Saturday, December 6, 2014

Our engagement story

Jacob and I recently had the opportunity to share the story of how God prepared us for one another on the Boundless blog. Click here to check out the blog or see the full post below.

How the Lord prepared us

Jacob’s perspective
I recently turned 30 years old and will soon be married for the first time. As I reflect back on my journey as a single man, I can’t say it was a smooth road to holy matrimony. There was plenty of anguish in my mind, longings in my soul, and unmet desires in my heart. If God had the ability to fatigue (which He doesn’t), He was getting tired of hearing His own words from me. I would plead to Him, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him (Genesis 2:18),” as if my reminder to Him was going to wave the magic wand and poof, here she is, a woman I can call my wife to fulfill His Word.

Looking back, there were a few lessons God taught me along the way, and I want to share two of those lessons. The first lesson involved God revealing to me that I was acting like a boy regarding women when He desired that I become a man. Thinking back on past relationships, there is one which sticks out. There was a girl who caught my eye. She was everything I hoped for in a wife — but I never asked her out. I never asked for her number. I never pursued her boldly.

Four years went by. Someone else came along, asked her to dance, and she accepted. God gently revealed to me that I had acted like a boy because I waited for the girl to initiate. I did not act because I was waiting for her to show interest. I was waiting for her to initiate a relationship. I was waiting for her to lead.

I am thankful for the humbling lesson. No man wants to be called a boy, but God doesn’t mince truth. When He revealed to me my boyish tendency, I wanted to become a man, and a search unfolded. I asked the question, What is a man? How does a man act toward a woman? How does he speak toward a woman? How does he pursue a woman? Lord, help me put my boyish ways behind me and make me a man!

"Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man" (1 Kings 2:2).

God revealed to me that He designed men to lead, that the man should shoulder the burden of rejection. It seems God made men a little more rough and tough when compared to a woman, placing in a man more capacity to face rejection and less vulnerability to attach emotionally early on in a relationship. God also gives men the responsibility to communicate effectively to the women in his life. If a man finds interest in a woman, he should creatively let her know and actively pursue her. It is the woman’s responsibility to accept or politely reject the man’s overture conspicuously.

The second major lesson God revealed to me while in the school of the great I AM was that marriage paints a bigger picture than a man and a woman. I was, for some reason, asking the question, “God, why did You create marriage?” It seems from reading the Scriptures that man and woman will not be married to one another in heaven, so why for a short while here on earth? Then I found Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” There is a comparison, assimilation between a husband and a wife and Jesus Christ and those He died for, His church. So is it saying God created marriage to display the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ? Is it saying a loving husband can resemble the Gospel of Jesus Christ? That is what the Bible says.

Man, did I have it all wrong. I was looking for a girl who met my requirements. I was looking for a girl who could measure up to my list of desired qualities. I was looking for a wife for me, stated plainly. God revealed to me that marriage paints a bigger picture — a picture that reflects God himself. A picture that is self-giving, self-sacrificing, and outward-focused. Boy, did I need some work to rearrange my heart.

So I asked God for help. “God, help me see clearly why you designed marriage.” Then, I started asking the question, “God, what should I look for when evaluating a woman to marry?” You know what He revealed to me? It was as if He said, “Look for someone you delight in sacrificing for.”

This was my mindset before attending Pursuit 2014

Allyson’s perspective
The beauty of God’s providence is seen in reflection. As I look back on the past 10 years or so, I review a mental scrapbook of highlights and sorrows in my journey toward marriage. My ideas and expectations of marriage have evolved so much since I was a little girl. I grew up in a home with believing parents who faithfully attended church and walked with the Lord daily. As a little girl and on through high school, I envisioned my life playing out like Mom’s: marry at 19, finish college, have two girls, became a “domestic engineer” for our early years, and then successfully ease my way back into the workplace.

In late high school, I started to realize my dreams for marriage probably would not come true, at least not quite how I envisioned it would. The guys at school were immature, selfish, and focused on the short-term. I told myself that college would open the door to meet some “men.” Well, college opened a number of doors, but if I learned anything during my freshman year, it was that age did not necessarily determine maturity. I dated two guys during college, but they didn’t last for a number of reasons. This was the time God started really teaching me some things about myself, about guys, and about marriage.

After finishing undergrad, I moved into an apartment with my sister and continued my studies by pursuing a graduate degree. My classes were primarily online, which was convenient but also led to isolation. I realized that once I graduated and moved off campus, there were not as many opportunities to meet people. Although I spent some time in the singles group at my church, it just wasn’t the thing for me. I did find community, but there were not many singles in the group.

God continued to provide avenues of growth for me. I began listening to Focus on the Family, Boundless, and Family Life Today regularly. Podcasts and articles are very convenient mediums, and I found myself consuming the wisdom of guest speakers, authors, and marriage and family experts ravenously. I began making decisions about how I wanted to serve my husband and children. After hearing so many helpful accounts of challenges in marriage and how to deal with them, I started tucking these ideas and strategies away into my mental marriage arsenal. The theme verse for my life has been Psalm 90:12, which says, “Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.” My aim was to make the most of my time as a single to prepare for marriage.

I dated some, but I learned early on that I only needed a date or two to determine whether or not there should be another date. The Lord gave me a strong discernment in these decisions, and I resolved to save as much as I could for my husband. At that time, dating was for the purpose of marriage, so I knew there was no point in recreational dating.

I struggled with the Lord because I felt I was at the point where my desires for marriage were aligned with what the Lord designed. I wanted to serve a husband, to better understand the relationship of Christ with the church, to have children and get a glimpse of God’s love for His children — why wasn’t He bringing this man into my life if my desires were in line with His Word? My prayers were filled with questions, tears, and a few fist-pounding pillow sessions, but ultimately I would surrender to the truth that it must not be God’s time yet. His timing is best, and my understanding of patiently waiting on the Lord needed some refining (Psalm 130:5).

Over the past three years, I ventured into the online community. I think it provided a good opportunity for me to learn more about myself and what I was looking for in a husband. One of the benefits of online dating is that both people are (usually) seeking a long-term relationship, so the big topics of faith and family typically come up fairly quickly. While I met a few nice guys, I just didn’t meet the right one.

When I registered for the Pursuit 2014 conference, my aim was to meet Steve and Candice, chat with some bloggers and authors, and maybe connect with a few singles in a similar stage of waiting. To be honest, as an introvert, I was a little anxious about some of the meet-and-greets and mixers planned since I was going by myself. That all changed within the first hour of the conference.

How the Lord brought us together in His time

Jacob’s perspective
On Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, I drove to Colorado Springs to participate in Pursuit 2014, a conference administered by Boundless. The conference was designed for Christian single young adults to come together to prepare, learn, and grow for the purpose of marriage one day.

I had an invitation to the VIP meet & greet in the afternoon where we could meet the speakers and the minds behind the Boundless blog. Entering the room initially, I looked around for any available conversation mates. In an effort to help my cause, I made my way to grab a cup of water. No luck. So I went outside to regroup. Entering a second time from another entrance, looking for some conversation mates, who do I find? Allyson Livengood. Allyson was the first person I met at the conference. Game, set, match. We hit it off right from the start. We came to find out we have many of the same interests and passions and most importantly, a shared faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We also had been reading many of the same books leading up to the conference. One of those books was Bill and Pam Farrel's The Before-You-Marry Book of Questions. I knew from the start this was a beautiful, wise, discerning woman, and I wanted to get to know her more. The weekend conference provided the perfect opportunity to ask penetrating questions in an attempt to reveal our hearts to one another at a wise pace.

I asked Allyson and her friend to dinner on Thursday night, and the more time I spent with Allyson, the more I was drawn to her. After dinner we parted ways for the night, but she had my eye. I was delighted to find her first thing Friday morning, and we sat together during the conference. I had planned a special night out on Friday night. At lunch, I asked if she would join me for dinner and a mystery event afterward. She accepted! So I took her to P.F. Chang’s for dinner, and for the mystery event, I took her swing dancing! It was so much fun, and she really impressed me with how quickly she picked it up!

Even though there were more than 300 girls at the conference, I only noticed one: Allyson Livengood. And I choose her for the rest of my days. I have come to see that this is the woman God had been preparing me for.

Allyson’s perspective
I, too, had an invitation to the VIP meet & greet Thursday afternoon. I was the first girl to arrive and found myself anxiously waiting for another girl to join me. When she did, we connected easily and chatted on a couch for about an hour before deciding we should probably mingle (this was more her decision than mine, since she was decidedly the extrovert between the two of us!). In looking for someone to join us in conversation, I noticed a really handsome guy standing on the periphery of the room. Soon after I saw him, he walked out of the room but later returned on the other side. When my new friend urged that we find someone else to talk to, I suggested Mr. Handsome because he was by himself.

We introduced ourselves to Jacob, and with each piece of information I learned about him, I found myself more and more drawn to him. I enjoyed our time together on Thursday night, but I wondered how/if we would connect again during the conference since there were so many people. Thankfully, we connected first thing on Friday morning, and he made it clear he wanted us to spend some time one-on-one when he took me aside during lunch and then when he asked me to dinner and a mystery activity that night. And let me tell you: Swing dancing was a blast! What an exhilarating time we had that night. I was very attracted to his planned spontaneity.

Throughout the rest of the conference, we were pretty inseparable. We had deep conversations, each posing probing questions that really enabled us to learn the essentials about the other person. We also had fun, taking pictures in the photo booth and exploring the Focus on the Family campus. Jacob was intentional from the beginning — something I've longed for, waited for. He initiated, and he took action — that is what a man does. By the end of the weekend, he asked if he could fly me to Kansas where he's from, and I knew this was no casual relationship. This was something different, something deeper. This was the man I'd been praying for.

Our shared perspective
The Lord worked in our lives individually to prepare us to meet each other. Looking back, we’ve been amazed to see just how God used the time alone (sometimes filled with doubt, frustration and loneliness) to do a work in our lives. Neither of us had dated for a number of years, having been on a first date or two but choosing not to prolong a relationship that did not have potential for marriage. God taught us how to be a man and a woman who will seek Him first in our marriage and seek the best for the other person. We have a lot to learn and are looking forward to years of pursuing the Lord and each other in the time we have on this earth (Psalm 14:2; Ephesians 5:21-33).

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How many wise men were there?

Have you started playing Christmas music yet? My sister and I usually bar ourselves from playing Christmas music until after Thanksgiving, but this year is an exception - we're ready for it!

These days, there is no shortage of styles, versions, and variations on the old familiar carols (and there are a lot of good new ones, too!). For many, the lyrics are great reminders of Truth from the Bible. But others? Well, Chuck made a great point in church this morning: some carols focus more on tradition than Truth.

For example, in "We Three Kings," the carol talks about three kings from the Orient. If you press pause on the song and reach for your Bible, you will find no reference to three kings. In Matthew's gospel, the only kings mentioned are King Herod (evil) and King Jesus (righteous). Tradition also has it that there were three magi. Well, the number three was never mentioned. We know there was more than one because of the plural noun used (magi), but there could have been two or seven or twelve. The only time "three" is mentioned is when it comes to the gifts they brought.

The message from this morning? Make sure we study the Word first and don't rely on even tradition to teach the Truth.

Speaking of truth, each year I like to focus on a different person in the Christmas story and look at the events from their perspective. I had not decided on that person until this morning. As Chuck described the three gifts of the (two/seven/twelve) magi, a cord was struck in my heart as I considered how Mary would have perceived these gifts for her son.

  1. Gold: a precious metal, gold was given to kings and so this signified Jesus' authority as King
  2. Frankincense: a costly oil (usually reserved for priests) signified Jesus' authority as High Priest
  3. Myrrh: aromatic spices used for anointing and embalming the dead, signifying Jesus' purpose on earth - He came to die
It was this last point that stuck out to me. Mary, sweet, young Mary, was chosen to be the mother of Jesus. Though an honor, it was not an easy road. The three gifts of the magi were symbolic for this child who was born to save the world. She must have been proud and honored to see the gifts of gold and frankincense, knowing that this child was the Savior. 

But she must have caught her breath when she saw the myrrh. The angel of the Lord told her, "You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end"(Luke 1:31-33). 

I'm sure she wondered how this could be? Why would the magi bring this gift to a child (a King) whose kingdom would never end? 

Mary must have had many questions throughout Jesus' life. And yet, she wisely placed them all in God's hands: "I am the Lord's servant[...]May your word to me be fulfilled" (Luke 1:38).

And so, I will focus on Mary this season - on the word from the Lord she received, the questions that must have filled her mind and heart, and her ultimate decision to trust Him.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The power of observation

There is a difference between seeing, looking, and observing.

You see the flower when you approach it on the trail. You stop to look at it because it caught your attention. But if you don't observe the flower's details and surroundings, you'll probably forget about it or only remember a shadow of it tomorrow.

Do you consider yourself to be an observant person? If so, consider the following:

  • How many steps do you take between your bedroom and the bathroom?
  • How much did you pay for your last tank of gas?
  • What did your spouse/roommate/friend wear yesterday?
  • Are your parents right-handed or left-handed?
  • What color eyes did your last waiter have?

I realized during this morning's sermon how much I miss when I passively see something and don't take the time or energy to observe it. Chuck is doing a mini-series called Pursuing the Treasures of the Scriptures, and today was all about observation. He defined observation as "to inspect or take note; to watch carefully with attention to detail." He challenged us to look at verses in context ("Never isolate a verse - isolated verses lead to error.") and gave us some tips on how to actively read the Bible. 

One of the tips that hit home with me was to read the Bible as if it were a love letter. For example, when you receive a love letter, everything in it is significant. How was it addressed (dear, my love, my darling, etc.)? Is it the same as the last letter or different? Is the letter long? Short? Is it focused on feelings or events? 

When you receive a love letter, it is good to read it aloud so you can hear the voice of the author. Words take on new meaning when you read them aloud. 

With a love letter, you read and re-read...and re-read it. Your heart is full and with each reading, your affection grows.

What if we read the Bible that way? What if we carefully observed it - each piece? How is this part different from that part? What are the common themes? 

What if we read it aloud to ourselves or each other? When you read something aloud, especially to someone else, you can't skip over words or phrases because the passage won't make sense! Reading aloud can help convey feeling or emotion when read with inflection. 

What if we read and re-read passages? What if we took the time to cross reference? Check out a map of where the events take place? What if we researched the culture to get a better understanding of the historical and cultural context?

How much more would these passages mean to us and how much easier would it be to commit them to memory?

Oh, that we would observe the Bible as we read it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A faithful life

As a little girl, I grew up in the church and heard all the "famous" Bible stories:

  • Adam and Eve
  • Noah's Ark
  • Jacob's deception of his father Isaac
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace
  • Daniel and the Lion's Den
  • David and Bathsheba
  • The woman at the well
  • Jesus feeds the 5,000
  • Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection

If you're like me, though, you probably didn't learn the context of each story. As I got older and became more interested in the history of the Bible, I realized that these stories all seemed like isolated events instead of integral pieces of the bigger story of salvation.

Yesterday in church, Steve Farrar (filling in for Chuck), taught on Daniel. As he went through a brief overview of Daniel's life, I realized something completely obvious that somehow still took me by surprise: the Daniel of the fiery furnace (friend of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), is the same Daniel as the Daniel who was thrown in the lion's den. Duh, right? I mean, I've used the name "Daniel" whenever I've recounted both stories, but for some reason, it really hit me yesterday that this was the same man.

What also struck me was the fact that he was in his early thirties when his friends faced the fiery furnace (after they went through their extensive training at the king's palace) and in his eighties when thrown into the lion's den. As I reflected on this, I realized I've had a preconceived (and wrong) notion that if we experience trials when we're younger, we'll "earn our wings" and likely not face big challenges outside of declining health - that we'll reach some sort of threshold of difficult experiences and not have to worry about significant trials later in life. 

Clearly, that is wrong thinking.

Daniel was faced with the choice of accepting a life of luxury at an early age - an age when he could have felt on top of the world. We learn here that Daniel and his friends were offered not only the chance to excel in their learning, but also to taste of the excess of the king's table. Despite the temptation, these wise young men were determined not to fall into defilement. God blessed their obedience with "unusual aptitude," and they excelled in their learning.

Daniel proceeded to succeed, offering interpretations of the king's dreams and receiving due recognition. However, despite his faithfulness, Daniel and his friends were still persecuted - his friends with the fiery furnace, and Daniel later with the lion's den. We are never beyond being persecuted for our faith, even by people who have recognized the Lord's hand in our lives.

However, I am so encouraged by this faithful man. He continued to follow the Lord throughout his life, not doubting in God's sovereignty or swaying in the face of torture or death. May I learn to be faithful no matter what. May I trust in God's sovereignty whether I'm 28 or 88. 

What events in the Bible have you never really put together? Take some time to review the context of these accounts, as it will undoubtedly teach you something new and profound.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Be an early bird

When is the last time you got up in time to watch a sunrise? And I mean sat down and focused on the beauty of the stillness of the morning without any distractions?

I recently had the opportunity to do just that at Palmer Park in Colorado Springs, CO. It was a beautiful morning and will be a very special memory for the days to come.

"Satisfy us each morning with Your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives." 
(Psalms 90:14)

"My flesh faints for You, O God. My soul thirsts for You. Your steadfast love, O God, is better than life."
(Psalms 63:3)

"The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display His craftsmanship."
(Psalms 19:1)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What's in a word?

Have you ever thought about how hard it would be to learn English as a second language? Sure, you could learn the basics: verbs, nouns, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, conjunctions, interjections...(yes, I had to look up the last two because although I use them all the time, I wouldn't recognize them by their "proper" names). But knowing the basics and putting them to use are completely different.

There are so many nuances in the English language. Think with me of the words that look and sound the same but have completely different meanings depending on the tense, context, inflection, etc.

  • Break (take a break, break a pencil, brakes on your car)
  • Fire (something is burning or you lost your job)
  • Tear (tear a piece of paper, tear through your work, tear up at a sad movie)
  • Favor (prefer one thing over another, gift from a party, doing a service for someone else)
  • Love (context: I love my mom v. I love pizza)
  • Like (appreciate something, make a comparison, give a thumbs-up on Facebook)

One particular word is at the forefront of my mind these days: compromise. It's important to understand when it is appropriate to compromise with someone when you are at odds and when it is important that you do not allow yourself to be compromised. The dictionary offers the following definitions for compromise:

  • a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims(...)by reciprocal modification of demands
  • an endangering, especially of reputation; exposure to danger, suspicion, etc.

In our relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, we learn the value of serving and putting the other person before ourselves. That is not to say we shrink back and refuse to communicate our likes, interests, and preferences. In fact, I find it to be more meaningful to compromise than to always get my way. If someone were to always let me choose, I wouldn't appreciate it as much as talking through how we can work it out so that we either both have the opportunity to get what we want at different times or brainstorm to find a solution we both agree on. We should not be surprised at or walk away from relationships where two people do not agree on everything. In fact, this is the perfect time to perfect your compromise muscle (like how I threw in that extra one?).

You cross a dangerous line, though, when you allow your faith, morals, or safety to be compromised. When you are in a relationship where you feel you must always set aside your beliefs, needs, and comfort to make sure the other person is happy (read: not going to walk away, manipulate, or hurt you physically or verbally), you put yourself in a compromising situation. 

While we should not run from disagreements (since no two people will always agree on everything), the Bible advises us to avoid quarrelsome people who look for any reason to start a fight (Proverbs 26:21). You know those people - they like to start arguments for argument's sake. They enjoy "stirring the pot" or throwing in a verbal grenade and watching others get into a heated discussion (aka argument). These are people we should not befriend.

The Bible talks a lot about quarrelsome people. When we familiarize ourselves with the indicators of these types of people, we learn discernment and can make wise decisions regarding who we allow into our inner circle. 

The Bible also talks about what our lives should look like when we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. Galatians 5:22-23 lays out the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When two people in a friendship or relationship seek to bear these types of fruit, compromise should be relatively easy (and even exciting) as they watch the Holy Spirit work through them.

So be wise in who you associate with. Learn when to compromise and when not to compromise.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

There's just something about getting away...

Don't you agree? When you get away from the day-in, day-out, so many things fall into place.

My friend Courtney and I drove down to Galveston a few days ago for an extended weekend. I don't think there was a break in the conversation on the 4 1/2 hour trip! We laughed and caught up on recent weeks. We got serious and discussed challenging professional and personal situations we are facing. It was that good, deep conversation that can be hard to come by in the midst of busy lives.

The weekend consisted of relaxing on the beach, watching dolphins, and eating good food. We read, prayed together, watched some tv, and caught up on sleep. It was a GREAT trip!

It took until this morning, though, to realize one of the primary benefits of getting away. Dr. Michael Easley stepped in for Pastor Chuck this morning and brought a good word from the book of Jonah. In the middle of the message, he referenced a quote that I now find lingering in my thoughts as the weekend winds down. He said, "Comparison is the kiss of death to gratitude."

Take a minute to think this through.

When we spend our time comparing ourselves to others (our work, our lives, our relationships), we miss out on experiencing and expressing gratitude. When we take time to step away from the routine and gain some perspective, I think we would all acknowledge that we fall short in being grateful.

The world constantly tells us we should be unhappy with what we have. Take marketing for example. Commercials and ads are based on the premise that you are missing something and that the product/service being advertised is the answer to fill the void.

I could list a number of other examples like social media, celebrity news, and pop culture in general, but it can be even simpler. We tend to compare ourselves to those around us more often than we do to the out-of-reach celebrity. We do it at work with our peers or superiors. We do it in our relationships with our friends. We even do it with people we pass by but don't know.

And there is the key. We rarely know what is really going on in the lives of the people we compare ourselves to. We may see the one good thing they've got going at that time while the rest of their lives is crumbling around them. This is why we must focus on being grateful for what God has given us and trust Him to provide for our needs. Leave it to John Newton to summarize it perfectly,
"Everything is necessary that He sends; nothing can be necessary that He withholds."

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Contrasting couplets

Are you familiar with the book of Proverbs? It consists primarily of contrasts between right and wrong.

"The merciful man does himself good,
But the cruel man does himself harm." (Prov 11:17) 
"The wise woman builds her house,
But the foolish tears it down with her own hands." (Prov 14:1)

I have found it helpful to study Proverbs from two perspectives:
  1. As written
  2. Grouping positives and negatives
The middle chapters of Proverbs (10-30) consist of these contrasting couplets. While a strong point is made in the closeness of the contrasting thoughts, I also like to group all the positives and negatives separately. These lists then identify godly traits we should strive to exhibit and traits we should strive to avoid.

Take chapter 12 for example:

  • Original
    "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
    But he who hates reproof is stupid...
    The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
    But a wise man is he who listens to counsel...
    He who speaks truth tells what is right,
    But a false witness, deceit...
    The righteous is a guide to his neighbor,
    But the way of the wicked leads them astray...
    A lazy man does not roast his prey,
    But the precious possession of a man is diligence...

  • Positives
    "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge...
    But a wise man is he who listens to counsel...
    He who speaks truth tells what is right...
    The righteous is a guide to his neighbor...
    But the precious possession of a man is diligence...

  • Negatives
    "But he who hates reproof is stupid...
    The way of a fool is right in his own eyes...
    But a false witness, deceit...
    But the way of the wicked leads them astray...
    A lazy man does not roast his prey...

Sometimes, I need to focus on the good things I can do to honor God and love my neighbor. I need reminders - a tangible list of actions to take and traits to cultivate. Other times, it is more convicting and helpful to be reminded of actions to avoid.

I have found this approach to studying Proverbs refreshing, and I hope it opens your heart and challenges you to read the Word with fresh eyes.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A simple act of chivalry

My heart melted today when I observed a simple act of chivalry.

I walked out of Chick-fil-A behind an early 30-something couple who had met up for a quick lunch date. Heading toward her car in the parking lot, they held hands as the guy led the way. Upon arriving at the girl's car, he led her around to the driver's side door and opened it for her to get in. Once inside, she rolled down the window to finish their goodbye. Before she drove off, this chivalrous guy sweetly reached for her hand, brought it to his lips, and kissed it tenderly.

Rare, stolen moments. Uncommon acts of service. Extraordinary courtesies.

Gentlemen, these are the things that woo a woman's heart. Think of her before yourself. I like how The Message words Ephesians 5:25-28:
"Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage."
Yes, this passage specifically addresses married couples, but I think those of us who are single need to be in the practice of honoring others above ourselves as well. In fact, chivalry is defined much more broadly than actions just between a committed couple.

1. the combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, esp courage, honour, justice, and a readiness to help the weak
2. courteous behaviour, esp towards women

Chivalry is not limited to how men act towards women. As a woman, there is something so attractive about a man who serves others - men and women. Men who see a need and seek to meet it are the ones we respect and admire.

In the same way, we women should seek to encourage, support, and serve. The Bible reminds us all to not be concerned for our own good but for the good of others (1 Cor 10:24).

I am thankful for this gentle reminder today - a reminder to seek the good of others before my own good.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Is Heaven for real?

Do you think about Heaven?

I wasn't planning to spend a majority of the day with Heaven on my mind, but it sort of worked out that way, and I'm glad it did. Many people today would say, "You're young! Focus on what's in front of you and what you can achieve here and now. There will be plenty of time for you to think about Heaven down the road."

If you know James, you know he would disagree,
"And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.” You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”

Mom and Dad gave me Randy Alcorn's book Heaven for Easter. I'm a few chapters in and have already learned so much. This is one of those books that really helps you understand what you've read in so many different parts of the Bible because it pulls everything together. One of the great analogies I came across in the book today was written by C.S. Lewis:

"Women sometimes have the problem of trying to judge by artificial light how a dress will look by daylight. That is very like the problem for all of us: to dress our souls not for the electric lights of the present world but for the daylight of the next. The good dress is the one that will fact that light. For that light will last longer" (58).

This also makes me think of shopping for the in-style clothes that are often cheaply made. They keep you in the latest fashion but won't last through the seasons. They will become outdated and require frequent replacing. However, if you invest in a classic, well-made article of clothing, it will outlast all the others.

It is this way with dressing our souls. We should invest our time and energy preparing (dressing) our souls for eternity and not just for today or tomorrow.

After spending some time in Heaven (reading about it, rather), I saw the movie "Heaven Is For Real" with my family. It was a sweet movie that asked some very serious questions:

  • Is Heaven real?
  • What is Jesus like?
  • Will we recognize each other in Heaven?
  • Do we really believe what the Bible says about Heaven?

I always enjoy going to movies like this one with my family and friends because it gives us a chance to discuss and affirm each other. There has been a lot of discussion about "religious" movies lately. I think that as long as you know what you believe (and can support it with Scripture), these movies can be an encouragement and spur great conversation.

So, I'll ask it again: Do you think about Heaven? If not, I challenge you to spend some time thinking about it. Life on earth can be really good...but going Home will be beyond words. I can't wait to go Home. Sara Groves says it well in her song "Going Home:"

I’ve been feeling kind of restless
I’ve been feeling out of place
I can hear a distant singing
A song that I can’t write
But it echoes of what I’m always trying to say 
There’s a feeling I can’t capture
It’s always just a prayer away
I want to know the ending
Things hoped for but not seen
But I guess that’s the point of hoping anyway 
Of going home, I’ll meet you at the table
Going home, I’ll meet you in the air
And you are never too young to think about it
Oh, I cannot wait to be home 
I’m confined by my senses
To really know what you are like
You are more than I can fathom
And more than I can guess
And more than I can see with human sight 
But I have felt you with my spirit
I have felt you fill this room
And this is just an invitation
Just a sample of the whole
And I cannot wait to be going home 
Going home, I’ll meet you at the table
Going home, I’ll meet you in the air
And you are never too young to think about it
Oh, I cannot wait to be going, to be going home

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tell them now

I think we can all agree that waiting is not how we like to spend our time.

  • Waiting in line at the check-out counter
  • Waiting to hear back on that job interview
  • Waiting for test results from the doctor

If we had it our way, waiting would be non-existent.

  • First in line
  • Immediate feedback
  • Instant results

Alas, we cannot rush through the waiting in most cases. And often, it is in the waiting that we grow and learn and develop into who God wants us to be.

On the other hand, we CAN avoid one type of waiting. You know, that thing you tell yourself you'll get to one day when it's more convenient or easier or would require less humility. The thing you figure you'll always have the opportunity to do...tomorrow...

What is that thing? Telling someone how much they mean to you. 

I was so blessed this morning to wake up to a message from a former student (before I changed career paths) who is graduating from high school this year. He wrote me the kindest note, thanking me for being a "great teacher" and an "inspiration" to him. What a surprise! Tears filled my eyes as I thought about the time and intentionality it took for a high school senior, in the midst of a busy, busy time of life, to think back on someone who taught him in sixth grade and thank her. It absolutely made my day.

And it made me think...who am I putting off thanking? Who is it that touched my life recently or in the distant past that I keep telling myself I need to thank or tell how much they mean to me? 

And why is it that I put it off? Sometimes, I think I put it off in hopes of finding some super-creative way to send the message. Sometimes, I think that I'm too busy to invest the time. Sometimes, I'm just lazy. None of these are good excuses. Yes, I think a genuine thank-you or message of encouragement should take some time to craft or rehearse. We ALL can make this kind of time.

Let's DO this. Think through those people who have impacted or are impacting you right now. Tell them how much they mean to you. Tell them often! I have yet to meet someone who gets tired of being appreciated.

"From the fruit of their mouth a person’s stomach is filled;
with the harvest of their lips they are satisfied" (Prov 18:20). 
"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Col 3:12). 
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law" (Gal 5:22-23).

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Workin' hard or hardly workin'?

This weekend I attended a conference entitled "Your Work: More Than a Paycheck" at Irving Bible Church, hosted by The Table (a ministry connected with Dallas Theological Seminary). Here was the premise of the conference:
"Work is not a necessary evil. It is a holy pursuit. Humanity, being in the image of God, is meant to be creative and manage our world. Yet it often seems that our daily responsibilities either become a god themselves or just serve as a distraction from serving the Lord. Work is not a product of the curse; rather it is a sacred call from God Himself!"

The theme connected with me on a deep level, as I want to believe that my job - the thing I spend so many of my waking hours on - has meaning. Not just meaning in terms of financial provision (though that is a great blessing), but that there is true meaning in my work.

One of the first subjects addressed was the theology of work. The first speaker pointed out that work is not a result of the Fall. Many of us (myself included) zoom right past Genesis 2 when we're frustrated at work and hone in on the result of the Fall:
"Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life....By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return" (Gen 3:17b-19).
However, we've missed the opening act! God modeled meaningful, quality, excellent work through the act of creation. Then, He presented Adam with his first task: to name the animals. Genesis 2:19 says that God formed the earth-bound animals, as well as the birds of the air (and I believe we can assume Adam watched in amazement). Then, check out the second half of the verse:
"He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name."
We also have the blessing of God spoken in Genesis 1:28, where He ordains that man should "fill the earth and subdue it," ruling over the animals. The Bible specifically words this as a blessing from God, so we should view the opportunity to work as a blessing.

There are countless references to work in the Bible. The historical references, which describe role models of good work ethics, are outlined in passages like the Genesis references, Ruth 2, Esther 10:3, and both books of Chronicles, just to name a few. Then, the wisdom literature spells out the results of work (Prov 12:11, 14:23, Psalm 127:1-2, Ecc 11:6). Finally, the New Testament provides points of application for how we can approach work with integrity:
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving" (Colossians 3:23-24). 
"...and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody" (1 Thess 4:11-12).
"Do everything without grumbling or arguing..." (Phil 2:14-15).
In a world that puts profitability and success at the forefront of our thoughts (and performance reviews), it is both encouraging and challenging to see the Bible list strong character traits as primary goals.

Even more challenging to consider is the fact that we may not see the results of these good goals in our lifetime...which in no way diminishes their value but heightens the importance of an eternal perspective.
The question we must consider as we decide how to pursue our work (ethically and with integrity OR with ease and short-term gain in mind) is this:
Are we willing to do the honorable/difficult/right/principled work for an outcome we may never see? To toil now, during our lifetime, so that others can reap the blessings (rewards)?
To do so requires us to set aside instant gratification and personal gain, and rather turn our sights to the eternal. It demands a humility that enables us to set ourselves and our pride aside and recognize that we may not receive credit for our work now, but know that it honors God. He ordained it, anyway, and it is His praise we seek.

Think about all the people who did not see the fruits of their labors (Hall of Faith). It's hard for me to really grasp the fact that these people worked so hard and with integrity for results they never witnessed because I get the benefit of reading about them. I read their story, and I read the outcome that occurred decades or centuries down the road, but in this life, they never knew.

What about my life? Can I accept the perspective that I may not see the result of my work before I die? It's hard to think that way because I want to know that my work has purpose.

It all comes back to trusting the Lord. Plus, we are all continually learning how waiting on the Lord produces good fruit in us. This passage encourages my heart:
"...For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:3-8).
So, is work more than just earning a paycheck? I hope so. I hope that my interactions with people mean something. I hope that my goal of working with excellence, whether on a menial task or a report that goes to the CEO, means something.

But if I work for the Lord and not for man, then I know it does.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

You can't do it all

You can't do it all. Not by yourself. Not a chance.

We've all tried it, though, haven't we? Especially those of us who are recovering Type A's. We're the ones who take point on the projects, not trusting that they will get finished if we don't steer the ship. Surely we've all had times when we take on the full load because we want to know that a job is done 100% correct. It seems necessary to be a part of every detail to ensure all the bases are covered.

In the midst of that project, another one crops up, and you think you can eek it out, too. Slowly but surely, you work longer hours, take fewer breaks. PTO - what's that? 12:00 appears twice in your waking hours. You forget (or don't make time) to eat. You cancel plans with the people you care about, making excuses for your "crazy-busy schedule."

Me? Guilty as charged.

And thankfully, I'm not alone. Apparently Moses was a bit of a work hoarder, too. In Exodus 18, we see that he's taken the reigns as judge over Israel. Completely qualified and with only good intentions, Moses serves the people "from morning till evening" (v. 13). All day, he listened to cases and made decisions. He heard testimonies and in his wisdom had to decide the outcome. The people came to him to seek God's will when they had a dispute. What a responsibility!

Finally, Moses' father-in-law stepped in and called his attention to the impact this schedule was having on his health and well-being. Join me in observing Jethro's wisdom:

"When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, 'What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge while these people stand around you from morning till evening?...What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes to Him...But select capable men from all the people - men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain - and appoint them as officials...Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied" (v. 14-23).

A few points that stick out to me:

  • It took an "outsider" who cared about Moses to see the stress he was experiencing and confront him about it (so often, we simply cannot see it ourselves, or if we do, we won't acknowledge it until confronted by someone we love)
  • Jethro approached Moses with an admonition but also with a solution (he didn't just scold Moses for taking on too much)
  • Jethro gently reproached Moses, but he left the response in God's hands (no matter how much they care, no one can make a person respond to reproach - only God can change a heart)
  • The result of Moses delegating authority would be less strain for him and satisfaction for the people (it is not only for our benefit that we learn to share the load - it will benefit others, as well)

Recently, God blessed me richly with an opportunity at work to delegate a number of tasks to a new employee in a pseudo-manager work relationship. With a tendency to hold things closely, it took me awhile to feel comfortable delegating these tasks so that I could a) experience relief, and b) have the opportunity to pursue more strategic responsibilities. 

The key here is that I had to trust this person. I don't believe God advocates for us to relinquish important things to untrustworthy people. In verse 21, Jethro commands Moses to "(...)select capable men from all the people - men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain(...)" After a period of vetting, I realized that this person could be trusted to take on the work and to ask the right questions if he was unsure of the answer.

God has granted me significant relief through the blessing of this new employee, not only at work, but in my personal life. He continues to teach me to slow down and enjoy time with Him and the people I love. I can't do it all. I don't WANT to do it all. We cannot succeed in isolation - we have to learn to depend on each other. 

May I continue to learn how to share the load - both in releasing my hold on certain things and in taking on new things to help others.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

That's not my job

Now wait just a minute. Don't worry - I'm not trying to take the easy way out of something, and I'm not trying to create more work for you. I'm not falling ill to the entitlement syndrome that is plaguing our society and telling you that I'm above hard work.

No, this is a rather different sort of post.

Today, I saw the movie "Philomena," and my mind has been occupied all day with one of its core themes: forgiveness. I won't spoil the film for those of you who plan to see it, so I'll be vague. Throughout the film, there is a particular injustice that causes your defenses to rise, and you just want to see a certain person (or group of people) face the music. You want to see her/them called to account and forced to face the pain they caused so many people. So, when the opportune moment arises, it almost deflated me when instead of wrath, forgiveness was offered.

After recovering from my shock, I was ashamed. I started thinking through what exactly I wanted to happen in that moment of reckoning. I think the most important thing to me was that this person/these people learned a lesson. I wanted to ensure that there was no doubt of the pain that was caused, and I wanted to see remorse.

But we don't always get what we want. And when we have seen someone experience the consequences for sin, how many of us have felt sick that what we hoped for actually happened? Paul reminds us that God promises He is in control, and we should not take revenge:

"Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God..." (Romans 12:19)

Forgiveness is not forgetting what happened but releasing it and not allowing the cold hand of Bitterness to strangle the life out of your heart. It is not our job to teach others a lesson - it is our job to forgive.

I attended the Prestonwood Women's Retreat a few weekends ago, and was blessed to sit under the teaching of Jennifer Rothschild and Stormie Omartian. I took home so many gems of truth from the retreat that you can be sure you'll hear more about it in the months to come. One of the key take-aways from Stormie, a woman who experienced tremendous trials as a child that grew in her a deep bitterness towards her mother, was about forgiveness. Simple and true, she said,

"Forgiveness doesn't make the other person right - it makes you free."

In the wise words of Philomena, she agreed. Below is the brief dialogue between her and a reporter who had become her companion on a journey to find out the truth about the past. When the truth was discovered, he did not like it...

Philomena: I forgive you (Catholic nun) because I don't want to remain angry.

<Martin (i.e. reporter) exclaims in shock and disagreement>

Philomena: But I don't wanna hate people. I don't wanna be like you (Martin). Look at you.
Martin: I'm angry.
Philomena: Must be exhausting.

Anger and bitterness can turn us into different people, and it is EXHAUSTING. Forgiveness frees us. Once we let go of the selfish desire to be proven right or justified, we are free to heal and get stronger. It's not never is. But it's what God did for us, and what we ought to do for others:

"Our Father in heaven...forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us" (Matt 6:19-13).

"Husbands...treat her (your wife) as you should so your prayers will not be hindered" (1 Peter 3:7).

"So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the alter in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the alter. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God" (Matthew 5:23-24).

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Needles down, please

It's time we stop spinning webs.

Have we become expert spinners? We can spin one complex, intelligent (and convoluted), high-stakes web or several seemingly innocent, inconsequential strands that we hold onto (or that hold onto us) for next time. Our needles are actively at work, sometimes without us even realizing it.

What are we spinning?

Webs of lies.

In the message this morning, Pastor Chuck referenced a few anonymous surveys that provide eye-opening research on what people really think, which exposed that lying is an ongoing habit in our lives. Think about this: How would you answer questions that probe into your real beliefs about God, people, money, etc., if you knew no one would associate your answers with you?

Now, there are outright LIES that are crafted and planned to cause harm and deception, and there are the ones that seem to creep up on us. I think these are the ones that can be the most insidious (i.e. causing harm in a way that is gradual or not easily noticed.). These are the lies that get us out of a sticky situation we haven't had a chance to think through or "protect" someone's feelings or the ones that speak volumes when we do not say a word when we should.

The remedy? William Barclay put it well when he said, "Telling the truth demands a deliberate effort." Chuck recommended the following suggestions and related questions. These will keep you thinking...

1. BEFORE (think ahead):

  • Is what I'm about to say the truth?
  • Should I speak or remain silent?
  • Do I feel under pressure in this gathering?
  • Is this confidential information?
  • Am I about to cheat? (when you cheat, you lie to yourself)

2. DURING (ask yourself):

  • Am I saying this correctly with the right facts?
  • Should I be giving someone else credit for this?
  • Am I exaggerating?
  • Am I holding back something that should be said? (don't let your silence lead others to believe you agree with what is being said if you don't)

3. AFTER (consider this):

  • Do I regret what I just said? (asking this question with an open heart gives the Holy Spirit freedom to work)
  • Should I get back in touch to tell them I was wrong?
  • How could I have said what I said in a better way?
  • Was I trying to hide something when I said that?

These questions are convicting in general, as I consider my own speech, and specifically when I think about certain situations I have experienced. Let's all be proactive as we monitor our speech and work to keep each other accountable, as well as offer grace when we fall short.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


A few years ago (2008, to be exact), I took on a challenge from my Dad to focus on one word for the year: flexible. The goal was for me to open myself up to unplanned opportunities and be a bit more spontaneous.

What a life-changing challenge! It really shifted my perspective. I went from begrudgingly muttering the word to myself when an unplanned "opportunity" arose to welcoming the unexpected.

All this to say, I still prefer to plan things in advance, but there is joy and pleasure in the spontaneous. There are smiles to be had and feelings to experience that can only be the product of an impromptu event. I won't miss out on those anymore!

The events of last year led me to a word for this year: enjoy.

en·joy [en-joi] 
verb (used with object)
1. to experience with joy; take pleasure in.
2. to have and use with satisfaction; have the benefit of.

1. appreciate, fancy, relish, savor.

God wants us to enjoy our time with Him and pursuing His will for our lives, not the fleeting pleasures of the world. It doesn't get much better than 1 Timothy 6:17:

"As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be proud and arrogant and contemptuous of others, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches, but on God, Who richly and ceaselessly provides us with everything for [our] enjoyment."

As I look to make this word my theme for 2014, my goal is to take time to savor, experience, take pleasure in, make memories, and develop deep gratitude for certain things in my life.

  • I want to enjoy my time with the Lord.
    (spend more time praying and thinking and worshiping and singing, not rushing through a checklist)
  • I want to enjoy rest.
    (take time in the evenings and on the weekends to unplug and just simply rest without guilt about not filling every second with productivity)
  • I want to enjoy time with the people I love.
    (laughing, loving, hugging, listening, talking, sharing, growing, challenging, admiring)
  • I want to enjoy work.
    (whether at the office or getting things done at home, I want to think through what I'm doing and be thankful for the responsibility, enjoying the abilities God has given me)

Sometimes, a picture says it best. This picture (courtesy of my sister), will serve as a reminder to me of my approach for 2014:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Year End Review: Books & Movies

Do you remember sticky notes? I say "do you remember" because I use them less and less when I'm at home and put reminders on a digital calendar that chirps at me throughout the day. I do still use sticky notes at work, though...there's just something so satisfying about crumpling one up and tossing it in the trash when you've completed the task.

Well, speaking of the transition from paper to digital, I've done the same thing with lists. Using the Evernote app, I keep track of many different lists throughout the year: books read, movies seen, groceries to buy, gift ideas, etc. They come in super-handy when I want to take a look back at what I've accomplished or what I need to remember for the future.

Here is my list of books read in 2013:

  • The Bridge - Karen Kingsbury
  • Still LOLO - Lauren Scruggs & Family
  • Step on a Crack - James Patterson
  • Calico Joe - John Grisham
  • Sacred Search - Gary Thomas
  • Quiet Influence: The Romans 12:1 Woman - Diane Strack
  • Full Disclosure - Dee Henderson
  • God's Gift - Dee Henderson
  • Fifteen Minutes - Karen Kingsbury
  • Unspoken - Dee Henderson
  • The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The New Testament

I definitely got hooked on Dee Henderson. About 10 years ago, I read her O'Malley series of books and was enthralled. She is a very gifted writer, and it's hard to put her books down. I should get those O'Malley books out again...

Here is my list of movies watched in 2013:
  • Les Miserables
  • Star Trek: Into Darkness
  • Superman: Man of Steel
  • 42: The Jackie Robinson Story
  • Despicable Me (I)
  • The Butler
  • Catching Fire
  • Elf (for the 10th time or so...:))
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The list of movies doesn't look that long this year. I saw bits and pieces of other movies while traveling, but none of them were super memorable.

Keeping track of things like books and movies helps me put the year in perspective as well. I have a strong appreciation for the arts and usually feel a deep sense of connection with the characters and events in a book or movie. While I do not have photographic memory, when I make those connections and think back on them later, it transports me to that time in my life and other joys and challenges I may have been experiencing. 

Well, I guess it's time to start my 2014 lists!