December 13, 2011

Special Delivery

With Christmas shockingly near, maybe you've been cramming with online shopping as I have. The UPS trucks in the neighborhood confirm I'm not the only one! Inspired by our usual UPS driver I have a "brown" devotion on Internet Cafe Devotions today. Happy Christmas!
…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, NIV)
Tess, my yellow lab, hears it before I do and runs to the window barking. Her response is more urgent than the usual ruckus aimed at dog walkers and taunting squirrels. This is a full-blown, red-alert, “Hurry! Let me out! It’s time!”
I read her obvious signals and drop what I’m doing to open the door.

Tess runs to the edge of the yard and sits patiently. She waits hyper-alert and expectant. Her tail quivers with excitement. Her head cocks as she listens intently. As the familiar rumble gets nearer and the target appears in view, she barks frantically, “Over here! Over here! Over here!”
 
See, every afternoon the UPS truck comes into our neighborhood. Personally I think the daily arrival of the big brown truck is fairly exciting because it means something fun could be on its way to me—like a book or clothes I ordered, or even a present.

But to Tess, our UPS driver brings something waaaaay better than packages. He brings dog bones.

And every day—whether he has a delivery for us or not—this driver stops at our house to give Tess a Milk Bone. The other day he even backed down the street because he wasn’t turning our way and didn’t want to overlook his furry, frantic friend.

This routine makes Tess so happy and it tickles my heart as well. The man’s kind gesture is a bright spot in my day. Now I too look forward to his daily visit.

More than that, his example shows me how a simple yet faithful act of kindness can make a big impact. Something we may brush off as “no big deal” can encourage someone just at the moment they need encouraging, or lift their spirits just when they need lifting.  <Read more...>

December 8, 2011

Awesome Sauce

This devotion got lost in the Thanksgiving festivities at Internet Cafe Devotions so I'm offering it as a second helping. Admittedly it's not very Christmas-y, but the message is a tasty treat any time of year. 

At the end of October my spindly tomato plants gasped their last breath. The tomatoes’ cracked skins, rot and dark spots told of the ravages from too much rain, cooler temperatures and lessening sunlight.

Although they’d be rejects at any produce market, I picked what I could and brought my battered harvest inside. Since they didn’t look appealing to slice and eat, I decided to make sauce.

I concocted a simple recipe, added the chopped tomatoes, and left the sauce to simmer for a long time. When the time seemed right, I nervously took a taste.

I was amazed! The sauce was awesome—nuanced, sweet and delicious! It shouted, “Blasphemer!” to the jarred sauce in my pantry. I marveled at how a bowl of ugly, half-rotting tomatoes became something so magnificent.

Sometimes I feel like one of those late season tomatoes--overwhelmed by imperfections, cracks and flaws. I feel battered by bad habits, rejection, insecurities and the lies of the enemy. Certainly God, you’d rather choose someone more perfect and appealing.

But I know in my heart this isn’t the way God sees me. Or any of His children.

During His ministry, Jesus’ went out of His way to find the “bad fruit”—like Samaritans, prostitutes, adulterers, lepers and tax collectors. Those who’d been stamped “unacceptable” by society, He gathered them close to forgive, teach, heal and love. It was to the most flawed and the most unlikely that Jesus revealed His Truth and amazing grace.

When the grade A fruit—the Pharisees—asked Jesus why he wasted His time with the rejects He answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)

My translation says: “I have not come to pick the reddest and most perfect fruit; I’ve come to gather the bruised, rotting and broken to make something glorious with them.”

Jesus says this to me and He says it to you.

Maybe you feel like you’re less than perfect. That you’re more bad fruit than good. That you belong in the compost pile. Know that this is where our Savior does His greatest work. His grace redeems our spots, cracks and rot. His strength makes our weakness perfect.

Where we see ugliness, God sees beauty. Where we see failure, He sees possibility. Where we see flaws, He sees perfection.
But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV)
Just as a pot of half-rotting tomatoes simmered over a flame was transformed into magnificent sauce, our broken, sin-filled lives refined by the fire of the Holy Spirit are transformed into glorious new creations.

That is Awesome Sauce!

November 17, 2011

We Are . . .

Penn State. Words of honor and glory, now associated with shame and disgrace.

The scandal that’s rocked the country has hit me and my family hard. My husband is a diehard Penn Stater and I, by marriage, have inherited this love. Our blue and white hearts are broken—for so many reasons. It feels like there’s been a death, and in a way there has. This heartache is shared by millions in the Penn State family. The vile acts by an evil man have shattered the lives of innocent children, and have turned a collective dream—of an idyllic place and idolized people—into a nightmare.

I wonder how a crime like this could happen at all. But especially, how could this happen at Happy Valley. I’ve jokingly referred to Penn State as “the holy land,” because it truly is a special and revered place. It was our Camelot.

As news unfolded and details never-imagined-possible came to light, an angry lynch mob swelled—fueled by 24/7 cable TV. Countless words have been written, commentated, editorialized, shouted and discussed. Everyone has an opinion about Joe Paterno and the Penn State leadership. Finger pointing has become a competitive sport. Blame is being tossed out like confetti at a concert.

The moral high ground is a mighty crowded place right now. "I would have done this..."

Justice will surely have its day. It must. But when I look at this from a different perspective, the thing that strikes me most about the mob of onlookers and finger pointers is their stunning lack of grace.   

To all those holding pitchforks and flaming torches, I ask, “Who are you?”…and, “How good do you really think you are?”

Scripture surely paints a dim view of our inflated sense of goodness:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. … Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:11, 15-18)
Did you hear that? Not one of us is good.  

NOT. ONE. OF. US.

Do you know that there’s someone else who didn’t act as nobly as he should. In fact he acted like a coward. It was Peter.

At the last supper Jesus told Peter, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

But Peter, confident of his character and goodness, declared with the utmost conviction, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Yet only hours later, as Jesus was tried before the Sanhedrin, Peter cowered outside in fear. When confronted about knowing Jesus, Peter didn’t defend Him, he denied him—three times—just as Jesus said he would. The next day Jesus was crucified.

If this scene played out today on CNN and Fox News, Peter would have been in the crosshairs of a furious mob. “What kind of person would do something like that!” Commentators would pick apart his character and lack of it. He’d be personally blamed for Jesus’ death. And under insane media pressure the disciples would fire Peter from their group and his name would be forever stained. Because the court of public opinion had rendered its decision: “Guilty!”

Thankfully and remarkably Jesus doesn’t operate as we do. Where we condemn, He forgives, loves and restores. He knows full well the mess we are. He knows we fall far short of the mark, no matter how hard we try. And He knows that no matter how good we think we are, we are ALL sinners in need of a savior.

That’s why He came. That’s why He died.
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)
In her Beloved Disciple Bible study Beth Moore says, “When someone falls they are not necessarily a fraud—often they are just foolish. Wise is the man or woman who realizes he or she, too, could momentarily deny Christ. May we never withhold from another something that—in due time—we may desperately need.” (p. 50)

Jesus didn’t cast Peter out as we would have, He did something far more shocking. He gave him grace.

And He does the same thing for each of us. Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me...

In this time of justified outrage, betrayal and hurt can we do the same? If we say we follow Jesus, do we really have a choice?

We are...
...forgiven
...redeemed
...restored
...justified
...loved
...His.

November 8, 2011

Undignified

It doesn't matter what era or continent we live on. What age or gender we are. How rich or poor; holy or sinful; educated or ignorant. When our Creator knit us together in our mothers' wombs, He put His fingerprints all over our souls. And He gave us a universal love language to connect with Him: worship.

Since the beginning, worship has bound God's faithful together. And torn them apart.

After King David brought the Ark of the Covenant back to his city, the people erupted into spontaneous and enthusiastic praise of God—singing, dancing and playing instruments. The most unrestrained of them all, perhaps, was David who "danced before the LORD with all his might."

His wife Michal watched the goings on from a window and thought David's behavior was downright detestable. She greeted him with a verbal slap across the face: "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!"

Yet, even stinging criticism couldn't dampen David's joy. "I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes."

I marvel at David's freedom. But for me—and many of those I know—undignified... humiliated... foolish... in worship? Not likely.

In Haiti there's a rural village called Kwa Kok (Cross of the Rooster). There's no church or school there and the residents have to walk two hours to reach the nearest church. As a result most of them just don't go to church.

The Sunday I was in Haiti we brought church to Kwa Kok. Under the branches of a massive shade tree we set up the chairs we'd brought.
"Church To Go." Do NOT try this at home! (Yes the truck is moving!)
People gathered to check out the commotion. They went back to their homes to clean up and put on their Sunday best. Some returned with their own chairs and benches. Soon the seats were all filled and it was standing room only.  
Folks quickly changed into their Sunday best.
Pastor Valentin (our Haitian leader) and his wife led the service. Others offered songs and prayers and testimony. The worship was beautiful. And humble. And reverent. No one seemed to notice that we weren't in an actual church.


Part way through the service there was a disturbance. Behind the worship leader (in full view of the congregation) was a dirt lane, and coming down this lane was a man. But he wasn't walking. It seemed he was horribly crippled and only had the use of his left arm, which he was using to drag himself along the dirt to make his way to church. He was filthy and other than wearing a t-shirt, he was completely naked.

At first I was shocked and horrified by the scene. I'd never seen anything like this before, certainly not at church! I wasn't sure how to respond.

But the service never skipped a beat as the man joined us. A few helped him sit on a bench. Then, in what seemed like seconds later, Dessalines (from our Haitian team) walked over to him with a pair of boxer shorts that he and Pastor Valentin helped the man put them on. I remember thinking how remarkable it was that we had an extra pair of shorts with us.
 
I found out later that we didn't have an extra pair. In a split second, Dessalines made the decision to go into our bus, remove his boxer shorts and give them to the man. Not because someone asked him to do it, but because he loves Jesus—and this is what Jesus would do. (I'm not sure there was a dry eye among us Americans as we witnessed this stunningly beautiful scene.)
The man is there on end, to the right. He sat there all through worship and VBS, clapping as he could.
The man stayed with us all afternoon. Perhaps having church in Kwa Kok was an answer to his prayers. I imagine he heard our singing and decided that no matter how difficult or painful it would be, he had to join us. Did he hope for healing? As he made his was down the dirt path, naked and filthy, did his determination waver as he felt the eyes of the congregation upon him.

Maybe some muttered their disapproval or whispered to their neighbor, "How he distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the Americans as any vulgar fellow would!"?

And yet, surely he responded, "I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes."

And in his celebration we experienced the love language of worship. Mesi Senye!

November 2, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

Haiti. Ayiti. Land of high mountains.

To most of the world, Haiti is about mountains of rubble. Tent cities. Intense poverty. Violence. Government corruption. And death. It’s about brokenness so broken it can never be put back together.

It’s a place we pity. Or fear. Or despise.

To me Haiti is about people and stories and relationships. It’s about beauty and culture. Determination and perseverance. Faith and family. And most of all love. In Haiti God’s love—for others and for me—seems most real. And I feel the most free to share this love.

God has given me many wonderful gifts in my life. Haiti is one of the most wonderful. Why this is true is still a mystery to me. But it is true nonetheless.

This was my third trip to Haiti and it was amazing in its own special way. Going back now is like a homecoming—returning to a place that holds my heart and visiting with friends who now seem like family.

Because our group (of six) was especially small so I had lots of time to deepen relationships with my Haitian friends and get to know them better. Our days followed the traditional model of Foundation for Peace trips: worship in Haitian churches, work at the construction site (we’re building a large vocational school), morning and nighttime group devotions, VBS for the children and a day at the beach. This time I even got to teach English in a school that FFP runs. It was in fact, the same school that my church helped to build!

There are so many stories to share of what I witnessed and experienced. I hope to capture them here so that you see some of the beauty Haiti beholds, and you get a glimpse of a God bigger, more powerful and more faithful than you imagine.

Most of all I hope that these stories inspire you to search your heart for where God is calling you. Where does your heart break for His children? Where is He calling you to follow?

P.S. We are already planning our return trip in March. This trip is open to anyone who wants to join us. No special skills are required. If you live nearby, come to an informational meeting at Woodside Church on November 13 at 11:00am. Otherwise, send me a note to let me know you’re interested and I’ll add you to our list.

Glwa pou Bondye! (Glory to God!)
Bondye beni ou! (God bless you)

Children in a remote village (Kwa Kok) who came to our worship service and VBS. How their clothes are so white astounds me.
My little friend at a worship service...who I finally got to smile.
The massive cathedral in Port-au-Prince, devastated by the earthquake. Walking around felt like walking in a tomb. Very intense.




Heading home from my big adventure teaching -- with Eben and Dessalines.
Our friends on the worksite. Amazing men and such hard workers! Bon travay, zanmi mwen!
VBS at an orphanage.

October 13, 2011

Going to Visit a Piece of My Heart


Wow, it's been a long time since I've posted. Life's been busy and priorities have been focused elsewhere. One thing I've been doing is learning to design websites in WordPress so my brain cells have been happy.

Thought I'd jot off a quick few words to share my exciting news.

Tomorrow at this time I will be in the place that has captured my heart more than any other--Haiti. I and two others from my church are flying to Port-au-Prince tomorrow morning. We're heading out for another 10-day short-term mission filled with construction of the vocational school we in March, vacation Bible schools and best of all we'll get to hike again into the mountains to distribute water purification tablets to residents of a rural village. I also hope to connect with old friends...and make new ones.

Here's the school that we broke ground on last March. We spent the entire time digging foundation trenches. This time we'll get to build concrete block walls.
Our team is small...only six of us this time...but I know that though we are few, God is equipping us to be His army. He has prepared the work for us to do. And He knows just where we need to be and whom we need to reach.

Haiti is the one place that breaks my heart for God's people more than any other. The land and the people have captured my heart and a part of it lives there the 345 days I'm back home. My spirit is "right" in Haiti and I feel peace and connectedness in a way I don't at home. To say that I'm excited surely doesn't express the deep longing I have to return.


I am longing to see my Haitian friends, especially my "son" Jude. God crossed our paths and linked our hearts for a reason. I pray I get a deeper understanding of that on this visit. His life is so hard and I feel so powerless to really make much of a difference.

Jude and I.
Our last trip to Haiti was so amazing I know this time will be different, but I trust that God has something new, but just as wonderful in store. Please pray for our team. For our safety. For the work that we'll do. For the people that we'll serve. For the worship that we'll share. For the relationships that we'll deepen. Pray that through it all God is glorified. I especially pray that God shows me how to carry this passion and purpose into the other 345 days of my year. 

Where does your heart break for God's children? 
Where is your "Haiti?" 
What are you doing to get there?

September 19, 2011

Poser? Or One of Us?

I used to be a cyclist.

Twelve years ago, after a short but scary battle with cancer, I valued my health as a gift and wanted to do something with it to help others.

I joined the local chapter of Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training—a group that uses marathons, biking and triathlons to raise money for cancer research. I’d long wondered if I had it in me to do a long-distance event.

In the cold of winter we started training for the Santa Fe Century, a 100-mile bike ride. I resisted buying all that ridiculous looking bike attire and an expensive road bike. Seriously, does anyone look good in that stuff?

Months passed and the miles added up. Eventually vanity gave way to practicality. I gave in and bought the jerseys, the shoes and even the road bike. I finally looked—and felt—like a cyclist.

May came and our team flew to New Mexico for the big event. The Santa Fe Century was a difficult, incredible and exhilarating life experience. As a result I continued with Team in Training and did lots more bike riding in the subsequent years—on my own, with my team, at local events, with local clubs.

Besides discovering that I really don’t enjoy biking more than 50 miles at a time, I found that cyclists are a pretty exclusive bunch. In cycling circles, you are without a doubt judged by your gear, your attire, your bike’s fancy extras and your street cred—especially when you’re a woman. The more advanced the group, the more they seemed to say:

“Are you one of us … or are you a poser?” || KEEP READING...||

September 11, 2011

You Are Our Hope

Devastation. Terror. Horror.
We sit in the ashes.
Where is our hope?

 The father of lies sneers,
“Look. I have taken away your security and confidence and innocence.
I have taken away your family and possessions.
I have destroyed your foundations.
You cannot overcome the darkness.
All is lost.”


Shock. Anger. Grief.
We stare in disbelief.
Where is our hope?
Death overtakes the light.
But for a moment.
Amid the fires of hell.
We lift our eyes.
Where does our help come from?

Even now.
Especially now—our hope is in You.
In the midst of hell.
We feel the nearness of heaven. 
You are our rock.
Our fortress and our strong tower.
In this storm, and every storm.
You lift us out of the muck.
And set us on solid ground.

You give and take away.
Blessed be your name.
Praise you oh Lord.
You are faithful.
And steadfast.
And true to your promises.

Out of the rubble and the chaos.
Your make beautiful things out of the dust.
You are making us new.
Day by day.
We are broken, but not destroyed.

No one.
No action.
Nothing can take away what You give.
In You, we are victorious.
Praise be to You O God.
Our savior and redeemer.

On 9/11.
In Haiti.
In death, disasters and destruction.
You are our hope.
Today and always.



This song wrecked me when I first heard it in a slide show on Haiti. It's become a favorite. Today a special choir at church sang this song. It was comfort from heaven.
Beautiful Things by Gungor

August 25, 2011

29 Ways to Stay Creative

Jon Acuff is an amazing writer/blogger--probably my favorite. This video was on his blog today. It's so clever and well-done that I wanted to share it. My favorite is #17. What's yours?



29 WAYS TO STAY CREATIVE from TO-FU on Vimeo.

August 23, 2011

Garden Primer

Today marked a personal first.

I ate a cantaloupe grown in my own garden.

Now before you admire my exceptional gardening skills, let me tell you—this has been my worst year gardening.
In March I planted cold-weather seeds like lettuce, pea, spinach and arugula. I pictured bushy plants and the bounty of salads we’d have. And I waited with anticipation for the seeds to germinate and the plants to grow—“35 days to harvest” the seed packets promised.

I waited. And waited. And waited. 35 days became 50, then 70...

A few sprouts emerged. The peas gave early hope of success. But just when the peas started to climb their trellis, a critter got to them. It was a pea pod massacre.

Seemingly frozen in time, tiny shoots of lettuce didn’t grow. And I’m not sure the spinach ever germinated! It all gave new meaning to the term “micro greens.”

Discouraged, but not defeated, in May I set my sights to the summer planting. I added compost and fertilizer to spruce up the soil. Tiny tomato, cucumber, zucchini and melon plants made their home in my garden. Yet again, I had hope.

At the end of June (100 days after planting) I discovered that the lettuces had finally grown enough to be picked. Excitedly, I snipped off some tender leaves and went inside to concoct a salad. I took a bite. Mmmm! Wait … does the lettuce taste bitter? Nah. Well, maybe… but it’s not that bad, really.

The next week I picked a leaf of lettuce and bit it. The bitter flavor filled my mouth. “Yuck!” I said and spit it out. Lettuce season was officially over. One, one-person salad was the extent of my harvest. I ripped out the plants to make room for the summer bounty.

The good news is that I’m having the best tomato season I’ve had in a long time. Gazpacho, BLTs, tuna stuffed tomatoes, tomatoes and mozzarella, and plain old sliced tomatoes have been dietary staples for the last month.

The other summer plants showed promise. Now the cucumber vines are yellowing and ready to bite the dust. The zucchini got a root rot after only a few weeks of producing fruit. Now the condition is spreading to the melons and they’re dying too. Plus, the weeds are taking over, too.

But how exciting it was to discover a cantaloupe growing in the giant tangle of melon vines! Our first one—ever. Sadly, however, it might be the only one.

So yes, I’m bummed about the unfruitfulness of my gardening efforts. My gardening motto has always been “low maintenance.” I plant and water, and fertilize a little bit. Veggies grow. We pick them. We eat them. I don’t want to go to a lot of trouble.

In my personal and spiritual life I want low maintenance, too. I‘ll sow seeds to share the gospel, till the soil of my gifts, fertilize a friendship or water a ministry. And I expect to see results.

But often, like my garden, there is no harvest. A friendship doesn’t blossom. Efforts to share my gifts are unfruitful. A ministry withers. I’ll be honest. My response isn’t to dig deeper and try harder. It’s to reassess and move to greener pastures. I don’t want to waste my time—or suffer the disappointment.

In any type of garden—real or metaphorical—it’s hard to keep going when we can’t see the results. But doesn’t this attitude run contrary to the gospel message? Isn’t our motivation for more than what is evident before our eyes? Aren’t perseverance and generosity key components of living a life surrendered to the Master Gardener?

Indeed, God’s Word offers instruction: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9: 6, 8)

I hear Jesus saying, “Keep going. Keep sowing. Keep tending—in all your gardens—one cantaloupe, one heart won for me at a time. Don’t strive for results you can see. Strive because you love me. I will bless your efforts abundantly. Take time to plant and to water, but know that it is I alone, who makes things grow. Trust me to take care of the harvest.”

This week wild weather hit our area. Thunderstorm after thunderstorm dumped buckets of water on my flailing garden. Mini-floods surrounded it. And even hail pummeled it. The wounded plants are history and the living ones are limping.

But, the skies will clear and the sun will dry the soil. Bountiful harvest or not, I’m not ready to quit. After all, fall lettuce planting season is right around the corner and I have hope.

Lettuce, anyone?

August 20, 2011

Slip Sliding Away!

It's been a wild week of weather here. Blue skies filled with puffy clouds have quickly turned black as one thunderstorm after another has come through. After one wicked storm--that even included hail--our backyard looked like creekside property. Taking advantage of this rare opportunity, my son headed out for some fun. We all had a great laugh. I thought you might too!


August 16, 2011

Traveling Lessons

It's a statistical fact that most young adults turn their backs on the faith of their childhoods. As a parent, do you worry that your kids' faith is equipped for the journey into adulthood? What steps are you taking to prepare them? I'm writing about this today on the Internet Cafe. Grab a cup of coffee and join me there.

I want to thank Harold Camping.

Not because I think the May 21st-end-of-the-world pastor offered much useful information to end times conversations, but because he got people talking. Personally, all the hubbub spurred me to have the “S” talk with my kids.

Not that “S” talk, the other one—salvation.

On separate occasions, I talked one-on-one with my 16-year-daughter and 13-year-old son and asked: “If the world ended today, would you go to heaven?”

Both answered, “I don’t know.”

I followed up, “What do you think you need to do to get into heaven?”

Their responses ranged from “I’m not sure” to “go to church and be a good person” to “believe in God.” Neither of them mentioned Jesus.

Their answers surprised and saddened me since my kids have grown up going to church. When they were little they learned about Jesus at Christian preschool, Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. Back then they were willing and eager faith participants with whom I’d sing Bible songs and teach simple lessons about God. << Continue reading ... >>

August 12, 2011

This Wandering Heart

Falling back.
Backsliding.
Straying.
Wandering.

It’s our inclination. Our human nature. Our inner compass. We set out to follow God, but we get distracted, complacent or seduced by something else. We follow our whims and desires. And travel in a different direction. Isaiah wrote about this heart condition: “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God's paths to follow our own. “ (53:6)

Again and again we trade in God’s plan for our own. It makes being a Christian darn hard work. Impossible work it seems sometimes.

In our prison ministry backsliding is a common theme. Several of the inmates gave powerful testimonies this week in the church service. One inmate told how he’d been actively involved with a prison ministry, coming in every week (like our group does). Through tear-filled eyes he shared how he’d “fallen away” a few months ago and done things that landed him in prison. Now he was the one being ministered to. Humbled and broken, he still trusted God’s plan for His life. He encouraged the men, especially those getting out soon, to stick closely with Jesus.  

“It’s so easy to stray,” he cautioned.  

His words touched us all. And they got me thinking.

So many of the inmates love the Lord and want to start a new life with Christ. But their home environments are filled with drugs, violence, gangs, crime and broken families. When (or if) they get out, the cards are so stacked against them to become productive, law-abiding citizens, let alone faithful followers of Jesus.

When they return home it’s so easy to wander back into their old lives and habits. The consequences of doing so are likely harsh and dramatic—putting many right back in prison.

In my own life it’s so easy to stray as well.

So often I choose my own way instead of God’s. I squander my gifts. I get lazy about prayer, Bible study and devotions. I get distracted and neglect God.  And more than anything else, I let the ebb and flow of life lure me into complacency, busyness and comfort. 

Certainly my prediliction to wander isn't a bad as the inmate's, right? For starters, I probably won't end up in prison. 

Yet, in God's eyes, isn't the end result the same? Haven't we both made the same choice: our own way over God's? Aren't we both left with parched souls and hearts far from the Lord?

Doesn’t my backsliding grieve God just as much as the prisoners’? In fact, might it grieve Him more? After all He has given me every good gift to succeed: education, money, a loving family, security, opportunity, freedom. The odds are stacked in my favor.

But I know even these blessings aren't enough to stay the course.  

Thankfully God knows the fatal condition of our wandering hearts and gave us the cure—Jesus.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.“ (Isaiah 53:5-6)

Sinner, saint and soccer mom. We are all sinners saved by grace.Not one of us can stay true to God’s path on our own. To each of us, Jesus invites, “Come to me.”

And come we must.

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing: verse 4
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

July 26, 2011

Hasta Luego!

It's almost time to say goodbye. Our three weeks with our Spanish student is coming to a close. In three hours we'll be heading to the airport for our final farewells. Right now our kids are enjoying one last American outing bowling and clinging to our last moments together.

It has been a wonderful experience in every sense. Norma, our student, was a lovely guest. Everything we could have hoped for. She and my daughter bonded immediately. And my son, initially shy, opened up and was teasing his new "sister" in short order -- the international boy language of acceptance. 

Since two of our neighbors also hosted students we've all spent lots of time together. There's been dinner at a local Spanish restaurant, a camp out, game nights, cookouts, Hershey Park, bowling and just hanging out. My daughter has been able to joion the students on some of their trips and she's really gotten close with the group. 

Last night was the goodbye dinner. Spanish dishes were shared, stories told and hugs shared. Being together and seeing the emotions all the families and students shared really consolidated the amazing experience this was for everyone involved. 

I am so thankful we took a chance to do this, not really knowing what it would be like. Our entire family has been tremendously blessed by meeting Norma, making her part of our family and sharing rich experiences together. While our final goodbyes will surely be tear-filled, we have expanded our hearts and opened our lives to new Spanish friends. Ones we will hopefully visit our Spanish friends in the future. And maybe this will be the start of a summer tradition.  

Hasta luego. Dios te bendiga!

Enjoying a day at the beach and learning to boogie board

Hermanos y hermanas

American and Spanish hermanas

Escaping the heat at the Trenton Thunder baseball game

Making an authentic Spanish dish

Tortilla Espanola and Empanda. Delicioso!
All the students at the goodbye party.



July 21, 2011

Give Me Some Relief!

So many thoughts. So little time. I have many half-written ideas sailing about in my head, looking for a place to harbor to rest and unload. But in the storm that summer brings, they're finding none and drifting out to the far reaches of my consciousness, hoping to set anchor another day.

Right now the number one topic of conversation is the heat. Here in the Philadelphia area it is 98 right now. Tomorrow is supposed to be hotter. Much of the country is under a sweltering blanket of blistering misery during the nation's worst heat wave in years.

I write this from the luxury of my air conditioned home and savor the respite we have from the stifling heat. But, if you're 40 or older, chances are you didn't grow up with air-conditioning. You lived with fans and shade trees and swimming pools and cold glasses of lemonade. Life was sweaty and uncomfortable, but it went on. (I didn't live in an air-conditioned house until 13 years ago!)

As I read the paper this morning I couldn't help think that when it comes to the heat, we've become a bunch of crybabies. Somehow since the beginning of time, societies survived and even thrived without air conditioning, yet now we view this modern luxury at the top of Maslov's Hierarchy of Needs along with food and water.

The issue specifically in my cross-hairs is that in order to save a substantial amount of money, Bucks County (where I live)  has decided to turn off the A/C in county buildings for three hours (from 3 to 6pm) on the hottest days of the summer. The County Commissioners call it, "a shared sacrifice." The temps inside county buildings, including the prisons, are rising to about 84 degrees. (My daily thermostat is set at 80.) Complaints are coming in saying this is akin to abuse. That it's intolerable, punishing and inhumane. They say people are getting sick and fainting. 

Seriously?! Three hours without air-conditioning is abusive? Have you been to Haiti or Somalia . . . or even your own inner city? A/C schmacy. The world is filled with people living without homes and food and clean water. And three hours without cooled air is insufferable? Imagine our soldiers in Afghanistan wearing full body armor in 140 degree heat, weighed down by an automatic weapon, ammo and gear. That, is a sacrifice!

In our quest for lives lived in climate-controlled comfort I fear we lose sight of the bigger picture. Of the better things. Of the truly important and valuable.

As followers of Jesus, we're supposed to live life differently. If you and I can't survive trial by summer heat, how will we survive the trials by fire? God says, "See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction." (Isaiah 48:10) Heat burns. And refines. And makes pure and precious.

Heat is a necessary part of the process: "These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."  (1 Peter 1:6-7)

And in this life it's a given: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Will we accept the refining by fire . . . or will we hunker down in air-conditioned comfort to escape the heat?

ETA 7/26/11: Last Friday was 102 degrees . . . plus humidity. It was horribly hot and I spent the day inside the air-conditioning crying like a baby!


July 12, 2011

Not Good . . . but Better!

It’s no secret I have a yen for home improvements but with bathrooms and front doors finished, and no plans for the near future, I've been getting a little antsy. So I set my sights on improving the space right here...my blog. Welcome to my spruced up corner of the blogosphere.

I’ve been writing here for more than three years—sporadically more than anything, but pressing on nonetheless. It's been a place I've pondered and processed and grew and shared. As I reflect on these last years—almost 300 posts and tens of thousands of words written—I see that while I've changed the look of my blog, God has changed me.

When I started writing here I was playing lots of tennis and having a great time with it. Much of my days were filled with tennis matches and drills and lunches with friends. Life was good and full and carefree. But tennis had become more than a hobby; it was more like a part time job (that I paid for). And something inside told me that God hadn’t put me on this earth to spend my days that way—that He had more planned for me.

I pulled back from tennis a bit, but continued to play competitively. And then in a match almost exactly three years ago from today, I went for a shot and hurt my elbow badly. The diagnosis? Tennis elbow. What should have gone away in 12 weeks lingered for months. I saw many doctors and therapists, and tried all sorts of treatments. Nothing worked. “Give it time,” most of the specialists said.

The fall tennis season started without me and I mourned the loss of a big part of my life. I looked for ways to fill my surplus of free time and started to write more. I started to focus less on myself and more on others. I discovered gifts I didn’t know I had. And my relationship with God became more intimate and personal.

When I look the last three post-tennis years, I am amazed at the places God has led me. How He’s changed my outlook and centered my thoughts on His work. His children. His purpose for my life.
Since I set down my tennis racket, I’ve:
  • Been to writers’ conferences
  • Joined a writers’ group.
  • Had stories and articles published (and actually got paid!)
  • Been on—not just one—but four mission trips. And have plans for more in the near future.
  • Developed a deep love for missions and Haiti in particular.
  • Joined the prison ministry.
  • Backpacked the Grand Canyon.
  • Confronted (although not conquered) my fear of public speaking. 
  •  Made close friends who have a heart for writing, for missions and especially for the Lord.

I don’t know why I hurt my elbow…or why it refuses to get better. Was it bad luck? An accident? Divine intervention? Perhaps. I do know that when one door closed, a wonderful path came into view. One I started on reluctantly, but now travel enthusiastically. On the road I’ve experienced God in rich and powerful ways. He’s opened my eyes and broken my heart to love His children. And He’s awakened a sense of adventure that is such a part of who I am now.

With the improvements God’s done in me, it’s fitting my blog reflects that change. I no longer see myself as primarily a thinker. A ponderer. An observer. Now I’m a do-er. A risk taker. An adventurer.

And with our awesome God as my guide I’m discovering I’m not so ordinary after all.

We may be happy and comfortable in our lives, but our plans are not always God’s plans, and the good things we do are not always the best He has in store.

Where is God be leading you from "good" to "best" ... from thinking to doing?

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)
Haiti and Me . . . March 2010

July 6, 2011

And the Summer Adventures Begin

Wow! Where has the time gone? Summer officially started here when the kids got off school 20 days ago and it’s been a blur. A good blur, but a blur nonetheless.

We started off our summer preparing for our church's annual Dominican Republic mission trip. This year just my husband and kids were going. The team of 23 men, women and children met in our church parking lot on June 22nd at 3:30am and set off to Santo Domingo for ten days.

It was a fabulous trip for everyone! Each day they made tremendous progress on the worksite (a school/church/medical clinic/water treatment facility)—the same project we’ve been working on for the past three years.

The “old-timers” on the team (including my family) were thrilled to reunite with their Dominican friends and the newbies were old-timers in no time at all. As has come to be the norm for these trips, language and cultural differences didn’t stop Dominicans and Americans from becoming one happy family.

Dan kept us all posted with a blog he wrote—as the internet connection allowed. If you haven’t read it yet and want a look at a wonderful short-term mission experience, check it out (www.woodsidemissionaries.blogspot.com).

God was so evidently at work in it all—the friendships, the work, the worship, the fellowship. As has come to be expected on these trips, God knit together the hearts of His children and used the many experiences to touch so many so deeply. Lives will be forever changed.

During the final night’s worship/goodbye service American and Dominicans joined as family for one last time—until next year. Members from the team were invited to share their testimony and I’ve been told by many who were there that my daughter shared a testimony that was eloquent, emotional and had everyone in the place crying.

To see both of my children blossom and bloom on this trip made my mama heart grow ten sizes. I thank God for His goodness and for answered prayers.

Since the ten days that my family was away was a bit too many days to be home alone, I headed to Florida to visit my sister for a week.What a treat to enjoy so much one-on-one time together. We rested, we played, we talked, we worked a little and boy oh boy did we eat! And then I came home and spent three glorious days (literally the weather was spectacular) home alone.

As I read each update from the DR I questioned my decision to stay behind. But as the days of the trip progressed I felt that God had us all right where He wanted us.

The missionaries returned to a heroes’ welcome--happy and full of stories (and dirty laundry)—softly landing into life with a picnic at our house. What a blessing it was to be with them all and share in the glow of their experience!

While life has been full lately, I sadly haven’t written anything at all! I have, however, been observing, processing and storing up bits for later. We’ll see what comes out the other side.

For now it’s on to our next adventure—hosting an exchange student from Spain who arrived this afternoon. She’s with a group of students from Spain who are here to immerse themselves in English and visit the local sights. Dan and I immediately declared her delightful, and the kids are already planning to visit her at her home in Valencia! Despite it being 1:00am Spain time, and she’s likely weary from traveling, she happily agreed to go with my daughter to a youth group Bible study this evening.

I am excited for this experience—for what we might learn from our guest and for what we might teach her. While much of her time is scheduled, I imagine we’ll show her sights in the area and experience things we’ve always wanted to do and never have. If you’re from the Philadelphia area, do you have any suggestions?

What adventures do you have planned for the summer?

June 24, 2011

Blessing the "Yes!"

Today's my devotion is running at Internet Cafe Devotions. It's a topic I've written a lot about, but one that keeps knocking my socks off. I hope you'll read on and join me there.

Three years ago our couples’ Friday night Bible study tossed around missions ideas we might do together. From the comfort of our college-educated, suburban lives we made logical suggestions—the homeless shelter, tutoring, a food pantry or Habitat for Humanity—but we rejected them all. As our minds searched for new ideas, someone said, “What about prison?”

No one said “no.” In fact no one said anything. We sat stunned and silent. Seconds clicked by and God stepped in. We agreed in unison, “Yes! Prison ministry.”

Moments later I wondered, “What have we done?”

None of us brought a single qualification to prison ministry yet we pursued the idea anyway. Through several “coincidences” God led us to a local prison ministry that ran a weekly worship service. To our surprise its leaders welcomed us, and within a couple months we made our first visit to a maximum security men’s prison.

We weaved our way down the institutional hallways, deeper into the prison, to the chapel.

The service was nothing like I expected or had ever experienced. The inmates who attended were friendly and polite, not scary or threatening. And the service was loud, joyful, spirit-filled and uplifting. Today the prison chapel is my favorite place to worship.

Yet I still struggle to find my place in the ministry. The little voice inside reminds me I don’t belong. First of all I’m a woman—a bit out of place in a men’s prison. My life story doesn’t resemble the harsh realities the men have faced, so I can’t relate to their specific struggles. Plus, I don’t lead worship or sing or play an instrument.

My sensible side adds up the facts and says, “leave.”

But God says, “stay." {Keep Reading}

June 14, 2011

They're In and They're Perfect!

Sorry to keep you hanging! A few of you asked about the grand door adventure and how it turned out. I am happy to report that all went well. The entire installation process went smoothly and we are now the proud owners of new front doors. The front of my house is smiling and so am I. I can't believe what a difference the doors make to the outside and inside of our house.

In the end it was worth the wait and worth the indecision. I am one happy homeowner (and Dan is too).  


Thankfully they are the correct doors! Fresh off the truck and ready to be installed.

What a difference. The foyer is so bright now! (The green in the glass is the grass and foliage.)
After so much indecision, I am SO happy with our choice! And SO happy to be done thinking about it!

What home improvement projects make you happy?

June 10, 2011

Today is THE Day!

Today is the day! After months and months of deciding, hours of researching choices, dozens of times changing my mind and weeks of waiting for delivery, today is the day our new front door will be installed!

Before
As you may recall, deciding on a front door had me tied up in a knot of indecision. Dan and I have made lots of home improvement decisions in our twenty years of home ownership, but making this decision was the hardest. Don't ask me why. All I know is that I'm at peace with the decision we made and I now know A LOT about entry doors! I also know the staff at our local Lowe's very well.

Wesley, my main contact in the door department, deserves an award. I told his boss he needs a raise. Through all of my mind-changing, re-configuring, re-estimating, follow up phone calls and repeat visits, he kept his patience and sense of humor. Last month when we sat down to finally write up the order I asked, "Has anyone ever taken so long to buy a ..."

Goodbye banged-up, dingy, wobbly door
Before I finished my sentence, he said, "No!"

I joked, "But, look how much joy I've brought to your life!"

I've been in Lowe's a lot recently and whenever I have a few extra minutes I swing by the door department to say "hi" to Wesley. He told me he'd been keeping an eye on my door while it sat in the back waiting to be installed. (I think he wants this job finished as much as I do!)

Customer service is such a lost concept these days that when I actually receive it, I'm surprised--and appreciative. My door's not installed yet (and I'm not getting paid for this endorsement) but I must say that all the staff at our local Lowe's is terrific. They're attentive, friendly and thorough. 

I'm hopeful my door will testify to these facts as well!

** This just in . . . the installer just pulled up to the house! I am so excited!!! I just love changes and improvements. Especially when someone else is doing the work. Stay tuned . . . **

It's finally here! But is it the correct door?

June 8, 2011

Nothing But the Blood

It was a sacred space. Time and place set aside. An anointed offering.

Though I was there, I was more witness than participant. I watched and listened. I stored those holy moments as treasures in my heart. And I remember.

They came in slowly. One or two at a time, eventually filling the cinderblock room to half full. They sang, clapped and swayed to the music. Soul-filled prayers touched dark corners and broken places. Some shared an embrace or laid on a hand of encouragement. Some knelt and prayed. Tears flowed freely. Sobs of agony, shouts of affirmation, words of praise shot heavenward like rockets.

Worship in the prison is always unexpected, but last night was different. It was chaotic. It was spontaneous. It was divinely powerful. And it was incredibly personal.

“Have you way with us, Lord” they prayed. And He did.

I saw with my eyes and can testify. There is no dominion too evil, no heart too broken, no walls too impenetrable that the Spirit of God cannot overcome, penetrate and transform. 
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)
 Brokenness. Pain. Rage. Weakness. Unforgiveness. Insufficiency. Sin. Revealed, acknowledge and presented to the Judge.

The verdict?

“I love you,” He said.

“But look at me. Look at my life. Look what I’ve done,”

“I love you,” He said.

"But . . ."

"I love you," He said again.

All because of the blood. The blood. The blood.

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

May 24, 2011

All for One

I'm writing today at Internet Cafe Devotions. I wrote this before the Presbyterian Church USA decision, so it's even more timely now. I hope you'll join me there. Plus the Cafe is having a big summer giveaway!

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)

When I was younger, my best friend (a cat lover) and I (a dog lover) would often argue which made superior pets: cats or dogs. No matter how many times we went round and round, we always ended up exactly where we started—each of us firmly entrenched in our original positions, wondering how the other could be so blind to what was so obvious. We felt sure that the other was…well…wrong.

Rivalries seem to be built into the fibers of our beings.
Republican vs. Democrat
Mars vs. Venus
Yankees vs. Red Sox

We’re not shy to promote our points of view. When we encounter rivals the exchange might be good-natured or a bit more “heated.” In the end we’re usually confident our thinking is right and the other person is…well…wrong.

But what happens when we bring this rivalry and single-minded thinking into the Church? It has certainly led to a lot of us vs. them in the body of Christ.
Evangelical vs. mainline denominations
Catholic vs. Protestant
Traditional vs. contemporary

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, what started as one unified Church has become over 33,000 Christian denominations worldwide and over 6,000 in the United States alone. Churches have split over every conceivable point of pride, passion, practice and preference. It seems a lot of believers think plenty of others are…well…wrong.

I’m passionate about my faith, but I can be single-minded. While I’ve experienced the Church in ways far bigger than the four walls of my home church, I still hold points of view that I think are right. I might not have God in a box, but he’s certainly in a fenced yard. Read more . . .