Romania, Part 1

During July, I had the privilege of going on a mission trip with my church to Romania.  While we were there, we worked with an organization called Project Ruth, which ministers primarily to the Roma people, or gypsies.  Project Ruth encompasses a wide range of projects and ministries, but on this particular trip we worked with their school.  Our team, along with a few other missionaries and translators, took a group of children from the school to a weeklong sleep away camp.  Throughout the week we led Bible Study, crafts, recreation, electives, and other fun activities like a talent show, campfire, and even a dance party. For the majority of the kids on the trip, that week was a once in a lifetime experience, and they had a BLAST! (So did we, of course.) And we fell in love with the kids. I mean, just look at these sweet faces…

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Every time I have the opportunity to travel, I’m reminded of two truths: the world is so much bigger than my view of the world, and God is so much bigger than my view of God. If we’re not careful, we can forget that. We start to imagine that the world is really just the way see it, the way we experience it. And we can turn God into our own small version of who we think he is, who we think he loves, and what we think he can do. But I watched these kids, whose world is so very different from my own, worship God with gladness and gratitude. I watched them embrace us and love us with abandon, even though we didn’t know one another or speak the same language. I watched as God worked in our hearts and theirs, changing us along the way.

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As I’ve read the stories and seen the images coming out of Charlottesville over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about Romania and these kids and love. Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of their skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the to the human heart than its opposite.”

In Romania, I was reminded of the truth of those words—that love indeed does come naturally. We didn’t speak the same language. We couldn’t share stories or jokes or even prayers. But we loved. And they taught me something about God’s love, too.

More than anything, I want to be a teacher of love today. I want to speak the truth boldly and denounce hatred clearly and loudly. I want to be an instrument of peace in the world. That’s my prayer for today.

On Taking Up Space

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Well friends, it’s been a while. All of the sudden I looked up and it was August, and this little corner of the internet had been abandoned for months. I would like to say that I don’t know how that happened. Except that I do.

The past few months have been packed to the brim with camps and planning and supply runs and crafting and phone calls and to-do lists, and all the other things that define the life of a children’s minister during the summer. I’ve been traveling almost nonstop for work and just got back a few days ago from a mission trip on the other side of the globe. Things have been a little busy around here, to say the least.

Several weeks ago my travels took me to Atlanta for a conference. Any time I gather with this particular group of colleagues we end our time together with what we call the “talking chair.” We each take a turn sitting in a chair at the front of our room and sharing with one another what we plan to work on, either professionally or personally, until we meet again.  I thought about what I wanted and needed from the next few months, and when it was my turn to speak I simply said, “I will write.”

I’ve said before that writing is therapeutic for my soul.  It’s the way I connect with God and myself best, the way I give myself freedom and space to be the most honest version of myself. And so I’m vowing to make more time for that—both here and elsewhere. I’m vowing to write even when I don’t want to and feel like I have nothing to say. I’m vowing just to write and let the rest fall into place.

A few days ago I was reading an essay in which the author talked about the importance of taking up space in your own life. She was referring to our tendency to put everything else first—work obligations, family responsibilities, chores, etc. It’s not that those things aren’t important (they are), but if we’re not careful we can slip too far into the background of our lives. We can go  entire days and weeks and years without doing the very thing that bring us joy and give life, the very thing we were created to do.

For me, that’s what writing is—it’s taking up space in my own life. It’s making time for something that nourishes my soul and speaking the truth I have to speak. Thanks for reading along while I do it!

 

Expecting the Unexpected

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One of my favorite things about kids is their curiosity.  They are unassuming, full of questions and wonder. They are always hunting, searching for answers—freer than we are to admit that they don’t know something. They love surprises and that little thrill that comes from the appearance of the unexpected.

Adults aren’t really like that. We like to know what to expect, what’s going to happen next. Our modus operandi to act like we have all the answers, like we have everything figured out already. We like to plan, to be in control of every aspect of our lives.

But that’s not really the way God works, is it? From the very beginning, the life of Jesus was all about the unexpected. We expect that the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of the entire world, would arrive in some grand fashion with flashes of lightning and clashing cymbals, but that’s not what happened.  Instead, Jesus came quietly, gently, and without threat or fanfare.  In fact, only a few lowly shepherds and animals living in a stable had any idea that the world would never be the same.

We expect that the very Son of God would be awarded great power and prestige, but again that’s not what happened. Jesus taught us that the meek would inherit the earth and the last would be first.  He taught us that it is better to serve than to be served, and he lived that truth in his leadership throughout his life. And then finally he died. Jesus didn’t use his incredible power to free himself from the cruelty of crucifixion, but he died a painful and humiliating death on the cross. For us. Because he loved us so much.

And now we arrive at Easter. The women went to the tomb that first Easter morning with the no doubt that they would find exactly what they expected.  A tomb. A body. Sadness. Despair. But then the most unexpected thing happened—the tomb was empty.

The women, understandably, were terrified. But an angel appeared to them and asked what must have seemed like the strangest question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The angel was tasked with delivering the most unexpected surprise in history—Jesus could not be found in a cold, dark tomb. He was not there anymore. He is risen.

The story of Easter has so much to teach us, but I think one of its greatest truths is that God has the power to do so much more than we expect or imagine. You think God can’t bring healing to the brokenness in your life? Think again. You think no beauty can come from this hurt? It’s not true. The story of Easter—the story of God—is about light from darkness, hope from despair, life from death. The resurrection is God’s promise that what is lost and broken can be redeemed, that whatever pain you’re experiencing right now doesn’t get the last word in your story.

This Easter, I’m thankful that God does so much more than I expect or even believe is possible. And he that he loves me so much more than I know.

Aware

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I’ve been studying the story of Moses recently.  Our kids are doing a musical about Moses freeing the slaves, and in an effort to help them understand more about the man they’re singing about (no kids, Moses was not one of Jesus’ disciples), I’ve been learning more about him, too. The other day I was reading the story of Moses at the burning bush. I’ve read this story many, many times and heard it told a hundred different ways. But this time, I was struck by something new. There was one word that stood out and changed everything for me: Aware.

God spoke to Moses, and he said, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering.”

Aware. That word says everything, doesn’t it? Often, in times of hurt or fear or pain, we feel like God is absent—like he doesn’t know or doesn’t care about what we’re going through.

But God speaks to Moses in the most miraculous of ways, and assures him that he does indeed see what’s going on:

I know. I see. I’m there. It may not be the way you want right now, but I promise that I’m working in this, too. I’m aware. I’m with you. 

I think that what we want so often is just to be seen. So many people are walking through life carrying massive burdens that know one else can see. And even though we may try to keep these parts of our lives quiet, there is something inside of us longing for someone to come along and say that they see our pain. They get it. They’re right there with us. We want to know we’re not alone.

God’s promise to us is not only that we don’t have to go through it alone, but that he knows and understands what we’re experiencing.  He’s knows every fear, every worry, every hurt—he sees all of it. God is aware. Isn’t that a beautiful promise?

Lent and the View from the Mountain

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In Exodus, God speaks to Moses and says, “Come up to the mountain and stay here.” It’s a simple invitation, and yet it strikes me as profoundly important.  As I’ve reflected on those words this week, I can’t help but think that this invitation is at the very heart of Lent. During this quiet,  reflective season, God offers us an opportunity to come up to the mountain with him and just stay.  He invites us to stay with nowhere to be and nothing pressing to do. He invites us to rest in the quiet and just listen. He invites us to be present and make space for his glory.

Last week I spent some time with a group of ministers talking about wellbeing.  One of the leaders spoke about this particular scripture and he noted that the thing about being on top of the mountain is that it changes your perspective.  Suddenly, your view is completely different.  When we’re on top of the mountain, we notice the beauty and majesty of creation—the vastness of it all.

But at the same time, everything feels smaller. The details fade, and we’re left with the reality of who we are.  We are human. We are small. Sometimes we fail. We are broken and in need of a Savior.

And yet, we are surrounded by the grace and majesty of God.

Lent offers us the chance to see things from a new perspective. Today, on this first day of the Lenten season, I’m giving myself the space to experience something new. I’ll be closing my office door for a few hours in order to go up to the figurative mountain and stay for a while with God.  I will let the details fade away, if only for a moment, and listen for how God is speaking to me in this season.

The invitation extended to Moses is for us as well.  If you’re tired, restless, weary, or broken, there is place for you to sit and rest. Come up to mountain, take in the view from the top, and stay.

 

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On Labels

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We spent the past weekend on our church’s family retreat.  The retreat is primarily for families with young children, and it’s a time for them to disconnect from their busy lives and reconnect with God and one another. It’s a crazy, fun, exhausting weekend. We sang hymns, played games, went on scavenger hunts, ate excessive amounts of sugar, watched the Cubs advance to the World Series, and stayed up late catching up on life.  And we talked about identity.

Our speaker for the weekend began by bringing up some of the labels we wear—either because we’ve given them to ourselves or because someone else has put them on us.  Things like parents, wife, husband, daughter, son, friend, colleague.  Things like christian, republican, democrat, feminist, liberal, conservative.  Things like busy, aggressive, competitive, tired, young, old, capable, accomplished, strong.

We wear these labels—sometimes proudly and sometimes with shame.  Sometimes we put these labels on ourselves because we think that’s who the world wants us and needs us to be. Sometimes it’s just who we feel we need to be in order to get approval from everyone else.

But the truth is that none of these labels tell the whole story.  They don’t reveal what makes us special, what makes us beloved. They don’t offer any real insight into who we are at our very core—the people we were created to be.

We talked about the fact that there are only two people who have the right the label something—the creator and the purchaser.  The only one who has the right to label us is the One who made us.  The One who created us from dust, who knit us together in the womb calls us beloved.  He calls us important, unique, and strong. He calls us child of God.

Some days it’s hard to say which is more difficult—to see ourselves that way or to see others that way. I get to sit in the promise and the truth that I am a beloved child of God, but I also have to acknowledge that every other person I meet is a child of God, too. The person whose political views I disagree with and the person who posts hateful comments on Facebook.

Today I am thankful that God is so much bigger than my limited view of the world and who I am. And I’m especially thankful that God sees what I sometimes miss from where I am.

 

Offering

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A few weeks ago I travelled to Atlanta for CBF Fellows orientation.  CBF Fellows is a program that invites young ministers to learn together, build community, and support one another. Our meetings were held at FBC Decatur, and the room we were in had a Bible verse written on the wall. Day after day, I sat in sessions forming new relationships and learning about leadership and family systems and healthy ministry practices. And I looked at these words:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” Romans 12:1 (The Message)

Weeks later these words are still on my heart. I can’t stop thinking about this idea of offering.  It often feels like I have nothing of value to offer God.  But the truth is that I do have something to give to God—we all do. The real question is not whether or not we have something to offer to God, but what we choose to give to God.

When I think about my daily life, here are some words that come to mind: tired, frantic, stressed, busy. But what would look like to live my life as an intentional offering and response of thanksgiving to the God who loves me and created this ordinary day? Joy, gratitude, grace, peace?

One thing I’m certain of is that I want to lay the very best of what I have to give as the feet of God as my life’s offering.

Now I understand that life is life, and there will be days and weeks and seasons that drag and weigh us down no matter what.  But this idea of our daily lives as an offering to God is an invitation to a different way of living, a more intentional way.  It invites us to approach each  day to day with more reverence, more hope, and a profound expectation that we will encounter something holy.

Yes, it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day. But that’s okay—there’s something sacred there, too. What can you offer to God today?

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