A View From The Sidelines

Apparently my feeble explanation of our current situation and the precautionary measures that are being taken left mom thinking that I am very sick in quarantine with a horrible virus.

Bless her heart, I mean seriously, who would have ever imagined a sy-fy movie come to life? So mom’s misunderstanding caused my phone to blow up. Ya’ll I’M FINE, nobody here is sick! I get it though, for an 88 year old who is isolated, blind and bedridden, any attempt to describe the indescribable just doesn’t make sense.

We who are very much dealing with the ever changing effects of closures and suspensions are also trying to make sense of what’s happening and are learning new ways of doing things. Adapting, stretching. You can feel the innovation and creativity in the air.

I have a new respect and admiration for this generation who are crushing it at a time of unprecedented social distancing and lock downs.

I mean, olives need pressed to get oil, grapes need crushed to make wine, right?

I’m so encouraged by the resilience and adaptability we’ve seen these past few days. If these qualities are indicative of this generation, then add to it faith, courage, a strong sense of community and social justice. We’re all going to be just fine.

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This may sound too simplistic but I think there are basically three kinds of people in this world; those who don’t know Jesus yet (or have rejected Him), those who have loved and followed Him since childhood, and those who after many years of self-inflicted pain and poor choices, decided they needed Jesus. Of these three I fall into the last category. Whether I was hard headed, hard hearted or some of both, I’m one of the people who remembers what life was like ‘before’.

People give different names to that defining moment of change …. from ‘before’ to transformed. It’s that a-ha moment when one recognizes there is a God, that we aren’t Him and we need Him so desperately. Born again, saved, surrendered, reconciled, redeemed, justified. Depending on the denomination, Christian language has a variety of dialects. It’s interesting really, considering my family of origin was Catholic, and their families before them were all Catholic. When God finally got my attention we were new attenders at a modern worship style evangelical church with guitars and drums and a very young preacher who wore jeans and plaid shirts. This was a first (and a shock to the system) at age 48, after having run away from any kind of religious influence since I was a kid.

I remember everything about my spiritual birth day. Looking back I can see all the events like stepping stones …. a pathway to that momentous decision. I remember where I was, the day of the week, who was there, my posture, how the carpet felt on my forearms and my private conversation with God.

A lot has happened in these 10 years since. Good and not so much. Change, challenge, learning, serving, tears, moving, success, death, failure, preparing, loss, joy and spiritual growth. Like with any relationship, you have to invest and give it your all, you have to honor and love and obey …. prioritizing the things of God. Now, 10 years in, my relationship with my lord is sweeter, more tangible, and oh so necessary to daily life. Like air and food. I don’t know how I ever got by ‘before’.

Today we’re surrounded by these three kinds of people … the new Christians, the always been Christians and the ones who don’t yet know that they don’t know what they are lacking. My hope is that God will use me as a stepping stone on their faith journey. One of the great things about God is that with Him there is no age limit when it comes to making things right.

““Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭1:18‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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Our transition from the QC to PeeDee ends tomorrow. Finally, praise God! My sweetie and I have been on the move since May 22, staying here and there with friends and family for several days at a time. We are blessed, without a doubt, by our hosts’ over the top kindness and hospitality. Please don’t think I’m making light of homelessness by this comparison, but in a way we’ve experienced a type of squatters lifestyle, living out of suitcases and the back of the car, trying not to leave too much of a footprint anywhere. Although we tried to be “good guests”, I know it can be an imposition to have extra people in your home.

When Mark and I went on our first mission trip, my eyes and heart were opened, and my life forever changed. These past 36 days have raised my thanks and gratitude for the simplest, most basic things to a whole new level. So, in addition to having precious time visiting dear friends and family, we had the humbling experience of being a nomad and by the grace of God have not been banned from anyone’s house!

As grateful as I am for this time visiting with people, I am so eager, so ready to get settled again. To have some of our favorite things around us. To put folded clothes in a drawer. To sleep in our own bed. To start new routines, to learn the lay of the land, to add more ladies to my circle of friends. To discover what God has in store for us in this new season. Oh Lord, my God, have your way.

Tomorrow morning our things will get picked up from storage and delivered to our new home, a home that has been lovingly updated and freshly painted by our church family to make us welcome. The lord has truly blessed every moment of our journey, and we are undeserving of such favor. And to top it off, my girl Angie is coming down to help me get unpacked, organized and put her decorators touch on our space. Again. Because these are some of the ways the lord blesses and shows us His care.

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Two months have passed since the announcement. Eight weeks have now dwindled down to a handful of days. Yesterday was my last Monday staff meeting. Today my last weekly outreach meeting with our senior pastor, last coffee-shop meeting with a local ministry partner, last bi-monthly meeting with our wonderful outreach council. This Thursday will officially be my last work day as Outreach coordinator. 10 months in this role, almost to the day.

This coming Sunday, we’ll have two worship services with our Calvary family. Ugly cry guaranteed.

A week from today Mark’s time on staff at Calvary will be completed. I’ll be tied up at the house all that day, as the movers pick up our belongings. A week from tonight we’ll enjoy the evening with our lifegroup. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about the goodbyes. Mark and I will spend next Tuesday night in a nearly empty house on a blow-up mattress, taking down the shower curtain the next morning, locking the door behind us on a house not yet sold.

In the meanwhile, every day and every night, from this moment on is full in a good way. Time is precious, budgeted not for packing, but for people. For ministry to continue through a smooth transition. Our desire and focus has been to finish well and to love well to the last possible moment.

We’re here, until we’re not. And we ain’t gone yet.

There is still work to be done for the kingdom. There are lots of necks to hug in the next 7 days, dear friends who have become family that we want to see before we go. There are more seeds to plant and water until we move on to the next mission field, and although we won’t be here to reap what was sown in the QC, we know that the harvest is coming. It’s just a matter of time.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself and risk missing out on these last moments. Instead, I want to slow way down so we can soak up each and every one.

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View from the 2nd row

When I gave my life to Christ it was without fanfare. In that moment of surrender, simple words lifted from my heart to His. Kneeling on the floor in Livermore, CA, face buried in my hands, feeling so exposed. It was the most silent I remember ever being before God. I didn’t know what to say, and it certainly wasn’t fancy. Just these humble words …. “Ok Lord. I don’t know what this means or what’s next, but ok”. In an instant everything changed. I had made the decision and there was no turning back. God’s love had redeemed me. I was His and He was mine.

At first you couldn’t see it on the outside, but it was happening deep within. Over time the lord did His work of healing, growing and pruning, shaping and developing, challenging and encouraging.

Jesus led me into unknown places. In following I learned to trust Him.

I followed Him into my third and final marriage. I followed Him from CA to Lyman SC, where He planted us at LifeSong Church and nurtured us. I followed Him to the Quad Cities of IL, where we have been serving this house a little over 14 months. And the journey of obedience continues, as we’re about to follow Him into my husbands first pastorate, back in SC.

As I prepare my heart and home for yet another move, I reflect on this season. My seat has literally and figuratively been in the second row. Symbolically having my pastor and his wife’s backs, but also physically and spiritually behind them in every way. Now as my husband answers the call to pastor, it occurred to me that someone I don’t yet know will soon direct me to take the empty seat in the front row. Me. The second row girl. I don’t know whether to laugh at the lord’s sense of humor, or cry in humility.

If you’re like me you don’t take proper stock of things until you’re in transition. There is so much that has happened in our time here. So many people we love and will miss. So much I have learned.

If I had to boil down everything gleaned from Calvary into one thought, it’s this …. loving deeply is worth the risk.

Thats true for those who have loved us and true for those we have loved. Loving deeply is worth it. As true as it is has been here, it will also be in our first appointment. As Mark and I leave this place to go to our new one, that love both remains and goes with us. As God has loved us, so we will love, choosing to risk and experience the joy of loving others deeply.

“Ok Lord. I don’t know what this means or what’s next, but ok.”

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We had been talking about short term mission trips. I showed her pictures from our first trip to Haiti, played a voice recording of my goddaughter singing Mighty To Save, shared a few special memories. “You mean, there’s things I could do, even if I can’t help with construction”? With emphasis on the word “I”, her soft voice quivered, her eyes brimmed with tears.

Oh yes, sweet lady. Yes there is. That glorious crown of gray hair proclaims your wealth of life experience, useful to the kingdom of God.

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:6-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I’ve really wrestled the past few years with the bad rap short term missions has earned. My heart sank the first time I read “When Helping Hurts”, my cheeks got hot with shame. In several ways I was as guilty as the author charged. It kind of messed with my head and heart for a while.

At the end of the day, if you love Jesus then living your on mission is the correct response. I’m not going to debate the how we should be doing it, or elevate one organization over another. I acknowledge that in our well-meaning desire to help, American Evangelicals may have at some time or another done harm through our ministry efforts. Ok I said it.

Regardless, we are told to go. Serve. Encourage. Preach and teach. Care for widows and orphans. Protect the vulnerable. Seek justice. Put our God given gifts to work. It is His love put into action.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭4:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Your mission field can be in your home, across the street, next town over or thousands of miles away. Wherever it may be, Christ Follower, you do have one. I personally have found it to be true, that simple obedience brings great blessing. Giving yourself away blesses you as you bless others.

The conversation with Ms Kathy yesterday brings to mind the many people I know who don’t recognize their gifts, think they don’t have anything to give, or mistakenly believe their gifts aren’t useful. I’ve had similar conversations before. The idea is far from true.

I wish you all could spend some time in her presence, because Kathy’s sweet spirit and gift of encouragement breathes life into those around her.

“Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them.”

‭‭Acts‬ ‭15:32-33‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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One Nation, Under God

There was a knock at the door this morning. The young man was about to leave as I answered. He was a student from our local university, working on behalf of the IL republican candidate for governor. Bradley introduced himself and wanted to know who I would be voting for in November and why.

One thing led to another, and ultimately his comments opened the door to a conversation about relativism and God’s truth.

“I know a lot of people have objections to him for religious reasons. Sure, he is pro-choice, but at this stage of the game it’s about the lesser of two evils. Besides, I support him because I believe in separation of church and state. It’s not up to me to force my views on anybody. Everybody has the right to their own beliefs, and what is right for them.”

The lord gave me the right words in the moment. Never ever before have I been able to lovingly and respectfully stand my ground in faith.

In a nutshell, I told him that there was a time before that I thought just like he did. But over time I came to realize it wasn’t about the lesser of two evils, but a matter of right and wrong. There are no gray areas in God’s truth. I encouraged him to dig in to scripture and see for himself what God has to say about these issues that we face in today’s world.

I think the lord will use our conversation, at least I’m praying that he’s working on this young man even as I write these words.

It’s heartbreaking that we now have to choose between the “lesser of two evils” in the IL governors race. As a nation, we can only blame ourselves. Such are the consequences for a people who have turned our backs on God and chosen own ways instead of His. Oh God, my God, what have we done.

Praying for wisdom and discernment for the voters in our upcoming elections. That truth will prevail. Not the lesser of two evils, but triumph over evil. Praying that God will turn the hearts of our nation back to Him, forgive us and heal our land.

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

‭‭2 Chronicles‬ ‭7:14‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Internet photo credit: Cornerstone Christian Fellowship

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I took a little extra time getting up this morning after the 5:15 alarm. An extra cup of coffee. Extra time in God’s word, extra time talking with The Lord.

In February we moved away. But in a very real sense, part of me stayed behind.

Certainly, much of what made me feel comfortable, secure, known and loved was left behind. Family, church and friends remained there. We came here and started putting down roots. A part of me still wanted to linger, just a while longer.

These past few months I have been so aware of all the events leading up to now. All the ways God has been preparing us for this next season. Yet I have remained there, in that place of nostalgia and remembrance. Not dwelling in sadness and loss, but rather in humble gratitude and love.

The ways we were challenged and discipled. Especially the people who invested in us. Believed in us. Over and over I’ve prayed and thanked God for them. For their lives, ministry and influence. For their future, their families and their health.

This morning, my hand and heart have opened a little more, tenderly releasing its grip on a very good past in order to take hold of a very good time to come. God is so faithful.

There will be new faces added to the pictures hanging above my desk. New names in my prayer book. New ministries to embrace and support.

I will not forget, but I will press on.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

‭‭Philippians‬ ‭3:12-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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Six Months

I knew before actually arriving here that God was up to something. Our on-site interview this past January was really more of a visit. Comfortable and welcoming. During that short weekend we heard pieces of stories of ordinary people used greatly for the glory of God and the good of others. Of multiple, thriving ministries that were birthed out of what would be our new church home. The global and local outreach, amazing. The gospel impact, resounding. Lives were being changed by the message of Hope in Jesus Christ, here and around the world. That weekend we got the 45 second trailer, the teaser. We had to see the rest.

As most of you know, that on-site visit led to a decision to make the big move from upstate SC to the Quad Cities. As time goes on though, I realize it was less our choice and more God’s. As days and weeks pass, I’m more convinced we have been sent. Our being here is God’s plan.

It’s been 6 months today since we pulled up to our temporary apartment and unloaded the cars.

Much has happened since then. It snowed. A week later the movers brought our stuff. It snowed again. We found a house. I lost my dad. Went back to SC during Easter to help with the arrangements, came back to IL and moved again (couldn’t have done it without you, Angie). Went back east again and buried my dad. Boom boom boom, in that order. (I still haven’t had time to grieve.) Went back to the Carolinas last month to visit family and friends, and to celebrate a special 2 year old. And most recently God opened up the opportunity for me to serve Him as Outreach Coordinator at our new church. Seriously, somebody pinch me.

I’ve only been in this role a month, so there’s much to learn. Part of this learning process means I get to interact with both our global and local ministry partners. A few have been via email, but many have been face to face, over coffee or a meal. That’s when you hear the backstories, start connecting the dots, and seeing the bigger picture.

One of our new friends here is executive director for a ministry she founded that digs wells in Niger. That’s the little I knew about her when we first arrived …. that and she had a huge heart for missions and a wonderfully dry sense of humor. This woman is a deep well, in her own right. So much more to her story.

A few days ago, several of us from the outreach council had the pleasure of meeting a young couple before they leave for a 5 year term as missionaries to Japan. (This particular friend was instrumental in that connection as well, but that’s a story for another day.). As we were leaving the coffee shop, she blessed me with a book written by a dear friend of hers, another local.

In that book, some of the dots that were loosely connected began to take shape and fill in with color. Tucked in those pages is the wonder and mystery of our God moving, working through His people. Restoring. Creating. Redeeming. Blessing.

In those pages were ministries I’ve visited. Places I go. People I’ve met. People I currently work with. There’s no doubt God is moving in this city. There’s no question that the lord has us here for such a time as this … whatever “this” is. Yes, Lord, whatever this is.

PS- Ya’ll seriously need to read ‘Singing In The Wilderness’ by Luana Stoltenberg. Have tissues handy.

Photo credit- Babette Howard

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Fear Not

There was a time, not that long ago, that I wouldn’t have considered inviting people over to my home for a meal. Correction …. for years I didn’t.

What a terrible waste. I cheated myself out of so much pleasure. Missed out on opportunities to connect with others, to build relationships. I’ll never know just how much good I missed.

Entertaining felt intimidating. All my excuses were firmly rooted in fear and comparison. I wasn’t a good enough cook. My house wasn’t comfortable for guests. My stuff was old. They might find fault with me. It would make me vulnerable. And so it went for many, many years.

There’s a Christian song out now titled “Fear Is A Liar”, and it’s true. Simply put, I was suffering from an identity crisis. Comparing my skills, my stuff, my personality to someone else held me hostage. When I came to realize that my identity was not … IS NOT … founded on those things, my thinking slowly began to change.

If all I could make was grilled cheese sandwiches and soup, then that’s what I served. If all I had were old dishes, that’s what we used. If I only had room for 4, that’s how many we invited.

Fear of failure, of being exposed, of being found “less than” is a real thing. It can trap you into loneliness, isolation and more. It can keep you from trying new things. Yes, fear is a liar.

I read somewhere that the words “fear not” appears in scripture 365 times. That’s a solid DO NOT FEAR for every day of the year. Coincidence? I think not. I think God knew I’d need daily reminders.

It only took 49 years to get there, but I eventually did. I finally started believing what God says.

Here’s the deal. If I can, you can. So go ahead and make the baked spaghetti, pull out the china that has never been used, clean up your home and make that phone call. And go check out all the “fear nots” for yourself.

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