May 28, 2015

Africa on My Mind

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress
and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James 1:27

This time last year, my family and I were nearing the end of our trip to Rwanda to visit my parents.  This time this year, we are awaiting the arrival of the Watoto Children's Choir at our church this afternoon.  So today I feel the need to share with you about Urukundo Children's Home, which we visited in Rwanda, and Watoto, which we will meet tonight!

For the most part, I will let you click those links to read more to learn about those ministries to orphans in Rwanda and Uganda.  They have similar philosophies and ways to creating a home for children who do not have the privilege of living with their immediate family, because disease, war, or poverty has taken their parents or rendered their parents incapable of caring for them.

The Watoto Children's Choir travels the U.S. performing (song and dance) to raise awareness and funds for their ministry in Kampala, Uganda.  As they move from church to church, American families have the opportunity to host a few of the choir members in their home.  We will be doing that tonight and I could not be more thrilled!  What a difference Watoto has made in these children's lives.  They are alive, fed, loved, in a family, and they know Jesus loves them, too!

Right now, Mama Arlene, the founder and matriarch of Urukundo (which means love) in Rwanda, is traveling around this part of the U.S. on a fund raising trip.  She moved to Rwanda permanently in 2004 and has never left.  We got to tour Urukundo, play with the children, and learn about Mama Arelene's ever-expanding, God-given vision.  Her life is a challenge and inspiration, because her retirement was the beginning of new work!

Here are a few pictures of what is happening at Urukundo:



Job Training!


Medical and Dental Care!

Infant Care!

Food Production!

 And Lots of Laundry!!

With our Watoto guests arriving tonight and remembering the year anniversary of our trip to Rwanda, I have orphans on my mind a lot.  Oh yeah, this quote has popped up on my Facebook news feed several times this week, too.

"If all the orphans were a nation, they'd be the tenth most populous nation in the world."

Not sure if it "means" anything, but in response to the theme I'm seeing, I wanted to share with you about these great ministries to the least of these.  I wonder if God is trying to tell our family something through all of this.  I'm trying to listen!  May God guide each of us as we consider how to use our resources of prayer, money, time, and energy to care for the orphan, widow, and alien for the sake of His name and glory.

Have a great weekend!

May 26, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 19}

Dear reader, how are you today?  Coming off of a holiday weekend can leave one feeling a bit disappointed and a little tired.  Today we return to routine tasks and maybe even have to clean up extra from a weekend of fun.  We will be doing laundry, picking up floors, clearing counters, and getting a few groceries.  How do you react when fun is over and life gets back to normal?

Our attitudes in these situations reveals a lot about our hearts.  My childishness and laziness want to rule, tempting me to leave the laundry and unpacking for tomorrow.  The bit of wisdom in my heart reminds me that if I get it going, the momentum will pick up and the work will get done sooner rather than later.  Then I'll be able to sit for a little break with the work complete; and it will be a restful break, not a distracted, restless, I-should-be-working-but-I-don't-want-to pause.

The heart has come up for me a lot this week, making it the perfect topic for today's OPEN post.  I want to be OPEN to hearing what God is trying to tell me and (even better) OPEN to responding and doing as I hear the Word.  The Bible has a bit to say about how important it is for us to respond to the Word and not be mere hearers!

It all came to a head Sunday with a reading in Luke 6 about loving one's enemies.  We all love our friends. There's no challenge in that.  But Jesus teaches His disciples to love their enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  This is the way of the people of the Kingdom of God.  In the devotional I'm working through by John Killinger, he calls such people, people of the loving spirit.
O Lord, I want to be a person of the loving spirit.  But, boy, it feels like I have a long way to go!

Later in the morning, the preacher at my in-law's church was preaching about the time when God dethroned Saul because He did not do as God commanded with whole-hearted devotion and exact obedience, in I Samuel 15.  As the preacher moved into application he said: A divided heart is the worst type of heart condition.
O Lord, I do not want to be a person of a divided heart.  But, boy, it feels like I am so often!

He went on to offer some ways to "check our vital signs," to see how our heart is doing:
  1. How is my obedience?  Am I almost obeying or am I obeying all the way?
  2. Do I trust God?  Is trust my natural instinct or do I question and try to do things my own way?
  3. Is my faith genuine?

Saul did not obey as God commanded because He did not trust God's wisdom and had not placed His faith fully in the true King.  It cost him dearly.

Friends, if we settle for "almost" it costs us dearly, too!  We miss out on the joy and wonder that can be ours when we go "all in" with God.  We miss seeing what GOD can do in situations when we love our enemies, when we live as people of the loving Spirit.  We are left hopeless in our anxiety and turmoil.  But going with God sets us free!  We don't know what will happen on the other side of obedience, trust, and faith, but we know God - who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow - is there working all things out for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.

I want to be OPEN to living as God calls me to live, in faith, trust, and obedience.  I want Him to do surgery on my useless divided heart to make it whole and healthy.  He can!  He can for me and He can for you, too.

Time to take action:
Read the story of Saul in I Samuel 15:1-23.  Then take some time to pray through the "vital signs" questions, asking the Lord to help you see ways your heart is divided and renewing your commitment to Him alone.  Be OPEN to what He has to say to you and to believing that He can forgive and transform you, day by day.

May God grow us to be people of the loving spirit who reflect His love in a world that is longing for redemption, in Jesus' name.  Amen.

May 21, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 18}

Click here to get the low down on the "Open for 2015" weekly series.

We sneaked out of town as a family for a few days this week, so I did not take time to write on Tuesday.  It was so refreshing to take a break and visit a new place, making new memories with these three and their dad.  Back to writing today, though!

I feel like this year, with the whole OPEN theme, I'm learning (or at least trying to learn) to be more flexible with changes and disruptions in life.  My personality wants everything to be neat and orderly, to have a plan and to stick with it.  My life has never been that way and usually I complain in response!  I want to be one of those calm, cool, and collected roll-with-the-punches kind of people, but that will take some good old fashioned practice and time to happen in me.  I know the Lord can do such a work in me.

For example, last week we made plans to spend Memorial Day weekend in Pittsburgh at my in-laws house for a final visit there.  They will be moving in down the street from us mid-June!  Looking at the calendar, though, I saw that I was on to teach Sunday school and serve in the nursery that Sunday.  My whining inner-self wanted to immediately started kicking at screaming about having to contact people to switch.  I always assume it's going to be difficult, and I don't like to have to add to my duties in my oh-so-full-and-important life.

People, I am so over-the-top with the self-absorption, even if it doesn't show on the outside!

Being OPEN meant taking the time to make arrangements and get over myself.  Of course, both people I asked to switch with me immediately agreed, it all took about 3 minutes of my time, and Sunday's lesson was all about letting the Holy Spirit transform us.

Hahaha, good one, God!

The 'homework' for the students (I teach youth Sunday school) was to pick one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, and focus on it for the week.  The second part of the assignment was to ask someone to keep you accountable.  Friends, because God is kind and good, one of the students asked me to be her accountability this week.  I am thrilled at the opportunities I've had to send her verses and that we've had to pray for each other and keep up over email this week.

Time to take action:
I pass on to you the youth's assignment for the week.  Read through the fruit of the Spirit.  Ask the Lord which you could focus on over the next week.  Find a friend to keep you accountable and look up some verses to meditate on.  I am continually floored by God's desire and ability to transform us.  He can!  He will!!  Let's seek Him and live for Him.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.  John 14:26

May 14, 2015

You Love Them, but Do You Like Them?

A couple of weeks ago, I borrowed a book on CD from our church library, A Woman After God's Own Heart, by Elizabeth George.  I had listened to most of the first disc over a couple laundry folding and ironing sessions at home, but yesterday had the chance to listen to a large chunk of the book driving to and from Pittsburgh.  The topics covered included marriage, motherhood, and time management.  I felt very spurred on to love and good deeds by Mrs. George's words of wisdom and Biblical guidance!  I was also struck by how much of her message was similar to other female Bible teachers I know who have dug deeply into the Scriptures to seek out the what and the how of following God as a woman.  It is good to find consistency!

The last school day of each month, we field trip!

Mrs. George shared about how much their home changed when she and her husband became a Christians.  Life was lived more intentionally; they really wanted to obey and honor God.  As a mother, she knew she had to discipline and guide her children, but quickly became a dictator.  She knew something was missing.  She found out what as she studied her Bible even more: affection.  The Word of God taught her not only to teach her children obedience, it also set her free to like and enjoy them!

As she shared this, I was reminded of my own transition from seeing my kids as little beings to manage and teach obedience to seeing them as people to like, enjoy, and cherish.  Sally Clarkson's words were my start down that path; God used her counsel through her books to change my heart.

Mrs. George explained that as she was reading Titus 2, seeking out what young women should be learning and doing, she came across the line, Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and childrenAs she's fond of doing (you learn from her book) she got her husband's study books and looked up what love meant in that passage.  It is not the unconditional love we know God has for us and that we know we are to have for our kids.  Rather it is a word for affectionate love!

Friends, you love your kids, but do you like them?  As Sally might ask, have you studied them, gotten to know their likes and dislikes, their gifts and talents, their hopes and fears?  Do you think of your children only as a huge drain on your time, energy, and finances?  Or does your heart swell with affection for them when they come to mind?

I know, I know, our kids are not always likable.  Neither are we!  I also know that practicing liking one's children transforms the home.  Our job as moms is not simply to manage and discipline our kids.  Another part of our calling is to love them, affectionately.

My encouragement to you today is to give liking your kids a go!  Sit down with them and talk, play a game together, take a walk, go for ice cream, and just enjoy the little or big one(s) God has placed in your care.  I know rearing kids is not easy; it is hard work as a sinner to help to tame a younger sinner and teach them to walk in God's ways.  I am familiar with the weariness.  But I have also found that liking my kids and enjoying their company makes the hard parts more tolerable and makes me want to help them more, because my affection for them won't let me desire any less.

Press on, parents.  God is with you!

May 12, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 17}

Click here to get the low down on the "Open for 2015" weekly series.

Nothing says 'Happy Mother's Day' like leaving me hanging in a funny face picture!

Early last week I received an email from our pastor asking me if I could do the children's sermon on Sunday, Mother's Day.  I didn't immediately reply because, well, it scared me.  The week leading up to Mother's Day is always the time that articles start circulating about how Mother's Day is not a happy day for everyone and how some loathe being in worship on Mother's Day Sunday.  I did not want to increase anyone's pain with a message to the kids.

I thought all day about what I could say, prayed about it a little, and knew I didn't have any excuse to say no.

Except fear.

Pastor called me around dinner time to see what I was thinking, or maybe to see if I'd gotten his message.  I told him I was leaning toward "taking the job," shared some of my ideas, and my fear.  He said a couple of very encouraging things about why he thought I was a good fit for a Mother's Day children's sermon.  I told him I would send him what I had later in the week.

I needed to be OPEN to serve even though I was afraid, because God doesn't always ask us to do things that are easy.  He does promise, however, to be faithful to us and to be with us in them.

I held Him to those promises as I prayed and thought about verses around which to build a Mother's Day children's message.  Wouldn't you know it?  He was faithful and He was with me!

On my Thursday morning run he brought to mind a verse in Psalm 139:

For you created my inmost being,
You knit me together in my mother's womb.

From there, the Children's Sermon practically wrote itself and before the weekend I was ready to go.  Talk about God's faithfulness!  I should mention that in addition to fear about sharing on such a sensitive day, I had a to-do list as long as the ocean is wide for the weekend and didn't know how I was going to "fit in" preparing a Children's Sermon.  Again, God came through!

Oh ye of little faith sooooooo applies to me.

The process reminded me that I need to respond to the Lord in faith and let Him take care of seeing to where the chips fall.  I cannot control how everyone feels at every minute, though I do kinda want to make sure all people are happy.  It's a personality problem.  But I believe we all struggle with wanting to control every aspect of our little worlds and we cannnot.  Often that keeps us from being faithful when we should be and letting God be God and serving Him without fear.*

Time to Take Action:  You may find yourself in the same situation this week, facing a task or conversation that makes your knees knock.  If the Spirit is prompting, pray and step out in faith.  God promises to be faithful and to be with you.  Hold Him to it and see what He does for His glory in your life!

*One other thing that this experience reminded me of is how I learned most of what I know about working with kids, teaching, and speaking in public from my mom!  A pretty sweet tribute to her, right?

May 7, 2015

Rethinking Mother's Day

Mother's Day is Sunday and I have to confess that in recent years I have made the day all about me.  With undefined expectations, but expectations nonetheless, I have often ended the day disappointed.  What I am realizing this year is how wrong and selfish that is!  My focus on Mother's Day should be on my mother, my mother-in-law, and other women who have "mothered" me along the way.  It is a great day to honor them and give them thanks for all they have done to help me be the very best me I can be, not to mention the very best mother I can be.  Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, it should be a day to thank God for providing such women for me throughout my life.**

La Madre by Joaquin Sorolla

I love this opening line on the Wikipedia page about Mother's Day:

Mother's Day is a modern celebration honoring one's own mother, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society.

Later the page says that the holiday was started and championed in the early 1900s by a woman whose mother had died and she wanted a day to honor her memory and honor every mother, "the person who has more for you than anyone in the world."

As I think about these things, I do hope that some day my children will "rise and call me blessed,"  I mean, who doesn't want their kids to recognize all she's done for them over the years?!  But I also think about the way society has been built up and civilized by countless mothers wiping noses and bottoms, teaching and reteaching lessons, disciplining and disciple-ing, cooking and washing, loving and loving and loving through laughter, tears, and sleepless nights.

Then, I think about the One who put the family together with such purpose and grace ....

Do you have a mother, memories of a mother, or a woman who is like a mother to you?  Give thanks!  God has used those women in our lives to mold and shape us, to give us hope and to point us to Him.

On Sunday, I don't want to be on the look-out for praise, accolades, or a plaque hung in my honor! This Mother's Day I want to fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith. I want to spend the day meditating on His everlasting love for me and His goodness in providing my mother, mother-in-law, and many spiritual mothers along the way.  Finally, I want to ask the Lord to help me become one who reflects His tender, nurturing, merciful nature in the world as an image-bearer of the Living God.  Then, I'm pretty sure I can have a wonderful Mother's Day - plaque or no plaque.

I invite you to join me in looking to the Lord this Mother's Day.  The Scriptures say this:

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Proverbs 31:30

Let's be God-fearers so we can be life-givers in a world that is full of life-takers.  Mothers or not, as women we bear God's image in the world in a unique way.  Let's do it well to the glory of God!

**For those longing to someday be mothers or who have recently lost a mother or a child, my heart breaks for you.  In the midst of your grief, know that the Lord is near.  The Scriptures even speak of Him loving us tenderly like a mother her child.  Isn't that beautiful?  May He comfort you according to your needs as you struggle through this Mother's Day.  You are loved.

the painting

May 5, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 16}

Hi friends!  I have to confess that it was nice to have a blogging break after the interrupted by grace series.  I enjoy the month of April, trying to keep my eyes peeled more intentionally for seeing God at work, but writing daily is a lot of work!  Thank you to those of you who expressed disappointment that the series was ending; I praise God that He was working in your life through the ministry of Life in the Valley.

Thankfully the end of a blog series does not limit God's work!  I wonder how God met you this past weekend and if you took the time to thank Him.  My mind cannot comprehend the majesty and power of God, how He is at work healing, redeeming, and transforming lives all over the world all the time!

Knowing Him makes me feel so small!
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
  Psalm 8:3-4

Then again, knowing Him makes me feel so significant!

"I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    I have drawn you with unfailing kindness."
 Jeremiah 31:3b

Lately I have been bombarded, as we often are, with news of varying kinds: stories of loss and grief, stories of provision and praise, stories of struggle and pain, stories of triumph and glory.  The Word of God reminds me that, wherever we find ourselves on the spectrum of life experience, God never changes, never fails, and never leaves us.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8 
God is love.  I John 4:8b and  Love never fails.  I Corinthians 13:8
For He has said, "I will never leave you for forsake you."  Hebrews 13:5b

As I return to the "Open for 2015" Tuesday posts, I want to be OPEN to experiencing God right where I am and letting Him reign in each situation and over each day.  I happen to be in a period of life that is very beautiful and relatively peaceful, as peaceful as life can be with three active, talkative children!  I want to rejoice and be thankful, as well as faithful with what God is giving.

I also want to ruthlessly chase away the lies that this is just the calm before the storm, and if life is good it's surely going to go south really soon, because I don't "deserve" to enjoy any happiness.  Maybe you are in the opposite situation, life is really hard at the moment and you are tempted to believe the lies that God doesn't love you, the pain will never end, and joy will never again be yours.

Friends, let me direct us again to the verses above.  While circumstances are always changing, our God does not!  Cling to God Almighty in all things.  Join me in being OPEN to believing Him and taking Him at His Word, in joy and sorrow.  I am so glad that God is near and able!  Aren't you?

Lord, You hear the cries of our hearts from the squeals of delight to the wails of anguish.  You know where are are at each moment and what we need to keep on believing You.  Thank you for being an unchanging, ever-present Love in the midst of the storms of life.  You are GOOD.  Remind us daily that you are GOOD and your LOVE ENDURES FOREVER.  Strengthen each reader today to trust you, for we are always dependent upon you, no matter the circumstances.  In Jesus' name, Amen.