Friday, June 28, 2013

Sounds of Summer


I was alone in the temporary apartment last night. In the total silence of dark space we have inhabited almost exclusively at night, I realized that I have let an entire week go by and I have not spent time outside.

All my life this realization has pricked a place in my heart that aches when the sun hasn't touched my face. Taking a break from packing up the few items we are still carrying with us during this transition, I decided to step out onto the balcony.

I expected to be bombarded with mosquitoes as I have been each time I've attempted a few moments outside all week, but today there were none. A gentle rain had begun and cleared the air of oppressing heat and thankfully, annoying insects.

The smell of summer was overwhelming. Dry soil growing moist, red clay being watered to life, moss, flowers, trees all revealing their true natures as the dust drips away. This combination of smells takes me back to my grandmother's jungle in Tampa, Florida when afternoon thunderstorms cooled down the earth again so little girls could play. The sky was radiant with huge rolling clouds in every color of gray all silhouetted by bright white light.

It was so cathartic to just stop. STOP. I stood there with my face upturned and I slowly relaxed into the rain drops that seemed to tentatively leap onto my face.

More so than the smells that are part jungle and part childhood, or the rain drops that sprinkled my eyes back to life, it was the sound that sent my soul reeling.

All of a sudden, as if from nowhere, the clattering motor of the summer cicadas began their windup in unison before delving into their evening lullaby. The buzzing, vibrating, shrill volume of those mysterious bugs sang right in to my heart. I experienced such a relief from the adult world of tomorrows and to-dos. There is a lot to do, there has been a lot to do, there is more still to do but in the midst of it all, all the provision, blessings, rest and exhaustion, it was a gift to stop and listen.

The sounds of summer in the Carolina South could be spiritual dinner bell that calls me home to the me I love best. The aroma of magnolia blossoms nearly distilled from two weeks of June heat, the wet dirt, the knocking of the rain drops on the wood porch, and the deafening chorus of the cicadas all brought forth a waterfall of precious memories from many, many Carolina summers.

I stood there until the bright white silhouettes turned to pink and then rain fell too hard to tickle. Finally, I returned to the chore of packing once again. Piling books back into their designated boxes I opened up one on animal totems. I was struck by the moment on the balcony and the line that I read. It left me with the same thought that I plan to leave with you.

Recognize the energy you share in life is eternal and then you will embrace the journey with continuous care.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

This is the Life!

Hey Waked Up! I've missed you so!

Before I start posting thoughts and experiences that have happened for the past couple of weeks, I wanted to take a moment and let you know what is going on with me so that you can understand why I have not been back to normal speed with Waked Up posting.

Joel is now settling into his new job which could not be a better match for his talents, education and skills so far. This month has proven to be the whirlwind we anticipated it be. However, I can heartily add that God has not failed for a moment to provide exactly what we needed right when we needed it. There is no way, NO WAY; we could have done this by our own devices.


Since June 1 we have attended and participated in a dear friend's wedding. Then we packed up our apartment. I participated in a week of local service living on site at CROSS Missions with 25 of my 6-7th grade youth. It was amazing! Then I came straight home on that Friday morning and we moved all of our things into storage and said goodbye to our campus life. A friend came in town the next day who we hosted at our now "temporary apartment." Then we helped a friend move on Sunday. That evening, I hopped back on another week of mission tripping at CROSS with 17 of my 8th grade youth; also amazing! There were a lot of gifts from serving two weeks with the youth from our church but one of my favorites was participating in the program that Joel was directing. It was a pleasure to see him living fully into his call. It was also a joy to see him every day. Once we both finished up with the youth on Thursday night, we went to our temp-apt and slept 4 hours and hopped a plane to Vermont for another wedding. This was the first wedding that I have ever officiated and it was pure blessing to have that chance. That weekend felt like living in the kingdom of heaven. Then we flew home Sunday and Joel went straight back to work. I had one day to rest and found myself back in the office trying to remember what my day job looks like.


 This week has been full of sleeping until just before I have to get up and going to bed as soon as I get home. We both are happy, provided for, and overwhelmed with love and change. This is all another way to say-we are exhausted.

This weekend, we venture to the mountains to celebrate my grandparent's 65th wedding anniversary, my sister turning 25, and my bother-in-law becoming a PhD. We will return home and move into our permanent residence on Monday. It doesn't end there. As soon as we get our things in our new place, we will hop in the car for a sibling road trip to Michigan to make a long-overdue visit with Joel's grandparents and relatives.

Once we return from that adventure, we will have internet access (currently I only have it at work), permanent beds and God willing- rest.

There is so much I am looking forward to sharing with you. For the moment, this will have to suffice.


Usually by the end of the summer as I reflect on mission trips, epic adventures with Joel, family vacations, local celebrations, and the occasional lying by the pool, there is someone on staff that shakes her head at me and smiles, "You are the author of this madness." I know that actually means "Don't complain about being tired when you did this to yourself." I can honestly say that this summer I was not responsible for all the tight transitions and exhausting transformations but I sure am grateful for each one.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Mission Trips

For the next two weeks I will be serving on mission trips with my youth. If your church or organization is looking for an incredible service experience/mission trip for middle school to adults to participate then you should check out CROSS Missions. This program is intentional, relationship focused, and life changing. I have been on many mission trips and service projects with youth and adults inside and outside of the country. I can honestly say that CROSS is the best I have tried. I literally watched the Spirit transform the hearts of my youth right in front of me. The impact of this experience has been lasting and transformational.

In the summer, you can spend a week on site in their outreach center. You live in community with your group and others who are participating that week too. You eat together, worship together, debrief together, do chores together. Everyone has a role and a purpose. Then you spend each day serving at two mission sites. You never know where you'll serve and the possibilities are vast. You could be folding clothing at a nonprofit that clothes our homeless neighbors all morning and then you might spend the afternoon playing volleyball with recovering addicts. One morning you might help at an intercity daycare then you might spend the afternoon singing with Alzheimer's patients. We serve homeless, elderly, disabled, and children. We prepare food, serve food, plant food, clean, play, pray, worship and of course the emphasis is living IN RELATIONSHIP with all the people we come in contact with. It is a beautiful experience. CROSS also offers this experience during the school year on the weekends. I hope someday you'll have a chance to try it for yourself.

This is all to say, that I will be blogging very sporadically for the next two weeks. I am "on" for two weeks which does not guarantee I'll have the energy between trips on my free weekend to blog but I will try.  Please keep me, our leaders, youth, CROSS Missions and the people we serve in your prayers.

 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

God of Good and Bad

Some of you are going to hate this but I am going to say it anyhow. God is the creator of good and bad. There.

Doesn't that give you peace? Or, are you totally freaking out right now? 


If we are looking to scripture for our faith foundations, I think it is critical to recognize that this God we claim to believe in is the ruler of all. He created this world and everything in it. If I claim this,even a child can deduce that he created both the good and the bad. Good tidings and bad tidings are under his control.

I have seen grown, faithful adults shaking in their boots when topics like this are discussed and I have such a hard time understanding what is so scary about this idea. 

 
For far too many years (starting in the 60's) there was this phenomenon of "God is love" teaching going on in churches. This strategy for Christian education was a shallow attempt at the revelation of God in this world. While I do believe that God is love, I also can recognize that my understanding of that statement is just my understanding. There is so much that has to go unanswered when it comes to my belief in a all powerful deity. 

I have experienced a few difficult trials in my life so I am not completely naive to the "bad things" I am referring to. As a child and a youth, I learned what it was like to be left out and ostracized by people who I thought were my friends. As an teen and adult I learned what it was like to disappoint people and myself. I learned what it was like to end a relationship and be rejected by a lover. I experienced the pain of death when my grandfather, uncle and father all died so close together. I experienced the horror of watching a parent suffer from cancer and the affect it had on my family. These examples are trials that I have perceived as "bad things" as I have grown up. 


 As a kid, I thought Satan was doing these bad things. I was so scared of this lurking evil in the world that was constantly trying sabotage the goodness God provides me. As a teen I thought these bad things were the result of human free will as we are given the opportunity to choose our paths and often choose wrong. God would never do something bad to someone.

Would He not?

Have you read the Old Testament? Did you hear that he made sure his only son was killed in the most painful manner ever created by man? 

I have a friend who cannot accept that he even believes in God now that he has read the entire Old Testament. It has shattered his faith because his faith was yoked to the message that our God is love. 


 It is hard to describe how I am at peace with this understanding. God is love. I believe that God is love and when we are tapped into Him we will experience love. We can choose to experience God as love through all these trials by being present to his provision, being present to our becoming love. However, to me, claiming that God is the creator of all is claiming that God created bad. God created bad, created sin, created hate, created death, created pain. 

Someone once told me, as I was mourning the death of my dad, that he knew that God would never take a man I loved away from me again. It was such a nice thought but I knew that my God took everything away from Job. Job lost all he ever loved or wanted. I knew that my God had the power to do it all and my call is simply to tap into His life-force while he does it. I have to trust Him. I knew that he could and would let my loved ones died in front of me. Bad things will happen to me again.

My daily experience of goodness and love comes from living graphed to the Spirit. I don't receive joy from the idea that bad things will not ever happen to me again. I receive joy from being tapped into God.

I don't know about you, but I am far more comforted by the thought that my God whose love I have experienced and whose provision I know intimately, is behind the bad things that happen to me. I would much rather know that the creator of the universe is in control of ALL things rather than only in control of the good things.

I used to get angry when someone would say to me "It is God's will that your dad died." Now that I am in a different season in life and have experienced the immense growth and incredible healing that came from my dad's death, I believe that what was said was right.

Most perceptions I make about "bad" things usually are wrapped around death in some capacity. We tend to view death as a bad thing that happens. If I claim to be a Christian who believes that Jesus conquered death then why is the scariest, worst thing I can think of... death?

At the end of the day, I want to be a believer who does not fear. I want to be a believer who knows that my God is 100% behind ALL of creation even the things that I perceive as bad. I want to be a believer who knows that God is love and trusts His provision. I want to be a believer who is OK with the mystery of God. 

My God is the creator, period.

I think Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros explain what I am trying to get at best with their song "I don't wanna pray":


I love my god, god made love
I love my god, god made love
I love my god, god made hate
I love my god, god made hate
I love my god, god made good
I love my god, god made good
I love my god, god made bad
I love my god, god made me

But I don't wanna pray to my maker
I just wanna be what I see
Not just who I am, but the pink in golden land
And that wide wild sky over me
Help me to the sun, hey I'm looking everywhere
See I'm looking to become not the prayer, but the prayer.
And now I don't wanna pray, no
I say I don't wanna pray, no
And I, I don't wanna pray
I don't wanna pray

I love my god, god made love
I love my god, god made love
I love my god, god made good
I love my god, god made hate
I love my god, god made bad
I love my god, god made

I don't wanna pray to my maker
I just wanna be feelin' free
Not like in a book, or the leaves of trees that shook
From a word that means only not a thing
Pardon god and mom, what I'm sayin' isn't fair
See I'm looking to become, not the prayer but the prayer
And now I don't want to pray
I say I don't wanna pray
I don't wanna pray
Who don't wanna pray

Not much good to talk, better to walk it
Not much good to take, better to give
We are gone forgiven and forgotten of our sins
I promise you my friend all that dies will live again
Pardon god and mom, what I'm sayin' isn't fare
See I'm looking to become, not the prayer but the prayer
And now I don't want to pray
No, they say I don't wanna pray
I don't wanna pray
Who don't wanna pray

I love my god, god made love
I love my god, god made love
I love my god, god made hate
I love my god, god made hate
I love my god, god made good
I love my god, god made good
I love my god, god made bad
I love my god, god made me
 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Curse

Men and Women are cursed. 

You don't have to peer into the Bible to see that. Anyone who has ever had a relationship with the opposite sex knows that we are all cursed. 

If you start in the beginning of the Bible and read the story of creation you can absorb what the scripture writers wanted us to know. I walk away with this: God created everything from the black nothing of darkness to the intricate systems that keep this planet growing and living. 

This story of creation gives us the impression that God really enjoys Earth and all the living things on it. No matter what the details say, this is what I hear at the end of the day. "It was good."

Then something terrible happens in the story. There is an apple, a talking snake, temptation, shame, naked people, curses. If you stop getting tangled up in the details of Adam and Eve and just let the story wash over you something changes. It moves from this scary Victorian fairytale to a transformational awakening about the evolution of mankind.


I first encountered this awakening in a book called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Quinn tells the Biblical story of creation through the eyes of a gorilla. I know it sounds far fetched but that detail is critical so that we (humans) can receive this information objectively. We needed a nonhuman to tell us the story of the Fall so that we could really understand what it was all about without making it personal.

According to Quinn, the story of the Fall is about a lot more than a husband and wife seducing each other with apple slices. It was about Provision.

Quinn suggests that the garden of Eden is planet Earth. That God created this earth and all that lives on it and God provided for us in the garden. This means that all of us living things were hunter/gatherers. The original humanoids were hunter/gatherers. They lived like Moses and the gang in the desert, day to day,waiting on nature to provide a wandering deer or a bush of berries. These people and animals just ate what they needed for the day and trusted that God would provide what they needed for the next. Living in the Garden of Eden was truly living in the present, allowing God to provide for your needs moment to moment. 

Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge which was forbidden. When they did this they figured something out- they could try to assume control over their lives. This is where the trouble began. Quinn reveals what happened to the early family could be representative of what has happened across our planet for ages. Humans figured out that they could plant food, they could grow it. This means they could control when, where, how they got their food. They no longer needed to trust God with the day to day provision of food for their survival. Once they learned to grow their own food, handle their own livestock, then they could also decide how many children they could support. They could stock food, hoard food, take much more than they needed. Now man wanted to own land and create territories to grow even more food and create wealth. This wealth created systems of power and you see where this is going... Humans began to assume control over their own needs and stopped depending on God for their daily bread.

The story of Adam and Eve tells me two things about the world I know today. 

First, the Fall of mankind comes down to the moment when humans stopped letting God provide for them. They stopped trusting that God will provide for them which brought on the fear that we all know well. This is the moment in our evolution and development when we realize we can control things. We no longer want to choose to let God provide for us because we are actually fearful that He wont and perhaps doesn't even exist. This is the beginning of doubt.

Secondly, the story of the Fall also reveals what has happened to men and women in their relationships. When Adam and Eve eat that apple, God curses them and he curses the serpent. 

Genesis 3:16

To the woman he said;
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

OK ladies, does this sound familiar? Think about what this curse really means. As women on planet Earth, we are always going to struggle with this one thing. Can you think of what it is? There are thousands of books about it: "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus", "Love and Respect"

Ladies, we want to be loved. We will do anything to be sure that we are loved. When your boyfriend or husband is mad at you and just wants some alone time, how many of you chase them down and MAKE them talk it out because you are terrified that they will stop loving you in that silence? Sound familiar? How many of you bend over backwards for your guy because you want to have that sense that you are indeed beloved by him. I know there are some fierce independent women out there and I claim to be one of them, but I still know in my hard of hearts, that deep down, I want this too.

Think about childbirth... it is terrible. Everything I have ever heard about it makes it sound like the most horrific thing that could happen to a human being and yet we go through it voluntarily. Why? Well, how many of you have looked at your lover and pictured him as a baby,wondered what your kids would look like and longed to love that little vision of him? How many of you have blushed as your man whispered that he wants you to have his children? We love these men, we want to be loved by them. We fall hard. We give it all. We get insanely attached which is also part of how God made us. We want to be loved by them so much that we even sacrifice our bodies and we love those babies with our entire beings!

At the end of the day, our need to be loved by our man allows him to rule over us. We choose again and again to do what our lover wants over what we want. I know we all do it, even the most balanced of us still gets caught in this trap. This is the curse. 

Hey Fellas:  Genesis 3: 17-20
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”
20 Adam[c] named his wife Eve,[d] because she would become the mother of all the living.


OK men, I know you do this because I have experienced it first hand. I have watched you agonize over this, loose your hair over it, bite your nails, fall into depressions, drink yourself to sleep, smoke a thousand cigarettes...This curse isn't about farming, it is about providing. When man stopped putting his trust in God there was only one place to put it- in himself. All the relationship guidebooks point to the same thing- men want to be respected. What is the root of this respect? How does a man sense that he is worth being respected? When he can provide. 

Men, you have this insane need to provide. When you aren't able to get that job you want, make the money you want, give your wife or girlfriend something you want them to have, you feel like an utter failure. There is always something for you to provide too; time, attention, money, a home, vacations, education, energy, etc. At the end of the day when your wife is whining because she just wants you to cuddle with her and you are exhausted from a long day of work, what do you say? "It is never enough is it...?"  Does this sound familiar? Being able to provide is so deeply personal that all asks and desires seem to be questioning your ability to be a man (as we call it).

 The anxiety of being able to provide has beaten men to death for thousands of years. Our culture has allowed men to be work horses and I believe it comes down to this curse. The stats have been clear that men die younger and they spend a lot more of their time working and stressing about work. Man thinks it is all up to him.

Take a moment. Can you see this? I don't think Quinn is far off course here. Just so we are clear... I am not making any points about women's rights or how I believe a home should be run or who should be providing, blah, blah. I don't care about any of that right now. I also am a big fan of gardening and farming so don't misunderstand my intentions there either. If you are getting caught up in those details then you will understand why it was so important for Quinn to share these thoughts through the eyes of a gorilla. I am sharing a story that I have read which brought understanding to a few things that I have experienced on my life's journey. 


I believe that the story of the Fall in scripture is a story that explains why men and women are often at odds. Why men want to be respected and women want to be loved. These two things project away from one another and yet we are called into union together. It is a miracle that relationships work at all. It is that miracle that gives me so much hope today.

The story of the Fall is a story explaining behaviors that human beings take part in and define themselves by. The first step in overcoming a behavior (innate or established) is simply through awareness. Practicing to choose a different path and experience a variation to the ordained route, also will lend you to freedom from the curse. However, while I feel the pressure from this dark place inside me screaming out to be loved by Joel, I have prayed mightily that God would lift this curse from me.

I feel it leaving me today just as I have felt God answering my prayers for freedom to simply BE love not to TAKE love or NEED love.

The curse came from a time when man stopped trusting that God would provide for our needs. I believe that freedom from this curse will come with the daily practice of being present to God's provision and accepting the blessing. The story of creation is about abundance. God is about abundance. The curse is about always feeling there is a deficit which creates fear.

(The Bible also urges mankind not to fear an estimated 119 times.) 

The story of the New Testament reveals something about this Old Testament God; that he also is capable of incredible grace. We have been given the power to choose not to fear, to choose to trust God, to choose to be present, to choose to be love, and to choose to be blessed.








I believe at least for me, this curse is being lifted.


 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Guilt

How many times a day do you do something motivated by guilt? 

Guilt masked as love.
I have spent years trying to break myself of this painfully learned habit. Even if I wanted to pretend that I don't do this or haven't done this, there would be no way to escape the reality that this motivational system lives all around me. I see it in the adults I work with. I hear in the youth I work with. Everyone I am around day to day says to me at one point or another, "I would just feel so guilty if I didn't do it."

Lying in a hotel bed in Mobile, Alabama a new reality fell a million feet from heaven and struck me hard where I was resting. I picked up "Kindred Spirit" for the first time after having heard Joel's best bud talk about it for a while. He was raving about it and I finally had a moment alone on vacation to poke around skeptically. I flipped through the colored pages, rolling my eyes, judging the vegan inks. Then my gaze was drawn to a page that had a list of words I consider very negative which essentially caught my attention. Each word had a definition unlike ones I have ever encountered. I skimmed the page until I came to the word that pulled me at me the hardest- Guilt

The definition read: 

  • I have violated one of my own highest values.
  • I think that I am responsible for someone else. 
The second definition came to life and stood in front of me scowling. It had a face I knew well. It was the face of a friend, it was the face of a co-worker, it was the face of a student, my family, my grandparents, my boss, a youth...

Photo by Jacki Harp
In a moment, I realized how many relationships I fostered with people who I loved out of guilt. It was easy to recall hundreds of examples, gestures, service, words, cards, calls, hang-outs that I only did because I would feel guilty if I did not go through with one of them. 

I would feel guilty. 

The "I" in that phrase stood out to me most. Doing anything motivated by guilt is the most selfish thing I could possibly consider. When I do something out of guilt I am saying that I believe I can solve your problems. I have the power to make you feel a certain way. I know I am so important that if I don't do this things will fall apart; people will fall apart. What an insult! How is this love? 

It isn't. 

There was only one thing to do- I wept. I laid in that bed and I mourned all the time I wasted. I wept for all the people I could not empower, that I cheated from experiencing real love. I cried for myself and for all the well intended, guilty gestures that I agonized over. I cried for all the times that I did not love myself because I chose guilt.

After a good period of mourning, I buried that behavior and laid it to rest. With that step my life changed over night. I experienced a holistic purging of guilty relationships. Several friends parted ways with me, sometimes with understanding, sometimes with deep pain. My work life changed. My marriage changed. My health changed. I began to grow again. I felt the breath of life climb into my lungs as grief lifted from my chest. I knew I was healing.

Freedom
I am not responsible for any one's feelings. You are not responsible for mine. There is nothing I can do to make you feel a certain way. I am free of that burden and the guilt that comes with the immediate failure to love. There is no love in guilt; you and I both are compromised when that behavior is given a chance to live on. I know this now and I live it without any regrets. I feel free. I am free.




How would you live differently if you chose stop being motivated by guilt?



Church

St. Francis outside of my Uncle and Aunts home
Two weeks have come and gone with an overwhelming rush of reminders that God's Spirit is on the move. It is important for me to take a moment to testify to the obvious benefits of breathing in and out that pentecostal breath that binds us all together in love. 

That breath has to begin with the church. The church is not a building, it is not a place you can go, it isn't a thing you do for an hour on Sunday. Church is people. "Open the doors and see all the people." Remember that childhood rhyme? That one was actually true.

If I told the story of the past two weeks the way it was meant to be told, it would go like this:

I received a call from God back in March asking me if I wanted this great job in local missions. I said "No, but I know someone who would be perfect for it- my husband Joel." God called Joel and told him about the job and then asked him to apply. Joel applied. Neither of us were sure what this was all about or what the likelihood of his getting this job would be. Plus, we were really comfortable in our current situations. 

My friend's wedding in Charleston, photo by Kayla
God called again and scheduled an interview. Joel thought it went well and came home energized, touched by something holy. Then we traveled to Charleston for a wedding. It was here we made the deal with God to purchase His amazing car for an incredible price. At this point, we still thought this was a very "out of character" purchase for ourselves but we just went with it. We simply had a feeling...

Usually in the summer we plan an epic journey somewhere and leave for a couple of weeks. Joel and I had the weirdest time choosing a place this year. Nothing felt right, nothing came together well. We finally decided we just didn't feel good about it and better go with that gut and leave our summer open. We have not ever considered doing something like this. We had a feeling...

Another month passes and Joel gets another call. Two more interviews go by, a paper written, a skills test taken and we suddenly realize he could get this job. God speaks through influential people in our community; a pastor, youth leader, missions director, professor, co-worker, friends. Joel lands the job. Then we drive to Virginia to pick up the car we now need.The timing was perfect. 

Now we have to move from campus. 

Spending time in Eden with friends
God inspires Joel to write a "goodbye/thank you" email to his peers in the office just to express his gratitude for them. God writes back ,"I am moving out of my apartment soon, would you like to see it?" It is perfect. It's us. It is practical, it is close to our jobs, it is amazingly priced, and it even had french doors (how did God know I liked those?). 

God inspired me to write a friend at church who owns a moving company. I just wanted prices because we have so much going on and I am about to leave for mission trips so moving is going to be a big hassle for us. God answers the way He always answers, "Just tell us the pick up and drop off addresses and we have you covered." Amazing grace.

We still have two weeks where we will not have housing. There is a gap in our plan. I ask around, nothing pans out. I bite off my nails. I go to work. God asked what our plan is during the gap time and I tell her we don't have one yet. She offers us her place that she has just moved out of and has to keep until the end of the month. 

It is done. All we have to do is pack. 

Visiting with family at sunset
These perfectly timed details did not come from the week I took off from work to try and figure them all out. They did not happen in a moment or out of the blue. Every detail of this situation accumulated from the building momentum of that holy undercurrent pouring in and out of the church. Each connection that was made; the job, the move, the moving, the apartment, the car, and time off, the rest in Virginia, everything we needed, was all part of the intricate community of loving support that I know as the church. 

Church is people who rejoice in God's blessings. They share them.

This story is full of physical examples of God's blessings and I am sharing it because I think a lot of people can relate to this sort of miraculous gifting of provision. It is crucial for me to note that I have fully experienced God's blessings in the emotional, spiritual, educational, and relational realm of this world as well. This story happens to me everyday of my life. It is just lately folks are starting to notice these blessings we are called to share because they happen to be ones they can touch. 

Rejoicing in community at a friend's wedding
I have a friend who doesn't attend church and doesn't believe in God. She told me once that she misses church (she grew up in a church) and she really sees the benefit of being in a community of love, grace and support. I think most human beings can relate to this whether they believe in a deity or not. It is undeniable that having a network of support (no matter where it comes from) is transformational. People who have the support of relationships truly are better off. You can be the poorest person on the planet or the richest on Earth, but if you are doing either of those things totally alone you are living in the worst poverty I can imagine. 

My church is full of people of all ages. We attend different "churches" and worship at different times. We have very different jobs and live all over the world. However, my church is full of people who are tapped into a life force that binds us all together in love. We are tapped into living, growing life and let that current take us where it pleases.

I know God through His church. I know God is pleased to bless his children. I just have a feeling...

"Thank you, God."

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Blessing

As we left our dear friend's home in Virginia, Joel looked at me and said, "I guess this is what Abraham felt like after he visited all those kingdoms." I knew exactly what he meant by that. I don't know if you have spent a lot of time in the Old Testament but God makes it really clear that his people should practice hospitality. Likewise, I get the sense that He blesses his followers for just letting Him lead. When Abe left some of the kingdoms he had to pass through, he often exited with extra goats, wine, camels, whatever was lavish and customary at the time.

This basically happened to us this last weekend. In the midst of Joel accepting his new position, we had planned on going on vacation this week. With the job change, vacation was no longer possible but we decided to continue on with our weekend plans. We were tempted to just call the weekend plans off but something told us that we needed this time to get away so away we went.
 
The purpose of this trip was to visit our long time friends and to purchase a car from them. This opportunity came up about a month ago, long before we realized that we'd actually NEED two cars. God knows what's up. Again, we just had a good feeling about it, so we went for it.


When we made it to our friend's house we were wined and dined all evening. We enjoyed a home cooked meal over an antique set of china on a beautiful table in a real dinning room (you have to remember we have lived in a dorm for three years now). Our friend's treated us like family. They shared their life experiences with us. They shared their financial advise with us (which we need). We walked through their garden and sat with them over a table made out of their family organ sipping mango tea. The hours we were there were so restful and rich.



 When it was time to go, we bought that car and they gave us an amazing deal on it. It is much nicer than any car we would ever had afforded or picked out ourselves. But they didn't stop there. As we headed out the door, I was handed a gift bag full of teas (I love tea), Joel was given a huge cooler full of venison (we love deer meat). 

We were full of homemade meals, delicious coffee, and warm hugs from people we love so much. We felt overwhelmed with both the physical gifts and gift of visual/emotional beauty of that time spent with people we love.

Driving through the Shenandoah Valley, marveling at the bright green hills all around, we couldn't help but accept the blessing. We just allowed ourselves to be blessed,abundantly blessed. We didn't question it whether we deserved it or how we got to this point. We just were grateful.

Joel's childhood pastor preaches about accepting God's blessings. We make the Christian life so hard, so painfully full of things we "should not do." What if God just wants you to do one thing- be present to Him. The God I have experienced loves pleasure. The God I have come to know loves gifts, is full of grace, and delights in our joy. 

Look around your life. Can you see the blessing? Do you accept it? How many of us feel guilty for the good things that happen to us? We are God's kids and he wants us to accept his too much, too big, too expensive, too perfect blessings. Just accept it and be glad. It's OK. 

Thank you, God.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

No TV

Are you ready for this?

We do not own a TV. I haven't watched TV at home since my sophomore year in college. I own many movies and up until recently we had a TV that was hooked up only to the DVD/VHS (I still have VHS- gotta keep those Disney movies pristine people!) so we could watch a film from time to time. 

Instead of watching TV you could play Frisbee
I love watching movies. The intentionality of choosing a film to absorb and sitting down with someone you love to share it is a gift I cherish. I used to watch movies with my Dad. We'd really get into them. I have always gotten emotionally invested in movies which means I have had to choose them wisely.I do let them sink in and affect me. I really believe that when you expose yourself to media you are letting it in. It does collide with your soul somehow. It does change you even in a small way. Anything you come in contact with should. For that reason, I enjoy watching movies that inspire me, make me laugh, trigger my imagination, or simply challenge me in some way.

Instead of watching TV you could do the Macarena in your living room
I do not enjoy watching TV. It struck me in college that my friends and family all seemed to turn on the TV at every whim like a compulsion. Perhaps they felt lonely for a moment or maybe they were unsettled by the sudden silence that fell when a roommate left the building. Who knows where it begins, but I think we all get a little too trigger happy when it comes to Television. It's like the TV has become our friend but behind the comfort of that familiar buzz and the flicker of that screen, there is a darkness pulling us out of the present moment.

I am not bashing TV time. I think there are some valuable shows out there. Television is a great tool for learning and sharing information but like all things, it can be overdone.

It is hard to watch my loved ones become weighed down by dreadful news that is blasted across America endlessly on every news station. It is sad to think of all the time that was wasted watching commercial after commercial or flicking through the channels never finding quite what you were looking for. To me, this behavior rips us from the present and blinds us from God's moment to moment provision.

I try not to regret much, but I would like to have back all the moments I spent channel surfing growing up. I would take back all the episodes of Jerry Springer that I sneaked and watched. I'd take back all the reruns I sat through two or three times. I really believe that I can track the years of my life where I have experienced the most transformational growth (body, mind, spirit), it comes as no surprise they fall directly in line with getting rid of my TV.


Instead of watching TV you could do cool things on a pole
Think about it, how would your daily experience change if you had no TV? What would you do with that time? I know what I have done with it. I make dinners, long, creative meals. I eat them really slowly and sit and talk with Joel for as long as possible. Then we keep on talking while we clean up. Sometimes, we will go for walks, paint, run, hangout with friends, write music, call our grandparents, grab a beer, but mostly, we just talk to each other. Someone asked Joel what he does instead of watching TV and I was tickled by his answer. He said, "I talk to my wife." It is so simple and true. I know we have a better marriage because of it.

There are rare moments when I sense I have missed some important political event due to not having a TV, but I am usually no more than a half day behind before someone reveals the situation to me and I can look the details up for myself. The truth is, that none of us would miss much at all if we chucked our TV's out the window right now. Most of us would be relieved if we did. 

It has been said that the greatest expression of love is time. If you believe this to be true, how much love have you dedicated to watching TV?

How would your life change if you channeled all that time, all that love, somewhere else in your daily experience?  

I dare you to turn your TV off for an entire week of your normal routine and watch what happens.  

The photos provided were taken in 2004 on a visit to our family friends in England, incidentally they are now my in-laws since my sister married one of their sons. They are the first family I had ever encountered who did not have a TV. They, in fact, have NEVER owned a TV. As a kid, I thought this was insanity. As an adult, I say "respect".