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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!

    School of the Week, Uncategorized

    Kenmore West {School of the Week 17-18}

    This week we thank God for and pray for Kenmore West High School!

    Fast Facts:

    • Founded 1939
    • Grades 8-12
    • Mascot: Blue Devils
    • Colors: Blue and White

    Prayers:

    • Pray for all the students of KenWest, but especially our First Trinity high school students: Ben and Kyle. Ask God to walk with them each day and give them opportunities to live out their faith at school, in extracurricular activities, and in their homes.
    • Pray for their administrators, faculty, and staff.
      Principal: Mr. Dean Johnson
      Assistant Principals: Mr. Daniel Charland, Ms. Dina Ferraraccio, and Mr. Matthew RainesAsk God to give all who lead the students wisdom and grace.
    • Pray for the students who are sports teams or in music programs that they would perform to God’s glory, stay safe, and have fun.

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    Uncategorized

    He’s in the waiting…

    “Waiting” is a word I often associate with Advent. Waiting for the celebration of Christ coming to earth. Waiting for Him to come again. Waiting for Him to show up in our lives here and now.

    Another blog post I read earlier this week talked about all the times the word or the concept of “wait” is found in just the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel… Elizabeth and Zechariah waiting decades for a child, Mary and Jospeh waiting to see what in the world God was up to as they navigated unknown circumstances, and Simeon and Anna watching for the long awaited Messiah. Sometimes when I think of waiting, I think it’s simply about trusting God while passing time until He shows up. Listening to some music as I got ready this morning, these words struck me:

    “Take courage, my heart; Stay steadfast, my soul; He’s in the waiting; He’s in the waiting” – Take Courage by Bethel Music

    It’s less about me waiting for God to show up… and more about realizing He can be found IN the waiting. For Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, you, and me– Jesus doesn’t just come at the end of the period of time before an answer comes, He’s walking with us every step of the way.

    It’s true for many things in life we do have to wait for an answer, a situation to resolve, a breakthrough in a tough circumstance. When that’s true it feels as if we’re waiting on God to show up wondering “when will He come through?”

    The truth I’m learning is that He’s already here. THAT’S the message of Christmas: Emmanuel–God WITH us.

    So… take courage,

    stay steadfast,

    look around:

    He’s HERE…

    IN the waiting.

    And He is faithful.

    School of the Week, Uncategorized

    Kenmore East {School of the Week 17-18}

    This week we thank God for and pray for Kenmore East High School!

    Fast Facts:

    • Founded 1959
    • Grades 8-12
    • Mascot: Bulldogs
    • Colors: Navy and Gold

    Prayers:

    • Pray for all the students of KenEast, but especially our First Trinity high school students: Haley, Jack, Chris, Jaclyn, Chris, and Ethan. Ask God to walk with them each day and give them opportunities to live out their faith at school, in extracurricular activities, and in their homes.
    • Pray for their administrators, faculty, and staff.
      Principal: Mr. Patrick Heyden
      Assistant Principals: Ms. Elaine Thomas and Mr. Joseph Greco
      Ask God to give all who lead the students wisdom and grace.
    • Pray for the students who are sports teams or in music programs that they would perform to God’s glory, stay safe, and have fun.

    SOTW - KenEast banner

    Joy, Mission Work, Uncategorized

    A story of scars…a story of joy

    We sat gathered around in a small room in her house. Worship and teaching were happening in the next room over.   We couldn’t all fit and so those of us who weren’t teaching let other have our place.  The church leader joined us and instead of sharing our testimonies, we had the honor of hearing hers.

    To be honest, I don’t remember much about how she became a Christian as much of her story has to do with what came next.  The abuse and beatings… by the hands of her husband.  Any time he found she had gathered with Christians or went to another prayer meeting, the beatings ensued.  For years this went on, sometimes worse than others.  Her young daughter would even blackmail her saying that if the mom didn’t give her what she wanted, she would tell Dad she was at another meeting. One day he got so mad that he got out a knife.  As she told the story, she lifted her shirt to reveal a 12-inch scar down her side.

    Her local church graciously took her in and helped her get out of this dangerous situations.  Years later after forgiving her husband, she sensed God working to restore their marriage. She prayerfully hoped in the process He would help her husband see the grace and forgiveness of Christ.  Shortly after her return, the husband was arrested for theft and spend 3.5 years in prison.  This gave her even more time to grow in her faith and pray for her husband.

    He is out of prison now and while he is not a believer… YET… we were sitting, gathering, worshiping God in their house.  He was there as lunch was served.  He was present, listening intently as one of our translators shared the gospel with our bus driver, assuming the husband was a Christian, and realizing later that while the bus driver ignored him completely, the husband was listening to every word.  He is not a Christian yet (or at least not when we were there a year ago), but I can’t help but wonder what God did in him that day as we sat in his home.

    The wife had been praying and praying that God would send foreign believers to come and encourage them, despite the risk of spending years in prison by having us there.  She recounted a time in the recent past when her husband mockingly said, “Do you really think that by your loud praying God will send foreigners here?!?”  She laughed and continued her story, “This morning I told my husband: ‘You see! God answers prayers!’

    A friend of this woman went on to tell us that the believers of her village all became followers of Christ because of this woman’s testimony!   And the community continues to be radically changed!

    “They overcame by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink to death.  Therefore, rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell there in.” Revelation 12:11

    I wish I could show you a picture of this woman I took as she finished sharing her story and let us pray for her.  Pure JOY is the only way to describe the look on her face.  Please continue to pray for her and believers just like her all over the world.  Pray they would have grace and strength to stand firm in the faith no matter what comes against them.  Pray for protection, peace, and continued overwhelming joy!