Monday, January 30, 2012

Car Parade and a Grandpa's Star Musings

A line of cars blocked the driveway, extending out into the street. Cars within the lot circled the rows, patiently scouting for spots. Other vehicles drove up onto the front lawn, green grass hidden under a layer of snow. Later arrivals, seeing the depleted spaces, crossed the street to a sprawling shopping mall to borrow their quiet Sunday afternoon parking spots. 

Inside the church, it was a family reunion and memorial rolled into one. A dear grandpa from our church died on Thursday, and yesterday was his funeral. The worship center was packed, and hardworking ushers scurried to bring more chairs, lining the outdoor hallway with additional rows. Inside, sons spoke through tears, and friends sang harmonious hymns from another era. 

The Bible passage our dear grandpa friend had chosen ahead of time marveled at God’s majestic creative powers, mentioning the stars and cosmos, then wondering tenderly, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” 

At the end of the service, we were suddenly given a beyond-the-grave chance to hear this grandpa’s voice and heart again. In a video recorded a week before his death, our gallant grandpa and his fragile wife sat close to each other on a hospice bed. In painstaking breaths, he thanked his God for the many gifts throughout life. He recounted his story of hearing of God’s goodness and choosing to follow him, and the long journey that followed. Reaching out to squeeze his wife’s hand, he counted gift after gift of God’s goodness. In the same breath, he confessed his own failings and shortcomings, leading the topic back again to His Creator’s faithful, extravagant love. Lavished love, unworthy recipients, radical grace...

Wiping tears, I listened and rejoiced. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

I follow his lead today too, and link with Ann, in counting gifts: 

-for a sister's visit and sweet nuzzles from my baby niece
-for hot coffee and a Bible and pen
-for a husband that cooks omelets for us, and starts Bible conversations
-for laughter with old friends over Chinese food and games
-for a church family reunion and for older people in my life who show me Jesus 
-for you, my new and old reading friends! Thank you for joining me here, for stopping by, for honoring me with your presence -- whether you have time to comment or not. 

What about you? What did you do this weekend? In what ways did you see Jesus this week? Count some gifts with me tonight.

-Photos from IStock Microsoft Clip Art

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Did I Lie on Sunday?

The music swelled, drums built, and voices melded. Harmony rose and fell in the background. During worship this week, God suddenly called me on the carpet.

"Do you mean that one, Jennifer?" he asked me quietly during one song. I had been distracted by the lilting inflections of the song so he caught me offguard.

"Do you mean that? Is that true?"

It's an odd thing to have God gently call you a liar. I looked up again at the words to Hillsong's Forever Reign lyrics.
You are joy, You are joy
You're the reason that I sing
You are life, You are life,
In You death has lost its sting

Oh, I'm running to Your arms, I'm running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

You are more, You are more
Than my words will ever say
You are Lord, You are Lord
All creation will proclaim
You are here, You are here
In Your presence I'm made whole
You are God, You are God
Of all else I'm letting go

Oh, I'm running to Your arms I'm running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
 Light of the world forever reign

My heart will sing
no other Name
 no other Name
 Jesus, Jesus

"Can you say that the riches of my love will always be enough for you? What about...?" and he talked to me with an insight only he fully has.

"And remember that in my presence you are made whole, Jen? How does that change this _______________?" he asked tenderly, lovingly.

My throat choked up. "Yes, God. I want that. Help my life reflect that."

On the next chorus round, I sang it again, smiling and lovingly teary-eyed.

What about you? What song have you been thinking about or humming this week? What have you been learning?

(Photo from IStock Microsoft Clipart)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

You Know You're a Youth Pastor's Wife When...

1.) There's a bus key on your key chain but you don't drive bus.

2.) Your children have all been youth group mascots throughout the years.

3.) Your toddler could fist-pump and other cool hand signs by eighteen months.

4.) Male students of all ages call your house to see if your husband can come play.

5.) You love playing cards and the latest board games alongside the students too.

6.) There are scores of youth group-age girls, college girls, and even young married moms whom you will forever call "My girls." Coffee dates are often.

7.) Your husband and his 11th grade son dominate at dodgeball and ultimate frisbee.

8.) Your Facebook friends are predominately students-- current and former.

9.) You and your man find yourself talking about youth group stuff on dates and have to laughingly ban the topic temporarily.

10.) When you drive past teens waking down the street, you crane your head, praying for them and hoping they're plugged into a good church somewhere!

Tag! You're it. "You Know You're a West Coast Artist When..." or "You Know You're a Foreign Service Officer When..." or "You Know You're Married to a Chiropractor When..." or "You Know You're a Teacher When..." I'm eager to read yours. Feel free to link up to this post here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Peasants and Piercings (Atheist Conversation Part Two)

Thanks to those who joined us in the last post "Crying With an Atheist at a Bus Stop." I invited you to join me today in pondering a great question she asked me via email.

My jaunty-hatted, honest new friend Jamie* respectfully posed this question: 
                 Why would one live one's life as a servant (of the lord),
                 considerably limiting their freedoms and options
                just to die and become a servant in a more intense setting only to
               worship, honor, and glorify their lord, minimizing their self-worth

               to that of a peasant in the middle ages?

After a few days to pray and reflect, I responded: 
You asked a good question, wondering why anyone would want to be like a slave to Jesus. I've been pondering your question and wondering how to best answer it. It's such an interesting thing to think about my relationship to Jesus. 
Historically, back in the day, there were so many different types of slaves, that people were familiar with the concept.This wasn't a biblically-endorsed thing, just a reality of life back then: both in the Middle Ages (like you mentioned) and in ancient civilizations. Slavery could be because someone had been captured by a neighboring village --I saw remnants of old serfdom villages in the south of France and warring villages that stood opposite each other!-- or because one was in debt and would then sell themselves for labor as a way to pay off the debt. This has been throughout history.
The Bible--always the radical-- came up with something radical and revolutionary. In the biblical book of Exodus, God gave Moses the law for his people. One of the cool radical things he set up was the idea of the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-55). Hating slavery and the sadness it caused people in history, God said that every 50 years there would be a year of Jubilee ("happiness"). In that year, all debts were forgiven; any one who had been made a slave was set free, no matter what! And everyone was restored to freedom, which is God's plan. I love that idea.
2000 years later, when Jesus came on the scene in Rome-controlled Israel, he stood up in his home church and announced his job description. In Luke 4:18-19, we see that he said "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of God's favor."
I know that we can be slaves to many things in life: to fear, to our pasts, to shame, to addictions, to unforgiveness, to bitterness, to cruelty, to materialism, to greed, etc. Jesus came, talking about freedom! The Israelites at that time misunderstood him, expecting him to overthrow the political tyranny of the Romans. Jesus, though, kept saying that his new kingdom was coming later, and wasn't about political power. Revelations 1:5 in the second half of the verse says: "To him who loved us and has freed us from our sins by his blood," and Romans 5:8 says "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  2 Corinthians 3:17 says "Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Jesus said "I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly!" in John 10:10.
There is so much joy in surrendering yourself to someone powerful and loving who cares for you and has your best interests at heart! (That's another paragraph for another day!):)  He went through so much pain for me on that cross, and he has shown his tender love for me so many times, that I am just thrilled to follow him and love him and want to get to know him more all the time.
In the olden days, in that year of Jubilee when slaves were all freed, there was a custom that if anyone wanted to, they could choose to stay on working for the family that they had been slaves for. Now I can't imagine wanting to stay working for a human master, but apparently it happened that workers knew they were loved and wanted to stay with employers at times. At that point, the custom was that they would get their ear pierced a certain way, and would announce to others that they had chosen to serve and love this employer for life. They were called bond-servants.
Well, in the New Testament (second half of the Bible), Paul, the author of much of the NT calls himself a bond-servant of Jesus. Saying that he has chosen, out of love, to want to follow and serve Jesus all his life. That's interesting. He must have seen something different in this Being, that he wanted to follow him so wholeheartedly! It seems that a bond-servant then has different connotations, more loving and more of a choice--not degradation.
I'm long-winded, sorry, Jamie.*  You've just asked a good question and I wanted to give you my serious time in answering it.
Have you ever felt that there had to be more to life? Have you ever wanted to throw yourself wholeheartedly into something that was bigger than you, something that was Significant and was worth your life and death? I have, and I have found that in Jesus. He is worth it, and he shows me the meaning of life.
How is your week going? What's a normal week for you like? I hope to hear from you again. Please keep those questions coming! They are fun and I appreciate your honesty.
What about you? What would you have said or added here? What interesting conversations have you had about your faith with other people? 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Crying With an Atheist at the Bus Stop

 Dropping off my uncle at a Greyhound bus station several years ago, I noticed a young woman in her early twenties. Actually, first, I noticed her hat. A cocky little round-brimmed black hat, she carried it off fabulously. Then I noticed her eyes.

She was sad, tears welling up, as she straddled her bags outside of the lobby. I respectfully tried to give her space and privacy, looking away deferentially. Minutes passed though and her tears became larger and soon she was sobbing. Alone, on the front pavement by the street, she cried.

That undid me. Walking over to her, I respectfully asked her if she was okay. The woman mumbled something, shook her head and wept some more. Leaning down on my knees, touching her hand, I asked her if I could hug her. She laughed, nodding, and cried some more as we hugged.

"Do you want to talk?" I asked, and we did for over an hour. My uncle's bus had long since driven away. My two kids played patiently on the sloped sidewalk nearby, as traffic roared by a dozen yards away. And we talked.

There was a boy, and a mom, and the hospital, and treatment. Hard situations without easy fixes. I listened, asked questions, and listened some more. I shared too, and asked if I could pray with her right here in the parking lot.

"I'm an atheist," she said. With respect and unchanged care, we spoke some more. I asked questions, she asked questions, and she asked me to, yes, please, pray for her and her friend in that situation. Humbly, joyfully, I did.

By now, my children had run out of things to do on a cement sidewalk and parking lot. Watching with serious eyes, though, they were patient as they heard us talking. I hugged my jaunty-hatted young friend again, and my kids and I drove away.

She emailed me later that week! We exchanged a few emails, asking respectful questions back and forth. "Thank you for your openness and kindness," she wrote.

Our emails slacked off and it's been years since we've talked now. She comes to mind now though and I pray for her, wondering how she is doing. 

Join me in my next post for one of the great questions she asked, and my humble stab at it.

What conversations stick in your brain? Who are you remembering and praying for right now?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Screeching Monkeys and Rain Drops

At my kitchen table with coffee, my Bible, and our family's Gratitude Journal, I have been counting gifts. This is a journey of seeing God's lavished love and counting the ways he shows his beauty.

-Bible, coffee, shadows slanting across a quiet yard
-tiny yellow post-it note verses of God's truth and peace; rain droplets beaded up on plastic yellow seat in January; sunrise glories
-rain turning to snow before my eyes
-droplets suspended like diamonds from bike handles
-French phrases beside me as daughter soaks it in and learns
-monkey screeches below me as three year old distracts sixteen year old from his school
-my Bible beside me -- God's word ready to teach, instruct, inspire
Closing the gifts notebook, I turned to my Bible where the yellow post-it notes mark my place. Isaiah 55 picks up where I left off yesterday.

 "Why spend ... your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live..."

"..As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering  the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;

 the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briars the myrtle will grow.

This will be for the Lord's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed" (verses 2, 3, 10-13).

Outside my window, the rain and snow continue to fall, soaking into the olive green lawn, soaking into me.

What about you? What have you been reading and thinking about this week? What is soaking into you today?

(Photos from Microsoft clipart)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Roses and Sit-ups

Somewhere between mincing onions and stirring rich yellow curry sauce, it happened. Hurtful words sliced deep. A quiet heart in a bustling room, tears held back. After supper, I grabbed my shoes and jacket, slipping out the door to the night.

The dark enveloped me. A rural sleep, so silent compared to my suburban home, muffled my steps. "Why, Lord?" Moonlight touched dark houses.

Sometimes marriage is romance and roses. Other times it seems more like situps and running the hard laps. Breathe, keep going, breathe, you can do it, breathe, this is worth it, breathe, the hard work pays off, breathe, this will be beautiful afterward.

In the pre-marital counseling sessions we do with young couples before they get married, we talk honestly about the great days of marriage and the hard days of marriage. We share that love is a choice, a commitment, and that in the hard moments when we may not even feel like we "like" each other, we need to race to God, ask him to soften our hearts, humble ourselves, and then choose to find the good, loving anew, having the hard talks.

I am passionate about strong marriages. I am in love with my man, and am so proud of him. He is a great youth pastor, wonderful dad, tender husband.

Walking under that night sky, I talked with and listened to God. "This is obedience to you," I said. "This is to make me more like you, right?" Too often I fall into focusing on what makes me feel loved, rather than on what shows love to my Creator (first), and then on what makes my husband feel loved.

Breathing deeply, inhaling the chilled night air, I grabbed the door handle. We made eye contact, and my heart softened. We cuddled into each other. Later we talked humbly in our dark room, apologizing, revealing, committing to look for ways to serve, build up and love each other.

The romance and roses returned, and the hard work paid off.

Monday, January 2, 2012

5 Ways to Connect With Your Teen Son/Daughter This Week

“I like the crunching snow,” he states as we walk in the dark. Streetlamps puddle light every block or so. Red, green, blue and white Christmas lights still twine around neighbors’ decks and shrubs, blinking at us.

The wind blows cold and scatters snow sequins at us, and I draw my black scarf higher on my cheeks. “Let’s take the wooded path since there are two of us,” I reason. We don’t normally walk alone down dark secluded paths.

At the bottom of the hill, surrounded by towering trees, we immediately halt in silence. The wind roars in the black branches above me, like ocean waves. Branches sway under a grey clouded moon, and I can hear the aged trunks rumbling as they move in the fierce wind. We linger in the wooded glen, just listening to the roars and creaks, and breathing in deep air. Then we continue our evening walk, laughing and talking as we go.  

As a mom of three kids, including a preschooler, I confess that being intentional about time with my kids is often hard. After a long day, it is so much easier to collapse on the couch with a movie at night, or slip into facebook and email mode on the computer, than to look for ways to invest in my kids. But I am seeing how quickly time passes—my oldest has just one more year of high school left, and he is often gone now at friends’ houses. My lanky daughter grows more willowy by the day, and can disappear into online chat with friends.

Being intentional about time with our kids is vital, and is always hugely rewarding when we do it. Creating memories with your family doesn’t need to be expensive or exhausting. Here are five tips that have worked for our family.

1.)    Car Trips = Captive Audiences. Crank the radio lower and start some conversations the next time you are in a vehicle shuttling between classes, gymnastics, or swim team. Then, just listen as your teen talks and shares his or her life. Occasionally ask questions, but don’t be afraid of some silence. A pause allows them to start their own topics. 

2.)    Physical Touch is still important. While snuggling on the couch isn’t as common now as when they were toddlers watching cartoons, physical affection is still very important and needed for teens. Back rubs, hand or foot massages, hair tousles, rough-housing and hugs are still great ways to say I love you

3.)    Join them in their hobbies and interests. Throughout the last month, my daughter has been filling us in on seaside fiascos and gelatinous water villains from a mermaid show that she has been following. Last night she and I cozied up on the floor with velvet pillows to watch the season finale. Find out what your teen is passionate about, ask them questions about it, have them teach you something, and join them. This could be a great way to get in shape and learn a new hobby too. We enjoy trying new family games. 

4.)    Go on a date. My children use coffeeshops against me, knowing that I am too easily talked into them, but we have great talks over their strawberry-banana smoothies. Life, friends, end-of-season-sports, relationship questions and more can come from these special times out.

5.)    Enjoy God-talks together. Pray together over meals, or spontaneously for sick friends or family, and for lost keys, sad days, etc. Tell your child what you have been reading in God’s word lately, and confess what you have been struggling with applying recently. Joyfully share cool things God is teaching you. Be quick to apologize, and to sincerely ask forgiveness.