Wednesday, October 21, 2020


Hevel? Have you ever heard this word? I hadn’t until the last few months.  If we open the book of Ecclesiastes its the word that often gets translated as “vanity” or “meaningless,” yet hevel translates to something that means much more to me.  Hevel might include vanity or meaningless, but it is what doesn’t last.  Hevel is fleeting, its here today and gone tomorrow, like a mist.  

We’ve seen a lot of hevel in 2020.  There was this world, I never saw changing.  We did the same things year in and year out, and if I’m being honest, I began to rely on hevel.  I began to trust in the calendar and the traditions.  I began to live in the daily appointments and sign ups, commitments and extracurricular.  

There was always tomorrow.  There was always something to plan, until March 2020; suddenly, nothing was a given.  Life stopped.  Those planned moments were just gone.  There was no given timeline to live in, we were just waiting, with no idea when life would start up again.  Surely one more month and then life is normal, surely a few more weeks, surely, surely just kept going. 

I was reminded of what I’m told in the Bible.  What lasts isn’t of this world.  

James 4:13-15

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 

Now I’m living Biblically, because when my kids ask about something happening in the future, I say, I don’t know and we will see what happens.  Its a hard place to live unless you are standing firm.  

Matthew 7:24-27

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Building our lives in Christ means in the midst of a global pandemic, we are standing firm because our confidence isn’t, or shouldn’t be in the details of this world.  This world is temporary.  We are living for something greater than the minutia of life on earth.  

Matthew 6:19-21

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

2020 revealed that many of us weren’t living out what we say we believed in.  We were in fact storing up treasures on earth instead of living for the life after this one.  

It was hevel that we were expecting to last instead of realizing and walking in the knowledge that things and moments aren’t forever.  

That can be physical things or seasons in life.  Do we take the moments with our kids, spouse, parents, friends and other family for granted?  Do we life like we have another day for fill in the blank, or do we life like we only have today?  

Let's take a look arund and ask what is hevel and what is lasting?  Are we treating hevel like hevel or hevel like everlasting?  

Before I leave you today, let me offer one more thought on the topic.  Some days I find myself saying, "God, I'm over this life stuff, just take me home to heaven! I'm done with the hevel, I just want you!" Can you relate with that? I think most Christians can.  

We are reminded that even though this life isn’t forever, our days are purposed.  Part of longing for what lasts past this earth, is understanding the connection of eternity with the hevel in the relationships with our fellow man.  All of us were made in the image of God, but not all of us know the life-changing love of Jesus.  We need to be depositing into those around us.  That is storing up treasures in heaven like we read in the Matthew passage above.  

This world is bigger than each of us as individuals, when you lose hope, look out to your fellow man and remember God has a purpose for us! Blessings this week.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

To Know or Be Known

 Its been crickets on my blog over the past few months, and I am sorry for that.  All that has been 2020 just seemed overwhelming, and there have been so many voices, that it seemed to quiet my own.  

I've still been here with encouragements and opinions, but not really feeling like that should be shared in blog form.  But lately I've been having conversations (some with myself) that seemed to be begging to be shared once again from my blog posts.  

We will see how they come out, but I want to return to writing because I love it.  

This morning I was listening to a book (via Audible) that we are doing as a church staff and going over each chapter during our weekly staff meetings.  The book is called, "The Emotionally Healthy Leader," by Peter Scazzero.  Its been wonderful and very contemplative.  

I got done with the chapter we were going over today and continued listening to the next chapter and was struck by a distinction in discussing a Bible verse.  The author was talking about Christian leaders in the church who do great things without having a relationship with God.    I should mention at this point that I have also been reading another book by Michael S. Heiser entitled, "What Does God Want?"  I've loved the simplicity this book adds to the story of God and why he created us, why we face so much heartache in the world and what God wants.  Spoiler alert, but the reason God created humans was because he wanted a human family to join his celestial family.  God is about relationships.  Hes about family and connection, so when I was listening to Peter share the passage below my ears perked up: 

Matthew 7:22-23

Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your nae perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!"  

Before Peter started into his commentary, I knew at the mention of knew it didn't mean literally, "I don't know who you are."  God knows all of us, we are his creation.  He knew us when we were in our mother's wombs, he knows the hairs on our heads (Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139, Luke 12:7, Matthew 10:30, Psalm 56:8).  Its not about knowing who we are, its not about recognition, but instead its about being known.  Why is that so important?  For one reason its the purpose of all of this, we are invited by God into a relationship.  A way was made for us to connect with the God of the universe and really God of the universes, through the death of Jesus (God in human form) on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.  We could not do it on our own so when we set out to do works of God that don't involve him, its like we reject his gift.  We pretend we are enough without him to overcome all the wrong in the world.  His grace is enough and sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Life wasn't always easy for me and human connection hasn't always been easy either, but I learned early to run to God.  I didn't always get the answers I wanted and even got mad and ran away from him for awhile, but I did always get acceptance.  I did get embraced for who I was more than I have from any person in my life.  I know there is a God, but that is nothing compared to knowing Him. I forget that sometimes as I get busy at life or in the business of sharing Him with the world, but without it, I run out of steam and really become the worst version of myself. I want to know God intimately and for Him to know me.  

What about you?  Do you just know there is a God or do you know God and are you known by God?  I'm sure there may be an atheist or two who stumble on my post, and I'd love to hear why you believe what you believe.  I've read some compelling evidence for God's existence and I'd happily share some resources for anyone interested.  I hope all of you are doing well, or as well as is possible in the midst of our crazy reality.   

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Different is Beautiful

Can you name someone that you absolutely adore, but you see the world from very different viewpoints?

 I can.  

Because I’ve traveled so much throughout my life, I’ve had the privilege to see people in different countries from different backgrounds, and different cultures. The advantage of international travel was an early life lesson that different didn’t mean wrong. 

Different can be beautiful! God, as Creator, left reflections of himself in all His creation recognizing that fact in the midst of life chaos is a benefit to all. I learned that I could appreciate people for who they are and what they add to the world without always being on the same page. It’s what’s allowed me to love people as much as I do.  I'm not saying people don't do bad things and I'm not saying that all different ways and opinions are right, but I am saying when we live in our echo chambers and stay focused on why we are right, we miss out on perspectives and we limit our world. 

I love social media - I love the connection it brings as I communicate with people I’ve known and loved throughout my life. I love seeing my friends' children grow up, children that without social media, I never would have seen. Social media has an ugly side too, in fact I would say that I have a love/hate relationship with it. 

People forget the beauty of difference or to even have understanding and love in their interactions with people who aren't living on the same page. We don’t have to live in the category of "all or nothing" because that’s not real life. I know our population is full of people who disagree on big issues, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop treating others with love and respect. Wars aren't just fought with guns and grenades, they are often fought with insults and assumptions.  

I have lots of opinions, and I can get on my soapbox often. I go off into a monologue during a conversation with a friend or on a blog post, or even a Facebook post so I am not immune to this topic, but its important that as we share our beliefs that we don't crush the value of others in the process.  

So that begs the question, what's the point? When you call out someone who is doing the opposite of what you believe, and attach a unflattering title to their character in the process, are you trying to change minds or shame them for seeing the world differently?  If you are trying to shame them, then I'd say, just stop, its not nice and you do more damage to your own humanity than theirs.  If its to change their mind, I can tell you I’ve never changed my mind on a topic based on someone’s name calling post slamming my perspective. The changes happen when people feel accepted, feel heard, and are able to dialogue in a conversation about whatever the topic may be.  

Conversation enables you the benefit of getting verbal and nonverbal feedback, and helps you to know when you’ve gone too far.  I’m not saying we should stop sharing our opinions online, I am saying we need to understand that not everyone has the same view and having a different view doesn't make them an idiot.  Share your perspective without name calling, engage in open conversation with someone that does see the world differently and see what you can learn.  Don't share for the purpose of changing minds but for the purpose of loving the people behind the difference. You never know what the outcome might be.  

I am still not the wonderful environment crusader that my former roommate and forever friend, Rebecca is, but in reading her informative posts and having conversations over the years, I live with much more respect for the environment today than I did 20, 10 or even 5 years ago. Rebecca is a shining example of so many in my life that base our relationship on mutual respect in full view of varying perspectives along the spectrum. I love that this is the reality of my quilt of friendships. I can grow as a person and know that I won't get booted from the relationship if we don't agree on everything along the way.  

Let's end divisiveness and leave space for open conversations for the purpose of growing as people and loving each other in the process.  Let's embrace the beauty of different.  

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Human Connection

I am a people person born before the days of internet. I love a good text message to share a meeting time or answer a quick question, but in my world texting isn't for conversations.  I love to talk on the phone with friends and family.  I love meeting a friend for lunch or at a coffee shop.  I love spending time getting to know people.  That is just me.  Its how I am.

The rise of the internet has gifted us with abilities and opportunities that were once unimaginable.  I love being able to video chat with my mom and my sister in Ohio.  I have friends in different states, countries and continents, and its amazing to stay connected and see their children grow up.  I can expand my business beyond my city and state, order my Starbucks from home, I can glean from ministries all over the world and even watch the daily life of my favorite celebrities.  It has amazing possibilities.

However, computer relationships are not the same as face-to-face human encounters.  When you look at our social media culture, I'm not sure it reflects this truth.  Sure the rise in suicides seemed to stand side by side with the increase in time spent online with social media "friends," and researchers and authors have shared that connection, but by and large, I don't think we truly believed we were missing much by replacing human contact with internet relationships, and if we did see it, we weren't doing a lot about the living online problem.

Then came COVID-19.  Thank God for the internet!  We would not survive without it, but even with the year supply of toilet paper delivered to our homes, and a weekly, or even, daily zoom meeting, a month or more into Shelter in Place and its obvious something is missing.  Can you feel it? There is this void where human connection once lived, because no video can duplicate the power of a human in your presence that you can hug and hang out with.  Something weird is happening, all of a sudden I'm getting phone calls from my introvert friends!  Why? Even those people who are fine on their own without many people around, still need human contact.  Their need for people time may be lower than mine, but its not, non-existent.  (I know, that is a double negative).

God created man and woman in the garden.  He started our world and he sent us out into the world he created with a desire for him and each other.  Guess what?  Relationships are an essential need.  I think this may just in fact be the jolt we all need to recognize a pivotal shift is imperative as we create space for more meaningful face-to-face relationships.

I hope this is a reality check that we need to block out time in our lives, put down our phones, and be with other people.  This isn't just to be there for others, but to fill an intrinsic need within our own selves.  Taking care of oneself involves relationship, both spiritual and human.

We need human connection to survive.  Something that has hit me in all of this, is the fact that if this were to be the new normal for the rest of life or even life for the next few years, then that is not a life worth living.  Taking out the personal freedoms and connection with people, takes all the life out of life.  I love my family and I love the time I get with them, but being able to move about the earth deepens those relationships.  Being able to be with friends meets needs I have that my family can't fill.

So what about you?  What have you noticed about human connection in this time?  Who are the people you miss most?  How can you let them know their value to you, even now?  How can you re-prioritize when all this is done?  How have you taken human connection for granted?  We have an opportunity to take advantage of this gift and balance out the benefits of our internet and local worlds.  Obviously, I'm not advocating you break Shelter in Place, but I am advocating for more intentional living when we are able to resume a life with people outside our homes.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Letter to Your Future Self

Life right now is crazy.  My reality is a husband still going to work, me, working from home.  A special needs stepdaughter overcome with grief that her norm has been upset, a 9-year-old, 3rd grader in private school, doing all his work, quizzes and assignments from home. A five-year-old that wants us all to pay attention to her, and currently a kitchen with a sink that refuses to become unclogged.  Trying to make it all work, while trying not to cling too hard to the life rules of several months ago, is exhausting, overwhelming, and a bunch of other emotions I am not fully aware of.

In contrast, I am loving the extra time with my kids.  I love the slowed pace of all the extra things gone.  I love the walks and seeing complete strangers wave to me from afar as if we were besties.  As a girl who grew up in the 80's and 90's, I am reminded of a similar life.  Sure we did a lot wrong back then, and I wouldn't survive now without online connection, but we moved at a much slower pace and I didn't realize just how wonderful that was until it came back with COVID-19.

At this stage in the game, my focus is on a hug from a friend or a coffee date or lunch out.  I desperately want to quietly browse the aisles of a store and get lost in racks of junk I don't need.  I want normal.

One day, though I'm not sure what day, this will all be over.  We will be back to normal life, eventually, at least in some form.  When I think of 9/11, getting back to normal came with permanent changes, but hope still has me longing for some form of the life I lived prior to Shelter in Place.

There is another part of me.  This other part is calling for my attention.  This other part of me wants to take a minute and re-evaluate my life.  What if we could do more than just survive this pandemic?
There is an opportunity before me, don't I owe it to myself to take advantage of it?

Its an opportunity to re-calibrate.  What was in my life before everything came to a screeching halt that never should have been there?  What was I doing to impress others or do what was perceived as expected?  What wasn't happening that needed to be?  How could I keep some of the slow down and narrowed focus as I move out into life again?

Then I thought, I could write a letter to my future self.  I have a notebook of letters to my kids, and as I go through it, I remember some amazing moments that I have sense forgotten.  Being able to go there again, was wonderful and had I not written it down, I wouldn't have remembered it.

So go grab some actual paper.  Write yourself a letter.  What do you want to remember?  What do you want to learn?  How do you need to prioritize?  Put it in the end of your 2020 calendar or attach it to the side of your fridge and add a reminder to your phone to read it in 6 months or a year - sometime in the future.  Take advantage of the lessons our current situation is offering us and thank God for how he can transform us in the midst of what honestly, SUCKS!

Happy Wednesday! I'm pretty sure its Wednesday and I'm pretty sure its still April.  Not gonna lie, when I look at expiration dates in my fridge, it takes me a minute to figure out if they are still good.  I know this is hard, but I know my God is bigger and we all can come out of this with more gifts than we ever expected!  If you need someone to talk to, let me know.  I'm here.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Toddler Vibe

Ironically, I began writing this before our world got flipped upside-down with COVID-19.  It just seemed to become even more relevant afterwards.  So here is a mix of what I started writing few months ago with edits and additions today.

It started with a conversation I had with friends (face-to-face - do you remember when we could do that). One of them has an almost adult child that has had a ton of crazy stuff thrown her way.  My friend is trying to navigate parenting and is facing some major challenges.  As we discussed, another friend mentioned that maybe the challenge they faced was there because it was the only thing that she could control.

If you've had children or are around them, you know, that toddlers tend to cause problems in areas of food and potty.  Why?  Because that is what they can control.  Life is pretty much in the control of everyone around them, and powerless is a hard feeling.  You don't need years on earth to figure that one out, it seems just baked in from birth.  

Very little in life is in our control.  When life is going well, we can trick ourselves into believing we are in control, but even the most disciplined person faces obstacles they have little to no control over.  

Sickness, financial changes, loss, weather, crime...all of these things, and more, are things that we can't control.  We work to do what we can to help lesson the damage or cushion against the hardship headed our way, but truly eliminating trials just isn't an option.

Crazy just how true that is, now that we are all quarantined in our homes.  Truly knowing the hard feeling of powerlessness, is real for so many of us.  You may find yourself grasping for what you can control or throwing toddler-like fits over little things just because they are all you have left to hold onto right now.  Maybe you now have a toddler at home and are face to face with constant fits with no breaks because they don't understand why we can't go anywhere.

So how have you adopted your own toddler vibe?  All of this has shown me just how controlling I am.  I have my ways for grocery shopping and getting life done and all of they craziness in stores has disrupted that and I don't like it.  I've organized photos, DVD's, CD's etc because, sure, I'm not going anywhere, but mainly because its something I can control.

What does the toddler vibe show us?  I think when we understand it fully we can take a step back and look at our lives.

We can acknowledge the loss in our circumstances and grieve that loss.

We can create new rules and expectations for the current reality.

Then we can focus on what we can control.

Right now, I can avoid getting sucked into the drama and fear surrounding me, be informed and respond, rather than react.  I can be intentional with my time and focus on the beauty in slowing down.  I can have a good attitude in the face of hardship and nasty attitudes, because my attitude is something I can always control.  I can enjoy the beauty of my family and extra time with my kids before they get so big and grow up that I won't have them anymore.  I can reminisce about life in the 80's before the internet.  A lot of things weren't perfect then, but life was slower and that was better for us.

So now its your turn?  What in your life, whether COVID-19 or other life related, is out of your control?  What are you grasping for?  What do you need to grieve and how can you refocus?  What can you control?

Let's be honest, this sucks!  I'm not always sure its being handled the best way, and even the experts can't agree, but I can lean into God.  He's always in control.

This being Easter week, I got some great perspective because last Sunday being Palm Sunday, was a celebration.   As Jesus entered the city, people were out to honor him.  He was thought to be the promised Messiah  (which he was), but their expectation of what the promised Messiah would do and what we actually did, didn't coincide.  So when he was sent to die, they turned on him and instead of shouting, "Hosannah," they shouted, "Crucify Him!"  I guess that was their own toddler vibe.

But God hadn't disappointed them.  He wasn't doing what they were asking for and yet he was doing so much more.  By dying on the cross he became the last sacrifice needed.  He gave his life for us.  No more sacrifices needed.  He was and is the way!  But he didn't stay dead, he arose!!!  He was and is alive.  Whether we are congregated in our homes or in buildings we call churches, we are still the church and maybe this change in tradition can give us some fresh perspective on what Easter really means!  God bless each of you! 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Why THIS is so Hard

2001 was the year I graduated from college.  I'm gonna be honest, the fact that I'm turning 42 at the end of this year and that college graduation was 19 years ago, seems surreal.  

After college I came to Visalia for the summer and stayed with my dad and step mom.  I assisted the youth pastor at the church before heading to Colorado that August for a one-year Discipleship Training Program.  This was not the normal Bible training, because most of the experience was working as live-in help at a residential care facility for troubled teens.  

To say that it was a hard year is seriously an understatement.  Immediately, it was hard.  The training we received two weeks before moving into the house, couldn't come close to preparing me for what I was in for, but that could be said of getting married and having children as well.  We never know what something takes until we actually do it.  

My first moments on duty were hearing someone making noises in the bathroom and going in to find a girl had snuck in a razor blade and was cutting.  We definitely hit the ground running!  Each day we got Bible training while the teens were in school and we met with the on-staff counselors.  The beauty of that experience was, we had a plethora of encounters each day to offer up and get help on how to be better.  

It was also intense because we were on 24 hours a day, 6 and a half days a week.  You read that right.  We each got 12 hours off a week, that was it.  We were bound to the property, except for weekly trips to Costco, that a few got to go on each week, or any other outings that were part of the program.  

I always tell people it was experience that I wouldn't take out of my life, but I'd never do again.  It was hard on so many levels.  Being stuck in one place means you can't run from challenges or things you want to avoid.  I remember watching the daytime staff drive off one evening and wishing I could go too, being in the same place practically every day for a year was a intense.  The good news was, I wasn't alone.  We had plenty of interaction with everyone living there, care staff and residents, and I do feel like now, 19 years later, I'm connected with those people in a unique way, because we went through it together.  

I jokingly posted to those friends last week (I think it was last week) about how we should be experts in this COVID-19 quarantine because we've done this before.  Then I found myself leaving the grocery store in tears, because I remembered the hardship it was to lose your freedom.  I shouted out to God as I left the parking lot, "I told you, I didn't want to do this again!"

Yes, there is beauty in this shelter in place season, but comparing it to my year at Shelterwood has had me doing some soul searching into why it was so hard. Here are some of my thoughts and really some food for thought for us all as we navigate this challenging time.  

1. Loss of freedom - As Americans we can for the most part do whatever, whenever we want.  Yes, there are rules but when compared to other, less free, nations, they are fairly easy to live within and give us a lot of decision making ability.  So to be told to stay home and to cut ourselves off from the world, without any say in the matter, feels foreign.  It's a hard place to be.  Lack of control is challenging to say the least.  

2. Loss of interaction - I love the Holderness Family, and they said they hated the term "social distancing," because really its "physical distancing,"  we are still social online, and with those in our family, but we can't have physical interaction with people in our lives.  Nothing like a quarantine to show you just how many people you encounter everyday.  Hugs, handshakes, fist bumps, close conversations, lunches out, coffee dates are just some of the ways we engage with people, daily.  Obviously, the extroverts like myself, have a much greater list, but that human contact feeds an emotional need.  We aren't just physical beings, we have a soul and we have needs that go into the emotional and spiritual realm.  Losing some of that does affect us, maybe even more than we ever realized.  

3. Loss of time and purpose - Do you know what day or date it is today?  Being left without the schedule that marks our days and weeks, means it all meshing together and that can keep us from feeling anchored in our lives.  The difference with Shelterwood was that we were on our own compound and had a daily and weekly schedule.  I also knew when my time was up.  I signed a year contract and when times got tough, I could count down the length of time I had left or the time til my next 12 hour break.  With this current situation, we don't know how long this will go on.  Not knowing is hard because there is no way to build up the proper endurance to keep going.  Also, without tracking our weeks, we can lose a sense of purpose which can impact our emotional health.  

4. Loss of finances - Many families are living in uncertainty because they have no idea how they are going to make ends meet when neither spouse is working, or one spouse is working, or knowing how long they will be able to sustain their temporary solution.  Small businesses are being affected and that not only effects individuals, it affects us all.  Our communities, resources and emotional health are all affected in this financial problem.  

Did you notice, each item uses the word, "loss," that is because there is some grief involved in this process.  We are mourning the lives we had before the new norm of shelter in place.

So is that it?  

Are we just going to look at the problems and why this is so hard?  No.  So much of this is out of our control, but so much is in our control.  Understanding what we are feeling helps to identify the solutions.  Once we understand the issues at play, we can turn our focus onto what we can control.   

We need to be mindful of not only our needs, but the needs of others.  We have an opportunity to build community like never before.  We have a chance to think outside the box and build financial success in new ways.  We can create a calendar of activities and goals that we build into our weeks so that it isn't just some time dump with nothing but isolation.  We can embrace the people stuck with us or face the stuff we've been avoiding.  We can celebrate the slow down and refocus our goals and what truly matters.  

What thing have you wanted to do, try or change?  Where can you focus and build new habits or develop new skills?  What family members have you not talked to in awhile?  What are you doing to monitor your own emotional and physical health?  

You get to choose if you will give in to depression or put things in place to fight against it.  You get to choose if you will be more intentional with working out and caring for your body or giving into the snacking and gain more weight.  You get to choose if you will stay on autopilot with your parenting or get more involved in a real relationship.  

Yes, there is definitely a lot of suck with all of this, but there is also hidden blessings.  My year at Shelterwood brought passages of the Bible to new light.  I felt like the 2D words had 3D meaning in my life like never before.  Once again, I see that with our current situation.  I already mentioned that I felt more connected with the people that survived it alongside me, and I'm seeing more connection and less division online.  We needed that! 

Can you find the hidden blessings and go for the best experience?  Are you finding the depth of scripture like never before? I find asking God, "why," is not nearly as beneficial as asking him, "what now?"  

So that is my final question for you?  What now?  Take some time to think about what is the hardest part for you in all of this.  What can you learn about yourself and how can you move forward?  Will you make the most of this opportunity?  Only you can answer those questions. 

If you need someone to talk to, I'm hear.  Just reach out.  
Happy Wednesday! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

What Will Your COVID-19 Story Be?

Hello friends, its safe to say life has changed drastically in a matter of minutes.  Our world is not the same as it was even a week ago.  I see a lot of information, panic, memes, and opinions all over the news and my social media feed and the one thing that seems clear - we will remember this.  

This strand of the coronavirus will come and go, but the public reaction, financial and political happenings will stay with this.  This time in history won't be forgotten.  The question is - what will your COVID-19 story be?  

Twenty, thirty, forty years from now when you retell your story of what happened and how you reacted, what will it be?  

Today, I was scrolling through the crazy and found a poignant post from a high school friend.  When I read her post, I asked if I could share because her answer is magnificent.  She agreed, so read with me the beautiful words of Laura Simon, then decide how you will respond.  God bless you all, if you need anything, please reach out.  I am here.  Take it away Laura...

On a beautiful, cloudless day in September of 2001, life as I knew it collapsed with two towers in New York. I was nearly 23, living in a brand-new apartment with a brand-new roommate, and student teaching for my final semester of school. (Yes, if you’re doing the math, I was doing the 4.5 year college plan. College was not my finest hour.)
One minute, life was beautiful and uncomplicated. Then my cooperating teacher pulled me aside, told me something terrible had happened, and sent me to the counseling office to watch live while she took charge of the eighth graders. It was a gift to me that I didn’t have to see that unfold with an audience of young eyes; I certainly wouldn’t have handled it well.

The following days very much resembled the ones we’re living in now. Crazy rumors led to runs on commodities that we feared would be in short supply. Instead of toilet paper, we lined up for miles to get gas. Gas stations sold out and shut down. We rushed to the grocery for non-perishable food. (In case you’re wondering, my provisions included cases of Dr. Pepper, M&M’s, Lucky Charms, and ramen noodles. Nothing else, really.) We were afraid to go to large, public places for fear that the terrorist next door (they were everywhere, we know) would target them. A rumor flew around that a large-scale attack was planned for malls nationwide. Schools felt vulnerable and many people kept their kids home. We were, quite literally, afraid to breathe, as if the air might be laced with explosives.

My roommate was housesitting for friends, which left me alone in our apartment, sprawled on the couch watching around-the-clock coverage of all the things we thought we knew. (As you can probably imagine, time revealed that much of that early reporting was completely inaccurate, but I didn’t have the perspective to realize it.) I didn’t even have cable, but I did have Dr. Pepper, which I consumed in abundance. The isolation was probably the worst thing that could have happened to me; lacking any good personal habits for dealing with anxiety, I watched, ate, and tried to find anything that would make me feel better.
It turned out that two things were quite helpful in doing just that. The first was shopping. As the fog lifted and things re-opened, the country began to realize that life probably would, actually, continue. The malls, desperate to lure in wary shoppers, offered deep discounts. Apparently, I am willing to risk death by suicide bomber if there’s a chance to score Express jeans for half price. A new wardrobe improved my mood remarkably, so I shopped often, in spite of the fact that I wasn’t getting paid for my student teaching gig. That’s why God invented credit cards, no?

The other opportunity that soothed that fear in my heart was happy hour at the TGI Friday’s right down the street with my new colleagues. Only it wasn’t really an hour – it was more like seven. For someone who’d rarely ever had a drink, that was a lot of alcohol. And all that alcohol masked the fact that my newfound community – which I desperately craved – wasn’t really what I was looking for. They were good people, but not on the path I wanted to be on. Still, it felt good to be with someone – anyone – in those early weeks, so I found a boyfriend in the happy hour crew and let the alcohol fix my misgivings.

Eventually I got rid of the boyfriend, and eventually I paid off the debt. Life went on, and offered me more personal 9/11’s. Each time, I flailed and writhed and grasped for anything to make me feel better. Each time – as it always does – life eventually moved on.

But the last one – just two years ago – finally changed me. That time, when my world bottomed out, I leaned in to God. Instead of binge-watching Friends, I walked the darkened halls of my house, opening my hurting heart to a father I barely knew. I read the actual Bible, and found a lot that I didn't know was in there. Friends – real friends – came alongside me and spoke truth. I found a counselor who was willing to ask the right questions, to look below the surface, to help me see things in myself I didn’t want to see. I begged God to fix things, and instead He opened my eyes. I was begging for a bandaid when I was bleeding out from a full-blown puncture wound. I didn’t know who He was or how He felt about me. The people I was trusting weren’t worthy of my trust. I was trying to earn what was freely given, and letting shame bully me into ignoring the truth.
God began to show me how to come to Him first, how to rest in what He was doing instead of fixing things myself. He began to show me that I can trust him, regardless of what people on earth decide to do. He began to rewrite my response to things that cause me anxiety.

And then last week happened. And this week. Every day, life as we knew it seems more and more impossible. If I let myself linger on social media, the bad news hits in regular waves. Just like 2001, the future we imagined seems gone forever. And just like 2001, my body is riding waves of anxiety. My appetite is gone. I’m tempted to stare at my phone all day. Sometimes my body just shakes. All day long, I just want to sleep. And then at night, sleep eludes me.

I’ve been given the same opportunity I was given almost 20 years ago, but this time I know this is where God is. In the scary and uncertain, He will do things I couldn’t imagine just last week. He will mold more than just my external situation; He will change my heart in these moments.

I still hate it – all this change and uncertainty and, most of all, the isolation. But I also know this is where we find him. If we’re brave, this is where strongholds finally break and victories finally happen. This is where we change. And this time, I’m here for it.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9   

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A Winco Field Trip From God

Up until last year I was a youth pastor, so my job was planning events for the teens.  Several years ago as I sat at my desk wondering what conference to take the youth group to the following year as I planned the budget and calendar.  I came across a conference in Monterey put on by Organic Outreach International.  I sat at my desk and asked God if this is where we were supposed to go.  I looked over the speaker list and was drawn to one of the speakers.  So we went.  I sat there completely overwhelmed by the realization that I was exactly where I needed to be.  It was an amazing event, but more importantly it was the start of something amazingly new for our church.

I came back sharing the principles of Organic Outreach with the leadership of our church and thankfully they caught the excitement and got on board. We had a group go do the intensive training they offer and began to launch this new way of operating at our church.  We hit some bumps in the road as people moved away and new leaders emerged, and this year I was placed in charge of our Organic Outreach Team.

So what is Organic Outreach?  Its not a church program but a new way of living and thinking.  So many people go to church instead of being the church and they plan potlucks and socials for their members and it can get to a point where the church feels more like a country club.  That isn't what God intended.  Organic Outreach encourages us to engage with the people that are in our lives.  To be out there in the world loving people and sharing Jesus with them in a way that is natural.  That happens when we experience the love for the world that Jesus did.  We have to care for this whole thing to work.

I lead an Organic Outreach meeting last night and yesterday morning was a crazy day.  I had car issues and a few other things that had me enveloped in my own world.  Still I sat at my desk to prep for the meeting.  I had to make a change in my schedule so the grocery shopping that was going to happen today, had to happen yesterday so I ran out at lunch to get that errand checked off the list and get back to my work to-do list.

I had no idea I was on a God field trip.  He wanted my notes for the meeting to be authentic so he had a surprise waiting for me on my trip to Winco.

As I pushed my cart through the aisles I saw lots of people and usually I end up running into the same people repeatedly, but as I went past the yogurts I noticed a mother and her almost grown daughter by the orange juice.  I can't tell you why they stood out to me, but they just seemed cool, positive women.  I went on to grab some frozen corn and then headed to check out.

As I approached the lines, I scanned to see which aisle was least ominous and saw the same mother/daughter duo in a not so long line so I pulled up behind them.  As they put their groceries on the belt, I got a chuckle at the mom's shirt and let her know I liked it.  They seemed to carefully weighing the options of what made the cut and what didn't.

I immediately asked God, "Am I supposed to help them?"  You may be saying, help everyone, but truthfully giving to everyone isn't always helping.  I wasn't sure if mom was teaching daughter to be responsible and if I rushed in to help, I could be ruining a teachable moment.  So I waited as they checked out and began to bag their groceries.

When it was my turn I noticed several items by the cashier and asked if they couldn't afford them.  She confirmed that was the case so I told her to add it to my bill and just set it there at the end of their stuff.  She verified that is what I really wanted as she rung up each item.  Honestly, I don't know how much it was but I doubt it was much over $20.  I assured her to do it.  When the ladies got to the items they didn't pay for they came to the register to ask what happened and she informed them that I had paid for it.

This is when things get interesting.  The mom said thank you and started to cry.  She came over to me and hugged me so tight and repeatedly thanked me in between bursts of tears.  It was a hug I'd expect from someone who just got the big check from Ellen, not from someone who just got a couple of items free from the store.  The hug told me there was more, so I held onto her equally as tight and encouraged her and reaffirmed God loved her.    She then got all of her stuff and headed out the store.  Her daughter thanked me as they left.

As I left the store, I began to cry because I was the one who was blessed.  I didn't plan any of that and God used it to show me how much he loves all of us.  He knows the life behind each of us as we pass mindlessly on the street, in stores and public transit.  Small things can have great impact for those with great need.

When I got home there were a pair of shoes at my door that I was supposed to buy from a friend.  Instead of waiting for me to come pick them up, she dropped them off for me. She knew about my car trouble and decided just to gift them to me, so I know there are so many kind-hearted people out there paying it forward and allowing God to work through them.

This blog post isn't about me and "look what I did," instead its about what God did.  For all of that to happen, everything was timed.  God had a plan.  I didn't have to obey, but if I hadn't I'd be the one to miss out.  I also got connected with the heart of people - not the void of bodies roaming, but a woman with a need that I could bless and blessed me in return.

I was now ready for the meeting.  Sure, my notes and copies were lined up ready to go, but the real prep work was in my heart in the middle of that grocery store.

Are you connected to humanity?  Are you available to go where God leads?  We get asked to give a lot and I believe that non-stop request line has most of us pretty checked out with the needs of those around us.  I don't blame us, we've been overloaded and have barricaded our hearts to survive and ensure we don't get used, but the down side is, we miss the human moments.  Ask God to prepare your heart for what he is doing and when you get those moments, go for it.  Feel free to share it with me, I'd love to hear about it!  Happy Wednesday!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

From Not Enough to Full of Life

I grew up in the church and from birth until now, I've gone to at least 11 churches in my life with all the moving and adjusting, and I would say a majority of them were amazing places.  While my current church is home, my childhood church in Ohio, still is my church in a lot of ways, because I not only learned about God, but I felt safe there.  I felt accepted and loved and I trusted the people to not only know the Bible, but to live it.

Even with that love, I was the girl who went forward for prayer or to confess something every week at the end of the service.  I lived in fear of messing up and some of the dysfunctional experiences I walked, messed with my sense of self and skewed the filter that I used, to view life and even the Bible.

That skewed filter kept me thinking I was doing something wrong.

"I must have too much fear if I don't feel the love of God."  

"I must not be trusting God enough because I don't feel his peace."  

"I must be wrong because I don't fit in that Christian box I see everyone else living in." 

I was reading my Bible, going to church, and was in Christian school and some of the things I thought I was supposed to get, do or be as a Christian just weren't happening. 

I recently listened to a sermon online by Steven Furtick on trusting God's timing. In his message, he mentioned some things we believe in that simply aren't true.  At one point in his sermon he said: 

"Your mind is collecting evidence for a verdict that is no longer accurate." 

The bell went off in my head.  I am the woman I am today because of the Bible plus good counseling and a team of supportive people in my life. Here's the thing, Jesus is the answer; God's Word is the lamp unto our feet, but if we've been through some hard life and have ended up believing in lies about who we are, we aren't in the place to receive the Word of God in our lives.  Some good Christian counseling helped fix the filter that was impacted by the sinful world I was born into and I believe God walked me through it all.  The Bible and a bad filter, can make the Bible a weapon in our hands instead of the good news of the Gospel (Gospel literally means good news).  Jesus' saving us in the greatest act of love is an amazing gift.  

This simple reality is what motivated me to write the book I'm working on now entitled, "Mesearch," self-discovery might not be our ultimate pursuit in life, but it may be a necessary journey to get on the right path in seeking God.  

God is gracious to me.  He created this world and said it was good at each turn (Genesis 1) but sin also entered this world and so many of us encounter lies about our world and ourselves that cloud the ability we have to see the truth.  We are in fact doing what Steven Furtick is quoted as saying.  We have believed in a lie, maybe unknowingly, and we are collecting evidence to now support it.  

Instead we need to reach toward truth, and sometimes that takes something like Psychology to get us to the point of seeing the truth.  God created it all and that includes the minds to think and the science behind how our world (and we) operate.  Counseling is not bad, in fact, when you seek counsel from someone qualified and in line with your belief system, you are only aiding your spiritual life.    

I know we can take the self-care and self-discovery too far, but I also know denying it or assuming those around us come at life from the same place we do, is naive.   I know for years I felt unworthy of compliments and self-care.  I wasn't denying myself to serve God, I was doing so because I didn't think I mattered enough to have it.  Now, standing in a much different place, a healthier place, looking back, I see that sometimes the instruction I received in how to do life through the word of God, was limited not by God, but by the person sharing from their limited viewpoint.

When I stopped long enough to address the mess inside of me and fix the filter, then those words in scripture that once made me feel not enough, felt full of life.  Are you stuck somewhere and can't figure it out?  God is pursuing you.  He may need to touch the pain in your heart and guide you to a new filter before the fullness of life he promises can be yours.  Happy Wednesday!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Spy Adventures

If you don't know, I love party planning.  The thing is, I don't want to do what everyone else is doing, I like being unique.  We don't do parties for our kids every year, because that seems like a lot and then when they do have a party, its special.  I also love inviting everyone or as close to that as possible, so its a lot of work.  Two years ago, my son celebrated his 7th birthday with a Nerf Wars party.  I loved it because it was fun and so easy.  I made a few cardboard barricades and ordered bulk Nerf bullets on Amazon.  I asked the boys to bring their guns and let them free for all in the field at our church.  It was great!

This year my son was going to have a party again.  At first he said he wanted Nerf Wars again because he loved it and several of his friends were doing Nerf Wars this year, but I told him we already did that, so we just needed to pick something else.

We landed on Secret Agent and Spy Adventures theme.  I created the invite, then began to look online for ideas.  The Pinterest board was filling up and so was my idea list on Amazon.  So here is what we did.  I tried to make it fun and unique and I think I accomplished that.

When the kids entered, they headed to Headquarters.  There they could get into disguise, decode their secret agent name and code number, gather their evidence bags and supplies for their missions.  

I just used old labels for the name tags and found a list online to create the secret agent names. If you would like to use what I did, let me know and I'd be happy to email it to you.  I also had them add their thumb print on the name tag so I got a fingerprinting pad, but any black stamp pad would work, just don't forget to put wipes by the stamp pad so they can clean off their fingers.

Hats and mustaches were on Amazon. You could also do sunglasses and there are plenty of options online for those.

I found a roll of stickers on Amazon that I could just put onto white paper bags.  Then I got the top secret pencils and notebooks as well as magnifying glasses.  In essence the kids put together their goody bags throughout the party.  So that saves you work, though you will need to sharpen pencils so they can use them.

I even joined in with my very own code name (Red Cobra Dragon), hat and mustache.

I bought some crime scene tape and cut out related images on my Cricut Machine (Explore Air 2).  It was pretty easy decorations.  I also got all of my table coverings from Dollar Tree and used black ones on the eating tables and just put the crime scene tape down the center.    

We invited a ton of kids and most of the parties online are for small groups, I figured I could divide them into 3 groups for some of the missions, but I wanted one that they all did together and I know this sounds crazy, but God gave me a game idea in a dream.  I call it Spy Tag.  I bought some play gemstones at Dollar Tree and had the kids divide into two teams.  One team was the bad guys and the other was the Spy Team.  The bad guys had a gemstones.  They had to secretly pass it back and forth on the field as they were chased by the Spy Team.  If the spy team tagged the criminal with the stone, they one, but if no one got tagged in the time alloted, they won.  We switched teams so that everyone could do both sides.  
I had one crew working to find who stole the gemstones in the Musuem Heist.  They had to crawl through the laser beams (hard to see in picture, but I just used red string), then find the fingerprint on the podium, then go find the hidden 5 suspect cards and match the fingerprint.  

The second mission was minefield.  They had to cross the minefield as a team, but if someone stepped on one of the mines they all had to start over.  There was candy waiting for them to be added to their evidence bags if they completed the task. 

The third mission involved these cool spy pens they added to their evidence bags in the library.  They had to follow the invisible clues with their special pens to the missing diamonds from the heist.  

The kids ate pizza and jumped on the bounce house.  I got simple cupcakes and added toppers I made with my Cricut and this top secret stamp.  I added file folders, a simple and cheap decoration. The last thing I did after Caleb opened all his gifts was had them pop the bombs (black and red balloons).  Three balloons had a number in them that they had to figure out to unlock the lock on a duffel bag that had candy bags for them to add to their evidence bags.  The lock I got had 3 numbers so I did 126 my son's birthday.  All it all it was success.  The kids had fun and I loved being creative.  

Now onto my daughter's 5th birthday this month - Unicorn Tea Party :).