has carried all the way into our discipleship model for our student ministry over this past school year and even into this current summer. Over and over, we have been talking to our students about what identifies your life, and that ultimately, when we surrender our identity to Christ, that's what others see in us. It's clear to me now why this has been our focus this year. It's always kind of humbling and amazing to me, how God always seems to use the material we are teaching to teens to remind me that I have to be real and begin with that same truth for my own heart and life.

My identity MUST be found in Him. My Savior. My Sustainer. The one who holds every piece of His plan for my life. And it's not mine...it's His. It's by His sweet grace and mercy I can live to walk another day with a Father who loves me perfectly, even when my crazy heart is wrapped up in the worry that I don't have it all together, that I haven't made enough check marks off my "20's list."

The truth is, God knows those dreams and desires of my heart. He knew the list I wrote for myself without consulting Him and continues to love me anyways. The truth also is that He knows what's best for me. God knew that I needed this decade of my life to be exactly what it has been...friends, student ministry, living in 3 different states in 3 very different communities, doing ministry life and ministry with best friends, realizing my need to be near my family, opening the door to my heart through international mission opportunities, finding a love and outlet in running, learning from mistakes, learning so much about independence and what it means to love myself, heartache, grace, embracing change, and the honor of watching teenagers fall in love with Jesus.

The list of blessings from my 20's outweighs the list in my head I feel I haven't accomplished and ultimately I have to let that unaccomplished list go. I am thankful that I have people who pour wisdom and truth into my life. My co-director, Joe has often reminded me that my identity will never be found in a house or a husband or even children of my own. My identity can only come from continually surrendering to the One who continues to walk with me through it all.

So, bring it on, 30...I mean, tomorrow...I'm okay with one more day at 29.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Gift

Lately my heart has been extra sensitive to a date creeping up on the calendar. I've been praying about it & writing in my prayer journal a lot about how thankful I am for the celebration and meaning that comes with Mother's Day. I've been wrestling with Mother's Day too.

Let me start with the celebration part. Mothers are a gift. My life is covered with that reminder in the joy that is my own mother. For my 29 years one of the greatest constants of my life has been the unconditional love from my mother and the knowledge of how much she treasures being my mom. I try with all my heart not to take this for granted. My mom always let us know what a gift we have been to her. My brother and I have such a soft spot for our sweet mom and I know this comes from what she has poured over us since our first cry on the days we were born. She is worth celebrating every day of my life...but of course on Mother's Day too.

One of the other celebrations of my stage in life is witnessing my dearest friends cross over into motherhood. How precious it has been for me to witness my beautiful friends enter the journey in such grace filled and loving ways. To know their babies, to watch them grow, and to witness God molding these women I'm so honored to call my friends into mothers has been an amazing gift. This will only continue in the years to come...what a joy.

This Mother's Day, I celebrate an even more precious soon to be mother in my life in my dear sister in law. Anyone who has been in my path these past few months knows my excitement and utter joy in the news that this summer my sweet niece will enter the world. Sharing these months with my brother and sister in law and our family have meant the world to me. I'm celebrating the joy that comes with watching my siblings become parents and that I have the honor of taking on the role of Auntie. What a gift.

So my heart is full of these glorious mothers and abundance blessings from God to celebrate and be thankful. However, if I'm really honest with ya'll...there's still something a little raw for me about this special day.

My heart and mind wanders to those who are reminded of the loss when it comes to Mother's Day. The loss of children or babies or their mothers. There's an ache that comes for those who have longed and waited for pregnancy test sticks to turn from negative to positive and never see the result they have longed for. There's an understanding I have in my own heart for those who always thought their 20's or 30's or 40's would mean babies and a husband and those years have come and gone. As much as there is to celebrate with the joy and the gift that is motherhood, it can also be a hard day for some.

My own mother, always reminded me of that reality as I was growing when she would share the story of the first 10 years of my parent's marriage before I even came along. That she waited and hoped and prayed and sometimes it was really difficult but she knew that God had a plan.

The peace that comes from trust in God's plan for our lives no matter what that may be is the gift to celebrate on special days like Mother's Days and all the ones in between. There is peace that comes in that surrender and trust. Peace made available to us through the gift of Jesus. My prayer for this coming Sunday is that no matter where your celebration or heart falls this Mother's Day that the gift of this peace would be sustaining in the moments of joy, the moments of loss and all the ones in between. It's truly worth celebrating.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be  thankful.  Colossians 3:15