12.16.2009

Toys, toys, toys....

As I type that title, I'm reminded of The Grinch's famous lament. Unlike him, though, it is actually a cheerful chant for me.

I've been sorting through thousands of toys for the last two days at Toys for Tots. I have seen more toys this week than I even knew existed in the world. And, while putting a Tonka truck in this bin and a Barbie doll in that bin for 6 hours straight seems like it could become monotonous, it's actually been a blast. With every toy I tossed in a bin or stuffed into a bag or unloaded from a truck or loaded back onto a truck, I thought of how the little bit of work I was doing would help to bring a smile to a little boy or girl. Pretty neat!

Metro Kidz is helping out Toys for Tots for a few days, and they, in turn, are helping us out. We are collecting about 7,000 toys for the Christmas giveaway coming up this Saturday (!!!). We are halfway there and believing for the other half over the next two days. Yesterday, we brought in 1,000 toys. Today, another 65 garbage bags of toys with about 10 to 20 toys in each bag. And, a few of us went to Walmart yesterday and cleaned out the shelves, purchasing about $,1500 worth of toys for our kids.

I always knew Christmas was about something more than walking into the living room on Christmas morning to see a floor covered in presents. We all believe it's about blessing others, but this is the first Christmas I can say I've been focused on giving to those beyond my close circle of friends and family and doing what I can to bless those who don't have anyone else to reach out to them.

I know I wrote last time about how many of my kids (Metro Kidz) wouldn't have a Christmas without us making a difference, well, over the last weeks, I've found that to be more true than I realized. I have had moms sobbing, telling me that they would have no Christmas if it weren't for the presents we are bringing. And, more families than not at my projects don't have Christmas trees. The ones that do, most of us wouldn't even consider a real tree - tiny, 12-inch tall things sitting on a box on the floor.

Yesterday was supposed to be my last day at Metro Kidz. When I originally signed up, I committed to December 15. Knowing of the families that are hurting, not just for presents, and Christmas trees, and more "stuff", but for someone to show genuine care, concern, and love, there's no way that I could ever leave. When I'm called away, if that ever happens, I'll trust God to bring someone to fill my place. Until then, I consider myself blessed to be experiencing and enjoying a truly meaningful and eye-opening Christmas season.

Ps. I wasn't going to share this, but it's a good indication of my growth, for which I'm so thankful. I've been hit by three pretty big events over the last few days. Yesterday, my laptop died. Not accidentally powered off, but permanently died. (I'm sitting here typing this out on a friend's computer.) I may have lost four years of work and school history, not to mention the hundreds of dollars I will need to find to purchase a new one. Today, a rock flew up and hit my windshield on the way home from Toys for Tots. It created one of those marks with spider legs that make it look like it's going to spread across your windshield any second. Another $250, I figured, for my insurance deductible. Finally, in a few days, I'm going to be driving home for the holidays on completely bald tires. I've been slipping at stop signs and becoming generally more fearful of taking my car out on the road. Those will need to be replaced asap.

Those are the things that are going on. Maybe nothing too monumental to some, but in year's past, these things would have been catastrophic to me. The cost and stress of replacing everything would have been all I could think or talk about for days. I admit that just after my windshield cracked, I couldn't help the tears. But as I thought of how much money these things would require and how I would have nothing when it was all paid for and done, all I could think was "It's only money."

What a turn-around from years past, when money for me was one of the only things that mattered. I still fight my tendency to grab onto things. As I reflect on that, that tendency is not usually out of a "love of money," and I have used that fact to assuage my inner knowing that my focus was off. Instead, the tendency is often borne out of fear--a fear of not having enough. And, we know the Word says that the God is Love (I John 4:8) and that perfect love drives out fear (I John 14:8). We also know that what is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23), and fear is the opposite of faith, so we know that what is of fear is not of God.

In all this, I'm reminded of a song I haven't thought about for years, a song my mom used to sing so beautifully in church growing up. The song is old-school, and the recording is even more old-school, but the message is so encouraging that it makes me want to get up a shout! I looked for a different recording, but this was all that youtube had to offer of Janet Pascal's version. This is the one I grew up on since my parents ran Jimmy Swaggart's bus ministry (a factoid most of you probably don't know), so I grew up on this style. I don't think there's any type of music that has quite the same effect on me. Try to get past the style if it's not for you, and rejoice in the truth of the message:

12.01.2009

Christmas for the Kidz!

I wanted to share a smile with y'all today, so here is a beautiful one from Jahniya:


I've had the past six days off work, and it's a good thing, because over the next 18 days, things are going to be flying fast and furious. On December 19, Metro Kidz is hosting "A Christmas to Remember." In 2008, it was the largest single-day toy giveaway in the city and we hope the same can be said of this year.

For many of our Metro Kidz, December 25 is just like any other day. Often, their moms or dads don't have the funds to purchase Christmas gifts. Metro Kidz is committed to changing that and making this a “Christmas to Remember” for thousands of families.

Last year, we had over 1,500 children and their parents show up to enjoy gifts, food, and fireworks. This year, we will have a Christmas village, a "Jesus," and a "Santa." I know things are tight for everyone this year, but if you can, please consider providing a child with a toy or clothing, and most importantly, a holiday memory to last a lifetime.

Check out this video about last year's event (you can catch a glimpse of Tom at minute 3!)




If you would like to give a Christmas to remember to an inner-city child who might not have a Christmas otherwise, you can:
· Donate new toys or clothing for children 12 and under.
· Start a toy drive at your local church or business.
· Dedicate your time by volunteering at the event.
· Donate funds for the purchase of gifts.*

*For most of you, this would be the best way to help because of location. Our Metro Kidz website is currently being redesigned, so if you would like to send funds, please direct a check (specify "Christmas fund") to the Atlanta Dream Center Metro Kidz at P.O. Box 54537, Atlanta, G 30308.

Thank you guys so much for keeping up with my adventures here! Blessings to you all this Christmas season!

11.25.2009

A pig is a pig is a pig...

Or not.

Tonight, Tom is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for about 20 of his youth kids. Like any good girlfriend, I offered to pitch in. He would bring home the groceries, and I would help cook them.

Of the dishes we were doing, I was most excited about the ham. To me, nothing quite says "the holidays" like a ham with a brown sugar and pineapple glaze. So, I prepped the ham, made the glaze and started it to cooking.

After a couple of hours, I decided to take a peek. I wished I hadn't. It was the ugliest "ham" I'd ever seen in my life: brown with random globs of fat here and there. Then, I cut into it and pulled it back to reveal the texture of a steak so tough that even Chuck Norris might have been frightened.

Like one of those horror movies, I started to have flashbacks to how it all came together: it wasn't in the usual elastic netting, it was an odd brown-ish shade rather than a pretty pink, and it was pre-seasoned with paprika. Then, the label flashed before my eyes: boneless pork loin.

I burst out laughing, relieved that the disaster was in the type of meat not my cooking skills, then called up Tom and relayed the story.

His response: "Eh, well, it's all from the same animal."

If that logic were true, I'd be serving pigs feet for dinner. Hey, maybe next year I'll try that ... or maybe I'll just stick with turkey!

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

11.20.2009

I want to be broken...

"It is not your ability but your attitude that determines what I can do through you." - Love, God

That wasn't something I wanted to hear today (or any day really), but God smacked me upside the head with it.

The fact that He did it today was particularly fitting. I've been planning a lesson on "thankfulness" for the kids all day. My attitude when it comes to my work isn't usually one of overwhelming thankfulness. Instead, I have a sense of entitlement to be recognized for my abilities. Working in an inner-city kids ministry, it is not unusual for me to spend entire days coloring or coming up with simple rhymes for learning Bible lessons (i.e. "Keep it cool; don't act a fool" for remembering self-control). More often than not, when my fingers are coloring, my mind keeps insisting, "You are capable of so much more than this." Enter bad attitude.

Rather than being satisfied and thankful that God has placed me in the position where He wants me to be right now, which just happens to involve some pretty mundane tasks, I want more. More responsibilities, more recognition, more, more, more.

It may not be visible to anyone else, but it's an attitude of my heart that is rooted in pride. I have confidence in my abilities, education, and intellect. I feel like 99 percent of that falls by the wayside here. I get frustrated that the things I worked so hard on for years don't seem to matter here.

But maybe that's because they never really did.

It's not my abilities that position me or anyone else to be used by God. It's attitude. And, I write that with tears streaming down my face because it puts me in place of such brokeness. All the abilities that I have strived for years to develop come down to nothing if my attitude isn't one of humility, gratitude, and complete dependence upon Him.

The distinction between attitude and ability is so apparent throughout the Word. God used men whose abilities were less than stellar in the eyes of men but their attitudes were rooted in dependence on Him. Consider Gideon's words:

"How can I save Israel? My family is the poorest in the whole Tribe of Manasseh and I am the least thought of in the entire family." -- Judges 6:15

God used Gideon to save an entire nation, but if you remember the story, it wasn't because of the ability of Gideon's army. In fact, God told Gideon to reduce his army from 22,000 to 300. Can you imagine? Gideon had to know that it wasn't his ability or the ability of his men that would save Israel. God's power was able to operate through one man who had completely subjected himself to His ways.

Gideon was able to be used so mightily because he had no pretense that he was accomplishing things on his own. He was in full submission to God. He had been broken. Not broken in the sense of being crushed, but broken as a horse's will is bent into subjection by his master. A horse is considered broken and fit for profitable use when he learns to submit instantly and fully to the commands of his master. It's a painful process.

Such is the case with us. We can only be used by the Master after we have come to a place of utter obedience. Reaching that place requires us to become painfully aware of how inadequate we are on our own. That is what brokeness is.

My "theme" chapter for the year has been Psalm 51. There is a section that is particularly fitting:

"You would not be pleased with sacrifices, or I would bring them. If I brought you a burnt offering, you would not accept it. The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise."

God isn't impressed with our sacrifices, with the things we bring to the table, whether those be abilities, possessions, etc. All He desires from us is a broken spirit and a contrite heart.

Am I willing to give that to Him? To be like Gideon? To be like a broken horse?

The good news is, the story doesn't end with us being in a place of brokeness. God is looking for individuals who are willing to lay down their own agendas in order to plug into his infinite power. When the Master commands, this individual will obey. God is searching for people who have humbled themselves and are willing to be broken for Him. It is these that God will be able to depend on for His toughest battles and His most glorious victories.

I pray I will be willing to be one of those people.

11.10.2009

Without Further Ado...

As you have probably noticed, the blog has taken a bit of a backseat for the last month or so.

Turns out, my boyfriend entertains me a lot more than anything I have to say.* That's right! Boyfriend! I'm glad Atlanta doesn't have a high pig population because I'm pretty sure my squeal when I say that would attract every hog in a 20-mile radius.
*(Proof that anything is possible?)

Before you assume I'm getting carried away, let me assure you... I am. But he deserves it. His name is Thomas Matthew Palmer, and he's amazing. Also, awesome, fascinating, incredible, marvelous, wonderful. (Yes, I just pasted all the synonyms for "amazing" from Thesaurus.com. I can't help that they all fit.)

He's the youth pastor and media guy here at the Dream Center where I'm working. He has a heart for God that challenges me everyday, and when he's around, I rarely stop laughing. He's blue-eyed, freckled, and is honestly the coolest person I've ever met. Besides my parents.

And, it's funny, because before I came here, everyone kept telling me, “Maybe you're going to Atlanta to meet ‘him.’” Ya know, "THE ONE." I responded that I was going for ministry and nothing else. I was on a dating hiatus and still had some unhealthy attachments to let go of.

Sitting here, thinking aloud, the expression, “Let go, and let God,” just came to mind. When I finally stopped trying to force my hand in the direction I thought was best for me, God had His way, which turned out to be infinitely more awesome. Yesterday, one of the Master's Commission students said something that really resonated with me: "God isn't interested in living your life with you. He wants you to live His life with Him." How true it is. Following God isn't about having your own plans and thoughts and letting God in on those, it's about laying all of those things down and grasping onto His plans and thoughts in order to live the life He has called you to.

And, from experience, I know there is no better life than that. Since moving to Atlanta, He has opened up a whole new life before me, which I guess would be the time to announce that I am in Atlanta to stay!!!

Originally, I committed to a four-month term. I figured I would move on in January, but God had other ideas. The fact that I have found the man I am going to marry here helps, but even before ever talking with Tom, I knew my time in Atlanta was going to extend far beyond December.

Coming to that realization rocked me. It was another Pivotal Life Moment, for you long-time readers. I wrestled with it. I had a deep and overwhelming sense that this decision would change the rest of my life. And, yet, there was an inner-knowing that I couldn't make any other decision and remain in peace.

A few days ago, I was telling HotMES (who has a great piece up about the sniper death sentence) that my idea of “success” has been destroyed in the last couple of weeks. I used to want to live in the spotlight: have my name on a masthead under "Editor-in-Chief," live in a pretty high-rise apartment, and see and be seen at fancy cocktail parties. I wanted to be somebody, and that's what I thought signified you had arrived. Since, however, I've realized that scenario involves years of chasing the wind or climbing one rung after the next on a never-ending ladder.

And, then, you die.

Sounds depressing, but isn't that the American dream without the spitshine and white picket fence? Reaching a new level of success, in whatever form that is to you, in order to be satisfied for .3 seconds before feeling the pressure to begin striving again for that next level. In this process, true satisfaction always alludes, tempting its followers farther on until the end when their years have been spent and it is permanently beyond their reach.

Here at the Dream Center, people aren’t what the average person would consider “successful.” They don't have a list of degrees and credentials, they will probably never have many material possessions, and no one outside of a 20-mile radius may ever hear their names. But their lives are fulfilled, and they are content.

I know the feeling. I have so much less "going for me" here than I ever had anywhere else, but I've never been more satisfied in my life. The verse, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee," comes to mind. Don't get me wrong, people in ministry aren't immune to being sidetracked by, at the risk of sounding uber-religious, things of the world. But though the sidetracking does occur, it doesn't seem able to gain control like it did when I was living a "regular" life.

A successful career and material possessions may still appeal to some part of me, but I'm not willing to spend my life pursuing those things, as they are, in the end, just things. Satisfaction isn't something I'm always seeking here; it's something I rest in everyday.

What an incredible gift. I pray the same for you.

Life with God is good in the ghetto.

11.08.2009

UPDATE!!!!

Coming soon...

Hah, a little bit of a letdown, I know, but stay tuned. I'll have a lot coming your way tomorrow.

10.18.2009

Reality Check

"F*** you, ho."

Those are pretty harsh words.

Imagine someone screaming them in your face.

You'd probably be angry, offended, maybe even tempted to yell back.

Now, imagine that someone yelling is a seven-year-old.

Changes things, right? It did for me.

A little boy yelled those words at me today just before saying, "I'm gunna have my dad shoot you," and just after kicking me... a lot.

I don't want it to sound like I'm complaining. I'm not. Watching a child act that way leaves no room for anger--only a weird kind of shock that gives way to sadness. Seeing the intense hatred and hurt flow out of him was a reality check for me.

Working in ministry, it's easy to get caught up in the idea that these kids need more programs, more activities, more stuff. But the truth is that none of those things can change lives. Only through the power of Jesus and His love expressed through individuals can hardened hearts like those of the little boy be softened and changed. So, here's to my getting back to basics in my mind.

I don't know the little boy's name, but pray for him with me that his life would be marked by love not hate, joy rather than hurt, and triumph instead of tragedy.

10.02.2009

Question of the Night

Each evening, while lying in bed, I ask myself a question about life. It usually involves the state of the world and my purpose in it, why I haven't purchased toilet paper in over three weeks, or how guilty I should feel after eating seven chocolate chip cookies in a row.

Last night, I wondered all of those things and something a little ... different:

"On a scale of 1 to 10, what is the appropriate freak-out factor for someone who has just discovered rat poop in their bed?"

This, unfortunately, was not a hypothetical question ....

Life is good (and gross) in the ghetto.

9.26.2009

Promises

Much as I love it, this place isn't so great for my ego.

Five-year-old girl to me today: "You're the very best lady ever."

On a more serious note, her name was Olliyah and her words meant all the more to me after she told me her mom "lived in the sky, up in heaven."

The dad, Walter, takes care of Olliyah and her two older brothers. They're the kind of kids that may live in bad surroundings but the surroundings don't live in them. They were quality kids, and stole my heart from the minute I knocked on their door and met them this morning.

After inviting them to the Braves baseball game we're taking 75 kids to Tuesday (I think I'm more excited than the kids), I told them they should come ride the big white bus with me to church tomorrow morning. (I do bus ministry every Sunday a.m.)

Just before I left, the youngest boy, Jaharra, said, "Now, you'll really be there tomorrow, right? Because you shouldn't make promises you aren't going to keep." He didn't say it in a bratty, know-it-all way, but more like he was asking to guard himself against a promise that might not be kept. He's probably used to too many promises that don't ever come through.

It reminded me of the first little girl I ever met on bus route. (The same little girl who first started labeling me "barbie doll." It's stuck.) Within a moment of meeting her, she admired my necklace and asked if I could bring her a bracelet the next week.

The next week, she was the first one on the bus. She ran up to me and asked if I had her bracelet. I did. She looked up at me with the biggest smile I'd ever seen (I've since seen SO many of those precious smiles) and before throwing her arms around me said, "You remembered... You kept your promise!"

I will never make another promise to someone that I won't do everything in my power (and anyone else's power I can find) to keep.

Just as I expected, these kids are teaching me just as much and more than I could ever teach them.

9.23.2009

How Many Stars?

Me, telling the story of Abraham and Sarah to the kids today: "And God told Abram that someday his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Have you ever looked up in the sky and tried to count the stars?!"

Little Boy: "Uh-huh. There are one-hundred-and-thirteen."

Me: "You think so? I think there are even more than that!"

Little Girl with an air of superiority: "Yeah. There's one-hundred-and-twenty."

Life is good in the ghetto.

9.13.2009

How Much Do You Care?

Welcome, Creative Minority readers!

"People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." - John Maxwell

This is one of my mom's favorite quotes. She reminds me of it often, and today I found it to be true.

A man approached me while I was working at my new favorite haunt--a coffee shop filled with the liberal, hipster types. I never turn down a connection, so it wasn't long before we were discussing the plight of Atlanta's underprivileged. Naturally, the conversation took a political turn towards the different approaches of conservatives and liberals to help said group.

More than once, he referenced his belief that conservatives sit back in an arm-folded stance when it comes to reaching out to the underprivileged of society. He got that conservatives don't want government to intervene in aiding these groups, as a general rule, through welfare, health care, etc. My response: We believe it should be individuals and organizations that head up such efforts. His response: "But how many of them are actually doing that?"

It's a valid question.

How many conservatives believe that the federal government should have a limited role in caring for the "needs" of those who are not providing for themselves? Most of us, right? But like he said, are we willing to take an active role in helping these folks see how they can do it for themselves?

I hope so. As a conservative, I think it's a shame that it's the liberal-types who seem to have cornered the market on showing "compassion" towards the underprivileged. I hope that my generation of conservatives can alter that perspective. I think we can--one life at a time.

After sharing my story, he began telling me about a group he founded that could potentially help fund Metro Kidz. Whoa. Wait. A primarily-liberal group offering to fund a ministry-based outreach program? That's change I can believe in! And, it came about not because of my telling him how much I know--touting conservative policies, rhetoric, and such--but because he saw how much I cared.

I wonder how much more effectively we could all work together, if our starting point was showing others how much we cared rather than trying to prove how much we know?

Keep dreamin' those big dreams.

8.29.2009

"You Got a Boyfriend?"

I think it's about time I share an important announcement with you all: I have a new boyfriend.

He's smart, funny, and generally adorable. He's also 7.

It all started last Sunday when he asked me, "You got a boyfriend?"

Me: "I don't have a boyfriend. Boys have cooties."

Him: "Naw, you'se gotta have a boyfriend. He in jail, huh?"

Me: "No, really, I don't."

Him: "Well, can I be him?"

Me: "You got it."

Only thing is, I can't remember his name, which may set the relationship off to a rocky start. Fortunately, all hope is not lost: another boy predicted I would be married by next week. Stay tuned for further updates.

8.28.2009

Update... Fo' Realz!

Really, I'm not sure where to begin, which is odd. For a girl who grew up in white-washed suburbia, moving into what can be unequivocally classified as "the hood" should provide me with plenty of dramatic antidotes about being shocked as I picked up my first crack baggie, heard my first gun shot not meant for an inanimate object, saw my first crack whore (not the dolled-up kind you see in the movies), and lived in my first (former) crack house.

But, you know what, I'm not shocked. It feels like home. A dingy home with rats, a toilet that leaks about two gallons every couple hours, barred windows, and a general feeling of third-world squalor but home nonetheless.

I have many stories to tell, all of which I'm sure I'll share over time. But, for now, I'm offering you a few of the things I've learned about living in the ghetto:

1) Germaphobes need not apply. When I first arrived, everyone informed me a man had been shot and killed a few feet from my doorstep just a few days earlier. Then, they asked if I was scared. Nope. I wasn't scared of the violence in the ghetto, I was scared of something much worse: the dirt. I spent the first five hours after my arrival scrubbing down the kitchen. I lined the shelves with new shelf paper, cleaned the toaster cord, you name it, I did it. Then, I stood back and reviewed my work and realized it all looked ... exactly the same. For the first and only time, tears welled up in my eyes. I would have sunk to the floor in despair ... except for the fact that I refuse to touch the floor with anything but the bottom of my shoes.

Two weeks later, I'm still not accustomed to the living conditions, and, in a way, I hope I never will be, but you know what? I'm almost thankful for it. Almost. I interact with homeless folks everyday who don't have a house that can collect dirt, they don't have a toilet that leaks, and they don't have food in their kitchen cupboards that rats can nibble. Everything may not be perfect here, but everything is a blessing.

2) Your heart must be soft but unbreakable. There is an interesting paradox concerning what the condition of a person's heart must be here. You must be tender-hearted but not faint of heart. I see things everyday that touch my heart deeply, but I don't ever let them break my heart. The people here need love, not pity.

Take Mario, for instance. I begin everyday with a drive to "The Grey House," where I work. It's just a couple of blocks from where I live, and it's the gathering spot for all the folks in the neighborhood. When I arrive, Mario is always sitting on the front porch. He's a man who contracted AIDS as a young boy. From years of crack use, he has only a single tooth left, right in the front, which he shows with a big smile. He talks quickly and unintellegibly most of the time. But you know what I can always understand? "I'm feeling good." He begins every conversation with every person he meets by saying "I'm feeling good." His body is thin; he's wasting away with AIDS; he has no family that cares for him, but he always comes to church and he always "feels good." That touches my heart so deeply, but I can't let it break it. It's not easy.

3) If you ever have a chance to room with a black girl from London, do it. They make the coolest roommates ever.

3) You have to be flexible. I'm heading up what we'll call "business development" of MetroKidz, and there is A LOT to be done. So, I began my day yesterday with a plan. It was all mapped out. But, then, there was a knock at the door. It was Jay, a gentle-natured sixteen-year-old who needed a ride to school. He had missed the bus; it was pouring rain. He had a test that day, and his school was miles away. For a split second, I was annoyed. I had a list. I had things to do. Important things. Then, I realized, "What can be more important than serving others?" Off to school we went.

4) Doing God's work, doesn't double as spending time with God. At the Dream Center, we spend the bulk of our lives ministering to others. All day long, we work with the underprivileged, we provide them with food and clothes, we talk to them, we love on them. We do our best to provide them with anything they need, and we "do it as unto God not unto men." At Metro Kidz specifically, we plan Bible lessons in the morning and go over them with the kids during our Sidewalk Sunday school in the afternoon. But, I've learned quickly that all of this does not substitute as "God time."

Each one of us should be pouring out God's Word and love on those around us, no matter if we live in the ghetto of Atlanta or a Penthouse apartment in NYC. But you can't give away what you don't have. And, here, you can't front. Situations that require love, understanding, and patience are ever-present. If you aren't walking intimately with the only One who can fill you with those things, it will be obvious.

5) You have to keep a sense of humor. Taking yourself too seriously in the ghetto could get, well, seriously depressing.

6) Nothing is as fulfilling in life as a hug from a child. Every Sunday, I ride the bus with Pastor Paul to the housing projects. We pick up the kids and bring them to church. We have rules to keep the kids in order, but last Sunday, there was one boy, Reginald, who just wasn't having it. When I tried to settle him down, he folded his arms and scowled, refusing to make eye contact.

When we got into service, the unruliness continued. He knocked over chairs, kicked the walls, messed with the other kids, and caused a general ruckus. Every time I got close enough to tell him to settle down, he would scowl and run. Finally, I cornered him and sat him down next to me. He was too big to sit on my lap, so I physically held him down to keep him from bolting. I didn't reprimand him harshly. I corrected him gently, then rubbed his shoulders, told him I loved him, and asked him if everything was okay.

All he did was scowl. Still, no eye contact. Eventually, he wriggled loose.

Towards the end of the song service, I was standing up with my eyes closed, praying. All of a sudden, I felt small arms wrap around my waist. I thought maybe it was one of the little girls, who have all labeled me "barbie doll" despite my brunette hair. It wasn't. It was Reginald. That may very well have been the best hug I've ever gotten.

It's moments like that, that make every minute here worth it and keep me smiling ... despite the dirt.

Keep dreamin' those big dreams.

8.18.2009

"What up" from Atlanta!

Things have been flying fast and furious here, so haven't had time to update. Todays' my first "official" day with MetroKidz, and they've put me to work writing the newsletter! I'm excited to combine my two loves for the first time - writing and inner city kids! I'll update more soon with pictures and stories of the kids, the city, and our house mascot, "Little Man," a 12-inch-long rat.

Keep the inner city kids of Atlanta in your prayers and our team, too, as we reach out to them with the love of Jesus!

Keep dreamin' those big dreams.

8.08.2009

Dream the Impossible Dream

En route to Atlanta. (Finally!)

I don't have a lot of time to post, so I wanted to share my theme song of the last few months. At one point in my life, quitting my job to work with urban kids* would have seemed like nothing short of an impossible dream. Hah - actually, at an earlier point, it would have seemed more like a nightmare, but that's the kind of crazy awesome ride God will take you on when you give Him the keys to your life!

Listen to the lyrics and keep dreamin' those big dreams.

Take it away, Elvis:


*Story at the link at top right.

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest

8.02.2009

Entitled to Succeed? Two letters: BS.

And, I don't mean Bachelor of Science.

Trina Thompson must think we need further proof of our culture's gimme-gimme attitude. She's offered to be exhibit "A." The 27-year-old graduate of a school in the Bronx is suing her college for not doing enough to aid her post-graduation job search.

That's right. She is demanding a $70,000 tuition refund claiming her school's career center hasn't offered her "adequate job leads" since she received her degree in April. "They have not tried hard enough to help me," she moaned in her lawsuit, filed with the Bronx Supreme Court.

Newsflash, Ms. Thompson, it's not anyone else's responsibility to ensure your success, especially your college, post-graduation. It's your school's job to offer you a competitive education, feed you crappy cafeteria food, and keep you perpetually sleep-deprived for four years. At least those were the rules when I was an undergrad.

Maybe the rules have changed since then? Or, maybe I don't get the girl's beef because my school didn't even have a "career" center. Or, maybe I don't get it because my class schedule didn't include Bogus Lawsuits 101 or the Metaphysics of Whiners.

Hey, at least, those are two areas she seems to have excelled in.

7.30.2009

Kid on Conservatism and Me on Cool

I once read that it's always the truly cool people that tend to be fashionably late. The writer apparently has never met me. I'm never on time. (Ba-dum-cha!) But I make up for it by being self-effacing once I get there.

That's why it's appropriate that I'm five months behind on the Internet meme of a 13-year-old homeschooler explaining his views on conservatism. (Side note: I was also fashionably late on the definition of "Internet meme.") Being a homeschooler for ten years, I felt obligated to share, plus, coincidentally, the kid gave his speech at CPAC in February, where I happened to be. Why didn't I see it? I was--you guessed it--fashionably late that day. (For those who aren't up on their political conference lingo, your coolness factor just went up two points and CPAC stands for Conservative Political Action Conference.)**

Now, speaking of coolness factors, plain and simple, this kid hasn't got 'em. He's sharp–I can tell by his pointed head–but even at such a young age he typifies why the words "conservative" and "nerd" are as natural bedfellows as "politician" and "prostitute." It's too bad, really. Conservatives have got the force of logic and history on their side, but they all-to-often have the force of sweater vests, bow ties (Tucker Carlson, anyone?), and bowl cuts, too.

I've read Russell Kirk. I know that conservatism is rooted in hundreds of years of sound tradition and, by extension, the past, but that doesn't necessitate our leaders looking and sounding like they're stuck there, does it? (That's a rhetorical question.) In fact, I think conservatives have more of a need to present themselves with a modern edge on the surface to counterbalance the aged wisdom that lies at their core.

Just as the Evangelical church has updated its packaging to appeal to a modern culture yet retained its relevance with a tried-and-true Message, so too can conservatives revamp their image without sacrificing principles. Maybe the Republican members of Congress could start showing up fashionably late for their sessions and shimmy to their seats like these folks. (Late Internet meme #2 and fabulous wedding idea #1!)

Without further ado, partially because it's late but moreso because I'm beginning to sound too much like Meghan McCain for my own comfort, here's the video. Discuss.




_________________________________
**Clarification: my body was at CPAC, but my spirit had checked out after the 17th time I was asked, "What do YOU do?" In CPAC-speak, that means, "Why are you important in life, and why should I be talking to you instead of the 600 other schmos in the room?" Fortunately, the conversations didn't last long, likely owing as much to my answer as to the questioner's (correct) sense that I was visually imprinting a large "L" on their forehead as they explained how they were going to change the world ... by working at a non-profit.

Note:I've since reformed and now only visually stamp "Jesus Loves You" on people's foreheads while glazing over during conversation.

7.27.2009

Science Says Women Are Getting Hotter

While counting down the hours to the Bachelorette finale tonight (sure to be "the most dramatic rose ceremony" evah!), digging cookie dough out from under my toe nails (don't ask), and avoiding work like Barry O. avoids common sense (that is, uncommonly well), I came across this:

Psychologists believe women are becoming more attractive ... Men meanwhile apparently remain as aesthetically unappealing as their caveman ancestors. Read more: here.

Maybe we're getting hotter because of global warming? Either way, being on a year-long dating hiatus, I'll take my compliments where I can get 'em. Perhaps there will be more hiding in this bowl of cookie dough ...

7.25.2009

Attitude Adjustment, Please!

With the recent barrage of news on Obamacare, it's been tempting to give into the idea that the country's going to hell in a handbasket ... down the tubes ... on the fast-track to the crapper. Whatever vernacular you choose, you get the idea: All is not rosy.

But then you see this headline: Christian mother executed in N. Korea for distributing Bibles, and realize how fortunate you are to be in a country where news revolves around health care debates not martyrs.

I'm not saying it's wrong to lend your dissent to government. In fact, I think that's the primary way we can prevent headlines like the one above from becoming a reality here, too. What I am saying is let's keep things in perspective in the process. As we carry on a nation-wide dialogue over health care, as irksome as it is, we should be thankful that such a conversation can even happen.

A dear friend once explained it this way: when she's gridlocked in traffic and tempted to get impatient and angry, she remembers instead how thankful she is to have a car to be stuck in traffic in. That principle can be applied to just about everything we encounter in life. If you are mindful of it, you'll be amazed at how often it shifts your perspective.

I've already had to check myself today. I woke up this morning to the sound of my dad pounding nails into our roof that he's replacing. Less than pleasant at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, but I'm thankful there was a roof over my head to pound.

In other words, it's all in your approach. We can't always change our circumstances, but we can alter our attitudes. This morning, the mom who gave her life for her faith is my wake up call that I need to be mindful to do just that.

7.23.2009

The world in two links.

Remember those games you played as a child where you had to find "what's different" in each picture? Well, today we're going to play the grown-up version. After browsing news sites for the last hour, I have come to the conclusion that there are only two noteworthy things happening in the world, which can ironically be summed up in (almost) the same way:

A rump that's not too big...absurd eyelashes fluttering...long legs...and rubbery lips, from which dribbles a stream of thick cud.

A rump that's not too big...absurd eyelashes fluttering...long legs...and rubbery lips, from which dribbles a stream of slick crud.

7.20.2009

Oh, I'm sorry, I thought God determined my gender.

Welcome Instapundit readers!

Apparently, that job actually goes to Health and Human Services Secretary and Kansas Governor, Democrat Kathleen Sebelius. Via CNS News:

"The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s health care legislation will give the Health and Human Services secretary the authority to develop 'standards of measuring gender'-- as opposed to using the traditional 'male' and 'female' categories."

Can't you just feel the ooze of political correctness? Not yet? Here's more from the World Health Organization:

"Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women."

In other words, having woman parts doesn't actually make me a woman. I'll be waiting for Sebelius' approval on that, but in the meantime, why stop at gender? Let's take the no-objective-realities idea to its logical end and start declaring race and age classifications at will, too.

That way, if we Republicans have another old, white dude run for President in the next go-round, we could have Sebelius declare him a young, wise, ethnic woman first.

H/T: Villainous Company.

7.19.2009

God, Guns, Guts, and CNN's Idiot Reporters

Greetings, Instapundit readers!

"You don't have a problem with God, do ya?"

This is a question posed to CNN reporter Carol Costello during a recent interview with Mark Muller, a Missouri car dealer whose company is offering an unusual incentive: a free AK-47 with the purchase of a vehicle.

Thanks to Muller, we now know Costello doesn't have a problem with God. (She answered in the negative). We also know she's, for lack of a more dignified term--not because I can't think of one but because she doesn't deserve it--just plain dumb.

In CNN's true journalistic fashion, she throws in a requisite number of liberal jabs after screwing up her guest's name and before attempting to engage him in a theological battle of wits, asking "Would Jesus carry a gun?" Muller responds to her jabs and ludicrous questioning with the kind of down-home common sense that make me proud to be a Southerner. "No. They didn’t have guns back then, but I do believe He’d carry a sword if he needed it. But He was so powerful he didn’t need any weapon."

Frankly, I'm suprised that CNN even aired the clip. I'm sure they expected "country bumpkin" Muller to come out with the short end of the stick against "city slicker" Costello. What the producers didn't realize was that the stick was lodged so far up Ms. Costello's hind end that Muller wouldn't have had a shot at it ... not even with an AK-47.

But don't take my word for it. Watch for yourselves:



H/T: Newsbusters.

*Disclaimer: Dumb as they are, I still love liberals in an, as Ms. Costello would say, "WWJD" kind of way. And speaking of moronic liberals ...

Update:

At its own thread at Memorandum. Nice. Or, as Ms. Costello would expect me to say since I am a backwoods Southerner: golly gee whiz, neato.

Robert Stacy McCain over at American Spectator weighs in with the classic stupid is as stupid does argument, (especially when the “does” involves watching CNN).

Pundit and Pundette declares a winner, in case you didn't already know: “Neanderthal” American male: 1; Snotty common-senseless reporter: 0.

7.16.2009

I have to say it, and I'm not sure why.

After posting my vacation photos a few hours ago, I had no intention of blogging again for awhile, but I felt prompted to post about this so here goes:

Buying a ticket to see Bruno* is paying to grieve God's heart.

*The link includes a detailed, stomach-churning description of the movie. I glanced through it enough to get an idea of the content. If you're planning on seeing the movie, read through the description to be an informed consumer. You need to know what your money is supporting, and more importantly, the kind of material you are opening yourself up to.

As I type this, I'm sitting a few feet away from an antique wall hanging inherited from my Grandma that says, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God." The full verse in Ephesians 4:30 reads like this in the Amplified, "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God [do not offend or vex or sadden Him], by Whom you were sealed (marked, branded as God's own, secured) for the day of redemption (of final deliverance through Christ from evil and the consequences of sin)."

In one sense, it's incredible to me that we finite human beings have the ability to grieve God's heart. In another, it's so clear: God gave His Son to secure not only eternal life but our ability to live a holy life, walking in victory over sin and the ways of the flesh. When He sees His children--those who claim to have accepted the work His Son did on the cross--opening their hearts to the wickedness and depravity of the world rather than seeking to "be holy as He is holy," it grieves Him. I can imagine Him saying with a crest-fallen look, "Is this, this what I sent my Son for?" as Christian after Christian settles into their theater seats to watch Bruno.

I may get angry comments about how I'm judging, moralizing, etc. and please understand that is not my intention or my heart. I type this with tears in my eyes, knowing that I have friends who will choose (and have chosen) to watch this immorality in action on Saturday night and wake up the next morning to attend church service. The verse that comes to mind for me is James 4:8, "Purify your hearts, ye double minded."

Those that can indulge their senses in the corruption and filthiness of the world and movies like Bruno without remorse one day and yet claim to know God the next, those are the double-minded. It grieves God's heart, and it grieves mine because I know they are either wilfully or ignorantly rejecting God's command for their Christian walk in order to fulfill their own want of temporary amusement. Ultimately, there is no true satisfaction, only sadness and destruction, at the end of this choice. (I've been there. I know. But, praise the Lord, I'm not there anymore!)

Consider the words of Psalm 101:3: "I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me." And, the oft-quoted Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."

Does choosing to "entertain" yourself by attending a movie like Bruno fit the criteria of the above verses? (If you have any doubt, clink the link at the top of the post. Also note that an entire country, Ukraine, just banned the movie, stating it was "immoral.")

I have heard Christians describe this movie as "hilarious." But is something really funny if it's grieving God's heart? That's a serious, serious assertion to make. So serious I doubt any Christian would dare to actually make it in so many words. But individual after individual are choosing to make the statement with their actions when they purchase a ticket to Bruno (and movies like it) and add their implicit approval with laughter. It's a statement I wouldn't care to account for on judgment day.

Please understand, this isn't just a tirade against Bruno. It has much broader ramifications that extend generally to a Christian's entertainment choices and even more generally to the state of a believer's heart and spiritual health. I prayed a few months ago that God would give me a tender heart towards Him. That He would make me sensitive to how things made Him feel--not how they made me feel.

This hit home with my blog. A few months ago, I was writing some things that were "funny" to me, but they were in direct contradiction to Ephesians 5:48, "Let there be no filthiness (obscenity, indecency) nor foolish and sinful (silly and corrupt) talk, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting or becoming; but instead voice your thankfulness [to God]."

My coarse talk, the off-color topics, those things "vexed" and "saddened" the Holy Spirit. Yikes. As loyal readers will have noticed, my blog has changed. Is it as "funny"? Nope. Is God happier about that? I think so. I think He was happy, too, when I bulldozed through my movie collection a few weeks ago. All of my favorites--gangster films-- they're gone. My favorite Dave Chapelle stand-up routine? History.

I tell you that not because I want you all to conclude, "Hey, look at how holy she thinks she is!" It's so that you know I'm not just blowing smoke with words here. I'm living what I'm talking. I have an intimate understanding of what pursing God and holiness with all you've got can do to a person's life: It can 180 your direction. I'm living proof.

If you're considering seeing Bruno, you may be tempted to write off everything that I'm saying as moral proseltyzing. Maybe that would make you feel better, but if you claim to have given your heart to Jesus, then you are, as I Corinthians 6:19 says, the "temple of the Holy Ghost." When you pay your $12 for a two hour verbal and visual barage of graphic sexual perversion, obscenities, and a mockery of all that is right, just remember you're not alone.

The Holy Spirit will be walking into that theater with you. And, while you're laughing, He will be grieving.

If even one Christian reading this realizes the tragedy of exposing their heart, mind, and the Spirit that lives within them to moral degradation under the pretense of "entertainment" (not to mention wasting precious time and resources), then the hour of sleep I just lost will be worth it.

Of course, I'll never know who reads this or what they choose to do. But God will. And, in the end, that's all that really matters.

7.15.2009

Vacation Photos!

Because I'm convinced that blogging during vacation ranks with the cardinal sins, I'm going to "tide" you over with a few pictures I took yesterday of California's coast. (Haha.)

Despite growing up hours from where these photos were taken, I'd never seen these views. In fact, until now, Italy's Amalfi coast was my favorite seaside spot. Turns out, equally stunning scenes were practically in my own backyard. (Isn't it always that way? You'll tour another state or country sooner than you explore your own. So silly.)

I'm glad I finally made the trip. If you're ever in California, make sure you do, too! For now, enjoy vacationing vicariously through a few of my photos.

Sandy feet make me happy. An actual conversation with my mom regarding this photo? Not so much. "Wow, Mom, why do I look so fat here?" "Well, honey, because you are, of course." Nothing like a little brutal honesty to jumpstart that summer diet plan. Thanks, mom.

Maybe if I had to fight tourists for my food, I'd be as thin as this squirrel. Hand-feeding the squirrel Wheat Thins (reduced-fat!) might have been the highlight of my trip. Not getting rabies from hand-feeding the squirrel equally awesome.

I love old people, almost as much as I love squirrels. Especially adorable ones like these who wear straw hats, carry canes, and speak with British accents. (Old men in sweater vests may trump even the squirrels. Take note future husband of mine, if you ever discover this blog.)

If there's anything that makes the ocean better, it's flowers. Actually, flowers make most anything better. (Second helpful hint to future husband.)

Love the dark silhouette of the trees against the blue. I plan to recreate this in oil pastels one of these days...

And, finally, my favorite:

This picture doesn't do this scene justice. Absolutely breathtaking. If you look closely, you'll see a natural waterfall pouring onto the shore on the upper left hand side. It was much larger in person. Ironically, I wrote about this scene last summer for Coastal Living, without having seen it. I now feel the need to apologize to nature for my sorely lacking description.

That's all for the moment. Now back to my regularly scheduled vacation.

7.12.2009

"He's a communist."

That, apparently, is the answer to the question, "What does my dog have in common with Fidel Castro?"

Inquiring after the qualities my dog shares with world leaders isn't something I do often. Or ever, until now, although that might make for an entertaining blog post when both you and I are either very drunk (which is never for me) or very bored (which is obviously right now for you).

While getting ready to hit the road tomorrow morning for what I expect to be an awesome road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway, I began to worry about leaving my Havanese, Buddy, outside. His breed is sometimes described as "velcro," meaning he rarely leaves my side, and, therefore, never ventures out of doors during the heat of the day.

Worried for his life (and my own considering California's hopped-up animal cruelty laws that include allowing your animals to die from heat exhaustion*), I began researching the Havanese' ability to withstand heat.

Turns out, they hail from Cuba, originally bred to be the lap dog of kings. (I decided this was fitting.) As such, they are supposed to be stalwarts again tropical heat. I relayed the information to my father sitting nearby, who isn't exactly thrilled about the reality of inheriting a "grand dog" for the next six months while I'm in Atlanta. Especially a grand dog that likes to snap at his hands reward him with love bites when he tries to pet him.

My dad's response went like this:

"Hmmph. The dog's from Cuba? No wonder he's weird. He's a communist."

So, I'll be on the road (again) for the next few days, but I'll be leaving my little communist behind. Hopefully, I don't return to find that he has taken over a small country or become Obama's new mentor.**

*For the record, as progressive as it sounds, this conservative animal-loving girl is all for tight animal-cruelty laws. And, for those of you concerned, Buddy's not really going to die. Unless maybe there's a proletariat uprising.

**So what if I'm 18-months behind on the news cycle? I've got a life to live, folks.

7.08.2009

You mean like VACA?

For all of you non-Legally Blonde fans, the title means "I'm like totally on vacation in California! /insert vacuous giggle/." (When in Rome...)

I've been doing the requisite summer thing: sun, bathing suits and drinking ... it all in. (Not the other kind. I've reformed.) I've also been doing the writer's thing: having the classic dilemma of so much to say and so little motivation to say it.

Why am I not motivated? Possibly because it's glorious out by my pool and I prefer the glow of the sun to the glow of my computer screen. Or, more possibly, because I don't get paid for this, (which is usually the writer's second classic dilemma.)

Fortunately, I have some great editors that actually give me money to do what I love. I realize it's hard for some of you to believe I get paid to write. It's hard for me to believe, too. That's why I keep an online portfolio - for self-validation. In fact, I just updated my portfolio with some new magazines and stories, so while I'm not posting and you're not reading my writing here, click the link to not read my writing there instead.

And, hey, I might as well put a plug in while I have your attention. If any of you know of a great house you'd like me to pitch to one of my magazines or have some other rad story idea, send it on over to my email.

Happy summer.

PS- Since I've reformed, go drink a pina colada for me. (Actually, I'd prefer a Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, the "alternate" version." At least it has a Bible name, right?)

PS 2 - Note the new "summer" profile pic!

7.02.2009

It's a Small, Wonderful, Creepy World. Tales from the Road.

Greetings from [undisclosed location].* I'm near old Route 66, en route to California, and having the most glorious time of my life. I've spent all day with my windows down, my radio up, and my "free spirit setting" on high.

I have no schedule, no itinerary. I call locals at random restaurants, police stations, hotels, and visitor's centers to ask what I should see as I pass through their cities. Then, I stop at anything (and everything) that I think I may want to tell my grandkids about some day. (I've done the World's Largest Cross, National Route 66 Museum, and the Oklahoma Riverwalk just today!) Of course, by that time, it will sound much more precarious (and more awesome) than it actually is: "When I was a young whippersnapper like you, I had to walk two-feet in the sun to buy a snowcone at a roadside stand from a native American with a mohawk run two-miles-in-the-snow in the middle of summer while being chased by an Indian with a tomahawk. D'ja hear that kids? A tomahawk! In the snow!

Uh, where was I? Oh, right, the undisclosed location wandering around aimlessly and talking with random locals. I have met some great people out on the road today, but it's funny, the one questionable person I met was from back home. (It's California. Why am I even surprised?)

I had stopped at a Wal-Mart to pick up dog food around 11 p.m. It was an ... ethnic ... part of town. I'm not judgin'. I'm just sayin'. As I stood in the checkout line, the Mexican man in front of me answered his phone and spoke English, which somewhat allayed my fears that 1) I had actually taken a wrong turn in Texas and ended up in Mexico or 2) they had moved the border. His conversation went like this, "Hey, dude, I'm in Texas. Yeah, Texas, dude." In other (less slang-y) words, the stranger I happened to be right behind in the Little Mexico Wal-Mart also wasn't from Texas.

How random, I thought. I struck up a conversation. I shouldn't have.

Me: I gather you're not from around here either.
Wal-Mart Creeper: Naw. You're not from here?
Me: No. I'm just traveling through.
W. Creeper.: I'm from Los Angeles, on my way back there now. Where're you headed?
Me: How crazy! I'm from an hour east of LA, and headed back! Small world, isn't it?
W. Creeper: Are you traveling alone?
Me, now realizing the guy is a creeper but still not willing to lie: Yes, well, with my dog. (It occurred to me later I should have said, "No, Jesus is always with me." I'll use it on the next one. There's always a next one).
W. Creeper: Where you staying at?
Me (thankful that my procrastination habit was finally good for something): I have no idea. I haven't picked a place yet.
W. Creeper: Oh yeah? Well, I'm up at the Motel 6 right around the corner. Nice place.

After that, nothing more needed to be said. Of course, there was more said. He went on to introduce himself as Daniel, at which point I squelched an urge to tell him I hoped he got lost on the way back to the Motel 6 and found himself in a ... lion's den.

As long as we're on the topic of road trips and Bible-references (you thought you'd escaped them for a post! *Cue losing sound from game show*), you've got to read this story. Not long ago, a Florida man went on a cross country journey--in a covered-wagon. Why? Read the whole story:
Man, Mules, and a Message.

These words appear at the end of the story. I couldn't think of a better note to end the day:

“A trip ends. But a journey goes on forever. It’s all about an eternity with Jesus. I will continue this journey until I die, telling other people about Jesus.”

*My mother fears I have blog stalkers who may try to kidnap me en route to California. I tell her that she doesn't need to worry--even if they did take me, it wouldn't be long before they'd realize the mistake and put me back.

6.29.2009

Lessons in Love from Mark Sanford

Unless you live in a bubble (and sometimes I wish I did), you’ll know that there are two things going on in the world right now. And, only two, judging from national news coverage: Michael Jackson is dead and Mark Sanford wishes he was.

Like the rest of America, I’ve got a penchant for scandal and voyeurism that I make a general effort not to indulge. Still, in a moment of weakness last night, I found myself reading through the exchange of emails released by the government between Sanford and his lover “Maria.” For the most part, reading them was like watching a train wreck, a rubber-necker’s delight: tragic yet titillating.

Having the requisite amount of star-crossed references and drooling over each other’s “glorious” qualities, they were run-of-the-mill as love letters go. (Or, at least as I imagine they go: I also seem to have a penchant for Northern men who aren’t “good with words.” At least the sappy kind). Run of the mill, that is, until I got to this paragraph by Sanford, which I had to re-read a few times to make sure my spiritual side wasn’t taking over and interjecting Bible verses where there was actually some illicit, scandalous phrase:

“I looked to where I often look for advice and counsel, and in I Corinthians 13 it simply says that, 'Love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful, it is not arrogant or rude, Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in the wrong, but rejoices in the right, Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things'.

In this regard it is action that goes well beyond the emotion of today or tomorrow and in this light I want to look for ways to show love in helping you to live a better — not more complicated life. I want to help (one of Maria’s sons) with film guys that might help his career, etc.”
Right. So, the guy is quoting Scripture and talking about what true love means to the woman he’s having an illicit affair with while his wife and sons are probably hanging out in the next room talking about what a great guy dad is. The irony is almost too much. Before getting to the end of the paragraph, I had already picked up my first figurative stone and was ready to cast away … when it hit me:

I’ve been rather Sanford-esque in my own life. And, recently.

No, I’m not about to admit to having an affair with an Argentinean named “Maria.” (While I'm known to have a propensity towards ethnic types, I hope, if I were to admit to such an affair, my lover's name would be “Mario” instead.) What I realized is that, to borrow a colloquialism, Sanford, like myself, was unable to see the forest for the trees.

He was determined to show “love” to this woman on another continent, presumably by directing the traits of 1 Corinthians 13 towards her and making her life “better," but while he talked of doing so, he was failing miserably at loving the woman in his own backyard.

Seems awful, right? But how often have I been willing to show “love” to those who aren’t close to me, while acting badger-like to those in my own backyard? For Sanford, I venture that it was easier for him to love “Maria” than his wife, as he had not had to live through the real world ups-and-down with her that magnify flaws and exacerbate tension. It’s easy to point out his hang-ups, think “I would never do something like he did,” and revel in the fact that at least if our lives aren’t perfect we’re not as bad as the next guy, especially when that next guy happens to be a governor. But while the temptation for that was there, I had to ask myself, “What about me?” Have I been guilty of the same thing, if not in practice at least in principle?

It seems I have been, and just this week.

As regular readers know, I spent the last week in Pennsylvania with family at my grandmother’s funeral. I drove up from Alabama with my sister and brother-in-law. (For anyone looking for a great recipe for civil unrest—three people with vastly different personalities spending twenty-eight hours straight in a 10-by-6 compartment is a great one.)

To say the least, my love fountain wasn’t exactly overflowing. And, it surprised me. I’m quick to share care and concern for random people I come into contact with at the grocery store, gym, etc., and I can’t wait to begin sharing in the lives and showing love to the kids in inner city Atlanta. But, stick me in a car with my sister and brother-in-law and suddenly it seems like someone has pulled the plug on my love generator.

I can imagine that’s something how Sanford felt. (Yes, I realize there are deeper issues of marriage, infidelity, etc, but I’m focusing on this one principle). It was easy for him to show “love” towards Maria but not as easy for him to show love towards those at home who likely tested his patience and ruffled his feathers.

I still feel mildly ashamed for having spent valuable time reading through his emails, but at least I was able to glean a life principle from the philandering governor. First Corinthians 13, isn’t about us just showing love towards those it is easy for us to love, it’s also about loving those in our own backyard (or in my case, front seat) who are usually harder to love.

Another life principle: if I ever have a love affair with that Argentinean named Mario, it will be only carrier pigeons and message-filled bottles for me.

6.20.2009

Pray for Me

Hi y'all,
This a personal request for prayer. Mostly that I don't kill myself in the next 24-hours or end up bald from having pulled out all of my hair. Without indulging my hyperbolic tendencies, I can say I'm more stressed right now than I've been in all my 23 years ... combined.

So, why in the heck am I blogging, you ask? Great question. Darned if I know. Maybe I'm just a sucker for punishment so I'm wasting precious minutes procastinating. Maybe there's something cathartic about getting all down in writing. Or, maybe I just feel like whining. Take your pick.

I've been getting ready to move out of my apartment, packing up 23-years worth of crap (excuse my french, but sometimes there are no other words...actually, there are, but I dont use that kind of language anymore) and trying to figure out how to spread it across four states.

I am making a cross-country move back to California for a month, which I'm driving by myself from Alabama. Some of my things are going to Arkansas, where I'll be stopping to see family, some of it will stay in Birmingham with friends, some will go back to CA with my parents, and some of it will need to go to Atlanta where I'll be working with the urban ministry beginning in August. I was set to leave next Saturday.

All of this was overwhelming enough, until my 92-year-old grandma's funeral was added to the mix. She passed away yesterday to be with Jesus, so now rather than leaving next Saturday, I'm trying to get my apartment packed up and ready for inspection so I can get my $1200 deposit back by ... tomorrow.

Last-minute tickets are so dang expensive so I need to be out of here tomorrow so I can head to Arkansas and drive up to my grandma's funeral in Pennsylvania with my sister on Monday. All of that will save me about $500, but it's also costing me an entire week of packing time .... and my sanity. Part of me wonders if it's worth it, and the other (cheap) side of me knows it is.

So, all of this to say... HELP.

Prayers are awesome. I know they work. And, I need as many as I can get right now. Peace in the midst of the storm, a supernatural burst of energy, 16-extra hours in my day are all good ones.

Thanks to you all.

6.19.2009

Bob Dylan: 'Cause I Believe in Him

I've always thought of Bob Dylan as a drug-addled hippie--not exactly the type you'd think would be a source of spiritual inspiration and encouragement, right? But yesterday I came across the fact that Dylan became a Christian in the late 70's. Of course, there is talk of whether or not his conversion was lasting, etc. That's not for me to judge.

What struck me was his willingness to share his newfound faith after his conversion. He released three gospel albums that are still popular among black gospel artists. (I'm a huge fan of black gospel so I thought this short documentary on the ties between the genre and Dylan was fascinating.) Too, for some time, he refused to perform his secular songs, saying in the trailer of the documentary Inside Bob Dylan's Jesus Years: Busy Being Born ... Again: "The old stuff's not going to save them," meaning, of course, his audience. Ironically, the trailer shows some of that audience walking out of his shows, blasting his gospel repertoire, saying they could have gone to church if they wanted to hear about "that."

I think that was the point for Dylan. He knew that most of his audience would probably never darken the door of a church. He recognized the opportunity he had to reach the un-reached. He used his platform to share what God had done in his life with an audience who recognized him as a poster boy for the rebellious, drug-using, free-loving spirit of their generation, an audience who had heard him paint pictures of a world that was gray, without meaning or hope. All of a sudden he was sharing a concrete vision of a world ruled by God and thought-provoking messages like "You've Gotta Serve Somebody."

It's easy to think of famous figures in an abstract sense, divorced from normal human emotion. But thinking through the courage it took for Dylan to do what he did—proclaim Christ to a generation who knew his "dirt"—inspired me. How many times have I've been timid to share my love for my God with those who know my "dirt" because I thought they would doubt my sincerity? Too many. They did that to Dylan, but he shared the gospel anyway. He faced ridicule and his crowds dwindled, but he must have known this one thing:
But whoever denies and disowns Me before men, I also will deny and disown him before My Father Who is in heaven. - Matthew 10:33
The Message version reads this way:

Stand up for me against world opinion and I'll stand up for you before my Father in heaven.
I like that phrasing because it shows the battle that is taking place when we speak the things of God. We are not just proclaiming Him in a moral and spiritual vacuum. We are doing so in a world that is controlled by all that is the opposite of Him.

In meditating on this verse, it occurred to me that the things of God are the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Like Dylan, we can stand up for Christ by proclaiming his message with our words, but when we choose to exhibit these characteristics with our very lives, we are also standing up for Him against world opinions.

When the world is distraught over the economy, we exude peace and joy. Where there is strife and dissension, we are marked by patience and kindness. Where there are harsh dealings and judgment, we speak gentleness. Where there is indulging of the flesh, we show self-control.

Standing up for God isn't just throwing a little "Hallelujah, praise Jesus!" into our conversations every now and again. It's letting Him live through us - in our words and actions. As the apostle Paul wrote to the believers at Thessalonica:

“Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” - 1 Thessalonians 1:5
In other words, it wasn't just the words they were speaking it was how they were speaking them—with power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction—and how they were living—what kind of men they had proved to be. Standing up for Him is a three-pronged act that involves 1) the words we speak 2) how we speak them and 3) who we are.

I don't know enough of Bob Dylan's life to know whether he fulfilled all three prongs. I hope so. What I do know is that he didn't let his past stop him from sharing his eternal future. The song he wrote entitled "I Believe in You" explains what it meant for Dylan to stand up for Him. He faced some heavy consequences, but he cared more about what God thought of him than what his audience thought of him.

As you read these lyrics, ask yourself, "What is different about my life 'cause I believe in Him'? Has believing changed the words I speak, how I speak them, and who I really am?"

They ask me how I feel
And if my love is real
And how I know I'll make it through
And they, they look at me and frown
They'd like to drive me from this town
They don't want me around'
Cause I believe in you.

They show me to the door
They say don't come back no more'
Cause I don't be like they'd like me to
And I, I walk out on my own
A thousand miles from home
But I don't feel alone'
Cause I believe in you.

I believe in you even through the tears and the laughter
I believe in you even though we be apart
I believe in you even on the morning after
Oh, when the dawn is nearing
Oh, when the night is disappearing
Oh, this feeling is still here in my heart.

Don't let me drift too far
Keep me where you are
Where I will always be renewed
And that which you've given me today
Is worth more than I could pay
And no matter what they say
I believe in you.

I believe in you when winter turn to summer
I believe in you when white turn to black
I believe in you even though I be outnumbered
Oh, though the earth may shake me
Oh, though my friends forsake me
Oh, even that couldn't make me go back.

Don't let me change my heart
Keep me set apart
From all the plans they do pursue
And I, I don't mind the pain
Don't mind the driving rain
I know I will sustain'
Cause I believe in you.
- Bob Dylan

Because I've never been able to wrap my head around what made Dylan popular (I've heard my dog make better noises when I step on his tail), I prefer reading the lyrics, but if you like his sound, here's the video:

6.17.2009

Finding Your Place of Destiny

I want to share something a little different with you today. It’s a podcast of a message called “Finding Your Place of Destiny” by Jentezen Franklin. I’ve listened to it five times (I’m listening again as I type this) since yesterday afternoon. No, I’m not that bored, it’s that good. If you are struggling to determine your next step in life, or especially if you're not and feeling comfortable where you’re at, you need to hear this message. If you have a son or daughter who is in high school or college, please share this with them, as well. Young people need to hear that God has plans - great big, awesome plans - for their lives beyond what they see if they'll just trust Him:

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him. (2 Cor. 2:9)

Trust me, I wouldn't suggest you listen to this message unless I felt compelled and thought it could have an eternal impact on your life. I value my time, and I value your time. I know everyone who reads this blog is busy, you come here to spend two or three minutes skimming through my writing. You weren’t preparing to spend 30 minutes listening to a sermon from some guy you’ve never heard of. But if you will spend that half an hour listening to his message, it may change the rest of your life.

I don’t believe I found this message by chance, and I don’t believe I feel the burden to share this with you by coincidence. I have listened to probably 20 messages in the past week, and this is the only one that I felt compelled to share. Do I think it was Divinely ordained that I hear this message? Absolutely. Maybe you, too, are divinely ordained to hear this. Please don’t pass up the opportunity.

I have been hearing messages in church since before I was born. Assuming I’d only heard one each week, I’ve heard well over 1200. (I’ve heard far more than that. We had camp-meeting last week and I heard just ten that week alone). Of all those messages I have heard, I have NEVER come across one that has impacted me like this one. If you want to know where I’m at in my life right now, listen to this message. I've listened to it with tears streaming down my face each time.

I had transcribed some of it, so I’m going to include parts of his message interspersed with some of my story below. Come and read through it afterwards, if you care to, but please, PLEASE don’t just read this in lieu of listening to the actual podcast.

Listen now.

No, really.

LISTEN NOW!

The five dynamics of finding your place of destiny, as told by Jentezen Franklin:

1) You must have the ability to hear God. You must have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ for Him to be able to speak to you. Fortunately, it's simple. All that is required is that you "confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead and thou shalt be saved." (Romans 10:9). Once you do this, then you will find the words of this old song true, “He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own.”

As you surrender your life to God, he will begin to speak to you and the Holy Spirit "will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:13). Pastor Jentezen explains this verse in a way I had never thought of before. I won't tell you what he says. You've got to listen for yourself.

Franklin doesn’t mention this next verse, but it’s one that has meant so much over the past months as I am seeing my destiny unfold before my eyes:

“And your ears will hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way; walk in it, when you turn to the right hand and when you turn to the left.” (Isa. 30:21).
When I turned down a position in DC to volunteer with the kiddos in Atlanta instead, it didn’t make a lot of sense to anyone else, but I knew beyond the shadow of the doubt that I had heard a voice behind me leading me where to walk.

2) Not only do you have to hear His voice, you have to believe what you hear. When you hear His word, faith has to grab hold and you have to believe. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” You can’t second-guess God. When God speaks, the enemy will try to talk you out of that Word. The Bible says, "A double-minded man is unstable in all of his ways – let not that man think he shall receive anything from the Lord."

He will confirm what He’s told you. I know this for a fact. I have had confirmation after confirmation on my move to Atlanta to work with Metro Kidz. But it wasn’t like that at first. I had to turn down the job by faith. Then, the confirmation began to come.

Franklin offers this warning that made my blood run cold: it is possible to lose your destiny. You can lose your destiny by being comfortable, refusing to push forward out of your comfort zone. Or, it could be as a result of sin. If you think about it: Adam and Eve touched one thing - the forbidden fruit – and it destroyed their destiny. There is one thing for everyone – could be pornography, drugs, alcohol, even pride. There is one thing that the enemy knows you have a weakness in and he will try his best to tempt you with it and get you bound to it because it can cause you to miss out on your destiny.

I can identify with this firsthand. I know what my “one thing” is, and having laid that down over six months ago, I can clearly see how it was standing in the way of my moving towards my destiny. I’ll never go back.

3) For me, this was the most powerful concept of the five, probably because I recently lived through it. The third key to finding your destiny, is to go through a season of denunciation. This season is about moving out of the “safe” zone into the “faith” zone. (I did a post about venturing outside your comfort zone a few weeks back).

Franklin explains that sometimes, you have to denounce the present blessing to get to the future promise. This is a divine denunciation. It happens when you cry out to God, “My life is yours. Everything I have is yours, and whatever you want me to do I’m willing to do it, even if that means releasing some things. I’ll lay them down so that I might gain your eternal destiny for my life.”

All of the great figures in the Bible (he explains many of them), went through this season. Each of those figures had to take a step down in the flesh to take a step up in the kingdom.

I know how gut-wrenching this season can be. I had my season back in April when I layed down a job, a sure paycheck, doing what I had always wanted to do in order to give myself up to His plans . Now, I shudder to think of the direction my life would have taken if, in that moment, I hadn’t had the courage to make heed His call. I’ll warn you of this: when you tell God you’ll go where He wants you to go, you’ll do what He wants you to do, that everything you have is His, be ready for Him to act on your surrender. Don’t expect to say that, mean it, and have things stay the same. It just won’t happen. I’m living proof. And, I praise Him for that everyday.

4) The fourth step in reaching your place of destiny is having the courage to take the step towards it. A lot of folks talk about doing it, but few people have the courage to actually move forward. Most people want the full picture, all the answers, before they move on to the next thing. But if God has to give you every answer to every question you’ll never move any higher, you’ll never grow any further, you’re all you’ll ever be. Remember, you’re not doing it alone. “It’s not by might nor power but by my Spirit saith the Lord.” (Zech. 4:6).

I came to a point where I realized this a few weeks ago. I had been struggling under a burden of inadequacy. Feeling so incapable of doing what I know I’m going to be called to do in Atlanta – sharing hope and love with kids and adults as a full-time ministry. I thought, I’m not that naturally positive, I’m not that loving, I don’t have enough of my Bible memorized. I thought, “I haven’t been through the situations they have, how can I possible identify with them and encourage them?”

And, this is where I may lose some of you, but God spoke to me through two people at church recently. It was the end of service two Sunday’s ago. The man in front of me turned around and said, “I’m supposed to tell you that the Paraclete, The Helper, is coming with you on this journey. He’ll be walking right beside you.” I knew that was confirmation from God, as I had been praying for peace about the situation. Then, a few minutes later, my pastor’s wife came up to me and said “God wants me to tell you something. The Paraclete, the Helper, is coming with you through these next steps of your life.”

As much as I’ve read my Bible and been in church, I had never come across the word Paraclete. That was one way I knew it was God confirming Himself. The wording of both the man and the woman to me was nearly identical. Of course, now I know what the word means having looked it up. Paraclete is a reference to the Holy Spirit, specifically used to imply the meaning of “Helper” when accomplishing a task. Often, the Bible talks of the Holy Spirit as a “Comforter” to the Christian, but in this case, God spoke “Paraclete” to both of those individuals because He wanted me to know he would be my Helper. I wasn’t doing this alone. You can tell me all day long that was a coincidence. I know it was God.

A day or two later, he led me to this passage in II Corinthians 3: 5-6:

Not that we are fit (qualified and sufficient in ability) of ourselves to form personal judgments or to claim or count anything as coming from us, but our power and ability and sufficiency are from God. It is He who has qualified us (making us to be fit and worthy and sufficient) as ministers and dispensers of a new convenant of salvation through Christ..." (emphasis added mine).
As I mentioned earlier, when He gives you a word about your destiny, He will confirm what He’s told you. But it may take time. For me, I had to make the choice and move on faith. And, that took courage.

5) I have gone through the first four phases over the last few months. I heard Him. I believe what He told me. I went through the season of denunciation. I had the courage to take the steps forward. And now, I’m preparing to go through step five. This last key isn’t about reaching your destiny; it’s about staying focused on it. You do this by determining to focus on the promise and not the problems during the journey. He explains this in terms of Peter stepping out on the boat to walk on the water towards Jesus. It’s an awesome explanation, unlike any I’d heard before.

As he closes, Franklin captures my heart by reiterating the three words I’ve lived by since my dad began telling them to me 20 years ago: “Dream Big Dreams.” He says it this way: "Dream no small dreams for they stir not the hearts of men. The bigger the dream the more people want to get behind something. Opportunity is a visitor. Don’t assume it will be back again tomorrow. Move while the door is open."

The door opened for me. I’m heading to Atlanta in six weeks. It’s the beginning of my finding my place of destiny, and I pray (really, I do) that everyone who reads this will be spurred into seeking your place of destiny.

6.15.2009

Hello? *Taps Mike* HELLO?

Oh, there you are. All three of you.

As you may have noticed, I'm not too into the blogging thing lately. It's for some pretty heavy reasons - like God's wrecking my world in a really awesome way. I have stories upon stories to tell, and I'll probably share them on this blog some day of how God is moving and working in me and in so many lives around me. As a result, I can't in good conscience sow my time into things that won't have a lasting spiritual effect (i.e. my former bloggey nonsense). There are SO many people capable of writing about politics and random events of life much better than I ever could. That's not my gig. What I long to do is ... well, just keep reading.

The whole thing in Galatians 6:8 -- "For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life" -- really hit home with me this week. While thinkin' on that verse, I realized that only those thing that are of the spirit are eternal. Everything else in this life is "but a vapor."

Think about that.

What we spend 80 percent of our lives doing - the American dream of working our way up the corporate ladder so we can have better houses, better cars, etc - is all "but a vapor." Stops you in your tracks, right? It does me. Investing in things that are going to amount to nothing when I take my last breath is not what God's called us to do. At least, I know for danged sure it's not what He's called me to do.

What God's been pouring into my heart is that our time here is so short, so precious. I'm going to account to God for the time I've spent rambling on about silly things on this blog, talking about things that are neither "true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good report" (Phil. 4:8). (Newsflash, Clever S.Logan: God doesn't care if it was "funny at the time.") That's energy I could have put towards sharing the hope and peace that comes only from Him with a troubled world; energy I could have used to show love - the love of Jesus - with people craving to be noticed and loved by someone who truly cares; energy I could have used to share the gospel that will bring sinners down the narrow path of salvation.

Although I'll never get back those hours I've spent on here, it's not too late to change things up. And, I have. Y'all, I've given God the reins to my life. And, it's awesome. Although he's huge, he's the best jockey you'll find. He's directing my life in ways I never dreamed possible. He's given me a burden to share Him - with the big dude on the street corner wearing chains, the lady on the side of the road who had just gotten into an accident, with you on this blog, it doesn't matter. If they've got a soul, they're going to hear about Jesus from me or smell Him on me. I know what you're thinking "smell Him on you?" Sounds weird, I know, but check this out:

"For we are the sweet fragrance of Christ [which exhales] unto God, [discernable alike] among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing." - 2 Corinthians 2:15)
It's incredible that God entrusted US, as Christians, with the responsibility of being the fragrance of Christ, of emitting His love, joy, peace, hope, etc. everywhere we go. Makes you want to be sure you're smelling good all the time doesn't it?

I haven't always smelled good. (I still do have this sweating issue, but I digress). As some of you know, I grew up in church. I was the preacher's kid, which meant I was bound and determined to be as rebellious as possible. I lived some rough years, caused my parents a lot of heartache. Then, for awhile, I lived a "good, clean" life for the most part, but it was a life I was living for me. Everything I was sowing - my money, my time, my thought life - was for myself, not for Him. To advance my cause, not His Kingdom.

Things have changed. I sold out. Jesus isn't only my Savior; He's my Lord. I think it's weirding some people out who knew me before. They're not quite sure what to make of this "new" me, and you may not be either. But you know what? I don't care. I care more about what God thinks about me than what any person thinks about me for the first time in my life. As someone who was always concerned (read: borderline obsessed) with having everyone else's approval, it's a breakthrough that came straight from God. Let me tell you, the freedom is incredible.

I want to encourage everyone reading this in this one way - don't be discouraged. Your mind may be running through how far you feel from God, the laundry list of thou-shalt-nots you've committed, the lack of love you've shown to those around you, the lack of commitment and faithfulness to Him, how you've presented your body in every way but as a "living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God." (Romans 12:1.)

But, I'm living proof God can take what's wrong and make it right. He can restore what's broken with the "glue" that is His grace. All you have to do is surrender. And, when he puts you back together as a new creation, you won't be what you were before. He will have formed you for His purpose - to fulfill Matthew 22:37-40:

"Jesus said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.' This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' These two commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them."

Some of you may not know much about what God wants for your life, so let me share one of my favorite words of encouragement with you:

"I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for." - Jeremiah 29:11
The future I hope for is one in which God is able to use me to love on folks who need His love, share the light of truth with those in darkness, and ignite a passion and fire for Him in a generation of spiritually-starved young people.

He's got the path all planned out. He's my jockey. And, I'm looking forward to the ride.