Sunday, December 16, 2012

Worship and Belief in Tragedy


I’ve written before about my conviction that we should mean the words we utter to God.  I’ve shared that when I’m in a worship service, I try to think about and to mean each word.  I don’t sing words that I don’t mean; that means sometimes I keep my mouth shut in worship.

Today I’m making myself form the words with my mouth.  I’m making myself sing words that I know to be true.  Even though tears stream down my face.  Even though it is hard to say them.

Today, we gather to mourn and to grieve the tragic loss of life, especially of life so young.

And I’m making myself say, “Holy.  You are holy.”

And even more difficult, “It is well with my soul.  Whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well with my soul.’”

I’m intentional about what I wear when I’m part of leading my church in worship.  My clothing choice today is intentional.  I’m wearing a shirt today that reads, “I wanna believe.”  (It’s a Christmas shirt that actually refers to Santa.)  But today, I’m choosing to wear it to worship with some words from the Bible in mind,  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

I do believe.  I wanna believe.  Holy God, help my unbelief.






Thursday, December 13, 2012

Unstuck, Part 2c

Once again, my message for today is "switch it up."  I've talked about switching up what you're reading about your faith and what you're reading in the Bible.  Now I'm talking about what you're doing, how you're serving God.

One of my seminary professors, Dr. Bagby, used to say that we'll never fully utilize all the gifts God has given us.  When he first said that, I didn't believe him.  I thought I knew which gifts God had given me and had shown me how he wanted me to use them for his glory.  But I was naive.

My spiritual gifts and inherent talents haven't changed.  But the ways I utilize them have. 

For example, I felt gifted in the area of care, listening, and being with people who were struggling.  I thought I used that gift to its max in caring for students.  That was great, but putting that gift to use in new ways has revitalized my spiritual journey.  Now, I get to care for parents of students, for people who serve with me, and others.  Today I was blessed to spend time with a woman I'd not met before who was in need of a pastor.  My time with her has impacted me, my heart, and my faith in dramatic ways.  It's the same gift, but I'm using it in new ways.

Another example is that I felt gifted in teaching.  I enjoyed (and still enjoy) teaching small groups of teenagers about faith, the Bible, and life.  I thought that was the best use of my teaching gift, and it fulfilled me.  It still does.  But then I was invited to be one of the Teaching Pastors at church, as in preaching to the adults and teenagers.  At first I declined the invitation, saying I didn't have the emotional energy to pursue an intense venture like that.  Then I reconsidered and accepted the invitation.  And it has transformed my spiritual life.  The five opportunities I've had in the last 18 months to teach have been significant moments in my spiritual journey.  It's the same gift, but I'm using it in new ways.

Changing up how I've served God in those two ways has challenged me, blessed me, and changed me.  The challenge part is key for me.  I can write a small group lesson for teeangers in about 10 minutes.  It's fun, fulfilling, and easy for me now.  Writing a Blue Christmas message, one to minister to people who are grieving this time of year, was a huge challenge for me.  Sometimes, the challenge is what we need.

So, if you're serving God in a way that is a good fit for you, that you love, that is pretty easy for you, then consider switching it up.  How else could you use that gift, in a way that would honor God, challenge you, and draw you closer to Him?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Unstuck, Part 2b

Yesterday I advocated switching up what you're reading if you find yourself spiritually stuck.  I was particularly referencing books about faith, Christian living, etc.  Today's post is about switching up what you're reading in the Bible.

When I first fell in love with reading the Bible, I read the book of Philippians.  And it's been my favorite ever since.  Philippians was understandable, accessible, and it helped me begin re-orienting my life.  Verses from Philippians pop in my head easily and often, and I can recite whole chunks to you.  I can even do a little of it in Greek.  If I just read whatever  I wanted in the Bible, then I would read the book of Philippians several times a year.  

I'm okay with re-reading Philippians every year or so.  But that cannot be the entirety of my Bible reading.  If I only read Philippians, then I will be stuck.

So, here are a few approaches that have helped me.  No, I'm not advocating a read-through-the Bible plan.  My husband can do that, and does do that, regularly.  It works for him.  It doesn't really work for me.

About this time last year, I read the book of Hebrews.  (I've done this with other books, too.)  I wasn't very familiar with the book.  I hadn't learned much about it in seminary.  I needed a challenge, something new, to get me unstuck.  It now rivals Philippians as my favorite book.  I go back to it regularly to re-read passages that are now foundational for my life as a Christ follower.  

Early in my endeavor to read Hebrews, I was puzzled by the Christology (the theology of who Jesus was) in this letter.  So, I did some research.  I'm not talking about reading the footnotes in the Bible kind of research; I'm talking about some serious digging in commentaries and academic texts.  And it was fascinating, and it got me unstuck.  I didn't camp out in the commentaries and read them cover-to-cover (like my husband does), but spending time in significant research was what I needed to do to love God with all my mind.

The other approach to the Bible that has been huge for me in the last year or two is word and phrase studies.  I'll get captivated by a word like "incarnation" or "remember" or a phrase like "with you," and I'll go on a hunt.  I'll look for where the word and/or idea shows up elsewhere in Scripture.  I look up lots of references and make lots of notes.  Then I attempt to consolidate what I've learned, often in a poem.  Last week I went on a journey through the idea that God was "with us," God is "with us," and God will be "with us."  I took some other people on the journey with me.  (You can see the sermon at www.pccwiredlive.net.)  Personal study like that sucks me in, captivates my mind, and eats up my time without my even knowing it.  I'm absolutely NOT stuck when I'm doing a study like that.

So, switch up what you're reading.  Try something new.  Tackle a new book of the Bible, one that may require a little research.  Try a different approach to reading the Bible.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Unstuck, Part 2

This is on my blog instead of the Unstuck blog I had been authoring, because these are my words and my ideas; they are NOT commissioned by PCC.

As I mentioned yesterday, we just finished our "Stuck" series in which we presented five tools to get someone unstuck spiritually.  For people who are new to church, new to faith, who decided to follow Jesus and just didn't know how to start, I think the five tools will be extremely helpful.

But the people I've talked to over the years who are painfully, ashamedly, dishearteningly stuck are ones who are serving, reading the Bible, praying, giving, and participating in community.  They've obeyed the rules.  They've followed instructions.  And yet, they find themselves stuck.

A conventional response to such people is that there is an unconfessed sin, or there is an area of their lives that's off-limits to God, and that is the problem.  That certainly can be the problem.  That should be investigated.

But there are other possibilities, too.  I'd like to share some of what I've learned with the chance that maybe someone else out there will extend themselves some grace and keep their faith.

First, I recommend Renovare resources.  These have helped me experience Christian spirituality in new-to-me, rich ways.  James Bryan Smith and Richard J. Foster are two authors associated with Renovare who have been of significant help to me. 

I found myself in a place where some of the "popular" Christian Living books were just not reaching me where I was.  Those books have their place, and they are certainly effective for people; that's why they're popular.  But, if they're not working for you, try something else.  Try Smith and Foster, or Nouwen, or go for some classics like Practicing the Presence of God or writings by St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Thomas a Kempis, John of the Cross, etc.  We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  We can lean on them and learn from them.  Sometimes when we're stuck and out of words for God and to God, we can use the time-tested, time-honored words of those who have gone before.  Sometimes these readings can catalyze us back to the spiritual life we are accustomed to.  Sometimes these readings (as has been my experience) take me to a place that feels more solid, more steady, more sacred.

And, if you're stuck, I recommend Barbara Brown Taylor's When God Is Silent.  In a time and place of Christianity when we hear preachers say, "God told me," "I heard God," almost every week, this book, by a preacher, acknowledges and speaks into another reality.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The "A" Team


We recently finished a series at church called, "Stuck."  We presented five tools that can prevent one from getting spiritually stuck or get one unstuck.  One of those tools--serving--we presented by acknowledging a few servers each week and then by having an army of servers go onto stage, demonstrating how many people it takes to make PCC happen.

We didn't have a service specifically donated to serving because of scheduling with Christmas.  I'd like to share a few thoughts about serving from my perspective.

First, I just finished writing 16 thank you notes for a student ministry event last night.  I coordinated the event, and even I didn't realize how many people it took to make last night happen until I started writing the notes.  Those 16 people (and their spouses in some cases) gave of their time and energy, and in some cases risked the security of their homes, to let crews of junior high and high school students have fun celebrating Christmas and building relationships.  

It takes people to make ministry happen, and not just those called to vocational ministry.  The service of all those people last night made a difference to the students who work hard, by my side, to make student ministry happen; they got to relax and to enjoy for once.  It made a difference to the student who was with us for the second time, still working to form relationships, still deciding if our student ministry is the place for her.

Second, I get to work with some amazing adults and students on a weekly and monthly basis.  I could write a lot, a whole lot, about them!  But I'll summarize today by saying that as we work side-by-side, me an ordained pastor with a Master's of Divinity, them responding to God's call on their life to reach and to guide students in our area, we do more than just make ministry happen; although that's certainly enough.  We encourage one another, listen to one another, have fun with one another, extend grace to one another, and love one another.  We are the body of Christ.  We are friends.  We are brothers and sisters.  

The people who partner with me to do ministry are people I can count on, in every area of my life.  They have my back, and I have theirs.  They care about me and my family, and I care about theirs.  They seek God and his direction with me.  They share successes and disappointments with me.  

A few of these people help me discern God's leading for our student ministry, from a place above the week-to-week and month-to-month programs.  I think of them as my "A" team; not just because their names are Aimee, (the other) Angie, Amanda (Mandy), and Erik...well...just go with it.  They are amazing at what they do.  Their commitment to God and to his teenagers is steadfast and fierce.  They make me better, and they have made countless teenagers' lives (and their families' lives) better, too.  They make an impossible job possible.  They make it more than possible; they make it a blast.  I'm convinced that the fun, love, and support we show one another sets the tone for the students, too.  With this team by my side, I'm willing to tackle lock-ins and 90 people on a mission trip, and letting some of them take students out of the country without me, and other missions and ministry opportunities that I otherwise would not attempt on my own. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Incarnation

I wrote and posted this poem last year as I prepared my heart for Christmas.  I enjoyed re-reading it, and I hope you will, too.

Jesus left his work as Creator
to live amongst the created.

Jesus left the Most High
to make himself nothing.

Jesus left equality with the Father and the Spirit
to become dependent upon Mary and Joseph.

Jesus left the community of heavenly beings
for the community of fishermen and tax collectors.

Jesus left the worship of angels
to lead disciples who doubted and denounced.

Jesus left his authority to utter God’s laws
to become obedient to man’s law and man’s death.

Jesus left all praise, honor, and glory
to take upon himself the sins of the world.

Jesus left his place in heaven beside God the Father
to take his place on a cross beside criminals.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Immanuel

One of the great promises of the Bible is that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.  This time of year we celebrate that Jesus came to earth to be with us.  God has always been with us.  God will always be with us.  He is Immanuel.  What more comforting idea is there than the idea that God is with us?



The Lord was with Adam and Eve
     when all was perfect
     when innocence was lost.

The Lord was with Jacob
     when he dreamt a stairway to heaven,
     when he feared for his life.
     when he struggled for a blessing,
     when he received the blessing of God and brother.

The Lord was with Joseph
     when he was the favored one,
     when he was betrayed.
     when he was misunderstood,
     when he extended favor.

The Lord was with Moses
     when he was alone, a helpless baby,
     when he was in Pharoah’s home.
     when he broke a 10 Commandment,
     when he received the 10 Commandments.
     when he sought freedom for his people,
     when he was insufficient for the task.
     when he wandered through the wilderness,
     when he saw the Promised Land..

The Lord was with us 
     in birth.
     in temptation.
     in misunderstanding.
     in betrayal.
     in suffering.
     in death.
     in the promise of new life.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Making the Bible Relevant...to a 4-year-old

For months now, my four-year-old has fought me on going to church.  Specifically, his issue is with going "upstairs," where the children's ministry is.  He's fine coming to church and seeing Aunt Mandy and her boyfriend, "Big Tristan," and his teenage friends like David and Courey, and his college friends like Rachel.  But he doesn't want to go "upstairs."  I've tried talking with him, and I haven't exactly figured out the issues.  I have confidence in what our children's ministry offers; I don't fault them.  He says the kids aren't his friends; I'm not sure what that means.  He doesn't like that they read out of adult Bibles; he wishes they read from a Bible like his.  He wishes it were like MegaCamp all the time (our summer camp for one week).  He's been asking to go to "the Big Room" with me, and I've resisted. 

As the Pastor to Students, I know the twinge of watching students go to the Big Room with their families but missing out on the age-specific ministry we offer them.  I know the Big Room worship and teaching are important for their spiritual lives!  I just want them to get the full experience and some age-specific community and teaching, too.  I want that for my son, even though he's only four.

But this past Sunday was different.  He spent Saturday night with my parents, so he came to church with my mom.  He wanted to go to the Big Room with Nana, and she agreed, because it was a special day.  I was preaching.  I walked off stage, having not seen my kids for a day, and went searching for them.  I got a huge hug from my baby girl (she gives THE BEST hugs!).  But Tristan wasn't available for a hug.  He was in the Big Room with Nana; he made it through the hour-long service.

Afterwards he came running out, smiling, and then I got my hug.  He loved it.  (If you were at my church Sunday, then you'll understand that his favorite part was the turtle video.)

Paleontologist Tristan digging for fossils
The series is about being "Stuck" in our spiritual lives.  That night Tristan asked me, "Why are we talking about being stuck at church?"  

I explained that the Bible says that when we get stuck, or when we fall down, we need a friend to help us up.

Tristan said, "Like if a Triceratops got stuck, the rest of the herd could help him get out."

"Yes, just like that."

Even though he wasn't upstairs, he heard what the Bible says, and he understands it in his terms.  Dinosaurs are his life, and I'm encouraged that he was able to put the Biblical teaching in a context he could understand.  So, I'll keep bringing him to church and praying for him and listening to his bedtime prayers, and we'll see where he ends up on Sunday mornings.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Where's the pretty Angie?


I've mentioned that last month my husband and I went away for a pastors’ assessment.  We were gone for two-and-a-half days.  A few times in the last couple of years, we've gone away for a night.  But we haven’t had two nights away, together, since having our second kid.  I didn't know how significant that would be.  It messed up the kids’ schedules, making them clingier when we came home.

And it affected me significantly.  I relaxed—really relaxed—even though we were going through a pretty intense assessment process.  My neck and shoulders didn't hurt, and they always hurt.  I was rested.  I felt smart again, as the constant fogginess in my brain cleared—sometimes a result of kids’ waking at night, sometimes a result of mentally managing a household’s schedules and needs.  I was game for real conversation about things that matter—not just the (really funny and cute) things my kids say every day.  I paid attention to my husband instead of just doing life alongside him.

At one point he looked at me, hesitated, and then said, “I hope this doesn't upset you, because I mean it as a compliment.  You’re prettier now than you usually are.”

That didn't offend me at all; I trust that he was absolutely right.  At one point I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a mirror at an ice cream parlor where we were hanging out with new friends.  Even I was struck by how attractive the girl in the mirror was.  She looked a little more mature than the girl I remember, and she looked full of life and joy.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I watched a movie, “Friends with Kids.”  The movie was hilarious, because it was so true.  It was one of those movies that made you laugh at your reality and realize that you’re not the only person who feels/acts/thinks the way you do.  There were three couples in the movie, and they were friends before any of them had kids.  Then two of the couples started families.  All three families got together, complete with crying kids, nagging moms, and lazy dads.  Afterwards, the kid-less couple looked at each other and said, “Who are those mean, angry people?”

If you watched me interact with my family for a day, then I’m afraid you’d come away saying, “Who is that mean, angry person?”

I don’t want to be that mean, angry person. 
I want my husband to see the pretty wife. 
I want my kids to see the pretty mom.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

15 Years

Senior Prom

A clinical psychologist recently told Sammy and me that she thinks we intuitively picked the best partners for ourselves, the ones that would compliment us and bring out the best in us.  That sounds great.  But that’s putting a lot of stock in the intuitive capacities of two 16-year-old's.  Now, I love teenagers, and I think our society grossly underestimates them.  But, I still think it’s a stretch to think that a 16-year-old Sammy and a 16-year-old Angie intuitively picked the best partners for themselves.  Besides, through all that personality assessment I recently experienced, I learned that half the time I handle information intuitively and half the time I handle it with practical sense.  So, a 16-year-old with half a capacity for intuition may not be held responsible for choosing the perfect life partner.

Whatever brought us together, here we are.   Yesterday marked 15 years—15 years since we sat in a white Subaru Legacy in a Pizza Hut parking lot and Sammy asked me to be his girlfriend.  And I said, “yes.”  Our friends Mandy, Josh, and Jennifer were in a car beside us, and then we went to the mall to watch “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” 

15 of 31 years we’ve spent together.  And he remembered!  He arranged a babysitter; he brought me 15 red roses; he took me to that same Pizza Hut.  It was relaxing, thoughtful, and perfect.

I got him a gift, too.  The traditional gift for 15 years is crystal.  I looked around, but I just couldn't see buying Sammy a crystal glass.  He’d recently complained that his pens break all the time.  And I found some pens made by Waterford—the infamous crystal company.  I figured that was good enough—something practical and masculine with a name that means “crystal.” 

I had a plate engraved for the pen box.  Our cheesy saying that has seen us through the last 15 years has been, “Thank you for being you.”  Now, at 15 years, I am certainly thankful that Sammy is Sammy.  I’m still learning what it means for Sammy to be Sammy.  But that didn't seem adequate this year.  This year, I was aware that I could be thankful that Sammy was Sammy…and not be his wife, and not lead a family with him, and not share my life with him.  This year, I was aware that Sammy chose 15 years ago to ask me to be his girlfriend, and he chose 8 years ago to ask me to be his wife, and he chose last month, and yesterday, and this morning to be part of “us.”  

At this stage in our relationship, I am still exceedingly thankful to Sammy for being Sammy, but I am even more thankful to Sammy for choosing us.  So, the engraved message on the box yesterday was, “Thank you for choosing us.”  If the plate were big enough (and I could afford more engraving), then the entire message I would communicate to Sammy at this 15-year mark is, “Thank you for being you.  Thank you for loving me.  Thank you for choosing us.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's Too Quiet


That’s a phrase I don’t understand in my personal life.  When I was a kid being shuffled between divorced parents, I’d often hear a parent say, “It’s just too quiet with the kids are away.”  I didn’t really know what that meant at the time.  I assumed I’d understand some day when I was a parent.  Well, I’ve been a parent for four-and-a-half years now, and I still don’t understand.

Noise gets to my son, too.  
When I’m home, the noise bothers me—everyday.  There are often 2, 3, or 4 of us talking at once while the Cars 2 soundtrack plays from the boy’s room and a kids’ movie plays in the living room.  And it makes it impossible for me to think clearly.  It makes it impossible for me to fully listen to any of my family members, because I’m listening to ALL of them.  I cannot tune out one who’s talking to focus on the others; I just can’t.

Yesterday I was talking to my son and hearing about his day while my daughter and mom were working a puzzle—three people talking at once.  Then my daughter started, “Momma.  Momma.  Momma!  Momma!” 
 
I turned to her and said, “Wait a minute, Lily.  I’m talking to Tristan right now.”

She stood up, pointed her not-yet-two-year-old finger at me and yelled, “Listen!  I’m talking to you!”
(First, I have no idea where she’s heard or seen that.  Second, you can pray for us; imagine this girl as an early teen?!)

And that’s what it’s like from the moment I enter the door each evening, until the kids go to bed each night.

This weekend, my parents took the kids for an evening.  I relished the quiet, and the adult meal I got to cook and eat.  I called to check on the kids, and Mom asked, “Is it getting too quiet over there?”

“No, I’m just calling to make sure everything’s going okay.”  And that was true.  It was NOT too quiet.

I don’t understand why it’s never “too quiet” for me at home.  It’s not that I like quiet all the time.  When I’m at work, I need a little noise most of the time.  I like to overhear a conversation, stop what I’m doing, and put in my unsolicited two-cents-worth.  (I’m sure my co-workers just love this part of me.) 

I am introverted.  I’ve always known that.  However, when I’ve read articles about introverts, I’ve always walked away with a, “Huh.  That’s not really me,” reaction.

 A couple weeks ago I spent two-and-a-half days being evaluated with my husband.  It was everything you’re thinking—shrinks, personality profiles, group work, couples’ interviews, public speaking and public interviews, walls held up by people watching—always watching—and scribbling notes on concealed clipboards.  Actually, it ended up being a great experience.  One of the many things I learned about myself was a breakdown of my Myers-Briggs type.  Turns out I am more introverted than extraverted by 1%.  Just one.  I’m reflective for sure.  I can be quiet, but I am capable of talking A LOT.  I’m reserved, but I can be outgoing—by nature, not by force.

So, I like some quiet and some noise at work.  But it’s never “too quiet” for me at home.  Still trying to figure this out…

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Worship as Pastoral Care

I took a seminary class by one of my favorite professors entitled, “Worship as Pastoral Care.”  The premise behind the class is that we can offer corporate pastoral care in community as we worship.  It’s not separate; it’s holistic.  When we worship, we can also give care and receive care, and we can do it together.  One of the things my church does best is worship as pastoral care.
This past Sunday, we were at our best in that regard.  We got back to what I think we do extremely well—worship as pastoral care.  (I know we cannot do this every week.  Once upon a time we did this so often, we were called Powhatan CRYING Church.)  But as this series approached, I saw this potential.  I have prayed for this series and the care and worship and community that I knew it could cultivate.
It was a good day.  And today, a few days later, I have seen and heard multiple people acknowledge and share their brokenness, and Sunday’s worship experience was part of the process.  And I love it.  I love seeing how God is working in and through people and service planning and yet another Nouwen book (In the Name of Jesus—an all-time favorite book).  I love how what happened on Sunday morning is changing people’s conversations on Tuesday morning.  I love how people will be different people, be more of the free, beloved people God created them to be, as a result of worship as pastoral care.
And…I am immensely aware of the brokenness that remains in my life.  I'm aware that there are parts of me that are broken that I haven't identified yet; I'm sure my counselor will help me with that.  I am painfully aware of the brokenness that exists amongst my colleagues.  I’m anxious, because I’m me, and I’m always anxious.  But I’m also hopeful.  I’m hopeful that the brokenness in my life is being addressed; that it will not enslave me, but will ultimately free me and take me to a place I cannot yet imagine.  I’m hopeful that the brokenness I sense around me can be addressed in community, that God will grant us wisdom and redemption as we seek to worship Him together.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Debate

I watched the presidential debate last night.  Honestly, I watched, and then I played on my phone, and then I watched some more.
And Isaiah 40 was in my head: 
Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust…
Before (God) all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing…
He brings princes to naught
And reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

I’m not saying our national election doesn’t matter.  I’m not saying that our faith should not inform our political views (sorry for the double negative.).
But I am calling for keeping it in perspective.  Our God “sits enthroned above the circle of the earth”—not behind a desk in the Oval Office.  Our God created the heavens—not healthcare reform or an economic strategy or immigration policy.
Our God is bigger than nations that “are like a drop in the bucket.”  And I’m grateful.  Because the two nights of TV I watched previous to the debate last night show that we need a God that big.  Whoever holds the office of President of the United States may be the most powerful man in the world.  But whoever he is, he’s not powerful enough or big enough or smart enough or rich enough or scheming enough or courageous enough.  He cannot be.  He doesn’t need to be. 
Our God is. 
And that’s what I’m counting on, and not so that I continue in my comfortable, luxurious, “safe,” “secure,” lifestyle, but so that the poor in spirit and those who mourn and the meek can find comfort and inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

I Take it Back

Yesterday I wrote about how I was asking God to hold me.  At the time, I felt pretty selfish.
Now I feel downright awful.
The last two nights I’ve been captivated by a special on PBS based on a book “Half the Sky.”  I’m ordering the book.  I’m checking out the website.  This movement addresses the world issues that wreck me most—human trafficking, forced prostitution, and physical and sexual abuse.  There are lots of world issues that I care about—the HIV/AIDS epidemic, starvation, lack of clean water, homelessness and street kids.  But the issues of trafficking, forced prostitution, and abuse destroy me emotionally, mentally, and spiritually—yet the destruction I feel is nothing, nothing compared to the destruction of countless lives in forgotten corners of our world.
Here are some clips from the program:
I sat on my sofa and cried last night.  I tossed in my bed, haunted by my own blog post from yesterday, and I prayed a new prayer:
God, gather these girls in your arms.  Hold them.  Keep them safe tonight.  Impress upon their hearts and minds that they are loved and worthy.  Carry them close to your heart.  Lead them out of their circumstances.  Use your power and your size to protect, strengthen, and provide for those who are working to bring salvation to these girls.  You, who can “reduce the rulers of this world to nothing” (Isaiah 40:23), break through the cultural, political, and economic barriers that oppress these girls.  Show me what I can do to help.  Forgive me for selfish thinking and writing.  Amen.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Hugging a Grasshopper

Isaiah 40 says a lot about the hugeness of God.  Nothing can compare to him (though we all make comparisons, don’t we?).  From God’s perspective, we “people are like grasshoppers.” (Isaiah 40:22)  I’ve been called a lot of things; grasshopper is a first, and it’s not very affirming.  From God’s throne, I look like a grasshopper.  Thanks, God.
God can hold the waters of the earth in his hand, can hold the dust of the earth in a basket, can weigh the mountains on a scale and the hills on a balance (Isaiah 40:12).
And it is that huge, powerful God who…
                …tends his flock like a shepherd:
                He gathers the lambs in his arms
                and carries them close to his heart;
                he gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:11)

Days like today, I am overwhelmingly thankful that that God, the one to whom I appear as a grasshopper, is also willing to carry me in his arms, close to his heart. 

I gather my baby girl in my arms and carry her close to my heart.  Usually, I do so after she stands at my feet, arms outstretched, saying, “Hold you.”

Today, I’m standing at the feet of a huge, powerful God who “sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,” with my little grasshopper arms outstretched, saying, “Hold you.”

Monday, October 1, 2012

Isaiah 40, Part 1

If I can get back into the swing of writing, then I hope this will be the first of several posts on the Bible chapter I'm marinating in these days.

“In the desert prepare the way for the Lord.”  (Isaiah 40:3)
I've been to Cairo.  I've visited the pyramids.  I've experienced the effects of a sandstorm--sand in every facial orifice, contact lenses rendered useless.  I've experienced the heat, the rapidity at which dehydration can happen, the melting of film in a camera.  Yet, in the hot sand, where the landscape changes with every strong wind, where resources are non-existent, where the elements are extreme—that’s where God’s people are told to prepare his way.  To translate, when my reserves of energy, creativity, love, and grace are as dry as the desert, I am called to prepare the way for the Lord.  When I’m in the middle of a tornado of change (personally or professionally), I am called to prepare the way for the Lord.  When there’s no budget money, I am called to prepare the way for the Lord.
Preparing is my job, as a Christ follower, not just as a paid pastor. 
God does the rest.  God shows up.  God changes hearts.  God changes minds.  God changes families.  God changes lives.  God heals.  God calls.  God saves.  God redeems.
I prepare the way.  No matter what.
I prepare the way when I pray, when I smile and welcome someone, when I invite someone to minister with me, when I teach someone how to read and understand the Bible, when I sign-up a student for a mission trip, when I schedule a meeting of student or adult leaders, when I teach my kids how to pray, when I take them to church (even when they don't want to go).  All I have to do is prepare the way.
It’s still a lot of work.  But recognizing that preparation is all I’m responsible for lightens the load.  It also reminds me of my place and keeps me humble.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Change

I don't like change.  That's easy to figure out if you're around me much.  It sounds kind of harmless.  However, I am certain that my aversion to change has caused me to sin and has damaged my family at times.

I know that I don't like change.  I get anxious when it's sprung on me.  I get anxious when I know it's coming.  It doesn't seem to matter.

I'm not the kind of person who re-arranges her furniture often.  That's because I'm a bit of a perfectionist.  When it gets in the perfect arrangement or spot, then there's no point messing it up.  The only time I re-arrange furniture is when it's not RIGHT. 

However, as I was painting the tiny entryway at my home last night, I stopped.  I realized it's almost 5 years exactly since I moved into this house.  At first I thought, "Geez!  It's taken you 5 years to change this wall; you really don't like change."  Honestly, I've wanted to paint that wall for years.  It's the motivation and follow through part that tripped me up.

But I started thinking about how many things I HAVE changed in that house in the last five years.  Compared to August 2007, we have a different sofa, different living room chairs, a cabinet where a desk used to be, different living room curtains, different dining room curtains, different master bedroom curtains, different curtains in the kids' rooms, a nursery instead of a guest room, different kids' bathroom color, and different master bedroom bedding.  (The addition of two NEW PEOPLE is undoubtedly the biggest change, but that's a different story.)

What I've deduced is that I don't like changing the stuff I have, I like getting NEW stuff.

It would be more cost effective to change the placement of the things I have.  But that doesn't do it for me.  Whatever it is inside me that wants NEW stuff, wants NEW stuff.  I don't want antiques.  I don't want scuffed and scratched hand-me-downs, even if they are shabby chic.  I don't want to move the table from the bedroom to the living room; I want a new one.

I'm starting to think this reveals more about me than just my home decor, maybe more about me than I want to realize.  I like living in NEW communities, with shiny, NEW grocery stores, and shiny, NEW schools, and shiny, NEW cars, and shiny, NEW shopping centers.

...And people like me are the reason there are old, ugly, abandoned communities, grocery stores, schools, and shopping centers...

Lectures--Part Two



I'm a fan of actress Meg Ryan.  I'm not sure why I feel like I relate to her, but I do.  I'm an absolute sucker for Sleepless in Seattle, and I kinda like You've Got Mail, too.  In the latter, Ryan's character is non-confrontational, and she has a hard time responding to criticism in the moment.  She then spends time crafting the perfect response in her head--well after the opportunity has passed.

I know a lot of people are like that; I certainly am.  Call me out in the moment, and I'll stand there with hives all over my neck looking like an idiot who cannot make an argument.  That night in bed, I'll craft the perfect response in my head.

I found myself crafting that perfect response in my head a few weeks ago.  (This is the story behind the "Lectures" post.)  Someone approached and lectured my mom.  There are several problems with this.  1)  Everyone knows my mom is not going to fight back; it's an easy pick for a bully.  2)  The lecture was not about my mom; it was about me.

And both of those things made me angry.  Someone really had an issue with me, and I'm an easy target for an attack myself.  But my mom's an even easier one.  My mom protection mode went in reverse.  Instead of being indignant that someone went after my kid, I was indignant that someone went after my mom.

Of course, if I'd just read the Bible and know my place in the church and my family, then the whole issue could've been avoided.  But you know I'm a pastor with a Master's degree, people like me don't read the Bible...

(Maybe I should stop now and pray, "Create in me a pure heart...")

My husband found the whole situation hilarious.  He urged me to put on a halter top and short shorts, grab a margarita and a copy of Fifty Shades of Gray, and leave him to watch the kids--all in view of my critic.  That would've helped.

One of my aunts said this critic and my husband and I should engage in a Biblical conversation of sorts.  Well, I could've stayed out of that all together.  This critic thinks she knows the Bible, and my husband actually does know the Bible.  The fireworks would've been fun to watch, though.

Then, there was the moment it was time for this crowd to say a prayer.  I thought as the ordained minister in the bunch, I might have the honor of praying for them.  But she was there, and that just wouldn't do.

I wanted to confront her.  I wanted to return the favor and give her a lecture, or maybe a sermon.  I've delivered a couple of those this summer; I'm on a roll.  The lecture/sermon in my head started like this, "The last time I read the Bible, it said that if you have an issue with someone, then you go to them.  NOT THEIR MOM!  If you've got an issue with me, then you are supposed to come to me."

I prayed for clarity over whether or not I should speak up.  I literally tossed and turned for two nights thinking about it.  Should I overcome my conflict avoidance and approach her?  But I didn't.  I learned long ago that lectures are ineffective, and that arguing with some people is pointless. 

Sometimes you just take it...hopefully with less sarcasm than me.  Sometimes you rest in what you know to be true, whether others recognize that truth or not. 

Lectures

Sorry I've been absent here.  I'm co-authoring another blog for a few weeks; check it out:  http://angieandbeth.wordpress.com/   Between that and meetings and preaching and talking with my family (where all four of us often talk at once), I haven't had many more words.  The 4-year-old is quite advanced with his vocabulary; the baby is a full year ahead of where she's "supposed" to be verbally.  It's never quiet in the Frame house.  The four-year-old was interrupting us recently.  Dad said, "Buddy, wait a minute, we're talking." 
He said, "Talking's no fun." 
I said, "Then why do you do it all the time?!"  Yes, that is the pot calling the kettle black.


I remember an exercise I did in undergrad, when we prospective teachers listed different techniques or manners of teaching.  Then we listed how much prep time each technique required.  Then we identified which techniques were most effective for communicating information that sticks.  Lectures take the most prep time and are the least effective, yet countless teachers, managers, and trainers still rely on this teaching style. 

I distinctly remember tuning out lectures when I was a teenager.  I didn't want to hear it.  It's not that I thought the information was wrong; I didn't care if it was right or wrong; I didn't want the lecture!  I try to keep this in mind as I interact with students at church.  What they learn on a mission trip, or from what a peer says in small group, or from working alongside me doing church ministry will stick with them, change them, and be way more effective than any lecture I deliver--whether a sermon to a group or a one-on-one pastoral conversation.

I also keep this in mind when talking with an adult who wants to help out in student ministry.  When I hear phrases like, "I'm good at speaking truth into their lives," alarms go off.  When I hear, "I made so many mistakes as a teenager, and I've learned so much that I can share with them, " alarms go off.  And I hear those phrases, particularly that second one, A LOT!  How many well-intentioned adults have bored teenagers to tears and pushed them to tune out and put up defenses by trying to share all they learned from their mistakes as teenagers?  It happens everyday! 

What I want to do, and what I want other adults involved in our student ministry to do, is to live WITH, to talk WITH, to serve WITH, to worship WITH our teenagers.  I'm not interested in our students being talked TO and lectured TO any more than they already are.

I was reminded of all this recently when someone decided to lecture my mom.  I may write about that soon, too.  The lecture was ineffective, to say the least.  And I fought through my desire to return the favor and to deliver a lecture of my own.  I was up at night writing and editing this lecture in my head.  I never delivered it.  In part, because I'm a chicken who hates conflict.  But mostly, because my lecture would've been no more effective than the one my mom received.  Instead, I chose to live WITH this other person, and I intentionally tried to speak volumes with my actions instead of my mouth.  I have no idea if it worked or not.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Here Goes Nothing

This is probably a good time to mention that my blog is not affiliated with my church; these words are all mine.

There’s been a lot on my mind the last couple of weeks, and if I don’t get out some feelings and ideas on paper, then I have several more sleepless nights ahead of me.
So, here goes issue #1—The Chick-fil-A Controversy
Well, kinda.  We were so wrapped up in steam engines, Ferris wheels, carousels, dinosaurs, driving, dinosaurs, driving, and more dinosaurs, and more driving on vacation with our family that we missed the Chick-fil-A uproar.
Days later, as I saw more and more Facebook attention, I finally asked my husband to look it up and see what it was about.  But, honestly, the news story, the facts, the quotes, the interview doesn’t matter much to me.  You can call me na├»ve and uninformed if you want; really, that’s okay.
What does matter to me is the way I’ve watched friends, family, and fellow Christ followers react.  And this keeps me up at night.  There will always be issues—cultural, moral, value issues for Christ followers to wrestle with and take stands on and converse about.  Where I am, where I have come, is to a place where the issues matter, but where our behaviors, our hearts, our words, and our attitudes matter more.
There’s a whole lot I don’t have figured out.  The issues of homosexuality, homosexuality and the church, civil unions, gay marriage—I don’t pretend to have those figured out.  Many of you have it figured out; it’s black and white and easy to you.
But have you talked with the mother of a teenager who has just come out?  Have you heard her fears over what her child’s future looks like, especially in this hick town in the south? (Disclaimer, I generally love this hick town in the south.)  Have you heard her say she always expected this day was coming, but hadn’t given voice to that in these 16 years?
Have you talked with a teenager who has been keeping her thoughts and feelings secret for years?  Have you heard her fear that the father who has adored her every day of her life will have nothing to do with her once he finds out?  Have you lived with that kind of anxiety?
Have you talked with a competent, intelligent, professional man who is humiliated, belittled, and dehumanized by conversations about whether or not it’s safe to let him direct cars where to park in a church parking lot because he may be gay, or he may not; he’s trying to figure that out in a Christian community?
No, you haven’t.  Because those three people above wouldn’t have those conversations with you.
I've been honored to have those conversations.  I've been honored that those secrets, fears, and hurts have be shared with me.  They were shared with me, because those people knew that no matter where I stood on the issues, I would love them as the children of God He created in His image.  They knew that I would stand with them and walk with them through the questions, the doubts, and the hate that was headed their way.
If flocking to Chick-fil-A (couldn’t help the pun) makes you feel like you’re taking a stand, or if kissing someone of the same gender at Chick-fil-A makes you feel like you’re taking a stand, then fine.
What makes me feel like I’m taking a stand is sitting down, shutting up, and listening.
I may one day learn that I should’ve made decisions on the issues instead of living in the gray area. 
But I rest on a few truths:  God created each of us, as his child, in his image.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lost Message in a Bottle

I've always been bad about not proofing my work....so, I just noticed that message in a bottle #2 didn't show up in the post.  And the formatting was off in message #1.  Sorry about that.  Here's #2:

Love trusts
                that I’m your biggest fan.
                that I’ve got your back.
                that I’m yours.
Love trusts
                that I’ll tell you the truth
                                even when I don’t want to
                                even when it hurts you
                                even when it humiliates me.
Love trusts
                that I meant those vows
                                on that perfect day when I was 23,
                that I mean those vows
                                on this ordinary day when I’m 30,
                that I will mean those vows
                                every day for the rest of our lives.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

More Messages in a Bottle

Love hopes
                that being 56 will be as good as 16.
                that the stormy seasons will pass
                                and the stifling, humid ones
                                and the frigid, silent ones, too.
                that our relationship will adapt
                                as you change
                                as I change
                                as our kids grow up
                                as our parents grow old.
                that we’ll see more of the world together.
                that we’ll see more of God together.
                that we’ll see more of our Creator in one another.
                that we’ll be better when we’re older.

The messages
Love perseveres
                when coming home is hard.
                when giving up seems easy.
                when sleeping single sounds serene.
Love perseveres
                when we’re not “us.”
                when I’m nothing like the girl you fell for
                        or the one you married
or the one you dated last week.
We persevered
                when families interfered.
                when miles separated us.
                when God changed us.
                when we were broke.
                when I was broken.
                when we dreamed different dreams.