Monday, November 30, 2009

John 15:13

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

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 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 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...