Tuesday, February 11, 2014

IF God is Real, Then What?

Maybe you've heard about the IF:Gathering, a women's conference hosted in Austin, TX, and simulcast worldwide to over 40,000 women last weekend. Its theme: If God is real, then what?

Meant To Be 

I didn’t think I’d get to go to IF:Austin. Regular tickets sold out in 42 minutes back in November, so I asked if there were any press passes. They said they would get back to me.

But as February approached with no word, I began checking out the IF:Local groups in my area and wondering how I would participate when it would require taking a vacation day. (Sometimes full-time work is a real pain. I know, I should be grateful—and I am—but, just being honest!) Then I got the email: Could I come to Austin as a member of the press?

Two weeks. 4 kids. A husband on Guard duty that weekend. A boss to convince. No roommate to share expenses with.


I hopped on Facebook to ask the world if I had any friends in Austin (save money, see a friend?). My husband saw that post as he left work and called to inquire about my plans to leave town. I explained, and we discussed the challenge of arranging childcare for 2 days. 30 minutes later he arrived home—with assurances from his parents that the kids were covered. Woah. I could kiss him (and I did).

The following day, a friend I hadn’t seen in ages contacted me to see if I was going to IF and did I want to travel together. My boss, despite having a different agenda, gave me the day off.

God could not have spoken any clearer.

Why the urgent need to go? I couldn’t exactly say.

It wasn’t the speaker lineup, because no one knew the lineup.
It wasn’t to hang out with my besties, because they couldn’t make it.
It wasn’t to crank out articles for FV, because I was going on my own time.

But God carved a path before me.

Thankfully no one pressed me to explain exactly what IF was all about. I wasn’t completely sure, myself.

What is it?

I was not alone in my difficulty describing the essence of IF. Various speakers alluded to it jokingly, but the closing speaker, Tara Jenkins, addressed it directly. “So who had trouble explaining IF to your husband or friends?” The room collectively raised their hands.

Much like we wondered exactly “What is IF?” before the weekend started, the Israelites wandering in the desert wondered, “What is it?” when God sent manna to them. The flaky wafers fed them just enough each day, evidence that God was still with them, aware of their needs and ready to act for their benefit.

IF was spiritual manna to us that weekend. As Tara said, “Manna is blessing we can’t explain exactly, but is exactly what you need for the day you are in. That is what IF has been to us.”

Some of that manna can be found in these quotables that I am still noodling over:
Every parent knows, measuring sticks eventually become weapons.  ~ Ann Voskamp  
Girls can impale each other, but the sisterhood of women empowers one another. Ann Voskamp 
Why live in the wilderness, delivered, instead of in the promised land, free, so we can free yet another generation? ~ Christine Caine 
God doesn’t just want to use you, he wants to be with you b/c he loves you.  ~ Sarah Bessey 
We’ve heard it said that "hurt people hurt people." Well, free people free people!  ~ Bianca Olthoff
Run yo' race!  ~ Bianca Olthoff
 Your yes to God is deciding the future of many more people than just yourself. So lean in to God's call.  ~ Shelley Giglio
Calling is when your talent and your burden combine. ~ Rebekah Lyons 
Jesus is either a crazy person or He is the front door to a new life. ~ Jen Hatmaker
 You play your one note, and I’ll play mine, and together we’ll create a song that is freedom for the captives.  ~ Jen Hatmaker
That's some powerful stuff! To say nothing of the women who led out in this faith walk that is IF. Calling us to repentance, to unity, to acknowledging our calling, to moving forward as the hands and feet of Jesus—each of us in our own giftedness and calling—to bring the Kingdom ever closer.

Which of those exhortations is harder to do??

Which of those exhortations could be more rewarding, more fulfilling?

I'm still working through it. You might actually see more blogs from me soon!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

When Something Wicked Blessed Me

Beth Moore spoke the day before.
I drove back to the hotel late  last night, wearing my new shirt from the MOPS Convention marketplace — it says "Blessed" in a pretty cursive font — thinking how very appropriate to have a visual reminder of how I felt. It's worth writing about even if just so I don't forget.

The day started off well enough—decent sleep, good breakfast, arriving on time to get a good seat at Jen Hatmaker's session at the MOPS Convention where I've been all weekend. But my headache set in before the music started and was raging by the time I slipped out to get to my booth ahead of her.
Jen Hatmaker speaks.

Yes, Jen Hatmaker was coming to the FaithVillage booth for a book signing. (Blessing!) The line had already begun forming before I arrived. Soon, the line stretched through the Marketplace floor, weaving down aisles and between other vendors. The moms were so patient and happy to see Jen, who signed books and took pictures with her contagious smile never wavering. We took book orders, with a MOPS volunteer (one of several who were rock stars helping us out!) taking cash and I handling the credit payments on Jen's iphone. She had one of those Square card readers...so cool.

Jen's smile never wavered.
Soon I was feeling lightheaded and queasy, at moments wondering if I needed to leave the booth and go find a dark corner (pretty sure there wasn't one to be found). At times squeezing the bridge of my nose (a sinus problem?) or maybe the sides of my head (so it would not explode), I must have given my discomfort away to the chattering moms waiting in line. One of them asked (sincerely and rhetorically, because she was just being kind) "Oh, your head hurts?" I asked if she had any tylenol, and she and about 3 others whipped out their painkillers right there. A blessing. I gratefully went for the migraine stuff.
My MOPS group came too.

About an hour or so later I wasn't wanting to faint anymore, but I did want to feel human again. I sent my teammate, David, for lunch. One of the volunteers gave me her crackers. And yet another mom in line saw me suffering —I don't have much of a poker face—and offered me Aleve without me even asking. She kind of pushed it on me, though I gratefully accepted. And another online mom friend who couldn't get down to our booth sent someone with water (she had no idea I'd need it so badly, but what a divine appointment!).

Moms...they just take care of people, huh? A blessing.

Jen had to run off to a meeting but we continued to sell her books, and she returned awhile later for a surprise second round. What a trouper! Though unannounced, she sat there another hour as moms who had been turned away the first time learned she was back. All with a smile and genuine sparkle in her eye for each mom who came to see her. A blessing to them and to those of us who watched.

Caryn and me.
As the Marketplace hours wound to a close, I scurried through the booths looking for gifts for my kids. I've already mentioned to David that my big plans for our evening off was to stay in my hotel room and watch LSU play Ole Miss ... and sleep. What else would help this headache go away? I see Caryn, an author and FV contributor whom I met years ago at a Synergy Women's Conference. We've seen each other in person maybe 3 times over 6 years, but chat online regularly. We took a photo together, and then she says, "Hey, I got these tickets to go to Wicked the Musical tonight. But I'm by myself. Would you want to come with me?"

One second. Ok, maybe two. That's how long it took me to ditch LSU and say, "For real??? Uh, yeah!" I did momentarily think about how exhausted I might be and would my head be able to take it, but I just went by faith that it would be worth it.

Tracey is a hoot!
Back to the hotel I laid down for a bit, hoping for a short, restorative nap. Caryn's phone call woke me out of a dead sleep. I had Passed. Out. As I left my room I realized — my headache was completely gone. Vanished. Disappeared.

Thank you, Jesus. Such grace. Whatever it was that finally did it — the meds, the rest, the sleep, the quiet, whatever—I was so grateful for an unclouded mind. We met downtown at Starbucks, where I also got a quick visit in with my previously mentioned online friend who sent me water... Tracey Solomon, MOPS board member and enthusiast, a joy to be with, and a blessing in and of herself. 

The show was amazing. I only knew that it was a takeoff of the Wizard of Oz but nothing else. The music, the message about truth and reality, friendship, sacrifice, ambition, love ... all sung by some amazingly talented singers and performers. Wow! Just Wow.

The final song between the two "witches" is called Changed:
..."who can say if I've been changed for the better —I do believe I've been changed for the better — because I knew you, I have been changed for good."
That's how I feel about today and the women who blessed me. I wish I knew their names, those two moms who handed me pain-killers at the booth. To Tracy and the volunteers who helped manage the line, to Jen who displayed grace and generosity, to Caryn and Tracey for helping finish off my night, to the writers of Wicked for telling a story of friendship that reminds me of Erin and Sandi and Jeni and Susie and Amy and ... and ...

I am indeed blessed.

(PS. Changed seems like a great theme song for MOPS International. Just saying.)
(PPS. It seems that missing the LSU game was itself a blessing—I heard they played horribly and lost.)

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

J is for Justice

You could safely describe my family as bibliophiles. Even the 3yo loves books, and his older brothers and sister annually smash the summer reading goals set by our local library...within a couple of weeks. So it was no surprise to find us all at Half Price Books on Labor Day, taking advantage of their 20% sale.

Only N brought money, so J and M had to settle for just looking. We remembered that J owed N a copy of A Wrinkle in Time, which he had borrowed sometime last year and brought to school only for it to disappear from his backpack. Luckily N found 3 copies and chose one in great condition to replace the lost book. Price: $3.50

At checkout, I turned to J and said, "I'll pay for the book and you can pay me back from your $10 allowance you'll be getting later this week." Commence the whining...

"Noooooo, I'll pay him back lateeeerrrr." 

Ignoring him, I finished paying, then took them outside to wait for Daddy and the little one. The I'm-not-done-with-you-yet-Texas heat soon drove us inside again. N went to find the others, so I showed J the receipt.

"Look— $2.78 with the discount. What a deal. You can pay me, say, $3 bucks out of your ten."

J immediately grabbed onto the original price I quoted and said, "No, I'll pay $2.78 like you said." 

"No, $3 is easier...no change involved, just dollars. Let's call the difference 'sales tax.' Plus it's still a deal from the original $3.50 price!" I couldn't help but smile even as his frustration level grew, but I quickly masked my amusement as his brow furrowed and started getting upset. 

"Mom, it wasn't my fault. I didn't take the book out of my bag. It was there all day because we weren't allowed to get stuff out of our bags during school. Then after school it was just gone when I went to open my bag. It's not fair!" 

J is going to be a lawyer someday. Or a politician. Or go to jail. I don't see much difference in the personalities of those three groups ... just the direction and purpose they're given. So we'll keep steering him toward honor and service and see how he changes the world. But in the meantime, he wasn't convincing me.

"J," I leaned in and put my finger on his chin, speaking softly but clearly (as we were still standing near the door of the busy store), "you borrowed the book. I believe you about what happened to it, but you still borrowed it. When we take someone's property and something happens to it —whether accidental or intentional — we are still responsible for it. You took the book and did not bring it home. It's not fair to N that his book didn't come home. So you owe N a new copy. He's not mad. I'm not mad. But you have to make it right."

To his credit, J simply hung his head for a moment —obviously disappointed— then nodded. I ruffled his hair and hugged him before N walked up. Parental moment over.

J is 9 years old. He's a smart kid ... people-smart. He gets relationships, understands the connections between actions and consequences. He may not always realize them beforehand, but when they are explained rationally to him, he gets it. And he has the biggest heart of anyone in our house, always concerned about the needy, the downtrodden, the poor. Maybe it's part of being the middle kid, but he's got a big thing about fairness. What I love is that he doesn't solely focus it on himself. He's just as likely to say "it's not fair!" about a bad call at a football game as he is about kids who don't have shoes because they can't afford them as he is about not getting an equal portion of ice cream as his brother. 

I see a heart bent towards justice. And I pray his dad and I can continue to point him toward the God of justice, who spoke through his prophet Micah "... And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (6:8).


Friday, December 21, 2012

The Divine Romantic | An Advent Devotional

I recently read a novel in which the girl — after being given every opportunity to “win” the guy she liked — decided not to. Confused, I turned the page, only to find a sneak peek at the author’s next book. Nothing else! The story had ended without the resolution that the author had led readers to expect. I was appalled. What a waste of time.
A good story features exciting conflict that proceeds to a satisfactory resolution. Plots are wrapped up, questions are answered, relationships are reconciled. In a romance, especially, the main characters typically find ways to overcome their obstacles. However they choose to make peace with one another, the reader closes the book satisfied with their journey to resolution.
God has been writing a story of His relationship with humankind. He chose the Jewish people as his instrument — they would show his majesty and character to the Gentile world, “the nations.” That didn’t work out so well (plot, see?), since the Old Testament tells us the Israelites were more inwardly focused, proud of their status as “God’s people” and less than eager to include outsiders. But God persisted with his storyboard, as it were, and sent Jesus....
Read the rest in FaithVillage

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Beginner's Bible

My two-year-old has his own group of age-appropriate apps on my iPad (quickly becoming the "family" iPad). In his group we have placed some of his favorite games, like Angry Birds and ABCs, and several Bible-based children's apps. The newest addition is The Beginner's Bible, which I've been asked to review by Zondervan.

First, let me share how Gabe uses it. Lately when I give him the iPad, he will go directly to the Beginner's Bible. This surprises me, because he used to have a different favorite. Maybe he's just open to new and different experiences. But he will open it up and click on the "Read" button, which will offer him six colorful stories from Genesis to choose from. He'll press one of them and listen as it reads aloud to him.

In each picture next to the text, a reader can make something happen. It's sort of a hidden feature meant to surprise the kids. Touch an animal and he'll move; move the circle and watch the sun rise and set. Some of the animations are super-simple, but they seem to delight Gabe nonetheless.

He keeps trying to swipe the page to make it turn. There is a small button which, when pressed, will turn the page; otherwise, it doesn't turn until the narrator is finished. This frustrates Gabe a little, so he'll skip the story and move to "Play." The same six colorful boxes appear, but this time they are puzzles or coloring pages. He loves puzzles and will stick with those for a long time. The colorful pictures really appeal to him.

Those two features pretty much sum up the Beginner's Bible app. For toddlers like Gabe, I think it works. Vibrant colors, simple user interface, basic Bible stories ... all these make the free version easy and fun to use. I do not foresee him continuing to use it past 3 or 4 years old, especially since I do not plan to purchase any more stories.

Purchase? Yes, more "Story Packs" can be bought in groups of six: 6 stories, 3 coloring pages, 2 puzzles, & 1 "bonus activity." So far I see only one new pack available, but I presume they continue to develop more to keep kids learning about Old and New Testament characters and events.

Zondervan has produced an attractive app suitable for small children whose parents allow them access to the tablet. It's simplicity and dearth of features make it both easy to use and easy to put down. Perhaps if they added more activities, the Beginner Bible app would have more staying power.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The High Calling

Later next week I'm going to attend, in my role as Christian Living editor for FaithVillage, the Work as Worship Conference. It's actually a conference for professionals, folks who spend most of their time and energy working in a secular role. Yet as people of faith, who follow Christ, they may wonder how to merge their professional and spiritual lives.

The Work as Worship speakers--Nathan Sheets of Nature Nate's Honey, Bonnie Wurzbacher from Coca Cola, Steve Green of Hobby Lobby, Dave Ramsey from...well, you know... and several others--believe that our Christian faith should be integrated with our work. So do the writers at The High Calling.

Subtitled "Everyday conversations about work, life and God," the High Calling produces videos, articles and podcasts that encourage the living out of one's faith in the workplace. There is no segregation between faith and work, they believe. Recently, they've also produced a free weekly newsletter.

In it, subscribers can find a selection of articles, videos and podcasts. None of them takes longer than 3 or 4 minutes to read (or view or hear). The relative brevity of the content makes them easy to process. Viewers can gain a nugget on which to think as they go about their day. Typically I enjoy a more lengthy article, but for busy professionals these shorter pieces are well-suited. A manager or worker could open his or her email to the newsletter, click on a link and finish that piece within a couple of minutes. Perfect for starting your day or catching up at lunchtime.

The content is well-written, mixing spiritual concepts with very practical business ideas. So not each piece will talk directly about scripture. You may hear one professional discuss management skills, or the benefit of generosity in the workplace. Other pieces may tell stories that surprise and encourage. It seems that each one aims to connect one aspect of faith with an aspect of business life. For example, integrity at work is a reflection of your inner faith; creativity should not be wasted--it's a gift of God; giving is not relegated to tithing.

If you work in a secular environment but believe you are called to apply your faith in that environment, The High Calling newsletter may be an encouraging, useful addition to your weekly reading.