Thursday, July 6, 2017

Nyada 2017

We are now in our last couple of hours together as a team. This marks our forty first hour traveling since we started our journey home. We woke up in Jinja, Uganda and are currently en route from Washington DC to Huntsville, via United Airlines, where we will part ways for the first time in two weeks. We have seen our fill of chicken and yellow rice on about 34 total hours airtime aboard Ethiopian Airlines flights (coming and going) . We have been through security time after time, even receiving a frisk or two. We have laughed together and we have cried together; we have danced, and we have prayed together over food and over God's Word. We have offered a part of our hearts to each other over these two weeks encouraging and sharing things that run deeper than the superficial. A few of us came together strangers on the day of departure and are returning home friends. I am certain this is not of our own doing, but rather, it is the hands of God that knit our hearts together, founding these new friendships in our love for Him and the cleansing blood that we each depend upon so deeply.

So why have we been traveling? Why have we had this opportunity to know and love? We have been privileged to join hands with Children's HopeChest in loving the children of Nyada village in east Africa. Nyada is an area that has known struggle and hardship in the past few decades. They have seen family members murdered, sons and brothers forced to take up arms with rebel groups, livestock stolen by a nearby tribe, the loss of life due to HIV, malaria, hepatitis, etc. They know poverty and drought. However, through HopeChest, God is turning the tide and instilling hope in this village for their future. In a place where free, government-funded education doesn't exist, children and parents suffering from poverty do not get to dream about things they could be or jobs they would like to have. They must accept that they will work the land and raise their family within walking distance from the rest of their family. They may be able to afford only an elementary level education, and for many, that's all they get. But!, God has used this organization to offer hope to the Nyada community. With sponsorships comes a chance at becoming a nurse, a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, a pilot, a driver, and even the president of Uganda. School fees are paid and school uniforms are bought. The children no longer worry that they will have to finish schooling at the upper elementary level. They can hope, and they can dream. Children are growing physically as a result of the meals given to them through sponsorship, and the community members are becoming increasingly involved as they witness the heart of the organization truly wanting for their good. They are acquiring new skills and training to improve their way of life. This village has changed and it is felt from young to old. They were ravished by disease and war. Some parents were left to raise their children alone, and some children left without either parent. The HopeChest organization stepped into this area about 6 years ago, and things have since been improving. I have heard many, from the village and from home, express thankfulness for the changes they have seen take place in these past years. 

 When I think on our time in the village this week I like to think in what moments did I get a glimpse of God? When did He reveal part of His heart or His character? In this week, in those people and our team, I saw love, forgiveness, forbearance, grace, patience. 

God is loving, and so are our friends in Nyada. The welcome we received was far beyond what expectations could have imagined. There was dancing and singing, hugging and jumping, shouting and rejoicing. A language barrier could not keep hidden the love they intended on showing us at our arrival.

I saw forgiveness embodied by the Atesos as part of the Karimojong tribe joined the party. The two groups have a violent past. The Karimojong group went through a period of time in which they thought all the cattle belonged to them by divine right, so they came down out of the mountains and stole from the Nyada villagers. The Karimojong who were present during our visit sang a song expressing their apologies and begging forgiveness for their deeds. The two groups now live at peace and in friendship.

From the Ugandans we worked closely with I was made aware of my tendency towards impatience. The culture is one where day-to-day life moves along at a much slower pace than the American life I live. I found myself challenged by their patience with the plans and activities, and also the patience they had with one another. They were never in a hurry. I want to be more like that. I want to find contentment in my present moments rather than trying to rush to the next thing. I've grown to admire the patience they possess. 

Traveling with people you do not really know, and living with them in close quarters for some time, requires some sacrifice at times. From the team I received grace and forbearance. I enjoyed our time together and look back with fondness at the times we shared our testimonies atop the terrace in the Amuria guesthouse, following those times with songs of worship. Thank you to each of them for the care they took in dealing with each other and with the children we got to love.

We enjoyed our last day in the village a few days ago, and it was quite the celebration. We got to have a meal with and share in the joy of the community of Nyada. Their happiness was shown in their dancing and reciprocated in our joining. While dancing with the children my mind considered how we may dance together before the Lord in eternity and how even the freedom I felt in those moments will be perfected before Him. I am blessed. I have seen the heart of God and have been able to be a part of something great in joining hands with this special organization wanting to empower places like Nyada. 

Ituritete Edeke!! (Praise God!!)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

a series of fortunate events

Life has a way of going on, even when you're not ready.
I went back to school and I lived my last moments with the kids at SCS as their teacher and their coach. It wasn't hard to be there. I enjoyed it. It was hard to leave, and it is hard to know I won't be going back. But, God is good.

Sometimes I'll look through my camera roll for a certain picture and in so doing, I consequently scroll past the memories from this year. I feel sentimental when I see some of them. I have really had a wonderful year with many great things to look back on and smile.

Among the first few pictures of 2016 are some of the basketball girls at Cici's pizza. It wasn't the first or only trip I made with them to Cici's, but it was as fun as usual. A few pictures down show one of our times together at the Connolly's place, and then there are some of us bowling. Right under those are the pictures from our last home game and the seniors in the locker room with their cake and frames.

Then we come to the end of basketball season. The last of the pictures with them are from the area tournament. There were tears and hugs. There were "goodbyes."
When I look back to the pictures of these kids, my affections are stirred. These kids were special. I got to be a part of a team who loved one another. Those girls didn't always get along like little angels, but almost. I got to see them play for one another while living in a world that presses us to serve ourselves. They approached the game with humility and one another with patience. I am deeply grateful for the dynamic they, and I, got to experience from that team. #ForHisGlory

The next big event in the roll is the senior trip. I was a little nervous to be the senior sponsor because of how much work is involved in planning a trip that big for so many people. There were lots of phone calls and a lot of things I'd never done before. I talked to Southwest Airlines, or at least waited on hold with them, for too many planning periods. Fortunately, I didn't have to handle the taking-of-the-money part of the trip. Thank you, Mrs. Underwood!

But, we set off for Tampa and Orlando right on time. We actually had seats on the plane and tickets to the parks. I had three of the best chaperones I could imagine helping me keep things together. We even had more money than we needed so everyone got a little extra spending money. The kids were great. No one was kicked out of the park or sent home. They weren't sneaking out and getting into trouble (well, if they did, they still haven't told me). We really had a great time!

Big event number three? ACL reconstruction.

This wasn't really a fond memory of mine. There are, however, redeemable parts from the circumstance. There were many visitors to my apartment after I had surgery. It was a painful time for multiple reasons, but it was a sweet time. The Lord blessed me with relationships with people who took care of me for that period. They came over to bring food, clean up, keep me company, wash my hair, redress my incision. These people served me and I am humbled. They came by to give rides to the doctor, to therapy, to the store just get me out of the house. If nothing else, the Lord showed me how valuable the relationships He's given me are.

Then, I find pictures from Spring Break. The Edwardses were so kind to invite me to join them. I was a little hesitant because I wasn't sure my knee was quite ready for the sand. I figured I might as well. And I'm sure glad I did. It was a unique experience to get to be down there with all of those students because of the baseball tournament.

And then prom. I chaperoned again against my better judgement. It went well though. I couldn't dance as much as I wanted, but it was fun! Most anything with that senior class has proven rather enjoyable.

Up next, softball season. Truthfully, softball isn't my favorite. I loved to play, but standing out in the cold just seemed to make it less worth it. However, I had a different perspective on this season. There was a sense of time being of the essence. I knew I didn't have much of it left and I was happy to make the most of it. Those kids had some tough games, but in the end they went out on a high. In the regional tournament they fought back from the losers' bracket and finished farther in post-season than any of their predecessors (SCS teams). God gave me many more games with them than I expected after that first regional loss.

Before softball season actually ended, I see pictures of senior trip, round 2, to Six Flags. Six flags opened the park all night for seniors, and we didn't want to miss that opportunity. I would like to extend a special thanks to Keith Collier for being willing to drive us there and to bring us back at 5:00 the next morning. We couldn't have done it without him.

Finally, it's time for school to end. Graduation. One of the greatest honors of my life so far was being chosen by the graduates to speak at the graduation of the kids I had grown to love. It wasn't an honor that I took lightly, and it wasn't something I'll soon forget. Thank you, senior class of 2016. It was a blessing and a privilege.

A few days after graduation, I set out on a road trip with one of those graduates. Emily and I headed out west to see The Grand Canyon. We might have nearly hit a group of elk trying to get there before sunrise, but it didn't disappoint. It was beautiful. The expanse served as a reminder of how small we are in the vastness of God's creation. He formed every groove, every crevice and we sat in awe.
We continued on from there to Mt. Zion national park on the recommendation of Dale Gillis. It proved to be a good one.
We thought, "Since we're this close, we should just go to Vegas, and why not just go ahead to Los Angeles, and how about San Diego?" We had our second go at Six Flags in L.A. and ventured over to the zoo, too.
By the time we had spent about a half a day in San Diego, we were ready for home. We had originally intended to mosey home and see some different things, but we drove straight to Florence in about 30 hours (give or take a few).

Then there was Uganda!
What a wonderful God we have! To have been able to meet the people of Nyada was a blessing. In a country ravished by civil wars and rebel groups, a country seemingly plagued by poverty, God showed Himself to be a part of the lives of those people. Our trip was not one of evangelism, but rather one of encouragement and provision for our brothers and sisters in need. What they lack in material possessions is made up for in their joy. Their smiles were sweet and their hearts full. Their lives are more simple than most Americans can imagine, but what they did have was of great and lasting value. They're loving, generous, kind, compassionate, hard-working, gracious, humble, thankful.
While there, I had the privilege to co-sponsor a child. Callie and I will continue to directly encourage John Odeke. His family expressed ample thanks in coming alongside them in raising their son. Because of sponsorship, Odeke will be able to keep going to school, he'll have a uniform for school, receive lunch daily, and be a part of the discipleship program through Children's HopeChest.

When I think back on the trip, the deepest movement of my heart was at the generosity of the people. On our last day in the village the kids received mattresses and mosquito nets. This was afforded them through sponsorship and some donations. That money, given in that way, is precious and sacrificial, but in many ways given out of surplus. We don't sponsor kids to the point that it impacts us too noticeably financially. And it's not my heart to call anyone to that. I am making a statement of their hearts, not ours. That day, we parted ways with those people, but not before they lavished us with things of great value to them. We received from them five or six hens, many eggs, and homemade brooms. These things seem minuscule in the mind of many Americans. However, to the Ugandan, these were sustaining. These meant you had hope for a future meal, but they gladly handed them over to us out of love and gratitude.

In addition to Uganda's beautiful people, we also gazed upon the creatures and landscape with a sense of the Creator's artistry and dominion. The creation cries out and tells of His glory!

We got back to the states on Sunday night, and I left Tuesday morning headed to Maryland with a friend from college. We went over to Washington D.C. and up to Hershey, Pennsylvania. We considered New York City, but I was really just too tired to be interested. We got to see our former roommate and spend time with her and her family. Again, generosity astounded me. They housed us and fed us for the duration of our stay.

Okay, one more. The next weekend, after getting back from the eastern side of the country, I left again. I ended the summer with a trip to Destin, Florida with my mom and nephews. They had a good time, and it was nice because I had never been on vacation with my mom before.

This summer was considerably above my average. I have never been so many places and experienced so many new and different things in such a short time. There is deep gratitude in my heart for all the adventures God has allowed me in 2016.

When I see these pictures I am reminded that God gives good things to His children.  I am also reminded of His graciousness and His faithfulness. In transitioning from a job I loved to the unknown, God provided. I have a new job, and He has allowed me to remain in contact with many of the kids who had become so dear. I might dare even say that I have better relationships with a few of them. There's just something about not being an authority figure for them that allows them to open up a little more.

In all this, the good and the bad, God was. I find He still is, and by faith, I know He will be.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


Roller Coasters - I love them. The first time you ride one is always the best. Just a few weeks ago I was having a wonderful time with the senior class as we rode roller coasters at Busch Gardens in Tampa and the Universal parks in Orlando. That trip is one I hope I always remember. The kids made it exceptionally fun and smooth.
The past two weeks, however, have been a roller coaster of a different kind. I found out almost two weeks ago that I won't get to be a part of the lives of those kids anymore. And not just the seniors (I know they're graduating and moving off to pursue careers), but all the others. The kids I have spent the last three years getting to know, the kids who I've spent time trying to teach how to graph lines and parabolas, as well as about life and relationships, the ones that I have told of the love of the Lord and prayed they would see His glory and love Him back, the kids who have become ingrained on my heart whether I had intended for it to happen or not, those are the kids that I can't imagine moving on from. I can't imagine not seeing them everyday, not chatting with the in the hallway, not being a part of their days and having them to be a part of mine. Truly, my heart is pained and it aches. I love the kids I've gotten to teach, the kids I've gotten to coach. I will grieve what was. I think I already am. I've heard time and time again that God has bigger things, or at least, different things for me. I believe it, but thus far, that hasn't made it hurt less.
Just after hearing the heart-breaking news, I underwent ACL reconstruction surgery. I've been at home with my thoughts for the past week and five days about the whole thing. But over this time I have felt loved. While recovering from the surgery, there have been people in and out of my apartment that have brought food, spent time cleaning up, doing dishes, loading and emptying the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, washing my hair, lifting my leg when I couldn't, filling up my water cup, fixing plates of food, and simply hanging out with me. These people, by majority, weren't outside of the school circle. Most of my visitors I know only because I was a teacher and a coach. The love they've shown has overwhelmed me. The community of people I got to know, for at least three years, are generous, kind, compassionate, caring, sacrificing. They are a people compelled by love - the love of Jesus no doubt. God's grace is evident in that He followed the feelings of brokenness with all the helping hands and friendly faces. The time with my thoughts would have been much different had they not been around. I am deeply grateful for their time and efforts.
As I go back to school tomorrow, I go with a heaviness knowing that my time is more limited than I realized. I hope to make the most of my remaining opportunities. Those kids have meant more to me than I knew I had let them. May the Lord be glorified in the finish.

Monday, June 24, 2013

endurance, character, hope

The quickness with which life passes by is astonishing to me at the very least. My mind is far too feeble even to take it all in. We are constantly in and out of seasons; usually out before we've realized we were ever in. This must be where growing age leaves us; in the midst of a whirlwind I think. Time is something that I have an urge to reach out and grasp but am unable. I can no more grab and control time than I could pull a blue whale out of the ocean with bare hands. The impossibility and lack of control, where do they leave me? At the hand and mercies of the God who made time and made me to live the moments He ordained. I wish at times for some moments to linger a bit longer and for others to get the heck out of Dodge. I can't, I can't rush time or slow it down. I can only live and trust. My words will at their best only appear poorly put together in an expression of how truly thankful I am  that I don't have the ability to submit time to my will.  Why at times, when we want it to stop so we can savor it, does life seem to be in fast forward and when we long to hit the fast forward button it seems to be on pause? I don't have a clear cut answer, but a sense that His thoughts and ways are higher than mine.  Beyond the shadow of doubt, I know blessing comes from living what seems to be paused. Had I the ability to scene select my life I would cheat myself of growth and awe of the God Who is faithfully working in my heart to change it. If I were able to move from seeing my faults, failures, sin right into holiness in those areas I miss seeing The Lord working, I miss the battle and the fight and rob myself of the victory experience. I would too. I would do it so quickly sometimes and without second thought.  Oh, what a sinner I am. I serve comfort and beckon peace. The Spirit in me moves me to serve the Father and beckon His presence. My flesh fails me. I fail the Spirit. I rejoice in suffering that it does produce 'endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us' (Romans 5:3-5). My heart has been brought low and is now being restored in new ways. He has allowed me to suffer at this and lead me straight to hope. Paul was spot on. In suffering, I've learned the necessity of perseverance and I have changed and I now have hope. Afforded the opportunity, in the dawn of suffering, I would have skipped this irreplaceable blessing to get right to the breakthrough, the 'feel good again' part. I struggle to express suitably how much I am in awe and thanks before God that He has written my life and that He works things together for good and for His glory. Truly, His love never fails and it never gives up. He alone gets credit for such a love. We can't and so we don't. 

Father, set eternity not just in my mind, but in the front. Let me see with eternal lenses. Father, grow in me a love for renewal and for holiness and righteousness. Continue growing in me a love for the roads we must take to arrive at holiness and righteousness. Strengthen your sons and daughters to take up and put on Christ. He has been given, may we partake and rejoice. I fall into Your arms. Have Your way in me. Oh, my God, I love You. 

Friday, April 6, 2012


“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’

‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’

For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever. Amen.”  Romans 11:33-36

I’m overwhelmed with thankfulness as I think of all I’ve seen the Lord moving in this semester.  I know that my words are insufficient to offer thanks to Him for His love and for His grace.  There are many things He’s shown me and put on my heart in the past few months.  I have much to praise Him for and the best part is that He’s shown me some of it!  My heart is compelled to love Him because He is more than worthy of my love and because He loves me and shows me what love is. 

In this attempt to share of what He’s doing, I know I will leave things out and some people will go unmentioned.  However, I trust in His sovereignty and that He will get the glory He deserves apart from my communication abilities and memory.  I’ve been reminded lately of His love for me.  We talk so much about God bringing all things together for His glory that it has been easy to overlook His love for us.  I am not offended that He is in control and that His name is glorified, I just haven’t found joy in His love for me many times.  In the story of the fall, “The Jesus Storybook Bible” says it like this,

                “God loved his children too much to let the story end there.  Even though he knew he would suffer, God had a plan – a magnificent dream.  One day, he would get his children back.  One day, he would make the world their perfect home again.  And one day, he would wipe away every tear from their eyes. 

                You see, no matter what, in spite of everything, God would love his children – with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

                And though they would forget him, and run from him, deep in their hearts, God’s children would miss him always, and long for him – lost children yearning for their home.”

The Lord says of Himself in Exodus 34:6-7 “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…”.  And Jesus in John 15:13-14 calls us friends and says, “Greater love has no one than this that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

What is love?

According to Webster’s:  unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.  But John Piper points out that Love is Sacrifice, Suffering, Dying.  The two are intertwined and they are true of the God who has called me to Himself.  Paul writes about God in Philippians 1 that he is sure “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”.  Paul has experienced the loyalty of the Father.  As Easter is quickly approaching, we are reminded of His sacrifice, His suffering, and His death.  What better example of love have we to know?  None.  His surpasses them all.  Humility overtakes me when my heart ponders His love.  I am not only undeserving, but ill-deserving.  I am not worthy of His love and grace.  I deserve death and hell for the rebellion in my heart. 

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:4-10

If I were to talk about His love every second until the day I die, I still would be lacking in sufficient praise.  But here I will mention many evidences of His love and praise Him for it.

I have a conviction for pouring my life into others.  I think this was manifest this past summer as I labored alongside a woman giving close to every ounce of herself away for the sake of the Gospel to go forth into the nation of Thailand.  She has a real love for God and, through His grace, a real love for the students at Khon Kaen University.  Four of us were put on her team to go with her as she built relationships with a group of students learning to teach English.  She served us and them in many ways, but what comes to mind in the moment is the example she served as.  I think it was in this that I have grown to love giving my own life away.  What use is it if it’s not used for the furthering of His kingdom?  My time here is short and I want to spend it on Him; He is more powerful, more majestic, more holy, more divine, longer-lasting, full of more grace than any other thing I could live for.  I have found much in Him and hope for others to as well.

This semester has been so much fun and super encouraging.  Last semester was tough and time was tight.  I can remember scheduling classes for this semester and seeing how great my classes would be and how much more disposable time I would have and I would catch myself neglecting to live in that present time.  My thoughts often navigated to this semester and the ease I felt would accompany me.  So far, I haven’t been wrong.  Time is still tight; the difference is I have more freedom in how I spend it.  In January, just before school was about to start, I felt the Lord leading me to be intentional with girls this semester.  This is my last semester taking classes on campus and, like I said, my classes are cake in comparison to my classes in the fall.  Anyway, I felt like I was in a place that I could do this and was able to quit my job on good terms and start pursuing girls.  I love challenging girls in their walk.  I have been challenged for the past three years and through it God has been shaping and strengthening my faith.  I would love similar experiences for others.  God has given me much to know about Him and He has allowed me to sit under much teaching and training. I am now called to give that away.  “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more”-Luke 12:48.  He has given me girls to give it to.  I have been blessed with the opportunity to lead a bible study within Alpha Delta Chi as well as push two different groups of girls to an understanding of the Gospel.  One of the girls has even come alongside me to lead one of the groups.  My heart is overwhelmed with thankfulness and with joy as I have been allowed to see girls grow in their faith and receive a vision for others to know about God what He has made known to them.  I don’t by any means think myself worthy of this or have the knowledge necessary to point girls toward the cross.  The Spirit within me enables me.  I’ve discovered something that may sound extremely egotistical and I don’t mean for it to at all, but I have been given a position of influence.  I know that people look up to me and that my opinion is valued.  I feel ridiculous even typing that, arrogant in a way.  But I think in this knowledge I now am to live to a higher standard.  If I were to live like I didn’t influence others, I think that it would be like me stealing something from the Lord.  I can’t take from Him what is His apart from His allowing me to, but for me to live a frivolous life would be a waste of what I have received.  He has given me favor with others for many reasons.  And I will say, and I would hope this is always the case but it won’t be, I will fail and sin, I will say “Yes Lord, I will live in such a way that I acknowledge what You have given me and will make the most of every opportunity so that Your love may be known wherever my life exists.  May it exist and may my heart beat only if it is to Your glory, never to my own.  Be my words, be my hope, be my strength and my security, guide my feet and captivate my heart and mind.”

Remember the story we looked at about the Fall earlier?  Well, today has been set aside for us to recall that God did come back for His beloved children.  He sent His Son into the world as the Rescuer.  As I type this, we are in the sixth hour and in Matthew we read that from the sixth hour to the ninth hour there was darkness all over the land.  Jesus had spent the last ten or plus hours enduring pain beyond our comprehension.  The night before, He spent time in fellowship with His closest friends and by morning they had all abandoned Him.  It was said of his betrayer that it would have been better for him to have not been born.  He was accused by the very ones who called themselves God’s.  He had been stripped of His clothes and mocked as the King.  He was beaten beyond recognition and the very hands that had healed many were secured to a cross by Roman soldiers’ hammers beating nails into His wrists.  His body was broken and His blood poured out that I may receive forgiveness.  He hung before His Father accused of every wicked thing I have ever done, and not my sin only, but the sin of all those who will one day come into His kingdom, lay on Him.  He endured ALL of God’s anger, ALL of God’s hatred, ALL of God’s righteous indignation toward sin and He endured separation from God so that we, as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for His own possession, can stand before God pure, as if we had never sinned.  What a story! What a God!

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”  1 John 3:1-3

Lord, Thank You. 

Monday, January 9, 2012


Man! What a semester, and the next one starts in two days!  It has been about five and a half months since we arrived back in the states and the school semester soon followed.  There was thing after little thing fighting for my attention over the course of the semester.  I was busier than ever with school and had little time for reflection and intentional efforts at growth.  The projects were piled on and we had group meetings to no end it seemed.  It truly was like no other (past and I hope future).  Once classes ended and finals were taken, I worked.  Who knew the mall was so busy during the holiday season? 

As I sit and reflect in these moments, I try to find a theme, a lesson, a revelation.  I think the theme that comes to mind is the most recent and not one that is overarching.  This is loss.  I had the privilege to talk for some time last night to one much wiser and loving than myself.  Really, I get to call her friend, but one topic that came up was death.  I'm terrible at remembering conversation and this slightly annoying trait has produced an inability to remember the progression of the conversation.  How did it get there?  What exactly was said?  I don't know.  What I do know though, is that we had a slight disagreement on loss.  We started talking about the sadness of losing one another.  Now, we both possess, by no means of our own or any works of our hands but only the sheer, encompassing, transforming grace of God, an eternity of much marvel, magnificence, joy, treasures, fellowship, free from death.  We have both been given a life after this one that is much better, much more fulfilling.  Because it brought Him more glory, God saw fit to call us both to Himself and to cover us with the righteous blood of His Son Jesus.  This, this is love, this is worthy of worship and of praise and adoration.  And that's exactly what our eternity will look like.  Upon death in this world, we both get to enjoy the best that could ever be offered to man, God Himself with His Son and Spirit.  With this picture of life after death, I ponder, why do we cry when people meet death? Why do our hearts ache so when we lose brothers and sisters in Christ to Christ?  My conclusion and statements in our conversation were very much black and white.  I concluded that sadness will find us in loss of a person, but a rejoicing is due for our coheir with Christ.  They've finished the race and completed the task set before them and they are where we look forward to being.  Paul said, "To live is Christ, but to die is GAIN."  These were my thoughts on the matter, but my friend, in her wisdom, reminded me of the reality of death.  She has experienced death in a much different way than I have.  She has endured the death of her father and she has seen and lived with the pain of loss.  In my head I was thinking of the loss of a person and my thoughts centered more around that individual than they did around the individuals they had left behind.  Individuals left behind lose priceless possessions, irreplaceable relationships.  They are left with only memories, good and bad.  They are also left with one another.  A lot of times, a loss of life effects an entire family.  I cannot imagine what it's like to try and cope with a loss with others who are hurting just as bad, grieving just as much, crying just as often, and wondering why just as frequently.  Where is the constant?  Where is the fountain of peace?  Death is tough.  It's certainly hard to understand.  I've only ever been on the outside looking into someone's hurt, despair, and anguish in grieving the loss of a friend, a brother, a sister, a dad, a classmate.  I'm not an expert by no stretch of the imagination. "Jesus wept." He was sad at the death of Lazarus.  It hurt.

 What I do like that my friend said is that we grieve much more than life.  Death is ultimate of course, but we grieve friendships, we grieve health, wealth, good times, youth, memories, the loss of a family pet or our favorite book, our cell phone.  We even grieve things that never were, plans we had for our lives that just simply never worked out. 

I DO NOT deny that the loss is painful and that it hurts.  I do not claim that it is wrong to grieve what once was.  I do.  I miss things often.   The thing I miss most often these days is Thailand.  We've been back for over five months, but there literally has not been a day since that Thailand in some way has not made it into my mind, captivated my thoughts.  I grieve the loss of closeness that I currently possess with friends.  How?  I think of how in a year I will be graduated and living no longer among my peers.  I'm grieving the friendships that are doing fine.  How silly!  What I've seen in myself with grief is most often a heart issue.  The past few months I longed for a break, a few days to nothing and to think about anything but math (my major).  I was grieving.  I wanted so much to be back across the world with the Gospel as my focus.  But that was not the Lord's plan.  The issue?  There was this saying I once heard that answers this question.  "Hold onto the people and things that you love tight with your hand but loosely with your heart."  I wanted to hold on tight with both.  I was missing out on the blessings of the present, wanting what I didn't have and dwelling on things I could not change.  I had grabbed a hold of the wrong thing with my heart.  God's plan for me was playing out right in front of me, but I was facing the wrong way.  I could not see the opportunities I was given to take the Gospel forth right where I was.  I think many times grief blinds us.  It blinds us to needs, to people, to opportunities, to joy that surrounds us.  I do believe it has its time and season.  I also think that we spend a lot of time petting our hurts and looking behind instead of moving on and charging ahead.  But, I believe in the sovereignty of God and if someone is having trouble seeing Him move and joining Him in the present, then He will get glory for that.  I don't think I've proven anything here, or was planning on it.  This is just simply my thoughts typed out and posted to the internet lol.  Much like a child, I fall, I press on, I learn, I grow, and I get up.

 I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever;
  with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
 For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever;
  in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.”
 You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
  I have sworn to David my servant:
 ‘I will establish your offspring forever,
  and build your throne for all generations.’” Selah
 Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD,
  your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!
 For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD?
  Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD,
 a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones,
  and awesome above all who are around him?
 O LORD God of hosts,
  who is mighty as you are, O LORD,
  with your faithfulness all around you?
 You rule the raging of the sea;
  when its waves rise, you still them.
 You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
  you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
 The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours;
  the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.
 The north and the south, you have created them;
  Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
 You have a mighty arm;
  strong is your hand, high your right hand.
 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
  steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
 Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,
  who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face,
 who exult in your name all the day
  and in your righteousness are exalted.
 For you are the glory of their strength;
  by your favor our horn is exalted.
 For our shield belongs to the LORD,
  our king to the Holy One of Israel.
(Psalm 89:1-18 ESV)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

BIG kingdom or little kingdom?

I have one question for you, "Which kingdom do you serve, the big kingdom (God's) or the little kingdom (yours)?  I know you want to say "The big kingdom, that's a no brainer."  I would be willing to bet, however, that isn't the case.  Don't worry, I know that I have spent much energy, time and resources building up the "Kingdom of Shelly".  I'm not writing to point fingers but to point out something I've read this week and that has been on my heart.  I'm reading the book A Quest For More by Paul Tripp.  I started it earlier in the summer at the same time I started another book and it just lost my interest in comparison.  I made it to the end of chapter three and put it down.  I was really thinking that after I finished the first book that I would try another book, but I asked our team leader if he liked it and his face slightly lit up at the mentioning.  He said he really liked it, so who was I to argue his opinion.  I picked it back up and took another stab at it.  I had heard that it was a slow starter and now I'm a believer.  Chapter four, "Welcome to My Little Kingdom", is where the book really takes a turn for the best (solely my opinion), and chapter six is what hit so heavy.  "The Costume Kingdom" chapter was eye-opening to say the least.  It starts off with a definition of masquerade.

mas-quer-ade: to pretend to be someone or something that you are not 

"The bottom line:  The most dangerous thing about the kingdom if self is how easily it masquerades as the kingdom of God."

Whoa!!  Heart-check anyone?  I've heard about living for the different kingdoms, but to mask one to look like the other?  I've seen many times where I've built up a nice, neat, little kingdom with a population of one.  I know there is sin in my heart that will cause me to do it many times before I see Jesus in the air, but it stung and caught me off guard that I was so good a painting a mask.  I've painted a masterpiece that I've pulled out many times and worn around that makes me look like I'm living for the kingdom of God, but really at the root of my actions are selfish ambitions.  And to think, I've even fooled myself many times!

"It is quite possible for you to be convinced that you are living for the transcendent glories of the kingdom of God when you are, in fact, living for yourself.  Be warned!  Be scared!  The little kingdom is a costume kingdom, and it is deviously promoted by a costume king -- Satan himself.  The little kingdom will quite regularly don the latex masks of outward participation in worship, obedience, and ministry.  It will appear as though it is serving the King of kings and Lord of lords, when daily it is bowing before the throne of self.  Driven by earth-bound treasures and anxiety-bound needs, its worship can only be the worship of self."-- A Quest For More, Paul David Tripp

I'm quite confident that I'm not alone.  If I were there would be little reason for this author to have written this chapter and little experience from which he was motivated.  This is something I believe most Christians don't realize.  Most of us will sometimes become aware that we are serving the kingdom of self but will not truly understand, nor conceive how big that tiny little thing seems.  You know, I hate to keep quoting the book, but then again, I don't.  The truth is the truth, and when it's good, it's good.

"If you look around in your life and the lives of fellow Christians, you will see fruit that is not the result of a joyful commitment to the transcendent glories of God's kingdom.  Instead, these things are the fruit of serving the self, while masquerading as living for the King.  Bad fruit results because 'less' has taken on the costume of 'more.'  In a very illusive way, the transcendent glories of the kingdom of God have been shrunk down to the size of my earth-bound treasures and my anxiety-bound needs.  It is not the fruit of remembering the Father and being freed to give myself to his kingdom.  No, it is the fruit of forgetting the Father and making sure that I actually get what I have told myself I need.  And remember, all this takes place in the form of worship, obedience, and ministry."

Gross!  It's absolutely repulsing to think that I've built my own kingdom and serve myself as the ruler of that dinky, unstable, pitiful-looking thing.  All of this seems silly when I think of the kingdom of God in all of it's glory (more than my human mind is capable of grasping really).  Shellyland has a population of one and that one is completely consumed with herself.  Heaven holds many called by Him and for Him, all of which are serving One much, much bigger than themselves.  We've traded in more for less and we don't even realize.

God, I confess to You that I have my own kingdom.  I confess to You that not only do I have my own kingdom, but it's up and running regularly.  I confess to You that I'm selfish and that I've lived for much less than what my original design intended.  God, in the moments You've written out for these words to weigh heavy on my heart, I trust You.  I trust that grace is lavished upon me, that You know what's best, that You are working all things together for my good, and that You spared not Your own Son.  Lord, thank You.