Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What going to Guatemala meant for me

I got back from a trip to Guatemala a few days ago, and I realized that all the things I went there or were not things I accomplished. Conversely, all the things that God sent me there for were accomplished.

I signed up for the trip hoping to be on the team drilling a well. Then everything changed, the original location of a well was changed, we were doing a different water project first, and there was a much greater need for women to do Bible stories, games, and hygiene education with the kids. Needless to say, I felt like the old bait and switch had happened, but didn't want to admit that it was in God's will. By the time the trip came I had finaly conceded that maybe God knew what He had for me to do while I was there, even though I had no idea. My official position in the team was floater with an emphasis in VBS/hygiene.

First lesson learned, sometimes God doesn't make everything clear so that we can learn to trust Him and rely on His judgment more than our own.

Once there chaos ensued. We were not as well organized as we thought we were, and the people we thought would lead either weren't there, or didn't want to lead. Everyone apparently had their own visions for this trip, and it seems none of them were realized, or if they were it was not according to our plan. We got to learn patience, kindness, and how to do everything without complaint, even when everything seemingly deserved a complaint. We didn't have the option of mutiny, instead we had to find new ways to adapt to what God gave us to work with.

Second lesson learned, do everything without complaint, even when others are complaining. God is watching all hearts, you don't need to watch yours and theirs.

I thought that going to Guatemala was to help the people there. Silly me, God used them to help me. The whole time I felt like my heart was like a cicada. I felt like my heart came to the surface, and started breaking free of it's old skin to grow bigger. It literally at times felt ripped open by the smile of a child, or the hug of a sister who only spoke Spanish, or the laugh and snuggle of a baby on my knee. I had become comfortable in the amount of love that I showed my family (church family included) and had no idea that God wanted my heart to be bigger, in order to love people more fully with His love.

Third lesson learned, God is not content to leave us where our hearts are comfortable, He wants us to become ever more like Him.

Out of the blue once I was there I was asked to work on the well drilling team on Thursday and Friday. I had totally given up on the idea and didn't even pack clothes for this kind of work. Thinking I would be working in the mud in a skirt I dug in my backpack only to find a pair of pants I had thrown in at the last minute that worked perfectly. Two back-breaking days of work gave me such a great respect for the woman who does the same things I was doing for two weeks straight. One day I was pouring blood from my hands before I realized I probably needed gloves, to which someone found me gloves that worked. We were unable to complete the well; we pretty much ran out of materials. Worried that the community would be up in arms over us drilling a well and not completing it, I discovered that people are much more forgiving in Guatemala. They understood why we didn't complete it, weren't mad, and were glad that someday we would come back and complete it so that they could have clean water.

Fourth lesson learned, sometimes God says "no" or "not yet" and these are opportunities for us to learn trust as much as the "yes" moments are.

On Thursday night I was asked to present a devotional on Friday morning for the team. My heart panicked, but my lips said yes, which later I was a little angry at myself for. Everyone on the team was older than me, wiser than me, our brothers and sisters in Guatemala who would be there have obviously been through a lot more in their lives that I have, and I felt I had no right to stand in front of them and lead anything. In my room that night I studied, prayed, studied, then prayed a lot more. Finally I just prayed that I would get out of the way, and let God speak. In the morning I had a few speaking points, most of which I didn't touch. I forgot to get the Spanish/English Bible my dad had, and my Spanish interpreter decided to go for a walk at just the wrong time. Nervously, I started speaking from my heart, and somehow God helped me get out of the way so that He would be glorified. I don't really remember what I said, but I know I cried at how good God is. That's right, I cried in front of a bunch of people, but at least it wasn't selfish crying!

Fifth lesson learned, sometimes God humbles us so that in our weakness He can be greatly exalted.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. - Philippians 4:4-8

Friday, June 12, 2009

Is that edifying to the church?

Should pastors blog? This has been a question rolling around in my head all week. I keep going back and forth on it, and still haven't decided for sure how I feel. The more direct question that I've come to is: Should a pastor always edify the church through their blog? To that I say yes! Now there are people who might say that pastors are people too, and sometimes their blogs are just an expression of their humanity, not necessarily of their role as a pastor. To that I say, if can't handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen, OR if you don't want to live your life under intense scrutiny don't become a pastor, or a Christian for that matter.

I say all of this not to say that pastors have to be perfect, or that their blogs have to be 100% edifying. I say this to challenge pastors to think about the standard they are setting for the people they are leading. The new trend is for pastors to blog as a way of footnotes for a recent sermon. This I love. It really is enjoyable for me to look at a blog of someone who has been studying much deeper than I am capable of studying something that I feel is necessary for my life and I find an extra sermon or two in their elaboration of the point. It is edifying to my faith, and I think it is as well to the faith of others. Do I expect this to be my only source of sermons though? No way! Christians are commanded time and again throughout the Bible to seek out corporate worship. But, when we are not as good at studying as we should be, these blogs that give you everything that had to be cut out to make the sermon short enough for Sunday are wonderful resources to get our studying headed down the right path. Thank God there are pastors technically savvy enough to give us the extra meat to encourage us in our growth!

The blogs that bother me are the pastors who seem to blog all day long. One particular blog, I recently had to stop reading because I would get so upset that the writer was making 3-7 blog posts a day, most of them between 8-5. Part of what disturbed me was the content of the blog; at least one post a day was a vehement virtual screaming against abortion. If you wonder how I feel about Christians screaming about the horrors of abortion, look further back in my blog. The other part that bothered me was the amount of time each day that this pastor spent blogging. My issue with this is from strictly a financial perspective.

People give their money to the church with a three part understanding. First, they give because it is commanded, and often they give cheerfully because it is a desire in their heart. Second, they give in order to support the ministries of the church, whether it's missions, or children's church, or meals for the sick, or any number of other things. Third they give to support the staff of the church. Hopefully people recognize that pastors, secretaries, janitors, and financial people need to have money to be able to eat, and in order for them to serve the church with all of themselves it is our duty as the body to provide for them. It's sort of the new application of the old Levitical Law that allowed provision for the Levites so that they could focus on serving the people instead of focusing out feeding their families. I have seen great examples of pastors taking this part of people's giving very seriously, almost too seriously sometimes. I have seen pastors who literally work themselves sick because their desire to serve the church was stronger than their desire for their own lives. Do I think that pastors should work 80 hour work weeks? No, but those who just hang out in the office from 8-5 and then go home and make no extra effort in edifying and discipling get a lot less respect from me than those who do.

So, when I see a pastor who spends all day blogging, and very rarely are his blog posts edifying, it makes me feel like he doesn't understand Who he serves, or why he is being paid to be in the position he is in. Is it so important to have a well read, frequently updated blog that you need to forsake your ministry to the church to get it? I would rather you didn't ever blog and pour your passion into loving people!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Reflections on "Trying"

It seems like everyone I know has new babies, is pregnant, or is trying to get pregnant. Since this is something that is pervasive in my life it has started me thinking about the whole art of trying to get pregnant. Shortly after we got married, J's friend pulled him aside and told him to never "try." Apparently trying to get pregnant in their house was a very stressful event, and became a true obsession for his wife to the point that the frequency with which she took pregnancy test was becoming a major household expense. J conveyed this conversation to me and I scoffed at the fact that someone could be that obsessed with something, and we joked about the people we knew who were trying and bordering on similar obsessions.

That was until we started trying. Then we discovered the feeling of failure when every month you're not pregnant, AGAIN! We found how stressful it could be to have your fertile days all mapped out and then have life interfere with the plans for those fertile days. It seemed like immediately we started fighting over little things, both of us feeling inadequate, and struggling with feeling like God just didn't understand our plans for our family, and if He did He would let us get pregnant. How funny is it that we want God to fit our plans instead of finding out what His plans are? Silly humans!

Then I was reading through my Bible and kept coming across women who were unable to have children. In that culture it was truly a shameful thing to not be able to give your husband children. It was also continually acknowledged that children were truly a gift from God and that being able to bear children should not be taken lightly. Wow, that's convicting. Had I even put God anywhere in the discussion about babies? No. Maybe that is why it was becoming a wedge between my husband and I! Shouldn't children be brought into this world as an extension of our love for each other rather than as something for us to love? Finally I ended up sitting down with J and telling him that I wanted to leave it up to God, and wanted to mutually try to have the faith to trust God to work in our lives how He planned and in His timing. The poor man seemed relieved, and I realized then how stressful this had become for both of us. I've also realized since then how many thing in our lives need to happen right now that couldn't happen if we had a baby. It still is a thing that every month we hope for, but we try to place our hope in God first and foremost.

Now when people tell me they're trying, I often want to ask them if they've prayed about it. It has become so much of an obsession in our culture as children have become the center of our families that I think a lot of well meaning people forget to put God in the middle of the discussion, or even in the discussion at all. Yes, sometimes it is hard to look at all the babies in my life and not long for one of my own. But what should be more pervasive in my life is looking to God from Whom all blessing flow and asking that I be changed more into the image of His Son, in order to prepare me to a be a good parent.

Friday, June 5, 2009

*** people of Earth, donate your blood ***

J and I are donating blood tomorrow at our church. DSC has a blood drive I think twice a year, and we both are excited to join with our church family to help save lives. While we have both donated before, we decided to do this at our church to encourage this ministry to our community to grow. There are a lot of people who desperately need blood, and even more people who have no idea how desperate the need is or how easy it is to meet that need. I was so excited to see an Extreme Makeover Home Edition the other day that addressed this national need. In it was a story of an amazing young girl and her family. My favorite part was that throughout the Makeover they held blood drives all over the country in this girl. Seriously, if you think donating blood is too much of a hassle, read Lizzie's story and then give of yourself so that someone else can live!

Lizzie Bell was born with a rare blood condition that is characterized by a failure of the bone marrow to produce red blood cells. Less than 700 kids in the world are stricken with this disease, and 14-year-old Lizzie is one of them. The only thing that has kept her alive are the routine blood transfusions she has every two-three weeks. If she gets sick, she often has to go to the hospital so doctors can monitor her and keep her stable.

When Lizzie was five, she and her mother decided to visit her local blood bank. There they learned that the refrigerators that should have been full of blood weren't. They didn't understand until that day just how desperate the nation is for donated blood, and decided to do something about it. The family established the John P. Bell Foundation, and for the past ten years little Lizzie and her family have been working hard to raise awareness about the desperate and ongoing need for blood donations.

Lizzie was given the Red Cross Hero Award for her ambassadorship in telling others about blood drives and donating blood. But while she's been helping countless others, the Bells' home has been neglected because of Lizzie's high medical bills. The home is sinking, has gaping cracks in the cement floor, suffers mold and termite problems and needs countless repairs. These conditions are dangerous to Lizzie's health and her vulnerable immune system, so it's up to Ty and the designers to help the Bells spread the word, lighten the load and give Lizzie a comfortable and healthy home.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Excommunication pending.....

The husband and I were having an interesting discussion on our drive up to Denver. We found a subject both of us are passionate about, but both of us avoid discussing because we are among a minority within our circle of friends and could really anger some people with our thoughts. I've been mulling over this discussion for days now with continued gusto of heart for this issue. Since he is now back home and I am not, I guess this seems like the next logical outlet.

The issue we were discussing was the response of most Christians to abortion. The thing that gets me all riled up is not, surprisingly, abortion itself. Before I'm lynched I should explain. Abortion is an ugly, vile, heartbreaking evil that has been created by fallen humans living in a fallen world. I don't advocate that it is justifiable, even though I have some non-Christian friends who do.

There are two things that I whole-heartedly believe about abortion that may get me lynched anyway. First, I don't think it will ever go away. If by some inexplicable grace it was outlawed tomorrow, I think abortions would continue and in the continuation would become more dangerous for the woman seeking an abortion. Abortions, in some form or another have existed for centuries. During the height of the roman empire when orgies were the norm women knew of a certain herb they could eat that would end unwanted pregnancies. So many women used this herb that it doesn't even exist anymore. No matter what we do to fight the spread of sin on the earth it will persist until Christ returns and final judgment is made. Part of this sin is abortion, and hard as we fight it, there will continue to be unwanted children, and women seeking to avoid these "mistakes."

The second thing I believe about abortion is something that could get me in deep trouble with a lot of people. In this I pray that if I am wrong that the eyes of my heart would be opened and my blindness would be taken away by the truth that only true Grace can bring. I believe that education and love is more important that protest and condemnation. Many Christians think that going to pro-life rallies, or posting blogs about how awful abortion is, or shouting from the pulpit that women seeking abortions are murderers and the doctors who peform abortions are bringing a scourge of infanticide upon our country, or any number of equally condeming comments are not only right but also necessary and biblical. I feel that this attitude is foolish at best, and drasticaly harmful at worst. I think that educating girls about choices other than abortion, rather than condeming them for thinking abortion is a choice, could lead to fewer abortions. I think there are a lot of young women who really feel like there is no other way, and have no idea that there are people out there who would love to help them get through the what could be the toughest decision they may ever make.

What if instead of screaming from the mountaintops at the sinners we see around us, we follow a biblical example (i.e. Jesus) and love the sinners more than anyone else is willing to? What if we start looking at young women who are cosidering abortion as opportunities for love rather than opprtunities to preach? What if Christians were willing to take pregnant women into their homes, provide safe, loving, healthy environments for pregnancies to continue to grow and then help facilitate adoption? What if we were more interested in showing Jesus to a lost soul than worrying about the child that could be harmed as a result of sin being in the world? Maybe children could be saved. Maybe people would know we are Christians by our love, not our screams.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

If you don't like it, move to Canada!

So, I don't really get the double standard that many people live comfortably with regarding our president.

When George W. Bush was in office there were people screaming for impeachment. Many people felt that he had forced our country into an un-winable war in Iraq, immediately after going into a war in Afghanistan that truly many Americans supported because they were outraged after 9-11. Additionally, many people were angry that the economy was imploding on itself, gas prices were rising, and this country seemed to be, in the eyes of many, collapsing into shambles. There were protest marches and outrage over the abuse of prisoners of war, and citizens proclaiming that they were ashamed to be Americans. Through it all, many staunch Republicans shouted back "He's still your President, you can't change that! Either suck it up, or move to Canada (France, Sweden, etc.)" Alternately, moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats were saying, "Yes, it's a mess, but we can't change the President yet, and that might not even help, so let's vote wisely in other elections and be as involved as we can in the democratic process."

Now, there is outrage at Barak Obama. People are upset that he's not wholly experienced at being a diplomat on the world stage, others are outraged at the chaos that is going on with the bailout money, and some are becoming disenchanted, feeling that all the promises he made on the campaign trail are being thrown to the wayside. Honestly, he's successfully made pretty much every party angry in some way since he took office. He still has some staunch supporters who truly believe is incapable of mistake, and he has staunch opponents who truly believe that he is incapable of doing anything right. These attitudes are typical of any administration, I think, but seem to be more extreme than usual due to the extremes that our country is facing. What strikes me as odd though, is that the people who shouted about needing to support Pres. Bush because he was President, are now just as boisterously shouting "Obama isn't my President! I'm ashamed that he was elected by this country that I love!" Really? Not even a year into this administration you have changed your tune about supporting the President as President? Really?

What frightens me most is that Christians tend to be the ones speaking out the loudest and harshest. We are the ones who are supposed to pray for our leaders, acknowledging that God has placed them in the position of power for a reason. Do we forget so easily that God created the heavens and the Earth? He knows who our President is at all times and is using that person for His glory, whether they are His or not. Does that mean that wars are for His glory? No, but what those wars cause in people's hearts could be. Does that mean the economic collapse brings glory to God? No, but people might be more willing to admit their out ineptness when they realize they have no control in their life. We need to pray for wisdom for our leaders; we wouldn't want their jobs and we wouldn't want to try to figure out this mess. We need to remember that even if we don't like our leaders, or their decisions, we still have to remember the God can use even this present age of our country to shape us into better images of Himself!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Really didn't need to see that....

There's a recurring trend on the internet that is starting to really disturb me, and I don't quite understand why it's taking off. People have started posting ultrasound pictures of their baby's genitalia. Why do people think that this is appropriate behavior? If they posted similar pictures on the internet once the child is born they would get in big trouble for child pornography. Do they think that people don't believe them when they excitedly proclaim the gender of the child after the ultrasound and thus need to provide photographic evidence?

Don't get me wrong, I like seeing the progressive ultrasound pictures as much as anyone else. It's exciting to see the baby growing; to partake in the excitement of the expectant mother to some extent. When people find out the gender they are typically very excited and like sharing the information, and as an outsider you start think of which parent the little one will look most like. The whole process of babies coming into the world is fabulous and everyone who even has contact with the parents gets a little bit of sharing in the process.

The real issue I have though with these scandalous pictures is what would you say, as an adult, if you found out that your parents had proudly posted pictures of your tender vittles on the internet for the whole world to see? Maybe I'm just a prude, but I think I would be a little embarrassed. I mean the goofy pictures my mom took of me in the bathtub are a little bad, but at least the essential parts are covered with a washcloth. She even has pictures of us nude sunbathing in the backyard, but just the butts, and I think I was about 2 years old. I don't know specifically where people are supposed to draw the line, and maybe some would say that the pics my mom took of us were scandalous, but perhaps we should provide the same amount of decency for the children waiting to be born as we would for ourselves.

Friday, February 27, 2009

I shouldn't watch CNN, it just frustrates me.

CNN has this thing called iReports, and it is infinitely the silliest thing that the CNN folks have come up with since that crazy wall. For those of you who don't know what an iReport is, it seems to me to be semi-structured (CNN decides on topics) video blogs sent in by people who watch CNN. If people want to do that it's totally within their rights to do so, but whoever it is that chooses what iReport to air should maybe think of what the average person viewing will think of said iReport. The one i saw today made me turn off the TV.

This girl is sitting there, talking about how she lost her job 3 months ago, is receiving unemployment, enumerating all the things she has had to cut out of her life. I start to feel for the girl, it seems right now everyone is feeling a little tightening of the belts due to the present state of our country. There are things in my life that I've cut back on, or cut out completely, so there is empathy for this girl and her situation, until she starts talking about where her unemployment check goes. She eventually got to necessities like a roof over her head and food in her belly, but one of the first things she mentioned was cable. And I'm pretty sure she left out the high speed internet she needed to post her iReport. I'm not picking on this girl, I think she really is having a hard time with life and could use some encouragement, but I think she is an interesting commentary on our cuture.

What do we really NEED? Do I need hundreds of channels on cable in order to survive? No: in fact we just changed our plan and cut out about 150 channels that we didn't need because it didn't make sense to pay for what we had. I grew up with about 4 channels on TV, and didn't have cable until I got married, and I wouldn't miss cable if I went back to that. I didn't even know what MTV was until I was 15 and I was totally unimpressed. People all over the world don't even own a TV! Do I need internet? No: it is a wonderful tool for reconnecting with old friends, and a great way to talk to family in distant places, and an unending source of time-wasting goodness that I would go through withdrawals without, but I don't NEED it for survival. Additionally, if I really needed internet I could go to the public library. I know, "Heaven forbid such travesty!" Do I even need my beautiful house? No: all I need is a roof over my head where I can feel safe, sleep well, and raise my children. Do I need my car? No: even in a city that is pretty spread out, most of the things I do in a week are 10 miles or less from my house. I could walk, ride a bike, or even talk to my neighbors and form a carpool with them to get all of our errands run together to save gas. There are so many things I act like I NEED, that are a total waste of resources.

I am so thankful for all that I have, but I constantly have to remind myself that this world is not my home. I have a beautiful life, but I need to remember it is beautiful because of my Savior, my family, and my friends, not my stuff. What if we can take this economic disaster and remember why we are here, what is important, and plan better for where we are going? What if we get to learn to trust God with things that up until now we thought we had control over? What if we find that we can live with less, and then when we have more we share that with others instead? What if we don't worry so much about the future, and recognize that even the birds have houses, and the lilies have beautiful clothes?