Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Worn Out?

This past weekend, I spent over 24 hours with teenagers at a massive convention designed to fire these teens up for the Lord, give them an opportunity to set their life right before the Lord, and also express their talents and gifts in competition.  My husband and I both volunteer with our youth group because for us, our own youth groups were vital parts of our Christian walk.  I spent the majority of my senior year with a group of "Jesus Freaks" (because THAT was when that song FIRST came out!) and a few older people who tried to pour as much of their lives into ours, help us in our walk and challenge us to be more like Christ.

This weekend reminded me how AMAZING those people are who served for my time in high school, because let me tell you, I feel very, Very, VERY old after this weekend.

You might be saying, "Wait, Steph, I know how old you are.  You are not THAT old.  Get over it."  All true, all true.  But, I have got to say, there was more than one time this weekend where I couldn't sit in the big group session, because my head could not take the LOUDNESS OF THE MUSIC that was coming from those speakers!
What is wrong with me?  I used to be so cool and hip, but man, I had this horrible feeling of being tired, feeling old, and just wanting a really long, good nap.

That was until...  Until I took a look at our teens who were at this convention - arms raised in full surrender, praising God; some weeping with joy, some weeping because God was dealing with them in a mighty way; some even being challenged about their future, their calling, and whether God was saying to them, "I want you for ministry to my church!"

This humbled and reminded me of my senior year, when I was just a young, punk teenage girl who thought that she could get away with ANYTHING, because she was a student leader in her own youth group.  It humbled me, because it was a few adult leaders at that youth group that took me and all of my problems under their own wings and helped me to see God's will for my life.  They challenged me, affirmed me, and prayed for me - some even praying for me still years later.

The words "Thank You," are not even close to enough.  The only words that one day will be told these people are "Well done, good and faithful servant."  And I know that they will hear those words, because this weekend challenged me to be more like them, once again, because they are still consistently being like Christ.

Ministry is hard and tough.  It requires time of extreme headaches and backaches.  Sometimes, like in the case of Paul, it requires snake bites, shipwrecks, beatings, and being left for dead.  Know that the refreshment is in the reward of seeing people - young people, old people, middle-aged people confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord, watch them change their life around, and see them live lives that are completely and totally for God.  This refreshes my soul more than anything else.  It humbles me that I have been brought to this point in my journey where I get to see the harvest and the seed grow.  All glory and praise to God, our Father, our Savior and our Sealer of Salvation!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Repetition is the Key to Success

I have been reading The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality by Kyriacos C. Markides lately.

It revolves around the travels of Dr. Markides to Greece and Crete, and his interactions with a head monk named Father Maximos.  It is quite a fascinating book and explains Orthodox theology and practice VERY well.  I can honestly say that I am intrigued by the life of the monks and nuns, so much that a hermitic lifestyle has become appealing in some ways.

As I was reading, one of the practices that caught my attention was when Father Maximos was explaining to Markides how grace can be administered into one's life.  One is to be constantly in prayer, repeating, "Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner."  You repeat this over and over, silently or out loud, in whatever you do - whether you are walking, sweeping the floors, cooking a meal, working in the field, etc.  As you do, God opens your heart to Him, grace pours in, and your relationship is formed.  For my Orthodox readers out there, I may have completely butchered the retelling of this practice, and if that is the case, I am truly sorry.  But I am pretty sure that I captured the basic gist of this.

In the movie Luther, that was released in 2003 with Joseph Fiennes playing the key role, a similar practice was installed in Luther's life where he would pray over and over, "I am yours, save me."  At one point, he prostrated himself on the floor and formed his own body into the shape of the cross as he repeated this prayer, again and again.

What is it about simple prayers that are repeated over and over that make them so effective?  Maybe it is the fact that you aren't trying to fill the space with words that are eloquently waxed, but that you are simply speaking to God, praying for Him to save you, to have mercy on you - and that's it.  I have had this experience before God's throne a few times.  The simplicity of the prayers have affected me so much that I usually end up weeping.  Something overcomes me, whether that be the Spirit of God, His grace or my own womanhood, it happens every time.  

Maybe we should call it the Practice of Simplicity, or possibly the Practicing Prayers of Piety (PPP for short).  But I think I am ready to challenge myself to try this out for a while, in everyday life, while doing the dishes, or cooking dinner, or driving to and from wherever - prayer without ceasing, repetitive prayer, simple prayer.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Oh, The Places You'll Go!

When you were a little girl, did you ever dream of that guy who would hold your hand for the first and last time, who you would share your first and last kiss with, how you would lie in his arms, cuddling up to him when you were cold or scared, and how you would say those words, "I love you," and then you would hear back, "I love you, too."  Did you ever dream about this?  I'm guessing that the majority of the female species has, because well, let's face it, God has designed us with these wonderful little things called hormones, and they start ticking at a certain age and then our minds and hearts start longing for someone to share all of our life with.

It's what happens to all of us, no matter how tough skinned we pretend to be growing up.  All we really want is for someone to say that they love us, and mean it.

Well, this blog is a little something of a confession, a little something of a tribute, and a little something of a reminder to my dear young women who I talked with a little more than a month ago.

In two days I will be celebrating with my husband six years of wedded bliss.  Yep, 6 years ago that man said "I do" to me, and now he's stuck with me - Midwestern accent and all!

*Side Note* - a little while back I asked him if guys were immediately attracted to women who had British, Scottish or Irish accents like women are attracted to men with those accents.  He said that he didn't really know, but that it was probably a possibility.  I then proceeded to ask him if my Michigan accent was a turn-on for him, and he promptly replied, "NO!!!!"  I guess that is something he looked passed in order to get to the good stuff about me!  OK, digression over.

So, 6 years.  We met almost 8 years ago, and let me tell you, neither of us really swept the other off of their feet.  In fact, I believe that my exact thoughts of the man were "He is a jerk," while he thought I was a bit of an "idiot" or "savant."  All that to say, first impressions apparently do not matter.  It took about 3 weeks of wearing each other out on biblical and theological discussions to realize that we actually liked each other.  It took another 5 months, a trip to Israel and some meditation of Augustine's Confessions to realize that we loved each other.  After that, everything just clicked.

Relationships before I met my husband were a lot of work, they were really hard.  I was constantly trying to figure out if the guy really loved me, or if he was just saying that.  But, I never had to guess with my husband.  I just knew.  I trusted him (and still trust him) completely.  There is no doubting.  This is love.  It's an amazingly freeing experience, especially for a woman who grew up with trust issues galore.  To take the words from the dear Sally Field, "He loves me, he really loves me!"

But that isn't the end of the story.  The fact is that I love him too.  In the beginning of my vows to him, 6 years ago, I had written that he "had awakened and aroused love in me, a love that cannot be quenched by many waters."  This was love that wasn't tainted by manipulation or fear, it was love that had grown between us from something much deeper than I could ever have understood or probably will ever understand.

Our love for each other was/is based on the fact that we have a Savior that loved us more than we ever will truly know.  Some may find it funny that when we first starting talking with each other that we spent most of the time arguing over theological or biblical issues.  But that has always been the case for us.  While, we may have moved passed the arguing stage and came to a more reflective/discussion stage, this has always been a huge part of our marriage.  Some deep and some not-so-deep thoughts about our Savior, worship to Him, prayer through Him and how our marriage will glorify Him.

There is a lot that we have done together over the past 6+ years.  We've travelled together to Paris and Mexico; we've led service trips together in the heart of Chicago; we've driven down and back up the East Coast; we've gone to our Nation's Capital together (he he, Jenny).  There are hundreds of more trips that will happen in the future, but the greatest place we will be one day is in heaven, both glorifying our Savior and our King, casting our crowns before His throne and joining in the worship together.  I cannot wait!  Thank you, my love, for keeping my eyes ever fixed on our Savior.  6 years down, praying for 60 more to come!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The OC Disorder

First prize goes to the person who can identify what television show the title of my blog is from!

We moved this past weekend for sanity purposes to a much bigger, prettier, closer to "T" place.  I have been slowly, but surely, putting our life away into closets, shelves, and drawers since Friday afternoon.  There are still little piles of stuff lying around that I am not quite sure where to put.  Pictures that have yet to be hung that I am debating in which room to hang them, or if I even like them any longer.  It's a long, involved process.

The problem is that I like organization.  I like organization so much that if I am making plans, I will stop whatever I am doing, call that person and make the plans definitive so that I can put it in my calendar right away.  My wonderful husband thinks I am weird, but the truth of the matter is that I just don't like stuff hanging out there, waiting to be done.  It bothers me.

So, what happens when your back and feet hurt so much that you can't just plow through and get everything done in a day, but you have to take several days to get your life in order?  Well, a bit of depression can set in.  A frenzy of trying to take care of things starts, and then nothing really gets done right.  Yesterday, I hung a picture and I am not sure that I even like where I placed it.  Now I am stuck.  But, it was the frenzy, what can I say?  The best thing I can do is to thoughtfully put other pictures around it to make it look better and then I will be ok again.

What on earth does all this ranting about obsessive organization have to do with anything today?  Ah... here comes the segue.  Sometimes I try really hard to get my Christian life completely organized.  Like, I'm going to talk to this person this week and God is going to save them this week - I've got it in my calendar.  I've set up the time to go to coffee with them, God will speak through me then, and wham-bam-thank-you-m'am, they are going to be saved at 11:35 am on Thursday; it will be great!  Really?  Really?  The last time I checked, God was in the habit of doing His own will, not mine.

When things don't go my way, then, depression can happen.  There are people in my life that I have been praying about for close to a decade now.  10 years have come and gone and still that moment has not happened.  The piles are building up, it's beginning to look like a mess, a little chaotic.  I can't put the date in my calendar, I have no control over when it is going to happen.  For someone of my particular quirks, THIS IS HARD.  THIS IS DEPRESSING.  WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?

The answer is this:  Wait.

Wait, be patient, stop trying to organize things that aren't yours to organize.  Lately, I have been spending time meditating on the Psalms, and I have been continually struck with the utter dependance on God that the psalmists have.  They get themselves worked up into a frenzy, but then remind themselves that it is God who is control.

Psalm 38:15 says, "But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer."

Psalm 42:11 & 43:5 say, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God."

Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"

Wait for the Lord, Hope in His salvation and know that He is God - He is God of everything, of all people, and He works in His timing, not ours.

Monday, April 5, 2010

It's Only A Thorn

Well, another Easter has come and gone.  There are some here that LOVE Easter, for them it is the culmination of a church year.  Some of us enjoy Easter, but Christmas really is our favorite time of the year.  For some of us this means that we will not be gracing the hallowed halls of a church building for another 8 months until Christmas comes along.  Maybe Easter doesn't even mean going to church for you, that is a strikingly common possibility.

If you did happen to go to church yesterday, more than likely you heard a message on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and hopefully, something along the lines of how the Resurrection of J.C. frees us from sin.  Jesus conquered sin and death through His Resurrection, so we can also be more than conquerors by believing in Him.  Simple, yet amazingly powerful message, right?

By believing in the death and Resurrection of Jesus, you are free from sin.  It holds no power over you any longer.  Does it though?  Does it really?  I can't begin to tell you how often I am confessing the same sin over and over again, week after week - "Lord, I did it again.  Please forgive me."  It's almost as if I can't get passed it.  It's become an addiction in a way; it's a crutch; it's my "thorn in my side," if you will.  Yes, we say "Amen" when our pastors start preaching about how Jesus conquered death.  We even will say "Amen" when they start talking about how we are free from sin because of Jesus' sacrifice and Resurrection.  But then, we head home and stay stuck in our sin.

Can we imagine our life truly free from this sin?  Can we imagine our life in total power over it?  I'm not sure.  What I know is that for me, Easter is another reminder that I CAN have power over this sin in my life.  Not only CAN I have power over this sin, but I actually DO have power over it, all because of Jesus. So, the question really becomes what do I want more in my life - the power of Jesus' conquering death, sin and the devil or a thorn in my side?  That thorn might feel good, it might feel like I have to have it - it's a crutch though.  It's nothing but a lie of satan, and life without it is SO MUCH BETTER than death with it.  It's only a thorn, Jesus is offering you and me life eternal, thorn-free.  What do you say?  Are you in?

"To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father - to Him be Glory and Power Forever and Ever!  Amen!"  Revelation 1:5b-6