Monday, January 31, 2011

When We Say Goodbye

Death is such an ugly thing. In the last month Daniel and I have been to two funerals—one of them was his grandma’s. The night we got home from our mission trip we received a message that his grandmother was not doing well. That was a Friday. By Sunday she had passed away with her children by her side.

As the pastor recounted her long, 86 year life that spanned two long marriages (she outlived 2 husbands), five children, fourteen grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren, I thought about what my own life will look like. What will be said of me when my body lies cold in a casket? Funerals have a way of making you think about these things, or at least making me think about these things.

We are surrounded by a culture that is afraid of death at every stage of life. And if we aren’t afraid of it we might just be ignorant of it. I didn’t go to a funeral until I was 21, and even then I didn’t know the person. The first funeral of a person I knew was my grandma’s when I was 23. I’m not saying we should go looking for death. Death is a horrible and sad reminder that things are not right. But it is also a reminder that it is coming to us. This is not all there is. One day we too will be eulogized, memorialized, and wept over.

Lord willing, I will have (living) children someday. Will they say they saw Jesus in my life? Will they say their parent’s marriage made the Gospel look attractive? Will they see service and life-giving? Or will they see selfishness and self-seeking? Will my husband say I freed him for ministry, loved him unconditionally, and respected his leadership? Not without Jesus they won’t.
Christ-saturated funerals, like the one we just went to, remind me that not only am I leaving a legacy of some sort, but also that I have the means to leave a godly one. Everyone leaves something behind. We either are leaving a legacy of life or a legacy of death. Our lives will either breathe life into those we come in contact with, or they will slowly erode any life in the people around us. Jesus is the true life giver in this life and the one to come. By clinging to him in this life we get the life to come and leave his glory behind when we go.

While it has been heartbreaking to see so much death in the past year, it has been a sobering reminder that it’s coming to both Daniel and me someday. Until then, we are trusting in the One who will keep us to the end and will one day conquer the grave.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Update on NYC Missions Trip

Missions trip updates are always so hard. How do you fit seven days of ministry into a few short paragraphs? One of the benefits of going on a domestic mission trip is there is no "re-entry culture shock". Granted, I saw a lot of things that were different than what I am used to, but nothing like shacks with tin roofs and starving children. And there was always this sense that even though the culture around me was very different at times, I was still in America. It felt American in NYC. Maybe that is the beauty of our nation, you can be a minority in one part of town and yet still know that this is America. The nations have been brought to us.

We spent the bulk of our time in Brooklyn working with Abundant Life Church, a predominantly African-American church plant. One of the most shocking things was when we got off the subway in Brooklyn and were surrounded by Hasidic Jews. It was really interesting, considering we don't see traditional Jewish dress every day. Most of our time was spent doing servant evangelism and inviting people to the church. We were able to pay for laundry services for some people and also share the Gospel with them as they waited for their laundry to finish. Some interesting conversations were had, and we even were serenaded by an aspiring Reggae artist! Oh, and I also ate ox tail at lunch one day. If you know me, I am not adventurous when it comes to food so this was a big feat!

On Wednesday, we spent some time with a church's after-school program in the Bronx. We had been told that the Bronx was the least safe and most crime-ridden of all of the Burroughs, so we were prepared for that. We also were prepared to have our hearts won by some sweet kids who came to the church for leadership training, Bible lessons, and help with their homework. It is a safe alternative for them and a place for them to learn about Jesus. It was a blessing to be involved with, even if it was for a short time. I also tried to eat a non-adventurous Philly Cheese Steak sandwich, but I didn't really like it. But I think that's because I convinced myself it was bad after I saw the "C" food sanitation rating on the door.

Of course, we were able to see the various attractions that NYC affords and were even able to go to the Today Show on our free day. But the thing that struck me most is how much God uses normal things, like sickness and unexpected circumstances, to sanctify us. And even more than that, these normal occurrences are actually a demonstration of his great love for us. When he is working to sanctify me, it is evidence of his unending care and love for me. He doesn't want me to stay the same. He wants the sin to be purged from my life, even on a missions trip. Missions trips are hard. We are bringing Christ to people, and there is always opposition to that. But even when they are hard, we can know that this is evidence of God's care. He is keeping us near him by turning the heat up, exposing our sin, and drawing us near himself.

I learned a lot on this trip. I learned about the need for healthy churches in the New York City area, lots of them. I learned about the darkness that permeates so much of the culture in NYC, and I learned about work that God is already doing there. But more importantly, I learned that God is not finished with me yet. I am a sinner in need of a great Savior every day. I don't always like the tools he uses to draw me closer to his bleeding side, but through much chastening I eventually come around. And when I do, I am able to see all that he wants me to see here in Louisville, and even in NYC.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Our First Missions Trip

The title is sort of misleading because really this isn't our first missions trip. But tomorrow morning we will head out, with our bags packed, for our first missions trip together as a married couple. And we are super excited! And of course, a little overwhelmed by all of the little details that need to be taken care of before we leave.

We will be going to New York City with Southern Seminary to assist church planters in the area. Our team will be staying in Manhattan, but Daniel and I (and another guy) will be working primarily in Brooklyn with a church plant in that area. Our team leader told us that we will be seeing the side of New York that tourists don't usually try to see when they come. We will be serving among the poor, needy, and spiritually darkened. Less than 3% of NYC would identify as evangelicals and I just read an article this week that 39% of pregnancies end in abortion in New York City. That is staggering. And that is who we will be serving, hoping that God would be pleased to soften hearts to treasure and follow Christ.

If you could, please pray for us as we go. We will be gone for a week and I look forward to updating here all that God does.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Activists for Women: A Review of Half the Sky

I have long been interested in learning more about the plight of women (and human beings in general) throughout the world. It is so easy to be desensitized by the comforts of America, and thus be ignorant of the horrors that so many people, created in God’s image, face on a daily basis.

In light of all this, I was anxious to read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. This book, written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists and highly secular in its approach, chronicles the various atrocities that happen to women throughout the world. It is not a book for the faint of heart. The material is heavy and the topics discussed are heartbreaking. But, it is a necessary book, one that informs and ignites passion. The stories are real. The people are truly suffering. And the need is great. That being said, a believer would need to read this book with a biblical worldview in mind, as it will not be provided by the authors. But if you care about the women across the world, read this book. It would be hard to read it and not be changed.

Because it is not a Christian book, there are some things I noticed that need to be deconstructed. But there are also helpful assessments too. For a comprehensive take on it, read Carolyn McCulley’s review on Christianity Today’s website. She faithfully deals with the issues presented in the book, while bringing Christ to bear on their situations.

The prevailing thought in my head (and heart) as I read this book is that we cannot be ignorant of the horrific things happening to women and children in this world. It is so easy to live our relatively easy lives and never know what happens across the ocean, or in our own backyards. Reading this book will not allow you to stay ignorant. Even as you read this, women in Africa are languishing alone due to treatable deformities called fistulas. Little girls and young women in India are trafficked, sold like property for sex. And the eastern Congo is the world capital for rape. As women who follow Christ, we should care about those who are destitute, despised, and distraught. We cannot live silently, acting as though these things are not our problem. They are our problem. But our care for them should not merely be activism, because activism without Christ does not truly bring good and healing to anyone.

And that was noticeably absent in this book. It is good and right to be educated about fistulas, trafficking, and rape. And it is good and right to be outraged and ready to take action. But education and passion are not enough. Women need Christ, like we all do. The only hope for the despised woman suffering from obstetric fistula in Africa is that Jesus is the great Physician who can heal her body and her soul.

So, if your heart is stirred to be aware about the plight of women worldwide, read this book. I hope you do. It will open your eyes. But read it with a Bible in hand, asking God to make you not merely an activist for external change, but an activist for Christ’s eternally transforming work for the weary and despised.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Safe Place for Loss

It is not a shock that in many circles miscarriage is a taboo subject. I have recently noticed a rise in famous people bringing up their own pregnancy losses in public arenas. In some ways this is good. It brings voice to a silent sorrow for many women. But it can't stop with celebrities. Today, the Christianity Today women's blog has an interesting post titled "What Celebrity Miscarriages Teach Us." They link to an interview with Lisa Ling on The View about her recent miscarriage, and her thoughts are worth listening to. Her final solution to the pain of miscarriage is Christ-less, and ultimately unhelpful. But her premise, that miscarriage needs to be talked about, is right.

The author of this post says some right things about what these public losses teach us in the church about our own responses to miscarriage. She says:

"Perhaps the courage of these women who are living through loss in the limelight can remind us Christians that we, too, can be courageous. Perhaps it can remind us that we, of all people, should be able to share loss with one another — even loss that presents as a bloody, shameful failure. Perhaps our communities of faith can remember that it is our privilege to become, not secret societies of women, but places where women and men alike become part of a Body — the Body of Christ, out of whose bloody shame was born redemption for this world."

While I don't think that courage is our motivation in talking about miscarriage, I do think she is on to something. The Body of Christ should be the safest place for a couple facing pregnancy loss. As I have heard one musician put it, "we are journeying through a valley of tears." The road to glory is hard and heartbreaking, but we are called to walk it together. Sometimes carrying the ones who are broken and battered by the trials of this life. Churches should be places where voice is given to the silent sorrow of miscarriage and pregnancy loss.

What this sudden rise of public attention to miscarriage teaches us is that pregnancy and life matter to people. And when it ends they are groping for answers. As Christians we have an answer for the hurting sister in Christ and hurting woman on the outside looking in. Yes, miscarriage is ugly and awful. But there is hope for the woman who feels shamed by her loss. And it's not in "secret societies" and or even going on the morning talk show. It's in the open confession of her need for the blood of Another. Because these sorrows and this shame is not secret to him. He knows it all. And he cares.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Missions Wednesday: Congo

Africa is a continent riddled with conflict, poverty, and HIV. The Republic of Congo is one of these countries. Congo (not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo) is a former French colony, like many countries in Africa. Upon gaining its independence, it has faced civil wars and poverty, lived two decades as a socialist state, and is struggling to live under democracy with an authoritarian leader.

While nearly 90% of the population would claim Christianity, it is often in name only. The people of the Congo are heavily “Christianized” but few are truly converted. Many are animists, and many do not understand the Gospel.

Civil rights atrocities have been rampant in times of war, leaving much of the country devastated by crime and destruction. People of the Congo need to know that Jesus is the Great Physician who can heal their bodies and their souls.

Ways to pray:
  1. Pray for the Christians and missionaries in the Congo. Pray that they would be strengthened to continue proclaiming Christ in spite of nominalism.
  2. Pray that Congolese men and women would see Christ as he really is and worship him alone.
  3. Pray that missionaries would be sensitive to the needs and sufferings of the people and would point them to Jesus.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2010 in Pictures

This blog has been kind of silent for over a week. Thanks for reading even though I have been absent. We had a great time at my parents in Florida relaxing, enjoying sweet fellowship, and just spending time with my family. It was a treat! I got this idea from a blog friend and decided to start the new year with a picture review of 2010. It was a big one and a sad one. We love Jesus more because of it. And we love each other more too. For that we are thankful. So here is what our 2010 looked like.

January 2010: Every year our church does Disciple Now for our youth group. I take the girls and Daniel takes the boys. After we spend time talking about the Bible, craziness usually ensues. This is before the craziness.

February 2010: The only thing I like about February is that my birthday is on the 5th. Daniel made me a card, bought me Cinnabon and got me flowers. He is so good to me. This year's birthday was sad for us because my Grandpa was really sick and went to be with Jesus the next day.

March 2010: We had my Grandpa's memorial service in Florida a month after so all of the family could come. These are all of my cousins on this side of the family, minus one cousin (who had just given birth to a baby). It was a blessing seeing everyone again.

April 2010: My youngest brother, Micah, came to stay with us during his Spring Break, which fell over Easter weekend. We loved having him visit!

May 2010: We celebrated the end of a semester and one year of marriage by going to Nashville. I have always wanted to go there, so it was a treat!

June 2010: We graduated four girls in our youth group and held a banquet for them. We love them and miss them! We also went to 2 weddings this month, which pretty much summed up a lot of our summer.

July 2010: Daniel's family had a family reunion in Ohio. I really enjoyed meeting everyone and seeing people again. We also went to Iowa for another wedding and found out we were pregnant! It was a fun and exciting month for us.

August 2010: We had youth camp and attended 2 weddings all within a week of each other. We like to call this picture our prom picture because of the lights behind us. We also had a miscarriage in August, so the rest of the month was pretty much a blur of tears.

September 2010: Daniel went to the Purdue/Toledo football game with a good friend. He was in the thick of school work. We had church events. I worked a lot.

October 2010: I met my mom and sister-in-law in Texas for the True Woman conference. It was such a blessing!

November 2010: We celebrated Daniel's 29th birthday, went to Ohio for Thanksgiving, and finished up the school semester.

December 2010: To celebrate the end of the semester Daniel surprised me by taking me to Frankfort, the state capital. It was a snowy, Christmasey day and it was a great, short trip!

So there is our year in review. There were sad times, but there were happy times too. Looking forward to what God will do in 2011, and praying that we love him more in every circumstance.