Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Songs of the Season: Go Tell It On the Mountain

In honor of my dad's birthday today, our Song of the Season is Go Tell It On the Mountain. I have memories of my dad singing this song even when it wasn't Christmas. Something about the booming opening stanza appealed to him. 

 The chorus of the song has been around for generations, but it became a traditional Christmas song around the turn of the century when John W. Work wrote the rest of the verses. 

What I didn't realize until I researched this song is that the chorus grew out of one of my favorite verses, Isaiah 40:9:

Get you up to a high mountain,
    O Zion, herald of good tidings;[a]
lift up your voice with strength,
    O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,[b]
    lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”

So, my friends, get you up to a high mountain, lift up your voice, and let the people know that Jesus Christ is born. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Songs of the Season: Joy to the World

One of my greatest pleasures in life is listening to Christmas music. Not the Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman variety, but the "full-on sing glory to God because we are celebrating His birth" variety. I thought it would be fun to do a little Christmas countdown of music on the old blog here, since it gathered a bit of dust during the month of November.

I decided to start things off with Joy to the World because of one line in the song: Let every heart prepare Him room. A little background trivia, Joy to the World was not written to be a Christmas song. Isaac Watts wrote it in 1719 as a reflection of Psalm 98, in which creation itself sings with joy. Who knew?

The red-hot question this time of year is "Are you ready for Christmas?" which means, is your tree up? House decorated? Shopping done? Presents wrapped? Cookies made? Cards out?

Just once, I would love to answer that question by saying, "Yeah I'm ready! I am so pumped to celebrate the birth of my Savior I can hardly stand it!!!!"

I think of the movie Elf when Elf finds out Santa is coming and just about loses his mind. I want to answer like that. "JE-SUS! JESUS IS COMING!!"

What does it really mean to be ready for Christmas? I think our song holds the key: "Let every heart prepare Him room."

So, how do we do that? How do we prepare Him room? I know when I am making room for something in my house, it usually requires me to get rid of a lot of stuff I'd been hanging onto that I don't really need. I need to do some rearranging.

I need to make room for Jesus by letting go of old resentments, bitterness, regrets, and other things of that nature that crowd Him out. There might be someone I need to forgive in order to make room for Jesus.

 I need to stop focusing on the tasks of the season and focus on the why of the season. It does not honor God if I am too stressed out to see the majesty of what He has done for me. That's not what He wants for any of us.

Sometimes, I need to prepare Him room by getting out of His way. I get so focused on my agenda and all the fun we are going to have (she said through gritted teeth) that I miss what He has planned for me.

Let's all get our brooms out and sweep away what doesn't belong in our hearts. Let's prepare a place for our Savior and truly seek the joy that comes from Him alone this Christmas season, and beyond.

One of my favorite renditions of Joy to the World is on Chris Tomlin's Glory in the Highest Christmas album. I can hardly keep from dancing when I hear this song. En-JOY!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Foggy Days

For about the last week, I've compared the Nanowrimo adventure to giving birth. I have to tell you, even though the nursery has been set up and the name picked out, the contractions have been largely of the Braxton-Hicks variety. Painful and real but unproductive.

I just couldn't get going.

Yesterday at church I had two people, in two separate conversations not ten minutes apart, tell me that the enemy does not want to see me succeed with the writing of this novel because of the damage I did to his kingdom with the first one.

If that sounds melodramatic, I urge you to read Ephesians 6:10-19, the chapter on the whole armor of God. Our battle is not with this world, as we so often, and naively, believe. Yes, we can be our own worst enemy. Yes, our choices determine our consequences. And yes, some things are just plain old hard.

But when I think about the extreme lack of productivity and focus these past few days, napping in the middle of the day, which I never do, and inability to string any coherent thought together, I have to wonder if there is something bigger at work.

In keeping with my self-aggrandizing personality (read: big head), I was pretty sure that because I've done this once the next time would be like riding a bike.  Just get back on. I didn't ask for God's guidance, protection, or leadership. I was doing this on my own.

This morning, in light of this new awareness that I might not be the only thing standing in my way, I prayed. I prayed that God would give me the story He wants me to write. I prayed that He be the strength and the glory within me.  I begged for Him to  protect me from all things that stand in my way.

If you think of it, send up a prayer for me over this next thirty days. I need it.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Productive Procrastination

Today is November 1st and I have to confess that I am procrastinating right now, not that procrastinating can't be productive. I hope we will all benefit from the detour I'm taking right now.

This is the first day of the Nanowrimo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month. It is during this time last year that I wrote He Knows Your Name. I've made a loud and public commitment to write the next book during this year's challenge, so my blog activity might be a little low.

While I'm getting mentally warmed up and limber, and pushing back the panic,  I wanted to share a few thoughts that occurred to me this morning:
  • Even when God is involved in a process it doesn't mean it will be easy. Sometimes, the things that thrill you and get your blood pumping are just plain hard. There are days I sit at the computer and sweat, swear, cry, and praise all at the same time.
  • We can worship God by using the gifts He's given us, and when we do, we come alive.
  • There is no hierarchy to gifts and talents. Hard to believe in a world that idolizes celebrity, but we would all suffer if one variety of gift failed to be utilized. Imagine life without song, kindness, or extremely organized people.
Find that thing that energizes you, the thing that makes you sweat, swear, cry, and praise all at the same time. The world needs you.

Just for fun, here's a screenshot of me getting ready to write the next book.

 You can't see it, but my shirt is a NaNo shirt that says "The world needs your novel." I'm going to change into my fleece pants and get my butt back in the chair. I promise not to include this blog in my NaNo word count. :)

While I'm doing my thing, go find your thing. Come back and tell me about it. We can cheer for each other.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

31 Days: Wrapping It Up

We have spent the last 30 days or so talking about ways to reach our worlds by meeting the felt-needs of the people around us, whether in our homes, our neighborhoods, our cities, or someplace on this planet that we may never visit in person.

There is one need that I recognize makes people twitchy when I bring it up, and makes those of us bringing it up kind of twitchy as well. But unless I do, I am only rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

In this generation of extreme political correctness in a country where all men and women are created equal, religious philosophy falls into that same category. We have this idea that all religion ultimately gets us to the same place. We are all circling the same base of the same mountain, and while we may take different routes to get there, we will all summit at the same place. We can all hug each other and coexist without offending anyone.

Except I would rather offend someone than not share the gospel with them. See, while we were all busy gathering sherpas and supplies for the trek to meet God at the top of the mountain, whatever that means for you, He came on down to meet us, to lead us home.

He sent Jesus, because He knew we could not get to the mountain top on our own, ever. And we can try to make it about following rules, being good, crossing t's and dotting i's, except that it isn't about any of those things.

It's about taking Jesus at His word, that no one comes to God except through Him (John 14:6), and that it is only by our faith in Him that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8). We need to realize that we will never be good enough to get to Heaven on our own or bad enough to be kept out (Romans 3:23, 8:38). It's about recognizing that even one sin can keep us from the presence of God, and knowing that Jesus paid the price that we could not.

If all I had done during this series was encourage you to make a casserole for your neighbor and you actually did it, that would be noteworthy. But if somewhere along the way you recognized a hunger for the Lord in your life, that would be awesome. Eternally life changing even.

I don't just want to reach the world for today or tomorrow. I want to reach it for eternity. Let me know if you want to sit down over a cup of coffee and talk about that.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ministry Isn't Just for Church Folks

I had an interesting conversation with someone last week when I was in the throes of being seriously overwhelmed. Since this person has been known to take on responsibilities in many different areas, I asked her if she didn't ever just want to be normal? Like, just go to work, come home, cook dinner, and be done with it. She looked me square in the eye and said, "Do you mean does everything have to be a freakin' ministry?"

"YES!" I hollered, amazed that she had summed up my 20 minute rambling with one sentence.

Since then, that sentence has clanged around in my head, challenging me to examine how I view life.

Just to get us on a level playing field, I looked up the definition of ministry. According to Merriam-Webster, definition #4 is a person or thing through which something is accomplished. (That was the first definition that didn't relate directly to a government or religious office, because, contrary to popular belief, ministry isn't just for church folks.)

So, a person or thing through which something is accomplished...that gives me a bit more to think about. We should all be ministers of a ministry then, because hopefully we are all trying to accomplish something.

In a follow-up conversation, my insightful friend said that when we are passionate about something, it shows, and opportunities will knock on our doors to pursue that passion without us having to tip the world over trying to make something happen. (That's pretty much she said. I may have flowered it up a touch.)

In this 2nd to last post in our 31 Day journey, let me then encourage you to discover your ministry...that thing that you want to be about accomplishing.

I had a friend share today that she has found an organization called One Simple Wish, which grants wishes to foster kids. Not wishes like having their own PlayStation, but like wanting a suit to attend a funeral. I think that if she were to drill down on why that organization caught her heart strings, she would find a desire to love on the world's forgotten. That may be a life ministry in the making.

As you are walking around your life with your eyes wide open, look for it. Look for that freakin' ministry that may be calling your name. I would love to hear about it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How Much Is Too Much?

If the measure of how busy you are equals how important you are, you might want to reevaluate. And, if you struggle even knowing how to evaluate this, check out this post from Rachel Held Evans.

Well-Balanced World Changers.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Torch-bearer or Light-shiner?

I used to love to sit up on Saturday nights when I was a kid and watch the monster movies...Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Brain That Wouldn't Die, those Japanese movies where the dubbing track didn't even come close to matching up with the words. The one that sticks in my head, though, is Frankenstein. Poor monster. He was afraid and just trying to get away, but the villagers chased him with torches and pitchforks.

Looks a lot like some Christians I've seen.

We who are called to bring Christ's light into the darkness often look more like a bunch of angry villagers, chasing people who are already wounded.

As we begin to wrap up our Reach Your World series, I want you to think about the others. I don't know who that is for you in particular, but we all have them. People who live outside of what we might feel is acceptable. People who are deserving of being called out because they aren't following the rules.

Once you've got your group in your head, I want you to grab your Bible and see who Jesus called out. (Here's a hint: it wasn't the people you might think.) Jesus got into trouble for associating with the ostracized, the outcast, the societal pariahs. And when He did, lives changed. Now if the Pharisees had their way- they were the rule keepers of the generation, the gatekeepers keeping the undesirables out- the real Messiah would have nothing to do with them.

A few years back, WWJD became a buzz-phrase. What Would Jesus Do became the question to ask in any given situation.

 I can tell you, He wouldn't be reaching out like the people holding signs on street corners that say "Baby Killers" with his big SUV sporting the fish symbol parked nearby. He wouldn't be protesting a porn convention...He's be in there looking people in the eye, holding out His hand, and leading them to something better. And that family, the one with two dads...I think He'd be the first one bringing banana bread to the door.

If you think you might struggle a bit with others, grab a copy of Permission Granted by Margot Starbuck. In the end, you will realize that we are all others to someone. And that when we chase people with a torch instead of shining the light of Christ into their lives, we are doing more harm than good.

Just love them. Open the door more than a crack and invite them in. Jesus will do the rest.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Songs: Hands and Feet by Audio Adrenaline

This song speaks my heart...

Audio Adrenaline put their money where their mouths are a few years ago when they walked away from a successful career on the Christian music scene to work full-time in the charity organization they called, appropriately enough, the Hands and Feet Project. They committed to building family style orphan villages in Haiti after visiting there in 2004. They are back on the music scene but no less committed to the bigger picture of using their platform for something greater than themselves.

You can check out their website here.

If you are looking to partner with someone on a global level, consider the Hands and Feet Project, Compassion International, or World Vision.  

A Little Effort Beats None At All

I don't know if you ever struggle with this, but I feel like if I can't do a 110% job on something then it isn't worth doing. Not that I aim for sub-standard, but here's what I mean: I got a text from a friend today with a picture of her two daughters, one recuperating from an emergency appendectomy, and one headed to Children's Hospital because her asthma is getting hard to control. Without even thinking it through, I offered to bring her a meal for tonight.

Then, when I did think it through, I realized that I might not even be home at dinner and that the plans I already had for this afternoon precluded me from staying home cooking. So, I called her and asked if I brought something frozen would she be able to throw it in the oven. When she said yes, I told her that I would be dropping off spaghetti sauce and Market Day lasagna roll-ups, after I ran to the store and grabbed some spaghetti sauce. Since she had some spaghetti sauce, I ended up just dropping off the roll-ups.

Here's the thing: my friend still felt loved and cared for even though nothing hot and bubbly was handed over. If I had talked myself out of dinner because it didn't meet the good church lady expectation I lay on myself, I would've missed a chance to let her know I cared.

In my writing room, I have a picture that says "The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you never wrote."

Basically, we can talk ourselves out of doing anything because we feel like it doesn't measure up. But I would rather do something imperfectly than not at all.

At least I'm trying to prefer that.

How about you?

(On a related note, I thought I would spend my four days off from work dreaming up glorious posts to dazzle and amaze you with. It didn't happen. I almost didn't post this one because it didn't seem to be enough...but I guess that is the moral of this whole day...do what you can with what you have.)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Global Justice and Stewardship

Nothing excites me more than having a 30% off coupon for Kohl's in my purse and then trolling the clearance and sales racks to pay next to nothing for my clothes. I love finding a bargain.

However, if I want to live with a global perspective, maybe my bargain hunter tendencies aren't serving anyone but myself. If I only want to pay $7 for a shirt, and Kohl's probably only wants to pay $3 or $4 for it, then the person making it probably isn't earning crap. (I don't actually know anything about the purchasing policies of Kohl's Department Store, just using my common sense here.)

Global justice is a newer term that means to narrow the gap between the first and third worlds; the goal is to address the exploitation that occurs in many poor countries, to raise the standard of living in the third world and create sustainability in those areas, and to halt the corporate takeover of the world, in a nutshell.

While I don't live in as much awareness of these issues as I probably could, we all need to understand that we vote with our dollars. This weekend as we are out spending our money, whether for leisure or necessity, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. The term fair trade means what it says...it is a fair price for something that helps the producer of that item earn a decent price. No lowballing or corporate bullying here. Look for the fair trade logo when you shop.

2. We can impact someone on a different continent by checking out www.tenthousandvillages.com, a collection of businesses selling jewelry, bags, baskets, and many other items. It's worth a look.

3. Visit the Story of Stuff website to see where your stuff comes from and the impact it has on the rest of the world.

4. Buying local and buying green are the trend these days. It might cost a few dollars more, but most of us can afford it.

5. One person can make a difference, because all together, we are lots of people making lots of choices, one decision at a time. Don't get overwhelmed. Just do what you can.

This global justice/awareness thing isn't about feeling guilty for what you have. It's about being a good steward and a citizen of the world.

Going Global

I have loved this quote since I first heard it. It's more than a quote, it's a mission statement or a code to live by.

This picture is especially apropos because, for the next few days, we are going global. With today's available technology, you almost have to try to not to be aware of the rest of the world.

We will take a look at how you can impact people on the other side of the planet without even leaving your couch.

But if you actually want to leave your couch, I'll have some ideas for you too.

This post leads us in to our last full week of 31 Days: Reach Your World. I hope you have been challenged and encouraged along the way.

And, as much as this is about changing the lives of others, that can only happen as we are changed first.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Finding the Fire

Yesterday's post, Missing Out on Dessert, was all about finding those things that excite you, then doing them. And I wasn't referring to sky-diving, either, although if that's your thing, have at it. :)

Today we are going to look at the flipside...what breaks your heart. We all have our reasons for wanting to reach the world. Some of us want the world to go green, and we spend all our energy trying to live sustainable lives. Some of us want the world to go vegan and we spend lots of dollars and time trying to live in a way that causes no harm to any other living thing. Wheat not included. Unless you are a gluten-intolerant vegan, I suppose.


I got off to kind of a silly start because it's late and I've been watching Duck Dynasty all night, but this post has been rolling around in my head all day and it's not a silly topic at all.

We all have those things that break our hearts. . . those things that make us shudder and say something needs to be done NOW. I have a book called Holy Discontent by Bill Hybels, and while this isn't an official book review, you're probably going to want a copy.

He helps us to identify the things that ignite a "firestorm of personal frustration" and consider the dramatic impact your life will have when you convert the frustration of your holy discontent into fuel for changing the world. Maybe God is waiting for someone to get as ticked off about something as He is. Maybe He's waiting for someone just like you.

I don't believe it has to be a holier-than-thou soapbox either. This isn't about coming up with a huge idea of how to save the world, but looking for that thing that calls your name...

Battling hopelessness may not sound like much, but it makes me feel like Don Quixote and the windmill sometimes. When people are without hope, they behave differently. Decisions don't matter anymore. How they respond to life changes. Morale drops. And then it spreads like a cancer until the person next to them feels like everything is futile. Nothing matters anyway. It's...hopeless.

Giving a little hope infusion can change things. I realize it's not exactly solving world hunger or ending the AIDS epidemic in Africa, but bringing hope to people can change someone's day and that can have far-reaching consequences. At the very least, it changes the present reality to one that is a little less bleak. That has to count for something. Ultimately, I pray that it is a way to introduce someone to Jesus, the Giver of all hope.

Bringing the hope of Christ is what fuels almost everything I do. It's what lead me to stay at Whittier and be their PTO president. Bringing hope to those who need it is what pushed me to publish my book and call the series Hope Speaks. Bringing hope is what drives me to share my story, even the ugly parts. It is what compels me to look the homeless guy in the eye and say good morning when the rest of the world looks away. Engaging at the level of my holy discontent takes on many faces but the catalyst is the same.

So, like yesterday when I challenged you to think of what makes you come alive, today I am challenging you to consider what breaks your heart. God may be waiting for you to realize what that thing is, and when you do, He will unleash the fire of holy discontent in you. Who knows where that will lead?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Missing Out on Dessert?

I found this little gem in my local newspaper today: "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." Howard Thurman

I think that is really good advice.

As you are thinking and wondering where you fit in this big idea of reaching your world, ask yourself that question.

What makes me come alive? This isn't the "What would you do if you knew you wouldn't fail?" question necessarily, but what excites you? What gives you that wind in your face, half-scared and half-exhilarated feeling? That "I can't believe I get to do this!" sense of wonder?

Your super cool thing doesn't have to involve ropes, parachutes, high places, or even physical exertion. For some of you it is intellectual in nature...problem solving, analytical thinking that challenges you to the core.

For others, it is singing, dancing, or otherwise performing. I think I might have a touch of this one...speaking to groups and watching them connect with what I'm saying makes me come alive.

Watching community unfold excites me...seeing new friendships form and people get united behind something excites me. People knowing that they can be part of something bigger than themselves excites me. Seeing people realize that they matter excites me.

Think on that question a little bit...what excites you. I know that for a few of us it's been a long time since excitement crossed our radar screens. We got lost in the doldrums of daily life where we think of excitement like dessert...certainly satisfying but not essential. Next thing we know, we are bored with a capital B.

Who's ready to shake things up a bit?

If you need to tap your foot a little while you're thinking, listen to this song by Chris Tomlin. It's called God's Great Dance Floor. If you are not into Christian music, don't let the title throw you off. It's a good one to get things moving.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Panda Wisdom

I took my kids to the movies a few weeks ago to see Kung Fu Panda 2 in 3D. There was this scene when the Panda and all his cohorts are getting ready to go into battle together. As Panda looks to his right and to his left, his heart just swells because he is getting ready to do what he loves most with the people he loves best.

That is the perfect picture of service.

Gather up your friends, family, church group, whoever you know, and go find something to do. Serve lunch at a local shelter, sort clothes at a clothing giveaway...heck, clean out all your closets and host a clothing giveaway. Rake leaves and pick up trash in a city park.

We were never meant to go it alone, and what better way to build community than to serve in your community together, shoulder to shoulder, getting something done for someone in need.

This past Labor Day, I gathered up my mom and her neighbor, some women from church, my kids, and my husband, and we put on a BBQ for the Hope Center, an outreach ministry in my city.

For Mother's Day 2012, my friends and family put on a brunch at the homeless shelter for the women there. Instead of celebrating my abundance of kids with gifts and adoration (I let them do that another day, lol) we took the show on the road and became a blessing to those without.

Today was Grandfriend's Day at my youngest son's school, and it would not have happened without a great bunch of volunteers all jumping in and working together. My favorite part was watching how each person just did what needed to be done. This is a school in transition and it made my chin a little quivery to see it all come together.

Like yesterday's song said, greater things are yet to come, greater things are still to be done in this city...so let's grab some friends, roll up our sleeves, and get to it. I think the Panda is on to something.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday Songs: Bonus Day

If I haven't mentioned it ten times already during this series, I'll say it again: music speaks to me. As we ponder reaching our cities this week, let these two songs inspire you.

I love the lyrics in God of This City...greater things are yet to come, greater things are still to be done in this city...Yesterday I had a homeless man tell me that he couldn't forget a sweet face like mine. I wanted to put him in my pocket and take him home. I feel like whatever I do to make a difference can never be enough, then I remember You are God of THIS city, and greater things are yet to come.

Break Every Chain reminds me that only through Jesus will change come. He alone can break the chains that bind us...the chains that bind certain sections of my city...The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. We sang this song, Break Every Chain, in church this morning; it was my prayer over neighborhoods that are so mired in hopelessness, so many problems, just a mile from my house. God, only You can be the difference. Send Your light, Lord, and nothing can stand against it.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Into the City

If you haven't caught on, I've been taking you on a little progression of service. We've examined our hearts and attitudes, talked about what serving means and hopefully thought about some "small bite" ways to engage with your families and neighborhoods.

Today we are going to take a bigger bite and talk about our cities. As always, I want to feel like this is something you can do. Here are five things you can do to reach out to your city:

  • Drop some diapers, tampons, and laundry soap off at a women's shelter or homeless shelter in your area. When I met with the director of the homeless shelter in my city to see how my church could partner with them, she said the biggest need for them personally wasn't food, but the things that food stamps can't get.
  • Check in with an elementary school in your area, preferably one in a lower-income section of town. Offer to bring in bagels one morning for the staff, or gather a few friends and put on an all-out lunch. It goes without saying that all teachers do far more than just teach the kids. They love them, they guide them...and they are often aware of issues that break their hearts. Let them know that they are appreciated in a tangible way.
  • Think about what your strengths are and find a way to serve someone through them. Stuck for an idea? Google "volunteer opportunities" for your city and see what comes up. My mom loves to read and now that she is retired, she's getting involved with the Literacy Council, tutoring adults.
  • Host a baby shower for an pregnancy counseling center. These organizations not only facilitate adoptions but also help moms find ways to keep their babies. You could be a huge blessing to someone.
  • If you are super motivated, look for the holes. Ask the people with boots on the ground, those doing the work already, what still needs doing. See if that might be an opportunity for you to get involved.
It's a great big world with a lot of great big problems. We went over that on Day One. But, with some effort, some sacrifice, and sometimes some courage, things get done. Keep your chin up. You can make a difference.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Cup of Cold Water in His Name: A Book Review and a Giveaway!

In this day of media overload, we are often left to wonder if the personalities we see on the TV interviews are really what they portray themselves to be. The same things go through my head when I read a book that inspires me...what is this person really like?

I had a chance to meet Lorie Newman before she wrote    A Cup of Cold Water in His Name when we were in the same speaker evaluation group at She Speaks in 2011. I remember thinking then that this woman is the real deal. She shared stories of some of the places she has traveled to minister to those the world tries to forget. She made us laugh when she shared times that didn't go as planned. Overall, she made me want to be more like her....more like Jesus. She inspired me.

Her book is like sitting down to coffee with her. It's a conversation on ways to serve the needy, but not in a preachy format. It's a practical guide that helps you identify where you can plug in and what you can do.

Lorie breaks the book into five sections, from Feeding the Hungry and Thirsty to Caring for the Sick to Ministering to the Prisoner. Each section is divided into chapters that provide concrete examples of things you can do at your level of means, ability, and desire, titled deep, deeper, and deeper still.

For example, under Feeding the Hungry and Thirsty, one of the deep ideas is to take a meal to a Ronald McDonald House Charity. A deeper idea is to sponsor a child through one of the reputable agencies. The deeper still options were anything from raise funds to dig a well in Africa to start a Cook and Play ministry, like Jackie Brown did.

The pages are laid out in an easy to read format with little blurbs of statistics and helpful agencies tucked in. It's the kind of book you can come back to again and again for ideas and encouragement.

She also includes an appendix with resources for going on a mission trip and adoption; she has two adopted children, one from Haiti and one from Liberia. In the back of the book is a short bio of her; in the info I came across an article she wrote that I think you might enjoy. It's called "I'm Done Playing Church." Can I get an amen?

*When I told Lorie I was featuring her book, she generously offered to provide a copy for a giveaway. Here's my ask: share this post on your Facebook or blog, if you have one. If you share it on a blog, be sure to give me the address so I can let me know where you are. Then, come back to this post, either as a FB comment or a blog comment, and let me know that you did it. I would also love to hear where God is leading you to serve in His name but that is not a requirement. No pressure. Sharing is enough to get your name in the drawing. I will let you know Tuesday who the winner is...you have until Monday night to share. 

A Little Catching Up

If you stopped by my blog after my interview on My Journey of Faith with Cynthia McCutcheon, welcome!! I'm smack in the middle of a 31 Day series on reaching your world. Grab some coffee and click here to read through the previous posts. The "Reach Your World" icon in the sidebar will get you to the index post as well.

If you are wondering "What radio show? What is she talking about?" I had the opportunity to chat with Cynthia McCutcheon about everything from my past to my book to my desire to make a difference in the world in Jesus' name. You can listen to the show by clicking here.

And now that the housekeeping is done, I want to tell you how God amazed me yesterday. In Wednesday's post I shared my story of how my family became part of an elementary school I had no intention of sending any kids to again, for various quite justifiable reasons.

We've just begun our third year there and I am their PTO president and coordinator of all things community.

I had forgotten about the "push back the darkness" prayer until I read the old post and while I'm still 100% all in, I'm getting a little crispy. The danger of all in is burn out and it's only October.

I arrived at the school yesterday to run the Book Fair; and, even though it was my day off from my paying job, all I could hear as the Lone Ranger music running through my head. I'm in catch-up mode these days, just trying not to fall off the horse.

Anyway, I get to my spot and realize I'm listening to a song I recognize from KLOVE on the radio. That is huge to me...I want to know who the other believers are so we can connect and pray for one another. (Teaching and being involved at this school is a calling for those who are there, no matter what their faith background. It's not for the faint of heart.)

As if that wasn't encouraging enough, I realized it was coming from a new teacher's classroom, a special class for kids who need some extra care. Super cool!

And if that wasn't enough, the new teacher turns out to be a woman I graduated from high school with! All day I wondered if that was her but didn't want to interrupt her class, so at the end of the day I parked myself on the bench outside her room and waited. We bear hugged right there in the hallway.

When I shared this story with a friend of mine, she said, "See...God is putting the people in place without your help."

The application there is that when you feel that pull to make a difference somewhere, what's the first thing you do? If you're me, you think of all the reasons it's too big or won't really matter.

You leave God out of it, like once He planted the idea He fled the scene and it's all up to you.

We need to be constantly, diligently on the look out for God. He is absolutely in the mix of things, and I know that I waste a lot of energy trying to orchestrate things that He already has a plan for.

Wherever you feel led to get involved, go. Look for the others God is drawing with that same heart. When we are engaged in His plan, He will bring it together.

Just don't forget to give Him the glory. Sharing your God stories is an encouragement to others.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Adventure

Jesus told His disciples that whoever loses their life for His sake will find it. (Matt 10:39). I never understood that more clearly until we ended up at Whittier Elementary.

The following was originally posted in September 2012:

About a year and a half ago, the Lord began leading me on a journey. I couldn't deny that the road belonged to Him. You can read the specifics of it here and here, but the short version is that through a series of events, my youngest son ended up at an elementary school that I had no intention of sending children to again.

Knowing God's hand was in the change, the summer of 2011 was one of anxious anticipation. I always claim to want to follow hard after Him, but tend to waffle when the following is the hard part. Can anyone relate? We ask God to be evident and at work in our lives, then balk when we don't like the way it looks.

Anyway, this past summer, I was feeling a little like the Israelites when they realized they were making their second pass through the desert. I was weary and afraid; my heart was heavy. The scenery was a little less exciting; the journey tedious instead of awe-inspiring. Forget the cloud and the fire . . . we just want our old normal.

I cried, and cried out, for God to open the doors to the other school to us, and He did. On August 13th, about three weeks before school started, we got a call inviting us to enroll Justin.

On August 21st, we officially turned down the offer.

Honestly, I felt like I was throwing the life preserver that I'd been praying for back into the water, but I knew in my heart that the offer was a test, not a way out. I'm good at blooming where I'm planted, but God needed my commitment to this other school to be solid.

For whatever reason, my heart has been knit to the neighborhoods surrounding this school; the people and issues plaguing this area of my city have weighed on my spirit for years. God has given me a way to carry His light to people who need hope. I get to do life with them.

On the first day of school, feeling overwhelmed and inadequate, wondering what difference I can really make, I found myself praying that God would "push back the darkness" from this school, these people, fill the hallways with light and laughter. Oh God, I cried, just push back the darkness.

I opened my Jesus Calling devotional book, and these are the words I read: "This is My way of living in the world-through you! Together we will push back the darkness, for I am the light of the world."

Amen, Lord. So it is written, so shall it be. Amen.

Did I mention that I ended up being the PTO President at the school I never intended to be part of?

Follow-Up: We are into our third year at Whittier and I wouldn't trade it for the world. I continue to be amazed at the way God works all things together. He has a vision for this city and this community and I am just trying to keep up.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Praying for a Warrior

Two hours and 36 minutes to write a blog post for Day 15 of the series. I ain't gonna lie...I'm tired. I've had my jammies on since I walked in the door at 4:00pm today. It's been a long stretch of busy lately and while there is an end in sight, it's still eight days away.

I tucked my boys into bed after spending some good snuggle time with them tonight and considered accepting defeat on the whole 31 Days in a row thing and hopping into bed myself when the verse, "Do not grow weary in doing good" floated across my heart.

Chagrined, I picked up my computer and headed for the couch, thinking I would shake off the fog with a quick troll through Facebook. The first post I saw was written by a friend who had a malignant mass removed from her kidney today. Now, I have to tell you, this is no ordinary woman. She is no stranger to serious illness and the mass, thank God, is on her old kidney. She had a transplant a few years back. But anyway, upon learning that she was headed back to the hospital, she joked that while she would have preferred a tropical beach for a mission field, it is her privilege to go back and minister to those doctors and nurses she will be seeing. She, the patient, finds it her privilege to minister to others.

"Do not grow weary in doing good."

Her post was one asking for us to petition God to carry her pain for her and for her to be able to minister to this nurse, that she would come to know Jesus as Savior.

With her words, my little wall of self-pity crumbled with the force of Jericho. It also solidified my commitment to this series, with a bold caveat.  I have tried to make this very user friendly...let's just love on people because it's nicer that way.

And it is, definitely.

I feel like in the process of keeping it light, which admittedly, I don't do well, I've tried hard to keep Jesus out of it. Some of you might be laughing and thinking, really, because He's kind of all over the place.

Here's the thing, though: when I try to keep Jesus out of the mix things get stale. I get burned out. The message lacks fervor. The same thing happens when I go about the business He's set before me. I. Get. Weary.

My mission field may not be Froedtert, but the things I do, I do with the hope that the people I minister to will come to know Christ as Savior.

So my friends, do not grow weary in doing good. Serve strong with the strength that God provides, and don't try to accomplish anything on your own. Bring the One that you are actually serving with you. And if you think of it, send up a prayer for my warrior friend Wydia. She's doing battle tonight.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Honey, What's For Dinner?

In all honesty, I'm losing my mind a little. I feel like I need to go stand in a field and scream for awhile. Nothing wrong in particular, just a wee bit overwhelmed for the next few weeks. Then in November I'll sit down and write a novel in 30 days, which is the easy part.

I did manage to get a decent meal on the table for dinner last night with just a little planning ahead. I plan to troll my favorite freezer cooking website before the novel writing month begins to keep my family from subsisting on Little Caesar's and McD's. .

 Jackie of Mom On a Mission posts weekly freezer cooking menus with links to all the recipes she uses. I've shared her Five Minute Shoebox Bread Dough recipe with the Mom Time girls a couple years ago and often direct people to Jackie's website when they need to prepare meals for others.

Two things separate Jackie from other freezer cookers in my mind:
  • She prepares meals from a list of frozen ingredients, so instead of having a freezer stuffed with ten pans of lasagna, you have the fixings for a huge combination of meals for the week. You'll get what I mean when you check out her site.
  • Second, her heart. She has turned cooking for her family into a ministry opportunity. She always has a meal on hand for someone else when the need arises. She provides a meal for her local women's shelter each month, but more than just dropping off a few pans, she makes it into something fun that lets everyone be a part of meal prep. She calls it her Cook and Play ministry because the kids play while the moms cook. Jackie is then able to teach women how to feed their families economical nutritious meals.
I asked her to share a few words about how she got started and this is what she said:

 "I got started five years ago inviting six women to my home for a freezer cooking session to benefit our families. As I saw 144 servings spread across my dining room table I asked each lady to make a commitment to give away one meal to someone in need. I began serving at a local homeless shelter and made a monthly commitment after serving my kindergarten son's classmate. Each month I rally women together to provide a freezer item or make ahead meal and be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Ordinary moms can be a "Mom on a Mission" via simple freezer cooking by doubling and freezing a family favorite and giving the extra away to someone in need. There are always new moms, neighbors, co-workers, homeless, sick or other needy who need a meal.
I love helping people realize it doesn't take a large check or going across the country to be on mission for Christ. A simple frozen meal can provide a comfort during a needy time."

She also shared a link to her favorite ministry meal, No Boil Manicotti. I've made this and it is super easy and super yummy!

Jackie has been featured on the North Carolina morning shows and in the book I will be reviewing Friday, A Cup of Cold Water in His Name. She's found opportunities to serve her community and impact the world just by taking the gifts and resources she has and sharing them. Jackie just published her first e-book, Freezer Fairy's Guide to Freezer Cooking. 

She inspires me to see how caring for my family can easily translate into caring for my neighbors. Poke around on her site; in case you missed the link, it is www.momonamission.me. Happy trolling!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunday Songs: Believer

Every now and again a song comes along that encapsulates everything I have ever felt. Audio Adrenaline's song Believer is one of those.

I often find myself wanting to go deeper in my faith, but I don't know how to get there. Then, when Jesus holds out His hand and says "Let's go", I find myself looking at the waves instead of the hand.

Check out this amazing video by Audio Adrenaline...even if you don't think you will like the song you will be inspired by what you see...trust me.

"I want to live this life unsafe but not afraid..." The opening line of this song sums up my life. I am tired of playing it safe but I don't know what else to do.

A few years ago I wrote a post called Fear Factor about a dream of living in fear. You can read that here.

This next week look for evidence of what might be holding you back from taking any next steps in reaching your world. Look for the fear. Then, plug your nose and dive in. You'll be amazed at what you find.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

An Esther Sort of Day

I was having an Esther moment today. In Old Testament times, Esther found herself in the right place at the right time, and from that came the expression "For such a time as this."

Part of my regular day job was to find different non-profit groups to staff a parking lot in my town and charge cars $1.00 to park there.

Today my church group was in the lot raising money for another church's Christmas outreach event called the Season of Giving. Over 1,800 income-qualified (read: low-income) people come for a meal, a gospel message, and a chance to pick out brand new gifts for each member of their family. To top it off, volunteers wrap the gifts before they leave, so each person brings home a huge bag of Christmas gifts that they picked out themselves. It's an awesome event.

Because of my job setting up the groups, 47 calendar dates in all, I've been able to put some worthy causes in the spotlight. Everything from our local food pantry to teen mentoring to grief counseling for children has had a chance to benefit from the parking lot fundraisers. I feel like, in some small way, I've been able to play a part in shining a light into my city, creating awareness for the needs that are out there, and helped to resource others for their work.

"For such a time as this..."

God knows where you are. He has set you in the boundaries of His choosing. He may have just placed you somewhere for such a time as this.

What are you going to do with it?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Small Things with Great Love: A Book Review and a Giveaway!

Few books have impacted me the way Small Things with Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor has. It's like Margot Starbuck took up residence in my head when she wrote it.

Not to steal any thunder from the book, but since you could read this section in the look-inside feature with Amazon, I feel ok sharing this paragraph with you:
Too often, I have failed to engage with a world in need. I've done it quite sincerely, especially when I've cloaked someone like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mother Teresa as a red-caped, neighbor-loving super hero. This convenient  posturing inoculates me against actually doing anything...This way I'm able to feel warm and fuzzy inside, admiring my heroes without the complication of actually joining them....
She goes on to share the quote from Mother Teresa that the book takes its name from: "We cannot do great things, only small things with great love."

"Small things happen when I learn the name of my daughter's bus driver. Small things happen when I listen to the dreams of a woman who lives in a group home on my block. Small things happen when I risk crossing a language barrier even though I look really stupid doing it. Small things, of course, put me back on the hook."

Starbuck teaches that it really is the small things that make the difference. I know I've been burdened by that "What does it matter anyway?" feeling, and maybe you have too. She has plenty of real life examples of things you can do in loving your neighbors, whoever and wherever they might be.

I've read a fair amount of books on service and reaching out, but this reads like an adventurous flow chart. She addresses whatever stage of life you are in and you skip through the chapters accordingly, unless of course you are captivated and just want to read every word. Starbuck covers moms with kids of all ages, young people to middle aged to old, suburbanite, city slicker, or rural dweller, employed outside the home or not, single, married, introvert, extrovert, man, woman...she leaves no group unturned.

And at the same time as she is removing your barriers to getting in the serving game, she is acknowledging the limitations you  might face and helping you to be ok with that. When I shared this book with my Mom Time audience last year, we talked about the fact that when you have kids under three you already are taking care of the least of these and to cut yourself some slack.

A key part of Margot Starbuck's message is the global stewardship we all share; she offers ways to make a difference with the way we spend our money and provides link to fair trade websites. She is an advocate of global justice and solidarity with the less fortunate.

Starbuck's sense of humor is what kept me turning the pages. She delivers what could be a dry preachy message with hilarious stories and self-deprecating wit. She disarms the reader by acknowledging that she struggles with this stuff too. This book is not written from a pulpit, but from the trenches.

Small Things with Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor is one of those books I can't keep on my shelf because I keep giving my copies away. Lucky for you, though, Margot has offered to send an autographed copy to one of you!

Here's what you need to do:
Share the link to this post on your Facebook page and then leave me a comment telling me you did it. If you are not on FB but have a blog, share the link on your page and leave me a comment on my blog telling me you did it. I would also love to hear how you want to reach the world; where do your passions lie?

To be fair to everyone's crazy schedules, I won't draw a winner until Monday evening. I will post the winner's name at the beginning of Tuesday's post.

*Bonus thought: The book has a six week companion study in the back. If anyone is interested in doing something like that, let me know.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Stepping Out

I learned to cook from Rachael Ray. Seriously, up until then it was all out of a box. One of my favorite episodes was when she talked about her grandfather having a big pot of spaghetti sauce on the stove all day Sunday and people would just randomly stop by for a meal. I've always wanted to do that....have a pot of soup on the stove and just let everyone know they were welcome to stop by, open house style.

This past week we've been talking about the notion that we can do something, and I've tried to challenge you to make some small adjustments. It's time to take it to the streets.

Your own streets.

I would bet that if you stood on your front step, you would see someone who could use your help, friendship, influence, or all of the above. Reaching your world can have as much to do with providing a needed act of service as it does with gaining influence in their life. You can't help but be changed by the people you are doing life with, and service in your neighborhood is about doing life in an intentional way.

Last Thursday I gave you five suggestions on ways to engage with those you randomly come across. This week I'm offering five ways to serve right in your neighborhood:
1. Ala Neighborhood Café, invite some neighbors for coffee. We often invite others to home parties and want them to buy things, but we don't often just invite people over. Put a board game on the table and a Bakers Square pie on the counter.

2. See who might need some help with something you enjoy. You don't really get more service points for doing something you hate; it's not supposed to be a punishment. If you garden, see if a neighbor could use some bulbs planted in their garden of help weeding. Maybe, when it is time to split your perennials, offer to swap with someone. Or, see if anyone else has something to donate and plant a garden for a neighbor who is green-thumb challenged.

3. Borrow something. It sounds silly, but borrowing something is a great conversation starter.

4. When you make a meal, double it and toss it in the freezer. Look for a young mom with full hands and offer her family dinner one night. I once brought half a watermelon to the retired couple on my corner and they were thrilled to pieces. She brought me a stack of paper plates leftover from a family party. Bridges are getting built.

5. Perhaps you know of a genuine need...a family struggling through unemployment, a serious illness, family upheaval. Reach out to them in ways that help but don't intrude. Organize assistance with cleaning, laundry, transportation if necessary, meals, babysitting...be the hands and feet you would want rallying around you.

Attached garages and back patios led to the downfall of the traditional Norman Rockwell neighborhood. It's easy to hide away and mind your own business. But what fun is that? Get involved in your life, the one going on outside your front door.

And maybe I'll put the soup on and put a Scrabble board on the table. Who's coming over?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What's Your Budget?

At the end of yesterday's post, I said we would talk about some of the costs of serving. You are probably expecting a breakdown of different charities you can donate to or how to buy a goat for a village in India (google World Vision Catalog for that one), but I am thinking more along the lines of personal cost.

Time, because once spent it doesn't come back.

Inconvenience, because opportunities don't make appointments. They knock.

Shifts in belief, because stepping into someone else's world will affect your own.

And of course, money, because our checkbooks are a record of our priorities.

I also think of the personal cost of following where God leads when there is no clear-cut path. In the Bible, Noah counted the cost of ridicule when he built the ark at God's command. Did you know the world had never seen rain before the flood? Can you imagine the smack-talking he had to put up with during the time he was constructing their floating refuge? Obedience to God cost him.

I think about Abraham (Abram) who was told to leave his family and set out for a land he had never seen. Following God cost him his community, the very life he had set up for himself. But he took his wife and did as he was commanded. I can just imagine the conversation between him and his wife. "Where are we going?" "I don't know." "How will we know when we get there?" "I don't know." Obedience cost him.

Sometimes living your life to make a difference costs. Noah and Abraham, and countless other in the Bible paid high prices to follow God. But the difference they made in the history of the world is immeasurable. Jesus Himself paid a price in following that changed the course of eternity.

In our own little world, we might never know the effect we are having on someone else's life. But if we decide to focus on what it costs us and never take a step, we will miss out on the blessings God has waiting in the process, and miss the chance to be a blessing to someone else.

I shared some of the stuff I struggle with in yesterday's post. I like my schedule and my quiet time and getting involved with people is messy. But I know that when I get over myself, it's a beautiful mess indeed. Community is built. Hope whispers of a better tomorrow. Love takes root.

Think about what makes you dig your heels in. What's your budget for getting involved?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

It's All About...Who??

We've had kind of a soft start to this 31 Day series on reaching your world, but if I would have started with "Sell your car and give your money away" and "Get on the first plane to the pygmies" I'd probably be sitting here all by myself.

I've focused on creating the notion that living our lives with the awareness of other people and the effect we have on them is the first step to reaching our world.

I'm guilty of being a task-structured person. I feel like this is the job interview question when you are asked to disclose your weakness and you let them know that you are incapable of settling for anything less than perfection in yourself. Being a task-structured person means that I put getting the job done in front of everything else, but it also means I tend to be independent, overly focused on something, and sometimes downright rigid in my approach. These are not intended to be pats on the back for me but rather an ownership of the fact that most of the time I function best alone.

We were not, however,  created to be alone and sometimes it is through being challenged in our set ways that we grow the most. Not that there is anything wrong with being an introvert (quick definition: an introvert doesn't mean shy or timid but is someone who recharges best alone while an extrovert gets their energy from other people.) but I can't let that define my life.

Friday I will post a review on a book called Small Things: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor. The author goes deep on helping the reader find their best serving style and opportunities based on their particular life situation so I won't go too far into the whole introvert/extrovert thing.

But I will say that you will have trouble influencing the world around you if you insist of doing life on your own terms. If it's all about me, then it can't be about anyone else.

This week, look for opportunities to let others into your carefully constructed schedule. Invite someone to shop with you. Accept an invitation to hang out even if it means staying up a little later than you'd like. Let someone else's joys be yours for a while.

Tomorrow we will go a little deeper into what reaching your world might cost you.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Won't You Be...My Neighbor?

I grew up in an apartment, the eight-plex kind, and while it was a friendly community, I had visions of what it would feel like to live in a real house. Neighbors hanging out in front yards, kids running through the backyards, a kind of Smallville utopia.

I moved into my first "real" house in 1996, and when I moved out of it in 2002 I still only knew the people right next door. This wasn't what I had pictured. I was living in my second house for about five years, and knew the people next door and the people behind me. Still not what I was looking for, so I decided to do something about it. You can read about that here in a post I wrote in 2008.

Amy Lively has taken that idea of getting to know your neighbors to a whole new level and has made it easier for the rest of us in the process. Realizing that after a few years of living in her neighborhood that she only knew a handful of people, she decided to host an open house. I say that like she decided one day and did it, but for months she talked herself out of it. Recently I asked her to share some of her story with us for the 31 Day series, and here is what she said:

"Reach my world? Yeah, I can do that. I can go to Africa carrying a 50-pound bag of rice. I can talk about Jesus with people who don't even speak English. I can fill my Facebook feed with tales of world travels. That sounds heroic and brave and fun (except for the part about malaria and giant mosquitoes, that sounds hard).
But go across the street? Nah, I'd rather not. The woman across the street won't think I'm a hero, she'll think I'm a freak. She can slam the door in my face, make fun of me with our mutual friends, ignore me in line at the post office. That's a little awkward.
These were my fears when I thought about getting to know my neighbors. What does God think this is, the 1950's? We don't wear aprons and pearls anymore. We work, we volunteer, we hide out in our fenced-in back yards. I don't have anything in common with my neighbors.
It took me a long, long time to give in to this crazy idea God had planted in my head and invite my neighbors to my home. When I knocked on their doors, not one was slammed in my face. No one ridiculed me or was unkind to me. Not everyone accepted my invitation, but everyone seemed pleased to be invited.
And the ones who did come, the neighbors who did sit in my living room with a cup of coffee (sans apron, sans pearls)? As relationships formed gradually and naturally, we began to have spiritual conversations. Together we keep our neighborhood safe and we help each other out. They've become my friends.
I'd love to go to Africa someday and love my neighbors there. But today, I can reach my world from my own front porch."

As guests were leaving after that first open house, Amy thought to herself, I can help people learn to do this. Out of that desire grew a resource called The Neighborhood Café. She has put together resources, invitations, and even a magazine called Espresso to help you figure out what to talk about with a bunch of women you are just getting to know.

Check out her site at www.theneighborhoodcafe.net. She has videos, articles, and even free resources to help you get started. I know you will find the tools and encouragement you need to reach out to your world at The Neighborhood Café.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sunday Songs: My Own Little World

This week I've been trying to create an awareness that we are all part of a bigger picture, whether or not we realize it. Because music speaks to me, each Sunday I will post a song that has inspired or changed me in some way. This week I've chosen Matthew West's My Own Little World.

We are all guilty to some degree of getting wrapped up in our own little worlds. Opportunities to expand that world come up all the time, but the choice is ours.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Be Nice, Anyway

Today's post is brought to you by our sponsors, good intentions and snarky attitudes. Maybe it's just me, but when I feel loving towards the world and it snaps back, it takes the wind out of my sails. I get that defeated, why bother anyway feeling.

I had someone be intentionally creepy to me today and it took me by surprise.

The incident brought me face to face with an important principle in wanting to reach out to others: deserving it cannot be a factor. If we changed our behavior based on how others treat us, we become reactionary. Defensive.

I want to live my life on the offense. Intentional.

It's a quick thought at the end of a busy day, but it's been the theme over and over for me.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Love Does: A Book Review

I thought it would be fun to do a book review each Friday as part of the 31 Day series; that way, if it catches your eye, you can download it and have something new for the weekend. Good thinking, huh?

Yesterday we talked about finding a way to love those we serve, and how we can't serve someone well if we don't find something to love about them. For this week's book review, I chose the book Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff. I was immediately intrigued by the title, because who doesn't want a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world?

Bob Goff is a guy who has every reason in the world to toot his own horn; he has done incredible things in his life. But the cool thing is, his book comes across more like Forest Gump. Remember the Tom Hanks movie? Forest Gump had these amazing experiences because he found himself in the right place at the right time. Bob Goff puts himself in the right places at the right times and is a world changer because of it.

Before you tune out and think this is just a pretentious guy reeling off a laundry list of his accomplishments, think again. This is book is seriously laugh out loud funny. ROFL for those of you who do FB shorthand. And then, while you are wiping tears of laughter, he hits you with a heavy dose of truth and puts a spin on it that takes the whole thing to a different plane.

Each chapter starts with a blurb that reads: I used to think________________, but I know I know that_________________. Some of my favorites: I used to think you had to be special for God to use you, but now I know you simply need to say yes. Here's another: I used to think knowing God was like going on a business trip with Him, but now I know He's inviting me on an adventure instead.

In the chapter I read tonight, he talks about letting his kids choose an adventure when they turned ten. Nothing was off limits. After sharing some of their adventures, this is what he writes:
"Every day God invites us on the same kind of adventure. It's not a trip where He sends us with a rigid itinerary, He simply invites us. God asks what it is He's made us to love, what it is that captures our attention, what feeds that deep indescribable need of our souls to experience the richness of the world He made. And then, leaning over us, He whispers, "Let's go and do that together.""
What a beautiful word picture of God's invitation to live an adventure, whatever that looks like for you. In the coming weeks I'll share what that means to me, but let me close with some more wisdom from Bob. (I feel like he's the kind of guy who would say "Call me Bob.")

"What's your next step? I don't know for sure, because everyone's different, but I bet it involves choosing something that already lights you up...Pick something you aren't just able to do; pick something you feel like you were made to do and then do lots of that."

You get a bonus track today...Brandon Heath wrote a tribute song to Bob Goff, called, appropriately enough, Love Does. It rocks...I hope you enjoy it.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Common Courtesy Revisited

When you think about reaching out to the world around you, what words come to mind? Missions? Service projects? Volunteering?

I have many friends who have gotten on planes to serve and do mission work all over the world, and I admire them for it. But my heart tends to lean toward the people I see every day, to the lonely, to the forgotten, to the people who don't think they matter. Those are the people I want to wrap in a big hug and say, "You know, you are not alone."

While that would probably get me some weird looks and possibly a harassment lawsuit, I want to express that idea that the ground between my own two feet is where service starts. Not in a far off land, but right here, right now.

Another thought that comes to me as I'm writing is that we can't serve those whom we don't love, but more than that, love grows through serving someone. If you will pardon a cleaning analogy, I never notice the pattern in the linoleum tile or countertop until I start wiping it down with a sponge. Suddenly I am aware of the individual colors that make up the swirl. I see the patterns emerge. What was once just a blob barely registering as I went about my day becomes a work of art.

Serving people is the same. As you begin to really look at each person, individually, make eye contact, smile even, you will begin to see past the clothes, hair styles, and mannerisms that may accentuate your differences. You will begin to see them as a fellow human being, doing the best they can. Just like we all are.

Today, let me challenge you to do five things. Not even five hard things. I want us to nurture an awareness of the world around us, to slow down long enough to engage right where our feet are standing. Ready?
  1. Smile at people. Not the lizard smile...the one when your eyebrows raise and your lips stretch out in a straight line and you're not really smiling but giving a shrug with your face. Do it once and you'll know what I mean. Instead, look at someone and really smile. You don't have to show teeth, but at least grin at someone.
  2. Look at people when you talk to them.  If you conduct your business staring at your phone, at the order board behind someone's shoulder, or at the display totaling up your purchases, you are not actually connecting with the person serving you. Take time to look at them and see them. It validates that they are more than just a transaction to you.
  3. Compliment someone. Now that you've decided to smile and look at someone, compliment them. It might be the only one they hear all day.
  4. Say hello to strangers. Unless you live in a giant metropolis, you probably pass many of the same people every day and don't realize it yet. We are all in a hurry to get someplace else, but it only slows you down by a few seconds to say hello or good morning to the people you pass.
  5. Hold or get the door for someone. Letting someone go ahead of you says that they matter.
This post may seem like an etiquette lesson, but sometimes, practicing good manners is serving. In this day and age, social media and communication technology has lead to a shortage of manners. We text in shorthand, we don't converse but post statuses instead, and email instead of phone. Not that all that needs to go, but we need to balance it by re-learning how to connect in face-to-face interactions with real humans, not screens.

Who's up to the challenge?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

First Things First

This 31 Day series is all about reaching out to the world around you, but I think many of us need to be convinced that we can do something. And because I'm a word girl, I read that last sentence in my head a few ways. Play along...I think many of us need to be convinced that we can do something or that we can do something.

We have 29 more days to talk about the something. Today I want to talk about the we.

Did you ever just feel like a ping pong ball, getting whapped back and forth in life? Sometimes the goal is just to make it until bedtime...until Friday...until retirement...until...Wait!

Hold up here!

I am not just trying to make it to the grave in one piece. That is not the mark of a life well lived.

But sometimes life just seems to slip by while we are figuring out what we actually wanted to do with it. It all just feels so...random. I would bet, though, that on the days you have time to sit quietly and think about what could be or what might be, you hunger for something more than random. You want to know, to be assured of the fact, that your life mattered. That you counted.

You want to know that your showing up to this game called life made a difference.

Then the phone rings, the kids are hungry, the dog starts barking, and you lose the moment. You push away that yearning for something more and tell yourself everything's fine. That you were just being melodramatic.

I'm here to tell you otherwise.

You weren't just having a hormonal day or feeling a rumble of discontentment.

You were feeling the pull of something greater than yourself; you were wired for greatness. (Now, before you get carried away, I said greatness, not wealth or fame; in our culture they often get wrapped up into one package.) And I know you were wired for greatness because I know the One who wired you.

I approach reaching the world from a Christian perspective, which does not mean I am out to convert the world to believing what I believe. But my belief in Jesus Christ is what drives me, and it wasn't until I got a few things settled in my heart that I was able to move forward.

I've always felt a little anonymous, a little lost in a crowd of people much more capable, affluent, worthy than myself. Remember that question...what would you try if you knew you couldn't fail? I never had an answer. I never had a dream, until I figured out who I was in Christ, which took the better part of 38 years. I've not always been the quick study I am today.

Seriously though, let me share a few verses that helped me realize that I am on this earth to do more than take up space. These are God's words to us in the Bible.
  • "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God created beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)"
  • "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans not to harm you but to prosper you, plans to give you a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)"
  • "I have called you by name. You are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)"
It wasn't until I realized that God knew me and loved me that I was able to see past what my life was and begin to imagine what it could be. Somehow, knowing that I was part of a bigger picture made me want to be part of that bigger picture, if that makes any sense.

Maybe it's the same for you. Let me encourage you that you were made for a purpose higher than your own, and that you matter far more than you could possibly imagine.

Think about that while you listen to the words of this song by Casting Crowns, Who Am I.

Monday, September 30, 2013

31 Days: Reach Your World!

`Quick...make a list of everything in the world that needs fixing. Now write a solution next to each one of those things.

What? You gave up?

It's overwhelming, isn't it? We are bombarded, thanks to modern technology, with monumental issues that assault our world on a daily basis, minute by minute, even, if we are connected to any sort of social media.

So what's a regular person to do? We are all busy, whether we are raising kids, working in our careers, struggling to make ends meet...few of us have time to jump in and save the world. Instead, we close our eyes and do what we can to appease our guilt at not doing enough.

Sound familiar? Hang with me for the next 31 Days and let's see what we can do to make a difference. This isn't about trying to cram more in to our over-loaded lives, but figuring out how to make service and connection part of our regular, daily interactions using the resources, gifts, and talents we already have at our fingertips.

Over the next 31 Days, I'll share some of the books and songs that have inspired me, highlight some people I've come across that inspire me to live bigger, and spill some stories of times I have been stretched past my comfort zone.

Believe me, I don't have it all figured out. I struggle with feeling like I can't possibly make a difference. I struggle with the fact that I'm more willing to work hard to make a car payment than I am to provide clean drinking water in third world countries. I struggle with the fact that all of my problems are first world problems. But occasionally I remember that I have been born in this place, in this time, in these circumstances, for a higher purpose than my own. And it's to that end that I will journey.

A little about me...
  • I'm the Community Outreach Volunteer Coordinator for Women's Ministry at Fox River Christian Church in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
  • I published my first novel this summer called He Knows Your Name.
  • I am a follower of Jesus and try every day to bring glory to His name without annoying the people I do life with.
  • I've made almost every mistake there is to make and lived to tell.
  • My number one desire: to bring hope to those who need it.
Who's ready to take that next step, a step that will bring a world in need a little closer? Follow along for the next month and let's see what we can figure out together. Perfection and pretense not required. Just real people wanting to make a dent. On your marks, get set...let's do this thing!
"And the light shined in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:5)"

I will add the link of each new blog post when it goes live right here, so at the end of 31 days, there will be 30 additional posts on how to reach your world. Stay tuned...

October 2: First Things First
October 3: Common Courtesy Revisited
October 4: Love Does: A Book Review
October 5: Be Nice, Anyway
October 6: My Own Little World
October 7: Won't You Be...My Neighbor?
October 8: It's All About...Who??
October 9: What's Your Budget?
October 10: Stepping Out
October 11: A Book Review and a Giveaway
October 12: An Esther Sort of Day
October 13: Sunday Songs: Believer
October 14: Honey, What's for Dinner?
October 15: Praying for a Warrior
October 16: The Adventure
October 17 (posted on the 18th): A Little Catching Up
October 18: Book Review: A Cup of Cold Water in His Name
October 19: Into The City
October 20: Sunday Songs: God of This City and Break Every Chain
October 21: Panda Wisdom
October 22: Missing Out on Dessert
October 23: Finding the Fire
October 24: Going Global
October 25: Global Justice and Stewardship
October 26: A Little Effort Beats None At All
October 27: Sunday Songs: Hands and Feet by Audio Adrenaline
October 28: Torch Bearer or Light Shiner?
October 29: How Much Is Too Much?
October 30: Ministry Isn't Just for Church Folks
October 31: 31 Days Wrapping It Up