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3263 Days

June 16, 2019

7 weeks ago, when I announced I accepted the call to Nebraska and would be leaving New York, this day seemed so far off. June felt forever away… that I had tons of time left in this place. But here it is and there is so much to grieve and so much to be excited for.

When I pulled up to First Trinity 3263 days ago I never imagined how dear this place, really the people, would become. It is an insane understatement to say that my time here has changed and shaped every area of my life.

Last night at worship I was caught by the themes of light and darkness in connection with following God.

First, in the Gospel reading:

“I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12)

If you follow me...” That phrase struck me… jumped off the page as if it was bold, italicized, and underline. Earlier in the week I was wrestling through some conversations I’ve had with friends in the last couple months. I was trying to figure out why phrases like “your decision to move” or “your choice to leave” felt so foreign to me. Of course I had a decision to make but when it really came down to it, I felt that there was no choice… God was clearly showing me where He was calling. REALLY, the only decision was whether I would obey and follow God’s call or not. So, to see this truth, that I won’t walk in darkness if I follow Him, gave me something to hold on to and depend on in my last hours in this place.

A few moments later, we sang these hymn lyrics:

“Christ by my leader by night as by day

Safe through the darkness, for He is the way

Gladly I follow, my future His care.

Darkness is daylight when Jesus is there.”

Both of these things are true:

I’m hardcore grieving the losses that have come with choosing to follow Jesus and a HUGE part of me doesn’t want to leave.

I also gladly follow Him and am excited to go.

Both of these things can be true because of this greater truth: my future is in His hands, it is His care, along with the futures of all my friends and family and church here. Between moving and some really hard things in the lives of people I love here, much of these last 7 weeks have felt pretty “dark”.

BUT Psalm 139:12 reminds us that even darkness is not dark at all with Jesus near… and near he has been!!! We will journey safely through the darkness with Him as our leader.

There’s no One I’d rather follow!

Here’s to what has been and what is to come… Christ as Leader every step!

Books, Uncategorized, What I'm Reading Wednesday

Best Books I Read in 2018

I read a lot this year. In addition to reading through all 66 books of the Bible I managed to make my way through 51 other books. It’s hard to decide which were the best, but here are a few that definitely rose to the top:

Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors
This was actually a re-read from 2017, but so worth it! I love the authentic and honest way in which Katie writes and even more so the way in which she lives. In a year where hope was at times hard to come by, this challenge to DARE to hope was a great reminder!

When God Made Light by Matthew Paul Turner
Yes, even some children’s books made my reading list for this year, and for good reason. This one by Matthew Paul Turner (along with his first children’s book “When God Made You”) are wonderful reads for children and adults alike. These books are also wonderfully illustrated by David Catrow

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
I can’t encourage people enough to read this book. It was a hard read, but such a good one, and a helpful one too. It’s one I need to read again and again, and other books like it, to understand more of what I likely will never completely be able to understand.

Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People by Bob Goff
While the title does a pretty good job of summing up the entire book, this makes the top reads list simply because it was a FUN book to read. I got the audio copy from the library and loved listening to Bob’s adventurous stories chapter after chapter.

The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazis by Neal Bascomb
This piece of historical fiction is probably the closest I’ll come to adventure/spy type novels. I enjoyed hearing about aspects of history I didn’t know much about before.

Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion by Wayne Cordeiro
This was probably the best work-related book I read this year at the recommendation of a friend who found it to be helpful. In a season of illness that kept me from being at 100% at work, it was some great encouragement to keep moving forward despite limitations while still creating spaces and routines of rest.

It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered by Lysa TerKuerst
This new release probably gets my #1 spot for this year. The prayers based on Scripture at the end of each chapter alone made it worth me buying my own copy after having first borrowed it from the library. The honest way in which Lysa shares about life’s disappointments without feeling the need to wrap it all up with a nice pretty bow was refreshing. Life is raw sometimes but as the subtitle promises, strength can be found even in the most disappointing places.

WHAT WERE YOUR FAVORITES FROM 2018 THAT I SHOULD ADD TO MY 2019 LIST?

2018-12-28 13.54.13

(All links in this post are Amazon affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

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66 in 52 Challenge Wrap Up

At the beginning of 2018 I made it may goal to reflect on at least one verse from each book of the Bible in the year. I also hoped I would be able to read or listen to each book in it’s entirety. As with any good goal, it’s most successful when you are reasonable vs legalistic. As the year went on for me, artistic Bible journaling (while fun) took too much energy. Due to some health struggles I had to adapt the goal. The goal was never there to be something to check off and say I did, but rather a framework for connecting with Jesus. For those of you who joined the challenge, I pray that you also were able to adapt and use it simply as a tool to grow rather than a prescription to follow precisely.

I thankfully was able to read all 66 books this year, which is actually the first time I’ve done that straight through. Here are a few things I learned (or relearned) about myself and Scripture along the way:

  • “The same ol’ thing” gets old. I think one of the reasons past attempts to read straight through the Bible have failed has to do with pacing. Many of the other plans I’ve tried break it up to a few chapters a day. When you’re on your 2nd month in Leviticus or Isaiah it starts to turn into a chance to check the box. I found early on that this challenge fought against that. Because each week was a new book or books, it didn’t have time to get old. While it was a year-long challenge, it felt new again each week. I’m guessing for some it was annoying to have 50 chapters to read one week and 3 the next but personally I liked it.
  • Do it with friends. To be honest, the accountability of having to post about this challenge each week was probably one of the only reasons I actually made it through. I’ve heard from others that did it with friends or family members who said the encouragement from others and the chance to talk about what they were learning was the extra boost they needed to stick with it. While our personal relationship with God is just that… personal, having chances to share what we’re learning with others helps it sink even deeper into our souls.
  • Give yourself grace. I said this before, but when we get legalistic about reading Scripture, it takes away from the purpose of it. Reading God’s Word is designed to breath life into us. If the way we’re going about that feels like it’s sucking life out of us, we need to try something new. This challenge wouldn’t work for some people in the sense that it’s too structured and for others it doesn’t feel structured enough. Find what works for you but even within that, give yourself grace. Are you connecting with God and His word? Awesome. That’s what matters. So what if you’re two months “behind”?!? More than once when I was “behind” this year the words I ended up reading were EXACTLY what God knew I needed to hear in that week. His Word is alive and active and doesn’t have to fit within a weekly structure.
  • Every single word is important. I already knew this, but I found so much value in reading every word of every verse of every chapter of every book. It challenged my view of myself, God, humanity, and more… in all the best ways. I was able to see things more clearly than I had before, and other things I walked away more confused. It’s easy for me to pick and choose what to read and form a picture of God and life that may not be so close to accurate. Reading it all helps give context and meaning to harder to understand passages.

For those of you who joined me on this journey, share below in the comments… what were somethings you learned along the way?

ALSO, whether you technically “finished” the challenge or not, if you stuck with us throughout the last year and are still actively connecting with God each day, be sure to fill out the form here to get the personalized verse cards I promised at the beginning of the year!

Praying blessings over you all in the year to come that you would continue to find ways to connect with Jesus and His Word each day! 2017-11-27 11.56.19

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Never Travel Alone

When I stood at the end of 2017 and looked forward, the way I found myself describing 2018 was: a year of travel.

I started off the year in our nation’s capital with thousands of college students at the Passion Conference. Later that month I attended a learning event in Chicago. A few weeks later almost our entire team from work went to the Best Practices for Ministry Conference in Phoenix. March provided a few weeks of staying put before heading out to California in April for my cousin’s wedding. May and June kept me close to home but July made up for it with trips to Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Guatemala all in less than 4 weeks. My exchange daughter from two years ago also visited America that month and I headed off to spend two weeks at her home in the Faroe Islands this October with a couple days in Iceland as well. I’ll spend the last day of 2018 traveling to Florida for another young adult mission trip.

Yes, 2018 was indeed a year of travel. But God took me to new places that aren’t so easily plotted on a map as well. For the first five months I traveled a road of uncertainty waiting to find out whether or not I had cancer. Following surgery at the end of May, I didn’t move much at all physically but explored a new space of rest and recovery. Healing from surgery went very well but in these months wrapping up the year I’ve explored the mountainous regions of depression and a chronic illness brought on by the removal of this crucial body part.

A lot of INCREDIBLE things happened this year (and I’ll focus on them in another post soon!), but to be honest, the roads of 2018 were hard. I don’t feel I traveled them very well. At best, I was the annoying kid in the back calling out to God, “ARE WE THERE YET?!?,” frustrated by how long some journeys were taking. At the same time there were plenty of days I wanted to just stop moving all together, but that’s not an option.  One foot in front of the other is the only way through and so one foot in front of the other is what I did.

Yes, it was hard, but in it all, this truth made it all okay:

I didn’t ever travel alone…

not one single step.

At the conference I mentioned from February a speaker shared some things she learned while traveling a hard road as well the year before. One tip that stuck out to me was this:

“Don’t go it alone, even when you feel alone.”

There were definitely moments in this year that FELT lonely, like no one could understand, but it was those moments when I had to refuse to actually do life alone. My travel buddies remained faithful and my Guide, Jesus, the most faithful of them all.

Who knows what adventures 2019 will bring, but in this Advent season I find myself beyond thankful for our Savior, Immanuel … GOD WITH US. Because He showed up, I never travel alone!

SOME OF MY 2018 DESTINATIONS AND TRAVEL BUDDIES:

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Planted by the Streams

I planned to start looking for a house to buy last month. I started saving a couple years ago and for the last 10 months participated in a savings program at the bank. As part of this, I can get a $7500 grant toward down payments and closing costs if I buy a home within the next year. That’s some significant help toward this dream! As I said, I planned to start actually looking for a house in August or early September. Long story short, God had other plans.

For various reasons that don’t really matter, I decided a couple weeks ago to put that off for a while. It might be just for a month or so, or maybe longer, not really sure right now. The cool part is that instead of disappointment, I’ve found peace.

A few days before I made the decision to postpone this for a while longer I found myself at a nearby park sitting beside a creek that runs along some trails.

I pondered all that was happening in life at that moment. Let’s suffice it to say, my summer was crazy and while the pace of the fall has slowed a bit, the crazy hasn’t stopped. Crazy at work. Crazy with family members being sick. Crazy being sick myself still recovering from surgery 3 months ago and figuring out life with half a thyroid. Crazy relationships. Crazy emotions. Crazytown all over the place.

In the midst of the crazy, sitting beside the creek, simply staring at water crash over rocks, I noticed the trees on the opposite bank. Roots reaching deep into the water, standing tall and green. This passage from Jeremiah came vividly to mind:

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. (Jeremiah‬ ‭17:7-8‬‬)

Despite the crazy… the droughts… the heat of life… there is a way of life that still leads to steadiness and faithfulness. I wanted that.

In that moment, I knew this verse would become a defining one for this season of life. If I remain planted by the water, if I let my roots draw from the unlimited source of life and nourishment, if I trust… I will be okay. I will be steady. I will continue to bear fruit in my life and the ministry to which God has called me.

I wasn’t really thinking about the ‘crazy’ of first time home-ownership when pondering all the other crazy there by the creek except for this one passing thought: “Maybe I can find a house near some water”.

Only later in that week (AFTER the decision to postpone the house hunting for now) did I have this revelation:

That creek I was sitting by, if you follow it down for miles through all it’s twists and turns, it passes right in front of my current apartment!

Seriously!?! I can’t make this stuff up.

I may have to ignore some traffic driving by or look past the guardrail, but from my porch or my bedroom window I can see it clearly: more trees, lining the bank, roots stretching down into the water, green and fruitful.

Only God knows when and where He’ll have me move, but for now, He has me literally planted beside the water in a season of figuring out figuratively what that kind of trust looks like. Only our God, y’all… only our God!

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On Symphonies and Life

I love listening to music. I enjoy various genres and instruments, simple and complex.

I listen to music while I drive in the car.

I listen to music in the morning as I get ready.

I listen to music sometimes while I work.

I listen to music a lot.

However, I’m noticing that I rarely JUST listen.

I sing with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and this past weekend we got to sing with the orchestra as they kicked off their season. This meant a lot of rehearsing and a lot of time spent at Kleinhans, the music hall where we perform. On Friday night our call time was 6:30, but we ended up not getting to our part in the rehearsal until sometime around 9. We knew there would be some wait time but weren’t sure how long and I contemplated bringing something to do during the wait… a book to read, a journal to write in, some emails that needed answered.

But then I stopped myself.

What would it be like if I just sat and listened to the music?

How often do we get the chance to sit in an amazing music hall and listen to incredible professional musicians (including one of the most well known American soloists) for a couple hours (for free) just because?

By putting down my phone/book/etc. I was able to simply enjoy the moment. The way the themes moved across the orchestra. The way the soloist communicated a story though I had no clue of the English translation of what he was saying. The way one song was completely different than the next. The fine detail the conductor could hear, able to correct one little note that was slightly flat or late or simply just not what she wanted despite the intense, complex sound coming from the dozens of instruments before her.

I watched intently and then I closed my eyes to take in all the sounds and then I opened them again to watch. There is something about being in a moment (whether on stage or in the seats) that makes you come a little more alive when taking in some live music.

  • Maybe a night at the orchestra isn’t your thing. That’s okay… go find a dueling piano bar or your favorite heavy metal band in concert. Go and just listen. Or perhaps music all together has no intrigue; symphonies are all around us if we pay attention: the roar of the crowd rising and falling with the plays in the sporting event, the giggles and conversation of kids on a playground, the hum and beat of tools in a workshop.
  • Whatever your “music” of choice, the key is this… get lost in a moment. Stop and listen. Enjoy the simplicity of the ‘task at hand’ while standing in awe of the complexities it holds. Take it all in and perhaps you’ll breath a bit deeper, smile a bit wider, relax those tense shoulders, and live.
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    Reflections on Psalms (Part 1)

    Wednesday night I had the joy of attending a Rend Collective concert. I was so thankful for that chance as the whole thing was so refreshing to my soul! Not only was it a fun night out with some amazing friends randomly in the middle of the week, Rend Collective also knows how to party well! Despite the fact that they are humans like the rest of us and go through just as many ups and downs as anyone else, they deeply understand God’s joy more than perhaps anyone I’ve met.

    A few years ago I heard them share something that has since become one of my favorite quotes:

    “Seriousness is not fruit of the Spirit, but joy is!”

    The Spirit was alive and the fruit of joy was abundant on Wednesday night. So often in Christian culture it’s easy to slowly slide into seriousness, to make our lives all about doing the right things or not doing the wrong things. As we read Scripture, the clearer message of Christ is: “enjoy life with Me!” He tells us that He came to give us “full, abundant life”. (John 10:10)

    The Psalms seem to echo this concept of joy and celebration in abundance. Even the psalms of lament seem to often come back to an element of praise. As I continued reading my way through the Psalms the morning after the concert, it solidified this idea that joy is key in a healthy relationship with God and will overflow in our life when that relationship has priority. Here are just a few of the dozens of verses that jumped off the page just in the 10 chapters I read Thursday morning:

    • “…Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. …You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!” Psalms 30:5, 11-12
    • “So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!” Psalms 32:11
    • “Let the godly sing for joy to the Lord; it is fitting for the pure to praise him. … We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.” Psalms 33:1, 20-21
    • “Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles.” Psalms 34:5-6
    • “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. … Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols. … I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart. … But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “The Lord is great!”” Psalms 40:2, 4, 8, 16

    There were many things that God is showing me as we journey through Psalms but this one was clear: perhaps one of the best representations of Christ to the world is my joy. Satan will try to steal it, circumstances will try to overwhelm it, my soul will at times have to fight for it, but joy is possible, because the Spirit lives in me and longs for me to live in joy! Maybe it’s time for us Christians to stop being known by our seriousness, and start being known for our joy!