He’s Still Working on Me

I spoke, when I should have been silent. It was a situation in which I had the opportunity to extend grace and understanding but instead allowed my pride and hurt to win and thus overshadow the gospel being lived out in the situation. I did not heed the Holy Spirit’s leading. I followed my own path and in doing so caused hurt to others. I paid no attention to the verses I had recently memorized…

Psalm 141:3-4 “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil…”

Proverbs 19:11 “Good sense makes one slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

After reflected on the words I had spoken, guilt set in. I realized I had spoken words that should not have been uttered. I showed no grace, no forgiveness. And worse of all, I had memorized words but had not allowed them to penetrate my heart and transform me.

I had to examine my heart, which can be an incredibly painful process when we are honest with what we find there. What I found was ugly and dark.

One of two things could have happened at this point: 1) I could have wallowed in the guilt allowing it to eat away at my soul OR 2) I could ask God to forgive me, ask those offended and hurt to forgive me, and walk in the freedom that forgiveness and grace bring.

Honestly, I sat in the guilt for a few minutes before I cried out for forgiveness from God. And an extraordinary thing happened when I did…peace began to enter my heart and take the place of the ugliness and darkness of sin. Once I had asked forgiveness from those I hurt, peace reigned fully and relationships were restored but not to the previous status. I believe to an even higher one…one that is more grace-filled, understanding, and mindful of each other.

A childhood song came to mind during these two days and I kept singing it over and over to myself…

“He’s still working on me
To make me what I need to be
It took him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be
‘Cause He’s still workin’ on me”

Praise God that He didn’t create us and leave us alone. Instead, “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3:4-6)

 If my sanctification is a result of my efforts I will come up short every.single.time. I will fail. I will never look more like Jesus. But God, in his loving kindness sent Jesus to die for me and the Holy Spirit to renew me. Not only that, but we have the hope that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

That’s good news.

Like a Tree Planted By Water

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It was movie night. The kids were engrossed in the action on the TV, while devouring a huge bowl popcorn. Paul went to the bathroom, soon afterwards calling for me to come help him. Sitting down, he said he was having extreme pain in his side and felt like he was going to pass out.

I helped him to the couch, where he laid, curled in a ball of pain. The kids sat…still engrossed in the movie, devouring a now half-eaten bowl of popcorn.

I somehow knew immediately it was either an appendicitis or a kidney stone, which his father has and which I, honestly, have been waiting 10 years for him to develop. Either way, it was clear after less than five minutes he was going to need to go to the hospital.

I called Justin, our teammate. After apologizing for calling so late on a Friday night, I explained the situation. We decided it would be better for Justin to take him to the hospital and for me to stay at home with the kids, who are still glued to the TV but done with the popcorn.

I packed a bag just in case he had to stay overnight. Justin and Santei (an intern) came as quickly as they could, and after helping Paul down the stairs, I put him in the van and sent him to the hospital…without me.

I promptly returned upstairs to put the kids to bed. The movie had ended and they finally noticed Daddy wasn’t there. I calmly explained Justin was taking him to the hospital because Daddy was in a lot of pain and we weren’t sure why.

I crocheted and watched a movie and prayed. I waited to hear something.

Because that was all I could do.

And while I wanted to be at the hospital, I knew that even there, I would be doing the same thing and not even in the same room with my husband.

During this whole process, I remained calm. I did not once panic or cry or freak out. I don’t know that my reaction would have been the same a few years ago. I’m prone to dramatics, so needless to say, remaining calm during high stress situations is not my forte. My dad has always said there is something to be said about being steady, even during difficult times. He is the epitome of steadiness though. I’ve seen him break bad news several times, and the words that would always comes to my mind as I watched him were calmness and steadiness.

I have been reflecting on how it is I was able to stay calm. The one thing that keep coming back to my  mind is something I read several days before the kidney stone attack, which we learned it was about an hour after he got to the hospital. It was Jeremiah 17:8,”He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” The preceding verse tells us whom “He” is referring. “He” is “the man who trusts in the the Lord.” Who is speaking? God. God is telling Jeremiah the man who trusts in the Lord will be blessed, though trials come, he will remain steadfast, strong, and bear fruit because he is rooted in the Lord. Back up a few verses and he tells us what happens when we put our trust in “man and makes flesh his strength.” Basically, nothing good.

It is not by my strength that I am able to do anything. My weaknesses are made clear to me on a daily basis. Like Paul, I want to be content with “weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” because “when I am weak, that I am strong.” I want to be steady and calm when the hard things come not out of vanity but because I believe it points to the power of Christ in me.

My strength would have failed me that Friday night. I would have been crying, worried, anxious in my own strength. I believe the Holy Spirit began doing something in me long before that night: showing me my weaknesses and finding strength in Him, giving me a thirst for Him so that I spend time with Him not just in the morning but throughout the day, and learning to allow Him to be the roots that hold me fast, steady, calm, bearing fruit. Because of these things that He was doing in me (and that I was allowing Him to do) I was steady and calm in a moment when I normally would have been anything but.

The Bad Thing About Living in Community

So, I don’t really think that belonging to a community of believers is bad. However, the title got you to click the link so let’s keep going and I’ll explain my meaning behind the title. 

When true Christian community happens, there are bonds that form between people that last long after job transfers, moves, and life changes. They are bonds that grow deeper than friendship. They are the bonds of Christian love. 

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From about the middle of August until around the middle of November I go through a period of something that I am going to name “Not Greatness.” The Not Greatness doesn’t affect me everyday…I’ve been there, done that, and learned a lot along the way. However, every year since leaving Winston-Salem, I go through the Not Greatness. It usually sneaks up on me out of nowhere. There I’ll be, minding my own business, going about my day, and BAM! Suddenly I’m crying, longing for something I left behind.

What is it the I am longing for?  What is it that the Not Greatness has me bawling my eyes out over?

It is community. Specifically, the community I left behind in Winston Salem.

Why this time of year? I have some guesses but I don’t know exactly. The Fall made me fall in love with Winston Salem, and Winston Salem made me fall in love with the Fall. I had never seen leaves turn the colors they do until I moved there. The golds, reds, and oranges surrounded me as I walked my neighborhood. I learned to appreciate the full cycle of life and God’s creation in a different way. It is a time of the Dixie Classic Fair, walks on brisk days, fire pits and smores, festivals, trick or treating, and hot chocolate. 

But if it was just these things and events I don’t think I would have such a longing. I don’t think the Not Greatness would even rear it’s head. And I don’t think that two years ago I would have walked through deep depression. No, it’s not the things and events.  It’s the people that were with me when I was doing these things and going to these events that made them so special. The people  are what I long for and miss. They are the reason behind the Not Greatness. 

Please don’t hear me say I don’t love where I am or that I want to be somewhere else.  I love where I am. There is no where else I’d rather be. I’m trying to make new traditions and find new events and things to invite others into that will make them just as special as the things and events I left behind. I am loving the community that is developing around me. It’s beautiful and lovely and brings great joy. But there are times when I long, desperately so, for those friendships I left behind that go deeper than friendships. They are relationships rooted in Christian love and community. 

So why is it that I still miss this community so much? What is it that made it (and continues to do so) special? It’s the love that exists between us. It’s the love that most of us hear preached about at weddings, but really was intended for the Church. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul writes to the church in Corinth that “[l]ove is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

When the Church remembers that is to be like Christ, who IS LOVE (which means he is all the things in the list Paul gives us) then what a better Church we would be. How amazing it would be to have a body of believers who didn’t insist on their own way or hold grudges or let sin slide under the rug. How incredible to have that body be patient and kind to one another, never letting arrogance or conceit or envy put them at odds with one another.

And this is how my community in Winston-Salem functioned. It did not accomplish this perfectly, but this description of love was its foundation. Everything was based on this. It was how we were able to forgive one another for offenses, celebrate each others successes, mourn losses, serve selflessly, give freely, and take correction. It was a community that pushed me, tried me, made me uncomfortable with my sin…and drew me closer to Christ.

So what’s the “bad thing” about true Christian community ? It is having to walk away from it. I guess the Not Greatness isn’t so bad either. It reminds me of people I love. It reminds me to pray for them, call them, text them.  The great thing about this community is that no matter where I am in the world, it will always be there. A phone call, a text message, a FaceTime call away. They are forever a part of our lives, no matter how many miles separate us. This is what true community should be, right? Our lives should be so interwoven that when one of the threads breaks away, it 1) hurts like crazy and 2) is not severed completely from the others.

As I think about where I am now, I look forward to the new relationships and community that are developing that will be closer than friendship because of in Whom it is rooted. I am excited for the 1 Corinthians kind of love to permeate who we are as a church and how we interact with one another.

So I give myself permission each Fall to feel the deepness of the Not Greatness, but I don’t give my permission to stay there. Instead, I mourn what was and I look forward to what will be.

The Door That Never Stops Revolving

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Our doors revolve. And sometimes quickly. The door can be revolving so fast at times it makes your head spin. People come and go faster than the golden snitch trying to evade a Seeker during a Quidditch match (that one’s for you Vince Rice). Before they are over jet lag good it is time for them to return to their lives wherever that may be. It can be hard at times to keep up with everyone stepping out of the revolving door and into your life and then stepping back out again.

People coming is good. That is not the difficult part. Just the opposite. It’s the easy part. It’s the looked forward to part. The anticipated, over-the-top excited part.

One would naturally assume that the leaving would be the difficult part. While it is difficult it is not the most difficult part, at least for me. Why? Because they always leave. They have lives to get back to after all. No one expects them to extend their trip indeterminately. They did, after all, buy a return ticket.

No, the difficulty is not in the coming or the leaving. The difficulty is how to let them into your heart and lives on more than a superficial level knowing they are only here for a few short days or maybe months. The difficultly is not becoming numb to the emotion that comes with the revolving of the door with all the different people stepping off either into my house or out of it.

It would be so easy to not even try to get know people or not be “real” with them. It would be easy to not let them in, to put up a guarded fence that maybe one can peep through between the slats but cannot penetrate.

This is one of my fears. Not one that has been realized too much at the moment but one that I am fearful will develop if I don’t watch out for it and make sure that I don’t pick up the hammer and some nails to begin building that fence without even knowing it. I don’t want to become numb to the revolving door.  That’s not to say you don’t get used to it. You do. How could you not? But there has to be a healthy balance between letting people in and letting them go well, without either shutting down and not letting people in and becoming an emotional wreck every time the door starts to revolve when someone walks away back to their life. I don’t want to be an emotional basket case when folks leave but I also don’t want to shut down emotionally.

Almost more importantly, I don’t want my children to become numb to people coming and going. It is the way of their lives-people constantly coming into their lives and then leaving. Honestly it is one part of their lives that I don’t care for too much.  It is ugly and hard and not fun. But it gives us the opportunity to teach our children how to love people and how to let them go well, which they will need all their lives as people come and go for various reasons.

While constantly putting people back on the revolving door is an ugly, not-so-nice part of this life, the beautiful part is the people who step off that door as it circles round and round, the new friendships that are formed, the old friends whose faces you get to see, the family you cling to for minutes on end.

My prayer is that we as a family never become immune to the revolving door but instead embrace all who walk through it into our lives for however long they are here before they circle back around and head home.

Holding Hands Because I Want To

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She’s never been a really super cuddly one, that title belongs to her brother. As a toddler she would sometimes push me away when I would try hug her or kiss her little dimpled check. This has changed little as Gingernut has gotten older.

Me? I like touch. I like cuddles and hugs. I like to hold hands with the kids. Lil’ Paul will almost always hold my hand. Gingernut…not so much.

Several months ago, Gingernut and I had to have a “talkin’ to.” For those vague with this phrase, it is simply when one person needs to be talked to about something of importance by another person.  Our “talkin’to” was about hand holding. When I would take Gingernut’s little porcelain white, freckled hand in mine, she would kinda pull/snatch/wrench it away, which almost always upset me. Finally, one day, instead of getting upset, I explained to her that when she pulls her hand out of mine it hurts my feelings. If she doesn’t want to hold my hand she only has to tell me so. Now, she does just that. But I’ve found that since the “talkin’ to” she will come up beside me and slip that dear little hand into mine more and more and without any coaxing from me. She takes my hand because she wants to, not because I forced her to do it.

Our heavenly Father desires for us to come to Him not out of a forced will or out of a sense of duty but because we want to, because we know in Him is found our fullest satisfaction.

The psalmists wrote:

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

“Delight yourself in the LORD; and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

“I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” Psalm 34:1

Jesus  said that “‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.'” Matthew 13:44

In God, and only God, can we be fully satisfied. The psalmists knew this. Jesus knew that we could never been satisfied without him. And when we are satisfied in him then we come to him with joy, thanksgiving and praise. How could we do otherwise?

I was told many moons ago that sometimes we come to God solely out of obedience. We won’t always “feel” like reading the Bible or praying, but we do it anyway. I know that the not always “feeling” like it feeling is true because I have experienced it, but does that make it ok? Is God most glorified and honored when I come to Him solely out of obedience or a sense of obligation or an “I have to” attitude? I don’t think so. Based on what I read in Scripture I think that just like I want Gingernut to want to hold my hand, God wants us to want to be with Him. Not because He made us but because it makes us happy and fulfilled and complete to do so.

In the 100th psalm, the psalmist writes,

“Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

We are to come to Him with joy, gladness, singing, and thanksgiving. That doesn’t sound like someone who feels an obligation or duty. It sounds like someone who has learned that in God is found their fullest satisfaction. If I know that, as John Piper says, in him is satisfaction to the fullest and forever, then how could I ever come to Him solely out of obedience or obligation? Abiding in Him is obedient, but it is done out of love. I want to always pursue Him with a humble spirit, full of praise and adoration, knowing that in Him only can I ever be truly joyful, content, filled, satisfied, loved. He wants to be my greatest desire. Do I want Him to be mine? If I know the truths found in Scripture how could I not?

And yet, so many times I fail. I fail to delight in Him, choosing to find my delight in the world and always coming up empty. I fail to be fully satisfied in Him, instead looking around me for satisfaction. I fail to love Him and end up not loving those around me well. I fail to praise Him and by the end of the day I have all but cursed the life I live.

I have learned that in those moments, the moments when I don’t “feel” like it, the first thing I need to do is confess and ask God to forgive me. Then ask Him to give me the desire to want to be with Him, to remind me of His greatness, His goodness, His love, His grace, His mercy.

I want so much to crave Him every single moment of every single day for the rest of my life. I want to love Him so much that the love I have for others looks like hate in comparison. I don’t want to have “spiritual highs” because they will inevitably be followed by  “spiritual lows”. Even in the valleys that life will inevitably bring my way, I want to be found faithful, not just in my having a relationship with God but with how I have attended to that relationship. I want to purse Him on the mountaintops and the valleys. I never, ever want to think of my relationship with Him as mundane or ordinary. And I never, ever want to come to Him out of obligation or because I think I “have to.”

I always want to want to slip my hand lovingly, quietly into His, allowing Him to gently hold me, leading me where He wants me to go. And in doing so, bring Him glory and honor.

How I Came to be a Lover of the Written Word

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My sixth grade English teacher passed away recently due to complications from lupus. Mrs. LeVert has remained one of my favorite teachers over the years. I can still remember where I sat in her classroom – second desk on the front row on the far side of the room, by the window. I remember how she used transparency sheets on an overhead projector and was constantly erasing her multi-colored writings. I remember how she wore her reading glasses on a chain  and when she put them on her nose they sat close to the nip of her nose. She would look over those glasses at you with kindness – or sometimes sternness- in her eyes.

Perhaps the greatest memory I have of Mrs. LeVert though is her reading, “The Bridge to Terabithia” aloud to us. I remember walking to her room anxious for everyone to sit down, pay attention, and get their work done so there would be time left over for her to read to us. How angry I would become at the other students when, heaven forbid, they asked a question. “I mean, for the love of Pete, just be quiet so we can get to the good stuff,” or something like it probably went through my mind. I’m sure there was a eye roll or two to accompany the thought.

On the blessed days when everyone cooperated with my need to hear another chapter read and got their work done (my work was probably done to half-par standards just so I could get it done quickly), Mrs. LeVert would pull out the book, sit down in her chair that she placed in front of the projector, adjust her glasses, and begin to read, magically taking us to another time and place.

As she read, “She stole my Twinkies!” Jess sighed. “May Belle, didn’t I tell you?” “You gotta kill Janice Avery. Kill her! Kill her! Kill her!”, Mrs. LeVert screamed and cried just like a small girl would do if some great tragedy has befallen her.

And when Mrs. LeVert read when Jess discovers what has happened to Leslie, anguish and tears in her voice, I sat at my desk sad, crying, and distraught. How dare Katherine Paterson do such a terrible thing. It’s the first time I can remember being so moved by the written word. It opened up an entirely new world for me. I enjoyed reading before this, but this moment, this reading of a now most beloved book, catapulted me into a love of reading that I hope to pass on to my children.

Mrs. LeVert accomplished many things in her life. But for me, she accomplished something that has continued beyond her classroom….She gave me a deep, saturating, never-ending love…a love for traveling to new places, meeting people, and having adventures that can only be found in the written word.

 

Affection, Unity and Love: Things found in the Gospel

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Our summer interns left this week. I don’t think I have written about them this summer. Daniela has been here five weeks and Chelsea came down for three weeks after some time up north. During these last few weeks they have become an interwoven part of our families and it has been hard this week without them here. While I am excited to hear about all the incredible things that await them in the coming months, I am also incredibly sad. Part of me is still expecting the door to ring at 9:00 every morning.

Two weeks ago Tommy Orlando, a pastor from America, and his family were here for a few days. While here, Tommy preached on Acts 20, focusing on verses 36-38.

“And when [Paul] had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.”

Tommy’s main point was that there should be great affection between believers. Even if we have nothing in common, nothing that would bring us together under normal circumstances, we have Jesus. Jesus unites us. It may be all we have in common, but it’s the greatest thing we have in common. It binds us together in a way that nothing else can, which is why Jews and Gentiles, slaves and slave-owners could weep together as they saw Paul to his ship, knowing they may never see or hear from him again.

If the Gospel unites us, if it creates deep affection between believers, then why is they so much disunity among us? When I read the things people are writing in light of all the terrible recent events not only in America but around the world, a question presents itself: Where is the Gospel?

Church, we are not told to only love the easy, those who look like us, those who think like us, those in the same socio-economic status as us, those who go to the same type of church as us.We are told to love. Above everything else, love.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”            1 Peter 4:8

How can we expect the world to change when professed Christians do not love each other with the love of God? But how do we define that love? 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and 1 John 3:16 tell us how.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

Jesus is the only person who loved perfectly because he is only the one who could love perfectly. He set the bar high, didn’t he? But if we are to be imitators of Christ, then it means we are to imitate him in all things, not just the things that suit us or the things that are easy. We are to love all people, all the time. How else can the Gospel be seen?

 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.When we take our eyes off the cross, forgetting all that we have been forgiven, and only see the differences, the sin, the ugliness in each other, we can not have a deep affection for one another. If we cannot love one another well, how can we expect to love those outside the circle of brotherhood well?” Luke 6:42-36

We should have a great affections for one another to the point that we suffer, we laugh, we cry, we rejoice, and we grieve with one another. That is not only having great affection for each other but what it means to live in community with one another. Our great affection for one another should trump any wrong suffered. As Tommy said, how can we remember the bloody face of Jesus hanging on the cross for our transgressions, forgiving us, loving us, dying for us and NOT forgive, not have sympathy, not care for other brothers and sisters in Christ? How can we turn our heads and look the other way when they are hurting? The love found in the Gospel compels us to care for them. Even if it is the only thing we have in common.

This affection, this love, that unites us is exactly why it was so hard to say goodbye to two young women I have only know a few short weeks.

The Challenge of Interruptions in Life

A couple of weeks ago I had a incredibly crazy day stretching out in front of me.. I mean, C to the R to the A….well, you get the picture.

It was absurd the amount of things I needed to get done. I was feeling stressed and I didn’t even have children with me that day because they were at an English camp that this incredibly great team from Orlando was putting on.

I set about my day as soon as I had left the kids at the drop-off zone, said hello and good luck to the team, and kissed my cute hubby goodbye for the day. After a quick stop at the market I headed home to drop off my bags and then head out again to do more errand-running.

On the way home I ran into my friend, Sara*. We chatted for a few minutes and as good Italian manners dictate, she invited me for a coffee, which I accepted. I have to interrupt the story here to tell you what was going on in my head at the moment. If you are a task-oriented, ticker-off-of-list, “if I don’t get all the things done the world as we know it will cease to exist” person then you will understand my next few sentences. If you are a fly by the seat of your pants kinda person, you have no idea what I am talking about unless to are married to the other type of person.

Many thoughts ran through my mind in the five seconds after she invited me to coffee.

“I have too many things to do.”

“A little coffee break could be nice.”

“How will I EVER get it all done?”

“It’ll just be a quick, stand-up coffee. I have time for that.”

“I’ve got these heavy bags.”

“I’d really like to go have coffe.”

“Do I have TIME???”

I went. The bags were placed on the stroller, which contained her sleeping one-year old, and off we went. While walking Sara says, “Let’s sit down.” Oh mercy, this just turned into an event. An event that on one hand I was happy to attend and on the other caused my blood pressure to go up because of the bigger time crunch I’d be under.

We found a nice shady spot and ordered our coffee drinks and began chatting. The conversation quickly turned to more serious matters and I quickly realized  Sara was need of someone to talk to and I was that somebody.

We talked for almost an hour. She talked, I tried my best to understand and then communicate things accurately. Grace is seen abundantly when I am in the midst of hard conversations in Italian. And though Sara is a believer, I was able to remind of things she already knows to be true but perhaps needed a gentle reminder of. After an hour or so, the baby had awakened and could no longer be consoled with the playing of sugar packets. Thus, the conversation ended. But before we left I able to pray for her. Again, God is gracious and though my language during that prayer was HORRID, I left knowing that Sara understood what I was trying to say, but more importantly, God knew.

My busy day had been interrupted by someone who needed a listening and compassionate ear. I was able to check off most of the things on my list, and I felt better about the time I spent with my friend than the checked off list. Again, “list” people will understand the magnitude of that.

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Gingernut has NOT been sleeping at night. Annoyingly so. There is a part of me that sympathizes. Starting in childhood I have had trouble sleeping. I contribute my love for westerns, specifically Bonanza, to sleepless nights spent on the couch with my dad. However, there is a larger part of me that is just annoyed. Annoyed that “my” time is being interruppted. Annoyed that I can’t do the relaxing thing(s) I had planned to do. I’m just annoyed, which leads to irritation, which leads to anger, which leads to unkind words being spoken to a child who in that moment in no way can feel loved.

I will pause to say that I understand limits and boundaries will be tested. The “up-downs” (when children are up and down constantly from their beds) are real and alive and stretch the patience of parents worldwide. When the up-downs occur, discipline enters the scene. Every up-down cannot be cuddled and babied. Children need to have boundaries and discipline when said boundary is crossed. But there are times when they truly do just need another moment of our time. One more cuddle, one more story, one more kiss and tuck in goodnight. It’s our job to know the difference.

I was not seeing the difference. I was only seeing myself and what I wanted…time to myself or with Paul or the list of things I needed to get done. I was being unkind in my words. I wasn’t seeing that Gingernut just needed a little extra.

This hit me one night in particular. Paul was out and I was watching a movie and Gingernut had a bad case of the up-downs. She just would not go to bed. She kept interrupting my movie and I was getting upset. Then it hit me…like a ton of bricks…or maybe more truly it was the Holy Spirit trying to get my attention…what was I communicating to Gingernut in that moment? Did she think that a meaningless movie was more important to me than she was? Did she feel unloved? She certainly could not have felt loved, that’s for sure.

The TV was promptly turned off. I climbed the stairs with my little red-headed sleepy-even-though-she-didn’t-know-it girl. We climbed in her bed and snuggled. And I felt peaceful. I knew this was worthy. I was telling her in my actions that she was loved. And I thought as I laid there holding her, breathing in her scent, that I would remember these moments – cherish them – in years to come when Gingernut would no longer want me to snuggle up with her. Perhaps more importantly, she will remember that moment and ones that will come after it as how her mother did not see her as an interruption but as important, loved, desired.

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While I believe that times of quiet, rest, aloneness, and/or refreshment are good, biblical things, that is not what I am talking about here today.

I’m talking about when we have made time an idol so much that we view people as interruptions. I have made my time my idol. I hold it closed fisted. I have been seeing interruptions as stealers of my time and things I want to do. I have been seeing my alone time or my get-stuff-done time as more important than people. Shame on me. I have missed so many opportunities and moments that I will never get back to be a friend with a listening ear or a word of encouragement or a mom with hugs and kisses filled with love and care and tenderness, wrapping my children with words of Truth or a wife who gives her husband the attention he is needing after a long day.

This idol MUST be sacrificed for I cannot love and serve God as He desires to be loved and served when I am closed fisted with my time – or anything else. I pray that as I move forward I see interruptions as opportunities as John Newton spoke of when he wrote, “When I hear a knock at my study door, I hear a message from God. It may be a lesson of instruction; perhaps a lesson of patience: but, since it is his message, it must be interesting.”

He was speaking of pastoral interruptions, but I think it can apply to life in general, can’t it?

What if I stop seeing every single interruption of my life as an interruption, a task that will go uncompleted or five minutes of quiet that I will not get back, and instead viewed it as a lesson in patience or in selflessness (seeing others and their needs as more important than my own). What if I saw the people asking a question or needing something instead of only hearing that someone needs something from me? What if I saw people as Jesus did, not as interruptions but as people searching for something or in need of something? How many times was Jesus interrupted at a meal, while trying to rest, while on his way to something or someone?

As he walked to heal a man’s daughter, he was stopped by a woman who had a blood disorder and needed healing.

As he was eating a meal, a woman came in and washed his feet with her tears and hair.

While worshipping and teaching in the synagogue he was bombarded with questions from religious leaders as a means to ensnare him in something blasphemous.

While trying to catch up on some sleep on a boat, he was awakened by friends who were scared of the storm that had overtaken them.

While taking the disciples to a desolate place to rest, he was recognized and a crowd gathered to hear him teach.

How did he respond?

He stopped to speak to the woman who had been healed, teaching us all that healing comes from faith.

As a broken woman washed his feet, he allowed her to continue and taught those he sat with the preciousness and significance of what she had done.

While being bombarded with ensnaring questions from the religious elite, he responded in ways that were above reproach, continuing to teach those around him.

When he was awakened by his friends fearing for their lives, he spoke and the storm ceased, revealing  himself to be God to his friends and teaching them not to fear but to have faith.

When overtaken by a multitude when seeking rest, he taught them all day and then gave them more than enough food to eat.

Interruptions will happen. They are a part of life, but I hope and pray that I will begin to see them differently. More importantly to respond to them differently. To see them as opportunities to humble myself, be patient, have self-control, self-deny, help someone, to see people and not a checklist as the most important way I can spend my time. To love as Jesus loved.

 

Ode to Dad

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From life’s first breath there you were,

For every giggle and every cry.

And as the years passed in a blur,

Everywhere you went I was close by.

Like a puppy dog who happily follows behind,

I shadowed every step you made.

You taught me to love that which was designed,

By the One who spoke and there it stayed.

A hammer, a joke, a Bible, my brain,

A jack, a wheel, and a call;

All things that brought me gain;

 You taught me to use them all.

As time came to leave the nest,

I flew as far as I thought I could go.

As you sat in the car, about to leave me out west,

I watched from the window, though you would never know.

Many moons ago I knew,

that next to you would never be the place I’d again be.

I knew it when I flew,

But I wondered if you’d see.

A kindred soul I met out west;

Who wanted to be mine forever.

He asked you and you said “yes,”

And now alone I will be never.

Then time came to go far away,

Not only one time, but two as well.

And it meant so much that “no” you did not say

But it could hurt I could tell.

It is hard to be so far away,

From the man who so much taught.

But the greatest of all  I would say,

Is to follow the One who by the cross I was bought.

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Love Them

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As a wrap-up to the series “How to Support Missionaries,” I decided to ask my friend Vince to write what it looks like to support missionaries from his perspective – the perspective of one who does it, not just talks about it. He and his wife Sharon love, care for, encourage, support, and pray for missionaries just about better than anyone I know. So without further ado, I hope you enjoy the very poignant words of Mr. Vince Rice.

As I came out of the church where my grandmother’s funeral was held, I was wiped out. It had been a whirlwind weekend; Mimi had passed away Thursday night, and it had been nonstop since then for all of the immediate family. There had been eulogies to write for the paper, a funeral to plan, contacts to be made for said funeral, and so on. If you’ve lost a loved one, you know all that’s involved. In addition to the small part I had in the above, I had ended up speaking at the funeral.1

Coming out of the doors, I had a discombobulated moment as I ran into almost the entire ministry staff from our church. My first thought was, “Wait, we’re at her church, what are they doing here?” In my addled state, I probably indelicately asked them the same thing (“What are you doing here?”), and a dear friend on staff said they’d been in staff meeting close to Mimi’s church and just decided to come on over.

I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that very simple gesture. It was completely unexpected, and therefore all the more meaningful. It was unannounced, and therefore all the more touching. It was unnecessary, and therefore all the more memorable. If it wasn’t the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me, it’s in the running.

Which brings us to missionaries.

MacKenzie has been writing a series on “How To Support Missionaries”, found here, here, and here, and she asked me to write a guest post from the other side of the fence, as someone who supports missionaries2. She has talked about supporting missionaries with your money, with your prayers, and with your time. Let me sum it up for you in a different way.

Love them.

American culture has had a horrible effect on our understanding of love. Rom com’s and bad pop songs and horrid teenage vampire novels have taught us that love is an emotion, that it comes and goes where it wills and we have no control over it, that when it comes to matters of the heart we have to ignore our head. Ironically, a great pop3 song reminds us of the reality — luv is a verb.

Remember what you learned about verbs back in middle school? They’re action words. If love (or luv) is a verb and a verb is an action word, the transitive property4 tells us love is an action word. Love isn’t feeling something, love is doing something.

So if your mental response to “We need to love them” was, “I do love them!” then my response is, “Great, what are you doing about it?”

“What can I do about it,” you ask? Well, MacKenzie’s already told you, but I’ll tell you again.

Send them money

Jesus told us a truth that is still overlooked, even (or especially) in churches. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” That is, our heart follows our money, not the other way around. Do you want your heart to be somewhere? Send your money there. Do you want your heart to be with the poor and oppressed? Send your money to them, or to people helping them. Do you want your heart (or more of your heart) to be with your friends on the mission field? Send your money (or more of your money) there.

No excuses. “We don’t have…” Yes you do. “You haven’t seen…” Trust me, I have. And worse. Here’s something I’ve observed hundreds of times — if someone has a heart to give to others, God makes it possible for them to do so. Ask the Lord what you should give and then give it. Don’t do the math, He invented math and He can make two plus two equal eighteen if He wants to.

Send them prayers

This is another area where America has done Christandom a huge disservice. All of us Type-A’s5 are task-oriented. Praying’s not a task to us. Praying’s what we do when we don’t have any other tasks to do. Praying is the last resort. Praying is what happens in our down time. Praying is what the women do while the men are making things happen.

Praying is none of that. Prayer is the work. Without prayer, all the money doesn’t matter. “Apart from Me, you can do most anything.” “Apart from Me, you can do what you can raise money to do.” “Apart from Me, you can do what the committee allows you to do.”

Apart from Me, you can do N-O-T-H-I-N-G.

In addition to that, prayer works kind of like our money. We will care about the things we pray about. Want to care more about your missionary friends? Pray for them. Pray for the things they’re praying for. Pray for the people they’re praying for. You’ll find yourself communicating with them more often — you want to know what’s happening with the things you’re praying about. And they’ll feel more refreshed and more energized and more empowered.

Send them yourself

Go visit them. Get off your … derriere … and go see them. Get some first-hand experience of what their life looks like now. You’re never going to understand from letters and skypes and texts and photographs and blog posts. You think those give you understanding, but they don’t.

We don’t understand what it’s like to live life where a big church service is twenty people. We don’t understand what it’s like to live life where we have the language skills of a third-grader. We don’t understand what it’s like to live with unfamiliar food, with unfamiliar customs, with unfamiliar people. We don’t understand what it means to live every day as a complete outsider. Reading about it and hearing about it simply isn’t enough. We need to experience it, with them.

Trust me, I know first-hand how much you will learn that you would never have learned otherwise, things unsaid by them, things too overwhelming for words for them, things sometimes unknown by them. Go. Listen. Learn.

We will work with each other, we will work side by side… And together we’ll spread the news that God is in their land

But this isn’t all about the missionaries.6 There’s something in it for you, too. Joy. Wonder. Excitement. A greatly expanded world view. A deeper awareness of how God is at work everywhere. The opportunity to be involved in God’s kingdom expanding not just where you are, but where they are.

Ten years ago, my wife and I had never been on a short-term mission trip. Today, we’ve been on over a dozen between us. In addition, we’ve visited various of our “kids” in Italy and Cambodia and South Carolina, and hope to get hip in Portland in the not too distant future. We get updates from those kids and other missionary friends from literally around the world, including places I can’t tell you or I’d have to kill you. Reading those newsletters and blogs, videoing7 with them, praying for them — it brings an ineffable sense of … well, joy and wonder and excitement. And community. One of the miracles of the Interwebs is that we can be in community with someone on the other side of the world.

Back to them. I told you the story about Mimi’s funeral because that’s the feeling a missionary gets when they receive an unexpected letter, or a visit from a friend, or a series of prayers over an extended period of time. They remember it. They take courage from it. Their faith, and spirit, is enlarged by it. And that translates directly to their effectiveness in doing what God has called them to do.

There are two cliches about distant relationships: absence makes the heart grow fonder, and out of sight, out of mind. My experience is that the former is a cliche but the latter is true. 100% of the missionaries I know have experienced the latter, even by their closest friends and family.

Love them.

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.


  1. I’m not completely clear on how that happened. After I had volunteered the fifteenth thing while her pastor was talking to the family to prepare what he would share at the funeral, I suspect he thought asking me to speak there might shut me up in the short term. It worked, as far as I remember. 
  2. My wife and I have ten “kids” on the mission field, which include Paul and MacKenzie. We also know another half-dozen or so other singles/families on mission in various places around the world. 
  3. Rock? Hip-hop? All of the above? 
  4. Wow, english and math in one paragraph. And you thought all that schooling was wasted. 
  5. You think it’s a coincidence America starts with an A? 
  6. It is, but let’s pretend it’s not for a moment. 
  7. That’s a generic term, can include facetiming, skyping, etc.