Friday, November 20, 2015

A Pinterest Christmas: Repurposing Christmas


So many things in my life are changing right now, some for the good and some for the eventual-good. Change is as difficult as it is exciting.

This year I want to re-purpose Christmas. I want to make this Advent actually reflect the advent of Christ. Now I know what you're thinking: it's only November, what's this talk about Advent? Let me ask you, why does Advent begin December 1st? As far as I can tell its a completely arbitrary date, so this year I am celebrating a long Advent.

As I reflect on the birth of Christ I hold Isaiah 43:18-19 very dear to my heart: "The Lord says, 'Forget what happened before, and do not think about the past. Look at the new thing I am going to do. It is already happening. Don’t you see it? I will make a road in the desert and rivers in the dry land.'"


And isn't that what Christmas is really all about? A new thing. A new life. A new chance. A new hope. Praise God!

My candle centerpiece was made with repurposed Christmas decorations. These had all decorated my office the last five Christmas holidays. Looking at them in their previous form caused me hurt, but cutting the cranberries, twigs, and pine cones from the deteriorating wreath they were attached to and instead placing them amongst these mini-ornaments caused me much joy. Will you #RepurposeChristmas with me?
  1. Gather your supplies: one large vase (I used a trifle bowl), one small vase, a candle, small ornaments, and various seasonal decorations (I used plastic cranberries, twigs, and pine cones).
  2. Place the candle in the smaller case, and the smaller vase in the larger vase. 
  3. Place the ornaments in the large vase.
  4. Scatter the remaining decorations amongst the ornaments. Voila! A beautiful centerpiece in just a few minutes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Pinterest Christmas: The Innkeeper

With funds reduced this Christmas, I've turned to Pinterest for low cost ideas on Christmas. And since the Christmas feels like it is shorter every year, I'm starting early this year!

Each Christmas we read of the birth of our Savior and give little thought to the modern application. Even those not regularly attending church have heard "And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:7, NKJV)

That's nice, and all, but since we no longer travel for a census, use a manger on our farms (for those of you who have farms), or even use the words "swaddling clothes" to describe our newborn's clothes the verse sits distantly in our memory somewhere near Shakespeare.

But there was a real innkeeper who for real reasons was unable to make room for Christ. And so many of us find us living our day to day lives in the same manner. Work. Kids. Clubs. Friends. And at the end of the day, where was Jesus?

Especially at Christmas we need to consciously decide that Christ is the center of our day, the center of the season, the center of our lives.

For this project the quote grabbed my attention immediately. I had an empty frame and a piece of construction paper. Using a gold Sharpie, I penned the quote and a small manger scene, then outlined it with a fine tip black Sharpie. In less than an hour - and for $0 - I made this simple wall piece and had new Christmas art.



Friday, November 6, 2015

November Pinterest Project

King David made some bad decisions, but he also loved God. Even though he had distracted moments where he put himself first, God was never far from him. I love how Angie Smith puts it in her book Seamless, "David wasn't a man after God's own heart because David didn't sin. He was a man after God's own heart because he kept coming back to God." This is a great comfort to me.

One of David's desires was to build God a proper home, where the Ark could be stored. David could not come to terms with the Ark being in a tent while he lived in a proper structure (2 Samuel 7:2). But David was not allowed to build the temple because he was a man of war, and God desired it be built by a man of peace, David's son Solomon (1 Chronicles 22:8-9). But David did what he could and prepared the supplies for the task awaiting his son.

At the end of 1 Chronicles we read David's prayer. It's beautiful to see such joy accompany giving. I pray God gives me this same kind of joy this giving season.

“Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, That we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, And of Your own we have given You. For we are aliens and pilgrims before You, As were all our fathers; Our days on earth are as a shadow, And without hope." 1 Chronicles 29:13-15

My November Pinterest project looked to capture this same spirit of pilgrimage, joy, and giving. Since I had no twine to wrap the candle I used construction paper to make this pilgrim hat which I flanked with the words "thanks" and "giving".

Friday, October 23, 2015

Five Minute Friday: Joy

My slightly creepy JOY face.
Joy scares me.  What if I am fundamentally incapable of not feeling joy?  I've always had one reason or another to not have joy: young kids, a stressful job, a husband with a stressful job, responsibilities.  Blah, blah blah.

I am approaching a new day in my life.  One week from today will be my last day at work.  Forever?  Probably not.  But definitely, for now.

There are so many things that I want to do with my life, so many directions it could go.  I am excited for sure, but do I have joy about it?

A couple weeks ago my pastor preached on joy, saying it was one of the hardest sermons he's ever delivered.  I get it.  We all think we should have joy.  We all want others to think we have joy.  But I am going to be transparent and say when my heart is hurting, and life is all confused, it's ok for the joy to feel a little less.  Because in that way when we do recognize the joy again, it will feel so much stronger.

So back to my last day at work.  Writing for these few minutes have given me more joy than the last 14 years in mortgage lending.  I know that whatever comes from these changes I'm going through that I am making the decision to do what my family needs.  And so, yes, I guess there is joy in that.

When God Doesn't Call on You

Today I met with my younger son's teacher (Mrs. J) and speech teacher (Mrs. M) for what's known as an IEP.  For those of you who don't have children with special learning needs, an Individualized Education Plan (or IEP) is parent-teacher-specialist collaboration that meets with varying frequency depending on the needs of your child.  Josiah has never had major speech delays (he speaks enough for two kids if you ask me) but has never been able to perfectly pronounce certain words.  His major challenge right now is the letter R when in the middle or end of a word, and for this he meets with a speech teacher once a week for 25 minutes in a group setting.  The inability to articulate the letter R probably doesn't seem like a big deal until you consider all the words that have the letter R in it!  And actually, if he lived in Boston he wouldn't be in speech at all.  Park the car in Harvard yard.  I digress.

As I was saying, this morning I met with my son's speech teacher.  I was sharing some concerns with her about his reading skills.  She told me she wasn't concerned and then shared the GREATEST story with me.  I know my both my sons are sensitive souls like their mom, but this story touched my heart beyond measure. One day in speech therapy, Josiah repetitively raised his hand to answer the questions Mrs M asked of the group.  Knowing that Josiah knew the answer, and wanting to give all the kids an opportunity to answer, Mrs M called on all the other students.  Josiah eventually broke down in tears.  When questioned, Josiah sobbed to Mrs M, "You don't like me."

As the other students left to return their normal class, Mrs Mr reassured Josiah that she does in fact like him and let him in on their "secret", that she had to give the other kids an opportunity to answer because she already knows how smart he is.

I began to wonder if sometimes we don't treat God in this same way.  Sitting amongst our peers in the classroom of life, we eagerly raise our hand when God asks a question.  Some time goes by and God doesn't act like He sees our hand, so we raise it a little higher.  As more time proceeds we push our arm so high into the air that it feels it may rip out of it's socket and shoot straight into the sky.  But still, God doesn't call on me.  And at that moment I know, yes, I know that God doesn't like me.  Why else wouldn't He call on me when so clearly I know the answer?

I want to encourage you know, friend.  If your are in a life moment where it seems that God just won't call on you, stay the course.  Rest assured that He has a plan for you in His right time.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Firstfruits


"Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine." Proverbs 3:9-10

One of the most pleasant surprises when we bought our home was the selection of fruit trees that now belonged to us - lemons, bananas, persimmons, and figs! The fig tree, located just outside my bedroom window, has taught me more about faith than seemed possible

The figs, oh, the figs! They are so delicious. I never knew what a fresh fig tasted like until I tasted these. And to think that at one time in my life my only connection to figs was the Fig Newton.

Each summer when fig season rolls around I watch eagerly, waiting to pick the first of the season. As summer progesses I look out my window each day waiting to see that the figs are ready to be picked. When they are finally ready, I head outside and pick the first few... for my friend Barbara.

Yes, the first fruits of my fig tree always go to Barb! Does she pay my mortgage or tend to my garden? No. But I know what joy they give her. And knowing they will please her makes it so easy to give them away. As much as enjoy eating my figs, giving them to her tasted even more delicious.

Lord, help me to offer the first fruits of my life to You with the same willingness and excitedness as I give my figs to my friend. Let me honor you with my heart and actions.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Jesus Messed Me Up

I walked into work at 8:37 (23 minutes early, woo hoo!) praying the prayer, "Jesus, mess me up."  I've been reading Jen Hatmaker's book 7 in which she takes 7 months to focus on 7 areas of her life.  She is big on social justice - which admittedly I'm less interested in than I probably should be because it always feels so political - and through this process of 7-ing her life she has questioned her priorities, her motives, and her faith.

In the chapter she discusses the month she spent giving away her possessions, she makes the statement how her husband sent Shane Claiborne (an activist/author/preacher) "an email through dubious channels basically telling him The Irresistible Revolution was messing his wife up."  She goes into a beautiful narrative of the Easter service in which Shane asks for those in attendance to leave their shoes at the altar to be give to the local homeless population.  In similar sentiment to Jen's observation, I must candidly admit we've done a lot of unique things at Easter services (and through the year, too), but never once have we had a service where we took the clothe off our back, err feet, as a tangible sacrifice to the will of God.  And so with this in mind I prayed that prayer: Jesus, mess me up.  Make Your will, my will.


And then it began, the work day.  I love my job and the fascinating information I learn about people (hey, you'd learn a lot about people too if you reviewed their tax returns and bank statements).  But today was different, I had the task of reading a lawsuit against a Home Owner's Association.  Oh joy!  I've read these before, dozens of time.  So and so did such and such... things like, Sally Smith in Unit 3B won't mow her grass and now my unit looks atrocious sitting next to hers.  Or there was one that went something like Bob and Linda, located in the unit directly above mine, removed the carpet from their unit and now the noise in my home is unbearable.  I'm not joking, people sue over these things!


Today's reading was something entirely different.  "David" and "Michael" are a homosexual couple who were physically and verbally assaulted at an owner's meeting.  In great length, the verbal insults were detailed (none of which I would feel comfortable writing here) and the step by step physical assault played out.  Oh, and did I mention the private security company not only was present, they held back those who were trying to help?


This messed me up.


As it should.


Agree with a lifestyle or not, no one should act this way.  I began to think about all the types of assaults that occur regularly and quietly get swept under the rug.  And then worse, how often have I been the one to say something against another undeserving of such judgement?  Sure, I've never physically kicked a person that I disagree with, but I may have verbally kicked them.  What would I have done if I had been in that meeting?  Would I have been a peacemaker or would I have quietly slipped out?  If I had to fathom a guess, I'd be embarrassed to admit which is more likely.


Jesus, continue to mess me up.  Open my eyes to the truth around me.  Don't let me closed minded to opportunities to serve You by serving my neighbor.


But who is my neighbor? Someone once asked Jesus that:
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?"

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37, NIV)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Joy...

The Bible makes it pretty clear, if we have faith in Christ, there should be joy in our life.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says "Always be joyful."
  • Galatians 5:22 says "But the Spirit produces the fruit of... joy..."
  • Nehemiah 8:10 says "...Go and enjoy good food and sweet drinks. Send some to people who have none, because today is a holy day to the Lord. Don’t be sad, because the joy of the Lord will make you strong."
  • Psalm 47:1 says us to "Clap your hands, all you people. Shout to God with joy."

So I turned on my new $1 TobyMac CD and listened to some Funky Jesus Music. And there was definitely some joy after that.

But how do we reconcile these instructions with real life? Like today, when I had carved out a rest day. I haven't been feeling well for a few days, and with nothing on the calender I knew today was the right day to hang out around the house, relax, and work on somethings I'd been postponing. One of those things: Laundry.

I was on my third load - and if I do say so myself - really rocking the laundry, having actually folded and put away most of the two previous loads I'd done, when I heard that ominous sound of water flooding. We've been having a problem with water coming out of our toilet (yes, toilet) when we wash laundry, but had pretty much determined it only happened when we washed large/heavy loads.

The plumber is already scheduled to come out on Monday, but that didn't help today when that water started flooding.

As I ran to the laundry room I realized, to my horror, that there was only one way to get the mop... by walking through the flood. Yes, by walking through the toilet flood. Ugh!

So where's the joy in that?

I couldn't change the brokenness of my equipment, or the sewage water all over my floor, or even the fact that I was going to have to clean it up on a day off. The only thing I could change was me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Rough Cloth and Ashes: Lent 2015

Lent.  In years past when areas of my life felt more significantly unstructured, I've often looked forward to the Lenten season as an opportunity to get something right, to show that - if only for these forty days - I can take control of my life and move it in the right direction.

But, if I can be honest, this year it just seems exhausting.  As I contemplated a lenten sacrifice, there didn't seem to be anything I could give up that would help me move closer to God.  The things I considered actually all felt like it would only pull me closer into myself, to prove I could control my stomach, my desires, my money.  Maybe my heart just isn't into this year, I don't know.


Then, as God often does, He came subtly screaming at me through the words of Daniel 9:3-4 (NCV):

Then I turned to the Lord God and prayed and asked him for help. To show my sadness, I fasted, put on rough cloth, and sat in ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and told him about all of our sins. I said, “Lord, you are a great God who causes fear and wonder. You keep your agreement of love with all who love you and obey your commands."
This seems to me the whole point of a time like Lent.  We turn to God and ask Him to help us because we are clearly not able to do it ourselves.  We show the sadness of our situation and cry out to Him, confessing to Him our sins.

So while I mourn the darkness of myself, I also rejoice in brightness of my God.  And I just don't feel like I have give up sweets, soda, fast food, or Facebook to do that this year.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Everyday Christian: Chapter 1

In the weekly Bible study I attend we've begun reading "Everyday Christian: Living Like Christ Seven Days a Week" by Dr Edwin Robinson.  It is a part of the Dialog Series which is specifically intended to initiate conversation in small groups.  Without turning this post into a book report, I'd like to spend the next seven weeks developing the material we cover in our gatherings.

Chapter 1: Being Christian at Home.
"Household codes like those included in Paul's and Peter's letters were common in other religious literature of the first century.  Instructions for family life as part of the social expectations were not unusual at all."

Ephesians 5:21-6:9
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. 
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” 
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. 
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. 
And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

I can almost picture the scene as this letter was read to the church at Ephesus.  As this section begins to discuss submitting to one another, the men of the room are elbowing each other, suddenly certain this particular wisdom was specifically ordained for their families.  But as it should be, the instructions take a turn and suddenly the men were being instructed to love their wives in a way they had never been taught before - to which the women of the room started nodding and giving their husbands the look.  You know what look.  You may have given your husband that same look a time or two.  Then suddenly husband and wife, forgetting their opposing viewpoints, were excited to hear their children being addressed.  Yep, that's right kids, he said honor us.  Had they learned nothing?  Their children could only honor them if they too were treated appropriately.  And so it went: Husbands, Wives.  Children, Parents.  Slaves, Masters.

The truth is we are always looking for someone else to start the behavioral cycle.  I rationalize that I will submit to my husband when he begins to love me the way he should.  But the difficult and wonderful fact of the matter is we can't control what anyone else does, nor are we responsible for their actions. And thank God for that!

Wives - what would it look like if you treated your husband like the head of your home?  If you regarded him above all?  If you respected him for what he's done and what he's yet to do?

Husbands - what would it look like if you loved your wife with a pure and blameless love?  If you were willing to lay down your life (or your newspaper, or your sports broadcast) for her?  If you treated her as if she were holy and blameless?

Lord, help me to be the person You have called me to be. Especially at home. 


Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Life Remembered

To his students he was "Dr. Bullock."  To his friends he was "Chuck."  To me he was always just "Pastor."  It's strange to think I hadn't seen him in more years than I actually knew him, but so it goes it with people who touch your life: the lessons you learn from them are not quickly forgotten. If ever. A few things I learned from my pastor, the Cowboys- and Coke-loving pastor who always had a good story and a smile, Reverened Charles E. Bullock:

On Scripture:
When you read a passage and see the word "therefore" you always have to go back and see what the word is there for. 

On Faith:
The main thing is that the main thing remain the main thing. 

On Marriage:
Every night before you go to bed, tell your spouse, "Honey, I love you and I've been faithful to you today."

On Time:
When you say you don't have enough time, you're telling God He made a mistake in His creation. 

On Theology:
The most profound theology of all time lies in these lyrics, "Jesus loves me / This I know know / For the Bible tells me so."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Traditions

It's a funny thought to consider that all traditions were once a new idea.

One tradition most Americans (and many people around the world) connect with is "the ball" dropping on New Years Eve in New York. While we confidently look for this event each year on the television, there was a time just over a hundred years ago when it was nothing more than an idea.

And what about our religious traditions? On Sunday night I had a discussion with a pastor in my denomination who told me we are expected to have communion seven times each year. While some local churches surely observe communion less than that, there are other local churches - like the one at which the aforementioned pastor works at - whose tradition is to participate in communion every Sunday. Same denomination, different implementations of our tradition.

And while on the topic of communion, this too was once a new idea. It was implemented by Christ at the Last Supper when, gathered together with His closest friends, the Lord broke bread and changed an old tradition (Passover) to a new one (Communion or Eucherist, depending on your tradition - see where I'm going).

And so it was last night at the church I attend when I gathered together for a planning meeting. This meeting happen to fall on Epiphany - the 12th day after Christmas historically observed as the date when the Wise Men found the Christ Child. Or, as it's known in Spanish speaking cultures, Dia de Reyes. This is not a day we normally celebrate at our church, but, thanks to my good friend who does celebrate it and told me about the tradition, I stopped at my local bakery and purchased a Rosca (pictured below) on my way to the meeting.

For those of you not familiar with this holiday, according to Wikipedia, "The tradition of placing a trinket (a figurine of the Christ child) in the cake is very old. The baby Jesus hidden in the bread represents the flight of the Holy Family, fleeing from King Herod's Massacre of the Innocents. Whoever finds the baby Jesus figurine is blessed and must take the figurine to the nearest church on February 2."

Will this event become a tradition? Only time will tell. In the meantime, what are some of your traditions?
"When the wise men saw the star, they were filled with joy. They came to the house where the child was and saw him with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their gifts and gave him treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But God warned the wise men in a dream not to go back to Herod, so they returned to their own country by a different way" (Matthew 2:10-12).

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Monica

It's that time of year when all is new and all is old simultaneously.  There is something about looking to the future that causes us to also remember the past.  The New Year is always a difficult time for me.  Regardless of how happy I am, I get lost in remembering years gone by.

God prepared a comfort for me this year weeks before I need them.  The words I'd need leaped out of the pages of Ann Voskamp's advent devotional, The Greatest Gift.  Ann quoted these words of CS Lewis in context of the story of Jonah, but they have been comforting me during these holidays

"We all want progress... [but] if you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive."

I've spent a good amount of time over the last few weeks thinking about this idea of progress.  Where am I?  Where do I want to go?  And also I've been thinking about the concept of turning around?  Where would I go back to?  What have I given up that maybe I shouldn't have?  A thought came to my mind this morning: Monica.

This morning I was praying for Mary, a friend from high school.  I hadn't seen Mary since I graduated, but I ran into her a few years ago at a mutual friend's birthday party.  Since then we have stayed loosely connected through social media.  Mary was a year or two younger than me, she was in the band, and she had this friend she called Monica.  Monica was, by all regards, your average teenage girl.  With one exception: she wasn't real.  She was me.  In case you're confused, or you think I've lost my mind, let me clarify.  For reasons neither Mary or I could remember - and boy did we get a good laugh trying to remember - she called me Monica.

In no way am I looking to go back my high school self.  That Amie missed out on opportunities because she cared too much about what other people thought and was too insecure about who she was.  But there was a part of her that was amazing too: she was passionate and optimistic about what life held for her.  That alter-Amie (the Monica, if you will) is long gone, but perhaps there are things I can learn from her if I remember a little more about who she was.

"Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish, as the Son of Man will spend three days and three nights in the belly of the earth. One day, the people of Nineveh will rise up in judgment and will condemn your present generation—for the Ninevites turned from sin to God when they heard Jonah preach, and now One far greater than Jonah is here." (Matthew 12:40-41)

And just like Jonah, when we face that turning point in our lives, when we've been going the wrong way and know we need to turn around, when we are ready to finally go the direction we are supposed to, don't be surprised if you find yourself sitting in the belly of a fish for a few days.

God, I pray it be a metaphorical belly, and not a literal one.  Although a literal one might not be too bad because I'd have some great writing material when I came out...