Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Way of Love

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

1 Corinthians 13

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Perspective Check: Take 2

The “check your perspective” reminder never felt more relevant than today.

I lost something that I was hoping for today.

(Don’t worry mom. This wasn’t anything life altering in case you’re concerned.)

It was just a little boost of hope that I had hoped would turn into something great. It didn’t. No big deal. Back to my point.

So when 2pm rolled around and I heard the beeping on my phone, I looked down to read: CHECK YOUR PERSPECTIVE. (A reminder that goes off every day at the same time.)

I’ve been thinking about perspective a lot lately. Job perspective. Friend perspective. Family perspective. Life perspective. Often, I get stuck in the trees in the middle of the forest. I worry too much about one tree (me) without looking to see how that one tree plays a role in the vastness of trees that surround it (the rest of the world).

I stop looking at the big picture. I focus on the minutia.

As I glanced down to my phone, I took a deep breath and reset my perspective.

1. I am so healthy.

Two years ago this week, I was on a liquid diet, on pain medication, nausea medicine and antibiotics. I had just had my colon removed. I had just learned I had cancerous tumor growing inside me that was caught “incidentally.” I was scared, emotionally exhausted, and oh, I had unbelievably stomach pain and my doctors didn’t know why.

This year—this year I’m so healthy.

2. I have a career beyond my wildest expectations.

Just when I start to feel stuck, a new opportunity opens right before me. I look back over the past ten years since I decided to leave home and chase my dreams and I’m overwhelmed by the people I’ve met and the doors that have been opened—from being Bob Costa’s personal chauffer to standing on the sidelines of a Sunday Night Football games. I’ve interviewed heads of nations and mass murderers and held little babies just moments before they died. I worked in newsrooms in the nation’s top markets. I’ve had beers with network executives. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve chased my dreams.

I’ve been so blessed.

3. I am loved. My life is full of friends and family. FULL.

And I am so thankful.

As I adjusted my perspective and listed all the amazing things in my life, I was reminded of the most important thing.

My life—this life—is not about me. It’s not about my health, my career, or even how much I’m loved.

I’ve been reading through Paul’s New Testament writings—about how he abandoned everything good in his life for the sake of the cross. He didn’t walk through life expecting blessings and throwing in the towel when he didn’t get it. No way. He suffered humiliation and excruciating pain for his convictions. His life was about being content and serving the Lord in any and every situation. Whether well-fed or hungry, healthy or sick, rich or poor, his life was not his own. His life was the Lord’s.

Just like Paul, this life is not my own. It’s not about me and it’s not about losing the things I hoped for. This life is about following Jesus every moment of every day. Giving up my hopes, my ambitions, my plans, my dreams and trusting that the story of the forest is much cooler than the story of the tree. (Thank you Donald Miller.)

Perspective: Reset.

Happy Thanksgiving.

(Just as a PS to this piece: I do want to say that I truly believe that the death of the things hoped for always means resurrection of those hopes in an even greater way. And that is hope I will hold onto until the end.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Slave or Son?

I have a problem with giving things away. I used to think I was just a nice person. Turns out, I'm probably not. I'm probably just sick. It's more of a guilt complex. If I'm out to eat with someone, I always feel like I need to pay.

(For those of you whom I have bought a meal, I truly wanted to bless you. No really.)

I can have NOTHING in my bank account, and I still (trying to hide my cringed look for making a bad decision) pay for meals.

Paying for dinner isn't my only weakness. I have bought plane tickets, given away my favorite clothes, jewelry, even considered letting a friend keep my dog once because she truly, truly loved him. Am I crazy? Uh, yeah.

In the past few months, I've been presented with a multitude of new life options. Options concerning my job, my love life, and the city I want to live in. They've all been great offers. But every time one has been presented to me, I think of friends who would be much better suited for the position, the man, the apartment, the city.

Yes. I have been on dates, girls, and thought of some of you as I sat across from handsome men who were there to wine and dine me.

I sat in an interview with the hiring producer at Good Morning America and thought of my sweet friend Laura who deserved this shot way more than I did.

I interviewed with my dream network and considered all of my DC producer friends who could take the job much more easily than I could.

I'm telling you. I'm sick.

After a few months of introspection on my "illness," I came up with one conclusion. I don't value myself the way others value me or God values me. How many of us are in that place?

A few weeks ago, I was reading Romans 8. I've read it so many times before, but this time, I picked up something new.

"For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his Glory."

It reminds me of the Prodigal Son. The kid who took off with his inheritance, spent it and all wound up living with pigs. When he finally sucked it up and returned to his father, the first words out of his mouth were "make me one of your servants." The father looked at him like he was insane and said, "You crazy kid. You're my son. You will live like my son not as a slave."

So often, I walk around with my slave mentality. I don't think I deserve, and therefore I give up the awesome gifts God drops in my lap. I forget that I am an heir of God. What is His, the creator of the universe, is also mine!

I'm clinging to a new verse these days. Romans 8:32

"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for all of us--how will he not also graciously give us all things."

God allowed his own son to die on a cross to inform me that I was valuable. That my life means something. That I'm not a slave. That I'm his child. His heir. And all that is His is mine.

How will he not also graciously give us ALL things. All things. That job. That salary. That hot man sitting across the table at dinner. God cares about the intricacies of our lives. He cares about what we care about. He knows the desires of our hearts. He values us. Maybe it's time we start valuing ourselves and expect it ALL.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Surrounded by a Great Cloud of Witnesses

Yesterday, I had the honor of toasting two of my heroes in the faith as they venture into the next phase of life... retirement. Dr. Dick and Millie Bransford have spent the last 35 years on the mission field in Kenya. They have taught me so much about loving others and giving myself away. As I watched them yesterday holding hands, laughing and crying over memories and photos, I couldn't help but think how thousands upon thousands of children in Africa would have never received help or heard about the Lord had these two not said yes to each other and yes to God. What an awesome picture of God's providence for our lives.


2009 BethanyKids documentary trip (Kijabe, Kenya)

Dick and Millie-

It's hard to believe we're toasting to your retirement. To the "lazy" days ahead of you watching your grandchildren grow and play, reading books on your deck at sunset, and YES, Millie, even having your very own dishwasher who is not a Kenyan woman named Tata.

I was thinking about all that I could say to you. All that I could thank you for as you've invested in my life over the last almost 15 years now. I am overwhelmed with memories and life lessons you've taught me. So I thought I would narrow it down to three.

Life lesson number one: You've taught me humility.

Whether it was sweet Millie who was able to laugh at herself every day when she would go looking for her coffee cup only to find it in the microwave where she had left it three hours earlier. Or whether it was good ol' Dr. B who still greets me at the breakfast table every time I stay in their home with a "Glad you could finally join us…" as if I had slept the day away by waking up at 7:30am.

You two have been the definition of humble. Constantly giving. Never expecting applause. Always loving. Never asking for anything in return.

Life lesson number two: You've taught me how to love.

I spent a summer with Dick and Millie when I was sixteen. I don't think I was in Kijabe 24-hours when they started trying to set me up with Rift Valley Academy boys. And, I'm pretty sure they're still working on finding my future husband.

Although they could use a little help on their match-making skills, they do know how to love each other without ceasing. During some very formidable teenage years, I watched these two pray for each other, support each other, and raise their children with such incredible love and wisdom. I will never forget the first time I joined them for family devotions. What an example of what a God-fearing family could look like. Dick often tells me that choosing my spouse may be the most important decision of my life. He always says don't choose the wrong person. No pressure. I have learned the importance of being matched with someone who shares your passion, your vision, and God's calling on your life.

Life lesson number three: You've taught me how to give.

Some of my greatest memories in life come from following Dick around Kenya. Going to clinics and telling patients that he didn't think he could help them… but he would find someone who could. I used to love going with Millie to a Kenyan school called Matathia. She would teach those kids about Jesus. And sing such beautiful songs. And they loved her. I think about the babies that died and how it would have such an affect on Dick's spirit. It grieved him--like he lost his own child. And I think about the BethanyKids staff and how these folks have learned to give because they had such strong leaders who gave themselves away every day.

So Dick and Millie. Here's to "lazy days" that all of us know won't ever be lazy. Here's to all that God has for you in this brand new chapter. While there may be a little less swahili to speak, He's not done using you.

Thank you for the faithful example you've set for all of us. May we all strive to be more Jesus and in doing so be a little more like you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Check Your Eyes

I have terrible road rage. I will be the first to admit this. Granted, the fact that I hate the sound of swear words coming out of my mouth, my rage may be interpreted as talking nicely and waving politely to other drivers around me. But trust me. It's rage.

Last week I was pulling out of the office when I noticed a major back-up on the interstate. (I can easily see I-75 from my office window.) I considered taking side roads home, but feared I would be late for a dinner date. So I decided to brave the parking lot formally known as the freeway. I braced myself for the impatience and anger that would soon spew from my mouth. I told myself it would be okay—that I would be okay—and I turned on my right blinker and merged my way onto the ramp.

As soon as I looped around, I noticed traffic was flowing smoothly. In fact, I hadn't seen the interstate so clear at 5:30 in my year and a half in Knoxville. I quickly made it home and made my date on time.

My perspective from inside my office was completely different than my perspective up close. Or there may have been a momentary hold-up that shifted a few minutes later.

Either way, it turned out to be a great decision. My perspective changed and so did my attitude.

I made one of the best decisions of my life back in April. I got LASIK. In ten minutes, that doctor whisked me in the room, numbed my eyes, made me stare at a blinking red light, and before I could finish the story of how I ended up in Knoxville, he was done. And, I could see.

Those first few days of being able to see without glasses or contacts were mind-blowing to me. I stared at every blade of grass, every leaf, every bird. I had never been able to see so clearly and I was in awe.

My first trip back to the eye doctor went great. I told him I loved my eyes and I thanked him for this awesome gift. (To which he in turn thanked me for paying the mortgage on beach house for the next 5 years.)

He gave me a glowing report. My eye-sight went from 20/400 to 20/15.

As I was considering changing my career from TV producer to pilot, I noticed something changing in my eyes. The leaves started to blur. Not blur as in I couldn't see, but blur as in they just didn't look as sharply as they had in those first few hours.

I stopped paying attention to each blade of grass.

I woke up in the mornings and didn't feel that sense of awe I had at the beginning. Well—not without a cup of coffee first.

Something had changed. Did they screw up my eyes? Was I going blind again? Should I hire a lawyer to sue the pants off of them if I lost my eyesight for good?

Concerned that my eyes were deteriorating at a rapid rate, I scheduled an appointment. The assistant did all the usual eye tests and sent me into the exam room. When the doctor walked in, he turned off the light and stared into my eyes. The light went back on, he made a few notes and he turned to me and said, "Everything looks great."

Hold on. Things aren't as clear as they once were. I have to focus harder. I can't see the individual blades of grass. Everything is not great. Something is wrong.

He asked me to read the letters on the wall. The smallest line.

"Yep," he said. "Your vision isn't just perfect, it has improved. You're now 20/10."

The problem wasn't my eyes deteriorating. The problem was my perspective. At the beginning, everything was new and fresh. I couldn't help but notice each beautiful green leaf on each beautiful tree. I hadn't ever experienced such clarity. As time passed, I got used to the trees and the grass. My eyes hadn't lost the wonder. I had lost the wonder.

I think the same is true in life. We spend our days keeping up with schedules, work deadlines, meetings, family time, and dinner engagements. We pack our weekends with as much as we can. We get stressed. We get rushed. We have road rage. We lose perspective.

I have a new alarm that goes off at 2pm every day. It's my "check your perspective" alarm. It reminds me that this moment, in the spectrum of eternity, is fleeting. It reminds me to take off my earthly eyes and put on my kingdom eyes. It reminds me that the stress doesn't matter. The work will get done. The day will end in success.

Be present. Notice the brilliant colors. Be aware of the vivid picture the surrounds you. Despite the chaos of the day, your vision is perfect. Adjust your eyes. Change your perspective. Live.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Happy All The Time

***I wrote this essay three years ago in grad school. It's funny how quickly things change: blackberry's (who still uses those?), jobs, cities, perspective. Despite the datedness of this piece, it's still a good reminder that I'm not in control of life, but I am in control of how I respond to it.***

Happy All The Time

The best part of my day is coming home. I put my silver key in the lock of apartment number 200 of my Arlington, Virginia condo, and I can already feel the excitement building inside. In fact, if I’m on my blackberry I usually have to hang up for fear of mentally abandoning the person on the other end once I get inside. I step in the front door and I hear a soft shuffle on my bed. With my purse still in hand, I fling open the bedroom door and with wide eyes and a huge smile shout, “Tater!”

Without hesitation, the seven-point-two pounds of apricot fluff leaps from the bed and lunges toward my arms whether I’m ready to catch him or not. My one-and-a-half-year-old toy poodle kisses my freckled face with his thumb-sized slobbering tongue until I laugh so hard I’m forced to set him on the carpet—that just so happens to swallow him up in its matching color tone.

That is our routine—everyday.

Tater Tot is an anomaly. When I walk in, whether I've left five minutes ago or five hours ago, he lights up when he see me. He epitomizes happiness—quick to love, ready to play, and always with a smile plastered across his doggy face. When I think of happiness, I think of Tater.

Why can’t humans express the same unconditional happiness? It’s a question I’ve pondered for years.

Growing up, I lived for Sunday school. Each week I would wake up, pick out my cutest outfit, brush my teeth, comb my hair, grab my Precious Moments first communion bible, and yell at my two brothers to “GET IN THE CAR!” I refused to be late. When we arrived, I would race up the steps of the church atrium and quickly, yet very collectedly, rush my little legs into children’s church. I loved it. Maybe it was the cute boys or the latest gossip from the girls, but I think the real reason stemmed from the desire to be someone else, if only for that hour. In public, no one could see the stress of home.

In the first few minutes of church, we were allowed to greet a few hundred of our closest friends. Then, we would stand up from our chairs while Aunt Peggy, as we not so affectionately called the children’s church emcee, gave directions in a loud, whiney, over-modulated voice through the microphone. Aunt Peggy stood about five-foot-three, weighed in well over two-hundred pounds, and sported a short brown bob. The woman laughed like the Wicked Witch of the West and was rumored to have turned little kids into ice with just a glance. She had three kids of her own, and on Sundays during church she would send them around the building scouring for little children hiding out in the bathrooms or the church kitchen. And if one got caught, he or she might not have made it out alive. She was brutal.

One Sunday, I snuck out to a bathroom with some girlfriends and a big bag of candy fireballs. Scared one of Aunt Peggy’s bounty hunters would find us, we all sat in separate stalls, feet on the toilets, in complete silence sucking on our candy.

Known for her harsh tone, this lady made the room fall silent when she spoke, and when she sang, we had no choice but to join in.

“I’m inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time,” she would belt out on a tone-deaf note. “I’m inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time," she sang while clapping off beat. “Since Jesus Christ came in and cleansed my heart from sin, I’m inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time.”

I sang that song like I really believed it. I had asked Jesus into my heart at just about every summer camp for as long as I could remember. Since I truly loved Jesus and he really lived in my heart, I should be happy—all the time. Maybe that’s why I got so good at saying the sinner’s prayer. Deep down, I wasn’t happy. I was in hell.

Our household was a war zone, and the general of this army had to have been the devil himself. My parents split up before I ever knew they fought, and my father’s departure had a horrible effect on our family. Mom struggled to put food on the table each night, dad cancelled court-appointed weekends on a weekly basis, and my youngest brother, Chris, was in and out of the mental hospital for a bipolar imbalance. Hostility brewed in our home, and I could feel the heat of the battle each time I walked in the door.

It’s interesting to look back and think that that was my life. Here I am, now grown and living the life I had only imagined in daydreams as a child. I’ve traveled the world and have achieved every career goal years faster than I thought I would. I am comfortable and have all that I need. Like my dad’s favorite t-shirt reads, life is good.

Good doesn’t always equal happy though. Life is messy and painful and real. It’s not humanly possible to be happy all the time. Even the apostle Paul spent time in prison and was beaten for his faith, yet in his suffering he chose to rejoice; he didn’t say he chose happiness. Instead said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Last November I flew home to Omaha for a much-needed Thanksgiving vacation. I had taken on more responsibility at work, was enrolled in a full load of courses in my Masters program, and I was tired. After a restful three days with my family, I woke up early Sunday morning to fly back to Washington, D.C. Before I left, I made the decision to leave Tater with my mom until Christmas. It would be easier as I finished up the semester. Maybe because of lack of sleep or lack of coffee, I started to cry. Tears streamed down as I said goodbye to my best friend, my dog. I held him and wiped my eyes. I didn’t worry about leaving Tater as much as I worried about being alone in a lonely city.

I tried to sleep on the plane. As the minutes ticked away and the distance to Washington D.C. grew smaller, the stress piled right back on—my work, my school, my social life, my nonexistent dating life, worry for Tater, worry for my family, worry that life was passing me by. When the 727 landed at Reagan National, dark clouds loomed around me.

Waiting in the freezing downpour for the train, I prayed it would clear up before I walked home. It didn’t. Three minutes down the bike path, with drops of rain pelting my face and my apartment faintly in the distance, I had a terrible thought: my house keys were in Omaha. The cold rain somehow felt more painful mixed with the hot tears soaking my cheeks. How could the day get any worse? Emotionally drained, I didn’t have energy to think, but, like a default song playing through my mind on repeat, I felt my lips subconsciously mouthing familiar words, “I’m inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time.” I started to laugh. When I got to my door, I wiped the tears from my face, pulled out an old credit card and jimmied my way inside. The only real loss turned out to be a broken fingernail.

Life isn’t always happy. Life sometimes is really painful. And even worse, I have little control. Three years ago, my youngest brother, Chris, held up a convenience store with a BB gun. He terrified the clerk behind the counter and got busted when the police showed up in time to watch the entire heist unfold. I didn’t sleep for weeks after his arrest. I lay in bed night after night imagining how I could get him out of this unthinkable situation. I spent the next three years vowing to help him change his life when he made parole. I flew home for his release, poured hundreds of dollars into helping him set up a new life, and returned to D.C. praying it would be enough. That was eight months ago. Last week he landed himself right back where he started, this time, on a much more serious charge.

The older I get the more I realize my limitations. I can’t control work, and I can’t make good choices for my brother. Shoot, half the time I can’t even get Tater to listen. I’m learning that life isn’t measured by the game I talk, the level of success I achieve, or how fast I get there. It’s about rejoicing through the journey—despite the journey. Live in the moment, I now tell myself. It's the only one I know I have for sure. On this day, life is good. I have all that I need.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Learning To Believe, Again

I am 28 years old and I still believe in Santa Claus. (Don't laugh.)

When I was eleven and well past the age one should know the truth, I heard him. In my house. On Christmas Eve. No, this was not a burglar; this was the man in red himself. I can't be one hundred percent sure that Santa came in my bedroom and knocked on the wall to make sure I was asleep before distributing the goods under the tree, but I have a pretty good hunch.

When I was told as a little girl that Santa wasn't real, I secretly kept believing. And even in my twenties, I still try and stay awake on Christmas Eve just incase I hear the pitter-patter of hooves on my snow-covered roof in the night.

I'm a believer.

Convince me of an idea and it sticks for life.

In fact, my entire being is based on belief. Belief that a God I cannot see created me, loves me, died for me, and wants nothing more than to see me succeed. And I've never questioned it.

So when a season of depression hit like a brick to the head, I never thought belief would be the first thing to go.

Not necessarily belief in God, but belief that God was still good and still had good things for me. I was lost. Buried in my own shame and I didn't see a way out. I didn't think I deserved a way out. And to be honest, I didn't want one.

I think it's in those dark moments--those moments of doubt that you have to make a decision. Am I going to stay here or am I going to reach up and start climbing out of this mess?

I'm not a climber. Shoot. One time I convinced a group of friends in Africa to take me climbing to see beautiful waterfalls. I had heard about them and wanted to see them for myself. And, there may have been a cute guy involved. There were seven in total--waterfalls, not guys--and with each waterfall, the climb became increasingly more difficult. I think I made it to waterfall number two when I just couldn't take anymore. I was heaving and sweating and not dressed for the occasion. We got to a point in the climb where we had to scale a ridge and collectively lift the strongest person up on to a ledge above us who then would pull us up one by one.

As I crept to the back of the line in hopes of getting out of this adventure (although I knew there was no turning back), I looked over and there lying next to me was a dead goat. As my climbing companions reached out for my hand, I may have uttered the words: "Just leave me to die with the goat."

They didn't. And I survived.

Climbing out is hard and taking that first step of reaching up feels impossible. The darkness hurts and the isolation that comes with it seems easier than dealing with the issue. You feel alone. You feel like no one will understand. And you wonder why God's abandoned you.

The truth is--He hasn't. He's just been waiting for you.

I love Psalm 42. The Psalm that speaks to your downcast soul. The Psalm that call you out when you are living a life that God never intended. A life of self-misery. Psalm 42:4 says, "These things I remember as I pour out my soul…"

In my darkest night, I stayed up late crying out to God, "I need you. Where are you?" For hours I pleaded with Him to take away my pain. He didn't. Not right then, anyway. He did it slowly. And, He started with a cardinal.

Since I was a child, my mom has said cardinals are sign of hope and good things to come. When I saw that red bird, I smiled for the first time in a long time. Like a deep-down-to-the-depths-of-my-soul kind of smile. As I poured out my heart to God, He reminded me of His goodness--His goodness in a little red bird.

With each new day, He showed me promises of my past. Promises that He has kept and promises that He still has for me.

There's a popular worship song that uses similar phrasing of Psalm 42. It says,

"I lift my hands to believe again. You are my refuge you are my strength. As I pour out my heart, these things I remember. You are faithful God forever."

Sometimes all it takes is reaching up. Reaching up and trusting that He's still God. He's still in control. And He still has good things.

It's out of our desire and our need that belief begins to flourish again.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

He Is Your Life

I promise a new blog is coming soon. A blog full of hilarious moments and hard life lessons. But, until I can sit still long enough to write, let this soak into your heart.

Colossians 3 (msg)
He Is Your Life

So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.

Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you'll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.

And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It's because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn't long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it's all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.

Don't lie to one another. You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thursday Thoughts

An awesome reminder today that God is taking care of it. (Whatever your "it" may be!)

1 Peter 5:6-11
"Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.

Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You're not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It's the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won't last forever.

It won't be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good.

He gets the last word; yes, he does."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Learning to Let Go

I have a confession: I haven't cleaned my bathroom in three months.

Yes. Disgusting. I know.

It's not that I haven't tried. It's that I haven't cared enough to go further than wiping down the sink with the leftover toilet paper at the end of a roll.

Tonight. That all changed. Tonight I soft-scrubbed. I windexed. I toilet-bowled, mats-washed, shower-cloroxed cleaned.

What may seem like a minor victory to most sane, level-headed people, was almost like winning the war to me.

Three months ago, I lost big time and that loss resulted in neglect in every area of my life.

I gave away my heart to someone who just didn't want it. It's no fault to him. It's life. It's relationships. And it's messy.

I've never been to Vegas. In fact, I've never played a slot machine (though it's a secret dream of my heart). But I imagine if I was a betting woman, I wouldn't wager much. My whole life I've played it safe. When I was in third grade, I went hiking with my mom and two brothers. While hiking a trail, we spotted a fallen tree. My brothers ran up and down that tree limb. Not me. I was too scared. I knew I would fall. I knew I would get hurt. So my sweet mom offered to hold my hand and walk with me.

Pass one: I did it.

Pass two: this is getting fun.

Pass three: Oh crap!

I fell. Well, I straddled the limb and though it took me one week to convince my mom I needed to see a doctor, sure enough, my kneecap was broken.

I don't like to place bets and I don't like to risk. But, this time, something told me differently. Something told me to trust. To bear it all. To risk it all. I gave him the deepest parts of me. The parts no one had ever seen. I gave him my heart.

Last week, I was listening to a message online about necessary endings. The speaker said: What is in your life today that doesn't line up with your tomorrow?

It's been three months since it ended. Three months of sadness, disappointment, anger and loss. Three months of not making my bed. Not calling back friends. Not playing with my puppy. Three months of wondering what I did wrong, how I could fix it, and if he would come back.

It's been three months of not letting go.

I was reminded recently of Lot and how God told Lot to take his family from his homeland of Sodom and Gomorrah and flee. God was going to destroy the city and told them whatever they did, not to look back. As the family ran, Lot's wife made the mistake of not letting go. She looked back for one last glimpse, and God turned her into a pillar of salt. Lot's wife missed out on all that God had for her future because she looked back to her past.

When I finally decided to let go and not look back, a sense of freedom overwhelmed me. And as silly as it may sound, I was able to wake up and make my bed. I cleaned out my coffee pot (which I'm sure was alive) and I made coffee at home instead of the usual run to Starbucks.

And tonight. Tonight, I cleaned my bathroom.

It's the little victories every day that remind me I'm moving on.

It's choosing to rejoice despite the sadness.
It's choosing to be whole despite the hole in my heart.
It's choosing my future instead of my past.

It's choosing life.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Earrings

I danced with 200+ inmates last night--all convicted of genocide related crimes. Most of these people would be considered mass murderers. A sweet older lady named Margaret took my hand, and as they sang and danced and pledged allegiance to Rwanda, she taught me her moves. I hate to dance... so this was definitely a hilarious sight. None-the-less, I was honored to be in the middle. I was honored to hold her hand. I was honored to see a glimpse of her heart.

Today I read from the Sermon on the Mount. I was reading Matthew 5:43 about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you. Verse 45 says, "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

When I think about prison, about crime, about murder, my human heart doesn't want to offer grace. Why should one deserve to live when another dies? Why should one get wiped clean when then other will never have a second chance?

After we danced, I spoke with Margaret. She spoke no english. (Also a hilarious sight in which I yelled for a good couple of minutes for someone to come translate.) Margaret will be released in May for the first time in 16 years. I didn't ask her her crime. I could see in her eyes she was free. She will go home to her 6 children, and by now, many grandchildren. Her oldest is 30. As we stood there and spoke, she took off her necklace and gave it me. I thought about what I could give her. A pair of earrings was all I had on me. A present from an old roommate. I was reluctant. Probably my selfishness.

I walked back over to Margaret, and took out my first earring. She reached up and took out the earring she was wearing. As I placed my earring on her ear, it felt symbolic, almost ceremonial.

I wonder if that's how Jesus feels when He washes us clean. No condemnation. No, "I realize you screwed up, but here you go anyway." He's forgotten our sin all together.

Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute. He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on all of us. We've all sinned and fallen short of God's glory. He doesn't care. He reaches up, takes out the old dingy earring, and replaces it with the new.

Tomorrow we are off to chase a story several hours away from Kigali. We will probably be gone from the city for a few days. I'm still feeling pretty weak with a cold/flu. Spent most of the day in bed. Pray for quick healing, for the guys not to catch this, and for protection as we drive.

Also, we're down to the wire. We have a great idea, but we need to find this man who doesn't have a phone and is a wondering farmer. Will you pray that we find him.

One last thing. We are finalizing our interview with President Kagame tomorrow. Pray for Joseph. The Rwandan man who has helped us every step of the way. He is our connection to EVERYTHING. Pray for wisdom in his words as he sets up all of the details of this week.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Unimaginable Grace

Today I shook the hands of three mass murderers. I shook their hands. I made them smile. I asked them about their kids and wives. I then sat and listened as they told me how they smashed the heads of children with bricks. How they raped and murdered dozens of people-- too many to count. How they ordered a massacre of hundreds, if not thousands. And these men-these convicted killers have been set free or will be set free in the near future.

The theme running through my head as we interview person after person is unexplainable grace. I should be able to comprehend it. Isn't that exactly what the Lord has done in me. Unexplainable grace. I deserve the worst for my sin- I deserve death. Yet he bestows unconditional forgiveness. I shouldn't feel so angry that tens of thousands of killers walk these streets everyday. They have repented, asked for forgiveness from their survivors, and have been released. But I just don't get it.

Simon works as a groundskeeper at a memorial site about an hour outside Kigali. It is a church where 5,000 Tutsi took refuge when the Hutus descended on their community. They carried enough supplies for a few days and holed themselves up under the shadow of the cross. They thought they wouldn't be killed if they were in the church. They were wrong. Simon was just a boy of 12 at the time. He hid with is mother and sisters inside. the Hutu militia didn't care- in fact it was the catholic priests who were instigators of Tutsi locations. When the grenade went off and the enemy stormed, Simon ran for his life. He returned hours later to find everyone in the church slashed yo death. As he spoke, he pointed to the wall where he found his mother face down. He turned her over- her arms, legs, and torso had been severed. Yet- she was still alive. As he looked in her eyes she simply said, "where are the children?" Hutu militia began running up the street. He ran. That was the last time he saw his mother alive.

The church still holds the bones of the dead. They line the wall. Skulls, ribs, femurs. As Simon prepared to walk along that wall- studying the bones for our shot- he turned his gaze at me. With tears in his eyes, he shook his head no. We got him to make that walk... But only once. Even after 15 years, after facing his attackers and accepting their apologies, the pain is still fresh.

We started today 3 hours from Kigali. A memorial site where 50,000 people where brutally massacred. After seeing so many skulls and bones yesterday, I wasnt sure I wanted to see more. Before the genocide, this place was a school and the surroundings are beautiful. Magnificent hills rise all around. The view- spectacular. During the genocide, hutus used this school to lure Tutsi's. Tutsi's were lied to and promised safety and protection. When enough Tutsi's had settled on the school ground- they attacked. They killed all but maybe 55. They dumped bodies everywhere.

After the genocide, there were hundreds of bodies that had not yet decomposed. It order to preserve the memories of the genocide, they covered the bodies in limestone. The bodies are now decomposing at a much lower rate. As we waked into former classrooms, body on top of body slept silent. White corpses. Clothes on, hair in tact. One woman still wore Heers wedding band. You could see faces and breasts and childrens little toes. There were legs that had been hacked off so the injured couldn't run. There were mouths wide open and arms blocking faces, and a single finger pointing up as if the victims was trying to reason. The smell was almost unbearable. I started to tear up as we went from room to room. These were people. People wiped out for not looking a certain way.

While the guys went back to shoot- I had to wait outside. The heaviness in those classrooms was overwhelming.

We ended our day at a prison. Where strangely, I felt compassion for these men. Tens of thousands have already been released. Mny more will be released at the 20 year mark. We talked to one man who killed and raped so many and was sentenced to death. He apologized to the survivors of families and repented for his crime. His sentenced was reduced to 20 years..

I think what's hardest to grasp is that these people should be paying for their unspeakable crimes- yet they just apologize and they are set free. My American mind can't comprehend this unexplainable grace.

But I want to know- so we'll keep exploring. We have a story line- tomorrow the search for our character begins. Pray that the Lord leads us to the right man. Pray that we find an english speaking killer. Pray that our team keeps working and collaborating as one. Pray against dissension between us as we explore. We are allfeelig ver emotional about the things we have seen and heard.

Thanks for praying!

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Rwandan Adventure

When it comes to my job, I’m a planner. I’ve always been this way. I wish I weren’t. I like to know when things are happening and how they are going to happen. It is how I am wired and I really don’t like to navigate away from the safety of my checklist. About 2 months ago, I received a phone call that would totally shake-up my plan.

My dear friend, Emmanuel, called to ask if I would consider going to Rwanda to shoot some stories about the amazing things going on in the country. My initial answer was NO WAY. Not that I don’t want to go back to Africa, but I was in the middle of another documentary project and busy with my day job at DIY Network. How was I going to take off enough time to travel to a developing country long enough to tell a great story, and who would cover the cost because I surely didn’t have the resources. He then said, “What if I were to give you access to the President? In fact, what if I could get you access to any person you want to talk to from the President to prisoners to the man sleeping under the bridge?” I told him I would pray about it for a few days and get back to him.

A week went by and I started doing some research on Rwanda and President Kagame. He was recently re-elected for a second term in office with 93% of the vote. That seemed like a huge margin to win an election. It also seemed big changes were happening in Rwanda. An unprecedented number of women had been elected into parliament. The President had been aligning himself with CEOs of major US Corporations like Costco, Starbucks, and investment firms. Kigali was awarded the cleanest city in all of Africa. I had heard amazing stories of reconciliation and forgiveness going on between genocide killers and survivors. Something big seemed to be brewing in a nation the size of Maryland. And for a few days I got really nervous. Why was this opportunity being presented to ME? Maybe I should call Katie Couric. She would tell the story so much better.

I woke up one morning scared to death that I was supposed to say yes, but wasn’t sure I was making the best decision. That same morning, my friend Sarah posted this on her facebook wall:

Bible time with a 2 yr old-

"God made Queen Esther brave, didn't he??" "No!!"

"Yes he did! God makes us brave...... Who makes us brave??"

So glad the point is really hitting home... :)

It may not have hit home with Londyn, but it struck a chord with me. If the God of the Universe, who knows us inside and out, can make a scared, plain-Jane like Esther the queen of a nation, imagine what He can do through me if I just step out in faith.

So, I called Emmanuel back and said I would go.

Two months later, my crew is intact. And they are INCREDIBLE. I’m going with some college friends, Brandon Bray, TK McKamy, and a new friend who works with TK, Jesse Gregg. We are doing this mostly on our own dime which makes it all the more risky, but we have no doubt God is in this and will provide.

Here’s where my leap of faith has had to come in. We don’t have a story. Yes, that’s right. We have an interviewed lined up with the president of a nation, but we have no story to interview him about. That’s the terrifying part. And, we’re not going to know our story until we get there and start talking to people. The Lord’s been teaching me a lot about trust through this process. Around Thanksgiving, before this was even a reality, my sweet friend Linda reminded me to relax. The story God wants to tell is SO much greater than any story I could come up with. He’s already got it mapped out. I’ve been living by that. Up until last week, all I knew is that a man named Joseph would be waiting under an exit sign in the doorway of the airport with a sign with my name on it.

Every time I start to worry, God drops another breadcrumb on my path and says, “you’re going the right way… keep moving!”

Would you pray for our team these next few weeks.

-That God would ultimately lead us. That He would make it so clear to each of us the story He wants us to tell. And that we would be one in our decision-making, collaborating, shooting, and storytelling.

-Protection. Pray for safety for the four of us, and protection over our expensive gear!
-Provision for Bishop Joseph who is taking care of all of our accommodations while we are in the country.
-Provision for the documentary. That God would continue to bring investors along the way who will invest in our vision.
-For doors to continue to open and favor to be on our path.
-For opportunities to be the church to the people of Rwanda.

Thanks for standing with us. We covet your support, encouragement and prayers.Looking forward to sharing the adventure with you.