Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Blog

This is my obligatory Christmas blog. One who fancies herself (or himself) a blogger, must post about Christmas, New Years, Easter and Fourth of July, right? Well, maybe that's not in the bylaws, but I feel like I'm cheating somehow if I don't mention our Christmas season.

First, I have finally come to love Christmas. After 5 years of hating it, 3 of tolerating it and 5 more of trying to reconcile the materialism of the season with the beauty of its meaning. I have finally given in and loved it again. It helps that I have 3 precious boys that absolutely love Jesus and toys. I was struck by the irony that we preach "Christmas is not about getting but about giving" when the true meaning of Christmas is our "getting" in a way we could never "give". The joy of my boys opening their presents and loving what they got with unadulterated abandon is EXACTLY how we are supposed to feel on Christmas. That is the small and shallow reflection of what it means to "open up" our present of Jesus. We give presents on Christmas to represent the gifts of the magi, and we give presents on Christmas because its Jesus' birthday and we can't gift him, so we gift each other; and we give presents on Christmas because "tis better to give than to receive" and all of that is true, true, true. I tell my kids the same things. But as I watched them open their presents, I realized that it's also because we are teaching them to receive with joy. We are to receive Him with joy and abandon and foolish delight the way my kids received their remote control helicopter and race car and their matching walkie-talkies. We are to delightedly discover Jesus everyday the way they revel in their new pajamas and didn't take them off for 48 hours. We are to receive him "like a child". I saw that Christmas morning. Dear Jesus, I want to delight in the gift of you as my children delight in the gifts I give them!

But I'll get out from behind the pulpit. That's Jonathan's job...

Secondly, we were surrounded by family. Jonathan's brother and dad flew in to see us (well his dad came just to see us, his brother has a g-friend in Dallas that he came to see and tagged us on too). But for seeing their Colorado relatives only once a year, my kids are smitten. They absolutely love their Papa, and Uncle Michael is THE BEST!! I laughed so hard when I caught Gideon and Michael holed up in the new pop-up tent Michael got them, watching videos on Michael's new camera. Michael was practically folded in half to be in there, but he wanted to hang with Gideon (and who doesn't?) so he crawled in with him. Michael also brought Roman Centurion costumes from his "pilgrimmage" to Rome which the boys adored! They are really cute, but my favorite is Judah dressed up in his breastplate, helmet, shield, sword and night-vision goggles we got him. Yep, you read that right. Some night-vision specs completed the roman warrior outfit. My dad asked him if he was entirely sure that ensemble all went together. I assured my father that that was the secret weapon that allowed Rome to conquer the known world: night-vision. The Gauls couldn't compete with that!

Thirdly, and maybe most important (okay, running a close second to Jesus' birthday) is that Jonathan has been off work for 9 days!! He had vacation built up that he had to use or lose by Jan 1, so we chose to use it and get 9 consecutive days home. I cannot tell you what a blessing having him home regularly has been. It's like I can breathe again. And when he didn't have to leave on day three, I actually took a breath and relaxed. I love that he likes his job, but I hate his schedule. We miss him so much!

And finally, my presents: Mark Twain Autobiography, Vol 1 and a new ESV Bible!!! I was so happy! I knew I was getting the Bible. I had gotten Jonathan one a year and half ago, and after a lifetime of being a dedicated NASB reader, I was sold on switching. But, we had no money, so I just prayed and asked God for an ESV. I know that sounds odd, but hear me out: He gave me one! Right after Jonathan started work at the Ranch, they cleaned out the "lost and found" from kids who had moved out and left stuff and there was an compact ESV that had the exact same embossing on it as Jonathan's. It was like a mini-me of Jonathan's Bible. He brought it home and I was shocked that God had really given me an ESV for free like I asked. I know I shouldn't be shocked at God any more, but I continually am! He's just so faithful and funny.

So, I love my compact ESV, but "compact" is Greek for "nearly illegible the print is so small". I've been struggling to read it, literally. Not in a "have a hard time with the discipline of Bible study" but like "I can't make out the words"! So, Jonathan wanted to get me a legible one for Christmas. It's gorgeous! However, in my weird mind, it's still odd that when the Word became flesh, "He had no stately form or majesty that we would be attracted to Him," but when the word comes out in print, we dress it in calfskin leather and emboss it with Celtic crosses or roses to make it beautiful and feel special. Don't get me wrong, I love my Bible and I fully intend on reading it and carrying it with me and not ripping the cover off and making a duct-tape cover to feel more holy. Just my odd brain at work.

As to Mark Twain, well, ever since I heard the embargo was up in November 2010, I've been panting after that book! I'm so excited. I'm behind on my book club book, so I have to refrain from diving in too much yet, but it's beckoning me from the bookshelf, just begging me to dive right in!

There, that was Christmas. I have so much more to talk about, but really, I have to be realistic about how much you, dear reader, can handle in one post.

PS. I must mention that there was a bit of nostalgia at the thought of our last Christmas in this house. Christmas 2011 will find us in a much snowier location and we shall see what adventures await us there. Thank you God, for the gift of 2010, the joy, the sorrow, the refining, growing, encouraging and rebuking You have done this year. And thank you, Father, that as it draws to a close, You were Lord of it all and will be Lord of 2011.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

So long, farewall, adeiu, aufedersein

On Wednesdays I attend a Bible study at the Episcopal church near my house. I have to admit, I started going out of desperation when we resigned from our previous church and it became incredibly awkward to continue attending the women's Bible study and MOPS group there. I wanted a group of women to be plugged in with. I think that's the only reason I went. Studying the Bible seemed secondary to me. Not because I didn't need to study the Bible, but because I just assumed I'd get plenty of that from other sources. What I wanted was female fellowship. And I figured it would be a nice group of women.

However, as He usually does, God totally schooled me and in the process humbled me. The group of women in this Bible study have proven voracious both in their hunger for the Word and in their dedication to each other. I have been awed and inspired by how these women love and support one another. I have watched in amazement as they love on newborns and weep at the loss of a child. They pray without ceasing and cook dinners. They go to 537 birthday parties during the summer and get their tax dollars out of the splash pads. They wipes noses, wipe bottoms, wipe tables and wipe eyes. We have laughed, cried, gotten angry, gotten silly, gotten real. We come from a wide range of backgrounds and denominations. We don't always agree, but we let love rule the day. These women have challenged me, grown me, taught me, encouraged me, rebuked me and always loved me. I cannot describe how special these women are to me.
It has been one of the biggest blessings of my life. And Bible study was NEVER secondary. Some weeks it was the only real Gospel I got. We are Bereans!

This last Wednesday, we had to say goodbye to one of our dear Bible study friends. She is not going HOME in the big sense, but we prayed too well, and her husband got a good job in another city. They are moving right after Christmas. Where God is taking them is such a blessing. I'm just amazed at His faithfulness and tenderness to His children. He is taking them back to where they were before, only they are not the same people. He has grown them. They will be 1 block from their favorite library, one mile from their favorite park. They will get to go to their old church with their pastor they love. And while they were anxious about finding work for awhile, God had this job prepared for them all along and in His timing. They have a beautiful house ready and it is so obviously God's orchestration. So I rejoice with my dear friend.

But I also mourn for myself and my family. We will miss them. Terribly. Her 2 girls are my boys' friends. And she is my friend. And we will miss them. When I told my oldest that they were moving, he just wept. Truly heart broken. And I cried as our Bible study said goodbye yesterday.

But I mourn for the idea that it is only the first of many goodbyes that will come over the next few months.

I'm excited to move. I'm excited to follow God on this journey. That has not always been true. I have been mad--furious! I have been sad. I have had heart rebellion and heart idols. I still have reluctance and struggles. But for the most part, I'm looking forward to this adventure.

But I'm not looking forward to goodbyes.

And I'm not looking forward to my children saying goodbye.

I have such a deeper understanding of that simple verse, "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country;" That's really powerful to me "even though he did not know where he was going". I have never set foot in Madison. I have never lived outside of Colorado and Texas and away from family. My boys remember no home except Temple.

As I think of that, I realize: What we are doing is crazy! We have a support system here, friends, family, babysitters. We know where the best priced gas is and where to get a good hamburger. For crying out loud, they finally opened a good liquor store in Temple and we're moving!

But we are willing to be crazy if Jesus is with us. We will be fools for Him. And ultimately He is our home.

Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go,
Anywhere He leads me in this world below;
Anywhere without Him dearest joys would fade;
Anywhere with Jesus I am not afraid.

Anywhere, anywhere! Fear I cannot know;
Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go.

Anywhere with Jesus I am not alone;
Other friends may fail me, He is still my own;
Though His hand may lead me over drearest ways,
Anywhere with Jesus is a house of praise.

Anywhere, anywhere! Fear I cannot know;
Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go.

Anywhere with Jesus, over land and sea,
Telling souls in darkness of salvation free;
Ready as He summons me to go or stay,
Anywhere with Jesus when He points the way.

Anywhere, anywhere! Fear I cannot know;
Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go.

Anywhere with Jesus I can go to sleep,
When the darkening shadows round about me creep,
Knowing I shall waken nevermore to roam;
Anywhere with Jesus will be home, sweet home.

The goodbyes are worth it for Him.

And the goodbyes are not the end...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Into the Dark

As a youth minister, I was way more on top of modern culture than I am now...and that's not saying much! Ha! I'm not what you'd call "culture savvy" sometimes. However, there was/is a particular movement among youth culture that I absolutely could not handle: Emo. Ugh! It drove me insane. "To be great is to be misunderstood" Congratulations! You have achieved Nirvana! I do not understand you at all. But make you great...we may disagree on that conclusion.

As a youth minister I was constantly encouraging the teens to think through the consequences of that illogical goal. What was the ultimate end of attempting to make sure people don't understand you? But I digress. I don't need to get on my soap box about illogical, emotion based youth movements. Chances are, if you read this, I'm preaching to the choir anyway.

Of the many throw-away creations from that movement, there was one song that stuck out: I Will Follow You Into the Dark. It is a terrible song! If you listen to the lyrics you realize this artist is totally rejecting Judeo-Christian beliefs of the afterlife, presumably based on a bad grade-school experience and his inability to conform to the idea of fearing God as the beginning of true love. So, instead, he offers his significant other a third option instead of heaven or hell. Whenever she dies, he will also (kill himself?) and they will just hold each other in the nothingness forever.

If you know me, you must be wondering why in the world I listened to this song enough to even know what it's about. Because besides being a terrible song, it is a beautiful song. It has one of the most haunting melodies I've ever heard. The melancholy longing and the passionate "give it all up for you" love spoken in the lyrics is unmistakable.

After I heard this song, I spent months trying to put other lyrics to it. In the true spirit of Christian music, I tried to replace the words with Amazing Grace, and found if I used "The Steadfast Love of the Lord" as the chorus, it worked out perfectly! Ha!

Ironically, that's not what has been most applicable to me lately. When Jonathan first came to me with the notion of church planting, I rejected it immediately. There was no way I was walking away from my dream job. I had worked too hard and prayed too long to be a youth minister to give it up and chase some crazy idea of planting the Gospel elsewhere. I wanted to plant the Gospel in my teens. I wanted to teach awesome Sunday night devotionals, have true, heartfelt worship with new songs, play stupid games and go to camp. That might sound like a Japanese torture chamber to some of you, but that's the life I love and I wasn't going to give it up.

But God had other plans. Slowly and painfully, he began prying my fingers off of my life. He was gentle but insistent. He claimed that I had given Him my heart and my "yes" years ago, and now He was calling in His marker. I remember nights of weeping and wailing (yes, quite literally) at Jonathan for this transgression of "bait and switch" he had pulled on me. I had married a youth minister and now he was going to be a pastor! I was going to have to give up my hip faded jeans and American Eagle waffle shirts and wear flowery dresses and white pumps and sit on the front row! That's what a pastor's wife did! Ugh! I didn't even know how to play piano!

But as God began thawing my heart (and sometimes with a blow torch), I began falling in love with not only Him again, but with His vision for reaching lost people. I had no idea how to plant a church, how to be a pastor's wife, how to support my husband and raise our 3 kids, how to raise support or even how to ask for help. But I did know Him, and He who called is faithful!

I remember the night I looked at Jonathan, nodded in assent and said, "Ok. I will follow you into dark" I didn't mean it emo. I wasn't going to slit my wrists. But I was going to surrender to God, submit to my husband and hand-in-hand we were going to walk off the cliff trusting God to make the tight-rope appear that He had called us walk on.

I find myself saying that a lot to God these days. "I'm following You in the dark right now, Lord" I'm not sure how we're going to sell this house, find money to move, leave our friends and family and strike out into the wild blue yonder, but I know we won't be doing it Alone. I know we're following the One who called us on this journey and is leading out ahead of us.

We're still following Him in the dark, and Jesus' love hasn't failed us yet.
"Thus far as the Lord been faithful--Ebenezer"