Sunday, April 27, 2014

The God Who Sees

One thing I love to do is sing.

I used to sing at church a lot growing up, and even helped lead our churches' children's and youth choirs at some point in life too. I was part of a choir in high school and in college. I sang all the time.

And then I started teaching and my voice became a big like sandpaper. I have that "sexy, smoky" voice all the time--which would be cool IF it didn't hinder my singing voice or occasionally make me sound like a young boy going through puberty. 

I've never been bold about my singing, but it was something I took pride in and it's been sad to feel like I've lost that. Recently I decided to join the Singers at my church as a way to give my voice some exercise and help it gain back some of its former glory. That has yet to happen... but oddly enough, my voice tends to sustain itself during the times I help lead in worship. That's been pretty awesome. 

But all that is besides the point. Or at least not why I'm writing this blog. 

Joining Singers has allowed me to be a part of a community who shares two passions of mine: singing and being on mission for God. And being a part of this group also has made me realize how timid I am about both of these passions. Which is kind of sad. Cause if they are passions, I should be pretty fiery about them, right?

Today we had the chance to join with C.H.A.R.M. (a ministry that seeks to minister to those in prison) on a visit to Plane State Prison. We were to lead in worship, the CHARM ladies would give a message and pray for people. I was sure what to expect, but everyone who had gone on a similar mission trip spoke of how powerful it was.

After we had gone through all the security and checked in, we were lead to their chapel. As we began to set up, I noticed one of the CHARM ladies walking with an inmate row by row. They were talking together, and as they got closer I realized that they were prophesying over each row--speaking and praying a vision of what the women who would sit in each chair would experience during our time together. It broke my heart (in a good way) and I found myself silently praying along with them. 

And then the guards started filing women in. One thing that struck me was how haggard many of these women looked--old and young. Life had definitely dealt them a tough blow and my heart broke for them. I wondered about each of their stories, what had brought them to this place, and how long they would have to be in this place. On the first row were women with their Bibles who were eager to be here, but there were others who openly admitted that they were here because the chapel was the one cool place to be. 

The second thing that struck me was that each woman was dressed in all while. Including the shoes. My first thought was this: God can make any of us pure and white as snow again. Who cared what their stories were? Who cared what led them to this place? They were here and He could cleanse them and do a mighty thing in and through them. 

When we started singing, I watched as some ladies sang along, raised their hands and worshiped along with us. Others sat silent, yet engaged. And others still, laughed the whole time and only gave us attention when our "star" singers stepped forward and rocked the place with their voices. I prayed for these women and kept the thought I had as I saw them in white in my head. 

And then it was time for the message... oh, boy. I can barely articulate how good it was. But the thing that struck me the most about what was sad is that we serve a God who Sees. He sees all that we do and He sees where we are. And he meets us there. 

He meets us there. 

He sees these women and was meeting them right there behind bars. 

He sees me in all my timidity and meets me there. 

I can't even begin to explain how powerful that was. Or how powerful it was to watch tears fall from these women's eyes (including the ones joking while we sang) and to watch them raise their hands and ask for our prayers. Or to join us in worship as we closed out. And ask us to sing more and more and more. 

The white prison garments brought more holy imagery as we closed out worship with "I Can Only Imagine" (at the women's request). As Allison led us in the song, almost every woman stood to her feet and raised her arms to heaven and sang along at the top of her lungs. 

It was like watching angels glorifying our Father in heaven.  

"I can only imagine what it'll be like..." 

Being there was another reminder of how God seeks to redeem us all. No matter who we are. No matter where we've been. He sees us. And if we let ourselves be met in the place that we are, he can redeem us. 

The Singers and C.H.A.R.M.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

#TeenBookCon

Today I went to my first book conference and... I'm hooked. I want to go to more! I definitely plan to return to this one each year (as scheduling allows) and maybe even bring some kids back, too!

It truly was a reader's heaven.

When I first heard of the conference and read through the line-up, I only recognized three names: Laurie Halse Anderson, Shannon Hale and Ann Brashares. And then there was 25 other authors I had never heard of. Or thought I had never heard of.

Many of them are pretty big names in YA lit right now, and I had seen their books on shelves or read one of their books before. It was fun to sit through panels and feel like you were just hanging out with these awesome authors--many of whom are equally awesome people.

Because it's the Teen Book Conference, there were a lot of teens present. And it was great to listen to the questions they would ask. While the most famous question of the day was, "How do you deal with writer's block?" (there were lots of great advice and occasionally pat and unhelpful responses to that one), a lot of kids ask really deep questions about the writer process, their characters, and just who the authors are as people.

Those were my favorite questions. While I definitely wanted to glean advice from these great minds, I was more excited to learn about their lives and feel like I knew them personally.

The three authors I definitely knew before the conference (see above) were just as awesome as I imagined they would be. They were witty, funny, passionate about lots of interesting things... as I tweeted at some point in the day:

The tweet all authors favorited! I felt so fake-famous!

My favorite moment was sitting in the panel Ann Brashares was in. My friend Lara wanted to go because of another author Matt de la Pena (her 8th graders just finished reading one his books). So we're both geeking out of being super close to them (we sat in the front row on the floor just so that we could be) and took some pictures. At one point, Ann looks over at me and I smile and wave and then she smiles and waves... and I honestly did as silent of a squeal as possible and began freaking out.

I'm sure she thought I was a cute young teen and not a grown 28-year-old, but who cares? At that time, it was the best moment of my life, haha.

Normal Picture

Our stalker selfie with Ann and Matt in the background
Lara and I with Matt de la Pena! The 8th graders at our school will be so jealous!

Picture with Ann Brashares. One of the best moments of my day! 

Anyway, being there really inspired me to think about my writing some more. And not living in fear. And just doing what I love. And yeah... all the things you should feel when you're around greatness. If you're interested in finding out more about the conference, check out the website or get on Twitter and search the #TeenBookCon. Lots of good stuff! Can't wait until next year!

Fingers crossed that I carry all the new tidbits of wisdom and inspiration with me and start creating!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Peeling off the Labels


When I look in the mirror, what do I see? To what do I attribute my identity?

To get ready for my upcoming mission trip to India, we've been asked to "tell our story," and I'm struggling a lot with that. While I know that being a Christian allows me to walk in grace, to leave behind shame and guilt and to see myself in all the beauty that God seems me (Easter was/is a good reminder of all that)... I don't always feel that way and struggle to really embrace His truth about who I am.

Instead, I think of all the labels I wear--daughter, sister, teacher, writer, friend, ex-girlfriend, Miss (versus Mrs.)--and I see a lot of failure.

Failure as a daughter when I think of my years of rebellion and disobedience, when I don't call enough, or feel known by my parents (or even really know them). Failure as a sister because of all the years we lost being the closest friends we could be, and how I often take my siblings for granted. Failure as a teacher when I snap at kids or feel fed up and tired and want to quit, when I know I'm far from a favorite or I'm not seen as fun. Failure as a writer... not using my journalism degree and the many stories that have been started but stopped before completion. Failure as a friend as I've grown distant from many and struggle to build new ones. Failure as a girlfriend because I have always ended up as the ex; and never by my choice. Failure as a Miss, because well... I'm pushing 30. Shouldn't I be a Mrs?

And perhaps the biggest label I wear and feel like I don't live up to is that of a Christian. I've been one pretty much all my life, and yet... I don't feel prayerful enough, I don't think I spend enough time in the Word, I'm not bold about sharing my faith...

LIES! I know these are all just lies from the Devil. But they are such easy lies to listen to. And right now I'm struggling to ignore them as I think back to the darkest parts of my story. Thinking of my failures, my missteps, isn't making me feel joy or thankfulness like I imagine it would (because shouldn't I feel that if I truly feel forgiven, if I truly believe that "as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed [my] transgressions" (Psalm 103:12)).

A few weeks ago, I was at a women's event at church and the speaker took some time to talk specifically to the single ladies. Which could have easily been horrible and so focused on our singleness. But since instead focused on our purpose. And how we shouldn't allow ourselves to be in bondage to labels that make us feel inadequate. Our lives should be defined by God and a God-defined life is a life of focus.

Focus purely on Him.

Hard to do if I'm focusing on all the lies Satan feeds as I look in the mirror each day.

So... first... I'm covering my mirror with verses and truths that come from God. That way each day I wake up, I can give myself new labels to hold on to and identify with.

Secondly... I plan to write. I'm not very good at confessing, but maybe that's what I need to do. Pour out all the guilt and shame I'm holding in so I can be free of it. Whether the confessions will ever go beyond me, my journal and God, we'll see. But it's a start. And eventually, I pray I'll be bold enough to share all parts of my story.

But most importantly, I need to remember that Satan often makes things harder as God tries to free us. And so while I will celebrate God in this "wilderness." When I feel despair, I will call on His name. I will give thanks and praise Him because there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 1:8).

And I am in Christ.




 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Friday. Saturday. Sunday.

Three days and all of history was change. Three days and all of life was changed.

On Friday, the crowd gathered to watch as He was walked to a hill, battered and bruised, and nailed to a cross. Saturday was silent; full of pain and confusion for those who loved Him, uncertainty and regret for those who had wanted to trust Him, empty triumph for those who hated Him. And then there was Sunday... oh, glorious Sunday. 

Sunday led to an empty tomb, a risen Savior, to the defeat of Death. 

How thankful we all should be for these three days. 

Without Friday, no blood would have been shed to cleanse our sins and be the true sacrifice. Without Saturday, no chance for us to wait--to lie between despair and joy. Which might seem cruel, but the wait makes Sunday that much more victorious. Because without Sunday, there would have been no resurrection. No victory over death. No chance for a new life, an eternal life. 

As Christians, we tend to make a big deal about Christmas and not so much about Easter. And while the miracle of Christmas is so precious and warrants the celebration, the miracle of Easter is where our salvation lies. Without the cross, without the empty tomb being a Christian means nothing. 

The choices I make in life are really shaped by the Cross, but more by the Resurrection.

The theme at church today was this: One thing Changes Everything. Whether it's the proposal that changes a woman's life, a basketball shot that leads to free college tuition for a year, a young boy born deaf and hearing his father's voice for the first time... Everything Changes. 

But the ultimately One Thing that we all need, the One Thing that truly changes everything is Jesus. 

Friday, Saturday, Sunday... it all matters because of Him. 

Happy Easter! He is Risen! 



Our church put up a cross tower this week!
We all got to sign our names, which are in the cross, as our own personal declarations to how much our lives have been changed but what Christ chose to do for us on The Cross.

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