Life is all about change. When you trust an unchanging God - you have the ability to embrace change and trust Him in the midst of it. Join me as the Lord leads me through a new phase of my journey.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thankful Thursday - Mentors

I have been so fortunate to have some amazing mentors in my life.  I'm thinking about two of them in particular today and I want to tell you why I am so thankful for both of these women.

LaVon Link:  LaVon is my mentor as well as one of my closest friends.  I first met LaVon when I was in my twenties.  She and her husband Larry came to First Baptist Church Arlington for Larry to be the Education Minister.  I became a part of LaVon's womens class on Sunday mornings.  These were some life altering years!   To sit under her teaching for several years was such an amazing experience.  LaVon made the scriptures come alive!  She was great with practical application.  She had this way of encouraging me and challenging me all at the same time.  After learning from LaVon, she began to ask me to teach for her when she was out of town and occasionaly when she was in town!  I was so nervous.  She is a tough act to follow!  She kept encouraging me to step out and use the gifts that God had given me.  I have enjoyed many years of teaching since that would not likely have happened without her prodding and encouraging.  For the last several years, we got to teach together in a womens class.  It was so much fun.  We have shared years of friendship and been by each others side in both times of great sorrow and great joy.  I can't imagine my life without my forever friend LaVon.

Ann Shaw:  When I moved to Ohio in 1993, I didn't expect to have another friend like that but the Lord knew that I needed someone who was further down the road in life to challenge, encourage and mentor me.  Ann Shaw stepped into those shoes.  I was in my mid 30's at this point - raising two elementary school age daughters and encountering many more questions than answers!  I met Ann at our church there in Columbus - Karl Road Baptist Church.  I got to know Ann because I had one of her boys in youth group.  From the start, Ann came along beside me and offered friendship and support.  We began meeting together once a week - sometimes for coffee and conversation and sometimes for Bible study.  Ann is wise, kind, caring and just intimidating enough to keep me on my toes!  When it came down to making a decision about applying for the Youth Ministry position at our church, it was Ann who encouraged me to apply for it.  Her belief in me gave me the courage to go for it!  She was faithful to meet with me, helping me every step along the way.  Those years of ministry were such a highlight for me.  The Lord grew me up in remarkable ways during those years and He used Ann in a mighty way to accomplish that.  I will be forever grateful for her presence in my life.

Both of these women continue to have a profound influence on my life even though I do not live in the same city as either one of them.  I can't really even express how deeply I love these women and how grateful I am to both of them for seeing something in me that I couldn't see and encouraging me to be the woman that the Lord wanted me to be.

I feel like it is crucial to always be looking for a mentor and to always be looking for someone younger that you can mentor.  We all have a lot to learn and a lot to share.  Who will you choose to walk along side?  Who will reach their potential because you invested in them?  Who do you need to initiate spending some time with - either to mentor or to be mentored by?  You will never regret stepping out and making an eternal investment in another.  

Men - this is for you too!  Young men desperately need older men who are walking with the Lord to come along side them.  There is such a gap in this area.  Will it cost you some time? YES!  Will it be somewhat inconvenient?  YES  Will it be worth it?  YES

Let's love one another is some practical ways that make a difference.  Mentor away . . .

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Musings - Opportunties

Opportunity -- a scary and exciting word all at the same time.  Every time we have moved, Alan's conversation at work starts with the words . . . We have this opportunity for you.  

Well, really, every day is about opportunities.  They begin with the moment we wake up and don't stop until the moment we fall asleep.  I have had a week full of opportunities. 
     *I had the opportunity to exercise.  Now that is an easy one to decide against a lot of the time - but this week I took every opportunity to exercise.  I even went to a new boxing class at the gym.  It was tough, but fun.  It was also an opportunity to meet a new instructor whom I ended up seeing again later in the week.  His name is Chris - so it was easy for him to remember my name as well.  Those little connections make a difference.
     *I had the opportunity to hang out with friends last Monday night and have some chili.  Honestly, I kind of like being home on a week night, so it is a challenge at times to gear back up and go somewhere.  Glad I went.  I got to have a conversation with a young woman who is taking a step toward purity and marrying her boyfriend whom she has been living with for quite some time.  They are so excited about honoring the Lord with this decision. Where is the opportunity?  I get to host the wedding!  They are getting married in our house this Friday night.  I get to plan the dinner and make things special for them.  What a privilege!
     *I had the opportunity to hang out with some women at breakfast on Friday.  It was such a sweet time of fellowship and an opportunity to deepen and develop those friendships.  I left that breakfast just praising God for these new friends that are such a blessing to my life.
     *I had the opportunity to spend Friday with Beth  - my new favorite day - Beth Brown Fairweather Friday.  I love Beth - I love hanging out with Beth and exploring the city with Beth.  We rode a water taxi - we talked - we laughed. We get to share our hearts.  
     *I had the opportunity to spend Saturday with Ben Crill and his wife Erin.  I had Ben in youth group in Ohio years ago.  I can not even tell you how encouraging and wonderful it was to see Ben as a grown man, following the Lord and loving his wife.  
     *I had the opportunity this week to make an apology to my neighbor for an oversight on my part.  I inadvertently left the garage door open and she had a bike lock, a tire and an old bike stolen.  It was my fault.  I felt terrible.  Admitting you messed up is no fun but she was so incredibly gracious to me.  That ended up being an opportunity for a deeper relationship with her.
     *I had the opportunity to have some more neighbors on my street over this Sunday.  I only had 3 come this time, but I am so excited that I got to meet them.  Taking that opportunity will lead to more opportunities - even with those who could not come.
     * I had an opportunity today to meet with the principal of an elementary school near me to see if I could help.  I had been looking at the schools close to me to see which ones had the lowest scores, least amount of parent involvement etc.  When I looked at this one, they had a wish list and on there was the need for someone to do some painting :-)  That is as close to a neon sign as I am going to get!  He is so excited that I want to do some painting at the school.  I'm excited because I love to do it and I will love seeing the kids get excited when flowers, bugs, sports balls and some of their favorite literary characters begin to appear on the walls.  

Opportunities - sometimes we miss them.  We are easily distracted and we are busy.  Scripture tells us "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." Ephesians 5:15-16

I have missed a lot of opportunities over the years.  I have also grabbed hold of a good many.  My goal from here on out would be to take every one of them!  It will take discernment, some inconvenience, some sacrifice and a lot of courage.  

What opportunities are you taking? What are you doing with them?  Make the most of them.  Be wise.  Be an opportunist - in the very best sense of the word :-)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thankful Thursday on Friday

What a great week!  Cool, crisp days with fall color in this wonderful city.  I am blessed.  Here are a few of the things that I am thankful for this week:

*Monday night chili supper at the Sweetman's house 
*Boxing class and spin class - so much fun
*breakfast with some sweet friends
*Beth Brown Fairweather Friday
*Greek Town
*Chicago water taxis
*The Elevated Train
*Destination Church
*God's daily care and encouragement

It has been a good week.  I am amazed at how at home I feel in a new place after two months.  The Lord has been so good to affirm each step.  He has provided friends, fellowship and lots of fun too.  I am just overwhelmed by His care for us.  I pray that God's goodness to you in evident in your life and that you will take a moment to thank Him specifically for all His goodness to you this week.  Blessings friends.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday Musings - Who Lives Next Door?

Who lives next door?  That has not ever been a very tough question for me!  For most of my adult life, I have lived in a neighborhood of single family homes - your traditional neighborhood.  Urban living is quite different!

My street could possibly have 350 to 400 people living on it.  Now - I like to know everyone on my street, so that is a rather daunting task!  Well, I decided to tackle it a small bite at a time.  I invited the four buildings to the north of me over for dessert and coffee yesterday.  Out of a possible 17 possible guests (including 4 kids), I had 8 come.  I thought that was a pretty good turn out!  Most of these people had never met each other - even some of the people in the same building!  It was fun to meet each one and to see them enjoy each other.

Among the group, there was a married couple who has lived on the street since 1993.  It is second marriage so there is some yours, mine and ours in the discussion!  Geoff's daughter grew up in Downer's Grove and as it turned out, graduated from high school with one of our other neighbors, Jennifer.  What are the chances of that!?! 

Next door to Geoff and Deb are two older men that have lived on the street since 1980, Jim and Kelly.  They have seen a lot of changes over the years.  They are both writers and political activists.  Kelly is blind.  He does remarkably well around here.  He takes the train to work every day.  I really admire that kind of spunk!  They had some great stories and are a piece of Chicago history themselves!

Two buildings up from them is the building where Jennifer and Rebecca live.  They just moved in October 1st.  They are not new to Chicago but they are new to our street.  They both went to the University of Illinois.  They are the age of my daughters, so I loved them immediately.  Rebecca teaches Phys Ed in the Chicago Public Schools.  Jennifer works for a firm that does market analysis for the restaurant industry.  They are beautiful girls who are full of energy.  I look forward to getting to know them better.

In that same building on the 3rd floor are Ryan and Alison.  They have been married for a year or so and are an adorable couple.  We discovered quickly that we both love the Lord!  It was so exciting!!  Alison is an accountant so she and Alan got to talk some number talk.  Ryan is a structural engineer.  We look forward to spending more time with them and together, reaching out to our neighborhood in the name of Christ. 

I invited the three buildings to the south of me over for next Sunday, so we will see who else we meet!  I'm so excited to see what the Lord is up to.

The Lord has placed you on the street where you live for a purpose.  It is no accident that you are in that house, in that apartment, in that place, by those people!  Be an initiator!  You don't have to do anything fancy.  You can't get much easier than coffee and dessert.  You may not become best friends with everyone you meet, but you also may come across a lifelong friend.  You may encourage someone else to get out and meet some people.  You might really get something started on your street!  

The Lord loves and cares for all those who are around you.  He could use your hands and feet to love on them.  He could use your words to encourage them.  You never know how much a small word of warmth and encouragement can make a difference to someone.  There are a lot of great people out there.  I don't know about you - but I want to meet as many of them as possible!

As far as I am concerned, the whole world is one big neighborhood.  Let's all be good neighbors.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I love fall!  It is especially fun when you live somewhere with distinct seasons and fall color. 

Ashley and Heather playing in the fall leaves in New York
The first "real" fall that I ever experienced was in New York.  We lived there in the early 90's.  I grew up in Houston, so I had really never seen fall color.  I would be driving around NY and have tears in my eyes because it was so beautiful!  I felt like I got to see a whole new aspect of my Heavenly Father.

I have also experienced a Colorado fall - spectacular!
My Dad and I in Colorado  

City fall has its own beauty.  Here is a glimpse of Chicago fall.

The sidewalks and the streets are covered in yellow and orange leaves.  I think this foreshadows our heavenly streets of gold!  There is beauty in every season of the year and in every season of life.  I am so thankful for the beauty around me and the life that the Lord has given me.  God's creation testifies of His goodness.  Praise the Lord!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tuesday's Thoughts

I've had the privilege of having friends here for the last few days, so my Monday Musings turned into Tuesday's Thoughts this week!  

The Chicago Marathon was this past Sunday.  Our friend Rocket Thompson came to Chicago to run the marathon along with 45,000 other people! That got me thinking about the very familiar image of life as a race that we want to finish well.

Training:  I have watched Alan train for a marathon.  It is tough!  It takes a lot of commitment, time and thought.  Everything revolves around that marathon when it is coming up.  Rest, nutrition, running and planning all play a part.  You can't just go out and run a marathon - but from what I saw, a few folks tried!  It was an unusually hot day here last Sunday and if you had not prepared and prepared well, you were really hurting early on in the race.  We watched the runners at mile 7.5.  Some of them were really struggling with 19.7 miles to go!  They had registered, they had their number and they got out there to run - but they were not prepared to actually run the race.  You can look the part and not finish the race!

Mental Toughness:  Runners deal with all kinds of obstacles on a regular basis - whether it is blisters, sore muscles or uncooperative weather.  In a race, they have to choose what to focus on.  If they start to focus on their blisters, the pain becomes unbearable.  The more they think about it, the worse it gets.  They may even choose to stop running the race if the pain overtakes them.  There are also runners that have blisters but they don't allow their mind to go there.  Excessive heat becomes a challenge to overcome.  They persevere and focus on finishing the race.  The goal ahead is enough to get them through the adversity.

Pacing:  The ability to pace yourself is huge in a marathon.  You have to know at what pace to run each mile in order to finish.  If you start out too fast (easy to do with the adrenaline rush!) you will wear out and really slow down as the race goes on.  You have to know your own body, stick to your plan and run your race.  You can't run the other guy's race - you must run yours.  They even provide pacers to help the runner's stay on their optimal pace so they can run their best race.

Support:  Just imagine how many spectators there were with 45,000 runners!  A LOT!  I would say that most runners had multiple people there to cheer them on.  When the going got tough, they could hit a mile marker and see the face of someone they loved.  You could see runner's perk up and pick up their pace when they heard a familiar voice cheering them on.  

The finish line:  We stayed at mile marker 23 for a good while.  At that point, the racers are told that they only have a 5K race left - just 3.2 miles.  For most, I think that was very encouraging.  There were a lot more miles behind them than there were before them.  The finish line was looming and the race was drawing to a close.  That extra push that was needed suddenly seemed possible.  The winner was a man from Kenya who ran the marathon in 2 hours and 5 minutes.  I imagine that last runner finished around 6 hours - maybe more.  And yet - they both finished.  What an accomplishment!

Training:  What is the race that the Lord has set before you?  How will you train to be ready for and to stay fit for that race?  What kind of commitment and discipline is required?  Do you merely look the part or are you the real deal?

Mental Toughness:  What obstacles are you currently facing?  How do you respond to adversity?  Do you focus on the difficulty or embrace the challenge? Do you see your God through the eyes of your circumstances or do you see your circumstances through the eyes of your God?  Do you keep your eye on the prize?

Pacing:  What steps are you taking to run your race?  Did you start out strong and then fade away - or are you committed to keep up the pace for the long haul?  Who is your pacer?

Support:  Who has the Lord placed around you to help you run your race?  Are you allowing the body of Christ to be your support?  Who are you cheering on?  

The Finish Line:  Hey - we are all heading toward the finish line.  I don't know about you - but I want to finish strong and finish well.  Unless I live to be 100 - I'm already past the half way mark.  In order to finish well, I have to keep my eye on the prize - stay spiritually fit by abiding in the Lord - staying immersed in His Word and praying without ceasing.  With all that in place, I need to be obedient to the race that God has called me to run.  It is tempting to take my eyes off of that and look at another guy's race.  Maybe I like theirs better - perhaps it looks easier or more exciting.  The truth is, if I am looking at someone else's race, I will probably trip over my own feet!  I must keep my focus on what the Lord has asked me to do.  Each race is important - each race is unique. 

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.  Hebrews 12:1

Here's my goal:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  
2nd Timothy 4:7

Oh, how I long to be able to say that with my last breath.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thankful Thursday

Wow - it has been a good week.  Absolutely beautiful here this week.  The trees are changing and the temps are perfect.  Loving it!

I went to a spin class today and the instructor (Rob) did a little Thankful Thursday spiel.  Of course, he didn't realize it was Thankful Thursday but he just started stating everything great about this week.  It was very cool because he had a bad week last week - and he was just trying to encourage everyone to hang in there if they were having a bad week because they pass - and good weeks come along.  I just loved that.  Thanks Rob for such a good reminder!  Rob loves his wife and his daughters - I am thankful for that!  

I got to spend the day with a good friend yesterday.  It was such a fun time.  Right now - Sheryl is my peer group so I am thankful for that!  

I have friends coming to visit this weekend - Larry and Rocket Thompsom (Rocket is running the Chicago Marathon) and my dear, dear friend Dana Bishop.  Wow - I am really looking forward to time with these dear friends.

I am missing my girls so much right now - I miss so many dear people, but missing my girls is just an ache.  God is good to remind me all week that He cares about my needs and will provide for me.  For now, phone conversations will have to do and I am thankful for daughters who like to talk to me! 

I am thankful that Amanda, sweet friend of mine and Heather's, is pregnant!  I got that news yesterday and I am just bursting with joy.

I am thankful that Jennifer Johnson Little delivered a healthy baby boy this week - Hudson.

I am thankful that E-girl got to go to Disneyworld to celebrate her 3rd birthday with her adopted family.

I am thankful that I'm not focused on provision - but on my Provider.   I am thankful that I'm not focused on creation but on my Creator.  I am thankful that I am not focused on religion - but on my relationship with Jesus.

What are you thankful for today?  Send up the praises.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday Musings - A New Path

I have several things tumbling around in my head, so I'm not sure what part is going to come out of this.  I have had so many interesting conversations over the last week - and there have been some common threads.  I think I'll explore one of those today.

There are a lot of people who have hurtful, even horrible, things in their past.  They often feel trapped by those things - doomed to repeat unhealthy patterns and make bad choices.  There are so many different stories here - I've heard hundreds over the last 30 or so years of ministry.  I have ached for the hurt, discouragement and wounds that others have experienced and the fear that they experience wanting so desperately to choose another path.  But . . . there is good news.  

"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  Behold, the old things passed away:  behold new things have come."  2nd Corinthians 5:17  This is true for every believer.  I heard a story last week from a sweet friend about her mother.  Her mother had a mean mother - her mother's mother had a mean mother.  Hateful words were exchanged and hateful words were passed down.  Encouragement and love were in scarce supply if not non-existent.  But guess what - my friend's Mom changed that.  She chose to love.  She had children and she loved each one of them.  She has encouraged them to pursue their dreams and be who God created them to be.  She broke the cycle of hateful words.

People who come from dysfunctional families have families that are loving, caring and whole.  People who grew up with abusive parents are loving their children.  People who are fearful become courageous.  People who are depressed find joy.  People who are self destructive find freedom and life.  

I have had this conversation numerous times and about numerous situations and it is TRUE.  As a believer in Jesus, you are not a prisoner of your past.  You are not a prisoner of a pattern in your family.  You are not a prisoner of your habits and mistakes.  You are not a prisoner or nature or nurture.  You are a new creation!

So, why do people repeat these patterns and stay in these places of destruction?  I'm not a professional, but from what I have seen, they do not believe the truth.  They do not embrace who they are in Christ and they do not live out that truth but they live out the lie that satan is so very happy for them to believe.  

I had a boy in youth group years ago.  He was just one of those kids that you wanted so desperately to see succeed.  His growing up was not ideal but his current situation was better.  His mom loved him - his stepfather was a decent man and he had siblings that he cared about.  He had been in trouble with drugs and alcohol but was ready to make a change.  And for awhile, he did.  He had some good months and I saw some changes take place in his life.  But it didn't last.  Before long, I was visiting him in his orange jumpsuit at a county jail.  No more juvenile detention center.  In some ways, he seemed to be broken and ready to truly turn around but he wasn't.  Not long after getting out of jail, I went to pick him up to go get some job applications and he was stoned.  I took him anyway.  It was a bizarre afternoon of nonsensical conversations and strange behavior.  I was heartbroken.  He eventually went to prison and is now out - but life is not any better.  

Why?  Why do some people choose to embrace what they have in Christ and others don't?  I sure wish I had the answer to that - but all I can say is some choose to believe who they are in Christ and live accordingly and some do not.  I don't mean to be simplistic.  I know that many situations are very complicated and there may be numerous steps to wholeness.  But I do believe that Jesus Christ wants everyone to be free from whatever imprisons them.  He longs for us all to be whole.  He came to set the captive free.  

Maybe it just seems too good to be true . . .

But it's not . . .

"You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free."  John 8:32

Believe it . . . Embrace it . . . Take the first step . . . Find someone to help you . . .  Value yourself as much as Jesus values you.  He died for you - live for Him.