The only thing that counts

faithlove1I started a new journal (one of about 10 – don’t judge) this year for recording verses and thoughts that strike me in a new way. I have read through many of the books of the Bible several times, but, as I have said before, I truly believe that the Spirit reveals things to us from the word in a new way as we are needing them or as we grow and become ready to receive them. To that end, I have decided to journal these verses as they present themselves with the significance they have to me at that moment in time. Just the other morning while I studied I wrote down this verse. “…the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6) There is so much meaning layered in these few words. On the morning that I wrote them, I truly was thinking about serving and loving on the people whom God has brought into my life – mostly through Celebrate Recovery and our new church home. And I whole-heartedly believe that truly, as a Christian, our faith is expressed through the way we love those around us. This morning, though, as I re-read that verse, it presents a new, slightly different meaning. I think of this verse today in terms of my covenant with Brian. We just celebrated our first anniversary. I would be lying if I said that everyday of that first year was like a honeymoon, with rose pedals and violins,etc. We had our challenges. Not only the challenges presented by trying to blend our families (I use the word BLEND very loosely), but also just the ups and downs of really learning each other and living together AND growing in our walk with God at the same time. At times, we were overwhelmed and thought that maybe our expectations of this covenant we had made with each other and God were too much. We were very intent on the fact that our marriage was priority and that God was using our love and our union to make us more holy. But in the day to day “muck” of life – that all seems too lofty and leads to disappointment. I am certain that God brought Brian and me together for His purposes. I am certain that Brian is the man God intended for me, and I am so grateful for the love that we share. This verse this morning really spoke to me as far as Brian and my marriage is concerned. We can get bogged down in daily life, raising kids, paying bills, highs, lows, failures and disappointments. But when we take time to be still and to share with each other, “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” I am made more holy through this covenant. I am learning to love like Christ loved through this covenant. I sit here in the middle of a home that has, at times, felt broken and failed…and I am more certain than ever that I am where God called me to be. My faith in God is being expressed through this love.

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Neither do I

I recently heard a sermon about a story from the Bible that I had heard many times before…but for some reason I saw the story in a new light. Maybe I am more in tune with the spirit speaking to me, maybe it’s that I’m further along in my walk with God, or maybe it was the way in which the story was presented in this particular sermon. Maybe it was all three. I love that the word of God is a living book full of wisdom that comes to us in different seasons as the Holy Spirit sees that we need them. It’s exciting to me to sit down and study and see a fresh meaning in something I’ve read over and over. The story was from the book of John…the story of the woman who had been caught -in the act caught- in adultery. The Pharisees dragged the woman, naked, to the temple, into a large crowd. Caught in the act…dragged away…into a large crowd of people. I can’t even imagine the fear and shame that this woman felt. And I’m sorry, but where was the man? Why was he not included in this public judgment. She wasn’t alone in her adultery. Am I right? So the Pharisees make yet another lousy attempt to “trick” Jesus with one of their questions. John 8:5 says, “The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” You would think that these guys would learn that Jesus always had an answer. But before he spoke, he bent down and started writing in the dust with his finger. How had I missed this detail so many times before? What was he writing? What was this poor, scared woman thinking as he was doodling in the dirt? The preacher in this sermon I was listening to suggested that perhaps he was writing all of things that these men had done in their past. That makes sense, right? I mean Jesus would know. Like he was almost saying “Alright, boys, if you want to go there we can…but here’s what I know about you…” I love the way Jesus dealt with these guys. Finally he stands up and says “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.” John 8:7 I would like to think that at this point he’s looking at them, then kind of looking back to what he’d written in the dirt, the looking at them again, almost daring them to challenge him. (I do not claim to be a theologian- just my take on it). As he stoops back down to write some more, the woman’s accusers starting leaving the scene, one by one until they were all gone. And then Jesus looked at her and asked “Didn’t any of your accusers condemn you? Neither do I! Go and sin no more.” Neither do I. Imagine what it would be like to hear Jesus say those words to you. Neither do I. I have been spending time with a very special group of ladies. They are such a blessing to me, and I learn so much from them as we all struggle through our own issues. The one common theme lately is that we are all afraid of what other people think. None of us like the feeling of being judged. I think that’s why these words of Jesus’ are so powerful to me at this point in life. Jesus teaches a powerful lesson to someone who seemingly “deserves” to be judged….that he does NOT condemn her. His love covers her weakness and his love is all that she needed in that moment. We need to learn from this that no one on this earth is blameless and without sin, therefore no one can condemn us. And neither does Jesus. He died so that we can live righteously. Romans 8:1 says “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” In that moment, this woman found out that she belonged to Christ. We belong to him. That’s such an amazing but sometimes difficult fact. We (and yes, I’m talking to me mostly) need to remember that we belong to him – when we feel the judgment of others – we are his. Their judgments do not matter. “The one” who was without sin in this story…the one who he said to throw the first stone…that one was him. He was “the one” without sin…but did he throw it? Did he condemn her? Did he judge her? He is all that matters.

Perspective

When the kids ask the age-old question “What’s for dinner?” I can almost guarantee that at least one of the five will not be happy (or let’s say less than excited) about the answer. I can more than “almost” guarantee that if I say peanut butter and jelly all of them would be disapproving. Now, I have wonderful kids and I’m not bashing them here…it’s just about perspective. Brian and I recently made a home delivery of summer breakfasts and lunches to a local family. When the four children at the door eagerly dug through the bags before their mom could even get them in the door, the cheered and high-fived each other when they discovered peanut butter and jelly. From their perspective that was a great thing.

I teach in a school where 96% of our students on the federal free lunch program. The great thing about this is that I know that during the school year, my students are receiving two meals a day…sometimes their only two meals. The down side is that during the summer, I know that many of my students often go without. This is true for many families…not just students at my school. It has troubled me for the last few years. And Brian and I have prayed about how our ministry, In Our Own Backyard, could work to help serve those in our community who could most benefit. It’s really not about building a ministry or receiving ANY credit at all. To us, our mission is about serving others by doing our best to love on them like Jesus would.

So after lots of praying and even more listening for God to speak, we came up with “Summer Relief.” It’s a very simple program where we simply seek to help food insecure families get through the summer months by providing breakfasts and lunches each week to each of their children. We contacted the local schools and got the names of some families who could most benefit. We then called each of the families on the list…excited to serve. We faced some obstacles and disappointment when several of the families did not return our calls. But we prayed constantly and knew that God would provide us with the children we were supposed to serve.

Three weeks into our program we are so excited to share what God is doing. His guidance in setting up this small program has shown us things we did not see on our own. Since we deliver each week to the children’s homes, we re beginning to form relationships with the parents of the children. Weekly we will have the opportunity to show them the love of God in just a couple of bags of food…and as those relationships grow, we know God will open doors for us to share more about him.

In Our Own Backyard Ministries is blessed to have people who have jumped on board with this effort and are helping by providing us with food to fill bags. It is so special to see people with hearts for God come together and do small things with great love. Small things to us…but then again, it’s all about perspective.

Teens

Ok, when I sat down to blog, I had a certain topic in mind…but when I opened my computer yahoo news popped up and a headline caught my eye. It was a news story about a high school senior in South Carolina. He was his school’s valedictorian and had just stepped up to the podium to address the graduation crowd with his “pre-approved” speech. What he did next was awesome. He ripped his speech up. Rather than give it, he began to recite the Lord’s Prayer. In the video you can hear people joining in and applauding. This young man was taking a stand against his school district that had recently voted to remove prayer from their graduation ceremonies. This young man took a stand and did what he thought was the right thing to do. It makes me hopeful and happy to see young people speak about their faith and stand up for God. I often wonder what gives teens the courage…because we all know that teens are so often driven by the need to fit in, or to be like the world. To stand up and speak up about faith is such a commendable act! About a year and a half ago, Brian and I were singing at a Toy Drive on a Friday night. Several teens came in and worshipped with us. They were truly worshipping. Standing, hands raised to God, singing and totally engaged in the moment. I was especially struck by this. Here it was a Friday night and they had chosen to spend it in that manner. Should that be such a big deal…? Perhaps not, but to me it was. Maybe its because I don’t see the same conviction in my teens – and I wish to? I love my teens with all of my heart…and I truly believe they are special, wonderful people with beautiful hearts and minds. I just pray that someday they will be convicted in their hearts to stand up for what they believe in. I hope and pray that someday when the opportunity presents itself that they will do what they know they ought to do – for themselves and for God.

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. James 4:17

 

 

 

My fab five

Much like many other women out there, I wear many hats throughout my day. I teach middle school in an urban setting. During the course of a typical day at school, I am a teacher, counselor, nurturer, referee, social worker, and judge (just to name a few). At the end of the school day, I then switch to my mom hat, which is not “just” mom. It often is interchanged with hats such as taxi driver, equipment manager, tutor, cook, etc. (I’m certainly not unique in this as you other moms know). And certainly not least – but unfortunately sometimes last, I am a wife, a best friend, a daughter, and a sister. Most importantly…I’m always a child of God (a hat that is NEVER removed – but worn with every other hat I wear). I can’t say I have a “favorite” hat…because I love so many of the facets of my life and the roles I play. But one of the best things about being me is my role as mama. It is one of my greatest honors to have been blessed with my children. I have 5 of them. I gave birth to 2 of them, and the other 3 were gifts that came with my wonderful husband, Brian. We don’t use the word “step” in our family. God blessed us with 5 children to care for, and disciple, and nurture and the greatest of all – to love. I would like to share a little bit about each of my children today – about who they are and why they are so special to me.

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Savannah is our oldest. At 16 she is, in many ways, mature beyond her years. She is extremely intelligent (smarter than me), and fiercely independent. She does not follow others, but does her own thing without worrying about what anyone else thinks. She is beautiful inside and out.

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Zach is 15 and is so good at it. He has been gifted with amazing athletic talent and shows himself as a leader in many ways on the playing field and in the hallways. Zach doesn’t do anything halfway. He feels things very deeply and is super expressive. He is becoming an amazing man.

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Shelby is 14 and is a stunning young lady. She is our nurturer. Someday Shelby is going to be a fantastic mother. Shelby is always helping around the house (without being asked) and likes to take care of others. Shelby’s heart for those less fortunate is beautiful. And she is the resident fashionista!

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Carty is 12 and is the youngest girl. Carty is one of a kind! She’s witty, and very quick to speak her mind. She can be girly and cute as can be one minute, and then she can step onto the soccer field and play harder than anyone out there and be tough as nails. She is also the snuggler of the group. She is growing into a beautiful young lady.

Suman Wedding 34The baby of the family is Nicolas. He rounds out the crew at 8 years old. Nicholas is energy. All of the time. He goes and goes and goes. He is our trooper. No matter where we go or what we do, Nicholas goes along, never complaining. He is his daddy’s little man – always trying to be just like Brian. Not to mention he is simply adorable.

That’s my family. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for these 5 blessings. I am so honored and humbled that He has given them to my care. On this Mother’s Day, I am overwhelmed with pride and joy. Thank you God for each of these beautiful lives you have entrusted to me.

Saturday Morning

I have always said that I love early mornings (when I’m not rushing around trying to get to where I need to be on time).  As I sit here this morning looking out over the grass still dripping with early morning dew, I have such a feeling of peace. Life is nowhere near perfect, and there are times when I feel like troubles are closing in around too fast for me to handle. The daily stress of being a single, working mom often feels overwhelming. Until a quiet Saturday morning comes along to quiet all of the “noise” and let me breathe. These moments alone with God are priceless.  I know that God is with me all day everyday as I go through life…but on mornings like this, He is more than just “with me, ” He comforts me, reassures me,  and blesses me with the beauty that surrounds me. This time together with my God is refreshing! I feel truly blessed to have been able to share this time with such a loving, wonderful God. I am thankful for the peace that only He can provide.

Choices

I can’t believe it’s been nearly two months since my last post. One of my New Years resolutions was to try and post at least twice a week…and I was on a roll there for a while. I’m not even really sure what happened – except life. I have learned a lot about myself and what it really means to be authentic over the course of the first two months of 2012. I truly wish I would have taken the time and energy to document  some of those lessons learned on here. But the beauty of living this crazy life is that it is second chances. I’m so grateful for second chances, and third chances, and fourth chances… My start of 2012 has taught me so far that life is really about choices. Every day we are faced with countless choices to be made…some very trivial, but some are huge. And some that may seem trivial at the time turn out to be huge in the impact they have on our lives or someone else’s. I have chosen this year to be the most authentic me that God made me to be…some days I’m on it…some days I wonder why he made me the way he did. I am very mindful of the choices I am making each day…and the presence of God in every moment of my life helps me as  I choose  – whether its dealing with a student at school, working out a problem with a co-worker, making that difficult phone call to someone who has been distant. God guides my choices and I am so dependent on him for that guidance and wisdom. My life is not perfect…and I’m blessed to say that, because through each struggle and set of difficult circumstances, God is helping me choose to be the woman he created me to be. With God’s love and mercy, I will continue to grow and learn and make the most out of every choice today.