Breaking Free

I’m currently going through this Beth Moore Bible study called “Breaking Free”, both as a personal exercise and as a way to share with a friend who is looking to grow in her relationship with God.

I’ve been blown away.
(I also must mention that every single time I think about the workbook or the study, my mind instantly goes to High School Musical.  “Soaring….flying…”  I’m hoping that passes, eventually….)
When I was a younger stay-at-home-mom – and a new Christ-follwer, Bible study groups were my lifeline and primary means of social interaction.  Living in a tiny town in Texas with two, then three, then four babies under the age of five, I didn’t get out much.  The women who were living life as I am now – 15 to 18 years into the parenting thing – seemed like foreign creatures to me.  I couldn’t comprehend a family life that didn’t include diapers and baby food, uninterrupted sleep and a baby firmly rooted to your hip.  But they were there, living around me, and along with the women who’d passed through that stage and moved into the empty nest or grandparent era, they held me up.
Not necessarily through social means – long phone conversations, lunches out, shopping expeditions, etc.  None of that was a reality or even an interest for me.
But these women met for Bible study, weekly.  And they dug in, hard.
And they valued child care.  Somebody else always made arrangements for there to be a child care provider there in the church or the community room or the library – wherever we were meeting.  They took care of that for the moms, so we could have two hours of focus on learning about God.
Not until this season of life do I recognize the gift I was given.
See, here’s a confession:  I try to have the Word of God “hidden in my heart”, as the Bible says.  Not all of it, of course, but I have paid attention for the last 20 years, and I’ve learned some things.  Much of what I learned sunk in and took root during those Bible studies.  That’s a good thing, for sure.  But these days?  Sadly, when you “do church” and ministry, often big chunks of what looks like “Bible study” can be more accurately termed “work prep”.  It’s still the Bible – it’s still powerful and relevant and meaningful, but there’s a difference.  And I can read daily email devotions and journal and all that – but there’s still a definite difference between those activities and a pointed, focused Bible study.
So I’m pounding through Breaking Free and loving it, absolutely loving it – knowing for certain that my knowledge of and relationship with God is growing because of this investment I’m making.
But, as always, I think like a minister or a pastor or a church worker.  I think about my friends who are currently going through Experiencing God with Chauncey Starkey through the iD program at PCC, and I get all excited about what they’re….well, experiencing.  I think about the community Bible study that’s happening here in Powhatan and wonder how many moms of little ones don’t know about it, who might need to be encouraged and invited.
I think about this Breaking Free study and wonder how many of you might want or need to go through the same thing.
I think about our church and wonder when I can organize something to give time and resources and care and energy and a chance to learn about God – like I was given in tiny little Hico, Texas – to moms who need it.
I think about our church and the tremendous excitement we have for God and for one another – and the tremendous need we have to learn the truth.

I’m grateful today.  
And I’m wondering about you:  Are you doing any in-depth Bible study?  What’s it like?  If not, do you want to?  What are you craving?

Mercy And Fairness From GOD’S Heart

From the TruthMedia Daily Women’s Devotional that zooms into my mailbox every morning (thanks, Christine!) – here’s part of what I got today, written by Gail Rodgers:

When we think of some of the dear people in our lives spontaneous feelings of love spring to our hearts. Then there are others who are not so easy to love. They challenge our sense of justice, our patience and even our Christian faith as we grapple with how to love them.

We all have them in our lives from time to time. There might be the group at church who is talking about the pastor and trying to get him to leave. Or they might be woman at work who just seems to want to make life miserable. Maybe it’s a neighbor who mistreats his family and evokes disgust from the neighborhood, or a politician who represents you yet makes decisions contrary to your beliefs. Even some extended family members can be awfully trying. Sometimes we feel justified in withholding our love.

The Bible talks about the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13. Here God clearly outlines them. One particular characteristic stood out to me recently… “Love is patient and is kind”. God’s Word says that the world should know we are Christians by our love. Love should be the hand-rail that will steady us in all our relationships and dealings with the world around us. Yet how is it possible? One could not just turn a blind eye to injustice, mistreatment and gossip.

The springs of love are within God. Love does not naturally exist in our own hearts when love is not returned. God tells us exactly what is required of us when we face this dilemma in our hearts. Listen to His wisdom….

“And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly

To love mercy 

To walk humbly with your God(Micah 6:8)

It makes sense. Our responsibility is simply to walk humbly with our God allowing Him to keep our hearts soft with mercy while striving for fairness. This would make the difference in the situations where people seem so irritating. His Holy Spirit can give us the patience and the ability to be kind. This approach would even bring balance to situations at church or work that might be getting out of control. This love makes sense.  Mercy and fairness from God’s heart can help us deal with some of the hard spots in life.

Wow.  What a great reminder, along with some reading in Isaiah this morning.  Rather than get all worked up about being God, making decisions, being a good leader, etc., I just need to keep walking.
With God.
What a relief.
It’s not that I’m struggling with any particular person right now; nobody’s really irritating me or making my life miserable.  It’s just this ovewhelming sense of the need to make everything right that I struggle with.  Occasionally.  Okay – often.  And that sentence at the end, reminding me that my responsibility is simply to walk humbly with God – well, that is simply brilliant.
Because if I can do that, I’m betting everything else will fall into place.
If you like that devotional and want a good daily blast of common, godly sense, you can sign up here.

What Leadership Demands

I came to my job at PCC with relatively low expectations for my role and responsibilities.  After worshiping from the seats for several months as an attender (and crying through the services, just like so many others) I eventually began to serve as a musician.  They needed a piano player, and I played, so there you go.

When a larger need presented itself, I was asked to help with some organizational and administrative stuff for the music team.  That role opened up to an offer to come on staff; I could hardly believe the offer was extended, but there were too many indicators that God was involved.  I left my secure, salaried, benefit-rich position in Chesterfield County and came to work for Powhatan Community Church.
I’ve never regretted it.
One of the most rewarding parts of my role here is the opportunity to stretch my leadership wings.  I had an early start in that area; growing up, I was always in charge of something.  Class officer, student council officer, president of this and that club, leader of this and that organization.  I was our high school’s nominee to the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Seminar as a sophomore.  I was outgoing, outspoken and very involved.  Once I earned my teaching credentials, I was active and inventive and aggressive with new ideas and programs; I loved teaching and was eager to pursue the development of anything and everything we could dream up – especially when somebody said it couldn’t be done.
In the midst of all of this activity, circumstances in my life led me to the place where I embraced a real relationship with Jesus for the first time; although the church had a place in my life, up until this point it held no meaning other than what was culturally and traditional important to me and my family.  But around 1987, I met Jesus.  It changed my life.
I became very zealous, very focused and very excited about plugging back into a local church.  I was warmly welcomed into a small, loving church that was rooted in rather basic, fundamental, conservative theology – and culture.  I loved that church and the people, and strove to accept the teachings I heard and those that were modeled, based on my desire to live as a “good Christian” and really understand what it meant to sincerely follow Jesus.  I really wanted to do this right.
In that particular time and place, in a fairly fundamentalist environment, I learned to equate being a “good Christian” with a form of submission that required burying my tendency to lead.  Without ever being sternly instructed in such things, I slowly absorbed the notion that my Christian life could not safely include my past – a past that reeked of leading most everything I got involved in – primarily because of my gender.  So, I fought hard to be somebody completely new – clinging to that “new creature in Christ” idea.  I wanted to be not just a “good Christian”, but a “good Christian woman“.
I tried.  In doing so, my attempts to be somebody completely different harmed not only me, but those around me.  I know that in an effort to be a “good wife” according to misinterpreted standards, I failed to bring my authentic self to my marriage – and that contributed to its downfall.  I felt like an imposter in my own life.  I never understood how to connect my past – just the simple life I had during high school and college – with the person I felt I was supposed to be, post-Jesus.
Moving out of the Bible belt, experiencing grace, opening my eyes and ears to different, Bible-based teaching – and completely falling on my butt in terms of my pathetic attempts to “be a good Christian” – all these things combined to bring me to a new place.  And the circle began to close, somewhat, in this new place – when I arrived in Powhatan.  I’d begun to hear and understand hints of a richer, more authentic form of grace – a Jesus that was fuller and stronger and more complete than what I’d been taught.  I’d heard it in Cleveland, at Fellowship Bible Church.  I’d heard it from Jamie Rasmussen and Doug Flood.  I’d seen it lived out in women like Sharon Rowland and Tish Lushiano and Sharon Lloyd.
I was able to taste it when I was exposed completely, broken, and forgiven freely.
The circle of grace closed around me here in Powhatan, gathered me towards a new role and responsibility at PCC, and has spun me around, safely inside its walls, only to thrust me out into a new – and yet very familiar – place.  I live in this circle of grace, tethered to its center – my friend, my Lord, my savior – free to go out and work and live and be, all the while welcomed home.  It is such a different thing, this living in grace.  So much safer than being a “good Christian”.
What prompts all this?  A post I read tonight on this blog, one titled “What Leadership Demands”.  You see, between the faithful, patient friendship and encouragement of Brian Hughes, the partnership of Kevin Salyer, the kind, steadfast example of Angie Frame, the passion for the Word of Sammy Frame, the gentle spirit of Lori Wheeler, the quiet strength of Susan Hughes, the strong, steady hand of Chauncey Starkey, the unyielding can-do attitude of John Starkey, the honest, fiery indenpendence of Kim Meza and the kind, listening ear of Dennis Green, I have been held up, prayed for, pushed toward, yelled at, convicted of and loved into the sweet spot of life.
I am a leader.  God made me that way, years ago.  Even now, it seems presumptuous to type those words.  It frightens me, seems like I’m “getting too big for my britches”.  I’m afraid somebody might hear me, and cut me back down to size.
“You’re a leader?  Ha.  Who do you think you are?  You’re just a girl…just a piano player…just a teacher…that’s all.  Who do you think you are?”
But over and over again, it comes back.  I see it, I feel it, I experience it.  And I have finally learned to accept it, to marry my history with my present tense.  I feel that I am becoming, through the grace of God, all that He has intended me to be.  He has molded the broken, battered, sometimes unwilling clay of my life into a ragged pot – but I have finally learned the joy of yielding to the pressure of his direction, rather than fighting it.  For even with the purest of motives, fighting God makes you sweat.  It’s exhausting and draining.
I am a leader.  

And for you, for the Kingdom, for all who have invested in me and loved me and fought with me and pushed me – I want to be the very best leader I can be.  I read this post and cry, recognizing a few things, longing for others, knowing that God placed something inside of me that fits who I am with who I want to be, exactly where I am.
I simply cannot imagine anything better.

Being The Church

“I have visited a lot of churches throughout my short life, and in the last 10 years, I can recall only once when a couple I did not know came up to me after a service and invited me and my wife to a meal with them.”

I read that today on this blog and was really struck by the implied challenge.  

So much of my emotional and physical resources are spent thinking about church, preparing for church, working for church, talking to people about church, “doing” church – and yet this one statement (along with what followed) really got me thinking about what it means for me to say that I “do church”.
I prepare, work for, talk about, “do” church – but am I being the church?
I’m going to spend some time today thinking about this, and asking God to show me how I can step up.

“I believe that until we get our thinking to change from church being something we go to as opposed to something that we are, we will never understand the call to community and communion…

This thinking of going versus being has permeated our culture in more than just church. Gone are the days when work was something we did. We now go to work. Education used to be something that we did by learning at all times. Now we go to school. We’ve removed the responsibility of being the church, doing work, and learning by making it something other than a part of us. Perhaps this is why it’s easier to complain about church, work and school because they are places instead of postures.

Our thinking must change. Our actions must change. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying.’ He was also convinced that action by a few wasn’t enough, it would take all of us. ‘I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.’ ” – Brad Abare, emphasis mine

Time For A Change

Today at PCC, we prayed together for our new president.  Regardless of your political preferences, he is our president, and we are compelled to pray for our leaders.  As Brian said this morning, if you can’t pray for Barack Obama, you have a spiritual problem.

Thanks to Tim Stevens, I came across this video.  I was immediately struck by the way Obama is using YouTube to communicate with his constituency, surprised by the comfortable way in which he speaks to “us” through the camera – and inspired and excited by his call to “make a lasting commitment to make better the lives of your fellow Americans”.
I am praying for this man, and for our country and all that looms ahead of us.  
Hope you are, too.

Oh, and check out the website he mentions: There’s a lot going on around here and several ways for us to participate in “making better the lives of our fellow Americans.”
EDIT:  Please go read Scott’s post about this – great point, well-taken.  Good stuff….
Click here.

After the thawing of the frozen water pipes today (what a GREAT way to start a Saturday…) I did what I’d been hoping to do for a while now:  made an IKEA run.

My first visit to IKEA was on a trip to Chicago to see my brother and his family.  I was stunned.  And happy.  And greedy.  I’ll never forget lugging oversized IKEA bags on the plane back to Cleveland, stuffing cd racks and cups and lights and picture frames and all sorts of incredible, awesome, gotta-have-it-now stuff.  We tried to stuff everything in the overhead bins and earned ourselves several glares and outright disapproval from fellow passengers.  
I was hooked.  Willing to be embarrassed, I didn’t care.  Absolutely loved the place.
Realizing later that we could get to the Pittsburgh IKEA in a few short hours, I made that trip more than once.  The most memorable was a venture with several friends, culminating with a picture frame that was broken before we arrived home and my (then) husband waiting at home, already aware of how much I’d spent (thank you, online banking and debit cards). 
After relocating to Richmond, the store in Northern Virginia became a great way-station for me.  Often, after taking the kids to spend time with their dad, I’d stop at IKEA on the way home for some retail therapy.  Sometimes I’d spend little more than $20 on a few frames and lunch for myself – and several hours wandering the aisles, working through some sort of subconscious loss and longing for home.  It’s a great place to imagine starting over again, with all sorts of fresh visions and positive expectations.  I have good memories.
Today’s trip was fun – I went primarily in search of curtain rods and curtains and the chair.  I bought a few of those chairs when I moved into this house – put them together myself – and they remain the most durable chairs in the house.  Every other stinkin’ chair we own is either broken completely, reduced to one of two arms, cracking or creaking.  But those simple wood chairs?  Indestructable!
Armed with a generous gift card I received at Christmas time, we headed north.
I spent my gift card.
And more.
But I got two chairs.  And curtain rods (for ONE DOLLAR AND FORTY-NINE CENTS, PEOPLE!!!!) And three plants.  And a little table.  And a bookshelf for the girls.  And a cool light.
And little teeny tiny things that you buy at IKEA because, gosh darn it, they’re just such GOOD DEALS!  Meaning they cost a dollar or something.
It was a good day – a restful day.  And the water’s still running.  And tomorrow’s church.

God Can Do Anything, You Know…

I had a phone call early (for me, anyway) this morning.  It was a friend who wanted to share something from the Bible that she felt was really pertinent to our church right now.  

It’s a scripture verse I’ve read before, but in light of the week’s events and the undercurrent of electricity and anticipation that I feel about our the future, it spoke powerfully to me today.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

My friend emphasized the part about glory in the church and encouraged me to seize that.  
It’s resonated in my head and heart all morning.  I sought out that verse in The Message, knowing that Peterson always gives a slightly different slant to the words of scripture that ALWAYS prompts me to think and often touches me deeply.  Here’s his take:

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!”

I’m keeping that close to my heart today, this practical voicing of an immense idea:  God can do anything, you know…

Oh, yeah.
It makes me wonder what’s going on, what he’s working within you, deeply and gently, to create something that you can’t even imagine.  It’s happening in many of us.  It’s happening in our church.
Oh, yeah.  
What’s he doing in you?
Scriptures from Ephesians 3