Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Movin' On Out!

The blog is moving! 

Please come join the conversation at the new site!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why I am a 26-Year-Old Toddler

BJ and Ian earlier this summer
Over the last 18 months, there have been clear moments when God opened my eyes to see His love for us through my love for our son.  This morning was one of those moments.

I had just sat down with my cup of coffee and a book, hoping to get in a few pages in between stopping to take something dangerous out of Ian’s hands or reading the books he kept bringing to me.  He kept running from his room back into our room, bringing new toys with each trip.  In one quick motion, he ran straight into the corner of my desk.  As his face turned red and he took a deep breath to let out a big cry, I jumped to my feet and came over to pick him up and console him

He put his head on my shoulder, wrapped his arms around my neck and cried hard for 30 seconds.  Then he paused, rested his head on my chest and after another 30 seconds wiggled down to continue playing. 

In that first 30 seconds, I saw myself as the toddler crying and God as the parent holding me.  I imagined the times I've wept because of how deeply something hurt me and while the pain wasn’t immediately taken away, He wanted to hold me while it passed.  

If you really want to see Ian get upset, tell him he can’t do something.  Every bright color of an independent toddler will come spilling out.  One of my closest friends described an experience she had babysitting earlier this year.  It was time for bed and she told the little boy she was watching that he needed to put away his toys and come upstairs.  He burst into tears and much to her surprise, she was filled with a compassion that can only come from God.  She got down on her knees, wrapped her arms around him and said something along the lines of “I know, it’s very disappointing and I’m sorry.”  Before the words even left her mouth it was as if she could hear the Father say, "this is how I feel when I see you hurting".  It was still time to go to bed and he didn’t get to keep playing, but she held him while he cried and carried him upstairs.  

I am the toddler.  When I experience deep pain, or when things don’t turn out the way I wanted them to, my Father doesn’t tell me to “brush it off”.  He doesn’t scold me for being disappointed.  He wants to hold me and love me until I am peaceful again, ready to wiggle down and continue with what I was doing.  

But the difficult question I have to ask myself is – how often do I let Him console me?  How often do I run to everything else for comfort, but ignore His open arms?

It’s easy to come to God when we want something, but it is much harder to come back when we didn’t get it.  And even harder to bring our pain and disappointment to Him, letting Him love us and comfort us.

Parents want to care for their children, but children (especially grown children) don’t always let them.  This year represents huge change and transition for our little family.  Already we have been showered with unexpected blessings and felt the sting of opportunities not working out.  I hope that I can remember Ian crying in my arms the next time I’m tempted to run to something else rather than my Father.  Even though I may not get what I wanted, and even though the pain of the moment may just need time to pass, the peace I will find in His arms will surpass any superficial comfort I could cling to somewhere else.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Justice Like a River

Did you know that...
...there are 27 million people in slavery right now - that is more people in slavery today than during the entire trans-atlantic slave trade
...human trafficking is an industry that brings in over 32 billion dollars each year
...925 million people will go to sleep hungry tonight
...nearly 2 million children are sold in the commercial sex industry

Injustice fills the world with darkness and pain...and when we overlook those who are suffering, what a grave injustice that is.

BJ and I have spent the last 2 years living with my parents so that we can finish school.  We have shared a car for 4 years.  We have significant school and medical debt.  We rarely go out to dinner or go see movies.  We can't take a vacation and it seems like every time we start to get ahead, we have a new expense to deal with.  And yet, we have more than most of the rest of the world.  As I type this, BJ is giving Ian a bath.  The water is clean and warm.  In a little bit, I will sing to Ian and place him in his crib, which is safe, soft and in a private room with AC, a fan and a night light.  BJ and I will put away the large array of clothes strewn across our room and then sit down to read.  Later tonight, we will go to the refrigerator to fill up our glasses with clean, safe ice water.  We'll finish the night by crawling into our queen size bed...nestled comfortably under clean sheets and a warm comforter.  Our stomachs will be full.  The AC will be running and we will have two fans blowing on the bed to keep us comfortable.  We'll close our eyes and sleep peacefully, locked up in our safe home...without any reason to fear danger coming in the night.

My mind now wanders to the mother who will not have that experience tonight.  She watched her babies cry from hunger and listened to her littles one cough, knowing should couldn't do anything about it.  Her children are thirsty because the water they have access to isn't safe to drink.  She prays for them and lays on a floor with them pulled under her arm, because she knows there are violent people who could come and take them under the cover of night.  Maybe she is a mother who is crying tonight because tomorrow she will have to watch her children continue to live in slavery, or her daughters were sold into prostitution and she will never see them again.  There is no government funded school loan for her and her children.  There isn't a lock to keep out dangerous men.  She cannot ring the pediatrician-on-call when her baby gets sick in the middle of the night. And when she finds herself the victim of abuse, the police won't come to help her.  I think of her, and the millions like her, and I feel sick in the core of my body.

By the standards of many of our peers, BJ and I live on very "little".  But in reality, we live in incredible abundance.  We are the 1%.  So much of the rest of the world is suffering, and yet it is so easy for us to feel burdened because we have to deal with debt from the college education we received - something much of the world will never have the opportunity to attain.

When I was coming to the end of my third trimester with Ian, I had set up the nursery just like the picture in my head.  My parents had graciously given up the second guest bedroom to be used for a nursery and we had painted it, filled it with beautiful furniture and stocked the closet with sweet baby boy clothes.  One afternoon, we came home to find that my dad's German Shepherd had gotten into the room and unleashed an explosive bathroom experience on the carpet.  The smell wouldn't leave (eventually the carpet had to be replaced).  I was devastated.  I remember sitting in the hallway at church and relaying the story to a friend, expecting her to rub my back with sympathy.  Instead, she gave me a half-smile and said, "just remember that there are a lot of mothers in Africa who would love to have nursery that smells like dog poop."  Her words felt like a punch in the stomach.  And they were so true.

We have more than most of the rest of the world and we have a responsibility to be good stewards of that gift...using it to care for those who understand what real need is...and to defend those who are victims of injustice and have no other advocate to plead their case.

Like A River
There is an incredible campaign going on at our church right now and I want to invite you to be a part of it.  You may go to a different church, or you may not attend church at all.  My invitation is for everyone, regardless of affiliation.  You can do this in four ways:

(click on the words in bold to be taken to a site or video for more information)

1.  Sponsor a child through Compassion International
2.  Gather up your spare change and participate in Anything for Change
3.  Go A Week Without and donate the difference
4.  Come to the Freedom Concert and Freedom Marketplace next Sunday night (6/24)

If you want to participate in #2 or #3 but are unable to come to any of the services next Sunday, please let me know.

Justice is at the center of God's heart.  My prayer is that it would be at the center of our hearts and that we would all participate in seeing justice roll like a river throughout a broken and hurting world.

"But let justice roll on like a river; righteousness like a never-failing stream!"
Amos 5:24

"And what does the LORD require of you? To  act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God:
Micah 6:8

Friday, June 15, 2012

What It Looks Like

Hearing God
We just finished a series at church on the Holy Spirit called Breathe.  Well towards the end of the series I remember David Dwight, our senior pastor, talking about what it looks like to live a life that is filled with the Spirit of God.  What I remember most about this was the way I could almost audibly hear the Lord say to me “yes, that is what it does looks like...and you know what it doesn’t look like? Bitterness. Cynicism.  Resentment. Worry. Being overly critical.”


What it looks like 
Galatians 5:22 - “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”

Like many church kids, I’m sure there was a time when I memorized this list from Galatians 5.  Over the course of 5 years in my old job, I used this passage of scripture for multiple teachings and Bible studies.  But sitting in church a few weeks ago, the weight of those words hit me for the first time.

Each of these - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control - is evidence of a life filled with the Spirit of God.  They are the byproduct...the overflowing results of a life that is filled with the Holy Spirit. 

It doesn’t say anything about worrying over things that haven’t even happened...or spewing about issues I’m not willing to talk about with the person who hurt me...or spending more time than is healthy on the internet or TV...or snapping at BJ and then making up some reason that “justifies” my bad attitude.  Nope.  None of those things are on that list.

God is so gracious.  BJ is fond of saying that if God gave us the whole “grocery list” of things we need to deal with at once, we would collapse under the weight.  Instead, He patiently waits and takes us through our hearts just one step at a time.  So like I said, I felt bad enough considering the fact that those things weren’t on the list.  God let me sit with that thought for a couple weeks.  Then I sat down to write this and I read the verses that come just before Galatians 5:22, and I found a new list...

What it doesn't look like 
Galatians 5:19-21 - “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes/selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these...”

Again, I’ve read this passage (and taught on it) many times.  I’ve even taken two college classes that did an in depth study of this book and I was tested on these verses.  Yet somehow, the reality of the words didn’t hit me before now.  I don’t know how I skimmed over these three verses with such ease.  I think I only focused on the words that did not apply to me as quickly...such as sorcery - “I’m not a witch, I’m good!”  You get the was easy for me to disconnect from the weight of these verses if I just focused on the 2 or 3 words that don’t really describe me.  Also, I conveniently focused on the fruits of the Spirit because I could think of examples of times I displayed each of them. 

The thought that has rocked my world though is this - which words describe me most of the time?  What am I truly characterized by?  And is the part of my life that does display the fruits of the Spirit being entangled by the presence of things from that second list?

Life abundantly  
In John 10:10, Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”

If love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the outwards signs of a heart that is filled with the Spirit of God, then they are the outward signs of a heart filled with LIFE.  There is LIFE to be found in this kind of heart.  Abundant life found in Christ looks like this. That also means the opposite is true.  When I justify bitterness, outbursts of anger, jealousy, selfishness, worry, etc, I am justifying my heart being filled with things that can only lead to death. 

And I choose life.

How wonderful it is that all of those fruits of the Spirit are found in the heart and character of God, and that He is loving, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and full of peace and self-control towards me! I am undeserving of such great love.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Road It Took to Get Here

In the fall of 2004, I stepped onto the VCU campus as a freshman.  Two weeks ago, May 12, 2012, I walked across the stage in the Siegel Center as a graduate.  If you’re doing the math, the answer is yes.  That’s eight years for my undergraduate degree.  I laugh about that little fact and the thought that most of the people I graduated with were 14 when I first started college.  But somewhere between placing my cap and gown in the car next to Ian and making the drive downtown for commencement, my mind rolled over the memories of the last eight years and to be honest, I can’t believe it was only 8 years.  A lot has happened in that time.

Those first few months at VCU were dark and lonely for me.  I regretted my decision to stay in Richmond as I found myself alone and without any close friends.  Little did I know that some of the greatest friendships of my life were just around the corner.  I questioned everything I thought I knew about God and began searching for answers.   Throughout a series of months of sitting in my car, reading scripture and asking questions, I came to a real belief in and intimate relationship with the Creator.  Sitting here today, I realize that those months weren’t just about preparing me for college, but were preparing me for everything that happened after that.

With the blessing of an incredible job that I loved, school slowed down a bit.  Some semesters were full-time, many were part-time, and I even took a couple of semesters off (to do things like adjust to marriage or have a baby).  Somewhere in that time I started dating BJ, we got married and two years later we had Ian.  Eventually we made the difficult decision to quit our jobs, move in with my parents and focus on both finishing school.  Now I am done with undergrad and BJ will graduate in December.  Grad school starts in the fall and while it is still more school, it definitely represents a new chapter.  It would take too long to really write about life since August 2004, so here’s the quick run-down. 

In the past 8 years, I have…questioned my faith, found my Creator...developed life-changing relationships, experienced the loss of some of those relationships...spent 5 years in an incredible job that taught me about people, responsibility, organization, ministry, and God...bought my first car, totaled my car....experienced heart-ache from the wrong guy, met the right guy and learned what it actually meant to love engaged, got married and moved out of my parents house...built relationships with amazing middle and high school students, watched these students grow up and leave for college - some of whom are now graduating and getting married themselves…flew on a plane for the first time, traveled outside of the country for the first time...along with BJ, stepped away from our jobs and moved back in with my parents...experienced pregnancy, had a beautiful baby and became a mother...and learned a lot of things the hard way.

So while I laugh at the eight years it took for me to get this degree, I am amazed at how much as happened in just eight years.  I am so grateful for each of those experiences, even the hard ones, and I’m continuing to learn from the lessons they taught me.

It was a beautiful eight years.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

I'm Not Every Woman

The first time I heard this song, tears came to my eyes with the opening line. I sat in my car, completely still and silent...and encouraged. What a beautiful message of relief and rest for women, who so often feel they have to be everything for everyone.

by Sara Groves
I'm not every woman
It's not all in me
I'm proud and guarded
When it comes to my needs
Try to keep the whole thing rolling
Try to keep an on time train
This frenetic fascination's
Really driving me insane
Anybody feel that?
Anybody feel that?
Anybody feel that?

What God meant by woman
I'm hard pressed to find
I'm chasing paper dreams
And a guilt undefined
Fighting to stay younger
Trying to stay thin and in control
Searching for a magic formula
A thing to soothe our souls
Wonderin' where the peace went
Wonderin' where the peace went
Wonderin' where the peace went

I'm finite I come to an end
I'm finite I come to an end

Try to keep the whole thing rollin'
Try to keep an on time train
This frenetic fascination's
Really drivin' me insane
Anybody feel that?
Anybody feel that?
Anybody feel that?

I'm finite, I come to an end
I'm finite, I cannot pretend
I'm finite, I come to an end
I'm finite, I cannot pretend

If you can, download the song so that you can hear her sing it. If not, you can go to to listen to it.

picture from

Friday, February 10, 2012

The “T-word” and a Parting of Ways

When I first became pregnant with Ian almost two years ago, I had a number of friends tell me that I should sign up for weekly updates from Baby Center. And let me tell you, they were right! When you can’t see your growing baby and watch how he is changing, it is thrilling to get an email with a picture of what he looks like, facts about how he is developing and how big he is. Then the baby gets here and in those first few months, every piece of advice or information feels like a lifeline that’s been thrown out to saving a drowning mother.

But as the months went on and Ian grew, I began to feel a parting of ways was on the horizon between these weekly emails and this new momma. Developmental milestone charts felt stressful to look at – what if Ian didn’t show some skill that the chart said all babies at his age should be able to do? I gradually paid less and less attention to the emails and just focused on Ian.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the past year, but one of the best decisions I made was to choose to not worry about if Ian was “on track”. Somewhere around month 5, I stopped looking at charts and reading about what was coming next. I don’t add up how much he is eating from each category in the food pyramid. I don’t read about what toys we should be introducing at which age and I try to hold our plans very loosely. I decided to just be and let Ian be. Otherwise, I would be a miserable and anxious mess.

What I know is this…Ian is a smart, healthy, and happy baby. We have a great pediatrician who will let us know if Ian is ever behind in a certain milestone. We try to eat a balanced diet and I believe that at the end of the week, he has gotten what he needs. When Ian is bored with one toy, he finds something else that is more interesting to play with (which usually isn’t a toy at all). And if I follow his cues and trust my natural instincts, I think he will continue tell me what he needs and what “stage” he is at right now.

I once heard someone say, “don’t worry, when he gets married, he will walk down the aisle, be able to feed himself and wipe his own bottom.”

Which brings me to the t-word and a parting of ways. Up until his first birthday, my weekly emails have said “your baby at x-weeks/months”. Now it says, “Your TODDLER at 12months, 1 week”. Toddler?? He may be growing up fast and becoming increasingly independent, but he is still a baby in more ways than not. I’m not in denial and I know that at some point over this next year, he will transition to being a toddler. One day I’ll look at him running around the house and think, “wow, you really aren’t a little baby anymore.” But that day isn’t here yet, so I’m not quite ready to apply the term "toddler" to my baby. Soon enough the day will come, but not now. I understand why people call babies toddlers as soon as they turn 1, but it’s just a word that represents a shift that happens at different ages in different babies.

Realizing that helps me to see that it’s ok for a parting of ways from my weekly emails now. They have been so helpful, but Ian is an individual and isn’t on anyone else’s timeline. I’m just going to watch him, trust the instincts God gave me, and love him. And for now, I’m still calling him my baby.