Friday, November 15, 2013

God's Sense of Humor

This week has been awesome and super busy.  It's secretly how I like it; I may complain about being so busy and barely having time to breathe, but I agree to do so many things, because I love busy weeks that are full of excitement.  It would take an hour to write all the details, but let me highlight the great adventures of my week.

On Tuesday, I went to Tucker, Georgia - a place formerly unknown to me to speak at the Lawrenceville Road United Methodist Women's Fall Tea.  Of course, I was expecting a small tea with 15-20 ladies and was surprised by the sixty or so women from the Atlanta-Emory District.  We had a great time, and they blessed me and Murphy-Harpst with new books and DVDs for our library, leftover sandwiches and desserts for the kids, and a beautiful love offering.  These women are so passionate about the ministry and speaking to several of the ladies before and after tea was so refreshing for my spirit.

Women at the Lawrenceville Road UMW Fall Tea with their donation

On Wednesday, I traveled to Atlanta for a large career fair with twenty-seven universities and dozens of employers.  I shared with students about the opportunities of the United Methodist Church for service and about possible employment and internship opportunities at Murphy-Harpst.  Once again, I felt inspired to hear so many young people looking for a way to make a difference in the lives of children.

Matt and I at our friends' wedding last week
Now it's Friday, and my week is nowhere near over.  Today is Matt's 30th birthday, so we will be celebrating with his parents tonight, and I'm planning some special birthday festivities.

Tomorrow, I will be sharing with the Rome-Carollton UMW ladies at their district meeting, and on Sunday, I will be in Bremen for a mission event.

Like I said, busy.

Here's where God's sense of humor comes in.  On Monday, I told Matt about everything happening this week.  I even put it on the weekly calendar I got for him to keep up with me. :)  Every Thursday, we have a chapel service at Murphy-Harpst, and I told him that if our chaplain Brother Wayne called and asked me to fill in, I was going to have to turn him down.  Well... last night around 6pm when we were supposed to start, I found out that Brother Wayne's father had been hospitalized due to heart failure and he would not make it.  Was I going to cancel chapel at the last minute with nothing planned?  Of course not.  I chuckled as I walked to my office to get my computer for the service and assured Brother Wayne that we would figure it out.  We lift Brother Wayne and his family up in our prayers because health issues are serious.  However, God laughed in my face last night, saying you said you wouldn't do what? 

We had a beautiful service, full of song, dance, and the Word.  God had plans for the kids to hear a message, and I'm glad I didn't get in the way of that.  To God be the glory, forever and ever, amen.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Planning the Future

I love when God intervenes in my plans for bible study, and this week was one of those weeks.  We were discussing this week what happens when God's plan differs from our own.  I always try to come up with some kind of activity that works with the lesson, so I decided to pair up the kids and have them work together to create something without communicating.  I picked paper airplanes, which turned out fantastic.  Each pair was asked to make a paper airplane by making one fold and then passing it to their partner for the next fold.  They couldn't share what their plan was, and some pairs worked better than others.

My first partner got very frustrated when I made a fold that wasn't in his plan, and actually raised his voice to tell me that I wasn't doing it right.  I laughed out loud as he made the point that I was planning to make later in the discussion.  When God makes a fold that isn't in our plan, we usually get frustrated.  I told the kids beforehand that they were not allowed to unfold what their partner did, and it forced them to adapt to the unplanned fold of their airplane.

Our lives are like the paper airplanes we built.  We build our lives with God, but when our plan differs from God's, we can get frustrated or we can try to work together by following God's lead.  Something we forget is that God is the master airplane builder.  God knows how to build the perfect airplane, but our cooperation is required.

Romans 12:2 states "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s [plan] is—his good, pleasing and perfect [plan]. (NIV)

God does have a good, pleasing, and perfect plan that is sometimes not what we have planned.  I read a story in a devotional recently about a woman named Linda.  Her story was about her plan to become a medical missionary - a good plan that would probably be pleasing to God.  Instead, when she was fourteen, she acquired bacterial meningitis which put her in the hospital for a large portion of her childhood including an entire year at one point.  This was obviously not her plan, but instead of staying frustrated, she trusted God and God's light radiated from her during her hospitalization.  She tells the story with wisdom, saying that her mission field as she intended was the hospital, but she served God as a patient, not a doctor.

This was hard for the kids to wrap their minds around, as many of them have indicated that they'd like to help kids someday who have been in their situation.  I reminded them that they can do that right here.  They can serve God as a young person in the way that they want to serve God in the future.  Laura Story sings a song that has been so inspirational for me recently.  If you sometimes feel that God has abandoned you, I hope that this can give you a new perspective.  The chorus is below along with the YouTube video.  I hope that its message is as powerful for you as it is for me. :)

What if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Books, Literally!

This past month has been great!  The kids are back in the school routine, and we are busy every evening with a number of activities.  My fall project is to rejuvenate our library and get the kids in there to check out and read more books.  I haven't been working on this project alone, and as a team, we have made significant progress!  After cleaning our collection and doing some organizing, a group of Methodist Nomads came to do some projects on campus, including painting our library.  The hunter green walls got a brighter upgrade to a light yellow, and we received new couches, chairs, and a conference table.  There are a few pictures below of the shelves I have organized and the ones I haven't finished yet.

Complete Fiction Section

Incomplete Nonfiction Section

While the physical appearance and organization is necessary, we also needed a technological update and some increased usage.  In the past month, the kids have had an opportunity each week to come visit the library and check out books.  This is definitely one asset that we had not been taking advantage of, and I'm so glad it was such an easy problem to solve.  The computer system has been upgraded with the current residents' names and next week begins our inventory! :O  We had an entire cart of books that have been recently donated but had not been tagged.  This took more work than I realized, but here is the final result.

Newly tagged books!

Of course, I couldn't spend my spare time with books and not let all those literary analogies influence the rest of my life.  So, this week our bible study had a bookworm twist.  We talked about the dark times in our lives, and on a roll of toilet paper, marked the years in which some negative events had occurred.  Then, we rolled out the paper to represent the average years we have to live.  We compared the first 8-16 years that we've experienced to the first chapter of a book.  Sometimes, the first chapter doesn't get us excited.  Maybe there's a lot of information that we're learning but we're a little bored.  I asked the kids what happens if they keep reading, and most said the books get better.  Some, however, said they tended to stop reading if they didn't like the beginning.  We decided that we all have that choice.  We've seen the first chapter, but we have no idea what the rest of life holds.  We have to keep living life to find out how our story continues.  

I took this quote from a book that I've been reading: "Your life will not be defined by this dark night of the soul.  Never does a single chapter of any book tell the whole story.”

We then stepped back and looked at the marks, the pain, in our pasts.  And, we talked about what God does with our own failures, and mistakes we have made.  We tore that part off and looked at a white slate.  We recognized that we are still going to have marks, times of pain, and times of disobedience towards God, but if we believe and have faith like Abraham, God will see us through the fire.

One year into my service, I still have so much to learn, and I'm grateful for the experiences God gives me every day.  Life is a beautiful adventure; go get it!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

School's Back - August Newsletter

School is back in session!  Things are slowing down a little, and I'm working on the library renovation.  We have been without a librarian for years and are in need of some desperate update.  Luckily, I have something to do at work while the kids are in school now!  Yipee!  Here's the August Newsletter detailing some summer adventures.

AUGUST 2013 Newsletter

Friday, August 23, 2013

Surrounded by Your Glory

God uses all things, no matter how big or small.  For example, my freshman year of high school, I was involved in the FFA.  I learned useless facts about the organization, which have still yet to come in handy and competed in some public speaking contests.  After trying the prepared speaking, I decided it wasn't for me.  I didn't like sounding so prepared, because it was difficult to sound genuine.  Now, I'm laughing about that, because I try to prepare sermons for the kids when I preach at chapel.  Last night, I didn't have that opportunity.  Through a little miscommunication I learned I was sharing about 20 minutes before the service started.  So, as we sang some songs, I prayed for God to give me something to share.  This was God's response.

We sang the words to "I Can Only Imagine", and I was reminded that although this song is about imagining heaven and being in the presence of God, we are given the opportunity to spend every day walking side by side with our Lord and Savior.  We may not physically see the face of God, but we can see God's love in the faces of others whom God created.  I reminded the kids that they, themselves, can show people the face of God in the way they treat each other and their teachers as they start school.  The chorus is even more beautiful imagery:

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel 
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still 
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall 
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all 
I can only imagine 

I told the kids to remember that we all experience God differently.  This is a lesson I have to remind myself of constantly when the kids ask about why people were falling on the ground in church on Sunday.  That's not the way I experience God, but I should praise the Lord that God is reaching that person and they are responding in their own personal fashion.  I asked the kids what they thought their hearts would feel surrounded by the glory of God.  And then, I told them that God is just waiting on them to answer the call.  

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends."  -Revelation 3:20 (NLT)

What a glorious God!  How will you respond?  Will you dance, or be still?  Will you stand or fall to your knees?  Will you sing or be speechless?  I believe that we can do more than imagine the presence of God.  Open the door and let God in, so you can experience the presence of God firsthand.  Amen.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

From the Wilderness to the Promised Land

July has been another busy month with lots of new memories and LOTS of new kids at Murphy-Harpst.  I had one story in particular that was incredibly inspiring, and I wanted to share it with the public.

During our summer program, we have bible study each week.  Some groups will speak up to answer questions or read scripture, but rarely do we have an extensive conversation.  So last week, we talked about Moses' time in the wilderness and in particular the Israelites complaining about their diet post-Exodus.  We talked about the Israelites' three life stages - slavery, wilderness, and the Promised Land.

We made an analogy to our own lives in these three stages.  While we are living a life of sin, we are slaves to that sin.  The day we accept the grace that God offers to us through Jesus Christ, we are freed from our slavery to sin.  The problem is that many of us want to skip the wilderness, and when we accept Christ, we expect to receive the Promised Land instantly.  Anyone who has dedicated his or her life to God knows that the moment you accept Christ isn't the moment you enter the land flowing with milk and honey.  We discussed that in our own lives, if we don't get immediate rewards, we sometimes give up on working towards a goal.  Like some of the Israelites, we are willing to give up our freedom from sin and return to slavery because we crave parts of our past lives.  The wilderness is the trying time when I think our minds are renewed and we truly become one with God.  It takes patience though before we get to experience the peace, the oneness of me/God, that comes from a life lived to serve the Lord.

Instead of the kids blowing off what I said, they embraced it, relating this patience I talked of to their own prayer lives.  One girl even mentioned that she had prayed five years to have a relationship with her mother and it finally happened, but she gave up a few times along the way.  We discussed that God knows when the timing is right, even when we sometimes don't understand it.

One boy asked why we have to walk through the wilderness.  A simple question, but one I had not considered previously.  Before I could answer, another child said that we grow during that time and it makes us stronger and more able to endure when hards time come along.  They even compared it to Adam and Eve being given a perfect world and wasting it, because they didn't appreciate it.  "Maybe we need the wilderness to appreciate the Promised Land," she exclaimed.

After having bible study with three groups, my assistant for the day asked if she could lead the next group.  I hesitantly said yes and was blown away by the wisdom she imparted on the other kids.  Writing this brings a tear to my eyes, because I've been trying to teach and lead the children, but I didn't realize I was teaching them how to lead.  God has bigger plans for us than we do for ourselves, and I am so blessed to be used in such a powerful way.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Where did June go??

So summer program started....

And there was a LOT to do....

And we've been VERY busy....

Now that I have my excuses out of the way, let me tell you about the joys of June.  I can't believe the month is almost over, but it has been an exciting one.

I went home to Oklahoma to kick off the month, celebrated my friend's wedding, a 5-year high school reunion, and a family reunion.  My boyfriend Matt was able to accompany me on the trip (his first to the Okie state) and it was extremely memorable.  Only a week after the tornadoes in Moore, Matt was scheduled to arrive at Will Rogers Airport, only to be interrupted by another tornado, delaying him another day.  We were happy to get him there safely, so we could join in some of our little adventures.

Pre-Matt, I went to the Oklahoma Annual Conference.  For the non-Methodists, it's basically a gathering of pastors, laity, and guests to discuss and celebrate what's happening within the conference.  Conferences are different sizes, but Oklahoma's includes the whole state.  It was my first annual conference ever, and the experience was very enjoyable, especially since my best friend Erica is a youth pastor and was also in attendance.  We had time to catch up and make some interesting connections.  I've enjoyed seeing how all these mission folks are somehow binded together.

Interesting connection of the week:  Erica's church just started Project Transformation this summer, which my fellow missionary Elisabeth works at in Dallas.  Click on her name to learn more!  Since I had heard so much about the program from Elisabeth (who I visited Spring Break), I was super pumped to hear that Wesley UMC in El Reno would be using this program at their church.

My relaxing trip back home did involve some down time, but I got to spend a lovely evening (heavy thunderstorms) with a few close friends at Cheyenne Valley UMC and speak to the Congregation at my home church in Fairview.  Whew!  The week closed out with a beautiful golf outing and friendly competition between my parents and Matt and me.

On our way back to Georgia, we went "Walking in Memphis" from Beale Street to Graceland to Rendezvous Barbecue to the roof of the Peabody.  Even though we work together and see each other pretty much 7 days a week, it was nice to have some time to enjoy each other's company without all the other distractions.

Summer program started when we returned, and it hasn't slowed down.  We start at 8am every day and finish around 5pm.  I've been inside doing themed activities from Sports Week to Superhero Week to Animal Week.  I've also spent a lot of time lifeguarding, helping with swim lessons, and enjoying the kids' company.  There is so much joy in seeing a child accomplish something like learning to swim and I've already seen five kids master the skill in the first three weeks!

I've had some time to cool off, but two weeks ago, I was just looking for some light at the end of the tunnel.  When it rains, it pours, and it poured all week long!  Tuesday, we had bible study.  Wednesday, I spoke to the North Georgia UMW at their annual conference breakfast.  Thursday, I preached at chapel.  And Sunday, I preached at my new home Anna Kresge UMC.  Between all that and working 8 hours/day, I was exhausted.

It ended on Father's Day though, and I got to enjoy a little celebration with Matt's family followed by some much needed R&R at the pool (not the one where I lifeguard with the kids).

We dove into summer and are still swimming to the top.  I'm sure there's so much more to come with the Youth in Mission conference next week at Lake Junaluska and another trip home for two more weddings.  I look forward to what July has to offer, but I'm hoping to hold on to the next few days as long as I can.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Big Questions, Big Decisions

Yesterday morning, I was laughing about how hard it was going to be to do work with only a few days between me, vacation, and a trip back to Oklahoma.  I'm sure everyone will be thinking I skipped out early when I called in sick today.  I am, sadly, legitimately sick.  Playing hooky would have been a good idea, but I couldn't be that lucky.  I am incapable of doing nothing with a day off, though, so I thought blogging would be a great idea. (Don't worry, I'm not here to complain about my ailments.)

Our summer program starts next week, and I'm sure it's going to get very hectic, but I'm going to be more diligent with my communication via blog and newsletter.  I think the more pressure and less time I have to do things, though, the more I will get done.  It seems to be a trend that when I only have one thing to do, I can procrastinate for hours, but when I have a million things, they all somehow get completed.

I've been thinking a lot about my future lately.  Not my immediate future, but the big questions, like where am I going to grad school?, what kind of facility do I want to work at?, what things am I willing/unwilling to sacrifice?.  Okay, so maybe they're not super huge questions, but they are pretty big.

For all who are interested, these are some insights I've gained into my future, since I got to Murphy-Harpst.  You may not know that the US-2 program is also supposed to include some vocational discernment, which I have been doing.

I've never felt comfortable in a hospital setting, so I always thought that I wanted to work with outpatient services.  I've now realized that there are a lot of options in the middle, and that's where I want to be.  I think a lot can be done when you have access to everyone with whom the child comes into contact, and you can make a bigger influence than your one-hour session allows.  So I want to work at some residential facility for kids, check.

I have been searching through universities offering PsyD programs, because I know that I want to do clinical psychology, and I want practical, hands-on experience.  I'm sure some PhD programs offer that, but it's core to the PsyD program, so that's the direction I'm seeking.  When I first started searching, I looked at the "Top PsyD Programs" list, but then I realized that maybe I didn't need the top program; maybe I just need the program that is right for me.  I want to be close to some form of home, so the Southwest and Southeast would be ideal.  My searches placed these programs at the top of my list: Baylor, Denver, Regent, and NOVA Southeastern.  They all have their pro's and con's.

Pro: Between home (OK) and my sister (Texas A&M), Div 1 school (campus life)
Con: Extremely conservative, Extremely difficult to get in (Accept 7 per year)

Pro: Beautiful location between home (OK) and aunt and cousins (Loveland/Fort Collins), Methodist theology school with certificate options
Con: Snow, cold for 6 months, higher cost of living

Pro: Virginia Beach (semi-close to friends in Durham), lower tuition costs
Con: Not as highly ranked academically, higher cost of living

NOVA Southeastern: Fort Lauderdale (beautiful weather and plenty of fun things to do)
Con: Not as highly ranked academically, higher cost of living, not close to many friends or family

So I started looking for facilities like Murphy-Harpst and realized there are three within 20 miles of the University of Denver, so it's definitely in the lead right now.  I'm a little stressed about the whole application process that I have to start this summer, but I'm looking forward to the great options I have for my future.  Thank you to everyone who's been helping with my discernment...

My big decisions are small compared to those in Oklahoma who are now asking where they'll live since their homes have been destroyed, where they'll work since their businesses were destroyed, and where to start rebuilding.  My prayers go out to all of them.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Love and Let Go(d)

So I finished my first newsletter and although I tried to highlight some important moments from the past 8 months, I realized that I should be blogging a LOT more, because I have a lot to write about.  I'm posting the newsletter below for those who want to take a peek, but here are the most recent developments.

School is almost out, and I'm preparing for a trip home to visit family, attend a friend's wedding and my class reunion and annual conference, and speak at a few churches.  Things are a little hectic to say the least.  The story I want to share is about what I consider my first loss (Don't worry; it's a good loss).

There was a young woman here that I formed a very sincere connection with in my first 6 months on the job.  I don't know if it was our similar interests, our mutual respect for each other, or God's plan for us to help each other, but she was special.  She had energy, a smile that lit up the room, and a heart of gold.  Keep in mind, she had some issues to deal with, but we all do.  One not so great day, I was telling a co-worker how much I was hurting from learning about losses of two family members at home, and she suggested that I go find this girl and hang out.  I always think of myself as the giver, not the receiver, but I realized that I needed my share of help, too.  I followed her advice, and it did make my afternoon better.

She completed her time at Murphy-Harpst a couple of months ago, and I struggled a LOT seeing her go.  I was worried about how her family would deal with her tantrums, could they forgive things in her past, and would they help her become the brilliant woman that I envisioned for her future?  I received phone calls in the first week she was gone about how much she didn't like it there and didn't like her family.  I knew she was struggling with the transition, but I prayed that it was only the transition that was hard.  A few weeks later, I had a message from her cheerful voice announcing that she had made the high school track team.  She was so excited, but sorry she hadn't called earlier.  she said she'd been so busy!  I was overcome with joy that she had found her new place.  She had settled in, and it was time for her life to continue.

I haven't heard much in the last month, which I'm taking as no news is good news.  I didn't know how I was going to move on, and I don't think she ever realized that some days I needed her as much as she needed me.  I have to trust that God will take care of her now.  There are more kids coming in, and of course, I have some special bonds with a few, but she'll always be the first - the one who taught me how to love and let Go(d).

May Newsletter

Thursday, May 2, 2013

My Own Worst Enemy

Last week, a former resident of Murphy-Harpst came to speak to our older girls.  She's an author now and was a nurse for 30 years.  Before meeting with the girls, I had lunch with her and her husband and we were discussing the importance of writing your story.  She asked me if I was familiar with blogs and told me how much she enjoyed blogging about things.  I agreed, although I've found it a little difficult in the past month or so.  I always have things to say, and just to share about what happens in bible study each week would give me plenty of material.  I realized, though, that I share a lot of other people's stories, but I'm not always willing to share my own, especially when it's not fine and dandy.

So, honestly, it hasn't been fine and dandy recently.  The kids are doing well, my job is fine, my family and friends are wonderful, but I've not been all fine and dandy.

I realized on Monday that the only person who was keeping me from joy and fulfillment was myself.  It sounds silly and maybe a little crazy, but let me explain.  I was giving other people the right to determine my attitude, my emotions, and my joy.  And they weren't even making me feel bad.  I always tell the kids that it doesn't matter what someone does or says to you, but it does matter how you react.


I was waking up, determined to just make it through the day, not expecting to have a good day, not trying to be patient and find joy, and looking for a reason to feel sorry for myself.  Let me tell you; if you look hard enough for the negative, you WILL find it.  It's there; nothing is perfect.  I became really focused on what was lacking in my life, instead of being filled with joy of the wonderful things that are present in my life.

This metaphor could be used in so many ways.
1.  It's hard to see the good when you're looking for the bad.
2.  It's hard to see God when you're looking for evil.
3.  It's hard to see what you have when you're searching for what you're missing.

I've gotten stuck on quotes and decided to turn my office door into a wall of quotes.  I thought that the kids and ME could benefit from being reminded of some of these little lessons.  One that I remember and seems relevant to my current revelation is this: "It is better to want what you have than to have what you want."

I've started looking at the things I have and learning to value them (or want them).  In bible study, we talked about how our perspective of what's important shifts when we become children of God.  When you start to look at heaven, it makes earthly things look less valuable.  When you have God's acceptance, you stop letting people's acceptance rule your life.

Maybe that's why money can't make you happy.  When you finally have enough money to buy anything in the world, those expensive things lose value.  It's cliche to say we want what we can't have, but the reality is that when you realize what God has given you, there's nothing greater to want.

I am my own worst enemy.  Life is good everyday, because no one else controls me.  I have the ability to experience great joy 365 days a year, because I know Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Newsletter Time

So I realized that it's been nearly two months since I last posted. I have so many things to write about. From my trip home to lots of side trips to work to crazy stories... I decided that I'm going to start sharing them not only via blog but via newsletter. I will post the PDF of the newsletter soon, but if you'd like to receive a copy via email or mail or you know someone else who would, the sign-up is below!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Go West!

This evening I was able to worship and fellowship with the Wesley Foundation at West Georgia.  Being a huge fan/"member"/alumni of Wesley, it was wonderful to see another thriving ministry with students so grounded and connected.  I always wondered if Duke Wesley was unique in its familial style or if that was a trait of all Wesley Fellowships/Foundations.  I can now say it is not unique to one, and I hope that it is a shared trait among all the Wesley campus ministries.

While I was blessed by the hospitality and invitation to share my story, I had an epiphany during my speaking time.  I was asked to share not only about my work and ministry, but about my calling specifically.  I laugh when I recall that being a missionary was one of three things I applied for, and the only one I got accepted to.  Now, either God was trying to tell me something, or coincidentally, this is the only thing I was apt to do.  Whichever way it's looked at, I am not here because a voice from heaven spoke and called me into ministry; I'm here because I chose to draw near to God.

I was sharing with the students the only real calling I can identify - working with kids.  After Canon asked the group in New Mexico where do you feel closest to God?, I got my answer, my calling.  I explained to the students and was reminded that God calls us into God's presence.  Where you feel God and see God is where you should long to be.

Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.   -James 4:8

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

From Dust to Dust

I thought the title Ashes to Ashes would be a little cliché‬ on Ash Wednesday, so I'm spicing it up.  I was thinking about the meaning of the ashes and the idea of being from dust and returning to dust.  Tomorrow, I'll get to share with the kids at Chapel, and although it's Valentine's Day and I could talk about love and how our love starts with knowing God's love, I can't help but feel a pull toward sharing about lent, Ash Wednesday, and the importance of this season.  I've been wrestling for the past 24 hours about where I should start, how to explain it all, and it's not easy for me.

Growing up, my church didn't remind us that it was almost time for lent; you need to give up something.  It wasn't until college that I started exploring the idea of fasting, giving up something for God, and understanding the meaning behind it all.  Last night, someone asked me what I was giving up.  I hadn't figured that out yet, but I told them it wouldn't be sweets, or meat, or something like that, because then it becomes a diet.  Alright, my body is a temple and I should be healthy for Jesus.  The motivation for me is wrong, though.  I started asking what part of my life needed some work.

Plain and simple, I've never really had a prayer life.  I pray in church, before meals if I'm with people (I tend to forget when I'm by myself, because I'm usually in a hurry), and when someone has a request that I need to share with God.  Sunday school teachers always used to say that if Jesus is your best friend, wouldn't you want to talk to Him all the time, and share your life with Him?  Now, in my defense, I feel like I lead a prayerful life and nearly every moment, I'm seeking to do ministry the way Jesus would have done it.  The only difference is that Jesus was constantly separating Himself to pray to God, and that's something I just don't do.

So I'm starting.  I thought 5 minutes a day would be a good commitment.  The funny thing is that I started praying and God and I had a lot to catch up on.  I didn't make it in 5 minutes, and I was okay with that.  I enjoyed my time alone with God.  When prayer is given to us like a duty, it's not fun, and we dread it.  People always used to tell me that you need to read your bible and pray everyday.  I took that as a chore, but it's not a chore if you don't make it one.  Prayer is my time with God.  It's a time to talk to God about my worries and know God's listening.  Conveniently, God doesn't multi-task me like I usually do to God.

I noticed the dust on one of my cabinets this morning and didn't want to clean it off, because it represents what Ash Wednesday is about.  We are dust to dust, ashes to ashes.   Everything that makes this dust unique and wonderful and holy comes from God.  Without God, I am merely dust; but today, I am beautiful dust, not swept away in the wind, but made perfect by God.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Simple Living or Simply Living

One of our Mission Interns, Katie Davis, posed some questions to the missionary community about simple living for a project she's doing.  I thought, hey, what a great topic to write a little bit about.  It's something I think of often, and surprisingly is one of the attributes that attracted me to being a missionary (that's not a typo).

I've always been fond of simple living, and I think my parents taught it to me at a young age.  I never thought we had less or not enough, but we didn't really splurge on anything (except maybe trips to Frontier City).  So what is simple living?  Is it something we should all strive for?  Or does all the hype boil down to simply living?

My work as a CASA volunteer has taught me more than a few things, but in training, we learned the difference between a minimum level of care and a higher level of care.  For children, you want them to have the world, but the state only requires that parents provide a minimum level of care.  Simple living, in my previous opinion, was like the minimum level of care.  Your diet, recreation, and travel is limited by your financial resources.  You are able to provide for basic needs, like eating healthy, going to the doctor, and maybe seeing a matinee now and then.  The finer things in life, like formal dining, vacations, and new clothes are out of the question unless there's a special occasion.

Simple living for me, now, doesn't really look that simple.  I've realized that you don't have to give up on recreation, or fine dining, or that cute pair of shoes.  Simple living, for me, is learning when to give and when to take.  Maybe I want to see a movie this weekend and go have dinner; then I guess I'll cook breakfast instead of picking something up from the deli or getting Starbucks on my way to work.  Personally, I made the decision that my physical and emotional well-being demanded more exercise.  I was unsatisfied with my lack of options due to living in an "unsafe" neighborhood.  The gym membership looked really expensive, until I realized that my monthly membership was the same as a new outfit (on sale).  For me, that was a good trade-off.  I would be happier with that than with a new outfit every month.

Keeping track of your spending is the best way to figure out where all your money is going.  Then, it's easy to organize and prioritize.  The hard part is sticking to the budget you create.  Simple living isn't always about sacrifice.  When we frame it as sacrifice, it seems difficult and daunting.  The truth is simple living is about prioritization and financial responsibility.  You may realize that once all that stuff you thought you needed is gone, you are free to simply live. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu!

I feel myself saying goodbye a lot, like TOO much.  Granted, I was lucky enough to spend my first 19 years in the same bedroom in the same house, but since then, I've moved 11 times (if you include the move home every summer).  For some, this may be no big deal, but a life that feels constantly in transition leaves you wanting to settle down.  I realized this morning that I may understand something about the kids I work with that I thought I didn't.

When kids arrive at Murphy-Harpst, they've usually been in 15-20 different placements.  We're near the last option for them.  So my transitional life is not so hard for them to understand.  Although, my situation does include a stable family and friends that I get to visit, key items some are missing.  I was trying to pinpoint the normality of moving, making new friends, and leaving again as I thought about the chance of having lifelong friends.

The average American family moves every 5 years, which is funny because it takes nearly 5 years to get really close to someone (I think).  Most couples spend 3-5 years dating/engaged before they get married, and I doubt many people would argue that it takes that long to get to know someone on a deeper level.  So is the possibility of a lifelong friend, someone who has seen you through it all unlikely, or impossible with this instability?

Maybe unlikely, but optimistic me chooses to believe it's hard work but not impossible.  Our culture has made hard work less desirable, which is obvious by the explosion of commercialized one-stop shops.  Grocery stores sell personal items, usually have a pharmacy, and even school supplies, because it's convenient.  The top 5 retailers (Walmart, Kroger, Target, Walgreen, and Costco) are all based around being quick and cost-efficient.  But, do we apply this same criteria to our friends?  Do we make them quick and cost-efficient?

I was trying to do a case study on myself.  I thought of my 5 closest friends (friends who are related, not included) and was considering how long we'd been friends.  All except one are friends I have made in the last 5 years.  Obviously, this is because I've been 1000 miles from my childhood home, and everyone would agree that long-distance friends are less convenient and more work.  Now, I'm not saying that every friend should be lifelong.  I'm simply saying that relationships are vital to humankind, and the constant shuffle puts a strain on us to constantly say goodbye and make new friends.  We've created a culture where it's not cool to live in the same town you grew up in (especially if it's a small town), and we look forward to big promotions and moving to a new city with new people.

 Fresh and new is something to be desired, but is it keeping us from engaging in real friendships?  Real relationships?  I am blessed by the community I live in, the new friendships and relationships, but I can't help but hope for a day when those friendships are established, and the pressure of making new friends is gone.  There's another move in my near future and probably one or two more.  But instead of dreading that final resting place, I look forward to it, wherever it may be.

I laugh, because sometimes I think the kids I work with know more than me, and in some aspects, they do.  Some are much younger than me, but they already understand the importance of relationships and look forward to a resting place, a life that is not in transition.  I pray this stability is found for them soon.

I don't think it takes 5 years to form a solid relationship.  I thought I would celebrate when kids were healed and left us for a new home, but I realize that now when they leave, they're not just kids, they're my kids (our kids), and there's a bond that will be broken.  I dread the day each of them has to leave and hope that their next place is the last one.  For now, I can only wish them the best, say a prayer, and bid them so long, farewell!  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cats and Dogs

Last week, I flipped on the TV one morning while I was eating breakfast and Marley and Me was on.  I had never seen the movie before, so I watched about thirty minutes of it, and it got me to thinking about dogs.  Then, during science/astronomy club, one of the kids brought up the idea of a continuum in which all animals are related and just at different places on it.  This train of thought is silly, but if there was a personality continuum from cats to dogs, where would humans be?  Or do we range the spectrum?

Owen Wilson makes this comment about Marley, the family's labrador-retriever: "A dog doesn't care if you're rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his."

On the other hand, I would make this observation about my cat: "Kaiser doesn't care if you're rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. He expects to be fed and have your full attention at all times, regardless."
Kaiser, helping write the blog, of course!
Perhaps, humans don't fit on the scale because you can rarely find someone who doesn't care if you're rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull.  I am guilty myself.  Last weekend, I got to return "home" to Durham and the Duke campus. At brunch on Sunday, I thought to myself, wow, it's been a long time since I had to actively listen to a conversation to try to understand what's being discussed.  I like educated folk.  Their conversations challenge me.  And then I thought, does anyone talk to me and enjoy it as a challenge?

Maybe, maybe not.  I did realize this, though.  We are all educated, but on different subjects, different experiences, and different cultures.  For example, I would be just as compelled with people who never attended a day of college and have never missed a NASCAR race.  Because, for me, NASCAR is an education I've never received.  This quote from the movie struck me, because I was thinking who are the educated?  Aren't clever and dull opinions?  I can look at someone and say that person is dull, but he/she may intrigue the following person, because they have different educations.

And then, I got to the question of the dividing line, the rich and the poor.  This video, put out by the UMW and Global Ministries is awesome, because it asks that question, "Who are the poor?"  Each of us could be considered depending on who our comparison is.  If Bill Gates is the comparison, there are a LOT of poor people.  If I am a rich person, there are quite a few less poor people.

I hear people (kids and adults) say that they want to be rich some day.  But how do you define rich?  Do you want to go shopping with a credit card that has no limit?  Is there a dream car or house you desire?  Do you want to pay bills and not wait til the next paycheck arrives?

Proverbs 22:1 says,

"A sterling reputation is better than striking it rich;
    a gracious spirit is better than money in the bank."

When you start feeling poor, recognize the relativity.  There's always someone poorer than you; and there's always someone richer than you.  When you feel the least educated on a subject, know there's another subject that you may be the most educated.  And don't ever let anyone tell you you're dull, because they can't see your cleverness.

I'm guessing regarding the last phrase that differentiates Marley from Kaiser, it's a continuum that goes from Humanity to Deity.

God says, "Give me your heart, and I will give you mine," while we say, "give me all of your attention and don't let me be hungry."

God responds to our reply and grants most of our wishes, but how do we respond?

Give God your heart, and God will give you a heart of gold*
*though it has no value in USD

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Old Things New

Tis a new year and we survived the Mayan apocalypse!

It's hard to believe over a month has gone by since my last post, but I guess that's to be expected with the busy holiday season.  Quick recap of December.  The kids and I were blessed to do Mike Slaughter's bible study A Different Kind of Christmas, I wrapped approximately 300 gifts kindly donated by church congregations and individuals in the area, and my family got to come see the splendor of Cedartown, GA.

With the new year, you'd expect a new me and some new blog posts I assume.  For those who didn't notice, the past 6 months have been a roller coaster, but one thing was continuous in my blogs: the country music song titles.  Now, maybe you're looking for some new music to motivate you in the new year or maybe you just wondered where I got all these fantastic titles.  Below is a list of all the blog titles and artists for you to enjoy.  I challenge you to make a Pandora station with one of them and see the gems you find.  For this week, find something old and make it new.

"Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver, the other gold"

Dreamin' with my Eyes Wide Open - Clay Walker
What I Love about Sunday - Craig Morgan
Independence Day - Martina McBride
Emotional Girl - Terri Clark
Long, Slow Beautiful Dance - Rascal Flatts
I Didn't Know my own Strength - Lorrie Morgan
Unanswered Prayers - Garth Brooks
Christ Alone - Edens Edge
Words I Couldn't Say - Rascal Flatts
Rain is a Good Thing - Luke Bryan
Shotgun Girl - JaneDear Girls
Just Passing Through - Jason Aldean
I Wanna Do it All - Terri Clark
Life - Phil Vassar
Just Another Day in Paradise - Phil Vassar
Ready to Roll - Blake Shelton
One Way Ticket - LeAnn Rimes
Family Tradition  - Hank Williams, Jr
Grow Young  (With You) - Coley McCabe
All my Ex's Live in Texas - George Strait
Love is a Beautiful Thing - Paul Brandt
Cruise - Florida Georgia Line
Like the Rain - Clint Black
You Know How I Feel - Bryan White
These are my People - Rodney Atkins
Everyday's a Holiday - JaneDear Girls
Love Without End, Amen - Randy Travis
What Kind of Love are we Talkin' Bout Here - Chris Cagle
You've Got to stand for Something - Aaron Tippin
Shine the Light - Sugarland
One Heart at a Time - Various Artists
Old Things New - Joe Nichols

I was blessed to worship with the United Methodist Women of Trinity UMC in Rome this morning and will be preaching at Aragon UMC Sunday.  Please keep me in your prayers and look forward to my sharing the message on my blog Sunday afternoon :)  God bless!