Thursday, September 20, 2012

A New Challenge

For those of you that still subscribe to this blog, I want to extend a new challenge to you.  You can check it out at the following site:

We've made silicon bracelets that state: Live Intentionally.  Think Eternally (L.I.T.E.) We'd be happy to send you one if you're interested.  The challenge starts October 1st! We hope you consider joining us.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What God Has Taught Me...

I still have a hard time believing that my year has come to an end. Last night, while most of the other patients were sleeping, I took my son for a walk down the abandoned halls of the children's hospital. It's kinda funny... of all the nurses I met during our two week stay, I knew the night nurses best because I often spent that quiet time walking the halls... praying. Praying. This is what I first thought about when reflecting on this "Crazy Love" experiment. Many people have asked how this little project has changed me... and an easy answer to this is that I pray more. But, more importantly, I pray for others more... I pray for God's will a whole lot more. Long gone are the laundry lists I used to throw up... like the never ending Christmas lists of a spoiled, self-centered child. I'm not as selfish... and for that I am so incredibly thankful.

To truly understand how far God has brought me, you must first understand where I was before this journey began. One year ago, I was living very comfortably. My husband had a great job, our kids were becoming self-sufficient... I often referred to this as seeing the light at the end of the tunnel... which meant that I could FINALLY take up those things I had put on hold for so long... because I was all about sacrificing for my family. But, this was now "my time" which meant starting that elusive non-profit that I so desperately wanted to create for so long. I just wasn't quite sure how things were going to fall into place, so I prayed... and God answered... but not the way I planned for Him to answer... not the way I hoped He would answer.

During this time, I went on my first mission trip. I won't retell the amazing experience here (you can read about it in the April 2010 blog postings)... but it was life changing. I came home deeply disturbed. Heart-broken by what I saw. Angry that children are allowed to live in such horrible conditions. Ashamed of how I live. Looking back now, I can see that God used this experience to stir my heart... to prepare me for what He was about to do in my life... for, you see, so many times I have looked back on that experience to remind me of so much: that I am blessed, that I am capable of more, that there is a greater need, that there is much to do... but, most importantly, that I'm not as important as I thought I was. That mission trip introduced me to humility... an introduction that was imperative for the next part of the journey.

A few months later, my husband and I made a bold decision. He was going to accept a job with greater flexibility so that I could focus on building the non-profit. While this meant losing a third of our income, what we gained was having dad around a whole lot more... blessing #1. For three weeks, the time my husband had between jobs, he played Mr. Mom while I worked full time on the non-profit. I had a brief taste of professional life... something that I often longed for... and something that I really enjoyed. Life was good for about a month.... and then everything changed.

That July, we found out that our family would be growing. A new baby would be joining the mix... and ruining MY plans. Now that I have gained an incredible amount of perspective, words cannot express how horrible I feel about that time in my life... specifically how I felt. Thankfully, God's grace is all consuming... and I understand now that going through this experience (having these emotions) was a necessity for my growth. It pains me to know that one day my son may read this and know that there was a time that I didn't want to be pregnant... I can only hope that he will forgive me... forgive my selfishness... and know that after everything is said and done... the gift of him was God's way of saving me.

From my perspective, at that exact time, being pregnant was a death blow to my dreams. Having a newborn would make starting and running the non-profit impossible (on top of homeschooling the other three kids!). But, we also had other issues to tackle... namely my husband's new income... which was barely covering the bills for our family of five... would it hold out when there's another mouth to feed? Not to the mention the fact that I was going to be the mother of four... FOUR... who has four kids anymore... except warped religious people that homeschool their kids... Oh my, what was I becoming? (Maybe this helps you understand where my desperation was coming from!) For about two weeks, I vacillated between sadness and anger. Sad because I was grieving the loss of a life I was ready to live. Angry because God didn't bless the plans I had to serve Him. Eventually I was so overcome by these two emotions that I became consumed by them. I was becoming bitter... and I saw how this bitterness could make me turn my back on my faith. That was when I made I bold decision. When I explain it to others, I say that God led me up a mountain top... at which point I had to make a decision. I could climb back down, ultimately turning my back on God. Or... I could blindly step from the precipice... a leap of faith, if you will... and trust that God's plans are best... even if I don't agree with them. I decided to take the step and I'm so incredibly thankful that I did!

During the months that followed I learned the following: The non-profit was more about me than God. For practically all my life, I have been working diligently to prove my intelligence to others... and as a stay-at-home mom, that battle was raging in me. The non-profit, while born out of pure love for serving God, became corrupted by my desire to prove that I was worthy... of what... I'm not sure... and I don't think it really matters anymore. Months ago, I literally put the non-profit on a shelf. The door isn't closed, but I won't revisit it until I feel confident that it's what God wants me to do. Even now, it's still difficult to swallow... but it's okay. So, that leaves the following question: If not the non-profit, then what? Well... that answer is easy... and obvious... but also a little difficult to swallow given the circumstances. It's my family. God has made it incredibly clear that my family is my priority right now. That's a really hard one for someone like me because I feel as if I've already given so much of myself to my family... but, truth be told, I have never given myself fully. And this is what God has taught me about my relationship with Him, as well. I have never given myself fully to Him. As long as God and my family are another box I check off at the end of the day, then I will never begin to understand the joy that such relationships can bring to my life.
At the end of the book, Chan asks us a very important question: Is this what I want to be doing when Christ comes back? Whenever I think about this question I picture some kid getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar... getting caught in the act of doing something he wasn't suppose to do (and he knew it, of course)... but the temptation was so great that he did it anyway. From an eternal perspective, I don't want to get caught with my hand in the cookie jar... doing something that I know I shouldn't be doing (whether that's seeking my own glory through establishing a non-profit or choosing to browse the Internet for the umpteenth time instead of spending time with my family.) In fact, just asking myself this question a few times a day has really had a lasting effect on my behavior.

Through all of this,I've learned what it is to truly love God. Have I experienced that "Crazy Love"? Well... not yet, I guess that's part of the continuing journey. But, I have experienced, felt, the peace of Him in the unrelenting storm. God is no longer a box I check off on my daily "To Do" list. I look forward to growing closer to Him... to teaching my children about Him. And I look forward to giving more and growing closer to my husband and children because I know this is where I'm suppose to be. He wants me to know that being a wife and a mother isn't something I must simply endure... but that it's another way to experience his abundant love. That's an adventure I am truly looking forward to taking... God is so incredibly good.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Are You Fertilizer or Manure?

I LOVE this quote that Chan gives: Christians are like manure... spread them out and they help everything grow better, but keep them in one big pile and they stink horribly. I can't help chuckling, even now. The visual imagery is humorous, but the implication is disarming, sad... and likely true at times. The point here is that Christians aren't meant to simply hang out with one another. Believe me... I know it's tempting. I mean, think about how much easier it is to turn your back on sin when surrounded by other believers, constantly encouraging you. But, the point here is that we're meant to be the encouragers... to those lost in this broken world. So, why aren't more of us living up to that responsibility?

In an attempt to answer that question, Chan poses an interesting theory: "Most of us use 'I'm waiting for God to reveal His calling on my life' as a means of avoiding action." p. 169. Did any of you break out into a momentary sweat when reading that? I did... for the simple fact that I have said this exact thing... out of sheer frustration. I "wanted" to serve God, but was "unable" to do so because He hadn't revealed His calling for my life. Oh my... how ridiculous that sounds now... I'm almost too embarrassed to write it down. By saying this, I'm essentially blaming God for my unwillingness to serve Him! But, it's extremely crucial that you don't miss the bigger picture (problem) here. While I've been"waiting" for God to fill me in on the whole calling thing, I have been serving Him... but not out of love. It's been out of duty... out of obligation. But, worst of all, I've done it in hopes that my service would speed up the process... if I work hard enough to prove my worthiness, then God would reveal my calling. But it doesn't really work that way, does it?

I've spent a lot of time these past two weeks reflecting on this year-long journey. When I decided to start this blog a year ago, I could never have imagined where God would lead me. I naively thought this was simply an exercise in learning how to love God more... sounds relatively painless, right? Well, in all honesty, it was anything but painless. God lead me down some rather dark and winding roads... roads I tried to demolish on my own a long time ago .. roads that lead to vanity, pride, bitterness, inadequacies. You name it, He took me there... sometimes head on... almost always without my approval.(Not that He needs it anyway!) The only difference in the journey this time, was that I didn't run away. I came close a few times... and there were a few instances when I did nothing for weeks. I refused to move forward because I didn't want to go where God was taking me... more importantly, I didn't want to let go of certain things in my life... things that God wanted me to let go of. But, I also refused to run away. I did nothing, because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do... That's a hard thing to admit: I wasn't sure if I really wanted to let go of my sin. I had grown comfortable with it (there's that horrible word again!) My sin was consistent. I knew what to expect. I could function... pretty well actually. But, I was still shackled. I've constantly been told that following Christ brings liberation... freedom. And that's what I wanted. I finally realized the only way I could achieve that freedom I so desperately wanted was to trust God. So, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and took a step in faith.


My next blog will be my last. I will share with you what I've learned from this experience, what I'm still struggling with and if God has revealed that elusive "calling."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Finding Our Own Paths

Have you ever found yourself wishing that you were someone else? Maybe not literally wanting to be someone else... just wishing that your life mirrored theirs in some way. There have been several moments in my life, usually revolving around my mentors for the most part, where I have often found myself saying something like, "I wish I had it together like they do." Or, "I wish I loved God like she does." I think this is a natural tendency, but the problem with this is that it often times leads us, sometimes out of sheer desperation, to follow their paths... hoping that "if it worked for them, it might work for me." But Chan warns us about this, citing that "we have a God who is a Creator, not a duplicator." p. 167. He goes on to say the following:

"This is why I cannot say in this book, 'Everyone is supposed to be a missionary' or 'You need to sell your car and start taking public transportation.' What I can say is that you must learn to listen to and obey God, especially in a society where it is easy and expected to do what is most comfortable." p. 168.

There's that horrible word again: comfortable. Why is this word bringing me so much DISCOMFORT? Of course, Chan has the answer to this, as well... and not to slight him, but, truth be told, I think most of us already know the answer... we just don't want to admit it! In one simple sentence, he wraps it all up: "I wrote this book because much of our talk doesn't match our lives." p. 168. That's a battle cry if I've ever heard one. He's called us to the matt. He's put the ball in our court.... there is an endless supply of cliches that I could use here... but none of them change the fact, or numb the sting. Everything comes back to the choices we make... and to be honest, I, personally, find it extremely difficult to make decisions that will lead me to a place a discomfort. It's not my natural inclination. I don't like pain, whether it's physical, emotional, psychological... whatever it is, I DON'T LIKE IT! Don't get me wrong, I understand and accept that it's part of life. I even grasp the fact that adversity (pain) makes us stronger... but, that still doesn't mean that I welcome it... even if I know God has allowed it. And that is the impasse at which I find myself: Do I trust God no matter what?

For the past few months, I have been pleading with God for Him to reveal some direction in our lives. I've literally been on my knees begging Him, all the while growing frustrated with His silence. But, I've come to realize that He hasn't been silent... He just hasn't been telling me what I wanted to hear... so, as a result, I haven't been willing to listen to Him. A few weeks ago, at one of my lowest points, I cried out to Him asking, "Where are you? Why aren't you listening to me?" His answer wasn't immediate, but it was resounding. A few weeks later, He showed how real He truly is... not once, not twice, but many times over. It's day 10 of being in the hospital with our newborn son, and even today, we are still marveling at God... but also feeling foolish, ashamed, that we ever doubted. I can't help but think of the Israelites in the desert. I used to literally scream at the Bible when I'd hear about how the Israelites doubted God...even when the fire cloud was right in front of them. But, essentially, that is what I have done. My inability to trust Him is, by default, admitting that I don't believe God is who He says He is. That's a hard pill to swallow. It shakes my faith to the core... but I've finally come to accept this as a necessity because living in "spiritual limbo" is no longer an option I am willing to pursue. I have been straddling the fence for way to long... and continuing to do so not only affects me. It also affects my husband, my children, my friends, my neighbors... and the countless number of people I meet throughout the remainder of my life.
Part of me was really hoping that reading this book would provide the answers I was looking for... and, I guess, in a way it did. It made it crystal clear that I wasn't in love with God... and, for the record, I didn't even know that I was suppose to be... or that I even could be! And while Chan does provide some guidance to help us forge that relationship with the Creator... there is no definite "guideline"... no step-by-step directions... one size fits all. But, I guess that too make sense... it's different for all of us. But, no matter what, we must all start at the same spot: placing our salvation in the hands of Christ and taking a breath of life in His word. We all start at the same place and our paths diverge as we each begin our own journeys. The thought of this can be overwhelming... so overwhelming that many of us will find any excuse possible to derail the expedition before it even starts. I've been sabotaging mine for a while, but I'm finally ready to change that.
Have you been sabotaging your own journey with Christ? This is a question that you have to answer. Others might be willing to answer this for you... but until you are able to take responsibility for your own actions (or lack there of!), you will not experience the fullness of living in Christ... and I promise that it's worth the discomfort.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Now What?

Well... I can't believe we're finally at Chapter 10. I started this blog almost one year ago... to the date! And what a year it has been. I still have a few posts left in me as I wrap up the final chapter... and I will try my best to share with you what God had revealed to me during this year and how this journey has changed my life... because it most definitely has!

I love how Chan opens up this chapter with the most obvious question: Now what? What do we do with all of this information? How do we begin to process all of this? When I first read this book, over a year ago, my answer was easy: I started the blog. I had two reasons for this: #1 I knew that "dragging" this experiment out over the course of a year would help the concepts and principles sink in a little better and #2 I LOVE accountability! Putting everything out there (for essentially the whole world to see) definitely makes you accountable. But as I come to the end, yet again, I'm still asking myself: "Now what?"
Chan is quick to point out that he's not telling everyone to sell their homes and cars and move to third world countries... unless God is calling us to do those things! He reiterates the fact that we can love and serve God where we are... in our neighborhoods, at our jobs, in our communities. But the question is this: Are we? But maybe a better question is "Why are we?"... assuming that you already love God and serve Him, of course! Sometimes, I feel as if I have some sort of "On/Off Switch"... when I'm "on" I'm serving God and loving Him... when I'm "off" well, let's just say that serving and loving aren't really on my radar (unless, of course, it's about serving and loving myself!). And that's really the crux of the matter (which happened to the the title of the chapter.)

I've been focused on this statement for a while: "The point is that there is another path, an alternative to the individualism, selfishness, and materialism of the American Dream (even the so-called Christian version.)" p. 166. I keep going back to a conversation I had with someone after my return from Nicaragua last year. For the longest time, I was distraught. I felt guilty... guilty that I lived the way I did, that I wasn't doing more to help, that I allowed myself to be insulated by societal mores. When I shared these feelings, one particular person told me that I shouldn't feel guilty that God decided to give me a blessed life... I should be thankful and enjoy the life I was given. Now, it should be noted that this person isn't a Christian, and I had to remind myself of this many times during our conversation. Her comments infuriated me... but not for the reason you might think. Yes, I was so incredibly angry with her selfishness and sense of entitlement... but,now, almost one year later, I've come to the understanding that she was only voicing what I was actually living. It is only right now... literally at this precise moment that I sit here and type, that I'm realizing the obvious: My guilt and heartache for the children in Nicaragua wasn't born out of an inability to do more for them. It festered from an insidious wound: an unwillingness to sacrifice my comfort in an effort to serve God.

I keep going back to Matthew 19:24- "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." What has been so incredibly hard (and humbling) to swallow is that I am the "rich man"... even though my husband and I live paycheck to paycheck, even though we have absolutely no idea how we are going to stay afloat this next year if our financial situation doesn't change... we are comparatively rich. Because of where we live, the provision we have, the culture WE HAVE ALLOWED TO MOLD US... we have lived our lives as that "rich man"... and, as a result, unless we change our ways, I wonder if our fate will be the same? (Of course, I'm going to say "no" because this little experiment has FINALLY allowed God to pierce through my stubborn exterior!)


What path are you living: God's path or the American Dream? Be careful when answering this one. There's a difference between the path we WANT to follow (or better yet... the path we TRY to follow) and the path we find ourselves on.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Living Sacrificially

We've made it to the last part of Chapter 9... finally. It feels like the days have dragged on these past few weeks... having a new baby will do that to you. But, as it ALWAYS is with God's timing, everything falls into place just perfectly (And I'll get to that in a moment). Chan focuses his last two testimonies around the people at his church. People like you and me... living in neighborhoods like us, paying bills and raising children. Yet, despite some apparent similarities, there are also some glaring differences.

I love how Chan describes Lucy as "somebody's innocent, dear grandmother," only to declare in a following sentence that she is an "ex-prostitute." As I read over this selection last night, a different light was cast upon the words as they stared back at me. As I read about Lucy... how she used to be a prostitute before giving her life to Christ, but, more importantly, how she now opens her house to those whose lives mirror hers so long ago... I can't help but think about the sin in my own life and the stories of so many others. What I find so fascinating about Lucy is the fact that she doesn't hide from her past... quite the opposite. Lucy uses her past experiences as a way to relate... connect... with others. Again, I can't help but think about my life... all the adversity that I have faced. How many times have we faced a hardship in life, only to hear someone say that God will use that experience to make us stronger... or, better yet, they just leave the statement open-ended: "God will use this experience." In Lucy's case, she allows God to use her past, a past that many would rather forget, as a way to show God's grace to others. As I sit here thinking about all the struggles God has seen me through, I'm embarrassed to admit that, in most cases, I have packed those painful memories in a rather dark and distant corner of my mind... hopeful that I will never have to think about them again. Maybe it's because of my insecurities, or maybe it's just too painful... maybe a little of both... but, regardless, by sweeping my mistakes, my pain, under the rug, I am grieving God's heart in a far worse way than I did with the actions themselves... for, you see, I am denying Him the glory in a life redeemed. Lucy obviously is focused on sharing her experiences with others in a hope to lead them to God. That leaves me wondering whether I'm more concerned with looking the part of a Christian... or living the life of a Christian... because there is a difference!

Cornerstone Community Church
Chan briefly talks about how the people at his church have made a decision to live a life in pursuit of God... through their stewardship as a church. With a commitment of giving 50% of their budget away, the church has made a "counter-intuitive" decision (by societies standards!) in how they would use the money given in honor of God. Instead of building a plush, mulit-million dollar facility, they opted for a non-descript amphitheater. Obviously, such a decision will be questioned on days with inclement weather; however, Chan is quick to remind us that in those cases, his congregation will be reminded that such an insignificant sacrifice helped to provide meals to the homeless, medicine for the sick... hope for the lost. So many times, I hear people refer to sacrificial living as individuals, or as a family, but I've never really thought about it as a church. I've been asked to give of my time... but that's not really sacrificial giving. Some might argue that it is, but honestly, giving an hour or two of my time each week isn't a sacrifice. It may be inconvenient, but that's a COMPLETELY different issue.

Over the past week, I've thought a lot about sacrifice. Right now, I'm sitting in an empty common room at the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital. This has been my home the past week, and will be my home for the next week, as well. My son, now almost 3-weeks-old, developed a bacterial blood infection that has altered the course of our lives... at least temporarily, but I dare say that it has altered the trajectory of our lives for the long haul, as well. In the first 24 hours of this journey, there were a lot of tears, a lot of prayers and a lot of questions. Our lives came to an abrupt halt. Our reality was turned on its ear. Sacrifices were having to be made on every level... by me, my husband, our children, our friends and family. I've only seen my older children once this past week. My husband is having to take time away from his job to play "Mr. Mom" at home and spend time at the hospital. I have only left the hospital once in the past seven days. I have slept very little. But, we all make these sacrifices without complaint, without a second glance, because of the love for our son. Our lives have essentially stopped, or at least have been put on hold, for him. But, when I ask myself to look at my sacrifice for Christ... well, I can't honestly say that I've shown the same willingness, the same determination.

My first night here is one that I will never forget. It was a dark time, especially when the curtain of night fell and silence set in. I was alone in the dark, holding a child that was just given to me... wondering if he would be taken away. I have never prayed so hard, so relentlessly, in my life. I prayed for the things that most parents would pray for: protection, healing, strength, understanding. But, as the night wore on, my prayers began to change. Somewhere along the journey, I began to pray for my love for Christ... for a transformation of my heart... for a closeness that I desperately wanted to experience in my everyday walk with Him. I realized that I was willing to sacrifice anything and everything for a child I barely knew, but wasn't sure if I could say the same for Christ. A palpable pain filled my heart as I cradled my son tightly to my chest. It was then and there that I realized the only remedy for my heartache was the one thing I wasn't sure I was capable of doing. Okay, that's not the truth. I'm capable, but I haven't been willing... living sacrificially for Christ, no exceptions, no excuses. As I conclude my blog over the next few days, I will share what God has revealed. Like I said... His timing is perfect.


This is the last video:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Baby Steps to Us... Are BIG Steps to God!

For those of you feeling a little discouraged by the testimonies so far... take heart... this one's for you (and me!) Feeling a little downtrodden myself, re-reading the next two passages helped to breath hope back into my soul... a simple reminder that a life given over to God doesn't necessarily mean "radical" transformation. That's what God does in us... He radically transforms us... when we step out in faith... when we, sometimes ever so slightly, step out of our comfort zone, or just simply go out of our way... to be the hands and feet of Christ to an unexpecting world.

The Robynson Family
I LOVE the Robynson family. I've never met them, mind you, but regardless, I absolutely adore them. For you see, our new Christmas Day tradition is molded from their love and service to Christ. On Christmas morning, the Robynson family loads up their red wagon with homemade pancakes and coffee... and heads downtown to feed the homeless. What I find so fascinating about this is the age of the Robyson children. All three kids are under the age of ten with the youngest being 3-years-old. How many kids do you know, under the age of ten, willing to spend their Christmas morning feeding the homeless instead of feverishly unwrapping a seemingly endless stream of gifts?

Susan Diego
When reading Susan's story, I couldn't help but think of countless women I know... women with hearts for the Lord, but a paralyzing fear of speaking in front of people. For Susan, the majority of her ministry was centered around interpersonal relationships: working with youth, teaching young mothers, raising her own children. The one thing she didn't want to do was speak in front of large groups of people. However, one day God changed all that. During a trip to Uganda with the husband and two youngest children, Susan was in charge of leading a women's conference... which meant speaking in front of hundreds of women. She never thought God would lead her down that path... but He did... and she followed... never once regretting the decision.

Recently, I was given some really good advice from a trusted mentor and friend. In a late night conversation, I was sharing with her where I felt God was leading me and my family. But, I also shared my fears that despite the confidence I had in God's leading, I lacked confidence in my own abilities. After patiently letting me spew out all my insecurities, my dear friend simply said that God doesn't ask us to do anything that we can't do... reinforcing the truth that He equips us with ALL necessary things. He is the Great Provider. Even as I sit here and look back on that conversation, I see the flaw in my logic. My insecurities relied on my own understanding, my own capabilities, my own education and strength. Where was God? In yet another evolution of my faith, I've come to the understanding that I have trusted God to lead... but not provide... I trust Him to lead me to places that I can navigate on my own, based on my own understanding; but can the same be said when He leads me to places that I'm simply not equiped to handle on my own... places where I have to rely COMPLETELY on Him... for His provision?

Do you rely completely on Him? Or do you trust Him only after you've gotten as far as you can on your own? Spend some time really contemplating this question.