Monday, October 31, 2005

Enjoying yet another must for women of the world--My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding. Jessica is over for the evening to enjoy dinner and a movie. A nice refresher after a busy weekend.

No Halloween activities tonight. I took in the festivities Saturday night at the Galyon's costume party. Lot's of fun complete with pumpkin carving and from what I hear a very exciting fire display. (I missed it because I left early, but I heard that they really set the party on fire!)

Sunday was TLC (Together with Love in Christ) an event where many of the churches in the Portland/Vancouver area get together at the Oregon Convention Center for Sunday morning services. Crazy activities, but all in all a good time.

But the thing most important to share with you is a prayer request for one of our youth kids. Dante, 15, went in to the hospital at the end of last week--gall bladder problems. However, they also discovered that his lymph nodes are swollen. They suspect that he might have lymphoma. We'll know for sure after the biopsy. Dante is an incredibly smart guy with a good family, but for a while now he has been hanging out with the wrong crowd. Please pray for Dante and his family. Pray especially for mom Beverly. She loves her kids a lot and wants the best for them.

Thanks for your prayers!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Learning to Love the Hard Way

In the last day or so, I have been thinking a lot about the people in my life that are "hard to love." (I hope you are not sitting there thinking, "Oh, that's me. I'm hard for her to love me." If you are, then please talk to me!) Each of these people that I struggle to love, I struggle to love for a different reason--some I feel that I have been crossed by, some grate on my nerves, some I simply don't understand. I wish that it was easy for me to love these people. I wish that they had never hurt me or that they didn't do the things they do that drive me crazy. I wish I could look at them and first see someone created by our God and someone who Jesus died to save--someone as torn and broken and ugly as I am, someone that ultimate grace and ultimate love is freely offered to. But I confess that I first see the irritating things that make me sometimes annoyed at their vary existence.

What irritates me even more is that as much as I am annoyed and frustrated by these people, Jesus loves them a hundred times more. I can't comprehend how He could possibly love someone that irks me so much. But He loves them all the same and He died for them as much as He died for me.

So what do you do with that? How do I begin to love them like God loves them? How do I let go and learn to love them--yes, even though they are hard to love and sometimes, it seems, impossible to love?

I guess the truth is that if love truly is a verb and verbs are actions that require thought and choice to make that action, then love must be a choice as well as a verb. That must mean that I--who have control of my actions, who can choose to be reactive or proactive towards people--can choose to love them. I can choose to let go of the things that vex me. I can choose to not let the injuries that they may cause, change who I am or how I see them--as a child of God. I guess that's what Jesus did when He prayed, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

So maybe as I choose to become more Christ-like, as I choose to allow the Spirit to work on me, as I choose to learn and grow, then I learn how to choose to love them despite it all. Maybe as I work on me, then they become easier to love simply because I am becoming one with Christ. I can't change them, I can only change me and how I respond to them and how I see them.

Father, give me the courage to change who I am. Give me the courage to be like-minded with Christ. Give me the courage to learn how to love those who it is hard for me to love. Teach me how easy it is to love them because I am growing and walking with You. Father, grow me that I might love them. Father, forgive me for not loving them. Forgive me for my lack of willingness to learn to love them. Forgive me for my selfishness. Humble me before You, Lord, I want to love You and I want to love Your people. Amen.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Jim and Mary

Tonight was a different night for our life group (PUMP adult small groups that meet for fellowship and Bible study). Instead of study, we piled into our cars and headed to a nursing home in SE Portland. There we met, sang with, and prayed over Jim Grace.

We have been praying for Jim for a long time. His wife Mary is the best friend of our hostess Shirley Gary. Both are beautiful women who love the Lord so much. He has been very good to them and they both can tell you amazing stories about the grace of God.

Recently Jim and Mary have gone through quite a bit of trauma. Jim suffered a stoke and has been in a nursing home for several weeks. Last week, he was moved to the hospital for surgery--they had to amputate two of his toes. Mary, who is raising her four-year-old grandson, also went into the hospital last week. All of the stress she was under weakened her body and she had caught a bad infection. We then found out that Mary's brother was also in the hospital due to throat cancer. He has since been moved to a nursing home. In addition to all of this, Mary's son is in prison, and her daughter is an alcoholic and struggles with drug addictions. In the midst of all her family, all struggling, Mary is the only believer.

After watching Jim tonight and seeing his tears as we sang to him, I believe that Jesus is standing at the door fervently knocking. He wants Jim as one of His own and has wanted him for a long time. Please be praying for Mary and Jim. Pray for healing for all the hurts in their lives. Pray that Jim would accept Christ and that their children would accept Him. Pray also for their grandson as I am sure he is very confused and afraid at this time. Thanks for your prayers.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Pride and Prejudice

It's a lovely day in Portland! The sun is shining, it's a beautiful 70 degrees. A fine day. I have to say on such a day, a rarity in these parts, that I would normally find an outdoor activity to bring further enjoyment to the day. However, there were already great indoor plans made for this day...

We (Emily, Jessica, Christense, and I) are about two hours into a six hour movie marathon! Six hours--one movie. Pride and Prejudice. This is the A&E mini-series that aired in 1995. Why do we invest such time in this movie? Because we are hopeless romantics and we are women!

My first introduction to P&P came from my college roommate, Rachel. Homework breaks (especially during finals) meant runs to Texaco for 64oz. sodas (the caffeine fix being necessary) and M&M's (peanut for me), popping in tape 4 or 5 (we had the VHS version then) for the two best episodes of the mini-series, and pining away after Mr. Darcy aka Colin Firth.

Now we are giving Jessica her first introduction to P&P--the appropriate christening of a college freshman. The tradition and the obsession continues...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Seeking Truth in the Relationship

Since chatting with Ike last week (goodness, was it just last week!), I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be in relationship with God.

Really, let's be honest, can we really be in "relationship" with God in the way that we are in relationship with our mom or our best friend? It's a nice sounding idea. But quite frankly, I expect Meagan, my best friend, to call and check in every once in a while. I expect for her to come visit me and for me to go visit her. I expect to have lengthy conversations with her in which we discuss our lives and in which we bounce ideas off of one another.

But God is a whole different story...God doesn't call me up on the phone or even email. He doesn't come to visit me or I to visit Him, with the exception of a metaphorical sense. And the conversations that we have seem at times to be a trifle one-sided.

Now don't get me wrong here, I'm not trying to limit God's absoluteness or His ability to be in relationship with me. But what I am saying is that it is hard for me to be in relationship with Him because I can't be in relationship with Him on my terms. There are no phone calls or visits here. It's all about the time I spend in the Word or in prayer. Or is it...

As we discussed last week being in relationship with an essentially invisible and inaudible God, Ike came to a new conclusion that maybe the problem is the way we see the problem. Maybe God is not invisible and inaudible, maybe we are blind and deaf. (Read Ike's thoughts here.) Maybe we are all Helen Keller's seeking out our Anne Sullivan--our own teacher to help as communicate with what is outside our blindness and our deafness--seeking to communicate with the infinitely visible and audible God.

In light of that, it is easy for me to understand why sometimes my relationships with people bear a greater weight in my life than my relationship with God. It is easy to understand why sometimes I am more dependent on them than I am on an omniscient God who knows far more about me than I could ever know about Him. In my blindness and deafness, I can see them, touch them, hear them. But I can't always see the ways God expresses Himself to me. I can't always here His gentle whisper or even His roaring thunder. I confess that I am more dependent on some of these relationships with people than I am on my relationship with God. I confess that some of these relationships are on their way to becoming idols in my life. And I confess that I desperately want them torn down before they become that. I also confess that I don't necessarily know how to tear down those soon-to-be idols. I confess that I need God to do the tearing down, and that I need Him to place Himself securely on the throne of my heart. I confess that I need Him to teach me to overcome my blindness and my deafness. I confess that I'm dumb sheep and that I need a shepherd.

Lord, make me incredibly aware of you! Where my eyes fail, enliven me to Your touch. Where my ears fail, awake me to Your aroma. Where every sense fails, teach me to taste and see that You are good. Tear down all idols and would-be idols in my life. Be the shepherd that I need You to be. Lead me on clear paths, teach me to feed on Your Word, and whet my thirst on Your streams of mercy. I love you, Lord, and I'm praying to want nothing more than You everyday that You give me.

Carpet Fiasco!

Since living in Portland, I have taken residence in two different apartments. Both of these apartments shared the same fatal flaw--hideously ugly, odorous, brown carpet. My first apartment, which I shared with then roomie Cheronn, had nasty shag that would come up between your toes and exposed carpet tacks. The thing literally needed to be mowed! We initially, believing that if it was cleaned the smell would go away, decided to keep the carpet in order to have lower rent. But then it became a hazard--tripping on the carpet seams that were coming apart, smelling noxious fumes, and fearing that some sweet child coming to visit would be impaled by a carpet tack or would decide to eat carpet fibers freshly plucked! So we asked our landlord to replace it and started paying higher rent every month--it was worth it!

Having learned my lesson in the first apartment, as soon as I saw, and smelled, the carpet in my new apartment, I asked about getting it replaced. Of course my landlord, being the thrifty man that he is, decided the carpet would be fine if it was cleaned and deoderized. (Have I mentioned that the smell literally could have knocked you out with one whiff?) So the carpet was cleaned, oh well, at least it wasn't shag...

But as the weeks passed, I slowly began to notice a familiar pungent aroma, subtle at first but growing ever stronger. I knew that I could not survive living in the full force of the aroma, so I kindly asked my landlord, again, about replacing the apartment. This time he agreed. Obviously it was the pad that smelled so bad--imagine urine and a musty gym bag. So last weekend the new carpet came...

Well, it came in spurts. Initially, it was supposed to be replaced on Friday. But the carpet layers were in a car accident and we had to reschedule for Saturday. Inconvenient, yes, but not too horrible. It was slightly inconvenient that everything I owned--books, knick-knacks, electronics, small furniture, etc.--was crammed into the kitchen leaving just enough room to crack open the refrigerator! But I managed for one night.

Saturday rolled around, and I looked forward to lovely new carpet that would take 3 hours to install. They were supposed to be there by 11am. But the clock ticked on. Around 1:30pm one guy finally showed to take a look at the house and see the magnitude of the job (not a huge job as my apartment is not huge). Then he left for another hour to go get his buddy so that they could get started. The old carpet did not actually start coming out until around 3pm. At 6:30pm Emily and I left to go get dinner (yum, Chili's). I assume the carpet guys left around 7pm, but who knows. When we arrived home after dinner, my apartment was in complete disarray! All of the closet doors were shoved into the bathroom. My furniture was piled up against the wall. Carpet tacks, carpet excrement, tools, and trash everywhere! Those of you who know me well can only imagine the stress that this caused me!

They were supposed to be back at 7am Sunday morning to finish the job. 7am, I rolled off the couch were Emily graciously let me sleep and went to open the apartment for them. I then went back to shower and dress for church--being that I could not enter my bathroom, I had to borrow Emily's toiletries with the exception of a toothbrush (I luckily had an extra one in the linen closet)! 8am came, I left to pick-up kids in the church van. 9am came, still on the van. 10am came, I went to teach class. 11am came, and they finally showed! By 5pm they were finally done, packed up all their stuff--leaving empty coffee cups, water bottles, and carpet tacks embedded in various sections of the carpet for me to later step on--and were gone!

All and all, a harrowing experience, but the lovely smell and feel of my new carpet makes it all worth it!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Over-Used Words

The word "community" is an over-used word. I can't tell you how many times I have heard it and said it in the last week. And honestly, I think that I have lost all understanding for what the word truly means. Or worse yet, did I ever really know what it means?

com·mu·ni·ty Sharing, participation, and fellowship.

At least that's one definition (for the full definition, click here).

"Sharing, participation, and fellowship." Sharing in life, participating in life, fellowshipping in life. I can't help but think that we do few of those well. We seem to be very good at putting up the pretense of "community," but how much of that is true in your life grit? How much do our online communities, political communities, lifestyle communities, neighborhood communities, and church communities really mean that I am in your life--I know your stories, you know my stories, we weep together, we laugh together, we provide meaningful relationship for one another that doesn't allow for us to be lonely in a world full of easy-to-find, easy-accessess, one-step community trials?

Being as my thoughts are not fully wrapped around this subject yet, it might be best to lead you to an article that presents the subject much better than I can. Mike Cope recently wrote an article for Christian Standard on the subject that you can read here.

Mostly, I guess what I am saying is that I personally want to be better about community and building community.

Lord, help me to be a person that knows people. That I know what makes them laugh and what makes them cry. That I share what makes me laugh and what makes me cry. That I know their stories--the stories that make them who they are. And that they know my stories. Father, teach me the meaning of community and show me how to share, participate, and fellowship within community. Amen.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Here's some good thought provoking suff. Take a little time out and read it here...

Monday, October 10, 2005

The South vs. The Northwest

So, my last few entries have been rather intense and thought provoking so this is something on the lighter side.

After Kristi's recent trip to Nashville, she posted some random observations that she made of the "South." As she stereotypically compartmentalized my homeland into the ostentatious box of Nashville, TN--let's face it, Nashville is the flashiest Southern city ever--Emily and I felt the need to share our thoughts on the Northwest. Check out Kristi's thoughts and our comments here.

Disclaimer: Please note that this is all in good fun! We just needed to be proud Texans for a minute!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Paradigm Shift...

Have you ever realized in the midst of a conversation that you are taking part in something that will forever change your life--a character-shaping conversation that is asking you to shift your paradigm to see the world in a new light, a conversation in which you know you will never be able to look at the world in the same way as you did that morning? Have you ever been in a conversation that strips you of an old paradigm and asks you to move forward in a new paradigm, a conversation that makes you question whether or not you have the character to move forward in that paradigm?

I had that conversation today...

Emily and I have been studying together out of a book called Restoring At-Risk Communities by John Perkins. Perkins is a man who has been instrumental in pulling together CCDA and has done ground-breaking work in the area of race reconciliation. If you haven't ever read anything that he has written, do.

This last week we studied through the chapter in the book that is specifically focused on race reconciliation and ended (or began, depending on how you look at it) the study today with a several hour conversation with Steve Maxwell, a good friend and a minister at PUMP.

Steve and his wife Alasha are some of my closest friends. I was there when their son Jonah was born, they frequently refer to me as their "other child", and I spend a lot of my life at their home and visa versa. Oh, by the way, Steve and Alasha are black. Normally, this point doesn't matter, but today it does. Normally when I think of Steve and Alasha, I think of them as my friends and my family, as people who are an intrical part of my daily life. But as I read, I discovered something that is relevant to the material that I was studying: Steve and Alasha are black. Jonah, one of the cutest babies in the whole wide world, is black. And whether I like it or not, Satan has found a way to separate and divide us through the color of our skin. And he's found ways to make us, all of us, think that we aren't racist and that we don't have racial problems anymore. But the truth is, I am a racist. I am a racist because I am addicted to myself--my own culture, my own values, my own comfort zones. I am addicted to the things that make me feel safe, and it doesn't feel safe a lot of the time to know people as people and not hues.

So why can I, a racist, be friends with Steve and Alasha? Because of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus told me to "love my neighbor," and he said that commandment is like the first--"to love God with your heart, soul, mind and strength"--he said that everything hangs on those two commandments. I can be in relationship with them because I have related the Gospel in who I am and have related my story to them. Because they have related the Gospel in who they are and have related their stories to me.

The truth is that the Gospel story, and only that story, can heal the rift between the races--black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Arab, Jew, Samaritan. The only thing that can heal the rift is us, who have the Gospel story written on us, taking the step to build relationship with our neighbor even when he is beaten and bloody and on the side of the road. Us giving up our self-addiction and learning to love our neighbor, and us recognizing that our neighbor is not only those who look just like us and live next door to us.

So why has this conversation so altered my paradigm? Because I know that everyday is an opportunity for me to relate, to form relationship. Everyday is an opportunity to share the gospel story and give up my self-addiction. Everyday is an opportunity for me to make a difference and reclaim the beauty Satan has destroyed, reclaim it for the glory of God. Because I now know that I can help people to see their neighbor. Because I can now encourage everyone I know to give up their self-addiction.

Lord, this is deeper than I ever knew. It is more painful than I was willing to believe. But don't let me see the world through out-dated paradigms that keep me caught in self-addiction. Father, I want to love people. I want to love my neighbor. Teach me to relate the Gospel and to relate my story. Teach me to build relationship that goes deeper than any of the comfort zones and false gods that I set up. Father, make me humble before men that they may see my good deeds and praise You, my Father in Heaven.