Advent is for Expectation

Every year during advent I find myself filled with great hope and expectation. It is my very favorite season! I love Christmas, but there is something so special about the anticipation during advent. This year, I’m expectant and hopeful for another event too.
Our family is journeying once again, this time to New Zealand!
We have accepted a pastoral position at a Nazarene church in Christchurch (great name, right?!) and we are thrilled about this new opportunity!
Unlike our other travels, this venture does not have an end-date. At first this felt intimidating, but now it feels like freedom. Freedom to dig deeper roots into our new community, freedom to form lasting friendships, and freedom to really carve out a life for ourselves in a new context. John and I have moved around so much in our 6 and a half years together, and we look forward to the prospect of being settled somewhere for a few years at least.
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Along with the excitement comes a bit of sadness too. Once again, we are uprooting ourselves to go somewhere we’ve never been. Once again, we’ll be without the support of our children’s grandparents, close family, and dear friends. Once again, we’ll find ourselves working hard to create a new routine and help our children adjust to a new culture. Once again, we’ll fumble around learning different words and phrases, making cultural faux pas at every turn. And once again, we’ll be reminded of God’s grace and provision for our family.
There are just over 7 months until we leave (in mid-July), and there is a lot to do in that time frame. We are in the process of scheduling speaking engagements at various churches around the country. So far we are scheduled on Sunday mornings in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois, and California! There are a few other locations on the horizon but if you’d like to host us at your church, we’d LOVE to come visit and share about what God has been doing in the life of our family over the years. Please send me a message if you’re interested in having us. Also, pretty soon I’ll be launching a fundraising endeavor that everyone can get behind! (Pssst… it involves artisan gifts made in Haiti and East Africa!)
We’d love for your prayers over the following:
-Cultural Transition for our boys (now 4 and 2)
-Continued dedication to our schoolwork (John is working on his Master’s of Divinity and I’m working on my Master’s of Intercultural Studies)
-That we wouldn’t hold too tightly to our material possessions
-That our financial needs would be met
-Open minds to notice creative ways to reach out to this new community
Please send me a message with your email address if you’d like to be included in ministry-specific newsletters. On our blog we’ll be writing about cultural adjustments, family life, our faith journeys, and non-specific ministry news (to protect the identities of those in NZ). Facebook and Instagram will be mainly for family-related news because, well, we have cute kids that we know you’ll want to see!
With hopeful expectation during this advent season,
Peace!

Part of His plan?

Do you think God takes sides? I’ve heard people say about this election that “It’s all part of God’s plan.” I can’t help but wonder if those people would say the same thing if the other side had won, or if the president-elect had been a black man, a Muslim, or a member of the LGBTQ community instead of being a straight rich white guy. Most of us would probably say it wouldn’t be any different and most of us would claim to believe in a God who is Love.

This notion of a God who is exercising a non-discriminating love towards all people should stand as a healthy protection against racists who do not believe God really loves dark-skinned people. It also should stand as a healthy protection against white evangelicals who instinctively feel (even when we deny it) that God is more concerned about us than about the unemployed workers who flock to Mexico City every day. Or at least surely we must be more blessed than them… right?

There is something false and unbiblical about this view of God’s relationship to the world’s peoples when we pit groups against each other and ask whether God is equally the God of the military dictator and those who are murdered by that dictator. Does God have the same disposition toward the victim of a plant closedown in Akron, Ohio as toward the members of the Board of Directors who shut down the plant (with no concern for what would happen to the workers)?

Maybe your God is aloof from such things; any other God would be a God who chooses sides. And surely a god who loves everyone wouldn’t choose sides would he? It might not be so hard for the biblical writers to imagine though. Let’s take a look at Exodus 1:8-14; 2:23-25; 3:7-10.

the people of Israel became so numerous that the whole region of Goshen was full of them. Many years later a new king came to power. He did not know what Joseph had done for Egypt, and he told the Egyptians: There are too many of those Israelites in our country, and they are becoming more powerful than we are. 10 If we don’t outsmart them, their families will keep growing larger. And if our country goes to war, they could easily fight on the side of our enemies and escape from Egypt. 11 The Egyptians put slave bosses in charge of the people of Israel and tried to wear them down with hard work. Those bosses forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses,[a] where the king[b] could store his supplies. 12 But even though the Israelites were mistreated, their families grew larger, and they took over more land. Because of this, the Egyptians hated them worse than before 13 and made them work so hard14 that their lives were miserable. The Egyptians were cruel to the people of Israel and forced them to make bricks and to mix mortar and to work in the fields.

23 After the death of the king of Egypt, the Israelites still complained because they were forced to be slaves. They cried out for help, 24 and God heard their loud cries. He did not forget the promise he had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, 25 and because he knew what was happening to his people, he felt sorry for them.

I am the God who was worshiped by your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Moses was afraid to look at God, and so he hid his face. The Lord said: I have seen how my people are suffering as slaves in Egypt, and I have heard them beg for my help because of the way they are being mistreated. I feel sorry for them, and I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians. I will bring my people out of Egypt into a country where there is good land, rich with milk and honey. I will give them the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live. My people have begged for my help, and I have seen how cruel the Egyptians are to them. 10 Now go to the king! I am sending you to lead my people out of his country.

We have a class struggle happening here. Two sides pitted against each other. Can we claim that this is God’s will? That one class would trample on the other classes? One side is forcing the other into slavery, but then God steps onto the scene. He clearly takes the side of the oppressed people. And we see in scripture that he always takes that side.

So is this “all part of God’s plan”? The whole earth is under the dominion of God and this is affirmed by Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper who wrote,

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

We have no reason to doubt that God is in control. The real question on my mind is this: “If God is in control, does that mean he approves of everything that happens?”

Part of the life of the Christian is to be in the center of the will of God. So if the answer to the above question is “Yes”, then God has chosen every single national leader, and has appointed them with approval. In this scenario, the military dictator who kills hundreds of thousands is appointed by God. The problem with this answer is that it runs counter to the character of God. It should then be noted that while God’s authority is absolute, his approval is not.

Drew Griffin once wrote “Everything that we do in our lives, every vote that is cast, every leader that ascends, all of it happens under the providence of God. However, God’s sovereignty does not give us license for sinful choices.” We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ. We are called to defend the oppressed. We are called to stand up for the voiceless.

So God firmly remains in control amidst the chaos. Are we off the hook because “It’s all part of God’s plan”? Is it enough to rest securely in that control?

 

The 2nd Birthday of Our 2nd Son

Two years ago today I woke up at 2am with a contraction. After confidently laboring at home for awhile we arrived at the birth center at 6am. Moses arrived after two (or was it 3?) pushes and was placed in my arms at 7:03am. A fast and furious labor, this boy has changed my life in more ways than one.
We call him passionate. Passionate in his joy and passionate in his grief. If he is upset, everyone in a 2 mile radius will know it (kidding, sort of). But his zest for life lights up the room and you can’t help but smile alongside him. Living up to his name, at age 2 he is already a great leader and encourages his older brother to follow after him. This usually results in both of them having more fun, albeit more dangerously than I prefer… We like to call him Mo, Mosey-bear, Mo-Mack, or Mo Mo.
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Self potty-trained before 23 months of age, this not-so-baby-of-mine is fiercely independent, but a great snuggler when he wants to be. Moses is very different from his brother in almost every way. They both have white hair and are named after prophets though, so there’s that. Two years have indeed flown by, and it’s been so fun, but also SO HARD.
It took me awhile to figure out how to have two kids as opposed to one, and it took me awhile to figure out that I don’t (and will never) know everything about parenting. This job on the day/night (parenthood) shift is no joke. Social media makes it look like all fun and games, sunshine and roses, cuddles and first words, but there are some incredibly frustrating moments where I am critical of myself and doubtful of my abilities to accomplish this difficult task. It took me awhile to learn how to extend grace to myself, and it took me awhile to forgive myself for things that were not my fault. Other people offer me grace all the time, why can’t I receive it from myself? I’ve learned a big lesson in this: the only person requiring perfection out of me is ME. My family doesn’t expect me to be perfect, and neither do my friends, and God definitely doesn’t require me to be perfect, He loves me in spite of all my failures.
But, this isn’t about me.
Happy Birthday to my dearest Moses. Birthing you made me aware of a strength I didn’t know I possessed, and parenting you has truly made me enjoy life more than I did before. It’s a blessing to be loved by you <3

Sunday Confessional- Mother’s Day 2016

I confess that I don’t feel like an awesome mother very often. Not for lack of encouragement though; my husband tells me constantly how wonderful he thinks I am. Oh, and my kids are perfect little angels, their sweet behavior reminding me how amazing my mothering skills are. JUST KIDDING. My boys are moody toddlers who scream, cry, hit, bite, and frustrate me a LOT. I try to remind myself every hour of every day that we are all learning how to do this thing called life together, my boys and me. I’m on a parenting journey and once I feel like I’ve made progress and finally learned my lesson, it seems like I take another step backward. Likewise, my boys are learning how to be decent human beings in this world of ours. Teaching and learning lessons (all of us), extending grace, asking for forgiveness, crying, laughing… these are all things that can happen in a day (sometimes an hour).

I confess I went out of town and spent a week away from my boys and I LIKED IT. Yes it was hard and yes I missed them but, because they were in such good hands, I didn’t worry about them. That helped me have an amazing time and I was able to come back feeling refreshed, re-energized, and reminded of all the goodness in my life. I think I’m finally at the point in my parenting where I can take moments to myself and come back a better mom. (Shoutout to my husband who is SUPER-DAD! Two words: “mini quiches”… Okay, more words. I mean seriously, I’m left alone with the kids and I can barely survive. He is left alone with the kids and he makes mini quiches and goes on field trips?! Super-dad.)

I confess that I didn’t get my mom anything for Mother’s Day. Apparently I came back in town feeling refreshed but with my head screwed on crooked. We had a whole meal planned and she even got me a gift (I’m not even her mom!) but I totally failed. 11800426_3575959956318_8330832645136930381_nI have an amazing mom, too. She birthed me, nurtured me, deals with my idiosyncrasies, has always supported me in everything I do, and even comes to visit me internationally when she can. She is such a wonderful grandma (Yaya) to my boys I sometimes joke that she only had kids so that someday she could have grandkids 🙂 My favorite thing about her is the openness of her home. Growing up, it seemed like we always had someone living with us, usually extended family but also an exchange student and even a pair of refugees finding their way in our country. Coming back to Kansas City from Northern Ireland was made so much easier because she just assumed my family would move in with her, and we did! Family dynamics are far different than they were when I was a teenager living with them. I’m married with a family of my own and she didn’t even bat an eye when opening her door to us. She helps with our boys and keeps her mouth shut when she comes home and the house is a mess. Living with them helps John and I have the ability to pursue our dreams at the same time and it is marvelous. Sure, living with my parents is unconventional but it seems like my husband and I are always a bit unconventional in how we live our life. I’m not worried about it, and neither is my mom. Like I said, she’s the best. I love you mom! Thank you for being YOU, because you are the perfect mom for me <3

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I’ve made my confession, now go make yours (not you Mom, you’re off the hook this week)!

“What We Are Made Of”, a poem

Slip-on shoes, greasy roots, frantically searching for my daily green juice:

This is what Mommy is made of.

Two part time shifts, adding school to the mix, never a whine from his lips:

This is what Daddy is made of.

Food stuck in their wispy blonde hair, in this world never a care, daily learning to share:

This is what little boys are made of.

Sticky hands, muddy boots, endless jokes about “toots”:

This is what my boys are made of.

Chattering chattering all the day long, singing singing their very own songs,

dancing dancing to their own beating drums, and thinking out loud (giving the day a low hum):

This is what my boys are made of.

Fingers brush against my cheek, is this the blessing of the meek?

Even though the laundry reeks, and I always wish for a bit more sleep, others tell me that my life is sweet.

Dirty dishes fill the sink, odd-jobs to make ends meet, some days feel like they’re on repeat.

But on the other hand, there are so many kisses and hugs to be had, I wish time would slow but then I feel bad…

Because deep down inside I urge time to continue, for seeing the growth, the change, the journey, is what keeps my heart grateful, my soul yearning.

Hoping for renewal, longing for healing, enjoying these special moments that God is revealing.

This is what dreams are made of.

<3

The Joys of Parenthood

Parenting at any stage is fraught with trials and joys. Sometimes it is easier to see the blessings than it is at other times. This weekend was one of those times that I really had to look for the joys of parenthood. I’m not sure why…It might have been because of that time during our trip to Michael’s when my toddler climbed out of the cart and ran away only to be found a few seconds later by an employee. Or maybe it was the time when the dishwasher didn’t drain. Or maybe it was the time I opened the dishwasher that hadn’t drained and water went everywhere including leaking into our room downstairs. Or maybe it was the three year old in the backseat who kept wanting to argue with everything I said (even when I wasn’t talking). Or maybe it was something else, but I found that I had to search for those hidden gems of parenting joy this weekend. I found them in that moment when both boys are strapped in their car seats with the doors closed and I haven’t yet opened the driver side door. Or the moment of peace when my toddler falls asleep in my arms. Or the moment when I realize that both boys have officially fallen asleep and a quiet hush falls over the house.

These joys of parenting that I found this weekend were all centered around the same thing. It was all about finding peace in the chaos. Did you know that our bodies release a chemical in times of stress that acts as an analgesic, this is called stress-induced analgesia. The stressed body can produce powerful pain blockers that are similar to those found in illicit drugs. This can have the effect of numbing aches and pains that may slow the body down. They also can have the potential to numb a persons emotional range. So, truly it is possible to become addicted to stress. Maybe you’re a person who is constantly busy and stressed out, maybe you want to stop being stressed but can’t figure out how to say “no”. Does it seem hopeless? Keep hope, dear one, for God has given us a way out. In fact God has actually gone so far as to model a way out of this stressed lifestyle.

In the book of Genesis we see the narrative of creation in which God creates for six days, and rests on the seventh. This day later became known as the Sabbath. God, in his infinite goodness and wisdom, modeled this day. A twenty-four hour period of rest which, incidentally, is also the exact amount of time it takes for this stress-induced analgesia to completely leave the body.

Remember to find that rest, find that peace, and the joy in life. The peace that is life giving, that helps us to find those moments of joy. Walk in the peace of the Lord.

Sunday Confessional 1st November

I confess that I used to be more friendly.

I was painfully shy as a child and my parents had a hard time getting me to talk to anyone. I hated unwanted attention (or any attention at all) and even cried when people would sing “Happy Birthday” to me every July. I was one of those kids who was kind to everyone, but didn’t really have a BEST friend growing up. Something changed in my later highschool years and early college years. A friendly introvert, I had a lot of friends and even a few close ones. I still didn’t like going up to people and starting a conversation; I just couldn’t ever think of what to say! It was like every step toward the person sucked out one more possible conversation starter I could put to use.
In my last year of college, there were aspects of my character called into question by two of my “friends”. Already embarrassed by my flaws, I didn’t need anyone else to highlight them, but there they were. Things were said that could not be taken back, and I left those conversations feeling hurt. I didn’t realize I had been marked so deeply by their words until months (and then years) had passed, when I was still feeling anxious and vulnerable. So vulnerable in fact, that I began to enjoy being more invisible than visible. New conversations induced more anxiety than calm. I worried about offending people when there was no cause for offense, and coming across the wrong way after commenting on something completely harmless. It had become so bad, that often the thought of talking to people made me want to crawl under the covers and hide. I’m not trying to be funny, these are serious thoughts that have gone through my head. I was convinced I was a terrible friend.
Recently I heard a pastor preach about “Just walking across the room”. How simple is that? A thought that would have caused me anxiety recently, but something I can stomach now.
My mentor says that loneliness is a bigger epidemic than physical illness! Approaching someone in the loneliness of their day to encourage, offer a hand, a smile. I can do that.
I’m called to do that.
Looking back now, I feel silly for letting those words affect me the way they have. I lost one of my brightest character traits as someone who was friendly and kind! I forgot who I was for a while there.
I remembered recently that I CAN be a good friend. Recently, in a seminar full of people I’d never met before, I found myself walking across the room! I started conversations, I smiled, I even made people laugh, and got others involved in the conversation as well.
I praise God for allowing healing to come into my life so I could remember who I was and can, once again, offer true friendship to those who need it.
I’ve made my confession, now go make yours.

Lenten Devo 10: God’s Will

**John and I were tasked with writing some devotionals alongside Ruth for the Lenten season. Our theme for these 40 days is The Lord’s Prayer. This is one of John’s and is about the phrase “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”. It fell on Day 20 of this series.**

Reading: James 2 V. 15-16

Jesus’ brother James wrote,

“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” James 2:15-16.

In other words, If I see someone who is in need and I have the ability to fulfill that need, then it’s my responsibility to do so.  The God we serve is a God of justice, mercy, love, and kindness.  He has a heart for the hurting, the orphaned, and the widow.  There are people in need all around us, and God is calling us to respond to their needs.

When we pray the words, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, we should be surrendering to that call of response.  God’s will is beautiful and wonderful and good.

Maybe you know someone who has a deep need for relationship, someone who is living in shame, or despair.  Reach out to your neighbour today.  Reach out to your co-worker today.  Be the person who will listen to them, meet their need. Maybe the Lord is calling you to get involved with foster care, or with Scripture Union.  Listen to the burden that the Lord is placing upon your heart.

If you’re able to look around and see a need, then meet that need.

Join me in coming before God to confess the areas where we need God to take control.

Lenten Devo 9: Thy Kingdom Come

**John and I were tasked with writing some devotionals alongside Ruth for the Lenten season. Our theme for these 40 days is The Lord’s Prayer. This is one of mine and is about the phrase “Thy kingdom come”. It fell on Day 18 of this series.**

Reading: Luke 17 v.20-21

My 2 year old is a very curious boy and he likes to ask a lot of questions. Sometimes he asks us practical things like, “What are we having for dinner?” or, “Can I ride my new bike?” But sometimes he asks more difficult ones like, “Why is it windy outside?” or, “Where is God?”

It’s questions like these that make me delight in being a parent. I love that he comes to me to ask about what’s on his mind, and I love even more that he thinks about where God resides. When I answered him, I said, “Oh, He’s everywhere!” But then I thought about it and I started asking myself the same question.

Because God is often referred to as King, Lord, and Prince, it makes sense that He would have a Kingdom. But where? Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is among us. Inside us. In our midst. It involves living with goodness, peace, and joy.

While sometimes I tire of Hosea’s questions, it’s lovely to be challenged in this way by my own child.

How can we live like the kingdom of God is among us? How can we show His great kingdom to our families, friends, and those in our community?

Today let’s pray for our hearts to be open to hear God.

Lenten Devo 8: Thy Kingdom Come

**John and I were tasked with writing some devotionals alongside Ruth for the Lenten season. Our theme for these 40 days is The Lord’s Prayer. This is one of John’s and is about the phrase “Thy kingdom come”. It fell on Day 17 of this series.**

Reading: Mark 1:15

What is the kingdom of God? When Jesus wanted to tell people what the kingdom of God was he told them stories.  Stories that gave a window illustration into what the kingdom of God actually was.  I recently read an article about addiction, and it made me wonder if maybe this could have been a parable that Jesus would have used.

There is a simple experiment that is designed to determine which drugs are the most chemically addictive. The experiment goes like this: Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Nearly every time the experiment is run, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

This seems to be pretty conclusive; however on a second take of the experiment we notice that the rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. A professor from Vancouver named Bruce Alexander noticed the same thing, so Professor Alexander built “Rat Park”. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored toys, the best rat food, tunnels to scamper through, and plenty of friends: everything a rat could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, would happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment became addicted.

If I may be so bold, the Kingdom of heaven is like “Rat Park”.  No one is lonely, and people live in loving Christ-like community.  This community is more attractive than the strongest of drugs because this is God’s kingdom.

How can we be about God’s kingdom this week? What can we do to reach out to the lonely and hurting?

Today, please join me in praying for someone in your life that needs God.