Friday, January 23, 2015

Keeping my talents out of the dirt

Happy New Year, dear readers! If you missed my initial posts of how this crazy adventure began, you can catch up here and here.

At the beginning of this year, my pastor preached over Matthew 25:14-29 or the parable of the master who left talents with his servants. As my pastor explained it, the talents represent any investment God makes in us (i.e. money, opportunities, gifting, calling, etc) and it's our responsibility to maximize that investment. As you probably remember, the servant who was given one talent buried it in the dirt. Common wisdom of the time taught that burying money was the safest course of action. The one talent servant took the safest route and his master rebuked him for this lack of trust.

I came so close to being the one talent servant. Several times, I almost buried my calling in the dirt because I doubted God's goodness and love for me. It was the root of my struggle to purchase the plane tickets for my England trip. It was my fear that no one else would see England as a real mission field. It lingers still in my self-doubt. But God in His great grace kept removing His investment from the holes I dug and placing it back in my hands. Let's all praise God for his goodness and patience and pray that I stop digging holes now.        

On to the updates:

Crossworld officially partnered with me and I now have an account to raise financial support through them. I wasn't able to attend the November training because I didn't have enough time to complete the prep work and acquire the necessary funds. Instead, I will attend the June 6th-19th training.

During a Skype chat with my Acts 29 Europe contact, she shared that I should by placed with a church by the first week of February! Then I can tell you where and how I'll be serving. 

It's both thrilling and scary that my ethereal dream is so close to becoming real like the suspense of a roller coaster creeping up the first height, when you know twists and loops and dips and higher heights await. The more I learn about the plight of England and the UK, the I  am committed to this roller coaster. Plus, it helps with my hole digging problem.

According Operation World, the UK's steep decline of organized Christianity is almost unparalleled in Europe.

Operation World found that in 2010:
  • UK population: 62 million
  • UK Christians: 37 million (60% of UK pop.)
    •  -1% annual growth rate
  • UK Evangelicals: 5.5 million (9% of UK pop)
    • 0% annual growth rate
      • Without immigrating Evangelicals, the growth rate would have plummeted.
    • Only a third of Evangelicals regularly attend church.
In contrast, atheism and Islam experienced rapid growth in 2010.
  • UK Atheist: 21.4 million (34% of UK pop)
    • 3% annual growth rate
  • UK Muslims: 1.9 million (3% of UK pop)
    • 2% annual growth rate
    • Muslims see converting England as a key strategy for winning the West.
England is the most secular of the four countries that make up the UK.
  • England population: 51.5 million
    • 6% of the population regularly attend church. 
These numbers break my heart. For at least a millennium, England was a Christian nation and mother to many of history's great missionaries. Now only 3 million regularly attend church. I want England to experience an awakening; I want God to take the UK back from the enemy. I am willing to play whatever part I can to make this happen and to maximize God's investment in me. Please, pray for England and the UK.

If you would like to know more about the spiritual state of the UK and specific ways to pray, check out Operation World, the definitive prayer guide to every nation, or ask me.

Please pray for me through the preparation process and for my spiritual and emotional health once I'm in the field. This is a dream come true but the work will also be hard and lonely and full of attacks from the enemy. Also, support raising is intimidating so please pray that God will call generous people to partner with me financially.

  • The Crossworld training costs $970 (lodging and meals included). 
  • Airfare to England plus incidentals cost $3000.    
  • Monthly cost of living in England won't be certain until I'm placed but I have been assured that it won't be more than $1700.

If you would like a tangible way to partner with me, please consider providing financial support to my calling. All support given through Crossworld is tax deductible and every bit helps.

Whatever payment method you prefer to use, this link walks you through all the Ways to give with Crossworld. Please remember to enter my account number 40299 or note it on you check so the support gets to me!

If you do not feel led or able to partner with me financially, I appreciate your prayers and encouragement. Both the prayers and the financial support help to keep my talents out of the dirt.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pain & tragedy wrapped in a shiny red bow, or how I feel about Christmas

Years ago, a friend made the mistake of posting a Facebook status with her opinion of playing Christmas music at the start of  November. My friend is no humbug; she enjoys Christmas. She simply wasn't thrilled about two solid months of "All I want for Christmas is you." As whenever a person expresses their opinion on Facebook an argument ensued. Another young woman (let's call her Zuzu) took offense because Zuzu believes that Christmas should be celebrated all year round. Her argument hung on this stolen quote from A Christmas Carol:

"I'm never ready to be done with Christmas. I am sure I have always thought of Christmas as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."

How wonderful for Zuzu.

Her comment has stuck with me for two years. Not because of Dickens' beautiful prose or Zuzu's self-righteous misappropriation of it. No, it stays with me because her experience of Christmas is so vastly different than mine and she cannot even begin to entertain the notion that for some of us the Christmas season can be brutal.

Last December

My memory of last Christmas Eve is my mom frantically calling insurance companies and medical supply stores. She was completely overwhelmed and almost out of hope. The physical rehab facility picked that day to kick my step-dad out and he would be coming home to a place unprepared to meet his needs.

Earlier that month, my step-dad under went yet another surgery to remove new masses on his frontal lobe. Immediately after his surgery, the doctors moved him to a rehab facility. After two weeks of my step-dad feeling miserable and refusing to work with the therapists, his insurance company stop paying and the facility released him. Traditionally on Christmas day, my mom drives to each of my siblings (and even an ex-sister-in-law's) homes so she can visit with all of her grandbabies. Last Christmas, she spent the day trying to care for my barely lucid and constantly grumpy step-dad. There was no time for grandbabies that year.

The day after Christmas, my mom called Hospice and his doctors finally admitted that there was nothing more that could be done. On January 9th, my mom sent out a mass text that simply read "Tom's gone."

Eleven Decembers ago

My family sat in a hospital waiting room and made jokes to cover our anxiety, while my dad underwent intestinal surgery to correct what we thought was a complication from Crohn's disease. The surgeon came in hours earlier than expected to tell us that my dad did not have Crohn's disease, he had colon cancer. He actually used the phrase "I have good news and bad news." It was just days before his 50th birthday. I was half way through my senior year of high school. A few days later, I called home from school to find out the results of the biopsy of growths on his lymph nodes. They were cancerous. I went home early that day.

My dad started chemo. By the time I graduated, the oncologist had told us that the chemo was successful and the cancer was gone. That December, my dad acted distracted and distant. At a family gathering, he burst into tears, sobbing out phrases like cancer's back, 60% chance of success, six months to live.

Nine Decembers ago

My dad was definitely dying. The man who always favored Santa Claus vanished to be replaced by a frail, weak skeleton. I couldn't figure out what to buy a dying man for Christmas so I wrote a sentiment message in a card. He spent the last week of his life in the hospital. Every day, I went to see him and I would think this is the day he's going to die because there's no way a person could look that bad and survive. Then the next day, I would visit and he would look impossibly worse. In the wee hours of January 5th, I awoke to the house phone ringing and I knew.

My history of trauma and loss has turned the Christmas season into a gift wrapped box of pain and grief with a shiny red bow tied around it. And I love Christmas! As masochistic as it sounds, I look forward to the Christmas season and still have fond associations with it.

As a believer, Christmas reminds me of God's ridiculous love for me, of Christ's precious sacrifice, of my eternal hope. I love Christmas worship songs, especially Oh come, Oh come Emmanuel and Joy to the World. I even enjoy the parts of Christmas aren't connected to the birth of Christ. A small part of me still believes in Santa Claus. Every year I dream of a white Christmas even though I've lived in Georgia my entire life. I think "Baby, it's cold outside" would make an adorable first dance for a winter wedding.

Picking out Christmas presents is my favorite game. I consider it a challenge to find the perfect gift for each of my loved ones. I love watching the same old Christmas movies year after year from It's a Wonderful Life to Muppets Christmas Carol to Elf. I love the spending time with my family as my mom arranges her fifty nativity scenes and sings Christmas-times-a-comin'. I love hanging up the ornaments that I have collected my entire life and no one else is allowed to touch.

I really do love the whole Christmas season but that doesn't mean it's not the most painful time of the year. Lurking behind every sparkling Christmas tree is a traumatic flashback. Every jolly Santa reminds me of the one I lost. When the memories seem to crowd in around me, then I need a break from Christmas.

You see what our Zuzu doesn't realize with her charitable, pleasant, Dickensian Christmas is that Christmas isn't immune to trauma and sin. Death happens on Christmas. Murder happens on Christmas. Tragic accidents happen on Christmas. Rape, abuse, abandonment, divorce, job loss, miscarriages and a thousand other horrific things take place during the Christmas season.

Those of us who don't share your enthusiasm for the season are Scrooges or Grinches or enemies in the war against Christmas. We're just wounded people limping toward January before the grief and pain overtake us. It's hard to feel festive, when you're fighting for survival. Sometimes the best way to embody the kindness and selflessness of the Christmas spirit is to simply keep your Christmas joy to yourself.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The countdown begins (Part II)

Last week, I shared Part I of this post about my calling to serve in England. Part II is all about the progress I've made so far.

After much research, I discovered an opportunity to serve in an Acts 29 Europe church. Acts 29 is a network of church planting churches, which originated in America and branched out to Europe. A29E has a two year program that allows people to be mentored by church leadership and receive formal theological training, while they serve a church in the network. After many emails, an application, a Skype interview, and lots of prayer, I am thrilled to say that I will be serving a A29E church in England come September 2015!

Many of the details (like exact location & cost) will not be clear until late January / early February. I do know that I will begin serving in the children's ministry and likely branch out to other ministries as my gifts are needed. I have requested to serve in Stockport, Manchester, or London and we will see where God sends me.

A29E is providing me with an awesome opportunity and I am excited to work with them. Still, the network has some limitations because it is not a sending agency so I have applied to Crossworld's apprenticeship program. Crossworld is a missions organization with the goal of making disciple-makers and is willing to partner with A29E. CW would provide me with in depth assessment, pre-field training, and managed my financial support, while A29E would oversee my work in the field and mentor me in transitioning to British culture. The apprenticeship lines up with the A29E program and it would allow me to smoothly transition to a career missionary, once I return from England.          

CW offers two weeks of assessment and training in November and June. During that time, CW counselors will break down my weaknesses and then develop a plan for me to grow in these areas. It will be intense. I want to attend the November training to give myself more time to work through any issues that come up in assessment. I am waiting to find out if I am eligible for the November training.

I ask that you partner with me through prayer. Please, pray over this process with the agencies and my spiritual growth through it. My inadequacies often discourage me, when I need to remember that God is all-sufficient and this is His show. Pray that God answers my need for financial support through generous people who desire that England knows His glory.

Thank you for reading and for the prayers. I will post updates as my journey progresses so be sure to follow and check back often.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The countdown begins (Part I)

Way back in May 2011, I wrote this post -->( 12 Steps to a Better Life) about my dream to move to England. Three years, two broken down cars, one epic week travelling solo through England, and lots of Jesus time later, that dream is finally starting to come together!

I spent months planning the England trip in minute detail and budgeting. Yet, I hesitated to purchase the plane ticket. I desperately wanted to go and the money sat in my bank account but I froze, terrified some unforeseen catastrophe would strike as soon as I bought the ticket. You see somewhere on my faith walk I came to believe that my strong desire to see England made it sinful and if I bought that plane ticket, I would be punished. Once these beliefs surfaced, Jesus called them out for the lies they were and reminded me that I had a loving Father who gives good gifts. I immediately bought the plane ticket and there were no catastrophes! The flight was delayed by several hours, I got lost my first night in London, and I spent a panicked 60 seconds thinking I was locked in an ancient church but those turned out to be adventures.

I traveled by train and bus across much of the south west region of England, stopping in Bath, Wiltshire (Stonehenge), Glastonbury, Cornwall (Tintagel) and London. The countryside was breathtakingly beautiful and I met such warm and loving people. The trip was full of wonder and Jesus. I lost my heart to England and her people. At the same time, I witnessed England's spiritual state. I encountered many universalists, atheists, and Muslims. One atheist proudly declared to all of us waiting for the train that he didn't believe in Santa Claus or God. I left England with a burden on my heart.    

As I return to my real life, I continued to stumble across articles about the rise of atheism and Islam in the UK and I began to consider serving England as a missionary. I mostly kept this thought to myself. Even though I grew up in church, I had very limited exposure to missionaries so the journey to becoming a missionary seemed shrouded in mystery. Fortunately, God put Laura in my life. Laura and I mentored Renovation's middle school girls together and she shared with me her desire to join the mission field in India. As I witnessed her progress through a sending agency, mission work became less ethereal and more concrete. In January, Renovation hosted a send off celebration for Laura. I was full of joy and excitement that night. It was beautiful to see my friend fulfilling her dream and it made my dream appear all the more tangible.  

Things have been progressing steadily from January to now. Check back next to find out more!

Monday, January 21, 2013

He is jealous for me

I figured it was about time I wrote about the most precious relationship in life so here goes.

I spent the first twenty years of my life defining myself in terms of my dad. In the earliest part of my life, my dad was the god of my world. He often reminisced that I had followed him everywhere. I can remember thinking that if my parents ever divorced, I would want to live with my dad.
Then I turned eight and my dad left my mom for another woman, who had children of her own that lived with my dad while I stayed with my mom. My dad would only get me once every few months and then I saw more of my step-mom and step-brothers than my dad. His abandonment led me to believe I was replaceable and that there was something intrinsically wrong about me that drove the people I loved away and made it impossible for anyone to love me unconditionally.

I grew up in church but, after my dad left, we stopped going because my mom went crazy from grief for a couple of years. When I was ten, we found a new church and things became a bit more stable. During vacation bible school that summer, I understood that God sent his son to die to save me from my sins and I accepted Jesus as my savior. Looking back, I think I had only grasped that He saved my from hell and taken care of my afterlife but missed that He wanted an intimate relationship with me in the here and now. 

It was during my teen years that God began to challenge my relationship with my dad. Inspite of all the times my dad failed me, I held on to this naive hope that one magical day he would wake up and be the involved, caring father I needed him to be. We developed this cycle where I would confront him about the ways he hurt and he would try to be better for a few weeks before falling back into old habits and breaking my heart all over again. Many times as I wallowed in my heartache, the Holy Spirit remind me that I had a heavenly Father who loved me more than I could possible imagine and urge me to run to Him but I was stupid and a brat. So much so my response was always I don’t want God’s love, I want my dad’s love. I know God should have smacked me. I absolutely deserved to get backhanded but instead God waited me out.

Fifteen days before my twentieth birthday, my dad lost his two year long battle with cancer and I lost all my hope and my identity because I could no longer define myself in terms of him. I dropped out of school, moved back in with my mom, and stopped living for well over a year. Most of that period is a black haze of depression in my memory but throughout it God slowly and relentlessly brought me back to life. He filled me with hope again and I finally embraced him as my perfect, loving Father. He made me completely dependant on Him. To this day, I cling to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit because if I let go, I will slide right back into that deep, dark void of depression.

God also started untangling my dad baggage, which He’s still working on now. He revealed to me that my dad loved me the best he could and any lack in that love came from my dad’s brokenness and not mine. Recently, He addressed some of my insecurities through Renovation Church when Ethan preach on John 3:16 and Leonce talked about being bought for keeps before the Lord’s Supper that Sunday. Deep down at my core I believed that eventually I would push God too far and He would walk out on me forever. That Sunday I finally understood that after purchasing me through the brutal sacrifice of His son, God is not going to discredit that payment and give me up just because I do something stupid. I wept from the time I took the Lord’s Supper until I arrived at my apartment because of the overwhelming freedom that lesson gave me.

There are many more moments throughout my life when Jesus came to my rescue and changed my life but the overarching narrative is that God in His infinite mercy and unconditional love stood by me while I pushed him away for lesser things and then, when those lesser things came crashing down, He picked me up out of the wreckage, healed all the damage my choices had cost me, and fulfilled my need for a father I could always depend on.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Goals and Dreams and Resolutions

I don't really make New Year's resolutions.  There's no big reason why but I don't put much stock in them.  That being said, my sister gave me a journal jar for Christmas.  Once a week, I am suppose to pull a writing prompt out and get to journaling.  Since this is the first week of 2013, I pulled my first random topic out the jar last night.  As fate would have it, the prompt asked "What are your goals and dreams?"  Naturally, my answer to this question includes goals and dreams for this year as well as the years to come. If you would like to call them resolutions, that's fine but to me they're simply the answer to a question.

- Goal : My life will become more of Jesus and less of me
- Goal : Become skilled in love, mercy, grace, humility, service, thanksgiving, joy, and generosity of time, energy, gifts, and money
- Goal : Spend more time with the lover of my soul through prayer and his word
- Goal : Finally learn what it means to be still in the presence of God
- Goal : Share my experience with God to nonbelievers
- Goal : Make it England this year, even if it's only a vacation
- Dream : Write my days away in a cottage in a quaint English village
- Dream : Become a world traveler and uncover all of this planet's secrets
- Goal : Write everyday, even if it's just one sentence or a list of sentence fragments
- Goal : Finish Grief and Mourning's story
- Dream : Write several bestselling novels, win a Pulitzer
- Goal : Make a long term career move by May  
- Goal : Get healthy. I hate having a "waistline dream" because I am strongly opposed to society's obsession with skinny equaling beautiful.  This is not about becoming sexy and confident in my body.  After many years of struggling, I have accepted that I am sexy in my plus size body.  Instead, this is about diabetes, heart disease, and colon cancer running in my family.  Honestly, I am just done slowly killing myself with food.
- Dream : Find healthy, passionate, self-sacrificing, unconditional, godly love. Get married and have babies.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

What the Christmas season does to me

Someone asks me how I am.

I am exhausted.  I have spent the week simply trying to keep my head above water in this raging sea of grief.  The waves shove me around and currents drag me down.  Many times my head dips beneath the surface.  A heaviness constricts my chest making it impossible to breathe.  So I thrash and kick until my head breaks through to open air.  I take in as much oxygen I can while fighting against the pull of the sea.  Then it happens over and over and over again so I am exhausted.

I am on edge.  From Thanksgiving to the first week of January I must tiptoe through a field of emotional landmines.  I never know exactly when or how they will be triggered but they are filled with sweet and bitter memories - with the smell of hospitals in winter - with banana popsicles - with corrupted lyrics to "Happy Birthday to You" - with the laughter and tears of someone I haven't seen in almost seven years - with millions of things that will tear me to pieces.  For my protection, I keep my head down and my eyes glued the ground before me.  I step oh so gingerly and I bury myself in every bit of armor I can get my hands on.  Still in the end it won't be enough.  Eventually a mine will be triggered; the memories will come pouring out; and no amount of armor can save me then.  So I am on edge.

I am afraid.  The pain is like a bird trapped inside me.  It cries out in a muted wail that even I can't hear.  It's desperate to be free so it slams into the walls of my body.  It creates cracks in my form.  I tightly wrap myself up in an attempt to hold myself together but the bird continues its assault and I don't know how much more I can take so I am afraid.

I am all of this and more than I can articulate but in answer to the question I simply put on a brittle smile and say I'm fine.

Because I'm fine is the socially acceptable answer and the truth will only make everyone uncomfortable.  I don't want to be the person who brings the room down.

Because I want to be fine.  I want to feel happy and celebrate the Christmas season.  So I lie in the hopes that it will become the truth.  I lie to keep the conversation going in a positive direction and I laugh heartily so that I will be distracted from the darkness draining me, if only for a second.

Because I feel guilty for not being fine.  I know I am blessed and well loved.  I have things to celebrate.  I realize that the pain will pass.  I will survive this and by mid January I won't have to fight to be happy.  So I feel weak for letting it bring me down now.   

Because my mouth has never been good at expressing what my heart feels so I'm fine is the easier answer.  I have to think about my words and consider them carefully before I can get to the heart of the matter, which my brain won't allow me to do when I'm talking.

Since I can't vocalize the answer to the question honestly, I thought I would write it out because I need people to know I'm not fine.  I could use some support and encouragement or just a hug.  Then again, maybe all I am really look for is someone to say "How are you and if you say you're fine, I'm going to punch you in the face"

 . . . or a text telling me I'm a rough and tough ;)