Grief

‘We The People’, like it or not, have collectively been shoved into an unflattering spotlight on the world stage. At first I thought what I was seeing online was fake news. To my horror and shame, it isn’t. I’ve been in a funk over it all day. The best way to describe how it feels is grief.

im·mi·gra·tion

ˌiməˈɡrāSH(ə)n/

noun

1. the action of coming to live permanently in a foreign country.

Politics are not my thing. Jesus is. But if our administration is talking about immigration this post reluctantly falls in that category. When you boil it down, immigration is about people. Human beings made in the image of God.

Lord help us, since before Methuselah there’s been racism and hatred between tribes,people groups and countries. Sad to say if you watch the 6:00 o’clock news, humanity hasn’t changed much … but I digress.

My family of origin fled a foreign country seeking asylum, freedom from tyranny, oppression and communism. They came here with nothing but their smarts, work ethic, integrity, hope for the future and the clothes on their backs. That means my parents were immigrants. That makes me a first generation American. I was conceived in Cuba and born and raised in the USA by the grace of God and the system who let my parents in. Politics and faith aside, just the fact that my parents were refugees makes the subject of immigration personal.

The US had policies in place to control the flow in the 1950’s, and I believe we should now as well. But had the administration at the time smeared Cuba and her people as unfit, unworthy and unwanted like ….. well, my story might have been radically different. Chances are, unless you are 100% pure Native American, yours might be too.

I’ve been blessed to have traveled outside our borders. I’ve met beautiful, compassionate, intelligent, loving, hardworking, capable people of different colors, nationalities and ethnicities. These folks have hopes and dreams, families, joys and sorrows just like me and you. Their beautiful lands, mountains, oceans, flora and fauna were created by the same One who created it all. How magnificent and humbling it is to have gone and experienced other countries and cultures so different from the one I call home.

God specifically used two visits to Haiti to touch my heart in ways I can’t describe. I have been forever changed as a result. How I grieve for my friends there, in light of reckless, wounding words that can’t be taken back. I hope they know that the words expressed by one man do not reflect the hearts of the majority here.

My prayer is that God will cover the men and women that we elected in into positions of leadership and authority with His wisdom and grace. May He guide their hearts and minds so that our country continues to be a place of refuge, freedom and hope for those who seek to make a life here.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.

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Hope 

January 2, already. It almost feels like I missed that window of opportunity to reflect on the past year, with it’s joys and sorrows.  But reflection is easy today, as I’m forced to sit and rest amidst the chaos of our ongoing transition from Christmas back to the every day, as I recover from a wicked bout of the flu. 

Fill a plastic tote. Empty the dryer. Dust the living room. Sit.  

Mop the bathroom. Fill the washer. Set out the jar of seashells gathered during our beach wedding in 2010, plus a few fresh candles and a framed hand lettered quote created by one of my artful friends. Sit.

In the sitting is time to reflect, to be thankful. To pray, and hope and hurt.
The house is quiet, other than the whirring of the washer as it begins to spin.
Exit 2017.  Another year has come and gone. So much wonder. Answered prayers. Church life and ministry. Love, friendships, LifeGroup. Sweet memories. Birthdays celebrated. Hospital visits. Vacations enjoyed. Closer walk with the Lord. Family gatherings over Thanksgiving and Christmas. And pictures to mark all the moments.
I’m like the new mom who has forgotten her labor pains. God has been so good to us. Sure, 2017 had it’s hard moments. They just didn’t carry over.
Except for missing the prodigal.
Parables are stories that teach, but not much is said in scripture about the family that the prodigal left behind. Did they run after him, begging him to come home? Did they sit by the window, checking the horizon day after day, month after month, as one year became two, then three? Did they send out a search party?  Did they pray?  Did they hurt, long for and hope for restoration for their son who was lost?  Did they get angry and feel deceived? Did anyone ever provide them with info on how the prodigal was doing, if he was actually seen somewhere alive?   Did they have broken hearts?  Did they give up hope?
My first experience with a real life prodigal was some years ago, when a family in our LifeGroup at the time revealed that their daughter had been absent 5 years and counting. I couldn’t wrap my head around that.  Like many people who haven’t walked those shoes, I tried looking for some reason, fault or cause that would rightly explain how a family could be ripped apart like that. Hindsight has taught me that those questions are pointless and hurtful.  Reasons can be many or few, real or imagined, justified or not …. they are all just like smoke.  Over time they dissipate, leaving behind only a heavy unpleasant odor.
Another, much closer friend had her prodigal return just a few days before Christmas. The joy and hope of his restoration was short lived. He couldn’t stick with the program and left, going back underground again.
It isn’t said outright, but it’s implied. As painful as it is, as sad as it is, as much as it hurt …. life went on after the prodigal took his inheritance and left the family. Then a series of hard things happens before the prodigal makes a decision for repentance and seeks reconciliation. I imagine with some prodigals it takes more hard things over a longer period of time to get there. 
But us?   We wait in the living and live in the waiting, with hope and joyful expectation. Because The Lord my God is on the throne, Satan has no real power over our prodigal. Because hope has a name and joy has a name … His is the name that is above all names.   Jesus.  
And on that day, what a celebration it will be. For the one who was once lost will have been found, the one who was thought dead will be made alive.

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Legacy

Galatians 5:22-23

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

This scripture came to mind when we received word that Michelle’s PawPaw had passed on.

I’d add a few more qualities to the list … honesty, integrity, humility, generosity, wise steward. Oh, and a ridiculously dry and sometimes corny sense of humor. I think that also qualifies as a fruit of the spirit.

Mr. Peterson became PawPaw when Jenny was born and the title stuck. Even after Mike and I divorced he was still PawPaw and Nanny was Nanny. Their love never changed.

Like many of us there was a time before PawPaw knew the lord and surrendered his life to Him. Nanny once shared a little bit about their early marriage in hushed tones, while she prepared lunch and the men were outside. Then one day, Jesus changed his life forever.

PawPaw was no saint. He could be annoying, like calling every Sunday morning for 9 years asking if we’d come to church with him and Nanny. And he had no problem telling you what you didn’t want to hear when you’re in the wrong about something. Truth spoken in love can be a real pain in the neck when you’re not doing things God’s way.

PawPaw spent this past month in hospice care, which was a huge blessing. Although the process of his home-going has been slow and painful for the family to walk through, PawPaw was well cared for and well loved to the end of his physical life.

All this to say, PawPaw lived a long God honoring life. I have complete assurance that at exactly 5:55am today he heard those precious words “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

PawPaw, you’ll be missed here, but in Christ I know I’ll see you and Nanny again. Thank you for the seeds you planted long ago. Thank you for your prayers through the years. Thank you for the love and investment you made in your granddaughter. May your legacy of love and faithfulness go on to future generations.

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Eleven Twenty One Seventeen 

Yesterday morning was the fruit of months of planning. A time and space created for people to serve and be served. A place where feet were washed, tears spilled, hearts filled. I saw love poured out and love hungrily accepted.  
Looking back on last year, my greatest desire was to make sure that every person who came through our doors received a complete ready to cook Thanksgiving meal to take home and share together as a family. We planned for 500 and ended up with more than enough to serve our guests. This year the focus was different … to provide people with a warm and welcoming place to connect with us and each other, a space for our volunteers to be able to utilize their unique talents and giftedness, and for our guests to experience the amazing love of Christ through His church. The “what” was always there, but it took the backseat.


This shift in perspective from completing tasks with tangible objectives in mind to simply wanting to serve and love people with excellence is a gift from God. I’m a widget-maker by nature, give me a thing to do and a timeline and get out of my way. Over the past 12 months the lord has been refining that. As I grow closer in Him, trusting Him, allowing Him to mold and shape and lead me into places I’ve feared and resisted.  
For example, the night before last was sleepless and restless. I woke up around 3:30 all wound up, asking God what on earth I was supposed to say in the VIP meeting. Public speaking is so far outside my comfort zone. Fear of failure still has the potential to cripple if given room in my head. In the stillness I sensed God telling me that what was coming was rare, a time that the world was coming to us, and we should be ready to make the most of that opportunity. I didn’t remember if I actually shared it, I was so nervous.
But I believe we did, every single volunteer in every single role from parking lot, to registration, to cafe, greeters, hospitality, medical, security, tech team, prayer counseling, coat closet, meal distribution, exit team, clean up. No servant greater than another, no role more important, each one living in the joy of where God has placed them, that joy evident as I walked through each area over and over, ensuring that everyone had what they needed. And I got out of their way.


It is indeed rare that the world would come to us. The reality is that we as Christ followers are commanded to go out. Our mission field is not inside the church walls, it is beyond our parking lot. We live in our mission field every day, going to the same places every day, and come in contact with new people every day. This is the world who needs our Jesus, our hope. Yesterday was a model for how our lives should be lived every day. Open, warm, generous, loving, joyful, sacrificial, bold for Christ.  
If we served coffee together to hundreds yesterday, each one of us has the ability to serve one person one cup of coffee today. If we gave hundreds of meals away to the hungry yesterday, each one of us has the ability to feed one person we know is lacking today. If we prayed with hundreds yesterday, listening to their stories with compassion, offering comfort and hope in Jesus …… each one of us has the ability to do that again with just one person today.  


Within our individual spheres of influence is the world, bumping and crashing right up into our lives. The faces and names might be different, but there are people that you and I already know who are hungry and hurting and in need of a missionary to bring them light and love and hope. Yesterday we did that on a huge scale together, living the gospel out loud in word and deed. The event may be over, but we are far from being done. My prayer is that each one of us recognizes the everyday opportunity to be a missionary where we live work and play and follows Jesus into those unknown places right here in our midst.

Photo credits LifeSong Church Lyman, Facebook @LifeSongChurchOnline 

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Trust 

“In you, LORD my God, I put my trust.”‭‭Psalm‬ ‭25:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”  Psalm‬ ‭56:3‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I’m happy to report that I’m in a different place this year spiritually compared to this same time in previous years. Usually by fall I’m tapped out, drained, exhausted, you name it. I usually tried to keep that stuff to myself, or shared it only with a very trusted few because it didn’t feel safe to say I wasn’t ok.  And I was worried how others might interpret my weakness and frustration and misunderstand.
Holding hard things in silence can have disastrous effects on the body, mind and spirit. That’s where Satan can easily get a foothold. And when the yuck has been brewing for a while, when it finally comes spewing out it is BIG and GROSS and NEGATIVE. So one day, right before the lid was about to blow, I confessed my struggle and that trusted person suggested that maybe I was trying to do things in my own strength, not in God’s strength.  
Oh Yeah?   Huh.  Well, I’m not sharing anything with HIM again.  Sniff.
But truth be told, He was right. I SAID I trusted God. I constantly share scripture about trusting him. I truly love the Lord and want to give Him my best every day. So why did it often feel like I was pushing an elephant uphill?  Trust had to transfer from head to heart.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah‬ ‭26:3‬ ‭NIV‬‬
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs‬ ‭3:5-6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Seasons of growth can be painfully tough, but oh so good. To be able to sit here and tell you that I am in peace, and it be true? To be able to submit my will to His will daily and trust the Lord regardless of the outcome, and actually believe it?  Yes and amen!!  
One of the pivotal moments this past year was a realization that TRUST is a two way street. I know that God is trustworthy, His word is true and there is no falsehood or lie in Him. Then one day it dawned on me, when I was tempted to think that what I do doesn’t really matter, I saw myself in this parable:

““Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. “ ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”  ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭25:14-30‬ ‭NIV‬‬
It blows my mind and truly humbles me to realize just how much The Lord has entrusted to my care.  If HE TRUSTS ME, as undeserving and unequipped as I am, then question then becomes so very serious and not to be taken lightly.

What will I do with the master’s gold? Will I be a faithful steward of those things He’s placed in my hands, or will I be found to be a worthless lazy servant?  

““Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”  Luke‬ ‭16:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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No Place Here

In the previous blog I mentioned working through some tensions earlier in the year. It has been a journey of self evaluation the past few months.
Generally speaking, some people are driven by big dreams and reaching big goals. Others may strive after money, fame or positions of authority. Others seek approval from man and God.   Ahem.   We approval-seeking people-pleasers must constantly monitor what drives us (or limits us) and why. As I mentioned before, self evaluation, prayer, recognition, repentance and making appropriate adjustments have all been key to becoming the person God created me to be.  Work in progress, as they say.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a painfully slow learner. It took years working in my previous secular job for the lightbulb to turn on. And post 2010, now living my life for Jesus, I am still learning slowly yet steadily. If you know me IRL it should be no surprise to you that fear of failure (that is, the sin of pride) is at the root of all that hinders and causes me to stumble. There are real obstacles to growth as well as perceived ones. It takes work, but these can all be overcome.  
Thankfully, sometime in the past few weeks, my lightbulb came on again.  
And when it did I realized something critical.

More often than I care to admit, fear of failure causes me to wait to be told what to do, or what needs done, and even so far as how to do it. Furthermore, living in that “waiting” mindset breeds an inability (or reluctance) to take initiative. Just shift your car to neutral, hit the gas and see what happens. Nothing but a bunch of noise.  Getting moving when we’re stuck in neutral like requires a shift on our part.
Unknowingly and unintentionally, “waiting to be told” places our burdens or responsibilities on someone else.  There is unspoken expectation placed on another … be it your peers, leadership, boss, supervisor, elder, etc … that they don’t even know exists.   It’s a total cop out that can create all sorts of chaos, frustration, misunderstanding and delay. 
And worse, waiting to be told what to do can kill any creativity and innovation that might have existed. That one is still sinking in. But I do believe that in my life, the sin of pride created a fear of failure in me that eventually became so great that it killed my creativity …. and that is a real shame.

I will most likely go to my grave fighting the fear of failure, but I don’t have to live under it’s thumb.  Learning how to lead myself is a skill I am working on.  It doesn’t mean trying to do everything myself, or working independently of the team.  It doesn’t mean going rogue, and following my own agenda.   It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t seek direction from leadership or tap into the wisdom of my peers.  God has blessed my life with these relationships.

It does mean looking forward, identifying areas of improvement and coming up with viable solutions. It means anticipating those things that are coming, preparing for them well and taking the steps necessary to accomplish them. It means good communication, asking the right questions and being open to receiving feedback with humility.   It means fostering and promoting unity. It means taking ownership of what God has entrusted to our care, and boldly making the most of every opportunity.
It means growing ever closer to Jesus, through study, worship and prayer, and living in the fullness of His promises.  Fear has no place here.

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Perception vs Reality 

“Perception is reality”I disagreed with her remark, resisting the idea that what someone thinks (about a person or situation) is true. I have wrong thoughts all the time, so I know firsthand that just having a thought doesn’t make it true.

That comment, though. My daughter had interviewed for an exciting opportunity in her field of interest and after the final phase, had been passed over. She was heartbroken and confused. But my girl is tenacious and pressed for feedback. She got more than she bargained for from her interviewer …. someone completely unknown.
My daughters answers and motives during that interview were misconstrued by someone who had never met her before those crucial moments on the phone. In her case a strangers perception ultimately had enough sway to keep her from being considered for that next step in her career path. Perception is reality.  


I’ve come to realize that perception of self also has great sway. It impacts everything. What I say, what I do, how I do it, how I engage with those above me, with my peers and with those I serve.  

Is what I think of myself true, or am I buying into a lie from the enemy?

Earlier this year I tearfully confessed to my leader, admitting that I often lacked understanding. I was beyond frustrated. The fault wasn’t his, but mine. I recognized that and felt the tension not just to acknowledge where I was, but also the need to discover and work to resolve the issue. Simply admitting fear, lack of confidence and lack of education wasn’t enough. I may have well just quit right there and then. I had to discover the deeper what and why that holds me back from becoming all that God has created me to be and correct it.

Over the summer I’ve upped my prayer time, time spent in study of scripture and self-development. I have asked God to reveal those things in my life that are stumbling blocks, and help me remove them. An honest self-evaluation is downright scary because of what you might find out.  I went so far as to take a personality test and discuss the results with a third party. (By the way, it was right on point.)
Thankfully Jesus is in the transformation business. If we seek, we will find. He won’t leave us or forsake us. 
If you ask for wisdom and understanding, strength and courage for His glory and the benefit of others, He will provide.  

Friend, your broken past doesn’t predict your future or usefulness to the kingdom. Your failures and poor choices don’t define you unless you choose to lay down and give up.
Who does God say you are? What do you believe about His character? Is God who He says He is, and can He be trusted? The truth of these answers are at the very core of what we think about ourselves.  How we think about ourselves affects everything.
Don’t get stuck in your own potentially flawed perception, or it will become your reality.

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