April 26, 2009

Virtual Becomes Reality

If you’re reading this, chances are you and your computer are good pals. Forget about phoning a friend, we're too busy blogging, emailing, writing on walls, texting and tweeting. The digital age has redefined communication and friendship. Bits and bytes have replaced flesh and bones. Facebook has replaced face-to-face.

(I love my technology, but in my antiquated opinion a lot of this social networking is a ginormous time suck. . . that doesn't better our lives. In the future I'm sure books will be written about all of this. Hmm, maybe I’ll even write one.)

BUT…sometimes our e-life intersects our real life and we make honest-to-goodness connections. Relationships develop. Friendships blossom. Probably no one has been more surprised by this aspect of blogging than me. I have experienced a very real community of Christian bloggers out there. You bloggy sisters (and brothers) offer friendship, prayer, words of encouragement, support, insight and camaraderie.

On Friday I had the privilege of meeting an e-friend in the flesh and what a blessing it was! I haven’t known Julie Gillies for long, but from the start, I admired her as a writer and a woman of God. We clicked, and when I found out she lived near my sister in Florida, we made plans to get together.

Julie is even more delightful in person and we enjoyed a wonderful afternoon at her house, eating lunch and talking, talking, talking--about writing, family, faith. I’m afraid she thought I’d never leave! Julie is truly a woman who hears and follows God’s calling. I know one day soon we’ll see her book on the shelves.

Thanks, Julie!

God brings us together for different purposes, for different seasons. I started a blog to write, but for such a time as this, He’s used writing to lead me to you. Some of you I've met, but many of you I haven't. We may walk together for a moment, a season or even a lifetime, whatever the plan I am so thankful to journey with you.

And maybe one day soon we’ll have a chance to visit for lunch or chat over a latte at Starbucks. Because we women are in this together--and sometimes face-to-face really is the best of all.

Here’s a video about friendship that a friend shared with me. It made me cry. In a good way. It’s worth the time, I promise.



Blessings,

April 24, 2009

Another Adventure

Yesterday at 11:30am:

I’m sitting on an airplane waiting to take off. If all goes as scheduled, in three hours I’ll be with my sister in St. Pete (FL). Without children. Without my hubby. All by myself for four days of downtime with one of my favorite people!

Plus, on Friday I have something fun and exciting planned that I’m really looking forward to. It involves meeting someone. Any guesses?

April 22, 2009

Grace...in the Most Unlikely Places

The hip young Christian singer had spent his entire academic career in Christian schools. He had a passion for Jesus that captivated the ladies in the audience. As he strummed his guitar, he told how he’d recently been invited to play for a class of first graders at a local public school. He’d debuted a work-in-progress, a bouncy tune about creation, that really connected with the kids. At the end of the song one little guy shared an insight about Jesus. (Pretty cool, especially since it was a public school.)

The singer shared how amazing it was to bring the name of Jesus to a group of kids that didn’t know Him. The ladies heaped “ooohs” and “aaahs” of praise. I sat in the audience and observed, but something about his words burned inside me.

I replayed his comment, “Kids that don’t know Jesus.” Maybe it was an innocent slip, but between the lines I heard his assumption: Kids outside of a Christian school environment don’t know Jesus.

Sometimes we assume that the four walls and sign outside determine whether Jesus resides in a place…and in the hearts of its occupants—or not. As a result, it becomes easy to identify “good” behavior from “bad” and “godly” environments from “worldly.” We mark the minefield, finding comfort and safety in this “knowledge.”

By doing this, we limit the Almighty and box Him in. We start to play God as we look down from on high, determining who needs saving, what is “too worldly” or where has God abandoned all together.

The thing is, the Creator of the Universe doesn’t abide by the boundaries we mark or the walls we erect. He will go where He will go. His grace knows no geography.

Personally, I have seen Jesus in the public schools. I have heard Him in secular music. I have encountered Him in non-believers. And I have traveled past walls topped with barbed wire and armed guards into the depths of a maximum security prison—surely a place where evil dwells. Yet, even there Jesus lives, glorious, redeeming and merciful.

Christian establishments do not hold the market on grace. In fact, sometimes the opposite is true. As Philip Yancey says in What’s So Amazing about Grace, “I experienced as much ungrace on the campus of a Bible college as I had anywhere else in life.”

I think Jesus would concur. During His ministry He didn’t spend much time inside the walls of religious institutions, in fact He often rebuked the Pharisees. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” (Matthew 23:27)

Jesus went out to the people to teach and preach and heal. But, He didn’t do it out of a sense of superiority, self-righteousness or pity—He did it out of love.

As believers, we can get so caught up in ourselves and in our own way of thinking. We need to follow Jesus’ example and go into the world with love. Not because we think we’re better than, but because we know we aren’t.

And when we do, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that His love has already gone ahead to light the way. Because God’s grace truly is amazing.

April 19, 2009

Road Rage Parenting?...Or a Better Way?

I sat in my VW bug waiting for the light to change. Lost in my thoughts, I sang loudly (and badly) to the radio and enjoyed the beautiful day—until a car pulled up behind me so quickly I feared I might become a punch buggy sandwich! I glared in my rearview mirror to assess the car’s occupants. A man, I assume was the dad, drove while his teenage son sat next to him. Neither of them looked happy. At all.

The father stared out his window while anger burned in his eyes. The boy glared straight ahead, his jaw clenched and his face stony. Their non-verbals proclaimed the simmering tension. The scene drew me in and I continued to watch them in my rearview mirror (hoping my sunglasses hid my voyeurism).

Soon the dad starting yelling. He flailed his arms, gesturing wildly. Then he pounded his hands on the steering wheel (yes, while he was driving). At one point he titled his head back and roared! He wasn’t just mad. He was furious and on the verge of losing control—of himself and his car.

Throughout the entire rage-filled outburst, the teenage son maintained his fixed gaze and didn’t utter a single word. He may have looked detached or dismissive, but I have no doubt a storm of emotions churned under his fortified fa├žade as caustic anger inflicted unseen wounds.

I have no idea what happened to cause such wrath. Maybe the son messed up with garden variety teenage stuff, or maybe he did something bad. Really bad.

I processed the scene as thoughts swirled in my head. As a mom I wanted to jump out and yell at the father, “Stop! Can’t you see what you’re doing? You’re the grownup here. There has to be a better way to deal with this situation!” I wanted to hug the boy and assure him, “No matter what you did, you don’t deserve this. It’s going to be OK.”

While I sat there in judgment on the dad, my heavenly Father nudged me with a painful realization: How many times have I lost my temper with my own children and lashed out in anger?

I, too, have behaved oh-so-badly as a parent and am sure if I watched a video playback of some of my outbursts I’d burn with shame. Yes, as a parent I try hard and often succeed, but too often I get frustrated and irritated. I want things my way. My flesh gets the best of me and I explode. What scars have I left behind as a lasting memory?

Ouch.

Being a parent is hard. It brings out the best in us. And the worst. We all fall short. We react out of impatience and anger. We crash and burn. None of us are perfect, but we cannot take lightly the devastation we cause our children with our tongues.

We must control our tempers and reign in our anger because our careless words have tremendous power to harm. “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (3:6)

Yet, how in the world can we navigate the depths of our weaknesses and captain the parenting ship through stormy seas?

We can't.

We need help. Divine help. Thankfully Jesus shows us the way—the only way. No matter how badly we’ve messed up, He doesn’t condemn or lay a guilt trip on us, He invites us to come to Him. And when we press into Jesus, a cool thing happens, the Holy Spirit begins to transform us into His likeness.

We have a choice and the apostle Paul shows us the consequences of both choices: following our sinful nature or following the Holy Spirit. “Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: …hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division…But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:16,19, 22-23 NLT)

Patience, gentleness and self-control? Oh, how we parents need more of these!

God’s Word promises that as we let the Holy Sprit guide our lives, we will (not might) bear more fruit. The more we let the Spirit guide us, the more fruit is produced. As we parent with with more gentleness, more self-control, more patience and most of all, more love we become the godly role models our children need. Of course we’ll still make mistakes, but each time we stumble Jesus offers forgiveness and a fresh start.

I will never know the real story of the angry father and son. But, as a parent I want the scene I witnessed to serve as a cautionary tale of a place I never want to be. And I want it to remind me that this parenting journey is too difficult and the stakes too high to travel it on my own.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

April 14, 2009

A Trip Back in Time...and a New Road Taken

Well, we did it! After driving over 20 hours and crossing through five states, Dan, the kids and I returned home tired but smiling. In between our leaving and returning, we passed the miles with countless games of I Spy and Blokus (a cool puzzle game thingy), many DVDs, far too many snack and hours of music. I think sibling civil war only broke out in the back seat a time or two.

Our first stop and a first for my kids and me: Williamsburg, where we spent several days exploring Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and even an outlet mall. It turned out to be a great family destination, except the kids had limited patience with all the “boring history.” My plea to get up early so we could hear George Washington give a wartime update in the garden of the Governor’s Palace was met with resistance bordering on a coup. (Go figure!) Thankfully the smaller-scale, more hands-on aspect of Jamestown captivated the kids attention. (Although listening to an architectural dissertation on the fifth church to be built at Jamestown may have pushed the limits of their patience a bit too far. Dan and I, however, found it fascinating.)

Our final destination: Wilmington, NC to visit my cousins for the Easter weekend.

I have a small family, measured in tens not hundreds. As a kid, we’d often enjoy holiday celebrations at my aunt and uncle’s house near the Jersey shore. Even though our numbers were small, our gatherings were filled with lots of laughter, lots of storytelling…and lots of food! When my uncle’s family joined the festivities, they brought an added measure of merriment. Holidays at Aunt D’s are a precious memory of my growing up.

But as they often do, circumstances changed. My aunt and uncle got divorced. I went to college, as did my sister and then my two cousins. In time my sister moved to Florida, my cousins to North Carolina, and even my aunt joined them a few years ago. From our family nest, only my parents and I remain up “north.”

The warm memories of holidays past are just that—memories.

Of course my husband and I have created our own traditions, but part of me has missed the gatherings of my youth. Besides weddings, life and distance have kept all of us from joining together for probably 20 years!

Last winter I had an idea that percolated and bubbled to the surface: What if us Northerners made a road trip down south and gathered together for Easter in North Carolina? Soon, a plan was formed. And even after several near deaths due to apathy and budget concerns, the idea refused to die. So, last Tuesday we loaded up the car and headed south. My parents followed behind, and my sister and aunt headed north from Florida. By Friday night we’d all arrived.

This weekend an old memory was rekindled—and a new one was born. See, time’s marched on since the days of my youth. The parents are now grandparents, the children have children of their own, and husbands and significant others add a delightful freshness. But, just as hoped we all blended together perfectly. And, just like the old days, we shared lots of laughs, lots of storytelling…and lots of great food!

I loved to see my children getting to know family they knew only slightly. Joining in on the fun. And feeling part of something bigger than our usual small circle.

And as we joined hands to say the blessing for Easter dinner, I realized it’s the connections we have to our family that help define us, nurture us and anchor us. Our familial ties provide a safe haven and a place to find respite. Most of all, they’re a place to find love and acceptance—just because.

I don’t know when we’ll all get together again. I hope soon. I do know that if we don’t make an effort, somedays will become tomorrows that never come.

Today I bask in the memories of a special time together and am so thankful for a truly wonderful weekend. To my sweet, crazy, funny, serious, intelligent, wise-cracking, ditzy, caring, God-loving family, I love y’all!

Now, can one of you tell me where we got the barbecue from?


“You don’t choose your family.
They are God’s gift to you,
as you are to them.”

~Desmond Tutu

April 11, 2009

He is Risen!


"But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had
been
rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in
a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

"Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who
was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.
But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee.
There you will see him, just as he told you.' "
~ Matthew 16:4-7 ~

April 7, 2009

You're Not the Boss of Me!

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22)

I don’t know if there’s a section of scripture that’s caused me more angst than those infamous verses in Ephesians. Submit? To my husband? Are you kidding?

I’m a modern-day, independent-minded, girl-on-the-go. Girls like me, we multi-task. We rule. We roar. We bring home the bacon AND fry it up in the pan. But, we do not submit as the weaker partner in our marriage.

When Dan and I took our pre-marriage class 20 years ago, the teaching eventually came around to the biblical model for marriage. Offensive, ridiculous and archaic! I slammed the door on those ideas faster than on a door-to-door salesman.

Yet try as I might to perish the thought, through the years “wives submit to your husbands” returned again and again. Each time I pushed it aside with the same disdain.

Mind you, Dan and I have a good marriage that’s more of a partnership and less of a hierarchy. We’re both happy with the way things are. And in my mind, why fix something that isn’t broken.

But when I finally, truly gave my life to Christ seven years ago, I started to read the Bible and tried to heed its teachings. I began to fear there might be some truth to the biblical model for marriage. If I believe the Bible is really God’s manual for our lives, when it speaks on marriage shouldn't I actually listen and try to understand?

Last Friday night our couples’ Bible study addressed the topic of roles in marriage, based on, you guessed it, Ephesians 5:22-32. The wives and husbands separated to discuss the topic more deeply. During our conversation my usual resistance emerged, but then a strange thing happened—for the first time I began to gain insight into the verses.

Presently the divorce rate is about 50% for both Christian and non-Christians. Clearly something in marriage isn’t working too well. Maybe God actually does have a plan for marriage that works better than ours does. After all, biblically speaking, marriage isn’t a place for power struggles, score keeping or self-protection. It’s a place where two, united by Jesus, become one. It’s a place where the image of God becomes complete.

While us women may bristle when Paul tells wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord, he follows it up with a command even more startling: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy…” (v. 26) This is a shockingly high calling for men as husbands, especially in Jesus’ day when women were certainly second class citizens.

Think how much Jesus loved the church and how he served without regard for his status or position. Imagine what marriage would look like if a husband loved his wife that way? What if in return the wife respects, cherishes, serves and yields to him? In this life-giving continuum it might be hard to tell where one spouse ends and the other begins.

What a far cry from the “husband bossing the wife around” picture I’ve had in my head (and has been carried through history). Who wouldn’t want a marriage like that?! Submit? You bet!

In theory I finally see the light in Paul's teachings. For as wonderful as my marriage has been, I see God has a plan to make it even more beautiful and perfect. I’m certainly not there yet, but I’m encouraged to dig deeper.

This faith journey is a continual process of "less of me, Lord, and more of you,” isn't it? Submission and obedience are at the crux of our transformation. But we’re a stubborn lot and it is oh so hard to give up control and power, especially when we don’t know what, if anything, we’ll get in return. I think marriage magnifies this struggle. Thankfully God is faithful and He promises we’ll receive WAY more than we ever give up.

Submit to my husband? Well, not yet, but this independent-minded girl is starting to see a much better way.

April 2, 2009

We are the Body

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
(1 Corin. 12:27)


I stood at the podium holding the microphone and took a deep breath. As I looked out on the sea of expectant faces, the butterflies gathered. How in the world did I get here? When I started to speak, I sensed the guys in the audience were listening and connecting. And when I prayed, the words that came weren't my own. The Spirit of God moved in this place.

When you do the math, this scene doesn’t add up. On the one hand you have me—a white, college-educated, 40ish, suburban mom whose biggest brush with the law was a few speeding tickets. I have no history of addiction or violence and I have no “street cred” whatsoever. On the other hand you have a room full of men, mostly African American and Hispanic, many covered in tattoos, who’ve lived lives where drugs, violence, broken homes and gangs are a daily reality. And they’re all living—at least for now—behind bars, doing their time or awaiting court dates.

Yet despite the absolute incongruity of our lives, oddly it makes sense. I think my Woodside friends who joined me on this venture into prison ministry feel the same. Somehow it works. And there is absolutely no doubt God is at the center of it.

Because even though the inmates and I are from different worlds, we are the body of Christ. The connection we have through Jesus knits us together in a way that defies logic. And as strange as it sounds, I feel like the inmates accept me and that I have a purpose there.

But this isn’t what I wanted. Honestly, I wanted a “girlfriend” ministry. I wanted to connect with moms, wives and sisters with wit and wisdom. I wanted to be everyone’s best friend. I see women who do this so well and I admire it tremendously, covet it even. Yet, as much as I desire it, it’s just not who I am.

Besides, God has other plans—plans that involve the prison. He wants me to learn from these men, to worship with them, pray with them and love them. He wants to grow me in this place and lead me to a deeper understanding of grace.

But I never planned to get actively involved. I just wanted to attend the worship services as a quiet supporter. To speak in front of a group, lead prayer or do anything that involved holding a microphone were WAY off the map of my comfort zone. They’re just not things I do. Period.

Once again, God had other plans and through the urging of those on our ministry team, I’ve found myself on several occasions standing behind the podium, knees knocking, talking to or praying with the men. And I have to say, as scary as the experience is, it’s exhilarating—not because I enjoy it, but because I see the Spirit at work. Despite my shortcomings, God has proven He doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

There have been some special things happening during our worship services lately. The inmates are really participating and receiving. Lots of guys have been getting saved.

This week something really cool happened. Usually the most enthusiastic men arrive and fill up the first two rows, leaving the back rows for late comers and those just passing the time. Often there’s foolishness in the back that’s distracting to the service. This week, on their own, the “regulars” started filling the back rows first, leaving the front rows open. As the room filled up, one of the inmates even directed latecomers to open seats.

This seemingly small gesture spoke volumes about the inmates’ respect for us and most especially their respect for worship. They are serious about Jesus! Just looking at their faces, hardened by life but softened by grace is a living testimony to a God who loves us unconditionally. A God who lifts us out of the muck and the mire and sets us on the rock. Who puts a new song in our mouth. (Psalm 40)

As believers, we are the body of Christ connected to one another all the way back to Abraham. At first glance we may have little in common, but when we strip away our differences and realize we share the same heart for Jesus, we find that’s all that really matters. And what unites us is infinitely greater than what divides us.
“If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be…
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corin. 12:17-19, 26)