Family First

I wrote this months ago and found it in my drafts tonight.  I’m leaving it as is.  Enjoy!


I know I have mentioned this before but…I always feel the need to write when it is the absolute last thing I should be doing.  And I am convinced that God prompts me to write because He knows what’s good for my soul.  While my to-do list might be neglected, my soul gets a bit of refreshing.

This post has been gnawing at me for at least a couple of months.  After the initial light bulb moment, I just didn’t make the time for it.  And then the longer that went by, I just didn’t feel that spark anymore.  But it just keeps coming back in one way or another.

Family.

The way family functions, the way family is viewed has changed decade after decade.  And family means something different in each culture, even for each person.  For some, the word “family” can evoke strong emotions – positive or negative.  For others, it just doesn’t mean a whole lot.  In America, “family” means a lot of different things.

For us, family is everything.  Well, almost everything.  Our everything is Jesus.  And then after that, is family.  But we can’t truly understand family without first understanding Jesus.  His sacrificial, relentless, overwhelming love sets the bar pretty high.

But why am I talking about family?  You see, my initial want to write this blog was because of a passionate response to a bit of criticism received.  There are a few people (maybe more) who don’t think we’re doing enough for the coffee shop (that story starts waaaay back here).  We aren’t sacrificing enough time or “giving it our all” because we aren’t working on the shop in every free moment we have.  And I get it.  I want to see this thing happen so very badly.  It needs to happen.  Our community needs it.  And it seems like every day that goes by is a day wasted because we aren’t open yet.

But early on, at the beginning of this journey, we decided (based on Biblical knowledge and wisdom handed down from respected elders) that family has to come first.  While we are 100% certain that God has called us to the mission of this community and this coffee shop – the first mission he gave either one of us was our family.  If we don’t handle that well, we will never be able to handle the rest that He has given us.

Generations past (and some current), particularly men, worked long hours, missed bedtimes and first steps, were up before sunrise and not home until after sunset.  And they accomplished much.  I wouldn’t have a lot of what I do today if it wasn’t for the hard work of many men and women before me.  But we cannot sacrifice our family, our missional unit, to accomplish things on societies timeline.  First of all, God’s timeline looks different.  And second, I truly believe, that if we are faithful in our marriage and with our children, that He will bless our endeavors elsewhere.

I don’t want to wake up 15 years from now, with a thriving coffee shop that has truly turned our community upside down and changed hundreds of lives, but with a broken marriage and children who don’t truly know who Jesus is because their parents never had the time to be Jesus in their lives.

So for today, and hopefully every day to come, our family comes first.

Now, I need to clarify a few things.

  1. That doesn’t mean that our family is all that matters.  I think the American dream has made that a reality today and turned the family into a bit of an idol.  Our family is our priority, yes, but in a Biblical sense, that just means that we are on mission together.  Yes, while our children are little, that means a bit more time at home than I would sometimes like.  But as they grow older, it means them tagging along and participating in the mission that the Lord has given our family.  When He called Justin and I on this voyage, He wasn’t leaving our kids out of it.  He called us as a multi-generational unit that also includes our parents and grandparents (if they so choose to participate).  Which leads me to my second point…
  2. “Our family” doesn’t just mean my husband and kids – it includes our extended family as well.  This is Biblical!  Multi-generational ministry is all throughout the Bible.  And its a beautiful thing.  Take a look at other cultures even…  It isn’t rare to find multiple generations of Hispanic families living under one roof.  Breaking the family unit down even further only increased the isolation that the enemy has been pushing on our society for ages.  Less people to do life with, less people to engage in healthy conflict with, leaves less opportunity to learn what being Jesus really means.  (Jefferson and Alyssa Bethke have some fantastic resources on multi-generational ministry.  Specifically, check out the podcasts here and here.)
  3. “Our family” doesn’t just mean blood relatives.  We also have what we call our “framily,” our friends who are also brothers and sisters in Christ, or our church family.  These are the people who we are breaking bread with on a regular basis.  And since relationships are what we believe to be the key to turning our community upside down, it is important that we maintain and cherish the ones that we currently have.  That means spending time with these people outside of meetings and church service!!

Time is precious.  We don’t want to waste it or get it wrong.  It would be so easy to say, “well, this is what God has called me to” and throw every precious second we have at this project.  And there are days and weeks that we do.  But if those days and weeks turned into months and then a year or two….or five or ten….  what happens to all of the other things mentioned above?

Regardless of whether or not you think we are doing enough, I want you to know that we are constantly evaluating how best to balance the priorities that God has placed in our lives.  With jobs and a home and other responsibilities it isn’t always easy.  And, I’ll be honest, we don’t always get it right.  And if I’m being 100% transparent, I’m personally struggling with depression, which makes ALL of this so much more difficult.  It is a struggle some days to just make sure my kids are fed.  But we keep striving forward, we keep going one step at a time.

But I didn’t share all of this to prove myself.  In fact, that’s a large part of the reason why I waited so long to write this – I wanted my motivation to be pure.  I shared this because I hope it stirs something within those that read it.  I hope it helps you to reconsider the priorities in your own life, the calling that Christ has placed upon your family, or how the American dream has negatively impacted our culture and our families.

It’s time for a change.  It’s time for families to really start acting like families.  Church, I’m talking to you!  Stop isolating yourself, stop pushing others away – embrace the mess that is community by learning what it truly means to be a family.

Family, Multi-generational, Mission, First, Community, Coffee for Community, Better Together


We love you guys.  And I am so thankful that you stuck around to read through another one of my ramblings.  For those of you who are curious, the shop is actually coming along quite well.  When I first wrote this, the guys were just starting to work on the flooring at the shop.  Now, we are just days away from our inspection!!  Which, hypothetically means, we could be open within a couple of weeks!

Please be praying that we stay in step with Him, that we don’t fall behind or jump ahead.  Be praying that He provides for all things in such a way that all the glory belongs to Him.  But more importantly, be praying that He is already preparing the hearts of those this place is meant to impact, that our community would be stirred to life, that change would be noticeable.  You guys are amazing and we wouldn’t have made it this far without you.  ❤

 

After the Storm

Late summer may be my favorite time of the year.  The evenings start to cool off again and time seems to slow down just a bit, as if our little corner of the world is taking a big breath before jumping into the next chapter.  And I love the slow and steady rumble of a late summer storm – the kind that doesn’t make too much noise, but slowly rolls on through, enjoying a leisurely pace before disappearing for most of the fall and winter seasons.

Last night we had a storm roll through.  And it hit HARD…. for about five whole minutes.  I heard the thunder in the distance and then moments later, the down pour began.  What I thought was going to last awhile, passed in less time than it takes me to make coffee in the morning (who am I kidding? I don’t make coffee – Justin does.  I just drink what’s left in the pot).

But while the rain didn’t last long, the thunder and lightning lingered.  After dropping the kids off to spend the night with Mimi, Papa, and Gigi, I had the privilege of driving home on country roads at dusk.  I rolled my windows down and took a big breath.  The air was fresh, it smelled delicious, and it was crisp in my lungs.  The storm, though short, was cleansing.  And now, everything around was waking back up.  Crickets were chirping, the fog was slowly settling in the lower parts of the valleys, and the lightning was still showing off behind a few clouds in the distance.

Like the fog settling in the valley, truth slowly settled into my heart.  Storms come and go in this life.  Some are short and last moments.  Others last hours, or even days.  But all storms can be cleansing.

If we let them. 

I know how destructive storms can be.  I lived in Oklahoma for 5 years and I have seen with my own eyes the damage that even a “minor” tornado can have.  I have watched, helpless, from 1200 miles away, as my previous community has had to completely start over because entire city blocks have been flattened by a tornado whose intensity was stronger than anything the F-Scale has seen.

Storms can be absolutely devastating.

Storm, Thunder, Lightning, Destruction, Pain, Sorrow, Grief, Loss, Death, Failure, Cancer, Money Trouble, Financial, Turmoil, Fear, Promise, Hope

And this life throws plenty of storms our way.  Whether it comes in the shape of illness, or financial turmoil, or relationship upheaval….whatever the case…storms will always come.

Sometimes, we can predict when they come, what seasons will be more difficult or tiresome than others.  Other times, they pop up unexpectedly, and hit us by surprise, leaving us ravaged and unsure of our next steps.

Some storms are just rain storms that come and go without much notice, some are small storms that leave a lot of damage, others, like tornadoes or hurricanes, can last a long time and leave more damage than we think is repairable.

But a storm is always temporary.  And, if we give it a chance, every storm in our lives can be cleansing.  There are certain storms in our lives that will leave behind more damage than others.  Some storms will vastly altar the course of our lives – leaving us little or no opportunity to return to the way things were.  But if we lean into the Creator, if we lean into the One who made us, who cares for us, and loves us more than we could ever fathom – then, like the crickets outside my window, we too will be able to sing once the storm has blown through…even if we can still hear the rumble in the distance.

Storms make our roots grow deeper, grow stronger.  Storms wash away the dirt that has built up and nourish the earth around us.

We can either give up or allow the cleansing (though painful) process to happen.  Every storm is an opportunity.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like we are in a storm.  Discouragement has crept up on us in full force.  It isn’t a short burst, but it isn’t much of a tornado either.  The damage isn’t vast or even noticeable most days.  I feel like we are in the midst of a monsoon.  While there isn’t thunder booming or lightning flashing, the rain just

keeps

on

coming.

It is unending and relentless and I don’t feel like we’ve seen the sunshine in days, or weeks…  But we keep trudging forward, shoulder to the wind, clothes soaking wet.

And I’m just so tired.

But the rain will stop.  The clouds will part, the light will shine bright again.  And, if I let it, this storm will be a moment of cleansing.

After the storm, I’ll be able to shake off the dirt, wring out my clothes, and start fresh.

I’ll be able to breathe in the fresh, clean, crisp air and allow my heart to sing as His peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding, gently settles into the crevices of my soul.

Because, at the end of the day, the sun is still shining.  Even when I can’t see it.  While the storm is loud and the sky is ominous, the sun is still there.  In the dead of night, the sun still shines!!  If I pay attention, sometimes I can even catch evidence of that…

Rainbow, Storm, Sunshine, Problems, Trials, God, Devotion, Cancer, Death, Financial Trouble, Unexpected, Loss, Grief, Abortion, Unplanned, Tension

He is still there.  He is still calling me forward, beckoning me to continue the mission He spoke years and years ago to the very first disciples.  He is using every drop of rain, every hail stone, every storm, for my good and for His glory.

Thanks You Lord, for the beauty within the storm.

I Want to Live Alive

At 11pm, after a full night of working a fundraising banquet, and still suffering from the pain and discomfort of shingles, writing might be the last thing I should be doing.  But on my hour drive home, a song came on that I played over and over.  And I don’t know if it’s the caffeine from the extra cup of coffee I had tonight or if it’s the Holy Spirit…but I can’t sleep and everything that’s going through my head because of said song needs to come out.

First of all, I think it’s important to note – I recognize that I tend to talk a lot about my frustrations with today’s Church.  I would apologize, but I’m not sorry.  I don’t think if Jesus were in the flesh and here today that He would be happy with our Sunday morning version of “church.”  I don’t think we are living out what He wanted His Bride to be.  And I’m not okay with the status quo.  But, in saying that, I also think that it’s important to note that I STILL. GO. TO. CHURCH.  And it isn’t, necessarily, my favorite version of church either (if we’re being honest).  I believe that God plants us in His body where He wants us to be.  And we are placed there to learn, to serve, and to help others along (ALL three!).  I hope that if you are reading some of these posts, that you continue to heed His call.  The Church is sacred (read the Bible).  He is STILL using His Bride to accomplish His purposes.  And He can still use YOU where you are, as long as you are willing to be obedient to His plans and purposes for you.  And I can promise you that His purpose is not for you to be outside the Church.

But that isn’t why I’m writing tonight.  Tonight, I’m writing because…

I want to live alive.  Yep, you read that right.  I want to live alive.

“Don’t want to just survive
Be safe but half alive
This little light of mine
This little spark divine
I’m gonna let it shine

I am letting go of every fear
I am letting go of every lie
I am taking hold of every dream
You placed inside

I wanna live alive, I wanna live alive
I wanna live alive, I wanna live alive
Don’t wanna live a lie, don’t wanna live a lie
I wanna live alive and you make me alive

There’s danger up ahead
But I’m not running scared
You are the light of mine
You are the spark divine
You’re gonna help me shine

There’s a courage that is forged in pain
There’s a purpose in the furnace flame
I will risk my heart a thousand times
To feel again, to feel again, yeah

I wanna live alive, I wanna live alive
I wanna live alive, I wanna live alive
Don’t wanna live a lie, don’t wanna live a lie
I wanna live alive and you make me alive

…And you make me alive”

– Rend Collective, Live Alive

Listen/watch here.

I think a huuuuuuuge problem in the Church today is that most “Christians” aren’t living alive!!  How many church buildings or services have you walked into and the key ingredient that is missing is life?!?  Worship comes and goes and people barely even smile, arms are crossed the whole service, you might hear a cricket or two during the sermon, and half the people are out the door two seconds after service is over (or before!).  It’s depressing!  The Church isn’t just dying because numbers are dwindling and doors are closing.  I think the Church is dying because the people inside are already dead…well, at least spiritually speaking.  But I’m sure, sometimes, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference!

Did the Church forget what Christ has done??  The blood that was shed?  The forgiveness we will never be able to deserve?  Do they not know that they are in HIS presence?? Where is the joy?  Where is the love??  Where is the LIFE??????

Dear Church,

It is time to stop living in fear!  It is time to stop playing it safe and only living half alive!  As a blood-bought, born-again believer….as a Christian (little-Christ) – YOU are empowered with the Holy Spirit.  The very same power that rose Christ from His grave, lives within you!  Why aren’t you acting like it?!?  Why aren’t you living like it?!?

Are you letting His light shine or have you buried it somewhere deep inside??  Are the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, kindness, etc.) abundant?  Or has the enemy’s root of bitterness crept into your soul?  WAKE UP!!

He is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we could ever ask or imagine…and yet we “live” like He’s still in the grave!  That’s not living.  It’s merely existing.  That’s not what Christ has called us to.  He has called us to abundant life.  He has placed God sized dreams within each one of us.  Are you living His dreams?

What is keeping you from living alive?  Is it pain?  Let it forge your courage to keep building the Kingdom!  Is it trial or tribulation?  Allow Him turn it to good, as He has promised!  Is it bitterness?  Embrace the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome and produce the fruit that only He is capable of.  Is it fear?  Let it go!  HE is the light, He will help you shine!  As I once heard it said, if you believe it, if you really have His joy within in you and are living the full life He has offered….don’t forget to remind your face

Survive, life, half alive, rend collective, journey, song, God, devotion, daily, church, dying, hope, abundant, more

I, for too long, have lived only half alive because of fear and the “need” to please so many other people besides Him.   But I am done.  I am done walking on egg shells.  I am done hiding my emotions and passion.  I am done allowing fear to hold me back from what needs doing, from what needs said.  I want to live alive!!  And He makes me alive.  Which means that every single day, I have to die to self.  I have to die to the selfish desires and wants that are within me, so that I can truly and fully live!  Because what He has to offer is SO MUCH MORE!  And, yes, sometimes I forget to tell my face.  Because life is hard and sometimes, I’m just not feeling it.  But that’s why they’re called the fruits of the Spirit and not the fruits of Bri – because it is HIS power within me that enables me to be joyful (kind, peaceful, loving, etc.) despite the feelings that exist within me (I’m not saying we have to fake it, even Jesus wept, but we need to live alive!).

So for today, and tomorrow, and the next day, as for me and my house:

“This little light of mine, this little spark divine, I’m gonna let it shine….” 

Church, are you with me???

 

There is Still a Remnant

This post is for the weary traveler who is burnt out and ready to give up.

This post is for the one who has walked away from the church because it doesn’t look anything like the Church we see in the Bible.

This post is for the discouraged who see churches torn apart by offense and petty differences.

This post is for the one who has given up hope in anyone ever actually getting it.

This post is for the person who desperately yearns to see the that the supernatural love for one another Jesus spoke about is actually possible.

This post is for you.  This post is for me.

Because a month from now, a week from now, or even tomorrow – I’ll see or hear (or do!) something that leaves me completely discouraged and wounded, wondering how we are ever supposed to move forward, or how God is ever going to be able to work through the mess His creation has…well…created…or struggle with why no one seems to get it.  And I’ll need to hear what God has  spoken into my heart today….again.

I always struggle with just how vulnerable and transparent I should be when I write.  I definitely feel a bit safer here, on the other side of the screen, unable to see your face as you read the words that have been tucked inside my head and heart, just dying to get out.  But, usually, they are words I don’t often speak out loud because I’m too afraid of the reactions, too afraid of what other people think, and too afraid I won’t be able to defend myself.  But, I’m trying to let go of my need to please everyone…so here it goes…

Before explaining how God has encouraged me, I think it’s necessary to share what I have been struggling with lately.

First, I feel stuck.  Stuck in the middle of two worlds.  You see, most of my liberal friends think I’m a crazy right-wing conservative and a significant portion of my conservative friends and family think I’m a liberal nut.  I don’t fit cleanly in either party.  And, for some, that means I must be less of a Christian and, if they don’t think that, they at least lose a bit (or a lot) of respect for me.

Sad

We have made Christianity something it was never meant to be – political.  There are countless arguments as to why you can’t be a _____(insert name of ANY political party here)_____ and still be a Christian.  I’ve heard it all.  Some things I agree with and others I don’t.  But that isn’t the point.  The point is love.

We should be able to look past our political differences, no matter how Biblically rooted our beliefs may be, and really truly love our brothers and sisters in Christ.  I shouldn’t feel “less” than within the church.  I should feel safe to discuss (rather than demand) my opinion without fear of losing respect.  God’s conviction, when needed, can work beautifully in an environment of love and respect.  Guilt, however, is a tool of the enemy and thrives in environments of pride, isolation, and lack of compassion.

God isn’t limited to one side or the other and desires that all may come to Him!  Are we coming alongside Him or pushing people away from Him?  At the end of the day, I would rather err on the side of love.  If I’m going to be wrong – may it be that I loved too much instead of too little.

Love, Politics, Church, Sacrifice, Jesus, Remnant

Aside from politics, there is SO much more that breaks my heart about the church.  And I’m struggling.  Offense has infested every corner of the Church – people don’t act the way others think they should, feelings are hurt…but instead of learning to love through the mess, as Jesus has exemplified and called us to, we opt to leave, to run away from the problem.  And it is destroying the church.

And what about the fact that there aren’t very many people actually being the Church?!?  Coming for an hour or two on Sunday isn’t exactly what Jesus called us to either.  We care more about hymnals and pew colors than actually making disciples.  If Jesus were to attend “church” today, I have a feeling he would be heartbroken or enraged…or probably both.

And it’s all so overwhelming.  When it piles up, the mountain of imperfections and struggle seems insurmountable.  How?!?  How do we become the Church that God wants us to be?  How do we actually impact the Kingdom with the structure that exists?  How can we instill passion in those that have, for so long, just gone through the  motions?  How do we learn to love in a supernatural, offenses-forgiven, politics-don’t-matter, kind of way?

And then I was reminded of Israel.  They didn’t get it.  Over and over again, they “got it” but, what seemed like moments later, they were worshipping idols and forgetting their covenant with God.  And time after time, exile after exile, God maintained a remnant.  A remnant, a small remaining quantity of His people.

But not for their sake…

For His.  After all, His name was on the line.  The world at that time KNEW that the Israelites were the people of God.  So, in order to bring glory to His name, God maintained a remnant and saved His people (Multiply, Francis Chan).

And then, thanks to choice words in a podcast, I was reminded that there is a remnant of His people today as well.  There is remnant of people who are able to love, live with, and respect both democrats and republicans (Gasp!).  There is a remnant of people who are erring on the side of love, who are loving without reservation or expectation, who are exemplifying irrational forgiveness and learning to overlook offense.  There is a remnant of people who are choosing to fight through the mess, love God’s people, and reach out to the broken and outcast in our society, no matter the cost.

And it isn’t that small of a remnant.  It’s widespread and growing and I’m so excited to see what God is doing in this generation. When I stop focusing on the negative, I see glimpses of this remnant in so many places and it is extraordinarily encouraging.

So my words of encouragement for you:

  • If you are frustrated with church, don’t give up.  Our battles is NOT against flesh and blood.
  • If you are battling offense, if someone has hurt you, be sure to handle it Biblically instead of just walking away (see Matthew 18).  Again, our battle is not against flesh and blood and when we don’t handle things according to God’s word, the enemy wins.  Period.
  • If you’re frustrated with leadership, offer grace.  Being in leadership in the American church today is one of the most difficult places to be.  Everyone expects perfection and everyone wants things their way.  Most pastors are following Jesus and leading you the best they know how.  Encourage them, they need it more than you know.  Offended??  See above.
  • If you are stuck in the middle of politics and feel alone – you’re not!  Don’t ever forget it.
  • If you don’t love your church, check your heart, “Our King, who allowed Himself to be tortured and killed for us, tells us to love one another in the same way.  Have you ever even considered loving a fellow Christian as sacrificially and selflessly as Christ loved you?  When was the last time you looked at a Christian brother or sister selflessly, wanting to bring him or her life no matter what the cost” (Francis Chan, Letters to the Church)?
  • If you are discouraged with no one getting it, soooo many people are.  Here’s a few of my go-to’s for genuine encouragement and inspiration:

The above list might not be your speed.  And, you know what, that’s perfectly okay.  Unity isn’t about us agreeing on everything (or even anything!).  I’m still going to love you at the end of the day even if you think Francis Chan is a heretic or that Rend Collective isn’t all that great.

Because the love of Christ supersedes all of that.

Keep looking for the remnant.  Let go of the negative.  Focus on the positive.  As I heard recently – it doesn’t matter if the cup is half full or half empty – there is still water in the cup!  There is still a remnant.  Go live like it.  Go love like it!

 

 

And Yet…

Lyrics break the silence as the day moves forward
“We will be the generation that learns how to love.”
And for a moment, I believe it
But I take a breath…                           and then I don’t

Because my thumb scrolls by thousands of words, hundreds of comments –
All fueled by hate, condemnation, and just
plain
old
mean

You see, it’s easy to love those we see as victims in the dark
But it’s hard, oh is it hard, to love those we don’t agree with, hard to love the person on the other side                                             of that opinion we are so sure is wrong.

And so we pick up sticks & stones and throw our words as hard as we can
Knowing that wounds from words
last longer than the broken bones of harmless stones

Yes, sticks and stones may break my bones
But words will…
words will break my spirit

Did we forget that there were generations before
that boldly marched for peace, not war
And yet…

And yet…

The war rages on

Instead of stooping down to help, we puff ourselves up with pride
Instead of entering into the mess, we pick sides
We set up camp, arm ourselves with justified hate, and just wait…

We wait like trolls beneath a bridge – all gruff and tough.
We’ve figured it out, we’ve got it right
And until you get it figured out….
You                                                                 
Shall                                               
Not                            
Pass!     

While we’re busy hurling stone-sized words across the great divide,
Arguing about who’s right and what’s best, who’s who and what’s next…

The people in the middle
of the war zone

are
losing
their
lives

Hate does not stop hate.  It just causes collateral damage.

Just STOP.

Stop hurling stones.
Stop flailing sticks.
Put your sword back in its sheath
And
Shut
Your
Mouth

Hate cannot stop hate

Only love can.

love, hate, sticks and stones, voyage, together, community, love first, war, peace

Grace, Mercy, & Sprinkles

Writing might be the last thing I should be doing right now (or maybe the first?).  My to-do list is growing by the minute.  And if I am writing, it should probably be an update on ministry stuff.  But it’s not.

Nope, I’m writing because God laid a word on my heart tonight and it keeps rolling around in my head.  It needs to come out.  So here it goes…

Grace and mercy.  Two small, simple words that are anything but easy.

Grace (n): free and unmerited favor

Mercy (n): compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm

Life with a toddler and a baby is…well…interesting.  After a relatively quiet afternoon full of time lost scheduling doctors appointments, I realized I was about 10 minutes late waking up our toddler.  Too much sleep after school and she struggles to go to bed.  So I wake her up, as usual, by picking her up with her stuffed animal and transferring her to the couch where I cover her with one of her favorite blankets and allow her to wake up slowly.  It usually works like a charm.  But not today.

Crying.  Just crying.  She’s hungry, her sock fell off, the blanket is folded funny…the list went on.  And no matter what, still crying.  I held her.  Still crying.  I was firm.  Still crying.

Baby wakes up.  Crying.  Not entirely unusual for him to wake this way, but his two top teeth are coming through and he immediately wanted his momma. So the crying was definitely worse than usual.

And in the middle of the chaos, Justin comes home.  Two kids crying.  Neither consolable.

As we prepared dinner, it didn’t get much better.  While trying to catch up on the day, we kept passing one child back and forth to keep him from crying and were constantly interrupted by the other with random bursts of tears.

Dinner came.  Hangry toddler was satisfied and much better.  No more crying.

But tears turned into misbehaviors.  Was it the crazy day at school (pajama party!!)?  Was it the exhaustion of mom & dad?  Was it that brother was getting more attention?  Or was it just typical toddler stuff?

It doesn’t matter.  Over and over again the wrong choice was made.  And then she asked for ice cream.

Snacks before bed time are not a normal thing (unless she’s at Mimi & Papa’s).  It is only on rare occasions that ice cream comes out before bed.

So, like any good parent…we bargained (ha!): “If you stop making bad choices, you can have ice cream.” She had 10 minutes.  Not completely unreasonable for a 4 year old.

She failed, miserably.  Just moments after being disciplined for shutting a door in her brother’s face, she asked for ice cream again.

“Have you been making good choices tonight?”

She carefully folded up her fingers, one at a time, “This many” as she tentatively held out 3.

“Have you made any bad choices tonight?”  She didn’t hesitate to unfold one more finger (ha!).

“When you make more bad choices than good choices what does that mean?”

“Good things can’t happen.”  (We’ve been talking a lot about actions and consequences lately.)

“That’s right,” Daddy said as he pulled her up into his lap.  He gently talked to her about what the consequences could have been for some of her choices, “But tonight, you can still have ice cream.  Not because you deserve it.  I’m showing you mercy.”

“And grace!,” I chimed in.

“Like Jesus…” she said as she toddled off to the kitchen with her Daddy (definite win).

A bit later she proudly carried a cup of ice cream out to me before she carried out her own.

As we sat together, Daddy walked out of the kitchen, sprinkles in hand, and added them to her ice cream (something unheard of in this house).  She was ecstatic!

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I laughed and said, “Wow – grace and sprinkles!”

And those words wouldn’t quit bouncing around in my head.

Isn’t God just like that?  He gives us grace, mercy, and sprinkles!  If I had to count on my fingers the good choices I’ve made versus the bad ones…well, I would run out of fingers pretty quickly either way – but I don’t think the scales would tip in my favor.  I don’t deserve anything.  Not ice cream.  And certainly not bonus sprinkles!

But God, in His beautiful glory, wants to give me the world.  He wants to give me what I don’t deserve…and so much more.  Why?  Because He loves me!  Love changes everything.  God has given me unmerited favor.  And He is constantly walking out from the kitchen, sprinkles in hand, to shower extra undeserved blessings upon me.

Simply because He loves me.

So why, then, do I struggle so much with grace and mercy?  Why, when He has given me so much that I don’t deserve, do I struggle to do the same for others?

Grace and mercy are hard for us silly humans because we don’t love first.  When opportunities to show grace arise, we usually do one of two things:

  1. We just don’t offer it.  We walk away.  They dug their ditch, they can lay in it.  Or…
  2. We begrudgingly offer grace, simply because we’re supposed to.

But when grace isn’t rooted in love, it will often lead to resentment, which isn’t really grace or mercy after all…

Like a good father, we have to start with love.  We have to choose to see someone the way that God sees them.  In the words of Urban Rescue, “Your love is my kaleidoscope.”  His love changes everything.  It changes the way we see things.  It changes me.  It changes you.  It changes them.

Love first. Grace and mercy are much easier after that.  Who knows?  Maybe you’ll start dishing out sprinkles too!

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Family? Start Acting Like It!

Community.  It is the word that has driven my passion the past few years.

Community.  Each of us craves a sense of belonging – to be known and loved for who we are.

Community.  It’s what we were created for.  Literally.

So why is true, authentic community so hard to find?  Because community is hard work.  It’s extremely messy.  And sometimes it is easier to just….not.

Church, we are called to BE community, to be the example the rest of the world lives by.  If we get it right, it will be beautifully attractive.  After all, most people, especially millennials, are seeking a sense of authentic community.  The fields are ripe for harvest (John 4:35)!  Now is the time to be the community that Christ has called us to! Now is the time to be the community that the world needs.

We have to start getting this right!

When difficulties arise, when the messiness that comes with community starts to show, people walk away.  It is happening everywhere!  It is easier to leave than to work through the mess.  But here is the truth: people are imperfect!  You are not perfect.  I am not perfect.  ______(insert the name of anyone)________ is not perfect!  And when imperfect people come together, there are bound to be issues.  Sooner or later someone will get hurt, or offended, or left out.  Maybe not intentionally….but, because we are all imperfect, it happens!

These are the moments that can define who we are as a church, as a family.  These are the moments that make the difference.  We can be like the rest of the world and give up on “community” at that point.  We can walk away without handling the problem or issue biblically.  Or we can push through, work through as God’s Word dictates, and come out as a stronger community on the other side.

This is a soap box I have been standing on for awhile.  Recently, I was able to read the book, Accidental Pharisee by Larry Osborne (HIGHLY recommend).  It challenged me and made me reevaluate a lot of the ways I behave.  There is a section on Biblical unity where he put into words and images much better than I have tried to do on my own:

“Our biblical unity is a lot like the unity we experience in a family.  When my kids were young and crammed into the back seat of our car, they didn’t always get along very well.  At times they wanted to kill each other.  At times I thought they might.  But it didn’t matter.  As I reminded them, they were stuck with each other.  They had to learn to get along.  They were united by birth, not by choice.  And nothing was going to change that.

In the same way, if I’m saved and you’re saved (even if I think you barely snuck in), we’re family.  It doesn’t matter if we don’t like each other, if we vehemently disagree…  We’re stuck with each other.  We have to learn to get along.  We’re united by Jesus, not by choice.  And nothing is going to change that.

Our biblical unity is rooted solely in our relationship with Jesus…  It exists even when we wish it didn’t…

Unfortunately, when family members refuse to get along, it’s not just the squabbling siblings who suffer.  The whole family suffers.  It brings shame to the family name.  It dishonors the parents.  Think back to the last time you saw somebody else’s kids having a meltdown in the grocery aisle.  My bet is that you didn’t think too highly of the children – or the parents.  Even if your own kids have had their fair share of meltdowns in aisle 6, you probably walked away thankful that you weren’t part of that family.

The same thing happens in the spiritual realm.  When the world sees us loving and bearing with one another, like the sons and daughters of God that we are, they’re drawn toward us.  We gain credibility to speak into their lives.  It reflects well on our heavenly Father.  But when they see fisticuffs and shouting matches breaking out…they can’t help but wonder, ‘What kind of heavenly Father would have a family like that?’

It’s no wonder they’re not too interested in what we have to say about life, Jesus, or the salvation that we claim we have and that they so desperately need.”

When we choose to walk away instead of dealing with the hurt, the offense, or the problem – what does that do to the witness of the Church?  When we choose to speak poorly of the church, of the people, we left behind – what does that do the credibility of the Gospel?

It isn’t about being right or wrong.  It isn’t about you.  It isn’t about me.  It’s about family.  It’s about the Good News!

If we are truly a church family, if we are the family of God – then we had better start acting like it.  People are watching.  And their very lives depend on it!!

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Though the Mountains May Crumble

Since things have pretty much been silent for a couple of months, I thought it was time for an update.  AND I needed to write…  🙂

(Want to get caught up?  For the whole story, start to finish, head here…or for the short version, start here.)

So, about that update…

First – we did not get the coffeehouse grant.  Which was a bit of a bummer.  However, I never thought it was about the money, I wondered through the whole process, if it was God’s way of forcing our hand and casting the vision to our church.  I believe, without a doubt, because of the series of events that occurred, that God brought us to that grant.  He had a purpose for it, and quite apparently, it wasn’t about the money.  But, now, instead of a small group of people on board – we have handfuls of people in different walks of life who are excited about it, and talking about it, and wanting to be involved.  And that is exciting!  While our $0 budget has expanded very minimally, the vision itself has increased 10 fold.  And, the most important part, we are moving forward!  We officially have a board started and have begun the process of narrowing down a location.  I would ask that you would continue praying for us as this journey has still just begun.  I can’t wait to see what God has in store once it all comes to fruition!!

Personally, this season has been difficult.  Not because of the grant.  But because of life.  Justin and I are struggling on multiple levels with adjusting to two kids.  Balancing their needs while prioritizing our marriage and jobs and still trying to get this coffee stuff up and running has proved to be beyond exhausting.  I have somewhat recently entered a season of postpartum depression and, consequently, Justin has been struggling as well.  The irony of so many other people being excited about the coffeehouse while we are simply in survival mode and unable to thrive, or be excited about pretty much anything, is extraordinarily disheartening.  But we are pushing forward and fighting back the dark.  And, lately, I have had more good days than bad, which is helping.   But, again, prayers are more than appreciated.  As we keep discussing, the enemy is real and active and he will do whatever he can to isolate us from others in our lives.  We are in the midst of a battle and many days, lately, it feels as if the enemy might win.  Thank goodness, the war is already won!

Recently, the Lord reminded me of His goodness with the words of Corrie Ten Boom, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off.  You sit still and trust the driver.”

We will remain strong.  We will live to fight another day.  And, with God’s strength, we will accomplish the mission He has set us on.  I am trusting the driver while we remain in this dark tunnel…but, truth be told, I think I’m beginning to see the light at the other end.

Isaiah 54 has also been a source of constant encouragement.  I’ve included that chapter (all 17 verses) in its entirety below, with my emphasis added…the words that keep me going:

1“Rejoice, childless one, who did not give birth;
burst into song and shout,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of the married woman,”
says the Lord.

“Enlarge the site of your tent,
and let your tent curtains be stretched out;
do not hold back;
lengthen your ropes,
and drive your pegs deep.

For you will spread out to the right and to the left,
and your descendants will dispossess nations
and inhabit the desolate cities.

“Do not be afraid, for you will not be put to shame;
don’t be humiliated, for you will not be disgraced.
For you will forget the shame of your youth,
and you will no longer remember
the disgrace of your widowhood.

Indeed, your husband is your Maker—
his name is the Lord of Armies
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of the whole earth.

For the Lord has called you,
like a wife deserted and wounded in spirit,
a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,”
says your God.

“I deserted you for a brief moment,
but I will take you back with abundant compassion.

In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but I will have compassion on you
with everlasting love,”
says the Lord your Redeemer.

“For this is like the days[a] of Noah to me:
when I swore that the water of Noah
would never flood the earth again,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you
or rebuke you.Isaiah 54:10, Struggle, Depression, Mountains, God, Jesus, Overcome, Love, Love of God, Promise, Shame, Disgrace, Fear, Disheartened

10 Though the mountains move
and the hills shake,
my love will not be removed from you
and my covenant of peace will not be shaken,”
says your compassionate Lord.

11 “Poor Jerusalem, storm-tossed, and not comforted,
I will set your stones in black mortar,[b]
and lay your foundations in lapis lazuli.

12 I will make your fortifications[c] out of rubies,
your gates out of sparkling stones,
and all your walls out of precious stones.

13 Then all your children will be taught by the Lord,
their prosperity will be great,

14 and you will be established
on a foundation of righteousness.
You will be far from oppression,
you will certainly not be afraid;
you will be far from terror,
it will certainly not come near you.

15 If anyone attacks you,
it is not from me;
whoever attacks you
will fall before you.

16 Look, I have created the craftsman
who blows on the charcoal fire
and produces a weapon suitable for its task;
and I have created the destroyer to cause havoc.

17 No weapon formed against you will succeed,
and you will refute any accusation[d]
raised against you in court.
This is the heritage of the Lord’s servants,
and their vindication is from me.”

This is the Lord’s declaration.

 

 

Encouragement Along the Way

Sometimes on a normal day, God takes your breath away.  Even if it’s just for a moment.

If you haven’t been following this journey, I highly encourage you to catch up here (or for the much shorter version you can start here)…or else most of this won’t make sense…

Yesterday was our monthly staff meeting at the faith-based non-profit I work for.  We always start with a small study.  Currently we are working through Experiencing God (so good!).  Even though it wasn’t mentioned, the subject of prayer naturally came up (I think a discussion of faith spurred this).  Basically, there was a full discussion about how long that ministry had been prayed for and how some of us were the answers to prayers prayed before we were even born.  It was a humbling discussion.  And one I won’t quickly forget.  But God wasn’t done speaking to my heart.

I occasionally take my little one to work and had decided to do so yesterday.  Throughout most of this discussion, I am on my feet, swaying back and forth, trying desperately to get my precious, yet cranky, little man to take a nap.  And I hear my name:

“Bri!  This reminds me…do you know the Smith’s*?”

“Nope.  Doesn’t ring a bell.  Why?”

“Well…” she says, noticeably excited, “they go to my church.  Saturday we had this thing and they came in.  They started talking about how they really felt led to pray for this couple in (insert name of my town here) because they were going to open a coffee shop, a third place for the community…”

I froze.  Literally.  No more swaying, no more bouncing.  Frozen.  And my breath was gone.  My thoughts were everywhere.  What did she just say?  Who are these people?  How do they even know about this?  We’re a really rural town, over 30 minutes away from this church…it wasn’t adding up.

But God…

She continued to tell me how she told them she already knew about it because she worked with me.

But I was still standing, frozen, tears welling in the corners of my eyes.  Everything around me had disappeared.  I was in His presence, in awe of how He was moving.

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Discussion continued elsewhere.  But when our meeting wrapped up, I was still reeling, trying to figure out how they even knew.  I figured it had to be Facebook since we have the CrowdRise campaign happening right now.  But there were some details that they had that aren’t on the campaign page.  It didn’t add up.  Maybe this blog?

I wasn’t sure.  But a brief discussion definitely took Facebook off the table since this couple doesn’t have any form of social media.

God’s encouragement comes in many forms.  These strangers are praying for us and encouraging their church to do so also.  And they happen to go to church with someone I work with.  There is no doubt in my mind that God wanted me to hear this little bit of encouragement.  Why?  Because He has called us to go forward.  He has called us to turn out community upside down!  And, most of all, because He loves me.  And He knows how fragile my human heart can be.  He knows that as this continues, I will need encouragement, I will need to remember moments like this.

We’re on the right path.  Of that I am sure.  We just have to keep pushing forward.

And a side note?  Because I need to remember everything some day…  We went to another Rend Collective concert last week.  And, not so coincidentally, met up with the couple that had encouraged us the last time.  Their words this time were humbling.  “Ahead of the curve,” “this is where Jesus is taking His church,” “placemaking is kind of His thing,” and so much more.  We’re looking forward to a visit from them in the next few months.  I am so thankful to have such a wide circle of help and encouragement on this voyage!

I am so excited to see where God takes us and our church in the coming months.  I can’t wait to see how He moves!

*Name changed to protect the innocent* (ha!)

For the next chapter of this voyage, head over here.

When He Doesn’t Make Sense

**Stick around to the end of this post – we’ve got some BIG news!**

After all the craziness of a couple weeks ago – I started second guessing it all.  It was too difficult.  No one would understand.  We don’t have the time.  The excuses were clouding my thoughts and overwhelming my spirit.

Sunday afternoons we spend at my parents house.  Lunch with the whole family and then some down time.  It gives a chance for my kids to spend time with their grandparents.  And it gets me away from my to-do list (most of the time).  That Sunday, with all of those doubts and excuses and downright pessimism invading my peace, we decided to turn on a movie.

Netflix has Evan Almighty currently, which I knew my daughter would enjoy.  And it was funny – just what I needed.  And apparently just what God thought I needed.  Ha!

The whole movie is about obedience.  About a quarter of the way through, I thought to myself – seriously?  Why did I pick this movie??  More conviction.

For those of you who haven’t seen it – Evan Almighty is basically a modern day version of Noah’s Ark.  Evan (played by Steve Carrell) is told, by God, to build an ark.  He tries to ignore the call from God, tries to run from it, even tries to hide it.  But it keeps coming back.  God is persistent.

When He calls you to build an ark in the suburbs of Washington D.C. it might not make sense, but He has a plan and a purpose.  When everyone around you thinks you are certifiably insane, He is still there prompting you forward.

When He calls you to open a coffee shop in the middle of a rural town with a declining economy and population – it doesn’t make sense and a number of people will think you are ridiculous.  But He has a plan and a purpose.  And He is still prompting us forward.

My job is to be obedient.  Not matter the cost.

*BIG NEWS HERE*

So here we are.  We started the process to apply for the grant at the end of last week (Not sure what I’m talking about?  Go here.) with the help of our church.  And we were accepted to enter the running!  One hurdle jumped!

But here’s the interesting part – we have to raise $3,000 before we are eligible to win the grant.  And that task is a bit daunting.  But God…

But God is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine.

Even when applying for a national grant doesn’t make sense….  He has told us to.  So here we are.

If you would like to join us on this journey, you can also make a donation at the link below.  We will be eternally grateful!  I cannot wait to see what He does with all of this!  There is no doubt God has some big plans.  And YOU can be a part of it!  Check out our fundraising campaign here:

Coffee for Community Campaign

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The voyage continues here.