The Circle of Life


There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…
Ecclesiastes 3:1-4
There is a time for all things. Sometimes, those times just occur simultaneously. It’s been a season of multiple “times” in my life recently. I’ve had times to do all of the things listed above; I feel like the last year has included every activity under heaven. Illness and death, graduation, painful separations from people and places that I love, relocation, new risks, leaving old dreams behind and realizing new ones. And then there is that rare moment when a dream you thought was dead is plopped down in your lap again. Literally.
When I left Chattanooga in July, I thought that I was leaving behind my dream of fostering and adopting. After more than two years of training and several possible placements that went to other homes, I moved to Louisville, terrified at the change to come, but perfectly content being the single girl in a new city. I moved in stages over the next couple of months, slowly bringing what I needed as I needed it.
In April, I had moved into my grandmother’s house, planning to remodel it and live in it with my future kids and my two dogs. I ended up there for about 10 weeks with three dogs and no kids. But this crazy time of crazy times began last November, when my grandmother unexpectedly passed away. I had the honor of spending her last days with her, and on the day before she died, I snapped this photo:
2014-11-24 18.36.42-1When we moved my grandmother to the Hospice unit, we realized she was most comfortable on her side, but she needed a pillow to prop up her arm. My back seat is always full of stuffed animals, so Pooh ended up being the pillow my Nana hugged. I love this picture. It’s a reminder of the love and support I know I always had from all of my grandparents. She is the one stepping into eternity, but it looks like she’s holding me up. It now hangs over my desk at home as a sweet reminder that no matter where I may go, I have a support system that is always holding me up.
My grandmother’s death allowed me to have a space, a home for new life, and when I moved out of her house, I thought that dream had ended, or at least been delayed indefinitely. The last few months, though, life and death have been intricately intertwined, a precious reminder that there are different times in life, and sometimes they really do happen all at once.
Life and death and love and eternity.
Hope.
All powerful words, all captured for me in the image above.
Which is why, when I woke up last Sunday after dozing off while putting Big Sister down for a nap, seeing this took my breath and brought tears to my eyes:
2015-10-24 21.32.23There’s someone else, cuddling Pooh with one hand, and hanging on to me with the other.
One moment is a sweet reminder of memories made and a life well lived, a legacy to uphold.
The other moment is a precious promise, a new and unexpected life to cherish and protect, a generation to whom that legacy will be passed.
The last month has been a whirlwind of preparing my grandmother’s house to be sold to a different young family. Several weekends I have gone back to Chattanooga and have simultaneously closed a chapter with my grandmother and begun writing a new chapter with my own kids. These intertwined times were literally being separated into different boxes, what was being preserved, what will be moving to Kentucky. But the best moments were when those old memories were packed up to come to Louisville for Big Sister and Little Man. Books and toys and highchairs that have been used and loved by generations of kids in my family are being used again. And my Nana would be thrilled to see that.
My worldview recognizes that life is a line; there is a beginning and an end to time itself, and it’s not stopping for anyone. But even while time marches on, the seasons and rhythms of life remain. There are circles and connections, and sometimes the time to laugh and the time to cry may just happen at the same time. Just like spring comes after winter, new life is born out of death, and occasionally, we get to be there to see both the end and the beginning. And both are good.
And by the way, that Pooh has officially been designated a family heirloom.
Advertisements

Social Media Tattoos


This is a post I originally published in 2011 for Christians in Social Media, but unlike most things in the social media world, it is still very relevant today.

Yesterday, author and speaker Jonathan Acuff posted a comment on his Facebook fan page that could lead to very beneficial discussion between teens and those who live and work with them.

“Posting a photo online is like getting a digital tattoo. Once it’s on, it’s on forever. You wouldn’t let your 12 year old get a tattoo. Make sure they understand what they’re doing when they post a photo online.”

As Christians who actively participate in social media, it is important that we teach our teens (and first learn ourselves) the importance of applying biblical truth even in our interactions on social media sites.

The fact that our every move is known and “recorded” by God is an ancient truth; in Psalm 139 David praises God that we can never escape His all-loving, watchful eye. But being “watched and recorded” 24/7 by other people is new to human culture, and it places upon believers a new pressure to be wise in our walks, even at our most relaxed times like social gatherings. Here are some tips on caring for your “digital testimony”.

1. Be proactive. Don’t wait until you see that one of your students is tagged in a picture that captured a moment of poor judgment. Begin talking now with your tweens and teens about the permanence of anything posted online, not just photos. Even if you “delete” a comment from a social media site, it is captured and saved somewhere. Talk with them about where they go and who they hang out with. Ask them if they have talked with their friends about boundaries concerning what is ok and what’s not ok to post online. Remind your students that personal information such as address, phone number, and age should never be shared with people online that they don’t also know in person. And as much as possible, get to know your child’s friends, both those in reality and those with whom they only associate online.

2. Be gracious. Even the most well meaning person can end up in a photo or post a comment without thinking, and when (not if) you or your child gets caught in a moment of thoughtless social media usage, don’t panic and don’t blow up about it, even if that is your first impulse. If it is something you or your child posted and you have “social media regret”, delete it. While it doesn’t change the fact that it took place, repentance for a wrong decision includes attempts to make it right, and removing the questionable post shows an admittance that it was wrong and a willingness to correct the situation. If a friend has posted something of questionable or unflattering content, go the extra mile to make personal contact as soon as possible (a phone call, a face-to-face conversation), asking them to remove the photo or comment. Making personal contact lets them know that you are both sincere and serious in your request.

3. Be accountable. The best way to prevent photos or comments of questionable content from becoming social media tattoos is to avoid questionable situations to begin with. Teach your teens (and practice yourself) accountability with a friend in social settings. A good rule of thumb these days for where to be and who to hang out with is to ask yourself, “Would I want my friends and family members to see this posted on online?” If the answer is no, then it’s time to excuse yourself from the situation.

These are just a few ways to protect our testimonies online from negative impact.

What are some ways we can share a positive testimony online?

Remembering to #NeverForget


Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Deuteronomy 4:9

In the English Standard Version of the Bible, the word “remember” is used 162 times. The phrase “do not forget,” 15 times. Paul may encourage us to forget what is behind and press on toward what is ahead (Phil 3:13-14), but God is adamant that we also take the time to look back and remember. To think on the past, to recount His faithfulness. But also, I think, to ensure that we never forget the feelings and consequences, both positive and negative, that we encounter in life.

Why is God so insistent that we not forget?

Why do we so easily forget?

Some things, though, we want to forget. The feeling of traumatic events. The scars on our hearts, minds, and bodies that come with tragedy. The sights, sounds, and smells that remind us of the worst moments of our lives. Sometimes we are able to on most days; to move on with life, to see beyond the tragedy, to find a new normal.

I would dare say that most Americans have done just that in relation to 9/11. It is a part of us, but the impact of that day is now such a part of our daily lives that it is no longer in the forefront of our minds. The War on Terror is just the backdrop to our lives. It so defines our society that we hardly notice it; until it is thrust back in our faces.

This summer, it was thrust back into the face of my hometown. When I first heard about the attacks in Chattanooga in July, there were conflicting reports as to what was going on, and the worst scenario I heard was that recruitment centers in the South were on high alert due to “coordinated attacks.” My first thought was, “Not again.” I had forgotten, and that day forced me to remember.

#NeverForget has become a catchphrase in our society. Its use has mostly become satirical and sarcastic, a caricature of our society’s absurd reaction to non-events:

While the phrase is a humorous way to point out the absurdity of the things we deem tragedies, it is also a phrase that should remain on our lips about the things that really matter.

Today I saw firsthand why God tells His people so often to never forget and to always tell the story, whichever story that may be. I walked into a 6th grade classroom this afternoon as the teacher was telling his students that they had enough time to watch the “9/11 video” that he had told them about earlier in the class period. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the actual news footage of that day, and this video was a compilation of live news coverage at 9:03 am, when the second tower was hit.

My reaction to hearing and seeing it all again was unexpectedly physical. It took my breath. A cold chill swept over me with such power that my skin hurt from the goosebumps. I had to sit down.

But as I gathered myself, I looked at the students whose eyes were transfixed on the screen. They were silent, watching, soaking it in.

And it hit me.

This was probably the first time many were seeing this footage.

None of them were even alive on September 11, 2001, and until the last year or so, they weren’t really old enough to grasp the impact of the day. Maybe they had seen pictures or had talked about it in class each year, but 9/11 was just a date to them, a distant memory like the assassination of JFK is to me or the attack on Pearl Harbor is to my parents.

It was a 14 year old distant memory. That’s how quickly our collective memory can forget.

It had been just a story to them, but today it was real. It was real for them for the first time, and it was real for me again. Suddenly I was once again a terrified college student, away from home for the first time and acutely aware of being far from my family and close to Oak Ridge, TN, a nuclear facility that is a known high alert potential target. I was staring at cloudless and silent skies as flights were grounded for days. I was helpless because I couldn’t leave school to go to New York, and I couldn’t even donate blood because there were no survivors who needed it. I was desperate for connection with others.

I remember 9/11, but I had also forgotten 9/11. And our students had never known for themselves. I needed to be reminded, and they need to know.

THIS is why God tells us not only to remember but to also tell our children. If we don’t tell them, we forget. We forget His goodness. We forget the consequences of our bad choices. We forget the blessings of our obedience. We move on with life.

We forget. And they never know.

So how do we never forget? We teach. We tell. We remember, in community.

In order to remember, we must never forget, and to never forget, we must always remember.

Love the Sojourner

Love the Sojourner


  
“Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:19 (ESV) 

In biblical times, hospitality was expected and homes were open to travelers. Inns were few and far between, and often dangerous places to stay. I’ve wondered on occasion what this hospitality command would look like in my Bible Belt culture where we have as many hotels as we have churches.
The past two weeks, I’ve not only seen this love, I have experienced it.

When I accepted my new position at a school in Louisville, I knew personally one couple here; Kevin and Patricia Smith, two of my parent’s best friends in ministry and in life. And they took it upon themselves to make sure this sojourner was well loved.

They weren’t ok with me staying in a hotel until I found an apartment, so they asked a friend from church if I could stay with her. She said yes without ever even speaking to me. The plan was to take it a week at a time, and stay with her until I found an apartment and could move in.

When I arrived at her house yesterday, she told me that it would be crazy for me to pay a mortgage and apartment rent when she has this house, so if I could handle her, I was welcome to stay with her until my house sells in Chattanooga. 

We chatted all evening about foster care and teaching. Mrs. Pat dropped by to check on me and make sure I was settled in. Then she took me to get buttermilk pie for dessert and drive me around the area.

This morning, Pamela, my host, made enough coffee for both of us and helped me figure out how long it would take to get to school because of last night’s flooding and regular traffic issues.

Then, as I was walking out the door, she said, “You know, I don’t even know your last name. What is it?”

That is loving a sojourner. Not needing the details, but just knowing the need and meeting it.

As my sister said last week, “People are strangers. Until they are not.”

And in the unity of the Spirit, we may be sojourners, but we are never truly strangers. 

 

Always?


One of the best parts of teaching at the school where I work is that our students regularly lead us in worship. And our praise band is “if they cut a record I’d buy it” good. 

They are talented, but they are also so honest in their walks with the Lord. I spend enough time with them each week to know their hearts. I see them worship with abandon and then get snippy with a friend or parent. I know they’re fallen and fallible. And they know it, too, which is one reason I love them so much.

Tonight was Awards Night, and our praise band and chorale led us in a time of worship. We sang Chris Tomlin’s song “I Lay Me Down,” and when we got to the bridge, the student leading closed her eyes, raised her hands, and proclaimed, “This is my favorite part of the song,” before singing the statement, “It will be my joy to say Your will, Your way, always.”

Immediately my heart responded, “Always?” I realized that so much of my silence, my frustration of the last two years has been that it has not been my joy to say, “Your will, your way.” Not at all.

This time six years ago, I was working at the YMCA in Wake Forest, NC, interviewing to teach history at an English speaking international school in Kabul, Afghanistan. I was chasing my dream: Bekah Mason, world traveler for Jesus.

Four weeks later I was living with my parents, back home in Chattanooga. No job, no degree, no globetrotting.

It was not my joy to say, “Your will, your way, always.”

It was not my joy when a counseling position I was developing for a ministry with a local office didn’t receive needed funding and was eliminated.

It was my joy to receive a phone call about a long term sub position to finish the school year at a local Christian school. 

It was my joy because I had always wanted to teach there, AND it was for the remainder of the 2009-2010 school year, after which I intended to move to Louisville, KY, and begin my PhD. My plan, my joy.

Six years later, through changes in departments, internships, starting and failing that PhD, coaching, learning, and loving, it has become my joy to be here still. Not my plan, but still my joy.

I am reminded of the man in Mark 5 whom Jesus delivered from the legion of demons. The text says that the man was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”

Go home to your people. For those of us with a wanderlust that is often unquenchable, there is no joy in Jesus telling us to go home. 

I love the travel, the short term, the excitement of new places and people and challenges. But my life is not about me, and in these last six years, I have learned one valuable thing about myself: to stay is to be known, and being known is a hard part of sanctification. Being known means tears and vulnerability, it means people knowing your weaknesses. Being known can be terrifying, but to be useful in community, we must be known.

The girl who moved to seminary nine years ago with plans of never coming home has ended up back in the same zip code her family has lived in for 21 years. I live in my grandmother’s house, teach at the school my sister attended, have the children of my friends in my clasess, and it is my joy. 

So is it my joy to say, “Your will, your way, always” in my heart? I’m still not there. But He is. Through the urges to run away, to self-destruct, to doubt and question and second guess. HE is always, and He is enough to bridge that gap on the days that I haven’t quite found my joy.

Because, you see, He is my joy, and He always finds me.

Guest Post: Give Her Wings Book Review


As many of you know, I serve with a ministry called Give Her Wings, whose mission is to “raise gifts and money for mothers who have left abusive situations… to give these brave ladies a chance to get on their feet . . . to breathe . .. to heal their broken wings and fly free again.”

Megan Cox is the director of Give Her Wings, and is herself a survivor of domestic abuse. She tells her story and provides insight into the experiences of domestic and spiritual abuse in her book Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse.

I recently asked several friends in different areas of ministry to read Megan’s book and write a review for us that gave their response to the book and how they could see it being used in their particular ministry. 

The following is the response I received from Sarah Mitchell. Sarah and I attended seminary together and served alongside one another in a variety of ways during that time. Sarah has served overseas and is currently serving in the (more than) full time role of wife to Chris and mother to their three preschoolers. The Mitchell’s live in Salem, VA, where Chris is the pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church.
A dear friend of mine knows how much I love to read and how I used to like to write…well, I still like to write, I think, but I haven’t in forever (something about 3 kids 4 and under!). Anyway, I digress already! So, Bekah asked me to read a new book, knowing that the book would be a helpful resource as a pastor’s wife in a local church.

Naturally I was excited to get to read a book that was both hot-off-the-press and a potentially useful resource. Little did I know how helpful this little beautifully written book would be over the last couple of months. A lady I know is currently struggling with the decision to stay in or leave an abusive relationship. Aside from praying through Scripture with her, which is, of course, the richest resource on the planet and applicable in every situation, I was clueless how to help her when she asked me for counsel and prayer, but that VERY SAME WEEK I received this book in the mail. The Lord’s timing is so utterly perfect and He obviously knew that I would need Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse by Megan D. Cox to give me a glimpse behind the curtain of someone who is struggling in a situation of abuse and to provide a practical guide for me as I walk this journey with my friend!

Things with my friend are complicated and fragile and I feel totally inadequate as her confidant and life-line, but God has very definitively crossed our paths and I know that obedience looks like helping her in whatever way I can. As I began to read Give Her Wings, I instantly loved Megan’s ability to share her personal story, truth from God’s Word, and practical advice both for the victim of abuse and the ones seeking to help her. Towards the beginning of the book, Cox writes some of the most life-giving words to encourage victims of abuse to come out of their situation into freedom. She says, “A seed must first die and be buried, then life comes…I was made to be free. That thought right there is the new life peeking out” (6). LIFE, and life more abundantly is what Christ offers to all of us and it is what we, those who are believers and ambassadors of the gospel have to offer others. Cox reminds her readers of that purpose over and over again throughout the book.

Complicated. Messy. Scary. Ugly. Dark. Those are words that describe the life victims of abuse long to leave behind. As encouragers, we offer the hope of life after abuse but it often requires personal sacrifice. To me one of the most profound statements Megan makes for those seeking to be helpers to victims is this: “There really is something to our lives being messy…Look into the life of one person you knows God and you will find a bit of chaos somewhere along the way…What unintentionally separated the wheat from the tares in my life was the fact that some people decided to get into our mess and get all muddied up” (45). I have a choice to make…I can run and hide and leave my new friend to fend for herself or I can hang in there, push up my sleeves, get on my knees, and really just be a friend. I know what Jesus did for those who had messy lives, He reached into their messes and just loved them. Cox calls us to do the same.

If those of us who are in full-time ministry or are involved in ministry at any level are at all tuned into what’s going on in the lives of those whom God has surrounded us, then we will likely run across people who need us to get into their messy lives and help. And Megan Cox doesn’t mean fix them or their situation. No. In fact she will tell us that we can’t fix it and that fixing it isn’t ultimately the point. The point, according to Cox, is to love them well. We need to be available, loyal, truthful, and pointers to the One who made them and loves them. Cox writes, “Tell her [the victim] that God does not wish anyone to be abused. She needs to know this right away…If she understand that Jesus cares about the pain and loves her, the seeds are planted for her to be able to separate an abusive husband from the true God who loves her” (90).

I definitely found Megan’s book to be a useful tool for those who are counseling women who are victims of abuse or as a healing balm for those who have been or are involved in an abusive relationship. It’s a brilliant diamond hewn out of the rough grit of her personal experience leaving behind a life of abuse and straining toward the abundant life the Lord had planned for her. It’s a unique resource because Megan artfully weaves excerpts from her own journey in and around and through scripturally anchored advice and how-to’s. I highly recommend and urge those who are in women’s ministry or in church leadership in any capacity to read Give Her Wings. It is a must-have resource for the Church as we seek to demonstrate Christ-like love toward the hurting and the broken and the ones being put back together piece by beautiful piece.

The Law and Love


I’m not a rule follower. Some of my friends find true joy in following the rules and rest comfortably in the center of set boundaries. Those friends and I confirm the adage that opposites attract. If a hard and fast rule is placed before me, I will challenge it, question it, examine it for loopholes, discuss it with the rule maker… In my old age, I will follow the rule if it’s not immoral and is a part of participating in a group with which I align myself, but that has not always been the case. The concept of civil disobedience is thrilling to me. I’ll take your consequences if it shines light on your injustice.

 It’s not that I’m against rules. I’m just against unnecessary rules.

And I think God is, too.

Here’s the thought I’m pondering: if we are to love like God, we should take note of the fact that the more He revealed Himself, the more people could know Him, the FEWER the rules He put on them. I mean, we went from God’s 10 Commandments to 700-something man made laws, to God stepping in and instead giving us a Savior and TWO commands– love God, love others.

If we are interacting and loving like God, should we let fellow believers “off the hook” as they demonstrate a growing walk with God? Can we better love one another by giving the benefit of the doubt when we are concerned about a situation involving a brother or sister in Christ?

What say ye?