Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In order that I may not forget

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I spent this past weekend in Buhler, Ks at the annual Southern District Youth Conference for MB churches. And my first SDYC as a Youth Pastor was, I would say, a success. No students were injured or lost and we had no vehicle problems. (2 of my greatest concerns... obviously ;) Now, we did have 3 boys go to PetCo on their free time and returned to the van with a living purchase: 2 Betta Fish. I'll let you guess what high school boys intended for the fate of those poor aquatic specimens. This was the only 'questionable' event of the weekend... well, the only one I witnessed. Praise God they called me to ask for permission before making their originally planned purchase: a hamster. Yes, this was my sign that I am working with high school boys. No, they did not ask about the fish. 

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Leading up to the trip my heart was heavy. There is a growing epidemic of people who want Jesus to save them, but are increasingly less interested in God sanctifying them. So we have spent a significant amount of time over the past few months talking about true discipleship and saving faith. In other words, we've been asking the question, "What am I REALLY living for?" and, "What does my life represent?" and, "Where is the proof of Jesus in my heart? If genuine faith produces fruit, has any been produced in my life?" We've been pouring over scripture to better understand what Jesus calls his followers to and what the Bible says about who will enter the gates of Heaven. There have been some difficult conversations about our lives and our hearts. As a leader I've had moments of terror, feeling a lot like Moses must have felt in Exodus 6 & 7 when he told God, "listen I just can't do it! I don't have the words! I'm totally uncapable!" God booms back at him in 7:2, "You are to say everything I command you." So, with Scripture as the ultimate authority I have been unapologetically searching for TRUTH with our students. It has been an amazing thing. But I was nervous heading to SDYC because I knew a chunk of our students were still just not getting it--and maybe not so much that they weren't getting it but rather that they just didn't care to 'get it'. Their apathy towards God and towards Christ's commands has had a way of creating in me both a sense of sorrow and a sense of rage.

It isn't uncommon for students to go to a youth conference, mission trip, or some sort of revival, and to experience God at these events, but to come back and quickly forget what they have learned or how they have been changed. I often think how offensive to God this must be: we go, we encounter Him, we FEEL the presence of the world-spinning, people-making God and then we return home and quickly become so submersed in our own self that we forget Him. Ouch. So I've been praying against that for our students and before I left for the event had asked several others, including our whole church, to do the same.
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The theme for the week was RELENTLESS: 1 Peter 2:9. The speaker was Chad Stoner. (it's okay, he gave all of us permission to laugh about his last name). Upon first glance at this passage you may wonder what this has to do with Relentless. He said the same thing. And he took the theme verse and included verses 10 through 12. There were 4 sessions: A Relentless God, A Relentless Battle, A Relentless People, A Relentless Praise. We learned so much and God used Chad to say so many powerful things... but that isn't what I'm blogging about.
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What I AM blogging about is the amazing thing God did in my own heart. Friday night, our first night there, the session was great, the music was done excellently (Thanks Discovery Bible Church band!), and The Holy Spirit was tangibly present. After the message by Chad, we stood to sing together again.

TIME OUT: Isn't singing in unison together such an amazing thing? It is so beautiful to me to hear voices together praising God--It pleases me to know how much it must please God.

Back to the subject:
While I was joining in worship to God I felt His presence on me. The presence was so heavy and the burden he placed on my heart so moving that I couldn't help but weep nearly uncontrollably. At first I tried hard to hold it together, I didn't really want the students to see me so emotional. But God was persistent, relentless even, with what He had to give me.

One by one I began to pray for each of the students. My heart was so heavy for them. If only they could understand! If only they would open up their hard, 'too-cool' hearts to the power of The Most High God! As I prayed I saw in my mind a tangible image of the spiritual battle being fought for all of our hearts. I was standing around each of the students, every single one, giving everything I had to fight away the evil luring them into sin and darkness. I was fighting, thrashing, wrestling, giving all of me, spending me out to protect them. Like a mother bear I covered each of them. I was pleading with God, "Just help me! Please! I'll do anything, ANYTHING, for them to know you! I'll do anything! Help me get through to them. Break through to them! Bind Satan! I beg you! Tell me what to do, I'll do it. I'll DO ANYTHING!" This went on for several songs. The tears were streaming down my face. My chest was racked with sobs. I heard a question, maybe from God, maybe from my own mind, "Would you die for them?" Then the strangest thing happened, I responded to the question that I didn't know the origin of. "Yes, I would die for them. If it took my death for them to see YOU, I would die. If it took my death to wake them up, then let me die. Anything God, anything, just as long as they will KNOW you." Was I thinking of Lydia? Yes, I was. I know it sounds crazy, but I was certain, 100% certain, that if that is what it took to bring these students into God's kingdom that I would do it and I trust if that was His plan, that He would provide for Lydia in my absence. I would do the same for her to make sure she KNEW God, not just knew of Him.
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I know at this point how crazy I sound. I know how 'spiritual' and 'too passionate' I sound. I even feel a little strange typing it, sharing it so publicly, but God convicted me to share my experience in order that I may not forget. So I know to some of my friends and some of the students who will read this post that I sound strange, maybe even, "too-Christiany". But I will share it unapologetically, because it is Christ's work in me.

This lasted for the duration of the music. At one point I think I saw only what God placed in my mind to see: me, in the battle, my part in the battle. And I committed, in that moment, to fight in the battle for every student whose path meets mine. My greatest weapons: Prayer & the Sword of Truth. I don't care if students think I'm crazy or out of control, I won't stop pursuing them for Jesus.

The best part? God won't relent either. God won't relent until He has ALL of me. God won't relent until He has ALL of each student. 

Saturday night I had a similar experience. Except this night when we stood to sing together once again at the end of the session, I couldn't even stand. I just buried my face in my hands and prayed as fervently as I could. The sorrow in my heart was so heavy--so burdened by the luke-warm and apathetic hearts. Burdened by the choices so negatively affecting our students. Burdened by their captivity to sin. Burdened by the weight of their eternity. Burdened by my inability to change them. I had no idea what was going on in the room around me. I had no idea that at that moment the presence of The Holy Spirit was heavy on nearly every member of our group. I just kept praying. I just kept crying. I just kept letting God break me for His mission. If ever there was a commissioning for a Youth Pastor, this was it for me--straight from God. He poured His mission on me so heavy I collapsed at its weight, and then I stood up, shouldered the yoke with him, and thanked him.

When I got to the break out room that night, I quickly realized I was not alone in my experience. What God shared with our students was different than what had been imparted on me, of course, but God was moving. Thank night, instead of rushing off to an activity time filled with fun and entertainment, we spent an hour of it praying and sharing with one another.

We have since returned home and I will do everything I can to keep the passion alive in my heart, to put God's mission for those students' hearts forefront in my life--whatever it takes. Whatever. It. Takes.

It isn't weird to me if they read these words. God's mission in my life won't be a secret to them. My intentions are clear from the onset: my goal with every student in this ministry will be to Love and Disciple them in the Holy Name of Jesus Christ. I will not relent for my God does not relent in His pursuit of me.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Land Between

"The Land Between, the space that we hate, is the very soil where God does some of His RICHEST AND DEEPEST WORK." Jeff Manion, The Global Leadership Summit

I could sum up the blog entry with just that. . . but of course, I won't. I want to reflect on the land between in my own life. This most often makes me think of those in between times, the times you're waiting on The Lord to reveal His plans for you--emphasis on the waiting. The waiting can be so many different things: waiting for reconciliation, waiting for comfort, waiting for the dawn, waiting for a job, waiting to sell or buy a home, waiting for a spouse, waiting for pregnancy, waiting for an answer.

It is never easy.
It is never fast.
It is always life-changing.

Then there is the 'land between' of change. The land of growth, the land that requires perseverance, the land between Obedience & Blessings, which is so often filled with pain, struggle, and plenty of opportunities to prove your faith and your patience. It's the land of "I obeyed God & right now it doesn't feel good."

I recently took on a huge life change and it came after a very big, very long journey in the Land Between.

The Holy Spirit nudged me in January. Okay, well, it was more like a flash vision in my mind that happened very suddenly and startled even myself as I was driving into Hillsboro on 13 mile road. I applied in the beginning of February even though a search committee had not even formed yet. I was eager to obey, because honestly, I thought if I sat on God's calling too long, I'd come up with too many reasons to pass the calling on to someone else. In fact, there was a point, in April I think, where I was ready to withdraw my application. I really wondered if anyone even thought I was a good candidate and I was overwhelmed mostly at the prospect of being a working mom. Could I both work and mother to the level God requires of me? I know women do it well all the time, but could I do it? And what about when I have another baby? Lydia was just shy of 2 when I started and she was ready for the atmosphere at Kid's Connection. She is so social. But it will be a different story when I have another baby. And what if I couldn't tackle it all. What if I started my job & didn't know what to do? What if . .

WHAT IF. . .

What if I Failed?

I have Maura Wiebe & Clyde Jost to thank for keeping me in the race. :) One Wednesday night when we were preparing for a night with the high schoolers (Because Lee & I filled in as the teachers for the year the church was without a youth pastor) Maura reminded me I hadn't completed all the requirements of my application. It was the first time really that anyone had talked much about the fact that I had even applied. I passively replied that I thought I would withdraw my application. She looked surprised and then a few minutes later told me her and Clyde would like to talk with me afterwards.

It was God at work.

After church they poured into me words of affirmation that they wanted to see me as the Youth Pastor, that they believed in the gifts God had given me, that they felt strongly that God had brought me here for this time, for this place, for these students. It reignited a flame that was dying inside. A flame that had been washed out with self-doubt and uncertainty.

Thank you Clyde & Maura. . . I am SO THANKFUL you encouraged me to move forward on the journey.

Alas, after a half dozen interviews, 5 1/2 months of waiting, and 2 weeks of candidating, the church finally voted and I started working again for the first time since becoming a mother. I jumped from the land between of waiting to the land between of life change. It isn't that it is just my first time returning to work since Lydia, though that is HUGE, it is my first REAL JOB. That doesn't sum it up either, I got a job I neither specifically trained nor studied for, and this doesn't go to say that I deserve some kind of medal, it goes to say that I am an inadequate Moses on my way to Egypt--Only God can make me able. But we can't stop there. God gave me a job as a Youth Pastor--SAY WHAT?!--God called me to a position of responsibility, of great responsibility, to look after His sheep, to minister to His young people, and to top it off He gave me a job that strikes up controversy because I am a woman.

I am excited.
I am pumped.
I am passionate.
I am certain that God has me where He wants me.
But it hasn't been easy.

The biggest challenge, the most hurtful challenge, has come from the issue that I am a woman. I do not feel angry when people express their concern or belief that it is not Biblical for a woman to serve in a Pastoral role. I really do not. I can respect their decision and respect them as individuals. But it is hard to make sense of, of course. Through my scriptural study I believe differently. Through my relationship with The Lord, I believe I am living in obedience. But I don't know if that makes it sting less when volunteers quit or leave the church. . . It is my instinct to tag 'because of me' on to the end of that sentence. But I simply cannot think like that.  It took A LOT of discerning Christians to select me as the candidate and then vote me in. Christians that I believe are intimate followers of Jesus. I have to trust that if this were sin, if this were against His commands, that He would have made it so very clear to us.

The worst part of this scenario has not been in the people that comment or leave, it's in the unknown of those who do not. It is the knot I get in my throat when someone asks what I do, and I momentarily question whether or not I should use the word 'director' or 'pastor' to avoid any awkward moments.  It is in the faces of those I cannot read or who have not spoken, and Satan is quick to whisper his own perspective of their thoughts about me into my ear. The worst of it is in that painful feeling in your heart when you know there are people who don't agree with what you are doing, who don't support you, who don't believe in your call.

It's interesting that it all seems to revolve around a word "Pastor", because no one expressed concern when I was teaching The Word and directing the youth regularly on Wed nights as a volunteer. Sometimes I wonder, would it just be better if I didn't have the title? I just can't make sense of it.

Ahhh . . . and then I remember. I don't have to. I don't have to defend myself. I don't have to make sense of the disagreements. I don't have to make sense of any of it. I just have to obey. I have to obey in The Land Between, and trust, desperately TRUST, that God is doing HIS WORK.

I realize I am making myself vulnerable posting this on the 'big digital' or the 'book of faces'  (aka: the internet and facebook) but I was just discussing with Pastor Brian this morning about the importance of sharing our personal faith experiences and how I want our youth to be able to do that--so should not I do it? I want the youth to be able to read this and to know me, and to know that I desire to live in obedience to God. I want to FOLLOW HIM not just believe in Him. I want to be His disciple---even when it is hard, even when it is painful, even when it doesn't always make sense. Abraham was willing to obey even to the point of sacrificing His son and I am certain that didn't make sense to him.

God is strengthening me, stretching me, teaching me, and somehow He is going to do good work through me--though I am sure it will be nothing short of a miracle. I have a lot to learn about Youth Ministry, I have a lot to learn about the Bible, I have a lot to learn about filling this role, but I am SO FORTUNATE that I serve the God who breathed stars, who makes people, who holds all things together, and who will make me able to complete the tasks He has required of me because it is about bringing Him Glory.

And that is the most important thing of all.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Time Waits for No One

Obviously I made it a full 2 weeks into my New Year's resolution to blog once a week. And in fact, every time I have thought about it I've been overcome with a sense of self failure and have thus avoided it completely. Even as I opened this page I felt the heat of anxiety climb up the back of my neck and even had to flick my desk fan on to avoid sweating. Nobody wants to pit out in a light purple fitted-T. I enjoy blogging, and trust me, my daughter gives me plenty of material, but when I was at home with her all those months and in between my last post and this one, I just didn't find the time to sit down uninterrupted in front of the computer. I also felt annoyed with the process of uploading/posting pictures, etc.

But so much has happened since my last post. As of July 1 I am the Youth Pastor at Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church. Yahoo. What a ride it has been to get to this point. I won't go through all of the twists and turns and delays, but let's just say I applied sometime in late January.

Lee & I have been so blessed in Hillsboro. It was been so wonderful to literally feel God's affirmation on our obedience in following His call on our lives to return. It wasn't easy and I've been reflecting on this as two of my very good friends have recently (as in the last week) packed up everything they owned, said goodbyes to good friends and loved ones, and came, well, to Hillsboro actually. One hasn't even arrived yet, she is just a few hours away. All that to say is it makes me think back to those terribly difficult goodbyes in Reedley and Bakersfield. People were hurt, family and friends, and we were hurting. We were leaving the place we started our lives together. The place we started off as a married couple, and where Lydia Jane was born. Moving is so overwhelming and exhausting, and I look at my wonderful, beautiful friend, Erica Haude, and I have such great sympathy for her, because I know it is anything but easy. Hang in there, E! God's blessings are rich and full in due time.


It just keeps going even when we want it to take a time-out. Every day  Lydia Jane gets older, and smarter, and faster!! Last Friday we celebrated her 2nd Birthday. In the morning I took her to get a donut at Vogt's, then we dashed through Walmart for groceries and party supplies, then we came home to enjoy Wendy's chicken nuggets (nobody said you had to be healthy on your birthday! We went with her favorites). And over lunch she got to Skype with her Nana Kelly in California!!

We threw together a simple party (but even simple includes a minimum of 12 guests if you invite my family). Pizza and cake--per Lydia's preference! The Haude's and Rob's parents actually arrived that very evening with their U-Haul. So of course we welcomed them in. It made for a great party.

Lydia was a pure delight to watch open her gifts. She wanted to spend time with each one. She is not the type to rush on to the next bright bow or shiny bag. She wanted to enjoy each gift, which meant she wanted to read the book, snuggle the animal, try on the back-pack, or in one particular case, pick up her new chair and carry it to her room away from the crowd so she could sit in it and enjoy some peace and quiet.

For Lydia's party we borrowed her cousin Emrie's pool--and Lydia LOVES to swim and splash. As you can see.

Lydia got a couple pretty cool 'big' gifts. A swing from Lee & me, and yes, a little-person trampoline, from my parents. Both have been big hits in Lydia's world.

On the night of Lydia's birthday, I rocked her to sleep, which I don't get to do very often anymore. I held my sweet baby and I thought back to that first night together. There she was, and though I was exhausted, I woke frequently all night long to check on her. I was just too excited to get any good sleep and I instinctively woke to every tiny sound. I could have held her close to me forever. I practically did. The first year of her life we spent the majority of the time snuggling and I wouldn't trade that for anything. The second year of her life hasn't been without snuggling, she still loves to snuggle, it has just been more of a healthy balance between snuggling and running.

Lee & I are always amazed at how much Lydia wants to do and say. She has a pretty large vocabulary for a 2-year-old and I guess I shouldn't be surprised. She may look like her daddy, but she's got a lot to say just like her momma. 

If you're wondering when baby #2 is going to happen... we don't know. Sorry! Despite so many people's sense of urgency that we reproduce sooner rather than later, we're just waiting for the right timing for our family. Don't worry though, of course I've got an itch. And the maker of the universe could certainly make it happen anytime He wants to, despite even our efforts to prevent it, so I'm not worried. God's timing is always best. It sure was best with Lydia Jane.

Lydia is doing awesome at Kid's Connection. What a blessing to have her in the daycare just a hundred yards away. It had a few rough days at first, but yesterday I over heard her running down the hallway in an attempt to escape with her accomplice Ashton. They were both giggling so hard I think they may have actually thought they might get away with it. That or the rush from breaking rules was just too much fun to contain. :) About a foot from my office door they both turned back at the teacher's (3rd or 4th) request to "Come back to class, please."

I am a very blessed woman.. a very busy, but very blessed woman... 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Blame the animal cracker

The other day Lydia was eating an animal cracker and bit her cheek. I could tell by the shocked look on her face, along with tears, and a tiny hand pressed against the site of the wound. I said, "Oh I'm so sorry Lydia. Did you bite your cheek? That does hurt!" With tears in her eyes and a little whimpering she looked at the animal cracker and then with frustration and anger threw it as hard as she could.

I laughed a little, because it was so innocent her perception of thinking the cookie was the one at fault for her pain. It must just be in our human nature I guess, to automatically blame an outside source other than ourself. The story is cute, but I do think it teaches us, ahem... me, a little about my own life. It simply makes me ask myself, "What is my own 'pain' or 'frustration' that I have put on outside factors other than myself that are really my own responsibility?

It is Jan 14, I am BARELY hanging in with my New Year's Resolution and I better get on the ball this week, because this time next week I will be at my Commencement Ceremony in Miami, Florida and I probably won't be making time for a blog entry.  My goal this week is to actually post some with some pictures!!

When I wrote on the 7th, I did no mention that I had almost had the chance to teach at Tabor. A current professor had been in and out of the hospital and pending her decision to teach her Interterm Course at Tabor (a daily class through the month of January so a student can complete an entire course in 3 1/2 weeks that would otherwise take an entire semester), I would fill in if necessary. But on last Saturday she had decided to teach. It was fine, and I was excited for future opportunities. But on Tuesday she was readmitted to the hopsital and I received a phone call at noon asking if I would teach the course. I didn't even hesitate, because this is like a huge gift straight from God. I have always said that I wanted to teach at Tabor College AND that I wanted to teach Public Speaking first. Isn't this crazy? God has plans even when I doubt them and I feel so loved that he was planning this for me even before we moved to Hillsboro.

I would like to throw out there that while I am thankful and joyful about this opportunity I am very sad for the teacher and the physical difficulties she is facing.

Of course I had very little time to prepare for the course and it has been a whirlwind of preparing materials and figuring everything out, but I have LOVED my time in class. I love college kids. I love the season of life they are in. I love trying to figure out how to tap into their potential and help them realize, especially those who don't think they are very 'academic', that they really can succede.

So while I was spending months blaming the outside factors for my internal frustration of not having a job opportunity and wondering what God had in store for me, He shocked me with a gift that I had not even attempted to receive. (I hadn't even turned in an application to Tabor yet! So I have to thank my husband for planting the seed of my interest to Aleen Ratzlaff!) Thanks Lee, you're the best. :) Needless to say, I am excited teaching this course and excited for the potential opportunities I could have teaching. There may not be one this spring, and I will miss teaching after J-term, but I know there are some other opportunities in my future and this will not be the last time I teach at Tabor.

God is so good and I am having so much fun!! It is the perfect schedule for me to get up and go teach from 8:30 to 12 and then come home to be with  my little one. I just love it.

Have a wonderful week and may you be blessed beyond measure!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Blog Catch Up Again

It has been over 3 months since I last blogged! And that wasn't even a blog. The truth is I thought that once school was done I would jump right into avid blogging, but what reallyk happened is I avoided the computer like someone coughing excessively in the grocery store. It isn't that I do not think about blogging, I do, all the time; it is probably a little vain, as if a large portion of my thoughts are just so good that surely all my family and friends would want to read all about them. Which is why my mental blog writing has never ceased. If something interesting or moving happens, or if a new thought occurs to me, I will literally start describing the event or thought in a mental blog. I have done this since I was a little girl, before I knew what blogging was, and I can only assume it is a God-given desire to write. It isn't that I think I am the best at it, I simply love to do it.

I set out on a resolution to blog at least once a week in the new year. And here it is the 7th day of 2012. I am going to have to make this brief as I am currently engrossed in and obsessed with two things: an awesome book Catching Fire the second book in The Hunger Game series and sleep. After being the sponsor at the HMB high school all nigher I do not feel like I have ever fully recovered.

I am also recovering from all of this...

On December 16th I flew to Port Orange, Florida with my parents for a wedding in which Lydia was the flower girl! I should really post pictures, but honestly don't want to take the time to do it right now and want to stick to my resolution for at least one week in the new year. :) I got back to Chapman around 9pm on the 19th and the weather wasn't all that great so I stayed the night there. On the 20th Lee came to Chapman and stayed the night with us there. I left Lydia with my mom the morning of the 21st and Lee and I drove back to Hillsboro so he could get to work and I could watch darling Alexandria Lee for the day. That night was the high school lock-in from 8pm-6:30am. ugh... I feel tired just writing that. I got home at 7am and slept until 12. Then I got up because there was a lot to do before heading back to Chapman in the evening to spend a couple days with my family. But before we left I took a spill on the ice and my already bad back has been TERRIBLY painful, along with my tailbone. bummer. I finished packing for our couple weeks of traveling and hit the road to Chapman. On the evening of the 23rd we did "Christmas Eve' with my family and on the actual Christmas Eve Lee went to the Raiders Game in KC because I'm the best wife ever and not only bought him a ticket, but let him go to a game on CHRISTMAS EVE. Lee and I stayed the night in Kansas City on Christmas Eve and flew out for California on Christmas Day. Traveling on Christmas Day is cheap and not really busy, but it is a bit of a downer. I feel like I missed the Christmas feel because I didn't get to attend a Christmas service. That had me bummed and I will definitely not miss one again. No more traveling on Christmas day for us.

We had an excellent time in Bakersfield with Lee's family and we even got to spend a few nights in Reedley seeing friends. It was an awesome time and we flew back on January 2nd. We got to KC at 11:55pm and slept at my sister's. Then we drove from KC to meet my family in Manhattan for my niece Merci's birthday party. Then to my parents in Chapman to get the dogs, then finally HOME in Hillsboro. And for the first NIGHT (bc the morning after the all nighter does not count as a night in my bed) in 19 days I slept in my own bed. ah. Lee went to work in the morning and I had a surprisingly wonderful day with Lydia and Lexi. Despite all the traveling and being tired The Lord renewed me over the break and I am very grateful.

We aren't done traveling though. On January 20th Lee and I (without Lydia) will fly to Miami, Florida to attend my commencement ceremony on the 21st. I will definitely post pictures of that. :)

Oh my book is tugging at my thoughts and I cannot help but run to the recliner to curl up and read. It will be another battle tonight between two favorite things: reading and sleeping. How much sleep will I sacrifice to read tonight?