PRIORITIZE

This morning I woke up to a nice little pudge in my belly, which I have unaffectionately begun to refer to as “Christmas 2014”.  My people are just too good in the kitchen.  My brother is home and so dinners are meat with a side of meat.  And everything has its own butter based dipping sauce.  And every meal requires that you eat seconds.  Because food that good is meant to be devoured until it’s gone. Also my mother-in-law made these delightful things which involved a bacon, cream cheese and generous mounds of brown sugar all nestled in and around a jalapeño pepper and baked just long enough to make you angry that they weren’t already in your mouth.  I simply called them “breakfast”, three days running.  I coupled my  breakfast poppers with pecans which were coated with several layers of cinnamon and refined sugar as well as homemade cheesecake that I would fist fight you for.  My sister-in-law also had a creamy buffalo dip that I hid from Michael so I could eat it all by myself.  I bought heavy whipping cream for my coffee only because it was Christmas and I felt obligated to use it in place of it’s more slender cousin, half-n-half.

Going back to work today DID NOT EVEN HELP.  I brought the leftovers with me, which I enjoyed alongside all the candy that people have given to my children. YES, I ATE THEIR CHOCOLATE.

I actually think that eating fast food might lower my caloric intake.

The obvious goal here would be to get rid of “Christmas 2014”.  However, that would require scales and numbers and a thing called a diet.  I went on a diet one other time in my life. It wasn’t good for the people around me.  So, I’m going to try to just eat less than a football player’s portion and hope things even out before March.

Besides all that, I do not ever make New Year’s Resolutions.  I’m not a very good ‘maintainer’, which I have come to accept, so I generally just try to keep right on doing what I was doing in December. My goal is always the same: To love God and love people.

Even though I try to steer clear of resolutions, I feel like God is whispering something to me.

PRIORITIZE.

Everything to which I am committed gets a little portion of me, and lately the things that are non-urgent seem to be taking more time than I honestly care to give.  I must prioritize my time.

All the clothes and gadgets and toys and shoes have consumed so much of my home, there is scarcely any room left.   I must prioritize my space. 

The luxuries that are considered ‘must haves’  by the Jones require energy and resources to purchase and to maintain. I must prioritize my finances.

I don’t have a goal or a number or a limit to assign any of these categories.  It’s not about a number.  I am simply to prioritize them.  

When I look at how I spend my time, it is to be a reflection of my purpose.  Does my calendar reflect my goal to love God and love others?

When I look at how I use my space, it is to be a reflection of my purpose.  Does my home and my office space reflect my goal to love God and love others?

And when I look at how I spend my money, it is to be a reflection of my purpose.  Does my checkbook reflect my goal to love God and love others?

I started with my space.  It was bogged down with things.  I went through the closets in total Tasmanian-style purge mode. I don’t know where it all came from. But I can tell you where to pick it up: GOODWILL INDUSTRIES.  I’ll be dropping a load off in the morning.

My space already feels so much freer.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy,and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

I’m tackling time next. Me and the calendar have a longstanding love/hate relationship.  But God is clear.

I MUST PRIORITIZE.

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” Joshua 1:8

How can I meditate on the His Word day and night when I fill up my time with so many useless, meaningless things that will not make a Kingdom difference?

And what about my money?  C.S. Lewis’ words from Mere Christianity haunt me:

“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”

He gets his lesson from the widow to which Jesus refers here:

“Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.’” Mark 12:41-44

I am so thankful for having been able to quiet down the past few weeks to hear Him whisper.  I am so looking forward to giving Him more time, space, and resources. I can only imagine my obedience in prioritizing for Him will result in a blessing that cannot be purchased or consumed. Or maybe it will be a jalapeño popper.

I’m good either way.

 

 

 

 

 

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GENEROSITY

If you know my children, you know that my oldest child is spirited. Lively. Animated. At times his impulsivity overrides his conscious and he can be intrusive. Parenting him can be difficult. We both like to be in charge, and there are hard days. And subsequently, he has taught me infinite lessons about mothering, about patience, about expectations, about pride, about life.

And for every single ounce of energy that is in his body, there is every bit as much a generous spirit. It’s a side of him that most don’t see. We spend hours picking out gifts for him to give cousins/teachers/friends. This Christmas season, his generous spirit blessed me so much, moved me to tears, and convicted me of my overwhelmingly selfish nature.

This summer, I felt God speaking to my spirit to give more freely my time, energy, and resources. I like to keep those things for myself, thank you very much. But in prayer, in scripture, in my times of quiet, ‘giving yourself’ just kept surfacing. Like Romans 1 all over my spirit. Like the Parable of the Good Samaritan all up in my face.

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

About eight months ago I met a representative of World Relief at a community prayer breakfast. I was there for eggs and sausage, he was there trying to engage the church to stand for the vulnerable. I mean…. I took his card and put it in my console, where I promptly forgot about it. And then in preparing for a sociology lecture several months later, something in my notes about poverty reminded me about this organization, which, in their words:

We believe God has equipped the church – the most diverse social network on the planet – to be at the center of these stories, leveraging time, energy and resources to join the vulnerable in their time of need. We practice principles of transformational development to empower local churches in the United States and around the world so they can serve the vulnerable in their communities. With initiatives in education, health, child development, agriculture, food security, anti-trafficking, immigrant services, micro-enterprise, disaster response and refugee resettlement, we work holistically with the local church to stand for the sick, the widow, the orphan, the alien, the displaced, the devastated, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised.’

So after scouring their website, drooling over them being Jesus, and trying to reconcile the stirring in my spirit, I decided to pitch the idea to my Sunday School class about getting involved with refugee resettlement. They were all over it. Like willing to give up days off, money, stuff, time, and just whatever. These people are legit. So we went through the orientation and the background checks. The day we went to finalize everything we received notice that our family would be here in 12 days. We had to furnish an apartment from scratch and come up with $1000. And we had exactly zero dollars, zero pieces of furniture, and zero time. It was the week of Thanksgiving.

I wish I could put the entire text thread from our class on here. They were rock stars. Some would send “I’ll take care of a couch.” Others would make Snoop Dogg references (Melissa Partin). Others would give lengthy descriptions of what they would send (also Melissa Partin). Long text short…we had a fully furnished apartment within 3 days, except a dining room table and dresser. So I put out a request on Facebook. And then we had a table, and a dresser, and a car, and another car, and then someone randomly gave me $100 ‘for whatever’…. it went on like that. Some kids even gave up their DS. I eventually had to refer people out….because we were full to overflowing…

Nolan, upon seeing that their son had no toys, began donating his own. Every time we have gone to visit the family, Nolan has brought something from his own room to give to them. Every day, he has asked to spend time with him. He has helped their son with his English homework. He has generously and genuinely given of himself, and never complained. He considers it joy. His generous spirit is a constant reminder to me to let go of that to which I cling so tightly. My space. My things. My time. My money. My energy. Myself.

‘Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.’

That line grips me. Sears my spirit. Is etched in my soul and is propelling me to a kind of service that goes further than standing on the serving side of a soup kitchen line, the table serving as the great chasm between us and them. Soup lines are wonderful. Needed. But if there is no supping together when the dinner is served, I think we have missed the point. I think the kind of giving the Bible speaks of is…all of it. A living sacrifice. The kind that is uncomfortable, inconvenient, costly, and selfless. The kind that honestly enters into the lives of those around us. The kind that reforms and reshapes us in the process.

When Nolan gave their son his prized guitar, his smile was more than I could bear. Nolan’s smile. He was so incredibly genuine in his generosity. The lump in my throat was so huge, I couldn’t speak. Lord, that I could be that generous. Lord, that I could give that freely. Lord, that I would be a living sacrifice, holding nothing back from you. Lord, that my heart would be like that of a child, that I might enter your kingdom (Matthew 18:3).

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And a little child shall lead them…

HEAVEN

On our trip to Disney World, we rode “It’s a small world”.  Twice.  We had mapped out a plan entitled ‘jr. pirate adventurer’, a tour for boys ages 4-8.  It included 22 steps.  We killed it.  All 22 steps and had time left over.  When we exited Peter Pan’s Flight, our final ride, we noticed no lines/no waiting at the infamous boat ride across the ‘street’.  So we hopped aboard and traveled round the not-so-small animatronic attraction.

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of this experience, it is a boat ride through several rooms.  Each room represents a continent.  There are thematic dancing dolls all singing in their native tongue the song ‘it’s a small world.’  The song is played over and over and over again throughout the ride, the tune sticking in your brain like crazy glue forevermore.

I enjoyed the ride, and its catchy tune.

I love cultural variation.  I appreciate the interpretation each society has on life.  Studying other cultures humbles and enlightens me.  It sheds much needed perspective on my American brain of the value of time, the expression of symbols, and the art of dance.  We have much to learn.

The final room of the ride has no continent ascribed to it.  All the dolls are dressed in similar white cloth and are singing in unison. When we got to the final room, Josiah immediately said, “Is this the heaven room?”

I quickly shot back, “No honey.  There is nothing spiritual about Disney World.”

But when we got on the ride the 2nd time, I looked around the final room and whispered to Michael, “you think this is Walt’s interpretation of heaven?” <Uhm….I may have referred to Mr. Disney on a first name basis the entire time we were in his park. I mean, you get close to a guy when you walk around in his imagination for 16 straight hours.>

Michael responded to me in a rarely used sarcastic tone, “yes, Christi Anna, and the angels will all be playing harps and singing in English…”

“Well, maybe they are all singing in their native languages and we can just understand it…because it’s the ‘heaven’ room” I retorted.

I got the ‘you-are-not-going-to-get-me-to-go-there-no-matter-how-long-you-talk’ look.

But try as I might, I couldn’t distinguish from one animatronic doll to the next.  They all looked the same. In unison, in song.IMG_6718IMG_6720

The thing that I think struck Josiah, and me, was the stripping away of the social constructs of race, ethnicity, and culture.  Perhaps that’s what heaven will be like.  In our heavenly forms, there will only be equally illustrious shades of brilliance.  There will be no ethnicity, save that we will be citizens of one Kingdom.  And the culture will be like nothing we’ve known. 

The famous song on the ride indicates:

‘it’s a world of laughter, a world of tears
it’s a world of hopes, it’s a world of fear’

Indeed.

Heaven will be different.  

‘And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.’ Revelation 21:3-5

And there will be no more night. The deep dark suffering will be over.  There will be no sickness, sorrow, nor need of slumber.  There will be neither poverty, unwanted children, war, nor bullies.  There will be no paralysis, no anxiety, no hunger. There will be no rejection, no disappointment, no hate.  No indifference, deployment, or need of a doctor.  No more emergency, no deadline, no depression, no abuse. No waste. No violence. No greed. There will be no more death.

In short, Heaven is infinitely greater than Disney World.  Infinitely greater than the ‘happiest place on earth’.  Infinitely greater than you could ever think or imagine.  Infinitely better than the happiest day of your life.  Infinitely better than your first married kiss.  Infinitely better than the moment your sweet clean baby drifts off to sleep in your arms, and you have nowhere to be. Infinitely better than the crisp mountain air in the fall, when the leaves are in all their earthly splendor.  Better than coffee…on the beach…at sunrise. Infinitely better.  For His word tells us:

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.

And you have a personal invitation.

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LURE

The other day Zachary decided to take Prancer (our dog) for a walk.  Prancer was so excited at first.  Zachary is so energetic and magnetic and happy and eager to spend time with Prancer.  Zachary walked him around for about 2 minutes (tops) and then tied him to the playground.  Prancer got himself wrapped around the slide and ultimately stuck.

I had to go and untangle him.  Prancer then followed me back to the porch and sat very close to me.  When Zachary came back over to get him, he looked at me with pleading eyes and rested his head on my knee.  He planted himself firmly beside me, and no matter how he tugged, Prancer would not allow Zachary to lead him away.

He had been lured away  before.  It resulted in a hopeless feeling.  It resulted in trouble.  It resulted in being stuck, almost unable to breathe.  He knew the outcome, and what he needed to do to protect himself.  He needed me.

What lures you away?  I wonder if it looks as cute and sweet as my precious Zachary.  One more click on that questionable site?  One more bracelet on an already maxed out credit card?  One more angry outburst? One more time with the forbidden fruit?

‘but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.  Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.’ James 1:14-18, 21

There are messes that we create which have to be untangled by the very hand of God.  There are times when we have to rest in Him, with eyes fixed on Him, so as not to be lured away.  Know your weakness.  Trust Him to see you through it.

‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ 1 John 1:9

His grace is greater than you can imagine.  It is overwhelming and all encompassing of your past, and your present.  It is perfect and endless and amazing.  You need only to receive it.  And then…..He will never lead you astray, He will only lead in the way everlasting.  Follow Him. Trust His voice….

‘The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.’ John 10:3

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

I’m standing on the Rock today.  Trusting Him, and Him alone.

MOUNTAIN

I stood over my washing machine with tears streaming down my face.  I did that everyday for three weeks.  I saw what mountain lay ahead of us.

When Michael told me that he felt a calling on his life for ministry, it was a difficult pill for me to swallow.  I was comfortable. I had a boisterous and happy baby boy and was working very part-time with my best friend.  I loved my friends. I loved my church.  I loved my neighbors.  And I loved our home.  We had just remodeled, and it was beautiful in our eyes.  Michael had laid all the bathroom tile himself.  He had tirelessly worked through the night in the freezing cold to finish the roof.  Our view from our bedroom window is one I still miss.  I did not want to give any of it up.  We were settled.

But the tears were because I knew what ‘called’ meant.  I knew what ‘ministry’ meant.  I had been connected to it my whole life.  I knew the sacrifice involved…

I married a mechanic, not a pastor.  He seemed a very unlikely candidate for all of this…

What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory– Romans 9:23

And that [a wretched sinner] is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:11

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

We really had no idea what area of ministry God had called us to.  The only thing we were sure of was that Michael needed training.

What a mountain….

Thus began a six year long process.  The first week Michael had classes was also the first week of our son’s (Josiah) life.  That week was tough.  There was lots of crying. The baby cried too.  Studying was hard. Greek was impossible.  We were exhausted.  We quickly realized that weekends were no longer ours, any extra moments should be reserved for study, and dating one another was getting rarer and rarer.

Still unsure of exactly where Michael was ‘called’ to serve, we spent much time those first few years in prayer, seeking guidance.  The ‘calling’ had been so clear.  The specific area of ministry….not so much.  When we realized that chaplaincy seemed a perfect fit for Michael’s vision of ministry, we began to look at the requirements.  More training, more schooling, more, more, more….

I wish I could tell you that throughout this process we were always hopeful, always joyful, and always sane.  We were not.  We struggled.  Most of the time.  While working, engaging in family matters, raising 3 really rowdy boys, married to me, Michael had to learn so many things.

He had to learn to type.

He had to learn to write.

He had to learn about himself.

He had to read at least 1,647,998 pages of material.

He had to learn Greek!!!

There were dark, dark times.  There was back pain. Loss of grandparents. Sleepless nights. Mountainous struggles financially, relationally, emotionally, and spiritually that were unbearable at times.  Unbearable.  And frankly made it nearly impossible to complete the tasks assigned…

These 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 1:7

But we serve a perfect, loving, gracious, omnipotent, righteous, generous, awesome God.  At times the financial provision was unbelievable. The lessons we learned relationally, saved our relationships.  What we have endured emotionally and spiritually, we now count a sliver of wisdom to see us through trials ahead.  They will come.

Relying on, leaning on, clinging to, trusting God is the only way we have survived….

With all the training, and reading, and studying, the one thing Michael knows for sure is that he still has much to learn.  We have much to learn.

But when he walked across that stage (a journey which had seemed so impossible), yesterday morning, those same gorgeous eyes I fell in love with 16 years ago, were encased in a new body.  I have seen that man that I love be transformed by the renewing of his mind.  I have had such a good view.  The intimate relationship we share through marriage has allowed me to see what God can really do with one who is obedient and faithful.

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

Mountain = moved.

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Congratulations, Babe.  You made it.  I love you.

LIGHT

So here’s the thing…you can’t write a blog about Friday without writing a blog about Sunday.  But I’ve been just staring at the screen.  Having trouble finding the words…

Maybe it’s because I write about my feelings so much.  I feel a lot about the fact that He died for me…while I was yet a sinner. But the fact that ‘He is risen!’ is just harder for me to articulate.  It’s more of a quiet, reverent awe that comes over me.  And triumph.  Overwhelming triumph. Because there is victory over death, over sin, over hell.

And triumph is hard to describe in words.

It’s a welling up in my spirit, the semblance of which comes out only through a cry, a victory cry..a song maybe.

So here’s my alleluia anthem today….

http://www.godvine.com/No-More-Night-by-David-Phelps-Breathtakingly-Beautiful-1048.html

Do you understand that in heaven there will be no more night???

There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. Revelation 22:5

I pray that as I walk forward in the Light of The Risen Lamb, I will reflect the Truth of who He is in all that I say, in all that I do, in all that I am.

You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Be glorified today, Father!