Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Glow

I walked into the tiny apartment and immediately stepped into dog feces. When I pulled up my car to the front door to begin unloading bags and boxes of the baby gear I had come to deliver, I was beyond excited to share all this goodness on my sweet girl and the baby growing in her stomach and in my eagerness to get inside I was instantly reminded through that first step the reality of what I had just walked into.

Before we sat down together to begin sorting the onesies and chatting over the cute factor of baby clothes, I noticed she took the time to brush away the clutter of the tiny apartment and light a small candle. I had to begin fighting tears at that very moment because I realized that this act of love and hospitality on her end was a gesture of doing all she could to make the smell...the situation...the moment...warmer and better.

The glow of that tiny candle brought light into the darkness of the room and it allowed me to watch her expressions of love and joy all the while with one hand resting gently on her pregnant stomach. In that moment I could see the mother that she has become and silently prayed over her for the years and journey that lie ahead. In that moment, I could see the glow from her heart.

I love  moments that stand still in our memories. I know this will be one of those visits that remains in my heart in that light--a mixture between bittersweet and heartache and joy all rolled into one. As I wrapped my arms around her and her pregnant stomach to tell her goodbye, she whispered her prayer to me and prayed for her baby to know Jesus. That's when I was reminded yet again, of the light, the glow that always lives in our hearts once we say Yes. All it takes is saying Yes...just once.

Sometimes darkness creeps in...sometimes we walk a different road or follow a different voice but the greatness of our Savior is that He doesn't stop glowing. He continues to live within us and allows us the grace to turn to Him again for warmth, for depth, for the light we need because He is the light of the World. We sometimes make choices and decisions that run us empty and dry but He does not run out of what we need. He does not die inside of us even when we chose to look away from Him.

I'm extra thankful for the glow of that tiny candle & for the powerful light found in a King that is holding us always...even in the darkest moments in hard situations and even in beautiful ones. The glow of His love remains in us, all it takes is simply saying Yes.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Being Still


At just the point in the student ministry calendar when life tends to hit the really busy season...keep in mind really busy in student ministries is just a step before the summer months which tend to blow into the category of crazy busy. Let me also clarify, that I LOVE the busy life that is full time student ministries. I love the weekend retreats, the weekend game nights & filling car loads full of teens to attend a sporting events or a concert. I love the confirmation season where our students going through the process have consistent programming together for nearly 12 weeks. I love the summers filled with packing vans & sleeping on air mattresses. This is by no means is a blog post complaining about the busy life that is student ministries. I thrive off of the busy.

This is more of a post on the reminder that comes from my Father in the midst of the busy. Just as I begin to see the light of no more snow days and winter nights of canceled ministry events due to snow and ice my initial feeling is to crank up the busy; and then Lent creeps in and with it the reminder to just be still with Him.

I open up my old school day planner and read the words, Ash Wednesday. Once again, I stand amazed that my Father knows this is exactly the moment I need the reminder of what these next 40 days are all about. That just as my own instinct is to allow myself to dive deep into crazy busy mode--that there is something greater in the midst of the busy. That there is a stillness my heart craves far more than all the busy I could ever try to cram into each day.

My best friend blessed me with a four day visit last week and I couldn't help but fight back the tears when she pulled out this framed scripture art for me from her duffel bag with the words of Psalm 46:10. Exactly the truth my heart and day planner needed for this season, before this next wonderful round of really busy ministry.

I want to strive to imprint this verse on my life for these next 40 days. I know the busy will sneak in more than I should let it at times which makes me even more thankful for the grace that comes through this season, through Christ's sacrifice for us. For me and for you. A grace and love to be celebrated through all the busy and non-busy seasons but I sure am thankful for these 40 days where being still is exactly what this busy ol' heart of mine needs.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Seed Planters

I needed paper towels. The whole purpose of my late night trip to Target last night was because I was out of paper towels. You can't get to the paper towel aisle without passing the baby aisle. So, I found myself, cart halted, in the midst of the diapers and baby shampoo. My eyes scanning up and down the shelves and my mind remembering the baby showers of my friends and all the wonderful stuff they have received and the joy and love surrounding the entrance of their sweet babies into this world.

And then, the tears started streaming down my face as the heaviness I had been carrying on my heart all day became too much for me to hold in. While skimming through Facebook earlier in the day, I found myself on the page of a former student. A student who I began my journey in student ministry with 8 years ago. I remember the night she accepted Jesus into her heart and I also remember the night that the police called me to let me know about the meth bust that was about to take place at her home. Years have passed since this sweet girl has been a part of my every day ministry life--and here I was looking at her Facebook page and a picture of her pregnant belly..and the heaviness set in on my heart. As I took in all the baby products last night I was overwhelmed by the feeling of unfairness for her situation.

The night, she turned to Jesus I remember listening to her speak in awe of a loving Father. This was foreign to her. I remember stroking her hair and covering her with words that I prayed would point her towards the truth that she would only find in her loving Savior. I remember the hope I had for her that night--that she could rise above the cycle of brokenness that was the world she was born into. I remember they joy in her face when she spoke of the new found freedom she had found in Jesus.

As I started to fill my cart with diapers and onesies and baby shampoo to send to her last night I tried to allow myself to push back the tears and remember the joy. It's hard to swallow the reality that her sweet baby will be born in the same cycle...the same house...the same situation. When I got home, I started organizing the baby items into a gift bag and I had to stop and open my Bible instead.

I found myself reading Paul's words in 1 Corinthians, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor." 

God makes it grow. God is faithful to the seeds planted. God is holding this situation---this sweet girl and her baby. I can't stop thinking about Pinterest baby showers and a beautiful baby nursery. How she won't have this for her baby, we messaged on Facebook this morning and she told me she's invited some family to a local restaurant for a baby shower...all I could think of is how she's throwing herself a baby shower. And, I know, baby showers are not the most important thing, but my heart breaks. So, I'll make another trip to Target later today to find a few more things for the care package I'm sending...not because it's super significant but because the seed is planted and I want to remind her of that. I want to do all I can to cover her with love so she'll remember the joy she found when she gave her heart to Jesus & then all I can do is surrender her in prayer, knowing that God is faithful. God allows seeds to grow even in the most broken of situations. I'm clinging to His perfect love and praying for a world...for students who have forgotten...may they be reminded through prayers lifting them up, gift bags of diapers and from the seed planters.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Radical or Obedient?

I'm blessed to be apart of an exciting season of student ministry. We feel a strong and clear nudge from the Lord that this is a time to focus on equipping our students to reach out to others to make disciples. It's exciting and comfort zone stretching all at once. My co-director, Joe, wrote about it from his perspective, so check that out here, http://joeggarrison.com/blog/focusing-students-making-disciples/

We are moving forward with Matthew 28:19-20 as our focus:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

I'm finding it just as important to take on this challenge not just from a ministry perspective but also as a calling for my own life and walk with Christ. As important as I feel it is to equip our students to help them share Jesus, I know I am also called to go and make disciples right along with them.

It's easy for me to really love on my people. My family. My friends. My students & their families. All blessings in my life that I love striving to love like Jesus does. By no means do I love the people I'm closest too perfectly---but what a blessing it is to pour into their lives. It's not out of my comfort zone to strive to do so. I'm thankful that God knows that about our hearts--that there are those in our lives that loving comes easy. But, the more I pray about it, I feel like God is nudging me that those relationships should more so fuel us as Christians to have even more passion for living out those powerful words spoken by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20.

We can stay content in our lives of loving our people--or we can share the love of Jesus...everyday...in the world. 

One of the most powerful examples of living out Matthew 28:19-20, has come to me through Katie Davis. My students, my family, my friends--all know I have been talking about Katie & her story of moving to Uganda and adopting a liter of little girls as well as starting a feeding ministry...for years. I've bought everyone I know her book. I myself have read it cover to cover probably 10 times...not exaggerating. You can read more about Katie, here: http://www.amazima.org/katiesstory.html

Nearly every time after I share her story the responses I get usually are in awe of what she's doing and also how radical Katie's calling is...and yes, moving to Uganda as a single 20 something is a big deal and it's not every Christian's calling.

Yet, I can't help but feel that Katie's testimony is simply obedience. And that's my prayer for our student ministry as we head into a season focused on making disciples--one of loving obedience, that we would realize that the love God has blessed us all with for each other is just too great to keep to ourselves.

It may stretch us at times. We may need to pray for courage and boldness to step outside of those comfort zones. The last thing Jesus said after his command to make disciples was, "I am with you always." He is with us in this! We aren't headed into this alone.

Instead of sharing the good news of Jesus with our peers, neighbors, co-workers, family members and friends being a radical idea or action maybe we can strive to allow it simply to be steps of obedience in following the command of the One who loves us perfectly.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Provision

                                                                                             (joegarrisonphotography)

No matter how I often I turn to fear or doubt or worry...which honestly is often, God always shows up. God always cares. God always provides.

Again and again throughout the winding roads of my walk with Him, in the moments that has seemed the saddest and the hardest, I can look at them now and see His hands and mercy all over those tears, sleepless nights & just crazy times of pure fear.

God's provision kind of blows my mind. I was gently reminded of it again last Sunday evening when I heard a student walk over to my co-director after he was done leading the teaching at our worship night and say "That message was exactly what I needed."

God provides for others through US...that is even harder for me to wrap my heart around sometimes. He loves us too much not to allow us to be apart of His work. What a gift.

It's easy to allow my heart to make excuses to be used sometimes and instead turn to judgement and criticism..."Well, we can't provide that because we don't have this..."or "If we only were like..."--that kind of attitude is an easy trap to fall in.

I love the example Jesus shows us when he called the disciples to follow him. He didn't ask them to go to boot camp first. He didn't tell them to take 6 months to pull it all together. He simply asked them to come & follow him...to trust that he would provide what they would need along the way--to be willing to work with him.

Trusting in God's provision and timing, I'm learning is a continual, life long work in process--but one I can't imagine being any sweeter to continually surrender along the way.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

all we can do




I have really been blessed in the grandparent department. My childhood was a steady stream of sweet memories with four of the sweetest people. Four very different & distinct personalities that really blessed my socks off. They all in their own way always pointed me towards Jesus. I can't put into words or even try to measure the impact of that---their examples have really set the bar high in my life. Such blessings.

I always miss my mom's mother a little more this time of year. When it reaches that point of winter for me when it just seems like it can't get any colder and I'm overly tired of snow, my heart always turns to my grandmother. It's hard to believe that she passed away seven years ago. The last five years of her life, I found myself spending a lot of one on one time with her. I would drive to her house and spend a few days with her a couple times throughout the year just to help her out with cleaning & shopping. Those were the end of my college years and the beginning of my full time ministry years and those 48 hour trips with my Grandma always seemed to be just what I needed. In those days together, we pretty much talked non-stop. I felt a new openness to share everything with her...my fears, my struggles, my joys and she would do the same with me. I loved the stories she'd tell me about my grandfather and there were usually tears from both of us. It was a closeness I had never had with her before and it led to one of my very favorite memories with her because after a few years of my Grandma visits, she started calling me on the phone.

At first, I remember being a little surprised to hear my Grandma's voice on the other end but as it became more regular I grew to love these conversations more and more. One night, in the dead of winter, I found myself home alone and roommate-less. No ministry events or students slamming through the front door to see what was for dinner. It was unusually quiet. I was sitting on the couch watching the snow fall from the huge picture window in my family room, when my phone rang, it was my sweet Grandma. She wondered if it was snowing in Hillsdale, just like it was in Greenville, where she lived.

For some reason, I have no idea why, I burst into tears, I started sharing with my Grandma all my fears and uncertainties about ministry and God's plan for me. I have no idea how she understood me. I remembered when I stopped talking that I expected her to maybe be emotional or upset too. But calmly, on the other end of the phone she said "Sometimes, Stephie, all we can do is just turn it over to Jesus," and she began to pray for me.

That was the last time we ever talked on the phone. She lived another year  and I had visits with her but for some reason neither of us ever called each other. In some ways, I regret that, in other ways I feel like that last phone conversation was the exactly the reminder conversation I would need for the rest of my life.

I was reminded of it very early this morning after I crawled out of bed, dreading to turn back my curtain to see how much snow had fallen overnight. I found myself just starring out at the falling snow--and instead of starting my day with a spirit of thankfulness found myself worrying about a lot of things in my life right now I don't have tons of control over--or any control over.

All of a sudden, I could hear my sweet grandmother's voice. I could hear her prayer for me to turn it over. A beautiful reminder, again and again that sometimes all we can do and all we need to do is simply turn it over to Jesus.

"Cast all your anxiety on Him, for he cares for you." 1 Peter 5:7

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mismatched.

Whenever I host a dinner party there's about 10 minutes right before guests arrive where I have nothing to do. Everything is clean. The table is set. The food needs to stay in the oven just a couple more minutes. Usually, in those 10 minutes I take a moment to sit down and wait. This often gives me just the right amount of time to over analyze the meal and my preparations. If only I had taken time to get fresh flowers or if only I would have dusted that picture frame above the TV. I can be a little obsessive over the details in that small window before guests arrive.

Last night, just before youth leaders filled my tiny home for dinner, I took a second to over analyze the assortment of chairs around the two tables I had set up for dinner. It's easy to dress up a table. Throw a table cloth and some center pieces on it and it's a little more pulled together. But there's not a whole lot you can do about ugly folding chairs and mismatched kitchen chairs from Ikea.

For a second last night, I longed for a beautiful formal dinning room with one long table filled with perfectly matching chairs. Images of Pottery Barn show rooms flashed through my mind. For a second all I could focus on was the ugly metal folding chairs instead of the beauty of the meal I had prepared for a group of people I cherish. For that moment, I wasn't focused on the blessing of being able to host dear student ministry volunteers and friends instead all I could see was the mismatched and the tiny apartment.

And then as quickly as those 10 minutes came...guests arrived and they were gone. No one mentioned the mismatched chairs. When I crawled into bed last night I opened up my devotional to my Advent reading, Luke 2:4-8,

    
 "So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a signto you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

How many times have I read this scripture? Dozens and dozens of time. It hit me in a whole new way. God brought His Son into the world in the most mismatched and humble way. He used teenagers and shepherds. There is nothing pulled together or Pottery Barn show room about being born in a barn filled with animals. It reminded me how often I  get so caught up in the details that I forget about the joy God brings into the world through the most mismatched & unlikely of situations. 

I started thinking about what if the Church looked a little more mismatched? I think about the big churches and student ministry models that we sometimes feel stacked up too...if only we had a Starbucks in the Narthex or a multi-million dollar youth facility...and don't get me wrong, I know those tools are used to further the Kingdom. But I'm wondering instead of looking up to those huge pillars of ministry...we started with what we have. If ministry began in our homes & our neighborhoods and moved up from there. If adoption & foster parenting wasn't so foreign but something we talked about and prayed about more together in the Church...if our internal ministry events look more like outward opportunities to love those who live all around us. It could be a little messy. It may not match up to what we've always been before. 

But I'm sensing an urgency in my own heart to not be okay with the norm. I'm thankful for this season of Advent that serves as a reminder that as we wait there's still room to let God move and work in our hearts. I'm praying that I can surrender the need for it all to be pulled together & that I would recognize the joy in the mismatched.