How to be a light bearer in a torch bearing world

I’m not usually a current events writer, but something about the riots in Charlottesville this past weekend stuck with me and I can’t let it go.  The term torch-bearers kept rolling around in my mind.  What seemed to be an innocuous term now has violence and hatred associated with it.    And rightfully so.  The people that were bearing those torches are evil.  I can’t think of a better word.  What they stand for and what they believe and what they do is so against the Bible, it can only be called evil.

I believe that its important to publicly condemn these people.  Its important to say the words and put on the labels.  But what I really thought about this weekend is, how can I actually change the world?  I don’t have an internationally read blog, so its not like saying anything here is going to change people’s minds.  A Facebook or Instagram post doesn’t change the world, and honestly, did a fight on twitter ever help anyone?

So, then what do we do?  Do we stay silent?  Pretend that it was an isolated incident?  That it has nothing to do with us?

No.  Staying silent is not the right answer.  But we can’t fight hatred with hatred.  As a Christian, I believe that the best way I can change the world, is one person at a time.  Some people have huge platforms and God has called them to a public life.  But most of us are just like me – a regular person leading a regular life, yet called to do something extraordinary.  Love people the way God would love them.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the book of Job these past few months.  You probably know the story – a man who is going through the worst time of his life.  And he has terrible friends.  Friends who tell him that he must be doing something wrong.  That if he would only repent, things would get better.  They assume they know the ins and outs of the situation.  They assume  they know the depth of his grief.  And worst of all, they assume they know the reason for Job’s trials and that they have all the answers.  Sounds like a lot of words being spoken these days.

In chapter 16 Job tells his friends just how it is – “miserable comforters are ye all”.  And he goes on to tell them three things he wishes for from his friends.  I think when someone in pain speaks up and tells us what they need, its a good time to listen closely.

“I would strengthen you with my mouth”  The words we use when speaking to others matter.  When so many words of hatred are spewing out on the streets and on the internet, words of love stand out.  Words that strengthen are not the norm anymore.  May we always look for those who are hurting and use words that strengthen them, build them up, help them to feel the love of God through us.

“the moving of my lips should asswage your grief” Asswage is an old word that means to lessen the intensity of (something that pains or distresses).  Do our words bring healing?  Do they lessen grief?  Or do they add to it?  I know that I am guilty of that sometimes.  I think the biggest point of this is that in order to asswage someone’s grief, we first have to listen for a long time to understand it.  We can’t be afraid of people’s stories, of their opinions, of their grief.

“ O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbour!”  The last thing Job says at the end of the chapter is that he really needs them to pray for him.  And not just pray, but plead with God.  The most important thing we can do for those who are hurting, those in our little circle of influence, is to pray for them.  We desperately need prayer for our countries, our cities, our friends, our homes, our governments.  Its scary out there and people are hurting.  We are called to be the light of the world, to shine God’s love to each and every person out there.  To strengthen, to asswage grief, to pray.  But we can’t do that in our own strength.  It is a mission that only God can give us the strength to do.

May we go out tomorrow with determination to shine God’s love to each person that we can and change the world in a small way.


When God gives it back

Just over a year ago I really wrestled with God.

I felt that He was asking me to give up some things that were really important to me.  First was my own music education – even though I was so close to completing my dream and had worked away at it for so long.  The second was teaching music.  I had been teaching music in some form for almost 20 years and yet felt that God was calling me to quit and focus on my kids and my health.  It was a very difficult decision and one that I wrestled with for a while before I finally surrendered, choosing to believe that God’s way was best, even when it was hard to see.

Then, a few months later, that October, everything changed again.  We moved cities, jobs, I no longer homeschooled.  But the saddest part for me was I was no longer in ministry.  Besides my family and my relationship with God, the only thing I was more passionate about than music was ministry.  Now that was gone too.  It seemed as though everything was being stripped away.

And it was.

But when God asks us to give something up and we follow in that step of obedience, there is always reward.

Its easy now to look back and see why He asked me to give that all up – logistically, it would have made the move harder and I would’ve felt bad about leaving people in a lurch had I been teaching a bunch of kids.  But still, this year I wondered what would happen, how God would replace those parts of my life.

But recently, God has given it all back to me.  This fall I will officially become the music teacher at Heritage Christian Academy, my kids school at our church.  Its seriously the dream job.  Ministry and music combined!  Its like the cumulation of everything I worked for.  It also gives me the opportunity – and a good excuse – to go back and and study under a teacher again.  I honestly couldn’t be more excited.  And summers and breaks off too – perfect for a mom. (I tried super hard in this paragraph to not use multiple exclamations marks and/or smiley faces on every sentence.)

My heart has always been for the ministry and music is a love, so to combine the two is amazing.  I’m grateful for the opportunity.  But more than that, its pretty amazing to see when God gives you a glimpse of why He asked you to make the hard choices.  Because we don’t always get to see that!  Sometimes we just have to trust that He is good and have faith that it will be the best decision.  But once in a while He allows us these glimpses and we can see the direct result of our surrender.  And it is so faith building.

Is there something that God is asking you to do today?  Maybe its something that is hard to give up, or scary to start.  Either way, we can always trust our God.  It will always be His best in the end.

Also, I’m super excited.  Just so you know.


Seemingly Insignificant

Do you ever feel insignificant?

Do you wonder if the work you do each day will ever amount to anything?  Is it worth it to do the dishes again, answer a million questions, teach that english lesson, switch one more load?

Do you wonder if what you do has value?

I do.  All the time.  Oh, I know that everything I do has value, somehow, somewhere, but it can be so hard to move from knowing to believing, can’t it?  And the knowing keeps me doing it all, but the believing, that’s where the real difference is made.

I recently went on a missions trip to Chile.  When you think of missions trips, you think of doing wild, amazing things.  Of leading people to Christ, speaking to large groups, basically anything that seems big and significant.

And what did I do all week?  Well, the first day I led people from one line to the next appropriate line.  Yup.  For an entire day.  That’s all I did.  I said hola, smiled, and led them where they needed to go.  I was working in a vision clinic so I just led them to see the doctor or to be fitted for glasses.  The next three days I learned how to fit people for glasses.  Which was slightly more rewarding because it was fun being able to watch some people see clearly for the first time and they were very grateful.  But significant?  Didn’t really feel like it.

But you know what?  Because we said hola, and smiled, and were kind, and showed the love of Jesus through free glasses, when people were led over to the area where other Chilean christians were waiting to share the Gospel, the people holding those glasses were open and receptive.  And over 350 people got saved in those four days of clinic.

Its not very often that we get to see the results of our seemingly insignificant actions right in the same room, on the same day.  But it was a beautiful reminder to me that every little thing we do in the name of Jesus really is significant.

I was about to write this post last Tuesday, when God had other plans.  I think He wanted this lesson to really sink into me before I shared it with you.  Instead of my plans of writing on the internet and trying to do something significant, I spent the afternoon with my daughter in the walk-in clinic.  She’s fine.  She just decided to jump off the top of bleachers at her dad’s baseball game and sprain a ligament in her foot.  So a bone is kind of bumping out the side of her foot a little.  But no cast for the summer – all the praise hands.

So if today you’re showing up faithful to your job, or you’re wiping snot for the one hundredth time, or you’re doing groceries, or cooking, or whatever, remember that when we do the seemingly insignificant with the love of Jesus, He turns whatever we do into significance.


Dear North American Christian

I have had the amazing privilege to be in 14 different countries in my life so far.  I hope to go to many more!  Some were quick visits, some were longer, and I lived in the Philippines for about two years.

This week I’m adding a new one to the list.  I leave in just a few days for Chile.  I’m going on a missions trip with a group called Medical Missions Outreach.  If you haven’t heard of them and the awesome work they’re doing, please click on the name and find out more!

I’m excited about this organization because I love the way they reach people.  I believe that the Gospel is the most important thing that we can give to any living soul on earth.  But I also believe that they will be much more open to the Gospel when we show God’s love to them in physical, tangible ways.  I don’t have any medical training, but I’ll be able to work alongside Doctors and Nurses as they care for people’s physical needs and then missionaries as they care for their souls.

I also believe that every North American christian should leave North America at some point if at all possible.  Seeing so much of the world has opened me up to new cultures, new ideas, new ways of seeing the world.  I’d say new foods too, but I’m so picky that hasn’t happened too much!  All of that has been great, but when you sit beside someone in their cardboard house and they want to be the one that shares what they have with you, it changes something in your perspective for the rest of your life.  It doesn’t take away that we have problems here, because each of us has real problems in life and I wouldn’t diminish that.

It gives you more of an eternal perspective.  Helps to remind you of what is really important.  And that most of what we have, is not important at all.  It helps me remember that money doesn’t bring happiness, contentment does.  That there are Christians being persecuted for their faith, so I should be able to stand here for mine.  That God loves people in every country in the world, and I need to also.

I know not everyone can just go on the next missions trip this year!  But there are ways we can all broaden our perspective and live with eternal vision, even here in North America.  So if you can, go on that next trip, but if you can’t, figure out a way to be involved in missions some way in your city and church.  You’ll be surprised what you can come up with.


eternal focus

Do you ever feel like quitting?

There’s life in general, which I feel like quitting every day.  Seriously, I have this awesome new bedroom and bathroom that feels like a spa and I can watch Netflix with the touch of a remote.  Throw a fridge in the corner, and I would never emerge to real life again.

Then there’s the spiritual life.  Can we just be real for a minute and say, its not always sunshine and roses?  Its hard, and you have to think a lot, and its time consuming.  Take away all the church and serving and working on my attitude, and there would be a lot more time for Netflix.  Or the cottage.  Or hanging out with friends.  Or whatever it is that makes you want to quit real life.  I think we could all agree on naps.

Sometimes I feel like quitting.  Whether its difficult situations, or a time thing, or I’m angry at God about something, sometimes I lose my focus.  So how do we keep from quitting during these times?

In John 6, Jesus delivers what His followers call, “hard sayings”.  There’s certainly hard sayings in the Christian life, aren’t there?  Love, grace, forgiveness, these are all awesome when they’re directed toward us, but when we have to start extending those to everyone else, things get a little harder.

After Jesus teaches these hard sayings, many followers leave.  They quit.  This Christianity thing was too hard for them.  Too many demands, not enough miracles.

Jesus then turns to His 12 disciples and asks if they will leave too.  Peter responds with an answer that has stuck with me for a while now.

Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

We can quit, but then what?  Where else is better?  Who is better?

And most importantly, who else offers eternal life?

I’ve found that when I most feel like quitting, its because my focus has gotten off the eternal and onto the temporal.  It has gotten off eternal life and onto the comforts of this life.  Off of the glorious and onto the mundane.

Off of God and onto myself.

I have to preach these things to myself because some days, like today, I feel overwhelmed and tired and like I would just like to nap forever.  But this hard, time-consuming life is worth it.  And the only way to remember that is to keep my focus on the eternal.  As in, it doesn’t really matter if the kids bedrooms are painted and the yard is cleaned up.  But trying to speak truth to K-6th grade kids does matter in the end.  Even if it was entitled, why its awesome to be weird.

So keep on serving and loving and working in whatever way God has called you to.  But keep your focus where it needs to be, or you will want to quit.

But I think short naps are important too.


Notes and Lessons

There has been a great mystery in my life the past six months.  I’m pretty sure the person wanted it to stay that way.

But alas, I am not built for not knowing things.  Seriously.  It drives me around the bend.  I get a little obsessive and I start checking post marks and comparing hand writing.

For the past seven months, someone has been sending me lovely little cards, accompanied by a piece of chocolate, with scriptures written on them.  And not just written, but very nicely done, with loops and swirls and bold and cursive.  Something my handwriting could never achieve!  These verses started coming when everything fell apart last October and continued for six months.  They found homes on my fridge, on my counter, piled up in different places, getting splashed with food, getting read over and over.

I finally figured out who was writing them.  I won’t put her name here, because she obviously doesn’t want to be recognized, but I intend to write her a private message to thank her.  And to tell her to read this blog post.

These verses meant so much to me.  I’ve never had anyone do something like that for me before.  Completely anonymous, purely for encouragement.  I learned a bunch of lessons from this experience, and I hope to keep putting them into practice in my life.

First, she did this for me without knowing the whole situation.  I’m pretty sure at the time, she only knew that I was hurting.  I’ve never told her about what happened, although someone else might have.  But the cards started very quickly, so I doubt she knew.  It didn’t matter to her if I had done something wrong or not, if I was making the right decisions or not, all that mattered was that I was hurting.  She just saw another hurting woman and did something about it.

Second, we were not super close friends, and she reached out anyways.  I love her, and I enjoy every minute we spend together, but it only amounts to a few hours a year.  We don’t talk on the phone, or text, or message, or see each other often.  But that didn’t stop her.  She is a great friend in the truest sense of the word.  She was there for me when there was nothing in this for her.  No recognition, no accolades, no one to see her doing it.  I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found out who it was, because she’s such a loving and giving person.

Third, she used the best form of encouragement possible.  She didn’t send me memes, or platitudes, or quotes, or tell me to keep my chin up.  Just verses.  Carefully chosen to speak to a hurting heart, no matter the situation.  When someone’s life is falling apart, the best thing we can do for them is to keep pointing them to Jesus.  Oh, I need people too, and I was so encouraged that someone thought I was worth that effort!  But in the end, we just need to keep pointing people back to Jesus.

Those little cards made such a difference to me.  I would brighten up every time I would see one come in the mail.  So, thank you, J, for the blessing you were to me, for those precious cards, and for the lessons learned.  I can’t wait to give you a hug in person.


You don’t have to do this alone

Recently I went with my kids to convention.  I’m sure convention has a more formal title, like Christian Student Convention, or something like that, but in our small circle when you say convention, everyone knows what that means.

I love convention.  Like, weirdly.  Its one of my favourite events of the whole year.  Most students and teachers don’t because its a lot of work, but I love it and always have.  In the past 24 years, I’ve only missed a few.

When we moved to this new town/church/school, I thought there was no way I would be involved.  Surely they were too big and organized and professional to need my help.  But the music teacher asked me for help!  I was going to convention after all!  I was so excited.

Till I wasn’t.

It suddenly occurred to me in the two weeks leading up to it, that this was one of the first events where I would see “everyone” and not be from my old church.  I started getting a knot in my stomach.  Started worrying about what people would say to me.  Started wondering what I would feel like.  I ended up being very anxious about attending the event that I generally love.

So, I did something revolutionary for me.

I told some people about it.

And not just a few close friends, I told some people that I’ve only known a short time, but people that were going.  And could help.  That could stick with me.

This might seem like a logical conclusion to some of you, but some of the people that know me well may have just gasped.  Its hard for me to admit things like that to people, and harder still to ask for help.  But hey, these last few months have been a little crazy, why not throw this in the mix as well.  One of my friends that was going even told me she would be my “emotional plexiglass”.  I love that.

So off to convention I went, armed with people who knew it was going to be difficult and would help.  I was trying this out and really felt I would be fine.  It was weird at first, but people were great and things were going well.

Then I found out something.  Things were about to get much worse.  I literally thought I might throw up.  I went and told my pastor’s wife.  Then at lunch, in the middle of hundreds of people, I went and sat down beside my Pastor, told him about it, and started crying right there.  Right in the gym, balancing a plate on my lap.  I told him I didn’t think I could do it.  And then he said something to me that just confirmed everything the Lord had been showing me in the past few weeks.

“You don’t have to do this alone.”

He repeated that phrase several times while telling me that I was part of them now and they as a group would help me get through this.

You know, I think it was the perfect thing to say.  There was no denying the fact that this was going to be hard.  There was no false bravado of “You can do it!”.  No glossing over feelings or situations.  No platitudes.  Just, you don’t have to do this alone.

How many times in my life has my refusal to ask for help ended up in me having to do it alone?  Too many.  And my life in the past few months has had things too hard and too heavy for me to do alone.  And I’m learning that I don’t have to.  God has sent people to help carry the load.  Just as there were times that I was willing to help carry other’s burdens, I need to acknowledge that there are times when I need help with mine.

Let me remind you today, you don’t have to do this alone.


Messy Love

I really don’t love Valentine’s Day.  If there was the equivalent of a Scrooge, I would probably be that.  What could you call that anyways?  I think we should make something up.  Before you think I’m completely horrible, I did make all the kids Valentine’s Day popcorn to take to class.  It even had pink and red smarties and sprinkles in it.  Of course, it was covered in sticky marshmallow goop, so maybe the teachers won’t be so thrilled.

Anyways, not my favourite day.  I always say that Michael and I get along every day except holidays and anniversaries.  Too many expectations, too much pressure.  And some days, I just don’t feel the love.  Because you know what?  Sometimes people are terrible.  And they hurt us and disappoint us.  And its not just romantic love that disappoints.  Friends, family, kids, they all have the ability to wound us and make us hate days where we’re supposed to be celebrating love.

So, should we just throw it all away?  Become the Scrooge of Valentine’s?

This morning I got a nice card and a little gift beside my bed.  And it was lovely.  Please don’t judge, but I didn’t even get Michael a card, let alone a gift.  And we probably won’t even make it out for our plan of dessert at this little cafe because, well, Tuesdays and kids and homework and robots.  Yes, my older two children are on a team that’s building a robot for a competition.  And yes, its ruining my life, but they’re happy and have zero time for watching youtube, so there’s that.  Does that mean Valentine’s Day is ruined?

Depends.

Depends on your definition of love.

If celebrating love means roses and butterflies and notes and chocolates and feelings, then yes.

But if this past year has taught me anything, its that love is actually very rarely those things.  Instead, love is forgiveness and grace, again and again, and its messy and heartbreaking and self-sacrificing and sometimes you have to fight with all your might to keep it.  Sometimes you have to beg God to give it to you, because its impossible to give of it yourself.  Its praying for the people who have hurt you and turn their back on you and refuse to text you back anymore.  Its cleaning and meals and rides.  Its a lot of work.

But that kind of love?  That messy very very hard love?  Its the most wonderful, fulfilling thing you will ever experience.  Because it comes straight from Heaven.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have it in myself to do all those things.  To keep sacrificing, to keep forgiving again and again.  But God does.  And He’s living right inside me.  Teaching me about love more and more every year.  Pushing me to love more, love deeper.

So for me, this Valentine’s Day has very few of the mushy feelings – lets face it, I’m generally not that person anyways – but thinking about it today has renewed my determination to love people in the real, messy, and hard ways that true love requires.


Failure, mess-ups, and love

Last Sunday night I was standing in the back hall waiting for the choir to file out.  I had only been in the back line once before, but I knew the drill.  The only way to know when you’re supposed to file out is to keep peeking out of the door to see when the other row started.  I peeked out once.  Nothing.  Then promptly forgot my job.  Yup.  Even though it was about 30 seconds till church was supposed to start, I forgot to look out again.  I got laughing at some story being told.  Just enjoying myself like the fate of the back row didn’t rest on me.  Suddenly, I thought to open the door and look out.  There stood the other half of the choir in their nice neat row.  The director was waiting behind her music stand, the pianist had already started in the intro.  And our row was completely empty.  I practically ran out the door, not looking to see if anyone else could keep up.  Its a good thing I don’t wear heels or I would’ve added falling on my face to my embarrassment.  The pianist had to completely restart the intro.  Horrors.  Not only that, but in my haste, I threw open my music until I realized that everyone else was calmly standing with their music closed, waiting for the director.  Like the good choir people do.  So I shut it at the precise moment she told everyone else to open theirs.  I tried telling myself that it was Sunday night, not morning at least.  Everyone knows that Sunday night is more relaxed and errors are more acceptable.  That in the grand scheme of life, this was not that big of a deal.  And on and on I talked to myself, trying to not feel absolutely horrible.  But horrible it was.  I felt terrible.  Like a complete failure.  Not only that, but one of the church staff members teased me about it right on the platform and I told him to shut up.  In church.  To a staff member.  Although, I really can’t bring myself to feel like that was a complete failure.  He kind of deserved it and he’s way younger than me.

And earlier last week, I was helping with the church website.  I’ve basically sworn off anything complicated to do with church websites for the rest of my entire life.  But this was just changing the theme on WordPress.  I knew I could do that.  So I got my computer, camped out in my bed – my office these days until we move – and installed the new theme.  Which basically takes the website down to nothing until you build it back up.  I distinctly remember thinking, what if I fail at this?  These people don’t even love me yet.  They hardly know me, let alone love me.  What if I totally mess this up, can’t fix it, and I will be known as a failure.

And that’s when it occurred to me.

We’re all just looking to be loved.

And when we mess up, we feel like no one will love us.  So I had to have a little talk with myself.  Some days we just need to preach a little truth, right?  Because we forget so easily.  In the middle of stressful situations, in the middle of our mess-ups, when we do actually fail big time, this is when the lies start.  We allow the lies to tell us that we are the sum of our mess-ups, that no one loves us, that we are not worthy of God’s love.

But that is just not the truth that is in God’s word.  God loved us first.  Before we ever did a thing for Him.  He died for us while we were yet sinners.  We don’t have to earn His love.  He loves us more perfectly than anyone ever could, every day, every minute, through every mess-up, every failure.  So rest assured in His love today.  Even if you messed up the choir, or cooked a dinner so bad you had to feed it to the dog (which I also did last week), or yelled at the kids again, or just generally feel like you’re failing at life.  God loves you no matter what.


Brave

There’s a quote by Ann Voskamp that’s been running through my head the last couple of days.

Fear can be what we feel but brave is what we do

I can’t get it out of my head because its just what I need right now.  The boxes are mostly unpacked.  The kitchen is mostly organized.  I think I’ve recovered physically from the move.  The most important address changes are done.  So basically, its now time for this introvert to look for some community and find friends and get involved at church and all those other hard things.

I went to the same church for 28 years.  I’ve been on staff or practically on staff for many of them.  I could pay a bill, I knew how to get into every door, I knew where the extra toilet paper was.  I knew all the faces, all the events.  Now, I’m a part of this huge new church and I still haven’t figured out which back hallway gets me to the right part of downstairs yet.  Emma forgot her some of her homework last night and asked why we couldn’t just go back and get it.  Well, at this church, they lock the doors.  And they don’t announce the number to the keypad from the pulpit like our little church did.  Its a very odd feeling.

I’ve been trying to jump in and get involved and get to know people.  It was going really well until this morning.  For some reason, I started crying this morning and was having a difficult time stopping.  Then a friend from home texted and asked if I was homesick.  I didn’t think I was until after I answered and then realized that its finally hit me.  The finality of this transition.  My life completely and utterly changed in a matter of a few weeks and now I have to start rebuilding.  And I’m singing in the choir and making pot pies and going out for coffee but its hard and its scary.  And this morning the last thing to send me over the edge was my hair.

Can we just pause here for a moment and talk about this??  I left right before my last hair appointment.  Which is a tragedy because I absolutely loved my hairdresser.  She was the best.  So I missed my appointment and now my roots are really showing.  And I’ve never noticed how much grey there was before.  So I started asking around about good hairdressers.  And do you know what they say?  I’ll ask mine if she’s taking on new clients.  Um, pardon?  In Rodney you didn’t turn away clients.  There was no crazy talk of not being able to go to whichever hairdresser you chose.  And one lady told me to call hers because she was so reasonable and then she quoted me a price that was almost double what I paid in Rodney.  So, I’m sure you can see why this just pushed me right over the edge.

Well, I had my good cry, got up, put on my makeup, did what little I could with my hair at this point, drove to the church and got on this bus.  I desperately did not want to do this today.  I had no idea if there was anyone going I would know.  I’ve seen people I barely know every day for quite a few days now and that makes me tired.  And weepy, apparently.  But I went to a hospital and handed out muffins for a love works campaign.  And praise the Lord, out of the four of us, I knew two well and one lady whom I had met on Sunday.  We brought a lot of joy to staff and patients at the hospital.

And you know what I felt by the end of the afternoon after working through all that fear?  Brave.  And maybe still a little weepy.  But a lot more brave than I did this morning.

Feelings are real and fear is real and its ok to feel and to fear.  But its not ok to stay there.  So maybe today we can acknowledge our fear, but face it.  And do something brave.

Fear can be what we feel but brave is what we do

brave