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.