Friday, May 30, 2008

Living simply to give more

A major theme of my past year has been dealing with issues of money and possessions. As I have been exposing myself to so many needs around the world it becomes apparent that the way I live is far superior to MOST of the world. Back in the fall my husband found a website that allows you to put in your annual income and see where you stand compared to the rest of the world. Guess what? If you make more than 50,000 you are in the top 1% of the weathliest people in the world. That really got me thinking last fall. It made me think of the verse from Matthew 19:23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." I have never defined myself as rich. Movie stars are rich, millionaires are rich. Guess what? I AM RICH! So where does that leave me in connection to Matthew 19:23? Thankfully the next verse says 25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" 26Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." I am still grappling with this whole issue of money and how it all looks as an American Christian. Sometimes I am concerned that we are VERY far from where God wants us to be with this.
As a family, I would consider us to be generous and faithful givers, and people who live within our means. We also do not have money worries and stress, and although we are by no means extravagant spenders, we still spend money on things that we don't really NEED and can easily justify or rationalize these purchases. In the past few months we have made changes to really evaluate what we spend and why and are continuing to find ways to spend less. The key is though - we are not doing this to be FRUGAL! We are doing this so that we can free up more resources to go to KINGDOM work! (and to be kinder to the environment) When I compare the cost of buying a new outfit to what that money could do to provide food, or shelter, or live-saving medicine it is starting to become a no-brainer.
This past week in our small group we discussed this passage from Mark 12 - 41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins,[j]worth only a fraction of a penny.[k] 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."
This really challenged me because in a lot of ways we are still giving "out of our wealth" - she gave all she had to live on - really ALL she had to live on? Do you really want me to give that way Lord? As I laid in bed that night thinking this over again - God reminded me that it is about so much more than MONEY - she put in everything - God doesn't just want all of my money - he wants ALL of ME! To give of myself beyond my comforts or beyond my need to be right or first.
I have come a long way in the past year, yet I still have so far to go!
I came across the blog of Shaun Groves recently and he has had 2 great posts about how he and his family are moving toward simple living!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


After quite a long stretch of years leading women's Bible studies through church - I decided last summer to take a year off from leading! It is always a hard decision, but I knew I was at a crossroads and that I needed to take a year to seek God about a new direction I felt He was leading me toward. I had heard a lot from friends about BSF - Bible Study Fellowship and I had always wanted to try it, but it just didn't fit in the schedule. I was able to join this past fall for the study of Matthew. Last Tuesday was our last meeting. I would HIGHLY recommend BSF - now I know why so many of my friends spoke so highly of it. Studying Matthew over the past 8-9 months has been so rich for me. Especially the first few months, I felt like I was being replenished and that I had recaptured my first love. Studying the life of Jesus has re-grounded me and helped me get back to the basics of my faith.
The following are some of the passages that were most challenging to me:
From Matthew 5
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Of course, I have heard these verses many times, but as we studied this section I was amazed at how far I am from living this out. During that time, I memorized these verses and they both challenged and ministered to me. Reading it now, it draws me back to that idea of suffering - in the midst of suffering is where we can find the most blessing (you mean not in my comfortable suburban life???).

Another passage is from Matthew 10
37"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
In our review lesson, I picked this as the hardest command for me from the book of Matthew. I am a PLEASER and I like it when everyone in my life agrees with and affirms the decisions I make. I am coming to learn that following God's will for my life may not make me popular with all those I hold dear. I am solely accountable to please God and to follow His leading at any cost. I am still on a major journey with this one!

There are 3 parables in Matthew 25 - the first one is the parable of the 10 virgins and the main idea is being prepared for Jesus' return. It made me think a lot about how I spend my time, resources, etc and to be more anticipatory. A lot of the time in studying Matthew - I am all frustrated with the Pharisees - wondering how if they knew the Scriptures so well that they weren't recognizing the Messiah. I had the thought that someday someone might say that about us. There is so much Scripture and prophecy concerning Jesus' second coming, but because there has been so much time, we have a false sense of security and live as if it isn't imminent.
The second parable is the parable of the talents. The part that has resonated most with me is from the master's response to the first two servants that were able to multiply the talents they were entrusted with - 21"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
As I sense that there is a new calling ahead for me, God keeps reminding me to be "faithful in the small things". I was sharing this with a friend, and I said that to me the small things were everyday things, like being a godly wife, mother and friend. She gently reminded me that those aren't really "small" things. I agree! But we went on to talk about how important it is to be faithful with what we have been given.
The third parable is the Sheep and the Goats - this is used a lot when talking about serving the poor, widow and orphan. I am challenged to start getting into the trenches! Do I know these people? Am I visiting the sick and the imprisoned? Am I meeting the needs of the hungry and the thirsty? I long to know God - I pray that He would show me who He is. I say Lord, please reveal yourself to me. As I prayed through the material for the foster care vigil - I realized again that Jesus is in these children - when we serve the least of these - we meet Jesus!

Friday, May 16, 2008

May is Foster Care Month

I have not been able to stop thinking about all I learned about foster care at the Orphan Summit a few weeks ago! My parents fostered 2 teenage siblings that were friends of friends before I was born. Just as I have always wanted to adopt since I was a young girl I have always been interested in the idea of fostering children as well!
The images in the videos from 4 Kids of South Florida keep playing through my mind. I especially think about the moment that children are taken from their home. I can't even imagine all that a child goes through in those moments - extreme fear and confusion - maybe for some even relief? What I wonder most is if they think THEY did something wrong. How could they not? They are a young child and the police come and take them away in a car - they take them to the police department and take their fingerprints - isn't that what they do to criminals?
And the parents - I can't begin to think what it must be like to have your children taken from you. I see the mom in the video that is standing in the street - screaming after the police car for her children. I am also coming to realize that as much as I'd like to think that I would NEVER get myself to the point where my children had to be taken from me - there but for the grace of God go I! Being a mom is the hardest thing I have ever done and there are days when I feel "near the edge". Add in major financial stress, relational and emotional duress and it suddenly doesn't seem so hard to imagine!
I applaud those that work in this field - it is a labor of love. I am sure that they are overworked and underpaid and underappreciated! I admire those that have been willing to take these children into their homes and hearts and have helped them see that it is NOT their fault and that they are valuable and loved by God!
I am still praying about what my (and my family's) piece is in all of this. I am trying to research online and learn more about the system here in Michigan and how it works. And I am looking for a starting place, a place to connect and come alongside and support and assist.
At the Orphan Summit we learned about a National Foster Care Prayer Vigil that Family Life is promoting. It is May 19th - 25th. We are not going to formally host an event, but I am going to encourage those that I know to be a part of praying this next week. I would love by next year to get multiple churches involved and have it be a co-ordinated event! It will be intersting to see where we all are next May!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

Today I am not at church for Mother's Day. Instead I am home with my sick daughter while my husband has taken the boys to church. Although the doctor thinks she has croup she is actually not seeming overly sick - mostly just hoarse and a little less active, but we don't want to take any chances at infecting anyone else today! I was fine to stay home as I spent all day yesterday at a Womens Retreat.
I have a lot of different thoughts about Mother's Day this year. It's kind of nice to be home with some quiet time so that I can try to process and pray through what I am feeling today.
My main thought is that there are many women around the world today that are sitting at church, sitting home alone, dying under a tree in Africa, that find today more full of pain than celebration. There are also many children that LONG DEEPLY for the love of a mother and have yet to experience it.
I wanted to share some thoughts of another adoptive mother that attended the Orphan Summit last week. Here is the link for her blog.
She was also really moved by Kay Warren's talk. She (Kay) said that she met a woman who was skin and bones dying from Aids. She must have been a week away from death. Kay asked her. "What can I tell the people in America? What can they do for you?" Kay imagined she would say, "Bring me some food or medicine." or "we need money and a warm home" Instead she looked Kay in the eyes and said "Who?Who? who is going to come to take care of my children after I die? what will happen to them?' Kay said she hears the same questions from mothers in China, Russia, India and in places all over the world affected by the AIDS pandemic. When she told this story I just cried picturing Grace, Ella and Jared's sweet birth mom Bayoush. I imagine she had the same plea. I know my wish would be also somehow for my children to never forget me and my love for them. And I would fear they would forget my face and eyes. I would pray they would remember how I looked and smiled at them. I would pray they would always know how very much I loved them and would never ever want to leave them.
In her blog she goes on to say Mother's day is coming next week. Many of us will get dressed up and have our lunches paid for so we won't have to cook. We will enjoy (and should really enjoy and cherish) being in the presence of our children. Or knowing that they are a phone call away. My plea is that we can all remember the children of the world who are orphaned and have no mother's to hold them or read stories to them. I pray that some of you will be inspired to encourage someone else to remember the cries of mother's around the globe who just want to know that someone will come to scoop their children up into their arms and bring them back into a family that will love and take care of them.
So today while I relish in the love of the family that God has graciously given me - I also mourn for the mothers with empty wombs or those who have had to sacrifice raising their sons and daughters. I also grieve for the children who have never felt a mother's embrace. Lord, please forgive me for all the ways I have forgotten these mothers and children that are so dear and precious to your heart. Please show me how I can be a voice and advocate for them from here on out!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Dangerous Surrender - Chapter 2

I am doing an online book discussion on Dangerous Surrender by Kay Warren - the host of the book discussion is Angel - check out her AWESOME blog here. For the first chapter I put my thoughts in the comments section of her blog, now that I have this space I will have her link her readers to this post.

It's so cool that in the midst of doing this book discussion I had the opportunity to hear Kay Warren speak. Much of what she spoke on was from the book, but there is something about seeing someone in person, hearing their voice and seeing their tears that makes it that much more personal and real.

The title of this Chapter is "The Kingdom of Me". This is the critical part of the concept of Surrender. Am I going to live for God's Kingdom or My Kingdom. Of course, if you were to ask me who I am living for I would give you the answer I think you would want to hear. Kay challenges me to truly look at my life and see by my actions, values, priorities, motives and schedule, which Kingdom is ruling! One of the main passages is Mark 8:34-37 about denying self, taking up our cross, and following Jesus. I have always been fascinated by this passage, because when I think of taking up my cross, I think of Jesus dying on the cross, but the disciples didn't have this in their minds, because He hadn't done it yet. What would have been the disciples understanding of that? If someone had to take up their cross, it meant that they were going to die. It meant that they were going to give up their life. In fact the next part of the passage says "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world , yet forfeit his soul?" I am realizing more and more all the things I do to "save my life" - to make it more comfortable and convenient and to make sure I come out best in all situations. As I become more and more aware of the needs of others and the pain and suffering that others are enduring, I realize that all the effort I put (with or without realizing it) into keeping control of my kingdom is a waste of my time and energy. I want God more than I want my comfortable life. In fact, my comfortable life often keeps me distant from God. How much more real are God's promises and words of comfort to those that are suffering than to me in my comfortable world? Not that I am asking to suffer, but am I willing to enter into another's suffering? Might that cause suffering to enter in my life? Maybe what God is asking me to surrender is a fear of suffering? But maybe that is the very thing that gives me more of GOD!
Angel's two questions to answer:
1. What are the main reasons you don’t want to get too involved with people in dire need? Oh, I think I just kind of answered that. Will it be uncomfortable or inconvenient for me? Will I have to face suffering of my own, or how will I comfort someone who is suffering in a way that I cannot relate to?
2.Kay explains that her growing understanding of God’s sovereign design created an expectation that God would someday use her for his good purposes. Describe your current sense of the purposes God may have in store for you.
I have kind of answered that as well. I am feeling that my purpose lies in the realm of being a voice for oppressed children that have no voice. The waiting child, the orphaned child, the foster child that lives in my neighborhood? God is unfolding His plan for me and I am learning to surrender and to simply follow!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Re: 4th annual Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit

I had the great opportunity to go with my dear friend Aimee to Ft. Lauderdale last weekend for this awesome event. I am still trying to process all that I heard and learned. I want to take a few minutes to recap the highlights.
The Summit started 4 years ago with 38 leaders in Adoption/Orphan Care ministries. It has doubled each year and this year there were around 600 participants. About 200 were laypeople like Aimee and I that either lead adoption/orphan care ministries at their church or are looking to start one (that would be us!). The Alliance was formed in November of 2007 and it's goal is to "motivate and unify the body of Christ to live out God's mandate to care for the orphan". The Alliance includes Focus on the Family and Family Life Ministries and many other organizations focused on adoption and orphan care. You can check out their website here.
Our first keynote speaker was Dennis Rainey - President of FamilyLife
He spoke of the orphan crisis as a GIANT! And the church as being the PIVOTAL institution to handle the crisis. He gave us a CALL TO ACTION - to not be gluttons of God's Word, by filling up on it, without living it out! He challenged us not to be sold out to a lesser loyalty (comfort, materialism, etc)
The second speaker was Kay Warren - Director of the HIV/AIDS initiative at Saddleback Church and wife of Rick Warren.
I have just recently read her book Dangerous Surrender, so seeing her speak was one of my major highlights! She shared that in all of her international travels she has found that a mother's greatest plea is: "WHO WILL TAKE CARE OF MY CHILDREN WHEN I DIE?" Although I have yet to look death in the face, this resonantes in my heart as I have often thought how devastating it would be for my children to lose me. I feel almost funny to even say that, but in these younger years, their world's revolve around me being there 24/7. Kay asked us what keeps us from moving on behalf of these mother's of the world who will and are leaving behind their children. She says that it will take becoming "seriously disturbed", by all that we learn and see, then making a "dangerous surrender" to God and the work He has called us to. And then we will become "gloriouly ruined" - meaning that normal life will never satisfy in the ways that it previouly did! She was a wonderful storyteller and she was transparent and inspiring! I really admire her, as I believe the work that the Lord has done in her life has affected the evangelical church as a whole to "wake up" to the social justice issues that the church has been all but ignoring (I am generalizing here).
The other keynote speaker that I was IMPACTED by was Bob Coy. He is the Pastor of Calvary Church Ft. Lauderdale which was the host church. He shared about how 10 years ago there was a crisis in the foster system of South Florida. There were many headlines about foster kids sleeping in office buildings, and there were also reports of sexual abuse and children missing from foster homes. ONE women from his church was "seriouly disturbed" about the situation and came to him about it. I loved his honestly in that he did not respond to her initially in fact he said that she "wearied him" about the issue. So as a church they started to get involved, by coming alongside foster parents with babysitting, donating supplies such as cribs, diapers, etc. This led to the pastor challenging the congregation to consider becoming foster parents, which lead to training classes, etc. After a time they bought some local houses and renovated them to become foster homes with houseparents. Ten years later they are 4Kids of South Florida and they have significantly impacted the foster care system. Check out their website - watch a few of their videos and you will be AMAZED! At this session they also had 2 young ladies (now in their early 20's) share about how their lives were transformed by loving foster parents and this program! Both came into the system as teens - I was so challenged as I would tend to think at that point it was too late to really make a difference in that child's life. They both said that even though there were 16 years old they still longed for a family.
I really think God had a great purpose in having the conference at this church and exposing so many of us to the plight of the "modern-day orphan" right here in our own backyards.
It was so encouraging to be with a large group of people with a passion for orphans - so many have worked tirelessly for so long on their behalf. It is exciting to see this FRESH NEW WORK that God is doing. Local churches all over the country are starting adoption/orphan care ministries and GOD IS ON THE MOVE!
Our flight home was quite bumpy as we were flying over a cold front most of the way back. I was able to have some time talking with God as we were flying through the clouds. I had one of those moments where I really felt He was affirming this new passion in my life and letting me know that He would lead my steps and equip me to be a voice for the orphan. As we came down through the clouds, I saw my city all lit up and it took my breath away. God gave me a deep love for the children of this city and an excitement of a new beginning of a new chapter in my life and service for Him!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A new blog for a new adventure!

For quite some time I have been wanting to do a blog where I can share my heart! Even as I type this my heart quickens as I take the step of putting it out on my sleeve for all to see. So many new thoughts, dreams and desires have been percolating there over the past 9 months. I sense that I am at the beginning of a new adventure, a new chapter, a new calling on my heart directly from the heart of God. It am both frightened and exhilerated as I contemplate all that He could do with my one little life.
The exciting part is that I am not walking this road alone. In the past months, I have discovered that there are others whose heart's beat in a similar pattern - some I am blessed to have in my "real" life and others I have met online. All that came to a culmination this past weekend as I was able to attend the 4th Annual Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit. It was a life-changing weekend and I was able to be informed, inspired and challenged alongside others who have a strong desire to join God's work in caring for the orphans of the world.
I was prompted to really get going on this as some people that I have "met" online have just started the Red Letter's Campaign - here is the link and all the information!