Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Austin's Finest

Had this been on a Monday, it would have been a Monday's Fabulous Moment, but we missed it by 24 hours and last Sunday, I had an encounter with some of Austin's finest. This might have to become a series for all those, "Wow, I wish it were Monday" moments...

Sunday morning I had to be at work at 9 a.m. It was my sixth day of work in a row and I had been there until 11 the night before. I was tired (crabby) and knew it was potentially going to feel like a pretty long day. 2 hours in, I had already had some uh, interesting, situations to deal with regarding our renters. Yeah, "interesting" is a good word. I was up on the fly rail, 2 members of the company that were here were down on the stage and 2 people in uniform walked through the stage door and onto the stage. Being a city employee, I won't mention what kind of uniforms they were wearing. Use your imagination.

I headed down off the fly rail and walked onto the stage and said, "Can I help you?" One of Austin's finest said, "Yeah, we got a call that something set off your alarm here." I said, "Hmm...that's interesting. I don't know why that would be."

"You didn't call us?"

"No."

"And you haven't heard an alarm going off?"

"No."

"They said it was something on the ceiling that set it off."

"Okay."

::Pause for everyone to look at each other cluelessly::

Finally I said, "You are more than welcome to go up to the front of the building where the main alarm system console is and check it out.

::Longer pause for our two uniformed friends to stare at each other, then stare at me, then stare at each other again::

One of them then looked at me and said, "What's the number of the address here?"

"1165"

"We're supposed to be at 1161."

"Weeeeell, I would venture to say that might be part of the problem then."

"Wait, is this the library?"

Pause while I look around for three purposes.

1.To move my head so they won't see my less than successful attempts to not laugh.
2.To give them the opportunity to look around at the theatre and stage surrounding us and determine that that might in fact have been a silly question.
3. Upon realizing that number two was not going to happen, buying myself time to determine whether or not it would be wise to say something along the lines of, "Do you see any books in here foo'?"

Recognizing that I was tired (crabby) and less equipped than normal to deal well with those functioning on an obviously dim operating system, I quickly said, "No sir, the library is next door."

The two of them looked at each other, looked at me, looked at each other, thanked me for my time and walked out the door.

In review, let's not focus on the fact that they were at the wrong address. Let's not focus on the fact that they were on a stage and thought there was a chance they were in a library. How about the fact that they are city employees, standing in city buildings, city buildings that they have been called to serve and protect, and still have no idea where they are.

You made it in by the skin of your teeth my friends, but consider yourselves officially awarded Austin's Finest 2009.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Grace by Saving Jane

is my heart today...

As I wrestle with my emotions...

Someone else posts this:

So, what’s the truth about emotion? A few quick thoughts:

1. I think, in the past, I would have tried to build a case for emotions by saying, “God invented emotions, so they must be good.” But I don’t think that’s an accurate reflection of the creation story. God is an emotional being, and we are made in the image of God, so we have emotions.

God didn’t “invent” emotions as a component of creation! God invented us, and made us with emotions, because that’s a key part of what makes us like him!

2. God is not freaked out, disappointed, surprised, or frustrated by our emotions. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth. Suppressing our emotions, not giving voice to them, is – in a very real sense – attempting to lie to God and ourselves, something that is contrary to God’s design and desire.
something i found on a blog this week:

In the past, I have tended to restrain my prayers out of respect for God. I am now coming to realize that my in-authenticity is actually an insult, not respect. God knows my heart, and my prayer should not be a facade. If it is, I am only fooling myself.

3. The scriptural caution to us is NOT about having emotions, but about what we do with them. “Be ye angry, and sin not” has lead us to believe that the ONLY valid anger is this thing we’ve made up called “righteous anger.” Whatever. No – Be Angry, express your anger – especially to God; don’t stuff it or bury it. Just be watchful of the actions that flow out of that.

Bottom line: our emotions are a massive gift from God, and learning to be present to them is part of our created design.

Isn’t it totally cool that God gave us emotions? Can you imagine life without them?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thank you Jesus for lunch breaks...

Otherwise when else would I discover that I have a huge hole in the BUTT of my pants and have the opportunity to change them.

Lessons in Student Ministry: Part Five

I don't know if anyone actually reads this blog anymore besides my mom and Sarah...but I'll keep going for you two. :-P

What I Can Learn From the Amish

Rumspringa. Most literally translated from German to mean "running around." By the sheer nature of me being ornery this morning, I happened to mention Rumspringa in conversation. (No, this isn't normal) But, seeing as how I've had student ministry stuff so extremely heavy on my heart for the past 24 hours, what began as an ornery comment, turned into extensive consideration and thought.

Rumspringa is a tradition of the Amish. While it seems to me that it has been exaggerated a bit in the media as to the extremes in which it's taken, it basically refers to a time in adolescence when students of the Amish culture are given permission to head out into the world, try out anything and everything should they choose, and then decide whether or not to come back to the Amish community and be baptized in the Amish church. Again, I think the media has done a tremendous job of portraying this as extremely common when in fact many adolescents choose not to participate or participate to the level that we assume they would. But nonetheless, there are a number of students who venture away from the simplicity of their homes, head out into society and find themselves tangled in drugs, alcohol and promiscuity.
Theology that I may not agree with aside, there's something to be learned from this and here's how I know...

Between 85 and 90% of those students will, on their own, make the decision to return to their homes, family, way of living, and most importantly, to their faith.

Almost 90%.

Nine out of 10 teenagers who live with no electricity, no vehicles, no video games, no movies will knowingly and intentionally return to that lifestyle while they are still in their teenage years.

They're on to a lot of things that we're missing. But I think this is the biggest one...

They've grown up with simplicity. Family, faith and hard work. That's it. And when they venture out, they can see our world for what it is. Distraction. Frightening distraction. And the more I begin to realize this, the more it frightens me. Because my girls will never know a world free of distraction. They will never have lived in a simple, quiet time and place and while they could in essence make a choice to live that way in the future, how do you really do that when this world is all you know.

Which is, I think, exactly what happens with the Amish. Their world is what they know and anything else feels excessive, loud, oppressive and scary. For us to enter theirs would feel stark, uncomfortable, boring and probably scary because for the first time in our lives we might actually have to be still and listen.

But their world is more in line with the life God called us to and prepares our hearts for. Of course those kids return to their faith because their lives and their worlds match up with what their faith is telling them is real. It's not a wonder that it's so easy for them to believe...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lessons in Student Ministry: Part Four

Being at a loss...

because that's where I am. Not with my Bible study girls. Or even with the other students I've randomly met in the cafeteria. But now I also spend another day a week at the middle school mentoring, one girl formally and another one who just tags along. And this is where I find myself at a loss...

I know this about them: They are two complete and total sweethearts who by way of the world are quickly headed down a path that could be really dangerous before too long. A path that makes me legitimately concerned for them, for their hearts that are right now trains on a track they don't belong on, and going WAY too fast.

And I'm far too slow to catch up with them. And not strong enough to stop it even if I could.

Today after a little prodding and asking a few "right" questions, came to the realization that there is no one else in their life who is going to stop it either.

And it hit me hard...There is literally nothing but Jesus that's going to be able to save this situation. In many kids' lives, a few right teachers, a decent mom and dad, maybe an older brother or sister can give the illusion of "saving" them. But probably not with these two. It is going to take nothing smaller than an act of God. It is going to take the redeeming love of Jesus not just to protect and rescue them but to turn their hearts toward a desire to live differently.

I was thinking about that for the bulk of the time that I spent with them today. With every cuss word, every New Year's Eve plan, every text message from every boy they shared with me. But there was hope. Hope in their smiles. Hope when they both shared with me how much they respected their grandmothers. Hope when they sweetly asked, "Miss, what are you going to do for Christmas?"

When lunch was over, I walked one of them to her class. She gave me a big hug and I noticed a woman lingering near us, but my student didn't seem to recognize her and I had never seen her either so I didn't pay much attention. I grabbed my student's face and said, "Sweetheart promise me that you won't do anything stupid over the break. That you'll make good decisions. You are way too smart to be doing what you've been talking about doing."

"I promise Miss."

"I'm not kidding. I want you to be careful."

"I will, Miss. Promise."

I hugged her again and she walked away. The woman looked at me and said, "Are you mentoring her?" I said, "Yes. Well, I'm trying to." She said, "Are you taking good care of her?" I chuckled and said, "Well, I'm trying to do that too." She smiled and said, "Good," and walked away.

I don't know who she was. And I don't know that my student does either. But I'm pretty sure she knows my student. So on the days when I'm at a loss, I'll remember that there's someone else out there who wants this kid taken care of. And that it's not by my strength, but by that of Jesus that it's going to happen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

In Weakness...

An excerpt from "Adam's Story", Henri J. M. Nouwen.

Keep your eyes on the prince of peace, the one who doesn't cling to his divine power; the one who refuses to turn stones into bread, jump from great heights and rule with great power; the one who says, "Blessed are the poor, the gentle, those who mourn, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness" (see Matt. 5:3-11); the one who touches the lame, the crippled, and the blind; the one who speaks words of forgiveness and encouragement; the one who dies alone, rejected and despised. Keep your eyes on him who becomes poor with the poor, weak with the weak, and who is rejected with the rejected. He is the source of all peace.

Where is this peace to be found? The answer is clear. In weakness. First of all, in our own weakness, in those places of our hearts where we feel most broken, most insecure, most in agony, most afraid. Why there? Because there our familiar ways of controlling our world are being stripped away; there we are called to let go from doing much, thinking much, and relying on our self-sufficiency. Right there where we are weakest the peace which is not of this world is hidden.

In Adam's name I say to you, "Claim that peace that remains unknown to so many and make it your own. Because with that peace in your heart you will have new eyes to see and new ears to hear and gradually recognize that same peace in places you would have least expected."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hometown Glory: Part Five

No...I didn't forget this series of posts...just got a little distracted. :)
"Home is not where you live but where they understand you." ~Christian Morgenstern

Mr. and Mrs. Taylor
I think these two may have been the first on what became a long list of "surrogate parents." :) And there are more stories than I could even begin to tell...how she taught me to play "cheeseball baseball," how I helped him install a ceiling fan in their attic, how they came to St. Louis to surprise my mom and me...the list goes on and on.

I first met Mrs. Taylor when I was in 6th grade. She was my art teacher all through middle school and our friendship started in 8th grade when I was working on the yearbook and pretty much the entire rest of the yearbook staff peaced out about a month before the final product was supposed to be turned over to the printer. My advisor at that time wasn't particularly helpful and by the grace of God, Mrs. T. was always in her room long after all other teachers had left the building. I wandered over there seeking help one afternoon, knowing that she had been the yearbook advisor in years prior.

From that point on and in a few week's time, we spent countless hours getting the final product put together and formed a friendship that has lasted nearly 12 years. Mrs. Taylor had a heart and appreciation for middle schoolers unlike any that I have ever seen, but that I know I learned from and continue to aspire to. But the most amazing thing about her was that she listened and she made herself available. That year was close to the time I started going to and exploring the church, and I just happened to find myself at the church she had been a part of her entire life. Her presence there was one of the reasons I kept going and her willingness to talk to me about it at school was incredibly influential...although I didn't realize it at the time. It was also during that time that my love for theatre was growing and we spent many hours discussing that as well. I remember one day when during class she said, "I have a present for you. Come back after school." When I showed up later that day, she pulled out a cassette tape of the Miss Saigon soundtrack. At that time, I didn't have any show soundtracks and had never heard any of that show. But I listened to it over and over and over again, partly because I loved it but I think more because it was a reminder that this person had thought of me, outside the walls of the school. When you're in middle school, there is little that means more than that.

After I moved up to the high school I continued to seek her help with projects and costumes and spent a lot of time at the middle school helping her with things in our classroom. She was also a consistent influence in my faith. As our friendship grew and we hung out more, I got to know Mr. T. who was also a teacher.

Those two are the kind of teachers every kid should get to have at some point in their lives. They didn't have any children, aside from the many beautiful felines that have come and gone over the years, but because of that poured their lives into their students and their work. They had heart for us that was different, hearts that made us know we were the most important people in their lives. Hearts that I would and did tell everything to. Hearts that made me feel important. When I started performing, I remember getting more excited knowing that they were going to be there than pretty much anyone else in the world and I can't think of anything that they missed.

After graduating from high school, my mom, Mrs. Taylor and I took a trip to NYC and it continues to be one of my most cherished trips. It was a sweet time for all of us.

To this day I have a beautiful butterfly mobile hanging in my apartment that Mrs. Taylor made me. It's one of the sweetest, most thoughtful, genuine gifts I've ever received. I've had a years long love of butterflies, founded in the idea that in Christ we are a new creation, we are reborn. And it seems so fitting that when I see that mobile, the reminder of the path I walked to get to Him, the Taylors are two of the most important people on that journey.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Heaven Song

Last night I got to see Phil Wickham in concert and that brother can write music. There's something special about his lyrics. But this song kind of messed me up. Listening to this song put a spark back in my heart that had been dim for a little while...



You wrote a letter and You signed Your name
I read every word, read it page by page
You said that You'd be coming
Coming for me soon
Oh my God I'll be ready for You

Cause I want to run on greener pastures
I want to dance on higher hills
I want to drink from sweeter waters
In the misty morning chill
And my soul is getting restless
For the place where I belong
I can't wait to join the angels and sing my heaven song

I hear Your voice and I catch my breath
Well done my child enter in, in rest
As tears roll down my cheek
Oh it's beautiful beyond my wildest dreams

Monday, November 30, 2009

John 15:13

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends...
~Jesus

This one has been getting to me lately. It's something that popped into my head about two weeks ago and it won't go away. In the most simple explanation, here's why...

God brought this to my mind. When I think of this verse, I think "I am called to lay down my LIFE for my friends." I emphasize life. The physical living and breathing that I do. And I having a sinking feeling I'm not the only one.

Problem is...that part is easy. It is easy to think that on the rare occasion that I would have the opportunity to stand in front of a bullet or jump in front of a speeding car for a friend of mine that I would absolutely do it, no questions asked. This is especially true in student ministry with my kids, with my closest friends, and with my family. I feel very confident saying that I would quit living if it came down to me or one of them.

But what if I moved the emphasis. What if I said, "I am called to lay down MY life for my friends." What if I started focusing not on literally giving up my ability to breathe for someone, but instead giving up the things in my life that I've begun to think of as mine. That somewhere I started believing belonged to me and that I deserve.

My time. My money. My comforts. My time with my friends. My church that I love. My time at coffee shops. My time to read and journal. My lunch hour. My happiness. My pride. My sleep. My perceptions of what people think of me. My desire to do what people expect of me. My desire to be noticed and affirmed.

The list could go on...and it would go downhill from there. So I'll spare myself that humbling and ongoing blow to my ego and move on.

When I think about my friends and my family, I'm called to give up my time. My comfort of living a life with emotional walls around me. I'm called to sacrifice my fears to trust and truth. I'm called to give up expectations and live a life consumed by a servant's heart.

When I think about my students, I know that I would physically give up my heartbeat for them. But, what I've been asked to give up is my time, my comforts and my human desire to satisfy myself first. I'm called to give up time with my friends. I'm called to give up sleep. I'm called to give up down time for them. If I'm being honest, it's even harder with them because I can't expect to receive anything from them for it. I can't expect any kind of reward or recognition. They're kids.

And why are those things ultimately harder than giving up the breath that I breathe? I think because it's a daily sacrifice. One that has to happen over and over and over again. Because it's a battle with a deceitful and sick heart (Jeremiah 17:9)

But I know this. Every time I've done it, with every Godly sacrifice I've made, I've been met with joy. The kind that doesn't make any sense. The joy that doesn't come from me or pride in myself, but from a peace of heart and mind that goes far beyond my understanding. Joy that is a gift, not a product of what I've done. And so it goes with God, that now that I've had this thought, I'm consistenly asking myself, am I willing to give up MY life, what I think is mine, what I think I deserve. Am I willing to give up me for my friends.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Things With Wings

Jill Ward Brown: "i hereby declare, that on this day, the 23rd of November, in the year 2009, that you shall be forever known, from this day forward, as an honorary Thing with Winger. I do not bestow this title upon you lightly. You have many honors and duties to perform which shall be named at a later date and may be subject to initiations and other as yet specified conditions."

There it is...in writing. I may or may not have deleted a sentence that I didn't find particularly relevent. For those of you who haven't been to the Things With Wings blog...go. Now. They're an amazing group of beautiful women who make beautiful things.

That being said, I'm going to be spending Thanksgiving with them and it is going to be off. the. chart.

That's right...Iowa, look out. Em and I are about to tear up that town...or cornfield. Please join me in praying for snow.

2 days...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lessons in Student Ministry: Part Three

Find your "go-to" kids...and then get out of the way.

Here's the thing about having a heart for student ministry. It's so easy to want to be "that person." To be the person they run to. To be the person that cares about them. To be the person that they seek out. The one they trust and open up to. The one who knows them better than anyone else does.

If I'm being painfully real...It's easy to want to be the person that saves them.

And over time I've learned that is simply not what student ministry is really about. Because if who they think Jesus is gets confused with who I am, the minute I can't be there, their faith is lost. If their faith is dependent on my presence, I've done more harm than good.

Today was one of the "high" days of my weekly ventures to eat lunch at the middle school. Some days are like that...the kind when it's just win after win and your heart swells and you see God moving and working. But more often than not, those days are the ones where I have intentionally (and hesitantly) chosen to get out of the way.

I walked into the cafeteria today and whispered up a thank you. Every day that I'm greeted with sweet girls running up to me and yelling my name and giving me hugs and fighting over who gets to keep my visitor pass for the rest of the day is another day that I'm thankful for. Because like it or not, a day will very possibly come where my presence is not only anticipated, but expected, and not quite as exciting. One of my little tiniest ones was walking around in a daze looking a little perplexed but when she turned and saw me her whole face brightened up and she ran over and gave me a huge hug, assuring me that she was just fine and must have been lost in thought. I marvel at anyone's immediate reaction to me being what Maddi's was, but I have to remember that it is God working through me that brings that out in them. It's not really me at all.

As they settled in and we started chatting I noticed a kid a few seats down from me sitting completely by himself, just eating his sandwich, no one else even near by. I asked one of the girls who he was. She said his name was Ben and that she had tried to talk to him a couple of times but she was afraid she was just scaring him because he'd get really nervous. She said she felt bad about that so she just stopped talking to him. I tried to explain to her that it probably was a little awkward for him to have a girl just randomly talk to him, especially at his age and then I said, "Why don't we find a guy that can talk to him?" She said, "Oh get Danny. He's the nicest guy in our grade." She quickly got up out of her seat and ran over to a kid standing in line for the microwave and then came back over and said, "He'll be here in a second. I told him you wanted to talk to him."

Poor Danny's 75 seconds in line for the microwave must have felt like an eternity seeing as how he started shifting his weight back and forth and looking over at me every couple of seconds. I don't know why they always think they're in trouble.

When he came over I said, "Here's the deal. I have a mission for you. See that kid behind you? He apparently sits by himself all the time. The girls told me that you're a really nice guy and they thought maybe you'd help that kid out by just checking on him and seeing if he'd like to come over to your lunch table." Danny didn't think for too long before saying, "Okay, well let me go put my burrito down and I'll be back." I honestly didn't know if he'd return. But he did. He went over and sat down next to this kid. They chatted for a few minutes and then Danny got up and walked away.

I assumed things got awkward and the kid had told him he didn't want to move and that was kind of the end of things. Before I knew it though, Danny comes walking back over, burrito in hand, and made himself at home next to this kid and they were eating and chatting. Periodically it looked like things got awkward and quiet, but Danny didn't leave.

That right there is a humbling lesson that I need to learn over and over again. Danny did what I couldn't. Danny connected with this kid because Danny is a boy and Danny is his age. And Danny is what this kid needs. That kid didn't need me. As much as I wanted to go over there and force him to talk to me and find out who he is and what he's all about, I can't be there for him every day. I can't help him feel more comfortable at his school by simply being present for 30 minutes once a week. He needs kids his age to love on him and to help him feel like he belongs.

There are going to be kids like that who my only role in their life is to somehow figure out how to facilitate someone else noticing them.

And then there are other kids like Evan. Evan was sitting by himself today as well, not eating a thing because he apparently "didn't feel like" packing a lunch today. Truthfully I hadn't even noticed him and Claudia said, "Hey, that's my new friend Evan. Will you go with me to talk to him?" So off we went. Evan is a fun kid who just switched schools this year and said he didn't have any friends at his last school and he doesn't have any here. But he opened up to me pretty quickly. After Claudia and I sat down with him he couldn't stop smiling. Evan is one of those kids that I probably won't necessarily "get out of the way" with right away. He seemed to want to talk to me and answer my questions and was excited when I asked him to come talk to me when I'm there next time. For now, with him, it's not about me getting out of the way, but eventually I will.

I'm trying to learn how to recognize those differences. To find my go-to kids like Danny. And to know when to just step back.

With every day that I'm there I love it more. Today before I left I stopped at one of my favorite tables. The kind that have the kids who have a rebellious streak, but only express it in ways like wearing colored shoelaces even though they're not supposed to. And there was Andrew. Andrew is the kind of kid that gives me a hug when he sees me and says things like, "You know we love you right? I just wanted to make sure you knew that." At the end of lunch each table has to be dismissed by one of the principals, one of the teachers, or if they're lucky, the big black security guard that doesn't play around. And today, my sweet little table got the security guard. They were doing well, had cleaned the table and had stopped talking and were looking up at him sweetly with big puppy-dog eyes, all waiting to be dismissed. He looked up and down the table, kid by kid and just as he said, "You may be dis...," Andrew very quietly started singing, "You are my sunshine..." The security guard jerked his head back toward Andrew and said, "Get up! You can sing You Are My Sunshine all the way down to ISS (in-school suspension) young man." Andrew smiled a cute little grin, hopped up, said, "Yes sir" and followed the guard out of the cafeteria.

Seriously? For everyone out there who questions why I do this every week...you can't pay for that kind of entertainment.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"What has been like water from the well of Bethlehem to you recently? Love, friendship, spiritual blessing? Then at the peril of your soul you take it to satisfy yourself. If you do, you cannot pour it out before the Lord. How am I to pour out spiritual gifts, or natural friendship, or love? How can I give them to the Lord? In one way only- in the determination of the mind, and that takes about two seconds. If I hold spiritual blessings or friendship for myself they will corrupt me, no matter how beautiful they are. I have to pour them out before the Lord, give them to Him in my mind, though it looks as if I am wasting them, even as David poured the water out on the sand, to be instantly sucked up."

Oswald Chambers

Monday, November 16, 2009

Elisabeth Elliot

"...but the years since have proved to me over and over again that the heart set to do the Father's will need never fear defeat. His promises of guidance may be fully counted upon. Does it make sense to believe that the Shepherd would care less about getting His sheep where He wants them to go than they care about getting there?"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How Great Thou Art

...truth be told I'm not really even a fan of that precious hymn. I don't know why...maybe because it seems really difficult to sing, or because I don't particularly care for the tune, or maybe because the words have never resonated with me. Whatever...I know...I'm not holy enough for admitting to that.

But this morning...well, starting yesterday...I felt it coming. The "funk." Whatever it is that makes me just feel, well, off. Not quite right. Randomly sad. Heavy-hearted. This morning as I sat at the front desk at work just thinking about that and how it felt to be in this place, How Great Thou Art started playing in my head. And I have no earthly idea why or where it came from. It just struck up in my head and played over and over and the more I heard the familiar tune, the more the words began to sink in...

O Lord my God,
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all
The works Thy hath made,
I see the stars,
I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy pow'r throughout
The universe displayed

When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
I hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze;

Then sings my soul,
My savior God, to Thee,
How great Thou art,
How great Thou art,
Then sings my soul,
My savior God, to Thee,
How great Thou art,
How great Thou art

When Christ shall come,
With shouts of acclimation,
And take me home,
What joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow
With humble adoration
And there proclaim,
"My God, how great Thou art!"

Monday, November 9, 2009

Grace Must Wound

"It was Flannery O'Connor who said that 'grace must wound before it heals.' Her words help me to separate what is most true about life from what we want to be true. We want life to be painless. True grace is a hard sell because in order for the human heart to understand forgiveness and love, it must first experience darkness and isolation. A life lived under the rule of grace is a life of need which allows us to receive and appreciate the gift of the giver of grace...This is why we are called to a life we cannot handle alone, which can and will break us in the effort to live it-because grace must wound before it heals."
~Justin McRoberts

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hometown Glory: Part Four

"You can never go home again, but the truth is, you can never leave home, so it's all right."
~Maya Angelou
The Rowland Family

Ah the Rowland Family...sweet, sweet, sweet people. This is one of those families that has always treated me like I was part of it. One of my absolute favorite things about Mr. and Mrs. Rowland was that they truly looked out for me like I was one of their kids and they even showed interest at times in adopting me if the need were to ever arise. Depending on what day it is and how ornery they're feeling, they wouldn't admit it though if you asked them. ;-) But I always knew they cared about me deeply, enough so that as quickly as they would rejoice for the good things in my life they would scold me if they needed to (which was rare :-P) or ask me tough questions if they were concerned about me.

I met them while I was in highschool. Their daughter Katey and dear friend of mine was two years younger than me but joined show choir her freshman year. Katey is one of those kids who is always described as "having a good head on her shoulders." She's the kind of person that just lives well. She's smart and rational and does what needs done. She's also incredibly laid back and kind. No matter what was going on around us, I could always count on Katey to stay out of drama and just enjoy life. I have always said that regardless of her being younger than me, I have always looked up to her. I have always admired her personality and the way she handles life.

And she comes by it naturally. Mr. and Mrs. Rowland both have similar personalities and are just fun to be around. We can harass each other and be silly and then be as serious as is needed in the next second.

They always encouraged all of us kids to be the best that we could. They served and loved the show choir in big ways in the time that I was there, driving our trailer to every competition and cheering us on through every performance. They were the kind of parents that I never wanted to disappoint, the kind of parents that had I ever made some horrible decision, I wouldn't have wanted to tell them. Not at all because of fear, but out of a great respect for who they are and how they loved on all of us growing up. That being said, I would have felt completely safe telling them anything, knowing that they would be gentle in their response.

Throughout life we had always joked that I had a long running list of "surrogate parents." And this was one pair at the top of the list. Their house was always a home for me, a place where I would sit down at the table and be fed home cooked food, amazing chocolate chip cookies, loved and completely cared for.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hometown Glory: Part Three

"My home is not a place, it is people."
~Lois McMaster Bujold

Joy Bingman
Or..."Bingman" or "Bing" or "Blingy Bingy," depending on what day it is and what mood I'm in. :)

I absolutely couldn't say enough about this woman if I tried. But on the flip side, the funny part of that is that I don't really know what to say about her either. Bingman is just the kind of person that I don't really have a specific story with. She just is one of those amazing people that God puts in your life for so many reasons and you can never quite figure out exactly what it is, but you know they've completely shaped and changed who you are.

Bing worked at my highschool and up until my junior year I didn't know her personally. But I always knew who she was. She supported the show choir and the theatre kids like no one else. She encouraged us and cheered us on and showed a genuine enthusiasm for watching us perform. I remember thinking she must be one of the funniest people on the planet when during my freshman year she performed as Tina Turner during our annual lip sync competition. I wasn't wrong. She can send me into side-splitting laughter in mere seconds.

My junior year of highschool the choir took a trip to NYC and she joined us as a chaperone. Somewhere during that she and I bonded. If I remember correctly it was one of those things where all of a sudden we just started talking as if there was never a time when we didn't know each other. And that was pretty much how it was with us. During that trip I started joking that she was my angel. Good things came to me when she was around. I really wanted to go be in the audience for the Rosie O'Donnell show and she was the only chaperone that would beat the sun up with me to go stand in line in the freezing cold to enter a lottery system. I begged her to draw the number for me and she reluctantly did, and sure enough, we got in. Years later a group of us girls went back to NYC, Bingman included and she was right there when I won front row tickets to see Wicked.

But calling her my angel was more than that. She truly helped me survive my senior year of highschool and over the years I've found out that I can talk to her about anything. There's not one thing in my life that I would not share with her in a heartbeat and completely value her opinion on. Just a couple of years ago when I interviewed for a job in San Antonio, she called just days before I left just to check on me. We hadn't talked for a couple of months at that point but found out to both of our surprise that she would be in San Antonio the same weekend. Simply to see her there and to have her presence during an incredibly stressful time of life was nothing short of God.

She is one of the most solid Christian women I know and I so aspire to her level of faith. That being said, her favorite show is South Park. If that doesn't indicate the amazingness of the person I'm talking about, nothing will. :)

Over the years I've gotten to spend time with her in Ohio and St. Louis and New York and San Antonio and I'm really hoping Austin is next on the list...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hometown Glory: Part Two

"Home is where one starts from."
~T.S. Eliot
Miriam CarsonMiriam Carson is one of the most beautiful, classy, elegant women I've ever known in my life and if she knew I said that she'd crack up laughing. Mim was my dance teacher in high school and choreographed nearly every show I was in between 1997 and 2001. She choreographed our show choirs in middle school and high school, never missing a competition with us which I later found out was a blessing that most of us failed to realize. Most choreographers didn't show up to cheer on their kids, much less travel with them.

She was one of the few dance teachers left who still taught real, beautiful, true dance. She taught us to appreciate classic music, dance styles and dancers, not by telling us to love it, but by loving it herself and growing us up with it. She put us in classy, tasteful, stunning costumes and never let us perform in anything that made us uncomfortable...again, something I took for granted until I realized that this was an exception for choreographers, not a rule. She taught us how to do our hair so that it was never stringy or hanging in our eyes. She taught us how to do our makeup. She taught us how to look beautiful on stage in a natural way. She was an extremely influential person in my love for theatre and Broadway. I so looked up to the way she watched shows, what she thought about them, how she critiqued them.

I started dancing with Mim later than most kids. Many of those that she had taught had been with her from the time they were about three years old and stayed with her all through high school. But even though I jumped in late, she always treated me like one of her own. To have danced with Mim was to be part of a family, and although I was more like an adopted member, I was taught and loved just the same.

In 2001 she closed her studio. It was one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever gone through, and I didn't even have the connection to it that so many other people did. But Miriam remained one of our greatest supporters and encouragers. She had been a huge source of support during my years as a Summer Theatre Workshop director and even today, she wanted to know all of my stories about working on The Wizard of Oz this past summer. She's even trying to plan a trip to come down here for next summer's show.

Her love for us and her interest in our lives has not withered with time and I'm so thankful I got to spend as much time with her as I did while I was in Marysville last weekend. Few things made me feel more welcomed and at home than when I walked into the restaurant on Thursday afternoon and she threw her arms around me after not having seen me in probably 4 years and said, "It's so good to hold you again!"

People like Miriam Carson are rare and they are priceless.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hometown Glory: Part One

"When you finally go back to your old hometown, you find it wasn't the old home you missed but your childhood.”
~Sam Ewing

Last weekend, I had the great blessing of going back to my hometown, the first time in 2 and a half years. I called it Sue and Jen's Food Tour 2009. There's something about having a million different people to catch up with that causes you to plan a different person to have every meal with. I shouldn't need to eat again until next Monday.

But it was a sweet time of seeing and hugging and laughing with the people who shaped my middle school and highschool years, arguably the most influential. As much as the actual town has changed, the people and my relationships with them seem to have picked up right where we left off and that I could not be more thankful for. So, here's part one on my people in the small town of Marysville, Ohio...

Tom and Sue Powell
I can say in all sincerity that I don't know where to begin with these two. They have made me laugh harder and be more silly than just about anyone I can think of. Tom is a photographer who used to work for our tiny little local newspaper before he and his wife Sue opened their own studio in town. My senior year of highschool I worked for them as an assistant when Tom had to go on location and then in the studio doing all kinds of odd jobs. When I came back from college in the summers they always found work for me to do.

Working for them was the first time I realized I truly could love a job. I not only loved it for the actual work that I got to do and the people I got to meet, but because Tom and Sue were, and are, two of the most amazing people in my life. When I first went to work there I had quit my job working as a hostess at Bob Evans. At the restaurant I had been told that I was not allowed to visibly wear my cross necklace or any other "faith-related" symbol. I didn't know if this was common in most workplaces so I asked Sue when we had the dress code talk if I needed to keep it hidden. She said, "If you ever hide your faith in here, I don't want you to work here anymore. I have an angel that hangs over our cash register and if somebody doesn't like it then they are welcome to go somewhere else." That was the end of that conversation, but only the beginning of many others about God and church and faith.

Tom and Sue supported everything I was involved in and encouraged me in all my busyness, basically allowing me to make my own schedule with them, working around all the other activities I was involved in. They took a sincere interest in my life and I never once doubted whether or not I could talk to them about anything I was dealing with. I never really had to though because the moment I walked through the studio door I was laughing. They are two of the funniest human beings that have ever walked this earth. They're crass and they're outspoken and gruff and Tom's always got a big pile of tobacco behind his lip, but there is something so endearing about both of them that I've never been able to put my finger on. I could never help but smile when I was with them. The most boring job of the day never failed to be entertaining when I was with them.

I relied on them so much when I lived there and I didn't realize it until I walked through the studio door the other day and just felt safe. Something about that place will always resonate as home with me.

I spent hours in there on Thursday just laughing, talking, catching up on life, making fun of Tom like I always did and helping him set up his own facebook profile. He still calls me by the nickname he gave me 7 years ago, Jenna 5. We talked about what's going on in my life and he asked me to come back and work for him, just like he does every time I'm there. Tom is a Marine, a Vietnam war vet and on Thursday he told me stories about his war experiences, probably more than he had ever shared before. At one point I said, "Tom, how did you survive it?" And he just looked at me and said, "I don't know," then he walked back into his office and walked back out with a little black box that had just a few letters on the outside that said, "Purple Heart." On the inside was a beautiful, worn, unmistakable medal, given for having been wounded in battle. But surviving what the two men standing next to him did not. But like Tom, things never stay serious for too long and he said, "You know one time I just took off running and my captain said, 'Powell, why are you running?' and I said, 'Because I can't fly. Sir.'" We laughed and moved on with the conversation, Sue giving me the little pieces of stories that Tom wasn't willing to share.

I wish I even had the words to write about them to feel like I was doing more justice to who they are, what their personalities are. But I don't. I'm not that talented. If I ever were able to write something that I felt like accurately captured the essence of these two in general and in relation to my life, I'll feel worthy of calling myself a writer.

But until then...


The Garden of the Saints

"The Church is a very human organization but also the garden of God's grace. It is a place where great sanctity keeps blooming. Saints are people who make the living Christ visible to us in a special way. Some saints have given their lives in the service of Christ and his Church; others have spoken and written words that keep nurturing us; some have lived heroically in difficult situations; others have remained hidden in quiet lives of prayer and meditation; some were prophetic voices calling for renewal; others were spiritual strategists setting up large organizations or networks of people; some were healthy and strong; others were quite sick, and often anxious and insecure.

But all of them in their own ways lived in the Church as in a garden where they heard the voice calling them the Beloved and where they found the courage to make Jesus the center of their lives."
~Henri Nouwen

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Me and My Girl...

I have loved this baby since before she was born because I love her parents. SO much. But yesterday, more than any day that I've been here, I realized that I love her just because she's Avery. Because of her personality and her smile and her sweetness and because of the little person that she is and will become. And I think yesterday she realized she might be okay with me too. For most of the week we would play and laugh and be silly, but yesterday, on numerous occasions, she just sat with me. Just sat and leaned up against me and relaxed. She smiled any time I walked by and at one point even "crawled" across the floor to get to me. It was a transition that I didn't even realize was going to be made, but yesterday was different. And so precious. I know that I'll leave and it'll take awhile before I get back and we'll have to go through it all over again, but I'm so thankful that in this short period of time we were able to cross that line. I know that for the rest of her life I'll just be "Crazy Pretend Aunt Jen," but I hope she'll always know how much I love her, not simply because she's Sarah and Erich's baby, but because she's Avery Piland. The one and only.

Birthdays and Babies

Yesterday was oh so much fun! Sarah's friend Lindsay came over so we could celebrate her 30th birthday! Happy Birthday Lindsay! And she brought along her precious little ballerina, Grace. You can imagine my excitement...
Oh hey, there's little poptart...


Oh...look at that face...

Sarah made an AMAZING Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cake. With peanut butter frosting. Ohmygoodness. Oh, and she lost the "3" candle. So...yeah...
Sweet baby Grace

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pretty fly for a white girl





Avery lookin WAY cute in her new suit. I'm not biased about it. I'm just sayin'.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My favorite part so far...

There are few things that make me happier than getting to pretend to be a photographer, and this was probably my favorite part of the week so far...








Monday's Fabulous Moment

It passed us by. I'm not gonna lie. We missed it. As we sat down to eat dinner tonight the phone rang. Sarah picked it up, looked at the caller ID and set it back down. Erich and I looked up and she said, "It's the NRA. " What...MFM right there. Just as I realized that this was my chance, it stopped ringing. The MFM that got away. That being said, Monday had a truly fabulous moment. Erich made dinner. Greek salad. Red pepper hummus and pita bread. Chicken stuffed with spinach, feta and mayo and wrapped in bacon. Oh my...

I don't know if I've ever mentioned this, but most nights I'm lucky if I'm not eating ravioli out of a can.

That truly was a fabulous moment on a sweet Monday night.

Well good morning Sunshine!


I can't resist. I'm in love.

A week of rest...

This week I get to spend a few days resting with and getting loved on by this bunch...
...and it is SO sweet. I'm learning that I am terrible at resting. I love it for a day. And then I feel recharged and ready to get back to life. Ready to be productive. Whatever that means. But this week is going to be different. Because yesterday I was ready to go. But didn't have to. Today I was ready to go. But didn't have to. And while there's a part of me that almost gets anxious, I realize that this is what God calls us to. This is where we get to re-center, re-focus, and come back to Him. And what better way to do it this week than with old friends and a precious little one. I traveled to Toledo, Ohio and have been completely loved and served and feel like I have all the time in the world to do whatever I want. I've been getting homecooked meals, napping in the middle of the day and watching movies. I couldn't feel more blessed to have such loving people to escape to and an amazing home to go back to at the end of the week.

Bath Time!

Avery's first big girl bath...


This kid is a fish...

And the best part...the little raisin foot...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Living in Community

"They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved."

Acts 2 lays out what a "Biblical community" looks like. It's something that I've heard discussed so much, that so many churches strive to facilitate. But for all the talk and all the attempts, when it comes down to it, it takes real people stepping up as a group and sacrificially choosing to live it out, every single day.

In the days leading up to my grandpa's death, I saw people step it up that way. My closest friends were in prayer for me and my family. They encouraged me and empathized with me, realizing that I had never been through this process before and didn't know what to expect or get taken care of. The day I found out he died, I had help making a "to-do" list of everything to get done before I left town in 24 hours, not knowing when I'd be back. I had a co-worker step up and work on her day off for me. I had a friend who made post office and leasing office runs for me and another one who went to the mall with me to find an outfit for the funeral. Plans were put on hold to get me to the airport and my family was waiting and ready to do whatever they needed to once I got there.

My family exhibited qualities of Biblical community that could be a blog post all their own.

Throughout that week I got numerous text messages and emails from my Austin family. I'm not sure an hour went by on the day of the funeral that I didn't hear from a different person. Simply realizing that it was important enough to my friends that they even spread the word to so many people about it was mind-boggling in itself.

Upon returning to Austin, a hard journey, I came back to something even more amazing. The exact amount of money needed to cover the cost of a wildly expensive, last minute, surprise plane ticket home. Money that had been provided by my friends and parents of the girls in my Bible study that quite by God's grace covered the cost almost to the dollar. This is where I got a little lost...

In America we learn to be independent and strong financially. We graciously turn down things that are given to us, thinking that it would be weak or even unfair for someone else to give us what they rightfully earned. My head, influenced by 25 years in this society, told me to somehow figure out how to just give it back, despite not knowing where it all really came from.

But I was convicted. And I was wrong. And I got a serious heart check.

Of the many spiritual gifts God has blessed His people with, one is giving, a gift that not only implies a desire to give to others, but the means to do so as well. If I were to not accept such a gift, I would be hindering the good work God had called others to do. They had responded graciously and obediently and for me to give that back to them would be wrong, put at its most simple. I thought about the hours I've spent with my 7th graders. The time I've been able to give to them, realizing that I don't do it out of obligation to them or God. I do it because it's a gift and a passion God has given me and it's one of the ways I find the most JOY in serving. If any of those parents were ever to look at me and say, "We so appreciate the thought, but we'd really like you to stop spending time with our girls because we want you to keep your time," I would be crushed. Even if it was quite well-intentioned, it would take something from me that brings me tremendous joy. Using our spiritual gifts is one of the most fulfilling and satisfying actions that we have in life. And I seriously considered taking that opportunity from someone else.

To do so would have been...prideful. Arrogant. Stupid.

Acts 2 says that the apostles were selling what they had and sharing it with anyone in need. And what is extremely humbling to admit is that I was in need. No, I don't have $600 stashed away somewhere to pay for emergencies. And while someone could have looked at me and instead thought that it was my own fault and I'd just have to figure it out, they didn't. They just provided for me when I was in need out of what God had blessed them with.

More than ever, I understood community.

There's an amazing part of that passage that somehow is so easy to read over. The very last sentence says that day by day people were being saved. EVERY DAY people were being saved because they saw the response of the disciples' faith, which was so contrary to the tendencies toward selfishness and independence.

I could never be more thankful to be the recipient of such community. And while I may never be given the opportunity to return the favor, I pray that God will give me the opportunity to use my gifts in such an extravagant way for others.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A few scattered thoughts

On September 1st I posted a Monday's Fabulous Moment about my grandma, and commented on how lucky I was that at 25 I still had all four of my grandparents. And just over a month later on October 3rd, that changed. My grandpa passed away at about 6:00 that morning after a perforated ulcer caused infection to spread through his body. He was 78 years old and while I knew in my head that these people won't live forever I realized in the shock of his death that I never actually believed it. He was tough. A Korean War hero. He was strong and courageous. I guess I just never thought a standard infection would be something that could take him, especially not as quickly as it did.

Grandpa died on Saturday and I flew home on Sunday. I walked into my aunt's house and wrapped my arms around my grandma, and through tears she said, "Your grandpa loved you so, so much. He was really proud of you." All those feelings of guilt, the whole why-do-I-live-so-far-away-from-my-family thoughts disappear when brought into that light. Because I know that we're not all called to simply stay put. God moves us around and brings us to the places that will be the most glorifying to Him.

"...and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist..."
~Acts 17: 26-28

And I knew Grandpa was okay with that. I knew every time I talked to him and he'd say, "Hey Jen! How's Austin!?" I knew every time he started one of our phone conversations by asking me how the weather was. He was the kind of grandpa that let us kids ride his four wheeler down dirt roads and too close to ponds without requiring adult supervision. He was the kind of grandpa that taught us how to drive his van out in the field. The kind that I could be at total peace knowing that he genuinely was okay with me going wherever I needed to go in the world. Because of that, I could return home to my family that weekend, welcomed and loved like no time had passed since I was last with them.

The service was beautiful. A military funeral like he deserved. Up until this point, I had never been through the death of a close family member. I would see other people at funerals and visitations and they always seemed so...put together. I never understood it. I had heard of and read about "peace that surpasses all understanding," but until I had the opportunity to stand for 4 hours visiting with family members, talking to the pastor that would be doing grandpa's service, and seeing the box of his ashes sitting on a table surrounded by pictures of him, I had never felt that peace quite so obviously. I told one of my dad's cousins I felt like I had a God shield around me. There was just this calm in my heart, the same calm that I saw in my grandmother. The kind of calm that allowed me to tell the pastor stories and just laugh. The kind that allowed me to look at all the pictures and remember the good things and just smile. The kind of calm that doesn't really allow you to feel the depth of death all at once. It wasn't a fog like I always thought it might be. I was very coherent and remembering everything that happened, every conversation, every laugh.

It's like God just lets you have little pieces at a time though. If it all really sank in at once, we simply wouldn't make it through. But I believe there are times when you have to hand things over to God to carry. And then there are other times when He simply doesn't give you an option. He simply holds onto the heaviness, and brings it to you, piece by piece, as He deems necessary.

The time I had with my family that week was sweet. We went back to the land my grandparents lived on, one of two places that I've been able to call home from childhood to today. I'll soon be down to one place, my other grandparents' home, when that land gets sold. But I looked out at the pond and remembered my grandpa calling the fish in the morning, the fish who knew he was carrying food for them. I went into the woods and found the fort he had helped build for us when we were kids. I sat on the patio outside where he made the best barbecue in the world. I went in the room where I slept one summer and tried not to cry when I got waken up by coyotes howling. I sat at the kitchen table and ate soup with my grandma and we talked about how he made the best homemade french fries, and how he used to pick on me that of everything he cooked so well my favorite thing was french fries.

It really was just a precious time, leaning into my family and being given the opportunity to be leaned on every now and then. As the days have gone by, and I realize that a week ago today I came back to Austin. And a week before that I got the call that he was in the hospital. And the week before that it wasn't even a thought in my mind, I realize how powerless I am. And how powerful our God is. How sovereign. How sweet.

My grandma said it best that weekend: "This was the Lord's will." Thy will be done.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I have a couple little pet peeves...

I'm not a generally annoyed or bothered person. But 2 things got me today:

#1. The bank being closed on Columbus Day. Why. I don't even know what Columbus Day is.

#2. Twitter language. I don't speak it. I don't read it. I don't understand it. I appreciate the twitter social circle on facebook and that I choose not to be part of that circle. That part I'm okay with. But, if your facebook status is seeking help, or needing people to serve, don't write it in Twitter-speak. We don't all speak that language. And I don't want to have a translator just to figure out what you need help with.

:) Other than that, just enjoying a quiet rainy day in Austin, Texas.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Concern and Responsibility, Loads and Burdens

"AS FINITE BEINGS, THERE IS
ONLY SO MUCH WE CAN DO
AND WE MUST DISCERN WHOM GOD
HAS CALLED US TO HELP AND HOW
GOD HAS CALLED US TO HELP THEM."
~Mark Driscoll

Oh how convicting, and freeing, this was today. On any given day I'm at either end of the spectrum, trying and wanting desperately to take something from someone that isn't mine to carry. Or begging someone to take what is mine...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A lovely Saturday in San Antonio...

This past Saturday I headed down to San Antonio. It's only about an hour south of me and I had some special people that I owed visits. :) First on my list was Cristina, a sweet friend who moved back to SA this summer. I've missed her a lot...she's my fellow artistic/performance- minded friend, one whose conversation I cherished while she was here. We had great time of catching up at Panera for lunch. (Ignore my hair in this picture. It's not as short as it looks.)
After my visit with Cristina, I went a few streets over to see this little poptart...
Sweet, tiny, Lillian Michelle. One of the closest little things I may ever have to a niece. She's already being trained to call me Aunt Jen. :)
I'll be real honest...I've never been too much of a baby person. But I'm realizing that may have been because I'd never gotten to experience someone close to me having one. Being given an opportunity to see who this little one is and what she means to friends like Shannon and Keith, well, it's just different than working in a church nursery or babysitting your neighbor. She's the most important thing in the lives of 2 precious friends. And as she laid in my lap for nearly 5 hours, dead to the world, I realized that I might like babies just a little more than I thought.

But I still have my grandfather's genes...especially that one that loves taking photographs of screaming babies...
That mood shift happened in about 15.3 seconds. And I loved every one of them.

As I drove back to Austin that night, window down and radio blaring, I passed a church. A huge church. It was the same church I had interviewed for a job at in March of 2008. My mind immediately went back to that time in my life. I had come home to St. Louis from the mountains, relying on a student ministry internship that fell through pretty much as soon as I crossed the Missouri border.

So I was just there, unemployed and struggling to figure out where God was leading me. When I first got the call that I had been selected as one of the top candidates for a position as the Next Generation Ministries Event Coordinator for this church, I was convinced that was where I was meant to be. I borrowed the money to fly down to San Antonio and spend a weekend there, interviewing and getting to know the students and pastors.

During that weekend, I knew something felt off. But I didn't know what. I prayed a lot, knowing that if I was offered the job, I didn't have the strength to not take it just because it didn't "feel right." I needed a job. And I couldn't afford to keep flying around for interviews. About three days after I returned from San Antonio I got the call that the position had been offered to someone else.

I was crushed, but I didn't know why.I knew it wasn't right. It couldn't be. It didn't feel right. But why?

Was I not meant to be working with students anymore? Was I meant to just stay in St. Louis? But if I was, why wasn't anything working out there? Was I supposed to have stayed at camp and my failure to be obedient to that was causing me to struggle now?

I was a little lost. (And a little crazy). And not really trusting.

And when I think back on the things I just didn't know. Wow. And what I couldn't even begin to fathom was that God had something SO much better waiting for me. At that time, I couldn't have known the people that I would meet in Austin, the friends who would embrace me so sweetly. I couldn't have known the job He was preparing for me. I couldn't have known the desk that was sitting empty, the chair that would become mine. I couldn't have known the church home that had a chair waiting for me every Sunday morning. I couldn't have known the middle schoolers that I would get to lead.

I can't be faulted for not knowing the circumstances to come.

But I know now to always trust. I know now that this move, more than anything in my life has taught me that He always has my best in mind. He knows what's good for me far beyond what I could ever dream and He will lead me right to it.

There was about a month's time in the spring of 2008 when I didn't think I would ever be able to see the outside of that church and smile. Where I would be able to drive past it, carelessly, feeling untouched, unbroken, unbruised.

But Saturday evening, as I drove past I smiled SO big and all I could do was whisper, "Thank you."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday's Fabulous Moment...

Part 3:

Mom: Well I'm really excited that I got to be a part of a Monday blog. That's special. Not like special needs...where you forget to zip your pants...the good special.

Monday's Fabulous Moment...

...just got better.

Of course the first thing I did when noticing my zipper situation was emailed my mom to tell her. We have since been going back and forth on the topic and it's looked like this.

Me: Oh, and I just looked down and noticed my pants were unzipped. Awesome.
Mom: Haha how long do you think that had been going on?
Me: I have no idea. :-P Shouldn't things like that stop happening by the time you're 25?
Mom: Ummm.....no I've seen plenty of old people with that situation.
Me: Right...OLD people do things like that. But isn't there supposed to be some sane season of your life where your mind is still sharp and you don't have acne and you can generally manage to get yourself out into public without doing something embarrassing?
Mom: Yeah, so what's your problem?

And then she just writes to me, "You have 'doing something embarrassing' showing up twice. That's embarrassing."

Mom...I fixed it.

Monday's Fabulous Moment

looking down and noticing that the zipper on your pants is REALLY open...and wondering how long it's been that way.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Short Attention Span Faith

That's the title of a really interesting article in Relevant magazine this month. I'll keep my thoughts on the topic to myself (for the moment). But here's just a bit of it...

"The thing the Church must think long and hard about is whether modern communication technology is making things too painless and too easy. Facebook is making it easier to get news out to vast social networks (like church groups). Twitter allows Christians to more readily keep tabs on their congregation's daily life. Cell phones make it easier to schedule prayer breakfasts and Starbucks devo meetings. But is easier always better? Just because something can be done, should it be?

Take Twitter. Does it really have any compelling purpose? Some have suggested the 140-characters-or-less mandate of Twitter might actually improve the quality of our communication. The logis is thus: The bite-sized requirement forces people to be more concise writers and to learn to use words with a newfound economic precision. When you have so small a space, you can't rely on throwaway words. It elevates our diction, supposedly. It forces us to be better writers and more-to-the-point communicators.

This may be true, but we also have to ask ourselves this: is there anything in life that is simply untweetable? Are some things too big and complicated to reduce to 140 character bursts or installments? Can the Bible and the Gospel be properly communicated in a micro-blogging paradigm? Pastors everywhere are voraciously adopting Twitter and rapidly gaining thousands of 'followers,' but these are questions it's imperative they ask themselves. There's always a danger that the Church-by embracing such things as Twitter-is simply catering to (and propagating) the lowest-common denominator, no-attention-span stew of technological trendiness.

It's important to seek out the sacred in the secular, but it's also equally critical to recognize when the secular is interrupting the sacred in our lives- to dare question the assumption that 'new' and 'cutting edge' always means better. The Christian must at least consider that technologies are not benign-that they may be good for some things or bad for others, but they are not neutral."


Full Article

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lessons in Student Ministry: Part 2

It's okay to rest. On your own. And with your students.

It's so easy to fall into the, "But I'm the leader. I have to be 'on' all the time."

And that's a lie. One whose trap is to believe that our God NEEDS us to do His work rather than graciously inviting us in to experience that joy with Him.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a rough week. I don't even remember why. It was just, hard. I was tired and I was emotional and things just weren't quite going right. On my way over to have lunch with my girls, I got lost in worry and anxiety and frustration and all of that just became a cloud that shadowed any amount of good sense I normally have on my way over to the school. And the time that I normally spend in prayer became a time to figure out how I would fix whatever was going on in my life.

When I walked into the office, none of my mom's were sitting at the desk. No big deal. The secretaries had let me in numerous times. But that day they questioned me. They asked me why I was there. They asked if I had ever been there before. (Yes, every week since February). They looked at me like I had 4 heads. They wondered if they should let me in. And after the power of persuasion helped them to believe that I was only there to eat with the girls, not to lead a Bible study at the lunch table, they printed off my dorky visitor's pass and let me through.

It was nearly a breaking point for me.

I was...confused(not trusting). Angry(selfish). Frustrated beyond belief (self-absorbed). All this time and the secretaries still don't recognize me?

Gold star for Jen's attitude.

And then I realized that I might as well be walking into the cafeteria with fire shooting out of my eyeballs. And no middle school needs one more person walking in with a bad attitude.

But that realization didn't cause me to pick myself up by my boot straps and throw on my happy face. It made me go sit down at the table with my girls and just watch them, and laugh, and listen, and rest. Truth be told, it was all I could do.

My normal behavior is to bounce around, trying to get to know other kids, doing my best to remember names, who plays what sport, which kid has a hedgehog, who is whose twin brother, answering questions about who I am and why I'm there.

That day I was tired though and I just sat down and gave in to it. I sat down long enough that after I had asked one of the girls how her day was going and she had told me, I heard her say, "How's your day going Jen?"

It almost threw me off. Had none of them ever asked me that before? Or had I never heard them? Or never given them the opportunity to ask?

But when I'm honest with them about my day, it gives them the opportunity to love me. To be compassionate toward me. To pray for me.

I remembered a time last year when one of my girls somewhat jokingly said, "Jen, I'm pretty disappointed in you?"

"Oh yeah? Why's that?"

"Well you always go hang out with other people during lunch. You never just hang out with us anymore."

I was quick to explain why it's important for me to get to know some of the other kids. Why it's important for all of us to get to know the people around us and how in order to spread the gospel, you've gotta be willing to get out of your comfort zone.

Right answer on paper. Maybe not the right answer in practice.

I don't know to be honest. But maybe laughing and saying, "You never just hang out with us anymore," actually means, "We need you too. We still have a lot to learn."

These girls know how to "do." I don't need to show them how to do. They do volleyball practice at 7:00 every morning. They do dance 5 nights a week. They do church twice a day on Sundays. They do band concerts and birthday parties and sleepovers and chores and homework and projects.

Maybe it's more important that I show them how to rest in God. Rest in His graciousness, His truth, His mercy and His love. And what that might look like is what used to be intentionally pursuing relationships with many different students, sometimes intentionally pursuing rest with the ones I already know.

To simply rest in Him, with them.

A more substantial post to come later...

But until then, my boss just yells from her office, "Gurl! Get in here and come look at yo people."

I got people, but these are not them...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lessons in Student Ministry Part 1

Hold loosely. They're His.

If only this weren't a recurring theme of my entire life...but my inability to operate this way on my own makes itself abundantly clear when it comes to student ministry.

At the beginning of this year, around February, I started going to have lunch with my 6th grade girls at their school, once a week. When I had the idea, I was told that it could be pretty difficult to get in there if they knew I was a Bible study leader. But I wasn't going to lie about why I was there and I knew if God wanted me to be there, He'd make it happen. I walked in the first day, told them who I was, why I was there and they handed me a visitors pass and never asked any questions. In the weeks that would come after that, there was almost always a mom of one of my girls at the desk. God made a way for me every single time.

Early on in my time there I noticed a little tiny girl sitting by herself. I asked my girls who she was and they said her name was Skylar, that she got picked on a lot and that she wasn't very friendly to anyone...of course, none of us would be if we got picked on a lot and sat by ourselves in a middle school lunch room every day. One day I went to introduce myself to her and one of my girls, Claudia, decided to come with me. Skylar was a little scrappy, as many middle schoolers are, hair hanging in her face and baggy clothes, but when she looked up at me, she had the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen on a kid, hidden by plain round-framed glasses.

I told her who I was and that Claudia and I just wanted to see how her day was going. She smiled this amazing, big, sparkly smile. As the weeks went on, Claudia and I would continue to go talk to her. She became more open, always only answering my questions, but with longer, more detailed answers. She would smile when I headed over, although I don't think she ever knew my name or really understood why I was there. But she never once gave me any indication that she wanted me to leave. My girls began to embrace her. Never to the point of recklessness. Never in a way that would compromise their social comfort zones. But in sweet little ways. At Bible study they would tell me if Skylar had a bad or good day. They would tell me about the kids who picked on her and we would laugh about how we were going to beat them up. (Yeah, I'm not the greatest leader in the world. But my girls will learn how to fight for justice. :-P) They just began to notice her. They would tell me if she wasn't at lunch one day and they usually knew where she was. And little by little they would care for her. When we found out it was Skylar's birthday I went and got a piece of cake and a card. All the girls signed it and they all wanted to take it to her.

When we handed her the card the first thing out of her mouth was, "Oh, that's not how you spell my name." I could tell it hurt my girls. They looked at me confused, not understanding why that would be her first thought, but they stayed long enough to see how big she smiled, to see how she read everything that every girl wrote, every signature that covered the inside of the card. But then when things got awkward, when they had said their "happy birthdays" and didn't know how to continue to interact, they took off, back to their normal seats. I was proud of them that day for the steps that they took and I talked to them about the need to continue loving people. How we can't just throw a gift at them and walk away. The girls were in the middle of a great learning process and the difference in Skylar was increasingly apparent.

As summer got closer I asked her what she was going to do during the break. I was broken-hearted to find out that her only plans were to play video games, all summer long, by herself. I asked her if she would be interested in coming to our Bible Study and she very excitedly said she would. She wrote down her phone number for me and I promised I would get in touch with her.

When our summer session kicked off I called her house. No one answered and no answering machine. It was the only number I had. And it did me no good. I never did get in touch with her this summer.

Today I was ecstatic to head back into that cafeteria for the beginning of my kids'
7th grade year. I walked into the office anxious, hoping that God had already paved the way for me to be allowed to continue to have a presence in that school. Sitting at the desk were two moms of two of my girls. I whispered up a quick thank you and as I pulled the backing off my dorky visitor pass, one of the moms said, "You know, they're a lot louder and a lot crazier in there this year." I smiled and said, "Perfect." She shook her head and said, "You're a saint," and walked away. If only I could ever explain how much fun this is for me and that it's not nearly the suffering people assume it is. :)

I headed into the lunch room and looked around. All my little guys had grown about a foot. A bunch of the girls were wearing eyeliner. My group had switched tables. And yes, it was louder and it was crazier. My girls didn't know I was planning on being there and it was fun to surprise them.

I asked Claudia where our friend was. She just looked down and said, "She hasn't been back to school. She transferred." All the other girls chimed in and said, "Yeah, Skylar doesn't go here anymore." Claudia said, "She would have been in my homeroom this year if she was here."

I didn't know how to respond in front of the girls. It quickly became so bittersweet to be there. I had a wonderful time and I can't wait to go next week, but I couldn't help but wonder why.

Why, when we had spent an entire semester pouring into this kid. Why when my girls were learning so much, but still had so much left to learn. Why when I know I could have gotten Skylar to Bible Study, somehow. Why when I wanted her to know someone had looked forward to seeing her again all summer long. Why when I wanted her to know that someone loves her. Why when my girls went back to school looking for her. Why when she would have been in Claudia's homeroom.

I don't understand. I can't help but wonder if the people He puts in her life will listen to Him. If they'll be paying attention when she crosses their path. If she's got a much longer, harder road ahead.

I don't know. But I know I have to trust Him with her. She is His child as much as anyone else is and I am not going to be able to do more for her than He is. My girls cannot do for her more than He is.

So I will continue to pray...