Monday, October 15, 2012

More than a Hobby

I did something this weekend that I had not done in a long time.  It is something I used to do ALOT.  In fact, for several years, I did it at least once a week. But, in the busyness of life, it is something that has gotten pushed aside by the tyranny of the urgent.  It is something I miss.

I scrapbooked.

Now, before I lose the male readers of this column, I assure you that this article is not about paper choices, sticker options and page designs.  Sure, those things are all a part of the big picture (pun intended), but I think it is more.  And it is the "more" that I think I have missed more than anything.

To me, scrapbooking is about relationships.  I started scrapbooking when I was in MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), and I went into it kicking and screaming.  I loved the look of the pages, but I wasn't about to put the time or the money into such a project.  It wasn't until as a leadership team, it was decided that we would hold a class for those who were interested in learning to scrapbook.  Being the good rule follower that I am, and wanting to show support for the leadership team, I attended the class.  My pages, although I was proud of them at the time, were horrible, but I was hooked.

We had craft nights about every month where several of us would get together and work on our albums, get fresh ideas and share in each others lives through pictures and conversation.  It was likened to the quilting bees of old, and that analogy resonated with me.  There were a lot of stories shared in those get-togethers and a lot of memories made.

As our children grew, those early get-togethers turned into play dates for the parents and eventually a get together one day a week while the kids were in school.  There were 3 of us in that initial weekly group, and we knew each other better than we knew ourselves at times.  Over time the composition and dynamics of the group changed, but the depth of the relationships remained.  There were some deep wounds and shared sorrows, but we all grew through the experiences we shared.

Unfortunately, as time went on, our schedules got busier.  The kids got involved in sports, and we all became working moms with different schedules to work around.  We couldn't squeeze in those weekly get-togethers, but we assured each other we would still get together monthly and catch up.  But we didn't.

Don't get me wrong, I still count each of the women that I built a relationship among my friends - some among my closest friends. But there was an intimacy in those deep relationships that is hard to nurture in infrequent get-togethers.

My mantra the last few weeks has been that I miss my friends.  And, it's true.  Whether it is my scrapbooking buddies, or friends who have moved away or even friends that I see everyday in passing, I miss the peace that comes with just being able to have a conversation - to share a laugh - to be a part of their lives for just a minute.

I guess, like scrapbooking, it comes down to priorities.  I think it may be time to re-examine mine.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

It's Been Awhile...

I guess you could say that I have been on a bit of a blogging vacation. This is evidenced by the fact that I had over 45 blog posts in my "to read" folder tonight, and it has been almost half a year since I have updated my own. 

My break from writing was kind of a two-fold proposition. In one sense, I have been super busy, but in another sense, I didn't like the tone of several posts I started and abandoned. I just needed to get my head together before I shared my heart. 

The good news is I remembered I had a blog. The bad news is that I still don't know where my head is. If anything, it is probably more jumbled than before. 

During my absence, I travelled to India. I intentionally avoided sharing my thoughts pre-trip to avoid saying stupid things and offending people as I did pre-Serbia. I will sum it up by saying that it was a totally different experience. I was more confident throughout the process and excited to see what I would learn outside of my comfort zone. 

I won't say it was an easy trip. It started with a stress fracture that almost derailed the whole experience. The walking boot along with the incredible heat made for some exhausting days, but spending time with the girls from the orphanage we visited made it totally worth it. 

There was a group of us that went for 10 days while the rest of the group stayed for three weeks. I learned a lot about Indian culture, tried several Indian foods, and ditched the boot long enough dip my toes (and unfortunately my camera) in the Indian ocean. I drank coconut milk from a coconut opened with a machete by a roadside vendor and experienced my first rickshaw ride. I held my breath as our drivers negotiated the crazy traffic, and in all honesty tried not to panic when things turned ugly and they got involved in a street fight. (One got bit. One took a pretty good blow to the head, but we were all safe.) 

It felt like a different world. The number of men was overwhelming. That is one aspect of the culture I will never understand. There is so little value placed on women. They are more of a commodity. In fact, while we were there, one of the little girls we were visiting was taken from the safety of the orphanage because she had been sold by her mother into the sex trafficking industry. She was 8 years old. 


What am I to do with that? What am I to do with the poverty I saw? Honestly, I have avoided trying to process it. I slid back into my comfortable American life, and surrounded myself with the tyranny of the urgent. I tried to do what so many of us who are blessed beyond all rationale attempt to do - avoid the reality of it. But, it was very real. 

That little girl, and millions like her, are trafficked every day. They are bought and sold and taken advantage of with the consent (and at the profit) of their family. Little girls are abandoned and left to fend for themselves just because they are female. And, they are the lucky ones. Their parents allowed them to live, and opted not to profit by selling them into bonded labor. It's heartbreaking. 

So, as you can see, my head is still a mess. If anything, probably more so than when I was overwhelmed with a little work stress. I wish now that was the extent of my problems, but that will never be the case again. I will always have the pictures in my mind of the beggars on the street and that sweet little girl that I could do nothing to save. 

I am not sure what the future holds for my blogging. I miss writing, but there are so many things calling for my attention. And, most of my thoughts seem pretty insignificant at the moment. I just wanted to check in for the few of you that care enough to follow my wanderings. Thank you. It really does mean a lot that you share my journey - however sporadic it tends to be.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

In Ministry

When asked to list some of the most high stress jobs today, most people would list firemen, police officers, EMTs, surgeons, nurses and those in the military.  I doubt many would list those in ministry.

I think most people have the vision, flawed as it may be, that those involved in the ministry are...like Jesus.  They have a peace that passes understanding, a smile on their face, and an unending supply of strength and encouragement for others.  To many, working in the ministry would be the equivalent of having a job at Disneyland.  It should be the happiest place on earth.

Now, before you think I am about to bash the ministry, I am not.  I am blessed to be part of an incredible church staff who ministers to an awesome body of believers.  I love using my gifts and talents to serve those on the staff and in our church body.  I love what I do, but I never realized how exhausting it could be to do something that you love.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  Jesus often retreated to solitary places after times of great ministry.  If the Son of God took time to rest, I guess I should expect that we would need that time as well, probably more so in that we are not the Son of God.  But it still surprises me every time I come to this place.

I think the rub comes in that ministry is so relational.  Most of the things on our to-do lists as ministry staff have little to do with things.  They represent people - people we are called to serve.  And the more we serve these people, the deeper our relationship with them becomes.  They have found a place in our heart.

Maybe once you have been involved in ministry for awhile, you learn to set boundaries emotionally, but I haven't got there yet.  I have said before that I am kind of an all-or-nothing kind of girl, and I put my heart into everything I do.  When things go well, that is a good thing.  It makes for joyous celebration and encouraging times in ministry.  But in the same moment, a discouraging word can cloud even the best of times because I have done my best and it wasn't good enough.  I am guessing I am not alone.

I look at the emotional ups and downs that I face as a ministry assistant, and I can't imagine the stress that our pastoral staff and directors face on a daily basis.  They are the ones who are at the bedsides and in the counseling rooms.  They are the ones walking in the trenches with those who are struggling and talking with those who need Christ as their savior.   They are the ones on the front lines.  They serve day in and day out all the while balancing their own families, and personal struggles and spiritual lives.

Being part of a ministry staff is a 24/7 calling - and it is stressful.  It is sometimes easy to lose sight of the goal, but every so often God opens the window of heaven for a brief moment, and we are reminded of why we do what we do.  We see God at work.  And that makes all the difference.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

To the Least of These

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ John 16:33

Have you ever really considered this verse? It's takes the "golden rule" to a whole new level, doesn't it?  "...you did it to me." 

Consider the following:

On December 23, a little girl was reported missing in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Rescue workers and volunteers searched for her to no avail. Several days later, it was reported that she had been through one of the most brutal, gruesome murders anyone could ever imagine.  "...you did it to me."

This little girl lived in an area with 24 homes, 15 of which housed convicted sex offenders. "...you did it to me."

Last week in Atlanta, Georgia, 42,000 high school and college age students raised over $3,000,000 to help end the slavery and sex trafficking of young girls around the world - including right here in the U.S. Girls as young as five who are being exposed repeatedly to horrific acts of violence.  "...you did it to me."

This past week, a little girl here in the U.S. from the Ivory Coast was refused care at a local hospital because she is a medical mission baby and doctors didn't want to take responsibility for her. "...you did to me."

And just yesterday, I read an article about a child with medical disabilities who is being denied a life-saving transplant because a medical team doesn't believe that her quality of life is such that it should be saved - even though her parents and family members want to provide the organ and the financing for the procedure. "...you did it to me."

My heart breaks when I hear these stories. They are the essence of depravity and yet God says that whatever we do the least of these...we do it to Him. Shouldn't that frighten us? Shouldn't it make us be better? And yet how often are we content to go through life pretending that none of this exists. That we are above it. That it doesn't happen here. But it does.

When are we going to stand up and make it stop? When are we going to be the voice for those who do not have one? When will we make a difference?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Beginnings

I was struck a few minutes ago about the contrast of January and new beginnings. I mean, everyone knows that you make resolutions on New Year's Eve because January 1st is a new beginning. But as I walked around my neighborhood on an unseasonably warm evening, I noticed how everything is...dead. Oh sure, there was still the occasional left over Christmas display which was cheery, but the trees were dead, the grass is dead, there was ice and a few patches of left over snow. It could all be a little depressing if you think about it.

I will admit though that I did find beauty in the peacefulness. After the busy weeks leading up to the holidays, the chaos of a short first week back at work, and a very long day of training today, I was feeling suffocated. I truly enjoyed the week off between Christmas and New Year. I left the laptop at work and enjoyed downtime with my family, but it didn't take long for the pressures of life push their way back in as soon as schedules returned to normal.

I didn't make resolutions this year. No new resolve to lose weight. No new plan for how to have better devotions. No set reading list or bar to measure my success at any type of literary endeavor - reading or writing. In all honesty, probably because I knew they would be destined to fail. It's not that I wouldn't love to do any one of those things. I just know that at this season in my life, life is taking an extreme amount of energy on its own. Why complicate it?

Proverbs 16:9 says, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps."

I have always understood this verse to mean that a man can set a goal, but it is up to God how he gets there (or if he gets there at all). Today I am seeing it in a new light. It's a very slight difference, but it changes everything. What if it means that man can plan his course and how to get there, but if he trusts God to lead him where God wants him to go, the steps he takes will be determined as in sure and solid?

For me there is a peace in that. As I trust God to lead me where He wants me to go - not where I want Him to take me, I can be assured that I will be where He wants me to be. It's kind of a cool thought, isn't it?

So my new beginnings this year, aren't really new beginnings at all. It's all about a new perspective.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Spirit

It's that time of year when kids of all ages start making their lists and checking it twice. And, while I know that I am not supposed to be a fan of the commercialism of Christmas, I am a huge fan of the beauty and excitement and childlike faith that this season can bring.

I grew up believing in Santa Claus but not knowing a whole lot about God. It wasn't until jr. high/high school that I began attending youth group with friends and began my relationship with Him. And you know what, I have never confused the two.

One of my most vivid childhood memories is from a Christmas Eve night many years ago. The house was dark and everyone was asleep when I was awakened by the sound of something in the house. When I peeked around the corner into our living room, there was a fire in the fireplace and Santa was putting a present behind our lighted tree. I didn't want to get caught, so I scurried back to bed and pretended to be asleep. I even heard the bells on Santa's sleigh as he departed for the next house on his list.

There are few things you should know about this story. First of all, my mother would never have left the Christmas tree lights on overnight. I am not even sure the fireplace in our house was functional because I don't remember there ever being a fire in there with the exception of that night, and there was no dad, relative or family friend who would have dressed up to be Santa at our house in the middle of the night. You should also know that the doll that I had asked Santa for was in that exact spot when presents were opened that Christmas morning.

The faith of a child.

I am not a child anymore and there has been more than enough reality in my life to crush the spirit of the little girl who continues to believe that she saw Santa in her living room. My faith is now in a Savior who gave me the greatest gift ever - not a doll that I no longer possess - but His life for mine. A belief that there is more to life than any toy or gift that can be brought in a sleigh, and a promise that one day, instead of hiding from my benefactor, I will run into His open arms.

Jesus really is the reason for the season, but I never want to lose the childlike wonder I had for Christmas when I was a little girl peeking around the corner at the picture perfect Christmas scene unfolding in my living room. And who knows, I might even write a letter to Santa this year. Why? Because it is fun to believe. :)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Catalyst

Have you ever had a day, or week, or month when you have had so many things on your agenda that you can't seem to focus on any one of them? I am in one of those places right now. I have had so many things that I have wanted to post, and yet I either haven't had the time, or I have sat down to write and the words wouldn't come. I have come close to ceasing the blog, but it is still my thoughtful place, and I couldn't bring myself to do it.

Yesterday, I was blessed to attend Catalyst One Day in Chicago with several members of the PCC staff. It was an awesome experience. I fell in love with Catalyst last year when we were able to attend the full-blown conference in Atlanta. Yesterday we were treated to an all day event featuring Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel, with a guest presentation with Bill Hybels of Willow Creek. The focus was on creating a healthy culture, and while I think we did gain a lot as a staff, I gained a lot personally as well.

I was excited about the event because Andy and Craig were my two favorite speakers at Catalyst last year. They have such a down to earth style of teaching and an honesty that is disarming. They shared a lot of great information that I am sure we will process in terms of if and how it applies to Pathway, but I was also challenged to rethink my priorities.

I struggle to disconnect. I don't know if it is the whole women's spaghetti brain thing or my insecurity, but I have trouble leaving work at work. I have been doing much better about leaving the actual work there, but it is hard to reign in my brain and push out all the work stuff to really refresh and be present at home.

That has to stop. There are so many other things that are important to me that are being pushed aside. Moving into the holidays, I want to be able to decorate, bake, shop and not feel like I have to cram it in here and there. With a 25 hour a week schedule, one wouldn't think that would be a problem, but it has been becoming so.

I have also been reminded of the importance of relationships. It's not that I had forgotten, but in the busyness of the everyday, relationships often get taken for granted. And then a friend (or two) is diagnosed with cancer. A family member is hospitalized with a life-threatening condition. A friend moves away. I run into a close friend and realize that I haven't talked with her in months, or I realize I haven't taken the time to visit another close friend who lives far away in years.

I love my job. I love the people with whom I get to serve. I love our church. But...I need to to be making time in my life for my job and lately I have been taking time from my job to live my life. This is not the culture I want to create for my family, or for myself. And the sad part is, I am fully responsible for it. It isn't expected of me. I have just allowed more and more of my thoughts to be taken captive by work than by home.

Yesterday's conference was more than a catalyst in name only. It was the catalyst I needed to realize what I was allowing to happen to make it stop. Are Andy and Craig still my favorites? Absolutely. I think I may owe them my life.